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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

Let me give you the stats of two relief pitchers thus far in 2009.

Gregg Marmol

Player 2 appears to be a power pitcher who strikes out his fair share of batters but also has trouble finding the strike zone, while Player 1 looks like a middling reliever who is lucky enough to be a closer.  Now suppose these two players are the same age and are both free agents following the 2009 season.  Who do you think gets the bigger contract?  My money is on Player 1 getting a bigger contract from some GM still living in the Stone Age because he accumulated saves and is a “closer”.

In reality, these two pitchers play for the Chicago Cubs, and are Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.  Casual fans would argue that Gregg is more valuable to his team because he has 21 saves and is the closer while Marmol is just a middle relief pitcher.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Marmol’s average leverage when he enters the game is 1.63, compared to 1.52 for Gregg.  This means that Marmol pitches in more crucial situations than Gregg, even though Gregg is that oh so important ninth inning pitcher.  Marmol has also added more value to the Cubs.  Marmol has a Win Probability Added of 2.01 compared to Gregg’s 0.13, and also holds a distinct advantage in RE/24, 7.63 to 1.97.  Over the course of the year, that will probably add up to an extra win for the Cubs. 

This situation is interesting because the Cubs are one of the few teams who actually use their bullpen properly.  Marmol is having a bad year because he is walking way too many batters, but the general consensus is that he is their best relief pitcher.  However, they are not using him as their closer, as most teams would do, but in crucial situations at other times in the ball game.  The other team that immediately comes to mind is the Detroit Tigers, who used Todd Jones as their closer even though he was far from their best reliever.  The Cubs are lucky that Marmol has not made a fuss about playing second fiddle to two inferior pitchers the last two years, Gregg and former closer Kerry Wood.  The fact that he is not a closer is going to hurt Marmol’s bank account big time. 

I am fairly confident that every team in baseball understands the concept of leverage, but they continue to use their best pitcher to hold a three run lead in the ninth inning.  This is because you cannot just all of a sudden start using Joe Nathan or Mariano Rivera in the seventh inning of a tie ball game.  Even though this is what would be best for the team, it is not what is best for the ballplayer because he is paid to accumulate saves.  Until teams start compensating relief pitchers on a more useful stat then saves, I do not think we will see wide spread change.  However, as more and more GM’s become statistically savvy, I think this change will come. 

I say this because right now, a bona fide closer will not accept another role.  He knows that his compensation is tied to his saves.  It is like the article by Micheal Lewis (of Moneyball fame) about Shane Battier, where Battier refuses to shoot heaves at the end of a quarter because it hurts his shooting percentage, and he will not get paid as much.  Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey says “I tell him we don’t count heaves in our stats, but Shane’s smart enough to know that his next team might not be smart enough to take the heaves out.”  This is the same in baseball.  Sure, Battier making a full court shot at the buzzer might help his team win a game, just like Rivera pitching in the seventh might help the Yankees win a game.  However, it just is not going to happen because it will not help them get paid.  Until relief pitchers get paid based on their overall performance rather than saves, I am afraid the Chicago Cubs bullpen is going to be the exception, not the rule.

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Two of the great tacticians in baseball were at it tonight on Sunday Night Baseball.   The Cardinals started the top of the ninth with a 4-2 lead.  They got their first two runners on base against Cubs reliever Angel Guzman.  This is where things got interesting.

La Russa sent up left-handed pinch-hitter Chris Duncan and Piniella countered with left-handed pitcher Sean Marshall.  La Russa immediately replaced Duncan with Nick Stavinoha, who proceeded to walk.  With right-handed hitting Brendan Ryan up to bat and two lefties up next, Piniella was in a tough situation.  Marshall is the only lefty in his bullpen, and he did not want to remove him from the game.  He moved Marshall to left field, replacing Alfonso Soriano, and brought in Aaron Heilman to strike out Ryan.

He then brought Marshall back in to pitch and inserted Reed Johnson into left field.  La Russa conferred with the umpire to ensure that Marshall would have to pitch to at least one batter.  MLB rules stipulate that a pitcher has to face at least one batter once he comes into the game.  However, Marshall had already faced a batter in the inning, and announcer Joe Morgan even said that he had no idea what the rule was.

La Russa pinch-hit Jarrett Hoffpauir for Skip Schumaker, who proceeded to strike out.  This brought up Colby Rasmus, who owned a .186 average against left-handed pitching.  He laced one into left-field.  Johnson tracked it down but stumbled on the way, but managed to make an incredible diving catch from what was basically a prone position on the field.  I am still not 100% convinced that he caught it, and neither is Joe Morgan.   

Through Piniella’s brilliant managing, the Cubs were able to get out of a bases loaded, no out jam, giving the Cubs a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.  Amazing game.

*UPDATE*: Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin struck out the side looking in the ninth.  Cardinals win.

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Yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals filled a huge hole in their team, sending one-time bright prospect Chris Perez and a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for versatile infielder Mark DeRosa.  This is a perfect trade for both teams.

In DeRosa, the Cardinals get a player who can play almost anywhere defensively, and has a solid bat.  With Troy Glaus on the DL, Khalil Greene struggling mightily and Skip Schumaker still learning defensively at second, this is a big boost to the Cardinals playoff hopes.  While DeRosa has struggled a bit at times this year, the big year he had with the Cubs last year bodes well for a return to the National League Central.  They are currently tied with the Brewers for the division lead while boasting the top run differential.  While it is difficult to imagine St. Louis competing with whoever comes out of the American League, this trade helps make the Cardinals a serious contender in the NL.   

DeRosa is also not a big hit financially for the Cards, as he is in the final year of a contract that will see him collect $5 million in 2009.  The Cardinals will be on the hook for a little more than half of that, and will most likely let him walk in the off-season.  With the team trimming payroll this past off-season and the economic future still up in the air, it is important for them to not make any multi-year commitments.

In Perez, the Cardinals lose a former 42nd overall pick who still has the potential to be a back-end reliever, but right now has only shown himself to be an average bullpen arm.  He flirted with the closer role early in the season, but blew his first and only save opportunity.  His ERA sits at 4.18, and he is being killed by a painful 5.82 BB/9.  This is far from an irreplaceable player for St. Louis.

Trading DeRosa was a no brainer for Cleveland.  They are currently toiling in dead last in the AL with a 31-35 record, eleven games behind division leader Detroit.  The season is a lost cause, and like last year with CC Sabathia, GM Mark Shapiro has shown that he is willing to unload his assets rather than lose them in the off-season.

While this was a smart trade by Cleveland, I am surprised they did receive more in return.  Only five and a half months ago, Cleveland gave up three pitching prospects to acquire DeRosa from the Cubs.  His value has not dropped that much even though his OPS has a bit, and there were several contenders interested in him.  I thought Shapiro would be able to have a bit more of a bidding war, but in the end he needed to get a trade done or risk losing DeRosa for nothing.

This was a smart trade on the part of both GM’s, and will go a long way in helping the Cardinals bring home the NL Central title.

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