2018, the Year of the Pitching Wave

In 2015 the Cubs saw their primary core all come up at around the same time.  Bryant, Russel, and Schwarber all came onto the scene to join the 2014 prospects of Baez and Soler.  This same kind of tidal wave of talent can happen with pitching in 2018 and 2019.

I provided some information on them below and these are the guys that are ranked in the Cubs top 25.  These guys all have 1-2 starter type potential, and if they flunk out of starting pitching they could become prime bullpen arms.

So when Arrieta and Lackey are no longer here, we will have a few of these guys to try out and see if they could stick in the 2018 rotation.  If all things hit, like they did with position players, we could see a staff similar to the Mets and the Indians, ripe with young arms that throw fast.

The below analysis can be found at MLB.com:

Dylan Cease, age 20, expected 2018

As one of the best high school power arms in the 2014 Draft, Cease projected as a possible first-rounder before he hurt his elbow that March. The injury ultimately required Tommy John surgery, though that didn’t dissuade the Cubs from paying him $1.5 million in the sixth round. That gamble could pay off big, as he has more upside than any pitcher in Chicago’s farm system.

Cease reached 97 mph with his fastball before he got hurt and hit 100 shortly after he returned to the mound last summer. He sits in the mid-90s with his heater, which also features life that makes it even tougher to barrel. He has turned what was a three-quarters breaking ball into a true power curveball that one club official likened to Dwight Gooden’s.

Like most young pitchers with rocket arms, Cease needs to refine his changeup and use it more. Though he’s not very physical, he’s able to generate premium stuff with athleticism and arm speed rather than excessive effort in his delivery. The Cubs have helped him clean up his mechanics some and he should be able to repeat them efficiently enough to fill the strike zone.

Duane Underwood, age 22, expected 2018

Though he flashed a 98-mph fastball and overpowering curveball as a high school senior, Underwood fell to the second round of the 2012 Draft because he lacked consistency. He had only sporadic success in his first two pro seasons after signing for $1.05 million, but began to take off in 2014 after dedicating himself to improved conditioning. He sat out two months in 2015 with elbow inflammation and has been less sharp this season, when he missed time with forearm inflammation.

Underwood’s fastball is notable for both its 92-96 mph velocity and its late life, which makes it difficult to square up for hitters. Both his curveball and changeup show signs of becoming plus pitches but neither is fully reliable yet. Getting in better shape has helped his control, though his walk rate spiked when he got to Double-A in 2016.

Underwood doesn’t miss as many bats as his stuff indicates he should, demonstrating his need to get more consistent with his secondary pitches and his command. If he can do that, he’ll reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter. If not, he might find more success as a late-inning reliever.

Oscar De La Cruz, age 21, expected 2018

De La Cruz originally tried out for teams as a 6-foot-4 shortstop in the Dominican Republic before signing with the Cubs as a pitcher for $85,000 in October 2012. He spent his first two pro seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before making a huge leap forward in 2015, performing so well in extended spring training that he skipped a level to the Short Season Northwest League. He got off to a late start in 2016 after coming down with a sore elbow during Spring Training.

The most physical pitcher in Chicago’s system, De La Cruz is bigger than his listed 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and still has projection remaining. His present stuff already is enticing, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that can reach 97 and plays up because of its movement, angle and plane. His curveball lacks consistency but features power and shows signs of becoming a plus offering.

De La Cruz’s changeup is less refined but he exhibits some feel for the pitch. He has good athleticism and body control for a big pitcher, allowing him to repeat his delivery and pound the strike zone.

Trevor Clifton, age 21, expected 2018

Though he was extremely raw as a Tennessee high schooler in 2013, Clifton still earned a $375,000 bonus in the 12th round because he had a live arm and projectable body. Minor League pitching coordinator Derek Johnson (now the Brewers’ pitching coach) and low Class A South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence helped him simplify his delivery and make the transition from thrower to pitcher, and Clifton made significant strides in 2015.

Clifton has gotten stronger since turning pro, adding about 40 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, and his quick arm delivers consistent 92-94 mph fastballs that have reached as high as 97. He’s doing a better job of staying on top of his curveball, which features tight spin and could become a plus pitch. His changeup has improved into at least an average offering that helps him keep left-handers at bay.

Clifton is still developing his control and command but is making steady progress in that regard. He has the upside of a mid-rotation starter with the fallback of becoming a power-armed reliever. He might operate in the mid 90s in shorter stints, and there may be more velocity in his tank.

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The Weight and the Wait.

It is really going to take a while for this to sink in.  The Chicago Cubs are MLB’s World Series Champions!  I had to tell my wife to pinch me the morning after they won to make sure it actually happened.  While trying to process what happened the night before I decided to only think about the season and remember its moments and celebrate what I still couldn’t yet process.  I turned on my favorite Chicago sports station, The Score, and never turned them off the entire day.  I wanted to hear other fans reactions to this and many felt the same incredulity I did the morning after.  There were many stories I heard that day that put a lump in my throat and brought tears to my eyes.  It was great to just take a day to not have to worry about next year, to not have the burden and weight of my first 36 years of thinking next year may be the year, and mostly to be able to just enjoy what had happened and hear the amazing stories of other Cub fans throughout the world.

If you were born in a Chicago Cub family, you are not likely going to be able to remember the exact moment when you became a Cub fan, because it was ingrained in you at such an early age.  The one thing I do remember is shared by millions of Cub fans throughout the country, and that was coming home from school, turning on WGN and watching the end of Cub games to the legendary broadcasting of Harry Caray.  The team I first remember, and when I believe I became a true die hard fan, was manned by Dawson, Sandberg, Sutcliff, Maddux, Moyer and Grace in 1989.  The first game I remember going to was in the right field bleachers around the age of 9 or 10 and being mesmerized by The Hawk.  This was the first team to hook me and also the first of many to end in disappointment at the end of the year.

As a Cub fan our lives were riddled with disappointments like this.  But the one that sticks out the most with me was the 2003 year.  It was my final semester in college at SIU, living with two other Cub fans and about ready to celebrate the first trip to a world series living closer to St Louis than Chicago.  I don’t need to repeat what happened in that series as most who are reading this ought to know, but I remember feeling for the first time what previous generations had felt in 1969 and 1984.  A team that was on the verge of making it to the World Series, with tremendous promise for years to come, ended in “choking” disappointment, and in devastating injuries the following years.  I haven’t been someone who believed in curses or superstition but those thoughts had started to creep into my psyche at that point.

After the 2005 year, a year in which I ponied up for nearly 20 regular season baseball games, I made the decision to no longer support this team “monetarily” until they become sustainably good again.  I still attended Cub games, and watched them on t.v. and tracked their stats and the development of people in the minors but I was done giving them my hard earned money until I felt they were on the right track again.  I would go to baseball games but only if they were from some company event or a generous friend who needed a wingman.

I ended up falling for the success of 2007-2008 teams in thinking that Jim Hendry might be going down the right track with development and proper hirings.  I was still committing to the promise to myself to not spend money on this team, and managed to get company tickets to game 2 of the 2008 NLDS where the Cubs were demolished.  I left that game early not being able to handle the embarrassment anymore.

From 2009 through the 2011 season I started to pay more attention to our minor league players than I did our major league ball club, and started to pay attention to other teams in the league that were being run correctly.  This is probably the lowest I had felt about my beloved franchise in my entire life, but this downward spiral led me to awaken myself to sabermetrics and Theo Epstein.  So when the Cubs signed him to run this team the sudden realization that “someday may happen” suddenly crept back up to me.

As Cub fans we know what it is like to be patient.  So when Theo announced his plan and claimed that it would take a few years to be good again, I had no problems letting him do his thing and learning more and more about the new “Cub Way” that was emerging.  Positive energy and excitement was starting to come back to me again as I scoured minor league box scores and stats to keep track of all the amazing talented youth the Cubs were accumulating in their system.

Then the signing of Joe Maddon, along with key free agents, and the influx of this minor league talent hit the Cubs like a tsunami wave that few Cub fans and experts expected.  Most of us knew we were on the track for a good team but we weren’t expecting an NLCS appearance to happen in such short time, and while I was disappointed in the outcome of that year I knew that what we were experiencing as fans was about to get really good really fast.  “Someday it will happen” started to morph into “I know it’s going to happen very soon”.  Fast forward a year to world series game 7….

There is so much to be said about how amazing game 7 of a world series is and yet I cringe at thought of experiencing one again, unless “if necessary”.  Scratch that, I don’t want to see another elimination game again in the World Series.  Getting that far and being on the brink of failure again is one of the most excruciating ordeals I have dealt with in my life (yes that’s a good sign it is likely a privileged life).  I couldn’t sleep the day before and my tension, nervousness and excitement was also rubbing off on my wife and my 6 month old daughter, and that carried on and worsened each day as the Cubs came closer to reaching game 7.  I even had a nightmare that our game six, 9-3 victory never actually happened.  It was as much as their ordeal as it was mine, and as I write this today I can’t describe how incredible the feeling is removing that incredible weight.  From here on out, every deep playoff run won’t feel quite as heavy and emotion filled as this one felt.  I am not saying it won’t be great to repeat this run, but the tension, nervousness and excitement will decrease to much more livable levels.

As far as the actual game 7 experience, it seemed to mimic the past Cub experiences in past playoff disappointments, except for the ending.  For about 80% of the game most Cub fans probably felt like this game was ours to lose.  While I knew the Cubs were a better team it seemed like a lot of weird things started to accumulate that really brought up the nightmares of the past.  Bad managerial decisions, weird bounces, poorly called home plate umpiring at the wrong time, and some overall bad baseball was being played at times.  It came to the point, when the game was tied up in the 8th inning, where my 60 year old father had to leave my brothers house because he couldn’t handle seeing the nightmare happen again.  I don’t blame him, that kind of psychological abuse is not healthy to keep putting yourself through!

While I felt my heart sink in that 8th inning as Cleveland tied it, the dark thoughts started to creep in and nightmares began to take over.  That roller coaster ride of a Cub experience was starting to play out again, and it would be near impossible to not think “OH NO!!!”!!!!!  The bottom of the ninth was probably the hardest inning to sit through in my lifetime.  When you have a struggling closer that throws 97mph, one can’t help but think that one lucky solid swing of the bat could end this here and now so suddenly we wouldn’t know what hit us.  Each pitch was a cringe and each bat and ball contact was a large gasping inhale hoping it found the glove of our team, so that we can exhale again.

After the 9th inning it was starting to get too late for my daughter and since we were at my brothers house we decided to take advantage of the rain delay and try to get home in time to catch the top of the tenth.  That ended up not happening.  Like many of my Cub experiences I instead had to listen to the radio broadcast by Coomer and Hughes as we got caught in traffic just a few blocks from home, thanks to oddly blocked off streets.  While my poor tired daughter was crying in the back seat I had to maneuver between hearing the Cubs take the lead again and trying to help relax my child.  As we drove down the Lakeview streets I could hear the roars from the bars as each run was scored, and I started to feel that darkness fade.  I seemed to have temporarily forgotten how this team never quits.

I happened to get home just in time for the end of the top of the tenth, it was already 8-6 now.  At this time I had to try to obtain some sort of balance between being a good dad by helping my wife with the baby and also pay attention to every pitch, an impossible task, to which I thank my amazing wife for knowing this moment and allowing me to have it.  From here on out we know what happens, as I couldn’t sit in one place for more than 5 seconds and had to pace back and forth in the bottom of the tenth.  And since my wife was trying to get our baby to sleep I had to celebrate the three remaining outs with giddy laughter and jumping up and down on a soft rug to absorb as much noise as possible.  The moment I am going to remember the most is seeing Kris Bryant field that last out with a wide grin on his face, himself knowing that he was about to achieve his first major team award and be a very large reason why millions of Cub fans have been unburdened of a tremendous weight upon them.  I seemed to have the same giddy smile he had and immediately felt that release as the ball hit Rizzo’s mitt.

Week of 4/23 Correlated Run Contribution Leaders

So I finally have a program up and running that could allow me to just press a few buttons and get the CRC stat calculated for every player in the MLB in milliseconds.  I will be posting the league leaders and Cub leaders every week, until I get a site up and running where I won’t have to post the stats because anyone will be able to filter it and navigate it.

Keep in mind that CRC was created to find the best hitters for a lineup in the 4,5,6 holes, just behind the guys getting on base.
League leaders as of 4/23 (min 30 at bats):

Name Team League OPS CRC
Manny Machado BAL AL 1.243 1.14285
Aledmys Diaz STL NL 1.192 1.09436
Bryce Harper* WSN NL 1.181 1.08986
Dexter Fowler# CHC NL 1.172 1.06684
Daniel Murphy* WSN NL 1.163 1.06035
Jarrod Saltalamacchia# DET AL 1.144 1.05844
Christian Yelich* MIA NL 1.13 1.0219
Colby Rasmus* HOU AL 1.07 0.97755
Trevor Story COL NL 1.052 0.97704

Cubs leaders as of 4/23 (min 30 at bats):

Kris Bryant CHC NL 0.818 0.74796
Dexter Fowler# CHC NL 1.172 1.06684
Jason Heyward* CHC NL 0.57 0.5081
Miguel Montero* CHC NL 0.772 0.69816
Anthony Rizzo* CHC NL 0.867 0.79185
Addison Russell CHC NL 0.558 0.50219
Jorge Soler CHC NL 0.639 0.57909
Ben Zobrist# CHC NL 0.756 0.68053

The crazy idea that Star Wars VII = Star Wars IV

Normally I don’t care enough about movies to write about certain critiques of movies that I love.  But one critique that really bugs me is the false idea that Episode 7 is a remake of Episode IV, and I need to prove that this idea is completely crazy.

I am what you would call a Star Wars junkie, or nut, or nerd, when it comes to this franchise.  So I admit my opinion is going to be a little bit biased.  But mind you that while I think it was great to see Anakin’s story being told in the prequels, I’d be the first to admit that they were pretty awful movies.  And at the same time I am pretty good at recognizing my own bias and being objective on things.   Sorry for this brief paragraph on my Star Wars fandom but I think it is important to preface the rest of this piece with admitting my fandom and also admitting certain parts of this franchise having been bad.

What people seem to be doing is confusing set pieces, like the Star Killer, and the Death Star, with each other.  Those set pieces are just there to symbolize power and to exhibit strength from the bad guys in the movie.  They are there to move the plot along, but they aren’t actually main pieces of the plot line (we know this because it blew up), the main pieces in this plot are the characters (we know this because they lived).  The Star Killer just exists to get the protagonists to face each other at the end, like all movies do!  All the other mentions of droids, bad guy in mask, storm troopers, desert planet, X-Wing battle, yada yada yada they are all minor details to the movie to add nostalgia and move the actual plot along.

There is also the idea of bridging the original movies to the sequels, and you had to do that with mixing a little of the old with a little of the new.  You couldn’t have everything be new, otherwise it wouldn’t be a saga about the Skywalker family and sci-fans favorite soap opera in space.  You had to bring in some things that were cheesy, like the plan of attack scene on the Star Killer, and some other things that brought out teary eyed moments, realizing the garbage was the Millenium Falcon.  So if those things didn’t effect you, then you just don’t get Star Wars and likely never will.

So here are the many things that are different as I promised I would show:

The enormous amount of difference between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader.  Vader was a well polished Jedi who completed his training, had a padawan, and eventually turned to the dark side and helped dominate a galaxy for decades, and was a very calm, controlled and cool character.  Kylo Ren is a kid who resorts to temper tantrums, and struggles with a feeling or two with the light side.  Although very powerful with the force, he is completely out of control and reckless, and there are subtle hints that he didn’t kill Luke’s Jedi academy but that he actually recruited them to be his Knights of Ren, which could offer a much larger challenge for Luke and Rey in the next movies.

When it comes to Rey we have a character who I see as a mix of Anakin and Luke.  All three were raised on a desert planet, and that is where the similarities end.  Rey lost her parents like Luke, but had no guidance.  Rey grew up in a slave like situation, like Anakin, but didn’t have a mother.  She has been an orphan (in the figurative sense)  since the age of 5, she is a perfect mixture of a hardened character with a soft side for life and even robots.  We really have no idea what is to come with her development and what she may turn out to be, this type of character is completely new for this franchise.  Oh yes, she is also a woman, and she uses a bow like stick to fight.  I am so hoping that she develops a light saber similar to Darth Mauls.

As for Fin, we have our first ever storm trooper with a conscious.  In this version of storm troopers they are kidnapped children who are highly trained and good shooters!  If anything the character most like Luke from episode 4 in this movie is Fin and not Rey.  He comes off as naive and lucky and kind of whiny and obnoxious at times.  Yet somehow at the end he comes to his sense and helps the resistance in its time of need.  Ok so maybe a little mix of Han and Luke!

Then there is how the force is used in this movie.  In episode 4 it was force chokes and interrogations with that weird looking floating torture device and a lame light saber battle at the end, and mentions of the force being a dead religion.  In this movie we see a blaster blot frozen in mid air, humans being paralyzed, thoughts being dragged out of their heads, and a shot from Chewies Bowcaster that forces Ren into using his force abilities to keep his guts from falling out.

The differences between Snoke and the Emperor.  We have no fucking clue yet!  But I will use this space to add a little conjecture.  I believe he may be Darth Plagueis, who has abandoned the Sith philosophies and instead tried to create a dark side army, with the Knights of Ren.

So you see the plot is nothing like Episode 4 unless you decide to focus on set pieces that are there to simply move the plot along, which if you are then you also aren’t familiar with how movies work in the first place.

May the force be with you!  And please share if you agree!

Bubble Sort and Project Euler Problem 1

As someone who is about to graduate and in the midst of interviewing for coding jobs I have found that I need to work on more problem solving skills in coding.  So I have decided to challenge myself and work on a few daily problems to enhance my skills a bit.

For student coders that aren’t aware there is a great website that helps you to develop your problem solving abilities called Project Euler (if you haven’t done problem one yet and don’t want to know the answer then stop reading this now).  It is a great site to develop skills and track them against your peers.

So here is the solution to problem 1:

Scanner reader = new Scanner(System.in);
System.out.println(“What number would you like to determine the sums of all the multiples of 3 or 5?”);
int n = reader.nextInt();

int factorOfThree = 0;
int factorOfFive = 0;
int sum = 0;

Array[] number = new Array[n];

for (int i = 0; i < number.length; i ++)
{
if (i % 3 == 0 || i % 5 == 0)
{
if (i % 3 == 0)
{
factorOfThree = i + factorOfThree;
}
else
{
factorOfFive = i + factorOfFive;
}
}

}

sum = factorOfThree + factorOfFive;

System.out.println(sum);

The solution is not perfect but I left my original answer here to show to students that your first solution is likely not the finished one.

I also figured out how to do a BubbleSort.  You can do this with a do-while loop as well but I am more comfortable with the for loop and that’s how I made it work for me.

int[] sortedArray = new int [10];
Random randomGenerator = new Random();

for (int idx = 1; idx <= 10; ++idx)
{
for (int i = 0; i < sortedArray.length; i ++)
{
int randomInt = randomGenerator.nextInt(100);
sortedArray[i] = randomInt;
}

}
System.out.println(Arrays.toString(sortedArray));

int n = sortedArray.length;
int temp = 0;
for (int k =0; k < n; k++ ){
for (int j = 1; j < n; j++){
//do {
if (sortedArray[j-1] > sortedArray[j]){
temp = sortedArray [j-1];
sortedArray [j-1] = sortedArray[j];
sortedArray [j] = temp;
}
}
}
System.out.println(Arrays.toString(sortedArray));

Another New Stat, Contact WAM

I have felt that Wins Above Replacement has a very low starting bar for measuring how valuable a player is (starting at around 47 wins for a team of 0 WAR players) so I have been thinking of a way to improve on that.   With Contact WAM (wins above the mean) I have used what is called a z-score to determine how well a person performs with a contact instance at the plate.

The technical explanation of what it does is taking any contact instance resulting in a safe hit (single, double, triple, and a home run) and using how often a player gets that per at bat.  I then take the league mean (average) of the same per at bat number and get a number for each player of how well they performed above or below the league mean by using z-scores for each contact instance.

Here are the results for the Cubs hitters over 200 at bats this year.

Name Contact WAM
Kris Bryant 3.65
Chris Coghlan 3.35
Anthony Rizzo 3.34
Dexter Fowler 3.00
Chris Denorfia 2.03
Starlin Castro 1.47
Jorge Soler 1.44
Kyle Schwarber 0.92
Addison Russell 0.73
Miguel Montero -0.003

I think this determines how well a hitter performs when they make contact compared to the league average.  This is not adjusted for position or for the league they are in.

In the next few days I plan on messing with this more and coming up with a way to reduce theses numbers to include non-contact instances such as walks and strikeouts, and contact instances resulting in an out.  The goal is to try to start with an 81 win starting point for a team and seeing if this stat can approach a teams actual win result by using z-scores away from the mean.

Right now the total Contact WAM is just under 20, which would put the Cubs at 101 wins (81 +20), which is obviously too high so a correction is in order to include the outs, which I will have to figure out how to do soon.

Is there a strike zone advantage in the NLCS?

I typically am never the kind of fan to complain about an outcome of a game and blame an ump for it, and this piece is not doing that.  The intent here is to show why the Cubs are losing and why the Mets are winning.  It is plain and simple, the Mets are finding that particular umps strike zone and using that zone to their advantage, as a great pitching staff ought to do.

Below is Jacob Degrom’s game 3 Strike Zone plot.  As you can see there are about 12 or so pitches (compared to Hendricks 7, which makes sense Degrom threw more pitches) that were balls that were called as strikes, and 10 of those were on the low end of the zone, creating a reset of the zone for Cub hitters, forcing them to adjust and swing at lower pitches.  This game particularly exemplified how off this strike zone was as Hendricks also had a few go in his favor that were fairly low.   Of Degroms low pitches above the 1.0 vertical mark, seven were called balls.  Of Hendricks low pitches five were called strikes and one was called a ball, all other pitches were contacted in some way.  The ratio for strikes to balls in this low zone is 10-7 for Degrom and 5-1 for Hendricks.  That difference can be attributed to the Mets hitters swinging and fouling off those pitches, Cubs hitters were swinging and missing more.

To avoid posting every pitchers strike zone plot you can manage seeing the Cubs side on your own and verify it here.

DeGrom

Below this is Syndergaards Strike Zone plot showing eight balls called as strikes (compared to Arrieta’s one), which reset the Cubs hitter zones to expand more outside and low.  Arrieta had eight low pitches in the 1.0 and above zone called as balls, while his counterpart had eight as well, so the ratio in game 2 favored the Mets.   The ratio of strikes to balls here is 8-8 for the Mets and and 1-8 for Arrieta, so game 2 showed a much more biased zone favoring the Mets.

Syndergaard

Below is Matt Harvey’s which had the fewest balls called as strikes, with a total of seven (Lester had five) and I admit this zone was called pretty well this game as the majority of them are right at the corner.  Game 1 was a pretty fairly called strike zone.

Harvey

All in all you have Mets pitchers with the advantage of having 14 balls more called as strikes than the Cubs had.  This could just be chalked up to being a better pitcher and taking advantage of the expanded strike zones or it could be seen as pitchers given a distinct advantage in the 3 games played so far, which is going to favor the Mets in any series.

If you take into account the advantage being given here and also consider the chart below on how differing counts effect the outcome of an at bat, it shows the Cubs will have to adjust to this in game 4 and beyond to have a chance.  How do they do that?  They need to either expand their zones, creating more outs, or change their patient approach and jump on pitches earlier in the count.

Count break down

Overall there are some advantages that the Mets starters are receiving in getting more balls called as strikes.  But it is difficult to determine if this is because the Mets pitchers are better at taking advantage of that zone or if the Cubs swing and miss tendencies are not allowing them to foul off those out of zone pitches, which the Mets are doing more.