Monthly Archives: May 2009

Bullpen ERA and notes

I heard – although I didn’t check – that after Saturday’s game the Cubs had the worst bullpen ERA in the majors. Since then, though, the pen has been pretty good – I don’t believe it had given up a run until Carlos Marmol’s earned run tonight. That’s reduced the bullpen ERA to 5.23, and as of last night, that was good for 23rd overall, so they’ve improved relative to other teams, anyway.

In looking at these bullpen stats, I took away a couple of interesting points, though:

  • The Cubs have only used their bullpen for 93 innings before today (tack on another 1.2 today). That’s good for 7th-fewest overall. Part of that may be that the pen isn’t reliable and Lou tries to avoid using them, but part of it is that the starters have been going deep.
  • The bullpen is also ranked 7th in batting average against. Opponents are only hitting .238 against Cubs relief pitching.
  • Walks are the problem. The Cubs pen has walked more batters than any other bullpen in the majors, which is why they’re giving up so many runs.
  • Spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee bullpen success. There are some small-market teams doing worse than the Cubs, but the Angels and the Yankees are both there, too.

Anyway, the bullpen situation is still easily fixable. Carlos Marmol, in particular, needs to stop walking so many people. And some of the pitchers in the back end of the pen probably need to clear out. But the Cubs have enough talent in the bullpen and in the high minors that the pen shouldn’t lose a lot of games for them, even if it may never be a strength.

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Cubs 6, Padres 2

That was quite a win, wasn’t it?

banks

You can’t tell, but Ernie is nodding.

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One picture to sum up the season so far

cubswoes

So, yeah. The Cubs have won every game in which they’ve scored more than six runs. They’ve won 80% of the games in which they’ve scored between four and six. And they’ve lost every game where they’ve scored less than four.

The bullpen has been bad, but it’s really not the Cubs’ main problem. They should be better than 0-12 when they score less than four, but you wouldn’t expect them to have a good record when they get that little offense. The problem is that they have twelve games where they’ve scored less than four runs. If they keep scoring two runs or less in a third of their games, they’re going to be in trouble. If the offense can pick them up, though, they’ll be alright.

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I come not to praise Jake Fox

Derrek Lee had an MRI today because he’s still unable to play – apparently even to pinch hit. He may have to go on the DL, although the Trib was quick to note that his DL stint could be backdated if it happens.

So if the Cubs put him on the DL, presumably they would call up Jake Fox. He’s got a preoposterous 1.348 OPS so far, which Baseball Prospectus tells me translates to a mere 1.191 in the majors. If BP’s translations are right, Jake Fox has been the fourth-best hitter in baseball so far this season, behind Manny, Kevin Youkilis, and Carlos Beltran. There may be some concern that he can’t hit a fastball or field his position, but if he were really in league with those guys, talent wise, the Cubs should just DL Lee right now.

Except the Trib also had this sunny piece of news:

Triple-A Iowa first baseman Jake Fox was injured this weekend when he was hit by the shards of a broken bat. He’s expected to miss a couple of days.

That’s right. The Cubs may have to put their regular first baseman on the DL. They have Hoffpauir, who is doing nicely but isn’t good against lefties and, anyway, needs a backup in case he needs a rest or something. They have a guy who’s killing the ball at AAA… And that guy gets hit by a broken bat and he’s hurt too.

The guy with the next most games at first in Iowa, Doug Deeds, is hitting .267/.323/.350, which does not translate to anywhere near “the fourth best player in baseball.”

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Relative values of pitching and hitting

Let me state at the outset that there’s no conclusion to be had in this post, I’m just thinking out loud here.

A friend and I were talking during Sunday night’s game between the White Sox and the Rangers. Steve Phillips had just said that the Rangers had made a mistake trading a bunch of good pitchers for hitters, because they were already the best offensive team in the AL, but they still were a losing team. Joe Morgan responded by saying that a hitter plays for you every day, a starting pitcher can’t win more than one out of five games for you.

My friend was saying how Phillips way outclassed Morgan in that booth. I was surprised to hear that because I think Phillips is even worse than Morgan, and that in this case, Morgan is right. A position player plays almost every game. A pitcher pitches maybe 7 innings every five games.

The more I think about it, the more sure I am that position players are more important than pitchers, at least in the regular season. The playing time imbalance might be part of the reason, but maybe there’s something else. Conveniently, there was a post that was sort of related on Beyond the Box Score a few days ago. Basically, of the top 100 players ever, in wins about replacement, 73 are hitters and 27 are pitchers. So pitchers tend to accumulate less value over their careers. Now, this could be because of any number of things – pitcher careers could be shorter, too, so I don’t want to give the impression that this proves anything, just that it reinforced my view a little.

But I wonder if one of the reasons hitters might be more valuable is that hitting isn’t bounded the way pitching is. A pitcher can’t allow fewer than zero runs. On the other hand, there’s no theoretical maximum. You can win a game 15 to 14, but you can’t win 0 to -1. In other words, at some point, better pitching simply doesn’t make your team any better – if you give up two runs a game but still have a losing record, you’re probably not going to be that much better off only giving up one run a game – you have to score runs to win.

This is probably not a particularly original line of thought – I would assume the people who do serious statistical analysis of baseball have already considered and either rejected or accepted it. But it’s interesting to me nonetheless.

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Just an idea

Marmol and Gregg have each pitched two games in a row. That could be a problem, given that Randy Wells is unlikely to go much more than five innings. Why not just accept before the game that no matter what happens, Wells will stay in for five, Guzman will pitch the sixth and the seventh, and, I don’t know, Cotts will pitch the eighth and, if necessary, ninth? There’s potential for disaster there, but you would keep the better pitches in the pen (Heilman, Marmol and Gregg) fresh, and I don’t know if you significantly hurt your odds of winning. You can always use one of those three to close, too, if the Cubs are up at the end.

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Cubs Culture

I made the mistake of listening to The Score this afternoon. I forget who was hosting, but I was listening to the “feedback zone” show. His premise that he wanted people to discuss was that Kenny Williams apparently said that he wanted former White Sox players involved in the organization because they understood the culture and tradition of the team. The host thought this was a great idea and would help on the north side even more than on the south.

This seemed sparked partly by some comments Lou made about fans booing when asked in his press conference. (apparently Lou said he thought it was counterproductive. God forbid!) But the host’s point was that a former Cubs player would have an easier time of things because he’d understand the pressures the team faces, Cubs baseball culture, and the fans and the media.

I can sort of see why the argument is attractive (if probably wrong), but the host had another point he made a couple of times, too. That was that the Cubs and the environment around them have changed a lot since 2003. He pointed out that the media seems to expect more out of the team now, that the fans do and will voice their displeasure if they don’t get what they expect, and that the organization is run far more professionally since MacPhail left.

I’m no expert, but it sounds to me like that means Cubs culture has changed in less than a decade. In other words, a Ryne Sandberg or a Joe Girardi (who he said a couple of times he thought the Cubs should have hired) wouldn’t be any more familiar with this culture than Piniella was. I think this undercuts his point entirely, but while I was listening he never acknowledged that.

Look, when Lou leaves, I don’t care if the Cubs bring in a former Cub or not. Ryne Sandberg has apparently been pretty good in the minors, and maybe he should get a shot. Girardi could very well be done in New York this year if the Yankees miss the playoffs again. If the Cubs look at one of them and think he’s their guy, great, hand him the reins. But if they look at Alan Trammell, who’s been Lou’s bench coach the last two years and think he’s the guy, or they find someone else outside the organization, I don’t care whether they’ve ever worn a Cubs uniform at all.

To a large extent, the “culture” of the Cubs is different than it was when Sandberg or Girardi played anyway, and to the extent that it’s not, I’ve not heard anything that makes me think the culture they played under was a good one. There are things that I don’t like about this new culture (the booing, the media buffoonery), but I like that the organization is run like a professional organization and not like the team in Major League, and I don’t think experience with it in the 80s or 90s makes you any better equipped to deal with running the team today.

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