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PIT/PA Watch

May 15: 3.55
Season: 3.61
NL Average: 3.73
Cubs' NL Rank: 15th

Cubs Season Record 22-15 (--)

This Series
May 14-May 16

Cubs Sweep 3-0



Final Score: 6-1

Final Score: 7-5

Final Score: 4-2


Next Series
May 18-May 20

AT

May 18: Clement (5-2, 2.78) vs
Schmidt (3-2, 3.79)


May 19: Zambrano (4-1, 1.82) vs
Rueter (1-4, 5.52)


May 20: Maddux (3-3, 4.44) vs
Hermanson (1-2, 4.67)



Last Series
May 11-May 13

Dodgers Win 2-1



Final Score: 7-3

Final Score: 4-0

Final Score: 7-3


Know Your Enemy - The Series
Part 1 - The Reds
Part 2 - The Pirates
Part 3 - The Brewers
Part 4A - The Cardinals - Position Players
Part 4B - The Cardinals - Pitching and Bench
Part 5A - The Astros - Position Players
Part 5B - The Astros - Pitching and Bench

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 Archives
08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004
01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Monday, January 12, 2004

Assuming the Position - Part 7 - The Bullpen

After an absolutely appalling year from the relief corps in 2002, the Cubs went on a massive spending spree in the offseason to improve the bullpen product, and it brought forth....well....mediocrity. Certainly an improvement, but in a year where a good bullpen could have taken a lot of pressure off an overworked starting staff, not quite improved enough. In order for the Cubs to be viable this year and into the future, Jim Hendry must assemble a cadre of relievers that Dusty Baker will not hesitate to use. Has he done the job?

Joe Borowski - The feel-good story of Borowski's roundabout trip to the Cubs' (complete with Mexican detour) has been well documented, but 2003 brought the ultimate fortune for JoBo in the form of another player's mis-fortune. When Antonio Alfonseca injured his groin during spring training, the Cubs were left with a gaping hole where their closer used to be. Dusty Baker refrained from anointing anyone out of spring training, so when the first save situation of the year came on April 5 in Cincinnati, it was anybody's guess who would come trotting in from the bullpen.

Out went Joe, out went three Reds, and out went the question of who would finish games for the Cubs.

One season and 33 saves later, Borowski comes into 2004 as the incumbent closer for this squad, a role that no one in baseball could have foreseen for him at this time last year (and if you did, I'd love for you to handle my stock portfolio). The time for concern over the possible fluke nature of his success is passed, as he followed his fine 2002, during which he was the best reliever on an awful staff, with an even better 2003. And now, for a little Table Time!

Year IP ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR AVG OBP SLG
2002 95.2 2.73 148 9.13 2.73 3.35 10 .239 .294 .384
2003 68.1 2.63 161 8.69 2.50 3.47 5 .207 .261 .293

His strikeout rate declined slightly, and because of his more specialized role he threw fewer innings, but everything else points to a pitcher who is not only a non-fluke, but has managed to figure things out and become an extremely valuable asset in the bullpen. He's a fine choice to continue in the closer's role since he's not only a solid pitcher, but is also blessed with a short memory, perhaps the most valuable attribute a man who will occasionally be handed all the blame for a loss can have. If Dusty doesn't have confidence in JoBo, he ought to. He's doing the job.

LaTroy Hawkins - The Cubs signed Hawkins this offseason for near closer money, and while Borowski is a good pitcher, when LaTroy puts on his Cubbie blue uniform, he becomes the most potent weapon in Dusty Baker's relief arsenal. Stop! Table Time!

Year IP ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR AVG OBP SLG
2002 80.1 2.13 208 7.06 1.68 4.20 5 .217 .252 .307
2003 77.1 1.86 248 8.73 1.75 5.00 4 .239 .274 .322

Look at those strikeout to walk ratios. Yikes! Hawkins possesses two of the most important skills you look for in a good reliever. He doesn't let men on base, and he keeps the ball in the yard. If you do that coming out of the bullpen, you're more than halfway home, and Hawkins does it in spades.

While there is idle chatter about LaTroy taking the ball in the ninth, I wouldn't anticipate that scenario unless Borowski is hurt or starts to fail badly. The fun thing about the way this has played out is that, as a non-closer who happens to be the best pitcher in the bullpen, Hawkins is free to come into the most critical game situations with little regard to what the inning is. Imagine that. A one-run lead, two men on, one out, top of the seventh, and in trots your best reliever. Shocking!

The Cubs are likely to occasionally execute the Red Sox initial 2003 bullpen plan, without even intending to. Lacking a dominant reliever, the BoSox plan was doomed to failure and ridicule. Not an issue for the Cubs, as they not only have the man for the plan, but any adherence to it will be completely accidental. I don't know if Jim Hendry is savvy enough to have done this on purpose, but intentional or not, it sets up a possible usage pattern that should keep sabremetrically inclined Cub fans happy all year long.

Mike Remlinger - For the first lefty out of the pen, he sure has trouble sitting down southpaws. Last year, Remlinger put up a .263/.343/.442 line against his fellow portsiders, versus his .180/.301/.323 line when facing his opposites. His three-year splits are even more pronounced (.277/.335/.455 vs. L, .186/.280/.290 vs. R), so why Dusty used him more against lefties than anytime over the last three seasons is beyond me. Still not convinced he shouldn't face his brethren? Take a look at this.

Year R/L Ratio ERA
2001 2.18 2.76
2002 2.56 1.99
2003 1.69 3.65

The R/L Ratio is the number of at bats facing right-handers divided by the number of at bats facing left-handers. The lower the number, the more often he faced a lefty. See a pattern? More lefties for Remlinger = more runs for the other team. I don't know if Dusty has figured out that he should be used like any right-hander with a bad platoon split (*cough* JeffNelson! *cough*), but the sooner he does, the better off the Cubs, and Remlinger's ego, will be.

Kyle Farnsworth - Cub fans didn't know what to expect from Kyle in 2003. Would we see the dominating flamethrower of the 2001 campaign, or the fragile, hitable owner of 2002's 7.33 ERA? The only thing anyone knew for sure was how he would look in his uniform ("Pants by Dutch Boy®, the leader in skin-tight comfort.").

As it turned out, the hand-wringing was unnecessary, and Farnsworth turned the heat back up on his way to his second-best season.

Year IP ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR AVG OBP SLG
2002 46.2 7.33 55 8.87 4.63 1.92 9 .293 .366 .558
2003 76.1 3.30 129 10.85 4.24 2.56 6 .196 .285 .295

Um...wow. That's one heck of an improvement. I wonder how many relievers have thrown at least 45 innings in two consecutive seasons and seen their SLG against sliced nearly in half? My guess? Not many.

It's pretty obvious that the one thing keeping Kyle from dominating everyone in the ballpark (besides, perhaps, his psyche) is his control. Get that walk rate under three, and Dutch Boy will own the National League.

Kent Mercker - Finally! A lefty who gets out lefties....sort of!

2002 VS. L .209/.303/.433
2003 VS. L .222/.350/.358

In 2002 he kept his lefty opponents' average down, but most of what got hit was hit hard, while in 2003, he wasn't hit as hard, but was hit more often. He also walked a bunch of guys last year, and if there's anything that's really troubling about his performance, that would be it. True, he kept his ERA down to a miniscule 1.95 last year, but when you walk 32 men in 55.1 IP, you're playing with fire. I would also not expect him to keep right-hander's down to a .230/.303/.393 line again. He was absolutely murdered by his opposites in 2002 (to the tune of .350/.424/.675), and while I wouldn't expect an outright repetition of that kind of "work" again, even if the truth lies between the two, he should be shielded from righties at all costs.

Mercker has become the definition of LOOGY, and if he's used as such, he can be a net positive.

Todd Wellemeyer/Sergio Mitre/???????? - This spot is, or could be, less about who can contribute most to the team today, and more about who will benefit from the experience tomorrow. After having a year to monitor his usage patterns, it's clear that to Dusty Baker, even more than with some managers, the last spot in the bullpen is reserved for use in blowouts and extra inning emergencies. There's little reason to have a veteran mediocrity fill this spot when there are young arms in the system for whom time with the big club could be valuable. That doesn't mean we won't see a semi-famous NRI breaking camp with the team in April, after all, Dusty has a thing for those who have been around the block (Gary Glover or Jamey Wright, anyone?). It just means that in an ideal world, a young pitcher from the system who doesn't have a ton left to learn in the minors would get a chance to clock some time in the show, becoming acclimated to the Majors in a relatively low-pressure gig. Not that the veteran NRI route doesn't have its merits (it's certainly served the Angels and Braves in the past), but rooting around in the salvage yard hasn't been one of the organization's strengths, and isn't likely to become one anytime soon.

Had the Cubs merely acquired LaTroy Hawkins, or simply dumped Antonio Alfonseca, they would have done themselves a service, but having accomplished both has gone a long way toward making the Cubs' pen one of the best in the National League. Adding a lefty who might occasionally sit down others of their ilk is a bonus, but in the aftermath of all this activity we're left with a question. Will an improved bullpen take some heat off the starting staff?

It's a big question, and it might hold the key to the organization's future. In an upcoming entry, I'll take a peek at Dusty Baker's usage patterns and see if I can find the answer. It may not be there, but it can't hurt to look!

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Posted by Derek @ 3:35 PM

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The Astros have finalized their deal with Roger Clemens, bringing him and his six Cy Youngs to Minute Maid Park, apparently to form a Western Yankee Annex (see Pettitte, Andy).

Besides giving the Houstons an obvious psychological boost, Clemens gives them badly needed innings at an above average level of performance. No one will confuse Roger with the Rocket of yore, but he's still an effective pitcher, even at 41.

But how will Clemens fare in Houston? Despite some holes (any resemblance between Craig Biggio and a centerfielder is purely coincidental), the Astros defense is a significant improvement on the unit Clemens saw stumbling behind him in 2003. No Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, or Alfonso Soriano means fewer singles up the middle and a cloud of dust, even when your second-baseman's named Jeff Kent. Still, I'd call it a wash. For some reason, right-handers hit him pretty hard (his three-year splits are .276/.315/.438 vs. R, and .224/.300/.347 vs. L), and with that short left-field porch in the Juice Box, the Rocket could spend a lot of time getting launched himself.

Houston needed this badly, but while Clemens will serve ably as their third or fourth starter, this move doesn't put the kibosh on the Cubs hopes for 2004. If Chicago can keep their starters off the DL, the division will still be theirs for the taking.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:57 PM

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Well....Crap

Will Carroll is reporting over at his blog that Roger Clemens is about to sign a deal to pitch next season with the Astros. I’ll comment more on this when it’s finalized, but for now, head over to Will’s site for any details and discussion of the implications.

EDIT 1/12/2004: It's official. More on this later.

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Posted by Derek @ 7:41 AM

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

If you needed any more proof that the world is going straight to H-E-double-hockey-sticks in the proverbial hand-basket, look no further than The View From the Bleachers and note that this very blog made the finals in their "Best Cub Blog (Not Written By Christian Ruzich) 2003" contest. I'm honored that anyone voted for this blog at all, so, thanks Mom (I'll get you some medicine for that carpal tunnel syndrome real soon)!

But seriously, folks, I do think it's cool that a few people thought enough of my work to vote for The Big Red C. It's always nice when a little positive feedback comes your way, and I'll take all I can get.

So, thanks to Bleacher Bum for thinking to put this contest on in the first place, and if you haven't already, head on over to TVFTB and cast your vote. Democracy is about participation, people! So, if you find that in a couple of weeks you have to read an interview with me on TVFTB about why I write this thing, it's your own damn fault!

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Posted by Derek @ 1:18 PM

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

No Go, Ryno

I know this is a day late, but I had a long diatribe in the works about how I didn't understand the HOF voting process, how the concept of what I refer to as "vote creep" (where a deserving player who is acknowledged to be an eventual Hall of Famer starts the process short of the votes necessary for enshrinement, then creeps up over a period of years until he hits the magic 75%, as if the passing of time made him a more worthy candidate) was beyond my comprehension, and how some of these same players are forced by the voters to wait for a "weak" ballot to get their necessary induction ratio as if it were a statement of their relative "worthiness."

Then I remembered that Bill James wrote a whole book about this, and rather than venting 2,000 words of spleen on a topic that's already been thoroughly covered by one of the great writers in the game, I figured I should save myself the embarrassment and say that while I'm disappointed that Sandberg didn't make it this year, his time will come. The votes will "creep," and like Gary Carter before him, Ryno will have his day.

That's enough of that. I've got a book to read.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:09 AM

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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Assuming the Position - Part 6 - The Starting Staff

The story of the 2003 Chicago Cubs was written on the arms of the pitching staff. Without the outstanding contributions of the starters, particularly the front three, there would have been no NLCS defeat to mourn. What can we expect for 2004?

Mark Prior - There is no single player on the Cubs roster who is more important to the present and future success of the franchise than Mark Prior. He finished the year with a record of 18-6, 245 K, only 50 BB, and a miniscule 2.43 ERA over 211.1 IP, good enough for third place in the NL Cy Young voting. All this when he was only 22 years old. Prior appears to have the ability and desire to be one of, if not the single most dominating pitcher in the National League for many years to come.

That being said, there is much that is troubling about the way Prior was used last season. Despite being extremely young and still at a point in his career where the risk for injury is higher, in 2003 Prior accumulated the highest average pitch count per game in the majors, averaging throwing 113.2 balls every time he took the mound. Nine of his thirty starts went over 120 pitches, three over 130, and his average pitch count over his six starts in September was 126.3. These are not statistics to be proud of, and many in the blogosphere and beyond have rung the alarm about Prior's workload. Apologists will point to Prior's textbook mechanics, the smooth and flawless delivery that lulls so many major league hitters to sleep, as the factor that makes his usage pattern excusable or even ideal. After all, if you have a pitcher like Prior who is unquestionably the best man on your staff, if there is no one in your bullpen who you think has a better chance to get the out than the man already on the mound, and if his 120th pitch looks as easy and effortless as the first, why not just let him go until he can't anymore?

It's all about context. If the game in question is in a vacuum, if there are no future considerations involved, if this game is the only game he will ever throw, the usage pattern makes sense. The problem, of course, is that no game is played in a vacuum. Perhaps in the playoffs, when the stakes are so high and the light of an offseason of rest can be seen at the end of the tunnel, thoughts of how this outing affects the future can be pushed aside, but the regular season is not such a beast. When you have a pitcher with Prior's long term potential, every decision you make has to take both the present and future into account. This doesn't mean managing scared, just smart. If your starter has the lead and has thrown 110 pitches through seven innings, are you better off sending him back out to start the eighth, likely racking up another 15+ pitches, or should you pass it off to the bullpen?

More often than not, when Prior was on the mound, Dusty Baker sent him back out there. Was he the best man for the job? Probably. But if you can't rely on your bullpen to throw two innings and protect today's lead, keeping your best starter fresh for the tomorrows to come, let alone healthy for the seasons beyond, then either your bullpen needs to get better or you have to learn to trust what you've got. It looks like Jim Hendry has made some solid upgrades to the relief corps this offseason, but whether Baker will trust it enough remains an open question, and a subject for another entry.

Kerry Wood - Mark Prior may be the super-charged robotic arm of the Cubs, but Wood is the team's heart and soul, as well as its second best pitcher. He was also second on the team, and in the majors, in the number of pitches thrown per game, racking up an average of 109.9 pitches in each outing. Wood also led MLB in Pitcher Abuse Points (Prior came in third), and had the highest pitch count in a single outing for any pitcher last season, tossing 141 pitches over 7 innings against St. Louis on the tenth of May.

Despite this horror show, I'm not terribly concerned about the long term impact of last season on Wood's arm. Kerry hasn't had a serious arm injury since losing the 1999 season to Tommy John surgery, and he hasn't missed time because of his arm since 2001 when he lost about a month to shoulder tendonitis. He's thrown over 200 innings for two straight seasons now, and last year he was finally able to get his strikeout rate near where it was in 1998. He'll be 27 next season, and all signs point to him being a dominant, durable pitcher for years to come. So, why am I concerned about his usage patterns?

By the end of the year, it became clear that starts immediately following more strenuous outings were potential disasters. Not that Woody couldn't go deep into games, there were many occasions when he threw over 115 pitches and still came out looking good in the starts that followed. It was the games where Kerry was completely exhausted, when he needed oxygen afterwards, when it was obvious to laymen watching on television that he had given all he had but was asked to give more that were followed by horrendous, bone-crushing defeats. To get the most out of Kerry Wood, and get the most out of the team, Baker needs to learn to recognize when he's reached his limit.

Carlos Zambrano - Leading the team in innings pitched, Carlos was a horse all year, and while Dusty rode him with slightly less zeal than the other members of the "Big Three," by year's end Zambrano showed the most overt signs of long term trouble.

The problems began in his next to last outing of the season, when despite being handed leads of 3-0 and 9-4, Big Z let the Pirates back into the game, giving up 9 runs in 4.2 IP. The Cubs went on to win the game, but Zambrano's performance was unsettling for a number of reasons. Carlos had broken the 200 IP mark in his previous game, the first 200 inning season in his career, and up until then he had given up a grand total of six home runs. That's right, six dingers in 204.1 IP. In this game, he gave up two home runs to the same player. He also gave up eight hits and walked three men. His next game against the Reds wasn't much better. While he didn't give up a home run, he did cough up 7 H in 5 IP, while issuing 5 free passes. He didn't look right on the mound, and it showed in the results as his control, spotty already, was worse than usual. However, despite the poor results, one could still point to Carlos' still excellent GB/FB ratios over those games as a sign that his issues might be short lived.

Zambrano's gaudy regular season GB/FB ratio of 2.28 was easily the best on a staff where the worst ratio was the fine 1.06 mark posted by Wood. He gave up only nine home runs over 214 innings, and only 188 hits overall. No Cubs pitcher was hurt less by balls in the air than Carlos Zambrano. But, come playoff time, Big Z was swatted by flies.

Over three October starts, a season long trend reversed itself for Carlos. His GB/FB ratio went from extreme groundball, to a decidedly flyball-centric 0.75, he gave up 25 hits over 16.2 innings, and went from giving up one home run for every 100 batters faced to giving up a long ball every twentieth hitter. No matter what language you speak, that spells trouble. Most of the time when a sinker-ball pitcher becomes fatigued his ball sinks more, but the change in the GB/FB ratio and the increase in home runs implies that either the sink wasn't as hard, or it just wasn't there. If it's the first explanation, then maybe we're simply dealing with the fatigue of a young man who has never pitched so many innings in a season. But if it's the second answer, say your prayers, because you're looking at a pitcher who has significantly altered their mechanics to make up for the aforementioned fatigue, or even worse, to compensate for an injury.

No matter what the cause, the end of last season leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the Big Z heading into 2004. The answers to those questions may hold the key to the Cubs season.

Matt Clement - His strikeout rate dropped from his fine 2002 season (he didn't have the same consistent control of his nasty slider from game to game, frequently getting under it), but when he had it together, Clement was a force to be reckoned with. He posted the second best BAA among the teams' starters, allowing opponents to hit a meager .227 against him. That's the second best BAA of his career (the best was his .215 mark in 2002), and that along with his still declining walk rate are signs that last year was a season where Clement was able to consolidate some of the previous year's gains. He has an excellent chance to move from consolidation to building this year, and I would expect his contribution to land somewhere between the 2002 and 2003 versions. Not bad for your fourth starter.

Juan Cruz/????? - Smart money says Cruz will be manning the back of the rotation in 2004, and that's alright by me. Cruz has been all over the place during his first few years in the bigs, but the time has come for him to get a solid opportunity to pitch regularly for the Cubs. There's nothing left for him to prove in the minors, and with prospects like Angel Guzman breathing down his neck, it's time for Juan to get it done or get dealt.

The good news is, the organization seems to be behind him. Both Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry have said that the fifth starter's job is Juan's for the taking in the spring. Of course, the second base job was Bobby Hill's for the taking last year, so these statements, while encouraging, should be taken with a grain of salt. However, Cruz is backing up the Cubs' decision with his stellar play in the Dominican Winter League. In 5 games, 2 of them starts, Juan has posted this stat line:

W L IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
3 0 26.0 14 4 3 0 8 33 1.04

Granted, this is a league where Esteban Yan has a 1.83 ERA over 54 IP, but those numbers still bode well for the coming season. Cruz has a lot of talent, and when he first pitched for the Cubs in 2001, he had a lot of poise as well. That cold-blooded resolve seemed to leave Juan during his first disastrous starts of the 2002 season, but he has the ability to be a rotation mainstay for years to come. He needs to show that he can go more than five innings per start and consistently keep his head in the game if he wants to keep his presumptive job.

Although improvements have been made on the offensive end, the fate of the 2004 Cubs rests firmly on the shoulders of the pitching staff once again, and one of the most important issues heading into this season will be how the innings are distributed between the starters and relievers. That, and a look at the bullpen in general, will be the subject of Assuming the Position - Part 7.

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Posted by Derek @ 7:36 PM

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Surprise!

Well, I didn’t see that coming. Hell, I don’t think Jim Hendry did, either. But when Todd Walker comes knocking on your door, willing to sign a one-year deal for $1.75M, making it clear to you that he just wants to come play for a winning team whether he starts or not, I think you shake his hand, show him his locker, and figure out what it means later.

So, smart guy, what does it mean? Well, it could be as simple as a platoon at second base and the leadoff spot. Put together Walker and Grudz’ splits against opposite-handed pitchers over the last three years, and you get nearly identical lines that translate to something like .300/.360/.450. I’ll take that from my second baseman any time, even if he does have two heads. The drawback in this scenario is Walker’s defense, but that’s going to be an issue no matter what you do with him. A strict platoon means you’ll see that exposed more than if Walker were some kind of super-sub, but with the stikeout rates of the Cubs’ staff, the loss with the leather is worth the gain with the wood.

Option two is mentioned in passing above, and that’s to make Walker a kind of super-sub. This could work alright if most of his time is spent at second, with only the occasional game at first or third, but I still feel like this would be a misallocation of resources. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but why take a player with a pretty solid line against right-handers and then only play him sporadically? Why take the player with the fourth best OBP on the team, and only put him out a couple times a week? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but that never stopped the Cubs from doing something, so don’t count it out.

The third option is some sort of trade. This could happen soon, say, a deal involving Grudz and Barrett in exchange for Jason Kendall (I have no information on this, it’s just a thought from my tiny little brain), or they could be allowed to fight it out in the spring, with the winner being a Cub, and the loser being paid by someone else. I have no objection either way, as long as the swag is good.

How this plays out over the next couple of weeks will give us an idea of whether this was the case of a deal falling into Hendry’s lap and being too good to pass up, or a premeditated move to facilitate something down the line. No matter how it came to be, Hendry did the right thing making this happen. He has several very defensible options for how to deploy the resources at his disposal, and while I think my favorite is probably option one, I’d be happy with any of them. I imagine Hendry would be happy with any of them, too, and that’s the key. If things stay as they are, he’s strengthened the team at minimal cost, and if he wants to deal, he’s in a position to say no and still be happy with the state of the franchise.

The best barganing chip you have in any negotiation is your willingness to walk away. The fact that Hendry has put himself in a postion to walk away from potential trade talks and still have a stronger team speaks volumes about how he’s doing his job.

Happy Holidays from out here in the Great Northwest! I'll be back to Chicago and more regular posting next week. Until then, may the holidays bring you much happiness, and may the new year bring us all peace in our lives and joy in our baseball!

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Posted by Derek @ 3:59 PM

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

One for the Road

Figures I'd be getting ready to get out of town just when the Cubs sign their fourth outfielder. Todd Hollandsworth has been inked to a one year deal worth (paging Mike Myers) ONE..........MILLION..........DOLLARS!!!!!

This looks pretty solid to me. His splits against righties for the last three seasons are pretty nice (.298/.356/.505), if Coors enhanced. Last year he hit .255/.321/.429 against them, and since over half of his AB's were in Pro Player, my guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between. I'd say, without doing any actual math or analysis, that it's pretty safe to expect a .265/.335/.460 line out of him next year, and as long as he doesn't have to start 100 games or bat against any lefties (who murder him), I can live with that. He's an upgrade over Troy O'Leary in every possible category. He hits for better average, makes fewer outs, provides more power, has more speed and plays better defense, doing so at all three outfield postitions. I expected to wait a little longer for this, what with the apparent pursuit of Jeromy Burnitz and all, but whether the issue was from his end or the Cubs, that deal obviously didn't pan out. Plus, Hollandsworth's price tag was so low, there was really no reason to wait until the 20th to see if anything good got non-tendered. At $1M, Hollandsworth looks like he had the best ratio of skills to cost available. I feel like a bit of a patsy continuing to say this, but, nice deal.

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Posted by Derek @ 8:47 PM

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Scattershots

Those of you who have stopped by before (Hi, Mom!) will notice that I changed the look of the site a bit. Obviously, I think it's a little nicer, but I welcome any feedback or suggestions. I figure this whole exercise will be a work in progress until I'm not doing it anymore, so as far as I'm concerned, change is always good.

Some business: The Smart Family's annual Great Northwest Holiday Parent Tour and Sausage Festival kicks off early tomorrow morning. For me, this equals one solid week of holiday family fun! For you, it means no updates until sometime after the holiday with that little kid in the barn and the fat man on the roof. If something earth shattering happens, I'll try to post something, but frankly, chances are good I won't even hear about it.

  • I was thinking last night, if Damian Miller gets shipped to the A's as expected, is there any catcher in the history of the game who has caught more elite pitchers during a three year span? I mean, talk about a charmed life. He spends a couple years catching Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, then he spends last year with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, and now he might be spending next season on the receiving end of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito! That's seven of the best pitchers in the game right now, and he could spend at least one season as the primary catcher for each of them. Granted, most of these guys have given him his share of bruises, but it's still nice work if you can get it.

  • Don't know about the rest of you, but I just want something to happen with A-Rod. I don't even care what it is, just so it gets out of my hair. Trade him, don't trade him, release him, send him to Siberia. Really, I'll take anything. Just do something! There, I feel better now.

  • The one thing that concerns me about going away this week is that I think there's going to be a flurry of activity in the first few days after December 20 (the non-tender deadline for players not eligible for free-agency). This could be the time when we see some action on the fourth outfielder situation, but if not, it might be a while.

  • Of course, just as I'm writing this, it comes across the wire that the Cubs signed Kent Mercker to be the second lefty in the pen. Blech! The good news is, it's a one-year contract, and while it's for too much money ($1.2M), the fact that there isn't even a second-year option means the team realizes there's a decent chance he could stink the joint up. His three-year splits against lefties are decent (.216/.330/.392), but he's hurt by a strangely high walk rate against them. He's going to be the fifth guy out of the pen, so he won't do tremendous damage, unless he's used against right-handers. Seems like one of those signings where you hope to catch a little lightning in a bottle, and if you don't, you fix the problem in July. So, while this isn't a very good signing, it's not one that's likely to painful in the long run.

That's it for now. Here's wishing everyone happy and safe holidays, and a fantastic new year!

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Posted by Derek @ 1:59 PM

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Barrett on Board

Looks like Christian Ruzich has his fingers on the pulse of the Cubs front office. This is from a post on Saturday at The Cub Reporter, by the Generalissimo of the Cubs Blog Army himself:

Don't expect to see Javy or Pudge in a Cubs uniform anytime soon. Michael Barrett seems much more realistic.

Now, I like to think I'm pretty bright, and when I saw yesterday that the A's had acquired Barrett from Montreal/Portland/Mazatlan/Beijing for a PTBNL, I thought that was that. But then word began to leak out that the A's weren't likely to be Barrett's final destination, and eventually the Cubs started to be mentioned as a possible landing place for the 26 year-old catcher. Lo and behold, it's announced this afternoon that the Cubs now have Barrett and will be sending their own PTBNL over to the A's. Nice call, Christian.

Christian is also speculating that the Cubs will try to deal Damian Miller before Saturday's non-tender deadline, when they will have to make a decision on Paul Bako's future. That seems like a reasonable conclusion, and with his track record on the rest of this deal, I can't say I'd be inclined to doubt him anyway. Barrett is almost certain to be the starter, despite numbers that, since his impressive full-season debut in 1999, look a little scary at first glance, and with that being the case, Miller is too expensive to sit on the bench when you can have someone like Bako get paid less for making a similar on-field contribution. So, without further delay, let's take a look at what we got. Here's what Barrett did last year.

.208/.280/.398

Okay, so that's really bad, but last year, was a hard luck year all around. He struggled horribly for the first three months of the season, before finally figuring it out in July, posting a lovely .333/.404/.725 line for the month. But then, just as he got it together, down he went with a hip flexor strain. A bummer, but not the worst thing that could happen. But to top it all off, during his AAA rehab, he broke his left index finger, keeping him out until September 10. He came back, but never got it going again. Personally, I think a year like that is worth a mulligan, and instead of focusing there, I'd like to take a look at the trend from 2000-2002.

Year Age Hitting Line AB/BB AB/SO XBH%
2000 23 .214/.277/.288 11.8 7.7 29.3
2001 24 .250/.289/.367 18.9 8.7 34.7
2002 25 .263/.332/.418 9.4 5.8 33.3

This, to me, looks like the kind of progression you want to see from a young hitter. His line is improving every year, and while you can point to the increase in strikeouts and decrease in walks in 2001 as a troubling loss of plate discipline, he also made very nice gains in the power department. Then, as if he heard statheads the world over wringing their hands over his free swinging ways, in 2002 he held onto most of those power gains, while greatly improving the strike zone judgment that was becoming so worrisome the previous season. That's movement in the right direction, and it's something you've got to like.

If last year really was an aberration, which I believe it was, we might have a pretty decent young catcher on our hands. Is he likely to be an All-Star? No. Is he likely to be better than Damien Miller? I think so. Better and cheaper.

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Posted by Derek @ 5:52 PM

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Monday, December 15, 2003

Addendum

I'm not sure how I missed this, or when this talk started, but it appears the Cubs are after Jeromy Bernitz to fill the fourth outfield spot. You'd think he could find a starting job somewhere, but maybe his last two seasons have taken the bloom off the rose just enough to scare teams away. Granted, he does come with some hefty risk. He's going to be 35, and he's really only had one good half-season over the last two years.

It was a pretty nice half season though, posting a .274/.344/.581 line in 234 AB's with the Mets, before reverting back to his previous season's form with a .204/.252/.391 line over 230 AB's with the Dodgers. But even that first half really comes down to about 100 good at bats in the beginning of the year, so that's not as promising as it looks. His home/road splits for 2003 make things seem a little better (.216/.281/.401 vs. .262/.316/.570), but you're still looking at an old ballplayer who strikes out a lot, and seems to have lost some of his knack for taking a walk (he hasn't been better than his career OBP mark of .350 since the 2000 season). His power upside is what separates him from the rest of the candidates, and if he gets signed, that's what's likely to put him over the top. He's also capable of playing at least passably anywhere in the outfield, and he still has a cannon for an arm. He's certainly one of the few guys available who would be a legitimate power threat off the bench, and from the left side, to boot. If he's cheap enough, and is willing to sign for only one year, he may well be worth the risk.

In other outfield news, Jose Cruz Jr. is off the table, as the D-Rays signed him for 2 years at $3M per. Can't say I'm surprised, although I would have thought that a contending team in need of a relatively inexpensive yet productive swith-hitting corner outfielder (paging Mr. Jocketty!) might have gotten something done with him rather than forcing him to the purgatory of Tampa. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste.

Also, the Mariners have won the Scott Spiezio sweepstakes, beating the Cubs to the punch with a 3 year, $9M deal. Add in today's trade of Greg Colbrunn for Q-McC, and you've got a team that's beginning to look like it's engaging in an active attempt to fail. If any of you can figure out what the hell is going on in Seattle this year, be sure to let the poor fellas over at the U.S.S. Mariner know. They sure seem like they need a hug right now.

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Posted by Derek @ 2:21 PM

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