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Entries in Chicago Cubs (33)

Wednesday
Apr242013

The Cubs starters deserve a better fate

Entering action on April 24, whose starting pitching has been better this season, the Cubs or the Giants?

Let me ask you another question, entering action on April 24, whose starting pitching has been better this season, the Cubs, Marlins or Padres?

Let me answer both questions this way: The Cubs starting pitching deserve better

To answer the first question: the Cubs rotation has a 3.04 ERA, trailing only the Cardinals and Braves (mouse over the team icons to see the ERA and wins), but they only have three wins. The Giants starters have a 4.41 ERA and nine wins.

As for the second question:  the Cubs, Marlins and Padres starters all have just three wins, but the Cubs starters have a 3.04 ERA, the Marlins starters have a 4.20 ERA and the Padres starters have a 5.87 ERA. 

Carlos Villanueva, Travis Wood, and Jeff Samardzija are the guys to feel badly for 

 

Hard to believe that Carlos Marmol leads this team with two wins.

The Cubs starters deserve better, but when you combine a weak offense and shaky defense this is what you get.

Wednesday
Jan022013

Edwin Jackson, Slider Specialist

At long last, Edwin Jackson can unpack -- we think. While his four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs doesn't include a no-trade clause, Jackson should at least call Wrigley Field home for the next couple of years. Considering that the 29-year-old righty was on pace to obliterate Octavio Dotel's record for most teams played for in a career -- Jackson has been a Dodger, Devil Ray, Tiger, Diamondback, White Sock, Cardinal and National, and was technically a Blue Jay for a brief moment (though he never suited up) -- that's a step in the right direction.

It's surprising that it has taken Jackson this long to settle down in one city. He might not be the Cy Young contender that people envisioned when he celebrated his 20th birthday by outdueling Randy Johnson during his MLB debut, but Jackson has been above-average since he reached Detroit (106 ERA+ from 2009-12) while tossing slightly over 200 innings pitched per season. That combination of quality and quantity has made Jackson the 29th-most valuable starter over that time frame, judging by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement.

Jackson's slider is the main reason that he has evolved from a perceived bust to a solid starter making serious bank. Here's a closer look at his mid-to-high-80s breaker, which ranks among the game's best out pitches.

  • Jackson threw his slider 29.3% of the time in 2012, the ninth-highest clip among MLB starters. Ryan Dempster (39.5%), Madison Bumgarner (35.6%), Bud Norris (36.3%), Ervin Santana (36.3%), Francisco Liriano (32.5%), Jason Marquis (32.1%), CC Sabathia (31.8%) and Bruce Chen (29.9%) were the only starters to rely on the slide-piece more often.
  • With a miss rate approaching 50%, Jackson got swings and misses with his slider more frequently than any other starter in the game:

Highest slider whiff rate among MLB starters, 2012 (minimum 300 thrown)

PitcherMiss Pct.
Edwin Jackson 48.5%
Zack Greinke 44.7%
Yu Darvish 44.2%
James McDonald 43.9%
Francisco Liriano 43.3%
CC Sabathia 43.0%
Colby Lewis 42.5%
Clayton Kershaw 42.3%
Derek Holland 41.8%
Max Scherzer 41.7%
MLB Avg. for SP 30.9%

 

  • Jackson uses his slider as a chase pitch, placing just 37.3% of them within the strike zone. The average for starters, by contrast, is about 47%. Hitters can't seem to lay off those off-the-plate-sliders. Check out Jackson's swing rate by pitch location with his slider, and then the league average for right-handed starting pitchers:

        Jackson's slider swing rate             Avg. slider swing rate for SP

 

Jackson boasted the highest slider chase rate (44.1%) among NL starters last year. In the AL, only Colby Lewis (50.7% slider chase rate), Brian Matusz (48.3%), Yu Darvish (44.6%) and Liriano (44.6%) made batters hack at more would-be balls.

  • Fanning 111 hitters with his out pitch, Jackson led NL starters in slider strikeouts and trailed just Sabathia (138 slider Ks) among all starters.
  • While the slider is usually more effective against same-handed hitters, Jackson actually got better results with the pitch against lefties. He held left-handers to a .299 slugging percentage against his slider, compared to .361 against righties. For comparison's sake, righty starters surrendered a collective .386 slugging percentage with sliders against lefty batters last season, and a .350 slugging percentage against righties.
Saturday
Sep012012

Brett Jackson: Whiff Machine

Gloves are optional when Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson steps to the plate. Jackson has been a Three True Outcomes hero since getting called up in early August, walking, homering or whiffing in 61% of his plate appearances. That's more than double the big league average (30.3%).

So far, Jackson has rapped enough extra-base hits and drawn enough walks to be an asset for the run-starved North Siders (a 114 OPS+ in 92 plate appearances). But the last part of that Three True Outcomes equation -- Ks -- could quash his success in the long run. Jackson has struck out in 40.2% of his plate appearances so far. Brett Hayes and Brooks Conrad are the only hitters who have punched out more often while getting at least as many PAs as Jackson.

The farther away the pitch, the less often Jackson connects. Here's his contact rate by pitch location, compared to the league average for left-handed hitters:

Jackson's contact rate by pitch location

 

Average contact rate by pitch location for left-handed hitters

 

Jackson has a 20% miss rate on inside pitches, which is actually below the 22.6% average for lefty hitters. But he's swinging and missing twice as often as the average lefty batter on middle-of-the plate pitches (38.5%, 18.9% average) and comes close to doubling the average miss rate on outside pitches (40.2%,  22.6% average).

Strikeouts hardly condemn a player to the prospect graveyard if he can take and rake, but Jackson's contact woes are so amplified that he simply can't keep his head above water in the majors without monster secondary skills. Jackson's whiff rate at the Triple-A level (32.6% over the past two seasons) makes Pedro Alvarez (25.8% K rate at Triple-A) look like Ichiro (the good version) by comparison. And while Jackson has some power, no one's projecting the 30-plus bombs that Pedro is on pace to hit this season. Short of turning into Adam Dunn with wheels, Jackson has to connect more often to succeed.