Goatriders of the Apocalypse


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It's time for the weekly FIX THIS EFFIN' BULLPEN post

I am humiliated to admit that I can't bring myself to visit ChicagoNow today because I don't want to read a gloating Kaplan tell us all about how he was right about Kevin Gregg -- especially when he's not.  While it's true that Gregg lost the game -- despite AJ's noting that Gregg has previously pitched multiple innings -- I still think it's probably a mistake in this modern era to use closers in more than 1 inning.  Still, the guy to blame is probably Carlos Marmol, who'd be the last person in the platoon to be assigned grenade-tossing duty. 

Not to mention the healthy dose of blame that belongs to Lou Piniella for failing to get Grabow ready earlier in the game to face the Philly lefties that Marmol couldn't handle.  Maybe the Old Man still hasn't learned that the Grabber is a part of his roster.

Anyway, believe it or not I'm still unconvinced that the Cubs bullpen is actually all that bad.  I just think that, like the Cubs lineup, they have been horribly mismanaged this year.  Much as it took Lou far too long to realize that Soriano wasn't a leadoff hitter and maybe Bradley belonged in the #2 spot of the lineup, his continued insistance on turning to Marmol in big situations -- coupled with his persistence in using relievers for multiple innings -- has been costly and needs to end.

Therefore, I will submit to you the following two bullpen concepts.  One is for when Jim and Lou return to reality and realize that teams only need six relievers, the other will be for the reality of the seven guys the Cubs will continue to carry.  Onward:

Your Six Man Squad
LR - Aaron Heilman -- he belongs nowhere else but in blow-outs, whether it's the Cubs who are leading by 6 or their opponents.  Much as Lewinski was with presidents, Heilman has yet to meet a lead he didn't want to blow.  So, let's put him in a place where his inaffectual ability will do the least harm.

MR - John Grabow and Carlos Marmol -- At the most, Marmol should be a 6th and 7th inning guy right now.  It's true that he has amazing stuff, but the wildness is not worth the risk.  Actually, I've started to feel that Marmol should be on Hendry's trade-list.  Looking back through the history of the league, there aren't many effectively wild pitchers who had long careers and if his mechanics can be fixed, it doesn't appear to be something that Larry Rothschild is capable of.  Grabow, meanwhile, may in fact be a better lefty reliever than Marshall, but at this point Sean has been nearly untouchable in relief. 

SU - Angel Guzman and Sean Marshall -- Guzman has proven to be an extremely valuable relief pitcher this year.  He's one guy I was definitely wrong about, as I called for his release at the start of the season.  He's presently got a 2.57 ERA and has only allowed 11% of his inherited runners to score.  Sounds like a go-to guy to me.  Marshall, meanwhile, has a 1.19 ERA in relief.  Last season Goat Friend and Iowan sports broadcaster Jon Miller noted that he doesn't have the stuff or the pitches to be an effective starter, and that appears to be true, but he won't face many batters twice in relief.  He's had his shot(s) to start. 

CL - Kevin Gregg -- we've already outlined that Gregg has been an "average" closer.  This remains true, despite last night's 2-inning outing and loss.  If used properly, Gregg will do a servicable job.  Still, I wouldn't call the closer's role a strength in the Cubs repertoire and I look forward to the glorious day when they get somebody who's actually great at doing the job.

Your seven man squad
LR - Heilman, Marmol -- You read that right.  If he wasn't needed in a middle relief role, I would absolutely put Carlos Marmol on the same boat as Aaron Heilman.  He is not an asset to the Cubs right now.
MR - Grabow, Esmailin Caridad -- It's possible that Caridad couldn't maintain his strong start with the Cubs, but until he became as much a question mark as Marmol, I would keep him over Carlos in the bullpen.
SU - Guzman, Marshall
CL - Gregg

What I wouldn't do is allow Jeff Samardzija anywhere near a major league uniform.  Maybe he'll someday be a reliable major league pitcher, maybe not, but this isn't his year -- so why the hell is Lou keeping him on the roster just to get smacked around? 

Game Recap: Cubs 3, Phillies 4 - This one's on Lou.

Last night's game was another one of those playoff-type contests, the kind of game that reveals the true identity of the team you're rooting for.

The offense scratched out a decent number of runs against a solid starter and decent bullpen--and in the postseason, you're sometimes gonna need to find a way to win with just three runs scored. Those runs scored on good situational hitting rather than pure mashing, on a couple of timely singles with runners in scoring position (one of which had been bunted over), along with a sacrifice fly.

Maybe you disagree with me, but in last night's game, I myself can't blame the offense. Happ, Park, Madson and Lidge are all quality (except for maybe the last guy--who we scored on), and we still managed to plate a few runs.

(As for Walker, Eyre, and Durbin, perhaps we should have come through with one run at some point, but then again this game should never have gone into extras. More on that in a minute.)

Then there's the Cubs' pitching, starting with the starting.

If anyone's whining about the two runs Rich Harden allowed, then those people are just plain stoopid. Richie had a no-hitter going for a good while, walked the #8-hitter (kinda dumb but whatever) and then gave up a homer to Jimmy Rollins. Look, the Phillies have a good offense; they're gonna score runs. I'll take 2 ER in 7 innings every time out.

That brings us to the bullpen. And to that end, I've really got just one question.

When your set-up man walks a guy and hits a batter, and the opponent has three consecutive lefties due up, how do you not get your LOOGY warmed up the moment the HBP happens?

Of course, Lou left Carlos in, and we all know what happened.

As for letting Kevin Gregg pitch two innings, if you check his game log on a site like Yahoo! Sports you'll see that he's actually done it before this season. It's hard to blame Lou for trusting Gregg there.

But for pulling Harden on one of his good nights after just 87 pitches? And for leaving Marmol in, against a lefty, after his having demonstrated to everyone everywhere that he didn't have any idea where the ball was going last night? Those decisions are a bit more questionable.

So once again, we see what this team really is: an offense that might score two or three, but certainly not five or six runs against quality pitching; a starting rotation with some great arms; a bullpen with some questionable ones; and a manager that doesn't know how to manage those relievers.

We're running out of time here, guys.

Go Cubs.

Game Recap: Cubs 6, Nationals 2 -- As They Should

Cubs win
All game photos courtesey of Yarbage
This was a "formula" win for the Cubs.

Good starting pitching, plus timely hitting, plus a little power, plus a shutdown bullpen, wins games. Most of the time, you only need a few of those things to win the game. Tonight, the Cubs had it all.
Rich Harden was in top shape this evening, reminding us all of exactly the type of talent we acquired last year. Remember all those double digit strikeout games from last season? This one wasn't quite that good (only seven Ks), but pair that with no walks and only three hits, and you've got yourself a great start.
On top of that, each of the mainstay relievers (Guzman, Marmol, Gregg) came in to pitch the 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively, and took care of business.  Particularly exciting was a Marmol pickoff play in the 8th.  Am I the only one who gets nervous when a reliever with erratic control tosses the ball haphhazardly to the first baseman?
Sam Fuld
On the hitting side, a couple of two-out RBI (one each from Riot and ReJo) helped get the Cubs in front. After that, a scrappy ninth put the game away.

I know he only had one at-bat tonight, but I'm gonna give my Gold Star on Offense to Sam Fuld, for finding a way to cross home plate yet again. Do you realize this kid has taken over 95% of the pitches thrown to him outside of the zone? It's unbelievable!

Great game, much needed win. Go Cubs!

Which Cub bullpen trio would you rather have?

The 2007 versions of Marmol, Howry, Dempster
18% (4 votes)
The 2008 versions of Howry, Marmol, Wood
64% (14 votes)
The 2009 versions of Guzman, Marmol, Gregg
18% (4 votes)
Total votes: 22

Introducing Jeff Stevens

To keep the 'pen fresh as we approach the All-Star Break, the Cubs have sent Kevin Hart back to Iowa, and will put Jeff Stevens on the major league roster in his place.

Jeff Stevens is one of the three pitchers the Cubs received in the DeRosa deal, and by the looks of how he's been pitching lately, it seems like he should see at least moderate success in the majors. In his last 14.1 innings pitched in Triple A, he's struck out 21 batters, and allowed just four walks. Cool!

From what I can gather from across the interwebs, he primarily uses his low-to-mid nineties fastball, a decent change-up, and a curveball with a lot of break. As a complete sucker for K/9 rates and K/BB ratios, I'm interested in seeing what this kid has to offer for the major league club.

The Bullpen

UPDATE: I was really busy today with school, so this is the first time I looked at the site today. Chief gave us this post today, so with all the other Goats out today it seems, except AJ. I'm going to move this to front for discussion. There will be more content tomorrow as the series gets started with the Cardinals.
I'd like to preface this post by saying that while I've been a longtime GoatReader, this is my first article.

Let's face it, the Offense is finally into 2009, and the Starting Rotation has always been here. However, the 2009 Cubs lack one major detail: their bullpen. I'd like to take the time to examine each arm currently there first.

  • Carlos Marmol has been excellent, as has Angel Guzman. Neither has been brought into question this year, and rightfully so. They've done their job.
  • Kevin Gregg has been shaky at times, but we need to face the fact: Lou trusts him, and he's not going anywhere. Many think he's done and was a waste of a high level prospect, but he's only had a handful of bad outings, but they've been terrible when he's had them.
  • Aaron Heilman was spot on for a while, and lately he's been dreadful, but I think the real Heilman falls somewhere in between. He's a keep, and much better than his 4.86 ERA shows.
  • Jose Ascanio was acquired a few years ago in the Will Ohman Trade, and so far, he's been a pleasant surprise, but two innings can only say so much about a guy.
  • The Elephant in the room is obviously the Dreadful Duet of David Patton and Neal Cotts. Neither is particularly useful, and I personally think Patton is NOT one of those recent Rule V Draft picks that will revolutionize basebal(Josh Hamilton, Joakim Soria).

So that begs the question, for those two spots, Cotts and Patton, What do we do? We have a few options in our Minor League System.

  • Greg Reinhard is a righty in AAA who has been off the charts against lefties, who holds lefties to a .69 BA (Righties hit 3.11)
  • Jeff Steven has also been fantastic, who, before tonight, has let up only one run. He currently holds all batters to a .143 BA, with only a marginal advantage against lefties.
  • There are, of course, other options such as Mitch Atkins or Jeff Samardzija, but in my opinion, neither has performed well enough at the level they're at to be called up to the big leagues.

Or we could trade for relievers. John Grabow has been rumored to be available, and although he's not exactly a LOOGY, Lou has never really seemed impressed with LOOGY's(Stevie Eyre). Danys Baez has also been great this year, and he's also rumored to be available.

Whatever happens, the Cubs should win upwards of ninety games this year, especially if they acquire a guy like Jake Peavy.

Who would I rather see in the pen?

I anxiously await everyone's theories on the Fixing of the Bullpen.  I myself do not have any fancy plans.  Sure, the pen currently boasts some truly deplorable stats, but much of this can be explained by the couple of bad outings turned in by each and every one of its participants.  We all agree that, currently, Guzman, Gregg and Marmol are our "good" guys, and Guzman and Gregg started verrrrry slowly and Marmol had a few miserable outings after his injury.  Therefore, their ERAs are, respectively, 3.63, 3.86, and 3.94.  And these are our "good" guys who have had a couple of bad outings that have skewed their stats - and thus, the pen's as a whole.

My personal theory is to replace Neal Cotts and David Patton with virtually anybody.  Here is a partial list of who I would rather see in those two slots, RIGHT NOW, in the pen:

  • Jose Ass-can-ino
  • Kevin Hart
  • Jeff Stevens
  • Luis Vizcaino
  • Sean Marshall (provided we can get Jake Peavy first)
  • the Marquis du Suck
  • LaTroy Hawkins
  • Matt Herges
  • Cla (invisible y) Meredith
  • Octavio (0.00 ERA) Dotel
  • Frank (also 0.00 ERA) Francisco
  • Damaso (14 ERA) Marte
  • Radhames (67 ERA) Liz
  • Jim Morris
  • Dennis Quaid aka Jim Morris
  • Tim Robbins aka Nuke LaLoosh
  • Kevin Costner aka Billy Chapel
  • Chad Fox and his shattered elbow
  • Dave Dravecky, his Christian faith, and his missing upper limbs
  • Jim Abbott and his neat-o glove trick
  • sMel Rojas
  • Dave Smith
  • Rod Beck
  • Donnie Moore
  • Bird Fidrych
  • Hoyt Wilhelm

In other words, neither man has been effective whatsoever this year, and are not trusted by Sweet Lou.  So we have a five-man pen.  The release of Cotts shouldn't come back to bite us, and I am pretty confident at this point that the Giants will not want Patton back, so if the organization believes he shows promise, we ought to be able to demote him to Tennessee or Iowa without much difficulty.

Anyone with the least bit of relieving experience would be an improvement at this point, alive, dead, crippled, or even imaginary.  It is time to pull the plug.

And now, a word from Cold Hard Reality

If you have not done so, please check out the Blue Kool Aid Party.

Now, please notice I have attached the "bullpen" tag to this post.  For we only have about 3/7th of one right now.  Sweet Lou is only comfortable in using Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman, and Kevin Gregg, and he also knows that as long as Gregg's knee is screwed up, Gregg is only good for one inning - in fact, only one warmup.

Anyone watching lately can attest to Lou's growing disgust with Neal Cotts, although in Cotts' defense, he was never a LOOGY, and should not be used like one.  And it is fortunate I am having a bowl of cereal as a post-dinner snack, because I have my milk carton out, and on it is pictures of Angel Guzman, David Patton and Luis Vizcaino.  I'm surprised Kurt isn't batshit crazee right now, because it looks like his mancrush Marmol is gonna pitch even MORE innings than last year!

We're not winning 110 games with a three-man bullpen.  Heck, we're not winning 95 games with a three-man bullpen.  Considering the strength of our starting five, along with the dynamic offense, I think we'd finish above .500 with a three-man bullpen, and we would be DAMN happy to do so,

It is true that our starting staff is stronger than what we started with last year.  It is also true that with a functioning Milton Bradley, a healthy Alfonso Soriano and a maturing Geo Soto, our offense is better than what we started with last year.

But, we can only run out Heilman, Marmol and Gregg three, maybe four days a week and retain their effectiveness.  Maybe Cotts would be able to mop up a couple of innings now and again.  But I have seen absolutely ZIP that suggests to me that Angel Guzman is an effective reliever.  He has been given chance after chance - hell, he's been rehabbing longer than Mary Prior!!  Cut his ass loose already.  As for Vizcaino and Patton - I have no idea what they can do.  Vizcaino pretty much sucked this spring, but he makes $4 million, which is a mere sliver of the current $135 million payroll.  Are we going to piss away the remaining $131 million to save the 4??  Patton has never pitched about Class A - the time is here, now, to throw him out there to see what he can do.  Heilman's arm is going to fall off if he has to pitch every spare inning before we can get to Marmol and Gregg.

Sorry, the glass ain't full of Kool Aid here.  Not yet, not as long as Lou is scared to use his entire pen.

Closers, Ex-Govs and Caps. Oh my.

I don’t often agree with Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch. Hell, I’m not even agreeing with him now actually. I’m merely recognizing that the words he wrote today happened to fall into an order that made sense for about a paragraph.

In his most recent column, Couch wrote this...

“Something weird is happening here with the Cubs. Understand this: The latest news is about Carlos Marmol. It's not that Kevin Gregg is the Cubs' new closer, but that Marmol is not.”

He them promptly followed up this kernel of logic with about 700 words of non-sensical rambling. No wonder the Sun-Times is going bankrupt (Hey-O).

But Couch is right in the sense that the real news here is about Marmol and not Gregg, but for a reason that I think is less obvious. (Full disclaimer first: I am a supporter of Gregg as the closer over Marmol. Big deal. You wanna to fight about it?)

Kurt and Rob already discussed the two sides of the Great Closer Debate of 2009 with reasonable arguments for both pitchers, but maybe Lou is telling us something about the state of the bullpen. A while ago, I wrote a post about the bullpen turnover and how the current ‘pen looks almost completely different than the ’08 model. Now things look even more different. When it’s all said and done (and the fate of the Shark is decided), Marmol could very well be the only significant returning reliever.

While it’s true that Gregg had an excellent spring, perhaps Lou’s decision to give Mr. LensCrafters the closing role was based on his need to have some sustainability and familiarity in the bullpen. Lou knows what Marmol can do and he knows what Marmol is good at.  But for guys like Gregg, Heilman and Vizcaino, there’s going to be an adjustment period.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think Lou would be afraid to take a chance on Marmol as the closer if he had confidence in the rest of his bullpen. So while I think Gregg is probably the right choice for the start of the season, I’m also worried about the state of the ‘pen.

Wrigley (expletive) Field

Strange article in the Trib today about Blago’s secret talks with Tribune Co. over the state purchasing Wrigley Field. The story has cameo appearances from familiar Cubs names like Sam Zell, Crane Kenney, John McDonough, Lou Piniella and even Larry Rothschild.

I knew Ex-Gov was a fan, but he might as well have been the third base coach with all the contacts he had in the organization.

Anyway, the article says that Blago was trying to save Wrigley from the evil powers of Old Man Zell, who wanted to demolish the stadium and erect a new park in the mold of Coors Field. Or maybe Blago just wanted to hold the sale of the Cubs and Wrigley Field hostage until he could force Zell to fire Chicago Tribune journalists who criticized him?

I highly doubt that Zell wanted to build a new stadium. The dude probably wanted to sell the Cubs and Wrigley from Day 1. Why would he waste time building a new stadium? so the hostage theory makes more sense to me.

The moral of this story is that Blago is not really a Cubs fan. How do I know this? Well, if he was threatening to slow the sale of the team/stadium for his own personal gains, then that means he had no regard for the Cubs’ attempt to trade for Jake Peavy. Clearly the team cannot get Peavy until the sale is final. Why would a true Cubs fan get in the way of that? Answer that question sir!

Plus all those expletives makes him sound more like a Sox fan to me.

Victory over the Red-Bill Caps?

On cubs.com, everyone’s favorite “journalist” Carrie Muskat had one of her always entertaining mailbag articles in which she answered questions from fans just like you.

One reader asked about the disappearance of the CoolFlo helmets and the reemergence of the standard batting helmet.

For those of you not as uni-obsessed as I am, the Cubs wore the new, futuristic CoolFlo helmets last season. The new helmets have fancy vents and are supposedly more comfortable than the older models. However, the team returned to the standard model this spring and will use the older version in the 2009 season. According to Muskat, this is because the CoolFlo helmets broke too easily. Tell that to Sammy Sosa’s face.

Anyway, while this was something I have been wondering for the past few weeks, Muskat drops some intriguing info in at the end of her answer.

“Also, no red bill on their caps,” she writes.

Wait, what? Does this mean the Cubs have finally decided to ditch the horrendous red-bill road caps that I despise with my every waking breath? Or are the simply not going to be wearing red on their away batting helmets anymore?

Damn you Muskat! Why do you taunt me like this? These 7 words are going to haunt me until Opening Day!

Viva la all blue caps. The revolution lives.

Vizcaino reeks - I know it, you know it, and Lou knows it, too

Somewhat socially unacceptable, ethnically-inspired man hugs and perhaps even cheek-kissing for Uncle Lou today, upon reading that he is considering dumping convicted arsonist Luis Vizcaino and his ineffective-since-the-steroid-era throwing arm.

Of course, what Mr. Piniella provides us is cloaked in cliche - "Contracts don't matter.  The best pitchers will pitch."  Everyone from Connie Mack on down has said THAT!  However, there seems to be more sunk costs being eaten this year than ever before, right, Odalis Perez?  You too, Duaner Sanchez.  The fact that we "gave up" the Marquis Du Suck does not matter, because we did not trade La Marquis for Vizcaino's services.  We traded him for Milton Bradley's services.  Vizcaino was always just an afterthought; bonus extra gravy points if he ever started getting guys out again. 

Alas, he is the worst pitcher in camp, and while it is mildly refreshing to hear Uncle Lou grumble about him, I entirely believe that his are not Idle Threats.  Unless Vizcaino can start punchin' fools out right quick, we aren't going to have to suffer through his frequent bouts of suckitude just because his 2009 W-2 will show taxable income in excess of 4 million dollars American. 

So what are we looking at?  Marmol and Gregg.  Heilman (0.00 ERA) and Gaudin (5.14 in two "starts").  Neil Cotts has not given up a run this spring.  The Shark, who I still say would be best served starting the year in Iowa's rotation, may end up in the pen after all.  If not, perhaps Rule V guy David Patton.  Mike Stanton seems to be done to a crisp.  Kevin Hart has been nothing short of combustible this spring.  Angel Guzman had to run off to take a call.  2003 called - it wants its potential back.

Finally, we come to the LOOGY question - and Uncle Lou does all but anoint non-roster invitee Jason Waddell, good old Number 76, as "someone to watch".  Is he distantly related to Hall-of-Fame flake Rube Waddell?  Anyway, New Rube has 7 punchouts in 6 innings, and the skipper is impressed with his control.  Naturally, a dude with a Bicentennial Back flies under the radar.  Not anymore - it will be interesting to see if he can handle the newfound pressure Lou has put on him, by introducing him to the world.

If he starts heaving stink bombs, then maybe they pull off a minor trade, or sign Joe Biemel out of Purgatory. 

Canada is spitting the bit in the WBC - so maybe we'll get to see the Corey Koskie show sooner than we first expected.  Finally, former ManCrush Kosuke Fukudome has reached base 6 times in 11 appearences in the WBC.  Maybe he has it figured out.  Let's hope so.

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