Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: April 2005


Look Back in Anger?
2005-04-29 09:56
by Derek Smart

Every once in a while I'll stroll through the archives of my ancient writing history, just to remind myself of what I was thinking at a particular time, and as luck would have it, I happened across a vitriolic little ditty I scribbled comparing the rivalry with the Cardinals to that with tonight's opponent, the Astros. Here's a bit to chew on:

Falling to the Cardinals is bad, of course, but I can handle it because it's part of the story. The Redbird rivalry is an epic tale, one with victories and setbacks, an ebb and flow over games and seasons that may be painful at times, but feels natural. There is the respect of equals that is part of the combat, a wink shared between old gladiators as if to say, "Good to see you old man. I hate to kill you, but it's my job."

There is none of this in the confrontations with Houston. I noted in my pre-season coverage of the Astros that Craig Biggio strikes me as the quintessential schoolyard bully. This holds for the entire team, but it goes a step further.

The Astros are New Money, but not with the egalitarian sense one sees in movies, a la Trading Places. The Rocket Men do not spend their days breaking down societal barriers, showing the stuffed shirts how empty their lives have been as they sit in their penthouses, trapped in their stratified class system, thinking they're better than the hoi polloi and everyday riff raff.

No, they are New Money as boorish interloper. The Hawaiian shirt at the 21 Club. The loud snore at The Bolshoi. The Ugly American demanding a Diet Coke at the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

I'll admit that in retrospect this might not be entirely fair - perhaps it's even outright inflammatory - but while it may not be an apt description of the team in general, it does accurately reflect my feelings toward the club: I hates 'em.

The emotions are akin to the ones that come up when thinking about the Mets of the mid-eighties to early-nineties. There's a similar swagger and attitude endemic to both teams, and that combined with their success and seeming disdain for those perceived as inferior - a category that invariably included the Cubs - is tailor-made to put my nettle peddle to the metal.

But if things don't change soon for Houston, they may be mirroring those Mets more than they would like. After coming in second in the 1990 NL East with a record that would have earned them a wildcard birth had it existed, they became in successive years a mediocre team, a bad team, and finally, an execrable team, finishing 1993 with their worst record and winning percentage since 1965.

Once this Met decline was in full swing, I found that I no longer felt the ire toward them that I once did. The men who rubbed me the wrong way were no longer there, and even if they had been, the team had become so harmless that the player's demeanors which so enraged me in the past would have been laughable in the present.

Now, as the Astros roster ages, they are in dangerous lockstep with their twins in temperament, and if they don't turn things around - and quickly - I may soon find myself feeling pity for those I used to despise.

But not tonight.

Roster Update
2005-04-28 11:39
by Alex Ciepley

I've been a bad boy, neglecting to update the Cubs roster, found at the bottom in the column on the right-hand side of this page.

The 25-man and 40-man rosters should both be in the now, with the major changes including:

  • Carlos Vasquez, the minor league lefty who was suspended for steroid use earlier this spring, is off the 40-man. Taking his place is walk-my-way Ben Grieve, in his second tour of Dusty duty on the Cubs bench.
  • Robert Novoa and Will Ohman are up, walk-your-way Leicester is down, and poor Chad Fox is out. We'll see if Novoa or Ohman can display better control than the pair they're replacing.
I've also updated the "BA" (for Baseball America) links in the "Lil' Cubs" section, taking you directly to those minor leaguers' current stat pages (if they're currently playing).

My New Personal Hero
2005-04-27 17:24
by Derek Smart

Derrek Lee is my new personal hero.

Flowers shall be delivered to his locker daily, and chocolates placed on his pillow at night.

He shall be fed grapes while lounging on satin cushions, and his bejeweled goblet shall ever be full.

Robes of silk and slippers of gold shall adorn him, while musicians serenade him with silver lyres.

Virgins shall tend his every need, and eunuchs shall guard his private sanctuary.

He has come.

He is glorious.

He is a Cub.

Derrek Lee is my new personal hero.

And Corey's pretty cool, too.

Derrek Lee
2005-04-27 13:58
by Alex Ciepley

Channeling Belth: Dude, you're freakin' killing me here. I can't get enough. 4-4, 2 bombs, 6 ribbies, and there's still game to play. Keep it up, youse.

You Ain't Got No Alibi
2005-04-27 08:24
by Derek Smart

There are ballgames we watch, and when all is said and done, the quality of play has been such that we exclaim what a shame it was that somebody had to lose, so deserving were the performances of each of the contestants.

Last night was not that type of game, and was, in fact, so ugly that the opposite sentiment was justified: It was a shame that with two clubs playing so poorly that one of them should emerge victorious.

Let me amend that slightly: If the Reds' bullpen were a team separate from the rest of their organization, capable of earning wins and losses that would be registered in the standings apart from that of their parent club, I would gladly award them the trophy for the night, as they were the true class of the contest.

True, the offenses did some hearty work, but I'd be inclined to give negative credit to the hurlers they scored on rather than laud a group of hitters who simply capitalized on repeated helpings of meatballs from the likes of Milton, Zambrano, and the entire Cub bullpen.

It's called doing your job, and while there's a certain amount of credit to be given, it doesn't deserve the type of praise one would get for, say, scoring off a filthy Ryan Wagner - which nobody did.

If you think I'm cranky now, just wait 'till the bullets start flying!

  • While Big Z had a poor outing, it was good to see him adjust to what he had working for him and give himself a shot at keeping the bullpen out of the game for a decent amount of time.

    Initially, he was throwing mostly two-seamers and hard breaking balls, and while they had decent movement, they either zipped well out of the zone, or directly into a hitter's yum sphere.

    By the third, Z had figured out that the Reds couldn't catch up to his four-seamer, and that he could spot it well to boot. Then in the fourth, he found a second pitch - his slow breaking ball - that he could get over consistently with nice bite.

    Of course, it was moot by the time he plunked Austin Kearns, and while one could conceivably argue against his ejection (although, it looked pretty intentional to me), the fact remains that he had thrown 104 pitches to that point, so his departure with one out left in the fifth didn't significantly impact bullpen usage, as he was unlikely to go in the next frame anyway.

  • While I've brought up the subject of bullpen usage, if anyone has a clue what's going on with Mr. Baker's brain, I'd really appreciate the insight, in particular regarding this "closer" situation which is beginning to reach Fellini-esque heights of incomprehensibility.

    It was clear last night that Dusty had finally driven over the proverbial cliff of sanity, employing his theoretical best closer option (Mike Wuertz) in the seventh, and quickly sending notice that the man he would entrust with the lead at game's end, should such a thing be held that long, would be the recently scorned, LaTroy Hawkins.

    I've said this before: you'll never see me worshiping at the alter of the Capital 'C' Closer, but if there's one point I'm abundantly ready to concede, it's that LaTroy Hawkins is ill suited for the job, and turning to him after you've already rejected him for the role is tantamount to giving that fireman's gig to the fella you canned a couple days ago due to his extensive history of arson because the other candidate's didn't have the right 'firehouse swagger'.

  • I'm also completely unable to grasp the way poor Jon Leicester is being deployed. He's now been brought into critical situations in each of his last two outings despite having sat idle for a week or more, and the worst part is, Baker seems disappointed when those seven plus days of rust aren't instantly shaken off.

    If you don't want to use Leicester, for God's sake, don't. Send him back to Iowa so he can work and bring up another position player so you never, ever have to use Jose Macias to pinch hit again, but don't let the guy lie fallow in the bullpen for days on end and expect him to mow folks down when you turn to him out of desperation.

    Naturally, I'd rather see him used more frequently because I think he can be a positive contributor to the team's success, but if you're not inclined to do that, don't yank the kid around, putting him in situations where he's unlikely to succeed, then get down on him because he founders.

It's the rubber game today, and I have no idea what to expect. Ryan Dempster has been surprisingly good, but I'm a long way from counting on continued usefulness from him. Hopefully, the team can right the ship and head into the off day with their heads back above water.

Pain and Joy, Joy and Pain
2005-04-26 09:11
by Derek Smart

A win is a win is a win, but having victories constantly tainted by wrenching injury is starting to get me down. Here's to the good health of the team from here on out, and the devout wish that the club has gotten the horror show of hurt out of its system.

And now, considering what their namesakes do to the human body, the unfortunately labeled: bullet points.

  • Again, I refuse to declare The Franchise completely healed and fully re-formed as his naturally Herculean self, but it's getting more and more difficult with each outing to resist the temptation. It's particularly difficult since he didn't look like he had his 'A' game - he was still good, but maybe more like a 'B' - yet still held the Reds to two tallies while striking out ten.

    Being able to mow down the opposition when you've got all your tools in order is expected, and really nothing special. It's when a pitcher can take charge of a game without complete ownership of his personal excellence that you know he's got it going, and while we have yet to see him really struggle, how he handled last night's good but not great outing is definitely a step in the right direction.

  • Of course, any glee I might feel due to the win or the work of Prior is overshadowed by the fate of poor Chad Fox. It's not as if his eventual injury was unexpected in general - one doesn't compile a health history like he has without being a veritable ticking time bomb of affliction - but it's one thing to hear or read about it, and quite another to see it happen in front of you.

    There was no doubt from the moment he came off the mound that he was hurt, and badly at that. But as horrible as I felt when Nomar went down, I feel so much worse for Fox. True, he's a less important part of the team - I think if the Cubs put Mike Wuertz in the closer role they'll actually be better off - but he's also not a star, not an icon, and if the injury turns out to be severe enough, maybe not even a ballplayer anymore.

    In a way, I hope this is the end for Fox, not because I wish him ill, but because he's already been through so much, worked so hard to continue to play this game only to have his body betray him at every turn, that I fear one more trip down that road could break the poor guy's heart, and mine besides.

    He wasn't a Cub for long, but as far as I'm concerned he's one of us now, and as a member of this large, extended family I just hope that whatever happens, however he decides to handle this latest setback, that he's able to find comfort and peace.

  • On a lighter note, the vision of Neifi! and Jose Macias on the bench talking hitting during the fifth would ordinarily be cause for some sort of deeply snarky comment; perhaps a metaphor about the blind men gleefully leading each other toward a deadly precipice, or how such a conversation is reminiscent of similar talks hypothetically had by the likes of FDR and Louis Howe over the proper approach to a penalty kick.

    But how can one seriously say such things when confronted by this: The Cubs scored 10 runs on a night with the wind howling out, and the team's only homer was had by....Neifi! It's come to the point where I'm strongly considering forswearing showers lest I encounter a naked Bobby Ewing.

  • Aramis Ramirez looks like a desperate man at the plate, like every pitched ball is food and he hasn't eaten for weeks. As was mentioned during the broadcast, Aramis is feeling the effects of his success, as pitchers are no longer willing to challenge him in any situation, preferring to either put him on or have him swing at their pitch.

    I think Aramis understands this, but it's critical that he starts to apply this understanding to his approach at the dish. He's anxious right now, maybe even trying to justify the big deal he just signed, but he needs to relax and let the pitchers come to him, and if they don't, simply take his base and let his teammates do the work. After all, they'll have to do it anyway if he's sitting on the bench after making an out, so why not let them do it with him standing at first?

  • I know I'm bad for thinking this, and even worse for sharing, but I have to find out if I'm all alone in my sickness:

    Last night, after having mentioned his bout with stomach flu during the broadcast, Corey Patterson pinch hit for Mark Prior, and try as I might, all I could think of were the possibilities for humorous yet disgusting gastrointestinal episodes.

    I won't share the details of my imaginings - they are foul - but thankfully none came to pass and Corey struck out sans incident. Here's to Mr. Patterson's full recovery, if for no other reason, to save me from myself.

Game two of the series tonight, and Carlos Zambrano has a chance to put the Cubs two games over .500 for the first time this season against the taterific, Eric Milton. If the wind's blowing out like it was last night, we may be in for a show.

2005-04-25 22:29
by Alex Ciepley

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone. Regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits,
To practise more than heavenly power permits.
- Doctor "Neifi!!" Faustus

Oh Neifi!! What have you done?

I fully expected it. I thought it was inevitable. I praise Neifi!! for having been a Good Cub so far, and he promptly rewards my accolades by grounding out to second base in 25 consecutive 1-pitch at-bats.

So far, so very wrong.

Today Neifi!! earned a second exclamation point. In yet another vintage Mark Prior outing (jinx!), our once-wallflower shortstop-replacement drove in four runs, including a three-run smacker. He's now hitting .388/.412/.551 in 53 plate appearances for the season. He even has two (2!) walks.

As Mr. Will Carroll asks in the comments,

You know, if Neifi Perez did sell his soul, how much you think he got for it?

Popular theories include:

  • Neifi!! is secretly a native of Port Huron, Michigan, and just won the $205 million Mega Millions jackpot. Slightly embarassed that he has spent his career posing as a Dominican and not a born-and-bred Michigander, he has yet to claim his prize.
  • Neifi!!'s real name is Joseph Ratzinger. He prayed that he wouldn't be named Pope, but hey, God works in Mysterious Ways. Neifi!! now takes time from Mass to slay the demons of the world, otherwise known as the Cubs' opponents.
  • Niefi!! is really a teenage girl, using bodybuilding steroids to get the "toned, sculpted look of models and movies stars". As a side benefit to having the bod of Jennifer Aniston or Iman, he gets to hit homers and drive pitchers batty with singles up the middle.

I'm still going with the "random as hell" theory to Neifi's success, but you know, as long as it's working, devil may care.

Know Your Enemy 2005 - Week 3
2005-04-25 12:14
by Derek Smart

Everyone but the Cardinals was at least moderately stinky this week, so let's forgo any formal intro and get down to business.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record12-5
    Week's Record6-1
    Games Back--

    They were the only team in the division with a winning record this week (The Cubs were 3-3. Again.), and after outscoring their opponents 40-17, it's a wonder they lost at all. But even more than the domination of divisional underlings, the Cardinals are celebrating the return of the One True Mark Mulder, who threw eighteen innings of scoreless ball - ten of them in a complete game versus the Astros - while giving up a mere 7 hits and 3 walks.

    He's still not striking anyone out, but when you only give up about one baserunner every two innings, you find yourself worrying less about such things.

  2. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record9-9
    Week's Record3-4
    Games Back3.5

    The Reds took two more games by a skinny run this week, their fifth and sixth victories in one-run games on the year, leading the National League. They started off in similar fashion in 2004 when they led the division in late May/early June, despite being outscored by their opponents on the season during much of the run.

    Much like the last year's fantasy of divisional contention, this year's fond illusion of a .500 ballclub will fade all too quickly if they don't start removing luck from the equation through the occasional sound beating of the opposition.

  3. Houston Astros

    Season Record8-10
    Week's Record3-4
    Games Back4.5

    It's not the best week ever, but when your team's offensive leader for the span is Adam Everett, you have to feel good about escaping with minimal damage. The thing is, the week could have even been a triumphant 5-2 had they been able to score just a single run in regulation against Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.

    The Astros are going to have more games where someone like Oswalt or Clemens is pitching brilliantly while the opposition does the same, and they're going to have to find ways to pull some of those out if they want to have a shot in this division.

  4. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record7-11
    Week's Record2-5
    Games Back5.5

    Apparently, The Crew has decided to skip that whole flirting with .500 thing they had going until July last year. This week in particular, their pitching did them in, as only three of their twelve pitchers kept their ERA under 5.40 over the span - the best being the surprising Victor Santos, who allowed only one run during his complete game outing versus the Giants, and has arguably been the Brewers' best starter thus far.

  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record6-12
    Week's Record2-4
    Games Back6.5

    Consistency: It's a word that always seems to come up when struggling teams talk about their inability to get it done, but what happens when you are, indeed, consistent - just consistently bad? If things keep up in Pittsburgh we're likely to find out, as a rainout and continued poor play conspired to leave the Pirates at 2-4 this week, exactly matching their records in weeks one and two. Things had best change soon, or I'm going to run out of ways to say that this is a bad, bad team.

Good or Bad, Happy or Sad
2005-04-25 08:35
by Derek Smart

A three-game series was shortened to two thanks to some weather related intervention on Friday, and whether you think that's a good or a bad thing would depend entirely on which of the two games that followed you opted to take your cue from. But in the interest of full coverage, I've got bullet points from both!

  • I've been rooting for LaTroy to be able to handle the closer role, partly because of the peace it would bring (debates on who should be closing games are perhaps the most tiresome discussions around), and partly because I just hate seeing someone of obvious ability consistently fail.

    Well, so much for my well wishing, as Mr. Hawkins appears to have put the final nail in his closer coffin by giving up the tying and winning runs in the ninth on Saturday. I'm not a huge believer in capital "C" closers - in other words, I don't necessarily believe that a select few have the innate ability to get those last three outs - but I'm starting to think that there are, instead, those few pitchers who should not perform that duty, and it certainly seems that LaTroy is one of them.

  • Taking over the end of game duties in the immediate aftermath is Chad Fox, who's a solid enough choice for the role, except he'll only be able to do it two days in a row. I'd guess that third consecutive save opportunities will be given to Michael Wurtz, who I expect to handle the job with aplomb. In fact, if I were in charge, I'd just hand the job to him for a bit and see what he could do with it.

  • Beyond the obvious bullpen problems, there was a moment in Saturday's game the rubbed me the wrong way. It came in the bottom of the eighth: the Cubs had taken the lead on Corey Patterson's homer, and now Derrek Lee was at second with one out in the frame and Jason Dubois - who was 2 for 3 with an RBI double - coming up to face a wild and hittable Solomon Torres.

    Except he wasn't coming up, because Dusty chose this moment to pinch hit for him with - wait for it - Jose Macias.

    I've been wracking my brain ever since trying to figure out the reasoning behind the move, and I'll be damned if I can make it work on a planet where logic exists. I believe that Dusty was trying to protect Dubois from the horror of facing a righty (goodness knows he couldn't have hit many of his 31 AAA homers in 2004 against them) and in general, to protect his platoon advantage in the at bat by sending a switch-hitter up.

    There are multiple problems with this:

    1. Dubois was obviously seeing the ball well that day, going with pitches and making solid contact
    2. Torres was having big problems, having given up a homer and a double to the first two men he faced, and experiencing control issues both in and out of the zone
    3. The only reliever the Pirates had ready to go was lefty John Grabow, who was certain to stay out of the game if Dubois came to the plate, thus exposing a struggling Torres to another batter while a man was in scoring position
    4. When Macias was called upon Torres was immediately off the hook: Macias is a switch hitter and he'll have the platoon advantage no matter who's on the mound, so it was the perfect opportunity for Lloyd McClendon to get his vulnerable hurler out of there
    5. To my mind, one can only have an "advantage" when one shows ability in a particular situation. Therefore, Macias, a man who since 2002 hits .247/.271/.360 vs. lefties and .251/.294/.374 against righties, has no platoon advantage, as he is overmatched by pitchers of all stripes

    I suppose that last point is the most damning - Macias simply can't hit - but every last bit of that situation screamed for Dubois to stay in the game. Dubois was having a good day: you want him in there. Torres was having a bad day: you want him in there. Grabow could be better than Torres: you want him in the pen. Macias was certain to be worse than Dubois: you want him on the bench.

    Instead, Dusty did the exact opposite on all counts, helping to squander a scoring opportunity that could have added what turned out to be a needed insurance run. I know it's easy for me to sit here and write about this - I don't have to be down there making the decisions - but this still strikes me as basic logic that should be applied no matter what position you're in.

  • While his outing was shortened by the effects of some shoulder tendonitis, it was nice to see Kerry Wood looking like Good Kerry for once. His stuff is starting to round into shape - nice movement on his heat, decent breaking stuff, good change - and if his shoulder doesn't keep him out (the word is that he's expected to make his next start), I'd expect us to see more of the same. With all the injuries on the offensive end, the Cubs could sure use it.

  • Whatever Neifi!'s got, I want some.

It's the Reds at Wrigley tonight, with The Franchise going to the mound for the third time. Show me a good outing, and I might, just might, start thinking he's finally turned the corner.

Sound the Alarms
2005-04-24 12:47
by Alex Ciepley

It's all gloom-and-doom around Wrigleyville these days. Quotes from around the media tell the story:

Hawkins Hell

The word in the papers: game over. Chris De Luca from the Sun-Times provides some in-clubhouse instant psychoanalysis.

Maybe Hawkins could finally smile because he knows his personal torment -- which in turn has tormented Cubs fans -- was finally over. Manager Dusty Baker will utter the words today that not only will calm Hawkins' mind, but soothe the stomachs of Cubs fans.

LaTroy Hawkins will no longer be the Cubs' closer.

Greg Maddux, for his part, is lighter on the dramatics, heavier on the logic.

I think (Hawkins is) actually throwing pretty good; it's just that his results aren't what we'd like them to be. He's so good that he's only missing by a little instead of a lot.

When you miss by a lot, it ends up being a ball or a foul ball; when you miss by a little, they seem to hit it a little better.

Nomar Nuisance

Jim Hendry sounds more optimistic than most reports on Nomar's return.

I haven't gotten any indication from the medical people that ... it will be later than the All-Star break. I don't want to put a time frame on it because surgery is a possibility and it could lengthen or shorten it.

But Barry Larkin wants nuttin' to do with the Cubbies.

Larkin's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, told the Dayton Daily News that the longtime Cincinnati shortstop turned down the suggestion.

"Larkin is not going to play any more," Goldschmidt told the newspaper. "The Cubs were one of the teams [that] tried to sign him when the Reds let him go [after last season], but Barry wasn't interested."

Replacement Ruin

Dusty Baker on the new middle infield.

I've never lost both middle infielders at the same time in the first month of the season," Baker said. "But I'm so happy to have guys like Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston. How often are you going to find two guys like that [on your bench]?"

no comment.

Hammered by Carpenter
2005-04-22 10:12
by Alex Ciepley

I guess that title is better than saying, uh, Nailed by Carpenter, but just by a hair.


  • Ryno Dempster is doing his best to dispel my premonitions of him being the Cubs' Doomster. Dempster pitched very well yesterday, but was Outwitted, Outsmarted, and Outplayed by pesky Chris Carpenter. Dempster's never going to be a particularly snappy starter while walking almost five! batters per nine innings, but he's getting by so far by striking out loads of hitters and keeping the ball in the park. The Cubs could be doing worse for a fifth guy.
  • Toaster pal Will Carroll is all over the Nomar injury. In today's Under The Knife column, he spells out the ramifications of Garciaparra's groin tear (can you say "groin tear" three times fast without fainting?).

    It's possible, though unlikely, that Garciaparra could return with the muscle detached and have some level of effectiveness, but even this unlikely scenario would take two to three months to occur. The more likely course, one the Cubs medical staff admits is now in Garciaparra's hands, is surgery. It would need to occur within the week to be most effective and it would in effect end his 2005. For Cubs fans, this is a devastating blow, one that could potentially mark the end of Garciaparra as an elite player.

    If you don't subscribe to Baseball Prospectus, you're missing out on Will's regular takes on injuries around baseball. And since the Cubbies are no strangers to Madame Injury, wise Cubs fans subscribe to get the poop.

  • Even if Nomar turns out to be a bust, the deal that brought him here still has some legs. Matt Murton, the patient, pure hitter that was a key to getting the Nomar trade done, is currently crushing AA pitchers.
    AB   BB  K  SB/A   AVG   OBP   SLG
    54 7 6 4/5 .481 .541 .704
    Murton's already 23, so the Cubs may be wanting to push him sooner than later. If he keeps hitting like this, they won't have much of a choice.
More Pirates today, as The Prof tries to right his relatively rocky boat and grab his first win of the season. Maddux-Redman, first pitch in 2 hours.

He's only mostly dead
2005-04-21 10:56
by Derek Smart

The word is that Nomar Garciaparra will be out 2-3 months with the injury sustained during last night's game. Here's a phrase one never wants to read in relation to someone's groin:

Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal said the muscle pulled away from the bone.

Guh. That's all the detail I need.

Ronny Cedeno got the call from Iowa to fill Nomar's roster spot, and while I'd always rather have our ill-fated boy in the lineup, it could be interesting to see what Cedeno can do in the bigs, especially since he started the year hitting .348/.400/.565 in 46 AAA at bats. He's supposed to be good defensively too, despite his three errors thus far, so while this whole episode is deeply saddening, something positive could come of it yet.

But of course, it's not positive, and I'm not going to say that Nomar's possible July/August return will be like making a great deadline deal, because it won't be - he was supposed to be playing all year, and trying to frame an obvious loss to the club as a potential gain is intellectually bankrupt. However, from the looks of things, he will, indeed, return, and given the alternative, that's good enough news for now.

Rhymes With Loin
2005-04-21 09:14
by Derek Smart

What's that? You wanted to see more Jerry Hairston in the lineup? Well, by golly, you're going to get it, because now that Neifi! will be assuming a longer-term position to the left of the diamond, that second base spot is there for the taking.

I have to have a sense of humor about what could be a season-ending injury for Nomar - it's the only way to keep from collapsing into a puddle of weeping goo - and the fact is, I feel less sorry for me, Cub fans, or the team, than I do for Garciaparra himself.

To work so hard getting back from last year's problems, signing a deal that could hopefully raise his future value, playing for a club that he appears to genuinely have some affection for, only to have that potentially taken away by a freak accident, well, it just seems cruel.

Obviously, I hope he makes it back quickly, but not just because the team needs him. I want him back because I just feel like he deserves a better shot at restoring his reputation, and of being a part of a championship team on the field - hopefully in Cubbie blue.

But enough of these maudlin meanderings. Take away Nomar's misfortune, and we were treated to one fun ballgame, at least from a Cub fan's perspective. Here, for your enjoyment, are some of my finest bullet points:

  • There are few greater pleasures as a Cub fan these days than seeing Carlos Zambrano at his ground-ball inducing best, and we got that in spades last night. When Z can have the ridiculous movement he had, yet still throw 80 out of 118 pitches for strikes, the opposition is about as helpless as you're ever likely to see. And when that defenseless attack belongs to the mighty Cardinals, it's just that much sweeter.

  • The Cardinal defense last night was...well...un-Cardinal-esque, to coin a clumsy phrase. Historically, a very tight unit with the leather, St. Louis had unusual, if small, breakdowns in what is normally a brick wall of strength. Here's a list of the miscues:

    1. John Mabry lets Neifi!'s first inning line drive pop out of his glove.
    2. Abraham Nunez can't turn the potential inning-ending double play on Derrek Lee's ground ball.
    3. Nunez can't hold on to Einar Diaz' throw on Lee's steal of second, keeping the inning alive for an eventual Jeromy Burnitz RBI single.
    4. Diaz can't hold on to Carlos Zambrano's two-strike foul tip, keeping the at bat alive.
    5. Jim Edmonds can't cut off Zambrano's hit toward the left-center field gap because of extra shallow positioning, resulting in an RBI triple.
    6. Diaz attempts to throw Todd Hollandsworth out at second on Zambrano's fourth inning sacrifice bunt. No harm though, as Patterson hit into a double play in the next at bat.
    7. Edmonds misjudges how hard Aramis Ramirez' fifth inning ball was hit, taking a route that allowed the ball to reach the wall for an RBI double.
    8. David Eckstein boots Aramis Ramirez' potential ninth inning ending double-play ball, only getting Ramirez at first. The Cardinals escaped the frame unscathed, but not before Julian Tavarez loaded the bases.

    Oddly, the plays that did the most damage were fairly excusable - Mabry appeared to lose the ball in the lights; Nunez first had to field a very hard hit ball, then contend with Derrek Lee's knee in his glove; Diaz can't really be faulted for missing a foul tip; and while Edmonds appeared to misjudge how hard Zambrano's ball was hit, he was probably playing too shallow with a pitcher at the dish to really have a shot at cutting it off.

    The more inexcusable plays (the last three, by my book) resulted in less damage, as two had no real impact, and one - Edmonds misplay of Ramirez' hit - would have likely still driven in a run even if better executed. All told, though, it was an uncharacteristically sloppy night for Redbird D, and it made a huge difference in the game's outcome.

  • Speaking of defense, I've yet to make mention of it this season - an oversight to be sure - but Michael Barrett is having a tremendous year behind the plate, particularly in the area of throwing out baserunners. We were treated to another example of his excellence thus far when he gunned down David Eckstein in the sixth.

    It appeared to be a botched hit and run play, but even so, Barrett's throw was right on the money, like nearly every play he's made to second this season. I don't expect him to continue throwing out 64.3% of would-be basestealers, but he's obviously improved on his past performance. When we see that percentage start to fall, I'd bet it will be more because of baserunners being more selective in choosing when to run, than any decline in Barrett's throwing.

  • Again on defense, along with the good there's been some bad, but what Aramis Ramirez has done in the field of late is downright ugly. It looks like all the improvements he made in his footwork last season have been utterly forgotten - he's not getting properly set, and his entire motion looks completely out of rhythm.

    I don't know if it's simply a rough patch, or if Aramis thought he fixed what needed fixing last year, but it's getting to the point where I fear every throw will go in the dirt. Sure, it gives me a reason beyond his ridiculously hot bat to throw praise at Derrek Lee, but I'd rather this issue was nipped in the bud so I could relax a bit.

More on Nomar's troubles when news comes down the pike, but for now, enjoy this afternoon's getaway day tilt between the great rivals of the Mid-West, while saying your prayers for our boy's speedy recovery.

Don't Call It A Comeback
2005-04-20 11:28
by Derek Smart

There's something wonderful about baseball's seeming lack of inherent momentum. Had a lousy game last night? Don't worry, there's a guy throwing meatballs on the mound tonight, you'll get your groove back. Of course, it works in reverse, too, and while that's disconcerting when one gets tossed from good to bad, I still think it's part of the game's inherent charm - second, third, and fourth chances abound, and just because it didn't work out today, doesn't mean tomorrow can't be different, and bullies better watch their backs because even Poindexter can pack a punch.

Such was the case last night, when the Cubs bounced back from Monday's tough loss with a tight 7-1 victory over the Reds. It's the type of ballgame I love to watch, where the Cubs move without effort from task to task, doing what needs doing at every turn, each event natural as could be. It can't be like that every night, but goodness, it's fun when it is. Now, some thoughts:

  • I still won't declare Mark Prior fully back, even after not giving up an earned run over his first 13 innings this season. My overactive sense of irony prevents me.


    Overactive sense of irony, you ask? You know, that thing in the back of your head that plays the news of your grizzly death at life's high points, with the anchorman saying, "It was their honeymoon. A time of joy and celebration. But that all changed when a cargo plane carrying equipment for a touring circus accidentally jettisoned the Knife Thrower's trunk of blades onto the empty beach below. Empty, that is, except for a honeymooning couple who shall, tragically, honeymoon no more. Back to you, John."

    What? That's only me? I need to start seeing someone.


    Still, The Franchise looked like...well...The Franchise last night, especially if you remove that first inning, which I like to call, "The Scoreless Inning That Corey Built." He was spotting all his pitches, got good break on his curves, and most importantly, looked like he was throwing free and easy. Like I said, I won't start breaking out the champagne yet, but I sure like what I'm seeing so far.

  • How nice was it to see Michael Barrett finally get some return on investment? Even though he'd gone 0-26, he was hitting the ball very hard and getting either robbed or victimized by fielder positioning. Well, after getting on via an infield single of all things, breaking his hitless streak, he decided to cut out the middle man in the sixth and just send that baby over the wall. Fun stuff.

    What Barrett has experienced of late is a fine argument for the effect luck has on a season. He'd been drilling the ball everywhere to no effect, balls that you'd call hits if you saw them in batting practice, but the play he finally reaches on is a pitch he makes decidedly lousy contact with. That's classic, folks, and that's baseball.

  • Remember what I said the other day about Nomar looking ready to break out? Yeah. Scratch that. Last night he looked as lost as he's looked all year, lunging at pitches out of the zone, and generally looking out of sync.

    I'm not concerned long term - all players go through bad stretches, and his is all the more visible being at the season's start - but it makes me start thinking about possible explanations, with the only thing making sense being some sort of Freaky Friday incident with Derrek Lee, and when that's your most plausible explanation, maybe it's time to shut up and let nature take its course.

It's those Redbirds tonight, in the first of a short two game set. Tonight's matchup looks slightly favorable with Zambrano against Suppan, but I have fear and dread of the Dempster vs. Carpenter tilt in game two. Still, it's just good to restart the saga of the Bird and the Bear for yet another year. Let's hope our boys can fare a little better against their rivals in 2005.

The Other Patterson
2005-04-20 08:50
by Alex Ciepley

While Corey plays Spidey in the bigs, his little brother Eric, who is with the Lansing Lugnuts Peoria Chiefs in Low A, has been pulling his own superhero stunts.

43 11 2 9 10 2 .465 .589 .674
Eric came to the Cubs with a bit of a rep: that he shared some of the same frustrating characteristics as his brother. Baseball America, in Monday's profile of Little Patterson, had this to say:

Many scouts who saw [Eric] Patterson at Georgia Tech were frustrated at his desire to try to power the ball and wanted him to focus more on being a leadoff man who can take advantage of his plus speed.

In the early going, at least, Eric's dropped the Corey act, opting to play out the Tim Raines routine instead. 11 walks and 2 HBP in 56 trips to the plate. A .589 On-Base Percentage. The sample size is tiny, but I can't imagine that big bro Corey--at any point in his professional career--displayed such a knack for getting on base. Is Eric's initial display of patience just a fluke, or is he displaying skills that will stay with him throughout the season and beyond?

You Said It
2005-04-19 08:44
by Derek Smart

While vainly searching this morning for profanity free ways to express my disappointment at the outcome of last night's game, and particularly the route taken to it, I came across this in the Daily Herald:

Cubs manager Dusty Baker may have summed it up most aptly.

"Oh, boy," he said at the end of his postgame session.

You said it, Mr. Baker. You said it.

Know Your Enemy 2005 - Week 2
2005-04-18 11:36
by Derek Smart

You wanna know how to achieve parity? Have everyone play twelve or fewer games, that's how. True, the NL Central isn't a hugely disparate division, but it's a lot less tight than the current standings would have us believe, especially from top to bottom. Things will separate soon enough, but for now, things are hot and close in our little corner of baseball.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record6-4
    Week's Record4-1
    Games Back--

    The sleepers have awakened. It's a phrase that can apply to the team as a whole, as well as their big three hitters - Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds - who emerged from opening weeks that ranged from rather pedestrian to downright awful with powerful vengeance, drilling two homers and a double each.

    Of course, the team as a whole didn't hit terribly well, scoring only 21 runs in 5 games with an OPS of .686, but that hardly matters when your opponents can cobble together a mere 12 runs themselves - half of them off of Mark Mulder in one game. In fact, only Mulder, Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis allowed any runs for the Redbirds this week, and that's tasty no matter how you slice it.

  2. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record6-5
    Week's Record3-2
    Games Back0.5

    Lovin' those one-run games! All three Reds victories this past week came thanks to a skinny run, making them 4-2 on the year in those ultra-tight contests. That's pretty lucky, but they'll need more than that kind of luck to contend, as they found out last year, when they were the only team in the National League with a winning record in games decided by single runs, but a losing record overall (the Indians accomplished the same dubious feat in the American League).

  3. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record5-6
    Week's Record2-4
    Games Back1.5

    Returning to Earth is never fun, especially when the stars are so gosh-darn pretty. That's what happens, though, when you run into a Cardinals squad that's decided it's had its fill of losing. There's no shame in getting swept by the defending NL Champs, but that doesn't make it fun.

    One story that is fun, though, is the emergence of Jorge de la Rosa as a bullpen force for the Crew. He's only thrown six innings, but his seven strikeouts already eclipses the number he put up in five starts last season. He still needs to cut down on his walks (he's given four free passes thus far), but even so, he's shaping up to be a nice young player on a team that seems to be getting nicer and younger all the time.

  4. Houston Astros

    Season Record5-6
    Week's Record1-5
    Games Back1.5

    Apparently, it wasn't bad enough to get swept by the team that bought their One True Centerfielder out from under them, they had to lose the next series to the Reds - a team they've flat-out owned the last several years, going 45-23 from 2001-2004, including victories in the last 11 games they played last season.

    There's some bad luck involved here, since out of their five losses on the week, four were by only one run, however, at some point the offense is going to have to take some of the heat. Having horses in your rotation is great, but you can't ride those ponies across the plate.

  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record4-8
    Week's Record2-4
    Games Back3

    They only lost a half-game in the standings, but that has more to do with the season's relative youth and shifting fortunes at the top of the division than any truly positive developments. The fact that Oliver Perez' 5 run, 6 inning start can be legitimately termed an improvement should be enough to send shivers up Pirates fans' timbers.

Weekend at Bucco's
2005-04-18 07:42
by Derek Smart

While the individual results weren't what I would have predicted, the overall outcome of the weekend series with the Bucs was about what one would expect, as the Cubs came out on top 2-1. I saw the action in fits and starts, but that doesn't mean I'll keep my yap shut, so grab some coffee, get a muffin, and enjoy these freshly harvested bullet points.

  • Besides being a great album, synchronicity can be a lot of fun as a lifestyle. Like when Alex writes about Neifi! and his incongruous success at the plate as a Cub, and about an hour later, a game begins where the aforementioned, oft ridiculed middle infielder goes 2 for 4 with an RBI double that scores the winning run. Ah, good times.

    Next: Derek writes about his unbelievable lottery success an hour before the Powerball drawing.

  • I haven't been tracking this, but I just might start. Chad Fox is throwing a first pitch slider to nearly every hitter he faces, and not only that, but in my anecdotal observations I'd say that he's throwing the pitch at least 80% of the time overall. At some point, the league is going to get wise to this and start looking offspeed all the time, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing - it may even be Fox's plan.

    What's going to be fun to watch in this is the cat and mouse game between Fox and National League hitters. We've already seen it during individual at bats where he'll lull a hitter to sleep with nothing but sliders away, then bust him inside with a fastball around 93-94 for strike three. I'd expect the slider to remain his most prominent pitch, but watch for how he mixes in the heat - how effectively he does that will make the difference for him.

  • Although he was aided by some truly atrocious baserunning on the part of Matt Lawton (I know he was going on the pitch, but he has to find the ball when he hears contact), Jeromy Burnitz' throw to double him up at first was a breath of fresh air. I'm not saying Sosa doesn't make that play, but I wouldn't be surprised if he couldn't.

    Sosa's arm has been a liability for a while, and as he's lost power in it, his lack of accuracy has become more obvious. In other words, I believe that if Sosa were making that play, the ball could get there in time, but I doubt he could get it to the right spot. The ability of your outfield to make strong, accurate throws isn't their most important function, but it sure comes in handy on occasion, and this iteration of the Cubs is much better suited to make those type of plays.

  • I don't make many predictions, as I'm notably lousy at them, but here's something for everyone to chew on, with the hope that I'm not mucking up the cosmos in voicing it: Nomar's about to break out. Granted, 1 for 3 with a single and a sac fly isn't exactly cause to wake the kids, but it's less the results than how they were obtained that have me optimistic.

    For most of the year, Nomar's been hitting the ball on the ground, consistently trying to pull outside pitches. Yesterday, he went with what he was thrown, and for the most part, made good, solid contact with the ball, managing to hit it in the air or on a line.

    It's this latter factor - the solid contact - that has me the most enthusiastic. Even when he was hitting safely of late, he wasn't hitting the ball squarely, but that changed yesterday. If he can continue to keep it up - and I think he will - then we're about to be treated to the guy we signed in the first place.

Next it's two potentially trying two-game sets in Cincinnati and St. Louis. These games look to me like they'll be all about run prevention for the Cubs, and the quality of their starter's outings in particular: Will Kerry Wood be good again, ever? Will Mark Prior have two solid starts in a row? Will Big Z keep the ball in the yard against the mighty Cardinals? Will Ryan Dempster walk fewer than ten Redbirds? Don't know about you, but I can't wait to find out.

2005-04-16 14:59
by Alex Ciepley

At what point does an exclamation point shift from being an ironic, derisive form of punctuation into a celebratory accent? Derek and I have, for a while now, referred to Neifi Perez as Neifi!, in homage to the popular spelling of Seattle's Ichiro!, a truly magnificent player. Is it possible that the slight implied in typing out N-e-i-f-i-! has inspired our cruddy utility infielder to turn from Superscrub to Superstar?

Since joining the Cubs last year, the shortstop who is arguably one of the least valuable offensive players in baseball history* has donned his red cape and been one of the most productive players on the team.

         NEIFI! AS A CUB
82 16 3 .378 .400 .549 .949
So what if he's basically hitting like Pete Rose on crack, or ludes, or crystal meth, or whatever the boys do these days. Neifi's potent combination of Death-by-Singles, No Walks, and A Couple Homers has been an entirely unexpected boon, especially in light of a certain other "N"-named shortstop's shortcomings to this point in the season.

I still giggle every time he comes to the plate, but when Neifi hit his two-run dinger last night, I realized that it's unfair to keep beating up on a guy who's played extremely well for the Cubs so far. What if Neifi + Dusty is magic? Are the pair like Scotty and Michael? Batman and Robin? Oreos and icy cold milk? Has Baker's kiss turned the toady Neifi! into the dashing Prince Neifi!?

I wouldn't hold my breath or read too many fairy tales. Neifi Perez still stinks. I don't want him to be counted on to pinch hit off the bench. I don't even really want him on the Cubs, period. But this is just a reminder that even though Perez stinks, he hasn't yet stunk as a Cub. Not one bit. And that's something that's worthy of the occasional exclamation point.

* Fewest RCAA since 1900
1 Ski Melillo -355
2 Tommy Thevenow -351
3 Bill Bergen -312
4 Tim Foli -309
5 Larry Bowa -307
6 Alfredo Griffin -306
T7 Don Kessinger -305
T7 Ozzie Guillen -305
9 Neifi Perez -302
10 Ed Brinkman -300
source: Sabermetic Baseball Encyclopedia

Stroke of Luck
2005-04-15 07:53
by Derek Smart

There's a piece in the Daily Herald today about Derrek Lee's fine start and how a different workload this spring helped him get more comfortable at the plate earlier than in the past. Here's an excerpt:

Knowing Derrek Lee's major-league career was marked by slow starts to this point, Cubs manager Dusty Baker had a plan for spring training.

"We wanted to get him as many at-bats as possible," Baker said.

Lee had 53 at-bats in 23 Cactus League games and hit .358. He has carried that stroke into the National League season and sits at .364 with 2 home runs and 11 RBI after the first nine games.

We've seen this explanation nearly everywhere, and it makes intuitive sense. After all, if Lee never got going until later in the year, maybe it was because he hadn't worked the kinks out by the end of spring. So, thinking about that, the Cubs gave him some extra reps in Arizona and now it's begun to pay off. Except...

So far this month, Lee is hitting .333, which got a boost from his 4-for-6 effort on Opening Day. Baker tried to give Lee more at-bats this spring, and the first baseman batted .353 (19-for-53). But Lee laughed at that. He said his good start has nothing to do with Cactus League at-bats.

"This spring was the least amount of at-bats I had," Lee said Tuesday. "I think that's what helped. I felt really fresh. I felt great."

That little tidbit is buried in the April 12 Cub notes on the team's official site. I point out these differences, not to ridicule any of the authors of these pieces, as I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with the conclusions they draw based on the information they're given, but instead, to point out just how hard we humans look for explanations for particular phenomena.

See, I'm deep into Alan Schwarz' excellent book, The Numbers Game, and the section I finished on the train this morning just so happens to deal with the emergence of the concept of luck in looking at players' performance. It's one of those fortuitous confluences of different aspects of your existence, where one experience speaks to another, informing each other to create a deeper understanding of the individual ideas.

Lee could have had more at bats, he could have had fewer at bats, he could feel more finely tuned, he could feel more fresh, he could have changed his physical approach, he could have changed his mental approach, but more likely than not, what we're seeing merely reflects the fact that a man who has hit .273/.371/.502 since 2002 is unlikely to repeatedly hit well below those averages during a consistent point in the season.

When a man has never performed well during a particular span of time, it's natural to look for explanations, but sometimes in doing so we're spinning our wheels. Lee might have made important alterations to his routine that have allowed him to flourish in these early months, but if you believe in some of the statistical research done in recent years, it was almost bound to happen eventually no matter what Lee did.

In other words, at some point, through no fault of his own, Lee's luck was almost certain to change. And whether you buy into that, or one of the two contradictory explanations quoted above, the only thing that really matters is that he's producing at a high rate right now. That, and the hope that his luck never runs out.

2005-04-14 11:30
by Alex Ciepley

Enough with the Cubs. Last night saw the glorious birth of a much more notable team, a team destined to rewrite the annals of sports history, to bring freedom to Myanmar and Tibet, to cure polio and chicken pox. Last night the softball team I call Mi Famiglia, the Bearcats, played their first game.

The Bearcats are a rough-and-tumble collection of softballing scrubs who come to the team either as Binghamton alums (thus the nickname) or as employees at my company--one guy dips in both pools, bringing the two disparate cliques together like peanut butter and chocolate.

I'm not so fond of the team name, but then again I'd proposed "Matt's Bitches" in honor of our manager. My coworker also had an unsuccessful entry into the name-that-team contest we held last month: "Alex Ciepley Rox My Sox".

Oh, if only that name would've stuck, because I do indeed Rock peep's Socks on the softball diamond. Let's review.

  • My first faux pas: I'm wearing maroon instead of red. We don't yet have our team t-shirts, so the instructions were to wear red shirts. I'm pasty. Real bright-white pasty. I don't do red.

    Apparently, this isn't an excuse. My lovely wine-colored top is met with modest disapproval.

  • The initial lineup card has me batting fourth. This is utterly hilarious. The manager wisely rethinks my hitting prowess and makes a few adjustments. I'm now batting eleventh.
  • We suck. It's the top of the third, and I'm taking the field for the first time with the team already down 7-0. I suck. I'm put in right field, the traditional Dunce Cap position in softball leagues.
  • My first at bat, in the bottom of the inning, is positively Neifi-riffic. One pitch, one groundout to the shortstop.
  • The top of the fourth. I take right field, but no one's at second. In a regrettable panic move, I run up to play the infield.
  • With a runner on first, a sharp grounder to the shortstop. I cover second, the shortstop turns, flips the ball to me... and I drop it. Did I mention that I Rock your Socks? E-4.
  • A lefty pull-hitter at the plate now, more panic. A groundball headed my way! I scoot over, reach down for the ball. I'm Katarina Witt at the keystone, I'm thinking. Watch me dance.

    I trip, fall flat on my face, the ball scoots away, and a run scores. E-4.

  • Come the fifth inning, I'm graciously informed that I won't be needed in the field.
Our game only lasted five innings, and entering the bottom of the fifth, we were trailing 11-0. Hey, we were playing Foot Locker, what the hell did you expect?

Then, an almost-miracle. Thanks to a wild opposing pitcher, we started piling people on base, and the runs began coming in. 1...2...3... 10! Ten runs in before a short pop ended things with the tying run on third. Final tally: 11-10, Bearcats lose.

I regaled Derek last night with tales of our oh-so-narrow defeat, and he commented that my team was the Cubs. You suffer for ages, only to discover hope in the form of an unlikely march towards victory. That hope is then squashed.

It's only fair, I suppose. You can turn a Cubs fan into a Bearcat, but you better be prepared for him to bring his heartbreak along for the ride.

From Regret to Relief and Back Again
2005-04-14 08:35
by Derek Smart

Funny how these things go. One minute you're deep in the dumps, next you're on top of the world. That's life in the world of double-headers, and that's how I imagine most of our days went yesterday. Lousy work from Kerry Wood and an offense handcuffed by Jake Peavy, followed by the fine return of Mark Prior and Brian Lawrence reduced to a puddle of goo.

There was fun to be had for all, and despite seeing only highlights of the action, I still have some thoughts on the goings on. To the Bullet Cave!

  • While I was visually privy to none of it, I can tell from the line he posted that Mark Prior had a fine outing yesterday, allowing no runs on only four hits and one walk, while striking out six over his six innings: six innings that only took 92 pitches to complete, by the way.

    Needless to say, that's an encouraging performance, but I wouldn't relax just yet. Unable as I am to resist the role of wet blanket, I'd like to point out this stat line from last year:

    6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, 85 PIT

    In case you haven't already guessed, that was Prior's first outing of 2004, a June 4 tilt against the Pirates. Now, I'm not saying that we should expect performance vicissitude similar to last year this time around, but I think it's important to note that, while he did it against a patently inferior offensive squad, his initial outing last season bore eerie similarities to yesterday's start.

    There's nothing concrete to be learned from the comparison, other than the lesson we all should take from 2004, which is to proceed with caution. Prior's work yesterday was reason for hope, but far from reason for celebration. Keep an eye out, your fingers crossed, and maybe we'll finally get a reminder of how he got nicknamed The Franchise.

  • How good is Derrek Lee's start to 2005 versus his past performance? Assuming that his PA/G remain constant over the remainder of this month, Lee would have to hit approximately .155/.241/.276 over the next fifteen games to get down to his .233/.333/.411 line posted last April.

    That's great stuff, and while I wouldn't expect him to be able to sustain a .364/.488/.636 line for the entire month, let alone the year, being able to play well in the early going has been the one thing keeping Lee from making the jump from good to great. If he can tack on this type of early season performance to the work he usually does from June on, the Cubs have an All-Star on their hands, and a fairly cheap one at that.

  • I'm unable to root against someone in a Cub uniform. Just can't do it. And the fact is, that while I give some of the players on the roster a lot of guff, my ire isn't so much directed at them as the man who decides how they're used. Therefore, I'm thrilled to death that Neifi! had a banner day during yesterday's twin bill, going 6 for 9 over the two games and scoring three runs.

    What doesn't thrill me is the potential that fine performance has for justifying the misuse of roster parts in the mind of Dusty Baker. Nice as his work was yesterday, Neifi! can't hit. Simple as that. He's a fine defender, and should definitely be used in late inning situations when prudence dictates a better glove in the middle infield. However, he doesn't have the bat to start, or even pinch hit, and using him in lieu of Jerry Hairston at any point is more ridiculous than the special effects in Krull.

    I wouldn't want a change in results, certainly no decline in wins, but I'd gladly accept a decreased margin of victory or increased margin of defeat if it meant the performance from Neifi! was bad enough to get Hairston in the lineup and improve the Cubs' probability of winning in the long term.

Off days stink, especially when they follow something as fun as yesterday's second game. It's on to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and hopefully, more of that kind of fun to come.

In The Boom Boom Room
2005-04-13 12:33
by Derek Smart

As first pitch for today's double-header loomed, I was regretting that I wasn't in a position to just take the day off, sit on my couch, and watch six hours of Cub baseball. It took a total of five pitches viewed through the imperfect lens of an internet gamecast to transform my regret to relief.

Alright, to be clear it was the fourth and fifth pitches in particular that made me happy to not be in the equivalent of a baseball immersion tank, the first going over the wall off the bat of cartoonishly consistent Cub killer, Geoff Blum, and the second bouncing off the body of Mark Loretta.

It was shocking to behold, even in my admittedly restrictive electronic view. There it was, a 1-2 count, and while I hadn't seen the pitches themselves, the location provided by the service on my screen led me to believe that we were about to be treated to an afternoon of Good Wood - the guy who buckles knees, shatters bats, and best of all, throws strikes.

Then there it was: Boom! Blum homered to right. Boom! Loretta hit by pitch. The air left the room as if in fear, and as I struggled to breathe again, I realized that not only would Good Wood be missing today's game, but the man taking his place wouldn't even be Bad Kerry. No sir, this game was now in the hands of the pitcher Cub fans dread most: Mad Kerry.

A couple walks, a couple hits, an error, and 37 pitches later the first inning collapse was complete, perhaps halted only by the consecutive hitting incompetence of Jesse Garcia and Jake Peavy. This was the outing of Dusty Baker's nightmares, where his lead pitcher in a double-header spontaneously combusts ahead of a game two starter fresh off the DL and on a restricted pitch-count.

With Peavy on the mound, the game was a total loss before the Cubs even took to bat, but if there's a positive to be taken away, it's that Wood was able to settle down and get through 6.2 innings, allowing Dusty Baker to use his bullpen relatively sparingly, allowing Cliff Bartosh to sink or swim for what remained of the game (he was able to tread water).

It wasn't pretty, but it's over now, and game two is new chance for victory. So keep your fingers crossed folks, and let's hope that The Franchise can be his old self for a few innings, and that the Cubs' bats can come alive and fend off a double-header - and series - sweep.

Catch-Up Wednesday
2005-04-13 09:46
by Derek Smart

I'm a little behind on things, having been preoccupied with mothers visiting and the preparation and subsequent execution of first birthday plans for our daughter. So, with that in mind, I'm going to jump around a bit and wallow in figurative potpourri as I eagerly await today's doubleheader with the Pads.

  • With Todd Walker out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury sustained in Sunday's game against the Brewers, the acquisition of Jerry Hairston in the Sosa deal looks downright prescient and makes me feel a ton better about missing Walker's bat in the lineup. That is, if Hairston would only get used.

    Monday saw Cub Town nemesis and whipping boy extraordinaire, Neifi!, get the call at the keystone, while Hairston inexplicably sat. Jerry Jr. was going to the start yesterday, but it might have been more because of Aramis Ramirez being a late scratch from the lineup, moving Neifi! to third - a dropoff reminiscent of those experienced by Niagra barrel-riders.

    Thankfully, rain intervened before we were all subjected to a lineup that had both Neifi! and Henry Blanco in it, although there's no guarantee that it won't happen again today, because....

  • It appears that Aramis might be having some continuing issues with last season's injury:

    "It's supposed to be wet all day long and Aramis is feeling a little discomfort in that groin area," manager Dusty Baker said. "We talked to trainer Mark O'Neal and Aramis and we just thought it would be better not to take a chance on him pulling that thing, especially in these wet conditions....

    Told Baker had said Ramirez felt some "discomfort," Ramirez replied: "Yeah, but not like a soreness. It just wasn't right. It's not tight. It's just not right. I was fine in spring training and fine the first two series. This cold weather and the rain, it wasn't right."

    I'm not going to get my panic on until this becomes a regular thing, particularly since yesterday's scratch merely seems precautionary. Still, I'd expect for Ramirez to sit out at least one of today's games, and for the Cubs' unfortunate bench to look like an even more obvious flaw because of the ensuing lineup juggling.

  • Room had to be made when Mark Prior came off the DL, and Todd Wellemeyer was the predictable casualty. I actually really like Wellemeyer, but he's in desperate need of some AAA innings to get his problematic control sorted out. If he can figure out how to throw strikes consistently without necessarily giving up more hits in the process, he's got the potential to be a real asset out of the pen, and goodness knows the Cubs can use all the help they can get in that respect.

  • After a fantabulous spring that coaxed an MVP award prediction from Peter Gammons, Nomar (or, as I've taken to calling him in deference to the dialect of his new team's region, Nomair) has been less than his preseason excellence would have led us to expect.

    Saturday gave us an excellent example of the sort of thing that's causing him problems at the moment: Four times Nomar faced Ben Sheets, and four times Sheets started him off with a lowish curveball on the outer black. The first time, Nomar tried to pull it and grounded into an out, which isn't horrible if you learn a lesson, but apparently Nomar didn't.

    The next three trips when Sheets threw the exact same pitch in the exact same spot, Nomar tried to do the exact same thing with it, except instead of pulling the ball into play he pulled it foul each time. It makes me think he's not seeing the ball well right now, because I'd expect an adjustment - either laying off, or at least attempting to send the ball to right. Until he starts making those kind of in-game changes, he'll probably stay mired in what looks an awful lot like a slump.

Get ready, folks, because it's two big games today, with the Cubs' two big question marks taking the mound. Here's to Good Kerry showing up, and a solid but uneventful outing from The Franchise.

West Tenn
2005-04-13 07:52
by Alex Ciepley

The Cubs' AA club, West Tennessee, features some of the most exciting talent in Chicago's minor league system. Yesterday several of the bigger names put together great games in a 8-1 win over Mississippi (formatting stolen from the excellent Baseball America Prospect Report):

               AB  R  H RBI W  K  AVG
Craig, 1B-3B 4 0 2 2 0 0 .211
Murton, LF 4 0 2 0 0 1 .400
Pie, CF 4 1 3 1 0 1 .381 - HR (1)
Sing, RF-1B 2 1 1 1 2 0 .400 - HR (4)

Ryu 5.0 4 0 0 4 0.00
Brandon Sing is off to a ridiculous start, hitting 375/500/1.118 with four home runs after the first week or so of games. He's also apparently playing a bit in right field--a wise move considering the Cubs' number one prospect, Brian Dopirak, is a first baseman hot on Sing's tail.

1-0 Quickie
2005-04-12 06:53
by Alex Ciepley

The Cubs lost three games one to nuttin' last year. All three featured big-time pitching matchups:

I like Adam Eaton and all, but Monday's loss was a bit less glamorous a pairing. That Ryan Dempster threw so well in a loss is disheartening. I don't exactly have high hopes for him in the rotation, and wouldn't be surprised if yesterday turns out to be his best start of the season.


So Sammy Sosa says he'll retire before turning 40? The snarky jokes suggesting he's already past that age are pretty much too easy to write up.

I'm about to turn thirty in a few months. According to the Sosa Plan, this leaves me with almost exactly 10 years of work left. I'm thinking of retiring here, at my favorite beach in Thailand.


Mark Prior comes off the DL today to pitch, and his matchup is a doozy: Jake Peavy.

I don't know if I can watch the game. Not just because I'll be at work, and have foregone getting the MLB TV package that lets me follow broadcasts on my 'puter. But because I'm a freak, and my nervous energy might make me gnaw through my desk if I have to watch Prior pitch.

For those well-adjusted fans who like to watch, Will Carroll, in his Under The Knife column at Baseball Prospectus, had some nifty advice yesterday on what to look for in evaluating Prior:

Prior's riskiest inning will be the first. Watch his front shoulder and the location of his pitches. He'll also need to establish his curve quickly.

Know Your Enemy 2005 - Week 1
2005-04-11 13:23
by Derek Smart

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

- Sun-Tzu

It was the desire to fully understand the Cubs' primary opposition - namely, the teams in their division - that first got me started on the preseason Know Your Enemy series, which you can peruse at your leisure thanks to the handy links on the sidebar.

Then I got to thinking, and I realized that it was silly to stop there. After all, it's just as important to know what's going on with your rivals during the season as it is before - probably moreso. So with that in mind, I've started a new Know Your Enemy weekly feature here at Cub Town, so that we can all stay abreast of our foes doings, and thus, go fearless into the 156 battles that still lie before us.

So without further ado, in order of their relative place in the standings and with snarky comments in tow, I give you: The Enemy.

  1. Houston Astros

    Season Record4-1
    Week's Record4-1
    Games Back--

    Remove Roy Oswalt's opening boo-boo from the equation, and what you'll find is a starting rotation that's carrying their team. Since that first unfortunate outing, the Astros starters have managed to give up only 6 runs in their 25 innings, with the bullpen giving up a scant two more tallies.

    That's only two runs per contest over the last four games, and while the offense hasn't scored a ton themselves, they've done enough to win, and hit enough that they should have scored more if timing, luck, and Vera Lynn had smiled upon them.

  2. Milwaukee Brewers

    Season Record3-2
    Week's Record3-2
    Games Back1

    They were the last undefeated team in the Majors until they ran into the bundle of red-hot-death that was Carlos Zambrano on Saturday. Coming away from their opening set, they sported a team line of .293/.391/.533, which translates into the entire club being made up of very good corner outfielders.

    Three games later, and their .264/.364/.425 line looks more like a nice middle infielder, and a lot more like what a merely decent offense would hit - although if they can hang onto that OBP, they'd probably lead the league in that category and maybe be an above average scoring unit to boot.

  3. Cincinnati Reds

    Season Record3-3
    Week's Record3-3
    Games Back1.5

    Opening the season with a series sweep is a fantastic thing, especially when it comes against a team that blew off the league's financial doors in the offseason. Of course, the feat comes to mean considerably less when the next series sees you drop your starring role as Head Broom in favor of the bit playing and oft abused, Dust Bunny #3. The costume sucks, too.

  4. St. Louis Cardinals

    Season Record2-3
    Week's Record2-3
    Games Back2

    Take out the Opening Day victory over the Astros - a game which included Chris Carpenter looking all the way back from his late-season arm woes, and a delicious drubbing of Roy Oswalt - and you've got a pretty lousy looking week which was only saved from total, cellar-dwelling disaster by Aaron Fultz' inability to throw strikes on Friday.

    There's little that's panic-worthy here, just a couple of bad pitching outings, and a slow start from a couple of major offensive cogs. It's the sort of thing that goes unnoticed in June, but looks exponentially worse when there is nothing else to compare it to save misty memories and mustard-smeared scorecards. Still, this is aberration, not trend, so don't get your snicker on too loud, people.

  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Season Record2-4
    Week's Record2-4
    Games Back2.5

    A week that looked lost after an initial drubbing at the hands of those spunky, Beertown kids, got considerably less ignominious thanks to a couple of nice starts against the Padres from Josh Fogg and Dave Williams.

    The Buccos will need a lot more of that, especially when considering how, even with the early abandonment of the ridiculous Tike Redman = Three Hole experiment, their one game thus far where they scored more than three runs came about in large part because of a fortuitously muffed throw by Khalil Greene. They'll manage to break three again, even without the opposition's largesse, just not as regularly as hopeful Pirate fans might desire.

Oh Brother, It's The Padres
2005-04-11 08:00
by Alex Ciepley

Sea and foam and sand. The Padres and their J.Crew uniform colors are visiting Wrigley for a three-game set. Drawn to their uniforms and new ballpark, San Diego was one of my late-nite viewing favorites last season on my boob tube.

Derek and I turned to the guys at Gaslamp Ball with some questions about this year's Padres team. Dex and jbox give the scoop.

Derek: If I could build a team around any pitcher in the National League, it just might be Jake Peavy. Do you think he'll contend for a Cy Young this year? What's the thing he most needs to improve to solidify his chances?

Dex: He'll totally contend. Last year was a sort of a get-to-know-you year. This year, the buzz among casual fans outside of San Diego will be more like, "You don't know who Jake Peavy is?" He also doesn't have the flashy personality that, for whatever reason, gets taken into account. If you combined Dontrelle Willis' look and attitude last year with Peavy's numbers, I guarantee you more Cy Young votes than the zero Peavy got.

If he bumps up one or more of the glamorous stats like wins or Ks, and stays dependable in what he does, he'll be right up there contending with Pedro and Jason Schmidt in the end.

Derek: Mark Loretta had a nice power boost when he came to San Diego in 2003, but nothing compared to the explosion Padres fans were treated to last year, fueled mainly by a huge increase in doubles. What in your opinion brought this fairly sudden improvement, and will he be able to consolidate his gains in the immediate future?

Dex: It sounds corny, but I think it was having a team around him that believes in him. When called him the best hit-and-run guy around today, they mentioned that he was, for a long time, never regarded as being that great of a hitter. While with the Brewers, they had him at DH, at first base, off the bench... he was basically a utility man, and you're not gonna get much of a chance to show your stuff when you're a utility man.

With the Padres, he's thrived on the added responsibility of batting second, and he's also not the type of person you expect to physically break down any time soon. I wouldn't be surprised if his power numbers go up a little more before starting to decline.

Alex: When Dorothy clicked her ruby-sequined heels together, she ended up in Kaufmann Stadium, a nice little hitter's park. When Ryan Klesko clicked his cleats together, he got a stadium in which he hit 3 home runs all of last year. PETCO may be a problem for the hitters, but is it really a problem for the Padres?

Dex: You take the added bench depth, the fact that they know how the park plays after a full season, and mix in a healthy Ryan Klesko, and I don't think Petco should be a problem. If anything, it's psychological.

(Did you just call Klesko a Dorothy? Well, then Nomar is Glenda the Good Witch. How about that?)

Alex: Bruce Bochy may have the largest head I've ever seen. Do you like him as a manager? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Dex: A secret source tells me that Bruce Bochy's sons have even larger heads than Bochy himself.

I'm really distracted thinking about Bochy's head so jbox will answer the question.

jbox: Bochy seems like he's getting tougher on his players as time goes on. I think he works well with all types of players and seems pretty respected by everybody. I've never heard a player say anything bad about him.

But his shortfall is he needs talent on his team. I don't think he develops talent as well as others. If he has a talented player he gives them the opportunity to succeed.

Dex: And I totally agree with that. I think, however, Bochy can get the most out of older players who know how good Bochy is (Greg Vaughn, Steve Finley, Rickey Henderson) and younger guys with a good head on their shoulders (X. Nady, Khalil Greene), but not younger guys who are blinded by thinking they're the poop (Matt Clement, Ruben Rivera).

Cub Town: Your prediction for the series?

Dex: I'll give you three:

  1. Nomar will corner Klesko and Hyzdu and force them to reveal their hair secrets.
  2. Zambrano will heckle Woody Williams with "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher". This will result in Zambrano's second ejection of the season.
  3. Padres sweep.

Sore Spot
2005-04-10 10:58
by Alex Ciepley

Isn't it great when you do a new form of exercise and, as a result, discover muscle groups that had previously gone unnoticed for years? That soreness in my side? Alex, meet your obliques. Or as my friend cattily reminded me when I was complaining to him, "on you those are love handles."

How did I get this ache in my side (and my back, my right arm, both hands)? I headed to the batting cages last Friday with Cliff Corcoran, Alex Belth, and Alex's brother, Skinny-Belth. I'd wanted to get some tips from the guys in anticipation of softball season. It's my first year in a league with a few workmates, and I wanted to stave off a bit of the inevitable embarrassment that will come when I'm at the plate.

Hitting is hard. We were in a 60mph cage (think Jamie Moyer on a slow day), but I maybe dinged two legit hits or so during our hour. Alex B. was much better, banging the ball around from both sides of the plate, all while giving us his best Mattingly, Reggie, and Jeter stylistic impressions. It was fun stuff.

Friday evening's Cubs game was on while we were there, and the WGN broadcast was spilling from the speaker on the wall. It was a pretty big distraction, to say the least. I was hitting when Spivey got the big hit against Leicester, and who could blame me if my swing got a bit more aggressive and wild for the rest of the session?

Hawkins' failure was the big story, but really, it was just one game, and he pitched well yesterday. LaTroy is the Cubs' best reliever by a mile, and the first blown save of the year is being blown out of proportion. He didn't give up five runs, or four runs, he gave up one.

Does Hawkins throw too many strikes? Repeating a pattern we saw all too often at the end of last year, Hawkins is quick to get two strikes on batters, but less quick to put 'em away. Four of the five hitters he threw to Friday night had two strikes on them, and Spivey's single came with the count at 0-1.

Yesterday's game? No complaints here. Zambrano was zeelicious, and the Cubs continued their happy streak against one of the NL's best pitchers, Ben Sheets. The final game of the series begins in about a half hour. Despite the great weather outside, maybe I'll flip on the TV for a while... if I can bear twisting my side to reach the remote on the table.

Invasion of the Barley Snatchers
2005-04-08 10:10
by Derek Smart

The Cubs open at home today against the up-and-coming team from Beertown, so Alex and I took a moment to discuss the series and some of our expectations.

Derek: Here's a quick peek at the matchups for the weekend:

Game 1: Capuano (0-0, 0.00) vs. Wood (0-0, 0.00)

Game 2: Sheets (1-0, 2.57) vs. Zambrano (0-0, 5.79)

Game 3: Santos (0-0, 0.00) vs. Maddux (0-1, 9.00)

At first glance I see one game that could go 1-0, 13-12 or anything in between, one smokin' fun pitching matchup, and one potential bloodbath.

Alex: I think that about nails it. Capuano and Wood could both be very good or very bad. The pessimist in me, though, figures that the score of game one is more likely to be 8-2 Brewers than the reverse.

I had a moment of angst this morning, where I thought for some inexplicable reason that the Cubs' starting pitching this season was going to be a huge disappointment--not because of injuries, but because of performance. There is absolutely no reason to really think this would be true. Other than the fact that I'm a freak.

I think of Sheets as a Cub Killer, but truth be told, the Cubs performed better against him than any other team in baseball last year:

vs Chc 34 4.50 1-3
vs Stl 31.7 3.70 1-3
vs Pit 38 3.08 1-3

Sheets had an ERA below 3.00 against everyone else. He roolz.

Santos is one of the most frustrating pitchers the Cubs face. He just isn't very good... except against the Cubs.

Derek: I still have daily angst about the performance of the pitching staff, which is partly a holdover from 2003 when every outing needed to be nearly perfect because the offense was so bad.

I totally agree about Santos: possibly the most frustrating games the Cubs played last year were the four when they had to face him. Of all the teams he started against in 2004, he only had a better ERA against Seattle (2.08 vs Cubs, 0.00 vs Mariners) - but it was only one start, and the Mariners' offense was abysmal last year. Although, for a little comfort it's fun to note that the team he was second best against was St. Louis, sporting a 2.70 ERA against them.

Alex: It's just that with Sheets, any struggles by the Cubs are completely understandable. With Santos, it's a bit embarrassing.

Will Dubois get much action this series?

Derek: Don't I wish. Logic certainly dictates that he start today, what with the lefty on the mound and Hollandsworth generally looking as befuddled as a five year-old at a quantum physics lecture against his like-handed brethren.

Still, I'd be shocked if he does, unless Baker wants to play Hairston at second to get Walker out of there too. My guess, Walker plays, Holly sits, and Hairston is in left. Now, assuming Hairston's in the lineup, will Dusty hit him leadoff or leave Corey in there?

Alex: We'll find out in an hour.

Forty Men
2005-04-07 13:55
by Alex Ciepley

It's like those guys you have the great second date with and then never hear from again. I pretend they died.
- Miranda Hobbes

I've been working through my own sort of 40-man roster of late, filling my time with the relationship equivalents of the job interview: first meetings, awkward phone calls, email rejections.

The Cubs, fortunately, are primed to have a lot more success with their chosen 40.

With David Kelton having been outrighted off the 40-man in favor of Chad Fox, the roster is set for the near future. Scott Williamson--if and when he returns this year--would require the Cubs to do some shuffling.

A list of the 40-man (and 25-man active roster) can be found on the right-hand side, at the bottom of the page. I also added a side dish of notable minor leaguers. I'll try to keep it updated, but please drop an email or an anvil on my head if you see a mistake too dastardly or out-of-date.

Hmmm... dating and the Cubs' roster. What manner of courters can be found in the Cubbie dugout?

The Capricious Spouse: Aramis Ramirez. Will he stay or will he go? Should we buy together, or does this flame burn brightly but quickly? Please whisper sweet nothings in my ear, not this talk of termination.

The Fling: Nomar Garciaparra. You aren't thinking about next year. You're thinking about tonight.

The Great Love: Greg Maddux. It took Harry and Sally about fifty years to resolve their love-hate relationship--or was that just how long the movie felt? At any rate, by that measure, the Cubs and Maddux have done quite well in patching things up.

Your Friend's Sister: Henry Blanco. Speaking of Maddux... is there any other reason you agree to share an ice cream cone with this lump a nuthin'?

The Con Man: Ryan Dempster. He doesn't actually want to date you at all. Is he after your money? Or does he plan to steal defeat from the jaws of victory in other ways?

The Tease: Mark Prior. You keep toying with my heart. When will you break things off with Miss Injury and settle down with me?

The One Night Stand: Kyle Farnsworth. Wham, bam... see ya in Detroit.

Blind Date: Kerry Wood. Who's gonna show up tonight? The blond bombshell with the supersized Ks, or the stinker whose stuff is nasty... but not in a good way?

The Hate F***: Carlos Zambrano. I'm hot, I'm bothered, and I need to throw some heat.

The Ex: Sammy Sosa. And you played the fool how long?

Beer Goggles: Jeromy Burnitz. He sure looked good when I saw him in Denver...

Won't Get Fooled Again
2005-04-07 06:56
by Derek Smart

I don't often find myself achieving a sense of peace after the first inning of a Cubs game, particularly after finding my boys down a run at frame's end. Yet there I was last night, not worried a bit - in fact, confident that there was something very enjoyable waiting for me if I could only be patient. So serene was I that this state of bliss continued even after Ryan Dempster gave up two more runs in the bottom of the third, following the premises laid out in The Professor's new book, "Fowl Play: Your Guide to Death by Duck Pecks".

My emotional worm began to turn when Troy Glaus took a fastball to the left field wall to score Arizona's fourth run with two outs in the fourth, and my mood turned downright despondent after Shawn Green's groundball single scored Glaus and Luis Gonzalez to put the D-Backs up 6-0 - a deficit that only increased when Glendon Rusch came in and served up a meatball that Jose Cruz Jr. sent to the center field wall to plate the synchronistic fourth run of the fourth inning.

The mood had changed so thoroughly that even Michael Barrett's three-run homer elicited little more than a shrug and a, "Well, that's nice for him." The game was lost, the Cubs are 1-2, and needless to say, I'll never be so foolish as to allow tranquility to interfere with my team's baseball again. And now, on to the bullets points:

  • One of the reasons for my now ridiculous seeming bout of spiritual comfort was the way the Cub hitters were approaching a man who pretty obviously has their number, Brandon Webb. Despite any evidence his history of easy dominance over the Cubs might present, Webb had profound control issues last season, and the Cubs did a nice job last night of making him throw strikes, and running his pitch count up early.

    While the team failed to capitalize on the opportunities their discipline presented, the fact that they exhibited such a thing at all is still very encouraging. Granted, single instances do not a trend make, but after a night like last night, I think we can be forgiven if we work a bit to find something to smile about.

  • Another of my reasons for hope, albeit for a specific player and based on a single plate appearance, was the at bat had by Derrek Lee leading off the top of the second. Lee took four straight pitches from Webb, putting himself at a 3-1 advantage, fouled off a pitch to go 3-2, then went on to foul off the next seven offerings - all of them possible strikes, but none of them balls you'd want to put in play - before letting ball four go by.

    It was a great display of bat control and patience, fighting off all the borderline pitches that Webb sent his way, while waiting for one he could drive or let sail by for the free pass. This was made all the more impressive because there were several of those sinkers I'm certain he would have swung over the top of in April and May of last year.

    I'm not going to say Lee's in line to finally have a good start based on three solid games at the beginning of the year, but I sure like his chances better than I did in March.

  • Ryan Dempster may not have completely pitched his way out of a starting job, but he sure made me wish he had. Oddly, he seemed to be in pretty good shape with his offspeed stuff, getting nice movement on his splitter and slider resulting in seven strikeouts. The issue was with his fastball, which was very hittable all night long.

    Never really keeping it down, always seeming very straight, it was the pitch that got him in trouble time and again. He absolutely has to get it to work for him - move more, locate it better - or hitters are going to simply ignore his other offerings to wait for a serving of hot, steaming, meatball.

The Diamondbacks have the Cubs figured out of late - even last year when they only won 51 games, four of them came against our boys in blue - and in a way it's good to get the trip to the BOB over with early, along with a hearty helping of early season angst. Of course, that means that I already feel like I need today's off day, so do like me and take advantage of this opportunity to regain some faith and get ready for the opener at Wrigley on Friday.

Aramis Contract Redux: Rebuttal Edition
2005-04-06 12:08
by Derek Smart

Difficult as it may be to believe, there are occasions when people don't completely agree with Alex or I, despite our flawless logic, natural charm, and rapier wit. In this case, Rich Lederer of the always excellent Baseball Analysts has a bone to pick with my latest assessment of the Ramirez deal, and when a man as smart, talented, and just plain nice as Rich takes the time to thoughtfully disagree…well, it deserves its own post. So what follows is Rich's response to my latest Ramirez missive, reprinted with his permission.

There is no doubt Ramirez is one of the top half dozen or so third basemen in baseball. He might even be the Cubs best position player. What do you pay for that?

Well, based on the Chavez contract last spring and the Beltre and Glaus deals this winter, I would think he is worth about $10M - $12M per year. Call it $11M if you'd like.

OK, with that as a baseline, how much do you subtract for two conditions that favor Ramirez and Ramirez only?

1. The opt out clause is a huge advantage for Ramirez. He is guaranteed the $42M but has an opportunity to make even more than that. The Cubs are guaranteed to pay him at least $42M and may have little or no say in whether he stays beyond 2006.

2. Let's not kid ourselves here. 2009 is NOT a mutual option. Ramirez is guaranteed another $11M if he averages 135 games in 2007 and 2008. It doesn't matter how well he performs, only how many games he plays.

To my knowledge, Chavez, Beltre, and Glaus do not have similar conditions. Therefore, comparing Ramirez's contract (without factoring in the opt out and the auto extension) to theirs is apples and oranges. No way he should get the same guaranteed money AND have the luxury of leaving for greener pastures after 2006 (or forcing the Cubs to pay an even higher salary) plus have the right to bind the Cubs for an extra year at $11M when, in fact, he may not be worth it at that point.

With respect to the latter point, if Ramirez is worth $11M or more per year, you can rest assured that he will get whatever the market will bear at that point. If he is not worth $11M, you can also rest assured that the Cubs will be stuck paying him just that.

Like JD Drew, Ramirez is an outstanding player. However, like Drew, the club is taking virtually all the risk and not getting anything in return.

You wanna opt out after 2006, fine, that'll cost you a $1M per. You want us to guarantee your salary should you play 270 games (big deal, btw) in 2007 and 2008, fine, that'll cost you another $1M per.

The bottom line is that contracts need to be a two-way street. Either the players should be willing to accept less money or absorb some of the risks. I don't think they should be able to have it both ways, if you will.

The Cubs may or may not get the shaft here, but you can be sure that teams are going to get hurt if these types of contracts become the norm.

Missed It By That Much
2005-04-06 08:04
by Derek Smart

Ah, the first loss of the season. I'd say it's nice to get it out of the way early, but losing stinks, so I'd be lying. It was one of those games that never quite felt right - everything seemed a little off, and the team felt flat, like someone who had just gorged themselves on a delicious meal, failing to realize that it might slow them down during the evening's planned activities.

It's only game two in a very long season, though, so no reason to get down in the mouth! Perk up, chaps, and read along as I take you to: The Land That Bullet Points Forgot.

  • Much like I noted regarding Carlos Zambrano yesterday, Greg Maddux has three distinct performance types that look something like this:

    1. Complete Implosion
    2. Uncomfortable Competence
    3. Mild-Mannered, Professorial Mastery

    Last night, again, we saw #2, as Maddux gave up only three hits in the first four frames, yet saw two of them leave the yard, making his competence undeniable, and our discomfort palpable. This was followed by another feature of this type of Mad Dog outing - the Nibbled to Death By Ducks Inning.

    In frame five, Maddux only gave up three singles, but thanks to an unwise attempt by Nomar Garciaparra to tag out the lead runner on the second batter's ground ball, and the consecutive nature of the opposition's hits, two runs were plated that wound up being the difference in the game.

    Nothing was hit terribly hard, they were all just nibbles, and if they had been spread out over another inning or so, they would have been completely inconsequential. However, that's not a characteristic of many Maddux turns in this late stage of his career, so this time around it was the difference maker.

  • Luis Gonzalez V2005 = Steve Finley V2004

  • Corey Patterson's got a new swing going on, and I'm very curious to see what the results will be long-term. His old habit of letting go with his left hand on the follow-through always bothered me - it seemed as if he was sacrificing some late bat control for, what? A degree of comfort? Some extra power? The fulfillment of a Fred McGriff fetish?

    Now he's holding on with both hands through the entire swing, and while I will reserve judgment until a larger set of results are in, my initial impression is that it's a good thing to do. It seems like it should increase his ability to make minute, late adjustments to pitches, reducing his strikeouts a bit and garnering a slight increase in the solidity of his contact.

    I'm just guessing on that, as I don't have enough playing experience to be able to say for sure (anyone who can confirm or deny my contention, please do so in the comments), but my logic circuits tell me it should be so. Of course, it's also true that it won't help him decide that he shouldn't swing at the heater in his grill, but I'll gladly take any improvement in Corey's game, be it massive or marginal.

  • I knew it would come: the first in-game decision or series of decisions that set my blood to boiling. This year the initial infractions surrounded pinch-hitters, and those who have read much of my previous spillings can guess the names that raised my ire.

    First, we have the bottom of the seventh, where we have two outs and nobody on. The team is down two runs, and what is needed most of all are baserunners, so Dusty Baker turns to....Jose Macias? Really, folks, what purpose does this serve beyond getting Bob Melvin to pay for your dinner that night.

    If you want a man who can get on base and bring a little speed to the party, by golly, there's Jerry Hairston Jr. sitting right there. What one might be saving him for, I have no idea, but that's the only reason I can think of for not using him then. Do you want a chance to score? Bring in Jerry. Do you want to bring on the bottom of the frame? Bring in Jose.

    That's a small quibble, though, as there's only a marginal increase in the likelihood of scoring a run at that point since there were already two men gone. The real egregious offense came in the top of the ninth, Cubs down a run with two out and a man on first. Ideally, you want some power, but more than anything else, you want someone to not make an out, so naturally you turn to....Neifi!?

    Seriously, for what purpose was Jason Dubois put on the 25-man roster if not to pinch hit in that situation. True, Neifi! nearly got a base hit for his trouble, but the fact is he didn't, and his chances of doing something positive were smaller than Dubois' no matter how you choose to quantify them. It's just plain silly to have Dubois and Hairston completely unoccupied while your two worst bats go into the game, but unfortunately, I have a feeling this wasn't the last time we'll see this pattern.

Nothing like a little high dudgeon so early in the season. I'll cut down on my coffee intake tomorrow if things don't go well tonight - then maybe I can be more civilized. I have a bad feeling that might be necessary, since tonight's matchup pits Brandon "I Throw What Cubs Don't Hit" Webb (he and his sinker have an ERA of 1.10 against Chicago) against Professional Ticking Time Bomb, Ryan Dempster. Where's my bottle of Pepto?

Aramis Contract Redux
2005-04-05 14:29
by Derek Smart

I've been thinking about the deal that the Cubs and Aramis Ramirez agreed to yesterday, and with the cogent comments made in Alex's post on the matter, the passage of time, and a little more information, I think it's prudent for me to - if not completely re-evaluate - at least re-elucidate my stance.

Point One: The Cubs are getting a deal during the first two years.

No doubt about this in my mind. Paying in the general vicinity of $10-11M for the production Ramirez is likely to bring is a steal in today's market - even with a relative glut of third basemen in the league. The fact that he's only 27 has a lot to do with it, as his superlative 2004 may just be a stepping stone to even greater things. It's not unreasonable to think that Aramis could be in the top 5 on the next two MVP ballots.

Point Two: If Ramirez busts out during the next two years, he deserves a pay raise.

Again, I have no quibbles with this. If Aramis is able to deliver two seasons that are even better than last year, he absolutely deserves to get more cash, and I believe the Cubs will give it to him as gladly as large corporations are able. Perennial MVP candidates who anchor an offense are worth more than the money Ramirez is guaranteed in 2007-8, so paying for that seems totally fair to me.

Point Three: While Ramirez can opt out after 2006 if his value goes up, the Cubs cannot do the same if his value declines.

This is my main problem with this deal. The counter-argument says that if they had simply agreed to the four-year contract with no out clause that the team would be incurring the same risk. This is absolutely true, but the difference is that when there's no out clause, Ramirez assumes some risk - that he might be underpaid by the end of the contract - in exchange for the risk the Cubs take that he might be overpaid at the end. What's happened instead is that all risk appears to have been assumed by the club, and while I think the likelihood of Ramirez tanking or walking is low, it still bothers me that the ledger is uneven on this point.

Point Four: We are not privy to Cubs contract negotiations, and there may have been something during the process that led to this deal as a compromise.

And now we reach the sticking point. Occasionally birdies decide to sing in our ears, and in this case it appears that the opt out may have been negotiated as an alternative to guaranteeing five years on the deal. I think it's safe to assume that an extra year would push the contract into the vicinity of, say, $55M. That's a lot of money to guarantee, and a lot of years to commit to. Four doesn't seem too bad, but five starts to look troublesome.

So, if this is indeed what went down around the table, what the Cubs were faced with was a choice between being on the hook for $52-55M no matter what, or potentially saving $10-13M in a worst case scenario where Aramis dropped off the planet in exchange for paying more if he erupted on the league. Faced with that dilemma, the Cubs appear to have taken the more risk averse route.

Alex still likes the idea that Rich Lederer posted in the comments of his earlier writings on the subject - namely, to include a buyout that Aramis would have to pay in order to be allowed to rip up the contract after 2006 - and I can't say I frown on the idea (although, I have no idea if the CBA allows such a thing). But the more I think about it, the more sense the route taken by the Cubs makes to me.

It's not a perfect deal, but here are the alternatives:

  1. Sign a free agent next year - An option made all the less palatable by the fact that the market's choice cuts will be men like Bill Mueller and Joe Randa. I mentioned something in an earlier post about getting hamburger if steak isn't available, but this would be more like getting a soup bone. It's enough food to keep you alive, but, boy, those hunger pangs hurt.

  2. Make an offseason trade - Two problems here: First, it's known by every GM in the game that you're trying to replace a boatload of production - witness the attempts this offseason to garner a left field upgrade. When you're that far over the barrel the other teams you might be dealing with will work you over but good. Add in the second issue - that anyone remotely comparable to Ramirez isn't likely to be available in the first place - and I think you've got a legitimate rationale for avoiding this particular circle of hell.

  3. Negotiate a more favorable deal with Ramirez after the season - I simply don't see this happening if talks had broken down. There would still be time to salvage something, but in order for your gambit to work Aramis has to have a bad year, because if he has a great season, my guess is that the player's camp comes back in November asking for more rather than less - after all, if you're going to spurn his advances in April when you're the only one he's talking to, you'd better come up with something he can't refuse when five or ten more teams enter the picture. This doesn't sound like fun.

So, upon reflection, I won't come right out and say I like the deal - the inequity in assumed risk still bothers me - but I think the compromise reached is appropriate and makes logical sense when all the factors are considered. Aramis will be a Cub until at least 2006, and if my feel for this is right, he'll be in blue pinstripes well beyond that, and that's great by me. Even if it is at a higher price.

Singles Night
2005-04-05 07:20
by Derek Smart

Nothing like a little outright clubbing to get the season started. The Cubs smoked the Diamondbacks for 23 hits - 17 of them singles - on their way to a 16-6 super-fun-time victory. It wasn't the crispest game in the history of baseball, but several D-Back pitchers must have felt crispy by the end of their turns - Javier Vasquez and Greg Aquino being chief among the charred.

I'm not much for step-by-step recaps - you can get those elsewhere - so let's just get right to a few observations. Bullet pointed for your pleasure:

Continue reading...
Unlucky Seven
2005-04-05 07:01
by Alex Ciepley

A whole batch of minor leaguers have just discovered that the juice doesn't taste so sweet when you're caught sipping from the bottle. 38 players were suspended yesterday for violating baseball's steroids policy. Seven of them were Cubs:

  • Oscar Bernard
  • David Cash
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • Matt Craig
  • Jesus Medrano
  • Kevin Reinking
  • Carlos Vasquez
Medrano and Reinking have been released.

I asked Baseball Analyst and Cub Prospect Maven Bryan Smith for his take on the Cubs that were tattooed with the Scarlet "S".

Of the Cubs players caught in the steroid scandal, there are really only two that have big league potential: Matt Craig and Carlos Vasquez.

Craig is a very polished hitter the Cubs drafted from the University of Richmond in 2002. After a horrendous struggle in Boise to finish his 2002 and then a power struggle in 2003, Craig was one of the better Southern League hitters last year. A third basemen with a good eye and gap power, the largest knock on him is his defense, as his problems at the hot corner could push him across the diamond. His power is not enough to stick at first. I've compared him to Greg Norton in the past, and the switch-hitting bench player label still sticks.

Vasquez was put on the 40-man roster instead of Andy Sisco and Luke Hagerty, which of course in hindsight looks like the wrong decision. The combination of a southpaw and a power sinker was apparently too much to risk, and the Cubs will send Carlos to West Tenn this year. I don't think he will succeed as a starter unless his K/9 goes from the mid-fives to the sevens, a move unlikely to happen. But his HR/9 is good, and the Cubs won't wait long to see if there is a boost in his stuff when he moves to the bullpen.

What drying out from steroids will due to these players is simply unknown by me, or anyone. I stand in the camp where I don't think it is going to significantly help you hit for power, and given Craig's advanced technique, shouldn't affect his stock much. Vasquez throws a pitch (power sinker) that demands control (low in zone) more than velocity, so the same is true for him. If I'm wrong and Craig loses power and Vasquez loses significant velocity, neither player is a prospect. If I'm right and their stock is virtually unchanged, neither will be much more than a role player anyway.

Both Craig (a favorite of mine) and Vasquez are linked in the "2005 Cubs" section over at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar, so you can follow their progress all season and determine for yourself the results of being de-juiced.

Patterson Walks! and other opening day wonders
2005-04-04 19:52
by Alex Ciepley

The Good

  • 16 runs, the most ever for the Cubbies on opening day.
  • Derrek Lee. Today: 4 hits, 2 doubles, 1 homer, 5 rbis. April 2004: 17 hits, 2 homers, 11 rbis.
  • Dusty Baker wisely pulls a struggling Zambrano after pitch 106 despite being one out shy of qualifying for the W.
  • Patterson walks!
The Bad
  • Times Zambrano ran the count to 3 balls, 2 strikes: 7.
  • Zambrano walks in a run before leaving.
  • Zambrano gets ejected while leaving. Temper, kid!
The Snuggly
  • Cubs' place in the NL Central after game one: first.

Two More Years?
2005-04-04 13:06
by Alex Ciepley

Alex: I share Derek's enthusiasm for both the length and amount of Aramis' new contract with the Cubs. But as the details filter in, I'm a lot less sure this is a good deal.

The AP release lists the deal as being worth $2M less than the initial estimate of $44M, but the news isn't all good for the Cubs. There's also this nugget:

[Ramirez] can terminate his new deal after 2006.
Rich Lederer, a true Web Gem, wrote the following in his criticism of a similar deal that the Dodgers gave J.D. Drew this offseason:
[I]t is the Dodgers -- and not their new star -- who are taking all the risk here. The only reason why Drew would opt out is if his market value has grown to where he can get an even more lucrative deal elsewhere. If he plays poorly or gets hurts, then the Dodgers will be stuck with him for the duration of the five years.

The same logic holds true for the Aramis deal. If Ramirez plays well the next two years... well, great for the Cubs, but even better for Aramis. He can drop the rest of his now-undervalued contract and sign for bigger bucks elsewhere.

But if Ramirez doesn't perform up to expectations--or his ankle cracks or back swells--the Cubs are stuck with him for two more years at a price above market value. In order for the deal to work for the Cubs, Ramirez has to perform at a good-but-not-great level for the first two years of the deal. Good enough to justify the dollars, but not so great that he opts out of his contract. Where's the benefit in this setup for the Cubs?

The Cubs have assumed all the risk in this deal. I like the number of years: 4. I like the average dollar amount: $10.5M. I just don't like no stinkin' termination clauses.

Derek: Agreed. When I first posted on the deal there was no word on the termination clause, and that changes everything. As Alex said, the risk is all on the Cubs, because if Aramis is really good it's a two year deal and he can either walk or request the keys to the mint, and if he stinks the joint up, it's four seasons of overpaying for unrealized potential. True, he could perform just well enough to deserve the agreed upon cash and no more, but what's the fun in rooting for that?

Earlier I was happy, but this clause leaves me with a sour taste. I'll still cheer for Aramis to blow the lid off the league, but now every home run, every All-Star appearance, every MVP vote gets him another step closer to leaving the Cubs or breaking the bank, and I'd just as soon have Aramis at the hot corner and my little piggy intact.

Four More Years! Four More Years!
2005-04-04 12:06
by Derek Smart

Aramis Ramirez and the Cubs weren't kidding when they said they wanted to get something done on a long-term deal before Opening Day. Word is that the sides have agreed to a four year, $44M contract to keep Aramis in the fold, just hours before today's first pitch.

At first glance, this works for me, especially in the context of contracts like the ones given to Troy Glaus (4 x $45M) or Adrian Beltre (5 x $64M), with Glaus being a year older and an injury risk, and Beltre a year younger, but more of an enigma.

More when there are details available, but I say kudos all the way 'round to Hendry and company for inking Ramirez to a deal that looks like it both does right by the player, yet doesn't break the bank.

Now enough of this unseemly monetary focus. The offseason is over, my friends. The sun is shining here in Chicago - it's a perfect spring day - so grab a mitt, have a catch, and get ready for some Cubs baseball!

UPDATE: Now they're saying $42M over 4 years - even nicer. There's also a mutual option for 2009, and a vesting option for $11M in 2010 if he appears in 270 games between 2008-9. That vesting option could be a bit troublesome, depending on his performance towards the end, but it seems that the Cubs have built in a partial out with the '09 mutual option. Overall, still looking good.

Opening Day
2005-04-04 06:45
by Alex Ciepley

The Cubs enter the 2005 season not as the prohibitive favorites of yesteryear, but as mere contenders. How many starts will Prior and Wood give the Cubs? Will Nomar for a full year be enough to offset the losses of Sosa and Alou? Will Hawkins continue to blow it in the closer role? The questions this team brings with it onto the field are big ones. The answers start coming today.

The Cubs open this year where they've spent all spring: Arizona. This year's Diamondbacks team features a new-look lineup, with the Snakes hoping their new Killer Gs--Glaus and Green--can provide some much-needed power. The rotation has seen a makeover as well; most notable is the departure of a certain tall Cub Killer, a left-winger Chicago fans aren't sorry to see leave the league.

Wanting to learn a bit more about the Cubs' first opponents, Derek and I asked a few questions of Jim McLennan, who writes about the Diamondbacks at AZ Snake Pit. Jim was nice enough to provide Cub Town with a taste of what to expect in the opening series.

Alex: I love me some Javy Vazquez. No, he's not Randy Johnson, and yes, he destroyed my fantasy team last year, but I've kept root, root, rooting for him through his Wilderness years in Montreal and his Massacre year in New York. What do you expect from him?

Jim: I certainly don't think he'll be as bad as the second half last year, where he seemed to do all but implode. There's a lot less pressure on him in Arizona: sure, he's stepping into the Big Unit's shoes as the staff ace, but every fan knows deep down that Johnson is the kind of pitcher your team gets once in a generation. I think Vazquez has every chance of coming back to his first-half form, though I'd settle for anything even approaching that.

The issue is really whether he decides to stay in Arizona or exercises his right to leave at the end of the season. I don't expect us genuinely to contend this year, but I think if we're around the .500 mark, that'll be enough improvement to convince him we're serious about rebuilding, and give us a shot at retaining his services. If we're to contend in 2006 and beyond, a pitcher of his caliber is definitely needed, and isn't going to pop out of Triple-A for us.

Alex: I love me some Shawn Estes. Or not... what's your take on the rest of the pitching staff beyond Vazquez?

Jim: It'll be better than last year, where the chasm in results between Johnson and, in particular, the starters after Brandon Webb, yawned like the Grand Canyon. Slots 3-5 in the rotation went an average of 4-17, with a 7.22 ERA--this year HAS to be better than that, simply by blind luck. Webb will be helped by the improved defense up the middle behind him, but he needs to cut back on the major-league leading walk total he posted in 2004.

We overpaid for Russ Ortiz, and while he may become a future liability, I think he'll still be around a .500 win percentage and will save our bullpen from burn-out. Estes is undeniably the one I'd vote Most Likely To Suck, though he's a ground-ball pitcher, which might help. Or not... At time of writing the fifth spot will go either to Brad Halsey or Mike Gosling: either should be adequate and might even surprise. They've been fighting each other, start for start, in spring training, and neither has cracked much. Mind you, last season, Casey Daigle had a fine spring, and ended up with a 7.16 ERA in ten D'back starts.

Derek: The Diamondbacks acquired some new bats this offseason. Which one excites you the most? Least?

Jim: If Glaus can remain healthy - something that has eluded him since the 2002 season - he's going to be a potent power threat, something Arizona lacked entirely last year after Sexson went down (no-one hit more than 23 HR). He's been knocking the cover off the ball this spring. Shawn Green also has upside, though I do wish we hadn't signed him to a long-term contract, given the prospects we have coming up. Green may end up moving back to first base in 2006, and if that's the case, Chad Tracy could be on his way out.

Signing Craig Counsell and Royce Clayton was very questionable, and it looks like they'll be 1-2 in the lineup, which is even dumber. Although both are good defensively, having both playing regularly won't help a team which finished dead last in runs scored last year. I don't like to wish ill on anyone (okay, save Barry Bonds, perhaps), but if aliens were to abduct that pair on Opening Day, I'd send a warm note of thanks. But as mentioned, I don't expect us to contend, so there's no major harm done

Derek: Young catchers Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder will both be staying with the big club, although Bob Melvin has yet to reveal who his starter will be. Both have had very nice springs. Who would you like to see get the bulk of the time? Or would you like to see more of a platoon? Why?

Jim: I'd like to see them split the time 50/50. Snyder skipped Triple-A last season, and really does not need to be sitting on the bench all season. He's probably got more long-term potential than Hill, being a couple of years younger, but almost equal in terms of tools, both offensively and defensively.

Before this spring, there was a feeling Hill was better at the plate, and Snyder behind it, but you'd be hard pushed to separate them now. Snyder sprained his thumb last weekend, but has had a splint fitted inside his glove and it should hopefully have little or no impact on his performance come Opening Day and thereafter.

Cub Town: Your predictions for the opening series?

Jim: There isn't much home advantage to be found in Phoenix when the Cubs come to town. There are a lot of Chicago expats here, especially at this time of year, when our honored winter visitors (or, as we locals call them, "goddamn snowbirds") have not yet been driven away by the first 100-degree day. So Bank One Ballpark will likely be closer to a neutral venue, perhaps even skewing blue rather than purple.

Still, the Cubs were the only NL team against whom the D'backs had a winning record last year; we took four of six. Our almost-entirely new team (eight starting position players and 4/5 of the rotation will be gone from Opening Day 2004) has a lot to prove, and the first series of the season is the best time to do it--hey, we'll be tied for the lead in the NL West on Monday morning!

The injury-enforced changes to the Cubs rotation makes a big difference - not having to face Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, in my opinion, tilts the balance of this series towards Arizona. Against them, it's very easy to see us losing two or possibly even getting swept. But facing Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster (or whoever) instead is a different prospect altogether: I think we'll take the first and third.

Reader Writes: The Next Superstar
2005-04-03 10:50
by Alex Ciepley

Cub Town is open to reader submissions of work; if you have a baseball-related writer's itch that needs scratching, just drop me or Derek a line.

Like many Cubs fans, Brandon L. Chizum likes what he sees in Cubs' opening day starter Carlos Zambrano. Brandon submitted a piece to Cub Town with his thoughts on Big Z, and it's a good way to get in the mood for the first game of the season.

The Next Superstar
by Brandon L. Chizum

While glancing over various rosters for soon-to-be superstar players, it seemed natural to come to a halt upon reading "Carlos Zambrano." His positive pitching attributes clearly outweigh his negatives, and with his prior performances for one of the most recognized clubs in all of the sporting world, he seems a lock, barring injury, for a stellar 2005 season--and one in which he receives the accolades due him. This season will serve as Carlos's stardom outing, one during which he proves that he is an elite starter, a number one on most teams in the league. Carlos is like Wal-Mart stock after the public discovered its worth.


Zambrano stands 6'5" and weighs over 250 pounds. Bulky, but not overweight, his body has handled the workload that Dusty Baker has dished out these past two seasons. Carlos threw 423 innings during the 2003 and 2004 campaigns, and he did so without injury. His survival may be attributed to his owning such a large body and being in shape; just look at Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens for similar physiques. If Carlos can keep his mechanics in check, there is little reason why throwing 200+ innings should present a problem.

Carlos is only 23, and won't turn 24 until June. If he can stay healthy, it's quite possible that we will be treated to ten more years of his energy-laden pitching. The experience he will gain during his major league tenure is certain to be invaluable, especially while sitting next to future HOFer Maddux at this point in his career. Don't be surprised if he is given the opportunity to start the Cubs' next five Opening Day games--youth + experience = a dangerous veteran in a few years. Many baseball writers and fans know that terrific pitching is a vital component to winning, and Zambrano's presence in the Cubs' starting rotation certainly brightens the horizon for Chicago's front office and Wrigley faithful.


Zambrano throws at least three pitches: a cutter that serves as a sinker, a two-seam fastball, and a slider. And he throws each of them very well. Quite a number of starters in the Majors only own two pitches, let alone three, and because of Zambrano's youth, it is probable that he will learn a fourth pitch during his MLB tenure and supplement his repertoire that much more. Besides, Carlos throws hard and he seems to be throwing without thinking--think Nuke LaLoosh after heeding Crash's advice. And when a pitcher of Zambrano's stature is throwing in the upper 90s, and doing so without fear of anyone, it is hard not to dominate.

Zambrano's win totals increased from 2003 to 2004, as did his strikeout to walk ratio, making it highly likely that we are witnessing the maturing of a player who will become better with experience. It seems as if each time he takes the mound, we know the opportunity for a no-hitter is present, fist-pumps and points-to-God and all. It must also be noted that Wrigley is not the extreme hitter's park many fans believe it to be, and because Zambrano is a groundball pitcher, he is stingy with home run balls, losing only fourteen pitches to the seats in 210 innings last season. Now whether the Cubs can manufacture runs for their pitching staff, that's a different article.

A caveat must be issued here, however. As mentioned earlier, Carlos has thrown over 423 innings these past two seasons (winning 13 and 16 games, respectively), partly because he handles the work with ease, partly because of his age, and partly because his manager doesn't believe in saving the pitcher. Baseball Prospectus deems Dean Chance a good comparable for Zambrano at this point in his career, and it's not a bad comparison if you look at the numbers, but Chance's demise so early in his career is a bit concerning.

As it stands, only time will tell what effect the 200+ innings per season will have on Carlos's arm. He has shown no signs of wear and tear to this point in his career, though at times when he's frustrated, his mechanics do loosen a bit, a cause for momentary concern until his focus is corralled. As we age, we learn from mistakes and move on. Well, Carlos will do the same thing on the green grass of Wrigley, and do so with fervor. Beginning with this season, he will become an elite starter in this league, so mark your calendars for his starts. It's going to be a great summer.

We Got Links
2005-04-02 19:11
by Alex Ciepley

Not sausage links.
Not golf links.
Not the fat cat lynx.

We got links, on the sidebar, to your right.

PECOTA and the 2005 Cubs
2005-04-01 05:06
by Alex Ciepley

Nate Silver, an author at Baseball Prospectus, is also the man behind PECOTA, one of the most innovative and accurate baseball forecasting systems around.

In addition to comparing baseball players throughout history in unique and meaningful ways, PECOTA is different in that it provides not one prediction per player, but a range of predictions along with the likelihood that each shading of that range will be the end result. As Nate explains,

While a majority of players of a certain type may progress a certain way--say, peak early--there will always be exceptions. Moreover, the comparable players may not always perform in accordance with their true level of ability. They will sometimes appear to exceed it in any given season, and other times fall short, because of the sample size problems that we described earlier.

PECOTA accounts for these sorts of factors by creating not a single forecast point, as other systems do, but rather a range of possible outcomes that the player could expect to achieve at different levels of probability. Instead of telling you that it's going to rain, we tell you that there's an 80% chance of rain, because 80% of the time that these atmospheric conditions have emerged on Tuesday, it has rained on Wednesday.

PECOTA is a truly fascinating system, and if you haven't gotten around to poking around the PECOTA "cards", you should get on the ball and at least peruse the freely available Red Sox forecasts.

Conveniently enough, Nate also authored the Cubs chapter in this year's edition of BP's annual book, Baseball Prospectus 2005. Nate was kind enough to participate in a short Q&A about a few things PECOTA and BP have to say about this year's Cubbies.

Cub Town: I think you nailed Jim Hendry's strengths and weaknesses in the essay that opens the Cubs chapter in BP 2005. He's a GM who's quickly shown he's good at getting the big things right (trading for Nomar) but doesn't always make the correct decisions with the small bits (re-signing Neifi). What are some small moves that you think could help improve the current Cubs team?

Nate Silver: Getting just one big bat coming off the bench would make the roster look an awful lot different. Particularly good would be someone like Florida's Josh Willingham, who can play a couple of different positions. I don't mind having Blanco or even Neifi around as defensive replacements--the problem is when they double as your pinch-hitters.

CT: Do you think the Cubs' front office is too influenced by Dusty Baker?

NS: I think they're too deferential to Dusty Baker. My guess is that Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail are usually not calling Baker into their higher-level planning meetings, but they do think a lot about putting together a team that will get along with one another, and that necessarily means getting along with Dusty. Something like the trade of Choi after 2003--I don't know that the front office appreciated his value to begin with, but the fact that Dusty didn't like him might have been the decisive factor.

The irony is that I think if you had a more strong-willed general manager who was willing to put Dusty in his place at certain times, you'd have yourself one of the very best managers in the game. But I don't know that Dusty would want to work under those circumstances.

CT: PECOTA thinks Jason Dubois, while he won't hit like Moises Alou, version 2004, can hit like Alou, version 2005. There are questions about how much playing time Dubois will get, but how much sleeper potential do you think he has?

NS: I don't know that Jason Dubois is a sleeper; I think he's pretty much a known commodity. There are a few examples on his PECOTA comparables list--like Derrek Lee and Jay Buhner--of guys that continued to improve throughout their twenties, but even if he just repeated the production he gave them at Iowa last year, that would represent a substantial upgrade over Hollandsworth or Hairston. You know it's bad when even Phil Rogers is jumping on the "Free Jason Dubois" bandwagon.

CT: PECOTA isn't terribly hot on Nomar Garciaparra becoming an elite hitter again. What are the biggest factors in the good-but-not-great projection for Nomar, and do you think he's a good bet to outperform the projection?

NS: I don't think he's a particularly good bet to outperform his projection, though I do think he was a fine signing at the price they got him. Nomar has three or four strikes against him from a projection standpoint:

  1. Batting average is usually the first skill to deteriorate as a player ages, so a guy who is relatively more dependent on it won't tend to age as well.
  2. Nomar's secondary skills are also in decline. His isolated power has dropped for three or four years running, and he stole just four bases last year.
  3. Middle infielders don't tend to age that well.
  4. Injury-prone players don't tend to age well, even if they manage to remain relatively healthy.

CT: On the other hand, the player comment (and PECOTA forecast) for Corey Patterson in BP 2005 is very positive. Other projection systems, such as the work of Ron Shandler, are much less optimistic. Why do you see good things ahead for Patterson?

NS: I remember writing an article for the New York Sun last year on Corey, which involved preparing a list of players who already had pretty good power, and then substantially improved their plate discipline at some point in their early 20s. I can't seem to find that list right now, but it was full of very, very impressive names--guys like Johnny Bench and Dwight Evans and Albert Belle.

Basically, if you're going in with a lot of natural talent, and you demonstrate an ability to improve your hitting approach on top of that at a young enough age for the improvement to be sticky, there's a good chance you're going to be a star. If anything, I think that PECOTA is on the low side with Patterson.

CT: PECOTA looks through the Cubs' minor league pitchers (and the bottom of their Major League staff) and sees lots of pitchers capable of putting up seasons with mid-4.00 ERAs now. Michael Wuertz, Todd Wellemeyer, and John Leicester are no surprise, but Bobby Brownlie and Chadd Blasko also fit this profile. Are the Cubs really as deep pitching-wise as PECOTA makes them seem?

NS: I think so. The organization does a fine job of scouting and developing pitchers. The question is how you leverage all of that. We usually criticize teams who are too quick to trade their prospects, but with pitchers there are more things that can go wrong than can go right, so I wouldn't mind seeing some moves if it can help the organization elsewhere.

CT: PECOTA is even more optimistic about Angel Guzman (15.9 VORP) and Sergio Mitre (15.2 VORP). Guzman's a well-known prospect, but Mitre often flies under the radar. Do you like Mitre as much as PECOTA does, and what kind of pitcher do you think he could turn into given the right opportunity?

NS: One thing that helps Mitre's projection is that we were able to get groundball-flyball numbers for minor league pitchers this year. Mitre does an extraordinarily good job of keeping the ball down, which is absolutely essential when you don't have dominant stuff. I don't see that much difference between someone like Mitre and someone like Carl Pavano.

CT: Finally, how much do you love Carlos Zambrano?

NS: He's probably my favorite baseball player right now. Whenever I think about his pitch counts, though, I just keep hearing Ralphie's mother tell him "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!".

Cub Town thanks Nate Silver for taking the time to answer these questions.