Hype is a dangerous thing.
Nothing good comes from it. Few players in modern sports ever live up to the hype that the media circus can create. Out of these unjust expectations, disappointment looms large.
Cubs fans know a lot about the hype process. All of the "This is the Year!" signs cast aside on the streets of Wrigleyville will vouch for this.
I'm writing this article to simply clear up the most prevalent myths pertaining to this upcoming Cubs season. These are things that have spread across the Internet or reside with the comic stylings of what they "report" on Comcast Sportsnet. (If you can watch more than 15 minutes of their coverage without cringing, more power to you).
These are three misconceptions I thought deserved to be cleared up before the season begins.
When you give up a package of prospects rated as highly as the deal the Cubs sent to the Rays, your franchise should be expecting some great production. I think it's fair to want that, because when you look at similar packages of players, they have netted stars like Johan Santana, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren.
Matt Garza is none of those players. For all intents and purposes in MLB, Matt Garza has never pitched like an Ace.
Stop calling him an Ace.
He isn't even the Ace of this team yet. He could just as likely be worse than Dempster and Zambrano this season as he's likely to be the number one guy.
But that's what Cubs fans are apparently expecting from the 27-year-old starter. The fans predicting big things out of him, but it makes you wonder if they did more than read his name in the newspaper. Upon even the most simple inspection of who he is and what he's done, you realize a few things.
He is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. He's played his whole career in Tropicana, which happens to be a spacious pitcher's paradise. He is now moving to Wrigley, which is a field that resides in the top 10 offensively-slanted parks.
One that consistently allows more than its fair share of home runs.
Another thing about Garza? Very few pitchers in baseball allow more home runs than him for every 9 innings. He gave up 28 home runs last year, third-most in the American League. This was lowered by the fact he got to play half of his games at Tropicana Field...which he won't have the luxury of next year.
Over the last three seasons while on the road, Garza had a 4.53 ERA. At home in Tampa Bay? A staggeringly lower 3.21 ERA. Almost a run and a half of discrepancy, which is a pretty huge deal.
His production has been noticeably altered in a positive way by his team's defense his entire career. Very simple reasoning behind it? The Rays have been just fantastic in the field over the last four seasons.
Garza will be going from a team where his defense is greatly aiding him to a team with a problematic and slow defensive situation. It is going to cost him noticeably in the ERA and WHIP department, as a lot more of his fly-balls are going to fall in for hits. It's something that is going to be frustrating for Matt, in joining his new North Side teammates.
I understand that some fans think the shift from the American League to the National League means an instant jump to star-production. Yet the NL has plenty of bats better than anything he's faced in the AL East. Facing guys like Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday and Prince Fielder will hurt you. They'd enjoy the pleasure to do so.
Garza has some crazy talent though. This is something any scout or person who has watched him consistently pitch pretty well over the last three years will attest to. If he can cut down on his fly-ball rates, he could do something special for the Cubs.
There is concern and there is hope. If he pitches identical to the last three years, I would be content, Too bad Cubs fans wouldn't be, though. He's already gone through the hype machine, and there's no coming back.
This one is not quite as prevalent as the Garza hype, but I will rarely see a Cubs forum that doesn't have multiple fans talking about one of these two guys in a very positive manner...which confuses the hell out of me.
Blake DeWitt had a fanbase in Los Angeles. Looking over what he's done in his career, I'm quite confused. I'll have to disagree with the great performer Tom Jones in saying, "It IS unusual".
I mean, ESPN Chicago just wrote a whole fluff piece about how DeWitt might solve the second base hole in the lineup AND the lead-off role!
Yeesh! If DeWitt could hit like a league-average second baseman, that would be surprising, but offering the idea that he might contribute enough to be a legitimate lead-off hitter? Well, I wonder why he could have the unnecessary hype.
I would very much like to see the black hole at second base turn into an area that can produce. I would love it if DeWitt became a lead-off hitter that did his job. But nothing in his career points to him just "turning it on".
I would like it if he could just put up an on-base percentage around .350, or an OPS above .740. How's that for a small, semi-reasonable benchmark to reach for?
Now, the Darwin Barney hype is even more confusing. He is in the EXACT mold of an Andres Blanco or Cesar Izturis. A quality defensive shortstop...with zero power and extremely limited patience. A non-factor, in essence.
In other words, a guy who will always be a problem with the bat. At 25 years old, not someone who's going to be changing physically very much. This is his ceiling, or close to it, and it simply ain't good.
This is a guy who's only putting up a .333 on-base percentage and a .711 OPS in AAA last season. The same AAA league where guys like Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, and Micah Hoffpauir were hitting like superstars. If Barney's production in AAA would be unacceptable as it is, the transition to the majors would be quite ugly.
He is a nice bench player. The nicest way of saying he's never going to be a starter.
This should be bad news, not something that brings optimism.
There is only one Cub on this team who has a realistic chance of developing effective base-stealing skills: Starlin Castro. If this team is going to be attempting more stolen bases with guys like DeWitt, Byrd, Colvin or anyone else, it is clearly going to be costing the team runs.
Even Castro couldn't steal last season, although Cubs management is praying he learns to do it soon. He was only successful in 10 of his 18 tries.
One needs to steal above 75 percent of his bases to be a efficient in the process. That is completely unreasonable with the players on this team.
The team is much better suited to not attempt stealing at all, outside of very select circumstances. It would be much better to steal 90 percent of a low amount of bases, than to steal 60 percent of even triple the amount of bags swiped.
Being a smart baserunner does not mean a lot of stealing. Smarter coaching on the basepaths could help this 2011 team though.