May 23, 2008

Greg Maddux

Al's post over on Bleed Cubbie Blue made the case for the Cubs adding Greg Maddux. Despite my post the other day about the Cubs pitching depth, I think this is the right move (for the right price). If we can move Murton for him, that would be great. If we could move Jason Marquis, that would be especially great. The Padres aren't going anywhere this year...they have needs at pretty much every position. Murton has no role at all on our current team, with Soriano and Dome blocking him for the next few years, and Marquis...ugh. Really though, from a statistical standpoint Maddux isn't too different from Marquis. Why not score mad points with the fans and bring him back? Making a run to the playoffs (and hopefully the WS) with Maddux would be a great story to close out his career. I think Murton + Marquis for Maddux (and maybe a throw-in) would be a totally fine trade...the Pads would get several cost-controlled years of a young outfielder and an innings eater (albeit with a big salary), and we'll be in the exact same situation pitching wise that we were before. We won't be stunting the growth of our young starters either - I don't think Gallagher is ready yet and I'm still not a big believer in Marshall. Hopefully Hill turns himself around, and we have a staff that looks like this down the stretch.



That's a freaking good pitching staff - Howry usually gets better in the second half, and I'm a big believer in Wuertz. Ascanio has the arm to stick in the bullpen as well.

May 20, 2008

Summer Goals

Hopefully this will be a reminder of what I plan to do this summer

  • Do lots of math.

    I need to do my specialty exam at the end of the summer, so it would help if I actually had something to talk about.

  • Do more math.

    I may or may not be spending time at Los Alamos this summer, which will result in me working on some new stuff. Hopefully I'll find out what that is today.

  • Learn some physics.

    My advisor does a lot more than numerical analysis - a lot of his research is in mathematical physics. This is a problem for me since I haven't taken a real physics course since high school. Next semester I'm diving right into possibly more than one graduate physics course, so I need some background. Learning more physics should also expand my horizons, research-wise, and give me a better idea what the other grad students are talking about in our working seminar

  • Learn some Chinese.

    I realized during my final year of undergraduate work that I loooove learning new languages. Sadly, as is usually the case, my first year of grad school wiped out any extracurricular activities that I might have been interested in. I hope to work through the 'learn chinese' books that I bought by the end of the summer at least, and hopefully be able to carry on a basic conversation with some of the other grad students.

  • Ride my bike

    I hate bike riding, because I have terrible balance and the seats always make my ass hurt. Seriously - what is the deal with uncomfortable bike seats? Anyway. we're moving farther away from campus next year and it would be the perfect distance to bike. I would have to take bike lanes on city streets (rather than ride in the street) but I'm still pretty uncomfortable with that. I need to build up some bike confidence this summer if I'm ever going to do this. Luckily I'll still have the option of taking the bus, but any option that does not require using gas is fine by me.

  • Go to the gym

    On a similar vein, I'd love to (finally) build some upper body strength. Even when I played rugby (which, sadly, was probably when I was the most in shape in my life) I was a pretty wimpy guy. I've always had mad leg strength but I can barely lift anything. I'd love it if I had the strength to swing for the fences one of these days when we play softball...

May 19, 2008

Cubs quarter season review

Record: 27-17

Runs Scored: 255
Runs Allowed: 184
Pythagorean Projection: 28.7 - 15.3
Difference: -1.7
3rd Order Runs Scored: 231
3rd Order Runs Allowed:182
Pythagorean Projection: 27 - 17
Difference: 0

Odds of making playoffs (3rd order wins): 77%
Odds of making playoffs (PECOTA): 78%

Things are looking pretty good for the Cubs right now, despite the fact that their pitching situation still has not settled down. They are clearly the class of the NL central, and the offense is performing like it should have last year. Remember, the Cubs won the division last year despite the fact that none of our offensive superstars had true 'star' seasons. This year, Derrek Lee has come back to form (though chances are we'll never see his 2005 numbers again). Soriano remains his streaky self, demonstrating as recently as last week how hot he can get and as recently as last month how cold he can get. Dome has been a great addition to the lineup...though his numbers clearly show that he should be batting second, not fifth. It's hard to top a .416 OBP!! Ramirez has bumped his OBP up as well, though his power numbers remain down so far. Continuing this trend, DeRosa has improved his OBP by another 25 points and done a fantastic job of knocking out fearsome middle of the lineup in. Riot has quieted (temporarily) his doubters by his offensive output, though his defense still leaves much to be desired.

But, the two real stories, offense-wise, are in center field and at catcher. Soto has been the MVP of the team this year - offering top shelf offense at a premium position. Soto is clearly the best catcher in the NL right now - he has 80 points of OPS on Brian McCann, the next highest NL catcher, and is 8th overall in the NL in OPS. His defense behind the plate has been decent as well. He represents a huge upgrade over the black hole that was the catcher position last year, and is one of the big reasons why the Cubs are in first place. Speaking of black holes, however, we still do have a problem in CF. Pie has been mismanaged quite badly, from an organizational standpoint. Somewhere along the line he was labeled a AAAA player, and the only way to disprove that is to, well, play in the major leagues. I thought Reed Johnson was a good signing at the time, and still do feel that way. However, it is clear that he is not an everyday player right now. But, he hits lefties well and can play CF, which is exactly what we needed as a platoon partner for Pie. What was not needed was playing him against righties, whom he does not hit as well. Having an OBP (.340) higher than your slugging (.326) is never a good thing, unless it is considerably higher than league average (see Fukodome, whose SLG is higher, but not by a ton). It doesn't help Johnson either that his OBP is largely driven by a large number of HPBs, which is quite flukish. There are two ideal situations as to how this situation plays out:

1. (More Likely) Pie picks up whatever Lou was teaching him with his swing, tears up AAA yet again, and gets called up due to the fact that Edmonds has been quickly released, as it is obvious he has nothing left.

2. (Very Much Less Likely) Edmonds plays like a shadow of his former self...rather than the shambling corpse of his former self that he probably is, and we play this same game with Pie next year. There are rumors floating around that a calf injury that Edmonds suffered in ST was what was holding him back...but color me skeptical. Of course, Edmonds will probably get hurt again, and hopefully Pie can step in and win the job he earned back in spring training for good.

It just doesn't make sense to me why we don't play him. With the offense we have, his struggling bat doesn't really hurt the team that much, and his Gold Glove quality work in CF certainly has some value (no other outfielder on our team is even close to his class). Edmonds was released by the Padres, who are hurting badly for any warm body that can play center, and it's not like they are the Pittsburgh Pirates (Depodesta works for them!).

As far as pitching goes, we have a lot of depth...but it's shallow depth (if that makes sense). Z and Lilly are clearly solid pitchers (though Z still isn't really an 'ace'). Everyone else though...meh. The good thing is that the rest of the cubs starting staff *does* belong in the major leagues...but don't really have high ceilings. Dempster is at best a 4th starter - someone who can give you innings but will get knocked around from time to time. Suddenly he's developed into a ground ball pitcher, and managed to keep the ball in the park, which has dropped his ERA considerably but a .220 BABIP is impossible to maintain. I'm happy to see Gallagher in the rotation, as he does have some upside...but again, I don't project him to move into the front of a rotation anytime soon. He's certainly better than Jason Marquis, who is definitely a fifth starter. Lou seems to recognize this, and seems to have begun skipping his starts when the Cubs have off days. He'd probably have been released for one of the following candidates were it not for his untradeable contract. Lieber, his 4 hr performance notwithstanding, has shown that he too has something left in the tank, but he clearly won't be a front of the rotation guy anytime soon. In the minors we currently have Rich Hill, who has #3 starter stuff and will fit back in nicely once he finds the strike zone again. Hopefully there's nothing wrong with this back. Marshall has had success before but I think he really does qualify as a AAAA pitcher. He can't pitch for too long without being overexposed.

So, not that I've bashed most of the Cubs pitching staff, what's the silver lining here? We still have major league quality pitchers ready to step in whenever a spot opens up in the rotation for whatever reason (injury, weather, etc). Most teams end up throwing unprepared guys or people that don't really belong in the big leauges in the back end of their rotation, which lowers the standards for how people view the role. Sure, Sean Marshall could start for many, many teams. But if you're rounding out the back of the rotation for the Orioles or Marlins, you have to take the term 'major league starter' with a large grain of salt.

As for the bullpen, I'm happy with how it's performed. Howry hasn't looked good, but everyone else has been okay. I'm concerned that Marmol's arm might fall off before the season ends, but he used to start...and even if he does break down I think a small DL stint would just give him some rest before coming back to blow everyone away in the fall. Wood is looking better now that he's tinkered with that slider of his; it's looking very tight - has a lot of bite again. It's been great to see Wuertz pitching well of late too - he's put up zeros in multiple-inning outings in each of the last two games - finally finding the plate with his good slider.

Here's hoping everything keeps rolling along - and that Marmol gets a well-deserved spot in the all-star game!

May 18, 2008

Big fella

Here is Zeus, the big Cocker that we adopted last weekend


Zeus and Jennie

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

Zeus and Kira

He has a handsome face - Jennie and I both thought his face looked kind of like a golden retriever's. He's already lost a lot of weight since he was rescued but still has a ways to go. He was 62 pounds and had a hard time moving when he was first picked up. He's down to 52 or so now, and probably needs to lose another 15 pounds or so. I don't think it will be too hard...he loooooves going on walks. Kira has been kind of taken aback by his enthusiasm on walks He can be a real freight train, just chugging along at the end of the leash. He's gotten to the point where he can jump up to lean on things (like chairs, your legs, etc) but can't jump himself off the ground. I think he'll be a real jumper, and will give Kira a run for her money for the title of highest energy dog (at least on walks).

We do think he might be partially deaf, as he doesn't really respond to his name at all. Or maybe he just ignores his's something we'll have to work on. I'm pretty sure he does hear me when I whistle.

May 05, 2008

Applied for adoption over the weekend

After Bear was adopted last weekend we were pretty bummed, but still looking to get another Cocker. We loved the look of both Angel and Zeus, but decided we'd wait until the next time that the 'available for adoption' page updated before filling out the application. Sure enough, at the end of the week a new (old) dog appeared - it was Gracie, who had been in rescue for a while and was adopted a few months ago. Sadly, through no fault of her own, she was returned to rescue because her new owner developed some serious medical conditions.

Here are the candidates

Honorable Mention: Angel


We fell in love with her story - she was a stray that was picked up by a shelter in Illinois. Her hair was so badly matted that when they went to groom her, skin came off with the hair. All through this she was giving kisses to the groomer, so happy to be taken care of by somebody again. She is an older dog, and Cocker rescue decided that she would be a bad match for us since she really needs to have someone home pretty much all day, since she needs to be taken out fairly often.

1b. Zeus


He just looks like a big old clown. We have no issues with adopting seniors, and he looks like a real nice fellow. Our only concerns right now are when we go home - Rhett is pretty defensive-agressive and while he is much bigger than Kira, he and Zeus would probably be more likely to have issues, both by being male and the fact that Zeus is much bigger than Rhett. He also doesn't get along with cats so there might be trouble with him and Zoe if we visit my parents' house.

1a. Gracie


She seems like such a sweetheart, and is as pretty as Kira. We like her a little better since she's female (see comments about Zeus above) and is known to get along with dogs and small children. Her previous bio suggested that she was a little rascal (i.e. liked to get into the garbage, toilet paper, that kind of stuff) but that's no big deal, so long as she isn't the type to chew on cords or shoes. She's also quite the escape artist apparently - she could give Kira a run for her money (she was able to jump baby gates with ease when we first brought her back to Waterford). I think she's our frontrunner right now, but we would be happy with either of them.

Beef Stew of Deliciousness +1

Last weekend we picked up some green beans and pearl onions at the farmers market, but never really got around to cooking them. I was thinking of doing a balsamic onion + chicken recipe that I've made before with good success, but wasn't really in the mood for it. Jennie suggested that we get some stew meat and make a beef stew...good suggestion. We went to our new favorite grocery store (the Jenifer St. Market - which has a FANTASTIC meat selection) and picked up some stew meat and a few other things that we had run out of, and I got cooking.

I based this on Tyler Florence's Ultimate Beef Stew Recipe, with a few changes. First off, I only used 1 1/2 lbs of meat (since I was adding a ton of extra veggies). The recipe called for a ton of flour, but it seemed like a waste as it was only going to lightly coat the meat. I only used 1/2 c as opposed to the 2 cups in the recipe. I used some of our dwindling supply of magic Steak Salt to season it, and I think the meat especially turned out very well. I used the rest of our bottle (3/4 or so) of cheap red wine for the pre-marinade. I know the rule of thumb is that you shouldn't cook with wine you wouldn't drink...but I don't drink wine anyway (especially red wine), and it turned out okay. Some of the people commenting on the recipe thought that the wine made the recipe very bitter...they just probably used the wrong wine. I also left out the grated orange peel, which many people did not like in the recipe either. On top of the potatoes and carrots called for in the recipe, I threw in our bunch of french beans (very tasty), the last of my creminis (my current culinary obsession - thanks Keith!), and half of our big bag of pearl onions. I love the way pearl onions taste, but I'll be damned if they aren't a pain in the ass to prepare their skins are pretty resilient. I forgot to add the peas, but all in all this was quite the tasty dish. Definitely a make again.

The main issue with it (also mentioned in the comments for the recipe) is that it doesn't thicken the way that the recipe suggests (or really, at all). Maybe if the full 2c of flour worked their way into the pot it might, but if it's just being used to coat the meat there's no way you can get all of it in (I had tons extra and I only used 1/2 c). I ended up adding some slurry as it went on to thicken it up a little, but it was still a little soupy when it was ready to be served.