Disciples of Doug Dascenzo

Thursday, December 22, 2005

An unbiased opinion...

For another take on Jacque Jones from someone who has no vested interest, check out the Hardball Times. Basically, the article says that his average has dropped because he doesn't hit line drives, and predominantly hits ground balls.

So, going from the turf at the Metrodome to the ridiculously long infield grass at Wrigley probably isn't a good idea for a groundball hitter. ..

Bound for .500 yet again...

Last night while watching the Illini make a mockery of Quin Snyder’s hair, I got to thinking. I thought, “Boy, people sure are complaining an awful lot about the Cubs and what Jim Hendry’s done this off-season. I wonder if it would be possible to show whether or not he’s actually improved the team?” The task was daunting, to say the least.

Fortunately for me, I’m a huge baseball nerd, and I remembered that Win Shares are a great way to show how each player contributed over the course of a season. If I could show how many Win Shares each member of the 2005 Cubs put up, and then compare that with the projected 2006 roster, I might actually have a somewhat rudimentary method of forecasting the number of wins we should all expect for this upcoming season. With that, I got to work.

First, I’ll give you a brief explanation of what Win Shares are (for a more detailed explanation, click here). Essentially, Win Shares are the number of wins contributed by each player to his team. The formula is extremely complex, and takes into account hitting, fielding, and pitching. The total number of Win Shares for each player on a team’s roster will always equal the number of wins that team had for the season. Well, actually it will be the number of wins multiplied by three just to provide more statistical significance, but you get the idea. So in the table I created, Total WS obviously equals Total Win Shares, and WSP is a Win Shares rate stat that shows each player’s contribution given his amount of playing time (thus equalizing guys like Neifi Perez and Ronny Cedeno).

When trying to compare the 2005 and 2006 rosters, I ran into one snag – obviously more than 25 players played for the Cubs last year due to injury, trades, or call-ups. So, I decided I would only use the players who were on the 2005 Opening Day roster, thus eliminating players like Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno (I also kind of cheated because I used Mark Prior who was injured at the beginning of the season – sue me). By doing this, the number of total Win Shares I came up with only equals 73 for 2005 rather than the 79 total wins they actually had. This is because some of those other players (Murton, Cedeno, etc) did contribute a few wins over the course of the year. So it’s not perfect. I’m also using what I project to be the Cubs 2006 Opening Day roster, so I had to narrow it down from the current 40-man to the 25 players who will likely make the big squad come April.

One other caveat before I get into the results – the projected 2006 Win Shares are based on last year’s concrete numbers. The numbers reported for 2005 are the actual number of wins each player contributed over an entire year. While this is not a perfect tool for predicting the future, I believe that the results from the previous year are a good indicator of future performance. No, Derrek Lee probably won’t contend for the Triple Crown again and Michael Barrett might not win another Silver Slugger, but on the flip side, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior will likely combine for a better record than 14-11. So, it works both ways, and I think the number of career years and off years will balance each other out.

Also, some of the Win Shares results are artificially small because players didn’t play the whole season. I recognize that as an issue, but the roster can only be 25 players; everyone can’t play all 162 games. So, we’ll assume that replacements due to injury or trade will account for an extra 6 wins as they did last year. However, since Win Shares can also be negative, it would be possible that replacement players (usually not being as good as the players they are replacing unless Neifi Perez is your everyday shortstop) could actually harm the team more than they help. So, we’ll use a number of + or - 6 wins. Fair?

Unfortunately, the results are neither surprising, nor good. Based on the roster as it is likely to be comprised, the 2006 Cubs project at only 82 total wins. Using our + or – 6 wins from the replacement players, we’re looking at a Cubs team in 2006 with anywhere from 76 to 88 wins. Unless Hendry pulls off another big deal that will add a net gain of about 12 – 15 Win Shares, the Cubs don’t look like a playoff contender this year.

However, I’m not bound by Sabermetrics. I do see great value in using statistics, but players aren’t pre-programmed robots. There are other factors involved, like how well the team plays together, how well they are managed, how much they hustle, etc. Hendry has done a pretty good job this off-season of getting some guys who hustle in the field and never dog it to first. I believe those little things play a huge factor in the overall attitude of a team, and over the course of a season will almost certainly turn a few close losses into a few tight wins.

The moral of the story? All is not lost. Yet. In a small way, yes Jim Hendry has improved the Cubs, but I think the numbers show that Hendry still needs to make this team better. At least they shouldn’t be awful. Who knows, an 82-win team by the numbers with a great attitude and a few strokes of luck here and there sometimes can have a successful season. Just look at the ’05 White Sox.



References:
The Hardball Times 2005 Win Shares
ESPN

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on Jacque: As they say, "c'est la vie"

All right, I've semi-recovered from my near-seizure upon waking up to find Jacque Jones waiting underneath the tree this year. But, to prove that I'm not simply pessimistic in general or reactionary when it comes to anyone the Cubs acquire who isn't Bobby Abreu or Carl Crawford, here is an excerpt from an article by Rob Neyer on a certain subscription-only website (shh, don't tell on me) run by the Worldwide Leader:

And then there's Jacque Jones. I know the words above will draw a healthy response for those who consider me a "Yankee-hater" ... but hold your fire, because I've got some truly nasty things to say about Jim Hendry and Jacque Jones.

Last night, I read a long story about the Cubs signing Jones to a three-year deal worth $16 million. Honestly, the money is not a big deal. The Cubs can afford it. The problem is that Jones will, for the next three seasons, be in the lineup nearly every day (notwithstanding trade or injury). In this particular story, I "learned" that:

• According to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, Jones has "a lot of upside in him" (he's going to be 31 next season);

• Jones is "patient at the plate" (his career high in walks, set last season, is 51);

• Hendry's scouts told him that Jones' struggles in the last two seasons were perhaps because "Jones tried to carry the Twins," who had to deal with injuries to key players such as Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart.

On the other hand, here's what I learned in three minutes of quality time on the Interweb: Jones batted .300 in 2002 and '03 not because he was relaxed. He batted .300 because he was 27 and 28. He's not at all patient and figures to draw something like 40 walks in 150 games. The Cubs finished second in the National League last season with 194 home runs, but ranked just ninth in scoring. Why? Because their .324 on-base percentage ranked 11th in the league.

Jones' OBP over the last two seasons?

.317

Jones is exactly the sort of player the Cubs don't need, and it's incredibly negligent of Hendry to ignore a fact so evident. "


I couldn't have said it better myself, and Neyer actually makes some points that I've made in the past about the Cubs' proclivity for the long ball yet lack of ability to actually score runs. Anyway, since I probably shouldn't be posting Neyer's pieces for free, I'll throw a link on here for ESPN Insider. I just signed up recently, and while I hate having to pay for certain articles, it is nice to see that little Insider logo next to an article and know I can actually read it for a change.

Also, on a somewhat irrelevant topic, what do people think about the Yankees signing Damon for 4 yrs/$52 million? My take: pretty expensive for a 32-year old, but the Yankees almost always overpay by at least 10 - 15% to make sure they get the guys they want. It seems like the Cubs also employ this method, but only when going after mid-level guys like Howry, Eyre, Jones, Perez, et al. It would have been nice if they had sucked it up and offered 10% more than market for Furcal, but now I'm just getting myself worked up all over again.

Bonus link: The Quickie has a poll related to the Damon signing. Looks like most people in Beantown aren't going to be too cordial when the Yankees come to town.

The Cubs outfield: Now featuring 67% faux-French!

Well, Jim Hendry finally decided to use all that extra money he's been squirreling away. The only problem is, he blew his wad on Jacque Jones instead of someone who can, ya know, actually hit the ball.

Wow. Not to seem hyperbolic, but I could not possibly be more disappointed with this signing. I think I could have handled it if he were signed as simply a stopgap until the Reign of Felix begins, but he signed him for 3 years, $16 million. That's right, Hendry offered him more than the Royals were offering (3/$15m), rather than the 1 or 2 year deal at $5 million per year that was widely speculated.



A woman mourns the signing of Jacque Jones to play right field for the Cubs.


I'm sorry, but this deal just makes absolutely no sense. Last year it was assumed that since the Cubs missed out on Carlos Beltran, we would have to settle for a year of Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield, which actually didn't go too horribly wrong as a one year filler. However, the second half of that assumption was that this year, Hendry would find someone to permanently fill that role. Maybe we were never going to get '98 - '01 Sosa out there, but surely we can do better than .249 / .319 / .438 with 120 Ks and 23 HRs.

I know I don't have to get into the statistics again, because I'm pretty sure I made my point yesterday when I showed how even Corey Patterson would be a better fit in right field than Jones (younger, better speed, better defense, similar stats). But here are some stats I didn't show you yesterday - last year Jones hit a Mendoza-like .201 against lefties. Unless Hendry is also finding someone really good to platoon out there with him, this has disaster written all over it. And his numbers aren't getting any better over the next three years; the guy is already 31.

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I know Jim Hendry has made some excellent moves in the past. Lee? Ramirez? Both excellent deals, and the other teams involved got swindled. But those flashes of brilliance are becoming scarcer than an Xbox 360 at Best Buy these days. Going into the off-season, the Cubs needed to improve at 6 out of 9 positions (all except 1B, 3B, C). Given a $100 million payroll, all Hendry has managed to improve has been the bullpen and centerfield, while simultaneously handing out bad contracts all over the place. He now has a total of $39 million invested in two aging middle relievers and an aging, powerless right fielder. Way to spend that money wisely, Jimbo. You’re like a hobo getting a welfare check and blowing it on lottery tickets and Mad Dog 20/20.

Only a good year from Aramis and a career year for Lee kept the Cubs remotely close to .500 in 2005, so how can this team, as currently comprised, possibly even hope to compete in 2006? The Cubs are now relying on rookies at shortstop and left field, with zero power coming from center and certainly sub-par power in right. The second baseman will likely end up being Neifi Perez, a man with a slick glove but a piece of wet spaghetti for a bat, while a career .300 hitter in Todd Walker either gets traded away for scraps or rots on the bench.

Jim Hendry has failed to prove he can turn the Cubs into annual contenders, even given one of the largest payrolls in the league. Barring any unforeseen strokes of genius between now and Spring Training, I’m sad to say that this move should be his last. Thanks for 2003, but one good year doesn’t guarantee a job forever. Just ask Don Zimmer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Read the whole thing before totally writing me off as crazy...

I’m about to make a pretty crazy statement. Upon reading said statement you might laugh, you might cry, or your head might explode. Whatever happens, know this – while I might be certifiably insane, I’m still entitled to my opinion. So indulge a harmless, old man for a moment and hear my plea before throwing me under the bulldozers currently demolishing Wrigley’s bleachers.

I think I might kinda sorta, given the other options on the table, possibly want Corey Patterson to play right field for the Cubs next year.* (Cringing, shielding face with hands.)

Ok, now that you’ve let that sink in, I’d like to make my case. First, let me say that Corey is certainly not my number one choice (Carl Crawford, Bobby Abreu), nor does he even crack my top 20 (I’d take Chris Burke over him, and I don't mean the one who plays for the Astros). However, given the recent news that Jimbo Hendry is poised to offer Jacque Jones a 2 year contract in the neighborhood of $10 million, I’d like to come out and voice my support for essentially anyone else. Yes, even Corey Patterson.

When I first heard the Cubs were interested in Jones, I immediately drew comparisons to Jeromy Burnitz. Though Jones is not as old as Burnitz, he is still past his baseball prime and their statistics last year were almost identical. Why pay essentially the same player more money for a multi-year contract when you can keep the player you already have for a one-year deal, thus allowing the possibility that phenom Felix Pie could make the big squad by mid-year? Simply comparing the 31-year old Jones to the 36-year old Burnitz does not serve my argument, so I compared both of them to the 26-year old Corey Patterson.



As you can see, Patterson comes out favorably in most statistics, with the notable exception being strikeouts which have plagued him throughout his career. But, both Jones and Burnitz are also prone to the K, so we’re essentially dealing with three very similar offensive players. One of them just happens to be much younger and cheaper, as Corey will likely receive approximately $2.6 million for one year after the arbitration process.

Admittedly, this is the first chink in the armor of my argument since I’m using Corey’s 2004 statistics rather than those of his abysmal 2005. But, that should not totally discredit the point. Yes, he had a terrible 2005 (.215 / 13 HR / 34 RBI in 126 games), but because of his young age and incredible athletic ability, I’ll be optimistic and call this past year an outlier. It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility for Patterson to return to his 2003/2004 form, and I’d even go so far as to say it’s likely that he will.

Baseball has seen this scenario before, and actually very recently. In 2002, Pat Burrell of the Phillies hit .282 with 37 homers and 116 RBIs. By all accounts, that’s a fantastic year. Then, in 2003, he inexplicably plummeted to a BA of .209 with only 21 HRs and 64 RBIs (sound familiar?). Essentially everyone in Philadelphia gave up on him. They called for his head in the newspapers, on the radio, and from the stands, but the story didn’t quite end there. Burrell came back to hit .257 in 2004, with an OBP of .365 (excellent) and 24 home runs. His 2005 campaign was even better, putting up .281 / 32 / 117 – almost exactly back to his 2002 form. It’s not impossible to see Corey Patterson pulling off a similar comeback given that he’ll no longer be forced to bat leadoff and will have much less pressure batting in the 6 or 7 hole.



Corey Patterson still has the potential to become the 5-tool player he was projected as when he was made the 3rd overall pick in the ’98 draft. Bringing him back to the Cubs will be difficult considering the hecklers in right field, and both Hendry and Dusty Baker are entering the final year of their contracts. However, using him as a stopgap until Felix Pie can prove himself is not necessarily a bad move. Certainly it’s better than overpaying for essentially the same player five or ten years older.

As fans, we’re often too quick to give up on players when they don’t perform to our expectations. That’s only natural, but when the other options aren’t good either it doesn’t make sense to throw away potential. What if the White Sox had given up on Paul Konerko after he hit .234 in 2003? They almost certainly wouldn’t be World Series champs right now. I’m not saying Corey will turn around and hit back-to-back 40 homer seasons like Konerko or put up the RBI totals of Pat Burrell, but by playing him in right field for the time being, the Cubs will avoid yet another costly, aging mistake, and save a couple million dollars to provide some wiggle room at the trade deadline. Besides, unless the Cubs are trying to set a record for the most French-sounding names in one outfield, they really don’t need Jacque Jones.

*Wow, you really can make an argument for just about anything.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jimbo, I hope you're listening...

I think as Cubs fans we've gotten used to the idea that our team never gets the big-name free agents. There is almost a set formula for how the Cubs handle negotiations with talented players: whatever executive is in charge at the time kind of makes a half-hearted pass at the superstars, offering fewer years and fewer dollars than at least one other team, hoping that the allure of Wrigley and the city of Chicago will be sufficient to attract serious talent without paying serious coin. Unfortunately, in a game where countless millions are at stake, cute chicks in the bleachers and ivy on the bricks just won't cut it. If memory serves me, the last big free agent the Cubs signed was Andre Dawson, back in like 1987. Sure, we got Greg Maddux, but only after botched contract negotiations in 1992 forced him to pitch the best 12 years of his career in Atlanta. That's like when Playboy signed Debbie Gibson to a cover shoot, except it was 2004 instead of 1988.

After a near-miss almost every year, we just kind of expect that the big names will go elsewhere. Why aren't the Cubs in the hunt for Manny Ramirez or Bobby Abreu? How about Gary Sheffield a couple years ago? Or Pedro Martinez last year? As fans, we just assume that the superstars cost too much money for our little ol' ballclub, but with a $100 million payroll, our lifeboat can fit more than just the women and children. Where is Rafael Furcal's $50 million going? Did it simply vanish after he decided to head West to a sub-.500 team without a manager (at the time)? Since there aren't any more big free agents left in a pool that was pretty shallow to begin with, Hendry will need to start exploring trades. A trade for a right fielder and a trade for another middle infielder. At the bare minimum.

Because when you think about it, the only position the Cubs have improved at since their 79-win blue ruin (some obscure English slang for y'all) is centerfield. That's pitiful. It's time to start selling the farm. Literally. Give the Devil Rays whatever they want from the farm system for Carl Crawford. I don't care if you have to give up 5 of the Top 10 prospects in the system. Pie, Guzman, Pawalek, Harvey, whoever. Just. Get. It. Done. When futility is closing in on the century mark, you don't get the luxury of keeping a decent farm system.

After giving the D-Rays the rights to the Iowa Cubs, the East Lansing Lugnuts, and a FTTBNL (Farm Team to be Named Later) make a trade for a guy who earns a few bucks, who we should have signed 2 years ago - Miguel Tejada. Dude wants to be traded from Baltimore because they aren't contenders. Regardless of what he's said to cover up the public relations backlash of his original comments (which were pretty clear), he does not want to play for a team destined to finish third every year. Hmm, sounds like Chicago might not be such a great fit after all, but Dusty's nothing if not a salesman. Tejada has 4 years left on a 6 year, $72 million contract. That places him in the $12 million per range, which is just a wee bit more and one year less than was offered Furcal, but Miggy's got pop to spare in that Dominican bat of his - something the Cubs are sorely lacking once you get past Lee and Ramirez. Give the O's Kerry Wood, Korey Patterson, and Todd Walker. I don't know, I'm not the GM, but make something happen. Hendry needs to storm the Bastille de Camden Yards and free Miggy from the shackles of mediocrity.

Is this an outrageous idea? Considering past history, yeah of course. But as long as no one's calling them out on their inexcusable lack of action, they'll just continue the status quo. I am but one man, but maybe if a few thousand more bloggas like me take up arms, something will finally get done. The Tribune monarchy, sitting on their golden thrones at 435 N. Michigan, can only ignore the people for so long before the inevitable revolution. Just ask the French.