Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Player Previews

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2009 Player Previews - Neal Cotts

Neal CottsQuick Links
2008 Season Recap: Neal Cotts

I tried for quite some time to come up with something flashy to say about Neal Cotts, but I just couldn’t come up with anything. He’s just not flashy and not really good either. Somehow, he has continued to have a job as the LOOGY in the Cubs pen, and it once again he is the only lefty in the pen with Sean Marshal in the starting rotation. 

Cotts has been unremarkable for the Cubs the past two seasons, and was downright awful for the Sox three years ago. Before that, he turned in a pretty nice season for the Southsiders on their way to Championship. The one saving grace is that he just turned 29, and might have a few more decent seasons in him.

Last season, Cotts had a 4.29 ERA in 35.7 innings. He did strikeout 43 which helped the 1.430 WHIP he supported. In 07, he spent most of the year in AAA as he only threw 16 2/3 innings. While Cotts hasn’t been great, there really hasn’t been any other person to throw either. Lou didn’t like Scott Eyre for whatever reason, and he was sent packing. With very few lefties on the market (Will Ohman not withstanding), the Cubs decided to bring in a guy who hasn’t pitched in two years (Mike Stanton). Well, that experiment was doomed from the start, and he was sent packing yesterday long with Paul Bako.

What does that mean for Cotts? For one, he should feel pretty safe about a job, because the Cubs don’t have another option.  This spring, Cotts has a 3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. He’s fanned six, while walking two. The problem is that spring stats don’t count, and he feels no pressure about a job. We can only hope that Cotts turns into the guy that who had a 1.94 ERA in 60 innings back in 2005.

I really blame the Cubs for not going out and spending the money on a lockdown LOOGY. We need somebody that can come in and get an out against lefties, and I don’t really have that warm feeling when I see Cotts stroll to the mound.


Update: I forgot to point out (as the comment pointed out) that Cotts really isn't really a LOOGY. I pulled up his splits, and just forgot to put them in the story. So, there is more proof that we don't have anybody to get lefties out.

2009 Player Previews - Chad Gaudin

GaudinQuick Links
2008 Season Recap: Chad Gaudin
More on the Fifth Starter - Gaudin vs. Heilman

Somebody has to ask it: what the hell is he thinking?  Maybe he saw Reed Johnson last year, decided his popularity was because of the beard, and decided to bite off it?  Or perhaps Gaudin is expressing his admiration for his all-time favorite movie Deliverance?  Maybe he's just crazy?

Whatever it is, Gaudin looks like he sprung fully grown from the idiot factory.  But that's fine - a team that once sported striped baby-blue road jerseys really can't say much about a player's looks.  The problem with Chad Gaudin is that he is smack in the middle of redefining the concept of "suck." 

Just look at those numbers.  Wait, don't.  Have a stiff drink first, and then let yourself imagine what will happen when Gaudin blows one too many Carlos Zambrano starts in '09.  Because if he can't do any better than a 10.54 ERA with 20 hits, 9 walks, and 4 homers surrendered, then it will be a long, tough 2009 for the Bush Man of N'Awleans.

The thing of it is, Gaudin is young enough and has had enough success to lead me to believe that he could be a dependable pitcher for the Cubs.  His career ERA's not great, but he really has posted acceptable numbers as a starter.  The only problem is that youth and past success will only get you so far in life ... just ask Jerome Williams.  The man with the creepy necklace was traded to Chicago at the age of 23, a year after a 10-win, 4.24 ERA season, and was out of baseball entirely by the age of 26.

So maybe Gaudin will rebound from his terrible spring and horror-movie-like facial hair.  Maybe he'll be the insurance option the Cubs were angling for when they pulled the trigger on Rich Harden.  Or maybe he's just another big ol' turd.  We'll find out soon enough.

2009 Player Previews - Derrek Lee

D.Lee

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The Cubs wrap up spring training in the very near future (officially Thursday, but functionally Saturday), and no where on the diamond has the team shown more promise than first base. Their star first baseman has led the team in virtually every offensive statistic. He's racked up 5 dingers in 78 at-bats, 15 runs, 22 RBI, and a .590 Slugging percentage. Oh, and the .295 average isn't bad, although I wouldn't mind seeing that .337 OBP go up a few dozen points.

But enough about the backup (Micah Hoffpauir). Let's discuss the starter. Derrek Lee has always been a slow starter. He suffered a minor injury (I believe it was WBC-itis) this spring and has only seen limited action. In 48 at-bats, Rodan has managed just one homer, 5 runs, 6 RBI, and a .396 SLG. To finish the comparables, Lee's batting .271 with a .327 OBP. In fact, the only major offensive statistic in which D-Lee compares favorably to Micah Hoffpauir is in K/AB. D-Lee struck out in 19% of his at-bats this spring, vs. 21% for Hoffpauir.

So what does this all mean? Well, there's the obvious. Derrek's had a poor spring. Not miserable, but certainly not good. Hoff on the other hand has battled his way onto the roster like a drunken rock star... or something like that. But Spring is Spring, and over a long season, very few people would take Micah Hoffpauir over Derrek Lee.

As someone who hasn't followed the club closely enough this spring to fall in love with the Hoff, I'm obligated to point out that he's probably at his all-time peak in terms of trade value. We're talking about Google at $715, Yahoo at $108, or even Volkswagon at $208.

Now Derrek, on the other hand, could be the most crucial man on the roster. If we see pre-wrist!Derrek out on the diamond, this team could threaten the 1906 Cubs (or not, but it sounds pretty good). If we see post-wrist!Derrek, well this team could win 97 games.

Derrek Lee on the scoreboard

I think going into the system, most fans are anticipating a similar performance as 2008 from Lee, while hoping for a 2005 style surge. Still, as eternal optimists, we're probably understating the likelihood that 2005!Derrek was Google, Yahoo, and Volkswagon at their peak (a fleeting sensation to be remembered for quite a while as we all wonder why the current version can't compare.) If that's the case, it's good to know we've got Hoff wasting away on the Pine if it turns out to be the case.

2009 Player Previews - Luis Rivas

Fatty Luis
Note: this was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I had too much fun with the rant that I'd written.  Colin was supposed to write about Neal Cotts way back on Friday, and he's supposed to write about Chad Gaudin today.  He assured me he'd write about both via an Email ... so stay tuned.

For all I know, he may not even be on the roster now (have I mentioned how much I dislike following Spring Training) and he certainly won't break camp after Spring Training is over.  Instead, I'd like to take this time to talk more about the guy who probably will make the team as the backup middle infielder: Andres Blanco (or maybe Bobby Scales).

But first, a little on Rivas:

  • A career .257 hitter, at the age of 23 Rivas was the regular starting shortstop for the Minnesota Twins.
  • He has since spent most of his time bouncing around between the Majors and Minors.  Last year, he only played in the Major Leagues, batting .218 in 206 at bats for the Pirates.
  • Lawdy, he sucks.

This Spring Rivas is batting .231 with no extra base hits.  If he's still on the team, it's only because of how desperate the Cubs are to find a backup who can play the left side of the infield.

A better option might be Bobby Scales (GROTA edict: if he makes the team, he must be referred to with an exclamation point after his name.  ie: Bobby Scales! got a hit today)  Scales has never been called upon to play in the majors, but in 10 minor league seasons he's batting .285.  He has modest power and base stealing skills.  Most importantly, Bobby Scales can play first, second, third, the outfield, and he's even played shortstop a bit. 

His primary competition for the role is Andres Blanco; a guy who's played shortstop and second base with a few tastes of third.  In 226 career major league at bats, the lamer Blanco (as compared with Henry) has a .252 AVG.  He has no power to speak of and modest speed.

Between the two, I'd have to pick Scales and not just because he has an awesome name.  My reasoning is this: versatility.  While Scales has never played shortstop a ton, his time playing third and second has convinced me he can play the position in the middle.  Besides, in every year of his minor league career but one, Scales has outhit the career averages of Blanco and Rivas.

If only I'd been more accurate in thinking ahead back when I scheduled this post in late February.  Ah well.

2009 Player Previews - Angel Guzman

Gooze
Tell me if this sounds familiar? A can’t miss project with all the talent in the world has injury problems, a surgery and now is struggling. Who is it? Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, or Bobbie Brownlie. Well, all of those names could work, but we are talking about Angel Guzman today.

Guzman was touted since the Cubs signed him in 1999. Right off the bat, Guzman looked like a sure-fire prospect that was destined for greatness. He finally, arrived in 2006 and made 10 starts for Dusty Baker’s team. It didn’t go well, as he posted an 7.39 ERA in 56 innings, while walking 37.

Injuries caught up with him and he only pitched 40 innings in the next two seasons, including last year’s 5.59 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.
I would seriously consider getting out of the Cubs organization if I was a pitching prospect. It just doesn’t work out for the most part (Brownlie, Sisco, Veal to name a few).

Coming into the season, Guzman had a fair shot to win a bullpen spot. He still has a good fastball, but his control is still hurting him. Guzman has a 9.00 ERA in 8 innings so far this spring. Of course the main problem is that Guzman is out of options. The Cubs choices are carry him instead of somebody pitching well, placing him on waivers, or trading him. None of the choices are that great, and I have a feeling that Guzman will be sent packing before the Cubs break camp. Also, Lou Pinella stated that Chad Gaudin is still slated to start the year in the pen, even with his 10.03 ERA.

Right now the pen looks like this (if we carry 7 in the pen)

Closer/8th Inning – Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg
7th Inning – Aaron Heilman
Lefty – Neal Cotts
Long Man – Chad Gaudin and Luiz Vizcanio (Both make millions of bucks, so they are probably staying unless they come down with an injury.

With six guys already penciled in, that means there is 1spots left for Guzman, David Patton, Chad Fox, Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Hart and Mike Stanton.

Stanton hasn’t been great this year, but he is lefty. Patton is a Rule-5 guy that has looked great. Hart is going back to Iowa. Fox is just a moment away from his arm falling off. Samardzija is probably the front-runner for one of the spots, but he could easily be headed back to Iowa to start as well.

So, if the Cubs don’t trade Guzman there is probably a 50/50 chance he makes the roster.

2009 Player Previews - Sean Marshall

Sean Marshall

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I already congratulated the young lad last week upon his winning the Great Fifth Starter Debate of 2009.  I mentioned that I feel quite confident Marshall will easily match the output of last year's fifth starter, the never-lamented Marquis du Suck.


Why am I so confident? Well, first of all, Marshall is going to get more than the 28 starts Marquis made last year. Even if he doesn't win any more than the 11 games du Suck won last year, he will take up more innings (> 167) which makes life easier for the poor souls and confirmed arsonists in the pen. It will also make Larry Rothschild's life easier, and in turn Sweet Lou's, and in turn, our own lives will be fuller, more enriched, and much more pleasant.


But perhaps I expect more out of the 6'7" lefty.  Maybe, based on this spring's stellar performances, I expect Sean Marshall to be this year's story of reDempster-tion


Good lord, that was awful.  Sorry.  Really.


But can he take two steps up - go right from "bullpen guy", skipping over "serviceable starter", all the way to "All-Star"?  Here are some things he has in his favor:

  • size - delivers pitches with steep arm angle
  • lefthandness - hey, if Bud Light can make a big thing out of "Drinkability", then I can adopt "Lefthandedness" as a desirable trait
  • attitude and coachability - Marshall has done his best historical work while being directly tutored by Greg Maddux in 2006.  Unlike many big leaguers, he demonstrates a willingness to learn and adjust. 
  • confidence - he is showing a confidence this year that has spread to his coaches and teammates, and in this game, having your team behind you is more than half the battle
  • the so-called best offense in the league behind him

What Sean doesn't have in his favor is a track record.  Dempster for his part had enjoyed a couple of productive years as a starter for Florida before wrecking his elbow.  Dempster also ran up mountains the whole winter of 2007-8, and to my knowledge, Marshall wasn't running any mountains near his offseason home.  It was also a Contract Year for Dempster - I'm not even sure Marshall will be arbitration eligible next year, with 2 years and change in MLB service time, so the lure of a big payday is not in Sean's immediate future.


Most national scouting sources rate Marshall as a poor man's Andy Pettitte, only with a twin brother instead of an asswipe friend.  What this also means is that unlike the rest of the Cubs' rotation, Marshall doesn't have "great stuff" that overpowers hitters.  His success will rely on his control, command, and any resulting matchup issues that may arise when opposing teams bench their left-handed hitters on days Marshall pitches. 


Most published internet "projections" via standard tools seem to have been formed before he won the "fifth starter" role, which on a team with Tricky Rich Harden, will actually end up getting 32-33 starts in 2009.  None of the tools projections show him with more than 110 innings - I project he will have above 180, hopefully well above 180.  He has never thrown this many innings before, but prior to last year, Dempster hadn't thrown that many innings since 2002. 


I am not saying just because Dempster took a quantum leap in 2008, that Marshall will necessarily make such a leap in 2009.  But if attitude and pride have anything to do with it, then perhaps he will. 

2009 Player Previews - Micah Hoffpauir

Micah Hoffpauir

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Did you know that if you ignore all the at bats in which Micah Hoffpauir made an out last year, he's a 1.000 hitter at the Major League level? For that reason alone, he should get consideration to start first base.

No, seriously, that's the argument some bloggers are making. If you ignore his 0-for games this spring, then Hoffpauir is considerably outperforming the slow-starting Derrek Lee, and therefore should be the starting first baseman on opening day.

Me, I have a better idea. Micah Hoffpauir should be used as a pinch-hitting backup outfielder and first baseman. He could - and should! - give the Cubs an immensely valuable left-handed bat from the bench. He may - and likely will be! - the bench presence that Daryle Ward was supposed to be last year.

In other words, Micah Hoffpauir as a backup will be one of the most valuable Cubs on the 2009 team. But as a starter, sorry, I have doubts that he'd be able to outperform Derrek Lee.

So let's look at The Hoff. He's really quite the impressive story. After 7 years in the Cubs minor league system, most of which were unimpressive, Hoffpauir tore the cover off the ball in 2008. In 290 minor league at bats, he batted a ridiculous .362 with 25 homers and 100 RBI. His OPS was an astonishing 1.145. He was then promoted to the big leagues for the first time at the age of 28, and he proceeded to capture the imagination and hope of Cub fans everywhere.

Since his success last year, The Hoff has seen a swelling of fan support. People wanted to trade Derrek Lee so Hoff could start first base. They wanted him to get a shot at starting in right field before Milton Bradley signed. Somebody even suggested that the Cubs release Lee outright - thereby eating a hefty salary - and let Hoff start. All of this brings us back full circle to the jabrone Cubs blogger who wants us to ignore certain stats in order to conveniently prove his ridiculous point.

I think that we should be happy for Hoffpauir. He's quite the story. And if he can play well in a minor role in '09, his story will be an even better one.  But I remain unconvinced that Lee is finished as an All Star first baseman, much as I remain doubtful that Hoffpauir could be an effective starter at the Major League level.

But for those of you in the Micah Hoffpauir fan club, I'll throw you a bone. If, on June 1st, Derrek Lee is struggling and Micah Hoffpauir is killing major league hitting, then Lou Piniella should revisit his options. Until then, I hope we can be happy for an already impressive success story -- the elevation of Micah Hoffpauir from minor league obscurity to becoming the top bench player on the best team in the National League.

2009 Player Previews - Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez
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Did you know: The Goat Riders of the Apocalypse sponsor Aramis Ramirez's baseball-reference page?  It's true.  Also true is that GROTA was recognized as one of the great Chicago Blogs (capital C capital B) by Chicago Magazine.  It's true!  I read it on Aramis Ramirez's baseball reference page!

Sure, you know all that.  Everyone knows that.  But do you know why we sponsor his page?  Do you know why, given alllllllll the possible Cubs -  past, present and future - we could sponsor (Les Lancaster, Frank Castillo, Sandy Martinez...the list goes on and on), we chose Aramis Ramirez? Do you?

It's because he rocks.  It's because he's the answer to the question "who's finally filled Ron Santo's shoes (so to speak*)".  It's because of his 36, 38, 31, 27, and 26 homer seasons since coming over to the Cubs.  It's because he's finally learned to consistently take a walk.  It's because his defense has gone from poor to decent to pretty damn good. 

(* yes, I know he wears shoes.  I'm not sure where I was going with that)

The people who used to bitch that he doesn't hustle?  They're in someone's crawl space.  The people who claimed that he's selfish?  They'll trapped under a stack of Tribune articles revealing that Aramis took less money to stay with the Cubs.  Those people are trapped and can't get to food and are really hungry and have to pee and it's really sad.  Because they're going to have to pee on themselves.  And maybe poo a little.

If only that had realized that Aramis is the best thing to happen to the Cubs since Slammin' Sammy and Kid K.  He's Mister Consistency and Mister Spectacular all at once (and Mister Clutch.  Don't forget about Mister Clutch).  He's the true heart of the Cubs and Cub fans should be praising Hendry for bringing him over from his Pittsburgh Purgatory.

Because he rocks.  Here's to more of the same in 2009. 

Go Cubs.

2009 Player Previews - Reed Johnson

Reed!

Reed Johnson will be filling a vital role this season. His participation will be crucial cog for the ’09 Cubs. He...must...BLOG.

That’s right, my favorite Cubs SWP will be taking over as team blogger with the departure of Mark DeRosa. So far, he’s off to a solid start as he’s promised to insult Mike Fontenot at least once in every post he makes. Glorious.

As for that other stuff he does on the field, I guess that’s fairly important too.

Around this time last year, I was a bit puzzled and confused when Jim Hendry decided to reach down into his big sack of tricks and pull Johnson off the scrap heap. Bringing in a guy who recently recovered from back problems didn’t sound like a good idea as back injuries are the ones that tend to linger on and on.

But as with most things baseball-related, I was wrong. Johnson was a solid producer off the bench with the bat (.303/.358/.420, 50 RBI, 6 HR) and the glove (providing one of the most amazing catches I’ve ever seen...too bad MLB made everyone take it off the Interwebs).

The versatility and gritty whiteness that Johnson displayed in 2008 should serve the team well this season too. While Reed will technically be declared a “backup” to Fukudome in centerfield, his role as a platoon member, late-game defensive sub and right-handed pinch hitter will be invaluable. I’d apply my SWP formula to statistically show you how important Reed really is, but the numbers would overwhelm you to the point of pulling out your torches and pitchforks and marching to Wrigley Field demanding Reed Johnson be a full-time starter. Plus I'm too hungov-, err, lazy to look it up.

But on a serious note, White Slice (as his teammates call him apparently) might be the one of the most complete and important bench players in all of baseball based on what will be asked of him by his manager. He is to the Cubs what Toni Kukoc was to the Bulls, but less European and with much more blogging ability.

Maybe Johnson doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but like Hank White, he’d be one of those guys who you wouldn’t missed until he was gone.

2009 Player Previews - Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly

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What’s not to love about Theodore Roosevelt Lilly? For one, he was named after a man that went to war just for the adventure. Secondly, he goes to the mound for 30+ starts and throws close to 200 innings. The last two seasons as a Cub, Lilly has thrown 411 innings and amassed a 32-17 record.

Lilly posed a 3.82 ERA in 2007, and followed that up with a respectful 4.09 ERA last season. Of course things didn’t start off well for Lilly in ’08. In April he posed a 1-4 record to go along with his gaudy 6.46 ERA. I don’t know about you, but I thought old Jim might be headed back to the hospital regretting the contract he made the year before.

But like his namesake, Lilly rebounded and went 8-3 after the All-Star break with a 3.33 ERA, including a 4-1 record in September. Of course Lilly didn’t see the mound or San Juan Hill in October as Lou Pinella went with Sir Walks A Lot, Gimmie Big (Z)ero Defense and Harden(ly) a shoulder in the three-game sweep.

I was critical of the Lilly signing two years ago, but he has slowly grown on me. He’s the perfect 4th starter on this team. He breaks up all the hard-throwing righties, and he keeps the Cubs in ballgames as long as Davey Johnson doesn’t let him play left field this weekend.

As for projections, the PECOTA projections have Lilly finishing with an 11-8 record in 161.7 innings. I’m not sure what it is, but the projections have not liked the Cub pitchers this year. They think he will finish with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.29, which isn’t too bad. I have a feeling that Lilly does slightly better this season with a 14-7 record to go along with a 4.05 ERA.

I really think Lilly will be just fine this year. He just needs to stop giving up so many home runs to team Puerto Rico. The main problem I have with the WBC is that Lilly hasn’t gotten regular work. He’s thrown twice in the tournament, and he needs more work to get ready.

Overall, Lilly is one of the signings for Hendry that has turned it out well for the Cubs. I just hope the WBC cause him to start as slow as he did last season.

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