After another fun time at the old ballpark gagging away a lead to the Cardinals, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano decided to do something that apparently you just can’t do.
He told the truth.
He wasn’t ranting and raving like a lunatic, he was standing in front of his locker relatively calmly saying everything that everybody who watched Sunday’s game…and the 56 games before it, already knows.
Hey, where did the rest of this go?
Well, it’s become my debut article for SB Nation Chicago. It still exists, it’s just “there” now. I’ll be writing about our exciting Cubs there from time to time, and instead of running this column in two places today, just go over there and read it, OK?
As the Cubs long, lumbering, two step progression towards 81 wins (four more than I expected, and just enough to make MLB Betting interesting) continues lots of things are surprising about this team. The starting pitching was supposed to be a strength, but other than Carlos Zambrano it’s been pretty bad. The bullpen, as long as you can get to the Marshall-Wood-Marmol end is pretty stout. The expensive guys are actually hitting (E-ramis for average and Alfonso Soriano for power), except for Carlos Pena…he just sucks.
But even a bigger surprise than how awesome Starlin Castro already is, is that Darwin Barney might actually be good.
First off, let’s address the inevitable comparisons to Ryan Theriot.
Both played shortstop on College World Series winning teams. Theriot at LSU (did you know he played there with Mike Fontenot? Crazy!), Barney at Oregon State.
They’re basically the same size. Theriot’s listed at 5’11, 180 (he’s 5’2, 110) and Barney at 5’10, 180.
But that’s where the comparison should end. Barney made it to the big leagues faster (he was 24 when he played last year…Theriot was 26 when he got his first real run) and is playing a position he can handle (second base as opposed to shortstop).
Barney’s got a far better arm than Theriot. He has shown situational awareness that Theriot never has. He dekes runners on the bases, he takes aggressive, but not reckless turns on the bases, he doesn’t blindly throw towards first when the runner has already easily beaten the play. He doesn’t get picked off repeatedly on the rare occasions he’s on first base. And…he has yet to be out by 15 feet blindly running from second to third on a routine grounder to the shortstop.
Granted, in Theriot’s first extended playing time as a Cub, he was a pretty good player.
In 2006 he hit .326 with a .934 OPS (135 OPS+). He went 13-15 in stolen bases.
So we’ve fallen for this before. The longer we saw Theriot, the more we saw things we at first tried to ignore. He was overmatched defensively at short. He doesn’t have the arm to play it so he cheats into areas on defense where his arm will “play” which cuts down on his already suspect range.
Barney gets to let Starlin Castro worry about that. He just plays second.
But the more we watched Theriot, the more we saw how clueless he was on the bases. Still it’s amazing that a guy who is supposed to be valuable because of how scrappy he is, has such a terrible feel for the game.
Barney appears to understand the game better than Theriot ever did.
And, it doesn’t hurt that he’s off to a productive start this year. With two hits in the second game of tonight’s doubleheader split (what else for the 9-9 Cubs?) Barney had two hits (though he struck out looking to end the game in a one run loss) and his average is up to .314. He has more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). In his first 13 starts this season he as seven multi-hit games.
So what if he’s actually good? What if this isn’t just the productive start that you can get off to before the league figures out that you are getting by on hustle and not on talent?
What if the Cubs haven’t just found their starting shortstop, but his running mate? What if they have one less position to worry about (just 23 instead of 25) on the roster?
A wise man tweeted this week that “Darwin Barney is Ryan Theriot without his head up his ass.”
Fine, I’m not all that wise, but what if that were true? Isn’t the biggest disappointment about Theriot that he just never “got it?” That he didn’t have excess talent, but he had just enough, but had no idea what to do with it?
Maybe Darwin’s actually good. What if he understands the game enough to just do what he can, and not screw things up? What if he’s just good enough to be useful?
Nah you’re right, he’s probably shitty, too.
Hey, it won’t be long before we get to bitch that DJ LaMahieu is the only 6’4 judy hitter in baseball.Read More
I want to congratulate you on your favorite baseball team’s recent acquisition of Ryan Theriot to play…(pardon me while I try not to laugh and urinate at the same time)…shortstop for you next season.
You’re going to love him. He’s full of the false hustle and overrated grittiness that you seem to hold so dear in your baseballers. Oh, and he’s a white guy, so you’ll get a kick out of that.
There’s a lot to really like and admire about Ryan Theriot.
He made it to the big leagues despite not being a really good athlete.
He made it to the big leagues without being all that fast, his arm is pretty weak, and his baseball instincts are for complete shit.
Other than the fact he can’t play defense, can’t hit and can’t run the bases he is awesome at baseball. So it’s really a great move for your team. I assume that he was the Cardinals’ fallback when they couldn’t talk Stubby Clapp out of retirement.
What you’re going to really appreciate from Theriot is that he’s a winner. Oh sure, the teams he plays on lose a lot, but he’s a winner. If you need a nine hop dribbler to shortstop in a key spot, Ryan Theriot is your man. Oh, it won’t advance a runner or get him on base, but he’ll get it for you.
If you need a guy to try to go from second to third with nobody out on a routine grounder to short, Theriot’s your man. Oh sure, he’ll be out at third by about 18 feet, but he’ll be running really hard when he does it.
Need a guy to be completely indecisive about whether to tag up and try to score on a flyball from third? The few times Theriot actually gets to third base, he will make that situation pay off by bouncing up and down instead of tagging up or going halfway and then guessing wrong about what he should do about 87 percent of the time. The fact that a third base coach is telling him what to do doesn’t matter. That little grit-box has no need for coaching assistance. He’s all instinct, that guy.
Even though he’s completely overmatched defensively at shortstop, (he makes up for a stunning lack of range with a terribly anemic arm), he claims that he can only hit when he’s playing short. Last year he hit .339 with a .758 OPS at short and only .254 with a .606 OPS at second.
Now that is versatility. The only way he can be of moderate help at the plate (because even a .758 OPS is shit) is if he’s killing you in the field.
What Theriot ignores with that statement is that almost all of those at bats came last April when he was getting on base at a decent clip thanks to an unsupportable .395 batting average on balls in play. His little dribblers were finding holes or dying in the grass in front of fielders. Because he was still striking out way too much for a guy with no power (16 times in 101 at bats) and it didn’t matter if the Cubs had played him at second or left or had him pitch or if they strung him up by his tiny little socks on a rooftop, or left him at short, his average (thanks to the law of) was going to end up in the toilet at some point.
But rest assured, should you somehow contend for a playoff spot in 2011, Theriot will come up huge. Why the trade from the fifth-place Cubs to the Dodgers last July 31 rejuvenated him. He could smell the postseason and he loved that stench. And he came through for the Dodgers hitting .242 with an on base of .323 and a slugging of a whopping .283. He’s got a .581 OPS in the playoffs, too! Reggie Jackson better look out, somebody else wants to be Mr. October.
He’s a great young talent. Oh, did I mention he’s 31 years old? (An awesome combo, he’s old, slow and has no power.) His OPS plus trend is pretty exciting. It was 72 his first full-season as an every day player and then it surged to 92 in 2008 (almost competent!) the one year he actually took walks and embraced the few things he did well, and since then? 83, 70 (with the Cubs last year), 69 (with the Dodgers last year.) He’s got a 50 in him somewhere, I hope you get to see that!
I was really impressed that your Cardinals traded for him when the Dodgers were going to non-tender him. Bold move to lock yourselves into no less than $2.6 million for next season, considering on the open market (if you’d waited one more day) he could command between $500,000 and $750,000. Savvy.
But if there’s anybody to be excited for, it has to be Blake Hawksworth, the mediocre pitcher you sent to the Dodgers. A lot of us had him in the “next Cardinals pitcher to die in a drunken car wreck or drug-induced hotel nap” pool. Congrats to the Cardinals for saving a life yesterday.
I endorse the Cardinals bold strategy of trying to build a pennant contender out of two great players, an injury prone Cy Young contender, the whiter, balder version of Alfonso Soriano in left field and 21 awful players. Let me know how that works out for you.
I also endorse the fact that the Cardinals seem to have fired every scout on their payroll. How else do you explain trading an actual player for one of the worst every day players in the big leagues? Gotta admire how lean that organization is. Smooth.
Theriot said yesterday that he’s “glad to finally be on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.” I couldn’t agree with that more.
He’s on the right side alright.
At and around the trade deadline the Cubs, wallowing in fifth place, traded away their best starting pitcher, their opening day shortstop, a second baseman, their All-Star first baseman and their manager retired because frankly, going home to a sick mother was a more attractive option than watching the team he was managing.
And since then, the Cubs have gone 14-7 (.667) which is just a little bit better than the abysmal 51-74 (.408) they had played to that point.
So what’s the difference? How are they suddenly better?
The short answer: they aren’t.
The thing about the “fire sale” that the Cubs had at and around the trade deadline is that it was mostly just a smoke sale.
Of the players they traded (Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Derrek Lee) the only one they actually miss is Ted Lilly.
Theriot was awful this year. His punchless .284 average (it came with a miserable .320 on base average and humiliating .327 slugging average) wasn’t doing the team any good. (He’s slugging .308 for the Dodgers. Suckers!) He lost his shortstop job to Starlin Castro barely a month into the season and honestly, he should have been sitting on the bench, not wasting at bats and waving at routine ground balls.
Fontenot is a bench player, and a non-versatile one at that. He’s got decent power for a midget, but is barely adequate at second, horrendous at short and laughable at third. You could find four passable replacements for him at a strip club in any town with a AA baseball team in it on any random July night.
Derrek Lee had suffered through a miserable season due to injuries and oldness, and except for an occasional outburst of competence for a two game stretch here or there, the Cubs were getting nothing out of him. When the Braves miss the playoffs it’s moves like trading for a guy the day after he got an epidural that will have made the difference.
As for Piniella, he’d stayed a year too long. But not the way you think. He was perfect in 2007 kicking a rebuilding team into shape, and in 2008 he got 97 wins out of a really good team. But he and (especially) Jim Hendry overreacted to his team’s righthandedness before the 2009 season and some bad moves turned into more bad moves and the 2010 Cubs were just bad. When the 2009 team flopped, the Cubs should have started over, but like most teams they tried to patch it one more time.
The Cubs aren’t necessarily better now, at least in terms of overall talent, but here’s the sad thing…they really aren’t that much worse, if they’re worse at all.
Theriot has been replaced by a platoon of Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker. DeWitt has struggled, hitting only .235/.293/.346/.639 as a Cub. But Baker, getting starts against lefties, is mashing the ball .361/.425/.444/.869. I hope you like it, because despite efforts by Seabiscuit’s Jockey and the horrendous Gordon Wittenmyer to prepare you for the Darwin Barney era at second next year, you’re far more likely to end up with this same DeWitt-Baker combo. And DeWitt won’t always hit this poorly. He had a 99 OPS plus with the Dodgers, so he’s a league average second baseman.
The other thing you might want to get used to is Xavier Nady playing first base. He likes it in Chicago and he’ll be cheap. Oh, and believe me, next year’s Cubs are going to be cheap. (And bad.)
Since Lee was traded to the Braves, Nady has posted a .337/.349/446/.795. It’s not exactly Adrian Gonzalez, but it sure isn’t worse than Lee .241/.341/.367/.708.
And as I wrote on Tuesday, Zambrano has been tremendous since he came back from the Loony Bin, with last night’s win over the Cardinals he’s 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in his last 28 days.
It also hasn’t hurt that the Cubs schedule has been less than challenging. Of the 21 games in the Mike Quade era, only six have been against teams with .500 or better records. Three of those were against Cincinnati (the Cubs lost two) and the other three were against the team with the worst record in the NL over the past month (the St. Louis Cardinals! The Cubs won them all.)
That’s not to say Quade hasn’t done an impressive job. The Piniella Cubs this year weren’t beating teams with sub-.500 records, so even that’s an accomplishment.
What Quade has done is similar to what Buck Showalter has done in Baltimore. He’s got them playing hard (well, most of them), which means a lot in September, especially against the Pirates, Mets and yes, the Cardinals right now. Old crusty scouts say the worst months to evaluate players are March (spring training) and September. And the same holds true for managers, I suppose. So even though the Cubs are playing .667 ball under Quade, there’s no way in hell this is a good team.
They’re likely to open next season looking a lot like they do now. With an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin, and an infield of Xavier Nady, DeWitt/Baker at second, Starlin Castro at short and E-ramis Ramirez at third, with Geovany Soto at catcher.
The starting rotation depends on whether or not they decide to trade Zambrano. If they do, they’re likely to make a run at bringing back Ted Lilly. I don’t think they’d add Lilly’s salary to what they already have, so it’s probably Carlos or Ted. That gives you a rotation of Ryan Dempster, Zambrano/Lilly, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva and a fifth starter to come from Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, etc. So yeah, they’re going to blow.
I get the honest impression that the Cubs could do (and likely will do) worse than Mike Quade as their next manager. For all of the blather about how Ryne Sandberg has paid his dues by going down to the Cubs minor leagues and working his way up, Quade must just laugh. Quade won’t be the sexy pick. (Quade won’t be the sexy anything.) But with Joe Girardi unlikely (at best) to be available, with Fredi Gonzalez off to Atlanta, and with the rest of the candidates unimpressive retreads, he might be the right one.
But what the hell does it matter? If the roster is what I think it’s going to be next year, the best thing that can happen to Sandberg is to be passed over. If you thought 2010 was bad, brother you ain’t seen nothing yet.Read More