Posts tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

Thursday: 02.21.2013

YouTube Thursday!

This probably won’t become a new thing, especially since I share YouTube videos on random days all the time. The only unifying links between these two videos I’m going to share is that they’re about baseball and they’re housed on YouTube, hence YouTube Thursday!

The first may require earplugs. The sound off of Jorge Soler’s bat when he treats this ball how Chris Brown might a woman was insane:

Update: Harry Pavlidis shared this Javier Baez video with my co-host Jason Collette while they were discussing Soler’s blast.

The next is a video-cast (a vodcast perhaps? I’m sure someone has called it that before) between two industry stalwarts, Jeff Erickson and Chris Liss of Rotowire, discussing position scarcity.

I’m in the home stretch with the SP Guide which is why content here has been a bit light. It’ll pick back up once we release (target date remains: 2/28-3/1).

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Saturday: 02.2.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 20 Days – Anthony Rizzo

Only 20 days until live game action…

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ANTHONY RIZZO

One of the winter’s rising sleepers (which of course cuts into his sleeper value) is Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He had a brief, but ugly debut in 2011 that saw him hit just .141 with a 523 OPS in 153 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres. Jed Hoyer, formerly of the Padres, joined forces with Theo Epstein to run the Cubs that offseason so they wanted to get their prized prospect, whom they’d discovered as part of the Boston Red Sox organization when they drafted him in 2007. He was traded for that offseason and instantly became part of their future foundation with Starlin Castro.

Rizzo ripped through the PCL in 2011 with 26 home runs, 101 RBIS, and a 1056 OPS in 413 plate appearances and yet he somehow topped that in his follow-up as a Cub farmhand hitting 23 home runs, driving in 62, and posting an 1101 OPS in just 284 plate appearances. He’d have been called up earlier, but Bryan LaHair was having an unexpected great start to the season. Once he reached the majors again on June 26th, he showed that his 2011 flop was merely a blip. He hit .285 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs, and an 805 OPS in 368 plate appearances. His seven percent walk rate was below average, but the 17 percent strikeout rate was very good (3% better than league average for the position).

A lot of outlets are looking for a big breakout in 2013 now that he will have a full season of playing time. The Bill James projection at Fangraphs has him down for a .283-33-109 season. Yes, really. The “Fans”, which consists of 41 Fangraph reader projections, weren’t far from James at .285-28-103. Those are definitely… optimistic… to say the least. I can’t help but wonder if we, the baseball community, learned nothing from last year. Doesn’t Rizzo fit the mold of some heavily favored sleepers from 2012? Namely guys like Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Desmond Jennings?

They were the shiny new toys of 2011 with various levels of kick-assery and they became the object of many fantasy managers’ affection leading into the March draft season for 2012. Hosmer had more or less a full season logging 128 games and 563 plate appearances while Lawrie and Jennings merely gave a taste at 43 and 63 games played, respectively. And how did that all work out?

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Hosmer is least like Rizzo from an experience standpoint, but most like him in every other avenue as the pair are both 23-year old left-handed first basemen. Hosmer had the relatively full season of success in 2011, but that second time around the league was brutal as the struggles against lefties continued and he couldn’t stay great against righties. His 886 OPS against righties dropped to 700 in 2012 while his performance against lefties improved just six points to a still-meager 591 OPS.

Rizzo posted an 892 OPS against righties in 2012 compared to just 599 against lefties. As lefties with groundballs tendencies, they are going to be more susceptible to the infield shift. I don’t know how much either Hosmer or Rizzo faced the shift in 2012, but I do know they hit .091 and .161, respectively, on grounders to the pull field against lefties. It’s a thin slice of data as they had just 44 and 31 such plate appearances, but still worth noting especially if either or both weren’t facing the shift often.

League average for lefties in those situations was .174 so Rizzo wasn’t too far off, but his margin for error is scant if he is to have the breakout season projected at Fangraphs as he can’t give anything back against righties (and probably needs to jump up some) and needs massively improve against lefties. He was great in a half of 2012, but it is a lot different going through the grind of all six months in the big leagues. Even hitting the extrapolation of his 2012 numbers would be a major achievement.

Taking his 2012 rates over 630 plate appearances yields a 26 homer/82 RBI season which would be fantastic for the 23-year old and I still think that should be on the outer end of his projection. After all, look what another sweet-swinging first baseman did in 2012 compared to his 2011 extrapolation. Paul Goldschmidt skipped Triple-A in 2011 coming up to the bigs for a 177-plate appearance carafe of coffee during which he crushed eight bombs with 26 RBIs and a .250/.333/.474 line. Extrapolating that out would’ve been a 28/93 season yet he was far from a disappointment when he “only” went 20/82 last year. (Sidenote: I’ve got more on him coming up soon. Big fan. Big, big fan.)

The extrapolation game with youngsters is dangerous, and frankly kind of stupid. We already know that they aren’t guaranteed to progress in a linear fashion thus expecting someone like Rizzo to essentially just double his 2012 production in his first full season at such a young age is foolhardy. In order to hit any of these home run projections, he’s either going to have to maintain his 18 percent HR/FB rate or add some flyballs to the 30 percent he hit last year. He wasn’t struggling to hit the ball hard with an awesome 24.4 percent line drive rate, but sustaining that over a full season won’t be easy, either.

Just 10 percent (14-of-143) of qualified hitters were at or above his 24.4 LD rate meanwhile only four of those players were at or below his 30 percent flyball rate. So it’s basically one or the other. Two of them were Buster Posey and Robinson Cano, so there is precedent for Rizzo… as long as he’s an all-world player. And only six players maintained an 18.1 HR/FB rate or better with a flyball rate south of 30 percent. Posey and Cano were two of them along with David Freese, Kendrys Morales, Billy Butler, and Carlos Gonzalez. Note that none of those players were both 23 years old and entering their first full year in the majors.

Despite the negative slant to this piece, I’m not down on Rizzo’s long-term prospects at all. I’m simply preaching caution with him for 2013. Last year wasn’t the first year that prospects failed to live up to their billing, but rather the most recent examples thus they’re still fresh in our memories. We should learn from last year’s mistakes, not make them again. Sure there is going to be some under-25 stud who tears the league apart, but betting a significant amount of your auction budget or a high round draft pick that you found the needle is a good way to finish sixth.

One final note is that obviously all bets are off in keeper and dynasty leagues as you’re going to have to pay a little more on the front-end to enjoy the future. In current keeper & dynasty leagues, he is already cheap and likely not for sale, but in new leagues he will have a bit of an elevated price based on his hot 2013, age, and overall prospects. If you are the type who likes to build the future juggernaut in those leagues, he’s definitely one to target.

 

Thursday: 05.26.2011

Fixing the Contenders – National League

Continuing onto the National League, let’s take a look at some moves the contenders could reasonably entertain in the coming months to patch holes and solidify their team to assert themselves for the entire year.

Fixing the Contenders – AL

A note from the AL piece: I forgot to point out that Hiroki Kuroda has a full no trade clause that could muddy things up if the Dodgers were looking to trade him this summer.  Thanks to Ray Guilfoyle from FakeTeams.com for letting me know that and also suggesting that Ryan Dempster could be an option for the Yankees.  I agree with Ray that he would be a nice fit as well.  Hell, maybe they will go for both.  They have enough minor league pieces to acquire both without decimating their system.

San Francisco Giants (27-22)

Team Needs: C, SS, bats in general

Had I not had plans last night to see The Hangover 2 (which was very funny, not as good as 1, but no one should expect it to be), this section would have looked a whole lot different because star catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season during a 12-inning battle against the Florida Marlins.  His leg was destroyed while blocking the plate against Scott Cousins and their anemic offense has now lost its best player.  Posey wasn’t hitting like he did last year, but the bar to be the best Giants hitter hasn’t been terribly high in 2011.  Posey had a .284/.368/.389(!) line with four home runs and 21 RBIs, not bad, but not quite the .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs stud we saw a year ago, either.

This is a devastating blow to a team that desperately needed hitting before the injury.  The Giants could dial up the Cincinnati Reds and inquire about some of the amazing depth at catcher that the NL Central reigning champs have both on their team and in their system.  Or is that a fit?  Because Posey is a franchise player who will be back next year, the Giants don’t need to go big and trade for Devin Mesoraco, the 23-year old prospect who is following up a breakout 2010 with a big 2011 at AAA.

The Reds are currently top five in the majors in catcher production between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  With Mesoraco waiting in the wings, they could afford to move one of them to address one of their needs at the same time.  Hernandez (.327/.375/.558)  is a 35-year old backstop in the last year of his contract while Hanigan (.253/.349/.347) is 30 and just starting a very team-friendly 3 year/$4-million dollar deal so I think the Reds would be more likely to deal Hernandez even though he is hitting better right now.

The Reds have the 2nd-worst team ERA from their starters (4.95) despite coming into the season with what seemed like a surplus of starters.  For either catcher, the Reds aren’t going to draw one of San Francisco’s top four arms (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner).  Ryan Vogelsong has been such a revelation and the 33-year old journeyman is pitching out of his mind with some pretty strong skills to back up his pint-sized ERA and WHIP (1.77/1.06).  Given that Barry Zito would be too expensive to trade, whether for the Giants (who might be forced to pay a bulk of the cash) or the receiving team (who would have that albatross contract on their books), Vogelsong might be the one to move.

Of course they can’t give up two of their top five arms and there is another move that is being rumored that would fit much better in the short and long term meaning they need to either to go with Eli Whiteside (the current backup), search within their system, hit the scrap heap of the free agent pool (Bengie Molina anyone?) or make a smaller trade with someone.

TRADE: Prospect Ryan Verdugo to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ryan Doumit – The Pirates farm system is getting better, but they need to keep stockpiling arms as their lineup is starting to come together and a lot of their pitching prospects are years away.  Verdugo is a solid lefty who shifted back to the rotation after three years of relieving as a pro and he is having a strong season with 44 strikeouts in his 41 innings of work.

Doumit, meanwhile, has seemingly been on the block for several years now as his star has dimmed since a breakout 2008 season that portended big things on the way that never ended up coming to fruition.  He’s an adequate bat that would be a significant upgrade over staying in house with Whiteside.

So this overwhelming devastation may heighten San Francisco’s focus on filling their shortstop void that they inexplicably thought was filled with the Miguel Tejada acquisition this offseason.  Pablo Sandoval’s injury mercifully pulled Tejada from the most important defensive spot on the field, but it left Mike Fontenot there.

Overshadowed in today’s Posey news is that Fontenot is now on the disabled list, too, leaving them with Emmanuel Burris and rookie Brandon Crawford at the position.  From awful to equally awful to the most awfulest everz at a very important position.  Two key positions obliterated in one fateful night.

Focusing efforts on a certain star shortstop who is available, the Giants should make a blockbuster deal to fill this massive void now and in the future.

TRADE: Bumgarner, Crawford, Clayton Tanner and Darren Ford to the New York Mets for Jose Reyes – That feels like it should be enough, but it also feels like it could be too much.  I’m just not 100% sure where Reyes’ value is at this point.  The Mets’ farm is garbage right now so a big time major league arm and some solid pieces to stock the high minors for a piece like Reyes seems viable on their end, too.

Obviously to give up a huge arm like Bumgarner, a top 10 prospect from their org. and two other pieces, the Giants would have to gain some sort of assurance for themselves that Reyes isn’t just a rental.  You don’t take that kind of hit to your rotation for a few months of an electric table-setter.  It’s not like he can go on a Manny Ramirez run circa 2008.

If Reyes were just a rental then I think you lop off Bumgarner immediately and then perhaps that trio is enough.  Or maybe they replace Crawford with Ehire Adrianza, who is also a shortstop prospect that checks out a bit higher and is just 22 years old.

If a move for Reyes can realistically be done without devastating their current 25 to the point where there is no net gain, then they really should entertain it.  Crawford being instantly successful would be a huge upset considering he was a 24-year old in High-A who had reached AA in 2009 and 2010 yet performed terribly both times and has yet to hit AAA.

He was definitely raking (.322/.412/.593), but he was a 24-year old in the Cal League, so he should have been hitting well.  The Giants are rolling the dice with him because they have limited options at this point.

Moves:

  1. C – Trade Verdugo for Doumit
  2. SS – Trade Bumgarner, Crawford, Tanner & Ford for Reyes

Atlanta Braves (28-23)

Team Need: OF

When was the last time the Braves had three viable outfielders play a majority of their games in left, center and right?  It has been quite some time, but it looks like 2003 when they had Chipper Jones in left, Andruw Jones in center and Gary Sheffield in right.  All three posted .851 or better OPS marks while Chipper and Sheff were at .920 and 1.023, respectively.  Since then, they have pieced things together at one and sometimes two of the spots and injuries have put them right back there again in 2011.

They needed outfield help before Jason Heyward went out, but then he and Nate McLouth hit the disabled list together leaving Martin Prado as the last man standing out there.  Lucky for them they have a stupid amount of pitching both at the major league level and throughout their minor leagues which should allow them make a move with ease.

The problem is there is one major and a couple strong bats out there, but they are all corner outfielders.  With Prado in left and Heyward out, but expected back and in right, centerfield is their biggest need and there just aren’t a ton of options out there.  And I can’t see them trading with their hated rivals, the New York Mets, to get Carlos Beltran.  Plus Beltran probably works best in a corner to conserve his health.

That really limits their options unless something opens up from now until July.  As such, I could see them biding their time with fill-ins and then making a move for a guy who is also currently injured and scheduled to return in about a month, at the earliest.

TRADE: Prospect Erik Cordier to the Chicago Cubs for Marlon Byrd – Look, McLouth is terrible.  His return doesn’t help the Braves at all.  And there aren’t any significant outfield prospects on the way up for the Braves so getting Byrd not only helps this year but also in ’12 when he costs just $6.5 mil.  He isn’t a middle of the lineup impact bat, but he can definitely help the top of their lineup by getting on base early 35% of the time.

Cordier barely registers for the Braves, not because he’s a poor prospect, but because they have such a disgusting depth of arms.  Seven of their top 10 prospects this year are starting pitchers and a handful more within their top 25.  Not to mention the fact that they have a deep rotation at the major league level, too.

If he could realistically play CF, the Braves could inquire about and possibly acquire Andre Ethier from the Dodgers, but I just don’t see that.

Moves:

  1. OF – Trade Cordier for Byrd

Cincinnati Reds (26-25)

Team Needs: RP, SP

I discussed separately and in the AL portion of a move the Reds could do with the A’s to improve their bullpen while merely scratching the surface of their insanely deep stock of hitters in the minor leagues.

Their first two months of their 2011 season are a shining example of the adage: “you can never have too much starting pitching.”  It’s impossible.  It such a volatile position and so prone to injury that there really is no such thing as “too much”.  They came into the season with Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood ready to go as well as Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney for depth.

Arroyo has flailed (5.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP), Bailey started the season hurt and looked great in his first five starts before getting hurt again; his status is up in the air, Cueto also got a late start to the season, but has been great in his four starts (2.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Leake has been terrible and likes to steal cheap shirts, Volquez has imploded to the point where he has been sent back to the minors and Wood’s ERA (5.11) looks a lot worse than his skills would normally suggest (3.63 FIP).

That leaves them with a reliable arm in Cueto, a second who should improve with Wood and four question marks.  LeCure has been great as a swingman with four starts in his 12 appearances with great skills in both roles, but a significantly better ERA in the bullpen (0.68 vs. 4.79).  Maloney has been nothing special in AAA.

As I mentioned, they have remarkable hitting depth and that would allow them to make a move for a legitimate starter.  Of course, there aren’t a ton of legitimate starters set to be available, but I think the Dodgers would be a good trade partner with a putrid offense that needs help now and going forward.

TRADE: Prospects Chris Valaika and Neftali Soto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ted Lilly – Lilly also has a full no trade clause (why the hell do the Dodgers keep giving out full NTCs????) so a move would again be contingent upon the player, but I’m not sure why he wouldn’t want to go to a surefire contender like the Reds.  The Dodgers need a lot on the diamond, but infield is the real issue.

James Loney isn’t a good first baseman.  He simply doesn’t hit enough.  A lot of people believe he will at some point because of what he showed as a 23-year old (.919 OPS, 15 HR in 96 games), but at 27 after three straight years of sub-.800 OPS (and a .573 so far this year), I think it’s time to stop thinking something great is on the way.  Soto has some nice power potential that would fit really nicely at first base for the Dodgers with the added bonus that the Reds tried him out at catcher last year and it wasn’t a complete failure.

He would be an asset to the Dodgers at either position as both are barren for them (assuming they leave Jerry Sands in left).  His plate patience could use some work and he needs to shorten his swing or he could get eaten up in the high minors and then the majors, but his power has been on full display early on in his first stint at AA (.680 SLG).

Meanwhile Valaika probably works best at second base, but could maybe stick at short or third base depending on need.  Lucky for him, the Dodgers need all three positions.  With 237 games at AAA where he has had mixed success (struggled initially, but solid this year and last), it is time to give him a real shot at the big leagues and see what the 25-year old is made of and whether or not he can stick at the majors as an everyday player.

The Reds could reasonably do this move and the one I’ve proposed with the A’s to get Andrew Bailey for Yonder Alonso without seriously damaging their minor league system.  It would be a dent that’s for sure, but Alonso and Soto are blocked by Joey Votto and Valaika is blocked by Brandon Phillips at second and Scott Rolen now and likely Juan Francisco in the future at third so they are trading from surplus to improve their team and give them the best shot to win in 2011.

Moves:

  1. RP – Trade Alonso for Bailey
  2. SP – Trade Soto, Valaika for Lilly

These are obviously just some ideas for the seven teams across both leagues who I see as contenders.  Perhaps none of them come close to happening, but I think they are reasonable possibilities for how these teams could improve their team for 2011.

Among the NL contenders not listed, I didn’t see natural fits for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers.  Whether it’s a thin minor league system or not enough major league depth to trade from or the lack of legitimate opening to trade for, these four teams are contenders in my eyes, but as it stands in late May, I don’t see a major move for them right now.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these two pieces.  When it comes to trades with prospects included, I am making my best educated guesses, so we could see a team trade for a major leaguer I predicted, but give something totally different in return.  I look forward to seeing how things play out in June and July leading up to the trade deadline.