First Robin of spring | Bleader

First Robin of spring


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Robin Ventura
The Cubs and White Sox are both in camp, and there's something about those first reports from spring training that declare the onset of the season as gloriously as the first robin sighting.

That's in part why baseball has such a hold on those of us who consider it the premier sport, that it follows the calendar in trumpeting spring, maturing through the summer, and fully ripening in the fall.

And both teams, this year, epitomize the promise of spring: Both appear to be in rebuilding mode, both have new managers; yet both have notions of competing if the pitching comes around, if they get comeback campaigns from key players, if young players fulfill their promise, if they get off to a good start and get some momentum and confidence going—if, in fact, it all comes together the way it sometimes does in baseball.

I have to admit, the bunt tournament put on by new Cubs manager Dale Sveum has all the earmarks of a team placing a renewed emphasis on the fine points. We'll have to see if new Sox manager Robin Ventura, the true first Robin of spring around these parts, has similar tricks up his sleeve to instill fundamentals, as the Sox can use it every bit as much as the Cubs.

Yet I remain a little more bullish on the Sox than the Cubs this season, at least on paper. The Cubs have the look of a team cobbled together while the new Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer brain trust goes about rebuilding the team from the ground up through prospects and player development. Their major pitching acquisitions over the off-season—Paul Maholm, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad—all have the look of innings eaters behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.

The Sox, by contrast, still have a decent rotation after losing Mark Buehrle, with John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber, and a freshly healthy Jake Peavy; joined by Chris Sale from the bullpen; and newly acquired phenom Nestor Molina in the wings. There's no doubt that Epstein and Hoyer have a better track record than Sox general manager Kenny Williams at prospect acquisition and development, but Williams keeps his Sabermetrics simple, and Molina and bullpen newbie Addison Reed both have eye-opening strikeout-to-walk ratios. Molina struck out 148 and walked 18 in 130 minor-league innings last year, and Reed struck out 12 and walked but one in his first seven innings with the Sox in September, after whiffing 111 against 14 walks in the minors. Back in the 80s, before statistical analysis became much more complicated, Bill James used to say strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best indicator of a pitcher's stuff and command and, thus, future performance and development. The Sox have the arms to compete, even without Buehrle, if Ventura can only get them scoring runs. But hey, hitters don't report until next week.

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