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   1. Andere Richtingen Posted: August 13, 2006 at 04:00 PM (#2138953)
I certainly like some of the young pitchers I see, but I’m not ready to declare any of them yet locks on a 2007 starting rotation for a team intending to contend rather than building for a brighter day.

I will be very surprised if more than one of these guys, in addition to Marshall, is in next year's rotation on Opening Day.
   2. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: August 13, 2006 at 05:58 PM (#2139057)
Good piece. A couple of thoughts:

* Hill: "So was this simply the kind of hiccup one expects with a pitcher still struggling to find himself at the Major League level? I hope so, but Hill has only nine starts or so to provide that answer."

I've been encouraged by his return from Iowa, mainly because he appears to be attacking hitters rather than nibbling. I had some doubts about what the thin Colorado air would do to his curveball (see, e.g., Darryl Kile), so I'm willing to write off that start but would like to see how he responds the next time he goes out in Houston (against Andy Pettitte).

* Marmol: The one thing that makes me feel decent about his handling is the fact that even the braintrust seems to feel that his control is the big issue. When Ron Santo talks about how he needs to walk less guys, you know the team is thinking on the right track.

The problem is that the braintrust hasn't generally been all that good in actually getting their kids to cut down on their walks, so while identifying the problem is a nice start, we'll have to see if it can be solved. Another season starting in the minors would probably help, but the Cubs may not have that luxury.

* Getting back to my thoughts from a few days ago, which echoed Moses's ideas about the payroll issues the Cubs will have next season, I concluded that if the Cubs resign Pierre at $7mm next year, that signing alone (along with the expected arbitration increases and need to restock the bench) will probably draw the payroll close to this year's. Let me modify this is two ways:

1. Considering Prior's injury past, I no longer think he'll get a bump from his current salary. In fact, it might be reduced . . . but even that would only give the Cubs about $2mm more than what I figured.

2. Seeing that the 2006 rotation will be Zambrano and four question marks, I think it might be more likely that the Cubs target a starter over an outfielder -- even over resigning Pierre. I don't have the list of this season's FAs handy, but if they can find one in the $6-7mm range, I can see them doing that and finding a CF on the cheap.

Of course, this is assuming that the Cubs stay at their current payroll level. I can easily see them spending more, if for no other reason than to "make a statement."
   3. And You Thought Zonk Was Terminated? Posted: August 13, 2006 at 10:45 PM (#2139626)
I for one see no problem in giving up on 2007, too, if it's done for the right reasons and done the right way.

The alternative requires an early 80s style Dallas Green trade poker all nighter and a sweet run of cards. A cobbled together motley crew of vets with one final hurrah, simultaneous career years from mediocrities, a dash of luck, a weak NL... it's happened before.

The preference, though, would be to learn from the binge and purge Marlins - as much as I hate Jeff Loria, you have to hand to the Fish... they make their run, sell high, and seem to have found a way to cut the standard "rebuilding" timeframe from 5 years to 5 months. As much as I like the A's, I think the Marlins are another organizational model in effective management; one too often overlooked. The key, I think, is that they recognize when the window shuts better than anybody. Sure- a lot has to do with Loria's battle with Miami over a stadium, but the Cubs could use a dose of that.

It's time this organization realize that 2003 ain't coming back. There will be no more Kenny Loftons to the rescue.

At this point, the only player on the major league roster that's untouchable is Zambrano - and likely Lee becuase wrist concerns make it impossible to shop for any sort of fair value in the offseason. Let Pierre walk. Plow that money into that young Cuban SS or Matsuzaka, if you must spend - both being young enough to build around. Let the kids fight it out for the 3 or 4 spots behind Z (and maybe an increasingly Wood-esque Prior) not just for the next 6 weeks - but next year, too.

I have no problems what soever with slots 3-4-5 or even 2-3-4-5 being made up by the winners of Hill, Marshall, Guzman, Mateo, Marmol, Ryu, Williams, maybe even Wuertz. It'll beat seeing something like Steve Tracshel coming back to town.

I fear we're sailing into that Bermuda triangle between Destined to win and doomed to fail -- drifting aimlessly in mediocrity. Whatever chits can be acquired for any over 25 and making more than 1.5 mil players on the roster, it beats the fooling ourselves that this team has much hope of being better than the Cards, Brewers, Reds, and Astros next season.
   4. CFiJ Posted: August 14, 2006 at 12:27 AM (#2139680)
I dunno. I think nine starts, while not a full season of seasoning, provides some ample opportunity to learn, improve and become consistent. In 2002, Zambrano only started 16 games total. Barry Zito had only 14 in 2000. While four rookies in the rotation is probably a bit much, it's not uncommon for a pitcher to all but win a spot just as a September call-up (followed by a promising spring). It wouldn't surprise to see at least one of these pitchers put it together, finish strong, and put themselves in position to get a starting job next year.
   5. Kiko Sakata Posted: August 14, 2006 at 12:43 AM (#2139695)
I agree wholeheartedly with zonk. The Cubs' moves this offseason should be with the goal of winning the World Series in 2009, not winning 85 games in 2007.
   6. Rage against the big red machine Posted: August 14, 2006 at 05:14 AM (#2139923)
I just don't see how any fan can justify cashing in the 2007 season, let alone waiting until 2009 to be competititive. This is a major market team, in fact few markets are more major, and it should be able to support a payroll of around $100M. That alone should be enough to field a reasonably competitive team. Moreover, teams have retooled and become contenders within the span of an offseason with some regularity (the 2006 Tigers, 2005 White Sox). The NL wild card leader is currently barely breaking .500. Maybe it will be different next season, but for goodness sake take a shot at the playoffs. Once a team gets in anything can happen. Ask Billy Beane.

Winning the World Series is absurdly hard. The Yankees have a $200M payroll, competent management, and still haven't done it in several years. From a probabilistic standpoint, I really dislike the idea of giving up seasons and building with young players, looking 5 years away to be competitive. People always mention the Marlins, but look at all the teams that have attempted that and failed. Cleveland, with some truly fantastic young talent, has yet to succeed. It seems to me that it's better to take shot as often as possible.

Besides, it would really make my father happy if the Cubs were in postseason next year.
   7. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: August 14, 2006 at 05:39 AM (#2139929)
This is a major market team, in fact few markets are more major, and it should be able to support a payroll of around $100M. That alone should be enough to field a reasonably competitive team.

One would think. The problem is that this is a major market team that *will* have a payroll of around $100M (or maybe shy by a few) . . . and *won't* have a competitive team. Why? Because too much of this money is tied up in guys who don't produce and whose contracts can't be unloaded.

I'm not talking about the big ticket guys like Zambrano, Lee, or Ramirez; I'm talking about the guys who will be making between $2-4MM. There are a ton of these guys, most of whom are overpriced, underperforming, and whose contracts can't be unloaded.
   8. Kiko Sakata Posted: August 14, 2006 at 05:42 AM (#2139931)
This is a major market team, in fact few markets are more major, and it should be able to support a payroll of around $100M. That alone should be enough to field a reasonably competitive team.

Given what the Cubs are starting with, I don't think $100 million makes them a competitive team. Obviously, $100 million SHOULD be enough to field a reasonably competitive team, but the reality is that the Cubs are wasting too much of that $100 million on completely worthless players - Neifi, Rusch - and for the most part they're overpaying the good players they do have - Aramis, DLee, Dempster, Eyre, Howry. We went over this in a previous thread and basically, if you assume the Cubs re-sign Pierre they have enough money for one big free agent. Who's the big free agent that's going to turn this train-wreck of a team into an instant contender?
   9. Kiko Sakata Posted: August 14, 2006 at 05:43 AM (#2139932)
or, I could have just said, what dJf said.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: August 14, 2006 at 07:43 AM (#2139968)
Well, young (or inexperienced in Hill's case) pitchers often struggle. As we all know, superficial similarity is destiny and Greg Maddux had an ERA+ of about 75 over his first 187 IP -- lousy WHIP, lousy K/BB, even lots of BB. Some guys come in and pitch well right away, but generally you have to suffer through the young pitchers. And of course most young pitchers won't reward your patience.

On the walks, I wouldn't point the finger at the young pitchers. The Cubs are last in the league in BB. Some of that is the kids but the Cubs had the 4th most BB last year, were middle of the pack in 2004, and again had the most in 2003. This is a problem with Baker, his staff, and this organization. Under Baker, the Cubs have averaged 3.7 BB/9.

And of course to frustrate us more, on offense they were 14th in 03, 14th in 04, last in 05, and last in 06. Under Baker, they've walked 2,227 batters and themselves walked just 1,693 times. You want a reason Baker should be fired, there ya go.

Though at least he's consistent. He thinks it's fine if his pitchers walk guys and a bad idea for his guys to take walks. Hey, at least we make sure the other team clogs the bases! :-)
   11. Walt Davis Posted: August 14, 2006 at 11:53 AM (#2139989)
And further on payroll ... $100 M ain't what it used to be. The Cubs are 7th in payroll at $95 M and another $5 M only puts them in a tie for 6th. Moreover, $100 M is only about $15-18 M better than the median payroll. You can get a lot of marginal wins for that but still only enough to get up to about 87 wins (on average) if you spend it well. And really that's 1 big FA or 1 medium and 1 small FA ... an upgrade in talent vs. the median payroll team that could be easily offset through wasted money and/or below-average return on your younger/cheaper players.

I agree that with their resources, the Cubs really should be contenders almost all the time. But the Trib has never truly been loose with the purse strings and the current Cubs are really a $100 M payroll with roughly $85 M (i.e. roughly average) talent with a lot of that talent on the DL.

Or to put it another way, the Cubs have spent about $45 M on their 5 most expensive players this year (Wood, ARAM, Lee, Z, Pierre) and have gotten a good season out of Z and about what could be expected out of ARAM and Pierre (about $23 M of that $45 M). Add in Prior, Rusch, Neifi, etc. and the Cubs have pretty much flushed $35+ M down the drain. Of course $60-65 M still puts us among some pretty good teams -- San Diego, Minnesota, Texas, Oakland, Cincy. Unfortunately, we're the Nats.

That's not to say this isn't 20/20 hindsight. It's just to say that $100 M ain't what it used to be.
   12. Mike Isaacs Posted: August 14, 2006 at 01:22 PM (#2140022)
The Cubs are last in the league in BB. Some of that is the kids but the Cubs had the 4th most BB last year, were middle of the pack in 2004, and again had the most in 2003. This is a problem with Baker, his staff, and this organization. Under Baker, the Cubs have averaged 3.7 BB/9.


True to be sure, but is Baker's staff responsible for almost every rookie pitcher coming up here and struggling with control? Does it seem somewhat meaningful that every Marlins rookie pitcher who has performed this year has had better control...a better WHIP...than any and every Cub rookie pitcher? And while this can't be proven and is a statement from the gut rather than the head, I can't help wondering whether Ricky Nolasco's WHIP would be much different had he been appearing in a Cubs uniform this season.

I still like some of the stuff I see from these young pitchers. I especially have high hopes about Hill. But I'm discouraged and frustrated that we see such little progress regarding control and K/BB ratio as these young pitchers continue to pitch at the Major League level. Maybe this is premature. I sure hope so.

Control is a problem with a lot of young pitchers, of course, but it's so prevalent on the Cubs staff and over so many years that it leads me to ask questions. And it's questions for which I don't really have the answers. Is it possible that the organization from top to bottom places so much emphasis on a young kid's velocity and how lively his arm is that control and K/BB ratio become de-emphasized along the way?

Walt is certainly right that pitchers' control problems have become pronounced under Baker and his staff. But hasn't this also been a problem in developing pitchers that preceeds the Baker era? On offense, the organization has rigidly refused to place a higher priority on OBP and plate patience. Do we see the same kind of thing with control and K/BB on the pitching end of this franchise?

Again, I'm not sure of the answer but I know Marmol seems as far away from becoming a disciplined pitcher who can consistently get the ball over the plate as when he started on the Major League Cubs. Others have fared better at times, but I'm still discouraged that not one young pitcher has stepped forward yet to show substantial progress in this area. I'm hoping it's going to be Hill before the year is out.

Maybe the nine or so remaining starts from these young pitchers will allow one or two of them to show the consistent progress that I don't see right now. It's certainly true that an organization has to expect young pitchers to struggle with control and show patience with them. But I simply can't help wondering whether something is amiss regarding how these younger pitchers are developed once they don a Cubs uniform.
   13. Biscuit_pants Posted: August 14, 2006 at 02:05 PM (#2140044)
True to be sure, but is Baker's staff responsible for almost every rookie pitcher coming up here and struggling with control? Does it seem somewhat meaningful that every Marlins rookie pitcher who has performed this year has had better control...a better WHIP...than any and every Cub rookie pitcher?
That sentence is exactly why I think it is Baker's staff. Every pitcher has poor K/BB ratios. If it were most I would chalk it up to rookies having a hard time adjusting but all are. This is starting to defy the blind squirrel theory. I really think that the staff does very little to prepare the pitchers.

In an environment in which no on is prepared what do you expect? If Maddux the premier example of preparation and concentration can get a boost from leaving this team then I am convinced that there is a serious problem off the field with this team as well as on the field. Sample size be-damned Maddux hasn't pitched this well all year, even his 5-0 start was no where near the last three games.
   14. Biscuit_pants Posted: August 14, 2006 at 02:13 PM (#2140050)
I think nine starts, while not a full season of seasoning, provides some ample opportunity to learn, improve and become consistent.
I agree, at the very least they can figure out what they need to learn to do better to pitch at this level.
   15. Moses Taylor loves a good maim Posted: August 14, 2006 at 02:18 PM (#2140053)
What exactly is going on? As promising as some of these young Cub hurlers look at times, this much we know. There are at least four rookie starting pitchers on the Marlins who have posted better numbers using one of the best pitcher measurements in baseball than every young Cub rookie starter.

I'm guessing it's partly because they have a better development system in the minors and a better coaching staff (specifically pitching coach). I've wondered why Rothchild hasn't been held more accountable for injuries and lack of development.

True to be sure, but is Baker's staff responsible for almost every rookie pitcher coming up here and struggling with control? Does it seem somewhat meaningful that every Marlins rookie pitcher who has performed this year has had better control...a better WHIP...than any and every Cub rookie pitcher? And while this can't be proven and is a statement from the gut rather than the head, I can't help wondering whether Ricky Nolasco's WHIP would be much different had he been appearing in a Cubs uniform this season.

Yes and no. I bet Ricky wouldn't be as good, but that's something that all I can do is speculate. The Marlins appear to have done a better job of identifying which Cubs pitching prospect is better (going back to Willis over Guzman). There's got to be something there.
   16. Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate Posted: August 14, 2006 at 02:43 PM (#2140067)
A Grand Hypothesis, bordering on Theory, for people's amusement:

The Cubs front office believes that the optimal outcome (from the hitter's point of view) to every plate appearance is a ball in play. Thus, according to this view, a strikeout is the worst possible outcome in all circumstances, and a walk is essentially an occasional and accidental byproduct of a pitcher's attempt to force the maximally successful result (from his point of view.)

If this were the case, you'd have a front office that: a) puts a premium on getting slap-hitters that make contact, don't strike out, and don't draw too many walks; b) develops live-arm power pitchers who put up big minor-league K totals without really developing pinpoint accuracy and c) doesn't pay much, if any, attention to on-base percentage as a measure of a player's worth. That front office would be happy to hire a manager who encourages his pitchers to nibble at the corners to try and coax strikeouts (and hey, if all that nibbling results in handing out a few free passes or racking up ginormous pitch counts, that's just the cost of doing business) and likewise encourages his hitters to go after the first pitch because that might be the only good pitch you see all day and, heck, good things happen when you put the ball in play.

At first blush, that sounds a heck of a lot like the Cubs, no? Somebody please punch a hole in this theory...
   17. KB JBAR (trhn) Posted: August 14, 2006 at 02:56 PM (#2140075)
I agree with Mike. For the most part the Cubs' focus on winning this year has made them impatient with their young starters. Before July it only took a couple bad starts of less than 5 IP to get your ticket punched back to Iowa. The Marlins have been a lot more patient with their young starters. Scott Olsen put up an ERA near 6 with only one start longer than 5 innings in the month of May. Anibal Sanchez had three very bad starts and two very good ones in his first five starts. The Marlins have consistently stuck with their young pitchers even as they've struggles.

With regards to pitching, I think the Cubs' minor league development is probably pretty good. The Cubs have a lot of pitchers down in the minors doing Veal-y good. And their stats aren't just illusions, they have good component ratios.
   18. Sweet Posted: August 14, 2006 at 03:02 PM (#2140081)
That's a very clear and succinct hypothesis, Randy, and it certainly fits the data, though whether it explains the data is another question. I believe it does, but that's an admittedly subjective stance based on my disrespect for the front office generally and not on any direct (or other circumstantial) evidence.
   19. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: August 14, 2006 at 03:59 PM (#2140134)
And of course to frustrate us more, on offense they were 14th in 03, 14th in 04, last in 05, and last in 06. Under Baker, they've walked 2,227 batters and themselves walked just 1,693 times. You want a reason Baker should be fired, there ya go.

I find that to be as much (if not more) a reason for Hendry to be fired. It's not like these hitters had a lot of plate discipline before they came to the Cubs. Almost without exception, the Cubs have sought out guys who flail away, while actively pushing out the few that actually do show patience. Look at the list of guys he's brought to the team who, at the time, didn't have a 10:1 ratio of AB:BB --

Miller, Karros, Grudzielanek, Ramirez, Martinez, O'Leary, Goodwin, L. Harris, Simon, Hernandez, Glanville, Womack, Paul, Barrett, Walker, Macias, Garciaparra, Hollandsworth, Ordonez, DiFelice, Wilson, Gerut, Fontenot, Hairston, Pierre, Blanco, Izturis, Jones, Mabry, and Pagan.

That's not even counting the major leaguers he's brought to the organization while a scouting director -- Patterson, Kelton, Cedeno, and Greenberg.

Yes, there are exceptions, but with the exception of Derrek Lee, Jeromy Burnitz, and Matt Murton, none have seen 400 PAs in a Cubs uniform.

One can and should blame Dusty for not stressing discipline, but it's not like he's had willing pupils either. Instead, we've got a GM who believes plate discipline is "knock[ing] the runs in with a man on 3rd, even if it's a ground ball to the right side," who openly disdains OBP because he heard John Kruk opine that Oakland needs run producers, and who goes out of his way to stress that the huge stat for him is how guys hit with RISP.

(See here for the link of my summary of Hendry's recent interview on the Score, discussing these things.)
   20. Fred Garvin is dead to Mug Posted: August 14, 2006 at 04:18 PM (#2140153)
Yes, there are exceptions, but with the exception of Derrek Lee, Jeromy Burnitz, and Matt Murton, none have seen 400 PAs in a Cubs uniform.

To be more fair, of my list of acquisitions without discipline, only Miller, Grudzielanek, Ramirez, Martinez, Barrett, Walker, Hollandsworth, Hairston, Pierre, and Jones have seen 400 PAs.

Still, (a) it's a noticeably longer list -- 10 guys to 3; and (b) even if I listed all the guys with discipline who didn't see much action, it would still be smaller than the list I set forth in Post #19.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: August 15, 2006 at 08:48 AM (#2141392)
True to be sure, but is Baker's staff responsible for almost every rookie pitcher coming up here and struggling with control? ... And while this can't be proven and is a statement from the gut rather than the head, I can't help wondering whether Ricky Nolasco's WHIP would be much different had he been appearing in a Cubs uniform this season.

Well, the latter gut feeling, if correct which we'll never know, would be evidence that yes it is the fault of Baker and his staff. But I did also include "this orgnization" in my list of suspects.

On Nolasco, we have a few options (probably more than those listed):

1) the Cubs can't tell which of their young pitchers will retain good control and which won't.
2) the Cubs screw them up when they get to the majors.
3) the Cubs undervalue control.
4) the Cubs valued Nolasco properly but thought Pierre was worth it.

None of those are very promising.

What else can we look at?

Howry's walk rate is up vs. last year but below career
Eyre's is up vs. last year but in line with career
Rusch is the prototype of an inconsistent pitcher -- his BB rate was his best in 2004, got worse the last two years, worse than his career in 2005, and bad this year.
Dempster's control has always sucked and he's been no different with the Cubs.
Maddux's control was unaffected.
Clement's control improved on arrival in 2002 (pre-Baker) and stayed about the same.
Wood improved starting in 2003. Of course he couldn't really get worse. :-)
Hawkins was the same in 2004, worse in 2005 (only 19 IP).
Alfonseca's control collapsed in 2002, improved (but still worse than his norm) in 2003 ... improved after leaving.

So nothing alarming there.

I find that to be as much (if not more) a reason for Hendry to be fired. It's not like these hitters had a lot of plate discipline before they came to the Cubs. Almost without exception, the Cubs have sought out guys who flail away, while actively pushing out the few that actually do show patience. Look at the list of guys he's brought to the team who, at the time, didn't have a 10:1 ratio of AB:BB

It gets us back to the old question of which moves, if any, are more Baker's doing and which are Hendry's? Also a lot of guys on that list were (or were intended to be) bench players. So, touching on both, we got Hernandez because Dusty refused to play Bellhorn (who did walk) -- do we blame Hendry for that? And of course it's Dusty who keeps giving Neifi, Hollandsworth, etc. all that playing time. Still, it's not a positive list.

It's also true that, at least for 2003-2005, 1 BB per 10 AB was actually a bit above league average (and possibly well above league median). Some of that would be pitchers but the average walk rate was as bad or worse in the AL. Anyway, you'd expect them on average to find fewer guys who walk better than 1:10 ... but that list sure seems more unbalanced than you'd expect.
   22. Clute Posted: August 15, 2006 at 03:30 PM (#2141506)
All these numbers of OBP and BB/K ratio is something anyone with a job in professional baseball should understand as vitally important to the success of your team. But you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear either. Hence much of the development program for the Cubs seem to need a complete overhaul. How is this best accomplished? How about hiring a GM that has an understanding and track record of developing such an organization. Then let it be known throughout the organization that it's either done his way or it's the highway. The present key players,(GM, Manager and Coaches), are never held accountable for the performance on the field. This has to change or the Cubs will continually be going upstream without a paddle. If ownership really knew or cared as much about baseball as they do about increasing the bottom line, they would've jettisoned the GM instead of giving him an extention. Then if they were willing to spend $100 million, the Cubs could go after players that fit the mold of the new GM.

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