Wednesday, August 30, 2006

so now we know

this page two days ago salivated with anticipation at the settlement of a months-old question: who exactly is the worst team in the national league? it seemed that seven games in ten days between the pittsburgh pirates and the chicago cubs could yield an answer.

turns out it didn't take that long.

monday's tilt saw the pirates -- an offense nearly as inept as the cubs' own -- pound cubs pitching for 19 hits and 11 runs, destroying rookie starter angel guzman early by putting crooked numbers up in the first, second and fourth to chase him. guzman, despite a sequence of injury-riddled years which included a labrum repair, still possesses promise at 24 and his first 40 innings are no grounds upon which anything can really be determined. the mere fact that he has recorded 46 strikeouts in this season is reason enough to hope to see more of him in a starting capacity. this page continues to advocate the position it has since may -- to redeem this ghastly season in some small way, play these kids and winnow the wheat. guzman, rich hill, carlos marmol and juan mateo should all take turns before any other pitcher on the cub staff, including carlos zambrano. sean marshall, for his part, has probably already secured a rotation spot in 2007 in the minds of most and needn't pitch again this season.

and this is particularly true in juxtaposition with glendon rusch, who came on in relief of guzman to demonstrate once again that he is likely finished as a major league pitcher. back when jim hendry was aborting the 2006 season in part by leaving this club fatally short of pitching, this page discussed jeff weaver once top-tier free agents like kevin millwood were signed.

so with millwood following bradley, furcal and giles into the litany of unrealized cub fantasies, it seems to this writer that there are only two wisps of hope for hope.

one is for jeff weaver, the only remaining free agent starter of any consequence. weaver has acquitted himself reasonably in his time in the majors; however, no one is going to confuse him with mark prior or kevin millwood. he's a competent mid-rotation guy -- but i don't think changing out even the likes of rusch ... for weaver is necessarily a pennant-winning upgrade for the rotation. moving him into prior's turn leaves the cubs fatally undermanned.

weaver has gone on in 2006 to pitch terribly, underperforming even the modest expectations of this writer, compiling an aggregate 6.16 era in 25 starts for the angels and cardinals. and he still would've been better than rusch this season, as rusch has not only vomited out a 7.69 era but has been unable to pitch effectively in relief and unable to take the ball every fifth day. that a pitcher who has thrown as weaver has could actually have been a positive net addition to this rotation speaks untold volumes about how thoroughly hendry and andy macfail have screwed this franchise up.

nor is that screwing limited to the rotation, unfortunately. the cub bullpen has consisted of two pitchers this year -- bob howry and scott eyre -- of which this page said:

the primary setup men in bob howry and scott eyre are to meet very high expectations among many cub fans. but this page, while applauding those signings to some degree -- indeed considering the failure of jim hendry to be primarily that he didn't make more of them -- would argue temperance to anyone believing them to be a large improvement over last year's model.

that opinion, if controversial, remains as evidenciary as ever and the opinion of this writer. one finds a great deal of reason to be suspect of eyre's prospects particularly, as his 2005 output -- on the basis of which he was signed and so many expectations have formed -- was a statistical outlier. eyre's earned run average was fully two runs under his career figure and a run and a half below his previous season; his 2005 whip was likewise a 40% reduction from his career number and by 20% a new career low. the chances of this performance being repeated in 2006 seem slight indeed.

indeed, even as eyre's continued excellence has surprised, the cub bullpen as a whole hasn't improved a jot on last season -- they were middle of the pack last year and are middle of the pack this year. as was here forecast, for all the hubris surrounding the signing of eyre and howry, they've been powerless to materially change the destiny of a group that regretfully relies the likes of roberto novoa, michael wuertz, will ohman and, of course, ryan dempster. and it won't be for a lack of trying -- howry will near 90 appearances this season, a figure last seen by kent tekulve in the late 1980s, and eyre might have taken that trip with him if not for injury.

dempster on tuesday came in late to a lost game and did nothing to assuage the nervousness that surrounds his every appearance, yielding two runs on four hits in the ninth to add insult to injury. but his best work remained to be done tuesday.

one of the pleasant surprises of the last week has been the persistent play of ryan theriot, long seemingly relegated to the doghouse of dusty baker's dimwitted intransigence. whether it be as a result of the injury to cesar! or the trade of neifi! or the edict of a frustrated hendry or all or neither, baker has finally -- FINALLY! -- benched the predictably failed ronny! and inserted theriot at short. it is perhaps comic that a team that at one point carried six second basemen on the roster has been relegated to freddie bynum to man the position, but better he than cedeno anyway. theriot has responded well, going 293/370/439 with six steals after the all star break.

but that didn't stop baker from finding a way for cedeno to lose the game, with a little help from bynum and dempster.

zambrano acted his maddening self, pitching brilliantly at times and at other times imploding to allow five runs over seven innings and 111 pitches. zambrano walked just one, but threw all over the zone for much of the game, running plenty of 2- and 3-ball counts despite facing one of the least patient teams in baseball. he himself also managed to commit two errors, one a throw and another a catch.

there's been a lot of talk in cubdom about the cy young award, but admittedly such talk causes this writer to laugh. zambrano is as talented as anyone could want, and a workhorse as well (much to this page's nervousness). consider the field, and it is amazing that zambrano has won 14 for this awful club. and he furthermore leads the league in strikeouts as well as innings, while allowing a stellar 6.8 hits/nine. but zambrano also leads the league in walks by a wide margin, imparting a 1.28 whip and a k:bb ratio of just 1.87. taken against his best competition for the award -- particularly chris carpenter, whose .276 obpa is simply stunning -- zambrano may be found a bit wanting. moreover, there is the consideration (shared by this writer) that "valuable" is a term that can only be imbued to players chasing something of value -- that is, postseason glory. be it his fault or no, zambrano is as far from valuable in that sense as any player in baseball. compounded with zambrano's clear maturity issues -- his error in the fifth was followed by another typical episode of broken concentration and wildness that contributed to consecutive rbi singles which allowed the pirates back in the game -- which have been only exacerbated by baker, it seems here that carpenter must be the recipient of the hardware.

but zambrano at least left the game tied, which the game stayed until the eleventh. here the cub offense rallied on a control-plagued damaso marte, with a juan pierre walk and an aramis ramirez walk -- ramirez reached in all six plate appearances, driving his second half line to a boggling 341/411/707 -- bearing fruit on a derrek lee single. (oh, how we've missed you, sir.)

but it -- stunningly -- wasn't enough. with one out and one on in the tenth, baker had called back theriot for jacque jones, hoping to change the game in a single blow. jones fanned, but now in need of a shortstop baker had cedeno hit for the pitcher. he too promptly struck out to end the inning, but stayed in the game. the gamble having failed, baker was left with a significantly weakened defense -- cedeno has been horrid in the field as well as the plate all year. in combination with bynum at second, pierre in center and barrett behind the plate, the cubs may at that moment have fielded one of the weakest up-the-middle defenses of the lively ball era. and they paid.

dempster came on to close the 11th, giving up a one-out single to humberto cota, followed by a juan castillo single to set up the critical moment. with the double play in order, dempster managed to induce a grounder to cedeno -- who couldn't come up with it cleanly. his hurried throw -- off the mark but still perhaps catchable -- handcuffed bynum, who dropped it. the run scored to tie it; castillo took third.

and here baker made a move this writer, for one, could not agree with -- intentionally walking mendoza-line hitter chris duffy to load the bases. with howry on the mound, this move is perhaps understandable -- with one away, it sets up the double play with a force at any base. but dempster is one of the most control-plagued closers in baseball, and baker put him in a position to walk in the winning run. he, of course, did, capping one of the most wrenching losses of the year.

so now we know, dear reader. these two games have settled, for this writer, just who the worst team in the national league really is. the pirates managed to further the gap in run differential between the two -- now bettering the cubs, (-95) to (-125), by a gap of 30 runs, an interval unlikely to be bridged this year. and this writer wouldn't be at all surprised if the slim two-and-a-half game advantage to the cubs in record evaporated before october as well.

Monday, August 28, 2006

swept away

despite some good pitching over the weekend, the cubs managed to get swept in saint louis, sending their record to 54-76.

friday's matchup saw young juan mateo scatter ten hits and a walk over five innings, somehow yielding just two runs. the cub offense, however -- abysmal in an epic sense all season long -- couldn't threaten jeff suppan, ron flores and jason isringhausen, who combined to shut out the cubs. that is the 13th time this season, for those keeping track of such things, that the cubs have been skunked.

rich hill took his turn on saturday and turned out his most impressive performance yet -- seven innings on 93 pitches, allowing four hits and no walks, being touched only by a gary bennett homer. this page continues to expect big things from hill, but on this day chris carpenter was better. he completely stymied the cub offense yet again -- one run on two hits in eight complete -- and roster trash roberto novoa, on in the ninth to extend his team-leading relief innings count, also extended his team-worst relief runs allowed. consider that, despite having pitched essentially the same number of innings as bob howry, novoa has allowed 43 runs to howry's 27 -- 60% more.

howry's runs allowed at the end of saturday had been just 23, but bennett's heroics continued on sunday at his expense with a walkoff grand slam to end the series. the pitching yesterday wasn't in the starting -- iowa callup and 40-man-roster-newbie les walrond was tagged for six runs in 2.2 innings -- but in the bullpen, where david aardsma, mike wuertz, novoa and will ohman combined for five and a third shutout innings to get to the ninth. neither walrond nor howry were helped by the defense -- what cub pitcher is? -- as jacque jones committed one of the more laughable errors of the year to help undermine walrond, turning a scott rolen rbi single in the first into a round tripper. aramis ramirez figured prominently for the second day in a row in the game-losing run with an inning-extending mental error, refusing to throw out juan encarnacion at first on a routine grounder.

in the end, it was just more of the same from one of the least impressive cub squads in memory -- little offense, little defense and not nearly enough pitching to overcome the lack of the former two. the pace is now 95 losses, and this writer for one wouldn't be surprised to see a charge at 100 before september is out. it isn't that the cubs play a lot of good teams; it's just that the cubs are a very bad team. it is notable, perhaps, that they today open against pittsburgh, the first of seven games between the cubs and bucs in the next ten. as bad as they are, pittsburgh is better than the league-worst northsiders in run differential -- (-101) for the bucs against (-119) for the cubs -- and pittsburgh's lefty-heavy rotation has given the cubs fits.

something could be settled over the next two weeks about just who really is the worst team in the national league. this page is just bursting with anticipation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Cubs cry poor

Yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times, Fran Spielman reported that the Cubs will not break ground on the "corner building" anytime soon. This was supposed to be the Wrigley Field campus that went arm and arm with the bleacher expansion the Cubs pushed through last off season. In case you missed the article:

Short of cash, Cubs postpone parking garage

August 22, 2006
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Wrigleyville will apparently have to wait for the 400-space parking garage that was supposed to follow a 1,790-seat expansion of the Wrigley Field bleachers: The $30 million project is on hold because of rising costs.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said the Cubs have told him they're "looking for some additional financial resources" to build a five-story, triangular building expected to house a parking garage, upscale restaurants, retail stores and rooftop garden above ground and batting cages, pitching mounds and workout facilities for Cubs players below.

Construction was supposed to start this fall and last for at least 18 months. Now, nobody knows when ground will be broken -- or whether the Cubs will be forced to scale down a project tailor-made to ease the Wrigleyville parking crunch and turn an eyesore into a neighborhood asset.

"It's a big project. It's an expensive project. They're a little concerned about finding the money. . . . They're committed to building it. They're just concerned about the cost of it," Tunney said.

"They're looking to find some partnering opportunities with other companies in the city, possibly some naming rights. I would assume they might try to bring in somebody who wants their name on Wrigley Field."

Tunney said neither the City Council nor community residents would have approved the long-stalled bleacher expansion without a guarantee that land currently used to provide surface parking for 200 cars would be turned into a 400-space garage for year-round use by residents and businesses.

"The issue is, they've got 1,790 seats without any additional parking. That's the concern the community has and I have. It's a two-way street. They've got to find the resources to build this thing. This 400-car garage right on Clark Street will help the retail corridor immensely," he said.

No public money, Cubs say

"I'm not at all concerned that it will never happen. It's postponed. They've got a commitment they made to the community, and we're going to make sure they stand by it."

Mike Lufrano, vice president for community relations for the Cubs, acknowledged the timetable and design are in limbo.

"The Cubs very much want to build the project. We know it would be a great asset to the team -- and it helps the community. Like many construction projects, though, the costs have gone up and we need to make sure we understand the economics and build the right project," Lufrano said.

Lufrano denied that the construction delay has anything to do with financial problems that have beset Tribune Co., corporate owner of the Cubs. "It's about the cost of the project and having it make economic sense," he said.

Lufrano was asked whether the Cubs might ultimately request a taxpayer subsidy for the $30 million project. "That's not something we've ever done.... Everything at Wrigley Field has always been privately funded," he said.

Jointly designed by Kansas City, Mo.-based HOK Sports Facilities Group and Chicago restoration architect John Vinci, the original plan called for the Cubs to fill the property with a triangular building with rounded edges and a rooftop garden.

The 400-space garage would have provided a net increase of 200 spaces from the surface lots it would replace. The building would have been linked directly to the stadium by a pair of overhead breezeways -- one open-air, the other covered.

Cubs have until 2008

The brick-lined pedestrian promenade patterned after the one at Fenway Park in
Boston would have been located between the stadium and the new building on land that was once a continuation of Seminary Avenue. The company paid $2.1 million to purchase the land from the city.

The Cubs have used the land for decades as a players parking lot. A search of century-old documents determined that Chicago taxpayers owned the land and that the Tribune Co. bought it for $150,000, shortly after purchasing the Cubs in 1982, from a railroad that didn't have the right to sell it.

The triangular building was included in the "plan development" that paved the way for the bleacher expansion. It requires the Cubs to provide at least 179 new parking spaces -- one space for every 10 new bleacher seats -- before the start of the 2008 season. If the garage shrinks below that number or is eliminated entirely, the Cubs must provide enough surface parking to replace those spaces.

If the Chicago National League Ballclubs current ownership cannot afford to make neccessary improvements to their dinosaur ballpark, this fan urges the Tribsters to sell to somebody who finds it worthwhile to invest in the product. Current ownership no longer has the money needed to invest in the ballpark, you can forget any starting pitching nor a decent middle infielder. For the few remaining fans who think everything is fine over at Clark and Addison, read this.

I urge each and every one of you to really consider where you spend your entertainement dollar.

one of the dog days, part two

continuing our examination of a day in the life of this team, we left off with the cubs getting back to 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh.

in the top half of the eighth, dusty baker brought on roberto novoa in a double switch that lifted ryan theriot and installed freddie bynum to second. novoa has come in for a great deal of criticism hereabouts as a proxy of hendry's problematic conception of what good bullpen pitching looks like. the cubs have benefitted tremendously from the work of bob howry and scott eyre, the two free-agent signees of last offseason which this page thought a good start -- but not nearly enough, with the likes of novoa, ryan dempster and glendon rusch still clinging stubbornly to roster spots. as a result, the cubs bullpen is exactly what this page said they would be -- average.

this page sees little enough reason to think that the cub bullpen will be radically improved upon 2005. should dempster defy a reversion to the mean and williamson both remain with the club and rehabilitate to something like his former glory, some improvement could perhaps be expected. but too large a role remains to be played by marginal actors like wuertz and novoa for expectations to run vastly higher than what was seen last year.

the cub pen ranks 7th in the nl in era, 8th in whip, 6th in obpa and 7th in slugging against. if a superior bullpen is the intended end, more is going to have to be done to exclude the likes of novoa from the roster. he, like michael wuertz last year, is leading the team in relief innings with 61.1 despite being a subpar performer across the board.

novoa did nothing in the eighth this day to dissuade this page from that opinion. pat burrell doubled and was moved over to third by a sacrifice fly. a drawn-in infield got a second out when novoa induced chris coste to ground to cedeno at short, but abraham nunez the singled to score the runner to make it 6-3. this ended up being the game-winner for the phillies.

the cubs made it close in the ninth on the backs of matt murton and jacque jones, murton leading off the last frame with a pinch-hit single. this page had modest hopes for the rookie left fielder, hoping that he might match the output of the piecemeal 2005 team. murton's power has disappointed some, but he has held down the position reasonably in going 296/359/429 with 8 hr and 46 rbi. particularly encouraging has been his performance against right-handed pitching (294/347/416), an area in which he was expected to struggle. this is as much as might have been asked for going into the season, and murton has been particularly bright in the second half (341/391/553 in 85 ab). on the whole, it seems here that he's certainly earned a look in left field for a team that will in all likelihood not be a contender in 2007. should he develop more consistent power, murton could well be a regular left fielder in spite of his limited defensive ability.

murton waited on first as ramirez first flied out and then jacque jones tagged his 20th homer of the year to make it 6-5. despite jacque's four hits in this game, his performance on the whole has been about what this page expected at christmastime when he was inked by hendry to a three-year contract.

change the name on the uniform, but the cubs essentially just extended the burnitzalypse in right by three long seasons.

indeed, jacque is currently on pace to go 282/318/491 this season with 27 homers and 82 rbi. burnitz last season went 258/322/435 with 24 homers and 87 rbi. and it should be said that, all things considered, this is a good year for jacque -- if he goes out as forecast above, he's going to tie a career high in homers an approach his best rbi total. despite the laughable throwing arm and the horrifying baserunning, the cubs have gotten more than they could have expected from jacque this season -- and more than they should expect the next two seasons. but it is all no better than the output of jeromy burnitz, a player many were rightfully eager to run out of town on a rail at the end of 2005. jacque has long been and continues to be a substandard rightfielder -- a fact that can be contextualized statistically in his ranking in runs created or secondary average. compound these offensive metrics with a defensive ability that is better contextualized by three stooges clips than statistics, and this page fears for the remaining years of jacque's white-elephant contract.

in any case, that's where the rally stuck -- phil nevin reached base, only to be stranded by a pinch-hitting michael barrett, chalking another loss for a cub team that remains 15th among 16 national league squads by record and on pace for 94 losses. barrett's career offensive year -- 326/390/546 with 15 homers puts him in a class with brian mccann, victor martinez and joe mauer atop all catchers in baseball -- has gone for naught, but it should be noted. barrett has probably been the best creative idea of jim hendry's tenure -- his offensive output, far better than the average at his position, has significantly exceeded his (considerable) defensive drawbacks as catcher, and at a price of $4mm a year has to be considered a bargain. this page spends a lot of time hammering on hendry for being the co-architect (along with andy macfail) of the laughingstock 2006 season, but even an incompetent general manager does some things right. barrett is certainly one of those few things.

that finishes this look at a day in the life of a lost year, so let it not be said that this page never talks about the games. it merely very rarely talks about the games -- call it a defense mechanism, if you like. there's only so much of this that one can consider well enough to comment on without jeopardizing one's sanity, after all. this writer, for one, is wistfully looking forward now to the end of the season, when the flagellation of being a cub fan takes its natural respite.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

one of the dog days, part one

this page hopes that you can pardon us, dear reader, for the lack of coverage of actual game events for the latter part of the summer. but there just hasn't been a hell of a lot to get excited about regarding the day-to-day operations of the cubs for some time now. a bevy of low expectations manifested themselves as reality early on in this year, and since then it's been yet another season of waiting 'til next year. what really is the point of covering meaningless wins and losses in a year that is lost?

so this page has busied itself following the stories of developing players -- good, bad, broken and bewildering -- as well as ownership and the front office.

but they are still playing games, and so we might as well take a look at one, a 6-5 loss to the resurgent phillies at wrigley in which rich hill took the loss.

the game was put out of reach in the fourth when hill opened the inning with a walk to pat burrell. much of hill's improvement since august 1 has been predicated on improved control, and in five august appearances he has compiled a 1.23 whip in part by posting a 26:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 27.2 innings. but hill does live up in the zone with his rising fastball, leading to five home runs over that span and giving more credence to the view sometimes espoused that hill really needs a third pitch to complement his stunning curve and low-90s four-seamer to keep hitters off balance. of his three walks this evening, only burrell's would come home -- but the home runs would weigh heavily.

aaron rowand doubled burrell over to third, and hill induced a shallow flyball to right which kept burrell at third for the first out, setting up a critical play. cesar izturis has strained a hamstring the previous inning -- he's expected to miss a little time, which is no great blow to the cubs considering izturis' horrible offensive performance -- which forced a move in the top of the fourth of ronny cedeno back to shortstop from second with ryan theriot coming on.

izturis is now just 14-of-60 since coming over, posting a 233/292/267 line and only four runs scored in 17 games. with apologies to those who thought hendry's trade of greg maddux had netted the cubs something worthwhile, izturis is now a career .295 obp player -- and it seems here that neifi perez (recently traded, praise god) has merely been replaced by a more expensive model of the same basic offensive void. izturis is very unlikely to be any more a viable major league shortstop than neifi was, and indications that jim hendry considers shortstop to be "fixed" for 2007 give this page more evidence that he hasn't the faintest idea of how to build a winning ballclub. it may be that hendry made a good effort to get anything at all in return for maddux -- but this page is not at all certain that he did in fact get anything at all worth having.

but that izturis is an improvement over ronny cedeno is hardly a question, as he subsequently demonstrated. cedeno fielded an abraham nunez grounder only to, rather than take the sure second out of the inning at first with the pitcher coming to the plate, inexplicably throw home in the fourth inning of a no-score game. the mental mistake was compounded by cedeno's trademark throwing inaccuracy, as the ball hit burrell and skipped away, allowing not only burrell but rowand to score on the error. when jon lieber then struck out for the second (and not the third) out of the inning, jimmy rollins punished the cubs for giving the extra out by taking hill deep, drving in nunez and capping a four-run inning.

this page spent a number of posts following the failure of hendry to land rafael furcal -- here and here and here and here -- warning about just how bad cedeno would be. sadly enough, it seems that such warnings were completely justified. cedeno is not a major league baseball player -- he never was, and no amount of wishing is going to make him one. the lesson once again, dear reader, is that the cubs are more than willing to address their failures with pleasant lies. and if the cubs continue to insist that cedeno really is a major league player -- though this writer can't imagine they have the temerity -- by penciling him in for second base on opening day 2007 opposite izturis, one can expect a similarly disastrous year.

theriot, on the other hand, continues to make the best of his situation even as cub management misguidedly attempts to save face by refusing to demote the abysmal cedeno. theriot has gone 290/371/452 in very limited opportunities, playing hard, managing to steal five bases without being caught, come up with some clutch plays and play flawlessly in the field. in the estimation of this writer, he's done more in 38 plate appearances to justify a look at second base on opening day next season than cedeno has in 443.

the cubs staged a comeback in the seventh, however, when pinch hitter freddie bynum and juan pierre singled consecutively with one out. theriot flied out to center for the second out, but not deeply enough to bring bynum home -- but a rare lieber wild pitch remedied the situation, and aramis ramirez then doubled to bring in pierre, chasing lieber. jacque jones then singled off aaron fultz to bring in aramis, making it 5-3 cubs.

ramirez has overcome his much-ballyhooed disappearing act from may to go 348/410/732 since the all-star break. with his option approaching and looking ever more likely to be exercized if no renegotiation with the cubs is undertaken, this page still thinks that the cubs would be well served to bring him back if at all possible. this is a third baseman who rated in the top five among all third basemen in vorp rate in both 2004 and 2005, and despite a sluggish start this year is 12th in 2006 and probably leading baseball in the second half. in a free-agent environment in which no replacement even remotely in his talent bracket is available until 2009 and considering a farm system that harbors only scott moore as a potential replacement -- a player who could set the national league record for strikeouts given half a chance -- this page sees little way of replacing ramirez at third.

of course, the cubs are not the only party -- ramirez has to want to return, and other teams may well outbid the cubs in the absence of a renegotiation. and it must be said that the cubs' priority should be on sorting out their young pitching situation -- a process that may preclude them from any viable hope of a playoff appearance until ramirez is aging and on the downswing. but, at 28 this season, ramirez should continue to be a fine hitter at third base for several more seasons, and if the cubs have real ambitions of winning the pennant before 2012 they should consider locking ramirez up.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Not so subtle

Here's an interesting excerpt from Paul Sullivan's article in this morning's Chicago Tribune...

While the Cubs still believe Aramis Ramirez won't exercise his opt-out clause after this season and leave $22 million on the table to become a free agent, they do have a third baseman in the system with a bright future. West Tenn's Scott Moore, a 22-year-old prospect who was a first-round draft pick of Detroit in 2002, is tied for second in the Southern League with 20 home runs and ranks third with 68 RBIs. Moore, who was acquired with Roberto Novoa from Detroit in the Kyle Farnsworth trade, is at least a year away from the majors.

I guess I can stop wondering when the team will start hyping internal options for replacing Ramirez.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

from the inbox: dusty's pitcher abuse -- a numerical study

the following is an article from our email inbox written by frequent commenter shawndgoldman -- it has also since been offered at bcb. the analysis certainly deserves maximum exposure, and this page is happy to post it here in sympathy with our long-running critique of dusty baker's pitching-use practices, as well for your edification, comments and enjoyment. thanks to shawndgoldman for sending it our way.

After Monday night's senseless 121-pitch outing by Carlos Zambrano, many of us were enraged at Baker's pointless overworking of his "caballo". Furthermore, there is ample evidence that Baker thinks this sort of work is good for Zambrano's career. For example:

"I talked to him about being himself and doing what he's capable of doing," Baker said. "To be a horse, to be a caballo, like an iron man under adverse conditions.

"If you're going to be truly great eventually, you're going to have to be that kind of person."

To me, this stinks of Dusty throwing his horse under the bus in order to save his ass...

However, despite Dusty's usage of Zambrano this year, despite his frightening comments from Monday, and despite his horrible track record of pitcher abuse, i was still skeptical of Dusty's real effect on pitch counts, as i recalled a recent Hardball Times article that claimed Dusty's "abuse" only added up to ~3-4 pitches per start. That article, written by David Gassko, attempted to determine how many pitches per start Dusty's starters were expected to throw:

"Let's take every pitcher season beginning in 2000, 394 in total, with six seasons worth of data, and try to predict pitch counts while controlling for everything in the universe that needs to be controlled for. In this case, "everything" means hits, walks, strikeouts, league, and year. Essentially what we're asking is this: 'Given that a pitcher allowed this many hits and this many walks, struck out this many batters, played in this season, and in this league, how many pitches per start would we expect him to throw?'"

More rigorously, he used the following methodology:

"I used an ordinary least-squares regression with Pitches/Start as my dependent variable, and Year, Hits/BFP, BB/BFP, K/BFP, NL, and 'Baker' as my independent variables. The Years were there essentially as constants. Hits had a negative relationship with Pitches/Start, as you might expect, so the more hits a pitcher allows per plate appearance, the more likely he is to be pulled early. Walks and Strikeouts both had a positive relationship, though the coefficient for walks was somewhat unexpected. The most likely explanation is a combination of the following three things: (1) Walks have a positive correlation with Ks, and high-K pitchers will generally be the ones who stay in for longest, (2) It takes a lot of pitches to walk a batter, and (3) A walk are not as costly as a hit, so a high-BB pitcher can still be good. The results of my regression are listed below. All estimates were significant at the 1% level."

The results? Gassko's model predicted the "Dusty" variable was worth 3.67 pitches/start. That's not a horrible number, but it is significant. However, i had some concerns about his analysis. Specifically, it seems to be answering the wrong question. The question Gassko answered was basically "On average, how many extra pitches per outing is the result of Dusty being the manager?" I think a more appropriate question would be "For Dusty's stable of 'caballos,' how many pitches per outing is the result of Dusty being the manager?" Fortunately, it is fairly simple to reproduce Gassko's method. In this case, we'll make a least squares regression model for every season during Dusty's tenure with the Cubs (2003-2006), and will use the same variables Gassko used, except we will exclude Dusty as a variable. We can then compare the expected number of pitches per game for Dusty-managed starting pitchers to the actual number of pitches/game they threw. Here are the results (GS=Games started, P/GS=Pitches/GS, Exp. P/GS=model prediction for P/GS, "Dusty effect"=(Exp P/GS)-P/GS. The important number is the "Dusty effect" which is a measure of the pitches Dusty "added" to an average start by a particular pitcher over the course of a given season. Positive numbers mean the pitcher threw more than would be expected given his performance that season; negative numbers mean the opposite.)

YearLast NameFirst NameGSPP/StartEXP P/GS"Dusty effect"
2006RyuJae Kuk12828.0073.591-45.591

What can we glean from this data? Well, there does seem to be a fairly consistent pattern: every year, Dusty picks a horse or two (cough, Z, cough), who he overworks significantly, while letting the other members of the staff take on a lighter load. This keeps the average "Dusty effect" less than 2 pitches per start even though Dusty is really abusing his best pitchers. Remember, this data is already corrected for performance. In other words, although one would expect Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano to throw more pitches due to their effectiveness, one would not expect their load to increase nearly as much as it does under Baker. Conversely, the pitchers at the back of Baker's rotations have pitched less than one would expect, even when their sub-standard performances are taken into account. The numbers for Zambrano are particularly disconcerting. It seems that, with the lone exception of a "gentle" 2005, Dusty has left Zambrano in for 11-12 pitches more than one would predict given Zambrano's performance in those seasons. That's a lot. Keep in mind that those 10 extra pitches are the ones that will do the most damage to Zambrano's arm. (For those of you wondering how pitcher abuse points are calculated, its the number of triple digit pitches in an outing cubed, and then summed over each start.) If Zambrano were to see 10 pitches less per outing, his pitcher abuse points would be way down and i for one would be far less concerned about his future health. It may be that Zambrano's arm truly is indestructible, and that it can take year after year of overuse. However, a lost season in which Zambrano's team has an atomically-small chance of making the playoffs would be a good time to rest his arm for the future, not to test the hypothesis that it is made of adamantium.

for what it's worth, this writer couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


dusty baker was asked a couple days ago about the recent slump of carlos zambrano, who had compiled a 6.09 era in his previous four starts.

Baker doesn't believe Zambrano is tiring.

"He's strong," Baker said. "He works hard. It's impossible to continue the pace he was on. He won nine in a row. That's like a guy that hits .400 for two months and then he's going to have a bad couple of weeks.

"Most of this stuff is due to probably a loss of the strike zone in one inning, and we haven't played that well behind him the last couple of games. So it's a combination of him and us."

Baker spoke to Zambrano on Saturday about Steve Carlton's 1972 season, when Carlton went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Philadelphia team that finished 59-97. He earned unanimous selection as the National League Cy Young Award winner.

"I talked to him about being himself and doing what he's capable of doing," Baker said. "To be a horse, to be a caballo, like an iron man under adverse conditions.

"If you're going to be truly great eventually, you're going to have to be that kind of person."

this writer wonders if baker also talked to him about mark prior, kerry wood and the hoardes of pitchers who destroyed their gifted arms and promising careers in a lawless pursuit of greatness that exceeded every boundary of moderation and common sense.

last night zambrano put his "slump" to rest, tossing eight innings of four hit ball. but it isn't quite as easy as that. he also tossed 121 pitches, in part because he walked seven -- zambrano continues to lead the majors in walks by a very healthy margin, nearly 20% more than any other pitcher in the bigs.

let's take a closer look at that. here are the majors sorted by innings pitched -- zambrano is second with 170.2 innings. look at the walk column. this more properly contextualizes just exactly how much more work zambrano is doing than other innings leaders in baseball. indeed, zambrano is second only to dontrelle willis in plate appearances against and has no peer in pitches thrown.

let's re-emphasize the point by examining the number of starts in which zambrano has thrown beyond some number of pitches and compare that to other heavy-workload starters around baseball sorted by games started.

pitchergames started100+ pitches110+ pitches122+ pitches
carlos zambrano2626165
barry zito2620133
andy pettitte261670
tim hudson261352
randy johnson261341
dontrelle willis2522151
bronson arroyo2522141
aaron harang2519141
dan haren251872
curt schilling251861
doug davis251771
john smoltz2519141
livan hernandez251392
jason schmidt2419153
matt morris241670
gil meche241591
jason jennings241380

there are a few things to note here. one is that zambrano has never taken the mound this year that he has not thrown at least 100 pitches. that is not to say he hasn't had bad outings -- but it is to say that, when he has bad outings, baker leaves him out there anyway. this means that zambrano hasn't had what most people would describe as "a breather" all season.

but perhaps the more amazing thing is that zambrano leads all of baseball in every catagory here -- starts over 100 pitches, over 110 pitches, over 122 pitches. he is easily the hardest worked pitcher in baseball, and by a significant margin.

and somehow, despite that, baker feels he has to talk to him about being "like an iron man"?

dear reader, zambrano -- should he make all 35 starts that he is likely to be scheduled for -- is on a pace to throw 3921 pitches for one of the worst teams in baseball, led by one of the most foolish managers in baseball, working for the great dereliction of major market ownership in baseball. he already is an iron man under adverse conditions. so this page must ask: what is the point to be proven in grinding zambrano's arm down to a nub?

in short, these are the wages of jim hendry's inability to make the correct decision in judging baker's failed tenure in chicago. baker, probably (and maybe rightfully) believing himself to be managing for his career to some extent, is going to deploy maximum firepower in an effort to stave off 100 losses. and that means running out his best pitcher for as many bleeding innings as he can twist out of that golden arm, come hell or high water.

hendry's inability to run the team competently is clearly taking its toll in other ways as well. this page could not help but notice the comments from baker over the weekend as he and the tribune put antagonistic distance between each other in preparation for the end of the season and baker's contract.

Before the Cubs' 8-7 victory over Colorado on Sunday, Baker answered the question, "How've you been?" with a cryptic response.

"I'm good, I'm good," he replied. "I mean, I could be better. Been better. But, I mean, this is part of the process of life. You want to be on top all the time. You want to be good all the time. Sometimes it's not like that. So you deal with it. You deal with it as a man. No complaints.

"You look around, I'm watching Bill Parcells with the Cowboys. It's very similar. He went to the playoffs his first year there [as coach], and they haven't been back in a couple of years, right? It's part of life, part of the process.

"You've got to treat yourself better. You've got to eat better. You've got relieve the stress. You've got to drink less, you've got to drink more water, you've got to take care of yourself."

this response is anything but cryptic. this page has not until now highlighted it in posts, but it has often been mentioned in passing in the comments -- the full implication of this last passage can only be realized in context of jim hendry's supposedly unpleasant personal predilections, however, and so now we should make mention of such notions here. hendry has long been rumored to be a notorious dionysian, a heavy eater and drinker whose habits border on the dangerous and destructive. indeed, his unfortunate and rather sordid divorce of some years back is said to have been centered in part on allegations of alcoholism.

this page can make no catagorical statement as to the truth or falsehood of any such rumor -- it has long been grist for the neighborhood mill surrounding the cubs, but this writer for one has certainly never seen hendry face down in a gutter clutching a bottle. but, whether is be so or no, baker is using those rumors against hendry with this a not-so-subtle turn of phrase -- so contextualized, this is immediately and easily seen not as cryptic but as a thinly-veiled shot at hendry. and that would seem to illustrate the extent to which hendry's relationship with baker has deteriorated.

with baker opening fire on his bosses in this manner as he continues to pound zambrano into the dust, this page takes heart that the dusty watch may yet come to the fruition that has long been denied it. and the sooner the better, for zambrano isn't just showing himself to be a horse -- he's showing himself to be a horse ridden by a man who has no care or idea of just how hard he is working him. bulls and horses can fall dead of exhaustion too.

Monday, August 14, 2006

the future of mark prior

even before this season began, this page was not shy about pointing out the silliness of relying on mark prior, kerry wood and wade miller to be the core of a major league pitching staff in 2006. the probability of bringing any of these three through to a material year, much less a successful one, was always quite low in the opinion hereabouts.

and so when kerry wood's season ended almost before it began, this page was unsurprised. and when wade miller found that his shoulder wouldn't support a fastball, it was equally unsurprised.

but in all sincerity, this page is a bit shocked at what has become of mark prior.

to be sure, it was remarked early and often that prior's troubles -- flimsily hidden by a veil of lies early on which was later at least in part pulled back -- were probably not insignificant. and when he was diagnosed with a minor rotator cuff tear, the sensible assessment seemed to be half a year lost. but this writer for one did expect to see prior pitch for some of this year anyway and that, when he did pitch, this page imagined that he would be some color of his former excellence -- diminished, perhaps, but isn't a diminished mark prior better than most pitchers on their best day?

but this season hasn't been so kind to prior and his mythos, who was savaged in nine starts to the tune of a 7.21 era. prior lacked both velocity and command all along -- surrendering 46 hits and 28 walks against just 38 k in 43.2 innings, less than five innings a start -- never looking even a shadow of his former self.

rumblings of shoulder problems for prior visited this page very early on, and prior has done nothing to dissuade us of the truth of that assessment since. though there certainly is room to think that what ails prior is simply the cascading effects of injury in a pitcher who continues to throw, it seems here that there is something very wrong in prior's arm -- more than the "tendonitis" that the cubs are labeling his season-ending visit to the disabled list with. given the time that prior was granted to overcome his initial rotator cuff diagnosis with -- a period that should have been sufficient, if not ample, if jose contreras is still the example, and which certainly would have calmed any tendonitis -- in combination his complete ineffectiveness at all points since -- before any new bout of tendonitis could have arisen -- this page is sometimes even given to wonder if the cubs aren't again battling a foe with which they have made themselves quite familiar, though there's certainly no evidence beyond speculation.

has it been a cascade of injuries or one undiagnosed problem all the way through? perhaps it can't be said from this vantage point. however, back in december of 2005 -- even before rumors of shoulder pain began to circulate -- there was a furor about the possibility of trading mark prior to philadelphia for bobby abreu. at that time, this writer said:

it could simply be that prior's arm is injured and needs a surgery that hasn't been prescribed yet for fear of the risk. but a balanced assessment has to also say that it could be more. it could be that prior's durability isn't equal to his talent, that his golden arm is both blessed and cursed. what i'm saying is that prior likely isn't ever going to be roger clemens or a nolan ryan. his career probably gets shorter and shorter with every tweak and injury bug. if i had to wager, i'd say that in a few years he may well be in wood's boat -- looking at a move out to the bullpen to preserve his tender arm. there have always been, after all, vastly more such pitchers in major league bullpens than there were durable aces in rotations.

it is beginning very much to seem as though that assessment, an echo of the story of kerry wood, has materialized sooner than anyone may have thought. prior remains a controlled contract for the cubs through 2008, and so it is likely that we will see this drama continue for another two years still. to a talent that has burned so brightly, the team is drawn rather like a moth -- not only unable to distance itself from the flame, but committed to it all but regardless of the consequences. but those consequences will remain perilous indeed if this team is constructed with the idea of relying on prior to pitch innings in the rotation.

this writer for one still believes that mark prior can have a future in this league, that he can be rehabilitated and even still be a starting pitcher. every day is another day more distant from 2003, a year when prior threw almost as many pitches as anyone in baseball (including his playoff appearances) and ranked fourth in regular season pitcher abuse as a 22-year old. prior largely hasn't been right since, but with the application of medical expertise may yet overcome what damage there is in his arm. though what comes after surgery may not be what cub fans remember from 2003, it may still be enough to constitute a good pitcher.

but the odds seem to get a little longer with every passing day. no one can say what the future holds for mark prior, but the visions of greatness that once circulated about his name have all but vanished. he cannot now be a central piece upon which to make plans for the future of the cubs if the cubs are to make serious preparations to build a winning club.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Oh, happy day!

No, the Cubs didn’t fight back in Denver last night after falling behind 7-1 in the third inning behind the strength of a typical Forearm Boy pitching performance. Nope the Cubs lost their 68th game and are now back at 20 games under .500, giving them a puncher’s chance at 100 losses for the first time in forty years.

So what you ask is there to be happy about?

Well, the Chicago Tribune (yes I know) reported in the August 4th edition that recent market analysis is showing White Sox popularity is gaining on both the Bears and the Cubs and if trends continue the White Sox will soon become the “most popular” sports team in the city.

I write this today, because as the disinterested blue-bloods are finishing off their cavier and monkey brains for breakfast (that’s what they eat, right?) and are eyeing over the Sunday morning Tribune, they might stumble upon this story. Dave van Dyck highlights the White Sox thrilling win yesterday on NATIONAL TELEVISION, bringing the Sox within 6.5 games of 1st place in the Central.

As Cub fans, we should all be pulling for another great White Sox run into the playoffs - with a little luck into the World Series.

The Cub brand is dieing on the vine and the Sox product is growing like Reinsdorf has used some sort of giant Garden Weasel to cut through the years of marketing missteps and public relations blunders.

The Cubs franchise has gotten fat and arrogant by its good fortune over the last 20 years, its time for this old phoenix to burn up and from its ashes something worth following may emerge.

I know many of you do not agree with the idea of a "fan protest", but I think we find ourselves at a precipice and our actions could push the Tribune/MacPhail right over the ledge. Its time to turn off the WGN, cancel the Paper subscriptions, and get your local internet news at the Bright One.

And PRAY, the White Sox starting staff throws like Buerle did yesterday. We need another White Sox winner, for all of our benefit.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

rich hill in context

at the risk of becoming monotone, this writer would devote just a bit more space to what is happening with rich hill as he makes a claim on a rotation spot for 2007.

in discussions regarding hill elsewhere on this site, this writer was forced to dig into the statistical backgrounds of many other pitchers in an effort to contextualize just what hill's minor league career output represents, and what it might tell us about his potential. it is no secret that this page considers hill very highly and has for some time. but even this writer underestimated what hill's career to date may represent when properly contextualized.

consider if you will this table of some of the great strikeout pitchers of the last forty years, sorted by strikeouts per nine innings. the names taken are of pitchers who have minor league data accessible at the baseball cube who have thrown one of the top 100 single-season strikeout totals (with the exception of mike scott, who was never really a strikeout pitcher excepting his one magical year, and the inclusion of kerry wood for the interest of cub fans).

pitchercareer minor league ipcareer strikeouts/9 ipcareer hits/9 ip
nolan ryan28713.85.7
rich hill45112.66.7
doc gooden36411.86.5
vida blue38911.76.3
kerry wood31711.15.5
roger clemens15210.56.1
bob veale8009.87.5
randy johnson4349.66.8
denny mclain4439.37.7
mickey lolich5709.18.0
sam mcdowell4838.96.6
steve carlton3068.86.7
fergie jenkins5468.87.3
pedro martinez5178.67.1
tom seaver2108.17.9
curt schilling8217.38.5
mario soto5606.77.4
john smoltz4166.58.3

the purpose of this table is not to prognosticate what lies in wait for hill. but it is to contextualize for readers just exactly how exceptional hill's minor league career has been and what a remarkable talent the 26-year-old possesses.

it has mystified this writer as canard after canard has been offered by ostensible cub fans to dismiss hill as a non-prospect. these are comments quite obviously made in ignorance of evidence and on the basis of a transitory first impression only. indeed, that too seems to have been the basis of many opinions regarding ronny cedeno as well -- and, given how that has turned out, the case has only been bolstered to put first impressions aside and examine statistical evidence in search of something more likely akin to truth.

though some would use his age to dismiss him, hill has not been in the minor leagues for long -- indeed, an examination of his draft class indicates that he is right on schedule for a college pitcher. his 451 innings is clearly not an abnormally long residency, and hill is in just his fourth full professional season -- an entirely typical residency for a college pitching prospect. this page would caution against using age as the sole metric for comparison of minor leaguers -- indeed, it is only in combination with professional service time that age can be a useful meter.

it seems here that the one valid criticism of hill is in the questionable control that he has often demonstrated in his earlier career. but this page can think of no better way to refute the liability of that record than to note that, since the beginning of the 2005 season, hill has marked off a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- clear evidence that he can pitch with remarkable control and overpowering stuff both when he has the mind to. his early major-league struggles notwithstanding, hill seems to be learning that he doesn't have to fiddle about trying to hit corners finely -- he can use a lively rising fastball and a curve that is frankly without peer in the cubs system (indeed, is one of the finest in the majors) to not only compete but dominate in pro ball.

let it be said here loudly: none of this is any guarantee of success. hill is not a god, and he will struggle at times. while his potential is clearly immense, there have been others for whom the same was true who did not amount to much.

but it seems to this page that cub fans and management alike should recognize by now that hill is the best pitching prospect the cubs have brought to the majors since mark prior, and stands head and shoulders over every other pitcher in the cub farm system today. this is a pitcher who should be given every opportunity to succeed at the major league level -- and we can only hope that the young man seizes it and makes it his own.

if he does, his potential is as great as any this writer has seen.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

NL Wild Card Standings

Want something to really get pissed about? Take a look at the NL Wild Card race.

Heading into play this evening, here is the sad state of the National League. The NL Wild Card leaders the Reds and Dodgers at 2 games above the .500 mark find themselves leading the race. The Cubs opponent tonight the Milwaukee Brewers at 7 games below .500 find themselves in 8th place in the race and only 4.5 games out of the lead. It's hard to believe but the Milwaukee Brewers are one long winning streak from being right in the middle of this whole thing.

Cincinnati 57 55 -- 50
LA Dodgers 57 55 -- 50
Arizona 56 56 1.0 50
Philadelphia 54 57 2.5 51
Colorado 54 57 2.5 51
San Francisco 54 58 3.0 50
Houston 53 58 3.5 51
Milwaukee 52 59 4.5 51
Atlanta 51 60 5.5 51
Florida 51 60 5.5 51
Washington 49 62 7.5 51
Chi Cubs 47 64 9.5 51
Pittsburgh 42 70 15.0 50

This brings me to the Northsiders. The NL is so weak we as Cub fans shouldn't be worried about November or next year. The Cubs should be smack dab in the midst of this horrendous Wild Card race. Injuries and all other excuses aside, the Cubs Manager was supposed to keep them in races like this. The 2006 National League is so weak, the Cubs should have been in the middle of this thing.

Monday, August 07, 2006

go ahead -- do the wave

this writer was interested and just a bit encouraged to see that the wave had broken out in wrigley field over the weekend as rich hill continued to capitalize on his chance.

The wave unofficially has been banned at Wrigley since 1984, when San Diego fans performed it almost non-stop at Jack Murphy Stadium during the Padres' comeback against the Cubs in the National League Championship Series.

But two decades later, with the Cubs out of contention in the dog days of August and fans unloading their tickets to friends, relatives and scalpers, the wave has returned.

Whether it was a cameo appearance or the start of a new tradition remains to be seen.

how wretched can this year become? clearly, the entertained-idiot-to-knowledgable-fan ratio has spiked beyond critical mass as the cubs have become a club beneath the efforts of those who appreciate quality baseball more than sunny days, lincoln park trixies and six-dollar bud lights. those who know something about jim hendry's state of mind -- and too much about jacque jones' baserunning -- have clearly decided to stay away in significant numbers, a fact equally attested to by the decline in open market prices for tickets among the scalpers. bleachers for this next week's saturday tilt against saint louis are readily available at stubhub for $80 and less -- and for the following week with the giants, under $60. these are momentous changes in the market from earlier this year, and indicate that serious fandom has abandoned this club in large measure.

and this page could not be more pleased. this page has sometimes been misconstrued as to advocate some sort of organized economic warfare against the cubs -- the formation of a people's army, as it were. indeed, little has been said to discourage any form of protest against the travesty that is this cub team, its derelict management and its perverse ownership. but the idea of organized warfare has always seemed a bit absurd to this writer -- who in this age of nietzschean social decline can see fit to join a worthy cause that demands effort and subordination, much less one of such questionable moral utility as to work for the betterment of a baseball club?

what has always been the far more likely spur of economically-motivated change -- that is, the only kind anyone in the cub organization or the tribune company can readily understand -- was a disorganized walkout by knowledgable, disaffected and disgusted fans, particularly season-ticket holders.

it can hardly now be contested that a significant portion of these crucial fans, which make up the basis of financial security for any professional sporting franchise, have quit attending. their tickets are flooding the secondary market, driving down prices, and those who are now in their seats -- a goodly number of which are unfilled, as can be seen now on any home telecast -- have so little education in the ethics and traditions of cub baseball as to confusedly behave as though they're at a college football game.

this disgusted disinterest is but a first step. a second step will be another round of ticket price increases for 2007, as the tribune company seeks to close the gap between their sale price and the secondary market indications of what the free-floating price is. this reduction in the basic economic incentive behind holding cubs season tickets (that is, a guaranteed aftermarket profit which makes the capital and effort invested worthwhile) in combination with the first may finally help to trigger a third stage: season ticket sales declines. and this page would argue that such declines would quite likely awaken the slothful leviathan of corporate hierarchy to the trouble that has been brewing in this minor division of their empire for some time now.

so go ahead, baneful morons of the wrigleyville party scene -- wave it up. this writer can't help but laugh, for your demonstrations seem here to amount to a harbinger of change afoot. and it seems here that there's little about the cubs that would not benefit from a very thoroughgoing bout of change.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cubs, Hendry, Baker: Early November '06

There has been a lot of talk going on here (and other places) about the near-term future of the Chicago Cubs. Mostly because the present is just SO BAD, but also because I think everyone sees major changes are right on the horizon. I believe, this upcoming off-season, one of three scenarios has to play out, in regards to the Cubs management organization.

  1. Jim Hendry is retained/Dusty Baker is not: This seems to be the most widely held belief among Cub fans, but if this were to occur you should be looking for a retread or other short-term solution. No young , high-quality managerial talent will interview with a 2-year GM, if he values his long-term potential as a Major League manager. 60% chance
  1. Jim Hendry is retained/Dusty Baker is retained. This is just wholly unlikely. Not only will the Cubs/Tribune get AWFUL publicity/public sentiment by doing this, but they also will probably need to pay Dusty something like $9 million over the 2 years of the extension. Even the Tribune management team, will understand the absurdity of paying a man one of the top managerial salaries in the League after finishing one of the worst year's in franchise history and being an unmitigated disappointment since early 2004. 15% chance
  1. Jim Hendry is removed: This clearly is the most hopeful of all scenarios. However as Cub fans we do have a couple things to hang our hats on.
    1. Does the Tribune want to pay Dusty Baker $4+ million per year to come back, when they could find a much cheaper option AND appease the fan’s contempt of Baker?

    2. Assuming Baker is let go, does the Tribune want to sign a managerial retread, like Jimy Williams, to manage the next two years? Sadly this might be yes, but MAYBE some of the empty suits in the Tower have the sense that business as usual just makes the Organization look more ridiculous daily.

    3. There are many suitable replacements on the market. Some of those names include Theo Epstein assistants and former one-month Boston general managers Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherrington, University of Chicago graduate and public relations honey pot, Kim Ng, and wrongfully-terminated wunderkind Paul DePodesta, amongst others.

    If Hendry were removed immediately after the season ended, MacPhail could take the three weeks during the playoffs to line up interview candidates. If done correctly, a new general manager could be announced the 1st or 2nd week of November, leaving plenty of time for laying out a plan for free agency, hiring a manager/coaching staff, and assessing the team’s Major and Minor League system for potential trades. 25% chance

I still believe the Cubs will make the wrong choice and retain Hendry and sign a Jimy Williams/Lou Pinella/Larry Bowa, but I also think we have at least a puncher’s chance of the right decision being made – removing Jim Hendry immediately after the season and starting from scratch with talented people.

As Cub fans, it’s in us to be hopeful and although I have no hope for 2007 on the field, I do have a fool’s hope that the losing team I’ll be watching won’t be wholly assembled by the Gym Teacher on a Booze Cruise.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

wood opts out of surgery, mateo to start

kerry wood announced today that, while his season is over, he will not undergo a second surgery on his repaired shoulder, which was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff a month ago, and will try to come back as a bullpen pitcher in 2007.

Wood, 29, had two options regarding his shoulder, and he chose to take a conservative approach after consulting with orthopedic specialists such as Dr. David Altchek and Dr. Lewis Yocum as well as other pitchers such as Pedro Martinez who have had similar injuries. The tear was revealed in an MRI arthrogram on Wood's shoulder on July 7.

"I'm probably not going to be coming back as a starter," Wood said Wednesday. "I need to go out and pitch and I need to get some innings. I need to be healthy. Probably the best way to do that for me is to limit the innings, limit the pitches until I'm comfortable and positive I can make 34, 35 starts with 110 pitches every fifth day. Coming off another season of rehab, I don't know if I can do that right now."

Wood's first goal is to be pain free. He could be back in the rotation at some point.

"For me, [pitching in relief] is a starting point to be able to pitch against big-league hitters, get guys out, and build from there," he said. "Who's to say the following year or later in the year or two years from now or five years from now I might decide to come back and start again."

this page warned long ago and repeatedly that what both wood and wade miller were attempting to come back from was devastating and indeed complete recovery was always something of a longshot -- and in the following year, nearly impossible. wood and miller have sadly proven that assessment correct. it seems now more certain than ever that wood's crossed star has settled below the horizon and that he may well never pitch again for the cubs. owed a $3mm buyout, wood will be a free agent at year end. some team is certain to give wood a chance in relief -- there is even a chance that it would be the cubs, for whom the buyout is a sunk cost.

but this page hopes otherwise. wood would benefit psychologically from a fresh start somewhere else, and the cubs will have little need of veteran relievers in 2007, which is shaping up to be another losing season with the team simply having far too many holes to patch.

miller, having previously been shut down with stiffness in his repaired shoulder and a lack of velocity in rehab, is once again trying to come back. this page sincerely wishes him luck, but is of the firm opinion that miller should get nowhere near chicago this year. this team has enough work to do sorting out its young pitching without giving starts to a wounded veteran who may never be effective again -- simply, it is suspected, to emptily sate jim hendry's damaged ego. as this page said before the trade deadline:

should the cubs be successful in moving wood, [greg] maddux, and one or more of the four veteran relievers, yet more room would become available -- possibly opening the way for the trials of players like ryu, guzman and carlos marmol (all on the 40-man), as well as andy shipman, juan mateo and rocky cherry. in any case, disabled vets mark prior and wade miller should be generously extended in rehabilitation until after such deadline trades could be made. prior is as yet a controlled contract, and miller is a player no contender will want to hazard. neither having much if any immediate trade appeal, neither should stand in the way of youth that could be tried now -- miller, for all this writer cares, could never throw a pitch for the cubs.

with miller and wood nowhere near the team, sean marshall sidelined by a strained oblique and maddux having been moved off to los angeles, juan mateo -- last year's rule 5 draftee since returned -- will make his major league debut today at wrigley and join (for a day, anyway) marmol and rich hill in the rotation. this sort of development is exactly what this writer hopes to see the most of for the remainder of 2006 -- this page considers mateo one of the more able pitching prospects in the organization and is overjoyed to see him get an opportunity having pitched quite respecatably in west tennessee. it is in this fashion that this lost year can have any redeeming value whatsoever.

in other more dour news, however, angel guzman -- who is again suffering from forearm problems which have plagued him throughout his career -- was lifted after just one inning in des moines yesterday. no word is forthcoming on the reason but the pain in guzman's arm is chronic -- accounting for his remarkable lack of professional innings in injury-shortened seasons all his career -- and he has not been pitching well recently. one hopes for the best, but guzman seems to be demonstrating that the kansas city royals, who originally signed him in 1999 but released him when he flunked his physical, to have been right.

UPDATE: guzman was removed as a precaution following the rainout in chicago, in case he might be needed to pitch for the big club, and not as a consequence of injury.