Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: February 2007


Now I'm A Reliever!
2007-02-28 14:55
by Phil Bencomo

Kerry Wood feels good:

''It felt great,'' Wood said [of his 27-pitch workout]. ''Just the location wasn't where I wanted it. The slider wasn't where I wanted it. But my arm felt great. I had pretty decent pop on the ball and got a little feedback from the guys.''

"He's still not caught up, but his arm speed's there and his velocity's pretty much there,'' [pitching coach Larry] Rothschild said. ''It's just a matter of sharpening things up and getting out there enough and really keeping him healthy.''

The Cubs aren't holding Wood back, Rothschild said. They're just making sure he gets his work in.

Wood, 29, said he appreciates the normal feeling of that work this year -- no extra treatments and lengthy warmup sessions to prepare for a throwing session.

''That's the biggest difference,'' he said. ''I'm not really concerned about the shoulder right now.''

Encouraging words, though the Cubs have yet to schedule the new reliever's Cactus League debut.

Also encouraging:

Wood '04-'06 ERA W L IP BB SO AVG
Starter 4.00 12 14 214 80 217 .243
Reliever 2.25 0 1 12 5 17 .100

Small sample size, yes, but moving Wood to the bullpen looks to be a very wise, if not several-years-too-late, move.

But wait, more encouragement!

2000 57% 51%
2001 61% 56%
2002 61% 56%
2003 61% 55%
2004 64% 56%
2005 63% 54%
2006 65% 58%

As a pitcher, Wood appears to be maturing, as the percentage of strikes thrown and first-pitch strikes continue to trend upward. And as a reliever, both of those skills are necessary for success.

* * * * *

Oh, and apologies to Neil Diamond.

The Lament Of Ron Santo
2007-02-27 15:05
by Phil Bencomo

Committee, committee, committee,
I really should grab and then hit thee.
Oh, you snub me again:
Will the pain never end?
Five more and I'd truly be happy!

2007-02-27 04:00
by Phil Bencomo

It's been exactly four months since I last saw, or heard, a live broadcast of a major league game.

And yet, March 1st still feels so far away.

With its coming each year, February brings more than the hints of spring. The days grow longer as anticipation grows larger, and by month's end the urge – to see a ballgame, to hear the sounds, to feel the sun warming your neck on a summer day at Wrigley – is almost unbearable.

I've never been to spring training. Arizona plenty of times, but never in March. Instead, I read the papers, follow the news, but it never quite quenches the thirst or quells the itch to sit down and take in a game.

Conveniently enough, nearly all of the Cubs' broadcasted spring training games are on weekends. Soon the itch will be gone.

But what I long most to see is not veterans with guaranteed roster spots, but youth. To watch a 20-year-old play the game with unbridled passion and a yearning for a chance in the majors is, for me, far more exciting than watching a 10-year vet go through the motions.

And Our Bank Accounts Weep
2007-02-24 10:47
by Phil Bencomo

With the initial ticket sale day over, I ask:

How many games will you be attending in 2007?

By the way, there are still a lot of tickets left (more than 50 games have yet to sell out as of Saturday afternoon).

Waiting For A Just Reward
2007-02-23 10:00
by Phil Bencomo

I sit and wait – always waiting.

Oh, what did I do to deserve such a fate!?

12 ... 11 ... 10 ...

The clock ticks.

9 ... 8 ... 7 ...

I can feel it: The end is near! This tortuous ordeal will soon be nothing more than a specter of the past, a memory that will disappear into a deep abyss, gone forever.

6 ... 5 ... 4 ...

Will it finally be my turn to leave this white, black and blue prison, this purgatory, a stale, stagnant place that threatens to drain the hope from my very soul?

3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

I have waited long enough; I will be a slave to time no more. It is my time now to choose as I please, to ascend to greater things. Now I go!

0 ... Click To Try Again ... 30 ...

I sob silently.

The waiting will go on. My grain of sand waits, packed tightly among others, for a trip to the Promised Land, waiting for what may never come.

29 ... 28 ... 27 ...

Why does time mock me so? Does it lord itself over me for sport or out of sheer malice? In a way, the life of a Cub fan is encapsulated in this day: Waiting – for a win, for next year, for happiness.

26 ... 25 ... 24 ...

My time will come, I suppose, and the reward will be all the sweeter, the land of milk and honey richer than any could ever envision.

23 ... 22 ... 21 ...

How can a little box, a box I cannot even hold in my hand, be so cruel? Its feigned sincerity and petty excuses ...

20 ... 19 ... 18 ...

The prime games will quickly sell out, while I wait – always waiting – for the screen to change, to bestow its blessings on a kind and gentle man.

17 ... 16 ... 15 ...

Until that time comes, I sit and stare, stuck between heaven and hell, in the Virtual Waiting Room.

14 ... 13 ... 12 ...

I've waited for a championship my whole life.

11 ... 10 ... 9 ...

Surely I can wait a few hours for tickets.

8 ... 7 ... 6 ...

Maybe this time I'll get through.

5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

Just maybe.

2 ... 1 ... 0 ...

And then:


A schedule appears before my eyes, 81 joyous possibilities that dazzle the mind and remind why I suffer through this every year. I can hardly contain myself – baseball is almost here! – and I am helpless no more. No computer or cruel browser window can hold me down, or shatter me like glass. I am in.

My time has come. Now, I wonder, will the Cubs' come, too?

The choice is made, payment is sent, and then...

Welcome to the Chicago Cubs Virtual Waiting Room!

30 ... 29 ... 28 ...

Again, I sit and wait – always waiting...

Cubs, Zambrano Avoid Arbitration
2007-02-20 16:20
by Phil Bencomo

One year, $12.4 million. [Link]

A multi-year deal is still reportedly in the works.

Zambrano In Five Years: A Historical Perspective
2007-02-19 19:50
by Phil Bencomo

Carlos Zambrano is, without a question or even the slightest flicker of doubt, the ace of the Cubs' staff. He is both outstanding and overpowering, incredible and intense.

But as we wait for what is fully expected to be a historic contract, one question—not a doubt of the statement above, mind you—does arise, and to ignore it would be grossly negligent, an irresponsible act from one who supposes to call himself a Cubs fan.

What does the future hold for Carlos?

History is a powerful tool for learning about forthcoming events, if used correctly. Says one of my favorite science-fiction writers:

There's a right way and a wrong way to learn from history.

The wrong way is to make an analogy between some event in the past and our present situation, and then assume that everything will work the same.

For instance: Rome was the hyperpower of the ancient world, and it fell, so we're going to fall, too!

Analogies might make an interesting point or raise an intriguing possibility, but they prove nothing. America is like Rome in some ways, and radically different in others. You can't just ignore the differences and think you've said anything smart.

What's the right way? It's to discover general principles and then see if they work out consistently over time.

As Orson Scott Card said, history is useful not because it repeats itself, as the old, faulty adage goes, but because of the patterns that emerge, general trends that hold up over time. It is those historical tendencies that have applicable use in the present for the sake of the future.

That being said, what can history reveal about Zambrano and the years to come?

Let's start with statistical parallels.

Carlos Zambrano 2001-2006 64 42 .604 3.29 132 977.0 799 865
Ramon Martinez 1988-1993 62 49 .559 3.35 108 951.3 830 713
Dave Boswell 1964-1970 67 54 .554 3.49 100 1036.3 823 865
Jim Maloney 1960-1965 75 46 .620 3.06 120 995.3 784 933
Pedro Martinez 1992-1997 65 39 .625 3.00 139 912.3 702 970
Ismael Valdez 1994-1999 61 54 .530 3.38 117 1025.0 963 756
Jim Nash 1966-1970 58 48 .547 3.21 106 905.7 803 681
Dan Petry 1979-1984 78 51 .605 3.52 113 1149.3 1068 608
Jake Peavy 2002-2006 57 45 .559 3.51 113 864.0 774 850
Andy Benes 1989-1993 59 54 .522 3.44 111 944.0 852 721
Steve Barber 1960-1963 57 38 .600 3.15 118 829.0 740 531
AVG 5 seasons 63 47 .572 3.32 114 961.2 833 865

The players above are the ten most statistically comparable to Zambrano through age 25. The numbers are, quite simply, outstanding. No one on the list had a losing record through age 25, or even a cumulative ERA less than league average, as illustrated by ERA+. Pedro Martinez stands tall, slender as he may be, as the pinnacle of greatness on the list. A career like Pedro's would be most welcome on the North Side.

But what became of this hallowed list? Does Fortune shine brightly on Z, or will his career end in shambles like so many other young pitchers? It is here, at this critical junction, that history becomes most useful.

Below we'll see how the next five years, the likely length of a Zambrano extension, went for each of Z's comparables.

Ramon Martinez 1994-1998 119 118 61 28 .685 3.56 780.1 688 601

Ramon Martinez provided solid production for most of the next five seasons, even finishing fifth in Cy Young Award voting in 1995—a season that included a no hitter on July 14 against the Marlins. But the elder of the two Martinez's on this list struggled with arm injuries from 1997-1999, and he eventually tore his rotator cuff in June of 1998. After that, he was never the same, and by age 33 Martinez was out of baseball.

Dave Boswell 1971 18 1 1 2 .333 4.66 29.0 35 17

Dave Boswell, unfortunately, fared far worse than Ramon. At age 24, already in his sixth year in the majors, Boswell suffered a shoulder injury pitching in the 11th inning of the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles (and yes, Boswell started that game). The injury was a somber end to a 20-win season, and it would eventually end his career after 36 more appearances from 1970-1971. He pitched in his last game at age 26.

Jim Maloney 1966-1970 132 123 59 35 .628 3.28 823.1 699 659

Jim Maloney's career only barely lasted more than five years past 25; his last game came at age 31. One of the hardest throwing pitchers of the '60s, Maloney's career was derailed at 30 after arm injuries hit. But for the four seasons before, he was still a very effective pitcher. His strikeout total, in comparison to innings pitched, dipped dramatically, but his ERA only rose slightly, from 3.06 to 3.28.

Pedro Martinez 1998-2002 141 139 87 24 .784 2.27 980.0 704 1250

Pedro Martinez did not merely surpass his previous performance; he blew it away. If Boswell, with only a single season left after age 25, is the worst possible scenario for Z, then Pedro is the best.

Ismael Valdez 2000-2004 135 131 41 49 .456 4.97 751.2 845 390

In Ismael Valdez, fans saw a promising career drop off sharply after age 25, as has been seen many times and will, unfortunately, surely be seen again. He, in keeping with the theme, it seems, also was hit by injuries later in his career.

Jim Nash 1971-1972 52 31 10 16 .385 5.13 201.2 247 90

Jim Nash, like Boswell before him, only lasted one more season, hanging up his glove at age 27 in 1972 with barely a .500 career record.

Dan Petry 1985-1989 125 101 35 41 .461 4.39 680.0 652 343

Dan Petry, too, struggled through a few injuries and was generally ineffective after age 25. After recording 15 wins at 26, he didn't again reach 10 until age 31. Petry eventually finished his career in the bullpen.

Jake Peavy - - - - - - - - - -

Jake Peavy is still active and, like Z, is already an outstanding pitcher at age 25.

Andy Benes 1994-1998 152 150 59 53 .527 3.91 992.2 933 859

Andy Benes had several good seasons during his next five years, holding steady in many statistical categories. The highlight was an 18-10 season in 1996 when, as a 28-year-old, Benes finished third in Cy Young voting.

Steve Barber 1964-1968 150 131 50 51 .495 3.23 811.2 702 543

Steve Barber had several outstanding seasons, even being named an All-Star in 1966, but he, too, succumbed to arm problems that began in '66 and then forced him into the bullpen.

* * * * *

Of the nine applicable pitchers listed, more than half struggled through arm injuries at some point in the five years between ages 25 and 30. Only two (Pedro Martinez and Barber) saw gains in cumulative ERA in that span. Five of the eight pitchers on the list who threw more than 900 innings before 26 suffered a career-shortening arm injury before age 30; Carlos threw 977 innings.

But before you leave feeling depressed, consider this: Most of the injuries happened in the 1960s and 1970s. Today's sports medicine and training staffs are far superior to those of 30 or 40 years ago. Players now quickly bounce back from an injury that was once career-ending (see: Tommy John surgery).

And when simply comparing physically, perhaps it is no coincidence that Benes, whose arm held up through age 30 quite well even with 944 innings before age 26, compares favorably with Z: Benes at 6'6" and 240 pounds, Carlos at 6'5" and 250 pounds.

* * * * *

But nothing yet has been written. The future will have to wait until spring.

The wise person, then, views history as a set of lessons to be learned, choices and ramifications to be considered and discussed, and mistakes that should never again be made. [Dune: The Battle of Corrin; Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson]

To Benefactors Yet Unmet
2007-02-17 09:01
by Derek Smart

Being a Cub fan, one of my great pleasures over the years, and in particular during the formative period of my baseball fandom, was the first broadcast of the spring. Not just because it was finally time for the Great Game again, but also because, after a long Winter of silence, the voices of old friends - comrades made no less collegial by the dint of not having met them - made their easy way into my living room.

With all due respect to the current team behind the mic, no one has elicited that same depth of feeling for me recently - it's still there, of course, but with flagging intensity - and I was given a stark reminder of what I've been missing so, thanks to a fantastic long-form interview of Steve Stone on Baseball Prospectus Radio, performed by Baseball Toaster's own dearly departed Resident Big Shot, Will Carroll (take a listen here if you haven't already - 'tis free).

One of my saddest days as a Cub fan was when I learned that Stone would no longer be a part of the broadcast team, and while I've grown fond enough of the current crew, they simply don't belong in the same conversation. I don't think there's a single person on Earth - list any great name in baseball knowledge you care to - who has taught me as much about the game as Stone.

True, he's not a sabermatrician, and there's a lot that I've learned since my exposure to those concepts that I'd never have picked up otherwise, but the foundation that those ideas rest on was built by listening to Stone's wisdom, and that's an irreplacable gift. Thanks to this interview, I was reminded of that boon, and more importantly, after my deep, seasonal hibernation, I got to hear my old friend again.

Kerry, Kerry, Kerry...
2007-02-16 07:36
by Phil Bencomo

Kerry Wood's injury woes continue:

The Chicago Cubs pitcher is not expected to throw off the mound for a few days after he slipped this week getting out of a hot tub at home. Wood landed on his stomach and chest. [Link]

Let the simultaneous laughter, head-scratching and crying begin.

Tribune's Tumbling Stock Price Prompts Changes For Cubs
2007-02-15 14:05
by Phil Bencomo

This is a repost from Cubbiepalooza, my old site. Reader rynox reminded me of it with this comment. It was originally posted on June 20, 2006, and some of the names, titles and dates are a bit out of date. So yes, I know Andy MacPhail is no longer with the Cubs.

CHICAGO – As part of a plan to boost performance after a 38% decline in share price since the beginning of 2004, Tribune Co. has announced that the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs, bought from William Wrigley in 1981, will undergo a series of changes to increase profits.

Earlier this year, the Tribune announced a plan to buy back a quarter of its shares for roughly $2 billion, despite pressure to forgo such an action from the Chandler family, which is the Tribune's second-largest shareholder. Tribune Co. has already enacted other plans for improved operations, including the "continued expansion of our Internet portfolio, the sale of non-core assets, and additional cost saving initiatives," said Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, by selling WCWN-TV in Albany, New York, and WALT-TV in Atlanta.

Prompted by the success of NASCAR's uniform advertising and under pressure by Tribune Co. to maximize profits, Cubs President and CEO Andy MacPhail has revamped the team's uniforms to include dozens of ads, which are expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue. The Tribune has become so desperate for funds that it even approved a large ad for the Chicago Sun-Times, a rival newspaper of the Chicago Tribune.

"[The uniform] was a very tough decision for the organization," MacPhail said at a Monday morning presentation about the changes. "But ultimately, my job is to make money." When asked about the previous decades without such advertising and the tradition forged over those years, MacPhail declined to comment. Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman displays the new uniform in the photo.

MacPhail also revealed at the presentation that the Bleacher Box Seats, installed during the winter before the 2006 season, will soon feature a revolutionary bleacher beer system. The CEO described seats equipped with tubes for piping beer straight to the ticket holder. A special "pay-per-ounce" vending machine will be built into each seat and will be capable of accepting cash and credit cards. "You supply the cash, and we pipe the beer straight to your mouth," MacPhail said.

The costly off-season bleacher reconstruction put a damper on the Cubs' profits, but MacPhail views it as minor, short-term setback. "The increased seating capacity and ticket prices, along with the new beer system, will more than make up for the expense in the long run," he said. When asked near the presentation's end if the increased revenue would be channeled into team payroll, MacPhail emitted a brief, high-pitched scream before he pulled a 6-inch figurine of Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons from his pocket. He then raised the figurine over his head and began worshipping it, uttering prayers of forgiveness for such "demonic thoughts." Assistants quickly removed MacPhail from the stage and concluded the presentation.

Before MacPhail's absurd incident, John McDonough, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Broadcasting, unveiled several new marketing campaigns focusing more on the "Wrigley Field experience" than the team's actual performance. Potential slogans include: "Come to Wrigley Field and See History in the Making," "Act Like a True American: Spend Money at Wrigley Field," "Don't Let Silly 'Sold Out' Signs Fool You; We Always Have Tickets For Games at Beautiful Wrigley Field – Right Next Door at Wrigley Field Premium Tickets!" The first slogan fails to make any mention of just what history the Cubs will be making, and McDonough sidestepped questions about deceiving consumers.

But McDonough did say he expects the new campaigns to help the Cubs achieve that "most sacred and ultimate goal, prized by every owner, CEO, GM and Senior Vice President": "To sell out every home game, as well as our stadium tours on non-game days."

Though the Cubs are just a small part of the media conglomerate that is the Tribune Co., MacPhail hopes his contributions help the Tribune boost performance and keep the corporation together. "Regardless of the Tribune's predicament," he added, "I'm just looking to do my job well. And if I do say so myself, I think I've done it pretty well."

While we're discussing Tribune Co., check out this Sun-Times article, if you haven't already.

2007-02-14 17:45
by Phil Bencomo

Wrigley Field's hallowed ivy walls will sport ads next season.

One word describes it: Ugh.

Increased advertising at Wrigley was addressed at the Cubs Convention. Fans were told that more ads would slowly begin to appear at Wrigley, with taste in mind, in locations that would preserve the integrity of the ballpark. As the reason for the expected rise in ads was given as the team's increased payroll, the Tribune Company must really be in trouble if the Cubs need such high-profile ads.

Zambrano Wants Zito Money Now!
2007-02-13 09:00
by Phil Bencomo

The news is everywhere: Carlos Zambrano wants a Barry Zito-like contract before the season starts, or he'll leave as a free agent after 2007.

"I'm ready to sign, and I would do my job anyway with the Cubs this year," Zambrano said. "Whatever happens, I don't want to know [anything] about a contract during the season. I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts. If they don't sign me, sorry, but I must go. That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks."

"When you're a great pitcher and have talent, you deserve the money no matter who gives it to you," he said. "Zito is a great pitcher. Good for him he has that contract, and I think that will help me.

"Jim spent a lot of money. I hope he has more for `Big Z.'"

There is absolutely no reason not to give Zambrano whatever he wants. He is the ace of the staff, far better than any other pitcher on the team, and he knows it. Disheartening as it may be to hear such a great player threaten to leave, Carlos isn't dumb.

The clock is now ticking for Hendry to get a deal finished, and failure should not be spoken of by anyone involved. I don't want to even think about the consequences.

Michael Wuertz: A True Farm Product
2007-02-11 11:30
by Phil Bencomo

An 11th-round draft pick in 1997, Michael Wuertz spent six years in the Cub minor league system before breaking camp with the big league club in 2004 as a 25-year-old reliever.

He's played at nearly every level in the system; he's been both a starter and a reliever; he's been both good and bad.

Like most relievers, Wuertz began his career as a starting pitcher, to which he met mild success. It was not until after a painful 2002 season that Wuertz took to the bullpen.


As a starter, Wuertz was mediocre, at best. He struggled with control and was far from overpowering. But since 2004, he's been a solid arm out of the bullpen for the major league team. True, he's had his ups and downs, spending some time at Triple-A Iowa, but he has steadily improved each year since he moved to the bullpen.

Wuertz With The Cubs

In the majors, Wuertz has never finished a season with less than a strikeout per inning, largely due to a hard, late-breaking slider that is most effective out of the pen. His fastball is by no means overpowering, but Wuertz can locate it well to set up his nasty breaking stuff.

Better yet, Wuertz has been outstanding in close games and at critical moments.

Late and Close.
Tie Game.188.257.328.585

The only situation in which Wuertz really faltered last season was with two outs and runners in scoring postition: .319 AVG, .418 OBP, .489 SLG.

And Wuertz has done all of this with a career BABIP of .285. Luck, it seems, has not been a factor.

Any predictions for Michael? Here's mine:

70 G, 2.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 85 K

Name That Pitcher!
2007-02-10 12:00
by Phil Bencomo

Your mission is as before: Identify which Cub player matches up with the following Sparkline.

(This is an ERA graph of the player's 2006 season. Red lines signal an ERA above the 2006 league average of 4.63; blue, below league average.)

I'll post a piece about this particular pitcher once he is correctly identified.

Name That Hitter!
2007-02-08 18:15
by Phil Bencomo

Ryan Armbrust, you've inspired me.

Sparklines are a work of genius with a near-limitless number of uses. Like guessing games, for instance.

News has been slow as of late, and it probably won't pick up until next week. So, in preparation for a brand new season, how about we keep that brain of yours sharp?

Your mission is simple: Name the hitter, based on the following chart (each line is a game played in 2006; gray means a hitless game, and the red lines correspond to the number of hits recorded in that game):

Spring Training Questions
2007-02-06 10:25
by Phil Bencomo

Pitchers and catchers report in just over a week, and spring training will begin not without questions, despite the Cubs' roster restructuring.

So I open it up to you: What are the questions in need of answers; which problems need to be resolved?

I'll start:

Who's playing center field: Jacque Jones or Alfonso Soriano?

Yeah, Well, How Do You Think We Feel?
2007-02-05 18:15
by Phil Bencomo

Sports Illustrated ran an interview last week with Dusty Baker. Baker's best response by far was in regard to his new career as a broadcaster:

ESPN approached me and it was at a time when I was hurting pretty bad spiritually after last year's season. I thought about going underground like I always do, but my wife and dad said, "Son, you need to be around the game." That's the best way to heal.

A close second, however, was this gem, one we've all heard time and time again:

If we had the team we were supposed to have even without the additions [from this winter], we would have still been good. So it was a bad year in a lot of ways. But nobody wants to hear alibis or excuses.

That's right, sir, and least of all coming from you. If only you'd gone underground a few years earlier...

Ghost Of Achilles Vows To Haunt Cubs Once Again
2007-02-01 20:00
by Phil Bencomo

HADES, Greece – The ghost of the ancient Greek hero Achilles rose from the Underworld today upon learning of the Chicago Cubs' signing of outfielder Cliff Floyd and vowed to once again haunt the team.

Achilles, still bitter about his infamous death and hoping to quell his shame, first struck the Cubs during spring training in 2004 when he hobbled pitcher Mark Prior, and warrior promised to return to Mesa on the third anniversary of the Prior attack.

"Prior was my first victim in a long time," Achilles said in a rare interview. "It was hard to find someone noteworthy, yet still easy to cripple."

When asked why he is again targeting the Cubs, Achilles responded, "I am thousands of years old, you know, and I take what I can get. From what I hear, the Cubs and that Floyd guy should make my job pretty easy."

And with over $300 million spent this winter, the Cubs will be the object of intense media scrutiny, Achilles said, making it easy for him to make his presence felt. "And besides," he added, "unwarranted and self-fulfilling malice is just so fun."

Should Prior return to 2003 form, he will be the first to ever fully recover from an Achilles attack, a distinction Achilles said would not be earned easily. "They said I was the best while I was alive, and I'm going to be the best when I'm dead, too. Nobody beats me."