NLDS Preview: Will the Cubbies be snake-bitten again?
Hi, I'm Bryan Smith, the co-creator of this here site and now a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Not many of you have seen me write about the Majors too often, but after watching most of the Cubs’ season, I jumped at the opportunity to write this preview when Rich asked. While I won't live and die by this team like I did in 1998 and 2003, the latter of which left me irrationally upset, I'll feel as if I have something invested as long as the Cubs still have Kerry Wood. Ron Santo deserves this.
Hi, I’m Marc Hulet and I dabble in writing about the minor leagues for Baseball Analysts and I am also a newspaper editor in Ontario, Canada. Despite my northern location I have been a huge fan of the Diamondbacks since the team’s inception (although my favorite D-Back, Orlando Hudson, is on the disabled list). I even had the pleasure of spending two weeks at spring training in Arizona this past March and saw the Diamondbacks play, along with a handful of other teams. I can honestly say I love the state as much as the ball club, especially with another Canadian winter looming just around the corner. I am also honored to be sharing this preview with Bryan, who just happens to be one of my favorite writers. Now, on with the show…
Jason Kendall (.241/.298/.308, 3 HR, 41 RBI) has had an ironic mini-resurgence in his return to the Junior Circuit, as it took an exit from Moneyball Oakland to get him walking again. While Tim McCarver will have you believe Kendall's leadership and experience is a feather in the Cubs' cap, former broadcast partner Lou Piniella would be much better off playing Geovany Soto.
Bryan says: It's even or a slight Cubs advantage if Soto plays often, a slight edge for Arizona if it's all Kendall.
Derrek Lee (.317/.400/.512, 22 HR, 82 RBI) worried Cubs fans when he returned from last season's season-ending injury to hit just six home runs in the first half, but Lee clubbed 16 in the second half, including seven in September, to push this team to the playoffs. Lee is the team's best fielder, second-best hitter, and nicest guy. Dads, you want your daughters after men like Lee.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago, regardless of who is manning first for Arizona.
Bryan says: Lee is a better player than what you could produce by melding Clark and Jackson together.
Mark DeRosa (.294/.373/.422, 10 HR, 72 RBI) was the center of much criticism against Jim Hendry after his spend-happy winter, but DeRosa's value in 2007 far exceeded his $2.75 million salary. DeRosa is an old-school, double-switch loving manager's best friend, and you won't see Piniella hesitate to move DeRosa to right field or third base if needed. Minor worrisome trend: the DeRosa that slugged .520 in April has moved on, as he's been reduced to a far more middle infield-like .092 Isolated Power in the second half.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago with O-Dawg on the shelf.
Bryan says: Augie will got a lot of cheers in Wrigley, but he's just not DeRosa's, even second-half DeRosa's, caliber.
Aramis Ramirez (.312/.367/.552, 26 HR, 101 RBI), for my money, is the best pure hitter in Chicago since Frank Thomas, and one of the National League's most dangerous hitters. While Lee doesn't walk enough, his ability to make consistent hard contact is as good as anybody in the game. With the game on the line, Cubs fans want Ramirez at the plate.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago (Is there an echo in here?).
Bryan says: Reynolds isn't the hitter his numbers suggest, and Aramis might be better than his. Cubs.
Ryan Theriot (.266/.326/.346, 3 HR, 45 RBI, 28 SB) has oddly become the favorite player of manager Lou Piniella, which has allowed him to exceed his destiny as career utility infielder for an everyday shortstop job. While Theriot is powerless at the plate, his baserunning does make him the most likely member of the team to replicate a Dave Roberts in 2004 type stolen base. Is that a backhanded compliment?
Marc says: Slight edge to Arizona
Bryan says: I agree, largely because Drew has the *potential*, but it's closer to even than I would have ever imagined three years ago.
Alfonso Soriano (.295/.334/.550, 32 HR, 67 RBI, 19 SB), like the rest of the team really, recovered from a horrible April (.270/.308/.392) to validate his huge offseason contract. While like no other leadoff hitter in the Majors, Soriano is completely at home in the top spot, leading off multiple September games with a solo shot. Defensively he takes horrible reads on balls, but the Diamondbacks would be fools to underestimate his arm, as it's among the most accurate of any Major League outfielders.
Marc says: As much as I love Byrnes, I think Soriano has the edge here with his excellent finish to the season… but it’s close.
Bryan says: Despite Byrnes' big season, edge to the Cubs and their September MVP.
Jacque Jones (.282/.333/.395, 5 HR, 65 RBI) smiles a lot. There, I said something positive. Cubs fans took a dislike to Jones around his .176/.250/.275 June, calling for him to be traded in July, and not even forgiving him after an .818 OPS in the second half. In reality, Jones is a decent asset, a slightly above-average outfielder (prone to stupid mistakes) and a decent bat against right-handed pitching (while prone to looking stupid).
Marc says: Despite the low batting average and on-base percentage, Young takes it. He’s going to be a monster with a little more experience under his belt.
Bryan says: Arizona wins a category outright!
Cliff Floyd (.285/.372/.423, 9 HR, 45 RBI) will most likely get the most time in right field during this series, but like the catching position, the team would be better off using the younger player, in this case Matt Murton. While the two might still be a wash at the plate, Floyd is among the worst defensive outfielders in the playoffs, and a far better fit at his old home at first base. So, I suppose, this makes him the most likely Cub to jump up and down pouting if a fan steals a ball from his glove.
Marc says: Something tells me, if healthy, Upton could have some sort of magical October rookie performance ala Bobby Jenks or F-Rod, but maybe I’m just crazy. If not, the edge goes to Chicago.
Bryan says: I would have never guessed the Cubs could have an edge in right field, but they do, albeit a slight one.
Off the bench:
Conor Jackson (.284/.368/.467, 15 HR, 60 RBI) is a great player to have on the bench, if Melvin does in fact favor the veteran Clark in the playoffs. Jackson has the ability to hit for average and even has a little pop (although it is below average for a first baseman).
Jeff Cirillo (.200/.273/.300, 0 HR, 6 RBI) did not have a great regular season but he is an experienced bench player who has come up with key hits in the past.
Carlos Quentin (.214/.298/.349, 5 HR, 31 RBI) has yet to show Arizona fans just how good he really is, thanks in part to a shoulder injury earlier in the season. If truly healthy, Quentin could be a force off the bench and he should be an above-average regular for years to come.
Geovany Soto (.404/.448/.692, 3 HR, 8 RBI) is no .404 hitter, nor even the hitter his Triple-A numbers (.349/.418/.648) would suggest. But he's got some pop and he can throw a runner out, so at this stage, he's five times the catcher Kendall is.
Mike Fontenot (.283/.339/.409, 3 HR, 29 RBI) seemed destined to be a footnote in history when he was tossed into Sammy Sosa's boot from the south side, but Theriot's old college teammate has made a career for himself. As a pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers, and DeRosa's double-switch partner, Fontenot has solid bench value.
Matt Murton (.283/.355/.422, 8 HR, 22 RBI) either needed more consistent playing time, or the kick-in-the-ass demotion to jump-start his season, as he was gangbusters after returning from Iowa in August, hitting .316/.381/.553 the rest of the way. My ridiculous prediction is a home run off Doug Davis in this series.
Craig Monroe (.220/.268/.371, 12 HR, 59 RBI) hasn't looked great since Jim Hendry traded for him, and he didn't look great in Detroit before that, but as a Jones platoon-mate, late inning defensive replacement, and all-or-nothing pinch hitter, I have seen why the Cubs made this move.
Marc says: Edge barely to Arizona on the strength of pinch-hitting experts Cirillo and Clark, as well as Chicago’s inexperience.
Bryan says: Completely even from where I'm sitting. I hope, as a Cubs fan, Bob Melvin has as much faith in Cirillo as Marc.
Doug Davis (13-12, 4.25) continues to plug away as one of baseball’s most underrated left-handed starters (wouldn’t Texas love to have him back?). He allows his fair share of baserunners (95 walks and 211 hits in 192.2 innings) but he always seems capable of wiggling out of jams. However, the lefty will face a Cubs’ lineup heavy with right-handed batters.
Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93) could prove to be one of the most valuable pitchers on the Diamondbacks’ staff this October. Why? He is the only starting pitcher with playoff experience. He has pitched in two World Series (Florida, 1997; San Francisco, 2002) and overall he has a 3.99 ERA and a 6-2 record in 10 postseason appearances, including eight starts. The one downside to Hernandez circa 2007 is that he has fringe stuff. I watched him pitch in spring training this year and thought he was done.
Micah Owings (8-8, 4.30) is currently scheduled to appear in Game 5 of the series, if necessary, according to MLB.com. The rookie hurler has looked absolutely dominant in a handful of starts this season. On the downside, he has also looked positively terrible in a number of starts this season, especially in June and July. Owings, though, has some added value. With a .333/.349/.683 line in MLB 60 at-bats and his reputation as a great two-way player in college, I would personally favor him as a pinch hitter over anyone else on Arizona’s bench late in the game, save perhaps for either Jackson or Clark.
Carlos Zambrano's (18-13, 3.95) fist-pumping is likely to be featured heavily on FOX's pregame over-dramatic montages, but he is the face for playing baseball with emotion. It took Michael Barrett's fists to provoke the Cubs ace to starting to pitch like one, and save a bad August, he's been great ever since. Zambrano will make his mistakes with command, but expect Rich's favorite, a lot of groundballs and strikeouts in Big Z's start(s).
Ted Lilly (15-8, 3.83) has, for years, been considered on the cusp of major success, and he found it with a return to the National League. The Cubs certainly overpaid for Lilly, but given the attendance numbers in Wrigley this season, I don't think anyone minds the few extra million it cost for the team's most consistent starter. Lilly hit a career high in strikeouts and a low in BB/9 in his finest season, and while he might give up a few home runs, expect a quality start when he takes the mound.
Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92) is similar to Lilly in a way, what with his gopherball tendencies and big, slow curveball. However, while Lilly used better command to post slightly better numbers, no one will deny Hill gets points for better stuff. Hill's inconsistency should be nerve-wracking to Cubs fans, but like the start that clinched the Cubs postseason berth, he's a threat to have no-hit stuff with every start.
Jason Marquis (12-9, 4.60) is the reason it's imperative for the Cubs to win a game in Phoenix. While the right-hander had a fantastic season after a disastrous 2006, his 5.36 second half ERA is most indicative of his talent level. On a good day Marquis stays down in the zone and gets his groundballs, letting the Cubs steady infield defense do the work. On bad days he hangs that slider, loses command and gives up a run per inning. The less the Cubs depend on Marquis' start, the better their chance to win the series.
Marc says: Edge Chicago, although I might give the edge to Arizona’s third and fourth starters. Zambrano and Webb are close to a wash and Lilly trumps Davis in a battle of the lefties.
Bryan says: I agree Chicago gets it, but just by a nose, because I'll be afraid in both Webb’s games as well as Owings' start.
Tony Pena (5-4, 3.27, 30 HLD), like his counterpart Carlos Marmol is new to the role of late-game reliever so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Brandon Lyon (6-4, 2.68, 35 HLD) has a little more experience in the high-pressure role so he could get the call in the playoffs, but Pena has better stuff and a wider margin for error. Pena was formerly known as Adriano Rosario, before his true identity and age (he was three years older) were discovered during a Major League Baseball investigation in 2004.
Ryan Dempster (2-7, 4.73, 28 SV) is, when pitching well, the Cubs fifth-best reliever. However, when healthy this season, no one else gets consideration in close games in the ninth inning. Dempster has neither knockout stuff nor pristine command, so like the days of Rod Beck in 1998, every save comes with a good dose of sweat -- and Dempster is neither as good or as entertaining as '98 Beck!
Carlos Marmol (5-1, 1.43, 16 HLD) is the star of the show. It looked for awhile like Marmol would never give up a run this season, and while he hung a few sliders along the way, he's been as valuable as anyone during this run. Marmol is a converted catcher that seems to sling the ball with everything he has, touching 96 mph and then dropping a nasty slider that he tends to command well. Cubs fans can only pray that in the highest leverage situations, it's Marmol (and not Bobby Howry, though he has been good) that gets the ball.
Marc says: Edge to Arizona on the strength of Valverde’s season and Dempster’s inconsistencies.
Bryan says: Arizona has both the edge in depth and closer, so they win this big category.
Bryan: The three most important people for this series are all on the Cubs, in my mind: Soriano, Lee and Ramirez. If Webb and company can minimize their damage, they will absolutely win the series, as the Cubs have little else offensively. However, all three are running into October on a hot streak, so I'm picking the Cubs. It may take all five games, but Zambrano on Game 5 fumes is an even better bet than the Cy Young runner-up Webb, in my mind. Like Marc, Chicago in five.
I am not going to comment on the actual picks-with which I tend to agree anyway-but with the style of analysis that is a pet peeve of mine and that I criticize in every forum I can find.
I see no sense in comparing teams by position as if the player at each position is equivalent in both offensive and defensive significance. I know that positions in lineups change, but there tends to be a pattern.
For example, you compare Byrnes and Soriano as the left fielders, but the only way to compare them is according to their defensive skills. Otherwise, Soriano generally led off while Byrnes usually hit 3rd, meaning Soriano should be compared to the D-Back's leadoff hitter, Drew, and Byrnes to Lee, the Cubs' #3 hitter.
Actually, in this case, the discrepancies are less than they often are as there is some similarity between the teams' position players and lineup spots. But nonetheless, comparing by position can only be useful as a defensive comparison. Imagine, for example, comparing Mike Piazza when he was a regular catcher to say Joe Girardi! Of course Piazza was significantly better, but not as a catcher, and since he hit 4th in the lineup and Girardi usually #8 or 9, any other comparison is inapt.
A proper comparison would first compare defense by position, then offense by lineup and then the pitchers.
Posted by: Bob R. at October 2, 2007 9:14 AM
I don't agree with your beef at all. Nobody said "the player at each position is equivalent in both offensive and defensive significance." But I don't understand why the positions aren't equivalent in offensive and defensive significance.
To wit, it doesn't really matter where hitters bat in the lineup. Piazza is/was significantly better than Girardi offensively whether he hit 4th and Girardi 8th or 9th or if they both hit in the same spot in the lineup.
In any event, note that Marc and Bryan didn't simply count up the number of positional advantages to make their overall predictions. If the analysis was as shallow as that, then, sure, I could understand your problem with the methodology. However, please understand that we chose to run our previews in this manner to not only compare players by position but for information and fun.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at October 2, 2007 10:08 AM
The Cubs and Diamondbacks are more similar than people realize. Strong pitching and weak hitting.
These two teams were 1-2 in the NL in Runs Saved Against Average and in the bottom three in Runs Created Above Average. The Cubs have the edge in both although it is important to note that Arizona played in a more difficult division than Chicago and had a higher Relative Power Index.
RUNS SAVED AGAINST AVERAGE
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
Home-field advantage, playoff experience, and luck may also affect the outcome of this series. In a best of five, any decent team can step up and win.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at October 2, 2007 10:22 AM
I did not express myself clearly. I do think it makes a difference though. Piazza was not a better catcher than Girardi; if fact he was possibly sigificantly worse catcher. In the same way that Adam Everett is a significantly better shortstop than Jeter. True, Piazza and Jeter are better players. And also true that a premier offensive player at short or catcher is probably more valuable than one at a corner. But their comparative value to their teams can only be seen in the overall context of that team's makeup.
Here is an hypothetical example. Suppose a team has an up the middle defense of Bench, Vern Stephens, Joe Morgan and Willie Mays. In that case, it could afford to have a Wes Parker at first or Aurelio Rodriguez at third, because its offensive power is up the middle. If you are trying to compare it to a more traditionally composed team, you have to take that unusual configuration into account. There would be little point in noting that Foxx is better than Parker and Stephens is better than Belanger. So in this year's comparisons, the Yankees can have someone like Mientkiewicz at first (assuming he is still a premier defender) because they have lots of offense at catcher, 2B and shortstop. Comparing Mientkiewicz to Garko, therefore, only makes sense as defensive players because they have rather different roles in the offense.
I understand it is all in fun, but don't see that it takes much more effort to consider lineups and defensive players separately.
Posted by: Bob R. at October 2, 2007 10:31 AM
How do you talk about the Cubs bench and leave off Daryl Ward?
Posted by: dave at October 2, 2007 11:32 AM
Bob: I still disagree with your assessment. Girardi was better than Piazza defensively but the latter was much better overall. As perhaps the best offensive catcher in the history of baseball, his contributions at the plate overwhelm Girardi's defensive advantages. As a result, if one was comparing the two in the format we used above, it would be totally fair to say that the "edge goes to Piazza." In fact, I would say "huge edge" to even clarify the disparity between the two more accurately.
In your latest example, Foxx is better than Wes Parker under any and all circumstances. It doesn't matter whether either one is on an offensively or defensively oriented team. Winning baseball games is about scoring more runs than the opposition. You can win by scoring a lot of runs or by limiting your opponents to little or no runs or some combination of the two.
When comparing players at the same position, one can net out the differences offensively and defensively to determine who is more valuable to his (or any) team.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at October 2, 2007 11:44 AM
snyder is "a little bit better than kendall offensively" interesting
Posted by: anon at October 2, 2007 12:09 PM
We will disagree. My point is that we are comparing teams, not players per se. Of course, in any circumstance, I would prefer Foxx to Parker or Piazza to Girardi. But that is not the point of my comment.
It first occurred to me while reading comparisons of the Mets and Cardinals in the 1980s. The particular comparison was that between Backman and Herr. That year, Herr batted third and had 110 RBIs. Backman was the Mets' #2 hitter and not an RBI man. To me, the only comparison was how they played second base, not how they hit.
Here are 2 hypothetical teams:
Team 1: Grote, McCovey, Mazeroski, A-Rod, Belanger, Ricky Henderson, Blair, Winfield
Team 2: Piazza, Wes Parker, Hornsby, Aurelio Rodriguez, Vern Stephens, Dan Gladden, Hack Wilson, Geronimo (I know he was a CF, but I put him here to stress his defensive skills.)
There is little point comparing them position by position except to consider which team has the better defense. In this case, Team 1 is far stronger up the middle while Team 2 has stronger corner defense. But saying that 4 of Team 1 (McCovey, A-Rod, Henderson, Winfield) are better than team 2's players at those positions while 4 of Team 2 (Piazza, Hornsby, Stephens, Wilson) are better than Team 1's says nothing. They are not equally balanced teams. Team 1 has a better defense and a far better leadoff man. The only way to recognize that in a comparative study is to separate defensive comparisons from lineup comparisons. Let's assume A-Rod and Hornsby both bat third. A-Rod is clearly a better player than Aurelio Rodriguez under any circumstances, but is he better than Hornsby? And Hornsby is obviously vastly superior to Mazeroski, but is he a better fielder, and is he a better #3 hitter than A-Rod?
Posted by: Bob R at October 2, 2007 1:04 PM
Clark and Jackson will platoon 1B. Clark will play in the Webb starts because of his better defense and as a switch-hitter will be used against righties. Jackson hits lefties well so he will certainly start Games 2 and 3 against Lilly and Hill.
Posted by: William K. at October 2, 2007 9:03 PM
Come on Marc, a real man doesn't complain about Canadian winters! I've lived in Toronto and Phoenix, they get theirs with global warming turning the city into a convection oven for half the year and the wildfires too.
You were both pretty even-handed, I agree. The knock on Stephen Drew is deserved - I think preseason Marc (or somebody) predicted he'd be the best player in the NL West this year. Nay.
I'll go with the Cubs, but it's wide, wide open. I wouldn't be surprised at any outcome, be it a taut 3 games to 2 victory, or a sweep by either team.
Another question: How can anyone honestly say the Cubs overpaid for Ted Lilly? I keep hearing rumblings of Carlos Silva getting a bigger contract than Lilly. Miguel Batista got 3/27. Vicente Padilla got 3/34. This is market value.
Posted by: APing at October 2, 2007 10:12 PM
I think the Cub fans flooding the desert could be one of those intangibles that tips the scales, but I really hope Im wrong. I want the Cubs out ASAP. Their fans are already insufferable here in Cook county.
I dont mind the Cubs, I just hate their fans. The audacity to say they are going to the World Series after that weak season baffles and infuriates me. When the White Sox won in '05, I didnt say they were going to win the world series until game 4 of the World Series, and even then I couldnt believe it. Its fundamental differences like that in the fan bases that just drives a deep spike between us.
The matchup here is pretty interesting though. The division winner that was outscored all season vs the division winner that hasnt taken a series from a team with a winning record since June.
My prediction is whoever takes game 1 dominates the series. Sweep. I just dont know which way yet.
Posted by: eric at October 2, 2007 10:26 PM
Ron Santo deserves nothing.
Posted by: eric at October 2, 2007 10:27 PM
As Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns said this past year when the Suns were dogged for their defense: If at the end of the game you outscored your opponent, then you played good defense.
Posted by: Giladawg at October 6, 2007 11:28 AM