Monday Morning Odds And Ends, Whipping Boys Edition
I like to ramble, and so I'm going to ramble.
Oft-rumored Cubs trade target Coco Crisp is off the blocks, due to injuries to other members of the Red Sox. So that's one trade rumor we can put to bed, at least for the time being.
The downside to this is that Cubs centerfielders are hitting .258/.338/.315 on the season - it's an epic battle between Reed Johnson and his .677 OPS against Felix Pie and his .597 OPS. Now that the shine has come off Johnson's hot start to the season, center field looks like a real problem spot for the team, and it seems obvious that the club isn't going to give Pie an extended look anytime soon.
Which is why the off-and-on Ronny Cedeno to centerfield project is on again. It's an open question as to how Cedeno will do defensively in center - he obviously has the physical tools to play the position, but with Cedeno physical tools have never immediately translated into success before.
One popular whipping boy for the Cubs right now is left fielder Alfonso Soriano. He's making our center field situation look positively rosy, batting .173/.222/.320 so far on the season. No sugarcoating - that sucks like a Hoover.
But when you dig a bit deeper, there's cause for hope, and not just a little but quite a bit. In early May pretty much everything is driven by batting average, and after one month a player's batting average is a lot less stable than it is in, say, August.
Let's take a look at one of my favorite little stats, Batting Average On Ball In Play. BABIP is a player's batting average when you remove walks, strikeouts and home runs and simply look at when a ball is playable by the opposing team's defense. A league average BABIP is normally right around .290. Soriano's BABIP right now is .174. Which, right, bad. But we're taking a look at batting average - a stat I've already said tends to be subject to a lot of random fluctuation, or noise - and removed walks, strikeouts and home runs, the three events that a player has the most control over.
When trying to predict a player's BABIP going forward, his line drive rate is a much better indicator than his current BABIP. And Soriano's line drive rate is down a bit so far this season, but still reasonably healthy at 18.3%. Given his LD%, we would expect a BABIP of right about .300 for Soriano.
Soriano's walk rate has actually increased (very slightly) so far this season, and his power numbers are (slightly) diminished, but both would be acceptable going forward (and Soriano's power should heat up later in the season). His problem so far has been that not enough of his batted balls are falling in for hits, and that's not a function of anything Soriano is doing wrong, just a function of luck. Don't worry about Soriano.
Another player who seems to be a whipping boy, just looking around at different Cubs sites and forums, is Mark DeRosa. I couldn't believe it either, but there are people talking about benching DeRosa so we can have a Theriot/Cedeno middle infield.
This amuses me for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that DeRosa and Theriot have almost identical production so far:
The difference is that DeRosa's numbers aren't fueled by an entirely unsustainable .316 batting average. DeRosa is having a fine season so far at the plate, and is the least of our concerns.
And then people talk about whether or not DeRosa is slumping, and we should just give DeRosa a few days off... so we have a Theriot/Cedeno middle infield. In the past seven days:
Yeah, DeRosa is slumping just a bit. He's still outproducing Theriot. It never ceases to amaze me.
And my personal whipping boy, if you hadn't noticed already, is Ryan Theriot. Did you know that Ryan Theriot leads the league in being caught stealing so far this season? True story!
Let me go ahead and reemphasize this: Ryan Theriot has been caught stealing six times so far this season. He has a 53% success rate stealing bases.
Reasons this really, really pisses me off:
- The value of a stolen base and a caught stealing are not equal. In a six run per game environment - which is what the Cubs are doing right now - a stolen base on average contributes 0.202 runs. A caught stealing, on average, costs -0.552 runs. He is doing a lot of damage out on the basepaths.
- He is, for the most part, doing that damage right in front of Derrek Lee, our best hitter. When Derrek Lee is batting, all you the baserunner have to do is let the man do his job. And if Lee doesn't come through, if you don't make pointless outs on the basepaths, most of the time you still have Aramis Ramirez coming up next to try to finish the job. Making extra, needless outs in front of our two best hitters costs the Cubs runs. Did I mention needless?
- Before Cedeno started hitting like Barry Bonds, people would not shut up about Cedeno's horrible baserunning. I cannot count how many times people told me about the time Cedeno managed to be out on second on a walk. Even if Cedeno hit like Barry Bonds, they could never put up with his horrible baseball IQ! (Hah!) And now that Theriot has become an utter, miserable failure of a fundamental baseball player (Who's second on the team in error committed? Ryan Theriot!) the people who seemed to care deeply about fundamental play are giving Theriot a free pass.
- And it's not like I was fond of Theriot to begin with, which probably doesn't help matters.
So I'm trying to figure out why Jason Marquis is still in the rotation and Rich Hill is in Iowa. So far the best answer I can come up with is that if Jason Marquis could work out his problems with pitching he would have done so by now. Is there any way we can Rick Ankiel him and turn him into a center fielder? Solves two problems at once!