September 19, 2014


Cubs announcer Pat Hughes brought up an interesting observation.

There has been some debate recently on whether "wins" is a good measure for a starting pitcher's performance. In the age of sabermetrics, wins seems to be an unconditional after thought.

Hughes brought up the point that if a starting pitcher has a record of 18-8, that means that his team has won 10 more games with him on the mound. Therefore, if the rest of the team went .500, the team would end up the season 10 games over .500 (and probably in the playoffs)

It would also mean that pitcher would be the team's most valuable player.

Hughes was referencing Johnny Cueto, who was 18-8 at the time. After the loss to the Cubs, Cueto still has a 6.1 WAR for the season. That is six games above replacement value.

Other pitchers with large W-L variables include Clayton Kershaw who is 19-3, with a 7.6 WAR.

Chris Sale is 12-3 with a 6.5 WAR. Felix Hernandez is 14-5 with a 6.8 WAR. Corey Kluber is 16-9 with 6.3 WAR.

The Win Variable to WAR:

Kershaw + 13 = 7.6 WAR
Hernandez +9 = 6.8 WAR
Sale +9 = 6.5 WAR
Kluber +7 = 6.3 WAR
Cueto +9 = 6.1 WAR

The top five pitchers in the majors have a win differential of +47 and WAR of 33.3.

WAR/Win Variable = .709 wins above replacement ratio.

There may be other factors on a starter getting the ability to get wins, foremost, the ability to pitch deep into games. There also may be a psychological team effect that fielders will play better when they know their "ace" is pitching.

What about other good pitchers?

Madison Bumgarner is 18-9 with a 3.7 WAR or .411 wins above replacement ratio.
Jon Lester is 15-10 with a 4.2 WAR or .840 wins above replacement ratio.

While league average changes on a year-to-year basis, replacement level stays the same: a .380 win percentage is the replacement level for starting pitcher.

FanGraphs and Baseball Reference calculate pitching WAR differently. 

BA Computing WAR: starts with runs allowed by the pitcher and compares it to the league average pitcher (adjusting for quality of opposition), parks pitched in, and quality of defense behind the pitcher. 

WAR = WAR_rep + WAA + WAA_adj
 FanGraphs Pitcher WAR:

FG begins with FIP, which is a fielding independent pitching stat comparable in scale to ERA that is computed using only pitcher dependent stats. 

FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP-IBB))-(2*K))/IP + lg_specific_constant(around 3.20 or so)
In FIP, hits allowed and non-strikeout outs recorded have no role in the calculation other than in the number of total innings pitched. The assumption is that once the ball is put into play (other than a home run) the entire outcome is determined by random chance and team defensive quality.

So even the stats gurus cannot agree on the best formula to determine how well a starter pitcher is to his team. So maybe Hughes has hit upon the simplest comparison possible: the pitcher's win differential since the single goal in any game is to win.

September 18, 2014


ESPN reports that general manager Jed Hoyer said the team’s offseason needs -- other than pitching -- is finding veteran leadership.

“We need to add some guys to our roster that can help provide that,” Hoyer said. “We also have to lengthen out our position-player group.”

As much as Rizzo and Castro have taken over leadership roles, Hoyer still thinks they need help.

“They probably need some guys around them that can teach them the right things to do,” Hoyer said. “I’ve talked to them both individually about that and they want to do it, but I don’t think right now they have enough experience, or I don’t think they’ve been around enough guys that are real clubhouse leaders that have taught them the ropes. I think we need to provide that for those guys.”

So who can the Cubs bring in and where would they play? Hoyer said many starting jobs will be filled by young prospects, some of whom have already made their major league debuts this season.

“That takes up a fair number of positions," Hoyer said, "but we wouldn’t rule out adding a starting player or two that can help there as well."

What Hoyer is saying is that he cannot trust his coaching staff to "teach" young players how to become professional players. Even though Renteria was specifically hired to do just that, the front office believes that players listen to other players more than coaches.

To fix this problem, proven veterans from winning clubs are used to bring in a proper attitude. In the Cubs clubhouse, that is a tall order since a losing culture has settled in. What Hoyer is also saying is that he is not going out to get a "star" championship caliber player to guide the young core to greatness. Just a veteran presence that players will listen to and respect.

I don't know if starting outfield free agents like De Aza or Parra fit that bill. One suggests that a catcher like Russell Martin could be good candidate, but he would be an expensive alternative to Wellington Castillo. And one does not think adding a 5th outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold is going to get the same voice as a starting corner outfielder whose performance is at an All-Star level.

September 17, 2014


The Orioles, Angels and Nationals have run away with their divisions, with double digit leads going into the final stretch of the season.

The Angels have had a big comeback year. But the story is that the A's went "all in" and got crushed by a surging Angels team. Oakland revamped 3/5ths of their starting rotation at the trade deadline as a means to spark the bullpen since the offense was putting up huge run differentials. But the Angels quickly closed the gap in the summer.

The Nationals pulled away from the Braves, who did not make any significant changes during the season. As with any team, some high profile players failed to meet expectations.

The one team that was supposed to run away with their division was Detroit. The Tigers both spent on talent and traded for an ace, David Price, to sew up the AL Central. But the pesky Royals are still in reach of the lead.

It is interesting to note that the breakdown of small market vs. big market teams is pretty even. The Orioles, A's and Royals are clearly not the big spenders compared to the Tigers, Angels and Nationals. But the small market teams clearly have been just as competitive for most of the season.

It gives other small market teams pause to hope, as well as big market teams pause to spend less going forward.

September 16, 2014


The Cubs plugging in "needs" for 2015 will have a thin free agent market.

The Cubs will try to play Soler in RF in 2015. Alcantara is better suited to play second base/bench than full time CG. The crew of Ruggiano, Sweeney, Baker and Kalish have no future with the rebuilt Cubs of the future. So the Cubs could dabble to upgrade OF and back up catcher in the off season.

You don't want to block Bryant's promotion to 3B.

Potential Free agent list:

Alex Avila (29)
Chris Iannetta (33)
John Jaso (32)
George Kottaras (32)
Jose Molina (41)
Dioner Navarro (32)
Brayan Pena (34)
Matt Wieters (30)

Left Fielders
Jeff Baker (35)
Roger Bernadina (32)
Willie Bloomquist (38)
Yoenis Cespedes (30)
Rajai Davis (35)
Alejandro De Aza (32)
Matt Joyce (31)
Don Kelly (36)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Steve Pearce (33)
Sean Rodriguez (31)
Justin Upton (28)

Center Fielders
Roger Bernadina (32)
Rajai Davis (35)
Alejandro De Aza (32)
Dexter Fowler (30)
Tony Gwynn Jr. (33)
Austin Jackson (29)
Don Kelly (36)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Drew Stubbs (31)
Shane Victorino (35)

Right Fielders
Jeff Baker (35)
Jason Heyward (26)
Matt Joyce (31)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Justin Upton (28)
Will Venable (33)
Shane Victorino (35)

Strike through players are too old or too expensive for stop gap players. However, those still on the list could be "too expensive" for the Cubs as well, as there will be interest in players like Heywood, Parra, Jackson just on age alone. Cespedes is on the list, and he would be expensive catch,  but if the Cubs are going to make one "big" free agent signing this off-season, it would be more likely an every day player than breaking the bank for a big name pitcher like Lester.

September 15, 2014


It is beginning to dawn on many that the Cubs need to temper expectations for 2015. Yes, the Kids may be able to play, but maybe not.  Until the "business" side, i.e. Ricketts, is assured that the kids can play, there will be no free-wheeling free agent spending on pitchers.

The MLBTR current free agent list is out. However, "realistically" the type of players that the Cubs may have a chance of signing is very limited:

Starting Pitchers

Mark Buehrle (37)
Jhoulys Chacin (28)
Bartolo Colon (43)
Ross Detwiler (30)
Marco Estrada (32)
Doug Fister (32)
Tim Hudson (40)
Scott Kazmir (32)
Ian Kennedy (31)
Mat Latos (28)
Mike Leake (28)
Tim Lincecum (32)
Kyle Lohse (37)
Kris Medlen (30)
Bud Norris (31)
Ross Ohlendorf (33)
Mike Pelfrey (32)
Rick Porcello (27)
David Price (30)
Jeff Samardzija (31)
Alfredo Simon (35)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)

Players with strike-throughs project to long term, big money deals with competitive clubs or too old to spend money to wait three years for the rest of the team to catch up in skill level.

Even then, change of scenery pitchers like Lincecum will probably command much more than the Cubs are willing to offer a failed starter. Second tier guys like Detwiler, Estrada, Leak and Ohlendorf may get short term deals in order to get rotation starts to get to a competitive team by July, 2015 (see, the Feldman-Hammel signings).

But no one on this list appear to be long term solutions for the rebuilding Cubs.

September 14, 2014


Gordon Wittenmyer had a good column in regard to the state of the Cubs pitching. The team has a lot of young arms being showcased this September. But as staff, are they any good? No one really knows.

He compares the current Cubs to the pitching wealth of the competitive Pirates:

Hard-throwing Gerrit Cole, 24, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft is quickly becoming a staff ace.  He is followed by 2013 All-Star Jeff Locke, 26, a second-rounder who has won five of his last six decisions.

Wittenmyer notes that the Cubs had starters with great ERAs this season:
Jeff Samardzija (2.83 ERA), Jason Hammel (2.98), Jake Arrieta (2.82), Kyle Hendricks (2.38) and Tsuyoshi Wada (2.95) giving the Cubs exceptional performances in more than half (78) of the team’s starts this season. But the Cubs still rank near the bottom of the National League in starting pitching (4.05 ERA). Only the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rockies are worse.

With Samardzija and Hammel off the roster, and Wada, who turns 34 next spring, won’t have his $5 million option picked up and likely will seek greener offers as opposed to a bargain renegotiation, the Cubs will be stuck with these pitching options for 2015:

1. Former All-Stars Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson who have seen much better days.
2. Pitchers who have not thrown a full major league season in Arrieta and Hendricks.
3. And a possible rotation of 5th starters in the reclamation projects of Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.

September 13, 2014


Giancarlo Stanton is the face of the Marlins franchise. He is the team's best player by a wide margin.

Stanton, 24, was leading the league in home runs (37), RBI (105), slugging percentage (.555) and OPS (.950). In 2014, he had a 5.8 WAR. In his five years in the majors, his career WAR is 18.4.

He is always a trade rumor candidate. He has shown consistent power over the past five seasons. In any trade, Miami would get a blockbuster package in return.

But the Marlins have done fire sales in the past. And the fan base stays away in droves. Any team needs at least one player who performs well, stays out of trouble, and is fan friendly. Stanton is the face of the Marlins; an All-Star player with Hall of Fame potential.

Thursday night, Stanton was hit in the face with a fastball. Stanton took an 88-mph fast in the mouth off Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Friers in the 5th inning. Stanton was taken off the field in an ambulance and is reported to have suffered multiple facial fractures, lacerations, and dental damage. He is likely out for the remainder of the season.

This is a player's worst nightmare, getting hit in the head. Cubs fans will remember that rookie prospect Adam Greenberg's first major league at-bat ended with him being hit by a pitch. That one pitch ended Greenberg's baseball career.

No matter what happens next, this injury will affect Stanton. One's body will program itself to defend against danger. His basic survival instinct may kick in for a split second to protect himself from inside pitches. Batting and contact with a baseball itself is a matter of split second coordination.  In addition, there may be lingering effects from the facial fractures or possible eyesight issues to concussion concerns.

For baseball superstars, the high return in compensation is also tempered by high risk. One play can end a career. One injury can end a career.