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rick renteria cubs speakSo much frustration out there about yesterday’s loss – and the previous four – which is understandable. Offseason optimism (however spurious) gets slapped pretty quickly when your team’s roster simply isn’t a competitive one. You hope for a lucky bounce here or there, some surprise upside, or anything else besides a 4-11 start. It’s OK to still hope for some of that stuff, too, but the early returns are obviously matching the fears, rather than the hopes. You hate to think that you’ve used up your positivity allotment in mid-April.

  • Ricky Renteria yesterday expressed to the media that he thinks there are some “focus” issues with the team right now, but he wouldn’t go into detail beyond that (ESPN Chicago). Maybe I’ve just been numbed to it by the last few years, but I haven’t really noticed a lot of sloppy play this year, until yesterday. Obviously, if RR is mentioning it – and reportedly meeting with the team about it – he’s seeing things that we aren’t. Good on him for trying to rein things in with a smile, but, at some point, at least in terms of wins and losses, it’s a matter of roster composition, not focus or effort or fundamentals or whatever. At least RR’s positivity reserves are still intact.
  • Jeff Samardzija pitched well yesterday, the offense did nothing, and Samardzija got the loss (totally meaningful stat). He’s still not grousing publicly about all the losing, which is good (CSN).
  • Sahadev Sharma wrote a lengthy piece on the outfield’s offensive struggles (which expands on some things I pointed out in the Series Preview yesterday, but that was just a coincidence – two bright minds honing in on the same issues (or so you say, Sahadev!)), which is definitely worth a read. As we talk about expectations and outcomes, it’s worth remembering that, if you asked folks what they thought of the Cubs’ roster heading into the season, it was pretty easy to identify where the serious offensive issues could pop up: the outfield. Sure, we liked the versatility, the potential for the platoons to achieve league-average production on the cheap – but there was always serious downside with Junior Lake (especially in left), Ryan Sweeney hasn’t emerged as a sure-fire starter in his career, and Nate Schierholtz had a breakout year in 2013, but it was a relative breakout (i.e., still not quite the numbers you need to carry an outfield without another big bat). I believe, genuinely, that the Cubs have three or four of the best fourth outfielders in baseball – and I mean that as a compliment of those players – it’s just that they have to lean on them for consistent starts.
  • Carrie Muskat speaks with Darnell McDonald on his new role in the Cubs’ front office.
  • The Pirates’ offense may see an improvement, as they’ve acquired Ike Davis from the Mets for a fringe prospect and a PTBNL (though the latter is expected to be a good prospect (could be a 2013 draftee, who is not eligible to be traded until one year after he signs). Davis was a great looking young player before 2013, but he’s struggled recently.
  • mtcubfan

    I missed the sloppy play because I was so cold watching the game from the upper deck. It is colder in Chicago with the wind blowing off the lake than Montana in below 0 degree weather. Some hitting would warm everyone up. RISP still stinks. The Cubs are second to last place against right handed pitching. It is either the platooning or the personnel. I am guessing a little of both. I hope today is warmer which means the Cubs score more than 1 run. MTCUBFAN

    • ssckelley

      I was up there as well, it has damn cold. It was much better in the sun, I moved during the 4th inning.

      • mtcubfan

        I will have to think about moving to the sunny seats today. Fortunately, on Sunday, I splurged on tickets and will be in the Sun for part of the game but it should be in the 70’s.

  • ssckelley

    If I am a Pirates fan I would not be happy with that deal. I would think they could find a better option at first base.

  • Beast Mode

    The good news (and IMO) the most important issue is the fact that Castro and Rizzo are playing up to expectations. (Also the starters look good.)These players are a big part of the future and my optimism is still high for then at least. Lastly, while I certainly agree the W-L record is not close to the best stat to measure how good a pitcher is. I think it is important to the players. That alone makes it important. Not that it is a good thing, but it is what it is.

    • itzscott

      Agree about Castro & Rizzo being bright spots and Samardzjia doing exactly what we’d like him to do to maintain/increase his trade value.

      The thing I can’t understand is how the rest of the fringy players who are unbelievably lucky to be on a major league team let alone have the opportunity to start & showcase their “talents” can go out on the field and lose focus. That’s probably one of the reasons why these players are looked upon as dogs with fleas and were cut loose by whichever team had the misfortune to have them on their payroll.

  • SPWrigley

    As many other people have posted, I am concerned with the degree of platooning that I am seeing. I admit, I have not done the research but is it possible, this is something that may look good by the numbers and in practice it doesn´t work very well?

    My hypothesis is the following: players with somewhat regular playing time may have better numbers against righties or lefties, however, when it´s one day in and another out, they lose any type of rhythm and look bad against both.

    Some of at bats I have been seeing from Ruggiano and Kalish in key situations makes me wonder. Of course, they could just be overmatched but Kalish in particular was having great ABs during spring and at the very beginning of the season. Now, not so much.

    If this is accurate I hope it doesn’t manifest its self in other ways i.e. trading Olt because of poor performance at a discount based on a sample size constructed of sporadic playing time.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Platooning has been a successful strategy for many good teams over the years – the A’s, most recently, have used it with outstanding results. As with anything, it depends on the players, the matchups, and some bounces. The sample sizes for these guys this year are pretty much nothing so far. That doesn’t mean these platoons will work out; it just means that we don’t yet have enough data to say, definitively, that these guys are busts (despite clear track records of past success against opposite-handed pitching).

      It really doesn’t much matter, though, because a guy like Olt is going to get his starts eventually. I promise. You’ll see.

      • SPWrigley

        Brett,

        Not an avid poster but I’m an avid follower; I really enjoy your site.

        Is the frequency of platooning that the A’s use similar to what´s occuring with the Cubs? What I mean is, is there a more steady lineup or is it a similar velocity of turnover on a day to day basis.

        Hope your right with Olt. When I see how well Bryant is doing in AA it leaves me to believe that Olt has limited time (~1 year) to prove himself and either force Chris to RF or generate trade value.

        • itzscott

          SPWrigley-

          You make too much sense! I’d be hard pressed to think the Cubs don’t have some sort of plan for Olt with Bryant coming on strong. I’m thinking that they’re not so much focused on Olt generating trade value as they are with Valbuena generating trade value.

        • CubFan Paul

          “Olt has limited time (~1 year) to prove himself”

          Bryant will not be a ML 3B. Grounders and worm-burners to his right would eat him alive

          • Don Eaddy

            Baez and Villanueva both could play at 3rd. And Bryant is still in the picture. Olt needs to prove it this season

            • CubFan Paul

              Baez is being groomed for 2B and would probably make a better CF than anybody we have in the short term

              Villanueva doesn’t have a ML bat, outside of 2B

              & Bryant playing 3B in AA is a courtesy. He’s ticketed for the OF, because infield defense is a Theo&Co point of emphasis

      • augiepb

        This is pretty much the question that I had in regards to platooning and sporadic playing time. Is there data that supports the theory that if someone who gets let’s say 300 AB’s in pretty much consecutive games is more likely to have better results than that same person who receives 300 AB’s over more sporadic playing time?

        If so is there a point where the positive of platooning is negated by the sporadic playing time? I have no data to support my opinion, but I would have to believe that there is something to that…

        • DocPeterWimsey

          No, there are not data that support the hypothesis (*not* theory) that sporadic play diminishes the performance of players. In particular, many RHB have thrived in platoon roles, whereas this hypothesis predicts that they should falter.

      • Kyle

        Platooning works. Our front office just sucks at putting good platoons together.

        • SPWrigley

          Kyle,

          This is blanket statement and I’m not sure if its true in this form. The question augeipb and I have is: are there degrees of platooning that work better than others and if so, is there a point when, if done too often, it actually is a detrement to performance.

          • Kyle

            The 2013 Oakland A’s finished 3rd in the league in run scoring and won 96 games with 16 players getting at least 120 PAs and only two playing more than 135 games.

      • Kyle

        I know you didn’t say it, but I really hope nobody thinks playing Olt more against righties would somehow improve either his trade value or the offense’s production.

        People are having a *really* hard time accepting that maybe Olt just isn’t that good.

        • itzscott

          At this point, how would you or anyone else know for sure?

          • Kyle

            Because contact% especially stabilizes very quickly, and he’s still got major problems there despite being platoon protected. Good scouting will see it too: He’s got huge holes in his swing. Brett Jackson-esque holes.

            The front office sees it. Renteria sees it. Everyone else in baseball sees it. The only people who don’t see it are Cubs fans who desperately want to believe he’s some still kind of great prospect.

            • http://bleachernation.com woody

              You’re right Kyle and you can only have so many guys in a lineup with the swing and miss problem. I’m still hoping that Baez ends up with the third base job because I like what Alcantara brings to the team and I want to see him at second base pronto. No hurry here since Baez is having a bit of a struggle, but let’s give Olt the month of May to see what he can do. By then we will have a large enough sample size.

  • Assman22

    Draft Porn…

    Weaver: 9IP, 3H, 1ER, 1BB, 7K’s

    Beede: 7IP, 10H, 6ER, 1BB, 6K’s

    Imhof: 6.1IP, 2H, 0ER, 4BB, 9K’S

    Nola: 7.2IP, 8H, 2ER, 2BB, 7K’S

    • itzscott

      Pretty obvious that the Cubs need hitting. Hopefully they bypass a pitcher in the 1st round and go for the best position player.

      • spearman

        We need pitching in the farm system. Drafting for baseball is not the same as drafting for football. You have to judge your own system.

      • mjhurdle

        you don’t draft for need in the first round, especially that high in the first round. You take the best player available.
        If there are 4 A+ pitchers at that spot in the draft, you don’t “bypass a pitcher” so you can grab a B+ hitter because your major league team (that will take that hitter around 2-3 years to even make it to) isn’t hitting well.

        • itzscott

          I agree, but it seems to me every one of these A+ pitchers have gotten knocked around and haven’t shown the consistent brilliance you’d like to see in a top of the draft, can’t miss pitcher.

          With that in mind and the prospect of TJ surgery before they even get to Wrigley, the safer risk is with the best position player for the 1st round.

        • Funn Dave

          I think the reasoning for selecting a hitter over a pitcher is that pitchers are so much less predictable and very injury-prone. But I agree with you that if have a great draft pick, we should take advantage of that high draft pick & use it to get the most talented option regardless of position.

    • Jon

      Beede….ouch….think the top 4 (no particular order) are easily Rodon, Aiken, Kolek, Hoffman

  • auggie

    Bonifacio showed us yesterday that he should not be seeing playing time at 2nd. That should go to Valbuena. Bonifacio threw the ball away allowing the Reds to score on that DP opportunity.

    I can’t wait till Memorial Day when the first traditional MLB benchmark arrives. Then maybe guys like Kalish will be sent down to Iowa. I don’t know if I can last that long.

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Play your best eight everyday. Now that may change slightly due to injuries, etc., but your best eight should be on the field. Platooning is over rated in my book.

  • Spoda17

    More and more GMs and “experts” say that platoons work when the situation is right. I listen to MLB radio everyday and they talk about the Cubs quite a bit, which is cool. And I know I beat this drum all the time.. but the what I hear often on the radio, is that Cubs roster is not really built for an effective platoon situation. You need a player that is average on the advantage side.. and the Cubs platoon dudes are below average on the side they are supposed to have an advantage.

    So there is nothing to gain by playing the platoons so far. We are far enough in to see it just isn’t working.

    • Funn Dave

      We really aren’t.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Platoons do not improve teams only if both guys of the platoon are better than average against OHP. Platoons improve teams if both guys are better against OHP than they are against SHP.

      And, no, we are nowhere near far enough into the season to state that things are or are not working. Team records and performances at this point have very little predictive value. The only team remotely close to that is the DBacks, as they have been so truly awful *AND* so much worse than expectation that even regression is now predicting a worse final record than early season prognostications (i.e, 0.500 team) would predict.

      (The Astros have been nearly as bad, but they also are well-within expectations for what was expected.)

  • chifords2000

    Platoons are fantastic…when you have the right players. I don’t see any Lowensteins, Roenickes or Cervs on this roster.

    The season so far reminds me of a Greg Gross comment from about ’77 or ’78, when he said (paraphrasing) “We have the best bench in the National League, the problem is it’s in the lineup.” And he was one of ‘em.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Where was I when the positivity allotments were handed out?

  • Don Eaddy

    I think the “sloppy play” is refering to crappy at bats. Castro has been having them lately. He will get ahead 3-1, 2-1 and then just pop out or ground out on a dumb pitch to swing at. Those types of things are a bit concerning, but after one of these at bats, Castro could be heard on the tv yelling expletives at home plate because he was mad at himself. I think he does “get it” and actually has been having good at bats, but he will still just lose him focus at times

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      I think Castro has been a little more selective at the plate this year. I think a little bit of what was being stressed last year has carried over in his approach.

      • cubbiehawkeye

        ^^This^^

    • cubfanincardinalland

      The only lament is the Cubs don’t have 5 more hitters like Castro. They would not have a .660 team ops.

  • Kyle

    Being one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball shouldn’t be a compliment. It really just means you aren’t quite good enough to be a starter and no good team would start you.

    • Jon

      This

    • Funn Dave

      I disagree. Being on an MLB roster at all is an enormous compliment. Moreover, all teams have fourth outfielders. How would being among the best of those fourth outfielders be anything but a compliment? On a team with a legitimate starting outfield, such a player would help his team more than the fourth outfielders on other teams. That’s a good thing.

      • Kyle

        Being the best fourth outfielder is the same as being the worst third outfielder.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Pretty much exactly what Dave said.

        Is being called a fantastic back-up catcher not a compliment, given the needs of teams and the limited supply of big league caliber players (in any role)?

      • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

        Agreed but it’s easier to complain than compliment.

        • Eternal Pessimist

          This!

  • Stu

    What is confusing to most fans is when deeper stats are taken out of context.

    WAR is the probably the most abused and rationalized stat of all. For instance, what would the record of the Cubs be if every player was Darwin Barney? Even with his 2+ dWar, it would seem unlikely that they would have a winning record with his dreadful bat.

  • E

    I’ve grown weary of the excuse making. I know some here like to trumpet this FO’s “openness” and “transparency” but it’s become painfully obvious that they know we won’t be competitive for another couple of years. This offense is bush-league.

    • Stu

      Always remember that their “openness” and “transparency” have enough nuances to them for plausable deniability. They are lawyers at heart. It’s in their DNA.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    People complaining about platoons. What is the manager supposed to do? This is a team with 2 everyday ballplayers and a catcher who might be able to hit enough to be one.
    Why? $72 million. That’s what team on the field is making. Which includes 4.5 mil for a reliever with a blown out elbow and a starter who will wind up with a 5.00 era making 11 mil.
    Money boys, that is the problem. Cubs have been shopping in the bargain bin for 3 years now. Why are they not going to keep the one elite player they have? Money. They can’t afford him, when you have 50 million a year going to keeping a stadium from falling down, and paying the interest on buying the club.
    The owners of this team have crippled this franchise financially. We are seeing the results on a daily basis.

  • Ivy Walls

    Lots of subplots suddenly emerging, much of it a natural residue from the past seasons. The fan reaction is real and justified as fans have specific interest, INTEREST, indifference is a death spiral for any sports franchise—professional or collegiate. That is the big outside picture but indifference is solved by winning.

    Now what Renteria was already addressing was indifference to winning by some of the players. So then the question is who or whom?

    Let us make some projections.

    A) Continued losing on a losing team creates futility.
    B) Players in diminishing roles from losing experiences can be infectious
    C) Look deeper than the surface of Jeter’s public statement about the Cubs, not the obvious but why, as in certainly he had a conversation or two with Cubs players along with Soriano as an intermediary.

    But the bigger question is what to do? Well personnel changes naturally, first an example or two and then bigger changes.

    I am going to start with the infield. There is one change that could be made and be used as a big example to get attention depending on how a lack of focus is being promoted. It might not be obvious.

    Outfield there is another one or two who might be prone.

    Let us see how this plays out

    • Eternal Pessimist

      If you are referring to Castro i would say his defensive play has been terrific…including his focus. His weak arm is another matter, but he is on his way to a productive year.

  • Patrick W.

    I gotta figure the super ugly pick off of Bonifacio triggered the focus comment.

  • IndyCubsFan

    We’re so close to a prospect revival I could poop myself!

  • TommyK

    First, I never liked the versatility of the outfield. I never understood the praise for the “versatility” of the roster. Having a bunch of equally crappy hitters is no reason for optimism.

    Second, most of the defense of Theo and the “plan” hinges on the financial restrictions. Let’s grant all of the financial based arguments. If Theo and company are good baseball men, shouldn’t they be able use the $73 million they are spending on payroll to build a team that’s at least as good as you would expect a $73 million roster to be? I understand it’s tough to have a World Series winner with that salary, but it shouldn’t mean you are doomed to have the worst team in baseball. Why does the rebuild mean Cubs fans have to be humiliated for God only knows how many seasons? Are they purposefully building a terrible team to get better draft picks?

    And don’t tell me about sample size. We all know this is a terrible team. Sure, we can debate whether it is a 95 loss team of a 110 loss team, but we all know it’s a terrible team. I think even the ones who wouldn’t admit it knew this was a terrible team before the first game. We don’t have to wait until June to talk about how awful this roster is.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      $73 mil payrolls gets you lineups with Nate schierholz as your cleanup hitter. It gets you lineups like the other day, with 4 starters that had been designated for assignment by their previous teams. Ask the pirates what the lowest payrolls in baseball can get you over a 20 year period.
      It really is quite amazing how it has gotten to this point. In Chicago. With an iconic franchise.

  • Stu

    The Cubs are on track to be below 30K/game in attendance. Maybe the weather? Maybe the talent?

    I guess right now the average fan may not be seeing all of the wonderful things that are going on.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      The attendance today should top 30,000 I would think. The weather will be decent today and it is a holliday weekend. It will be interesting to see where the attendance ends up by mid-season.

  • another JP

    This is a great front office that is building a winner, period. The main problem is that the record does not yet reflect the overall improvement made as an organization and most of the fan base doesn’t have a clue of how to build a winner. All the wanna-be GMs that frequent this site act like they know what the problem is but have no real solutions.

    People forget that when Theo inherited the Cubs position as president it was a 71 win team with a $134M payroll. As the best position player on the club, Aram was a FA and Theo turned him into a comp pick for Pierce Johnson. He, along with Marlon Byrd, represent the only Cub members from that team who have really been successful after leaving. And the only minor leaguers that were inherited that appear to have good years ahead of them are Javy Baez and Andrew Cashner- who the Theo turned into the current best position player Rizzo.

    So the notion that this FO or ownership have destroyed the team is B.S. There was garbage to start with and when the team wins 80 games next season with an $80M payroll some folks might understand that the strategy is working. But the chances are they won’t be posting on this message board.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      It’s just that the tanking for draft picks is something that the FO can’t really just come out and say that it’s what they are doing. It’s obvious what is going on. And I believe that this year there will be a higher price to pay for employing that strategy. If this current club turns out as bad as the 2012 club and all of the assets are converted into prospects before the dedline, then things will be looking pretty bleak attendance wise in August and September. Who’s to say that we won’t be having this same discussion again at this time next year?

      • Medicos

        Woody: Great thought. You can already see that this 2014 season is probably going to wind up with an even worse W-L record. than 2012-2013. If none of the heralded minor leaguers achieve MLB success, we might be having these same discussions for the next decade. Look how long it took the Pirates, Rangers Royals, and Rays front offices to finally put together competitive playoff bound rosters. But as we loyal Cub fans have always said: WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!!!

    • half_full_beer_mug

      Theo didn’t inherit anything, he chose his path. No one has of yet produced anything factual that states he’s spent all of the money available to him on the major league club as of yet. In fact the only direct quotes we have from him is quite the opposite.

      The terrible state of the Cubs farm system when Theo took over continues to be one of the great myths of our time. The great system he has “built” has been on the backs of trading away almost every legitimate major league player that the team has had under control, and of loosing so much that they were drafting in a position that they were almost guaranteed a quality prospect.

      I’ve got no problem with the path that they have chosen and will continue to support the path, but I’m not going to make excuses and blame everything on others to make Theo and company look good.

      • cubfanincardinalland

        Money available to him? Read bretts great financial piece.
        Theo has said many times they are waiting for the business side to line up with the baseball side. Ivy league speak translation, the money ain’t there for payroll.

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          I think if the business side doesn’t lineup with the baseball side soon we may see somebody get thrown under the bus. At that last little news conference Ricketts was asked numerous times about the possibility of leaving the confines. I just don’t know how long Theo can continue to be the loyal soldier under the circumstances.

          • Eternal Pessimist

            Theo went after Tanaka…NYY spent a bunch of monopoly money because their fans can’t help landing on their “Boardwalk” property with a “hotel” on it which empties their wallets into their revenue stream.

            I think any NYY or Boston or LA comparison is unfair. Even after they fix Wrigley and build thier hotel the Cubs will be at a financial disadvantage (though smaller). Stay the course Theo…this is the right way (and please make better ‘guesses’ on FA’s.

        • half_full_beer_mug

          I’ve read it, multiple times, and no where in there did it say that the baseball budget was “X” and that the total expenditures equal that amount.

          I also remember another “Brett’s piece”” that specifically quoted Theo as saying something to the effect that ‘since we didn’t spend all of the money available to us this year (Tanaka) we’ll roll it forward’ so you might want to rethink that last sentence.

          • Eternal Pessimist

            Yea, Theo is such a dick…should have just spent all the leftover on an Olt extension. That would prove a willingness to spend.

    • hawkinright

      What exactly have you seen that would lead you to believe this team is going to be a 80 win team next year? Also if you think we can win 80 games next year with an 80 million dollar payroll wouldn’t you be upset that we didn’t maybe spend $100 to win more games. I think 80 wins with this team at 80 million is a little optimistic.

  • candyland07

    Some very good post going on!, just taking it all in , Hope the Cubs win . Need to let Hamilton whiff and not get on base, need to throw out runners , need to get hits, need to sacrifice when RR calls it and not whiff in the process to move those runners in scoring position.

    Nice sunny day the mood is good .

  • Darth Ivy

    Its fine. Im fine. Whatever. Im find.

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