Reasonable Expectations

One game is in the books, and only 161 more to go. Many of you may be thinking of taking off your fan goggles, placing them in front of your car on the driveway, and proceeding to run over them….and then back over them….repeatedly.

Don’t do it.

Don’t waste the energy or the time in getting too upset or too angry over the disappointing Opening Day loss. It is literally, just one game. Even the very best teams lose at least 5 dozen games, so refrain from abandoning hope, and focus on the positive: the Cubs will have a new owner next year! Are you really already concerned about the record of your beloved Cubbies, after just one loss? Are you anxious and confused over the uncertainty of their ownership future? You know better….

I Take Offense to That….

Teams built on offense, like the Cubs, will pound the #3, #4, and #5 starters. This is because good hitters destroy average-to-mediocre pitching. Proven professionals like Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano do not let pitchers get away with very many mistakes, and the pitchers that don’t start on Opening Day usually make more mistakes than the aces of the staffs do.

This doesn’t mean that the Cubs can’t beat another team’s #1 and/or #2 starters….they can (and will) beat all the best pitchers in the NL, but they also need a good outing from their starters on those days. Unfortunately, Carlos Zambrano didn’t bring his “A” game to the park yesterday. I won’t either bother speculating if he was nervous, if he is just a lousy Opening Day starter, or if concerns about his contract were weighing heavily on his mind. If you have been watching Zambrano since 2003, you will know that he has games like this; where he gives up the long ball, and issues too many walks. The nice thing about Zambrano is that he makes up for it by winning 4-5 starts in a row afterwards, and flirts with a no-hitter a couple times in the process. As much as he is a veteran of four years now, his young age and immaturity can’t be ignored, and his best years, in terms of consistency, are still yet to come.

What Do You Expect?

Writing about Fan Goggles the other day led me to do some research regarding realistic win totals for our pitching staff this year. Previously I mentioned that the idea of a pitcher winning 15 games is thrown around an awful lot, as if it is an easy feat to accomplish, and I singled this out as an obvious symptom of Goggle-wearing.

But what if I lowered that standard even more? If 15 wins is too much to reasonably expect of a good pitcher, every year, then what is a fair win total to predict? Granted, a pitcher’s win totals often reflect the type of season their team had, or how productive a teams’ offense was. However, I believe a good pitcher simply finds (or wills) a way to pitch well enough to win the game for his team. Last year, Zambrano won 16 games for a pitiful Cubs team, for example.

I decided I would look as far back as the beginning of the Kerry Wood era, 1998, covering 9 years of statistics, and I wanted to see how many pitchers actually won more than 10 games. The results may surprise you, and may allow you to keep your Goggle-inspired expectations more reasonable, and keep you from jumping off a bridge if the Cubs should have a 2-game losing streak at some point here in the month of April.

2006

  • Zambrano 16-7
  • Maddux 15-14 (with Cubs and Dodgers)

2005

  • Zambrano 14-6
  • Prior 11-7

2004

  • Zambrano 16-8
  • Maddux 16-11

2003

  • Wood 14-11
  • Clement 14-12
  • Prior 18-6
  • Zambrano 13-11

2002

  • Wood 12-11
  • Clement 12-11

2001

  • Wood 12-6
  • Lieber 20-6

2000

  • Lieber 12-11

1999

  • no one

1998

  • Tapani 19-9
  • Trachsel 15-8
  • Wood 13-6

Wood and Zambrano tops with 4
Maddux, Prior, Clement, and Lieber with 2
Tapani and Trachsel did it for the Cubs 1 time each

Those are some extremely familiar names, aren’t they? As much as we seem to forget how productive Wood used to be, he really did earn that contract he received in 2004, he just never lived up to it afterwards, unfortunately. You also have to appreciate how important, and stable, Zambrano has been to our rotation the past four years. It wasn’t until 2005 that Zambrano really seemed to escape the shadow of Wood and Prior, and began to be viewed as the true ace of the staff. The starters in our rotation, over the past 9 years, have only been able to produce 18 seasons of more than 10 wins, for an average of 2 a year. That means, that three of our starters, historically, will finish with 10 wins or less….so someone will likely disappoint us, it is just a matter of who.

Another thing to note is that 6 of the 18 best records the past 9 years belongs to the much-maligned Prior and Wood. When viewed in this manner, it does become easier to understand why it was (and still is) so difficult for the Cubs Faithful to plan the future without Wood and Prior. This is also why Cubs management is smart to keep them around as long as possible, as they are proven to be productive when healthy, and perhaps they can contribute again down the road. This difference this time is that they aren’t being relied on to carry the load.

Final Thoughts….

Who will the new owner of the Chicago Cubs be? I have no idea….honestly. Will this pending change be an issue, as with an extension for Zambrano? Again, I have not a clue….and I really am not going to worry about it right now, as I am too focused on watching my retooled Cubs team here in early April.

Much like a kid in junior high at 2:59pm on the last day of school before the long Summer vacation starts, I am anxious, excited, and looking forward to the next several months of Cubs baseball! The Cubs are going to be competitive in their division, and will be in the playoff lead, or in the hunt, all season long. With their talent, and a manager that holds players accountable, the cream will rise to the top, and the “W” flags will fly regularly at Wrigley. So don’t sweat one early loss, CCO Readers….just enjoy the ride. Until next time, hope for fewer free passes for the opposition, an extension for Big Z, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value." - Albert Einstein
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