Archive for September, 2007

Dempster vs. Dumpster?

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Over the last week or so, we’ve had some serious debate over the use of Ryan Dempster as the closer. I’ve argued that you can’t mess with a guy that has only blown three save opportunities, and regardless if he gives up a run or two, when leading by three or more runs, it’s still a save and a win. Regardless of whether or not you like his high socks, Ryan has gotten the job done this year, as well as last year, and has the perfect mental make up for the closer spot. I’m going to give you the numbers of past Cubs closers on playoff teams, to show how he stacks up against, Lee Smith, Mitch Williams, Rod Beck, and Joe Borowski. What you’ll see is that Ryan is not even as close to as bad as some of you would like to believe. In fact, he’s better in many categories.

First up are the total numbers for each closer for each of the playoff years (1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and hopefully 2007). Obviously, Dempster’s numbers are not complete yet (and are dated 9/17).

Pitcher GF W L S IP ERA H R ER BB SO
Lee Smith 59 9 7 33 101 3.65 98 42 41 35 86
Mitch Williams 61 4 4 36 81.2 2.76 71 27 25 52 67
Rod Beck 70 3 4 51 80.1 3.02 86 33 27 20 81
Joe Borowski 59 2 2 33 68.1 2.63 53 23 20 19 66
Ryan Dempster 54 2 6 28 61.2 4.09 50 29 28 29 52

He’s finished 54 games, with a 2 – 6 record, and 28 saves. Lou Pinella has sent him out 18 other times not in a save situation. That’s a nice enough amount of innings that can skew the numbers. What strikes me as interesting is Lee Smith’s 9-7 record. Lee was thrown out there for a ton of two, and in some cases, three inning opportunities. His ERA hit 4.41 as late as July, although ERA by many is discounted. Thus far, Ryan’s looking similiar to “Sweaty” Joe Borowski. The steady hand that has a few bumps along the course of a season, which any reliever is going to have. Since everyone thinks Ryan like to get himself into trouble right off the bat, let’s check out these fellas number facing the lead off hitter in an inning.

Pitcher AB R H BB SO BA
Lee Smith 62 3 17 5 12 .274
Mitch Williams 58 11 15 13 15 .259
Rod Beck 76 9 23 3 18 .303
Joe Borowski 64 5 12 4 17 .188
Ryan Dempster 59 0 13 2 10 .220

Well looky here, only two walks and no runs facing the leadoff hitter. His hits average out to about what the others had at the same time, as do his strikeouts. Seems old Dempster is a pretty tough cookie to crack when leading off the inning. Rod Becks’ numbers look really spectacular until you see that old batting average, which I know can be construed as a silly stat, but it’s obvious guys seemed to hit the ball against “Shooter.” What’s odd, is if you check Rod’s pitch counts (about half way down the page), batters knocked the snot out of the ball in pitcher’s counts, he was more effective in hitter’s counts. Ryan’s actually wicked in every count except, the first pitch, 0-1, 1-1, and 2-1. Batters never hit higher than .235 (2-0 count) at any other time.

Then of course, we have the bigger question. Say Mr. Dempster gets himself into trouble, how does he fare with runners in scoring position (2nd and/or 3rd). We’ll do this by how many runs the opponent is within.

  AB R H HR BB SO BA
Within 1 R 79 12 15 2 13 16 .190
Within 2 R 134 18 32 3 15 27 .239
Within 3 R 170 22 40 4 20 39 .235

Basically, the guy has given up six more runs when up by two, and four more runs when up by three. That’s with a larger number of batters faced, a larger sampling so to speak. So, to say he makes save situations closer, would probably be incorrect. He’s pretty on good no matter what the situation. As you can see, he tightens down even more the closer it gets. Lets see how he does with two outs and runners in scoring position. Although, his OBP is not so nice, .301, .318 and .318 respectively. Walks can kill you if you’re not careful.

  AB R H HR BB SO BA
2 Outs, RISP 29 6 5 0 8 6 .172

Dempster seems to tighten down when it’s really on the line. 21% of the batters he’s face have driven in a run in this situation. Not great, but in baseball anything under a one in four shot is pretty dang good in my opinion.

I think the real argument is not whether or not Dempster is a true stopper, but who is a true stopper these days? I can’t think of one closer in the National League that really scares me. Billy Wagner, or Trevor Hoffman have passed their prime. They still put up good numbers, but are they unhittable nowadays? I’m not so sure. I just don’t think the league has closers that scare the bejesus out of anyone like in the past.

You guys may all hate on Ryan, but I’m sticking with the guy. He’s proven that he’s got the mental makeup, and the cojones to go out in tight situations, over and over without blinking an eye. Does it get a little rough at times? Yeah, sure. It was in 2003 with Borowski, and look how far the Cubs got. I’d hardly say “Sweaty” Joe cost us the chance at a Division or National League Pennant. Would you?

This is not a definitive look at Dempster. I could go on for pages upon pages of stats, bore you sabermetrics, compare him to every other closer in the game, and throw up Marmol and Howry’s numbers to whet your appetite, as well. It’s more for you guys and gals to see the numbers, and to show that he’s not as bad as it some of you make him out to be. I know some will still call for his head, but hey that’s the fun of stat mongering, there’s a way to look at every stat to strengthen your position. This is mine, and Dempter’s my closer.

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Game 153 – Putting an End to It

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

September 19th, 2007

Teams

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
Cincinnati 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0   2 6 1
Chicago 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 X   3 9 2
W – B. Howry (6-7) L – G. Majewski (0-3) S – None
Homeruns: A. Dunn (40) E. Encarnacion (15) A. Soriano (28) G. Soto (2)

Box Score

This pennant race stuff is pretty taxing on the fan. Each loss seems like it is devastating and even one loss seems like an extended losing streak. This is a huge reason why a Cubs win tonight feels so good. Tomorrow the Cubs have their first day off in over three weeks. Can you imagine how miserable it would have been to carry a two game losing streak into the day off? Think about all of the second guessing about starting Zambrano and Lilly on short rest if the Cubs had fallen to the Reds tonight. Feel all of the angst that we would have felt if the Cubs lost another series to the Reds. “If we can’t beat the Reds we are in trouble.” “We have to play them in the final series of the year.” “We are behind the Brewers in the loss column.” On and on and on. Well, just STOP. Stop it all…Stop as in STOPPER…as in our STOPPER Ted Lilly. Lilly pitched and gets his twentieth quality start of the season. He does not get the win, but he deserved it. More importantly, the Cubs did get the win, and we go into the day off with a one game lead and visions of the playoffs dancing in our heads.

Ted Lilly is 9-1 in games following a loss this year. He will not move to 10-1 after tonight’s game, but he might as well have. Lilly was not lights out, especially at first, but he was very good. He only gave up two runs, both solo shots from Edgar Encarnacion and Adam Dunn. Dunn’s bomb should have counted for three, crashing way out onto Sheffield. Sometimes when I am away from a TV I watch innings on a computer generated gameday on MLB.com. This feature shows a red dot where the balls land on a play. Lilly had a few balls in the first few innings that had the red dot placed at or even on the wall. The Encarnacion homer was way in the stands. The Dunn homer was probably off the chart. Adam Dunn has now hit 40 home runs for four straight years. Lilly went seven strong innings: 7IP 5H 2ER 1BB 8K…STOPPER. He pitched out of a big jam in the seventh striking out two men with runners at the corners and only one out.

Bob Howry pitched the eighth and ninth picking up the win. Howry pitched two innings because Ryan Dempster was sick and unavailable for tonight’s game. A game saving play happened in the eighth inning. With the game tied at two and with two outs, Brandon Phillips singled to left. Norris Hopper tried to score the go ahead run but was thrown out at home by another outfield assist from Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano led off the game with a home run, on the first pitch.That was his ninth home run in 20 games. Cubs minor league player of the year Geovany Soto had a solo home run in the fifth. In the eighth inning Ryan Theriot led off the inning with a base hit and advanced to second on a Ken Griffey error. Derrek Lee got a base hit and Theriot was held at third. (On the play Ken Griffey pulled up with a bad strain…probably ending his year). Matt Murton got a base hit to score Theriot- though it was recorded as a fielder’s choice because Lee thought the ball had been caught and did not advance to second. The Cubs had nine hits but only scored three runs…fortunately that was all they needed.

Playoff Push
The Brewers lost in Houston, giving the Cubs a one game division lead again. Derrick Turnbow gave up two runs and the Astros led the game 4-2 going into the ninth. In the Brewers’ ninth Rickie Weeks hit a two run shot to right field to tie the game. On the play Hunter Pence crashed full speed into the wall chasing after the fly ball. In the bottom of the tenth that same Hunter Pence drove in the winning run and the Astros won 5-4.

The Brewers now travel to Atlanta for four games. They are awaiting word on Ben Sheets who left yesterday’s game in the second with a strained hamstring. They are not sure when or if Sheets will return. I personally think he should rest his legs until next year. “Ben, you have a family to think about.”
As it stands right now the Brewers will face:
Lance Cormier
Tim Hudson
John Smoltz
Jo-Jo Reyes (I’m not making this up)

That is unless the Braves decide to roll over like the Astros. Hey, wait a minute! Didn’t the Braves used to be from Milwaukee? We better keep an eye on this.

The Cubs face three lefties in the Pittsburgh series:
Friday: Paul Maholm vs. Jason Marquis
Saturday: John Van Benschoten vs. Rich Hill
Sunday: Tom Gorzellany vs. Carlos Zambrano

The Cubs have won 8 of 11. It doesn’t seem like it, does it?

Side Notes

There was an interesting article in the Sun Times that said that the Astros GM talked with Jim Hendry last week about what they were going to with the rotation. Roy Oswalt left to be with his wife who was going to be induced for labor. The Astros have dropped Woody Williams from the rotation to allow their rookies to get more starts. Cecil Cooper also called Bud Selig to discuss the rotation as well.

Piniella has announced that Jason Marquis will be the pitched in game 163 if we must play the Brewers to break a tie at the end of the year. I might be crazy but I like Marquis’ mental make up for this type of game. Ideally, Lilly would pitch…but I like Marquis as the second option. This bonus game would be played at Wrigley if needed. For old times sake the Cubs could have Steve Trachsel pitch this game since he won the bonus game in 1998. Remember Rod Beck coming in for the save in that game? He was tired from pitching so much down the stretch and was throwing frisbees. Effective frisbees that won the game. Long live home run memories of Gary Gaetti. We rode that momentum into the playoffs where we…nevermind.

In another instance that raises my thoughts about Lou Piniella, a San Francisco Chronicle article quotes umpire Bruce Froemming as saying that the Lou tirade earlier this year was “definitely premeditated.” Take a look at it if you can, but Froemming implies that Lou prepared them for the possibility days before. Think back about how this might have saved the season in some ways. The day before Z and Barrett were pounding each other in the face and everyone was talking about how the team was crumbling. One day later its’ all about crazy uncle Lou and his explosion. Topic changed…year changed.

The other day I listened to Lou’s post game press conference. He was talking about how Rich Hill’s velocity dropped a lot in his final inning the other night. I have heard him talking about stats and decisions based on numbers all year. I can’t remember a Cub manager who paid attention to these details. Today an ESPN article about Lou said that he spends every plane ride reading numbers and charts and planning out how to best take advantage of the numbers and match ups. It is nice to have a manager that you feel is outmanaging the other guy.

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Game 153 – Preview

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

 

Scouting Today’s Starters from MLB.com
Tom Shearn – In Cincinnati’s 6-5 win over the Brewers on Friday, Shearn delivered a well-pitched 6 2/3 innings to become the first Reds starter since Tom Browning in 1984-85 to begin his Major League career 3-0. The 30-year-old rookie right-hander allowed three earned runs and four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. A key in his success has been early run support. The Reds scored four first-inning runs on Friday and 15 first-inning runs for Shearn over his first four big league starts.

Ted Lilly – Lilly will be pitching on short rest. The lefty did not get a decision in his last start against the Cardinals, but he pitched well enough to win. He gave up two runs on four hits over six innings, striking out four. His backdoor slider was his most effective pitch. Lilly seems to get better as the game progresses.

News & Notes

  • The Sun Times is reporting that Angel Pagan is expected to be out for the remainder of the season. (Source)

    View the game preview from Baseball Reference to see various features like the bullpen rest report, information on today’s starters and much more.
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    Game 152 – Making Up is Hard to Do

    Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

    September 18th, 2007

    Teams

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H E
    Cincinnati 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0   5 10 1
    Chicago 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0   2 7 0
    W – A. Harang (16-4) L – C. Zambrano (16-13) S – D. Weathers (31)
    Homeruns: E. Encarnacion (14)

    Box Score

    Tonight was the first home start for Carlos Zambrano since the Labor Day disaster where he was booed off the field and followed up his bad start by showing up and calling out the fans. Since that start he has had two good starts at Pittsburgh and St. Louis. A major story line leading up to tonight’s game was that he would be pitching on only three days rest instead of his usual four. It would be interesting to see how he would respond. To sum it up…not too well. Whether it was from lack of rest or not, Lou Piniella said that Big Z never really looked comfortable. Maybe that is because he was facing Aaron Harang who has already beaten him four times head to head this year. (By the way, I don’t know about you, but any time Harang pitches I almost automatically chalk up a loss. I know it really is crushing to lose any game right now, but it drives me insane when we yell so much about losing games that we probably thought we were going to lose in the first place. Harang is 16-4 on the year, is second in the NL in K’s, second in innings pitched, and third in WHIP…and seems to never lose to the Cubs.)

    I was at the game tonight, thanks to my wife who bought me tickets for my birthday. I was amazed at the playoff atmosphere, with fans standing and cheering for simple things like 3-2 counts and the tying run coming to the plate. It was going to be interesting to see the fans response to Zambrano’s return. During player introductions, Carlos got the loudest ovation and the fans rose to their feet and cheered loudly as he walked to the mound to begin the game. It was like a sweet reconciliation…that was until Carlos began straying again (Carlos why do you play with our emotions so much? We want to love you…we really do! But you make it so hard. We don’t really know who’s coming home to us.) In the first inning he was getting ahead of batters and unable to close the deal. Norris Hopper battled to an infield single, then Keppinger was hit by a pitch. Brandon Phillips singled in a run (By the way have you seen his numbers?) and scored on an Edgar Encarnacion single. The Cubs are down 2-0 in the first. Not good when you are facing Aaron Harang.

    The Reds scored another run in the second. Carlos Zambrano didn’t give up another run until the sixth, when Encarnacion clubbed a ball into the left field stands. Carlos was almost pulled a couple times in the game, but finally was pulled in the sixth after the home run. As he left the field he was met with some half hearted applause that kind of said “I guess we’re stuck with each other.” His numbers on the day: 5.1 IP, 7H, 4ER, 3BB, 1K. Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been a lot better. One thing that was easy to notice is how many pitches Zambrano throws. It is not rare for him to be near 80 pitches in the third or fourth inning. He is a strikeout pitcher, which means he will throw a lot of pitches for that, and he leads the league in walks.

    Aaron Harang was a good as usual. 7IP, 2ER, 6K, 2BB. The Cubs had a few chances to score, but only scored their two runs in the fourth on a two out, two run single by Jacque Jones. Jones also made a great catch in Center crashing into the wall- and banging the brick wall with his head- to rob Ken Griffey Jr. of an extra base hit…smiling always smiling.

    Side notes:
    It was amazing to see the crowd response to Kerry Wood. He entered the game in the eighth, inheriting the bases loaded from Will Oh MAN! He entered like a hero, with fans cheering and chanting. He retired his first batter on a pop up, but then walked in a run…the unforgivable sin in my book. It amazed me that he was still so popular. Would Prior get the same response?

    I listen to a lot of sports radio and I laugh at the roller coaster Cubs fans ride. When they win, they are unbeatable. When they lose it seems like they might never win again. I appreciated Lou’s words about keeping the whole season in perspective.

    There are ten games left for us and in a technicality we are in second place. If the Brewers win out (which they won’t) they win the division no matter what we do.

    The good news is that the Mets keep losing, which is keeping the Braves at least alive in the East. So when the Brewers go to Atlanta for four games on Thursday, the Braves will still be playing for something.

    Unlike the Astros who have seemingly laid down for the Brewers. I am going back and forth about how I feel about it, but the Astros have moved their veteran pitchers back to face the Cardinals who are out of it, instead of the Brewers who are in it. Houston needs to evaluate players for next year…but this is against baseball protocol. Oswalt was scheduled to start against the Brewers but his wife was being induced to have a baby instead. Conspiracy theory: didn’t Astros manager Cecil Cooper play for the Brewers? Anyway who cares about who the Astros are pitching against the Brewers? If we win we’re in.

    Random Wrigley Field Notes
    I am a Cub fan, but I don’t really like going to Wrigley Field… is that so bad?

    Why are they still playing the Van Halen song “Jump” when the Cubs take the field? Can’t Bob Brenly come up with something better, he’s a great music lover. Len Kasper was on Boers and Bernstein the other day and said that Brenly “pitched a tent” at Grant Park during Lollapalooza this summer…Thus proving his love for music. He must know something better than Van Halen. What was Kasper’s bands name? They probably have something good.

    By the way, the other day Len Kasper said that he keeps up with reading Cubs blogs. Here is a message for him… “Len. Jump in. Join the community. We all think you’re cool.”

    The field is still torn up from the Police concert. The field is awful and in bad need of repair. Steve Stone said that for a couple years there was a plan in place to redo the field in the off season; to make it better for draining, taking away some of the bad hops, and resloping the dangerous incline towards the foul lines. He said that the idea was nixed by Andy MacPhail, or the Trib, because of cost. So finally this year it was approved, but can only be done if the Cubs don’t make the playoffs (timing reasons) and with approval of the new owner. I hope it gets done…next year.

    Whenever I am at Wrigley I am flooded with memories of going to meaningless games at the end of another miserable year. How many times have you sat in the stands for a game that meant nothing? This is a nice change. Does it ever amaze you how bad the Cubs have been for decades? What are your memories of bad Cubdom?

    Are you tiring of the guest conductor for the seventh inning stretch? (Get Kasper’s band!!!)

    The most vivid memory for me as a Cub fan growing up was watching the Cubs losing an afternoon game that was going long and was going to get called because of darkness when the Cubs did not have lights. Darkness is an appropriate description for being a Cab fan back then.

    On a final note, today I got some Cracker Jack. It now comes in a bag not a box, and the toy is always some paper thing that is in no way a “toy.” What happened to all things good and innocent? Please don’t blame this on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Remember Big League Chew. It is still around and still pretty much the same. How do they get away with selling something so obviously designed to look like children’s chewing tobacco to kids? Whenever I got Big League Chew growing up I could not control how much I put in my mouth. I would add and add until I had a monumental glob of gum that was choking the breath out of me.

    Trivia Question:
    As I was sitting at the game today something happened that I think should be box scored as UIBB. What is it? There are no prizes and it might make you uncomfortable that you think the same way that I do.

    Please feel free to add your random streams of baseball consciousness in the comments section…

    We will get through this.

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    Game 152 – Preview

    Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

    Scouting Today’s Starters from MLB.com
    Aaron Harang – Harang allowed three earned runs over seven innings, all on sacrifice flies, and just three hits with two walks and five strikeouts. David Eckstein led off the top of the first inning with a double before Harang retired the next 15 in a row. Yet Harang said he lacked his best stuff in the game. His velocity and command were a little off, but he was able to make pitches and get outs when he had to. He turned the game over to the bullpen after 88 pitches.

    Additional Notes on Harang

  • He uses his size to his advantage and is fairly durable, able to pitch effectively beyond the fifth inning. He can work out of jams.
  • Has trouble getting ahead in the count and struggles against right-handed hitters.
  • Red Hot Mama has a profile of him in her Human League series (Source)

    Carlos Zambrano – With one more win, Zambrano will set a career high. He’ll be pitching on short rest, having last started on Friday against the Cardinals. In that game, he gave up one run on four hits over eight innings and struck out three. He threw 101 pitches, and the Cubs seem to feel he’s a better option on short rest than using Steve Trachsel.

    Happy Birthday to Rob
    We’re glad to have him here on the site. I took the time to check out how the Cubs have done on his birthday in the past.

    Record since 1976: 14-14 with 4 off days

    The Cubs have faced the Reds on September 18th three times since 1976, all resulting in losses. Ironically the last time they faced them on this date, 2005, they faced Aaron Harang.


    View the game preview from Baseball Reference to see various features like the bullpen rest report, information on today’s starters and much more.

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