Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Cubs Myths
While yesterday moonlighting at CubsDen I implored everyone on both sides of the EVERYTHING’S RUINED!/EVERYTHING’S FINE debate to try and take a breath, when things go loopy in greater Cubdom, there are a fewer smaller item matters that do tend to get bent, folded, and even otherwise simply made up.
Since last Friday’s balls-up in the 9th and 10th inning, somehow another arm in the pen has become the most glaring need to be addressed at the trade deadline to some, ahead of the season-long glaring holes of 5th starter and bats on the bench, whether one specifically is acquired or a starter is acquired to push a current one to the bench, thereby strengthening it. Let me share some things with you to show why that is utter drivel.
Justin Grimm has a 2.25 ERA in July with a K-rate of 11.25, which is actually below his season long rate.
Hector Rondon in July has a 0.73 ERA, with an almost 5-to-1 K/BB ratio.
While Pedro Strop is still getting blowback from that whole Peralta thing, accentuated that it came with two outs in the 9th vs. the Cardinals, he still has only one outing this year where he’s given up more than a hit and has given up a run in only three outings all season. And after he backed that up with a wonky look in Atlanta, he’s given up two hits in four appearances while striking out five.
Travis Wood’s July ERA is 2.87, while throwing considerably more innings than anyone else, and his K-rate for the month is 12.06.
James Russell did not have a good weekend vs. Philly, but those remain two of the three outings all season where he’s given up a run since he made his season debut.
So in reality, this whole “THE PEN HAS SPRUNG A LEAK!” narrative is derived from two guys, one who was always a tightrope walker and another experiment in self mutilation that is known as Rafael Soriano (and between you and me, Soriano hasn’t been any damn good since 2010, as every year since his FIP is over 3.30).
We know the problems with Motte. He throws one pitch and not a particularly nifty one at that. You can throw one pitch if it moves a lot and/or you can control it with sniper precision. Motte’s vague idea of where his string-straight fastball might be going, much like a drunk hailing a cab, would not fit this description. Put him in front of a good lineup, or even one that’s just going well, and they’ll eventually clock it. Motte’s K-rate of below six per nine innings isn’t just criminally low for a closer, it’s closer to The Hague. He was able to get away with it for a while but eventually things were always going to be a problem.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think Motte can be effective. When the starter goes short and you’ve got 7-8-9 coming up in the 6th, he can probably overpower some weaker hitters for three outs.
Essentially, Joe Maddon had been running his bullpen, at least recently, upside down. The best pitcher with the nastiest stuff is Grimm. But Maddon has preferred him as his fire extinguisher in the earlier innings, because he’s the most likely to get a strikeout or two. This is much in the same way that Lou Piniella turned Marmol’s arm into baby food by bringing him in in ’07 and ’08 at the nearest hint of trouble.
Rondon has taken the closer’s role back on today’s evidence, though he doesn’t strike out as many as you’d think, with only eight per nine innings or so. And with his stuff, that’s actually pretty perplexing as it was the same way last year. But he’s arguably going the best right now, so that’s fine.
I’m sure if you got a couple of glasses of Shiraz into Maddon (and I’m guessing that’s not all that hard), as well as Epstoyer, they’d probably tell you they’d most like to run their pen like every forward-thinking baseball mind knows is best. And that’s getting the last six, nine, or 12 outs based purely on match-ups. If the opposition has 2-3-4 coming up in the 8th, that’s when you’d throw Grimm or Rondon out there and figure out the 9th later. Maybe that’s what they’re inching toward here. You can guess that because Epstein tried this at the start of his first year in Boston in 2003. Except they had quite the collection of nitrous-overdosed clowns out there, with names like Byung-Hyun Kim, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, Brandon Lyon and whoever else. It didn’t work, and they went running to sign Keith Foulke the very next winter. That doesn’t mean they don’t think it couldn’t work with this bunch, who I’m going to say are better.
That also doesn’t mean the Cubs couldn’t use another bullpen arm, because you can never have too many. But I also wouldn’t shit a chicken if that arm was just Rosscup and/or Carl Edwards Jr., assuming they can keep Edwards from hitting the mascot with his pitches.
If the 5th starter spot is shored up, and the Cubs can consistently get six innings, I’m fairly certain that even without Motte, Strop, Rondon, Russell, Grimm, and Wood can manage to get nine outs pretty consistently. And I won’t throw Motte completely out with the bathwater, though I’m sure it’s been a long time since he’s been anywhere near bathwater.
You can throw Soriano out with whatever substance you choose.