Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Carlos Marmol

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Gregg to close, Marmol to spoil

Note: looks like Colin didn't come through with his Player Previews again.  In his defense, he's been under the weather.  I'll be working on giving you guys double shots today and tomorrow.

Lou Piniella announced yesterday that Kevin Gregg was his choice to close in 2009.  I know I'm in either the quiet majority or vocal minority, but I oppose this move.  My reasons are these:

First.  The one knock that people had against Piniella before he came to the Cubs that I think has proven true is his mishandling of the bullpen.  It's hard to paint him as being an absolute failure in this regard, though.  After all, he at least doesn't take the Dusty approach of having 7 relievers, remembering to use 6 of them, and calling out the odd man (perpetually nicknamed "Rusty") to get his ass kicked about once every 10 days.  The problem is that Lou will ride the hot hand until the guy gets ground into the dirt.

Consider Marmol's workload the last two seasons.  In '07, he appeared 59 times, and he threw in more than 1 inning in 27 of those games.  He also threw in consecutive games 11 times, and he threw in 3 consecutive games only once.  But that was fine - Lou never used him in multiple inning appearances in back-to-back games, and he actually gave him rest.  But that restraint evaporated last season.  In 82 games pitched in 2008 - already half the team's games, for lawd's sake - Marmol threw multiple innings 17 times.

The big difference between '07 and '08, regardless of the fewer multiple inning games, was that Marmol was used in spurts.  Lou pitched him in consecutive games 14 times, and he pitched him in 3 consecutive games 6 times.  That's a lot of wear on a pitcher, and things really took their toll last year on Marmol between May 31 and July 3.  In those 13 innings pitched, Marmol surrendered 9 hits, 10 BB, and 14 earned runs, and he remained erratic until after the All Star Break (on July 12 he gave up 5 runs, for which he was on the hook for all or most of them until a later decision changed the record to 1 ER).  When he returned on July 20th, he was used less often thricesecutively (I know, I just made that word up) and he was given more rest after excessive use.

The worry I have is that Piniella will be tempted to overuse him again, especially if Heilman looks more like Howry than he does like, well, Marmol. 

Besides, as I pointed out previously, baseball is a game with egos.  Maybe the Cubs figure that Marmol will get his chance to close someday soon so he'll be satisfied and will get paid what he thinks he's worth, but if Carlos doesn't get the chance to work the job that pays the big bucks, he might not want to stay with the Cubs.

All that said, Gregg should do a fine job closing.  If not, we know there's somebody else who can swoop in and do it too.  And maybe that's bound to happen regardless.  Lou has limited patience, Gregg will be on a short leash, and heck, this might even just be one of those challenges he likes to subtly issue from time to time.

Nobody expects the Dutch

Quick Links: 2008 Season Recap: Carlos Marmol
The Redemption of "The Automatic" Carlos Marmol

After blowing a save and tanking the Dominican Republic's WBC chances, Carlos Marmol is back with the Cubs today.  Some Cub fans are nervous about him -- after all, he had a bout last season in which he couldn't hit the strike zone and he's returning from a Meaningful Game with a blown save, a loss, brought on in part by a brain fart.

So -- does that mean that Marmol can't close?  Does that mean he's likely to do it again?  It's ridiculous that the pressure is on him already, but he's replacing a Cubs icon at closer and he has yet to prove that he is capable of shutting down the opposition in a big game.

But here's the deal.  If you go back and look at Marmol's numbers, his troubles began due to heavy use by Lou Piniella.  There were numerous games last year in which Marmol threw in back-to-back days, or for more than 1 inning, or both at the same time.  And when the overuse was at its peak, he lost his control and his mind for a while.

Maybe it actually makes more sense for Marmol to close because Piniella can't overuse him.  Much as I wrote in the second article I quick linked above, the biggest flaw I've noticed in Piniella is the way he handles his bullpen.  He will ride the hot arm without hesitation, but very few pitchers - Marmol included - have the ability to make 90 to 100 appearances a year and toss 100+ innings in relief and remain successful.  There's a burn out factor to worry about.  If Marmol gets to close, he'll have less chance to burn out, and if Marmol doesn't burn out then he'll probably make for a killer closer.

In other words, Carlos Marmol must close, even if he's the best setup man in baseball.  Or, at the very least, he must be given a fair opportunity to prove that he can close.  And panicking over a blown WBC game just doesn't make sense to me.

2008 Season Recap: Carlos Marmol

Marmol

The Dramatic Prarie Dog had a dramatic season in '08.  He went from legend to lemon and back to legend all within the span of a few months, and based on the pending departure of Kerry Wood, Marmol is a likely candidate to close in 2009.  But is he fit for the job?

At this point in his career, Marmol makes me nervous, mostly because he completely disintegrated for no apparent reason last season.  Sure, he found himself and came back to pitch amazingly well, but here's my line of thinking... if'n he can blow up like that at random, see, what's stoppin' him from blowin' up when it counts?  (Sorry, broke into weird British hackney typing accent, am very tired, must sleep soon)

He basically pitched a trilogy last year.  In Carlos Owns Baseball, this legendary stud of a pitcher threw 35 innings of work, struck out 52 opponents, and posted an ERA of 1.54.

Then, on May 31st, Baseball Strikes Back made its debut.  From that date until July 12th, Marmol was a shell.  He pitched 17.1 innings of work, and he allowed 15 earned runs in that span - and, actually, he was at one point responsible for 18 runs but a retroactive decision shaved his ERA a bit.  Anyway, 15 earned in 17.1 pitched equals a 7.78 ERA - more than 6 points higher than what it had been previous to May 31.  Also over that span, he struck out 18 - still impressive, but down from his previous totals - and walked a craptacular 13 players.

This is the part of the Marmol season that remains burned into my brain.  The guy who would trot out to the mound and, failing to find his focus, started to toss ball after ball after ball after ball.  You don't want that guy in the 9th inning - or, at least, I don't.

Luckily, after an All Star appearance he probably didn't deserve, Marmol returned from the break a new man.  He was no longer that guy.  In Return of the Prarie Dog, Marmol threw 36 innings, striking out 42, and walking 16.  His ERA in this span was 1.25.

Oh, and he went from July 28th until August 21st without allowing a single hit.  He threw more than 9 innings of no-hit ball in relief.  He held opponents totally scoreless for 16 innings.

In other, shorter words, the Cubs would not have been nearly as good without him.  If he can keep his head on his shoulders - and those massive ears should surely provide some kind of support - then Marmol should step rather nicely into the closer's role next season.

Marmol 1+

With an out in the 8th, the Cubs are turning to Carlos Marmol to finish the game.  His theoretical 1.2 innings of work will be the 14th time this season that he's thrown 1+ innings of work.

Sidebar: before I could even finish my second sentence, Marmol notched his second strikeout in as many batters.

Now the question is, in his 13 previous multi-inning appearances, how did Marmol do?

Based on my hurried observation of the stats, he's allowed 1 run to score in 3 out of his 13 multi-inning games.  His ERA in multi inning games is, in 21 innings,  1.29. 

As nerve-wracking as these close games are, it's comforting to know that Marmol is used to this situation and he tends to rise to the occassion.  Now, if only the Cubs would tack on a few runs before he comes back out for the 9th... 

The redemption of "The Automatic" Carlos Marmol

About a month ago, a large number of Cub fans were prepared to toss Carlos Marmol to the wind.  At one point earlier in the year, he'd lowered his ERA to 1.54, he'd had 53 strikeouts in 35 innings of work, and the Cubs looked as though they would never lose a lead after the 7th inning. 

Then, on May 31st, Marmol made an appearance that would herald the beginning of his end.  After getting the first 2 outs of the inning, including one by strikeout, Marmol surrendered a homerun to - of all people - Scott Podsednik, before striking out Willy Tavaras to get the save and end the game.  At the time, it didn't seem too concerning, apart from the fact that the best strikeout pitcher in the Cubs bullpen had surrendered a homerun to a guy who, minus his shot against Marmol, has hit exactly zero homers in his last 201 at bats.   With that unlikely homerun, the wheels came off.  In his next appearance on June 2nd, Marmol surrendered a 3-run homerun in the 9th to Adrian Gonzalez.  Suddenly, his ERA went from 1.54 to 2.43.  It'd get worse before the end of the month - in 11 innings pitched in June, Marmol would walk 9 and he'd give up 5 hits, but all of them at inopportune times.  Opponents ripped him that month for 9 earned runs, putting his monthly ERA at 7.36.

July would start out at much the same.  Marmol got hammered again for 3 against San Francisco on July 2nd - a game the Cubs would still win.  He'd give up a homerun the very next night and exit without having gotten a single out.  His worst outing came on the 12th, when he'd turn a Cubs route into a narrow victory after surrendering 5 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk in 1 inning of work.  (Later, a scoring change would remove all but 1 of them from his Earned Run total.)  And with that, Marmol entered the All Star break having seen his ERA rise from 1.54 to 4.30 - pre scoring change - and all in the span of a month in a half.  

On this blog and elsewhere, Cub fans were asking why.  What had happened to this fiercely dominating pitcher?  Clearly, the biggest issue was his control.  Over that 1.5 month span, Marmol threw 342 pitches, 197 for strikes.  That's a 58% strike ratio, which isn't exactly the stuff of legends.  He walked 13 in 15.1 innings, as well, having thrown a number of passed balls, hit 4 batters, and he threw at least 1 wild pitch.

It wasn't concerning that Marmol was used by Lou even during his struggles.  Piniella has to believe that the best way to get a pitcher out of a funk is by showing that he has confidence in that pitcher, and he sure did demonstrate a whole hell of a lot of confidence in Carlos Marmol.  The things that were concerning to fans and bloggers everywhere, though, was how and how often.  Did Marmol really need to be pitched on 3 consecutive days against Arizona and Colorado and Pittsburgh/Houston?  Did he need to be used consecutively on  April 30-May 1, May 24-25, June 4-5, June 14-15, June 24-25, July 2-3, July 5-6, and July 8-9?  Did Piniella really need to turn to Marmol during the games in which the Cubs held a decisive lead?

Somehow, Carlos Marmol has rediscovered his compass since that point in the season.  He's pitching with direction again, and that direction appears to often exist within the confines of the strike zone.  There are perhaps two reasons why he's managed to turn things around - 1. between July 12 and July 20, he only pitched once, and 2. the injury to Kerry Wood.

With Kerry Wood nursing his blister, Lou was forced to turn to Marmol to close.  Closing with Marmol meant that he could no longer put him out there in one-sided games, nor was he able to pitch him consecutively quite as often.  In the time before the break, since he lost his effectiveness, Marmol pitched on consecutive days 14 times.  In the month since he's become effective again, Marmol has been used on 4 consecutive dates.  More importantly, he's been used in "only" a handful of blowouts. 

Regardless of the reasons, Marmol's effectiveness has been incredibly important to the success of the Cubs.  It's probably no coincidence that the team's worst period of the season came at a time in which its ace pitcher was on the disabled list, its closer was inactive due to a blister, its top-slugging outfielder was recovering from a broken hand, and its premier set-up man lost himself for a little while.  The Cubs are now well on their way to their best regular-reason record of most of our live times, and Marmol is a big reason why.  He's been more than effective, he's been better than dominant.  Let's just call him what he is: automatic, and the Cubs are a better team - if not the best team -  because of him.

In Defense of Sweet Lou - as if he needs it

Kurtis, Kurtis....how could you have forsaken thee?

I love Uncle Lou with every fiber of my body, except maybe my pee pee.  I have agreed with everything he has done in his tenure, INCLUDING his Game 1 decision with Zambrano, INCLUDING his decision to leave Marmol in there last week, and especially including his decision to bring him out there yesterday in the ninth.

Kurt is convinced that Marmol's problems are fatigue-related, which explains his stance that Lou is running him into the ground, which explains why he would drop an (edited) f-bomb in his name.  For shame!!  Que cosa!  As my high school Spanish teacher would say.  Ya lo crea!  The idea of swearing at Uncle Lou..

..lookee here.  Kerry Wood is going on the disabled list, backdated a week, so we will not have him around for the next two series.  We are playing probably the "best" performers of the "rest" of the National League, the D-backs and the Fighting Fish.  We have traditionally needed all hands on deck against these two foes - these will be tough series, in which a closer will be necessary.

The short term answer is to bring in Howry - which is what most of us so-called internet GMs would advocate.  I guarantee you that Lou is fully aware that Bob Howry has closing experience, and that he is available.   He isn't the greatest closer ever, either, you know.  Plus, he's 37 or so...is he the Future of the Cubs Bullpen? 

No.  Marmol is.  And contrary to Kurt, I am as convinced as he is about what might be wrong with Marmol, and in my view, it ain't fatigue.  It's all about Confidence, and the man that SHOULD know the most about it, Lou Pinella, seems to agree with me.

Eventually, Lou knows that the kid is going to be the closer, sooner or later.  It would be nice for all of us to imagine the 31-year-old Wood settling in for a nice 8-year-run as the Cubs closer, ala Eckersley, Hoffman, Percival, and some other guys you can name who closed close to their 40's.  It ain't gonna happen.  If it isn't blistered fingers, sore shoulders or gamey elbow ligaments, it will be something else with Wood (who I love), but is more of a emotional, "dealing with adversity with class" hero than a "performing physical feats on the field of play" hero.

Smart baseball men do not count on Kerry Wood to hold positions of grave importance on their rosters.

Thus, we need to groom Marmol sooner or later.  But which one is it, sooner or later?  Do we throw him out there this week in ninth inning save situations?  Is he ready?  Will he succeed, and close out vital games in this 2008 pennant run, bolster his confidence, and gain vital experience for 2009, 2010, or whenever he becomes the full-time closer?  Or does he blow the games for us, dropping us out of the NL Central lead, and shred whatever confidence he has left?  How do we know?  How COULD we know?

Welllll.....we could hook him up to a simulator on a PS3, let him take the controls for a ninth inning save.  OR, we could send him down to Iowa to let him save a game there?  OR, maybe we run him out in the ninth inning yesterday.  I understand that none of these situations are ideal, but which one of the three will most closely simulate the type of action he should expect in a major league save situation, while at the same time be logistically feasible, and, oh incidentally, helps us close out a win we desperately needed to salvage an otherwise depressing series coming out of the All-Star Break?

If Marmol went out yesterday and crapped himself in a Hawkins-esque fashion, then all Lou has to do is send in Cotts or Howry to clean up, and he pretty much has his answer as to: 1) whether Marmol is ready to close this next week, and 2) how close is he to becoming the full-time Closer of the Future.  Because if you have some tissue attached to your brain stem, and if you read this here blog, you must know by now that Closing is about 10% physical and 90% mental, and if you doubt that, then tell me how the hell Rod Beck was able to log 53 saves in 1998 with a piece of raw fish hanging from his right shoulder joint?

Lou isn't just paid to win in 2008 - he has to know how he is going to do it next year, too.  He needs to know exactly what he has in Marmol.  He KNOWS he can throw caked-on-dirty sliders...but he needs to find out once and for all what he has between his huge Mickey Mouse ears, and also what he has hanging in his jock.

Factoid that may only interest me

Kyle's story was steak sauce, but that ain't the factoid.

I heard this on the XM:

The last two pitchers that were acquired in mid-season and won a World Series game that they started that year:

Jeff Weaver for the Deadbirdz in 2006;

Mike Torrez for the 1977 Yanks.

And you really can't count Weaver - his deal was not exactly of the Blockbuster variety.

Maybe this will help some of you feel better about the Brewers picking up CC without his periods

Bet on Black

Hello again friends. I just recently returned from a stint in Saint Louis, Missouri traveling with our favorite team and showing some poor Redbird fans how a real man sings “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, and I’ve returned with a message for all of you: Always bet on black.

Let’s start with the end of this story…

I’m not a gambling man, but my finely tuned sense of luck and ability was telling me now was the perfect time to bet on black. I dropped a Jackson on the roulette table and watched that little white ball go around and around and around…finally landing on black. Success! Let’s go find a bar.

What series of events brought me to this position of good luck and economic dominance? I’ll take you back to the beginning…

My friend from school and I decided to travel down to the durty STL this past weekend for some good times with our buddies and to attend the Cubs/Cards game on Sunday.

Arriving on Saturday night, the cultural differences were quite obvious as we immediately stepped foot on enemy soil. Most notable of these differences was the complete lack of public trash cans. As we scanned for a place to discard our garbage, we were unable to find any trash cans. None! Looking around and noticing that the streets were exceptionally clean, we assumed there was just some public works system in place that allowed citizens to just throw their trash on the ground and a city employee would later pick it up. Seemed logical to us, so we just dumped everything on the sidewalk.

After finally reaching our friend’s apartment with our lives in tact, we spent the next few hours watching a UFC fight and consuming large quantities of big boy beverages.

Later that night, we decided it would be a good idea to go to one of the newly opened casinos in downtown STL and see if we could win ourselves some dollar bills for tomorrow’s game.

The casino was buzzing with people looking for some action (I’ll leave it up to you on what kind of action they were looking for) and I’m pretty confident I saw St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson…five different times.

As we cruised the floor searching for the hot table, we rolled across a particularly empty, low-stakes roulette game and grabbed a seat. Deciding to save my precious money instead of just throwing it away, I looked around the table to check out the other participants…when what to my wondering eyes should appear…but pitcher Carlos Marmol drinking a beer.

Yes, that’s correct. I had just sat down at a roulette table with Carlos Marmol at 1 a.m. in St. Louis.

The last time I saw Marmol in person was when he was brooding in the bullpen waiting to murder the Orioles about a week ago, but now he was relaxing with a massive chip stack, a fly honey on his lap, and a huge smile on his face.

After watching Marmol throw his money all over the board on random numbers (often validating the reason for his choices by saying “Why not?”), it was clear gambling was one of the last things on his mind. Noticing the excessive amount of money that Carlos was losing by betting on red, I decided it was time to make a move.

I’m not a gambling man, but my finely tuned sense of luck and ability was telling me now was the perfect time to bet on black. I dropped a Jackson on the roulette table and watched that little white ball go around and around and around…finally landing on black. Success! Let’s go find a bar.

So as you can see, everything worked out in the end. I got some money, Carlos ended up pitching a 1-2-3 inning the next day, and the Cubs won. So what’s the moral of this story?

Always bet on black.

Game Recaplet - Marmol won't be fine, probably

Cubs lose 8-3.  We struck out a lot against Tim Lincecum, which happens often.  Not cause to smack the panic button.

Carlos Marmol is useless, though.  Time to smack the panic button.  We need to find out if there is some substance somewhere in the Cubs' clubhouse, uniforms, somewhere that makes otherwise confident grown men like Marmol and Hill shit themselves when on a pitching mound.

Trust me on this one, kids...he will never throw an important, successful pitch for us ever again.  You'll see Hill up here before Marmol gets himself straightened out.

Time to re-evaluate just who is untouchable and who isn't, because if Hendry doesn't make a trade for some quality pitching help in the next seven days, then the mopes across the street on Sheffield need to start planning on adding another digit to the EAMUS CATULI board.  Because this team, as constructed, ain't winning no pennants.

That is all.

In wake of Soriano's injury, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture

owww...that's gotta sting a liddle...From Jump Street, let me state that I do not think losing Soriano is a good thing at all.  Colin whips out the numbers that clearly state that there will be a short term dropoff while Soriano heals.  Obviously Murton/Hoffpower don't produce what he does on an annual basis - if they did, then it would be they making thee eight-figure salaries!  What really sucks is that he just got his legs back.  And Kurt ventures that in the long run, Cubs players of late have not had much luck recovering their power from broken hands, particularly from Soriano, whose main gift from God is his wrists, and this particular fracture metacarpal is closely adjacent to said Wrists of God.

I knew, sitting here watching my guys, Our Cubs, run off the best record in baseball, that it was too good to be true.  Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa...all too good to be true.  Several times I thought and mentioned that the only thing that could stop us in 2008 is injuries.  When you saw Pujols get hurt and Yovanni Gallardo get hurt, as a hypersensitive, oversuperstitious Cubs fan, you had to wonder...Where's Ours?

Hopefully, this is it.

I honestly think, though, that it could be worse.  I have stated on here time after time that I think Alfonso Soriano is nothing more than a backup generator - a failover system that occassionally - nay, frequently - can carry a team for weeks at a time while everyone else struggles.  There is NO 2007 Division Crown without his September.  And yes, when taken on an annual basis as Colin has, the man produces abundantly.

Thing is, though, is that his contributions are not consistent.  He differs from, say, Ramirez, who pretty much produces at the same rate every day.  You know that, if you write him in the lineup for a week, that he will give you hits three times out of ten, probably a homer, about four RBIs, and he'll walk a few times.  Managers and teams tend to LEAN on people like Ramirez, they count on him, and when players like him lose time, the loss is quantifiable.

With Soriano, on the other hand, you just don't know.  He HAS been giving us more consistent production the past couple of weeks, yes.  But you honestly don't know what we're going to miss out on the next six weeks.  Might he hit 12 bombs and drive in 30?  Or might he hit .150 and chase every pitch thrown at him?  He isn't going to be there, probably the rest of the year, to pick us up when we need it...that's the great loss with Soriano.  Our Plan B is gone for 2008.  However, it isn't the end of the world if Murton plays there the next six weeks.  We could still play winning ball, if...

.Dempster's big blue Cubs balls..we don't forget about the pitching!  Sure, Dempster whipped out his big brass nutts last night and went the distance, and for the moment, you have to feel confident that Wood and Marmol are rested enough.  For now. 

Lemme ax u a question - consider Z's last two starts, do YOU feel confident that he is going to go out there today and mow them down? Do you feel confident that the offense is going to keep bailing Lilly out from under his early-inning catastrophes?  July is only three weeks away, do YOU know where your Marquis de Suck is?  Still with US, that's where he is.

They're talking up Sean Marshall as the next  callup, saying that he has made the most progress in Iowa.  His last start?  Five runs in six innings.  But hey, he only walked one.

We can't lose sight of the fact that we still need a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, to minimize the amount of time we have to see Wuertz and Lieber and Hart and yeah, even Marmol and Wood.   

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