Sometimes, it’s a bad thing when your favorite team has a game broadcast nationally. Case in point was the 8/28/11 Cubs vs Brewers game on Fox Sports. Now usually, I am not a big fan of Fox Sports broadcasters and overall I prefer listening to WGN but they did a commendable job this afternoon.
In the early part of the game, there was a nice little discussion with some pointed comments by John Smoltz about Casey Coleman’s mechanics. Casey Coleman has this odd hitch in his windup where he stutters halfway through, then turns and steps sideways so that it looks like he is pitching from the stretch. They noted that such a hitch is done for one of two reasons: to gain velocity or to add deception thereby making the pitch harder to hit. To gently hammer the point home, a silence in the broadcast ensues as a meaty, flat 75 mph pitch limps low and away from the strike zone, barely making it to catcher Koyie Hill’s glove. The silence breaks to note that Coleman obviously isn’t using the hitch for velocity. Thus, they make the assumption that Coleman might use the hitch for deception which is followed by the comment that Coleman currently allows more hits per innings pitched.
That might have been enough (and is usually, more to expect) from Fox broadcasters. However, they weren’t quite done yet because a graphic comes up on the screen showing Coleman walks a batter for every one he strikes out, suggesting the hitch isn’t something that is helping his control. So then, Fox brings the pieces together. They note that Coleman is a pitch-to-contact guy who gives up more than a hit for inning and for extra salt in the wound, indicate that “The Chicago Cubs have the most errors in all of baseball.” In other words, a recipe for relative disaster, and the words seemed like they might have come true as Casey Coleman walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the third with Prince Fielder coming up.
The Cubs turned a pretty nifty, though not necessarily clean, double play to end the inning with no damage done. In the box score, Casey Coleman registered a quality start, yielding only three runs over seven innings. However, the happy result of that double play and of Coleman’s start overall, shouldn’t prevent people from looking at the issues at hand.
They say that a good team is one that can capitalize on an opponents mistakes. Whether there is some aspect of momentum in play or not is a moot point. However, given two teams of equal talent, the one that makes less mistakes will tend to win more than the team that makes many mistakes. Similarly, if there are two teams of unequal talent, the team with more talent will tend to win more than the team that has lesser talent.
If you have a pitcher who tends to give up hits, doesn’t strike out many people and walks his fair share of hitters, he will tend to produce bad outings. If a team commits a lot of defensive errors, unless they excel in some other area of the game, they will also tend to lose. As of right now, the Chicago Cubs are a losing team, though not just for these reasons.
I could jump on the bandwagon with other Cub fans who think the sole reason the Chicago Cubs is losing is because Mike Quade instead of Ryne Sandberg is the manager. There was even a heated debate on a Chicago Cubs fan page about how the Cubs would become a “winning team” if they beaned Matt Holliday in response to a hard slide he made into Starlin Castro. Since Jim Hendry has been fired, calls for Quade’s removal will intensify. However such a change will not magically make the Cubs a better team no matter how many dollars are thrown at the problem.
The last year the Chicago Cubs had an average offense or better in terms of OPS in the National League was in 2008 when they actually lead the National League. Before that, you have to go back to 2005 to find an above-average offensive Cubs team. Similarly, the Chicago Cubs have not had an average pitching staff in terms of WHIP or ERA since 2009 and have not had an average team defensively since 2007. In summary, the Chicago Cubs organization lacks talent. (Courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/batteam.shtml)
Some of the fault does lie with Jim Hendry, though Cubs fans are quick to forget that some of his gambles like Ryan Dempster and Mark DeRosa did work. Even factoring in the change in playoff format and the Cubs massive ability to spend money on payroll, the Chicago Cubs went to the playoffs under Hendry’s watch more than they had in the previous century. He also accomplished all that while going through two ownership changes. However, though the dollars gave Hendry the room to make _some_ mistakes, the lack of an ability to develop and properly value talent throughout the Chicago Cubs organization is a hurdle so strong that the Cubs haven’t been able to overcome that as of yet.
Many Cubs fans think the team could contend with just a managerial change. Many of these Cubs fans also think that Darwin Barney is a potential star in the same breath that they chastized Kosuke Fukudome despite Fukudome’s superior offensive numbers. They think that a player like Barney is a defensive asset while posting range factors and fielding percentages third to last in the NL surpassing reputed “stone-hands” Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla.
But why does it even get to this? Why does a team with a payroll in the multimillions of dollars get in a position where it thinks Darwin Barney is the best the organization has to offer as a second baseman and its fan base thinks that Darwin Barney is not only a serious Rookie of the Year candidate but a valuable long-term asset? Ultimately the fans, like the Chicago Cubs organization, value talent incorrectly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Darwin Barney has value as a cheap “placeholder” player who contributes a bit more than replacement level. However, he is the kind of player who makes the man he replaced, Ryan Theriot, look like a star offensively and defensively. Similarly, a player like Casey Coleman has his uses either in a mop-up or middle relief role or as a trade chit to an organization that has the defensive talent to make an asset of his pitch-to-contact skills. Yet instead, Barney and Coleman are starters for a team that believes, all evidence to the contrary, that they are just a small step from contention.
I could cite other statistics. some mentioned by the Fox broadcasters mentioned regarding the lack of talent on the Chicago Cubs. “The Chicago Cubs have the fewest walks in all of baseball” or “The Chicago Cubs allow the most walks in all of baseball”. Either one works.
The ironic, and pretty sad part, is that a broadcasting team (and their statisticians) that covers the Chicago Cubs a handful of games a year can indicate in so many ways how talentless the Chicago Cubs are in merely a two hour broadcast. We see Casey Coleman’s statistics and Casey Coleman’s pitching motion and then hear the analysis of those visuals which makes it evident that he either needs to develop things in the minors or that he needs to be on a team other than the Chicago Cubs? With all that evidence, why does it even get to that point where Casey Coleman is pitching for the Chicago Cubs?
Overall, if the lack of talent on the Chicago Cubs is so obvious that even national broadcasters can see them, why haven’t the Cubs or we as fans seen it? Why can’t we realize that these problems are ones that require more than just a manager change or a general manager change but a systematic change throughout the organization? No, Cubs fans, hiring Ryne Sandberg or signing Prince Fielder will magically fix all of the Cubs woes no more than firing Hendry did or replacing Quade will. Systematic changes take time and patience and involve better tools to evaluate and/or develop players properly. With the lack of talent currently on the Cubs and barely inching its way through the minor leagues, we’ll have to endure losing for quite a while longer. Hopefully if you watched the Fox broadcast or looked at some of the stats, you’ll realize why we’ll need to wait too.