2011 Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching

5 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425

Before I even get this ball rolling, two things:

1. The Chicago Cubs will NOT sign Cliff Lee.

2. The Chicago Cubs SHOULD not sign Cliff Lee.

With that out of the way, we can move on to realistic possibilities.

I thought about writing this article for a moment, and I realized just how much of a mess this rotation really has become. Randy Wells has regressed worse than I could have ever imagined (and I didn’t like him going into this year AT ALL). Tom Gorzelanny did it again (looked good for a bit then imploded–just like in Pittsburgh). Carlos Silva summed up the epitome of the Cubs’ season (high hopes to start, then a complete wreck by the middle of the year). Carlos Zambrano starts the puzzling offseason questions (should they keep him? Will they keep him? Can they even move him?) by being the reverse of Gorzelanny and Silva.

With all of the above statements made, I went to work on Zambrano.

Five days ago, I looked at Zambrano in this post. When it came right down to it, I determined that Zambrano’s troubles outweigh all of the good he has done on the mound since his return. That didn’t stop the wonderful Jim Hendry from committing to him for next year, meaning that the Cubs will be committed to his $17.875 million salary for next season as well.

Unless something drastic changes in the Cubs’ front office, it appears that this sad mess of a rotation will be the exact same in 2011 as it was at the end of 2010. That would mean:

1. Carlos Zambrano – 129 2/3 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 131 ERA+

2. Ryan Dempster – 215 1/3 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1,32 WHIP, 113 ERA+

3. Randy Wells – 194 1/3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 102 ERA+

4. Tom Gorzelanny – 136 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 106 ERA+

5. Carlos Silva – 113 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 103 ERA+

Here is what I notice from this:

Anyone that expects Zambrano to replicate a 3.33 ERA with a WHIP above that of Randy Wells, who posted a 4.26 ERA, is dead wrong. Seeing that alone lets me know that Zambrano needs to be gone. What’s worse is that the bottom-3 starters are barely average. That means that the Cubs would need a great offense to make up for it, and they certainly do not have that at this time. I’m seeing another losing season.

Originally, I came into this post looking to find a taker for Zambrano, but now Jim Hendry has ruined those hopes. So, now, the Chicago fan base has to pray that the Cubs move one of Wells, Gorzelanny, and Silva in a trade or to the bullpen so they can bring in a starting pitcher. Of those three, I see Silva as the most likely because of his age and injury concerns.

The first target in free agency to fill a rotation spot was Brandon Webb. He has since managed an outing where he topped 81 MPH and demanded a contract that rivals those of Rich Harden and Ben Sheets, ignoring that both of those pitchers were utter failures for Texas and Oakland, respectively. So, no Cliff Lee, no Brandon Webb. Where does that leave the market?

At a glance, the names that pop out are: Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, and Jorge De La Rosa. Taking Lilly back if he is offered arbitration would make little sense. It would mean giving up a draft pick to bring a player back that we clearly sold low on (Blake DeWitt was really the best we could get?). Harang is dead, no doubt about it. Vazquez would be Carlos Silva with more strikeouts. So, Jorge De La Rosa it is.

If this is the best the market has to offer, then the Cubs are in serious trouble. His 110 ERA+ was actually WORSE away from Coors Field. His K/9 drops from 9.5 to 6.9. His ERA rises from 4.10 to 4.36. His WHIP goes from 1.24 to 1.42. This is a 30-year-old whose 110 ERA+ has actually ranked as his best season in his career.

Now, after looking at the free agent market, I think it makes more sense to just let Carlos Silva get shelled rather than dish out money to watch someone else do it for him. So, does anyone have any ideas on trade options?

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Should Big Z Get the Boot?

30 09 2010

Here is what seems to be the most difficult question facing Cubs management heading into the 2011 season:

Should the Cubs trade Carlos Zambrano this offseason?

Trading Zambrano is starting to look like no-win territory. There, of course, are the lobbyists that will never believe that Zambrano has or can turn a corner from his hotheaded nature or find consistency relative to a staff ace–being that dominant, innings-eating horse that he was when he got his current contract. Then, there are some who may think that he has at least established himself as a solid starter, worthy of a #2 or #3 spot in the rotation of most baseball clubs. And, as always, there has to be a middle ground on the matter.

Personally, I am doing this article in part to find out which side of the line I stand on here. There are compelling points for (past stats, the no-hitter, his desire to stay here) and against (2007, 2008, 2009, the start of 2010) keeping Zambrano, so let’s dive right in. Seeing as Zambrano started off as poorly as one can hope to never do, let’s traverse the bad of Zambrano first. After being a 4-5 WAR pitcher from 2003-2006, Zambrano put up back-to-back 2.8 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008. He rebounded to a more in-line 3.6 in 2009, but he managed to win just 9 games (I know, I know–wins never fairly judge a pitcher, but COME ON–9 wins from the staff ace?!). And then the flood gates opened like I’ve never seen from Zambrano.

On Opening Day, Zambrano put up one of the worst lines I’ve seen from him: 1 1/3 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 1 KO, 2 HR. Of course, many remember that more as Jason Heyward’s coming out party, but many Cubs fans thought it had signified the beginning of the end for Big Z when the Cubs finally limped into the All-Star Break, and it didn’t get much better from there.

For starters, it was so bad that I have to actually type this and sound less than stabbed in the chest: Zambrano was relegated to bullpen duty after lowering his ERA to (here comes the stab) 7.45 after his fourth start. The move was two-fold: Zambrano sucked as a starter, and Grabow was worse as a reliever, meaning Z didn’t fit in his role, and no one in the bullpen fit in the 8th inning role. As a reliever in April, Zambrano allowed one earned run in four innings. Through April, Zambrano was settled to a horrific 6.56 ERA.

May saw Zambrano produce eight scoreless outing as a reliever, but it was ruined by two appearances that produced five earned runs, giving him a 5.00 ERA for the month. Of course, baseball fans know well what June brought.

The month started with three more embarrassments from the former ace, in which he posted a 4.96 ERA–15 1/3 IP, 11 R (8ER), 11 BB, 9 KO. Then, a little hope arrived: 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 KO; Zambrano may be back, right? WRONG. The next outing was what some thought to be the final straw.

On June 25th, Zambrano took the mound against the rival Chicago White Sox. He managed to allow four runs (all earned) on four hits in the first inning. Like clockwork, Zambrano’s annual epic meltdown arrived. He did as he frequently has, and began stomping around, throwing a fit about how players weren’t diving for balls and letting off steam in an unnecessary, childish tantrum. However, Derrek Lee would have none of it, and he confronted Zambrano. This led to a heated argument between the two, and Zambrano’s day was done after that. Shortly after, Zambrano was suspended and sent to anger management.

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Should Zambrano's up-and-down year be the reason to ship him off?

That trip did wonders. Zambrano returned to the mound on July 31st, and had a scoreless two-thirds of an inning. After a couple more relief appearances, the Cubs let him back into the rotation, and he took off. Granted, the first two outings were rather rocky (10 2/3 IP, 4 ER, 9 BB), but Zambrano has been strong as a whole, in terms of on-field production.

Since coming back from rehab, Zambrano has posted a 2.23 ERA in 7 appearances (5 starts) in August, and a 0.78 ERA in 5 September starts. His ERA+ has skyrocketed to a strong 130. Of course, he needs to lower the walks (41 walks and 59 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings pitched). Still, that he is getting a solid strikeout total and going deep into games with some frequency (4/10 starts were 7+ IP; 7/10 were 6+ IP) is a great sign. His xFIP is a much higher 4.47 on the season, but you take what you can get at this point.

And that’s the rub: do the Cubs ride the wave of success or cash out as soon as the season ends? Zambrano’s not a cheap cat–he makes$17.875 million in 2011, $18 million in 2012, has a $19.25 million vesting option (top-2 in 2011 Cy Young voting or top-4 in 2012 and healthy after 2012), plus a full no-trade clause (Jim Hendry’s bread and butter tactic to screw the team). So, even if the Cubs DO determine that moving Zambrano is the way to go, the options will be limited to a specific grouping of teams:

1. Those who actually want/need Zambrano

2. Those who can afford Zambrano

3. Those Zambrano will be willing to play for–meaning, contenders

My goal is to determine if Zambrano should be traded, not who he could go to (at least, that is the case for now). So, let us recap with a pros and cons list:

Pro-Zambrano:

1. He has typically been durable in his career.

2. He has been a staff ace in the past.

3. He has appeared to settle down mentally.

4. He has pitched well of late.

Con-Zambrano:

1. He is expensive.

2. No one can ever believe he is completely past the mental breakdowns.

3. He has been rather lucky, with an ERA-xFIP of -1.11.

4. His leadership skills are less than spectacular.

5. The team has plenty of pitching prospects to replace Zambrano, and he is at a sell-high point.

So, 4 pros and 5 cons. Of course, those are in no way the end-all, be-all facts and points of interest in the matter. But there is one thing that cannot be denied: Zambrano has a fla9ir for the dramatic, and not in a good way. He is arrogant, disruptive, and childish at his worst, and the highs have not outweighed the lows lately.

In my opinion, the cubs would be better off by trading Zambrano to anyone that will take 50% of his contract or more, though I would say 70% is my magic number to absolutely get him moved. It would allow them to address the issue of a true staff ace, among other issues.

What would Zambrano bring in return? Ideally, he would bring at least what Ted Lilly brought, which really was not much–another mediocre 2B/3B like Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker (Blake DeWitt) and a couple of mid-level prospects. The best-case scenario to me is if a team takes 70% of his contract and offers a 3-player prospect package, at least one of which is a B-level corner infield prospect.





2011 Chicago Cubs: First Base

10 09 2010

Two articles in, and I haven’t even discussed the team I’m here to represent, the Chicago Cubs! If I can’t do that, why am I even here?

So, let’s get down to business. The Cubs sent Derrek Lee off to Atlanta a few weeks back, gaining a return of a few pitching prospects that some minors expert can analyze.

Derrek Lee was traded to the Braves at the July trade deadline for Robinson Lopez and two other prospects.

What I want to focus on is how this will affect the Cubs for next season.

As of now, Cubs fans have been getting a steady diet of Xavier Nady at first, with a dash of Micah Hoffpauir on occasion. We’ll ignore the five games Captain Quad A has manned first and focus on Nady to start. Nady’s defense definitely hasn’t been great. He has posted a -0.8 UZR, not terrible, but bad considering he is replacing the +2.1 UZR Lee was posting this year (along with a career +7.3).

Nady has never been much of a defender (his career UZR at his primary position of RF is a -12.7). As a hitter, getting the regular playing time at first has helped him a bit. He’s hit .289, but his lack of pop (.141 ISO at first) makes putting him on a team as an everyday 1B is a mistake. Without a serviceable option in the minors, the Cubs are going to have to look outward into the free agent pool this winter, in the hopes of finding a new (or old?) 1B.

Rather than spend ten pages going through all of the mediocre free agents (Lyle Overbay, Mark Katosay, Troy Glaus) or covering the bases with every trade option (Yonder Alonso, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, etc.), let’s stick to the big boys: Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena. The Cubs have a lot of money coming off of the books from Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly, so those funds need to go somewhere. The question is: where do they go?

First up, we’ll tackle the former Cub Derrek Lee. While he has always been a fan favorite and an outstanding defender (see the aforementioned UZR totals), it would be tough to see him back. His numbers were way down after a strong 2009, and he vetoed a trade to the Angels once. It makes me wonder if Cubs management basically a) begged him to leave to get some return on their investment, or b) told him to get lost because they were letting him walk either way. The defense and clubhouse presence would be nice, but the team needs some offense, and I cannot help but wonder if the man exited on less than ideal terms (and he probably wants to play for a sure-fire contender at his age).

Lance Berkman has an option for next year. At $15 million, it is a very pricey chunk of change for a man who has put up a 97 OPS+ as a Yankee and has been in steady decline for a couple of years now. Instead, look for him to get bought out by the Yankees (and watch the $13 million saved go towards Jeter’s salary). Defensively, he could be the piece the Cubs need to replace Derrek Lee. His UZR this year is a +3.8, even higher than Derrek’s +2.1. Still, he is a less than reliable hitter now, and I have heard nothing to indicate that the Cubs are looking at him. Personally, I think going after a guy that plays solid defense and can hit around .280 with an OPS over .800 would be splendid, but–as I said before–there are no signs pointing to this match.

Then we have the cream of the infield crop, Adam Dunn. Dunn has always been known as a masher with a glove of stone, and he still is, but his defense is less like that of a black hole this year, raising his UZR from a -14.3 to a -1.9. His hitting is still fantastic, though. His SLG is up a bit, but his OBP is way down (due to a drop in walks from 116 to 67 thus far), leading to a 13-point drop in OPS. The problem in signing Dunn is the money. Even a deep-pocketed team with a lot of free money like the Cubs would struggle with taking his deal on.

Although Adam Dunn would be the Cubs' #1 choice, his asking price is too steep for their taste.

His demands will likely sit in the 3+ years and $15 million+ range, and the Cubs are already trying to fix the messes of Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome. To pile on, they will still be stuck with Alfonso Soriano’s ugly mistake until 2014, so taking an aging hitting machine is a risk, even one as consistently powerful as Dunn.

This leads us to my personal preference, Carlos Pena. That’s right, folks, I prefer the 33-tear old first baseman with a sub-.200 average. Why? Several reasons. First off, the walks. He may sport a saddening .203 average, buy his on-base percentage is still a useful .330, crazy for a guy to manage that, huh? His power is another bonus as well. Fans and critics have begged for a power bat from the lefty side for years (Dunn could work, but the money hurts).

Although Pena sports a mediocre .203 batting average, his power numbers and and strong BB% could help the Cubs in 2011.

He should be good for about 30-35 home runs for a few more years, and that would help to break up the monotony of Byrd, Ramirez, and Soriano.

Of course, the man is far from flawless. His average is a mess. Even his career average is a weak .242. His defense has been suspect for a couple of years now, and one does not typically have a spiritual awakening with the glove at age 33. The final reasoning I prefer Pena to the other options is probably the most important: the commitment.

I expect Carlos Pena to take the Adrian Beltre route next year. He will look for a reasonably priced deal for 2011, and will in turn try to restore some value to his stock before looking for one last multi-year deal before 2012. His price tag should sit in the $5-8 million range, and that is more than reasonable for a power bat at a position the Cubs desperately need production. Grabbing Pena would allow them to look for a prospect to groom for a year or two (maybe the Red Sox would send them Lars Anderson?), while not costing them the entirety of their offseason budget.

This way, the Cubs can look to fill the other holes they have this offseason: the back-end of their rotation and the bullpen.





Back to the Future: Mark Prior

6 09 2010

Posted by cubs223425

My procrastination occasionally causes me great stress. Then there are those occasional times that it benefits me. This time is the latter. I have been meaning to post another article on the 2011 1B option for the Cubs (and I will…eventually!), but I’ve been thinking about school and being lazy. Then, I saw that the Texas Rangers had signed Mark Prior. I knew immediately that the aforementioned Cubs article would have to wait (a bit more on that shortly).

So, I was set to start an article on the reappearance of Mark Prior. Of course, though, I was too lazy. I played Call of Duty. I managed my fantasy baseball teams. I banned TrueBlue (I’m sure there were cheers). Well, it all worked out in the end, because now that I shook off the apathy, I started this article on the perfect day.

If Prior can return to his dominant form and stay healthy out of the bullpen, he could possibly snag himself a deal with another big league club this offseason.

Why is today the perfect day? Because Mark Prior made his debut for the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the PCL (AAA) affiliate of the Texas Rangers last night. When I started following baseball, Prior was the guy I latched onto. He was my favorite player, and will always be, whether he comes back on a white stallion or flames out in the minors and gets hurt again. In his one inning of work, Prior threw 16 of his 28 pitches for strikes, allowing two hits, walking one, and striking out a pair of Omaha Royals (he lucked out of facing Mike Moustakas, thankfully). While the RedHawks ultimately lost 9-1, it was a rare occurrence where you could legitimately claim a moral victory.

Anybody who has followed baseball for more than a couple of years knows the story of Mark Prior. #2 pick (behind Joe Mauer). Can’t-miss prospect (leading to that record bonus; a record Stephen Strasburg broke last year). Savior of the Cubs. Well, it seemed to be that way back then.

Prior came onto the scene in Chicago in 2002, after making the AA and AAA hitters he faced to start the year look like children. He posted a  solid 3.32 ERA in 19 starts, good for a  122 ERA+. The following season, there was no minor league stop to make. It was his time, and everyone knew it.

Working off of his previous season’s success, Prior was a dominant ace for the Cubs, as they worked their way into the playoffs behind a deadly pitching staff (anchored by what was thought to be an unstoppable force of Carlos Zambrano, Prior, and Kerry Wood–plus Matt Clement and Shawn Estes). Even looking now, I wonder how he managed the numbers: 211 1/3 IP, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 4.9 K/BB, 179 ERA+*

*Looking into the 2003 Cy Young voting, I saw Prior finished 3rd. Who won that year? Eric Gagne, and his 337 ERA+, 337! Seriously, what happened to him? You don’t forget how to pitch like that.

Of course, if you know the success, you know the failure. No need to go through the stats, but here’s basically how it went:

Steve Bartman robbed Moises Alou of a catch (that he said he couldn’t get, then said he could). Prior and the Cubs imploded in Game 6 after that, then in Game 7. The Florida Marlins won the World Series, one that Chicago could have gotten if they went into a matchup with the New York Yankees with Prior, Wood, and Zambrano. Then the injuries came.

Honestly, I was too young to remember it all. It was just a constant, depressing blur. The shoulder went. Prior came back. It went again. There was the collision that started it all. There was a liner off of his elbow–the one thing I can still vividly remember; seeing it slam off his elbow. Watching Aramis Ramirez dive into foul territory to make the catch (yeah, he was hit so hard he produced a line out in foul territory to third). Knowing he was gone for a LONG time (even someone as young as I was knew elbows don’t survive that).

This was my guy. I followed him almost religiously. He was my first baseball jersey. Heck, he was baseball to me. I watched all of this, and I didn’t wonder if the baseball gods hated him. I wondered if they hated ME.

He made a few attempts to come back in Chicago, but he kept ending up under the knife. Over. And over. And over. Eventually, the magic was gone, and Prior was, too. He made a couple of attempts with the San Diego Padres, but to the same disastrous ends. But he got an indie league to sign him this season.

Prior made a few appearances, totaling 11 innings. He struck out 22 of the 44 batters he faced. His fastball sat in the 90-92 range, close to what he typically threw pre-injuries (according to him; I was too young to care for MPH when I watched him). Apparently, that domination was enough to convince Texas to take a chance. So far, so good.

Now, here we are, more than 9 years after Prior was Stephen Strasburg. He’s turning 30 tomorrow (September 7th), older than the 21 he was when he made his MLB debut, but nowhere near Jamie Moyer.

Sadly, though, he was signed a few days short of the postseason deadline, but that may be for the best. He can finish up the AAA season and throw some side sessions, all at his own pace. Then, next year, he can show up to Spring Training with the chance to earn a roster spot.

He said himself he doesn’t care about where he gets slotted. Of course, he’s not going to be made a starter (maybe in a year or so, he could, but unlikely). He talks of taking a middle reliever’s job, hoping to be given an occasional 8th inning job. Who know? Maybe he can follow in his former rotation-mate Kerry Wood’s footsteps and become a closer.

But no matter what happens, I’ll still be here–awaiting this rehab as eagerly as the first.