Bryan LaHair’s Job is Safe and Other Bullets

Bullets, yo…

  • Bryan LaHair isn’t at risk for losing his starting job at first base due to a weak Spring. “He knows he’s not where he wants to be but unfortunately we keep facing left-handers too every day,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of LaHair’s struggles and the non-impact thereof. The numbers are about as ugly as it gets: .150/.150/.150 in 20 at bats. He has just three hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts. But, keep perspective: that’s a bad week or less in the regular season. They all have bad weeks. Lots of ‘em.
  • Peter Gammons says the Cubs/Red Sox outstanding players-to-be-named-later issue (for the Theo Epstein compensation) will be decided by the end of the month (which we expected), with the Red Sox choosing a player from a list of three, and then also selecting the player going back to the Cubs. Jed Hoyer has previously said that the player coming back to the Cubs will not be of the same caliber as the player going to the Red Sox, and Gammons suggests that’s true – talking about the player coming to the Cubs as though his inclusion is a mere procedural requirement (which it is). I’m not saying I’m worried about the player going to the Red Sox, but it remains possible that he will be a young, high upside kid that a lot of us really like.
  • The third cut is the Bullet-iest: yesterday, in addition to outrighting Casey Weathers to Iowa, the Cubs also cut him from Major League camp. They also cut reliever Esmailin Caridad, who, like Weathers, never really had a chance of making the big club.
  • Dale Sveum digs Joe Mather’s bat and his versatility. “It’s been pretty impressive to do what he’s done with the bat, especially against right-handed pitching,” Sveum said. “It’s not like he’s going out there against left-handed pitching and doing it. It’s just a huge asset to a manager. He can probably play every infield position, maybe get by for a day up the middle.” Sveum went on to project where Mather would play if he made the team: “You talk about our lineup and the way our team stacks up, it’s a perfect fit when you have two corner guys who are left-handed hitters and your right fielder is a left-handed hitter, and they need days off. He’s proven the athletic ability and the baserunning and the bat fits our team to a tee right now.” Fifth outfielder spot: edge Mather?
  • I’m not belaboring the Dusty Baker thing, and if you’re tired of hearing about him, then don’t read this Bullet. I just noticed that a piece of his quote the other day about his time in Chicago was not included in the Chicago publications, but was included in the Cincinnati publications: “I was treated better [in San Francisco]. I got treated pretty good by some people in Chicago. I got treated pretty poorly by a lot of people in Chicago, especially at the end. That’s OK. It’s all good.” Dusty doesn’t really have any reason to lie at this point, so I’m sure that’s the truth. I just don’t really understand it, unless he’s referring to the criticism he fairly received in his latter two years in Chicago.
  • Have you entered the Opening Day contest yet? It’s (a) easy, (b) fun, and (c) comes with a $75 prize. Do it!
  • Carlos Zambrano is fitting in well with the Marlins. If he was going to fit in anywhere, it was there, and, let’s be honest: it’s Spring Training. Everyone fits in in Spring Training (except Carlos Silva). Zambrano: “I feel good here. I feel in peace. I feel stronger. I’m working harder. When you work hard and you see the result, and you have a team like this, it makes you want to do better.” Fine. Good. Great. Whatever.
  • Bruce Levine chatted yesterday, and offered a handful of interesting bits: (1) The Cubs are getting a lot of interest on Marlon Byrd, (2) Jeff Samardzija looks likely to win a rotation spot, (3) Josh Vitters was late to the Spring’s first meeting between players, coaches and management, and the front office saw that as a red flag about his maturity, (4) Joe Mather is a favorite at this point to make the team, and (5) Bruce doesn’t believe either the PTBNL going to the Red Sox or the player going to the Padres is going to be anyone “of significance” (though he rationalizes that by saying they’ll be A-ball players, which doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable).
  • A really interesting chart over at the Message Board on the subject of umpire bias. How do they call balls and strikes when there are two strikes? Three balls? Etc. The results are absurd.
  • MLBullets at BCB, noting that expanded instant replay isn’t coming this year.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

43 responses to “Bryan LaHair’s Job is Safe and Other Bullets”

  1. Tim Mo

    Wow, that Vitters thing is a bit alarming. After all the hype of Theo and co. wouldn’t you want to at least show up on time, especially as a minor leaguer, trying to impress the big club and new management? Maybe reading to much into it, but it does worry me. No matter how long he has been with the Cubs organization, this year is basically like starting a new job, you need to do the little things to impress your employer.

  2. Smitty

    Brett, what teams have you heard are kicking the tires on Byrd?

  3. mark

    “Bryan LaHair’s Job is Safe”

    “Fifth outfielder spot: edge Mather?”

    Let’s look a bit closer at what they’re actually saying at this point (could all change if LaHair starts hitting).

    1B has gone from, it’s LaHair’s job–period–to:

    “He [LaHair] knows he’s not where he wants to be but unfortunately we keep facing left-handers too every day,”

    “He [Mather] can probably play every infield position,”

    Wait…1B is a subset of “every infield position.”

    “it’s a perfect fit when you have two corner guys [1B, 3B] who are left-handed hitters and your right fielder is a left-handed hitter”

    Translation: depending on a lot of variables, this could turn into a platoon. None of the anointed starters at these positions are setting the world of Spring baseball on fire, so far. At this point, the most likely candidate for platooning with Mather is LaHair, but there are other possibilities. But then there’s this wrinkle, too:

    ”It’s been pretty impressive to do what he’s [Mather's] done with the bat, especially against right-handed pitching,” Sveum said. “It’s not like he’s going out there against left-handed pitching and doing it.”

    So Mather is hitting lefties and righties, and LaHair is hitting…nobody.

    Obviously, at this point in the Cubs’ gambling, scrambling rebuilding strategy, Mather fits the Cubs “to a tee right now.” In fact, anybody who’s cheap, versatile and has some skills (or a decent potential upside) fits the Cubs “to a tee right now.” And they’re all also expendable if they don’t come through. We gave you a chance that maybe nobody else would have given you–what have you done for us lately? This is the Cubs for the next few years.

  4. mark

    “Josh Vitters was late to the Spring’s first meeting ”

    “Joe Mather is a favorite at this point”

    And Mather started at 3B yesterday–Vitters’ only known position. Not necessarily related. Vitters was a very long shot to make the team. But so was Mather, and I think these new guys running the club want guys who’ll bust their butts every time they get an opportunity. If you don’t you could find yourself on a list of three for inclusion in a trade. In compensation for the signing of a non-player.

    1. Luke

      Vitters has been playing quite a bit of first, both in spring training this year and last year in the minors.  In the AFL, he spent some time in left.

      1. DocWimsey

        Well, just because you and I knew that, it doesn’t mean that other people did! Let’s not thwart good sports talk radio “logic” with facts here….. 8-)

  5. Katie

    I hope La Hair can get it together and fast. He’s been a favorite of mine down on the farm.

  6. mark

    Luke, I don’t think Vitters has seen game time at 1B this Spring, or in LF. The Cubs aren’t putting up videos of his fielding highlights, either. That was a nice play Mather made–in center field. Or verbal bouquets, like: “He [Mather] comes to play, comes to work every day to make himself a better player. He’s going to be a huge asset.” But, then, Mather could find himself on that list of three, too. Anything’s possible with the Cubs where they are, right now. But for now, starting Mather at 3B was a huge message to every player in camp: we’re giving you a chance, but you make your own opportunities.

    1. CubFan Paul

      I love the selective quoting.

    2. DocWimsey

      Vitters has played 1B in camp and he’s played LF last season. Remember, the new regime is not dumb enough to make major decisions based on something as meaningless as spring training: they know that Vitters is not a particularly good fielder anywhere (although he supposedly is improving at third), and they don’t need spring training games to verify this.

      Mather is auditioning for the utility role: and that means that they need to see him playing over the guys like LaHair, Stewart, Rizzo, etc., on whom they already have made decisions. The fact that he’s starting is NOT an indication that the FO and/or Sveum are considering Mather as a starter.

    3. Luke

      According to the Stats page of Cubs.com, Vitters has 8 innings over 2 games at first this spring.  He also split time between first and third all throughout the 2011 season with the Smokies.

      I’m not sure how much time he spent in left in the AFL, but I think it was more than he had on third.  Googling for 2011 AFL stats turns up a bunch of Australian soccer stuff, so I may not be able to come up with exact numbers on that, but Baseball America confirms that he did have time in left in the AFL.

      1. CubFan Paul

        So if Vitters has a ‘strong’ year defensively playing wherever the put him on the diamond, he’ll make it the majors faster?

        1. Luke

          I think he’ll spend the majority of his time in Iowa at third (maybe some left) since Rizzo will be on first.

          Ultimately, his bat will be what gets him to the majors.  When he shows that he can hang back and wait for a pitch he can hammer instead of getting too eager and hitting a lesser pitch, he’ll be up to stay.  If his defense isn’t up to playing third (or Ian Stewart is producing), then the Cubs can open a spot in the outfield for him.

          If he stays impatient at the plate and never learns to take full advantage of his tools, then he’ll be a better version of Jeff Baker.

        2. DocWimsey

          “If he stays impatient at the plate and never learns to take full advantage of his tools, then he’ll be a better version of Jeff Baker.”

          And, historically, neither Epstein nor Hoyers is particularly patient with these kind of prospects, unless they have enormous power. Of course, the Sox philosophy was always (and will continue to be) to draft guys who had good batting eyes, so there were not too many guys in the Sox system like Vitters in the first place. (Middlebrooks takes no more walks than Vitters and Mid. K’s twice as often, but he has a ton more power than Vitters: Middlebrooks batting average given contact was 20% greater than Vitters, giving him the same BA & OBP with a ton more slugging.)

  7. mark

    BTW, I’m not knocking Vitters–and, yes, I followed his exploits in the AFL. He has some learning to do, on and off the field. Mather has done the hard time and the question is, does he have the tools? We’ll see.

    Re the message Sveum sent by starting Mather at 3B: there are a lot of players, utility infielders, in camp who are aching for playing time at 2B and 3B, who have more experience there than Mather. You can include Baker and DeWitt (both of whom will make the final cut or be traded) in that mix. If they’re not aching for every inning and AB they can get right now, Sveum will want to know about it–because he thinks he has some guys who fill that bill. He wants to light a fire.

  8. mark

    “Vitters has been playing quite a bit of first”

    “Vitters has 8 innings over 2 games at first this spring.”

    At this point, Vitters has no future at 1B for the Cubs. Rizzo is that future. And, yes, everything can change.

    “The fact that he’s starting is NOT an indication that the FO and/or Sveum are considering Mather as a starter.”

    Nor did I suggest otherwise. But where the Cubs are is taking gambles. If they lose their bets–LaHair’s good 59 ABs last year were a flash in the pan, Stewart doesn’t come back from his disastrous 2011–they need backup positions. Actually, I think their bet on Stewart at 3B is more likely to pan out than the bet on LaHair–based on track records.

    1. DocWimsey

      “If they lose their bets–LaHair’s good 59 ABs last year were a flash in the pan”

      Hoyer & Epstein are not making this decision based on 59 MLB ABs. They are making the decision based on 1080 PAs for Iowa & Chicago over the last 2 seasons. It’s like Whitey Herzog said 25 years ago: never make decisions based on September or Spring Training!

  9. Spoda17

    Mike, I really think one [DeWitt or Baker] or the other really doesn’t coincides with the Mather issue. I think that Sveum has seen enough of Baker and DeWitt, but not Mather. That is why I feel Mather may get some more at bats than the other two [in comparison].

    Baker and DeWitt are not going to be everyday players, and I think their role is already determined. I think DeWitt will be put back on the 40-man roster. I think these last three weeks will be used to keep guys loose, and evaluate more of the “unknown” player. So I think we will see less of the guys from last year (other than Campana), and more of the Mathers etc…

  10. mark

    The biggest positive for Vitters this Spring is: 2 walks in 8 ABs. His other numbers will come back closer to earth, as happens with most, but if he can build on that… Still, he only had 4 BBs in 100 ABs in the AFL. Other stats were stellar, but it wasn’t MLB.

    1. DocWimsey

      Going from 2 for 10 back to normal (which would be about 2 for 45 for Vitters) isn’t “coming back to earth” so much as it’s just a sample size blip.

  11. mark

    Spoda17, I agree. As I said, Baker and DeWitt, IMO, are on the team or could figure in a trade at some point. As could Mather. What’s going on now is trying to determine the limits of Mather’s versatility to see how including him on the 25 would help the makeup of the team. The one area where the Mather issue impacts Baker (especially) and DeWitt (a little) most directly is outfield play. Occasional starts in RF have been a value added part of Baker’s resume. Mather would eat into that, since he plays all three OF positions. DeWitt’s OF time was more desperation. There’s no point in keeping Mather on a team like this one and not playing him, and that will impact other players. The Cubs will be scrabbling to win games this year, and that will mean situational matchups–offensive and defensive–rather than safe every day starts. Unless those starts are earned. Mostly.

  12. mark

    “Earth” in my terminology is the statistical environment a player typically inhabits. 2/10 isn’t “earth” for Vitters, not his baseline based on his past. What it hopefully is, is an indication of growing patience, an experience to build on. Only the future will tell us whether it is a blip or a sign of growth.

    1. DocWimsey

      Right, but any stats 101 student will tell you that a guy like Vitters will get 2 walks in 10 PAs once in a while by chance alone. A stats 201 student will tell you that because there are factors other than Vitters involved and because those factors are non-randomly distributed over games, the probability of it happening is even higher than the stats 101 student would tell you.

  13. mark

    “any stats 101 student will tell you that a guy like Vitters will get 2 walks in 10 PAs once in a while by chance alone.”

    A glance at Vitters’ career stats suggests that he has probably never had a career stretch of 2/10 in his entire career–prior to this Spring.

    2007: 3/51
    2008: 13/291
    2009: 12/484
    2010: 21/348
    2011: 22/488

    Career: 71/1547

    Bearing in mind that a baseball career is, by definition, a finite sample and that what happens on a baseball field is not determined strictly by chance, perhaps you could explain the statistical theory behind your assertion. I don’t say it’s impossible that, hidden within his career 4.5% walk rate he came up with a 20% stretch, but I would think that once you got beyond 1/5 it would be quite improbable, given his history. Not impossible, but definitely improbable that he has previously gone 2/10. And I say that realizing that he has done precisely that this Spring. I’d actually be very interested to learn whether he has ever done this before.

    1. DocWimsey

      Given Vitter’s stats, you expect him to draw 2 walks in 10 PA’s once ever 100 or so replications. However, that assumes a completely random draw; and because quality of pitching, etc., is non-random (owing to the nature of how baseball series are played), the probability is actually higher than that.

      So, again: it’s not a “come back to earth” situation: it’s a “you just won the $10 lottery ticket” situation.

  14. mark

    To be precise, the part that I’m quibbling with is the “once in a while.” I know he’s done it ONCE. MORE than once is tougher to believe.

  15. Ralph

    If Samardzija is a favorite for one of the last two spots in the rotation, with Volstad more than likely being the other favorite, where does that leave Travis Wood? I suppose Wells is ticketed for the bullpen, but does Wood get sent to AAA to start? Would Wood or Wells be the 6th man… next in line if someone in the rotation goes down?

    1. Kyle

      He’d have to. Which sucks. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone outside of Matt Garza should be taking starts away from Travis Wood.

  16. Spencer

    I think I’m thinking about this contest too much, but just so I’m clear – in order you win, you have to have the batting order in the correct order, correct defensive positions for each player, and the proper order of all five starting pitchers. Is that correct?

    1. TWC

      And it’s only a contest if you’re on Facebook.  Is that correct?

  17. Joe

    That reminds me, what’s the deal with the bunting contest? Wasn’t it supposed to get concluded today?

  18. Cub- Fan-Missouri

    I rhink LaHair played to much this winter, he just needs to step back a little and relax a little