Posts Tagged ‘starlin castro’

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

There is also a natural and very, very strong empathy with the underdog, with people who have suffered, people who have been pushed around by foreigners in particular, but also by their own people.

– Lakhdar Brahimi

The 2012 Chicago Cubs have a shot at becoming the worst team in franchise history. Given that the team has a reputation as the “Loveable Losers” of baseball, that’s not exactly a small feat. They would be worse than the ’66 and ’62 clubs that each lost 103 games. This, my fellow Cub fans, is what a full on rebuild looks like. You look absolutely awful in the early stages as you let go of guys that just can’t help you anymore. Aramis Ramirez would add a few wins to this club, but he wouldn’t be the difference maker for this team. Big Z would probably also add a couple of wins to the team, but he was such a clubhouse problem that it would be unjustifiable to keep him.

Point is, the team is awful and you’re being forced to appreciate players that are flawed for the meager skills that they can provide a major league team. Campana isn’t a Major Leaguer, but he’s forced to play placeholder for the Cubs as more talent is awaiting either a deadline (Rizzo) or trying to find their stroke (Brett Jackson) at the minor league levels. Campana has one tool, and it’s an outstanding tool, but it’s one that allows him to contribute, albeit sparingly, to a big league club. Cub fans love this guy. Personally, I kinda get it. He is the physical embodiment of the underdog. He’s small, scrawny, and he hustles. Watching him run is fun, but watching him do anything else is an exercise in masochistic fan behavior.

Starlin Castro, however, is a player that fans should legitimately be excited about. They are, for the most part I think. I hope. It’s probably more of a hope than an actual belief at this point because Starlin Castro is getting lit up by Cubs fans this year. The most prevailing and vocal thought is that Starlin Castro doesn’t have the acumen to play shortstop over the long haul, that he would be better served playing either third base or the outfield. Castro also doesn’t walk, and that makes him an awful offensive player and he’ll never walk enough because players never develop after the age of 23.

Ok, so the last part is a bit of an embellishment, but really, Cub fans, you’re mainly new to the whole OBP/taking pitches side of baseball. I know you are because we’re the same fandom that cheered on Soriano and his particular brand of walkless power in 2007/2008. Don’t start lying now, I saw you, you were there, getting delirious over HR balls and spotty defense in LF. I know the obvious rebuttals to that are LF defense isn’t as important, Soriano was hitting 30 bombs a year, and we now have a different understanding of what’s important in an offensive player, don’t hold us to the standard of 4-5 years ago.

Fair enough. All I’m saying is that Starlin Castro is an outstanding young player, and stop hating on greatness. We celebrate the underdog in this city far too often. I saw it with the Caleb Hanie love (actually, any backup QB in this league. Remember the crying over losing Orton for Cutler?), I see it in baseball way too often (Sean Marshall, Wood, Campy, DeRosa to an extent), and sometimes it even permeates to basketball. Fan reluctance to trade Deng for Kobe back when it was a rumor was astounding. This past year the reluctance I saw when the pie in the sky Boozer for Gasol rumors cropped up was baffling. Why do we do this? Why is it that when we the Chicago fan are looking at a talented albeit flawed player, we decide to root for the far less talented and far more flawed player? Do we think it’s fun or something?

Starlin Castro is a flawed, but enormously talented player. We pull out the microscope on this guy and point out all of his faults while losing perspective on what makes him great. We are so quick to move him to another position, to magnify his poor play that we are quickly forgetting that he’s younger than most Cubs prospects you’re excited about in the minors (Szczur, Rizzo, Jackson, all older, all in the minors). He’s making his mistakes on the major league level in front of everyone. If he was still in AA or AAA, people would be excited about his eventual call up and wondering about his future MVP candidacy and if he’ll win a gold glove at short. Instead, he’s proving his hitting ability in MLB and people are mad at him for not being perfect and trying to change his position.

Stop. Just stop. I get it, you read Moneyball and now you understand walks are all important. I’m sure Castro will figure out how to take a walk eventually. It’ll come with age and power, young kids tend to be overly aggressive at the plate, and Starlin Castro loves swinging that bat.

Perhaps I’m taking this to an extreme and catching all Cubs fans in the same net. I’m sure the majority of Cubs fans enjoy Castro, but it seems that the most vocal downplay his talents and play up his mistakes. Without a doubt, some of those fans wrote off the Patrick Kane stories as a young kid making mistakes, but when it actually happens, when a young kid actually goes out there and you see him make his mistakes, it becomes unacceptable for some reason.

We are a culture that loves to build up and drag down. Ask LeBron. Ask Kevin Durant in a few years, same with Derrick. We love them at first, when they have that new shiny label on them, but when young phenoms go through any type of growing pains, it’s seen as some sort of major transgression the player will have great difficulty overcoming.

Overall the message I’m trying to convey is simple. Just enjoy it, he’s the brightest of the few bright spots on the team. Be patient, because much like the Cubs overall, Castro won’t get better overnight.

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

Growing up is hard. There are expectations that must be met as you grow older, society expects X from you, and you must provide X. Everyone goes through growing pains, some go through them more harshly than others. There are a select few, however, that go through the maturation process in front of millions of people. We call them athletes.

Watching a player struggle through his early years is all part of the game. We saw Griffey and A-Rod grow up before our eyes on the national stage, ditto with Michael, LeBron, and currently Toews, Kane, and Rose. They all went through/are going through growing pains. What I’ve noticed around Chicago is that while we don’t expect much from other cities young kids, we place impossible expectations on the rookies that come up through Chicago. This is specifically true in baseball.

Beckham and Castro

Gordon Beckham had an .808 OPS as a 22 year old rookie. He was brought up as a reactionary move to an offensive black hole that occurred when Josh Fields failed to produce. White Sox fans were anxious to see the Georgia kid at the major league level as they expected the Sox to repeat the surprising year they had in 2008. Ozzie famously said that if the White Sox had to call up Beckham it showed that they were in trouble. Well, they got into some trouble during the season and Kenny made the call to the farm.

Beckham’s start was good enough to earn him the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year award.

‘‘I wish that kid was a two- or three-year veteran in the big leagues because he has that attitude,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘He has that right frame of mind. He was a leader his whole life from when he was in high school, college. I think he wants to be the face of the franchise, and we need something like that. When a player thinks like that, doesn’t hide in the weeds, you don’t see many players come up from the minor leagues and think that way. It’s a big challenge. But I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he has the right tools to be one. Obviously, it has to come from help from myself, Ken Williams and the staff to make him a great leader.’’

-Ozzie Guillen

Expectations were pretty high from there on out. When his offense cratered over the next two years, fans were puzzled. His rookie year was so outstanding, how could he not build on that and improve?

Starlin Castro has been a hit machine since he debuted with 6 RBI’s. With the bat in his hand he has been stellar. The major knock on him is his defense. He goes through lapses of concentration that are as baffling as they are infuriating. There isn’t a player in the majors that makes me go “that’s a great play,” to “that was a dipshit play,” in the same game quite like Starlin. As of writing time, he has twice as many errors (8), as walks (4). This makes a lot of Cubs fans irate.

And gives some ammo to Sox trolls

I’m pretty sure this guy is a White Sox troll

This invariably leads to a lot of talk of moving Castro to 3B, 2B, a corner OF spot, or 1B. The “Castro isn’t a SS” movement is gaining a lot of traction locally, and while it has quieted down some over the past month (He hasn’t committed an error in 16 games), you can bet that discussion will start cooking again when he commits another error.

I think it’s obvious that both Beckham and Castro are going through growing pains, albeit in opposite aspects of their respective games. Beckham plays sublime defense at 2B, he’s smooth, has range, and can make all the throws. He has an ugly hitch in his swing right now though, and he just can’t hit consistently. His minor hot streak has his average up to .204 with a paltry .627 OPS. Castro is still prone to lapses in the field, he’s flashing better leather lately, but he’s going to have to continue to play solid defense to shed the “butcher” tag. His defense is still a violent game, with flashes of smoothness. Both players are trying to make adjustments in the glare of the public eye. Both had the savior tag applied to them when they were brought up. Both need to be given time to properly show you what they are before you pass judgement. Beckham’s time is shorter than Castro’s because he’s older, but Cubs fans need to relax on the “Move Starlin off SS,” movement too.

Which, you know, brings me to Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

Superkids

Anthony Rizzo is still destroying AAA.

Geez, settle down

Brett Jackson…not so much

Cubs fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of both players at the Major League level. Rizzo has a cute little twitter dedicated to him, @FreeRizzo. There are a few things that Cubs fans need to keep in mind when it comes to both players, and the Cubs in general.

  • Neither Rizzo nor Jackson are going to save the Cubs in the short-term. This is a full on dedicated rebuilding that will look a lot like the Royals rebuild had a baby with the Nats rebuild. It’s going to take time. I hope the Cubs will be much better in 3 years, but much better is 80-85 wins. That could potentially be 20-25 wins better than the hypothetical 2012 record.
  • The Cubs are ridiculously devoid of talent at the Major and high Minor League level. This past draft was the first one the Cubs have had in a while that impressed people around the league. There is zero pitching help at AAA.
  • Trading Soriano is going to be really hard. He’s gimpy and people already know what kind of hitter he is. Why do I bring this up? Well, how else are you going to make room for Rizzo? LaHair to left, Rizzo at first is the aim.
  • Speaking of Rizzo, I haven’t heard any respected talent scouts call him the second coming of Albert Pujols. I think that his ceiling is Paul Konerko level production, and he’s likely to simply be an above average 1B. That’s awesome, trust me, but it’s not a franchise changer. He shortened his swing, and I do think he’s ready for MLB, but he’s not likely to turn into a perennial MVP candidate.
  • Jackson will be lucky to be Curtis Granderson pre-Yankees. Again, that’s awesome and I’ll take it, but we Cub fans need to stop pretending that he’s more than what he is. He’ll be solid, but I doubt he is ever considered an “impact” player.

Cub fans need to check our collective reality meter. We need to understand what this team is now, and what it will be in the future. This is a deep and real rebuild.

Speaking of reality checks

If the White Sox make the playoffs, and that’s a huge if, it’ll be because the other teams in the Central failed. Don’t start pretending like this team is good because they won 5 of 6 against the two worst teams in MLB. I would get pissed as a White Sox fan if Kenny Williams sees this squad and starts trading prospects for vets because he sees fools gold. Let’s look at a few things.

  • The White Sox pitching staff is the best component of this team, but it’s schizophrenic at best and average on the whole at worst. The White Sox have a slightly above average staff ERA that is buoyed by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.The other three starters all have ERA’s over 4. The enigmatic John Danks keeps alternating between good start and bad start. Phil Humber is similarly quizzical, as it looked like he had figured some things out with the perfect game, only to regress to “inconsistent” status over his next 5 starts. His walk rate is close to double what it was last year, and I think that’s a symptom of nibbling that could lead to future trouble. Gavin still lives in Gavin world, where sublime stuff is permanently married to a low pitching IQ.
  • That offense is putrid, and Orlando Hudson will only help it so much. You can’t survive in the Cell with 3-4 offensive black holes. Eventually other teams will come into town and hit the HR’s that you aren’t. This is reflected in their 8-13 record at home.
  • Jake Peavy is a ticking time bomb and you need to trade him for value. Seriously, he’s not going to sustain a .249 opponents BABIP. He’s stranding 79% of baserunners, which is similarly unsustainable, and his GB rate is at 31.1%.That flyball rate is asking for trouble in the Cell. The xFIP number is also pointing at a big ole regression to the mean. You can’t pitch on the margins like that and survive in a homer haven. It’s damn near impossible.
  • Addison Reed is likely the only reliable reliever the Sox have in the pen. I have no idea what happened to Matt Thornton, but he’s been inconsistent the past two years. Will Ohman is still Will Ohman, and Hector Santiago is still trying to figure it out.

What the White Sox look like to me is a mediocre team in a mediocre division, it would be foolish to sell off parts of an already thin farm system when they declared this year to be a transitional year. White Sox fans have already spoken with their wallets what they think about this team so far, the empty seats are telling me that you don’t think they’re for real, so don’t be mad if they sell at the deadline.

At the end of the day

Both fanbases need to settle down. The Cubs shouldn’t rush Rizzo, the White Sox aren’t poised for greatness as currently constructed. The Cubs have awhile before they are true title contenders. The White Sox might seem closer, but be wary. Depending on the moves they make this year, their championship clock could be moved back by years.

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

Son, this isn’t the land of the living. It’s the land of the dying. Get over it. Ask not for whom the bell tolls….

-Craig Branch

I’m watching what could be Chipper Jones’ final season in baseball. There’s something about the passage of a baseball career that gets me. The old guys are going away, as they always will over the course of time. Finally the generation of baseball players that I grew up with, the brightest stars of my baseball card collection, is going away. Some are still going strong, Jeter is hitting .400 for some reason, some are fading away, Giambi and Thome are finding different roles as part time players, and some may have passed into the history books abruptly, Mo Rivera might have pitched his last Major League inning. They leave the game in fine hands as the younger crop of budding stars took over. It’s turning back into a young man’s game with an emphasis on speed and defense, and that’s what baseball should be. Home Runs are only cool to a degree, but for my money a 450 ft. moon shot, while certainly valuable, will not be as entertaining as that moment when the runner tags up from third on Bryce Harper. Baseball is at it’s best when Jemile Weeks tests the arm of Ichiro, when Starlin Castro is stretching a double into a triple, when Josh Reddick absolutely guns some poor soul down at third. It hearkens back to a different time, a different brand of baseball.

Baseball is about history. It’s true that nothing will ever happen the same exact way twice, but what happens on the diamond always has roots in the past. Baseball goes through cycles, and sometimes those cycles will repeat. I think that as it stands now this iteration of baseball has the chance to look a lot like the game as it was played in the 1970’s, when you could see all sorts of things on the diamond. Starters went for 250+ innings, closers saved 30+ games, SB artists swiped 60+ bags, sluggers hit 30+ HR’s, great hitters had averages in the .330’s. It was an athletic competition that pitted outfielders against daring baserunners, great pitchers against great hitters, and it was probably the best representation of what baseball could be. Given the dearth of young talent that is already here and the talent that has yet to reach the Major League level, we could be looking at that again.

History

The last time the Cubs went 27 up, 27 down was on September 9, 1965. Sandy Koufax struck out 14 and let none reach base against the 8th place Cubs at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs have always managed to get a hit since then. It’s the longest streak of its kind in the Majors. The Yankees have the second longest official streak at 44 years, 263 days.

That fact came to me as I was watching Tommy Hanson throw a few no-hit innings at Wrigley. It got me thinking about all the history Wrigley must have seen over the years. I bring all of this up because there is a slow realization that is coming to me as I am witnessing what I think are the final years of Wrigley Field. At least the Wrigley Field as we know it. There are numerous plans to renovate Wrigley Field, most of them revolve around a Jumbotron in center field, and some even have the Cubs scrapping the old stadium all together and building up a brand new stadium. I know a lot of fans are heavily resistant to the idea of tearing Wrigley down. Over time, I’ve grown to accept that it can happen, and for the long-term success of the team, it probably should happen. The more importantly I’ve grown to accept that it’s ok.

Wrigley is currently the second oldest stadium in the Majors. Fenway is older by 2 years. Weeghman Park opened in 1914, Fenway opened in 1912. Weeghman park was the home of the Federal League Chicago Whales for 2 years before the Cubs took over the park in 1916. Since then it’s seen a lot of history, some of it good, most of it bad. Wrigley saw Babe Ruth call his shot. Gabby launch one into the gloamin’ there. It’s where Charlie Hustle equaled a legend. Whether you like it or not, Sammy made history there, creating a legend that is now a taint in Cubs history.

That’s the underlying theme with Wrigley, we’ve been a witness to heartbreak more than anything. I think the Wrigley moment that sticks out in my mind more than anything is Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, and we don’t need to rehash that moment. Wrigley has never celebrated a World Series winner. She’s never seen the Cubs seal the deal.

Ivy

Wrigley will always have a soft spot in my baseball heart. It’s canned as a dump by its detractors, and yeah, a lot of the park could use improvement. What’s lost in the troughs is what that place really means to Cubs fans. It’s the embodiment of history for most of us, and it shouldn’t be that way. Wrigley is bricks, ivy, mortar, and steel. Wrigley is not Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, nor Greg Maddux. It was the home of some legends, but at the end of the day, that only matters so much. What matters more are the memories of what they did. It’s cool to have an active museum like Wrigley, but I think it’s more important to remember that memories don’t die if the stadium does.

I was always closer to my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather (her father) and grandmother settled into a house on the lower west side of Chicago in 1968. My family essentially lived in that house until 2000. My grandfather put so much time into that place, he became that place in a sense. My youth has strong roots in that house, we were that house. The memories of my childhood center around there, as our family grew and scattered to all corners of the country, we would always gather there for Christmases, birthdays, and eventually a funeral. When my grandfather died the decision came to sell the house and have my grandmother move in with us. That was an extremely painful and sad day for the entire family as 3 generations of family gathered again to say goodbye.

My grandfather was that place, but his memory lives on. The house was important, but more important were the memories shared there. They didn’t go away, they didn’t become dull in the wake of the sale. They remain, as the memories always will. Our family is more than brick and mortar, and we Cub fans need to understand that the Cubs are more than Wrigley Field.

A large part of me will be sad to see it go, it will be torn down in my lifetime, of that I am certain. There is a great deal of charm to the ballpark, but at the end of the day what matters more to me is that the Cubs put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. If that means a Jumbotron, fine. If that means tearing down a relic and building a new park, fine. Yankee Stadium was Ruth’s house, Yankee fans don’t mind the new Yankee Stadium much. There’s an understanding that the legends in pinstripes will always be the legends in pinstripes, regardless of where the current Yankees play.

A baseball sage once said that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Wrigley Field is a legendary stadium, in my opinion. It’ll never really die, the ivy will always live on in Cub fan hearts and memories. It’s time to grow up in a sense, we’re in the baseball business now. Nobody is more romantic about baseball and history than I am, but part of history is progress, and I’m perfectly fine with the Cubs progressing.

Cherish the memories, they are important. Think about the long-term success of the team, that is more important.

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

“In American Society our ways of teaching about baseball are better than our ways of teaching about anything else. No matter how your mind works, baseball reaches out to you.”

Bill James

I

At my heart I’m a historian. My mind is stimulated by the pastoral, by history, by personal stories, by real emotions, my mind is stimulated by what was and how it can affect what will be. I had a rare opportunity at the All Star game in 2006 to sit down with Buck O’Neil and listen to him tell old war stories for 15 minutes. It’s a vivid memory that really won’t ever fade into my memory, and I’m glad I got to talk to him before his passing 4 months later.

The reason I’m so excited about this baseball season has very little to do with the local talent. Sure, Chris Sale looks like an absolute lefty monster on the South Side. Starlin Castro is a tremendous young shortstop that oozes potential and could become whatever he wants to become at this point. There’s some talent on both farms that warrant watching, but that’s not why I was so eager to start the 2012 baseball year. It really has nothing to do with Chicago, really.

II

The Washington Nationals (15-9) have never finished higher than 4th in the NL East until last year. After a surprise 81-81 inaugural season in Washington (they were originally the Montreal Expos), the franchise found itself stuck in the mud. They wouldn’t top 75 wins until 2011, and their winning percentages were pretty abysmal. They lost a combined 205 games in 2008 and 2009.

The fortunes of a franchise can change for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes they sign a few big name free agents, get the right coach, and go riding off into the sunset with a ring. Other times they get career years from everybody at the right time en route to a championship. And then there are the Nats who managed to be so bad that they got two potentially generational players in back to back years.

Stephen Strausburg  and Bryce Harper are extremes. Stories of their feats are the stuff fables are made of. “He throws 100 with plus command and has 2 wicked off-speed pitches. The other guy hits 500 foot homeruns and he’s only 17.”

That’s not made up, that’s the reality of the situation that the Nationals are in. They have 2 great talents on a roster that might just be good enough to win the pennant this year. Strausburg will have an innings cap, and Harper, for all of his physical tools, might not be ready to hit major league pitching just quite yet, but this Nationals team is for real everywhere else.

That’s ridiculous. Edwin Jackson is has the highest SP ERA at 3.69. For context, the current NL ERA is 3.72. He’s better than average this year but he’s about 2 runs worse than any other starter on the Nationals.

III

The Dodgers (17-8) have experienced some recent success, most recently reaching the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 before falling into a curious funk that some blame on the tumultuous McCourt divorce. Their ascension is linked directly to the maturation of two budding superstars, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Kemp missed out on being a 40/40 guy by a single homerun last year. This was following an awful 2010 where he OPS’d .760 and was 19-34 on stolen base attempts. He cratered production-wise and decided to tinker with his batting motion. Kemp eliminated the stride that he took before he swung his hips and went with a no-stride approach. It resulted in a .226 jump in OPS and a 2nd place finish in the MVP voting. To start the 2012 year he’s just destroying everything.

Kershaw is 24 years old and has a Cy Young under his belt. He’s a legit Ace and just might be the best pitcher in baseball. His WHIP sits at 0.92, he strikes out 9 per 9, and last year he slashed his walk rate by 1 BB/9. What we’re watching with Kershaw is the evolution from a thrower to a pitcher. Not everyone gets it. Wood was a great thrower, but he never learned how to pitch. He never learned how to dial back the RPM’s and save the hard and good stuff for need situations (see Verlander, Justin). Jake Peavy looks like he’s just now starting to learn how to pitch, but he’s also 31 and past his prime stuff wise. Carlos Marmol never learned how to pitch and tried to make a career out of one pitch. Clayton Kershaw can pitch now.

That’s a dip in walks and hits allowed, and an increase in IP and K-BB ratio. The question on Kershaw was always whether he’d mature from a thrower to a pitcher and it looks like he’s supplying the answer. An ace in the truest sense of the word has no flaws. He’s durable, he has a plus-plus pitch, an arsenal of plus pitches, great command, great makeup, and he proves it, year after year. It’s a show me tag and Kershaw is in the process of showing us.

IV

Pennant chases make baseball. I wasn’t around for any of the good ones really. I didn’t get to see the Giants win the pennant, I missed out on Bucky Fucking Dent, I lost the most famous Cubs homer in the Gloamin, and I completely whiffed with the Gas House Gang comebacks. The true pennant chases are gone, and what we have left are division races and wild card finishes. The most recent amazing comeback was excellent and it brought me to a very happy baseball place where I threw my hands up in celebration as Dan Johnson hit a homerun that meant absolutely nothing to me in terms of rooting interest, but was probably the source of my highest high as a baseball fan. My heart broke with Uggla and Linebrink as the Braves melted, and I kinda dislike the Braves. Pennant chases bring out the best in baseball, and the Dodgers-Nationals thing has great potential to be an amazing cross-country rivalry.

Young superstars, one of them is a heritage franchise, the other is building up a fan base revolving around youth, it should be thrilling to watch. They gave us great theater during their first series match up this past April, Harper debuted, Kershaw was dominant, and Kemp won it in the 10th. It was a well played baseball game, it had drama for all the right reasons, and the star power was there. In time people should remember those matchups, when Scully called Kershaw vs. Strausburg, when Harper reached the bigs, when the Nationals and Dodgers played against each other in meaningful games. I hope more moments like that happen for Octobers to come.

Well, at least until the Cubs are good, in which case, fuck both of them.

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

I love the very beginning of baseball season for a multitude of reasons. Small sample sizes make for fun numbers, like guys with OBP’s lower than their AVG’s, players with more home runs than entire teams, guys who haven’t walked or struck out all year, the dudes that are on pace for 300 RBI’s, it’s great for nonsensical stuff like that. It’s also fun for identifying who actually watches baseball vs. who is a football fan and is just killing time complaining about things that don’t matter. To be clear for all you football fans, the MLB season is a 6  month (7 if your team is good) long odyssey that begins as nature wakes up from it’s slumber, thrives as the world around it gets greener and warmer, and finishes when the outside world dies. It’s cyclical, natural, and takes a long fucking time to complete. They play 162 games in a season. Some teams are gunning to win this year, some teams are caught in the middle of rebuilding and competing, and others are instituting a plan that revolves around youth and smart spending.

I’m talking to my fellow Cub fans. Yes, yes, Theo was hired this year, but as some ignorant White Sox fans are quick to remind me, he doesn’t play a position (BTW, White Sox fans, I’m aware of this. He doesn’t swing a bat nor throw a ball for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t need to be reminded of this). The team this year is awful. They told you they were going to be awful all off-season. They made no major moves, they acquired no impact talent, they did not change anything from last years squad that was also awful, really. So why are you so surprised about their struggles? Is it hard to watch? Yeah, nobody likes blown leads or bad fielding or an anemic offense.

“DEN WHAT DA FUCK AM I GONNA WATCH FOR TREE FUCKING MONTS UNTIL DA FOOTBALL COMES BACK AND DA MIDWAY MONSTERS OF HALAS HALL COME CRASHING BACK WIT DA VENGEANCE OF A TOUSAND MINI DITKAS?!?!?!?!?!”

I have no idea. I can’t help you.

“Good sir, if I may inquire, what shall I remain vigilant for this season on the North Side?”

Soccer, go back to Europe. Try again.

“Dude, they suck, is there anything that I can look for as a reasonable Cubs fan with realistic expectations for this year and the next three years?”

On the Major League roster there are a few players you should be watching for a myriad of reasons. I’ll be doing my best to update you guys on them as the season drags on, but for now, here’s my list.

  1. Starlin Castro – Nobody makes me say “That’s a great play,” and “That’s a dumbass play,” in the same game quite like Starlin.
  2. Marlon Byrd – If he manages to get his average up he will be a valuable piece to a team that’s in contention. Players with solid contact skills and good defense don’t fall out of trees these days. Could bring back an ok haul of prospects if a team decides to buy high at the deadline.
  3. Matt Garza – The goal is to either extend him because of the thin crop of FA starters in the coming years, or to bring back a better haul than you gave up to acquire him. I still think he ends up a Tiger.
  4. Darwin Barney – It’s debatable, but I think he might be on the Cubs the next time they are ready to compete. TheoCo (thanks Short-E) values defense a lot, and I think his bat might stick as a 2-hitter.
  5. Bryan LaHair – If his bat is legit, he can play in left and then you can have a 3-4 of Rizzo and LaHair. That’s awesome to think about.

Which brings us to who I think is the most intriguing Cub, Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs did the right thing and stuck Shark (Jeff’s rather unfortunate nickname) in the rotation. He had some interesting gains last year as a reliever, but if he was going to be worth anything to the organization, it was going to be in the rotation. As I stated before, I love small sample sizes, they’re fun, and when we talk about Shark’s numbers it’s in the tiniest of sample sizes, but dating back to last year he’s gained something valuable; the ability to miss bats.

See, dating back to his minor league days, Shark was always a bit of a mystery. He had good-great stuff, and a 98 MPH heater, but he never consistently posted legit prospect K/9 numbers.

His fastball was described as fast and straight, which is an issue. Major League hitters will time up fast if it’s straight, just ask Armando Benitez. Since 2011 however, his K rate jumped to 8+ and it looks like it’ll stay there. Begs the question, what’s different?

Well, this year he’s walking less people. His BB/9 rate is dramatically slashed so far this year, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The difference is that his stuff is just, better. Let’s look at his PitchF/X data for a second.

PitchFx tracks the movement and speed of pitches thrown. In this case it’s illustrating Shark’s improved movement on all of his pitches. SL=Slider, CH=Changeup, and FT=Two Seamer, something that is a relatively new classification and can be misleading. Before ’11, Shark’s slider wasn’t moving across the plate much, it was simply spinning and dropping with gravity. In 2011 however, that pitch improved, and it’s clear when you watch him. I don’t know for a fact if he improved his grip on the slider or if he just has a better feel for it, but it’s a real pitch now. It’s become a wipeout pitch. The Changeup has also greatly improved, even if he limited his use of it in 2011. This year it has legitimate drop  to it and it looks like it comes out of the same slot, with similar arm action, as his fastball. The Two-Seamer is a bit of a mystery, PitchFx did mis-classify this pitch as a regular fastball until around 2010, but it has live action and is a few ticks slower than his 4 seamer. All of his pitches have good movement on them, with his two fastballs being his best pitches. The slider is now a legit weapon and the changeup is coming along. That alone explains the uptick in strikeouts, but there’s also one more trend that appeared during spring training and has some people (myself included) optimistic about his future as a starter.

He’s walking less people.

Let’s go back to his Baseball Reference card

During Spring Training Shark walked 1 batter and struck out 16 in 20 innings of work. Spring Training stats are misleading sometimes, but I don’t think they were with Samardzija this year. His command has dramatically improved this year in limited innings. To properly illustrate that:

That’s shark in a nutshell. Drop in ERA, rise in K/9, cliff dive in BB/9 and a rocket trip in K/BB ratio.

Conclusion

He’ll probably have some missteps over the course of a long season, but the improved control and the improvement on the movement of his pitches are all reasons to be optimistic. Shark’s change in approach will raise his ceiling, the questions for the remainder of the year revolve around the durability of his arm, I think. Can he throw 150+ innings? Can he retain the gains he’s made in control? Can he be a dependable starter? I don’t know for sure, but I’m finally optimistic about Samardzija.

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American. They’re not us. They’re impostors”

-Torii Hunter

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

Note: This article is the start of something, the history of the Afro-Latino in baseball cannot be summed up in one blog post or even a series of blog posts. It began as a simple email response and it has grown into an ongoing project whose end date I’m not sure of. This is a snippet.

It’s pretty clear that people just don’t know what to do with Latinos. In the Trayvon Martin case Zimmerman was labeled a minority by some because he has Spanish roots, thus making him Mexican or something. The Ozzie Guillen story provided an interesting chance for Latinos to have a serious conversation about race and hate within the community, instead we got an overreaction to the suspension with no real discussion on why what he said stung so much. One of the more surprising aspects of this controversy was the lack of cultural awareness when it comes to Hispanics. People genuinely did not know that Castro is seen as a tyrannical despot on the level of Hitler with the Cuban community. The caricature was the only impression people had of him and were shocked that Ozzie’s comments cut so deep.

The inspiration from this commentary, however, came from a nugget of information that Dan Bernstein gave us 2 weeks ago. The Chicago Cubs are currently shopping most of their big league roster, and it’s been speculated for months that Marlon Byrd will be traded. Should he find a new home between now and April 15, Jackie Robinson day, Chicago will have no African-American representative on #42’s day. That is a rather interesting piece of information, and I don’t have much issue with it. A caller brought up the name Alex Rios, who was born in Alabama and is considered Puerto-Rican-American.

And that’s what really got me thinking about what Jackie Robinson day means. For the purposes of his point, I can somewhat see where Mr. Bernstein was coming from, he dismissed Rios as a Latin born player and not African American in the typical sense of the term. However, I think this is a classic example of the media, and the world in general, having no idea what to do with Afro-Latinos. Torii Hunter’s quote above illustrates that point as well. Afro-Latinos are not properly represented nor are they accounted for in America.

The implication that Mr. Bernstein was making is that Afro-Latinos shouldn’t count as proper representatives for Jackie Robinson Day. That’s a dangerous implication to make and I think it’s one that a lot of people make. The inverse of this is also dangerous however, to consider Alex Rios as simply black without considering what his heritage and his lineage is. The point of Jackie Robinson day is to celebrate the tearing down of the color barrier. That’s a broad term, color, and it’s one that’s classically been assigned to African-Americans throughout history, with a good reason. It was the label that an oppressive white society put on blacks to strip away their sense of worth. But color is a defined differently today as it applies to a broader population.

The truth is that the gentleman’s agreement about “colored” players extended beyond just the African-American players. If you sent Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, Carlos Marmol, Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, Hector Santiago, and even Geo Soto back into a time machine set for the 30’s, not a one is playing in the Majors. They would all be New York Cubans.

The history of the New York Cubans is muddled, which is common for a Negro League team. For the purposes of this column, understand that they were a Negro League team comprised of mostly Afro-Latinos, but occasionally they took on lighter skinned Latinos because MLB didn’t want anything to do with people of color. They began in 1899 as the All Cubans, became the Cuban Stars in 1907, folded in the late 20’s and were recreated by a former member of the Cuban Stars, Alex Pompez, in 1930. If that name rings a bell White Sox fans, it’s because he scouted Minnie Minoso and brought him over from Cuba to play ball in the US.

The New York Cubans employed players of color that were not allowed to play in the Majors. These were not strictly African American players that fit neatly into a small category. The NY Cubans took on all that were of color and shunned by MLB, until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and opened the door to all people of color, not just American born Blacks. The Negro Leagues were where Minnie Minoso got his start in professional baseball.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson was 0/3 with a RS, but on that day he began the process that cemented himself as arguably the most important player in baseball history. In the wake of integration  we had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Minnie Minoso. That’s a lot of talent that MLB was ignoring before Jackie. A date that should be similarly remembered is May 1, 1951.

The “Cuban Comet” paved the way for Latino players, but is remembered by the White Sox as being their first black player in the post Jackie Robinson era. On May 1, Minnie paved the way for Latino players to enter the Majors, which of course came at the price of discrimination, racism, and untold stress and heartache. Reporters rather famously phonetically spelled his quotes in print, he was called all sorts of names everywhere he went, and he had to use the “Coloreds Only” stalls as well.

It’s irresponsible to dismiss Afro Latinos because they aren’t the “right kind of black.” I think it’s about time to have a serious discussion about race in America, one that centers around Hispanics. The race issue is alive and well in America, it’s disguised as other things and somewhat hidden, but we Hispanics have a lot of issues to resolve with ourselves. There’s an alarming trend of self hate and lost identity within our community. Ozzie’s insensitive comments confront us with an uncomfortable reality that we aren’t as unified as we’d like to think sometimes. I’m guilty of talking shit to Puerto Ricans, and I’m sure most Hispanics have similar stories. We’ve come a long way since Minnie, but we still have a long way to go. Our story is frequently misunderstood in America, let’s work on that.

[audio http://awmr01.podbean.com/mf/web/pxh9vn/Episode009.mp3]

 

In this episode we absolutely hate on Skullsplitter, talk some Cubs, some Starlin Castro, switch out to PBR, sent a shot across the bow at another show, curb our expectations for the 2012 Cubs season, talk Cubs prospects, lament the Cubs starting rotation, we time travel a little bit, we talk about the Blackhawks recent streaks,  we try to figure out which Chicago coach gets fired next, we discuss what John Starks is up to now in honor of Linsanity, we remember Slam Ball, we have an impromptu Celebrity Basketball draft,  Andy finally starts reading Moneyball, Andy and Raul think the Sox will suck this year, and we do a top ten most misunderstood athletes.