Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

They’ve done it like this. They’ve done it like that. They should try it with a Wiffle Ball bat.

If Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez could hit again, the comparisons of the Cubs’ offense to the effects of an enlarged prostate would stop. But until things get flowing properly, here are 10 suggestions to help the slow, unpredictable trickle of corner-infield hits to get back to the rushing stream of extra-base hits we all expected.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting


10. Stop calling them D-Lee and A-Ram.

9. Let them use Wiffle Ball bats for increased bat speed.

8. Three words: Little. Jerry. Seinfeld.

7. Have them look in the mirror. That’s what they all suggested Milton Bradley do, anyway.

6. Last one to get a hit each game wears the Hello Kitty backpack.

5. Convince them that while their abysmal start has been an absolute joke, it’s still no replacement for Kevin Millar.

4. Give their mothers 10-year visas.

3. After three strikes: bring out the tee.

2. Substitute their advanced scouting videos with 15 hours of Lou Piniella saying, “Look, I don’t know what else I can do.”

1. 1980s campy movie solution: most triumphant video.

Say it With Me: Jaramillo

Will Rudy Jaramillo make a bit of difference for the Cubs? Dunno.

Can they really afford to pay him $800 grand a year? Maybe.

Will I keep my sanity if we can’t all agree on how to pronounce his name? No way.

I was worried about the prospect of Cub fans and broadcasters botching Chone Figgins’s name a la Kerry Woods, Ryan Sandberg, and Sha-Waaaaaahn Dunston. We cannot let this happen again. So here’s a tutorial, courtesy of inogolo:

hah-rah-MEE-yoThank you very much. Class dismissed.

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:

M.V.Lee

Derrek Lee will not win the 2009 NL MVP award. Barring a completely unforeseen positive test of some kind (like discovering he’s half machine) the name Albert Pujols is already engraved on that trophy. So don’t take this as an argument that DLee deserves it over his 1B counterpart in St. Louis. However you define “MVP,” whether it’s the league’s best player, the best player on a winning team, or the most indispensible player for any team, Albert Pujols is pretty much the runaway winner in every category. Heck, Prince Albert even wins the contest of which player makes his teammates better. Look at Matt Holliday’s stats before and after joining the Cards this year, or check out Aaron Miles’ 2008 numbers.

I won’t provide links to either set of stats, as I believe both are technically to be considered malware.

But I did want to take a moment and praise D-Lee for being the lone offensive bright spot for the Cubs this season. Without him, I genuinely shudder to think where this team would be. Here’s the stat that says it best: Derrek Lee has a very distinct shot at doubling the RBI output of the 2nd-place run producer on the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Derrek Lee: 96 RBI
Alfonso Soriano: 55 RBI (he’s probably driven in his last run)
Aramis Ramirez: 49 RBI (the biggest threat at preventing this feat)
Ryan Theriot: 49 RBI (the pace has slowed of late)
Kosuke Fukudome: 48 RBI (always tough to double up)
Milton Bradley: 39 RBI (for the sake of parallelism, I feel the need to comment here)

I don’t want the heart of the Cubs order to stop producing runs to help Derrek make them look even more impotent than they already do. But if a player drives in twice as many runs as anyone else on the team, his value is inarguable. Derrek Lee owns 16.9% of the Cubs RBI this year, roughly one in every 6. (In case you’re wondering, Pujols has driven in 20.1% of his team’s RBI . . . without him, the whole NL Central might be in danger of retraction.)

Things are bad this year. But for Derrek Lee, at least, it’s been all good. When the Cubs return to Wrigley, he deserves a standing O (for being the Only source of Offense in ’09).

You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Image courtesy of Marvel.com
You know I try to be positive, right? If you’ve read my Cubs profile, you know I do my best to think from the perspective of the players, the manager, and the general manager and to try to understand why they do what they do. I give them the benefit of the doubt.

As this Twitter discussion with Lou, co-host of Cubscast, shows, Monday’s game inspired a flash of violence that made an impression on my coffee table. But the anger faded. For the most part, I try to stay positive and hope for the best. Heck, my last post was a Romper Room clip. But yesterday’s game had me furious—and I’m still fuming. There might be serious furniture casualties if this keeps up.
In some ways, yesterday’s loss to the Phillies was the easiest to stomach of all the games in the sweep. The Phillies who are supposed to hit well did. The reigning AL Cy Young showed the award was no fluke. Ryan Dempster pitched okay except for a few costly mistakes. The bullpen didn’t implode. The offense was stymied by a pitcher who does that to teams on a regular basis.
But here’s what really browned my ivy:
  • Milton Bradley was moved from the #2 spot, where he’s excelled, to the #3 spot, where he has no business hitting.
  • Kosuke hit 2nd, instead of leading off where he has excelled. (For a detailed and extremely clever explanation of why both these moves were idiotic, read on.)
  • Ryan Theriot hit leadoff, where he has done well, but not as well as when he hits 7th or 8th.
  • Aaron Miles is still on this team, and he played yet again.
So I’m angry at Lou for screwing up the lineup, especially for messing with Milton Bradley’s hot streak. I mean, COME ON! Bradley clearly thrived in the lower pressure of the #2 slot. He’s hitting almost 200 points better as the #2 hitter than in the 3-slot. When he tries to get on base and hit good pitches hard, he’s brilliant. When he tries to hit for power like a #3 hitter, he is not good. Lou: put Milton back in the #2 slot and do it NOW.
And I’m mad at Jim Hendry. I won’t criticize his off-season moves, because very few of them have turned out to reflect statistical projections. I won’t blame him for that. But I WILL blame him (in all-capped italics if I must) for the move he’s not making now. Aaron Miles needs to go, and it should have happened a long time ago.

The Cubs have Aaron Miles because the Cardinals decided he wasn’t good enough to play for them any more. It’s not like releasing him would bring shame to anyone but Aaron Miles. I don’t hate Aaron Miles. He seems nice. But he has not played at a major-league level all year long. Maybe his injuries excuse that. Maybe the frustration is eating him up. Whatever the cause of his meltdown, I feel bad for him. But I don’t want him around anymore an any role more demanding than assuming Yosh Kawano’s clubhouse duties.
You can read Aaron Miles’s full stats at baseball-reference.com, but I’ll highlight these for you:
I’m not mad at Aaron Miles. I’m sure he’s doing everything he can. But it’s time for Jim Hendry to give him a wonderful assortment of parting gifts including the home game version of The Mendoza Line Challenge. Miles is taking up a roster spot, and the list of players more deserving of being on the roster than Aaron Miles is long and includes my brother’s roommate’s cat.
I’m fed up with inexcusable bad decisions. Yesterday’s game was the prime example of stupid, indefensible management. Jim, Lou, I have been your advocate and defender, but you are testing my freaking limits.
[Yosh Kawano image courtesy of Baseball Hall of Fame]

Stat of the Week: Milton Bradley 2, MB’s Revenge

Here’s a Rhorshack test for you: What does this image make you think of? Sosa? Marquis? Bradley? Jay Johnstone? Right now I see only the first number, because Milton Bradley belongs in the 2 slot of the batting order. Since Lou made Milton 2nd in command, here’s what his stats look like:

.476 BA; .542 OBP; .619 SLG; 1.161 OPS; 5 G, 3 R, 3 RBI
This is a small statistical sampling, I know. But Milton’s OBP is .400 for the year. His SLG is .402. He belongs near the top of the lineup, $10 million be damned. And statistics aside, the #2 hole just may be the lowest-pressure spot in baseball. It’s perfect for him.
Coincidentally, Kosuke Fukudome is making a killing as a leadoff platoon man. Here are his numbers as the Cubs offensive front man:
.325 BA; .439 OBP; .550 SLG; .989 OPS; 22 G (1 as a replacement); 15 R; 2 HR; 12 RBI
If you want a reason to be optimistic about the Cubs playoff hopes, these guys provide lots. Milton and Fukudome have each produced an average of more than 1 run per game in their new homes in the lineup. They’re on base all the time. If they keep this up (or anything close to this) it is highly probable that their run production will increase.
I know this season has been a roller coaster, but there are plenty of signs that the rest of the ride could be a lot of fun (with a lot less puking on ourselves).

Milton Bradley’s Fate (and Swing) in His Hands

Yesterday looked like a resurrection game for Milton Bradley. He went 4-5 with an RBI (3-4 from the left) and is 7-11 in the series against the Rockies. So why would I pick today to critique his hitting? Why would I come down hard on a guy who is currently enjoying his best offensive (and, in some ways, least offensive) surge of the season?

Because Milton’s one out in yesterday’s games epitomized the secret of his struggles. Cue the video.

The movie is old, but the story stays the same. In the critically acclaimed film, Milton Bradley Breaks Bat Over Knee, Milton Bradley plays himself as a Padre. At the 0:52 mark, you can see a moving scene in which the oft misunderstood slugger strikes out as a left-handed batter and then shows the audience that the film is not at all ironically titled.
I bring up this clip to help, not to embarrass. Pay close attention to Milton’s hands as the pitch approaches the plate. He’s moving his hands up and back, which is what he did in his one failed at-bat of yesterday’s game. He also strikes out in this video, which is what he did in that at-bat yesterday. He then breaks his bat in frustration, which . . . you get the idea.

I’ve noticed it a lot lately. When Milton whiffs from the left side, his hands are invariably moving backward (and usually a tad upward) before he starts his swing. I’m no batting coach, but that can’t help. Normally when you swing the bat, forward hand movement is advantageous.
Still, I wondered if I was only noticing this backward technique on bad LH at-bats and forgiving it the other 23% of the time. But as this video clip from cubs.com shows, Milton doesn’t always move his hands backward when he swings . . . just when he misses or gets freakishly jammed (and usually in high-pressure RBI situations like yesterday’s K).
When Milton is most successful, he drops his hands slightly before swinging, sometimes a little backward, but never as pronounced as the epic-fail swings at crunch time. Actually, from the right he hardly moves his hands at all before swinging.
So there it is, Milton. I advise you to adopt some kind of trigger/timing mechanism involving dropping your hands so that you avoid these counterproductive activities before (and after . . . dear Lord, someone stop the maple carnage) your swings. Other than that, keep up the good work against the Rockies.

The ’09 Cub Fan Manifesto: I Want Ugly

I’m asking any Cub fan who will listen (and any Cardinal or White Sox fan who will mock) to join me in a sign of solidarity and pragmatic desperation. Just . . . repeat after me.
I want ugly.
I want the Chicago Cubs to go limping into the playoffs.
I want things to look bad.
I want the National League Central to be known as the worst division in baseball.
I want the Cubs to be forgotten.
I want baseball purists to question the validity of allowing any team from this division to play in the postseason.
I want as many Cubs as possible to perform below expectations.
I want the Cubs to ride the wave of midwest mediocrity straight into October.
I want the Cubs to stay out of first place until the very last day of the season.
I want ugly.
I don’t want to feel good about the Cubs’ chances in the playoffs.
I don’t want to draw a favorable matchup.
I don’t want the lefty-righty advantage.
I don’t want to hear Joe Morgan, Joe Buck, or Joe Mama telling me the Cubs have what it takes to win.
I don’t want the Cubs to play in a way that inspires us fans to cheer louder.
I don’t want respect.
I don’t want admiration.
I want ugly.
I want the 2009 Cubs to go down in history as the worst team ever to make the playoffs.
I want to hear boos cascading (and see booze cascading) down upon Cub outfielders.
I want to hear ESPN analysts dismiss the Cubs as the team everyone wants to play in the opening round.
I want the Cubs’ division clinching win to air in the second half of Sports Center.
I want shame.
I want low expectations.
I want the world to know just how overpaid this Cubs team is.
I want Triumph, the insult comic dog, to poop on the Cubs.
I want ugly.
I don’t want to be able to imagine the Cubs winning it all.
I don’t want to hear anyone tell me, “This is the year.”
I don’t even want to hear the question, “Is this the year?”
I don’t want Jayson Stark picking the Cubs as his dark horse.
I don’t want the insults from Sox and Cardinal fans to stop.
I don’t want walk-off homers.
I don’t want come-from-behind wins.
I don’t want any of the crap that made past Cubs seasons enjoyable.
I want ugly.
I want the Cubs to win it all, and I want to hate every step on the path that leads them there.
I want ugly.

Chicago Cubs: Your Prescription Is Ready

Bob Brenly and my sister both randomly suggested that the Washington Nationals’ W reminds them of Walgreens every time they see it. The Chicago Cubs would tend to agree.
A four-game series against a bad pitching staff with even worse pitching behind them is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Cubs’ ailing offense seems to have been cured. Alfonso Soriano is over his swollen pinky, his curveballitis, and his severe allergy to hitting with runners on base. Mike Fontenot has rediscovered the bleachers. And as a team, the Cubs are on the verge of sweeping the four-game set.
The question still remains: will the Cubs resume their magnetic plunge to .500 when they face the Phillies, or will they finally break free from the gravitational pull of the break-even point?
The good news is that despite their overall record of 50-38 (pending today’s outcome against the Marlins) the Phillies are actually a game under .500 at home. We could be looking at a very enjoyable homestand, and no matter what happens, the Cubs will finish the trip with a winning record.
Though the history of this season tells me otherwise, I’m thinking this jaunt into our nation’s capital could prove to be more than just temporary relief for the Cubs’ bats. Let’s hope.