Monthly Archives: April 2009

Is Kosuke really better?

Kosuke Fukudome had a terrible second half last season. And he followed it up with a terrible World Baseball Classic, which led into a terrible, abbreviated, spring training. Then he went 0-4 in the season opener, and didn’t start in game two, and I, at least, concluded that he’d be lucky to get half the plate appearances in center field.

Then in game three, he went 4-5 with a walk and a home run, and he hasn’t really stopped hitting since. Through seventeen games (that is, through everything before the Arizona series), he had, in 77 PAs, a .371/.481/.661 line, with four home runs.

This isn’t just as good as his hot start last year, it’s better. After 77 PAs last year, Fukudome looked like he’d be the rookie of the year, with a .317/.442/.460 line. This¬† year, he’s hitting for a higher average, and as a result, getting on base more. His walks are down from 14 at this time last year to 13 this year – but last year, two of those were intentional, and none are this year. And he’s slugging 200 points better, because he’s hit more home runs in the first seventeen games than he did in the first 50 last year.

Can he keep it up? Well, almost certainly not. His batting average on balls in play is .413, which is unsustainable (although actually a little low for his also-unsustainable 31.3% line-drive percentage). And it’s a little higher than his BABIP at the same point last year, which was .387. So we can expect that average to drop a bit. But home runs aren’t part of BABIP, so if those keep up, he’s going to be much better.

In fact, he’s likely to put up a much better line for the whole season, anyway. Fukudome hit, after this point last year, .249/.346/.368. If he were to equal last season’s numbers, he’d have to go .241/.339/.333. It’s possible he could hit those average and on-base numbers, but I’m not sure he could equal that slugging number for the rest of the season if he tried. So it looks like, while Fukudome could still fall below the high hopes people had when he came to MLB, he’s in the midst of what we’ll look back at as something of an improvement on the season.

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If you don’t love Carlos Zambrano, you don’t love baseball

Exhibit A:

Zambrano looked good at third, at least if he doesn’t have to move much. Has he ever played third before?

“No, but I can,” the pitcher said. “Not shortstop, but third. I can at least knock it down, and with the good arm I have, I can throw. I can be the next Ken Caminiti. He used to play third, and he had that accurate arm.”

Of course I don’t want Zambrano actually playing the infield, but it’s hilarious to hear him talk about it.

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Look on the bright side!

I’m trying to find a silver lining to the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to their biggest rival in the first game of the series, in which two of their best players were injured. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Alfonso Soriano reached base twice (and didn’t strike out) in his move to the three-hole.
  • Milton Bradley drew a pinch hit walk to give the Cubs a tiny bit of life with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Geovany Soto had a hit and a walk, so maybe that’s something for him to build on.
  • Dempster pitched fairly well, allowing 3 runs in six innings while striking out 6 and walking just one.
  • Tickets for Cubs home games are probably going to be slightly cheaper after this road trip and the DL move that’s almost certainly coming tomorrow for Ramirez, Marmol, or Bradley.

See! It’s not all bad!

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The Arrogance of Jeff Dickerson

I didn’t get to see the game tonight. But I happened to catch a little of Jeff Dickerson’s show on AM 1000 tonight in the car. That was a mistake. I heard Dickerson say the following things:

1) Fukudome got caught looking at strike three right down broadway. Here’s the Gameday screenshot from the at-bat we’re talking about:picture-71

Is that a strike? Sure. Should Kosuke have swung at it with two strikes? Absolutely. Is that right down broadway? Not really, it was a breaking pitch that came back over the inner third of the plate. It’s not like he’s the only guy who would have gotten fooled by that.

2) After Gregg gave up his home run to Jay Bruce: the Cubs have a “soft-throwing” closer. The pitch Bruce hit out was a 92-mph fastball. That looks to be about the average fastball Gregg threw tonight. That fastball has served him plenty well in his major league career, given that he strikes out over 8 per nine innings.

3) But the thing that upset me the most: Dickerson started talking about Dusty Baker, and one of his complaints was that Baker would throw players under the bus, in his words. That he was always quick to blame players but wouldn’t take responsibility for the team himself. When his co-host pressed him on this, Dickerson basically said that Baker owed the fans that, and there always seemed to be a kind of arrogance about Baker.

Bullshit.

The job of a baseball team’s manager is to help the team win games. The manager’s job is not to make the fans happy. The manager owes you nothing. It bothered me when Dusty brought his kid to press conferences in what seemed like a blatant attempt to avoid criticism, but I don’t think he owed me sitting up there and taking abuse.

It’s not arrogant for a manager not to fall on his sword for the players when he has a team as bad as the 2006 Cubs were. What’s arrogant is some asshole with very little idea what he’s talking about casting aspersions on other people’s performance and thinking he’s owed anything.

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Cubs/Reds Series Preview

The Cubs go on the road for three are at home for three games against the Reds (I don’t know why I thought this was the start of the road trip). This is the one place we might really miss Mark DeRosa, since if memory serves, he just destroyed the Reds every time the two teams played in the last two seasons. But the current Cubs hitters have done alright against the pitching they’re going to face. First up for the Reds is Micah Owings, who no Cub has had 10 PA against. He could certainly put together a good game, but I fear his 129 OPS+ at the plate more than I fear him as a pitcher. The other two scheduled to go in this series are Johnny Cueto and Aaron Harang, who do have several Cubs who’ve accumulated 10 PAs against them:

cubsopsvsredsstarters

This might be a good chance for Soto to break out – he’s done really well against the Reds’ starters in the past, and he’s got to start hitting some time. Lee has been hitting well over his last few games, too, and he’s a good candidate to continue that trend. Note that Z has pretty good numbers of Harang, too. I’m sure there will be comparisons between him and Owings, so I bet he’ll be looking to get that first home run on Thursday.

Harden, yet again, hasn’t faced many of the Reds very often. The whole team only has a handful of appearances against him, with Laynce Nix as the sole Red who qualifies for listing here. The smattering of appearances Reds batters do have against Harden, though, favor Harden. There’s more data for Lilly and Zambrano, who’ve been in the NL Central slightly longer than Harden.

redsopsvscubsstarters

The Reds who are not Brandon Phillips have hit Lilly rather hard, and you have to figure that’s the game the Cubs are most likely to lose. Zambrano has handled the Reds pretty well, holding their current players well below where their team OPS has been over his career.

The Reds are 7-5 right now, so they’re right there with the Cubs and the Cardinals so far. They’re not hitting very well as a team.¬† Hopefully the Cubs starters can keep their bats cold for another three games and get a few wins to before they start the road trip.

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The important things

I’ve always heard that Boers and Bernstein is the smartest show on Chicago sports radio. And yet in the last week I’ve gotten long discussions on drunk photos of Jay Cutler and about Vinny Del Negro’s dad sitting on the Bulls bench. This is the sort of smart sports talk I’m looking for, thanks guys.

Cubs/Reds series preview going up later tonight, since I know nobody’s reading just to hear me bitch about how dumb sports radio is.

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Soriano’s Season WPA

Soriano’s Win Probability Added is now at 1.28 over the first ten games of the season. That’s second in the majors behind Aaron Hill, who is at 1.30 I thought it might be interesting to see the ebb and flow of WPA for Soriano this season. I didn’t start the graph at 0 at bats, so it starts with the result of his first at bat (a home run), which is why it doesn’t start at 0 WPA.

wpasori

The giant spike there is his 9th-inning go-ahead homer off the Brewers last week. The second-largest one is, of course, his home run yesterday to put the Cubs ahead in the eighth. Since they had another frame coming up to bat in, there was a chance they could take the lead back there, too, which is why yesterday’s home run didn’t add quite as much win probability as the one against the Brewers. In fact, five of the top six win-probability-adding events for Soriano this season were his five home runs. The other? A bases-loaded walk against Jeff Suppan on April 12 that extended the Cubs’ lead. The biggest negative event (good for -.104) was Soriano’s two-out flyout against Adam Wainwright in the sixth with the bases loaded on Thursday.

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