September 27, 2012
As the Major League Baseball regular season winds down into its final days, there’s no better time to take a look at the train wreck that has been the 2012 campaign for the Chicago Cubs. The team had a complete overhaul at the top going into the season with the arrival of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer along with manager Dale Sveum. Gone were Jim Hendry and Mike Quade, with Epstein preaching patience while the Cubs worked on rebuilding the franchise from within instead of investing in overpriced free agents.
After Tuesday’s blanking at the hands of the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs sit at 59-96 and in fifth place in the National League Central. The Cubs avoided the cellar in the division thanks to the ineptitude of the Houston Astros, who are 51-105 and clinched last place in their final year in the National League. The dismal performance moves the meter for consecutive seasons without a World Series championship to 104 on the North Side of Chicago, while the last World Series appearance was now 67 years ago. More importantly, the Cubs need to go 4-3 down the stretch to avoid their first 100 loss season since 1966.
We discussed yesterday some of the major positives of this lost season. Today we have the misfortune of looking at what went wrong. Obviously, there are more issues than positives at this stage of the game but that is something to be expected from a rebuilding franchise that was plagued by poor decisions and high dollar contracts for players no longer with the organization. Let’s take a look at some of the players who failed to meet expectations from the debacle known as Year One of the Epstein plan.
Ian Stewart: With the departure of Aramis Ramirez to Milwaukee in the offseason via free agency, the Cubs had a gaping hole at third base. After all, Ramirez was a stabilizing force for the Cubs, playing nine seasons and 1,124 games for the team at third base. Still, Chicago and Ramirez decided to part ways when the third baseman decided not to exercise his option in an effort to test the market for one last contract. In his stead, the Cubs made the decision to deal for Colorado third baseman Ian Stewart.
The move seemed questionable: Stewart played in just 48 games in 2011 for the Rockies and hit a paltry .156 with no home runs and six runs batted in. Still, Chicago made the deal, sending Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies for Stewart and minor leaguer Casey Weathers. Colvin has been decent for the Rockies, hitting .290 with 23 doubles, 10 triples, 18 home runs and 71 runs batted in. Those numbers are a far cry from the .150 he hit in 206 at-bats with Chicago last season. LeMahieu has fared well in Colorado too, hitting .293 with one home run and 19 runs batted in over 74 games with just 2 errors in 63 games at second base.
Ramirez meanwhile, has been himself: he’s hit .298 with a league leading 50 doubles to go with 26 home runs and 100 runs batted in. His 90 runs scored through Wednesday are his most since scoring 97 for the Cubs back in 2008. He’s been a proven run producer in a lineup that no longer has Prince Fielder and provides excellent protection for Ryan Braun.
Stewart on the other hand, has been a bust. He played in a mere 55 games, hitting .201 with five home runs and 17 runs batted in. He underwent wrist surgery and played his final game of the season back on June 12. The Cubs got better production out of journeyman Luis Valbuena than Stewart.
Chris Volstad: The Cubs figured that by trading Carlos Zambrano, they were doing addition by subtraction. Getting Chris Volstad in the deal, a younger pitcher with a power arm was expected to be a bonus and would help the Cubs. Instead, it has been one of those deals that hasn’t really panned out for either team so far.
Zambrano was removed from the Marlins’ rotation and has struggled this season, going 7-10 with a 4.49 earned run average for Miami in 35 games, 20 of which were starts. He has been used sparingly in September, making just five appearances. He’s pitched a mere 31.2 innings since the All Star Break after tossing 100.2 before.
Meanwhile, Volstad has been a disappointment as well. He was sent to the minors following his May 17th start that dropped him to 0-6. He didn’t record his first win as a Cub until August 26 against the Rockies, which marked his 14th start of the season. He’d been better recently, winning three of his last four decisions after starting 0-9 on the year but he’s struggled to go deep in games: he pitched five innings or fewer in ten of his 19 starts entering Thursday and was shelled again, gone after three innings and seven runs.
Volstad is young still and inexpensive, so he’ll likely get a chance to improve on his ghastly 3-10 (soon to be 3-11 more than likely) record and 6.22 (and climbing) earned run average.
Randy Wells: Wells was a decent, if unspectacular, starter for the Cubs in the past three years, going 12-10 as a rookie and 27-30 overall. His earned run average spiked each season from 3.05 to 4.26 to 4.99 from 2009 to 2011 but Wells was expected to be a #3 or #4 starter for the team based on past performance. Instead, that never really panned out to fruition.
Wells bottomed out, failing to make it past the fifth inning in his first two starts, which led to a demotion to the bullpen. Wells would start twice more in June when Volstad was in the minors and Ryan Dempster was on the disabled list, but again was limited, pitching 3 and 3.2 innings in outings against the White Sox and Mets, respectively. His last outing with the big league club came on June 26 and he hasn’t been back in the big leagues since, going 1-2 with a 5.34 earned run average in 12 games, 4 starts for the team this year.
Wells struggled in the minors as well, going 3-3 with a 7.89 earned run average while making nine starts for the Iowa Cubs. The Cubs designated him for assignment on June 27, removing him from the 40 man roster.
Carlos Marmol: It’s hard to target a closer on a piss poor ball club but Marmol has been more of a dud than a stud this season. Marmol was virtually untouchable from 2007 through 2010 before falling on hard times with his control last season.
In 2012, his control problems intensified while his ability to strike out hitters has seemingly vanished. In 2010, Marmol fanned 138 hitters in 77.2 innings of work; in 52.1 innings this year, the number has dropped to 67. While that still translates to 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, that’s a far cry from the 16 strikeouts per nine he was getting two seasons ago. His strikeout to walk ratio has dropped to 1.52 and he struggled in the early part of the season, losing his closer role and ending up on the disabled list.
He has converted 20 of 23 save opportunities, including 18 in a row after getting his spot back. However, there still is something missing for Marmol. Perhaps he became complacent after getting a big contract. His numbers have improved dramatically in the second half of the season (1.69 earned run average in 26.2 innings compared to a 5.61 ERA in 25.2 innings in the first half) and his strikeout to walk ratio has improved as well. There may be hope that Marmol turns things around after all.
The Catchers: The Cubs had no success with getting production from the guys behind the plate this season. The collective group consisting of Geovany Soto, Steve Clevenger, Koyie Hill, Welington Castillo, Blake Lalli and Anthony Recker have been dismal in 2012 at the plate, which is a major reason why Chicago’s offense has floundered. They combined to hit a pathetic .222 (131 for 590) with 13 home runs and 57 runs batted in while striking out 131 times.
Soto was especially disappointing: after winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2007 when he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 85 runs batted in, his numbers dropped precipitously afterwards. He hit a meager .199 with six home runs and 14 runs batted in for the Cubs this season before being moved right before the trade deadline in the deal that sent Ryan Dempster to Texas. He’s done slightly better with the Rangers (.211, 6 home runs, 24 runs batted in over 42 games) but nothing overly spectacular.
Castillo has been the bright spot of the group for the Cubs, hitting .290 entering play Thursday with 5 home runs and 22 runs batted in. He strikes out a little too often still (29 percent of his at-bats ended in strikeouts) but that can be worked on. The rest of the group isn’t worth taking the time to discuss due to their lack of at-bats (Lalli and Recker), the fact that they are no longer with the team (Lalli and Hill) or that frankly, they just aren’t impressive in any facet of the game (Clevenger.)
We’ve talked about studs and duds, so what does that mean for the Cubs going forward? We’ll have to see. A look at what you might be able to expect from the 2013 Cubs team will be coming in the near future, so in the words of famed wrestling commentator Billy Red Lyons, don’t you dare miss it.