Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Season Recaps

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2009 Recap: Reed Johnson

Reed Johnson
Reed Johnson, Scrappy White Guy.  I'm sure that Milton Bradley was extremely jealous of Reed's popularity in the time he was in Chicago.  After all Cub fans loved Johnson and his shiny bald head, while they were apparently erecting flaming crosses whenever Milton stepped onto the field. 

The difference being, of course, that Reed does a lot with a little talent, while Bradley did little with the amazing gifts he was born with.  That doesn't mean Johnson was a shining example of Chicago in '09, though.  Far from it, he was hurt and hit about 50 points below his '08 performance.

Still, for a 4th (or 5th) outfielder, Johnson put up acceptable numbers.  He batted .255 with a .330 OBP and posted an OPS of .742, which was only 36 points below his '08 numbers when he batted .303.  The problem was that he got hurt, fracturing his foot and being DL'd on July 30th.  He returned for the final week of the season, long after the Cubs were out of it, and probably finished his career as a Cub with a double in their 5-2 loss to Arizona on October 4th. 

There are a lot of questions about Reed's future, but with the recent signing of Xavier Nady and the likely inclusion of Micah Hoffpauir (and maybe even Sam Fuld) on the 25 man roster, it's pretty certain that he'll be elsewhere in 2010.  It's understandable that he'd be gone, he was just a small cog on a team of suck in '09, but it will be a bit of a shame because he was fun to watch if only for being so successfully average.

If the 2010 Cubs will be successful, though, they will probably need a 4th outfielder who is above average, and healthy to boot.  So long, Reed.

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2009 Recap: Kosuke Fukudome

Before applying our palms to our faces about how the Cubs owe Kosuke Fukudome $13 million next year (and $13.5 million the year after that!), let's pause and reflect on his 2009 performance.

With the bat in his hand, there's one thing Kosuke can do extremely well: the guy knows how to take a pitch. In 2009, Kosuke only swung at 17.8% of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone (compared to a league average of 25.1%). That ability got him to first pretty frequently, as he walked 93 times in 603 plate appearances.

His power was about the same as league average; his SLG was .421 for 2009, compared to .418 across the game. Combine that, and his .260 batting average, with his walkability, and you get an OPS+ of 104 -- just slightly above average, but for all intents and purposes a league average hitter.

In the field, you get a solid right fielder, or a below average -- but certainly useable -- center fielder. For me, Kosuke in center passes the eye exam; he looks like he can do the job.  But numbers don't lie, do they?

Slightly above average bat, slightly above average glove for an outfielder -- combine the two for a guy worth about $10 million a year. In other words, he more or less earned his wages last season.

Next year, projections make it seem like he'll be worth almost precisely the same value, making him slightly overpaid.  Now THAT'S more like it! 

Go Cubs!

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2009 Recap: Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld
I remember when Sam made his 2009 debut for the Cubs. He went 4-for-8 in his first two games with the major league team, with two walks to go along with his pair of doubles. 

Much like the real estate investors of yesteryear, I assumed that, as Fuld's stock quickly rose over the course of those eight at-bats, the trend would continue and he would become an immediate superstar. (That sentence is about 65% true, actually.)

Unfortunately for the Cubs, that did not happen. Sam finished July with strong offensive stats, but was mostly ungood with the bat from there on out. His main problem: he's got even less power than Theriot. Blerg!

Fuld didn't quite have enough at-bats in 2009 to prove his legitimacy as an on-base machine. Last season's .409 on-base percentage came over the course of 115 plate appearances, which just doesn't cut it. For what it's worth, both projections at Fangraphs expect Fuld to post an OBP in the .340 range next year.

Speaking of "not enough data," it's hard to tell exactly how good Fuld is in the field based on existing data. With center field being a premium position, he could possibly justify his powerless bat with outstanding range and glove work. But given his -4.6 runs allowed below average in CF last year according to Fangraphs, it seems unlikely.

With so little data, we've gotta go with our guts on judging what Fuld really is. Which is actually fine, because I think everyone agrees: Fuld is a fourth or fifth outfielder with above average speed and zero pop.

I probably could have started and ended this recap with that last sentence there. But whatever, life's a journey.

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2009 Recap: Bobby Scales

Bobby Scales!
Pretty much everybody loves the Crash Davis story - the tale of  the aging baseball veteran who, after years of flailing around in the minor leagues, finally hangs 'em up in low A Ball after watching a player with ten times the talent and one quarter the brain make the majors with nearly no effort.

Wait -- that's not right. 

We like it when Crash Davis defies the odds and receives that promotion, long after his prospect status has faded into journeyman mediocrity.  Every spring we look at the players invited to Spring Training, we notice the guys who are probably sporting more than a few gray whiskers in their beards, the ones who have never so much as tasted the major leagues, and we root for them.  In 2009, that guy was Bobby Scales.

Scales, aged 31, started his career in the Padres system way back when AOL was the cool way to get online and the tech bubble had yet to burst.  But despite never really struggling -- except perhaps in 2004, the first year he tasted Triple A -- Scales just never really put up the kind of numbers to justify a September promotion.

Then in March of '09, in his second year with his fourth organization, Scales set Arizona on fire with his bat and still managed to get cut.  Then Aramis Ramirez sneezed and blew out his shoulder* and, on May 5th, the 31-year-old Scales received his first-ever promotion to the Major Leagues.  He responded by getting a hit and scoring a run and, over the next 11 days he played as if he was making up for lost time -- at one point elevating his AVG to .444 thanks in part to a 2-double, 4-RBI day on May 14th.

(*or something equally ridiculous)

Of course, he'd eventually come back to earth.  He was, after all, a 31-year-old rookie.  By June 12th he was batting .241 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, and 3 homeruns and the Cubs sent Scales back to Iowa where he'd remain until September 4th.  At that point Scales was recalled, played 26 games -- starting 15 of them -- and, while only batting .242, managed to collect 6 more doubles, 1 more triple, and 8 more RBI.

Chances are that Scales will never get another sip.  Although he's versatile, and can play four-or-more positions, Scales will be 32 next year and he didn't exactly deliver with a ton of big hits in his first shot in the majors.  Still, for a year he was our Crash Davis, our middle-aged rookie, who played in 51 games -- starting 30 of them -- for a team that was better merely because of his presence. 

Bobby Scales!  We'll miss you if you're gone.

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2009 Recap: Andres Blanco

Well, here's the story on Andres Blanco, and it has to include Ryan Theriot, our regular shortstop.

Now, many of us are pretty much fed up with The Riot out at SS.  We figure that he'd be a better second baseman, or maybe a better Oakland A or Minnesota Twin, because he seemed to let a lot of base hits get past him, and he seems to be the resident Bunny Foo-Foo on the basepaths, now that Ronny Cedeno is gone.

On the other hand, the same lot of us were lamenting the poor condition of the 2009 Cubs offense, because if there was any production at all from any of the outfield spots or catcher, then we could afford to play Andres Blanco at shortstop.  Blanco can't hit much, we all know.  (In fact, he produced more in 2009 than any of us figured.  Which ain't saying much.)  But he seemed to make amazing plays out there, and the announcers on the teevee and radio RAVED about Blanco's glove, how it would save us bushels of runs over the long haul if he was a regular.

But then, you go out to the Fielding Bible and some of the other Bill James-esque publications, and you find that defensively there is very little difference between Blanco and Theriot at shortstop, as far as the statistics go.  Blanco would NOT save us bushels of runs over Theriot, and while Theriot certainly is not the next Mark Belanger, also certainly it is not a good idea to shift him over to second and let Blanco play the position until the Great Starlin Castro blesses us with his presence.

Which was exactly my Basic 2010 Plan for National League Dominance.

Perhaps this is a great example of how we (very provincial) Cubs fans have our judgment clouded by the guys in the booth.  Theriot broke into the league as a good hit, no glove kind of guy, whereas Blanco was just the opposite.  You'd think the guys in the booth see the product every day; watch the warm-ups, and would be able to more critically judge the relative skill of the two men.  Len and Bob and Pat all think Blanco is steak sauce with the glove.  Maybe he looks smoother, but the numbers say that he's no better than the guy who plays there now.  So is he better?  I have convinced myself that he is.  But some of you say otherwise, and before I did my research, I was willing to stand here and tell you to eat dung.  But now I have second thoughts.

When I took the assignment of recapping Andy White, it was with the understanding that I would stump for him to start 2010 at shortstop.  Now, after some distance from the abortive 2009 season, I am not so sure.  Because he still can't hit dick.  And while he may appear more confident in the field, I am not willing to sacrifice the difference between his and Theriot's offense for his 0.10 increase in Range Factor.  Plus, he was no smarter on the basepaths than Theriot.  Dohh!

We don't really need him back next year.  We have enough middle infielder types around, consuming oxygen, getting paid in real American dollars.

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2009 Recap: Koyie Hill

Three Finger Hill
Regardless of the type of hopes you may have had for the Cubs going into 2009, if I came back from the future and informed you that Koyie Dolan Hill would start every game between July 7 and August 9, you would have to resign yourself to the fate that the Cubs would not have a good year.

We have seen and enjoyed many otherwise unimaginable medical advances in the past century, but one thing modern medicine cannot do is rebuild a destroyed human hand to function as it once did.  Much has been already said about Koyie Hill's three sawn-off fingers and their subsequent reattachment.  He had the opportunity to sound like a 50s-era sports cliche when he instructed his surgeons to "arrange my fingers so I can grip a baseball bat.  I mean, how John Tunis is that?

Some would argue that Hill shouldn't even have been here.  After all, we had Hank White to back up Geo Soto.  What else would you need?  Of course, Hendry didn't seem to hold Hank in as much esteem as we do here, and let him go over money...dirty filthy MONEY!  But it still wasn't the end of the world - after all, we had the ROY and therefore how often is Hill actually going to get to play?

Well, he played plenty, and unlike others such as Mike Fontenot, he managed to hit 30 points over his career average and improved immensely in throwing out runners, the more he got to play.  Hill was hitting .240 at the start of his playing streak, and whether it was due to extreme fatigue or extreme being-Koyie-Hill, but his average was at .209 at its end, and that itself was up from the rock-bottom of .197.  But, once he reverted back to his usual role, he managed to get it back around .240, which is pretty much more than you could possibly expect from Hill.

Hill is no answer to any catching question you may have - in fact, up until this year, I would not agree whatsoever that he is an adequate backup catcher.  But in 2009, Koyie did throw out 40% of base stealers while hitting .237, and in this era of lousy catching, I had to admit that he has become an adequate backup catcher for the Cubs. 

It could be due to increased opportunity, or finally growing into the role, or perhaps he adopted a more positive attitude after nearly losing his livelihood after his accident.  No, Koyie Hill did not "save" us this year in our time of need. During his stretch as the starter, he did simply NOTHING offensively.  However, the other five months of the year, he played pretty well when called upon.  And, if he is able to simply replicate his 2009 production next year, it would be enough for me.

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2009 Recap: Dave Patton

Dave Patton
It's not every day that a competitive baseball team will take a risk on a Rule 5 draft pick the way the Cubs did on Patton.  But clearly, Jim Hendry must've known that Patton is special, right?  Clearly the Cubs management knew of Patton's ungodly, unbeatable talent or else they wouldn't have held onto him, correct?

Or maybe we should have seen Patton's forced inclusion onto the roster as clear and dramatic evidence that the Cubs were not even remotely close to competing for the playoffs in 2009. 

His numbers lend blinding evidence to that very fact: 27.2 innings pitched, 31 hits, 19 walks to 23 strikeouts, 21 earned runs.  An ERA of 6.83.  A prolonged "injury" that was about as real as the Iron Sheik's devastating Cobra Clutch.  It was no shock to see Patton miss all that time, only to return once the rosters expanded and Lou Piniella found himself with many, many more options in front of Patton and his softball express.

So -- was it all worth it?  Will Patton develop into a devastating starting pitcher now that the Cubs have the option of taking some time with him?  No.  He hasn't started a game since 2005, when he posted a 7.23 ERA in low A ball.  No worries, a lot of good minor league relievers develop into good major league relievers, right?  No?

The problem is, there aren't very many Johan Santana's available to be plucked away in the Rule 5.  And if there's another one floating out there right now, his name is not Dave Patton.  Why the Cubs grabbed him, held onto him, and perhaps plan to use him again in 2010 or beyond is an astonishing thing that makes about as much sense as the concept of accusing somebody of doing nothing while fearing that he's changing everything.  It's just stupid.  Like Ronny Cedeno-level stupid. 

But hey!  New owner!  New era!  Go Cubs!

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2009 Recap: John Grabow

I kind of already wrote this recap, but I'll go ahead and recap my recap for the sake of recap continuity.

Let me start by saying: John Grabow was OK in 2009.

I mean, honestly, he was exactly that -- just OK. His 3.36 ERA may look sparkly, but he didn't exactly overpower hitters (57 strikeouts in 72.1 innings pitched), and his command wasn't good either (40 walks).

He only allowed 62 hits in those 72.1 innings, which is once again a non-awful number.

Add it all up, and it is what it is. He's by no means terrible, and the Cubs could easily be wasting a lot more money on a lot worse a player were they to re-sign him (in fact, they're already doing that!).

But the team could probably do better, too. Grabow shouldn't automatically get extra credit for being left-handed; in fact, given a right-handed batter's advantage in a match-up against a lefty, an LHP ought to be really good at getting lefties out. And according to the numbers, Grabow just isn't (18 hits and 10 walks in 20.2 innings against lefties).

To his credit, Grabow seems to have a solid mix of pitches, especially for a reliever. Fangraphs says his fastball and change-up are both pretty alright, and having a slider for a third pitch seems like a good thing.

My one concern, if the Cubs were to re-sign this character, would be the walks. Lou HATES walks, and when his relievers issue them, I think it stokes his short-leash fire.

But like I said -- and perhaps it's the most important thing about John Grabow -- the Cubs could do a lot worse. Let's pick our battles, accept John for who he is, and move on with the rest of the roster, shall we?

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2009 Recap: Kevin Gregg

I think most Cub fans are aware that, by most accounts, Kevin Gregg did a terrible job closing for the Cubs in 2009.

I was one of several GROTA folks that defended a few bad outings here and there with regard to Gregg, trying to focus on the forest rather than a few mangled, dying, termite-infested trees.

But in the end, Gregg had an insurmountable problem that we just couldn't ignore. Worse, it was a problem that major league closers simply cannot survive with.

Gregg gave up 13 home runs in 68.2 innings pitched.

To put that in perspective, let's think about what that home run rate would do for a starter. Work with me here on a little math.

A typical starter would have three times Gregg's workload in a given year (60 * 3 = 180, 70 * 3 = 210, which is a reasonable range for SPs). They'd usually get that amount of work in over the course of 30-some starts.

13 times 3 is 39. That'd mean, in 30-something starts, Gregg would give up 39 home runs.

I mean, WGN would have to develop an "Inevitable Kevin Gregg-Allowed Home Run" graphic for every start!

The statheads among us think home run rates have a bit to do with luck (if you've ever read anything about BABIP, it's the same idea here). So maybe Gregg was simply unlucky in 2009, as over 15% of the fly balls opponents hit off of him left the park. That's about twice as many as his career average.

But then I think back to That One Game (I forget the team we were playing at the time), and how The Other KG served up an ice cream cone of a fat fastball to some division rival, and the guy hit it across the state border.

Not fun.

So, yeah, it didn't work out, which is too bad. If we had to have a closer with a crappy ERA, I'd have much preferred to keep Kerry Wood than to have traded for some goggle-wearing schmo from California. (Nothing against California, just being angry.)

Speaking of that trade, anybody have any idea what Jose Ceda's up to?

Go Cubs!

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2009 Recap: Aaron Heilman

Aaron Heliman
On January 28th, 2009, the Cubs pulled a deal off with the Mariners that would send them relief pitcher Aaron Heilman for Ronny Cedeno and Garret Olson.  Olson had been acquired by the Cubs in a deal with Baltimore for outfield "sensation" Felix Pie, whereas Cedeno -- like Dorothy's Scarecrow -- had been sent to Chicago perhaps from the Wizard, minus a brain.  In other words, it was a pretty sweet deal.  The only problem was that Heilman was bouncing back from a season of sucktacular play and there was no promise he'd be the reliever of a mid 3.00's ERA ever again.

All told, Heilman's '09 was the mixed bag we should have expected of him.  On one end of the spectrum, he delivered 72.1 innings, walking 34, striking out 65, and posting a respectable-if-not-fantastic ERA of 4.11.  On the other end, Heilman allowed more players to score than that allegedly-crazy* bar slut with Mark Grace's name tattooed on her back. 

(*allegedly, I said!)

The league average for inherited runners who scored in 2009 was 30%. 
It would have been lower than that across the board, except for
Heilman.  Heilman had the tendency in '09 to step onto the mound without his testicles, and so anytime Lou called on him to put out a fire he brought his favorite can of gasoline with him.  I know, a lot of analogies, but holy shit this guy sucked.

Heilman inherited 37 runners and he allowed 17 of them to touch home plate.  Seriously.  Ouch.  On a Cubs team that struggled to score runs, and particularly on a Cubs team that had so many one-run decisions, it cannot be argued that Heilman's craptivity resulted in more losses than his 4-4 record communicates.  Consider instead how his 6 blown saves was second-worst on the team behind only Kevin Gregg, a closer who has caused such ill-will that metro-sexuals can no longer wear their formerly-hip Oakley flak-jackets in Chicago, 'lest they expect an ass-whupping reprisal from bitter Cub fans. 

Of course, this might have never happened had Heilman been awarded the 5th starting gig back in the spring of '09.  Based on his Spring Training numbers, he undeniably earned a shot, but Lou played the loyalty card and tapped Sean Marshall instead.  And much as Ryan Dempster was a mediocre closer but a lights-out starter in '09, who knows?  Heilman might have been slightly less aggravating.  Or he might've lasted 5 starts, gotten his ass kicked into a demotion, and given us a slightly shortened season as a mediocre reliever. 

Still, go back and consider the two players he was acquired for.  Garrett Olson managed to pitch 80.1 innings between splitting time in the rotation and bullpen for the Mariners, where he was able to drop his ERA more than 1 run from his '08 production -- from 6.65 to 5.60.  And Ronny Cedeno a .208 hitter with a .593 OPS -- and that was only after he'd been sent to Pittsburgh.  Up until that July 29th trade, Ronny Ce was a .167 hitter with a .504 OPS.  And while Olson posted a 3.90 ERA in his limited time as a reliever, who knows if he would've been able to maintain it -- or his 29% inherited runner scoring rate -- over a full season?

So, Aaron Heilman's motto should be this: so bad that I want to punch my mother in the face, but a damned sight better than Ronny Cedeno and Garrett Olson.  'nuff said.

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