At the Break: Chicago Cubs

My intent is to break down the division over the next few days and see where we can look forward over the last 70 games of the season.  I will break down each team into the 4 parts; hitting, fielding, starting pitching and the bullpen. Continuing with our examination of each team in the NL Central Division it is time to shine the hard light of reality on the Chicago Cubs.  If I had to pick the most disappointing team in the division the Cubs would be the team.  When the season began everyone expected the Astros to be terrible but while the Cubs weren’t supposed to be good they were expected to occasionally win.  Such has barely been the case.

The Cubs are 37-55, they have scored 84 less runs than they have allowed.  In order to understand how they got into this position we have to look at the four phases of the Cubs game.

Batting

The Cubs can hit.  When you look through the Cubs starting 8 you find a number of quality hitters.  Shortstop Starlin Castro is only 21 years old and is the Cubs representative to the All Star Game.  He is leading the team in batting average, hits, doubles, triples, runs, and stolen bases.  He is a good player to eventually build a team around.  Surrounding him are several quality bats including Aramis Ramirez, Marlon Byrd, Darwin Barney, Kosuke Fukudome, and an aging Alfonso Soriano.  They do have weaknesses in the lineup, Geovany Soto is struggling at the plate but as catchers are rarely strong he does not hurt Chicago.  The same cannot be said about First Baseman Carlos Pena.  Pena is such a mixed bag.  He leads the team with 19 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 49 walks but when you have a .225 batting average you are not taking care of the opportunities presented to you.  To make matters worse he is only hitting .182 with runners in scoring position.  Pena is one of the worst examples but as a team the Cubs hit .244 with runners in scoring position.  If the Cubs are to improve as a team this is one stat they must improve on.

Fielding

As good as Castro is at the plate he has a giant Achilles heel.  Starlin leads the team with 18 errors and a .957 fielding percentage.  The rest of the team also has fielding issues as well.  The Cubs have committed 77 errors to lead the major leagues in this pitiful category.  I realize that there is an unwritten rule (I think it hasn’t been written!?) that every team must be represented at the All Star Game.  But for those who have read many of my blog posts over the last few months know that I value defense highly.  In my opinion you build a team of fielders who can hit and then allow the pitchers to pitch into this strength.  The Cubs have taken a different approach.  One excellent fielder who should not be overlooked is catcher Geovany Soto who leads the starters with a .991 fielding percentage.

Starting Pitching

When I looked at the Astros pitching staff I noticed a 0.03 difference in ERA between the starters and the relievers.  They rise and fall as a staff together.  The Cubs do not have that kind of synergy.  The Chicago starting rotation consists of Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and Matt Garza, followed by a variety of starters that include Randy Wells, Doug Davis, Casey Coleman, James Russell, Rodrigo Lopez, Ramon Ortiz and Andrew Cashner.  The combined ERA of this group is 5.29 in starts.  Only Zambrano and Garza have an ERA under 5.00 and Carlos is the only starter with a winning record at 6-4.  Coleman, Davis, and Wells have combined for a 4-14 record.  Matt Garza is sometimes suggested as being available for a trade and I think he might be a good acquisition.  He has a 4.26 ERA in 95 IP with 99Ks and only 33 Ws.    I am also impressed by his ground ball/fly ball +line drive ratio of 133/132.  With a defensive team like Cincinnati provides his ERA would likely drop considerably.  Garza has suffered from the most unearned runs on the team as well with 9 or one sixth of the total runs scored against him.

Bullpen

Chicago Cubs Relievers
Pitcher RA QRO FRO ND QAR FAR
Justin Berg 8 5 3 0 63% 38%
Christopher Carpenter 10 3 5 2 30% 50%
Casey Coleman 2 1 1 0 50% 50%
John Grabow 39 21 15 3 54% 38%
Rodrigo Lopez 9 4 4 1 44% 44%
Scott Maine 7 4 3 0 57% 43%
Carlos Marmol 41 35 6 0 87% 13%
Sean Marshall 42 29 11 2 69% 26%
Marcos Mateo 23 12 7 4 52% 30%
James Russell 30 21 6 3 70% 20%
Jeff Samardzija 39 25 12 2 64% 31%
Jeff Stevens 4 1 2 1 25% 50%
Kerry Wood 30 19 10 1 63% 33%
Cubs Staff Totals 284 180 85 19 63% 30%
Data through 7/10/2011

RA = Relief Appearances:  Total # of Relief Appearances

QRO = Quality Relief Outing:  # of Appearances where more outs are recorded than hits + walks and a 3.00 ERA is maintained for the relief appearance.

FRO = Failed Relief Outing:  # of Appearances where earned runs are allowed, inherited runners score or no outs are recorded.  (See ERA allowance in the QRO description

ND = No Decision.  Does not meet the criteria for a QRO or a FRO

QAR = Quality Appearance Ratio:  QRO/RA

FAR = Failed Appearance Ratio:  FRO/RA

The Cubs bullpen is a surprising strength led by Carlos Marmol the Cubs closer.  He has an 87% QRO ratio making him one of the most reliable relievers in the league and the relief corps sports a respectable 3.57 ERA.

Prognosis:  The Cubs may morph into a good team, but not this year.  Age and talent conspire against them to make challenging for the division an impossibility but the can be a spoiler.  Every team in the race looks at the Cubs as a potential victory and any time a front runner loses to this club recriminations will commence.  In addition this team is a potential seller who actually has a few commodities worth considering.  Far more than Houston can boast.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

Topics: Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs, Matt Garza, QRO, Starlin Castro

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