I’ve been talking about Tyler Colvin for well over a month, that he should be playing everyday… I haven’t seen one guy that gets better on the bench. Not one. ~ Steve Stone White Sox Television Analyst and former Cy Young Award Winner
The Crosstown Cup was put in place to add some luster to the annual Cubs/White Sox series however, what it has done is show the city’s spurn for BP, who sponsors the cup, and the ongoing feud between Cubs Manager Lou Pinella and Stone regarding the skipper’s handling of 2006 1st Round Pick Tyler Colvin. The argument came to a head yesterday when Pinella went off to media in the home dugout during an interview.
Originally the research started for this article during the week was to be a comparison between Braves phenom Jason Heyward and Colvin thus far, but with the latest twist perhaps a more pointed look into the Cubs is needed as well. Colvin’s spirited style of play has been a lightning rod for fans of an otherwise unemotional, passive appearing team. If you don’t believe me search “Tylermania” on twitter after any hit. It ranks right up there with the “Byrd is the Wyrd” campaign. Combined with Marlon Byrd’s league leading average, Colvin has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal first half on the North side of Chicago. Even as I write this Colvin just had a pinch hit single against the Sox. His second pinch hit in as many games, the first a double.
So the $64,000 question is: Should Tyler Colvin be playing more? Well let’s start by comparing Colvin to the other rookie outfielder in the NL, Heyward. Heyward has really struggled lately especially against lefties has had two performances of 4 or more strikeouts in a game in the last week and hitting just .242 against them on the year. Colvin has been even worse hitting just .176, but with a small sample size of a mere 17 at bats. Heyward leads all rookies with 10 home run, Colvin is 3rd with 6 in less than half of the at bats Heyward has had. Colvin also has a higher average overall (.298 to .267), a higher slugging percentage (.596 to .495) and a higher OPS (.954 to .887). These numbers aren’t saying that Colvin has the skill set or is better than Heyward, but in their rookie seasons the numbers are comparable. The pre-season front-runner for Rookie of the Year isn’t running away from Colvin.
The hard part as Lou Pinella pointed out is finding the time to play Colvin on this roster. The Cubs offense this year has been abysmal at best, but the problems haven’t been with outfielders hitting. The awful season by 3B Aramis Ramirez, now on the DL, and the slump of 1B Derrek Lee, the Cubs 3 and 4 hitters have been a huge issues. Up until the Cubs’ home run barrage at Milwaukee the other day Colvin was 2nd on the team in homers. But let’s look at Colvin in comparison to his outfield counterparts. Out of the five Cubs outfielders (Colvin, Byrd, Kosuke Fukodome, Alfonso Soriano, and Xavier Nady) Colvin ranks 2nd in average behind league leader Byrd, 1st in slugging, and 3rd in on-base percentage behind both Byrd and Fukodome. However, no one in the group has bad numbers. Nady’s are perhaps the worst, but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery last year and has played the least.
There are a few other issues that can’t always be measured by conventional statistics. Defense has been an issue for the Cubs as well, especially the other day in Milwaukee. Fukodome has played an underrated right field. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but unloads the ball quickly, accurately and has held many runners in check. Byrd plays center with a reckless abandon at times which has made him a fan favourite. He works hard and never quits on the ball while taking good routes. However, Alfonso Soriano’s defense has been suspect his whole career and this season is no different. He plays a very timid left field and is slow to react. A lot of balls drop in front of him and anything hit near a wall has just as good of a chance of going off his glove as it has of landing and staying in it and he should never be in the game with a Cubs lead in the 7th or later. Colvin plays a much better left field, but Soriano was signed for his bat.
In addition team speed is something the Cubs sorely lack. They are a slow team that looks old on the field. Soriano has not just been timid in the field. Signed just after a 40 homer 40 steal season in Washington, Cubs fan have seen none of that explosiveness. A series of leg injuries have slowed him down, but he runs the bases like he’s scared. Rarely do you see Soriano go from 1st to 3rd or take off for second. Soriano seems to cruise out of the box rather than bust it to stretch the base hit in the gap. Speed and aggression on the bases has been something Colvin has brought to the park. Granted he’s young and there have been some base running mistakes, but Soriano and Byrd both made one the other day on the same play in Milwaukee. But all in all the Cubs outfielders have played well, so who is out? If Fukodome struggles again as the season moves forward like he has in his first to big league seasons Pinella has to make that switch. Similarly if Soriano shows any sign of injury.
There is also something to what Steve Stone said, young players don’t get better by not playing. Colvin has looked terrible against lefties, but how can you judge this in only 17 at bats over the first two months. Heyward plays everyday in Atlanta and much the same Colvin was a high draft pick for the Cubs. You don’t draft players 13th overall to be a bench player this early in their career. Even ESPN’s scouting analyst and former Toronto Blue Jays special assistant to the general manager Keith Law said, “I’m not a big Tyler Colvin guy, but if I were the Cubs’ GM he would start every game against right-handed pitching.” Colvin has worked hard to put himself in a position to force Pinella’s hand by putting on 25lbs. of muscle in the off-season to make him a better candidate in the corner outfield spots with the added power.
The Cubs have has a rough first half to say the least and with every loss a return to October seems less likely. With that being the case perhaps it’s time to see what the kids can do. 20-year-old Starlin Castro is already up and playing short everyday. Andrew Cashner, the 2008 1st round pick, is in the pen. A youth movement is coming to Chicago with the aging regulars and expiring contracts, mixed with new ownership and maybe it’s about time.