The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.


Some quick hits, January 31st edition

Ever wondered why the Cubs weren't mentioned as contenders for Johann Santana? Why there's little serious talk of us being in on Bedard? Well, Kevin Goldstein's top 100 prospects list is out. Feast your eyes on all two Cubs prospects - Soto and Vitters, if you're wondering. So... that's why. (If you want to argue with Goldstein's rating... not really important in this specific instance. I'd say that Goldstein's ratings are similar, at least, to a lot of organizations' internal rankings. When it comes to trades, players are only worth what someone else is willing to give you for them.)

Keith Law is a bit kindlier to the Cubs in his top 100 list - Gallagher and Donaldson also make the cut. Same story, though.

USA Today previews the Cubs going into camp. Nothing dramatic if you've been keeping up with things this offseason, but a decent summary. Of note: Vitters will start the season in Peoria. Also amusing, at least to me - the Cardinals are ranked above the Astros in the division. Not that I disagree. The Reds are probably better than fifth place, though.

Oh, and maybe today the Orioles trade Bedard to the Mariners. Maybe.

Oh, and Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has another run at the Diamond Mind Baseball simulation, this time with the Mets having Santana. The Cubs have improved since his last run with the CAIRO projections for reasons I don't know. The Mets look pretty good, all told - but I still think their rotation's depth is very questionable.

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In point of fact, I do play Dungeons and Dragons

Well this is fun:

[T]hey think it’s the coolest thing in the world to see a baseball player mention babip… as though their entire Dungeons & Dragons Baseball Dork Stat World is entirely validated. Idiots.

...

I’m going to finish this post by patting myself on the back. In my last post, I think I summarized the dumbfuck stat heads as best as can possibly be done. I crack up laughing looking at it:

These dumbfucks may as well be playing Dungeons and Fucking Dragons with their fucking stats.

The losers at ACB should make this their quote of the year because, well… these guys may as well be playing Dungeons and Fucking Dragons. Fucking dorks. Take your fucking WARP3 and shove it up your dungeon master’s ass.

I'm truly not interested in hashing through this guy's points. I don't think anything meaningful would be achieved by a blow-by-blow analysis - he's about as persuasive as running water, and given my readership I'd probably be preaching to the choir. As far as mocking him, well, he's pretty much low-hanging fruit.

I am going to note, however - the concept of "dork," "loser," etc. is extremely relative. And it strikes me that, well, to someone who isn't highly invested in such matters, that running your own Cubs blog kinda qualifies you as one. And I don't think society at large spends a large amount of time distinguishing between SABR-minded geeks and geeks who simply care about grit and hustle.

Seriously, dude, you have more in common with the Dungeons & Dragons Baseball Dork Stat World than you do with non-baseball fans. And you're not going to convince the dungeon masters of the world to believe in your point of view by insulting them.

But that's all well and good - civility isn't exactly trading as a commodity on blogs, and I can be... unsubtle when I care to be.

I just find the irony too compelling to ignore. "Hah! Those guys and their numbers! They should be playing some other game that I can mock, and not this game that I like!" Baseball... yeah, it's a game. Take that in, if you want. Games are fun; I like games an awful lot. I like them whether or not it's baseball, or football, or Dungeons and Dragons, or poker or Settlers of Cataan. I really
don't understand the obsession with making sure other people are having the right kind of fun.

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I will give those accounts receivable 110%

It seems that Plaxico Burress has upset more than a few in the media by guaranteeing the Giants would win the upcoming Super Bowl.

Puh-lease. It's the Super Bowl. I'm excited about it and I'm so far away from being a pro athlete I still have scars I sustained playing flag football. You mean to tell me that Tom Brady was going to sleepwalk his way through this game, but thought better of it because Plaxico Burress talked to some reporters?

Listen to me carefully, folks: the Patriots will be fully and completely motivated to play this Sunday if Bill Belicheck has to kidnap their families and hold them hostage, and that is entirely something Bill Belicheck is willing to do.

Far better that these guys actually say something interesting before the big game - otherwise we have to listen to the same pablum for the next six days or so. Seriously, who talks like this?

"I can't think about that right now. I just have to take it one burger at a time."

"Tony over in accounting is a real gamer. He shows up every day, no matter what, ready to give his best to auditing expense accounts."

"I guess the defense attorney just wanted it more, that's all."

"Individual accomplishments don't mean anything. It's nice having the pay raise and all, but I'm just really happy I could help my software development team meet their quarterly goals."

Yeesh. Spare me, please!

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Throwdown to Showdown! Theriot vs. DeRosa

Two people (which is a not-insubstantial proportion of my readership at this point) are curious about Ryan Theriot's defense, and how he stacks up compared to the league average. One specifically wants to know how he stacks up against the Cubs 2007 MVP-in-Spirit, Mark DeRosa. (Derrek Lee being the MVP-in-Fact.)

Well, I'm happy to oblige. Welcome to Thunderdome. Two scrappy, white middle infielders enter; one scrappy, white middle infielder leaves.

Mark DeRosa was +2.5 Batting Runs compared to the league average in 2007; Ryan Theriot was -22.8 Batting Runs. (It turns out that SS, 2B and CF hit for roughly the league average. This doesn't matter so much just comparing the two, but it's useful to note.)

But what about next season? I would expect DeRosa's offense to fall of a bit, and Theriot's to improve by a bit. CHONE sees DeRosa as being right around league average, and Theriot to be -12 compared to average. ZiPS sees DeRosa about 2-3 runs below average, Theriot roughly -15. So 12 runs different on offense, or about a win.

The short answer on defense: Sean Smith makes his defensive projections available; they're not the best projections on defense but they're the best readily available. (MGL's UZR defensive projections are probably the best I'm aware of, but UZR is published sporadically at best.) The projection sees Theriot defensively at -1 at shortstop, and DeRosa at -6.

So between the two, I'd say that DeRosa is the better choice at shortstop between the two. Both of them would be below-average shortstops, but I think we had all figured that out already.

This is just a quick, cursory look at the question; I plan on doing some posts in a while that go more in-depth into offensive and defensive metrics in general, and may touch on the specific merits (or lack thereof) of Ryan Theriot more when I do.

For those curious - CHONE has Cedeno at -6 on offense, and ZiPS has him about even with Theriot. The defensive projections see Cedeno as even with Theriot.

Edit: If you believe ZiPS, then your best infield (with current personnel) is probably: Lee, Fontenot, DeRosa, Ramirez. (Fontenot is -11 at shortstop, if you're curious.) If you believe CHONE, then it's Lee, DeRosa, Cedeno, Ramirez.

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The Myth of Ryan Theriot's September

There is a growing myth in a set of Cubs fans that says that Ryan Theriot's numbers as a hitter just don't look so bad if you ignore his performance in September, when he was battling a back injury.

The first rebuttal is pretty obvious; it's rare to find a ballplayer that makes it through an entire season without some sort of nagging injury, and max-effort guys like Theriot are more likely to be injured than others.

But I've decided to try expressing the second rebuttal in a slightly different form. For a while now I've been saying that Theriot's pre-September numbers don't look all that impressive, either. But do you know what says it better than I can? Why, a graph! Just click on it to enlarge:

Theriot By Month

I absolutely love graphs, by the way, and I hope to make them a regular feature on this site.

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Oh? Really?

File this little tidbit from Mike Imrem's latest column under "Things I Don't Believe:"

But comparing [Rex] Grossman to [Eli] Manning is like comparing, say, a quarterback to an eye doctor.

(Coincidentally, the Manning family patriarch was a great NFL quarterback and the Grossman family patriarch played the position at Indiana University before becoming a great eye doctor.)

Coincidently? Honestly? You want me to believe that you coincidently compared the occupations of their fathers... and then looked it up just in case? Because if you knew about it, then it wasn't a coincidence at all.

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What Jay Mariotti doesn't understand

Yes, bashing Jay Mariotti is about as fashionable as it is easy. This isn't going to be your traditional piece about him. The Mariotti column I want to talk about actually has some responsible and interesting points and I want to address them seriously. First, a quick little sum-up:

People used to escape life by watching sports. Now, we kind of look forward to road rage, lame health care and consumer fraud. It's torturous enough that each saga is covered by the responsible media like Watergate. But provoking it all is an assortment of warped cybercreeps, who are no more necessary than thongs in Rosie O'Donnell's underwear drawer, posting pictures and spreading misinformation -- do you realize Dana Jacobson apparently never said "(Bleep) Jesus" at the infamous Atlantic City roast? -- while hoping for nothing more in their miserable lives than an ESPN personality finding trouble.

It's not about one athlete defeating another anymore. It's not about the fun, the strategy, the winners, the losers. No, it's about which story can make the most sensational impact on the widest swath of humanity. Forgive me if this sounds like Jerry Maguire's "mission statement," but the games have become a warmup act for the crazy issues. And I'd like to have my games back, thank you.

 

I seriously suggest that you read the whole piece before proceeding. It's rather brief and surprisingly palatable.

What Mariotti is really talking about is three separate issues. The first is the degradation of entertainment media into absolute gutter trash. When he refers to "it's a TMZ.com sewer, we just soak in it," he's about right. And even if you don't agree, I'm sure you at least understand the concept that the paparazzi aren't exactly raising the level of discourse, so no real need to rehash it here.

The second is the notion that athletes and sport are seen more and more as entertainers. This, quite frankly, is an idealization of the past more than it is a fact. For about as long as we've had pro athletes, they've been lumped in with the entertainers, and have often acted like them. During the baseball offseason, before the advent of radio, star players would often travel with vaudeville acts, sometimes showing off their batting prowess, other times participating in the skits and gags, and sometimes just simply being there, letting people see the players they so often read about in the box scored. Babe Ruth was one of many ballplayers who engaged a ghost writer, selling faked columns to newspapers for a public hungry to read more about their heroes.

The larger question is, if athletes aren't entertainers, then what are they? It's hard to conceive of them as manual laborers, or service industry workers or any other such line of work. It's largely a conceit of people who don't want to cop to the essential frivolity of sports that athletics are any more meaningful or deep than, say, Hollywood starlets or pop music.

The third issue is the one that Mariotti doesn't actually explicitly cover in his piece - the fact that sports media is also entertainment, and at times in ways that overshadows the sports themselves. When he mentions Dana Jacobson or Kelly Tilghman - they are media personalities, just like Jay Mariotti. So I'm not surprised that Jay doesn't look too closely under that particular rock.

And now it's time to look at what Jay Mariotti is. He is not an analyst - he doesn't seem to have any particular expertise in any sport, or even to show a passing interest in developing that sort of expertise. Nor does he do any real reporting - it seems almost a perverse point of pride of his that he doesn't show up in the White Sox clubhouse anymore.

No, what Mariotti is is a personality. What he offers is... his services as an entertainer.

If you'll recall, Mariotti wasn't particularly concerned with the purity and sanctity of sport when he was pillorying Ozzie Guille (even if it's pretty clear that Guillen deserved some pillorying there.) He also wasn't concerned about such things when he threatened to punch Hawk Harrelson.

To really have a conversation about the way sports coverage has changed, and how we're heading for the lowest common denomenator - well, Jay Mariotti would have to take a long, uncomfortable look in the mirror, and I don't think he's ready for that. What I think he's really trying to do here is complain about how media personalities like him are now becoming legitimate targets.

Well guess what, Jay. It's a sewer, alright - and you helped build it.

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Tom Brady can still walk

They have pictures and video and everything! In case you were wondering. Now might be a good time to check the line on Brady for Super Bowl MVP. Just, you know, if that sort of thing interests you.

If you've ever wanted to be a pro basketball player...

...well, somebody has to play for the Bulls. This could be your chance! Tell John Paxon I sent you.

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Bedard Is A Mariner

Pretty much official. Adam Jones is the centerpiece. So hopefully that quiets down some of the speculation on the Cubs front, and crystalizes what exactly the front office plans to do now.

UPDATE: Andy MacPhail says that nothing has happened. He's is truly becoming the human epitomization of a wet blanket.

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Midterm grades are in

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News hands out grades to some GMs before spring training begins. You have to love this bit:

On the other end of the discussion,  two rookie GMs, Neal Huntington of the Pirates and John Mozeliak of the Cardinals, get failing marks. (In Mozeliak's case, in allowing sparkplug shortstop David Eckstein to walk as a free agent and replacing him with the very inferior Cesar Izturis, he appears to have fallen victim to the same ownership-driven payroll constraints as his predecessor, Walt Jocketty, but there is no excuse for Huntington doing absolutely nothing to improve the last-place Pirates. Alas, in Pittsburgh it appears to be non-business as usual under new CEO Frank Coonelly, with the team unwilling to spend.

How about the fact that the Pirates were last place, and don't have a lot to build around? It strikes me as not only defensible but laudable that Huntington isn't going to make moves simply to make moves - you sign players and make trades to improve your chances at success, and there weren't a lot of moves the Pirates could make right now to give them a shot at the division.

Much better to stand pat and try to rebuild than to be the Astros, which got a mortgage on the future and invested the dividends in junk bonds and commodities futures.

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Or maybe we get Bedard?

The Boston Globe says the Cubs and Os are still talking about Roberts and Bedard. And then maybe dealing Matt Murton to San Diego. I have no idea how well sourced the Boston papers are when it comes to Cubs/Padres/Orioles trades, but I pass it along for you to consider.

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Bedard to move soon?

Baltimore Sun beat writer Roch Kubatko - awesome name, by the way - says that Eric Bedard should be moving later this week. To the Mariners, most likely.

If there is going to be a Brian Roberts trade, that would be about when you would expect it to go down. I still see no reason to trade Sean Gallagher in this, but I don't think my opinion is being solicited by Cubs brass so it probably doesn't matter.

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I think you understate your case here, Mr. Rodgers

You have to give Phil Rodgers credit for this little gem:

Ten years after his pro career began, Jeremy Affeldt finally had a breakout season in 2007. He made 75 appearances out of the bullpen for the Colorado Rockies and then pitched in seven of 11 postseason games for the National League champs.


So naturally, the Cincinnati Reds signed the left-hander to be one of Dusty Baker's starting pitchers. It's the kind of move you make when you are starting to pack for spring training and haven't filled the wish list you made out around Halloween.

Go ahead and feast your eyes on Affeldt's impressive stats. Ayup.

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White Sox still don't get it

Do you know what the White Sox think they lacked last season?

Attitude.

You're... you're kidding me, right? Please tell me you're joking. You can't mean it, right, Kenny Williams?

"The greatest asset is what [the players] have heard or read or seen," the Sox general manager said Friday at SoxFest. "To a man, they [have] a little edge or chip, and I'm not going to stop that."

 

Okay, so I guess you do mean it. But at least the players don't buy into it, right?

"I don't know if you want to call it a chip on your shoulder, but that's what we're going to need," team captain Paul Konerko said. "There's no question, if you're looking from the outside, at best we're going to be picked to finish third. And we should use that as motivation.
"[Detroit and Cleveland are] coming off very good years, haven't lost anything and even gained something. So we [should] embrace the underdog role a little bit. Our attitude is definitely going to have to be … a feeling of fighting an uphill battle, because that's likely what it will be."

Yeah, "uphill battle" is how I might put it. Perhaps through driving snow. Without shoes. While being strafed by machine gun fire.

I mean... you do know that you had Darin Erstad last season, right? That man had as many chips on his shoulder as you could want in a player, and look where that got you.

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Oneri Fleita drops hints about the '08 Smokies roster

The Mountain Press managed to land an interview with Oneiri Fleita, the Cubs' director of player development, about the Tenessee Smokies. Here's the takeaway:

Returning players will include pitchers:

Likely newcomers:

Brian Dopirak will also be looked at as an option to provide the Smokies with a warm body, apparently.

The important thing to note is that players can - and frequently do - skip AAA and go straight to the bigs. Any of those guys is an option to appear on the Cubs at some point this season. Ceda is particularly enticing - not a bad return for trading Todd Walker, if you ask me.

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How to build a powerhouse

The New York Times has a nice look at a joint lecture with Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, and Theo Epstein, the Red Sox GM. I think both of them are spectacular at what they do, and it's great to get insight into the way they build teams.

Of special interest is this bit on popular Yankees superstar Bernie Williams, whose departure from the team was... less than cordial. Williams was essentially forced out, and many Yankees fans weren't pleased.

Cashman said that Williams was terrible in 2005, but that he brought Williams back as a farewell in 2006. After Williams had a solid year, he wanted to return for 2007. But Cashman did not sign Williams. Cashman said that Williams’s music career “took away from his play.” Interestingly, Cashman said that Joe Torre, who was then the manager, looked for ways to play Williams in 2006 “ahead of guys who could help us win,” so Cashman did not want that to happen in 2007.
I think sentiment has a place in baseball, but not when it drastically impedes your chances at winning. And managers often seem to ignore that, and it's unfair to the fans (otherwise known as the "paying customers") in the long run. Doubly so if you replace "Bernie Williams" with "Neifi Perez."

The White Sox Fan Fest is not a love-in

This strikes me as being messy. Question and answer sessions are said to have been heated. But Kenny Williams was able to sate the masses:



"I will take a risk on a high-ceiling players and jeopardize my reputation if I think that player fits into the equation and leads us to a championship if things go the way we think they will," [Kenny] Williams said during a five-minute reply that finished with applause. "If you leave here today, understand this: every move, every decision we make is in an effort to win a championship."

Williams is gambling a lot on this season, and I don't think the Indians and the Tigers will be very forgiving. This is still a team that could finish last place in the division.

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Who wants to win, anyway?

Ever read a sports column in a a major newspaper and thought, "Well, I could do better than that?" Well, the Chicago Tribune has an ongoing effort to disprove that theory: View From a _____ Fan, where fans submit short pieces for inclusion into the paper. I'm guessing the operating theory is to try and make the staff writers look better by comparison without being too obvious about it.

Today's effort is spectacular in this regard.

There have been times that the Cubs have been embarrassing to a town that loves its sports, but for the most part, they have always had decent players to root for, a picturesque ballpark to watch a game in, and plenty of good food and refreshments to keep anyone happy. We all tend to label the Cubs the biggest "losers" in baseball but isn't that hypocritical?



We aim to teach our kids sportsmanship and that winning isn't everything. We're appalled to see video of parents driven to rage when their child is not performing up to expectations; or umpires in little league games being mauled for questionable calls. We want our kids to play hard, have fun and when it's all over, congratulate the other team regardless of the outcome.



...


In a culture where the term "healthy competition' is more acceptable than "good sportsmanship" it's time we look at our beloved Cubs in a new light. When I reminisce about all the joy, sunburn, laughs, exuberance and disappointments I've had at Wrigley, it's hard to imagine it being any more pleasurable if any one of those seasons ended in a championship. When I think about the generations of people who have had the same experiences, sharing them with friends and family over the years, it's hard to imagine them being any better if the Cubs won a championship. Sure, the Cubs haven't won a World Series in a 100 years, but to me, they'll never be losers.

Maury Brown looks at team salary

The Biz of Baseball is a great website, and Maury Brown does a great job of breaking down team finances.

On one hand, don't expect to be too surprised at the generalities. The Yankees and the Red Sox are wildly outspending everyone. The Marlins and the Devil Rays aren't spending anything.

But it does put to rest the idea that only the rich teams can compete. Rich teams like the White Sox and the Mariners went home empty-handed, while poor teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies made deep playoff runs.

As far as the Cubs went - they placed eighth in salary overall on opening day, but by the end of the season had crept up to fifth place, with $115 million in salary. Only the Red Sox and the Yankees, of all the playoff teams, spent more per marginal win. But at least they made the playoffs, right?

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Kiffin refuses to resign from Raiders

The absolute vampire known as Al Davis has asked Lane Kiffin to resign. No word yet on why Kiffin wants to stay in Oakland.

Okay, so the Raiders went 4-12 last season. They went 2-14 the previous season. Their top draft pick spent most of the season on the bench, their best wide reciever got traded to New England, and they signed nobody of note in free agency. What exactly was Davis expecting that Kiffin failed to deliver? Divine intervention?

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Ricky O'Donnell from the Sun-Times is breaking down the Cubs' young players. So, of course, we get this:


SS Ryan Theriot

Last season: .266/.326/.346, 3 HR

Outlook: What Theriot lacks in size and power he makes up
for in defense and speed. His 28 steals last season went a long way to helping the Cubs produce runs, and he’ll once again be asked to provide the spark he did last season.

What the Cubs are hoping for: To find a regular spot near
the top of the lineup and continue making clutch hits while providing stellar defense. A little higher on-base and slugging percentages would be nice as well.

Let's break that down.

.266/.326/.346 - Bad. Even for a shortstop, pretty mediocre. His on-base percentage only looks good in the context of his other skills.

"What Theriot lacks in size and power he makes up for in defense and speed." - Essentially wrong. What he lacks in power he didn't make up for, which is how you produce -22.8 Batting Runs.

"His 28 steals last season went a long way to helping the Cubs produce runs." - More wrong. Using .06 as the linear weights value of a stolen base, you get 8.4 runs out of 28 stolen bases. A long way! It looks even smaller if you account for the 2.4 runs his caught stealings cost the team.

"A little higher on-base and slugging percentages would be nice as well." - It would help if he learned how to play baseball.

Oh, and he's going to be 28 this season. He's the same age as Cesar Izturis was, and older than such young guns as Rob Bowen and Matt Murton.

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