Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: October 2005


Rusch Re-signs
2005-10-31 09:21
by Derek Smart

In a deal that was rumored over the weekend, but wasn't announced until today, the Cubs have given a new contract to Glendon Rusch, reportedly worth $6M over 2 years.

The only thing I can glean from this as a near certainty is that the Cubs will not be involved in the free agent market for starting pitchers, and while I can understand wanting to stay out of a pool of players that promises to yield more Bensonian and Pavanovlian style contracts, any even remotely positive reaction I might have hinges on two factors:

  1. Glendon Rusch must pitch out of the rotation.

    It's been clear from watching his work over the last two seasons that Rusch is exponentially more comfortable when he's starting. He's also a lot more effective, sporting lower hit rates and lower walk rates in the rotation both this year and last. In addition, if he's going to be worth $3M a year, he has to do more than long relief and spot start, so to get value and performance, he needs to be pitching every fifth day.

  2. The Cubs had better spend the money they have available on excellent position players.

    If a shiny new starter isn't on the menu, there'd best be a shiny new shortstop and right fielder on tap. The problem, as we all know, is that there are few men available who fit the bill. However, the difference between the market for position players and that for starting pitchers is that there actually are a couple names out there with bats who're worth the big bucks.

    If going cheap in the rotation means the organization is going to do all it can to nab players the likes of Furcal and Giles, then I think signing Rusch is pretty defensible, particularly if the pursuit(s) end in success.

Needless to say, this could be a very risky strategy for the team, as it appears they're not only counting on their ability to improve the club by acquiring the same guys everyone else is after, but they're hoping against all hope that they don't wind up with a rotation that includes both Rusch and Jerome Williams.

If Kerry Wood is healthy and effective, and the Cubs manage to work some off-season magic on their glaring position player holes, this is a move that could work out well - Rusch isn't a bad fifth starter at all - but a lot has to go right for this to be a positive, so in the great count of opinions on this matter, put me in the 'dubious' column.

* * * * *

A quick piece of site business: tomorrow morning I'll post the first installment of the Assuming the Position series, starting with First Base. My intent is to post two of these a week in no particular order - with a likely hiatus the week of Thanksgiving - until I'm done.

As with the Rusch signing, we'll have to wait and see how closely intent meshes with reality, especially since, like the Cubs' offseason, the series is a work in progress. However, whether or not the installments appear in a timely fashion, appear they will, and I hope you all find them enjoyable.

Hello, Walk 'N Willy
2005-10-28 18:01
by Derek Smart

Either I missed it or it hadn't happened by the time I posted about the team passing on Burniz, but the Cubs have picked up the options on Todd Walker and Scott Williamson.

I am both pleased and unsurprised by both of these moves. Williamson was a genuinely nasty reliever before he was hurt, and we saw flashes of that when he joined the team late in the year. He was inconsistent, but that's to be expected when a guy is coming back from Tommy John surgery, and since the Cubs very much need a shut-down guy for the vicinity of the eighth inning, Williamson's a good gamble to do that.

As for Walker, I don't think the Cubs had much choice. While they're likely to pursue Rafael Furcal in the offseason - with a possible result of success in the endeavor being that they would move Ronny Cedeno to second - assuming that you're going to get the job done would be very dangerous, considering how hotly pursued Furcal is likely to be.

Had the team turned down Walker's option, then lost out on Furcal, they'd have Cedeno at short and then...what?...Tony Graffanino at second? D'Angelo Jimenez? Mark Bellhorn? While those guys are potentially useful players, just try imagining Dusty Baker dealing with them. Or don't. Really, it's not worth the headache, and I think that's the conclusion Jim Hendry reached.

Better to have an embarrassment of riches and an opportunity in a best case scenario to turn an inexpensive, good stick middle infielder into something you need later on, rather than find yourself scraping the barrel for somebody not named Neifi! whom your manager's willing to field at the keystone.

Bye, Bye, Burnie
2005-10-28 10:31
by Derek Smart

According to the Tribune today, the Cubs won't be picking up their $7M option on Jeromy Burnitz, and as further confirmation, he shows up among the folks mentioned in this article as having filed for free agency.

I'll admit to a bit of surprise, partly because the free agent market is so thin, but mostly because my pessimism as at a level where I don't expect the organization to make good decisions, so opting to pass on a deal that only makes sense if one places a lot of stock in convenience is a somewhat unexpected positive.

Signing Burnitz wasn't the apocalyptic move I envisioned, and in many ways he was a refreshing presence, always working hard, playing a good right field, and just generally keeping a low profile. After years of what seemed at times to be the exact opposite, a season where we weren't subjected to all the little trials that came as the price of production was something of a relief.

Still, with his .322 OBP and his declining power, even though he had his utility last year when considering the club's Sosa-induced financial situation and what was available for purchase at the time, he was more like two parts problem, one part solution, and that's a lousy ratio for the kind of price tag he came with for 2006.

Of course, it's still technically possible for Burnitz to be a Cub - the mere fact of his option being declined and the subsequent declaration of free agency doesn't obviate signing him to a less onerous deal - but I'd be unwilling to wager on his return. Now the job becomes finding his replacement, and while cutting these ties was the absolutely correct thing to do, that doesn't make the task at hand any less difficult.

South for the Winter
2005-10-26 08:23
by Derek Smart

Questions about Corey Patterson's offseason plans were continually asked during the last part of the season, but never really answered until this piece appeared last week on the Cubs' official site. Patterson isn't playing winter ball, but that doesn't mean he's taking the time off. Days after the end of the season, he headed down to Mesa with a mission to rebuild his swing from the ground up.

I was among those concerned about Patterson's offseason plans, or the apparent lack thereof, but this looks to me like the right thing to do. If Corey has any chance of success - and by success, I mean as either a Cub player or as part of a trade that returns actual value for the club - he needs to completely retool his swing, and the best way to do that is to take time away from competition to break things down and build his muscle memory to do the things necessary for success without his having to think about it.

If you have to consciously think about where your hands are, how your base is set up, keeping your shoulder in, or any of the other myriad parts to a good swing, you'll fail miserably. By the time your brain is done working, the pitch is already by you. Making the good habits unconscious is crucial, because otherwise when confronted with stress, the body will simply return to what's instinctual, and if that's the bad habits, then you'll get the results we saw all last year.

We'll have to wait to see if Corey's work pays off, and while I'll be skeptical until I see sustained success, I can at least acknowledge that an appropriate plan is being implemented.

Some quick notes about some other baby bears who refuse to hibernate:

  • Adam Greenberg is in Venezuela where he's not only chronicling his experiences for the MLB website, he's gotten off to a solid start, hitting .286/.359/.429 with a triple and a homer in 35 at bats. After getting beaned in his first Major League at bat, and the length of time it took for him to get back on the field, simply playing is a positive, so while I hope he does well and gives the club a reason to look hard at him for a reserve role next year, I'm just glad he's out there.

  • Angel Guzman looks to have gotten back on track, throwing five innings of one run ball on Monday, allowing four hits, a walk, and striking out six. There are a lot of wild-cards for the Cubs this coming year, but Guzman may be the wildest of all. A contribution from him can't be counted on, not with his injury history, but the mere idea of having a healthy Guzman available for action at some point during the season is enough to make me drool a little.

  • John Koronka has still not allowed a run. I'll pause for a moment while that sinks in. He's only thrown nine innings, so like before, sample size caveats apply, but he's only given up six hits to go with four walks and ten strikeouts. The walks I get - four per nine doesn't shock me a bit based on what we witnessed during the season - but even accounting for the fact that he's mostly throwing to minor leaguers, the hits and strikeouts are completely out of character.

    Again, I wish I had some video to be able to evaluate what beyond luck is spurring this run of odd effectiveness, but in lieu of that, I suppose I'll just have to wait until spring comes to see for myself if what's happening is a new level of ability, or simply a blip on the statistical radar.

  • Ronny Cedeno appears to be on the roster of Los Tigres de Aragua of the Venezuelan winter league, but I have yet to see any evidence that he's played. This is one of the folks to watch this offseason, since his performance could influence a lot of what happens during the winter and spring.

  • Felix Pie is off to a solid start for Licey of the Dominican winter league, as the last I saw he was 6 for 14 with a double, triple, and home run. This is a pretty rough league to get updated stats on, so this has likely changed in the last few days. Still, it's encouraging to see Pie apparently feeling no ill effects from the ankle injury that kept him from being called up along with Matt Murton during the regular season. Like Cedeno, his performance this winter could have a significant bearing on the Cubs' offseason plans.

    UPDATE: Pie went 1 for 4 with a double last night, which puts him at 7 for 18 with two doubles, a triple, and home run thus far.

That's it for now. More when I've got it, and if all goes according to plan, next week should begin the Assuming the Position series where I'll break down the year that was and the possibilities for the year that will be on a position by position basis.

AFL Update
2005-10-19 07:09
by Derek Smart

We're sort of in limbo here at Cub Town, what with the postseason still going on and nothing of great import moving forward in the club's offseason preparations. Still, there is some Cub-related baseball going on, and it's happening in the Grand Canyon State, where the Arizona Fall League is currently in full swing.

With little else happening in our Cub-centric universe, it seemed like a fine day to take a quick tour through the stats of the baby bears who made the trip down south.


Matt Murton25127032.480/.536/.760
Buck Coats941011.444/.500/.556
Brandon Sing2284146.364/.444/.682
Eric Patterson2762026.222/.267/.296


David Aardsma8.2171216712.46
Angel Guzman7.21260297.04
John Koronka6.0300190.00

Eschew the tyranny of grains and back up the whole salt truck for these numbers folks, because not only are we dealing with minuscule sample sizes, but these gents are playing in a hitting environment that makes batters hailing from Planet Coors wonder who shut the gravity off.

Still, there's some fun and interesting stuff here. Matt Murton, for starters, has continued to impress, and while he's not hitting the ball out of the park, it looks like he's still driving the it with authority if his seven doubles are any indication.

In fact, all the Cub hitters look to be having decent campaigns except for Corey's little brother Eric, who seems to be in a wee bit over his head. Although I suppose that's not a huge surprise from a guy who's only had 30 ABs above A-ball, so I wouldn't let this be a source of concern. He still looks like a better bet to be useful in five years than his sibling.

What shocks me is the work turned in by John Koronka. The other two Cub hurlers who both have demonstrably superior stuff are getting handled - Aardsma in particular is bad enough to give me concern that there's something going on there beyond just thin air and hot hitting prospects - yet Koronka has been easily their better in every way.

He's being used out of the pen, so this is one of those situations where it would be extremely helpful to actually see what he's doing (okay, so it's helpful in every situation, it's just especially so here) to get a read on if he's got better velocity because he's not pacing himself, or if he's developed a new pitch, or if he's just having himself a good, fluky month.

All told, it looks like a pretty successful run so far for the mini-Cubs. Some better work from Guzman and Aardsma in the latter portion of the season would be encouraging, but for now, I'll take what this group is giving as positive reinforcement.

Worst Case Scenario
2005-10-17 08:37
by Derek Smart

The post-season started with eight teams, and at the beginning of this journey I looked at the field and, frankly, saw no team I could get behind. This is rare, as there's usually at least one club I can find some affinity for in my heart, but the 2005 crop of contenders mostly left me cold, and more in a profound state of indifference than anything else.

So while I couldn't find a rooting interest, being something of a jackass at heart, I was able to clearly identify the team from each league whom I would least like to see advance to the final round. And as luck and karma would have it, barring a three-game win streak from the Cardinals, my most garish post-season nightmares are about to come true.

What makes me a little sad, more sad than a White Sox/Astros World Series, is that it didn't have to be this way.

I'm not a native Chicagoan. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and came to my fandom like so many others, via a combination of cable television, adolescent summer boredom, and the beginning of the Ryne Sandberg Era.

I came to town for graduate school in 1993 which was, oddly enough, a year when the White Sox made the playoffs, and I actually enjoyed the fact that they were in it, rooting for them all the way.

Being from out of town I wasn't privy to the nature of the Sox/Cubs rivalry and as far as I was concerned it was a Chicago team that was doing well, and since I was living here now, why shouldn't I enjoy their run at a title?

That was twelve seasons ago, and since that time I've changed a lot (going from one's early twenties to one's mid-thirties will do that to a fella), and one of the evolutions that has taken place has been a transition in my feelings towards the South Siders. I have grown to despise them.

As I said, it didn't have to be this way. True, the White Sox would never have usurped the Cubs' primary place in my affections, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have been a close second.

For a while the A's have been my adopted American League team, partly because of the way their organization runs, partly because I've enjoyed watching some of the recent teams they've put together, and partly because I have some good friends who are fans. There's no reason that, under the right circumstances, the Sox couldn't have been that team.

The fact is, I have some very good friends who are White Sox fans, guys who are season ticket holders, who occasionally ask me along when they have an extra stub. When I first met them and began to reap this benefit I was still open to the idea of being friendly toward the Pale Hose. A little cajoling, a little respect, and I'm at least indifferent to their current success, and at best, quite happy.

That's not what I've received. While my friends are, for the most part, decent when it comes to my Cubfandom (with some notable exceptions in the aftermath of the 2003 playoffs), the treatment I've received at the hands of White Sox fans in general has been abysmal. Rude. Disrespectful. Cruel.

Let me be clear, I don't mean to whine (although in re-reading this, just because I don't mean to doesn't mean I'm not). Perhaps I simply don't understand the existing ethos, but I'm not asking that White Sox fans love the Cubs, nor am I asking that there be no intra-city rivalry – that would not only be silly, but unspeakably dull. A hint of civility. That's all it would take.

It's particularly ironic since the great complaint heard from Sox fans is how the city doesn't love them, how Chicago is a Cub town and they don't get the respect they deserve.

They're right, of course, but there's something to be said for treating others the way you'd like to be treated, and from my experience - as someone who, free from the shackles of hereditary fandom and its concomitant biases, was willing and able to give the Sox some of that love and respect their fan base purports to crave - they would prefer to be openly loathed and reviled.

I also understand that what I was offering – a sort of secondary fandom – is kind of like telling a woman that you'd be happy to date her on the nights you aren't busy with your best girlfriend.

It could be construed as an insult of sorts, and I can understand why such advances might be rejected. However, I had developed a deep affinity for the Cubs before I even arrived here, and it's not like I could drop it like lint from my pocket. Surely such fickleness isn't worthy of respect either.

Honestly, I'm not sure if any of this makes sense. All I know is, the White Sox are in the World Series, and while I'd like to be happy for them and their fans, I simply can't be. Not because my fandom doesn't allow me to, but because my fandom won't allow White Sox fans to let me.

Same as it Ever Was
2005-10-11 12:55
by Derek Smart

The Cubs retained all of their coaches today, signing them all to one year contracts, with the only mild surprise being that pitching coach Larry Rothschild turned down more money and more years with Detroit to remain in Chicago.

I always find it tremendously difficult to evaluate these sort of transactions. It's rare that a coach's input and its impact is obvious to those of us on the outside looking in (counterexample = Wendell Kim), so for me to say whether someone like Rothschild or Gene Clines should stay or go is speculative at best.

Is it the coach or the personnel? It's just too difficult to sort it out from this distance. Sure, the Cubs were second in the league in batting average, but they were also dead last in walks. Is that because Clines preached aggressive hitting to his team, or because the roster was filled with men who weren't much inclined toward patience at the plate to begin with?

Was the club ninth in the league in ERA because of the plethora of injuries sustained by the pitching staff, or was it because Rothschild didn't have the requisite skill to turn the raw talent used to replace those who were hurt into useful Major League hurlers?

Is the fact that all of these coaches were kept on for another year a sign that Jim Hendry is unwilling to use his staff as easy scapegoats for a disappointing campaign, or is it a symbol of the organization's inability to understand the nature of the underlying forces that brought about their demise?

With the information available to us I think we can make salient arguments for either side of those issues, and that's why I sit frozen on the fence like a songbird in a blizzard when this sort of stuff comes my way. I tend to stay fairly open-minded until I'm presented with meaningful data, which I think is a strength in general, but gets in my way when there's a conclusion to be reached in less than optimal circumstances such as these.

So, once again, I turn to my intrepid readers for help. Is there anyone on the Cub coaching staff (Dustinator aside) who you think is getting less opprobrium than they deserve? Do you have a kick-in-the-butt reserved with a particular coach's name on it? Whom shall we rue?

How the Other Half Lives
2005-10-07 08:42
by Derek Smart

One of the fun things about the playoffs for me is when I listen to other team's games during work hours over my Gameday Audio subscription (that's not meant to be a promotion, and I know, I should probably get myself an XM subscription, but I just can't justify the expense to myself). I should do it more during the regular season, but I just don't, and in failing to do so I miss some good stuff.

It's an opportunity to get to know other places a little more, albeit in a cursory and superficial way, but even so there can still be some illuminating moments. Perhaps not surprisingly, these moments come less from the broadcasts themselves than from the commercials between innings.

For example, if someone from outside Chicago was listening to a Cub broadcast during the year they'd likely get the idea from the preponderance of Old Style adverts that this is a beer obsessed fan base, drunkards all, hopelessly addicted to lousy baseball and even lousier brew.

I could argue that such a thing is merely the nature of advertising during sporting events, and I'd be at least partially right, but sadly, all it takes is one trip to Wrigley Field in the middle of summer to confirm the inferred stereotype (or, I suppose, I trip to my living room, but that's not on the agenda).

Which leads me to what I heard yesterday on the Cardinal broadcast of Game 2 of their series with the Padres. I can't remember the brand, and I was unable to find a link, but please take my word for it when I say there was a commercial for a hand sanitizer between innings, and not only that, but it was billed as the official hand sanitizer of the St. Louis Cardinals.

I don't know that I've ever heard or seen an ad for a hand sanitizer during a sporting broadcast before yesterday, and it was the degree to which it felt misplaced that drew my attention to it. Perhaps not Summer's Eve misplaced, but out of its element nonetheless.

And truthfully, and while there are some easy, if likely erroneous, conclusions to draw, I haven't the faintest clue what that little radio spot might mean - I've never been to St. Louis so I'm not in a position to judge, and besides, while the parts of Chicago that the city government cares to acknowledge are really quite well-kept, it's still far from a clean-room out there.

So, I leave it to you, dear readers, to help me understand the deeper meaning attached to what I've heard, or to regale us all with stories of your own out-of-town-oddball-adverts. Fill the comments with your wisdom, and please, like hands all over St. Louis, keep it clean.

* * * * *

Just a quick programming note: I plan to start some 2005 post-mortem soon (specifically, a position by position breakdown of what happened, and what needs to happen), but my intent right now is to hold off until after the playoffs, both to give me time to get started so that there isn't a huge publication gap once posting of the series begins, and in deference to the postseason itself.

In the meantime, while there will still be posting, it's likely to be light, if for no other reason than because there's little in the world of Cub to comment on at the moment. So, while there might be a dearth in the short term, know that there is work going on behind the scenes to ensure that the winter months here at Cub Town are not a baseball free period.

Getting in on the Act
2005-10-04 08:24
by Derek Smart

There's a rash of postseason predicting spreading around the internet, and as can be seen if one looks around the Toaster, that rash has spread here. Sure, your doctor might tell you to leave it alone or it won't get any better, but I say if you've got an itch, scratch it!

Of course, my problem in this whole shebang is that I'm desperately, appallingly, spectacularly bad at predicting things (although it appears I'm middle of the pack among my cohorts), so rather than try to come to some logical conclusion regarding the postseason's outcome, I'll take a page from Ken's book and use some random statistics to decide things for me.

Ken used a system involving errors, so I'll pick something out of the statistical hat for the first round. Let's say net strikeouts (pitcher's strikeouts - hitter's strikeouts = net strikeouts; positive numbers good, negative numbers bad) because...well...because for the moment it's better than thinking. Here's the outcome:

LA Angels (268 Net Ks) over New York Yankees (-5 Net Ks) in 4
Chicago White Sox (37 Net Ks) over Boston Red Sox (-84 Net Ks) in 5
San Diego Padres (147 Net Ks) over St. Louis Cardinals (24 Net Ks) in 5
Houston Astros (122 Net Ks) over Atlanta Braves (-147 Net Ks) in 4

If it looks like there's a system in predicting the number of games for each series, you're right. It went something like this: "Oooo! That looks like a four game gap to me. And that looks like a five game gap! Yipee! More coffee please!"

So in the ALCS I have the White Sox versus the Angels, and the NLCS pits the Padres against the Astros. Let's mix things up a bit and go to a different stat for this round. We'll go with net walks (hitter's walks - pitcher's walks = net walks; same idea with positive versus negative numbers). Here are those results:

LA Angels (-2 Net BBs) over Chicago White Sox (-22 Net BBs) in 7
San Diego Padres (96 Net BBs) over Houston Astros (39 Net BBs) in 6

Look at that! It's an all SoCal World Series, and in the interest of being nearly completely random, I'll go with net batters to decide the eventual champion (total plate appearances - total batters faced = net batters). Here's what happened:

LA Angels (92 Net Batters) over San Diego Padres (-393 Net Batters) in 5

So that's it, then. Your World Series Champions will be the Los Angeles Angels. Congratulations to the eventual champions, and condolences to the other teams and their fans. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do when faced with the overwhelming power of science.

* * * * *

There's an end-of-season Cub blogosphere roundtable post-mortem on the 2005 season in which I was a participant over at the Cub Reporter. Swing on over and check it out.

That Answers That Question
2005-10-01 13:36
by Derek Smart

For those of you wondering what the Cubs would be doing or not doing about next season's closer situation, wonder no more, as the Cubs inked Ryan Dempster to a three-year, $15.5M contract today.

I suppose I'm of two minds on this:

  1. Dempster has really done the job at the end of games for the Cubs this year, posting a 1.85 ERA while blowing only 2 of his 35 save opportunities - both of which still ended in a Cub victory (not that he had anything to do with that). He also had a much lower BA against as a reliever versus a starter - .218 to .280 - and a far better K/BB ratio out of the pen, improving from 36/22 in his 34.2 innings starting to 53/27 in 58.1 innings thus far in relief.

  2. Nearly all relievers are fungible, at least to a certain degree, and while I think Dempster has some intangibles in his favor - basically, what appears from observation to be an ability to not allow the previous outing's results to affect what he does next time up, although admittedly, he's been successful enough to not have much of an opportunity to exercise that theoretical skill - it's nearly impossible to know from just under 60 innings what he's going to do for the next three years, making a commitment of that length and that amount of cash seem a little large.

So, I'm left thinking that the Cubs could either get burned in this or get a great bargain - after all, a guy like Billy Wagner is likely to get $8-9M a year for an even longer commitment, and while he's a demonstrably better pitcher, if you get 2005-style results from Dempster over the next three seasons, I don't think Wagner's worth that much more money or time.

Spending huge amounts of cash for a guy to throw as few innings as most closers do seems awfully wasteful, but at the same time this team absolutely foundered without someone to anchor that final frame. Whether Dempster is a great closer or not, getting a guy who at least appears to be able to throw at the end for just over $5M a year is a pretty solid deal.

Still, there's been little reason to have confidence in the organization's ability to identify where their bullpen money should be spent, so while I do like Dempster, you'll pardon me if I'm a bit skeptical.

If it sounds like I'm waffling, it's because I am - if I were more certain of Dempster's ability to get the job done over the next three seasons I'd be a lot more enthusiastic - but if I had to give it a rating of some sort, I'd suppose I'd go with a slight thumbs up.