Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Posts Tagged ‘cubs’

Carlos Silva in 2011: A Big “So What”?

Posted by dannmckeegan on March 6, 2011

There could be a reason for a team to jettison a big, fat, bloated contract, even if there is positive value of some sort to be gained from the player’s performance. The Cubs might be in such a situation this year. They owe Carlos Silva $12 million plus a $2 million buyout (less the money Seattle threw in with the Bradley trade). And Silva was good for half a season in 2010. But the Cubs have a fairly reliable set of starting pitchers in Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wells. No Phillies, surely, but more than competent.

They also have a stable of youngsters seen as starters in the near future: Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson, Christopher Carpenter, Trey McNutt, James Russell, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx all are at worst Triple-A starters in 2011. More than one probably has MLB-level stuff right now.

Seven names. Five spots in Iowa’s rotation. And that doesn’t include Hung-Wen Chen and a few guys bordering on filler/fading prospect. McNutt can probably thrive for a while beating up on the Southern League. Carpenter, Jackson, Russell, and Bibens-Dirkx could all use full seasons at Triple-A as pure starters. Both Cashner (power) and Coleman (sinker) showed some flashes in the majors last year and are capable of pitching at that level, if not thriving as a starter.

So now we have Carlos Silva’s big, fat contract pushing not one, but two or maybe even three young players away from the proverbial catering table. Silva’s ceiling is what he did last year: good luck on his sinker leading to some 5-6 inning starts and some time missed due to injury. His downside, we know, is a repeat of Seattle. If we consider that one of the kids will displace him at some point anyway, simply out of basic roster need, then it doesn’t make sense to keep him on the active or 40-man roster. Even if he can reproduce his 2 WAR 2010 this year, we have to weigh that (likely in 100-130 innings) against potential harm done to prospects not being challenged.

Keeping a guy like Carlos Silva around in a situation like the Cubs currently have is akin to telling a high school sophomore with an A- average that he has to repeat geometry because a senior with a C average and a case of senioritis blew off and failed world lit and didn’t graduate. You don’t punish the sophomore. You promote him normally and figure out how to accommodate the “demote” after everything else is in place. Silva’s getting his money either way. Is his projected 2011 performance (approximated as a WAR value) actually more valuable than a lesser performance by another player this year but an improved probability of stronger production (approximated by WAR value) in future years by one or more of those prospects?

If the Cubs see all of those prospects as MLB talents, then they would be doing less than due diligence if they failed to explore every means of challenging them. It’s not just for the Cubs themselves, but also to shore up added trade value. Is Player X worth more at age 23 with a 3.5 K/BB and 2.25 ERA at Double-A or a 3.2 K/BB and 3.25 ERA at Triple-A? If a guy smokes a league he has to repeat, then the response is, “He should be doing that. He’s playing too low.” It is preferable to see struggles and adjustments at the next level. Carlos Silva might be making that more difficult for the Cubs this year.

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He’s not my type, anyway

Posted by dannmckeegan on November 9, 2010

The Elias Sports Bureau has released their newest fall rom-com, the 2010 MLB player rankings. A surprising knee-slapper, this year’s dramatic flourishes are supported but not overshadowed by some dark humor. But that’s not to say that some true knee-slappers aren’t right there for an attentive audience. What’s your type, MLB front offices? This plot follows a rag-tag group of statisticians and programmers who share a love of baseball and cruel jokes. Providing Old Man Selig with a numerical rank for all of the free agents out there, “Bud” Selig uses his power and influence to rank the top scorers as Type A or Type B. They are free for the signing…but with a catch. [More after the jump] Read the rest of this entry »

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The Cases for Adrian and Adam

Posted by dannmckeegan on October 8, 2010

Both Adrian Gonzalez of San Diego and soon-to-be free agent Adam Dunn have reportedly expressed interest in playing for the Chicago Cubs. Gonzalez, as first basemen by trade, expressed this sentiment to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmeyer last week as the Cubs were in the midst of hurting the Padres’ playoff chances. Carlos Zambrano claims, according to Bleed Cubbie Blue, that Dunn told him way back when the “first baseman”/slugger first was traded to the desert from the banks of the mighty Ohio. Read the rest of this entry »

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As the end draws near…Numbers and Ponderings

Posted by dannmckeegan on September 28, 2010

Just a quick statistical summary for the optimistic among us. Big Z has been good since coming back from the restricted list and rejoining the rotation. As the team has inserted Coleman and Samardzija into a pair of slots, and as Randy Wells has begun to get his groove back, Carlos has become – for the first time in years – the reliable workhorse the team needs him to be. On average pitching into the seventh, El Toro is as hard to hit as ever.

CARLOS ZAMBRANO:

In 10 starts since returning from the restricted list:

  • 7-0
  • 64 innings
  • 41 hits
  • 11 runs
  • 9 earned runs
  • 1 home run
  • 37 walks
  • 55 strikeouts
  • 3 hit batsmen
  • 2 wild pitches
  • 1.27 ERA
  • 1.22 WHIP

In no start has he allowed more than 2 runs (not earned runs; just runs of any type). Projected out over a full season, he’d have a line like:

33 starts; 211 innings; 135 hits; 122 walks; 182 strikeouts; 3 home runs; 10 hit batsmen; 6 wild pitches; 36 runs

Obviously we’d expect the hits and runs to regress upward towards the mean, while the walk total would level off as the high-end outliers become less statistically significant. But if he has renewed his devotion to pitching as opposed to throwing, then the depressed home run total is somewhat sustainable (not 3 on a season, but closer to 7-10 than 20). He should have one more start. It’ll be fun to see how he finishes off his season.

Another home run-related note: between Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, only 4 balls have left the yard over 148 innings and more than 150 combined appearances. Add in their strikeout totals (134 for Marmol and 88 for Marshall) and Marshall’s low walk total (just 25, including intentional), and the Cubs have a recipe for success in the late innings that will cost them a pretty penny come arbitration. I would not be surprised, sadly, to see Marshall get packaged with Fukudome’s contract to a team in need of the two players’ skill sets. The Yankees could absorb the hit. Boston could, but Kosuke would be redundant with Drew around, while Drew would not be of use to the Cubs.

Positionally the Cubs seem largely set for 2011:

Soto C; DeWitt, Castro, Ramirez, Barney IF; Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome OF; either Hill or Castillo as the backup backsto; gaping hole at 1B.  But how about this: get Soto some reps in Mesa in spring training at first base while also working Colvin in there. Treat the two of them as a platoon. Soto remains the primary catcher, but slides to first like Victor Martinez or Buster Posey on his days off. This would save wear and tear on his knees, core, and surgically refreshed shoulder. It also keeps him in the lineup 140-150 games per year instead of 125. That could be worth a few wins. Colvin, meanwhile, takes most of the starts at 1B while still spelling Soriano or Byrd or Fukudome/Roster RF as the team’s fourth OF. Basically, instead of having a true “4th OF” on the roster, they’d simply need a utility man who has 1st base in his arsenal, someone like Jeff Baker except good at baseball.  I’d personally like to see Castillo rather than Koyie simply because Koyie is the backup catcher for a contender now. The Cubs aren’t that. As such, develop Welly into the backup catcher for a contender tomorrow.  He’d be able to get 40-60 starts easily, and having both Clevenger and Chirinos (if the latter’s added to the 40-man before the Rule 5 Draft) at Iowa provides ample insurance.

Unless they can move Fukudome this off season, there won’t be a lot of change to the positional makeup of this Cubs team. 2011’s RF – Fukie or otherwise – is a placeholder for whoever’s ready first between organization player of the year Brandon Guyer, 09 first rounder Brett Jackson, and possibly Ty Wright. I omit Colvin as a full-time option largely because the team has no true 1B prospect in the high minors. AA Tennessee boasts both lefty Matt Spencer (acquired from Oakland with Jeff Gray in the Jake Fox deal) and righty Russ Canzler, each of whom did very well in the Southern League. But neither is seen as a big-time player. Likewise, Iowa 3B Marquez Smith, Colvin’s old Auburn teammate, is too short to slide across to first despite offensive numbers that are a bit enticing (17 HR and 26 2B in 91 games with the I-Cubs after a slower start down in Tennessee).

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Geovany Soto’s great 2010

Posted by dannmckeegan on September 10, 2010

Over at FanGraphs, Jack Moore just yesterday published an article describing the very, very goodness of Geo Soto’s 2010 after a poor 2009 showing. He claims that Soto could be even better had Lou handled him better. I commented over there last night, but I had a few more thoughts that are more reliant on the numbers comparing him to Mauer and Buster Posey.  Here goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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Who’s Who Behind the Plate, pt. 2

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 7, 2010

…wherein the author examines the high minors of the Chicago Cubs, in particular those players whose primary position is catcher.

Welington Castillo (http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/icubs.jpg)Chris RobinsonRobinson ChirinosSteve Clevenger

Beyond Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill and Welington Castillo, there are several catchers in the Cubs’ farm system that are legitimate major league prospects.  There also are those who appear to be farm fodder at this point, as opposed to real prospects at the position.  There is little to no information available on DSL players beyond basic stat lines.  I’ll provide as much depth, in brief, as possible, as well as give a quick onceover to those who no longer are Cubs system catchers.

Triple A – Iowa Cubs

Welington Castillo; Chris Robinson; Mark Johnson

I dealt with Welington Castillo a few days ago.  Read about him here.  In brief, he possesses decent power at the plate and a strong arm behind it.  His broader defensive skills are in question, while his free-swinging ways have downgraded his ceiling to a Miguel Olivo-type career, as opposed to the Ivan Rodriguez-type player the Cubs hopes they were signing back in the middle of the last decade.  Expect to see him on the MLB roster in a matter of weeks, if not days, given the minor ligament soreness Geovany Soto is experiencing and the fact that Koyie Hill is about as good a hitter as Jon Garland.

Chris Robinson, left, shakes hands with P/WR Jeff Samardzija

At twenty-six years of age, Chris Robinson is having a rough go in his second trip through the Pacific Coast League.  Debuting for the Tigers’ short-season low-A affiliate in 2005 as a third round draft pick, Robinson made his way to the Cubs’ system in the middle of the following year, the return in the trade that sent Neifi Perez to Detroit.  A right-handed hitter, Robinson doesn’t have much pop (career .359 SLG) or patience (101 BB in 1620 PA, 6.2%).  After a surprising .326 average in 331 plate appearances at Iowa in 2009, Robinson’s stock has plummeted just as far as his 2010 offensive production has.  He’s hitting only .228 with a .584 OPS in 204 PA.  Even in 2009, his best overall season as a pro, he drew just 13 bases on balls.  He also has caught only 24% of attempted base thieves since the start of the 2008 season.  However, at the start of this season, Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry kept him in camp through the final cut to reward a strong spring.  Piniella emphasized to Paul Sullivan that, at the time, Robinson looked to be the emergency call-up if either Soto or Hill were to go on the DL.  This was surprising, as both Castillo and fellow-farmhand Steve Clevenger, Robinson’s 2009 platoon partner at Iowa, had been considered more highly rated prospects.  With just three weeks remaining in the minor league regular season, Robinson would need to play just about every day to match his games played and plate appearance totals from 2009.  With the progress of those next to and behind him, that’s not likely to happen.  Robinson might remain in the system as Just Another Guy, but his chance to get a cup of coffee with the Cubs likely passed when neither Geo nor Koyie came limping out of the gate.

Out of respect for a longtime member of the Brotherhood of Backup Backstops, I’ll give a brief write-up to Mark Johnson (not pictured), a 34-year-old left-handed hitter who began his professional career in 1994 as the White Sox’ first round pick.  He’s played parts or all of 8 major league seasons and 14 minor league seasons for six different organizations (White Sox, Athletics, Brewers twice, Cubs twice, Diamondbacks and Cardinals), amassing 332 games and 1102 plate appearances in MLB and 3568 plate appearances over 933 minor league games.  For about six weeks at the start of 2010, Johnson rode Iowa’s bench, picking up one pinch hitting opportunity and playing the field in another game.  He singled, scored, struck out, had no one attempt to run on him, and found himself out of a job on May 27th.  It’s likely the end of the road for Johnson, but at least he gets to say he led his team’s position players in hitting and on base percentage in his final season.

Double A – Tennessee Smokies

Robinson Chirinos; Steve Clevenger

Robinson Chirinos

Robinson Chirinos has been in the Cubs’ farm system since he was 17 years old.  That was way back in 2001, when he was a defensively deficient and offensively raw utility infielder in the Arizona rookie league.  He played over 500 games before ever making it higher than high A Daytona.  In 2007, he split the year between the Florida State League and the Smokies, committing 9 errors in 39 games while putting up a weak .629 OPS for Tennessee.  At the urging of Cubs player personnel V.P. Oneri Fleita, Chirinos began to transition behind the plate in the 2008 season, catching 2 games in rookie ball and 18 at Daytona in addition to 55 on the infield between those teams and the Smokies.  In 2009, Chirinos caught 65 of the 81 games in which he played, primarily at Daytona, committing 6 errors, allowing 7 passed balls and throwing out 24 of 86 (28%) thieves on the bases.  He also had by far his best offensive season as a pro, throwing up a slash line of .294/.396/.519 with a career high 11 HR and, for the second straight year, having a 1:1 K/BB ratio.  Earning a spot on the Tennessee team coming into 2010, Chirinos also turned heads at Baseball America, who graded him as the Cubs’ best defensive catcher.  So far in 2010, all he’s done is start the Southern League ASG, earn multiple offensive player of the week awards, and carry a .316/.407/.578 line through the first week of August.  He’s walked 40 times to just 33 strikeouts in 307 plate appearances, as well as hit 15 home runs and 22 doubles.  He’s second on the team in total bases despite being sixth in plate appearances.  Defensively, he has 7 errors in 536 chances (.987), 5 passed balls and a 30% CS rate.  Having turned 26 two months ago, Chirinos is no spring chicken by baseball standards.  He is, however, getting close to MLB-ready.  While likely never a star and probably not a starter, he projects as a potentially strong all-around backup for a few years that might serve as solid trade-bait this coming off-season.

Steve Clevenger

Steve Clevenger’s name has fallen on this list just as far as he has on the organizational depth chart.  Late in 2009, this 24-year-old with a lefty stick was figuring out AAA pitching for the first time during 66 games played with Iowa after a torrid start early on in Tennessee.  A career .300/.360/.390 hitter in the minors, he was a seventh rounder by the Cubs back in 2006, the same draft in which the team took Jeff Samardzija and Tyler Colvin.  A singles hitter with walk and strikeout rates hovering around 10% apiece, he’s only been able to squeeze 200 plate appearances and 43 games behind the plate back at AA Tennessee.  Through no fault of his own, he was the odd man out when someone had to give way to Castillo’s promotion.  Expected to be the long side of the platoon with Chirinos, Clevenger started as slowly as Chirinos was hot and has been playing catch-up ever since.  He’s at .277/.319/.351, numbers more similar to his first trip through the Southern League in 2008 than the .364 average and .976 OPS he put up in the first month down there in 2009.  Clevenger’s first season with the Cubs saw him at the keystone is short season low-A at Boise, but he hasn’t played an inning there since.  In addition to those 63 games at second, he played first in 82 games between 2007 and 2009 while catching just under 200 to date, catching 29% of runners while allowing just 14 passed balls and 15 errors as a catcher.  Given what we know about the careers of Paul Bako, Brian Schneider, and Gregg Zaun, a catcher with even the potential to hit over .200 from the left side will be given every chance and then some to make it.  Expect Clevenger to stick around the system, a la Koyie Hill, for at least a year or two more.

Prognosis

Chris Robinson, most likely, is near the end of his tenure in the upper minors.  The Cubs are hardly a top-5 system, but they do have solid players who have excelled at lower levels.  Room has to be cleared, and that generally means that age gets the boot.  While he is the same age as Chirinos and has been a pro for a shorter period of time, Chirinos’ recent positional transition and rapid development – along with his improving offense and respectable slugging – should make Chirinos Iowa’s starter or someone else’s farmhand come next Februrary.  It’s hard to imagine that Welington Castillo will be anywhere other than Alfonso Soriano‘s sofa in the coming weeks (sorry, Starlin – time to get your own place).  Clevenger likely will be shuffled back up to Triple A Iowa.  There are some intriguing options at catcher in the low minors.  Michael Brenly, Jovan Rosa, Luis Flores, Jonathan Mota and others might be ready to move up one or more steps, with their Augusts, winter ball stints, and spring training performance (if applicable) will determine what the upper minors look like.  Count on Castillo to back up Soto unless he looks absolutely feeble and over-matched as 2010 comes to a close.

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