Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Small Changes

Much has been made of two consecutive postseason sweeps of the Cubs with players, manager and fans, scratching their heads how a team on a roll entering the 2007 post season, and a team that won 97 games entering the 2008 post season could fail so miserably.

If we look at the pitching staff while not lights out, it's hard to say other than Dempster's walk-a-thon in the first game against the Dodgers, had very little to do with the Cubs losing the series. It can be argued that Piniella's game one decisions in 2007 and 2008 certainly didn't help the Cubs to victory, but the impotence of a season long productive offense, especially in 2008 was the big culprit.

It's not hard to understand that many players don't perform up to their regular season numbers during the post season as they are usually facing quality rotations where the 5th. and quite possibly the 4th. starter never start a game.

It doesn't discount the fine offensive season most of the Cubs had but it does shed some light on the fact that against quality pitching, many of the Cubs didn't perform as expected.

The point of this article is to see why, and explore some options that might help many of these same players be more productive.

First, there are very few playoff teams I can think of that start their lineup with a free swinging power hitter, even if he has speed. Sure there have been a few Ricky Henderson types, but anyone that isn't living under a rock understands that Alfonso Soriano isn't a Ricky Henderson.

The big boondoggle that has been perpetrated here is that Soriano is a leadoff man because he has so much experience hitting leadoff. Well if Soriano has all that experience, how come he isn't any fucking better at it?

Leadoff hitters work the count, not because they can't hit and are hoping to get a walk, but precisely the opposite. These are the most patient hitters on the team and they have the ability to spoil pitch after pitch until the pitcher makes a mistake or walks them. Building up those pitch counts for the opposing pitcher is the other important responsibility of a leadoff man and Soriano just fails at it miserably.

Of course Soriano has speed and when coupled with his power, it is the narcotic that clouds the minds of otherwise sane managers into thinking he can be a leadoff man, especially when the team doesn't have a proven option to replace him with.

Soriano has to move out of the leadoff spot. You just can't have an undisciplined whiff machine, getting more AB's than anyone else come the post season.

Second, it has been long acknowledged that a teams most productive hitter bats third in the lineup. You know the type, good average, low strikeouts, and good power with a knack to drive in runs. Do the Cubs have such a player? The closest player they have is Aramis Ramirez.

Derrick Lee has been the number three hitter since 2005 and while he still has a good BA and OBP, his power numbers have been declining and he still whiffs way to often. However if Lee hit in the 5 hole, he could provide protection for an undisciplined hitter like Soriano, hitting immediately behind him. If Soriano were to get on base, the patient Lee would allow Soriano to still run and possibly cut down on the 27 double plays Lee hit into last season.

This revised middle of the order would prove to be more effective with Soriano's power sandwiched between two of the more disciplined power hitters on the team and still afford Soriano plenty of AB's and opportunities to still steal a base.

Third, now that Soriano is out of the leadoff spot we need a replacement. As I mentioned earlier, you need a disciplined hitter to fill that role and for that matter the 2 hole as well. Ryan Theriot demonstrated last year that he can perform well for a whole season and actually had some experience, albeit with mixed results as a leadoff man. If Theriot was told from the jump that the leadoff role was his to lose, I think he could perform well there.

Many of the runs scored last year came as a result of having the high on base hitter Theriot, on base in front of the big bangers. If Theriot is inserted in the leadoff spot, the Cubs will need to replace him with an equally proficient on base machine in the 2 hole.

The righty/lefty tandem of Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot, would be the best suited to address the need for another disciplined hitter in that crucial 2 hole in the order. Both have shown discipline at the plate and of course that is the key ingredient of hitters at the top of the order.

Fourth, even without securing a power left handed bat, which I still hope is possible, I can't imagine Fukudome performing worse than he did the last half of 2008. If no acquisition is made, certainly Pie and possibly Hoffpauir, depending on how Fukudome is performing will see more time in the outfield. Of course the platooning of Reed Johnson in the outfield and DeRosa just about everywhere, will help the Cubs against the tough left handed pitchers.

This Cubs lineup is quite formidable and I haven't even mentioned our Rookie of the Year catcher Geovany Soto. He's a stud and will play most every game.

Hopefully a quality left handed bat for the middle of the order can be acquired before we enter next season but if not, the small adjustments mentioned above could get more consistent production out of the lineup against the top pitchers in the league.

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