Friday, May 15, 2009

Checking in on Kosuke

If you've seen any stat from Kosuke Fukudome's 2008, it's his average splits. Every month, Kosuke got fewer and fewer hits.

Fukudome had a torrid April, in which he just absolutely knocked the cover off the ball. How's May going so far in comparison?

April: .338/.461/.592
May: .343/.465/.486

In a word: good.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Milwaukee Loves Pittsburgh

How did the Brewers all of a sudden pass the Cubs in the NL Central standings?

Hint: the current headline at their website is, "Brewers win 17th in a row over Bucs."

Answer: Scheduling, son!

Sure, they managed to snag a couple of road series wins along the way, most notably a three-gamer in Philadelphia. But those series wins weren't nearly as helpful as the five Ws the Brewers got from playing the league's worst team.

Remind you of anyone? Like, say the Cubs from April 2008? We had a record that was something like six games above .500, if I'm not mistaken--and had gone 6-0 against the Pirates in the month.

Milwaukee sucks. We're gonna torch them after a couple more months of good baseball.

Bring on the Pirates!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gathright = useless.

Joey Gathright is about as useful as a poopy-flavored lollipop.

Soto is almost certainly hurting.

And Derrek Lee will have better numbers than James Loney this year.

That is all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chicago Cubs Position Battle: Micah Hoffpauir or Derrek Lee?

It's early, but already there's been all kinds of press regarding Derrek Lee's slow start at first base.

Most Cubs fans know that Lee was at one point a very capable middle-of-the-order hitter. They fell in love in 2005, during a career year. Since then, the picture hasn't been nearly as pretty, as three-year declines in power are never a good sign.

To begin this season, Lee is hitting a paltry .217/.283/.348 through 11 games. Of course, this is an extremely small sample size. Furthermore, Lee's not alone in terms of slow-starting Cubs hitters. Free agent pick-up Milton Bradley and 2008 Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto have combined for only three hits so far.

But Bradley and Soto aren't as worrisome because they're aren't as high a risk to be in the declining portion of their professional careers. Bradley's numbers have continually been trending up over the past several years, and Soto is still a young dude. Neither of these hitters have three-year declines in power weighing them down at the plate.

Nor do they have 29-year old lefty sluggers breathing down their necks.

Lee's hold on the starting first base job is being threatened by Micah Hoffpauir. Micah is 5-for-14 against righties this season, with two doubles to boot. His success against righties might force Lou Piniella to give some of Lee's at-bats to Hoffpauir when the team is facing a right-hander.

It's interesting to look at what a Lee-Hoffpauir platoon might be able to produce. Adding Lee's appearances against lefties to Hoffpauir's stats against right-handers generates a slash-line of roughly .421/.450/.526, an excellent line indeed.

If Lee's role in the offense is diminished any time soon (either fewer at-bats, or a drop in the line-up), it will be interesting to see what Lou does with his line-ups. A team that used just one left-handed bat in last year's NLDS will now be able to use up to four in a given line-up. Against righties, Lou may use a line-up something like:


If Lee is dropped in the order against righties, it would seem to make sense for him to hit in the 5th spot, giving us a line-up of:


We'll see what happens, I guess.

Positional changes that must be made

We are two weeks into the season - it feels like a lot more than that because it's the 20th of April - and already snap judgments are being made. Players that busted their butts to make the roster are already on the bubble to get dropped. Guys that surprisingly won starting jobs are already on the brink of losing them. In other words, baseball is harsh and often unfair.

On the Cubs the lineup remains set, even though a few players are dramatically underperforming. Probably the one who is on the biggest bubble is Mike Fontenot. After two weeks he's batting in the low .200's. Luckily the biggest challenger to his job legitimately sucks - Aaron Miles. We're going to assume that Lou does in fact have the brains that God gave him and isn't entertaining the idea of abandoning Lil' Babe Ruth for the bench in favor of the Switch Hitting Sultan of Suck. But who on the Cubs is at the brink of prematurely losing their gig?

Neal Cotts - On GROTA I recently voiced my belief that Cotts knows exactly what Lou's shoutin' voice sounds like. The only thing saving his ass is the complete lack of alternatives. There's not even another lefty reliever on the Cubs 40 man roster according to In Triple A, there are two options - Jason Waddell (0.00 ERA in 4 IP) and J.R. Mathes (9.64 ERA in 4.2 IP of work)

Kevin Gregg - Gregg is not on the brink of getting ejected from the team, but he is on the bubble of losing his closer's role to Carlos Marmol. The one thing that leads me to believe Lou will give him some more time is the way Gregg stepped in to stop the bleeding on Saturday against the Cardinals.

Oddly enough, the "real" bubble guys - Joey Gathright and Dave Patton, who were respectively the 24th and 25th men on the roster - are probably safe, despite mediocre-so-far results. But the Cubs probably will need to find another lefty sometime soon, and they will especially need to re-evaluate how they back up Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Theriot. Another back-up type who can cover the left side of the infield may prove to be more valuable than speedy Joey Gathright.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ted Lilly Pitched Well Last Night

Considering Ted Lilly gave up four home runs last night, it's hard to categorize his start as a success. But putting Lilly's performance into context is crucial for understanding why the Bulldog's less-than-perfect stat line was exactly what the Cubs needed last night.

The Cubs pounded out an 11-6 win last night behind outstanding offensive performances from two left-handed hitters, Kosuke Fukudome and Mike Fontenot. Aramis Ramirez had an outstanding night as well. The balanced offensive attack was working at full capacity for at least one night.

While the offense certainly got the job done, it seems that many Cub fans are less impressed with the pitching of Ted Lilly.

Indeed, out of context, it wasn't a good start. Lilly gave up four home runs over five innings, and eight hits overall. He gave the Astros a good number of pitches to hit, and in some cases, they were able to knock the cover off the darned thing.

But you know what? That's exactly what Lilly was supposed to do.

Lilly used the large cushion afforded to him by his teammates to get through innings as quickly as possible. Although Lilly only pitched five innings, he needed just 73 pitches to do so. If that rate were to continue, Lilly would have been under 105 pitches through seven innings--a fine start indeed.

More importantly, of the 73 pitches Lilly threw, 50 were for strikes. Why is that number so crucial?

When you've got a big lead, the last thing you want to do is walk opposing hitters. Instead, a mindful pitcher will throw strikes, and force the opponent to put the ball in play. Sure, Lilly allowed four home runs, but because he didn't walk anyone, none of the home runs hurt him too badly individually; three were solo shots, and one was a two-run homer.

Of course, giving up four home runs is never in the game plan for a pitcher when he takes the mound; Lilly would have much rather won last night's game by a score of 11-0. Presumably, there are some adjustments Lilly needs to make going forward to limit the number of hits and long balls allowed. At the same time, Cubs fans need to recognize the context of Lilly's performance before completely throwing him under the bus.

It will be interesting to see how Lilly performs in his next start, which will almost certainly be closer than last night's game (although, who would complain about another 8-0 lead after two innings?). Because he's a fly ball pitcher, Ted will almost certainly give up another couple long fly balls, some of which may leave the yard. But a larger proportion of balls to strikes might force opponents to swing at more pitches out of the zone, increasing Lilly's strikeout numbers and keeping runs off the scoreboard.

Lilly's next start will likely come on April 13th, as the Cubs play their first game in Wrigley Field against the Colorado Rockies.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blame the offense... or The Riot?

There goes the perfect season, I guess.

The Cubs really did seem to play pretty well. Limiting the opponent to two runs in nine innings is a good thing. Dempster was quite fine in his start, and Heilman and Cotts each had one good inning. The problem was, Lou asked each of them to pitch two. That gave Cotts a difficult situation when he came on in the ninth, and a similarly tough scenario for Gregg in the 10th.

Of course, Lou was forced to ask too much of his relievers because the offense had trouble getting going. While it is inevitable that the offense has a collective night off every so often, there was one play that stuck out as the "Doh!" moment of tonight's game.

Milton Bradley got himself into a good hitter's count in the 8th inning while Ryan Theriot was on first base. Ryan subsequently attempted to steal, and was caught. I personally would have liked to see MB get a chance to hit from the 2-0 count (furthermore, isn't 1-0 a bad count to run on? Expectin' fastball, aren't ya?). A well-struck ball might have given us the lead there. Oh well.

A close game tonight, well played on both sides. I'm not too worried about it, aside from Geo's shoulder. Let's go and get a series win Wednesday night.

Guess again!

I have to say, I got pretty close on last night's game without really even trying: Soriano and Ramirez HRs, and six good innings from Z.

Tonight, let's go with 5 innings with 2 hits, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts for Demp. Lee and Bradley back-to-back doubles, a Soto RBI single, and a base hit for Fukudome.

I'll be back after the game with some bench-related reaction.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gath gets in

I'm not surprised that Joey Gathright was used as a late-inning defensive replacement on Opening Day.

I am fairly surprised that Gath replaced Kosuke Fukudome, rather than Milton Bradley--even after Bradley rolled his ankle earlier in the game.

I know one game is one game, but didn't Kosuke look lost out there? It's impossible to quantify "lost," and hard to describe it. But think about the plays MB made in right--the catch-and-throw that kept Matsui at first, charging in on a soft fly ball.

Maybe Kosuke just needs some time. He'll probably get it if the Cubs continue to win. Even if Fukky stays in, though, it might be sooner rather than later when Lou switches him with Ryan Theriot in the batting order.

Bring it, Roy!

The spring training portion of the Cubs' position battles has concluded, and the 25-man roster is set. What now for BAM!?

Tonight, and throughout the first few games of the season, I'll be watching the performances of the bench players that fought their way on to this roster.

How's the new bullpen working out? Is Patton throwing strikes, or getting swings-and-misses on balls out of the zone? How soon will a 4th or 5th outfielder come into the game? Will the middle infield change once the starter is gone?

It'll be easy for anyone at ESPN or to talk up Soriano and Aramis for their monster HRs, or Zambrano for his seven shutout innings in 90 pitches (Knock. On. Wood.). Hopefully, you'll come to this site to get a little more perspective on the more subtle plays of the game.

Go Cubs!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

And like that he's gone

Gaudin is out, and the roster is set. I hope Guzman and Patton can earn their keep, and continue to succeed at the major league level throughout the year.

I suspect the final decision came down to an issue of philosophy. I've said it before and I'll say it again--Cubs' brass love Ks. Gaudin was not a strikeout guy (frankly, I don't really know how he made a living as a pitcher at all).

Guzman, Vizcaino and Patton all have the ability to get strikeouts. That's what kept them on this team. Let's hope they can do so this year.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Have we been wrong?

It'll be a tough decision after today.

Patton, Guzman, and Gaudin each threw a scoreless inning. Patton saw a bit of trouble in his; Guzman and Gaudin were perfect, with a strikeout each.

It makes you wonder. Certainly, Patton's been good, and Gaudin's been awful.

But who cares?

Spring games are meaningless tune-ups. Lilly and Harden each got destroyed in New York this weekend. Is it particularly encouraging? Not exactly. But do I think either pitcher will be absolutely worthless this year? No.

The fact is, David Patton has never pitched above A-ball. While Gaudin has been massively hittable, he's had success at the major league level. You can't ignore that, even though I have been doing so for the past month.

Today, after successful outings from both Guzman and Gaudin, I'm going to submit my final prediction before the roster is announced this weekend.

I think David Patton will be sent back to his team, and Guzman and Gaudin will be on the 25-man roster to start the season.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Last minute pick-ups

Opening day is near and the Cubs are pretty much set up the way they'll look when they take the field for the first time. But there are often surprises in the final days of Spring - like Detroit's release of Gary Sheffield.

Because Shef is a potential Hall of Famer nearing 500 homeruns, most fans (especially the marks) start drooling at the thought of acquiring him. Problem is, on a team like the Cubs it makes about as much sense as Kirstie Alley selling a diet product. The Cubs are already pretty loaded in the outfield - Micah Hoffpauir and Reed Johnson are both extremely talented, even if neither can really play good center field. Sheffield would just make the outfield situation awkward because unless - sorry, until - Milton Bradley gets hurt, he wouldn't be starting enough to feel satisfied.

But while Sheffield makes no sense for the Cubs, it wouldn't be shocking to see Jim Hendry make a last-minute pickup. He's still aching for another lefty reliever and the team is extremely thin on the left side of the infield.

One player who may be made available is Jays infielder Joe Inglett. The team doesn't have room for him and has demoted him to Triple A - all this despite Inglett's .297 AVG in 2008 and his ability to play pretty much every position in the field (he's never played an inning at catcher or first base, but he's played everywhere else). Hey, who knows -- the Jays are set in their 25-man-roster, but maybe they'd consider dealing Inglett. And while the Cubs aren't likely to grab Inglett specifically, he is the kind of player who may be available right now for next-to-nothing.

Either way, ESPN is projecting the Cubs to win the NL Central with 95 wins, 11 better than the 2nd place Brewers. It feels odd to follow the favorite.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good god, Gaudin

Another day, another spring training game, another absolutely worthless performance by Chad Gaudin. It's just not looking good for this guy, which is a shame for the young pitcher. From the Cubs' perspective, it sucks that we probably won't be able to get much back for him, if anything.

After today, it's gotta be nearly certain that the Cubs will put Patton and Guzman on the 25-man roster, option Samardzija to Triple-A, and see what happens with Chad Gaudin on waivers. Given 1) his performance in late 2008, 2) his horrendous spring, and 3) the $2MM owed to him for 2009, there's a good chance he'll clear, and make his way down to Iowa with Samardzija and crew.

Gaudin gone?

Paul Sullivan has reiterated the Rockies' interest in Chad Gaudin. This, along with Hendry's determination to avoid waivers, leads me to believe that this is the deal that will happen.

Furthermore, it's always seemed like the Cubs really love Guzman. They've already invested so much in him up to now; couldn't see them getting rid of him just like that.

Lastly, I'd point out that Chad Gaudin is not a typical Cub pitcher. He doesn't get strikeouts. If you're a Cub fan, you have to know that Cub management makes a distinct point of getting lots of strikeouts from every pitcher. Along that line of thinking, if you haven't read this Fangraphs article, you should.

A Gaudin trade would finish up the 25-man roster for the Cubs. It'll be interesting to see how much money the Cubs will have to pay Gaudin, as well as the return they'll receive. Maybe it'll be another Rich Hill type deal, where the PTBNL the Cubs get back is contingent upon Gaudin's performance.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


(Note: Vote! In the poll over there, on the right!)

There's word across the interwebs that some teams might be interested in Gaudin (the Rockies have been prominently mentioned), but those teams also expect Gaudin to clear waivers because of his $2 million salary for 2009.

The fact that these discussions are even making it to the 'net indicate that Chad may be on his way out, one way or another.

David Patton's performance following Sean Marshall's meltdown has, in my mind, earned him his roster spot. He got Ks, he pitched more than one inning, he responded under pressure (he DID give up the two hits, but the papers make it sound like they were bloop singles both).

Beyond Gaudin and Patton, I am STILL waiting for a compelling reason to trust that Angel Guzman can EVER contribute to a team at the major league level. Where are the stats? How can you ignore his prior major league experience? To me, it just doesn't add up.

You can pretty much write Patton's name down on your at-home roster cards. We'll still have to wait and see on the kind of deal Jim Hendry can swing to get SOMETHING back for Gaudin and/or Guzman.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Forgot Fox?

Either the Sun-Times forgot to mention him, or Chad Fox is out of the running for the bullpen.

In a Twitter update today, the Sun-Times (@cst_cubs) says the last 'pen spots will be given to two of four Cub pitchers: Jeff Samardzija, Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, and David Patton.

It seems almost certain that Jeff will go to Triple A, and the Cubs are basically left with one decision: which of Guzman, Gaudin, and Patton do the Cubs want to give up?

I'm thinking Guzman is gone. Wonder if Hendry can get anything for him.

Perhaps the Rockies would accept Guzman for the rights to Patton, so he could be stashed in the minors in the case that he's not quite ready for the majors.

Should the Cubs take that trade, Guzman for Patton?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gaudin May Not Fit In Cubs Pen

It appears the Cubs have a problem.

As the team decides on its 25-man roster for Opening Day 2009, several pitchers are making things tough on Chicago's management. Some of those pitchers, like the young David Patton and veteran Chad Fox, have been thoroughly impressive throughout the month of March.

Others have been flat out disappointing.

Angel Guzman, a talented pitcher that has battled injuries throughout his professional career, can't quite seem to get it together. Jeff Samardzija, a fan favorite from 2008, has appeared hittable, and may benefit from more time in the minors.

And then there's Chad Gaudin.

Gaudin is currently sporting a 10.54 ERA this spring, with only nine strikeouts, and an equal number of walks, collected over 13.2 innings. His 20 hits allowed give him a WHIP well above 2.00.

Also noteworthy: the fact that Gaudin ended the 2008 season with 17 earned runs allowed over 15.2 innings.

Simply put, Chad's been bad.

Fortunately for the Cubs, it hasn't always been this way. Fans may recall Gaudin's July performance from this past year. During that time, Chad allowed only three earned runs over 14 innings, while posting a 1.00 WHIP and getting a strikeout per inning.

It's this previous success that will likely earn Gaudin a spot on the Cubs' Opening Day roster this year. There's also the added pressure from the fact that Gaudin is out of options, meaning he will immediately be made available to all major league teams if not kept on the Cubs major league roster throughout this season.

If Gaudin is in fact listed on the 25-man roster, the Cubs will instead say goodbye to Guzman, who is also out of options. On the other hand, the Cubs may want to avoid the risk of Gaudin's underperforming in meaningful games, and attempt to package him with Guzman for prospects that could be stashed in the farm system.

If Gaudin fails to make the team, watch for Patton and Fox, who have earned a second look for 2009, to make some April appearances to try to prove their worth to the team. Behind those pitchers are Samardzija and Iowa prospect Kevin Hart, both high-potential strikeout machines that could contribute to the big league club in 2009.

The roster: all but final

I've updated the feature on the right side of the blog to list the entire 25-man roster, instead of guessing at a few key spots.

I'm pretty sure David Patton and Chad Gaudin will get the last two spots on the pitching roster, and Jeff Samardzija will be sent to Iowa. I'm also pretty sure Gaudin will be the first to go if he doesn't shape up soon. Kevin Hart and Samardzija will be ready soon.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Chicago Cubs. Thoughts?

Hill wins job; non-pitching roster set

Koyie Hill has won the backup catching job.

Guess I shouldn't have switched horses midstream. Apparently Lou likes the upside on Hill's bat; he did hit 17 Triple-A home runs last season (right?).

Does anyone know where to find spring training data on throwing runners out?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Post-cut update

More cuts today.

With Blanco and German gone, the position player side of the 25-man roster is all but final. The cubs will carry six infielders (Lee, Hoffpauir, Fontenot, Miles, Theriot, Ramirez), five outfielders (Bradley, Fukudome, Soriano, Johnson, Gathright), and two catchers.

One of those catchers will be Geo Soto. The other is still TBD.

Koyie Hill has had an outstanding spring, but Paul Bako is the veteran, and has turned it on near the end. Hill's advantage in spring offensive statistics is now only slight.

Because of their convergence in terms of spring offense, I'm going to promote Bako to "Last Hitter In." Because neither candidate for backup catcher will be contributing much offensively, I've got to assume Lou will go with the guy that has caught far more major league games, that can probably offer some advice to the young Geo Soto during the regular season.

The pitching side of this discussion is a bit more complex. I'll address it in a separate post/article.

Gregg named closer

Kevin Gregg will be the closer to begin the 2009 season for the Cubs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gaud-in, Gaud-out?

Chad's getting hit up again.

I realize the guy's out of options, and would go on waivers if he's not on the major league roster. But really, what has he done this spring to earn his spot? He keeps giving up hits and walks! Gah!

Also, what's with the Rockies running all over him? Of the four base-runners Gaudin allowed today, three of them managed to steal second. Soto's got a good arm; what's Chad doing out there?

While it'd be a shame to see the Cubs spend $5 million on relievers they don't even use (Gaudin along with Luis Vizcaino), there's a good chance that Kevin Hart, Jeff Samardzija, or David Patton will take one or two of those guys' spots before we're through this season.

Waddell, Scales cut

Looks like Lou won't be needing that second lefty.

Jason Waddell has been cut from camp, along with Bobby Scales, a long-time minor leaguer looking to break into the majors this season.

They aren't leaving me much to work with in the In N' Out section, so I've adjusted accordingly.

With Waddell out, and considering the options picture, I'm thinking the last three bullpen spots will almost certainly be going to Luis Vizcaino, Chad Gaudin, and David Patton. Gaudin will be designated the long man, and shouldn't be used in any close game in April. Vizcaino will not face lefties, and Patton will probably have a pretty short leash.

Jeff Samardzija may yet beat out David Patton for the 12th pitching spot, but the organization will probably stick Jeff in AAA to stretch him out as a starter.

As far as I'm concerned, today's cut of Waddell is indicative of where Lou wants to go with the entire 25-man roster. For all intents and purposes, the Cubs are all set.

Vizcaino: in or out?

Yesterday, Carrie Muskat of seemed to suggest Luis Vizcaino was a lock for the 'pen (see below). However, in a subsequent article on the same day, Carrie writes:

Who pitches ahead of Gregg or Marmol is still to be determined. Aaron Heilman and Neal Cotts are set. That means there are three openings, and Piniella said Monday there's no consensus on his staff.

So, we're back to three openings, I guess. I'm going to leave Vizcaino as in, because I really think he is.

Just throwing that out there.

Fox, Fuld cut

Jake Fox and Sam Fuld are gone. Both were long shots to make the 25th spot on the roster, but will certainly be kept in mind over the course of the season, and could very likely see playing time in the majors before the end of the regular season.

Based on the Cubs' needs, as well as players actually remaining in camp, I've upgraded Nate Spears and Esteban German on the In N' Out feature. I still think Hill, Gath, and Hoff are the last three additions to the 25-man roster, but based on today's cuts, it looks like Scales, Spears and German have the best chances at beating out one of those guys.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Options" and the 2009 Cubs

The question of options is certainly a complicating one. Since it will undoubtedly have a strong effect on the Cubs' personnel decisions this month, let's take a quick look at what that effect might be.

In baseball, the options system prevents teams from stockpiling talent in their minor league systems. Each player has a limited number of "option" years; when those run out, that player must either be permanently included on the major league roster, or he's made available to the rest of the league.

Three Cubs pitchers vying for the two remaining bullpen spots are out of options: Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, and Jason Waddell. If Lou doesn't carry these guys on the 25-man roster, they'll be fair game for every other team in MLB.

Options aside, I think Hart and Waddell are the best choices for the 11th and 12th spots on the pitching staff. However, I could very easily see a scenario where the Cubs decide to keep Gaudin on staff while Hart hones his craft in the minors during another option year, and avoiding the options problem.

As a final note, the options issue essentially makes Samardzija-to-Triple A a no-brainer, since Jeff does have options remaining at this point.

Update from Muskat: Vizcaino in

Via her newest Inbox, Cubs writer Carrie Muskat is reporting that Luis Vizcaino is indeed a lock for the bullpen; I've updated the "In N' Out" feature with Luis' name in bold. Writes Muskat:

The relievers who are set include Gregg, Marmol, Neal Cotts, Heilman, Vizcaino and most likely Gaudin. I'm guessing Patton and Jeff Samardzija are competing for that final spot.

So Carrie has my "first three out" as her "last two in." She does give Jason Waddell some press as well, however:

Waddell does not have options left and would give the Cubs another lefty.

For the sake of cohesion, I'm going to post the options discussion separately. In the meantime, let's stick to the facts: Luis Vizcaino appears a lock for the 2009 Cubs bullpen.

Quick update: "last six in"

Things have been slow at the blog, but it should pick up this week.

At the very least, I expect announcements on 1) the backup catching spot and 2) Lou's preferred closer very soon.

However, as March winds down, we've still got six spots to fill on the 25-man roster.

I wrote an article for the Bleacher Report that was much more in-depth than this blog post, so if you need a little more convincing on why things are how they are, take a look.

For the sake of freshness, though, I've added a short list to the right side of the blog that mirrors the way college basketball analysts handle the "bubble" as the tournament field is decided upon.

I've got a "last three in" and "first three out," for both hitters and pitchers. If you agree and/or disagree with my assessment, please feel free to say so.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who's the fifth?

"Here's what we now know: the Cubs will carry 12 pitchers, and that includes starters Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden and Marshall. Piniella said five other pitchers have secured spots in the bullpen." - Carrie Muskat,

Carrie goes on to list Gregg, Marmol, Heilman and Cotts as four of the five.

I think I know who the fifth lock is.

On March 8th, Kevin Hart allowed two walks and two hits, including a home run, in one inning against the Texas Rangers.

Since then, Kevin's pitched four and a third innings. Here's his line in that time:

4.1 IP, 0 walks, 0 hits, 8 strikeouts.

That's called "getting the job done," and that's called "winning a spot on the Opening Day roster," depending on how literal you like to be.

Let's throw this out there as my fourth evaluation of the position battles in Mesa: Kevin Hart appears to have pitched his way on to the major league roster to begin 2009.

2-for-2: Heilman to pen indeed

It's official.

With Lou pulling today's starting pitcher, Aaron Heilman, in the middle of the fourth inning, every Cub fan out there had to be thinking that Lou had finally made up his mind on who would be the fifth starter going into 2009.

Indeed he had. Heilman will pitch from the 'pen, and Sean Marshall will be your fifth starter.

Does this impact Jason Waddell's chances of making the Opening Day roster, now that Neal Cotts is currently slated to be the only lefty option out of the pen?

For today's "bullpen picks du jour," I'm going with Waddell, Kevin Hart, and Luis Vizcaino behind Gregg, Marmol, Heilman, and Cotts in the 'pen.

I'll be looking to maintain my 1.000 batting average with Lou's next official roster-related announcement (ORRA?), which I expect to be made regarding Koyie Hill's spot as the backup catcher.

In-game update: Heilman to pen

Aaron Heilman got the start again today down in AZ. He faced a pretty lackluster lineup from Seattle, who are playing split-squad games today.

On the one hand, Heilman's outs have continued to be good ones: 3 strikeouts and 6 ground outs, against only 2 fly outs. Remember, us Cub fans should love Ks and GOs because of the way the wind at Wrigley can carry out fly balls like Domino's pizza in a college town at midnight (too far on that one?).

However, Heilman appears to have gotten into a bit of trouble in the fourth inning, being yanked for Randy Wells in the middle of the inning. That doesn't sound like something Lou would do if Heilman were still being considered for the fifth starting spot.

You may call it minor, and you may think this was already clear, but I'll just go ahead and re-state the potentially obvious: Heilman is in the 'pen, and Marshall is starting.

In other news, I can't believe it's taken me this long to notice that "Heilman's" looks like a brand of mayonaisse.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SCGTTA, Part 2

Another awful outing from Chad Gaudin.

Chad managed to give up 2 runs in just one inning of work today. This guy is making every effort at getting himself off the major league roster before Opening Day.

In other news, Kevin Hart threw a perfect inning that included 2 strikeouts. At this point, I would say Hart is ahead of Gaudin on the depth chart for the bullpen.

From this point on, let's call 9 spots on the pitching staff locks: the four definite starters, Marshall and Heilman, Marmol and Gregg, and Neal Cotts.

After today, my "last three in" would be: Kevin Hart, David Patton, and Luis Vizcaino.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SPBH! Hill is hitting

Send Paul Bako Home! (Still not as catchy as BAM!, I guess.)

Anyways, Koyie Hill is now 3-for-3 on the day, with a home run. The 17 home runs he hit at AAA last season seem to suggest this power is, at least to a small extent, for real.

On the other hand, Paul Bako's offense has been mostly non-existent this spring, coming up with just three singles in 18 at-bats.

With 2B and the fifth starter locked up, I'm gonna go ahead and call this position battle a done deal as well: Koyie Hill will be the backup catcher for the Cubs in 2009.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A quick reminder

Following up on the most recent post here at BAM!, which celebrated the achievement of our #1 goal, I'd like to remind readers that the show will go on here at the ol' blog.

Previously, I had a list of about 15 different position battles we might write about at some point during the regular season. Now, I'd like to highlight one particular discussion that I think will attract strong debate and readership to the site.

I think Mike Fontenot's 2009 season will be better than Mark DeRosa's.

Having written that, thanks to everyone who voted in the poll. Shame on you, Miles supporters! We've got another poll up now, so keep clicking as Opening Day approaches.

Go Cubs.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

BAM! Lou agrees.

Mike Fontenot will start at 2nd. Awesome.

That is all.

And I quote--

"We are going to take the best pitchers north, so if Samardzija does not get the fifth spot, he will get all the consideration in the world in the bullpen... But let's see how the organization feels. The organization has a say in that also." - Lou Piniella (credit to the Tribune for the quotes)

I have a good feeling the "organization" is going to want Samardzija starting in Iowa to begin the year. So where does that leave the bullpen?

That's really the next big question for the Cubs, as it appears Sean Marshall has basically locked up the fifth starting spot.

If Marshall does in fact win the 5-spot, it's tough luck for Aaron Heilman. Of course, it's a near certainty that the Cubs will need a sixth starting pitcher at some point in the season. But I can't imagine it's easy, much less fun, to switch from reliever to starter, and back again to reliever, within a season. If both Heilman and Samardzija succeed in their respective roles to begin 2009, it may be wise to keep Heilman in the pen and call up Samardzija for spot starts.

If Heilman is in fact kept in the bullpen throughout the year, that will have locked up three of seven available spots. That leaves four more slots for Chad Gaudin, Luis Vizcaino, Kevin Hart, Angel Guzman, Neal Cotts, and Jason Waddell. Furthermore, I guess Jose Ascanio, Ken Kadokura, David Patton and Mike Stanton continue to see innings at this point.

Anyone have any idea on who gets the last four spots? I'd guess Gaudin, Guzman, Cotts, and Waddell. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to see three of those four guys miss the boat.

I guess we'll have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, Lou should bench Aaron Miles.

Friday, March 13, 2009

SCGTTA! Not as catchy, but...

Send Chad Gaudin To Triple A!

After today's awful performance, it's looking more and more like Chad Gaudin will not have a place on the major league roster come April.

Many Cub fans, myself included, viewed Gaudin as a useful backup starter when he was acquired in the Harden trade. Gaudin does have a decent career ERA as a starter, and has relieved in the majors as well.

But ever since his "accident" (something about alcohol, a dumpster, and falling on his ass?), Gaudin's been pretty useless. Furthermore, I would contend that Gaudin's struggles were fairly apparent even before that incident.

In 2007, Gaudin had a 4.50 BB/9 rate. In other words, he walked a batter every two innings. To me, the only time a walk rate like that is acceptable is when the pitcher has a hard fastball, and just guns it up to the mound at 100mph without really locating. In Gaudin's case, however, there isn't a powerful fastball to match the high walk rate.

In fact, Gaudin doesn't really get many strikeouts at all. Worst of all, in 2006, Gaudin had more walks than strikeouts. In the big leagues, that's just not gonna work.

Both Gaudin and recently acquired Luis Vizcaino are giving youngsters (yeah, I just said youngsters) like Kevin Hart, Angel Guzman, and everyone's favorite, Jeff Samardzija, to start 2009 with the big league club. We'll see what happens in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Checking back in with Heilman

In a previous post regarding the battle for the fifth rotation spot, I mentioned that I'd be keeping an eye on Aaron Heilman. I wanted him to continue to get strikeouts, and keep the ball down.

Yesterday, Heilman pitched three innings, got five strikeouts, and four ground outs.

The closeness of this race reminds me of last year, when Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis and Jon Lieber were gunning for two rotation spots. Even though Lieber arguably had a much better spring than Marquis, his willingness to pitch from the bullpen appeared to be one of the final determinants in how the pitching staff was set up for Opening Day.

I have a sneaking suspicion Marshall will end up in the bullpen, and Heilman will be the fifth starter. Of course, it's only March 11th, but I figured I'd put my prediction out there early so you people could disagree with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Do we already know the line-up?

With word today at saying Kosuke Fukudome will hit 2nd in the Cubs lineup for 2009, I'm starting to get the feeling that Lou has a 1-8 in mind already.

Lou seems pretty intent on making the most of the balance this new Cub team has. Based on everything Lou's said about the line-up so far, I'm pretty sure we'll see something like this on Opening Day against Roy Oswalt (2008 slash lines in parenths):

1. Soriano (.280/.344/.542)
2. Fukudome (.257/.359/.379)
3. Lee (.291/.361/.462)
4. Bradley (.321/.436/.563)
5. Ramirez (.289/.380/.518)
6. Fontenot (.305/.395/.514)
7. Soto (.285/.364/.504)
8. Theriot (.307/.387/.359)
9. Zambrano (.337/.337/.554)

I mean, really, I'm fine with that.

Monday, March 9, 2009

BAM! Mike Fontenot doesn't suck

Fontenot today: 2-3, 2R, 2RBI, a double and a homer.

If my math is right, his slugging percentage is now .800 after today's crushes.

Miles' slugging is less than .200 as of right now.

I cannot conceive of a world in which Mike Fontenot doesn't start at 2B on Opening Day 2009.

BAM! Aaron Miles sucks

Just a brief update from me today ...

As of this morning, Mr. Aaron Miles is batting .208 (5 for 24) with no extra bases on the Cubs Spring Training squad.

Lil' Mike Fontenot, who has seen 3 more at bats than Miles, is batting .333 with 2 doubles, 2 triples, and a homer.

Miles just might be an ideal choice to be the top bench guy due to his versatility in the field and at the plate, but if anybody actually believes that he should start over Mike Fontenot, then they've been smoking from the crack rock of deception. I also have to suspect at this point that it's not even a competition - Fontenot will get the gig. If somehow opening day rolls around and Mike Fontenot is in the dugout watching Miles field grounders at second, then a great attrocity has occurred.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A New BAM! Topic: The 5th Starter

Today marks BAM!'s first attempt at analyzing a position battle for the 2009 Cubs that doesn't involve Aaron Miles.

After his performance on Sunday, it appears Sean Marshall is going to be difficult to overtake in the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Just like in 2008, Sean has done everything asked of him, and more.

Of course, the Cubs will likely need to decide on at least a sixth starter, and perhaps a seventh.

I'll be keeping an eye on Aaron Heilman's next few spring starts. I really enjoyed his last start, for a number of reasons.

First, if I'm not mistaken, I thought I saw three good pitches from him: the fastball, the change-up, and the slider. The break on the slider was outstanding, and the change-up was really working.

Perhaps more importantly, however, I was impressed with Heilman's location. He was absolutely keeping the ball down, which is crucial for pitching in Wrigley.

In his next few appearances, I'm going to continue to watch for Heilman's ability to keep the ball down, and get strikeouts. I'm almost certain he'll have an opportunity to start a few games this year; I hope he does well.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Benefit of Benching Aaron Miles

According to, Lou wants another infielder. But do we really need one?

From my understanding, it seems that Lou is fretting about depth at third base. If Aramis Ramirez doesn't start there, who does?

Let's look at what the Cubs have done with 3B over the past two years, data courtesy of Fangraphs.

In 2007, Ramirez started only 126 games at 3B. DeRosa got 31 starts at third in '07; Ryan Theriot had 4 starts; and Ronny Cedeno had 1.

In 2008, A-Ram started 147 games at third. Aside from him, Mark DeRosa saw 10 starts there, and Casey McGehee (now a Brewer) got the other 4. Remember, the Cubs played only 161 games last year.

From these numbers, it looks like the Cubs are going to need someone to replace A-Ram at third for somewhere between 15 and 30 games for 2009.

Sounds like a job for Aaron Miles to me. He isn't a phenomenal defensive third baseman, but he's at least able. More importantly, however, it isn't going to matter much over the course of 20 games.

This is a big reason why Hendry's move to free up salary by downgrading at the utility position from Mark DeRosa to Miles was a prudent one. DeRosa was not a stellar defensive 2nd baseman; in fact, he wasn't spectacular at any one position. His value lied in his versatility.

That's what Miles should be for the 2009 Cubs - an able-bodied veteran that can fill in at a number of positions. 3rd base is almost certainly one of those positions. Assuming Lou doesn't tire him out with too many starts at 2nd, he should be perfect for the job.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Secondary BAM! Mission Statement

Hopefully, we're getting an extra bump in traffic thanks to BAM!'s "sponsorship" of the new format over at GROTA (which, IMHO, looks awesome).

Hopefully, our new readers are enjoying the existing content regarding Aaron Miles' appropriate role with the Cubs (that is, as an occaisional starter/bench player).

To everyone that's been keeping an eye on the site over the past several days, allow me to say thank you. Your readership is much appreciated. To the newbies, I urge you to keep an eye on what's going on over here at BAM!.

In asking for your continued readership, there's something I should point out in terms of "keeping it interesting" over the course of the season. Of course, there's a very high probability that Aaron Miles is, in fact, benched before the 2009 regular season begins.

You may ask: what will BAM! do if their goal is achieved so quickly? To keep the new content flowing, I expect this site to expand its general focus within one specific topic.

For 2009 and beyond, BAM! will aim to be one of the premiere blogs for the analysis of, and discussion about, position battles for your Chicago Cubs. Potential topics for 2009 include:
  • The battle for backup catcher.
  • The organization's final choices on the back-end of the rotation, and their impact on Jeff Samardzija.
  • A continued watch on playing time in the middle infield.
  • Keeping an eye on Mike Fontenot's production compared to that of 2008 Cub fan favorite, Mark DeRosa.
  • Evaluating Lou's decision on an eventual backup at 3B.
  • Looking at how much playing time Micah Hoffpauir is getting at first.
  • Considering all of Lou's options in the outfield.

Really, there's a ton to talk about beyond Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot. And I promise you, we'll talk about it.

In the meantime, I encourage readers to leave comments on this post to dictate the course of our continuing discussion. Got a strong opinion about the fifth starter? Do you see any reason to keep Paul Bako on board? When will Micah Hoffpauir finally get a chance to start regularly?

Thanks again to everyone for stopping by. I hope you continue to enjoy Bench Aaron Miles!

Monday, March 2, 2009

An admittedly small sample size, but...

Through the Cubs' first five games of Spring Training, the results are pretty alright for fans of the BAM! method.

Given the small number of at bats each player has had, as well as the varied quality of pitching faced at this stage, we shouldn't read too much into the numbers. However, I give you the following slashes:

Mike Fontenot - .417/.462/1.000 (that's right - Mike's got a base for every at-bat)
Aaron Miles - .222/.300/.222

Mike's got two doubles, a triple (!), and a home run.

Aaron's got two singles. Cute.

If the everyday starting spot at 2nd base is indeed a job to be won, then at this point, Mike's gotta be WAY out in front.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Miles On Miles

Busy weekend; sorry, readers. Fortunately, Aaron Miles & Co. have gotten some press while I've been occupied. I direct you to a column about Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles, written by Bruce Miles of the Chicago Daily Herald.

Coming up this week: a look at Mike Fontenot's first five games this spring. So far, so good.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Miles v. Theriot: Stick to BAM!

Another spring game, another hit each for Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot. Miles started the game at shortstop, a position he's expected to see some action at over the course of 2009.

Previously, we talked about how Miles' power compares to Fontenot's. In short (get it? they're both short dudes?), it's not even close. Fontenot can and will slug; Miles cannot, and will not. This disparity in power is one reason why we here at BAM! are arguing that Aaron is best suited to help the Cubs off the bench, rather than by starting at second base.

However, Miles' (non-existent) power is actually quite comparable to the other member of the Cubs' middle infield. As the starting shortstop, Ryan Theriot can do a lot of things--but he can't really hit home runs. Actually, the two hitters have nearly identical career slugging percentages: .369 for Theriot, and .364 for Miles. Furthermore, their career averages are even closer: .290 for Theriot, .289 for Miles.

Since they're about equal in power and average, you may ask: are there any other hitting categories in which one player has an advantage over the other? Might there actually be a reason for STARTING Aaron Miles?

You may have noticed we're two-thirds of the way towards posting slash lines for the two hitters. I'll give the complete lines to you now:

Ryan Theriot - .290/.362./.369
Aaron Miles - .289/.329/.364

Fortunately for this blog's title and URL, it turns out Ryan Theriot is the better hitter, and Miles should stay on the bench. The difference between the two occurs primarily in one category: patience.

Theriot is able to get on base by drawing the walk. In fact, over the course of his career, The Riot has managed to draw slightly more walks than strikeouts (140 to 128), posting a career BB/K ratio of 1.09. On the other side, Miles has 123 career walks, compared to 210 strikeouts, which comes out to a BB/K ratio of 0.59.

To summarize, Miles doesn't have power, and he doesn't have patience. Based on those facts, doesn't Lou have to bench Aaron Miles?

Friday, February 27, 2009

LBR Comes Through

Mike Fontenot hit a home run today.


In an earlier post, I discussed how Miles and Fontenot compare defensively. I made the claim that, based on conservative estimates, playing Fonty for 150 games instead of Miles would increase the Cubs' record by one win. I also argued that it would not at all be surprising for the actual effect to end up being two wins, based on the data that's out there.

With Mike having finally bashed his first HR (and, since I began composing this post, a triple?!? Yeah buddy!!!), I'd like to take the first step at getting into the offensive side of why Lou should bench Aaron Miles.

On most baseball websites, the standard statistical reference for a player's offensive production is known as his slash line. The slash line includes a line of three frequently used statistics (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage), separated by slashes--thus, the name.

Let's compare slash lines for Aaron and Mike:

A. Miles - .289/.329/.364
M. Fontenot - .290/.369/.457

The averages look about the same, and the difference in OBP is significant. But you really can't ingore the disparity between the two hitters in that third number there. Compared to He Who Should Be Benched, Mike Fontenot looks like a smaller version of a famous former slugger who held the all-time home run record for many years.

(In case you didn't already know, now's a good time for me to point out that "LBR" is an abbreviation of Ron Santo's nickname for Mike: Little Babe Ruth.)

There's a lot to talk about with regard to a hitter's ability to hit for power. In future posts, we'll a more in-depth look at Miles' and Fontenot's power numbers, along with the stats for some other notable names that will be discussed often on this here blog (like Ryan Theriot and The Great Mark DeRosa).

For now, though, I'd like to congratulate Mike on his first home run of the spring. I am certain there are many more on the way.

In which we learn the abilities - and limitations - of Aaron Miles, millionaire pro athlete

Okay, so maybe saying "Aaron Miles sucks" is harsh. After all, the 32-year-old switch hitter batted a career high .317 last year before he was snatched up by the Cubs. He must be doing something right.

But let's take a closer gander at those career numbers. It's really a tale of mediocrity, but he gets just enough singles and is perhaps just short enough to get away with it. Over the span of his career, Miles is a .289 hitter. Not bad. And yet, while he would be a no-brainer to bat lead-off for Dusty Baker, the reality of it is that Miles is very much so a one-dimensional player. He's never drawn more than 38 walks in a season. He's never slugged higher than a Neifi-tastic .398. If you took his career numbers and averaged them out to one season's work, you'd have a player who'd hit 20 doubles, 4 triples, 4 homers, 31 walks, and 6 steals in 10 tries. That's not exactly starting material - unless you play for the Royals or -- again -- Dusty Baker.

But Kurt, you protest. Surely he must be a defensive whiz. There has to be a redeeming fact that will make it okay if Lou names him the opening day starter! The regrettable answer is "nuh-uh." Miles is a passable second baseman, but his only real defensive strength lies in his versatility - he has experience playing everywhere on the diamond but first and catcher. Hell, the guy has even pitched before.

Really, the more we look into it, it becomes evident that the one thing he really seems to have going for him is his height. The Cubs seem to be infatuated with short and scrappy white ballplayers. From Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot to Miles himself, the Cubs are loaded with little'uns. In fact, the Cubs are just a Sam Fuld away from having the necessary components to load up their gear and journey to Mount Doom where they can destroy the One Ring of Power. That's great theater, but not great baseball.

So, let's review the facts. Aaron Miles hits a lot of singles and nothing else. He's a jack of many positions but a master of none. He's short and scrappy. In other words, we can conclude from this in-depth look that Aaron Miles must not start.

A bench player? Yes. A sometimes-starter? Absolutely. A pinch hitter impervious to pitching changes? Check. But not a starter. Never a starter. Mike Fontenot may not be taller than Miles, but in baseball Fontenot is in all other ways better than him. And so ends our lesson for today - the Chicago Cubs must bench Aaron Miles.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Open Forum: Fontenot v. Miles v. DeRosa

I'm anticipating a few extra reads today, thanks to Kurt's generous linkage over at GROTA. So even though Mighty Mike isn't swinging the bat yet today, I wanted to try to get a bit of a discussion going on the ol' blog here.

The main motivation behind creating this blog was fairly simple: Mike Fontenot should be the Cubs' starting second baseman in 2009, so Lou needs to bench Aaron Miles.

However, Mike's name has been prominently mentioned in comparisons to another major league second baseman named Mark DeRosa.

Cubs fans loved DeRo. And, he was an awesome player. Unfortunately, Jim Hendry wasn't willing to pay $5.5MM for a super-sub.

I wonder if anyone has an opinion on the events surrounding 2nd base for the Cubs. Did Hendry make a mistake in letting DeRosa go? Do you think Fontenot will come anywhere close to the offensive production DeRosa put up in 2008, or will put up in 2009? Should Lou bench Aaron Miles?

At the very least, that last one should be clear.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feb. 25 - Slow Start

Well, nothing doing from Mike's bat today. He was also swinging pretty early in counts.

On the defensive side, however, he was able to initiate a double play. This is a good time to point out one of Mike's likely advantages over Aaron Miles: he projects as a plus-defender at second base.

In 400+ defensive games at 2B, Miles is just a hair below average numerically, according to Fangraphs' UZR statistic. For argument's sake, we'll say that he's an average 2B defensively.

In 88 games at second for Mike (albeit a much smaller sample size), Fontenot has put up a nice 14.1 on the UZR. If we underrate Mike's defensive ability according to this metric and call him 10 runs above average (the units UZR measures), he'd be expected to improve the Cubs' record by one win on defense alone as compared to Miles' defensive ability.

On the other hand, if we suppose Miles' defense is declining and Fontenot's is improving (based on their respective ages), that number could easily move up to a two-win difference. Again, this is on defense alone; if Fontenot shows any more pop than Miles has (which is essentially inevitable), the difference is even larger.

Fonty's competition should get the start tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.

Come On, LBR...

And so it begins.

The Shark's got the ball for Game 1 of Cubs Spring Training 2009.

Starting at 2nd base: Mike Fontenot.

It's early, so there's really no reason to react one way or another to how Mike does. But every little bit helps.

I'll be listening in on WGN Radio, and will report back on anything newsworthy regarding the 2B competition from today's game.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A New Hope!

Here's the latest from Carrie Muskrat's incredibly insightful "Electronic Mailbag":

Who has the best chance to start at second with Mark DeRosa gone? Aaron Miles or Mike Fontenot?
-- Ryan J., Mundelein, Ill.

When asked about his lineup, Lou Piniella listed Miles at second and inserted him into the No. 2 spot in the order. However, Piniella also has said he expects Miles and Fontenot to get about 400 at-bats each, and Miles will be getting some of those as a shortstop when Ryan Theriot gets a day off. The 400 number would be a good boost for Fontenot, who had 243 at-bats last season. If Fontenot has an impressive spring, he could get even more playing time.

Remember what happened with Theriot in 2007? He got Piniella's attention with his play and hustle in Spring Training, and eventually became the Cubs' regular shortstop. Let's see how it plays out at second base.

At least we stand a chance!

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's never too early to worry about the Cubs' lineup.

Spring Training games haven't even started, and fans in Chicago are already worried about a certain Cardinal ruining their season.

And so, "Bench Aaron Miles!" is born. Here's to hoping Mike Fontenot hits 30 home runs this spring and makes this website worthless.