Wednesday, October 1, 2014

These Aren't Going All The Way To The Backstop

I would never let these cards get past me.  We've all seen it before... the pitcher really tries to bury the splitter down in the zone or maybe the catcher gets crossed up.  Nope, not going happen on this round.  I'm focused, I've got the correct sign, and I'm wearing a catcher's mitt large enough to catch beach balls.

Marcus, from the Padre-centric all the way to the backstop..., sent out a PWE which surprised me yesterday.  I love when something unexpected finds its way to my address.

Bring the heat, Marcus!

Jeff Samardzija and the Oakland A's were knocked out of the playoffs by the upstart Royals.  What a great game and what a fantastic finish.  I only wish Adam Dunn would have received an at-bat during the course of the twelve inning affair.  Big Donkey, who may retire now, played in over two-thousand games, but never in a post season game.

Rizzo is just starting his career and I'm starting to get a good feeling that he'll have his chance to play in October before too long.  This 2014 Bowman Rizzo is new to me and great addition to my player collection of Anthony.  I wish the logo, bottom center, would stand out a bit more and the card feels like it has been photoshopped.  Wouldn't a shot from this angle have the netting of the backstop in view?  Or the on deck circle?  Or the Cubs dugout?  Man, Rizzo's left hand really pops out from the back ground.  Hmmm...

This one was almost too hot to handle and nearly got through the five hole.  I wasn't expecting a chrome Kris Bryant.
I didn't collect one set from the 2014 offerings and the number of packs I bought didn't reach double digits..  That may not sound like a big deal to some of you, but for a guy who is a set builder and loves cracking wax it was pretty rough going for awhile. I was resigned to the fact that I would have to fork over some dough to get any cards of one of the top prospects of the game.  I can't express how elated I am to have this card in my collection!

Marcus, those were three fantastic pitches.  And no worries, I caught each one and have them already secured in their rightful binders.  Thank you so much!  I'll be sure send a couple of nasty splitters your way.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Math and Baseball

Throughout my posts most of you have probably picked up on the idea that my day job is teaching.  More specifically I'm a high school math teacher.  And not just any type of plain old math teacher, but Calculus.  I really like math and I try to help students make connections and show them why math is important.  Admittedly, I'm often a little over the top with my exuberance for my chosen subject matter and as a result I can sum up my workplace character in two words: big nerd.  I'm alright with it, because I think I reach more students this way.

When I'm off the clock I'd like to think I'm one of the coolest Cub fans south of I-80.  I follow the team and its beat reporters on Twitter, I have a couple of Apps on my phone, and I only frequent the most highly regarded Cubs related websites. I can name the next ten prospects which should have been in the running for's Top 20 Cubs prospects. My closet contains more Cubs shirts than should be allowed for an adult, my man room is decked out in Cubs paraphernalia and my baseball card collection is largely of the boys in blue.  I'm all in!

Subconsciously, I think I'm trying to average my teaching nerdiness with my Cub-like coolness.  Perhaps then I will achieve some semblance of normalcy.  Is it working?  I don't know. You'll have to ask my wife. 

Please indulge me as I attempt to use my math AND be cool all at once.  Hey, don't roll your eyes at me!

For the record, those last three years are on Theo's record.
The Cubs just wrapped up the 2014 season and for the first time since 2010 they managed to avoid a ninety loss season.   When Theo Epstein was hired in the fall of 2011 he did not proclaim a quick fix.  Instead he stressed patience to the fan base, because his vision was a major overhaul of the franchise from the front office down to the lowest level of the minors. 

"Progress is not linear," is one of Theo's most famous quotes.  I'm on board with that.  In fact, here's a quick line graph, which plots the win totals for the last seven seasons. 

Theo, how about parabolic?  The dashed red line is the best line of fit for a quadratic function.  The 2012 win total (61) was a little low for the vertex of my plotted parabola, but otherwise it fits nicely. 

In 2008 the Cubs had a record of 97 wins and 64 losses, but they were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.  Everyone you'll talk to will say that team was too right-handed.  Sure, they had only one full-time player who batted from the left-handed batter's box (my boy, Kosuke Fukudome), but there was another fact that stood out to me: this was an older team.  Six of the eight position players were already in their thirties and the average age of all the hitters on the roster was 30.1 years. 

Let's take a look at the position player age by year in graph form.  30.1 in 2008.  Wow.  Theo and Jed Hoyer have done some serious house keeping! Remember, they took over after the 2011 season.

This year's 26.8 is the lowest since 1966, which was 26.6.  The 1966 team featured younger players such as Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, Ron Santo and Billy Williams.  In that group you have five All-Stars and two Hall of Fame members.  The 1966 team also had a guy by name of Ernie Banks in its lineup, but for the most part they were young and inexperienced and finished the season with a record of 59 wins and 103 losses.

In comparison, with the way the roster is assembled right now, the lineup for the 2015 Cubs would look something like this:

I know, I know.  Kris Bryant won't come up until the middle of May and Coghlan may be replaced by a free agent. And who's to say Baez doesn't start in AAA?  The dude strikes out a ton.   Okay.  Fine, but that lineup is talented, cost controlled, and young.  Young to the tune of an average of 24.8 years old.   I realize I'm comparing a possible starting lineup of eight players against the average of all of the batters from the 2014 version of the Cubs.  No matter, Theo's vision is coming to fruition and we'll have some young, exciting talent on the major league roster next year.

The best thing?  I think the Cubs have already bottomed out.  That's right, the win parabola is trending upwards!  The aforementioned 1966 team went 59 and 103, and the 1967 team showed a little moxy the next season and improved to the tune of 87 and 74.  That's quite a turn around! 

What does 87 wins get you these days?  The 2006 Cardinals won the World Series, but only managed 83 wins during the regular season.  2014?  Three of the wild card teams this season won 88 games. 

In summary, I'm generalizing quite a bit and I understand there's more to the game of baseball than hitting, but the numbers look pretty good.  The Cubs improved by seven games over their season record in 2013 (66 and 96) to register a record of 73 an 89 in 2014, and I don't think it would be too much to ask to for another seven or eight wins of improvement in 2015.  A 0.500 record would be exciting considering where the team has been in recent years.  And who knows, a couple of shrewd acquisitions during the off season may net a veteran or two who can infuse some leadership and whip the young pups into shape quicker than expected.

Regardless, this cool baseball loving math nerd is ready to fast forward to Opening Day 2015.   Besides, winters are so overrated.

Go Cubs, go!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My 2014 Season Recap

In 2013 I saw nineteen professional baseball games and this year I topped that number by three.  Let's take a brief look at the numbers for 2014.

 I saw the Kane County Cougars (Cubs affiliate) play as many times as my local minor league affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. If you didn't already know, the Chiefs unfortunately are now affiliated with the Cardinals.  Yuck.  Maybe I should change my handle to Kane County Tom?

I saw the Iowa Cubs play four times, and the only time they came out on top was back in March in spring training.

How about the Chicago Cubs?!?  I saw them play four times in spring training, twice at Wrigley, and twice on the road in Pennsylvania during a nice long vacation with my wife.  Overall?  They went two and six.  (The had a record of three wins and nine losses over the last two seasons.  Ouch.)

My most memorable major league game was at Phoenix Municipal Stadium back in March.  Junior Lake hit three homers against the A's while I tried to hide from the sun underneath a palm tree.

My favorite minor league performance was in Kane County when Trey Martin stole five bases in one game.  You can't stop Trey Martin, you can only hope to contain him!
My favorite thing that happened in a ballpark this summer was my crazy trip up to the luxury boxes at Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa.  Oh, good times!

I'm hoping to see the 'W' flag more frequently in 2015.  Go Cubs, go!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pack Wars, brought to you by our sponsor...

Zippy Zappy!  I haven't done a Pack Wars in quite some time, mostly because of my recent self-imposed collecting hiatus.  Yet, there was a special little surprise in the mailbox yesterday from Cervin' Up Cards which means I've been Zippy Zapped!

Getting "zapped" sounds kind of painful, but for the uninitiated I can assure you it is an altogether delightful experience.

Let's introduce the competitors in this edition of Pack Wars!

First, we have the suspiciously thick pack of 2013 Topps Update which comes in a purported 8 cards.  Hmmm... I have my doubts about that.
In the other corner we have a tag team effort in the form of a 5 card pack of 2007 Fleer Ultra and a 10 card pack of 2008 Upper Deck First Edition Update.   These bad boys came from a repack that's been collecting dust underneath my desk.
Two versus one?  I don't think Zippy Zappy's pack is going to have any trouble fending off the twosome.  Let's get to the cards and see for ourselves!
Round 1:
The Vogelmonster against a nice action shot of Carlos trying to be a baserunner. Nice try, Carlos, but you aren't fooling anyone.  Zippy Zappy scores first with one of my two favorite minor league players!

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 1
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 0

 Round 2:
 Ooooooh...  Here's one I didn't see coming.  Something like my ninth '87 Briant Dayett versus a DLee card.  No contest here.  DLee jacks one and ties up the match.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 1
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 3:
 ROCK SHOULDERS!  Against who?  It doesn't even matter.  It's flippin' ROCK SHOULDERS! (ROCK SHOULDERS represents the other half of my favorite players on the farm with the Vogelmonster.)

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 2
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 4:
 The Z-man and a Mariano Rivera card.  This is a tough call for sure. Rob Zastryzny was a pretty high draft pick from 2013 and this is my first card of his.  Rivera is the best closer of ALL-TIME.  Yet, I love my Cubs prospects, almost as much as Zippy Zappy loves his Yankee farmhands.

In a hypothetical battle, would the Zipster take a LUIS TORRENS card over a Ryne Sandberg?  I think he would, thus I have to qualms about choosing the Z-man in this one.  Yes, I'm a homer, but it's my first Zastryzny card!

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 3
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 5:
 Here's a case where I don't mind the lack of logos on the card.  Having a big A's logo on the helmet of Addison Russell would just ruin this card for me, but no license means no logo.  Which means I'm pretty happy adding a "Gold" Russell to my collection.  By the way, who is Kevin Cameron? 

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 4
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 6:
 A new Kerry Wood versus a nice shot of the "Greek God of Walks."  I'm sorry Youk, but I have a KW PC.  You may think you're #1 in that picture, but in this case you're going to be the first loser.  Ouch.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 5
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 7:
 Wait, Jon Garland played for the Halos?  Craziness for sure.  I guess he did for an entire season.  Huh.  If you type in "Jim Vaughn" into you aren't going to be rewarded for your efforts.  James Leslie Vaughn?  Does that ring a bell?  No?  How about Hippo Vaughn?  This dude led the league in wins, ERA, innings, shutouts, WHIP and K/9 (4.6).  4.6?  Man, baseball is so different now than what it was back in 1918.  The 1963 Fleer card wins in a landslide.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 6
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 8:
 Moe Drabowsky!  Wow, this pack has been great!  My first Z-man, first Hippo, and my first Moe! A rookie card at that!  Pudge, you were a beast behind the plate and at the dish, but not even you can top a 1957 rookie of Moe Drabowsky!

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 7
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 1

 Round 9:
 A repeat of a Kerry Wood card against a pretty nifty horizontal fielding shot of Jorge Cantu.  We'll throw the Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck team a bone here and give them a pity point.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 7
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 2

 Round 10:
 Ooooooh!  A gold parallel Kerry Wood card from 2004 Topps.  This is my 340th unique KW card.  Very nice.  Eric Chavez was a dynamo is his early A's days, but he's no match for an addition to a player collection.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 8
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 2

 Round 11:
I drafted Scott Kazmir early in the spring of 2002 for my fantasy baseball keeper league.  In this particular league we had a minor league system and I thought Kazmir was the goods when he was coming out of high school (think Billy Wagner 2.0).  I once thought Nick Struck was the goods, too.  But, no longer.  Scott Kazmir scores another point for Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck in an attempt at a late rally.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 8
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 3

 Round 12:
 In my mind Matt Szczur is the Cub on the current roster who has replaced Jeff Samardzija.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Look at the spellings of those two last names if you're not sure what I'm talking about.  Board Game?  One of my least favorite all-time Cubs.  He wore out his welcome in Chicago in a hurry.  Somebody please show Milton Bradley the door.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 9
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 3

 Round 13:
 Baez!  The free-swingin' Javy Baez!  I really like the look of this card.  So much so that I have about two dozen of these in my collection.  Yes, I love my prospects! Chien-ming Wang?  A boring camera shot of a Yankee I don't care much about.  This contest is quickly getting out of hand!

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 10
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 3

 Round 14:
 Whoa!  A die-cut of Javy Baez!  I like the Endy Chavez shot, but it's a die-cut AND shiny!  Case closed.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 11
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 3

 Round 15:
A dinged up (on two corners) Baez, which is a repeat for me, against a Tulo StarQuest card.  Tulo carried my fantasy league team during the first two-thirds of this season and I'm debating if I want to protect him for next year.  Tulo is a great fantasy bat, but he always gets hurt.   First world problems for sure.  Too little, too late for the tag team of Fleer Ultra and Upper Deck.

Official Score:
Zippy Zappy Repack = 11
Fleer Ultra/Upper Deck = 4

Wow, fifteen rounds in a Pack Wars.  This has definitely been a marathon, but a fun one at that.

Zippy Zappy, that pack carried some serious mojo!  Vintage, Szczur, Z-man, Kid K, Vogelmonster and ROCK SHOULDERS.  It's as though you can read me like an open book.  Thanks so much for zapping me, yet again.  When I rise up from my self-imposed baseball card hiatus I will be sure to repay the favor!  Thanks again!