Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Sunday, March 28, 2004

Cruzing 'Round Town

Of all the teams in baseball, which one should have the best understanding of the importance of good, young starting pitching? The Florida Marlins, for one. Last season's World Series Champion Florida Marlins sure know the drill. Led by Josh Beckett in the playoffs and Dontrelle Willis in the middle of the season, the Marlins pushed to and through the playoffs, to the surprise of many. Following is a list of their starting rotation, each players 2003 age, and their 2003 salary and their 2003 Win Shares.

Dontrelle Willis, 21, $234,426, 14
Josh Beckett, 23, $1.725 million, 11
Mark Redman, 29, $2.15 million, 11
Brad Penny, 25, $1.875 million, 10
Carl Pavano, 27, $1.5 million, 9

A. J. Burnett, at age 26, was paid $2.5 million to sit on the bench with an injury after completing only 23 innings. Lets average out those numbers.

Average Marlins' Starter, 25, $1.5 million, 11 Win Shares

Which teams rotation was just about as young, a bit more expensive, but even better? Check out those Cubbies, a team I have written about frequently on these pages.

Mark Prior, 22, $1.45 million, 22
Kerry Wood, 26, $6.19 million, 18
Carlos Zambrano, 22, $340,000, 18
Matt Clement, 28, $4.0 million, 10
Shawn Estes, 30, $3.0 million, 0

Averaged out:
Average Cubs' Starter, 25.6, $3.0 million, 13.6 Win Shares

So the Cubbies rotation was just as young as the Marlins, more expensive, but also more productive. And if you cut out the horrible Shawn Estes and look solely at each teams top four starters, the difference becomes more drastic in terms of Win Shares. The Marlins average 11.5, the Cubs average 17. Cubbies win, theeeeee Cubbies win.

Which brings me directly to my point: Chicago should not have been so quick to trade Juan Cruz. Cruz dominated Triple-A (1.95 ERA, 8.3 K/9 in 2003). It was a bit premature of the Cubs to give up on their former top organizational prospect after a subpar season in the bigs at age 22.

              IP	BB/9	K/9	H/9

2001 (Sou.) 121.1 4.46 10.19 7.96
2001 (MLB) 44.2 3.43 7.86 8.06
2002 (MLB) 97.1 5.46 7.49 7.77
2003 (PCL) 50.2 1.94 8.29 6.53
2003 (MLB) 61.0 4.13 9.59 9.74
Minor Leagues 454 4.10 9.35 8.25
Major Leagues 202 4.63 8.24 8.47

It is no surprise to see Juan's K's drop by more than one per nine innings pitched, but the rest of his numbers have been relatively consistent in the transition from the minors to the majors. He has allowed a few more walks, and a few more hits, but the difference is not so alarming that it can’t be seen as part of the natural progression from the minors to the majors.

I'm beginning to wonder what the Cubs thought they had in this kid. As a 22 year old, he will require some time to develop, and he becomes a perfect fit to be the next pitcher to turn his career around with the Braves. At best, Cruz could match the numbers posted by Russ Ortiz this season (Ortiz allowed 4.32 BB/9, 6.32 K/9, and 7.50 H/9 last season), and Juan will only be 23. Many organizations would have jumped for joy at acquiring Juan Cruz.

With plenty of room to develop, the Cubs may have made a monster mistake. Not every pitching prospect can be effective in the majors in their early twenties. The Cubs have been spoiled by Prior (success at age 22), Wood (success at age 21), and Zambrano (success at age 22). Thier successes may have clouded their vision, causing impatience. Cruz could be a top-flight starting pitcher. Well may just have to wait a few years.

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