June 15, 2009

Is eight enough?

Just one day after I ridiculed the Cubs for carrying 12 pitchers, they actually did something about it. The Trib's Dave van Dyck:
Infielder Bobby Scales was sent back to Triple-A Iowa to make room for starting pitcher Rich Harden, leaving the Cubs with an almost-unheard-of 13 pitchers.
Leaving aside the Scales-vs.-Aaron Miles debate for the time being, what in God's name is going on? 13 pitchers? 13? One-three? Luckily, Lou Piniella is here, and he's brought some awfully specious rationale with him:
"The big reason is all these extra innings we have had with our pitchers and also the fact a couple of them have been a little tender."
True, the Cubs have played a lot of extra inning games recently; five of their previous eight games before the Minnesota series required a total of 16 additional innings. But eight (8!) relief pitchers? Seriously? And who are these tender arms, anyway? I might have thought one was Marmol, who had appeared in just one of five games, but he pitched yesterday. It doesn't appear to be Kevin Gregg either, as he's thrown twice in the last four days, same as Sean Marshall. So that's your set-up man, closer, and top lefty. Who else in your bullpen is so important that he can't be put on the disabled list for two weeks so that you don't have to have such a ridiculously short bench?

Well it almost has to be Angel Guzman, who has appeared in only one game since June 7, a third-of-an-inning stint in which he allowed four baserunners. Let's assume Guzman is the sore armed guy; they really couldn't have gone with a six-man pen for the final game of the Twins series, knowing they had an off-day today?

Incidentally, that Guzman is coming up lame should be no surprise. Since logging 156 innings in 2002, here are Guzman's yearly inning totals (and keep in mind he's been used almost exclusively as a starter): 89.2, 30, 18.1, 131.2, 45.1, 26.2. I looked up Angel Guzman in my Spanish-English dictionary and it said Kerry Wood. Needless to say, Guzman's arm is a tad fragile. Which is why Piniella should be taken to task for using him eight times in an 11-game (12-day) span, including five appearances in six days. So get in the car, Lou; we are going to task. What you did was totally reprehensible, and the results were utterly predictable. I'm going to cut you some slack based on the back-to-back division titles, but my patience is definitely wearing thin. If we wanted a guy to destroy every live arm on the pitching staff, we never would've fired Dusty Baker.* So ease off the throttle a tad please.

* And at least then I could have referred to the 13-man staff as "Baker's Dozen."

But instead of tacitly acknowledging Piniella's abuse by sending Guzman to his familiar station on the DL, the Cubs are merely compounding the mistake by carrying just four bench players. Regardless if it's Guzman and/or somebody else, none of these undisclosed tender arms are so vital that the Cubs couldn't ride out a 15-day stint on the DL instead of leaving their bench so woefully undermanned. I argued the other day that carrying 12 pitchers was ridiculous; now I'm going to have to invent a new adjective to describe 13. I think I'll go with ludipostulous, which combines all the finest phonemes of ludicrous, preposterous, and ridiculous.

And someone needs to take control of this ludipostulous situation, because right now it appears the Cubs are hell-bent on creating the rarely seen all-pitcher roster. With only Reed Johnson, Koyie Hill, Micah Hoffpauir, and Andres Blanco on the bench, Piniella admitted that he and his staff will "have to be very careful how we use our players. We could run out of players very, very guickly." Well thank God you won't run out of them very, very, very quickly, because then that might be a problem.

Oh yeah, speaking of problems:
"What you'll see is me using Zambrano if we have to hit early in the game so I can keep my bench players intact."
Look, I love Carlos Zambrano as a hitter... when he's pitching. He's a switch hitter, he doesn't get cheated, and he runs the bases like he's hopped up on Red Bull. But as a pinch hitter, he's completely and utterly inadequate. His career OBP is .246, a respectable number with the bar set pitcher-low, but an atrocious figure for anyone else. Even worse, as a pinch-hitter -- and granted, it's only 20 plate appearances -- his career OPS (that's right, not OBP but rather on-base plus slugging) is .211. If I multiplied that number by three, it would still fall below an acceptable level for a pinch hitter. The regular use of Zambrano as a pinch hitter is, quite frankly, a horrible idea.

A much more reasonable solution -- DL'ing Guzman notwithstanding -- would be to dump one of the other pitchers. I mentioned three underutilized hurlers the other day, including Jose Ascanio. But with Guzman's injury, he's actually been used twice in the last four days. That leaves us with Jason Waddell and his by-all-appearances healthy arm which Piniella has opted to use for just two-thirds of an inning this entire month, or David Patton. Waddell is a lefty, and given the Cubs' well-known proclivities for gaining a platoon advantage, he's probably been deemed untouchable. Which makes Patton the last man standing.

Of course, the Cubs won't drop Patton. Because Patton is a Rule 5 draft pick, he must be kept on the major-league roster or be offered back to the team he was selected from, the Colorado Rockies. And for some unknown reason, the Cubs just don't want to part with the great David Patton.

The truth is, Patton isn't really a prospect. He's 25, and before this year had never pitched above high-A ball. In five minor league seasons, he's been great in one, passable in two, and downright awful in two others. While the bad seasons were his first two, it's worth noting that his one good season was as a 22-year-old as an A-ball repeater. That was in 2006. He spent the last two seasons in high-A -- repeating the lower levels is generally not something top prospects do -- and allowed 63 walks and 14 homers in just over 140 innings. And he was old for the league. Twice. Despite good strikeout rates, there is really no reason to believe that David Patton is a major-league pitcher.

And his numbers this year bear that out. Though Piniella is undeniably loathe to use him, Patton's still put up some pretty ugly stats: 18 hits, 12 earned runs, 12 walks, 15 strikeouts, and three home runs allowed in just 17.1 innings pitched, resulting in a 6.23 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP. And yet the Cubs, a team that claims to have World Series aspirations, are willing to keep this cipher on the roster at the expense of a real, live major league bat.

It is clear to me that Patton is quickly becoming the modern-day Scott Chiasson. If you don't remember, Chiasson was a Cubs' Rule 5 draftee before the 2001 season. Though he was unable to crack the 11-man staff -- which featured such luminaries as Jason Bere, Julian Tavarez, Todd Van Poppel, Felix Heredia, and Courtney Duncan -- the Cubs were so desperate to keep him that despite a three-decade black hole at third base, they parted with prospect Eric Hinske to convince the A's not to take Chiasson back when the Cubs tried to option him. (The Cubs also received the inconsequential Miguel Cairo in the deal.) Just one year later, Hinske -- who the A's flipped to Toronto for closer Billy Koch -- was named the AL Rookie of the Year. In his 11.1-inning major league career, Chiasson allowed 16 hits, eight walks, and four home runs, good for an 11.12 ERA and a WHIP of 2.118.

Like Patton, Chiasson had enjoyed only middling success in the minors, and there was no reason to believe he was a major-league caliber pitcher; still the Cubs were willing to pay a great price to keep him. A mistake they are repeating a mere eight years later. Only this time, it won't cost them a future Rookie of the Year. No, this time the price just might be a postseason bid.

In the Cubs' world, I believe that qualifies as improvement.

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