weekend thread: project the cubs

derrick goold added to the reyes two-seamer discussion at birdland yesterday: "He has been approached about throwing it before. Last spring, he wasn't comfortable with it. And during the Triple-A season he tried again, but it was met with hard hits and he backed away from it. . . . During spring, he's been told to work on it diligently, regardless of the initial results."

some of the comments in yesterday's thread made similar allusions to last year, so i went back and checked the conversations i had about reyes last season with memphis pitching coach dyar miller. we first spoke in june, right before reyes' shoulder acted up and forced him the dl for a month -- and sure enough, the first words out of miller's mouth were about getting the ball down:

VEB: Tell me a little bit about his repertoire in general. What are his best pitches? What kind of pattern does he throw to get people out?
MILLER: Well he likes to throw fastballs. That's his best pitch. Unfortunately he thinks he can throw it high and get it by guys. But, you know, he could throw it 96, 97 (mph) and you may not get it by guys if it's up. We say you got to pitch down -- more of a downhill plane. He kind of gets under the ball and pushes up. But anyway Anthony's fastball is his best pitch, and he has a curve and a changeup. He's a three-pitch pitcher, basically.
VEB: What does he need to work on to get ready to pitch in the major leagues?
MILLER: We're trying to get him to get the ball down a little bit. His pitches have been up a little lately, and you got to pitch more consistently down in the zone. We've made a little minor adjustment -- I think he needs to get his elbow up a little bit so he throws downhill. That's what we've been working on in the sides the last couple of days -- getting his elbow up as high as his shoulder so he gets a little more tilt on the ball.
i called miller again in august, right before anthony's 1st major-league start, and he made a similar allusion:
VEB: how is his control [since coming off the dl]? his command?
MILLER: he's doing a lot better at keeping the ball down. that's where he needs to improve --- he knows he needs to improve. but he's doing better.
it all fits together -- they've been hocking the kid to work on this, and he hasn't listened so they're hocking him some more. that adds an angle to the story but doesn't change my opinion; i still think that since reyes is trying to get himself established as a major-leaguer (very literally competing for a spot on the team), he should spend spring training working to master the pitches that got him this far, rather than struggling with a new pitch.

for the weekend, let's try another team projection -- the cubs. i figure this one might draw a few more responses than last week's projection of the brew crew.

i'll keep my remarks as brief as possible. i think the cubs are bound to score more runs in 2006 than last year, for two reasons. first, juan pierre is a solid upgrade in the leadoff spot. the cubs' leadoff men posted a .299 on-base pct last year -- worse than most teams' #8 hitters -- so even if pierre just repeats last year's .326 obp (an off year for pierre), he'll improve the team by about 15 runs. and pierre has a .355 career obp; if he hits that target he'll inject about 30 runs into the cub attack. a final word about pierre: over the last three seasons he has hit .341 in the daytime (with a .395 obp), vs. .288 at night (.338 obp). i think he's gonna have a big year. he's only 28 years old, and in 2003 and 2004 pierre posted obps of .361 and .374 while playing in the marlins' pitcher-friendly stadium; no reason he can't put up .370 in wrigley.

from top to bottom, the cubs' obp should be better. on-base laggards todd hollandsworth (.301), jose macias (.274), and corey patterson (.254) are gone, which is addition by subtraction; only neifi perez is still around from that run-killing cabal. they may get as many as 100 more baserunners this season -- and if they do look out.

as for the second reason i think the cubs' offense is going to rebound, let me start with these facts: in 2005 the cubs, as a team, outslugged the new york mets by 25 points and out-obp'd them by 2 points . . . . but still scored 13 fewer runs. doesn't make any sense. so i ran the cubs' basic offensive inputs -- hits, walks, total bases, etc. -- through bill james' runs-created formula (the most basic version) to see how badly the cubs underperformed. per that formula, the cubs' inputs should have yielded 788 runs or thereabouts. in fact the cubs scored 703. yeeeeeow.

that had to be a one-year aberration, right? something sure to self-correct? no, the cubs were similarly wasteful in 2004: they created 842 runs but scored only 789. i don't know how to explain that, other than to chalk it up to sheer cubbiness -- the cloud of failure that hovers over the franchise. but that type of cloud has been breaking up lately; i wouldn't bet on the cubs underachieving that badly three seasons in a row. if they simply match their statistics from last season (including the low obp), their run total should still increase just by random chance. the only thing that augurs ill for the cub offense in 2006 is derrek lee's expected return to mortality; that might cost them 30 runs. even with that caveat, i still think 750 runs is a very reachable target for this team, and 770 isn't out of the question.

the pitching . . . well, my guess is as worthless as yours. mark prior is being led gingerly along this spring; the cubs' fingers are crossed that he will appear in his first spring-training game next week. the way it looks now, it's hard to believe he can deliver 200 quality innings in 2006. kerry wood just had his knee 'scoped and won't pitch for chicago until may at the earliest. greg maddux is a year older; glendon rusch and jerome williams are what they are . . . . beyond carlos zambrano there's not much to like. if there's a ray of hope it's in the bullpen, which -- while badly overpaid -- i think will add a game or three to the cubs' win total. baker spent half of last season trying to figure out which pitcher to put in what role; this year the staff's roles are pre-fabbed to a great extent, which should help.

it really all comes down to prior. if he can make 30 unhindered starts, the cubs' staff might be dominant; if he can't, it could be a disaster. at the moment it doesn't look very promising for him, but that can change. it's a shot in the dark. they gave up 714 runs last year; i'm putting 'em down for the exact same thing this season.

for the projection, i need your best guess at the cubs' won-lost, runs for, runs against, and final place in the standings. here's what they've done the last four years:

record finish scored allowed
2002 67-95 5th 706 (11th) 759 (11th)
2003 88-74 1st 724 (9th) 683 (4th)
2004 89-73 3d 789 (7th) 665 (2d)
2005 79-83 4th 703 (9th) 714 (7th)
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