Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brian Roberts and the Cubs: The Sky Is Not Falling

I’ve noticed that a lot of Brewers fans are ready to jump off a cliff at the hint of any potentially negative news this offseason. In somewhat chronological order:
  • Sheets will get hurt. The season is over!
  • Yost is back. The season is over!
  • We lost Cordero. The season is over!
  • Braun is changing positions. His production will drop. The season is over!
  • Gallardo is hurt. The season is over!
  • Prince is upset with his contract. His production will drop. The season is over!
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Brewers fans are a little skeptical since we did just go through 14 consecutive non-winning seasons, but the team put together a winning season last year, competed for the division title, is loaded with young talent, and should be better this season. Let’s try to enjoy it a little, huh?

The flipside

Oddly, being a Cubs fan has been dismal for a century and Cubs fans usually have the exact opposite perception of their team:
  • Derek Lee is better than Pujols! This is the year!
  • Zambrano is the best pitcher in the NL! This is the year!
  • Ronny Cedeno is the answer at shortstop! This is the year!
Ironically, the latest “sky is falling” Brewers' fan drama is also the subject of the latest “it’s gonna happen!” Cubs' fan ecstasy. The catalyst for these opposing emotions is the ongoing trade discussions between the Cubs and the Orioles regarding second baseman Brian Roberts. For some reason, many Brewers and Cubs fans think that if the Cubs acquire Roberts, Chicago has the division locked up.

Sure, Roberts would be a nice addition and would be a good leadoff hitter (and, perhaps more importantly for the Cubs, it would get Soriano out of the leadoff role, which he never belonged in), but is it really the move that ends the division race? I say no.

DeRosa vs. Roberts

First off, Roberts simply isn’t much better than the Cubs current second baseman, Mark DeRosa.

Here are their statistics from last season:

502 AB, 64 R, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 1 SB, 58 BB, .293 BA, .371 OBP, .420 SLG, .791 OPS

621 AB, 103 R, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 50 SB, 89 BB, .290 BA, .377 OBP, .432 SLG, .809 OPS

If you adjust DeRosa’s statistics for the at-bats Roberts received as a full-time leadoff hitter, they are even closer (though, to be fair, DeRosa’s RBI total, which projects to over 30 more than Roberts, would probably go down as a leadoff hitter):

DeRosa’s adjusted stats
621 AB, 79 R, 12 HR, 89 RBI, 1 SB, 72 BB, .293 BA

Am I missing the season-altering improvement?

Roberts clearly offers more speed, which is the biggest advantage he brings, but other than that, what makes Roberts better than DeRosa? Sure, there is a noticeable difference in runs, but a lot of that can be explained by Roberts’ spot on top of the batting order.

I’m not saying Roberts wouldn’t improve the offense. He’s the leadoff guy the Cubs are missing, but the improvement would not be nearly as big as some seem to be suggesting.

Plus, DeRosa could not slide over to shortstop, where the Cubs biggest offensive liability, Ryan Theriot, resides. DeRosa can play there in a pinch, but if Roberts is acquired, DeRosa would become a super-utility player with little hope of seeing regular playing time barring injuries.

The secondary effect

The side of the trade that people seem to be missing is the impact of the Cubs losing players to the Orioles.

The two names that come up most often in the trade rumors are Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall. Both are promising young pitchers that have the potential to make an impact on the big-league club this season and in the future.

The media has been lauding the Cubs all off-season for their starting pitching depth and suggesting they could afford to trade pitchers. I agree that they have depth, but is it quality depth, especially after Marshall and Gallagher?

In the top three spots of the rotation, I’d say the Cubs are good. Zambrano, Lilly and Hill are solid. The last two spots are where the major questions surface. Here are the candidates for those spots if Marshall and Gallagher are taken out of the equation:
  • Dempster – Converted closer, who is known for his meltdowns and has not started in five years
  • Marquis – End-of-the-rotation 5 ERA guy
  • Lieber – About to turn 38 and can’t stay healthy
So, you’re telling me the Cubs would throw two of those three guys out on the mound every five days? I thought the starting rotation was a team strength?

The much-talked-about rotation depth would be all-but-gone and when Lieber is injured in April, they will have no extra arms at all.

Plus, when you throw in the fact that Zambrano hardly looked like an ace last year and has the propensity to blow up with the fact that Lilly will likely regress from the career year he had in 2007, I’d say the Cubs could actually get worse if they acquire Roberts for pitching.

If the Cubs pull off the trade and the staff would have a rash of even minor injuries (as is apt to happen over the course of a season), things could get really ugly for the Cubs. After all, as the 2006 Brewers found out the hard way, injuries to pitchers create a nasty domino effect.

Pull the trigger

So, I say, go for it Cubs. Modest offensive improvement for a huge gamble on shoddy, old arms seems like a winning proposition to me, as a Brewer fan.

And, hey, then maybe, at the end of the season, if the question is “What light-hitting Cub infielder’s OPS is lower than the combined ERA of the team's starters?” the answer might actually be Ronny Cedeno.

.626 to 6.30


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pitching depth of the Cubs is still better than the pitching depth of the Brewers. And for any comparisons between the teams' pitching depth to even begin, we have to assume that Ben Sheets will finally have that elusive, 30 start season. If he doesn't have a healthy full season, then there's really no comparison. I'd take Ryan Dempster, Marquis, or Lieber over Capuano, Bush, or Suppan.

March 13, 2008 7:04 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I guess we'll just have to see. I love how Cubs fans brain-wash themselves into "believing" every off-season. Yeah, "the Cubs are the team to beat in the NL." That makes sense considering the team that swept them in the playoffs, and went on to get swept by the Rockies, got better. Oh, and the Rockies certainly didn't get worse. It won't take more than a four game losing streak before they are getting booed at home. It's great.

March 13, 2008 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Cubs may have some depth issues with their starting pitching, but I don't know why you think losing Gallagher or Marshall would affect it. Gallagher is completely unproven at the Major League level, and Marshall seems to be decent 5-inning guy with a poor injury history. And it's not like they can't try and get someone before July's out.

On the other hand, Roberts' impact isn't just what he alone would bring, it's what he does to the rest of the lineup and the way it's constructed. And if DeRosa replaces lesser part-time players, that's another benefit.

March 14, 2008 1:34 AM  
Blogger Jared said...

Losing Marshall and Gallagher would affect it because Dempster, Marquis and Leiber are known quantities, below average starters, at this point. Gallagher and Marshall at least have the chance to develop and they are two more arms to throw out there after one or two of the previously mentioned trio fail.

I understand having a true leadoff hitter would help the Cubs. I acknowledged as much. I don't think it's an overwhelming improvement though.

And what "lesser part-time players" could DeRosa start for? Theriot? I don't see him at shortstop on a regular basis. Pie? Are you giving up on him already? A-Ram when he inevitably gets injured again? Maybe...

March 14, 2008 7:10 AM  
Anonymous PhilipDC said...

Umm, wouldn't the MAJOR difference between DeRosa and Roberts be 1 stole base versus 50!?

March 14, 2008 10:03 AM  
Anonymous PhilipDC said...

stolen base, that is...

March 14, 2008 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between DeRosa and Roberts is the Simple fact of getting Soriano down in the order and the 50 stolen bases for your leadoff hitter in Roberts. That's what makes the Cub's Better. Derosa giving days off to 5 different position players and still getting his production. take a look



1. Soriano
2. Theriot
3. Lee
4. Ramirez
5. Fukodome

That is the difference.

March 14, 2008 1:38 PM  

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