Please don’t judge me, but …
I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. Look, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I moved a lot when I was younger and lived in Atlanta in the early ’80s. With each subsequent move, I was able to follow the Braves because of TBS.
Here’s what I remember about the Braves from my younger days—1981 was a miserable, strike-shortened year; 1982 was a blast until the postseason (a phenomenon I didn’t realize would repeat itself throughout my adulthood); 1983 was solid; and then depression set in.
The Braves were 80-82 in 1984, and that was by far the best it would get until the franchise began its unprecedented run of regular-season success in 1991. The late ’ 80s saw a wretched slide that reached its nadir in 1988, when the team went 54-106.
So why am I recounting this sad chapter from my childhood? I see a lot of similarities between what the Braves were doing in the late ’80s/early ’90s and what the Cubs are doing now.
In 1990, the Braves went 65-97, good for last place in the NL West, 26 games behind the Reds. In 1991, they shocked the baseball world by winning 94 games and getting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, they’ve been one of the most stable and consistently excellent teams in pro sports.
But the Braves’ worst-to-first run didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the team probably wasn’t as bad as its record in 1990. If you look back at the roster, it included names like Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Stanton, Ron Gant and David Justice. All those players had some important things in common—they were young, untested, and between the ages of 20 and 25.
When we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for our January issue, something he said resonated with me.
“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time.”
The Cubs might not shock the world this year, but they’re building that wave of talent—players who can grow together, win together, lose together, and ultimately figure things out together as they move into their prime years.
One of these waves is at the major league level now in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. Epstein calls these players the “Cubs core.” And the organization is developing another strong group in the low minor leagues with high-ceiling players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Dillon Maples.
In the May issue of Vine Line, we talk to the Cubs core about what it means to them to play in Chicago and how they plan to turn potential into major league success. One thing is clear—no matter what the record said at the end of 2012 or what it says right now—these guys do not buy into the presumption that the Cubs are years away from winning.
We also check in on the new minor league affiliate that is helping develop the next wave of top talent. After eight years with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate to Kane County, located about 40 miles from Wrigley Field’s doorstep. There are huge benefits to having a farm team nearby, and the Cougars and Cubs both hope to take advantage of that in 2013 and beyond.
Finally, we look at the other side of the Cubs equation—the fan base. This season, the team has developed an advertising and marketing campaign based on the fierce dedication and undying passion of the best fans in the game. We talk to the stars of the new ads and the Cubs front office to find out how it all came together.
Here’s to a brighter future.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Pitching Profiles:
After several blown saves and countless squandered opportunities, it’s no secret that the Cubs bullpen has struggled to finish leads handed to them from the starters this season. In the first 20 games, the bullpen has recorded a 4.53 ERA. In comparison, the five starters boast a 2.97 ERA, which ranks third in MLB. With attention shifting to the late-game pitchers, the last of our pitching profiles highlight Michael Bowden and Hector Rondon, two young former prospects who earned a place in the 2013 ‘pen.
Drafted by the Red Sox in 2005, Michael Bowden stayed with the club until he was traded to the Cubs last April. The 26-year-old posted a 2.95 ERA last year, but has struggled this season, owning a 4.53 ERA in 10.1 IP this season. Though Bowden has shown some trouble on the mound, his current 1.16 WHIP is solid, even for a reliever, and the right-hander shows promise with mostly steady improvement since entering the majors.
Hector Rondon came to the Cubs via Cleveland as a Rule 5 Draft pick in December. Though injury issues and Tommy John surgery limited the 25-year-old’s appearances in the past, the Venezuelan native has proven to be a leader in the ‘pen since his April 3 debut. In 5.2 IP, Rondon has held his ERA to 1.59 with a 12.7 K/9. If recovery doesn’t interfere with his performance, Rondon could prove to be a major asset to Cubs relievers—especially after roster changes and injuries at the start of the season.
Bowden and Rondon are two of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now.
2012 Stats: 39.2 IP, 19.4 K%, 9.7 UBB%, 1.24 WHIP, 2.95 ERA
Pitches: 4-Seam (92), Slider (83), Splitter (85)
Plan of Attack: Bowden, a Winfield, Ill., native and former top prospect, pitched effectively in 32 appearances between the Cubs and Red Sox last season. He is predominantly a fastball pitcher, but he can add or subtract a few mph when he needs it. He will also cut the pitch to get glove-side movement. His splitter is an effective weapon, but it was a take-or-whiff pitch last year. He uses his slider in all counts, particularly versus righties, and is an extreme fly ball pitcher, which could come into play when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field.
2012 Stats (AA/R): 7.0 IP, 9 K, 2 BB, 4 H, 1 ER
Pitches: Fastball (91), Cutter, Change (88), Slider (80)
Plan of Attack: Rondon is a former top prospect in the Indians system—he was their minor league pitcher of the year as recently as 2009—but he has had multiple elbow issues, including Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. He pitched well in Venezuela over the winter and has succeeded as high as Triple-A. Rondon has very good command of a four-pitch mix, including a fastball, cutter, change and short breaking ball. As a Rule 5 pick, he has to stay on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Indians.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Scott Hairston may be new to the Cubs, but he is far from a rookie when it comes to the big leagues. Hairston joined his grandfather, father, uncle and brother in the family business when he was drafted in 2001. The veteran outfielder had nine seasons of major league experience on his own resume before coming to Chicago—the city where he spent many childhood years rooting for his father’s White Sox teams. For the April issue of Vine Line, we talked to Hairston about growing up in a baseball family, how it feels to call the Friendly Confines home and which artists are on his gameday playlist.
FIRST LOVE I think when I started playing Little League at age 7, that’s when the love of the game as a player began. And I decided early. As a kid, I was around the game my whole life, and I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.
CLUBHOUSE CULTURE Getting a chance to know some of the guys on the teams my dad was on really caused me to dream more. I looked up to those players, and it definitely made me work harder, because I wanted to be like them. It had a huge inﬂuence on me.
SOUTH SIDE I [was a White Sox fan] growing up. I had to be. I think if I grew up rooting for the Cubs, my dad would have really been upset. So in a way, you pretty much had to be [a Sox fan]. But, you know what, I was a fan of a lot of the Cubs players. I did go to Cubs games. It’s not like I didn’t go. And I rooted for the players that were in that system, like Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and all those guys that were there. Shawon Dunston and Lee Smith, those guys were there when I watched them.
BRICKS AND IVY I’ve kind of stopped myself right before and hit [the brick wall] lightly. But I’ve seen guys go right in there. Psychologically, it’s always something that’s in the back of your mind. It’s there, but you’ve just got to be aggressive as an outﬁelder. The main priority is to catch the ball, but at the same time, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you can get critically injured. That’s no fun either.
MUSIC MAN I’m a big Dave Matthews Band fan. I have been for a long time. When it comes to R&B and rap, I love listening to Common. I love Radiohead. I think they’re one of the best bands in the world. And Pearl Jam—I can’t leave out Pearl Jam. I know [frontman] Eddie [Vedder] is a big Cubs fan, and I’ve been dying to meet him. When my brother played here in 2005 and 2006, Eddie came to the clubhouse two times. I’d be really happy to meet him. I’m a big fan of Pearl Jam. I have been since they’ve been out.
To read the complete interview with Hairston, pick up the April issue of Vine Line, featuring the rebuilt Cubs pitching staff, available now at select Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Meijer, Barnes & Noble, and other Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Pitching Profiles:
Signed by the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1999, Carlos Marmol made his major league debut as a starter in 2006. But the Dominican native returned as a relief pitcher in 2007 and turned heads when, filling in for the injured Ryan Dempster, he closed out the ninth inning with a scoreless frame for his first major league save.
Since 2007, Marmol has been the Cubs’ primary closer, and he’s led the relief staff in strikeouts each year. Though the 30-year-old’s two-pitch arm boasts impressive power, he often struggles with command. He’s recorded more walks in his career than he’s allowed hits.
After giving up runs in his first three appearances of 2013, manager Dale Sveum pulled Marmol from the closing role. But since the change, Marmol has delivered four straight scoreless appearances. If that performance continues, Sveum may consider renaming the righty to the closing spot, especially with Fujikawa on the DL.
Marmol is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (95), Slider (85)
2012 Stats: 55 IP, 29.2 K%, 18.2 UBB%, 3.42 ERA, 115 ERA+, 1.54 WHIP
Last Season: Up and Down. Marmol had a rollercoaster year, finishing stronger than he started. He struggled with command early on, lost the closer job in May and missed a few weeks with a thigh strain. By mid-June, he stepped back into the ninth-inning role, where he saved 18 of his last 19 opportunities and posted a 2.09 ERA. Pitching coach Chris Bosio worked to simplify things for Marmol, getting him to stop shaking off his catchers.
Plan of Attack: Keep it simple with pure stuff. Marmol is a classic two-pitch power reliever—trusting quality of stuff rather than depth. He throws a mid-90s fastball with run and a slider that, at its best, is one of the game’s true wipeout pitches. Marmol used to throw his slider as much as his fastball early in the count, particularly against righties, but his usage has grown more conventional of late. In 2012, he threw a first-pitch fastball more than two-thirds of the time before turning to the slider when ahead. Of course, command is Marmol’s biggest weakness and overcoming problems there is vital to his success.
Putaway Pitch: Slider. The nature of Marmol’s slider has changed a bit from the sweeping slurve it once was. In 2011, Marmol started throwing a smaller version—manager Dale Sveum called it a cutter—that blurred the large velocity/movement differences between his two pitches. That was scrapped in 2012, and his slider became more of a downward-biting pitch. Marmol also threw his slider harder than ever before—reaching an average of 85 mph by season’s end. But he also was throwing his hardest overall since early 2010. That increase in velocity coincided with improvements in all of his numbers—a good sign if Marmol can carry it forward.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Pitching Profiles:
Shawn Camp was drafted out of George Mason University in 1997, shortly after converting from a backstop to a pitcher. Following minor league stints with the Padres and the Pirates, he landed his first major league relief position in 2004 with the Royals.
After four inconsistent seasons—two years with the Royals, two with the Devil Rays—Camp signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays prior to the 2008 season. With a changeup newly integrated into his repertoire, the right-hander was recalled soon after Spring Training and contributed to the Blue Jays’ league-best 2.94 team ERA. He was particularly good against righties that season, holding opponents to a .204 batting average and finished the year with a career-high 58 strikeouts across 79.2 innings.
His ERA dropped to 3.50 in 2009 and then to a career-best 2.99 the following season, before ballooning up to 4.21 in his final year in Toronto.
After being released by the Mariners during Spring Training, the 37-year-old Virginian inked a minor league deal with the Cubs in 2012. He pitched 77.2 innings in 80 appearances, accruing a 3-6 record with two saves and a 3.59 ERA. Though this season has been rocky for Camp with 11 hits and eight runs while compiling a 15.43 ERA in 4.2 innings, Dale Sveum appears to have confidence in the veteran, even naming him the club’s closer for a time being this season.
Camp is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (89), Sinker (88), Change (83), Slider (80)
2012 Stats: 77 IP, 16.5 K%, 5.3 UBB%, 3.59 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP
Last Season: The Cubs signed the veteran reliever to a minor league deal at the end of March, and he ate up innings in several roles on his way to a 3.59 ERA.
Plan of Attack: Bend or break—nothing straight. Camp splits the difference between sinking pitches to his arm side and sweeping them to the glove side. His change has developed into a solid offering, mimicking his sinker and getting batters to roll it over. Camp did induce the lowest ground-ball percentage of his career (47% from a previous low of 52%), largely due to him doubling the use of his slider at the expense of his sinker and change.
Putaway Pitch: Slider. Because of Camp’s sidearm release, his slider actually “slides” across the plate at an almost purely lateral angle. That makes the pitch tough to barrel and leads to a substantial share of easy flies. It also means that his slider doesn’t get many whiffs. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to throw it on both sides of the plate while keeping it low in the zone.
The Cubs will face lefty Derek Holland Tuesday night. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.
The previously high-flying Rangers come into 2013 trying to recover from the shock of blowing their AL West lead to the A’s in the season’s last week, and then losing the Wild Card play-in game to the upstart Orioles. That debacle triggered even more turbulence this offseason. Texas endured a winter of front office power struggles over former President Nolan Ryan’s role, saw star center fielder Josh Hamilton defect as a free agent—to the division rival Angels, no less—and traded away longtime fan favorite Michael Young to the Phillies.
The Rangers feel they’re strong enough to contend in 2013—and they still have one of the top prospects in the game in Jurickson Profar—but it’s easy to anticipate how a slow start could incite panic for a team that’s taken a tumble after winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011.
3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 21st in MLB
With Hamilton gone, the Rangers lost a premium bat from the left side. To replace him, they had to settle for two aging veterans, Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. But the 37-year-old Big Puma is coming off a season ruined by injury, while the 36-year-old Pierzynski is likely due to come down from a surprising 27-homer year with the White Sox. Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin joins second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus to give the Rangers a lot of offense at the up-the-middle skill positions. But it will be interesting to see how much offense they get at the corners from Berkman, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. One player they won’t have to worry about is Adrian Beltre, a premium defender with an MVP-caliber bat at the hot corner.
3.0 Runs Allowed/Game — T-3rd in MLB
Wherever else the Rangers have problems, they still have an outstanding front three in their starting rotation. Second-year Japanese import Yu Darvish more than lived up to lofty first-year expectations, while Matt Harrison and Derek Holland give the Rangers a pair of quality lefties who are both just coming into their own. Harrison is currently on the DL with a lower back strain and should return soon. But what the team does after those three is open to question. Even after seeing relief ace Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow after a move to the rotation last year (likely costing him most of 2013), the Rangers are doing the same thing with Alexi Ogando. Like Feliz, Ogando is talented enough to merit the move, but the Rangers can’t afford to see him break down as well. Once injured veterans Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria join the staff later in the season, the team might have the kind of depth to contend.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Pitching Profiles:
James Russell was drafted as a starter in 2007, but the southpaw from the University of Texas was summoned to the bullpen during his 2009 minor league season—a move that has paid off for the organization. Russell posted a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings in 2010 and then a 4.12 ERA in 67.2 innings the following year. Though he showed improvement with each season, he really found his niche as a middle-to-late-innings reliever in a breakout 2012 season.
Recording a career-best 3.25 ERA in 69.1 innings of relief, he remained constant in a rather unstable bullpen. Both his strikeout and walk totals could stand a little improvement for a reliever (55 K, 23 BB), but he did manage a respectable 8.7 H/9 total. Throw in his seven wins (good for third on the team), and 2012 was a successful year for the 27-year-old.
Russell is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (90), 2-seam (89), Cutter (88), Change (82), Slider (82), Curve (74)
2012 Stats: 69.1 IP, 18.8 K%, 5.6 UBB%, 3.25 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.30 WHIP
Last Season: The 2012 bullpen makeover elevated Russell and Shawn Camp to the team’s No. 2 relievers (based on Tom Tango’s metric Leverage Index), with Russell getting a greater share of the team’s critical innings as the season went along. Russell also became a more substantial bridge to the closer. In 2011, Russell faced one batter in 20 percent of his appearances; in 2012, he did that in just seven of 77 games (9 percent).
Plan of Attack: A reliever vs. lefties and a starter vs. righties. Russell lives away, away, away. It may be predictable, but his ability to locate with a deep arsenal makes it effective. His splits against lefties and righties were virtually the same—from AVG/OBP/SLG to K% and UBB%. It looks like there’s a reason for it, though he’ll have to prove he can sustain the trend.
Against left-handers, Russell becomes more or less a two-pitch guy, primarily relying on his low three-quarters arm angle to sweep sliders away. He also pitches backward. He threw a breaking ball on 76 percent of first pitches and went with 39 percent fastballs when ahead in the count. The first-pitch slider seems to work because it resulted in a ball only 24 percent of the time—and 62 percent strikes.
On the other hand, you can see Russell’s roots as a starter in how he attacks righties. The overall mix of hard and soft stuff is about half and half, and his cutter, two-seamer and change all play more significant roles. Using his full repertoire gives him a continuum of speeds and movement to keep hitters guessing.
Putaway Pitch: Slider. Though Russell relies on his breaking ball more on the first pitch, it’s still a weapon late in the count. Lefties have trouble laying off it, and righties struggle to pull the trigger as it comes through the backdoor.
(Photo By Stephen Green)
For the April issue of Vine Line, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat sat down with Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer to talk about the 2013 Cubs, the differences between this season and last, and what to look for as the organization moves forward.
In the final part of our three-part interview, Hoyer discusses the foundation for the club’s future success. With rebuilt staff, new players and minor league acquisitions, the Cubs aim to make significant progress from a year ago. The club established a more of a core this offseason, with the hopes of getting big results from those players while maintaining a level of success throughout the system.
Vine Line: You and Theo Epstein talk about sticking to a plan in building the Cubs. Do you feel you’re making progress?
Jed Hoyer: I think there’s been a lot of progress. There’s a lot more talent in that clubhouse than there was a year ago. But the only way there’s real progress is if we say the same thing next year and the year after that and keep building on that. There’s no way you can speed the hands of the clock. We have to let these guys develop. There’s only one draft a year, there’s only one trade deadline a year, and there’s only one area for free agency. We know it’s going to take some cycles of that. To do it every year, we have to come in here and say, “Whoa, we have a lot more talent.” If we keep doing that, eventually we’ll get to that critical mass when you say, “Hey, this is a really good team.”
VL: Some of your minor league additions—such as field coordinator Tim Cossins, pitching coordinator Derek Johnson and hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce—didn’t make headlines, but they were key acquisitions.
JH: No question. A lot of the things that happen that the fans don’t see are just as important as what they do see. The tip of the iceberg is the major league team, and that’s the most important thing. We added a lot to the minor league system. Certainly, there are first-round guys who are brimming with talent, but there are organizations who continually find guys below the radar who people say come out of nowhere. A lot of that is good teaching in the minor leagues, and all of a sudden, these guys really develop. That’s what we’re looking for, and I think we have really good teachers leading that, and we have a lot of good coaches below them.
Every year, we want to feel better and better about the continuity—the best organizations have a lot of continuity. We want to develop that. We’re not there yet. We’re still making changes, but we want to get to the point where everyone knows how the Cubs teach and who’s teaching it.
VL: What’s your feeling on Dale Sveum heading into his second season as manager?
JH: The 101 losses [last year] are on Theo and me. We felt like Dale kept the clubhouse together. We had a 101-loss team with no brush fires at all. Guys really respect him. They play hard for him. Our goal is to make sure we have a really talented team that’s playing hard for him. I think Dale has done a great job. He’s a really good teacher, he’s well respected, and we’re looking forward to year two with him.
VL: Sveum doesn’t want players to limit themselves and be content with a .500 season. Do you have a winning percentage you want to see this year?
JH: I don’t really put a number on it. The biggest thing for me, and the thing that probably frustrated me the most a year ago, and the thing we have to change before we’re a good team, is we didn’t control the strike zone very well. We walked too many guys pitching-wise, and we didn’t get on base enough offensively. That to me is what really has to change. Hopefully, there are guys on our team who can change that, or we’re going to have to change personnel in order to do it.
VL: You did improve the pitching, but looking at the projected lineup, there haven’t been many changes. Why should fans watch the 2013 Cubs?
JH: I think the fans are starting to see what we’re trying to build—at first base with [Anthony] Rizzo, at shortstop with [Starlin] Castro, and certainly [Jeff] Samardzija. We’re hoping some more guys push their way into that group, whether it’s Welington Castillo or Nate Schierholtz. We like the addition of Nate and think he’s a guy who will benefit from a change of scenery. Darwin Barney had a fantastic year, and we think he can build on it offensively. We have a deeper pitching staff than we did a year ago.
We’ve been really honest to the fans, and I don’t think at any point we’ve misled them on what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build something that every year they know is a playoff-quality team. That’s the goal. It doesn’t happen overnight, and we’ve been really honest about that. But I do think fans deserve to start seeing the fruits of our labor, and I think you’re going to start to see that coming together now.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Other Pitching Profiles:
After playing college ball at Notre Dame, Jeff Samardzija (1-1) was selected by the Cubs in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. While struggling to maintain consistency on the mound, the 6-foot-5 pitcher bounced back and forth between the minors and the Cubs from 2008-10 before becoming a regular in the bullpen in 2011. There he proved to be a reliable arm, going 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 88 innings.
The Shark entered Spring Training last year with an outside shot at making the rotation, but pitched well and was named the team’s No. 3 starter. He had a career year, posting a 3.81 ERA and striking out 180 batters before getting shut down after a Sept. 8 start.
Determined to get better, Samardzija dedicated himself to improving his arm and his conditioning throughout the offseason. For his efforts, he was named the Cubs ace in 2013.
In his Opening Day performance, Samardzija showed strong commitment to controlling the plate. In eight shutout innings, he struck out nine and allowed only two hits. Though he surrendered four hits, four runs and four walks in 5.2 innings in his second start, Samardzija fanned a career-high 13 batters.
Samardzija is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line‘s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (96), 2-seam (95), Cutter (92), Change (87), Slider (85), Curve (78)
2012 Stats: 174 IP, 24.9 K percent, 7.5 UBB percent, 3.81 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.22 WHIP
Last Season: Proving he belongs
Perhaps nobody had higher expectations for Samardzija’s return to the rotation than the right-hander himself. Chief among his improvements last season was his control. He walked just 7.8 percent of the batters he faced, significantly lower than the 13 percent rate he had in 2011 out of the bullpen. His strikeout percentage increased from 23 percent to 25 percent, and his ground ball rate jumped from 43 percent to 47 percent. Samardzija leveraged his stuff better than before, even while doubling his innings prior to an early September shutdown.
Plan of Attack: Get batters cheating on a variety of fastballs
Both of Samardzija’s fastballs sit in the mid- to high-90s, and his two-seamer is made even more impressive by his ability to run a few extra inches of movement while matching the velocity of his four-seamer. Overall, he likes to move pitches away from batters—using more two-seamers and splitters that fade away from lefties, while employing the cutter and slider against righties.
Putaway Pitch: Splitter
The splitter is Samardzija’s No. 1 weapon, and his improved command of the fastball has made the split even more devastating. Samardzija rarely used his splitter on the first pitch, but employed it one-third of the time when ahead in the count. Comparing 2011 to 2012, his splitter was called for a ball less often (46 percent to 37 percent), got more swings (49 percent to 59 percent) and caused more whiffs when a batter did swing (43 percent to 46 percent). That last number has been part of a career improvement. In 2009 and 2010, Samardzija’s whiff-per-swing rates on the splitter were 24 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
*Numbers courtesy Brooks Baseball
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Other Pitching Profiles:
After becoming a free agent in October 2012, Carlos Villanueva struck a two-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs in early January. The Giants first signed the 29-year-old Dominican Republic native as an undrafted free agent in 2002, and then traded him to the Brewers in 2004.
Villanueva made his major league debut with Milwaukee in 2006 and played a valuable swing role with the team for five seasons before moving north of the border to the Blue Jays. For his career, he has a 33-35 record and a 4.23 ERA. He has made only 57 career starts in 302 games, but made the most starts of his career last season (16) with the Jays.
For now, with Matt Garza and Scott Baker on the DL, Villanueva fills the fifth spot in the Cubs starting rotation. In his first game against the Braves on April 6, Villanueva looked strong, going 6.2 innings with six strikeouts and one earned run. He staked his team to a 5-1 lead, but earned a no-decision after the Braves rallied in the eighth and ninth innings.
The man with the best moustache in baseball is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line‘s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (90), 2-seam (89), Change (82), Slider (82), Curve (74), Slow Curve (63)
2012 Stats: 125 IP, 23.4 K%, 8.1 UBB%, 4.16 ERA, 102 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
Last Season: For the second consecutive year, Villanueva played a swing role, filling in admirably as a starter before fading late. Now he joins the Cubs on a two-year deal that has him replacing an injured Matt Garza early on. Usage will be important: Villanueva’s numbers have suffered from a few bad starts in the past.
Plan of Attack: Pitch to all four quadrants. Villanueva relies on a full assortment of pitches to all corners of the zone. His command is vital. He pitches off his four- and two-seam fastballs, and he loves to pull the string with a change-up on an aggressive hitter. He goes to the change heavily when behind in the count, as well as on first pitches against lefties. It got him in trouble with the long ball in 2012, but he gets a good mix of grounders and whiffs when it’s working down and away.
Putaway Pitch: Slider. Villanueva’s best breaking ball is his slider, a pitch with hard downward bite. More than 60 percent of his strikeouts last year came on the pitch, and it’s effective whether breaking in on lefties or away from righties. It did flatten out in 2011, and Villanueva’s strikeouts hit a career low. But the renewed tilt last year bounced the K rate back from 15 percent to 23 percent.
*Numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball