Archive for June, 2011

What Will It Take to Win?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

by Katie Cernek

There is no overnight solution to the Cubs’ losing habits. The foundation of the team is old and crumbling. Literally. Jim Hendry has tried to build a winning team around players like Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. They are both past their prime and have begun a very rapid decline into mediocrity. Both are frequently assigned to the disabled list with injuries that vary from strained quadriceps to sprained thumbs. Soriano, Ramirez, and Zambrano are three of the highest paid players on the team, yet their performance does not reflect their salaries.

Alfonso has not been anywhere near the player he was when he was with Washington in 2006. That season, he had 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases. Since he was signed by the Cubs in 2007, the closest he has come to his 2006 numbers, is 33 home runs and 19 stolen bases, and those were posted in ’07. He has been on a steady decline since then, all the while making an average of $17 million per season. Why did Hendry sign him to an 8 year deal? Has he been earning his pay?

Ramirez spends a significant amount of time on the DL. When he gets off the DL, he is a decent hitter, but he does not hustle. He has mastered the art of stretching a double into a single. His average pay is $15 million per year, and he is in the final year of his contract. He has had a good career, but it is starting to decline and it is time for him to move to greener pastures. Would it be beneficial for the Cubs to pick up the club option on his contract?

Zambrano is another highly paid, but under-producing player. He has decent career numbers, but he suffers from inconsistency, and has a history of being a controversial teammate. His average seasonal pay is $18.3 million. His bursts of greatness are frequent but short-lived.

Basically, these men are making too much money in comparison to their performance. They are not benefitting the team. If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Another obstacle the Cubs face is their pitching, with a team ERA of 4.73, which is the worst in the MLB. That number speaks for itself. Garza has the best ERA among their starters, which is a 4.11, and he has 82 strikeouts. Zambrano leads the team with 6 wins. Not to mention, Cashner and Wells were put on the disabled list after one start. If they were healthy, the pitching probably would not be so bad. Samardzija is tied for second, with 5 wins; he is a middle reliever. He should not be second in wins to a starter. Quade relies on him too much; he is very inconsistent.

There are a couple bright spots in the Cubs’ bullpen. Marshall, Wood, and Marmol are great contributors to the team. They are a few of the strong points on the team.

Sean Marshall has a 2.27 ERA in 35 innings of work. He has 35 strikeouts and 13 holds. He has also only allowed 9 walks and one home run in 35 innings. He is an excellent reliever, maybe the only really good reliever on the team.

Kerry Wood has been a great asset this season. He has a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings of work, with 9 holds. His age could be an issue eventually, but as of right now, the Cubs need to hold on to him.

Carlos Marmol has been lights out. He has 45 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. He has a 2.62 ERA, with 16 saves this season. Despite a few hiccups here and there, he is an excellent closer. If he can learn to be more selective with his pitches, he should be with Cubs for a long time.

The Cubs needs to make some trades to get more quality pitching. Even though Marshall, Wood, and Marmol are spectacular, they will not be around forever, and, in the case of Wood, can get injured semi-frequently. When someone as valuable as he is out of commission, a young, inconsistent pitcher gets the call, and the outcome is uncertain.

If the Cubs want to acquire some quality pitching, they need to trade some quality players. Jeff Baker is a great player for the Cubs. However, there is not a spot for him on the team. He is used as a utility player right now; Quade puts him in where he thinks he needs him. If the Cubs can get a good player (or two) for Baker, trade him. But do not trade him just to trade him.

Another player that could be traded is Blake DeWitt. He is also tossed around the field, whether it be left field or second base. When Darwin Barney comes back, where is DeWitt going to go? It would be best to trade him somewhere that could use him. It would even be OK to trade him just to trade him, as long as we do not trade him for a player like Milton Bradley.

But even if the Cubs trade for pitching, there is still the issue of needing fielders. Soriano is not a very good left fielder. He does not hustle, and allows too many batters to get extra-base hits. Peña is OK at first base, but his batting leaves much to be desired. We have too many utility players like DeWitt and Baker, and not enough specialty players. We need guys to be committed to one position, and to be good at the position and at the plate.

As a whole, the team has the third-highest batting average (.265) in the Majors. There is one major factor as to why they are ranked so high: Starlin Castro. His batting average is currently .327. Reed Johnson is the only other player on the team with a higher average, at .349, but he has played 30 less games than Castro. There are 5 players on the Cubs that are batting over .300, but one of them is a pitcher, one is on the disabled list, and two are backup players.

Castro is an excellent player. He is great. He can hit just about anything, and he is a threat on the basepath. His fielding is the only factor working against him. He has 16 errors on the season (and it is not even half over). However, he is only 21 years old. There is no doubt that he will be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop in a few years. The Cubs need more players that are similar to Castro, preferably with a little more polish in the fielding department. He is not a power hitter, but he hits for average.

The team does not need more power hitters. The team needs productive power hitters. Our “power” hitters strike out too often, do not hustle on potential infield hits, and barely hit home runs as it is. Ramirez is considered one of our power guys, and he only has 5 home runs this season. Given, he did spend some time on the DL, but so has Soriano, and Soriano has 14 home runs. Peña also has 14 home runs, and he hasn’t even spent  a significant amount of time on the DL. Our hitters are not hitting like they should be. That is a problem.

If the Cubs could somehow manage to find a player with similar abilities to those of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, we would be 5 steps in the right direction. They are both first basemen, a position we need to fill, and Fielder is batting .307 with 20 home runs this season. Pujols has 17 home runs. His average is only .279, but he is on the DL right now. However, before the Cubs spend gobs of money on a player, they need to be certain that the player will live up to the contract (see Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome).

That being said, we need a general manager that is willing and able to sign consistently good players, not players that might be good for a season. Huge contracts do not guarantee good players. Jim Hendry is notorious for signing players such as Milton Bradley and Soriano, who were not helpful to the team. He also has a habit of trading good players (see Mark DeRosa) for minor leaguers that don’t even make it up to the Majors. Hendry has been the GM since 2002 and the Cubs have had four managers.  These managers work with the players that the GM signs, and when the players do not produce, the manager gets fired for the miscues of the GM. Maybe, if the manager had some players to work with, the Cubs could win. Maybe, we need a new GM.

For example, in 2007, Hendry hired Lou Piniella as the Cubs’ manager. There were many men available for the position, including Joe Girardi. Girardi had coached the Marlins from the All-Star break in 2006, and he did a bang up job. He took them from a 38-48 record in the first half, to a 40-36 record for the second half of the season. For some reason only God knows, Hendry decided to pass up on Girardi. Since then, Girardi has coached the Yankees to a World Series victory. Go figure.

In order for the Cubs to be contenders in the Central, they need to get young, fresh players on the team, and build them up. It will take a couple years, but with proper coaching, we can have a team of great young players that can take us past the first round of the playoffs (see the Cincinnati Reds). The Cubs have a lot of work to do, but with patience and a winning mindset in the front office, we will be on the road to victory in no time.

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Game 81 – Ole Fashioned Pitchers Duel

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Cubs 2, Giants 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Before the game, the Cubs announced that Darwin Barney had been activated. I knew that was coming so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that pop up on my phone. The exciting part was when I actually opened the press release and saw that the corresponding move to go with it was the unconditional release of Doug Davis. He pitched really well in the Yankees series, but when you look at the whole, the guy just didn’t have anything left in the tank. Why he was still on the team, and making regular starts no less, is beyond me.
  • Aramis Ramirez had the night off because he was due for some rest, but got a chance to pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th after Marmol allowed the tying run to score in the top half of the inning and hit a two out walk off single to win it.
  • Ryan Dempster was absolutely fantastic. When I had looked to see the pitching match up and saw that it was Dempster and Lincecum, my first thought was “Nice, I don’t know that I’ve ever watched a game that Lincecum has pitched.” It turned into a straight pitchers duel with Demp being charged with a run in the 9th, but his eight innings leading up to it were marvelous. At one point he set down 20 in a row after a double in the 2nd inning. To cap it off, he threw just 83 pitches in the 8+ innings of work. It reminded me of a game Jon Leiber threw against the Reds in 2001. Here is the box score from that game.
  • The game lasted just a scant 2 hours and 22 minutes.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • No offense. If the Cubs could have just mustered two runs, we get Dempster a win in this one. They had a chance in the 5th when Blake DeWitt doubled to lead off and then advanced to third on a wild pitch, but came up empty, and then had a runner in scoring position and one out in the 8th and came up empty. One of those situations works out and Dempster gets a much deserved win.
  • Marmol blew the save. It’s a tough situation to come into the game with no outs and a man on second, but that’s what closers are paid to do. He gave up the single that allowed Pat Burrell to score. It didn’t help that Tony Campana’s throw to the plate looked like a throw a five year old would make. Go back and watch the condensed game. It was brutal.
  • Marmol is credited with the win. There is something very wrong about being able to get the blow save and then get the win. That’s Demp’s win, not Marmol’s.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Ryan Dempster (.388 WPA)

2nd Star – Aramis Ramirez (.368 WPA)

3rd Star – Manny Burriss (.278 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: +.099 WPA

Cubs Pitching: +.401 WPA

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Chet’s Corner: Fix the team, not the stadium….

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

When I heard Mike Quade announce the starting pitchers for Tuesdays double header against the Giants I began laughing hysterically.

He was being interviewed by a Comcast Sportsnet reporter before the third game of the Sox series and was asked who would start in the double header against the Giants.  His answer led me to laughter because it seemed as though he put thought into it.  It was as though he was hemming and hawing over whether Doug Davis would lead us off or Rodrigo Lopez.   At this point, Mike, does it matter?  I liken this to waffling between Bologna or Hot Dogs for lunch…it’s all a processed part of the pig no matter how you slice it.

I’m not laughing at Quade either , I think I am laughing with him.  While Tom Ricketts is playing Wal-Mart greeter to the fans at home games, trying to find out what type of hot dog they would rather eat from the concourse concession stand, the manager is trying to put a team on the field.  I mean, come on,  you have a double header and your two headed monster is a guy who couldn’t stick with a team and another veteran journeyman who was relegated to a far superior teams AAA affiliate.   Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…..our problem!

Vienna Beef for thought, when you’re entering a season and your staff ace recently had his head examined, you have problems.  While we are at it, when you don’t have a clear staff ace , you have problems. Closer by committee works a lot better then staff ace by committee.   With a preamble like this, one must come to the conclusion that your starting staff will be as smooth as an unfolding lawn chair for the bulk of the season.  It was clear in spring training, but the kool-aid was fresh and they were passing rose colored glasses out to everybody from Mesa to Wrigleyville.

I am to the point where I ponder the concept of Len and Bob popping prescription pills in the booth to make it through these games.  I know I would need something to do what they do.   From home, I can distract myself watching this vanilla, error filled, and quite frankly unintelligent band of ballplayers flip and flop about the field, but they can’t!

Then again, and I have said this before, don’t be shocked if this team looks eerily similar next season.  The selling point will be, “we just need to stay healthy.”  How many times have we heard “health” being a reason for a failed season in the Jim Hendry regime? I can count three off the top of my head……this will be four!

By the way, if you have any thoughts of ownership improving this team, keep them locked away for another day.  This owner is a business man.  He is more interested in improving the surroundings of Wrigley Field, then he is putting a winning team on it.  This leads to an interesting phone survey I received a few weeks back.  As a Wrigleyville resident I was asked, in so many questions,  if I was indeed a Cubs fan.  I was then asked if I agreed with the rumored plans for the “Triangle Building” that was proposed for the open lot outside Wrigley.  Then, and this is the kicker, I was told that the Ricketts family has $200 million of their own money set aside for the construction of this building.  The point of the survey was to find out if I was opposed to city tax dollars funding the remainder.

Tom, we don’t need any more bars or restaurants or parking around Wrigley.  We don’t need any more souvenir shops or bike racks or  parks or whatever it is you want to build.  I understand that you don’t like watching the businesses of Wrigleyville make a dollar off your product.  I get it when  you cringe at the fact that there are business opportunities in the neighborhood that are untapped in the Ricketts name.  What I don’t get is your oblivious behavior when it comes to the actual team you purchased.  You act as though we are in a slump, as though we have capable hands at the wheel.  I wonder what will happen when attendance drops below 25,000 on a regular basis.  When you can’t sell your buffalo dogs, or $7 beers, or how about those $100 tickets?

Maybe, just maybe, a winning team could pay for all of the “exterior” projects you have in mind?  Chicago backs a winner like no other! I wonder what extra revenue would be available when “World Series Champion” follows Chicago Cubs?

Start worrying about the team and its leadership Mr. Ricketts, and the rest will fall in place. Until then, the Cubs organization looks like Bologna and Hot Dogs, or as some like to call it, lips and assholes.

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Game 79 & 80 – Double Dose of Crap

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Cubs 7, Giants 13
Cubs 3, Giants 6

Box Score (Game 1Game 2) / Highlights (Game 1Game 2) / Condensed Game (Game 1)

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Carlos Pena went deep to bring the Cubs within one and then Koyie Hill hit a HR to tie it early. It was down hill from then on in game one.
  • Homeruns by Montanez and Ramirez. Neither of these guys project into the Cubs future but it was nice to see them hit long balls.
  • Nice defensive plays by Castro and Johnson. You expect good glove plays from Johnson but Castro hasn’t been up to par recently. I’ve been laying off of him because of his bat but it was nice to see him flash some leather, perhaps he will be our starting third baseman next year. I’d like to see him transition to the hot corner.
  • Samardzija put in two solid innings of relief, as did Mateo.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Poor pitching by Lopez and Grabow, both of those guys need to be released. I’ve been patient with Cubs general management for a while but Hendry needs to go now. Why are these guys with the team? Because of bad management decisions – let’s cut the head off of the snake right now. Same with Clown Kenney. But we all know our new Bozo Tom Ricketts will express total support for the management won’t he? Get a show on WGN Ricketts, I want to play the bucket game again. It’s sad to say but we have a loser team, loser management and a joker for an owner. Other than that things are just fine on the North Side, it isn’t even July and the Cubs are not even an afterthought.

ON THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY

  • 1907: The Washington Senators stole thirteen bases on Yankee catcher Branch Rickey. Apparently he was a smart fella but didn’t have much of an arm.
  • 1910: Cub infielder Joe Tinker stole home twice in the same game.
  • 1939: The New York Yankees hit 13 homeruns against the Philadelphia A’s to set a major league record for most homeruns in a doubleheader.
  • 1970: The Cubs helped the Pirates close Forbes Field by losing a doubleheader and the Pirates tied the Mets in the standings. Then the Pirates were doomed to play in Three Rivers Stadium for several years, it was like watching baseball being played at an airport.
  • 2010: The Cubs put Carlos Zambrano on the restricted list. We still don’t know the outcome.


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Billy Goat Blog: AZ Cubs Preview

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The AZL Cubs’ season got underway last week and the team is 3-2 on the young season.  Here’s a look at some of the players to watch on this year’s roster:

Rafael Lopez, C – the Cubs’ highest (16th round) draft pick to sign so far, Lopez hit .325/.436/.514 in his Senior season for Florida State.  He was converted to catcher by Florida State and fared well, throwing out 42% of basestealers.

James Pugilese, RHP – the Cubs’ 18th round pick, the Mercer County (N.J.) CC pitcher has fared well in his first two appearances, allowing just 1 hit and striking out 6 in 4 IP.

Pete Levitt, RHP – the Cubs 32nd round pick out of Mount Olive College (N.C.), he went 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA in his last year, with 99 K’s in 101.1 IP.

Scott Weisman, RHP – a 46th round pick out of Clemson, Weisman led the Tigers with 9 wins in 2010, before struggling in 2011 and eventually moving to the pen.  He was effective as a reliever for Clemson and that could be his eventual role with the Cubs.

In addition to the Cubs 2011 draft picks, there are several players who have graduated from the Cubs Domincan Summer League this year, including pitchers Rafael Diplan, Ramon Garcia, Alvido Jimenez, Felix Pena, Starling Peralta and Jean Sandoval; catchers Johan DeJesus and Carlos Romero; infielders Gioskar Amaya, Gregori Gonzalez, Marco Hernandez and Brian Inoa; and outfielders Bieneme Vismeldy, Eduardo Gonzalez and Oliver Zapata.

Finally, the Cubs continue to show the ability to scout Korea and bring in talented players, with Dong-Yub Kim the latest Korean to join the Cubs organization, following in the footsteps of Hak-Ju Lee, Dae-Eun Rhee and Jae-Hoon Ha (among others).  With the international signing period set to begin on July 2nd, it will be interesting to see who else the Cubs bring in.

For more from Mark Sherrard, visit the Cubs Billy Goat Blog

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