Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Bullpen Design & Management

I don’t know a single Cub fan who was excited about any of Jim Hendry’s offseason decisions, particularly his reconstruction of the bullpen. Kerry Wood was a (frustrating at times) fan favorite and a lifetime Cub who was allegedly willing to give the Cubs a hometown free-agent discount. Out of the kindness of his heart, Jim Hendry refused to entertain the offer. Kerry struggled with the Indians, but he, like DeRosa, may have been playing through a broken heart [cue the violins . . . and scene]. Michael Wuertz was dealt to the A’s for yet-to-be-called-upon prospects, a move I consider to be one of the worst deals of the offseason. He shined in the Oakland bullpen. Bob Howry was mercifully allowed to walk. Hendry held on to Neal Cotts.

So, in the poor economy that was the Cubs in ownership transition, Hendry traded Ronny Cedeno ($822,500) and Garrett Olson (acquired in the Pie deal) for Aaron Heilman ($1.625 million). He traded Jose Ceda ($dirt) for Kevin Gregg ($4.2 million). This was during the same offseason in which Hendry needed to trade Mark DeRosa ($5.5 million) to save money.

Still, with Marmol looking like the closer of today, I was willing to live with the new-look bullpen. I even suggested Heilman would make a better 5th starter than a reliever. But everything kind of went to pot in spring training. Not only did Heilman miss out on the starter job, so did Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija . . . and they were left out of the bullpen plans too. Gaudin was released and Spellczech went to Iowa. And Marmol looked awful as a closer. He looked to be an ajar-er at best. Gregg landed the closer job and proceeded to hold onto it long enough to ruin all our lives while Marmol did his best to induce cardiac arrest in lesser innings.

The whole ordeal, all season long, was collectively one of the worst moves of the year. Was it the worst? No.

Setting aside ERAs and WHIPs, let’s look at the results. The Cubs finished 5th in the National League in save percentage. A mere 4 blown saves separate them from the Cardinal pen, who finished 2nd. The Cubs were, however, 10th in save opportunities. This, fellow Cub fans, is what made Heilman, Marmol, and Gregg look like the three Suckateers. With minimal opportunities, failures felt all the more painful.

I’m not letting Hendry or Lou off the hook here. I’m just saying, the moves that weakened this offseason were far more egregious than the bullpen fiasco. It’s also a slight reason for hope if Hendry doesn’t wind up overhauling the pen again this year. With an offensive upgrade, we just might be okay.

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Milton Being Milton

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Incessant Lineup Changes

If the 2009 Chicago Cubs seemed frustratingly inconsistent (or even consistently erratic) that could be because they were never the same team twice. Okay, that’s a lie. In 161 games (the final game against the Pirates was cancelled) the Cubs fielded an unoriginal lineup 30 times. And that’s without taking the starting pitcher into consideration.
Now, I love originality. I’m somewhat obsessive compulsive about it. I don’t even like telling the same joke twice. Sometimes I’ll think of something funny at home and will intentionally avoid saying it to anyone so I can include it on a blog or an email or a tweet or something. It’s a problem, I know. I’m not working on it. The point is, I can’t remember ever criticizing someone for being original. But this time (and for the sake of consistency, why don’t I make it the first and only time) I’ll make an exception.
Lou, what the hell? There were only 22 lineups you considered worth repeating. Of those, only 5 were used more than twice. Three different lineups were so magical as to warrant 4 appearances. None were used any more than that. A total of 131 completely distinct batting orders (again, that’s not even counting the pitcher). Like me, Lou, you’ve clearly got issues. Mine are annoying. Yours may have lost your team a chance at the postseason.
I’ll give Lou a bit of leniency, though. There were certainly a lot of nagging injuries to account for. A lot of underwhelming performance from hitters. But the sheer variance throughout every stretch of the season has more to do with a stubborn affinity for change than overall roster changes and DL stints.
More than a few Cub fans share my ire in seeing hot hitting players inexplicably pulled from the lineup. I’ve already expressed my rage at seeing Bradley and Fukudome shuffled from the spots in the order that favored their strengths (2 and 1, respectively). And I believe I recall a few fans here and there mention some disdain over Soriano’s tenure as a leadoff man.
If you look through the different batting orders (which I have) it appears as though Lou was trying his hardest to avoid any repeats. Lou could have drawn names out of a hat and produced a more consistent lineup. But he just kept juggling, shuffling, switching, and experimenting. I can’t imagine any big league player thriving under those conditions. The only consistent part of Lou’s lineup cards in 2009 had to be the WTF? expressions on the Cubs’ faces as they stared at it every day.
I didn’t realize how scattered and random the batting order really was until today. But now that I know, I wonder if this trend collectively was the worst move of the season.
Bad move, Lou. Bad move. Was it the worst? You tell me.
Oh, and I’ll award a signed photograph of all of Aaron Miles’s home runs in 2009 to anyone who can correctly name any of the three batting orders (1-8) that were used 4 times each.
Other Nominees:

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Trading DeRosa

Before 2009 had a chance to greet the world, Mark DeRosa was greeted instead by a call from Jim Hendry, interrupting his round of golf and his career with the Cubs. It wasn’t as if anybody needed an excuse to drink on New Year’s Eve (or that Hendry had an explanation for starting so early—he also signed Aaron Miles that day) but Cub fans had an extra load of sorrows to drown after hearing one one of their MVPs had joined a new Tribe.

A day hasn’t gone by since then without discussion of this deal among the Cubs faithful. His departure and consequent performance with other teams escalated to near Favresque proportions. We all know the Cubs missed him. We all know he didn’t do that great in 2009. Most statistically minded folks know that DeRosa’s 78 RBI would have ranked 2nd on this Cubs team. Granted, Aramis Ramirez was hurt for half the season . . . but that reminder just rubs salt in the wound, doesn’t it?

De-Ro’s defense is acceptable, not great. His speed is par for the slow Cubbie course. His average with runners in scoring position was nothing special (.256). The single biggest observable difference between DeRosa and the guy many viewed as his replacement (you know who) was his rapport with the media and fans. Okay, we really could have used that difference. I should say, you can’t track a guys stats with other teams and assume he would have performed the same way with the Cubs. Maybe DeRosa would have had another career year if he’d stayed on. Maybe he would have suffered a career ending injury. Sometimes your stats take a major hit when you change teams (Exhibit A: you know who). So let’s just throw the stats out the window for a second.

At the time of the deal, I thought DeRosa was a stepping stone to a Jake Peavy deal, the only thing that could have justified the move for me. But we ditched the DeRosa marijuana and never moved on to the Peavy cocaine. All we got was dirty crack (you know who). So why trade DeRosa?

Here are the numbers I care about: DeRosa made $5.5 million this year, the last in his contract. Kevin Gregg made $4.2 million. Aaron Heilman made $1.625 million. Aaron Miles made $2.2 million. Hendry even signed a free agent who made $7 million this year (you know who). Say what you want about not needing DeRosa, but who among the aforementioned players are you glad we had instead of him?

There’s always the argument that we don’t know how much we’ll be helped by the three pitchers coming from Cleveland in the DeRosa deal. I counter that argument by saying . . . we don’t know how much those pitchers will help the Cubs. We do know the help didn’t arrive this year (Jeff Stevens made a negligible impact). They probably won’t help us in 2010. If the GM of your $135 million team is making bad deals in 2008 at the off chance it will help in 2011, it’s time to think about restaffing your organization.

Bad move, Jim. Bad move. Was it the worst? You tell me.

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management
Milton Being Milton

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Firing Perry

The postseason leaves me few options: jump ship, whine and moan, or hand out postseason awards. For those who want to cheer for a winner this year, I highly recommend joining the bidding at A League of Her Own‘s campaign to pimp out their fan services to a team that’s actually in the postseason. But each week I’ll be awarding some postseason hardware preceded by a daily rundown of the nominees. This week, it’s the quest to pinpoint the worst move of the season, a herculean task if ever there was one.

Inspired by the latest news about Von Joshua’s demotion, the first nomination might come as a bit of a surprise: the June 15 firing of Gerald Perry as hitting coach. The stats won’t back this claim up, since the Cubs hit .246 and averaged 4.2 runs and 7.5 LOB per game before the move and .260 with 4.5 runs and 7.5 LOB after Von Joshua took over. Statistically, the move didn’t make very much difference either way (certainly not enough to save Joshua’s job).

But this move, in retrospect, strikes me as decidedly poor because of the way the team responded mentally and emotionally in the ensuing weeks.  Lou erupted on the field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse soon after. Milton Bradley produced a few more hits and runs after the switch, but a lot more negative headlines as well. Looking back, it’s no surprise this move made both men a little extra moody.

Gerald Perry was Lou’s guy. 2009 was his sixth season coaching under Lou after spending 2000-2002 as Seattle’s hitting coach and the past two seasons here with the Cubs. Lou has said in interviews that clubhouse atmosphere is even more important than team chemistry. Well, Hendry’s decision to fire Lou’s buddy (instead of telling him to bench guys who weren’t hitting) may have burned a hole in the Cubs’ ozone.

Milton Bradley would agree. Gerald Perry, who coached Milton in Oakland in 2006, was The Accursed One’s biggest apologist before the season began. It was his assurance that Bradley was an outstanding teammate that did more than any other statement to allay the fears of Cub fans (and possibly Hendry as well). Maybe that’s why Hendry fired him . . . revenge for the bad advice.

All I know is, if I want to make the Cubs’ clubhouse a happy place, anything that would piss off Bradley and Lou would be at the very bottom of my list of options. Who knows, Gerald Perry could have played Jack Haley to Milton’s Dennis Rodman, but Jim Hendry fired the babysitter. Then Milton wound up brawling with the new one.

Bad move, Jim. Bad move. But what is the worst? You tell me.

Other Nominees:
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Bullpen Design & Management
Milton Being Milton

Are You Feeling Randy, Baby?

Somebody else is going to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The conventional Cubbie wisdom is that Ted Lilly is the clear-cut MVP of the staff. Ask most Cub fans about the biggest bright spot of the year, and they’ll probably tell you Derrek Lee’s return to form as a power hitter and RBI machine was the crowning jewel on this otherwise thorny season’s head gear.

But for me, Randy Wells has been the 2009 Cubs’ ace and its most significant agent of redemption. (He’s not the NL Rookie of the Year, but he’s in the top 5, for sure.)

Looking just at the numbers, you’ll see that Wells and Lilly are tied with 12 wins (Ryan Dempster could join them with a win in the finale). They each have 27 starts. Lilly has pitched 11 2/3 more innings.Wells has the edge in the ERA column (3.05 to Lilly’s 3.10). Lilly has one less loss (9) than the rookie, and a lower WHIP (1.06 to Wells’s 1.41). But Wells also yields a lower slugging percentage (.365) than TRL (.393) and has given up 8 fewer homers (14/22). I’d say you can call the stats a draw.

The reason I give the (very slight) pitching edge to Wells is the simple fact that he didn’t miss starts. After the All Star break and in late September, Lilly missed some starts, had some surgery, and probably saved the free world from a terrorist attack. Wells missed games until late May because he wasn’t on the team. In the end, I award the better excuse trophy to Randy.

But more than that, Randy Wells really saved the emotion of this season for me. When he first took the mound, I severely doubted his potential. He just didn’t look like a guy who was going to win you many games. Once he started willing his way through lineups, attacking the strike zone as if to say, “Screw this paint the black garbage, I’m hungry for outs,” he looked like a winner. But he didn’t win.

Despite giving up just 12 runs in his first 7 starts (good for a 2.55 ERA) Wells didn’t notch a win until his 8th start of the season. But he didn’t let it bother him. He never allowed the failures of his bullpen and offense disrupt his consistent pitching performance. And he now has a share of the team lead in wins to show for it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Derrek Lee this season, don’t get me wrong. But every time Wells pitched, I was particularly excited to see what he might do. He impressed me well above my expectations. So did Lilly. So did Lee. But the excitement level of seeing the kid do it–after not even knowing his name heading into spring training–will be the single most positive memory I hold onto from this season.

Why Was Paul Sullivan Ejected?

According to his Milton Bradley diary torrent of lies hatred font twitter stream, Tribune Cub beatdown artist beat writer Paul Sullivan was ejected from his Wrigley Field bleacher perch less than an hour into Game 1 of yesterday’s Dante’s Inferno Circle 6 dungeon of retribution doubleheader against the Pirates. Here’s a sample of his tweets from yesterday’s game (in reverse chronological order):


  1. Unahppy totals from 13 hours at Wrigley Field: 18 innings, two Cubs losses, 3 cups coffee, 2 diet pepsi’s, one bleacher ejection.


     from web



  2. Guy in D-Lee shirt in RF bleachers catches throw from Fuld, falls into basket. Bleacher security promptly escorts him out. I feel his pain.


     from web



  3. Sitting in the Bill Veeck seats in top section of CF bleachers. Plenty of room to stretch out for Game 2. Stop by and say hi.


     from TwitterBerry



  4. Craig Lynch, legally blind reporter for Sun-Times, was asked about Fukudome’s error, which was somehow ruled a double: “I didn’t see it.”


     from web



  5. Cubs announce crowd of 34,362, though only about 9,500 showed up and only one was escorted out of the bleachers.


     from web



  6. Uh oh. Ronnie Woo spotted me. Now he’s yelling He Was Out Woo in my ear after Blanco tag at second. Bad day gets worse.


     from TwitterBerry



  7. It’s 2 p.m. and Ronnie Woo is in Section 216. Avoiding Section 216.


     from TwitterBerry



  8. Ejected from Wrigley Field bleachers and it’s only 1:38. Cubs security escorts me out in front of eyewitnesses. Oh the indignation.


     from TwitterBerry

In his twitness, Sullivan didn’t give an explanation for what actions, words, or evil spells may have prompted the ejection from the bleachers, nor did he allude to his removal in his rundown of the doubleheader sweep. And considering it was Paul Sullivan who wrote all these tweets, there’s a very real chance it’s all made up to begin with.

So I’m begging anyone who was at game 1, all 7 of you, to please provide details. But in tribute to Paul Sullivan’s propensity for quoting unnamed sources, don’t let the facts stop you. I’d love the truth, but I’d do the dance of joy for a good unfounded theory on what he may have done to get booted.

Thank you in advance for helping me take out some frustration on a guy who helped make this season much less bearable.

We Can Get Through It . . . Just Once

Nothing drives home the reality of a season’s demise like losing a double dip to a team that’s been below .500 since Barry Bonds’ head was normal-person size.

To help ease the pain, I want to introduce any newcomers to a song that has become an annual tradition in the offices of And Counting. The above clip has nothing to do with baseball. It has everything to do with the inability to ever get it right. So if you’re as upset as I am that the Cubs’ best wasn’t good enough (cuz here we are back where we were before), I give you Mr. James Ingram.