Game Thread: Which Cubs hitters really perform best this year in high leverage situations? Plus other news and notes...

Game Thread:  Which Cubs hitters really perform best this year in high leverage situations? Plus other news and notes...

Since this is a weekend day and we generally slow down the pace a bit, I'm taking a different approach to the game thread today.  I will add any bullets and the lineup as we go along.  I also think it is appropriate to cover a very common in-game topic for many fans: what many refer to as clutch hitting.  I will refer to it as hitting in high leverage situations (explanation below).  As happens often, I was inspired by our readers. I read a conversation last night here in the comments section that made me curious.  I often get curious when statements are made on observation because things like selective bias or heavier weight on recent observation can sometimes cloud reality.

The topic was clutch hitting, specifically that of Starlin Castro.  Castro had a bad game yesterday with men on base and a conclusion was drawn based on his overall ability in these kinds of situations in close games.

I feel like these are good times to bring in statistics because they never miss an at-bat and they don't have favorite players.  So let's take a look at the numbers.

But before we do, I want to remind that I don't believe in clutch hitting as a general rule. It isn't a reliable way to evaluate a hitter because as I have said, over time, given a large enough sample size,  "clutch" averages tend to even out with overall averages.  Yet it is a subject that comes up from time to time and when it comes to clutch hitting, there often exists smaller myths within the larger one.   Statistics employ what is call a Leverage Index and divide game situations into low, medium, and high leverage situations.  Here is the Leverage Index as defined by Baseball Reference.

Within a game, there are plays that are more pivotal than others. We attempt to quantify these plays with a stat called leverage index (LI). LI looks at the possible changes in win probability in a give situation and situations where dramatic swings in win probability are possible (runner on second late in a tie game) have higher LI's than situations where there can be no large change in win probability (late innings of a 12-run blowout).

The stat is normalized so that on average the leverage is 1.00. In tense situations, the leverage is higher than 1.00 (up to about 10) and in low-tension situations the leverage is between 0 and 1.0.

So, in a nutshell, low leverage situations are those in which the game is not in the balance, i,e. blowouts.  Medium leverage is your average everyday game situation, and high leverage are high pressure situations when the game hangs in the balance, especially two out situations where the pressure focuses more squarely on that particular hitter.

For simplicity's sake, I will just look at low leverage situations and high leverage ones in addition.  In other words, who are the players who have performed best "when it doesn't matter" and who have performed best "in the clutch".

So who are the team's best hitters in each situation?  To get the best combination of sample size with the most players possible, let's take a look at all current Cubs players who have at least 150 plate appearances.  We'll use batting average since that is readily accessible to everyone, but we will also look at metrics which cover the players all around ability on offense: I will use OPS because most are familiar and wOBA, which is my favorite all-around offensive metric.

Okay, let's go around the lineup by position number. The metrics are listed in the following order: Average/OPS/wOBA,   For their overall numbers, just click on the players' names.

Welington Castillo

  • Low Leverage: .256/.726/.320
  • High Leverage: .179/.519/.238

Castillo has had a similar season to last year if we go just by low leverage situations but has really struggled in high leverage situations.  That is quite a drop-off.  It may not surprise you that Castillo presses and becomes less selective with the game on the line, but would you believe he has not walked one single time in a high leverage situation?  To put it simply, you do not have to throw Castillo a strike when you are in a jam and every pitcher in baseball knows it.

Anthony Rizzo

  • Low Leverage: .269/.841/.370
  • High Leverage: .220/.816/.332

A drop-off for Rizzo but not a huge one.  Don't take too much stock in his low batting average in high leverage situations.  He is still a good performer in the clutch but he obviously gets pitched around.  His walk rate jumps from 10.5% to 15.7% when the game is on the line.  He also hits for a lot more power, so the selectivity pays off with pitches he can drive.  His ISO jumps up to .244 in pressure situations (compared to .208 in low pressure).

Emilio Bonifacio

  • Low Leverage: .235/.605/.269
  • High Leverage: .200/.488/.198

Bonifacio is not particularly good in low or high leverage.  He does a great majority of his damage in medium leverage, which sort of makes sense as his role is as a table setter to ignite the offense early in the game and inning.

Luis Valbuena

  • Low Leverage: .211/.664/.296
  • High Leverage: .314/.993/.434

No Cubs player has been better "in the clutch" this year.  Valbuena's numbers get better the more the game is on the line.  His walk rate is an astounding 25% in high leverage situations.  He simply doesn't get himself out in those situations, getting on base nearly half the time when the pressuer is on (.479 OBP).  Remember when this was the most frustrating thing about him two years ago?  Part of this is that things even out over time, but part of this is due to Valbuena's intelligent approach and knowing the situation.

Starlin Castro

  • Low Leverage: .264/.708/.314
  • High Leverage: .298/.814/.349

This goes contrary to what many believe and a good example of why the eye test can fail us and how selective bias can come into play.  Castro is significantly better in high leverage situations.  He no longer goes chasing when the pressure is on as his walk and K rate has stayed pretty constant between low and high leverage situations.  Like Rizzo, the selectivity has manifested itself in bigger power numbers in high leverage (.170 ISO in high leverage, .112 in low).  This shows a maturing approach on his part and one reason why he trails Rizzo by just one RBI this year.

Justin Ruggiano

  • Low Leverage: .341/.879/.388
  • High Leverage: .222/.582/.263

I like Ruggiano so this one was a little disappointing for me but looking at things like his walk rate, we can see he does exhibit some patience.  There is a drop in his BABIP, but it is still high at .333 in high leverage situations.  The biggest thing we see with Ruggiano in high leverage situations is a spike in his strikeout rate, which jumps to nearly 35% from 23% when the pressure is on, so perhaps he does press a little bit and expands his zone to some degree.

Junior Lake

  • Low Leverage: .216/.603/.267
  • High Leverage: .200/.494/.21

This one passes the eye test.  Lake visibly presses and expands the zone in high leverage situations and it is reflected in his numbers.  The walks go down, the Ks go up -- but let's face it.  Lake has struggled in all situations this year, it's just more pronounced in high leverage situations.  He presses and pitchers take advantage of it.

Chris Coghlan

  • Low Leverage: .260/.806/.342
  • High Leverage: .250/.775/.352

Coghlan is a good hitter this season in all situations but we do see a more selective approach in high leverage situations.  His walk rate rises from 7.4% to 16.7%, though the willingness to work deeper counts has also resulted in a big spike in his K rate, which mitigates some of the benefits.  Coghlan is more likely to try and get on base and leave it to the next guy then to drive in the runs himself -- and that has a lot of value when you have guys like Castro, Rizzo, and Valbena coming up behind you.

Nate Schierholtz

  • Low Leverage: .195/.568/.258
  • High Leverage: .205/.604/.258

We don't really see a significant statistical difference here.  Schierholtz, like Lake, has struggled in any situation this year.  One curious trend is that Schierholtz becomes less selective (BB rate drops from 6.9% to 2.4%) but makes more contact (K rate drops from 27.8% to 9.8%) and-- specifically,  hard contact -- as we can infer from a spike in his ISO (up to .179 from .102).  It would seem that pitchers go right after Schierholtz rather than pitch around him and he has made them pay occasionally, but not nearly often enough to dissuade them from continuing that aggressive approach.

So the conclusion here is that the Cubs hitters who best seem to rise to the occasion this year have been Luis Valbuena and Starlin Castro while the biggest drop offs come from Justin Ruggiano and Welington Castillo.

Taking a deeper look, we can see that Anthony Rizzo does well considering he seems to get pitched around quite a bit -- or at least pitchers are approaching him with caution, as they well should.  To his credit, Rizzo has remained selective and has still managed to do quite a bit of damage anyway.  Coghlan also becomes much more selective when the game is tight.   We also see that Castro seems to be maturing in game situations and staying selective rather than let the pitcher get himself out, but he could still learn a little bit about that from Valbuena and Coghlan, though his role is different than that of Coghlan.

Odds and Ends

  • This is more than just a bullet probably but the Cubs sent down Neil Ramirez to Iowa and the initial reaction was: Are they stretching him out?  The answer turns out to be no as of right now.  It is more about resting him after he had some shoulder issues last year.  Like the Arodys Vizcaino situation, it's easier to control a pitcher's appearances and innings in the minors.  2014 doesn't mean a whole lot and it is difficult to rely on anyone other than Ramirez and Hector Rondon this year, so the Cubs removed the temptation by removing Ramirez from the roster.  I think it is a wise move when you think about the  long term.  The Cubs called up Blake Parker to take his spot.
  • The Giants have acquired Jake Peavy in exchange for two pitching prospects: Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree.  Escobar, a LHP, is the better prospect of the two.  You may remember him when we talked about the Giants last year in a potential Matt Garza deal.  Escobar, though, has slipped a bit in terms of his K rate, walk rate, and overall performance, so his stock is a bit down.  Some consider him a fringe starter now.  Hembree is a reliever with good size and a mid 90s fastball.

Today's Lineup

  1. Bonifacio 2B
  2. Alcantara CF
  3. Rizzo 1B
  4. Castro SS
  5. Valbuena 3B
  6. Coghlan LF
  7. Castillo C
  8. Sweeney RF
  9. Arrieta P


Leave a comment
  • Why is ramierz going to iowa?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    To rest his arm, just added that to the bottom of the page. Will add news and lineup as it comes.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Seems like they have been lowering his workload lately. Makes sense.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey John,
    Any word as to if Dylan Cease's surgery was a success? Last I heard was it was scheduled for July 22nd

  • In reply to Alex Good:

    I do not know. The surgery is so routine these days that I would assume so.

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    In reply to Alex Good:

    Not that its an actual confirmation of success but in the 22nd he tweeted that he's happy to finally be moving forward.

    Seems to me, though, that the rehab is much more important than the surgery.

    I'm glad they got it out ta the way. This kinda makes him seem like an extra 2015 1st rounder to me.

  • I am looking forward to Arietta's performance today. Since his first 2 outings were 4 and 5 innings. Will be fun to see 3rd time thru line up will bring. Also his last handful of teams have been non competitive teams. Will be good to see him in a playoff like game from a cubbie stand point.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    He is one of the few reasons to keep watching this year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hahaha. That is so true.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's really fun to see the guys the FO took risks on start to show why they were once highly regarded prospects. Gotta give props to the coaching staffs for the development of these guys. And props to the FO for knowing how to protect them as well.

  • In reply to Stevo1:

    Who are you referring to?

  • In reply to Stevo1:

    i assume you mean risks on guys like Arrieta, Ramirez, Vizcaino -- all of whom had some red flags. If so, I agree. It has worked out well in those cases.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Those are the exact three I had in mind. The Mike Olt experiment could still work out. He could be Rizzo 2.0, needing a little more time in AAA before coming back up. Even if it doesn't work out, he is/was a good gamble.

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    In reply to Stevo1:

    I agree that he can still improve. He's walked a pretty unique road.

    With Bryant and Baez likely to spend the first couple months of next year in triple-A, I think Olt has a good chance to be the opening day starter at 3B. If he plays well he could be a decent supllentary piece in a trade.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Or if he comes around he might end up a good bench player. He can play the 4 corner positions.

  • I would not be surprised if you see something similar done to Arrietta in mid- September. Except for him, it will simply be a shutdown. I know he only has 85 innings to date, but they are going to want to baby that shoulder as much as possible.

    With Hendricks, Beeler, Wada and Rusin, you have some younger guys that will have a chance come the last few weeks to prove they belong (or don't).

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Can't we skip a start once in awhile or go to a 6 man rotation(especially in sept)?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I think a 6 man rotation would be a great idea for Sept., it would allow Hendricks, Beeler, Wada slot in every 6th day to show what they have for next would also have the added benefit of giving Arrieta more rest, and Jackson & Wood less starts.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I have always wondered why teams don't have 6 man rotations more often, especially in the first half. Obviously many teams find it hard enough to fill a 5 man rotation with guys they trust, but there have been examples over the years where there were 6 quality starters. To me, it seems like it would help keep the pitchers fresher for the stretch run.

    This is obviously a little different because its September, not May.

    Whenever I brought the idea up to my father growing up, he always said that pitchers would hate this. They get into a routine of pitching every five days and their bodies get used to it. It seems like some pitchers do great on 6 days some do horrible. I wonder what stats are on outings of 6 days of rest for pitchers. I wonder what actual effects it has on a pitcher. Maybe John has some insight here.

  • In reply to nukee:

    Baseball players are creatures of routine. Breaking that routine can adversely affect things in many unforeseen ways. That's my guess as to why teams don't switch from 5 man to 6 man rotations and back and again during the same season.

  • fb_avatar

    Enough stats in this article to make my head spin. LOL

    I'm with you as far as this "clutch" hitting goes. Over a large enough sample size everything averages out. In yesterday's game I remember Len and JD talking about this. They talked of the Cardinal's ungodly average with runners in scoring position last year. They said how those #'s were just way to high for a player to sustain over a career. And if you chose to just take one season's #'s at face value it would hurt you in the long run as far as evaluating a player. Seems like they were on to something worthwhile, imo....

  • But John... What about those who just want to trade Castro? If you give them logical reasons to keep him, they'll just become more emotional...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Ha! Well, I think anyone can be had for the right price, but I doubt anyone is willing to match what the Cubs would want for Castro right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't dispute that. But this was one of the common reasons cited for shipping him off. That he was just a hit collector, but never came through when we needed it most... lol

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Trade him.

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    Got no problem with that if someone is willing to over pay. But there's no reason to shop him and no reason to trade him for less than over payment right now

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Completely agree with that. I wouldn't trade him unless a #1 pitcher we'd get back.

  • My question regarding the Ramirez move is this- if the Cubs are so concerned about the possibility of over-use and reinjuring the shoulder, is going to Iowa going to solve that problem? I guess it is a way of giving Blake Parker another shot at some big league experience and the Cubs cannot exactly put Ramirez on the DL if he is not injured, but it is a very curious and cautious move for certain if that is the case.

    But I have to believe there is some sort of discussion about the possibility of turning Ramirez into a starting pitcher at some point. All indications are that Armando Rivero will be a lights out closer for the Cubs quite soon, and Ramirez has had success as a starter in the minors. A healthy Neil Ramirez should be able to replicate what Samarzdija did after 2011 and I think a careful progression of work during the off-season to become a SP could be a huge boost to the Cub rotation in 2015.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Even if the thought is there to stretch Ramirez out is on the minds of the FO, they wouldn't be doing it right now.

    He has logged a number of innings, some of which have had high pitch counts. He is coming off of some shoulder issues from the spring and to now have him start throwing more, at the end of the season, doesn't make any sense. The risk of injury is just to great.

    If they are going to stretch him out, they will do so over the winter or wait until spring training to do so with the thought of bringing him up mid season. It will be a slow and deliberate process.

    Sending him down to Iowa allows him to be used every 3-4 days as opposed to being in Chicago where he is used when the team needs him.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    That work load in Iowa would make sense if they just want to give him a breather.

    And I already mentioned that the progression of work to become a starter would probably occur after the season, so we're on the same page there. I would love to see it happen- Arrieta and Ramirez would be a couple of good power arms in the rotation.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    agreed if it happens, it will happen over the winter. Grimm is another candidate. The biggest obstacle both of them face though is control, not health.

    I think Rondon is a potential #2 SP in the waiting ala Dempster/Shark and now that he' been healthy for 2 seasons, warrants some consideration this winter since we have some RHP depth in the BP.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    My first reaction to your comment was to say that I don't think that this is a good comparison at all. I then went and took a look at Rondon's stats in the minors as well as shark's and Dempster is a different case because he had a track record as a starter in MLB before being a reliever.

    I never really saw him being anything more than a bullpen guy, and I still am not ready to say number 2 starter, mostly for control reasons. Thanks to your comment, this is the first time I actually think he has a realistic shot at being a solid starting pitcher, so thank you for that.

  • In reply to nukee:

    He's got a starters repertoire, and size. He was only pushed out of a SP role due to injury. Like Vizcaino, he's had two elbow injuries within 2 years... but he's healthy now, has been for 2 years, effective/dominant at the MLB level, and won't be 27 until next Feb... He has all the makings of a candidate to convert back to a SP role for me. IDK if the FO thinks the same way, but...

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Irwin, mention was made today on CSN that nearly all of Ramirez's innings have been *high leverage* innings. Perhaps that is also part of the brain trust's thinking on sending him down.

    Another thought *might* be that the FO is ahead of the curve - giving valuable arms coming off injuries 10 days off in the middle of the season. Much easier to do when you're not contending, obviously.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Paulsen-the problem with Ramirez as a starter is his delivery isnt exactly the smoothest. Sort of shortarms the ball, which is a nice advantage to have as a releiver, but puts a lot of strain on the arm as a starter. One thing Ive noticed about NRam is that RH hitters dont seem to pick the ball up on him well, Id leave him in the BP.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Paulson, you are seeing this all over baseball. If you are in Chicago and read the Tribune, look in the baseball transactions section. Everyday there many transactions regarding relief pitchers going up and down. I think in this era of six inning starting pitchers, the team has to build to a situation of having about twelve to fifteen relievers available between here and Iowa or possibly even Knoxville.
    I think your going to see Fujikawa up here shortly, because we can use more arms in the bullpen and we have to see what he can do before making a decision on his status for 2015.
    In Ramirez situation he can godown and throw every 4 days or so in stress free pitch count situations. You can also have him back here in 10 days rather than 15 on a disabled list situation.
    In the case of Rivero, I would think he will be added to the 40 man roster after the season ends because of rule five stuff unless something like a trade happens in the next few days.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    My guess is, they will literally not pitch him for a week or two, but they needed bullpen help in that time frame. Hence the send down...

  • In reply to NathanE:

    And I think that Blake Parker has earned another chance at the MLB level. 21 saves, 1.29 ERA, 12.9 K/9. I think this might be an easy opportunity for both rest for Ramirez and giving Blake another shot that he has earned.

  • In reply to nukee:

    maybe even showcase parker a bit for a possible trade? anything is on the table with this front office with this team at this point.

  • Great article, John. I was feeling the same way whilst reading those comments last night, I don't get why people still want to believe that Starlin is nothing more than average ball player. Apparently 3 all star selections by the age of 24 means nothing...
    By the way, I'm on vacation in Chicago all week, any advice on what to do besides catch as many games as possible?

  • In reply to briney212:

    Thanks, So much to do in Chicago! I don't even know where to start. I am a big fan of baseball, architecture, eating, and whiskey, so I would try to incorporate all of that. The first 3 are especially important if you visit Chicago, imo -- good architecture and good restaurants.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


    The beach is always pretty awesome when the weather is nice. John mentioned the architectural tour which you should do but there are also lake excursions that take off around the Navy Pier area.

    If the weather is nice, take advantage of the millions of outdoor cafes that we have in the summer. The weekend festivals are always pretty fun - daytimes are usually more family friendly than nighttime if that's a concern.

    My cousins did a bike your if the city when they visited a few years ago and they thought it was a lot of fun.

    Just some initial thoughts for you - have fun!

  • In reply to JasonB:

    Awesome! Thanks for the advice, I'm 22 and by myself so family friendly isn't exactly what i need haha. But thank you for the reccomendations, I appreciate it. One more question, what's a nice low key sports bar for me to catch the games I'm not actually going to? I just want a nice laid back environment to catch the game. I've been hanging at mother Hubbards since it's close to my hotel. Any other places I should check out to watch the games?

  • In reply to briney212:

    I'd suggest you get out in the neighborhood and wander around. That area is chock full of restaurants and bars!! You should be able to find something.

    Also, the Cubs play 4 games vs Colorado Mon-Thu. The first 3 are night games. You can always hop the L and buy a ticket - from the Cubs, not the scalpers. Or... there's always StubHub and other secondary markets.

    And yeah - North Avenue and Oak Street beaches are the best!!

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Yeah I already have tickets to tomorrows cards game and 2 of the upcoming rockies games. Sadly, I was also there to watch that brutal beating by the Padres. Not enough Old Style in the world to make that game watchable haha

  • In reply to briney212:

    I think the common fan wants to find an easy fall guy to blame the team's problems on and they've decided that Castro is the reason.

    John - good stuff! Really enjoyed reading it! While I do have a sabermetric mindset, I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that hitters are the same regardless of the situation, which sabermetricians either imply or explicitly state with sarcastic undertones. While I don't think that there is such thing as clutch in that is isn't possible for you to consistently perform above your true talent level, I do think that some players have the ability to maintain their focus and keep a consistent approach in 'clutch' situations while others simply do not.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    Thanks Jason and I totally understand. It seems that way but statistically it doesn't exist. See my response to Daniel Stone on Mike Schmidt, a player he asked about and considered a great clutch hitter. I hope I am never snarky about it because I have to admit that it seemed that some players, like Schmidt, almost never failed with men on base or RISP, but the reality is that his stats are nearly identical in those situations as they were to his overall career numbers. It's odd and it's counter-intuitive, which is why stats are so important -- there is no selective bias, no favorites...just raw data. It seems cold sometimes and it removes some of the mystique and the myth from the game, but it also forces us to see things how they are, not as we remembered them. Imagine if the Cubs were to trade Castro because they believed he could not hit in the clutch. It would be a mistake if you traded him for that specific reason, because that reason doesn't exist.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


    You're definitely not snarky about it! For the most part, I think you're very level headed, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog so much. You do a good job of keeping your emotion out of the process.

    I think that statement you made about Schmidt is a perfect example of what I'm thinking. Over a very large sample size, the data shows that his numbers did not deviate significantly which in my mind, means that he was able to maintain the same approach regardless of the situation.

    But I would guess that there are players who, over the course of a career, did not perform to their true level when placed in leverage situations due to the fact that they press, as you noted with Castillo. Aren't there? If there are, then I don't think we can say there isn't such a thing as clutch, even though clutch may imply nothing more than the ability to be yourself in a high leverage situation.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    I think this that is a reasonable way to look at it. Players who can't make adjustments or who are unable to sustain performance regardless of situation tend not to last very long. So perhaps they get weeded out of the overall equation. It could also mean those players just weren't good at all and didn't stay around long enough for the numbers to balance out. Hard to say. But what you said is exactly right, good MLB players don't deviate much from situation to situation. Over time, they maintain their level of play in all scenarios.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "good MLB players don't deviate much from situation to situation."

    I think that hits the nail on the head right there. In order to have sustained success at the MLB level, you have to be mentally tough. Baseball is a game of failure, and failing 70% of the time makes you an All-star. I think with mental toughness comes the ability to treat every pitch, every at-bat the same way. If you change your approach based on the magnitude of the situation you are most likely doomed to fail, and probably won't be around long, if you make it there at all.

    Just to clarify though, I don't mean that good players don't change their approach based on game situation (i.e. trying to hit a fly ball when there is a runner on third base and less than two outs, or hit-and-run situations, trying to hit a ground ball through the right side of the infield) just that whether the score is tied or not close, it should not matter to the hitter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Players who can't make adjustments or who are unable to sustain performance regardless of situation tend not to last very long."

    Right - good point

  • In reply to JasonB:

    Their are clutch performances, and all MLB players are clutch by the very fact that they have risen to the major leagues in my opinion. Joe Sheehan of BB said it very well...

    "All major-league players have a demonstrated ability to perform under pressure. They've proven that by rising to the top of an enormous pyramid of players, tens of thousands of them, all trying to be one of the top 0.1% that gets to call themselves "major leaguers." Within this group of elite, who have proven themselves to be the best in the world at their jobs, there is no discernable change in their abilities when runners are on base, or when the game is tied in extra innings, or when candy and costumes and pumpkins decorate the local GigaMart. The guys who are good enough to be in the majors are all capable of succeeding and failing in these situations, and they're as likely to do one or the other in the clutch as they are at any other time. Over the course of a game, a month, a season or a career, there is virtually no evidence that any player or group of players possesses an ability to outperform his established level of ability in clutch situations, however defined."

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Ghost Dawg,

    Thanks for that. I'd like to poke around at this statement for a little bit because I think it gets to the point I'm trying to make:

    "there is virtually no evidence that any player or group of players possesses an ability to outperform his established level of ability in clutch situations, however defined"

    This I get and I 100% agree with - I don't see any reason that a player should be able to consistently perform better than their true talent level, or established level of ability as Sheehan calls it.

    However, is it possible for a player or group of players to consistently underperform their true talent level over time in high leverage situations because they try to press and do too much in a given situation? If so, then I think we can say that those players can be characterized as not clutch. Not to keep picking on Castillo, but John points out that his approach seems to be dramatically different when faced with high leverage situations. Wouldn't the fact that he underperformed in pressure situations mean that it is more desirable to have somebody who can maintain their level of ability in high leverage situations?

    I don't have any statistics or numbers to prove this out or anything - I just think some players may have the ability to perform at their level of talent in high leverage situations better than others.

    Of course, I could be wrong...

  • In reply to JasonB:

    John and GhostDawg,

    Thanks for the discussion - I enjoyed the mental exercise of thinking through this!

    For someone with a lot more ambition than me, I think this would be an interesting topic to do some research into.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    It'd be interesting. Obviously I just scratched the surface with this particular article.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    Your welcome. I really like that summary.

    RE: "is it possible for a player or group of players to consistently underperform their true talent level over time in high leverage situations because they try to press and do too much... If so, can we say that those players can be characterized as not clutch."

    I see what you are saying. The problem is, and what researchers have found when applying statistical analysis to this question, is how do you tell apart the MLB players that truly do worse in those situations to those who's numbers are lower in high-leverage situations because of timing, luck, etc.? Of course once a career is over if a player was consistently worse in those situations, year in and year out, then you would have a very good argument...but at that point it's a bit to late as the purpose of stats for GM's is to evaluate players while they can still contribute.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    I agree that players shouldn't be able to outperform their talent level. Therefore, the idea of a clutch hitter is a falsity. I also agree that there is credence to the idea that a player can be anti-clutch in high pressure situations. This is attributed to changing approach or pressing too much. However, these players who change their approach in different situations tend not to stick around for too long. I don't have a great statistical argument for this, just one that seems logical to me.

    If a player changes his approach in high-leverage situations, they are likely to perform worse. The reason I think they don't stick around very long in the big leagues is because when that player hits a slump, even if the game does not dictate it, they create the idea in their minds that every situation is a high leverage situation and continue to perform poorly. As their confidence slowly diminishes, the on-field results can become atrocious. Eventually, they get to a point where they no longer can perform at their skill level because their mental side of the game holds them back.

  • In reply to nukee:

    Another good point and way of thinking about it

  • In reply to nukee:

    What is the difference between a pitcher being more reliable in high pressure situations (9th inning closer) and a hitter in a high pressure situation (clutch hitter?)? I think everyone believes some pitchers are better able to close a game than others. So why can't some hitters, even if only a few, have more success in key situations than others. Certainly some hitters (Lake) do worse.

  • Given the stats you list John it would then make some sense to have a batting order along the lines of AA, Coghlan, Rizzo, Castro, and Valbuena, correct?

  • In reply to Paulson:

    I would - I'd with Alcantara or Bonifacio at the top and then the order you list there. Or maybe go Coghlan than Alcantara. Basically as you wrote, though.

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    For me, the big question the Peavy trade raises is whether Lester is now on the block. Assuming he doesn't extend with his new club, a trade seems to be the best possible situation for the Cubs.

    Also, on Ramirez, his fastball velocity was down almost 3 MPH yesterday after 4 days of rest. This was absolutely the right move.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Perhaps but w how bad the peavy man has been pitching this year, it may not mean the sox have raised the white flag. Sox rotation might be better w out Peavy. They have workman, ruby de la rosa and some interesting arms in the minors.

    Although, I would hope they try and pry Lester from them as that would give us the leg up in negotiations. The problem is, are we going to offer something of value greater then the sandwich pick for the QO that he's certain to get.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    i read on another site that the cubs have been scouting lester among other starters and supposedly are looking to sign one short term and one long term contract for starting pitching this off-season.

    which i think means they will really be trying hard to move jackson so arrieta & wood will be our #3 & #4 starters next year with our #5 being Hendricks/Beeler/Straily/Ramirez combo.

    if on top of two starters we add a good short term left handed bat. and if we get solid contributions from some of soler/baez/bryant alcantera/vizcaino/rivero, i really like our playoff chances next year

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm not sure if there is a link, but I could see a team like St. Louis trading for Lester. This I think would be the worst case scenario, because

    1. that will give them a playoff rotation of Wainwright, Lester, Wacha, and probably Lynn, but maybe Kelly and they could win another WS, which would just be painful for the Cubs to have to watch even though the Cardinals are a very respectable organization.

    2. I think a guy like Lester would probably like to re-sign with the cardinals, especially after they make a postseason run.

    I think a trade could be the best thing if he goes to a team that doesn't have the resources to resign him, but I think it could also be the worst if he settles in with a good organization and thinks he can win another WS or two with that organization.

  • John, this is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to do the research and put together this great article. I completely agree with your opinion of "clutch" players and how stats usually even out over time. I wasn't surprised by Castro's stats, however I was a little surprised by Valbuena's. I knew he was performing at a high level in pressure situations this year, but his numbers are off the charts. Thanks again and go Cubs!

  • In reply to Cubsfan4281:

    Thank you -- I felt the same way about Valbuena. I knew he was good in high leverage this year, I just didn't know he was THAT good.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John... I'd like to join the chorus!! Really, really an interesting post and a *most* interesting topic!! Really excellent as always.

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    Interesting non Cubs news. Astros send Appel to AA despite awful work at high A.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    They are trying to make it look like they haven't been a disaster the last two years. Not sure that was the right motivation to make a move. Some have made the excuse that Lancaster's ballpark is so small, but no explanation given as to why he performs worse than anyone else who pitches there.

    Appel still throws hard and I know Luhnow made a point of mentioning it, but I don't think that has ever been the question with him. The question has always been that hitters square him up more than they should

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    His last outing was pretty good but this still seems like a PR ploy: "See, he's moving just as fast as Kris Bryant and Jon Gray."

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah and the article I read cited the fact Appel had an appendectomy in spring training. But I agree with you that it might be pressure to get Appel moving. Since he was supposed to have a "quick path" to the majors. The Astros may be trying to have their cookies before they are fully baked. I hope the Cubs more patient approach is the wiser option. Edwin Jackson always seems like a pitcher hitters square up more than they should. I wonder if it has to do with lack of natural movement on a FB or something else?

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    In reply to Sean Holland:

    Some were wondering which approach was better for rebuilding an organization. Houston vs Cubs. I'd have to say the Cubs may have the edge so far but we still don't have conclusive results since both clubs are still at the bottom of the barrel in major league results.

    But still like our future better than that of the Astros....

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    Keith Law was saying they should move him to AA for a couple weeks.

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    He also said he could pitch in the majors NOW last year pre-draft so...

    Take everything from KLaw with a grain of salt. He seems to hold onto first impressions (good or bad) far too long, despsite performance to the contrary.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I find it funny that people select what they like about Law.

    Like they'll bring that up and then say ... "Kris Bryant #1 prospect in all of baseball. Yes!!!!" when his rankings come out.

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    I think some don't like him, some do. I will say from a personal level that I have agreed and disagreed with him based on my opinions and notes and not because he liked or didn't like a certain prospect or thought he was biased against the Cubs. I agreed with him about Szczur for example, and we were both right. I also agreed with him that Yasiel Balaguert would hit, we were both wrong. I thought he overrated Zach Cates, underrated Bryant (at first). He also stuck with Soler when others jumped ship.

    There are legit reasons why I don't like some of the things he believes or has said, and it's not something we would share here, but we don't begrudge his right to have an opinion on players.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'd like to piggyback that and say that there are times when I have no idea what Law is thinking, but other times where he has been right and I was wrong.

    I agree with you about Bryant, I think he underrated Bryant at first and I didn't agree with that, and I appears I am right on that one.

    However, I started to lose faith in Soler, mostly due to the injuries, and the bat incident raised a red flag at the time. Right now, it appears he was right about Soler and I was wrong.

    No one gets it right every time, or they would be the GM for the perennial WS champs.

  • I saw a stat on Castro the other day that showed his avg with runners on base around .240 and with runners on base it was somewhere around .320-.330. That's pretty telling as well IMO

  • In reply to NathanE:

    Another un-Castro like stat.

    In his last 10 games he is 7-35.

    With 7 walks.

    So he is hitting an icky .200 but a respectable .333 OBP.

  • In reply to NathanE:

    That was meant to say no runners on and runners on. It's .240 with the bases empty and .320-.330 with runners on. Sorry haha

  • In reply to NathanE:

    I did a double take when that was on the broadcast the other night.

  • In reply to NathanE:

    Yes, and an outstandng .896 OPS and .387 with men on base.

    He is better with men on base and men in scoring position than he is with the bases empty.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You mean we put the kid in RBI situations and he produces? How utterly selfish of him. He's obviously just trying to be a perennial AS SS and collect a few thousand hits over his career with no regard for the team.

    I say we trade him now before we have a proven MLB ready SS.

  • Anyone have any thoughts on Coghlan??? I just notice lately seems like he has been nonchalant. Watched a couple ground ball at bat the he didn't run right away or hard. Then watching him in the outfield it seems that he just kind of loafs after balls once he can't catch them.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I saw one ball hit off the track earlier in the week. I couldn't tell if he dogged or was guarding against a ricochet. If he was playing it safe, it was a bad read since it the kind of hit that dies against the wall.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Glad someone else notice it too. Don't know why I notice it this past week more ?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    He also had an AB where he thought he had fouled off a pitch only to have the LF catch it... in play. He only started to run maybe a second or two before the catch was made because he had turned around and wasn't even looking at the play after he hit the ball. Pretty bad stuff there. I know that he's playing fairly well, but I'm not a fan.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    The ball he didn't run out was a miscalculation. It appeared he thought the wind would push it out of play.

    And he made an outstanding catch in left field of a ball that, at the time, would have given the scum the lead.

  • Another pitcher I would like to see the Cubs send down is Grimm. He has the pitches to be a starter, but has been too up and down in the bullpen this year. Why not have him go to Iowa and have him work on his control while stretching him out. Then later in August, have him start some games with the Cubs. He won't be missed much in the bullpen and he could get started being a starter. He does have good stuff, just the not the command yet. What da ya think?

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    John if its not to much trouble I would like to see some stats on it averaging out because I don't believe it at all. Mike Schmidt seemed like he hit .600 when men were on, and I don't think there was any "averaging" there at all?

  • In reply to Daniel Stone:

    Actually the reverse is true. Mike Schmidt did better in low-leverage situation than high leverage...

    Those damn stats! They just won't comply with what we believe sometimes!

  • In reply to Daniel Stone:

    In regard to Mike Schmidt, he hit .267/.380/.527 overall. With men on base, he was at .273/.391/.535 and he hit .268/.400/.531 with runners in scoring position. Almost identical...just a few more walks and that is largely because he had almost 200 intentional walks in 3000 PAs with runners in scoring position. Basically an artificial 6.7% walk rate artificially added to boost his OBP.

    I could do more but they all pretty much come out this way. If you give me specific players you are curious about, I can look a few up.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Based on the list I posted above of HOF's ranked by Clutch, Schmidt was at the bottom of the list (after Robinson) with a -10.8 Clutch Factor.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I saw those. Many of his numbers were similar, so it wasn't a huge drop for him. I don't want to prove Daniel or others wrong, I just want to introduce a statistical perspective. I know where they are coming from -- it did seem like Schmidt was the last guy you wanted to face with the game on the line -- in many ways he was, but that is only because he was a good hitter in every situation. I think more than anything it proves players are pretty much the same in any situation given a large enough sample.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. (See my response below) ...and by the way, I wasn't trying to prove Daniel wrong either, he asked for more stats on the subject and that's all I was trying to do. :-)

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I know, I just didn't want to give the impression I was doing that :)

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    ...and by this what I mean to say is NOT that I think Schmidt wasn't clutch, only that based on that list of great hitters the most obvious conclusion is for those great hitters where their numbers don't converge after the course of their career then even then it is most likely a reflection of timing, sequencing, statistical anomaly, and perhaps a bit of luck whether it be good or in my opinion the players on the bottom of that list, Schmidt, Robinson were every bit as good a hitter as many of the players on the top of that list.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Given the discussion in another post about Aramis Ramirez, could you do the calculations for him? As a Cub, some of us seemed to remember him coming through frequently, while others (including me) thought he was terrible in the clutch. What do the numbers say?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Ramirez has hit .285 in low leverage and .313 in high leverage. OPS jumped from .848 to .931. wOBA went up from .363 to .389. He has hit .294/.370/.527 with RISP compared to .285/.344/.499 overall.

    He has definitely hit better in pressure situations and impressive that he has done it in such a large sample size. One of the rare players where there is more than just a nominal difference over a career.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's another exercise in using real data rather than emotion to form an opinion of a player - and, once again, I was wrong... Thanks for posting this, John.

  • In reply to Daniel Stone:

    By the way, the most formative work on the subject of "clutch" was done by David Grabiner from Harvard more than 20 years ago. In summary, the results were this...

    "The correlation between past and current clutch performance is .01, with a standard deviation of .07. In other words, there isn't a significant ability in clutch hitting; if there were, the same players would be good clutch hitters every year."

    The Clutch Study by Grabiner/a>

  • In reply to Daniel Stone:

    Did Mike Schmidt EVER make an out at Wrigley Field?

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    It didn't seem like it!

  • I was out of town and had spotty internet access, so I haven't had a chance to say anything regarding the passing of Felzzy. Although I never had the honor to meet Adam in person, I grew to

  • In reply to MendyMania:

    I grew to love reading his posts. His game recaps always had a way of cheering you up after a tough loss. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, rest in peace.

  • Great Article! This was an interesting look at the Cubs hitters this year, and a very good job of transforming the stats into English in such a way that gives them meaning beyond the numbers.

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    And John I also want to add how much I appreciate what you do, with all the time, effort and love that shows very much in your crafting of this.

  • Almost game time.

    Also almost time for Wrigleyville homeowners to remove the padlocks they installed on their garbage cans to keep Cardinal fan out of them.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Did you ever notice how the possum population dwindles after a Cardinal series? Them's good eatin'.

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    In reply to HackWilson09:

    You guys are crack'n me up! Let's play ball!!

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    I wonder if they are going to shut down Vizcaino sometime soon.

    I know he hasn't thrown all that much but considering he hadn't pitched since 2011, I wouldn't be surprised if they want to ease in to even a reliever workload.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I've been wondering if maybe some of his recent struggles at AAA were more from just his arm wearing down after not having pitched for so long , more so than AAA hitters being better. His stuff is dynamite when he is on and under control, so I'm not sure it's necessarily the level of competition.

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:


  • In reply to Giffmo:

    According to Sahadev Sharma...

    "Renteria says Ramirez getting a 'blow,' no injury. Won't report to Iowa right away, will be used sparingly when he does. Likely just 10 days"

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    So the move is only temporary. A chance to reward Parker for his solid year while giving Ramirez a breather. I could see the same type of "breathers" for Grimm, Vizcaino, etc. down the stretch. No sense in pushing guys to their limits in a year where it's not necessary.

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    Hey any of you guys think about adding Andrew Miller to the relief core this winter? I see he may be a free agent as well....

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    Why? Why shovel the ball to Rizzo when you have enough time to transfer and throw? Grrrrrrr This is the type of stuff that just drives ya nuts!

  • Thanks for putting this together John and proving me wrong. Hope we're still friends.

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    We are absolutely still friends, Willie. I didn't set out to prove you or anyone wrong. I was intrigued by the discussion yesterday. I thought it was worth looking into it. And when it turned out you happened to be wrong about Castro (I had no idea before I researched it), I felt it was something I could write about knowing that it doesn't change anything.

    Are you going to the game tomorrow? Kane County, that is.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    One of the great reasons to read this blog. We have loads of passionate fans and it sometimes leads to drag out disagreements. I have had my share of such disagreements. But at the end of the day we still have enough respect for each other that we can agree to disagree and move on. After all, I do believe that most folks here just want the same thing, a Cubs championship!

    Glad to be a member of the Den.....

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    No we won't be there. We have other plans. Actually I haven't been to one single Kane County game. I've been to all the Cubs bobblehead games though. Definitely next month I'll go. I want to see some of those pitchers especially Tseng.

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    Much more efficient inning by Arrieta after a rough start. Bonifacio to blame for the extra pitches thrown in the 2nd inning. Should have been a quick 1-2-3 inning...44 total pitches so far.....

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    Love me a quick inning! Arrieta looks sharp now....

  • I thought should have been error on Rizzo on Adams hit ball. Don't care if didn't hit glove. Was there and ball bounced right over glove.

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    Still waiting for our first hit......

  • Thanks for writing this article John. I have always been a Castro supporter, but I definitely thought he was a better hitter in low leverage situations and I was completely wrong.

    These are the things that make being a baseball fan so much fun.

  • In reply to nukee:

    You're welcome. I think that is what is so fun about stats for me. They show you stuff you normally miss...but I like a balance too. I was just saying earlier today that I don't care what advanced metrics say about Shawon Dunston. He's still one of my all-time favorite Cubs. Sometimes baseball should just be fun and Dunston was a lot of fun to watch sometimes.

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    Has Castillo forgot that he needs to drop to his knees and block the ball? The last 2 days I've seen him get way too lazy back there! Grrrrrr

  • Having hard time watching Castillo behind the plate.

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    There was our double play ball...... Thanks Beef!

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    Again? A backhanded attempt by Castillo!

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    Our first hit is a bunt single. That's gotta piss of the Cardinals just a lot! LOL

  • What's that midten Bonifacio has on his løft hand? Simple protection from jammed fingers? Noticed it on the replay of his SB.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Sorry, my iPad was set on Norwegian, and Steve Jobs' ghost in the machine doesn't speak Norwegian.

    "...mitten on his left hand ..."

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    I saw that same thing. Hope that helps guys from getting their fingers jammed....

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    Arrieta's pitches seem to be really moving now! Getting tired or getting better?

  • Here's Arrieta's 3rd time through the line-up ...

  • Arrieta's up in the bottom half. Do you pinch hit?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Ummm, I guess you do! Schierholz goes deep!

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    In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Scherholtz with the pinch hit HR! I like the move even if he hadn't HR'ed. Arrieta was already over 100 pitches. I think the Cubs want to protect him down the stretch. Nice to see Nate do something.

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    Thank God for that HR. Arrieta's effort was to good to end up with a loss....

  • And Bonifacio! Not something you see every day ...

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Love the slap hit but dumb move on the bases.

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    Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat 34s

    41,927 at Wrigley Field, largest crowd of the season. #Cubs #STLCards

  • Pathetic display of baseball. Bring in lefty gives up a hit. Then on a bunt we make a average play look hard by a slide. Wellington can't make a average throw to 3rd and Rizzo can't throw ball 60 feet and we r down a run.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    A little late to the party, but Rizzo's throw was fine, Castillo was well in front of the plate and had to dive back to the runner. I'd chalk that play up to a good slide and slightly out of position catcher.

  • One thing i can't figure out with RR. I believe it was vs the Diamondbacks. In the 5th inning
    He burned russell on one batter. He it is the 7th and let him go all of it?????

  • John at what point does the MLPA say "Houston we have a problem."

  • Man, our bullpen went from strength to liability in a couple of weeks. I get that they are taxed, but RR seems to reach for the least effective of the day lately

  • In reply to Csanad:

    Totally agree - Ricky hasn't quite figured out which lever to pull in the bullpen. And I agree, the bully is taxed --- which can be laid at the feet of the starters who can get past the 5th or 6th on a consistent basis (I'm looking at you Ed and Travis). Frankly, I'd rather we just use one long guy (Carlos V.) to mop up EJax's messes while using our quality guys behind Jake (who deserves better than the Russell/Schlitter combo platter).

  • In reply to Csanad:

    Sure has. But when Wood and EJax can't get out of 5th inning. Parker should be in sooner.

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    Has any official word been given why we haven't seen Ruggiano? This is like his 4th straight game to miss.

  • In reply to Hal McCarty:

    He has a minor injury, don't remember what it was offhand.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Groin, John.

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    A thunderstorm makes me lose power. I finally get it back and all Hell breaks loose at Wrigley!

  • I actually really like the move with Neil Ramirez - it makes complete sense to NOT push any of the young arms too hard in the bullpen this season - there is no shortage of quality young guys that can adequately fill his spot on the ML roster - and it gives guys like Parker and Rosscup a chance to get some experience as well.

    Especially for the guys with options - it's a good idea.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I am kinda shocked by this move. He has thrown 28 innings. Last year he threw 107 innings and the year before he threw 74. 28 doesn't seem like much. If you r resting him for a bit then move him as a starter, then I can get it. But to put back in bullpen us really babying a guy.

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    He's thrown 35 this year and the season is less than 2/3 through. But the last third could be a real doozy, so I really don't have an issue with "babying" him. I'd rather he be ready and healthy next year.

    Or, who knows, maybe they plan on stretching him out. Either way.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Stat line I saw said 28 innings. Must have lost 7 innings. So that is about 17 innings for every 1/3 of season..... Which would put him at 51 innings for year. Well below 75 and 107. If were at 60 already then I can see it. Just cause season is lost cause why don't we rest so many others??? If moving to rotation then I get it but if going to leave as a 7th or 8th inning guy; come on pitch unless hurt.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    The other 7 innings were in Iowa before his callup. So, he is about 1 inning shy of going 10 per month on average. I remember hearing or reading that was the target. With his shoulder last year, they are going to be on the cautious side.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Gotcha... Thanks

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    He's coming off a shoulder injury and his last time out his fastball was down 3 MPH after a four day rest.

    Giving him rest is no brainer.

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    Can anyone tell me why Blake Parker wasn't the first guy out of the pen today? I know he was your closer at Iowa but he's not going to be the closer for the Cubs. He obviously was on the list of guys to pitch today if needed also. So why not throw him in there right away when we knew another pitcher was going in the game?

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Because the game was tied and everyone else is trusted more by the manager than the new guy.

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