February 26, 2008

Rotation breakdown

I've been reading the community projections over at Bleed Cubbie Blue and there is far more optimism with regards to our starting pitching than I feel is warranted. Let's look at who we have

Locks for the rotation
Carlos Zambrano - Most starting pitchers are pretty consistent. If they stink, they tend to get hit hard. If they're good, they tend to pitch well. Every pitcher tends to have a fluke start or two, but Z's swings seem to take much longer. Look at last year - he was terrible in April and May, great in June and July, terrible again in August, and great down the stretch in September. He ended up with a 3.9 ERA, which is good, but certainly not ace-worthy. Other worrying Zambrano trends include his rising walk rate and his huge workload over the past few seasons. That said, I think Z should bounce back this year. He'll still probably have a terrbile stretch or two but I don't think they will be as long. My guess is that he'll end up at around

18-11, 190 Ks, 100 BBs, a 3.5 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP

Overall this isn't ace-quality numbers, but when he is on, he should be pretty damn near unstoppable.

Ted Lilly - Lilly was a nice surprise last year, and for several stretches (see above) was the best pitcher on the team. That said, I think he's going to backslide a little bit this year. He's still a flyball pitcher pitching in a fickle park. When he gets hit, he gets hit hard. My guess is

12-11. 155 Ks, 80 BBs, 4.3 ERA, 1.3 WHIP

Rich Hill - I'm not as high on Hill as many Cubs fans, though I think he will be a good pitcher. It's really a matter of whether you think he's a 1-2 type pitcher (no) or a 3-4 type pitcher (yes). I'd probably lean more towards a third guy. Hill's got a wicked curveball and a decent fastball, and it's tough to get by with only 2 real pitches. Like Lilly, he's a flyball pitcher, so he doesn't really have Wrigley working for him. On the other hand, his stuff is better than Lilly's. Hill showed a lot of growth last season. He kicked ass in the minors, but somehow forgot to throw strikes when he got to the majors in 2006. Heading back to the minors after being thrown under the bus by Dusty Baker, he was called back up in August and seemed a different pitcher (Pre callup: 1.96 WHIP, after callup: 1.05). He looked like he had settled down last season too: his WHIP was 1.19, which is certainly decent. He gave up a fair amount of homers but it seemed like all of them were solo shots. Anyway, I expect him to improve a little bit more as he gets more experience and enters his prime. I'm guessing

15-8, 200 Ks, 58 BB, 3.71 ERA, 1.16 WHIP.

The (best of the?) rest
Jon Lieber - This was a great signing for Hendry, and surprisingly for this offseason, seemed to come out of left field. It seemed like everyone forgot about Lieber after he missed the second half of last year with foot problems. He was great for the Cubs in the past, and put up league-average numbers in a few seasons with Philly. The thing I like most about Lieber is that he rarely walks anyone, and I think that this is why he's the most likely out of everyone else I list here to make the rotation. Nothing drives Lou crazier than pitchers who can't throw strikes. He's more of a ground ball pitcher, but that's a pretty neutral factor with this Cubs defense. The advantage he gets from moving from Philly's hitters' paradise will likely be offset by the lack of Rollins and Utley vacuuming up grounders. The Cubs are much better on the corners, but up the middle is really what counts. Anyway, I'm guessing

7-7, 87 Ks, 20 BB, 4.68 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 20 games.

Jason Marquis - Ugh. He looked great in the first half last season and was awful in the second half, which seems to be a trend for him. I've never really figured him out...he's a groundball pitcher that somehow coughs up a ton of home runs. That K/BB ratio isn't something to write home about either....unless you're writing that it sucks. My hope is that he is traded as a part of the never-ending saga of the Brian Roberts deal. If not though, this is what I would expect (if he started the year as the 5th starter):

8-12, 90 K, 75 BB, 4.98 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

Ryan Dempster - Apparently he's been impressing in bullpen sessions. The file's still out on him until the end of spring to see what he really has as a starter. That said, I actually feel shockingly optimistic about Demp. All the data seems to be pointing the other way - he only had one good season as a starter (in 2000). After his TJ surgery the Cubs tried starting him again, and it was a miserable failure. Luckily he turned in the best season of his career after he was moved to the bullpen (if you just look at his relief stats)...he was pretty unstoppable. He didn't look quite so good last year in the closer's role, however. He did his best to try to kill Ron, but luckily for all of us he did not succed. Despite all this (1 good season as a starter, declining as a reliever), I'm inclined to side with Demp. It just feels right. So, per Stephen Colbert, it's gotta be true. My guess (with a full season - no Marquis!):

13-10, 135 Ks, 75 BBs, 4.51 ERA, 1.38 WHIP.

Note that my optimism doesn't mean that he will revert to 2000 Dempster. But I think he will be a little better than league average.

The Longshots
Sean Marshall - Everyone loves to look at his stats (e.g., Rotoworld, for one) and wonder why he's behind all the competition above? Really it's just a matter of talent. Marshall's stuff is not great, and you could see other teams figuring him out as the season progressed. His ERA continued to creep upward as the season went on, and the debate is whether it was overexposure or just fatigure from the innings he pitched. Plus, I don't think having 3 not-overpowering leftys in our lineup is a good idea anyway. Even though their styles are different, it just gives too many looks. Here's the projection as if he won and more or less kept the 5th starter spot

7-14, 90K, 50 BB, 5.12 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

He'll be hit harder as the season goes on. He might stick around as the long man, which would be OK with me.

Sean Gallagher - The other Sean has more promise, but I don't think he's *quite* ready yet. I doubt he wins a rotation spot out of ST, but I do expect him to be the front-runner to be called up if someone goes down/sucks in the Lieber/Marquis/Dempster trio. He's got 3-4 potential, but needs a little more time to refine it. I think he gets called up during the summer for a few spot starts, with an outside chance that he sticks in the back end of the rotation down the stretch. Prediction:

3-3, 47Ks, 29 BB, 4.44 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, (10 GS, 58 IP)

Overall I predict the starts to break down as
Z - 34
Lilly - 33
Hill - 30
Lieber - 20
Dempster - 27
Gallagher - 11
Marquis/Marshall/Hart - 7

February 25, 2008


I wasn't planning on starting my deluge of spring baseball related nonsense until the first spring training game (Thursday!!) at the earliest, or maybe not even until March. But I've just got baseball on the brain.

The latest scuttlebutt is that Lou is thinking of batting Fukudome third. Yes! Sort of. This is definitely better than batting him fifth - we need high OBP in front of Lee and Ramirez. I still think second is the best place for him. Lou's main issue in dealing with all this top of the lineup juggling is the need to break up Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez (who are all right handed). Combine this with the will-they-or-won't-they Brian Roberts trade, many fans have thought up many permutations of possible lineups. Here is the one I like best. Note that this assumes

1) Soriano can run full out
2) We trade for Roberts

2B Roberts (S)
LF Soriano (R)
RF Fukudome (L)
1B Lee (R)
3B Ramirez (R)
C Soto (R)
2B DeRosa (R)
CF Pie (L)

This does the job of breaking up our Right handed hitters, and keeps our OBP and speed at the top of the lineup. Soriano can still steal etc like he apparently wants to, and when he isn't swinging away he's fast enough that the bunt game works more in his favor than most players. We have two of our best OBP players in front of hte big sluggers too.

This assumes that someone is smart enough to remember that Derosa can play SS. Maybe not quite as well as Theriot/Cedeno, but it's not like they are known for flashing the leather themselves. If Theriot does play, put him in the 8 hole and move Pie up.

If we don't get Roberts due to various Orioles tomfoolery, I would prefer this

LF Sori (R)
RF Fuku (L)
1B Lee (R)
3B ARam (R)
C Soto (R)
2B Dero (R)
CF Pie (L)
SS Riot (L)

Of course, hitting in the 5 spot might be a little too much pressure for Soto. He should be pretty good though.

All said, what we will most likely have will be

LF Sori
SS Riot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
RF Fuku
C Soto
2B Dero
CF Pie

Which isn't bad. I don't think Lou will actually put Fuku in the 3-hole due to the fact that he (sadly) seems set on having Theriot in the 2-hole and the aforementioned lefty issue. He might flip Fuku and Ramirez which would give a moderate boost. I still feel a lot better about this lineup than last year's - we've improved at C and RF and Pie should show some improvement too. Even if he doesn't, his glove should still keep him in the lineup.