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: 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

The 2009 Cubs: One Doodle That Can’t Be Undid

Some Cub fans would like to give the last offseason the Mark McGwire treatment and just leave the past in the past. Others would like to see every move Jim Hendry made go up in a mushroom cloud. Others are still holding out hope this year will have a happy ending.

I know we can’t turn back time. I know this season is all but mathematically over. But I still think we can at least try to learn from our mistakes. (Yes, I know we didn’t make the mistakes and that Jim Hendry needs to do the learning in this scenario, but maybe this will at least  be fodder for some good awkward questions to ask at Cubs Convention 2010.) Hendry made a whole pile of moves after the 2009 Dodger sweep, and I want to know which one has hurt the Cubs the most.

I had my opinions, but before sharing them with the world of sorrows that is Cubdom, I was curious what other people thought. I asked my #Cubs tweeps what single move they would undo if they could. Jmkobus spoke for millions who would have never signed Bradley, opting instead for Adam Dunn, the Knight of Wrigley. Pbernicchi would be the leader of the “undo the DeRosa trade” party. Ehudmh posited that if he could reverse Hendry’s initial pursuit of Milton Bradley, he could undo every other bad move the Cubs made. TheCubsInHaiku just wishes (in 17 syllables) that Hendry would have quit.

The tragic fact of the matter is that all of those arguments are better ideas than what’s played out in reality in 2009. Here’s a list of all of the moves since last October that involved signing new contracts, welcoming new players, or saying goodbye to former Cubs with a look at the amount of damage inflicted by each:

10.29.2008 3B Casey McGehee claimed off waivers by Brewers. His 13 HR and 50 RBI make this a pretty damaging move considering Aramis Ramirez’s prolonged injury this year, but somewhat unpredictable. Cubs Richter Scale: 3.5

11.13.2008 Traded RHP Jose Ceda to the Marlins for Kevin Gregg. The opposition is slugging .436 against Kevin Gregg. The Cubs only have 3 hitters with a slugging percentage that high. Even if Jose Ceda never pitches again (and he hasn’t, since the deal) this trade hurt the Cubs big time. Cubs Richter Scale: 7.5

11.18.2008 Re-signed Ryan Dempster to a 4-year, $52-million contract. Given the length of the deal, this could get worse, but I wouldn’t call Demp’s numbers in 2009 damaging. Cubs Richter Scale: 0.5

12.11.2008 Bought RHP David Patton from the Reds for cash. This is one move (let’s see if there are more) that actually helped the Cubs. David Patton has been pretty decent. Cubs Richter Scale: -0.5

12.12.2008 Signed LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Chad Gaudin, and OF Reed Johnson to 1-year contracts. Setting aside Reed, who is great to have on the team, injured or not, the Cotts and Gaudin signings didn’t really work out so good. Cotts especially had a disastrous time with the big-league club, albeit limited. Cubs Richter Scale: 3.5

12.16.2008 Signed free agent Joey Gathright to a one-year contract. He left town quicker than you can say “car-jumping,” in a later move. Cubs Richter Scale: 0.085

12.31.2008 Traded Mark DeRosa to Cleveland in exchange for pitchers Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer, and John Gaub. The Cubs have struggled to find run production anywhere in the lineup. 2B has been an offensive black hole. When Ramirez was out, 3B produced similar suction. The pitching prospects might help down the road, but this season, only Stevens has helped at all. What’s worse, DeRosa has made the division-leading Cardinals that much better. This one hurts more the longer the season goes on, and nobody but nobody liked this deal at the time it was made. Cubs Richter Scale: 9

12.31.2008 Signed POC Aaron Miles to a 2-year contract. Yes, the same day the DeRosa deal went down, Hendry also signed the human out. The New Year’s Eve drinking started plenty early in the Hendry house. This has to go down as the single worst day of the offseason. Aaron Miles was sketched in as a possible everyday starter on the Cubs roster. He’s hitting .174. In the 2nd half, he’s hitting .038. The Cubs are paying him two and a half million bucks to do that. Cubs Richter Scale: 5 (but considering how tiny Aaron Miles is, that’s a tremendous shock)

1.5.2009 Signed LHP Bill White (aka Guillermo Blanco) to a minor league deal. I put this in here only for the Blanco joke. Cubs Richter Scale: NA

1.6.2009 Traded RHP Jason Marquis to the Rockies for RHP Luis Viscaino. In the baseball sense, this move helped the Rockies immensely. He has 14 wins (and has reached double-digit win totals for 6 years running) and a 3.75 ERA. From the business side, the Cubs wound up paying Luis Viscaino a few million bucks to get released by every team in baseball. Since financial restrictions were such a pressing factor in the offseason, it would have helped to gain a productive salary instead. While I don’t think the Cubs have been hurt all that much by not having him, the Rockies are leading the Wild Card race, so . . . that hurts. Cubs Richter Scale: 2.5

1.8.2009 Signed Milton Bradley to a 3-year, incentive-laden contract worth up to $30 million. I’ve said before that Cub fans put too much blame on Bradley for the 2009 debacle. It is pretty standard for newly signed veterans (Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Derrek Lee, Moises Alou) to struggle in their first half-season at Wrigley. Since then, Bradley has been productive and healthy. Some chastise him for the distraction he has been, but I don’t see how anything that distracts attention away from this team could be viewed as a bad thing. Bottom line: if a clubhouse distraction is the reason you’re losing, you suck. Yes, the Cubs did commit a lot of money to Bradley, but not so much that they couldn’t have kept DeRosa and just not traded for Kevin Gregg or signed Aaron Miles. Cubs Richter Scale: -2.0 Yes. That’s right. I’m saying he’s helped the Cubs. Deal with it.

1.18.2009 Traded Felix Pie to the Orioles for pitchers Garrett Olson and Henry Williiamson. Painful, but hardly damaging for this season. Although it did pave the way for their next move. Cubs Richter Scale: Owie

1.28.2009 Traded Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno to the Mariners for Aaron Heilman. I feel like Heilman has gotten some bad breaks and that he would be better as a starting pitcher than a reliever. But he hasn’t provided much relief to Cub fans. He has a WHIP of 1.5, an ERA of 4.35, and opponents are slugging .422 off of him. I view him as the replacement for Bobby Howry, and he’s been precisely that. Not good. Cubs Richter Scale: 6.5

1.30.2009 Signed Paul Bako to a 1-year contract. He didn’t make the team. Cubs Richter Scale: —

2.2.2009 Traded Rich Hill to the Orioles for PTBN and traded Michael Wuertz to the A’s for prospects Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers. Rich Hill is struggling. But Michael Wuertz has a 3.09 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and a .205 batting average against for the A’s. I always liked Wuertz, even though he struggled with his control (his strikeout to walk ratio is up to 4.3 now, though). Given the struggles of the Cub bullpen, this oft overlooked deal deserves more attention. Cubs Richter Scale: 7.4


Aside from minor league deals and other insignificant moves, that’s the sum total of the 2009 Cubs offseason. Now, you might be wondering about letting Henry Blanco and Kerry Wood walk away, but in my opinion A) those aren’t really moves, they’re just moves that didn’t get made; and B) neither one would have been a whole lot of help to this Cubs team. Koyie Hill is a white Hank White. Kevin Gregg has been Kerry without the blisters.

So, yeah, if I could undo one move, I have to admit it would be the DeRosa trade. If the Cubs had not acquired Kevin Gregg, Aaron Miles, and Aaron Heilman, we still could have afforded Milton Bradley.  If we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that we should take away Jim Hendry’s cell phone this New Year’s Eve.

NOTE: If you’re on Twitter, let your displeasure be heard (and read) by clicking the “tweets” box to the left.

Twitter Is Cubs Therapy


Does Kevin Gregg [bottom right] owe Shane Victorino an apology?
A funny thing happens when a guy fails colossally for the Chicago Cubs: he starts to get blamed for more than his fair share of guilt. If it goes on long enough, the poor sap can achieve legendary status of abysm (yes, it’s a word; no, it doesn’t mean what I’m implying it means . . . yet; it will catch on as the act or state of being abysmal).

It’s called . . . the reverse Chuck Norris effect.
The positive side of the routine has gained popularity on a commercial level with the Dos Equis beer ad campaign about the Most Interesting Man in the World, but we all know it originated with Chuck Norris. You can read them on into infinity (which Chuck Norris has counted to . . . twice) at www.chucknorrisfacts.com. It has some real gems like these:
When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.
AND
Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.
You can find a great alternative on Twitter that sings the praises of 24‘s Jack Bauer. Just follow JackFacts24 (or merely follow the link; you need not tweet to read tweets) to read more tremendous founts of hyperbolic grandeur like this one:
Jack Bauer’s killed so many bad guys that #5 on the World Most Wanted list is a Malaysian kid that downloaded the movie Dodgeball.
See. It’s funny. It even reaches peak hilarity in the baseball world over at The Ted Lilly Fan Club. But when it happens in the opposite direction, sadness creeps in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enormously funny, especially when it happens live on Twitter, as it did last night. The downside is that sad events (like anything involving Aaron Miles or Kevin Gregg) precipitate the folly.
The joking began directed at the indescribably bad Aaron Miles. I suggested he was the reason Tony LaRussa started batting his pitchers 8th, and things snowballed from there. People started adding the hashtag #reversechucknorris to their insults to make it easier to track (you can read the conveniently organized hatin’ right here).

But by the time Kevin Gregg gave up his third game-losing home run of the year, any ire directed at Miles shifted dramatically and overwhelmingly at Kevin Gregg, and not even those goggles could have shielded him from the hatred radiating off our collective screens. The rage was too acute, too intense to channel into meticulous hashtaggery. No one thought to accuse Kevin Gregg of being the real beer tosser (until now) as tweets gave way to torches, and the fun of it vanished.
Had it not been for the outlet of ridicule that Twitter provides, though, I’m afraid the rage of that moment would have been much worse. It’s at times like these that Twitter comes in real handy. It gives any fan a chance to vent without destroying things. It makes the bad a little less painful. And it makes the good (like when I had the good fortune of predicting Kosuke’s 3-run homer against the Pirates) even more fun than usual.
Again, even if you’re not a tweeter or twitterer or tweetist, you can follow the commentary stream in any number of platforms. Cubscast has its convenient and friendly 140 Characters from Home Plate page. You can search for #cubs on Twitter. Or if you join Twitter, you can comment from within the MLB Gameday applet (for free . . . for now). It won’t fix the closer situation, but it will help us deal with the brokenness. If you’re already tweeting, be sure to follow me, @Adambuckled . . . or not. I tweet too much.

Top Ten Things About a Cubs West Coast Trip


The Cubs are about to begin a string of late-night (for me) contests against those West-Coast adversaries the Padres and the Dodgers. And while these road trips bring their fair share of negatives in both the baseball world and real life, I did manage to come up with these ten pluses:

Top Ten Things About a Cubs West Coast Trip
10. You’re barely awake enough to appreciate the sadness of a tough loss.
9. Tom Skilling is even sexier after midnight.
8. Eating your traditional 8th-inning nachos means you can call in sick to work without lying.
7. Afternoon and evening freed up for more important matters like reworking your fantasy football draft strategy.
6. Easier to curse Aaron Miles freely and loudly after the kids go to bed.
5. 90210 airs at its originally scheduled time.
4. Dodgers series = four straight nights of watching the camera cut away to Alyssa Milano.
3. Real good chances of falling asleep before Marmol or Gregg blow the game.
2. Gail Fischer and Todd Hollandsworth not afraid to drop F-Bomb in after-hours postgame.
1. Milton Bradley’s swing gains two hours.

Sean Marshall: The New Closer?

I’m just going to list some facts. Not even stats. Just facts. You draw your own conclusions.

  • Kevin Gregg has struggled lately. He struggled earlier, too. In between all that struggling, he was pretty good.
  • Carlos Marmol is somewhat undependable. He has great stuff. Sometimes that stuff makes it into the strike zone. The Carlos situation seems to get worse in the 9th inning.
  • John Grabow looks like the Cubs’ new lefty specialist/jam remover.
  • Sean Marshall used to be the Cubs’ only lefty specialist/jam remover, and he’s been great in that situation all year.
  • Sean Marshall has looked very good in high-pressure situations.
  • The Cubs might want to try somebody else at closer.
  • I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs winning in the 9th inning with a guy named Sean Marshall on the mound with the potential to earn himself a save and the Cubs a win.
That’s all I’m saying.

I Can’t Stop Making Geo Jokes


Not that there’s a good time to be caught smoking pot, Geovany Soto picked the best news day in the history of mass media to break the news about his positive drug test. The only downside of the timing in the news cycle is that it’s really too soon to be making Michael Jackson jokes; so people (i.e. me) are bludgeoning Geo with their funny bones.

So, to continue that trend, here are some Cub-related lyrics to a drug-related song (by the end of it, you might be wondering if this whole season is up in smoke):

I went and hit a three run jack, because I got high.
Lou and Milton Bradley talked a little smack, because they got high.
We almost let the Sox come back, and I know why, yeah,
Because we got high, because we got high, because we got high.
We made Kevin Gregg our closer because we got high.
Then they leaked the news about Sammy Sosa because he got high.
Jim Hendry traded Mark DeRosa, and I know why, yeah,
Because he got high, because he got high, because he got high.
For the most part Lou’s been mellow because he gets high.
Milton is a ten-million-dollar fellow ‘cuz Hendry got high.
And Moises’ hands looked yellow*, and I know why, yeah,
Because he got high, because he got high, because he got high.
Carlos Marmol just walked someone else, because he got high.
We’ll be lucky if this team ever sells, (the economy ain’t high).
We just blew another W for Wells, and I know why, yeah,
The bullpen got high, the bullpen got high, the bullpen got high.
Soriano dropped a routine fly, because he got high.
He offered at a ball that was a foot outside, yep, he’s still high.
He’ll be hitting leadoff ’til the day I die, and I know why, yeah,
Because Lou got high, because Lou got high, because Lou got high.
We got runners at first and third, but then we got high.
If we don’t score, that would be absurd, unless we get high.
Hey, I could really go for dessert, and I know why, yeah,
Because we got high, because we got high, because we got high.
This team used to always choke, but then they got high.
In the playoffs they were a joke, but then they got high.
They’re tryin’ to be the champions of smoke, and I know why, yeah-hey,
So they can get high, so they can get high, so they can get high.
Okay, I think I just killed hordes of brain cells just composing that song. I apologize to any of yours I’ve done in.
*Yeah, I know, Moises Alou hasn’t been on the team for 5 years. Sue me.

How do you spell relief? $#!^@

I know. Kevin Gregg looks like a complete failure, which makes Jim Hendry look like a complete moron. As Ed, the genius behind thecubsinhaiku.com, so eloquently tweeted, Can we charge a loss / to Kevin Gregg, even though / the Cubs won the game? 

Unfortunately for statistics, Gregg will get neither a loss nor a blown save, since the Cubs won and they had a four-run lead when Gregg entered. Aaron Heilman gets the tough-luck Blown Save after giving up a game-tying bloop with the bases-loaded, no-out crapfest he inherited.

After the game, Lou defended the rusty and ineffective 3-G goggle wearer, saying he hadn’t been used lately and faced a tough Astro lineup. And others point to the fact that Kevin Gregg, like so many other closers, doesn’t feel the same intensity when he enters the game in a nonsave situation.
So how should we look at this as fans? Is Gregg a failure? Is today’s hit parade evidence that his acquisition was a major mistake? Is it time to usher Carlos Marmol into the closer role?
No. Whatever the side effects, go ahead and ingest that chill pill. 
This was one game, albeit one horribly abysmal game. He got no one out. He looked awful. He pitched like your mom. But Gregg is better than what he’s shown so far, and he’s definitely better than this one bad outing. One bad outing can lie to you, and so can general impressions. Statistics lie, too, but when you find yourself moping over the Cubs’ bullpen woes, their truth can set you free. Here are some liberating Gregg stats to cheer Cub fans up and back them away from the ledge . . . for now:
  • Gregg’s current ERA this season (6.06) is about 2 full points higher than his career ERA (4.08). Neither number inspires a ton of confidence, but his career ERA as a closer is in the mid 3’s. 
  • Gregg has 18 appearances, just about 1/4 of what you would expect (on the high end) from a closer. It’s not a huge sampling. For comparison’s sake, check out Mariano Rivera’s stats from his first 18 games of the 2007 season. They are eerily similar to Gregg’s opening stats as a Cub. That’s not to say Gregg is Mariano Rivera, just that it’s too early to dismiss him as a failure.
  • Gregg has blown only one save this year, believe it or not. And he’s actually striking out more than a batter an inning. (Mark that one down as the skewed results of a small sample. He’s never done that over a full season in his career.)
  • While Gregg professes to prefer save situations, statistically the 9th inning is Carlos Marmol’s worst (the 8th is by far his best). Opponents’ batting averages go up 30 points in the 9th against Carlos, and their OPS is almost 200 points higher in the 9th than in the 8th.
Is Gregg the best closer in the world? Nah. But he’ll do. Trust me, by the end of the year his stats will be respectable. (Although I would love to see Carlos develop a closer’s mentality.) Dealing with crappy outings like this is what proves a closer. Nasty stuff wouldn’t hurt, either, but I’ll take resilience if I can get it.