I can’t seem to find it, but I know a year ago somewhere around this time I wrote a post, either here or at Cubs Den, that was trying to suss out if Jake Arrieta’s 2014 season was just going to be a flash in the pan or if it portended to more greatness (which it obviously did). In my research, basically I concluded that any pitcher that could put up a 5.5+ win season (as Arrieta would have done had he pitching April ’14), no matter how out of the blue it came, was the real deal and we could expect at least that much again. No pitcher had ever put that up and then faded into Bolivia, basically. While I didn’t expect Arrieta to have a generational season, I did expect him to be among the league’s best.
So after writing about whether or not the Cubs should extend Arrieta or not this winter or go into arbitration and then see where they are after 2016, I thought it might be useful to try and project where he might be going. Using other pitchers from the past is always admittedly somewhat dicey because every pitcher is different, but it’s one of the best tools we have.
The first snow is always when baseball season seems so far away, even though the last one ended. Maybe it’s because you know there’s going to be a lot more snowstorms, and digging out the car sessions, and unshoveled sidewalks, and your quads hurting from trying to stay upright on said sidewalks, before you even get to utter the phrase “pitchers and catchers.” And yet this is the time things start popping.
It was at this time that Jim Hendry started his binge with Alfonso Soriano in 2006 (I looked it up, it was nine years ago last Friday). Soon Lilly and DeRosa and seemingly everyone else followed. This brass had Thanksgiving dinner with Curt Schilling (and what conversation that must’ve been) to convince him to come to Boston and end “The Curse” (TM Dan Shaugnessy). The Winter Meetings are approaching, when a bunch of rumors get tossed out there because everyone happens to be in the same place and I assume are getting drunk together (that’s what you do at meetings, right? I don’t know, I’ve never had a real job that involved meetings. I just assume that because they keep happening and why else would they?)
We seem to have the first actual rumblings of an actual signing for the Cubs, and it appears to be old friend Jeff Samardzija. Nothing concrete, just rumors and reports of a dinner between him and Theo and The Score’s Bruce Levine saying that’s it’s more likely than not that Shark will be returning to the Northside after a year and a half essentially out on loan. I get the impression that there’s some angst or bitterness about it. I wonder why.
First, the actual baseball side of it. Samardzija was something of a comedy skit for the Sox last year, and that probably is being used a shield to justify some weird feelings Cubs fans have about Shark. You can find plenty of studies about whether it was a false year or the signal of a downturn elsewhere I’m sure. He saw a decline in his strikeouts, grounders, and uptick in walks, and some horrible luck in sequencing with a non-repeatable left-on-base percentage of 67.2%. He gave up more liners, and seemingly was moving to using a cutter more and using his sinker/four-seamer less, which is what was his strength here. His cutter has always gotten whacked around, so the new focus on it is strange.
But I don’t think that’s what’s going on with Cubs fans and their feeling about Shark.
I think most of us have a soft spot for Hendricks. He’s the only starter who came up through most of the system (though he was a trade just like Arrieta). We can also kind of imagine throwing as hard as he does, because it’s not all that far from what we can actual throw. And if you’re a dork like me, any pitcher that has to think his way through a lineup instead of just pulling out Smash TV level of weaponry has a certain appeal. And when he’s on, and you can sort of think along with him and see these major league hitters being sat down by stuff that couldn’t break wind, it’s a unique thrill.
The problem is we don’t know if it adds up to enough, and Hendricks might find himself on the outside looking in on the rotation depending on what moves the Cubs end up making for the rotation.
So I’m going to jump around on these now, for a couple reasons. One, there isn’t much to say about Chris Denorfia or Austin Jackson, who are pretty much the same guy. Neither are going to be around you wouldn’t think, and if either are their roles will still be the same. Second, what am I going to add now to Arrieta’s or Lester’s season? Pretty much nothing, and I’ve already written about Arrieta’s contract conundrum over on Cubs Den.
It also isn’t probably the best strategy to write about Hammel just a few days after Sahadev Sharma did on BP Wrigleyville, because he’s basically better at everything (including better looking). But I’m not the smartest guy around. Let’s do it anyway.
G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP
101 404 10 39 47 3 7.9 % 30.0 % .137 .361
AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
.262 .324 .399 .312 96 1.4 -0.6 -11.4 0.1
There probably isn’t any Cub who had a weirder year than Jorge Soler. Arrieta’s season was weird in that it was so galactically good, but Soler’s was weird for the sake of being weird. The only thing he did that we could have sort of expected was he got hurt. He did it in both of his seasons in the minors, so missing time at the majors was probably expected.
Beyond that? Just about nothing went to plan.
Now that we’ve delved fully into free agent frenzy, we’re all dreaming of what pieces are coming and awaiting the excitement of that first announcement of a Cubs move. Everyone wins in November and December, right? There certainly seems to be the equal amount of smoke around David Price as there was Jon Lester last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s for sure coming here (he totally is). We’re throwing around trade rumors and getting prematurely heartbroken when one of our favorites feels like he’s going away and already trying to talk yourself down and tell yourself that it’s ok based on what’s rumored to be coming back. It’s like preparing for grief. It’s strange, this baseball fandom thing.
And yet, I’m one of those who’s trying to figure out how the pieces fit (I know the pieces fit… I know the pieces fit). I wonder if we aren’t in for a surprise or two, not this winter but in the ones to come. Let me try and show you.