Reliever Bob Howry was recently released by the Diamondbacks, and word on the street is that the Cubs might reach out to him. Howry, of course, pitched for the Cubs from 2006-2008 before heading to the Giants in '09 and then Arizona this year. He was released after posting a 10.67 ERA in 14 appearances.
My immediate reaction upon hearing that the Cubs might sign Howry was two parts disgust and one part anger. A 36-year-old retread who couldn't even keep a job in the Diamondbacks' bullpen, which is the worst in the league by far? Jeez, Hendry, how desperate are you?
But then I remembered: Hendry is very desperate. As he should be. Cubs relievers sport a 4.95 ERA, and Sean Marshall, James Russell and Carlos Marmol are the only relievers I feel good about (perhaps because they're the only relievers with ERAs under six). The Cubs can sign Howry for about $280,000, otherwise known as "nothing" in the baseball world. It's a low risk, potentially high reward move. If Howry makes two or three appearances and sucks ... well, that's probably what Esmailin Caridad or John Grabow would have done anyway. And if he pitches well ... then Jeff Gray or Jeff Stevens can head back to the minors where they belong.
I don't expect much from Howry if the Cubs do in fact sign him. But recall that Jim Edmonds was hitting .178 with one home run and six RBI when he was cut by the Padres in 2008. With the Cubs, he put up a .343 OBP and 20 homers.
No one knows for sure what kind of numbers Howry could put up with the Cubs. But we do know that he'll play for next-to-nothing and that we don't have a whole lot of reliable options in our bullpen at the moment. Go ahead, Jim, take a shot.
Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year! Check him out over there!
Um, Bob Howry? Really? Howry has gotten worse since he left the Cubs. Don't let the 3.39 ERA for the Giants fool you. Howry is a massive fly ball pitcher who has a diminishing K rate and seems to have lost the control he once possessed. This is a bad signing Hendry. I'd rather they call up Jay Jackson or Andrew Cashner.
Speaking of Jackson, the Cubs have an embarrassment of riches in #2 and #3 type starters. Right now, they have the following pitchers I would categorize as likely #2 guys:
And the following pitchers I would categorize as #3 guys:
Carlos Silva (at least for now)
Also the following pitchers are potentially in this same boat:
Now for whatever reason, Jackson has been pitching in relief in Iowa but realistically the Cubs are really just missing a real #1 starter in order to have what is quite possibly the best rotation in baseball. #1 starters are usually hard to find but it's an interesting problem to have.
This begs the question. Who the Hell goes back to the bullpen when a certain large, bat weilding Venezuelen re-enters the rotation? Certainly not Gorzelanny who continues to pitch his brains out. You can't take Silva out of the rotation. Dempster is not a good choice as he's pretty much now spent 2 and a quarter years as the Cubs nominal ace. Lilly doesn't seem right. Either does Wells. I have no clue. I don't think the powers that be on the Cubs have a clue either. They almost seem to be hoping for an injury or for one of these pitchers to blow up but that just isn't happening.
Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.
Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.
That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.
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When it comes to baseball, people always love playing the "Guess Who These Stats Belong To?" game, so let's play. I submit to you the following set of statistics, each representing a unique relief pitcher:
Player A: 72.0 IP, 4.00 ERA, 7.63 K/9, 4.25 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, .297 BABIP
Player B: 70.2 IP, 5.35 ERA, 7.51 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 1.66 HR/9, .354 BABIP
Player C: 68.2 IP, 4.72 ERA, 9.31 K/9, 3.93 BB/9, 1.70 HR/9, .277 BABIP
If you're reading the body of this article, you probably glanced at the title first, so you know one of these three lines belongs to John Grabow (hopefully you ignored the tags, for later on). Actually, Grabow hasn't yet posted that line; instead, it's a projected 2010 total generated by Bill James (man, I'm not very good at this whole "suspense" thing, huh?). Take it for what it's worth, which to me is a decent starting point for a comparison to other pitchers.
I was inspired to do this comparison with some other notable former Cubs (oh look, a hint for B and C!) by Grabow's craptastic performance in his first two appearances so far this year. Yes, it's 1.1 innings, but already I'm reminded of painful memories from seasons past.
In just two short appearances, Grabow has evoked the worst skills of the last two most goat-like Cub relievers. By serving up a game-losing home run to Chipper Jones, I'm reminded of Bob Howry's 2008 campaign (Player B), and by walking the only batter he faced in Brian McCann I'm reminded of Kevin Gregg's 2009 season (Player C).
But look at those lines again. Howry threw fewer pitches outside the zone, sure, and Gregg strikes more batters out. But it's not the Ks or the BBs, or really even the BABIP that should stand out to you.
Over the course of their careers, all three pitchers have given up about one home run per nine innings pitched. But in the years we remember for Howry and Gregg, that rate skyrocketed.
It's likely that Grabow will suck in 2010. He walks too many batters and doesn't strike enough of them out (worse BB/9 rate than Gregg, same K/9 rate as Howry). But for him to officially take over as Goat Reliever, it'll come down to the number of home runs he allows -- which, at this rate, admittedly, could be pretty high. Hooray!
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!
"Buwaaaahahahaha...the ultimate power, it is mine!" Howry, stepped back from the table, admiring his handiwork. The tiny worm looked back up at him blank faced. Had it known what its next home would be, it surely would have found a way to express concern.
"Yes master, but I wish you would reconsider," lisped Igor as he hobbled across the laboratory. "We could control the president of the United States. We could use it to rob a bank. We could truly wield ultimate power."
Howry shook his head, looking down at his hunchbacked little friend with just a tinge of pity. "I thought I'd made this clear, Igor: I just want to pitch. It's simple; I just slip this little worm in Lou's ear and I'm control his every thought. No biggie."
"AND SO WE WILL HAVE HIM MAKE YOU CLOSER! YOU WILL BE A GOD!" Igor cried, thrusting his arms to the sky. "A GOD!"
"But I just want to pitch."
"No, you can be the CLOOOOSEEEERRR!"
"No, I just want to pitch. I just don't want to be released. Hell, my fastball isn't what it used to be and my slider is garbage. I just want to pitch. Leave the godding to God."
Igor grudgingly slumped away, muttering under his breath:
"...my last master was, like, a 100 times better."
This is just some puttering around with Excel, the database and my plotter. This isn't supposed to be mistaken for serious analysis.
That said - this morning I was discussing Bob Howry over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, and we got to discussing the fact that when Bob Howry is pitching, hitters are batting .320 on ground balls. When other people pitch, the league average is something like .230. This is a large part of Howry's problem - he actually has the lowest walk rate in the bullpen right now. But is this really Howry's fault?
There really isn't much evidence that Howry is pitching drastically differently this year - his ground ball/fly ball/line drive splits are all right in line with his career numbers. So is his velocity - he's throwing more sliders than he has in years past, for what it's worth.
So - and my play-by-play data for the season only covers through about the first week of August - I did a plot of ground balls hit off Howry. Blue dots are outs, red dots are hits:
Tell me what you see here.
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.
Lou Piniella is a showman. He understands the value of giving fans their money's worth - just look at the fits he's thrown the last two seasons, both of which resulted in winning streaks by the Cubs and joy by the Cubs fans. Maybe that's why Lou insists on pitching to Carlos Lee, and, even more insanely, perhaps that's why Piniella continues to use Bob Howry.
After all, any time the Cubs appear to be pulling away with a big lead, Lou can keep the fans in the game by trotting out Howry, who tends to respond to the call by lobbing a few batting practice pitches to the opposition, who often respond by launching new satellites into the atmosphere.
It's good drama, it's great television, but it's bad baseball.
Howry has been a walking, talking gas can. In the month of July, Howry threw 13 innings of work and surrendered 14 hits. Of those 14 hits, more than 25% (4 in total) were homeruns. He had an ERA of 6.75, and it's only gotten worse as the month progressed.
In his last 9 outings, Howry has thrown 8.1 innings. He's allowed 9 earned runs off of 4 homeruns. 3 of the last 7 hits he's given up were not contained by the ballpark.
I submit to you that he's not worth a draft pick. He's worth a ticket out of town. Hendry needs to pull the trigger, as the Cubs just aren't a good team with Howry in the bullpen.
Geovany Soto fouls one off. See that white streak? That's the baseball.
How many White Sox does it take to catch a pop fly?
Carlos Quentin - swing and a miss!
Javier Vazquez couldn't get the ball over the plate tonight.
Aramis Ramirez' bat is too hot to handle right now.
Aramis Ramirez rounds third base after his fourth home run of the series.
Bobby Howry came in to mop up after eight great Ryan Dempster innings.