The Cubs Have Two MVPs in the Bullpen and Other Bullets

The “first half” is in the books, and we’ll be able to ruminate over that half in the coming days. Today’s the Home Run Derby, though, which – to me – is still a lot of fun.

  • Speaking of that first half, Dale Sveum named his MVPs yesterday. Ryan Dempster? Starlin Castro? Bryan LaHair? Alfonso Soriano? Nope. A couple of relievers: James Russell and Shawn Camp. “Those guys have been phenomenal in the first half. Without those two guys, we would’ve been in a lot of trouble,” Sveum told reporters, presumably not making a joke with that last bit. “The combination of both of them has been tremendous. They’ve been consistent all season long. To have the numbers they have and handle the position they’ve been put in where they haven’t been put in in their careers speaks volumes for what they’ve done for this team this year.” I have no problem with the selection from Sveum’s perspective – the two relievers really have been excellent. But I do have a problem with the fact that a couple middle reliever/set-up men are the plausible MVPs for the Cubs in the first half. It speaks volumes about the relative weakness in the rotation and the lineup. Instead of being a good story, it’s actually a bummer.
  • A scathing note about Cuban signee Gerardo Concepcion in Danny Knobler’s latest (which is, in part, about Tigers interest in Matt Garza, about which, more later): “The Cubs spent $6 million and a 40-man roster spot on 20-year-old Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, but scouts who have seen him pitch in the Class A Midwest League have come away totally unimpressed. ‘They’re trying to tell people it’s just mechanics that he needs to get straightened out,’ one scout said. ‘But I’m telling you, he stinks. If he was in a junior college game you were at, you’d leave.’ Concepcion is 2-6 with a 7.39 ERA in 12 starts for Peoria.” There isn’t really anything in there we don’t know already, in terms of his performance thus far. Still, he’s a 20-year-old transitioning to a new system, a new style, a new league, and a new country. I still say we don’t know what he’s been working on, and it’s silly to panic at any point this year. If he struggles next year, and/or returns to Peoria, then it’s time to think about using the word “bust.”
  • The Cubs changed up their post-All-Star break rotation a bit, now going Maholm-Dempster-Garza in the three days after the break. Purportedly, that schedule works better with Dempster’s throwing schedule. Originally, Dempster had been going first. Conspiracy theory? The Cubs are giving themselves an extra day to finalize a deal for Dempster before he has to start again in a Cubs uniform (it would be unreasonable to hold him out until 5th; and a deal can’t be announced during the All-Star festivities). I don’t buy it, but that would be your theory. Alternate conspiracy theory? Remember the last time the Cubs shuffled Dempster’s start day? Everyone figured it was because it would be his last start as a Cub, and a Friday at Wrigley was better than a Saturday for whatever reason. Maybe this time, Saturday is better than Friday?
  • Dale Sveum says he’s going to try and find more days in the second half to give Alfonso Soriano a break here and there. You know what else would give him a break? If he were DH’ing on an AL team. Just sayin’.
  • Ryan Dempster with the zinger, when asked about Starlin Castro’s progress at shortstop this year: “Obviously he’s not turning around and looking in the outfield when pitches are going this year. That’s always a good step.” Dempster was, of course, referring to this. Dempster went on to say nice things about Castro, but that’s boring.
  • Chris Volstad was optioned back to Iowa yesterday when Ryan Dempster was activated. You already knew that, but I didn’t explicitly say it (after the transaction happened, that is) in this space at any point yesterday. So there’s your official notice.
  • A little more on Jae-Hoon Ha’s Future’s Game experience.
  • MLBullets at BCB looks at some of the leaders from the first half.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

30 responses to “The Cubs Have Two MVPs in the Bullpen and Other Bullets”

  1. Dan

    Dear Everyone,

    Which three Cubs players are the first to be traded? Which teams involved? What prospects will the Cubs be getting?

    Sincerely,
    Dan

    P.S: What are your favorite prospects that you’d love the Cubs to get?

    1. Cerambam
    2. Mick

      My prediction for the order of Cubs I think gets traded and the guys I like in return are:

      1. Ryan Dempster-to the Dodgers for Zach Lee and Ryan O’Sullivan
      2. Matt Garza-to the Yankees for Manny Banuelos, Gary Sanchez, and Adam Warren
      3. Bryan LaHair-to the Pirates for Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens
      4. Alfonso Soriano-to the Rays for a cracked fungo

    3. Njriv

      1) Dempster
      2) Johnson
      3) Baker/Camp/LaHair

  2. ETS

    If signing Concepcion in anyway led to Soler picking the Cubs over everyone else, it might be fair to say Concepcion is not a bust even if he never throws a big league pitch. A bit of a stretch, but it’s impossible to know how the front office thinks.

    1. Featherstone

      that’s also assuming that Soler isn’t a bust as well. Stranger things have happened.

      1. The Dude Abides

        Agreed dude hasn’t played a game in the minors and talent level in Cuba is not the best, obviuosly not the pitching if Concepcion was considered a viable talent. Cespedes gives you hope even though he has missed close to 1/3 of the season with injuries, if everything works out great for Soler he is three years away. Let’s wait and see like everything we are doing it is for years down the road. Still waiting on the first trade and/or signing where team Theo is drawing a line in the sand and going for someone who can help us now.

        1. Featherstone

          This deadline will be very telling on where Theo/Jed thinks the team is ready to compete, whether it be 2013, 2014, or beyond.

    2. Wilbur

      Agreed, plus we have to expect the Cubs FO will sign or trade for a good number of stinkers each year and Concepcion may join Stewart and Volstad on this year’s list. But when you add the pluses I like what they’re doing.

      1. Featherstone

        I completely agree. I would rather the FO be ready to take calculated risks, than be too cautious and refuse to make any moves. Every move wont pan out perfectly, but as long as the overall direction of club is correct then that’s all I can ask for,

  3. Nick Nesler

    I’m going to the game Friday and really wanted to see Demp pitch again at wrigley. I’m not real happy about the rotation change but what r u gonna do

  4. Kevin

    Everything I hear about Concepcion is not good. Maybe his signing was based on limited scouting because he’s from Cuba or maybe The Cubs are just desperate to win they’ll sign anyone who’s available. I would like to read scouting reports on him prior to his signing.

  5. Kevin

    Soler could also be a bust, we know so little about him. His disappearing acts scare the hell out of me.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Um, what disappearing acts?

      1. RoughRiider

        He went into a phone booth and some guy came out wearing a Cape and tights. Solar was nowhere to be seen.

      2. Noah

        Yeah, I think Kevin has Soler confused with the stories he’s heard about Puig over the past week or two.

  6. Cub Gone Wild

    1. Dempster
    2. Baker
    3. Soto

  7. Steve

    I am adamant in saying this yesterdays start for DEMP SHOULD HAVE BEEN HIS LAST…PERIOD !!!
    His ERA is now in the 1′s now, he has proven he is healthy. Crap, If I’m the Cubs, I shut him down completely until a trade is made.
    HOW COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AWESOME WAS THIS PERFORMANCE???

  8. MikeL

    This off topic….but has anyone heard of this guy??!? He is playing at high A for the Reds and has 104 stolen bases in 85 games!!! The national media is starting to pick up on this guy because he has always been fast….but now he is hitting…..

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=hamilt002bil

    1. Noah

      Yes, everyone has heard of Billy Hamilton. Utterly electric speed, but he’s not a super high top type of prospect. He’s Top 100, but not a Jurickson Profar/Manny Machado/Oscar Taveras type of offensive prospect. Most think he can’t play shortstop in the Majors, and there is a question regarding what skills aside from speed he’ll bring. But he is super, super fast. True 80 speed and uses it well. If he’s able to get on base enough in the Big Leagues, he could break Ricky’s record for most stolen bases in a season.

  9. Cub Gone Wild

    I think Dempster will get traded but I almost wish Theo would re-sign him to a 3 year deal where he could be a very strong member of our staff even he moves down in the rotation. If we could get a team friendly deal I would like to keep him. But we won’t.

  10. Cub Gone Wild

    I think Baker has gotten hot with his stick at exactly the right time.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Almost all of the GM’s for contending teams these days understand the phrase “sample size.” Baker is a known quantity: he hits left-handed pitching pretty well and he can play multiple positions adequately. His greatest value is to a team with multiple left-handed batters: you can rest one of them every 3rd game when facing LHP and put Baker in the game. But his recent “hot streak” is not better swinging: it’s just the nature of probabilistic processes like baseball.

      1. hansman1982

        Here is where the saber-heads lose sight of the human element. Bakers recent hot streak shows that he is still highly capable against LHP. I haven’t looked at the stats but I think he was in a bit of a funk until a few weeks ago and an opposing GM will see him as done.

        While there are peaks and valleys having a peak at the deadline makes GMs want them just a bit more. Remember these are people that are making the decisions not computers. Theo could sell it as they fixed something in XYZ area to bring about the change.

        It’s like your idea that Castro hits the same in the 3 hole as the 2 hole when the eyes could see that wasn’t the case. Add on that this is a stat-heavy front office and I think Castro is just more comfortable in the 2 spot thus the move back. Or that he gets pitched the same regardless of who’s hitting behind him. Pitchers are very aware of who is hitting next. If you put Castro in the 8 hole a pitcher is going to be more willing to walk Castro knowing a weak hitter is coming up next and vice-a-versa; put Albert Pujols behind Castro and the pitcher will want as few base runners on when he comes up. Heat zones play a factor for sure but it’s a matter of trying to influence who has to “beat you”.
        Pitching is more mitigating risk than making Outs. In this scenario who would you rather have up to plate with a runner on, joe Pitcher or Pujols?

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Eyes see what the brain expects to be there. If Castro had been hitting differently in the #3 hole, then he would have performed differently. However, as his recent little slide shows, it was entirely in keeping with stochastic variation. Again, if you were claiming that Batting #3 was the drug that Cure Castro, then it would fail the lab test: despite the fact that you can “see” something different.

          The biggest problem is that people see the outcomes as entirely upon the batter. For example, suppose Baker goes 5 for 10 in a series against LHP. Is he “hot?” People would say so, and they’d stress how his swings looked good. However, given his stats, he should do that every 11-12 reps of 10 ABs. Moreover, batters look good on bad pitches and are made to look bad on good pitches. These do not come at equal frequencies: when Baker goes 5 for 10, what has probably happened is he got a couple of more hittable pitches in that series. Baker is not swinging better more frequently, but getting pitches on which he can make better swings a little more frequently.

          These things come and go, but the key is that “consistent” in baseball does not mean 0.27 hits per AB for a 0.270 batter, but an expectation of 2.7 hits per 10 AB with considerable error. Unless you deviate from that error, then Occam’s Razor tells us what to do.

      2. Beer Baron

        The hot streak may not be ‘better swinging’ but there is certainly a reality to a hot streak or slump. Players who are in the midst of a hot streak often say things like it looks like the game was in slow motion or looks like the pitcher was throwing me a beachball, etc. So not swinging better, but for what ever reason they were seing things better, ie better pitch recognition which leads to better hitting. Whether it is a psycholgoical thing where they are just have better focus or some physical cycle that we don’t fully understand, there is definitely something ‘real’ to a hot streak. Athletes in all sports will talk about ‘being in the zone’ – its definitely more than just a statistical annomaly or the law of probabilty.

        On the topic of sabermetrics vs the human eye, an interesting ‘letter’ on BP today. As with most debates in life, the truth seems to lie somewhere in between : http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17603

        1. cubchymyst

          Thanks for the article link, it is a good read.

  11. Kyle

    I’m certainly not ready to cut bait with Concepcion or anything, but I think it’s becoming increasingly likely that he was a huge bust and overpay. They thought they saw something in his mechanics or whatever that they could fix (Rizzo style) and it’s not taken hold at all.

    Yeah, sometimes A-ball stats don’t mean much because guys are working on something specific. But I can’t think of what he’d be working on that would give him erratic breaking stuff and an insanely hittable BP fastball.

    1. JB88

      Or—and complete speculation—the Cubs maybe thought adding Concepcion would help them land Soler. Sort of like the old college FB recruiting ploy of taking an underwhelming player so you get his 5 star buddy.

  12. Sven-Erik312

    Concepcion hasn’t been here a year yet. Look how long it took Jeff to get it going, and it was even harder for him because they rushed him up to the majors too quickly. I read all the stuff they’re saying about Concepcion too, but I also think that it’s too early to cut and run on him.