Saturday, August 21, 2010

Game Picks - Saturday: August 21, 2010

It was another blah kind of day for baseball picks. There were more correct than incorrect. But not by a whole lot. Things might have looked a little better if the White Sox hadn't been rained out.against the Royals. But then again, it could have been worse. None of the big three in the AL East won. Tampa Bay's bullpen imploded. Burnett was awful (no surprise) and Lester had nothing (big surprise). There were some great picks like the Brewers over the Padres and the Cardinals losing. Nothing spectacular. Just another day of picks.

Perhaps Saturday will be more zestful:

  • The Braves over the Cubs: Hanson gets the win over hard luck Gorzelanny.
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: Do the Yankees have enough starting pitching? Hmmm...But Vazquez should beat Vargas.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: Got to pull for Strasburg. Can't help it.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Slowey over Bell. Scioscia must be going crazy.
  • The Mets over the Pirates: Niese should get the win here against McDonald, who has had some good moments.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: It will be another close game as the Orioles are patsies no longer. But Lee should win over Bergesen.
  • The Astros over the Marlins: Wandy pitches a good game and Volstad continues to struggle.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Tomlin has been good for the Indians, but Scherzer is coming on strong.
  • The Padres over the Brewers: Narveson is a great hitting pitcher. But he's no a good pitcher. Correia should win.
  • The White Sox and Royals split their double-header. I know that's cheating, but hey, it's the Fan's site, right?
  • The Cardinals over the Giants: Carpenter still looks like an ace. Don't know what Lincecum will look like.
  • The Rockies over the Diamdondbacks: Still riding Ubaldo. He gave up one run last time out and lost.
  • The Blue Jays over the Red Sox: Dice-K gets beat and Romero pitches a gem.
  • The Bay Rays over the Athletics: Anderson is a tough customer, but the Rays counter with Price. The Bay Rays should get that kid Crowe. Then they would have T. Crowe Price.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Reds over the Dodgers: Billingsley can be had and Cueto pitches well in the spacious Chavez Ravine.

Yesterday: 8-6
Week: 48-31
Month: 141-106
Season: 1042-761
Game of the Day: 69-52  This feature is on fire!

The Worst Hitters in Baseball This Season

Everyone is writing these days about who the favorites are for the Most Valuable Player Award. Many of those writers are "with it" and will tout the latest statistics to prove their points. Well, anybody can do that. This post instead will focus on the worst hitters in baseball in 2010. These guys are so bad that they better pack some pretty good leather to justify their existence. This list does not include fielding value however. We're just focusing on the worst of the hitters in the major leagues.Oh! And this list only includes guys who currently have enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. Not that any of these guys has to worry about that.

1. Cesar Izturis - Baltimore Orioles. This is hardly a surprise. The man has a 64 career OPS+. But he is outdoing himself this year. His OPS+ sits at 54. His line after 393 plate appearances? How about .241/.284/.279. Man. He has walked only 18 times and has 12 extra base hits. [[shudder]]  Fangraphs has his batting runs at -22.

2. Jose Lopez - Seattle Mariners. Lopez is the highlight...or lowlight of the Mariners woes at the plate. His season is somewhat surprising because he was at least a league average hitter in 2008 and 2009. But this year? Umm...How does a line like .241/.270/.337 grab you? He has 17 walks in 478 plate appearances. His OPS+ is 66 and FanGraphs gives him a batting runs of -19.8. Lovely.

3. Jason Kendall - Kansas City Royals. This doesn't surprise you does it? Kendall hasn't had a decent year batting since 2004. That's why the Royals went and got him. FanGraphs rates his year batting at -17.7. Kendall has a .299 slugging percentage in 459 at bats. The kicker is, he usually bats second in the lineup. Doh! He has 17 doubles. That's it. That's what he has for extra base hits. Oh, and he's stolen 10 17 attempts. Attaboy.

4. A.J. Pierzynski - Chicago White Sox. The Fan used to think this guy was a pretty good hitter. But he hasn't been for a long, long time. His last season above league average was 2003. Peirzynski has trudged up to the plate 389 times and has a .279 On Base Percentage. Just 12 walks all year. That accounts heavily for his 68 OPS+. FanGraphs rates him at -15.8. There is no way that this guy is going to earn the nearly $7 million he is making.

5. Orlando Cabrera - Cincinnati Reds. Lots of shortstops and catchers on this list. It used to be that the shortstop was always the weak hitter. But then along came Ripken and A-Rod and the position changed...for some teams. Cabrera is at -14.5 on FanGraphs. Cabrera has somehow managed to put in 14 seasons in the majors despite having a grand total of18.5 WAR in all those years. That works out to about 1.3 a season. He has a lifetime OPS+ of 85. This year he's at 72 in 453 plate appearances.

6. Clint Barnes - Colorado Rockies. It's hard to understand how the Rockies cut Hawpe loose and kept this guy. At least Hawpe was a league average hitter. Barmes isn't even close. FanGraphs ranks his results this year at -13.9. His OPS+ is 73 in 395 plate appearances. But at least we have a second baseman to break up the monotony. The sad part is that this isn't Barmes worst year at the plate. In 2006, Barmes came to the plate 525 times and finished with a 47 OPS+. That's awful.

6. Alcides Escobar - Milwaukee Brewers. Hey! We got another shortstop here. Escobar has to qualify as ad disappointment. The Brewers really thought he was a better player than this. But he comes in tied with Barmez at -13.9 on FanGraphs. His OPS+ is 78 in 429 plate appearances.

8. Ryan Theriot - Los Angeles Dodgers/Chicago Cubs. The Riot started the year at short for the Cubs and them moved to second when Castro came up. It didn't matter. He didn't hit no matter where he played. He ended up with a 68 OPS+ for the Cubs. He's doing a little better for the Dodgers, but The Riot is a fun guy, but he needs to be a utility guy. There is no way to justify giving him 500 to 600 plate appearances. He's just not that good.

9. Cristian Guzman - Nationals/Rangers. Guzman is your typical decent average but nothing else kind of guy. He used to have a lot of speed and hit a lot of triples. But that's a thing of the past now. He was at 88 OPS+ with the Nationals until they traded him to the Rangers where he absolutely tanked, getting three hits in 37 plate appearances. That brought his OPS+ for the season down to 74. FanGraphs: -11.9.

9. Jeff Francoeur - New York Mets. There was a lot written in the New York press about Francoeur not being happy about his playing time. But come on! A .289 On Base Percentage doesn't lie. Not after 412 plate appearances. Francoeur has had only one full season in his career with an OPS+ over 100. And that was just barely. This season, he comes in with a tie with Guzman. He holds the distinction as the worst non-catching, non-infielding hitter in baseball this year.

Honerable Mention: Nyer Morgan, Yadier Molina, Aaron Hill and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Game Picks - Friday: August 20, 2010

Things didn't look very good at the start of the day and this picker was in a deep hole. But the late games pulled through and the Fan ended the day at .500. Normally, that would not be a happy condition, but at one point, the Fan was at 2-6 and dying on the inside. Thank goodness the A's beat the Bay Rays and the Dodgers got the expected gem from Lilly. On the flip side, the Fan even mentioned the possibility of a Matusz gem and that's exactly what happened as the Rangers lost again. Hamilton has gone cold as have the rest of the Rangers' bats.The Mets left young Misch in there one inning too many. He was great until the seventh inning and had a 2-0 lead. But his manager just sat in the dugout while the young pitcher lost the game. 3-2. Inexcusable. The Mets need to clean house. Are you listening Wilpon?

And so it's on to Friday:

  • The Braves over the Cubs: This year can't get over fast enough for the Cubs. Jurrjens wins.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: Can't feel good about either team or either team's starters (Galarraga, Masterson). But one of the teams has to win.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: Wilson versus Arrieta. Wilson looks better every start. He'll win.
  • The Mets over the Pirates: Pelfrey over Karstens. Not even close.
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: Hard to pick against King Felix and to pick for Burnett, but call the Fan crazy.
  • The Astros over the Marlins: Houston has been playing well. The Marlins are as always, a puzzle.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Can't pick against Lester no matter how much it hurts. Cecil won't be enough.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: LeBlanc is probably the Padres softest starter. Gallardo is the Brewers' best starter. Makes sense.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Dueinsing gets run support as the Twins shake off last night's debacle.
  • The Giants over the Cardinals: Maybe the Fan is all wrong and the Cardinals aren't as good as thought. And now they have Pedro Feliz. Ewww. Bumgarner over Westbrook.
  • The White Sox over the Royals: Jackson has been awesome for the White Sox. O'Sullivan is decent, but not enough here.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: Really thought the Rockies would roll in the second half, but they've been sleepwalking. Kennedy over Rogers.
  • The Bay Rays over the Athletics: Hellickson is a stud. Mazzaro is very good, but not as good as Hellickson.
  • The Dodgers over the Reds: The Dodgers are on a roll, especially at home. They get to Homer Bailey.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Halladay versus Marquis? Yeah, that looks like a lopsided win.

Yesterday: 6-6
Week: 40-25
Month: 133-100
Season: 1034-755
Games of the Day: 68-52

Josh Beckett IS Struggling

In the last post, the Fan made the case that Cole Hamels is just as good this year as ever despite his 7-10 record indicates. Josh Beckett, on the other hand, is not faring well this year and you have to wonder after he gave up six runs in 6.1 innings on Thursday night against the Angels, what is going wrong with him. He has missed significant time to the disabled list this year and perhaps he isn't physically right still. Whatever the case may be, he's not having fun these days.

On the surface, Beckett looks good. His K/9 are down slightly but are still impressive at 8.1. His walks are up slightly. But there are a couple of keys to Beckett's problems. First, he can't seem to avoid the big inning. Thursday night was no exception. He was sailing along until the sixth inning when he gave up four runs. He gave up two the following inning before he was taken out of the game. The game before that, the Yankees touched him for five runs in the fifth inning.

One statistic that bears out his problem is a stat called leverage. The statistic looks at game results and measures how well a player did in tough situations (close games, late innings). In Beckett's career, he has given up an OPS against of .783 in those situations. Considering the tension involved, that's a good figure. This year, in high leverage situations, his OPS against is .963.

The other standout feature for Beckett this year is his line drive percentage. His career average is 19%. This year it's at 23%. When your line drive percentage increases by 4%, they you are getting knocked around a bit.

The sample size for Beckett this year is small because of the injuries. So it is hard to say if Beckett has really fallen off his game. Next year, when he gets another full year of starts, should be telling. But in Boston, amid all the hype and hoopla, everything is magnified and Beckett's struggles are glaring. You can point to a lot of injured Red Sox this year and measure them all in games lost. But probably the biggest factor between past years and this year is not having Beckett keeping the team in the game when he has been unavailable and when he has been available.

Cole Hamels Is Not Struggling

What do the Save, RBIs and Win-loss records for pitchers have in common? All are considered overrated statistics. Those debates have been raised on this site before and we won't (at this time) rehash them. This Fan still believes those stats are important. But we have so many other stats now that we can augment the old reliables with the new and get much more complete pictures of players than ever before. If ever a pitcher could be a test subject for the win-loss thing, Cole Hamels is a fascinating test case. Probably the most fascinating this side of Zack Greinke. Hamels lost again on Thursday night and is now 7-10 on the season. Terrible right? What happened to this guy, right? The answer is simple. He is not terrible and there is nothing wrong with him. His record is myopic.

First, there is run support. In Hamels 25 starts, the Phillies have scored two runs or less ten times. They have scored five runs or less, 19 times. Last year was similar. In 23 starts out of 32, the Philles scored less than five runs. Nine of them were less than two runs. In 2007, when Hamels went 15-5, the Phillies scored more than five runs in 13 of his 28 starts. Not surprisingly, he was 10-0 in those starts. It's easy to have a good winning percentage when your team is getting you a lot of runs.

Last year, easily Hamels worst statistically, his strikeouts per nine innings was 7.8, the same as the year before when he went 14-10 with a 142 ERA+. His walk rate was down and was the best of his career. This year, with an even worse won-loss record than last year, his strikeouts per nine are sitting at 9.2, the best since his rookie year. His walks are slightly up. Well, a little more than slightly up at 2.8 compared to his career mark of 2.4 per nine innings (last year was 2.0). But that's really not a smoking gun, is it?

When Hamels went 15-5 in 2007, his line drive percentage was 16.6%. In other words, in 16.6% of batters at bats against Hamels, they hit line drives. Last year, that percentage was 17.3%. That's up slightly, but not significantly. That statistic is up a little more dramatically this year and sits at 20.3%. But more of those line drives have been caught this year than last year and more were caught in 2007 than in 2009 (judging by BABIP).. Hamels' home runs per nine innings was below his career average last year (1.1 to 1.2) and up slightly this year (1.3). But again, nothing significant there.

BABIP fluctuates for Hamels from year to year. This year it's at .298 or about what you would expect and league average. Last year, it was .321 which is unlucky. In 2008, his best statistical year when his ERA+ was the highest of his career and his WHIP was the lowest, he had a BABIP of .262. So much more of the balls hit against him were caught in 2008 than this year and last year.

This year, in a year when he is 7-10, his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are in line with this 2007 and 2008 seasons. That means he is just as good a pitcher now as he was in those two years when he had good winning records. His ERA+ is 120 this year, a good figure and well above league average.

Cole Hamels is only 27 and believe it or not, this coming season will be the first that he is arbitration eligible. He only seems to have been around a long time. His won-loss record is deceiving and all statistics seem to show that he is pitching just as well or in some cases, better than his "good" years. His WAR and ERA+ are just slightly under C. C. Sabathia's and Sabathia is 16-5. Hamels simply isn't the guy on the mound when the Phillies have their hitting shoes on. He's still a very good pitcher despite what the surface stats tell you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Game Picks - Thursday: August 19, 2010

The summer continues to fly by (that's what us old people say all the time) and another night is in the books. It was a good picking day with twice as many correct answers as incorrect and the Game of the Day was correct too thanks to a monumental and colossal meltdown by the Arizona bullpen which gave up eight runs in the last two innings to blow what has been a laugher to that point. So of the lowlights for the day included the Dodgers, Indians, Cardinals and Rangers all losing games the Fan expected them to win. The Cardinals were a particular shock since Wainwright was pitching and only gave up three runs. But the Cardinals couldn't score. It was a good night for closers (Arizona not withstanding) as Papelbon, Aardsma, Nunez, Soriano and Soria all getting saves. Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth in a non-save situation. And the best news of all, Trevor Hoffman got a save which is a happy thing even if it cost this guy a pick. He is one more closer to 600.

Thursday has a petty full slate for a usual off day. And several of them are day games. Here we go:

  • The Braves over the Nationals: Lowe is always a better pitcher at home and the Braves are one of the best home teams. Lannon was good last time out.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Hughes should get the win over Porcello as the Yankees take three of four from the faltering Tigers.
  • The Padres over the Cubs: Zambrano was better last time out and should be stronger this time too. But Latos has been lights out for the Padres.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: Matusz is always capable of pulling off a gem, but the Rangers just got swept by the Bay Rays and will be mad as heck.
  • The Pirates over the Marlins: This is just the kind of game the Marlins always lose. Sanabia versus Maholm. And yes, Hanley Ramirez is still batting lead off. Stupid.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: The Angels salvage a game of the series as Santana beats a bewildering Beckett.
  • The Phillies over the Giants: The Phillies build their playoff push while putting a dagger in the Giants' hopes. Hamels beats Sanchez.
  • The Royals over the Indians. Okay, the Fan gives up picking Cleveland. Davies somehow beats Talbot.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Misch is a mystery with an 0-1 record despite a 1.50 ERA. Norris shouldn't be able to hold the Mets' offense.
  • The Twins over the White Slox: Pavano does his thing. The Twins somehow get to Buehrle and the Twins build their lead to six games.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: The D-backs had their chance last night and blew it. Today, Wood will blow them up and the Reds will get enough runs against Saunders.
  • The Athletics over the Bay Rays: Cahill is excellent. Sonnanstine is a fill in starter. The Bay Rays are a long way from home.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Ted Lilly gets the Dodgers another win. Too bad they didn't have him sooner when it might have mattered.

Yesterday: 10=5
Week: 34-19
Month: 127-94
Season: 1028-749
Games of the Day: 67-52

Is Age Catching Up With Ichiro?

Ichiro Suzuki is in his tenth season with the Seattle Mariners and once again he is batting over .300. But it's a quiet .300. His slugging percentage is the lowest of his career. His OPS+ is the second lowest of his career. The fielding statistics show him to be down from last year (but still very effective). His batting average (.309) is the lowest of his career. He will likely make it to 200 hits again for an incredible run of ten straight seasons, but he will have to hustle to get there as he needs 46 hits with 42 games to go. But he'll likely finish at 205 to 210. His career average is 229. So that will be off. The question is: Is Ichiro Suzuki, at 36 years of age, getting old?

Well, let's see. He's stolen more bases this year than last year. He's been caught stealing less. On the other hand, he is striking out at a higher rate than his career average. Ichiro has struck out 10% of his lifetime at bats. This year, he is striking out around 13.6% of his at bats. It's time to look at the splits and see if anything can be detailed that would helps us.

Ichiro has been a slightly better hitter his entire career versus left-handed pitchers than the other side. That figure is surprising. This year is no different. Ichiro hits equally well at home or on the road and this year is no different. In Ichiro's career, he's only a .295 hitter when the Mariners lose. But this year he is actually a better hitter when the team loses. So that defeats any theory that being on such a terrible team has defeated his will or his drive. That doesn't appear likely by these statistics.

If you look at Ichiro's career, his batting average is similar for every inning he bats. In other words, over the years if he bats in the first inning (which he always does since he leads off), his average is little different than if he bats in the third inning or fourth or fifth and so on. This year, though, he's only batting .246 in the first innings. Does that mean anything? Maybe.

Ah, but there is a statistic that seems to indicate that Ichiro has shown his age a bit. During Ichiro's career, he has batted .314 with a .785 OPS against power pitchers, .327 with an .805 OPS against pitchers with an average fastball and .343 with an .820 OPS against finesse pitchers (all stats according to The strikeouts against each category of pitchers were all the same career-wise. His batting average for balls in play (BABIP) against all three of those types of pitchers has been around .350.

This year, Ichiro is still hitting finesse pitchers at a .333 pace with an OPS of .803 and is at .314 against average fastball pitchers with a .731 OPS. His BABIP is .390 against finesse pitchers and .347 against average fastball pitchers. But Ichiro has really struggled with power pitchers. His average is .246 against them and his OPS is .640 with a BABIP of .306. This would seem to indicate that Ichiro can't hit a good fastball as well as he has in the rest of his career. That might also explain his struggles in the first inning when starters try to establish their fastball early.

Of course, this could all be a statistical anomaly for Ichiro as last year, he hit .379 against power pitchers with an incredible .454 BABIP. So he was either incredibly lucky against them or he just nailed them all year. In either case, Ichiro is still an effective player. He's probably not worth the $18 million the Mariners are paying him with a 106 OPS+ (just barely above league average) and a paltry 2.4 WAR (FanGraphs has his WAR listed at 3.0 because they rate his fielding higher than B-R does). According to FanGraphs, there are 18 more valuable right fielders as batters than Ichiro. But his fielding--according to FanGraphs--brings up his value to fifth among that group.

It is reasonable to suggest that at 36, Ichiro is not the player he was five years ago. That wouldn't be unusual or any kind of knock on the Japanese star. Nothing can take away his history as a one of a kind hitting machine. It's just a simple reminder that time marches on even for players as good as Ichiro.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Amazing Padres

There hasn't been one intelligent baseball writer in the world that hasn't expected the Padres to fall down at some point this season. We're still holding our breath. But our faces are turning all shades of colors because the Padres have refused to fall down. Their 1-0 win over the Cubs was the perfect representation of their season. They scored their one run on a ground out in the first inning. They got only three hits all night. But they won the game as the Cubs did not score. You may say that the Cubs looked listless and you may have been correct. But even so, the Padres won the game. The Padres have won more games than any other National League team thus far. Amazing. Here are some pertinanent facts you should know about the Padres:

  • They could finish the season one game under .500 in their remaining 43 games and still win 93 games.
  • The Padres are 24-16 in one run games.
  • They are 22-8 in blowout games which is defined as a win by more than five runs.
  • They have a better winning percentage in the second half than they did in the first half. So much for that theory.
  • The Padres' rotation has made 117 starts in the Padres 119 games. They won both the starts their regular rotation didn't figure into the results.
  • Their pitching is first in the NL in hits allowed, runs given up and ERA.
  • The Padres have four relief pitchers with sub 2 ERAs.
  • As a team, the Padres have 2.55 K/BB ratio.
  • The Padres are second in the National League in stolen bases and they are successful 73% of the time.
  • The Padres are first in the NL in fielding efficiency and third in fielding percentage.
  • Their catchers have thrown out 37% of base stealing attempts.

There is no way anyone could have expected this to happen. There is no way that anyone would have believed it if you told them in advance. The Padres have 43 games left. If they can hold on and win the division, it will be one of the biggest baseball stories of the year.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 18, 2010

Yesterday was a struggle but ultimately, the Fan ended up three games in the black. Hunter had a second straight really bad start. The Cardinals couldn't hit (except for Pujols). The Orioles were probably a dumb pick. Morrow pitched well, but the other guy pitched better. Santana lost, giving up a homer in the eighth. But fortunately, more went according to plan than against it. The Padres are incredible.

Wednesday's Picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Wolf versus Wainwright. The latter will pick up his 18th win.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Holland is a wild card. If he throws well, the Bay Rays won't hit him. Shields has been a mess lately.
  • The Padres over the Cubs: Richard wins his 11th and the Padres score against Coleman and his 8+ ERA.
  • The Athletics over the Blue Jays: Gonzalez versus Rzepcynski (Ha! the Fan typed it!). Gonzalez has been really good this year and will shut the Jays down.
  • The Phillies over the Giants: The Phillies simply know how to win big games and this one is for the wild card lead. Blanton over Cain.
  • The Orioles over the Mariners: Pauley and Guthrie both have been very good lately. Going with the O's.
  • The Marlins over the Pirates: Josh Johnson struggled last time out but should win. Ohlendorf will once again be the hard luck loser.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: The Tigers are 12 games under .500 on the road. Bonderman doesn't scare anyone. Moseley does well enough to win.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: Hudson versus Livan. Hudson is creeping up on Cy Young consideration.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Kazmir has been okay as of late but Lackey and the Sox get the win.
  • The Mets over the Astros: How can you pick against Dickey? Every time the Fan does, he gets burned.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Like Carmona over Chen. Well, don't really like either one, but one of them has to win.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: Liriano slams the door shut on the White Sox.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Taking Kuroda over Hammel. The Dodgers still play well at home.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: When was the last time Rodrigo Lopez threw a good game? Enough said.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 24-14
Month: 117-89
Season: 1018-744
Games of the Day: 66-52

Three Stars Return - One Does Well

The Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves all got a lift tonight as the three teams got star players back from the disabled list. All three teams still alive playoff aspirations and even though two of the players did not perform well (rust was evident), it had to be a big lift in the psyche of those teams.

Martin Prado returned for the Braves and he had a heck of a night. He went three for five with three runs scored and two runs batted in. He hit his 30th double of the year. In fairness to the other two players, Prado hasn't been out nearly as long and it doesn't look like he missed a beat.

Dustin Pedroia, on the other hand, has been out a long, long time. Tonight was his first night back after missing two months with a broken foot. Pedroia went hitless in five at bats and made an error in the field, both events being unusual for him. To the Fan's knowledge, he didn't play at all in the minors to get back or if he did, it wasn't very much. Rust has to be evident. But still, Pedroia is a winner and a force on the field and the Red Sox have to be glad he's back.

Chase Utley returned to the Phillies after an extended stay on the disabled list. He too went hitless on a night that the Phillies pounded the Giants. Utley is one of the brightest stars in the league and probably the best second baseman in baseball. The Phillies have to be glad to see him back. Now all they need his Mr. Howard to return and they will be back to full strength.

It's probably not a coincidence that all three teams won their games on Tuesday night. They probably would have even without the trio. But for three teams fighting like heck to get to the playoffs, three returning stars had to be a sight for sore eyes.

Thinking About Bryce Harper

As you've probably heard, Bryce Harper, the Nationals' number one pick and the number one pick in the country, signed today with the Nationals for just under $10 million. The total is the highest ever for a non-pitcher and is more than Mark Teixeira received all those years ago. The Teixeira deal worked out and now we'll have to see it all turns out. There is one major difference though. Bryce Harper has painted himself into such a position that he'll either be a big star or a monumental bust. The difference? His own hype machine.

There has never been a story like Bryce Harper in baseball. The only time the Fan can recall a similar situation was when Bo Jackson signed to play baseball and when Bob Horner signed with the Braves. This is that kind of deal. Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16. He quit high school two years early to go to junior college and get a head start on getting drafted. Every move has been plotted and scripted. Scott Boras has been a willing participant in the making of Harper's image. Now all Harper has to do is live up to the hype.

But that won't be as easy as it was for Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg only has to throw the ball in such a way so the batter can't hit it. Strasburg has done that most of the time. He was low key in his approach. The build up was media painted and not self-painted. Harper is nothing like that. The young man has built this day for several years. Now all he has to do is deliver.

The thing about Strasburg and his debut is that nobody knew how it would all work out. Strasburg said all the right things. He just wanted to fit in. He just wanted to contribute. When he pitched against the Pirates and struck out 14 batters, it was an event that won't be soon forgotten. Harper won't get the ball every fifth day like Strasburg. He won't be overly protected with pitch counts and Joba-like rules. Once Harper gets his chance, he'll be in there every day and will have to grind it out as an every day player and he'll either sink or swim. He doesn't have any other options.

But first he has to prove himself in the minors. He will have to prove he can be given a shot. Harper isn't anything until he produces. That's the difference between the star-making machine in basketball and other sports where a guy gets drafted, goes right to the pros and he's quickly a part of a team. In baseball, you have to prove you belong by doing well in the minors before you'll even get a chance to shine in the majors. That's one part of the Harper hype machine that can't be scripted away. Well, it can be, but he has to perform and prove he's the player the Nationals think he is.

$10 million is a lot of money. It's especially a lot of money for a player who hasn't proven a thing. It's a huge gamble. But if it pays off, Harper could be worth every penny.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 17, 2010

The Fan has been a bit distracted this week. The Fan's son moved to Florida a week ago today and today, the Fan's daughter started her first day of high school. Ah, where does the time go? The combination can be the Fan's excuse for blowing up in picks yesterday. It actually wasn't a disaster with four correct and four incorrect, but it was a failure in these eyes. Suddenly, the Yankees can't hit. The Marlins are like pulling a slot machine lever. You never know what you're going to get and it's bad more often than it's good. Houston blew a save. And the Rangers strangely left Cliff Lee in there too long until he blew the game. But there is always today.

Tuesday's Picks:

  • The Phillies over the Giants: Zito won't be enough to hold off Oswalt and the Phillies.
  • The Orioles over the Mariners: Yes, even Millwood will win a game. French goes for the Mariners with a side of fries.
  • The Marlins over the Pirates: Yeah, the Fan knows what he just said. But in a perfect world, Nolasco should beat Duke. It's just not a perfect world.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Verlander versus Sabathia in a marquee match up. The odds of Sabathia holding the weak-hitting Tigers is stronger.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: Minor is a risk of a pick as a greenhorn, but the Braves should score enough to win.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Garza versus Hunter in another good one. Garza has been only so-so since the no-no. Hunter was cuffed up good his first start, but he's a good pitcher.
  • The Padres over the Cubs: Yet another improbable Garland win. Wells goes for the Cubs.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Buchholz has become a stud this season. Weaver is a tough opponent though.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Santana should shut out the Astros. Meanwhile, the Mets face old friend, Figueroa.
  • The Indians over the Royals: The Royals aren't exactly playing well behind Greinke and Mr. Gomez is 3-0 for Cleveland.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: Taking the Twins at home. But Baker versus Danks is no picnic.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Interesting game. Hudson has been great for the D-Backs and Arroyo is having his best year for the Reds. Very interesting game.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Another tough game to pick. Previous no-hit pitchers have struggled after their gems, so Morrow could too. And Braden has been good of late for the A's.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers aren't going to make the playoffs but they can help the Rockies not get there either. Kershaw wins over Chacin.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Garcia versus Bush seems like a mismatch. Plus, Pujols and Holliday are on fire.

Yesterday: 4-4
Week: 15-8
Month: 108-83
Season: 1009-738
Games of the Day: 66-51

Some Quick Observations

With nothing else penetrating the deep mind of the Fan, or perhaps due to too little sleep over the last week, post ideas seem a little shriveled tonight. With no clear cut ideas at hand, how about some quick observations before the Fan hits the sack:

  • Francisco Cervelli has 22 hits in his last 121 at bats going back to the end of May. That's a .182 un-hot streak. His OBP during that time is .227. Yuck.
  • Robinson Cano has cooled off as well from a torrid start. The big difference? Luck. His BABIP in July was .258 and it's .286 in August. If he can just get that back to .300, he'll finish strong.
  • Man, has K-Rod really screwed up or what? It's tough when good players make bad decisions.
  • Getting Jhonny Peralta for a pennant run is one thing but being stuck with him after falling out of the race? Brutal. He's batting .196 since joining the Tigers and he's had to play nine games at short. Ugh.
  • The Padres have played 117 games and the same five starters have started 115 of them. Those starters average just under six innings per game putting three innings every night into the hands of the bullpen. The Padres have five relievers with more than 40 appearances and Ryan Webb has 39.
  • The Fan has made fun of Gorzelanny in the past, but he never really sucks when he pitches. He's a fighter and keeps the Cubs in games. They just don't win enough of them.
  • The Marlins have to be one of the most frustrating teams on the planet. Their pitchers all look great one outing and stink up the joint the next. Volstad threw a shutout last time and got beat badly by the Pirates, a team that had lost seven in a row entering the game.
  • And yes, Hanley Ramirez is still batting lead off. What a waste.
  • Wandy Rodriguez has thrown two straight gems but has nothing to show for it as the bullpen has been atrocious.
  • If Ike Davis is the first baseman of the future, why start sitting him against left-handers when the Mets have no shot in the race? Wouldn't you want the kid to get as many reps against lefties as possible?
  • Could the Dodgers' closer situation be any worse? They pulled Broxton and put in Kuo who failed in his first attempt against the Braves. Dotel came in and poured gas on the fire. Broxton could have done that himself.
  • Will Manny Ramirez end up in New York? Not with the Red Sox blocking things if they try.
  • No matter how good the Rangers have been this season, it doesn't seem possible that they could beat New York or Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
  • It seems that since the Orioles got Buck Showalter, they've played in extra innings every night. They played another long one on Monday night. At least they are now good enough to be tied at the end of regulation. That's an improvement.
  • Speaking of the Orioles, thirty-five year old, Koji Uehara has been superb in relief. He's pitched 25 an a third innings and has struck out 32. He's only walked five guys. A 6.4 to 1 K/BB ratio is pretty good, eh?

A Post Appreciating Jim Thome

One of the crimes of the steroid or PED era in baseball is that players who really stand above the crowd have gotten washed out for what they do. Jim Thome has been a fabulous power hitter his entire career (let's face it, he was a lousy fielder) and at the age of 40 is still a big-time contributer for the Minnesota Twins.

Thome was supposed to be a role player this season. He signed for only $1.5 million with the Twins after making over $138 million in his career. The Twins already had a DH in Kubel who had a good year last year. But injuries and lack of performance elsewhere led to Thome getting in the line up regularly, especially in the last two months, and he has proved that he is as much a threat now as ever. His OPS is his highest since 2007 and his OPS+ is his highest since 2002. He is slugging .578 and his On Base Percentage is .387. Not bad for an old guy. And that's not just in a handful or small sample size. He is up to 248 plate appearances now.

There is no doubt in this Fan's mind that Thome is a Hall of Famer and should be a first ballot one. He has hit 1031 extra base hits in his career. He has a career On Base Percentage of .404. He's driven in over 1600 runs and scored over 1500. And if he is fortunate enough to play another year (something his play this year has given him a good argument for), he could end up with over 600 homers.

Sure, he played in the PED era and thus his stats are looked at with a jaded eye. Sure, he was a lousy third baseman and a lousy first baseman. But as a hitter? Forget about it. He's been great. And since testing has gone into place, the Fan doesn't really see a drop off in his production that can't be accounted for besides the inevetible age decline. He has hit 108 homers in the last five years in mostly part time duty the last couple of years. He is a tough out just like he has always been.

One of the reasons that the Twins haven't missed a beat since Justin Morneau went out with a concussion is that Thome has allowed Kubel to go to the outfield so Cuddyer could play first. All three are hitting well and the Thome has made the most of his playing time. He has a 1.060 OPS in his last 28 days despite a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .259. Imagine what he would be doing if he had been a little luckier! He is holding his own against left-handers with an .800 OPS (above league average). and as usual is killing right-handers.

The Fan can already hear the arguments against Thome when he hits the HOF ballot:

- Played in the PED era. Yeah, so did a lot of players. Were they as good as him?
- Was mostly a DH. Okay, but that's why they put the rule in there in the first place. Edgar Martinez isn't a Hall of Famer?
- Never won an MVP. He was in the top ten in voting four times and was in the top twenty six times.
- Was never considered as one of the best players in his sport. Says who? Okay, he made only five All Star Games. But there were always a lot of big slugging first basemen. How many of them will finish close to or over 600 homers?
- Only hit .222 during post season play. Yeah, but he hit 17 homers or one less than Mickey Mantle (who didn't get the benefit of playoff series).

But forget about all of that right now because Thome is still playing and he is just another big reason why the Twins are doing as well as they are. Enjoy him while you can. He was and is all class and he's had one heck of a career. Thankfully, it isn't over yet.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shocking but not Shocking

Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver were about as famous for their umpire arguing skills as they were for their managerial skills. Both had wonderful tantrums when they felt the umpire made the wrong call. And yet, each are on polar opposites when it comes to Instant Replay in baseball. Lasorda is all old school and wants the human element kept in. Weaver said the technology needs to be used to get it right. All of this, of course, comes from a recent study that found that twenty percent of close calls in games made by the umpires were wrong calls. The study is shocking, but for anyone who watches a lot of games, not shocking at all.

We can certainly see the evidence with our eyes when we watch the television. Just last night in the ESPN Sunday Game of the Week, Jose Reyes was called out at second and the replay clearly showed Reyes to be safe. The Fan watched the Yankees and the Red Sox yesterday and there were two blown calls in those games. You can cry, "human element," all you want, but this Fan seems to be squarely in line with most fans when it comes to having baseball officiated well. The post season last year was abominable when it came to bad calls. It was embarrassing. That's not a human element. That's a crying shame.

There are only two ways you can fix it when one out of every five calls is blown by the umpires. You either get better umpires or you move to technology. Getting better umpires is a problem. First, you have a union to deal with. Second, these guys are already supposed to be the best. Ideally, you would have to look at the selection process and figure out if you have a problem there. You have to weed out those umpires that are consistently poor in their decision making. You have to look at the training that is preparing umpires for their profession. All of that takes time and energy and a will to make it happen. All of that is problematic. After all, humans are involved with natural territorial feelings. Plus, humans are prone to always take the easy way out.

So if the second option is problematic, technology is your only way out. Nobody wants longer games. But you could shorten games with just a few simple rule changes (limit catchers going to the mound, limit time outs called by the batter when there is a runner on second, limit pitching changes in an inning, for just a few). That would take some time that could be used up for replay. The study linked above shows that there are about 1.3 close calls per game. So you are basically adding up to two chances in a game to review a call. That's not a lot and shouldn't take up a lot of time. And it is worth it if it means a correct call.

There is no question for this old school Fan that replay is the way to go.  Perfect it in Triple A if you have to first. Those calls in the Twins - Yankees series last fall were terrible and it took away from what the Yankees were to go on and accomplish because the calls tarnished some of the results. Jeter's famous home run in 1996 had a similar effect. Calls need to be right and if 20% of all close calls are blown and the human element can't do better than that, then another option has to be in place. It is too bad that we can't go back in time and review all those calls say twenty years ago to see if umpiring is worse now than it was then. This Fan would bet that that it is worse now than it has ever been.

In the linked piece that started this post, a telling short interview was given by Doug Harvey, a famous retired umpire who suggested with irony that we replace umpires with robots. He, of course, was defending the current system. But this Fan would be happier with robots  than with today's umpires. The Fan would love it if all balls and strikes were handled by technology. The Fan can't stand bad strike zones. It drives this old writer crazy. Well, you can't give a robot any way to tell if a runner is safe or out on a base. There just doesn't seem to be any way to do that. But that being the case, replay will give you the option of looking at the play again and getting it correct.

The bottom line is that we want ball players to decide the fate of the games and their own statistics, not an umpire.

Game Picks - Monday: August 16, 2010

Sunday was a much better day as this picker was correct on eleven of fifteen picks. The only mistakes were the Yankees (who played like they had a plane to catch), the Angels (give those Blue Jays props), the Mets (terrible clutch team) and Seattle where King Felix pitched like Masterson and Masterson pitched like King Felix. The eleven wins puts the Fan over the thousand correct mark for the season, which is a milestone of sorts.

There are only seven games on the schedule for Monday. Here they are:

  • The Marlins over the Pirates: The Pirates keep their losing streak alive and Volstad gets the win.
  • The Orioles over the Mariners: Bergesen is flourishing under the new regime. The Mariners still can't hit.
  • The Braves over the Dodgers: Going with Hanson even though inexplicably, he's a .500 pitcher this season.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Yankees at home? Yeah. Going with Vazquez over Scherzer.
  • The Astros over the Mets: Going with the Fan's main man, Wandy Rodriguez. Niese goes for the Mets.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Cliff Lee in a super show down with David Price. Would love to see this game.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Is there any consolation being the fifth best team in baseball? Marcum over Anderson.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Padres over the Cubs: Corriea has been unhittable in his last two outings. Gorzelanny will keep the Cubs close.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 11-4
Month: 104-79
Season: 1005-734
Games of the Day: 65-21

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Lot Going Right for the Yankees

At one point in the last two weeks, the Yankees lost six of ten and still maintained their lead in the AL East. Now they are starting to play better ball and play their next three weeks (just about) at home. That doesn't leave the Red Sox and Bay Rays much hope of catching the New Yorkers. Here are some of the things that stand out with the current condition of the Yankees:

  • Derek Jeter hasn't made an error in fifty games, has a good efficiency rating and is starting to hit again.
  • A-Rod hasn't had his usual numbers and still leads the league in RBIs and he hit three homers on Saturday.
  • The bullpen is coming together. Chamberlain has had several good outings in a row. Mitre is doing well in relief and Kerry Wood has been terrific.
  • Berkman is starting to get his bearings and has had three good games in a row.
  • Granderson looks quicker at the plate and should be better down the stretch.
  • Teixeira is socking the ball and is the poster boy for possible flaws with the defensive efficiency rankings as he's been unbelievable in the field.
  • Cano is in a slump of sorts, but it's a bad luck slump and not a stroke slump. He's still hitting the ball hard.
  • Burnett has been better, but that can never be relied upon.
  • Sabathia will keep the team in any game he pitches and eats up innings.
  • Heck, even Austin Kearns is hitting.
If the AL East contenders didn't catch the Yankees while they were on the road, it's going to be awful tough to catch them now that 19 of their next 22 games are at home.

Game Picks - Sunday: August, 15, 2010

The Game Picks are on a two day losing streak after back to back 7-8 days. Lots went wrong yesterday for this picker. Carpenter only gave up three runs, but the Cubs held his team to two. The Red Sox and Lester had a great game against the Rangers. The Astros beat the Pirates (six straight losses now). The Twins beat Cahill. The Giants overcame the Padres. The Brewers won in extras and the Angels pounded the Blue Jays. Those were all bad picks. The week still finished well ahead, but that's not the way you want to see it end.

Here's hoping Sunday will be better:

  • The Reds over the Marlins: Homer Bailey is back. That's a pretty good thing when you can reach into the minors and pull up a first round draft pick. Bailey had two great outings in Triple A.
  • The Mariners over the Indians: Tough call here. It's King Felix against Masterson. If Masterson is on, it will be a battle.
  • The Nationals over the Diamondbacks: What happens when Strasburg goes up against the highestt team in strikeouts in the majors?
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Hellisckson should go 3-0 in this one. Arrieta isn't much of a competition.
  • The Braves over the Dodgers: The Braves will get to Padilla and Jurrjens will be just good enough to win.
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: The Tigers are playing the White Sox tough. Giving Galarraga the nod over Garcia.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Happ over the hapless.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: The Twins are heating up and taking over again. Slowey over Mazzaro.
  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: Lohse is back for the Cardinals. Wouldn't call that good news. Dempster gets the win.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Burnett should win as long as Cervellii is catching.
  • The Rockies over the Brewers: Ubaldo Jiminez goes for his 18th. He only gave up one run in his last outing and lost. Parra goes for the Brewers.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: The Rangers will get to Dice-K and Wilson should be good enough to win.
  • The Padres over the Giants: Would you believe that LeBlanc and Lincecum have very similar ERAs?
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Haren should win this game unless Romero comes up big.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Mets over the Phillies: Will the real Pelfrey stand up? He will need to be good like the last time out to save this pick. Kendrick goes for the Phillies

Yesterday: 7-8
Last Week: 54-38
Month: 93-75
Season: 994-730
Games of the Day: 65-50