This will be a disjointed post. It will encompass all sorts of issues facing the Cubs during this offseason, including personnel, role decisions, and contract decisions. Lets jump right in.
From a management perspective, the Cubs' house is in order very early in the offseason. The new Cubs manager is an Alpaca (he has alopecia). Jumbo Jimbo gets at least one more offseason to fix his own messes. The Ricketts family now has a year of ownership under its belt, and I do believe they have a vision that goes beyond the mens room piss-troughs. At the field level, the Cubs are a team in transition. All time great Cub Derrek Lee (yeah I said it) is gone, as is Terrible Ted Lilly. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva are all in the last year's of their respective contracts. I don't expect any to return in 2012. The window to win with the old guard has slammed decidedly shut, which is why the first move the Cubs should make is....
SIGN STARLIN CASTRO TO A LONG TERM EXTENSION.
This should be a no brainer for Hendry, which is precisely why I doubt it'll get done. The Cubs should be beating down Castro's door with a long term extension that would eat up Starlin's arbitration eligible years, with club options that would keep him off of the free agent market.Starlin was promoted to the majors for good on May 7, 2010. Unless the new CBA does away with "Super Two" status, the 2012 season will be the last year that the Cubs will have Castro for the league minimum salary. The time to sign him to an extension is right now, when the Cubs can lock in substantial long term savings in exchange for security on the player's part. 6 years, $30M, with 2-3 club options at $10-$12M sounds about right for a player who has less than a full year of service time. This would guarantee the Cubs the right to Starlin's best years, and save them a ton of money that can be invested elsewhere. Once the club guarantees its future with its best player, it's time to look to 2011. The Cubs have an opening at 1B which they should fill by....
SIGNING CARLOS PENA TO A 1 YEAR CONTRACT.
The Cubs have nothing in the pipeline at 1B, so they'll be acquiring their starter through free agency or trade. I like Pena for a number of reasons.
1) Pena is likely to be underpaid next year no matter where he signs. Pena had a superficially ugly season, posting a .196 batting average which was anchored by a .222 BABIP. He also failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2006, when he spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Pena has a career OBP of .351 and a career slugging % of .490. A Scott Boras client, Pena may accept a 1 year, incentive laden contract to allow him to rebuild his open market value for a larger payday in 2012. He could provide a handsome return on investment next season with a return to form.
2) Pena is an average 1B. He's no "Rodan", but he fields his position well. I see the acquisition of a decent 1B as an investment in the team's future. Starlin Castro is still learning his position, and he will continue to make mistakes as he grows at the major league level. If for no other reason than to protect the kid's psyche, it behooves the Cubs to acquire a 1B who will be able to corral some of his errant throws. Castro is the Cubs future, and the team should do everything in its power to help him develop.
3) For those of you who put stock in such matters (Rob), Pena has a reputation as a Jim Thome type clubhouse leader. He's both extremely well liked and vocal, and could join Ryan Dempster as the de facto clubhouse leaders.
4) Pena is left handed. The Cubs have lacked a left handed power threat for what seems like decades. Pena makes the offense far more dangerous against right handed pitchers, whom the Cubs continue to struggle against.
5) He's not Adam Dunn. No offense to the Big Donkey, but his signing would be a huge setback for the Cubs. Dunn is a better hitter than Pena, but they are remarkably similar players. Unlike Pena, Dunn is said to be asking for 4 years, at more than $10M per year. The Cubs are only now starting to dig out from their stable of long term, big money contracts to declining veterans. Dunn just turned 31, and his is the kind of body that frequently ages quickly. He's the type of player a team adds when it's one piece away, not 5 or 6 pieces away. This team is just not built to compete for a world championship in 2011, so signing a guy long term who's best days are likely behind him doesn't make much sense.
With Pena in the fold, the "Tyler Colvin to 1B" concept goes out the window. The Cubs still need to figure out exactly what they have with Colvin, which is why they should....
INSTALL TYLER COLVIN AS THE EVERYDAY RIGHT FIELDER.
Colvin might be the Cubs' long term left handed power threat. It will depend on his ability to learn the strike zone at the major league level. Tyler's rookie year was extremely impressive, but I'm still not convinced that he isn't the next Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully, the Cubs will have the patience to give Tyler 600 plate appearances in 2011. If he's really the player he appeared to be this past season, the Cubs will realize substantial savings in free agency that can be invested elsewhere. In a development/consolidation season, it's worth finding out exactly who Tyler Colvin is, and what his future is with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the Cubs already have a left handed RF on the roster, who would stand to lose significant plate appearances to Colvin if he's no longer "the starter." Many fans are calling for the Cubs to trade Fukudome. Not I. The best way to utilize him is to....
ROTATE KOSUKE FUKUDOME THROUGH ALL 3 OF SPOTS AGAINST RH STARTING PITCHING.
Trading Fukudome is unlikely to net the Cubs anything of value. They'd need to swallow at least half of the $14.5M salary before they could move him at all, and they won't get much more than minor league roster filler in return. His is just a bad, bad contract. However, it's a sunk cost, and a bad contract does not equal a bad ballplayer. The Cubs should utilize Kosuke so as to realize the most return on their investment. Fukudome has a career wOBA of .351 against right handed pitching, which is 11% better than the average hitter. Both his career OBP and his career slugging are significantly higher against righties than against lefties. Considering the Cubs struggles against right handed pitchers, Fukudome SHOULD be playing against right handed starters.
Rotating Fukudome will help keep Soriano and Byrd fresh and healthy, will improve the OF defense on days that he is playing, and will ensure that he stays engaged during the season. On days he doesn't start, Fukudome is the first LH bat off of the bench. Kosuke should get 250-300 plate appearances, even though he isn't the "starter."
At this point, the Cubs would have 38 players on its 40 man roster. They'll need to make some changes to the 40 man roster during the offseason to make room for other additions, and protect their top prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the Cubs MUST....
ADD CHRISTOPHER ARCHER, MARQUEZ SMITH AND BRANDON GUYER TO THE 40 MAN ROSTER.
All three of these players would be exposed to the other major league teams in this winter's Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Archer is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, and was the most 'projectable' player acquired by the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa trade. What he lacks in his ability to make the Trixies wet, he makes up for with a mid nineties fastball and a sharp, diving curveball. Last year, Archer pitched 142.1 innings split nearly evenly between High-A Daytona and AA Tennessee. He averaged a 3.16 FIP across those two levels with a K/9 rate of 9.45. He's got the chance to be great.
Marquez Smith is not likely to be great, but he might be the Cubs' next 3B. He's a little old for a prospect (26 in March), but he showed good patience and great power in AAA last season. At worst, he should serve as an Aramis Ramirez injury insurance policy, and an acceptable bridge to Josh Vitters. If he's a late bloomer, he could seize the starting job at 3B and hold it for years. It's worth finding, right?
Brandon Guyer is probably the Cubs' second best outfield prospect, after Brett Jackson. He's a speed guy who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts at AA Tennessee this past season. He plays all three outfield positions, although I can't find any data on his center field range. If he can play CF well, it certainly raises his value to the Cubs and other teams.
To make these additions, the Cubs are going to need to make some subtractions first. Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir should both be DFA'd. If they clear waivers, keep them around, but they don't belong on the 40 man roster at this point. That leaves one roster spot available for the Cubs to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, or for Hendry to give to the mediocre reliever he gives 3 years and $12M to.
You'll notice that my plan leaves no room for big changes on the pitching staff. This is intentional. The Cubs have more than enough quality arms to fill out their rotation and bullpen. The internal roles for a few of the Cubs pitchers are still undefined. Right now, the Cubs seem intent on using Andrew Cashner as a reliever. I hate this idea, and I believe the Cubs should....
GIVE THE #5 STARTER JOB TO ANDREW CASHNER.
Dempster and Los Dos Carloses are already penciled in for the first three rotation slots. Randy Wells probably gets the fourth spot based on incumbency, but I doubt he'll keep his position in the rotation all year. Based on last year's usage, the #5 starter gig probably goes to either Tom Gorzellany or Casey Coleman. GORZ did enough to earn the spot last season, and Coleman has an argument as well based on his late season audition.
The Cubs should disappoint them both, and give the job to Andrew Cashner. Cashner's physical skills are far better than either GORZ or Coleman. He's been a starter in the Cubs' system for a while now, and we know he can do it in the minors. It behooves the Cubs to give him the chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors. If his command and secondary pitches develop, he could be an Ace pitcher. That's worth gambling on in 2011.
Finally, there is the matter of the batting order. I'm a big Lou Piniella homer, but he lost some of my support this season by refusing to let the Cubs' best hitter bat in the middle of the order. The Cubs can improve their offensive output in 2011 by....
BATTING GEOVANY SOTO THIRD IN THE ORDER.
This is another one of those "should be no brainers" that will nevertheless not happen. Soto posted the highest wOBA of any Cubs hitter last year, and at 28 years old next season, is firmly in his prime. He is the Cubs best hitter, and he should be hitting third as a result.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:
Kosuke Fukudome: CF/LF
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Carlos Pena: 1B
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano/Marlon Byrd: CF/LF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano: LF
Carlos Pena: 1B
Marlon Byrd: CF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Esmailin Caridad/Jeff Samardzija
John Fucking Grabow
Whew. That got long. Thanks for sticking with me, if you made it this far.
I believe if the Cubs follow this plan, they will finish in fourth or fifth again next season, but they will make serious progress towards becoming an NL Central force, year in and year out. Way back at the top, I mentioned that I believed in the Ricketts, and that they do have a plan for this franchise. Tom has stated publicly that he wants to build the team through scouting and development, and I applaud him for that. I believe that this is the only way to ensure a competitive team, year in and year out. The Cubs should take their lumps in 2011, knowing that 2012 might be the start of something special.
The trade of Derrek Lee to Atlanta has thrown 1B into a state of flux. Charitably speaking, the Cubs now have three first basemen on the roster: Xavier Nady, Micah Hoffpauir, and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs will want a full time first baseman entering the 2011 season. I'll present some of the options before the Cubs, along with pros and cons for each option.
Tyler has the power to succeed as a major league regular, if not the plate discipline. His .356 season wOBA has been 19% better than league average. However, his on base percentage is a subpar .314, and he's rocking 4 strikeouts for every free pass. He's had a successful rookie season, but I want to see more.
- He's already on the roster and makes the league minimum. Putting Colvin at 1B allows the Cubs to use their resources elsewhere. For instance, a 9 year contract extension for Castro....
- He hits for enough power to not be a liability at the position. Tyler leads all major league rookies with 19 HR in only 333 plate appearances. Averaged out over 550 plate appearances, that's 31ish HR. If Colvin is a 30 homer hitter, bat him sixth in the lineup and forget about his mediocre plate discipline.
- If Colvin plays 1B, Fukudome won't be the world's most expensive sub. We all know Kosuke's faults, and I won't reiterate them here. Instead, lets focus on what he does well: He reaches base. This season he's gotten on base at a .374 clip. That's second on the team behind only Soto and his outstanding .403 OBP. In limited PA's, Kosuke has still been worth 1.4 WAR on the season. Yes it's nowhere near what he's being paid, but his contract is a sunk cost. Better to get him off the bench and in the lineup, where he can contribute. Plus, it'll allow the Cubs to audition him for a trade.
- Can he play 1B at the major league level? No one knows because he hasn't played there with any regularity in over five years. I'm inclined to believe he can do it, as he plays an average corner outfield. However, the uncertainty might scare the Cubs brass into looking elsewhere.
- If the power isn't for real, he'll be a black hole of suck. That's the largest issue with Colvin. 353 career PA is a small sample size, and we know he has holes in his swing that pitchers can exploit. If Colvin can't improve his plate discipline or reproduce his power output, he'll be one of the worst 1B in the majors.
Most Cubs fans seem to think that Soriano's eventual move to 1B is fait accompli. If that's true, wouldn't it make sense to move him now, when there is an opening at the position?
- Playing 1B might keep Sori healthier. Alfonso can still hit, even if he can't run, and keeping him healthy and on the field will be the key for the remainder of his career. A shift to 1B means less running, which should help preserve his legs for launching the bat at the baseball.
- It makes sense to move him before his defense collapses. As he gets older, Soriano will cover less ground in LF, which means more fly balls will fall in and more runs will be scored against the Cubs. Soriano will be here for another 4 seasons, so it seems reasonable to make the move now, before he becomes an epic liability in the outfield.
- As noted above, there is an opening at the position, so the time seems ripe to let Alfonso start getting comfortable there.
- Putting Soriano at 1B allows both Colvin and Fukudome to start in the outfield.
- This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but Soriano is still pretty good in the outfield. This season, his play has been worth 12.3 runs saved over 150 innings, versus the average outfielder. In layman's terms, he is still contributing with the glove, no matter how ugly he looks doing it. Last year he was below average in the outfield, but he was hurt and I'm prepared to give him a pass for it. In 2008, he was worth an impressive 25.5 runs saved above average over 150 innings. The guy is nowhere near the statue that his reputation would have you believe, and moving him from LF next season might actually weaken the outfield defense.
Aramis is likely to exercise his $14.6 million player option in the offseason, and return to the Cubs. I'll be happy to see him stay, as the guy is still capable of being a great player. This season was atrocious, but he was playing hurt for much of it and has been victimized by bad luck on balls in play. I fully expect a bounce back 2011 from Rami.
- Ramirez's health is an issue as much as Soriano's is. Moving across the diamond to an easier defensive position might help keep him on the field and productive at the plate.
- Unlike Soriano, Ramirez is pretty bad in the field. He hasn't posted a league average or better UZR/150 since 2007, and that was 3 years and multiple injuries ago. Moving Ramirez to 1B might improve the Cubs defensively.
- Moving Ramirez shakes up the rest of roster, and probably necessitates a free agent signing. Legend has it that Blake DeWitt is an excellent 3B, but his bat would be pretty pathetic at the hot corner, and I don't see the Cubs going in that direction. There aren't many quality 3B free agents this coming offseason. The class is headed by Adrian Beltre, who I covet, but he'd be expensive and is already 32 years old. Long term, big money contracts to older veterans is the kind of shoddy roster construction that I've accused Cruller Jim of on dozens of occasions around here. I haven't had a sudden change of heart, and dropping millions on a free agent when this team is 4 or 5 players away from contention seems foolish.
I expected the Cubs to sign the big donkey after the 2008 season. Instead, they opted for Milton Bradley. That didn't work, and the popular speculation is that the Cubs won't pass on Dunn twice.
- Dunn seems like a panacea for this roster. He's a left handed slugger who has hit historically well at Wrigley Field (although that might be an indictment of our pitching staffs of yore.) He's always featured old man skills like walking and hitting for power, so he may age more gracefully than players who depend on speed or athleticism. His full time position change to 1B has even made him an average defender. Dunn used to remind me of a buffalo on ice skates in the outfield. He was that comically terrible. This year, as a full time 1B, he has been worth 2 full wins more than last season, with almost 6 weeks left to play. The difference is in his defense, which has been about average at 1B.
- Money and length of contract. MLBTradeRumors speculates that it will take a 4 year offer to get Dunn to sign a contract. That's a lot of years for a guy who is already 31, and should be entering the downside of his career. 4 years/$50 million seems likely to me, and it wouldn't surprise me if that was low. Anybody else think Dunn will fail to produce to the level of that contract?
- Signing Dunn will cost the Cubs their second round draft pick. Washington intends to offer Dunn arbitration. Dunn projects to be a type "A" free agent, so if the Cubs subsequently signed him as a free agent, they would forfeit a draft pick. Because of their dogshit play this season, the team is projected to have the #6 overall draft pick, which would be protected, and the Cubs would instead lose their second rounder. Although with Pauper Tom in the owners box, the Cubs will probably squander their draft picks on bad but cheap amateurs. Scratch this one.
Some other free agent?
The corner infield cupboard is bare in the Iowa and Tennessee, so the Cubs will have to grab a different free agent if they don't go any of the routes suggested above. This is not an ideal situation.
Lets hear your preferences. How should the Cubs fill their 1B vacancy next season?
All statistics, as always, from fangraphs.com.
Generally speaking, I don't blame Lou for the debacle that this season has turned into. When your two best hitters have combined for -.8 WAR midway through June, there isn't much you as a manager can do to improve the situation. That said, I have a nit to pick with the skipper. Why is frat boy favorite Ryan Theriot still leading off? By almost every measure available, Theriot is having an awful season at the plate. His sub par .326 on base percentage and complete lack of power have left Theriot with a weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .300. By contrast, hated ex-leadoff man Alfonso Soriano has a respectable .346 on base percentage and his wOBA is a robust .386.
Other regulars/semi regulars who would serve as better leadoff men than Theriot: Derrek Lee (.314 wOBA), Marlon Byrd (.403 wOBA), Geovany Soto (.387 wOBA), Tyler Colvin (.411 wOBA), Kosuke Fukudome (.360 wOBA), Mike Fontenot (.342 wOBA).You get the point. Theriot's empty batting average and gutty scrappitude have kept him at the top of the Cubs lineup for far too long. Piniella would immediately make this team better if he moved Theriot into the 7 or 8 slot in the lineup and gave those extra at bats to one of the better hitters on this team.
(For a detailed description of wOBA and why it's one of the best measures of total offensive contributions, click here: http://saberlibrary.com/offense/woba/.)
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.
It's Monday morning, and I felt like clicking around Fangraphs for a minute. So I did, because I'm my own man.
I'm looking at the RAR leaderboard, where RAR stands for runs above replacement. If work is slow for you this morning and you haven't ever looked at RAR before, it might be worth your while to Google it; for those of us familiar with the stat, and for those trusting enough to look at a "leaderboard" without thinking too hard about it, follow along as I go through the list of who Fangraphs thinks has been the most valuable Cub so far this season at every position around the diamond.
C - Geovany Soto (11.9 RAR, #3 overall)
Were you expecting Three-Fingers Hill? Soto's got a low batting average, but his 30 walks have boosted his OBP to .426. A lot of
those walks are likely a result of hitting in front of the pitcher, so
if Lou continues to insist on starting Theriot (a bigger if than you might think), maybe we should put someone without power down in that spot and move
Soto, with his four doubles and four homers, up to 7th.
1B - Derrek Lee (0.4 RAR, #11 overall)
The hitting has not been there, but of course you knew that. He's actually hitting more line drives this year than he did in 2009, but apparently the ball keeps finding a glove, as his batting average on balls in play is at .250 right now (his career rate is .320). I know he's older, but the numbers really do bode well for a D-Lee turnaround later this season.
2B - Mike Fontenot (4.8 RAR, #6 overall)
Here's the first biggish surprise of the session: Mike's been more valuable to the team than Theriot thus far. He's got the Riot's on-base skills (.309 average, .352 OBP) -- plus an ounce of power, with six doubles and a homer this year. Perhaps Fontenot should be starting at second more often; I definitely buy it.
3B - Jeff Baker (3.5 RAR, #8 overall)
Baker hasn't really been that great. But, of course, Aramis has been worse. To Jeff's credit, Fangraphs likes his defenseive performance at 3B so far this year. And he does have some power (two doubles, a triple, and two homers). He'll give you an average performance -- which quite frankly is a whole lot better than what Aramis has given so far this year.
In fact, Aramis Ramirez has been worth 11.7 runs below replacement. That's what you get with 40 strikeouts in 156 at-bats, too many fly balls and not enough line drives, and an inability to hit fastballs. Where D-Lee's numbers look primed for a comeback, Aramis' do not.
SS - Starlin Castro (4.5 RAR, #7 overall)
In just the short time he's been up, Darlin' Starlin has already made himself more valuable to the team than the man he replaced at shortstop. Even with the bunches of errors at the start of his big league career, Fangraphs thinks Castro has been the better defensive player. And once again, Theriot's lack of power hurts him in comparisons to other infielders. Castro has four extra base hits in 66 plate appearances, with two homers; Theriot has five XBHs in 192 plate apperances, with zero long balls.
LF - Alfonso Soriano (19.1 RAR, #2 overall)
Byrd's shown great power this season, but Soriano has been even
better. He has 15 doubles, nine homers, and a triple this season -- all
while hitting .326. Nice.
His defense has actually been about average, too. What Soriano lacks in
glove, he makes up for in range and arm strength. But it's the bat
that's made him so valuable to this team.
CF - Marlon Byrd (19.5 RAR, #1 overall)
Of Byrd's 53 hits this year, 23 have gone for extra bases (16 2B, 7 HR). He's even got three steals. Fangraphs also likes his contribution defensively, suggesting he's saved five runs more than a league average center fielder.
But write this number down: 52.2%. That's the percentage of pitches seen inside the strike zone by Byrd, and I think it'll go down as the season goes on. Why, you ask? He's been hacking: he's struck out 24 times this year, and walked just six times (Byrd swings at 32.7% of pitches thrown out of the zone; league average is 27.6%).
RF - Tyler Colvin (9.2 RAR, #4 overall)
Putting Xavier Nady (-1.6 batting RAR) in the starting line-up over Colvin (5.0 batting RAR) is crazy enough. Turns out, the numbers so far suggest the Tylermaniac might be on his way to beating out Kosuke as the every day right fielder.
Unfortunately, I've never read a single scouting report that suggested Colvin has the same kind of star-powered ceiling as does a guy like, say, Darlin' Starlin. But with the plus speed, good glove, and decent power, he might still be better than Kosuke, who is once again fading quickly now that April is over (.344/.443/.641 last month, .259/.348/.414 in May).
So that's that. Speaking of which, how's this look for a line-up against righties:
Crazy, sure -- but how crazy?
The Cubs have had a very good and somwhat lucky week. Here is where they stand:
Cubs current record: 19-23
Cubs expected record: 20-22
Cubs runs scored: 192 runs, 4.57 per game, 9th in NL
Cubs wOBA standing: .336, 6th in NL, expected runs 203.
Cubs ERA: 4.29 10th in NL
Cubs RA: 4.71 10th in NL
Cubs xFIP: 4.01 3rd in NL
The Cubs luck is beginning to even out since I last reported this. My guess is, they probably should be about 23-19 or 24-18 right now. BTW, when Ramirez and Lee start hitting it should allow all these hitting numbers to increase. I'm hopeful about the next month. We aren't out of it yet. As of now, I believe we are going to make it to 85 wins. I'll try to leave one of these reports every Friday before the weekend.
Newsflash: The Cubs are playing terrible right now. But it just doesn't comport with the facts of this team in my eyes. I don't get it. Why are they losing?
Mostly, it's just bad luck. I know that seems like hyperbole but let's look at some basic information on the Cubs.
The Cubs, coming into today's game, were tied for 5th in the NL in runs scored but 7th in the NL in runs scored per game just above league average.
The pitching looks much worse as the Cubs came into today's game 11th in ERA. The runs scored/runs allowed results in a pythagorean won loss record of 17-19, 2 games better than the 15-21 record they had coming into today's game.
So they should be 2 games better just assuming the runs scored/runs allowed were fairer but even that isn't fair. The Cubs should have scored slightly more runs and should have allowed a ton less. They should be challenging the Cardinals right now.
The Cubs are 5th in the NL in wOBA and haven't been especially lucky offensively. They have a decent K rate, a decent walk rate and above average isolated power. Linear weights suggest they should have scored 181 runs this year, not 167.
To make matters worse, the Cubs are second in the NL in xFIP! Only the Padres are barely better. That is partly a sign that the Cubs defense is worse than expected but it's also a sign that they have been very very unlucky. The Cubs actual record this year should be closer to 22-14, not 15-21. Taking away 2 games for defense (which is probably too many) they still come into today's game at 20-16. Can you imagine how much different the tone would be on this site if the Cubs were actually doing that?
Now, two very annoying facts make all this data less relevant. The first is that the Cubs have buried themselves in a hole so deep that even if they played at this level the rest of the year, they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. The second is that they put up that record against less than stellar opposition. Still, it's a sign that things aren't completely what they seem.
If the Cubs were to play 20-16 baseball (.556) the rest of the season, they would get to 85 wins. That might make them a contender for the NL wildcard. I thought they might be through but maybe not. They need to start showing results that live up to their peripherals but it's the underlying numbers that suggest many have given up a little too early here.
Those are the Cubs' first round draft picks since 2002. Colvin is the first to make it to the major leagues. You know about him. Chances are you know about Vitters, Cashner and Jackson as well. This is a big year for Vitters. Despite hitting .444 in big league spring camp this Spring, Vitters didn't draw a single walk, and was reassigned to High - A Daytona, where he has a .300 OBP and is OPSing only .657. Last year, split between A - Peoria and High - A Daytona, Vitters had an OBP of .314 and only walked 12 times in almost 500 plate appearances. Not. Good.
Of course if you know anything about Tyler Colvin's minor league career, you know I could be describing him as well. Tyler raked his way onto the big league club this Spring, but he failed to draw a single walk in all of Spring Training. In limited action (27 plate appearances) this April, Colvin has drawn 3 walks and K'd 5 times, for a respectable OBP of .346. He's also played the OF well in limited playing time. This is encouraging, but its an extremely small sample size. It would be the first time in Colvin's professional career that he's shown any kind of strike zone judgment.
Unfortunately, this is the type of position player that Hendry continues to favor. Both Colvin and Vitters were toolsy ameteurs with little regard for the strike zone. Brett Jackson has shown more patience early in his professional career, but his BB% has dropped from 20% in rookie ball, to 16% at low - A Boise, to 8% at A - Peoria. Jackson is a college hitter, so its not as if he's very young for his level. This isn't an encouraging trend.
As for the pitchers, Brownlie and Pawelek were absolute busts. Brownlie is with his third organization and has a career FIP over 5.00. Pawelek hurt his arm tripping over his X Box, and then picked the controller back up and continued playing. He's with the Reds' High - A affiliate right now, praying he doesn't get called up to the big league squad. Dusty Baker has a taste for rookie pitchers' bone marrow. Sucks it right out of their pitching arms. Look it up.
Here's the point: The Cubs have not done well in the draft, and its cost them at the big league level. When you can't develop your own high performing ballplayers, you have to buy them from someone else. That's how you end up with Milton Bradley in RF. Most of the top teams in baseball have star players on the big league roster playing for less than they would receive in free agency. Let me walk you through it:
NYY - Robinson Cano was worth 4.7 WAR last season, and was only paid $6 million.
Boston - Kevin Youkilis was worth 6 WAR, and Dustin Pedroia was worth 4.9. Together they were paid $8 million.
Tampa - Evan Longoria was worth 7.2 WAR. Ben Zobrist was worth 8.3 WAR.Carl Crawford was worth 5.5. This team would have finished with the best record in the National League. Their triumvirate of home grown stars made less than $10 million together, most of it going to Crawford.
Minnesota - Joe Mauer put up 8 WAR despite missing an entire month of the season. Unreal. Morneau, Span and Kubel were all above 3, and Morneau likely would have topped 4 WAR if he'd been healthy. Scott Baker put up 3.5 WAR while making less than a million dollars.
You might inquire how the top NL teams did. It's the same story in the Senior Circuit:
Philadelphia - Chase Utley was worth 7.6 WAR. Ryan Howard was worth 4.9 WAR. Jayson Werth totaled 4.8 WAR.The Phillies actually paid for Howard and Utley, who earned $11 and $15 million a piece, while Werth was a steal at $2.5 million.
St. Louis - Pujols was worth 8.6 WAR.Wainwright was worth 5.7 WAR.Together they earned about what Soriano is being paid in a single season.
Los Angeles - Matt Kemp was worth 5 WAR. Clayton Kershaw was worth 4.2 WAR. Jonathon Broxton somehow contributed 3 WAR as a CLOSER. He's good, folks. That production cost the Dodgers less than $3 million. Or a weekend in Cabo for Jamie McCourt.
Colorado - This team is the Rays of the National League. They are an absolute pipeline of above average, cost controlled talent. Ubaldo Jimenez (he of the no hitter last week) was worth 5.7 WAR.Troy Tulowitzki was worth 5.5 WAR. Jason Hammel contributed 3.8 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa put up 3.7. They got all that for less than $4 million. And they have a host of great players who will make a huge impact this season, like Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Stewart and Franklin Gutierrez.
Lets look at the Cubs now. Care to guess how many homegrown players put up 4 WAR or better last season? The answer is NO ONE. Only Zambrano and Wells even topped the 3 WAR mark, making them above average but not great pitchers. And for the record, Soriano's WAR last season was slightly below zero. For the uninitiated, that implies the Cubs would have been better sending an average AAA outfielder out to LF instead of Soriano. He was paid $17 million for his efforts.
The ability to develop star players is key to sustained success in today's major leagues. No team, not even the Yankees can simply spend their way to a World Championship. The Cubs continue to scuffle in player development, which is the root cause of their woes in free agency. The free agent market should be a supplement to your roster, not the bedrock on which your team is built. The Cubs entire OF was bought in free agency, and it's a below average group making a ton of money. This isn't working. Unless the Cubs can begin to perform better in the draft, in international free agency, and in developing their young prospects, they will not challenge for a title. I'm excited about the minor leagues for the first time in a long time, but there are plenty of warning signs from even our best prospects. The 'untouchable' Starlin Castro has the same hack first, ask questions later mentality that has held back Vitters and I suspect will limit Colvin. Cashner may not be able to start at the major league level, although I hope the Cubs resist the urge to bring him up now and put him in the bullpen. And years of Korey Patterson/Bobbie Brownlie/Felix Pie/Jeff Samardzija failures have left me a jaded, bitter fan. The farm system just hasn't gotten it done under Hendry's supervision. The Cubs aren't getting the right players into the system, and they aren't developing the players they do have properly. Jim Hendry should be fired.
Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.
Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.
That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.
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I've made no secret of my desire to see Cruller Jim Hendry given his walking papers. I've heard all the arguments in favor of his retention, and they don't hold water for me. Jim Hendry is a liability to the 2010 Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs should remove him. Hendry should be replaced with a general manager who has a better understanding of the market and of those player skills that more accurately correlate with wins.
Because this is my first blog post, I should share a little about myself. I'm a saber admirer, although I can't do the math myself. I believe a few basic concepts that originated with sabermetrics are so well established as to be taken as fact, and that MLB front offices are negligent if they ignore them. The high correlation between OBP and runs scored is one example.
I will regularly refer to WAR in my posts. WAR stands for "wins above replacement." It's a handy tool for summarizing the total wins any single player contributes above a hypothetical 'replacement level' player. It's important to note that a replacement level player would be a well below average major leaguer. The replacement level player is basically any interchangeable AAA ballplayer. For any math masochists who are reading this, here's an excellent explanation of how a hitter's WAR is calculated: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/6/12/906943/war-lords-of-the-diamond-position. WAR is also a handy stat because it can be used to compare a player's individual contributions with his salary.We can then determine whether that player is providing surplus value relative to his salary, or if he is being paid more than he is worth.
I hope that you will agree that Jim Hendry has to go. He is not a good general manager and the roster he has assembled is not a contender, either this season or in the future. Thanks for reading.
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