Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: September 2006


Getting It
2006-09-07 07:44
by Derek Smart

I've never been much of a fan of Rich Hill. In his previous stints with the big club there was always something about the way he threw that didn't look like Major League material. The lack of control he displayed early on coupled with a pretty darn straight fastball always seemed like a ticket to quadruple-A to me. Well, it may not be a huge sample size, but Mr. Hill's doing his damnedest to make my previous predictions of ultimate failure look like so much pissing in the wind (I only wish I was better at extrapolating these sort of life lessons from the work of Jim Croce. It'd save me a ton on dry-cleaning).

Beginning with his two-inning stint out of the bullpen against the Astros on August 15th, he's thrown 30.1 innings while giving up only 19 hits, 9 runs (5 earned), striking out 28, and most important of all, only walking six men. For those of you who don't like math, that's a 4.67 K/BB ratio, which would tie him for third in the Majors among qualifiers for the ERA title with Mike Mussina, and behind Johan Santana and Curt Schilling, which if you ask me, is pretty decent company.

I don't know that he can keep that up, but what seemed like such an obstacle before - his lack of command and his very predictable pitch selection - has transformed from a weakness to a strength. Not only is Hill spotting the ball extremely well, he's doing an excellent job of mixing his pitches - not the least of which is a pretty acceptable changeup - and thus keeping the opposition off balance. That several of Hill's 11 K's last night found the batter looking at a fastball for the final strike serves to illustrate the point.

Here's the thing to bear in mind, though: not only is this a small sample size, but you have to believe that with the adjustments that Hill has made, at least some of the good in what's happening right now has to do with outdated scouting reports. That said, last night should still be very encouraging, because even knowing that Hill's newfound ability to throw something other than his curve with two strikes may not have been incorporated into every potential opponent's preparation, the Bucs had seen Hill exactly one month previous and suffered an eerily similar fate.

The implication is that Hill is making adjustments from start to start, and not just hard-coding a new approach until he gets figured out. If this is really what we're seeing, if Hill has discovered how to adjust on the fly, has, in essence, unearthed the secret to pitching rather than throwing - if, indeed, he's "getting it" - then something good may yet come out of this season's orgy of failure.

The Stink From The Cellar
2006-09-06 07:34
by Derek Smart

I've noticed that when I take a long time between posts, particularly when things are going less than swimmingly, that I suffer from what I can only describe as a critical buildup of pretension, the relief of which can only be achieved through the opening of a spigot, allowing the stuff to spill out. Often I pour the resulting fluids down the drain, but every once in a while, in a fit of I don't know what, I'll subject others to the stuff.

Well, that's no fun for anyone, but I think that's over with for now, so no matter how bleak the outlook for this and seasons beyond, it's time to talk some baseball. I can't promise to be nice, but I'll damn well be more direct. So let's crank up the Gatling Gun and see if she's still loaded.

  • Bob says it's a thump, I say it's a shmoosh - the result of months of laying in the mud, slowly wiggling back and forth trying to get comfortable until one day you notice that you're all the way under. Maybe you're a little surprised, but you should have known this would happen. Keep squirming around in the muck like that and you shouldn't expect anything less.

    If there's something positive to be gleaned from this, it's that if last night's attendance can be used as a barometer, the masses are becoming at least a little less interested in viewing the slow descent. Granted, selling over 31,000 tickets to a game in September between two clubs battling it out for the annual "My Season Was Ever So Slightly Less Futile Than Yours" award isn't exactly disenchantment on an Expoesque scale, but considering where we began, it's a start.

    Besides, there were clearly far fewer tickets used than bought, which not only means fewer beers sold, but might - just might - project to a future fall in purchased seats. At least, that's what I have to hope, even if the impetus is only one mid-week game on a school night between a couple of abject on-field failures, because the only way there's even the smallest chance to turn this thing around while the Trib owns the joint is a mass exodus from the park. Let's hope we saw the start of that last night.

  • Ryan Dempster has begun to look, with every outing, like a man who is doing nothing more than waiting for the other shoe to drop. The cement shoe. Weighing five tons. Hovering over his head.

    There almost seems to be relief when that one thing does happen - ah, there's Ronnie's error, phew, there's my wild pitch - like the suspense is over and now he can just get to the business of dealing with the aftermath. It's like when you know your trip to the dentist is going to be unpleasant, that there's going to be a lot of work done and it'll hurt like hell, but what's really killing you is the anticipation. Once the drilling and the smoke come, the throb in your mouth seems anti-climactic, almost welcome. Every time Dempster goes out there, he looks like he's wishing for the throb.

  • On the broadcast the other day, something was being said about how Juan Pierre always makes the right decision on the bases. He just never fails to do the right thing. Well, nothing bad happened that day, but last night the chickens came home and roosted on third base, as what turned out to be the Cubs' best chance to score toward the end of the game was thwarted by Pierre trying to steal the corner bag and getting nailed in the process.

    Now, I'm not saying trying to steal third with one out late in a game is a horrible idea - I may not be a huge fan of the stolen base, but I get why you'd want to be on the three-bag with one out in the eighth inning of a tie game - but it was a play that Pierre should have known better than to attempt under the circumstances.

    Even with his speed, he needs to get a good jump to get that base, and to call what happened a stutter step is to be generous in the extreme. Juan Pierre does make mistakes, and that's okay - everyone makes mistakes. The problem is, in order to be in the least bit useful, Pierre has to be nearly perfect, and clearly he's not.

  • I'm an NPR devotee. I give to the local station, listen to Morning Edition nearly every day, and check out several other of the fine offerings. For the most part, I'm very happy with what they have to offer, but if there's one thing I'd change if I could, it's the Wednesday morning essay by Frank DeFord, particularly when he turns his attention to baseball.

    Today was just such a day, and an absolute gem of the genre. Not only did he begin by demonizing the idea of pitch counts - something which has become so hackneyed among the "old guard" press that it hardly bears paying attention to any longer - but from there he devolved into a ramble decrying the way hitters "work the count" these days and, even stranger, foul off so many pitches.

    In the end, his gist seemed to be that baseball was boring, took too much time with all these pitches - which the pitchers should be able to throw in copious quantities as the manly men they are, but the hitters shouldn't make them throw, because that's such a snore - and if they just made the ballparks bigger and didn't put little girls in uniform, everything would be jim-dandy, hunky-dory, peachy-keen, when from my perspective, what would really be swell is if cranky old men would stay off my radio.

Scene From An Unlit Room
2006-09-05 14:37
by Derek Smart

[A door creaks open - just a crack - into a darkened room.]


[Silence. The door slowly opens mere inches more, revealing the silhouette of a head as it peeks into the gloom.]

"Anybody in here?"

[Silence. Again. The figure slips into the room, quickly closing the door, and begins speaking softly into the murk.]

"Alright. I know I could be saying this to nothing, to no one, but frankly, I can't bare to light the lamp and dash any hopes I might have of someone, anyone, being there to listen. I know I've been bad. That I haven't been around. That my absence implies that I no longer care, or worse yet, that I disdain those who do. Rest assured, that's not the case.

"Not that disdain isn't part of it. Surely it is. Just not disdain for you, or the others like you. Disdain for them. That's what I feel. Disdain and disgust, for them and what they've become.

"Still, that's no excuse. True, the disdain has led to inattention, and that seems only natural - there is, after all, a point at which it all becomes too much. But, silence? That's where the sin lies. That through all of this, as pieces of the thing we loved - still love, in fact - come falling down around our heads like so much tumbling rubble, that I stand here. Quiet. Mum. Dumb.

"Enough. I'm going to start stepping forward. I'm going to start speaking up. I'm going to start sounding off.

"I'm going to stop the hush."

[More silence. The door creaks open. The figure slips out. The door begins to close, but stops just short.]

"And maybe next time, I'll turn on the light."