The City of Broad Shoulders’ Adam Levy and Josh Frydman team up for another COBS Podcast, dissecting the Cubs deadline deals, including the Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano trades, and what other moves might be coming.
Listen Here: COBS PODCAST CUBS DEADLINE DEALS
Is it really only July? Can this horrible nightmare of a season just end so that Cubs fans don’t have to experience this pain anymore? Basketball and football season can’t come any sooner. It’s been a loooong season to say the least, but given how well the Cubs have played as of late, I’ve been feeling pretty good. Prettyy, prettyy, prettyy, prettyy good. Since the call-up of Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have gone a solid 8-4 including two series wins against the Mets, a four-game split with the Braves and a sweep of the currently last-place Astros. With Rizzo now holding down the three-spot in the Cubs lineup, and producing while he’s at it, I have actually been able to turn on WGN or Comcast on a (nearly) nightly basis with at least some excitement. Even so, this season has been a lost cause since before it even started, so there’s only so much we can look forward to as the second half takes off on Friday. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t assess and evaluate the value that each hitter has brought to the Cubs lineup thus far. If anything, it will help us figure out what kind of future some of these guys have on the North Side.
**For all of you who happened to read my post from Tuesday evaluating White Sox hitters, the next few paragraphs will sound identical in order to explain the math behind everything once again, so feel free to skip to the chart.**
If you can recall from a couple of months back, I wrote a post titled “By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters,” in which I used Bill James’ Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). Simply put, if a team consisted of nine of the same player, such as nine Starlin Castros, approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score for their team per game? Instead of using sabermetric measurements that most casual fans don’t understand, such as wins above replacement (WAR), the runs created formula gives us the ability to evaluate the true value that each hitter has brought to his respective lineup thus far this season. Like last time, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created and game outs used for each hitter using:
Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases)) ÷ (AB + BB + HBP)
Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS
Remember, according to Mathletics, “approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Hence why we must take .982 of every at-bat instead of 1. Game outs used must then be divided by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game) in order to determine the number of games’ worth of outs used by each hitter. That, ultimately, leaves the most important equation as the final step:
Runs created per game = runs created ÷ games’ worth of outs
Obviously, runs created per game tells you more about a hitter’s value than total runs created because the latter does not differentiate between bad hitters with a lot of plate appearances and great hitters with less plate appearances. That being said, take a look at the numbers below:
The incredible impact that Anthony Rizzo has had on this Cubs team just 12 games in doesn’t need to be explained again. Obviously that 10.40 number will go down soon enough, but to have four doubles, four homers and a .688 slugging percentage so far is very impressive. Instead of continuing to bore you with my Rizzo ass-kissing, though, let’s focus on some other hitters.
Who knew that Reed Johnson was this valuable to the Cubs lineup? Given he’s had limited opportunities to get on base as he continues to platoon in the outfield, it’s still pretty great to see him leading the team (not counting Rizzo) with a .302 batting average. WIth free agency approaching after this season for Johnson, don’t be surprised to see the Cubs shop him around, or even trade him, before the July 31 deadline. He could give contenders some solid depth in the outfield and even provide good value as a pinch hitter, as he has batted .478 (11/23 ) this season in pinch-hitting situations.
As for Alfonso Soriano, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good he has been this season. When I evaluated the Cubs hitters back in early May, Soriano was creating a whopping 2.98 runs per game. That number is now up to 5.36, as he scorched through May and June to the tune of 55 hits, 15 home runs, 27 runs, 35 RBIs and .288/.361/.577 splits. That’s easily better than any two month span he’s had since his first two seasons in Chicago, proving that maybe, just maybe, he has una poco gasolina still left in that Dominican tank of his. Although I don’t admit it often, I actually am very proud of how well Soriano has played this season, but if any American League GM feels that The ‘Fons can bring some necessary hitting to his lineup as a DH and is willing to acquire him via trade (Epstein and Hoyer are more than willing to eat a substantial portion of his contract), I’d be all for it.
Easily the most shocking runs created/game number on this list is that of Starlin Castro. God knows how much he’s been killing my fantasy lineup lately (batted .264 in June, batting .207 in July), but 4.73 runs created per game? Is that a joke? The problem continues to be his ridiculous inability to walk. I know I’ve been over this before, but it’s as if Castro is legitimately allergic to patience. Amongst every day players on the team, Castro ranks last in walks with 12 and owns a .314 on-base percentage. We all know how awful those numbers are, but when you know that Castro is second on the team in average at .291 but last in OBP, it makes everything that much worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the kid play and think he’s one of the most natural hitters in the game today, but if he doesn’t learn to mature at the plate and start getting on base more, I’m going to punch another hole in my basement wall – next to the other five holes from losing Madden and NBA Live games to the computer way back when.
A few more takeaways before calling it a night: David DeJesus isn’t as good as this list makes him out to be – the Cubs lineup is obviously just really, really bad. He walks a fair amount, provides solid defense in right field and has a hot wife, but that’s pretty much it.
I’d like to thank my lord and savior (Tebow style), whomever that may be, for not forcing me to watch Ian Stewart in a Cubs uniform ever again. He’s out for the rest of the season after having wrist surgery, and he admitted on Twitter the other day that he probably won’t be back after his one-year deal expires this offseason. Needless to say, I’m really happy about that Tyler Colvin for Stewart swap. Colvin’s only batting .305 on the season with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in his last 26 games. No big deal. And oh, by the way, Luis Valubena isn’t the answer at third base either. Josh Vitters, your time to shine is approaching faster than anyone would think.
Lastly, Geovany Soto. He sucks. A lot. I’m not going to waste anyone’s time raving about how gawful (God + awful) this man is at the plate and behind it, because the numbers (.177 batting average and 12 RBIs) should speak for themselves. Given the way he’s played this season, he doesn’t belong in the Major Leagues anymore. It’s sad. But it’s true. Steve Clevenger’s a nice catcher to have, but he can only play against righties, as he’s hitting an embarrassing .105 against lefties this year. Hopefully Wellington Castillo will start to improve soon.
Newsflash: the Cubs are bad. Like really bad. With the Crosstown Series officially over until next season, the only things Cubs fans can really look forward to are seeing Anthony Rizzo in white with blue pinstripes and spending Saturday afternoons (or any day of the week for that matter) getting absolutely hammered in Wrigleyville before and after games. Life can be worse, that’s for sure, but having a winning team to root for wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.
It makes me sick to think that just four years ago, this was a team that sent a total of eight players to the All-Star Game. Now, we’re struggling to find more than a couple of guys who deserve to even be in consideration. With the Midsummer Classic just three weeks away, baseball fans on the North Side will finally get to watch some legitimate baseball (for one night), and at least one of the players participating in that game will reign from the corner of Addison and Clark. Which Cub deserves to be the team’s likely lone all-star, you ask? Well, let’s break down their top candidates and see who we come up with.
Ryan Dempster, Starting Pitcher
As crazy as it sounds, Ryan Dempster has quietly been one of the five or six best pitchers in the National League this season. His 2.11 ERA ranks him third overall for starting pitchers across the Majors, and nine out of his 12 starts have been considered quality ones (6+ innings pitched, 3 earned runs or less). His WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) thus far (1.02) is the lowest it has EVER been in his 15-year career, which is an amazing feat for a 35-year-old pitcher who has always had some trouble finding the plate and preventing hitters from getting on base.
Unfortunately, Dempster only has three wins to show for his incredible first half (all of which came in his last three starts), but that has almost nothing to do with him and everything to do with the abysmal Cubs hitters, who have failed to score more than three runs in seven of his 12 starts. But wins aside, Dempster has been far and away the best pitcher on the Cubs and will undoubtedly make any contender happy for the last two months of the season when he gets traded. As he sits on the DL with mysterious “back tightness,” one would have to suspect that Dempster’s time in Chicago may be coming to an end sooner than expected. Whether he manages to stay a Cub until July 10 or not remains to be seen, but he definitely deserves a spot on this list.
Starlin Castro, Shortstop
Yes, he ranks second among all every day players in errors with 12 (tied with Giants’ Brandon Crawford and one behind Dodgers’ Dee Gordon). And yes, he ranks 19th among 24 every day shortstops with a .956 fielding percentage. But Starlin Castro is still the best pure hitting shortstop in the National League (and arguably the ML), and that’s really all that matters when it comes to making the All-Star team. He currently leads the Cubs in hits (85), average (.302) and total bases (125), and he’s second on the team in runs scored (33), RBIs (38) and stolen bases (16). The only thing holding him back from true stardom is his inability to walk (he has only six walks with a horrendous .316 on-base percentage), but that’s another conversation for another day.
At the moment, Castro is sitting in third place among NL shortstops in all-star voting (~700,000 votes behind Rafael Furcal for first), making it very unlikely that we’ll see him starting for the National League in a few weeks. It looks as if Castro’s all-star fate will rest in the hands of the players, coaches and managers around the league. With the numbers he has put up so far this season, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Castro gets selected for his second consecutive all-star game.
Bryan Lahair, First Base
Once upon a time, Bryan Lahair was a 32nd round nobody out of St. Petersburg Junior College. Ten years, two short Major League stints, a Pacific Coast League MVP and a whole lot of perseverance later, he has become one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball. With the Cubs in rebuilding mode, Lahair was called upon to be the guy-who-plays-first-base-against-righties-only until Anthony Rizzo came to town. Then, it would be to the bench as a utility player/pinch-hitter or maybe even back to the minors. Clearly, Lahair never got that memo, as he obliterated major league pitching throughout the month of April and made it loud and clear that he is more than worthy of starting every day at the major league level, whether it be playing an unnatural position in right field for the Cubs or playing first base/DH elsewhere. He leads the club in home runs (tied with Soriano at 13), on-base percentage (.375) and slugging percentage (.563), and he’s second on the team in extra-base hits (25).
Due to the departures of Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols from the National League over the past two years, as well as Ryan Howard’s torn achilles tendon, the crop of talent at first base is at an all-time low, which means there’s no better time for Lahair to accomplish something no Cubs fan would have ever expected him to accomplish coming into this season: making the All-Star team. Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman are unquestionably the two best first baseman in the NL right now and are virtual locks to make the All-Star team. But after them, you’d have to make a very strong case to convince me that Lahair is NOT the next best player at his position (Adam Laroche may have more RBIs, but the average and OPS aren’t even close, in favor of Lahair). If the retired Tony LaRussa decided he wanted three first baseman on his All-Star roster, I would like to think that Lahair would be his third guy. After witnessing a journeyman knuckleballer become the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award while throwing 41 consecutive scoreless innings and back-to-back complete game one-hitters (that would be R.A. Dickey if you haven’t caught on), nothing in baseball would shock me anymore. And that includes Bryan Lahair becoming an All-Star.
Alfonso Soriano, Outfield
The way Soriano’s career has panned out in Chicago over the past few years, never did I think he’d make it to this list. But here we are, near the end of June, and Soriano leads the team in home runs (13), RBIs (43) and extra-base hits (26), and he ranks second in slugging percentage (.485) and OPS (.800). He has also been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last month (10 homers, 21 RBIs, 18 runs and 61 total bases). Who knew? Whether you think Soriano deserves to be in consideration for an All-Star selection or not, I had to put him on here because, after all the negative things I’ve said about him over the years, he really has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season, and I commend him for it. I understand that there are a plethora of outfielders to choose from, so he probably doesn’t stand a chance at making the team anyways. But for the first time in four years, I am actually proud of Fonsi. That should count for something.
Who I would pick: Starlin Castro
Although all of these guys are equally deserving in my mind (except for maybe Soriano), I would pick Castro because a) as I said before, he has become the best pure hitting shortstop in the NL, and b) there is a severe lack of depth at the shortstop position this season. With Troy Tulowitzki out for the next 2+ months with a torn groin (ouch?), and Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins stinking it up worse than a fat kid’s dutch oven, Castro is easily the best candidate of all (and that’s assuming the mildly overrated Rafael Furcal wins the starting gig). If Castro fails to make the All-Star team, it’ll just be stupid.
Who will be picked: Starlin Castro
If the NL decides to go with two first baseman (or picks Laroche as the third guy), making Lahair the odd man out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And because there are so many great pitchers to choose from (R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Lance Lynn, James McDonald, Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Johan Santana, among others), the NL can survive without Dempster as well. That, along with my reasoning above, makes picking Starlin Castro the most logical choice. Since the Cubs are so bad, they will almost certainly get only one all-star (if they get more, I’ll be pleasantly stunned). Ultimately, this is how it will probably play out.
It is almost overwhelming how many statistics there are to evaluate baseball players. Outside of your typical fantasy baseball categories, there are advanced statistics used to evaluate the individual’s, or team’s, hitting, pitching and fielding abilities, as well as sabermetrics used by front office people and baseball junkies to determine the true value of a baseball player (such as wins above replacement).
As we prepare for a long summer of Chicago baseball, I realize there’s probably not much to look forward to in terms of the immediate future of both the Cubs and White Sox. However, considering the Bulls season is now over and the Bears have yet to start training camp, I have to find a way to keep myself (and you guys) entertained. Therefore, instead of assessing crazy baseball statistics, I found a way to evaluate the every day hitters of our baseball teams, thinking that it may at least give us some hope for the future and/or make us want to pull our hair out.
In 1979, Bill James (the inventor of sabermetrics and a statistical god within the baseball community) developed a Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). In other words, if a team consisted of nine of the same player (nine Paul Konerkos, nine Starlin Castros, etc.), approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score per game? In order to figure this out, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created for each hitter using:
Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases)) ÷ (AB + BB + HBP)
This metric alone, however, doesn’t necessarily give us an idea of how truly valuable a player is to his team. The problem with any runs created metric is that a bad hitter with a lot of plate appearances might create more runs than a great player with less plate appearances. In order to fix this problem, we must factor in outs. According to Mathletics, “Approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Therefore, “game outs used” can be calculated with this equation:
Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS
By dividing that number by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game), I was able to determine the number of games’ worth of outs that have been used by each batter. That leaves this equation as the final step:
Runs created per game = runs created ÷ games’ worth of outs
Below are the numbers for each Cubs and Sox every day hitter:
As you can see, the numbers don’t lie. Anyone who follows and watches the Cubs and/or Sox knows that their two most valuable hitters thus far have been Bryan Lahair and Starlin Castro, and Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, respectively. Ironically, I already wrote posts about Lahair, Dunn, and Konerko and the amazing success they’ve had this season (or in Konerko’s case, his career). Castro is only 22 years old, but he’s already one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He has an incredible knack for making contact, even on balls out of the strike zone (think Vladamir Guerrero). The reason his runs created per game number is not as high as you would think is because of his inability to walk and lack of power. But again, he’s only 22 years old. The kid will continue to improve and get stronger as he gets older. The walk and home run numbers will only go up. He has an extremely bright future.
Although that’s all great to look at, I can’t help but focus on the two names at the bottom of the Cubs list: Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. To put into perspective how disappointing these two players have been (and disappointing is a severe understatement), look at their numbers during their best seasons as Cubs players:
We can all agree, even before seeing this, that Soriano is an absolute joke. I can sit here and shred him to pieces if I really want to, but after all these years of extreme frustration, it’s not even worth my time anymore. He’s an atrocious baseball player, and to think that he was a 40/40 player (40 homers/40 stolen bases) only 6 years ago when we signed him nearly makes my head explode. In his first season as a Cub (consequently his best), Soriano created over 4 runs per game more than he does now. Amazing. And you know what else is amazing? Bryan Lahair creates 3.77 runs per game more than Soriano this season. What are their salaries, you ask? Lahair is currently getting paid $482,500 in his first season as a 29-year-old. Soriano, who is only five years older, is making $18,000,000. This means that Soriano is being paid 37 times as much as Lahair, yet Lahair is rated as being 8.26 runs better per game than Soriano. That truly upsets me. But, as we all know, athletes get paid for past performances. Every contract in baseball is guaranteed. Some Cub fans seem to think he will eventually get his act together over the next few years. And for whoever does think that, let me take away whatever it is you’re smoking and tell you this: no he won’t. He will never even be a third of the player he used to be. End of story. Too bad the next two and a half years can’t come any sooner.
You think I’m going to let Geovany Soto off the hook? C’mon man. There’s one word to describe how pathetic he’s been the past couple of years: EW. What in the world happened to this guy? Not only was Soto an All-Star in 2008, but he also won NL Rookie of the Year AND finished 13th in NL MVP voting. I don’t have an answer for his shocking lack of production since that great season, but I wish I did. The fact that he’s creating a team worst 2.24 runs per game (only factors in every day players) compared to 6.73 in 2008 speaks for itself.
As for the White sox, Paul Konerko has obviously had a great season, as he continues to be the most valuable hitter in their lineup year in and year out. Alejandro De Aza has been a pleasant surprise. He certainly didn’t have the highest of expectations coming into this season, but he has proved to be worthy of an everyday starter in center field – something the Marlins didn’t give him a fair chance to do. And after signing a fat 4-year, $32.5 million extension last winter, Alexei Ramirez is continuing to disappoint. For the number of at bats he’s had (leads the team), he has been arguably the worst hitter at his position this season – just horrendous.
I know I already praised Adam Dunn the other day for how great he has been this season, so I’m not going to get into it again here. Comparing this season’s numbers to last season, though, is really incredible. You can look at his 2011 numbers below:
Dunn’s creating 5.94 more runs per game in 2012, and he has created almost as many runs in seven weeks this season as he did ALL of last season. What a turnaround. Good for him.
As I said earlier, there are so many ways to measure the value of Major League players. Using runs created is a little more unique than most and has proven to be very accurate. This metric shows us how truly valuable players like Bryan Lahair and Alejandro de Aza have been, and hopefully will continue to be, this season. It also shows us how disappointing every day players like Geovany Soto and Alexei Ramirez have been thus far. But regardless, there are nearly 130 games left to play. There’s more than enough time for improvement – or not. We can only hope for the best.