Monday, February 21, 2011

Comparing this team to what they were last year-Part 2: Pitching

Yesterday we discovered that is was unlikely that the offense was going to be any better.

Today we will explore if the same will be true with the pitching staff.

We'll split the staff between the starters and the relievers.  The comparisons should be relatively simple:

Zambrano is theoretically the ace of the staff based on his statistics over the last 8 years.  Z was given 3 more starts after his disasterous opening day.  He wasn't dominant, but he had quality starts in two out of those three games.  After that, Z spent 3 months on a roller coaster ride from starter to bullpen to restricted list to whatever.  As we all know, he turned it around and had stellar end to the season.  So is Z as good as he was at the end of last year?  No.  Is he as bad as he was in the middle of the season?  No.  He is what he is, and we should expect high pitch counts, lots of walks, ground balls, and about 13 to 15 wins. 

Dempster is now approaching that age where ball players tend to start seeing their statistics drop off a bit.  We should expect him to be a little worse than last year. 

The third starter.  Ted Lilly was the man last year, but started the season on the DL.  This year the Cubs have Matt Garza. Is Garza better than Lilly?  Probably...but I don't think he's going to stand out as much as many people think he is.  He is young, and is probably not near his peak as a ballplayer.  With that said, he is a bit inconsistent on the mound, and looks to still be a bit immature in his pitching.  Lilly succeeded and thrived in a Cubs uniform because he became an extremely smart pitcher who could get outs even when he didn't have his best stuff.  Yes, that is cliche, but it is probably true, and starting, flyball pitcher at Wrigley in the middle of the summer requires a smart, mature person on the mound.  As I said, Garza is probable better, but not that much better.

Just for kicks and giggles, let us assume Carlos Silva is the 4th starter.  Let's match him up against himself from last year.  We didn't expect much from Garza in 2010.  I even said that I expected the Cubs to DFA him before the season even started.  Well, he went 8-0 to start the season and looked every bit like the pitcher the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him 4 years ago.  So Garza was pretty darn good at the beginning of the season.  What did that get the Cubs? Not much.  It is not probable to expect Silva to return to that form.  He'll eat innings, but he'll probably be a .500 pitcher.

And then the 5th starter.  Personally, I think Randy Wells is more of a lock for the rotation than Carlos Silva, but we'll see.  For comparison sake, we'll just use Wells no matter what.  Wells was a disappointment in 2010 to some, but he was about what I expected him to be (and I was criticized for saying it).  He said he was not as focused as he should have been.  Whatever.  Wells, if he's a starter, should be a bit better this year.

If either Silva or Wells wind up in the bullpen, that means that either one of those two guys stunk things up during spring training, or Jeff Russell or Andrew Cashner wowed the hell out of everyone. 

The improvement of the starting rotation will really depend on how good Matt Garza truly is.  If he's truly the new ace of this team, the Cubs will be better...but if he is no more than a right handed Ted Lilly (with a little more zip on his fastball), the Cubs are looking at a starting staff that will be unable to lead this team to much more than a .500 record with the offense it has behind it.

So all that remains is the relief pitching:

Marmol might not repeat the 16Ks/9IP that he had in 2011, but it is entirely probable that he can be a better closer...and that's what I expect out of him this season. 

The Cubs never really had a right handed setup man last year.  This year they have Kerry Wood, who could probably be a closer on a number of other teams.  I would risk being ridiculed just to say that I think the Cubs now have the second best setup/closer combination in all of baseball next to the Yankees.  This is, of course, assuming that Marmol does improve.

The Cubs will have a minimum of 2 left handed relievers with Sean Marshall and John "Where's the strike zone?" Grabow.  My guess right now would be that if Russell isn't made a starter that he will start 2011 in Iowa. 

The rest of the bullpen will be made up of Jeff Samardzija, and two of the players on the following, rather bland, list:
Scott Maine
Jeff Stevens
Casey Coleman
Esmailin Caridad
Justin Burg
Angel Guzman (yes, he's still alive)

The back end of the bullpen really isn't that important...usually you can find a couple of players about mid-season who will pan out for those final reliever spots after a little trial and error the first month or two. 

The result here?  The Cubs bullpen is better.  Kerry Wood adds tremendous depth and Marmol will hopefully continue to gel into one of the elite closers in baseball.  Marshall will probably be a little less effective this coming season, but with Kerry Wood taking over as the primary setup man, Marshall will be pitching primarily to left handed hitters.  This bullpen, especially early in the season, was horrendous last year.  It shouldn't be this year.  


So, unlike yesterday when I determined that the Cubs were probably not any better on offense, this loose and crappy analysis would indicate that the pitching staff is better.  The bullpen is better, and the starters are probably about the same or a little better than last year. The point of this exercise is to determine if we should feel better about this team going into the 2011 season.  Last year most people expected this team to be ok...above .500...but not good enough to win the division.  That team was on pace to lose 100 games until a surge over the last month of the season.

Should an improved bullpen enough to make us believe this team can compete at all this season?  Statistically, probably not.  On the other hand, the slow start last year could be directly attributed to a number of games the bullpen blew.  It is possible, if the other areas of this team get off to a similar start as they did last year and the bullpen saves some games instead of blows them, the psychological affect could do wonders for the fragile minds on this team.

We'll see.  With all this said now, it would appear that this team isn't much better than it was last year.