(Art by Jerry Neumann)
The following can be found in the Short Stops section of the June issue of Vine Line.
Sure, there will always be three strikes per out and three outs per half inning in baseball, but the strategies for success are constantly evolving. To keep pace, broadcasts have to change as well.
The 2003 book Moneyball, and the success of teams like the A’s and the Red Sox, have brought advanced statistics to the forefront of the game. Though most baseball insiders are well-versed in WAR, WHIP and VORP, many old-school baseball folks—White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson included—don’t subscribe to the numbers game.
That’s why Cubs broadcasters Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, both believers in sabermetrics, try to work the new stats into most broadcasts.
“We’ve found better ways to evaluate performance than the old-school batting average, RBI, runs,” Kasper said. “Counting stats can sometimes not really tell the whole tale. [Advanced stats] allow you to pull a player out of his team context and evaluate how he might be in a generic vacuum.”
As baseball moves away from traditional stats that don’t carry as much weight as they used to, it’s often up to the broadcasters to bring new ideas to the viewers’ attention—without being overbearing.
“We don’t want it to be a math class,” Kasper said. “I think always remembering the narrative of a baseball game is important, keeping the focus on what’s happening on the field. You can extrapolate some interesting notes about a player or a team without necessarily giving them raw numbers”
Though Kasper, who has been calling Cubs games since 2003, is all for the game’s evolution, he tries not to get carried away with new concepts.
“Sometimes [stats people] maybe overthink some of these situations,” Kasper said. “Sometimes guys are just good.”
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Travis Wood’s 2013 campaign has been nothing short of incredible. On the mound this season, the 26-year-old southpaw is 5-3 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 72 innings. But it’s what he’s done in the batter’s box that has really captured Cubs fans’ attention.
The right-handed hitter owns a .292/.320/.583 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line with a pair of homers and seven RBI. In the fourth inning of Thursday’s tilt with the White Sox, Wood ripped a Jake Peavy cutter into the left-field stands for a grand slam, propelling the North Siders to an 8-3 win.
The grand slam was the first by a Cubs pitcher at Wrigley Field since Burt Hooten accomplished the feat in 1972.
And Wood isn’t the only pitcher on the staff who’s having success at the plate. According to Elias, the 19 RBI by Cubs pitchers in May is the most in a calendar month since the 1940 Tigers drove in 20. Wood (7) and fellow starter Scott Feldman (6) alone each have more RBI than any other pitching staff. Also, the pitching staff has produced more RBI this month than the Cubs No. 3 hitters (17), and they have matched the total from the No. 4 spot (19).
(Photo by Jason Wise)
It has been a good week for Cubs’ 2012 first-round draft pick Albert Almora. After missing the early portion of the year with a broken hamate bone in his hand, Almora made his 2013 debut for the Class-A Kane County Cougars on May 22 and got off to such a fast start he was named the Midwest League Player of the Week.
In 26 at-bats, the 19-year-old outfielder hit .538 with five doubles, 14 hits, two walks and only two strikeouts. He logged four multihit efforts in his first seven games.
The Cubs made Almora the sixth overall selection in the 2012 draft. He spent the second half of last season with the Arizona rookie team and Short-Season Boise, where he combined to hit .321/.331/.464 with 12 doubles and two home runs in 140 at-bats.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, let’s take a moment to thank our troops for all they do—and all they have done—for our country. Prior to joining the North Siders in 1953, “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks, spent two years in the United States Army during the Korean War. Former Cubs pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander also served in the Army during World War I.
(Photo by Jason Wise)
Albert Almora has always felt most comfortable when he’s on a baseball diamond. For the first time during the 2013 regular season, he’ll get that opportunity.
The Cubs’ 2012 first-round draft pick was transferred to Single-A Kane County on Wednesday after missing the first portion of the season with a broken hamate bone in his wrist. The sixth overall pick of last year’s draft entered the season as the organization’s second-best prospect and minor league baseball’s No. 33 overall prospect, according to Baseball America. The publication also lists Almora as the best hitter for average and the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs minor league system.
After signing with the Cubs in early July, he split time between the Arizona Rookie League and Short-Season Boise. In 33 combined games, the outfielder hit .321/.331/.464 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 doubles in 140 at-bats.
Almora joins an impressive list of former first rounders to play for the Cougars including Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Joe Blanton.
(Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
At the outset of the season, everyone knew the Daytona Cubs’ roster was loaded with talent. Now the individual accolades are starting to pile up. On Monday, the Florida State League announced Cubs infielder Dustin Geiger was the league’s player of the week for the week ending May 19.
In the eight games during that stretch, the 21-year-old batted .469 (15-for-32) with a pair of homers, seven doubles, a triple, seven runs driven in and six runs scored. This season, the Merritt Island, Fla., native is hitting .333 with five home runs and a league-leading 36 RBI.
Geiger, a 24th round pick in the 2010 draft, joins outfielder Jorge Soler, shortstop Javier Baez and right-handed pitcher Ryan Searle as Daytona Cubs to win the award this season.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is one of the few Cubs hitting well with runners in scoring position. (Photo by Stephen Green)
On many occasions throughout Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s tenure, he has made it clear that slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats) is his go-to number when evaluating a player’s approach at the plate.
On paper, the 2013 Cubs’ power stats look good. The team’s .420 slugging percentage is second best in the National League, largely thanks to the squad’s 48 homers (third in NL) and whopping 101 doubles (15 more than the next-highest NL total). But like many stats, these numbers can be a bit deceiving. While displaying strong power stats is never a bad thing, baseball is predicated on timely hitting. As the graph below indicates, the Cubs struggle with men in scoring position compared with other NL teams.
The Cubs sit in the top five of most common statistical categories with nobody on base, but those same numbers drop drastically with men on second and/or third. It’s interesting to note that their home run and doubles don’t decrease, though the slash line takes a huge hit. We also looked at the eight regular position players to see how they have fared with the bases empty versus with runners in scoring position.
Of the eight regulars, just two are hitting better with runners in scoring position than with the bases empty. And while Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena have a higher slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team.
The basic stats make it look like the Cubs have one of the better offenses in the National League, but they’re going to need some more timely hitting for those stats to have an impact in the standings.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Jorge Soler might have gotten off to a rocky start this season, but the Cubs outfield prospect has been on a tear of late. On Tuesday, he was named the Florida State League player of the week for the week ending May 12.
In four games from May 6-12, the 21-year-old went 7-for-15 with a pair of homers, three doubles, a triple, four RBI and five runs scored. In addition, the organization’s No. 3 prospect (according to MLB.com) has reached base in 10 straight games. For the season, Soler is hitting .281/.369/542 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with five homers, eight doubles and 14 driven in.
The native of Cuba was suspended five games earlier in the year for an on-field altercation.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Mark Grace is widely thought of as the best first baseman in Cubs history. His play is so well regarded, when Vine Line polled fans looking for the best Cubs player at each position for last July’s All-Star issue, Gracie received 64 percent of the votes at first base.
The three-time All-Star and hits leader of the 1990s enjoyed a solid 1993 campaign, batting .325/.393/.475 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 39 doubles and 98 driven in. He also earned a Gold Glove at first. But May 9, 1993, went down in history as one of Grace’s best days, as he went 4-for-5 and became the last Cubs player to hit for the cycle.
With the Cubs hosting the Padres on a warm Sunday, he took an 0-1 pitch in the bottom of the first to left-center field for a double. In the third inning, he stepped up again with a man on first and ripped a single back up the middle. After a lineout to right in the fifth inning, the 29-year-old tripled to left in the seventh. And with the Cubs trailing 5-1 in the bottom on the ninth and two on, he wrapped up his day with a three-run blast to right center, though the comeback bid would ultimately fall short.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The first two weeks of the season were a struggle for the Cubs relief corps. Despite strong efforts from one of the NL’s best rotations in the club’s first 12 games, the bullpen blew four save opportunities, compiled a 5.82 ERA and repeatedly failed to secure victories in winnable games.
But the ‘pen’s performance in the last two weeks is making those early-season woes look like a thing of the past. In the last 13 games, the relievers have compiled a 1.85 ERA, third in the NL during that stretch. Though they still walk too many hitters (9.5 walk percentage, second highest in NL since April 16), the bullpen has found a way to get out of jams, leaving an NL-best 92.4 percent of runners on base.
The Cubs have been in every game this season—all but three have been decided by three runs or fewer and none by more than four—which means a strong bullpen is often the difference between winning and losing. What the team looks to have gained in recent weeks is a “give me the-ball” type finisher. Though manager Dale Sveum has not named a closer and prefers a bullpen-by-committee approach, the North Siders acquired veteran late-innings reliever Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers at the end of Spring Training. Since making his debut on April 19, Gregg has been lights out, surrendering no earned runs in his first six appearances and racking up four saves.
Despite Opening Day closer Carlos Marmol’s early failures, surrendering five earned runs in his first 1.2 innings pitched, he hasn’t given up a run since April 6. He has still walked eight batters in those nine innings, but he’s managed to miss a lot of bats in that time too, striking out nine.
The most consistent relief pitcher all season has been southpaw James Russell. The 26-year-old has leaned heavily on his 80 mph slider, throwing it 45 percent of the time, while mixing in a fastball and change-up. So far this season, his strikeout totals have improved dramatically. He’s now fanning 10.6 batters per nine, three K/9 better than last season. In 11 innings, he’s walked just one batter and hasn’t given up an earned run. He’s been so effective that his 0.6 wins above replacement (according to fangraphs.com) is tied for the best among relief pitchers in baseball.
To round things out, Shawn Camp looks like he might have rediscovered his 2012 form after struggling early, and waiver pickup Kameron Loe has been reliable in his five innings since being claimed off waivers from Seattle. Though the relievers’ .269 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) might indicate they’re pitching a little above their ability (an average BABIP is around .300), a solid effort from these pitchers all season long could make a big difference in 2013.