It's early yet but Mike Fontenot seems to be doing fine at the plate. His batting average in the early going is .333. This is much closer to his 2008 batting average (.305) than his 2009 batting average (.236). That being said, there is reason for concern. You see, coming into the season, Fontenot's return to form was somewhat foretold by his still solid peripheral stats in 2009.
So far in 2010, his secondary skills have been much worse than they were in 2008 or 2009:
Fontenot's production thus far this season is almost totally a Batting average on balls in play myth. He needs to increase his walk rate and power or else his overall production is going to tank once he goes through his inevetable unlucky streak.
I have been reading all over the internet the frustration that Cub fans are having with Geo Soto. People have actually been suggesting releasing him and trading for a catcher (who????) or benching him in favor Koyie Hill.
I am a member of the Koyie Hill fan club but the fans need to show Soto some patience, for chrissakes! I mean, sure the guy had a low batting average last year but there are several reasons not to worry about that.
1) He was famously injured and fat for the whole season.
2) He hit into awful bad luck.
Soto's.246 BABIP in 2009 was inordinately low. If he simply lifted that number to a more ordinary .300, he would have hit much closer to his 2008 levels. His walk rate was actually *higher* in 2009 than it was in 2008. Every projection system thinks he'll get his batting average back to the .260 level or higher. So if he can stay healthy, he's going to be one of the top 5 or so offensive catchers in the NL this year. Given that he's being paid the minimum, it is ridiculously stupid beyond belief to release or bench him. My God people. Wait until the end of May to make a further judgment on Geo. He will hit.
I wasn't here to express this at the time but I thought the signing of John Grabow to a 2 year contact for around 3 million per year was a complete waste of resources. You never give a multi-year contract of this amount to a mediocre middle reliever.
The problem with Grabow is that Hendry apparently didn't believe he was mediocre. This is because of Hendry's reliance on ERA as a main indicator. Here are Grabow's ERA's the last 4 years:
Looks like Grabow magically got better. But did he?
There are only 3 things a pitcher can do to keep runs off the board. He can strike out hitters, he can keep his walks low, or he can keep the ball in the ballpark.
Judging by those stats above, Grabow must have gotten better in one of those skills.
Was it strikeouts?
K rate last four years:
Nope. Grabow has missed fewer bats over time not more. He must have developed better control:
BB rate last four years:
Wow, he has become more wild, not less. This is amazing, he's striking out fewer batters without seeing his walk rate drop and still his ERA goes down?? How could that be. Oh, right what about the HR?
HR rate last four years:
Oh, so the HR rate DID go down in 2009. How'd that happen? Luck. It is almost a fact that all pitchers will allow around 10% of their flyballs for HR's. Grabow is not very much of a ground ball pitcher so he allows his share of flyballs but allowed just 5 HR of 87 flyballs in 2009.
On top of this, hitters only hit .279 on batted balls in play and only .251 in 2008, btw. He is not going to allow 2 run HR in the 8th every time out but really what we are looking at is the right handed version of Aaron Heilman. I hope I am wrong about Grabow but when you have a limited budget, you don't spend it on mediocrities who got lucky the last two years.
Much the same as the rest of the Braves' pitching staff, Jair Jurrjens is overrated. The reason for this stems from a decent ERA in 2008 and an awesome ERA in 2009. But there isn't anything special here and there is no good reason why he should repeat his 2.60 ERA from 2009. Basically Jurrjens is a fastball/curve ball pitcher who mixes in a slider from time to time. He throws his heater about 91 MPH. Nothing special.
His K/BB ratio for his career in the majors is an unimpressive 1.97/1 and he K's just over the acceptable rate of 6 per 9 IP while having OK but not astouding control. He is a slight ground ball pitcher but whereas Tim Hudson posted a better than 3:1 Ground ball rate in 2009, Jurrjens was 1:1. But what Jurrjens really has going for him is luck.
In 2009, Jurrjens allowed a .273 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Most pitchers allow around .300 or so and while some do better than that consistently, you will not be able to see it as a "skill" until they are in the league for several years. Jurrjens also has seen his HR/FB rate be under 10% every year of his major league career. Once again, most pitchers have that number flatten out at the 10% rate. Last year, Jurrjens only allowed 6% of his flyballs to go for HR.
A normal HR rate and BABIP would have led Jurrjens to an ERA of 4.34 which is nearly a run and three quarters higher than his actual ERA.
All of this would be bad news enough for Jurrjens but to make matters worse, he was slowed in the Spring by a balky shoulder which is a huge red flag for a 24 year old pitcher coming off of his first 200+ inning season of his career.
What Jurrjens is, right now, IMO is an OK #3 or a very good #4. The Braves are starting him in their second game. After seeing Derek Lowe get ripped in the opener. Aren't the Braves supposed to have awesome pitching?
All stats courtesy of fangraphs , my favorite non Cubs baseball website.
Much has been made this offseason and during spring training about the future of Ryan Theriot and Starlin Castro. I believe the answer of what to do about these players is obvious.
Ryan Theriot has been a very valuable player. He is average to above average defensively at an important position according to all fielding metrics. He also hits fairyly well for a shortstop. Tack onto that his salary which is now 2.6 Million. According to fangraphs, Theriot has been worth over 10 Million in real dollars each of the last two years. Even with another solid year, he's probably looking at a raise into the 4-6 Million range for 2011. That makes him a decent bargain for any team.
If the Cubs did not have a potential stud shortstup prospect, I'd call Theriot one of the best values on the team. However, with Starlin Castro breathing down his neck, Theriot is going to need to be moved. I don't like moving him to second base because of the presence of another decent below market player with a nice glove named Mike Fontenot.
Fontenot is making 1 million in 2010 and will probably see a raise bringing his salary to just under what Theriot is making now in 2011. Fontenot is a better hitter than Theriot, in my opinion, and is also 6 months younger. I think it would be bad idea to replace Fontenot with a worse hitting, more expensive Theriot in 2011.
That leaves the Cubs with one choice. Trade Ryan Theriot. This is not something they should do during the 2010 season. This year, the Cubs do not have any room for developmental players like Castro. But the 2011 team will and Castro will be that much better. The Castro of 2011 and 2012 will be paid next to nothing and will probably put up numbers not too dissimilar to what Theriot provides now. On top of that, Theriot, now 30, will be entering his decline years.
The fairly cheap, but productive Theriot should net the Cubs a Grade B hitting prospect sitting at Double A or higher plus a decent middle reliever. The Cubs save 2+ million and move on to their next move. They can do this without weakening the team.