To say that Caleb and I love it when The Simpsons take on baseball would be an understatement. But taking on baseball and sabermetrics in the same episode? While finally granting Mike Scioscia his wish to reprise his role from "Homer at the Bat"? And while tipping the cap to Bill James ("I made baseball as fun as doing your taxes!")?
Granted, the episode uses some misguided stathead-slamming tropes (most egregiously Professor Frink's ridiculously obscure analysis of Zach Greinke, reminiscent of Tom Selleck's ridiculous self-analysis from Mr. Baseball and pretty much every Murray Chass anti-SABR article ever), but the "guts" guys don't get off any easier, and this seems like a great opportunity for both "sides" to laugh at each other and themselves.
But as an English teacher, my favorite part of the episode turned out to be Homer's response to Marge's "Why do you say such ridiculous things?" question. It was comedy gold even before he pointlessly tacked on "formally" to the end of his run-on sentence-like-thing, but at "formally" I was laughing harder than I've laughed for a long time (and I watched this episode while sick as a dog!).
19 years after "Homer at the Bat," The Simpsons has hit another homer. And yes, I should be very, very ashamed of myself for closing a post with such a terrible pun.
Notes: Cubs are are 7-1 on the recent road trip. They are hitting .212 but .292 (might not be accurate numbers but whatever) with RISP.
Brenly from the pregame: "For all you statgeeks who say that batting average is overrated here's a perfect example of how timely hits, good defense and just getting the ball in play can create some wins."
Thanks for setting me straight by citing things that are not batting average to support batting average. That's like telling me slugging is overrated and illustrating your point by pointing to park attendance.
It's been a bad year for Cubs fans. Predictably, the Cubs have been out of the division race since Opening Day. Unpredictably, they've spiraled into the depths of the NL Central, with only the lowly Quadruple-A Pirates to break their epic fall. It seems like only yesterday when the Wrigley faithful watched the Cubs win 97 en route to the best record in the National League (though, to be fair, it also seems like only yesterday when we watched them lose 96 games en route to the worst record in the National League).
In light of this season's brutal doom spiral, it was no surprise when the fire sale began. First, Lilly and Theriot went west to the Dodgers for Blake DeWitt. Then Fontenot was off to San Francisco. But the big one, the one that really hurt this die hard's heart, was when Derrek Lee was traded to the Atlanta Braves on August 18th.
Obviously, Lee was having a down year. Actually, that's an understatement: Derrek Lee was on pace for his worst full season ever. His power and on-base skills seemed to evaporate completely during the early goings. His speed has long since abandoned him. And his strikeout totals were up. But it's tough for this fan to forget 2005, and 2009, and 2007. It's tough to see Derrek Lee walk up to the plate, a picture of class and calm, and not believe that this is the at-bat that will turn things around. But mostly, it's tough to lose such a great player and such a great man, regardless of the slump that has been his 2010.
* * *
I got the news from my friend Keith Larson:
lee to atlanta
Three simple words--short even by text message standards. But they hit me right in the gut. Sure, losing Lilly, Theriot, and Fontenot had hurt. Ted Lilly was, year-in and year-out, our most dependable (and best or second best) starter and a joy to watch if you're a fan of a good curve ball (I am). Ryan Theriot was exactly the sort of scrappy, 110% effort ballplayer a scrappy, 110% non-ballplayer like me can love unashamedly. And Mike Fontenot--well, Mike was a heartbreaker. His partial seasons made him look like the second baseman of the future, and the Theriot-Fontenot LSU connection was too good not to love. But Mike never seemed to be able to put it all together for a full season, and wound up being a good utility guy instead of the anchor at second many of us were hoping he'd become.
But Derrek Lee was my favorite Cub.
Keith knew this. We'd had the "favorite Cub" discussion early on. His was Aramis Ramirez. I certainly understand his position. I have never seen a human being swing one object at another object harder than Aramis Ramirez swings a bat at a ball when their are fewer than two strikes and runners on base. Keith often calls baseball a chess match, and I think there's a lot to be said for that analogy. But Aramis Ramirez brings a battle axe to a chess match. It's a joy to watch. But the beauty of Rami's approach is that, when he's on at the plate (which, over the course of his career, has been most of the time), he doesn't swing that axe at stupid pitches. He makes pitchers nibble (difficult) or come right at him (dangerous).
But my favorite Cub was Derrek Lee. When the Cubs signed him before the '04 season, I went nuts. Few of my Cubs fan friends knew why. Sure, they'd seen D-Lee "crush" in the '03 NLCS.* But Marlins, then as now, rarely attracted national attention, so where I saw a slick-fielding, hard-hitting big man with 20+ SB speed, they saw...some guy they'd never heard of until he helped transfer the misplaced loathing of the Cubs faithful from a billy goat and a black cat to a poor guy named Bartman.
*It's funny, because no matter how many times I look at Derrek Lee's ugly line from the '03 NLCS--.188/.235/.344 with a meaningless homer and a pair of doubles--I can't stop thinking and, sometimes, saying that Lee killed us in that series. That's the word I've used: "killed." And my Cubs fan friends never call me out on that statement. In fact, most of them agree with me! And yet, he did nothing of the sort. Our pitchers kept him off balance the whole series. He struck out eight times and hit into a pair of double plays. He only collected six hits, and half of them were in losing efforts. Derrek Lee didn't kill us in that series. But his two run double off of Mark Prior in that disastrous eighth inning of Game 6 killed us in a very real way, nonetheless, a way we're still feeling--and talking about--seven years later.
Getting Derrek Lee in the Great Marlin Fire Sale of '03-'04 felt like a form of closure for me, I guess. And when D-Lee put up a .278/.356/.504 line while digging enough balls out of the dirt to make Aramis Ramirez look like a Gold Glover to enough of my friends for it to be annoying, all while going about his business with a quiet dignity and professionalism that sometimes seems like a lost art in modern free agents (that's right, it's a "damned kids and their music" argument!), it was settled: #25 was The Man in Chicago as far as I was concerned.
* * *
Keith came to Chicago with his girlfriend Sara in the fall of 2009. They had moved together from Portland when Sara got into grad school in the Flatlands. Keith loves Portland. Whenever the city came up in conversation, he'd tell me about how perfect it is geographically: "90 minutes to the beach, 90 minutes to the mountains." Or how easy it is to get to Mariners games: "The Amtrak literally drops you off next to the stadium; you can't even park that close!" Within hours of friending me on Facebook, Keith had sent me links to local Portland farmers markets that "put anything here in Chicago to shame." Keith loves Portland.
But Keith also loved Sara, and he's loved the Cubs for as long as he can remember, so he came to Chicago to be with his lady.
Unfortunately for Keith, it was a rough year with both his beloveds. Things with Sara didn't work out, and the Cubs quickly spiraled into oblivion. But he decided that, while he was here, he'd nevertheless be sure to go to as many games at Wrigley as possible. Based on the number of Wrigleyville doormen and ticket takers who know him by name, I think it's safe to say that he was successful in that endeavor.
* * *
Keith and I didn't see much of one another this summer. I had quit my gig at the bar in his neighborhood that had given us a default hangout place and time every week, and had then spent most of the summer traveling from one wedding and/or miscellaneous adventure to the next. But on Thursday, August 19th, we found ourselves at Wrigley Field for only our second game together this season, a heartbreaking loss to the San Diego Padres. It had been a month to the day since we'd gotten together to talk baseball (our last--and first--game together had been on July 19th when the Astros were in town), and we spent virtually the entire game talking baseball, oblivious to the fans around us.
That is, until one of those fans turned around and said, "You two should host your own talk show."
Keith and I were mortified. In that instant, we'd both realized that we had basically spent an entire ballgame talking about the game we were watching, the game in general, the year so far (from rookie-of-the-year candidates to Griffey and his contemporaries' Hall of Fame cases/legacies)...you name it. And we'd done this while sitting directly behind a pair of 50-something women who probably just wanted to enjoy a Thursday afternoon game in peace.
But as it turned out, they had been enjoying our baseball talk almost as much as we had. "It's been very interesting," the first woman told us when we began to apologize. "I didn't know a lot of the stuff you were talking about."*
*Among that "stuff": that Derrek Lee had killed us in the '03 playoffs. I deserve to be slapped.
"Just don't talk that much when our friend [can't remember her name] is here," added the second woman. "She'll kill you." They laughed.
At the end of the game, we said goodbye to our new ballpark friends and made our way to the exits, sure of two things: that we would absolutely love to host a radio show together (Keith later told Sara the story, and she agreed wholeheartedly with the Wrigley ladies, so we'd have at least three listeners), and that we needed to return the next day for Derrek Lee's first game as an Atlanta Brave, and first game as a visitor in Wrigley since he killed us in '03.
* * *
The funny thing is, I'd never have been there for D-Lee's swan song if Keith hadn't wandered into the Bird's Nest after work on Tuesday, December 8th of last year. Keith had never been to the Bird's Nest, even though he'd lived down the street for over a month. But for whatever reason, he chose that night to wander in for a nightcap. And on that night, ESPN reported that Curtis Granderson, former UIC standout, reigning All-Star center fielder, and general class act (seriously, check out http://www.grandkidsfoundation.org/) would be going to the Yankees.
"Goddamned Yankees," I growled at a television for what felt like the thousandth time.
And that's how I met Keith. Keith is the sort of guy who can strike up a conversation with anyone at any time in any situation. It's admirable--and enviable. That night, he'd pulled up a barstool a couple seats down from me and was watching the report with equal interest. And he struck up a conversation. We spent the next few High Lifes lauding the merits (on-field and off) of Granderson, lambasting the Evil Empire in the Big Apple, and talking baseball, Chicago--the important stuff.
And as the weeks went on and the 2010 season came closer, we lamented the lack of initiative the front office seemed to be showing (did Hendry & Co. seriously think we were that close to contending that they could sit on their thumbs?). We made grand plans for Opening Day (thwarted when we had the wrong day of the week and I had to work). And on a weekly basis, we raised our glasses and waxed poetical and statistical* about the game we loved.
*I didn't know it, but early on in our friendship, Keith was as amazed by my historical baseball knowledge as I was by his ability to keep up with Cubs farmhands I knew almost nothing about. When I met Sara for the first time, Keith did the standard introductions, then nonchalantly turned to me and said, "Hey, by the way, when was it that Hack Wilson had his crazy season again?" "1929," I told him. "The year he drove in 191 and set the RBI record. One of the three best hitting seasons by a Cub ever, right up there with Hornsby's '29 and Sosa's '01." Keith turned to Sara. "See?" It seemed I had been successfully shown off.
The fact is, we'd had our own radio show since the day we met. We just hadn't been told until those two ladies did so at the Padres game.
* * *
Aisle 36. Row 8. Seats 3 and 4. We'd never sprung for such good seats before (though Keith had found them for half the box office price). But this was Derrek Lee. This was a tribute to, as Keith put it, "a seven year love affair."
The couple next to us were season ticket holders. Like most season ticket holders, they were curious about the unfamiliar faces sitting next to them, and we struck up a conversation while we watched the Braves "warm up,"* hoping to spot Derrek before the game got going and get a gauge on his emotions. But when we finally spotted Big D, he was placid as always, and spent most of his time chatting with young phenom Jason Heyward. ("Listen to him, kid," I said to nobody in particular. "He's exactly what you can become, albeit sooner in your career and hopefully without a derailing wrist injury.") We should have known.
*Seriously, I hope Jair Jurrjens did his real warm up before we got to the stadium. Otherwise, that was the most half-assed warm up routine I've seen this side of a 13-year-old. Trust me: if you're capable of throwing a baseball--or any object, for that matter--you're capable of kicking above your waist while doing Frankensteins!
When the starting lineups were announced, Derrek Lee (hitting cleanup and playing first base for Atlanta) got more cheers from the Wrigley crowd than anyone on either team. "This bodes well for his first at bat," I said. Keith agreed.
When Omar Infante led off the inning with a double, it was tough (and confusing) not to be a bit excited. "Looks like we'll see Lee this inning," Keith said.
And when Derrek Lee stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on third in the top of the first inning, 39,345 people, ourselves included, waited just long enough for the last syllable of his name to fill the stadium before the roar of Cubs fans thanking Derrek for 6+ years in blue and Braves fans welcoming their newest player became absolutely deafening. Keith was pointing at people who were still sitting and yelling at them to stand up; I'm not sure they could hear him. Ryan Dempster stepped off the mound.
Derrek Lee stepped out of the box. He put his bat under his arm, took off his helmet to wipe his brow with his forearm, and then tipped the helmet in an understated gesture of thanks to the crowd. It was classy all around. It was exactly the way Derrek Lee will be and should be remembered here in the Windy City.
When Lee flied out on a well-hit ball to left field, the crowd went just as wild on his trip back to the dugout (albeit the wrong dugout for most of us fans) as this did on his trip to the plate. Derrek Lee would go 0-for-4 in the game with 2 strikeouts, and only 1-for-11 in the series, though he walked three times and hit a 3-run double in a 16-5 Game 3 rout. And he would receive a standing ovation in his first at bat of each game.
* * *
Keith and I sat on his steps for the last time on Thursday, August 26th, 2010. I had his old (and my new) microwave at my feet, and we were trying to hail a cab so that I could get it home. I'd joked that it would look like I'd just robbed Keith's place. Keith joked that he'd chase the cab when I got in.
And, as always, we found ourselves talking baseball: Who's going to replace Lou? Where will Maddux and Sandberg be in the organization next year? How was it that we were 0-for-3 at Wrigley together and suddenly the Cubs had strung together a 3-game win streak?
And we also said our goodbyes. Keith continued to tell me about the food in Portland. I made him promise he'd get a beer at Bent River in Rock Island, IL on his way west. And Keith, ever the gentleman, chased down a cab for me while I hustled after him with a microwave in my arms.
* * *
It's been a bad year for Cubs fans. But this Cubs fan has had his share of sweet to go with the bitter thanks to comrades-in-arms like Keith. And so, to Mr. Lee and Mr. Larson, old friend and new, I tip my cap and bid you both a fond farewell from the Windy City.
In this ongoing series of however many I feel like I tackle an issue that has bothered me in the past but is not necessarily relevant.
This season at some point I saw a game where they put up a 3000 hit tracker for players in the range of making this pointless plateau. Included on the list was Omar Vizquel.
Omar Vizquel currently has 2720 hits currently (I have no memory of what he had at the time I saw the graphic). That puts him 280 hits shy of the 3000 hit mark. That wouldn't seem so unreasonable except for a litany of reasons. Omar Vizquel is 44 years-old. Omar Vizquel's highest hit total in a season ever is 191; it happened in 1999 when he was 32. Omar Vizquel is a lifetime .272 hitter and would need something above 1000 AB to get there. Omar Vizquel is currently a utility player for the White Sox and will probably play in something like 70 games this season if he's lucky.
If Omar Vizquel reaches 3000 hits I will buy an Omar Vizquel jersey and wear it to a church on Easter Sunday. I'll make it a Rangers jersey for funsies.
If you are the type to hold arbitrary benchmarks at numbers divisible by 100 or 1000 for whatever reason at least do it reasonably. There are arguments to be made for Omar Viquel to be elected to the Hall of Fame when the time comes. His hits are not one of them.
Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring, and besides that they're fascist.
Seriously that was an awesome game last night for so many reasons. The reasons we're interested in here all have to do with numbers and algebra so deal with it. Strasburg's K/IP is 2 and his K/BB is undefined.
Also it was awesome that every run of the game came off a homerun until the eighth inning when Pudge had one of my favorite statistical plays: the run scoring nonRBI GIDP.
I'm so happy the winning run came from Adam "True Outcomes" Dunn too.
Pointless extrapolation time! At this rate Strasburg will shatter the K/9 record (13.4 Randy Johnson 2001) and of course the K/BB record. Let's worry about Ks. Modern era record is 383 by Nolan Ryan in 1973. (When he was 26. His name appears five times in the all time top 50 strikeouts in a season and that's not excluding deadball era pitchers. Goddamn I love Nolan Ryan.) Strassburg needs to pitch 184.5 more innings this year at his clip of 2 K/IP to get there. The Nationals have 103 games left this year. Assume Strasburg gets a start every five games that gives him about 20 games to pitch those 184.5 innings, meaning he will have to go the distance in every game plus get an extra start or make some relief appearances.
It could happen. If only Dusty Baker managed in Washington.
Prince Fielder needs to get on track and fast or the Brewers are in trouble. I've decided to try to motivate him. For every home run Prince hits this year I will donate $5 to the MACC Fund. So either Prince starts hitting homers or he hates kids with cancer.
In case he actually reads this: I'm kidding Prince. I love you so much I named my dog after you. I am completely serious about donating this money.
I meant to write this much earlier. Then I went on vacation. And here we are.
So, if I had a vote in this year's election (and a million dollars and a unicorn and a million dollar unicorn insurance policy), here's who I'd put on my ballot (in alphabetical order):
Roberto Alomar. If the various advanced defensive metrics developed by smarter folks than I are to be believed, Roberto Alomar was not the defensive genius I thought he was when I was a wee one. But when you hit .300/.371/.443 over 17 seasons at a skill position, you're one hell of a ballplayer.
Bert Blyleven. One of my favorite arguments against Bert Blyleven (and I wish I could remember who made it) was that no kids in the 80's opened up Bert Blyleven baseball cards and got excited. I was excited when I opened Blylevens in the 80's. That's the fun thing about argumentative absolutes: as soon as one little thing doesn't fit, the argument falls apart. As for an argument that matters with regards to Blyleven, point your browsers Rich Ledererward (the Bert Blyleven series is about halfway down the left navbar) if you've not done so already.
Andre Dawson. For a long time, I didn't think Dawson was a Hall of Famer. I saw that .323 OBP and cringed. But the Hawk also slugged .482 on his career, and took a lot of extra bases (314) at a 74% success rate. In other words, when he got on base, he got on bases. And until his knees went to hell, he was a premier defensive center fielder, as well, which is an added bonus. He's not a slam-dunk, but I think he makes the cut (especially when I look at some of the other folks who already have plaques). He is, however, easily the most arguable of my choices (ignoring PED-related debates, that is).
Barry Larkin. Larkin did absolutely everything well. He hit for average (.295 lifetime). He hit for power (.444 SLG as a middle infielder). He got on base (.371 OBP). He had speed (379 SB at an 83% success rate). He fielded his position (37 defensive RAR). He's 59th all time in WAR with 68.8. He is, quite simply, a Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez. Yes, I know he played most of his career as a DH (of course, so did Paul Molitor, and so did future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas). But inducting relief pitchers has been all the rage lately (and fairly, I think). Designated hitters are a lot more valuable than relief pitchers. And Edgar Martinez was the greatest DH of all time. It's time we set the bar, no?
Mark McGwire. I'll also be casting my vote that doesn't mean anything for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, by the by.
Tim Raines. A case could be made for Tim Raines as the second greatest leadoff hitter ever. Unfortunately, he played at the same time as the greatest leadoff hitter ever, and he played in Montreal. But there's no reason a .294/.385/.425 hitter with an OPS+ of 123 and 808 of the most efficient stolen bases in baseball history shouldn't have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Alan Trammell. Trammell will probably never make it to Cooperstown (like fellow HoF-worthy Tiger Lou Whitaker) because he spread his value over several skillsets, and not as obviously as Larkin did. Trammell could hit. He could field. He was what so many sportswriters have called a "complete player." But he was outhit by Cal Ripken (an anomaly at SS at the time) and outfielded by Ozzie Smith (who was the best defensive SS of all time), putting him in a Tim Raines-easque purgatory despite his 66.8 WAR (69th all time).
Whether you think the decade ended last night or 364ish days from now, the twenty-aughts are over, which means I have a rock-solid excuse to do a bit of reflecting on the decade that was (and very technically still is). This reflection, unsurprisingly, has taken the form of a list, as I found myself wondering what an all-decade team would look like for the North Siders. Here's my attempt at answering that question.
Whenever possible, I tried to err on the side of seniority. In other words, 1-year rentals shouldn't make an All-Aught team in my opinion, because the All-Aught Cubbies aren't just about putting the best team possible on the field. They're also about putting the most representative team on the field. And sometimes, that means Corey Patterson gets to play (the abyss gazes also...).
I may decide to extend the All-Aught analysis to the other teams in the NL Central, though this took me quite some time to compile and, if Caleb and Steve are interested (hint, hint) ,they could certainly claim Milwaukee and St. Louis.
So without further ado...
Catcher: Michael Barrett
If Geovany Soto had followed up his 2008 campaign with a similarly impressive 2009, he'd likely have taken this spot. As it stands, Cubs catchers haven't lasted very long in the aughts, and Barrett's 431 games behind the dish are easily the most by any backstop on the decade (Girardi and Soto are neck-and-neck behind Barrett, with 274 and 273 games, respectively). Barrett's defensive reputation wasn't exactly sterling, but he sure got things done with the bat, posting a .284/.343/.484 line with 57 HR, and 98 2B in 3+ years with the Cubs. He also led the Major Leagues with 1 punch to A.J. Pierzynski's face, which shouldn't be underestimated. We'll just make sure to keep him away from Zambrano in the All-Aught dugout.
You were expecting someone else? D-Lee absolutely owned the also-rans at first base this decade. He may not get a lot of press (2005 excepted) playing in a division that claims Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but sweet Lord has Lee ever had a fantastic career in Chicago. In five full seasons (and parts of 2006), Derrek Lee has hit .304/.384/.539 with 163 HR and 218 2B, and he's done it all while playing Gold Glove caliber defense. Just to put things in perspective, his nearest competition, Fred McGriff, trails Lee by over 500 RC and was nowhere near the defensive player D-Lee is.
Second base is a three horse race between DeRosa, Eric Young, and Todd Walker. There is no iconic choice at second like there is at first, and there's little seperation between the top candidates like there is at catcher; DeRo, Young, and Walker are all within 3 RC of one another (176, 177, 174, respectively). But Walker had an extra year on the North Side to put up those numbers, which makes me skeptical that he'll really be able to hang with the other two upon more careful analysis. Dipping into WAR data confirms this: DeRosa was worth 6.4 WAR in his two seasons with the Cubs, Young 4.0 WAR, and Walker only 2.9 across 3 seasons. DeRo, with his .289/.373/.451 line (plus 31 homers and 58 doubles) beats out Young due to slightly better fielding numbers (though neither was a defensive wizard and it's worth noting that DeRosa was all over the diamond at times), and better OBP and SLG skills. Other Cubs second basemen. Third Base: Aramis Ramirez Another easy choice, Ramirez and his .300/.364/.546 line, 188 HR, and 200 2B annihilate the rest of the field (Bill Mueller? Ron Coomer? Willie Greene?). He may be a bit of a statue at third, but his bat more than makes up for his lack of range, making Aramis Ramirez a very, very good baseball player. Other Cubs third basemen. Shortstop: Ryan Theriot The knock against The Riot is that he's a woefully inefficient base stealer and he absolutely does not hit for power (his career SLG is only 13 points higher than his career OBP: 369 vs. .356). But he gets on base and plays adequately at short (some years a bit above replacement, sometimes a bit below). And from a fan perspective, I have to say that he's a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and even more fun to yell silly things like "The Quiet Riot!" at. Bonus. Other Cubs shortstops. Left Field: Alfonso Soriano This one hurts me a little, because I very much want to pencil Moises Alou into the All-Aught lineup. But although Alou was better offensively (mostly because his down year, 2002 was so much better than Soriano's godawful 2009, and his best year, 2004, was crazygonuts), Soriano's defense is much, much better than Alou's ever was. And it's not just Soriano's amazing outfield arm; his range in left is better, and even with the silly little hop, he's better at reeling in balls hit his way. He's also better on the basepaths (no surprise there). Add all those "little" things together and Soriano has a massive 4.9 to 2.5 WAR advantage over Alou despite Moises's superior batting line. None of this is to say that non-2009 Soriano is a slouch at the plate, of course. Sure, the guy will not take a walk, and sure, right handers with sliders make him look absolutely ridiculous, but Soriano has one very, very valuable tool as a hitter. He hits the ball hard. Really, really hard. The end result? A terrible OBP as a Cub (.328) coupled with a fantastic slugging percentage (.508). Add that to his fielding numbers, and non-2009 Soriano is a very valuable (albeit very overpaid) player. Other Cubs left fielders. Center Field: Corey Patterson The Cubs just couldn't seem to figure out center field in the aughts. Sure, they had solid single season efforts from the likes of Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton, but few players lasted longer than a year or two in center. As a result, Corey Patterson and his .252/.293/.414 line make the cut, mostly on the strength of solid 2003-2004 campaigns. Patterson actually is a pretty good fielder, and was worth 2.8 WAR during his five year tenure with the team. But outside of '03-'04, he never showed an ability to get on base consistently, and the Cubs ultimately gave up on their former top prospect. But he played more (and contributed more) than any other center fielder during the decade, so he gets the nod here. Other Cubs center fielders. Right Field: Sammy Sosa Another ridiculously easy choice, Slammin' Sammy hit .295/.390/.612 (that's a 1.002 OPS!) as a Cub from 2000-2004. In that time, he slugged 238 home runs and 134 doubles. He played an above average right field, with decent range and a cannon of an arm (which actually hurt him, as it was an incredibly inaccurate cannon). His 2001 was one of the greatest single seasons ever by a Cub (along with Rogers Hornsby's 1930 and Hack Wilson's 1929). All in all, he was worth 27.7 WAR for the Cubs during the aughts, and was the face of the franchise until things got silly in '04. Pencil him in. Other Cubs right fielders. STARTING ROTATION:
#1 Starter: Carlos Zambrano
Turn back the clock six or seven years and Big Z was overshadowed by the next two pitchers in my All-Aught rotation. But in the end, no Cubs pitcher started (and won) more games, threw more innings, struck out more batters, or was worth more wins than Carlos Zambrano. The ace of the Cubs staff for the past few years emerged as the [f]ace of the rotation on the decade as a whole, throwing 1551.1 innings with 1324 K, 698 BB, and an ERA+ of 127, all good for 28.4 WAR. #2 Starter: Kerry Wood
Oh, what might have been. After pitching one of the greatest games in history (and there's an argument to be made that it was in fact the greatest pitching performance in history) in '98, Wood started the aughts strong as the Cubs' recently repaired ace. Obviously, things didn't work out the way we all thought they would. But Kerry Wood was still a dominant pitcher for the first half of the decade, and is second only to Zambrano in games started, IP, Ks, and WAR with 152, 1052.2, 1174, and 19.9, respectively. Some of those numbers came in '07 and '08 when Wood worked out of the bullpen, but nevertheless, no All-Aught rotation would be complete without Kerry. #3 Starter: Mark Prior
Oh, what might have been: round two. Prior followed up his fantastic 2002 rookie campaign with a season for the ages in 2003: 211.1 IP, 245 K, 50 BB, a 1.103 WHIP, and a 178 ERA+. Cubs fans saw the best young rotation in baseball in Prior, Wood, and Zambrano. And then the injury bug hit: Prior pitched well the next two years but missed starts due to nagging injury issues. And then 2006 happened and everything went to hell. The Cubs eventually gave up on Prior, and he's bounced around a bit since, but has never thrown another pitch in a Major League Baseball game. But good Lord was he amazing for the North Siders in those few short non-2006 years, during which he piled up 13.1 WAR (6.2 of those wins in '03 alone). #4 Starter: Ted Lilly
It's easy to forget Ted Lilly's contributions sometimes because he pitches alongside flashier (see: Big Z) starters. But Lilly has been solid-to-excellent in all three of his years with the Cubs, throwing a total of 588.2 innings with 509 Ks against 155 BBs, a WHIP between 1.06 and 1.23, and an ERA+ of 124, good for 10.4 WAR. I remember thinking that we were overpaying for a mediocre pitcher when the Cubbies picked up Lilly prior to the 2007 season, but he's proven me wrong by pitching far better in Chicago than he ever did in Toronto (or anywhere else, for that matter).
#5 Starter: Jon Lieber
It's also easy to forget that Jon Lieber was a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cubs in the early aughts and instead remember him as the journeyman long reliever/spot starter who rejoined the club in '09. But from '00-'02, Lieber was a reliable workhorse who didn't strike many batters out but also didn't walk many, and who threw 671 innings (including some relief innings in 2009) with 454 Ks, 113 BBs, a WHIP that hovered between 1.14 and 1.20, and an ERA+ of 107. He was also worth 9.2 WAR, 9.0 of those as a starter. And so as much as the sentimental fan in me would like to give Maddux's Chicago swan song the fifth spot in the rotation, I have to give the nod to Lieber here.
Spot Starter/Long Reliever #1: Ryan Dempster True, Dempster has been much, much better (and of course, much more valuable) as a starter, but he was also the Cubs closer for a while. He certainly deserves a spot on the All-Aughts team due both to his longevity with the team and value at both ends of the ballgame, but because of the names ahead of him, he'd be a spot starter at best. But it's worth noting that Dempster has contributed 1.5 WAR as a reliever and 8.1 as a starter, so he didn't miss the rotation by much. Spot Starter/Long Reliever #2: Greg Maddux
Maddux's best years were behind him when he returned to Wrigley in 2004, but his homecoming was still both celebrated and valuable. Maddux was a roughly league-average pitcher by this point in his career, but he was good for 200+ innings per year (he never missed a start) and was every bit the control artist he'd been in Atlanta (only 92 BB in 574 IP with Chicago). He didn't really strike many guys out anymore (only 368 Ks), but his K/BB ratio never dipped below 3.1 (though he gave up his fair share of home runs), and he was worth 6.9 WAR to the Cubs over 2+ seasons..
Middle Reliever #1: Joe Borowski An All-Aughts team without Borowski would feel so very, very wrong to me. Of course, an All-Aughts team with Borowski as the closer would feel even more wrong. But frankly, the numbers don't match up with my memories. Sure, Borowski's 2004 was horrible beyond words. But I remember Borowski as the master of the "scary save."
We all know a "scary save" when we see one. My favorite was on June 8, 2003, when the Yankees were in town and I'd scored a seat in the first row of the upper deck, just above first base. Borowski took over in the bottom of the ninth with a 3 run lead and promptly struck out Alfonso Soriano before walking Derek Jeter, giving up a double to Giambi, and then a 2-run single to Jorge Posada. Robin Ventura then flew out to right, after which Posada was pulled for the speedier Charles Gipson...who Borowski picked off to win the game as Wrigley went wild. I'll never forget poor Gipson, though; I was directly above the play, celebrating with everyone else while he just lied there, face down, as if he couldn't believe what he'd just done and was hoping that perhaps the infield dirt near first would take pity and swallow him up. It's one of the most poignant baseball memories I have.
But that's the funny thing about memories: it's the really extraordinary happenings that stick with us much of the time, and as such, I remember Borowski as the guy who gave up a leadoff hit, walked a couple guys, maybe let a run or two score, but in the end held on long enough to get the save. And yet, his 198.0 innings, 192/67 K/BB ratio, 113 ERA+, and WHIP that, outside of that abysmal 2004 campaign, never strayed north of 1.18 stare me accusingly in the face these many years later.
Mea culpa, Joe. Middle Reliever #2/ROOGY: Michael Wuertz
In four seasons with the Cubs, Wuertz and his signature slider saw 262.1 innings of relief work with 270 Ks to 128 BBs, a WHIP that hovered a bit dangerously in the 1.2-1.4 range, but a solid ERA+ of 127. I'm sure I'm not the only Cubs fan who wishes Wuertz's 2009 line of 78.2 IP, 102 K, 23 BB, 166 ERA+, and 0.953 WHIP had helped Chicago rather than Oakland.
Middle Reliever #3/LOOGY: Mike Remlinger
Remlinger pitched 2+ solid years for the Cubs, mostly as a setup man/LOOGY, and he pitched quite well, particularly in 2003 when he struck out 83 batters in only 69 innings. While with the team, he threw 138.2 innings, struck out 148, walked 67, and maintained an ERA+ of 112 and a WHIP that consistently hovered in the 1.3's.
Setup Man: Bobby Howry
228.2 IP. 202 K. 49 BB. 118 ERA+. Sure, his 2008 wasn't pretty, but for two years, Howry was the man in the seventh. On the whole, he sure seems like a good choice to be the man in the eighth.
Closer: Carlos Marmol
Last year wasn't pretty. But Marmol was the man in '06 and '07, and has thrown 307.2 innings for the Cubs with 362 K, 200 BB, a 134 ERA+, and a WHIP of 1.284. He walks too many guys, sure. But when the league hits .181 against you, you can afford an extra BB or three. The fact is, Marmol's slider feeds on human suffering, and I have every confidence that he'll bounce back next year. Maybe I'm too high on Marmol. Maybe I'm letting his recent success ('06-'07) blind me while blinding myself to his recent lack of success ('08). But when I think about Cubs bullpen aces of the aughts, the first name that comes to mind is Carlos Marmol.
Backup Catcher: Geovany Soto (.264/.348/.461, 3.9 WAR) Outfield/DH (interleague play): Moises Alou (.283/.353/.484, 2.5 WAR) Infield/Pinch Runner: Eric Young (.288/.351/.396, 4.0 WAR) Utility Infielder: Todd Walker (.286/.353/.487, 2.9 WAR) And rounding things off (though not part of the official roster): Enforcer/Historian: Kyle Farnsworth (348.2 IP, 397 K, 172 BB, 92 ERA+, 2 confirmed kills)
Obviously, there are some potential snubs. I'd love to find a spot for Fred McGriff and Mike Fontenot. Mark Guthrie and Will Ohman should probably be in the bullpen, but I'm still scarred from the 2003 playoffs. Even still, the All-Aughts opening day lineup would look something like this:
1.) 2B Mark DeRosa 2.) 1B Derrek Lee 3.) 3B Aramis Ramirez 4.) RF Sammy Sosa 5.) C Michael Barrett 6.) LF Alfonso Soriano 7.) SS Ryan Theriot 8.) CF Corey Patterson 9.) SP Carlos Zambrano
Not too shabby.
And now, cheers to 2010. "Next year" has arrived once more (though not yet for baseball fans). Perhaps the twenty-teens will finally bring us Next Year.
David Marincic - editor, writer A lifelong Cubs fan, Dave teaches freshman composition at a state university, runs an after school program for high schoolers, and can grow a beard without even trying very hard.
Caleb Nienow - writer Born and raised in Milwaukee, Caleb is a Brewers fan, a toxicologist, a lover, a fighter, a singer, a dancer, a limousine ridin', jet flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin' sonofagun.
Steve Grossheim - writer Steve is a born-and-bred Cardinals fan from the Illinois side of St. Louis. Handsome, intelligent, funny—a dreamboat, really. He is a filthy banker by trade, though he fancies himself a writer.