Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Reader Blog: Howry reuniting with Cubs?

Reliever Bob Howry was recently released by the Diamondbacks, and word on the street is that the Cubs might reach out to him. Howry, of course, pitched for the Cubs from 2006-2008 before heading to the Giants in '09 and then Arizona this year. He was released after posting a 10.67 ERA in 14 appearances.

My immediate reaction upon hearing that the Cubs might sign Howry was two parts disgust and one part anger. A 36-year-old retread who couldn't even keep a job in the Diamondbacks' bullpen, which is the worst in the league by far? Jeez, Hendry, how desperate are you?

But then I remembered: Hendry is very desperate. As he should be. Cubs relievers sport a 4.95 ERA, and Sean Marshall, James Russell and Carlos Marmol are the only relievers I feel good about (perhaps because they're the only relievers with ERAs under six). The Cubs can sign Howry for about $280,000, otherwise known as "nothing" in the baseball world. It's a low risk, potentially high reward move. If Howry makes two or three appearances and sucks ... well, that's probably what Esmailin Caridad or John Grabow would have done anyway. And if he pitches well ... then Jeff Gray or Jeff Stevens can head back to the minors where they belong.

I don't expect much from Howry if the Cubs do in fact sign him. But recall that Jim Edmonds was hitting .178 with one home run and six RBI when he was cut by the Padres in 2008. With the Cubs, he put up a .343 OBP and 20 homers.

No one knows for sure what kind of numbers Howry could put up with the Cubs. But we do know that he'll play for next-to-nothing and that we don't have a whole lot of reliable options in our bullpen at the moment. Go ahead, Jim, take a shot.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: The Tyler Colvin Effect


Tyler Colvin has played in 34 of the Cubs' 41 games and has started just 12 of those. But here's the more interesting number: 19. Colvin has played in 19 games that the Cubs have won. Of course, the Cubs have won 19 games total, which means ... Colvin has played in every Cubs victory this year.

Here are the scores of the games in which he did not appear at all:

Lost to ATL 3-2
Lost to NYM 4-0
Lost to PIT 3-2
Lost to PIT 4-2
Lost to CIN 14-2
Lost to FLA 4-2
Lost to FLA 3-2

Now I'm not suggesting that the Cubs are guaranteed to lose if Colvin doesn't play, but it does seem worth noting that the team is 19-15 when he steps on the field and 0-7 when he doesn't. That's as good an argument as any that he should get more playing time.

As I mentioned, he's had 12 starts through 41 games. When Piniella announced that the 24-year-old would make the team out of spring training, he stated the importance of finding him 2-3 starts per week. We're halfway through week seven, which means he's not even averaging two starts per week.

The problem, of course, is sort of a good one: Fukudome, Byrd and Soriano are all hitting at least .313 (Colvin is hitting .295), so it's been tough to get him into the lineup. But if we look at OPS, it's a little easier to argue that Colvin should be playing more:

Soriano------.985
Fukudome- .946
Colvin------- .936
Byrd ---------.936

Among major league rookies, only Jason Heyward has more home runs than Colvin and only Heyward and the Tigers' Brennan Boesch have a higher OPS.

I grant that Colvin probably can't sustain these numbers--he's never had an OPS over .850 even in the minors. But he's playing well right now and deserves the 2-3 starts per week Lou promised back in March.

It's a strange time to write this post; after all, Lou did in fact start Colvin two of the last three games. But that was on the heels of six straight non-starts despite the fact that he hit a go-ahead home run the game before that. Those two starts also came just after Lou snapped at a reporter for asking whether Colvin should get more playing time. The answer, Lou, is yes.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: Can we call it a comeback?

It's hard to fathom that Carlos Silva has been a productive member of the Cubs' pitching staff through the first quarter of the season. When the Cubs acquired him in December in exchange for Milton Bradley, he had two positives going for him: he was a warm body, and the move saved the Cubs about $6 million.

Jeff Baker at the Seattle Times opined:

    This is a huge deal for the Mariners. It's a no-brainer.

From Larry Stone at the same paper:

    I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround. He went 4-15, 6.46 in 2008, and was 1-3, 8.60 in eight games in '09, spending most of the year on the disabled list. Bradley, at least, is healthy and can be very productive when he's focused and happy.

The blog Jorge Says No! added:

    It has come to this. The Cubs were forced to take on one of the worst contracts in baseball just to get Milton Bradley off their hands. On one hand they should be celebrating that Milton is gone and they got some savings in return, but Carlos Silva has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball over the past two years.

I'm not trying to hammer these writers. Rather, their thoughts are representative of what pretty much every baseball fan thought about the trade. The Cubs had an albatross on their hands, were admittedly desperate, and agreed to take on a different albatross in exchange for their own. As Stone said, the man had an ERA over six the last two years--how else were we supposed to view the trade?

My friend Brian Brennan, always looking for a way to snag an extra six-pack, tried to take advantage of my friend Trevor Sierra's eternal optimism by betting him that Silva wouldn't even make the Cubs' Opening Day roster. Who could blame him? Silva was basically throwing batting practice the last two seasons--there's no spot on the 25-man roster for the batting practice guy.

But of course he did make the team, and now he's 5-0 with a 3.35 ERA. The Cubs are 7-1 in his starts. What in the world is going on here? Should we feel confident that he's back to his old form, or is this just a mirage, much like the thousands of people Milton Bradley sees yelling at him when he goes to bed at night? Let's take a quick look at his history.

While Silva was just plain awful with Seattle, he was offered a four-year, $48 million contract for a reason. From 2004 through 2007 with the Twins, he won at least nine games each year, had three seasons in which his ERA was 4.21 or lower, and amassed at least 180 innings all four years. (Not exactly a reason to dole out nearly $50 mil, but solid nonetheless.)

But even when he had success in Minnesota, lefties did significantly more damage against him than righties. In all four seasons, his WHIP and HR/9 were much higher against lefties. But when he went to Seattle, lefties really banged him around:

2008 vs LH: .348/.381/.555, 2.19 BB/9, 4.37 K/9, 44.5% GB%, 14.6% HR/FB%, .355 BABIP
2009 vs LH: .380/.436/.718, 3.94 BB/9, 2.25 K/9, 48.5% GB%, 21.1% HR/FB%, .359 BABIP

(hat tip: Dave Cameron, FanGraphs)

But so far this year, it's been a much different story:

2010 vs LH: .212/.264/.273, 2.45 BB/9, 5.89 K/9, 43.4% GB%, 0.49 HR/FB%, .247 BABIP

His WHIP against lefties is significantly lower than that against righties, and five of the six home runs he's allowed this season were to right-handed hitters. That FanGraphs article points out that Silva has altered his pitch selection to southpaws: he's using his changeup 40 percent of the time against lefties and 29 percent of the time overall, compared to 15 percent last year. Going away from his sinker has increased his fly ball rate, but to this point it hasn't hurt him. When the weather turns warm and the wind starts blowing out, this strategy could backfire.

Perhaps Silva is more comfortable throwing his changeup because he changed his position on the rubber prior to the season. From an emotional standpoint, it also seems entirely possible that he's been positively affected by his mother's presence here in the U.S. (see?)

Now, if Silva was going to have a misleadingly strong month, it would be April. He's 17-7 in that month in his career, easily the best record of any month. He also hasn't pitched in the NL since 2003, which means hitters don't have a good scouting report on him yet. There's also no question that his performance has regressed here in May. Probably the worst comparison to be found is the one originally posted as a comment by SMan:

Carlos Silva in first 6 starts of 2010:
3-0, 6 GS, 36 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 7 BB, 24 K

Carlos Silva first 6 starts of 2008:
3-0, 6 GS, 42 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 9 BB, 18 K

Carlos Silva in 2008 after those 6 starts:
1-15, 22 GS, 111 IP, 7.84 ERA, 1.760 WHIP, 23 BB, 51 K

All in all, it seems likely that Silva will continue to regress at least a little: he's never finished a season as a starter with an ERA as low as 3.35; his K/9 is the highest he's ever had; and his BAbip (average on balls in play) is also the lowest he's ever had (.283), though it's not so low as to be impossible for him to maintain.

On the other hand, he seems to have made some key adjustments that could enable him to perform much closer to the levels he was accustomed to in Minnesota as opposed to the struggles he encountered in Seattle. Few if any thought he'd be in the Cubs' rotation in mid-May, but perhaps the Cubs have found a fifth starter for the next two years.

Reader Blog: Week six awards: "Why are they doing this to us?"

Despite a win to finish out the week (which I was able to witness in person), the Cubs lost two more series in the last seven days. They've won three series this year and lost nine. It's like people always say: just win one of out of every three and you'll be in good shape at the end of the season. No wait, that doesn't sound right.

The Cubs needed two nail-biter 4-3 victories to keep from getting swept in back-to-back series and to stave off an to 0-6 record against the Pirates this year, a team they lost to eight times the last two years combined. The 2-4 week leaves them six games under .500 with three teams ahead of them in the division. At the top of the heap is a team that wears red but not the one you'd expect: Dusty Baker's Reds. Incidentally, the Cubs have scored just three fewer runs than the Reds and have a better ERA. Either the Reds are over-performing, the Cubs are under-performing, or both.

Here's the other good news: though it may have felt like 50, the Cubs were outscored by only five runs in the last two series. They lost two one-run games and also a two-run decision as they failed to turn the corner offensively. While it's good they're not getting blown out, their tendency to lose pretty much every close game they play is immensely frustrating and the reason for the title of today's post. Why, Cubs? Why must you torture us?

They still have two more games at Wrigley to try to get momentum on their side before hitting the road again.

Ryno of the Week: Tom Gorzelanny went 1-for-2 at the plate, and he was pretty much the Cubs' offensive star. Okay, okay, Soriano did go 8-for-22 with five RBI, which ain't bad. But Sean Marshall gets the nod this week after he earned a hold and a win, playing an instrumental role in both of the Cubs' wins. The man quietly goes about his business every year--he has a 2.45 ERA and a miniscule 0.87 WHIP, which would be the lowest in the league if he had logged enough innings to qualify.

Honorable mention: Carlos Silva

Goat of the Week: Though I feel badly for him after he got plunked on the elbow and had to miss Sunday's game, Ryan Theriot was just 3-for-17 last week with no walks. He also had a chance to tie Saturday's game in the ninth inning, needing only a fly ball to do so. Instead, he struck out.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: Fun with statistics

    * Starlin Castro had six RBI after three major league at-bats. The man he essentially replaced in the lineup, Mike Fontenot, had 71 at-bats before Castro's call-up. In those 71 at-bats, he had ... six RBI. Fontenot nearly doubled his season's RBI total in his 72nd at-bat of the season with a pinch-hit grand slam.
    * Aramis Ramirez has the same number of strikeouts (31) as hits and runs combined (20 + 11 = 31). Ramirez also has a lower batting average (.159) than Ryan Dempster and a lower OBP than Carlos Silva who, prior to this year, had not played in the National League since 2003.
    * Speaking of Silva, he has four quality starts this season; he had one all of last season (granted, he was injured for a significant portion of it). Silva has three wins on the season; he had five the last two seasons combined.
    * Ryan Theriot had back-to-back games with two stolen bases on April 12 and April 14. He has stolen only two other bases this season.
    * Marlon Byrd has 23 RBI this season. The man he essentially replaced, Milton Bradley, notched his 23rd RBI on July 25 of last year.
    * Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have combined for fewer hits than Tigers rookie Austin Jackson.
    * Of the four Cubs starters with the most starts, Gorzelanny and Dempster have the best ERAs (2.83 and 3.44, respectively) but the fewest wins (1 and 2). Silva and Wells (3.50 and 4.57) have three wins each.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: Week five awards

Well, that's as bad as it gets. At least, I hope that's as bad as it gets. A 1-5 road trip against the Pirates and Reds in which the Cubs got outscored by 20 runs despite winning a game by seven. Looking at the current standings, the best team the Cubs have played all year is the Washington Nationals, who are 17-14 (same record as the Mets). And yet the Cubs are just 14-18 and have been outscored by their opponents overall. The ship is sailing in the wrong direction, to put it mildly, and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez (hitting a combined .184) are at the helm.

Ryno of the Week: Perhaps I'm just caught up in his first-ever major league game fireworks, but then again, Starlin Castro did drive in six runs in one game while the Cubs scored 10 runs in the other five games on the road trip combined. Castro committed an error as well, but that's the kind of week it was--even the good players weren't that good.

Goat of the Week: It's nice to have options, I guess. I'll go with Randy Wells, who lasted just two horrific innings against the second-worst offense in the National League and raised his ERA from 3.45 to 4.86. It was not a good week for Cubs pitching in general, but Wells' game was over before it started.

Lou Piniella gets a special dishonorable mention for leaving Ryan Dempster in yesterday instead of going to Sean Marshall with Joey Votto coming up. Lou warmed Marshall up, Dempster got into a first-and-third situation, a power-hitting lefty came up, Lou went to the mound, and ... Marshall stayed in the bullpen. While Dempster served up a three-run bomb. Nice call, Lou.

Dishonorable mentions: Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Justin Berg, John Grabow

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: Cubs call up Starlin Castro

So says ESPN.

This is a somewhat strange move, given that the Cubs could have potentially saved a truckload of money by waiting just a few weeks to bring him up. And with Theriot playing so well (leading the league in hits), it's also an odd time to move him to second base.

It sounds like Chad Tracy will be moved to the minors to make room for Castro on the roster.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this yet, but the positive view is that it's pretty exciting to finally have the Cubs' hottest prospect joining the big club. After a miserable set against the Pirates, it's clear the Cubs could use a boost. While it's unfair to expect phenomenal production from Kid Castro, perhaps he can inject some life into the team.

Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year!  Check him out over there!

Reader Blog: Cubs' 2009 castoffs: What are they doing now?

Milton Bradley
He's been slowed by a calf injury and, presumably, by the fact that he's certifiably insane. He's hitting .214 with two home runs and 12 RBI. He has a relatively poor .313 OBP. Oh, and he's mad again.

Aaron Miles
Miles disappointed the Cubs immensely in 2009, and did the same to the Reds in spring training. They designated him for assignment (i.e. released him) on April 5, and he signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals last Tuesday.

Reed Johnson
Jim Hendry let Johnson go in favor of free agent Xavier Nady. Johnson found a home with the Dodgers, and here's the comparison thus far:

Player-------AB-------Avg.------HR-----RBI-----OBP
Nady---------34-------.176----------1---------4-------.333
Johnson----48-------.271----------0--------4-------.286

So, basically, it's a big shoulder shrug of a move at this point. However, there's a $2.5 million difference in their salaries, so Nady needs to get it going to make Hendry's investment a good one.

Andres Blanco
He has only amassed 33 at-bats with the Rangers thus far--his slash line (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is an underwhelming .212/.278/.212.

Rich Harden
Rich Harden has been SO Rich Harden with the Rangers. He has not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his six starts this season, yet he's gone five innings or more just three times. His walk total in his first five starts: 5, 3, 6, 4, 5. Not good. He's had two pretty good starts in a row, however, including a dominant outing on Monday.

Aaron Heilman
You probably know what he's up to after having seen him pitch against the Cubs this weekend: six earned runs in just 10.2 innings on the season (5.06 ERA), plus five walks and two home runs.

Kevin Gregg
Gregg lost out on the closer role in spring training, but Jason Frasor's struggles have resulted in several save opportunities for him. He's 7-for-7 in those chances, has struck out 16 guys in 13 innings, and has a miniscule 0.69 ERA. Basically, he's been awesome. If we would have known he was going to do that, he would have fit real nicely in the eighth inning for the Cubs!

Read more of Brandon's work at his blog Wait 'til this Year!

Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates

The Pirates got off to a 7-5 start but have gone a more Pirate-like 3-10 since. Their recent slide is not the result of bad luck--the fact is, they don't do much of anything well. They've scored just 86 runs this season (second-worst in the NL) while allowing more than twice that many (175, worst in the NL). This amazingly bad run differential puts them on pace to be outscored by nearly 600 runs this season. While that's really, really unlikely to happen, it's clear that Pittsburgh is really, really bad.

Which is nothing new, of course. The Cubs went 10-4 against them last year after going 14-4 the year before. Though the Cubs will be away from home, they really need to start the road trip off right by winning--if not sweeping--this series. Fortunately, using the transitive property, we can see that the Pirates have been outscored by an average of seven runs per game in their six contests with the Brewers this year, while the Cubs have outscored the Brewers by an average of four runs per game; therefore, the Cubs will outscore the Pirates by an average of 11 runs per game in this series. That's science.

Tuesday, May 4--Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) vs. LH Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83)

Dempster has been on fire lately, even if he did lose his last start. He beat the Pirates twice last year, but had a modest 4.66 ERA against them. While it's still early, Dempster's road split is actually better than his home split so far this season--he has a 1.32 ERA in two road starts, with three walks and 13 strikeouts.

Maholm's last two starts were almost identical: 7 IP, 4 ER in both. His one start against the Cubs last year was the reverse: 4 IP, 7 ER, though the Pirates won that game 10-8 (look who got the win). He struggles against righties, so Xavier Nady is likely to get a start here against his former team.

Wednesday, May 5--Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) vs. Charlie "Holy crap look how bad my numbers are" Morton (0-5, 12.57)

These two matched up last September 30, with Morton throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout. In mid-August, however, Morton lasted just one inning against the Cubs and gave up 10 earned runs. Morton has been downright awful this season: he's allowed at least three earned runs in all five of his starts, given up seven long balls, and has allowed more than two hits and walks per inning pitched (2.17 WHIP). Go get 'im, boys.

It was probably unfair to assume that despite having just come off the DL, Lilly would stay in the groove he was in when he faced Milwaukee. He struggled with his control and gave up several long balls in his second start of the year last week against Arizona, giving him one great start and one terrible one on the season. Lilly was 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA against the Pirates last year. Andy LaRoche is the only current Pirate with a home run off Lilly, while Ryan Doumit is 5-for-15 in his career against him.

Thursday, May 6--Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) vs. LH Brian "TBD" Burres (1-1, 6.00)

The Pirates have not yet announced Thursday's starter--someone needs to fill in for the injured Ross Ohlendorf. Burres did so admirably last week with 5.1 scoreless against the Dodgers, and seems a likely candidate for the series finale. Only Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady have faced him more than three times--Nady is 2-for-7 against him while Byrd's one hit off him was a home run. Recently recalled Brian Bass would seem to be the other potential starter for this game (9.00 ERA in 2 IP).

Wells had his worst start of the season on Friday, though he still got the win. He had success against the Pirates last year, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Andrew McCutchen is 3-for-5 against him.

Reader Blog: Week four awards

Can someone adjust the calendar in the Cubs' clubhouse to make it seem like every day is either Friday, Saturday or Sunday? For the second straight week, the Cubs used a stellar weekend to turn what was shaping up to be a frustrating stretch into a 4-3 week; they're now 7-3 in their last 10 overall. After unloading for 25 runs last weekend against the Brewers, the Cubs put up 28 runs this weekend and came back to take three of four from the Diamondbacks. They're back to .500 and will try for the fifth time to get over the hump when they head to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Ryno of the Week: These offensive outbursts are making it hard to choose--the Cubs are now fifth in the NL in runs scored and tied for fourth in OBP. Byrd continued to torch opposing pitchers this week, piling up 11 hits. Ryan Theriot had four multi-hit games this week and has a 12-game hitting streak overall. Kosuke Fukudome's solid week has him in the top ten in the NL in batting average, OBP and OPS. All three of those guys are in the top 10 in the NL in batting with Soriano close behind at 14th.

And it's Alfonso Soriano who gets the nod this week. He was 8-for-20 with six of those hits going for extra bases, including four home runs. One of his long balls gave the Cubs the lead and another tied the score in a game they eventually won. He also drove in 10, scored seven times, and drew four walks throughout the week. He consistently displayed patience as he watched sliders off the outside corner go by, waited for a hitter's pitch, and drilled it. He's in one of those zones we got used to back in 2008, and boy is it fun to watch.

Honorable mention: Tom Gorzelanny

Goat of the Week: It pains me to do this for the second week in a row, but Aramis Ramirez was just 5-for-25 (four singles and a double) and continued to be a virtual black hole in the middle of the Cubs' lineup. The highest his average got all week was .159. His current .156 average is the lowest in the NL by 24 points and higher than only Travis Snyder and Nick Johnson in the majors. Which is, you know, not good.

Dishonorable mention
: Derrek Lee

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Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year!

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