Z takes the mound in Cactus League action against the Giants and Matt Morris. Matt Morris of course was a former Cardinal who married a Cubs beat reporter. What does this have to do with anything? Not much, but it bugged me the first time I read it and it bugs me everytime I see his ugly mug. A few quick notes/links: I received an email about the screening of a Cubs documentary called "Chasing October". You can view the trailer here and read more about it. They are doing a screening in Scottsdale, AZ tomorrow at the Harkins Camelview Theater with proceeds being donated to Derrek Lee's Project 3000 and an exclusive run will start on March 16th at the same theater. It'll also open in Chicago starting on March 23rd. Also, we have a new minor league site here at MVN devoted just to the Cubs, Road to Wrigley. Stop by and say hi. Eventually their posts will show up on our sidebar similarly to the "Division Rivals" box. Don't forget to get your copy of Wrigley Season Ticket 2007 and The Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview. (And yes I'm going to beat you over the head about these, but hopefully in a tasteful and entertaining way!)
Amusing comment from Lou Piniella in Monday morning’s Tribune story about Mark Prior being scheduled for a start in the minor league camp this coming Thursday.
“Get him to go down there and relax, and just pitch. He doesn't have to answer to the media. Hopefully you guys will all be over [at HoHoKam Park] at the 'A' game. Leave him alone, and let him pitch."
Obviously, this will be the most well attended minor league game in Cubs camp in some time. (Here’s hoping AZ Phil’s schedule will allow him to be among those defying Lou on Thursday afternoon.) One man’s relatively uninformed opinion of Mark Prior’s mechanics over the weekend: He didn’t look like a guy pitching through pain or an injury; he looked like a guy who was terrified of getting injured and was throwing accordingly. I say this primarily because of his low arm angle, a fact even commented upon by Ron Santo during the WGN Radio broadcast. It looked like the pitching version of walking with a limp.
If Wishes Were Ponies, Part1
''They are guys that can throw around 200 innings -- they can save your bullpen -- and you can have people win 15 or 16 games no matter what their ERA. If they can win 16 each and I win another 20 or 22, that will be fun.'' -Carlos Zambrano, on new teammates Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis
If Wishes Were Ponies, Part 2
'Boy, we'd be awfully deep and awfully talented.'' -Lou Piniella, on an injury-free pitching staff
Guess Who Said....
"I was embarrassed by the way I threw the ball last year. I want to improve on that." - Answer, Jacques Jones
For the first time since 1996, the MLB Playing Rules Committee has voted in several rules changes for 2007, including a couple of changes to MLB Rule 10 (official scoring).
On Friday, All The News That’s Fit To Print included an account of Lou Piniella’s first day as captain aboard the good ship Heartbreak. The piece, by Lee Jenkins, describes Piniella as most fans, myself included, have long seen him: “fiery” “known for his outbursts” “naturally animated and restless” “a manager who really knows how to vent” “as famous for his dirt kicking…as he is for any pep talks” “a man…who clearly hates to lose” “(reacting) to every booted ball…with a tortured expression or a fit of rage” But the story isn’t just a string of clichés.
The Cubs may be short these days on professional centerfielders and recent World Championship banners, but the Wrigley Boys are positively drowning in lefthanded pitching candidates. In fact, with five southpaws in line to make the big league roster (see Arizona Phil’s post from early Thursday), it’s difficult to even recognize them as the Cubs. Assuming Ted Lilly and Rich Hill each make 30 starts this season—a big stretch for young Hill; Lilly has hit 30 in three of the last four years—the duo would become the first pair of lefties to do so since Dick Ellsworth and Kenny Holtzman way back in 1966. For a little historical perspective, last season, led by Hill and Sean Marshall, lefthanders accounted for just over 31% of all Cubs IP. That’s the highest total since 1986, when the 70-90 Cubs relied on six lefties for 31.2% of their total IP. (For the record, the “Southpaw Six” were Steve Trout (161 IP), Jamie Moyer (87), Ray Fontenot (56), Guy Hoffman (84), Frank DiPino (40), and Drew Hall (23.7). I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that’s the first time Guy Hoffman’s name has ever been mentioned at The Cub Reporter. Congrats, Guy!)
Today when asked by the Podunk Free Press about his current contract status, TCR writer Rob G. had this to say:
"Rob G. demands that a new deal be done by Opening Day, otherwise you give Rob G. no choice but to test the blogging free agent waters. That's what Rob G. thinks. I know Evan Brunell spent a lot of money this offseason on the new site. I hope he has more for Rob G's contract. I'm ready to sign and I'll do my job this year if a deal doesn't get done, but if there's no new deal by Opening Day, Rob G. must go."
In unrelated news, Zambrano backed off his comments from earlier this week and says they were misconstrued. He also said the Cubs made their first formal multi-year offer "a five-year proposal 'very close' to what the San Francisco Giants gave free agent pitcher Barry Zito this winter. That would mean an offer worth close to $90 million." If Z is willing to take the shorter deal so he can cash-in again in five years, it seems like the finalizing of a deal is a mere formality. He also leaves Cubs fans with this message of optimism:
‘‘This is the team that gave me the opportunity to play baseball since I was 16 years old. I want to stay here. ... I want to sign with the Cubs. But I just don’t want to talk about contracts during the season.’’
While disappointed that he stopped referring to himself in the third person, the (apparent) sense of loyalty to the franchise is an encouraging sign.
The smell of freshly-cut grass, and temperatures in the 60's with nary a cloud in the sky. A smilin' Lou Piniella strolling from field to field, bantering with the fans and signing autographs. The sound of bat on ball, and pitchers practicing covering first on a ball hit to the first-baseman. Ah, yes. While it might not be absolutely as good as it gets, it's pretty close. Your pal AZ Phil and about 100 hopeful Cub fans attended the Cubs first Spring Training workout of 2007 this morning at Fitch Park in Mesa. It was a mandatory work-out for the Cubs' 30 pitchers and six catchers, but six position players (infielders and outfielders) who were not required to report showed up anyway.
Just letting you guys know that you can read my NL Central prediction over at MVN's Pittsburgh Lumber Co. A little roundtable with some fellow NL Central bloggers. Also I've got a bit on the Cubs in The Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview. I don't know the particulars yet on when it ships or the cost, but I did want to give everyone a heads up so you can save your allowances.
The rain has stopped, skies have cleared, Kerry Wood is a lean, mean, fighting machine, and with pitchers, catchers, and a few of the position players having reported to Fitch Park yesterday (minus Carlos Zambrano, whose arrival was delayed), and with the first offical Spring Training workout scheduled for this morning, here is the up-to-date Cubs 40-man roster and ST NRI list, the contract status and minor league option status for all players on the 40-man roster, the list of Cubs minor league players who will be eligible to be free-agents after the 2007 season and those who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December, and AZ Phil's pre-ST Cubs organizational depth chart:
Reader "Virginia Phil" recently brought up an interesting comparision of some recent "5-tool" prospects in the comments last week on our "Prospect List-mania" article. He's expanded a bit on his original effort and we hope you enjoy....
"If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all." --Hamlet
Is Felix Pie ready? Here are Felix Pie's minor-league stats and those of three other fairly recent toolsy centerfield prospects, Carlos Beltran, Vernon Wells and Carl Crawford. (Actually, Crawford plays left in a crowded young outfield at TB.)
Bruce Levine of ESPN1000 and Rotoworld are reporting the Cubs have sent Jae-kuk Ryu to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for prospects RHP Greg Reinhard and OF Andy Lopez (thanks to reader Bogey for the tip). That should clear off the 40-man roster spot needed to add Cliff Floyd.
This time each year, I get stoked. It's automatic. It never fails. I'm in Arizona. The weather's great. It's time for Spring Training. But there's this one thing that gnaws at me, that keeps me from enjoying the experience quite as much as I would like to enjoy it. The start of Spring Training is fun, but there's this one memory from my youth--it's kind of a Long Sorrow--that I guess will be in the back of my mind for the rest of my life. For those of you who don't remember him or who aren't all that familar with his career, Ken Hubbs was born in Riverside, CA on December 23, 1941, and as a 12-year old, he led his Colton (California) Little League team to the Little League World Series championship game in Williamsport in August 1954. Colton lost the game to future Cub Billy Connors and his Schenectady (New York) team, but by the time he was a senior in high school (1959), Kenny Hubbs was nothing but a winner. President of his high school class and a star football, basketball, and baseball player, he could have followed his older brother Keith to BYU--where he probably would have been a two or three-sport star and BMOC. But Kenny instead chose to sign a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs (yes, YOUR Chicago Cubs), all the more significant because this was before the amateur draft, and Hubbs had the option to sign with any of the then-16 MLB clubs.
Since I didn't get around to a TCR Friday Notes, I'll post a few interesting articles from the most wonderful Hardball Times. The first is a look at the best hitting pitchers in baseball and to no one's suprise, Z and Marquis were among the best in the bunch in 2006. But other than just ranking the current and the past pitchers and their hitting prowess, it's one of the first articles I've seen that actually tries to answer how much of an effect a pitcher's hitting abilities has on the days they start. I'll let you guys do the reading but here's the cliff notes version.
  • Top 5 hitting pitchers last year were Willis, Mulder, Z, Marquis, Suppan. The Cards will not only be hurting on the mound from Marquis and Suppan's departures and Mulder's early season absence, but it might end up hurting their offense as well.
  • The best hitting pitchers can shave a quarter run off their ERA over the course of a season.
  • The career leader in home runs by a pitcher is Ned Williamson at 51. Watch out Ned, Z's coming for you (he's at 10).
The conclusion was also worth noting:
Let’s promise to no longer ignore a pitcher’s accomplishments at the plate. Sure, they might seem inconsequential compared to what he does on the mound, but every little bit of performance is important. Good hitting pitchers can provide themselves with a small advantage worth maybe half-a-win a season. Nevertheless, in today’s world, half-a-win is worth well over $2 million, so it’s nothing to scoff at either. Maybe that might start to explain Jason Marquis’ contract.
The second article is a look at ten pitchers in baseball and their projected stats from PECOTA, CHONE and Marcel. Z gets a mention and I imagine his projections seem a bit high to us Cub fans (here's the abbreviated table):
           IP    ERA    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     215   3.79   0.278   8.8    3.9     0.92   2.3
CHONE 2.1  205   3.45   0.285   8.7    4.0     0.83   2.2

Marcel     189   3.48           8.4    4.0     0.86   2.1

AVERAGE    203   3.57   0.282   8.6    3.9     0.87   2.2
If Z is in the 3.50 range in ERA, 2007 will not be a good season for the Cubs, no matter how well he hits. And while everyone is counting down until pitchers and catchers report (4 days by the way), I've got my eye on 8 days, which is when Z's arbitration hearing is scheduled for and what could be a big day for the future of the franchise. If Z and his entourage have to sit through an arbitration hearing listening to the Cubs take shots at his game, his future as a Cub beyond 2007 grows ever more unlikely.
What Hall of Famer, the first catcher to don shin guards, ended his 17-year Major League career with a pair of seasons with the Cubs?
As always, try to answer without a web search.

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