Jumat, 06 Januari 2012

Fixing a 104 Year-Old Problem

After Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago to accept his new job as president of the Chicago Cubs, he vowed to build a Cubs culture through building things in what he phrased as, "the right way."  This goal, per reports, could have been achieved in a number of ways.  The Cubs were going to have a ton of money coming off the books after a disappointing 2011 campaign, so they had elite financial flexibility going into the off season.  In the past, this would have meant an avid pursuit of major free agents, which would probably give the Cubs the ability to make a run to the playoffs.

However, this is clearly not the same Cubs operation as before.  There's rebuilding and then there's complete roster destruction.
Perhaps former GM Jim Hendry recognized what was going on before he was relieved of his duties.  The first major change came when RF Kosuke Fukudome was traded to Cleveland for a couple of minor leaguers (which gave way for guys like Tyler Colvin, D.J. LaMahieu, and Bryan LaHair to get more playing time).  However, within the first couple of months of the off season, it is clear that Theo is going after some major overhaul.  How much overhaul?  Well, here's a list of guys that were on the active roster at some point last year and are now gone (for the moment, as Theo may bring some of them back):
1B Carlos Pena
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Kosuke Fukudome
RF Tyler Colvin
C Koyie Hill
IF DJ LeMahieu
LF Brad Snyder
SP Carlos Zambrano
SP Rodrigo Lopez
RP Sean Marshall
RP John Grabow
RP Kerry Wood (Cubs expected to re-sign him soon)
SP Doug Davis
SP/RP Andrew Cashner
No, you are not misreading anything there.  Every one of those guys appeared on the active roster at some time with the Cubs in 2011, and the only one who is expected to be back is Kerry Wood.  There are three names on the list that were significant for the Cubs in 2011 (Pena, Ramirez, and Marshall), but the rest is simply trying to get rid of a mess created over a span of 10 years by a terrible combination of pressure from the Tribune Company and a GM who was a bit in over his head in the market he was in.  So the main question is: what are the Cubs replacing all of this with?  Well, here's a list of all of the player acquired by the Cubs' organization during that span:
OF David DeJesus
RP Casey Weathers
3B Ian Stewart
IF Jeff Bianchi
IF Ronald Torreyes
OF Dave Sappelt
SP Travis Wood
RP Manny Corpas (split contract)
RP Andy Sonnanstine (split contract)
RP Carlos Martinez (Cuban prospect)
OF Yasiel Balaguert (Cuban prospect)
OF Reed Johnson (re-signed)
SP Chris Volstad
UTIL Joe Mather
1B Anthony Rizzo
RP Zach Cates
As Robin would say, "Holy roster turnover, Batman!"  Now, obviously there is roster turnover, but for it to be significant, we need to measure the potential value of some of these moves.  Because I'm the author of this write up and carry the authority to decide, you will get looks at David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Anthony Rizzo.  These are the five guys that will have the most immediate impact on the Cubs' roster, and if you want reports on the other guys, I suggest trips to fangraphs, b-ref, Baseball America, and other sites.  Without further ado, here we go:
1) OF David DeJesus (2 years/$10 million, option for 2014)
One of the main things Theo emphasized was getting better at defense.  When Kosuke Fukudome was traded to Cleveland, the Cubs gave away their best defender and pretty much solidified themselves as the worst defensive team in the league.  Getting DeJesus was the first step in fixing that problem.  A ton of David's value comes from fielding, as he's gotten 2.3 dWAR and 26.0 UZR combined over the last 3 years. However, DeJesus also provides usable offense, as he's posted the following career rates:
8.3% BB/ 13.4% K/ .137 ISO/ .316 BABIP/ 104wRC+
DeJesus does not figure into the long-term plans for the Cubs, but he fits with the Cubs in a rebuilding process, because he should provide 2 years of efficient value (the 5 million dollars per year is asking for him to produce just over a win of value).  DeJesus will be just enough to get on base, play good defense, and pest opposing teams.
2) 3B Ian Stewart (acquired in trade of Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu along with Casey Weathers)
To me, the acquisition of Ian Stewart was much like the acquisition of David DeJesus...just on a much smaller scale.  Formerly a top prospect, Stewart never panned out with the Rockies.  His power is decent and his patience is ok, but Stewart simply struck out way too much to ever find consistent success at the major league level.  A career 27.9% K rate is high enough to make him a marginal offensive player despite having some other decent skills.  In the field, Stewart has also had a tough time, but compared to Aramis Ramirez, this could be a very slight defensive upgrade.  This could be a case of a player needing a change of scenery (Stewart is under team control through 2014 if the change is good), but he is most likely going to be a utility infielder once Josh Vitters is ready to come up and play every day in the bigs (Vitters might be better than Stewart right now and is 5 years younger with tons of team control).  This was a case of the Cubs getting someone to lessen the blow of losing arguably the team's best 2011 performer.
3) SP Travis Wood (acquired in trade of Sean Marshall)
Two things were consistent for the Cubs last year: bad defense and worse pitching.  Starters such as Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, Casey Coleman (who?), and Ramon Ortiz were regular sightings on the mound whenever the Cubs played in 2011.  After Randy Wells (meh) and Andrew Cashner (he gone) got injured after their first starts of the season, the Cubs scrambled to throw together whatever they could find in order to try and build a stable rotation.  However, that didn't work,  so here the Cubs are with a 25 year-old right hander who figures to be at the back end of the Cubs' rotation.  What does Wood do well?  Eh....he's got good control, but nothing else stands out.  After his first 209 innings in the bigs, these are the rates he has posted:
6.99 K/ 2.85 BB/ 0.82 HR/ .293 BABIP/ 31.4% GB (oh yuck)
There is no doubt that Wood is a junk-ball pitcher who is going to rely on control to be a pitcher in the majors.  His fastball sits in the upper 80's to low 90's and he'll throw sliders, cutters, curveballs, and change-ups along with it.  Wood may not have tons of potential, but he should provide one things: innings.  All the Cubs will be asking of Wood is to throw 160+ innings a season, and hopefully that leads to a fWAR value of around 2 just about every year.  A quick look at Wood's fielding-independent rates suggests that we don't know what to expect in 2012:
2010: 3.97 xFIP/ 3.88 SIERA
2011: 4.61 xFIP/ 4.55 SIERA
The largest reason for the changes in those rates is the alarming drop from a 3.31 K/BB ratio in 2010 to a 1.90 K/BB ratio in 2011.  Both seasons happened with similar numbers of innings pitched, so it's safe to say that Wood should probably sit somewhere between the two years, which makes him roughly a 2.0 fWAR player over a full season of pitching.
4) SP Chris Volstad (acquired in deal for RHP Carlos Zambrano)
The stars aligned and Carlos Zambrano was somehow traded from Chicago to Miami.  I'm going to be lazy here and quote some stuff about Volstad that I observed in my latest post about the Zambrano trade:
2010: 5.25 K/ 3.09 BB/ 0.87 HR/ 47.9% GB/   8.8% HRFB/ 4.43 xFIP/ 4.59 SIERA
2011: 6.36 K/ 2.66 BB/ 1.25 HR/ 52.3% GB/ 15.5% HRFB/ 3.64 xFIP/ 3.84 SIERA
Career: 5.83 K/ 3.14 BB/ 1.11 HR/ 50.4% GB/ 12.3% HRFB/ 4.19 xFIP/ 4.26 SIERA
His K rate shot up, his walk rate decreased significantly, he saw a huge increase in the number of GB he got, and the primary reason for the end results he had was a drastic spike in HR/FB ratio.  Fight now, it's hard to judge the HR/FB issue with Volstad considering he's had such drastic differences in rates:
2008: 3.9%
2009: 17.5%
2010: 8.8%
2011: 15.5%
If Volstad can keep up all his other rates and finally give us a good sense as to what he'll do from HR/FB ratio, then we're looking at a guy who is ready to make significant strides in terms of his end results.  Not necessarily to the point where he'll be a great success, but to the point where he's a guy who makes you feel very comfortable when you have to send him to the mound as a 4th or 5th starter.  If he can throw 175 innings of 3.8 ERA ball, then he can be an individual who provides surprise value to a team that is desperate for it in their rotation.
5) 1B Anthony Rizzo (acquired in trade of Andrew Cashner to San Diego)
Of all of the pieces acquired so far in the off season for the Cubs, Rizzo definitely appears to be the guy that is going to looked to as one of the key pieces of the rebuilding process.  Pre-2011, Rizzo was rated as the #75 prospect on Baseball America's top 100 list, and he did not disappoint in the minors:
413 PA/ .331 BA/ .404 OBP/ .652 SLG
10.4% BB/ 21.5% K/ .320 ISO/ .369 BABIP
Keep in mind, Rizzo played in a PCL launching pad, so his numbers are rather inflated, but those are still some insane statistics.  Due to his performance, the Padres called him up to see what he could do.  This time around, the results were not pretty:
153 PA/ .141 BA/ .281 OBP/ .242 SLG
13.7% BB/ 30.1% K/ .102 ISO/ .210 BABIP
So, what we've figured out by these numbers are that statistics can get pretty crazy when sample size is limited.  Rizzo's skills are there: he has a bunch of patience, good power, and can field his position fairly well.  However, he can also get ahead of himself and strike out in bunches.  The good thing is that Rizzo is only going to be 22 next year, and the presence of Bryan LaHair on the roster is going to let the Cubs send Rizzo to AAA to start 2012 to complete what baseball folks refer to as "seasoning."
The Cubs have not gone through a legitimate rebuilding phase in a very long time.  Early in the 2000's, they started a rebuilding process that only ended in more failure as guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood could not stay healthy, Carlos Zambrano went insane with rage, and "can't-miss" prospects like Corey Patterson went down as all-time busts.  This led the Tribune Company, which was failing and needed to make a splash for the Cubs to be a success, to sign some incredibly large and unreasonable contracts for guys who were not worth the money (Soriano, Zambrano, etc.).  So far, TheoCorp has started things differently.  He hasn't made any big splashes yet, and that could turn out to be a mistake.  However, the management staff seems to know what it takes to put a winner on the field (2004 and 2007 with Boston).  Who knows?  Maybe Soriano could be moved next.  Stay tuned.

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