In 2008, Henry Blanco's season went a long way towards restoring the pride of the Hank White Fanclub. Last year was rough for the boys over at Desipio, as Blanco was only able to manage a .167 batting average during an injury shortened season. This past season, however, Blanco rebounded to post an impressive .292 batting average and showed solid second half power. Woo hoo Hank White.
Not a very indepth statistical analysis, you say? Missing the numbers? Well, here they are. Take a look and come back. Go ahead, I'll be here.
You see, I'm not particularily interested in Blanco's numbers. As long as he's not killing the Cubs with his bat, he's alright in my book. I say this because Blanco is about more than just the numbers. He's a teammate. He's the guy Al Yellon was looking for when he somehow landed on Kevin Millar. How do I know this? Well, technically I don't, but would you disagree with any of these statements:
- Blanco has been diligent in taking Soto under his metaphorical wing, helping him adjust to the majors. Although Blanco eschews the Soto guyliner for a Hell's Angel tatoo, they seem to go together like wine and drinking alone at night.
- Henry Blanco seems like the kind of guy who would share half his Pizzone with a hungry teammate.
- Blanco gives excellent interviews. He's great with the press.
So, with all these factors, we see that Blanco is much more than a hitter or a fielder: he's a teammate. I haven't worked through Kurt's formula, but it just feels right.
I could really go for a Pizzone from about now.
There's something about Geovany Soto that I find hard to describe, but I'll try anyway. He looks like he's wearing eye liner or something. Yep, that's right, the guy who possibly might be the best Cubs catcher I've ever seen has gratuitously long eyebrows.
Also, he's quite possibly the best Cubs catcher I've ever seen.
A while back, I started penning an article that has vanished into the ether, which is a fancy way for saying that I never finished writing it. It was about how a number of players who have been essential to the Cubs were also around back in the days of Dusty Baker, only they never really had a chance to shine. Soto is one of those guys - can you believe that before he played those fateful 18 regular season games in 2007, Soto saw action in bits and pieces of 2006 and 2005? I wonder if Dusty knew what he had. Probably not.
What I do know is this - in his first full season, the Rookie of the Year award winner batted .285 with 23 homers, 86 RBI, 35 doubles, and he drew 62 walks while posting an OPS of .868. As a rookie. Is it possible that better days are ahead for Soto?
While I can't answer that question, what I do know is this:
Of all catchers in baseball, Soto was ...
- 2nd in doubles with 35 (behind only Brian McCann who had 42)
- Tied for 1st in homeruns with 23 (Brian McCann also hit 23)
- 3rd behind Brian McCann and Bengie Molina with 86 RBI (Molina had 95, McCann 87)
- 3rd in walks with 62 (Russell Martin had 90, Joe Mauer had 84)
- 4th among catchers with a .285 AVG (Mauer, McCann, and Molina were higher with .328, .301, and .292)
- 4th among catchers with an OBP of .364 (Mauer, Martin, and McCann had OBPs of .413, .385, and .373)
- 2nd among catchers with an OPS of .868 (McCann had an OPS of .896)
There are other catchers out there who are immensely talented. McCann is 24 and has hit the ball very well in his brief career, the Angels have Mike Napoli, a 27 year-old who has yet to play in more than 99 games in a season, but has averaged 15 homeruns a year, and Chris Ianetta, a 25-year-old for the Rockies who hit 18 homers in 104 games played. But while these other guys are good, Soto may receive legitimate MVP consideration in future seasons, assuming he doesn't take a Rick Wilkins-like plunge. (Wilkins, for those of you blessed with ignorance on the matter, hit 30 homeruns as a 26-year-old for the Cubs in 1993, and tho' he played in parts of 8 more seasons he never hit more than 14 homeruns, nor did he bat better than .243 while with the Astros and Giants in 1996.)
Incidentally, Soto is at this point the only All Star Cub hitter in Hendry's entire tenure who was developed entirely by the Chicago farm system. Considering all the years that Jim has been at it, and the massive number of failed prospects to come and go through the minor league turnstiles, let's give Soto credit for defying all odds.
And even more importantly, let's hope with every fiber of our beings that he'll be even better in 2009. A Soto who masters the National League is a dangerous Soto indeed.
When Jon Lieber was signed, not everyone was excited. Some people said that he was too old, too fat, and too recently injured. And, of course, they were right.
This goatrider, however, was thrilled to see Lieber join the Cubs. He remembered a simpler time, when Jose Nieves was considered a shortstop prospect and Terry Adams was the closer of the future. It was that year that Jon Lieber joined the Cubs, traded by the Pirates for the baseball equivalent of peanuts (fun fact: Brant Brown's actual nickname? Peanut. True story*).
(*not actually true)
That year, 1999, was a painful time. Fans watched on as the wild card Cubs tool a nasty dive, bypassing mediocrity, and plunging straight into terrible. The lone bright spot was a solid effort by Jon Lieber as he delivered 200 decent innings. It wasn't much, really, just a taste of what was to come.
It was two years later that Jon Lieber cemented his place in Cubs' lore with a brilliant 20-6 record, compiled over 232 of the quickest innings you'll ever see. Lieber possessed a slider of gold to match his ass of lard. To this day, he remains the last Cub to win twenty in a season. And then, one year later, the wheels came off. Well, actually, that's not technically true. The elbow ligiment came off and Lieber's career as a Cub came to an end.
...or so we thought.
We were so stupid. STUPID!
Because last year Lieber was signed by the Cubs to a modest, incentive-ladden contract. It seemed like a reasonable signing at the time, and it sort of worked out. Kinda. Lieber pitched decently when he pitched, assuming one ignored a few painful outings again Cincy, and showed some of the old Jon. The problem was, he hardly pitched. For most of the season, he was sidelined with some sort of foot ailment and, possible, a pulled butt muscle. Or maybe that was Darryl Ward. I actually can't really remember as Lieber simply disappeared for the middle four months of the season. If I didn't know better, I'd say he might be a spy. Why else would be just vanish without a trace? Not even a parting phone call? I mean, have you ever seen him in the same room as Daniel Craig?
Just one more reason to admire Jon Lieber, American hero.
Anyway, last year was a bust for Lieber. He might pitch again, you never know, but it won't be with the Cubs.
As a word of farewell, let me just say that we'll miss you, Jon. You and your big ass truck.
At the start of the season, the GROTA staff did something similar to what we're doing now - we wrote articles about the individual Cub players who looked as though they were going to play a bigger part in the season. I also made photoshops of every one of them, many of which failed to make a whole lot of sense - not that it's entirely my fault. Guys like Bob Howry fail to inflame the imagination.
Howry is just a boring looking guy. Nothing stands out. He doesn't have a bushy foo. He has no tribal tattoos. He doesn't look like he shived the guy who played J. Jonah Jameson while guest appearing on Oz. He's just really, really boring.
Maybe he is aware of that fact. Maybe Howry realizes just how boring he really is. Maybe that's why he decided to make things interesting this season, which he proceeded to do by earning the nickname "Gas Can." In other words, Howry was terrible all year long.
Take a look at this line: From July 23rd until August 14th, Howry pitched in 9.2 innings of work. In those 9.2 innings, he gave up 15 hits for 10 earned runs. Of those 15 hits, 5 were not contained by the ballpark. Can you imagine if a starting pitcher lost 33% of all hits to the bleachers? A guy like Ryan Dempster, who gave up 174 hits in 204.2 innings of work would have surrendered 57 homeruns.
Howry was almost that bad throughout his entire season. In his 70.2 innings of work he surrendered 13 homeruns, a fairly unusual amount for a reliever. If Howry had matched Dempster's workload, that would have equated to 38 homeruns and an awful lot of Cub losses.
Make no mistake that I'm glad Howry was a Cub, though. Before 2008, he was a reliable arm in the bullpen, and even this year he ate a lot of innings for a 97 win team. The problem was twofold - he had a heavy workload before the All Star Break (46 innings of work, 4.50 ERA) which may have contributed to his poor performance after the break (24.2 IP, 6.93 ERA), and he's just of age to lose it as a reliever. Howry's in his mid 30's, a problem that usually means Game Over for most relievers.
Regardless, he is now a free agent, and it is rumored that Howry will find a home in San Francisco. We wish him the best of luck in his new digs, and we hope that the guy he's replaced by can step up and deliver a more consistent performance. But here's to you, Bob Howry, you magnificiently boring bastard!
I'm bummed that Kerry Wood won't be a Cub next year. Like all Cubs fans, Woody was one of my favorites, even if I bad mouthed him a few times when he was hurt. Unfortunately, the Woody era is a thing of the past, but as part of the season review, we get to revisit our favorite Texas fireballer at least one more time.
Kerry Wood was a first round draft pick by the Cubs. I haven't done any research to back this up, but my suspicion is that he was also the Cubs best first round pick in the team's history.
After a mediocre 1997 season, the Cubs felt they needed a little star power at Wrigley, so they brought up the farm-hand who just wasn't ready yet. At least that's what I would tell anyone who would listen for his first five starts. The sixth start was something different, and although I clung to my stubborn opinion about his readiness for the Big leagues, I was a Kerry Wood fan through and through.
Why visit the ancient history of 1998? Because it's the only context that can explain why a Division championship team would purposefully choose to take their occasionally unsteady, but excellent closer out of the bullpen, insert him in the starting rotation, and move an occasionally healthy starter with no history in the bullpen and make him their closer. (Yes, Wood saw some limited bullpen work at the end of '07, and yes the Cubs gave him some nominal competition for the closers role in 2008, but feel free to comment if you thought Jim Hendry actually had Bobby Howry penciled in the closer's role.)
Anyhow, I digress. Wood won the closer's job out of Spring Training and 65% of Cubdom assumed he would do a great job as closer. That's been the eternal dividends of those wonderful May 1998 starts. Kerry Wood has been the hope of this franchise for 11 years.
- The Franchise turned to him for game 3 of the 1998 NLDS.
- The Franchise imploded following his '99 Tommy John Surgery.
- The only hope of the 2000-2002 dark years was a healthy Wood.
- The Franchise reached the playoffs in his next solid healthy season in '03.
- The Franchise put him on the mound for game 5 of the 2003 NLDS.
- The Franchise put him on the mound for game 7 of the 2003 NLCS.
- The Franchise put their hope on him in 2004.
- The Franchise put their hope on him in 2005.
- The Franchise put their hope on him in 2006.
- While briefly out of favor, the Franchise put their hope on him again when he returned healthy in 2007.
- On faith, The Franchise designated him as closer in 2008.
However, the astute Cubs fan will look at this list and realize most of those bullet points ended in disappointment and/or failure. (Even at this point I'm unable to bring myself to blame Wood... it wasn't all his fault.) But, the record doesn't lie and the few Wood successes form a shorter stack than the mound of Wood disappointments.
As a fan base, we were all too eager to expect the unexpected from Wood, and thus it is that I find it a horrible relief to move along, to cut ties with Woody, to ending the tenure of the longest tenured Cub.
Ok, back to the assignment. It is because of those incredibly lofty assumptions and that track record of good performances but disappointing results that I'm not devastated by the loss of a 34 save, 3.26 ERA closer who struck out 84 in 66 innings of work. Yeah, those numbers aren't likely to be repeated in '09 unless Carlos Marmol is truly the second coming of Mariano Rivera, but a warm body (see Borowski, Joe; Beck, Rod; and Jones, Todd) can come close to those numbers on a winning team and GM Hendry apparently feels the proper allocation of scarce resources doesn't involve a 4 year deal for a 31 year old closer with a long history of health problems.
As a fan, I want to disagree with GM Hendry, but I cried uncle after the skillful Rich Harden trade (heist). I don't always like Jim Hendry's style, but no other Cubs GM has ever had a better record when it comes to playoff appearances. (3 of Hendry's 6 full seasons as GM have resulted in a Cubs post-season appearance.)
So, I've forfeited my ability to second guess Hendry, but you're welcome to question the move in the comments.
Kerry Wood delivers a strike in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. He pitched the eleventh and twelth innings striking out three and recording a win.
Image courtesy of The Cubdom Photo Gallery
We're still waiting on Byron to provide us with a season recap for Kerry Wood, but I thought I'd just keep the train moving and write up about legendary relievers Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts.
Actually, while neither is about to become a Hero of the Revolution or anything, the Cubs have certainly had worse relievers in the past. (Talk about your lukewarm endorsement, eh?) Let's break it down lefty-righty:
Lefty: Neal Cotts
Take a look at these lines - 13.1 IP 8.10 ERA, 65.1 IP 5.65 ERA, 60.1 IP 1.94 ERA, 54 IP 5.17 ERA, 16.2 IP 4.86 ERA, 35.2 IP 4.29 ERA.
I emboldened the proverbial red-headed step child of Neal's career - That One Year What He Was Good. It was also the year that the White Sox won the Series, coincidentally or not. One thing is for certain - that year coupled with the hand he picks his nose with are the only two reasons why he has a job. Cotts admittedly strikes out a lot of guys, but he isn't particularly effective, and while Lou tried to use him as the Lefty Specialist this past season, Cotts actually did worse against his bretheren than he did against righties. In fact, they batted .269 against him with an .851 OPS. Ugly.
Unfortunately, Cotts is the defacto lefty specialist for '09, unless Jim Hendry grabs one of the free agents out there or pulls off a great trade. But on the bright side, just how much damage can one player do in 35-50 innings of work?
Righty: Chad Gaudin
When Gaudin was the throw-in player of the Rich Harden trade, Cub fans rejoiced. After all, at the age of 25 and with a track record as a starting pitcher, Gaudin is the insurance policy for Harden's explosive shoulder and elbow. We also believed - and perhaps still believe - that Gaudin made Jason Marquis minimally the 7th best starting pitcher on the team.
Then, Gaudin lost effectiveness. No, I mean he seriously started to suck. But up until August 22nd, Gaudin's ERA as a Cub was 2.75 in about 20 innings of work. Then, he gave up a very, very ugly 6 earned runs to the Nationals, pitched twice, and spent a long amount of time on the bench waiting for his back to get healthy enough to allow him to pitch again. He managed to make 5 appearances in September, 4 of which were during Chicago losses, and he accumulated an ERA of 15.75 for the month.
In other words, he's a bit of a dark horse. Gaudin just might be a talented middle reliever who will eat innings and get outs, he may even be a starter next season, or he might be little more than an insurance policy that never delivers, even when called upon.
Later today, in theory, will be Kerry Wood. Tomorrow will be Bob Howry.
It’s currently 4 a.m. and I’m surfing Jeff Samardzisoiajsdkj’s (that was actually easier than trying to type his real name) personal website, so cut me a little slack if my grammar is lacking.
Wait what’s that I just said about a Samardzija website? Did you hear that correctly? Yes friends, young Jeff does indeed have his own website and here it is. Enjoy it and all its Modest Mouse glory. Seems a bit much for someone who has only pitched 27.2 innings of big league baseball, but so does a no-trade clause in your first professional contract.
Anyway, Samardzija made his first and somewhat highly anticipated MLB appearance of the season on July 25 against the Marlins and Cubs fans instantly fell in love despite the fact that he blew a save in said game. Maybe it was his flowing locks or his high 90’s fastball, but the collective boner Cubs nation got lasted for much longer than any male enhancement pill could ever provide. Maybe we should see a doctor?
Lou seemed to find a nice spot for the hard-throwing righty somewhere around the seventh inning(depending on the situation) and he would often use Jeff as a lead in to fellow flamethrower Carlos Marmol. While command was an issue at times, Samardzija provided some fire and timely strikeouts from the ‘pen. He wasn’t as dominating or intimidating as the aforementioned Marmol, but he was a nice appetizer for the bigger meal to come.
Despite struggling in the Cubs minor league system, Samardzija was called up from Iowa to replace a shelved Kerry Wood who was suffering from a blister on his throwing hand. Many thought Jeff would return to the land of corn soon after Wood’s return, but the move proved to be a permanent one and a good one at that.
While Jeff’s success might have come as surprised based on his minor league performances, maybe we all underestimated his ability to play in front of a large crowd. Unlike so many young players, Samardzija already had a wealth of experiences in playing before huge stadiums from his days as a member of Touchdown Jesus. In a way, maybe the Wrigley crowd helped him. Maybe he felt more at home on a mound in front of 40,000 people.
In the brief time that the Cubs have been in the postseason, Samardzija’s name has already come up several times as a possible piece of a trade that would bring San Diego’s ace Jake Peavy to the North Side, but now those rumors seem to be dead as Jeff was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause. Supposedly the Cubs are now exploring the idea of letting Samardzija compete for a spot in the rotation.
While I find this idea intriguing, I feel there are many factors that could affect Jeff’s role next season – namely the status of Peavy and Ryan Dempster. With Kerry Wood now out as a member of the Cubs, it also becomes more important for Samardzija to stay in the bullpen and perhaps take on the role of set-up guy if the Cubs are to use Marmol as their closer.
Either way, 2009 is sure to be a much more important year for Samardzija than 2008. Based on what we’ve seen (which is not much) that might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.
Don’t worry though. If he sucks then the Cubs can just trade him away…oh wait.
The Dramatic Prarie Dog had a dramatic season in '08. He went from legend to lemon and back to legend all within the span of a few months, and based on the pending departure of Kerry Wood, Marmol is a likely candidate to close in 2009. But is he fit for the job?
At this point in his career, Marmol makes me nervous, mostly because he completely disintegrated for no apparent reason last season. Sure, he found himself and came back to pitch amazingly well, but here's my line of thinking... if'n he can blow up like that at random, see, what's stoppin' him from blowin' up when it counts? (Sorry, broke into weird British hackney typing accent, am very tired, must sleep soon)
He basically pitched a trilogy last year. In Carlos Owns Baseball, this legendary stud of a pitcher threw 35 innings of work, struck out 52 opponents, and posted an ERA of 1.54.
Then, on May 31st, Baseball Strikes Back made its debut. From that date until July 12th, Marmol was a shell. He pitched 17.1 innings of work, and he allowed 15 earned runs in that span - and, actually, he was at one point responsible for 18 runs but a retroactive decision shaved his ERA a bit. Anyway, 15 earned in 17.1 pitched equals a 7.78 ERA - more than 6 points higher than what it had been previous to May 31. Also over that span, he struck out 18 - still impressive, but down from his previous totals - and walked a craptacular 13 players.
This is the part of the Marmol season that remains burned into my brain. The guy who would trot out to the mound and, failing to find his focus, started to toss ball after ball after ball after ball. You don't want that guy in the 9th inning - or, at least, I don't.
Luckily, after an All Star appearance he probably didn't deserve, Marmol returned from the break a new man. He was no longer that guy. In Return of the Prarie Dog, Marmol threw 36 innings, striking out 42, and walking 16. His ERA in this span was 1.25.
Oh, and he went from July 28th until August 21st without allowing a single hit. He threw more than 9 innings of no-hit ball in relief. He held opponents totally scoreless for 16 innings.
In other, shorter words, the Cubs would not have been nearly as good without him. If he can keep his head on his shoulders - and those massive ears should surely provide some kind of support - then Marmol should step rather nicely into the closer's role next season.
Let's go back to eight years ago, shall we? It wasn't all that long ago. Here are your top seven starters for Your 2000 Chicago Cubs (Pitcher, GS, ERA, W, L)
Jon Lieber 35 4.41 12 11
Kevin Tapani 30 5.01 8 12
Kerry Wood 23 4.80 8 7
Scott Downs 18 5.17 4 3
Ruben Quevedo 21 7.47 3 10
Ismael Valdez 12 5.37 2 4
Andrew Lorraine 8 6.47 1 2
Mr. Lieber. A four-point-four-one earned run average. Eleven losses. Congratulations, Mr. Lieber. You are at the top of your pledge class!
Mr. Wood. Four-point-eight-oh. A fine example, you set!
Mr. Quevedo. Zero-Point-Zero.
It really is a shame we couldn't trade Sean Marshall to 2000. With his lifetime 4.62 ERA, he could step right in there and anchor this staff.
Sean did the dirty work this year. A couple of spot starts, a few appearences as the LOOGY, but mostly long relief. He did what was asked, without complaint, and even at the risk of his marketability. When he got the chance to start a few games, he wasn't really built up to last very long. And when LOOGY situations came up, he wasn't really able to be applied in these situations because he is not used to the LOOGY life of getting warm in three minutes, going out there, getting his guy, and being able to do it the next day.
Now, there's a reason why Sean became this year's buttmonkey. His upside as a starter is not high enough, so his inclusion in the rotation was not a priority. Mr. Marshall is in limbo with us right now. Which is why his name is included in every trade rumor that comes up. The pinnacle of his career was the brief portion of 2006 when he was surgically attached to Greg Maddux' back. Sean appears to be quite receptive to instruction; at the same time, he is also quite reliant on it.
He could probably grow into a 12-13 game winner on a team with the luxury of personal growth. If he had a patient manager and a dynamic pitching coach who was willing to take him on as a pet project. A couple of years of that, and then maybe like baby bird, he would eventually 'fly' on his own, and I could absolutely see him having a Jamie Moyer-esque career. He is durable, smart, likable, and in the right situation, Sean Marshall would be an asset.
Of course, we don't have a patient manager, a dynamic pitching coach, or the luxury of time to wait for him to come around. I like him, but like Matt Murton, Micah Hofpauir, and Sean Gallagher, he is better off finding a new home.
And now for the season recap you've all been waiting for - the, erm, dynamic duo that was Michael Wuertz and Scott Eyre. Let's start with Scotty first, before he gets distracted and starts playing video games until a cool cartoon comes on TV before he notices the mirrorball hanging from the ceiling in the second story of the house next door before he goes blind staring into the sun.
Scott Eyre - There is a term that should never be used by pleasantly plump people such as myself when describing professional athletes, but what they hell. Scott Eyre is a fat pud. I mean no disrespect, after all it's not like he's Glendon Rusch fat, but it's probably no coincidence that with the multi-year, multi-million dollar contract that he signed with the Cubs three years ago, he immediately opened one of those duo KFC/Taco Bell franchises on the first floor of his mansion.
You know what, don't mind me. I'm only a little bitter about Eyre because his complete failure to deliver any kind of consistently good performance for the Cubs resulted in Lou Piniella turning to Neal Cotts.
In the meantime, Eyre made 19 appearances for the Cubs in the final year of his contract. In those 19 appearances, Eyre pitched 11.1 innings, giving up 15 hits, 4 walks, and 9 earned runs for an ERA of 7.15.
Unable to forgive him for this ridiculous play, Jim Hendry made a move that would change Eyre's life - on July 31st, he was sent packing to Philly - aka the World Champions.
As a Philly, Eyre put up an ERA of 1.88 in 14.1 innings of work, and not only did he make the playoff roster but they actually trusted him to pitch in the World Series! And now, Philadelphia appears on the brink of signing him to another year.
Therefore, I guess that from a certain point of view, Eyre's season with the Cubs was a total success. You'd have to be a crazy old hermit-jedi to see it this way, but his pitching performance for Chicago landed him a gig for next year and a World Series ring. Well played, Scott Eyre. Well played.
Michael Wuertz - Ah, the whipping boy.
Let us be clinical about this. Your favorite team has a relief pitcher who, quite frankly, looks like he may have been an extra on the set of The Warriors, despite having been born in Minnesota. In his career, he's thrown in 265 games and 262.1 innings, and he's allowed 225 career hits, 128 career walks, he's struck out 270, and his career ERA is 3.57.
In his most recent season, at the tender age of 29, this young arm starts out with a rough April, but he follows it up by allowing only 9 hits and 4 walks in May for an ERA of 1.35. Then, in June, he loses his edge a bit - 13 hits and 5 walks in 8.2 innings, but his ERA is only 2.08.
Then - then! - in July, after having not pitched for an entire week, he steps into a game against the Reds, a team that killed Cubs pitching this year, gives up 4 earned in 1.1 innings of work, and is banished from Wrigley Field until September 1.
This was the seasonal path of Michael Wuertz. Clearly, this is one guy Lou Piniella caught screwing his daughter.
Was Wuertz's season that bad? Did he deserve the distaste of Cub fans everywhere? Can anybody with a straight face really claim that he was worse than Howry?
Wuertz will probably be back next year. And although he'll almost certainly post a Sub 4 ERA, make no mistake - he'll be hanging on by a narrow thread. Why? Lord, I don't know. He's really not that bad at all.