2012 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

2011 Record:  71 – 91 (5th, NL Central)
Runs Scored:  654 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed:  756 (14th, NL)

Only Colorado and Houston allowed more runs…

2011 in Review:

The Cubs started losing early, and pretty much were consistent about it throughout the season.  Starlin Castro kept hitting all year long, but the team was lacking in production from the outfield and the catcher spot.  Carlos Zambrano was extremely frustrated and threatened to retire – but considering his history of blow ups, the Cubs shut him down anyway.  The Cubs really had little truly decent pitching, helped by a defense that had little range and made a lot of errors.  When it was over, Chicago was under new ownership.  That group finally let Jim Hendry go – Hendry was the GM who was responsible for this mess – and replaced him with the Boston Red Sox mastermind, Theo Epstein.  At least the Cubs have THAT going for them.

 

Starting Pitching:

Matt Garza was acquired from Tampa and battled things to a draw.  He finished 10 – 10, his ERA looks good here, but it’s masked somewhat by the 17 unearned runs he allowed.  In terms of runs allowed per nine, he was barely league average.  Ryan Dempster‘s season was particularly troublesome.  His strikeout rate was pretty good, but he walked more than in the past and he gave up too many homers.  Zambrano, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Doug Davis were all at least 10 runs worse than the average pitcher given the number of innings pitched.  Here’s the breakdown:

Runs Saved /Pitcher
1.81    Matt Garza (31 starts)
-10.71  Rodrigo Lopez (16 starts)
-12.45  Carlos Zambrano (24 starts)
-13.24  Randy Wells (24 starts)
-16.82  Doug Davis (9 starts – ouch)
-17.17  Ryan Dempster (34 starts)
-22.88  Casey Coleman (17 starts)

Essentially, the starters gave up 90 runs more than an average pitcher would have done in the same amount of innings.

For 2012, Dempster and Garza are back.  Zambrano was traded to the Marlins for starter Chris Volstad, but that’s not an improvement – Volstad pitched worse than Zambrano last year.  Jeff Samardzija is being moved to the rotation – he was one of the few Cubs pitchers to pitch on the good side of average.  If he can match that for 180 innings instead of 90 innings, that would be a huge improvement over, say, Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.  If Wells can stay healthy and get back, that would help, too.  One can see a 40 run improvement at this spot.

 

Relief Pitchers:

Carlos Marmol has been a closer for a few years now, and he isn’t getting any better.  A closer with an ERA over 4 is a problem – and he’s so wild that he’s allowing nearly six walks every nine innings.  The set up squad was actually pretty good – Samardzija was nearly six runs better than the average pitcher; Sean Marshall was even better – the best pitcher on the staff (14 runs saved).  Kerry Wood was tolerable, but is running out of innings in his arm.  After that, though, you run through some guys who struggled – John Grabow and James Russell.

Looking forward, I’m scared here.  The best pitcher, Sean Marshall, is gone.  Samardzija is in the rotation.  The Cubs could be relying on Coleman to take on a long relief role, or pulling in Rafael Dolis or Chris Carpenter.  I’m worried that this unit could easily be 10 – 15 runs worse than 2011.

 

Catching:

As a unit, Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill were fair against the run and mobile.  On the other hand, they were mistake prone and if they are to get some responsibility for the pitching staff, the team was 20 games under .500 with a lousy overall ERA.

Soto can hit a little, but he’s been inconsistent with his batting average and power.  Soto finished by hitting .228 with 17 homers, which really isn’t good enough – especially in Wrigley Field.  Hill was worse – .194 with sub .300 slugging and on base percentages.

 

Infield:

I made a comment that the team defense wasn’t very good in 2011 – that doesn’t apply to the middle infielders here.  Shortstop Starlin Castro saved the team 18 runs – which breaks down to 24 runs because of his range, but he gives back nearly six runs because of his errors.  Darwin Barney was also mobile and slightly error prone, but the net result was another 14 runs saved.  The play on the corners, though, featured two older guys who no longer have the range to help out.  Carlos Pena was once a fine fielder – not anymore.  He cost the team 19 runs.  Aramis Ramirez was even worse – he cost the Cubs 36 runs.  Granted, the offense here isn’t half bad.  Barney has room to improve – he needs to be more selective at the plate and get his batting average up to the .290 range.  Castro had 207 hits and generated 108 runs of offense, but he makes a lot of outs.  Ramirez had a nice season – 109 runs created, and Pena added 85 more, despite hitting just .225 (he drew 101 walks and hit 28 homers).  That kind of production will be hard to replace.

The Cubs will try Bryan Lahair, the minor league home run champ, at first base.  His fielding isn’t sterling, but his bat can help.  Ian Stewart was acquired from Colorado and he’s going to hit better than the .156 he hit in 2011, but he’s NOT going to be the run producer that Ramirez was.  Castro may still have more growth in him, as will Barney, but this unit could easily be down 50 runs from last year.

 

Outfield:

The Cubs featured an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, who has below average range, Marlon Byrd, who is surprisingly mobile for an older guy – but still below average in terms of range, and, for three months, Kosuke Fukudome.  Fukodome has great range for a right fielder.  Tyler Colvin replaced him, but he fell off the map in terms of his offensive output.

Offensively, Soriano still has power – 26 homers – but he doesn’t run and he still is too much of a free swinger.  Byrd seems to have lost all of his power and he, too, stopped getting on base after getting hit in the face with a pitch in Boston last May.  Colvin hit .150 – ouch!  The Cubs never seemed satisfied with Fukudome, yet he was actually the most productive hitter in the outfield.

Colvin is gone – he’s in Colorado – but Soriano isn’t going anywhere soon, and Byrd needs to get out of center and move to right so that the young legs of Tony Campana can take over in center.  Reed Johnson (he’s still around?) played well – he needed to play more.  The problem is that the Cubs don’t have someone who can help immediately.

 

Prospects:

The AAA Iowa Cubs were devoid of young prospects who can help soon…  The aforementioned Bryan Lahair hit 38 – 109 – .331, but was 28 last year.  The best player to roll through here that was younger might be catcher Wellington Castillo , a 24-year-old who looks no better or worse than Geovany Soto, and Tony Campana, who was here for just 30 games and hit .342 – a burner with little or no power.  Casey Coleman was the best pitcher, but even he had holes – he doesn’t have a big strikeout pitch and he gave up 11 homers in 70 innings.

There may be help in AA, though – the Tennessee Smokies were a top flight minor league team.  Josh Vitters, a former #1 pick (2007) and Rebel Ridling – a great name – hit enough and with some power to suggest that they might get a shot by the end of 2012.  2008 #1 pick Ryan Flaherty hit pretty well, but he’s a shortstop and middle infielders are pretty set in Chicago.  He might get used in a deal soon – him or his fellow middle infielder D.J. LeMahieu…  The pitcher who had results was reliever Jeff Beliveau – who sounds like he should be a hockey player – 57 innings, 69 Ks and just 13 walks.  Kevin Rhoderick has a stunning arm but needs to refine his control.  Jeff Stevens had good numbers here, but he’s already turning 28 soon and has had a cup of coffee…

A+ Daytona finished second in the Florida State League and first baseman Justin Bour led the team in homers and RBIs – hitting 23 homers in the FSL is legit power.  Undrafted Junior Lake continued to play well – is turning 22 and hit over .300 with some power and great speed.  One thing you notice when looking over the pitching staff is a lack of high draft picks – the best pitcher was undrafted Jeff Antiqua, who logged 83.1 innings, fanned 81, and walked just 18.

If there is help on the way, it might be catcher Richard Jones, who hit 24 homers and batted .309 for low A Peoria.  It doesn’t look like it will be #1 pick Hayden Simpson, who fell off to 1 – 6 – 5.32.  The best arm might belong to 11th round pick Eric Jokisch, who went 9 – 3 with a good K/W ratio in 118.2 innings.

 

2012 Forecast:

The Cubs will probably allow 30 fewer runs this year – it can’t really get worse than 2011 – but the offense looks worse.  If the team falls back another 50 runs, which is entirely possible, you’re looking at a 66 – 96 team.  If Stewart doesn’t come back and Soriano falls off, and LeHair doesn’t hit in the majors, the Cubs are looking at 100 losses.  Theo Epstein has a lot of work to do.

Manny Ramirez Ends Career Rather Than Face Suspension

Short morning – so we’ll try to do this quickly…

Manny Ramirez is Done…

Rather than face a 100 game suspension for what the NY Times reported as having been found using performance enhancing drugs (again), Manny Ramirez told MLB that he would retire.  In fact, the press release from MLB was how Manny’s team, the Tampa Rays, found out about it.

Good riddance to a self-centered cheat.

For other opinions on the subject, click here:

Joe Posnanski

Sports Illustrated News

Joe Lemire

Jayson Stark

Jon Paul Morosi

Michael Rosenburg

Other News…

The Marlins expect that Hanley Ramirez will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday after getting bruised while being on the receiving end of a hard slide by Astros infielder Bill Hall.  If everyone agreed that Hall was just doing his job and nobody had any hard feelings, then why did Edward Mujica plunk Billy late in Sunday’s game – leading to two ejections?

I told this to my friend and former boss, Jose Gomez.  Mujica isn’t long for the majors.  He’s eminently hittable and only looked good last year because he played in San Diego.  Now that he’s somewhere where baseballs don’t always get caught, his flat fastball will be meat and his career will fade quickly.

Matt Holiday made it back to the lineup on Sunday, just nine days after an emergency appendectomy.  Modern medicine is amazing, really.

Nobody Can Retire Permanently…

Pedro Martinez is telling everyone he talks to that he’s not done and would welcome a return to the majors.  Boston tops his list of potential return cities.

Weekend Transactions…

Octavio Dotel returned to the Blue Jays, sending Casey Janssen back to Las Vegas.

Jeff Stevens returns to the Cubs from Iowa, replacing Andrew Cashner, who is on the 15-day disabled list – but not likely to return for a while…

Boston activated lefty rookie Felix Doubrant from the DL, and sent former Orioles reliever Matt Albers to the 15-day DL with a sore right lat.  Doubrant throws reasonably hard, has a nice change up, and throws a mean slider.  I think he’s going to stay a while…

The Yankees signed Carlos Silva to a minor league contract, while the Cubs – who dispatched Silva – signed Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract.

The Twins placed Kevin Slowey on the DL with a sore right biceps muscle.  Alex Burnett was recalled from the Red Wings to take his place.  Burnett is 23, got in 41 games with the Twins last year, and hasn’t yet shown that he’s ready to go after reaching AA.

The Orioles sent Brad Bergesen back to the minors, calling up Chris Jakubaskas.

The Pirates sent Ross Ohlendorf to the DL with a shoulder strain.

The Angels sent Erick Aybar to the DL with a strained oblique, and activated pitcher Scott Downs from the DL.

The Mets recalled Jason Isringhausen (!) after a bullpen implosion this weekend.  Wow…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

Sam Chapman (1916)
Sid Monge (1951)
Wally Whitehurst (1964)
Bret Saberhagen (1964)
Jason Varitek (1972)
Trot Nixon (1974)
Mark Teixeira (1980)
Alexander De Aza (1984)

Top NL Second Basemen in 2009

Chase Utley (PHI):  One of the ten most valuable players in all of baseball, Utley hits for a decent average, power, works the count to get on base, steals bases and is among the best fielders at his position.  Not counting first basemen, I have Utley at just a shade more valuable than Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill as the most valuable infielder in the game.  While it pains me to say it, he might be more valuable than Ryne Sandberg in his prime.  Sandberg never had a .400 OBP – that’s for sure.  Part of the reason is because Utley gets hit by a lot of pitches – between 24 and 27 each of the last three years.  He doesn’t walk more often than Sandberg did.  That might be the only advantage…

That being said, Utley has been in a minor (graceful) slide for two seasons now and he’s already 31.  He didn’t establish himself as a major leaguer until 2004 when he was 25 years-old.  His walks total sprung forward a bit last season, compensating for a lower batting average.  I’m NOT predicting doom and gloom here – I’m just saying that he’s not going to be the first second baseman to hit 400 career homers or drive in 1500 runs.  And, even if he slides down to .270 and 20 homers, he’s going to have value.  And only one other guy in the NL is even CLOSE to that kind of productivity.  (119.3 Runs Created, 18.2 Runs Saved = 137.53 Total Run Production)

Brandon Phillips (CIN):  One of the great ones, and lost in a Reds organization that hasn’t put much of a run together for a playoff run.  One hopes this happens before he runs out of gas.  Anybody out there remember that Phillips was traded to the Reds for pitcher Jeff Stevens in 2006?  Jeff Stevens finally made it to the bigs with the Cubs last year and got pounded in 11 appearances.  Who did Cleveland have that was better?  (92.6 Runs Created, 13.5 Runs Saved = 106.15 Total Run Production)

Orlando Hudson (LAD):  Now in Minnesota.  I was reading a Joe Posnanski comment where he, like me, wondered why nobody seems to want this guy.  The Dodgers benched him to play Ronnie Belliard – is that for real?  Gets on base, plays a solid second base.  Anybody should LOVE to have this guy on the roster.  (90.8 Runs Created, 12.3 Runs Saved = 103.10 Total Run Production)

I don’t know where you stand on this, but the Dodgers are taking a step back here in 2010.  Ronnie Belliard hits okay but he doesn’t have Hudson’s dependable glove.  Backing him up will be Jamey Carroll, who isn’t in either guy’s league.  Behind that is Blake DeWitt, who looked like a major leaguer in 2008 but didn’t play like one in 2009 and was shifted back and forth between the majors and AAA as often as anybody last year.  I’m betting DeWitt will have this job by July, or the Dodgers will try to get somebody for the stretch run.

Felipe Lopez (ARI/MIL):  Milwaukee got him to cover for Rickie Weeks when Weeks went down and he played great.  High batting average, a few walks, a little power and league average defender.  In the NL, that makes you a valuable commodity.  As of 2/15, still didn’t have a job – which makes no sense to me…  The Mets or Cardinals would LOVE to have this guy, wouldn’t you think? (98.6 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 94.4 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  Nobody was a regular at this position in 2009 for the Giants, and defensively Uribe wasn’t as strong at second has he had been in the past.  However, if he had a full time job at this position, he would likely rank here.  There’s no way that Emmanuel Burriss is better than Uribe and, to be honest, I think Uribe is one of the most underrated players of the last decade.  Hits for power, decent average, usually a good glove.  (64.6 Runs Created, 10.9 Runs Saved = 75.53 Total Run Production)

Kaz Matsui (HOU):  Starting to show signs of age but still has some value because of his defense.  Doesn’t put runs on the board, though…  The AL is LOADED with good second basemen, but the NL’s top six isn’t in their league…  (56.9 Runs Created, 15.3 Runs Saved = 72.15 Total Run Production)

Dan Uggla (FLA):  The opposite of Matsui – a run producer despite the low batting average.  Last year his range, which had been tolerable the last couple of years, fell off the map and I don’t think he’s going to turn it around and field like Chase Utley any time soon.  My son’s favorite player…  (86.7 Runs Created, -15.3 Runs Saved = 71.39 Total Run Production)

Clint Barmes (COL):  Power doesn’t make up for not getting on base (.298 OBP) but I’m not sure that Colorado has better options.  Had a decent enough year with the glove…  (65.9 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 70.08 Total Run Production)

Martin Prado (ATL):  Hit better than Kelly Johnson, but was a liability with the glove.  Room to improve, though, and if he hits .300 with moderate power as he did last year, the Braves will appreciate the help.  (79.7 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 69.53 Total Run Production)

Freddy Sanchez (PIT/SF):  If he hits .344, as he did in 2006, he has value.  If he hits .270, his lack of walks and doubles power isn’t creating that many runs.  He was a pretty good defensive third baseman, but just about league average at second base.  And he’s hurt.  The Giants don’t need that kind of problem right now.  (63.6 Runs Created, -1.2 Runs Saved = 62.4 Total Run Production)

David Eckstein (SD):  In my mind, he’s the replacement level second baseman – and yet he was the eighth most productive second baseman in the NL last year.  Doesn’t really get on base a lot, doesn’t really hit for a good average, and doesn’t have any power at all.  (63.3 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 59.49 Total Run Production)

Luis Castillo (NYM):  Came back some as a hitter last year, but his range is slipping and it’s time to look for some younger legs.  I’d want him around as a bench guy, don’t get me wrong – he’s still got some playing time left.  He gets on base and can still run the bases.  Two years away from 2000 career hits – and I’d say he’s going to get them and be done…  (71.9 Runs Created, -13.1 Runs Saved = 58.82 Total Run Production)

Skip Schumaker (STL):  Hits like Castillo without the baserunning skills, and – as an outfielder forced to play second base – looked very out of position with the glove.  Despite that, he provided some value for a team that had too many outfielders and no infield depth and can be a #2 hitter and not embarrass the lineup any because he hits doubles and gets on base.  I don’t think he’ll last for long as a starter, but LaRussa may keep him in the majors for another decade.  (79.9 Runs Created, -24.6 Runs Saved = 55.30 Total Run Production)

Jeff Baker (CHC):  His defense was better than Mike Fontenot, and his batting was more productive.  Combined, the two would rank between Lopez and Uribe on the list…  I don’t know if Baker could hit .305 over 500 at bats, but if he fields this well, the Cubs would LOVE it if he hit .270 in the eighth spot in the lineup.  (31.2 Runs Created, 14.2 Runs Saved = 45.38 Total Run Production)

Mike Fontenot (CHC):  Ordinary fielder, less than ordinary hitter.  About to become a utility infielder for the rest of his career.  (41.2 Runs Created, -0.3 Runs Saved = 40.92 Total Run Production)

Kelly Johnson (ATL):  I always thought he was underappreciated.  League average fielder, gets on base.  But, he never got out of Bobby Cox’s dog house and when he stopped getting hits last year, he lost his job to Martin Prado.  Even hitting .224, he was near the league average in terms of runs created per 27 outs because he draws walks and hits for some power.  Now the Arizona second baseman, I think he’s going to bounce back fine.  (39.2 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 38.14 Total Run Production)

Delwyn Young (PIT):  Inherited the job Freddy Sanchez left behind and needs to make some improvements to move far up this list.  Hits about as well as Johnson did, but didn’t field well in limited innings.  I’d like to give him 1000 innings and see what happens.  I just don’t see Young having a long career – he’s already 29 and hasn’t made it yet.  Besides, the Pirates signed Akinori Iwamura for 2010 and unless he’s lost a step following that catastrophic knee injury, he’ll be the starter.  (43.7 Runs Created, -5.7 Runs Saved = 38.00 Total Run Production)

Ronnie Belliard (LAD):  Hot bat after arriving in LA gave him the Dodgers job down the stretch.  He has always been a hitter, but his range is not what you would want for the position and the Dodger pitchers will want Hudson back.  (42.3 Runs Created, -7.3 Runs Saved = 35.00 Total Run Production)

Rickie Weeks (MIL):  Won’t rank this low if he plays a full season.  Not a GREAT leadoff hitter, but he has pop in the bat and holds his own with the glove.  In a full season, he’s probably rank about fifth in the league.  I’m a fan.  (27.8 Runs Created, -0.7 RUns Saved = 27.02 Total Run Production)

Anderson Hernandez (WAS):  Got a chance and played himself out of a job by not hitting or fielding well enough to be a regular.  Adam Kennedy moves to the Nationals after a fine season in Oakland.  (23.8 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 19.56 Total Run Production)

Emmanuel Burriss (SF):  May still get playing time while Sanchez heals.  I don’t know why.  (17.2 Runs Created, 1.6 Runs Saved = 18.87 Total Run Production)