Saturday, July 31, 2010

Game Picks - Saturday: July 31, 2010

The month of July is ending the way it started with a whole bunch of mediocrity. That's two days in a row now with the picks ending up only one game over .500. Suddenly, this picker has become the Marlins. How about that Cubs pick eh? Heck, that one was only off by 16 runs. The Rockies scored 12 runs in one inning. Melvin Mora came up to pinch hit in the inning and ended up batting twice (he got a hit both times). Would have loved to see Piniella's face during that mess. It was sort of ironic how J. A. Happ pitched a gem for the Astros while Oswalt was beat up by the Nationals.

But today is the last day of the month and no matter what happens, enough good stuff happened in the month to make it successful. So let's finish it out:

- The Blue Jays over the Indians: Cecil over Westbrook. The Indians were hot for a while but no more.
- The Dodgers over the Giants: Billingsley looked good last time out. Zito will bend but not break. But he will bend enough for this game.
- The Reds over the Braves: Arroyo over Jurrjens. This pick should hold up unless Heyward hits three more doubles.
- The Tigers over the Red Sox: The Tigers finally won a game because the Red Sox stopped hitting. Scherzer over Matsuzaka.
- The Phillies over the Nationals: Blanton versus Detwiler. Detwiler has an 0-1 record with an 0.00 ERA. Now that's hard to do.
- The Astros over the Brewers: Wandy is back and pitching well. He goes against Bush and should win.
- The White Sox over the Athletics: Want to pick Braden and the A's, but the White Sox may not lose again for the rest of the year the way they are going.
- The Diamondbacks over the Mets: The Mets keep bouncing Takahashi between the rotation and the bullpen. That can't be good.
- The Twins over the Mariners: The Fan keeps picking King Felix and he keeps losing. Tired of putting that finger in the electrical outlet.
- The Yankees over the Bay Rays: Vazquez is brilliant as long as Posada isn't catching. Garza is pitching for the Bay Rays and every pitcher this year who has thrown a no-hitter has struggled the next game.
- The Pirates over the Cardinals: Suppon versus McCutchen. At least McCutchen has the stuff to win.
- The Cubs over the Rockies: Okay, the Fan has made fun of Gorzelanny all year, but every pick against him has bit the Fan. What the heck.
- The Marlins over the Padres: Nolasco should be much better than Correia.
- The Rangers over the Angels: Not fun picking Feldman anymore. But thinking Haran will struggle in his first time out for the Angels.

And the Game of the Day

- The Royals over the Orioles: Greinke was bad his last time out. Thinking he bounces back in this one.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 49-32
Month: 225-147
Season: 884-642
Games of the Day: 55-45

Yes, Another Posada Rant

One pitch. That was all it took to ruin young Phil Hughes' night against the Bay Rays. One pitch. He was in complete control. Yes, there were two runners on but there were two outs and young Matt Joyce was at the plate. A pitcher like Hughes should feast on rookies like Joyce. But one pitch cost him a three-run homer and the ballgame. Of course, it didn't help that the Yankees didn't hit as the tiresome A-Rod watch plods on for his 600th homer, but let's forget about that right now and talk about that pitch.

Hughes had two strikes on Matt Joyce. The second strike came on a nasty breaking ball that Joyce didn't come close to hitting. That is what you throw young rookies. You throw them breaking balls until they prove they can hit them. Joyce entered the game hitting .227 by the way. All you have to do is look at the splits for Matt Joyce to see what the Fan is talking about. Against power pitchers (read fastball pitchers), Joyce has a 1.192 OPS. Against finesse pitchers, he has a .674 OPS. Finesse pitchers throw more breaking stuff. You always throw breaking stuff to a rookie.

So the perfect pitch selection in that situation would have been to throw him another breaking ball. Like the Fan just said, he hadn't come close to the last one. But Posada put down the sign for a fastball. For crying out loud. It had to be the dumbest pitch call of the year. Joyce's eyes lit up and he smashed it where only fans were going to catch it. Three runs. The ballgame. A two game swing in the standings all based on that one pitch. That one stinking pitch.

The Fan's wife was trying to understand how her normally mild-mannered husband was spitting epithets in odd combinations. She asked the Fan why the pitcher couldn't just tell the catcher what he wanted to throw? Excellent question. The answer is that Posada has five rings and is one of the Core Four. There is no way he is going to let a kid like Hughes throw what he wants to throw. Posada is a pro. He's the experienced one. He knows what he is doing. So no, Hughes isn't going to call him off that pitch. He's going to dutifully throw it. There is no way that Sabathia would throw anything but what he wanted to throw. But in the pecking order, he outranks Posada. Hughes doesn't. At least not yet.

And so Posada put the fastball sign down to a young rookie who already showed he couldn't hit a curve and the rookie's homer won the game for his team. That one pitch lost it and it's the pitch that Posada called. Terrible.

Zambrano is Back. Now What?

Bobby Howry is gone and probably should be as he was released to make room for everyone's favorite pinata, Carlos Zambrano. And so, with his anger management class now behind him and more than a month and a half in exile, the Big Z is back in the Cubs' fold. So what happens now?

The Cubs are sending him back to the bullpen. Which makes sense considering he would be entering in essence his third Spring Training of the season. Does it make any difference at this point in the season? No, not for the Cubs. But it does call into question the future of the erstwhile ace and what the Cubs intend to do with him from here.

Let's backtrack a bit. The Fan can't excuse Zambrano's behavior back on June 10th. He acted like an ass and Derrek Lee was right to call him out for it. But was the event so terrible that the pitcher required a month and a half suspension? Not for this Fan. Yeah, a fine and a couple days off maybe. What if it had been Ted Lilly who had the meltdown? What if it had been Dempster? Yeah, Zambrano has a history of immature behavior. But his error on June 10th wasn't a lack of effort or a lack of desire. It was an act of frustration. The anger management class was probably spot on as needed for the guy. But the punishment didn't seem to fit the crime.

The real crime has been the way Zambrano has been treated this season by the Cubs. He got off to a bad start and he gave up a lot more hits than usual for his career path. He gave up a few more homers than in seasons past. But if you look beyond those glaring stats, his K/9 was higher than his career average. His walks per nine were right on his career average (though too high for this Fan's liking). The Fan thinks that either Hendry or Piniella made the decision to humble the guy and took him out of the rotation and buried him in the bullpen. If Zambrano was just left alone to pitch every fifth day, he would have delivered what he has always delivered, 200+ innings with some adventure and a lot of outs.

The way this writer sees it, there is no way Zambrano can resume his career as a Cub as things stand now. If Hendry were to finally get fired and a new regime were brought in, perhaps they would tell the big guy to forget about this year and be ready to take the ball every fifth day next year. But Hendry isn't going anywhere, which makes about as much sense as the Texas ownership situation. So Zambrano is just a pile of crap right now and flies are buzzing all around it.

The Cubs should just trade the guy. Try to get another Carlos Silva somewhere. Hey, maybe Bannister of the Royals would suddenly win his first nine games with the Cubs. Why not? Because all they are getting from Zambrano right now is a hesitant bullpen guy who should have been a starter that is making $18 million a year.

That paycheck is nearly the same amount as the Yankees are paying Mark Teixeira and that is a good comparison. Teixeira couldn't have been more brutal the first three months of the season. He was terrible. But the Yankees kept throwing him out there every day because he has a history of success. And eventually, Teixeira came around. Zambrano did not get that luxury. It was almost as if Hendry and Piniella had buyer's remorse for spending that much on Zambrano and were willing to spank him as soon as he started losing.

Many of you will say it's not a fair comparison because Teixeira is a calm professional while Zambrano has a few cards missing from his deck. But first of all, how do you know that Teixeira is not a jerk? Who knows. But Zambrano is an emotional roller coaster and it all happens in living color on television during his starts.

Carlos Zambrano probably needed a class or two on how to handle his emotions. But the Cubs seriously manhandled his season way before June 10th. Without being an expert on law, the Fan would come close to thinking that Zambrano has a case for misuse with his union. But the only thing that would happen there would be for some arbitrator to rule that Zambrano is a free agent. Why would he throw away $18 million to do that? That brings up another point. Why are we as fans so eager to blame a player for making large sums of money? It's a free market system and when a team pays that kind of money, blame the team if the player doesn't produce. If anyone offered you that kind of guaranteed money, wouldn't you take it?

This Fan will give Zambrano about 40% of the blame for being an emotional freak. But give the Cubs 60% of the blame for this entire season and how they've manhandled Zambrano from the very beginning.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Game Picks - Friday: July 30, 2010

This picker made quite a few stupid picks yesterday and though the day ended up over .500 (thanks to an improbable win by the Orioles), the Fan doesn't really want to talk about it. Let's just call it temporary insanity and go on to Friday:

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Oswalt makes his Phillies debut and should have no trouble against the Nats.
  • The Blue Jays over the Indians: Would like to think Masterson can come up big in this one, but Marcum is really good.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: The D-Backs have lost seven in a row and are due for a win. Ian Kennedy should keep them in the game. Pelfrey for the Mets has really been struggling.
  • The Braves over the Reds: Cueto is unpredictable but has been pitching well. The Braves' Medlin has been good as well and this Fan thinks he'll end up on top.
  • The Red Sox over the Tigers: Lester versus Galarraga. Glub blub goes the Tigers.
  • The Yankees over the Rays: Hughes versus Davis in a battle of young guns. The Yankees end up on top.
  • The Astros over the Brewers: J. A. Happ wins his debut for his new team. Parra should leak enough to make this happen.
  • The Twins over the Mariners: Not getting sucked in by Fister again. Though Baker is no picnic of a pick.
  • The Royals over the Orioles: O'Sullivan is a good looking pitcher. The Royals should get to Arieta.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Anderson is back and stymies the White Sox. Hudson starts for the Chisox.
  • The Cubs over the Rockies: Dempster has had a much better year than Francis.
  • The Padres over the Marlins: LeBlanc should be better than Volstad, who is a mystery.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Hunter ensures that the Rangers continue to bury the Angels.
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Lincecum better come out of his funk to make this pick come true.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Can imagine any scenario for the Cardinals losing this game with Carpenter versus Karstens.

Yesterday: 6-5
Week: 41-25
Month: 217-140
Season: 876-635
Games of the Day: 54-45

Showalter is a Brave Man

William Nathaniel "Buck" Showalter is a manager again as he was hired to manage the Orioles starting Tuesday. The hiring was a loss for those of us who enjoyed Showalter's work on ESPN. The move also shows Showalter to be one of the bravest men in baseball. The Orioles have been one of the worst teams in baseball history. But, hey, at least Showalter has no where to go than up.

Buck Showalter has a history of taking struggling teams and making them better. He also has a history of losing his job a year before his team went on to the World Series. Showalter's history does put him in a better position for this type of job than say Lou Piniella did when he went down to manage Tampa Bay. But Showalter seems to have an even worse situation than those woeful Tampa Bay teams.

Showalter took over the Yankees in 1992 when the team was in a long period of drought. He inherited guys like Matt Nokes, Roberto Kelly, Charlie Hayes, Tim Leary and Danny Tartabull. The team came in fourth his first year. They improved twelve wins in his second year and they came in second. 1994 was the strike shortened season and Showalter got the team into first place with a record well over .600. He was the Manager of the Year that year. After the team dipped to second place the following year, he lost his job with the Yankees. Of course, the manager that replaced him was Joe Torre and the rest is history.

Showalter was then hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks when that franchise came into being. He was hired well before the team actually became a team and was in one of the most unique situations in history to mold his own team. The D-Backs inaugural year was 1998 and they lost 97 games which isn't bad for a new franchise. The following year, thanks to the addition of Randy Johnson, the D-Backs won 100 games. That was a 35 game improvement of the previous year and won Showalter his second Manager of the Year award.

The following year, the team slipped to third place and Showalter lost his job again. Naturally, the Diamondbacks won the World Series the following year.

Showalter was then hired by the Texas Rangers in 2003. The first year didn't go well, which we have seen has been his pattern. That year was mostly notable for his famous feud with Alex Rodriguez. The following year (again fitting his MO) the Rangers (minus A-Rod) added 18 wins, but still came in third. They fell back ten wins in 2005 but again came in third. And in 2006, Showalter's last with the team, they won one more than the previous season but came in third again. Those teams were famous as explosive offensive machines with equally explosive and horrible starting pitching. The Rangers hit 225 homers one year and 260 the next, but still couldn't get any traction as their pitching was abominable.

So now Showalter goes to a team that has neither hitting nor pitching. According to his track record, Showalter's Orioles will show modest improvement next year and significant improvement in 2012. But that will take miracles that are beyond our scope to see right now. To be sure, Showalter will give it all he has. Effort and focus have never been his problem. Plus, he won't have primadonna stars to anger with his disciplinary approach since the Orioles don't have any stars. But Showalter must like a challenge to get tossed into that mess.

You're a brave man, Mr. Showalter.

Whining Works

This Fan was whining yesterday that the trade deadline had been boring as all get out. Like a kid that gets the cookie because he's good at whining, today brought the Fan some cookies with one big deadline trade and a couple of other deals. Let's start with the biggie.

The Phillies always seem to get what they need when they need it. Last year it was Lee. Then in the off season, they flipped Lee for Halladay. Now they've added Roy Oswalt to an already talented team that has won a huge bunch of games of late. And those wily Phillies gave up very little to get Oswalt too. J. A. Happ had a great season last season. But his underlying statistics showed it to be a fluky kind of success. This year Happ has had some injury problems but he is the guy going to the Astros. The Astros also received two minor league outfielders that seem more speculative than superlative. The Astros then flipped one of those guys to Toronto for Brett Wallace, a thumper of a first baseman who isn't much of a fielder. At least the Astros can replace one thumping, can't field first basemen for another next year when Berkman walks.

The Astros are also giving the Phillies a huge pile of money which makes this deal all the sweeter for the Phillies. They get Roy Oswalt the rest of this year and next year for about half of what he is worth on the open market due to the Astros ante.

The only concern this writer has about this deal is Oswalt's history of back ailments. He isn't exactly young and though he has proved he can still pitch, the Phillies better keep their fingers crossed. But the Fan told you a month ago to not count the Phillies out and they are closing on the Braves rather quickly.

The other two moves weren't nearly as glamorous as the Oswalt deal. The Orioles sent perjury specialist, Miguel Tejada, to the Padres for a hard-throwing semi-prospect. Tejada isn't anywhere near the player he was, but for the offense-stressed Padres, he'll help them. Look for Tejada to get a second wind in San Diego.

The other deal helps the Rangers since they acquired Jorge Cantu from the Marlins for two minor league pitchers. Those two prospects, Evan Reed and Omar Poveda, were the two best prospects traded this week and could develop into very good pitchers for the Marlins. Considering that Cantu is a free agent at the end of the season and is no more than a rental, the Rangers have exposed themselves as being all in to win this year. Cantu is not having a good year at the plate and is down in all of his numbers compared to his career. But if he bounces back for the Rangers to his career levels, he could help them, especially at first and a fill in for Kinsler at second until the second baseman returns. Cantu will never wow you, but he is only 28 and is a decent hitter.

Thursday was a lot more fun than the rest of the week. Will anything else happen to surprise us tomorrow?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Game Picks - Thursday: July 29, 2010

Eleven correct. A good day. The only blemishes on the day were the Cubs. Norris was much better than expected and the Cubs' bullpen was a disaster. The Angels lost, which wasn't fair because it wasn't announced that Pineiro was out until the day of the game. The Orioles were simply a stupid pick. And the Mets lost. The Cardinals were ahead 6-1 but the Mets roared back but lost the game in extra innings. But on the whole, those were the only mistakes and that's not bad at all. On the plus side, the Fan's Man, Ohlendorf, got hit in the face with a line drive and the Pirates still won and the Fan correctly picked Oakland to slow down the Rangers.

There are eleven games today which isn't bad for a Thursday. These are the long days of the schedule when several teams go long stretches without a day off. Here's how the games look:

  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Hawksworth hasn't been good for the Cards and Dickey has been awesome for the Mets. So that should be a Mets pick. But the gut says the Cardinals win.
  • The Bay Rays over the Tigers: David Price should notch another win and Porcello gets the loss.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: Never wild about Lowe pitching, but this Fan is a big disbeliever in Scott Olsen
  • The Rockies over the Pirates: Got to believe that Ubaldo will rebound a bit against the Pirates.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: Bumgarner has been great. Sanchez has often been great. Not often enough though.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Podsednik isn't going to like facing Mr. Latos.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Phillies: Joe Saunders wins his first outing for his new team. Kendrick with the loss.
  • The Yankees over the Indians: The Yanks are starting Moseley which is scary, but they should pile onto Talbot.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: A tough game to call. Mazzaro has been good but so has Wilson. Going with the better team.
  • The Orioles over the Royals: A thought here that Matusz should match up well against the Royals, especially without the Podfather.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Mariners over the White Sox: Pauley is 0-2 despite an ERA of 2.12. Look for the young man to shut down the White Sox who counter with Freddie Garcia who is predictably sliding down hill fast.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 36-20
Month: 211-135
Season: 870-630 - 1500 games!
Games of the Day: 54-44

Torres for MVP?

Andres Torres is 32 years old. He was drafted twelve years ago by the Tigers (fourth round). It took him four years to get a cup of coffee with the Tigers. He didn't do well. He got a little larger sip of coffee the following year. He didn't do well. In 2004, he got into three games with the Tigers but never got to bat. He went in to play the outfield twice for an inning and pinch ran once. He stole a base and scored. He became a free agent at the end of the season.

The following season, he was signed by the Texas Rangers. He got into eight games with the Rangers. He didn't do well and they released him in June of 2005. He signed as a free agent with the Twins and played in the minors the entire 2006 season. He became a free agent. He was signed back with the Tigers as a free agent and spent the entire 2007 season in the minors. He became a free agent again. He signed with the Cubs and played the entire 2008 season in the minors. He became a free agent again.

On January 9, 2009, Torres signed with the San Francisco Giants. He played 17 games in the minors and the Giants needed help so they called him up. The rest, in the immortal words of that emperor with the groove, "Boom Baby!" Torres got into 75 games with the Giants and compiled 170 plate appearances and finished with a 124 OPS+. He was also stellar in the field in all three outfield positions. It was a nice season for the 31 year old lifer. But not too many people payed much attention.

He's played nearly every game for the Giants this year. He's racked up 372 plate appearances and is close to a 130 OPS+ (remember that 100 is league average). He leads the league in doubles with 32. He's stolen 18 bases and has only been caught five times. His OBP is in the high .370s. And his defense! His defense has been a revelation. Thanks to his stellar season at the plate and his superb defense, he is second only to Joey Votto in the National League in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with 4.1. pins his current value at $16 million. Not bad for a guy making just above league minimum.

Andres Torres needs to be seriously considered for the National League MVP. That statement alone is astonishing considering the long strange trip that Torres took to get to the place he is now. His BABIP is a bit high which shows he's been a bit lucky, but come on! 51% of his hits have been for extra bases. He has scored 57 times and has driven in 41 from mostly the lead off spot. And there is no luck involved in his fielding.

Andres Torres has been an amazing story that few on the East Coast have payed any attention to or even know about. He's been incredible, which is a really cool story.

The Trade Deadline Has Been a Bore

Yeah, the Dodgers got Podsednik. He's a decent player and should help the Dodgers who need a miracle more than an outfielder to make the playoffs. Yeah, the Tigers got Jhonny Peralta who used to have some power and still plays a pretty good third base. But, come on! Those are boring. Derrek Lee to the Angels would have been sort of fun. But he is a 10/5 guy and refused to go. That's his right and this Fan doesn't blame him. But other than that, we have lots of rumors and little else. It's starting to feel that nobody is really going to pull the trigger on any kind of blockbuster deal right now.

We might as well look at the two deals that did go down. Scott Podsednik will help the Dodgers who have lost Manny and Reed Johnson and needed an outfielder. He'll bat .300. He'll get on base at a .350 clip. He'll steal bases (and get thrown out a third of the time). He'll get some triples. He runs the bases well. He's a mediocre outfielder. But he'll due for the Dodgers. He certainly won't hurt them.

What is curious is that the Dodgers traded their best catching prospect to get him. The Dodgers don't have any other decent catchers in their system. Russell Martin hasn't looked good for quite a while now. Why would they do that? Probably because the Royals desperately needed catching help. But at the end of the day, the Dodgers got a useful player who is also very cheap to have. He doesn't make much in the grand scheme of things so he fits in the Dodgers' limited budget. Good for the Royals. Okay for the Dodgers.

The Tigers are desperate to stay in the Central race. They have been leaking badly for two weeks now and losing Brandon Inge didn't help. Though, that's certainly up for debate. Peralta has lost all his power for some reason (hmmm). But he's an okay hitter who won't clog the bases with a high OBP. He makes his share of errors at third, but overall, he has played there pretty well the last two years. Frankly, the Tigers don't figure to catch the leaders in the division, so it all seems like a moot point. The Indians get a low minors prospect that may work out someday a long way from now. They also free up the $4.5 million that Peralta was making. So that makes sense for them. Peralta had seemingly run his course in Cleveland anyway and now the team can go in a different direction.

So those are the day's two big headlines. [[yawn]] At least their names are different. There aren't too many better nicknames in baseball better than The Podfather. And there isn't another Jhonny in baseball. That's the best the Fan can do with this. Maybe tomorrow or this weekend will bring some pizazz. But the Fan's gut is telling him that any further deals will be small ones like these two.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Game Picks - Wednesday: July 28, 2010

Not a great picking day yesterday. It was over .500, but just barely. You would think on a day where this picker successfully picked the Pirates, Nationals and Astros to win would be a success. But it was the West Coast that killed the day. The Fan didn't get one correct pick for any game that started late out there. Yeesh. The Reds - Brewers game was another disappointment. The Brewers had Gallardo starting, their best pitcher. AND he hit a two run homer (his fourth of the season!). But he only lasted two innings and gave up ten hits. Ten hits! In two innings! The Yankees couldn't muster any offense against a kid making his major league debut. The Tigers can't win a game even with their best pitcher on the mound. And the Mets jumped all over Wainwright. Disappointing.

Here are Wednesday's games:

  • The Cubs over the Astros: This Fan has no faith in Norris and Randy Wells was very good his last time out.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Wood looks good which rhymes of course. Narveson pitches for the Brewers and he's been hot and cold. You never really know.
  • The Twins over the Royals: You really root for Bannister because he is so different than anybody else. He just doesn't have talent though. Duensing should win.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: Pineiro hasn't fared well against Boston in his career but he pitched decently against them last time. He is also 7-2 at home this year. Beckett is an unknown at this point for the Red Sox.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: Flip a coin to see which young pitcher will do better, Sanchez or Sanabia. Going with the Giants at home.
  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Got to go with Halladay over Jackson.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: Tim Hudson is 9-1 in his career over the Nats. Enough said? Well, as much as Livan has been good, he's never pitched well against the Braves.
  • The Yankees over the Indians: Carmona is good, but he's never been good against the Yankees. Burnett showed promise last time out and he pitched a great game against the Indians earlier in the year.
  • The Orioles over the Blue Jays: Brad Mills makes his season debut versus Guthrie. Guthrie is decent. Brad Mills has two outings in his major league career and has pitched 7.2 innings giving up 14 hits, 12 earned runs and six walks. Uh...
  • The Mets over the Cardinals: Santana has never lost to the Cardinals. Garcia one hit the Mets last time out. hmm... Going with Santana.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Cahill is outstanding and has pitched well against the Rangers. Lewis has been very good and has pitched only admirably against the A's.
  • The White Sox over the Mariners: Buehrle should be better than Vargas. The Mariners can't hit.
  • The Pirates over the Rockies: Two wins in a row? Ohlendorf is a better pitcher than Cook.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Kuroda and Richard cancel each other out. So you go with the home team.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Bay Rays over the Tigers: Niemann has been good and he has been very good against the Tigers in his career. The Tigers counter with relief pitcher, Bonine. Nope.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 25-16
Month: 200-131
Season: 859-626
Games of the Day: 53-44

The Fan Was Shouting At His Screen Again

Ah, the life of a Fan. Watched Josh Tomlin of the Cleveland Indians make his major league debut against the New York Yankees. In a nice, feel-good story, Tomlin got the win going seven innings. He only gave up three hits and didn't walk anybody. That's the feel-good part. The Fan shouting at the screen part was watching Yankee batters take meatballs for strikes only to let Tomlin make his pitch with the count in his favor...that was the bad part.

It's enough to drive a Fan crazy. In Rob Neyer's blog today, he quoted another writer whose theory on why this is a pitcher's year is that major league hitters are taking strike one which puts them immediately in a pitcher's count and the pitchers are throwing first pitch strikes. Exactly. Good call. And the Yankees are the de facto poster boys for such activity. The two biggest antagonists? A-Rod and Brett Gardner.

As you probably know, A-Rod is trying to hit his 600th homer. That's one reason why the Fan has been watching every Yankee game to try to catch history. Tonight against Tomlin, A-Rod let at least four glorious meatballs (chest high) go right by him for called strikes. Two were hanging sliders. And the others were batting practice fastballs. Tomlin had a nice game. But he isn't overpowering by any means. He threw strikes and he kept the Yankees off balance. His most effective weapon was throwing that first pitch strike.

This Fan is no expert or he would be on the field playing. But golly geez, it sure looked like A-Rod could have pounded those pitches. Putting himself behind in the count on all occasions, he had to hit the pitcher's pitch, which meant lunging for outside corner strikes and hitting them weakly.

Brett Gardner is simply maddening. He never swings at the first strike and rarely swings at the second one. It seems he is always in the hole in the count, which makes it amazing how well his average and on base percentage have held up. Tuesday night against Tomlin was no different. Belt-high and downtown Broadway strikes and Gardner just stood there looking just like always. And like A-Rod, he gets in a pitcher's count and has to swing at anything close and makes easy outs.

ARRRRGGGHHH! It's enough to drive a Fan to the basement to write a blog. Good for Tomlin though. Might as well exploit a weakness and keep yourself in counts that benefit your own pitches. Smart.

Quite a Race Going for AL MVP

Josh Hamilton has been amazing for the Rangers. Every single day the box score reveals multiple hits, doubles, homers, ribbies. The guy is just on another planet right now. But he's still not a lock for MVP. Another candidate is Miguel Cabrera, who has been putting up his own monster season. Robinson Cano has faded a bit in recent weeks, but if he heats up again, he is currently fourth in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Youkilis is a long shot and Morneau needs to come back hot from his concussion.

Those who vote for MVP usually vote on traditional counting stats. Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera lead the way in those categories. Currently first and second in batting respectively, they combine a high batting average with plenty of power and both are driving in runs in prodigious regularity. Hamilton is batting .360. Cabrera is batting .347. Both are amazing averages. Cabrera has Hamilton by one homer and fourteen RBIs. He also leads Hamilton in runs scored by four. Those are the traditional stats that MVP voters look at when the season is over. But there are other factors. If any of the voters are interested in some of the newer statistics, we'll get to those in a minute.

Team factors will arise for voters. Cano will have problems because he plays with a bunch of superstars. Hamilton isn't the only force in the Rangers' lineup. Young, Kinsler and especially, Vlad Guerrero, are all having great years. So that may be a detraction from Hamilton. Cabrera is the only great hitter in his lineup. Yes, rookies Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch are having good seasons. But they can't carry the lineup like Cabrera can. The problem Cabrera might face is if the Tigers fall out of the race and become irrelevant. If that happens, Cabrera's chances will suffer.

Youkilis and Morneau will have arguments as well. Morneau led all of baseball in WAR for most of the season until the last couple of weeks. Youkilis has had a great season and has been a rock for the Red Sox in a season of injury and upheaval. If the Red Sox cannot catch up to the two top teams in the AL East, he'll have problems getting votes. Morneau has been slowed by his concussion, but he also has a problem with his own teammates. Joe Mauer is considered one of the best players in baseball at a premier position and Delmon Young is having an amazing breakout season. Young might be the Twins MVP right now. Both Morneau and Youkilis have one other problem that Cabrera shares. They are all first baseman and because that position is so loaded throughout baseball (the NL MVP will come down to two first basement too in Votto and Pujols), all those great players get jumbled up in jumbo.

Will anybody with an MVP vote care about the newfangled statistics? Probably a few. If so, Cabrera leads all of baseball with an OPS of 1.067. Morneau is second and Hamilton is third. Morneau leads all of baseball in wOBA at .447. But that category is really tight. Cabrera is at .444 and Hamilton is at .441. Youkilis is fourth at .421. There is another stat called Win Probability (WPA) and Cabrera is first in that category and Hamilton second. Nobody is remotely close to them in those categories.

Where it gets dicey is if you go by value which includes fielding. Cabrera still isn't considered an elite first baseman. He has improved, no doubt. But he is not great. Hamilton is having a fine season in left and Morneau is having a great season in the field. When you add fielding to batting, you get a statistic called WAR or Wins above Replacement which is used to figure a dollar value on a player's performance. Hamilton leads the majors with a WAR of 5.4 and a value of $21.6 million. Morneau is second at 5.2 and $20.6 million. Carl Crawford, a long shot for this award, is a surprising third at 5.1 and $20.5 million. But it's really not that surprising to those who look at these kinds of numbers. Crawford has hit for some power, steals bases and is the best left fielder in the game today.

So where are we? Well, we have to take into consideration what the old-fogey voters vote for. They want average. They want power. And they want their winner to be on a contending team. Hamilton fits. Crawford fits, but again, he suffers from playing with Longoria and Zobrist who will distract some votes. Cabrera will lose out because the Tigers are fading and because he is a first baseman. That leaves us with Josh Hamilton, who would win if the vote was held tomorrow. And for once, the voters would not be wrong.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Game Picks - Tuesday: July 27, 2010

Six correct. Four incorrect. Blah. First, this picker thought that the Reds would beat the Brewers and they should have. Arroyo was great again pitching the distance. But of the three hits he gave up, two were homers and that was that. His team could only muster two runs. The Fan also needed King Felix to come up big. He abdicated. Picking against the Bay Rays was pretty dumb, no-hitter kind of dumb. But who saw that coming? And finally, anything could have happened in the Florida - San Fran game and what did happen went against what the Fan predicted. Oh well.

But like the sunshine outside, today is a new day with a fresh set of games. Onward!

  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Hamels should have no trouble being better than Rodrigo Lopez.
  • The Nationals over the Braves: Let's ride the Strasburg train one more time.
  • The Yankees over the Indians: Sabathia pitches against a kid from the minors. The Yankees spit out the bones of young pitchers.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Romero should be steady and Millwood should still be traded.
  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Wainwright over Niese but it should be close. The Mets on-field staff got a reprieve for the rest of the season. But after the season? Duck.
  • The Tigers over the Rays: If the Tigers can't win with their stud, Verlander, who can they win with? Shields goes for the Rays. He's great the first time through the batting order, then gets whacked like a pinata.
  • The Astros over the Cubs: The game features two trade bait in Myers and Lilly. Want to bet how many scouts will be at this game?
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Gonzales is good. But Lee is Lee. Time for the Rangers to bury one more semi-contender.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: Gallardo is solid. Volquez is too much of a question mark.
  • The White Sox over the Mariners: The Mariners have no shot at winning this game. None.
  • The Pirates over the Rockies: Upset! The Pirates get to De La Rosa and the Duke pitches a good game.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Ugh! How hard is this game to pick? Garland? You never know. Billingsley? You never know. Good luck.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: Weaver shows old friend, Lackey, why he is still the better pitcher.
  • The Marlins over the Giants: Cain is good, but Josh Johnson is silly good.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Twins over the Royals: Unless they are too tired after scoring 19 runs yesterday. Sheesh. But Pavano will keep them in the game if they are too tired to swing the bats.

Yesterday: 6-4
Week: 17-9
Month: 192-124
Season: 851-619
Games of the Day: 52-44

Bad Luck or Downhill Slope for Rollins?

There has been little discussion in sports writing concerning Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' shortstop. For someone who has been integral in the psyche of the Phillies and has been part of their championship run for the past several years, there has been little ink over what has been quite a long time drop in his performance over the last three years. Much, of course, has been written about Derek Jeter, who seems to be a lightning rod for every type of fan for or against the Yankees. But Rollins has strangely been given a pass. But despite the quiet, Rollins has not been near the player he was for a long time now.

For example, In his last 840 at bats, Jimmy Rollins has a .248 batting average. His slugging percentage has fallen three years in a row since his legendary MVP year of 2007. Thankfully, at least he is getting on base more often than last year. His OBP is a somewhat respectable .335 this year after leading off all of last year with a disastrous .296 OBP in 725 plate appearances. But even that .344 2010 OBP is misleading as his OBP for July is .295 in 105 plate appearances.

Can Rollins' struggles be explained away by one of the longest strings of bad luck in history? Possibly. Maybe. Over the last half of last season and the first part of this season, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is .260. Particularly striking is his BABIP on ground balls which sits at .138 so far this season. To translate that, Rollins this year has put 115 balls in play that were either a fly ball or a ground ball and he has a grand total of 18 hits on those events. For those of you keeping score, that's a .156 batting average in those situations. His line drives are falling in at a .700 clip.

Without watching a lot of Rollins at bats this season, it's hard to qualify the BABIP. How much bad luck is it if you are routinely hitting weak fly balls to people or routine grounders to the infield? A famous old hitter once said the key to hitting was to "hit 'em where they ain't." Rollins is hitting them where they are. But is that a skill level thing or a luck thing? Would it be a stretch to say it is both? Apparently the purpose of batting practice is to perfect the ability to hit the balls in the holes or in the gaps. Rollins so far this year and last isn't finding those holes or those gaps. Luck? Maybe.

Part of this year's results could also be explained away by bad wheels. Rollins has missed quite a bit of time with calf problems, which seems to be the injury of the decade. But this year's problems can't explain away last year when Rollins walked up to the plate 725 times. Rollins is also 32 years old now. He is past the supposed peak years of 27 to 29. Is he sinking faster than most?

Rollins had a bad year last year. Real bad. His 88 OPS+ made him a less than league average performer. He even had negative fielding statistics last year for the first time in his career (he still won the Gold Glove - go figure). At least that has bounced back this year and he is in positive numbers, but no doubt due to wheel problems, those positive numbers aren't close to the glory numbers he put up from 2003 to 2007. From 2003 to 2008, Rollins averaged 4 wins above replacement (WAR) each season. Last year, that figure fell to 0.9. This year should be better, but it's still not great. His OPS+ this year sits at 98 or just under league average.

Rollins simply hasn't been an elite player since 2007 and there is argument that he hasn't even been a good one. It's really striking that so little has been said about it.

Wacky Year for Garza Just Got Wackier

Just this morning while writing the daily Game Picks post, the Fan faced the quandary of Matt Garza when picking his game against Detroit. The guy is 11-5 so that sounds like an outstanding season, right? Not exactly. His ERA+ going into Monday night's game was 98 or lower than league average. Garza is certainly a puzzle. He has averaged 7.1 K/9 and only 3.2 BB/9 for his career and even with this year's 11-5 record, he is 38-39 in his career. Before this year, he was 19-21 between 2008 and 2009. And now he's thrown a no-hitter.

On Monday night, Garza came only one walk away from a perfect game. He faced the minimum 27 batters while striking out six. This grand feat comes just five days after he gave up seven earned runs in just 6.1 innings including ten hits and four homers against the lowly Orioles. That, friends, is the essence of the Garza dilemma.

This is Garza's game log this season:
Gem, Gem, Gem, Clank, Gem, Gem, Decent, Gem, Gem, Clank, Clank, Clank, Clank, Clank, Decent, Decent, Clank, Save!, Gem, Clank, No-hitter.

That isn't the picture of consistency. But he is 11-5 and that counts for something. Meanwhile, Garza's no-hitter underscores the wall the Tigers have hit lately. They are losing at a regular pace now and have lost Ordonez to injury. This just might be a deep enough hole the Tigers are digging where it will be nearly impossible to turn it around.

Who Was the Better Player?

It has been said in this space before, but it bears repeating: We live in the greatest age of baseball information ever. There is,, and even ESPN is getting much heavier into the statistical world. And of course, there is If you want to know about any player that ever played, you can easily look them up and see their numbers in glorious clarity. One of the fun things to do with all that information is to try to compare similar players of other eras. This Fan has fun doing that and figured it would be nice to share some of that fun with you.

Who was the better player, Frank Howard or Boog Powell?

This was an interesting comparison and the numbers are closer than you would think. Both of these mammoth first basemen played a long time. Powell played sixteen full seasons and part of another. Howard played fourteen full seasons and parts of two others. Howard was 6'7" and Powell was 6'4". Both finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times. Powell won the MVP once and that wasn't even close to his best season. Powell had 61 more career RBIs but Howard hit seventy more homers. Howard averaged 33 homers per 162 games, Powell 27. Powell finished with a .361 OBP, Howard finished with .352 (Powell had more than 300 more career walks). Howard struck out 170+ more times than Powell. Powell was always a first baseman whereas Howard played a lot of outfield (and badly). Boog Powell finished his career with an impressive 134 OPS+. Howard finished at a fantastic 142.

Two final things clinch Howard as the better player. First, in 1968, when the pitchers had their best year in history, Howard hit 44 homers and finished with a 170 OPS+. That same year, Powell hit 22 homers and had a 126 OPS+. Secondly, Howard finished with 39.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Powell finished at 39.7 but had 500 more plate appearances. Howard wins by a nose, but it's pretty darn close and both players were great and are not remembered well.

Who was the better player, Phil Rizzuto or Pee Wee Reese?

The Scooter versus the Pee Wee. Actually, Pee Wee wasn't that small since he was five feet, ten inches tall. Rizzuto was really the pee wee as he was only five feet, six inches tall. This one is a little harder to compare since Reese played sixteen seasons and Rizzuto 13. Both lost precious time to the war. So for the sake of valid argument, let's compare their peak seasons from 1946 to 1954. Measured by WAR, it's not even close. Reese beats Rizzuto 42.6 to 31.4. Rizzuto was a slightly better fielder (his fielding percentage and range were slightly better) but Reese stole more bases and had a 99 OPS+ compared to Rizzuto's 93. Rizzuto finished in the top ten three times in MVP voting and won it once. Reese was in the top ten in MVP voting an astounding eight times but never won. They say that winning is everything and Phil Rizzuto had more rings on his finger. But Reese was the better player.

Which was the better player, Brooks Robinson or Craig Nettles?

This is a lot closer than you would think. Robinson had the reputation and is in the Hall of Fame. Nettles, like Robinson, earned a reputation of his own during the Yankees run of the late 70s. Robinson played 23 seasons, 17 of them full time. Nettles played 21 seasons, 16 of them full time. Robinson hit for a higher career average and had more than 400 more hits in his career. But Nettles hit more than 120 more homers. Robinson drove in 1357 runs, Nettles, 1314. Nettles clearly has Robinson in OPS+ with a career tally of 110. Robinson finished at 103. But the edge in fielding goes to Robinson who was an amazing 293 runs over replacement for his career in the field. Nettles finished with a still impressive 148. The final Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are really close. Robinson finished with 69.1 and Nettles with 61.6. Robinson grounded into 100 more double plays than Nettles but Robinson struck out a couple hundred less times. All in all, it seems if Robinson is in the Hall of Fame, Nettles should be there too.

This was fun. We'll have to do it again some time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Game Picks - Monday: July 26, 2010

When you are picking every game every week, it becomes a long season. Consider that this picker has already picked 1,460 games this season. That's a lot of picks. But it is also why MLB is the best sport on earth. No other big time sport plays 162 games by 30 teams with only a few days off here and there. It has to be a real grind for the players so this Fan is not going to complain about picking games every day. The Fan is simply grateful not to have missed a single day this season. The goal is not to miss a single day for the entire season. It's a grind, but you, fans, are worth it.

There are ten games on tap for Monday, which isn't bad as Mondays go. Here's how the Fan see 'em:

  • The Phillies over the Rockies: Hammel is better than Blanton, but the Phillies are a much better home team than the Rockies are a road team.
  • The Yankees over the Indians: Vazquez is pitching well. The Yankees keep winning, so why pick against them?
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Morrow should have no trouble keep the score lower than Bergesen does.
  • The Tigers over the Bay Rays: There are so many things going on with this one. The Tigers are really struggling and are a horrible road team. But Scherzer pitched really well last time out. The Bay Rays are only so-so at home but great on the road. Garza is so unpredictable. Who knows...
  • The Cubs over the Astros: Another pick that stinks to pick. Silva is coming back to earth. But Wright isn't a regular starter. So the Cubs win based on offense.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Arroyo looks like he is enjoying himself these days and is up to ten wins. Wolf has seen better times and it appears that the Brewers atrocious defense does him in.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Greinke and Liriano have nearly identical stats this year. So they cancel themselves out, thus giving the better team the nod.
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: King Felix will have to be really good to make this pick hold up as Danks has done well for the Chisox. But the Mariners beat some good pitching this week against Boston.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Good match up of Buchholz versus Pineiro. Buchholz is the better of the two though.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Giants over the Marlins: You can't stop Buster Posey, you can only hope to contain him.

Yesterday: 11-5 - 69%
Week: 11-5
Month: 186-120 - 61%
Season: 845-615 - 58%
Games of the Day: 52-43 - 55%

Trade Deadline a Quandry for Some

There was finally a big trade today in baseball as the Angels acquired Dan Haran for Joe Saunders and two minor league players (one of them a real good one). The Angels are close enough (six games behind) to Texas to still consider themselves contenders but are far enough back and not playing particularly well. This trade works out well for them in either case as they will have Haran to anchor their rotation for two more years and Saunders was a liability. But for other teams like the Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers and Rockies, serious thought has to be given if any short term trades will be worth the cost.

The Dodgers are six out and have lost six of their last ten. Their bullpen was falling apart until they brought up Kenley Jansen who has blown away four batters in two perfect innings and recorded his first save on Sunday. Jansen seems to preclude an need for a trade for bullpen help. They could use another bat, but is it worth any prospects when they might not have a realistic chance to get back into the race? That's a tough question. The same goes for the Rockies who are seven games back. The wild card for both of those teams is that the Padres are in uncharted waters. Nobody expected them to be this good for this long and everyone has waited for them to fall back to the pack. It hasn't happened yet. The Fan is no different than them as the Padres just don't seem good enough on paper to win the division. But there they are.

And what of the Mets? Seriously, it seems the Mets chances of getting back into the NL East race are remote. They are 2-9 in their last 11 games and they have all those players back they've been pining for. So is it a waste of any talent to bring in a short term fix at this point? Consider that the Mets are just as far away from first place in the NL East as the Brewers are in the NL Central. Does anyone think that the Brewers should be going out and getting help for the pennant race? Not exactly. The Mets have two teams on top of them and the Marlins who are in a virtual tie for third. They are done this season and only the pressure of the New York state of mind would make them act differently than that fact.

The same can be said for the Red Sox. They have dug themselves a really deep hole. Their entire outfield is a mess. Okajima, who for years has been untouchable, has an ERA near six and losing Pedroia has really hurt. Not only do the Red Sox have to consider with the depth of their problems whether it's worth it to take on salary, dump prospects and continue to act like they are a factor in the AL East race. They are eight back of the Yankees and five back of the Rays. Again, the pressure they've created themselves with the Nation and the winning expectation might cause them to pull triggers on trades that might be moot.

With today's economy affecting baseball, teams need to think long and hard about giving away young talent for the quick fix. The Angels could afford Haran and have the luxury of his services for two more seasons, so his addition gives them a boost this year (though it may be too little, too late) but also a better chance at contending the next two season. That's a different kettle of fish than going after Adam Dunn or other rentals.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Game Picks - Sunday: July 25, 2010

The picks have to be quick today. Apologies for that. The Fan went 9-6 yesterday. Not bad, but not as spectacular as the previous two days. Here's Sunday's quick picks:

  • The Indians over the Bay Rays: Masterson is starting to figure it out. Wade Davis isn't.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers: The Tigers are really on a bad streak and now they have lost Ordonez.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Hughes over O'Sullivan and A-Rod hits #600.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: Getting Jurrjens back was like making a blockbuster trade.
  • The Rockies over the Phillies: Happ is back, but not buying it yet. Francis was good his last time out.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Did the Twins happen by the Orioles at the right time or what?
  • The Reds over the Astros: Leake has an easy game versus poor Wandy.
  • The Brewers over the Nationals: The Nats are starting Detwiler. Enough said.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Braden hasn't done much lately, but he is due. Hudson starts for the Chisox.
  • The Dodgers over the Mets: Kershaw versus Dickey. Could this be the Mets' manager's last game?
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Lincecum has suddenly become a scary pick.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: Hard to think Dice-K has back to back great games, but it's possible.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: The Tigers get to Litsch while Bonderman holds on for dear life.
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: How can you ever pick against Carpenter?
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Okay, the Rangers gave the Angels a game. But Hunter goes 8-0 in this one. Bell pitches for the Angels.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Padres over the Pirates: The Pirates are not emancipated by Lincoln. They get LeBlanced by the Pads.

Yesterday: 9-6
Last week: 62-36
Month: 175-115
Season: 834-610
Games of the Day: 51-43

Oakland Athletics Having a Nice Run

The Oakland Athletics are a .500 baseball team. If they finish the year as such, that will be a big improvement over 2009. With the exception of being swept by the Yankees in early July, they are 11-4 the rest of the month. They split their series with the Red Sox, they won two of three against the Angels, they swept the Royals, they took two of three from Cleveland and so far they have split their current series with the White Sox. Although the Athletics feature a good rotation and a very good bullpen, the hitting--woeful most of the year--has picked up and they are averaging nearly six runs a game in their last eleven games.

The Athletics seem to do a great job of finding pitching. The major leagues are full of their former prospects. The major rap on the Athletics is that they don't do a good job of keeping their young pitching healthy and that has been a problem this year too. Braden, Anderson and Duchscherer have spent time on the DL with the latter two lost for the season. Trevor Cahill is turning out to be one of the best of the bunch. His strikeout to walk ratio has improved greatly over last year. The one big concern for him is his BABIP (batting average for balls in play) which sits at the ridiculously low .216. Look for that figure to rise dramatically as well as his ERa.

Vin Mazzaro is now 6-2 since being called up and he beat the White Sox on Saturday night. His BABIP is .287 which is reasonable enough to think his success will continue. He is a far sight better than last year. Gia Gonzalez is also showing a lot of improvement over last year. He has a healthy 7.1 strikeouts per nine. If he could just harness some command and lower his 4.2 walks per nine innings, he'd be even better. Like most of the young A's pitchers, he keeps the ball in the yard and gives up far fewer hits than innings pitched.

Braden needs to stay healthy. His K/BB ratio is tremendous and his perfect game was no fluke. He is a part of a young rotation that seems to be getting better all the time. Anderson was already one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his injury really hurt. It's funny, but the A's least effective starter has been their $10 million man, Ben Sheets. Sheets is on the DL now with a bum elbow. And there are more pitchers on the way. Tyler Ross is fairly close to being ready and though he is far out yet, Michael Ynoa is considered one of the best teenage arms in the world.

The Athletics never seem to do as well developing hitters. Those successes in the past ended up in the PED variety including Giambi and Miguel Tejada. But Suzuki was a good one and is considered one of the best young catchers in the game right now. The trouble with catching though is that catchers get dinged up and it affects the offense. Suzuki is not close to his offensive numbers of the past.

As of right now, the A's have only two guys in their regular lineup with OPS+ figures over 100 (league average). Daric Barton is having a nice season and sits at 116. Jack Cust is off to an amazing start after getting the boot in Spring Training in favor of Eric Chavez. Maybe other teams should try that with players not living up to their ability level. Make them mad and put a chip on their shoulder! Cust's line thus far: .297/.400/.477, which is far better than last year.

The A's--as we learned yesterday--are in the top five in the majors in defensive efficiency. That's good for their young pitchers. But the offense suffers as a result. Pennington is terrific at shortstop, so the A's should probably leave him there. His BA is .262 which is passable and his OPS+ is 95 which isn't too bad for a guy who makes all the plays all the time. Ellis is not quite as good at second as Pennington is at short, but he is good. But his offense is passable too. Kousmanoff doesn't get on base enough and he has medium power. Plus his defense doesn't support his lack of offense like the rest of his infield mates.

The outfield is a real problem. Rajai Davis doesn't hit enough and his defense is only okay. Coco Crisp is an excellent defender, but once again, he can't stay healthy. They have also lost Ryan Sweeney for the season. Eric Patterson and Gabe Gross aren't worth talking about and Conor Jackson hasn't done anything since coming over in a trade. There is help on the way though. Their best prospect is Michael Taylor, who plays mostly left field. The A's should give him a shot soon. Their other top prospect is Chris Carter, a big thumper with high MLB batting projections but he is not a good first baseman and the A's already have Bartin. Carter might be worth trading for a big bat in the outfield.

The A's bullpen is terrific. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Andrew Bailey, is just as good as a year ago. Craig Breslow was the steal of the 90s who was picked off Minnesota's trash heap and his having his second great year in a row. Ziegler and Blevsns are having good years. Michael Wuertz has been only adequate. He simply walks too many batters to be counted on.

The Athletics have been a mild surprise. They still have a shot at catching the Angels for second place if they play this well down the stretch. A bat or two would help, but that is unlikely to happen this year unless Taylor was given a shot and responds. Last year, there were many games where you simply figured they would lose. They seem to be a good bet against any team this year.

Dying with Sergio Mitre

The Fan watched the Yankees - Royals game on Saturday mostly to see if A-Rod would hit his 600th homer (that is history after all). He didn't hit one but Teixeira hit two and Posada hit one. But the real story was Sergio Mitre and the first base umpire.

Mitre was making his first start in place of Andy Pettitte. As stated previously in this spot, the choice by the Yankees completely lacked imagination. Bringing up Mitre from Triple A cost Jonathan Albaladejo a roster spot and that's a guy who could be a real nice late inning reliever for the Yankees. Frankly, Mitre was putrid and withing four innings has put the Yankees in a 6-0 hole and it could have been far worse. Girardi finally pulled the plug in the fifth and the relievers (mainly Dustin Moseley did a nice job of keeping the game from getting out of hand.

And the Yankees kept chipping away. Two homers by Teixeira and another by Posada made the score 7-4 and they had chances in every inning to chip away more but couldn't get the big hit. A-Rod didn't get his homer, but had some decent at bats. Then the Yankees managed to get Jeter and Granderson on first and second with two out in the ninth. That brought up Teixeira, who battled hard after getting in an 0-2 hole. He finally dribbled one in the infield and the replay showed clearly that he beat the throw at first. But the umpire, Chad Fairchild, called him out. If the ump had not blown the call, A-Rod would have come up with the bases loaded and all kinds of drama could have ensued. But it was not to be.