Wednesday, June 28, 2006

News bits

My favorite format, bullet points:
  • Ozzie Guillen, manager of the White Sox, has come under scrutiny for calling Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jay Mariotti a "[bleeping] fag." Guillen claimed that the word has a different meaning in Venezuela, but I honestly doubt that that's true. Guillen issued an apology that wasn't actually an apology, refusing to apologize to Mariotti himself but actually "apologizing" (he added the quotes with his fingers) to anyone he might have offended. This is an unfortunate by-product of the macho/locker room sports world, a world that thrives on being inclusive. But being inclusive means, by definition, excluding outsiders, and most sports players consider homosexuals as such. It's unfortunate that Ozzie chose that word. I've seen Mariotti on ESPN as one of the commentators on the Around the Horn program. If there's a more arrogant and obnoxious sportswriter on television, I haven't seen them. He's a boorish ass who desperately needs to be taken down a few pegs. But this wasn't the way to do it.
  • Phillies pitcher Brett Myers was arrested for spousal abuse for allegedly hitting his wife -- in public. One would expect some sort of apology from Myers and some disciplinary action from the Phillies, but neither really took place. analyst Jayson Stark explains here how Myers and the Phillies completely screwed up the situation. The team is within its rights to at least discipline Myers somehow, especially as the alleged abuse took place, improbably enough, on a public street. Today, Myers agreed to take a "personal leave of absence" from the club through the All-Star Break, the first sign that either he or the team was treating the situation with gravity. Of course, when you say "leave of absence," I hear "the Phillies are praying this just blows over."
  • Roger Clemens has returned and, although he hasn't pitched too poorly, has lost his first two starts. It's too early to say, certainly, but I always contended that the Astros were way too far out of the playoff picture to plunk down the cash for Clemens. Especially since he just can't be nearly as good as he was last year (1.87 ERA).
  • is a wonderful place. In one day, you can find dueling articles by two of their commentators. Tim Kurkjian wrote an article about the intangibles surrounding certain players. The same day, Rob Neyer wrote an article asserting that intangibles are, by and large, bunk. I agree with Neyer, of course, and I especially enjoyed when he quoted Sandy Koufax (a fairly intelligent fellow), who said: "In the end, it all comes down to talent. You can talk all you want about intangibles, I just don't know what that means. Talent makes winners, not intangibles. Can nice guys win? Sure, nice guys can win -- if they're nice guys with a lot of talent. Nice guys with a little talent finish fourth, and nice guys with no talent finish last."
  • Today, the Dodgers traded starting pitcher Jae Seo, catching prospect Dioner Navarro, and a PTBNL to the Devil Rays for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall. Tomorrow, the Dodgers are expected to announce another deal: Danys Baez and Andy LaRoche to the Mets for a light fixture.
    Seriously, could the Dodgers have picked two less desirable players in baseball? Granted, neither are expensive, but there's nothing about either Hendrickson or Hall that makes you want them on your team. Hendrickson is a very tall man with a career 5.01 ERA and a pretty shabby 324 career K's in 646.1 career IP. He's 32 years old and is just a hair above "replacement level," i.e. a readily available low-level player. Jae Seo, the pitcher they're giving up, is 29 years old with a 4.13 career ERA. Granted, his strikeout ratio isn't very promising either, but he's been a much more successful major league pitcher than Hendrickson.
    The same could be said of Hall. I don't know what progress Navarro is making as a catching prospect, but I do know that he's a better solution -- long-term, short-term, any-term -- to your catching problems. Toby Hall is one of those players who is just good enough not to be released. He's like Hendrickson -- just a hair above replacement level. He's so bad that most teams wouldn't want him, but the Devil Rays will take him, because he's better than Joe Nobody. Hall's career hitting numbers are 262/298/382. Those are just plain bad, even for a catcher. Hall is not a bad defensive catcher, but he's certainly not making up for his weak bat. He's also 30 years old. Navarro is 22. So the Dodgers decided they wanted a catcher who was much older and much worse? Because although Navarro has only had 258 major league at-bats, he's hit 279/361/380, significantly better than Hall. And any catcher who is able to make the major leagues at the age of 22 is invaluable.
    This is one of those just plain stupid trades. One of those trades where you figure the GM must have sat down and said, "Okay, we need to make this team worse." It's not like the trade was an attempt to save money -- Seo is much cheaper than Hendrickson ($1.95 million), and the Dodgers have Navarro under arbitration (i.e. a huge bargain) for his first 6 major league seasons. Toby Hall is making $2.25 million and is a free agent at the end of this year. Navarro is making $330,000 and won't reach free agency until 2010 (or thereabouts).
    What dunderheads are running the Dodgers nowadays?
  • So what do the standings look like nowadays? Let's take a quick look: The Mets are totally running away with the NL East (11.5 game lead as of 6/27). I expected the Mets to be about this good, but I also expected the Braves and Phillies to put up more of a fight. But the Phillies can't get any kind of pitching, and the Braves are about to see their dynasty end, sadly enough. They've lost 7 of their last 10 and just today managed to move into at least a last-place tie with Washington (15 games back). As Rob Neyer pointed out in a previous article, the Braves have never been more than (I believe) 5 games back at the break. The great Atlanta comeback just ain't coming; it's too late, they're too far back, and there's no Fred McGriff to trade for. As the Braves fall, so do the Marlins rise, moving into respectability faster than they had any right to (they're now 34-40 and certainly not going to lose 110 games, as some predicted). But the Mets are tops in the NL in runs per game (5.33) and they've got enough pitching to sail into the postseason.
    In the NL Central, it's the good-but-not-great Cardinals leading the division. The Cardinals have more holes than Swiss Cheese, but they also have enough outstanding players to win the division; I see them as favorites. Yes, they've now lost 8 straight, but who in the division is going to beat them? The arrival of the Milwaukee Brewers will apparently have to wait a year, since they lead the NL in runs allowed. When I said that pitching could be a problem for Milwaukee, I was making a gross understatement. Their 414 runs allowed are tied for 2nd in all of baseball (behind Baltimore), and they're not even in the American League!
    Yes, the Reds are the Wild Card, but I refuse to just accept that they are for real. Yes, their offense is real (3rd in the league in runs scored), but their pitching? Their Pythagorean W-L record is 38-39, compared to a real-life 41-36. So I see the Reds returning to mediocrity sooner rather than later (although it must be said that, for the Reds, mediocrity is an improvement). The Astros are very far past their prime, and the Pirates have now lost 12 straight games and are (not to my surprise) the team with the worst record in the NL (26-52). They now actually have a worse record than the Royals (ouch).
    And then there's the Cubs. The Cubs are done, finished, stick the fork in. I said coming into the season that it would take a miracle to make them contenders, and I predicted something like 77 wins for them. Well, they've been even worse than that. Prior and Wood have injury trouble (no surprise), Derrek Lee misses 8 weeks (BIG surprise), and even Aramis Ramirez and Juan Pierre slump. It all exposes the fact that Dusty Baker has no idea how runs are created and may be partly or even mostly responsible for some injuries due to overworking his pitching staff. Expect him to get the boot after the season, if not before. Oh, and get this -- every team in baseball has outscored the Cubs -- even the Pirates and Royals.
    The NL West isn't as bad as it was last year, but there's still nothing that great about it. All 5 teams are within 3.5 games of each other, which is almost nothing in June. It's up to someone to make some good trades or at least turn around their present team if they want to win. I'm sticking with the Dodgers.
    The Red Sox have won 10 straight games and now have a 3.5 game lead in the AL East. The Yankees are suffering from a weakened outfield and a fairly crummy starting rotation, but are still absolutely in the race, especially once they start getting injured people back. The Blue Jays are a good team (42-34), but I still don't think they're a great team. They'll still be in the race come September, but I seriously doubt they'll see October. Leo Mazzone has failed to turn around the worst pitching staff in baseball in Baltimore, and their hitting has regressed to the point that they're looking like a pretty lost franchise. Newsflash: the Devil Rays suck.
    The Chicago White Sox have the second-best record in baseball. Not such a surprise. I sang Kenny Williams' praises for what he did in the off-season and it's bearing fruit -- most likely a return trip to October. But the White Sox are in 2nd place behind the team with the best record in baseball -- the Detroit Tigers.
    I'll pause for a while and contemplate what the f*** I just said.
    Yes, the Tigers have the best record in baseball (53-25). They've allowed nearly 30 fewer runs than any 0ther team in baseball -- and they're in the American League! Their offense has been good enough to get them by, with contributors like Shelton, Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez and Guillen. Are they this good? I don't think so. But they still might make the postseason, because their pitching staff is actually quite good (witness the brilliance of Verlander and Zumaya). The Twins are a disappointment (41-35), but they're not such a bad team; they're stuck in the wrong division. They should improve. Everything's going wrong for Cleveland (35-41), and I just don't see them doing anything this year, despite my predictions to the contrary. The Royals suck, but at least they're no longer sucking on a historical level. They're on pace to win 54 games and lose 108, which is pretty awful, but it's actually better than what they were looking at in April.
    The Oakland A's are in first place, but they haven't dominated -- for various reasons. I don't see anyone else winning that division, especially given the A's knack for taking over in the second half. The Rangers and Mariners are much improved, with neither team sporting a losing record. The Angels are in last, at 35-42. I predicted that they were a worse team than last year, but didn't think it would be quite so bad. They could improve, but they're in a much stronger division and stand no realistic chance of making it back to the postseason this year.
  • On a more serious note, ESPN reporter Peter Gammons is recovering in ICU after suffering a brain aneurysm. says that he is out of surgery and resting. Peter is the best reporter in baseball today and was inducted into the Sportswriters wing of the Hall of Fame in 2005. I don't always agree with his opinions, but it must be said that Peter was one mainstream sportswriter whose use of statistical analysis truly helped its acceptance. Our thoughts are with him.

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