Sunday, February 20, 2011

Comparing this team to what they were last year-Part 1: Offense

Something doesn't add up.

The Cubs believed they have improved themselves over that team that was knocking at the door of last place when Lou Piniella left last season.

In fact, some of the media believe the Cubs are better as well.  The acquisitions of Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Kerry Wood are supposed to give us reason to be excited I guess.

Maybe some people believe that this team will be much better just because Mike Quade is the manager.

Well, let's step back and and just quickly take a look at what we have on this team right now and maybe we can understand why most fans don't appear to have the same beliefs as the Cubs management and the media do.

We will go position by position...

Geovany Soto is the man.  For some reason Koyie Hill appears set to be the backup.   Welington Castillo and Max Ramirez might give him a bit of a run, but the truth is, there isn't going to be any improvement at catcher.  We should expect Soto to do what he did last year.  Maybe he'll improve throwing out base runners, but I don't see that happening.

First Base:
Last season, Derrek Lee was coming off a great second half in 2009 were he was one of the best hitters in all of baseball.  People were expecting quite a lot out of Lee in 2010.  He failed to meet those expectations. So now Carlos Pena has been brought in to replace him.  Some people say that he is the left handed power hitter the Cubs have needed for years.  Look folks, if you look at his overall stats, Derrek Lee is a better player.  While Derrek Lee is projected to be slightly worse than Pena in 2011, overall career stats would indicate that the Cubs will get less out of Pena than they received out out of Lee during the past 6 or 7 years.  The Cubs have gotten worse at 1st base.

Second Base:
Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot vs. Bakedarwitt.  Really, it comes down to whether you think Blake DeWitt is better than Mike Fontenot.  Bakedarwitt will probably be a little better than Fontenot and Baker last year...but nothing really substantial.

Theriot vs. Castro  or Castro vs. Castro.  Castro is mountains better than Theriot was, but even when Castro came up and took CubbieNation by storm, this team didn't play much better.  The Cubs must decide what kind of hitter they intend for Castro to be.  If they want him to be a middle of the order guy, than they should have him focus on developing his power.  If you believe, like me, that he would make a much better leadoff batter in the future, than he needs to improve his eye at the plate and work on his base running. Either way, it is very likely that the league will make some adjustments to Castro at the beginning of this season, and he'll probably have some periods where he will struggle as a result of that. 

Third Base: Same old Ramirez.  He has said he put on about 7 pounds of muscle this year, but his last two seasons have been miserable whether due to injuries or just plain sucking.  It is a contract year for him, but there shouldn't be any huge expectations for him to improve significantly.

Left Field:
4 more years and $72 million.

Center Field:
I think we got a lot more out of Marlon Byrd last year than we ever expected from him.  With that said, he had a career year and it didn't do much to improve the Cubs.  I don't believe there is any reason to think that Byrd will be as good as he was last season.

Right Field:
Fukudome and Colvin...same as last year.  *Yawn*

In the end, for position players, the only major change was putting Pena in place of Lee.  Pena is indeed a left handed hitter, but he's replacing a player who, during the course of his career hit right handed and left handed pitchers almost equally well.  The Cubs really didn't improve themselves here.  Pena hits right handers very well, but struggles mightily against lefties.  Lee's OPS against righties is only slightly lower than Pena's.  The difference against lefties, though, is quite substancial. 

So the Cubs might have an advantage that they have lacked against right handed pitchers in 2011, but will likely struggle even more against lefties.  With the only other prospective option at first base being another left handed hitter, Tyler Colvin, the Cubs will need to see a boost in performance from Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano this season against southpaws in order for this offense to see any serious improvement.

Here is the most simplistic analysis of the Cubs offense this year.
Fukudome is not going to be any better than he was last year.
Colvin will probably struggle a bit making adjustments to how the league is pitching him this season. 
Pena is probably not much better than we could have expected from Derrek Lee
Bakedarwitt is not good
Castro will probably struggle a bit early in the season before getting things on track...similar to Colvin.
Ramirez might be over the hill.  We've seen very little out of him for 2 years.
A non-lead-off batting Soriano is probably nothing more than he was last year.
Soto will probably be about the same as he was last year.
Byrd will not repeat his stats of 2011.

And the bench?  Outside of the players platooning above, will include Koyie Hill and probably either Reed Johnson to Fernando Perez. Very exciting.

This offense is not likely to be any better than in 2010. 

Tomorrow, the pitching staff.