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I’m really looking forward to the Opener tonight down in Atlanta. I think Hill is going to be a terrific #1. I’m hopeful that Lilly and Marquis can hold their own as numbers 2 and 3, and make all of their regular starts, as has been their history. I figure Miller is a short-timer in the #4 spot—Guzman has GOT to fill that role—but Zambrano is, no doubt, the best fifth starter in baseball. Maybe the best fifth starter ever. Drag that Soriano will miss the Opener, but sounds like he’ll be back by the season’s second week and in the meantime, we can at least get a sample of what Pie’s capable of. I think it’s going to be a fun year.
Here's the way it works: every degree over 50 is good for 1.5 runs. Sunday gametime temp--50; runs scored--0. Monday gametime temp--58; runs scored--12. Tuesday gametime temp (forecast)--62; runs scored (forecast)--18.
If Wade Miller doesn't work out as our #5 starter, maybe he can be our #1. The stakes really are higher this year. I don't normally feel this demoralized until May.
I'm gazing out my office window in downtown Chicago right now, and it's snowing like a bastard. Today's game has been canceled...which is the most positive news to come out of Wrigley Field this week. Make-up date is 7/12.
Thanks to Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, the Cubs have gotten two great starts in three games. How great was it for those guys? According to Bill James’ formula for starting pitchers’ Game Scores, Lilly’s Cub debut on Wednesday—7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 9 K and just 1 BB--earned a score of 75. In Ted Lilly’s world, that’s not just good, it’s not just very good, it’s three-years-and-63-starts good. Yes, it was all the way back in 2004, August 23rd to be exact, when Lilly threw a three-hit complete game shutout at the Red Sox, that the lefty last tallied a Game Score as high as, or higher than, Wednesday night’s. As for Marquis, his effort on Thursday—6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 K and 2 BB—amounted to a Game Score of 62. Nice, but hardly a number for the ages. Still, it was better than the righthander did in any of his last 12 starts with the Cards in ’06, when Marquis had the lowest average Game Score in the National League (42.79) and had the league's two lowest single-game scores, including a harrowing -11 against the White Sox in June. Another thing that struck me going through his career numbers was how frequently Marquis throws low-strikeout, low-walk games like Thursday’s. Ten times last year, he pitched six or more innings while striking out four or fewer hitters and walking two or fewer. He pulled off the trick ten times in ’05. As others have pointed out, Marquis doesn’t miss many bats. So he’s going to have to keep the ball on the ground and get lots of help from his defense if we’re going to see many starts like Thursday’s. (In case you're wondering, the highest Game Score recorded last season in the National League was a 92 by our very own Rich Hill against the Reds in September: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 10 K, 1 BB.)
An incomplete, almost entirely speculative list of people identified by various sources as possible purchasers of the Chicago National League Ball Club: Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks Owner Donald Levin, Chicago Wolves Owner Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix Suns Chairman Pat Ryan, Founder and Executive Chairman of Aon Corporation Bill Murray, Actor George Will, Journalist Tom Begel, Chicago businessman William Marovitz, former Illinois state senator Larry Levy, restaurateur Bruce Rauner, Chicago private-equity investor Crain’s Chicago Business quotes Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant as saying, “(The price for the Cubs) will go north of $800 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it went for more than $1 billion.” Crain’s continues, “Mr. Ganis predicts the eventual buyer will be a private-equity firm that will stay under the radar until a deal is announced. He says he’s fielded inquiries from two such firms.”
Opening Day is still more than a week off, but the prognostication season is well under way. Sports Illustrated’s annual preview was mentioned here yesterday, but The Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus are also out with their player-by-player predictions, as is Baseball Think Factory’s Dan Szymborski, father of the ZIPS Projections.

THT, BP (with their PECOTA Projections) and Szymborski each employs a unique methodology, which I won’t even try to summarize or explain. Regardless, I thought it would be worthwhile to stack all three sets of Cub player predictions side by side, focusing on the eight likely starting position players plus Cliff Floyd, the five starting pitchers including Wade Miller, and the closer, Ryan Dempster.

The THT numbers come from their most excellent season preview book featuring the work of one Rob G.; the Baseball Prospectus numbers come from BP 2007; and I pulled the ZIPS Projections from the Baseball Think Factory site. (Thanks again, Dan, for your permission to use them here.)

Also, to round out the field, I consulted my old friend, Phil, a very smart, very dedicated Cub fan who can calculate slugging percentages in his head and who, coincidentally, turned me on to The Cub Reporter what seems like a very long time ago. Phil employed no simulation models or complicated algorithms in coming up with his picks, but rather, a time-honored technique called educated guesswork that took about 15 minutes.

I’m putting together a look at how some of the online pubs and soothsayers foresee the Cubs season ahead. In the meantime, the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview edition is on the street. SI has the Cubs pegged for second in the NL Central, behind the Cards and out of the post-season picture. The magazine, which ranks the Cubs as MLB’s 15th strongest club overall, figures the Brewers, Astros, Pirates and Reds will fall in order behind our heroes in the Central. In a sidebar to Albert Chen’s full preview of the Cubs, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggests that the Cubs would be 39 runs better off by the end of the season if Michael Barrett hit leadoff and Alfonso Soriano batted cleanup. The conclusion is based on a computer simulation of the season using BP’s PECOTA projections. I agree with the notion that Soriano could help the team more if he hit further down in the lineup, though Matt Murton would strike me as a better replacement in the top spot than Barrett. Still, it’s kind of a cool idea. I wonder if they’d kick Barrett out of the catchers union if he told them he was batting first.
In honor of Wade Miller (the Frontrunner), Angel Guzman (the Contender, at least until earlier today), and Mark Prior (the Bystander), here is a list of recent Cubs' #5 starters, defined as the pitcher with the fifth most starts in a given season. Note: portions may be unsuitable for more sensitive viewers. 1997: Frank Castillo, 19 starts, 98 IP, 6-9, 5.42 1998: Geremi Gonzalez, 20 starts, 110 IP, 7-7, 5.32 1999: Terry Mulholland, 16 starts, 110 IP, 6-6, 5.15 2000: Ruben Quevedo, 15 starts, 88 IP, 3-10, 7.47 2001: Julian Taverez, 28 starts, 161.3 IP, 10-9, 4.52 2002: Carlos Zambrano, 16 starts, 108.3 IP, 4-8, 3.66 2003: Shawn Estes, 28 starts, 152.3 IP, 8-11, 5.73 2004: Mark Prior, 21 starts, 118.7 IP, 6-4, 4.02 2005: Jerome Williams, 17 starts, 106 IP, 6-8, 3.91 2006: Carlos Marmol, 77 IP, 5-7, 6.08 On average, this group managed 19 starts, 113 IP, a won-loss record of 6-8 and an ERA of 5.22. I don't know how those numbers stack up to other teams during these last 10 years, but I would think Williams in '05, Prior in '04, certainly Zambrano in '02, and maybe even Tavarez in '01 would have compared quite well.
This former Northsider is now feeling as fit as a sub-replacement level fiddle. But that wasn't the case last season:
“(He) fought through a sports hernia all of last season with the Cubs... He underwent surgery for that. Even bigger… he finally underwent an operation to clean out loose bodies in his throwing elbow.”
Any guesses?


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