Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs hits a single against the New York Mets at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
The Cubs went 4-3 this week -- their second consecutive winning week, and their first winning road trip of the season. The Cubs split a four game set with the Braves, and won two of three from a good Mets team. If you're counting, the Cubs are now 8-4 with Anthony Rizzo, after going 25-48 without him. Correlation does not imply causation -- just because the Cubs are winning with Rizzo on the team does not mean that Rizzo is the cause of the Cubs recent winning ways -- but you can't help but feel that Rizzo has made a positive impact both on the field and in the clubhouse.
In draft-related news, the Cubs signed four players this week. The most notable signing was Ryan McNeil -- the Cubs 5th pick, and the 101st overall pick, for $471,000. Of the 42 players the Cubs drafted, they have thus far signed 26. As I have done over the past couple of weeks, here's a link to a full list of draft signees. And finally, the Cubs now have five days to sign Albert Almora.
Runs Scored: 31| Runs Scored per Game: 4.43 | Runs Allowed: 29 | Runs Allowed per Game: 4.14
The Cubs pitching staff had four very good games, in which they limited their opponents to a total of five runs. In the other three games, the staff gave up 24 runs. The Cubs ended up winning three of the four good games, and one of the three bad games. Like the pitching, the hitting was inconsistent -- the offense scored nearly half of its runs in two games, and averaged 3.2 runs in the other five games. It's hard to knock either side of the team when we're coming out of the team's first winning road trip of the season, but the numbers aren't as impressive as the team looked at certain points during the week.
The Three Most Important Plays
7/3 Bot 5, bases loaded with no outs, 3-1 Cubs: Michael Bourn triples off Chris Volstad to give the Braves the lead, resulting in a .310 WPA. The Cubs had a 48.9% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 17.9% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/2 Bot 6, man at 2nd base with 2 outs, 1-0 Cubs: Martin Prado singles off Jeff Samardzija to bring in the tying run, resulting in a .195 WPA. The Cubs had a 66.2% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 46.7% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/5 Bot 1, man at 1st base with 1 out, 2-0 Braves: Jason Heyward homers off Matt Garza to give the Braves an early lead, resulting in a -.193 WPA. The Cubs had a 45.2% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 25.9% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub Hitter*
Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo didn't disappoint in his first full week in the majors, and concerns about his swing and strikeout rate have taken a backseat to how well he's performed against both righties and lefties. That said, I want to remind everyone that it's early -- Rizzo has only had 49 plate appearances. Thanks to some great research from FanGraphs contributor Pizza Cutter, we have a rough estimate of when certain statistics tend to stabilize for hitters with small sample sizes -- here is link to the estimates. According to these estimates, we want to give Rizzo at least another 100 plate appearances before we start making any meaningful comments regarding his strikeout rate, and another 250 plate appearances before we discuss his home run rates. While I think both his home run rate and his strikeout rate will worsen, my guess is that his strikeout rate will be closer to its current 11% level than last year's 30% level.
Most Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Jeff Samardzija: While I was considering giving this to Dempster for another great outing, he only had the chance to throw five innings this week, which when compared to Samardzija's 14, just didn't hold up. That said, Samardzija himself threw 14 good to very good innings. While he struggled on Saturday against the Mets, he managed to go deep into the game while giving his team a chance to win. However, the main reason that Samardzija claimed this title was his start against the Braves on Monday. After coming off four very rough starts, Samardzija was brilliant. He threw seven innings, struck out 11 Braves, and only gave up five base runners. In my opinion, it was his most dominating start of the year. While I don't think Samardzija is being overworked, I do think that a week off will help him gear up for the second half.
Least Valuable Cub Hitter*
Alfonso Soriano: It's unfortunate that Soriano's hot streak had to come and go last month. At the time, I figured that his great performance may have brought some suitors forward to make an early trade, but the trade clearly didn't happen. Let's hope the break refreshes Soriano enough for another hot streak right in time for the July 31st deadline. On a slightly unrelated note, here's a statement that will likely shock most of you: Soriano has been the Cubs most valuable player in the first half according to WAR, (2.1 WAR versus Starlin Castro's next-best 1.9 WAR).
Least Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Matt Garza: Garza had an atrocious start against the Braves this past week. He left after four ineffective innings in which he threw 94 pitches, averaging nearly 24 pitches an inning. In his previous start, Garza threw 104 in 5⅓ innings against the Astros -- nearly 20 pitches an inning. You'd think that Garza has taken a huge step back this year, but let's look at some numbers.
The majority of Garza's peripherals are near his 2011 marks, with the biggest difference being his home run rates. Garza's giving up .8 more home runs per nine. While that may not seem like a lot at first glance, over the course of 198 innings, (Garza's 2011 inning total), that's an additional 18 home runs. Even if we assumed that all 18 home runs came with no one on base, it would add an additional .80 points to Garza's ERA. When I get some time later this summer, I'll try to identify the reason for the spike in Garza's home run rate -- whether it's just bad luck, or whether an actual issue has popped up. It will, hopefully, be a thing of the past by then.
Please do keep the managerial decision comments coming - I think they're a great way to keep up to date on how people feel about Sveum's tenure thus far. I was lucky enough to catch most of the Mets series, and the one thing that irked me from Sunday's game was Sveum's bullpen use. I know Al and many others have mentioned it a number of times, but sometimes it seems as if Sveum is overmanaging the bullpen. Corpas had thrown eight pitches in the seventh inning and was pulled in a 7-0 game. If that was because Sveum wanted to get Russell some work prior to the break -- which it likely was -- then that's fine. If that's the case, however, then let Russell finish the game. Camp has made 43 appearances thus far, and is thus on pace for more than 80 appearances. While Camp isn't a young arm in need of protection, that doesn't mean that cutting an inning or two from his workload isn't a good idea. Let me know if I'm overreacting here.
Best of luck to Bryan LaHair and Starlin Castro at Tuesday's All-Star Game. I'm not sure how much playing time they'll get, but it would be nice to see them both succeed with whatever chances they get.
After the break, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks next weekend. Go Cubs and go National League!
* The WPA for most and least valuable Cubs is the cumulative WPA over the course of the week.