By Richard Kagan
The Chicago Cubs have been putting up big numbers on the scoreboard on the road. They come back to Chicago in a week or so. Can they continue their current torrid streak at the plate?
Lately, the team has been averaging 8.8 runs per game and hitters are spraying the ball all over the field. Jason Heyward has found his swing and has hit three home runs in the last four days. He belted a three-run homer against the Pirates in a 14-3 romp. Heyward is now batting .294 for the young season with 3 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Last season he hit .230 with seven home runs and 49 RBI’s.
Heyward has said he’s been working on his swing and he hopes his production continues. So do Cubs fans.
Addison Russell had four singles and Ben Zobrist hit a bases-loaded clearing double. Kris Bryant is finding his stroke and had a three hit night. So did Miguel Montero. Listen, these guys can hit. They hit in the dreary-like conditions in Pittsburgh, where it was a good idea to dress with the winter coat.
Imagine what may happen on a sunny day at Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out? The way the pitching has been going, the Cubs may win 15-7. Last night Brett Anderson looked like a starting pitcher in his outing. The starting pitching looks a bit vulnerable now. Kyle Hendricks has yet to find his groove. Jon Lester has yielded more runs than usual. Jake Arrieta looks starter-ready. But the Cubs offense might off-set the shaky starters — for a while.
It is a long season, and the Cubs have played less than 20 games, but signs are looking positive, just as the Ivy begins to bloom again on the walls in the outfield. The Ivy will come up.
Hopefully the bats continue to come alive as we head deeper into Spring.
By Paul DiSclafani:
It took 10 innings and three comebacks, but the Mets (32-26) snap a nine-game losing streak against the Pirates with a 6-5 win. Mets fought back from deficits of 2-0, 3-2 and 5-3 before breaking through in the 10th inning to take their first lead, 6-5.
Playing “small ball” paid off big time for the Mets in the tenth and the Pirates not playing “small ball” in their half might have cost them
Yoenis Cespedes led off the tenth with his third hit of the game, followed by a single from Neil Walker. James Loney then got a bunt down the third base line to move the runners to second and third with one out. The Pirates intentionally walked Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases, bringing up Wilmer Flores as a pinch hitter for Ty Kelly.
Flores then floated the first pitch into shallow right center to score Cespedes and give the Mets their first lead of the night.
That brought on Jeurys Familia to try to save it. Familia came into the game having walked just seven batters all year, but he walked the first two Pirates in the tenth and looked to be out of trouble when Sean Rodriguez hit into a 6-4-3 double play as manager Clint Hurdle decided against a sacrifice attempt that would have moved the runners to second and third with one out.
But Familia proceeded to walk Chris Stewart, his third walk of the night, before getting David Freeze looking to end the game for his 19th save. Familia has recorded 35 consecutive regular season saves.
“We’ll take it and get out of here,” Manager Terry Collins said after the game. Mets lost a doubleheader here in Pittsburgh yesterday.
The Pirates jumped on Noah Syndergaard for two runs in the first inning before he even got an out. Walker booted John Jaso’s ground ball on the second pitch of the game and then Andrew McCutchen followed with a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Gregory Polanco followed with a double to deep right off the glove of Alejandro De Aza, scoring Jaso to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Jung Ho Kang then singled home McCutchen and for the third straight night, the Mets were down early as the Pirates led 2-0.
Highly regarded Pirates rookie Jameson Taillon was making his major league debut and held the Mets scoreless for the first three innings, but in the fourth, after erasing a leadoff walk with a double play, Cabrera doubled to left. Kelly, getting the start at third base, followed with his first major league home run to deep right to tie the game.
The Pirates went back on top 3-2 in their half of the fourth when Jaso doubled in a run, but the Mets came right back in the fifth to tie it. Syndergaard led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by De Aza. Playing small ball paid off when Michael Conforto hit a fly ball to center, allowing Syndergaard to score and tie the game 3-3.
Syndergaard left the game after six innings, charged with two earned runs on seven hits and five strikeouts, but the Pirates jumped on Jim Henderson for two runs to retake the lead. McCutchen worked out a leadoff walk and Polanco followed with his third double of the night, but Walker mishandled the relay throw, allowing McCutchen, who had stopped at third, to score to give the Pirates the 4-3 lead. Walker had never made two errors in the same game in Pittsburgh in his career. With one out, Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly for another two run lead, 5-3.
In the eighth, the Mets kept coming back. De Aza worked out a leadoff walk from reliever AJ Schugel after being down 0-2. That brought up Conforto, batting second for the first time this year, who cracked a two run home run (his ninth) to center field to tie the game at 5-5.
The Mets seemed to have Schugel on the ropes as Yoenis Cespedes singled and Walker walked then moved to second and third on a wild pitch. But James Loney grounded out to second with the runners unable to score. Cabrera was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out, but Schugel got out of the jam when Kelly hit a shallow fly to right and pinch hitter Curtis Granderson grounded out to end the threat.
Addison Reed, who got the win (1-0), pitched two innings of shutout relief, getting the Mets to the tenth inning, where they played small ball again to score.
Mets head to Milwaukee for a four game weekend series and face Jimmy Nelson (5-4, 3.43). Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.27) gets things started.
METS GET KELLY JOHNSON BACK
Mets reacquired Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves for minor league reliever Akeel Morris. The Braves will pay $450,000 to the Mets on August 1st to cover part of Johnson’s $1.2M contract. Johnsons will join the Mets in Milwaukee on Friday.
POSITIVES: Mets had 11 hits including two doubles and two home runs … They also had three sacrifices … Kelly had two hits … Walker had a hit and two walks … Syndergaard busted it out of the box for his double … Cabrera was intentionally walked twice … Mets reacquired Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves to help plug the holes at 1B, 3B and OF
NEGATIVES: Mets hit into two double plays … Pirates stole four bases off Rivera / Syndergaard … Juan Lagares missed his fourth consecutive game with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb
I originally wrote this article in January of 2015 shortly after the Hall of Fame voting and the announcement of the players to be inducted. I am reposting this article to bring to your attention a very big change in who will be permitted to vote from now on to enshrine players in Cooperstown. Look at the four changes that I call for in how the voting is done. The second one listed has in fact been changed for the 2016 voting! There will be 100 less “writers” allowed to cast a ballot this year. The Hall of Fame has decided that if you have not actively covered baseball for the last 10 years then you lose your right to vote. It is no longer a lifetime privilege. Good job by the Hall of Fame Committee because that one issue really needed to change. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on January 6th 2016. Ken Griffey Jr. is a lock to get elected. Trevor Hoffman may have to wait another year or two.
It was a lot easier in 1936 when the BBWAA ( Baseball Writers Association of America ) first got together to vote in the first class of hall of famers. Those first 5 inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. The term “no brainers” comes to mind so you would think that the first class of inductees and the voting that elevated these fine players to HOF status would be without controversy. I looked at the voting for that first class and managed to have a raised eyebrow at what I saw. Cy Young failed to get in by only garnering 49% of the vote? Young had 511 wins pitching over a 21 year career, a record that will never ever be broken. What does a guy have to do to get a little respect? Cy Young was later inducted of course and the award given out each year for the best pitcher in each the National and the American League was named after good old Cy after the 1955 season. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received two votes on that first year ballot even though he had already been banned for life from the game with no eligibility for reinstatement or election to the Hall of Fame. This was as a result of Jackson’s alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The scandal implicated 8 players on the Chicago White Sox that were believed to have been losing intentionally and being paid off by gamblers to do so. Joe Jackson was a .356 career hitter during the “dead ball” era and hit .375 with 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s in the 1919 World Series. There have been issues and controversies nearly every year since the voting the Hall of Fame started over 70 years ago.
The 2015 class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio is a good one for the most part except for Smoltz. John Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer? I don’t even think he is a hall of fame worthy player at all but to put him in on the first ballot? He had one very, very good season when he won the Cy Young Award in 1996 going 24-8 with the Atlanta Braves. Other than that Smoltz had a very good career not a hall of fame career. When they change the name of the building to the Hall of The Very Good then Smoltz should be a first ballot inductee. Mike Piazza is one of the top hitting catchers of all time and it looks like he won’t get in until his fourth year of eligibility next year. I will get back to the Piazza issue in a moment. Biggio has been labeled a “compiler” by his detractors but I have an answer for that as well. Let’s not diminish a player’s career that included durability, versatility, longevity and productivity over 20+ years because he did not hit 30 homers a year. What Biggio did is very hard to do make no mistake about it. Only 27 other men that ever played the game have reached 3000 hits. I for one will not diminish any of those players careers. What Biggio did is hard to do, it is unique and it is Cooperstown worthy, case closed.
The biggest problem facing the voters the BBWAA is how to handle the steroid era and the players that put up video game type stats during it. It is a conundrum of major proportions but I know what I would do if I had a vote. Players that have steroids attached to their names should be separated into 2 categories.
Category 1 – The users and abusers
These are the guys that have either failed a drug test, admitted using or have such overwhelming evidence against them that it can’t be ignored. The most notable ones are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be eligible in the future and are in the category as well. These players changed the game and its statistical records so much that they have altered the game in a way that can only be fixed by vacating the stats which will never happen. They made the millions and took the health risks and now have to live with the results. No Hall of Fame for these players, ever.
Category 2 – The locker room whispers
The players that come to mind are Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent. These are the guys that players, fans and writers whispered in corners of the room about but no hard evidence ever came forward. There is a 5 year waiting period after a player retires before he is eligible for Hall of Fame. If the evidence did not present itself during a players long career plus the 5 years after then I have to measure the player based on his performance on the field and steroids does not enter into my thought process.
In addition to deciding what players should or should not be on the ballot there are big problems with the the Hall of Fame voting process. It is riddled with issues that need to change. Here are the main ones that I would like to see changes in:
- Members of the BBWAA select players that are eligible to be on the ballot from a list of all players that have been retired for 5 years. This is done via a “special screening committee”.
I can’t explain how these writers could put Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Brian Giles, Tony Clark or Darin Erstad on the ballot with a straight face but they did. No disrespect intended as these players had nice baseball careers but in no way shape or form should they even be considered Hall of Famers. This process needs to be a little more transparent to the public so the fans know how these players are being justified to appear on the ballot.
- Members of the BBWAA that have been a member for 10 years and covering baseball then have a ballot that they can cast. They are permitted to vote for up to 10 players each year.
Some of these members have not been covering baseball for a very long time but once you become a voter it is basically a lifetime job. This makes little to no sense to me. If a writer is no longer actively writing about baseball I think his credentials should be reviewed each year to ensure that the guy voting is qualified to do so. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege not a right. The 2015 voting results revealed that Troy Percival, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all had support. Each received 2 votes except for Erstad who only received 1. I don’t know if it was 7 different writers that cast these ballots but whoever it was he should no longer have the ability to vote in my mind.
- The board of directors at the Hall of Fame decide how players are elected. Currently and since 1936 they have relied on the BBWAA to vote on players.
It is not 1936 anymore so I think with all the media outlets in our lives today it makes more sense to open up the voting to others. Broadcasters and website writers come to mind. Although there has been some progress on allowing certain website writers gain eligibility to vote I do think more is needed. My real issue here is the broadcasters. Vin Scully has been broadcasting the Dodger games since the 1950’s. The man has met Babe Ruth for crying out loud. He has probably watched more games live and in person then any member of the BBWAA. Scully is a good example of a guy that I feel should have a vote. Others that come to mind here in New York where I live would be Michael Kaye or Howie Rose. Kaye is a Yankees broadcaster and Rose is a Mets broadcaster. I would trust that these gentlemen would take the vote serious and do the due diligence before casting a ballot. It is time for new voices to enter into the process.
- Players stay on the ballot for 15 years and must get at least 5% of the votes each year to remain on the ballot during the 15 years. After that time has passed the only way a player can get in is via the “veterans committee”.
This committee is all living Hall of Fame players and they vote every two years on players that are no longer on the ballot. This is how players such as Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto got inducted. They both had decent careers but in neither case are they Hall of Fame worthy. Rizzuto should be in as a broadcaster but not as a player. I think it is a dangerous thing when players start to vote on other players. The players and the voters get older and start to get more and more nostalgic about a player’s career which can start to cloud good judgment. I would eliminate this committee. 10 years should be the max amount of time that a player should be on the ballot.
These are just a few of the changes that I would make. The board of directors of the Hall of Fame have to decide what kind of hall of fame they want as well as who should be voting on the inductees. I have visited the baseball Hall of Fame numerous times over the years and it is a great place to recall some of the great players and moments in the history of the game. It is just time to review the entire process to ensure that only the best and most deserving players are being honored.
Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.
The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s. I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.
WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.” A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml
The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it. The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement
How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.
Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.
That is until the player that steals bases signs the big contract! That’s when the base stealing drops off dramatically. This is a trend that I have noticed over the last several years in Major League Baseball. It appears to me that once a player signs his first large deal for tens of millions of dollars you can bet the farm that the stolen base part of that player’s game is only going in one direction, down. Generally speaking the player received that contract, in part at least, because of his ability to steal bases as demonstrated in previous seasons. It is part of the player’s offensive game and surely used by agents as a positive stat during negotiations for that big contract. My research shows that most of the time the player’s stolen base production drops off before the ink is even dry on that deal. Some of them stop running for no known reason such as the case of Mike Trout. Then there are other players that appear to be concerned about injury risks so they reduce the attempted steals. Then there are players such as Bryce Harper who should be stealing 25+ bases a year given his age and speed but simply choose not to run. Harper is still a couple years away from his first big contract. Perhaps he will start running in 2016 as he starts his contract / arbitration drive. Harper is arbitration eligible in 2017. Usually there is a 3 to 5 year window of when players will rack up some pretty good stolen base numbers. After that it is likely the steals will start to go down.
Stolen bases are the one category that a player chooses to either be all in or all out or somewhere in between. Players don’t stop trying to get hits, they don’t stop trying to hit homeruns and they surely don’t stop trying to drive in runs. However, they do eventually stop trying to steal bases at the rate they did before. Maybe the players are afraid to get hurt after signing the big contract and can you blame them? Bryce Harper has already missed significant playing time in his career from injuries sustained while running the bases. Is it possible that the team has asked the player not to steal bases for fear of injury to their big investment? That possibility does exist. I looked at some players that were signed to large contracts and what the trend was with their stolen base production before and after the new contract started. The results of my findings might surprise you.
The most recent example of a player with dramatic stolen base drop off after signing the big contract is Mike Trout. In the two seasons prior to 2014 he averaged 41 stolen bases. Trout signed a 6 year / $144 million dollar deal prior to the start of the 2014 season. In 2014 he stole 16 bases and in 2015 he was down to 11. Trout has not even turned 25 years old yet. He is a little young to be wasting of one of his strongest talents. Trout has played every day throughout his career and has proven to be very durable. Some other examples of base stealers that stop running from recent years that comes to mind:
Melvin Upton – Padres
In the 5 years prior to signing a 5 year / $73 million deal before 2013 Upton averaged 39 stolen bases a season. In the three seasons after signing the deal Upton now is averaging 13 stolen bases a season.
Matt Kemp – Padres
In the 4 years prior to signing his big contract Kemp averaged 32 stolen bases per year. Before the start of the 2012 season Kemp signed an 8 year / $160 million dollar contract. He stole 9 bases in 2012, 9 in 2013, 8 in 2014 and 12 in 2015. You can safely say that he will never reach 20 SB’s again let alone 30 SB’s a season.
Andrew McCutchen – Pirates
In the 4 years prior and including his MVP season of 2013 McCutchen was averaging 25 steals a season. He signed his first big contract prior to the 2012 season. But in the last two seasons McCutchen is now averaging 14 steals a season. McCutchen is 28 years old.
Starlin Castro – Cubs
In 2011 and 2012 Castro averaged 23 stolen bases as an emerging star in the league. Toward the end of the 2012 season he signed a 7 year / $60 million dollar deal. The following year in 2013 he stole 9 bases. He stole 4 bases in 2014 and 5 in 2015. I think Castro is done running at age 25.
Carl Crawford – Dodgers
In the 8 seasons prior to signing his 7 year / $142 million dollar contract with the Red Sox before the 2011 season Crawford averaged 50 steals per year. He dropped off to 18 in the first year of the deal and has averaged 14 in the 5 seasons since the deal started. He is the poster child for a team never again paying a player for stolen bases. Injuries played a big part in this drop off but the facts remain what they are. He signed the deal and stopped stealing bases.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Yankees
In the season prior to his signing of a 7 year and $153 million deal in 2014 Ellsbury stole 52 bases. He dropped off to 39 in 2014 and then 21 this past season. He might not be done stealing bases yet but it looks like he may be getting close to it.
Michael Bourn – Braves
In the 4 years prior to signing his 4 year / $48 million dollar deal Bourn averaged 54 steals per year. In the first year ( 2013 ) of his first big contract he stole 23 bases. In 2014 he stole 17 and then only 10 bases in 2015. One of the biggest reasons the Indians signed Bourn was his speed. He has already been traded away to the Braves as the Indians certainly did not get the sort of production in steals that they signed up for.
Carlos Beltran – Yankees
This is example goes back a little ways but another example nonetheless. In the 2 years prior to his big free agent signing with the Mets he averaged 41 stolen bases a season. Prior to the 2005 season he signed his 7 year / $119 million dollar deal. His steals dropped off to only 17 that first season of the new contract. He has only reached 20 steals twice since then and has now aged out of the running game. He ran very hard for the money and when he got the money he stopped running.
In all of these cases the drop off in steals in the first year after the big contract is signed is 50% or more. There are many other examples as well. Whether the reasons are injuries, bad offensive season, different lineup etc. the facts still remains that stolen bases should not be counted on by a team when evaluating a player’s contract. The players and agents have no problem running off with the money. It’s the stolen bases they seemed to stop running for.
By Robert O’Brien
It’s the most wonderful time of the year yet again. We are in the month of October and it’s time for postseason baseball and all the excitement that it brings. From dazzling game saving plays, to pitcher’s duels that are decided by one run, to big time sluggers coming up in the clutch moments to give their team the lead in the late innings of a cold October ballgame, this is the time of year that all thirty major league teams hope to find themselves still playing baseball in.
Among the many teams hoping to snag a spot in the postseason this year, three of the most powerful came out of the National League Central division. This division consisted of the three best teams in the entire game according to their records. These teams would be the St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to find themselves in the postseason every year, the Cubs of Chicago, who haven’t even sniffed an opportunity to win themselves a World Series Championship since 1945, and the Pittsburg Pirates, an organization who is still relatively new to this whole concept of the postseason.
By this I am referring to the fact that the Pirates have earned a ticket to October in each of the last three seasons, but before 2013, had not even earned themselves a winning record since 1992.
However, many believe that this year could be substantially different than the last two playoff runs for the Bucs. Manager Clint Hurdle and the Pirates undoubtedly have a championship caliber team in every aspect, but will first have to get through their division rival Chicago Cubs, and Jake Arrieta in the Unpredictable Wild Card Game. One advantage that the Pirates are elated to say that they hold before the game even begins, is the fact that they have possession of home field advantage, with one of the most enthusiastic, passionate fan bases in baseball at Pittsburgh’s own PNC Park.
Now before this season many casual baseball fans might ask you “Who is Jake Arrieta?”, or tell you that newly acquired Jon Lester will inevitably be the ace of the Chicago staff. However since the All-Star break, not only has he been CY Young caliber good, not only has he been Ace of the staff good, he has been historically good. Since the All-Star break, Arrieta has undoubtedly been the most dominant pitcher in the game. Arrieta has posted a 0.75 ERA, and has struck out more batters than he has innings pitched. Arrieta was even able to notched one of the most celebrated achievements in the game today, tossing a no-hitter. As if the no-hitter itself wasn’t impressive enough, he threw it against one of the best teams in baseball with an offense well above quality, in the home turf of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His final stats for the year only consist of a 1.77 ERA, (the lowest for a Cubs pitcher since 1919), a 0.86 WHIP, and nearly 230 IP, being the most successful pitcher not only on the cubs’ staff, but in all of baseball.
In my personal opinion, the Cubs will be putting out for the National League Wild Card Game, the man who should be crowned the 2015 CY Young award winner.
Of course Joe Maddon and the Cubs will be given a great chance to win the ballgame due to Arrieta being on the bump, the Pirates will also be putting out an ace of their own for their biggest game of the year.
Gerrit Cole will be called upon to be the starting pitcher for the Pittsburg Pirates as one of the games top pitchers this season himself, displaying an impressive resume throughout the entire course of the season. Cole notched a 2.56 ERA, along with more than 200 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched. Not quite as impressive as Arrieta, but still extremely respectable, and will be no easy task for the Chicago hitters.
As far as previous trips to the postseason, the Pirates roster and Gerrit Cole posses far more postseason experience than the Cubs roster, which is loaded with rookies and other young players. Even Arrieta, who is now 29 years old, and has been pitching in the big leagues’ for a number of years, has never thrown a pitch during a postseason game.
This creates an advantage for Gerrit Cole as he will be more immune to the pressure that comes with being given an opportunity to perform on such a large, magnified stage, due to his previous 10 innings of success in the postseason.
One question about this game that we will never be able to answer is one that not even the hitters who are facing these two aces will be able to determine for a definite. Does facing a specific pitcher provide an advantage for the hitter, if he has previously faced the same pitcher? For example, if Pedro Alvarez were to have faced Jake Arrieta six times in the past, will he either have a greater chance of success in the Wild Card game against Arrieta, or will his chances of getting on base stay the same? This question applies more so to the lefties than righties due to Arrieta’s particular success against left handed batters.
Some believe that the Pirates are given a greater chance of defeating Arietta, just due to the fact that the lineup has seen him in the past. They believe that despite Arrieta’s success against the Pirates lineup in the past, that the big league hitters of the Pirate’s lineup will be able to make an adjustment against pitches that they have previously witnessed. However, if the Pirates are able to make an adjustment against Arietta and change their approach at the plate, who’s to say that Arrieta is unable to create a different approach to the Pittsburg lineup that he could use to continue his success against this particular lineup.
To give you an idea of how Arrieta has performed against the pirates, consider this; other than Andrew McCutchen, not a single player in their lineup is batting higher than 187. against Arrieta this year, while he has only given up three extra base hits in multiple starts against the same club.
Gerrit Cole has also seen the Chicago lineup previously this season, and has not been as successful as Arrieta in dominating his opposition. Particularly, Kris Bryant, Miguel Montero, and Anthony Rizzo have had success off of Pittsburgh’s 6-4 Right Hander.
The same question applies for Gerrit Cole in his battle against the young, energetic lineup of the Chicago Cubs; will previous at bats against Cole have a positive effect, negative effect, or no effect at all on the Cub’s hitters, particularly lefties, whom Cole has a greater success against?
Although I am a strong believer in the ideology that it is a necessity for an organization to have quality starting pitching in order to be successful and/or make a run deep into the postseason, a championship caliber team in addition needs a solid offense to support any quality pitching that may be a part of the team. In addition, a strong bullpen is needed and can appear to be the deciding factor in many games late in October. Just look at the Royals of 2014. Where could that team have gone without the dominant bullpen men such as Greg Holland, and Wade Davis.
In the case of the Pirates, they are the holders of the best pitching baseball, holding the league’s lowest ERA at 2.67. This impressive statistic is largely impart due to their incredibly consistent bullpen. You tend to feel that even if Gerrit Cole were to be pulled after four or five innings, that their bullpen would be able to hold a lead for the rest of the game, or at least keep the Pirates in the game. I couldn’t see the Cubs fairing very well against this bullpen if Pittsburgh were to have a lead after six innings. Whether it is Joakim Soria, Tony Watson, or #1 closer in baseball Mark Melancon, to even scratch out one run against these arms would be a huge positive for the Cubbies.
In the case of the Cubs, if this team had an Achilles heel, it would be their bullpen. It has been shaky and inconsistent for large parts of the season, and could not be totally trusted with a lead even if Arrieta were to go seven innings.
Of course in order to win a game at any point of the season, you need at least a small portion of offense. Both offenses that will go head to head this Wednesday ranked towards the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. The Pirates seemed to have a slight edge in almost all categories, putting them at 11th in the bigs, as the Cubs finished 16th overall.
When analyzing the two team’s offenses we can generally conclude that Pittsburgh’s lineup posses a more well rounded offense with a more stable balance within their lineup, containing table setters at the front, the team’s top hitter batting third, the power hitters in the middle of the order, and the remaining quality hitters to round out the line up before the pitchers spot.
While when we look at the Cubs line up, we see a more frequent appearance of a “big hit or big miss” style of play. The cubs’ lineup posses lower averages, more strikeouts, but also provides more offense via the home run ball.
From these observations we can conclude that Pittsburgh has an advantage in the offensive aspect of the one game playoff over Chicago.
Two areas that both teams share a plethora of talent in are the defensive and speed categories. Pittsburgh most likely has the best fielding outfield in all of baseball, including possibly the best outfield arm in baseball in Placido Polanco. The majority of the Pirates roster also possesses the speed to steal a base in a big situation or make a game saving defensive play at any position on the field.
The cubs’ posses the same advantage in their speed and on the defensive side of the ball, with most likely the best fielding first baseman in baseball and numerous infielders who have the potential to win a gold glove in the very near future. The cubs were also blessed with a long list of players who can swipe a bag at any moment, and were tops in the league in stolen bases for most of the 2015 season.
And in the postseason, one base runner who swipes a bag or who beats out an infield hit could very well determine the game’s outcome, especially in a one game playoff.
Both clubs field very good teams in plenty of aspects of the professional game of baseball. But it is very possible that many of these aspects or player attributes may not come into affect at all during this game. Perhaps in a seven game series or over the course of an entire season, all player attributes will have the opportunity to be shown or will be forced to be put on display. But for one game, for one day, throw the probabilities and stats out the window, because for one day anything could happen. For one at-bat the stats form the past won’t matter and one at bat during one game could very well decide the fate of a team that has been playing incredible baseball for 162 games. But what they’ve done over the last 162 games no longer matters. You could almost consider the Wild Card game a coin flip as to who will be the loser and who will emerge victorious.
As for my personal prediction, although I do believe that the Pirates do have the better team overall, Jake Arrieta has just been too incredibly dominant in the recent weeks and months, and I Believe that he will lead the Cubs to victory for ,at least, just one more day.