Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Favorite Songs of 2010

40. Fang Island The Illinois

39. Girls Carolina

38. Avey Tare 3 Umbrellas

37. Abe Vigoda Crush

36. Wavves Green Eyes

35. The Morning Benders Promises

34. Pantha du Prince Sick to My Side

33. Panda Bear Last Night at the Jetty

32. Women Eyesore

31. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Round and Round

30. Avey Tare Oliver Twist

29. Tame Impala Alter Ego

28. Women Locust Valley

27. Arcade Fire Sprawl II (Mountains Upon Mountains)

26. Robyn We Dance To The Beat

25. Delorean Come Wander

24. Panda Bear Alsatian Darn

23. Of Montreal Hydra Fancies

22. Dom Jesus

21. Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith Not in Love

20. Gold Panda Snow & Taxis

19. Spoon Is Love Forever?

18. Tame Impala It’s Not Meant To Be

17. Hot Chip Take It In

16. Kendal Johansson Blue Moon

15. Sleigh Bells Riot Rhythm

14. Panda Bear Slow Motion

13. Caribou Found Out

12. ceo White Magic

11. LCD Soundsystem One Touch

10. Active Child Voice of an old friend

9. The Morning Benders Excuses

8. MGMT Song For Dan Treacy

7. Beach House 10 Mile Stereo

6. Broken Social Scene Sweetest Kill

5. Local Natives Wide Eyes

4. Arcade Fire Ready to Start

3. Wavves Super Soaker

2. Cut Copy Where I’m Going

1. Gauntlet Hair I was thinking…

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favorite Albums of 2010

1. Beach House - Teen Dream

Instant calm, peace, and relaxation. Oh and, as Gorilla vs. Bear mentioned in their list, “it has the best songs.”

2. Arcade FireThe Suburbs

I loved so many different songs on this album. First “Ready To Start,” then “Sprawl II,” these two are predictable. The more I listened though, the more I loved songs like “The Suburbs,” “Empty Room,” “Rococo,” etc. But as a whole, it’s not the same listening experience as Teen Dream. The Suburbs may have better singles, but the sum of Teen Dream’s parts is greater as far as my ears are concerned.

3. Tame ImpalaInnerspeaker

This is just a fun album. Psych-rock rooted in an instantly recognizable throwback style, however, they put their own unique spin on this familiar, classic rock sound. Similar to Beach House, the album flows incredibly well, each song an integral part of the mix.

4. WavvesKing of the Beach

Finally an alternative rock album that I can actually rock the F out to, it’s been a while.

5. RobynBody Talk

I really am surprised to be putting this album up here, but honestly it could have been even higher. There isn’t a better collection of 15 songs that came out this year, but since it’s more of a greatest hits collection for the year, it doesn’t feel like an album. In the end, that really doesn’t matter.

6. The Morning BendersBig Echo

A beautifully laid back, grand album that can’t help but have greatly benefited by Chris Taylor’s (of Grizzly Bear) production. Just like GB, every little note, voice or prick of an instrument seems expertly aimed at creating a different mood for each song, an attention to detail that is rare to hear.

7. Broken Social SceneForgiveness Rock Record

Speaking of “grand” albums, this one may take the cake. But it’s BSS and they can basically do no wrong. Any number of songs on this album may be considered favorites among fans, for me I always enjoy “All to All,” but tracks like “Highway Slipper Jam,” “Ungrateful Little Father,” and especially “Sweetest Kill” really stand out.

8. Caribou - Swim

This album was self-described as “Underwater Dance” music, and is a completely new direction for Daniel Snaith (who is Carbiou), yet somehow he makes it seem like he’s an old pro at creating electronic dance music. Undoubtedly, this still feels like a Caribou album, and its the allure of the mystical north that he somehow intertwines in his music that keeps me coming back for more.

9. Avey TareDown There

Another album described as “underwater,” Down There is a much darker journey than Swim. On “Heather In The Hospital,” the bass begins by mimicking your own heart beating, but soon takes a chase-scene pace, propelling your heart rate forward with it, "It brings me down / machines of modern magic keeping folks above the ground / a nurse's scribbling pad, shadow, shape / a mother going mad."

Really not fun stuff to be singing about, but this mood pervades the entire album. While you may think that would just be depressing, it only strengthens the cohesiveness of some of the most interesting (and enjoyable) songs to be released this year.

10. Crystal CastlesS/T

Tracks like “Doe Deer” and “Birds” make this album for me. There are standouts like “Celestica” that most people can get down with, but if you enjoy the songs that string the singles together, these dirt-covered gems that chug by, chewing glass along the way, then you really will rock out to this album.

11. LCD SoundsystemThis is Happening

12. Delorean - Subiza

13. Of MontrealFalse Priest

14. SpoonTransference

15. The Radio Dept – Clinging To A Scheme

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cubs surprisingly impressive 2010 starting rotation

Fielder Independant Pitching is a stat that measures the events a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. For all other balls in play it is up to the fielders to decide whether an at bat becomes a hit or an out. Reading a write up on the newest Cub, Carlos Pena at Fan Graphs, I came across this note that was a little staggering:

"Each of the team’s five presumptive starters — Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny,Randy Wells, and Ryan Dempster, had a FIP under 4.00 in 2010. These combined could lead the Cubs back into the picture for a relatively weak NL Central."

To have all five starters performing at the level of a #2 or #3 is a testament to the seemingly unappreciated season this rotation collectively put together.

This is more evidence to support the notion that it is misguided for the Cubs to be pursuing a starter right now, in a time when they claim to be under cost constraints. $10 million to Carlos Pena was a little expensive, but has a chance to be a strong value with Pena's combination of on-base ability, power and solid defense. The Cubs are also pursuing Brandon Webb while shopping Tom Gorzelanny. This is a swap that I would welcome with open arms, but the question is where do the Cubs get the money to sign Webb? (edit: Pena's contract is structured to allow for this)

The may lie in their ability to trade Kosuke Fukudome, a move that would save about $6 million, assuming they would have to eat half of his contract.

Lost in the shuffle is Kerry Wood, a player every Cubs fan would love to see pitch again in the Friendly Confines. However, Wood is coming off of a $10 million salary and may now be priced outside of the Cubs range. A hopeless optimist may wonder if Kid K would come back on a hometown discount. One can dream.

Friday, December 3, 2010

'This Old Cub' Ron Santo dies at 70

With Ron Santo, a man with such optimistic conviction, one would have thought there would be justice of some kind before he died. While the Hall of Fame dream has been dying a long, agonizing death for Santo and all those rooting for his induction, I feel that even beyond this piece of recognition that Santo was owed more before his time was up on this earth. A Cubs World Series obviously would have been the ultimate gift for him to receive. Many have come before him, though and have never seen the Chicago National League Ball Club even reach a World Series, much less win one, but in some strange way I had really thought that he would be alive when it finally happens.

I’ll never forget the play calls. Whether calls of ignorance, forgetfulness or shear bliss, no one could bring out the emotions of fellow die hard Cubs fans like Ron Santo could. Sure, to the casual baseball fan or listener on the radio, he was not the best color coordinator in the business. In fact, he may have been the worst. But to the those whose emotions imitated Santo’s, the audience that truly cared, there is no one those fans would have rather listen to on the color commentary than Ron.

Santo was loved, and will forever be loved by Cubs fans and baseball fans as long as this great game continues to be played. When the Cubs retired his number 10 in 2003, he said to the fans, “This is my hall of fame.” While it’s likely that he did not mean that entirely, the #10 will fly above Wrigley Field for as long as it stands and Ron Santo will always be remembered. As for the Hall of Fame, there is still a chance he can be inducted in 2012. What a shame it will be if he is finally inducted and is not there to accept the award. For that reason I almost hope he is not inducted, but if there is any justice left for this man, he deserves this final recognition. A 9-time All Star selection with 5 straight Gold Gloves from 1964 to 1968, a .277 career batting average and 342 home runs at the hot corner, his resume stand up to many at the position who have already been inducted.

I will miss you Ron, it will never be the same listening to a Cubs game without you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Logic will break your heart

So I'm listening to classic songs from the Stills debut, wondering to myself, has it really been more than two years since their last album? These guys are notorious plodders when it comes to releasing new music, so I did what I'm sure many people do (or maybe not?) and googled when their next album would be coming out. While I've struggled to find that info, I did find a decidedly tasty morsel of info from :

"In 2005, guitarist Greg Paquet left the band to finish school, bringing Hamelin from the drums to the front, a position which he struggled to fill on Without Feathers, notwithstanding his role as the band’s primary songwriter. Paquet has returned to The Stills for their fourth album. Hamelin describes the reunion as a natural one, based more on their friendship than anything else."

This is exciting stuff. After the bitter disappointment of Without Feathers, I put the blame squarely on Greg Paquet’s shoulders. I consoled myself with the conjured belief that if Greg Paquet never left the band, the Stills would still have the magic. Well Greg, here is your chance to prove it—to me. Time to atone for the band releasing Without Feathers, make it up to Stills fans across the globe who hoped and waited for a follow up to Logic only to be rewarded with an album worthy of Frisbee-ing out of your car window.

Now I do have to say thank you, and well done to the Stills for their third LP, 2008’s Ocean’s Will Rise. Quality album that gets better with every play. However, Stills, you made us wait five years to get a decent follow up to your debut. Now that everyone’s favorite guitarist, Greg, is back hopefully you guys can expedite the process.

This unfortunately does not look to be the case. Instead, the Stills are changing up their sound to “sex and dark.” Whatever that is, as long as Greg Paquet’s on guitar, it doesn’t matter. Seriously though, here is what chief songwriter Dave Hamelin had to say about the new direction of the Stills sound with Greg Paquet back on guitar:

“Now that he’s back, I’m playing drums again… It’s a little looser. We got a looser, “slivlier” kinda, it’s less rock n’ roll, it’s more like sludgy & dark, – sex and dark.”

Wha... Maybe it’ll be sweet? I'm hopeful, especially now that the band is back to Logic-style full strength, but it sounds like this next album has the unfortunate chance of flying out my window at dangerously high speeds. I also I get the feeling that Hamelin is just throwing random words out there just to make the album seem more interesting. Maybe this album really will be full of “sex” and “dark”-ness, but come on guys, at least throw an mp3 out there to give your devoted fans a taste of the impending sexiness.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Alcides Escobar: post-hype sleeper 2011

Check out my look at Alcides Escobar, the over-hyped for 2010 but possibly undervalued for 2011 shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers Kansas City Royals (who look like they're going to run).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I've started writing fantasy baseball articles for a website called (no, I am not the RotoProfessor). Check out the first post on Starlin Castro's 2o11 fantasy value.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Resurgence of Soto

The summer of 2010 has not been kind to Cubs fans, some having labeled the year a lost season before the calendar read July, so nothing can make up for half a season’s worth of meaningless baseball. There are, however, more than a few reasons to continue watching Cubs baseball (see Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, the continued progression of Fukudome, etc.) but none is more exciting to watch than the return of Geovany Soto.

Put simply: Geovany Soto is having a better offensive season than Joe Mauer. Let that sink in. Three time batting champion and former MVP Joe Mauer has not been as productive (per plate appearance) as Geovany Soto, despite a typical .326 batting average on the year. Soto is batting a pedestrian but respectable .280 on the year, seemingly ending the discussion. Moving on to less cosmetic statistics, however, shows a different story.

A player’s weighted on-base average takes the concept of OPS (on-base + slugging) and improves on it by using linear weight values for each possible event (read the joy of wOBA at Fan Graphs). The stat is scaled to on-base percentage where .335 is about average, .300 is a poor player and .400 is a great player. Soto's wOBA clocks in at .384, leading all major league catchers. Mauer comes in second at .372, with Brian McCann following at .369. The only problem is that Soto doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify as a league leader.

The fact remains, though, that Geovany Soto is having the best offensive season by a catcher in Major League Baseball. His OPS (.894) and slugging percentage (.500), predictably, also lead all MLB backstops. Soto’s year as a whole in many ways is identical to his rookie of the year winning 2008 campaign.




























Soto’s slugging, isolated power (slug – average) and strikeout rate are carbon copies, with the only real difference between this year and ’08 being his vastly improved walk rate. It is clear to see that Soto's forgettable 2009 was based in bad luck, as his batting average on balls in play was over 50 points below league average, while lying even further below his career numbers.

One may counter that Soto will see his high BABIP come back down to earth, however, the high BABIP numbers of 2008 and 2010 are fueled by incredibly high line drive percentages. In 2010 Soto has a career high LD% of 24.8, which (if he had enough plate appearances to qualify) would be third among all Major League hitters (coincidentally one spot above Mauer at 24.4%).

At 27-years-old, Geo is comfortably settling into his prime, and there is nothing in the stats to say that his offensive output will slow down. The way his 2008 and 2010 seasons compare, the numbers he is putting up this year seem easily repeatable. He will always strike out more than the average hitter with the vicious way he attacks the ball, but with those violent swings, and subsequent misses, comes possibly the most powerful catcher in Major League Baseball.

If only he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Len and Bob - 6/23/10: Brenly on Bradley

Milton Bradley strolls up to the plate, a chours of boos raining down around him from the Cubs fans who traveled to Safeco Field...

Len Kasper: Interesting reaction for a home player...Cubs fans letting him hear about it, some Mariners fans cheering him on.

Bob Brenly: Ha, they haven't seen enough of him yet.

Len: Swing and a miss. Oh for three with a walk last night and 0 for his last 15 overall.

Bob: Well I saw in the papers today a bar that has a "Milton Bradley Special," on Monday's you can buy a bottle of domestic beer for whatever Milton Bradley's batting average is.

Len: Did you buy one?

(Bradley grounds out to third)

Bob: Well, a couple more at bats like that I'll be able to buy a case!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cubs coming up empty at the corners

To say its been a disappointing season so far for the Cubs corner men would be like saying Armando Galarraga felt a little let down by Jim Joyce's lapse in concentration on the would-be 27th out of his "one hit" performance last Wednesday night in Detroit. While Derrek Lee has clearly struggled, the stat line put up by Aramis Ramirez is downright terrifying. To date:

Derrek Lee: .238/.342/.369/.711

Aramis Ramirez: .169/.234/.287/.520

After posting an OPS above .900 in five of the last six seasons (.898 being the other season), a .520 mark from Aramis Ramirez in June is unimaginable. What's done is done, however, and the lack of production for both DLee and Aramis has been the major contributing factor to the Cubs less than inspiring 26-31 record. What matters now is how will these players hit moving forward.

Looking at a hitter's batting average on balls in play will help determine whether or not that player has been "lucky" so far this season if his BABIP is well above the league average (.300) or unlucky if his BABIP is much lower than the average. Currently, Derrek has a BABIP of .287, not too far off the league average. However, looking at DLee's personal career BABIP of .322 and one can see where he may be a victim of well struck balls that just happened to be hit straight to the opposition.

We need to look beyond just a players BABIP to see the full story, as sometimes players are just putting a lot of poorly hit balls in play. One look at Derrek's infield fly ball percentage though, as well as his line drive rate, confirm his low batting average has been at least partially driven by bad luck:

IFF%: 0

LD%: 23.7

Zero infield pops and a line drive percentage that is higher than any single season LD% during DLee's illustrious career. With nearly a quarter of Derrek's balls coming off the bat as line drives, a .238 batting average is a clear aberration. Also, after leading the league in double plays in 2008, Lee is hitting less grounders (37.8% in 2010, 40% for his carreer) and has maintained his fly ball rate (38.5% this year to 38.9% career). The reason he only has 6 home runs on the season is a result of an abnormally low HR/FB rate of 10% in 2010 (16.7% career rate.)

Aramis has suffered from an even more striking collapse in homers per fly balls, hitting just 5 home runs despite an off the charts 60% fly ball rate (45% career rate). This has led to a severely bottomed out HR/FB rate of just 6.1%. This will correct itself, and fast as Aramis has a career HR/FB of 13.4%. The jump in fly balls correlates to a lower LD% and much lower GB% which has helped contribute to a National League worst .189 batting average on balls in play.

To put it simply, Aramis will not continue to hit .169 all year long, that much is obvious, the real question is not will he bounce back, but how far will he bounce back? The most troublesome stat on the back of Aramis' baseball card is a strikeout rate of nearly 25%, up almost 10% over his career mark of 15.5%. Logic may tell you then that Aramis could be reaching more, swinging at bad pitches and coming up empty as a result. Frighteningly, this is not the case. Aramis is actually swinging at less pitches out of the zone this year (29.5%) than he was last year (31.5%) and is close to his career rate of 26.1%. The problem is that when he gets his pitch, he is not hitting it as consistently as he has in the past. Repeatedly, pitchers have been able to either beat Aramis with the fastball or at least get him to foul it off before putting him away with a different pitch.

Aramis Ramirez is lost at the plate and it shows in the stats. From his peripheral numbers, he should definitely have a few more home runs and he is obviously not a .169 hitter. Is he a .300 hitting, 30 home run third baseman though? For tomorrow's game against the Brewers, I doubt it. Right now Aramis looks more like a .260 hitting 25 homer guy, but the season is still young and I expect Aramis to right the ship. However, even the biggest Aramis supporters (such as myself) will have to temper expectations.

I am all in on Derrek Lee though. Line drives are at a career high and he's keeping the ground balls to a minimum. Once the wind starts blowing out at Wrigley, look out for DLee. Better times are ahead, right now it's time to keep hope alive.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lou-sing it: Z to 'pen

My mind has just been blown. Then again, how can one be surprised? In one of the most idiotic moves in Cubs history, the team has taken Carlos Zambrano’s value to the team and cut it in half as Lou Piniella announced before tonight’s game that Big Z will be moving to the bullpen. Bottom line, this move makes the team worse. No matter how good Zambrano is in the bullpen, the team has just taken a shotgun and blown a hole in its chances to reach the postseason this year.

The most valuable relief pitcher in baseball last year was Jonathan Broxton, who put together a 2.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). This was half a win higher than any other relief pitcher in the majors. Carlos Zambrano, in his “off year” of 2009 was able to scrape out a cool 3.6 WAR. Simply put, relief pitchers can never be as valuable as good starting pitchers, and contrary to the belief of some, Carlos Zambrano is a very good starting pitcher. A workhorse good for 180-200 innings, the Cubs will now be giving at least 100 of those innings to Tom Gorzellany and Carlos Silva. If you don’t gag at that sentence I’d check your pulse.

This is Lou Piniella, completely losing his mind. Lunacy is reigning supreme at Clark and Addison, as there is simply no explanation for this move. Yes, the Cubs do not have a setup man. Somehow it has taken 18 runs in 14 different 8th innings this year for them to realize that no, John Grabow is not a setup man. He’s not even a good relief pitcher! He almost cracked 1 win above replacement last year with a “workmanlike” 0.2. However, it represented a great improvement over his -0.1 in 2008. His career best is 0.5 WAR in 2006. He probably drank half a beer with his buddies to celebrate. Forget wins above replacement; just look at how many batters he walks. His past three seasons he has posted walks per nine innings of 4.76, 4.83, and 4.38. That combined with a pitiful K/BB of 1.43 last year is a recipe for heartache in the late innings. As bad as John Grabow and the rest of the bullpen are though, this is a move of the most bone-headed proportions.

Almost as mystifying is the fact that Mt. Zambrano didn’t spew volcanic lava all over New York City upon hearing the news. In Zambrano’s own words, “Like Arnold Schwarzenegger says, ‘I’ll be back.’”

I sure hope so, but Lou is saying the move may not be temporary. 2008 first round pick Andrew Cashner has punched out 25 hitters in 17 innings at Double A Tennessee, and has the 98-MPH fastball and 88-MPH slider that would fit the 8th inning like a glove. After posting a 3.39 ERA in Double A last year, and with a 3.07 ERA in 137 minor league innings, calling up Cashner would seem to be a much more logical and much last drastic move than turning the team’s supposed “ace” into a reliever.

Piniella said that Zambrano will be ready to come out of the bullpen starting Friday. Never a dull moment with this team, as they aimlessly wander through the season with no sense of direction at all, lost in Lou’s madness.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Carlos Marmol is...

The Magic Man!

Marmol K's two to close out a Cubs win on Friday, he now has 5 and 1/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts to (this is the best part) two walks on the young season.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Washed Out at The Empty Bottle - 4/5/10

Walking into The Empty Bottle for the first time is an experience that should illicit a smile, as it dawns on you that this is almost an exact replica of the tiny, grimy bar that you would frequent every so often in college, and while that doesn't make it a great place to grab a drink, it sure makes it one hell of a nice place to watch live music. $1.50 PBR flowed like milk at an FFA convention and even with your back up to the bar, the intimate setting puts the viewer right in the midst of the action. You couldn't get away from the music if you wanted to.

And with Washed Out playing, who in their right mind would want to?

Ernest Greene (Washed Out) opened his set with some body shakers, and while the bulk of it was unreleased material, the songs were crowd pleasers as the bass felt as if it wanted to break free from the speakers and beat itself into the ground. This was a very good thing. Heavy bass, mixing with a thick layer of haze over the vocals made listening to actual lyrics impossible, but created a vibe that would carry over for the rest of the show. Greene’s unbridled energy for his music infected the crowd and grew as the show progressed. After the mood was established, Greene exited, saying he would be back to play the rest of his set with Small Black (who was actually headlining the show) as the backing band.

Small Black was an impressive mix of bass, drums and enthusiasm. The keyboardist and main vocalist shared the singing duties, with the lead vocalist twisting some knobs every so often. The music was more electronic than I had imagined, hearing only a couple of songs prior to the show, but it was an entertaining if not original sound and I was grooving along with the rest of the crowd. It did, however, leave me longing for Washed Out to come back on stage. The early Washed Out set was good, but it wasn't what I came to see. Once Greene took the stage with Small Black a new energy filled the small, dark room as the familiar sounds of the Life of Leisure EP came to life.

Straight out of the gate, one could tell the disarming "Hold Out" was going to be different than the preceding songs. The menacing bass line was heard (and felt) loud and clear. There was also a noticeable change in the way the crowd was reacting to the music, as if caught in a trance, while earlier it was just one big party. Small Black had a lot to do with this, as the bell-ringing guitar echoing throughout "Hold Out" is essential to the song’s attraction. While the euphoria that shot straight to my brain upon hearing the opening to the next track, “You’ll See It,” was sustained throughout the song, it seemed clear to me that “Hold Out” was the highlight of the show.

The most well received song was unsurprisingly Washed Out's most popular, "Feel It All Around," and it did not disappoint. As the opening salvo of bass vibrated up and down my spine, the crowd let out a roar of approval that dissolved into a sustained groove, captivated by the pure, chill essence of the song. The departure from dance-inducing bass to a stoning sense of calm was a chance to relax and soak in the surroundings. As the set drew to a close, Greene joined in on an exuberant version of Small Black's "Despicable Dogs," which he had remixed last year for a split EP (get the remix here, thank me later).

Overall the show more than met any expectations I had going into it. The venue was perfect, the bass and overall sound was cranked way up, and the bands seemed to have endless supplies of energy. The set arrangement was interesting but worked surprisingly well, how can you pass up a delicious double dosage of Washed Out? I couldn't help but feel some of the members of Small Black weren't thrilled to have their set cut short, but the way they played did not reflect this. Without Small Black, this concert would not have been nearly as good. As the two bands combined the show turned from guys turning knobs and cranking bass into a full-fledged crowd pleasing force, with both Small Black and Washed Out proving they are bands to take notice of.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to bake a DeRosa cake

When the Cubs traded away Mark DeRosa last off season, the only possible reaction was, "huh?" Many fans regarded him as the MVP of the 2008 team (wrongly), he backed up nearly every position on an always aching ball club, oh and the only depth behind him was Mike Fontenot. Now I like the Font-e-not as much as the next Cubs fan, but to rely on him at second base, and trade away your only insurance for an injury prone Aramis Ramirez, only to save a whopping $5.5 million (used on Milton Bradley) crippled the Cubs season. In today's market, $5.5 million can actually go a long way, but not if your name is Jim Hendry. Bobby Abreu for example made just $5 million last year. In true Hendry fashion, however, Jim took almost half of what he saved on DeRosa and spent it on Aaron Miles. He then gave Bradley double the amount of Abreu's contract, at three times the length.

Needless to say, it's a very real possibility that Hendry was experimenting with illegal drugs during the 2008 offseason. He did make one under the radar move last year, though, that may prove to be one of his more insightful pickups, by acquiring Jeff Baker mid-season. The Cubs didn't get Baker without having to pay up on their end of the deal, as they traded away one of the greatest baseball names of all time in minor league pitcher Al Albuquerque. Al's numbers luckily do not live up to his name as he has a career 1.45 whip due mainly to a 4.2 BB/9 (um, no). Now I'm not saying that Baker is the next Ryne Sandberg but I think he can very easily wind up being the next Mark DeRosa.

Baker received his first extended look in the majors in 2007, posting an unimpressive line of .222/.296/.347 in 144 at bats. He quickly adjusted in 2008 though, with an improved .268/.322/.468 with 12 jacks in 299 at bats. He followed up the success of '08 by starting off ice cold last year with 3 hits in his first 23 at bats for Colorado. The trade to the Cubs must have lit a fire under his ass as he thawed out nicely, hitting .305/.362/.448 in 203 at bats as a Cub.

In Mark DeRosa's first stint with the Cubs, he put up a similar line with a respectable .293/.371/.420 in 502 at bats. Obviously Baker's is a much smaller sample, but it is not hard to see similarities in the skill sets here. A significant part of DeRosa's value the past two seasons has been his increased power. Taking a closer look look at the numbers, the stat Isolated Power is defined as "a measure of a hitter's raw power" and is found by taking (SLG - AVG). DeRosa's 2007 ISO was a below average .127 (league average .150). Similarly, Baker had an ISO of .125 the same year. Baker then jumped all the way to .205 in 2008. DeRosa followed suit with an ISO of .196.

Baker, who will turn 29 this year, didn't show the pop last year that he did in 2008, with 4 home runs in 226 at bats, however, in DeRosa's 28-year-old season he hit just 6 bombs in 266 at bats. Given the similarities in the development of these two players, I think it is a safe bet that Baker reaches double digit home runs in 2010. As you can see, Baker was unlucky last year, with just 6.5% of his fly balls turning into home runs:

2007 9.80%
2008 16.70%
2009 6.50%
Career 13.30%

With that number bound to bounce back up to at least his career average, Baker can provide above average power for a middle infielder. On the defensive side of the ball, Baker came up as a third baseman but has shifted to second while also spending time at both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Sound familiar?

Jeff Baker is a younger version of Mark DeRosa who is further along in his development than DeRosa was at his age. DeRo didn't make a real impact on a team until 2006 as a 31-year-old Texas Ranger. Baker will be given his chance to do the same as 29-year-old splitting second base duties with Little Babe Ruth himself, Mike Fontenot. I think the smart money here is on Baker.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Album Review - Toro Y Moi

Causers of This - album cover

Toro Y MoiCausers of This


A sweet, slow crackle of speaker backed by a blissed out “ahhhh” brings Causers of This to life, as gorgeous opening track “Blessa” sets an immediately pleasing tone for the rest of the album. A perfect table-setting track—that also happens to be the record’s best song—“Blessa” combines the melody of Panda Bear, with the laid-back delivery and diffidence of Washed Out. Chaz Bundick, the 23-year-old who is Toro Y Moi, may openly display his influences (you can’t help but think he was listening to Ambivalence Avenue released by Bibio last year when listening to more than a few songs) however, on Causers of This he proves to have the ability to carve out his own unique voice in this “chillwave” genre.

In the same vein as Ambivalence Avenue, Causers of This covers a broad range of musical styles. The difference is that Bundick manages to reign in his sound and keep it together in the context of the album. That is no knock on Bibio, who’s album was one of last years best, but Toro Y Moi keeps the listener engaged using a continuous shift in approach while maintaining a surprising sense of continuity. Nowhere is the Bibio influence more apparent than on “Lissoms” where the step-stutter-step of a broken beat begs to be listened to. Drawing itself into and out of the speakers, the jagged, angular beats blend together with tape hiss and subdued sounds of pleasure, contrasting beautifully in the background.

One unmistakable misstep, however, is that previously released “Talamak” is reworked to diminishing returns. The former version of the song featured a constant, echoing give-and-take of volume levels throughout the track. It was subtle enough to not bother the listener, yet was able to weave itself into the fabric of the song. The former also had a creepily awesome opening that somehow reminded you of “The Twilight Zone” and Fischerspooner at the same time. The new “Talamak,” while still enjoyable, is slightly sped up and features the incessant honking of what sounds like a synthesized harmonica, seeming forced and tacky in comparison.

Similarly, a cheesy piano line opens up “Low Shoulder,” which has the opposite effect of the harmonica and works better when it turns into a keyboard synth. “Low Shoulder” goes against Toro Y Moi’s strengths as Bundick seems much more comfortable when throwing down acutely articulated beats (“Lissoms”, “Minors”), or chilling out with a drug induced blend of bass, haze and synths (“Thanks Vision”). “Low Shoulder” tries to split the difference and make itself a pop song at the same time, causing it to teeter a little too dangerously close to the edge of crowd-pleasing cutesiness. The song does manage to close on a high note however, as the second half features much less of the piano, ending instead with a mix of previously successful tricks.

Ending on a high note just must be the way Toro Y Moi rolls, as the title track closes the album on a sugar rush. “Causers of This” is sticky and sweet, as chopped up female vocals are sprinkled across an array of pulsating beats, ending with a repeated “It’s all good, it’s all good.” Yes, Mr. Chaz Bundick, it sure is.

It’s the minor details that keep the album from being great, which is to be expected from someone [named Chaz Bundick] whose musical creativity seems boundless. At times it appears the creative juices were spilling over just a little too much, with added touches that simply do not work. For example the meandering of “Imprint After,” which I can only describe as sounding like bad MGMT, may draw differing reactions. Equally, one’s affinity for the spaztastic, hyper kinetic energy of “Causers of This” may also be the same sound that another listener finds increasingly annoying.

While I fail to see the Animal Collective comparisons to Toro Y Moi outside of “Blessa” and the abundance of bass both use, Animal Collective have achieved the ability to hone their brimming talent into not only wondrously weird and unique songs, but also into universally appealing music. Causers of This shows off a distinctive talent set and promise for future releases, but it does have its misgivings and bumps along the road. This is a full-length debut after all. Forget about that, though because this is an impressive album and would be a warm and welcome choice for your ears and a snug pair of headphones after coming inside from January’s chill.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Da Bulls

You have to love the Bulls starting lineup presentation. It's just bizarre, yet there seems to be so much effort put into it that you have to appreciate the fact that they are going 150% all out to make sure it looks cool. I mean, what other team turns off the lights, starts up the lasers and puts up graphics on the board of their teams mascots hoarding together and running through the streets? It's great, a pack of angry bulls running through Chicago and down Madison street, trampling towards the United Center. The best part of it all is when they see the opposing team's bus parked outside and the lead bull lowers his horns before they all gloriously bust through. It all seems completely ridiculous until the familiar sound of the Alan Parsons Project starts up and you remember all those old Bulls teams of the 90's you'd used to watch, when that dun-da dah-duh would put a smile on your face as you prepared to watch Jordan dominate. The Bulls spent the entire last decade wallowing in the muck between average and below average, but this year's team has actually been exciting lately, playing good defense with a stable of young, athletic big men who can run the floor as Derrick Rose dishes it out. The Bulls, for once, actually look like a competent, competitive team.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maddog back, Sheets next?

In a move of rare shrewdness, the Chicago Cubs announced yesterday that Greg Maddux has returned to the team as an assistant to GM Jim Hendry. This move can only help, especially in the case of talent evaluation. Booze-hound Hendry needs all the help he can get these days.

Also in Cubs news is the rumor that the team plans to make a run at starting pitcher Ben Sheets. Convincing the front office to make the former Brewer an offer should be Greg Maddux's first order of business. Maddog will take one look at Sheets' baseball-reference page and drool all over his keyboard as he reads off these career numbers:
  • K/BB: 3.85
  • WHIP: 1.20
  • BB/9: 1.97
  • FIP: 3.56 (FIP is Fielder Independent Pitching, defintion here, read as ERA)
Sheets has elite control combined with nasty, whiff inducing stuff. Maddux should appreciate the value of an incredibly low walks per nine innings, (Maddux for comparison had a career BB/9 of 1.8) as well as the elite strikeout to walk ratio of 3.85 (not a huge K-guy, Maddux still maintained a career 3.3 K/BB).

Some may wonder why the Cubs would let Rich Harden walk, only to pursue another potential ace who has his history of injuries. I think the answer is simply that, even while healthy, Harden can only be counted on for 6 innings of work. A healthy Ben Sheets is capable of going all 9 innings on any good day, as seen by his 18 career complete games. Rich Harden, on the other hand, has a whopping two complete games on his resume, both in 2005.

Ben Sheets seems to still think it is 2005, though (a year after a season of career bests in 2004 that included 237 IP, 2.70 ERA, 0.983 WHIP and an incredible 8.25 K/BB) as Carrie Muskat tweets that Sheets' current asking price of $10-12 million is out of the Cubs budget. I'm not sure if Ben Sheets is aware that he missed the entire 2009 season and has not thrown 200 innings of baseball since 2004, but his reported asking price is just about what an ace in 2005 was making. This is also roughly the same amount that Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster are making, and while Sheets may pitch better than those two when healthy, both Dempster and Lilly have proven to be durable and reliable.

Sheets asking price will undoubtedly come down, whether it comes down enough for the Rickett's family is another issue. Hopefully Greg Maddux has something to say about this potential move.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Byrd lands in Chicago

Marlon Byrd's landing was about as exciting as watching the seagulls circle Wrigley in the 8th inning, as Jim Hendry signed a blah player to a blah 3 years $15 million contract. This isn't such a bad signing though, Hendry landed an average center fielder for market value. Think about that. When has Hendry ever not over-payed average players, or payed perceived market value to bad players. Jacque Jones December of 2005, 3 years $16 million dollars. Worm-burnin' Jacque Jones got more money than Byrd who hit a respectable .283/.329/.478 last year after hitting .298/.380/.462 and .307/.355/.459 the previous two years while playing an average center field. Back with his old hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Byrd may be a late bloomer as his slugging percentage is trending upwards each of the last three seasons and his 20 bombs last year doubled his previous career high.

Much like the seagulls waiting to peck at mustard-stained hot dog wrappers or overturned boxes of popcorn, the Cubs circled the center field options slowly, dragging out a Milton Bradley trade only to get the worst possible return, meanwhile missing out on a superior defensive center fielder in Mike Cameron all the while failing to once again never EVER trade a prospect at his peak value (19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro) and watching a perfect fit in Curtis Granderson be stolen by the Evil Empire (but we'll trade Felix Pie for Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson). Byrd is getting up there in age as he turns 33 this coming season, so the Cubs may be looking to unload him for 2012. For now though, Hendry gets a pass. Not a bad deal.