Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Notes on the Cubs’ Lineup Issues

Posted by dannmckeegan on July 17, 2010

While Geovany Soto’s overall numbers make him seem like a middle-of-the-order guy, Piniella has been very open about his belief that young players should be put into positions in which they can succeed. That is, rely on veteran players in key roles and ease the young players in. In 2008, he had little choice but to start Soto. It worked out very well.

In 2009, he was very conservative with Randy Wells, allowing him to hit 100 pitches only twice in his first 14 starts.  Even in positive situations, Piniella preferred to pull the young guy an inning early than allow a late-inning blowup to happen.  Lacking offense for so much of 2009, Wells lost a good many statistical victories, even when the team went on to win.  It’s also worth considering how long it took for Marmol to settle into the closer’s role.  Lou preferred Marmol in the setup role where the “closer pressure” was off but he could call on him any time in the late innings when the biggest threat was there.  Cashner in 2010, likewise, was supposed to come in slowly.  A quick promotion turned out to be a bad thing, with three losses for the kid in 5 games.  Lou pulled back on the job description, recognizing that Marshall plus Marmol are good for more than 2 innings per night.  Cashner can get bigger opportunities than, say, Howry.  But we’ve also seen Berg get late-inning appearances because of his sinker and supposed ground ball ability.  And the maddeningly inconsistent James Russell sometimes gets big outs and sometimes serves up long homers.  So Lou does…things…with the young players.  Tests them out, sees what they can do.

Starlin Castro, who has started nearly every game since being called up, has largely been in the 7th or 8th spot in the lineup. In 30 starts in the 8th spot, he’s at .304/.405/.457 with a .370 BABIP, 6 IBB, 17 total BB to 20 K, 12 RBI, and 10 XBH in 112 PA. In 15 7-hole starts, his numbers are .259/.281/.370 with a .311 BABIP, 2 walks to 10 K, 9 RBI, 4 XBH in 58 PA. His numbers batting 2nd, with 47 PA over 11 starts, are slightly worse than his numbers batting 7th. Now obviously, that .370 BABIP is skewed and the overall numbers are skewed by sample size, but it’s pretty clear that Piniella’s putting the kid in front of the pitcher has put him in a position to succeed: take pitches, draw walks, simply see more major league pitches. So Soto, in this “comeback” year, of sorts, has thrived at the bottom of the order. His numbers are good. His low RBI total (imperfect stat, whatever) is certainly affected by Lee and Ramirez not getting on base ahead of him. But of greater interest is the fact that, in 65 PA with RISP this season, he’s hitting .208 with a .400 on-base. His battle plan is that of Homer Simpson running for garbage commissioner: “Can’t someone else do it?” He takes his walk and hopes the pitcher or Castro does the damage. That really doesn’t do much with, say, the Lee and Ramirez of the first half hitting behind him.

And of course it’s worth noting that since Ramirez came off the disabled list on 6/25, having rested his thumb for two weeks, he’s raised his slash line from .168/.232/.285 to .220/.278/.411. That’s a difference of .052/.046/.126 in 17 games. Lee, on the other hand, has been equally crappy month by month. And both his batting average and BABIP are each 40 points below his career average (.240 and .280 as opposed to .280 and .320, respectively). This occurs despite contact-type numbers virtually identical to career totals and a drop in infield pop-ups to 1% from a 6% career clip. The only pitch against which Lee has a positive pitch type value is the curveball – the slowest pitch among the charted types. He appears to have “gotten old,” as they say, given his deteriorating power, speed, and defense.

And one last thing about young players, to counterbalance the Derrek Lee talk: Robinson Chirinos, the Cubs’ primary catcher at Double A Tennessee, is currently in possession of a 1.000 OPS through 59 games.  You’re really telling me that Koyie Hill is better than that?

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