Friday, January 1, 2010

Cubs All-Aught Team

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.

Other Cubs catchers.

First Base: Derrek Lee

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.

Other Cubs first basemen.

Second Base: Mark DeRosa

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.


#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.

Other Cubs starters.


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.

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