Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Reader Blog: The Zambrano Move

When the Cubs first made the Zambrano to the bullpen move, I was skeptical. Zambrano is, if not the Cubs best pitcher, their second best or maybe third best behind Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. I never cared about the amount of money he was paid but I did care that he would be pitching fewer innings. Giving fewer innings to one of your best pitchers only works if you don't drop that number by too much and figure out a way to increase the leverage situations he will be coming in.

If the Cubs had used Z as sort of a 6th starter and had him pitch almost every 7th and 8th inning. If they had used him to come in 6th inning when the other team's middle of the lineup was coming up and if they had made sure he got a minimum of 5 innings per week, this could have worked. It could have been a good idea. Fewer innings but better innings. More important innings. Work him on 1-2 days rest at most and alternate him in that role with Sean Marshall. It may have even allowed the Cubs to go with an 11 man or even a 10 man pitching staff.

But has that happened? No. Z moved to the bullpen on April 24, almost 2 weeks ago. He has just barely cleared 5 innings. He should be at least at 10 innings by now. He is being used as a standard 8th inning "set up" guy. Piniella and the Cubs could have done something useful. They could have turned Z into the team savior. Instead he's buried. He needs to go back into the rotation. He's a better pitcher right now than all but one of the Cubs' current rotation. Only Ryan Dempster is obviously better. If Piniella doesn't know what to do with Z in the bullpen, it's time for that experiment to end.

Reader Blog: Why I don't like the Starlin Castro Promotion

The Cubs have promoted top prospect Starlin Castro. I'm sure this means the Cubs intend to turn over the keys to SS to him full time. I really can't stand this decision. Castro is Twenty years old, and he has played only 32 (albeit dominant) games at the AA level. A promotion is warranted, but to Iowa.

I fear that the Cubs are rushing Castro.What's worse, I think they are doing so out of a misguided sense of self preservation. Calling up Castro buys Cruller Jim some time because it will pacify parts of the fanbase. This is a dangerous situation. A lot of those same fans will now give Castro the 2010 "savior" label. He can't live up to that label because no one can. There are simply too many holes on this squad. So if Castro doesn't explode out of the gate, the drunks WILL get on him.

Then there's Lou. I like Lou Piniella a lot, but his handling of Felix Pie was indefensible. Pie never had a fair shot because Lou didn't give him one. If Castro is with the big league squad, he should be starting, at SS, almost every single game. Anything less and he's better off getting full time AB's in Des Moines. I don't trust Piniella to give him those AB's if he struggles initially.

Finally there's the 'future' of the franchise. 2010 is sunk. This is not a playoff team. Adding Castro doesn't make it a playoff team. So why are we playing games with his service time? Give him a full year to split between Tenn and Iowa. Call him up in September when rosters expand and start him with Theriot at 2B. Give him another month in AAA in 2011, and then he gets the call, to stay, right around May 1st.

This team is not built to win this season. I'd like them to do everything possible to ensure that they will be built to win in the future. Right now, the Cubs are wrongly focused on the short term. Bad move.

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: 2011 Free Agent Class: First Base

After the 2010 season, two key Cubs are going to become free agents. I wanted to devote my next two posts to these players and what I think the Cubs should do.

At first base, Derrek Lee has been an above average player for some time. He is going to be, quite possibly, the best player at his position to enter the free agent fray after 2010. Here is a quick and dirty look at the tiers of first basemen and what it will probably take to get them.

Top tier. There will be nobody from the Pujols/Howard/Fielder/Gonzalez tier available in the 2010 free agent season so these are the main guys:

Derrek Lee:
Lee currently earns $13 Million and will be 35 next year. He's very good defensively and has an established wOBA around .370 or so. He also has a serious attachment to the Cubs. Having said that, he's aging and probably wouldn't want to take much of a pay cut. Plus if he leaves, the Cubs get back 2 draft picks, whereas if they sign most of these other guys, the Cubs would lose only 1 draft pick.

Adam Dunn:
Dunn currently earns $12 Million and will be just 31 next year. Dunn's established wOBA is over.380 meaning he's on the whole a better offensive player and younger than Lee. In fact, many of Dunn's offensive numbers compare favorably to the $125 Million man in Philadelphia. I believe Dunn's value is often depressed by his low batting average and terrible defense. Given his age and offensive contributions, if he becomes available, I'd hope the Cubs would look past his shortcomings and give him a nice below market offer. I don't believe the Cubs should be willing to go over the $12 Million he made last year.

Carlos Pena:
Pena currently earns $10 Million and will be 33 next year. He has the advantage of being left handed and has an established wOBA in the .375 area. I believe he is going to be asking for $16 Million plus and I don't think the Cubs should even consider this. I think if he drops down below $12 Million, he would become a bargain and then the Cubs could jump on him. Not likely the Cubs will go for him.

Paul Konerko:
Konerko currently earns $12 Million and will be 35 next year. He currently is experiencing a career year (contract drive?) and may be overpaid for his season. Given this, I'd hope the Cubs would just say no. He's a big, lumbering, right handed hitting first baseman. We could just keep Lee. BTW, Konerko's established wOBA is only about .360, well below the rest of these guys.

Jorge Cantu:
Cantu is playing third base for the Marlins and will be just 29 next year. He is earning $6 Million this and may choose to play third where he would be more valuable to some other team. I don't believe he is right for the Cubs, despite his age, and his established wOBA is only .340.

Second Tier: Usually not going to have to spend a draft pick for one of these guys:

Adam LaRoche:
LaRoche is probably my favorite of this group. A .355 wOBA ing have bat will travel first baseman who is just 31 and would sign for less than $10 Million and not cost a draft pick. He'd probably sign a one year contract also but even if he does ask for 2, I don't think it would be totally out of the question. He's a clear drop from Lee but would provide the team flexibility, especially for the 2011/2012 off season.

Aubrey Huff:
Huff signed with the Giants for one year and $3 Million this off season. He will be 34 in 2011 with an established wOBA of .345. He's not bad at under $5 Million but I'd rather have LaRoche.

Russell Branyon:
Injruy prone left handed hitter who will be 35 in 2011. Established wOBA around .350 with very little added defensive value. I'd go with a different plan instead of signing either Branyon or Huff.

Looking at the group above, I think the Cubs should either try to resign Lee for under $12 Million per year on a short term contract, or sign Dunn for around $12 per year on no more than a 3 year deal, or sign LaRoche to a 1 year deal for under $10 ( or a 2 year deal for under $18)

Of these choices, I'm partial to the LaRoche move only because if it's a 1 year deal, we can take a shot at a big name player at this position in the 2011/2012 off season while at the same time taking advantage of a net 2 high round draft picks for losing Lee.

I think that since 2011 is probably going to be a transitional year for this club, they should try not to do anything rash like signing Jorge Cantu to a 4 year deal or something this offseason.

Post Script:
Many people may suggest moving Soriano to first base and installing Tyler Colvin in left field. I'm opposed to this for a few reasons. The player I'd really like to see the Cubs get eventually plays first base and Colvin will not come close to replacing Lee's production at the plate ever. The idea of Soriano trying to dig throws out of the dirt is also very worrisome to me! However, I would do that instead of stooping down to sign Branyon or Huff or Troy Glaus or someone like that.

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!

Reader Blog: It's like a broken record. It's like a broken record.

A strong start. Painfully bad situational hitting. A close-but-no-cigar loss.

That recap describes a relatively large number of the Cubs' 12 losses this season, but Wednesday's really hurt. A series loss to the Nationals. A 4-5 record at home despite having hosted the Brewers, Astros and Nationals. The momentum of a recent four-game winning streak gone along with Ryan Dempster's formerly flawless record.

And the Cubs had their chances:

    * Fifth inning: Bases loaded, one out. No runs.
    * Seventh inning: First and second, nobody out. No runs.
    * Eighth inning: Runner at second, nobody out. No runs.

Like Gorzelanny on Tuesday, Dempster took a loss that he probably didn't deserve. Granted, he allowed two home runs and three runs in all, which will lose you a game every now and then. But he went eight innings, the third straight start he's gone at least seven. He's pitched six innings or more in all five starts this season--his 33.2 total innings rank second in the National League (behind, of course, Roy Halladay).

By the way--remember how the Cubs tried to sign Matt Capps in the offseason? I wish they had. He recorded his 10th save on Wednesday, best in the majors. The 26-year-old has a 0.68 ERA.

The Cubs have still won only two series on the year, both against the Brewers. The 10-11 Diamondbacks come into town for an extended four-game series starting Thursday, and three out of four would look mighty nice as it would get the Cubs back to .500.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

Reader Blog: Tom Gorzelanny wondering what a guy's gotta do to get some runs over here

The Cubs have yet to win a game started by Tom Gorzelanny, but he deserves very little of the blame for this unfortunate trend--the Cubs have scored two, three, one and one run(s), respectively, in those games while Gorzelanny has posted a 2.45 ERA.

Though Gorzo allowed two runs last night almost before the pregame show was complete, he settled down after the first and notched a (everybody together now) quality start. He came just one out away from a QS his last time out (and would have had one were it not for an error by Mike Fontenot), and was knocked out, literally, of his previous start after three innings. Those two starts represent the only games in the last 12 in which the Cubs starter did not post a quality start. In fact, don't look now, but the Cubs have the sixth-best ERA in the National League. And yes, that includes the bullpen!

But Livan Hernandez, whose season has started as inexplicably well as Carlos Silva's, shut down the Cubs with his 85 mph fastballs and grab bag of random pitches that have no business working in the major leagues. The end result was one measly unearned run for the Cubs, giving Gorzelanny another loss and bringing the Cubs' record to 0-4 when he has taken the mound.

Hernandez lulled the Cubs offense to sleep even though they should have been energized by the opportunity to climb over .500. It was the fourth time this season the Cubs have had a chance to get their heads above water, but now they'll look to Ryan Dempster on Wednesday as they attempt to even their record at 11-11.

Though Aramis Ramirez was just 1-for-4 with a single, I think he's about to break out of it. He had a line drive single on Sunday as well as a hard line out to center. On Monday, he smoked a double in the first inning and later hit what would have been a home run on most days. And along with his single last night, he drove a ball to the warning track in center. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think Ramirez is almost there.

Read more from Brandon at his blog Wait til This Year

Reader Blog: Walking Men

The Cubs walk rate is on the rise. It was down closer to 8 but now it's up to 9.8% and rising. The Cubs are sixth in the NL in this category now and I think they have room for growth.

When you look at the team, you notice that Geovanny Soto is sporting a ridiculous 25.9% walk rate. That should come down but Soto has always had a nice eye. Other than him, only Lee is inflated (just a little at 17.4%). Ramirez is right on his career norm at 8.3% and the following players need to get a move on:

Kosuke Fukudome: 11.3%. Fuku has been over 15% in this first two years. At 15% he comes close to justifying his salary. The problem is, other than playing right field, he is mediocre at all other things he does with the bat. He needs to either keep hitting over .300 with power or start walking even more than he does now.

Ryan Theriot: 6.0%. The Riot has a career walk rate of 9.0% and needs to be closer to that. He currently has an unsustainable .400 BABIP which will come down. If he wants to maintain his value, he needs to get on base in other ways.

Marlon Byrd: 2.5%. This is beyond comical. Byrd has a career walk rate of 7.1% which is ok for a player with his other skills. He dropped into the 5% range in his supposed career year of 2009 and is now down to this joke. No matter what, if he can't get back to the 5-6% ratio here, he will be an out making cipher and will not be worth even the small amount of money he is getting.

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