Monday, December 19, 2005

keeping wellemeyer

the denver post is reporting that the cubs have decided to refuse to deal reliever todd wellemeyer to the rockies. wellemeyer is out of minor league options, so this constitutes an admission that the cubs intend to give him another shot at the majors on opening day.

with this move, then, cub fans should hold out no hope for additional relief help. it would seem that, barring surprises, the bullpen will form around a lineup of dempster, howry, wellemeyer, novoa, wuertz, eyre and ohman. (UPDATE: contributor newman points out that williamson and jerome williams will also figure into this mess somehow.)

this page has said repeatedly since march of last year that a quality major league bullpen revolves around at least four pitchers who can be reasonably expected to throw a sub-3 era. as we mark it, the cubs currently have one in bob howry, possibly two between lefties eyre and ohman. this is a work that is far from complete, and in fact may represent a slight talent downgrade from last year's planned opening day bullpen of borowski, hawkins, fox, wuertz, leicester, remlinger and rusch.

the problems may well begin with ryan dempster, whose wonderful run in relief last season has blinded many fans to his weaknesses as a pitcher. unfortunately, little has basically changed about dempster except which inning he's pitching in. his big problem is and always has been control. dempster, in 58.1 innings of relief work in 2005, issued 27 walks, which works out to 4.16 walks/9. his career figure in that catagory is 4.72. virtually the entirety of his stellar performance in 2005 relied upon a remarkable reduction in hits allowed per nine innings -- dropping from his career figure of 9.25 to 7.10 -- and home runs allowed. such variances in hits/9 and home runs over a sample as small as 58 innings are not uncommon -- dempster himself has had similar spells, as in july 2001 -- and altogether ephemeral.

even while benefitting of these variances in performance for much of 2005, there were 19 pitchers who closed in the majors last year with more than 30 saves. dempster's earned run average was third-highest in that lot, next to francisco cordero and miguel batista. there were 25 guys with 20 or more saves. the only ones with a higher whip were jose mesa and tyler walker. even if one ignores the period of the year in which dempster worked as a starter, his whip (1.29) and obpa (.315) as a reliever are more comparable to francisco cordero (1.32, .319) and danys baez (1.33, .322) than once-available closers like billy wagner (0.84, .229) and b.j. ryan (1.14, .284).

it seems to this page that the appropriate people to compare dempster with are not wagner and ryan but mesa, walker, baez, fran cordero and batista. that group marked 159 saves in 195 opportunities -- an 80% success rate. does that fill you with confidence? it does not this page. dempster was exceptionally lucky to close 33 of 35. while it is certainly possible for dempster to have found a new and more successful home in the bullpen, without a track record sufficient to say so, one must conclude that 2005's success in closing was an aberration. however much this page hopes otherwise, it's only rational to expect him to revert to something between francisco cordero and jose mesa pretty quickly in 2006.

(EXPANSION dated 1/5/6): much has also been made of the cubs signings of bob howry and scott eyre, who in typical fashion have been hailed -- much as previous signings -- to be the final and incontrovertible solution to long-lingering bullpen problems. this page feels otherwise.

the biggest problem with howry and eyre is that they are only two, and the cubs need about five. howry is a talented pitcher coming off his best year; the same for eyre, though somewhat less so. many have focused on these relievers' 2005 output, but this page considers that to be as much evidence of the cubs unfortunate propensity to buy high and sell low in the bullpen -- but they nonetheless are the kind of pitchers around which a bullpen of some quality might be constructed.

the reason howry and eyre don't represent an upgrade to the cub bullpen is bound up closely with selling low. latroy hawkins and mike remlinger, both at the head of the opening day 2005 pen, were, one after the other, embarrassingly run off -- remlinger actually being designated for assignment. of that this page said:

in the end, this is another example of how poorly managed teams -- like those jim hendry manages -- sell low and buy high in free agency, ensuring that they pay tons of money for players that they are destined to give up on over a short spot of trouble.

howry and eyre could easily be no different, largely because they are no better than these two ex-cubs whose former roles (setup righthander and primary lefthander) they have now taken. since opening day 2002, these players compare thus:

howry: 188 ip, 3.41 era, 1.15 whip
hawkins: 295 ip, 2.53 era, 1.12 whip

eyre: 252 ip, 3.65 era, 1.38 whip
remmy: 212 ip, 3.64 era, 1.32 whip

seen in the light of statistical evidence, it becomes clear that nothing has been done to improve the cub bullpen from april 2005 to this stage; in fact, if anything, the cubs have actually gotten weaker in going from hawkins to howry and remlinger to eyre. (end EXPANSION)

as for the likes of wellemeyer and wuertz, this page has been warning about a reliance on such relatively untalented youngsters since this time last season. add novoa to the list of concerns we evinced.

if the cubs truly are to stand pat, this writer is led to the inescapable conclusion that general manager jim hendry still -- even following on previous years of failure -- does not grasp what constitutes a good major league bullpen. this conclusion is further supported by the cuts made to the bullpen in the course of 2005, a classic pattern of buying high and selling low which eliminated three of the cubs' best four relievers in terms of whip. this page fully expects the cubs bullpen to continue to undermine the team unnecessarily thanks to its architect -- as with last season, this is an experiment destined to fail because it was poorly constructed.

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