Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sucks to be a Fan

In a perfect world, teams in Major League Baseball would put the best players on the field. But we all know that doesn't happen. Many roster moves, trades and even playing time are based on money and not what's best for the fans or for the product on the field. Heck, we all know that's the reality. There is even a baseball blog called, "It's About the Money, Stupid." The web site's sole reason for existence is to look at baseball stories and filter them correctly around dollars and cents. They do a great job too. They have yet to comment on fans losing some of the best young prospects to the minors for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Yeah, the Fan is whining. And it certainly isn't the first time. The Fan had the same whine about Matt Wieters last year at this time. But you know what? The Fan wishes just one time that a team's general manager would come right out and tell the truth instead of giving us the same old line about how they don't want to rush the talent. That is such a load of horse poo. Mr. Rizzo, the new GM of the Nationals ran out the same lines we heard last year from Baltimore as to why Stephen Strasburg is going to start in AA. Except, this time, Rizzo was more creative than his peers.

His official reason is that Strasburg has to learn how to slow down his delivery when men are on base. Strasburg tends to runs things in the stretch and he loses a couple of MPH on his fastball. There are two reasons why such a reason is stupid. First, Strasburg only allowed nine base runners in 12 innings pitched this spring. Seems to this observer to that having such a problem is a minor triviality when people aren't getting on base in the first place. It's sort of like talking about BABIP after a perfect game. The second reason it's stupid is that he can work on that just as easily on the big club as he can with the AA team. Right?

Let's talk about economics for a minute. Please understand up front that this subject isn't high on the list of talents the Fan possesses. But Strasburg is already signed for $15 million. Saving him for a year from arbitration and free agency saves you about $15 million. But according to the last estimates, a win these days for any team is worth about $1.2 million. So say sending Strasburg to the minors for six starts to save on arbitration could cost the team as much as $3.6 million if Strasburg won only half his starts. It's unlikely they will win more than one of those six games with his replacement. Now add in the 20,000 extra tickets he might sell for each start. Everybody wants to see this kid. Say half of those starts are at home, that's 60,000 extra seats for an average take of around a million dollars. Ratings would be higher during their telecasts with increased revenue for ads. So, while they will still end up ahead by sending the kid down, it's not as much as you would think.

The Pirates are doing the same thing with Pedro Alvarez. He was sent down on Friday. He hit well this spring, just like last spring and just like last year in the minors. His defense is a bit ragged, but what more is he going to learn in the minors? This is simply a financial deal and again, it deprives the fans of seeing who they really want to see.

It's not like these guys are 18 years old and you are in danger of putting them in a David Clyde type of situation. They are 21, 22 years old and played college ball. Strasburg has showed us that he is already the best pitcher the Nationals have. Alvarez is already one of the Pirates' better players. Next it will be Aroldis Chapman and Jason Heywood. You'll see. It's all about the dollars. And because it always comes down to that fact, it will always suck to be a Fan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Crystal Ball Time

It's that time of year again. The Ides of March has gone by and April's opening day soon approaches. That means it is time to dust off the crystal ball and see what the coming year will bring. Gazing into the beautiful swirling colors, a number of images appear and here is what they are showing:

  • Chapman and Strasburg will win at least ten games apiece. But Jason Heyword will win Rookie of the Year.
  • Robinson Cano wins the AL batting title.
  • Cliff Lee wins ten games or less and finishes with a 4.00 ERA or higher.
  • Blyleven and Roberto Alomar will be the only two voted into the Hall of Fame. Bagwell will just miss in his first year.
  • There will be at least one more bombshell in the revelations concerning PEDs. This one will shock few but will provoke at least one more negative column from Buster Olney and Jeff Passan.
  • Joe Posnanski will write 810,000 words during the regular season. At least 80,000 of those will be directed toward the Royals.
  • The Braves will go to the World Series and Bobby Cox will get the sendoff he deserves.
  • Roy Halladay will post an ERA in the National League around 2.20
  • Ichiro Suzuki will get 200 hits. Well duh.
  • The Rangers will get off to a slow start and Ron Washington will be fired.
  • The National League East will finish: Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, Mets.
  • The National Leage Central will finish: Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Astros.
  • The National League West will finish: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, Padres
  • The American League East will finish: Red Sox, Yankees, Bay Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays.
  • The American League Central will finish: Tigers, Twins, Indians, White Sox, Royals
  • The American League West will finish: Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Oakland.
  • Evan Longoria will win the AL MVP.
  • Justin Upton will win the NL MVP.
  • Roy Halladay easily wins the NL Cy Young.
  • Josh Beckett wins the AL Cy Young.
  • Albert Pujols will finish .320/.430/.600 as usual.
  • Mike Sweeney will get 100 more at bats in Seattle than Griffey.
  • A blockbuster trade will send Joe Mauer to the Red Sox for Clay Buckholz, Daniel Bard and Victor Martinez.
  • Carl Pavano will somehow win twelve games.
  • Carl Crawford will be traded by the trading deadline.
  • Dontrelle Willis will win eight games.
  • Conner Jackson and Austin Jackson will both have great years. Austin Jackson wins Rookie of the Year.
  • Russell Branyon will hit at least one homer for his new team continuing his amazing career Odyssey.
  • Jim Thome will hit ten homers and then be released.
  • Pat Burrell will be released.
  • Randy Winn will be released.
  • The Yankees will continue to have A. J. Burnett pitch to a catcher other than Posada.
  • No pitcher will win 20 games and no hitter will hit 50 homers.
  • Prince Fielder will finish higher in OPS+ than Ryan Howard.
  • Ryan Braun will have a higher OPS+ than either of those two.
  • Bounce back years will include Brad Penny, Jake Peavy, B. J. Upton and Tim Hudson.
  • The Mets will fire their manager and then their GM by year's end.
  • Lou Piniella will be fired.
  • Buster Posey will have a fine year and come in fourth for Rookie of the Year.
  • Adrian Gonzalez will be traded to the Chicago White Sox.
  • The Padres will activate Jerry Hairston Senior for a game to play with his sons.
  • Roger Clemens will make a plea deal for his perjury charge.
  • The Braves will have a special day to honor Bobby Cox. Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Justice are all on hand and in uniform.
  • The Twins new ball park will be freezing in April.
  • The Nationals will be significantly better this year than last year as will the Pirates.
  • Halladay will not face Holliday on a holiday.
  • Jayson Stark will get his own program on ESPN2 called Stark Reality.
  • Ian Kinsler will again make it to the 30/30 club and again, nobody will notice.
  • After a prolonged slump, Boston's batting coach will finally convince Kevin Youkilis that his batting stance is ridiculous.
  • The Royals will finish dead last in OBP and Slugging Percentage just ahead of the Oakland A's in both categories.
  • And last but not least, the Fan will finally make it to Rob Neyer's Friday Filberts or Wednesday Wangdoodles this year.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guess It Needs A Comment

The news about Ron Washington wasn't a welcome one. And it wasn't really a story that the Fan wanted to feature here in the FanDome. But, the revelation is an important one and as such deserves at least a mention. The timing sort of stinks because the Rangers seem to be in a position to finally dethrone the Angels in the AL West, and certainly, somebody has to do that, just for the sake of difference.

As Jeff Passan over at Yahoo Sports stated, the Rangers really had no choice here but to give Ron Washington another chance after he told them about what happened. Passan correctly correlates that if the team has given Josh Hamilton a second chance after that bar incident last year, then they have to do the same with Washington. But there are a couple of issues here that are a bit disturbing.

First, Washington has admitted his wrongdoing AND the MLB testers have a positive test. Wouldn't those two things combined put Washington afoul of the law since cocaine is illegal? Couldn't the local police view this as corroborating evidence and arrest the manager? And if so, and if (it's a long shot) the police did act on such information, what would the Rangers do then? Hamilton's adventure was in a bar and drinking and giving body shots to young women is not illegal.

Secondly, Hamilton is a player, not a boss. As someone who has been in the position as the boss, there is a higher standard there. As a boss, one of my workers would get a second chance for an OUI conviction, but the boss wouldn't, because a boss is supposed to hold a higher standard of behavior. Ron Washington is the manager, or the boss of a bunch of young men. As such, his standard is higher than Hamilton's. So really, you can't compare the two.

All of that said, everyone...everyone deserves a second chance after making a mistake. But the thing that sticks in the Fan's craw is this: Why would a middle aged man suddenly try cocaine just once? The Fan is middle aged and wouldn't even know where to find such stuff. Perhaps it was simply available at a party or something. The circumstances of the usage would be important to the Fan as an employer. Was the usage at home or at a party? If at home, that seems a bit more implausible that this was a one time thing.

Necessarily, due to Washington's privacy, the Rangers won't reveal those kinds of details and they shouldn't. But those details would mean a lot of different things to an employer. The proper procedure is in place and regular testing is now Washington's lot in life. As it should be. And thus the Rangers are protected against a repeat offense. There won't be a second chance.

Washington played at a time when cocaine was a problem in baseball. We had those sticky situations with the Pirates and Tim Raines and Paul Molitor. The Rangers and MLB have little choice but to believe Washington that this was a one time stupid mistake. But the Fan would feel a little gullible to believe that.

Again, the timing of all this really sucks as the Rangers really have a shot at winning the AL West. Plus, this is the first major news story with the new owners in place. They must be thrilled.

Ron Washington will be on a short leash. If the Rangers get off to a slow start, his head will roll faster than a Dick Webber bowling ball. But that's the way it goes when you do something so stupid.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Taming of the Screw...Ball

Daniel Bard doesn't throw a screwball, at least to this writer's knowledge anyway. But he is one of a handful of pitchers around baseball that fans would dearly love to watch on a regular basis. The heading was a bit of fancy about the "Bard" last name in case you were wondering.

Bard has pitched ten innings this spring and has struck out fourteen batters. He throws effortless heat and his last outing, he blew away all three batters in an 1-2-3 inning. Don't you just love watching that kind of performance? Think back: What was one of the best All Star Game moments in recent history? Wasn't it the time that Brad Penny came in and blew away batters with that 100 MPH gas? Wasn't it?

That's what's so exciting about Stephen Strasburg. He doesn't just throw an inning of gas. He throws several innings of gas. Those kinds of pitchers are rare. There was Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan and, for a while, Frank Tanana. There was Steve McDowell. That's fun to watch when a world class arm serves up steaming fastballs to challenge the best hitters on the planet.

Daniel Bard's sensationalism started last spring when he just killed MLB batters during spring games until the Red Sox just had to give him the ball. Bard had a few shaky outings, but for the most part, he lived up to his spring by pitching 49+ innings while striking out 63. He could easily be the closer for a lot of teams, but Papelbon seems to have that job nailed down pretty well.

But again, Bard is the kind of pitcher that makes you rise up a bit on the couch when he gets in the game just like Joba Chamberlain a couple of years ago and Nefti Feliz last year. "Oh cool! Bard's in the game!"

And Bard is like a spare part for the Red Sox, which is why they are such a scary team. They have arms all over the place that can mangle you. If they can get some hitting and improved defense and if their starters are better than last year, they could win 100 games.

But the ones the Fan will be most interested in will be in the games when Bard gets in there. The Fan just digs that gas.

Bashing Buster Olney?

The other day, Buster Olney over at (and their television station) "broke" a story that the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies were having "internal discussions" concerning swapping the two players in a trade. Since then, Mr. Olney has been under fire for reporting a supposed "non-story." His blog on Tuesday continued to defend the story and its commenters were particularly vicious in response. If you are an "Insider" at* then click this link to read the blog entry.

*Doing the Posnanski asterisk thing: The "Insider" moniker is killer marketing-speak. Everyone wants to be an insider right? The marketing is brilliant because it speaks to the desire many of us have to be part of the "in" crowd. Brilliant.

Anyway, here is the Fan's take on the whole thing. The Fan would bet that many of the comments were from bloggers who really envy the job Mr. Olney (or any of his cohorts) have. Imagine getting paid to write about baseball and be given the carte blanche to talk to people in the game that we love s much! Of course we all want that job. But Mr. Olney has it. So when any crack appears in his writing, the wannabe crowd goes wild with abandon.

Not that this Fan is immune to envy, and not that this space hasn't devoted any time to Mr. Olney's writing in the past, but a blogger should put any kind of pride off to the side when evaluating such things. Otherwise, we come off as unprofessional when it is our goal to be professional alternatives to pay sites that report the news.

It has been noted in this space that Mr. Olney can be a bit sanctimonious. His dictums on steroid users are notorious. He is a black and white guy from Vermont who has a bit of Norman Rockwell in his psyche. The Fan gets that. Unfortunately, there is little in this world that is black and white. Gray abounds everywhere. Judge for example, when many folks in this country are struggling like crazy, the former Cheers actress is getting paid for yet another reality program because she again put on a bunch of weight. That's pretty gray right there.

And the steroids issue will never be a black and white subject. It will be debated until the cows come home (Egads! A cliche!). The only black and white seems to be that many journalists like Mr. Olney will preach against the people known to have used and the fans will continue to not care a whit or at most, will give the known users a pass because so many used that will never get caught.

But this issue at hand is a tricky one. What exactly is news? Is a bunch of golfers speculating on when Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour news or is it only news when an official announcement is made that he is returning at the Masters? Depends on your interest threshold, the Fan imagines.

So is it news that internally, the Cardinals and the Phillies "thinktanked" such a deal? Or is it news only when the trade actually happens? Mr. Olney explained that it is news because it was indeed talked about and that the internal talks included such big stars. That would not be the case on the thousands of other internal discussions such as would Ceasar Izturis be a better fit for a team than Macir Izturis. Fair enough. Though some would seem interested in the smallest detail of such internal workings. The Fan would be interested in how those things worked.

So the bashing of Mr. Olney seems a bit unfair as his argument is fair enough. The discussions did take place and they involved two of the biggest names in the sport. Some of the more polite comments also have a point that needless pain and indigestion can occur when speculation becomes the news. Got that point too.

Mr. Olney's blog is entertaining and useful for the links he includes (maybe someday the Fan might see his name in there) and he is an earnest and thoughtful scribe. That is appreciated almost as much as him actually giving us something to read on the weekends when all other writers take them off (why exactly? - it's not like it's overly taxing work, no?). This Fan is glad Mr. Olney is around, warts and all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Games Can Get Weird

Cliff Lee got ejected for throwing at Chris Snyder. Of course Lee stated that a couple of pitches got away from him. And of course it was just a coincidence that Snyder had earlier run into Lee while scoring a run (Lee was backing up home). Yup. Coincidence. Mr. Lee can get a bit feisty, can he not?

Ben Sheets was a story that felt good when the Oakland A's signed him for $10 million after Sheets missed a year with arm problems. But that feel good story has gotten a bit strained. Sheets started the spring with two really bad starts and then pitched on Monday. He didn't get anybody out. Here is his pitching line:

0 8 10 9 1 0 1

Translation: Zero innings, eight hits, ten runs, nine earned, one walk, no strikeouts and a homer. That's a bad outing.

After glancing at box scores so far this spring, the Fan seemed to think that the Angels weren't hitting. They were shut out Monday. So just to see if the observation matched up with reality, the stats were checked and sure enough, the Angels are last in the league in batting average this spring. They are twelfth out of fourteen teams in OBP and last in slugging percentage. Matsui, Abreu, Aybar and Hunter are all way down in offensive categories. Sure, it's just Spring Training, but so far it hasn't been a pretty sight.

It has been really confusing looking at the Seattle Mariners' box scores. The problem is they have two shortstops listed as, "J. Wilson." One, of course, is Jack Wilson, the fielding wiz the Mariners plucked from the Pirates last year. The other is Josh Wilson, a journeyman utility man that has bounced around several organizations. If both make the team, maybe the box score guys can give us a break and go with, "Jo. Wilson" and "Ja Wilson." That would help. Oh, by the way, the odds aren't good for Josh. If you look at his playing record, he has stats for 2005, 2007 and 2009. Since 2010 is an even year, should he be playing? One other note for Josh Wilson: He has 484 major league at bats but he has also pitched in three major league games. That's odd.

For all the talk about BillyBall out in Oakland (they are even making a movie from the book), the Oakland A's seem like a poorly constructed offense. They are dead last in the majors in on base percentage this spring. Any team that has both Jack Cust AND Jake Fox on the same team seems like a bit of a reach. All they need now is Matt Stairs and they'll have a triumvirate.

Speaking of badly constructed teams, the Cubs don't seem to have enough pieces to put together a good season. They've looked bad this spring. The tell-tale sign is that they have been seduced by the "Kevin Millar is a great guy in the clubhouse" thing. Millar may be a hoot, but he hasn't hit worth diddly for several seasons now. On the bright side, Zambrano had a good outing today in a losing cause. But it seems odd he pitched four innings with zero strikeouts. That doesn't seem right for him.

Again, the mantra is: "It's only Spring Training." But last year, the Yankees finished decent in Spring Training with a 14-10 record. This spring they are 5-7. Telling? Worrisome?

Has anyone else noticed that the Nationals haven't won a game yet this spring?

And one last note: Mike Sweeney was again the DH for the Mariners on Monday and went 3-4. His batting average went down. Yeah, that's a good spring.