When Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells went down, each after their first starts of the season, there were some fans who shrugged off the injuries because they were only the four and five pitchers for the Chicago Cubs. After a combined five starts from their replacements, Casey Coleman and James Russell, I wonder if they are singing a different tune.
Since taking over for Cashner, Russell has made two starts himself, and to be honest there has not been anything good that has come out of either one of them. He has gone a total of 5.2 innings while giving up nine runs, eight of which were earned for an ERA of 13.85. Not good numbers for a starting pitcher, not even your number five pitcher. At least Cubs Manager Mike Quade realizes how bad Russell was, and is unlikely to give him another start. When your manager says that you should likely only be a situational pitcher, that means your starting days are over. The decision came two starts, and two losses might I add too late. The next time the Cubs need a number five pitcher, another roster move might be made.
Today, the Cubs demoted Jeff Stevens back to Triple A, and recalled Justin Berg. Next time Cashner’s spot in the rotation comes up, Berg or Russell could very well be sent back to Iowa for a replacement pitcher. Who that is at the moment I am not sure, but if I were to predict I would say Thomas Diamond might get recalled to fill the void. Is he a better option than Russell? Obviously he can not be any worst, so what more do you have to lose?
Coleman on the other hand, has at least had some success in his three starts, albeit only one of the three starts showed anything promising. In his three starts, Coleman has gone 13.1 innings allowing 11 runs for a 7.43 ERA. Not great, but considering there is a massive lack of options the Cubs may be stuck. Yesterday was obviously the worst outing of his short 2011 season. Six runs allowed with four walks in 2.2 innings is not a stat you want to see, ever. The good thing, is that in his last start (the one before yesterday) he shined, at least as much as you can going 5.2 innings. He allowed only one run, while being effectively wild walking and striking out four. If push comes to shove (and we are in this desperate unfortunate situation) we can live with him for another start or two. Mainly because there likely isn’t another option in the minors.
I never thought that losing Carlos Silva, who left after refusing a minor league assignment, would come back to bite us. Granted, he is not a good pitcher, but he would have been a massive upgrade over Russell, and maybe a little better than Coleman. While that is not saying much, nor would that be all too hard to do, the Cubs need all the help they can get in the starting pitching department until Wells and Cashner get back. The minor league system is lacking Major League ready pitching, even though there are a few young minor league pitchers who have been touted as the next sure thing. Sadly, the group of young promising pitchers, which include Jay Jackson, are not ready for the majors or one of them would have been called up when either of the other two guys went down.
While they each only had one start, one time through the rotation, they had the best outing of anyone in the rotation. Losing both of them was a bigger blow than most people realized. As I mentioned when they went down, losing both of them is equal or worse to the St. Louis Cardinals losing their Ace, at least for the amount of time they would be missing. Losing your best pitcher and replacing him with your sixth best pitcher is a lot better than losing your fourth and fifth best pitchers and replacing them with your sixth and seventh best pitchers, one of whom should not even be in the majors, is a bigger blow. Argue that anyway you want to, but losing two is worse than losing one. Especially in the long run.
Tuesday would be the next time that the fifth start is to take the mound, the smart money is on Russell not making that start. Not sure who will, but you can bet that he will give the Cubs a better chance to win a game.
I know the Chicago Cubs season is only nine games old, and we still have 153 to go, but there are already some things coming to be known about this team that I do not like whatsoever. You can tell me all you want that there is still plenty of time to turn things around (which is true) and that the season is still early (again, true) but that does not mean that you can not have things that you are not happy with, and things which must be improved if you plan on having any type of success at all.
Currently, after dropping a series to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs stand with a record of 4-5. Thankfully, they are about to start a three game series with the bottom dwelling Houston Astros, a team which is a good bet to get back on the right track and to start some sort of a winning streak against. However, you could have very easily said the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the series from the Cubs to start the season. If they can not sweep this pathetically awful team, or at very least win the series, you might as well pack your bags and call the season over. Sorry for the negativity this early on, but like I said, there are just a few things which are grinding on my nerves.
First and foremost, is the starting pitching. Going into the season, the impression was that we had a pitching staff which had some really good potential. However, after nine games, the pitching staff has been anything but good, Outside of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the other three pitchers have not been living up to expectations. Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have gotten smacked around pretty well their first two starts, and have both left much to be desired. Carlos Zambrano on the other hand, has not been bad, but has not been all that impressive. Sadly, the best two starts we have gotten this year comes from the two pitchers that we have just placed on the disabled list.
What is even more troubling, is new addition Garza is already not happy with our pitching coach Mark Riggins. Apparently now that we are out of the thin air of Arizona, which he blamed for his poor Spring Training, he needs a new target, and Riggins seems to be just that target. God forbid anyone ever takes responsibility for their own performance, There is always someone else that is responsible for your sucking. What I find funny, is that in his close to a decade with the Cubs, I do not remember one incident of a pitcher ever calling out Larry Rothschild for anything. Not Kerry Wood, not Carlos Zambrano, no one. But, that is another argument for another day, one not likely to be worth arguing because much like with Alfonso Soriano, Cub fans have already made up their mind on him and hate him, blaming him for all the woes of the pitching staff. But, I would just like to point out that in one off season he has appeared to have fixed A.J. Burnett, not an easy task.
Another thing that is completely ticking me off right now, is Marlon Byrd. I do not know what he was thinking yesterday, but why in the blue hell did he decide to steal second base with Aramis Ramirez up at the plate? That was likely one of the dumbest moves that I have seen from the Cubs in a very long time, and believe me that is saying something. You could tell that he either misread a sign, or completely went on his own because of the swing Ramirez took on the pitch Byrd decided to run on. Ramirez tired to protect Byrd by at least making some contact, almost sacrificing himself in the process. So Byrd not only cost us a base runner and an out, but he cost Ramirez a strike. Thanks a lot Byrd!
What is worse, is his post game interview when he was questioned about his base running blunder. He could not admit fault, which I would completely accept, but instead he got snippy with the media and told them to “beat it”. Grow up Mr. Byrd, yes you are hitting but you have no speed and should not have ran, especially not in that situation.
The we have our golden child, Starlin Castro! I love this kid, and I am more excited about him than I am about anything we have had in a long time. He is phenomenal with the bat, and every time he steps up to the plate you are always feeling like he is going to get a hit. That is how impressive this kid is. He is going to be a star! The only problem is, he is a tremendous liability with the glove. He has tremendous range, and can get to just about any ball hit on his side of second base. He also feels that he can make every throw, which is both good and bad. He has a rocket for an arm, so he always feels like he can nail a runner at first. But he needs to learn when to make a throw and when he needs to just hold on to the ball. Add into the mix that he can not apparently take a throw from a catcher, as you could see by his getting drilled on a throw from Geovany Soto on Saturday. Yes, he is still young and can learn, and his limited time in the minors probably did not help his learning process, but he needs to improve, and fast.
Those are the three things that are irritating me early in the season, however there was one roster move which is seriously scaring me. That is the Cubs signing Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The first question that should cross your mind here, is why. He is old, well past his prime and likely has less than nothing left in the tank. He was likely the only pitcher the Cubs could sign, due to the severely limited fund they have; especially since they had to pay Carlos Silva $11.5 Million to go away. But why sign him?
I am afraid that I know why. Either Wells or Cashner will be missing some significant time, and the Cubs are not too enthusiastic about either Casey Coleman (who got manhandled by the Brewers yesterday) or James Russell who will be starting on Tuesday against the Astros. Hopefully this is not the case and he is just here to fill a roster spot in Triple A. The Cubs say that the injuries of Wells and Cashner are minor, but we have heard that all before.
Alright, I have vented. I am ready for some more Cubs baseball! Going against the Astros should bring the Cubs some easy wins. Just as long as the pitching actually is clicking, but I will not hold my breath.
With a week left until opening day, the Chicago Cubs have finally announced their full five man starting rotation. The top three have been known since training camp opened. Opening day starter Ryan Dempster will be followed by Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. Even though the official announcement only came a week ago, every knew that Randy Wells belonged as the teams fourth starter, and the fact that he had to compete for the job was a complete joke. The fifth and final starting pitching job, a battle between youngster Andrew Cashner and Carlos Silva has finally been decided; and the winner is Cashner . What this means, is I can finally finish my look at the 2012 ball club.
With Cashner beating out Silva or the fifth starting job, two birds were just killed. One on hand, the Cubs get to begin to build towards the future and use Cashner to develop at the big league level. On the other hand, the have a young pitcher with some upside in Cashner starting over Silva, whose better days are far behind him. This was the best possible move the ball club could make for both the present and the future. The Cubs are finally doing something that actually makes sense.
Today, we look at the starting pitching staff for the 2012 club and what I feel we can expect from them for the year to come.
With the Cubs tabbing Dempster to be the opening day starter, the team is already on the right path to having a successful season. Nothing against Zambrano, but over the years he has had some of his worst starts in his career on opening day. You do not need to go back much further than last years exploding disaster to get a good idea of how this usually go for him. Whether he is too amped up or not, I can not tell you, but Zambrano on opening day does not usually work out.
Looking at Dempster, he has been our most consistent pitcher over the past few years, which is probably why he will get the honor. There is no reason to believe that the trend for him will not continue Figure a good record of 16-10 with an ERA around 3.45
Zambrano, I think is the key to the whole rotation even though he is not labeled as the “ace” of the staff. However, he is still likely our best starter and might very well show that this year. The move to take him out of the opening day starters gig is more of a change of trends than a slap in his face. I see him having one of the best years of his career. I can easily see him putting up a 17-12 record and an ERA close to 3.65.
New comer Garza is switching leagues, going from the American to the National, which should help him out. However, he is also going from a pitcher friendly park to one that favors the hitters. Normally, I would give a pitcher a boost in his statistics with a switch like this, but in Garza’s case, I am not sure I can see that. For Garza, I would not be surprised to see a record of 12-10 with an Era around 4.00.
With Wells, the man who was made to compete for a job when he should not have had to, I expect a nice year from him. He has shown to have the ability to pitch well in big situations, but has never been able to get decent run support from him team. Both years as a starter, he should have won high totals, but was never able to do so because the Cubs could not score for him. I think that this is the year that all changes. Wells could very well put up a record of 16-11 with an ERA close to 3.25 earning him the recognition he truly deserves.
Finally, we have Cashner who is the wildcard in this lineup. We do not have any idea what to expect out of him, so making a predication for him would make little to no sense. But when have I ever let that stop me from doing anything? Cashner will have a shaky record of 12-11. His ERA will likely be near the low 4s. Not to spectacular, but that will be a start for him. We are better off by far having him than Silva though, no matter how well Cashner does.
By my count, the Cubs starters will be responsible for 73 wins and 54 losses, which is not all together a bad thing. That will be 19 games over .500. If they work out the way I think they could, the Cubs might have a legit shot of making some noise in the division. That means that 35 games will be decided by the bullpen, which just so happens to be the last positional blog I will be doing this spring. That one will be up tomorrow.
With the Chicago Cubs losing in ugly fashion to the St. Louis Cardinals today in the opening game of the series, the reshuffling of the pitching staff may come sooner than expected. Everyone knows that one of the starting pitchers, most likely Tom Gorzelanny, will head to the bullpen to fill the vacancy that is left by Carlos Zambrano. However, Randy Wells may have had an outing bad enough to make Cubs Manager Lou Piniella have second thoughts on who should lose their starting job. With his allowing five runs without recording an out in the first inning, Wells may have just pitched his way out of the starting rotation, though the heavy money favorite has still got to be Gorzelanny.
If the predicted plan to demote Gorzelanny to the bullpen continues as planned, as I mentioned in my blog from yesterday, there will be more changes to come in the bullpen besides the flip flopping of Zambrano and Gorzelanny. Incase you missed what I wrote, allow me to sum the idea up for you. Because the Cubs already have three left handed pitchers in the bullpen, and Gorzelanny would make four, the Cubs are almost surely going to get rid of one of the lefties currently in the bullpen. As I mentioned, the most likely choice to get taken out would be James Russell. If this is still the intended route the Cubs decide to take, his demotion to Triple A may come as soon as tomorrow morning.
While Russell’s demotion may come a week sooner than expected, he is not being demoted for performance reasons. What may be speeding up his demotion, could very well be what will surely be causing fans to call for him to stay with the club. When Wells got knocked out in the first inning without recording an out, the bullpen had nine long innings to pitch. The first man out of the pen was none other than Russell, who went four inning without allowing another run to score; in fact the bullpen posted eight scoreless innings before John Grabow allowed two more runs to cross the plate in the ninth.
The earlier than expected move to send Russell down, if things go as I believe, will likely be written off as a necessity rather than a reshuffling. In the original plan, they would have likely shuffled Russell out in order to add in another right handed pitcher to replace the one they are losing when Zambrano leaves. However now, the Cubs can demote Russell tomorrow and say they made the move in order to get a fresh arm in the bullpen which was pressed into nine innings today. With Russell pitching four of those innings, which is a lot for a relief pitcher to go, he will be unavailable for the next few days. This gives the Cubs every excuse to make this move sooner than expected to bring up another pitcher, likely Andrew Cashner.
However, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for Russell. With the outing Wells had today, there could be a wrench thrown into the original plans and thought process. If Wells has now become the front runner to be removed from the rotation, Russell’s demotion may only be for a limited time, and be purely for the reason to get a fresh arm into the pen. He could very easily be back up within a week, or even sooner if there is an injury to one of the pitchers. With Wells entering the bullpen, there is no further need to take a left handed pitcher out of the pen, as you would surely need to do if Gorzelanny was bumped out of the rotation. In order for this situation to happen, you need to ask yourself a question, was this outing by Wells enough to prove that he is the weak link in the chain?
If you think today is an isolated incident for Wells, you need to take a look at his recent performances. For the third time in his last six starts, Wells has been knocked around, and out up less than quality starts. All of those bad outings added together might be enough to push him over the ledge. On May 6, Wells lasted only two innings due to the seven runs, of which six were earned. Fans jumped all over Gorzelanny and demanded that he be removed from the rotation when he gave up seven runs, of which only five were earned, in his five innings of work in his last start. I wonder if they will give Wells the same grief, or if he will be given a reprieve.
There may be one thing that could save Russell from being demoted for a fresh arm. Because Wells threw so few pitches in today’s game, he could be made available to pitch an inning or two of relief over the weekend, negating the need to bring in a fresh arm. This could very well be an easy way to transition the extra starting pitcher into his new role in the bullpen. That is, of course, if Piniella doesn’t have his mind already made up about Gorzelanny.
Today, Carlos Zambrano threw a simulated game, in order to stretch him out for his eventual return to the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs, which could come as soon as next week. This has re-opened the can of worms that was opened when the move was initially made, and new discussions have been brought up, such as why was he moved to the bullpen if you were just going to put him back a month later. This has been one of the biggest head scratching moves the Cubs have made in a long time, and I don’t mind telling you that how they are handling things is really upsetting me. The roller coaster ride that is the Chicago Cubs season, keeps surprising me.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. First and foremost, I don’t believe that he should have ever been taken out of the starting rotation to fill a void elsewhere. Was he struggling at the start of the year? There can be little doubt that he wasn’t having the kind of year that the team and fans would have been hoping for from their ACE pitcher. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best 10-20 pitchers in all of baseball over the past 10 years. Taking him out of the rotation was nothing more than a desperation move to begin with. I can fully understand why he was put in the bullpen, but that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of the move.
I can understand why he was moved, because they had a desperate need to get a strike out pitcher into the eighth inning to help get the ball to their closer Carlos Marmol. The players they had in that role were not getting the job done. John Grabow and Esmailin Caridad did nothing but throw gas onto an already out of control fire. They needed a fireman who could possibly extinguish any threat, and ensure the Cubs kept their lead, however small, and preserve a win. In the beginning, the move was called temporary. He was only going to stay in the bullpen until the Cubs were able to find a replacement, a pitcher they could depend on to get the job done. How long that would take was anyone’s guess, because the season was still young and no one would be giving up valuable setup pitchers this early in the season.
Zambrano’s ERA before the move to the bullpen was 7.45, with an eye popping 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings of work. Hitters were also teeing off on him, at a .317 clip. He was off to a horrible start, and looked like he was headed to a bust of a year, and would fail to come close to what he was able to do last year. However, if you take out that first start of the year, his statistics look far better. In is next three starts, his last ones before being exiled to the bullpen, he had an ERA of 4.00 (I know, still not great) but He threw quality start after quality start. Hitters were hitting only .274 against him. Much better than his statistics as a whole for all of his starts of the season. That just goes to show you how one bad start can kill a pitcher’s stat line, making things hard for him to come back to the expected performance. Think one bad start for a starting pitcher hurts a stat line, just imagine how hard things are for a relief pitcher to have a respectable stat line after a bad inning.
So the desperate move was made, and Zambrano was put into the pen. While the hope was that he would be a success, the outcome told a different story. Here is a brief look at just how things went for Zambrano in his month long bullpen stint. In his time in the pen, he had mixed results. He started off a little shaky, but he got the job done. He had a string of good outings, and then he had a bad one. After that, some more good outings, followed by a bad one. When they decided he was going to go back to the rotation, Zambrano put up a string of a few more good outings again.
If someone were to ask me if he should stay in the bullpen, I would have to say no. Not because he should never have been put in the pen to begin with, but because the results of the move has not done anything to help the team win games. As things stand, he has the second highest bullpen ERA of anyone currently in the Cubs bullpen, behind only John Grabow. If you want to add Bob Howry into that discussion as well fine, but with the Cubs he has pitched .1 inning and has an ERA of 0.00. I did not include him in the Cubs bullpen ERA because I don’t care what you do with other teams, all that matters is what you do for us.
In the bullpen, Zambrano has pitched in 11 games, pitching 11.1 innings. he has giving up six earned runs striking out nine but walking only two while giving up 16 hits. While this is a small sample size, they did not get the immediate results that they would have hoped to get from adding Zambrano into the bullpen. They did not get the lights out stuff they had hoped to get, so they are giving up on the experiment after a month, and putting him back where he is most comfortable. The question now becomes, who do you put into the bullpen to replace Zambrano?
The likely choice of who moves to the pen, is either Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. But why would you move one of the best two pitchers in the Cubs pen? As far as stuff, they are not the best, but you can not argue with results. Silva leads the team with six wins and is second on the staff in ERA, tied for second in fewest walks but also last in strike outs. Gorzelanny leads the team in ERA, but has the second most walks and second most strike outs in the starting staff. Gorzelanny has gotten screwed on his run support, which is evident in his 2-4 record. However, to make room in the starting staff, there are a couple outcomes which could make the decision a lot easier for the Cubs.
The Cubs could make a trade, in which case any of the current five starters could be moved for some promising young prospects and free up a little cash. If this is the case, count out Silva and Zambrano. They wont be moved at all. Silva because of what he is owed, and Zambrano because of what he is owed and a little thing known as a No-Trade Clause. Ted Lilly could draw some interest being in his final year, but his delayed start due to an injury and slow start might not get you too many takers. Ryan Dempster would be the most appealing starter for any other team to want. He has a manageable contract and is pitching well, despite his record. Gorzelanny, low money and is pitching well. He could be attractive to a team as well. Randy Wells could also draw some interest as he has pitched well, and is still under team control for a few more years.
The other possible move would be a temporary move. Gorzelanny or Lilly could be placed on the DL. Lilly could be explained away as his coming back to early, hence giving an excuse as to why he hasn’t pitched that well. Gorzelanny could go on the DL because he got nailed by a line drive. This would give the Cubs a little time to work out what they want to do.
Before you start in on the six man rotation talk, think about why that would never work. While you would get extra rest for your starting staff, which would allow them to go deeper into games, and limit the use of the bullpen, you would also be taking away starts from your best pitchers. In a normal five man pitching staff, assuming you don’t skip the fifth starter when you can, each pitcher gets 32 starts, with your top two starters getting 33 starts. In a six man staff, each starting pitcher would get 27 starts. Why would you want to take five starts away from your best pitchers? That makes no sense if you want to win. Perhaps taking the bullpen out of the equation would offset the fewer starts from the better pitchers (and lets be honest all of the pitchers are pitching well), but I still would not approve of or recommend such a move.
Whatever happens, whoever comes out of the rotation when Zambrano returns, we are sure to find out in a weeks time. I will make one guarantee though, whatever move is made, whoever is taken out of the rotation, there will be some loud grumblings coming out of Cubbie Nation.
While the Cubs continue to be in the range of the quarter mark of the season, now having played 40 games on the year, our look at the four phases of the Cubs as they currently stand. Yesterday, we took a look at the starting position players, and what was wrong with the offense. Today though, we look at another very important aspect of the team, that being the starting pitchers.
Before the season began, our starting pitching was looked at as being one of the weaknesses on the team. Most fans and “baseball experts” took a look at the Cubs starting staff and predicted doom and gloom for the team. They saw Carlos Zambrano and saw a player who was one mistake away from having a mental break down. Ryan Dempster was met with many questions because last season he was hot and cold. When they saw Tom Gorzelanny, they could only see a pitcher that was so bad, that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t even want him. Randy Wells didn’t do anything for them either, as he was coming off a rookie year where he caught many teams by surprise. Don’t even get me started on Carlos Silva, who everyone had written off after a couple seasons which would make anyone nervous to throw him out to start a game. With Ted Lilly slated to miss a month, most people around baseball were not expecting him to make an impact, and whatever he was able to give the team, would not improve the rotation enough to make it dangerous at all.
With no expectations being given to the Cubs starting pitchers, they quickly surprised the league by throwing quality start after quality start. Just about every time out of the game, the starting pitchers did everything they could in order to keep the team in the ball game, but unfortunately the offense let them down more often than not. In fact, towards the end of April, the starting pitching staff was ranked with the best in the Majors with a combined ERA under 2.50.
When you see that statistic, you may be wondering why I am including the starting pitching in the discussions of what needs to be improved. While they have started off the year in tremendous fashion, they have not been able to continue to dominate the opposing hitters. Now, half way through May and a quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs starting pitchers have a combined ERA just over 4.00. That is a far cry from being among the league’s leaders. The combined ERA of the starters though, may actually make the starting staff look worse than they actually are when you look at the individual performances of each pitcher.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the Cubs pitching staff has been Silva. When the Cubs acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for Milton Bradley, fans and media looked at the deal as trading trash for trash. No one expected the Cubs to get anything out of Silva, so with him leading the team with five wins, the Cubs have obvious won this trade. Not only is Silva leading the team in wins, but he is also the team leader with a 3.35 ERA . Having pitched eight games, those are some fantastic statistics. But look a little deeper into his outings. In eight games, he has pitched an average of six innings per start allowing an average of only just over two runs per game. You could argue that Silva should be sitting pretty with a record of 8-0 right now, but 5-0 is something any logical Cub fan will happily take.
Dempster has come on strong again this year, though he has lost his last four outings. You should take notice that in only one of those games did he allow more than three runs, so he should not be held completely responsible for all four of those losses. His record of 2-4 does not reflect his solid ERA of 3.49, and even that stat line does not speak of how well he has pitched this year. In his eight starts on the year, Dempster has gone an average of seven innings every start, allowing just under three runs a start. Much like Silva, he is averaging a quality start every time he takes the mound. His main problem this season, has been his run support. In his eight starts, the offense has only supplied him with 20 runs. The way Dempster has pitched this year, he should have at least twice as many wins, especially when you consider he received two no decisions when he only allowed one run.
Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, has been another pleasant surprise for the Cubs this year. His 3.60 ERA is better than most people would have expected from him through his seven starts. However, he has received even less run support than Dempster. Through his seven starts, he has allowed a very impressive average of just over two runs a game. The sad part of this story, is that his ugly record of 1-4 may be the biggest sign that the offense has been the biggest problem with this team, not the pitching. That isn’t to say that Gorzelanny is not without fault, as he is averaging just under six innings every time he takes the mound. With him leaving the game earlier than you would like, he leaves the door wide open for the bullpen to blow any chance of him recording a win. If he wants to start winning more games, he needs to start going deeper into games, and staying in for at least six innings. That is my only complaint with Gorzelanny.
Wells has posted an ERA of 4.13 with a record of 3-2 through his eight starts in his Sophomore season. Much like with Dempster and Gorzelanny, his stats make him look worse than he actually may be. He is averaging six innings per start, and just under three runs per game. That falls in line with the old standard of what a quality start entails. Much like with everyone of the other starters, his lack of run support has damaged his chances of posting more wins. While he has had a handful of poor starts, allowing more than three runs only three times, he has pitched well enough to have at least four or five wins; especially when he had two no decisions where he only gave up one run. He has been yet another victim of the teams hot and cold offense.
Lilly on the other hand, could be looked at as a disappointment when you consider how well he has pitched his previous three years with the Cubs. You can blame his unusual season on him still trying to come back from an injury if you like, but that does not mean he should not carry some blame with how he has been pitching. Much like the other pitchers in the rotation, Lilly’s stats fall in line with the basic requirements of what a quality start should look like. He has been going at least six innings in each of his games on average, while allowing just over three runs in each start. He has had only one bad start really, allowing six runs against the Arizona Diamond Backs, but two of his other starts he allowed four runs. If he had not of thrown six scoreless innings in his first start of the year, he would look a lot worse. In this case, his stat line makes him look better than he has actually pitched this year. He needs to step up his game, because while he practically has the same record as Gorzelanny with two less starts, he has also given up one more run on average. Whatever is troubling Lilly, he needs to step things up and pitch as he has his first three years with the club.
That brings me to Zambrano, the very pitcher who started the season opener. This season has been a roller coaster ride for Zambrano, who started the season opener and was then thrown into the bullpen to pitch setup; but is now being put in long relief to stretch him out so he can start again. Who moves out of the rotation when he returns is anyone’s guess, but that is at least a week or two away. Since he is returning to the rotation sooner rather than later, he deserves to be included in this discussion, if nothing else because he is a part of the combined ERA.
So far, Zambrano has been limited to only four starts on the season, posting an ugly ERA of 7.45 as a starter, with a 1-2 record. This has been a poor year for Zambrano, given this is a small sample size this year, because he has been getting knocked around. In his four starts, he is averaging just under five innings per start, which is heavily skewed by his only lasting 1.1 innings in his first start. He lasted seven, five and six innings in his three other starts. What may be more troubling though, is his average of our runs per start. A pitcher allowing four runs a game isn’t horrible, but that isn’t anything to brag about either. Even if you pitch a complete game every time out, you are still going to have an ERA of 4.00, which isn’t that good for a National League starting pitcher. When he returns to the rotation, he needs to pitch like the Ace he was tabbed to be. Statistically, he has been one of the best 10 pitchers over the last 10 years. He just hasn’t shown that much this year. The problem with stats, they tell you what you have done, not what you will do. So far this season, Zambrano has been a big disappointment, no matter what role the Cubs have used him in.
As a whole, while the Cubs have a team ERA over 4.00, the starters have lasted an average of over six innings per start, and allowed under three runs per start. With that statistical line like that, they should be winning more games. The over all stat line looks really bad, until you break things down a little bit. Could they be better? Of course, there is always room for improvement. Are they the reason why they are losing? No, the offense remains the reason the Cubs are losing. The pitching is doing all they can, they just have a sore back from carrying the offense the first month and a half of the year.
The player who may very well be the most interesting pitcher to watch going into the new season for the Chicago Cubs is second year starter Randy Wells. The reason why he is the most interesting pitchers who will break camp this year, is because he is the wildcard of the bunch. There is just no way to tell what the Cubs will be getting from him in his second year in the majors; but if his second season is anything like his first, than the Cubs are going to be in great shape.
As most people know, Wells wasn’t always a pitcher. When he was drafted by the Cubs in 2003, Wells started his career as a catcher. After just over a year, the Cubs found him to be offensively limited, and thought of a better way to use the young player. In a move which is coming with the Cubs, they decided to try converting him into a pitcher, a technique they had perform on another offensively limited catcher, Carlos Marmol. The transition to pitcher turned out to be a successful one, as he gained notice of at least one other Major League ball club, the Toronto Blue jays.
In what may be a little known fact, while Wells was drafted by the Cubs, he actually started his major league career with the Blue Jays, who claimed him in the Rule 5 draft. Wells broke camp with the Blue Jays as a member of the 25 man roster, which is one of the keys to keeping a player who is claim in this draft; and in his first game as a major leaguer, he made a relief appearance in early April of 2008. He pitched a scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox, but then five days later, the Blue Jays designated him for assignment; and was returned to the Cubs, according to the guidelines of the Rule 5 draft.
Wells spent most of the 2008 season in the minor leagues once he was returned to the Cubs, but was called up to the major league roster in September to help them in the pennant chase. Once he arrived, he wasted little time in making a name for himself. In all three of his outings for the Cubs in 2008, a total of 4.1 innings, he did not allow a single run to score. While he did not factor into the decision, Wells assisted the Cubs in winning two of those three games, and he had made his mark on the Cubs and their fans.
When Carlos Zambrano went down with an injury in early May, Wells was the pitcher called up to take his place. His scoreless streak, lasted another 14 innings, for a total of 19.1 scoreless innings to start his career. Unfortunately for Wells, even though he did not allow a run in either of his first two outings, he did not record a win, due to the offensive struggles which haunted the Cubs all season. As a matter of fact, Wells went the entire month of May without recording a win, and left the month with an 0-2 record, despite having a sparking ERA of 1.80. Wells had to wait until his eight start before he recorded his first win, and then he won 10 of his next 15 games. In what should be noted, in two of those losses he gave up a total of one earned run.
Overall, Wells had a nice rookie season, and if he had gotten some run support (as well as better defense in one of them) in a few of his starts he may have had a legitimate shot to win the rookie of the year award. In his five no decisions on the season, Wells gave up a total of four earned runs. Wells finished 2009 with a record of 12-10 and an ERA of 3.05. If the offense had of shown up in any of those seven games (the two losses and five no decisions) Wells could have easily had a 19-8 record for his rookie year, which would have easily won him the Rookie of the Year award.
With Wells being guaranteed a spot in the rotation this year, he is the wild card. We can only hope that he continues to pitch as well as he did for most of the season, however there is also some cause for concern. Wells struggled as most rookie pitchers will later in the season, allowing five earned runs three times in his last eight games, as well as five runs (four unearned) in another. This could be written off to him wearing down at the end of the year. After all, he pitched far more innings in 2009 than he had ever thrown before. He may have hit the rookie wall, and began to fall apart due to fatigue. Another possible thought, would be perhaps the other teams started to figure him out, and that caused the drop in his performance. Don’t forget, that he is still learning to be a pitcher after spending most of his life as a catcher. He may take longer to learn how to adjust than others, so what happens in 2010 is anyone’s guess. Including mine. But when have I let that stop me?
For the 2010 season, I would be thrilled if Wells continued to improve as a pitcher, because that is entirely possible. Marmol has been going through the same changes as Wells, but in a different role. A starter needs to make far more changes than a reliever would. If Wells is able to make the proper and timely adjustments, he could be in line for a spectacular season. If he is unable to do so, we could be in for a very long season watching him take the bump for the Cubs this year. What I see Wells doing, is taking a step back. His wins could go up a little, maybe to the 14 mark, but are more likely to face a decline with his ERA going up. Unfortunately, I think Wells will have to settle for 10 wins and an ERA in the upper threes. For a number three pitcher, which he will be in with Ted Lilly out, that is unacceptable. Those numbers would be disappointing for a number four starter to put up. Add these in with the other win totals of Zambrano and Ryan Dempster and things don’t look too good. Totaling up to anywhere between 39- 49 wins. A 13 win average for your top three pitchers is cause for concern, but if they all reach my max prediction, they will be in great shape.