Texas Rangers v Chicago White Sox

Even if he reaches 500 homers, Adam Dunn is not Hall of Famer

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Adam Dunn has a very good chance to hit 500 home runs in his career. You never can be sure about these things, but he has 457 home runs now, and he’s still clubbing them, and he doesn’t turn 35 until November. With teams not exactly overflowing with DH possibilities, with Dunn’s ability to draw a walk and with his newfound pitching prowess, I suspect he should get enough at-bats to get there.

Then again, my hero Dale Murphy had 396 home runs when he was 35, and he didn’t get to 400.

But let’s assume Dunn does get to 500 home runs. A couple of people were wondering what his Hall of Fame chances would be. And I feel pretty confident in offering this prediction: None. His Hall of Fame chances would be zero. He would have no chance even of staying on the ballot more than one year. I don’t mean this as a knock at all on Dunn, who has been a superb power hitter for his career. I mean this as a knock on Hall of Fame markers like 500 home runs (and 3,000 hits and 300 wins). They are silly.

Let’s start with Dave Kingman. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Kingman was one of the more interesting characters in the game. By “interesting” I of course mean “nasty.” You probably know the story that in Kansas City in 1986 he sent a small pink corsage box up to the press box for Sacramento Bee writer Susan Fornoff. Inside was a small, live rodent. On it was the touching sign: “My name is Sue.”

[MORE: Big Donkey takes the hill in Chicago]

Well, Kingman had been harassing Fornoff because he did not think women should be in the locker room; the live rat apparently was his trump card. Clever. Classy.

We probably should take a moment here to point out just how much sports in America have changed. Think about what would happen if a player did something like that now — sent an actual live rat up to a woman sportswriter as part of a concentrated harassment for her doing a job. Think about this for a minute in the age of Twitter comments blowing up into international incidents.

The A’s fined Kingman $3,000. That’s it. They didn’t release him. They didn’t suspend him. They didn’t even force him to apologize — apparently, he STILL never has apologized. He says it was a practical joke, and you don’t apologize for practical jokes. Yeah. You know that “Ha ha, you’re a woman, you don’t have the right do you job, here’s a rat I’ve named for you” joke … gets them every time at parties.

Anyway, that seems to be the kind of guy Dave Kingman was.*

*Not that this is intended to be a Dave Kingman post but there is an interesting side note. After the 1986 season, nobody wanted Kingman even though he hit 35 home runs. It is utterly unique — no player in baseball history hit 30 or more home runs in their last season. The reason is obvious: If you hit 30-plus home runs in a season, teams want you.

But nobody wanted Kingman. He believes — and with some cause — that he was a victim of owner collusion. That was, indeed, the time when owners colluded to not sign each other’s free agents; the average salary from 1986-87 actually went down, something that had not happened in a long time. I suspect collusion was a possible reason why no other teams went after Kingman.

But why didn’t the A’s re-sign Kingman? Fornoff has written that it is because of the rat incident. She wrote that the A’s new manager, Tony La Russa, DID want Kingman but management, led by Sandy Alderson, overruled him.

[MORE: Rangers enjoyed Dunn’s pitching as much as White Sox]

No matter what kind of guy he was, Kong could mash home runs. Man could he hit home runs. He was 6-foot-6, 210 or so pounds, and he would pull these majestic moon balls that would hang in the sky and then just crash land in the left-field bleachers. He was the pullingest of pull hitters — of the 268 homers he hit that have been officially tracked, 232 went to left field. That led to massive strikeout numbers and absurdly low walk totals and a .236 lifetime batting average. He wasn’t a good hitter (except for a couple of years in Chicago when he decided, for some reason, to be a good hitter). But when he got hold of one, it really was a thing of beauty.

I’ve said before: If Kingman had played his career for the Red Sox, he might have hit 600 homers.

As it was, he hit 442 home runs and this presented a bit of a challenge. Up until Kingman, every single hitter with 400 home runs was elected to the Hall of Fame. There were 20 such players, from Duke Snider (407 homers) to Henry Aaron (755) and they were all either already in the Hall of Fame or (in the case of Yaz, Bench, Reggie, etc.) about to be elected.

This created a bit of a deductive fallacy dilemma:

(1) All men are mortal.

(2) Socrates is a man.

(3) Therfore Socrates is Mortal.

Now:

(1) All 400 home run hitters are in the Hall.

(2) Dave Kingman hit 400 home runs.

(3) Therefore … AAAAAIIIIIEEEEE!!!! Danger!

I can remember quite a lot of mental twisting over this one. What would happen? Kingman were a .236 hitter! He was a terrible and uninterested defender! He sent a rat to a woman reporter! How would the Hall of Fame voters handle this thorny, seemingly impenetrable quandary?

You remember the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when the guy in black comes out with the big sword and he does all of these fancy maneuvers, and it looks like Indiana Jones is in trouble. Then Indy pulls out a gun and shoots the guy.

[MORE: After long wait, Dunn took plan to the mound (CSN Chicago)]

Yeah, here’s how the voters handled the Dave Kingman quandary: They didn’t vote for him. At all. Three out of 430 writers voted for Kingman, a whopping 0.7 percent of the vote, and that was that. Easy.

Not too long ago, it looked like Johnny Damon would get to 3,000 hits. I remember having a huge argument with someone about Damon’s Hall of Fame chances. There are not many bigger Johnny Damon fans in the world than me, but I felt his Hall of Fame chances even if he got to 3,000 hits were only mildly better than Dunn’s or Kingman’s (mildly better because he was a better player than either of them). Yes, 3,000 hits meant automatic entry to the Hall. But that’s because players who got 3,000 hits were widely viewed as great players. Damon was a very good player. Very few saw him as great.

Adam Dunn is one of the great home run hitters in baseball history. He has hit 38 or more homers in a season eight times, which is as many times as Barry Bonds. Dunn had an utterly insane six-year stretch where he hit 40 homers, 40 homers, 40 homers, 40 homers, 38 homers, 38 homers. There’s nothing quite like that brilliant monotony in the baseball record books.

And, unlike Kingman, he has been a walk machine. Seven times he has walked 100 times in a season — twice he led the league. The guy got on base; his .366 on-base percentage is higher than Roberto Clemente’s even though his batting average is 80 points lower.

Still — and I would not have thought this — their wins above replacement are as follows:

Baseball Reference

Kingman: 17.3

Dunn: 16.8

Fangraphs

Kingman: 20.4

Dunn: 23.0

That’s awfully close, despite the 163-point difference in on-base percentage. Why? Because WAR calculates that Dunn is one of the worst fielders in baseball history (maybe THE worst fielder in baseball history) and a pretty terrible baserunner on top of that.

Whether you buy into WAR or not … Adam Dunn isn’t a Hall of Famer. I’ve long felt Dunn was underappreciated because hitting home runs and getting on-base are two extraordinarily difficult and valuable things. But I’ve never thought he was a Hall of Fame baseball player or anything close. That’s just a very, very high bar — even for someone like me who has voted for the maximum of 10 the last few years.

So, yes, it’s fun to count home runs. I hope Dunn hits 500, even though it will inevitably lead to the spate of sad “Oh, 500 home runs used to mean something” stories. But let’s not get silly about this. I’m a huge fan of baseball statistics in all forms, but they should not be considered chains. They don’t MAKE you do anything.

When Jamie Moyer was vaguely threatening the 300-win plateau there was more of this kvetching. What will we do if he wins 300?

Easy. You congratulate him, you take a moment to remember his superb career, and when he comes up for the Hall of Fame you ask the same question that you should ask about any player: Was he one of the greatest to ever play the game? If the answer is yes, you vote yes. If the answer is no, you vote no. And the magic numbers, like magic beans, should get thrown out the window.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.

Reds hire Lou Pinella as a senior advisor to baseball operations

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The Reds announced on Twitter that the club has hired former manager Lou Pinella in a consultant capacity as a senior advisor to baseball operations. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer adds that Pinella will also spend time with the team at spring training.

Pinella, 72, was last seen with the Giants in 2011, also in a consultant capacity, but he spent only the one season there. He has 23 seasons of experience as a manager, with his most recent four coming with the Cubs between 2007-10.

Stick to Sports? NEVER! The Intersectionalist Manifesto

Fans wait for autographs from Atlanta Braves players during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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At Baseball Prospectus on Friday, Rian Watt wrote something which opened my eyes. The article was entitled “What Comes After Sabermetrics.” It was not really about sabermetrics as such. It was about what we do here at HardballTalk and have done for a few years now. And what some others writers I admire have been doing as well. I had no idea until reading Watt’s article, however, that that’s what we were all doing, but we are and I think it’s worth talking explicitly about what that is and why it’s important.

But let me start at the beginning.

Watt starts off talking about what a lot of people have said in the past few years: sabermetrics has gotten stale. Or, since so many great analysts have been hired by teams and since most of the bleeding-edge stuff has moved in-house with clubs, maybe it’s just that sabermetric writing has gotten stale. There’s a sense that all of the big discoveries and insights have been made and that most of what happens in that realm now is niggling around the edges in ways that don’t lend themselves to big, broad engaging writing like Bill James used to do. Or, maybe, to written eviscerations of non-believers like Fire Joe Morgan or Joe Sheehan specialized in back in the day. Which, no matter what you thought of them on the substance, were entertaining reads.

I can’t really opine on the “all the big insights have been made” part. I’m no stathead. I also know well enough about how science and analysis works that to say that there won’t be something groundbreaking tomorrow or next year with any sort of certainty is a fool’s game. Someone with a database may very well revolutionize statistical analysis of baseball tomorrow. No one saw DIPS coming, for example. Voros McCracken is sneaky like that. There might be a major breakthrough on defensive metrics. There probably will be. But it is safe to say, I think, that sabermetrics is now a mature area of study and mature areas of study are in a lot of ways less exciting to lay people. When that big breakthrough on defense happens it will be great, but when people are merely refining established areas of any science, it’s mostly of interest only to the scientists.

So Watt asks: what’s next? What’s the next area of baseball writing that might be vital and might give us new insights or different things to talk about that haven’t been talked about at length — or with serious depth — before? The answer:

I think that a second major paradigm shift is already well underway. It’s being missed, however, and taken for something other than it is, because it’s not about sabermetrics, and it’s not about statistics at all. (How could it be, if those things form the bedrock of the existing paradigm?) It is, instead, about sports within the context of the broader society, and about the renewed humanity of the game.

The best baseball writing I’ve read this year has been about more than baseball. It’s been about politics, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and money, and power, and how they all come together in this game we love. It’s placed the game in its social context, and used it as a lens to talk about ideas that are bigger than the nuts and bolts of a box score or a daily recap. It’s engaged with difficult questions about how to be a fan when players you love are disappointingly flawed and human, and how to be a human being living in an often unjust world.

Watt calls those who do this sort of writing “Intersectionalists.” People who write and talk about the places where the sport and the lives of its participants, its fans and society at large intersect. About the business of baseball, labor relations, the culture of fandom and allegiance, the enjoyment of sports as entertainment and the prioritization of sports in people’s lives. Off-the-field things too.

This is exactly the sort of thing I have found the most interesting and about which I have written most passionately in the past several years. I had no inkling that it was part of any kind of paradigm shift — I have always simply written about what interests me — but having thought about it for the past 24 hours or so, and having thought about all of the baseball writing that I read and the writers I most admire, I think it’s safe to say that it is.

Since Friday, there has been a lot of discussion, some of it angry discussion, about Watt’s article. He has taken to social media to try to clarify what he meant and make clear what he was not saying. I and others have likewise had conversations about it and, not surprisingly, some of them have turned into arguments. That’s sort of inevitable with Big Insights like Watt’s, I suppose.

It’s the sort of thing that calls for some sort of declaration of principles. A manifesto or three. Some carrying on of the conversation beyond its introduction. So let’s do that, shall we? I think Q&A format is the best way to handle it.

Major League Baseball Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre, center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on domestic violence in professional sports. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the panel, says he called for Tuesday's hearing because "until very recently, the leagues' records have not been very good" on the issue. Torre is flanked by Deputy Managing Director for the?National Football League Players' Association Teri Patterson, left, and Counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association Virginia Seitz. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Q: So, is this some sort of repudiation of sabermetrics? Do the statheads and the intersectionalists have to fight now?

A: NO! As Watt notes, intersectionalist writing is not a rejection of sabermetrics, it’s an evolution that builds on what came before. Sabermetrics was a total game-changer that made people fundamentally reevaluate how we look at baseball. To reject old orthodoxy and take a fresh look at what was really going on in the game. Without that splash of cold water snapping us out of a century of baseball cliche and often-faulty conventional wisdom, intersectionalists would never even be able to ask the questions or to discuss the topics we discuss. Instead of taking a fresh look at, say, hitting, intersectionalism takes a fresh look at the athlete as role model. Or the allegedly hard and fast pillars of the culture of the game. Bill James asked “why are RBI so important?” An intersectionalist might ask “why should I care if the batter flipped his bat?” or “why should fans root for a guy just because he plays for their favorite team?” or “should the fact that a player committed a crime change the way we or his team look at him?”

Maybe the best way to think about it is through a somewhat old term: “The Liberal Arts Wing” of sabermetrics.” Former Baseball Prospectus editors Steve Goldman and Christina Kahrl coined that term to talk about the writers at BP as opposed to the number crunchers. I think it has wider applicability to describe people, like me, whose baseball fandom was energized or reenergized by sabermetrics and whose brains are wired that way but who aim our brains at other questions instead of analytics. I’ve often used the phrase “fellow traveller” of sabermetrics. Liberal arts works too.

 

Q: STICK TO SPORTS!

A: NO! That’s exactly what we will not do. And what we have never done here at HBT. The entire point of it is to understand and appreciate that sports are part of the real world, impact the real world and that the real world impacts sports as well. Why not talk about how they do so and what it means, both for sports and the real world? If you really want to be that dude who keeps their sports fandom hermetically sealed and, within their world of sports fandom, sports are everything, go ahead and be that dude. Just know that you’re boring. You’re David Puddy from “Seinfeld,” unironically painting your face at the game and making your friends uncomfortable. You’re the guy who calls in to talk radio and angrily rants about how some player is “stealing money” because he didn’t hit as well as you had hoped. You’re that guy Fox catches on the camera crying at the ballpark when your boys lose. Don’t be that guy. Even if you follow sports for escapism, understand that sports don’t take place in a vacuum. Understand that it is just a ballgame, that you can LOVE the ballgame with every ounce of your being and that we do too, but that the ballgame is not your entire life nor should it really be and that the players are themselves human beings with human failings. Understand that, once you make that realization, it’s interesting to talk about what sports means for life and what life means for sports.

 

Q: But I don’t want politics in my sports writing!

A: First of all, it’s not just politics. It’s sports culture.  It’s players’ lives off the field. It’s uniform upgrades and new ballparks. It’s TV deals and the business of the game. It’s drugs and addiction and punishment. It’s a team’s role in the community and a player’s status as a role model. It’s Billy Bean’s outreach for diversity in the game, Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiatives and the treatment of women as fans by teams in promotions and marketing. Politics comes up sometimes too, but intersectionalism relates to any conceivable aspect of the game, as it in turn relates to the real world in which its participants and its fans actually live.

But you also have to face facts: politics impact sports and sports impact politics. I write about that stuff sometimes. But with all of these issues, it’s still baseball that is the starting point. Baseball and what’s going on with the game that may invoke some political or cultural discussion is the driver, not the shoehorning of politics and culture into a baseball context or using baseball as a pretext for our political hobby horses. But the fact remains: baseball has a labor union and labor politics are relevant. Major League Baseball has a lobbying apparatus with direct contact with Capitol Hill. Major League Baseball is, by its own admission, concerned and interested with expanding outreach to minorities and women. Sometimes, quite often actually, legal and political stuff touches on the game too. The people who run the game contend with that on a daily basis and it directly impacts the product with which you the fan are presented. It’d be foolish for us not to talk about that.

 

Q: Great. So the future of sports writing is political rants, political correctness and Social Justice Warriors telling me that I can’t enjoy anything?

A: Of course not. I’m a liberal dude so you usually know what to expect from me, but there is nothing stopping someone from writing about, say, the value of conservatism in baseball. Indeed, baseball is one of the most conservative institutions there is in many ways and, to the extent it has changed or evolved over the years culturally, that change has been led by commissioners, owners and players, the VAST majority of whom are conservative people. Oh, and they’ve made these changes,  in almost all cases, without intervention of the government. For example, there’s a great case to be made that, for all of Bud Selig’s detractors, he perfectly balanced tradition with “progress” however one wishes to define it and presided over the game as it slowly and deliberately evolved pursuant to a consensus which was built up in the community. That’s kind of the textbook definition of small-c conservatism. There’s also a good argument that, if he had done what more progressive types had demanded of him and made changes just to make changes, it would’ve been a bad thing. Anyone writing about that? Oh wait, this pinko liberal did, but others can too.

Yes, I will grant that many of the most prominent voices in intersectionalist baseball writing are liberal. But they don’t have to be. Social and political issues within the sport, as long as they present themselves organically and aren’t shoehorned in, are open for discussion by everyone. At the moment, yes, there is a good bit of writing out there which comes off as “Freshman social science student has SOMETHING TO SAY!” That discourse is improved and liberal doofuses like me will become less complacent if met with reasoned and respectful pushback from people who don’t share our assumptions. That’s how ALL good discourse works. Indeed, it seems to me that there is a great need for dissenting voices to weigh in NOW lest a certain sort of homogeneousness of opinion sets in and calcifies as the only acceptable form of discourse. In short: if I’m wrong, tell me why! Or, better yet, write a response of your own to it and explain why I’m full of crap. I really am full of crap sometimes.

 

Q: So it’s just now gonna be hot takes and opinion writing? Is actual baseball reporting going to continue to be denigrated the way it has been by some sabermetric types?

A: Not at all. Indeed, there is probably a greater need for good reporting than ever before. Reporting, like opinion, is undergoing its own evolution, after all. Off-the-field stories about players used to be used to explain baseball stuff (i.e. he’s a good guy, so he’s a good player). Such reporting was marginalized or denigrated by some after the rise of sabermetrics, thought of as irrelevant or as mere source-greasing (“The analytics can explain baseball. Why are we talking to Shlabotnik? He doesn’t know what makes him good!”). And to some extent there is some legitimate criticism to be made along those lines. There has also been a well-deserved backlash to it.

If anything, intersectionalism needs more reporting. Maybe fewer game stories and scoops — we’ve gone on at length about the diminished value of such things — but more off-the-field stuff about the athletes as people as opposed to gladiators. Maybe more about the business of the game and things like that. There’s a lot of that in existence already, of course. For starters, good traditional baseball reporters — and off the top of my head I’ll cite Tyler Kepner, Derrick Goold, Andy McCullough, Nick Piecoro, Bill Shaikin, Geoff Baker and many, many others — have always made a point to write stories that go beyond just the Xs and Os. They’re not just checking in with baseball bits, dashed off. Good baseball writing like theirs places baseball in context, describes players as human beings and makes the readers care about the game as it fits in their lives. It’s probably also worth noting that The Players Tribune is doing a lot of this too, delivering to us fresh looks at athletes as human beings. It’s probably the case — and you’ll be shocked to hear me say it — that Murray Chass was doing exactly the sort of reporting I’m talking about here with respect to the business of baseball before most of you were born. Yes, dammit, Murray Chass was an intersectionalist. A lot of old school baseball writers were, even if they were often considered oddballs for being so.

So yes, there have always been people doing this work and doing it well. But we could certainly do with more of it. And, perhaps, from some different sorts of reporters and commentators than those who have done it in the past. More reporters and commentators who question the assumptions of fans, owners, players and league officials rather than defer to them as much as they tend to. More reporters and commentators whose background isn’t necessarily just sports, whose work doesn’t just appear on the sports page and who aren’t necessarily beholden, implicitly or otherwise, to Major League Baseball and the clubs via their access or merely their familiarity and subconscious biases.

Also — and perhaps most importantly — reporters who aren’t so heavily members of the same demographic. There’s no escaping it: there are a lot of white men between the ages of 40 and 60 covering baseball. People with different backgrounds have different perspectives and the entire purpose of intersectionalism in baseball writing is to give us new perspectives. A lot of the sabermetric people were from business and math backgrounds, after all. It took that new look to bring us fresh content. We should strive for greater diversity in baseball writing, not for its own sake, but for the sake of new, interesting work that asks questions which haven’t been asked before and which challenge the assumptions people who look like me or people who see the game only from a press box don’t even realize that they harbor. And, of course, us old white guys can stick around too as long as we appreciate that we do not have anything close to a monopoly on the cultural experience and realize that there is a lot which we try to talk about that, really, we know jack crap about and probably should leave to others who know better.

Children reach to high-five Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez after the pitcher participated an instructional clinic that included a game of wiffle ball at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Seattle. Earlier at the club, Hernandez presented $100,000 in total grants to five Seattle area nonprofits as part of the Major League Baseball Players Association/Major League Baseball Joint Youth Initiative Players Going Home program. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

While I didn’t know it had a name before the other day, baseball intersectionalism is very much the sort of thing which has interested me and animated my writing for many years now. Indeed, I find that the topics which truly inspire me are exactly the things Rian Watt spoke about on Friday and constitute the subject matter of the baseball writing I most admire. Likewise, the negative reaction Watt refers too — the “stick to sports” refrains — are exactly the sort of response I have received from detractors when I write about these topics, a response I’ve never truly understood and which constitutes a request I will not honor. Ever.

We need more of this sort of writing. We need more people asking the questions about sports that only a few of us have been asking and we need different sorts of people from different backgrounds and with different worldviews asking them.

More baseball fans and readers of baseball writing should ask why things are the way they are and whether or not the way things are are the way they should be.

We should be asking what we expect from baseball players and why we expect it in the first place.

We should be asking what role sports should play in our lives and in society as a whole.

We should look at sports through the lens of our real world experiences and real world realities and see if, through the lens of sports, we can’t make some insights about the real world in return.

I love baseball. My life always has been and always will be better for its presence. We must realize, however, that it’s a strong, strong institution that isn’t going anywhere. Our questioning it and its foundations and assumptions will not damage it too greatly. We should not be afraid to challenge it and its leaders and its participants and its fans to examine what, exactly, we talk about when we talk about baseball and what it is we enjoy about it and why. And perhaps, if enough people ask enough questions about the world baseball inhabits, it can even be improved a bit. Even if it’s just around the edges.

Fernando Rodney left a Caribbean Series game with leg tightness

Seattle Mariners closer Fernando Rodney celebrates after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in AL baseball action in Toronto on Saturday May 23, 2015.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, new Padres reliever Fernando Rodney was taken out of a Caribbean Series game on Thursday due to tightness in his leg. It’s unfortunate timing, as the club’s one-year, $1.6 million contract with the right-hander was also finalized on Thursday.

According to MLB.com, Rodney has logged 2 2/3 innings for the Dominican Republic, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Rodney, who turns 39 in March, posted a combined 4.74 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 29 walks across 62 2/3 innings with the Mariners and Cubs this past season. Most of his struggles came with the Mariners, as he compiled a minuscule 0.75 ERA in 12 innings with the Cubs, but pitched in mostly lower-leverage situations.