Sorry, We're Closed

Monday, May 29, 2006

Run Dusty Run

I suppose there isn't anything else Dusty Baker could be doing with the Chicago Cubs' offense but try Tony Womack, a 36-year-old journeyman who's washed out of six organizations in four years.

Since slugging first baseman Derrek Lee's injury, Baker--normally not prone to shifting players around in the lineup--has tried everything to score a few runs. Baker has hit Aramis Ramirez fourth, fifth, and sixth, while Michael Barrett batted third today and has hit cleanup often. Todd Walker has batted second, third, and fourth already this year. Matt Murton has hit second, sixth, and seventh. Ronny Cedeno, not to mention Neifi Perez, has hit at both the top and bottom of the order.

But with the exception of the surprisingly cold Ramirez, who has simply looked lost all year, the problem isn't all those guys. It's the big-name acquirees, outfielders Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones.

Pierre, brought over from Florida, was expected to recover at least most of the 50 points of batting average he dropped in 2005 and add a pesky dimension to the Cubs attack. Liked and admired both for his demeanor and his legendary work ethic, Pierre can disrupt a defense when he's on base.

Chicago management also felt that Jones, a veteran who had played his whole career in Minnesota, would respond to a new opportunity by getting back some of what he has lost.

Unfortunately, both have performed very poorly in Chicago. While Jones has, of late, showed some punch after an absolutely brutal start, he has also 1) played poor defense, 2) shown a throwing arm completely unsuited for right field, and 3) run the bases like a blindfolded ten-year-old hopping around barefoot on a hot beach.

When the Cubs signed the 31-year-old Jones to a three-year deal over the winter, it was spoken among various baseball people that the Cubs were essentially bidding against themselves in the process. Score another one for the smart guys in the front office.

Pierre, on the other hand, hasn't even had a hot streak; since the start of the season, he has been a complete disaster. Nobody expected his defense to be perfect, but it hasn't even been very good. And the less said about his offense...

Well, we have to. Pierre has made 160 outs, the third highest total in baseball, and in doing using up those outs has compiled a ridiculously awful .269 on-base percentage and a .301 slugging percentage to give him an OPS of .570, among the worst in the game. (Others, like Joey Gathright, Dan Johnson, and Vinny Castilla, who are even worse, just can't stay in the lineup enough to play.)

(The other players with more outs made than Pierre are Jeff Francoeur of the Braves, who at least has hit 11 homers, and Jose Reyes of the Mets, whose OPS of .719 is far better than that of Pierre.)

Pierre's never walked much, and therefore HAS to hit for high average to compile even a decent OBP. That puts a lot of pressure on a hitter. So far this season, Pierre has continued his decline into free fall.

And without Lee, and as Pierre, Jones, and Ramirez struggle, the weaknesses of the other hitters come forth. Todd Walker doesn't have enough power to play first base; Ronny Cedeno's impatience at the plate means a .300 OBP; Matt Murton, while patient and gifted, is still finding his way.

And in addition, the bench has been simply miserable, one of the most terrible performances, collectively, that I can recall by a corps of reserves. Neifi Perez has been so ineffably terrible that even Dusty Baker just can't pencil his name into the lineup that often. The same can be said of Jerry Hairston and John Mabry. Just think of how good it'll get when Henry Blanco is catching once Michael Barrett goes on his suspension.

And this is where Tony Womack comes in. After playing terribly for the Yankees in 2005, he signed with the Reds in 2006, but was cut as soon as Brandon Phillips hit well enough to take over at second base. Womack, 36 years old and in his second tour of duty with the Cubs, is still blessed with excellent speed.

And, like Neifi Perez before him, Womack is poised to take advantage of a hot start. Guys like Womack--and, to be fair, John Mabry, Jerry Hairston, Perez, and even Jones--have already proven that the only thing they can do by hitting well in a few at-bats is to fool you into playing them more and more until they completely stop hitting. And boom, you've wasted 200 at-bats.

So watch Womack closely. Maybe he'll end up hitting leadoff with Pierre demoted to eighth or something.


Anonymous Duck said...

Actually, Dan O'Brien, in possibly his final "genius move," traded for Womack over the winter, sending Kevin Howard and Ben Himes, both 24 year old guys, to the Yankees for Womack. O'Brien also managed to get the Yankees to pay only half of Womack's $2 million contract, meaning the Reds are still paying half his salary.

Himes is hitting .218-.265-.395 for Tampa, while Howard is hitting .223-.284-.366 for Trenton. Howard, hit .296 for Chattanooga in 2005, then led the Arizona Fall League in hitting last autumn, batting .406.

6:10 AM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous Jonathan said...

Going into the season I thought acquiring Pierre was a great move, the bullpen was admirably shorn-up and Jones, eh, an improvement over the underperforming Patterson. But I still thought they desperately needed another starter even if Prior or Woods came back (too much to expect both). Obviously Vasquez was there for the taking if the Sox could get him for El Duque. I thnk the Cubs are going to have to start acting like the Blue Jays and overpay for free agents. Yeah, right!

7:15 AM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous jamesfinngarner said...

Juan Pierre sure seemed like a good player during the 2003 playoffs. Did they trade for the same guy?

1:03 PM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous Lisa said...

As I write this the Cubs are actually leading 3-0 in the 6th. All I can think of is how are they going to lose this game? On another channel the White Sox are losing 4-2 and yet I'm sure they'll win.

As I mentioned to some co-workers today, "The Cubs are supposed to lose." But it still hurts.

7:17 PM, July 07, 2006


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