Sunday, April 22, 2007

loose ends

as the cubs failed to make good on the rubber match today against the hated cardinals, yours truly thought he might try to bind up some loose ends that might not individually qualify for a post but together could be a source of interest.

-- though probably few frequent readers may have been holding out much hope for it, it seems time to put away the notion that the 2005 derrek lee is coming back. lee had notched 64 at-bats coming into today, and was yet to hit a single home run.


the defining difference for lee in 2005, as can be seen in a glance at his career stats, was twofold. foremost was a radical surge in hits -- his batting average jumping nearly 50 points over career norm (.335 vs .278) -- which corresponded to a deviation in babip of 30 points over career (.349 vs .322). second in importance to that was a boost in the home run rate per hit, which jumped 28% over his career norm as well (23.1% of hits being home runs in 2005 vs 18.0%).

such differences were always, in spite of the most hopeful beliefs of many a loyal cub fan, of highly questionable sustainability. when in 2006 lee reverted to a babip and home run rate much closer to career norms, many blamed his recovery from the wrist he broke to truncate his 2006 -- and indeed that surely had some effect, as lee's home run rate dipped to a quite low 16%.

now, however, in light of a long power drought this april in spite of an unsustainably high babip of .460, there seems little reason to believe that 2005's power output was anything more or less than an anomaly that will very probably go unrepeated. lee will now have to average seven home runs a month to touch 35 in this year, a rate that lee (as an examination of his prior years splits show) has managed only very rarely outside of 2005.

-- ronny cedeno took yet another start at shortstop this afternoon -- his seventh in 18 games -- a day after managing his second and third hits of the year to lift his on-base percentage to .160 -- and two days after committing one of the most ghastly gaffes of this young year.

it was not long ago that this page noted the lack of appearances for cesar izturis in mesa and sought explanation for cedeno's making the roster in the ill recovery of izturis from last year's troublesome hamstrings.

through the first 17 games, it seems that this page has found some validation. though no word is forthcoming on izturis' health, he has but 44 ab to cedeno's 23. that projects to 419 ab for izturis, 219 for cedeno -- and this proportion grew in cedeno's favor as the day progressed.

izturis is more clearly now than ever not going to be an everyday shortstop in the sense that one is accustomed -- indeed, izturis and cedeno are splitting time at short. given the abysmal quality of cedeno's work and the emergence of felix pie -- with alfonso soriano now slated to return in left field and not center, his path is clear if jim hendry wishes it to be -- efforts must be redoubled to move the discontented and ineffective jacque jones for a competent major-league shortstop who can play the position frequently and effectively -- cedeno and izturis are jointly leading the charge in negative vorp for the cubs this season.

-- this evening, with 18 in the books, over 11% of the season has already been completed -- and the cubs find themselves again in the central cellar, at 7-11 beneath even pittsburgh, having won but a single series in seven tries. much hopeful attention has been devoted to the positive run differential of the cubs through these games, at +14 coming into the day the best in the division -- 74 scored (4.35 rs/g), 60 allowed (3.53 ra/g) -- and that is indeed a more positive omen than not. however, in view of the volatility of run differential over shorter timeframes, this page would continue to hesitate to call it conclusive or even perhaps indicative.

indeed, perhaps a different analysis is more insightful. as can be seen in an overview of the national league to date, the cubs rank 9th in home runs with 13 through 17 games. even the most dour skeptic an be certain that this club will hit for some power -- in the neighborhood of 1.2 hr/g, it could be expected. had the cubs done so thusfar, what could the difference be? perhaps as much as another 10 runs scored, it would seem. an elevated babip has normalized in the course of the last few games, leaving the cubs as a team at .302 and no remarkable advantage in luck. such an estimation of normalized power and scoring would leave the team near 4.9 rs/g.

however, as 1060west guru corncoddress noted just yesterday, when the cubs power kicks in, so likely will the other guy's. cub pitching entering sunday's game was ripe for mean reversion. consider:


cubs pitching through april 21 had been the second-luckiest in the national league, allowing a meager .257 babip and 0.76 hr/9 -- as few as the cubs themselves had hit. opposing offenses had been held to an aggregate 214/299/341 line -- easily the lowest staff opsa in the national league.

this is a pitching staff that has had wildly positive performances from three starters -- ted lilly (26 ip, 15 h, 5 bb, 30 k, 2.42 era), jason marquis (24 ip, 18 h, 10 bb, 14 k, 1.88 era) and most of all rich hill (22 ip, 8 h, 7 bb, 18 k, 0.41 era). these three starters have allowed just two home runs in 72 innings. much angst has been focused on the travails of carlos zambrano and wade miller, but the average cub fan ought be jumping for joy at the abject good fortune of the pitching staff to date.

but of course it cannot last. mean reversion may have begun today for the cubs pitching staff. in one day, the cubs team figure for runs allowed moved from 3.53 per game to a round 4.00. but will not be felt in full effect until lilly and marquis come back into their time-proven form -- and rich hill comes back into the solar system, if not to earth itself. he's good, folks, but not this good.

when they do, this cub team figures to see its pace of runs allowed quickly balloon to sop up the increased production of the offense and more -- indeed, probably most or all of the excess that has created positive run differentials to date.

and this brings us to the most disappointing part of what has so far transpired. on the back of magical pitching, the cubs have outscored their opposition by nearly half a run per game -- and are four games under .500 anyway. this club is not good enough to overcome transient periods of above average performance that yield net negative results. the teams that will be competing in october are those who manage to take such periods and drive the dagger home -- such as the atlanta braves have done to date, marking a 12-6 record on a narrow +7 differential, staying a half game ahead of a +47 mets club -- and those who take periods of poor performance and find some way to win.

the cubs have failed at the former. the outcome of their season may well hinge on their ability to scavenge and sift to survive the latter.

No comments: