Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Carlos Marmol

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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'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

Dempster + Lee = Win (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Dodgers 0)

Ryan Dempster is vindicated! Except not quite. Sigh.

Demp starred in last night's outing, mostly by not crapping his pants and/or giving up any grand slams. No, but seriously, eight innings, seven strikeouts to only one walk, and just three hits. That'll do it.

I was hoping Ryan would get a shot at completing the game, but I'm not going to complain about the opportunity to watch Carlos Marmol make lame-os like Manny Ramirez look compleetly stoopid with his narsty slider.

Derrek Lee knocked in all three Cub runs, taking himself above both the .230 mark in batting average as well as the .700 mark in OPS. He'll keep coming back around, I promise. (For the record, Fangraphs' preferred predictor suggets he'll hit .280/.364/.476 for the rest of the season, which would be fine by me.)

So yeah, see? Winning is easy!

Grabow and Howry... the new nasty boys?(Game Recap: Cubs 5, Rangers 4)

Nice and important win. Cubs take a 4 run lead in the first inning on a few dinks and then a Soriano blast and they hold it thru a less than stellar Carlos Silva and some shaky middle relief. This is the first time the Cubs have pitched both John Grabow and Bob Howry in the same game and they still managed to win!

Soriano made a nice, slightly awkward, diving catch but also saved a run when the Rangers attempted a comeback in the seventh on a double by Ian Kinsler, holding Elvus Andrus, who runs like the wind, at third base. That kept the score 5-4 and some great pitching by Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, they managed to keep it that way.

With the win and losses by both the Cardinals and the Reds, the Cubs have parlayed a surprising 3-2 road trip into a 4.5 game deficit in the central. Day off tomorrow. Let's relish all the big close game wins for the Cubs and get ready for a tough Dodgers series on Tuesday.

On testy fans, some truly God-forsaken fans, enormous BABIP and why it is time to fire Lou

Looks like it got a little fiesty around here this weekend.  That will happen when your favorite team looks hopeless.  Let me try to sum up this mediocre weekend with the mediocre weather in this sometimes mediocre blog:

- First of all, my sympathies for the fans of the Pirates.  I got the chance to speak with many of them last fall.  Rum Bunter Tom holds us Cub fans up as the picture of loyalty because we pack our park every day, and his own (wonderful) park is mostly empty. 

You're wrong, man.  Most of the people in our park are either families from Iowa on their yearly pilgrimage to the yard, or twenty-somethings from the neighborhood visiting the world's biggest beer garden.  There are some die-hard blue Kool-Aid sippers, and a few of us loyalists who are dying inside the past two seasons.  But your fans WANT to believe, they get hooked year after year with the ARams and the Jason Bays and the Nate McLouths and now the Andrew McCutcheons.  I literally feel terrible knowing that by this time next year, the stiff at first base (Jones) will be making huge bucks and McCutcheon will be playing center for the Red Sox or Rays.  If any fans in the entire world deserve to be disloyal, it's your own.  Don't be so hard on your fellow Pirate fans.

- Besides Castro, Marmol, Soto and Colvin, (who in my mind are totally untouchable), the only other Cubs that would have any trade value are Lilly, Wells, Theriot, and in the right situation, Zambrano.  Z would be a trade deadline move, and it would require United Nations-level negotiations from all parties in terms of clauses, money, roles, and return.  We really don't want that trade to happen.  Not because we love Z so much anymore, but unless his teammates absolutely despise him, which they don't appear to, even this washed-out abortion of a team does not need that kind of distraction.

I think Lilly is the man most likely on the move.  That wouldn't be my personal choice, because I think he hates losing, can't stomach it, and we need more of that around here.  But Wells is a bit too young and resembles a young Greg Maddux a bit too much for Hendry to deal.  Theriot doesn't really have anything specific that other teams really want.  He can hit in the National League, and that's pretty much it.

- Even though I have no candidates in mind to replace him, my pick to be traded for even a bag of balls would be Derrek Lee.  I fully expect his production to increase with the temperature, and to me that's the problem in a nutshell.  It got prickly around here about Lee, and the thing I find so frustrating about him is the fact that he is held in esteem by his teammates as the leader, the barometer that everyone else tries to emulate.

And if THIS is the guy that is the pulse, then we need a pacemaker.  A true stud hoss leader would not struggle in April and May every year.  A real big man would not have spent the last five years taking walks in key clutch situations, leaving the heavy lifting up to Ramirez.  And now, when it is obvious that there is something physically wrong with ARam, a real leader steps up in the time of need and performs.  And if he is going to second-guess his manager, he doesn't do it meekly, mealy-mouthy.  If he doesn't like his guy mixing the order up all the time, then gatdammit, say it like a man!  Don't give us that "well, it's his team" crap. 

- Look, what is most wrong about the 2010 Cubs right now is motivation.  People are taking plays off, or whole innings off.  What does Carlos Marmol's enormous BABIP tell you?  What it says to ME is that, when he steps out on the mound, the rest of the team is not getting to any balls that are hit.  Marmol is not giving up homers, so the balls that are hit are in play.  Now, either the rest of the team are a) letting up or b) all tensed up by the situation. 

Regardless, it is indicative of a totally unprofessional attitude that pervades this team.  The thing Ryne Sandberg always stressed, and the reason why a man with average talents went as far as he did, was because he played every play the same way, all out.  The mistakes he made were physical, and although he was as fiery as a Jello pudding pop, his example rubbed off on certain teammates, which made them somewhat better than they were physically required to be.

Now, I'm not bringing Ryno into the mix here because I want him to take over the Cubs.  I'm not sure he is a long term solution to anyone's managerial situation, because being single-mindedly focused is just one attribute.  The guy the Royals just canned was basically Ryne Sandberg without the Hall-of-Fame career.  But the one thing I do have to admit, grudgingly, is that although I personally declared the season dead last week, and have no reason to believe that this .420 team is going to turn it around...

...the Chicago Cubs are still in the hunt.

It is obvious, though, that if we just leave things alone, as is, nothing is going to happen.  It is totally plausible that Ricketts and Hendry have seen the wild moves Lou Piniella has tried have not worked.  They may choose to do nothing, but I honestly believe they are not THAT lazy.  Maybe so.  Ken Rosenthal expresses what I have heard several times on the national level, that a change is needed, and it could be Ryno (which I say: ugh) or Trammel (Lou once won 116...Alan once LOST 119) or Bob Brenly, which actually kind of speaks to me. 

Me, personally, I'd like to see us trade Lee for a bullpen arm, put Z back in the rotation, put Dempster in the pen (because his last four outings have been worse than Z's last four outings as a starter, and Z has simply sucked in the pen) and see if that doesn't freshen things up a bit.  Who plays first?  Who cares...give Colvin a mitt.  Bring up Hoffpauir.  Play Nady there.  Bring back Chad Tracy.  The Great Jason Dubois is still in the organization.  Whomever, the Grand Master Plan HAS to include bringing in someone new at first base for 2011.  Let's see what else we have in the pipeline, before we overpay this winter for somebody external.

Either way, fact is: the rest of the division seems to be cooperating, making us seem not quite as bad as we really are.  Standing pat is a poor option.  We need more leadership, and more accountability throughout.  Ricketts family - make it happen!

We just need somebody to step up here...anybody.  To paraphrase Dean Wormer, Quiet, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life. 

Reader Blog: Notes after a Frustrating Loss

Some notes after today's frustrating game:

1)Cubs are now 2-4 in 1 run games and 3-6 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs this year. It's frustrating but with a little luck, the Cubs would have a much better record.

2) Aramis' K rate is alarmingly high in the early going this year. Coming into today's game, He was striking out close to 35% of the time. His career K rate is only 15%. I'm hoping this isn't something that continues.

3)Geovany Soto is fine. I think the Cubs are hurting themselves by keeping him in the 8 hole. This is where you should place your worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher). If you don't put the pitcher there, I can think of at least 2 or 3 players who would better suited for that spot over Soto.

4) Despite today's blown save, I am very happy about Marmol's control this year. After today's game, Marmol has walked just 2 betters in 6.2 innings. It's early but if he can keep his walk rate significantly below 4, he is likely to make the All Star team.

Game Recap: Cubs 7, Brewers 6 -- Unbelievable!

Nothing like some good home cookin' to get the offense going.

Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.

Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.

Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.

Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!

Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.

Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.

Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.

Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.

Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.

Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!

Game Recap: Cubs 1, Reds 3 -- The blame game

Game Recap
Plenty of mistakes in this one. Let's see if we can identify all of them, starting chronologically from the start of the game.

In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.

Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.

I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.

We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.

Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.

What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:

Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.

Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!

Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.

To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,

Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.

A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.

This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:

Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.

Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.

As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.

Any lessons learned? I suppose so.

First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).

Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.

(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)

And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.

It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.

The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.

Go Cubs!

2010 Player Preview: Carlos Marmol

Behold, the destruction or salvation of the 2010 Chicago Cubs.  Carlos Marmol is the key.  In a bullpen rife with weakness, with no other option available, Jim Hendry is putting all of his closer eggs into Marmol's basket.  Looking purely at his stuff, it is evident that Carlos is the right choice to make.  He is at times unhittable.  In 307.2 career innings of work, Marmol has surrendered a mere 195 hits.  That's freaking ridiculous.

But he is also at times unable to hit the strike zone.  His BB/9 ratio went up dramatically between 2008 and 2009 (from a respectable 4.2 per 9 innings to a terrifying 7.9 per 9 last year).  In other words, up until 2009 Marmol was effective, but last year he was effectively wild.  This is a risky scenario for a guy who's expected to end each game he pitches in.  There aren't many pitchers I can think of who had long, successful careers while walking 7.9 batters per 9 innings of work.

If Carlos is able to face down his pitching demons and regularly locate the strike zone, then I anticipate that he will have an outstanding season and the Cubs will be that much more likely to compete successfully.  But if he falls, so fall the Cubs.  There's just nobody else in the bullpen who can assume that role, and Jim Hendry is unlikely to pull a trade for anybody who can.

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No arb hearing for Cubs, Marmol

The Cubs and Carlos Marmol met halfway today and agreed to a 2010 contract worth around $2.1 million.
carlos marmol, courtesy Byron
In my mind, this is fantastic news.  The arbitration process would have done nothing good for the team or for the player.  Marmol has one of the top three nastiest sliders in all of sports; but last year he frequently lost concentration, walked a ton of men, and also hit a ton as well.  There is plain old wild - an Andy Pratt-esque character, that comes and goes just as quickly.  There is effectively wild - like Kerry Wood, which is usually accompanied by a 100 mph fastball that hurts people when it hits them. 

Carlos Marmol entered his own wild category last year.  Not since Mitch Williams have I seen a guy dig himself more holes, then fill them back in more often than not.  I believe that, as he becomes more mature, that Marmol will harness his stuff and learn to focus on the task at hand.  By all accounts from the beat writers, he is a very immature man, and has nowhere to go but up in that category.  Thus, he still has a tremendous amount of unrealized potential.

He knows that; his agent knows that, and the Cubs know that.  But in an arb hearing, by design, there will be conflict.  Marmol is a very emotional guy, and I don't think he wants to hear about his shortcomings, and how far he needs to go before he truly deserves big money.  He more than likely thinks he deserves it now - he is the closer for the Chicago Cubs, for pete's sake! 

On the other side, obviously Jim Hendry has NEVER officiated an arbitration situation - the last Cubs arb hearing involved Mark Grace!  It is safe to assume that Hendry may be a person who avoids conflict, which is a fine human trait; yet, as the General Manager, perhaps it is a positive thing to call the players' bluff from time to time.  It might in the long run serve as an aid to determining the true worth of your players.

Ryan Theriot is still far apart from the Cubs, and most likely will become the first Cubs arbitration case since Grace.  I for one welcome that particular opportunity.  Theriot is a decent second baseman, playing shortstop, he hits for a high average, but still ends up with a weak OPS, he supposedly adds 'intangibles' to his club, yet he is the dumbest Cubs baserunner now that Ronny Cedeno is carving divots in basepaths elsewhere.

I think an arb hearing will be constructive for the Cubs and The Riot.  He's a tough enough boy to deal with the criticism; in fact, it may not hurt for him to hear it. If he can cut down the mental mistakes in his game, he may end up with a long, productive career.  He is over 30 years old, while Marmol is a young 27.  Both men, if all goes well, will get Paid in this league. 

But I am not yet ready to hear about a man bursting into tears at an arb hearing.  Hooray for the Cubs and Marmol for reaching an agreement before that happened.

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