January 20, 2012
En route to 91 losses last season and a radical regime change, the Cubs were outscored by 102 runs. As it happens, half of those can be put down to talent and half of them to playing the game well.
Bill James tracks manufactured runs, both created and allowed. He defines manufactured runs as those on which two of the four bases result from something other than station-to-station baseball.
The key to manufacturing runs is good baserunning and situational hitting, and nobody does it better than the Rangers' combination of Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. They're like the guy in the auto insurance commercials. They epitomize mayhem.
The Cubs? Not so much.
They have been consistently inefficient — a Lou Piniella issue that Mike Quade inherited and could not solve.
In 2009, Piniella's last full season, the Cubs manufactured 123 runs, the second-lowest total in the majors. They allowed 163, 11th-most in the majors. That manufactured-run sum of minus-40 matched the Nationals for the sixth-worst figure in the majors — and it's worth noting that four of the five with worse figures finished last in their divisions, and the other ended next-to-last.
Rudy Jaramillo joined Piniella's staff as hitting coach after the 2009 season, but despite a reputation as one of the great instructors of all time, he hasn't gotten improved results.
In Quade's one full season, 2011, the Cubs manufactured 118 runs, again the second-lowest total in the majors. They allowed opponents to score 169 such runs. This time, the sum of minus-51 matched the A's for the worst figure in the majors.
These results won't shock anyone who has watched the Cubs play since the Jim Hendry bubble burst in the 2008 division series against the Dodgers. That series featured a seven-walk game by Ryan Dempster and a game in which all four infielders committed errors. It's that kind of self-destruction that eventually led to the hiring of Theo Epstein and the offseason housecleaning.
Even by the franchise's standards, the Cubs have played abysmal fundamental baseball. That must change if they're going to build a team that can grind out 3-2 and 7-6 victories.
Manager Dale Sveum, the former Brewers shortstop and hitting coach, bears much of the responsibility to get his team to do more of the basics: move runners over, hit cutoff men, execute rundown plays and play solid bunt defense.
He will have a more athletic roster than Quade did a year ago, with guys such as Ian Stewart and David DeJesus meeting Epstein's desire to have players with no big flaws, even something as seemingly insignificant as baserunning ability. But it's Jaramillo who really will be under the gun.
Epstein and Chairman Tom Ricketts are big believers in the value of a deep at-bat, of hitters who can lay off borderline pitches and get a bat on wicked ones, prolonging an at-bat with multiple foul balls. The only two primary Cubs last season skilled at producing those at-bats were Kosuke Fukudome (4.29 pitches per plate appearance) and Carlos Pena (4.13), and they're not around anymore.
Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro, who figure to have the most shelf life of the returning players, were at 3.82 and 3.67, respectively. Among major leaguers with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Castro ranked 111th of 120. Alfonso Soriano was 114th at 3.65.
Can Sveum and Jaramillo make the 2012 lineup more productive? Can Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio find a way to make opposing hitters less productive? The return to competitiveness largely depends on their abilities to manufacture good baseball.
•Epstein's tendency toward complete players showed in his including D.J. LeMahieu in the trade for Stewart. The Rockies believe LeMahieu can make a run at Rookie of the Year as their second baseman, but the Cubs devalued his ability to hit for average because of a lack of power, average speed and questionable fielding.
•Jed Hoyer, the general manager who is the No. 2 man to Epstein, says the Cubs should have been better than 71-91 last season. The team unraveled after early April injuries to Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells, which started a spiral in which Quade used 10 starting pitchers. Epstein and Hoyer have added four potential starters (Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and Andy Sonnanstine) to make the inventory eight deep, with Casey Coleman (17 starts last year) the least of the choices.
•Epstein's big moves are still to come. DeJesus' two-year, $10 million contract makes him the most expensive newcomer on a remodeled roster, although it's clear the Cubs will be among the biggest bidders for Cuban center fielder Yoennis Cespedes.
•Top prospect Brett Jackson is likely to spend most of 2012 at Triple-A Iowa unless Soriano or Marlon Byrd is traded to clear a spot.
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