Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Player Previews

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2010 Player Preview: Ryan Dempster

2010 Player Preview
Ryan Dempster's successful conversion from reliever to starter has been one of the greatest values for the Chicago Cubs over the past few seasons.

You do realize he had a base salary of just $5.5 million in 2008, right? That's the year he pitched 206.2 innings, racked up 187 strikeouts, won 17 games, and posted a 2.96 ERA. Fangraphs estimates his play was worth roughly $22.7 million that season, given his performance over what you'd expect from a replacement-level player.

As they say: Holy Cow!

Last year, Dempster played for a base salary of $8 million, but still managed to provide excellent value for his team. He didn't exactly repeat his 2008 performance, but 200 innings of 3.65 ERA ball are worth about $16 million on the open market, so the team made out like bandits once again.

Of course, this is a series of 2010 season previews, so let's get to the Dempster-related question of the day: What should we expect from Ryan this season?

Based on the numbers I trust, the short answer I'll give you is this: another solid season. Multiple projection systems suggest Demp will be in the 180-200 inning neighborhood once again, and that his ERA will be below 4.00 once again.

For the longer answer, let me point out a few important trends that suggest Demp will be good again in 2010.

First: Remember agonizing over Dempster's insistence on loading the bases before closing out games back when he pitched from the 'pen? A lot of that had to do with walks. From 2004 to 2007, he walked more than four batters per nine innings pitched.

Fortunately, since moving to the rotation, Dempster's BB/9 have gone down. In 2007, he walked 4.05 per 9. In 2008, that was down to 3.31, and in 2009 the number fell again, to 2.93. He probably won't lower that number again this year, but at the very least he's demonstrated an ability to limit those walks (a skill he seemed to forget in 2008 -- GAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!).

Second: In his second go-'round as a starter, Dempster's out pitch only got better last season. Dempster has a nasty slider, which he threw 27.4% of the time in 2008, to extremely positive results. In 2009, he upped that percentage to 34.1%, and opposing batters still couldn't hit it.

The reason it's so good is because it coaxes batters into swinging often, and when they do swing they often miss. In fact, while the average pitcher allowed contact on 62% of balls thrown outside the strike zone, Dempster's number was much lower, at 48.2%. Expect Demp to continue feeding opponents a steady dose of sliders, and expect opponents to continue to struggle against it.

Third: He's Canadian. The Olympics were in Canada. The Canucks won hockey. And let me be clear: I do NOT believe in coincidences.

Let's go ahead and call this one right now. Dempster will be good for 195 innings, 160 strikeouts, 12 wins, and a 3.70 ERA. Seem right to you?

Kurt

Dempster's Quality - More 'Depends' (not the adult diaper kind)

When Ryan Dempster signed his massive, four-year deal with the Cubs after his amazing 17 win season, I (and about every Cub fan with an ounce of common sense) loudly protested against him being rewarded with any contract lasting more than three years. 

I think most of us doubted last year that he'd post the same kind of ERA that he did in '08, but it was both conceivable -- if not probable -- that he'd be reliable.  And he was.  Year Two should be more of the same.  200-or-so innings, as AJ projects, 160-or-more strikeouts, and I'd actually say that Dempster will have an ERA no higher than 3.70, with a possibility of dipping down into the low 3's. 

Either way, his win total will be contingent on two things -- if he can stay healthy and how good the offense is.  With last year's offense, 2010 Dempster is still probably a 12-win guy.  With 2008's offense, he'd be a 15-or-more win guy.  While I doubt that the '10 Cubs are going to be as much an offensive juggernaut as the '08 squad was, I do think they should be a bit better than last year's team. 

For that reason, I'm banking on Dempster winning more than 12 games.  And if the Cubs are good and surprise us with 90 -- or even 87 -- wins or more, then Dempster will likely be responsible for at least 15 of them.  Here's to hope.

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2010 Player Preview: Non-Roster Invitees

Non-Roster Invites
Here at GROTA, we're kicking off a run of preview-type articles, profiling some of the folks you can expect to hear about over the next 30 days as Spring Training gets going. To start, let's talk NRIs.

The Cubs have invited 21 non-rostered athletes (a loosely used term in some cases) to compete for major league spots while the team trains in Mesa. The full list, grouped by position, is available at cubs.com. And with the words that follow, that list will now be available here at GROTA -- except I'm going to group it a bit differently. See if you can't keep up...!

A) HTPs (highly touted prospects):
RHP Andrew Cashner, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Josh Vitters, CF Brett Jackson

Vitters and Jackson are too young to make this team. I think management thinks it's good for their development to be exposed to some major leaguers early on, so that maybe they can pick up some habits, or something.

The latter statement holds true for Cashner and Castro, but unlike JV and B-Jax, I think these guys have a shot -- albeit, an extremely small one. If you've followed any Cubs news so far since everyone got to Mesa, you've already heard all about Castro. Heck, if you believe everything Lou says, if anything happened to Theriot in March, Castro'd be the Opening Day shortstop. Cashner has the stuff to make the team as a reliever, but the men upstairs for the Cubs will, and most certainly should, keep him on track as a starter.

B) The Crash Davis Club
RHP Thomas Diamond, RHP Jeff Kennard, LHP J.R. Mathes, RHP Vince Perkins, INF Blake Lalli, OF Bryan LaHair, OF Bobby Scales, OF Brad Snyder

These guys will all have turned 27 by the end of the 2010 season, and as far as I know have spent the majority of their careers in the minor leagues.

Most folks will remember Bobby Scales' contributions to the 2009 club; great guy, replacement-level baseball player. The only other name on the list I really know anything about belongs to J.R. Mathes. From what I recall, he had a pretty solid year in Iowa last year. His problem: not enough strikeouts to make it to Chicago (remember, our pitching staff led the league in Ks for something like five years).

C) Neither A nor B
RHP Casey Coleman, LHP James Russell, C Robinson Chirinos, C Steve Clevenger, C Chris Robinson, INF Darwin Barney, OF Matt Camp

These guys are still considered young by statistical standards (27 is considered by many to be the peak age for baseball players), and there's some talent in the group, especially at catcher. I've heard good things about Matt Camp; same for Darwin Barney, actually, except he's got a few more guys blocking his path to the big show.

And now, the group you've all been waiting for...

X) "Legitimate" candidates for the 24th and 25th spots on the Cubs' major league roster
1B/cheerleader Kevin Millar, 1B/3B/OF Chad Tracy

To me, it's simple. Since he's left-handed, can play passable defense at at least one position on the field, and has shown the ability to hit within the past two seasons, I can see why Chad Tracy might end up getting a spot on the Cubs' bench.

Since he's right-handed, can't play defense, and hasn't hit squat in the past two years, I don't understand how Millar could possibly make the team.

Rob?

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2009 Player Previews - GROTA Round Table

GROTA Round Table
Welcome to the second annual Goat Riders of the Apocalypse round table!  A few days ago I EMailed the entire GROTA crew with questions on the new season.  Pretty much everybody got back to me.  Below are the answers we came up with... maybe in October I will repost this so we can look back and laugh at how stupid we all are.

Team Questions

1. Who do you think will be the team MVP in 2009?

Kyle - Geo Soto
Rob - I think Soto is the most indispensable, and I am bullish on Bradley. Having said that, I see Ramirez having a monster year.
Byron - Aramis Ramirez - Career Year, 40 dingers and a Gold Glove
Yarbage - I'm going to go out on a limb to pick Milton Bradley. I think it comes down to his over .900 OPS this season.
Jason - It's gotta be Uncle Milton. Sure, you can claim that there's a health risk there, but I think it's kind of like smoking: research into health risks is inconclusive. I kid! But seriously, kids, smoking makes you cool. In a close second we have Uncle Aramis and his ramble rousing band of clutch hitters.
Kurt - So we've got two Sotos, an A-Ram, and a Milton. I think that like last season it will be a roleplayer, and therefore my vote goes to the only roleplayer really on the table this year - Mike Fontenot. He won't put up the best numbers but he'll get the big hits.

2. What teams in the Central will the Cubs have to watch out for?
Kyle - Cards, Reds
Rob - Never ever sleep on the Deadbirds, and the Reds will contend until Cueto's and Volquez' arms fall off.
Byron - The Brewers and the Astros
Yarbage - Probably the Brewers still. They still have a good lineup, and they will probably make another move to bring in a starter.
Jason - St. Louis...because of the Dave Duncan effect. And because nothing's scarier than a team with two converted outfielders in the infield.

The Reds...because I just see them flourishing under the strong leadership of Dusty Q. Baker.

The Pirates...because they'll be driving around in a bus trying to run over the opposition.
Kurt - Trick question! Nobody in the central will come close to competing in 2009!

3. What areas should they look to upgrade at as the season progresses?
Kyle - Bullpen
Rob - All the so-called experts seem to think we wil have to get an outfielder. I think Lou's gonna want his backup 3B.
Byron - The Jake Peavy pitching slot... and shortstop.
Yarbage - My guess is will be the starting pitching, because Harden is going to be on the DL. Dempster will probably regress and Marshall is an unknown.
Jason - The rotation. And if they're interested in another starting pitcher, I think I would see if the Padres have anyone available. Also, it wouldn't kill them to grab a true LOOGY.
Kurt - If Hendry is trying for the death blow, he'll pick up another top-of-the-line starting pitcher. If he's just trying to tighten the team overall, he'll pick up another backup infielder and some arms for the bullpen.

Player Questions

1. Kosukue Fukudome. Project his final numbers.
Kyle - .260/.350/.380, 8 HR, 50 RBI
Rob - gawd. My guy. 8 HR, 36 RBI, .261/.355/.398. Ugh.
Byron - .285/.385/.775 12 HRs, 70 RBI, 85 Runs, 15 steals, 8 assists
Yarbage -.275/.380/.475 with 17 homers and 70 RBI
Jason - 21. Yeah, he's changing his uniform number midseason. Unless you meant his batting line, in which case I would predict:

.273, .373, .414

...because I drink the Kool-Aid
Kurt - Again, we've got diversity here. I'm going to say that he'll play slightly above average. .285/.400/.420 12 HR, 80 RBI, 15 SB

2. Who's the first guy on the DL in 2009?
Kyle - Rich Harden
Rob - Harden. Really really sucked Saturday. I'm sure something's gonna turn up sore.
Byron - Alfonso Soriano's bunny hop.
Yarbage - Rich Harden
Jason - Harden will be on the DL within a month, if he doesn't start the season there. He'll be okay after that, though.
Kurt - I'm shocked that nobody picked Bradley. For that reason, I will.

3. Who spends the most time on the DL in 2009?
Kyle - Rich Harden
Rob - Harden. Unless White Slice breaks his face running into a wall.
Byron - Alfonso Soriano's shredded groin.
Yarbage - Rich Harden
Jason - Koyie Hill. Two of his three Frankenfingers will fall off, keeping him on the DL while the grounds crew searches for his missing digits.
Kurt - Jason with the bold pick. I'm going to say the biggest DL resident will be Rich Harden.

4.Biggest surprise and biggest disappointment?

Kyle - Mike Fontenot (surprise), Ryan Dempster (disappointment)
Rob - My good surprise of the year will be Fontenot. By the end of the year, we will have forgotten he was a part-timer for years. Fukudome is my biggest disappointment already.
Byron - Biggest surprise = Gary Gaetti waiver wire pickup (a.k.a. Jim Edmonds signing.) Biggest disappointment = Fonzi's wasted season.
Yarbage - I think the biggest surprise is going to be Mike Fontenot. Disappointment will be Rich Harden because he looks bad and won't be as dominating.
Jason - The biggest surprise will be that Theriot, once again, carries an OBP over .390. I know! I didn't see it coming either.

The biggest disappointment will be that Lee still can't find his power.
Kurt - I think Sean Marshall is going to surprise us all with how well he pitches. I'm again going to go out on a ledge ... Geo Soto will disappoint us the most. Not because he will have a bad year, but because he won't have a better year than what he did in '08. He'll put up slightly worse numbers but will still be better than most catchers.

5. Which pitcher wins the most games for the Cubs in 2009?
Kyle - Carlos Zambrano
Rob - Big Z finally gets 20
Byron - Carlos Zambrano = +19
Yarbage - Carlos Zambrano finally wins 20 this year.
Jason - Carlos. This is the year! 23 wins for Carlos.
Kurt - A Zambrano love-fest. Add me to the mix. Carlos wins more than 20.

6. Carlos Zambrano - healthy all year long or hurt?
Kyle - Hurt
Rob - This is the year he holds up. 2010, however, might be another story.
Byron - Healthy as a buck.
Yarbage - Big Z is ready to prove all his critics wrong and will make it through the entire season.
Jason - See above.
Kurt - I'm curious about Kyle's pick here ... he thinks the Big Moose will lead the team in wins, but will pitch all year long? Sure, I can join in with that. Carlos wins 24 while being forced to pitch left handed due to surgery on his right shoulder.

7. How many saves does Gregg wind up with - and do you think Marmol will eventually get that job?
Kyle - 40, Marmol will only get to close if Gregg is hurt.
Rob - I see a flip-flop deal happening at least once. I think Gregg will be the closer come playoff time, with 29 saves.
Byron - Gregg gets 25 saves. Marmol won't get the title of closer, but will still amass 10+ saves on the season.
Yarbage - Kevin Gregg ends up with 31 saves. I think he keeps the job all year, but Marmol stays in the 8th to get the major outs when the Cubs are in a jam.
Jason - No, and Gregg finishes with 37 saves. Marmol will scoop up a mere 7 saves, but about a billion holds.
Kurt - I think that Gregg will convert about 70-75% of his saves, which will eventually drive Lou to the brink. Marmol will get the gig in August, leaving Gregg with 20-25 on the year.

Over Unders

1. Wins: 95
Kyle - Under (barely).
Rob - OVER
Byron - Push, leaning toward the over.
Yarbage - Push, I picked 95 wins.
Jason - Push.
Kurt - Over. Way over.

Bonus question ... exactly how many wins will the team finish with this year?
Kyle - 94
Rob - At the risk of angering the baseball gods, I'm going to see last year's 97 wins, and raise ya one. 98.
Byron - 95
Yarbage - 95
Jason - 95, but with a Pythagorean expected record of 153-9.
Kurt
-
I love you guys, but the Cubs are a better team playing in a weaker
division. They're going to win more than they did last year, and
because I'm all about the big proclamations (and "100" just doesn't
look good enough on the Zambran-0-Meter) I will be going with ... 110.

2. Derrek Lee Double Plays: 20
Kyle - Over
Rob - So much has been made about this, that he starts uppercutting to compensate. Under.
Byron - Over. Sadly.
Yarbage -I'm taking under, because he can't win again.
Jason - Under.
Kurt - Under. Just go look at the leaders for the past 5 seasons. You'll notice that nobody trends to the top every single year.

3. Combined homeruns between Lee and Ramirez: 60
Kyle - Under
Rob - Under
Byron - Over. Barely.
Yarbage - Under, D-Lee's power days look to be over and I don't think Aram can hit 40.
Jason - Under, but don't blame Aramis.
Kurt - Under. Lee has gone from hitting like Ernie Banks to hitting like Mark Grace. He'll still be fine, but their combined output won't be as epic as an optimist would hope for.

4. Combined homeruns between Fontenot and Theriot: 15
Kyle - Over
Rob - Over. No thanks to the Riot.
Byron - Under. Fontenot 12. Theriot 2.
Yarbage - I'm going over here, because I think Fontenot might hit 15 himself.
Jason - Way over. You clearly underestimate Theriot's power.
Kurt - Over. Fontenot is going to surprise people. Theriot, not so much.

5. Combined homeruns between Soriano and Bradley: 60
Kyle - Under
Rob - Over.
Byron - Under. Soriano 10, Bradley 25.
Yarbage - I think under here, because Sori and Bradley are both headed to at least one DL stint each.
Jason - Over. Have you sen the power display for Soriano this Spring? The man is ready to play.
Kurt - Over. I think Byron is nuts. Sori's injuries have been flukish - especially the ones he had last season. He'll stay healthy even if Bradley doesn't and the Cubs will have some slugging in the corner outfield spots.

6. Days Bradley's on the DL: 30
Kyle - Under
Rob - Under, but not by much.
Byron - Over. Most of July and August.
Yarbage - I'm going under on this one, mainly because I really hope he stays healthy. We need to stay positive.
Jason - Under, although he'll take more than 30 days off overall. I'm seeing him with about 130 amazing games.
Kurt - Push. two trips to the DL = 30 days.

Playoff Questions

1. Will they get to the post season?
Kyle - Yes, NLC champs
Rob - this year so far, the Cubs have roared off to early leads, which tells me that our lineup is better than anyone else's. So yeah, but...
Byron - Yes. What am I going to say, no?
Yarbage - Yes, if we don't I might go into seclusion like J.D. Salinger.
Jason - Hell yeah.
Kurt - Yes!

2. Can they win the World Series if they do?
Kyle - Of course
Rob - during the two games at Yankee Stadium, they played like....they did the past two playoffs!!
Byron - Yes. If the Devil Rays can make the Series, why can't the Cubs do it?
Yarbage - Yes.
Jason - Yes.
Kurt - HELL yes.

3. Why?
Kyle - This team is built for the playoffs. Versatility on the bench and on defense.
Rob - this team, as constructed, is not built for the Big Show - still no leadership.
Byron - Why Not?
Yarbage - Any team can win once they get to the playoffs. The Marlins have one twice and nobody thought they could. I think this team is flawed, but we are still really, really good. We can only that the Cubs make some moves that put us over the top.
Jason - Because this is the year and they're due and I believe and they'll be fine in '09 and can't hardly wait and he's the one with the gun and special orders don't upset us!

Also because they will clearly be the best team in the playoffs and, with a little luck and a touch less collapselikeacheaplawnchair, they have a better chance than anyone else. Does that mean they'll do it? Well, no, these past two seasons have made that pretty obvious. However, they've put themselves in a great position and all we can do is hope they play will in the playoffs.
Kurt - This is the year!

2009 Player Previews - David Patton

All over Arizona and Florida, young pitchers who have never appeared about High Class A ball have had great springs, and were sent back to minor league camps for reassignment to AA and AAA teams.  However, on the so-called prohibitive NL Central favorite, David Patton is told to haul a neon-orange kiddy backpack full of gum and sunflower seeds for noted snack hogs Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, and Neil Cotts.  For Patton is now a member of your Chicago Cubs.

Should this be surprising?  Maybe not.  One would assume Jim Hendry and his staff scouted Patton extensively before making him their Rule V pick, for they wouldn't waste the pick on someone not likely to make the club.  Patton has pitched well this spring, but even considering that, he was not likely to make the club except as a stopgap security measure, if one of the people being counted on to make the club really sucked. 

And Chad Gaudin really sucked.  I would assume that what happened to him this spring went like this - he wanted to be considered for the fifth starter role.  Both Heilman and Marshall started off strong.  Losing hope, he started pitching worse, and since he was the cheaper of the two "buyout" options - his $2MM to Vizcaino's $4MM - probably started hearing the rumors.  The rumors fed, grew, and eventually became prophecy.

Anyway, even if Patton were to stick with the Cubs all year, he wouldn't even be THE Feelgood Story - that would be Angel Guzman, he of the Seven-Year Rehab.  Basically, all Patton has to do this year is the grunt work - not just packing snacks, but picking up 6th and 7th inning outs.  I can't see him doing that all year - maybe Hendry sees something I don't.  In fact, he probably does.

2009 Player Previews - Carlos Zambrano

Zambrano Player PreviewNote: It's only fitting that Carlos have the most quick links of any Cub written about so far this year.  Because of the multitude, I'm moving them to the bottom of this post.  Actually I might move all quick links to the bottom from here on out ... In fact, feel free to give me your feedback on where the Quick Links should go or if you even want us to continue supplying them

Carlos Zambrano is so tough that the kind of Kryptonite powerful enough to immediately kill Superman is typically called "Carlos Zambrano."

What Carlos isn't, however, is consistent.  At least not last fall.  Between bouts with injury and inconsistency he may have tossed a no-hitter, but Lou had such doubts about Zambrano's ability to git'er done that he actually turned to a Cannuck to throw the first game of a playoff series last October.  Carlos has had tendinitis.  He's had cortisone shots.  Multiple MRI's.  What he hasn't had is arm surgery and the doctors keep telling us that his shoulder is clean and strong, although those same doctors were previously seen standing on the rooftops of Bagdad telling the world that the American infidels were surrendering at the gates.  So what is Carlos's problem?

Carlos Zambrano is so tough that the Rambo movies were actually based on his adventures as a boy in the Venezuelan jungles.

His problem seems to be mechanics.  Now I'm no doctor (although I play one on the subway during emergencies) but Carlos has the tendency to use his upper body more than he uses his legs.  When he throws - rather than pitches - his velocity dips and he gets his ass handed to him.  This is also probably why his arm gets sore.  When Carlos has buckled down and actually listened to his coaches, he's gotten his velocity back up and has succeeded in being effective.  But when his mechanics have been screwy he's gotten lit up, he's lost his cool, and he's missed time with inflamation. 

Carlos Zambrano is so tough that he has regularly spoken out against Vladamir Putin in the Russian media and yet Carlos still lives.

So, what happens now?  Carlos is in only the second year of a massive contract extension.  History has shown us that the modern pitcher who signs huge deals tends to spend most of them wearing casts on their arms.  Carlos has shown signs that he won't make it through the contract healthy.  He may not even make it through 2009.  After watching him last August and September, it's possible that surgery is inevitable.  With the long history of bad luck the Cubs have had with their starters, it seems certain that their misfortune will continue with Carlos.  Doom, gloom, etc.  Have I mentioned that I'm not worried?  Do you know why?

Because Carlos Zambrano is so tough that he would pitch with a knife sticking out of his shoulder if he had to.

He's not invincible, though.  We've learned that.  But if anybody is willing to pitch through pain, it's Carlos Zambrano.  And if he can continue to develop that brain of his, to follow the instructions of Lou and Larry, to use his legs when he trys to burn fastballs past opposing hitters, then I believe Carlos will be just fine.  Maybe he won't be a Cy Young Winner, ever.  Then again, maybe this is the year where he finally puts it all together and wins more than 20.  With the offense behind him, if he can put past the durability problems that plagued him last year, then this just might be his year.  And more importantly, he remains the best Big Game Pitcher the Cubs have.  Hopefully Lou won't forget that, no matter what happens this September.

Quick Links
A First Hand View of the No Hitter (featuring pictures by DB)
Shutterbug Frenzy (featuring more pictures of the no-no by DB)
My Big Z no-hit experience (by Goat Reader dberryhill9)
2008 Season Recap: Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano - Still the Zambino
Carlos Zambrano is a friggin' beast!

2009 Player Previews - Carlos Marmol

Carlos Marmol

Quick Links

Can you believe the season is only a day away? I don’t know about you, but this has been the longest spring ever. So, I have the honor of second to last player preview, unless we decided to look at the batboys or David Patton, if he makes the team. Until then, lets take a look at another bullpen arm.

Coming into this season, everybody thought (including me) that Carlos Marmol would be the closer for the Cubs. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Marmol’s accession to the top spot in the pen. After hedging about joining the World Baseball Classic, Marmol pitched for the Dominican, where he eventually blew a save against the Netherlands. The Netherlands? That’s almost as bad as the Pirates losing to community college in Spring Training (which did happen).

The one thing that I love about Lou Pinella is that he wants competition in Spring Training. For the most part, it works. Guys like Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot are living proof. This year he opened up the closer’s role, and Kevin Gregg stepped up to challenge Marmol. With WBC and a spotty spring, Lou chose Gregg, who hasn’t given up a run all spring. Marmol’s been wild this spring, hitting five and walking two. That’s led to his 4.35 ERA. We can only hope that the Netherlands incident hasn’t carried over to the Cubs.

Marmol has been a workhorse for two seasons, and I’m convinced that his exploits are a major reason the Cubs are two time NL Central Division Champions. In the past two seasons, Marmol has thrown 156 2/3 innings, while striking out 210 with his slider. There are times where he relies on the slider too much, and it has got him in trouble at times when he couldn’t locate his fastball. Last season, he only allowed 40 hits in 87 1/3 innings, which translates into an .0927 WHIP. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Still, with all those numbers, I’m glad Lou gave the closer spot to Gregg. Now, he can continue to use Marmol in the situations where the Cubs need a strikeout or two innings of relief. That being said, Lou does need to balance him out a little bit, because he has looked less than sharp at times. The Cubs have a serious problem, and little depth if Marmol isn’t lights out again this season, but I’m not worried (well, at least not yet).

2009 Players Preview - Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley
Quick Links
Maximum Intenergy

It was a very happy day in my little world.  The Cubs - The Chicago Cubs, mind you - had passed on a couple of safer* options in Bobby Abreu or Adam Dunn and settled on one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball, Milton Bradley.

(* and by "safer", I mean worse.  And by "worse" I mean "stupid".  And by stupid, well, I really just mean worse...that wasn't nice of me, calling them stupid.)

Yeah, he's not as fan friendly as the guy traded to clear budget room for MB, but apparently that's not the deciding factor anymore.  For a team that's historically been built on a foundation of image-first and winning second, this was a bold move. 

The Stats

Holy Crap, you might have said, the Cubs just bought high on a guy coming off an Arlington-inflated season and now he has to try and translate this to the Friendly Confines!  Oh Noes!  But then you realized that Wrigley, as recently as 2007, was a better hitter's park than The Ballpark at Arlington and last year only lagged a bit behind in offensive assistance.

Oh.  Right.  But, you might have said, he's never approached those numbers before.  What do you think of that, Mr. Happy Pants? 

Well, I would say that his 163 OPS+ (63% better than league average) was totally his best season ever with the bat ever in history ever...except for the year before, when he posted a 167 OPS+ (although in limited playing time).  For you bean counters and stats mongers out there, 167 is a bigger number than 163. Oh, and don't call me Mr. Happy Pants.

Oh, sure, right.  That's great.  Use the season where he only played 42 games.  (That's what you say)  Me?  I say, okay, let's look at a couple other seasons.  How about 2003 when he had a 145 OPS+ or 2006 when he had a 153 OPS+?  This is hardly his first time rolling with the big bats.

And finally, how about this spring?  Sure, spring training stats don't mean blah blah blah, but he's hitting .468 with 4 homers, 5 doubles, and an amazing 1367 OPS.  That's really good, and all while playing in the field (something which some have said he can't handle).  So yeah, while spring stats maybe not matter, I'm still happy to see him tearing the cover off the ball. 

So, in summary: Milton Bradley hit good.

The Man

If you've ever read a Chicago paper or listened to a Chicago Sports Talkie, then you may have heard some mention of Bradley's "attitude".  Of course, you probably didn't hear much about his "winning" attitude or his "self confident" attitude.  No, they probably just left it at "bad".  Supposedly, Bradley has a bad attitude.  Is this true?  Well, I'm not going to pretend to have an real insight, but I will say that one should tread lightly when judging Bradley based on what you hear in the media.

A bit back, I wrote a bit about my interpretation of his "acts of aggression."    Mainly I felt that nothing Bradley had done was all that outrageous (and perhaps even justified) and I posted a quote from an article Milton Bradley himself wrote in the NY Times. 

As a 16-year-old sophomore at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in
California, I could only dream there would be days like that one. I
knew I wanted to be a major leaguer. Following in the footsteps of the
great Tony Gwynn (Poly’s most esteemed baseball alumnus) I feel like
I’ve finally arrived. Taking the field in the Big Apple for the final
year of historic Yankee Stadium, where so many greats have stood before
me, I am humbled. This is why Jackie Robinson endured unspeakable hate
and prejudice. So I — some 60 odd years later — have the opportunity to
play this great game of baseball. So I can stand up and be recognized.
So I can be proud to be who I am. So I can be proud to be an American.

To me, that sounds pretty good.  And coming from a lot of players, that would turn him into a saint.  But not Bradley.  No, MB continues to be portrayed in the media as a bad, angry, troublemaking guy.  And I think the folks over at ACB might have figured out why he's constantly portrayed negatively.  Here's a quote from Paul Sullivan explaining why he might find it hard to be impartial with regards to MB:

That’s the whole thing of our jobs.  We’re human and people that treat
us nicer probably get better coverage.  The people, you know, that are
rude to us.. I don’t want to say Milton was rude but he certainly
wasn’t very nice to me.  You know they’re not always going to get the
best coverage
.  So….You try and be an objective person but uh, you know, we are human, ...so.”

Um, yeah.  That's a good point, Paul.  We can't expect a journalist to be impartial.  That would be MADNESS.  I know Sullivan is supposed to be a friend to GROTA and that's cool, but this is a fairly insane comment.  I don't care if you're human, Paul.  Try just being a professional.

So, my point is, just try to take everything you hear from the mainstream media with a grain of salt, because they are biased.  And an admittedly biased reporter is only going to be giving you a slanted account of a players actions (as broken down nicely in that ACB post).

The Summary

So, in summary, Milton Bradley is a very scary man...in the batters box.  He hits the little baseball thing with his bat very hard and he makes it travel very far.  Which is nice.  With regards to everything else, who cares?  To paraphrase what Charles Barkley famous said, these people aren't heroes.  Let them play baseball and let's all stop worrying abot how they act off the field. 

God knows you wouldn't want the public to know what you do with your private time.

And yes, we all know about that.  And it's disgusting.

So please stop.

2009 Players Preview - Aaron Heilman


All Heil the Man

When the Cubs started trading for guys in the offseason, everybody thought it would be to stockpile talent for a run at Jake Peavy. Instead, the Cubs traded Ronny Cedeno, Felix Pie and Garrett Olson for the former New York Met, Aaron Heilman. Two good things did come out of these moves. One, the Cubs don’t have to rely on Bob "Gas Can" Howry anymore. Secondly, Ronny Cedeno is no longer over sliding second base on walks.

Heilman wanted to be a starter in New York, but the Mets never really gave him a shot. So, he was dealt to the Seattle Mariners this offseason in the J.J. Putz deal. It looked like a great deal for right-hander, because the Mariner rotation was thing, and he might finally get his chance to break into a rotation. Well, you know what they say about counting your chickens. I hope Heilman didn’t sign any leases while he was Northwest, because Jim Hendry swooped in traded for a man he wanted for some time.

It’s a known fact that Heilman has tried to trade for Heilman before, but the Mets couldn’t part with him. Now, Hendry has his wish and even gave him a chance to start this spring. He made four starts and pitched pretty well. He compiled a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings, while striking out 19. He was battling with Marshall for the 5th starter’s role, but the big lefty got the nod. Of course, Marshall has looked awful in his last two starts, so there is a chance that Heilman might see a start this season. Well, there is a great chance for him to see a start since Rich Harden is on the team.

The problem with Heilman is that he wasn’t very good last season. After turning in three straight solid seasons, Heilman couldn’t get outs with the Mets. He finished with a 5.21 ERA in 76 innings. There is hope, because in 2007 he finished with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 86 innings. Also, he has come to striking out a batter an inning, so Hendry might have been lucky with this trade.

With Marshall starting, Heilman will be asked to pitch in the 7th inning to get to Marmol, who will then give the ball to Kevin Gregg. At least, he should be better than Bob Howry was last season, but of course that isn’t saying much.

2009 Player Previews - Kevin Gregg


Kevin GreggQuick Links
Closers, Ex-Govs, and Caps.  Oh My.
Gregg to close, Marmol to spoil

You know it's funny how these Player Previews have worked out. We scheduled them about a month in advance, before we knew who would win roster spots, who would be surprise cuts, and who would be awarded which positions on the team. That's one reason why Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol are being written about in this, the last week of the Previews ... because we knew that the closer's role was no certain thing. But I have to confess that I am sincerely surprised that Gregg won the job.

Now the next question is ... can he actually close? His history suggests he can, but nobody will ever confuse him for In-His-Prime Gagne.

Randall Kirk Myers once said that in order to be considered an effective closer, you need to save your games at an 80% or better ratio. Since he was once one of the best closers in the game - who resoundingly trounced an angry Cub fan during a game - I've never really doubted the guy. Over the past 2 years, Gregg's been closing for the Marlins. He's saved 61 games in that time to 15 blown, an 80% conversion rate. That's the good news. The bad news is that last year he only saved 29 and blew 9 - 76%.

It remains to be seen if Gregg can be as effective a closer as Kerry Wood was last year, but let's not forget that even Wood had some ridiculous bouts with consistency. The real question is whether or not Gregg can be counted on in, say, a one-run game in October. I don't know about you, but I'd probably have to change my drawers if Gregg entered the game in that situation. Then again, I'd be crapping myself if Marmol was in there to. Hell, I'd probably be nervous about any pitcher on the Cubs closing out a one-run playoff game with the exception of one guy ... Carlos Zambrano.

But until that insanely tense moment arrives, Gregg can close and will probably close well. And if he doesn't, they can replace him with Marmol no bubbles no troubles.

2009 Player Preview - Kosuke Fukudome

Kosuke FukudomeQuick Links
Apparently his teammates call him "Fukie"
2008 Season Recap: Kosuke Fukudome
Thoughts from the ass-end of an actual anxiety attack (from August 11, 2008)
Fukudome will be fine, probably (From July 3rd, 2008)

It IS with a heavy heart that I write this today.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, was a bigger proponent of the Fukudome signing last year than I was.  What was NOT to love about a man who was an MVP of the Japanese major league, who won the first WBC with a clutch homer, who had a plus-arm in right field, an absolute MUST for Wrigley, and most of all, plate discipline so plentiful and contagious that it dripped off of him, splashed onto others, and forced his teammates to also be more discerning when at bat.

He of course roared onto the scene with his clutch homer off of Eric Gagne on Opening day, and it was true that the Cubs did lead the majors most of the year in OBP, a heretofore never seen artifact that the papers dubbed the "Fukudome Effect".  It turns out, however, that taking Eric Gagne deep isn't such a big deal anymore.  It also turns out that, according to our esteemed skipper, Sweet Lou Piniella, that Fukudome needed to "strengthen his core", which is the best way possible to tell a man that he is fat.

And it turns out, most of all, that very little has happened since his appearence on the cover of Sports Illustrated to suggest that he should even be taking ABs away from Reed Johnson, a man of modest talents but prodigious SWP.  The Cubs will pay 'Dome over 30 million dollars American the next three years to be, at best, a fourth outfielder.

I was careful to mention last year when FukU came here to not anoint him the Savior of the Franchise, that nearly all Japanese stars who come here take time to adjust - at least all not named Ichiro.  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 15-12 his first year, which is damn nice.  But after his first six starts he was only 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA.  Kenji Johjima, the Mariners catcher, started out hot like Fukudome his first April, but sunk like a rock and was hitting around .260 by mid-June.  Sound familiar?  From there, he finished strong and ended up over .290.  Akinori Iwamura, the Rays infielder, was actually damn good the first half of his first year.  He seemed to hit a wall in July, and that wall was still standing last year, as he entered May hitting .210.  From there, he rebounded and ended up with a .275 average.  Kaz Matsui started off slow with the Yankees, as well.

Point is, all these guys had to adjust.  Maybe Fukudome's adjustment period is still ongoing.  We better hope so.  We better hope that he is going to pull out of this tailspin.  The team has let him fire his interpreter; gave him a new workout regimen; let him play with Japan.  Heck, you'd think if anything would snap him out of a funk, it would be playing with the now two-time WBC champions.  But by the end of the WBC, the Fooker was stashed away on the bench.  So far in Arizona, he's managed to go 2-for-12, and flub a flyball that cost us 2 runs.

He's no youngster, but neither has any of the Japanese stars who have come here.  He might still be in adjustment mode.  But right now, it is a shame that Johnson has to consider sharing time in center with him.  Now, you know and I know that Fooky is gonna play a lot of right field still this year.  But if he's going to hit .235, with little pop, and swing around like a damn unhinged gate at every pitch thrown at his ankles, so what?  I never thought I would have the opportunity to sit here and wonder out loud if Jake friggin' Fox wouldn't be a better idea for that particular roster spot, because he's a licensed butcher in the field, who throws like a girl.  But at least Fox wouldn't pirouette at waste pitches.

This was probably not the best idea to volunteer to write this particular preview, as opposed to, say, writing about the equally unproductive and dangerously combustible Chad Gaudin.  Because I never thought Gaudin was the missing link to anything.  Because I never had any expectations for that freak.  Because I haven't been waiting for Chad to right his own ship, and regain his former form.  Because I had no HOPE for Gaudin, like I had for Fukudome.  And now I'm really disappointed.  Just like I've been thousands of times before, by Cubs and Cubness in general.

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