May 19, 2008

Cubs quarter season review

Record: 27-17

Runs Scored: 255
Runs Allowed: 184
Pythagorean Projection: 28.7 - 15.3
Difference: -1.7
3rd Order Runs Scored: 231
3rd Order Runs Allowed:182
Pythagorean Projection: 27 - 17
Difference: 0

Odds of making playoffs (3rd order wins): 77%
Odds of making playoffs (PECOTA): 78%

Things are looking pretty good for the Cubs right now, despite the fact that their pitching situation still has not settled down. They are clearly the class of the NL central, and the offense is performing like it should have last year. Remember, the Cubs won the division last year despite the fact that none of our offensive superstars had true 'star' seasons. This year, Derrek Lee has come back to form (though chances are we'll never see his 2005 numbers again). Soriano remains his streaky self, demonstrating as recently as last week how hot he can get and as recently as last month how cold he can get. Dome has been a great addition to the lineup...though his numbers clearly show that he should be batting second, not fifth. It's hard to top a .416 OBP!! Ramirez has bumped his OBP up as well, though his power numbers remain down so far. Continuing this trend, DeRosa has improved his OBP by another 25 points and done a fantastic job of knocking out fearsome middle of the lineup in. Riot has quieted (temporarily) his doubters by his offensive output, though his defense still leaves much to be desired.

But, the two real stories, offense-wise, are in center field and at catcher. Soto has been the MVP of the team this year - offering top shelf offense at a premium position. Soto is clearly the best catcher in the NL right now - he has 80 points of OPS on Brian McCann, the next highest NL catcher, and is 8th overall in the NL in OPS. His defense behind the plate has been decent as well. He represents a huge upgrade over the black hole that was the catcher position last year, and is one of the big reasons why the Cubs are in first place. Speaking of black holes, however, we still do have a problem in CF. Pie has been mismanaged quite badly, from an organizational standpoint. Somewhere along the line he was labeled a AAAA player, and the only way to disprove that is to, well, play in the major leagues. I thought Reed Johnson was a good signing at the time, and still do feel that way. However, it is clear that he is not an everyday player right now. But, he hits lefties well and can play CF, which is exactly what we needed as a platoon partner for Pie. What was not needed was playing him against righties, whom he does not hit as well. Having an OBP (.340) higher than your slugging (.326) is never a good thing, unless it is considerably higher than league average (see Fukodome, whose SLG is higher, but not by a ton). It doesn't help Johnson either that his OBP is largely driven by a large number of HPBs, which is quite flukish. There are two ideal situations as to how this situation plays out:

1. (More Likely) Pie picks up whatever Lou was teaching him with his swing, tears up AAA yet again, and gets called up due to the fact that Edmonds has been quickly released, as it is obvious he has nothing left.

2. (Very Much Less Likely) Edmonds plays like a shadow of his former self...rather than the shambling corpse of his former self that he probably is, and we play this same game with Pie next year. There are rumors floating around that a calf injury that Edmonds suffered in ST was what was holding him back...but color me skeptical. Of course, Edmonds will probably get hurt again, and hopefully Pie can step in and win the job he earned back in spring training for good.

It just doesn't make sense to me why we don't play him. With the offense we have, his struggling bat doesn't really hurt the team that much, and his Gold Glove quality work in CF certainly has some value (no other outfielder on our team is even close to his class). Edmonds was released by the Padres, who are hurting badly for any warm body that can play center, and it's not like they are the Pittsburgh Pirates (Depodesta works for them!).

As far as pitching goes, we have a lot of depth...but it's shallow depth (if that makes sense). Z and Lilly are clearly solid pitchers (though Z still isn't really an 'ace'). Everyone else though...meh. The good thing is that the rest of the cubs starting staff *does* belong in the major leagues...but don't really have high ceilings. Dempster is at best a 4th starter - someone who can give you innings but will get knocked around from time to time. Suddenly he's developed into a ground ball pitcher, and managed to keep the ball in the park, which has dropped his ERA considerably but a .220 BABIP is impossible to maintain. I'm happy to see Gallagher in the rotation, as he does have some upside...but again, I don't project him to move into the front of a rotation anytime soon. He's certainly better than Jason Marquis, who is definitely a fifth starter. Lou seems to recognize this, and seems to have begun skipping his starts when the Cubs have off days. He'd probably have been released for one of the following candidates were it not for his untradeable contract. Lieber, his 4 hr performance notwithstanding, has shown that he too has something left in the tank, but he clearly won't be a front of the rotation guy anytime soon. In the minors we currently have Rich Hill, who has #3 starter stuff and will fit back in nicely once he finds the strike zone again. Hopefully there's nothing wrong with this back. Marshall has had success before but I think he really does qualify as a AAAA pitcher. He can't pitch for too long without being overexposed.

So, not that I've bashed most of the Cubs pitching staff, what's the silver lining here? We still have major league quality pitchers ready to step in whenever a spot opens up in the rotation for whatever reason (injury, weather, etc). Most teams end up throwing unprepared guys or people that don't really belong in the big leauges in the back end of their rotation, which lowers the standards for how people view the role. Sure, Sean Marshall could start for many, many teams. But if you're rounding out the back of the rotation for the Orioles or Marlins, you have to take the term 'major league starter' with a large grain of salt.

As for the bullpen, I'm happy with how it's performed. Howry hasn't looked good, but everyone else has been okay. I'm concerned that Marmol's arm might fall off before the season ends, but he used to start...and even if he does break down I think a small DL stint would just give him some rest before coming back to blow everyone away in the fall. Wood is looking better now that he's tinkered with that slider of his; it's looking very tight - has a lot of bite again. It's been great to see Wuertz pitching well of late too - he's put up zeros in multiple-inning outings in each of the last two games - finally finding the plate with his good slider.

Here's hoping everything keeps rolling along - and that Marmol gets a well-deserved spot in the all-star game!