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taiwan flagI’m really looking forward to watching the Winter Olympics, which start later this week in Sochi, Russia. If I can convince The Little Girl that the ice skaters are actually Disney princesses, she’ll probably watch with me. Then again, ice skating isn’t all that high on my list of sports to watch. Maybe she’ll buy that Jasmine also likes to snowboard?

  • Another prospect piece from Sahadev Sharma in Vine Line, focusing on potential international impact. I love the mix of prospects discussed, from obvious guys like Jeimer Candelario, to recent big-time signees like Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, to sleepers like Carlos Penalver and Erick Leal (the 18-year-old lefty the Cubs got in the Tony Campana deal, and who dominated the Arizona Rookie League last year (though it sounds like it’s because of a polished approach and great control, rather than having ideal velocity/stuff)). I am particularly intrigued by Jen-Ho Tseng, the 19-year-old Taiwanese righty the Cubs inked for $1.625 million this year as part of the SIGN ALL THE INTERNATIONAL PROSPECTS strategy. He offers advanced feel and upside, and Sahadev says it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he started the year at Kane County. A 19-year-old starting pitching prospect with polish and a quality fastball on whom to dream? Yes, please.
  • In a chat at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski offered the ZiPS projection for Jason Hammel with the Cubs: 7-7, 4.01 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.6 WAR in 134.2 IP. Just about average, which would make his one-year, $6 million contract decent. Hopefully he outperforms that projection, obviously. (Also, Arismendy Alcantara’s projection was the single biggest ZiPS surprise among position players to Szymborski.)
  • Tony Andracki looks at Darwin Barney’s down year, and what he’s doing to try and get back on track in 2014. The Cubs still need to settle up with him in arbitration – he’s asked for $2.8 million, and the Cubs have offered $1.8 million.
  • I guess Alfonso Soriano really isn’t coming back – he’s sold his condo in River North.
  • I really love this piece John Arguello wrote over at Cubs Den about how the Cubs could be surprisingly competitive in 2014, particularly in light of yesterday’s somewhat depressing win curve discussion. John points out that the Cubs need to add just seven wins over the first half next year (compared to last year, where you could argue the Cubs underperformed their expected record) to be 50-45 at the All-Star break, which would completely change the complexion of the entire year. While I doubt that John believes this kind of first half is likely, I think it’s important to allow yourself to contemplate the optimistic side of things every now and again.
  • From the “must be nice” department, ZiPS projects the Washington Nationals rotation for 17(!) WAR. It pretty much loves the rest of the team, too. Interestingly, Washington looked this good on paper going into 2013, as well, and fell quite flat. Can’t predict baseball, man.
  • It appears that Carrie Muskat has arrived in Arizona for Spring Training, because she’s started putting up some pictures on her blog. Baseball is coming …
  • Remember Randy Milligan? Probably not, but it turns out he was pretty darn good and pretty darn unappreciated. He actually once had his salary cut in arbitration a year after posting a .299/.423/.434 line over 103 games at first base (2.3 WAR).
  • Meta: Probably because of Tanakarama, I didn’t notice that venerable Dodgers blog Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has closed its doors, folding into a new site, Dodgers Digest with a handful of other notable Dodgers writers, and which I imagine will be exceedingly good. Because MSTI was, to my knowledge, one of the few remaining large, independent, single-team fan blogs out there, I’m reminded that this model – the one you’re enjoying here at BN, where one dude runs a site as his full-time job with the help of contributors – is not the easiest thing to pull off in the long-run. Independence (being unaffiliated with a traditional media enterprise or a large blogging network) has its benefits (you know, like, independence), to be sure, but it also has significant hurdles (access can be particularly tricky, as can having to manage all aspects of a site, a server, and a business for 365 days a year). The good news for the nervous among you is that I have a very hard time seeing myself changing things in any fundamental way in the near future – I am still satisfied, challenged, and capable – but it’s interesting to me to observe the baseball media market from a distance. Sometimes change is thrust upon us from the outside, so it’s important to be aware of trends. I guess that’s all I’m saying.
  • CubChymyst

    I know others have said it as well, but this year has the potential for the Cubs minor league pitchers to make some waves.

    • hansman

      It would be nice if a pitcher came out and Baez’d all over AA this year.

      • CubChymyst

        I think Edwards has the potential to do that as long as he has the stamina to start. The new pitcher I’m most interested in following this year is Rob Zastryzny.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I can easily pitching being a huge story in the Cubs minors this year.

  • hansman

    BRETT’S SELLING BN!!!!!!!!!

    I’ll give you $5.43 and a set of cat’s pajamas.

    • DarthHater

      I’ll throw in one dead horse (well beaten).

  • Greenroom

    Ahhh optimism, where have you been? Missed you. Brett I can’t imagine the hours you put in to run BN. I know it’s a labor of love, and we only see the tip of the iceberg of what you must do to keep things rolling. Much appreciated, keep up the great work. Go Cubs-

    • D-Rock

      +1

      Great work on this site, Brett. Your site has definitely added to my Cubs knowledge and encouraged my fandom. Since finding out about this site a couple years ago and checking it multiple times a day since then, I am a much more informed Cubs fan. And although I didn’t think it was possible, I think it is safe to say I am a more devoted Cubs fan as a result of BN. Keep up the awesomeness that is Bleacher Nation!

  • hansman

    Last year we underperformed our pythagorean win projection by 5. Just by pure random luck and chance you could flip that to the positive by 5 wins.

    How much better would folks be feeling if the Cubs just had a better sequencing of runs scored last year and finished with 76 wins?

    • Jason P

      A lot better.

      That said, the first half team was a whole lot better than the second half team. And the team were putting out in 2014 much more closely resembles the second half team.

    • CubFan Paul

      “How much better would folks be feeling if the Cubs just had a better sequencing of runs scored last year and finished with 76 wins?”

      Pissed. We’re rebuilding/waiting on funds/revenues. It’s all about draft position and development

  • Orval Overall

    * re Arguello’s piece, I love the optimism, but 7 wins added by the All-Star break would be a ton for a team that got better than expected performances from Feldman and Garza before the break last year, and needs the back-end of the rotation to not only tread water at those levels, but contribute to a 7 win improvement. Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to see Hammel and Arrieta being equal to, let alone better than, Feldman and the Garza/Villanueva combo. (BTW: is the ASB later than usual this year? Never realized there were 95 games before the break).

    * re the Meta bullet, I can only speak for myself, but what makes this site a must-read for me is the insight and analysis you provide. I don’t always agree with that analysis, but it rarely fails to enhance the discussion. Keep doing that, and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.

    • hansman

      We could add 7 wins to the 2013 final and still have less variance from projected wins to actual wins.

      • Orval Overall

        Understood, and depending on what you believe that’s either because they got unlucky, or they got Marmol’d. Doesn’t change the fact that part of the reason their Pythagorean record was what it was, is that they got 71 innings of 3.17 ERA pitching from Garza, and 91 innings of 3.46 ERA pitching from Feldman. Even if you assume there will be improvement in overall run production, and improvement in the bullpen, just to get back to where they were last year those gains need to offset the difference between Garza/Feldman and Hammel/Arrieta.

      • Nate

        Pythagorean record isn’t the best way to look at how good a team was. It doesn’t take sequencing into account. It would be better to look at the particular combinations of events that lead to runs scored and runs given up, and count those up. I think that’s what most projection systems try to do.

        That said, let’s hope we are the benefactors of some fortunate sequencing and outperform our Pythagorean!

        • Nate

          Beneficiaries*

        • DocPeterWimsey

          The projection systems look at the expectations from general combinations, not particular sequences. That is, they are based on the probabilities of X HR, Y doubles, Z walks, etc., and the probabiltiies that those yield or allow A, B, C, etc., runs.

          That is why even the below-average teams make post-season in a small fraction of runs: in thousands of simulations, you get quite a few 2012 Orioles.

          • Nate

            I think this is what I was trying to say. Projection systems take sequencing out of the equation and isolate the events (singles, doubles, triples, HR, BB) that are likely to lead to X amount of runs.

            And even if a team happens to have a bad Pythagorean record, they can outperform it by winning a lot of one-run games.

            I guess I shouldn’t really be comparing Pythagorean to projection systems anyway, since one tries to predict how a team will perform in the future, and one tries to evaluate past performance based on runs. All I was trying to say is, the Pythagorean record is very inexact.

    • Jason P

      A couple of semi-minor upgrades this offseason would have made 85 wins a whole lot more plausible. Or Tanaka, but at least with him we tried (not sarcasm).

  • Brocktoon

    Isn’t 7 wins in half a season a dreaming lot of wins to conjure out of thin air?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It’s extremely optimistic (though, again, the Cubs’ record in the first half last year was several wins below their actual performance), but John explains the theory behind how it *could* happen. To be clear, no one is expecting it.

      • Brocktoon

        My biggest issue with his piece is he used 2013 FIP to show what needed to be matched in the rotation. FIP is predictive, it doesn’t show what performance needs to be matched to run in place this season.

        Additionally he focuses on games blown by the pen with no context to how many games the average team “blows” and then mentions Gregg in passing as if we don’t have to match his crazy surface numbers in the first half

        • Brocktoon

          And he talked about(presumably with a straight face) hoping for mike olt to become a 4 win player

      • jawsofvictory

        Setting aside the optimism for a moment, a subplot of John’s piece (as evidenced in the comments) is his position that, given a .500-ish team at the break, the fire sale is cancelled. This is the point I found most interesting. Some comments expressed dislike for the loss of a top-5 (or whatever “high”) draft pick, but I take John’s greater point to be that the actual major league team needs to make significant progress rather than lying fallow and waiting on messianic prospects to mature. Here’s John:

        “The progress of the core and wins are connected. If the Cubs win 73 games, maybe they have another high pick but it may also mean they have a lot more question marks. I dont’ think it’s worth the payoff at all. I’d rather have some core players breakthrough than get another pick. You can’t switch on a certain year when they all start playing well at the same time and one more bad year from Castro, Rizzo, Arrieta, and others will be 3 steps backward to get a player who probably won’t help them until 2017, assuming he pans out.”

        Essentially, a repeat of last season means that the ML team is still in need of complete rebuild. And that would be bad.

        I was talking to very casual and disgruntled fan a couple days ago, trying to sell her on coming along to a couple spring training games to see the Big Four. Her not foolish reply was “well, what if they don’t work out?” The same line of reasoning should be applied to the major league team. If Castro and Rizzo, as the major examples, fail to rebound, the Cubs are some (more) trouble.

        Anyway, I liked John’s piece for the subtext. I’m not one of those screw-the-plan-argh-I’m-impatient fans, but I do agree with John that another top-5 pick record would indicate a serious set-back for overall progress.

        On the other hand, after the last few seasons, the last thing I want to hear is a series of “if’s” followed by “hey, it’s baseball, anything could happen.”

        Finally, Brett your work is very, very good. I’ll definitely be using your link to fulfill my disgusting Amazon addiction.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Dig the thoughts, and the nice-ness at the end.

          While I can see the upside in a breakout year (by which I mean no massive sell-off at the deadline, and 80+ wins – I’m not going to go crazy and say anything about contention), I don’t see a ton of downside in another well-executed shitty year. By that I mean a couple good acquisition trades, a good draft, good development, and another top (protected!) pick secured. I can see avenues that the Cubs head into the offseason looking like a team that is clearly going to add some pieces in an effort to contend in 2015 – if that’s the case, I don’t think we’ll have quite the same October/November/December handwringing among fans that we saw this year. With the right developments, I can actually see a Cubs in September careening toward 95 losses … and fans are fairly happy.

          Just like 80+ wins, though, it’ll take a lot of breaks.

          • brainiac

            who do you think the cubs will target next offseason? i genuinely do not know.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              The smart answer is “it depends.” But if we see clear progress from the positional prospects (and Castro/Rizzo/Castillo), I’d think high-end pitching would be the focus.

          • jawsofvictory

            In regards contention, I am in total agreement. There is no way. I guess that, from a PR standpoint, being labeled the Dark Horse in August would look good, but that’s it.

            Though I did cancel my mlbtv for this season (I’m as masochistic as the next Cubs fan, but you know, a man’s gotta draw a line somewhere…and I will be purchasing the MiLB tv package–just to watch the Tennessee rotation!), I actually think this is a very important season. For instance:

            Castro and Rizzo: which version of themselves are they?
            Baez: can the K% come down?
            Byrant: like Baez.
            Pitching: the Cubs seriously need some prospect explosion here. “Aces” are absurdly expensive these days, especially given their usual age. If the Cubs have just one no. 2 starter, or two true no. 3′s, ready for Iowa after this season, then I’m happy.

            But these are things that I expect to know after the 2014 season. The answers bear mightily upon the next few seasons.

    • Orval Overall

      It’s really 60% of the season. Almost. But yes, that’s a ton of wins to add in 60% of the season.

  • Boogens

    Brett, you do a fantastic job running BN. You are prolific in the number and quality of posts plus you do a great job maintaining an even-handed demeanor in your analysis & reporting on the club as well as managing the herd of cats (like me) that read your blog several times a day.

    I sincerely hope that you maintain the direction and independance that you’ve achieved so far. I am sure that I’m not alone when I say that any departure from your current approach at BN would leave a huge void for your readers. Nothing else fills our Cubs-Jones like BN.

    Thanks for everything you do and please keep things going as they are.

  • brainiac

    Brett, if you gotta make some cash for kids’ college funds, you should do it. us cranks will find another medium to blow of some steam.

    plus i wouldn’t relish having to cover daily news from this organization for another two years, before they’re even ready to put their hat into the “.500 club”. then again if it’s a living then it’s a living. you’ll have pulled off a feat that most bloggers can’t.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, but, yeah, no worries here on that front. So long as folks don’t mind the ads and the promotions, this is a fine living.

      • DarthHater

        I can’t seem to get interested in those on-line fantasy-roster game promotions, but I did make my first BN-Amazon purchase yesterday. Good to know that somebody other than f-ing Amazon might benefit from my refusal to get off my ass and go to a store.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I’ll take it!

      • Edwin

        Just think how much more fun this place could be if the Cubs actually started winning.

        • brainiac

          hah i think that all the time. people complain about posters who grumble. all it would take would be the *attempt* to compete to placate 80% of us. only the basement dwellers expect “the plan” to be draconian and then result in perfection. it’s so abstract and disingenuous.

          the rest of us just want something to root for. simply trying to function like a healthy and normal ball club would be enough.

  • CubFanBob

    How many wins did Marmol and Camp cost us in April and May last year ?

    • Fishin Phil

      My thoughts exactly.

  • billybuck

    By the way, if you’re going to pick a Disney Princess for your daughter, pick a cold weather one at least (Elsa from Frozen would be optimal (I have a four year old girl if it doesn’t show)). I fear for Jasmine’s frostbite on the bobsled run…

  • Fishin Phil

    Heck, I think Marmol had 7 blown saves in the first half alone (this may be a Puppet Exaggeration for effect). With a hopefully much improved bullpen, I could see us sniffing .500 at the break.

    • CubFanBob

      Agreed, I think the FO saw how the bullpen failed us last April and May so they smartly and quietly built depth there without jeopardizing the future.

      One thing I am surprised you rarely hear mentioned is how the Cub’s were over .500 vs all the teams they played outside their division. On paper one could argue that divide between the Cubs and the other four teams is still wide. But my feeling is…

      Cardinals will not sustain that RISP ave from 2013 plus who to say some of those arms may not hit a sophomore slump. Same goes for Matt Adams in his first full season at 1b. Not sold on Bourjois either.

      Reds lost one of the top OBS players and Cub killer.

      I cant see the Bucs bullpen being as dominate in 2014. One of the leagues bests last year and in my opinion their MVP plus they most likely lost Burnett and really can Liriano duplicate that season from last year ?

      Brewers are interesting with the return of Braun, Aram, and now Garza. But they feel like they are one starting pitcher arm falling off from being one of the worst starting pitching rotations in the league.

      Not saying the Cub’s are world beaters but writing them off already is a but premature.

      • CubFan Paul

        “the FO saw how the bullpen failed us last April and May so they smartly and quietly built depth there”

        Two years in a row they failed at building the bullpen on purpose, is the real truth.

        The Plan.

    • CubsFanSaxMan

      Aaah, the optimism of Spring. You gotta love it. Go Cubs!

    • DocPeterWimsey

      X Blown saves ≠ X loses. The Cubs had both games where they won after blowing saves (they were leading the league in that at one point) and games in which they blew 2 saves. (I don’t think that they had a 3 BS game this year.)

      As for whether the bullpen is better this year than last, well, who knows: relievers pitch so few innings that their performances in one year are poor predictors of their performances the next year.

  • Jon

    DodgerBlues.com(before they shut down their fan forum) used to be a hilarious read. They had some real characters there….

  • Isaac

    Keep up the good work, Brett. This is getting nothing but better!

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I agree that theoretically the improved bullpen should translate into more wins. But the area that needed improvement also was from an offensive stand point. To be in so many close ball games and to lose because your offense can’t put more that two or three runs up is a shame. So many times Shark and Wood lost games where they pitched good enough to win. When we took Soriano and DeJesus out of that lineup we were impotent at best. So now we open 2014 with essentially the same lineup. Betting that Rizzo and Castro will bounce back. This is like putting lip stick on a pig! Sure anything is possible I suppose. Let’s break it down. Our outfield is composed of guys that have been career minor leaguers or platoon players. Aside from Schierholtz the rest would be 5th on the depth charts at best. In our infield Rizzo and Castro are up to league standards and Barney is borderline because of his hitting. What’s my point? The point is that Rizzo, Castro and probably Castillo are the only guys in the lineup that could be starters on any MLB club that is competative. The thing about closers is that they have to have save opportunities in order to make an impact. The thing that nobody seems to want to admit is that this lineup is essentially the same one that folded down the stretch in 2013. Even if Castro and Rizzo do improve that lineup isn’t going to win too many games at the MLB level. And for guys like Shark and Wood to go out there and give a good effort to see no run support is humiliating. So IMO the improved bullpen will indeed add some wins over last years performance, but the offense minus Soriano and DeJesus that limped to the finish line last year will take away whatever the bullpen gives. If you project this lineup by the record during the stretch run last year then it is pathetic.

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Just read John Arguello’s piece. Improve by two wins a month. He makes it sound possible. Again I say – don’t you just love the optimism that Spring brings? Go Cubs!

  • Cubsin

    Through July 31 last year, the Cubs were 49-58, .458, a 74-win pace. After July, the Cubs were 17-38, .309, a 50-win pace. The numbers for 2012 were similar: 43-59, .422, 68 and 18-42, .300, 49. The July yard sales have brought in Hendricks, Villanueva, Vizcaino, Edwards, Olt, Grimm, Ramirez, Black, Arrieta, Strop and Pineyro and given us earlier draft picks and bigger IFA slots. But they’ve also had a very negative impact on team morale and fan interest.

    • hansman

      Over the first 4 months, they underperformed their pythagorean record by 3 wins.

      The final two months, they underperformed by 6.

      Why? Because Cubs.

      • ClevelandCubsFan

        And depression.

      • Patrick W.

        For just slightly over half of the season, 82 consecutive games, the Cubs went 41-41. True story. So if the 2013 season had started on 4/25, the game after the half way point they would have been .500

        Fun with arbitrary start/end points.

        At game 83 they would be 42-41.

        • aaronb

          No reason we can’t win 90 games if the Bullpen never gives up a lead.

  • ClevelandCubsFan

    This is a plausible scenario. Not only could we have been a .500-ish team at the break last year; if the luck had broken the opposite way (in other words, we’d won games we shouldn’t have instead of losing games we shouldn’t have), we would have looked like playoff contenders at the break. That’s the level luck can play into this stuff.

    Now, the Cubs were VERY unlucky in early 2013. The odds of being equally lucky in 2014 are very small. And yet… it happened.

    What’s more plausible still is the chance that the 2nd half of 2014 is just more interesting than the 2nd half of 2013. What I mean is this: (1) Some of our flippable candidates might–MIGHT–by virtue of their resurrections–look like guys we want to extend for 2015-2016. In which case, we might not sell them ALL off. (2) Some of our flippable candidates might be adequately replaced with our young corps. And (3) Some of our flippable candidates might be flipped for more near-term pieces. That is, instead of flipping a guy for 2-3 prospects who are down-the-road types, we might flip for 1 guy who we could see being apart of the mix next season, or who can even join the fun in 2014.

    In short, it’s no playoffs run–not even close–but it could be we’re playing competitively in the second half, which is a lot more fun.

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