Listen I’m not here to blab about the Cubs making a playoff run or any of that bullshit. No fuckin thanks. We were out of it before the season even started. Still, I have an obligation to myself, Ron Santo’s legacy, and most importantly stoolie Cub fans to breakdown the first half. My conclusion? We’re not that bad..
Run Differential and Blown Saves
Big Cat brought this up the other day and it bears repeating… did you know we have a -10 run differential? 93 games, 384 runs scored, 394 runs surrendered. All things considered, that’s very impressive. Speaking of 93, that’s how many wins the Orioles had last year when they finished at a +7 run differential. Pretty wild shit, especially when you consider the following: we’ve blown 19 saves in 41 chances this year, which is obviously dead last in MLB. Of the 19 blown saves, we’ve lost 14.
Using basic arithmetic and microsoft excel, my numbers show that if we converted saves at the league average (70%) and not the league worst (54%) while winning games in which we blow a save at the same rate (5/19), then we’d have 5 more wins. That means we’d be 47-46, only 5 games out of a wildcard spot, and ready to make the second half playoff push I said I wouldn’t talk about. Unfortunately, we don’t close games at league average because our bullpen is the closest thing to professional baseball’s island of misfit toys. On the bright side though, we’re on a 60 run improvement from last year through the first 93 games. That’s a little something called progress.
We have 3 of the best #3 starting pitchers in baseball, and they’re providing value in unique ways:
1. Shark: I don’t even think we know what we’ve got with Samardzija. Very interesting development. His time on the gridiron really limited his exposure when he was younger. As a result, his arm has a lot less mileage than you’d expect from a 28 year old. According to Fan Graphs, his ground ball/fly ball ratio is up, infield fly ratio is way up, pitches per plate appearance is down, and % of strikeouts looking is up. Those metrics are indicative of someone gaining maturity and command of multiple pitches. Oh and I suppose it also helps that when he’s on, he is absolutely fucking nasty. Now just hope there’s continued minor regression towards the end of the season so we can get him on the cheap for a few more years. All that contract talk after he sprinted out of the gate probably got Hoystein a little uneasy, but waiting until after the season to resume contract negotiations looks like it will pay off. BUILDING BLOCKS PEOPLE.
2. Garza: We all know Garza’s days as a Cub are numbered. What we don’t yet know is the return. It’s been reported that the Cubs are asking for a lot. I find it hard to believe that a team would give up a top level prospect close to the big leagues. I’m betting we get a top A ball pitching prospect, and a couple good position players who are in AA or AAA, maybe even a young big leaguer who hasn’t had much of a chance to take off yet. Who knows. All I can say is thank fucking god he hasn’t gone back to the DL. His market is heating up and you can guarantee Theo is going to milk that bitch for all it’s worth.
3. Wood: Remember the idiots who made a big deal out of the Sean Marshall trade? Yeah, those people are called fuckwads. Rebuilding teams can’t afford luxuries like soft tossing lefty specialists with big breaking balls. As such, trading for him has been Theo’s finest move to date. While small in stature, he makes up for it with a cut fastball that just absolutely saws logs. His mastery of the cutter has enabled him to get that downhill tilt on the ball that shorter pitchers usually have a very hard time finding (amirite WhiteSoxDave?). Downhill tilt leads to less solid contact, which leads to less hits. Speaking of less hits, he’s 7th in the MLB in hits per nine innings. For context, Max Scherzer is #8. Oh and he’s only 26 and a fucking awesome athlete (higher OPS than half the starting lineup). When you consider that a left handed pitcher’s peak is generally between ages 27-31, you have to like the trend for #37.
Rizzo (.241/.328/.441) and Castro (.243/.280/.351)
This is the foundation. Everything we hear about building a contender on the Northside is premised on Rizzo and Castro paving the way. So why haven’t they played like it? Rizzo has been slightly above average (.769 OPS, 108 OPS+) at the plate. While slightly above average may cut it in our bullpen, that shit certainly isn’t going to work in the middle of our lineup. He’s consistently been impatient with runners in scoring position (What’s a changeup, bro?) and overly patient with the bags empty (Nah I’ll just wait til he cooks one down the middle). Good thing is it’s all approach. Not working with a long swing or a slow bat. Again, I know we’ve said it about a billion times already but just be patient.
As for Castro, don’t be patient. This is absolute complete fuckin bullshit head to toe, and don’t even begin to tell me he’s just a kid learning to play the game. Guy has almost 2,400 plate appearances under his belt. That’s more than enough to be considered an established big leaguer. His problem is he’s out of shape. Slice it and dice it however you want, but that mother fucker put on some goddamn weight. Simply doesn’t pass the eye test, and anyone thinking otherwise needs to get their head checked. My guess is he bought into all that hype about developing into a 20-25 homerun threat and figured putting on weight would be the best way to do it. That or maybe he’s just lazy and doesn’t give a fuck now that he got a $60m contract. No clue. What I do know is that he hasn’t turned on a ball since June 2012, and as a result he’s seeing more fastballs (54% career vs. 61% this year) and he can’t handle them. Look at his spray chart:
That doesn’t look like a pure #3 hitter to me. That looks like Mark Grudzielanek circa 1995. So what’s the fix? I’m not sure. I don’t know how to motivate young Dominican multi-millionaires. I’m guessing you don’t either. But that’s where the issue lies… just gotta get him ready to play at a high level every day and ready to win a championship.
With alllll of that being said, I think .500 baseball is attainable in the second half. Yes, it’s pathetic that I’m advocating for mediocre baseball. Very pathetic actually. But anyone who has recently watched this team will tell you they’re noticeably better than before. They’re staying in games, driving the ball at the plate, and pitching like actual professionals. Simply put, the tide is turning folks. Get excited and stay excited becuase it’s only getting better.