December 09, 2009


Snow shut down the university and most of the city today. According to the forecasters we're supposed to get 13 to 18 inches. Most of the reports coming in from the morning have been in the 14-18 inch range, and it's still snowing. Here's what I woke up to:

The snow itself is quite beautiful - we took Kira out last night during the storm and things were pretty serene. It's the kind of wet, sticky snow that likes to stick to trees. Only problem is, it's also heavy. There have been widespread reports of people losing power/cable etc around town due to falling branches. My neighbor/landlord said that two branches fell off the tree in front of our houses this morning but missed the power lines. It's supposed to be really cold tonight, and for the next few days (sub-zero temps expected tonight). Luckily our furnace is all gas, so at least we'll have heat and the ability to cook things (gas stove) if the power goes out.

Kira is not a fan of snow that is taller than she is - she prefers snow to rain but only tolerates it until it's as high as her belly. I tried to get a shot of the snow in our partially-shoveled driveway with her for scale, but she's just too elusive to get the shot I wanted. Turned out to be a good pic of Kira though.

She's having a harder time seeing in the snow - her vision is already so limited that all she can probably see is white. When we took her out last night she was pretty much just picking a direction and walking that way, hoping it was the sidewalk. Now that more walks are shoveled it's not so bad though

November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving, the aftermath

Well, here's the spread:

I guess I didn't need to add the leaves to the table (dying laughing). We ended up moving the chairs/place settings so we didn't feel like we were miles apart.

The turkey was delicious, but I overcooked it a bit. I'm not quite as daring as the folks who cook their turkeys to ~155-165, but I made the mistake of following the directions of the package and cooking it for 3 hours, which resulted in 180+. Next time I'll probably pull it out at 170. It was still pretty tasty though - just sayin.

The mashed potatoes and gravy were delicious as usual - thanks Dovie! We made sure to make more gravy this year because it's always the first thing to run out when eating leftovers.

I kind of screwed up the rolls, presentation-wise this year. However, they're more delicious than I ever remember. I decided to experiment and rise them overnight this year rather than doing it on the same day, and after reshaping them I did the second rise while the turkey was cooking. They grew really huge - I probably should have split them into two pans. What I ended up with was a pan-shaped mass of roughly divided (but delicious) bread.

The big new thing was the chestnut dressing. I thought it was good, but I don't think I'd put it above our usual stuffing recipe. This recipe has you shape the stuffing mix into patties and cooking them on a cookie sheet, which I've never seen before. The result was good, but I think I still like our regular recipe better. From a practical perspective shelling all those chestnuts was...interesting. I managed to cut myself under my fingernails on three seperate fingers while shelling them. Chestnuts are delicious though, so it was worth it. Next year I think I'll just add chestnuts to our usual recipe.

I also made some Cranberry daiquiris, courtesy Keith Law and bon appetit. I made them last year to mixed reviews, but I thought they were better this year despite the liberties I took with the recipe. I only use one type of rum, and this year I used the cranberries from canned cranberry sauce (GASP) instead of regular whole cranberries. They imparted more flavor, especially considering I didn't pick up any cranberry juice to dilute it. It was still pretty strong, but very drinkable. Klaw's warning is very important - I drank one glass during dinner but drank the rest while making stock with the carcass afterwords.

Pie-wise, I just made an apple pie, which disappeared rather quickly over the holiday weekend. It's not necessarily my best pie (see: Peach-Blueberry/mixed berry pies for the champ) but it's probably my favorite and one of the easiest. Pie making is so easy now that I've learned how to use my obliterator for makign good pie crusts. I've earned the ire of my mother for trashing her traditional family pie recipe (which IIRC uses Crisco) for being waaaay too dry. I'm glad I've found a butter-based crust I like, and is incredibly easy to make.

Kira, of course, enjoyed Thanksgiving (her favorite holiday). I didn't get any pictures of her confusion about mashed potatoes, sadly. It's a good thing everything smelled so good, as she's pretty much blind now :( she's still hanging in there and is a happy girl, but I think she misses her buddy and is a bit lonely these days.

Final injury tally:
4 cuts (3 below fingernails, one minor one on thumb that I didn't notice until an hour or so later). One minor burn while basting turkey.

Overall: WIN!

November 23, 2009

Turkey Day lineup

It's about time I make a food post for once (dying laughing)

It's hard to believe this is the 7th Thanksgiving Jennie and I are having together. It's probably my favorite home-cooked meal of the year, other than maybe the decadent shrimp and grits that I occasionally bust out for major birthdays/anniversaries. It's one of Kira's favorites too.

Last year we had a great time, though we need to remember to crack a few windows as we keep cooking as this kitchen gets too hot when cooking a turkey. Jennie's best friend Kate took the train up from Louisiana and we had a grand old time. Sadly, no visitors this year. Here's the rundown

  • Definites:

    • Turkey Breast - Aside from the enormous size of most turkeys you can buy, Jennie and I found this is a great solution because we both hate dark meat. They're easier to cook, and we get more white meat than the full turkey we would normally get.

    • Mashed Potatoes - Jennie makes delicious ones. Also, there's nothing more amusing than watching a dog try to eat mashed potatoes and get confused.

    • Chestnut Dressing - I found some chestnuts at Trader Joe's this week and picked them up, remembering that Jennie's family has a legendary chestnut dressing recipe. This is the first time I've seen them sold anywhere I shop. I'm really excited!

    • Potato dinner rolls - Another family recipe of Jennie's that I'm a huge fan of. Maybe I just love baking though.

    • Obligatory Cranberry Sauce from a can - It's not thanksgiving without it. Bonus points for keeping as much of the can shape as possible on the plate

    • Spiced Peaches - Another thankgiving staple - delicious. Basically you cure some peaches in vinegar, sugar, and spices and end up with pure win

    • Cranberry Daquiris - per Klaw, these are delicious but can get you drunk in a hurry.

    • Apple (probably) pie - I used to be a HUGE pumpkin pie fan but that fell by the wayside for some reason when I was in high school. I love making (and eating) pies though so I'll probably bang out an apple pie tomorrow night. I might end up making some sort of berry pie instead though - they're my favorite but fall always makes me hungry for apples.

  • Maybes:

    • Regular Dressing - I think I'm going to make the chestnut dressing the day before and see how it turns out. I don't think we'll have enough energy to make two. We sure do LOVE our regular recipe too so it's a tough decision

  • Not this year:

    • Sweet potatoes - I despise the usual sweet potato recipes that make the rounds - they're usually candied or caramelized and have cornflakes and/or marshmallows in them. I had Thanksgiving at my Aunt Jonette's house (she's considered the best cook in my family) my freshman year of college and while the rest of her food was outstanding, I was floored that she would ever make a recipe with marshmallows in them. Why add all that to sweet potatoes? They're already delicious! My mom's recipe is taken from a Colonial Williamsburg cookbook and is closer to mashed potatoes in spirit - it uses butter and brown sugar with nutmeg and is quite delicious. Sadly it misses the cut behind all the other must-have foods, but it will be back on the menu when we have more guests (and/or a larger family!).

    • Green Bean casserole - This felt the axe of too-many dishes too, but will be back someday. We've made it a few times in the past but somehow our recipe is always a bit off. One thing that bothers me about it is that it doesn't keep well.

  • Non-food: This is the only day of the year when I wish I had a TV in the kitchen.

    • Macy's Parade - I dislike parades in general, but I've come around on the thanksgiving parade a little. The commentators are incredibly insipid and I hate how scripted all the parade performances are. But since I'm usually cooking during most of it, no big deal

    • Dog Show - I'm always rooting for the Cocker Spaniels, of course. They got little to no face time 2 years ago but I think one of them won its group last year.

    • Packers - Lions - Something tells me I won't be hanging on every play of this game. Now that Madden is retired I wish that Fox could bring back the Turducken leg as the game MVP as opposed to the incredibly stupid looking 'Galloping Gobbler' trophy.

    • Miracle on 34th street (the original) - another Thanksgiving tradition. My wife always cries when Santa talks to the Dutch girl in her native tongue.

Should be a good time!

November 14, 2009

Book review: The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Tedium book 12)

I was very excited when I went to the bookstore last week and picked up a copy of The Gathering Storm. I hadn't even realized it was out yet - we were there buying the last of the Meg Langslow books that my wife (and I) have been reading. When I spotted the book I thought "this is it! Finally the last book in this series!". It turns out I was wrong - it was merely 'part 1' of the last book in the series. The author died a few years ago but he and his wife (who is also his editor) passed on his notes to another fantasy author to finish it up. After you've already written 11 huge books in a storyline you need some kind of closure.

I've got a long history with the Wheel of Time (aka Wheel of Tedium). It was one of the first mainstream fantasy series that I began reading back when I was 11 or 12 years old. The first three books of the series are very good - it's your usual epic tale of three youngsters in a fantasy world with Destinies and Magic and all the usual stuff you expect to find. Then Jordan was hit HARD by plot bloat. Too many storylines spiraled out from his main story, and at times you lost sight of the original three main characters that started off the piece. In later books, it was not unheard of for one of them to not appear (or at least not have a POV at all), and it was hard to keep track of many of the marginally important peripheral characters who kept popping up.

As far as the new book goes, it was a good read and grabbed me in a way the last few books did not - I read the last 300 pages or so pretty much in one sitting. I can pick out a few reasons why:

  1. Stuff actually happened in this book. Several of the recent books (most notably, Crossroads to Twilight) were very light on both action and plot points. You can only read so many impromptu planning sessions where everyone disagrees with each other and is always glaring and getting nothing done. Everyone in this universe is incredibly convinced that they are Right and everyone else is Wrong (and generally, idiot children for doing/thinking what they do) and never bends in their judgement. This time around people actually made decisions and confronted their enemies (or did stuff despite the objection of their allies). Of course the bigger thing was that people didn't spend as much time fuming over what everyone else has done. Basically the outline of the last few books has been:

    • First 600 pages - eveyone fumes and argues over the Major Event that happened at the end of the last book and tries to figure out how it works to their advantage

    • Next 50 pages - people start making plans

    • Next 50 pages - one of the POV characters does something

    It could just be that new the author is pressed for time/space now (since presumably he only has a book deal for these last three books, but whatever it is, thank goodness we're getting more plot points now.
  2. This book largely consisted of POVs that I actually gave a crap about (and in one case, changed my opinion of one of the other major POV characters). Honestly, I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book was the total lack of Elayne Trakand in it. I've never really liked her, but was okay with her when she was a secondary character in the B storyline of Egwene/Nynaeve/Elyane, even though that storyline wasn't really my favorite either. But Elayne has always had that whiny-princess-who-is-'actually tough' but is really just incredibly bitchy/catty vibe that drives me nuts.

    Of course, that's kind of a problem with all of Jordan's women from what I can tell. I don't know if he hates women or what his deal is. Almost all of the women in this series are incredibly bossy and opinionated, which is fine, since women absolutely should be assertive and have opinions. However, nearly all of them can be incredibly catty with other women and think that all men are idiot children who can never make a single decision for themselves and require the guidance of a woman just to tie their shoes, and are always seeking to manipulate everyone around them in any way possible. Some of that has to do with the Aes Sedai in these novels - there is a big large-scale power imbalance because for the past 2000 years women have been the only ones who can work magic in this world, and those who can live centuries-plus long lives and are experts in scheming. However, this is true of women even outside of that community as well (see, for example, Faile Bashere) and can be incredibly frustrating. The main character (the Dragon Reborn) is a kind of messaianic figure who's supposed to lead the forces of the world against the forces of darkness in an armageddon-ish battle, and all everyone (various Aes Sedai factions, other empires, all led by women) can think of is how best to get him under their control so they can be the ones in charge.

    Anyway, I did change my views on one of the POV characters in the series. In the last few books one of the main characters was raised to be the leader of the rebel faction of Aes Sedai, despite (or really because of) her youth and inexperience. They wanted a leader they could use as a puppet but found an actual leader who actually led them, which is a real rarity in these books. In this book she had been captured by their opponents and their batshit crazy leader and managed to undermine her entire regime by merely being the bigger person for once, instead of the usual route of skulking, scheming, and arguing with everyone about semantics for pages upon pages upon pages (there's a reason why the series is nicknamed the Wheel of Tedium).

Anyway, long story short (heh), I did really enjoy this book and I'm tempted to re-read all of them again. I sold all of my copies when I heard Jordan died a few years ago though. As I've got plenty of books yet to read (and my dissertation...) I guess it will just have to wait.

October 27, 2009

World Series preview

My World Series preview is up over at ACB. The short version: Yankees in 7

October 14, 2009

Another anniversary

Thanks to waxpaperbeercup for the reminder - 6 years ago today was the Bartman game, where the Cubs were 6 outs away from their first WS appearance since 1945 before coughing up a 3 run lead in the 8th inning. I've always thought that this game was the one that changed the fanbase, and wpbc agrees. He hit the nail on the head with this statement:

The days of the ever-optimistic Cubs fans have gone away. Many Cub fans now feel as if they are owed something because of what happened that night.

That's pretty much it. Many of us (myself included too) now feel like we are somehow owed a successful team, since victory was snatched from our grasp in such an excruciating fashion. I know I wasn't all-in as a Cubs fan until after that postseason. I was pretty devastated, though I didn't realize it for weeks later when my now-wife pointed it out to me.

In some sense, it is a good thing, as it put pressure on the Trib to actually spend money on the team - for example spending money on Lee, Soriano, and Maddux and keeping Ramirez and Z around when the old TribCo would have let them go, Greg Maddux-1993-style. But man, at times it makes it very hard to interact with other Cubs fans. At times we're just as bad as the Red Sox fans that I roundly despise.

It still sucks, 6 years later. FWIW I don't blame Bartman for anything, and when the Cubs are back in the NLCS, I hope he throws out the game ball for the next game 6 (or in the WS!)

Random thoughts on Iowa-Wisconsin

Wisconsin plays Iowa this week in Camp Randall, a huge game for both teams.

For the Badgers, they really need a bounceback win after last week's loss at Ohio State. That was an incredibly frustrating game. I don't think I've ever seen a game where the final score and the state sheet were so far apart - Wisconsin really dominated that game (especially the defense).

For the Hawkeyes, this might be their toughest game of the entire season (excepting maybe a bowl game). After watching UW's defense completely shut down OSU's offense and seeing Iowa's defense (especially their D-Line) shut down Penn State, Iowa should run roughshod over the Buckeyes, in Colombus or not. They're a really good football team.

I'm kind of torn here. Of course I want to root for the Badgers. But I also think that Iowa is easily the best team in the Big Ten, and they need to go undefeated to have a shot at making the National Championship game (which they've already been hosed out of playing in once - I forget the year). Having the Big Ten win something for once would be huge for the conference in general. Ohio State will never be a championship team with Pryor at QB, and they don't have Beanie Wells to bail out the offense anymore either. So I guess I'm just going to root for a great game and see what happens.

October 09, 2009

NLDS Previews

Can be found here and here. I'm too lazy/busy to do any of the ALDS ones - this was a rough week. I might bang something out for those, but I'll probably just wait for the Championship Serieses (sp?) to write those

October 07, 2009

2009 Playoffs mini-post

I'm pretty swamped with work/job applications/my thesis right now, but I'm going to write some stuff over on ACB soon previewing the various playoff series, which I'll link to when I write them. I'm rooting for the Phillies in the NL and the Yankees in the AL.

How about that Tigers-Twins game last night? What a game!

October 02, 2009

Offseason plans

Aside from writing my thesis and applying for jobs, I have a few ideas for some baseball-related stuff to do this offseason. The two biggest ones are

1. Finally get around to reading The Book and make posts/do some work in keeping with the content of each chapter as I go. It's a tough read - you can only do it a chapter at a time anyway so it should make for some good blag posts.

2. Attempt to make a comprehensive glossary of the various stats and projections we use over at ACB. shawndgoldman and I talked about doing this offseason series awhile ago and it should be fun, not the least of which because I don't know a lot of the details about where some of the formulas come from myself

And of course, the usual run-down of roster signings, stumping for free agents, hair pulling at stupid signings, and predictions of doom-and-gloom for the 2010 Cubs.

September 25, 2009


Our dog Zeus passed away today from heart failure.

We knew this was coming at some point after the problems he had last December, but it was still a surprise. He bounced back so well that I was starting to hope that he'd hang on for a lot longer...but this is the way things go for sick old dogs. He had recovered enough to take trips to the dog park again, and even went earlier this week. It's his favorite place! He had a sudden change on Wednesday though, and attempts to stabilize him by increasing his medication did not work. He headed on up to the sprit in the sky this morning at the vet's office, and I hope he's running through the fields with his Cocker friends, chasing all the squirrels he could ever want.

We love you, buddy. See you on the other side.

UPDATE: Here's his memorial page on SCR

September 20, 2009

One year ago today

Let's conveniently avoid the clusterfuck that the 2009 cubs have become, and content ourselves with memories of this

The postseason may not have worked out, but hot damn was that a fun regular season. The clincher was the only game I went to that year, and that was thanks to my in-laws, who wanted to visit Wrigley and bought the tickets months in advance. I'll always remember what a great year it was. There's always next year, except for Santo. Stay healthy Ron!

September 16, 2009

Medical news, canine edition

Such is life with older dogs. Last May I mentioned how our 13-year old Cocker, Zeus, has been doing much better on his heart medication. He's still doing great, though he's gone mostly deaf in the past few months. Not really a big deal since he was a pretty oblivious guy anyway. A few weeks ago I took Kira, our 10-year old dog (seen below demonstrating her ability to drink from water bottes) in for what we thought was another routine eye infection (it's a problem with Cockers).

However, the vet noticed that her lens had shifted in her eyeball, which was a sign that something else was up. We took her into the university vet school, where they have eye specialists, and she was diagnosed with glaucoma. From the deterioration of her retina they guessed that she had been blind in that eye for months - we had no idea! She's been getting around so well that we couldn't even tell.

They describe the pain from Glaucoma as like having a dull headache all the time in humans, though they don't know exactly how it affects dogs. Kira has been a very itchy lady for almost a year now, scratching and chewing on herself all the time without any apparent skin problems (or response to anti-itch creams/shampoos/meds, etc), so it could be that it's due to stress. She has some of the precursors for it in her other eye and will probably be completely blind in a year or so, even with treatment to slow it down. I took her back today and while her good eye was doing just fine, there was little change in her blind eye - the pressure is three times bigger than it should be - so we're going to have it surgically removed for her comfort, possibly as soon as tomorrow. We're sad for her, but glad that she's going to feel a lot better without the constant pain, and glad that she has time to adjust to losing her vision.

September 14, 2009

Book Review: Barbarians at the Gate

Continuing a streak of Helyar reviews, I read Barbarians at the Gate last May. I'd heard good things about it, and I certainly enjoyed Helyar's book on baseball, if you read my last review. I know very little about corporate America, so it was in interesting look at high-stakes finance and the LBO-mania of the 1980s. From an informative point of view, I actually enjoyed it more than Michael Lewis's (of Moneyball fame) Liar's Poker.

The book centers around Ross Johnson and the feeding frenzy that ensued when he tried to ram a 'little' deal for himself and his company that was essentially the largest deal in Wall Street history under the radar. Johnson and his cabal would get a huge sum of money as a part of the buyout, and the whole saga was used as a symbol of corporate greed in the 1980s. I'm not sure what was more hilarious, that the guy's name was Ross Freaking Johnson or the fact that he looked like every caricature of a 80s busniessman that Kids in the Hall ever did: .

Because it was the biggest buyout in Wall Street history at the time, if drew out all the major companies and flared up all their petty rivalries as they tried to either defend their place at the top or make a name for themselves. I found the book surprisingly easy to read and all the characters fascinating. It's apparently been reprinted 20 times and has been hailed as the greatest business 'history' book ever, and I can certainly see why. I never though a Leveraged Buyout could be so interesting!

September 11, 2009

Book Review: Lords of the Realm

I've been so lazy about reviewing these books that I've gone and reread the book already. It's especially egregious in this case, as this is one of my favorite books that I've ever read - certainly the best baseball book. It's written by John Helyar, who was one of the co-authors of Barbarians at the Gate (which I also read this summer).

The book is basically a history of the owners of baseball (the so-called Lords), and by extension the business of baseball. The blurb on the back describes several of the colorful characters in the history of the game, but the real meat of the book lies in its history of owner-player relations, especially the rise of the players' union from the early 60s up until the 94 strike. A lot of it focuses on the players battles with the reserve clause (Flood, Hunter, Messersmith, McNally), but one thing it points out was that salary arbitration arguable became the best victory the players had against the owners.

I must say, after reading this book I have HUGE respect for Marvin Miller, and all the player leaders of that era. Suddenly I'm a much bigger fan of Joe Torre, Phil Garner, and (gasp) Tim McCarver. Miller was their leader, but he did a great job in those days in making sure that everyone was involved. He educated the player-leaders about labor relations and they took the lead in negotiating several CBAs, with Miller only as a consultant. I don't remember who mentioned it, but when Kuhn was recently elected into the HOF while Miller was snubbed, it was just a 40 years-delayed 'fuck you' from the Lords to their old enemy. It's a travesty that a bumbling idiot like Kuhn is there and Miller is not.

The other, related story, is of course about the owners themselves and their inability to agree on what to have for lunch, let alone what is in the best interests of their businesses. It shows how much money baseball was losing (or projected to lose) that they were able to keep collusion going for 2 years in the late 80s. If any commissioner has had a real impact on the game it's probably Ueberroth, since he was the one who dragged baseball into modern business (especially with regards to TV), though collusion poisoned labor relations for years afterwords. The book ends with the rise of Bud Selig's clique and a precursor of the large vs small market battles that have dominated recent baseball history. Fun bonus: we get to see a pre-political George W. Bush running around as owner of the Rangers.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys baseball

August 27, 2009

Cub fandom

It's been a frustrating few weeks to be a Cubs fan. Aside from the lousy play of the team, there has been an absolute media trainwreck that could result in Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano being shipped out of town (at their own request). We saw this already with Sammy Sosa in 2004 - he was one of the most (if not THE most) popular players in franchise history but the Chicago media tarred and feathered him to the point that everyone felt pleased with themselves when he was shipped out of town in exchange for Mike Fontenot and a bag of balls.

Many people over at ACB have been claiming that they will quit their Cub fandom if one/both of these guys are run out of town by the media/fans. I don't know how serious they are about jumping ship to, say, Another Rangers Blog or become Dodgers fans or who knows what - I'm even crappier at reading people's levels of serious on the internets than I am in person. If that is the case, and ACB as I know it is essentially dissolved, I will be pretty disappointed. For one, I like the people over there, and the random conversations we have. But I will still be a Cubs fan (albeit a very frustrated one) if they blow up the team this offseason.

I was 'born into' Cub fandom through my Cub-fan parents, and became a pretty serious fan after the awful 2003 playoff disaster, but as time has passed the main reason I'm a Cubs fan is this - I have the vain hope of hearing Ron Santo experience a Cubs World Series championship. I know all the criticisms of Ron as a broadcaster/player/etc (and even agree with many of them), but the This Old Cub documentary really sucked me in. It's kind of foolish, but I guess that's what being a fan is all about.

August 25, 2009

Re: Today's Cubs-Natinals game

August 24, 2009

Random non-baseball post

Over at ACB, you can find my take on how the Cubs will tease us in the last month of the season. There's still of course a slim chance that they could make the playoffs, but I'm not holding my breath. The Cubs left a window open for the Cardinals through injuries, ineffectiveness, and all around shitty luck, and the Cards traded 4 of their 5 best prospects to make themselves the best team in the NL. It's a tall order.

Now that the Cubs season is essentially over, I'm beginning to get sucked into the English Premier League, thanks to a few EPL fans over at ACB. They're Tottenham Hotspur fans so I decided to join in on the fun. So far, it's been pretty exciting to watch - they've won their first 3 games and sit atop the league table. Despite the fact that I 'played' for many years in my youth I know zero about high-level football strategy etc. but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying the games. Spurs have a great offense - they only play 2 of their 4 strikers, but I would bet that their two bench guys would be starters on many other EPL teams (and may get snaked by them for just that reason). Wednesday's game vs relegation candidate Hull City was especially exciting, as Jermain Defoe collected a hat trick against their decimated defense. Spurs beat Big Four team Liverpool in their opening game and won an ugly game on the road against a good Hammers team as well.

I'm also starting to awake from my American-football slumber as well, now that FFL drafts are on the docket. I'm still a casual Packers fan, and I'm excited by the switch to the 3-4 defense. As far as the Favre stuff goes, I wish him well (though of course I wish the Packers to BEAT the Vikings). I really like Aaron Rogers at QB and think Favre should have retired a few years ago (though he did have a good season once the team got him some quality WRs). The problem with Favre from the past few years is that he's a good QB who thinks that he is still a great QB. Given the Packers still-questionable O-line and Ryan Grant (who I am still not sold on), the Packers just aren't a great fit for Favre. I think he can really succeed in MIN though, since Favre is NOT going to be expected to carry the offense there. With the Bears adding Cutler, this should be a fun season in the NFC North.

July 29, 2009

Why I'm a Cubs fan, reason #23705

I want this man to see the Cubs win a World Series before he dies

July 23, 2009

Cubs MVPP (Most Valuable Position Player) - believe it or not!

Cubs position player WAR through games of 7/23.


Believe it or not, Ryan Theriot has been the Cubs most valuable position player so far this season.

To get these numbers, I split the PAs based on the number of innings each player had played at each position. The defensive UZR values used to find the WAR are what they have accomplished SO FAR this season. I did not include baserunning or catcher defense. I guess Theriot lucks out for the lack of TOOTBLAN penalties (dying laughing)

Fuld scores highly because he hit very well and posted good UZR in the small sample size we've seen so far from him.

link to spreadsheet

July 21, 2009

I usually like Neyer, but...

Do Phillies Need Halladay (or Lee)?

Can the Phillies go to war with the Dodgers (etc.) with their top four starters, as they stand right now? We're talking about Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Happ.

Is Rob kidding? The Phillies pitching has been terrible this year. Terrible. They're no longer last in the league in FIP, having been passed by the Indians, Orioles, and Brewers in the past few days, but a 4.71 FIP is pretty awful (4.88 starters, 4.42 relievers). The Phillies bullpen posted a 3,82 FIP last season, while their starters posted a slightly less terrible 4.53 FIP.

Fundamentally, the Phillies' top four starters right now are just as good as the Phillies' top four starters last year. And just in case anyone's forgotten, last year the Phillies won the World Series.

Neyer addresses this to some extent here, though he doesn't mention the bullpen stuff. Yes, the rotation isn't that fundamentally different. However, Moyer has been especially terrible this season, and Happ has outperformed his FIP by a run and a half. It's more likely that he's just an average pitcher (or worse - ZiPS still has him pegged as a 4.7 FIP pitcher).

Now though, Halladay. You don't think the Phillies would love to replace Moyer (5.58 ERA, 5.58 FIP, 4.79 ZiPS FIP) with Halladay (2.73 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 3.15 ZiPS FIP). Those Halladay numbers aren't league adjusted either. Look, I don't think they need him to win the division (see 2008 Rich Harden), though he is worth about 2 extra wins to the team by WAR. But you'd love to have that kind of pitching in your playoff rotation.

July 16, 2009

Book Review Clearinghouse: The Master and Margarita

I was very excited to read this book, due to references to it in Everyone Drunk But Me, not to mention that Keith Law put it as #1 in the Klaw 100. I came away disappointed though, finding the main characters unlikeable and the plot too scattershot to keep me very interested.

One of the main things that bothered me about the book is that you don't really meet the title characters until halfway through. The Master is a tortured writer, shattered by the fact that his bizarre (and interesting, from what we see of it) history of the death of Christ from Pontius Pilate's point of view has been rejected by publishers, and mopes around an insane asylum. Margarita, his lover, makes a deal with the Devil (who has shown up with a cast of amusing cohorts to make mock of Soviet society) to bring him back to her so they can live together. Shenanigans ensue and she gets some measure of revenge, and the quasi-religious stuff from the Master's book is folded into it as well. I didn't really get either of them I guess. - I thought the Master was a jerk and can't really understand why Margarita would be in love with him.

As for the other (human) characters, I found them pretty unlikeable/uninteresting as well. The first half of the book was pretty much the devil and co wreaking havoc on all the social climbers etc within the communist society. I guess this was supposed to be a scathing indicment of the communists, but it all seemed pretty tame to me. Maybe I would have liked it if I was reading this from the perspective of someone who thought atheism was inconceivable or that soviet society itself is amusing in and of itself. Social climbers tend to be idiots, no matter what form of government you're operating under.

What I did like about the book was the excerpts/history from the Master's book about Pilate. I'm really just a sucker for biblical history (true or not), so I thought all of that was pretty cool. You do end up feeling sorry for Pilate in this account, but he's a pretty pathetic guy. The Devil's retinue were fairly amusing, especially Behemoth, the flippant giant cat who had "an affection for chess and vodka".

Maybe I'm just a Philistine, I don't know. But this book was not very enjoyable.

July 14, 2009

Fun with reference sites, part 1

Over at ACB, we were talking about the awesomeness of Bob Gibson. As these things tend to go, I spent the next half hour or so poking around b-ref and fangraphs looking at the careers of other big name pitchers. I'm not going to make an attempt to rigorously rank any of them vor various reasons (valuing peak v longevity is hard). I just wanted point out their awesomeness.

Bob Gibson

Gibson was a fantastic pitcher, and famous for his intensity. His numbers suffer a bit though, as he pitched in one of the most pitcher-friendly eras in baseball history.


June 08, 2009

Cubs week in Review: 6/1 - 6/7

This week's Record: 3-2 (and one rainout)
The Cubs split the series with at Atlanta and won the series vs Cincinatti. Four of the five games went into extra innings, including a five hour and thirteen minute game on Sunday that kind of shot my afternoon. At least the Cubs won.

Current record: 28-26
Cubs Sweep!:2
Series won: 6
Series split: 5
Series lost: 4
Cubs Swept!: 2

Team Stats
wOBA This week:.291, Season: .323
FIP This week: 3.57, Season: 4.28
UZR Season: 0.2

Team Leaders
wOBA: Fukudome, .388
FIP (starter): Wells, 2.63
FIP (reliever): Guzman, 3.12
UZR: Theriot (SS), 3.5

Team Trailers
wOBA: Soto, .284
FIP (Starter): Marshall, 4.84
FIP (Reliever): Gregg, 5.13
UZR: Fontenot (3b): -3.3

Hitting performance of the week:
Carlos Zambrano hit what turned out to be the game-deciding HR to win his 100th start.

Pitching performance of the week:
Randy Wells took a no-hitter into the 7th inning of tuesday's game vs the Braves. He was taken out in the 8th after giving up a HR to Garrett Anderson and, in what should be familiar to him now, watched the bullpen blow the scant lead that the offense had given him.

May 30, 2009

Random thoughts on cub fandom

I've got a terrible secret - I actually haven't been a Cubs fan for all that long. I grew up as a Cubs fan (and pretty much a baseball-only sports fan), but I never really knew anything about the team. I imagine that's the way it goes with most kids growing up, especially if they don't live near the team that they root for. I knew that Ryne Sandberg was the best player on the team and I knew the names Mark Grace and Andre Dawson but that's about it. My baseball fandom really just amounted to watching the World Series and watching the home run chase in 1998. Since I was basically just watching the playoffs, I enoyed watching the Yankees teams in those years, kicking ass and taking names in the height of their mini-dynasty. It wasn't until my cousin got me hooked on fantasy baseball back in 2001, not to mention the fact that when I got to college I suddenly had easy access to WGN and had the time to actually watch a decent number of games, that I took another look at this whole baseball thing.

I loosely followed the ups and downs of the 2001 and 2002 teams, but 2003 (and what might have been in the playoffs that year) is when I was really drawn in. What a team that was - Cubs legend (and soon to be shamefully treated Cubs pariah) Sammy Sosa was declining but still carrying the sub-par offense on his back, Hendry fleeced Pittsburgh in the Ramirez trade and brought in Kenny Lofton to spark the offense, and the pitching, oh, the pitching. The Cubs had a pair of aces in Wood and Prior, backed up by an on-his-game Matt Clement, some goofy Venezualan kid named Carlos Zambrano, and, inexplicably, Shawn Estes. It was just my luck that Estes was pitching the only game that I saw in person that season. It's no conicedence that this team had my three favorite Cubs players of all time (Prior, Sosa, Z). It sucks that it didn't work out for that team, but as Santo likes to say, that's baseball.

What got me thinking about this, though, is the 1998 Cubs. A year or so ago, my in-laws bought me a cd that was made at the end of the 98 season with various audio clips and songs from the season (and of course, Go Cubs Go) and listening to it makes me both really nostalgic about that team and bummed that I completely missed out on it. It feels strange to feel this nostalgia even though I didn't experience any of this stuff at all, aside from the HR race.

  • The 98 HR race between Sosa and McGuire

  • Getting to the playoffs for the first time since '89

  • Kerry Wood's rookie season

  • Kerry Wood's 20-K game

  • Harry Caray's death before the start of the season and the ensuinge tributes to him

  • Rod Beck being Rod Beck

  • And probably half a hundred other things that I've forgotten or don't know about, because I wasn't there

Maybe it's just because I still know who many of these players are that I'm feeling this, I don't know. After watching This Old Cub, the '69 Cubs are also up there too but I just don't get that same shiver I get when thinking about the '98 or '03 Cubs, even though I suspect that the '69 club was a better team than both of them.

I just went back and looked at the '98 Cubs roster and am floored. Despite all the nostalgia that team had going for it (above), that was NOT a great team. Any Cubs team since the 2003 run (excluding 2006, which we all should try to block out of our minds) was better than that one.

May 24, 2009

Book Review Clearinghouse - The Omnivore's Dilemma and thoughts on food

Since I'm waiting out a hailstorm in a Starbucks here in Los Alamos, I thought I'd finally get to work on clearing out my list of things I've read. Many of these books I read *a year ago* while here at Los Alamos, so I'm shamefully behind.

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

This was a fascinating read, albeit pretty depressing.

The first half of the book is all about industrial farming. I knew that corn is in just about everything, but the stuff he reported on in the book went even above and beyond what I thought about corn's dominance of the food market. The thing that surprised me the most is that a vast majority of the corn we see growing in the fields is not edible as it is grown - most of it goes to huge processing plants where it is broken down into 'corn commodities', like corn syrup and the myriad of corn-derived chemicals that you see on your food labels. I don't remember if it was this book or somewhere else (but probably this book) that pointed out that agriculture is incredibly susceptible to Prisoner's Dilemma-type situations. The price of corn (or whatever) goes down, which entices you to plant more and more crops on your land, which further drives down prices and continues to suck the nutrients out of your land. Smart policymaking *could* fix this, but the dept of agriculture is very much in the hands of big agriculture and is geared for large-scale farming, which is incredibly short-sighted and where monoculture farming fits their profit models much better. Current agricultural policy vastly discourages diversity in farming (unless you consider switching between growing nothing but soybeans and nothing but corn 'diversity'), which is much better for long-term farming outlooks. Pollan didn't mention it much in this book, but the Corn industry's lobbying power is why HFCS is cheaper than sugar in the US.

The other big topic in the first part of the book is where most of our meat comes from. Probably the most interesting fact that I came away with was that the old 'corn-fed beef' cliche that we've been inundated with for years is a fallacy in and of itself. Cow stomachs were evolved to digest grass, and are not able to correctly digest corn. Industrial meat 'growers' use corn as a method to fatten up their cows quickly. It does lead to that nice marbled steak which is the gold standard of the meat industry, but in order to keep the cows healthy while they eat all that corn, they have to pump them full of medicine and antibiotics etc in order to make sure that they stay alive long enough to be slaughtered. It's similar for chickens, though for different reasons. Most industrial chickens are heavily medicated due to their close conditions, as opposed to eating an unnatural diet (corn fattens them up too, but chickens are more versatile). The living and slaughtering conditions are quite disgusting too (lakes of manure = gross), but somehow I don't have quite as much of a problem with it. Maybe because it's not a chemical issue, I don't know, but I think it's something that can be more easily fixed, even if it means more expensive meat. I know that both problems come from large-scale production, but somehow I see the first problem as more fundamentally wrong, while the sanitation stuff is more of a cost-cutting type thing. But I digress.

The rest of the book was about sustainable farming, with a brief final chapter on hunting and foraging (that I didn't find all that interesting). The sustainable farm that he visited (and worked in) was in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and was quite fascinating. Their farm was incredibly integrated with nature and natural patterns, and he had several cool methods for his farm. Probably the coolest was the pest control/sanitation - his chickens moved around in a mobile henhouse (which I think was an old schoolbus, I can't remember) that followed the cows around as they rotated pastures. Eash day he'd let them out and they'd eat all the bugs that inevitably bred in the cow manure that the cows left behind. His chickens laid the most incredible eggs, according to the Charlottesville chefs that bought them, because they ate what chickens evolved to eat - bugs (not grains). There was a long section describing his various battles with the ag department (mainly over his chicken-slaughtering operation), and it was pretty cool all around.

The problem with his farm (and larger scale organic operations), is that they only work because they are so small-scale. They do not scale well and require a lot of manpower to generate the amount of food that people require. In my opinion, though things are getting better as far as awareness goes, nothing will change until there is a FULL change in food culture, which I do not see happening. Due to the economics of industrial agriculture, the cheapest foods are the foods that are most processed and soaked with chemicals. which adds another dimension to the culture wars in this country. It's no surprise that the right jumped all over Obama when he made his infamous 'cost of arugla' comment during the primary season. But until prices get a lot closer, fast and processed food will be a large part of our consumer culture.

American food culture is spreading too, especially as regards to meat, and ingrained food habits are very hard to change. 2 years or so ago I was challenged by a fellow mathematician that I met (who was a vegetarian) to try to go a whole week without eating meat, or even go a whole week only eating meat once a day. It was a lot harder than I thought - it's been ingrained that a meal isn't a meal without some meat in it. It doesn't help that I find most protein substitutes unappetizing, for the most part. I like tofu and other soy stuff *sometimes*, but for the most part, it subtracts from my enjoyment of what I eat. I think I do eat less meat now than I used to, but I'm not too broken up about it. I like most meat, a lot. The biggest thing I (usually) remember to ask myself is when I'm making a meal is whether having meat in/with it really necessary? I've more or less stopped eating meat on the few occasions when I have breakfast (unless I have a bacon jonesing), often omit it from pasta sauces, and usually choose other toppings for pizzas that I make/order for myself. The other key thing that I try to remember is Pollan's mantra from his other book (In Defense of Food): "Eat food, not a lot, mostly plants". I do a pretty good job at the first one, though not as good at the other. I've found that I like vegetables a lot more than I used to, but it's still hard to get over my childhood prejudices against vegetables - they're still too complementary in my head.

May 23, 2009

Making the most of the Scrap Heap

Let's take a look at the Cubs' collection of scrappy middle infielders, all of whom have seen much more playing time due to Ramirez's injury. Note, per media parlance, Bobby Scales cannot be a 'scrappy' middle infielder - we'll just have to call him 'athletic' instead.

The projections here are taken from the Updated ZiPS projections on Fangraphs, which take into account performance so far this year for the end of season line and as inputs to the rest of season projection.

PlayerSlash LinewOBAK%Projected Slash LineProjected wOBACareer K%

Fun fact: Theriot is projected to hit 4 more HR by ZiPS.

The clear 'winner' in these projections is Bobby Scales, who should be playing every day with Ramirez out. Fontenot has been terribly unlucky (more on that in a moment), but even when readjusted for luck it appears that he isn't nearly as good as some of those optimistic .340+ wOBA projections were giving him. To be fair though, ZiPS was the most down on Fontenot of any of the projection systems on Fangraphs. From what I recall PECTOA was really down on him, but I don't have my annual with me here in NM. Miles and Freel have been especially awful. Freel will probably be sent packing when Ramiriez comes back, though it would behoove the Cubs to give Scales and Fontenot some reps at SS, because Miles's ability to play that position is the only thing keeping him on the roster.

There is some reason to suspect that Fontenot (especially) will bounce back - he's had some terrible luck. Looking at the numbers:

PlayerBABIP (2009)BABIP (Careeer)LD% (2009)LD% (Career)

I left off Scales and Freel for sample size reasons, and because we don't have any career data for Scales. It actually looks like Miles has been even more unlucky than Fontenot - despite a LD% significantly above his career norms, Miles has a terrible BABIP.

What this boils down to is that even though Fontenot doesn't appaer to be nearly as good as we were thinking he would be going into the season, he's not *THIS* awful. It's pretty tough to sustain a .205 BABIP, and it's not like he's hacking any more than usual either. The Cubs should run him out there against every RHP, and Scales too.

May 10, 2009

Last night's trainwreck, Bullpen reshuffling

As you may have heard (or worse, seen), Chad Fox's elbow fell apart mid-pitch during the Brewers' blowout of the Cubs last night. He wasn't really a great pitcher anymore, but you have to admire a guy for coming all the way back from three separate Tommy John surgeries. The Cubs placed him on the DL today, and his career is likely over. However, while on the DL, he will accrue more time towards his MLB pension, which will hopefully go a long way to helping him recover from all those injuries. Best of luck to you, Chad Fox.

Speaking of last night's game, what a mess. Gallardo did not bring his A-game at all last night, and the Cubs did not take advantage. They had guys on first and third with no outs in the second and failed to score, had two runners on in the third and fourth and failed to score, and had the bases loaded against the Brewers bullpen in the 7th and failed to come away with any runs. Following that, Lou put Dempster out for another inning despite the fact that he was at 110+ pitches. He promptly gave up back to back HRs to Counsell and Braun before being removed. Cotts and Patton then came in and (hopefully) finally punched their tickets off the roster by coughing up another 4 runs. The Cubs finally showd some life and Fukudome actually got a hit with runners in scoring position, but it was too little too late. After Fox's injury, Heilman came in and walked three straight batters and coughed up a single and sac fly before striking out Weeks and their pitcher. The final score was 12-6 Brewers.

Ascanio was recalled to replace Fox, and he was probably the guy the Cubs should have called up in the first place. Ascanio has been red-hot in AAA, putting up a 2.26 FIP in 26.2 IP thus far. He's not that good (his projections hover around a 4.7 FIP in the bigs), but I've always liked his stuff and he has to be better than David Patton, who is pitching his way off this roster. Patton has a 5.71 FIP thus far, pretty close to his projection of 5.6. No one should be surprised that he has pitched so poorly.

Speaking of AAA starters, Randy Wells wasn't half bad on friday, filling in for Zambrano. He had some early jitters, which were to be expected, but then he settled down and struck out 5 Brewers in 5 innings without giving up a run. Lou seemed impressed by the outing and has hinted that Wells would stick around when Z returns. Sadly, it will probably mean that Ascanio will head back to the minors, but we can hope that he replaces Patton instead.

Other pitchers throwing well in the minors (small sample size caveats apply)

Jeff Stevens, RHP (AAA) - 3.06 FIP
John Gaub, LHP (AA) - 1.04 FIP, career 2.42 FIP v LHH
Esmailin Caridad, RHP (AAA) - 4.77 FIP
Jay Jackson, RHP (AA) - 3.93 FIP
Jeremy Papelbon (AA) - 3.92 FIP, 1.61 FIP v LHH

Watch your back, Cotts and Patton.

Good news

We took the dogs into the vet yesterday for a series of shots/checkups, and got good news on our buddy Zeus.

Zeus is an older dog that we adopted from rescue last May. He started to develop some heart problems last fall. We're not sure if it's genetic, due to old age, or due to the fact that he was very overweight and fed a poor diet for most of his life, but it is what it is, as they say. Last December he had complications due to his heart issues and almost died before the vet was able to stabilize him. He wasn't sure if Zeus was even going to survive the winter, and advised us to be careful about overexerting him, which meant no more dog park visits (his favorite place!).

However, since then he has responded very well to his new medications and his heart murmur has almost completely disappeared. Our vet has dialed down his medication some and cleared him to return to the dog park! We're going to take him back tomorrow for his first visit in almost 6 months to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of his adoption.

May 08, 2009

Gathright traded for Freel

According to the Baltimore Sun, Joey Gathright has been traded for Ryan Freel. I like this trade because Freel has similar speed but more flexibility, position-wise than Gathright. Gathright plays better D in the outfield of course (especially CF), but after the rash of injuries the Cubs had last month they really could have used an extra infielder. I think though that Freel sees about as much time in the OF as Gathright did, and Lou's going to use Johnson when he feels like he needs a defensive replacement for Bradley or Soriano. We're more likely to see him taking ABs away from Aaron Miles and spelling Mike Fontenot/Aramis Ramirez than anything else. Hopefully it also means that Fontenot spends more time playing 2b, where he is a plus defender, rather than at 3b.

I don't really understand this deal from the Orioles perspective. They already have a plus defensive center fielder (and ex-Cub) who can't hit in Felix Pie. Gathright is ticketed for AAA, but still, I don't see what Baltimore has to gain from this.

Bonus! Per Robothal, the Cubs are paying Gathright's (800k) Salary and the Orioles are paying Freel's (4mm) salary. Awesome! I like this even more for the Cubs and even less for the Orioles.

Projected wOBAs:

Freel: .315
Gathright: .308
Miles: .310

Freel's been all over the field for the past few years, so he doesn't really have a big sample at any position. He plays about average defense at CF, 2b, and 3b. Now if only the Cubs tried to use Fontenot to back up Theriot at SS, we could get rid of Miles...

May 06, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs (14-12) at Astros (11-15)

Following their spring training-like game yesterday, the Cubs travel to Houston for another short series. How lame is a two-game series anyway? If I were a player, I'd rather see more 4 game series or maybe even 5 game series between teams than shorter ones like these - it must suck for traveling. I imagine the scheduling is built around the assumption that the same teams play on friday-saturday-sunday, since they can/have to play day games on the weekend. Still though, I'd much rather see more weeks where a team plays fri-sun at one place and mon-thursday at another one, or some other overlapping combo (thu-sun or fri-mon). For divisional foes it would seem especially important, because teams are less likely to dodge a bullet (or get unlucky) rotation-wise in a long series.

Honestly, I'm surprised the Astros are only 4 games below .500. Once again they have their usual aging stars-and-scrubs roster, which can have flashes of good baseball but is generally a prescription for diappointment. I think that the Cubs momentum (spring training game yesterday notwithstanding) keeps rolling into this series.

Pitching Probables:
Monday: Harden (R) (4.76, 3.1) v Mike Hampton (L) (4.3, 4.95), 7:05 PM

Hampton hasn't shown an ability to go deep in the games he's pitched, which means more work for a generally lousy bullpen. He is a groundball pitcher who's never been much of a power pitcher - he just needs to hope that the ball doesn't go to Tejada, who is well below average on defense, rather than the other infielders, who are pretty decent on defense. Blum especially surprised me with his UZR numbers - he's had double-digit UZR at third base for the past four seasons. As far as the Cubs go, we'll just have to see which Harden shows up. There was some chatter from Will Carroll (granted, not the greatest judge of Cubs pitchers) that Harden's stuff in his last start were largely a product of fatigue. There's not much you can do when you play so many games in a row though - it's not like the Cubs are going to run out 6 starters to save Harden's arm. Harden is the poster child of pitchers that you point to when people wonder why pitchers don't throw 300 innings a season anymore. There's no way his shoulder could take that kind of load, and his stuff is pretty special.

Tuesday: Lilly (L) (4.57, 4.3) v Russ Ortiz (R) (5.39, 5.0), 7:05 PM

Good Ted Lilly showed up in his last start against the Marlins, going 8 innings and striking out 10 batters with no walks. However, he was knocked around for 4 HR against the Astros in 5 innings (and still got the win, thanks to the Cubs jumping all over Brian Moehler in the first inning). That was some pretty low-leverage pitching though, and came right out of Lilly's WBC-shortened spring training. It will be interesting to see if he shuts them down this time. Ortiz came in as long relief after the Cubs chased Moehler and gave up a few more garbage-time runs (including a HR by Fontenot as soon as he came in the game). Ortiz is the kind of guy that the Cubs should jump all over - he has lousy stuff and has a hard time finding the strike zone.

Cubs sweep!

May 04, 2009

Series mini-preview: Giants (12-11) v Cubs (13-11)

The Cubs take on the Giants for a short series at Wrigley field this week. The Cubs offense is finally starting to head up, and most importantly become healthy. Of course, just as Ramirez returns, Z goes on the DL. Scales is being called up for a few days until Zambrano's replacement comes to take his rotation spot - he should spell Fontenot/Theriot/Miles, who have been playing every day (though I hope we keep seeing Fontenot in the lineup, as he is good at hitting baseballs).

Pitching Probables:
Monday: Sanchez (L) (4.78, 3.9) v Dempster (R) (4.73, 3.8)

If you just look at the ERAs, this looks like a mismatch. Sanchez has a nice ERA thus far but his FIP says otherwise, while Dempster's numbers are off in the opposite direction. Not much to say here - both of these guys can have problems with walks - in fact they seem like very similar pitchers. The Cubs have a better (and hotter) offense, so I think they squeak out a win here.

Tuesday: Lincecum (R) (1.89, 3.0), v Marshall (L) (3.9, 4.6)

Lincecum is good at pitching. Marshall took a good first step at proving me wrong in his great last start - he really had his curveball working for him. Factor in the offenses and this game is closer than at first glance, but I think SF wins this one.

Prediction: Split series

April 29, 2009

Series Preview: Marlins (13-8) v Cubs (10-10), 4/30- 5/3

As crappy as the team has played, it's good to remember that the Cubs are 10-10, and not, say 5-15 like the Washington Natinals. Speaking of the Natinals, the Marlins are certainly going to miss playing them.

OpponentRecordRuns ScoredRuns AllowedRuns Scored/GameRuns Allowed/Game
vs WAS6-045257.54.1
vs everyone else7-849753.35

Just about any team will feast on the (lack of) pitching that the Nationals have, and the Marlins are no exception. Their best player, Hanley Ramirez, is also a little banged up after being hit on the wrist by a pitch earlier this week.

The Cubs, on the other hand, are coming off a stretch three straight series losses and a clownboatload of injuries. There were signs of life in the offense in Tuesday's game, and Milton Bradley seems to be seeing the ball a bit better. However, they stunk up the joint on Monday and Wednesday, and it looks like the team's second best hitter, Aramis Ramirez, might be headed to the DL. This can only mean more Aaron Miles, which is not a recipe for good. Furthermore, Soto and Lee have looked quite terrible at the plate. Maybe Florida's pitching can wake some of these guys up? Maybe they'll have to take a trip to KFC instead.

Note: I'm going to add each pitcher's current and roughly projected FIP to these

Probable Pitchers
Thursday: Volstad (4.64, 4.4) v Marshall(3.77, 4.6) (7:05 pm)
Volstad's a decent pitcher. He put up a great ERA last year in his rookie season and his peripherals backed it up, to some extent. He's struggled with his control in his last few starts but has been able to limit the damage. Marshall has been spectacularly mediocre, doing just what you expect from your 5th starter (lasting 5-6 innings, giving up 3 runs or so). I'm still not the biggest Marshall supporter, as you may have surmised, though I think he is our fifth best starting pitcher and is certainly better than Jason Marquis. I still haven't gotten over his scouting report from 2006 that said he's the type of guy that will be hit hard after his second or third time through the lineup (and second or third time around the league). He's shown some promise since then, but he needs to prove me wrong to make a believer out of me. He certainly did have a wicked curveball working in his last start, which I love to see.

Friday: Taylor(7.82, 5.43) v Harden(4.52, 3.1) (1:20 pm)
I don't know if we'll see a bigger pitching mismatch the entire season. Taylor just made the jump from AA into the Marlins rotation, and was hit hard by the Phillies in his only start. His minor league numbers show him to be a command guy, with K/9 hovering in the ~6 range but with very few walks. That kind of stuff typically doesn't translate into the majors unless you have truly special stuff, and it does not look like Taylor has it. Not much I can say about Harden here. He is good at throwing baseballs.

Saturday: Anibal Sanchez(4.1, 4.35) v Ted Lilly(5.34, 4.3) (1:20 pm)
Sanchez was hit pretty hard in his last start vs. the Mets. He definitely has problems with the base on balls, so I hope the Cubs can capitalize. As far as Lilly goes, we'll see which Ted shows up. It shouldn't be too warm at Wrigley on Saturday, so that will help him out some. He certainly has to show more command than he did in his last start. This one feels like a tossup to me.

Sunday: Ricky Nolasco(3.65,4.05) v Carlos Zambrano(4.13, 4.15) (1:20pm)
Nolasco has a terrible ERA thus far, but I was surprised to see that his peripherals look good. The Cubs hit lefthanders very well last year (despite Doug freaking Davis and Wandy freaking Rodriguez having their number), so it will be interesting to see how things go vs. Nolasco. Z had a great outing in his last start, though wierdly enough he only notched 3 strikeouts against the hack-tastic Diamondbacks. I saw him pitch in person and I can see why people have been cringing at his mechanics for quite some time. It seems to be working though (albeit not as well as he pitched pre 2007), and Z is still Z. You gotta love having that bat in the lineup too. That HR he hit was absolutely crushed. Seeing the replays still floors me, it didn't look like he even got a good swing on it. Zambrano is crazy strong.

Series is split, though I do think the Cubs have a slight advantage. The first two games are fairly easy picks, but I would not be surprised to see the Cubs win both weekend games and finally build some momentum.

April 27, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs (9-8) vs Arizona (7-11), 4/27-4/29

The Cubs bats finally woke up vs St. Louis yesterday, despite the fact that their two best remaining hitters (Lee and Soriano) both had injury scares yesterday. Lee left the game in the first with neck spasms and is day-to-day, while Soriano was hit in the head by a Wellemeyer pitch and remained in the game. Still, scary moments for a team with such a a short bench. Arizona is coming off a series loss to the Giants and has injury problems of its own. They just found out that Brandon Webb is going to miss at another 6 weeks or so with shoulder issues, which is a huge blow to their chances to contend in the west. Stephen Drew is also injured, and will miss this series. This is an interesting matchup for the Cubs, as the Diamondbacks have a rep for being a hack-tastic team, most notably Mark Reynolds and Chris Young. Justin Upton had a poor start to the season, but seems to be emerging from his slump (or at least KLaw certainly seems to think so). I hope so too, since I bought low on him in both of my fantasy leagues. The Cubs have a strikeout staff, so they should see an uptick in their numbers this series. It's too bad Harden isn't pitching against them, that would be fun to watch. Even without Webb, Arizona's strength is its starting pitching, and we're not seeing any slouches here in this series. Here are the matchups:

Probable Pitchers
Monday: Lilly v Haren (8:40 pm)

Haren would be the ace of pretty much any other team, and with Webb out he's the leader of this staff. He's one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball - he had a quietly huge season last year (3.01 FIP and 208 K's in 216 IP), and hasn't slowed down this season. Lilly's been his usual up-and-down self this season, pitching one dud start along with two sparkling outings. This should be another frustrating, low-scoring game with little offense from the Cubs like we've been seeing this week; I wouldn't be surprised to see another 7-1 type game where it's close until the 7th or 8th inning, where the Cubs bullpen gets lit up, and the offense looks clueless again. Dan Haren is not the prescription for a slumping team to break out, and these things happen when half your lineup is injured and the other half is slumping.

Tuesday: Zambrano v Petit (8:40 pm)

Z hasn't looked great in his last few starts, but at least he's managed to go relatively deep in them. He looked okay in his last start against the Reds (7 K's), but was left in one inning too long, not to mention the poor defense behind him in that game (he made one mistake himself). Petit is a decent guy to have around as a swingman. I remember him pitching pretty well against the Cubs in a spot start last year. He's pitched okay in his starts so far this year, despite a 6.00 ERA teams haven't really teed off on him and he hasn't been walking people willy-nilly. The Cubs should get through against him, I think.

Wednesday: Dempster v Davis (2:40 pm)

Just like my last preview of Demp, he just needs to avoid the One Big Inning problem I think this is a good matchup for him though. Davis has always pitched well against the Cubs, but also tends to walk a lot of guys (which the Cubs are good at). His control seems fine so far this season - he's only had one start where he's walked more than one batter. This one is probably a toss-up

Series Prediction
Both of these teams are slumping a little bit, but I think the Diamondbacks have a slight edge in this series, and win 2-1

April 24, 2009

Two-game recap and series Preview: Cubs v Cardinals (4/24 - 4/26)

It was just my luck that the two games that I went to were some pretty lousy results for the Cubs. I'm not too upset about the offense in those games though - Cueto and Harang brought their A games, and sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other pitcher. Lilly and Z both pitched great games, and if it weren't for some shoddy defense by Hoffpauir the second game could have gone in another direction.

I had field level seats for a decent price for Z's start (yay for Bronze ticket pricing dates!) and it was pretty cool. I think I still like the upper deck boxes better though. I was hoping to be able to see more movement on Z's pitches being closer but I could not. I have much more respect for major league hitters now. I got a few pictures but my camera batteries ran out in the second inning (I forgot to replace them before I left, d'oh). I'll put up a few once I get around to dumping them off the camera. It's too bad we didn't get a lead, because I really wanted to see Marmol pitch. Samardzija's inning was a trainwreck, and I bitched good-naturedly with several fans around me about the questionable bullpen decisions over the past day or two. Samardzija was all over the place, and when he was in the strike zone he was being hit. Leaving him in the minors until he found some control was the Cubs plan all along - I just don't understand their bullpen management decisions.

For the upcoming series, it's going to be pretty similar to the last one, except we're seeing Boggs instead of Walters in Carpenter's spot. The Cards are still hot, and MB is still injured. I feel good about the matchups though

Pitching Probables
Friday: Dempster v Wainwright (7:05 pm)

Dempster's been remarkably consistent over his first three starts. He's gone six innings, struck out ~5 batters, walked ~3 players, and has given up ~4 runs. Dempster's main problem is his propensity for hte big inning; it seems like in most of his starts he's had one inning with 6-8 batters and kept people off the basepaths in the rest. My report for Wainwright is about the same as last time. He's a good pitcher, but he's had some control problems thus far in the season, and had a bad spring IIRC. Pitching-wise this seems like a pretty even matchup, so you have to think that the advantage goes to the Cards in this game, as hot as their offense has been and as cold as the Cubs has been

Saturday: Marshall v Boggs (3:10 pm, on FOX)

Marshall had a decent though unspectacular outing against the Cardinals the last time out. He went 5 innings and gave up 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks. I've never been a big Marshall supporter, even though he's a much better pitcher than he was in 2006, I keep expecting him to fail for some reason, even though I know he shouldn't. We don't have much to go on with Boggs, except that he was hit pretty hard last year as a mid-season callup, though a lot of that is skewed by a 10 run outing that seems like a take-one-for-the-team type situtation. He didn't go past 6 innings in any of his starts last year. He had decent numbers in the minors, but not the kind of K/BB rates that you expect from a really good prospect (only ~2:1). I think the Cubs squeak this one out.

Sunday: (EDIT:) Harden v Wellemeyer (1:15 pm)
Wellemeyer was hit pretty hard by the Mets in his last start (though no HRs yet this season), and seems to be having problems striking people out. Harden had a good outing last time against the Reds; though his velocity was down, he still managed 8 strikeouts. With the warm weather, we might see some balls flying out of the park, but I like this matchup for the Cubs.

Series Prediction:
2-1 Cardinals. Cards win Friday and one of the two weekend games (probably Saturday)

April 22, 2009

Playing time projections, revisited (part 1)

This is a short post, since I have to give a talk in an hour or so, but this was on my mind as I drove into Chicago.

We're 12 games into the season, and some playing time trends have emerged. So far, it seems that Lou is using Micah Hoffpauir as Bradley's primary backup in RF, which goes against the assumptions that most of us were using that Johnson would absorb a large number of OF starts. Additionally, Lou has entered Johnson into the game at CF as a defensive substitution when he feels like substituting, rather than Joey Gathright. By my count, we then effectively have 6 OF, and Gathright has barely been used at all.

Most of Gathright's value lies in his defense, and if Lou is not going to use him, why not just release him and call up Jake Fox? I've been pretty frustrated seeing Miles and Gathright coming up as pinch hitters, since they are not good at hitting. Fox destroyed the ball in spring training and hasn't stopped hitting since being sent to the minors. He's not as good as these numbers, but he's obviously a better hitter than those two banjo-hitting utility guys.

I'm going to post some revised projections with new playing time projections for the positional players, based on Lou's usage of Hoffpauir in the next day or two. Until then - two Cubs games for me! I'm excited for tomorrow's game especially - I have field level seats behind the plate for Zambrano's start.

April 20, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs vs Reds (4/21-4/23) (and bonus Reds preview)

Dusty Baker returns to Wrigley field this week for a 3-game set against the Cubs. A lot of people picked the Reds to be frisky this year based on their pitching staff, but I'm not sure what to make of them. Dusty Baker's management of pitchers aside (poor Aaron Harang), the Reds' ballpark has to somewhat mitigate any positives that their starting pitching gives them. Another major problem is their lineup. Dusty Baker continues his crusade to put impatient but fast players at the top of his lineup, and Willy Taveras (of the career .333 OBP) is just Juan Pierre 2.0. Losing Adam Dunn fron last season is going to be a big problem for them too - he was by far the best hitter on their team.

The offense is now centered around a core of Votto, Bruce, Encarnacion, and Phillips. Phillips is a great asset for the team, but everyone seems to remember his career year in 2007 instead of the rest of his work (including the 2 years bracketing it). He's a good player, but he's not a guy you can center your offense around. His projected wOBA is just about average. Votto is going to be quite good (and one of the most underrated players in the NL), Bruce projects well but is still young, and Encarnacion has been the Javier Vazquez of hitters, always underperforming his peripherals. Those 4 are solid players, and any of the young guys could have truly breakout seasons this year. However, the rest of their lineup is quite putrid.

Most of the buzz surrounding the Reds is their pitching staff, which is a little overrated. Harang might be breaking down under Dusty's usage (that 4 inning relief appearance on two day's rest last year was criminal). He's a good-to-great pitcher when he's healthy. Cueto is overrated due to his fast start last year, and is projected to be a league average pitcher. Volquez is probably a little better than Harang, but his peripherals aren't as good as that sparkling ERA that he put up last year. Arroyo is slightly better than league average, and Owings is pretty mediocre. That bandbox of a ballpark that they play in certainly isn't helping them either. They have a lot of strikeout pitchers, but Volquez is the only one with any groundball tendencies, which is trouble in that park.

Even with one or two breakout seasons, they're probably still behind the Cubs and Cardinals. They have a decent hitting core, but I don't think that the rest of their lineup is good enough to make up for the handicap that the ballpark gives to their pitching.

Who's hot
Derrek Lee
Aramis Ramirez
Aaron Harang

Who's not
Brandon Phillips
Edinson Volquez
Geovany Soto

Pitching Matchups
Tuesday: Micah Owings v Rich Harden (7:05 pm)
Owings has barely pitched this season, and was roughed up by the Brewers in his first outing. Harden had quite a but of trouble in his last start as well, but is a much much better pitcher than Owings. It sure seems like he was tipping his changeup in his last start, but Harden said that he just screwed started throwing instead of pitching because his shoulder felt so good. It's going to be a cool night and the Reds remain base-clogging averse, so I'm betting he has whatever was going on his last start figured out and we get a nice start from Harden.

Wednesday: Johnny Cueto v Ted Lilly (7:05 pm)
Cueto's going to be a good pitcher someday, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen yet. He had lots of problems finding the plate in his last start (6 BB in 4.2 IP), so hopefully the patient Cubs feast on him. Uncle Ted threw an incredible game in his last start, and should continue to do well in the cool weather on Wed night. I'll be at this game (yay) with bleacher tickets, following my afternoon seminar talk at UIC.

Thursday: Carlos Zambrano v Aaron Harang (1:20 pm)
Harang had a tough luck loss in his last start - he gave up 5 runs and 10 hits but most of them were balls that found their way through the infield. He threw a complete game shutout in his previous start, so it looks like he's got good stuff at this point in the season. I think Harang pitches a good game the Reds end up winning this game. I *might* (edit: I will) end up sticking around Chicago for this game as well, depending on whether I get enough work done this week to get me over the grad school Guilt Hump.

Random Predictions
Last week:
Last week's predictions went okay - I was correct in that the Cubs won the series and that Sunday's game would be rained out. Was quite wrong about the HRs hit in this series (thank goodness we kept Pujols silent).

This week:
Cubs win the series 2-1 (lose on Thursday)
Milton Bradley goes on a tear
Soto continues to slump

April 19, 2009

Yankee Stadium = Coors field east?

Buster Olney's Sunday blog entry addressed what is quickly becoming a concern for the Yankees management: New Yankee Stadium appears to be a launching pad, ala Coors Field in the 1990s. After only 5 games (if you include the exhibition games vs the Cubs), 25 home runs have been hit in Yankee Stadium. This is a pretty small sample size, and could be explained by the fact that the Yankees have a good offense and the Indians (who also have a good offense) teed off on a probably still-injured Wang and the rookie sent out there to take one for the team. Still though, the buzz from scouts and others have seemed to agree with the perception that the new park is playing very differently from the old one.

The Yankees management must be shitting bricks at this news. The Rockies have tried several different things to try to win at Coors and have succeeded only once in recent years, trying to build around a groundball pitching staff, and still only made the playoffs through their miraculous late-season winning streak. Pitchers have already shown an aversion to playing at Coors due to the hitter-friendly conditions - it will be interesting to see the premium the Yankees have to pay to get top free agents to their park. The Yankees have money, and they're generally pretty well run. But if this ends up being true, it drops a huge grenade on their current plans. Good luck to them in figuring out how to win with the high variance that a bandbox of a home ballpark can shackle them with.

Neal Cotts, take two

After today's game, I almost went back and deleted yesterday's post. Almost. For those of you keeping score, Cotts entered the game in the top of the 7th with a 1-run lead and promptly walked the first two batters he faced on 8 straight balls before being removed for Marmol, who worked his way out of the jam. You'd think that Cotts was squarely in Lou's doghouse already, but he surprisingly hadn't pitched his way into it yet, seeing how he was still the first guy Lou tapped for a somewhat leveraged pitching appearance today when he could have just taken the easy way out by going Heilman/Marmol/Gregg to end the game. So I guess we'll have to take the famous wait and see approach to see what happens to Cotts. I think he still sticks with the team for a little while longer.

If Cotts is released, I think he gets replaced by Waddell, who Lou has liked. Sadly I've also heard some buzz that he might be replaced by Chad Fox (ugh) and his duct-taped arm. Moving these guys around is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (or the Hindenberg, if you prefer. These Cubs are soaring!). Waddell *might* be worth something, since the buzz is that he's more of a classic LOOGY, but young pitchers can break your heart in creative ways. Let's look at the numbers we have.

Here is the chart similar to the one that I used in my bullpen projections, which further makes me wish we got one of those other LOOGYs on the cheap. The entries here are the pitchers' FIP, and I added Waddell's minor league FIP, adjusted to the major leagues using minorleaguesplits's MLE tool. The FIP numbers for the three ML guys aren't precice: b-ref only gives PAs instead of IP so I estimated their IP for each split based on their fraction of total PAs. Surprisingly, even though Cotts's OPS against was worse for LHH than RHH (see my earlier bullpen prediction post), his FIP splits look more like they should.

PlayerFIP vs RHHFIP vs LHH2009 Salary

I'm kind of surprised - the numbers say that bringing up Waddell IS a much better idea than I thought. I hope that we keep Cotts for a little while to see what kind of trade value we can get for him, but maybe the Cotts haters are right: he should be shown the door. I just hope we don't see Chad Fox up here anytime before September this year

April 16, 2009

Small sample size alert!

The buzz of the Cubs blogosphere is that Cotts isn't long for this team, and think that he should be released tomorrow. That's a pretty ridiculous proposition - Cotts has only pitched 2 2/3 innings this season. He hasn't looked great out there, but I would be far more worried with a reliever if he was coughing up HR. In his 2 2/3 innings, he has walked 2 batters and given up four singles. He has given up 2 line drives and 7 groundballs, and only walked 2 batters. Cotts is no great shakes and I wish we had gone after Ohman or Beimel, but that ship has sailed. Cotts is an average reliever, and it should not be surprising that he has given up some runs. If these kinds of numbers continue to play out for his next 10 appearances or so, then I'll be worried.

April 15, 2009

Series Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals (4/16-4/19)

The first 'big' series of the year is coming up for the Cubs. So far it seems that the Cardinals are the only credible competition for the Cubs this year within the division, though the Cubs should finish well ahead of them. I was feeling much more bullish about the Cardinals until Carpenter was injured yesterday, which is really too bad for them. I caught an inning or two of the game before his injury and it reminded me of why I like watching Carpenter pitch. He should still be a factor for the rest of the season, but those oblique injuries can be pretty strange.

The Cubs are suddenly looking banged up too, though it's not too surprising considering the cold weather they've been playing in. The Cubs will be without Bradley until the weekend, due to his groin injury. I don't think we see him until next week, seeing how wet the weather this weekend is supposed to be (I wouldn't be surprised if the Sunday game is rained out). Ramirez has been day-to-day with a stiff back and Soto just returned from a minor shoulder/biceps problem as well. He went 0-4 today and I would not be surprised if it takes him a few games to get into a groove at the plate.

Who's hot
Lee (has been hitting the ball hard)


Who's not


The matchups
Thursday: Wainwright v Marshall (1:20 start)
Wainwright is a good pitcher, but I feel good about the team's chances against him at this point in the season. He struggled to find the strike zone and thus ran up some early pitch counts in his first two starts (8 BB in 10.1 IP). Given how patient the Cubs have been lately, we might expect to see more of the same in this start. This will be Marshall's first start this year, and I'm interested in seeing how he'll do. As always, the Cardinals have an offense that's better than it appears, and I think they rough up Marshall this time around. I expect this to be a high-scoring game.

Friday: Lohse v Zambrano (1:20 start)
This should be a good game. Zambrano always brings his A game against the Cardinals, and Lohse has pitched very well thus far this season (albeit against the poor-hitting Pirates and Astros). Lohse has shown better control so far this year, and I have the feeling that this one will be a real pitchers' duel.

Saturday: Wellemeyer v Dempster (2:40 start)
Wellemeyer is yet another Larussa/Duncan reclamation project that I keep expecting to blow up in their faces, and yet he keeps producing. I hated him when he was with the Cubs, but he's been better than decent since joining the Cardinals. Dempster was quite shaky in his last outing, so it will be interesting to see if he bounces back. I hope he made good on his promise to Reed Johnson to buy him some Culver's for hauling back Fielder's grand slam.

Sunday: Lilly v TBA (7:05 start)
It's another night game, and should be cool due to the rain that's moving through this weekend (which might cancel the game). This should help Ted - he pitched well in the cold conditions in the home opener on Monday. Lilly's one of those guys who gives you a better-than-quality start when he has his stuff/the conditions are good, but gets shelled if he's off. I'm thinking Lilly puts up another good performance and the Cubs crush whomever the Cards throw out there to replace Carpenter.

Random Predictions
Cubs win series 3-1 (win on Sunday and the other three games are close)
Pujols hits 3 HR in the series
Derrek Lee heats up, hits 2 HR