July 28, 2015

UMPS LOOKING OVER THEIR SHOULDER

Baseball umpires have gotten worse, right?

So they should be replaced, right?

Well, science steps up to the plate next week:

The independent San Rafael Pacifics will use a computerized video system to call balls and strikes tonight  and Wednesday in their games at Albert Park in San Rafael.


They’re billed as the first professional games in which a human won’t call balls and strikes. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt has expressed his desire for an automated strike zone.


Calls will be made by the Pitch F/X system with three cameras forming a triangular effect that judges a pitch’s trajectory and speed as it crosses the plate. Pitch F/X is used on TV broadcasts to determine a pitch’s location and also for umpires to judge their work.


Eric Byrnes, a former A’s outfielder and proponent of an automated strike zone, will serve as the “strike zone umpire” and oversee the Pitch F/X system, a product of Fremont-based Sportvision Inc.

This should be an interesting live experiment of pitch zone technology. Since baseball viewers are used to Pitch Track on their television screens during games, most fans will accept the concept of a computer strike zone. Whether science makes a 3D box work is another question. And how will it slow down the game?

Tennis has had censors for serves for a long time. Initially, players and fans objected to the technology believing the human eye is faster and more accurate than a machine.

July 27, 2015

RUNS PRODUCED

(R + RBI - HR) is known as "runs produced" and has been around for years. Bill James is generally credited with inventing this stat back in the late 1970s, an early foray into his statistical work. IBut he abandoned it long ago because many better methods and algorithms came along which we call sabermetrics. 

Runs produced is a statistic that describe a hitter's overall effectiveness by measuring his ability to produce runs for team either by scoring them himself or driving them in at the plate. I think it still have value in player analysis because the basic object of baseball is to score runs.

Historically, the all time leaders in runs produced are:

Ty Cobb 4,066
Hank Aaron 3,716
Babe Ruth 3,673
Cap Anson 3,501
Barry Bonds 3,461
Stan Musial 3,425
Honus Wagner, 3,367

It does help show players who get on base, get in scoring position, and get across the plate by all means (hits, walks, stolen bases and home runs). It is a good measure of hitter's  productivity.

For example, if one is asked who is the most productive hitter in the Cubs line up, most people would probably say Anthony Rizzo.

But in the R+RBI-HR = RP for starting position players (as of 7/23/15):

Bryant 92
Rizzo 86
Fowler 75
Castro 65
Russell 46
Coghlan 46
Soler 46
Montero 41

Two surprising things about Cubs current RP:

1.  Fowler is the third most productive starter in the line up.
2. Russell, Coghlan and Soler (and Montero) give you the same production even though public perception is that Coghlan is having a career type season while Russell is struggling at the plate. 

By comparison, with only 13 games player, Schwarber's RP is 18.  That is less than one third the games played for the ranked players above.  The average Cub starter has played 83 games.  If you multiply that factor to Schwarber's RP he would project to 115. Clearly, Schwarber is the most productive Cub player since his call up.

July 24, 2015

HOLDING TOO LONG

There are times when general managers hold on to their players too long. Trying to trade or sell an asset is best at its peak value. For Starlin Castro and Javy Baez, it was last winter.  Castro has been slumping badly this year, and his fielding is just as suspect. Baez got hurt but prior to that he was demoted to AAA.

ESPN's Jayson Stark reported that the Cubs have offered Castro and Baez to the Phillies for pitcher Cole Hamels, who has three years and a lot of money owed on his deal.

Stark added, however, that the Phillies are not enthralled with either player. But the Cubs remain determined in their efforts to trade for Hamels.

"I don't think they'll be in the rental market," the executive who has spoken to the Cubs told Stark. "So the value to them, with Hamels, is the three years [left on his contract]. This isn't just about selling out to go for the wild card. It's about getting ahead of [the free-agent ace market] this winter."

The Phillies are a difficult front office to deal with in trades. They ask for too much. But the problem with Hamels is his contract. Very few teams want to eat $68 million plus a potential $24 million vesting option in 2019. As a result, a team wanting Hamels is not going to offer the "best" prospects in order to absorb Hamels' money. But the Phils think Hamels is an elite player so they are entitled to many elite players and prospects in return. 

We know the Cubs front office is enamored by Hamels. Last season when the Phils put him on trade waivers, the Cubs made a claim, meaning Chicago was willing to eat the full contract. But the Phils pulled Hamels back off waivers, and no deal was made between the clubs.

As I said a long time ago, when Derek Jeter was retiring, the Yankees were the best trade partner for Castro. But there was never a hint or rumor that the Cubs-Yankees talked trade.

Baez is like Castro in that he is a free swinging shortstop. Baez has better defensive skills, but overall he has been lost in his own professional wilderness. A family tragedy, and an injury have set back his development into the whisper of his career trending toward very good AAA replacement level player at the MLB level. That label will not get an starting pitcher in the trade market.

There is too much tape on both Castro and Baez to be cornerstone pieces in a trade. They may be throw-in players, but other clubs are rudely asking for Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks or Anthony Rizzo for their best players. The Cubs are going to hold on to their "core" players since that is the whole purpose of their slash and burn rebuild plan.

There is also another problem. The Cubs reportedly only have $5 million left in their baseball budget for payroll additions. Hamels would break the budget. Considering the Cubs are eating $16 million for Edwin Jackson's release, the only type of starter one can get would be a $4 to $5 million 4th starter.
 
The type of player the Cubs could afford would be Cub killer Mike Leake of the Reds. Leake is 8-5, 3.78 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, owed about $5 million left on last year of his contract. He is a free agent at the end of the season. He is a rental player for this year's wild card run. The problem with the Reds is that they don't need middle infield help so Castro or Baez are not trade pieces in a potential Leake deal. And the Cubs do not have any real good minor league starting pitching prospects to dangle for a veteran arm.

So the Cubs are stuck with weak trade chips in a Seller's market.

July 23, 2015

STARTING PITCHING FOR SALE

The list of potential starting pitchers on the open market before the trade deadline:

1. David Price. The Tigers must believe they cannot extend Price who is free agent after this season. He is clearly the most valuable rental arm this year.

2. Johnny Cueto. The Reds pitcher has been good this season, with a 2.79 ERA in 18 starts. He is also a free agent at the end of the season. But there are some rumors that Cueto may have some health issues which may scare off some teams.

3. Yovani Gallardo. The Rangers are willing to listen for offers on Gallardo, who in 20 starts this season has a stellar 2.91 ERA.

4. Jeff Samardzija. The White Sox are trying to re-sign the Shark, but he really wants to hit free agency this off season. However, it is a risk for Samardzija because he has only shown flashes of brilliance this year.

5. Andrew Cashner. The Padres disappointing season means change in the wind. Cashner, 28, has had injury issues throughout his career, but has dominating stuff when healthy. In 18 starts, he has a 4.10 ERA.

6. Tyson Ross. The other Padres pitcher who is on the market. Ross, also 28, appears more durable than Cashner. In 20 starts he has a 3.38 ERA but leads the league in walks allowed.

7. C.J. Wilson. The Angels are on a roll right now, surging to first place in the AL West. But the new front office is likely to move salary (Wilson is owed $20 million in 2016) to get a position player.

8. Cole Hamels. Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, but his $68 million contract (with a potential $24 million vesting option in 2019) obligations make it difficult for most teams to absorb. In addition, the Phillies current front office is a difficult trade partner, seeking the moon for Hamels.

July 22, 2015

FOR SALE USED PARTS

After losing 3 of four to the Royals, the White Sox was 13 games behind dead last in the AL central. Some one will have to pull the life support cord on this season. Whether GM Rick Hahn has the authority to do so is another question.

In all likelihood, Jeff Samardzija will be moved. The best-case scenario for the White Sox is that clubs who are looking for starting pitching, primarily in the National League where Samardzija has been a good fit, start upping the ante by bidding against each other.

But Samardzija doesn’t figure to be the only regular the White Sox can use to make deals. Jose Quintana, Alexei Ramirez, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and Adam Eaton all figure to find themselves mentioned in rumors over the next 12 days.

The Cardinals lost their first baseman. It has a talented farm system, so a team like that would be a fit for LaRoche.

Any team looking at Cole Hamels and his $84 million contract burden would see more value in Quintana to shore up their rotation.

Teams looking for a lead off hitter could see Eaton as an upgrade or defensive bench player for the long September grind.

Teams are constantly trying to upgrade worn down bullpens, so Duke could have an easy landing spot elsewhere.

Pundits claim it will be a Seller's market (more teams looking to buy parts than sell assets). If the White Sox want to move players, it is better to do it sooner than later.

July 21, 2015

WHO'S ON SECOND?

The Cubs still state that the team is a year or two ahead of schedule. That could mean that the team has promoted prospects quicker than expected, or, that the prospects major league performance has exceeded expectations.

In any event, the Cubs are dangling around the second wild card. That means playoffs. That means fan excitement (even though Cubs attendance has not been sell outs since the bleachers were completed; there has been a consistent 4-5k missing gate).

One of Joe Maddon's pet projects was to bat Addison Russell 9th. Maddon said it was done to protect Russell from batting 8th ahead of the pitcher. In theory, Russell will get better pitches to hit batting 9th with the lead off hitter (Fowler) behind him.

But the theory is not panning out. In his first 250 ABs, Russell is hitting only .228, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .296 OBP and 1.2 WAR (of which 1.1 WAR is for defense).

This becomes a problem if the Cubs really want to compete this year. Russell has not adapted well to major league pitching. One can debate whether sending him down to AAA will help his swing, mechanics or confidence. There is no one pushing him out of the lineup since both Tommy LaStella and Javy Baez have been hurt. The Cubs are stuck with Russell at second with no better offensive player on the horizon.

This does become a domino problem. Fowler leads the league in called third strike outs. The team is trending negative with more strikeouts (middle of the order guys, Soler, Bryant and Castro). The only batter that gives a hitter order protection is Rizzo, who has been flipping with Bryant between second and third in the lineup.

As most people focus on adding pitching for a playoff run, the Cubs probably should look at second base for the second half of this year. This is not to say Russell will pan out and have a good career. It may be that Russell's development (and struggles) take precedent over the Cubs getting into this year's playoffs (something fans don't want to hear).

July 20, 2015

BITING BULLETS

The Cubs designated for assignment pitcher Edwin Jackson. The Cubs have 10 days to trade him, or he can accept a AAA assignment, or become a free agent pitcher.

The move is to promote reliever Rafael Soriano.

Jackson has had the ire of the fans since he signed his $52 million free agent contract.

During his Cub tenure, Jackson had a spotty record:

2013: 8-18, 4.98 ERA, 1.460 WHIP, -1.3 WAR
2014: 6-15, 6.33 ERA, 1.642 WHIP, -2.3 WAR
2015: 2-1, 3.19 ERA, 1355 WHIP, 0.1 WAR

In 2014, Soriano went 4-1, 32 saves, 1.129 WHIP and 0.8 WAR for the Nationals. 

Soriano was signed as a free agent on June 12 for a pro-rated $4.1MM with $4MM in incentives. He’ll serve to further bolster a deep Cubs bullpen. Jason Motte has filled in as the team’s closer in recent weeks, but it stands to reason that Soriano could factor into the late innings too. Soriano, 35, did not allow an earned run in seven minor league appearances. In 630 career innings, he has 207 saves, a 2.85 ERA, 9.09 K/9, and 2.80 BB/9. He spent most of the 2014 season as the Nationals closer before giving way to Drew Storen late in the season. He has 27 or more saves in five of the last six seasons.

The question is why did the Nationals release Soriano? After the 2014 All Star break,  Soriano tallied a 6.98 ERA, before being removed from the closer role on September 9. At age 35, all other teams passed on Soriano, thinking that he had nothing left in the tank.

Just as the Cubs are biting the bullet and paying $11 million for Edwin Jackson in 2016, the Cubs are also taking a flyer on Soriano to end the closer by committee situation.