*The following is a post taken from The Angry Bench Coach, my new blog. Please visit the site there at http://www.ballhouse.blogspot.com.*
For those of you who haven’t been following Rich Harden lately, be prepared to
be amazed. Harden, who busted onto the scene with the A’s in 2004 — which was
also the last time he started more than 20 games — has returned, and is
pitching in rare form, (which means he is pitching in real major league games,
as opposed to those mysterious simulated games.) He spent five weeks on the
sidelines this year with a strained right shoulder earlier in the season.
Shortly after his return, he was traded to the Cubs. And Harden has managed to
remain healthy for a solid three months now, and things seem to be back on
Most importantly, Harden is owning the National League. Now, we know
that the when a pitcher and batter face each other for the first time, the
advantage generally lies with the pitcher. And this is why pitchers, when
changing leagues, tend to perform better, (see Bronson Arroyo.) In four
starts with the Cubs, Harden’s stats are as follows:
Those are pretty impressive numbers. Simply put, since joining the
National League, Harden has gone off on NL batters. Especially with the
14.43K/9IP. The 1.11 ERA and the 0.91
WHIP? These are God numbers. Overall, Harden’s season numbers
aren’t that far off the mark either. Despite having pitched 61 fewer innings
than strikeout leader CC Sabathia, (101 v. 162), Harden has just 26 fewer
strikeouts, (131 v. 157). Harden’s season ERA is 2.04, and his WHIP is 1.09. And
of course, that 11.64K/9IP. (Scott Kazmir is in 2nd place among full time
starters, with 9.95K/9IP.) Opponents are batting .196 against him. Let me repeat
that — when you go up against Rich Harden, you are essentially a Mendoza Line
Quite frankly, Mr. Harden is spewing fire out of his right arm. And if that
shoulder stays intact, the Cubs would do well to sign this man for a very, very
long time, (he is only 26). Now that Dusty Baker is out, they can count on
actually being able to use the arms that they sign in the future. As far as I am
aware, Lou Pinella doesn’t have a strange habit of throwing his young pitchers
out there for 130 pitches each start until their arm flies towards home plate,
(see Kerry Wood; Mark Prior.)
Remember Mark Prior? – April 8th, 2007
At the risk of becoming repetitive – this will be our third pitching post in a row – it seems that Rich Hill got over whatever slump he was in. In 3 outings against the Phillies, Mets, and Padres – totaling 17 innings – he allowed 14 ER. He also walked 9 guys. Not surprisingly, he earned three loses for his efforts. Things were looking bad for Hill, and things were looking bad for the Cubs as well. No worse than usual, as the Cubs, at the time of Hill’s last loss, were 20-23. Pretty good for a team that has no business near the top of any division. They’re now 26-32, but Hill is doing better. You’re right, none of that makes any sense. The bottom line is, the Cubs are a bad team. But Cub fan will read hope into anything he can find, so we’re just going to play around with his emotions a little.
Ah. Back to Mr. Hill. In his last three games, (against LA and ATLx2), he has gone 21 innings, allowing just 2 runs and striking out 20 batters – 11 of them last night. He has issued only 4 walks. This is more like the early season Rich Hill that we saw. Rich Hill is a special guy, because he has a special curveball. You really have to see it. Right when you think the pitch is sailing high, it drops like the Cardinals starting pitching. Rich now has a respectable 2.71 ERA and a 5-4 record. Mark my words – this dude will be something great one day. He just turned 27. When he was 23 or 24 I saw him pitching, and even then he had a knockout curveball. Then, at that moment, I knew he was going to do big things with that curve. And I’m still just as sure.
As for the rest of the Cubs pitching staff, we sadly cannot say the same good things. Just a quick rundown. Carlos Zambrano is NOT having a good year. First off, who really cares about the fights? Dude was pissed, and I can’t blame him. The Cubs committed 5 ERRORS on the play that caused that fight, even if only one of them were scored. First, Barrett allowed the ball to get by him. He then made a bad throw. Ramirez made a cra*py stab at it. Thats three errors. Then the shortstop was WAY late backing up the throw – he should’ve been running behind third the second the runner took off – 4 errors. Then, when he finally got his slow *ss behind 3rd, he still missed the ball. Thats 5 errors. Heck, when I played little league ball, we had it more down. No wonder Zambrano threw punches. The dude is a walking firebomb, and that play was a cordite flash-fire. Of course he’s going to go off on you. Anyway, 5.38 ERA. Not the greatest. Then we’ve got Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, decent innings-eater-type starters. Wait. Stop right there. I know what you’re thinking – "but wait, Marquis has a 2.84 ERA hes awesome LOL!" Incorrect. He’s Jason Marquis, and he pitches for the Cubs. That ship is going to come crashing back down to earth, just like the Chris Capuano rocketship did earlier this year. Heck, it already has. Marquis hasn’t won a game since May 9th. The back end of the rotation is Sean Marshall. Haven’t made a decision on him yet, I think he may s*ck though. He’s 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts so far, so we’ll have to wait and see to be sure.
Got another post in mind for today, so keep coming back.
"Welcome to the Wacky fun house that is the NL Central" – May 28, 2007
If you’re a Cub fan, you may have entered this season under the impression that, with Dusty Baker gone, your franchise would accomplish great things. With Lou here, the team would excel. Or so you were led to believe. Sadly – but predictably, nonetheless – this is not the case. The Cubs are 20-21 right now. This record is highly deceiving. Of the Cubs 20 wins, 12 came against the Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, and Nationals – teams that are a combined 66-98, which is a .402 winning percentage.
Whether or not you buy into this ‘strength of schedule’ argument, all you really need to do is look at the Cubs lineup. The Cubs have exactly one guy with an average over .300 – his name is Derrick Lee, who, as you may be aware, is currently injured. Last year, the Cubs had five guys with 180+ AB’s and an OBP over .300. By comparison, the Marlins had nine regulars with OBP’s over .300. The Pirates had 10. It’s really not a big feat to get half of your lineup over the .300 mark for on base %, but the Cubs barely did it. Why is this relevant? Back to our first point. Cubs fans were led to believe that, despite the fact that only one major offensive change was made – the addition of Alfonso Soriano and his .326 career OBP – that the team was good to go for the year. Unfortunately, you cannot win games if you cannot get on base. Last year, the Cubs finished 29th in OBP as a team, just 5 thousandths of a point above the Devil Rays. They had a team OBP of .319. This translates into a difference of about 500 plate appearances throughout the year between a team with a good OBP and a bad one. This turns out to be about 3 extra plate appearances a game. Which, of course, amounts to just about one extra inning a game. Imagine how crippled your offense would be if, as your team was leaving the field to go up to bat, the umps told them to head back out there – your team’s half of the inning was going to be skipped. This is essentially what happens to the Cubs every game. To make matters worse, the Cubs aren’t what you would call efficient at the plate either – they were ranked #21 in total bases last year.
The moral of the story is, as usual, that only hitting begets runs. Managers do not beget runs. Poorly spent money does not beget runs. A couple bargain pitchers do not beget runs. I stress this point because we have seen it recently with the Blue Jays, the Mariners, and whoever else you want to accuse of being run deprived. In general, if you cannot put a guy on base, you’re not going to bring him home.
Ironically enough, my impetus for writing this post was watching Jason Marquis – who I was hoping to give me a few good points in my fantasy matchup, go up 5-3 on the White Sox, only to give up two more runs and leave the game 5-5. To make matters worse, the opposing team was starting Vazquez, who was set to win the game for the White Sox. And then the Cubs go and win it, 11-6. Make of that what you will.
Yeah, I hate to make two Cubs-related posts in a row. But neither Dusty Baker nor Mark Prior are still actually with the Cubs, however, so… At least Mark is dealing with his recent demotion with all the grace that could be expected of a guy in his situation. And by ‘his situation’ I mean, 26 years old, former All-Star, won 18 games in 2003 and struck out 245 with an ERA of 2.43. That was almost four years ago. And now, he is a proud member of the AAA-Iowa Cubs. Actually, he’s not technically on the roster, because he has yet to ‘return’ from another injury. I’m not sure how, during spring training, he was being considered for the fifth spot in the rotation. Prior doesn’t seem to have an acute injury. He simply has one, very chronic, shoulder injury. His velocity in the spring was in the mid-80’s. For a guy that relied largely on a lights-out fastball, mid-80’s is pretty awful. Even I can throw mid-80’s, (despite having what they call an unstable shoulder.) So yeah, Mark, mid-80’s isn’t too hot. However, I find it absolutely ludicrous that, with millions of dollars at stake, not to mention his professional reputation, he hasn’t found some way to rehab it. There has got to be more to the story. But I don’t think we should keep reading his name in reports as, "Prior (shoulder) hasn’t made an appearance since…" until we actually have a description of this phantom injury. Or at least something like, he visited a specialist who can’t find the problem. Well, enough speculating. What does Prior have to say about this?
I’m just an employee. The goal now is to go down and help that team win and try to make the AAA All-Star team. Maybe I can get invited to the Futures game or something. I’m still 26. It’s part of the business. That’s the way I look at it. There’s not much I can say. I’m a controlled player. I do what I am told.
Wow. That’s seriously depressing. And a major bummer. Here’s a former 18-game winner who is aspiring to make the AAA All-Star team, and maybe, maybe, if he gets really lucky, he can even make the Futures game. Thats really sick. I do what I am told? It’s almost like he’s been emotionally beaten into submission by some force within the Cubs organization. Creepy. Also, the previous link was not a mistake.
And you know Rich Hill is going to be a lights out guy someday soon. I meant to write about him about a year ago. I saw him throw a couple years back and the dude had a lights out curve ball. And so I drafted him in the 20th round of my pay league. Dude went for the perfect game against the Brewers, and didn’t allow a hit until Corey Hart took him deep in the sixth. He ended up with 6 K’s in 7IP. And that HR was the only hit he allowed. Just watch out for the guy.
More to come sometime this week. Gonna try to get the taxes done early this year, but hopefully we can break down most of the guys on my fantasy team this year. Eventually.
And for now on, we’re doing this. We’ll just end each post with a quote from The Office. Gotta love that show.
"Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information."
As we all know, Dusty Baker is no longer at the helm of the Chicago Cubs. He left, and Lou Pinella took his place. That’s a pretty big adjustment for D. Lee, Dempster, and A Ramirez to make. But I’m sure they’ll make it work, right? After all, they always find a way. It’ll be interesting to see if this team implodes in on itself again, if it actually performs to expectations, or if they resort to beaning opposing batters to "defend themselves," as Lou’s previous team did. In the end, I’m disappointed, because I will no longer be able to poke fun at Baker’s crazy antics, or the fact that he is flat out the worst in-game manager in the sport. Especially since Alan Trammel took himself out of the running last year. Bummer, I’ll miss Baker.
Or so I thought.
See, I turned on ESPN yesterday to catch some opening day ball. And then I heard one of the announcers mention something about how to catch a pop-up, concluding what I’m sure was a flash of brilliance with, "isn’t that right, Dusty?" I’ve got rabbit ears for the guy, and if I wasn’t 100% focused before, which I wasn’t, I was now. Sure enough, Dusty Baker was in the booth, "commentating." I did some digging and found out that Baker is not only going to appear on the regular season telecasts, but he is a full-fledged analysis on Baseball Tonight as well. I missed that, because Baseball Tonight isn’t my favorite show. The point is, that’s great. Now, I didn’t hear any interesting Baker-isms, but I’m sure he’s just starting off a little shy. He’ll warm up. By the All-Star break, we’ll start hearing about how all the walks the A’s are getting are just clogging up the bases for the guys that can run. Just wait for it.
Ben Sheets is back. Apparently, he finally remembered who he is, and what people used to think he was. People used to expect great things from the guy. Especially after he shut down the world in the 2000 Olympics, allowing just 1 run in 22 innings. But lately he hasn’t been so hot. I’ve always had faith in the guy. But nothing adds to faith like a 9-inning, 2 hit, 1 run opening day start.
So, I’m back, obviously. I’m going to try to keep this thing going for now on a semi regular basis. I know I said that a lot in the off-season, but it was just really hard to find something to write about. That won’t be as much of a problem now… and I’ll try to hit on the usual interesting, obscure stuff. Not the boring stuff we talked about today. Shoot. See you in a few.
The Cubs have never been known for their shrewd management
skills throughout the last five years or so, (and, well, technically, the last
99 years.) The Dusty Baker Era/Experiment died a sick and, for us fans of
humor, unfortunate death this off-season. But, that’s not where the madness
ends. I think a little re-hashing would do everyone some good. We’re gonna be
kind of tricky here and start at the beginning of this off-season, then kind of
work our way back.
To start off, Cubs management fired Dusty Baker. Why they did this is, to me, a
mystery. Sure, the team finished a game back of the Pirates and 30 games South
of .500. The players were soft, and Dusty liked it that way. He is also the
worst in-game manager in the history of the sport. His ‘strategies’ went against
every logical rule in baseball – "If
you take a walk, most of the time you’re just clogging up the bases for someone
who can run." And, while this made for one of the most entertaining
franchises in the past few years, eventually taking the K instead of the BB
will catch up to you, in the W column. So, they canned him. What about his days
in Frisco, you might ask? Put it this way – if Phil Jackson’s mother was
coaching the Chicago Bulls between 1989 and ’98, they would have still been
amazing, because they had Michael freaking Jordan.
Now, this is what does not make sense.
How do you fire Baker, and then turn around and give pitching coach Larry
Rothschild an extension? Rothschild is guilty of everything Baker is. This man has done more to keep Wood and Prior on the bench – or,
rather, pitching "more than a bullpen session – we’ll keep counts and
outs, stuff like that" – than anyone else. He kept Wood and Prior sheltered in some kind of
Spring Training limbo while the rest of the team struggled through the first
half of the 2006 Season with a variety of phantom ailments. And when the guys
do come back, they’re terrible. Now, this isn’t all Rothschild’s fault, because
obviously he’s not throwing the ball. But, if the dude’s contract just ran out,
and you just fired the Manager, and you had the kind of pitching that the Cubs
had last year… maybe it’s time for a job search. At the very least, you don’t
rush to a 2-year extension.
Then the player moves. First off, signing Aramis Ramirez. The dude is a baller, and I wrote before the 2006 season that he was going to go nuts this year, and he did. But is he worth $73 million over 5 years? Either way, if the Cubs are going to even look serious, they had to make that deal. They also signed Kerry Wood to a 1-year, $1.75 million deal. Now, Wood used to be a good pitcher. But he hasn’t done a thing in the last four years. Still, if the guy turns it around in 2007, which he won’t, Jim Hendry will look like a genius. So, I get it.
Obviously, the big one is the Soriano deal. The dude is 30 years old, and he just got inked to an 8-year, $136 million contract. One could say that he had his best year last year. But I promise you that he will never, ever, hit those numbers again. He’s a below average fielder, a clubhouse cancer – depending on who you believe – and the owner of a lifetime .280 batting average. And now that he got his payday, he’s good. To put this into perspective, only four other players have ever signed a contract worth this much: A-Rod, ($252 million, 10 years,) Derek Jeter, ($189 million, 10 years,) Manny Ramirez, ($160, 8 years,) and Todd Helton, ($141.5 million, 11 years.) However, Helton’s contract is only worth about $12 million a year, while Soriano’s is worth $17 million a year. All of these guys are going to be legends, except for Soriano. The way I see it, Cubs ownership knew that they had to make up for the foul-up that was the 2006 season. They knew they had to sign a big name. Soriano was the biggest name, and the Cubs bought into the hype. Again, I’m going to say the same thing that I’ve said for, literally, the past three years. It’s good to see that that’s more important to them than building a solid bullpen.
When are the Cubs going to get it? Post-2003, the Cubs did a lot of pouting, as is the Dusty Baker style. They made no real moves to strengthen their bullpen or their rotation. Instead, they got a hold of the Bartman Ball and blew it up. Cubs Fan explained that if Marlin Fan got their hands on this ball, who knows what could happen? After the 2004 Season, which was another failure, Cubs fans ingested the remnants of the ball in the form of beer and sauce. Again, no improvements to the bullpen. Actually, the bullpen went backwards in that off-season, shipping off Farnsworth and resigning two relievers that ended up getting the Dusty Baker Arm-blown-off treatment in the first few months of the season. After the 2005 season, the Cubs made the following unbelievable improvements to the pitching: traded away first-rate prospect Sergio Metre, signed Scott Eyre, (who, as you might recall, injured both himself and Team Leader Derrek Lee on the same play last year,) and signed Wade Miller, who pitched in 21.2 innings last year and gave up 11 runs. So far this year, they have resigned Wade Miller, and resigned Kerry Wood. Um…?
Which makes Brewers GM Ned Yost’s quote all the more interesting. "They [Cubs] are stacking it," he said. "You look
at Soriano, Ramirez and Lee, and they’re going to have quite a
team. We’re not going to be able to match their thump, so we’re going
to have to have good pitching and defense to compete. They’re looking
pretty good right now." It must have taken an enormous amount of self control for Ned to get out that whole statement without cracking up. Dude – they have one more guy, Soriano. And, for a team that struggled to last place in the entire National League last year, Alfonso Soriano is not a different maker – no matter how hard Hendry taps his feet, or crosses his fingers, or whatever else he might try. Clearly, all these other moves the Cubs are making aren’t awful choices – it’s just that they’re overpaying, and they’re not getting any pitching. Someone should remind them how the Yankees have turned out the past few years… and the Rockies, who, as you might recall, threw in the proverbial pitching towel and developed their offense.
Well that was my post for now. Sorry it wasn’t the best, but I really had to get a lot of that stuff off my chest. I’ll see you guys again soon.
I don’t have the time to write a full post as I have an organic exam in a few hours. But, I just had to tell someone. Who’s idea was it to take a team previously managed by Dusty Baker for years, and throw Lou Piniella into the mix? You can’t find two more different guys. First, we all know that Dusty Baker is probably my favorite topic here. So I’m sad that he’s gone. But the Cubs are so soft that when their TV announcers said anything critical about the team, they ran to Baker and complained. They can’t take mild, even constructive criticism from their announcers – how will they take it serious stuff from Piniella? Piniella is one of the most fiery managers in the game, if not the most. Do you remember the start of the D-Rays v. Red Sox Rivalry in 2005? Lou explained away all the hit batsmen by saying, "We didn’t throw at guy’s heads, but if we’re thrown at, we’ll defend ourselves." Curt Schilling responded by calling Lou and idiot and claiming that D-Ray players had told him that Lou was the reason they’re a lock to lose 100 games every year, and that he makes them throw at guys. Lou responded by saying he’s forgotten more baseball than Curt will ever know, he’s disappointed that Curt would say such a thing, and he’s sure none of his guys would ever say that. Oh yeah, and forget that the 2005 D-Rays had nothing to defend, that they hit three Blue Jays in the next game, and that all those bullet pitches were just pitches that sailed away.
In contrast, Dusty Baker explains away all the walks his pitchers gave out and his batters didn’t receive last year by saying that, ‘walks just clog up the bases.’ And how about this memorable story?
In a 2004 game against the Marlins, Moises Alou hit a foul ball close to where Bartman was sitting in the 2003 NLCS. After it went into the stands, Marlin’s left fielder Miguel Cabrera mocked Alou’s angry reaction to Bartman’s grab, pouting and stomping around, and basically acting like a small child. Marlin’s 3B Mike Lowell said, "It was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life." The Cubs, however, didn’t think it was very funny, and Cabrera got dotted by Cub’s pitcher Glendon Rusch in his next at bat. Well, whether or not it was funny isn’t up for debate, because it was hilarious. The fact is, the 2004 Cubs are just soft.
And that was two years ago. Nothing has changed. The team whines and cries about the smallest things. In many ways, they’re a lot like the post-championship Pistons. In a blog post I saw a few days ago, it was explained that the Pistons lack of success lately is the result of their excessive on-court whining. The only difference is that the Pistons do it because they think they deserve the calls, post-championship as they are. The Cubs, needless to say, are not in that position.
So what’s it going to be for the post-Baker era? How’s it going to play out? Unless Hendry makes some serious moves, the team is still going to be terrible. But maybe instead of going out on the field knowing they’ll lose 90 games and not caring how they do it, they’ll go out big. Like, "hey, we know we’re still a lock to lose at least 90, but we’re gonna be major a-holes about it." So, instead of LaTroy Hawkins pitching in the 9th to protect the lead, but actually giving up the win to Albert Pujols’ 3rd jack of the night, (and then, of course, crying about it, in this case trying to fight Ump Tim Tschida – under "Albert Pujols is good,") we’ll just have Ryan Dempster peg Pujols in the skull. The outcome will be the same, but at least they’ll be tougher!