Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I had a steak once that was non-tendered ...

  • The Cubs re-signed Kerry Wood to a one-year contract for $4.2 million. Rumor has it that Wood turned down multi-year offers from other teams to take the Cubs' offer. I see this as a good move for Chicago. Upon this announcement, the word was that the Cubs would move erstwhile closer Ryan Dempster back into the rotation and make Wood their closer. I'd lean more toward Carlos Marmol as closer, but then the Cubs could do what they did last year and have Marmol pitch a lot of high-leverage innings in the 7th and 8th and leave Wood the plum job of closer. That way, even if Wood does get injured, it won't affect Marmol's ability to handle the tough stuff.
    The Cubs also won the bidding for Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome's contract is for 4 years and $48 mil. -- about Hideki Matsui money. That seems pretty reasonable to me in today's market -- according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system, Fukudome should manage to hit about 300/400/500 with the Cubs. Essentially, he's Bobby Abreu. The most important thing is that high OBP; Fukudome takes a lot of pitches and works the count for walks, which makes him especially valuable to the Cubs, who don't have anybody else (except maybe Derrek Lee) who does that. I agree that with the Fukudome signing, the Cubs now look like the favorites in the NL Central.
  • Blockbuster trade #1: the Twins sent Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. It's not often that two big prospects get swapped for each other; especially when one (Garza) is a pitcher and another (Young) is a hitter.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mr. Rickey

Another day goes by, as the sports media pokes major holes in the Mitchell Report (oddly enough, Sports Illustrated and other mainstream sites seem much more willing to let the Mitchell Report fly as is).
For this blog, though, I am here to talk about the past. The distant past. In particular, a certain Hall-of-Fame executive named Branch Rickey.
I have the greatest admiration for Branch Rickey both for what he accomplished on the field and off. He built up dynasties wherever he went (except Pittsburgh, but nobody's perfect), proved an innovator in new baseball knowledge, technology, and methodology, and most importantly, was the man on the inside to bring down baseball's color barrier.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


If you live in the Western Hemisphere, you're probably aware that the Mitchell Report came out today. ESPN devoted some 6 hours of coverage to the press conferences of George Mitchell, Bud Selig, and Don Fehr today, interspersed with hotheaded murmurmings of a whole flock of talking heads.
I'm going to save my final assessment of the Mitchell Report until I've had a chance to read the thing (420 pages, but handily available in PDF format). But, inspired by Howard Bryant's thought-provoking column, I'm going to respond to the report's release not with more statements of fact, or alleged fact -- we've had our fill of that today -- but with questions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Hot Stove (I hate that term)

The offseason has begun in earnest. Let's start with the deals that have been signed, and then we'll talk about those that have just been loosely agreed upon, and those that are just "in the works."

  • The Phillies signed middle reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year contract extension for $12 million. The money doesn't bother me that much, although the Phils should really be looking at Romero's track record. The problem is a 3-year deal. Considering the fact that most relievers are essentially replaceable, and considering the fact that this knowledge is not a secret among baseball boardrooms, why are marginal relievers getting multi-year deals -- especially for more than two years? I can maybe understand extending an excellent reliever beyond his expiration date, but why would you do so with someone who is less than excellent? I guess some things people just never learn.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Potential Free Agents

First Base:
Sean Casey
Tony Clark
Jeff Conine
Shea Hillenbrand
Eric Hinske
Ryan Klesko
Doug Mientkiewicz
Olmedo Saenz
Mark Sweeney
Mike Sweeney

Friday, November 16, 2007

Preseason Picks revisited

Well, the time has come to look back at my picks and selections from the 2007 postseason and see how I did.

Here's what I predicted for the NL EAST:

New York (93-69), 91-95 win range
Philadelphia* (87-75), 85-89 win range
Florida (82-80), 80-84 win range
Atlanta (80-82), 78-82 win range
Washington (68-94), 66-70 win range

And here's what really happened:

Awards Wrap-up

BEST NL OFFENSE: Philadelphia Phillies
Even taking into account their friendly ballpark, the Phillies had the best offensive attack in the NL. If they had a third baseman worth a damn, their infield would have been historically great, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins all having fine years. The outfield wasn't great, but it was solid enough, thanks in large part to a career year by center fielder Aaron Rowand (309/374/515). Other than third base, catcher was the Phillies' biggest problem, but they finally ended up having Carlos Ruiz (259/340/396) as their everyday starter, and he wasn't too bad.
All in all, the Phillies ranked 1st in the NL in Runs Scored (892), first in Equivalent Average (.276), and first in slugging percentage (.458). The 2nd-place team in runs scored was Colorado with 860, and no one else had more than 810. But this exaggerates the Phillies' real level of quality. Looking at EQA, the Phillies were just slightly better than the Mets (.272) and the Marlins (.270), two teams whose park effects dampen their raw offensive totals.

2nd place: New York, 3rd place: Florida

BEST AL OFFENSE: New York Yankees

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A-Rod and Barry

Well, this isn't what I was expecting. It looks like Alex Rodriguez has definitely come to a preliminary agreement with the Yankees on a 10-year, $275 million contract. This is basically the same offer the Yankees extended to A-Rod in the days before he opted out of his contract, except it's actually less -- the Yankees have subtracted the money they would have gotten from the Rangers as part of the old contract. So for all intents and purposes, A-Rod will be returning to the Yankees next year and will be a Yankee for the foreseeable future.
The Yankees negotiated this contract directly with A-Rod -- the Steinbrothers refused to negotiate with Scott Boras.
There are a lot of implications here, and to discuss them, I'll whip out my bullets:

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Awards 2007

Earlier today, Ryan Braun and Dustin Pedroia were named the 2007 NL and AL Rookies of the Year. Do I agree with these picks? How do I feel about the other candidates? Read on to find out!:

American League MVP: Alex Rodriguez
There's really no comparison. A-Rod hit 314/422/645 in over 700 plate appearances while playing an adequate third base (although the latter is debatable). He sported a .338 EQA and led the league with 96.7 VORP. Here's how he compares to the rest of the league (bold indicates league leader):

Friday, November 09, 2007

Offseason news

There's a lot of news, so let's categorize.


  • A new report has come out listing former Giants third baseman Matt Wiliams, among others, as having received steroids and/or other PEDs. Maybe we can finally, finally admit that the good guys used PEDs, too. And instead of throwing a sportswriter hissy-fit and sulking and pouting in public, let's just accept that our melodramatic, overwraught attempts to cast the PED scandal in black and white terms is infinitely inaccurate.
  • George Mitchell has set this Saturday (tomorrow) as the deadline for any new evidence or information to include in the Mitchell Report. My guess is that this means we're going to get the report before Christmas. Ho, ho, freakin' ho.
  • This brings me to my next point . . .

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pirate Shi*

Buried in one of Buster Olney's blogs was a reference to a story by Rob Biertempfel in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The story is about the Pirates' search for a new manager, and it includes some comments by team president Frank Coonelly in front of the Sewickley Senior Men's Club. Coonelly made some comments about the new executive staff and the new direction the Pirates were taking. Then, he went on to another topic. I'll let Biertempfel explain:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Anticlimax

The Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies in 4 games, their second series sweep in past the 4 years. Now the question is what will happen in Boston now that their underdog status is dead and gone. What will replace it? How will the historic behaviors and attitudes of New England sports fans change now that the central narrative of their favorite baseball team has been rendered obsolete?
I think the glory days of Boston fandom (somewhere between 2003 and the present) are over and done. As the Red Sox become the new Yankees, their nationwide fanbase, built upon the David .vs. Goliath myth, will begin to fade. The fire of the core New England fanbase, on the other hand, may subside somewhat, but will not be going away anytime soon. But the Red Sox' national (and international) following may be in jeopardy. As the central narrative of the team changes, the myth/legend that drew so many nationwide fans in the first place will disappear. This may not be the end of the world, but it may be bad news for the team's revenues, which may be cresting after several years of obscene success.
I'm not on the ground in New England to measure the energy of the Red Sox nation firsthand. But I wonder if the truly magical allure of the Red Sox -- which has existed in some form for 50 years, give or take -- has reached its peak. While there is every reason to believe that the Red Sox will be a juggernaut franchise for years to come, I think it's worth noting that in the future, our image of the Red Sox will always be different. And it didn't start when they reversed the curse in 2004 -- it started when they slowly and methodically demolished a lesser team in October. That, my friends, is what the Yankees do, and if the Sox continue to perform like this in October (and there's every reason to believe that they will), they will indeed be the New Yankees.

In other news:

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Reflecting on the Sox' annihilation of the Rockies, here's a very insightful quote from Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan (excerpted from Jayson Stark's column about the game):

"For me, patience is not necessarily walking," said Magadan. "Patience at the plate is waiting for your pitch to hit. And the byproduct of that can be a walk. But a lot of times, you're going to hit in a lot of hitters' counts. These guys have a real good idea of what they're looking for, and they will be stubborn and wait till they get that pitch.
"They're going to make the pitcher throw three tough pitches to get them out. And when you've got to make three quality pitchers to get hitters out, it's tough to grind and get through the lineup. Every guy is seeing five, six, seven, eight pitches. And then boom ... one swing of the bat. It makes it tough."

World Series preview

I know, I know -- it's unfair to send in your World Series predictions after Game 1; especially when Game 1 is an absolute rout. We were following the game during breaks at rehearsal, and at one point, Boston was up 4-1. The cast is mostly rooting for the Rockies, and while I don't have an active rooting interest, I'm backing Boston, since I think they're the better team (more on this later). One of the Colorado fans bet that the Rockies would tie it up in the later innings. I looked right at him and said, "I'll bet that Boston scores 10." They scored 13, actually, and romped to a 13-1 victory.
Jeff Francis took the loss and just judging from the box score, it was a typical Boston dismantling. They worked him to 100 pitches by the 5th inning and got 6 runs off of him. Then they got to knock around the Rockies' bullpen and soften it up for future games. Josh Beckett, on the other hand, gets treated with kid gloves so that he'll be fresh as a daisy in Game 5 -- if there is a Game 5.
Which brings me thus:

Starting Pitching

Friday, October 19, 2007


As some of you may have heard, Joe Torre declined the Yankees' offer of a 1-year deal to return as Yankees manager. The deal, which Torre referred to as an "insult," was for about $5 million, a pretty big pay cut from Torre's estimated $7 million salary in 2007. There were some performances bonuses that could have raised the deal to $8 million, but these were all tied to postseason performance. And there was a possibility of a 2008 option that could vest -- but only if the Yankees won the pennant in 2008. Torre, sensibly, decided not to take a big pay cut and stay in a job his bosses (GM Brian Cashman excepted) don't want him for.

It seems that the Yankees gave Torre such a low-ball offer in an attempt to deflect criticism for his departure. If they had merely fired him, they would be the villains. But if the headline reads, "Torre rejects Yankees' contract offer," then the heat would presumably be on Torre. This kind of thing happens often, where a company doesn't really want to fire someone, so they try to badger them into quitting to save face. Only this particular ploy was unsuccessful. All of the big-time analysts I've heard weigh in on the issue (Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Tom Verducci) immediately blamed the Yankees and excoriated them for such a shady move. Any attempt to transfer blame from ownership to Joe Torre has failed horribly.

What will the Yankees do next?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Citybeat response

This wasn't the first time I've locked horns with Cincinnati's Citybeat sports columnist Bill Peterson. Peterson's take on baseball is both old-fashioned and over-simplified, but I felt that he outdid himself in this week's edition of the Cincinnati alternative newsweekly. Peterson offered a flawed, skewed, and misleading defense of the Reds' hiring of Dusty Baker. Now, I often disagree with Peterson, but as I said, I think he outdid himself with inaccuracies and oversimplifications in the article linked above. So I sat down (somewhat fuming) and typed out a letter to the editor at Citybeat in response. (I should note that I have had one of my letters published in Citybeat back in 2004. That too was a response to a Peterson column. There, he stated that the only difference between the Reds and the Cardinals -- well on their way to 105 wins -- were a few relief pitchers. I blew a gasket.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Boss has left the building?

  • According to a report in the New York Post, George Steinbrenner has essentially given over day-to-day control of the Yankees to his sons, Hank and Hal. After The Boss went public with his displeasure with Joe Torre, there were some questions raised about the true extent of the Boss' decision-making power in the Yankee hierarchy these days. Those questions gained some legitimacy when the Yankees did in fact lose to the Indians, but it did not result in the immediate firing of Joe Torre. Torre may indeed be on the way out, but both sides are in talks right now, which is not what Steinbrenner indicated would happen.
    If Steinbrenner's days as the true power of the Yankees are over, it will indeed be the end of an era. It wasn't always easy, but Steinbrenner's run as principal owner of the Yankees saw the team reemerge as the most successful franchise in sports. He took home 7 World Championships during his tenure as owner. A lot of the team's success may have come in spite of him (for example, Brian Cashman's emphasis on the team's youth movement), but it must be said that Steinbrenner's agressiveness and his embrace of the free agent market (while most teams were still in denial) were instrumental in reestablishing the Yankees brand. The team is in fine shape and will survive the transfer of power, but it's worth noting what a huge effect Steinbrenner had on the New York sports world and especially on the game of baseball.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LCS Predictions

With an improbable win over the Yankees, the Indians move on to their first ALCS since 1998. I came into this game highly suspicious of Paul Byrd, but then my predictions haven't been working out lately, anyhow. Byrd wasn't brilliant, but he kept baseball's best offense to 2 runs in 5 innings and got the win. The Indians, meanwhile, knocked out Chein-Ming Wang early and kept on knocking homers.
When I saw Joe Borowski warming up in the bullpen before the 9th, I groaned and said, "Oh, no!" The announcers referenced the last time Borowski pitched at Yankee Stadium, on April 19, when he blew a save in grand fashion and lost the game on an A-Rod walkoff home run. I remember that one vividly; I was there. I like Chip Caray as an announcer, but right on cue, he talked about how important it was to stay with what brought you to the dance, or some other worn cliche. Borowski is "your guy," and if you don't stay with him, you're sending a message to your team. That may be true, but it's also true that Borowski sucks, is a borderline closer, and is the last guy in the Indians bullpen I would send up to face Jeter, Abreu, and A-Rod. The message Wedge should be sending to his team is, "I want to win this game." You'd think that would go without saying, but not in baseball. Keeping a guy in his defined role is what a manager does, even if it's amazingly destructive to the team's chances of winning. Anyone in the Indians clubhouse who thinks that keeping Joe Borowski happy is more important than winning the ALDS should get their head in the game.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Well, that was quick. Both of my picks to win the NLDS were demolished in 3-0 sweeps, as both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks sealed the deal yesterday, going on to the NLCS. For the Rockies, it's the first postseason series win in franchise history (and an impressive one at that), and for the D-Backs it's a pretty impressive return to glory, having missed the playoffs since 2002. It's prety unique for both halves of the LDS to end up as 3-0 sweeps. The only other time that's happened was in the 1996 NLDS (Braves swept Dodgers, Cards swept Padres) and again in the 1997 ALDS (Braves over Astros, Marlins over Giants). It's never happened in the American League, although this year could be the first. I'll wait until later to do my ALCS/NLCS predictions, but if things keep going the way they are, I won't have to wait long.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Short takes

Well, so far, the NLDS is making me look like a complete fool. I picked the Phillies to win, and now the Rockies have taken a 2-0 lead heading into Coors Field. It looks like Colorado will win the first postseason series in franchise history. Here's a trivia question: Name the 2 other MLB teams that have never won a postseason series? (Answer at the bottom).
And out in Arizona, the D-Backs not only won behind Brandon Webb in Game 1(which was understandable), they've taken an 8-4 lead, knocking Ted Lilly out of the game in Game 2. The Cubs at least will be heading back to Wrigley for the next two games, but still you never want to be down 0-2 in a playoff series. And if they do lose Game 2 (which is in the 6th now), they'll be up a creek, because they'll have to beat Brandon Webb again in Game 5 even if they do win both games in Chicago.
I must admit that I'm amazed at the second-guessing that ensued after Lou Pineilla pulled Carlos Zambrano from Game 1. This is just insanity and misplaced anger; baseball fans should learn to accept a loss without finding people to blame (and boy, is Lou getting roasted).
The move didn't work out, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Zambrano hasn't thrown a lot of pitches, but he is Carlos Freakin' Zambrano; you never know when he's going to lose it and give up some walks and homers (he led the league in bases on balls). Carlos Marmol has been brilliant this year, and he's a guy you can rely on.
I gained a great deal of respect for Lou when I read this snippet of conversation, taken from Rob Neyer's blog:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Playoff Predictions


Rockies .vs. Phillies
A lot of this comes down to home-field advantage as the Rockies have played and hit much worse away from Coors Field than at home, even accounting for park effects. The Rockies' offense isn't quite as good as Coors Field makes it look, but by the same token, their pitching isn't as bad, either. The Rockies have much better depth both in the bullpen and in the starting rotation, whereas the Phillies' rotation is Cole Hamels and several guys who shouldn't be pitching in a fly-ball park.
Still, I can't get past the home-field advantage and the Cole Hamels advantage. The Phillies have the best offense in the league, and playing three times in their home park with an ace that the Rockies don't have is enough of an edge for me. I predict a lot of offense, but still some close games where the bullpens play a big part. If the Rockies can keep the Phillies' offense quiet, they might be able to pull one out against the likes of Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.
Prediction: Phillies in 5
Cubs .vs. Diamondbacks

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rockies 9, Padres 8


I don't know if tonight's one-game playoff will go down as one of the most memorable in history, but it should. The Wild Card isn't glamorous, and neither are the Padres and Rockies, but tonight was an incredibly exciting game for a number of reasons.

I must say that I was in rehearsal this evening and didn't join the game until the 8th inning, when it was tied 6-6. Amazingly enough, it stayed tied into the 13th. Both bullpens did a pretty impressive job of keeping the runs off the board. If Heath Bell is an unlikely hero, Matt Herges is even more unlikely, but he threw 3 scoreless innings none the less.
I knew it couldn't go on forever, and when I saw Jorge Julio stroll to the mound in the 13th, I had the feeling that this might be it. Julio, who was as wild as you'd expect, walked Brian Giles and then fell behind Scott Hairston. He then grooved one to Hairston, who knocked it out of the park, giving the Padres an 8-6 lead. The Colorado faithful went silent, and I figured it was over. (The guy who caught the ball actually doubled 0ver in pain when he did, even though it didn't touch his stomach). Julio gave up a single to Chase Headley and then was removed.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A great day . . . for parity

Today was a great day to be a baseball fan, no doubt. There was excitement all across the National League, as two playoff spots were pursued by four teams. The American League was sewed up a while ago -- it should be Red Sox/Angels and Indians/Yankees in the ALDS -- but the National League came into this weekend with no teams having clinched a postseason berth. The D-Backs and Cubs clinched a spot on Friday, and they will face each other in the NLDS. But the NL East and NL Wild Card came down to today and, amazingly enough, only one race was settled.
The Mets got blistered by the lowly Marlins and lost 8-1, with Tom Glavine getting knocked out of the box in the 1st inning. So the Mets had to hope for the Phillies to lose, which would result in a tie and a one-game playoff tomorrow (it actually could have been even more complicated; if both teams had won today, there was a possible 4-way tie with the Rockies and Padres for 2 playoff spots. I don't even want to contemplate what that would result in; there's never even been a 3-way tie for a postseason spot before, let alone a 4-way tie for two spots).
Instead, the Phillies routed the Nationals and clinched the NL East, their first postseason berth since 1993. The Phillies were 7 games back with just two weeks left in the season and somehow managed to come back -- perhaps the most amazing comeback in baseball history. Which, conversely, makes it one of the worst collapses in history for the Mets, right up with the '64 Phillies, '51 Dodgers, and '95 Angels. The borough of Queens might spontaneously explode with anger pretty soon, so I expect ownership to throw some sacrifical lambs to the crowd (Willie Randolph, first of all) to prevent an armed uprising.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pending Options

Let's have a look at the players who still have options pending for the 2008 season and see what we think of them:

First Base
Kevin Millar, Baltimore Orioles
2008 Age: 36
2008 Option: $2.75 million (guaranteed with 475 PAs in '07)
Millar's option has already vested, as he's hit 252/363/421 this year. It's not so hot for a first baseman, but the Orioles are desperate, and $2.75 million isn't bad for that kind of offense, even if it's not up to par for the position.
Second Base
Mark Ellis, Oakland Athletics
2008 Age: 31
2008 Option: $5 mil. club option
Ellis is hitting 274/336/438 this year and is still one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. What the A's do here depends on how far they go in their quest to rebuild. If they're really going all scorched-earth on us, then they could pick up Ellis's option and trade him. They'd probably get a decent return, too, considering the free agent class of 2Bs.
Marcus Giles, San Diego Padres
2008 Age: 30
2008 Option: $4 mil. club option

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Home Stretch

There's a lot to be excited about as we head for the last 10 games of the regular season. The AL playoff field is pretty much established: Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Angels. Although, as you may have heard, the first two teams on that list have been engaging in a life-or-death struggle simply to determine who gets to face which of the latter two teams.
The above-linked article compares the Red Sox situation to that of the '78 team that blew a comfortable lead to the Yankees and then lost it all in a one-game playoff. In a sense, the comparison is valid; the '07 Sox had a quite comfortable lead in the AL East and have seen it dwindle to 1.5 games with 9 games remaining (the Yanks have 10 to play).
But in the realistic sense, this is nothing like '78. The AL East race is an overblown battle of collective egos in New England. It has basically no bearing on the postseason. In '78, the team that lost the race went home in October. This year, the team that loses this particular race will be the Wild Card rather than the AL East Champion. And that is absolutely no big deal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jim Thome

Jim Thome recently hit his 500th career home run, as you may have heard. Since he's reached this milestone, there's been some discussion as to whether or not Jim Thome is a Hall-of-Famer. From what I've heard, Thome isn't any kind of lock for Cooperstown; players from his era have to do more than hit 500 HR to merit consideration.
So let's take a look at Thome and see if we can come to our own consensus, shall we?

Let's start with the numbers and see what we can see. Thome is 37 years old and in the middle of his 17th big-league season. (* indicates numbers are through 2006. dt indicates Davenport Translations)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL West

Before I get to the AL West, a few observations about some baseball games I'm watching on this lazy Saturday afternoon:

  • The Pirates just beat the Brewers 7-4. This leaves the Brewers just 1/2 game ahead of the Cubs atop the NL Central. The NL Central race between the Cubs and Brewers looks like it's going right down to the wire. Luckily, the Cubs finish up their season in Cincinnati, so (if it's not sold out) I might get the opportunity to see some history made at the GABP.
    The Pirates telecasts are very odd. They have a lot of product placements, but the most puzzling one by far is the Etch-a-Sketch renderings of the players as they come up to bat. Does this mean that most of the Pirates' audience is 5 years old? It would help explain all the empty seats at PNC Park -- I think they actually ran out of people to show in the crowd shots.
    I'll be doing another entry soon, weighing in with my opinions and predictions about the various division races. Although it's getting clearer and clearer who's going to the postseason, and there aren't a lot of really fascinating races left.
  • The White Sox are leading the Indians 5-1 after five innings, beating up on Jake Westbrook. I don't worry about the Indians, who have a pretty safe lead in the AL Central. Their only competition is Detroit, who will be without Jeremy Bonderman now.
  • The Royals are beating the Twins 4-0. Boy, the Twins were one of my big misses in my preseason predictions. And Gil Meche is pitching a pretty nifty game. I must admit that Meche's contract hasn't been as disastrous as I anticipated, but I stand by my opinion that the deal will be a poor one. It's great that Meche is having such a good year, but will it really continue?
And now, on to the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels (85-59)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL Central

  • The New York Daily News is reporting that Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel received a year's supply of HGH from Signature Pharmacy in Florida. This is part of a large-scale steroids/HGH bust involving doctors and pharmacists from New York to Florida. A number of other athletes have been implicated with the sketchy practices of Signature.
    I'm not going to have burst a blood vessel and call for blood tests, a la Buster Olney. I think Jayson Stark offered the most reasoned response to the Ankiel story. The most important thing to remember is that HGH was not prohibited at the time Ankiel received his shipments (circa 2004). MLB may try to find some way to slap Ankiel on the wrist, but without more evidence, there's no way any punishment would survive an appeal. Nor should it. Whatever we feel personally about the HGH story (and the related story concerning Troy Glaus), there is nothing yet to merit any punitive action by the MLB.
  • The Pirates have fired GM Dave Littlefield. In other news, word has finally been relayed to the captain of the Titanic that he has been relieved of his duties.
Cleveland Indians (81-60)
My Prediction: 94-68
On Current Pace: 93-69

Saturday, September 01, 2007

State of the MLB Union . . . AL East

If I may ...
  • It looks like Cecil Cooper will stay on as Astros manager after this season, but the position of GM remains open for the moment. I have to say, if Astros owner Drayton McLane wanted to create some scapegoats by getting rid of Phil Garner and Tim Purpura, the move has backfired. Since the firings took place, McLane himself has been the one to get flamed in the media, and very few people are optimistic about the chances of the next GM to serve under the meddlesome McLane.
  • It's getting to be quite an exciting time for a baseball fan, as competitive balance rages on, especially in the NL, where nobody's sure of anything anymore. So hold on to your uniforms, and let's get started.
The AL East has been exciting, but as Rob Neyer pointed out today, it's an excitement that doesn't extend far beyond the northeast. Both the Red Sox and Yankees have really strong odds of making the postseason, so the only real drama is who wins the division and who wins the Wild Card. So unless you're a diehard fan of one of these teams, the excitement has to be tempered.
Still, there's a lot of good baseball to play, and there are still some very curious storylines to be played out in Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay.

Boston Red Sox (80-55)
My Prediction: 91-71
On Current Pace: 96-66

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Had No Idea: The Hitters (Pt. 4)

A few quick notes before we start:

  • The Astros recently fired manager Phil Garner and GM Tim Purpura both on the same day. I was going to devote an entire entry to this, but Jayson Stark's excellent article makes most the same points I would have made. Although I wasn't particularly a fan of Garner or Purpura, the problem here (as Stark points out) goes much deeper than the manager and GM, and the new hires will face most of the same problems as before. And a lot of the blame goes to owner Drayton McLane.
  • As to the Rangers' 30-3 victory over the Orioles: according to espn.com, the NFL's Baltimore Ravens haven't allowed 30 points in a game since 2005.
Reggie Smith (1966-1982)
(Career 287/366/489; 2,020 H; 314 HR; 1 Gold Glove; 7 All-Star teams)
This would be the second-most famous Reggie of his era, and unfortunately, that's about all he's remembered for. Reggie was a good all-around player for a number of winning teams, but he doesn't have one memorable moment or any flashy counting stats. What he was was a darn good player for quite some time, and that's well worth remembering.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Had No Idea: The Hitters (Pt. 3)

Brett Butler (1981-1997)
(Career 290/377/376, 2,375 H; 558 SB; 1-time All-Star)
Butler doesn't fit into the general timeline of player's that I'm working with right now, but that's just because I forgot about him. I know, it's ironic that I would forget about a player to put in my entry of forgotten players. Ha ha.
Actually, I've been reading a couple books lately. One is Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders; actually I'm re-reading it, it's one of the best and most accessible baseball books of the past few years. The other book I'm working on is Baseball Prospectus' new tome, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, about the closest pennant races. In both books, Butler's name came up. In Neyer's book, he's mentioned as part of the dreadful trade that sent Len Barker to the Braves. In the BP book, he's mentioned as part of the Indians' abortive run at the postseason in 1984. I said to myself, "You know, nobody really talks about Brett Butler anymore." Then I finally put two and two together and included him in this series.

What's New

I apologize if the font size and/or line spacing looks off in some of my previous blogs. I'm trying to correct this, but it's hard because what I see before I publish a post and what ends up on my blog have been very different lately.
And with that, here's the latest updates in my baseball world:
  • I recently caved in and subscribed to MLB.TV for the month of August (their monthly rate isn't too bad). It's not as good as the Extra Innings package, but it's a chance to see a lot of baseball in the heat of the pennant race (which is especially important, since my TV is on the fritz).
    My biggest problem with MLB.TV is the blackout restrictions. I knew going in that all of the Cincinnati games would be blacked out. But I can pick up those games on the radio (with Marty Brennaman), so that's not a big deal.
    The other problem is that with MLB.TV it's not as easy to switch between games. On TV, of course, you just change channels. But with the internet, of course, you have to wait a good deal longer. And then sometimes you'll wait a minute to connect to a game and find out it's in a commercial. But then I have that problem on TV, too; no matter how many games I'm watching, it seems like there's always a moment where they are all in commercial.
    What I usually will do is pick three or four games to alternate between. I'll pick the Braves first and then any game with postseason implications or really interesting players. I usually wouldn't have Twins .vs. Rangers high on my list, but Johan Santana is pitching today, and so that one's in my rotation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

State of the Baseball Union: NL West

The NL West has proven, thus far, to be a really exciting race. It's doubly exciting in that these are teams that are fairly young and setting up rivalries and races that should last for a while. The Giants aside, this is a pretty competitive division, and while I would give certain clubs the edge, you have to consider this a good example of competitive balance.

Arizona Diamondbacks (68-53)
My Prediction: 85-77
On Current Pace: 91-71

The Diamondbacks have, as of Wednesday's games, out-performed their Pythagorean prediction (58-63) by ten games. In terms of runs scored and allowed, they should be in 4th place, 1/2 game out of 5th (last). Instead, they've got a three game lead ahead of some darn good teams.

Will their luck continue to hold? It's impossible to say, but I wouldn't bet on them staying so lucky. That said, a team's Pythagorean record isn't everything, and even if it is, they just need to stay lucky for about 6 weeks and they're good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

State of the Baseball Union: NL Central

Milwaukee Brewers (62-57)
My Prediction: 83-79, 2nd place

At Current Pace: 84-78

The Brewers have experienced their fair share of ups and downs so far this season. They got off to a great start and then slowed down, allowing the Cubs to catch up with them. They've really stumbled as of late, but fortunately for them so have the Cubs (who've lost 7 of 10). The Brewers now possess a 1.5 game lead in the NL Central, and it's become a real neck-and-neck race with Chicago.

So what chance do the Brewers have of making their first postseason in 25 years? I'll give them the edge over the Cubs, but it's such a small edge that it may prove irrelevant over the 7 weeks left in the season.

Offensively, the Brewers have scored 568 runs, tops in the Central and 5th in the NL. I think they can keep up this pace; they've got good depth offensively and have several players due to bounce back from a slow first half. They'll be getting full-time play from Rookie of the Year-to-be Ryan Braun (348/392/666), as well as Corey Hart (276/340/505) and J.J. Hardy (274/326/468). They should also get better production from Rickie Weeks, who struggled mightily in the first half (209/336/358). And then, of course, there's Prince Fielder (289/383/614), who isn't going anywhere.

I'd be more concerned with the pitching staff. The team's 4.42 ERA is 9th in the league, and is notably worse than the Cubs (4.01). The Cubs are also working with a stronger defense (.710 DER to the Brewers' .687, which ranks 13th in the NL).

Milwaukee's bullpen is actually doing fine. Francisco Cordero is still doing fine as closer, and the Brewers have gotten good work out of Derrick Turnbow, Brian Shouse, Matt Wise, and trade acquisition Scott Linebrink. Each of those five has an ERA above the league average.

No, the Brewer's big problem is their rotation. They've gotten great work from ace Ben Sheets, but injuries have again limited his performance to just 119.1 IP. He's on the DL now, but should be coming off soon. The sooner the better, because the Brewers' best starter after him has been young Yovani Gallardo (4.20 ERA in 8 starts). Gallardo, the team's top prospect, has been a godsend even though he's not been as dominant as hoped. Because after Sheets and Gallardo, here are the pitchers who have started the most games for Milwaukee:

Jeff Suppan: 25 starts, 4.90 ERA, 54:80 BB:K ratio in 150.2 IP

Dave Bush: 22 starts, 5.07 ERA, 136.2 IP, 33:102 BB:K ratio but 19 HR allowed

Claudio Vargas: 21 starts, 4.87 ERA, 118.1 IP

Chris Capuano: 21 starts, 4.96 ERA, 114.1 IP, 46:99 BB:K ratio

Without Sheets, the Brewers are in serious trouble, even if their offense is good. The best-case scenario is that Sheets comes back and pitches well, Gallardo improves, and Capuano starts pitching m0re like his previous self (4.33 career ERA). If they can do that, then they can survive the low-end garbage pitching of Suppan and Vargas at the back of the rotation.

It's a tough call to make, but I'm going to go out on a limb and pick the Brewers to hold on and win the Central. They've got their share of problems, yes, but then so do the Cubs . . .

Chicago Cubs (60-58)
My Prediction: 78-84

At Current Pace: 82-80

The Cubs, after a first half that saw everything go wrong, are starting to turn things around and play to their potential. It's really surprising how many things are going right for the Cubs. Although, as you can see from my prediction, I was pessimistic about their chances to begin with.

But really, who could have predicted such strong work from all these people:

Mark DeRosa: 288/363/418

Mike Fontenot: (297/347/443)

Ted Lilly: 3.51 ERA, 41:124 BB:K ratio, 151.1 IP

Rich Hill: 3.85 ER, 140.1 IP, 48 BB:K ratio

Carlos Marmol: 1.83 ERA, 22:61 BB:K ratio in 44.1 IP

Jason Marquis: 4.18 ERA, 140 IP (although Marquis' numbers are really a great start followed by a few months of pitching like ... well, himself.)

The Cubs have also gotten strong production from several different relievers (Angel Guzman, Michael Wuertz, etc.), which is one of the biggest improvements in this year's squad, to my mind. Give Lou Pineilla credit for getting creative with job descriptions in the bullpen. He's taken the talent available to him and done a fine job deploying it, with the success of Marmol the best example.

If only the offense were nearly as successful. You'll notice that the only real surprises on the offensive side of the ledger were Mark DeRosa -- who's played more outfield than infield -- and Mike Fontenot, who isn't really that good. Sure, the Cubs have gotten the usual great work from Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, but here's a short list of their offensive disappointments:

Alfonso Soriano: 297/336/511 (no, that's not bad, but it's very disappointing considering his salary and the expectation that he would hit like an MVP at Wrigley)
Ryan Theriot (286/348/367): Theriot's a great guy to have on your roster and is a good emergency fill-in at second, but there's no reason for him to come to bat more than 400 times (416 PAs and counting)
Cliff Floyd (290/366/382): Say goodbye to power. The Cubs entered the season with too many corner outfielders on the roster; why then did they end up moving their second baseman (DeRosa) to right field? It's because Floyd and Jacque Jones (see below) couldn't keep their jobs.
Jacque Jones (265/326/375): This guy shouldn't even be on the club anymore. He should have been traded in the offseason while he still had some value. As it is, he's just dead weight on the roster.
Matt Murton (263/335/391): The good news (relatively speaking) is that Murton is much better than this. And he's also much cheaper than Jones and Floyd.

Cesar Izturis (246/298/304): Thank God the club finally left the Dusty Baker era once and for all. Izturis is horrible, and he's now right where he belongs: Pittsburgh.

The Cubs' inactivity at the trade deadline may seriously come back to haunt them. They've got plenty of players on the roster, yes, and many of them are expensive. But that's doesn't mean that they actually have someone to play catcher or shortstop, and they're still short two outfielders.
As much as things have gone right for the Cubs' pitching staff so far, their lineup has been pretty disappointing. The best plan now would probably be to release Jacque, move Soriano to left, and install Felix Pie in center. Pie hasn't hit well so far this year, but he's not much worse than Floyd and Jones and is at least much cheaper and a good defender. It would also be a good move for the future to get him more at bats at the big-league level.

As for catcher, the best thing would have been to keep Michael Barrett, but I can understand that there were some personality issues there (how extreme they were depends on whom you ask). Without Barrett, they should have just promoted Geovany Soto. He's not great, but he's not bad either (Koyie Hill is bad) and he's cheap. Instead the Cubs made a trade -- premeditated, I assume -- to get one of the worst players in baseball, who also comes with a pretty big salary. Jason Kendall has hit well for the Cubs so far, but don't count on that lasting very long.

If the Cubs do lose the NL Central to the Brewers, it will mainly be their own fault. They've done a very poor job of maximizing production from their lineup, although to be fair, a lot of that is due to the large amount of inefficient dollars being spent on otherwise useless players.

If the Cubs do win the NL Central, it won't be because of Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis or even Ted Lilly. It will be thanks to Lou Pineilla (for removing the shackles of ignorance from the pitching staff's deployment) and the guys who were here to begin with: Lee, Ramirez, Hill, Marmol, and others. If you could find a measure for dollars spent compared to positive effect on the team, this year's Cubs would have to rank as one of the worst ever. The team has improved, yes, but not nearly in proportion to the money spent, and most of the improvement came not from the new players acquired but from a better understanding of the talent they already had.

So even if the Cubs do win the division, it may not exactly be something to be proud of. Because they'll be winning it in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars they spent this offseason.

St. Louis Cardinals (56-60)
My Prediction: 86-76

On Current Pace: 78-84

The Cardinals are fooling themselves if they think they're going to get back into contention this year. They're slowly working their way back to .500 -- and bully for them -- but I can't see them making it past the Cubs and Brewers. The Cardinals just aren't that good.
Their offense is especially weak. The glory years of Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds are over, and the Cards need to get to work about replacing the latter 2/3 of that troika. Rolen and Edmonds are still falling far sheet of even their career averages. And considering their respective salaries, this is very bad for the organization.
After Pujols and Chris Duncan (276/371/522), the Cards haven't gotten consistently good production from anyone. They've gotten some promising work from some part-timers, and this might lead some to believe that the Cards just need to put it all together to succeed. But I'm very dubious.
Assuming that Pujols (1B), Rolen (3B), Duncan (LF) and Edmonds (CF) are in the lineup, who's filling in elsewhere? In the outfield, the Cardinals have gotten decent work from Juan Encarnacion (290/330/440), but even that modest production is above what we'd expect from him. There's also been some promising work done by Brendan Ryan, Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker and, most recently, Rick Ankiel. But what the Cardinals have here is a small group of very good bench players but no one to step up with significant offense, the kind of offense that's needed for a batting order with so many holes.
In the middle infield, the Cards have deployed David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy. Eckstein has been fair, as usual (295/342/358), but Kennedy has been the worst player on the team this year, hitting 219/282/290 in 306 plate appearances! If they'd replaced Kennedy with a halfway decent guy, they'd already be above .500.
And catching is Yadier Molina, whose defense is so good that it almost makes up for his dreadful offense (268/337/318).
The Cardinals' batting order isn't getting any better. I know Cardinals fans are optimists, and there's a lot to get excited about with the promotion of Rick Ankiel to the majors. They rank 11th in the NL in runs scored, and are a lot closer to last than they are to first.

Throughout this whole entry, I haven't even mentioned the St. Louis pitching. That's because they rank 14th in the NL in ERA, behind only Houston and Cincinnati (who hit in more hitter-friendly parks). And they'd be even worse than that if it weren't for the fact that their mediocre bullpen somewhat makes up for their catastrophic starting rotation.
Sorry, but the Cards aren't going anywhere this year, and in any other division, they wouldn't be going anywhere next year either.

Houston Astros (54-65)
My Prediction: 75-87
On Current Pace: 74-88
Carlos Lee is a good hitter, and he's done a wonderful job so far this year (302/356/536). But if there's ever been a free agent signing more irrelevant to a team's postseason chances, I can't think of one. The Astros are a team barren, barren of talent. They're very top-heavy, with legitimate stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, and Lee, but no mid-level players to fill in the gaps. Instead, it's a long drop from the stars to the rest of the roster, which is 5th-place material, easily. By the time the Astros are able to rebuild their roster into something of a contender, Lee will be much older and no longer justifying his salary. That's the real waste of his contract; the fact that it's money that won't mean a damn thing to the team's long-term interests and would have been better off invested in draft picks and scouting.
As it is, the Astros are lucky to have Berkman, Pence, and Lee backed up with unlikely slugger Luke Scott (255/355/507) and Mike Lamb (296/375/478). That means they only have four gaping holes in the lineup (well, five, now that Pence is on the DL).
In the middle infield, the Astros have defensive expert Adam Everett at shortstop, but he's also the team's worst hitter (228/275/316), and that's saying something. At second base, the Astros will be lucky to rid themselves of Craig Biggio (248/285/396); the future Hall-of-Famer is no longer justifying a spot in the lineup, which was evident last year, but oh well. His replacement-in-waiting, Chris Burke, hasn't fared any better (224/304/360).
The Astros still have Brad Ausmus behind the plate, and we can only hope that they've finally run out of sentimental reasons to keep this millstone (233/313/319) around their necks.
Next to Lee and Pence, the Astros need someone else in the outfield. They haven't much luck so far, as they've given over 250 at bats to the dreadful duo of Orlando Palmeiro and Jason Lane.

The sad part isn't how bad the Houston lineup is, it's how predictably bad it was going into the season. Not to mention the fact that it should be worse; Lamb and Scott aren't usually this good.

On the pitching side of the equation, things are equally depressing. Only the Reds and Marlins have allowed more runs and, just like with the offense, this eventuality was not only thoroughly predictable, it's going to be their reality for the near future. Top pitching prospects Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz were traded to the Rockies for Jason Jennings, who's been so awful (6.15 ERA in 16 starts) that the Astros couldn't even trade him away.
Roy Oswalt has been one of the NL's best pitchers (3.32 ERA in 172.2 IP), as advertised. But here's the rest of their rotation:

Jason Jennings: 6.15 ERA, see above
Woody Williams: 5.09 ERA, 41:78 BB:K ratio
Wandy Rodriguez: 4.34 ERA in 139 IP; 41:120 BB:K ratio
Matt Albers: 6.20 ERA in 9 starts

Neither Jennings nor Albers are really this bad, but that's small consolation. Williams is indeed this bad, and league-average pitching is the best you're going to get out of Wandy.
In the bullpen, the story is the continuing yo-yo act by Brad Lidge. Lidge sports a 3.26 ERA, with a 20:66 BB:K ratio in 49.2 IP. Considering their future prospects, it's insane that the Astros haven't traded Lidge by now, especially given the fact that every contending team is always looking for bullpen help. The 'Stros did trade Dan Wheeler, but they didn't get prospects in return; they got a mediocre 29-year-old corner infielder (Ty Wigginton).

The Astros aren't going to be doing much winning this year or next. They do have some hope in prospects such as Pence, but they've let so many positions on the field go to pot that they're now left facing a complete overhaul if they want to compete. It's doubtful that the team will trade big-money guys like Lee or Oswalt (at least not yet), so we're probably left with a couple more years of the team acting like contenders even though we all know they aren't. That's a depressing prospect, especially for a franchise that's been one of the league's best for over ten years now.

Cincinnati Reds: (51-67)
My Prediction: 78-84
On Current Pace: 70-92
The Reds are doing worse than even I predicted. Wow.
Some local sources are still in denial; the Cincinnati weekly Citybeat actually ran a cover story claiming (once again) that all the Reds needed were some relievers. I should point out that Citybeat ran a baseball story with the same gist four years ago, and I wrote back saying that they were deluding themselves (my response was published). It would seem that time had proven me right, but learning from past mistakes isn't high on the list of requirements for sportswriters.
The Reds rank 7th in the NL in runs scored right now, with 553. Considering their ballpark, that's a travesty, and it demolishes the Citybeat argument. The Reds' best hitters have been Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, and Scott Hatteberg, all of whom will be gone sooner rather than later. Fotunately, the Reds do have some A-level hitting prospects, such as Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, but unless they can hold onto Dunn or find some way to replace these guys, it will all just come out even.
The rest of the Reds' order is full of qualified successes. Brandon Phillips has done well (271/317/460), but he's not the All-Star many Cincinnati fans see him as. His unlikely career after failing in Cleveland's farm system is inspiring, just not quite historic. He's done a good job on defense, but he's not the sort of player you can build a franchise around, especially not with that OBP.
Josh Hamilton has been a great success (278/369/541), and there's really not much I can say about him except that he's still probably too good to be true. That's not to say that he won't stick around as a very useful player, but we can't assume that the first 241 plate appearances of his pro career are going to be a representative sample.
Ryan Freel is a heck of a utility player and has become an institution in the Queen City, but I hate to burst your bubble, he's not good enough to start everyday. He can be a great help filling the super-utility role, but he'll be 32 next year and hasn't learned to stop running into walls. As a result, he's played in just 75 games this year and hit an awful 245/308/347.
Edwin Encarnacion has had a terrible year (261/336/371). I've predicted big things for Edwin (well, big as in he'll be a quality everyday player), and it may just be a rationalization, but I wonder if the Reds' total ambivalence toward Edwin and the silly minor league stints aren't hurting him. This is a lot like what happened to Austin Kearns, where the Reds were far too focused on a player's faults and just wouldn't let them do what they do best. And for Edwin, that's (usually) hitting. He's also the only guy on the current lineup who can reliably be expected to be around the next time Cincinnati contends.
The Reds need offense; they especially need offense that they can rely on for the foreseeable future. Combining Bruce and Votto with (hopefully) Encarnacion and Dunn would be a good start, but considering the upper management, I really don't think the Reds are able to accurately determine their problems and issues.

The Reds have one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball; their team ERA of 4.83 is the worst in the NL, and their DER of .677 ranks them 15th in the league in defense (just ahead of Florida).
That ain't good.
The Reds do have a good 1-2-3 starting rotation projected for the near future in Bailey-Harang-Arroyo. The problem this year is that Bailey wasnt quite ready for the majors after all, and Bronson Arroyo fell off a cliff. Arroyo isn't as good as he was last year, when he was one of the best in the league, but I think he's a solid #3, and let's hope (for the Reds' sake) that he is.
After that, the Reds need help. Matt Belisle's move to the rotation has worked out about as well as you'd expect (5.40 ERA in 23 starts), and while Bobby Livingston has done well so far, he's not apt to keep it up. But still, in the scheme of things, having three good starting pitchers for the foreseeable future is a victory for the Reds. And let's not forget Aaron Harang, who is indeed better than people think.
The Reds' bullpen has been a big problem, yes, and luckily this year Wayne Krivsky didn't try to solve it by driving a dump truck out to the Relief Pitchers' Landfill and loading up. The Reds have shown patience with their in-house pitchers and, while things have gone horribly, they haven't yet panicked and made things worked like I expected them to. I wouldn't be averse to seeing them sign a mid-level innings eater to a free agent deal, but they need to avoid the Baltimore Solution of buying out every free agent reliever. And considering this administration's track record with relief pitchers and impatience, that may be exactly what they do. And can you blame them? It would be Citybeat off their backs.

The Reds have some good pieces to put together a contender and may actually be in better shape, long-term, than Houston or even St. Louis. But that requires that the front office uses what talent they have well and does a good job of targeting areas for improvement.

Which likely means that Krivsky & Co. will screw it all up again and get fired. Let's just hope (as Reds fans) that those rumors about Walt Jocketty are true . . .

Pittsburgh Pirates (49-68)
My Prediction: 69-93
On Current Pace: 68-94
I pledged in these entries to discuss major league baseball teams. I've already discussed the 5 major league teams in the NL Central, so I don't see any need to discuss the Pirates.

Have a nice day.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I Had No Idea: The Hitters (Pt. 2)

Will Clark (1986-2000)
(303/384/497, 2,176 H, 284 HR, 6 All-Star Games; 1 Gold Glove)

Will "The Thrill" was not only a very good defensive first baseman but an underrated hitter who put together a very good 15-year career. Will may not be a Hall-of-Famer, but he was a superstar who never got the credit he deserved.
Will was drafted out of Mississippi State by the Giants as the #2 overall pick in the 1985 draft. Will made the majors the following year and hit a home run in his first at-bat. He hit 287/343/444 in 1986 and finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting.
He took a big step forward in '87 (as did the whole league), hitting 308/371/580. The Giants won the division, but lost in the NLCS (Clark hit 360/429/560). Will finished 5th in the NL MVP voting (this was probably a bit much; I've got him about 9th in the league that year. He was the second-most valuable Clark in the NL that year behind Jack of the Cardinals).

I Had No Idea ... The Hitters

One of the really fun things about looking back through baseball history is finding the great stars that you'd never really heard of. I've always been a fan of the underdog, and so it's always fun for me to find an excellent ballplayer I'd never heard of. Either that, or someone I'd heard of but didn't know how good they were.
I decided to dedicate some blog time to these players but wasn't sure how to frame it. I could call them "underrated," but the truth is that many of these guys aren't underrated among knowledgeable fans, they were just underrated by me. Which just goes to show how relative the terms "underrated/overrated" are. So instead, since this is my blog, I'll talk about the players who were a surprise to me.
Starting with modern players and moving backward, here are the guys who surprise me . . .

Gary Sheffield (1988 - )
(297/398/525; 2,504 H; 479 HR; 9 All-Star Games)
I guess I always knew that Gary was great. But it's only in recent years that I've been able to look past his prickly persona and see a true Hall-of-Famer.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


2007 has really been a landmark year for reaching statistical milestones. The end of Hank Aaron's reign as home run king is big enough, but add to that a new member of the 3,000 hit club (Biggio), two new members of the 500 HR club (Frank Thomas, A-Rod) with possibly more to come, and the charter member of the 500 save club (Trevor Hoffman). And Tom Glavine has become the newest member of the 300-win club (and the last for quite a while). With this in mind, let's take a look at these milestones, and see what they mean now and what they mean for the future.

Barry Bonds hits his 756th home run
There's not a whole lot for me to say about Barry's mark that I haven't said before. I certainly can't top what's already been said in almost every media outlet. Instead of revisiting a rant I've gone on before, I'll just say that, compared to his peers, Bonds' greatest accomplishment isn't his home runs, it's his ability to get on base.
Bonds' .445 career OBP is far and away the greatest of his generation. You could argue that it's the greatest of all time; the only other players in the top 20 whose careers lasted past 1960 are Mickey Mantle (.421) and Frank Thomas (.422). And even considering that Bonds played in an offense-heavy environment, that offense was primarily slugging rather than a higher batting average or OBP. Batting averages have actually been falling since WW2, making Bonds' numbers much more impressive when compared to those of John McGraw or Billy Hamilton. The only real challengers to Bonds' title of "greatest real OBP ever" are Ted Williams (.482) and Babe Ruth (.474). Even taking the era into account, it's hard to argue Bonds past Williams. So while Bonds is the best of his era, I guess he's not the best ever.
And he's certainly not the greatest slugger ever. As I said, when you compare Bonds to his contemporaries, his slugging exploits don't compare at all with those of Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth. And it's Ruth, especially, who easily holds the title of greatest slugger ever. He was out-homering entire teams in his day. Ruth hit 714 career home runs and the only player from his era to come close was Jimmie Foxx, with 534. Bonds has 757 HR right now, but there's another player from his era with more than 600 (Sammy Sosa), one who will soon have 600 (Ken Griffey, Jr.) and another who will finish with at least 700 or more barring catastrophe (A-Rod). That's not even including the lesser home run hitters. Here's how the two eras compare (take into account that the book hasn't closed on Bonds' era, with most of the players below still active):

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Birthday at the Ballpark: Reds .vs. Dodgers

Well, it wasn't really my birthday; August 7th was my 26th birthday. Yes, my 26th birthday was also the day when Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record. I was just thrilled. Actually I wasn't watching the game at all -- I was watching Mystery Science Theatre's The Giant Spider Invasion with some friends. It was a lot more enjoyable.

So we set the day after my birthday as the day to go see the Reds. Not only was it $1 hot dog day (a fact which easily won over my friend Chris -- from the previous game -- and my roommate Jonathon), but all non-premium seats were 1/2 price! So we got ourselves some nice seats right down on the infield just past third base. Granted, we were pretty far back, but it was still a bargain at $20 a pop.
First, Jonathon and I had to drive to Newport to pick up Chris. Chris said that he was going to try and convince some more people to come along, but no dice. Apparently -- and I've noticed this before to -- it's hard to get people to join in on a social outing unless there's at least 5 other people involved. Everyone apparently said to Chris, "Well, I can't go. But who's going?" I guess if some really sexy people were going, then they would have changed their minds. Either that or they just want to keep tabs on what everyone's doing. But it was a disappointment that, evidently, Jonathon and I weren't enough to get people out of their houses. Sigh.

Granted, I could understand why people wanted to stay inside. As we were walking up to the ballpark, we passed a bank which showed a temperature reading of 101 degrees. And this was at 6:30 in the evening. It was hoooot and also humid.
But for $1 hot dogs, we made the trek. It was the Reds against the Dodgers, which sounded like a mismatch, although the pitching match-up was promising: Aaron Harang .vs. Chad Billingsley. Two good young starters there. I was also looking forward to getting to see some of the Dodgers' young talent.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Trade deadline deals

I'm sitting here watching the Reds versus the Nationals . . . I'm not sure why. But I intended to follow up with my report on the NL Central, but things have changed so much during the past few days that I'd like to go item-by-item through the transactions made over the past week in chronological order.

July 23
Nationals sign 2B Ronnie Belliard to a 2-year contract extension worth about $3.5 mil.
Now everyone realizes that this is a bad deal; why you would go out of your way to keep a 30-something bad-body middle infielder who can barely hit (his 299/343/425 batting line this season includes some good luck). You can get poor baseball players without signing them to multi-million dollar deals.
The only real upside about this deal is the small dollar amount, so if (when) Belliard does tank, it won't cost the Nats much to dump him. And to be fair, he's at least a somewhat useful player, even if that usefulness is deteriorating.
Don't worry -- this wasn't the worst move the Nats made this week -- not by far.
July 25
Padres trade Scott Linebrink to the Brewers for minor leaguer pitchers Joe Thatcher, Will Inman, and Steve Garrison.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reds Win? An Evening at the Ballpark

I was at the Brewers .vs. Reds game Wednesday night, the 25th. I had a pretty darn good time and thought I'd share the experience with you.
My friend Chris and I have gone to several Reds games together in the past. We usually park on the Kentucky side and walk across the bridge, but this time one of Chris' friends drove us down to the ballpark. On our way in, I spotted the newest miracle on the baseball landscape -- automated ticket machines. We could hardly believe our eyes. We hadn't gotten tickets yet and picked up two upper-deck seats right along the 3rd base line (the upper deck at Great American Ball Park -- GABP -- isn't really as far away as it seems. Sitting there for $19 is a bargain, to me. It's a lot better than old Riverfront Park. Once when I was a kid (sometime in the late 80's) my Dad took my brother and I to an Opening Day game at Riverfront. We sat in the upper deck -- it may have been the very top, or maybe that's just my imagination. A blanket apiece didn't stop us from shivering and losing the feeling in our extremities. But I -- a budding 7-year-old sabermetrician -- still tried to keep score until I just couldn't write anymore. 20 years later and I still keep score at every ballgame.
When we entered, we got our Frank Robinson bobblehead (which doesn't look much like Frank) and headed to the not-so-crowded concession stand near Section 415. Chris thought about getting a $6.25 beer, then saw what size the cup was. Instead he got a Pepsi about twice the size for a dollar less. I realized that I need to start carrying a bag to games, because it's hard to hold a ticket, a scorecard, a full Pepsi, a bobblehead box, and a hot dog without spilling them all over the person in front of you. It took me a few minutes to get settled when we sat down, just in time for the first pitch.

Friday, July 20, 2007

State of the Baseball Union: NL East

My apologies for neglecting the blog. I've been working too hard at the things that do pay me to spend enough time on my hobbies, which really is a shame. I know we're a bit past the halfway point and a week past the All-Star break, but it's never too late to look at the state of things. Let's see how the races are turning out, starting with the National League (stats and standings are as of Friday the 20th.


New York Mets
The Mets are 53-42 and in 1st place, 2.5 games ahead of Atlanta. The Mets are doing about as well as I expected; winning the division, but not as good as last year. But they're going about it the opposite way I expected. All of the noise right now is about the Mets going after a starting pitcher. And while they could use another warm body in the rotation, their pitching has been just fine so far this year. The Mets' 3.89 team ERA is second only to the amazin' Padres' 3.10 mark. So while it would be nice to find someone more reliable than Jorge Sosa for the #5 spot in the rotation (despite Sosa's 3.84 ERA so far), there's no need to panic and pick up a bad contract (Jose Contreras).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Selig Doesn't Get It

If Jason Giambi doesn't cooperate/testify before the George Mitchell steroid investigation, he will almost certainly be suspended by major league baseball.
There are two schools of thought on the Giambi suspension. Many reporters and more morality-minded folks see it as a brave move for Selig to finally bring someone down in the "battle against steroid use." I hate to pick on Buster Olney again, but he is one of the more prominent members of this particular lobby. In his blog, Olney claims that "The finish line for a seeming public relations victory is in sight for commissioner Bud Selig."
There is a second school of thought among the columnists and the more sabermetrically-inclined that such a move would not only be a useless display of confused morality, but would also be counter-productive. Olney doesn't see it as a case of confused morality (at least not that I've seen), but he does address the fact that the commissioner's move may be counter-productive. Viz:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Giambi in the Hotseat

My apologies for neglecting the ol' blog. I recently moved into a new apartment and started new job. So I'm pretty tired and very poor.

If you play baseball in New York, it doesn't take much to say something that sends the baseball world into a frenzy. So when Jason Giambi said this to USA Today, you knew the excrement was headed for the fan:

"I'm probably tested more than anybody else. I'm not hiding anything. That stuff didn't help me hit home runs. I don't care what people say, nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball."
"I was wrong for doing that stuff.
What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, ownership, everybody -- and said, 'We made a mistake.' We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

In response to this uniquely interesting comment, the baseball establishment has proceeded to light a fire under Jason Giambi.
Part of this is at least understandable. Giambi's comments amount to a tacit admission of steroid use, much stronger than his previous, evasive comments. And so there have been several rumors of possible repercussions. The Yankees are rumored to be considering a way to void Giambi's deal. These rumors popped up when Giambi was first implicated by the leaked grand jury testimony from San Francisco. The fact that the Yankee execs are even somewhat considering this shows just how much spite they have for Giambi and his salary. And of course, I'm sure that everyone was pissed off at his comments and there's more than a little thirst for vengeance here, I would say.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hancock and alcohol

Last Sunday night, Cardinals relief pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a car accident, when his SUV slammed into the back of a tow truck stopped on the interstate. The Cardinals cancelled their next game, and all of baseball mourned the loss of someone who seemed to be a really nice guy. It was especially hurtful that the accident hit the Cardinals, who still feel the pain of Darryl Kile's sudden death in 2002.
However, from the beginning there were questions as to whether or not Hancock may have been drinking that night. Lab reports came back that Hancock was indeed drunk at the time of the accident, his blood alcohol of .157 level twice the legal limit of .08. The police also reported the following details:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Yankee Stadium: April 19, 2007

I have never been to Yankee Stadium. And since I was planning to visit my brother (who lives in Jersey City), I was determined to make a trip to the stadium. Yankee Stadium will be torn down after the 2008 season, and I simply had to see a game there before it's gone.
Luckily, my brother and I (and two of his friends) were able to get decent tickets to a Thursday afternoon game against the Indians. The scheduled starting pitchers were Faustom Carmona (CLE) and Darrell Rasner (NY). I told my brother to expect a lot of runs scored.
From our seats in the second level right down the right field line, we couldn't really get the full panoramic view of the ballpark. But I could see Monument Park, and the view of new Yankee Stadium next door. Besides, it was a thrill just to be in Yankee Stadium.
The game actually started out pretty quiet in terms of offense. I told my brother that the Yankees were a team that worked pitchers incessantly, and they did give Carmona a very hard time. Unfortunately, they weren't able to turn that into runs scored. Carmona's pitch count ran up, but he still managed to go 6 innings, allowing just 2 earned runs. One run scored in the third on two singles and two stolen bases (Damon and Abreu). The other came on a Jason Giambi solo homer in the 6th. I told my brother that it was highly unlikely that anyone would hit a ball all the way to us in the second deck in right field. But I also said that Giambi was our best bet. He didn't hit the ball all the way to us, but he came close. It reminded me of the homer I saw Giambi hit in Cincinnati during an interleague series a couple years ago. That one was a laser beam that almost went through the right field bleachers.

Monday, April 16, 2007

This blog has been postponed due to weather

First I want to clarify my comments on the Number 42 situation. I want to make clear my appreciation for those wishing to honor Jackie Robinson and those, in and out of baseball, who wish to continue his legacy in a practical way, i.e. for promoting the game in the African-American community. I'm sure that MLB means well with its RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program, but it's hardly sufficient.
For a while now I've been very encouraged by the actions taken by current African-American major leaguers such as C.C. Sabathia, Torii Hunter, and many others who have taken a personal interest in the issue. This can be accomplished by simply providing a strong presence and role model as an African-American representing baseball, but it's also accomplished by working in African-American communities (often their old neighborhoods) to make a real difference. There was an interesting article in this week's ESPN The Magazine interviewing Sabathia, Carl Crawford, and Jimmy Rollins about the issue, its causes, and possible solutions.
I'm saying this because I didn't want my only comments about Jackie Robinson Day to be negative. I'm very passionate about baseball and very passionate about social justice, and here's where the two come together.

Other thoughts about the first two weeks of baseball action:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Number 42

It was announced recently that, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut, a number of major leaguers would be wearing his number 42 on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day. The number was officially retired by all major league teams in 1997, but Commissioner Bud Selig approved this "celebration" of Robinson, and freed the number to any major league player.
This may have been a bit much. At first, it was Ken Griffey, Jr. and Torii Hunter who wanted to wear the number. But it has mushroomed, and now over 150 players will be wearing number 42 on April 15.
Cleveland pitcher C.C. Sabathia was not pleased. "It kind of waters it down," he told USA Today. It's easy to see his frustration. The list of players wearing the number includes almost every African-American player in the majors, including some coaches (Harold Baines) and managers (Willie Randolph). As if that weren't enough, five entire teams -- the Dodgers, Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, and Astros -- will wear the number. (Astute readers have pointed out that the Cardinals and Phillies were the two most vocally anti-Robinson teams when he entered the majors.)
My personal opinion is that it's a noble idea to take Jackie's number, but that this has gone too far. Now it seems as if it's become a quest for good PR, with some teams (the Pirates?!) signing up their players en masse. It's as if baseball thinks it can redeem itself from any taint of racism by wearing a different uniform (rumors that a contrite Don Imus will be wearing number 42 are so far unsubstantiated).
From the player's point of view, it's hard to say no. It sounded a l0t better when the list was limited to prominent African-Americans such as Griffey and Hunter, but then it's not exactly fair to say that only the stars can honor Jackie's legacy. But it also doesn't seem appropriate for it to be a free-for-all.

My solution, to prevent this problem from reoccuring in the future, would be to impose a limit of just one (or two) players from each team to wear the number each year on April 15. This would obviously limit the over-exposure that was so problematic this year. The person could be selected by a team-wide vote, so that it wouldn't just go to the most vocal player or the biggest star (c0aches and managers would be included). It would be on a voluntary basis; teams shouldn't feel like they have to produce a standard-bearer if no one is really worthy of the honor. This would further reduce the over-exposure.

Or, better yet, baseball could go back to enforcing the retiring of Robinson's jersey for good. Because if we can't decide who should and shouldn't be able to wear it, we should just go back to the way it was: no one can wear it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reflections on the opener

Opening Day is here, I'm watching three baseball games, and all is right with the world.
  • The MLB season opened last night with the Mets beating the Cardinals 6-1. Chris Carpenter struggled but didn't seem to be too off. Tom Glavine wasn't perfect, but pitched through his problems and survived to take home career win #291. 9 more wins and he will become the fifth left-hander in history to win 300 games.
  • Tigers starter Kenny Rogers had surgery to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder and will be out until the All-Star Break at least. This isn't the worst of news for Detroit; you can't be surprised when a 42-year-old pitcher goes down with injury. And the Tigers more than most teams can compensate for his loss. Their 1-3 of Bonderman-Verlander-Robertson is still arguably the best in the division. #4 Mark Maroth may not be any kind of sure thing, but the Tigers have several promising guys who can adequately fill the #5 hole. Chad Durbin will get first crack at the job, with uber-prospect Andrew Miller waiting in the wings.
  • A lot has been made of the fact that the superpower Yankees are starting free-agent bust Carl Pavano on opening day. It's not the end of the world, but it does illustrate that the Yankees' starting rotation isn't as strong as they'd like. There are questions surrounding every starter on the staff, not just Pavano. But the Yanks should be able to cobble together a decent bunch out of Wang-Mussina-Pettite-Igawa, and when Phillip Hughes arrives, they should be plenty good enough to win with their lineup.
  • The Tigers removed one of the top names from next year's free agent market by signing shortstop Carlos Guillen to a four-year, $48 million deal. The deal is utterly reasonable, even if Guillen is forced to move to first base. Guillen as a shortstop is worth far more than $12 mil. per year, which should make up for the fact that he may be slightly overpaid as a first baseman. Guillen is especially valuable to the Tigers, who don't have anyone else on the team with his well-rounded offensive skills. Well, except for Gary Sheffield, who's not exactly the rock to build a team around. Good move here.
  • The succession plan for the New York Yankees was called into question recently. With an aging George Steinbrenner nearing the day when he must step away from baseball operations, his successor was supposed to be his son-in-law, Steve Swindal. But recently, Steinbrenner's daughter filed for divorce from Swindal, effectively scrapping that plan. There's no immediate crisis at hand; Steinbrenner is delegating power more than ever to team president Randy Levine and GM Brian Cashman. But as with any big business, a plan of succession is important to ensure future stability. We'll have to stay tuned and see who emerges as the new favorite to succeed the Boss.
  • In an utterly surprising move, the Colorado Rockies gave 2-year contract extensions to both GM Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle. Both O'Dowd and Hurdle were considered by many to be on the hot seat to some degree this year, with their jobs very much on the line if the team failed to improve. This move is hard to fathom, as it gives a vote of confidence to two men who honestly haven't earned any such confidence.
  • In a move that no one expected coming into the spring, Mark Prior failed to make the Cubs' roster out of Spring Training. Prior will start the season in Triple-A. Needless to say, he was less than pleased at the news, not even stopping to talk to reporters after the game.
  • With Spring Training over, teams have finalized their roster and made their share of bizarre selections. Every year, teams will make rash decisions based on Spring Training and overestimate the importance of a player's March stats. The prize-winner this year for craziest roster move goes to the Florida Marlins, who selected 22-year-old Alejandro de Aza as their starting center fielder. The Marlins have thus assured themselves that they will be getting the worst production from center field of any NL team yet again. de Aza has only 69 career games above class A in his minor league career. That was last year, when he hit 278/346/374 with Double-A Carolina. Players like this successfully jump to the majors about once every millennium.
    Even worse for the Marlins though, is that de Aza's only competition was Eric Reed and Alex Sanchez. The team's refusal to trade for a real center fielder just goes to show that ownership really doesn't give a damn.
  • This year unfortunately marks the last year of Braves baseball on TBS. From now on, TBS will join FOX and ESPN in airing national games, ending their exclusive relationship with the Braves that's existed since the network became a superstation. It will be hard not to mourn, as the season goes on, the end of an era of great baseball broadcasts that I've enjoyed since I was a kid. One can only hope that TBS will keep the same announcers when they move to a multi-team schedule in 2008.
  • A short list of notable players beginning the season on the DL: Rafael Furcal, (LAD); Eric Gagne, TEX; Freddy Garcia, PHI; Dan Johnson, OAK; Nick Johnson, WSH; Corey Koskie, MIL; Mark Kotsay, OAK; Cliff Lee, CLE; Jon Lieber, PHI; Esteban Loaiza, OAK; Juan Rivera, LAA; Duaner Sanchez, NYM; Freddy Sanchez, PIT; Mike Timlin, BOS; Chien-Ming Wang, NYY

More baseball to come, thank goodness.