Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cubs pitching injuries

Since the Brewers are facing the Cubbies today, I figured it would be a good time to discuss the injuries to their ace pitchers. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior both went down in the span of about a week, and yesterday Joe Borowski injured his hand. Great news for Brewers fans, obviously, as managers around the league (on on the North Side) are choking on their toothpicks and tightening up their batting gloves. Obviously, Dusty Baker is the last man you want handling promising young arms, and he is proving it yet again. The only one of the Cubs prized trio that has yet to have a relatively serious arm injury is Zambrano. I happen to think Zambrano has the best stuff on the rotation, and he's a horse. However, his number has got to be up soon, as every day pitched under Duddy is a day closer to the baseball grave yard of dead arms. The Borowski thing is just comical, as everyone knows (or should, at least) that LaTroy Hawkins has the best stuff of any of the Cubs relievers.

Last season, Hawkins blew nine "saves" while serving as the team's "closer". Apparently, he lacks the "closer mentality", or the "killer instinct" required to close games. I am of the opinion that the position of a closer is sheer myth, mainly generated by the media in big markets like Chicago. If you don't have cool facial hair, an equally cool entrance theme, and say stupid things to the large media contingent in your large city, you therefore lack the "mentality" of a closer. Look at Hawkins' numbers in save and non-save opportunities last season (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus):

Save situations: 33.7 IP, 33 H, 13 R, 12 ER, 5 HR, 6 BB, 30 K, 3.21 ERA
Non-Save: 49.3 IP, 40 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 5 HR, 8 BB, 40 K, 2.19 ERA

I think that unless the Cubs go out and make another dumb trade, like for Dotel as had been rumored in the past, they will have a solid guy to get the last three outs in Hawkins. Though the Brewers, and other NL Central teams, were fortunate to see the Cubs lose two of their three aces, the Cubs were lucked into using their least favorite option in the closer role. But, even though he is their least favorite option due to media and fan perception, he is their best option.

Here's to the Cubs making Dempster their closer or overpaying in a trade!

Comments:
First off, the injuries to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are not serious and it appears as though both will be ready to go in April. Joe Borowski's injury could be a blessing in disguise. He is not the answer to the Cubs' closer needs. After coming back from his surgery last year Joe's fastball has lacked the velocity that it once had. Borowski was simply a flash in the pan and it is clearly time for the Cubs to cut their losses and move on. Latroy Hawkins is a solid bullpen arm but like you said, lacks the "closer mentality." The Cubs need to start looking for a solid (not great) closer. Urbina could be available and might fair well in Chicago.
As for the rest of the Cubs, I am really anticipating Nomar staying healthy for an entire season and getting back to his league leading batting average days with the Red Sox. I am a very disappointed fan with the poor efforts of Mr. Hendry to replace the significant bats that we lost in Alou and Sosa. Burnitz is not the answer, and he will be hearing the boo birds of Wrigley before June 1 as he will probably have a 200+ strikeout year. I am optimistic that the Cubs will contend this year if the 4 starters stay healthy. Prior and Wood need to start a combined 50 games this year and we could be looking good come Sept. I still think we are one bat away from being a serious pennent contender in this soft NL central this year. Perhaps it's time for your Brew Crew to climb up out of the cellar and bump St. Louis out of the picture? The only thing you really have going is the second best ballpark in the Central other than Wrigley. Have a good one. Here's to a great season and the Cubbies and Brew Crew 1-2 in the Central.
 
I don't think there is such a thing as a closer "mentality", hence the "". Hawkins is by far the best pitcher in that pen, yet he is not deemed closer material because of perceived "make-up" concerns. It's a joke, and the Cubs will likely get forced into overpaying in a trade for a "closer", when they really should try to find a player who can get on base.
 
Brett, I think there is such a thing as a closer mentality, but I think that it is secondary to really good stuff. For example, Mike Williams was a very effective closer for the Pirates for about three years despite not having a single out pitch. He frankly just refused to let the tying run score. Eric Gagne is the exception that proves the rule: he has always had great stuff but his head was not screwed on straight until he became a closer. Then when he saw how well he performed when he trusted his stuff, he developed this "mentality" and became totally unbeatable. But make no mistake: that attitude would be called combative or showmanlike without filthy stuff. The truth is, the Cubs (and any team) should figure out which of their non-starters is best the first time through the order and make him the closer.
 
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