Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Micah Hoffpauir

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Hello and News Roundup

Hello everybody. I wanted to get a chance to introduce myself to a few of you, while provided some news updates on the Cubs.


Like Kurt said, I've been blogging since 2003 at the Yarbage Cub Review, which I started for two reasons:


1. I wanted an outlet to talk about the Cubs, which was most important. Back in the day, Scott Lange of the Northside Lounge, Ruz of The Cub Reporter and a few others dominated the scene. I just wanted to share the opinion of one Cubs' fan from afar.


2. The second reason was much more selfish. I needed some kind of hook to get a job, and a blog about the Cubs was the trick. I wrote quite a bit in the first vew years, but as soon as I got a job covering High School sports in Arkansas it became harder to keep going. Writing full-time and keeping a blog going are two things that don't go together, unless you are blogging about the things you cover.


Now that that is out of the way, it is time to look at some stories making news. Kurt asked me to do a news round up from time-to-time, and I will try to fill that void while writing other articles.


The Trib, Suntimes and Daily Herald all say the Cubs got off to good start. The hero was Micah Hoffpauir, who hit a Grand Slam. I know it's early, but I'll take a win.


The Gordon Wittenmyer says that Jeff Samardzija's role isn't determined quite yet. Really? I know he is just trying to fill up copy, something I did back in the day, but of course Samardzija's role isn't settled. My guess is he is heading to Iowa, and will soon take Rich Harden's spot after another shoulder problem.


That's it for now, but as the news cyle starts up, I will be back to give my comments about each of them. Think of me as the GROTA Ombudsman.

2008 Season Recap: Micah Hoffpauir/Daryle Ward

Hoff/Ward

Like the man once said, a good pinch hitter is hard to find.  (I'm not sure who "the man" was, but rarely has somebody ever been so right.)

Pinch hitting is weird.  I realize how ridiculous it seems to write that, but baseball is big, and random, and in isolation the biggest turd can look like solid gold and the greatest player can look like Vance Law.  I'm rambling now, but I would bet that there have been more than a few players throughout the course of baseball history who had the talent, ability, and mentality to be Hall of Famers, but never got the chance because they started their careers 11 for 90, got demoted, and wound up teaching gym somewhere in Iowa.

So, if 90 at bats are too small of a sample size to determine whether or not a player "belongs," then what's fair?  150 at bats?  250?  For a pinch hitter, 150-250 at bats over the course of the season might be all the chances he gets, and if he goes cold for two months then you can bet that his final line will look worse than Lindsey Lohan after an all night coke binge*.

(*allegedly.)

Here, I'll give you some examples of good pinch hitters gone bad.  Lenny Harris.  A Dusty Disciple, Lenny came to Chicago in 2003 with a pinch-hitting pedigree.  In 2002, Harris batted .305 in 197 at bats for Milwaukee, with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, and a .766 OPS.  Then, he came to Chicago, only to realize after getting half way there that he'd left his bat back home, but it was too late to go and get it.  In 131 at bats for Chicago in '03, Harris batted an anemic .183, with just 3 doubles, 1 homer, and an OPS of .484.  The Cubs then cut the cord, and he signed on with the soon-to-be World Champion Fish - who he batted .286 for, prompting them to renew his contract, and when he retired in 2005, he left a .314 hitter in 70 at bats that year.

All of that brings us to the actual subjects of this article.  Micah "The Hoff" Hoffpauir, and Daryle "Badonkadonk" Ward.  Both men can play first base, and when necessity calls, they are also allegedly capable of chugging across the thinly cut outfield grass in order to catch flyballs.  In other words, they are defensively shizzzz-itty. Therefore, their value to the Cubs comes from their batting skills.

In 2007, Ward carried a mean club.  In 110 at bats, the man batted .327 with an OPS of .963.  He hit 13 doubles, 3 homers, and drove in 19 RBI.  Then, in 2008, he ... well, he didn't.  His batting average plummeted to .216 in 102 at bats.  His OPS dropped to .721.  He hit 7 doubles, but 4 homers, and drove in 17 RBI.

Actually, Ward's numbers this past season are odd in that way.  In 8 fewer at bats, he hit 1 more homer and drove in only 2 fewer RBI, but he was a total failure as a pinch hitter.  But are 102 at bats enough to really tell the story?  How will he do next season if he gets 102 at bats elsewhere?

It's conceivable that Ward will succeed for another city in 2009, in fact I think it's likely.  But his decreased ability to reach base was a problem in 2008, and for that reason the Cubs turned to Micah Hoffpauir.

Micah Hoffpauir

Talk about your success stories.  A year ago, The Hoff probably spent his winters working a second job while hoping to save up enough money to buy an awfully nice ring for Sarah May, his finacee with a heart of gold (who was also a hooker).  Then, Hoffpauir puts up Epic Numbers at Iowa, and at the age of 28 gets the call to the show for the first time ever.

In 72 at bats - 29 fewer than Ward - Hoff got 3 more hits than Ward, he hit 1 more double, and he scored 6 more runs.  In fact, Hoffpauir did so well in his limited stint at the Major League Level - .342 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .934 OPS - that fans actually began to clamor for the Cubs to find a way to deal Derrek Lee so his clear offensive superior (that's Hoffpauir, in case you're confused) could have a crack at first base for the Cubs.

Believe it or not, if it's conceivable that Ward could have a great 2009, then it's also conceivable - if not more likely - that Hoffpauir could wake up to reality and realize that he's a life-long journeyman first baseman who needed multiple tries to figure out AAA pitching.

That said, The Hoff was a welcome surprise in 2008, he's certainly earned the chance to be the Cubs pinch hit specialist for next season, but if I was a betting man, I'd lay odds against him making the team out of Spring Training.

Like I said.  A good pinch hitter is hard to find, and part of the problem is that in any given year, a great pinch hitter could put up terrible numbers, and a terrible player could pinch hit his ass off.  I'm not asserting that this was the case with Ward and Hoffpauir in 2008, but let's be honest - it's possible.  Just keep that in mind before you feverishly fantasize about your next Derrek Lee trade.

Hendry down on farm - looking for final pieces

Described as an annual "farm tour", Cubs GM Jim Hendry attended the I-Cubs win last night over New Orleans.  If I were a talented player, perhaps a player who has already seen major league action this year, and currently holds a major league batting average over .370, I would be heartened to know that the Big Boss is here to see me rake.

Daryle Ward has a .100 batting average as a pinch hitter.  He cannot run nor play the field.  If he manages to get on base, we almost always have to employ yet another bench player to run for him.  Last night he got a sac fly to drive in a run, and it seemed like a major victory for him.  Like the scene in "Little Big League", when Billy Hayward's favorite player broke a 0-for-21 slump with a seeing-eye squibber to right...it's time to put the Fat Kangaroo out of his misery.

Jimmy, bring home more than just some funnel cakes and beef jerky from your trip.  Bring us some Micah Hofpauir, and some bullpen help while you're at it.  I'm stickin' the fork in Bob Howry.  He's done.

Thoughts from the ass end of an actual anxiety attack

We have seven weeks to go before the big dance starts, and comparing 2008 to other past Cubs years, this team has a relatively good chance of making it there. That's one way to avoid pissing off Karma by using the "p" word that rhymes with "gheyoffs". Most of us HERE at this point in time are forward-thinking enough fans to realize that October roster composition is the key issue for the Cubs.

By far, the bullpen is the biggest area of concern, but I do not come today to offer the optimal bullpen recipe. Only the fetching Sarah Wood knows how much her hubby hurts, and whether he can finish the year as our closer. Only the theoretically fetching Mrs. Howry can know whether her hubby is tired, or toast. Only the also theoretically fetching Mrs. Marmol (or, based on input from Kyle, assorted St. Louis casino floozies) know whether or not her hubby has enough sack hangin' in his BVDs to be able to throw that sick twisted slidepiece again and again in the biggest situations.

So I cannot in good conscience come out here today and instruct Messrs. Hendry and Pinella in Optimal Cubs Bullpen Construction.

I also cannot instruct the above-mentioned gentlemen on what to do with K. Fooky. The Dome has earned a firm, warm spot on the bench based on his recent offensive woes. But if you do that, you cripple your outfield defense, thus your overall defense. I am not going to go through the permutations here, but I defy you to suggest an alternative defensive arrangement that wouldn't be a gigantic step backward. Furthermore, while your typical Anglo or Latin redass might respond one way to a benching, I honestly don't know how the Dome would react. All I know is that Japanese think WAY different from us. That's not wrong or right, just different. That is why Uncle Lou is being paid the large bux.

In conclusion, I come today to gently suggest that the 25th man on the roster should not be Daryle Ward anymore. It should be Micah Hofpauir. Micah does everything Ward does, a little bit better. He is a bit better hitter, a bit better runner, and a bit better fielder. Granted he still sucks everywhere but 1B, he is no Lou Brock on the basepaths, and he really does not figure in our longterm plans.

But when going to the big dance, don't you want to bring the absolute best dancers you have? Micah > Daryle, so wish Mr. Ward well with his degerative disks and his hugh jass and send him on his way.

A small gesture, perhaps. But I know my limitations, and this is one area I know I am correct in, and I cannot believe this is still an issue. Uncle Lou wants "veteran presence"? What the hell is Lassie Edmonds, then? One guy hanging onto his career by his fingernails is enough...

Tuesday Morning Odds and Ends, Left-Handed Second Basemen Are The New Market Inefficiency

I want you to imagine it - it's the day before opening day, 2008. I – mystically, I guess, from the future - tell you that, halfway through the season:

  1. Alfonso Soriano is on the DL for a second time, this time with a fracture in the hand.
  2. Carlos Zambrano is on the DL too, with shoulder problems.
  3. Oh, and Daryle Ward is on the DL as well.
  4. Rich Hill comes down with Steve Blass Disease, and is finally shipped to Mesa to try and find himself again as a pitcher.
  5. Ted Lilly tacks on almost a whole run to his ERA.
  6. The Cubs abandon the Pie experiment, and replace him after they pick up Jim Edmonds, released by the Padres for hitting .178.
  7. The Cubs have been horrible on the road, going 16-20.
  8. Meanwhile, the Cardinals come from nowhere and put up a 44-33 record, second-best in the NL.

How would you react?

I’m not trying to harsh anyone’s mellow here or anything. But I just want everyone to reflect on the fact that the Cubs haven’t coasted to get to this point, despite what other fanbases may say. I think this is a stronger team than a lot of people give them credit for.

Carlos Marmol is getting a mechanical tune-up. Please tell me this doesn't involve an oil change.

Meanwhile, Reed Johnson looks primed to join the team’s expanding disabled list when Marshall is officially called up to take Zambrano’s start tomorrow. Johnson claims to be feeling better, although the final decision is up to the team’s medical staff. That would save Murton, Hoffpauir and Patterson from a return to Iowa until at least Friday, when one of them is expected to be sent down to make room for Daryle Ward. I can only hope that the plan is not to carry around two backup first basemen who both hit left handed.

Meanwhile, Patterson seems to be providing the sort of top-of-the-order presence Lou has been searching for. And I’ll just pass this on without comment:

Theriot is hitting .310 with 28 multiple-hit games. But he's also third in the league in ground balls hit and has grounded into nine double plays despite having decent speed. Piniella prefers speed at the top of his lineup, and obviously Patterson trumps Theriot, who leads the team in steals with 13 but has been thrown out eight times.

It’s probably a bit early to coronate Patterson, and it’s hard to see him displacing Mark DeRosa from second base, his natural position. Phil Rodgers sees him as trade bait. And speaking of trade bait:

Micah Hoffpauir's left-handed bat is a valuable asset with Daryle Ward out, but, like Ward, the rookie is not good enough defensively to play left or right field on a regular basis. Hoffpauir looked tentative on a few balls that landed in front of him on the artificial turf at Tropicana Field, and he didn't start over the weekend against the Sox.

… Since Derrek Lee is set at first, Hoffpauir's main value may be as trade bait to an American League team looking for a first baseman/DH. If the Cubs make a move for Oakland's Rich Harden, Hoffpauir might be included in the package.

I consider that… unlikely.

Speaking of trades, more news is coming out about the Brian Roberts Hostage Crisis. Purportedly Hendry offered Veal, Cedeno and Gallagher. Thankfully nothing came of it – can you figure where the Cubs would be right now without Gallagher?

Hoffpauir and Patterson Up, Hart Down; And A Look At Our Second Base Options

Well, here it is. Hoffpauir and Patterson are up. Kevin Hart is shipped out. And Patterson is playing left and leading off today. You could push me over with a feather after hearing that last one.

I’ll hopefully update this post in a little while, but in the meantime, here’s a table showing our options at second base, should DeRosa see playing time in left:

Mark DeRosa
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
208
40
65
13
0
8
35
29
46
3
0
.313
.398
.490
.888
Projected
263
40
76
15
1
7
40
30
54
2
1
.289
.362
.433
.795
Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Mike Fontenot
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
88
16
21
7
0
2
12
12
16
2
0
.239
.337
.386
.723
Projected
229
34
60
15
2
5
26
23
43
4
2
.262
.329
.410
.740
Ronny Cedeno
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
95
19
28
7
0
1
19
10
16
3
1
.295
.368
.400
.768
Projected
234
30
65
12
1
5
30
15
43
5
3
.278
.321
.402
.723

Patterson can run the bases, no question. Projections for defense: DeRosa +4, Cedeno +2, Fontenot -3. DeRosa's played worse than that so far this season, while Cedeno and Fontenot have played better. I don't have projections for Patterson. I’ll leave Patterson at a zero, then, and I’ll leave the other numbers unadjusted for now.

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
DeRosa
0.352
4
1.36
0.69
2.05
Cedeno
0.318
2
-1.95
0.34
-1.60
Fontenot
0.326
-3
-1.17
-0.52
-1.69
Patterson
0.311
0
-2.63
0.00
-2.63

This isn't giving Patterson any credit for his baserunning, which is a plus. And I’m not entirely behind those defensive estimates. Cedeno looks like the best option of the three, although I think Murton is probably a better left fielder than any of them are second basemen. (These, unlike my full WAR numbers, are not adjusted by position.)

In wake of Soriano's injury, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture

owww...that's gotta sting a liddle...From Jump Street, let me state that I do not think losing Soriano is a good thing at all.  Colin whips out the numbers that clearly state that there will be a short term dropoff while Soriano heals.  Obviously Murton/Hoffpower don't produce what he does on an annual basis - if they did, then it would be they making thee eight-figure salaries!  What really sucks is that he just got his legs back.  And Kurt ventures that in the long run, Cubs players of late have not had much luck recovering their power from broken hands, particularly from Soriano, whose main gift from God is his wrists, and this particular fracture metacarpal is closely adjacent to said Wrists of God.

I knew, sitting here watching my guys, Our Cubs, run off the best record in baseball, that it was too good to be true.  Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa...all too good to be true.  Several times I thought and mentioned that the only thing that could stop us in 2008 is injuries.  When you saw Pujols get hurt and Yovanni Gallardo get hurt, as a hypersensitive, oversuperstitious Cubs fan, you had to wonder...Where's Ours?

Hopefully, this is it.

I honestly think, though, that it could be worse.  I have stated on here time after time that I think Alfonso Soriano is nothing more than a backup generator - a failover system that occassionally - nay, frequently - can carry a team for weeks at a time while everyone else struggles.  There is NO 2007 Division Crown without his September.  And yes, when taken on an annual basis as Colin has, the man produces abundantly.

Thing is, though, is that his contributions are not consistent.  He differs from, say, Ramirez, who pretty much produces at the same rate every day.  You know that, if you write him in the lineup for a week, that he will give you hits three times out of ten, probably a homer, about four RBIs, and he'll walk a few times.  Managers and teams tend to LEAN on people like Ramirez, they count on him, and when players like him lose time, the loss is quantifiable.

With Soriano, on the other hand, you just don't know.  He HAS been giving us more consistent production the past couple of weeks, yes.  But you honestly don't know what we're going to miss out on the next six weeks.  Might he hit 12 bombs and drive in 30?  Or might he hit .150 and chase every pitch thrown at him?  He isn't going to be there, probably the rest of the year, to pick us up when we need it...that's the great loss with Soriano.  Our Plan B is gone for 2008.  However, it isn't the end of the world if Murton plays there the next six weeks.  We could still play winning ball, if...

.Dempster's big blue Cubs balls..we don't forget about the pitching!  Sure, Dempster whipped out his big brass nutts last night and went the distance, and for the moment, you have to feel confident that Wood and Marmol are rested enough.  For now. 

Lemme ax u a question - consider Z's last two starts, do YOU feel confident that he is going to go out there today and mow them down? Do you feel confident that the offense is going to keep bailing Lilly out from under his early-inning catastrophes?  July is only three weeks away, do YOU know where your Marquis de Suck is?  Still with US, that's where he is.

They're talking up Sean Marshall as the next  callup, saying that he has made the most progress in Iowa.  His last start?  Five runs in six innings.  But hey, he only walked one.

We can't lose sight of the fact that we still need a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, to minimize the amount of time we have to see Wuertz and Lieber and Hart and yeah, even Marmol and Wood.   

How will Soriano’s injury impact the Cubs?

Soriano is going to to the DL for six weeks with a broken hand.

The return of Micah Hoffpauir a day early won’t be the end of the roster moves:

Infielder-outfielder Micah Hoffpauir will come up today from Class AAA Iowa to take Soriano's place on the roster. The Cubs need another hitter for the American League parks coming up.

It's possible they could recall either outfielder Matt Murton or infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson from Iowa by Friday. Currently, the Cubs are carrying 13 pitchers.

Mark DeRosa moved from second base to left field Wednesday. Expect DeRosa to see significant time in left during Soriano's absence, which will be about six weeks or even longer.

So, I’m operating under the assumption that two of Patterson, Hoffpauir and Murton will be called up. Hoffpauir has the least baseball talent of the group, so of course he’s the only one that’s guaranteed a callup.

What I’ve done is taken a player’s minor league numbers and figured out their Major League Equivalency – essentially an estimate of how they would have performed in the majors. Then, I combined those numbers with their MLB numbers. All of those numbers were then fed into the ZiPS projection tool, which uses those figures (in combination with their career numbers) to come up with a projection. (I also did a projection on Soriano for the rest of the season, based upon his numbers to date. Here’s an explanation of how projection systems work.) Here’s the table:

Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Micah Hoffpauir
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
62
12
19
4
0
3
15
1
12
0
0
.306
.308
.516
.824
Translated
62
9
16
3
0
2
11
0
13
0
0
.259
.268
.417
.685
MLB
14
4
8
3
0
0
1
1
6
0
0
.421
.450
.579
1.029
Total
76
13
24
6
0
2
12
1
19
0
0
.316
.325
.474
.798
Projected
191
21
52
12
0
8
33
13
36
1
0
.272
.319
.461
.779
Matt Murton
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
177
25
55
10
1
1
14
28
16
3
2
.311
.411
.395
.807
Translated
184
18
47
8
0
0
10
21
17
2
2
.254
.330
.316
.646
MLB
14
2
3
0
0
0
4
1
2
0
0
.214
.267
.214
.481
Total
198
20
50
8
0
0
14
22
19
2
2
.253
.327
.293
.620
Projected
286
39
79
15
0
8
35
31
37
2
1
.276
.347
.413
.760
Alfonso Soriano
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
211
36
60
11
0
15
40
15
46
7
1
.284
.330
.550
.880
Projected
341
57
97
21
1
21
63
23
76
13
5
.284
.330
.537
.866

All three of them represent a sizable falloff. Hoffpauir is the one most capable of replacing Soriano’s power in the lineup, but that’s really damning with faint praise here. Murton is probably the best hitter of the group, given his superior on-base percentage. (Although his projected advantage over Hoffpauir is mighty slim.)

Of course they still have to play defense. So let’s look at some defensive projections, measured in runs saved/allowed versus the positional average. Murton projects as a +3 corner outfielder over the course of a season, Patterson as a +8. (Soriano projects as a +6; the projections don’t know about his leg injuries this year.)

Hoffpauir’s defense is an absolute cypher. We can look at minor league defensive numbers – Hoffpauir played 13 games in the outfield last season at AAA and was just off the charts bad. But he only played in 13 equivalent games in the outfield, hardly enough to pass judgement on.

What we do know is this. Hoffpauir has been a first baseman pretty much since his days in college. That tells me that, up until Lou Piniella saw him hitting this spring, nobody involved in talent evaluation saw much of a future for him in the outfield. Based on a charitable set of assumptions – that he’s an average defensive first baseman, and that he has the tools necessary to play the outfield – you’re looking at a –5 fielder. Again, that’s the charitable view.

Let’s assume that Soriano misses 36 games, and let’s assume that whoever fills in for him will average 3.1 plate appearances per game. That’s 112 plate appearances. We can figure out runs above average on offense and defense over that period in time. So, put it together and what have you got?

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
Soriano
.367
6
2.82
1.03
3.86
Murton
.337
3
-0.10
0.52
0.42
Hoffpauir
.336
-5
-0.19
-.086
-1.06
Patterson
.311
8
-2.63
1.38
-1.25

Again: I'm making some charitable assumptions on defense for Hoffpauir. Even still, he lags significantly behind Murton, even while they're basically tied as hitters. The problem is that a lot of Murton’s value is wrapped up in his walks, while Hoffpauir’s value comes more from his low-wattage power.

That’s assuming that any of them were to be filling in for him in left field. There are two other players on the Cubs who could be filling in in left: Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa. That requires a bit more chaining to figure out, because then you have to also look at who’s playing center or second while those two are playing fill-in. I’ll take a look at that later.

Soriano has a broken hand

Reportedly a minimally displaced fracture in the fourth metacarpal in the left hand.

From the Trib:

Alfonso Soriano will be in a splint for three weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, and is expected to miss approximately six weeks of action.

X-rays of the hand taken at Northwestern Memorial hospital revealed a minimally displaced fracture of the left fourth metacarpal, located just under the fourth finger on his left hand.

Soriano was hit in the left hand by a pitch from Braves starter Jeff Bennett and was removed from the game for a pinch-runner in the second inning..

The Cubs will call up outfielder Micah Hoffpauir from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday to take Soriano’s place on the roster. 

More updates later.

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