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2008 Chicago Cubs Analysis A complete analysis of the Cubs.

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Below are my thoughts on the Cubs and the direction the team is taking.

Also as reference, here are some links to the Cubs' stats in 2007:

Player Stats
Overall Team Hitting Stats
Overall Team Pitching Stats
Historical Team Hitting Stats


Overall: Despite off-years from star players Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano, the team reached the playoffs thanks to improved starting pitching and a team that reached base at its best level since 2001. As it's been said, a team lives and dies by its starting pitching. Despite a bullpen weaker in many ways than the horrible 2006 team, the Cubs had the 2nd best team ERA in the National League (4.04). The team on base percentage was .333, 9th highest in the National League (out of 16 teams), which might not seem too special until you compare that to the teams GM (General Manager) Jim Hendry has been putting together in recent years. The team on base percentages with their ranks in the National League have been as follows: 2006: .319 OBP (16th in NL), 2005: .324 OBP (11th in NL), .328 OBP (6th in NL), 2003: .323 OBP (13th in NL), 2002: .321 OBP (12th in NL), 2001: .336 OBP (6th in NL). 2001 was the year right before Jim Hendry became the Cubs General Manager, too... Much of the change may be due to firy young players like Ryan Theriot, Matt Murton, and Geovany Soto coming up through the farm system, as well as other hitters with patient hitting styles like Mark DeRosa and Daryle Ward. All of these players because of their newness to the team have not had their good mechanics and hitting styles done in and undone by the flawed teaching methods that were commonplace under former Manager, Dusty Baker.


Catcher: Geovany Soto showed a lot of promise last year and Cubs nation is doubtless looking forward eagerly to see how he develops in 2008. He showed signs of being more solid both defensively and offensively than former Catcher Michael Barrett, who had an unusually disappointing year. However, other Cubs prospects have looked great in short time frames before and then failed to pan out (Jason Dubois, David Kelton, Ronny Cedeno, et. al.) so you can be sure a close eye will be kept on this promising young ballplayer who could provide a strong arm behind the dish and a good on base percentage to a team that has been in dire need of both. Henry Blanco and returning catcher Koyie Hill should both spell Soto, with both probably catching for staff ace Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano in 2007 was nearly unhittable with Hill catching, holding opponents to just a .160 batting average through 212 At Bats, so if Hill gets another shot in the majors it might get interesting.


1st Base: Derrek Lee scuffled a little in terms of his own lofty expectations (91 Runs, 22 HR's, 82 RBI) but has remained defensively one of the best fielders at his position in all of baseball. He flied out deep many times and pitchers consistently got him out with pitches low and away, so some slight changes to his hitting may well be all he needs. After his breakout 2005 season pitcher seem to be respecting his power more and appeared to have him figured out in 2007. Lee, however, appears to have gotten away from his focus in 2005, when he said his hitting coach was having him work on "keeping my feet quiet." It appears to be a simple matter of mechanics for Derrek and once he figures out what pitchers are doing to him and changes accordingly, as well as bringing back the good mechanics that made him such a threat in 2005, opposing teams had better watch out! As a last note, with the corner outfield spots crowded, pinch-hitter Daryle Ward is more likely to get some of his starts at 1st Base according to Lou Piniella so as to give Lee a rest once in a while. Ward last year was a huge threat both off the bench and when starting, and Lou will surely try to get him in the lineup as much as possible.


2nd Base: Mark DeRosa had a minor heart problem recently but should be the starter once again. While his power isn't anything to write home about (10 Home Runs, .420 SLG) he hit for a high average (.293) and got on base well (.371) drawing a career best 58 walks. He provided solid defense (.984 Fielding %), a calming presence on the team, and despite being a righty hitter actually hit right-handed pitchers better than left-handed ones, so Lou may actually be able to treat him like a lefty in the lineup rather than a righty should he repeat those results. DeRosa is a solid, hard-working player at his position and invaluable for his ability to act in a utility role (last year he wowed teammates with great defense at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF). The former college teammate of Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, should also see some playing time at the position; and possibly young prospect Eric Patterson as well.


3rd Base: Aramis Ramirez, the team's perennial offensive superstar, will of course be manning the hot corner once again. Since leaving the Pirates in 2003 he has consistently hit for a high average, gotten on base well, slugged well, produced well, and fielded his position at a high level. He has struggled a little with health issues but consistently plays 120+ games. Despite playing only 132 games last year, he still hit 26 Home Runs and had 101 RBI's! Had he been healthy all year he might well have been the MVP. Expect another solid performance from him, and should he go down with health issues at any point super-utility man Mark DeRosa should be able to pick up the slack.


Shortstop: Ryan Theriot, aka "The Riot", despite unmerited criticism from Cubs fans, cemented his spot on the team at a much needed position in 2007. After years of players like Cesar Izturis, Ronny Cedeno, and Neifi Perez who could provide decent defense but no offense, the young middle infielder stepped up to give Cubs fans a solid performance at the position. His solid .980 Fielding % silenced the criticisms of those who said his arm was too weak to play Shortstop, and though he wasn't one of the fastest players on the team, he stole a team-best 28 of 32 bases, far outpacing his nearest competitor, Alfonso Soriano (19 of 25) who struggled with leg problems during the year. What's more, his .326 On Base % was deceiving since it dropped due to a slump late in the year, and had been as high as .351 on August 26th and .335 on September 13th. His playoff stats were also deceiving since he reached twice on errors, at least one of which should have clearly been a hit. Taking that into account, he was one of the few players to come through offensively in the post-season. Expect another solid year from the young shortstop, who will only continue to improve and to silence his critics. His versatility will allow coach Lou Piniella to move him around, and last year he played solid defense at 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF, as well as hitting everywhere in the lineup except 3rd! Any playing time missed by him will likely be filled in by Mark DeRosa or Ronny Cedeno.


Leftfield: Alfonso Soriano is a heavily overpaid player. He's got a good arm defensively but his fielding is average if not sub-par. He hits a lot of Home Runs but so far hasn't been able to do so except when leading off. Soriano has remarked in the past that the only At Bat in a game he worries about is the first because that's the only time he usually leads off, and he's a leadoff hitter. Perhaps as a result of this flawed mindset, Soriano hit 70% of his Home Runs last year with no one on base, and has hit 67% of his career Home Runs with no one on base. As a result, his blasts are far less effective than if he was batting down in the order. And his career .327 OBP is unimpressive for a leadoff hitter. If the Cubs could trade this 32-year-old star who will be getting paid $18 million dollars when he's 38 years old, I'm sure they would (although I have little faith in GM Jim Hendry). However, his no-trade clause makes that unlikely (even though Hendry got Greg Maddux to revoke his no-trade clause - another dumb move), as does the fact that few teams will want Soriano. The Cubs will be best off trying to teach Soriano some hitting fundamentals so he can bat farther down in the lineup, maybe in the 2nd, 5th, or 6th spots in the order.


Centerfield: The one position that is still wide open for whoever wants it. Acquisitions Jacque Jones and Craig Monroe were so disappointing offensively at the position that they were traded as well as was promising young player, Angel Pagan, who also spent time in Centerfield. Felix Pie was good defensively but horrible offensively (.215/.271/.333), often swinging wildly for the fences with massive uppercut swings at called strike 3's despite producing only 2 Home Runs in 87 Games. More promising is Sam Fuld, who in limited playing time displayed amazing fielding ability and a patient eye at the plate which resulted in 3 walks in 6 plate appearances (.333 OBP) although he has yet to get his first big league hit. If neither steps up to cement the position, expect to see the Cubs look for new talent.


Rightfield: The recent addition of the veteran from Japan, Kosuke Fukudome, could prove big for the Cubs. In Japan he was a perennial gold-glove winner who hit for a high average, reached base very well, and slugged well. Even if his slugging and batting average drop to average levels, the promise of a player reaching base at a high level for the Cubs could prove a huge asset to the team. Expect to see the occasional appearance in rightfield by Matt Murton or Daryle Ward as well. Murton despite criticisms has fielded his position well (though he struggled last year when switched from Left Field, his natural position, to Right Field), hit for a high average, reached base at a high rate, and slugged at a decent clip. Lou Piniella recently complimented Murton for his efficient, compact swing; and Fukudome could have competition.


The Bench: Pinch-hitter Daryle Ward is arguably one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters in baseball, and pitchers last year recognized it, walking him 22 times and intentionally walking him 8 times (tied for most on the team with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez even though Lee and Ramirez both got much more playing time). This team has lots of versatility defensively thanks to utility players Ryan Theriot and Mark DeRosa as well as the hordes of young players like Mike Fontenot, Felix Pie, Sam Fuld, Ronny Cedeno, Koyie Hill, Scott Moore, and Matt Murton who all field their positions well. However, offense, apart from Ward, is a different story. Mike Fontenot and Matt Murton have shown an ability to provide decent offense in the past, but otherwise this team is sadly lacking. Felix Pie makes for a solid pinch-runner.


Starting Rotation:


1 - Carlos Zambrano: Despite a career-best 18 wins, he also had a career-high 3.95 ERA. Zambrano continued his unusual habit from past years of pitching better on less days of rest than on more. When pitching on 4 days of rest he had a 3.05 ERA through 20 games but when pitching on 5 days of rest had a 4.82 ERA through 11 games. While Koyie Hill was his catcher he was almost unhittable but when Hill was demoted after one bad start by Z in August, Big Z fell apart, and his ERA rapidly ballooned from a 3.42 to a 3.95 over the last month and a half/2 months of the season. Z has also been criticized for being inconsistent, as he does better in the middle months of the year and horrible in the early months. However, fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana is even more extreme in this problem, and it is probably due to both being warm-weather pitchers. If Zambrano has a problem it is his tendency to get rattled when there are base runners, and he needs to learn as Greg Maddux has to not worry about them and just make his pitches. All the same, expect another solid year from the young starter who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last 6 years, and who has shown the fire to want to win and the humility to admit his mistakes and keep on learning.


2 - Ted Lilly: On a team whose starting rotation has been a big problem area, the former Blue Jay came in and promptly proved himself a reliable #2 starter despite a rough starting in the playoffs. The fact that he's a lefty makes him very valuable to have behind Big Z in the rotation, giving the Cubs a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation. Expect another solid year from the calm lefty, although he'll have to prove he can keep his ERA as uncharacteristically low as it was last year. I believe he's like DeRosa, a guy who's calming down with age and learning like Greg Maddux, despite wanting to win badly even if he doesn't show it much.


3 - Rich Hill: His stats last year were unimpressive (11-8, 3.92 ERA) but there were a lot of games he should have won if he'd gotten more run support. Hopefully the runs won't be as much of a problem this year and he'll get more wins. And in his first full season he showed a lot of promise, hopefully he can step up and prove a solid 3rd starter in the rotation.


4 & 5 - Lou Piniella has said both these spots in the rotation are up for grabs. Jason Marquis, Sean Marshall, Jon Lieber, and Ryan Dempster (former closer) will all be competing for these spots. The addition of Lieber, who at 37 hasn't been healthy or had a good season since 2005, is yet another of Jim Hendry's questionable moves. It's probable that after making the colossal mistake of trading future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who continues to impress despite his age, Hendry is trying to atone by collecting other lesser players in hopes they'll do the same thing; players like Steve Trachsel, Jason Marquis, and Jon Lieber who though in some ways similar are clearly proving to not be Madduxes. As a result, this team is likely to have sub-par starters in the 4 and 5 spots of the rotation which could prove disastrous to the team. They should have gone after Johan Santana and the choice not to do so could haunt the Cubs for years to come.




- Closer: Veteran Bob Howry will likely get the job over young Carlos Marmol, who Lou Piniella likes to have in the 7th and 8th innings. Kerry Wood, who has looked impressive in Spring Training, might also get consideration, although his questionable health will likely keep him from getting the role. Ryan Dempster, despite his criticisms, was an excellent choice last year in the 9th innings. The bottom line is that he saved 28 of 31 games. His high ERA was a result of non-save situations. In save situations, he pitched 31 innings, giving up 12 runs, for a solid 3.48 ERA. What's more, he gave up 7 of those 12 runs in just 2 of his botched saves, so in the other 29 games he had just a 1.55 ERA! If Dempster isn't moved to the Rotation, he should definitely get his old job back, with the catch that in vital non-save situations Marmol or Howry should be brought in instead.


- Setup: Carlos Marmol will probably be in this role once more, where he was lights out last year. Should Ryan Dempster return as Closer, Marmol and Bob Howry would make an excellent righty-lefty combination. You heard me right, even though Howry throws right-handed, he should be considered a lefty, because his 2-seam fastball results in MUCH better stats against lefties than righties. Marmol facing the righties and Howry facing the lefties is a deadly setup combination.


- Long Relief: With so many competing starting pitchers, this shouldn't be a problem. Sean Marshall or Jon Lieber will likely get relegated to the role of Long Relief/Mop Up.


- Other: Scott Eyre, Michael Wuertz, Angel Guzman, and Kerry Wood (who has looked very good in Spring Training) will likely prove key assets to the bullpen. Young pitchers Rocky Cherry and Kevin Hart both were impressive last year in limited playing time and will likely get a chance to prove themselves as well.




Supposedly the Cubs were to be sold before the start of the year, but the Tribune Company ownership continues to disappoint as they have all through their uninspired reign as Cubs owners. I know for a fact that many other Cubs fans are, like me, drooling at the thought of GM Jim Hendry leaving so that the chance of a GM who values On Base Percentage as well as getting young studs at Shortstop, Centerfield, and the Starting Rotation (as opposed to old, washed up players for the bottom of the rotation/corner outfield spots, and shortstops who can't hit) might finally be realized.


Lou Piniella, however, has proven solid, and will hopefully be given further opportunities by Cubs fans and (hopefully) new management to show what he can do.

Edited by OpaQue (see edit history)

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