Saturday, August 08, 2009

Game Picks - Saturday: August 8, 2009

Yesterday in this space, this game picker was complaining about the mediocrity of his recent picks. Staying just above or just below the .500 mark was getting old. What's the old expression? "Be careful what you wish for." Well, yesterday wasn't mediocre at least. It was downright brutally ugly. Wow, was it bad.

But you know what? It's all good. There was some really exciting games. The Yankees and Red Sox played a classic with A-Rod hitting a walk-off in the 15th. There were two more walk-offs around the majors. The Nationals won their sixth straight. The A's won big. The Indians suddenly look like juggernauts and there was exciting baseball everywhere you looked. If the price to pay for that was a bad night picking games, so be it.

Let's see what today brings:

  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Can a team get depressed? The Blue Jays seem depressed. Perhaps a good start from Cecil will help.
  • The Reds over the Giants: Speaking of depressed, the Reds are on a serious slide. But Arroyo is a pro and Barry Zito is due for a clunker.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The Rangers are fighting for their lives and pulled out a win last night. Hamilton hit a homer, which is very good news for Ranger fans.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: Sabathia over Buckholz. Sabathia has to start kicking it in here sooner or later, doesn't he?
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Wainwright has been great (except for his last start).
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: The Marlins got the exciting win last night, but this picker has no confidence in Sean West who gets the start tonight.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Danny Haran ends the Nationals winning streak.
  • The Astros over the Brewers: Two really struggling pitchers in Hampton versus Parra.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: The Twins big move was to pick up Carl Pavano!?
  • The Indians over the White Sox: The Indians start to reap the benefits of the Victor Martinez trade with Masterson starting today.
  • The Royals over the A's: Greinke has to win a game again some time, doesn't he?
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Marquis! That's Rule #2.
  • The Padres over the Mets: Latos has looked good. Parnell is starting for the Mets after being in the bullpen all year.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: Kershaw for the Dodgers versus Kawakami. The Braves always seem to lose when Kawakami pitches.
  • The Mariners over the Bay Rays: Fresh off their dramatic come from behind walk-off last night, Ian Snell continues his restoration project.

Yesterday: 5-10
Week: 37-42
Month: 46-48

Empathy for Smoltz and Giambi

Switching to the first person for a post if that's okay with you? John Smoltz and Jason Giambi were cut by their respective teams today. Both are way beyond their peak and both were trying to start over with new clubs. In Giambi's case, he was trying to resurrect his career with his original team. Once again, it's hard to go home again. The Fan...I...can relate to what they must be feeling.

There comes a point in every life where you just can't do the things you used to be able to do with ease. Both Smoltz and Giambi used to excel and it probably seemed for them at the time that it would always be so. When you are young, life is exponential in possibilities. Energy isn't something you need because you already possess it with innateness. I used to be able to run for miles and I could run like the wind. I could ride my bike with ease for hours on end, well into my thirties. Then something happens and you still feel the same inside, but your mind can't get the response it wants from the body. It makes you doubt. It's little things too. Like a small wall or fence that you used to hop over without thinking. Now, when I see something like that, I hesitate and look for an easier way. I used to spend almost every free moment from early September to the end of October getting wood for the winter. From gathering it in the woods to splitting and stacking. I just knew I could do it and I didn't hesitate.

In 1993, I helped start a tax preparation software company. The founder and I coached little league together and that's how it started. My first desk was a door on six milk crates in his living room. I worked 70, 80 hours a week building that thing and with his smarts and my people skills, that business became a $40 million a year enterprise.

Most of those later years were desk years. Somewhere along the line, I stacked on some weight and stopped stacking wood and stopped running and stopped riding bikes and stopped snowshoeing and stopped doing things for myself. By then, I could pay people to do things for me. Then the founder sold the company. Don't blame him. He got what he wanted out of the thing and he made his money. The company that bought the business offered me a great opportunity to continue with the business. The only catch was that I needed to move from Maine to Georgia. I couldn't do that.

I have a little girl. Well, she isn't very little any more. But she isn't grown up yet either. She lives with her mom and her older brother two towns from here. My dad died when I was ten. I just couldn't leave her behind to continue a successful life. I couldn't be an absentee dad. And my grown son was still in this area and I didn't want to leave him either. And so I declined the gracious invitation. Besides, I was tired of the tax world and it's high volubility and stress. Three years ago, I started a publishing business. I had a five year plan and figured by the fifth year, the business would support me and I could retire from the tax business. Well, life had other plans.

And so, long before the plan could reach its maturity, I am giving it my all to speed up the process. I would have taken another job if there was one around. But, this decision to part with the old company came at the worst possible time with a tanking economy and hiring freezes. To add to that problem, most of my liquid capital had already been tied up in my new company's equipment, so there is no real cushion to work with here. My wife, a teacher who loves what she does, is unbelievable. She believes in me and in what I am trying to do and she would rather see us struggle than for me to scrap it. And so we live week to week and month to month.

I have to do things myself now. And running this business requires physical labor such as standing on my feet all day and carrying boxes full of books or paper or toner up and down stairs. It's exhausting. It wouldn't have been twenty years ago. I have to pace myself and learn my limitations. My knees ache and I have this heel spur and I look like an old man when I first wake up and stumble to the bathroom. But so help me, I am going to make this work. I grew one company and I can do it again. But boy, it's not as easy this time because I don't have the energy I once had.

The determination I have to grow this company is the same determination I have to write this blog. One, I believe in my writing skills (I have nine books published). Secondly, I love baseball and this is a passion. The problem is that I have been working so hard that the blog has suffered. I struggle for passionate ideas to write about. I write shorter posts. Readership has lagged a bit and that bums me out and makes me yearn for the younger man I used to be.

And so, yeah, I can relate to Giambi and Smoltz. I can understand how hard it is to make an older body do what it used to do with ease. I can understand the humiliation when limitations that didn't used to exist now are faced on a daily basis. I can understand when you hit a wall and people are watching, many expecting you to fail.

The one difference is that their chosen profession is finite. It's a young man's game and after a while, those limitations cause you to lose that profession. I can keep plugging away, using all the sum of my life's experiences to help me. Sure, I'm exhausted. Sure, I ache. But I don't have to quit.

I have this fountain in the front of my house, right by the front steps. It is a relic from the days of disposable income. I love that fountain. Like me, like Giambi and Smoltz, that fountain sprang a leak. It kept losing water from the bowl that is supposed to hold it. Age caught up to it just as sure as it has caught up to me. I no longer can just pay somebody to fix it. So I was determined to salvage "my lady" (as I call her). To do so meant lifting the lady off her perch on top of the fountain so I could then take down the bowl to repair it. Like that low fence I told you about earlier, when faced with the task of picking this huge marble lady off of her pedestal, I hesitated. I can't do that anymore can I?

Well, I told you, I love my lady and I had to save her from becoming an old, opulent plant holder. So I wrapped my arms around her. I took in a bunch of breath and I lifted her. Man, she was heavy. But I did it. I lifted her and gingerly and slowly, got her onto the driveway. I painted the bowl with white, waterproofing cement paint, waited a day for it to dry and lifted that lady back on her perch. I filled the bowl with water, plugged the fountain into the electrical source...and it didn't work. Nothing happened. The pump wouldn't engage.

The pump must have burned out last year when the bowl couldn't hold the water. So I had to lift the lady again and removed the pump. I scraped up enough money and went to Lowe's to buy a new one. I put it back together again, lifted the lady back on her perch, plugged it in. And it worked. My lady is back in business and pretty as ever. Eureka! I did it! I was so proud. And when my little girl came over for her regular visit, she said, "The Lady is working!" That made it all the sweeter.

So yeah, Mr. Smoltz and Mr. Giambi. We may be older. We may not be able to do a lot of the things we used to be able to do. But we aren't dead yet. We aren't even incapable yet. If baseball is still in your blood, keep trying and hook up with another team. If it doesn't work out, you know what? Life goes on and there are new victories to win elsewhere. They may come with a lot more aches and pains, but they still feel mighty special.

Good luck to both of you.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Chone Figgins or Bobby Abreu - MVP?

Last night, Chone Figgins showed why he is a serious MVP candidate. He only got on base once via a walk. The rest of the night, he was 0-4 with a strikeout. But that one time he got on base, he stole second, stole third and scored. He rattled Danks, the pitcher, so much that three homers ensued. Meanwhile, the steal of the year, Bobby Abreu, hit a homer, stole a base and scored two runs. Either player could be a viable MVP candidate.

Let's start with Figgins. Two years ago, Figgins played in 115 games and batted .330 with an On Base Percentage of .393. He stole 42 bases in only those 115 games and scored over 80 runs. Then last year, he became quite ordinary. He still stole a lot of bases, but his batting average fell to .276 with an OBP of .367. His OPS+ (82) was the lowest of his career.

But this year, he's been the catalyst at the top of the order and his line of .303/.395/.404 leads up to an OPS+ of 109. He leads the league in runs scored with 87 (in just 105 games). Unlike other years where he has played all over the field, Figgins has been pretty much anchored at third where he is league average in fielding percentage with above league average range.

It's usually the sluggers who get all the MVP votes, but Figgins has been the disruptive, on-base dynamo that makes this Angel offense go.

Bobby Abreu couldn't find a job this spring, remember? The Yankees didn't want him. Nobody wanted him. Then the Angels picked him up for a song (and a few million). He has responded by having one of his best seasons ever. His current line stands at: .322/.416/.458. He has an OPS+ of 128 and it seems like every game, he is on base, scoring a run, or driving in a run. He has 77 RBI, right up there with the leaders. He has scored 80 runs, right behind Figgins. And he has 23 steals in only 28 attempts.

It is hard to see the Angels being nearly as good as they are without either player. But if the Fan had a vote, Bobby Abreu would be the MVP this year.

Game Picks - Friday: August 7, 2009

They call these the dog days of August. And if that is the case, then the picks have fit the theme and have been dogs at least half the time. Livan again pulled the rug out from underneath the picker. The freakin' Royals beat the Mariners. The Angels couldn't be held down for long. The Orioles were a stupid pick. The Marlins are acting like the Nationals and the Nationals are acting like the Nationals. And then there are the Twins. The Twins. The stinking, bumbling, frustrating Twins.

Ah well. At least the Yankees were a correct pick along with the Phillies, the Diamondbacks, the Rangers and the Dodgers. Let's see if today, this picker can turn these dogs into greyhounds.

  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Great pitching match up in this game of Carpenter versus Maholm. Have much more faith in the Cardinals offense than the Pirates'.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Garland should do the old veteran thing against the Nats. Balester has shown signs of being pretty good.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: The heck with the Twins. Tired of getting them wrong. You watch, they will win tonight.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Another good match up of Beckett versus Burnett.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Romero continues his rookie of the year candidacy.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Another super match up of Blanton versus Nolasco. Will go with Blanton.
  • The Astros over the Brewers: Villanueva again? Not happening.
  • The Royals over the Athletics: The thinking man's pitcher, Bannister, will win this game.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: The Indians are hot lately, but not against Buehrle.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Zambrano was hurting his last start. Makes for scary picking in this game.
  • The Mets over the Padres: Oliver Perez will walk six, but give up only two hits and win.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Feldman needs to beat Saunders if the Rangers have any chance.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: Good match up of Jurrjens versus Billingsley. Billingsley put his recent struggles behind him on his last start. Jurrjens got cuffed around last time. Tired arm?
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: Two good pitchers in King Felix versus Niemann, but the Bay Rays have the better offense.
  • The Giants over the Reds: Lincecum!

Yesterday: 5-6
Week: 32-32
Month: 41-38

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Is Josh Beckett Overlooked?

When thinking about the last post, the Fan was forced to consider the stud pitchers in baseball. Some of the usual names popped up like Halladay, Santana and Carpenter. Those and maybe a few more are usually considered when making such a list. But what about Josh Beckett. He plays on a team that has gotten national attention the past ten years (granted a team that is wildly loved and vividly hated) that has won two World Series titles. Yet, he isn't usually on the elite pitcher list.

But he should be. And not just because he is 13-4 this year. Since 2005, Beckett is 76-40, giving him an average season (and this year isn't over) of 15-8. But wins and losses aren't everything, of course. He's also struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings over his career and 2.8 walks per nine innings. And his run of walks per nine innings the last three years? Try 1.8, 1.8 and 2.5.

In 2007, Beckett was 20-7 and came in second in the Cy Young voting. Last year, he was only 12-10 with an ERA of 4.03, but the Fan contends that he was just as good last year. More of Beckett's balls in play fell in for hits last year than this year or 2007, so it was probably an unlucky year. His 5.06 strikeouts/walk ration was the best of his career last year.

The Fan isn't sure what it is about Beckett that doesn't put him on the list of elite major league pitchers. He used to be a great talent who got a lot of blisters. Even his page is sponsored by an organization that says, "More blisters than Ron Mexico." Beckett is also a great money pitcher, as his 7-2 record in post season play indicates as does his 2.72 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 89 innings.

Josh Beckett is among the top five pitchers in baseball and even though he plays for a highly visible team like the Red Sox, he seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Managing Expectations

The Fan was at one of his favorite blogs this morning and the topic was Roy Halladay's lack of run support since he came off the Disabled List a while back. And there is no doubt that Halladay, if he had gotten any support, should have won three or four of those games instead of one. But in this day and age of empowerment when everyone with a computer has an opinion, the following comment followed the blog post:

Wilner is now officially a propagandist! Halladay gave up 5 runs(4 earned) , 10
hits and he's still good??!! The Yankees braodcasters gave mad props to Doc BUT
one of them mentioned the fact that they got 5 runs off of him at Yankee
Stadium, which isn't like Doc. In addition, Doc gave up 10 hits in that 3-2 loss
to Oakland. If anyone think sthat he is the same old Doc ...think again. Thanks
to Ricciardi, who rattled him with all this trade talk, he's off his game. Bad
Job, JP look at what you've done. (sic)

Can we have a reality check, please? The American League's average ERA among all pitchers is 4.43. The average hits per nine innings for the entire league is just over nine (or just over one hit per inning). If a pitcher at his worse is league average, wouldn't you say that is a stud? The problem with guys like Halladay, Carpenter, Santana, Beckett and studs of their ilk is that the expectation is that they will go out every time and throw a shutout. Heck, wouldn't you take Halladay at his worse (remember, league average) than Brad Penny on any given occasion?

The great Johan Santana gets blown up in a game and his ERA shoots up to 3.10. Oh my goodness! He must stink now? What's wrong with Santana! Come on! 3.10 is still a full 1.22 runs below the National League average ERA of 4.22. Give the Fan that guy every game for 30 starts a year and he'll take his chances.

The same thing holds true for studs like Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez. Pujols went through a rough patch recently and the big story was: "What's wrong with Pujols?" A-Rod has gone 60 at bats without a homer. What's wrong with A-Rod? There is nothing wrong that a two-homer game (like Pujols had the other night) won't fix. A-Rod will hit his share before the season is out. It's a long season and even studs aren't perfect.

The expectation thing happens to teams too. The Red Sox and the Dodgers have lost a few games the last couple of weeks. All kinds of analysis have occurred to figure out what's wrong. Umm...there is little wrong with either team. The Dodgers are second in the league (behind the Phillies) in OPS+ and second in the league (behind the Giants) in ERA+. Meanwhile, the Red Sox lead the American League in ERA+ and are fifth in the league in OPS+. That hardly seems like teams to hit the panic button on.

Sometimes you pay for being so good. If David Cook came out on American Idol and sang, "God Bless America" in falsetto, everyone would wonder what was wrong with David Cook. Geez, he just had a bad night. But this Fan bets, that his "bad" week would still sound better than Brittney Spears.

Give this guy a Roy Halladay at his worst and the Fan would be very happy to have it.

Game Picks - Thursday: August 6, 2009

The game picker can't seem to get past mediocrity this week. There are no disaster, but there are no parties either. Just mediocrity. Take for example, picking some kid named Lehr to lose his debut. So what happens? The guy throws a complete game gem. How many rookies throwing their debut get a complete game in this day and age? Against the Cubs no less. Also thought the patient Red Sox would wear down David Price. Oops. That didn't happen as Price was great. Also picked against the Yankees and got burned.

Today is another day and the goal is excellence. The Yankees have a big series with the Red Sox. It's a bit anticlimactic as they have a 3 1/2 game lead in the division. But it would be something if the Yankees can't beat the Red Sox this year. They are 0 for the season so far. It's a short schedule since it's a Thursday, but not as short as usual. Here goes:

  • The Twins over the Indians: Come on! The Fan keeps picking the Twins and keeps getting burned. But each day, the Fan sees a matchup like Carmona versus Blackburn and thinks they can't lose this game, right? But they will because the Fan can't win with the Twins.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Volstad has been great lately. The Marlins lost to the Nationals last night and did so in uninspired fashion. They have so many nice pieces, but need a killer instinct.
  • The Phillies over the Rockies: Picked against the Phillies yesterday and it was stupid. Won't be stupid two days in a row, especially with Lee pitching.
  • The Orioles over the Tigers: Just can't get over how ordinary the Tigers look these days.
  • The White Sox over the Angels: Don't know how the White Sox do it. But they keep on doing it.
  • The Rangers over the A's: Hunter versus Cahill in a battle of rookies. The Rangers have really blown this series so far.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Scherzer over Hart.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: The law of averages say the Yankees have to win one of these games and against Smoltz seems to be their best bet. Chamberlain goes for the Yanks.
  • The Mariners over the Royals: The Royals will take it on the Chen.
  • The Mets over the Padres: Praying to the Livan gods that this is one of his good games and not one of his clunkers.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: Who made this schedule for the Braves? They have been all over the country lately and back and forth at that.

Yesterday: 7-7 (forgot to pick a game, which was fortunate as it would have been a loss)
Week: 27-26 (can you say mediocre?)
Month: 36-32 (yes we can)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Let's Play a Game

Hype can be deceiving. Sometimes a reputation can overshadow the truth. Heck, it happens in the Golden Glove awards every year. But baseball is a game full of surprises. Here are a couple of puzzlers for you.

Pitcher 1: ERA+ = 121, WHIP = 1.313, BB/9 = 3
Pitcher 2: ERA+ = 123, WHIP = 1.222, BB/9 = 3.5

Which one is Jon Lester and which one is Matt Garza? Yup, Garza is Pitcher 2.

Player 1: Batting Average = .214, On Base Percentage = .347
Player 2: Batting Average = .229, On Base Percentage = .346

Which one is Carlos Pena and which one is Dan Uggla? Uggla is Player 2.

Player 1: Batting Average = .285, Runs Batted In = 72
Player 2: Batting Average = .294, Runs Batted In = 70

Which one is Mark Teixeira and which one is Ryan Zimmerman? Zimmerman is Player 2.

Player 1: OPS = .958, Runs Batted In = 74, Total Bases = 231, Batting Average = .283
Player 2: OPS = .973, Runs Batted In = 80, Total Bases = 209, Batting Average = .280

Which player is Mark Reynolds and which one is Adam Dunn? Dunn is Player 2.

Player 1: OPS = .913, Runs Batted In = 60, Errors = 6
Player 2: OPS = .938, Runs Batted In = 65, Errors = 6

Which third baseman is Alex Rodriguez and which one is Pablo Sandoval? A-Rod is Player 1.

Player 1: OPS = .829, Homers = 16, Runs Batted In = 76
Player 2: OPS = .873, Homers = 22, Runs Batted In = 69

Which right fielder is Andre Ethier and which one is Nick Markakis? Ethier is Player 2.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 5, 2009

It was a night for red ink. Roy Halladay was 16-5 in his career against the Yankees. Now he is 16-6. The White Sox somehow cooled down the red hot Angels. The Kansas City pick looked spectacular until the bullpen blew the game. Ditto for the Marlins who let one get away from the Nationals. And the Twins! Those dang Twins! It is probable that the Fan has not correctly predicted a Twins decision since the dawn of time. They simply defy logic.

Oh well, who needs logic. Perhaps the Fan should try to be "Bones" instead of Mr. Spock. Nah. Here are a Spock-on look at today's games:

  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Face it, those star players for the Mets are never coming back.
  • The Astros over the Giants: This game has "grimace" written all over it. Moehler for the Astros and some kid named Martinez for the Giants. How can logic pick this game?
  • The Braves over the Padres: Gaudin hasn't ever blown this picker away. Hanson has shown flashes of his hype.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Here the Fan goes picking against Ohlendorf again. The pain of doing so in the past still lingers.
  • The Rockies over the Phillies: Happ is good. But now that he's finally lost a game, we'll find out that he's not THAT good.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: The Nats' best pitcher versus a nice looking young arm in Vanden Hurk. Going with experience.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Liriano versus Laffey. The Fan knows. He picked the Twins again. What a dope.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Jackson should be better than Guthrie right? Why can't the Tigers hit lately?
  • The Blue Jays over the Yankees: Like the Jays young pitcher better than Liquid Mitregen.
  • The Red Sox over the Bay Rays: Penny has been terrible lately, but the patient Red Sox will allow David Price to walk ten of them.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Will take Harden over some kid named, Lehr. The Red suddenly look like they won't win another game this year.
  • The Mariners over the Royals: How could the Tigers let French get away?
  • The White Sox over the Angels: Gavin Floyd should beat O'Sullivan.
  • The Brewers over the Dodgers: Not a big Looper fan, but man, how can the Dodgers keep pitching Schmidt?

Yesterday: 7-8
Week: 20-19
Month: 29-25

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 4, 2009

Another middling day for the game picker yesterday with correctness coming just ahead of imbecility. Sure, the Nationals were picked to beat the Pirates and they did. But just as surely, this picker never saw the Astros beating Matt Cain and the Giants. Manny Parra of the 6.63 ERA threw eight solid innings at the Dodgers before running out of gas in the ninth. He was bailed out (somewhat) by Hoffman. And somehow, the A's beat the Rangers in a low scoring game. Didn't see that one coming either.

The Fan tends to focus more on the negative than on the positive. And, again, there was more positive than negative, so with his chin firmly up, this picker presents his Tuesday game picks:

  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Petit outpitches Duke while the Diamondbacks out hit the Pirates.
  • The Rockies over the Phillies: This picker just can't fathom Moyer. He's got to have a clunker in there once in a while. He's due.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Really like Josh Johnson.
  • The Indians over the Twins: The Fan is totally over his Twins fascination. Which probably means they will start winning.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Jarrod Washburn makes his Tigers' debut at home. Detroit's park is pitcher friendly. The Orioles are starting another rookie pitcher (Matusz) the picker has never heard of.
  • The Blue Jays over the Yankees: Halladay at home? Yeah, he'll do alright.
  • The Bay Rays over the Red Sox: An ALCS rematch of Garza versus Lester.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Totally over Cueto. He just can't pitch consistently.
  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Watch Albert Pujols break out of his mini-slump against Johan Santana.
  • The Astros over the Giants: Sanchez has been kicked around since his perfect game.
  • The Royals over the Mariners: Somehow feel better about Hochever than Rowland-Smith.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: The Angels are the hottest team on the planet right now.
  • The Braves over the Padres: Vazquez should win this one.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: The Rangers keep throwing Holland out there. One of these days it has to pay off.
  • The Dodgers over the Brewers: You have to pick the Dodgers at home. Manny has to start hitting sooner or later.

Yesterday: 5-4
Week: 13-11
Month: 22-17

Arizona is a Pretty Good Bad Team

There are some bad teams that aren't very good. The Pirates aren't very good. The Athletics aren't very good. The Royals and the Padres aren't very good. But there are some bad teams that are pretty good. The Nationals will end up with the worst record in the majors. But they have a pretty good offense. The Blue Jays do a lot of things well. The Orioles have a dynamic line up. The Indians just need a few dozen pitchers. Another of those bad teams that are pretty darn good are the Diamondbacks.

For some reason, the Diamondbacks don't get out of bed very well. Some people are like that. The Fan's son used to be impossible to get out of bed. His dad one time resorted to pouring water over his head to get him up for school. He used to use his stereo as an alarm clock. The trouble was that it would blare and disturb the whole four generations of the house, but he never woke up. The Diamondbacks are like that.

Well, that has to be qualified a bit. Last year, the Diamondbacks got out of bed really well. They started 19-8 in April. But May and June were pitiful and they ended up a game under .500 at the halfway mark. They played .522 baseball the rest of the way out. This year, they really started poorly. After the first three months of the 2009 season, the D-backs were 31-46. But in July, the were 14-12 and were no pushovers. A part of the reason is batting. Their month by month OPS goes like this, starting in April: .703, .732, .738 and .776 (July).

The pitching follows a similar pattern. The OPS against the pitching staff for each month, starting in April: .745, .777, .720, .709. As is pretty logical, if the pitching OPS against is higher than the batting OPS, it pretty much ends up in more losses than wins. The starters have been fairly consistent, but the relief staff started out horribly and by July have improved to an OPS against of only .673. That's a marked improvement.

When you look at the team as a whole, it just doesn't feel like they should have this bad a record. Five of their starters have an OPS+ over 100. Mark Reynolds, strikeouts notwithstanding, has become a stud. He hit two more homers Monday night and now has 32. His OPS is around .950, which is outstanding. Stephen Drew hasn't quite blossomed yet as expected, but his batting is above league average. Second baseman, Felipe Lopez is batting over .300 with a .369 OBP. Justin Upton is becoming a star and his .922 OPS is just the beginning of what he is going to be able to do. And finally, Miguel Montero has become an excellent offensive catcher.

They have three real problems: Center, Left and First Base. Center field has been a bit of a disaster. Chris Young is sitting at a 67 OPS+. Equally disastrous has been first base. Chad Tracy flopped as did Tony Clark, who was eventually released. Josh Whitesell might be the answer. He hasn't started to hit much yet, but his OBP of .359 holds promise and is far above Tracy and Clark. Left field started with Eric Byrnes. A likeable player who was a star of the highlight shows in the past has a 58 OPS+ and just couldn't get untracked. Gerardo Parra has been out there lately and his average isn't bad at .274, but he's only walked 15 times in 292 plate appearances.

The starting rotation has four out of the five spots doing fairly well. All four are above league average in ERA+ and they are led by Danny Haren who is a serious Cy Young contender. The fifth spot has been awful. They've tried Petit (6.75 ERA), Buckner (8.63 ERA) and Brian Augentein (7.94 ERA). Between the three of those guys, they have thrown 100 innings and have given up 23 homers.

As mentioned earlier, the relief corp has really jelled. The team now has seven relievers with an ERA+ over 100. Only Scott Schoeneweis has been off his career average and it seems understandable considering the personal issues he has dealt with this year. Chad Qualls, meanwhile, has become an effective closer and has only walked a Rivera-like five batters in 49 innings of work.

There are a lot of good parts to this Arizona team and they will not be easy to face down the stretch. If Whitesell can hit a little to go along with his patience and the D-backs perhaps move up some talent to try in left and center and this is a pretty talented team. At least a lot better than their current record seems to indicate.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Another Great Writer

Rob Neyer has gone on vacation, his first in years of reading his stuff. His blog has been kept busy with a guest writer named Steve Boffum. This is the first time the Fan has ever heard of Mr. Boffum, but he is terrific. In fact, he might be nearly as talented as Joe Posnanski.

It looks like the Fan has a new writer to follow on a regular basis. For those of you who want to read more stuff from him, try here.

Feeling for Melvin Mora

Melvin Mora is 37 years old and it was in the space earlier in the spring where it was predicted that a marked decline would be noticed in this solid player and unfortunately, it has come to pass. The guy has made millions, so it is hard to feel that badly for him, but he hasn't come to grips with the fact that he just isn't the player he used to be. That disbelief led to him exploding all over his manager in the press since being benched recently. It has to be hard coming to grips with the end of productivity.

Mora has a lifetime 108 OPS+. That's a good and solid career. Along the way, he had one fantastic year (2004) where his line was an incredible: .340/.419/.578. He led the American League in OBP that year. He even had a good year last year with 23 homers and 104 RsBI. But this year, due in some part to nagging injuries, he has put up a line (after 316 plate appearances) of .256/.321/.330. His OPS+ is sitting at 70. To show that another way, he is 70% the player of the league average. That's not going to cut it and his manager had to make a move.

But Mora felt disrespected. His manager, Trembley, responded politely by stating that he was saddened by that reaction. But there is no way a manager can pull the plug on a long time major league player without that player feeling that way. It's as impossible a situation as a manager can be in.

An established, long-time veteran has a lot of pride in his ability and accomplishment. Through the years of struggle, the player always feels that they are a game away from breaking out of a slump and getting back to the player they have always been. But what happens when the player is too old to bounce back? When that player can no longer bounce back from little injuries like in the past, it is difficult for that player to admit that they have lost a step or bat speed.

You have to feel for Melvin Mora. He's been a pro. But his manager made the right decision and it is hoped here that Mora finds some grace in the situation and takes an honest look in the mirror.

Game Picks - Monday: August 3, 2009

Sunday was another day where this picker was just slightly more correct than incorrect. In other words, another kissing your aunt sort of day. Right off the bat, the game picker got Pavanoed by Cleveland. What was that--his first good start since May? Sheesh. Then some kid named Norris totally shut down the high-flying Cardinals. The Rangers and Brewers finally got off the crappy train. And, in front of a national audience, Jurrjens threw up a stinker.

On the plus side, the underdog pick of the day worked out as the Royals surprised the Bay Rays. The Yankees finally beat a "Sox" team. The Blue Jays had a great game. The Diamondbacks beat the Mets as predicted. The Marlins crushed the Cubs' closer. And the Nationals won a game. Hurrah.

It's a short schedule today with only nine games. Here is how the Fan sees them:

  • The Royals over the Bay Rays: Can Greinke give the Royals a two game winning streak?
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: Mock versus Morton. The Fan hates games like this. Anything can happen.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Verlander rights the ship against a good looking rookie named Tillman.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Wells has been very good for the Cubs and Harang hasn't had a good game in forever.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: Haran versus Figueroa. A no-brainer, right? Been burned so many times by supposed no-brainers.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Mike Hampton doesn't look like he'll get comeback player of the year.
  • The Padres over the Braves: Have no faith in Kawakami and Latos has looked good in his first career starts.
  • The Rangers over the A's: There is no way the Rangers should win with Nippert pitching, but somehow, they will.
  • The Dodgers over the Brewers: Kershaw is the only player on the Dodgers that won't have jet lag, but he is the only one that matters.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 17-13

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Yankees are Confusing

The Yankees have now lost three straight to the Chicago White Sox. Their three and a half game lead over the Red Sox has evaporated. All the while, they keep mixing up those who are playing and some of the decisions aren't making sense. Here are just a couple of examples:

They traded for Jerry Hairston, Jr. Any fan of the Fan knows that any Hairston is a hairball in the life of the Fan. The Fan doesn't understand how they exist, why they have survived in the majors this long, etc. Okay, perhaps the Yankees know more than this writer. So anyway, they got the guy and immediately put him in left field in place of Johnny Damon. Supposedly, Hairston is a better option against a lefty than Damon. Damon has a lifetime OPS against lefties of .746. Of course, that's not nearly as high as his OPS against righties. Hairston's lifetime OPS against ALL pitchers is .700. Give the Fan Damon any day.

Okay, all that being said, part of Hairston's value is being able to play multiple positions including all the infield positions. If that is true, what is the need for Cody Ransom? Last night, Ransom played first and went 0-4 with three strikeouts. This was after Shelley Duncan was sent down (after never playing a game since his call up). Duncan has 27 homers in AAA this year. Duncan wouldn't have been a better alternative at first than Ransom? He couldn't have been worse. Ransom, after all, is batting .190 this year. And Duncan is a right-handed batter and could have faced the lefty, Danks.

All in all, it wouldn't have mattered because the Yankees' pitching got battered for the second straight day. All the funky line up changes can't change the fact that the Yankees will live and die by what kind of pitching they get. If they keep throwing Mitre out there, they are crazy. And Bruney and Coke need to be effective out of the bullpen to make this work and they have not been effective.

But probably the most confusing thing about the Yankees is their plight against all teams with "Sox" in their name. They play .666 baseball against every other team, but are 0-11 against the Red Sox and the White Sox. How can that be? Last week, they looked like the best team in the world. This week, they look like the Nationals. It sure is confusing.

This Baseball Expert Still Sucks

You can be a veteran of over forty-five years of observing baseball and still not know anything. That's either the great thing about writing about baseball or one of the most frustrating things. It depends on how you look at it. Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski, two of the most popular writers (and for good reasons), admit they are wrong all the time. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the thoughts put into posts here at the FanDome are as often wrong as they are right. Despite what this writer may think, Ricciardi makes the right moves more often than not. Despite what an expert this writer may think he is, the correctness average is not much higher than Barry Bonds' On Base Percentage.

Take the Pirates for example. After they traded everyone away over the last month or so, the Fan didn't think they had a chance to win any games the rest of the year. In fact, at the trade deadline's final gun when the Pirates traded their infield away and much of their bullpen, the Fan picked against them every game. Yet, the Pirates have won every game since the deadline. Whuh? Part of the reason is Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen hit three homers last night and had another hit besides. He now has a line of: .293/.349/.488. Not bad for a lead off guy. And he is playing great defense in centerfield. He has also stolen nine bases in nine attempts. His only bugaboo may be that he strikes out too often. But, he seems on his way to being a great player that the Pirates hoped he would be when they traded away McLouth to open centerfield for him.

McCutchen in a first round draft pick (2005) and he is only 22 years old. His minor league line after 1967 at bats was: .286/.369/.423. Those numbers are awfully close to those of his predecessor, Nate McLouth, whose minor league line was: .292/.367/.427. If those numbers are any indication, McCutchen should have a successful career. McLouth has been an above league average batter now for five straight seasons.

But then again, the Fan could be wrong. He is at least half the time, remember?

Game Picks - Sunday: August 2, 2009

Not a bad Saturday for the picker. Not a wonderful day, but not bad. Never saw McCutchen hitting three homers (more on that in the next post). Wandy left early, leaving that pick out to dry. Still can't figure out why the Twins aren't winning. Also can't figure out why the Yankees can't beat any team that has "Sox" in its team name. And finally, this picker has to come to grips with the fact that the Rangers aren't a contender, no matter how much the Fan wants them to be.

Sunday, the best day of baseball all week with all its day games and a full schedule, should shape up this way:

  • The Tigers over the Indians: The Tigers should win even if Galarraga is pitching. Why? Because it's another Pavano experience.
  • The Rockies over the Reds: In a good matchup, Marquis should beat Arroyo.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: Thinking that Garland is due for a good game.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: Balester has been a bright spot for the Nats.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: The Yankees gave them some life and they are taking it.
  • The Royals over the Bay Rays: This is the upset pick of the day. And what an upset it would be!
  • The Yankees over the White Sox: Sabathia versus Buehrle. The game should be over in less than two hours.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Why oh why does the Fan keep picking the Twins? Why?
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Whenever the Fan hears, "Wainwright," he thinks of Dudley DoRight for some reason.
  • The Padres over the Brewers: How can the Brewers compete if they keep throwing guys like Villanueva out there?
  • The Phillies over the Giants: Barry Zito should spend some time with Jamie Moyer and find out how to win with no stuff at all.
  • The Blue Jays over the A's: Romero is better than Mazzaro allowing him to win the battle of the Ro's.
  • The Marlins over the Cubs: What a wild game yesterday! But Nolasco should quiet things down.
  • The Braves over the Dodgers: Just when the Dodgers have had their butts kicked this series, they have to finish with Jurrjens.
  • The Mariners over the Rangers: Feldman may be tired. And this Fan is rooting for Ian Snell to come back with a vengeance.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 48-37
Month: 9-6