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.

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Cooper Fired in Houston; Did He Have a Chance?

This is your lot, Cecil Cooper.  Your two best players, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, showed signs of getting older – missing time and underperforming.  Your shortstop is older than people were told and no longer is a force at the plate, and your starting catcher had played in more games than anyone in baseball history – then he was sent packing.  The rotation is patchwork at best, featuring one guy who may hold the record for DL trips (Mike Hampton) and a third starter who barely reaches 80 with his fastball and is only marginally tolerable (Brian Moehler).  Your fifth starter is 2 – 11 (Felipe Paulino – not to be confused with Fausto Carmona, but they have similar stats).  There are a couple of guys who aren’t half bad – Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee – but the bench slots are filled with people who probably can’t hit as well as you, Cecil.  Guys like Darin Erstad.  And Cooper hasn’t played in more than 20 years.

Through August, however, your team has hovered at the fringe of the race – sometimes a little above .500, sometimes a little below.  This isn’t a disappointment – like the Cubs – but probably a pleasant surprise.  I know lots of people who thought that, after spring training, Houston would finish with 100 losses and finish below Pittsburgh.

And now, Cecil Cooper has been fired.  Well, it wasn’t entirely your fault your team has no depth, no prospects, and gave away the catcher who, while he can’t hit, was keeping the pitching staff in games.  I mean, Wandy Rodriguez came into his own this year.  But you can’t take credit for that anymore either.  Reading the articles, the owner and GM felt that a team with a $103 million payroll should be better.  And, some of the players, like Berkman, felt responsible for Cooper’s firing.  And, to read it in Houston, the players no longer respected Cooper – not liking his style, and thinking that he didn’t handle game situations well.  Some writers in Houston think that his firing was inevitable, that he had no chance, but he deserved to be fired.  I think Ed Wade needs to be fired, too – he put this team together.  Cooper held it together, until too many pieces fell apart – and there weren’t players on the farm who could step up and contribute.  I mean, Russ Ortiz as a starter?  He hasn’t been good since 2004.  Maybe Dave Clark, the interim manager, will get a shot.  Not that Dave Clark had any more experience as a MLB manager than Cooper.  Either that, or Willie Randolph can get a shot at redemption.

Whomever gets the job next year is going to be lucky to win 70 games.  Cooper had done that. [ESPN/SI/MLB/Houston Chronicle]

Well – there’s no manager’s union for things like this.  However, when a player is a problem, thank God the MLB Players Association can step in and defend him.  Word is out that the MLBPA will file a grievance on behalf of Milton Bradley.  Guys – this is money well spent.

The Twins won last night, cutting the Tigers’ lead in the AL Central to just 2-1/2 games, but they will likely play a few games without outfielder Denard Span, who was beaned in the head last night.  Span felt soreness and a bit of dizziness, and is day-to-day.

Now, if the Twins catch the Tigers and the season ends in a tie, the challenge might be finding a place to play.  The Vikings hosts Green Bay in a Monday Night game, which is when the Twins would host the Tigers in a one-game playoff.  There may be nothing to worry about, but you never know.  MLB and NFL representatives will have to work out the details.  [ESPN]

Sometimes a slump is fixed based on who you play – and last night Kevin Millwood easily handled Oakland to get a win and lock up his contract for next season.  Of course, Oakland’s cleanup hitter is Kurt Suzuki and Bobby Crosby plays first base – so facing the A’s didn’t hurt…  [MLB]

Giants infielder Freddy Sanchez twisted his knee – the same knee that was bothering him when San Francisco acquired Sanchez from Pittsburgh.  He’s out for now, but may be available by the end of the week.

Hurry Back! Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa (left groin strain) went on the 60-day DL.

Welcome Back! Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson returns from the DL.

Afterthoughts… Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector, has established residency in Andorra, and hopes to sign a contract that will allow him to play for somebody in 2010.  Chapman chose a non-US location so as not to be part of the MLB Draft, which would make him a free agent and available to the highest bidder.  (Boston?  New York? Los Angeles?  I find it hard to believe he’d be a Marlin, but there are tons of former Cubans there…)  Chapman throws 100+, which is why he’s trying to be a free agent.  And, Andorra is kind of a playground for the rich families of Europe – and his agent hopes that Chapman may one day join them…  [ESPN]

Dodgers and Cubs Fortify Bullpen; Pirates Nearly Devoid of ML Roster

The Los Angeles Dodgers sent two prospects to Baltimore to acquire George Sherrill; the Oriole closer will become the eighth inning pitcher in front of Jonathan Broxton or give Joe Torre an alternate closer if needed.  Baltimore gets Josh Bell and Steve Johnson, two solid prospects.  In fact, if you add it up, the Orioles originally got Sherrill as part of the Erik Bedard trade, so to trade Sherrill for two more players, Baltimore has actually turned Bedard into six players.  [ESPN]

Sherrill was an all-star in 2008 and has actually gotten better in 2009, with just a single loss against 20 saves and a 2.40 ERA.  Josh Bell is a third baseman with some skill – just 22 (drafted out of Lantana HS in Florida), he’s improved his patience and contact as he’s moved through the minors, has a little power, and likely can be considered a replacement to Melvin Mora in 2011.  Steve Johnson is the son of former Oriole pitcher (and current broadcaster) Dave Johnson.  He fights his control from time to time, but he’s got a big strikeout pitch and just arrived in AA one month shy of 22 and looked impressive.  If he rights the control ship, he’d be a solid prospect.  For now, he’s a live arm with potential.

 The Cubs swapped pitchers with the Pirates, sending starter Kevin Hart, reliever Jose Ascanio, and minor league infielder Josh Harrison to Pittsburgh for reliever John Grabow and Jayhawk alum, Tom Gorzelanny.  The Cubs wanted left handed pitching – especially a situational lefty – and got it.  The Pirates swap someone who was good once for someone who could make the rotation right away (Gorzelanny for Hart)…  This isn’t much of a trade, but the bonus could be nice for the Bucs – and that’s Josh Harrison.  Harrison is a mobile infielder who makes good contact and is willing to work the count.  In a couple of years, he could be playing second base and batting second in the Pirates lineup.  I actually like this deal for Pittsburgh.  [SI]

The Cubs will be looking for an outfielder to replace Reed Johnson, who fouled a ball off his foot, causing a fracture that will sideline Johnson for three to four weeks.  [MLB]

Kansas City sent cash to Detroit for outfielder Josh Anderson.  I like Anderson, though he’s never really made a big splash at the major league level yet.  He’ll be a welcome defender for Royals pitchers, and with the underperforming Jose Guillen out with a knee injury. he’s actually a step up over what the Royals are playing now.  He’s NOT going to change the fortune of the Royals – Anderson is a line drive guy with not a whole lot of power and never drew a ton of walks – but at least he can play a little.  Kansas City needs a BOPPER.  [ESPN]

Arizona’s ace Brandon Webb’s shoulder has never felt right this year, and now he’s going to be examined again – in part to determine if he needs surgery.   This all started when Webb was negotiating an extension, and now he’s likely going to miss two full seasons…  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!  Brewer starter Jeff Suppan heads to the DL with a strained oblique.

Is it Over?  Houston released Russ Ortiz.  He hasn’t won a July game in five years – and the Cubs pounded him last night.

Torre: Manny, A-Rod, Other PED Users are “Hall of Fame Type Players”

Joe Torre, backing the multitude of players who were using PEDs, says that Bonds, Manny, Clemens, and A-Rod were Hall of Fame type players before they used – not that he thinks that means they should get in.  Torre has no problem standing behind his players, as they helped make Torre look like a winner after years of losing in Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York (Mets).  Let me ask you this:  Is Joe Torre a Hall of Fame manager now that we know how many of his players were using under his watch? [MLB]

San Francisco, as surmised, placed Randy Johnson on the DL with a strained throwing shoulder, a shoulder injured while batting. [MLB]

Pedro Martinez has a new suitor – the Philadelphia Phillies.  This despite reports that when other clubs scouted Pedro in June, he looked “unimpressive”.  MGR Charlie Manuel wants a horse, but may have to settle for a five or six inning guy. [MLB]

Ryan Freel’s best asset is his mobility – he gets around.  And now, Freel joins his fourth team in about 18 months – the Cubs traded him to the Royals for a Player to be Named Later.  According to FoxSports (quoting AP sources), Freel told Royals MGR Trey Hillman that he’s been bothered by a concussion (hit in the head with the ball while diving back to first on a pickoff play) and bad hamstring, which has contributed to Freel’s hitting .140 with the Cubs.  The Cubs are picking up part of Freel’s salary.  [FoxSports]

When Marc Rzepczynski makes his debut Tuesday, he’ll be the fifth Blue Jay to make his debut in 2009 – breaking the team record set when the Blue Jays entered the majors in 1977.  Rzepczynski is a lefty with skills – his K/9 rate has improved though he still needs to work on his control; he keeps the ball in the park.  Statistically, he reminds you of Kevin Brown. [FoxSports]

Tigers MGR Jim Leyland says that rookie Rick Porcello will not pitch until after the All-Star break, getting the kid some much needed rest.

Welcome Back!  Padre reliever Luke Gregerson; Rockies pitcher Franklin Morales; Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman; Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson; Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez; Royals catcher John Buck…

Hurry Back!  Padre David Eckstein goes to the DL with a pulled hammy; Red Sox 1B Jeff Bailey (high ankle sprain); Cubs pitcher David Patton (groin strain); Mets outfielder Angel Pagan starts a rehab stint, as does Brave Kelly Johnson and Phillies reliever Jack Taschner.

Baseball and the Fourth – a Perfect Match!

Today is the 70th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech.  As such, MLB is honoring Gehrig by trying raise public awareness of the disease that bear’s Gehrig’s name through it’s 4 ALS program today.

The Minnesota Twins lost starter Kevin Slowey to a strained wrist.  After winning ten games he’d been hit pretty hard in his last two starts.  Anthony Swarzak returns from AAA Rochester to take his place in the rotation.

Aroldis Chapman, a Cuban left with a 100 MPH fastball disappeared in the Netherlands.  US teams were interested in Chapman, including the Yankees…  Rumors suspect he defected while his team was participating in a tournament in Amsterdam.  [FoxSports/ESPN]

When the Indians added reliever Winston Abreu in a trade with Tampa Bay, someone had to go – and that someone is veteran Matt Herges.  Herges, who wasn’t awful (2 – 1, 3.55), was designated for assignment. [MLB]

Hurry Back!  Daisuke Matsuzaka heads to “summer” training in Florida in hopes of regaining strength and getting back to the Red Sox.  [ESPN]

Carlos Quentin begins a rehab assignment in Charlotte.  Reds infielder Danny Richar goes to the DL with a torn labrum.  The Braves need a second sacker as Kelly Johnson heads to the DL with a wrist injury.  Ryan Doumit and Reed Johnson start rehab stints, as does Rafael Betancourt and Aramis Ramirez.  Meanwhile, Russ Adams was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays (could he land in Atlanta?  They need an infielder).

Welcome Back!  Yusmeiro Petit returns to Arizona after a DL stint; Howie Kendrick returns to the Angels – hopefully with his bat.  Edwin Encarnacion returned to the Reds, Claudio Vargas is back with the Dodgers after DL stints.  David Dellucci gets the call to help Toronto find any offense possible.

Afterthoughts…  Roger Clemens apparently isn’t one of the 100+ players who failed the 2003 MLB players PED survey.  McNamee says he served up the juice between 1998 and 2001, in case you were keeping score.  [FoxSports]

And, Rafael Palmeiro also denies knowingly taking steroids, reiterating that he must have taken something that was tainted.  Palmeiro’s comments came when he spoke at the College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions.  [ESPN]

Soto Not Out of the Weed(s); The Doc Who Gives Female Fertility Drugs to Ballplayers

It’s not enough that he’s barely hitting his weight, struggling through what has been a difficult sophomore season with the Cubs.  Now comes word that Geovany Soto tested positive for marijuana during the World Baseball Classic while a member of the Puerto Rican baseball team.  Soto will not be suspended, but may be fined and will likely get more regular drug tests.  Soto calls it an isolated incident.  What was isolated about it: the usage, or getting caught? 

If you were wondering what doctor would prescribe a female fertility drug to cure some “illness” with Manny Ramirez, you aren’t alone. Apparently, Federal DEA officials are investigating the person whose signature is scribbled on the RX form; one Philip Publio Bosch, a 71-year-old family practitioner in Coral Gables, and his son Anthony, who apparently is the person who put Ramirez in touch with his doctor daddy. Dr. Bosch has a clean slate, according to initial reports, but Anthony has at a reputation for hanging out with sports types for more than a decade. 

Seattle’s Yuniesky Betancourt heads to the DL after smoking his right hamstring running out a grounder in the eighth inning Thursday. Ronny Cedeno gets a shot at short for the near future. 

He started the season as the Pirates #2 starter, and now Ian Snell is in AAA Indianapolis, having been demoted. With a 2 – 8 record, Snell was told to work on throwing first pitch strikes and work on his breaking pitches. If this were a team with depth or options, like Philadelphia or the Yankees, Snell would be sent to the DL with soreness or inflammation and get a few rehab starts to do the same thing. 

Atlanta reliever Jeff Bennett was angry about giving up a two run hit to Alex Rodriguez, and in anger punched a door with his left hand (thankfully, as we learned in Bull Durham, he threw his non-throwing hand). However, the door won – the hand is broken – and Bennett will take a turn on the DL. 

Koji Uehara says his elbow is fatigued, pulling himself out of his start against the Marlins after six innings. Spencer Fordin, writing for MLB.com, reports that Uehara is struggling with pitching every fifth game, rather than once a week as he did in Japan. The Orioles have tried to ease the transition, but Uehara is already scheduled for a checkup with the team orthopedist. 

I watched a little of John Smoltz’s first start against Washington – and while he had good velocity, he threw a lot of pitches up in the zone and got tattooed early. By the end, though, he was fine and even fanned the side in the fifth. 

Welcome Back! Ryan Freel, Cubs infielder, returns from the DL. He’ll be back soon. Brad Lidge was activated today by the Phillies. Jose Lopez went home to Venezuela for a death in the family – he returned to the lineup today. God Bless…

Hurry Back! Reed Johnson, Cubs outfielder, with lower back spasms. John Buck gets a rehab assignment in Omaha before he returns to the Royals. Eric Stults, my second favorite Dodger starter, gets a rehab stint with the Inland Empire 66ers.

Afterthoughts… The Detroit Tigers signed draft pick Giovany Soto – a pitcher. Now, if he could wind up pitching one day to the Cubs catcher, that would be cool.  Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero both cut their hair and homered that night.