Friday, June 16, 2006

the bynum platoon

with all of the excitement regarding the possible breakup of the tribune, dusty baker's antics have gotten something of a free pass lately. but when this page noticed this experiment taking perilous flight in schaumberg, it couldn't help but ruminate on whether or not the cubs may in fact be better run by such an arrangement.

to wit:

  • matt murton hasn't been playing well, surely, but that's no excuse for platooning him with freddie bynum. nonetheless, that's dusty's plan.

    "Freddie brings some things to the table that give us a different look," Baker said. "You see the speed he has. He's a pretty good hitter, has good power—surprising power for his physique. And also he's a good defender. Sometimes you're going to need that."

    bynum's .269 obp and 22 strikeouts in 64 ab apparently is just an incidental cost next to the ironic value of his physique-power ratio. does anyone remember when this page worried that marquis grissom would nip at the heels of murton this season? it got the name wrong, but the concept was apparently spot on. at least bynum will tolerate the heat of the upcoming summer days better, right dusty?

  • neifi perez has re-emerged at the top of the cub lineup on a periodic basis -- and when it's not perez, it's tony womack. this month, perez batted second on the 14th and 13th -- notably starting four of the last five games! -- while womack did so on the 15th, 8th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 2nd and actually lead off on the 9th.

    if you imagined that this contributed to the team .626 ops in the second slot, the nl's worst over 2006, you'd be right -- neifi and womack combined to litter the top of the order with a 205/250/294 line over the last two weeks. while it is certainly true that the rules don't allow for enough 8-holes in a lineup to hide all the ineptitude that sees the field daily for the cubs, it boggles the mind to see these two old useless derelicts hitting anywhere near the top of the order.

  • carlos zambrano says his arm feels dead -- and is it any wonder, having the life pounded out of it every fifth day? zambrano now rates 2nd in all of baseball yet again in 2006 in pitcher abuse points, behind only livan hernandez and just ahead of jason schmidt.

    hernandez is a well-known rubber arm who has been pitching 220+ innings a year since he was 23, and many claim that zambrano must be the next livan, that he can also take that kind of abuse and shrug it off. but few talk about the fact that hernandez's fastball, once a lively mid-90s late mover like zambrano's, is now a 84 mph softball used largely to keep hitters honest against his curve and changeup. some wonder what sort of pitcher livan might have been if he hadn't been worn down by, among others, san fran captain dusty baker. hernandez isn't jamie moyer -- he's just 32, and the velocity on his ball has completely vanished. livan was lucky to some extent (and should be credited for his hard work) to be equipped with three plus pitches, two of which still work. zambrano isn't -- at least not yet.

    schmidt, also a fixture on this list over the last couple years, has seen his high-90s arsenal fade last year to a much less impressive level despite being just 33. schmidt encountered similar "dead-arm" periods, losing his primary weapon.

    "I've had my fastball since I was 16," Schmidt said. "I know other ways to get guys out, but it's just like I'm playing long-toss right now. Maybe I'm paying for what happened last year," when he threw 3,608 pitches in 225 innings.

    "Whenever I really try to throw it up there, it's just everything I can do to get it to home plate. Nobody is more frustrated than I am. We had an uplifting hit by Moises. That was huge. The next inning was big. I tried to shut them down, but physically I'm not able to do it. I don't know what it is. The arm is fine, but physically, there's nothing in it. I can't throw strikes. I'm just waiting for one game when it clicks."

    a year later, schmidt is pitching very well using his curve and changeup -- but simply no longer is regularly capable of anything more than a 91 mph fastball.

    this is not a minor point, dear reader. zambrano is being beaten to pieces in exactly the same way as kerry wood and mark prior -- also perennial inhabitants of this list when healthy under baker's management -- were before him. the warning signs are there, possibly including problems with velocity and movement earlier this year. this is a difficult situation for a team whose bullpen is regularly extended by the other starters, but continuing to sacrifice zambrano's future cannot be the solution.

  • there are a hundred other points of contention, of course -- this bit could go on and on with bullet points stretching down for several feet. it often seems that baker has excelled at only one thing: making questionable decisions. but what truly beggars the mind is the notion that the cubs would grant this eminently replacable manager -- one who brings zero value added (indeed, is quite probably a net negative) tactically, strategically and in wins and losses -- an extension.

    it hasn't happened so far, though many speculate that it is just a matter of time. this page has to hope otherwise. baker has been little more than an albatross, dragging an untalented club closer to the bottom by his decisions this year as he has for his entire tenure.

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