Much of Cubs progress at big league level can be seen on defense

Much of Cubs progress at big league level can be seen on defense
Barney isn't the only Cub flashing some leather this year.

It's been a struggle for the Cubs in their 2nd full year of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer Era.  Frustration grows and we seek answers as to how to improve next year.   There's a great difference of opinion in that respect.   Some think the Cubs need more power, some think more OBP, some think starting pitching, while others say the bullpen needs help.  Some, of course, think a managerial change will do the trick and still others may choose all of the above.

One thing I didn't mention here is defense.  There are a lot of ways to measure defense these days.  It is becoming more sophisticated than just errors or fielding percentage.  Range is now better accounted for and it' s compared relative to other defenders at the same positions.  Today's defensive metrics take everything into account and tries to assign defensive value.

The metric we're going to use in this piece is UZR/150.  It isn't a perfect statistic, but that is pretty much reality when it comes to measuring defense.  It does encompass all aspects of fielding, however, and it is widely used.  We've also used it here before so that makes it more familiar to those who are regular readers here.

If we were to go down position by position, we'll see that the Cubs are strong all around the diamond, particularly up the middle.  Consider that 0 is about a league average defender give or take a couple.

Catcher: Welingon Castillo

The one position that doesn't use UZR is catcher, but we know that Welington Castillo is among the top defenders at the position and even a dark horse Gold Glove candidate, though it's difficult to fathom anyone unseating Yadier Molina right now.  We've used runs saved to describe his defense in the past and Castillo ranks at the top there, largely because of his uncanny ability to block balls in the dirt.  We can also use dWAR, which is an overall value used by Baseball Reference.  Here Castillo rates a 2.6.  By comparison, the Cubs next best defender at any position is Darwin Barney, who is at 1.2 and rated 3.6 in his historic Gold Glove season.  Perhaps a better way to illustrate how good that number is is that Molina's dWAR is 2.1, a half-win lower than Castillo.\

1B: Anthony Rizzo 9.3 UZR/150

Rizzo has an outstanding UZR/150 and is himself a Gold Glove candidate.  His bat may have regressed but Rizzo continues to ascend toward elite level defender status at 1B.  That rating is first in the NL, easily outdistancing runner up Adrian Gonzalez (7.1).  Rizzo is 3rd in all of baseball, ranking behind only Mike Napoli and Mark Trumbo.

2B: Darwin Barney 15.6 UZR/150

Barney is just off his Gold Glove winning season pace but still checks in with an oustanding 15.6 rating, which is easily the best in all of baseball.  Dustin Pedroia is next at 13 and is closest NL competitor is Brandon Phillips at 8.0.  Statistically he should win his 2nd Gold Glove and while this season isn't as historically good as last, it is still at the elite level.  Barney rarely makes mistakes, whether they be mental or physical (4 errors) and his previous award gives him more cred among the voters this year.

SS: Starlin Castro -4.1 UZR/150

Castro rates below average and accounting for margin of error, is the Cubs only below average defender per this particular metric.  But it is only slightly below average.  What's been more encouraging for Castro this year is greater consistency.  Last year he seemed to make the spectacular play but boot too many easy ones.  This year he has been a bit more steady and has made less mental and physical errors -- especially since April.  I wouldn't stretch to call Castro's defense a plus at the position, but I wouldn't call it a liability either.  He'll have to combine that consistency with the greater range he showed last season and if he doesn't, he may well face a challenge from star prospect Javier Baez for the right to play SS.

3B: Luis Valbuena (18.2) and Donnie Murphy (-16.6)

Again these are both small sample sizes but we know that Valbuena can pick it at 3B.  His 18.2 rating at 3B is actually right around his career rate (21.6).  The 18.2 number would rank 4th in all of baseball had he accumulated enough innings and would rank 2nd in the NL behind only Nolan Arenado of Colorado.  Manny Machado and Evan Longoria also rank ahead of him overall.  That's not bad company as those are three of the games top young stars at the position.  Of course, Valbuena doesn't hit as well as any of them, but we're talking defense here today.  Donnie Murphy is a different story and while he is a steady defender at 3B, below average range drags his overall rating down.  There is also Mike Olt to consider here for 2014, who many would project as an above average defender at 3B.

LF: Bryan Bogusevic (20.2) and Junior Lake (38.3)

Both players rate as well above average though both are less than a full season's worth of data, make that sketchy.  Bogusevic, however, has a career 17.2 rating in the OF overall, a sample size that is roughly the equivalent of one full season.  Lake, meanwhile, has been better in LF than CF (-6.2).  There's also the sense that Lake is just learning the position but has the tools and athleticism to be an above average defender with some fine tuning.

CF: Ryan Sweeney 11.5 (3.6 career)

Again it's a small sample size but Sweeney so far has shown himself to be a good defender in CF.  He doesn't have elite speed but he takes efficient routes and gets better jumps in CF than he does in the corner.  While this sample size is small, Sweeney's career rate in the OF is above average.

RF: Nate Schierholtz -1.7 (6.0 career)

Schierholtz rates as around average this year in RF but his career numbers suggest he's better than that.  RF is the toughest outfield position to play at Wrigley and perhaps we can chalk this up to a slight adjustment period, but we can say with little argument that Schierholtz is an average to above average defensive RF'er with a strong arm.  He actually rates as the 6th best RF'er in the NL per UZR despite the slight negative rating.

OVERALL

The Cubs rank 2nd in team UZR/150 (5.6) in the NL behind only the Arizona Diamondbacks.  It's also interesting to note when we talk about the rest of the top 12 in all of baseball.  Those teams are, in order: Royals, Orioles, Rangers, Rays, Giants, Reds, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Braves. Other than the Cubs, only the Giants are below .500 and only the Diamondbacks and Giants are out of playoff contention.

This isn't all that new.  The Cubs ranked 6th in UZR/150 last year as well (and again, 2nd in the NL), so this is an area the Cubs addressed immediately.  Many think it's the quickest, most efficient way to improve a team.

The Cubs do need to build up their pitching and offense, but their pitching shows some promise and, if nothing else, the Cubs have built a defense that is playoff worthy.  It at least gives them a foundation to build on at the MLB level.  The trick now is to upgrade the offense while trying, as much as possible, not to downgrade what has become one of the better defenses in baseball.

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  • Unfortunately, as soon as they replace Barney with a player who can actually hit, the team UZR will take a hit. I wonder how much longer we'll be subjected to him. I'm hoping Baez can take the spot in the 2nd half of next year.

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    In reply to SenatorMendoza:

    In Barney's defense, he has an insanely low BABIP this year; .226. His peripherals are pretty similar to his mediocre offensive production of last year.

    But point taken, even at last year's .254/.299/.354 pace, he's not good, and should probably hit the bench

  • In reply to Zonk:

    The low babip isn't from being unlucky, it's because he hits an abnormal amount of soft ground balls and lazy flyballs

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    In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Is that a change from last 2 years? Because his BABIP before this year was .280. I think he's always made not great contact.

    Also, you will not find a ML player with over 1000 career PAs with a BABIP lower than .250. Barney is very unlucky this year, bad contact or not.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    I wrote this about Barney LAST winter...

    Much has been made of the fact that Darwin Barney needs to improve offensively, so I tried to find something that would suggest he will. The fact that he rarely strikes out was encouraging, and it got me to wondering what his babip (batting average on balls in play) was.

    According to fangraphs, the average babip is right around .300 and Dexter Fowler of the Rockies led the majors with a .390 babip. It stands to reason that faster players would have a higher babip because of their ability to leg out a hit. In fact, the top five players in babip all have above average to excellent speed. Rounding out the top five behind Fowler were Torii hunter (.389), Mike Trout (.383), Andrew McCutcheon (.375) and Austin Jackson (.371).

    Darwin Barney was 123rd in the league at .273. Taking into consideration that only 6.8% of his at bats resulted in infield pop ups, and only 7.7% were infield hits, while 22.2% were line drives, I think it's safe to say, Barney did, indeed, hit into some tough luck.

    Using last season's numbers as our baseline, Barney had 548 at bats, striking out just 58 times, meaning he put 490 balls in play. Assuming the law of averages comes into play and Barney's 2013 babip hovers around the league average of .300, his overall batting average would improve to .268 and his OBP would rise to a very respectable .335.

    Combined with his stellar Gold Glove defense, an average of .268 with a .335 OBP would increase Darwin's value to the team immensely. He drew 50% more walks in 2012 than he did in 2011, so if that trend continues as well, Barney could become the #2 hitter many have hoped he would be.

    The numbers certainly suggest it is possible, especially since at age 27, he is just entering what is said to be a player's prime years. I'm certainly hoping that this is the year it all comes together for DarBar.

    ON EDIT: That was then, this is now. I wanted to give the little kid with the funny name the benefit of the doubt, but instead of showing any signs of improvement as he enters his prime years, he has regressed badly. He is officially (in my mind) Rey Sanchez.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Awesome analysis, but as you may notice Rey Sanchez was my cult favorite Cubbie.

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    In reply to rsanchez11:

    thanks rs. There's no shame in being a fan of a player who is less than an all-star. Growing up, mine was Joe Ferguson. To this day, I'm not sure why. I just liked him.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Just curious, where did you write last year? Did you write for a blog or was that a comment?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for asking John. That piece in particular was for a blog site. About a decade ago, I spent three years as a sportswriter for a small suburban daily, mostly covering the HS beat. In addition to the shirt and tie job that pays the bills, I'm also a novelist (The Destination Project) and my current work in progress is a baseball story called "The Journeyman." You may have also recognize me from "the other boards" as BleedinCubbyBlue (BCB).
    Thanks for providing such a great format. I only wish I would have come on board here sooner.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Very cool. Good luck with the story. And thanks for the kind words.

  • In reply to SenatorMendoza:

    I think the Cubs will eventually have to replace him if he doesn't hit. Right now he provides value because of his defense and low salary, but the salary will go up in the next couple of years.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    just curious, but other than the gold glove, wouldn't a salary increase be dependent on offensive performance as well and not just his defensive #'s?

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Just doesn't work that way if they hang on to them. Salary increases are inevitable and they increase by a significant percentage once a player enters arbitration. I suspect Barney will hit a ceiling as to how much teams are willing to play for a glove and will then probably be on more of a year to year thing that reflects overall performance, but the progression if he stays with the Cubs through arb years is that he will continue to get steady increases.

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    Interesting article John. However, just goes to show that while helpful, defense is not as important as pitching and offense; otherwise, we would be a better team.

    For Gold Glove voting, Barney is really hurt by his bat this year. It's not supposed to work that way, but it does. It's the only way to explain how Derek Jeter won so many GGs.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think you need a bit of everything to succeed -- but you do need some offense, of course. Their pitching was middle of the road, but I think if the Cubs just got on base more, they'd be a .500 team. OBP is a huge key for this team, in my opinion.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I am with you on OBP; we really stink in that category (2nd to last in NL, ahead of only MIA). And speaking of Barney, he is certainly part of the problem there.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    I remember Rafael Palmeiro once winning the AL Gold Glove for 1st Base, despite playing all but 23 games as a designated hitter.

  • Nice work John. All the gloom about Castro/Rizzo/Shark's development this year.... but look what we found in Beef! His metrics are even more profound considering Catcher is #1 in importance on defense. I think Sveum does deserve some credit for team defense. What were we before him and the new FO arrived?

    I'm curious when you add offense into the equation, what would an everyday 2B have to hit to neutralize the loss of Barney? That's assuming he's an "average" defender. This is arguably the 3rd/4th most important position on the field. The team's defense was sloppy when he was out at the beginning of the season. But his Offense is ridiculously non-existent. Just curious what your thoughts were on that.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks. The Cubs ranked 17th with a slightly below average rating overall before Sveum and the new FO arrived.

  • To me, defense and pitching have always been synonomous.

    I stand by my earlier focus issue for 2014 - get the right mix of arms in the pen and work hard to improve the team OBP.

    I will not make specific recommendations, as I shy away from being an armchair GM, however I believe that improvements in both of these areas would make a .500 season a high probability.

  • In reply to JK1969:

    I agree with that.

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    Darwin Barney is the 2B version of Brendan Ryan

  • Let hope that with the new "Cubs way" philosophy that defense
    is driven into them very hard. We have all seen games lost
    because of 1 error (physical or mental)

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think they've gone a long way toward correcting that. Was a huge issue with last regime.

  • John,

    What are the Cubs plans for Rondon? I am curious if they try to send him to the minors and stretch him out. How would he profile as a starter? Does he have the pitches to start?

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    In reply to supercapo:

    Rondon will have options next year, so he can be sent down unlike this year, since the Rule 5 restrictions will be gone.

    A month ago I would have thought a ticket to Iowa out of ST was in the cards, but given the performance of some of these bullpen tryouts this September, plus Rondon pitching really well of late, you have to wonder if he can make the ML 'pen out of ST.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Where do you see that he has options left? Arizona Phil is the best site for this info that I have found and he doesn't show any options, actually lists him as needing to give permission to be sent down.

    http://www.thecubreporter.com/cubs-40-man-roster

  • Wow John, I did not think it was possible to cheer me up about our current big league line-up, but some of those UZR numbers are pretty darn impressive. Also a very interesting footnote to show the dramatic improvement there as team during Sveum's tenure. Now if we could only hit!!

  • John, if Otto wins the 3rd base job could anybody else move to 2nd?
    until our top 2nd base prospects if ready.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Both Valbuena and Murphy can play 2B, and Valbuena can play it pretty well. But I suspect they'd stick with Barney and use those guys as utility men.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I feel like Darwin Barney will be our 2B, until either Baez or Alcantara takes the position, depending on how it all shakes out. Similarly, our 3B of the future is definitely right now somewhere in our system. Who? Not sure, but somebody....

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John - Do you agree with this or do you just think this is the way things will shake out?

    Continuing to play Barney seems to be an awful idea. His terrible hitting is complemented with no ability to draw walks and no power. His OBP is 2nd worst of all NL qualifiers (Angel Echaverria MIA, saves Barney from the bottom spot).

    To my mind, no fielding ability can overcome this weakness. Cant we just give his at bats to Donnie or Valbuena until one of our minor league candidates is ready?

    And because Barney is such a bad bat, I cant see him as a candidate for the bench next year either. Am I being too harsh?

  • In reply to Illini88:

    I think with a lack of a current alternative, it's the most likely scenario. That could change by midseason, but I see no reason for the Cubs to make a change when they are so close to bringing up a couple of potential 2Bs in Baez and Alcantara. I think Valbuena and Murphy will get that opportunity if Barney struggles again as a stopgap until prospects are ready, but I don't believe that's their preference. They would probably prefer Barney hit a bit more than make that change. They hold a lot of value for Barney's defense, but no question he has to hit better to stay in the lineup.

  • Baez and Alacantra are 2nd /3rd basemen of the future, when they arrive (July?) and their progression is the question. Can't expect linear, but hopefully they refine the glove work to league average at least.

  • Sahadev Sharma wrote a nice article about Cubs prospects, not sure if somebody posted it earlier, but he's the link.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/cubs/post/_/id/19877/season-review-cubs-top-prospects#more

    Nice to see Kyle Hendricks added, he rarely gets mentioned among top prospects due to the fact that he doesn't have the raw stuff others have.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I saw that. Good stuff from Sahadev.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I got even excited to see Sahadev compare Paul Blackburn to Alex Cobb.

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    In reply to Caps:

    Thanks for posting, it's a good article

    Even though he said it's not a top-10 list, that pretty much looks to me like the top 10 prospects. You could make arguments for the 9th or 10 spots, but the top 8 seem pretty set. I think we have between 5 and 8 guys make the BA top 100 list.

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    Once again, great piece, John.

    What makes Castillo's dWAR all the more impressive is that he's played less games than most everyday catchers. I'm really anxious to see what kind of year he has in 2014.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Thanks Joao. I'm excited about Welly too. He has become a legit everyday catcher. His WAR (per Fangraphs) is now at an even 3. And I feel like he's not even as good as he's going to be yet.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I bet he adds more power next year, even if his BA drops a bit (which I think it will). If he can hit 15-20HRs, he can start adding value with the bat as well

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not that I didn't believe you John, but I had to go double check that 3 WAR. Based on WAR only, he's a Top 5 NL Catcher, Top 10 across both leagues and he is young. That's a nice piece.

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    Exactly. Has to be considered a core piece right now, though I'd like to see another good year from him before I make that proclamation with any confidence.

  • OBP and a psychiatrist is all we need now.

    How long has it been since this team hit well with RISP? We can't just ignore it as bad luck anymore. Even Marlon Byrd is driving in runs for someone else now.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Shows that things can and do turn around. He didn't hit at all for the Red Sox.

  • I'm really glad there's a good defensive team on the field that doesn't project to get worse next year. I think Castro's been better than his UZR may indicate. As you said, John, its not a perfect stat but as long as it applies to everyone I guess it doesn't really matter. Really surprised to see Napoli and Trumbo out in front of Rizzo, Adrian, LaRoche, Freeman, and Hosmer. Can that really be true?!

    Love that the top prospects all project to have defensive impact!

    I've seen some posts that regard Alcantara as the 2B of the future. He may very well be but I'm not sold yet. I'll offer this: In Luis Valbuena's 22 year old year which was spent between AA and AAA he posted this line... .303/.382/.431 with 11 HR 60 RBI 18 SB in 128 games. Eerily similar to and probably a little better than our friend Arismendy (even though I know he just played his age 21 season).

    I think they need to let Arismendy ripen just a little bit more before he gets a "2B of the future" label. That's not to say he's not going to contribute in 2014 but if he does, my guess is it will be because of an injury at the major league level.

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    In reply to Ben20:

    I was similarly surprised by Napoli. Converted catchers with hip problems aren't typically GG infielders. But, stats don't lie, I guess he's pretty good with the glove. Who would have thunk.....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I hear ya, Zonk! I guess when you think about it from a baseball standpoint though average hands behind the dish become above average hands at first when it comes to picking it. Pedroia's plus range plays Napoli up too I'm guessing. Luckily for Napoli, arm is pretty much a non factor. Cha Ching for the big man!

  • In reply to Ben20:

    I think sometimes we all forget that minor league success is actually a prerequisite for being a major leaguer and not a guarantee of success. Even the 'All Glove' Brendan Ryan sports a career minor league BA of .292 with a .724 OPS in parts of seven seasons.

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    In reply to Ben20:

    All prospects are suspects; out of our top 4, odds are one of them is going to fail. No idea which one, that's just law of prospect averages.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    No doubt about that, Man. The definition of 'failure' is also open to interpretation though. I think all four of them will have careers but not all four will be all stars.

  • http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/carlos_gonzalez/

    Reverting back to the CarGo discussion, I read here that the Rockies will listen and they are looking for young position players in exchange. If true that certainly bodes well for the Cubs should they decide to pursue him. Who here thinks this is fair/enough?...

    Schierholtz/Vogelbach/Alcantara for CarGo or
    Schierholtz/Vogelbach/Candelario

    I can also see the Rockies wanting Junior Lake.

    What do you guys think?

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    In reply to Ben20:

    His career splits are much more appealing at Coors field. They can keep him.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Fair enough. Even though he's been better on the road in 2013...

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    In reply to Ben20:

    True Ben, but one season doth not a career make. Even factoring in his successful 2013 road campaign, Cargo's career batting average/OPS on the road are just .269/.774 compared to .328/.992 at home.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    You're right, about the one season Mike. I'm familiar with the career splits. He's still a good hitter, good defender, was a top prospect before he was a Rockie, and would become the Cubs' best player instantly. It's certainly a sizable split for CarGo. He's a well above average three hitter. Its the fact that he's never played in more than 145 games that concerns me more than the splits.

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    In reply to Ben20:

    If I am the Rockies, I want a near sure-fire ML player back, with all-star upside. I would gladly trade Nate, Dan, and Arismendy for Car-Go, but Rockies would be crazy to accept that. Nate is a journeyman, Vogelbach and Alcantara are OK prospects; it's optimistic to think either is a future All-Star.

    To get Car-Go, it's going to take at least 1 player we don't want to give up; think Baez, Bryant, Almora, Soler....one of those guys, at least

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I would do it but not for Alcantara or other 'big 5/6' (including CJ). Any combo of Vogelbach, Lake, Schierholtz, Wood and other Minor leaguers would be fine with me. Cargo is about to get expensive so I don't think they can be too picky.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Lake/Vogelbach/Alcantara?...Lake is a sure fire ML player. I agree with you. If I were the Rockies I would start with one of the big 4. Alcantara and Vogelbach plus another guy or two may be enough of a counter offer depending on a couple of things...their willingness to move him, and the other offers. You're right though. I'm being too optimistic. Those two guys are borderline top 100 guys though. Two good minor leaguers, and maybe two cost controlled young major leaguers seems fair enough (not ideal if you're the Rox). Vogelbach/Alcantara/Lake/Rusin? Its not glamorous but not terrible. How about Vogelbach/Alcantara/Lake/A. Cabrera?? Don't want to see Junior go anywhere though.

  • I wonder how much of the improved zone rating is due to the defensive shifts the Cubs employ this year.

  • In reply to clarkaddison:

    I think it does to some degree, but remember that just about every team does it now, and UZR rates range relative to the rest of the league.

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    Not sure about the need to improve power. I hope not too many people are calling for that. The Cubbies are 2nd in the NL in HR (with a nice gap below them), and 2nd in doubles. That's solid power. They are only 12th in runs scored (and RBI), though. The reason is they are 2nd to last in OBP. I would gladly take players who get on base to fix some of the problems.

    In regards to defense, I'm glad the advanced metrics show them being in good shape. Traditional numbers (fielding pct and errors) still put them right around the middle of the pack, however (10th in NL this year and last). But they were dead last in '11, so that's improvement. Maybe they can take another step forward next year in those counting stats.

    One other observation: 4 of the top 5 teams (NL) in OBP are your playoff teams. In the AL, 6 of the top 7 teams in OBP are in or are fighting for playoff spots. Seems like OBP is where it's at much more than power.

  • In reply to brober34:

    I think the people who'd like to improve power are saying they want a more consistent source of power rather than having to spread it out up and down the lineup. Some also say they need to replace Soriano's void. Personally, I do think that the Cubs have enough power overall. They just need to supplement that with better OBP.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Gotcha. That's where Baez and Bryant come in!

    personally, I like having the power spread around. That way you're not just constantly counting on 1 or 2 guys to supply the power, but anyone can do damage on any given day.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Million dollar question is will the power supplied by Schierholtz/Valbuena/Navarro/Murphy return in 2014? If it doesn't it still should be augmented by increased power form Rizzo/Castro/Castillo. I'm not crazy about the way Nate Schierholtz is finishing and that's taken his stock down a couple of ticks in my book.

  • Just a side thought, I think it would be cool if Cubs Den had a link somewhere that showed the Cubs schedule for the year, maybe even with the previous games final scores and overall record.

  • Mark Belanger won eight gold gloves and batted .228 lifetime with a .300 OBP. He played his entire career for a team and a manager that valued pitching, defense and the long ball. However, being in the AL, he technically was the equivalent of the pitcher in the batting order. Barney has value, but with an AL contender, not an NL cellar dweller.

  • Is this the Kevin Bacon "All is well" column? =) so measuring defense by errors is outdated. Passed balls and wild pitches shouldn't count against catchers. RBIs and Runs scored is old-fashioned. The ability to drive in RISP is a random event. ERA is no way to evaluate a pitcher's or staff's general effectiveness. I love stats, but even amid all of the silver linings, one can't deny the Cubs have the 4th worst record in the majors, and this will probably be the 5th year in a row the Cubs have finished 5th in the Central. 5 for 5!! Keep in mind Kevin Bacon was flattened at the end of Animal House. =)

    Joking aside, I have seen an improvement on defense. I would call it average overall for the season. 3B has been steady. The OF has seldom stuck out. And Stalin Castro's second half has been a strong improvement over his first 2.5 years. But the stats do not measure mental errors, and watching the games, there seems to be just as many of them as ever, especially from our younger infield. Rizzo pointlessly cutting off throws to the plate. Infielders dropping their heads before a play has finished.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Ha ;) Meant that it's only considered part of the equation. I think that errors alone tend to be so visual and so tangible that we value it disproportionately.

    Definitely some improvement but there is still room to get better.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I forgot to mention that I'm surprised the subtraction of Matt Garza hasn't improved our overall defensive numbers by our pitchers. We still have second most errors by our pitchers in the NL. (But the fewest in postseason play since 2009.) And boy, has Garza been a bust for the Rangers. Thank the baseball gods for the Rangers panicking to avoid becoming the Buffalo Bills.

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    Bruce Levine in his chat:

    "From all indications from my baseball contacts, Tanaka is the Cubs' No. 1 offseason priority."

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Exactly what I've been saying. I think we'll see more and more media start talking about in the next couple of months.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    By chance, I met a major league scout for a major market team last weekend in Tokyo. Chatted him up about a few things. He did note that Tanaka is definitely getting posted this year.

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    Very cool. That's what I've been hearing too.

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    According to Theo today the Cubs will not be a huge player in the FA market this off-season. Don't know if that means Tanaka is out of the picture, but if a bid is made I don't know if the Cubs will be that aggressive. If we can gradually build the bullpen and keep this team together next year, a more stable roster could pay some dividends until the minor league studs show up.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Quote from Theo today- “We’re going to have to take a multi-dimensional approach to changing things,” he said. “We won’t solve our problems through free agency. It’s a very viable and sometimes attractive way to add talent and to be a great organization you have to do it from time to time. Given our situation on a lot of fronts it’s not the cure for our ills.”
    Exactly what I thought not long ago when I said next years roster in spring will look very close to what we have now. Theo also said Vitters going to LF, Baez to Des Moines, and he's interested in Gregg closing again next year. All good developments IMO-

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Didn't say that. He chose his words carefully, said "multiple" impact players "in free agency". I've never thought the Cubs would build that way so I'm not sure he said all that much.

    They will bid on Tanaka.

  • The Jack Zduriencik model has worked wonders for the Mariners

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    In reply to Vinny:

    did you have to google his name to spell it? ;)

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Oh yeah, then cut and paste

  • In reply to Vinny:

    LOL!

  • In reply to Vinny:

    I think he took sabermetrics way too literally. Example of what can happen when you don't have a good blend of scouting too, which the Cubs have.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Seattle does have some pretty impressive pitching though. For some reason however, like Tampa, their system lags in developing offense. Offensive players in both systems seem to regress considerably.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    They do have pitching and more on the way. Ballpark may partially explain both problems. San Diego has that issue as well. Not sure on Tampa, though. Come to think of it, Tampa has had a lot of misses when it comes to scouting/drafting hitters.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That is the one wish I have for this front office and the system they've put in place. Development is so much more important than drafting well. Not that drafting well isn't important. It is nice to see a working plan in place and that they intend to stick to their guns. Little concerned about the regression of Castro and Rizzo this year, but then I look at the regression of other similarly experienced players - Todd Frazier comes to mind - and I think that the pitchers have caught up to a number of 2nd and 3rd year players league wide. So you adjust and adapt for 2014. I think next year we will see more of what we were expecting back in April and less of what we've actually seen since then.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    Both are important. You need to bring in guys who have talent and who have the makeup you want. Development is huge, but you need the right people to develop too.

  • I think you need to add speed to this article about what we need. Last in league from 1st to 3rd and we can't be high in stolen basses.

    As far as defense improving not hardly. In 09 we were 23 rd. In 10 we were 29th and in 11 we were 30th. In 2012 we were 22nd and now we r 19th which is still the bottom half. Not much of a improvement. As much as this example pains me I have to use it but the white sox were 27th in 09 and 14th in 10 and 3rd in 11 and first in 2012. That is a progress.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Using advanced metrics for defense, which to me encompass more areas of defense. Not sure which metric you are using there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am going by fielding % rank.

  • It is 1-0 cubs. Maybe we should pinch hit for shark. It is the fifth inning.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    He's pitching well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I can't believe we are both watching it. He is pitching very well. Was a knock on dale for Jackson.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    What happened between shark and bell?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I missed it. Was just on the phone. Does anybody know?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Had some heated words. Shark dropping f bombs and bell had back to camera. Dale finally stepped in.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Thanks.

  • Just saw that Castro leads all of baseball this year in outs made. including the one he's already made tonight he's sitting at 497. That's ugly. He has a ten out "lead" over Manny Machado of all people. Of the 44 top 10 lists for position player categories on baseball reference the only Cub appearances are Welly at #8 in Defensive WAR and Starlin at #1 in outs made. That's so weak. Still watching games...

  • In reply to Ben20:

    What does WAR mean? How do the make this stat?

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    WTNY, War is "Wins Above Replacement player"

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thank you. But what does that mean? So the cubs have won more games this season that makes Wellington's WAR higher cause cubs will win more games this season?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I'll put this very generally so maybe Mike will want to expand. WAR uses a wide range of hitting, defensive, baserunning metrics to calculate how many extra runs a player produces or saves. From that it is established that a certain amount of runs produced and/dor saved is equivalent to a win.

    Certain players rate as what is called a replacement level player and that means that that player doesn't produce or save enough runs to add up to even one win. That means they can essentially be replaced by a waiver wire player or your average joe from AAA without costing your team.

    Wins above Replacement means how many wins a certain player adds as opposed to that "replacement level player". Castillo's combination of offense and defense calculates to an extra 3 wins for the Cubs over a replacement level catcher. For reference, an example of a replacement level catcher, ironically, is Geovany Soto. So essentially WAR states that if you start Castillo over Soto over a full season, it will get you roughly 3 extra wins on the year.

    3 is considered a solid to above average regular, 2 WAR is a fringe starter, 4 is very good, all-star level perhaps. Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are 5 WAR catchers this year and Posey was a 7.7 WAR catcher in his MVP season last year.

  • Lake just provided that speed we need. Not many could have scored on that.

  • Another homer for Beef... the guy is unleashing the power in September.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    He's been amazing lately.

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    In reply to Paulson:

    I'm so happy. At least we have one positive thing to take with us to next year -- Castillo's emergence as a major threat. Time to sign him long term so he can hit .230, too.

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    This season badly needs to end.

    Who would have thought a year ago the Rizzo trade would look questionable at this point?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's a lot closer now but Cashner away from Petco isn't all that great (4.00 ERA, 7K/3W per 9 IP). Kind of an average guy. I'd like him back, but he's doing a lot of damage in that big park and he's doing it pitching to contact so no guarantee it would translate in other parks.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agree, but I'd add that you really do have to be concerned about Rizzo at this point. I think he'll come back and be a consistent .270/.350/.500 player with gold glove caliber defense, but he's looked bad enough that you have to wonder.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm concerned (as I am with Castro too), but we'll have to see how they bounce back next year. Not unusual for young players to have ups and downs -- but I'm thinking now that Rizzo will probably be a good, but not a top level first basemen.

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    This goes with the Dale conversation, but an interesting article. Kind of a Rorschach test -- I think you can find support for any position you have in this.

    http://www.csnchicago.com/cubs/cubs-dale-sveum-hot-seat

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yeah, they didn't really say anything either way. I think, though, that they're not the type of organization that's going to be rushed through their process. They won't give a vote of confidence until they finish that.

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