I have been reading a lot of articles over the past few weeks that have been throwing Jim Hendry under the bus.
In turn, over the same time period, I have put a lot of thought in to who is really to blame for the Chicago Cubs struggles.
While many didn't like his moves this past offseason, is it really his fault? Or, is it possible that the personnel isn't holding up their end of the bargain?
Yes, they let longtime Cub Kerry Wood walk and traded fan favorite and super versatile Mark DeRosa. They then replaced Wood with Marlin Kevin Gregg and moved Mike Fontenot to number one on the depth list at second base.
Is this what has brought the Cubs from top of the National League to bouncing between third and fourth in the National League Central?
This is a very easy answer. No.
I understand that Mike Fontenot has not performed the way he should, but this is still not the reason the Cubs have struggled. Fontenot has moved between second and third base, the same thing DeRosa would have had to do.
So lets compare their numbers thus far.
235 AB, 41 R, 11 2B, 10 HR, 23 BB, 50 K, .346 OBP, .451 SLG, .277 AVG
176 AB, 17 R, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 22 BB, 38 K, .327 OBP, .409 SLG, .244 AVG
Yes, Mark DeRosa has had the better season thus far, but I believe that there are many reasons for this.
The first reason is that, while DeRosa is always prepared to move positions, Mike Fontenot didn't expect to have to play this much third base. The injury to Ramirez almost immediately put extra pressure on Fontenot.
The second, and what I believe to be the most devastating, is that the middle of the lineup has not hit well at all. I will evaluate this more later.
So, the difference in closers has to be the reason, right?
2-2, 4.84 ERA, 8 Saves, 2 Blown, 22.1 IN, 4HR, 13BB, 27K
0-1, 4.28 ERA, 10 Saves, 2 Blown, 27.1 IN, 5 HR, 13BB, 29K
Both pitchers got off to bad starts this season, but have improved drastically. Looking at their numbers, there isn't a whole lot of difference outside of ERA. Even if you chalk this up to the AL vs. NL difference, they are both very close statistically.
So, it isn't the loss of Derosa or Wood that has the Cubs sitting at .500, what could it be?
How about player performance and injuries?
I myself am a firm believer that if the middle of your order can't hit, it makes it much harder for the rest of your lineup.
Up until recently, Derrek Lee was completely horrid at the plate. His recent 11 game hitting streak has brought his average up to .268, .25 below par for mister Lee. His OBP (.354) and SLG (.441) are also lower than last years (.361 OBP, .462 SLG).
Then there is everyone's favorite scape goat, Milton Bradley. One that could be blamed on Hendry, but he has thus far, got near the numbers of games played expected.
What wasn't expected, by anybody that pays attention, is that Bradley would be hitting .224, with a OBP of .333 and SLG of .381.
So yes, Hendry took a true gamble, and thus far has lost. On the other hand, he hasn't lost because of the reasons that everyone deemed this a loss prior to the season. He was criticized because Bradley wasn't durable enough and that hasn't been the case, though it has been an issue.
The truth is, nobody would be talking and everyone would be happy if Bradley was hitting even near what he is capable of. If his line looked more like, .300 AVG, .395 OBP, and .550 SLG, what would there be to complain about?
For me, a lot of the blame for the Cubs' offensive woes goes to these two supposed sluggers.
That blame isn't just derived from their stats. Not only because of their offensive lines, but because of what it does to the rest of the lineup.
Once opposing teams saw that these guys were getting themselves out, they didn't have to throw as many fast balls to other players in the line-up. Making it harder on everyone else.
They can afford to let guys like Theriot, Fontenot, Soto and Fukudome get themselves out. This means they can throw more early count breaking pitches and less first strike fastballs.
There is one more glaring concern with these Cubbies.While I like the majority of what Lou Piniella does, he has one major hiccup.
Alfonso Soriano is NOT a leadoff hitter.
Yes, he is one of the best home run hitters to ever occupy the No. 1 spot in the lineup, but he does not get on base near enough. I don't care if he only leads off one time in a game, when your line-up is not hitting, he is still coming up with the bases empty most of the time.
Soriano should be in a spot where he can drive in runs. This is more evident with the absence of injured Aramis Ramirez.
Soriano doesn't need to move to 2B, but he needs to be hitting in the four or five hole. Doing this not only puts someone with a higher average and on-base percentage in the one hole, it helps protect the heart of the order. I don't think a pitcher in baseball wants to pitch to Soriano with two men on base.
Not only that, but pitchers then have to pitch to Lee, Bradley, or Ramirez (when he returns) when runners are on in front of them and Soriano behind them.
To me, this a no brainer.
So, in conclusion, I don't think it is Hendry's fault.
Yes, he could have signed Abreau or Ibanez instead of Bradley.
Yes, he could have signed a good left-handed reliever instead of staying with Cotts.
Yes, he could have kept DeRosa and Wood.
But, it doesn't matter who you do or don't get, if the guys you expect to perform drop off the way that Soriano, Lee, Bradley and Soto have. Couple that with the injuries, most notably Ramirez, and there will be some trouble.
On the other hand, if the guys that are suppose to perform would perform, this team would not nearly be in the position that it is.
Quite frankly, I didn't see the lack of performance coming, and my bet is that neither did you.
I blame the personnel.