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Assessing the Cubs’ Trade Deadline Moves

Ryan Dempster will now be throwing pitches to Geovany Soto for the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

What a hectic few weeks it has been for the Chicago Cubs front office. There has been excitement, disappointment, optimism and pessimism, but after all the trade rumors and insanity that have swallowed up the attention of actual MLB games, it’s finally time for everyone to relax and look forward to the future of this ball club. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see us net some prospects for the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Bryan Lahair, Matt Garza and others before the trade deadline ended, but at least the Epstein/Hoyer duo didn’t stand completely pat. Let’s break down the deals that went down over the last couple of days.

Geovany Soto to Texas Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham: Dear lord, what in the world happened to Geovany Soto? Once upon a time, just four years ago, he was one of the most valuable players on the Cubs roster. In a league where good catchers are more difficult to come by than it is for Skip Bayless to say something remotely intelligent, we thought we had found our backstop for the next 10+ years. Soto won NL Rookie of the Year in 2008 and finished 13th in NL MVP voting. Since then, he has tested positive for marijuana and has never been the same player. Over the past two seasons, he has posted .228/.310/.411 and .195/.278/.345 splits, respectively. Embarrassing. I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, Soto would probably be best suited to sell dope than hit baseballs at the major league level. I’m glad he’s finally gone. Wellington Castillo: it’s your time to shine, my friend.

As for Jacob Brigham, some sources were pretty surprised that the Rangers were willing to part ways with a high-ceiling pitcher like him. According to Baseball Time in Arlington, the 24-year-old Brigham features plus-plus arm strength and has the ability to strike out a lot of hitters (230 K’s in 238.1 innings over past two seasons at Double A Frisco). His two legit major league pitches (fastball and curveball) “make him a likely candidate to become a max-effort, power reliever.” He’ll need to improve his command, though, if he’s going to get to the majors any time soon. Given how atrocious Soto has been in a Cubs uniform over the past couple years, I’d say this is a low-risk, medium-reward (medium may be pushing it, but there’s nothing in between low and medium) type trade. For a team desperate to add as much pitching as it can get (especially in the bullpen, where it ranks 26th in the majors in ERA at 4.41), this was a deal that probably can’t hurt.

Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman: No disrespect to Maholm — he’s been nothing short of phenomenal the past month+ for the Cubs (5-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 32 K’s over past seven starts, including  six consecutive starts going at least 6 IP and allowing 1 or fewer runs), and I truly appreciate the effort and hard work he has put in for such a bad team — but boy, will I miss Reed Johnson. Here’s a guy who has done nothing but good things for the Cubs the past four out of five years (played for the Dodgers in 2010) and absolutely anything that was ever asked of him. He’s as hard-nosed a ballplayer as you’ll find, and he signifies everything that’s right with the game of baseball and what it means to be a great teammate. I have no doubt that he’ll thrive in his new home in Atlanta, and Braves fans (all five of them) will love his versatility and what he brings to the table.

Aside from all my sappy bullshit, this was arguably the best trade the Cubs made simply because of one name: Arodys Vizcaino. Coming into 2012, ESPN Senior Baseball Analyst Keith Law had him ranked as his 14th — repeat, 14th — best prospect. Sure, he had Tommy John surgery in March that ended his 2012 season before it started, but given the way that pitchers have effectively come back from the surgery over the past decade or so (most notably Stephen Strasburg, John Smoltz, Ryan Dempster, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, among many others), I think it’s a risk absolutely worth taking. Here’s a brief scouting report on Vizcaino from Law:

When healthy, Vizcaino throws 92-96 mph as a starter, with an out-pitch curveball, showing slider velocity but with two-plane action and depth. He has good arm speed on his changeup and was very effective against left-handed batters in the minors in 2011, a testament to that pitch given his arm slot, which is a little below three-quarters. (Pitchers with lower arm slots are easier to pick up for opposite-handed hitters.)

If Vizcaino can stay healthy, and that’s obviously a huge “if,” we’re talking about a 21-year-old guy who has the potential to become a No. 2 starter or better, and all we had to give up to get him was an extra outfielder and a back-end of the rotation kind of pitcher who was never going to be a part of the rebuilding process anyways. He, in addition to Jaye Chapman (3.52 ERA, 60 K’s in 53.2 IP for Triple A Gwinnett this year) — an organizational arm who can become a back-end reliever for the Cubs’ bullpen — is a great return for what we gave up. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that Vizcaino can come back as strong as ever next spring.

Ryan Dempster to Texas Rangers for 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Kyle Hendricks: There’s no need to get into the events that went down with Dempster last week, as I’m sure every Cub fan by now knows what happened (if you don’t, it’s time to rise and shine and get out from under that rock you’ve been living under). The way he handled the situation about being traded to Atlanta was poor to say the least and, in all honesty, he acted like a total pansy. He completely screwed the Cubs out of getting a potential No. 3 starter in the near future in Randall Delgado because of his 10-5 rights, so I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, Cubs fans are very upset with Dempster.

However, even after the way he went out, we can’t dismiss the great things Dempster did for this organization over the past 8.5 years. When the Cubs surprisingly asked him to become their full-time closer in 2005, he went out and saved 85 games in a three-year span. When the Cubs reverted him back to a starter in 2008, he finished his first season back in the rotation with a 2.96 ERA, made the All-Star team, placed sixth in NL Cy Young voting, and helped lead the Cubs to the best record in the NL. Sure, the end of the Dempster era may have left a bitter taste in our mouth, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge what he has done for us. I’ll definitely miss him, and if the Rangers end up winning the World Series this season, I’ll be happy for him. He deserves it.

In terms of the trade, it’s not as great as we would’ve liked it to be. But, if Theo and Jed didn’t see something special in these guys (mostly Villanueva), they wouldn’t have even considered the trade in the first place. Whether keeping Dempster and receiving a compensatory first round pick for his free agent status after the season would’ve been a better option remains to be seen, but most people find Villanueva and Hendricks to be a reasonable return.

Villanueva, a 21-year-old third baseman out of Mexico, ranked No. 100 on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list entering the season. He “has a broad base of tools that include a solid bat, potential average power, fringe to average speed with good instincts on the bases and standout defense with soft hands and a strong arm at third base.” He’s currently hitting .285/.356/.421 with 10 home runs and 59 RBI’s at high Class A in Myrtle Beach, but he’s not very patient at the plate, just like many of the other Cub prospects. Hopefully he can continue to develop, improve his approach at the plate and make it to the majors in a few years.

As far as Hendricks is concerned, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to like. He has been very solid in Myrtle Beach as well and has shown great command (only 15 walks in 131 IP), but Keith Law isn’t too high on him:

Hendricks is more of an organizational starter, 87-89 mph with an average cutter and changeup and below-average curveball but good command and a repeatable delivery and arm action. The right-hander could surface as a fifth starter, but his stuff is probably too fringy for that.

Hendricks is young (22 years old), so there’s definitely room to grow and get better, but it sounds like a No. 5 starter could be his ceiling. As of now, this was a decent trade for the Cubs and a great one for the Rangers. But, in Theo and Jed I trust. Given their track record, it wouldn’t surprise me to see any of these guys become something much greater than expected. Only time will tell. In the meantime, we can only hope for the best for our former Cubs and stay optimistic (or pessimistic if you’re that kind of person) about the prospects we received in return.

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Midseason Evaluation of Cubs Hitters

It’s been a rough year for a majority of Cubs hitters so far. And that’s an understatement.

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.

By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters

Bryan Lahair has been the most valuable Cubs hitter this season.

Paul Konerko has been the most valuable White Sox hitter this season.

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.

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