Dayn Perry Doesn't Have What It Takes...

...and neither do the Cubs.

Perry wrote this article yesterday, claiming the Cubs are the better team headed into 2008.  I think it's probably too early to make any such claim, especially since the Brewers are at least one (reasonably big) move away from finalizing the starting rotation and opening-day lineup.

Even once that move is made, the Cubs and Brewers will look awfully close on paper.  Let's take a look at how Perry came to his half-baked conclusion.

First, he looks at the starting lineups, position-by-position.  He gives the nod to the Brewers at 5 of the 8 spots--all except LF (Soriano vs. LaGrynn), catcher, and RF, which he calls a push.  If I disagree at all, it's that this lame method doesn't do justice to the Cubs.  Soriano is WAY better than whoever the Brewers will throw out there in LF, while Fielder and Braun aren't overwhelmingly superior to D-Lee and A-Ram.  There's an awful lot of close calls here, and finishing your analysis with "5-2-1" is an easy, but misleading, way to get your column done.

I do agree up to this point, though: the Crew has the edge on offense.  It isn't a big one, though.

Next, the starting rotations.  Perry doesn't break it down spot by spot, instead just giving this summary:

Potentially, this is a big edge for the Cubs. The back end of the Chicago rotation is problematic, but Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill make for a strong front three. ...If Sheets is unable to throw 200 innings -- something he hasn't done since 2004 -- then give a big edge to the Cubs.

If not, then...what?  Let's take a closer look.

  1. Zambrano vs. Sheets: Give the edge to Carlos for durability reasons.  This is a tough one to call, because, as Perry notes, is Sheets is healthy, he could very well be the better of the two.

  2. Gallardo vs. Hill: Another tough call: Gallardo has the potential to be more dominant, but we haven't seen him over the course of a season.  Call it a push.

  3. Suppan vs. Lilly: A push.  A Cubs fan will show up and strongly dispute this, despite not understanding the idea of FIP, in 3, 2, 1...

  4. Bush vs. Marquis: last year, Marquis was better; the year before, it was Bush; Bush is younger; I'd say this is a push.

  5. Dempster vs. Capuano: Capuano is probably the better pitcher, despite his struggles last year.  If Cappy is traded and Vargas gets this spot, it's a push or a slight edge to the Cubs.

  6. Vargas/Villanueva/Parra vs. Marshall/???: Big edge to the Brewers.  It's a safe bet that both of these teams will need 20+ starts from guys outside of their front 5, and the Brewers have at least one guy who would crack a whole lot of MLB rotations.

This is definitely not a big edge to the Cubs.  Nearly everyone routinely underestimates the importance of rotation depth.  Doug Melvin does not.  Sheets's fragility is a problem, but I don't know that there are any teams is baseball better prepared to deal with the loss of their ace than the Brewers.

It's impossible to give a final verdict here until Melvin makes a move with the pitching staff, but if Capuano stays, I give the edge to the Crew.

Finally, the bullpen.  Again, Perry sticks with a one-paragraph summary:

The Cubs ranked second in the NL in bullpen ERA last season, while the Brewers ranked ninth. That obvious advantage for the Cubs is even greater now that Francisco Cordero is in Cincinnati. Eric Gagne may wind up as an effective closer for the Brewers, but given his struggles in Boston last season he's something less than a known quantity going forward. On the other hand, David Riske was one of the best value signings of the winter. The Cubs, meanwhile, have an excellent middle-relief corps, and Kerry Wood figures to give them the dominating, shutdown closer they've lacked for so long. Consider this another edge for Chicago.

I know Dayn is a smart guy, but smart people write stupid paragraphs sometimes.  Please, please tell me why Gagne is "less than a known quantity going forward" and Wood is "the dominating, shutdown closer they've lacked for so long."  I understand that Gagne isn't a sure thing, but if we're questioning him, I'd say Wood deserves just as much skepticism.  At the very least, Kerry is no guarantee for six months of health.

The Cubs did, in fact, have a more effective pen than the Crew did last year, but there are few comparisons less appropriate to the subject at hand.  Marmol/Wuertz/Howry/Eyre is a nice group, sure, but the Brewers pen they'll stack up against this year is (duh!) barely related to their colleagues last year.  I'd say Riske = Howry, Shouse > Eyre, Wuertz = either Torres or Mota, and Marmol is a clear win over Turnbow.  If Marmol stays the closer, I'd say he's even with Gagne, and Wood is much less likely to be a clear win over Turnbow.

The wild card is dependent on the Brewers rotation--if Mota gets canned to make room for both Villanueva and Parra, that's an unusually deep pen for us.  If Mota doesn't get canned, that probably means he's pitching pretty well.

All in all, I'm willing to concede a slight advantage to the Cubs bullpen, but I wouldn't put money on it.

All the other details are just quibbling.  Defense is important, and the Cubs are better at it, but I think most of the offensive position comparisons stand even considering defense.  (Maybe Braun loses to A-Ram, maybe Fielder vs. Lee is a push.)  The bench isn't going to make much of a difference.  I'm disappointed that Perry dignified managers with as many paragraphs as the starting rotation.

Long story short, these are two pretty evenly-matched teams.  The Brewers have the higher upside, with the possibility of a full season from Sheets, a few promising young pitchers, and a younger offense.  With that higher upside comes a little more risk, though the team is reasonably well-equipped to withstand a loss or two in the rotation.

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