Archive for October, 2011

The Theo Watch

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Theo Watch: According to ESPN, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod will be leaving San Diego and joining Theo Epstein in Chicago. There will be compensation going to San Diego, but the player has yet to be named. There has also been a lot of speculation about who Theo will bring in as a new manager. As most of you know, Ryne Sandberg has been leading the speculation race as a potential manager. Theo previously looked into hiring Ryno as a base coach for Boston, and he likes the idea of Sandberg as a coach. However, Theo says that it is “so premature” to speculate about bringing in Ryno.  Quade still has a year left on his contract, but I think everybody in Chicago is hoping that Theo has the guts to fire everybody in the organization. Who should he hire? Francona? Ryno? Somebody else?

Players: Apparently, Aramis decided to change his mind about leaving Chicago when Theo was hired. Now he wants to stay in Chicago, because they might become a winning team sometime soon. Come on, man. Soriano is also rumored to possibly be staying with the club next season as well. Good grief. Aren’t we supposed to be rebuilding this team? Theo, show some guts. Say goodbye to Ramirez, at least.

Non-Baseball Related News: Terrell Owens held a tryout the other day for teams to come watch him. Guess who showed up? Nobody. It seems like many of the football coaches share the same sentiments: No thanks. Should anybody pick him up? The Bears need help in the receiver department. Should T.O. to be a Bear? I do not want him to be in the NFC North. Football has been so nice and (mostly) quiet this year. Drama has been kept to a minimum. Maybe it should stay that way.

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Who are YOUR teams?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

I think it’s obvious, seeing that we’re reading a Cubs blog, that we all share a common bond of being a Cub fan. From there, it tends to branch out. My question to you is who are your teams? Here are mine.

NFL

Chicago Bears – I’m from Chicago so the Bears are my main team in the NFL. I watch them every opportunity I can despite being in NC.

NY Giants – This one goes back to the middle school days playing Techmo Super Bowl. I grew up loving Lawrence Taylor because of that game and even now pull hard for the Giants.

Baltimore Ravens – This is a newer one for me. I needed an AFC team to root for and because Baltimore is the closest one and they have my favorite NFL player in Ray Rice, they make the cut. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for a good defense and the Ravens continually bring it.

NBA

Chicago Bulls – I went through about a 3 or 4 year stretch where I pulled for the teams playing the Bulls because I was mad at MJ for retiring and then just up and unretiring. When the dust settled, I went Brokeback Mountain on the Bulls and told them “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

NCAA

University of Illinois – I really want to cheer for them for football in addition to basketball but they’re just so bad on a consistent basis. As a result, it’s the basketball team that I live and die with. After the Cubs, they’re my # 2 favorite team, followed by the Bears.

Notre Dame – Here is where my NCAA football needs (as small as they are) get met. I look at my need for college football about the same way as most women look at a need for sex. They’re fine with it if they have too, and even enjoy it at times, but in the end if they never had to again, that’d probably be OK too. Until the NCAA gets a playoff system, my interest ends with the first Irish loss.

Other Sports

I’ll watch any sport. I love competition. Among the lessers, I cheer for the Blackhawks. I don’t get to see any of their games because I don’t have the NHL package and don’t have Versus, but I know who’s on the team.

How about you?

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Bargain Bin: Pitchers

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

As Norm ably discussed last Thursday, the Cubs only have three starters clearly lined up for 2012 in Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells.  Outside of those three players, the only players who are anywhere close to semi-legitimate starting pitching candidates for the Cubs all have major question marks.  Carlos Zambrano is likely to be traded in the offseason after his well documented behavioral issues.  Andrew Cashner should probably be put in the bullpen for 2012 to build up his arm strength.  Casey Coleman, for lack of a better way of putting it, is Casey Coleman.  And Jay Jackson struggled through most of last season in Iowa with decreased velocity before having a strong last month and a half of the AAA season.  On top of that, don’t forget the vital lesson from last season: you better come into the season with at least six competent pitchers who can start.

The Cubs likely need to bring at least one pitcher in via free agency or trade, but it’s unclear how much money the Cubs are going to spend on pitching this offseason.  Could the Cubs find some pitchers in the bargain bin to fill roles in the starting rotation?    As a reminder, to make my bargain bin list a player must: (1) have had at least one 2.0 fWAR season; (2) be age 30 or younger on opening day 2012; and (3) have fallen off due to poor performance or injury to the point he is likely to be looking for a one year contract.  A few pitchers with starting experience fit my list, although none of them are likely to be All Stars next season.  At best, these are players who could fill some innings competently.

Cub fans are quite familiar with two of these pitchers.  Rich Harden pitched for the Cubs from the midway point of 2008 through the 2009 season, and the general story of his career is pretty well known: when healthy, Harden was great.  The problem is that he has rarely been healthy.  In 212 innings as a Cub, Harden put up a solid 3.9 fWAR.  Since then, though, he’s only put up a total of 0.2 fWAR.  He struggled greatly in Texas in 2010, but Harden’s always been an extreme fly ball pitcher.  Fly ball pitchers generally do not do great in Arlington.  He was better in Oakland this past season, but only threw 82.2 innings in the majors.  Considering that the Cubs really need players they can count on innings from in 2012, though, Harden should be a quick pass.

Most Cub fans remember Dontrelle Willis as the pitching prospect traded to the Marlins for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement in 2002 before becoming a star with the Marlins in 2003.  Willis put up 16.2 fWAR over the first five seasons of his career, including a 6.2 fWAR campaign in 2005.  He also threw at least 197 innings in 4 consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2007.  Since then, however, Willis has struggled with injuries and control problems, putting up a total of 0.0 fWAR over the last four seasons.  Willis had his first productive stint as a starter since the Bush administration last season, posting 0.8 fWAR in 75.1 innings.  Willis is still young enough to turn it around if he finds his health.  He’s probably never going to be what he was in Florida, but he could be a solid innings eater.  Since his injury issues are much more recent than any history of throwing considerable innings, he’s probably only worth a contract near the MLB minimum.  If he’s willing to sign for that, though, he is an intriguing possibility.

Scott Kazmir was one of the best young pitchers in baseball just a few years ago, leading the Rays to the World Series in 2008 and accumulating 17.7 fWAR before his 26th birthday.  2010 and 2011 have been complete disasters for Kazmir, though, as injuries sapped his velocity, which in turn made him a completely ineffective pitcher.  Kazmir would be worth, at most, a minor league contract that I like to call the Ryan Dempster special.  That is when the Cubs give an injured player a minor league or MLB minimum contract and pay for his rehab, in the hopes that he will eventually get healthy and be able to contribute.  But Kazmir should not, under any circumstances, be signed with the idea of contributing in 2012.

Remember how pretty much every year the Pirates have a rookie pitcher come up mid-season, have an impressive half season, be named their potential ace apparent, and then never live up to that billing again?  Back in 2005, Zack Duke took a turn in that role.  In his first stint in the majors, Duke put up an 8-2 record (and back in 2005 more people cared about win-loss record) and a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts.  Duke’s never been anywhere near that good again, but he had a respectable stint as a swingman in Arizona this past year.  In 21 games, 9 starts, Duke put up a 4.93 ERA, but was probably the victim of bad defense.  Duke had a 3.99 FIP and 4.27 xFIP, with the disparity in the ERA being due to a .339 BABIP.  Duke would probably be nothing more than a younger, left handed Rodrigo Lopez.  If the Cubs need a new, cheap long man in the pen, or a sixth or seventh starter to spend most of his time in Iowa but be ready for a call up, Duke could fill that role.

In other words, the bargain starters do not look particularly promising.  I would like the Cubs to also look at Jeff Francis, but: (1) Buddy already provided an excellent analysis regarding Francis; and (2) Francis will be 31 on opening day 2012, so he does not fit my admittedly arbitrary criteria for this post.

There is one interesting reliever who meets my criteria.  Prior to the 2010 season, no one would have thought that Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton would be enter free agency with no arbitration status and probably looking for a one year contract to prove he’s healthy and can still be effective.  From 2006 to 2009, Broxton threw at least 69 innings without ever posting an ERA above 3.13.  2010 was not as strong for Broxton, posting a 4.04 ERA, but he still made 64 appearances with a FIP and xFIP right around 3.00.  As the Dodgers’ best reliever pretty much since coming up to the majors at 21 years old, there had always been rumors that the Dodgers might have used Broxton too much when he was too young.  His health really suffered in 2011, as Broxton suffered both elbow and shoulder problems that limited him to 12.2 ineffective innings.  If Broxton can get healthy, he could be an interesting addition to a bullpen.  Considering the extent of his injuries this season, though, it’s not clear how much Broxton would be able to contribute in 2012.

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There Is Nothing Worse Than a Cardinals Fan

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Thought #1: The Cardinals lost. They are now down 3 games to two. The worst part about it is that there are way too many Cardinals fans in the world. I bet most of them cannot even name 4 of the players on the team. The second worst thing about it is that A.J. Pierzynski is one of the announcers. Listening to his voice is like listening to nails scratch a chalk board. Could it be because he is the White Sox catcher? Possibly.

St. Louis did not play well. They didn’t capitalize on plays, left 12 men on base, and got caught stealing (by a mile). Nolan went home a happy man last night.

Thought #2:The Packers are still undefeated. Aaron Rodgers’ QB rating during the game was up to 158.3. I bet anybody who has him on their fantasy team is pretty happy. Does anybody else do fantasy football?

Thought #3: Today is Theo’s big day. What do you think he will say at the press conference? What do you hope he will say?

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Could He Be A Cub: Jeff Francis

Monday, October 24th, 2011

It will be interesting to see how Theo Epstein approaches the Cubs 2012 roster. Will he tear it down and completely rebuild, or will he try to piece together a possible contender in a winnable NL Central?

Whatever Epstein decides, he has to address the starting rotation. We all have painful memories of the Cubs 2011 pitching carousel. Could free agent starter Jeff Francis provide some stability?

When evaluating the career of 30-year-old Jeff Francis, it’s important to remember that he spent six seasons in Colorado. To call Coors Field a hitters’ park would be a massive understatement.

Coming back from 2009 and 2010 arm troubles, the left-handed starter was up and down for the Kansas City Royals last season. The good news? Francis was durable, making 31 starts. The bad news? A 4.82 ERA, 11 hits per 9 innings pitched, and a troublesome strike-out rate.

Francis has never blown anyone away with his stuff. He’s a control pitcher who relies on deception and changing speeds. In seven Major League seasons, Francis has walked 2.8 batters per 9 innings pitched. From that standpoint, I’m optimistic about what he could contribute in 2012. Of course, that assumes he’s healthy.

Another mark in his favor is money. Francis made $2 million last season, so the free-agent price tag should be reasonable. Would he take a one-year deal in the hopes of re-establishing himself? I think that scenario is very likely.

Garza, Dempster, and Wells would be a respectable start to a 2012 rotation. Perhaps Jeff Francis could be that “lightning-in-a-bottle” starter the Cubs will need if they have any hopes of competing next year. Even in a rebuilding year, somebody has to take the ball. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen more than enough of Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.

Jeff Francis Career Stats

Year   Age  Tm  W  L  ERA  GS     IP  HR ERA+  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2004    23 COL  3  2 5.15   7   36.2   8   96 1.500 10.3  2.0  3.2  7.9  2.46
2005    24 COL 14 12 5.68  33  183.2  26   84 1.623 11.2  1.3  3.4  6.3  1.83
2006    25 COL 13 11 4.16  32  199.0  18  118 1.286  8.5  0.8  3.1  5.3  1.70
2007    26 COL 17  9 4.22  34  215.1  25  114 1.379  9.8  1.0  2.6  6.9  2.62
2008    27 COL  4 10 5.01  24  143.2  21   94 1.483 10.3  1.3  3.1  5.9  1.92
2010    29 COL  4  6 5.00  19  104.1  11   93 1.361 10.3  0.9  2.0  5.8  2.91
2011    30 KCR  6 16 4.82  31  183.0  19   85 1.437 11.0  0.9  1.9  4.5  2.33
7 Seasons      61 66 4.78 180 1065.2 128   98 1.430 10.1  1.1  2.8  5.9  2.13
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