Pictures: Four Days In September

Haven’t been posting here much often, but it’s not as if I haven’t been busy.

The Tribune has kept me a busy man, as has Bleacher Nation. You can read all of my stuff here.

But I wanted to share some photos from some recent Cubs games I have attended.

I might find myself posting here more when hockey and basketball seasons come around.

Until then, the best way to follow me might be on Twitter.

Late Night Baseball: Jon Lester By The Numbers

Let others handle the hot takes, hyperbole and the narrative. I’ll handle the statistical matter.

JON LESTER: A STATISTICAL PROFILE

  • 9 years; 1,596 innings pitched
  • 252 regular season starts (253 games pitched)
  • 116 wins, 67 losses.
  • Averages since 2008 (Lester’s first full season): 15-9 (32 starts), 3.47 ERA (3.45 FIP),  207 innings, 1.25 WHIP, 192 K, 67 BB, 8.4 K/9, 2.86 K/BB, 124 ERA+, 30.2 WAR (averages out to a 3.4 WAR per year)

Postseason numbers? Pretty good:

  • 6-4 record (14 starts), 2.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 3.2 K/BB

Fun with splits? I’ve got you covered with a fun one:

  • vs. .500+ (150 starts): 58-48, 3.87 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.6 K/BB

What about the money?

Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported it was a six-year deal worth $155 million. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported there is a seventh-year option that could push the deal to $170 million.

The deal is the biggest the Cubs have ever handed out in free agency, eclipsing Alfonso Soriano’s 8-year deal worth $136 million. It also represents the second highest AAV for a pitcher behind Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

We’re talking ace money for an ace pitcher.

But is it an overpay?

Maybe. But that’s the price of doing business in free agency. When you don’t develop your own stud pitchers, you have to buy them in free agency. And that seems to have been the Cubs’ plan all along as the organization has prioritized young, power bats while addressing pitching in bulk through the draft, trades and international free agent signings.

So, what does Lester need to do to not make it an overpay?

He’ll have to perform like an ace. And to find a conclusion there, I like to use Lewie Pollis’ piece from Oct. 2013 “How Much Does A Win Really Cost?” as a guiding light on how much a win costs by setting the price at $7 million.

For the sake of brevity and cleanliness, we’ll take the $170 million and divide it by $7 million, which will bring us to a WAR of 24.29 over the life of the seven-year deal. Which means that, on average, Lester needs to post a 3.47 WAR per season.

Is that doable?

This is where the fun part comes in. After a nice Twitter tease, I think it’s time to talk about comparable players. Shall we?

Since 1985, 26 starting pitchers have averaged 180 innings in their age 31-37 seasons — which is what Lester will be diving into with this contract.

Sorted by WAR using baseball-reference.com’s play index, Randy Johnson is the best of the bunch with a 51.0 WAR in 1,503 IP from 1995-2001. He went 119-39 with a 2.66 ERA and 2.58 FIP — a stretch in which he started 205 games (29 starts per season). On average, he was worth 7.29 WAR.

Rounding out the top-5:

  • Curt Schilling: 47.5 WAR from 1998-2004, 115-60, 3.28 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 214 starts
  • Roger Clemens: 43.3 WAR from 1994-2000, 97-56, 3.28 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 210 starts
  • Kevin Brown: 39.5 WAR from 1996-2002, 95-49, 2.63 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 197 starts
  • Greg Maddux: 34.9 WAR from 1997-2003, 134-59, 2.93 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 239 starts

Where there’s a top-5, there’s a bottom 5:

  • Bob Welch: 10.8 WAR from 1988-1994, 96-60, 3.94 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 195 starts
  • A.J. Burnett: 10.9 WAR from 2008-2014, 86-84, 4.26 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 227 starts
  • Rick Mahler: 11.8 WAR from 1985-1991, 66-85, 4.16 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 195 starts (59 relief app.)
  • Tim Belcher: 11.9 WAR from 1993-1999, 77-83, 4.81 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 211 starts
  • Bronson Arroyo: 12.0 WAR from 2008-2014, 89-72, 4.16 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 210 starts

Of the 26 pitchers since 1985 to average 180 year per season in their age 31-37 seasons, nine were lefties. Here are the seven who averaged 3.0 WAR over the span of those seasons:

  • Randy Johnson: 51.0 WAR from 1995-2001, 119-39, 2.66 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 174 ERA+ (205 starts)
  • Tom Glavine: 29.4 WAR from 1997-2003, 112-65, 3.40 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 127 ERA+ (239 starts)
  • Chuck Finley: 28.1 WAR from 1994-2000, 92-75, 4.12 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 117 ERA+ (218 starts)
  • David Wells: 27.8 WAR from 1994-2000, 103-61, 4.17 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 114 ERA+ (210 starts)
  • Al Leiter: 24.5 WAR from 1997-2003, 96-68, 3.55 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 119 ERA+ (210 starts)
  • Kenny Rogers: 24.1 WAR from 1996-2002, 75-55, 4.42 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 107 ERA+ (204 starts)
  • Andy Pettitte: 21.8 WAR from 2003-2009, 101-65, 3.88 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 114 ERA+ (215 starts)

Of those 26 pitchers to fit the basic requirements of what should be expected of Lester moving forward, 14 of them averaged 3.0 WAR over the span of seven years. Among those not listed above: Mike Mussina (34.5 WAR from 2000-06), Tom Candiotti (27.2 WAR from 1989-95) and Dennis Martinez (22.4 WAR from 1985-91).

Pitchers who fell just short of the required threshold, but were solid pitchers in their own right from ages 31 through 37 include Jack Morris (19.3 WAR from 1986-92), Jeff Fassero (19.0 WAR from 1994-2000), Woody Williams (18.2 WAR from 1998-2004), Dave Stewart (16.6 WAR from 1988-94) and Derek Lowe (15.3 WAR from 2004-10).

Big paper means big expectations for Lester. Here’s hoping he is up to the challenge.

What Cubs are missing by not getting Russell Martin

No one said the Cubs rebuild was going to be easy.

While the organization has completed the tear down portion of the Cubs reconstruction project, the rebuild is still in the process — one that took a bit of a hit on Monday with the Blue Jays outbidding the Cubs for the services of free agent catcher Russell Martin.

The Jays will reportedly get Martin on a five-year deal worth $82 million for his age 32-36 seasons. A price too rich and a year too many for the Cubs, who have cleared a copious amount of salary, but don’t necessarily feel inclined to waste it.

So, what are the Cubs missing out on?

Offensively, it’s hard to believe that Martin was going to repeat his .290/.402/.430/.832 slash line from 2014, especially considering his .336 BABIP is likely unsustainable (based on a .289 career clip). Even without some lucky hitting, Martin’s offensive value comes in the form of a career 11.6 percent walk rate — which was in line with the 12.8 percent clip he posted in 2014.

Defensively, the Cubs lost out on a Gold Glove caliber defender, a quality pitch framer, a good game caller and a veteran leader coming off two seasons as a key cog for the young, but playoff-tested Pirates. Even if his offense was to dip to league average levels, his steady defense brought the kind of value that could have softened the blow for any offensive letdown.

Based on the concept that 1 WAR is worth approximately $7 million, the Jays are paying Martin to be an 11 WAR player over the life of the contract. It’s not impossible, but it’s not without its risks.

Since 1969, there have been nine catchers who have been worth 11 WAR in their age 32-36 seasons, according to baseball-reference.com. The comparable catchers include Jorge Posada (17.5, 2004-08), Ivan Rodriguez (13.4, 2004-08), Carlos Ruiz (12.2, 2011-14) and Jason Varitek (11.5, 2004-08).

I can’t help but think Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer probably saw a little bit of Varitek (or Posada, for that matter) in Martin.

Martin is coming off a two-year stint in which he was worth 9.9 WAR — or 4.95 WAR per season. Let the record show 4-win catchers don’t grow on trees.

The Cubs have had 10 catchers produce 4-WAR seasons in their history, three of which have occurred in my 28 years on this planet (Rick Wilkins in 1993, 6.6; Welington Castillo, 4.5, 2013; Jody Davis, 4.0, 1986). Heck, catchers with 3-WAR seasons seem rare, too. The Cubs have 15 of those in their history, nine of which came between 1902 and 1936. This organization has not had a four-year run with a catcher worth on average of 3-WAR per season since Randy Hundley was worth 12.0 WAR from 1966-69.

Lost in all this is the Cubs losing out on a chance to upgrade and do so at a position without simultaneously blocking a high level prospect. So, to stabilize that position as they let Kyle Schwarber develop at a normal pace in the minors would’ve put the team ahead of the curve for a change.

Alas, they will move on without Martin in the fold and reassign their focus toward acquiring the high-end pitching the organization so desperately needs at the big league level. I mean, the Cubs didn’t clear salary space and create financial flexibility to end up with mid-level talent, right?

The Cubs return a decent catcher in Welington Castillo, whose offense took a bit of a hit in 2014 with a .237/.298/.389/.686 slash line and 89 OPS+ after posting a .271/.345/.404/.749 slash line and 105 OPS+ in 618 plate appearances from 2012-13.

Castillo posted an astounding 4.5 WAR in 2013, but it’s a number sandwiched between a 1.2 in 2012 and a 1.8 in 2014. His defense was adequate, while his pitch framing skills were deemed as poor — costing his team 24.3 runs, per StatCorner, which was the second worst in baseball.

And believe it or not, that stuff matters — at least until we get the robot umpires calling balls and strikes that we (as fans) so truly deserve.

Unfortunately, for the Cubs, the rest of the free agent catching pool is shallow. So much so, A.J. Pierzynski is at the top of the list. If you’re not a fan of the list, I don’t blame you.

The Cubs could target Miguel Montero in a trade with the Diamondbacks. He is owed $40 million over the next three seasons. You can see where some might suggest Montero as an alternative to Martin. He owns a 9.7 percent walk rate and is known as a good receiver and pitch framer (saving his team 24 runs above average ranked best in baseball via StatCorner).

If the Cubs can land the left-handed hitting Montero, they could put together a quality short-term platoon with Castillo.

I imagine new manager Joe Maddon could take advantage of Montero’s .272/.356/.442/.797 slash line and 10.7 percent walk rate against righties and team it with Castillo’s .306/.373/.472/.845 slash line against lefties.

It’s only Nov. 18 and the Cubs have found a way to stay steadily in the headlines. The next step is to have a headline be a result of a transaction, rather than another missed opportunity.

Starlin Castro’s bounceback year is worth a blog post

Hate to say I told you so, but…

…wait a minute. No, I don’t.

I held firm in my opinion that Starlin Castro’s 2013 was fluke-ish.

I simply couldn’t believe that a two-time All-Star who was a hit machine since debuting at age 20 was going to put forth another .245/.284/.347/.631 slash line. It simply didn’t pass the eye test.

Less than a year later, it looks like Castro’s lame-duck 2013 was nothing but a blip.

Just check out what Castro did before a season ending injury.

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Making Sense Of Nonsense: Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel to A’s to add to core

It’s as if Cubs GM Jed Hoyer saw that all eyes in Chicago were in the skies, focused on fireworks and knew then was the time to make the deal.

While fireworks provided distraction, the Cubs and Athletics made a game-changing deal which sent the Cubs’ two best starting pitchers — Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — to the Athletics in exchange for their two best prospects — Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.

Analysis after the jump.

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