Goatriders of the Apocalypse


Reader Blog: No-hit duel between Lilly and Floyd fits right in with MLB's 2010 theme: Pitching Rules

What a game that was on Sunday. A no-hitter through eight. Oh, and a no-hitter through 6.2.

You really have to tip your cap to Lilly, as he continues to mow down opposing hitters despite getting virtually no run support from the hitters in his own dugout. He has received two or fewer runs of support in nine of his ten starts, which is why he's 2-5 despite a solid 2.90 ERA. Lilly's getting even less run support than Roy Oswalt who demanded a trade because of the Astros' offensive ineptitude. It may not be long until Lilly, who will be a free agent at season's end, makes a similar request. His last five starts have looked like this:

L 2-1

W 1-0

L 3-2

L 3-2

W 1-0

It's difficult to pitch well knowing you're probably going to get just a run or two of support, but Lilly has been stellar. Watching the Cubs offense makes me want to rip my heart from my chest just to put an end to the agony, but fortunately Lilly just bears down even more.

This year it seems that the Cubs aren't the only team driving their fans nuts with a lack of hitting. Sunday's unique affair in which both starters went at least six innings with a no-hitter--the first time since 1997 that this has happened--was just another example of the dominant pitching that has been on display throughout the 2010 season. It seems like every week there's a new pitching accomplishment to talk about. To wit:

  • There have already been two perfect games this season, three if you count Armando Galarraga's. There had never before been more than one in a single season, and there was once a 54-year stretch with just two perfect games.  
  • There have been three total no-hitters (including the perfect games), four with Galarraga's. That puts MLB on pace for seven or eight. There were seven in 1991.  
  • Last season, 11 pitchers finished with an ERA under three, the second time since 2000 that the number was in double-digits. Right now, 25 pitchers are under 3.00.  
  • Ubaldo Jimenez, who tossed one of the aforementioned no-hitters, has a positively Bob Gibson-like 1.16 ERA. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia has a 1.49 ERA, and 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg has baffled hitters in his first two starts.  
  • Guys named Jonathon Niese and Mat Latos have thrown one-hitters, and there have been two more on top of that.  
  • The Cardinals and Mets played 19 innings before scratching a run across on April 19, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks needed 14 innings to break a scoreless tie on June 2.  

And it's not just a matter of individual impressive performances. Take a look at the league ERA over the last 10 years:

2010: 4.17

2009: 4.31

2008: 4.32

2007: 4.46

2006: 4.52

2005: 4.28

2004: 4.46

2003: 4.40

2002: 4.27

2001: 4.41

So what in the world is going on? Well, a lot of players and managers posit that it's simply the "ebb" part of a natural ebb and flow. While that's legitimate, it's of course impossible not to draw a connection between baseball's war on steroids and the war pitchers are waging on hitters in 2010. It's June 15 and the league's leading home run hitter has 19 long balls. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in one month back in 1998? So yeah, things have changed a bit.

It's not just home runs, though. Ben Walker of the AP points out that home runs, runs and batting average are at their lowest rate since 1998. Troy Renck at the Denver Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that hitters are no longer ashamed of striking out, and that average hitters are swinging for the fences even if it means they might come up empty. A quick look at the numbers shows that strikeouts are indeed up a bit, though not much.

In the hitters' defense, it is still relatively early. Bats tend to heat up with the weather, so it wouldn't be surprising to see run totals go up with the temperature forecast. But for now, it's a pitcher's world and hitters are just living in it. Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that we're seeing more outs than balls out of the park, but I do foresee one problem: Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are going to have one heck of a time choosing the pitchers for their All-Star rosters.

Reader Blog: Week ten awards: The fat lady has cleared her throat

Well, at least one of the Chicago baseball teams got back on track this weekend.

Wait, that doesn't provide me any solace--I hate the Sox! Leave it to the Cubs to get the struggling South siders rolling again. Mark Buehrle's been struggling, hasn't gone more than 5.1 in his last three starts? No problem! A.J. Pierzynski can't hit the broad side of a barn? Take a crack at the Cubs' staff! Gavin Floyd has the worst ERA in the majors? No worries--how does a no-hitter through 6.2 sound?

After a 3-4 week in which the Cubs sank to a season-low eight games under .500, they're 7.5 back of the Reds after getting a game back with yesterday's exciting win. The Sox are the same number back of the Twins and have Detroit to chase down as well, so it's safe to say Chicago baseball isn't as good as, say, Chicago hockey.

After Lou's tirade against Steve Stone, it looks like he may have finally glanced at the stat sheet. He said yesterday that Colvin "is going to play a lot more than he has been" even though the same suggestion from Stone elicited a tirade in which he said "What job has [Stone] had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? ... I'm tired of these guys, I really am." 

But the fact is, though Colvin went 0-for-3 yesterday, all he's done the last 15 times Lou started him is go 19-for-48 (.396). And one of Lou's "five major league outfielders" is hitting .185 in June after hitting .253 in May. This slump was as predictable as the sunrise since it has happened all three years he's been a Cub. I'm talking, of course, about Kosuke Fukudome. Both Colvin and Fukudome are left-handed and, conveniently, one of them sucks and one of them is good along with being an important piece of the team's future. So apparently Lou is able to take suggestions, just not without yelling at the person first.

Although, I'll believe it when I see it since Lou also said on June 5 that Colvin would "be in the lineup most of the time," and he then sat four straight games June 9-12. Lou's change of heart back on the 5th, you'll recall, was after a reporter asked about Colvin's playing time and he snapped at him, too. Sigh.

Ryno of the Week: Obviously Ted Lilly, who would have been 2-0 were it not for Marmol's blown save in Milwaukee. He threw 16 innings and allowed just one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out 11 and thrilled a wet crowd at Wrigley by taking a no-hitter into the ninth (more on that tomorrow). Ex-Cub Juan Pierre kept him out of the history books but it was still a fantastic week for Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.

Marlon Byrd gets a special mention after a ridiculous 13-for-26 week that included two home runs and five RBI. He's batting .333 on the season.

Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker

Goat of the Week: Though he doubled and scored the only run yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was still just 2-for-20 last week. He's in one of those funks where he's swinging at just about everything, and he's now batting .111 in June.

I have to say, it was almost as if James Russell was trying to win this fake award. In two appearances he went 1+ innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, good for a 45.00 ERA. He was summarily sent to Triple-A Iowa.

Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome

Reader Blog: Why is Theriot leading off?

Generally speaking, I don't blame Lou for the debacle that this season has turned into. When your two best hitters have combined for -.8 WAR midway through June, there isn't much you as a manager can do to improve the situation. That said, I have a nit to pick with the skipper. Why is frat boy favorite Ryan Theriot still leading off? By almost every measure available, Theriot is having an awful season at the plate. His sub par .326 on base percentage and complete lack of power have left Theriot with a weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .300. By contrast, hated ex-leadoff man Alfonso Soriano has a respectable .346 on base percentage and his wOBA is a robust .386.

Other regulars/semi regulars who would serve as better leadoff men than Theriot: Derrek Lee (.314 wOBA), Marlon Byrd (.403 wOBA), Geovany Soto (.387 wOBA), Tyler Colvin (.411 wOBA), Kosuke Fukudome (.360 wOBA), Mike Fontenot (.342 wOBA).You get the point. Theriot's empty batting average and gutty scrappitude have kept him at the top of the Cubs lineup for far too long. Piniella would immediately make this team better if he moved Theriot into the 7 or 8 slot in the lineup and gave those extra at bats to one of the better hitters on this team.

(For a detailed description of wOBA and why it's one of the best measures of total offensive contributions, click here: http://saberlibrary.com/offense/woba/.)

Reader Blog: Fun With Statistics!

In light of a few numbers that were thrown around in the shoutbox recently, I decided to further investigate some statistics that may or may not be trends. Most of these things are probably unrelated, but some of them are very interesting to know. So without further adieu… Fun With Statistics!

We’ll start out with a couple of team-centric warm-ups

The Cubs are:

  • 8-12 in One-Run games
  • 9-7 in blowouts (5+ runs)
  • 3-24 when they score 3 runs or less (!)
  • 23-7 when they score 4 runs or more
  • 11-0 when they score 7 runs or more
  • 12-2 when they allow 2 runs or less
  • 14-29 when they allow 3 runs or more
  • 7-14 when they allow 3 or 4 runs (What!?)

Ok… So from that we can accurately say if we score 4 runs or more, we’ll probably win and if we allow 2 runs or less, we’ll probably win. Jeez, not too much margin for error there.

Alright, next let’s look at some situational statistics for the team

The Cubs are:

  • 26-1 when they start the 9th inning with the lead or tied (damn, alright, that’s actually pretty great)
  • 0-30 when they start the 9th inning behind (Holy. Shit.)

The Cubs have:

  • 8 comeback wins with the largest deficit overcome being 3 runs (sigh, remember that Rockies game in magical 2008?)
  • 14 blown leads (for comparison, we had only 22 in all of 2009.)
  • 2 walk-off wins
  • 0 walk-off losses (Hey! An improvement! We had 13 in 2009)

Wow. Alright. Those are some pretty polarizing numbers. Let’s move on.

Time to pick on some individual contributors (or, probably more than likely, “lack of” contributors)

The Cubs are:

  • 10-1 in games started by King Carlos Silva (this is my personal favorite and the one that spawned this post)
  • 16-30 in games started by anyone else
  • 11-12 in games where John Grabow pitches (I assumed worse)
  • 20-6 in games where Carlos Marmol pitches (Only 12 being Saves)
  • 7-3 in games where Aramis Ramirez does not play
  • 9-16 in games where Aramis Ramirez does play AND has a hit
  • 5-14 in games Derrek Lee goes hitless
  • 19-17 in games Derrek Lee has at least 1 Hit
  • 12-5 in games Derrek Lee has at least 1 RBI

Ya know, I could probably go on and on, but let’s sum up what we’ve learned here.

- The Cubs do not do well in close games
- They will, however, win most every game they score 4 or more runs
- Unfortunately, if they give up more than 2 runs, they will probably lose

- If we have the lead in the 9th, you can chalk that baby up in the W column.
- If we’re losing in the 9th, you might as well turn the game off.

- Carlos Silva and Carlos Marmol have saved this team.
- John Grabow and Aramis Ramirez have killed this team.
- Derrek Lee may or may not be expendable.

Go Cubs.

Reader Blog: Week nine awards: Cubs, we need to talk

Dear Cubs,

This isn't really working for me right now. It hurts me more than you to say this, but I'm just not really enjoying our time together. I mean, 1-4 against the Pirates and Astros? Those are two of the four National League teams that are worse than you. That's right, there are only four teams worse than you. Your 25-31 record would put you last in the NL East and ahead of only the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Sure, you've wedged your way into third in the crappy NL Central, but you're 7.5 games behind two teams while being just 3.5 games ahead of last-place Houston.

But honestly, Cubs, it's your offense that really got me to thinking. You're on pace to score 677 runs, 30 fewer than last year. You're 13th in the league in runs scored, ahead of only the Giants, Astros and Pirates. And let me remind you that you are 3-11 against the Astros and Pirates. Watching your offense through an entire game is like watching Britney Spears's career arc: it's painfully long and drawn out, and you know it's not going to end well.

Sorry, now I'm just being mean. What I'm trying to say is that our relationship isn't fun like it used to be. Do you know how it makes me feel to see Aramis Ramirez batting .169? Do you know what it's like to see that Geovany Soto has just one more RBI than he did on June 7 of last year? Can you possibly understand the pain that comes with knowing there's one bad Carlos on your team, and his last name isn't Silva?

But I digress. Look, you know that I'll always watch you. I've watched you ever since we first met, and I'll keep watching you no matter what. But you're driving me into the arms of TiVo, and you're starting to make me think that we need to make some serious changes. I'm talking about trading Lilly, Lee, and any other veterans that other teams will take off your hands. It's just that I think this version of you might be bad for me. In fact, I think you might just be a bad team, plain and simple.

There, I said it.

I'm sorry if that hurts, but it's how I feel. I needed to get some of these things off my chest, and I hope you understand where I'm coming from. Hopefully we can somehow make this work.

Ryno of the Week: Per usual, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about on the offensive side. Nady is heating up as he went 5-for-7 with a homer and three RBI; Byrd was on fire in Houston and went 7-for-16 on the week; and Koyie Hill had two big hits in Houston and was 4-for-10 on the week with three RBI.

On the mound, both Jeff Stevens and Bob Howry threw 2.1 scoreless innings--neither pitcher has allowed an earned run as a Cub this season. And the Cubs' bullpen overall was a bright spot last week: they allowed just one earned run in five games. The award goes to the newest member of the 'pen, Andrew Cashner. He tossed three scoreless innings of relief in three appearances, and his considerable talent was readily evident in his smooth delivery and mid- to high-90s velocity.

Honorable mention: Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: I'm going to go with Randy Wells. He made two starts last week because he failed to get out of the first inning against the Cardinals on May 28. He did not go more than 5.1 innings in either start and had more first inning trouble on Sunday. Through 12 starts, Wells sports a 4.86 ERA. Through 12 starts last year, he had a 2.72 ERA. Would you like fries with your sophomore slump?

Dishonorable mentions: Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Carlos Zambrano

Reader Blog: Who is Andrew Cashner anyways?

Yet another youngster has made his way to the Cubs' 25-man roster. Andrew Cashner joins Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto in the Cubs' somewhat odd mix of up-and-coming prospects and aging veterans. I'll try to provide a little context to Cashner's rise through the ranks of the organization.

First of all, it's not all that surprising that he has worked his way to The Show this season. The Cubs bullpen has been a revolving door since Opening Day:

Opening Day bullpen








Only three pitchers have survived the first two months of the season: Marshall, Marmol and Russell. And of course Zambrano saw some time in the 'pen as well. The Cubs have used TWELVE guys in relief already this season. In 2008, they used 14 total (excluding Randy Wells and Carmen Pignatiello, who pitched just two and three times each, respectively).

Cashner was drafted 19th overall by the Cubs in 2008 out of Texas Christian University where he was both a starter and a reliever. It was actually the second time the Cubs drafted him and the fourth time he was drafted overall (that happens pretty often in baseball). He stands 6'6, taller than every Cubs pitcher except for Marshall, and is 23 years old, making him younger than any current Cub save Starlin Castro (Colvin is 24).

Cashner throws a 92-96 mph fastball, a slider that he calls his "out pitch," and has developed a changeup this year. He's also able to throw a sinker when he needs a ground ball. He had a very, very small cup of coffee after being called up on Memorial Day, throwing one pitch, a 95 mph fastball, to Ronny Cedeno that was popped up for the final out of the eighth inning.

Cashner pitched eight games in A ball the year he was drafted, and struggled to the tune of a 5.85 ERA. In 100 innings between A and AA last season, he struggled with his control but had a strong 2.60 ERA. He allowed just one home run in 24 starts. Between AA and AAA this season, he was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA and had just 15 walks in 57 innings before being recalled.

Is Cashner ready to be a consistent contributor on a major league team? Probably not. But he's got his first big league outing out of the way and a 0.00 ERA to go with it. Baseball America had him ranked as the Cubs' fourth-best prospect heading into the season (behind Castro, OF Brett Jackson and 3B Josh Vitters), and Baseball America also declared his fastball and slider the best in the team's farm system. Another piece of the future is here a bit earlier than expected, and let's hope it's a bright one.

Reader Blog: A perfect example of why MLB needs more instant replay

Without much to talk about after a Cubs rainout in Pittsburgh, I decided I'd go on an angry rant about the scarcity of instant replay in baseball.

Bud Selig and MLB should have implemented a wider use of instant replay long ago. It was obvious when Jeffrey Maier turned into a right fielder; it was obvious when Fred McGriff was called out on strikes in the 1997 NLCS; and it was obvious when Matt Holliday was called safe at home in Game 163 three years ago.

And it was painfully obvious last night. The Tigers' Armando Galaragga had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth, but umpire Jim Joyce blew a call (he admitted as much after the game) at first and it suddenly became a one-hitter. Now what could possibly or conceivably be wrong with the concept of Jim Leyland tossing a flag onto the field, the umpires conferring for a few minutes as they do now on questionable home runs, and then the crew chief coming out to the field and signalling "out" as the crowd's boos quickly become cheers. Would that be so wrong?

I'm not sure if you've noticed this, Bud, but the NFL recently incorporated a heavy dose of instant replay into their rule book, and it's pretty sweet. They even do it in tennis! (The crowd oohs and aahs as they show the replay live--it's kind of fun, actually.) Last night in the Stanley Cup finals, they reviewed an uncertain goal call and got it right. And then they did it again! It works like a freakin' charm!

I know it's not an easy task. There are annoying little things to be written like "Manager will have a red flag available, and may choose to throw the flag onto the field if he desires to challenge an umpire's ruling." That's annoying, no one wants to write that. And there are questions, like where do the runners go if a ball originally called foul ends up being fair? But they should have been working on this for years, and if they can review home runs, they can review bang-bang plays at first (although, we better clear up that whole "tie goes to the runner" myth right now), close plays at home and trapped balls in the outfield.

Amazingly, Galarraga's perfect game would have been the third already this season. Until this year, there had never been two in the same season. Joyce obviously deserves some blame for making a pretty bad call in a situation where normally, the benefit of the doubt would go to the pitcher, if anyone. But Joyce could have gotten off the hook and Galaragga could have gone into the history books if they could have just reviewed the damn thing. 

Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said there has to be a way to make this situation right. I'm not sure if that's the case, but there's definitely a way to make sure it never happens again. 

Week eight awards: Meh

The Cubs kept their momentum by taking two of three against LA, but their mojo ran out at the hands of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Two one-run duds were sandwiched around yet another win by Carlos Silva, and the week ended with the Cubs in pretty much the same position they were in when the week started. That's been the team's tendency at home this season; their four homestands have looked like this:





They just can't seem to put together any type of streak at home, mostly because they can't score runs consistently. This was a bit of a strange week in that despite scoring just 16 runs in six games, the Cubs won three times by shutting out their opponents in each win. While Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot heated up a bit, most of the hitters were ice cold. Averages from last week:

Byrd: .238

Fukudome: .222

Castro: .217

Soto: .214

Theriot: .160

Soriano: .111

It's hard for a team to get hot when two-thirds of the order is batting like ... well, like Aramis Ramirez. Perhaps it's time to see more of Tyler Colvin? Please? And perhaps it's well-past time to move Ramirez down in the order? Might I suggest 10th?

Ryno of the Week: Ted Lilly looked great and deserved a win when he helped the Cubs beat the Dodgers 1-0, but Carlos Silva edges him out because of this stellar in a very important game against the Cardinals: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K. His performance ultimately prevented a sweep, and Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.

Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot

Goat of the Week: The choices for this "award" on the offensive side were detailed above. John Grabow also threw his name in the hat by allowing five earned runs in two appearances, and then he was placed on the DL with what I believe is being called a "strained ability to pitch effectively in the major leagues." But overall, I have to go with Ryan Theriot who reached base in just 19 percent of his plate appearances and has a .313 OBP for the season. One could say his job is to "set the table," but instead, he's been getting up halfway through dinner and angrily knocking all the plates and glasses off the table.

Dear Tom Ricketts,

Dear Tom Ricketts,

You are a douche bag. Now, it isn’t personal. You may or may not be a guy I would like to share a beer. It isn’t what you have done. You have bought the Chicago Cubs. You ownership group controls a team I love dearly. It is what you haven’t done. That is winning a World Series for the long suffering fans of the North Side. Is it fair to demand a World Series trophy despite this is the first year of your ownership? In any other business such a turnaround would be considered absurd. Unfortunately, we are taking about a sports team. You will be a douche bag just like all of Chicago sports ownership save the Blackhawks franchise (Five years ago I would have laughed out loud after reading that statement) until you bring the trophy to Wrigleyville.  

I realize you are a fan yourself having met your wife in the bleachers. However, as it stands many of us look at you like you are a hipster, someone who goes to Wrigley Field because it is the place to be. Let’s face it there are hundreds of thousands of fans who sit along the ivy strewn walls not knowing who the starting pitcher is or who is in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, as it stands I have to count you among those lost and delirious. There were a number of issues this offseason; a more knowledgeable owner could have stepped in asked for those to be handled. You didn’t. Instead you have taken up the task to beautify Wrigley Field. You have brought in a pseudo-vegan dietician for the players. You have imported freetrade wheat grass just in case the players who wanted colon cleansing enemas would be reassured that the purchase helped indigenous people of wherever. All of these things are fine and well, but how will it bring a winner to Chicago? That is why I think you are douche. It’s just part of the baggage of owning a team with long suffering fans. Maybe you will turn around the team. Maybe you will bring a championship to this city. Unfortunately, as it stands as an owner Rocky Wirtz has made you his bitch. Here is too hoping that you get things done and that fans don’t hope for your demise like they did for Dollar Bill Wirtz. Give them a title or they may just wish for that to happen. 

Reader's Blog: Here comes the slider

We've often heard of pitchers "adding a pitch," usually in the offseason. Sometimes a pitcher will develop a changeup or add a slider, etc. But Carlos Marmol has become more effective this season by eliminating his curveball.

The percentage of pitches thrown by Marmol that were curveballs, since 2007*:

2007: 20%
2008: 13%
2009: 11%
2010: 3%

But his fastball percentage has actually dropped as well, from 46% in 2007 to 41% this year. So what gives? For Marmol, it's all about the slider. His slider percentages:

2007: 31%
2008: 38%
2009: 43%
2010: 56%

To give you some perspective, he throws his slider more often than all but one pitcher in baseball: Luke Gregerson of the Padres (he's having success, too, with a 1.82 ERA in 22 games). I really noticed Marmol's tendency to rely on his slider a couple weeks ago, and now that I'm looking for it, it's completely obvious that he's using his slider to set up his fastball.

This frustrated me for a while. Usually when a pitcher relies heavily on his breaking ball, it's because he's struggling to control his fastball and has no choice but to depend on his secondary pitch. But with Marmol, it almost seems that he'd rather throw his nasty slider and then surprise the hitter with a fastball. And the fact is, it's working. He has a 1.52 ERA, has converted seven of his last eight save opportunities (the only one he blew was against the Rockies when he entered the game in the eighth with the bases already loaded), and his ridiculous 17.49 K/9 is easily the highest in the majors. The all-time leader in this statistic among relievers is Brad Lidge with 12.98 K/9.

So I'm certainly not complaining any more, but it is interesting to watch a pitcher dominate with his slider the way Marmol does. The man's fastball averages 95 mph, yet he throws it just 41 percent of the time. But I'm sure most hitters in the National League--at least those who have faced him this season--would tell you they'd rather see just about anything other than that slider.

*All data courtesy of FanGraphs

Brandon writes at Wait Til This Year, a kick-ass Cubs blog

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