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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ex-Cub Updates

While galavanting around my one of my favorite blogs, which you should really go to, as Tim Dierkes does a great job updating on just about every trade/FA signing/release/waiver wire pickup and what have you, I noticed a couple updates about two former Cubs I've always liked- Jon Lieber and Matt Murton.
The news about Jon Lieber is that he is retiring after a 14 year major league career. During that time Lieber went 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, 1,553 K's and just 422 walks in 2,198 innings in 401 career games (327 starts). Lieber was the ace of the Cubs from 1999-2002 (which really says more about the lack of quality starting pitching than it does about Lieber's abilities) and had his best season in 2001 at 20-6 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP in 232.1 IP. Lieber was a workhorse in his years with the Cubs and pitched over 200 innings his first three seasons before an injury ended his 2002 season at 141.0 IP. After spending a few years with the Yankees and Phillies, Lieber came back to the Cubs last year, narrowly lost a spring training battle with Jason Marquis and Ryan Dempster for a rotation spot, and then pitched in 26 games for the team, where he was fairly effective in long relief and had just one horrible start against the Reds before an injury in July effectively ended his season and his career. Fairwell, Jon, I'll always remember you as one of the few Cubs starters in my lifetime who Rarely walked people.

The next ex-Cub mention of note is this article by FanGraphs entitled Free Matt Murton, a condition I wholeheartedly endorse, as, up until his trade from the Cubs to the A's last summer (which I mistakenly believed would lead to more playing time for Matt), I had a wonderfully well done MS Paint picture (below) of that adorable redhead trapped behind bars that was captioned "Free Matt Murton" on the right side of the website.

I'm not one of those Cub fans who believed Matt Murton would be a superstar at the major league level (or Bob Brenly, who apparently thought Murton and Chad Tracy would comepete for a batting title someday...we'll just ignore everything wrong with that). I can't, however, understand how a guy with a .362 career OBP who is well capable of putting up an .800 OPS can't even stick as a fourth outfielder when there are players out there like Darin Erstad who pull down that job despite literally having been useless as a major leaguer since the year 2000. Someday I really hope Matt gets his chance to contribute to a major league team again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Matt Stairs Award Update #1

I promised this year I'd try to give pseudo-regular updates on the race for baseball's greatest prize, and so far here's the standings:

Since it's really too early in the season to focus on the statistics, based simply on the candidate's performance on the field the current leader after 11 games is Koyie Hill, backup catcher:

Forced to step in during the second game of the season, Koyie responded well over the next five starts, actually hitting .300 with a .917 OPS and a home run over that stretch while playing pretty decent defense behind the plate. He's going to have to get into a few more games (I truly pray no disaster befalls Soto allowing Koyie to appear in the 81 games required to be eligible for the award), but for his brief week in the sun, Koyie was the best mediocre player on the Chicago Cubs.
To Koyie!

A ranking as of today (and completely arbitrary):

1. Koyie Hill, C
2. Mike Fontenot, 2B
3. Micah Hoffpauir, 1B/OF
4. Aaron Heilman RHP
5. Aaron Miles, UTIL

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Booing Jason Marquis

Yesterday during the introductions before the Cubs home opener against the Rockies, I was told by someone watching the broadcast (I was at work and therefore unable to) that Jason Marquis was booed by the Wrigley faithful upon being introduced. This raises of course the question of what Marquis did to deserve such malice upon his return to Chicago.

Was Marquis the worst of the starting 5 the Cubs rolled out last year? Definitely. Do I subscribe to the Al Yellon view that you can't say Marquis was bad because he was good compared to other "5th starters" as though rotation spots were a government pay grade and set in stone? Not at all. Do I enjoy the style of writing in which one does nothing but answer his own questions? You bet. But was Jason Marquis a truly "bad" player? I would have to disagree.

Consider certain players who have returned to Wrigley and been booed. LaTroy Hawkins is one of the first that comes to mind for me, given that he not only sucked in the most crucial of positions for Cub fans, but his absurd "you can't do what I do" defense and his playing of the race card merited a fairly unpleasant welcome. Had Todd Hundley ever returned I'm sure he would have been stoned, though I suppose the treatment he received throughout much of his tenure as a Cub was deserved, mostly because he was an asshat who flipped off the fans and was more or less a disgrace to his father's legacy. Dusty Baker was booed at just about Reds-Cubs game last year, and given the back alley abortion he performed on this team and his constant refusal to accept any of the blame even after two years away from the situation pretty much leads us to despise him. But Marquis?

Sure, there was his complaint early last spring that he should be starting. Lou got pissed that Jason seemed to think he had earned the right to start, but it didn't affect his decision to run Jason out there every fifth day. I can't say that I wouldn't have felt the same way in Jason's position. I may not have said it publicly as he did, but I too would have felt that I deserved to start over Jon Lieber's corpse.

In the end it was Jason's role to end up being the focal point for rage on a 97 win team. For much of the regular season there really wasn't that much to be that pissed about, unless you frequent this place. I'm not going to lie, I frequently advocated starting Sean Marshall over Marquis. But I never hated the guy. If you take a look at his numbers

2008:29 G, 28 GS, 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 167.0 IP, 1.45 WHIP
2007: 34 G, 33 GS, 12-9, 4.60 ERA, 191.2 IP, 1.39 WHIP

Nothing truly God Awful stands out, especially when compared to some of the other more memorable "5th starters" in Cubs history:

Shawn Estes, 2003: 29 G, 28 GS, 8-11, 5.73 ERA, 152.1 IP, 1.74 WHIP
Jason Bere, 2002: 16 G, 16 GS, 1-10, 5.67 ERA, 85.2 IP, 1.47 WHIP
Ruben Quevedo, 2000: 21 G, 15 GS, 3-10, 7.47 ERA, 88.0 IP, 1.705 WHIP
Terry Mulholland, 1999: 26 G, 16 GS, 6-6, 5.15 ERA, 110.0 IP, 1.536 WHIP
G(J)eremi Gonzalez, 1998: 20 G, 20 GS, 7-7, 5.32 ERA, 110.0 IP, 1.500 WHIP

So really it becomes obvious from looking at numbers like those that Marquis was somewhere far short of horrendous, and that his greatest misfortune was playing for a really f*&king good team. What a shame. Seriously, my fellow Cub fans, grow up and boo for an ex-Cub that deserves it. Jason has to pitch in Colorado. He is serving his time. You need not boo him any more.

However, for the Cubs sake, and Jason's I do hope they light him up tomorrow. Certainly there's a precedent for Cubs "fifth starters" who return as members of the Colorado Rockies. I know watching the Cubs destroy him alleviated most of my rage toward Estes. Maybe a Marquis flop against the Cubs will soothe the undeserved hate aimed at him by the masses.
(Update: Way to go Jason. I offered you sage advice, telling you that if you'd only let the Cubs bend you over the table for about 9 runs, the fans would love you. But noooooo... Thanks alot, Asshole.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day- Jose Hernandez

Name: Jose Antonio (Figueroa) Hernandez
Height: 6'1'' Weight: 180 LB
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1994-1999, 2003

For most of my life, I've been a reasonably statistical fan of the game of baseball. Since the early days of the fuss over Moneyball and Billy Beane, I've been decidedly new school in the importance of OBP and OPS over Batting Avg. and RBIs. There was a time in my life though, when a strong armed, sleek looking shortstop/third baseman with profoundly awful plate discipline teased me with his brief flashes of power and made me think he would be awesome someday. That man's name was Jose Hernandez, and he was not awesome at all. The Cubs first acquired Hernandez in 1994, when I was six years old. The Cubs were awful that year and so the 24 year old Jose got into 56 games that year, including his first 9 starts at third for the Cubs. In 1995 Jose's role expanded to 93 games, including another 10 starts at first base. With the bat that year Jose hit 13 homers in just 245 at-bats! Who cares if he only hit .245? What's a .281 OBP even Mean? Thats a lot of homers! If he was a full time starter he could hit like 30! Then in 1996 I was ecstatic when Steve Buechele was finally gone and Jose was given the opening day start at third! Then of course Jose hit .205 in April and was soon shifted over to shortstop and replaced at third by Leo Gomez, which worked out famously. Jose did get into 131 with 331 at-bats throughout the season as a sub/SS, with and hit a disappointing .242/10/41/.293/.381.

By 1997, Jose had lost both his third base job, now to Kevin Orie rather than Leo Gomez, and the shorstop job to old favorite Shawon Dunston. Hernandez bounced back and forth between short, third, and second during the year, finishing with 12 more starts at third and a better statistical line of .273/7/26/.323/.486.

The outlook for Jose's playing time looked grim before 1998, with Orie entrenched at third, and free agent acquisitions Mickey Morandini and Jeff Blauser at second and short, respectively. Then the season began and both Orie and Blauser blew. The Cubs sent Orie down, and Jose slotted over to third base, where he made 54 starts. When the Cubs acquired Gary Gaetti on the waiver wire to take over the hot corner, Hernandez shifted over to short to replace the atrocious Blauser, and made 37 starts at short. In total, Hernandez' 1998 was his best as a Cub, with 144 games started at third, short, first, second, and in the outfield. He hit .254/23/75/.311/.471 that year, and those 23 homers seemed to vindicate everything I ever thought about his ability. He was a star, I said. 23 homers! That's more than Derek Jeter hit that year! We have one of the best power-hitting shortstops in baseball!

Then 1999 happened and everything went wrong. The Cubs lost 95 games, their lineup and rotation fell apart, and even though Jose was off to the best start of his career, the Cubs of course had to make room for rookie Jose Nieves and Jose was thrown in with Terry Mulholland in a trade to the Braves in which the Cubs acquired Ruben Quevedo, Micah Bowie, and Joey Nation. That's wonderful. Jose finished his last Cubs season (of the 20th century) with a line of .272/15/43/.357/.450 in 99 games, mostly at shortstop, and for the first time in his Cub career he did not start a game at third (naturally, who would need him at third when you have Gary Gaetti and Tyler Houston?). After the Braves, Jose moved on to the Brewers for three years, where he actually put up some decent offensive seasons (including a trip to the All Star Game in 2002), but built upon his reputation as a free swinger with back to back seasons of 180+ strikeouts (in 2002 he finished with 188 after his manager benched him for four of the last five games of the season in order to keep him from breaking the record for most in a season). Jose then started the 2003 season, but wound up Back in Chicago when Mark Bellhorn failed to do anything at third base.
By this point I was old enough to be far, far, far less enthused about Jose in a Cub uniform, and he did nothing to change that opinion in his 23 games with the Cubs that year (13 starts at third), as he hit just .188/2/9/.222/.348. Then on July 23, 2003 Jose did something amazing. He, along with Jim Hendry, singlehandedly convinced Dave Littlefield that he was equal in value to Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton (when one factors in Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback), and he was sent to Pittsburgh. Ramirez of course has solved the Cubs decades long hot corner conundrum. Hernandez of course ground into the double play that clinched the division for the Cubs later that year. After 2003 Jose bounced from the Dodgers to the Indians to the Pirates again to the Phillies before retiring after the 2006 season.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Roster is Set, Opening Day is Tomorrow, Here Are Your Cubs-

The Pitchers-
SP- #38 Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 188.2 IP), Bats: Switch. Throws: Right.
SP-#46 Ryan Demspter (17-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 206.2 IP) Right/Right
SP-#30 Theodore Roosevelt Lilly (17-9, 4.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 204.2 IP) Left/Left
SP-#40 Rich Harden (10-2, 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 148 IP) Right/Right
SP-#45 Sean Marshall (3-5, 3.86 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 65.1 IP) Left/Left
LRP- #37 Angel Guzman (0-0, 5.59 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 9.2 IP) Right/Right
MRP- #54 David Patton (4-5, 3.54 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 73.2 IP)* Right/Right
MRP- #84 Neal Cotts (0-2, 4.29 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 35.2 IP) Left/Left
MRP- #51 Luis Vizcaino (1-2, 5.28 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 46.0 IP) Right/Right
SU- #47 Aaron Heilman (3-8, 5.21 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 76.0 IP, 3 Saves) Right/Right
SU-#49 Carlos Marmol (2-4, 2.68 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 87.1 IP,7 Saves) Right/Right
CL-#63 Kevin Gregg (7-8, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 68.2 IP, 29 Saves) Right/Right

The Lineup-
LF- #12 Alfonso Soriano (.280, 29 HR, 75 RBI, .344 OBP, .876 OPS) Right/Right
CF- #1 Kosuke Fukudome (.257, 10 HR, 58 RBI, .359 OBP, .738 OPS) Left/Left
1B- #25 Derrek Lee (.291, 20 HR, 90 RBI, .361 OBP, .823 OPS) Right/Right
RF- #21 Milton Bradley (.321, 22 HR, 77 RBI, .436 OBP, .999 OPS) Switch/Right
3B- #16 Aramis Ramirez (.289, 27 HR, 111 RBI, .380 OBP, .898 OPS) Right/Right
2B- #17 Mike Fontenot (.305, 9 HR, 40 RBI, .395 OBP, .909 OPS) Left/Right
C- #18 Geovany Soto (.285, 23 HR, 86 RBI, .364 OBP, .868 OPS) Right/Right
SS- #2 Ryan Theriot (.307, 1 HR, 38 RBI, .387 OBP, .745 OPS) Right/Right

The Bench-
OF- #4 Joey Gathright (.254, 0 HR, 22 RBI, .311 OBP, .584 OPS) Left/Right
OF- #9 Reed Johnson (.303, 6 HR, 50 RBI, .358 OBP, .778 OPS) Right/Right
1B/OF- #6 Micah Hoffpauir (.342, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .400 OBP, .934 OPS) Left/Left
IF/UTIL-#7 Aaron Miles (.317, 4 HR, 31 RBI, .355 OBP, .753 OPS) Switch/Right
C- #55 Koyie Hill (.095, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .095 OBP, .238 OPS) Switch/Right

*- Minor League Stats

This isn't a Cubs season preview since I gave most of my thoughts on this team when I was busy predicting the entire league, so go read that. This is just me taking a deep breath and getting ready to watch actual professional baseball. The darkest stretch of the sports year ends tomorrow (tonight if you're watching the Braves and the Phillies, which I am). Sure, Jay Cutler spiced the last week up, but for the most part its been f*&king hard to sit there every day, scanning (even harder once the Peavy trade died), looking at so many spring training box scores that those worthless numbers start to seem real to you, and just waiting. Tomorrow night Zambrano will toe the rubber against Michael Barrett's best friend, Roy Oswalt (speaking of Barrett, he's on the big league club for the Blue Jays. I wish him luck.) and then for the better part of the next 7 months, you'll have the Cubs in what will hopefully be one hell of a season. Last year I gave a big windy speech and posted the James Earl Jones speech from Field of Dreams. Well, my farewell to Kyle done speech'd me out, so instead I'll just put this, and let everyone get their optimism pants on:

Make it happen. Play some f*&king Ball.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

All Good Things...

Today is a day of shock and confusion for Start Kyle Orton. As you will undoubtedly have heard by the time you read today's article, the Chicago Bears have acquired Pro-Bowl Quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos in exchange for Kyle Orton and a shit ton of draft picks.. I am of two minds about this, two hearts rent asunder. One embraces this brave new world Jerry Angelo has embarked upon, one where he actively attempts to improve this team by going after the best available players (he's also signed two tackles in Kevin Shaffer and Orlando Pace), while the other feels the loss of Kyle as though a family member has passed and gone. Kyle meant a lot of things to a lot of people in his time in Chicago- to Deadspin he was a Deadspin Hall of Famer, forever beloved for the pictures of his drunken debauchery. To the meatheads in 2006, he was "dat guy who went 10-5, Grossman sucks ass!" To Jerry Angelo he was "Please God show them I can evaluate a quarterback." At least he was for a while. In the end, to Jerry, he was "fuck, if I can't grow one of my own I'll take that one with the shiny arm!"

But to me he was one of my favorite college quarterbacks of all time (two of my others: Rex Grossman and Shane Matthews. Christ I can pick 'em), who seemed the most acceptable alternative to me should I ever be broken of my unshakeable faith in Rex Grossman (Newsflash: I was). He was the biggest steal the Bears ever got, I was certain. A sure-fire first rounder whom had landed in the fourth due to a hip pointer and cruel fate. And last of all, much like Rex in the first half of 2006, for the first 7 1/2 games of last year, he was "the savior." That ended of course with his ankle injury against the Lions, and the kid who came back was not the one who had left. There were plenty of reasons to deflect the blame for the Bears late season troubles off of Kyle. The team had a weak offensive line, no certifiable wide receivers, and a defense that played somewhat shy of adequate. These problems all exist, and will no doubt confront Jay Cutler. But I am not stupid.

In all honesty, Jay Cutler is probably as talented as a quarterback gets. Kyle most certainly is not. Cutler has the arm strength and mobility that Kyle will never have. While Jay's maturity is no doubt in question, this was the right move for the Bears. I hope Kyle finds a niche for himself in Denver. I'm sure with Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal catching his passes he'll probably put up great numbers, and hell, if Josh McDaniel's offense could make Matt Cassel look good, I'm sure Kyle will look like Steve Young. I'm not sure what to do about the name of this website, but I'll most likely leave it as it is. It will forever remain an homage to the man with the neckbeard that taught us all to love, and laugh, and live life the way it was meant to be lived. The truth is, Kyle will never truly leave us, for we all have a little Kyle Orton in us. For remember: Kyle will be around in the dark, he'll be there. Wherever you look, wherever there's a bar, so thirsty people can drink, Kyle will be there. Wherever there's a tight end looking for a five yard hitch, Kyle will be there. Kyle will be in the way Bears fans yell when they're gettin' mad. He'll be in the way little kids laugh when the Bears are beating the Packers and Aaron Rodgers get's sacked, and when people are drinkin' the booze they bought and sleepin' in the vomit they produced, Kyle'll be there, too.

It is with this that I submit that Start Kyle Orton become more than a chant to see our hero on gameday, I propose that you all take the phrase "Start Kyle Orton" to heart. Whenever the work day's rough, and you pass the local watering hole, go in, ask for a shot of Jack Daniels and tell the bartender "its time to Start Kyle Orton." Whenever you wake up in the morning and think about shaving that 5 o'clock shadow, remember the Neckbeard, and think, "fuck this, its time to Start Kyle Orton." And the next time, the next time you get your moment in the sun after years of waiting patiently, look up to the sky and say "World, it's time to Start Kyle Orton." Good night, and God bless.

Good Bye, You King of Iowa, You Prince of the Midwest.