The 'Pen, Part I

Now that we've looked at the contenders for the #5 spot, lets take a look at the boys and men fighting for bullpen spots. Lou reiterated on Friday that he expects to carry 12 pitchers, so by my calculations, that's 7 guys in the 'pen (see, 12 - 5 starters = 7). Today, we'll look at the probables, with Part II focusing on the challengers and longshots.

Carlos Marmol: The only thing that would seem to prevent Marmol from being handed the ball late in the game would be injury. And knock on some serious wood, let's hope he makes it through the WBC clean and healthy. Since he's a lock for a spot, it becomes an issue of whether he closes. Lou loves competition, so he won't hand Carlos the closer's job, but one would have to think he's the odd's on favorite for the spot. Odds of getting a spot in the 'pen: CLOSED. Odds of getting the closer's spot: 1:2

Kevin Gregg: The sole contender for the closer crown, Gregg is a lock for a spot as well. If Gregg earns the role, he'll be in a familiar spot. He saved 29 games for the Marlins last year, following a 32 save season in '07. Despite trading Jose Ceda (the Marlins #10 prospect and a guy who would probably be in the top 5 for the Cubs) and paying him 4.2 M this year, I still think he ends up as an expensive set up man and a guy who pushes Marmol to be better. Odds of getting a spot: CLOSED. Odds of getting the closer's spot: 2 to 1

Jeff ND: As mentioned in my previous post, the Cubs will head into the spring with eyes on Samardzija taking the #5 spot. But, if that doesn't happen, he fits into the 7th inning role. A Jeff ND/Gregg/Marmol closing looks strong, expect that you have 3 innings of righties. Despite a 2.28 ERA in 26 games at the end of last year, I am not 100% he's going to be in Chicago to start the season. As I mentioned in my last post (and hopefully I don't become a guy who constantly drones on this), he needs to learn a third pitch. The Cubs could send him back to Iowa to work on that with the thought of bringing him back up when they are confident he has command of a third pitch. Odds: 2 to 1

Aaron Heilman: If Heilman doesn't land the #5 spot and if he can pretend that 2008 didn't exist, the Cubs will be dominant from the right side. While you want roles secured, having 4 really, really solid guys at the back end means that you can pick and choose your back end guys and rest guys. Despite his struggles, Heilman still held righties to a .222 BAA last year, so at a minimum, he'll give Lou the chance to use him in matchups. Odds: 2 to 1

Neal Cotts: Cotts could be the only lefty in the 'pen, thanks in large part to the fact that the Cubs only have 3 lefties on the 40 man. That's not good. Lou has said he doesn't care which way a pitcher throws, as long as he can get guys out. Cotts' numbers would make a manager say that. He had a .263 BAA against righties, a .269 BAA against lefties in '08. In other words, he is not a left-handed specialist, he's a guy who throws left-handed. Still, you have to think that the fact he throws the ball from that side means he is worth keeping on the roster. Odds: 2 to 1

Sean Marshall: Marshall's odds are lower because, well, he's more likely to be in the rotation. If Marshall doesn't start, he is probably the first lefty Lou calls on out of the 'pen. Marshall had a .229 BAA as a reliever last year. The only concern with Marshall is that he can struggle with control in relief, yielding 11 walks in just over 26 innings. And while his numbers were good, he also isn't the type of guy who can get ready in a hurry. Odds: 3 to 1

Luis Vizcaino: In a high salary trash swap, the Cubs got Vizcaino from the Rockies in exchange for Marquis. Vizcaino turns 35 this year and is on his 6th team in 6 years. His ERA was over 5 last year; but it wasn't the mountain air. A 3.81 ERA at home, 7.20 on the road. Lefties hit .372 off him. But, the $4 million he's owed will probably dictate that he makes the squad. Odds: 3 to 1

Chad Gaudin: Gaudin said on Friday that he trains to start every year. That's good. I think that if anything, the Cubs will be better prepared to handle an injury to the starting rotation or have a few guys to choose from if someone gets knocked out of a game early. Gaudin had a back injury that limited his appearances down the stretch last year (and may have caused some of his poor performance), so that'll be something to watch. There were reports he was going to be non-tendered, but I think he's gone from that happening to being solidly considered for the last relief spot. Odds: 5 to 1

I think there is a clear line of demarcation here. There's 8 guys above, one of whom is headed for the #5 spot. All others will face an uphill battle.

Pitchers & Catchers Report + Cholo Zambrano

Some news on the Cubs roster front from yesterday-the Cubs, with the help of "Cholo" Zambrano, have now filled out that final available spot on the 40 man roster. Zambrano, as you can see in the above video and displayed below in all its gloriousness, have added his sweet ass new dirtbag moustache to the club. Welcome to the roster Cholo 'Stache.

In some other Cubs news from Day 1 of spring, Z's eye surgery to correct an astigmatism has been pushed back due to an infection in the eye. He's trying to clear it up with eye drops and should decide in about 3 weeks if he'll go ahead with the surgery.

Rich Harden still hasn't denied the Sun-Times' report that he's trying to condition his way through a small tear in his shoulder. Per the Trib, the Cubs plan to limit Harden's action in ST to keep him healthy. We can expect to see his action limited all year, I'd say.

Carlos Marmol has gone ahead and thrown it out there-he wants the closer's job. I'm still undecided as to whether or not he'll better serve the club there, or in a setup role that will allow him to come into more game-deciding decisions earlier in games. Marmol is going to pitch for the Dominican in the World Baseball Classic.


The 5th Spot / A Follow Up

Time for Jumbo to climb back into the Cubbie saddle with a quick hitter follow-up to Lionel's excellent breakdown of the battle for the Cubs 5th SP slot in the coming season. Apologies for ganking the above logo from the fabulous MarshallFans.com. What can I say? I just love the fact that their site exists. But looking at this...their logo looks rather suspiciously like the TD logo doesn't it? Hmm...

Baseball Prospectus recently released its PECOTA projections for the upcoming season. The numbers give full projections for nearly all major league players and, using these numbers, allows it to shoot out a projected win total for MLB teams. Before we get to the inspiration for the post-just know that BP projects the Cubs to not only win the NL Central for the third straight year, they predict 97 wins, a 7 game edge on MIL and 11 each on HOU and STL. Not to mention the 97 projected wins is 1st in the NL (PHI w/ 92 is 2nd) and tied for 2nd best in MLB behind LAA's 100 and tied with TAM (wow-they project Tampa to pull the double?).

As for the pitching...BP agrees with Lionel's breakdown. Of course they do, stats are no match for the sheer time spent analyzing this stuff that Lionel puts in. BP sees Sean Marshall as the runaway to make the majority of starts out of the 5 spot this year. BP sees Marshall taking the hill to open 22 games this season and throw 120 innings, essentially a full load. Next is Aaron Heilman who BP gives 10 spot starts and 55 IPs, and then Angel Guzman and Mitch Atkins 9 starts a piece and 50 IPs in '09. Since you know we love the VORP here at TD, I should throw in that BP throws a 17.6 VORP to Marshall, a 5.4 to Heilman, 8.6 for Guzman, and a lowly -2.6 to Atkins (as in some random "replacement player" signed off the street would fare better).

As for Lionel's other 5th starter candidates-let's see what BP projects for them:
Jeff ND, Setup: 60 IP, 0 GS, 6.29 ERA, -4.2 VORP; No starts? ERA well North of 6? Negative VORP? Samardzija could be in for a rough sophomore effort, and probably a trip back to Iowa, if these predictions pan out.

Chad Gaudin, Long Relief: 70 IP, o GS, 4.14 ERA, 12.5 VORP. I'd like to see Gaudin get a chance at starting a few games this year. We'll see. All in all, pretty solid numbers here.

Kevin Hart, Middle Relief: 60 IP, 0 GS, 5.38 ERA, 1.4 VORP. Could prove to be a very big year for Hart. Kid either needs to put up, or get out. (Just like Art's prom dates...in reverse)


While we're here-why not throw out the numbers for the 4 primary starters? Some fairly decent news and, in the case of Rich Harden, one very promising projection. If he can just stay healthy...look out.
1. Carlos Zambrano: 190 IP, 29 GS, 4.12 ERA, 157 K, 28.1 VORP
2. Ted Lilly: 170 IP, 30 GS, 4.26 ERA, 147 K, 24.6 VORP
3. Ryan Dempster: 165 IP, 29 GS, 4.10 ERA, 140 K, 24.5 VORP
4. Rich Harden: 150 IP, 26 GS, 3.04 ERA, 193 K, 41.9 VORP

I know it's "only" 26 games started and not 30...but who wouldn't take these numbers?

Next time out I'll run through some of BP's projected numbers for the Cubs sticks.



The 5th Spot

With P&C reporting this week, 4 of the 5 rotation spots seem to be solidified. So, let's take a look at who's currently competing for the.

Sean Marshall-Marshall was only 1-4 in 7 starts last year, but had an OK 4.15 ERA and had a 3 to 1 K to walk ratio. In the 'pen, he was solid, posting a 3.42 ERA. Marshall would appear to be the post time leader for the #5 spot in the rotation, given his competition and because he would give them another southpaw in the rotation. But, Lou loved the option of being able to pull Marshall out of the pen and into the rotation when needed, so that could dictate his role in '09. Current odds of being the #5 starter: 3 to 1

Aaron Heilman-In 2007, Heilman was 5th in the N.L. in appearances and had a 3.03 ERA. He fell off to 7th in appearances last year and fell off to a 5.21 ERA. Now, I'll give the Cubs and Heilman the benefit of the doubt that last year was an anomoly, solely because he posted sub 4 ERA's in the three years prior to '08. So he should be solid in the 'pen. But he was brought in to compete for the #5 spot. Why? He hasn't started since 2005, as in, 3 years ago. Career starting stats? 5-13, 5.93 ERA. Obviously, the scouts see something I don't. Odds: 5.5 to 1

Jeff ND-So, we're three deep in the competition and we're two deep in the former Fighting Irish and Hoosier born pitchers. Jeff ND was nearly dominant when he found his way to the Bigs last year, giving up only 7 runs in 27 and 2/3 innings (a 2.28 ERA). And while I think that he has a future as a starter, I don't think it's in 2008. Remember, this is only his 3rd year concentrating on baseball. He only has 54 professional starts and averaged about 5 innings a start. The latter is especially important when considering that Harden isn't a deep pitcher. And maybe most importantly, unless he learned a new one this offseason and it's "major league ready," he only has two pitches. I fully believe he is developing a third pitch, I just think it may be another year before he's ready to be a starter. Odds: 10 to 1

Chad Gaudin-Gaudin was a full time starter for the A's in 2007, something that was forgotten by Cubs fans when the Cubs acquired him in '08. Gaudin made 34 starts with an 11-13 record and a 4.42 ERA in '07. Those aren't numbers that make anyone jump out of their seat, but he was 2/3 of an inning short of 200. How many Cubs pitchers went over 200 innings last year? 2. So, Gaudin may not be a dominant pitcher, but he could be an innings-eater. That may be something Lou considers, given the leash they will keep on Harden. Still, his 6.26 ERA out of the 'pen last year after he came to Chicago is probably something Lou won't forget. Odds: 15 to 1

Mitch Atkins-To hand the #5 spot to a guy whose yet to make his major league debut is the type of thing you expect in Kansas City, not the north side of Chicago. But Atkins went from career .500 pitcher to a 17 game winner last year between AA and AAA. Atkins finished last year at Iowa, where he went 8-1, but his 4.47 ERA wasn't dominating. So the question becomes whether he was lucky or he's just one of those pitchers who knows how to win. Lou usually needs to see a lot from a youngster to convince him he's worthy of a spot and spring training usually doesn't offer that shot. The 23 year old is more likely to start in AAA with the scouts watching closely to see if he can repeat and/or be the guy to call on when/if someone gets hurt. Odds: 25 to 1

Kevin Hart-Most people remember a lights-out youngster who had a 0.82 ERA that helped a Cubs team to the '07 playoffs. But most people don't remember him in '08. Well, that's because he had a forgettable '08. He made the opening day roster and pitched the month of April in the Bigs. He headed back to Iowa with a 5.06 ERA, including 10 walks in 16 innings. He made two appearance in June and two in July, and gave up runs in all four of those games. He was recalled after September 1 and finished with a 3.24 ERA month. At Iowa, he split time between the rotation and the closer's role and had a 2.81 ERA. He is a long-shot candidate, but Hart's trade value (he is still the Cubs #6 prospect, according to BA) could push him to make at least a start or two in the Bigs. Odds: 30 to 1

Angel Guzman-Remember him? Cubs top pitching prospect in the early part of this decade? Well, he's now 27 and is out of options. And unlike fellow OOOP's (out of option players) Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Michael Wuertz, and Ronny Cedeno, JH has not been able to trade him. Guzman was hurt (to nobody's surprise) for most of the '08 season, but managed to throw 7 games in the minors with a dominating 1.59 ERA. Then he arrived in Chicago , where he his ERA ballooned to 5.59. He spent the winter playing in the winter leagues, starting 7 games. Things weren't much better; 2-1 with a 5.54 ERA. If he pitches well this spring, it's more likely JH will try to move him than keep him. If not, he probably gets released. Odds: 50 to 1




We're Back and Ready.

If this video doesn't get you ready for another year of Cubs baseball I am not sure what will. Spring training is just around the corner. The grass is cut, the dirt is combed, the girls have their bikini's ready and the old style is about to flow.

Let's play some baseball.



We're Back!

As Los Angeles celebrated their trip to the NLCS, the Towel Drills staff went its separate ways for the offseason. It wasn't a planned hiatus, rather an inevitable trip after watching the N.L.'s best team get outscored 18-8 and swept in a three game series. I tried to forge ahead, but working alone at the TD world headquarters just depressed me. Once news of Dempster re-signing came down the wire, the thoughts of that four and two thirds, 4 run performance was enough to send me on hiatus as well.

But we're back, and better than ever. And we're here to say we're sorry to the millions of loyal TD readers for the 3 month layoff. We know that you will depend on us as pitchers and catchers report at the end of the week, and you can depend on us as being maybe the only media not currently discussing the Yankee 3-sack and his drug use.

As we relaunch TD's 2009 campaign, you can expect a few minor changes, all with our loyal fans in mind. Yes, your beloved ATAtM and MLM will still be boring you to death, but we hope to expand our coverage with some new fresh writers. With that said, we are opening the floor to all of you. If you'd like to be a regular contributor, please contact our global email address toweldrills@gmail.com. How you apply is completely up to you; if you want to send us a resume with 3 professional references, fine. If you want to send us an 8x10 glossy of yourself, fine. If you want to say, "Put me on staff. I want to be part of the TD revolution." that's fine too.