Through Both Lenses: A Baseball Diptych

Posted: August 3, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Columns, Sports, Through Both Lenses
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

The stretch run

Pennant races are amazingly fun. We saw a surreal race last year as 4 teams played on the last day for 2 spots in hands down the most epic 24 hours of baseball I’ve ever seen. The White Sox and the Tigers are going to be in a dogfight for the division as both teams are pretty equal in terms of talent, which I don’t think anyone was saying at the start of the season. The x factors for the White Sox, more so than the Tigers, are health and defense. The White Sox rotation is turning out to be the fragile thing most of us predicted, Chris Sale is going through some dead arm, John Danks is done for the year, Gavin Floyd hit the DL with some arm issues, Phil Humber turned into a hurt pumpkin, hell, the only constant in the White Sox rotation has been Jake Peavy, which makes my head hurt every time I try to wrap my head around it.

The defense of late has been sloppy, which proves the point that defense can slump from time to time. Neither concern has mattered too much as the White Sox got lucky with Livan Hernandez-Fidrych II. There has been a lot of talk that the White Sox farm system is somehow vindicated because of the contributions rookies have given the White Sox this year. Of the three main arms that have stuck around, Nate Jones, Addison Reed, Jose Quintana, only Quintana has made consistent contributions to the big league club, albeit contributions that are a bit over his head. Eduardo Escobar has been a sum zero player this year, Dylan Axelrod was awful in his limited playing time, Pedro Hernandez got blowed up real good in his lone start this year, they haven’t all been gold. Quality does count some.

Addison Reed and the bullpen have issues to sort out as well, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this bunch. I think Addison Reed is going through an expected rough patch for a rookie.

Detroit has a stable of veterans and the best hitter and pitcher in the division. Their offense has stalled around the Miggy and Prince show, Austin Jackson and Quintin Barry are the only other regulars showing a pulse at the plate, with Austin Jackson having a breakout year. The defense hasn’t been as atrocious as I thought it would be initially, but the pitching around Verlander has fluctuated between awful and inconsistent.

Both the Tigers and White Sox are separated by the thinnest of margins. I fully expect this to be a seesaw battle that the White Sox should win, albeit with a high degree of difficulty. The White Sox rotation is starting to take the hits. To this point they’ve weathered the storm particularly well, but I’m still wary of the staff as a whole. I think the offense carries the Sox to a division crown.

How to watch the Cubs in the second half

The trade deadline is done. Cubs fans have a month to wait for September call-ups. Some of your favorite players are gone. So now what? Well, I’ll outline some things I’m looking for in August, feel free to follow the advice or turn off the Cubs completely. I won’t blame you if you did either.

I’ve heard a lot of things about Theo and the trade deadline/draft/prospects over the past few months that make sense on the surface but don’t really hold up to scrutiny.

  • The Cubs screwed up the Dempster to ATL deal – There are two schools of thought on this; They screwed up by not telling him ahead of time, or they screwed it up because they didn’t get a big haul from LA or Texas. Well, for starters Dempster was told well ahead of time that he was likely to be dealt to a contender if the Cubs liked the package. Dempster pre-approved certain teams and Atlanta was on the approved list. That list was a damn lie. Dempster’s list was all about the Doyers until the last possible second. He’s trying to do damage control to preserve his image in Chicago as a lovable ex-Cub. Don’t buy it, Jed and Theo were pissed with him about the whole ordeal and still are. Yes, he has 10 and 5 rights, but he straight up waffled on a great trade for the Cubs because he wanted to be closer to Ted Lilly.
  • Prospects don’t matter, prospect rankings don’t matter – Wrong and wrong. If you own a Baseball Prospectus from 2008, go to the back and find the top 100 prospect list. Go 1-50 and find the guys that didn’t make the Major Leagues. I’ll wait. As for the organizational prospect rankings, they of course matter. This pops up in relation to the White Sox and their wonder group of Rookies that they brought up. Let’s be honest, outside of Quintana the rookies have been pretty bad or zeroes. I outlined Pedro Hernandez above, nobody likes talking about Eduardo Escobar in the Rookie Wonder Group, or Dylan Axelrod. If the system had more talent, do you think they would have moved for a wife beater in Brett Myers, an injury prone 3B in Youkilis, or a headcase like Francisco Liriano? No, they’d make another call up from their deep system. The White Sox system has talent, all systems have talent, it’s just not very deep.
  • The draft is a crap shoot/Why did the Cubs trade for more prospects? – Let’s say every prospect has a 5% chance of making the major leagues. In a group of 10, .5 will make it. In a group of 20, 1 will make it. In a group of 100, 5 will make it. The bigger the pool of talent, the higher number of potential Major League contributors you’ll have. Not all prospects are made the same. Some have a much bigger chance of making the Majors than others. So doesn’t it make sense to acquire guys who have a better chance of helping your major league squad for a rebuilding team? The Cubs competitive window won’t begin to crack for another 4 years at minimum. Why not throw as many prospects as you can at the wall and see who sticks?

Starlin Castro and the lazy narrative

Starlin Castro set a new career high in HR’s, with 11. He should finish the year with 15-17 HR’s, and his SLG% is climbing with his average again. Castro’s Fldg % sits at .970 right now. It was .961 last year, and .950 two years ago. His Range Factor has also steadily improved. To listen to the lazy narrative told around town, he is regressing as a player because his batting average isn’t sitting at .300 and he’s made 15 errors. Most of the fanbase has already thrown the “Defensive Butcher” tag on Castro, and it won’t ever come off. What I’ve seen from Castro is a steady improvement afield, and a running in place of sorts at the plate. Castro’s walk rate hasn’t improved as much as I would like. His power has gone up as some of those doubles from last year are turning into home runs. Castro has a lot of work to do, and in August I’m looking for a better approach at the plate from him. He’s in between patient and passive right now. He needs to find that happy medium.

Synopsis

Overall, I’m looking for consistency from guys like Rizzo and Castro. August will be the month that I watch a lot of minor league ball. The pieces the Cubs traded for are intriguing. Vizcaino is the prize of the deadline, but he’s ouchy. Villanueva had an impressive debut last night, but that was in A ball, seemingly years away from the big leagues. The Cubs have talent in the system, this will be reflected in next years prospect rankings. They’ll acquire more next year via the draft and the trade deadline. For now, the things I’m watching in August are the same things I’ve been looking for all year.

Improvement by the youngins.

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