Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lou-sing it: Z to 'pen

My mind has just been blown. Then again, how can one be surprised? In one of the most idiotic moves in Cubs history, the team has taken Carlos Zambrano’s value to the team and cut it in half as Lou Piniella announced before tonight’s game that Big Z will be moving to the bullpen. Bottom line, this move makes the team worse. No matter how good Zambrano is in the bullpen, the team has just taken a shotgun and blown a hole in its chances to reach the postseason this year.

The most valuable relief pitcher in baseball last year was Jonathan Broxton, who put together a 2.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). This was half a win higher than any other relief pitcher in the majors. Carlos Zambrano, in his “off year” of 2009 was able to scrape out a cool 3.6 WAR. Simply put, relief pitchers can never be as valuable as good starting pitchers, and contrary to the belief of some, Carlos Zambrano is a very good starting pitcher. A workhorse good for 180-200 innings, the Cubs will now be giving at least 100 of those innings to Tom Gorzellany and Carlos Silva. If you don’t gag at that sentence I’d check your pulse.

This is Lou Piniella, completely losing his mind. Lunacy is reigning supreme at Clark and Addison, as there is simply no explanation for this move. Yes, the Cubs do not have a setup man. Somehow it has taken 18 runs in 14 different 8th innings this year for them to realize that no, John Grabow is not a setup man. He’s not even a good relief pitcher! He almost cracked 1 win above replacement last year with a “workmanlike” 0.2. However, it represented a great improvement over his -0.1 in 2008. His career best is 0.5 WAR in 2006. He probably drank half a beer with his buddies to celebrate. Forget wins above replacement; just look at how many batters he walks. His past three seasons he has posted walks per nine innings of 4.76, 4.83, and 4.38. That combined with a pitiful K/BB of 1.43 last year is a recipe for heartache in the late innings. As bad as John Grabow and the rest of the bullpen are though, this is a move of the most bone-headed proportions.

Almost as mystifying is the fact that Mt. Zambrano didn’t spew volcanic lava all over New York City upon hearing the news. In Zambrano’s own words, “Like Arnold Schwarzenegger says, ‘I’ll be back.’”

I sure hope so, but Lou is saying the move may not be temporary. 2008 first round pick Andrew Cashner has punched out 25 hitters in 17 innings at Double A Tennessee, and has the 98-MPH fastball and 88-MPH slider that would fit the 8th inning like a glove. After posting a 3.39 ERA in Double A last year, and with a 3.07 ERA in 137 minor league innings, calling up Cashner would seem to be a much more logical and much last drastic move than turning the team’s supposed “ace” into a reliever.

Piniella said that Zambrano will be ready to come out of the bullpen starting Friday. Never a dull moment with this team, as they aimlessly wander through the season with no sense of direction at all, lost in Lou’s madness.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Carlos Marmol is...

The Magic Man!

Marmol K's two to close out a Cubs win on Friday, he now has 5 and 1/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts to (this is the best part) two walks on the young season.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Washed Out at The Empty Bottle - 4/5/10

Walking into The Empty Bottle for the first time is an experience that should illicit a smile, as it dawns on you that this is almost an exact replica of the tiny, grimy bar that you would frequent every so often in college, and while that doesn't make it a great place to grab a drink, it sure makes it one hell of a nice place to watch live music. $1.50 PBR flowed like milk at an FFA convention and even with your back up to the bar, the intimate setting puts the viewer right in the midst of the action. You couldn't get away from the music if you wanted to.

And with Washed Out playing, who in their right mind would want to?

Ernest Greene (Washed Out) opened his set with some body shakers, and while the bulk of it was unreleased material, the songs were crowd pleasers as the bass felt as if it wanted to break free from the speakers and beat itself into the ground. This was a very good thing. Heavy bass, mixing with a thick layer of haze over the vocals made listening to actual lyrics impossible, but created a vibe that would carry over for the rest of the show. Greene’s unbridled energy for his music infected the crowd and grew as the show progressed. After the mood was established, Greene exited, saying he would be back to play the rest of his set with Small Black (who was actually headlining the show) as the backing band.

Small Black was an impressive mix of bass, drums and enthusiasm. The keyboardist and main vocalist shared the singing duties, with the lead vocalist twisting some knobs every so often. The music was more electronic than I had imagined, hearing only a couple of songs prior to the show, but it was an entertaining if not original sound and I was grooving along with the rest of the crowd. It did, however, leave me longing for Washed Out to come back on stage. The early Washed Out set was good, but it wasn't what I came to see. Once Greene took the stage with Small Black a new energy filled the small, dark room as the familiar sounds of the Life of Leisure EP came to life.

Straight out of the gate, one could tell the disarming "Hold Out" was going to be different than the preceding songs. The menacing bass line was heard (and felt) loud and clear. There was also a noticeable change in the way the crowd was reacting to the music, as if caught in a trance, while earlier it was just one big party. Small Black had a lot to do with this, as the bell-ringing guitar echoing throughout "Hold Out" is essential to the song’s attraction. While the euphoria that shot straight to my brain upon hearing the opening to the next track, “You’ll See It,” was sustained throughout the song, it seemed clear to me that “Hold Out” was the highlight of the show.

The most well received song was unsurprisingly Washed Out's most popular, "Feel It All Around," and it did not disappoint. As the opening salvo of bass vibrated up and down my spine, the crowd let out a roar of approval that dissolved into a sustained groove, captivated by the pure, chill essence of the song. The departure from dance-inducing bass to a stoning sense of calm was a chance to relax and soak in the surroundings. As the set drew to a close, Greene joined in on an exuberant version of Small Black's "Despicable Dogs," which he had remixed last year for a split EP (get the remix here, thank me later).

Overall the show more than met any expectations I had going into it. The venue was perfect, the bass and overall sound was cranked way up, and the bands seemed to have endless supplies of energy. The set arrangement was interesting but worked surprisingly well, how can you pass up a delicious double dosage of Washed Out? I couldn't help but feel some of the members of Small Black weren't thrilled to have their set cut short, but the way they played did not reflect this. Without Small Black, this concert would not have been nearly as good. As the two bands combined the show turned from guys turning knobs and cranking bass into a full-fledged crowd pleasing force, with both Small Black and Washed Out proving they are bands to take notice of.