Monday, May 31, 2010

Around the majors

*All stats accurate through Thursday

-Kevin Gregg is tied for third in the AL in saves.

-Surprisingly, the Blue Jays lead the majors in home runs--by 13! Their leading home run hitters are Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez and John Buck.

-The Cardinals have drawn 30 intentional walks this year. The Astros? Four.

-Baltimore is already 18 games out of first place. They trail the Rays, who are 19-5 on the road.

-The Brewers are 6-15 at home, but 13-13 on the road.

-A.J. Pierzynski averages only 2.97 pitches per plate appearance. No player has averaged under three for a full season since Randall Simon in 2002.

-Guess who leads the majors in innings pitched ... Yup, Roy Halladay. He's averaging just under eight innings per start.

-Ubaldo Jimenez (9-1, 0.88) has posted a quality start in all 10 of his starts.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cubs shut out Dodgers for second time in three days

Ted Lilly hasn't won in over a month, and even seven scoreless innings couldn't get him back in the win column yesterday. But a late RBI by Tyler Colvin did put the Cubs back in the win column, and Sean Marshall took home the victory. Despite being a reliever, Marshall has more wins (5) than any Cub pitcher except for Carlos Silva.

Lilly has continued to look better and better with each start, and yesterday's outing was his best since his first of the year when he tossed six shutout innings against the Brewers. The performance gave the Cubs another series win and brings them to 8-3 in their last 11.

Their recent success hasn't been the result of the offense getting into gear--they haven't scored more than six runs since May 7 when they beat the Reds 14-7. Granted, you obviously don't have to score seven runs or more to win, but it's interesting that the Cubs' recent surge has not been a function of good hitting, but rather adequate hitting combined with great pitching.

Certainly that was the case yesterday as the offense mustered only four hits and one run, but Lilly, Marshall and strike-out-the-side Marmol held the Dodgers to the minimum. Brian Brennan said that the broadcast mentioned it was the Cubs' first 1-0 win in over three years; if memory serves, that was a complete game gem by Jason Marquis in Pittsburgh back in 2007.

Derrek Lee is really coming around--he's now 7-for-9 with three walks in his last three games. Starlin Castro, on the other hand, is 0-for his last-12 and saw his average dip under .300 for the first time this season.

By the way, did anyone else see Reed Johnson making nice catches out in left and wish that he was in the outfield in the top of each inning rather than the bottom? His Cub replacement, Xavier Nady, isn't even allowed to throw the ball farther than my one-year-old niece for fear that his elbow will, like, explode or something. Johnson is also batting .303 to Nady's .229. Oh well.

The Cubs face the Cardinals this weekend, who are just 9-13 in their last 22 games. They have struggled to score at times, and have actually scored seven fewer runs than the Cubs this season. They've also recently lost Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse to the DL, which means Adam Ottavino will make his major league debut against the Cubs tomorrow (Lohse may even be out for the year). But sandwiched around him will be Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright, so the Cubs will have their work cut out for them. Go get those Redbirds!

Note: Jeff Baker left the game after losing vision in his right eye. I'm not even sure what to say about that. Hopefully he'll be all right.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Here comes the slider

Carlos Marmol's wicked slider has resulted in a lot of fist pumps this season.

We've often heard of pitchers "adding a pitch," usually in the offseason. Sometimes a pitcher will develop a changeup or add a slider, etc. But Carlos Marmol has become more effective this season by eliminating his curveball.

The percentage of pitches thrown by Marmol that were curveballs, since 2007*:

2007: 20%
2008: 13%
2009: 11%
2010: 3%

But his fastball percentage has actually dropped as well, from 46% in 2007 to 41% this year. So what gives? For Marmol, it's all about the slider. His slider percentages:

2007: 31%
2008: 38%
2009: 43%
2010: 56%

To give you some perspective, he throws his slider more often than all but one pitcher in baseball: Luke Gregerson of the Padres (he's having success, too, with a 1.82 ERA in 22 games). I really noticed Marmol's tendency to rely on his slider a couple weeks ago, and now that I'm looking for it, it's completely obvious that he's using his slider to set up his fastball.

This frustrated me for a while. Usually when a pitcher relies heavily on his breaking ball, it's because he's struggling to control his fastball and has no choice but to depend on his secondary pitch. But with Marmol, it almost seems that he'd rather throw his nasty slider and then surprise the hitter with a fastball. And the fact is, it's working. He has a 1.52 ERA, has converted seven of his last eight save opportunities (the only one he blew was against the Rockies when he entered the game in the eighth with the bases already loaded), and his ridiculous 17.49 K/9 is easily the highest in the majors. The all-time leader in this statistic among relievers is Brad Lidge with 12.98 K/9.

So I'm certainly not complaining any more, but it is interesting to watch a pitcher dominate with his slider the way Marmol does. The man's fastball averages 95 mph, yet he throws it just 41 percent of the time. But I'm sure most hitters in the National League--at least those who have faced him this season--would tell you they'd rather see just about anything other than that slider.

*All data courtesy of FanGraphs

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dempster downs Dodgers as Lee leads offense

I'll get my small quibble out of the way first: Ryan Dempster should have been given a chance to complete that game. Carlos Marmol pitched Saturday and Sunday, so it's not like he needed work, and Dempster had allowed just four base runners through eight innings.

But I digress. Though the Cubs didn't record their first complete game of the season, they did notch their second shutout. Dempster's gem got the Cubs back to just two games under .500, which is their best record since May 7 when they were 14-16. It was a well-deserved win for Demp, who has gone at least six innings in all of his 10 starts this year.

Which reminds me, exactly who is supposed to go to the bullpen when Carlos Zambrano returns to the rotation? I agree with Ken Rosenthal: the other starters have been very consistent, and I think the team is still best-served with Big Z in the bullpen. Every current member of the starting rotation has a great reason to stay there: Dempster goes deep into games, giving the bullpen a rest; Gorzelanny has the best ERA of the five starters; the Cubs are 8-1 when Silva starts; Wells is 15-12 with a 3.21 ERA in his career; and Lilly is left-handed (the Cubs already have three lefties in the 'pen) and won at least 12 games each of the last four years. Or, the Cubs could try something different and go with a six-man rotation. But no matter what I think, Zambrano will return to the rotation next week against the Pirates.

The Cubs only managed six hits last night, but two errors by Rafael Furcal and two big hits by Derrek Lee (he was 3-for-3 overall) resulted in three Cubs runs. It was only the second time all year the Cubs have won when scoring three or fewer runs, but of course the Cubs will take it any way they can get it. Carlos Marmol snagged his third save in the last four games and 10th on the season, tying him for fifth in the NL in that category.

The Cubs have now won seven of nine overall, and are suddenly playing well against good teams after struggling mightily against the patsies of the National League. Here's hoping they can keep that up as they have two more against the Dodgers followed by their first match-up with the Cardinals this weekend.

Two notes: The Cubs would have won either way, but Tyler Colvin kept the "The Cubs Haven't Won When Tyler Colvin Doesn't Play" streak alive when he pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth; Starlin Castro kept his "Reached Base in Every Game" streak alive when he reached on an error in the eighth.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Racist basketball coach definitely not getting the most out of his roster

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Jerome Richardson watches as his team loses by 30. Teammate Lester Chadwick was 1-for-15 in the game with seven turnovers and one basket made for the other team.

CHESTER, South Carolina--When Len Wixby was hired as coach of the Chester Community College men's basketball team, most CCC students and locals weren't too bothered by the rumors that swirled about Wixby being a racist. But after a miserable 3-26 season, fans couldn't help but question his coaching strategy with regard to playing time.

For example, Bubba Smith, a white, 5'9 shooting guard, played nearly five times as many minutes as 6'5 Darius Jackson, who is black. Also, Jerome Richardson, a 6'8 forward who won his state's high school dunk competition and happens to be black, played in only three games all year as he was stuck behind 5'10 Lester Chadwick, who is white. "About the only thing Chadwick can jump," says a local scout, "is a car battery."

When reached for comment, Wixby defended himself by saying he's not a racist, he's just a terrible basketball coach.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week seven awards: Still stressful, but in a good way (like Lost)

Gonna have to make this a short one after a long night of Lost. The Cubs had a 5-2 week, their best week of the year and their first winning week since Week Four when they were 4-3. The Rockies were a game over .500 entering their series with the Cubs, which means the Cubs played three above average teams and managed to sweep a series, split a series, and win another. The last four games were one-run affairs, and it was nice to see the Cubs on the positive side of a couple close decisions.

Ryno of the Week: If there's one thing I hate, it's being repetitive. But even though the one thing I hate is being repetitive, this week's winner is the same as last week's: Sean Marshall. The 6'7 lefty had two wins and two holds, and lowered his ERA from 2.46 to 2.01 in the process. In the month of May, he's 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA. I shudder to think where the Cubs would be without him this year.

I have to give special props to some great offensive performances as well: Starlin Castro had at least one hit in all seven games en route to an 11-for-29 week with five RBI and four runs. And in limited duty, Tyler Colvin went 6-for-11 with four runs and two RBI.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Silva, Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week: This is a tough one, but I'm going to go with John Grabow. He appeared in four games this week and was very consistent--he allowed at least one run in every outing. He also walked five guys in just 3.1 innings, and had a 10.80 ERA. He is completely and utterly useless.

I'm giving Aramis Ramirez a pass this week only because one of his two hits directly resulted in the Cubs winning a game. But as my dad said, he's fast-approaching permanent Goat of the Week status; he was 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts. Here's a stat that will bring a tear to your eye even if none of those Lost montages did: Ramirez has struck out 40 times this year; in 2006 he played 157 games and struck out 63 times. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH HIM?

Dishonorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee

Friday, May 21, 2010

Grabow, wasted opportunity in ninth do Cubs in

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum / May 20, 2010)

I'm not mad that the Cubs lost yesterday, but I'm definitely frustrated about the way they lost. One out of two in Philly ain't bad--heck, I'll usually settle for one out of three in Cheese Steak Land. But the Cubs could have had that one. They came back from three runs down only to see John Grabow fire up his Evil Machine of Suckiness, and then failed to score the tying run in the ninth despite putting runners at first and third with nobody out against 77-year-old (it's true, look it up ... never mind, don't look it up) Jose Contreras.

Castro had a solid day at the plate with two hits and an RBI, but he looked bad striking out on three pitches in the ninth. Aramis Ramirez worked a 3-2 count but then swung at a pitch that may have been in a different time zone, and then Soto fouled out to end the threat and the game. It was just the second save of Contreras' career.

But even though I don't want to, let's go back to Grabow. The game-winning hit was a single to right by Raul Ibanez, but the real problem was the two walks that came before it. Grabow's never been a control guy--he actually walked more men per nine innings last year than he has this year, if you can believe it. But he's also allowed 23 hits in 15.1 innings this season, resulting in an 8.44 ERA and a crazy-bad 2.08 WHIP. He has allowed at least one run in five of his eight appearances in May. (Side note: I don't blame Piniella for not going to Sean Marshall given that he pitched Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He's been great, but we can't use him 90 times.) This is a tough situation--if Grabow can't pitch effectively, the Cubs are screwed anyways. But when we keep trotting him out there and runners keep trotting around the bases against him, it's not fun to watch.

Speaking of trotting around the bases, Dempster pitched decently but was hurt yet again by the long ball. Chase Utley hit one early and Jimmy Rollins's three-run blast, which came on a 3-0 pitch, was the eighth home run Demp has allowed this year. He allowed 22 last year and only 14 in 2008.

Two starts ago: Three-run shot by Joey Votto, Reds go up 5-3
Three starts ago: Two-run shot by Ryan Church, Pirates go up 2-1
Four starts ago: Home runs by Adam Kennedy and Adam Dunn account for two of the Nationals' runs in a 3-2 Cubs loss

So, it's safe to say that it's becoming a trend. Dempster has pitched solidly this year, but he's now lost five straight starts. He's going to have to keep the ball in the park more often if he wants to get into the win column more often.

Fukudome and Lee had home runs of their own yesterday. Lee's was especially nice to see as it was his first since April 25. Pat Hughes told listeners they could "get out the tape measure" on Lee's blast, which was nice to hear given that the only distance Lee's been covering lately is that from home plate to the dugout.

The Cubs are still 3-1 on the week and split a road series with the best team in the National League. They'll have to shake off this tough loss as they prepare for an early interleague series in Texas. The Cubs last played in Arlington in 2007, losing two of three (hey, look who lost the last game of that series!).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Howry reuniting with Cubs?

Reliever Bob Howry was recently released by the Diamondbacks, and word on the street is that the Cubs might reach out to him. Howry, of course, pitched for the Cubs from 2006-2008 before heading to the Giants in '09 and then Arizona this year. He was released after posting a 10.67 ERA in 14 appearances.

My immediate reaction upon hearing that the Cubs might sign Howry was two parts disgust and one part anger. A 36-year-old retread who couldn't even keep a job in the Diamondbacks' bullpen, which is the worst in the league by far? Jeez, Hendry, how desperate are you?

But then I remembered: Hendry is very desperate. As he should be. Cubs relievers sport a 4.95 ERA, and Sean Marshall, James Russell and Carlos Marmol are the only relievers I feel good about (perhaps because they're the only relievers with ERAs under six). The Cubs can sign Howry for about $280,000, otherwise known as "nothing" in the baseball world. It's a low risk, potentially high reward move. If Howry makes two or three appearances and sucks ... well, that's probably what Esmailin Caridad or John Grabow would have done anyway. And if he pitches well ... then Jeff Gray or Jeff Stevens can head back to the minors where they belong.

I don't expect much from Howry if the Cubs do in fact sign him. But recall that Jim Edmonds was hitting .178 with one home run and six RBI when he was cut by the Padres in 2008. With the Cubs, he put up a .343 OBP and 20 homers.

No one knows for sure what kind of numbers Howry could put up with the Cubs. But we do know that he'll play for next-to-nothing and that we don't have a whole lot of reliable options in our bullpen at the moment. Go ahead, Jim, take a shot.

The Tyler Colvin Effect

Tyler Colvin has played in 34 of the Cubs' 41 games and has started just 12 of those. But here's the more interesting number: 19. Colvin has played in 19 games that the Cubs have won. Of course, the Cubs have won 19 games total, which means ... Colvin has played in every Cubs victory this year.

Here are the scores of the games in which he did not appear at all:

Lost to ATL 3-2
Lost to NYM 4-0
Lost to PIT 3-2
Lost to PIT 4-2
Lost to CIN 14-2
Lost to FLA 4-2
Lost to FLA 3-2

Now I'm not suggesting that the Cubs are guaranteed to lose if Colvin doesn't play, but it does seem worth noting that the team is 19-15 when he steps on the field and 0-7 when he doesn't. That's as good an argument as any that he should get more playing time.

As I mentioned, he's had 12 starts through 41 games. When Piniella announced that the 24-year-old would make the team out of spring training, he stated the importance of finding him 2-3 starts per week. We're halfway through week seven, which means he's not even averaging two starts per week.

The problem, of course, is sort of a good one: Fukudome, Byrd and Soriano are all hitting at least .313 (Colvin is hitting .295), so it's been tough to get him into the lineup. But if we look at OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), it's a little easier to argue that Colvin should be playing more:

Fukudome- .946
Colvin------- .936
Byrd ---------.936

Among major league rookies, only Jason Heyward has more home runs than Colvin and only Heyward and the Tigers' Brennan Boesch have a higher OPS.

I grant that Colvin probably can't sustain these numbers--he's never had an OPS over .850 even in the minors. But he's playing well right now and deserves the 2-3 starts per week Lou promised back in March.

It's a strange time to write this post; after all, Lou did in fact start Colvin two of the last three games. But that was on the heels of six straight non-starts despite the fact that he hit a go-ahead home run the game before that. Those two starts also came just after Lou snapped at a reporter for asking whether Colvin should get more playing time. The answer, Lou, is yes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Can we call it a comeback?

It's hard to fathom that Carlos Silva has been a productive member of the Cubs' pitching staff through the first quarter of the season. When the Cubs acquired him in December in exchange for Milton Bradley, he had two positives going for him: he was a warm body, and the move saved the Cubs about $6 million.

Jeff Baker at the Seattle Times opined:
This is a huge deal for the Mariners. It's a no-brainer.
From Larry Stone at the same paper:
I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround. He went 4-15, 6.46 in 2008, and was 1-3, 8.60 in eight games in '09, spending most of the year on the disabled list. Bradley, at least, is healthy and can be very productive when he's focused and happy.
The blog Jorge Says No! added:
It has come to this. The Cubs were forced to take on one of the worst contracts in baseball just to get Milton Bradley off their hands. On one hand they should be celebrating that Milton is gone and they got some savings in return, but Carlos Silva has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball over the past two years.
I'm not trying to hammer these writers. Rather, their thoughts are representative of what pretty much every baseball fan thought about the trade. The Cubs had an albatross on their hands, were admittedly desperate, and agreed to take on a different albatross in exchange for their own. As Stone said, the man had an ERA over six the last two years--how else were we supposed to view the trade?

Brian Brennan, always looking for a way to snag an extra six-pack, tried to take advantage of Trevor Sierra's eternal optimism by betting him that Silva wouldn't even make the Cubs' Opening Day roster. Who could blame him? Silva was basically throwing batting practice the last two seasons--there's no spot on the 25-man roster for the batting practice guy.

But of course he did make the team, and now he's 5-0 with a 3.35 ERA. The Cubs are 7-1 in his starts. What in the world is going on here? Should we feel confident that he's back to his old form, or is this just a mirage, much like the thousands of people Milton Bradley sees yelling at him when he goes to bed at night? Let's take a quick look at his history.

While Silva was just plain awful with Seattle, he was offered a four-year, $48 million contract for a reason. From 2004 through 2007 with the Twins, he won at least nine games each year, had three seasons in which his ERA was 4.21 or lower, and amassed at least 180 innings all four years. (Not exactly a reason to dole out nearly $50 mil, but solid nonetheless.)

But even when he had success in Minnesota, lefties did significantly more damage against him than righties. In all four seasons, his WHIP and HR/9 were much higher against lefties. But when he went to Seattle, lefties really banged him around:

2008 vs LH: .348/.381/.555, 2.19 BB/9, 4.37 K/9, 44.5% GB%, 14.6% HR/FB%, .355 BABIP
2009 vs LH: .380/.436/.718, 3.94 BB/9, 2.25 K/9, 48.5% GB%, 21.1% HR/FB%, .359 BABIP

(hat tip: Dave Cameron, FanGraphs)

But so far this year, it's been a much different story:

2010 vs LH: .212/.264/.273, 2.45 BB/9, 5.89 K/9, 43.4% GB%, 4.5 HR/FB%, .247 BABIP

His WHIP against lefties is significantly lower than that against righties, and five of the six home runs he's allowed this season were to right-handed hitters. That FanGraphs article points out that Silva has altered his pitch selection to southpaws: he's using his changeup 40 percent of the time against lefties and 29 percent of the time overall, compared to 15 percent last year. Going away from his sinker has increased his fly ball rate, but to this point it hasn't hurt him. When the weather turns warm and the wind starts blowing out, this strategy could backfire.

Perhaps Silva is more comfortable throwing his changeup because he changed his position on the rubber prior to the season. From an emotional standpoint, it also seems entirely possible that he's been positively affected by his mother's presence here in the U.S. (see?)

Now, if Silva was going to have a misleadingly strong month, it would be April. He's 17-7 in that month in his career, easily the best record of any month. He also hasn't pitched in the NL since 2003, which means hitters don't have a good scouting report on him yet. There's also no question that his performance has regressed here in May. Probably the worst comparison to be found (in terms of being optimistic about his future performance) is the one originally posted at and then by Brian in the comments section of this blog:

Carlos Silva in first 6 starts of 2010:
3-0, 6 GS, 36 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 7 BB, 24 K

Carlos Silva first 6 starts of 2008:
3-0, 6 GS, 42 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 9 BB, 18 K

Carlos Silva in 2008 after those 6 starts:
1-15, 22 GS, 111 IP, 7.84 ERA, 1.760 WHIP, 23 BB, 51 K

All in all, it seems likely that Silva will continue to regress at least a little: he's never finished a season as a starter with an ERA as low as 3.35; his K/9 is the highest he's ever had; and his BAbip (average on balls in play) is also the lowest he's ever had (.283), though it's not so low as to be impossible for him to maintain.

On the other hand, he seems to have made some key adjustments that could enable him to perform much closer to the levels he was accustomed to in Minnesota as opposed to the struggles he encountered in Seattle. Few if any thought he'd be in the Cubs' rotation in mid-May, but perhaps the Cubs have found a fifth starter for the next two years.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Aramis squares one up, Cubs win 4-2


I wasn't going to write a recap of last night's game, but I simply couldn't resist putting pen to paper (er, whatever) after seeing Aramis Ramirez do something he hadn't done since Tax Day--hit a home run. There's no telling whether that walk-off bomb will finally get him going again, but it's fun to assume it will, so ... yay, Ramirez is back!

But seriously, that was easily the best moment of the season for me. In just 39 games, my feelings on Ramirez sank from having complete faith in him to extreme frustration to basically assuming he would never ever hit the ball hard ever again. I don't think I've ever taken that emotional journey quite so quickly. There were times the last couple years when I took part of that journey with Soriano, and I took that journey over a more extended time frame with Sammy Sosa, but this was different (I say "was" because, once again, I'm assuming Ramirez will bat at least .400 the rest of the year). I was to the point that if Ramirez would have hit a solo home run with the Cubs down by 10, I would have pretty much considered that game a success. For him to crush one in the 11th inning of a tie game? Well that's just downright delicious.

Sean Marshall claimed his second win in as many days with two perfect innings that included four strikeouts. The bullpen threw four innings in all and had success for the most part, but two walks by Grabow and a four-pitch walk from Marmol to a guy who has had three seasons in which he walked fewer than 10 times allowed the Rox to force extras. Randy Wells had a strong start, scattering seven hits and escaping a bases loaded, one-out jam in the fourth.

Derrek Lee made many, many outs, but Fukudome and Castro combined for five hits and two runs at the top of the order. Castro also stole a base easily (on the negative side, he failed to get a successful bunt down).

The only thing that tempered the Cubs' second walk-off win of the season was the elephant in the dugout, er, room--why was Carlos Zambrano in the dugout rather than available from the bullpen last night? It turns out he's moving to a long-relief role, which leads you to believe he's on his way back to the rotation. There have been a lot of calls lately for Z to be a starter again, and I'm okay with that. The only problem is, the bullpen will just get that much worse. The fact is, the Cubs just don't have enough good pitchers to form a good starting staff and a good bullpen, so they're sort of screwed either way. But Zambrano might have more success in a long-relief role since he often struggles in his first inning, as sinkerballers often do. He was not very effective as a one-inning set-up type guy.

The Cubs have just one sweep on the season (in Milwaukee), but I'm completely fine with their second coming in a short two-gamer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Week six awards: "Why are they doing this to us?"

Despite a win to finish out the week, the Cubs lost two more series in the last seven days. They've won three series this year and lost nine. It's like people always say: just win one of out of every three and you'll be in good shape at the end of the season. No wait, that doesn't sound right.

The Cubs needed two nail-biter 4-3 victories to keep from getting swept in back-to-back series and to stave off an to 0-6 record against the Pirates this year, a team they lost to eight times the last two years combined. The 2-4 week leaves them six games under .500 with three teams ahead of them in the division. At the top of the heap is a team that wears red but not the one you'd expect: Dusty Baker's Reds. Incidentally, the Cubs have scored just three fewer runs than the Reds and have a better ERA. Either the Reds are over-performing, the Cubs are under-performing, or both.

Here's the other good news: though it may have felt like 50, the Cubs were outscored by only five runs in the last two series. They lost two one-run games and also a two-run decision as they failed to turn the corner offensively. While it's good they're not getting blown out, their tendency to lose pretty much every close game they play is immensely frustrating and the reason for the title of today's post. Why, Cubs? Why must you torture us?

They still have two more games at Wrigley to try to get momentum on their side before hitting the road again.

Ryno of the Week: Tom Gorzelanny went 1-for-2 at the plate, and he was pretty much the Cubs' offensive star. Okay, okay, Soriano did go 8-for-22 with five RBI, which ain't bad. But Sean Marshall gets the nod this week after he earned a hold and a win, playing an instrumental role in both of the Cubs' wins. The man quietly goes about his business every year--he has a 2.45 ERA and a miniscule 0.87 WHIP, which would be the lowest in the league if he had logged enough innings to qualify.

Honorable mention: Carlos Silva

Goat of the Week: Though I feel badly for him after he got plunked on the elbow and had to miss Sunday's game, Ryan Theriot was just 3-for-17 last week with no walks. He also had a chance to tie Saturday's game in the ninth inning, needing only a fly ball to do so. Instead, he struck out.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

Friday, May 14, 2010

Around the majors

-Since August 16, 2008, Zack Greinke has a ridiculous 2.11 ERA in 48 starts. In those games, the Royals are just 23-26. (hat tip: Joe Posnanski)

-Only two of the six NL Central teams are over .500; only one AL East team is under .500.

-Raise your hand if you thought the Braves and Mariners would be in last place and the Padres would have the best record in the National League.

-San Diego has eight shutouts this season. Go ahead, try to name two of their starters. I dare you. (Jeopardy song plays.) Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, Mat Latos and Kevin Correia and Wade LeBlanc.

-You get a prize if you can name two of the top three ERA leaders in the American League: Phil Hughes (Yankees), C.J. Wilson (Rangers) and Doug Fister (Mariners).

-I'm not sure if it matters much given all their big-time sluggers, but the Phillies do have an offensive weakness: speed. They have an NL-worst 10 stolen bases. And lest you think they've had success in recent years despite this flaw, they finished in the top 10 in the majors in 2008 and 2009 in this category.

-The Cubs led the majors in strikeouts for eight straight years, but finished second last year. They're currently second behind Toronto despite having Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny in the rotation and Carlos Zambrano in the bullpen.

-No team has more complete games than Roy Halladay (three). Nyjer Morgan has more triples (five) than 10 different teams.

-Despite being a reliever, Tyler Clippard of the Nationals leads the majors in wins with seven. The Yankees' Alfredo Aceves led all relievers in wins last year with 10.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Silva pitches well, offense does just enough in 4-3 win

It's May 13, the Cubs have played over 21 percent of their schedule, and Carlos Silva is still without a loss. He bounced back from two mediocre starts and moved to 4-0 with a solid outing against the Marlins yesterday. The Cubs are 6-1 in Silva's starts and three of their four wins in May have come in games in which he took the mound. It's quite possible that Silva could retire today and we would still say two years from now that Hendry fleeced the Mariners. I'm only half joking.

The offense didn't exactly bust out of their slump, but two big doubles by Mike Fontenot and Marlon Byrd--along with a wild pitch by Chris Volstad--enabled the Cubs to eke out a victory. Derrek Lee and Starlin Castro chipped in two hits apiece, and Aramis Ramirez was given another day off. Oh, that reminds me: a quick word on Aramis Ramirez saying he's his own hitting coach. Really, Aramis? Rudy Jaramillo and his $2.4 million contract beg to differ. Look, I know you're a veteran and all, and a player who's had a great deal of success in the past. Clearly you do have a pretty good idea how to hit a baseball. But right now, you don't. Your major league-worst .159 batting average indicates that if you are your own hitting coach, you suck at it. You're fired. Luckily, the Cubs happen to have another hitting coach on hand, and it just so happens that he's been paid to work with major league hitters for the last 20 years. Maybe just have a chat with him, chew the fat, a little tete-a-tete. Maybe drop the macho "I can do it all" shtick, because you can't. Not right now, anyway.

On that note, I also think it's time for Piniella to move both Derrek Lee and Ramirez down in the batting order. It doesn't have to be permanent, of course. I still have faith that both of them will have solid seasons, but right now, they are two big black holes in the middle of the lineup. Theriot and Fukudome tend to get on base (.357 and .422 OBPs, respectively), then Lee and Ramirez strike out, pop it up, etc., and the inning ends. To wit: yesterday, Lee popped out with runners at first and second and nobody out, and grounded out with a runner at third and only one out.

After our resident minor leaguers are done stabbing a rally in the chest dozens of times, the bottom of the order does decently, but the pitcher comes up and it's all for naught once again. On Monday, Lilly's first two at bats came with runners and first and third and then with the bases loaded. Suffice to say, those situations did not work out in the Cubs' favor. Move Lee and Ramirez down until they finally get hot, Lou, and then move them back up where they can do some damage. Right now the only thing they're damaging is Ron Santo's heart.

Carlos Marmol raised Santo's blood pressure in the ninth yesterday (and mine), though he did escape with his fifth save of the season. For some reason, he seemed to be overly reliant on his slider. Against Brian Barden, he threw five sliders and one fastball. Against Gaby Sanchez, four sliders and a curveball. I haven't seen that many sliders since I got drunk and went to White Castle with a stolen credit card. He finally did strike out Hanley Ramirez looking with a fastball on the inside corner, but where was that pitch for the first five hitters of the inning? But I digress. Marmol got the job done and the Cubs avoided the sweep.

Up next are the Pirates, who were just swept by the Reds and failed to score in their last two games. Just over a week after the Cubs were embarrassed in Pittsburgh, they get a chance for some revenge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fun with statistics
  • Starlin Castro had six RBI after three major league at-bats. The man he essentially replaced in the lineup, Mike Fontenot, had 71 at-bats before Castro's call-up. In those 71 at-bats, he had ... six RBI. Fontenot nearly doubled his season's RBI total in his 72nd at-bat of the season with a pinch-hit grand slam.
  • Aramis Ramirez has the same number of strikeouts (31) as hits and runs combined (20 + 11 = 31). Ramirez also has a lower batting average (.159) than Ryan Dempster and a lower OBP than Carlos Silva who, prior to this year, had not played in the National League since 2003.
  • Speaking of Silva, he has four quality starts this season; he had one all of last season (granted, he was injured for a significant portion of it). Silva has three wins on the season; he had five the last two seasons combined.
  • Ryan Theriot had back-to-back games with two stolen bases on April 12 and April 14. He has stolen only two other bases this season.
  • Marlon Byrd has 23 RBI this season. The man he essentially replaced, Milton Bradley, notched his 23rd RBI on July 25 of last year.
  • Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have combined for fewer hits than Tigers rookie Austin Jackson.
  • Of the four Cubs starters with the most starts, Gorzelanny and Dempster have the best ERAs (2.83 and 3.44, respectively) but the fewest wins (1 and 2). Silva and Wells (3.50 and 4.57) have three wins each.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lilly victimized by shabby offense and shoddy defense

After a miserable six-game road trip on which they struggled to score runs, played poor defense and didn't have enough pitching, the Cubs finally got back to Wrigley Field ... and had the exact same problems.

Ted Lilly held the Marlins hitless and walkless through five innings, but Starlin Castro's second error of the game opened the sixth inning and opened the door for the Marlins' first run. Lilly allowed three runs of the earned variety in the seventh after the Cubs had re-taken the lead, and that, as they say, was that. Though the Cubs outhit the Marlins, runs were hard to come by. Soriano had the team's only real good day at the plate with three hits--all of them line drives to left field--and both runs batted in. In the Cubs' last eight homes games, Soriano is 11-for-24 with 12 RBI.

But in the team's last six games overall, taking out the 14-run outburst on Friday, the run totals look like this: 2, 2, 1, 2, 3. Ouch. Unless you're the 1995 Braves, that's not going to win you a lot of games.

And neither is a shortstop who makes three errors per game. What the heck got into Kid Castro yesterday? He made bad throws on two routine grounders and booted another one. He was so upset about the fielding error that he decided to let Hanley Ramirez run to second, adding a mental error to his physical one. Castro now has four errors to go along with his four hits. I thought the defense was already part of the package! I know there's a step up involved in the transition to the major leagues, but routine throws aren't a whole lot different at Wrigley as opposed to Tennessee.

But, even if that unearned run doesn't cross the plate, the Cubs still lose 3-2. You know how sometimes people say "There's just no quit in this team"? Well, there doesn't appear to be any start in this Cubs team. Or at least no consistency. They're like that 1972 Ford Ranchero out back--it'll start every now and then, but when you need to get your pregnant wife to the hospital because she just went into labor, that better not be your only option because chances are it's not going to start, and you're probably going to be delivering that baby yourself.

The Cubs' record of 14-19 is starting to look kinda, you know ... bad. I know what will make us feel better: Let's make fun of all the NL teams with records worse than the Cubs'. Like the Houston Astros. Ha, those stupid Astros, they're so terrible.

Damn, that's it. The Astros are the only team in the National League worse than the Cubs.

Well, the offense can't keep this up, right? After all, they're fifth in the league in average and fourth in OBP. They're 10th in average with runners in scoring position, however. Not only do the Cubs have too much talent to keep playing this way, they're also hitting too well to keep scoring such low run totals. All it takes is a few clutch hits or a long ball every now and then.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Week five awards

Well, that's as bad as it gets. At least, I hope that's as bad as it gets. A 1-5 road trip against the Pirates and Reds in which the Cubs got outscored by 20 runs despite winning a game by seven. Looking at the current standings, the best team the Cubs have played all year is the Washington Nationals, who are 17-14 (same record as the Mets). And yet the Cubs are just 14-18 and have been outscored by their opponents overall. The ship is sailing in the wrong direction, to put it mildly, and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez (hitting a combined .184) are at the helm.

Ryno of the Week: Perhaps I'm just caught up in his first-ever major league game fireworks, but then again, Starlin Castro did drive in six runs in one game while the Cubs scored 10 runs in the other five games on the road trip combined. Castro committed an error as well, but that's the kind of week it was--even the good players weren't that good.

Goat of the Week: It's nice to have options, I guess. I'll go with Randy Wells, who lasted just two horrific innings against the second-worst offense in the National League and raised his ERA from 3.45 to 4.86. It was not a good week for Cubs pitching in general, but Wells' game was over before it started.

Lou Piniella gets a special dishonorable mention for leaving Ryan Dempster in yesterday instead of going to Sean Marshall with Joey Votto coming up. Lou warmed Marshall up, Dempster got into a first-and-third situation, a power-hitting lefty came up, Lou went to the mound, and ... Marshall stayed in the bullpen. While Dempster served up a three-run bomb. Nice call, Lou.

Dishonorable mentions: Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Justin Berg, John Grabow

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, who made me a Cubs fan; to my sister, Mandy, who is enjoying her second Mother's Day; and to all the other mothers out there. Hopefully the Cubs will bust out the big (pink) bats today and get a win!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cubs call up Starlin Castro

So says Phil Rogers.

This is a somewhat strange move, given that the Cubs could have potentially saved a truckload of money by waiting just a few weeks to bring him up. And with Theriot playing so well (leading the league in hits), it's also an odd time to move him to second base.

It sounds like Chad Tracy will be moved to the minors to make room for Castro on the roster.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this yet, but the positive view is that it's pretty exciting to finally have the Cubs' hottest prospect joining the big club. After a miserable set against the Pirates, it's clear the Cubs could use a boost. While it's unfair to expect phenomenal production from Kid Castro, perhaps he can inject some life into the team.

Sabermatricians go one step too far with new Ultimate Weighted On-Base Average Rating on Balls Put in Play Percentage Per Nine Innings Ratio

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Bill James, shown here trying to think of another way to make you feel stupid.

NEW YORK--Sabermetricians have finally taken their obsession with statistics one step too far. Bill James, founder of the Society for American Baseball Research, recently introduced a new statistic called Ultimate Weighted On-Base Average Rating on Balls Put in Play Percentage Per Nine Innings Ratio (uWOBARBPiP%/9R), which is designed to reveal how often a player gets on base when he puts the ball in play, on average, per nine innings, er, the ratio of, um ... s**t, I have absolutely no idea what it means.

"This statistic will revolutionize the way we analyze the game of baseball," James said, repeating the line he used when he revealed statistics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Weighted On-Base Average. When pressed to be more specific, James, looking very professorial and intelligent, simply said, "Statistics." When asked for more details, he calmly replied, "Baseball."

James admitted that the statistic might need to be refined a bit given that Albert Pujols' major league-leading uWOBARBPiP%/9R of 34.7624 puts him just barely ahead of Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, who has yet to bat this season.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cubs' 2009 castoffs: What are they doing now?

*statistics accurate through Tuesday

Milton Bradley

There have already been a couple Bradley updates on this blog, but here's another: he's been slowed by a calf injury and, presumably, by the fact that he's certifiably insane. He's hitting .214 with two home runs and 12 RBI. He has a relatively poor .313 OBP. Oh, and he's mad again.

***UPDATE: Bradley is out indefinitely until he receives an outside assessment and a plan to address his issues. The Bradley/Silva trade is approaching Todd Hundley-for-Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek level.

Aaron Miles
Miles disappointed the Cubs immensely in 2009, and did the same to the Reds in spring training. They designated him for assignment (i.e. released him) on April 5, and he signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals last Tuesday.

Reed Johnson
Jim Hendry let Johnson go in favor of free agent Xavier Nady. Johnson found a home with the Dodgers, and here's the comparison thus far:


So, basically, it's a big shoulder shrug of a move at this point. However, there's a $2.5 million difference in their salaries, so Nady needs to get it going to make Hendry's investment a good one.

Andres Blanco
He has only amassed 33 at-bats with the Rangers thus far--his slash line (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is an underwhelming .212/.278/.212.

Rich Harden
Rich Harden has been SO Rich Harden with the Rangers. He has not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his six starts this season, yet he's gone five innings or more just three times. His walk total in his first five starts: 5, 3, 6, 4, 5. Not good. He's had two pretty good starts in a row, however, including a dominant outing on Monday.

Aaron Heilman
You probably know what he's up to after having seen him pitch against the Cubs this weekend: six earned runs in just 10.2 innings on the season (5.06 ERA), plus five walks and two home runs.

Kevin Gregg
Gregg lost out on the closer role in spring training, but Jason Frasor's struggles have resulted in several save opportunities for him. He's 7-for-7 in those chances, has struck out 16 guys in 13 innings, and has a miniscule 0.69 ERA. Basically, he's been awesome. If we would have known he was going to do that, he would have fit real nicely in the eighth inning for the Cubs!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates

Image from

The Pirates got off to a 7-5 start but have gone a more Pirate-like 3-10 since. Their recent slide is not the result of bad luck--the fact is, they don't do much of anything well. They've scored just 86 runs this season (second-worst in the NL) while allowing more than twice that many (175, worst in the NL). This amazingly bad run differential puts them on pace to be outscored by nearly 600 runs this season. While that's really, really unlikely to happen, it's clear that Pittsburgh is really, really bad.

Which is nothing new, of course. The Cubs went 10-4 against them last year after going 14-4 the year before. Though the Cubs will be away from home, they really need to start the road trip off right by winning--if not sweeping--this series. Fortunately, using the transitive property, we can see that the Pirates have been outscored by an average of seven runs per game in their six contests with the Brewers this year, while the Cubs have outscored the Brewers by an average of four runs per game; therefore, the Cubs will outscore the Pirates by an average of 11 runs per game in this series. That's science.

Tuesday, May 4--Ryan Dempster (2-1, 2.78) vs. LH Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.83)

Dempster has been on fire lately, even if he did lose his last start. He beat the Pirates twice last year, but had a modest 4.66 ERA against them. While it's still early, Dempster's road split is actually better than his home split so far this season--he has a 1.32 ERA in two road starts, with three walks and 13 strikeouts.

Maholm's last two starts were almost identical: 7 IP, 4 ER in both. His one start against the Cubs last year was the reverse: 4 IP, 7 ER, though the Pirates won that game 10-8 (look who got the win). He struggles against righties, so Xavier Nady is likely to get a start here against his former team.

Wednesday, May 5--Ted Lilly (1-1, 4.91) vs. Charlie "Holy crap look how bad my numbers are" Morton (0-5, 12.57)

These two matched up last September 30, with Morton throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout. In mid-August, however, Morton lasted just one inning against the Cubs and gave up 10 earned runs. Morton has been downright awful this season: he's allowed at least three earned runs in all five of his starts, given up seven long balls, and has allowed more than two hits and walks per inning pitched (2.17 WHIP). Go get 'im, boys.

It was probably unfair to assume that despite having just come off the DL, Lilly would stay in the groove he was in when he faced Milwaukee. He struggled with his control and gave up several long balls in his second start of the year last week against Arizona, giving him one great start and one terrible one on the season. Lilly was 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA against the Pirates last year. Andy LaRoche is the only current Pirate with a home run off Lilly, while Ryan Doumit is 5-for-15 in his career against him.

Thursday, May 6--Randy Wells (3-0, 3.45) vs. LH Brian "TBD" Burres (1-1, 6.00)

The Pirates have not yet announced Thursday's starter--someone needs to fill in for the injured Ross Ohlendorf. Burres did so admirably last week with 5.1 scoreless against the Dodgers, and seems a likely candidate for the series finale. Only Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady have faced him more than three times--Nady is 2-for-7 against him while Byrd's one hit off him was a home run. Recently recalled Brian Bass would seem to be the other potential starter for this game (9.00 ERA in 2 IP).

Wells had his worst start of the season on Friday, though he still got the win. He had success against the Pirates last year, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Andrew McCutchen is 3-for-5 against him.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Week four awards

Can someone please adjust the calendar in the Cubs' clubhouse to make it seem like every day is either Friday, Saturday or Sunday? For the second straight week, the Cubs used a stellar weekend to turn what was shaping up to be a frustrating stretch into a 4-3 week; they're now 7-3 in their last 10 overall. After unloading for 25 runs last weekend against the Brewers, the Cubs put up 28 runs this weekend and came back to take three of four from the Diamondbacks. They're back to .500 and will try for the fifth time to get over the hump when they head to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Ryno of the Week: These offensive outbursts are making it hard to choose--the Cubs are now fifth in the NL in runs scored and tied for fourth in OBP. Byrd continued to torch opposing pitchers this week, piling up 11 hits. Ryan Theriot had four multi-hit games this week and has a 12-game hitting streak overall. Kosuke Fukudome's solid week has him in the top ten in the NL in batting average, OBP and OPS. In fact, Byrd, Theriot and Fukudome are all in the top 10 in the NL in batting with Soriano close behind at 14th.

And it's Alfonso Soriano who gets the nod this week. He was 8-for-20 with six of those hits going for extra bases, including four home runs. One of his long balls gave the Cubs the lead and another tied the score in a game they eventually won. He also drove in 10, scored seven times, and drew four walks throughout the week. He consistently displayed patience as he watched sliders off the outside corner go by, waited for a hitter's pitch, and drilled it. He's in one of those zones we got used to back in 2008, and boy is it fun to watch.

Honorable mention: Tom Gorzelanny

Goat of the Week: It pains me to do this for the second week in a row, but Aramis Ramirez was just 5-for-25 (four singles and a double) and continued to be a virtual black hole in the middle of the Cubs' lineup. The highest his average got all week was .159. His current .156 average is the lowest in the NL by 24 points and higher than only Travis Snyder and Nick Johnson in the majors. Which is, you know, not good.

Dishonorable mention: Derrek Lee