For Cub fans, the Theo era has begun. In their first ten games, they have managed to go 3-7. With a team payroll which still ranks in the top ten of MLB, one might say they are certainly the opposite of Moneyball. While those who follow the team closely will tell you that Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol blew the first two games of the year melting down in late innings, even had they won they would be 5-5.
Ten games certainly is not a realistic sample to be making any harsh moves. They also played the defending division champions and World Series champions so they faced good competition. The only prediction I will make at this point is to call this a team in transition and expect plenty of player movement as Epstein and crew continue to re-tool the roster.
Certainly some things bear watching; both the good and the bad.
The top three starting pitchers, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija have pitched very well. Dempster is 0-1 with a 1.88 ERA, Garza is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA and Samadzija is 2-0 with a 3.95 ERA. Most importantly for Samardzija is the fact he has 13.1 IP, 13 K’s and 1 BB. Up to this point in his career, throwing strikes has been a challenge for him. On the downside, offseason acquisition, Paul Malholm is 0-2, 8 IP, 12ER and an ERA of 13.50. In the two games he has pitched he has not got past the 4th inning.
On the offensive side of the scale, Bryan LaHair is hitting .348 with an OBP of .423 and a key HR in the victory against the Cardinals on Friday. Interestingly enough he also has 10 K’s in 23 AB’s. While he has less than 300 AB’s in the major leagues, his career strikeout totals are not nearly that bad so hopefully he will continue to hit and put the ball in play more often. Alfonso Soriano is playing with more energy than Cub fans have ever seen, even making some terrific defensive plays in the outfield.
The hitting stats which jumped out at me were Marlon Byrd, hitting .065 and really appears to be struggling at the plate. In addition, spring training star Joe Mather is hitting an even .100 with one hit in 10 AB’s. He was not even on the 40 man roster when he came to spring training and basically played his way on to the roster. He is a career .228 hitter, with limited playing time. The message boards and blogs I am reading about the Cubs are all pulling for Byrd to pick it up; with full understanding he may have some trade value in the future. With the Red Sox losing Ellsbury to injury, Byrd would certainly be a possibility for them if he were hitting anything close to his career average.
Geovany Soto is hitting .138 with 1 HR and 1 RBI. In the meantime his backup, Steve Clevenger is hitting .600 with 6 hits in 10AB’s and Wellington Castillo, who was sent to Iowa is hitting .500. Soto turned 29 in January so it is not a given that he will be traded to help the team get younger. At the same time, should the backup catchers continue to play well, it would not be a surprise to see Soto traded for pitching help.
Anthony Rizzo, the much heralded young 1B in Iowa made it pretty clear when he got sent back to the minors he was just going to pound the ball and do everything he could to get back to the major leagues. So far he is making good on his word, hitting .391 with 5 HR’s in 46AB’s. He has cut down on his strike outs with 8 K’s. He has 13 RBI’s in 11 games. Josh Vitters, another top prospect is hitting .353 and Brett Jackson is hitting .273. Jackson however has 16K’s in 44 AB’s and will have to make better contact. Were he pounding the ball, it would seem the Cubs might feel a greater need to move Marlon Byrd; however for the moment a suitable backup would be a question mark. Popular Tony Campana is currently hitting .372. After observing his play in spring training, my guess is he needs to really work on his ability to consistently lay down a drag bunt to earn his way back to the major leagues.
In summary, the top three starting pitchers are doing very well. If they continue as they have the team will be in a lot of games. The team is playing more aggressively than they have in the past and SS Starlin Castro already has six SB’s. In the few games I have been able to watch this year they have demonstrated the ability to manufacture a run or two instead of waiting for the long ball as they have always done in the past.
Certainly Bryan LaHair has been a pleasant surprise and hopefully he will also put the ball in play at a higher rate than he is currently.
A personal observation, more on the fans and blogs that I have read than anything else, is the feeling the team is trying and it shows. Fans seem frustrated with the results but are pointing to the bright spots and how it may bode for the future. In past years there were a lot of fans that would tend to over-react and start screaming to fire someone, manager, GM or whoever seemed to be out of favor for the day. The attitude I am currently seeing is they are eagerly waiting for the season to play out.
Currently if they win 30% of their games they would lose 113 games for the year. While some have predicted the team to do poorly; I have yet to see any predictions which are that dire.
I am reminded of Leo Durocher who came to the Cubs and pronounced, “This is not an 8th place team.” He was correct; they finished in 10th place, losing 103 games. The next six years was the best in modern day Cub history. The Cubs have not strung together six straight years of winning baseball since that time. One of Leo’s favorite sayings was, “Back up the truck!”, meaning if a player was not getting the job done, give someone else a chance. With long term contracts and guaranteed money it is not quite as easy as it was in the 60’s. For some of us who have lived through the Durocher years, I can say it sure feels similar. If folks don’t get the job done, Theo and company will find someone else and give them a chance. It will be interesting to see just how much different the roster is in September as opposed to the opening day roster.
While the team may not lose as many as 113 games, I do not see them winning 100 games either. I think the kids will progress and come September many Cub fans will be saying “Wait till next year” and it will not be a hollow prediction. Sure hope so.