Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cubs Preview 3/18/08

Roster Spot 13- P- Bob Howry #62
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 220 Bats: Left Throws: Right
In 2005 the Cubs suffered greatly trying to hold leads in the 7th and 8th innings. While Ryan Dempster had the best year of his closer career, going 33 of 35, more often than not games were blown before Dempster even had a crack at nailing them down. The combination of LaTryoy Hawkins/Roberto Novoa/Todd Wellemeyer/Will Ohman/Mike Remlinger proved vastly inept at getting leads to the 9th inning. So the Cubs response to their 79-83 finish in '05 was to make three big off-season moves: trade for Juan Pierre to lead-off, and sign Bob Howry and Scott Eyre to big contracts totalling 33 million, the largest contracts ever given to set-up men.

In 2006, with the team crapping itself all around them, Bob and Scott were bright spots, especially Bob, as he went 4-5 with a 3.17 ERA in a team-leading 84 appearances. Many felt that manager Dusty Baker overused Bob and Scott Eyre in a lost cause and shouldn't have put so much stress on their arm by forcing then to make 84 and 78 appearances, respectively, rather than allowing some of the Cubs young pitchers to gain experience. Baker claimed that he wasn't used to "not playing to win", which is odd, as he should have been well used to losing at that point.

In 2007 both Bob and Scott showed the effects early in the season of Dusty's abuse in 2006. While I mentioned Scott's horrendous first half numbers in his article, Bob fared only a little better, posting a 4.68 ERA in 39 first half appearances. Like Scott, Bob improved after the All Star Break with a 1.85 ERA in 39 second half games. Bob finished with a solid line of:

78 games, 81.1 innings pitched, 6-7, 3.32 ERA. 72 strikeouts, 19 walks.

In his two seasons with the Cubs Bob has been a model of consistency and reliability that their bullpen frequently lacks. This spring with Dempster being moved to the rotation Howry was part of the three man competion for the closing spot with Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol, but since has dropped out of the race with an ugly 0-1, 11.81 ERA record in 6 appearances. While his spring numbers have generated a great deal of anxiety among Cubs fans, I'll give Bob the benefit of the doubt for now and base my judgement on his consistent regular season numbers. If he stays close to his career norms, Bob will once again be the Cubs go-to guy in the 7th inning.

Cubs Preview #3- 3/17/08

Roster Spot #14- SS- Ryan Theriot #2
Ht: 5'11'' Wt: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Oh Ryan..if love for the game was a stat you'd be MVP

If I had to pick one players as the 2007 Cubs MVP, it would be Ryan Theriot. With his combination of Grit, Hustle, Sticktoitiveness, Exuberance, Scrappiness, and overall adorability, he was the key to the Cubs winning the division. I mean gosh, yeah, he didn't really hit THAT great, but he's just a "winning" type of ballplayer, I mean, and he's SOOO Cute.

F&%k That.

Look, I like Ryan Theriot. Most Cubs fans like him. He's a nice kid who has done more than was expected of him and plays hard every day. He's not a superstar as the teenage girls and the blue collar morons in the bleachers at Wrigley will tell you, he's not the Cubs key player, and hustle, despite the common myth, does not win ballgames. The people who argue for Ryan's greatness based on hustle are the same people who defended Neifi Perez. They're the ones who get on Aramis Ramirez every year for not running out every single groundball. Yeah, Aramis isn't a "hustler". All he does is average 31 homers and 106 rbis every year. I'll take it.

Ryan hit .266 last year. That's fairly mediocre. As was his play at shortstop where, while he was a huge upgrade from Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno, he didn't exactly remind anyone of Ozzie Smith, given that his arm strength is somewhere between a 12 year old girl and Shane Matthews.

Ryan does have some great qualities, he has tendency to have long at bats, he had a great strikeout to walk ratio, having struck out only 50 times last year and walked 49, and he's an adequate base stealer after stealing 28 bags last year. But he's not the answer to the lead-off problem for the Cubs, and those people who've been clamoring for him to take over the spot from Soriano are ridiculous ( and don't try and point out that that's just what Lou has done the last week, because that move was made to get Soriano used to the two spot before the arrival of Roberts. If we don't get Roberts, Soriano will be back at #1 by opening day. I guarantee it). By what statistic does Theriot merit being the lead-off hitter over Soriano? Batting Average? Al hit .299, Theriot .266. On Base Percentage? Al's- .331, Theriot's- .326. In every measurable stat but stolen bases Soriano is better than Theriot, so get over it.

So quit freaking out about him and look at him for what he is- a decent fielding, decent hitting, decent running player. A DECENT player. He'll probably bat 7th this year if we acquire Brian Roberts, and Cubs fans shouldn't bemoan his fate. In the 7 spot he's a valuable hitter, in the lead-off spot or two hole he's a guy that's only giving Lee/Ramirez a chance to drive him in 32 percent of the time. There, I said it.

Cubs Preview #2- 3/17/08

Roster Spot 15- OF- Matt Murton #19
Ht: 6'1'' Wt: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Murton ready to unleash the power of his massive thighs.

You know, it really has to suck to be Matt Murton. In 2003 Matt is selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 1st round of the MLB Draft. As a first rounder Murton obviously has a bright future in an organization about to win its first world series in 86 years. In his rookie year in low A ball, Matt hits a respectable .286 with a very respectable .375 OBP in 53 games, getting his professional career off to a great start. In 2004 Matt moves to high A ball and hits .301 with 11 hrs, 55 rbis, and an impressive .371 OBP in 102 games to start the season. Surely he's got to be one of the bright spots of the Boston farm system? Nay. The Red Sox flip him to the Cubs as an afterthought to the Nomar Garciaparra trade. Bummer #1 for Matt.

But you know what, new organization, new chance, perhaps Matt wouldn't have had a chance to make his ML debut in 2005 with the defending World Champions. So he bides his time with the Cubs AA West Tennessee Diamon Jaxx for 78 games, hitting a robust .342 with a .403 OBP, 8 hrs, 46 rbis, and 18 stolen bases. And then it happens: the Cubs send struggling center fielder Corey Patterson down and call up Matt Murton and his best friend from West Tennessee, Adam Greenberg. Matt makes his major league debut July 8, 2005 against the Florida Marlins and goes 2-2 with a double, a walk, and a sacrifice fly in a 9-6 Cubs win. Matt's friend Adam makes his debut the next day and gets hit with a fastball in the head, is concussed, later suffers from post-concussion syndrome, and is forced to retire from baseball two years later. Matt may envy him. Matt follows up his debut by playing in 25 games between July 8 and August 16 and hitting .339 with a .415 OBP, 1 hr and 4 rbis. So now young Matt has found his way to rookie stardom with the Cubs, right?

Wrong. In August the Cubs interim center fielder Jerry Hairston, Jr. is hurt and the Cubs decide to call Corey Patterson back to the minors, and, in a move that will never make sense to anyone other than Dusty f*&king Baker, send Murton down to AAA Iowa, where Matt hit .353 with a .421 OBP in 9 games before Baker's stupidity is overruled and Matt is called back up to the Cubs and finishes the season with a final stat line of:

51 games, 140 at-bats, .321 avg., 7 hrs, 14 rbis, .386 OBP, .521 slugging, 2 stolen bases.

So Cubs fans cry foul at Dusty's refusal to give Matt a signficant role in 2005 and Dusty makes Matt the starting left fielder for the Cubs in 2006. Matt responds with the following line:

144 games, 140 ABs, .297 avg., 13 hrs, 62 rbis, .365 OBP, .444 slugging, 5 stolen bases.

His batting avg. was the highest (qualified) on the team, while his OBP was 2nd. Pretty good first full season, eh? Surely Matt has secured his place in the lineup?

Nay. Before the 2007, while swearing that Matt shall remain the starting left fielder, the Cubs sign Alfonso Soriano (ostensibly to play center field) and Cliff Floyd to "back up" Matt. As it happens Matt bats only .252 with 1 hr in the first half, is moved first from left field to right field as Soriano shifted from center to left and Jacque Jones shifted from right to center, then is benched in favor of Cliff Floyd. On June 13, after nearly 2 years in the Majors, Matt is sent down to AAA Iowa for over a month before returning to the Cubs on July 27. Matt played better in a back-up role after his return, batting .310 with 7 hrs and 14 rbis. in the second half. Matt's 2007 numbers:

94 games, 235 ABs, .281 avg., 8 hrs, 22 rbis, .352 OBP, .438. slugging, 1 stolen base.

After the season the Cubs let Cliff Floyd leave as a free agent. Perhaps opening the door for Matt to start again in right field? Nay. On December 11, 2007 the Cubs sign Japanese right fielder Kosuke Fukudome to a $48 million, 4 year deal. Fukudome is a four time Gold Glove winner in Japan, as well as the 2006 Japanese Central League MVP and will be the Cubs every day right fielder, leaving Matt Murton once again totally screwed.

This spring Matt is hitting .359 with a .410 OBP, and has been mentioned in just about every single trade rumor involving the Cubs.

Matt Murton- The World's Unluckiest Player.