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Entries in Theo Epstein (3)

Wednesday
Jun262013

The Annual Summer Inner City Classic

This past weekend we held a fundraiser in Chicago, our summer version of Hot Stove, Cool Music that we have in Boston every January. It is for Paul and Theo Epstein’s Foundation to be Named Later, which benefits several non-profits in Boston, and now with the help of the Chicago Cubs works with the Cubs charities.

The concert was held at The Metro, an incredible venue run by Joe Shanahan across from Wrigley. We had our gathering of outstanding Boston musicians put together by Ed Valauskus, and while I appreciate the pictures of me singing and playing my Strat that Julio Borbon tweeted out, I’m sticking to the day job.

One of the highlights was our first annual Summer Inner City Classic. The Boston Astros from the South End Baseball League—the nation’s largest free league, with more than 50 inner city kids now playing college ball—played the Allstars from the Jackie Robinson West program in Chicago. Flawless baseball, no errors, four double plays, Astros won in extra innings, on the University of Chicago Inner Circle field subsidized by Curtis Granderson. The NCAA has made a conscious effort to keep poor urban kids from playing college baseball, but with men like Robert Lewis running programs like the Astros and South End Baseball, the urban dream lives.

One of the spectators was M.C. Johnson, who in the Sixties played for the Kansas City Monarchs. Johnson now works from the City of Chicago, but he once played with and against Satchel Paige, and shared this story.

“In 1961, Satchel was retired but we played a couple of exhibitions with him,” said Johnson. “The first one was in Wichita. They told us to strike out as much as possible. We argued, but they said, ‘look up in the stands. There’s twenty-something thousand fans in the stands. They’re here to see Satchel. So make sure he gives them the show they paid for."

“So we struck out."

“Three days later we played in Kansas City, but this time, they told us to go ahead and hit him. You know what happened? We all still struck out.”

Four years later, the Kansas City Royals brought back Satchel Paige to face the Red Sox in a regular season game. He shut them out on one hit for three innings.

Wednesday
Jan022013

Edwin Jackson, Slider Specialist

At long last, Edwin Jackson can unpack -- we think. While his four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs doesn't include a no-trade clause, Jackson should at least call Wrigley Field home for the next couple of years. Considering that the 29-year-old righty was on pace to obliterate Octavio Dotel's record for most teams played for in a career -- Jackson has been a Dodger, Devil Ray, Tiger, Diamondback, White Sock, Cardinal and National, and was technically a Blue Jay for a brief moment (though he never suited up) -- that's a step in the right direction.

It's surprising that it has taken Jackson this long to settle down in one city. He might not be the Cy Young contender that people envisioned when he celebrated his 20th birthday by outdueling Randy Johnson during his MLB debut, but Jackson has been above-average since he reached Detroit (106 ERA+ from 2009-12) while tossing slightly over 200 innings pitched per season. That combination of quality and quantity has made Jackson the 29th-most valuable starter over that time frame, judging by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement.

Jackson's slider is the main reason that he has evolved from a perceived bust to a solid starter making serious bank. Here's a closer look at his mid-to-high-80s breaker, which ranks among the game's best out pitches.

  • Jackson threw his slider 29.3% of the time in 2012, the ninth-highest clip among MLB starters. Ryan Dempster (39.5%), Madison Bumgarner (35.6%), Bud Norris (36.3%), Ervin Santana (36.3%), Francisco Liriano (32.5%), Jason Marquis (32.1%), CC Sabathia (31.8%) and Bruce Chen (29.9%) were the only starters to rely on the slide-piece more often.
  • With a miss rate approaching 50%, Jackson got swings and misses with his slider more frequently than any other starter in the game:

Highest slider whiff rate among MLB starters, 2012 (minimum 300 thrown)

PitcherMiss Pct.
Edwin Jackson 48.5%
Zack Greinke 44.7%
Yu Darvish 44.2%
James McDonald 43.9%
Francisco Liriano 43.3%
CC Sabathia 43.0%
Colby Lewis 42.5%
Clayton Kershaw 42.3%
Derek Holland 41.8%
Max Scherzer 41.7%
MLB Avg. for SP 30.9%

 

  • Jackson uses his slider as a chase pitch, placing just 37.3% of them within the strike zone. The average for starters, by contrast, is about 47%. Hitters can't seem to lay off those off-the-plate-sliders. Check out Jackson's swing rate by pitch location with his slider, and then the league average for right-handed starting pitchers:

        Jackson's slider swing rate             Avg. slider swing rate for SP

 

Jackson boasted the highest slider chase rate (44.1%) among NL starters last year. In the AL, only Colby Lewis (50.7% slider chase rate), Brian Matusz (48.3%), Yu Darvish (44.6%) and Liriano (44.6%) made batters hack at more would-be balls.

  • Fanning 111 hitters with his out pitch, Jackson led NL starters in slider strikeouts and trailed just Sabathia (138 slider Ks) among all starters.
  • While the slider is usually more effective against same-handed hitters, Jackson actually got better results with the pitch against lefties. He held left-handers to a .299 slugging percentage against his slider, compared to .361 against righties. For comparison's sake, righty starters surrendered a collective .386 slugging percentage with sliders against lefty batters last season, and a .350 slugging percentage against righties.
Sunday
Dec112011

Can Stewart, Colvin Solve Soft Stuff?

The Cubs and Rockies completed a four-player challenge trade this past Thursday, as Chicago picked up third baseman Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers while Colorado acquired outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu.

Weathers, the eighth overall pick in the '07 draft, has walked over seven batters per nine innings in the minors and walked over a batter per inning in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. LeMahieu has good contact ability, if little power, and can man second or third base. But this move may ultimately boil down to a challenge trade of failed first-round position player prospects who haven't been able to solve soft stuff -- curveballs, sliders and changeups -- at the major league level.

Stewart (taken 10th overall in 2003) peaked at #4 on Baseball America's top 100 list prior to the 2005 season, ranked in the top 50 each of the next three years and performed decently with the Rockies as a rookie in 2008. He never built upon that decent start, though, and now holds a .236/.323/.428 career line in over 1,400 plate appearances. Adjusting for Coors, his on-base plus slugging percentage is 11 percent below average (89 OPS+). Colvin, meanwhile, was considered an overdraft at #13 in 2006 as the Cubs wanted to save cash to persuade Jeff Samardzija to give up football. Colvin did rate as high as #75 on BA's prospect list before 2008 and ran into 20 balls in 2010 before a bat impaled his chest, but he also bombed in 2011 and has a .215/.274/.422 triple-slash and an 84 OPS+ in 600+ PA.

In both cases, these prospects-turned-suspects haven't been able to handle breaking and off-speed stuff. Despite taking lots of cuts at Coors, Stewart's .211/.266/.371 performance against curveballs, sliders and changeups is worse than the .235/.278/.371 MLB average for non-pitchers since 2008. Colvin has been downright awful against soft stuff, with a .189/.218/.375 line.

Stewart hasn't been a total hacker against soft stuff, with a 35 percent chase rate that's pretty close to the 33 percent MLB average, but contact has been a problem. He has swung and missed 35 percent of the time against sliders, curves and a changeups, compared to the 28-29% average. Check out his contact rate by pitch location versus soft stuff, compared to the league average. Unless the pitch is right down Broadway, he's whiffing often:

Stewart's contact rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2008-2011

Average contact rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2008-2011

Colvin has whiffed even more against soft pitches -- 37 percent from 2009 to 2011. While Stewart at least shows about average strike zone discipline against breaking and offspeed pitches, Colvin is like a sugar-crazed kid trying to crack open a piñata. Here's his swing rate by pitch location vs. soft stuff, and then the league average:

Colvin's swing rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2009-2011Average swing rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2009-2011Colivn has chased 49 percent of soft pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The only hitters to go fishing more often since 2009 are Humberto Quintero, Pablo Sandoval, Vladimir Guerrero and Dewayne Wise.  Wisely, pitchers rarely throw Colvin soft stuff over the plate: opponents have tossed a slider, curve or changeup in the zone just 39 percent of the time, way below the 45 percent average.

Stewart, 27 in April, seems to have a clearer path to playing time and possible redemption than Colvin. He'll likely get the 2012 season to show he can improve his performance against slower offerings and offer enough bat to complement his quality defense at third base. Aramis Ramirez is gone, and prospect Josh Vitters has his own strike-zone issues to hash out before he's ready for the show. Colvin, also 27, gets to swing a mile above sea level, but the Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, non-tender candidate Ryan Spilborghs and prospects Charlie Blackmon and Tim Wheeler in the mix as well. If either player is to make good on his former promise, he'll have to make huge strides against the soft stuff.