Yesterday we took a tour of the Cubs position players as we head into the 2012 season. It wasn’t a pretty sight. It was like coming up on a motorcycle accident and realizing that the driver wasn’t wearing a helmet or pants.
Today, we hold our nose and cast a quick glance at the other half of the roster. The pitching staff.
Not since the days of Steve Rain, Daniel Garibay and Ruben Quevedo have the Cubs been this stacked with talent. Wait. I think I just lost the will to live.
Let’s soldier on.
Was it really only eight short years ago that the Cubs had assembled the finest pitching rotation in big league history: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux and Sergio Mitre? Mitre, Matt Clement, whatever.
Well, it looks like they did it again. (Considering that rotation combined for 55 wins, and this bunch could challenge to win half of that.)
Dempster got the opening day start last year instead of Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs did it because Zambrano had struggled so much in that spot. Dempster did what he always does. He rose to the occasion. He only gave up six runs, six hits and four walks in six innings in a loss to Pissburgh. Well, how can you not reward excellence like that? So, despite the fact he’s not the best pitcher on the staff, he’s going to start opening day. Why? Because Dale Sveum apparently suffers from chronic head wounds.
This is the final year on Dempster’s contract. He should be a prime candidate to be moved to a contender at mid-season. But he has no-trade protection because he’s been in the league ten years and the last five with his current team, and odds are he won’t want to go anywhere else.
Garza is the best pitcher on the team. He was only 10-10 last year despite a 3.32 ERA because of bad run support and the fact he is completely inept at fielding a baseball. He had 33 chances in the field last year, and he made seven errors. How is that even possible? Jim Abbott had 381 chances in his career and made NINE errors. Jim Abbott! He didn’t have a right hand! Tommy John once famously made three errors on the same play, and you know how many errors he committed that year? FOUR!
The Cubs listened to offers for Garza during the offseason, and will probably do so again near the trade deadline. It’s an interesting decision. He’s 28, has been productive and durable, and while he might not be a number one on a really good team, he’s already been a number two on a really good team, and those aren’t easy to find. The Cubs have to be tempted to lock him up long term, but they also have a dearth of talent in the minors and while they’re likely to trade several of their players this year, nobody but Garza is likely to bring back a big haul. So do you want three good prospects or one good Garza?
This is where Theo Epstein earns the big bucks. So let him decide. I’m easily confused.
He’s really the number three starter on this team. They’re not forcing him into the role, he earned it. An optimist will see that as a good thing. A talented young pitcher has harnessed his ability and forced his way into a starting role. A pessimist will wonder how it’s possible the Cubs can’t find more than two starting pitchers better than Jeff Samardzija.
Control’s always been his problem. There’s no doubting his stuff, but it doesn’t do much good if it can’t be thrown for strikes. So far this spring, he’s thrown strikes, and so he’s gotten lots of people out. He walked 50 in 88 innings last year, which is way too many. If he reverts to that it won’t be pretty. But if he does, this could be fun to watch. The Cubs used to be able to develop their own starting pitching. In fact, it’s pretty much all they’ve been able to develop the last 20 years or so.
If he flops as a starter he’ll go back to the bullpen, where in theory he’ll pick up where he left off last year when he was one of their few dependable arms down there.
The Cubs got Volstad in a trade for one my favorite Cubs pitchers of all-time. The Marlins had given up on Volstad because after showing a lot of promise as a 21 year old rookie in 2008, he was awfully mediocre the last three seasons. Volstad’s a big dude who throws kind of hard with an excellent sinker. When spring training started he said that he watched Doug Fister during the postseason with the Tigers and saw a guy who has his exact same build and stuff. Fister was pretty awesome for the Tigers after his trade from Seattke last season. He was 8-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 10 regular season starts for Detroit, and then 2-1 in the playoffs with wins over both the Yankees and Rangers. So Volstad said he was just going to do what Fister started doing after the trade. Just stick almost exclusively with the sinker.
You hear that crap all of the time. Remember last year when Charlie Morton decided to copy Roy Halladay’s pitching motion? How did that work out for old Charlie?
(Well, he went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA, an ERA that was almost four full runs lower than the one he had in 2010.)
Baseball’s not that complicated. Lots of guys have figured it out by finding somebody similar to them and copying a successful strategy.
This spring, Volstad put up a 0.90 ERA with seven K’s and no walks in his first three starts.
Will it work over the long haul? Not that well, obviously (he gave up six runs in his fourth spring start) but the fact is Volstad is talented and something has been wrong with his approach the last few years, so this is as good a strategy as any other.
Maholm was one of those pitchers who was OK on a bad team, and you figured that on a good team he’d be better. The problem, of course, is that the team he was on all those years, Pissburgh, is now better than the Cubs, so we’ll still have to wait to find out.
If you check out Maholm’s most similar pitchers on Baseball Reference you’ll see such luminaries as Chris Capuano, Frank Castillo and Travis Wood.
He doesn’t walk people, but he also doesn’t strike them out. So he’ll be relying on a Cubs defense that as we noted yesterday is better than last year’s, but still awfully shitty.
There was a time when Marmol was the most dominant reliever in baseball. His ERA+ (100 is league average) was 325 in 2007. Three hundred twenty-five. Obviously it dropped from there to an excellent 172 in 2008, 131 in 2009, back up to 167 in 2010 and a non-closer-like 98 last year. His problem is his lack of command. Marmol has walked 300 batters in 459 innings pitched. Greg Maddux walked 999 batters in 5,008 innings. Marmol’s 300 walks are paired with 44 hit batsmen in his career, too. That’s a lot of pitches nowhere near the strike zone.
However, Marmol does have a lot of impressive stats. He’s only allowed 298 hits in those 459 innings. Hitters bat only .179 off of him in his career, they slug a paltry .288 and the .610 OPS batters get off of him is a whopping .136 points below league average. He struck out 16 batters per nine innings in 2010 and that’s the most ever.
But since he had a poor season last year (he blew 10 saves), what can the Cubs expect out of him from here on out?
My guess is an injury. Marmol’s ability to pitch every day has the downside of the fact his managers pitch him a lot. The most Mariano Rivera has ever pitched in a single season was 74 appearances in his incredible 2004 season (at 34, Rivera saved 53 games and had a 1.94 ERA). Marmol has never pitched fewer than 75 times in a full season. In 2007 he spent the first six weeks of the season in Iowa and still made 59 appearances in the big leagues.
But it’s easy to predict an injury for a player. Eventually you’re going to be right. Will Carroll has made a (somewhat uneven) career out of being a self-proclaimed injury expert. I figure Marmol will get hurt because a) pitchers get hurt, b) he pitches a lot. Yes, very scientific.
Wood’s been playing with house money since that day in 2007 when he was going to retire because his arm hurt so much, but miraculously he decided to throw one more time before he called his agent to give the Cubs the news, and the arm didn’t hurt anymore. Once the Cubs made him a full-time reliever from then on his arm hasn’t been the problem. He’s got a bad back, a bad knee and every year struggles with blister issues. This year will be no different. Kerry’s an awesome guy, and still a good reliever when available. He’s going to handle the eighth inning for the Cubs this year when they have a lead. Since they should only have an eighth inning lead about 20 times this year, Kerry probably can handle that workload.
Russell’s going to be asked to fill Sean Marshall’s role as lefty bullpen ace who looks like he needs a nap. His overall numbers last year weren’t so hot (1-6, 4.12 ERA), but remember that for some ludicrous reason, Mike Quade insisted on giving Russell five starts when Russell was never stretched out to be a starter, and only has two pitches. So Russell went 0-5 with a 9.33 ERA and we all hated him, and then since the Cubs were terrible and we stopped paying attention, we scarcely noticed that Russell went 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks in 59 relief apperances.
Dolis was good, not great, at AA Tennessee last year. He sort of looks like a cross between Mel Rojas and Roberto Novoa. Dale Sveum thinks he’s awesome. Nobody has any idea.
Corpas was the Rockies closer when they went to the World Series FIVE years ago. He’s been bad and hurt since. He’s finishing spring training with a string of nice outings and will probably make the team. Next year at this time you won’t even remember he was ever on the team.
The Cubs can keep two of the illustrious group of Rodrigo “Mexigreggie” Lopez, Rule 5er Lendy Castillo, and late to camp additions Shawn Camp and Eulogio “Frankie” De La Cruz.
Castillo hasn’t pitched above the Class A Sally League yet, so if the Cubs want to keep him they should probably just make a trade with the Phillies and send him to Tennessee. He’s been good in the spring, but so was David Patton in 2009, and remember how that turned out. I know that Johan Santana was a Rule 5 pickup by the Twins from the Astros back in 2000, but chances are Lendy isn’t Johan. He did average a strikeout per inning with good control in class A last year, but is that really enough to warrant stashing him in the bullpen for an entire season?
De La Cruz was brought in when the Brewers released him, and he pitched in the minors for new Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. He’s 28, he’s pitched in 26 big league games for four different organizations. Enjoy Des Moines, Eulogio.
So that leaves Mexigreggie and Camp. Actually, Mexigreggie is basically a lock. Which is amazing considering how mediocre he is. When mediocrity sticks out as competence for a team, it’s going to be a long year.
His numbers last year weren’t great. He was 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA and an ERA+ of only 88. But for the most part he was solid. His first start was abysmal, but he posted ERAs of 3.29 in June, 3.65 in July, and 2.72 in September. The only month he struggled in was August when he had an ERA of 5.68 in six starts. He’s a five to six inning pitcher as a starter (he went 6 2/3 in a win over the Phillies, and that was his longest outing of the season.) But he’ll make the team as the long man in the bullpen and he and Randy Wells will be the “extra” starters for the Cubs when the guys who start the rotation get hurt or flame out or both.
I admit I am amazed by how much he looks like Greg Maddux and how much his motion, especially out of the stretch looks just like Maddux’s. In the windup, the only difference is that Lopez never raises his hands above his tits, while Maddux used to stop at the top of his cap. The other difference is of course in performance. So on a bad team, I’ll take me some Mexigreggie to amuse myself.
Camp probably has the inside track at the other roster spot just because the Cubs would like to have their young relievers get more minor league work in. He’s pitched eight years and been decent for the Royals, Rays and Blue Jays. He doesn’t strike many out, (335 in 488 innings) but doesn’t walk many, either (146) and allows more than a hit per inning (562). He’s a guy. That’s about as much praise as I can muster for him.
The reality is that this roster is going to be in a constant state of flux this season. Guys will get traded, picked up on waivers, released and all kinds of crazy stuff. The opening day roster is largely irrelevant.
You know, sort of like the entire season.