Friday, April 22, 2011

Lineup optimization

Scientific analysis has been done on this subject, and it's somewhat at odds with the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is the fast guy bats first, the best hitter bats 3rd, and the second best slugger bats 4th.

Actually the most important spots are 1,2, and 4. 4 is much more important than 3, because they often will either lead off an inning or bat with someone on base. 3 often bats with 2 outs and nobody on base, a largely useless situation.

The leadoff hitter actually doesn't need to steal that much, because the big hitters are coming up after. Stealing is for the bottom of the order when you are trying to manufacture. It doesn't really matter since the cubs don't steal.

1: Fukudome high obp guys when used correctly.
2: Should be Soto, but because he's catcher, which takes a lot of work, I'm moving him lower. So I'll put Starlin Castro here.
3: Carlos Pena, Homers are still useful in the 3 hole, and he's high OBP so I'll keep him up here.
4: Aramis Ramirez, best overall hitter with power
5: Soto
6: Soriano, his homers should be productive after Soto's high OBPs
7: Marlon Byrd, batting after Soriano should cut down on double plays.
8: Darwin Barney/Dewitt, Barney's showing good promise but I still have to put him last.

I'm leaving Baker off this list because he should really be traded if the Cubs want to go with Barney. Dewitt should see action against certain righties that use a lot of sinkers and sliders or if Barney cools off. I'm not sure on 5-7 spots. They are all pretty good hitters and a bit hard to predict.

This optimized lineup strategy is published in quite a few places throughout the internet. I've seen it multiple times on fangraphs.com. The main takaway message is the best hitters go at 1,2,4 then 5th then 3rd.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What is Darwin Barney?

On the surface he is hitting .309/.350/.400. Is he for real? At the beginning of the season I pegged him as a .280 hitter based mostly on his minor league numbers. Now we have some major league data to look at.

Looking deep at the data, his high batting average seems to be for real. Looking at his plate discipline data and contact rates, he is extremely good. He swings at just 25% of balls outside the zone, which is above average, and 48.6% of strikes. Overall he is swinging less than average hitters. This is a perfect fit for his skills, as he is a very high contact hitter, and can go deep into counts without likely striking out.

He has made contact on 93% of all pitches he's swung at, so to me, his tiny strikout rate of 9.1% of at bats is for real. He seldom chases pitches, but so often hits the pitches he does hack at, so he doesn't walk too often, 6.6% of plate appearances.

He doesn't have power so I'd like to see him cut back on that 25% rate of chasing balls outside the zone. He's just a rookie though so you can't expect him to be perfect.

Unfortunately all this is only 55 at bats and isn't overly meaningful. We have to wait and watch to see if he maintains these low strikeout rates.

ADD ON: Forgot to mention one thing, Barney has been mostly benched vs lefties, which he would likely do better against. So he might actually be better than his numbers. If the Cubs want to play Barney, Baker should be traded.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cubs officially tied for first

Cubs improve to 9-8 with another dramatic extra inning game. Reed Johnson! I've been saying he should play more, although I meant against lefties.

Looking Good:
I probably have to say Reed Johnson here
Fukudome, I think he was 2/2 on the day. He has an OBP around 500 on the season
Jeff Samardzija, wasn't flawless by any means but it could have looked a lot better with tight defense.

Looking Bad:
Marmol, he's not getting the Ks like he did last year but still getting the walks.
Soto on throwing to second
Grabow still. Yeah the Cubs need to use everybody today, but those were key siutations for your last resort guy.

Cubs Minor Leaguers

Lots of good news from the Double-A affiliate Tennesee Smokies. Brett Jackson is hitting .385 through the first 10 games. He's also featuring more walks than strikeouts. Josh Vitters is hitting .333 and has only struck out 3 times. He's also walked 3 teams, bringing the total number of 3's to 5.

Trey McNutt pitched only 2 2/3 innings on the tenth but hasn't pitched since. It appears he must be injured. Chris Carpenter (not the Cardinal) is doing pretty good for the Iowa Cubs.

These are some of the Cubs top prospects. The Iowa Cubs are hitting very good but it appears to be more Jake Fox types than legit prospects. For those who don't know Jake Fox demolished in triple-A the likes of which we've never seen. 17 homers in about a month and a half. He's not a quality everyday player though.

Cubs Climb without playing -- they're that good

Yesterday saw a cold day for the Reds, who continue to slide, and an even colder day for the Cubs who didn't want to play.

The Reds have fallen to an earthly 9-8. The Cubs are just a half game back. They got their new big ticket starter in game one against an 0-3 SD starter, Mosley. His ERA is quite good, but he has more walks than strikeouts. His ERA appears to be a fluke. More walks than strikeouts = bad. Garza has been pretty good, limiting the balls put in play.

I'm not sure who is pitching game 2, possibly Casey Coleman. Wells and Cashner are still a couple weeks away from returning.

It's a beautiful day for a bus ride, lets take 2. - Ernie Banks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Lefty/Righty matchups

The plethora of run scoring hits by lefties in this bottom of the eighth reminded me of something I've been wanting to explain for a while.

It is conventional wisdom that it heavily favors the pitcher to be of the same hand as the batter. One minor reason, that I will get out of the way early, is that the head has to move more for the hitter to follow the pitch. If a pitcher is better vs one type of batter vs the other, they call this a "split."

Not all pitchers have problems against the opposite handed batters. Think about it more of a pitch split than a pitcher split. 2-seam fastballs (sinkers) and sliders have the biggest splits. Changeups, Cutters, 4-seam fastballs, and curveballs do not have major splits. A few sliders are still effective against the opposite hand, such as Marmol's.

Mateo is primarily a fastball slider guy. So you can't throw a slider against a lefty (Fowler, Harrera, Cargo) then you are basically a one pitch pitcher, and you are going to have a bad inning if you are facing lefties. It was basically suicide to leave Mateo in. He was great against Wigginton and Morales just isn't very good, but the top of the order was a disaster waiting to happen.

A Montage of bad 8th inning management was the undoing of the Cubs this game. I guess I won't blame Quade for the Fukudome sac bunt, as many managers use the sac bunts when they shouldn't, but it was painfully obvious Mateo shouldn't face the top three hitters.

why a sac bunt?

On a 2-0 count in a 5-5 tie game in a very offensive environment, it just isn't worth the out. Fukudome is a very patient hitter, and is probably around a 50% chance of walking anyway, especially when considering the batter before walked.

So the Cubs gave up a chance at first and second nobody out to get a runner on second with one out. I don't think I need to tell you that it's easier to get that run in if you have 3 outs left instead of 2.

Plus all chances of a big inning just went out the window. There's a good chance that one run isn't going to seal the deal. But even if it would, I don't think that improved the odds of scoring the one run even. Not at Coors against a pitcher that isn't throwing strikes.

Fangraphs agrees with me, http://www.fangraphs.com/liveplays.aspx?date=2011-04-17&team=Rockies&dh=0&season=2011, saying that the bunt cost the Cubs a 3% chance to win that game, from 56.7% to 53.7%. That doesn't even take into account the favorable 2-0 count that was wasted.

Edit: That was written before the inning unfolded. If we take the benefit of hindsight, in addition to the fact that it obviously didn't work, a walk pushing Sori to second, then the fly gets him to third with 1 out, then scores on the Colvin fly with 2 outs. It's ridiculous to say that's what would have happened, but it's an example of what could have been but didn't get a chance.

Maybe Castro, who would have been up next, and was smoking the ball today, would have given the Cubs a second run that inning.

The Rockies came up in an identical situation in the bottom half of the inning and did not bunt, and it paid off big. If they did bunt the runner would have never moved from second. The Cubs sac bunted their way to a loss. They haven't officially lost yet (I'm writing this as the Rockies are unloading.) Maybe they will win despite the bad decision.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cubs hangin in there

Sitting at .500 early in the season, while not a good thing, is definitely not a bad thing either. It road going forward is easier the more wins you have by this point, but that's all it's good for. Current records are not useful for gauging the strength of a team. We know this because the Red Sox have only 2 wins (the least,) and are certainly not the worst team in baseball.

The main thing to look at is games back. The Cubs are a skinny 2 games behind the Reds right now and only a half game back in the wild card. Really, we can't even look at anybody's stats and say much about who's going to have a good year. Right now the Cubs are playing ok. It could go either way as the season progresses.

If you do want to make some claims right now, realize that the Cubs are tied with the Giants, defending world champs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Standings so far

The Cubs are doing a great job hitting after these eight games, but I don't think they've really faced any good pitchers. Seems like the Cubs have always been better against better pitchers anyway. My point is that we can't say too much about how the offense is doing.

If the Cubs stay at 500 they will probably be in wild card contention for a long time this year. A 500 season and a good september is probably enough to make it in.
The Reds finally started to lose some games so the Cubs are just two back.

The pirates are still in second place. I don't think the team sucks but I still don't see them hanging around long. Brewers are 1 half game behind the Cubs but will be without Greinke for all of April.

It's nice to see the Cardinals keep losing. They are 2-6 by virtue of an averagy offense, bad everything else.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting Carried Away with 6 games of Data

I got curious how the Cubs were stacking up to other teams. I know the record is even, so middle of the pack. What what about the sabremetrics? The stats behind the stats that are a better indicator of how the team has done and where it's going in the future.

Some stats have more luck involvement than others, like the record. First, I will focus on the stats with the least luck involvement.

Strikeout rate - 16.7% Cubs are tied 3rd in the National league. That's certainly a good sigh. Especially when paired with the 9.8% walk rate, 5th in the league.

They have a low line drive percentage, the best kind of hit, 13th in the league, but they have hit the fewest grounders of any team, making them first overall in fly balls hit. Fly balls are good in general. This is where homers come from. Only 6.5% of these fly balls have become homers though, making them 11% in that category.

So there are two possible conclusions for the first week. The Cubs lack power, or the Cubs jusst haven't been hitting the home runs that are coming to them. With the likes of Soto, Soriano, Pena, Ramriez, I think it's the latter. The Cubs might see more home runs as the season progresses.

For pitching, the best metric for predictive success is xFIP. The Cubs are 3rd best in that in the league. So that is a very good sign. tERA is another one used. The Cubs are 6th, but first in the division. The pitching has been pretty good.

The significance of all this is low unfortunately, since the Cubs have played 6 games against teams that don't figure to be part of the playoff hunt. But if you are hard up for Cubs reading material then here you go.

Soriano jacks his third tater

I think tater is a stupid name for a home run, so I mostly use it in jest.

Might we be seeing a return to 07-08 Soriano? I can't say it's impossible, but the older he gets the less likely that is. He's now 35 yaers old coming off two years that were considerably below that level.

We can write off 2009, he was not at 100% the entire year due to a problem with his knees. He dropped off in virtually every category. Going into 2010 I was hopeful for a sizeable reboud. We did get a rebound but it was not very sizeable. He hit more homers and had a higher batting average.

So far this year he's got a homer every other game, which would be a pace of 81 per year, and he's hitting .273, which is a jump up from last year. Soriano has always been a very streaky hitter. Maybe last year he just had one less hot streak? In 2007 his year as a whole wasn't that good, until he nearly doubled his home run total in September. In 08 he had a wretched April but was better the rest of the way.

Maybe in 2010 he just missed out on one extended hot streak?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

cubs fall back to even

The two game winning streak is over. The absence of Pena hurts a bit. I think his patient approach makes the whole team better. That was especially evident today, the Cubs did not work the count much.

I was pretty confident going into this game, thinking that the Cubs would get to face a crummy bullpen and have a chance to comeback if they were behind late. The lack of patience and working the pitch count helped Gallaraga go 7 innings, so they only had to face 2 relievers. Putz is a good one, the 8th inning guy wasn't but he got out of it. It would have been nice to have a 7th inning against a reliever even worse than that.

Dempster is off to a bad start. Hopefully that ends sooner rather than later. Overall he didn't look as bad as his results; he did not walk a man. I'm not too worried about him going forward.

Double Whammy: Cashner and Wells to the DL

Too bad we don't have Carlos Silva anymore. I don't blame the Cubs for releasing him in light of his temper tantrum. Silva should have been taking what he could get. His stint in the minors would have been very brief.

I expect we'll see Thomas Diamond make the next start needed by a 4th starter. We might see a reliever for a few days until that start is needed though. A couple years ago this would have been Sean Marshall making a spot start, but now that he's dominant in the bullpen he'll probably stay.

The other guys on the radar will be Casey Coleman and Jay Jackson. I guess I'd pick Jay Jackson. William Trey Mcnutt is another possibility. I'd avoid this and let him continue his developement though.

It seems a bit hasty to put Wells on the 15 day dl, I expect he could have came back sooner. Cashner being a starter for the first time would probably have his innings limited anyway so it doesn't matter if that's now or later.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cubs go above 500 for the first time since 09

Cashner looked pretty good, getting lots of ground balls and only 2 hits. He was hitting 96 on the radar gun. He didn't get very many K's, but he might have just been focusing on some more basic principles like getting the fastball to go where you want in your first start.

I'm a big fan of Quade big picture but I don't like the way he is during game time. The bullpen management is very questionable. He must have really wanted to get Marshall the save, which, to me is much less important than using him in the most high leverage situation when runners started to get on base in the 7th. Teh 9th inning is rarely the hardest inning, especially when it's the lower part of the order.

For me the most encouraging thing in this game was Colvin's strikeout. He saw 9 pitches before finally punching out. I like to see high pitch counts on the other guy. Colvin got a good look at everything Barry Engright had to offer. Next at bat he laid off two balls and then jacked a 2 run homer. Seeing pitches helps you get better as a hitter.

There were two pinch hit spots that I think should have been made. 1- Colvin facing a sidearm lefty. Side armers are particularly tough on same-handed batters, and particularly ineffective against opposite handed hitters. Could have had Reed Johnson or Darwin Barney here. Colvin walked on 4 straight so it didn't matter. We didn't know that in advance though.

Later in the inning, Russel batting? He just blew a lead, do we really need him to pitch the 9th that badly? Dewitt could have taken the at bat, played second and had baker shift to first. With the bases loaded, this could have easily been a much bigger inning.

I'm not sure who I would pick for player of the game. This was really a team effort. See you tomorrow for another day game.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cubs get it done

Once again the offense avoided the strike out, which I like to see. They got 4 runs for their efforts. It would be nice to score before the 8th inning though. Soriano is looking good all of a sudden. This is what I mean when I say the cubs have the best 5-8 hitters in the division in Soto, Pena, Soriano, and the rotating 8th man.

I cringed when Grabow came in but it was without incident. Didn't like starting Fukudome over Reed Johnson. What is Reed Johnson on the team for if not for this? Certainly not to pinch hit vs Joel Hanrahan with the game on the line.

I started paying attention to the nastiness factor on mlb.com gameday. Kerry Wood hit 86 with a slider, which was the highest score I saw. I haven't seen very much though; this probably isn't the high score on the year.

Just how unlucky was Matt Garza?

The Cubs pitchers on the day got 13 strikouts and 2 double plays, leaving 12 of the 27 outs recorded for balls in play. With 16 hits, this means that there were 28 balls put into play. On those balls, the pirates had a batting average of .571! That is extremely rare, average hitters get hits on about 30% of balls put in play. There is a limit to how much you can place a hit, so you can't claim that you are actually that good.

The Pirates weren't tearing the cover off the ball, all of their ridiculous hit total was singles that just found a hole.

Meanwhile the Cubs had 8 hits (the home run doesn't count because it wasn't "in play") for a .286 batting average on balls put in play. The Cubs put a lot of balls in play but didn't get the results the pirates did. These games can happen once in a while, but if the Cubs keep this up they will win most of these games in the future.

Garza did a great job in his Cubs debut.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alfonso Soriano a little more in depth

I said that Soriano has been looking bad at the plate but I don't want to give the impression I don't like him as a player. It's true he is overpaid, but that doesn't mean he's bad.

Last year he only hit 24 homers in 147 games, but a lot of these games were pinch hitting. He had 548 plate appearances compared to 617 in his first year with the cubs. At the same pace of his 24 HR season, he would have had 27 over 617 plate appearances, and that still isn't even a complete season as he played in just 135 games that year.

If you look a bit harder at the numbers, there was a big spike in doubles last year. He hit 41 doubles and three triples, for a total of 67 extra base hits, a very respectable total. There is some luck involved with this, often times a double is off the wall, so it could have very easily been a homer. What was missing were just the singles.

He only got 19% of his grounders going for hits, while on average, 23.8% of grounders are hits. So this hurt his average. This cost him 5 hits, which would have brought his average up to .268 which makes him look better. I don't think his decline a big deal. He can still hit 270 with 30+ homers.

He's also a good defender despite his reputation. Ultimate Zone Rating, a tool to measure defenders, says he saved 5 runs more than an average left fielder would have.

Cubs lose a heart breaker

This kind of stuff happens early in the year, you just have to live with it.

I don't know why we saw Reed Johnson in the game to face Hanrahan. Hanrahan is much tougher on righties and Johnson is really bad vs righties. It was a waste of an at bat which could have been the tieing run. I maintain that Blake Dewitt should be the starter vs right-handed starters.

Lots of lucky hits by the pirates. You can expect the hits to fall that often when you are striking out as much as they did today.

Extra special "JEEZ" to Marlon Byrd, who can't even limit himself to one out per at bat in the 9th. The most painful thing though, was the 2nd and 3rd nobody out chance that was wasted by the Cubs earlier.

Nice job Soriano connecting for the Cubs first home run of the season. Maybe that will start somekind of groove.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Perhaps the end of the beginning

The Cubs played pretty good, tallying a bunch of hits. Couldn't get much across the plate without a lot of help from defense. They came within a few feet of tying the game at one point. Defense was tight, but if you can't throw out Alvarez trying to steal, who can you through out? I think the weather was a big factor in Dempster's control issues, can't do much about that. They avoided strike outs all day. Some bad luck on location of batted balls when people were on base plagued them all day.

The Bad:
Soriano looked pretty bad. He got off to a 2-0 count and decided he better start hacking at pitches outside the zone to avoid walking. He's always been streaky so he'll look bad at times. Samardzija was awful, I hope it was just opening day jitters.

I've like what I've heard from Quade since he got the job but didn't like everything today. 3-0 green light to Pena, it's defensible, but if you look back, this very seldom works out, and you blow your chance at a free base.

Dempster ran up 114 pitches. Easily the most of any opening day start, and the only one to cross 100. Why? He wasn't even doing good. That was a Pinella move. I don't like getting as much as possible out of a guy when he doesn't have his best stuff going. Why do all Cubs managers always leave the starter, especially Dempster, in too long?

The good news is that good seasons always start off with a loss. Also, if you own Correia on your fantasy team, now is the time to sell high, this is probably the last start his ERA will be below 4.

The team looked good to me though, and nothing happened to make me worried about the season.

Kevin Correia

As far as bad opening day starters go, this is one of the worst. I'm not even sure if he stacks up to Livan Hernandez. He has a career 4.57 ERA and 1.49 Whip pitching in San Diego and San Francisco. Moving to Pittsburg will make that even worse. This guy is a borderline 5th starter. It's not just the park switch, he's going from being surrounded by a good defense to a very bad one. If the Cubs can't win this game it's going to be a long season.

Darwin Barney starting 2B

The Cubs have 3 players in contention for second, Blake Dewitt, Darwin Barney, and Jeff Baker. I'm assuming Barney is the best defender of the group, being primarily a shortstop. I know Baker isn't bad, and Dewitt kinda is bad, or at best average.

I think the defense is the logic behind this move. I don't mind it at this stage, because you really don't know who is going to hit on opening day, erroring on the side of defense. I don't like the fact that Spring numbers are the justification. They can be fun to look at but they are really meaningless. Even one month of regular season hitting stats is pretty useless.

I hope over the course of the year Dewitt is given a lot of opportunities to face right handed pitching. I have to assume he will be the best in the role with the limited data we have.

My biggest issue with Barney is that he might be a hacker. Hitters that go up swinging at everything get on my nerves. Know that the opposing pitcher wants you to swing, especially early in the count. He also has very low power.

Dewitt is more patient, will take more walks. He also has a bit more power. He hit 5 homers last year but with a full season in Wrigley I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit 10 or more. I think he has the best approach and is the best pure hitter of the group, at least vs Righties.

I will say that I think the decision to go with Barney over Baker is probably the right one. Baker wasn't that great even in Colorado, so moving out of Colorado can only hurt. I know he was good in his initial part season with the Cubs, but everybody has hot stretches, except Koyie Hill. Sorry Hill.