Friday, April 16, 2004

One of the Fan's greatest frustrations is having a lifetime of more baseball knowledge than baseball skill. I've always known a lot about the game. I have to say that I was a pretty darn good little league manager. When I was young, I could field very well and run very well, but I couldn't stop bailing out on a curveball. But I always knew a lot. For example, I know enough about baseball to tell you that the best way to hit a knuckleball is to wait until the last minute and then try to shoot the ball to the opposite field. Pitchers like Tim Wakefield flourish because Major League hitters don't know as much as I do.

Tonight, Tim Wakefield succeeded again to throw his junk because the Yankee hitters couldn't stay back long enough and shoot the ball to the opposite field. If there is any difference in the current Yankee team to the glory years of 1996-2000, it is that those Yankees were much better situational hitters than the current group of superstars. Those Yankees would kill Wakefield. These can't.

Many of you probably played slow pitch softball. The hardest thing about slow pitch softball is waiting for the pitch to get there. But the really good softball hitters wait until the last minute and by concentrating to hit the ball late and shoot it to the opposite field, they end up hitting the ball harder when it goes up the middle or gets pulled. Staying back on that darn slow pitch is hard, but if you force yourself, you can get great results. Hitting the knuckleball is no different. Too bad the current Yankees never played slow pitch softball.

The Marlins finally gave up a run and it's no surprise that their weakest pitcher, Darren Oliver, was the one to do it. Oliver blew two leads and the Marlins lost to the Braves, 5-4. Darren Oliver is the pitching equivalent to Brian Hunter. I look at both players and wonder how they have stayed in baseball for so long by being so marginal. They must be really good Spring Training players.

Although Oliver has a lifetime winning record, he also has a lifetime ERA over 5.00. In his 1341 career innings pitched, he's given up 1512 hits and 563 walks. That means that he has given up 2075 baserunners in those 1341 innings. Yeesh. And yet he is in his eleventh year in the majors. At least he is cheap at $750,000. Not a bad living though for a really mediocre pitcher.

What about Brian Hunter? Hunter is with his eighth team in ten years. He has a lifetime average of .264. But that doesn't tell the mediocrity story. His lifetime OBP is .313, which is really low and even worse is his lifetime slugging percentage: .346. Yeesh. Oh yeah...and he once made twelve errors as a centerfielder. How do you do that? Ten years of successful mediocrity. Only in America.

One of the most overrated aspects of any pitching staff is games won by a team on games with the rotation's fifth starter pitching. Let me demonstrate. Say that in an 162 game season, each of the top four pitchers on the staff are going to get 33 starts and the fifth starter will get 30 (due to rainouts and off days). If your top four are good, like the Yankee, Red Sox, Cubs or A's staffs, they will win sixty percent of their games or 79 games. They won't actually win all those games, but they will keep their teams in the game long enough for the team to win 79 games.

Now say that same team can win only half the games the fifth starter pitches. That brings you up to 94 wins and 94 wins can bring you the division title. If you have no viable fifth starter (like the Yankees right now) and only win twenty-five percent of those fifth starter games, you only have seven or eight more wins and you are a blah 86-76 team that will probably come in third place.

With all that said...maybe Darren Oliver can win half his games and be his bad old self but still be enough to win the Marlins a division title. That might be worth that $750,000 after all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Last night, the Fan wrote about the start the Florida Marlins have had this season. I also extolled the virtues of their pitching performance thus far. And last night's post spoke of the great start by Roger Clemens. The Florida Marlins continued to prove the point tonight and the performance of Dontrelle Willis is worth talking about.

Willis had a terrific rookie season even though he faded late in the summer and into the post-season. When he had a rough Spring Training, the Fan was ready to Mark Fidrych the man. But Willis was brilliant his first start pitching seven and two thirds innings without giving up a run and sure enough, tonight, he has shut out the Expos through the first five innings as the Marlins are leading, 11-0.

But the most fun statistic of Dontrelle's performance is that the pitcher has batted three times tonight and in those three at bats, has a single, a double and a three run homer! Has a pitcher ever hit for the cycle? Willis will not get there as his manager wisely took him out after five successful shutout innings and an eleven run lead.

Even more fun than tonight's hitting statistic for Dontrelle Willis is that Dontrelle also went three for three his first game this season! So, not only is Willis perfect with his ERA after two starts, but his batting average is perfect too! I can just hear Mel Allen somewhere saying: "How about that."

Also off to an excellent start this season is Kevin Brown. Brown won his third straight decision tonight to obtain win number 200 of his career. Of course, the Fan has to mention that all three of Brown's victories have been against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That's the first time since 1951 that a pitcher has won his first three decisions all against the same team. Brown certainly seems to be the horse the Yankees needed to replace Clemens.

Adding another log to the bonfire of opinion that says the Yankees can unfairly buy too many top players, four Yankee pitchers have reached important milestones in their last eight months. Three pitchers have reached their two hundredth win (David Wells, Mussina, Kevin Brown) and, of course, Roger Clemens won his three hundredth game and reached 4000 strikeouts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Don't look now, but it seems that the Florida Marlins were no fluke last year. The Marlins have come out of the gate fast with a 6-1 record and everything seems to be clicking for them: Starting pitching, relief pitching, defense and offense.

The pitching has been phenomenal. The team's ERA after seven games is a pip-squeak-like 1.57. That translates to eleven runs in seven games. And the neat thing is, there isn't a weak ERA in that team list. All of the pitchers have performed to this point. Sure, it's early in the season but eleven runs in seven games with Armando Benitez going five for five in saves is a pretty good reason for optimism.

Pitching goes hand in hand with fielding and the fielding has been solid for this team. The Marlins have only made two errors in seven games. Both errors are by second basemen. That means that the rest of the team is perfect.

Another statistic that shows the pitching performance and the fielding behind it is that only 28% of all the put outs thus far have been made by outfielders. And 39% of the outs have been strikeouts. The Marlins' staff has struck out 63 batters in 63 innings.

And the offense has been hefty as well. The team is batting .287 and even the pitchers are batting .500 so far! Miguel Cabrera is batting over .350 with five homers and eight RBI already. Mike Lowell is batting over .350. Luis Castillo is batting over .350.

This team seems very much for real and if the National League East isn't ready, the Marlins could easily run away with this division by the All Star break.

In an emerging story, Roger Clemens is pitching his second game of the season and has now pitched thirteen innings this season and has given up two hits and no runs. No matter if he holds on to win tonight or not, the man is amazing.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Imagine yourself as a Philadelphia Phillies fan. You go out in the off season and bring in Billy Wagner and Eric Milton. You know the Braves are going to fall off this year. You have a new ballpark. Pat Burrell looks like he is going to hit this year. You have solid starting pitching and solid relief pitching after last year's bullpen disaster. And you start the season 1-6. Ugh!

The fanatical Phillies fans (you can't help the alliterations with this team) booed their team during their home opener today in their new stadium. If this keeps up, it's going to be a very long season in Philadelphia. The problem with this team will not go away until one Larry Bowa goes away.

The Fan has always liked the Phillies. As a Bergen County, New Jersey kid who loved his Yankees, the Fan spent a glorious month every summer in Wildwood-By-The-Sea on the southern tip of New Jersey (exit 4b). The Fan would get down to the beach by eight in the morning and wait for the boys to sing their song: "New York Daily News...Daily News here." All the early box scores would be available along with a lot of news about the Yankees. There was a lot of news about the Mets too, but who cared?

But the New York Daily News didn't have the box scores from the later night games. So at just about eleven-thirty, the next set of boys would be singing a new song: "Phil-a-DELPH-EEA Daily News...Daily News here." The later newspaper would have all the late box scores. It was from that paper that the Fan started to gain an interest in the Phillies and how tough their fans could be.

Mike Schmidt played his first year while on that beach and batted .199 with a thousand strikeouts and the Philadelphia Daily News would scream and wonder why he was playing. The fans booed him mercilessly. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Those memories came back last year with Pat Burrell's travails that never untracked. That's why it's so important to the Fan that Burrell bounce back. And he has so far. But still the Phillies lose.

There was as much anticipation for this year for the Phillies than at any time in a long time. There was a lot of anticipation last year and despite a lot of setbacks, they had a good year. But this year...this year they are supposed to win. All the experts picked them to win. And they are 1-6.

You knew it was going to be a rough start when Jose Mesa saved the first game of the season...for their opponent! Mesa nearly cost the Phillies the playoffs last year in single-handed fashion. The Phillies won their only game the next night with Wagner getting his first save as a Philly. But Mesa shut them down again the third game and the Pirates won two out of three.

They then lost three straight to their new rivals, the Marlins. And lost again today to last year's doormats, the Reds. That made five straight losses where they scored a total of ten runs. Man. The Phillies fans must be going crazy.

This space has railed against Larry Bowa before. Larry Bowa is an ulcer. He is a stress inducer. Players don't play well at this level with stress. Look at what happened last year when the Marlins switched managers mid-stream. The Marlin players started having fun and they started winning. A manager does make that much of a difference and Bowa is the problem here. Scott Rolen would still be in Philadelphia if it wasn't for Bowa. That's all the proof needed to make this argument.

Larry Bowa has created what the Yankees deal with in New York. Watching the Yankees last year, the game isn't fun for them anymore. They HAVE to win and there is no fun. I don't blame Torre for that, but the situation and the expectations has debilitated the Yankees in their last two World Series appearances. And Larry Bowa does that for the Phillies all by himself.

The Phillies can still turn it around and win this thing. But they won't as long as Larry Bowa is manager. Is the Fan worried about eating crow for saying this? Nope.

It really is hard on a baseball fan to have to get through NHL playoff season. Tonight, Barry Bonds tied Willie Mays for third place on the all time homerun list. That is historic as the mark of Willie Mays has stood for a long time. Instead of Baseball Tonight being on at 10pm where it belongs, both ESPN and ESPN2 are showing hockey playoff games. Grrrrr! And then if you try to wait out the hockey game to hope to see Sportcenter (without knowing when it will be on), the hockey games go into double-overtime and pushes everything back another hour and a half.

The Fan has an idea: Why don't they just start the hockey game with a fight and then a sudden death format with the first team that scores wining the game. Then we can get Baseball Tonight on where it belongs and Sportcenter where it belongs. The least ESPN could do would be to just run ONE hockey game and leave the other station free for the only show that makes boxscores the second best thing to do as a baseball fan.

No one will ever convince the Fan that Barry Bonds' accomplishments are tainted. The man is purely amazing. Enhancements (which we can thank the steroids flap for rescuing that word from the fringe drug companies) do not aid the bat speed and hand to eye coordination and the ability to hit the one decent pitch Bonds sees a game. Barry Bonds is simply a baseball miracle that the baseball fan will not accept and it's really a shame. We are witnessing history and those that can testify to that history are denying what they are seeing.

This is a once in a lifetime baseball miracle folks. See it for what it is.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The first week of the season is now history and the old game has already been interesting:

- Adam Dunn has four homers and is back from his softmore swoon.
- Kerry Wood hasn't lost this Spring (5-0 in Spring Training and 2-0 in the young season).
- Mike Mussina won his two hundredth game but looks very hittable.
- Tino Martinez looks ressurected in Tampa.
- The Phillies have Pat Burrell back and heading towards Comeback Player of the Year, but can't seem to win.
- Armando Benitez has five saves already for the Marlins, who look like last year was just the beginning.
- The Astros starting pitching looks as good as advertised even with Pettitte hurt.
- The Yankees seem to have a better Bubba than last year.

Golly, the Fan does love his baseball. Steroids, schmeroids. The game is the thing.

Just so this prediction thing can be put to rest, the Fan only has one division left--the American League West. The following is their predicted order of finish along with some predictions of who the teams' leaders should be:

1. The Anaheim Angels. With their off-season acquisitions of Bertolo Colon, Jose Guillen, Kelvim Escobar and Vladimir Guerrero and their exciting and passionate owner, the Angels are the team to beat. On paper, they have a great lineup, some solid starting pitching and Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez are a very good eigth and ninth inning pitchers. The rest of the division have their hands full this season.

Homeruns - Troy Glaus (37)
RBI - Vladimir Guerrero (129)
Average - Adam Kennedy (.322)
Wins - Bartolo Colon (22)
Career Year - Adam Kennedy (Kennedy becomes a star this year)
Record - 98-64
Keys - Can the Angels get 50 wins out of Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey and Aaron Sele? All three are coming off sub-par years after having success in the past. Darin Erstad has had only one year batting over .300 with more than 20 homers and 100+ RBI. Was that a tease? Is he overrated? The Angels have to stay healthy as they don't have much for depth.

2. The Oakland Athletics are only as good as their starters, which are the best in baseball. They have a potentially decent offense with a healthy Jermaine Dye and Eric Chavez along with newcomers, Kielty and Kotsay. But they are thin in depth and any kind of injuries will hurt them dearly. Plus, the Angels are going to be tough to play nineteen times. The Fan can't see the A's higher than second.

Homeruns - Eric Chavez (33)
RBI - Eric Chavez (109)
Average - Bobby Kielty (.319)
Wins - Tim Hudson (23)
Career Year - Bobby Kielty
Record - 90-72
Keys - The A's bullpen is really suspect although new closer, Arthur Rhodes has had a good start. Can Rich Harden be the fourth and final piece of the rotation puzzle? The big three are solid as ever.

3. The Texas Rangers. This is a much better Texas team this year and they have a great manager. The question mark is the same for the Rangers as it has always been: Can they get any pitching? Kenny Rogers always seems to be a gamble (do you get it?) as the number one starter. Chan Ho Park gave the Rangers a lot of hope with a great first start, but stunk up the joint today. Dickey has a lot of up sides. But there is no experienced closer and there could be a lot of 10-8 losses ahead.

Homeruns - Mark Teixeira (34)
RBI - Mark Teixeira (112)
Average - Laynce Nix (.324) A star is born
Wins - Kenny Rogers (17)
Career Year - Laynce Nix
Record - 81-81
Keys - Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Can Soriano get any discipline in his game?

4. The Seattle Mariners. Yes, the mighty Mariners are sinking. You can almost hear them creak. Ichiro Suzuki's average has gone down every year and his strikeout total has gone up. The league is catching up to him. Jamie Moyer is 42. Edgar Martinez is 41. Bret Boone is 34. Cather, Dan Wilson, is 34. Jon Olerud is 36. This team is a shadow of what they were and their competition hasn't gotten easier, it's gotten tougher. The Mariners come in last for the first time in years.

Homeruns - Raul Ibanez (26) Therein lies the problem
RBI - Raul Ibanez (88)
Average - Ichiro Suzuki (.307)
Wins - Joel Pineiro (18)
Career Year - Raul Ibanez
Record - 75-87
Keys - What do some of this team's geezers have left?

Other Predictions:
American League:

MVP - Manny Ramirez
Cy Young - Kevin Brown
Rookie of the Year - Erik Bedard: Baltimore Orioles

AL Champion - Boston Red Sox

National League:

MVP - Sammy Sosa
Cy Young - Kerry Wood
Rookie of the Year - Khalil Green - San Diego Padres

NL Champion - Chicago Cubs

World Series - Cubs over the Red Sox in six games.