Thursday, August 8, 2013

JOT: Cubs Minor League Recap 8-7-13

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Chadd Krist is the only hitless player in this one. The highlight goes to Zeke DeVoss, who went 3-4 with a double and 2 walks. DeVoss has a .259/.407/.375 line right now, which is pretty impressive until you realize that his punchless bat is going to drive that OBP way down at the upper levels. Still, he's useful against lefties (.895 OPS), and has done enough to likely earn playing time in Tennessee next year. Anthony Giansanti had a pair of singles and a walk. Wes Darvill only had one hit, but it was a 3-run homer. That'll play. Pin-Chieh Chen went 2-4 with a walk. Elliot Soto walked twice also.
C.J. Edwards only had one inning, but it was a scoreless one. Blame a rain delay. Yao-Lin Wang went 3 innings and allowed 1 run; he was playing with fire, walking 3 and allowing 3 hits. Lendy Castillo continues to perform at Daytona, allowing his first run over 2 innings. Jeffrey Lorick blew the game with 3 runs in 3 innings, and Austin Reed took the loss in the bottom of the 10th.
Gioskar Amaya walked 3 times and had a hit. He also stole his 13th base. Dan Vogelbach walked and singled. Jeimer Candelario walked, singled, and tripled. He also committed his 21st error. Carlos Escobar doubled and singled, and Jose Dore had 2 singles. Willson Contreras pinch hit for Dore and tripled. Marco Hernandez struck out twice and committed his 23rd error.
Michael Heesch walked 3 and gave up 7 hits, but only allowed 3 runs (2 earned) in 5.1 innings. Sheldon McDonald, who sounds like a tax preparer, went 2.2 innings and allowed 1 hit, walk, and run. He also fanned 4. Stephen Perakslis, who also sounds like a tax preparer, went a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.
Trey McNutt is rehabbing here. He went an inning of perfect work, striking out 2. Johermyn Chavez is apparently switching to pitching, so that's where he's been. He went 0.2 innings, and was one out from bingo. Erick Leal went 4.1 scoreless, fanning 5.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Better Know a Cub: Tony Campana

Tony Campana is wholly unlike any other Cub in recent memory. Campana is incredibly fast, maybe on the 5 fastest players in baseball (including the minors). To give some perspective, Campana stole 30 bases last year; he only drew 38 starts, and stole 21 bases during those games. If we eliminate the 9 SBs he had from pinch running and give Campana 150 starts in center, we'd expect him to steal right at 82 bases in a season. The league leader last season has 49.

It's not like Campana just attempts a bunch of stolen bases and gets caught a bunch, either. He only got caught 3 times last year. He's 54/5 in his MLB career, a skill he's refined since the minors (where he was a pedestrian 162/49). His stolen bases are a real asset (anything over 73% is a positive, as a general rule), and  add a perverse type of slugging to his skill set.

Unfortunately killer speed (I'd say Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson, and Rajai Davis are faster - Trout is a push) is Campana's only real asset. He's got no arm in center, and no feel for the outfield anyway. For someone as fast as Tony is, he sure doesn't have the greatest range in center. He has poor instincts masked by his incredible foot speed, making him a below-average fielder (albeit one with a huge capability to grow). He's also the weakest player in recent memory: the only way he'll ever hit a home run is if it's inside-the-park. I'm not sure he'll ever hit a ball to the warning track, to be honest.

He also doesn't really get on base. Since Campana is never going to hit more than singles and the occasional double/triple down the line, batting average is especially useless in his case. Campana isn't driving in anyone, and he's ending up at 2nd no matter how he gets on base. Thus, OBP is literally the only slash I care about in Campana's case (and I truly couldn't tell you what his BA or SLG are, even in the ballpark). His minor league OBP is .356 and his major league OBP is .306. That's not going to cut it, even for him.


Campana has to maximize his one strength, his other-worldly speed. As such, I'm only going to focus on ways he could improve in this area.

For one, Campana doesn't see nearly enough pitches. That's hard to change, however; since he has no power, pitchers are going to work him in the zone all day. Campana sees 53.6% of his pitches in the zone (league average last year was 49.3%), and that's a trend that will continue. The absolutely crazy part about that, though, is that Campana swings at bad pitches anyway (36.3% of pitches outside of zone, way higher than the 29.0% average). He is so toothless at the plate that pitchers know he'll swing at anything and throw him strikes anyway. He'll have to maintain pretty high contact rates to grind out ABs, and just look for mistakes he can do something with (which will come few and far between considering no pitcher fears Tony Campana)

Campana's utter lack of power means he can only bat #1, #2, #7, or #8. His speed is wasted on the #8 hole; you usually want a fast guy, but that's because you want him to get bunted over to second by the pitcher and knocked in by #1 or #2 and Campana will be standing on 2nd when the pitcher squares up to bunt anyways. It's not a waste, of course (Campana will be on 3rd more often, scoring on sac flies basically anywhere), but not completely optimal. Campana strikes out too much and doesn't put the ball in the outfield enough to bat #2, so he's relegated to a leadoff position of a bottom of the order type. He doesn't see enough pitches or get on base enough to bat leadoff, so I'd imagine that Campana will only ever see time at the very bottom of an order.


Campana does not have great instincts for centerfield, often taking terrible lines to the ball and just plain misjudging distances. He also has no cannon to speak of, so the corners are generally out. Campana does, however, have incredible speed, so with some coaching I see no reason why he couldn't be a very good defensive fielder in a few years (for a few years).


When you only have one tool, you've got to make sure it's a good one. Campana does. If he never figures it out as a hitter, Tony still has a place on a major league team as a 5th OF/pinch runner. That doesn't provide a lot of value to the Cubs, but it also doesn't come at any real cost. If you could get anything in value for Campana, you'd be a fool not to trade him, but at the modest price he commands, I wouldn't hate keeping him for a while.

Now, if he could just perfect the art of beating a ball into the ground so it pops up really high...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Better Know a Cub: Alberto Cabrera

Rob Deer is known as one of the masters of Three True Outcomes. If Deer didn't hit a home run or draw a walk, Rob Deer was striking out.

Alberto Cabrera was the Rob Deer of pitching in 2012. He faced 99 batters in the MLB in 2012. He let one take him deep, walked 18, and struck out 27 others. That's 46 of 99 batters, good for 46.5% of all plate appearances (In this analogy, Carlos Marmol is Adam Dunn - both similarly effective in 2011).

Cabrera sported an ERA of 5.40 in the majors last year, but in a small sample size (21.2 innings) and in spite of a 3.83 FIP (Cabrera did, however, carry a 4.59 xFIP, indicating he wasn't entirely unlucky).

The Cubs have decided to make Cabrera the 8th or 9th starter in 2013. How will that work out?

Pitch Selection

It's a fool's errand to put any stock in 390 major league pitches, but I am a fool. PITCHf/x has Cabrera utilizing 3 pitches: a 4 and 2 seam fastball, thrown 35% and 25% and 94 and 93 mph, respectively. His other offering is an 83 mph slider. There's no real way to glean any constructive data from PITCHf/x here, so I'll resort to the scouting reports, which say that he can dial it up to 97 on the fastball but maybe doesn't have the best control of his slidepiece at the moment.


Cabrera never had eye-popping peripherals until 2012; SO/BBs of 1.23/1.35/2.50/1.36 isn't exactly the stuff of the legends. He was also eminently hittable in those years; his WHIP in the minors is a worse-than-pedestrian 1.540, even including his breakout 2012. However, in 2012, he also struck out 12.1 per 9, paired against 2.3 walks per 9. That IS the Pedro Martinez blueprint of the minors (albeit in 55 innings). I don't have much to go by here, but my best guess is that his stuff just played out a LOT better as a reliever. Having no offspeed pitch but the ability to throw 97 tends to do that to a guy.


Cabrera could possibly carve out a career as a good middle reliver/setup man in the bigs as soon 2013. I don't foresee a ton of success as a starter. He couldn't do it his first 6 years in the bigs, and without a secondary pitch you can throw for strikes, the odds are good he won't do it now. In the best case, the Cubs find some more depth at Iowa to start and Cabrera takes on his true role as a 2013 pen arm. In the worst case, we see just how many walks a guy with no secondary offering can issue in his 10 spot starts in Chicago.

Better Know a Cub: Michael Bowden

Michael Bowden was a bit of a mirage last year.

Drafted with the 47th overall pick in 2005, Bowden hung around the Boston organization for 7 years, never really showing a whole lot in the majors but nearly always dominating the minor leagues. Michael would hang around the bottom of the BA Top 100 prospect lists from 2007 to 2009, but he would never really put it together at the Major League level. After a "failed" conversion to the bullpen, the Red Sox traded Bowden (along with Hunter Cervenka, a non-prospect) for Marlon Byrd, who promptly got busted for PED and was dead on arrival anyways.

Bowden put up a nice 2.95 ERA for the Cubs in 2012, but it was ephemeral; his FIP was 4.32 and his BABIP was only .250. Combined with the nebulous nature of reliever ERA, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to assume that Bowden was just lucky last year. His peripheral stats were in line with his career numbers, and it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of excess value here.

The Cubs decided after the 2012 season to stretch Bowden back into a starter. I understand the move from a depth standpoint, as a replacement-level starter is worth slightly more than a replacement-level reliever. Still just 25, Bowden has a chance to take step forward with his new organization, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Pitch Selection

Bowden has 3 primary offerings. His primary pitch is a fastball (55%) of the time, which he throws 91 mph on average. It has a below-average PITCHf/x grade, but I don't read into primary pitch grades all that often, as a pitch like this is thrown generally for strikes (and is eminently more hittable). I'd say the offering is probably only slightly below average. Next up is an 83 mph slider (25%) that is his best pitch. It's an above-average pitch, and hitters last year had a wOBA of .264 against the offering last year (.244 career). Rounding out his arsenal is a changeup (20%) that is thrown at 84 mph and is routinely rocked. Bowden will need to really refine an off-speed pitch if he wants to stick as a starter.


Bowden's pitches don't really fool anyone. Batters swing on pitches in the zone much more often than normal against Michael, and pitches out of the zone much less often. In both cases, batters make less contact than normal, though not by much. This is an interesting trend that isn't very common; usually if batters consistently diagnose balls and strikes, they are going to make solid contact when they do choose to swing. For one reason or another, they just aren't making the contact they should. This gives me hope that Bowden can develop into a higher-strikeout pitcher by inducing more swings out of the zone/less swings in the zone and maintaining his average contact numbers.


I don't expect a lot out of Bowden in 2013 (or honestly, in the future). There's probably some upside to be unlocked, and don't forget that Theo knows the Boston system better than probably anyone on Earth. Bowden probably won't be more than the 7th or 8th starter on the club in 2013, and he's at medium risk of being waived if an intriguing option becomes available. If Bowden can work a little more out of the zone, he could be become an effective middle reliever or swingman. My guess is we might not see that in 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Better Know a Cub: Scott Baker

There is one thing that Tom Ricketts loves above all others, and that is starting pitchers named Scott.

He signed Scott Feldman to a one-year, $6 million pact, but the true bargain of the 2 Scotts he signed this year is Scott Baker. Baker signed a $5.5 million deal + incentives, on a one-year "prove it" deal. He signed up knowing that he was going to be traded at midseason if he recovered to his post-TJS abilities. He had TJS in April of 2011, and his return should coincide with the beginning of the 2013 season (though he could miss some initial time).

When Baker has been healthy, he's been effective. He sports an ERA identical to his FIP (3.86), and has been worth a minimum of 2.6 wins in the past 5 years. He works around a .300 BABIP as well, so you don't have to worry about being hit lucky or unlucky. Probably my favorite stat of Baker's is his absurd 3.34 K/BB rate. That's an elite level talent, even if he's not heralded as an elite pitcher.

Pitch Selection

Baker's primary offering is by far his sinker, though it's a really a sinker/fastball mix. He throws the pitch 65% of the time, and it hits 91 mph on the gun. In 2011, it was a legitimate plus pitch, teetering on plus-plus. His only other real pitch is a forgettable 82 mph slider, which he throws 30% of the time. In 2011 it was bad, but in every other year it was an average to good pitch. I attribute that to small sample size, it's likely just an average pitch. His other offering is a changeup he mixes in 5% of the time; it's hard to tell how good the pitch is because it's so rarely thrown. Overall, it grades out to well below average on PITCHf/x.

SI/C: 1.34
FB/C: 0.97
SL/C -1.13
CH/C: -1.11


Baker works in the zone much more often than your average starter, at it helps to keep walks down. However, it doesn't lead to more contact; he induces 10.4% of swinging strikes (the average is 8.6%). That's very encouraging. The combination of working in the zone and not inducing great contact is a recipe for success.


Scott Baker needs a successful recovery from TJS to be worth anything in 2013. If he does, the change alone to the NL Central will be all that's needed to take his already considerable skillset and turn it into a long-term asset for the Cubs. TJS is no sure thing, but the recovery rates are getting better and better. If Baker's rehab goes swimmingly, the Cubs stand to reap a pretty huge reward for just $5.5 million.

To put it into perspective, the Cubs received a fringe-top 100 prospect (Christian Villanueva) for half of a season of Ryan Dempster last year, who had provided 2.1 WAR for the Cubs at that point. He had also been a routinely 2-3 WAR pitcher for the past 4 years. Scott Baker more or less fits that role to a tee. He'll also be considerably cheaper for that same rental, so teams that don't have budget can enter the bidding. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Top 75-100 type come back for Baker next July.

Better Know a Cub: Scott Feldman

The offseason following the 2012 has been relatively busy for the Cubs, almost of which has been trades and signings they didn't make. One of the signings they did make, however, was bringing over Scott Feldman on a one-year, $6 million deal.

I don't really get it. 

Scott Feldman is a fair injury risk, missing a good chunk of time essentially every year of the past 6 (the only time he's had over 165 organizational innings was 2009). Even when he's healthy, he's not that great. He sports a career 4.81 ERA gleaned from a 4.56 FIP, and the xFIP shows 4.52 as well. He was worth 2.3 fWAR (0.0 bWAR) last year, but still gave up over 5 runs per 9. In 2012, he was eminently replacement-level.

The Cubs are gambling on Feldman's health and the changeover from AL West to NL Central. They are also looking for the upside in 32 innings of 2011 ball and 189.2 innings in 2009, which was 3 injuries away. This is a gamble they will likely lose.

Pitch Selection

Feldman is interesting in the sense that he abandoned his fastball in 2010. He doesn't really throw one anymore, it's more of a slider. He throws his slider around 35% of the time now, and it sits at 91 mph and frankly isn't that good. It's never rated as more than average according to PITCHf/x. Feldman also throws a 90 mph cutter (25%) and a 77 mph curve (25%), and both are average to middling offerings. Feldman will throw the occasional 86 mph change (10%) and 90 mph fastball (5%), but neither are effective or notable.


Feldman has very average stuff. He works in the zone a little more than the average pitcher, and as a result batters tend to make a little more contact off of him. He doesn't induce a lot of swinging strikes, but Feldman takes the tradeoff in the form of a very acceptable walk rate (2.33 per 9 last year). The increased contact also makes the typical Feldman plate appearance take more pitches than average; Feldman isn't going to get very deep into starts.


The Feldman signing makes sense with respect to the need to have competent pitching at the back end of a roster. I'm not sure it makes sense from the standpoint of creating a flippable asset, as I don't think the market for #4 or #5 starters is going to be positively bare at the trade deadline. In any case, it's only $6 million, and the Cubs can certainly afford it. I don't think it's a low-risk, high-reward situation; it's more like low-risk, low-reward. Time will tell if Scott #2 proves me wrong.