When a Simple Rule of Thumb Beats a Fancy Algorithm

Harvard Business Review:

Could parts of baseball, say pitching injury, fall into a heuristic method?

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

For a retailer, it’s extremely useful to know whether a customer will be back or has abandoned you for good. Starting in the late 1980s, academic researchers began to develop sophisticated predictive techniques to answer that question. The best-known is the Pareto/NBD (for negative binomial distribution) model, which takes a customer’s order history and sometimes other data points, then simulates whether and how much she will buy again.

Actual retailers, though, have tended to stick with simpler techniques, such as simply looking at how long it has been since a customer last bought anything, and picking a cutoff period (nine months, say) after which that customer is considered inactive.

This resistance to state-of-the-art statistical models has frustrated the academics. So, a decade ago, marketing professor Florian von Wangenheim (now at the ETH Zurich technical university in Switzerland) and his then-student Markus Wübben (now an executive at a…

View original 589 more words

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Leave a comment

Rosenthal to Cubs: The Price is Right…Now!

Ken Rosenthal thinks Price would look good in a Cubs uniform. I do too, if for different reasons, and strategy than him.

The ask would be key piece of information, as to how to get both Price, who seems to think it would be “cool” to win in Chicago, and Andrew Friedman on board to do a deal. Now, the Cubs have a plethora of prospects that can play shortstop (Addison Russell, Javy Baez, and in a pinch, Arismendy Alcantara played a little there) behind one Starlin Castro. Castro, at 24, is on a team friendly deal – always a deal maker for Tampa. He won’t get expensive until we are on the 2nd term of the next President after Obama: 2020.

For the Cubs, you can’t make a straight up deal due to these facts:

1) Castro has 6 years of control; Price 1.33 ish (without an extension)

2) Injury risk on one said David Price

3) The cost to keep Price, assuming you can extend, is boo coo high.

If you were going to do this, you would have to package it: in this case (good contract, Castro) with (bad contract, Jackson) for (David Price and MLB OF Kevin Kiermaier .) The Rays will instantly balk at the idea of giving up any young talent, but to receive such a cost controlled piece, that’s the minimum price to play.

Rays benefit: they get a SP they know all about as Jackson pitched there in 2006-2008. Who is, relative to the market, fairly cheap at ($11M for 2015-16). Price costing $20M in arbitration at least is going to crimp the Rays’ budget. But for $17M (Castro + Jackson) they can justify that in 2015-2016. Move Yunel Escobar to 2B – and keep Zobrist, or parlay him into prospects this off-season. In short, Tampa can stay competitive for 2 seasons, hoping they hit in the draft in 2015, assuming bad results in 2014.

Cubs benefit: The Cubs have cleared all payroll obligations that are remotely onerous, aside from Price on the comeback. They acquire a cheap OF who has hit .315/.360/.570 with 8HRs in 179PAs. The Rays have an OF: with Jennings, Joyce, and Will Myers once he returns, along with Zobrist.

Kiermaier was a low draft pick (31st rd), so the fact he is doing things, is a testimony to hard work so far paying off. At 24, he matches Castro’s age. He’s no guarantee, but no one is. His minor record shows he’s a decent contact guy, with speed, and excellent outfielding skills. So to me, he’s worthy of the risk.

The Cubs can go shopping in the off-season for Jon Lester, if Boston doesn’t deem him worthy. This time, the Cubs must win the bidding war – likely $120M+. After dumping the Jackson contract, you have the flexibility to move monies towards the assets you want. (Even if you paid 25% to Tampa to reacquire him.) Figure $15M saved from Jackson’s contract, plus $105M in new cash for 6 seasons, assuming Theo/Jed have a good relationship with Lester. Maybe get a structure or discount (team option, incentives that kick in….for innings, etc.)

At some point, you will have to acquire an ace by either: prospects given up, signing to a mega deal; or development. Teams are hording pitchers, afraid they will bust, so prying a top-tier prospect arm away seems a remote deal.  Free agency signs are guys near 30, in decline. Yet, those pitchers hold their value longer if they were elite level, than the mid-tier guys. Option C – turn mid-level arms into aces. Again, not a sure thing. Even if you get a good result, the playoffs is a whole different monster.

2015 Rotation: Price, Lester, Arrieta, Wood, 5th starter TBD, or signed

2015 Bats: C Castillo, 1B Rizzo, 2B Alcantara, SS Baez, 3B Valbuena, CF Kiermaier, RF Bryant, LF Kyle Schwarber (in June)….add in another FA OF – the team competes, if the plan is truly going well, to plan.

Price is a hedge, instead of a long-term piece. Price pitches well, you are in the playoffs. You have potential to win. You might lose to compensation  – a bad hedge – but freed up of $20 M – you can maybe negotiate with him, or target a younger version of him….

If the team falters, or plays bad: David Price will not extend, he becomes an option for the flip for prospects program. You do what the Rays would have done.

Nevertheless, on some level, you have to be prepared to make a risky play, and put both talent and your prospects in play. Waiting another year, is just well, waiting. (And if they go bad, then what?)

For Castro, he can be a good player, but I have my doubts about becoming a great one. The numbers don’t bear out greatness:


Those numbers don’t scream greatness, even if a .430 slugging average in the offense-poor era now is above average. Yes, he plays shortstop. But, the question is: Do I see the Cubs ever being Castro’s team? (Like Trout or Harper, or Stanton?)  With Price or Lester, you get a guy that can literally win the game almost by himself by just being their usual self: a good pitcher. Castro is streaky – and up and down – the ride is never quite pleasant. He’s a Very Good type below.


If I am wrong, it costs me nothing. If the FO is wrong, it might cost them their jobs.  (Memories are long in Chicago of Rafael Palmeiro and Lou Brock, for examples of trades gone bad.)

But, I’d do this knowing I got Price in his walk year – likely either winning towards a playoff, or parlaying into 3 top prospects; and a 24-year old OF that may have a starting job in Chicago, and could equally be Castro.

Posted in Chicago Cubs, WAR analysis | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New York, New York: The Big Apple Needs A Big SS Name Castro

The Mets have a void at shortstop and Starlin Castro would be the 'perfect fit' if they can make a deal for him.

Recent reports out of the East Village shows interest in 24-yr. old SS Starlin Castro, the 3-time All Star, 3-4WAR player of the Cubs in his good seasons. According to John Harper, NY Daily News:

“Neither team is going anywhere this season, and the Mets, in particular, desperately need to show their fans they are moving in the right direction, adding offense — and payroll — that could help them contend as early as next season. For the Cubs, meanwhile, it makes sense to trade Castro for the pitching they’ll need to complement the impressive array of position-player prospects that Epstein has accumulated during his rebuilding job. And the Mets are “a perfect match,” as one member of the organization put it on Saturday.”

(Picture Above: ALEX BRANDON/AP)

The Mets maybe using their vocal media too “explore the concept” of trading their elite pitching prospect, Noah Syndergaard, for such an attractive piece. (Castro’s long term deal has 5YR/44M left which helps the Mets lock in cost.)

The Mets (again through the media) floated 24-yr. old SP Zach Wheeler as their more likely and likeable trade chip. While Wheeler is dealing pretty well (so why trade young “certain” pitching instead of struggling 21-yr. old prospect in AAA???), he does not represent the top-of-the-rotation stuff one sees in Syndergaard’s arm. (Both come with injury risk -all pitchers do. A hint of this lowers value by likely 15-25% over always healthy guy.) Harper continues on the Met’s quest to secure a better SS:

So would an offer of Wheeler convince Epstein to deal now? One baseball executive friendly with Epstein said it would take more.

“He’d want (Noah) Syndergaard,” the exec said. “That would be harder for the Mets to do. There’s still huge upside with him.

“Wheeler would be attractive — you can see the stuff is there for him to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. But think it would have to be Wheeler and another pitcher, maybe (Jacob) deGrom.”

Wheeler and deGrom? The Mets probably would balk at that. But as the baseball exec pointed out, Castro has great value not only because of his bat but his contract as well — he’s owed $44 million over the next five years.

Moreover, the Mets could actually compete this year. Yes, the 39-49 record and 10 games back says, “we’re done.” But make that big trade – add 2-3+ wins over better performances in a division where no one has taken claim as the front runner. Their pythagorean run differential puts them as a .500 team. They certainly could regress to the norm, and be a much better 2nd half team.

Their competition: Atlanta – not wanton to move pieces  – has pitching that is decent to good. Batters, they can’t make the deal work that would improve them that much. Washington: they should be winning it. But Harper is coming back….Miami: they may have the pieces to move, but they collect talent, and pay for FAs only to flip them. So buying is mostly about small stuff. Phillies: old, and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels seem likely to shopped that kept.

The Mets team is sadly made more for now than later. David Wright, Granderson, Colon are well over 30. Murphy at the 30-year old cusp. Niese was signed to a team friendly option. Dillon Gee at his peak age when he comes back from the DL. (The Mets are pitching Daisuke Matsuzaka in his place.)

Mets Payroll


The reason for Castro? Mets have a black hole at SS. Ruben Tejada is nada pop in the bat. So, the Cubs can provide a short-and long-term upgrade here. Their recent trade of SPs Samardzija and Hammels landed them the enviable pleasures of having 2 SS prospects rated in the top 10 by Baseball America. Surplus.

WAR Mets

But if you were the Cubs front office, would risk a surer thing (Castro is 24- and bats don’t face injury risks that pitchers do) for chances at the top-of-the-rotation guy? You would if you mitigated that chance through spreading the risk, that is, more prospects.

The Mets (or their media) are looking for cheap and exploitable answers to their continued problems. Their fans want something to get them to the ballpark more….they have stayed faithful compared to 2013 attendance.


One way to do this: leverage their minors to get a surer thing at SS and a SP in return.

The Cubs have both in SS Starlin Castro & SP Edwin Jackson plus cash. The Cubs saved roughly $6M for trading Shark and Hammels to Oakland. Add that amount to a 25% of his remaining salary ($11M for 2 seasons, $5.5 million) and the Mets get their all-star SS and while much maligned, Jackson’s peripherals (FIP) show lots of unluckiness while in Chicago. Maybe throw in Junior Lake too. Struggling, but 24 – and Chris Young is gone after 2014.

2014 Mets SP: Colon, Niese, Gee, Jackson, and Wheeler.  And Harvey if he miraculously comes back in 1 year. (Doubtful.) Lineup improves with Castro and Wright on the left side. Lake for Chris Young…who didn’t get it done.

Now, the Cubs return:

SP Noah Syndergaard, SP Steve MatzC Kevin Plawecki, 2B/SS Dilson Herrera + 3B Jhoan Urena

Syndergaard’s value might not blossom until 2016. Cubs timeline works for that.

SP Matz has the peripherals one likes – 5 HR in 220 innings; he gets ground balls. And throws hard.

Plawecki is rate a top 40 prospect. He is potentially blocked. The Cubs have no real prospects at catcher. Fills a need.

Dilson Herrera  fits the stockpile the middle infield plan. Cubs would have 4 guys all capable of SS play – one is bound to Castro’s equal with the glove. And 1 other more than a capable bat anywhere on the diamond.

Jhoan Urena is a flier on a young guy that can hit, but his glove maybe shaky at 3rd.

Cubs could land their ace and their future catcher in one swoop.

Mets can compete and build around a rotation frontlined by Harvey and Wheeler (wasn’t that the plan, um, 2013?) and have Jackson’s durable arm in a pitcher friendly ballpark. The get a sure SS, and can explore trades, or signings or insert them into the futures – Brandon Nimmo.

Cubs won’t take less than Snydergaard plus two others for Castro.

Mets fans, you have to pay to get. And Theo holds the cards here. Premium price for a premium player….


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

July 4th: What Patriotism Means for Me

I wrote this Presidential, Inaugural-like address several seasons ago. It was a different time and place for me, and so, I reshare it because I think it speaks to the holiday and to our nation and my pride in it. Enjoy.

[History of our Country’s Patriotism]
The time was mid-summer, 1776. A powerful nation stood as an insurmountable barrier to the prosperity and operation of a 170-year old colony of thirteen, then divided. The previous decade had seen tumultuous and dangerous circumstances rule the day. No one felt free; and the far away King did not listen. Crisis was assured.

The wisest course of action would have been to accept the situation as is: to not infuriate and throw off the mighty government that held sway; to give up in the darkest hours of a fledgling Nation under haphazard leadership; to deny the Dream of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. But our Forefathers determined that it was a time to break those bonds and strike a new accord. To declare it could do better and should be free to design its future.

In our [238] years as a Nation hence, we the people have forged an everlasting union to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. That we shall evince an equitable design for all Man to see; to make Freedom our truest value; that a single Proclamation can change the Course of human events; and that all Men shall be Equal under God Almighty.

In those same 238 seasons, we have past through trying times and evolved through the world events and the ingenuity of Man, of America. That even in conflict, we reached for the same founding ideals, the same credos, the same hope to guide us to a better day and build upon the unshakeable foundation we shall never succumb, and never allow to be compromised by our foes.

We are the generation of settlers born out of Plymouth Rock. We are the Puritans and Lutherans. We are the merchants, the farmers, the toilers in the trades. We are the writers and founders of American Independence. We are the Natives of this land. We are the downtrodden and the dreamers. The Immigrants of Europe, Asia and Africa. We are the Gilded Age, the voices of tired laborers, wounded soldiers, Western prairie settlers and the caregivers in times of war, and of peace. We are survivors of Two World Wars. The people of the hardest times, The Great Depression. The Boomers who came after them. We also bore witness to a hidden war; we bare witness to a nation still divided by color, creed and disproportionate prosperity since the toils of Vietnam. And we continue to forge ahead, through crises, and the completion of our inspired mission.

We have also found fellowship in our mutual belief in humanity; The cause of designing a new Nation; The dreams of our fathers and mothers. And the sacrifices of our sons and daughters made time and time again. This hearty experiment in Democracy, which has spread to the far reaches of the Earth, has been buttressed on the unfettered and unquenchable fire of liberty burning in the bellies of the American people. We are all responsible for its existence.

As we take stock of our most recent events, the designs and desires of various masters, it is best to separate ourselves from that, and those, that have done us greatest harm by understanding our needs for Justice must not be at the price of our Principles. As President Kennedy intoned: “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.” [Amherst College, Oct. 26, 1963.]

Our nation’s power comes from an abiding strength in it, and the wise frugality of its use; but also the knowledge that the repository of our power is vast, and can be unleashed with rapidity. To garner Justice we will do whatever it takes without hesitation. In the use of such power we will employ that which will protect us, and keep us Free as our Forefathers rightfully designed. But the Poetry of America is to decree Our Rights are sacrosanct; untouchable by foreign and alien ideologies. We shall prevail over all enemies with our adamant poetry and our indomitable spirit. Our Security will be eyed clearly; under a will, resolute; and our Nation shall carry forth a strong message to all that would seek to do us harm. But our everlasting American spirit is promote Justice in our relationships; cultivate peace and harmony; and to seek out prosperous alliances iron bound in fairness.

[The Future Bright Requires Sacrifice and Innovation]
Within the boundaries of this great Nation, lie incalculable resources and an innovative spirit yet untapped. America’s necessity always breeds American innovation. It runs in the blood of all of us. That is why in our present environmental and energy confinements there are opportunities to grow beyond the dogmas of the past, which lack the ability to confront the stormy present. That is why we will beat back our future’s most perilous foe, that of economic instability from scant energy sources, before time becomes our heartless enemy. Hindsight will see this day, this moment, as the point where America decided on the best course to free ourselves from a five-score dependence on fossil fuels. But it is that greatest resource of all, our ingenuity in the face of greatest peril, which will win the day.

We will also forge a new path to make it possible for all Americans to survive in the worst of unforeseen circumstances: that of ill health and debilitating hospital stays. Our government has often succeeded in giving a hand to those less fortunate in the worst of times. To create jobs; to revitalize the markets; to make a New Deal for Americans. It is time to do the same for the sick and unable to pay their medical bills. As we are all too aware, our personal health is at the foundation of our economic vitality. Nearly 20% of our economy is tied to deterioration of health. But with this enormous price, one-fifth of America cannot continue to achieve greater prosperity and dreams. It is vital that we address this shortcoming. Achieve a balanced solution that gives the best care at the lowest possible cost but also requires sacrifice and new ideas to work. Else, the very thing we need first in life, our health and security, becomes a stalking enemy that slowly takes that which God to gave us.

More measures will be taken to secure our Nation’s future. We will not lock out those who desire access to the promise and prosperity of America, but we will not allow foreign passage to make a mockery of our laws. We will forcefully hold our sovereignty by the standards laid in the Constitution of the United States of America. We will hold clear and open discussions about the legitimate right to seek legal asylum in this great nation and remedy those that are here all ready under inauspicious terms. We must be both steadfast and reasonable in the same turn.

We will reinvest in our educational systems; build better, and up-to-date transit systems; and make fair the tax laws and legal precedents of America, for all Americans. Yes we can reach for the stars and fill our breadbaskets.

We can reconstitute an age of volunteerism, building infrastructure and homes and levies so they will not break. We shall make a promise to assist those in need and ask only they put their best foot forward daily. Sacrifice is at hand – we must all do a little more.

We can and shall help our Veterans who toiled bravely thousands of miles from their homes so that our streets and towns can remain prosperous and free. They of the greatest sacrifices, that made this land free, should never fall prey to lack of caring and support.

[The greatness of America harnessed again]
We can do this all with the humble sacrifice and the forceful temerity that bore our Forefathers so well in their most trying times. It is the nature and depth of their sacrifice that brought us to this auspicious moment as the greatest Nation on the face of this Earth. A Nation that shall not perish with the undoubted sacrifices made by those that properly ask what they can do for this country in continuing to make it a Nation for the People, by the People, and of the People.

God Bless America!

Ideas from Kennedy, FDR, Lincoln and Washington are included in the passages. Apologies for my butchering of them…

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jake Arrieta: Breaking Balls Are Now His Friends


A picture or two is worth a thousand words (See below the 3 graphs). Jake Arrieta has always been blessed with a power arm (94-96MPH) that oozed potential. In Baltimore, he teased towards being that guy, but never could get right. His consolation prize: getting shipped to Chicago with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman, who pitched himself into nice contract thereafter in Houston. But to set this up, I took Arrieta’s last 44 starts with Baltimore and Chicago (see below the pitch break down). And looked to see if regression showed anything at all. I measured % of breaking balls vs. Slugging both against RH/LH hitters. Then, did so for the number of breaking balls thrown. The latter, proved more insightful.

RH Hitters have been used and abused by Arrieta’s breaking stuff; and LH hitters, haven’t faired much better. Now, the correlation/causation is not strong, but it seems he’s really improved confidence in going to the slider and curves versus that heater and sinker that have been his typical calling card in the bigs, so far.

Lately, he’s thrown 50-60 of these wicked sliders and nasty curves to get the bad boys in Boston, New York and Philly out. Success breeding confidence to throw that slider in any count? Seems so to me.

Game Hard Breaking Offspeed Pitch Count Break_Perc
MIN@BAL (4/6/12) 52 34 11 97 35%
NYA@BAL (4/11/12) 66 40 1 107 37%
BAL@CHA (4/16/12) 66 39 5 110 35%
BAL@ANA (4/21/12) 48 36 2 86 42%
OAK@BAL (4/27/12) 65 32 6 103 31%
BAL@NYA (5/2/12) 62 41 7 110 37%
TEX@BAL (5/8/12) 65 28 4 97 29%
TBA@BAL (5/13/12) 42 24 13 79 30%
BAL@WAS (5/18/12) 57 34 12 103 33%
BOS@BAL (5/23/12) 60 31 6 97 32%
BAL@TOR (5/29/12) 59 30 7 96 31%
BAL@TBA (6/3/12) 54 20 9 83 24%
PHI@BAL (6/8/12) 46 30 7 83 36%
PIT@BAL (6/13/12) 79 22 7 108 20%
BAL@NYN (6/18/12) 66 19 18 103 18%
WAS@BAL (6/24/12) 66 22 13 101 22%
CLE@BAL (6/29/12) 50 19 20 89 21%
BAL@ANA (7/5/12) 53 26 3 82 32%
MIN@BAL (4/5/13) 51 28 12 91 31%
BAL@BOS (4/10/13) 51 18 0 69 26%
TBA@BAL (4/16/13) 71 35 1 107 33%
LAN@BAL (4/21/13) 62 29 0 91 32%
BAL@DET (6/17/13) 46 25 7 78 32%
MIL@CHN (7/30/13) 69 23 1 93 25%
SLN@CHN (8/16/13) 65 28 1 94 30%
WAS@CHN (8/21/13) 59 15 4 78 19%
CHN@LAN (8/26/13) 68 37 3 108 34%
PHI@CHN (9/1/13) 70 31 1 102 30%
MIL@CHN (9/7/13) 59 24 0 83 29%
CHN@PIT (9/13/13) 49 27 2 78 35%
CHN@MIL (9/19/13) 44 38 6 88 43%
PIT@CHN (9/25/13) 45 31 8 84 37%
SLN@CHN (5/3/14) 55 27 0 82 33%
CHN@CHA (5/8/14) 50 28 3 81 35%
CHN@SLN (5/13/14) 50 26 5 81 32%
CHN@SDN (5/22/14) 47 36 11 94 38%
CHN@SFN (5/27/14) 58 30 6 94 32%
NYN@CHN (6/3/14) 46 51 7 104 49%
MIA@CHN (6/8/14) 40 48 5 93 52%
CHN@PHI (6/13/14) 33 61 5 99 62%
CHN@MIA (6/18/14) 54 47 4 105 45%
CIN@CHN (6/24/14) 42 51 1 94 54%
CHN@BOS (6/30/14) 47 62 11 120 52%




Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mom, Baseball, and Apple Pie: A Life Story

Exif_JPEG_422My mother passed away 3 years ago today. She was everything moms are, and to me, much more. Mom gave her time and energies to many worthy causes, just not usually the named ones, or the visible, or noteable problems surrounding her. She instead was happy to do for others, individually, without acclaim, and made no issue if such didn’t work out perfectly. She was a rare breed to me: able to smile and laugh after many life events would have caused others countless tears and resentments to undermine their future.

She taught me how to play baseball in a backyard in Winchester, Tennessee, hitting me pop ups and grounders and the like throughout the early spring until the shadows of fall arrived and football began. She’d pitch some to me, but a busted window, stop that form of practice. Our times in the backyards, playing catch, were relaxing and ways to connect that I lacked with the usual suspect in such stories: a father. She loved all sports, played on the Marine Corps traveling softball team, and rooted for her Minnesota Vikings, particularly Fran Tarkenton. We just had that together – from playing the games – to watching our favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, improve in the 1980s once we left that Tennessee residence.

My mother ran a clothing consignment shop too for over 20 years in Lowell, Indiana, for five as an associate, then as the owner. Such a marginal business wouldn’t win her any awards, or be acclaimed for its bottom line, or be seen as cutting edge – in fact, she never used a computer to track things, through 2006 – but she sold well over $2M of goods. She did all “the books” by hand – bookkeeper and associate’s accounting degree from a C+ high school student – and did all the marking of items that came in, daily. She worked 10-12 hours without complaint. She had thousands of consignors, many good customer/friends, and through her efforts, put me in (and through) college at Purdue University. She found the time to somehow watch sports or listen to the Cubs on the shop’s radio set to 720AM. And she worked second jobs too – to make it.
She made it with enormous efforts, limited time, and lots of energy. She thought more of others than herself, and that ignoring of self had its consequences later in life.

She was all-American, 1st team, center fielder for her entire life. She ran down the deep flies. Turned gap hits into singles. Cut down the best base runners with her accurate throws. She hustled, she made life better for others around her, and especially, myself. I wrote this around the time of her passing:

To give a hint of her metal: We often did not have a car – or rather – her husband left her without one to do chores, like laundry. She and I would load up a little red Radio Flyer wagon and walk three miles in oppressive Southern heat to a laundry mat on Cowan Road in Winchester, Tennessee. Sometimes we had a dog, Lady or Runt, and they would scamper along beside us as we trekked to our destination. My mom made sure she had quarters left for me to play Ms. Pacman, or pinball at the mat. But the chores got done first.

She always got through it with less. She was truly American as baseball and apple pie.

Mom, I miss you.

(Posted on Linked In.)

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cubs Quandary: Parting Ways With Talent, part 1

Hector Rondon's movement v velocity

Hector Rondon’s movement v velocity


The current Cubs season does not seem headed for any playoffs despite receiving standout performances again from a couple of starting pitchers. The oft mentioned for trade, Jeff Samardzija, is pitching as the ace (20th in fWAR, xFIP 3.27), finally, dreamt of by the front office; and Jason Hammel added as a shop-a-pitcher trick for others to assess his value. Both are reasoned to payoff in top prospects that the Cubs can fill up their minors with to produce the future stars they are growing from the bottom up. This is called The Plan, loosely.

Added to the list, one 2B/3B Luis Valbuena, a utility guy for most seasons, his bat has surpassed his glove in 2014, putting up a .291/.390/.471 slash and 1.8 fWAR so far on just a $1.7M contract. And finally, the Cubs bullpen, Hector Rondon and Neil Ramirez likely provide some upside for potential acquirers, if the Cubs feel that is right course for each. (Ramirez is 25; Rondon 26, and both cheap.)



Hector Rondon’s Velocity

A marked improvement at the back end of the bullpen is vital down the road for the Cubs if they ever hope to succeed.  And Rondon could provide that for several years. Meanwhile, Ramirez is a pleasant benefit from the trade with Texas along with the pure hit or pure miss Mike Olt aka Mark Reynolds-light.

The quandary the Cubs have is that several trade partners could offer enticing prospects for the right pieces to their particular playoff puzzles, if they actually are in the hunt by July.

When do the Cubs do the trade and with whom?

As of today, the follow OPS by position chart reflect weaknesses for various trading partners:

OPS on June 15, 2014

OPS on June 15, 2014

















Baltimore’s FO Executive VP Dan Duquette stated, “that he wants bullpen help as well as better offensive production at second and third base.” The graphic above  supports this analysis for production at 2B/3B shortcomings. Manny Machado has struggled like Castro did in 2013. Jonathan Schoop, a 22-year old, has not done well at all against lefties. But neither has Machado rocked the lefties. Left hand hitting Valbuena would not be an obvious choice, but he is providing pop and can play both positions well. As bullpen is a need, for the Orioles, with Tommy Hunter not doing the job they expected as he’s been pulled from the closer role since mid-May. But it all comes down to the whether Baltimore can hang around until July in the ever competitive AL East.

Cubs offer: Luis Valbuena, Hector Rondon, and RF Jorge Soler

Soler’s Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2013: Rated #34 Prospect
Pre-2014: Rated #41 Prospect

Baltimore: RHP Dylan Bundy , LHP Eduardo Rodriguez and C Chance Cisco

Bundy has been a top prospect for 3 years despite his Tommy John surgery and lack of pitching since 2012:

Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2012: Rated #10 Prospect
Pre-2013: Rated #2 Prospect
Pre-2014: Rated #15 Prospect

On Sunday, Bundy made his first start since 2012 throwing 65 pitches.  LHP Rodriguez has not dominated AA as one would like from another top-rated  prospect , but he’s 21 also with time to grow.

Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2014: Rated #65 Prospect

Reasons for Baltimore: Baltimore has this year to really make a run at the AL East. Toronto has its sights too, and the driver’s seat, and could seek pitching in the form of Samardzija. If Duquette does really think he needs are this, those cheap additions make it plausible. While giving up Bundy will cause a stir, it is comes with a top RF prospect to replace Markakis.

Baltimore has a 2015 $17.5M team option on Nick Markakis they will forgo for sanity reasons. Meanwhile, RF Jorge Soler has been injured himself with hamstrings, mainly, but he’s on a team a friendly deal, and could be ready sooner than later for the bigs – mid to late 2015. His batting when healthy has been good and has potential. So the Cubs might be giving up a sorely needed bat.

Bundy does not come without risk. He would project to approximately 15-20 WAR, on average, for his career, likely 9 WAR as a Cub. Rondon and Valbuena could feasible provide 5-6 WAR over the next 2-3 seasons without too much risk or cost. Soler – could be in the 7-10 WAR range for an average career, depending on how soon he gets to the big leagues. He could explode for 15-20 WAR, or bust. Bundy too could bust, as Tommy John does not always work out.


So this trade would help to solve immediate problems in Baltimore, with players all in their cheap phase, while the Cubs get 2 potential arms to build around and a catcher taken in the 2nd round in 2013. The Orioles would have to option down a few players, but that’s doable.

The Cubs get to prospect arms ( Hunter Harvey) is another option, and have not given up their best two pitchers in 2014 yet.

It boils down to risk though. Who is risking more – Baltimore, who is happy with 3rd again – or the Cubs, casting aside Soler for a bite at the fruits of TOR starting pitching?



Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

I Was in Sports Illustrated!!!!!!


As they say in the MLB, “You’re doing it, kid!”

Originally posted on Baseball with Matt:

Hey baseball fans!

So, as some of you know already, I was in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (May 26, 2014 edition, pg. 20)! I just want to say thank you so much to all of you for reading my blog and getting me to where I am now. It’s so awesome to know that I have people who really enjoy what I do and I thank you all. Anyway, I have a copy of the article down below, so if you want to check it out, just read below:

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed the article. Check back soon for more of “all the buzz on what wuzz.”

View original

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Leave a comment

Cubs Mike Olt: Is he Mark Reynolds Jr. with a Better Glove? Or someone else?

Olt2Comparisons. Everyone makes them to distill down an idea or a thought or a person, God forbid (stereotypes), to its simplest form or characteristic. We (humans) do this to survive. Else, sensory overload, the mainframe (our minds) would get bogged down in the endless minutia of figuring out the ways something is similar; and the ways in which they are different. Luckily, baseball generally has no qualms with generalizations if they help one get to method of valuing a guy. So, we got the present case.

Mike Olt came over in a 4-for-1 trade of Matt Garza, call it, “The Swap Meet Opens in June Plan” the Cubs have done to their pitching staff in the prior two years. And likely this year with Samardzija, Hamel, and anyone they deem superfluous to their long-term ideas.

Olt’s short MLB career has proved one thing: if he does make decent contact, look out. 2 recent homers hit in the bandbox called “The Cell,” one of which emptied the seats of the prison quicker than Tom Cruise can fill them for his next Mission Impossible: Operation Ghost AARP.

2012 23 TEX 16 40 33 2 5 1 0 0 5 5 13 .152 .250 .182 .432 18 6 1 0 /359
2014 25 CHC 28 85 76 9 14 1 0 6 16 6 28 .184 .259 .434 .693 86 33 2 2 5/D3
2 Yrs 44 125 109 11 19 2 0 6 21 11 41 .174 .256 .358 .614 64 39 3 2
162 Game Avg. 162 460 401 41 70 7 0 22 77 41 151 .174 .256 .358 .614 64 144 11 7
TEX (1 yr) 16 40 33 2 5 1 0 0 5 5 13 .152 .250 .182 .432 18 6 1 0
CHC (1 yr) 28 85 76 9 14 1 0 6 16 6 28 .184 .259 .434 .693 86 33 2 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/9/2014.

Olt’s short MLB career too has shown he can’t be expected to make much contact aside from that, especially on breaking and off-speed pitches, the bane of many a short-lived shots in the show.  But he’s patient by their estimation. As Brooks Baseball calls it:

Against All Fastballs (248 seen), he has had a league average eye (0.93 d'; 61% swing rate at pitches in the zone vs. 26% swing rate at pitches out of the zone) and a patient approach at the plate (0.19 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (20% whiff/swing).
Against Breaking Pitches (105 seen), he has had a poor eye (0.54 d'; 54% swing rate at pitches in the zone vs. 33% swing rate at pitches out of the zone) and a patient approach at the plate (0.18 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (37% whiff/swing).
Against Offspeed Pitches (49 seen), he has had a poor eye (0.71 d'; 75% swing rate at pitches in the zone vs. 48% swing rate at pitches out of the zone) and a steady approach at the plate (-0.32 c) with an exceptionally high likelihood to swing and miss (54% whiff/swing).

Here is his heat map against RHP.

mike olt RH His results for both 2012 and 2014 seasons combined. One thing consistent: high ball hitting RH who can hit a ball on the screws right down broadway (see below).  So he’s got that.

RH pitchers that go inside have not been very successful (see above, the picture – notice the RH pitcher’s finish – very similar too in both). Lefties that are throwing soft stuff down (heat map not shown, but looked at) get burned going down and inside with an ultra small sample size. In fact, all of this is discussing a small sample for heat maps analysis. Weaknesses: well A LOT. Pitch him on the outer third down around his knees…nothing much will be done – weak singles and missing the ball.

For comparison’s sake, I pulled up Mark Reynolds, post-2010, which is about what Olt can plausibly be compared to, to date. (Pictured well below is their whiffs per swing: I can’t foresee a 2008-2009 Mark Reynolds in him – but hey, the Cubs have nothing to lose in the moment on it. He certainly has shown power.)



mike olt LH


There are slight similarities – but I probably could find lots of players that would mirror. Both whiff alot on low-outside pitches. A key difference, so far, Olt is a bit more selective on whiffs at strike-zone level. Reynolds misses less in the DEAD RED area down the pipe (22.71% Reynolds to 31.58% for Olt.) Both miss balls up too.

Nevertheless, Olt seems to be a poor man’s Mark-Reynolds comp. If the Cubs could get 85% of Reynolds power, but likely, 105% of the K-rate, Olt is useful as a stop gap starter at 3rd base and 1st base relief – as Rizzo might need to get some breaks.





2007 23 ARI 111 414 366 102 20 4 17 62 0 37 129 .279 .349 .495 .843 109 181 5 5/49
2008 24 ARI 152 613 539 129 28 3 28 97 11 64 204 .239 .320 .458 .779 96 247 3 *5/3
2009 25 ARI 155 662 578 150 30 1 44 102 24 76 223 .260 .349 .543 .892 127 314 5 *53
2010 26 ARI 145 596 499 99 17 2 32 85 7 83 211 .198 .320 .433 .753 97 216 9 *5/3
2011 27 BAL 155 620 534 118 27 1 37 86 6 75 196 .221 .323 .483 .806 116 258 7 *53
2012 28 BAL 135 538 457 101 26 0 23 69 1 73 159 .221 .335 .429 .763 107 196 6 35D
2013 29 TOT 135 504 445 98 14 0 21 67 3 51 154 .220 .306 .393 .699 96 175 5 35D/4
2013 29 CLE 99 384 335 72 8 0 15 48 3 43 123 .215 .307 .373 .680 94 125 3 35D
2013 29 NYY 36 120 110 26 6 0 6 19 0 8 31 .236 .300 .455 .755 105 50 2 35/4
2014 30 MIL 25 101 90 20 3 0 7 12 2 10 36 .222 .297 .489 .786 112 44 0 3/59
8 Yrs 1013 4048 3508 817 165 11 209 580 54 469 1312 .233 .328 .465 .793 108 1631 40
162 Game Avg. 162 647 561 131 26 2 33 93 9 75 210 .233 .328 .465 .793 108 261 6
ARI (4 yrs) 563 2285 1982 480 95 10 121 346 42 260 767 .242 .334 .483 .817 108 958 22
BAL (2 yrs) 290 1158 991 219 53 1 60 155 7 148 355 .221 .328 .458 .786 112 454 13
CLE (1 yr) 99 384 335 72 8 0 15 48 3 43 123 .215 .307 .373 .680 94 125 3
NYY (1 yr) 36 120 110 26 6 0 6 19 0 8 31 .236 .300 .455 .755 105 50 2
MIL (1 yr) 25 101 90 20 3 0 7 12 2 10 36 .222 .297 .489 .786 112 44 0
AL (3 yrs) 425 1662 1436 317 67 1 81 222 10 199 509 .221 .321 .438 .759 107 629 18
NL (5 yrs) 588 2386 2072 500 98 10 128 358 44 270 803 .241 .332 .484 .816 108 1002 22
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/9/2014.

One can likely find lots more players to compare favorably to, if one looks hard enough. Hopefully, for Olt’s sake, he gets opportunities best suited to his skill sets.


Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Patterns: History Repeats? Power Surge then Decline, Gotta Be That Baseball Thingy


I like patterns. Or rather, I like trying to identify a pattern or repeated trend. People do this stuff for a living- and get paid a lot to notice such trends and patterns. They use to trade in real-time. Now, they flash trade – let some computer take all the fun out of it. Baseball, has them too.

I identified this particular pattern about 7 years ago – related to HR% and 2B% for a span of time (2nd graph). But I had not really looked at it since about 2008. Too much fallout from the Steroid-Labeled Era. People were bitterly complaining about sacred records, and tainted history, and damning anyone they could (from the commissioner on down to the players) for the breach in baseball trust.

Moreover, there were only a smattering of studies (one done in 2007 – Baseball Between the Numbers)  was very incomplete, though supportive of a premise I had too: Steroids were not causing much benefits (to hitters) in Power Surge II. So, the chart above.

From one graph one cannot say it definitely undermines anything. But notice a pattern: If we notice how closely the happy ball era of the 1920s coincides with historical reports of ball modifications, why do we just use steroids as the catch all for offensive explosion?

From various sources in Bringin’ Gas & Dialin’ 9:

In Montville Leigh’s Big Bam this modification is colorfully recorded as: “Another change had occurred with the baseball itself. Nobody knew the facts behind the change – that manufacturers now used a better grade of Australian wool and had developed new machines that wound the yarn tighter – but everyone knew the ball seemed to fly better. Or said they knew…Hit the new baseball, and it felt like solid against solid, bat against the kitchen table. Hit the old baseball and it felt like bat against living room sofa” (Montville 2007, 111). William McNeil and Roger Kahn in The Head Game reiterated this manufacturing change that sequenced with the material changes. By 1922, Spalding, the producer of National League baseballs, were “in its Massachusetts factory” making similar alterations to the internal particulars of the most fundamental part of the game, the ball.

Some tests on resiliency were engaged in the 1920s, with the results always reported as being within norms. (Remember: no six sigma data sets, statistics, or quick linear regression analysis of that level was years off in the future.) One can also imagine a low-level tester being ‘persuaded’ to reach conclusions, if only to bolster confidences in the internal structure and repeatability of manufacturing baseballs.

By 1930, the ball was tinkered with again, almost in lockstep with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The National League of 1930 was no fun for pitchers with a 5’6” CF Hack Wilson smashing 56 home runs and establishing an unreachable standard of 190 RBIs. This did not go unnoticed as Cubs SS Woody English offered: “In 1931 the owners decided the ballplayers were hitting too many home runs. We realized something was different in ’31 almost from the start of the season. You hit balls like you always hit them, and they’d plunk, sound like they didn’t have anything inside…” (Golenbock, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs 1996, 227)

So it seems lazy now – and more about demonizing – “steroid, bad” like a much mocked George W. Bush, Rangers owner, no less – than any indisputable or statistical evidence. (What percentage of improvement was there 10%? 20% 5%?) At the top of the talent heap, I concede there is plenty to be gained from that extra 2% over your opponents. As a hitter, bat speed increase, recovery from muscle strains and pains, I can concede that.
















A 2nd graph above (from a forthcoming work).

But what other factors could have played a role? Ballparks cozier? Strike zone shrinking? Ball bats designed better for their mashing ilk? And the baseball…the one Colorado had a heck of time adjusting in a humidor to properly address weight and size constraints.

As stated, the last time offense peaked was 1930. Aw, the good ol’ days for the Chicago Cubs, the highest scoring offense ever in modern franchise history – Hack Wilson, 190RBIs (meaningless…) – and those Cubs didn’t go to the World Series either. But they did the year before. Still, it was good to be a Cubs patron as they pounded out 998 Runs, about 400 more than their modern incarnation will in 2014.

So, watch that baseball thingy. It might change again – 20 or 30 years hence.




Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment