Spring Training Battles: Starting Pitching

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll look at the starting rotation battle between Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I won't pretend that Sean Gallagher has a legitimate chance, although I guess I am pretending that Sean Marshall does.

Unable or unwilling to trade for some of the top notch talent that was moved over the offseason, such as Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren; the Cubs head into 2008 with much of the same talent that was good for the second best ERA among NL starting staffs last year. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill
will anchor the staff, and if Marquis and Marshall win the jobs, you'll have the same starting five that took the mound for the bulk of last season.

That though, appears to be the least likely scenario, as Ryan Dempster is getting his wish to compete for a starting spot and the Cubs signed Lieber on a one year deal. It appears to be a bit of a logjam at the moment, but the bullpen or the trade market can alleviate that "problem" at the end of spring training.

Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate after the jump...


Ryan Dempster

2008 PECOTA PROJECTION: 7-7, 20 GS, 4.91 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 1.8 WARP

After a few, ahem, adventureous years as the Cubs closer, Dempster decided that his true heart's desire lie in starting pitching. Or he saw how much money Carlos Silva just got from the Mariners, realized his contract was up after the year, and thought to himself, "Hey, I can do that!" His previous escapades as a starter with the Marlins, Reds and six brief starts with the Cubs in 2005, yielded a combined line of 51-58 in 162 games started with a 4.99 ERA, a 1.56 K/BB ratio, a 1.11 HR/9 and a 7.36 K/9 in 988.2 IP. Compare that to his reliever numbers of 8-17, 229.2 IP, 4.11 ERA, 1.74 K/BB, 0.63 HR/9 and a 7.76 K/9. Most of those reliever numbers have come in the last three seasons with the Cubs, so it's a bit difficult to differentiate if Dempster has gotten a little better or was just better at relieving. My money is riding on that he's just better at relieving.

He came into camp ready to battle; a lean, mean fighting machine that has so far not disappointed, with nine innings pitched of 3.00 ERA ball. The key for Dempster though is to keep the ball in the park and he's only given up one home run this spring. With Dempster's control problems and tendency to put runners on, he's lived by the timely double play or strikeout to kill many a mounting rally.

Dempster probably has the best "stuff" of the four candidates and either him or Marshall have the best shot to breakout this year. Both are unlikely to do so, but the talent is there. He'll need a good defense behind him, particularly in the infield, as his splitter often gets pounded into the ground by opposing hitters. If his home run rates are anything like last September (7 in one month, he had only given up 11 in his Cubbie career before that), Lou will have a few more choice words for him than he did last year in Cincinnati.


Jon Lieber

2008 PECOTA PROJECTION: 4-4, 10 GS, 4.71 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 1.4 WARP

The last 20-game winner for the Cubs will most likely not be their next. Lieber signed a one year deal with the Cubs this offseason, and despite claims that he's competing for a job, a decent spring will almost assuredly give him a rotation spot. The portly right-hander with the self-indulgent monster truck, will try to bounce back from season ending ankle surgery.

Known as a quick worker with a vicious slider, age has started to take its toll (as has KFC). Lieber had seven straight seasons of an ERA above the league average, but has been below that line the last two years with Philadelphia. Hendry claimed they brought in Lieber because the NL Central featured a number of right-handed heavy lineups. Lieber's three year averages suggest that Hendry should bookmark ESPN.com. He certainly fares better versus righties with a line of 278/315/426 (714 OPS against) than he does versus lefties, which hit 310/366/465 (831 OPS against). But it's a far cry from his career numbers against righties of 243/271/369 (640 OPS against). It don't take rocket science to notice that he's been slipping.

He's been solid in his two spring starts so far, with 6 IP, a 3.00 ERA, 5 K's and his normally excellent control; zero walks. He'll get at least two more starts before Lou makes up his mind, but odds are in his favor that he'll start the season in the rotation.


Jason Marquis

2008 PECOTA PROJECTION: 8-8, 24 GS, 5.14 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.7 WARP

Many a Cub fan were upset to learn that Jason Marquis was signed to a three-year deal before the 2007 season. Marquis did his best to calm Cubs fans' fears with a solid first half of 3.67 ERA baseball. The second half wasn't as kind, not with a 5.73 ERA and a trip to Lou's bad side. Many were quick to point out that this was just the old Marquis, the one that couldn't make the World Series Cardinals post-season roster and earned him tickets out of Atlanta and St. Louis. While there's some truth to that, a scan of his gamelogs from last year show that Marquis still did some good in the second half. While the overall numbers are ugly, he seemed to sprinkle quite a few good starts between some completely disastrous starts. That may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Cubs fans, but it's exactly the pitcher that should have been expected. The one who takes the mound every five days and, in the end, will be league average. The type of pitcher that gets $7 to $10MM a year under baseball's current economics.

Marquis didn't do himself any favors this spring, with his over-the-top, "I also have a family to worry about" comments. The type of nonsense that made him no friends in the Cardinals or Braves organizations. But he's done his job during spring training with two starts, 5 IP, a 3.60 ERA and plenty of reliance on his defense. If everyone comes out of spring training healthy, he's a good bet to be the one moved to the bullpen or in the trade market. And although his deal is more than reasonable for a league-average starter that takes the mound every five days (a valuable asset); the baggage, the age, the back-loaded contract and the lack of upside will make him difficult to move without taking on someone with equal amounts of baggage, age, contract dollars and lack of upside.

Sean Marshall

2008 PECOTA PROJECTION: 7-6, 18 GS, 4.78 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 1.8 WARP

Two years ago, Sean Marshall was rushed to the majors with only 10 starts above Hi-A ball. Predictably, he got beaten up by major league hitters and ended 2006 with a 5.59 ERA (83 ERA+). He entered camp in 2007 with a sore shoulder that put him behind the rest of the starters, and began the year in Iowa. He quickly got back in the groove though, and by May 23rd got his first start with the big league club. His next 12 starts were masterful, his ERA ranging from a season-low 2.12 to no higher than 3.50. But August came around, and apparently the humidity got to Marshall. A disastrous month not only for his 6.18 ERA over six starts, but because the Cubs thought that Steve Trachsel would be an upgrade. While cutting his season short will probably do wonders to his long-term health, it also did wonders to Cubs fans' ulcers.

The Cubs said Marshall would get a fair shake in the competition, and he's performed just as well as the other three with a 3.38 ERA in 5.1 IP. The reality though is that Marshall still has two option years left and if there are no injuries or disastrous performances by the other three, he's the low-man on the totem pole. It might not be entirely fair, but after years of injuries to our starting staff, it's nice to have major league talent at the ready. And I don't think there's any guarantees that Marshall would outperform any of the other three.

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Let's take one last look at our contestants career numbers:

Name Age ERA HR/9 K/9 K/BB G/F
Dempster 31 4.82 1.02 7.44 1.60 1.31
Lieber 38 4.28 1.15 6.38 3.67 1.43
Marquis 29 4.56 1.24 5.40 1.54 1.50
Marshall 25 4.83 1.30 5.66 1.53 1.47

 

 

 

 

 

There's really not a whole lot of difference there. Lieber has the best control, Dempster will strikeout the most, while keeping the ball in the park, Marshall is the youngest with the most upside and Marquis is the most reliable, health-wise. It's natural to want and hope that the 25-year old Marshall has better days ahead, but the peripherals strongly suggest that's he just the younger version of the other three pitchers. And while he would have certainly been cheaper, he's anything but a good bet to stay healthy. So I think the Cubs were wise to not rely upon him in the rotation, but rather use his relatively cheap contract and option years as insurance for the inevitable injury or ineffectiveness that is sure to hit the team at some point.

I also want to add that this article will do double duty as the preview for our bullpen battle. With five spots already set in Marmol, Howry, Wuertz, Wood and Eyre, that leaves only two spots left. Conveniently we could very well have two starters without a job. It's certainly no guarantee that the two "losers" will end up with the bullpen spots, but if no trades go down and everyone stays healthy, that's one very likely scenario. The other is that Sean Marshall is optioned to Iowa to stay stretched out for the rotation and his spot is taken by one of the half dozen bullpen candidates, with Kevin Hart probably being in the lead for that spot. My guess on our Opening Day pitching roster is:

STARTERS: Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, Hill, Lieber

BULLPEN: Marquis, Hart, Wuertz, Eyre, Howry, Marmol, Wood

There's quite a bit of room for negotiation there. Marquis might get dealt. Hart might get replaced with a lefty, possibly Marshall, possibly Carmen Pignatiello or Neal Cotts. There's also the case of Tim Lahey, a Rule 5 draftee, who the Cubs will have to put through waivers if he doesn't stick with the 25-man roster. If he clears waivers, he'll be offered back to the Twins who might take him back or they might make the PTBNL in the Craig Monroe trade (that's an Arizona Phil theory and one I shouldn't have scoffed at earlier in the comments...silly me). Whatever happens, it's clear the Cubs have some depth in the rotation and the pen, let's hope we just have enough talent.

Next up: The Closers

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Comments

"adventureus"?

sorry, I've been out of the loop for a while...but what's the deal with Angel Guzman? Standard injury?

Angel Guzman is rehabbing from Tommy John (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) elbow surgery done last September.

Angel Guzman had TJ surgery, which is indeed standard for him.

Dempster as a starter will be a very short experiment. He will struggle with his control and rack up a lot of pitches early and rack up a lot of runs often.

Good stuff TCR. I really like these new authors a lot better than the old ones. :P

I voted Marquis, Marshall, Lieber, Demp.

and Haren shouldn't be used in the same sentence.

Anyone get their season tickets today? How about the parking passes? Thanks for any updates.

tickets being fedex'd today...so probably will arrive tomorrow (got the fedex e-mailing).

I may be the only one but I truly don't mind the log jam in the back of the rotation.

Marquis-We should trade that guy for a bag of hammers for all I care. The guy was stupid to make those comments and even dumber for not being a man apologizing like Lou did.

Marshall-I like the guy and I think he has huge upside not sure he is ready but pretty sure he is just as productive as our other options and holds long term value.

Lieber-Love this guy and what he did for us way to long ago. Also love the fact he is from Iowa..huge props for that. But this situation reminds me way too much of Wade Miller for some reason.

Dempster-For some reason and I have no factual evidence to back this up I think he will be one of the great surprises for us this year. The guys slider is awesome, probably one of the best in baseball and if he can hit the strike zone consistently he'll be effective as a starter.

Dempster - for some reason I also think he will be a surprise this year. I think he will post an ERA of around 4 and get 12 or 13 wins. He is working his ass off and trying to make himself look like a starter because I believe he wants the contract of a starting pitcher. I think this is a better option becuase he is not a stubborn ass like Marquis. Unlike Marquis, he will listen to his pitching coach and catchers and will make the adjustments needed to win. Marquis seems to shut guys out and do what he wants/thinks he should do

Marshall - I like Marshall and he has always seems to pitch well enough to keep the team in a game. We do need another lefty in the pen. He has also never pitched a full MLB season as a starter (43 starts the last two years...19 last year).

Lieber - I am hoping for a Kenny Rogers, circa 2006, type year. Oldie but a goodie.

Hmmm. I read the very interesting article. THANKS!

I am thinking, based on his recent experience as the closer, he SHOULD be more mentally hardened. This is good.

What I still have a hard time with is his propencity for control issues. Those of you who saw the game Saturday know what I'm talking about.

IF (IF) he can improve on this, I agree that 12-14 wins are possible.

The guy has always had problems finding the zone and probably always will. He is likely to at least a couple of outings in the first half of the year that are horribly lopsided because he will load up the bases with walks. But hopefully by the second half he will have learned how to pitch as a starter and gain better control. His rise in the second half will be in stark contrast to Marquis eminent 2nd half decline. I think Demp is sure to have some major growing pains in the starting rotation but molding him into the rotation will pay major dividends later in the year.

Dempster seems Far and away better suited to the Pen than Marquis or Lieber. I'd leave him in the pen for that reason alone. He helps in the Pen. The jury is out as to if he's an asset in the rotation.

I am not sure if our lady friend at cubs.com is accurate but, I found it interesting that today is the first time Soto is going to catch big Z...

I also thought you all would appreciate this quote out of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"Yost and his staff have been pleased with the arm of catcher Jason Kendall, who is 2 for 2 in throwing out runners on steal attempts and also made a great throw Sunday on a bunt play to get the out at first base.

Kendall was awful throwing out runners last season with Oakland and the Cubs, nabbing only 13 of 124 (10.5%)."

I'm thinking even Aram and John Lieber will have the green light against Kendall. While he is a "good guy in baseball," he does have terrible facial hair and an even worse throwing arm.

Unless she means this spring, she's wrong. Try Game 1 of the NLDS. http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/wrap.jsp?ymd=2007...

Or September 23rd. http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/wrap.jsp?ymd=2007...

Picked mine up yesterday.

Your parking passes are in the package.

Be sure to count 'em.

Also - the Cubs printed xtra "contingency tickets" that you'll also find.

NICE!!!!

It is weird they never gave us an official heads up we got the parking passes besides the charge hitting the credit card. Oh well, at least we got them.

So they give us 81 parking passes? I thought maybe they would just give us one parking pass good for the 2008 season.

I like the "contingency ticket" idea so they don't have to reissue tickets for rainouts.

Yeah - 81 separate tickets!

The guy they gave the responsibility to for the passes, is the same guy who is responsible for the construction taking place in front of the ticket windows on Clark and Addison. Check out the Cubs cam to see what he's dealing with.

They maybe could have reassigned this thing to someone else who could have at least notified everyone.

I also found out that there are no guarantees for next year on the Parking. At this time.

But they did say we would be given a shot for playoff parking passes though, right? Of course that is IF we make the playoffs this year.

Didn't say re the "Playoffs" - but, the original tease was that it is included. Maybe you can look up the exact wording. B/c, IIRC, it was that the fee INCLUDED the playoffs, not, ENTITLES us to PURCHASE parking again.

LEt me know what you did up from your old emails..

Er..."what you did up"

That's "what you DIG up..."

Here is what the Cubs said:
"If you purchase parking for this lot, you will also be entitled to purchase parking for all post season games."

So my take is that we WILL get parking passes, just like tickets if we pay for them.

Oh! OK, right, we will be ENTILTED to give them more $.

Thanks, MANNY!

that is one big effing truck.

Shingo released

Mateo, Fox to AAA

Samardzija to AA

Campusano, Closser, and Figueroa to Minor League Camp

http://blogs.chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/spor...

Lieber leading our poll....

better the devil you don't know, than the devils you do... I guess.

Typically days at work for me are filled with reading cub blogs and checking the status of the Roberts trade about 100 times. But today is different, my company brought on a new guy last week and placed him in the neighboring office next to mine. Just found out he is the son of ex cub great Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock.

That's fantastic...be sure to ask him if his Dad hates the Cubbies and in particular, the Wrigleys.



You should walk down the hall past his office asking if anyone has seen Steve Ontiveros.

and don't forget to ask him to describe his dad's world series ring (with the 79 Pirates)

In June of 1979, Madlock was traded (from SF) to Pittsburgh and won a championship with a Pirates team with stars Dave Parker and Willie Stargell. Madlock... batted .328 with the Pirates during the regular season and .375 in the World Series.

"In June of 1979, Madlock was traded (from SF) to Pittsburgh and won a championship with a Pirates team with stars Dave Parker and Willie Stargell. Madlock... batted .328 with the Pirates during the regular season and .375 in the World Series."

Madlock was a money player. (Per sabermetric othodoxy) I know there is no such thing as a "clutch" ball player -- but Madlock stepped up big when the pressure was on. Thinking about his 4 for 4 on the last day of the season in '76 to edge out Ken Griffey Sr. for the batting title -- Griffey started the last day at .338, leading Madlock at .333, so Griffey sat on the bench to protect his lead, until he got word that Madlock's 4 for 4 put him ahead at .339. So Griffey gets inserted into the game in the 7th inning to try to go ahead again -- and goes 0 for 2, striking out both times and finishing at .336. It was a wonderful, early October Sunday afternoon. I spent the whole time flipping back and forth between the Bears game, watching Walter Payton rush for ~ 160 yards and seeing Madlock locked in at the plate that day. I was so happy -- not realizing it would be the last time I'd get to see the hitting machine that was Bill Madlock in a Cubs uniform. (Speaking of being a "money" player -- Madlock also won the MVP in the '75 All-Star game (his first), driving in the winning runs for the NL in the top of the 9th inning.)

After all that, he gets traded after his second consecutive batting title because PK Wrigley didn't appreciate an "uppity black" player demanding a multi-year big money contract -- trading him for an inferior white player (Bobby Murcer) to whom they gave an even larger multi-year contract.

It's NOT the damn goat. It's the LONG history of stupid management.

It was my first exposure to Cubs management pig-headedness and it STILL steams me after all these years.

Man, you guys are making me cry regarding the reminders of Madlock's talents. Another effing good player that was used, abused and traded for an old useless bag of dirt veteran (yeah, I'm talking about Murcer).

I hated Bobby Murcer.

The '70s were the worst decade I can remember for Cub trades. Most of the bad ones involved trading a young, promising player for an older, more established player, like Madlock for Murcer. Bad management, indeed.

Check these ones out:

November 2, 1972: Billy North to A's for Bob Locker. North, 24 at the time of the trade, became the starting center fielder for the A's, who won the world series in each of the first two years after the trade. Locker, 34 at the time of the trade, had a good year for the Cubs in 1973, going 10-6, with 18 saves and a 2.54 ERA over 106 innings pitched, and was then involved in two subsequent Cubs-A's trades (i) November 3, 1973, traded by the Cubs to the A's for Horacio Pina and (ii) October 23, 1974, traded by the A's with Darold Knowles and Manny Trillo to the Cubs for Billy Williams. Locker did not pitch in 1974 and posted a 4.96 ERA for the Cubs in 1975 before getting released in June of that year.

May 17, 1976: Andre Thornton to the Montreal Expos for Steve Renko and Larry Biittner. At the time of the trade, Thornton was 26, Renko 32 and Biitner 30. Biitner's career OPS+ was 88. Renko went 8-11 for the Cubs in 1976 with an ERA of 3.86. Renko was traded in August 1977 to the White Sox for Larry Anderson and cash. Thornton had a career OPS+ of 122 and hit over 200 home runs in the ten plus years he spent in the majors after leaving the Cubs.

See also:

May 2, 1975: Burt Hooton to Dodgers for Geoff Zahn and Eddie Solomon. This does not fit the model of a young player for an old one, but was a pretty lousy deal. Solomon pitched 6-2/3 innings for the Cubs in 1975, and was traded prior to the start of the 1976 season to the Cardinals for Ken Crosby, who posted an ERA of 8.41 over parts of two seasons for the Cubs. Zahn pitched 62-2/3 innings over the rest of 1975 for the Cubs, with a record of 2-7 and an ERA of 4.45, then got hurt the following year. The Cubs released Zahn in January 1977. Hooton, 25 at the time of the trade, went 18-7 for the Dodgers over the rest of 1975, and was a mainstay of the Dodger rotation for the next 6 years, winning 70 games over such period, finishing second in NL Cy Young voting in 1978 and pitching in three world series.

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