Results tagged ‘ All-Star Game ’

Hot Off the Presses: The July All-Star Issue of Vine Line

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Quick … which catcher had the greatest statistical season in Cubs history?

I’ll give you a second to think about it.

What about Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett? He went to six All-Star Games, won the 1935 NL MVP and was generally considered the best catcher in NL history until Johnny Bench came along.

Maybe Randy Hundley. He went to an All-Star Game, won a Gold Glove and threw out a remarkable 50 percent of base stealers four times in his career.

Jody Davis? Johnny Kling? Keith Moreland even played some catcher.

What would you say if I told you it was Rick Wilkins? Yes, the same Rick Wilkins who was a 23rd-round pick out of Furman University. The same Rick Wilkins who played for eight different teams in his 11 big league seasons. The same Rick Wilkins who put up a career .244/.332/.410 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

But then there was 1993—a year in which the peripatetic Cubs backstop hit .303 (he never again hit better than .270), slammed 30 home runs (he never again hit more than 14) and drove in 73 runs (he never again plated more than 59). That season, he compiled 6.6 wins above replacement (WAR), an advanced statistic meant to summarize a player’s value to his team in a single, all-encompassing number.

According to stats website Fangraphs, the source of these figures, anything above a 6.0 is considered an MVP-caliber season. The best Hartnett ever managed was a 5.6. Mind you, Hartnett’s career WAR was 53.4; Wilkins’ was only 14.0 (and, remember, almost half of that came from one season).

There’s no better way to get baseball fans riled up than starting a good, old-fashioned intergenerational debate. Stats geeks and old-school fans alike can spend countless hours arguing the merits of Aramis Ramirez over Ron Santo or Ryne Sandberg over Rogers Hornsby.

For our July All-Star issue, we set out to find the best-ever single season by a Cubs player at each position in the team’s more than 100-year history. Of course, it seems obvious Mark Grace would have had the best first-base season (he didn’t) or that Billy Williams was the top left fielder (he wasn’t).

There are a million ways to go about a task like this, and they’re all incredibly subjective. So we turned to a single advanced metric to help us figure things out. WAR is an all-inclusive stat that takes into account offense, defense and baserunning to determine how many wins a player is worth over a league-average replacement player.

We’re not saying the men on our list are necessarily the best players in Cubs history. Some of them are. Several of them decidedly are not. But they all had at least one spectacular season that set them apart statistically and can truly be considered the best ever by a Cub at their respective positions (as measured by this one metric).

We also take time this month to look down the chain at some of the other All-Star athletes throughout the organization. The Cubs are building a winner from the bottom up, and fans need to know which players are on the rise. That includes everyone from this year’s first-round draft pick (second overall) Kris Bryant to minor league mashers like Dustin Geiger and Rock Shoulders (whose name we try to work into every issue if we can).

Finally, to ensure the pipeline of young talent remains strong, the Cubs are investing heavily in their international scouting and player development. Outside of the U.S., more major league players hail from the Dominican Republic than from any other country. The Cubs crop includes big leaguers such as Starlin Castro and top minor league prospects like Junior Lake. While the restoration of Wrigley Field is getting the headlines on the facilities front, the Cubs recently opened a 50-acre baseball academy in the Dominican to find more top talent and diamonds in the rough. We give you a look inside the state-of-the-art facility.

We’ll be releasing our WAR All-Stars position by position here on the blog in the coming weeks. If you want to weigh in with your own opinions, email us at vineline@cubs.com or talk to us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Let the debate begin.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs contribute as NL tops AL

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Cubs standouts Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair took part in the 83rd MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night in Kansas City. Both went hitless in one at-bat, but the National League secured an 8-0 win and home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to a five-run first inning. Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was named the game’s MVP after going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run.

Profile: All-Star Bryan LaHair

Congrats to Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair, who were both selected to the National League All-Star team yesterday.

The 22-year-old Castro earned his second All-Star honor in as many seasons, becoming the first Cubs shortstop to be named to the All-Star team in consecutive seasons since Don Kessinger’s five-year run from 1968-72. LaHair, 29, is the first Cub to be elected as a first baseman since Derrek Lee in 2007 and only the third Cubs first baseman to make the team in the last 30 years (Mark Grace).

Vine Line profiled LaHair in the July All-Star issue, on sale now. Here are a few choice quotes about his struggles in the minor leagues and the early All-Star speculation. The read the full interview, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up a copy at Chicago-area newsstands.

STAR STRUCK  I’m humbled by the talk. I’ve got to stay in the moment and prepare for today’s game. I never like to get too far ahead of myself. There are a lot of good players in this league and a lot of guys with time served. It would be great to go to the All-Star Game, but it’s just so hard for me. I’m in such a young part of my major league career, so I can’t say I deserve to be there. I’d be lying if I stood here and said I wouldn’t want something like that. It’s a great honor. It’s reaching the top. I think the whole state of Massachusetts is voting for me, or at least it seems that way.

FAMILY MATTERS  They kept pushing me every day—my mom and dad, and my wife [Nicole] especially. My wife has been with me since I first started. We met in ’04, which was one year into [pro ball]. She’s experienced the downs and the highs and the hard work and the success with no results coming from it. My family just kept pushing, telling me to work hard and keep the faith, and assuring me that good things would happen eventually. And they were right.

Get your vote in

Don’t miss out on your chance to vote for Vine Line‘s all-time best Cubs roster. We’re letting readers decide who is the best-ever Cub at each position, and the results will be featured in the July All-Star edition of the magazine. Cast your vote now before the poll closes.

Farm Report: LaHair leads Triple-A All-Stars

Bryan LaHair has torn up Triple-A pitching this season. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Starlin Castro isn’t the only player in the Cubs organization representing his team in an All-Star Game. (Though he’s the only one with two stolen bases in one, entering in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner.)

Between Chicago and the club’s top four minor league levels, 27 players were selected to All-Star teams. Vine Line’s August issue covers Cubs farmhand experiences, from personal and developmental perspectives, at the various midsummer events.

Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star Game [MLB Network, 8 p.m. CT] showcases three Iowa Cubs on the Pacific League team: Bryan LaHair, Welington Castillo and John Gaub.

Starting at first base, LaHair currently shares the league lead in homers (25) and has an impressive line of .349 AVG/.418 OBP/.681 SLG. The Cubs acquired him as a minor league free agent after the 2009 season.

Marlon Byrd talked on his blog, The Byrd’s Nest, about his first-hand experience with LaHair and Castillo during his rehab appearances.

“His [LaHair’s] numbers are phenomenal. At some point, hopefully he gets a chance to help the team, whether it’s here or somewhere,” Byrd said. “Welington Castillo is looking good back there and still learning.” (more…)

Byrd flying high among the stars

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for INSIDE THE IVY LOGO.jpgHe couldn’t wipe the smile off his face the entire time during batting practice.

Even though he was the last guy get his cuts in during BP, Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd didn’t care. He was in a red carpet parade earlier in the day. He watched David Ortiz win the Home Run Derby last night. Even when the grounds crew was breaking down the cage and rolling up the tarp that protected the field, Byrd got four 10 swings in and that was enough.

2010  All-Star Game 003small.jpg“It’s a dream come true,” Byrd said, a first-time All-Star who was voted in by his peers. “You think about this when you’re a little kid–making the All-Star team. Now I’ve done it. But I’m just happy to be here. I’m just following everyone else. It’s just an honor to be around all these great guys.”

But Byrd, whose baseball acumen might even outweigh his baseball skills, has been known to help out teammates with small nuggets of advice. This season, he made a couple of Cubs pitchers aware that they were tipping pitches.

He picked up this skill while with Philadelphia. And in Anaheim, the chance to closely watch opponents is a rare opportunity to scout and improve his own swing.

2010  All-Star Game 002small.jpg“I’m paying attention here,” Byrd said. “I’m watching [the Brewers'] Corey Hart during the Home Run Derby and seeing how he’s keeping his hands down now….I saw [the Marlins'] Hanley [Ramirez] circling his hands down, too. So I’m trying to piece together my swing with theirs now.

“But you’re alwasy trying to improve, and what better way to do that than to be around the best?”

He patiently waited until the bottom of the fifth inning, when he was inserted into the lineup, replacing Hart in centerfield.

In the bottom of the sixth, Byrd nearly made a spectacular diving catch off an Elvis Andrus pop fly in shallow right-centerfield. The effort was applauded by the all-star crowd of 40,408, but Cubs fans know Byrd has been making catches and offering like that all season. And that’s why his peers voted him in.

In the top of the seventh, going against lefty reliever Matt Thornton from the crosstown rival White Sox, Byrd coaxes a walk then scores sliding on a double by Atlanta catcher Brian McCann.

Byrd isn’t taking anything for granted. Despite being a highly touted prospect in the Phillies organization, Byrd struggled through the first several years in his pro career, wandering through a couple of teams before finding rebirth in Texas and continued success with the Cubs.

“It’s crazy, when you first get drafted you think you’re going to the majors right away,” Byrd said. “Then you make an all-star team in the minors and you think you’re going to be a big-league All-Star, but you don’t realize how tough it is. It wasn’t an easy road for me so I really appreciate it. Never in my wildest dreams the last couple of years did I ever think I’d be here playing in the All-Star Game.”

–Michael Huang

 

 

In so many words

Cubs team photographer Stephen Green was all over Yankee Stadium during the All-Star Game festivities and sends along these pictures:

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Sunday, Sunday

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11:50 AM Sunday–Yankee Stadium

Ever feel like a seagull?
 
Well, I don’t mean bobbing about in Lake Michigan or the Hudson River. I mean sitting perched high atop Yankee Stadium in the auxiliary press box. I find myself smashed between Forbes and Newsweek. High flalutin’ company indeed. Just didn’t think I’d have to be 200 feet up to do it.
 
But all kidding aside even on a Sunday morning in the Bronx there’s a bit of a sleepy excitement around the two parks. I say two because right next to the stadium is the NEW Yankee Stadium. Even in its partially constructed state, you can see the majesty of it already taking shape. The bleached concrete and white-painted steel gives the aura of Doric columns harking back to ancient Greece. Indeed, amid the urban grittiness of the Bronx, Yankee Stadium stands much like a city-state such as Athens or Sparta.
 
Well, today’s warriors are from the United States and countries from around the World. Major League Baseball’s annual Futures Game has increased in popularity every year. It seems more and more baseball fans are becoming enamored by stars of tomorrow as much as those of today.
 
Down on the field, I chatted with Will Lingo of Baseball America and Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, formerly of Baseball America. Alan, if Vine Line fans reach back into the early 90′s, used to write for VIne Line. He laughed because he was just discussing Vine Line with an interviewee–former Cub Matt Walbeck, now a minor-league manager in the Tigers organization. Walbeck was Alan’s first subject for Vine Line when Walbeck was Cubs farm hand in 1993 or 94 or so. The two were reminiscing and determined that Vine Line was their very first interaction.
 
Also said hi to Ernie Banks, who was milling about with former Yankee and MLB vice president Bob Watson. He looks good. Said “Hey, Vine Line! What are you doing here?” with his trademark smile.
 
Also spoke to Triple-A Iowa manager Pat Listach, who’s coaching the World Team, for whom Double-A Tennessee catcher Welington Castillo is playing. Both were ecstatic to be at Yankee Stadium.
 
Bob Sheppard is announcing, so gotta go….when Bob speaks, it’s like Charlton Heston from “The Ten Commandments…”so when Moses speaks, you gotta stand!
 
Mike Huang

Closing out the first half

A lot of the questions in Lou’s pregame media session revolved around the first half — it was a bigger picture briefing than would typically happen on a gameday. He said he’s pleased with where the Cubs are but also stressed the team needs to maintain some humility. It’s not going to be easy the rest of the way.

Today’s lineup:

Theriot, SS
Fontenot, 2B
Lee, 1B
Ramirez, 3B
DeRosa, RF
Edmonds, CF
Johnson, LF
Blanco, C
Dempster, RHP

The amazing Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.66) takes the hill for the Giants.

All-Star news

Because of Kerry Wood’s blister problems, Carlos Marmol will take his spot on the National League squad. The decision was made this morning. Kerry will still be making the trip to participate.

Just prior to today’s game, the Cubs’ eight All-Stars and Lou Piniella will take the field and be handed their National League jerseys. Make sure you get to the ballpark a bit early to see the record-setting group together.

Lucky seven

Starters: C Geovany Soto, OF Alfonso Soriano, OF Kosuke Fukudome
Pitchers: RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Kerry Wood
Reserve: 3B Aramis Ramirez

So how many of you correctly predicted the Cubs would get seven All-Star players? Looking at each player by himself, the case easily could have been made for seven — or more — players. But it’s tough for that many players from one team to be selected, no matter their merits.

Seven out of 32 that will represent the National League. It’s hard to believe one team can represent that much of the NL.

That’s probably why the franchise’s previous record was six. The players were Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, Ryne Sandberg, Vance Law, Rafael Palmeiro and Greg Maddux. Do you know the year?

Hint: It wasn’t an overly memorable season in recent Cubs history, despite the individual performances. This year’s team deserves a lot of praise for not only having the talent and the parts but also for turning them into wins.

Be there

Can’t make the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium’s last season? Dying to learn about what the Cubs’ All-Stars are up to?

Vine Line will be in New York City to blog live from all of the All-Star festivities. Keep checking back for behind-the-scenes reports from Mike Huang and team photographer Stephen Green. It’s coverage that can’t be missed.

– Sean Ahmed

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