Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Its Time to Overreact About the Cubs

A Visit to the Mound

Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of emails touching on a wide range of baseball subjects. 

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We made the right decision Jon. We did. 


Going back to early season overreacting, are the Cubs sounding the alarms already?

This is just feeding the crowd who wanted Bryant to start with the team. However, the article specifically seems to be highlighting that they have trouble scoring with guys in scoring position. Hitting with RISP tends to even out over a bigger sample size. Remember how the cardinals basically rode a high BA with RISP (specifically by Allen Craig) to a World Series then couldn't recreate it? RISP means guys hit to get on. As Rizzo says in the article keep getting on base and the RBIs will come. 

That's not to say putting a guy who hit over .300 in the minors in your lineup wouldn't help your offense. It would. And he will be there soon enough as has been discussed at length. Doesn't guarantee he'd hit with RISP though or solve that problem. To me, It's not really worth pushing the panic button on April 11th.  However, panic sells, especially in bigger markets with fragile fan bases. Gotta get those early season clicks somehow, he says while winking at the camera.

Uncle Bones

Its important here to note the difference between the Cubs sounding the panic bell and the Cubs/baseball media creating the panic narrative out of thin air. I know that you know the difference and basically pointed it out above, but I think us baseball types (yes, we're baseball types now. It needed to be said) may have assumed something about the Cubs that wasn't necessarily true. So without going into the unreasonable nature of hand wringing over .0185% of the season lets talk about the offense that the Cubs actually hit the ground with to start 2015.

1 Dexter Fowler CF - Career OPB .365 - Serviceable, but not stand-out for a lead off hitter and at age 29 not likely to get much better.
2 Jorge Soler RF - Only 23 years old. I can put his number here, but they don't mean anything. He might be really good, but he's just as likely to need some time to be really good.
3 Anthony Rizzo 1B - In 2014 as a 24 year old posted a 151 OPS+ in 616 PA's. Kid's a stud. We should be annoyed that the Red Sox traded him, but him for... Wade Miley... but eh... I still like the team they have now.
4 Miguel Montero C - Has not posted an OPS+ above 100 since 2012. He's 31 now and still a catcher. He is not who you want in the clean-up spot.
5 Starlin Castro SS - 25 yo, career OPS+ of 99, and if the Cubs were really that high on him they wouldn't have traded for Addison Russel and we wouldn't be hearing rumors about him going to the Padres
6 Chris Coghlan LF - Has a career OPS+ of 100 despite only having 2 season about 100: 2008 & 2014. And he's 30 this season. If the Cubs are lucky he's an average player. If they're lucky...
7 Mike Olt 3B - Other than just keeping 3B warm for Bryant, Olt's other claim to fame is having never hit about .200 in any season in his career. I'm sorry, but he has shown nothing to demonstrate that he is a major league hitter.
8 Pitcher Spot - The numbers say hitting the pitcher 8th is the best way to go. I'm glad Joe Maddon will actually do it day in day out and not just pay lip service to the idea, but for our purposes lets be generous: whoever hits here has a .200 average.
9 Arismendy Alcantara 2B - A fantasy darling this spring, but at 23 has done nothing to prove that he's an everyday hitter. You want more evidence? He hits 9th for the Cubs. I rest my case.

My take away from all this? The Cubs line-up is just plain not that good. Their top 3 is pretty good, but the Cubs could do better than Fowler in the lead-off spot and Soler is no sure thing this season. Miguel Montero is not the 4 hitter on a winning team. From there they go from average to abysmal quick. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise that the Cubs are struggling to score runs. They have one stud, some more or less average veterans and a bunch of youngsters who haven't carried their weight as of yet.

Bryant slotting into the 4th spot and sending Montero, Castro, Coghlan down and Olt to anywhere else will definitely help, but looking at that line-up for what it is, I understand why Theo and crew are OK waiting out those 2 weeks or so. Unless 2 or 3 of those youngsters take a huge step forward, the Cubs are still a "wait till next year" team. 

BTW if you Google "Cubs lineup" this is what you get. Look at Manny's mugshot. WTF???

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Very interesting points.  So clearly the Cubs were so hyped they were actually overvalued.  Seems to happen every year.  What is the cause of this?  Do writers just appreciate a good story?  People WANT to believe in the Cubs, but it seems it was beyond statistical reasoning.

Uncle Bones

Baseball is the American sport of where narratives find their home. From its inception it has come alive in the minds of millions through the written word. When baseball first started the only way to keep abreast of the results was from the daily paper, a then thriving form of media. Next came the radio, which allowed for fans to follow a game without being in attendance, but if you missed a game the write up and the box score were still in featured prominently in the next day's paper. Then TV, internet, podcasts and so forth, but reading and writing about baseball is still a major part of how the sport is understood. It was "America's Pastime", because at a time it was something that you could discuss with any one from your community because it was regularly presented in the media of the time and it was relatively easy to keep on top of whether you were interested or not.

So for fans and media types to latch on to the story of the 2015 Cubs is not all that surprising. The years of failure, plus the organizational stewardship of Theo Epstein, plus the eccentric yet media friendly Joe Madden, plus the promise of youth, plus the addition of an "Ace" had everyone all amped up on the North Sides "Lovable Losers". The angle that fascinates me the most about the Cubs obsession is that how much the White Sox are an all but forgotten Chicago team. Its not like the Yankees & Mets where one team has been around for way longer and has won way more in its history. Its not even really like the situations in Los Angeles or the Bay Area. For whatever reason, the Cubs are the Chicago team that really generates the narrative. Both the Cubs and the White Sox were founded in the 19th century. Both teams won early on in the history and not much sense then. And while the White Sox took home the WS hardware in 2005 you never heard anything about them being cursed even though they managed to go 88 years between titles. 

So the Cubs clearly have a special place in America's consciousness and this always lend itself to a runaway narrative. 

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