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The Cubs finished the first half of the year 31 and 50, putting them on pace for a healthy 62 and 100 season. Making the playoffs would require at least 88 wins, we’ll say, so the Cubs would only have to go 57 and 24 in the second half to lock up a playoff spot. Oof.

  • I knew the Cubs’ coaching staff didn’t like Carlos Marmol shaking off the pitches that his catcher was calling, but I didn’t know they were this serious: since he came back from the disabled list in late May, Marmol has not been allowed to shake off his catcher. If he shakes off a sign, he owes pitching coach Chris Bosio a case of wine. Not coincidently, Marmol has been excellent in the last month and a half.
  • Tom Ricketts wrote a column for the Sun-Times about the popularity of baseball. It’s as dry as you might expect, but it’s still nice to read his thoughts. Dude loves him some baseball, and I like that. On the Cubs’ season, he writes, “So far, this has been a very difficult year for the Cubs on the field. However, we too look at this year as a piece of a larger puzzle. We are building a winning team the right way by developing young talent. There are no shortcuts. Our efforts will pay off.”
  • Most of the Cubs and Dale Sveum are realistic about what the rest of the season holds, but David DeJesus is holding out hope for a playoff appearance this year. “We still have work to do but you’ve seen things like this happen,” DeJesus said of the 31-50 Cubs. “The second half of the schedule for the Reds might be tough. And who knows about ours? But we just have to worry about every game, preparing ourselves and being mentally strong. I think that will get us to where we need to be.” That’s adorable.
  • Although they’re realistic, Cubs players aren’t doom and gloom on a daily basis.
  • Bryan LaHair seems to be taking well to his new spot on the field and in the order. After a relatively healthy slump, he’s gone .444/.474/.611 over his last five games.
  • Should we be nervous that Anthony Rizzo has taken only one walk since being called up to the Cubs? I kid, mostly. He’s hitting .323/.344/.710, so there isn’t much to grouse about.
  • HuskerCub

    Not too much to grouse about at all. That homer he hit last night got out of the park as fast as any I can remember.

  • Myles

    As pathetic as it sounds, I actually AM a little worried that Rizzo hasn’t been that patient. He sees 3.22 pitches per plate appearance, and the average is 3.80. He’d be last with a bullet out of our starters. However, it’s an incredibly small sample size, so I know fully well it’s just the pessimist in me.

    I also got to see his first HR as a Cub in person, so he could literally get caught punting a kitten in today’s pre-game warmups and I’d still cheer for him.

    • Beer Baron

      “he could literally get caught punting a kitten in today’s pre-game warmups and I’d still cheer for him.”

      As long as he doesn’t act all offended when the kitten’s former manager doesn’t select him for the all-star team. That would be bush league.

    • Drew7

      Again, I believe Rizzo is exhibiting the perfect example of a “selectively-aggressive” approach: finding a pitch you can drive - whether it be the 1st, 4th, or 7th pitch of the AB – and mashing it. Patience isnt simply a matter of taking more pitches, its about not swinging at pitches you cant hit hard. It just so happens, to this point,  pitchers are throwing him a lot of pitches hes able to hit hard.

      The time to worry is when, regardless of pitches/PA, Rizzo is making bad contact and weak outs. To this point, even the majority of his outs have been well hit.

    • Gabriel

      Dudes – there is NOTHING to worry about. I’ve seen every single one of his ABs as a Cub so far and he’s not taking that many pitches because they are throwing him pitches he can handle. I think I’ve seen him chase a bad pitch ONE TIME, maybe twice if we’re being really critical.

      The kid has always walked and his approach is very very good. Stop worrying he’s been amazing.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Clearly the book on Rizzo is to work him away.  (That shows how much scouting has improved: that has to be based on his AAA performance, as they were getting him out up and in last year.)  Rizzo has been pretty good about laying off of the ones just outside the zone and then hitting the ones on the end of the zone pretty well.

        My guess is that this will change soon: working him with outside breaking balls simply has not been that effective.

        • Featherstone

          You’re completely right Doc, right now the report on Rizzo is far from complete and Rizzo is seeing a lot of pitches he very well may never see again (especially since he has deposited a few in the bleachers). It has been said many times before and will be said many times again, baseball is a game of adjustments. Rizzo is mashing the balls he can do damage with and eventually the league will figure him out, it is then up to him on whether he can adjust to the changes. Will Rizzo ever hit .323 and slug .710! over a full season, most definitely not, but this kid has got talent and its showing.

      • Edwin

        So far he’s swung at 50% of the pitches thrown to him out of the zone, but he’s making contact on 80% of those, I believe. He also is swinging at 76.5% of pitches in the zone, and connecting on 92.3% of those. He’s seeing 80% first pitch strikes, which is 4.96 Standard Deviations above average. His swinging strike % is below average, but not by much.

        So to me, it seems like he’s swinging at almost everything, but he’s been making above average contact so far. He’s starting out a lot of counts 0-1, which is probably why it’s been hard for him to draw a walk. The O-Swinging % is concerning, but right now I’ll chalk it up to small sample size. I’ll be more interested at the end of the season, after Rizzo and pitchers have more time to adjust.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          How far out of the zone have those pitches been?  It seems like they are aiming for the outside corner, and when they miss, they are not missing by much.

          • Edwin

            I’m not sure how Fangraphs defines the strike zone. I’m going off of their data. I’m sure there could be errors in their formula, or errors in the calibration of whatever pitchFX zone they use.

            • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

              “Out of zone” “in the zone” is not accurate; unless things have changed recently:
              http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15232

              • Edwin

                Sure. But how inaccurate is it? Does the fact that it’s not perfect mean we should throw any and all conclusions out? I think, taken with a grain of salt, that it still gives a decent indication of Rizzo’s plate discapline.

        • Myles

          Welp, while I was working on my post, you said it just as well.

        • Gabriel

          there’s a difference b/t swinging at pitches out of the zone and swinging at plain bad pitches. I’m just saying I’ve watched him and only once can i remember saying “whyyy did you swing at THAT?!?”

          Any way you slice it, there is really nothing negative that should be said about the kid at this point – he’s raking and all of his past history tells us that his walk rate won’t be an issue.

      • Myles

        Nah, that’s not true. FanGraphs has him at swinging at 51.7% of pitches outside of the zone. He’s made contact with those at an 80% rate, which probably indicates two things: he’s better at making contact than the normal guy, and he’s also been pretty lucky (not even Vlad Guerrero in his prime is going to make contact with 80% of pitches out of the zone – in fact, his BEST season was 73.6%). The fact of the matter is that his current approach at the plate (swinging at half of the pitches off the plate) simply isn’t going to work in the long haul. He will regress to the mean, he’ll strike out more, and he won’t walk. I have every faith that he’ll make the changes he needs to, because his hitting profile isn’t consistent with what he’s done so far this year (even if the results have been good).

        Pitchers are also invariably going to change their approach to Rizzo. Did you know he’s seen a first pitch strike 81.2% of the time this year? That’s unbelievably high. That actually is the number one reason his “selective-aggresion” approach is working. They are pitching him strikes early, and he’s been hitting them. It’s probably the most reassuring thing in his line so far (he is taking advantage of the mistakes pitchers are giving him). That doesn’t mean he’s not swinging at bad pitches though, and it’s hard to trust purely anecdotal evidence like that.

    • Noah

      Too small a sample size to worry about anything like that. I also expect to see him be challenged less as time goes on. The home run yesterday was on a first pitch fastball right down the middle of the plate. I somehow expect he’ll see less of those as time goes by.

      • chirogerg

        second pitch, wasn’t it, but it really doesn’t matter

      • DocPeterWimsey

        PItchers do not deliberately throw the ball down the middle of the plate for anybody except maybe Tony Campana.  When the pitch is there, then the pitcher missed.  Rizzo will see those kind of mistakes as often as anybody else.

        • MoneyBoy

          Doc, not to quibble, but as I remember, it happened a lot with  Barney last year.   However, the work in the weight room over the winter has paid off.

  • Master Gonzo

    @Brett — I realize the reasons behind Dempster’s possible early return from the DL are a complicated brew of 1) insufficient replacement in the rotation, 2) he’s feeling better, and 3) showing teams that he is still a great trade target.

    How much, in your opinion, is it #3? Could it be that the FO want to show the league he’s back before the AS break, for a possible hand-shake deal during the HR derby or whatnot? Could the Dodgers be showing a wandering eye?! I may be reading too much into it. I realize this is all speculation…

  • SoCal Cubs Fan

    Speaking of Dempster, do you think there is any interest from the Pirates? Would the Cubs deal him within the division? The Pirates I’ve heard have a very good farm system, with some nice pitching prospects.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    Well, here is a quick summary of why the Cubs have done so poorly.  They’ve been outperformed in all of the fundamental stats: -5 HR (middle of the pack), -11 doubles & triples (3rd worst) and -106 walks (by far the worst: the 2nd worst team is at -54).  If you sum total bases + walks, then the Cubs are 3rd to last with -139: only the Rox and Astro’s (2 teams that probably have more wins than they ought to have) have fared worse than this.  (The latter summarizes 70% of the variance in winning this year; usually it’s higher.)

  • MightyBear

    Rizzo keeps hitting like he has been, he’ll get plenty of walks.

    • Featherstone

      Definitely. The walks will come when Rizzo gets less pitches in the zone to drive.

  • ngl89

    I have no problems with Rizzo and Castro swinging early and not taking very many pitches in an at bat. The main goal of the pitcher is to get ahead in the count so that he can set up the rest of the at-bat. So many pitchers throw a good pitch to start an at bat. In most cases that is the best pitch a hitter will see during an at bat. If the first pitch is a fastball down the middle to get ahead or a get me over curve that hangs, hit the crap out of it. There is nothing wrong with not seeing very many pitches in an at bat if the pitches thrown early are too a hitters liking.

    • Edwin

      The thing is, though, Castro is swinging at 40.3% of pitches thrown outside the zone. That’s way above average. I don’t think Castro is seeing less pitches because he’s hitting good pitches early, I think he is seeing less pitches because he swings at everything, outside the zone or inside.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        You almost certainly are correct.  The coaches, catchers and pitchers study the heat charts before games.  The coaches are calling for pitches to be put in the blue parts of the heat zone.  Now, pitchers usually try to throw to the parts of that zone that are strikes: but because Castro’s plate coverage is very good and because he swings at non-strikes, he might very well create an exception.

        • Bric

          Somehow I don’t see Marmol studying much of anything before the game or they would’ve have to bar him from the ability to shake off pitches during a game. Honestly, these guys aren’t rocket scientists or they would’ve have to treat him like a 12 year old who can only use his cell phone on weekends.

  • MightyBear

    Say what you want about Ricketts but he cares. For the first time in 70 years the Cubs have an owner who wants to win and build a team the right way. He brought in the best young executive in the business and he’s letting him run the organization. He hired one of the highest regarded young managers in the game. This hasn’t happened since old man Wrigley hired old man Veek who hired Joe McCarthy. Roughly during that period of time the Cubs went to the WS every three years. Hang in there Cub fans, our time is coming and soon.

  • http://bornonthird.mlblogs.com/ George Cotugno

    I really think there are two reasons for Rizzo’s aggressiveness.

    1 – He has faced a lot of lefties since he was called up, so he is trying to jump on pitches in the zone early in the count.

    2 – Pitchers are just flat out making mistakes early in the count to him, no reason to take those pitches and it’s good to see him jumping on said pitches.

    He has only had a couple overly aggressive at bats where he went out of the zone to swing at a pitchers pitch, as illustrated by his three strikeouts in 31 AB’s. Kid’s impressive.

    - Geo

  • rbreeze

    I have no worries when ti comes to Rizzo.  He’ll have some down times but he looks like a major league player much like Castro when he first came up.  Rizzo is the man at 1B for a long time.

    As for Dempster, I think he makes maybe two starts and if he is effective, he will be gone by mid July.  I think the Cubs have a trading partner and a deal all set to go.  The Cubs have had some time to evaluate some minor league talent of which ever team he is going too.  I think Dempsters health is all that is holding up a deal to a particular team.  Dodgers maybe???  Just a hunch.

  • Cyranojoe

    After seeing Rizzo in a few games now, I have to say, I have a total man-crush on the guy. He comes in with an absolute cool, calm confidence evocative of Paul Newman — not overweening, but inspiring. I hate to say it, but it reminds me of the way many Yankees play the game: certain, sure of themselves, their approach and their place. I can’t recall the last Cubs player I really felt that way about… probably a veteran Ryne Sandberg, or Andre Dawson. Anybody else with me on this?

    The totally insane splits that he pulls out there covering first and saving bad throw after bad throw don’t hurt my affection for him none, either.

  • mudge

    This is a very good coaching staff. Sveum and Bosio might even figure out Volstad. If Ian Stewart had panned out, you’re looking at a very competitive team with terrific infield defense. Modest hopes they play at a .500 clip in the second half. Great to see Russell take two innings. The concept of not shaking off the catcher takes a mental burden of decision off the pitcher’s shoulders. Volstad sounds very self-conscious, maybe they should try the same thing with him.

    • Jeff

      Nice Comment, I’m wondering if Volstad is better suited to the bullpen. What would happen if you made him a closer for the future, post Marmol? Would his velocity go up any? There has to be a spot that works for him, I don’t think starting is it.

      • Cyranojoe

        I shudder at the thought of Volstad as a closer. I feel more confident about what I’m getting with Marmol. But I’ve got an open mind. Aside from his size, what would make Volstad closer material?

        • Jeff

          I feel that trying to use him as a starter is not a viable long term solution, so what would shake him up and make him improve? Send him to Iowa, tell him he’s going to close and tell him to go through it all out there for one inning. If he can’t do that, bye bye Mr. Volstad.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    jeez… thr rizz has been killing the ball! i mean would anybody rather see a walk than an extra base hit? not me…. to start his time in the pros im much more excited by doubles homers and aggressive at bats… lets tone down the consern with walks until it presents itself, hes 22 hes aggressive and hes performing great. not to mention the timely hits hes been the difference in a number of games already this year, its safe to say we owe our current success to great SP and rizzos timely hitting. rizzo has kicked off his era in far more dramatic fashion than i assumed was safe to expect.how about some atta boys instead of “oh shit hes not taking any pitches” as the league adjusts to a great hitter a great hitter adjusts to the league. i think this is the beganing of something special not a sign of trouble on the horizon for our franchise first baseman… come on cub loyal get behind our guy hes doing a GREAT job!

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Walks come (largely) at the expense of outs, not extra base hits.  So, it’s those that we’d like to see changed.  However, this tiny sample size does not mean much, and Rizzo has done well at working walks in the minors.  So, I’m not too worried.

      And, of course, you are right: a double is always better than a walk!

      Edit: I feel rather like I rushed to the worm on the hook given the post just below….. :-)

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    to all the BN micro managers and sybermetric guys… especialy you doc… please dont take my last post the wrong way. you guys are a big reason why im at BN everyday! and i am in awe of the way you break down advanced stats and provide a glimps to the fan… you guys are so often right on the money. im in love with the moment, the season has been tough, and rizzo has been great. im just not willing to add concern to my joy of the moment.

  • Turn Two

    I agree with all of the above posts. Rizzo’s lack of walks could be worrisome if I didnt think it was accounted for in other ways. He is being overly aggressive as he tries to prove he can hit major league pitching. He has been getting good pitches to hit because teams haven’t figured out how to pitch him yet and it seems like there is some play on the part of umpires making him work for it. The play a few days ago where Barney through out, I believe it was an Astro at first and Rizzo didn’t stretch for it in the least and the umpire called a very out runner safe points to that. I have seen a bit of it at the plate as well.
    Small sample size and I am sure that his walks will climb as pitchers begin to fear the only real thumper in our lineup.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    yer the man doc… absolutly love the advanced data

  • http://bleachernation.com #1lahairfan

    Time goes by so fast.

  • Ivy Walls

    Cubs are merely 2 games off last year’s pace of 33-48, and they finished 71-91 or going 38-43 the last half of the season. Taking a peak into the future Cubs seem to be improving incrementally each series as Sveum & Co. has improved the field defense, starting pitching appears to be improving considerably at least with 4 capable starters. The question will be what happens when/if they trade Dempster & Garza. Offensively with Rizzo improving the middle of the order and Castro learning how to walk, things could improve.

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