Good afternoon, readers of Goat.
Some of you may be recent Cub fans - perhaps you didn't get into baseball as a kid, and are only finding out about the Great Game and its most personable team recently. Others, you've been hanging in a little while longer. Then there's the crusty old farts who have suffered more heart punches and upset stomachs than we can possibly count.
As you may know, it's been a long time since our favorite team won a pennant, let alone a World Series. We've spent the last six years here trying to figure out why. Maybe you're a new fan, and you don't care. All you've ever known is Lou Piniella, Alfonso Soriano, and respectable Cubs baseball. Or maybe you've signed on around the Sam-Me era, or perhaps before that, in the Ryno, Sut, Gracie and Hawk days. Probably, if you're one of them, you're good and ready for a championship of any sort on the North Side, and most likely, you're in problem-solving mode.
God knows, I am.
I mention Ryno, Sut, Gracie and Hawk, because that was the last time this particular franchise had anything remotely resembling an effective leader on the field. Oh, sure, Kerry Wood had something to say, during the times he wasn't on the DL. And Kenny Lofton was here for a few minutes. But now?
We don't have a prototypical Leadoff Man. Oh, The Riot has a nice batting average and a decent OBP right now. That may or may not last. But as I've said, that's just the minimum daily requirements of a leadoff man. If Theriot knew how to run the bases, he might be trouble. People think he oozes SWP. I disagree, he is definitely WP, but not so much Scrap.
We don't have an Ace. Zambrano, and Dempster, are paid like Aces. But neither one is. Zambrano's short fuse, inability to conserve pitches, and relative ineffectiveness have placed him in the pen for now. Dempster is not quite talented enough or strong-willed enough to be that stud-hoss ice-crushing plow that thwarts losing streaks, puts fear in other teams, and compels his fellow man to greater heights.
Both of these deficiencies can be laid at the feet of the GM. But it isn't ALL his fault.
We don't have a true emotional leader on the team, either. Being a hothead and smashing Gatorade dispensers is not leadership. Does wailing on a pop machine show you care, or that you're a big sucky-tit baby? Our so-called clubhouse leaders are Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. I infamously went off on Ramirez after the 2008 playoff sweep, when he deflected all blame from himself. And Lee, he of the gentle dignity? A great trait for a more cerebral pursuit.
Baseball is not a cerebral pursuit, at least not the way it is played lately.
Now, how about Ozzie Guillen? Well, he's a manager, first of all, and second of all, I don't believe his profane, inconsiderate Scarface rantings represent leadership, either. Oh, he's funny. He really IS a reality-show star. But we don't need that, either.
A leader accepts responsibility, and also asserts his will and makes bold statements that catches everyone's attention without being offensive. He spurs everyone around him to act. Someone like this guy. He tells his fan base to chill the f out, and at the same time impresses upon his teammates that they need to take their game up to the highest level, and lets everyone know that nothing less will be tolerated. All without pissing off any special interest groups.
Who is that guy on the Cubs? I don't see him. Marlon Byrd is not that guy. Maybe Theriot could someday become that guy? Not sure what he's waiting for, if that's the case? He has as much seniority as Dustin Pedroia, so if he has it inside him, it's time to see it. That's the only chance we have, kids.
Can you pin this one on Jim Hendry? Personally, I am not sure you can, because he has paid good money for a few men who supposedly possessed the intangibles we needed, and they haven't come through. Then again, if I were the GM (and I can literally hear all of you clicking over to another page), I would in fact try to recruit an 'intangibles' guy. Mark DeRosa had two years to show that he himself was that guy. Didn't quite do it for me, since he had little to say after the aborted 2007 and 2008 seasons.
For that was the time for the he-bull, the stud-hoss to step up and insist on no uncertain terms that history would NEVER repeat itself again. Which, I suppose, it didn't. We didn't make the playoffs last year.
If only a starting pitcher could buy runs like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune buys vowels. I'm pretty sure Ryan Dempster and most of the Cubs starting staff would be in favor of the idea. The Cubs offense once again fell short against the Nationals, this time for Dempster, in a game the team should have won. Moreover, it marred the dream that Dempster could go 30-0 on the season and win the Cy Young. Ok... maybe only Len Kasper's dream based on the booth discussion today. Even more disappointing, the Cubs once again continued the franchise trend of losing to a young pitcher that I've never heard about.
To cut to the chase, the Cubs dropped the opening series of the homestand because of the lackluster offense. The team scored a total of 7 runs over those three games. Despite the resurgence of Soto and Soriano, the SWP-ness of Theriot, and the hustle and clutch hitting of Marlon Byrd, the offense seems to be dead. The impotence of the offense really can be traced to two culprits: Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. On the season, Lee and A-Ram have combined to go 29-163, .178 AVG, .331 SLG percentage, with a 42:22 K:BB. Not exactly acceptable statistics. To a degree, I have hope for Lee as it appears that in most of his recent at bats he is hitting it hard, but just at people. On the other hand, Ramirez looks lost at the plate in such a manner that can only be described as Soriano circa 2009. A-Ram swings at bad pitches, mis-hits mistakes, and looks completely off balance every time he swings. I know he was dubbed as a savior in the offseason, but if Rudy Jaramillo wants to earn his paycheck, he needs to figure out what is going on with A-Ram... and soon.
The offense was not without opportunities. In the fifth inning, the bases were loaded with only one out for Marlon Byrd. Marlon failed to get the ball out of the infield and the inning ended when Fontenot grounded out. In the seventh, the first two batters reached base only to have A-Ram step into the box and ground into a double play. Finally, in the eighth, Byrd led off the inning with a double but never advanced any further than second base. No sac bunt, no grounder to the right side, no deep fly for a tag. He was stranded where he started the inning. For this last part, I have no words (that are at least printable).
Despite all these failed opportunities, I was surprised to learn that the Cubs are second in the NL in runs scored with two outs and runners in scoring position. Moreover, they are fifth in batting average with RISP and two outs. I'm not sure if those stats should give me hope or cause me to spiral into an even deeper level of disappointment.
Oh, and on a brighter note: Marlon Byrd is a magician.
The Diamondbacks roll into town for a four game series starting Thursday. They've been pretty hot and cold so far this season, and mainly the latter on the road (3-6). Hopefully they got out all of their frustration in the 12-11 victory against the Rockies and their bats are lulled into a deep sleep for at least 3 out of the 4 games.
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.
I've been meaning to do this for a while, and thought I'd finally get around to expanding upon Kyle's great statistical invention, the Scrappy White People Factor. I'll quote Kyle directly to explain the stat: (Everything beyond this point will be in Kyle's own well-crafted words, up until I assign a rating):
We all have an idea of what a SWP is (remember that little turd burger David Eckstein), but the phenomenon of SWP is intriguing.
A lot of people like to see it as a social issue of how we view sports. Others might define SWP as a byproduct of the origins of baseball (originated by scrappy, white dudes). Well after some deep thinking, I’ve concluded that the best way to evaluate and use SWP is as a statistic.
Yes, I am suggesting that SWP should be an official baseball stat…and here is how it should be calculated.
Scrappiness (1-10, 1 having no scrappiness and 10 being extremely scrappy)
This measure is based on how this player presents himself as well as approaches the game. Someone with a high scrappiness rating usually doesn’t have a lot of flair in their appearance or playing style. They like to do the dirty work (do whatever it takes to get on base, like getting hit by a pitch) and their style manifests itself in high socks and/or facial hair.
Average Whiteness (1-10, 1 not being your average white guy and 10 being a very average white guy)
It goes without saying that a player’s SWP relies somewhat on his ability to be…ya know…white. However, I find that most people attribute an SWP title to a player who seems to represent them (the average fan). People cheer for these guys because they look like they could be our neighbor, our friend, or even us. They give us hope that even we could be a professional baseball player, thus bringing us closer to the game.
Hype (1-10, 1 being they have received a lot of hype before entering the Bigs and 10 being they had no hype at all).
Usually SWP players seem to come out of no where. They often receive little fan fare in the minors and make their name playing scrappy (as defined above) baseball with the big club. This also happens to help them when things go bad. If an SWP player is not performing that well, then he doesn’t necessarily get to hear it from the fans because nobody expected him to do that much anyway. Plus, he’ll get more time to recover from a slump before the fans turn on him.
Athletic ability/size (1-10, 1 being very athletic and 10 being average athleticism)
A player with lots of athletic ability (Patterson, Pie) usually has high expectations to succeed and thus receives a lot of flak when they fail to meet expectations. For some reason, the average person has a hard time understanding why those blessed with athletic ability cannot utterly dominate in sports. On the other hand, SWP players are often slow, fat, short, or some combination of these things. This, again, brings us into the realm of average whiteness, but this has more to do with abilities. They less the look like athletes, the less we judge them as such.
“Right Way” factor (1-10, 1 does not play the game the “Right Way” and 10 plays the game the “Right Way”)
We hear this A LOT when announcers or fans try to describe a SWP player. But honestly, what the hell does this mean? By my account, it seems to mean being patient at the plate, hitting the ball to the opposite field, making solid (but not great) defensive plays, not being a showboat, not being afraid to get some dirt on the uniform, and respecting the tradition of the game. So basically, being good at the things that will not make you a superstar.
After you have figured out all these rankings, add them up and divide by 50. This is your SWP rating. Obviously, this number can flux as a player changes over the tenure of a Major League career, thus letting players transit between the status of scrappy, white player and just a regular player.
Kurt: And now, my own personal thoughts on the ratings of Reed Johnson:
Average Whiteness: 9
Athletic ability/size: 4 (remember the higher the number the less athletic)
“Right Way” factor: 9
Total Score: 37
SWP rating: .740
Johnson is clearly very scrappy, and obviously very white. His hype and athleticism hurt him a little. In terms of his hype, Reed was a gifted player in college, but he wasn't chosen in the draft until the 17th round.
Athletically, Johnson was a gymnast while growing up who had back surgery a few years ago. The back surgery makes him less athletic, but the overall superiority of Johnson's physique has to be high, or else he wouldn't have been able to recover and play.
Therefore, I've concluded that Johnson is not as scrappily good as Theriot, although he certainly remains statistically scrappy.
Oh, and apparently there is a Douchebag Tournament going on over at Another Cubs Blog. We are in the tornament, as is pretty much everybody. In the first round, we've been delt a difficult blow - we're competing against Bob Brenley. At the moment, we hold a single-vote lead on Bob. I'm not exactly sure if we want to win - in fact based on the first round of votes I don't think anybody is going to overtake Al Yellon - but I suppose it would be pretty cool if we could advance to Round 2, in order to face and defeat either Kinky Reggae of BCB or Manny Trillo, of TCR.*
*We've got a number of writers on GROTA, many of whom could be characterised as being Douchebags. How come we only get one bracket, while TCR and BCB get many? Are they more douchey than us? Should I take that as a compliment? Eh, I dunno. Go vote anyway.