In the instantly classical Part 1, we took a look at the first and most important improvement needed for 2012 to be an other-than-sucky season. (That would be instructing every hitter from the Rookie Leagues on up on the importance of drawing walks. May the term "aggressive approach" never again be uttered by a Chicago hitting coach.)
In part 2, we examine... the pitching.
Um, I never said this was going to be a revolutionary series of insight and analysis. Let's be honest - baseball is a fundamentally easy game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Just because the Cubs have made a habit of sucking at all three of those things doesn't mean that they need to rewrite how to play the game - instead, they merely need to learn how to play to begin with, gawddammit!
The Shortlist Part 2: Improving Your Bullpen for Fun and Profit
On the whole, the Cubs pitching was actually pretty strong in 2011. That is, when you consider how crappy the rotation was. And yet, it is the bullpen I am focusing on for this series because, bottom line, fixing the rotation is an obvious objective while improving the bullpen requires a fine touch coupled with a realistic concept of what makes bullpens successful.
Hint: dropping the term "effectively wild" from the vernacular might be a good start.
Understand that I like the Dramatic Gopher, Carlos Marmol. When his mechanics are right, he's a dominating pitcher who can leave hitters tied up in proverbial knots. But based on how he pitches, he apparently forgets the most important rule of throwing the ball: keep your eyes open so you can look to where it's going. Marmol walks a ridiculous number of batters (for perspective, he's walked 165 guys in his past 225 innings). Quick! Name the last guy to walk an asston of hitters who remained a successful pitcher into his 30's! We'll give you a second to think about it.
Okay - if you said "Nolan Ryan," then congratulate yourself for naming a player whose presence, ability and statistics will never be duplicated ever again. And while I'm sure there might be a handful of other "effectively wild" pitchers who threw their way into a long career of baseball glory, the point is that there are not many. So the Cubs need to do one of two things in the case of Marmol - either fix him or trade him. And realistically, he may not be fixable.
Behind Marmol, the Cubs had some decent relievers. Sean Marshall was outstanding - 2.26 ERA, 79 strikeouts in 75.2 innings of work and only 17 walks. Kerry Wood was pleasant. The former phenom delivered 51 innings, 57 strikeouts and a modest 21 walks. James Russell did well. Ramon Ortiz, thumbs up.* Jeff Samardzija - ooh, sit down, Shark. Here's another jabrone whose top numbers look great - a 2.87 ERA, 87 strikeouts in 88 innings and a ridiculous 50 base on balls.
(*I am in no way, shape or form advocating that Ramon Ortiz pitch for the Cubs next year. I'm just pointing out that his numbers as a reliever were nice)
Just a reminder that Samardzija is going to be a starter next year, folks. Allow me to reiterate what I said yesterday - block off some time in the summer to ignore the Cubs and work on your life. You won't be missing much.
In any case, the bullpen has some impressive arms but the next Cubs GM needs to build it up a bit more. Trade Carlos Marmol for a less flashy, more effective pitcher. Scour the free agent market for a reliable arm that won't be too likely to detach from the pitcher's shoulder. Here's a helpful hint that I would personally live by were I a GM: if he's older than 32, let him go.
Relief pitchers tend to have a shelf life into their early-to-mid 30's. Signing that 36-year-old reliever with insane numbers is a good way to welcome crushing disappointment into your fan base. But grabbing that guy when he's 32? Odds are he'll give you a few good years before leaving the better part of his stuff in some hooker's hotel room in Baltimore. This is advice to live by, folks.
On Friday we'll hit Part 3: The Purge. Then, in case you are concerned that this is fast becoming a never-ending story arc, we'll wrap things up sometime after that with Part 4: The Actual Suggestions. Look for that on Monday night or perhaps Tuesday of next week, once I get back from my Thanksgiving getaway to Montreal. (That's right, kids - we eat turkey in October in Canadaland)