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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meh

There’s really not much to be said about this team right now that hasn’t already been said, so it makes coming up with these posts hard to do.  The overall offense is still underperforming, and still over-reliant on home runs.  It’s also shockingly unclutch and surprisingly mediocre at best to downright bad in most categories.  While the bullpen has overall been quite good, it’s still had it’s share of meltdowns and blown games.  The pitching as a whole has been also disappointing, even though they’re still striking a bunch of people out.  It’s kind of amazing how homer-prone they’ve been considering most of the offseason talk about pitching regression focused on the defense.  John Lackey has given up 20 home runs already! 

I’ll bypass the usual good/bad and try something different.

Bright Spots
Rizzo: I don’t know how long this lead-off experiment will last, but probably until just about anyone else on the team demonstrates an ability to get on base at an acceptable clip.  Rizzo has been his usual streaky self, and is on a nice hot run right now: .386/.507/.719 for June with a 14/9 BB/K ratio.
Happ: He has only merely been ok since the blistering start, but he’s still been the Cubs 3rd best hitter this year.  The amount of power has been surprising - though yesterday was his first RH HR - and his versatility has fit in nicely.  I don’t think he’s really stood out defensively in any spot, but he’s been passable everywhere he’s been.  I’ve said it before, but come crunch time this season I really don’t like him in CF with Schwarber in LF.  I’d rather Heyward in CF and Happ in RF if those 3 are going to be out there.
Montero: The backup roll seems quite suited to keeping his bat fresh.  His defense is still atrocious and I’m surprised anytime he gets a throw to 2nd on a line.  But the bat has been a pleasant surprise.
Jay: Just a perfect bench bat, and the one guy who seems to always have a good AB.  If he’s starting regularly, it’s not good,  And he’s not really playable in CF anymore, IMO. 
Davis: A couple of bumpy appearances lately, but considering he was a big question mark coming into the season he’s been phenomenal.  Probably an All-Star too.
Edwards: Outside of a few really bad outings, he’s been great. 
Montgomery/Uehara/Duensing: Mostly surprising, but all 3 have been solid.

Concerns
Zobrist: Maybe it was just a slow start, and now it’s just the wrist injury.  But those aren’t things to just write off at his age.  I’ve harped on it to death, but his defense isn’t passing my eye test.
Arrieta: I’m well past the point of wanting him resigned, I’m just not sure I trust him in a playoff or important game period.  His stuff just isn’t the same. 
Lackey: Yuck.
Rondon: Sad, but also, yuck.
Heyward: I’m at the acceptance stage of his terrible contract.  I still don’t want to talk about it though.
Schwarber: I’m still ok if he gets a brief break in Iowa. 
Russell: As if the hitting struggles weren’t enough, now he’s having mental problems with his throwing? 

Still think they’ll be fine
Bryant: He’s definitely started chasing and missing a lot more lately.  I like Maddon is trying to get him more rest.  He’ll be fine.
Contreras: Rough start, and the playing time may have gotten to him, but his bat has really started coming around. 
Baez: He is what he is. 
Lester: Same
Almora: Not getting consistent time, but he’s been just fine. 
Hendricks: Now there’s saying he could miss until pass the break.  We’ll see if we need to be concerned if they push back his return again.

Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 19, 2017 at 10:33 AM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 19, 2017 at 10:56 AM (#5478537)
.500 sucks. And is annoying. But that division is still theirs for the taking. And there is no WC backup plan.
   2. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 19, 2017 at 11:11 AM (#5478552)
Apart from Russell's potential off-field issues, Schwarber is the one who really worries me long term. His limitations on defense and the bases get exaggerated by many but he's never going to be a plus in those areas. So if he doesn't hit a lot he's got no future. And it's not that he's just been mediocre at the plate. He's been bad.
   3. Brian C Posted: June 19, 2017 at 01:48 PM (#5478678)
Arrieta's struggles are just weird. His peripherals are pretty good, except for the HR rate. Which is a pretty big "except", but still his FIP is just over 4.00, which isn't terrible. His K rate is the highest of his career; even though that's inflated a bit by rising K rates everywhere, he's still way above league average. He doesn't look like an ace to me anymore, but his stuff seems plenty good enough to be a solid contributor in a good rotation.

Until, you know, that thing happens. It's hard to explain what that thing is, but for some reason he's barely able to make a start without the sky falling in all at once at some point. His focus just seems to disappear, and now he's suddenly grooving pitches to a few hitters in a row or uncorking a particularly ugly wild pitch or two. It's like something you'd expect from a talented kid breaking into the majors, not a guy who was a world-dominant force two years ago.

Like I say, weird. Plainly he doesn't have 2015-level stuff anymore, but his stuff as such doesn't seem to be the problem to me. He looks f'ed up mentally.
   4. Ardo Posted: June 19, 2017 at 01:50 PM (#5478680)
Part of the issue is that there are no glaring black holes on the roster that can be upgraded - Schwarber, Russell, and Lackey are the worst culprits, but Lackey won yesterday and Russell has played well lately. Instead, it feels like all of last year's major contributors are 10-20% worse.
   5. Jose is El Absurd Bronson Y Pollo Posted: June 19, 2017 at 02:29 PM (#5478713)
Not sure if hearing the comparisons is a bit wearing but the 2005 Red Sox were similarly unimpressive in the first half after breaking their "curse." I know that team was getting pulled in seventeen different directions that winter and the mania surrounding it was nuts. Just looking back at the year this is about the point the Sox went on a road trip and swept a couple of series and got on a roll.Through 68 games that year the Sox played .544 baseball (3 games better than Cubs now) and from this point forward they played .604 baseball.

It wouldn't shock me if the Cubs did something similar. Ardo's point about no glaring black holes is a good one but to me that's a positive not a negative. It's exasperating but this is a team that I think if they just stay patient will get hot. I wouldn't worry about that. The pitching hasn't been especially good and I think that's a bigger concern. It's a relatively old staff that pitched a lot of innings the last couple of years. If I were Theo that's what I'd be looking to augment.

The best thing going for the Cubs is that the division looks pretty unimpressive. I'll be shocked if the Brewers are still a factor come Labor Day and while the Cubs have scuffled the Cards and Buccos have been worse. Even if the Cubs don't tear it up I can see them limping into the playoffs at 88-74 then we get the following stories;

Before Game 1 - "Cubs a Shell of 2016"

Game 1 - Cubs 7 - Dodgers 2

After Game 1 - "Cubs Show Value of Experience"
   6. Brian C Posted: June 19, 2017 at 03:34 PM (#5478751)
Game 2 - Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

After Game 2 - "Return of the Curse??"
   7. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 19, 2017 at 07:05 PM (#5478864)
Arrieta's struggles are just weird. His peripherals are pretty good, except for the HR rate.

I would be willing to just chalk it up to bad luck if not for the fact that Lackey appears to be experiencing the same thing but more so. Perhaps the Cubs need to reassess some of their pitcher vs. hitter strategies since the overall results from these two have not been good despite some very nice K:BB ratios.
   8. Brian C Posted: June 19, 2017 at 07:54 PM (#5478896)
I don't see much of a comparison between the two. Lackey's actually substantially overperforming his FIP, unlike Arrieta, and his K rate is much closer to league average. And while Arrieta's homer problem is really only bad by his standards (it's only slightly over league average), Lackey's is truly gruesome.

Lackey looks like toast, both numbers-wise and from the numbers. But lots of guys have had solid seasons with Arrieta's stuff and his peripherals, but we're not seeing it from him.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: June 20, 2017 at 03:42 AM (#5479005)
And there is no WC backup plan

I'm not so sure. I'm fairly confident that one of AZ or Colo will come back to the field substantially in the second half. The Rox offense is not very good -- #2 in R/G but #11 in OPS+ -- while their pitching has been crazy good. The DBacks are even more reliant on crazy good pitching. DBacks pitchers are already have 9 WAA and the Rox 8 (1 and 0 for their position players). Last year the Nats led the NL with 14 pitcher WAA and only the Mets also over 10 so it seems unlikely that both teams will blow that number out of the water. Of course they won't need to be, both teams need only be average from this point and will finish with about 90 wins which is almost always enough for the WC.

#5: Certainly one of the benefits of being in the NL Central is that a nice 7-game win streak or 15 out of 20 stretch or whatever could be enough to build a pretty comfy lead in the division. I too find it hard to believe the Cubs won't pull off one or two such stretches.

This team is also somewhat reminiscent of the 2015 Cubs. They were just 39-35 and, if I recall, that was due to a really good record in 1-run games or extra-inning games or something. Obviously we can't count on going 58-30.

Arrieta -- the HR spike is a lot of it. Just 0.5 HR/9 from 2014-16, an extra HR per game will kill both your FIP and your ERA. He still wouldn't have nearly the same results as last year but just dropping his HR rate from 1.4 to last year's 0.7 would knock about 0.8 off the ERA/FIP. The other aspect is the hits. Whether luck, skill, defense or Bosio voodoo, since coming to the Cubs he's had an amazing H/9 around 6.2; this year it's 9. So an extra 0.7 HR and an extra 2 other hits and that's gonna kill the ERA.**

Which I know is no more insightful than "hey, he's not pitching as well" but I've got more faith that the HR/9 rate can come back towards normal than if the K, BB, etc. rates were going in the wrong directions. Even just getting back to his FIP would push him up to about a 105 ERA+. The thing he has of falling apart for one inning reminds me of Scott Sanderson and his back issues. It's less true than I remember I'm sure, but it always seemed like Sanderson was strong for 3-4 innings then either his back would tighten up or it wouldn't. When it did, everything was up and everything got smoked.

I'll note that whatever is wrong with Arrieta seems to be the same thing that's wrong with Rondon -- good Ks, good enough BB, terrible HRs. In 2014-15, he gave up 6 HR in 133 innings -- he's already given up 5 in 26 innings. Admittedly, I'd also not realized that in those 133 innings, he gave up 10 UER ... he's given up only 1 UER in the last 77. His RA9 is still blown out substantially but not as badly as his change in ERA would suggest.

FWIW, Cubs position players are on track for about 8 WAA. That's way below last year's 19 but the main problem is the pitchers being on pace for -4 (+8 last year). If the pitchers don't improve substantially, 8 WAA from the position players probably won't be quite enough to get it done but it would have been the second-highest position player WAA in the NL last year. Thanks mainly to the "bench", the position players are hanging in there well enough so far.

It is hard to say "here's how you improve this team" beyond the obvious thing you could say about any team that "gosh they'd look better with a(nother) stud SP." Looking ahead at that possibility, Jimenez is hitting pretty well since coming back -- 278/381/546. I wonder if he'll get a promotion to AA around the AS break. Not a fan of giving him or Happ up for a half-season or even 1.5 season improvement that might help us squeak into the playoffs ... maybe if we're righted the ship by then and are seriously considering another WS run. (This obviously depends on who that 1.5 season starter might be.)

** The FIP less so since it wasn't giving him credit for the awesome H/9.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: June 20, 2017 at 04:16 AM (#5479006)
Cubs and BABIP: We know this is probably mostly a combo of defense and luck but they had a really nice run across the last few years and, interestingly, had a tendency to clean house of the pitchers who didn't do well, kept ones who did to (often) see the good ones repeat. Obviously that's come off the wheels this year. Starting in 2014 (imp pitchers only) to 2017:

308 290 257 291 Team

277 247 242 319 Arrieta
296 255 321 245 Grimm (wasn't expecting that 2017 number)
274 290 271 ... Hammel
275 300 252 262 Hendricks
286 273 276 258 Rondon
309 ... ... ... Shark
268 227 221 290 Strop
324 301 216 ... Wood
... 188 246 ... Cahill
... 306 258 326 Lester
... 297 411 ... Richard
... 304 ... ... Rosscup
... 339 ... ... Russell
... 287 ... ... Wada
... ... 261 ... Chapman
... ... 162 160 Edwards
... ... 259 281 Lackey
... ... 260 268 Montgomery
... ... 247 ... Warren
... ... ... 248 Butler
... ... ... 265 Davis
... ... ... 309 Duensing
... ... ... 241 Uehara

Of some of those guys we let go ... Cahill (still only 29!!) is having a very nice season with a 300 BABIP. Hammel, a guy we probably should have kept, is struggling in part because of a 319 BABIP. Richard is doing OK but getting smoked on BABIP (347). Warren is another guy we probably should have kept and would be coming in handy right now (never understood why he had to be in that trade) and is posting an awesome 188 BABIP.

Obviously Jake's not getting it done on BABIP this year but I'm impressed to still see Hendricks, Lackey, Monty, Edwards and even Rondon and Strop again ticking along quite nicely and note that Butler, Davis and Uehara are doing really well. It's surprising and kinda hard to explain that the big jump in BABIP is primarily limited to Arrieta and Lester. Obviously that's a substantial chunk of the overall innings and it could just be random luck. I guess it's not as dramatic as I first thought but I get a BABIP without those two of around 279. That would be the best in the NL (currently 5th).

I see the Reds are taking a run at their HR number from last year. They're on pace for giving up 260 this year, gave up 258 last year.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: June 20, 2017 at 04:31 AM (#5479008)
Wow, I knew it was a lot but it only just dawned on me that the 2016 Cubs averages 4.5 WAR _per position_ last year.** That's just nuts. The average Cubs position player last year was Brandon Crawford, not much worse than Goldschmidt 2016, better than Votto 2016. How the heck did we lose 58 games?

** Technically 4.25 per position plus a couple of PH WAR.
   12. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:08 AM (#5479095)
I've got to say, this Rizzo as a leadoff hitter is just pure *fun*. I don't know about the overall strategery of it, or how long he'll stay there, but it's pretty easily been the most fun part of this year (after, of course, the banner and ring stuff, but that still was last year stuff).
   13. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:09 AM (#5479097)
It is hard to say "here's how you improve this team" beyond the obvious thing you could say about any team that "gosh they'd look better with a(nother) stud SP." Looking ahead at that possibility, Jimenez is hitting pretty well since coming back -- 278/381/546. I wonder if he'll get a promotion to AA around the AS break. Not a fan of giving him or Happ up for a half-season or even 1.5 season improvement that might help us squeak into the playoffs ... maybe if we're righted the ship by then and are seriously considering another WS run. (This obviously depends on who that 1.5 season starter might be.)


Passan the other day mentioned the Cubs and Rays have stayed in touch about Archer, and mentioned Eloy would have to be in that trade. I think I do that, depending on what else it ends up including.
   14. Brian C Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:14 AM (#5479105)
Rizzo far and away leads the team in RBI - without looking it up, anyone want to guess who's in second place?
   15. Brian C Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:18 AM (#5479109)
Passan the other day mentioned the Cubs and Rays have stayed in touch about Archer, and mentioned Eloy would have to be in that trade. I think I do that, depending on what else it ends up including.

Same. In fact I don't think twice about it unless the "what else" is truly extortionate.

I hadn't really noticed before, but I wonder how in the world Archer lost 19 of 33 starts last season with a 4.02 ERA.
   16. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:38 AM (#5479132)
I saw last night Bryant is at 28RBI with 15HR. Not sure if that makes him 2nd, but Rizzo finally moved ahead of Bryant in WAR (bb-ref, not FG) since he'd been leadoff hitter.

I mean, he's gotten on base every single game he's led off - twice homered - and even bunted against the shift to start yesterday's game and later added a triple. I see the Padres are a bit worked up about him running into their C last night, but it didn't seem that out of line to me though I did wonder had he gone for the back corner could he have snuck in.
   17. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 11:41 AM (#5479133)
In fact I don't think twice about it unless the "what else" is truly extortionate.

The deal for Chapman last year really should have been the deal for someone like Archer. Gleybar has really risen a ton since then, but it's the general framework.

Going back...

Schwarber is the one who really worries me long term. His limitations on defense and the bases get exaggerated by many but he's never going to be a plus in those areas.

I brought up Schwarber's baserunning when they talked about him as a leadoff guy, but he was a plus there in 2015 (2.5 BsR). He's definitely been not great there this year and on the bases looks like a husky guy coming off knee surgery.
   18. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 03:16 PM (#5479350)
Lineup merry-go-round today lands on : Rizzo/Bryant/Contreras(LF)/Happ(CF)/Russell/Montero/Baez/Montgomery/Jay(RF).
   19. Brian C Posted: June 20, 2017 at 04:28 PM (#5479405)
Contreras is actually second on the team in RBI with 32 (Rizzo has 46), so sounds like a strong candidate for the third spot in the lineup to me!

Bryant's RBI total is a strange thing. Obviously hitting second limits opportunities somewhat, but he has actually has done a very poor job getting runners in. It doesn't mean anything, really, but he's been pretty bad with RISP and hideous in high leverage situations in general.
   20. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 20, 2017 at 04:53 PM (#5479429)
Patrick Mooney‏ @CSNMooney 1m1 minute ago

DL a possibility for Jason Heyward as #Cubs wait for the cut on his left hand to heal: "I don't know what's going to happen."


Just ####### do it and get a body up here if he can't play. Russell's ankle still isn't 100%, and Schwarber is also out tonight because of the foul ball on his leg. The Cubs really should be quicker for these DL stints, especially for the Cubs struggling already (so, basically anyone but Rizzo, Bryant, or Contreras).
   21. Walt Davis Posted: June 20, 2017 at 07:32 PM (#5479565)
Archer is under control through 2021 for a mere $34 M total, with the last two years being options so you're even covered if his arm blows up. Pitchers are risky, he's a #2 not a #1, etc. but surely that sort of year/$ costs more than Eloy Jimenez.

Note Archer had less than one year of service time and the deal guaranteed him $25.5 M ... hard to pass that up under the circumstances. He's likely gonna get "killed" in those option years but he avoided a lot of risk.
   22. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 21, 2017 at 11:47 AM (#5480027)
It's only been 3 starts (and 15IP), and he hasn't fully been stretched out yet, but Montgomery is making a case to stay in the rotation. Or at least a better case than Butler. He's got a 13k/6bb rate in that role and has only given up 1 extra base hit (a HR). It's strange that he's striking more guys out as a starter, since I believe he was one of the many guys that saw a velocity increase as a reliever. The control is definitely surprising (26k/20bb in 36.2 RP innings).
   23. Covfefe Posted: June 21, 2017 at 11:55 AM (#5480034)
Rosscup is still around - maybe the Rays would take him back for Archer... I doubt the Brewers are so attached to Garza that the Cubs couldn't finagle him back, too. They can even keep all the warm memories of Lee, Chirinos, Guyer, and Fuld.
   24. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 21, 2017 at 11:57 AM (#5480038)
Lineup merry-go-round today lands on: Rizzo/Bryant(RF)/Schwarber/Russell/Happ(2b)/LaStella(3b)/Contreras/Butler/Almora. I have no idea why the guy doing the worst this year are 3/4. Or why can't LaStella play 2b and Happ in the OF so Bryant stays at 3b? Only guess on that one is Joe just wants Bryant to do something different to snap out of whatever hitting funk he's in (1 for his last 15 - it was a weak single last night - with 8Ks).
   25. Covfefe Posted: June 21, 2017 at 12:06 PM (#5480046)
Remind me... what's the season high -- 3 games over .500? Or did they get to 4 and I forgot.
   26. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 21, 2017 at 12:18 PM (#5480057)
I see a 12-8, 16-12, and 25-21, so 4 games thrice.
   27. Covfefe Posted: June 21, 2017 at 12:22 PM (#5480063)
I see a 12-8, 16-12, and 25-21, so 4 games thrice.


Is there a word for sad, frustrated, disappointed but still at east transiently hopeful for the moment? Surely, the Germans have one.
   28. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 21, 2017 at 12:35 PM (#5480078)
Is there a word for sad, frustrated, disappointed but still at east transiently hopeful for the moment?

Morrissey?
   29. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 21, 2017 at 05:31 PM (#5480246)
Losses like today's aren't painful, but there have been so many that it's starting to take on a death by 1,000 paper cut feel. Offense quiet, bullpen just bad enough.
   30. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 21, 2017 at 05:33 PM (#5480247)
@ckamka: Most games with 3 or fewer hits this season
8 #Cubs (2 today)
6 #Royals
5 Six teams tied
   31. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 22, 2017 at 10:21 AM (#5480520)

Passan the other day mentioned the Cubs and Rays have stayed in touch about Archer, and mentioned Eloy would have to be in that trade. I think I do that, depending on what else it ends up including.


Yeah, that's definitely fair value. OTOH, I'm not sure it isn't trading one roster solution for another insofar as Jimenez might be close enough for a September call up. The Cubs need outfield help too.

EDIT: Those are just random, unconnected thoughts. I would like to get Archer (of course) but I would also like to find a way to keep Jimenez (of course). But that's probably not realistic.
   32. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 22, 2017 at 11:54 AM (#5480644)
David Kaplant @thekapman 9m9 minutes ago

Cubs are sending Kyle Schwarber to Class AAA Iowa. Not expected to be gone long but it is an opportunity to clear his head.


Feels like it's about time and the right move.
   33. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 22, 2017 at 11:56 AM (#5480647)
OTOH, I'm not sure it isn't trading one roster solution for another insofar as Jimenez might be close enough for a September call up. The Cubs need outfield help too.

That's jumping the gun. He has 113 PAs in A+ ball. I bet they'd like to see him jump another level or two first. As for needing OF help, they need their current players to hit and they'll be fine. I still am not ready to add a bat from the outside.
   34. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 22, 2017 at 12:04 PM (#5480655)
Patrick Mooney‏ @CSNMooney 48s48 seconds ago

Sources: #Cubs planning to send Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa, put Jason Heyward on DL and add Mark Zagunis and Dylan Floro to roster.


Considering Heyward's going to the DL too, I'm almost surprised they didn't call up Caratini and plan on playing Contreras in the OF more.
   35. Moses Taylor, Unwavering Optimist Posted: June 22, 2017 at 05:11 PM (#5481013)
Sahadev Sharma‏ @sahadevsharma 21m21 minutes ago

Zac Rosscup DFA'd to make room for Zagunis on the Cubs 40-man roster.

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