Yesterday's turd of a game notwithstanding, the Cubs seemed to be playing a better brand of baseball this week. I speak mostly of the offense, which put up 39 runs in the week's first six games. They drew walks, came through with runners in scoring position and generally enabled us viewers to refrain from expecting the worst for at least a few days.
The pitching was middling, however, and cost them two losses including Friday's in which Ted Lilly took the Cubs out of the game early even though the Cubs would eventually score seven runs. Lilly has not exactly boosted his trade value in the last couple weeks, but the deadline remains nearly three weeks away. Speaking of a possible Lilly trade, word is that the Mets would hope to take on much of his remaining salary so that they could part with lesser talent. I hope Hendry wouldn't go this route--Lilly's salary comes off the payroll after this season anyways, so what good does a trade do if it doesn't net some decent prospects?
Ryno of the Week: Who was that man blasting home run after home run, looking generally comfortable at the plate and enjoying the long-overdue opportunity to look up at the scoreboard and see a batting average starting with a "2"? Aramis Ramirez had at least one hit and one run in every game this week except yesterday's, and clubbed at least one extra-base hit in five different games. He was 12-for-28 with four home runs and nine RBI. It was utterly fantastic.
Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd
Goat of the Week: As happy as I am to write A-Ram's name above, I'm quite disappointed to be doling out the negative hardware to Tyler Colvin. His production has dipped noticeably in the last month or so, and he struggled to the tune of 2-for-17 this week with five strikeouts. Hopefully he can find his way through this slump and improve upon his .263 average.
Dishonorable mention: Ted Lilly
Not exactly the outing you want to see from a pitcher your team is trying to trade. Or, you might say, exactly not the outing you want to see.
Ted Lilly didn't make it out of the fourth inning last night, allowing seven hits, two walks, and a home run, for a total of five earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. The home run was hit by Russell Martin, immediately after Lilly allowed a walk and a single.
The Cub offense showed up last night, putting up seven runs over the course of the game, including two in the ninth when Aramis Ramirez drove in Kosuke Fukudome on a triple, and was then brought home on a Marlon Byrd single. But it wasn't enough.
Gold stars go to Marlon Byrd, who went 4-for-5 on the night (all singles) with three RBI and a run scored; Tyler Colvin, who went 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and two walks; and Aramis Ramirez, who posted his fourth consecutive multi-hit game, going 3-for-4, with a walk to boot. Aramis ended up a home run short of the cycle, while scoring twice and driving in one run. His post-DL stint stats now look like this:
.333/.381/.628 (1.009 OPS), 10 R, 9 RBI, 4 HR
So much for my analysis a month ago, when I said Derrek Lee looked capable of a comeback while Aramis looked toast. The only defense I can offer up is that I wish Aramis spoke up sooner about his bum thumb. I guess athletes are supposed to tough it out, but Ramirez' at-bats have truly been as different as night and day pre- and post-DL. I'll try to take another look at each hitter's peripheral stats later on to figure out what the problem is.
In the meantime, as trade speculation continues, the Cubs continue to lose games. So that's too bad.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Cub starter goes quality, offense can't score enough runs, we lose a close one.
And now, the mitigating factors:
- Randy Wells was one pitch away from a super outing. He gave up six hits (a leadoff double, four singles, and a late, low, line-drive homer that barely made it out), walked one, and struck out seven. Whether it was bad mechanics, bad luck, or a combination of both, whatever was ailing Randy's ERA seems to have subsided.
- I promised you a guessing game in the title, so here goes. Check out these numbers, compiled over Mr. Mystery's last 47 at-bats:
.297 avg, .340 obp, .596 slg (i.e. .936 OPS), 4 HR in 47 AB
I know you know who it is, but still, that was fun, right? Of course, every time I look at Aramis' post-DL numbers, I wonder why he wasn't put on the DL earlier. Clearly, an Aramis Ramirez with one good thumb is a completely worthless hitter (see: April and May), so let's try to keep him healthy for the next season and a half, shall we?
- Kudos to the two Cubs who drove in runs last night. If you believe the numbers at Fangraphs, Geovany Soto is on pace for a more valuable season than his 2008 ROY campaign, and Alfonso Soriano has been worth $10.4 million in value over a replacement player thus far this season.
When an offense fails to score runs, fans usually start to demand change, and they tend to do so pretty quickly. And yes, we know it's a 162-game season, but can you blame us? We want to win, and we want to win now.
Personally, I'd say this year's most perplexing issue for the offense has been Lou's insistence on hitting Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the 3- and 4-holes, respectively, despite each of their thoroughly failtastic performances at the plate this season. (Along the same lines, why does Nady keep hitting 4th or 5th? Pardon me, I digress.)
So right, Lee and Ramirez have been terrible. And along with the occasional call for a straight-up benching (yes, I'm guilty of that), the most popular request in response had been to simply move those two down in the order.
Which may have made us feel better, I guess. But the fact has always been this: so long as Derrek and Aramis are struggling, this entire offense will continue to struggle. You can't stash these guys in the 7 and 8 spots, and you can't simply bench them. The Cubs need them if they plan on scoring any respectable number of runs this year.
Speaking of which (let the recap commence!!): last night's game, combined with Tuesday's matchup, marked the first time Aramis Ramirez has hit three home runs in two games since June 20th and 21st of 2008 against the White Sux. (June 20th was a walk off blast, and June 21st was the day the Cubs scored nine in the 4th... remember, when Fontenot was pinch-hit for in the same inning in which he hit a home run earlier? Those were the days.)
Starter Ryan Dempster did not have his best stuff, but he's a tough dude, and he managed to get through five innings anyway. And the 'pen stepped up, posting four scoreless innings, with Andrew Cashner putting up the most impressive line of the lot (five outs, three strikeouts, no walks, one hit).
It feels like it was only yesterday when I was complaining about the Cubs never having five guys drive in runs in the same game (which it was), and here they go and do it again. Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, and Ryan Dempster each nabbed one ribbie, while Starlin Castro drove in two for himself on a single. And Aramis Ramirez' home run was a three-run bomb.
So yeah, about Ramirez: Take heart, Cub fans, as it seems Aramis hasn't completely lost it yet. (The guy needs to learn when to take a frakkin' breather and let his hand heal, because when his thumb hurts he SUCKSSSSS, but whatever.) At the very least, we don't have to worry so much about that $16 million option for 2011 that AR will still likely exercise.
At best? Maybe there's a chance the Cubs haven't completely lost it either.
Hey guys, how 'bout that Ben?!?!? What a kid!! Congratulations, yarbage!
Hopefully Ben will see more of that Crimson Tide onesie than his Cubs outfit, because winning is fun. And speaking of winning (which we... ya know, won), last night's game reminded me of a mindset I had back in 2008.
(I know this seems like an awful tangent but bear with me. OK, here goes.)
Going into the NLDS in 2008 I was cautiously optimistic, which is really to say I was 100% cautious. I realized our team proved itself as the best in the National League over the course of a regular season, but I remembered the cat-poopish taste left in my mouth by our brief 2007 playoff experience. Winning a game in the division series is no small feat, and when a baseball series is best of five, you've really gotta win game one.
So the main thought on my mind was, "Until we win a game I will make a minimal emotional investment in these playoffs." Turns out we didn't win a game, so now I'm convinced: even if we were to win 105 games in the regular season before our next playoff run, I'd still be skeptical until we managed to snag that first W.
This is essentially the way I've been handling Aramis Ramirez' struggles this year. It was sad to see Aramis go so quickly, I thought, but after hitting under .200 for a few months, I decided it would be best to completely abandon hope until he did something -- ANYTHING -- to prove he wasn't a complete waste of space this year (and $16 million or so next year, thank you player option).
Call me crazy, and I know it's just one game. But hitting two home runs is definitely a start. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Aramis is now slugging .520 over his 14 games in June and July.
Last night's game was cool for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Marmol's striking out all FIVE batters he faced. The contest gave Carlos Silva his ninth win of the season, too. But if Aramis Ramirez can somehow turn one good night in the desert into a solid second-half, that'd be the coolest thing by far.
Wow, this is a tough one. There are people on this site who are advocating releasing Aramis Ramirez. Not only will this not happen, I don't think it should. The Cubs simply have no one who can replace him in the organization and, in part because of Ramirez' contract, they will not be able to replace him via free agency after the season. Furthermore, I don't think it's clear that he's finished and I expect him to have a decent second half. Still, my hope is that Cub fans and the management alike remember this first half even if he goes back to a typical season in 2011 and don't try to bring him back in 2012. The problem is, third base has a chance of becoming a black hole once again after he leaves. The Cubs' in house options are very, very flawed.
Major League Level: Aramis Ramirez (age 32): Aram has been one of the most if not the most productive Cub since his arrival in the middle of the 2003 season. He has done it with the bat and overall has not really hurt the team with the glove. So far, 2010 has been a different story. He's well under the Mendoza line at .173 in batting average at the moment. He is producing the negative trifecta at the plate. He has seen his power go down to an ISO below .130 and his contact rate has tanked and he's still K'ing over 20% of the time on the season. On top of this, he has gotten very unlucky and has a BABIP below .200. I think eventually the BABIP will even out and Ramirez will get his batting average up to say .230 on the season. If the power comes back, I think he could be decent in the second half.
The question isn't really about this year though, it's about the future. Thing is, Ramirez has a player option for $16 Million in 2011. He will pick that up. Now, if the Cubs had an in house option to replace him that was either better than him or even just as good in 2011, I'd say release him. Problem is, they don't really have an option but to let him work his kinks out. They may be forced to even bring him back (at a severely reduced salary) in 2012 though like I wrote above, I hope Cubs' management doesn't get fooled too much if he hits, say, .260/.325/.435 or so in 2011. The Cubs have no real option for the 2012 season right now. They will probably play that one by ear and see what's available after 2011.
Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Mike Fontenot is a decent player but I don't think he's going to be able to push Aramis out the door at third base. He's really more of a second baseman and I think the Cubs need to commit to a 2011 true platoon of Fontenot/Baker (see below).
Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is such a solid defensive player that if the Cubs did decide to part with Ramirez, he is an option at the position. In fact he's so good, I would recommend a 2011 rotation which allows Baker 2 starts a week against right handed pitchers at third base. With the bat, he absolutely destroys left handed pitching and should be playing against them all the time. I think the Cubs have him through 2013 and he's exactly the type of player a championship level team has on their bench.
AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): There's no real good reason why Bill Hall has a job in the major leagues but Bobby Scales, who is just as good, doesn't. That being stated, he's far more of a bench player than he is some one who is going to be a starter at the major league level. He's also more of a second baseman. One of the problems with this exercise is that many players who are nominal third basemen make more sense at second basemen but I put them here anyway. Scales will show up on the second base list also.
AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): As a 13th round draft pick back in 2006, it is amazing that Camp has even made it to AAA. He's more of a second baseman, so I will deal with him more in that realm.
AAA level: Marquez Smith (age 25): A stocky right handed hitting third baseman who's upside might be Casey McGehee. He has a decent glove and seems to walk enough to make him intriguing. Problem is, he was below average power and speed and sometimes struggles to make contact. Tack onto that the fact that he's already 25 and he's someone I'd love to see play in the majors but who I don't believe will ever be a regular in the majors. I'd have said the same thing about McGehee 2 years ago.
AA level: Josh Vitters (age 20): The brown eyed handsome man of the Cubs' minor league system and the hope by many to become Ramirez' replacement in 2012. I don't think he'll be ready and I worry greatly that he'll bust big time. Having said that, there are some signs that I am wrong and that he is going to be a stud at the major league level. I hope that is the case.
Here are the positives: He's just 20 years old and playing at Double A. After initial struggles, he's eventually conquered every league he's played at. He has excellent contact abilities and shows decent, slightly above average power. Despite predictions to the contrary he's stayed at third base, so far.
Here are the negatives: He walks so little that it's cause for a celebration when he does. This means that he will have to hit .330 in the major leagues to have a passable OBP and he's probably not going to hit .330. He also has decent but not great power, very little speed and even if he stays at third base, he will always have a below average glove.
It is because of those negatives and his overall youth that I think he'll need all of 2011 and probably all of 2012 in the minors before he's ready to face major league pitching. Those who have called for his ascension to the majors now are mildly nuts, he will probably produce a line of .130/.140/.180 at the major leagues with a weak glove right now. You don't bring up a player like this at this time unless you actually want to ruin not just his confidence but the team's chances of winning long term. Vitters is a project. He's young enough that he might be able to improve his fielding and get his walk rate over, say, 6% by 2013 and be ready. I am hopeful, but I am skeptical.
AA level: Nate Samson (age 22): Samson is a 34th round draft pick who has made it Double A (and is holding his own there). That fact, in and of itself is a good thing. Having said that, he's far more valuable as a shortstop/second baseman than a third baseman. He has zero power and that's an issue for him moving forward. I will deal with him in the middle infield section.
AA level: Russ Canzler (age 24): Canzler isn't really a third baseman either. He's played the position this year for Tennessee but he's really more of a first baseman/outfielder. He is already 24 and he is repeating the level and having a really nice year offensively. 24 year old first basemen who are repeating Double A better hit. I would be surprised if Canzler ever made the major leagues.
A+ level: D.J. LeMahieu (age 21): Daytona appears to be rotating LeMahieu and Ryan Flaherty between third base and second because since Josh Vitters got promoted, they have no one else to play the position. I'll deal with both LeMahieu and Flaherty at the second base review.
A+ level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): See above. One of my favorite Cubs' prospects though I admit he's fairly old for the level. I'll deal with him more in second base.
A level: Matthew Cerda (age 20): At 5'9" and with middling power potential, Cerda is also more of a second baseman so I will deal with him there. The Cubs just don't have too many pure third basemen in their organization. Peoria has two of them that I am not going to list because I don't see them as ever being prospects. If they end up playing in Double A someday, I will make a note. The Cubs appear to have a great deal of depth at second base.
A- level: Arismendy Alcantara (age 18) At 18 years old, Alcantara is the prospect at Boise. Having said that, he too is more of a middle infielder. The theme continues!
Conclusion: At third base, the Cubs are all in on Josh Vitters as a longterm solution at the position. The only other potential long term solution is Ryan Flaherty and I'm still hopeful he will end up being the choice at second base. If Vitters doesn't work, which I would put the chances at about 50% of being the case, the Cubs will have no other option but acquiring talent to play this position. Third base, in the major leagues, has become a very thin position and unlike first base, there just isn't that much out there that can be counted on fall in the Cubs lap. I truly hope Vitters works because if he doesn't.....
In light of a few numbers that were thrown around in the shoutbox recently, I decided to further investigate some statistics that may or may not be trends. Most of these things are probably unrelated, but some of them are very interesting to know. So without further adieu… Fun With Statistics!
We’ll start out with a couple of team-centric warm-ups
The Cubs are:
- 8-12 in One-Run games
- 9-7 in blowouts (5+ runs)
- 3-24 when they score 3 runs or less (!)
- 23-7 when they score 4 runs or more
- 11-0 when they score 7 runs or more
- 12-2 when they allow 2 runs or less
- 14-29 when they allow 3 runs or more
- 7-14 when they allow 3 or 4 runs (What!?)
Ok… So from that we can accurately say if we score 4 runs or more, we’ll probably win and if we allow 2 runs or less, we’ll probably win. Jeez, not too much margin for error there.
Alright, next let’s look at some situational statistics for the team
The Cubs are:
- 26-1 when they start the 9th inning with the lead or tied (damn, alright, that’s actually pretty great)
- 0-30 when they start the 9th inning behind (Holy. Shit.)
The Cubs have:
- 8 comeback wins with the largest deficit overcome being 3 runs (sigh, remember that Rockies game in magical 2008?)
- 14 blown leads (for comparison, we had only 22 in all of 2009.)
- 2 walk-off wins
- 0 walk-off losses (Hey! An improvement! We had 13 in 2009)
Wow. Alright. Those are some pretty polarizing numbers. Let’s move on.
Time to pick on some individual contributors (or, probably more than likely, “lack of” contributors)
The Cubs are:
- 10-1 in games started by King Carlos Silva (this is my personal favorite and the one that spawned this post)
- 16-30 in games started by anyone else
- 11-12 in games where John Grabow pitches (I assumed worse)
- 20-6 in games where Carlos Marmol pitches (Only 12 being Saves)
- 7-3 in games where Aramis Ramirez does not play
- 9-16 in games where Aramis Ramirez does play AND has a hit
- 5-14 in games Derrek Lee goes hitless
- 19-17 in games Derrek Lee has at least 1 Hit
- 12-5 in games Derrek Lee has at least 1 RBI
Ya know, I could probably go on and on, but let’s sum up what we’ve learned here.
- The Cubs do not do well in close games
- They will, however, win most every game they score 4 or more runs
- Unfortunately, if they give up more than 2 runs, they will probably lose
- If we have the lead in the 9th, you can chalk that baby up in the W column.
- If we’re losing in the 9th, you might as well turn the game off.
- Carlos Silva and Carlos Marmol have saved this team.
- John Grabow and Aramis Ramirez have killed this team.
- Derrek Lee may or may not be expendable.
As I ponder why Tyler Colvin isn't in the list of Content, let's talk about a big Cubs win today!
If Aramis and Derrek Lee start hitting like they did today (on top of Marlon Byrd and the aforementioned Mr. Colvin), the Cubs offense should start scoring enough to back up what has been a solid pitching staff this year.
The Cubs jumped all over Roy Oswalt today to the tune of 6 runs on 9 hits in 7 innings. Both Ramirez and Colvin hit shots off of him. Colvin, who I am admittedly not a believer of, seems to have made himself a quasi regular with his early season heroics.
As for Ramirez? Well, I'm not willing to say he's back but I will say that he needs to do 2 things to turn around his season:
1) Stop striking out
2) Hit the ball far
He has been failing at both this year but has now gone two straight games (against two straight strikeout pitchers) without K'ng. I'd like to see him extend that streak and hit a couple of more extra base hits tomorrow.
Ryan Dempster kept up the string of decent pitching performances. Ryan Theriot drew a walk. The bullpen tried to give it away and then Carlos Marmol actually got 2 straight batters out without a strikeout. An interesting day all around.
Wells on the mound tomorrow. Let's take this series and head to Pittsburgh with a full head of steam!
Astros 3 Cubs 1
I didn't see the game so if people want to add some insight to this in the comment field, feel free!
Zambrano looked meh, ok. 94. that is the velocity of Z's fastball when he's going good and he has a decent K/BB rate when that happens. Last night, from all reports, he was living at 91 and we do know he had a 3/3 K/BB ratio. I fear that Pineilla may have made Z's a fairly useless pitcher by sending him to bullpen purgatory for a month and a half.
As for the offense, yeah, they got a little unlucky as if you hit 11 flyballs, as the boxscore indicated, of of Paulino, one oughta fly out. But having said that, they are just not hitting right now. There is no easy way to say it. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't pick it up in a big way by the end of June, it will time to start seriously considering sunk costs with him and release him. I'm not saying I will be favor of that and I love Aramis for what he has done for the Cubs these last seven years but really, Aramis? .158? Come on man!
It's as simple as this. The Cubs' pitching and run prevention has been stellar and their offense, a league average unit, has been less than that. You need to score to win, even if your pitching is on a roll. Get them today boys!
It's an off day, so rather than do it in the Shout Box, I thought I'd create a new post to respond to Intrepid Reader Chief's most recent comment, asking if Aramis' struggles have had anything to do with a low batting average on balls in play, or BABIP.
I'm not a stats expert either, but when I see that a hitter has a low BABIP, the next thing I do is look at his batted ball stats. Fangraphs breaks up batted ball types into three categories: ground balls, fly balls, and line drives.
For example, check out Derrek Lee's rate stats so far in 2010, compared to last year's totals, as well as his career rates:
2010 - 21.1 LD%, 38.3 GB%, 40.6 FB%
2009 - 19.2 LD%, 35.1 GB%, 45.7 FB%
career-21.3 LD%, 39.7 GB%, 39.0 FB%
Nothing way out of whack, really. Lee is hitting plenty of line drives, so his low BABIP does suggest a fair amount of bad luck.
Now let's look at Aramis Ramirez:
2010 - 15.1 LD%, 24.4 GB%, 60.5 FB%
2009 - 21.3 LD%, 34.6 GB%, 44.1 FB%
career-19.8 LD%, 35.1 GB%, 45.0 FB%
A huge chunk of what used to be line drives and hard hit ground balls are instead turning into fly balls this year. And unless those fly balls are getting hit a long long way -- and in this case, they're not -- they're easy outs.
That's why I'd bet on a D-Lee turnaround, but not on Aramis coming back anytime soon.