Browsing posts from August, 2012
It’s too early to determine exactly what kind of hitter Brett Jackson will become at the major league level. He’s played in all of nine games having made just 35 plate appearances.
What we’ve seen thus far, albeit expectedly, hasn’t been pretty. Jackson is striking out at a horrific pace, even more frequently than he did at Triple-A Iowa, fanning 18-times, which is right at 51-percent of his total plate appearances.
Theo & Jed, however, have quickly come to Jackson’s defense referencing the early struggles of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle upon their arrivals in the big leagues in 1951.
Mays hit .163/.294/.326 through his first 51 plate appearances, including seven hits, four for extra bases, one home run and five RBI. He drew seven walks vs. five strikeouts.
Mantle’s first 50 plate appearances looked like this: .222/.289/.575. He totaled 10 hits, two for extra bases, no home runs, six RBI and five walks (one intentional) vs. 10 strikeouts.
Jackson enters this weekend’s four-game series at Cincinnati (where he should hit 50 total plate appearances) hitting .188/.257/.281. He’s managed six hits, two for extra bases, no home runs, one RBI and three walks vs. the aforementioned 18 strikeouts.
So what can we make from comparing Jackson to Mays & Mantle? I’d say, not much.
LITTLE IN COMMON BETWEEN JACKSON & TWO HOFs
First of all, there’s a noticeable age difference with Jackson, who turned 24 on August 2nd. The Say Hey Kid was 20-years-old when he made his debut for the New York Giants. Mantle was 19 when he debuted for the Yankees.
When Mays was 24 he hit a major league-leading 51 HR, drove in 127 RBI and finished fourth in the MVP Award. His slashline was .319/.400/ with a major league-leading .659 SLG. The OPS was 1.059 and his OPS+ a marvelous 174!
Mantle at 24 hit a major league-leading 52 HR and 130 RBI. He also scored a major league-leading 132 runs with a slashline of .353/.464/.705. The OPS: 1.169. His OPS+: 210! Each category led the majors except for his still eye-popping .464 OBP. And oh yeah, Mantle also won the MVP Award that season (1956).
WHAT ARE THEO & JED REALLY SAYING?
The message Team Theo is trying to get across is that a player’s first couple of weeks in ‘The Show’ tend to be overwhelming—and not that they believe the next Mays or Mantle is in the Cubs on-deck circle.
While using the comparison of Jackson’s early struggles to that of two Hall of Famers who suffered equally is flattering for the kid, it’s hardly fair.
Instead, it’s just a reminder that figuring things out at first blush against the best pitchers in the world isn’t always easy, even for some of the game’s very best hitters.
No Cubs fan in their right mind is expecting Jackson to elevate his game to the level of Willie or The Mick. Not that it couldn’t happen.
But what I really learned from looking at the comparisons is Mays & Mantle both mastered the necessary adjustments at the major league level rather quickly–enough so that they were performing at MVP-caliber levels by the time they were Jackson’s age, and that’s what truly needs to be assessed in BJax’s case.
How quickly will this kid learn on the job? Can he make the right adjustments, or are his talents just another case of Cubs fans hyping expectations to unreasonable levels?
Time will tell, as it does with all players, if Jackson is major league material. It may not happen as quickly as we would like, Jackson could begin next season back in Iowa, but we’ll know soon enough.
Until then, let’s hold off on the comparison talk, unless of course, we’re discussing who Cubs fans hyped more: Jackson or Felix Pie? Other candidates are welcomed, too.
Interesting side note to Felix Hernandez’s perfect game yesterday: the last no-hitter thrown by a Mariner was Chris Bosio, the current Cubs pitching coach, who on Tuesday, April 22, 1993, blanked the Red Sox 7-0 at the old Seattle Kingdome.
Here’s a bulleted recap of the game and parts of Bosio’s career:
- After walking the first two batters of the game, Ernie Riles & Carlos Quintana, Bosio was perfect the rest of the way.
- He got a ground ball double-play from Mike Greenwell followed by a strikeout of Andre Dawson to end the top of the first inning.
- Bret Boone’s two-out, two-run HR off Joe Hesketh in the bottom of the third gave Bosio a comfortable 4-0 lead. The Mariners tacked on another run in the fourth and two more in the sixth.
- Jose Valentine, Tony Pena & Riles each grounded out in the top of the ninth to complete Bosio’s no-no and the second in Mariners’ history.
- The game took 2:12 minutes to play, Bosio (1-1) threw 97-pitches.
- The Red Sox fell to (11-5) under Butch Hobson. The Mariners improved to (7-8) under Lou Piniella in his first season of a 10-year reign in Seattle.
- In addition to Boone (3-for-4), Ken Griffey Jr (0-for-4), Jay Buhner (0-for-3), Tino Martinez (1-for-3) and Omar Vizquel (2-for-4) were in the starting lineup for Seattle.
- Bosio, in his eighth season in the majors and first with Seattle, finished the ’93 campaign (9-9, 3.45). He made 29 appearances, 24 starts, and even managed one save.
- He followed up his no-hitter with another win, but only threw five innings allowing no-runs on three-hits in a 4-0 victory against Cleveland.
- Bosio went on to pitch three more seasons in Seattle finishing his stay with a (27-31) overall-record and 4.43 ERA.
- His 11-year stay in the big leagues spanned from 1986-1996 and produced a (94-93) career-record and 3.96 ERA. Bosio’s first seven seasons were played with Milwaukee (67-62, 3.76).
- The 2012 season marks Bosio’s first as the Cubs pitching coach after serving in a variety of coaching positions with Seattle, Tampa Bay & Milwaukee organizations.
The Cubs optioned rookie starter Brooks Raley (0-2, 9.00) back to Triple-A Iowa on Monday, but that’s no reason to give up on the young left-hander.
After a disappointing major league debut at San Diego last week–7 earned-runs, 8 hits in 4.0 innings–Raley made a quality start–3 earned-runs, 6.0 innings–in his second outing against Cincinnati on Sunday, despite suffering the loss.
Having allowed 10 earned-runs on 13 hits through two starts suggests the kid still needs some seasoning. But let’s not jump to conclusions, either.
RALEY A TYPICAL ROOKIE STARTER
It’s typical for rookie starters to struggle badly during their first taste of big league action.
Current Cub, Matt Garza, went (3-6, 5.76 ERA) through his first nine major league starts with Minnesota.
Former Cub, Sean Marshall went (6-9, 5.59 ERA) in his first 24 starts with Chicago–before discovering he was actually better suited for the bullpen.
Greg Maddux, for heaven’s sake, went (2-4, 5.52 ERA) in his first six appearances (five starts), and (6-14, 5.61 ERA) during his first full season with the Cubs in 1987.
This isn’t to suggest Raley will become half as good as any of the pitchers mentioned above. Instead, it’s simply a reminder that it’s still too early to judge the kid after a mere two major league outings.
MORE OF THE SAME WAITING GAME
Like seemingly everything else with the Cubs these days, we’ll have to stay patient while Raley develops.
It would be more comforting, of course, if he pitched as well as Randy Wells did in his rookie season as a starter (12-10, 3.05 ERA), but we all know how that turned out, too.
It’s already been reported Raley will be summoned from Iowa in time to make his third start as part of a day/night double-header at Cincinnati on Saturday.
All the better. Raley needs the experience and it’s wise of us to just let the kid do his thing, as painful as that might be.
Many pitchers experience a dead-arm period twice per year. It happens most often during spring training and then typically late in the season.
I’ve been thinking James Russell might be suffering through a dead-arm spat, especially after the 26-year-old lefty was slapped around by the Reds at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon.
On in relief of Travis Wood, Russell squandered a 2-1 lead by allowing three earned-runs on five hits, none of which were of the cheap variety.
The Reds tattooed Russell with three doubles and two singles. And had it not been for an inexplicable, bone-headed base running mistake by Ryan Ludwick (doubled up at second base on a routine fly out to Soriano) the damage most likely would’ve been worse.
WOULD THE REAL JAMES RUSSELL PLEASE STAND UP
Entering Monday’s game against Houston, Russell had allowed four runs on eight hits over his last three outings–a far cry from the pitcher who had held the opponent scoreless in 42 of his previous 54 appearances.
Russell fared far better Monday in his one inning of work retiring three Houston batters in order. Tyler Greene, however, nearly took Russell yard missing a HR by just a few feet in left center field–Brett Jackson caught the ball with his back at the ivy.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
If it’s not dead-arm syndrome Russell is battling it may be the heavy workload that’s catching up with him.
He’s easily on course to surpass his career totals in appearances and innings pitched–and there’s still eight weeks left in the season.
His recent struggles, however, shouldn’t diminish what’s been a very successful campaign to date. Russell (5-1, 3.52 ERA) has been a rock in Dale Sveum’s bullpen, and all signs continue to show he’ll become even better down the road.
That said, I’ll remain very interested to see how Russell performs in the season’s final weeks. He hasn’t pitched like his usual self lately and I’m suspicious something’s up.
I’ve got my fingers crossed it’s nothing more than, perhaps, a dead-arm period or natural fatigue setting in during the dog days of August.
I’ve always enjoyed Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. But for many years, the marathon was a sorrowing reminder grade school was right around the corner.
School days are thankfully out of my way, leaving me even more captivated by Shark Week and its closer-than-ever, ground-breaking HD shots of Great White sharks.
Tonight, however, I’ll be back at Wrigley Field watching Shark Samardzija and the Cubs take on the lowly Houston Astros—weather permitting.
I’ll be tweeting as usual from the park. And in honor of National Left-Handers day, I’m working on a post for tomorrow talking about Cubs southpaws James Russell and Brooks Raley (who was optioned earlier this morning back to Triple-A Iowa).
Now I’m off to swim with the bottom-feeding Cubs & Stros. I’m hoping for a Great Samardzija attack at the very least.
Cubs fans are asking me with more frequency how much longer before our boys in blue are competitive again?
What I can say with certainty is: not next year, and probable not the following season, either.
A best case scenario, meaning most of the Cubs’ young prospects and draft picks pan-out, is three years from now in 2015–and that might be pushing it.
A more cautious, but realistic prediction, is actually four or five years down the road before we’ll see the Cubs in championship form. That feels like eons from now, but such is life for a rebuilding baseball franchise.
LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE REDS
A current example of a proper rebuild is the Cincinnati Reds, who coincidentally, were busy taking three of four games from the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend.
It’s already been seven years since Bob Castellini purchased the Reds and promised the return of championship baseball to the Queen City.
The Reds, of course, haven’t won a championship or even appeared in a World Series during Castellini’s reign, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort.
Similar to the Cubs recent state, Castellini was rebuilding the Reds from the ground-up in 2006.
He began by breaking the franchise’s frugal traditions and re-signed top of the rotation arms Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to major extensions.
He then signed high-priced manager Dusty Baker, parted ways with over-valued stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, and sought the services of general managing guru Walk Jocketty.
The Reds maintained its emphasis on the June amateur draft (Homer Bailey & Jay Bruce were 1st Rd picks in 2004-05) selecting Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Brad Boxberger and Yonder Alonso–the later two being dealt this past December to San Diego for starting pitcher Matt Latos (10-3, 3.81). The others are regulars in the Reds everyday lineup.
Castellini also surprised the entire league with a Jorge Soler-type commitment to Aroldis Chapman, signing the Cuban Missile to a 6-year, $30.25M deal in 2010.
And that’s just a brief look at the over-haul, which doesn’t include the emergence of Joey Votto as the National League MVP or the acquisitions of key veteran players such as Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick.
However, it took the Reds five rebuilding years before they posted a winning record, an NL Central division title in 2010.
But even then, the young club was caught in the headlights of postseason baseball, no-hit by Phillies’ Ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS and quickly swept out of October two games later.
Last season was another down year with a few more additions needed to complete the rebuild. And finally, seven years later, the rebuild has come to completion.
The Reds, at long last, are poised for a World Series run, and should be for the foreseeable future.
DAVE OTTO KNOWS BEST
Former Cubs pitcher, Dave Otto, a part-time radio/television analyst on Cubs broadcasts, reinforced the patience of a rebuild during his on-air interview with Len and Bob Sunday afternoon.
Otto was a member of the Cleveland Indians during the 1991-92 seasons when Cleveland’s recommitment to rebuilding through the amateur draft brought in the likes of Manny Ramirez, Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd and Paul Shuey.
These players joined the ranks of the Indians other young core players such as Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mark Lewis, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga and Julian Tavarez.
The Tribe, mind you, lost 105-games in 1991 and 86-games both the following two seasons.
In 1994, however, Cleveland was on its way to a winning season before the infamous strike, but rebounded in 1995 with a 100-win campaign.
The Indians lastly surrounded its young core with talented free agents such as Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser and Dave Martinez, among others.
The 1995 season marked the first of seven consecutive winning seasons, including six playoff appearances and two World Series births–all over the stretch of 10 years since the beginning of its rebuild.
REBUILDING THE RIGHT WAY
The example of the Reds and Indians are just two of many successful rebuild stories that have happened in my time following the game.
But I choose these two franchises because they rebuilt the right way; from the ground-up using draft picks to create a young, talented core surrounded by quality veteran free-agents.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are taking similar action with the Cubs rebuilding efforts. Out with the old, in with the new and waiting to sign big-name free-agents as icing on the cake. And as we understand from the two examples above, that doesn’t happen in one offseason.
So to best answer the question “how long will it take the Cubs to rebuild?” is–not any time soon. But however long it does take should be well worth the bumpy ride in the long run.
As Tom Petty would sing, ‘it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.’