Saturday, April 02, 2011

After Just One Game

The Major League Baseball season is one hundred and sixty-two games long. The old cliche that a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, still holds truth. As the season has just begun and only a few teams have played two games and everyone has played once, there is no basis for making projections for the season based on the outcomes of these games. And yet all over Twitter and in quite a few baseball blogs, there are already bombastic statements reading information into a season based on those few games. We've just gotten started folks. As Emperor Kuzko said to Pacha, "Don't read too much into it."

But, if you listen to those around Twitter and in several blogs, you'll believe based on one game that:

  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be a bust with the Twins. He made an error and went an unimpressive one for four with a strikeout.
  • Carl Pavano will have a terrible year.
  • J. P. Arencibia is going to be a monster Rookie of the Year candidate.
  • The Blue Jays are going to win 90 games because they have pitching and can crush the ball.
  • The Mariners are going to hit much better this season.
  • Miguel Olivo is a good hitting catcher.
  • Hideki Matsui is too old and washed up. He went hitless on Friday.
  • The Royals are going to have trouble scoring runs. They've only scored four times in the first two games.
  • Vernon Wells is going to stink for the Angels. He's gone one for eight so far.
  • The Orioles have a chance for first place this season.
  • The Bay Rays are not going to be as good as last season.
  • Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are washed up.
  • J. J. Hardy is going to be an All Star shortstop.
  • The Mets are going to lose 90 games. They can't hit and they can't pitch.
  • John Buck is going to show that his year with the Blue Jays was no fluke.
  • Josh Johnson may never lose this season.
  • Juan Miranda of the Diamondbacks is going to be a terrible fielding first baseman.
  • Willie Bloomquist is an All Star.
  • Troy Tulowitzki is overrated.
  • The Diamondbacks have a much better bullpen this year.
  • Ubaldo Jiminez is going to struggle in 2011.
  • Brandon Belt is going to be the Rookie of the Year.
  • Miguel Tejada is going to cost the Giants a lot of runs (The Fan said this too).
  • Buster Posey is going to have to fight the Sophmore Jinx.
  • The Dodgers have a great bullpen.
  • Matt Kemp is going to have a monster season now that Joe Torre is gone.
  • Aubrey Huff is already zero for seven and is already proving that last year was an outliers.
  • Saltalamacchia is a better catcher than Torrealba and the Rangers should have kept him.
  • Julio Borbon isn't a very good fielding center fielder.
  • Michael Young is going to be a terrible DH.
  • Carl Crawford is going to be a bust in Boston.
  • Adrian Gonzalez might have a chance to break Hack Wilson's RBI record.
  • Boston's bullpen is going to be a problem.
  • Adam Dunn is going to hit fifty homers.
  • Carlos Quentin is a legitimate MVP candidate this year.
  • The Indians have horrible pitching.
  • The White Sox bullpen is going to struggle without Bobby Jenks.
  • The Pirates are going to surprise a lot of people.
  • The Cubs will come in last place in the NL Central. 
  • Alphonso Soriano is finished as an effective major league hitter.
  • The Houston Astros need a closer.
  • Jimmy Rollins is going to show everyone that the last three years were a fluke.
  • Brett Myers is going to have another very good season.
  • The Astros are playing too many young guys.
  • Mark Teixeira is not going to have a slow start this season.
  • The Yankees have the best relief pitching in the universe.
  • The Tigers have a terrible bullpen.
  • The Nationals aren't going to hit enough to be relevant. 
  • Axford is going to make the Brewers miss Trevor Hoffman.
  • Albert Pujols is on the downside of his career.
  • Cameron Maybin is finally going to live up to his potential.

The thing is, some of those statements may end up being true. There's a possibility that all of those things may be true. But there is just as much a chance that none of it will prove true. It's a long, long season and one game tells us nothing. One game predicts nothing. If you want to make some of these statements that these things are true after a month or two of the season has gone by, fine. But even then there is danger. The Fan said last year that the White Sox were dead. They then went off a wild winning streak and eventually caught the Twins for a while before fading during the stretch. The Fan said the Reds were dead last year after the Cardinals swept them late in the season to recapture first place. Even that deep into the season, it's difficult at best to predict what will happen.

And so, friends, if your team and your favorite players started off great, hold on because there will be rough roads ahead. If your team or your favorite player went oh for five the first game or lost, then don't lose hope. It's just one game. Hey, the Fan falls into these traps too. In the words of that smarmy song by the Carpenters, "We've only just begun."

Game Picks - Saturday: April 2, 2011

People who predict baseball games on a regular basis should get their heads examined. So many goofy things happen in any given game on any given night make for a daily adventure. This prognosticator apparently is still in Spring Training as there was even a game missed last night (KC at Angels). And when the day started with this picker being 0-4, the worst was expected. Then the record went to 1-5 as at least the Blue Jays did as expected. But the last four games went in this Fan's favor to even up the day. The Fan will take that result gladly.

Okay. Now that two days of "practice" are out of the way, Saturday brings the first full slate of games this season. This should be fun!

  • The Braves over the Nationals: Tommy Hanson is a nice number two starter, is he not? He should get an easy win over Lannon and the Nationals.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: How do you pick a game between these two when their first game resulted in a 16-10 score? The pitching line is Jackson versus Carrasco. Are you telling the Fan that Danks isn't even your number two pitcher? The White Sox will win simply because it seems apparent that the Indians can't pitch.
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Carlos Zambrano will lift the Cubs to their first win of the season with the Cubs' offense getting some runs off of Maholm.
  • The Blue Jays over the Twins: Kyle Drabek gets his first win of the season. Liriano gets the tough luck loss. Still think Jose Bautista's season was a fluke in 2010? It wasn't.
  • The Angels over the Royals: The Royals had a dramatic win last night. But Santana should beat Davies handily.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: The new and improved A. J. Burnett should beat Brad Penny and the Tigers.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Donny Ballgame's crew goes 3-0 as Lilly outpitches Matt Cain. The Tejada watch is on in San Francisco.
  • The Phillies over the Astros: The Fan loves Wandy Rodriguez, but Cliff Lee will get the win. The Astros had their chance the other day and blew it.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Yes, these O's are different under Showalter. But the Fan has no faith in Tillman and more faith in Shields who had a great spring.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: The Brew Crew gets enough offense to overcome Wood and Shaun Marcum gets his first win as a member of the Brewers.
  • The Mets over the Marlins: Niese should be nice and Nolasco is always a crap shoot. Going with the Mets here.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: The Rangers seem indefatigable when playing good teams. Colby Lewis beats John Lackey.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: The D-backs struck first in this series. But De La Rosa is going to have a good season. Rockies with the win over Hudson.
  • The Mariners over the Athletics: The Fan likes this Vargas kid. Brett Anderson is very good when healthy. But still going with the new-look Mariners.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Cardinals over the Padres: Albert Pujols is not going to go hitless in this one as Richard has been very shaky this spring. Westbrook gets the win.

Yesterday: 5-5
Week: 9-7
Month: 9-7
Season: 9-7
Games of the Day: 2-0

Friday, April 01, 2011

An Unlikely Outing for Jon Lester

It wasn't a great day for some major league aces during Round Two of Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Roy Halladay wasn't his usual sharp self. Ubaldo Jiminez wasn't sharp either. David Price wasn't sharp early and was out-pitched by Jeremy Guthrie as the Orioles took the opener. But the most unlikely pitching performance was from Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Staked to two early leads, Lester couldn't hold back the Texas Rangers as the reigning American League champs fought back and finally chased Lester from the game. Lester didn't get the loss as Daniel Bard was the unfortunate victim in a four-run uprising by the Rangers to put the game away. But Lester's performance was puzzling.

On a pitching staff with big names, Jon Lester has risen to the top of the Boston rotation. His Opening Day nod was confirmation of his ascendancy. Since coming back from cancer, Lester has won fifty games the last three years against only twenty-three losses. The last two years, Lester has struck out more than nine batters per nine innings. He gave up only fourteen homers all last season. And thus, his performance today was odd. He did not strike out anyone on Opening Day in five and a third innings. And he gave up three home runs. How odd is that?

It's so odd that Jon Lester has had only one other outing in his entire career where he pitched as many as five innings without striking anyone out. The last time it happened was on April 9, 2008. That was nearly three years ago when Lester was still building his strength back up in the beginning of a season where he wasn't the strikeout pitcher he is now. In fact, there have only been two times in his career where he pitched five innings or more while only striking out one batter. That gives you an idea of how rare his outing today was.

But it was odder than that. Perhaps the strikeouts were a symptom of something not being quite right. If that is the case, another one was the three homers he gave up in the game. He's given up two homers in a game before. In fact, he's done that thirteen times (twice last year). But never three. So was it simply an off day for Lester? Or do we credit the Rangers' potent offense? After all, the Rangers only struck out once the whole game off of all of the Boston pitchers. But Lester has faced the Rangers seven times for a total of 49 innings and has struck out 48 Rangers. He only gave up three homers in all those other outings. He matched that entire total today.

The Fan watched a lot of this game and at first, it was wondered if Saltalamacchia was tipping Lester's pitches. In the first couple of innings, whenever Lester threw a fastball, Saltalamacchia was spread eagle with his butt on the ground while catching. For breaking pitches, the catcher stayed on the balls of his feet. The Fan thought he had a good theory going but the catcher stopped doing that after the second inning, so that can't be it. But something about Lester was off. The Rangers swung and missed at Lester's pitches only four times the entire game.

It couldn't have been the spring weather because it was hot in Texas. So, this Fan has no answers. But Lester's outing will have to be scrutinized by experts and his next couple of starts should be watched carefully.  Maybe it was just a fluke. Time will tell. Heck, Ubaldo only struck out one batter in his Opening Day outing too. We can perhaps chalk it up to a bad start. But this is a bit scary for the Red Sox as Jon Lester is the one pitcher they truly count on to carry the rotation.

Things That Shouldn't Happen Happened in St. Louis

It's only the first game of the season out of 162 games. But it was an ugly loss by the St. Louis Cardinals as they opened the season against the San Diego Padres, last year's Cinderella team. The game was marked by several things that shouldn't have happened. But they did happen. And because they did happen, the Cardinal Nation's Opening Day celebration went hooey. What shouldn't have happened? Let' the Fan count the ways:

  • Padres' starter Tim Stauffer gave up ten base runners in six innings and only two of them scored.
  • Ryan Theriot led off. Theriot had a .321 OBP last season. Is that really what the Cardinals want leading off their games this season? Theriot went one for five on the day.
  • Matt Holliday shouldn't have gotten picked off. Let's face it, Holliday is no Rickey Henderson. So why he was playing all loosey-goosey at second in the sixth inning after two straight singles by he and Lance Berkman is beyond the Fan's comprehension. The pick off effectively lowered the innings run probability and the threat died.
  • Albert Pujos, the world's greatest hitter, shouldn't have hit into three double plays. When five at bats leads to eight outs and a WPA of -.4.3 for the game, that's bad. It's just one game. But it was a stinker.
  • Ryan Theriot shouldn't be playing short for the Cardinals. The Fan has been saying this all winter and spring. He had a costly error in the deciding eleventh inning that added an extra run for the Cardinals to overcome. Granted, it was probably a moot run with Heath Bell closing for the Padres in the bottom of the frame.
  • Ryan Franklin shouldn't have blown the save. Franklin isn't an elite closer and that fact bit the Cardinals and wasted a good opening day performance from the pitchers in front of him in the game.
  • The Cardinals shouldn't have put the game into the hands of young Bryan Augustein, a rookie pitcher who surprisingly made the team out of Spring Training. To give the ball to such an inexperienced pitcher with the game on the line shouldn't happen.
  • Pat Neshek shouldn't have won the game. Here's a guy that was put on waivers by the Twins at the end of Spring Training and who announced to Twitter that he was going to the Padres (who claimed him) before any of his teammates even knew. The Padres pick him up at the last minute on waivers, he gets into the first game and gives up two walks (no wonder the Twins let him go...they HATE walks), but induces Pujols to hit into his third double play and ends up with the win. How does that happen?
  • The Cardinals shouldn't have scored only three runs with fifteen base runners. Between the double plays and the lack of clutch hitting, the Cards let this one get away.

Again, it's only one game. But it's one game that doesn't leave a favorable impression. And those Padres? Well, they are pretty amazing, aren't they?

Game Picks - Friday: April 1, 2011

Opening Day, Part One, is in the books. Part Two happens today. Much like the entire history of the Game Picks series, blown saves played a big factor yesterday. One blown save helped the picks. The other one hurt the picks. Verlander was dominating as expected, but Teixeira changed the dynamic of his outing with one swing. And it appears that Cardinal fans will start calling Ryan Franklin's facial hair a goatee. But at least the first day finished on the positive side. It certainly was a better start than Albert Pujols had.

Alright. Let's get to Friday's picks:

  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Ryan Dempster gets the Opening Day nod over Zambrano because of better citizenship apparently. Corriea gets the start for the Pirates. The Pirates will get their share of hits, but the Cubs will score more runs.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: The Indians will get a feel good moment as they start their season off with a win. Buehrle gives up ten hits and Carmona gets the job done.
  • The Red Sox over the Rangers: In a battle of lefties, Lester is always a Cy Young Award candidate. C. J. Wilson is a bad closer turned into a decent starter. The Red Sox will wear him down since Wilson doesn't own the strike zone.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: Ubaldo Jiminez versus Ian Kennedy. Big advantage to the Rockies, especially at home.
  • The Blue Jays over the Twins: The Jays get to Pavano and Ricky Romero gets the Jays season off to a good start.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Jeremy Guthries pitched well under Buck Showalter last year, but David Price won't allow Guthrie any slack. 
  • The Marlins over the Mets: We forgot all about Johnson because he was shut down early last season. But he's one of the best pitchers in the National League. Pelfrey goes for the Mets and gets the Opening Day loss.
  • The Mariners over the Athletics: King Felix coming off his Cy Young season stakes an early claim for this year's award. Cahill can't match the zeros.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Billingsley luxuriates with his new contract and Sanchez will be gone by the fifth for a high pitch count. 

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Phillies over the Astros: Brett Myers had a good season last year, but Halladay is the best there is. Phillies win by at least three runs.

Yesterday: 4-2
Week:  4-2
Month:  4-2
Games of the Day: 1-0

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Hopes Eternal

Winter continues to hold on in northern Maine. Yes, the temperature has inched up so that the daily highs are around 33 instead of 3 degrees, but the snow is still on the ground. No crocus has dared to show itself. The robins haven't even thought of returning, though a lonely goose was spotted yesterday. When the wind howls, we are still bundling ourselves up and running to the car. The long death-grip of winters up here are hard to understand unless you live in Maine or the Dakotas, Alaska and the upper reaches of Minnesota. But it is baseball season and that means hope.

The Fan hasn't always lived so far north. The early years were lived in places that still had winter, but they were less severe and spring came sooner. The birthplace was Bergenfield, New Jersey, a town of four square miles and 36,000 people. That's the same population as the entire county up here in northern Maine. Bergenfield was, of course, a suburb. The George Washington Bridge was only twelve miles away. We could sneak on the golf course in the northern part of town from first sneaking on the property of where the nuns lived. The golf course abutted Knickerbocker Road, a name like many others that belied the area's Dutch past. The names are only symbolic as the area now is strictly a bustling and hustling city with big maple trees where long lines and car accidents are just as common. The golf course was a place to see land that wasn't totally covered with buildings. But the best thing about sneaking onto the golf course, especially at night, was that, on a good day, you could see the Statue of Liberty.

The Fan's sister is the only family member who still lives in that area. She's worked in New York City for forty plus years and has done the bus to subway routine thousands of times. Before the Fan moved north, treks were taken into the city, sometimes to meet the sister for lunch. New York City was like the hometown on steroids. Everything was multiplied a thousand times. How can so many people live in one small place? The streets are wide and so are the sidewalks, but neither could ever be wide enough to support the cars and the people that want to travel along them.

And the craziest people lived there. There was one guy who had a whistle in his mouth and his thing was he had to walk in a straight line. If anyone blocked his ability to do that, he would blow the whistle. The Fan remembers wondering how the guy had managed to live so long without the whistle being crammed down his throat. Another guy spent his entire day crossing the street in a square pattern: South, West, North, East and then start all over.

There are parks all over New York City, but their statues are covered in pigeon poop and the grass and few trees all clung to life in a losing battle against the constant fumes and trampling of people. Central Park, is of course, a diamond in the city, but even that place is a place to avoid at night when all kinds of scary things happen.

Like most urban areas, there is one place of refuge: The Stadium. Though stadiums are also large concrete structures surrounded by concrete and steel everywhere else in the city, once you walked through the ticket gate and into the concourse, you could hear the organ playing a festive tune. Walking past vendors of all types, you followed the crowd urged ever onward by the call of something truly different than the rest of city life. Once you found your gate and your section, you walked through a short tunnel to a place that took your breath away. The baseball diamond.

For day games, it was a magical place of green grass and brown orange dirt. Workers with long hoses sprayed that dirt with an artistry of geometric precision slowly making that dirt darker until it was all the same hue. The patch of green and openness held a promise like no place else in the city. You knew magic was going to happen there. There are other diversions in the city such as movie houses and play houses. They offer a magic too, but they were magic without the sun and the breeze. They might have shows that offered hope and message, but ultimately, they showed the same shows over and over. In the Stadium, a different drama happened every day.

We are spoiled by watching our sports on television. And while watching a game on television is a blessed event, there is nothing like sitting in a Stadium watching the same drama unfold. Somehow, each person in the stands become a part of the same organism. We are all living and dying watching the same story. Foul balls become a festive event and people turn to each other and share the excitement of what almost was. In cities where you are taught not to look at people in the eye, once in the Stadium, people pass along your hot dog and your drink and think nothing of passing your money down to the vendor at the end of the row. We are community.

We all gasp at the same time and cheer at the same time and boo at the same time. We rise to our feet in unison. We all get fooled by a fly ball to the outfield each and every time. About a third of us are keeping score and hoping our pencil points don't break as we mark our "K" and draw the line to first base for a single. Each half inning brings an intermission where we take in the sights while listening to music. We all take in the little things like ball boys running to and fro in rehearsed tasks that keep a game moving smoothly. In the sixth inning, we watch the grounds crew with their magical mats smooth out the infield. We watch infielders make their own patterns in the fresh dirt. We shout at players we know can't hear us. We clap in rhythm unexpectedly. Our souls all become interwoven at the drama we are witnessing together.

For some of us, those collective moments happened all too rarely, especially those of us with limited means and opportunity. But they live inside us forever and a part of us relives them whenever we watch another game on television. That baseball usually happens in warm weather makes it different than football. The more clothes you wear, the more you are separated from your neighbor. It's why those of us in northern climates are more conservative by nature. The shirtsleeve crowd has an easier time bonding over an event taking place before us.

Those memories last a lifetime and add to the hope that comes when a baseball season starts all over again. Social media that has proliferated our society allows us to see that people all over this continent feel the same way. People we meet electronically hope just as much for Opening Day in St. Louis or Toronto. Opening Day gives us all something in common no matter who we root for. It opens our eyes to fans with long-time pain rooting for perennial losers like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals. It gives us a glimpse of what is important to them and we end up rooting for their Billy Butler and Pedro Alvarez. We are all fans of this great game of baseball.

And for us, Opening Day is a national celebration. And even if snow is still on the ground and the winds still make you huddle and pray for the car heater to work, we know that somewhere it is spring. Somewhere, the grass is green and players in clean white and gray uniforms are going to thrill us for another season. We all start together with the exact same record. We all hope for the same thing. It's truly a wonderful time of year. In some ways, it might even beat Christmas. It is baseball season and we are all young again and stand in wonder and hope.

Rejoice people. It's our time again. There is no way of predicting how it will all turn out. But wherever we are, we are symbolically connected by this lifelong passion...this love...this game that is inside all of us. Enjoy every minute of it.

Game Picks - March 31, 2011

And so it begins. It's Opening Day, which means--at least here in this space--that the daily "Game Picks" feature moves back into full swing. This Fan is pretty proud to day that there wasn't one day last year that was missed and 2,529 games were picked including the playoffs and World Series. Last year's final tally was 1379-1050, good for a 56.8 percent correct response rate. That rate might waver slightly between and because the defense is rated differently.


Anyway, it is exciting to get back in the saddle to load up the pick machine. No, if you're looking for Las Vegas style odds and stuff, the Fan ain't your guy. All we do here is pick who is going to win. That's it. So here are your opening day picks:

  • The Braves over the Nationals: Derek Lowe may not be your prototypical Opening Day starter, but he has a better chance to stop the Nationals than Livan Hernandez does of stopping the Braves. A high scoring affair ensues with the Braves coming out on top.
  • The Tigers over the Yankees: C. C. Sabathia has started Opening Day three straight years, and for three straight years, it's been one of his worst outings of the season. Two were losses, one was a 10-8 win. Verlander is on a mission and limits the Yankees' bats.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: The Reds open at home and Volquez does just enough to get to the bullpen and the Reds win. Gallardo gets hit but also gets a hit when batting.
  • The Cardinals over the Padres: There will be no Cinderella season for the Padres. Carpenter and the Cardinals start with a win over Stauffer and the fringy friars.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: The Dodgers have gotten no love this spring. It's almost like the writers have heaped their disdain for the McCourts onto the team. Donny Ballgame gets his first win as a manager. Kershaw out pitches Lincecum.

And the Game of the Day (the one game each day that seems a lock)!

  • The Angels over the Royals: Weaver is an ace, though he got dissed and was sent to arbitration. Hochevar is decidedly not an ace. This one should be easy.

Have fun everyone and enjoy Opening Day!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day Starters Speak Volumes

Let's face it. Every team wants to win the first game of the season. Even though the first game is simply that and the beginning of a long, 162-game grind, everyone wants to start off on the right foot (or the left foot depending on which arm a pitcher uses). And because of that fact, it has become symbolic for teams when naming their Opening Day starter. Teams go with the pitcher that best represents the team's hope for the season. He is the face of the staff, the veteran that has given the team years of consistently good effort. But it doesn't always work out that way. David Wells started the 2005 season for the Boston Red Sox when he wasn't even on the 2004 Championship Red Sox team. And so, the Opening Day starters seem to tell us a lot about a team. Let's look at them all:

  • Tigers at Yankees (Thurs): This is your prototypical starting day match up with Justin Verlander facing C.C. Sabathia.  Both pitchers anchor their team's pitching staff and much of the season's hopes are pinned to their success. Sabathia and Verlander have been about the most durable and trustworthy pitchers in the game. No surprises here. The only question is Verlander because he always seems to start slow in April. Perhaps starting in March will make a difference?
  • Braves at Nationals (Thurs): The Braves' choice of Derek Lowe is somewhat surprising. He would be considered by most to be the team's third best starter. But Lowe carried the team in September last year while Hudson tired down the stretch. Tommy Hanson will get plenty of Opening Day starts in his career. Livan Hernandez starting for the Nationals speaks chunks about the National's rotation. Livan has certainly earned our respect for hanging in there year after year, but he would be a fourth or fifth starter on most teams.
  • Brewers at Reds (Thurs): Yovani Gallardo is the right choice for the Brewers. He came into his own last season when he was just about the Brewers' only good starting pitcher. If Greinke hadn't hurt his ribs playing basketball, this might have been different. But Greinke's injury leads the Brewers to make the right choice. The Reds starting their season with Edison Volquez really speaks to the general unease this writer has for the Reds' rotation. Volquez and Cueto have both come to represent big-time talent and no consistency. Bronson Arroyo was the team's most reliable starter last year and he will take the ball over the weekend despite a bout of mono (who was HE kissing?). Much of the Reds hopes are pinned to the considerable talents of guys like Volquez. But that is just as scary as it is promising.
  • Angels at Royals (Thurs): Jared Weaver is the Angels' stud. He is easily the team's ace and leader. Which makes it all the stranger that the Angels made Weaver go through arbitration this winter. He is the right choice for the Angels in a season that has more questions than a two year old. The Royals begin the season with Luke Hochevar. That seems like a weird choice but when you have a rotation that figures to have five starters with an ERA over 4.50, what are you going to do? Francis is new, so that would be a slap to the guys that have been there. Chen was allowed to walk into free agency so that the Royals could sign him at their price. So, despite his decent season last year, you aren't going to get Chen on Opening Day. Hochevar is all you have left. Cheer up KC fans. Better days are coming.
  • Padres at Cardinals (Thurs): Matt Latos was supposed to get the ball Opening Day, which is a lot to put on a guy in his second full season. But Latos is hurt leaving the Padres to open with Tim Stauffer. That doesn't leave Padre fans with a whole lot of optimism, does it? The Cardinals start their ace, Chris Carpenter, who could be starting his last year in St. Louis. This Fan is worried about Carpenter's health. He didn't look that good down the stretch last year and now he has a weakened defense behind him. But make no mistakes about it, Carpenter represents this Cardinals era from a pitching standpoint.
  • Giants at Dodgers (Thurs): There are no surprises here. Lincecum is one of the best in the business and Kershaw broke out last season at such a young age to take his place among the best starters in the league.
  • Astros at Phillies (Friday): Brett Myers was the Astros best pitcher last year (though Wandy Rodriguez had a great second half). So he is your obvious choice to begin the season. But many will be surprised if Myers can repeat his 2010 season and if he will do so for the Astros for the entire season. Of course the Phillies go with Roy Halladay. Who else would there be? With a rotation full of aces, Halladay is clearly in a class of his own.
  • Pirates at Cubs (Friday): The Pirates top pitcher? Kevin Correia? Ugh. It's going to be another long season in Pittsburgh. The offense is starting to get interesting, especially if Alvarez hits. But the rotation is not even Triple A-worthy. Correia? Wow. The Cubs surprisingly went with Ryan Dempster. Zambrano is probably their best pitcher, but after his troubles last year, it seems right to give the ball to Dempster, who has kept out of the limelight and simply takes the ball every fifth day. The reality though, is that Zambrano has to have an ace-like season for the Cubs to have a chance.
  • White Sox at Indians (Friday): Mark Buehrle gets the not for the White Sox. Buehrle is an innings eater who promises once again to be league average at best. Why the White Sox don't admit John Danks is their best pitcher is a mystery to this observer. Fausto Carmona is probably the only choice the Indians have. He's the best of what is one of the weakest rotations in baseball. Perhaps the team will surprise us, but the offense better be really, really good if Carmona is your ace.
  • Red Sox at Rangers (Friday): Jon Lester has become the top guy on what is a deep rotation. Lester is a perennial Cy Young candidate, all the more remarkable considering he was battling cancer just a few short years ago. The Rangers go with their de facto ace, C. J. Wilson. Wilson is a huge key for the Rangers this year. This author is afraid of the innings he pitched last year after being a clsoer in the years before. He has a quad problem, but is still listed as the Opening Day starter. His season will bear watching.
  • Diamondbacks at Rockies (Friday): The Fan has already devoted a column on having Ian Kennedy anointed the Opening Day starter. Enough was said there about if Kennedy is your best, you have a weak rotation. The Rockies have the luxury of starting their season with the Magnificent Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez could be a factor once again in Cy Young voting.
  • Twins at Blue Jays (Friday): The Twins are going with Carl Pavano, a pitcher they refused to sign before free agency and then waited for the market to bottom out before signing. The Twins simply don't like Francisco Liriano, who is easily their best pitcher. There are 29 other teams that would take him if given the chance. The Blue Jays give the ball to Ricky Romero, who was solid last season and one of the young starters the Blue Jays need to have a good season, especially with Morrow opening the season on the DL. Projections aren't high on Romero and project Cecil to be better, but the Jays need all their young pitchers to have good seasons. If that happens, it's going to be a fun season in Toronto.
  • Mets at Marlins (Friday): Mike Pelfrey certainly doesn't seem like an ace. But that's who the Mets will have leading off their season. Santana is out and there really isn't any other choice. Pelfrey has to have a good season for the Mets not to be a joke by the All Star break. The Marlins have John Johnson pitching out of the gate. Johnson was right up there with Roy Halladay last year until he was shut down to save his young arm. Johnson is an ace in every way.
  • Orioles at Bay Rays (Friday): Jeremy Guthrie again will start the Orioles' season. You can sniff all you want at Guthrie, but he was very good down the stretch under Showalter. Matusz will have years to be the ace. But he has to prove he can perform for an entire season. The Bay Rays go with David Price, one of the best pitchers in the American League. Price is fantastic and will be a perennial Cy Young candidate as well as a Twitter all star.
  • Mariners at Athletics (Friday): The Mariners may not have much, but they have an ACE! Felix Hernandez begins his defense of his Cy Young award, an award he could dominate for years and years. The Athletics begin with Trevor Cahill. Cahill won 18 games for the team last season and appears to be the spiritual leader of that staff. But projections warn of serious regression this year for Cahill, who probably isn't the best pitcher on his own team.
There you have it. Those are your Opening Day starters. Plenty of aces are in the list, but also plenty of question marks. Oh, and in case you were wondering, only the great Bob Feller started a team's season with a no-hitter. That happened on Opening Day, 1940. Tomorrow morning, the Fan will begin his season-long and daily feature of picking the day's games. The Fan will see you then.

Opening Day Is Messed Up

Opening Day in a baseball season should be a national celebration. Heck, it should even be a national holiday. Kids should be off from school to watch the first game either in a stadium or on television. But the schedule has messed things all up. Only twelve teams will have Opening Day with the other eighteen teams waiting for Friday to open the season. What's with that? How can we get Opening Day to be a holiday when not even half of the teams are even playing?

There are two requirements for Opening Day. First, every team should be playing and secondly, every game should be a day game. One of the best parts of Opening Day is looking at that very first, brand-spanking new box score of the season. All those box scores should be available by early evening at the latest. But that's not going to happen because ESPN has to have an evening game to battle the likes of American Idol. And so we'll get the Giants and the Dodgers at 8 P.M. ET and we can listen to the announcers talk about the shadows between the pitcher and the batter for at least three or four innings.

Baseball, in its ultimate wisdom, has decided to open the season in stages. It's like a dogsled race or something.  Twelve teams will actually play on Opening Day. Twenty-two teams will play on Opening Day, Part Two on Friday. But the math isn't right. That's because four of the teams that played on Opening Day, Part One will play again on Opening Day, Part Two. Confused yet? And four of those teams playing on Friday will not start their games until 10:05 P.M. (ET). Ugh!

It won't be until Saturday until all thirty teams are playing the same day. At that point, all thirty dogsleds will have checked into the check point area. This whole deal is poorly constructed.

At least we'll have one thing to be thankful for. At least nobody this year is starting their season in Japan or England or Puerto Rico. That's a plus. The big point here is that Opening Day should be Opening Day. Every team should be in action so that the entire country can celebrate the beginning of the season together. Anything else is like having some people celebrate New Years in China.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Is Donnie Murphy?

After reading this article in the Miami Herald, it was learned that the Marlins still haven't announced their starting third baseman. The choices come down to Emilio Bonifacio and Donnie Murphy. This writer's first immediate thought was: "For gosh sakes, don't let it be Bonifacio!" Immediately following that thought was this second thought: "Who the heck is Donnie Murphy?" The article linked above called him the dreaded "J" word: "Journeyman." The article also mentions that Murphy strained nine ligaments in his wrist last year. So far, this isn't looking very good. And then a quick glance at showed him to have a 75 OPS+ in limited action over several years. Does that mean the Marlins' decision is between the lesser or two evils?

The first problem is that there are too many Murphys. A total of forty-one men have played in the major leagues with that name. Of the three most recent, they all start their first names with a "D." There's David, Danny and Donnie. How are we supposed to keep all that straight? But Donnie has been around the longest, so you can't blame him. Remember, he's the journeyman. Donnie Murphy, the subject of this post DID have two walk off hits last season before he got hurt. Some guys don't do that in a lifetime. That's impressive. But who is he and is he a better choice than our favorite punching bag in Bonifacio?

Last year's numbers for Murphy show the tremendous danger of not having a good sample size. The good? His slugging was .705 and his OPS was 1.042. If we didn't remember that Murphy only came to the plate 47 times, we might think he was Manny Ramirez at the peak of his career. Murphy also struck out 43 percent of the time. Again, if we weren't cogent of the plate appearances, we might think Murphy makes Mark Reynolds look like a contact hitter. And finally, Murphy only walked 4.3 percent of the time. With that kind of small sample, he looks like Manny Reynolds Molina.

And it doesn't get any easier to look at the career numbers because in  total, he's only had 411 plate appearances spread over five seasons. Nothing would be worth considering from that small a sample size. So we have to look at his minor league record.

Donnie Murphy is one of those rare players that has played better the higher he has risen in professional baseball. He was better in A+ than he was in A. He was better in Double A than he was in A+ and he was better in Triple A than he was in Double A. His Triple A stats show a guy who has some power with 26 homers in 584 plate appearances. He hit for a .290 average. He only walked seven percent of the time, which is a big departure from his earlier minor league days when he got on base more. And he struck out about 23 percent of the time.

So say Donnie Murphy does win the job, how do you project him over 500 at bats? It seems impossible to determine. His on base percentage isn't going to be much better than Bonifacio. But he has power. It would be a pretty good bet that he'd hit over 20 homers in the course of that many at bats. But he'll strike out 130 times or so and he has no speed, the one thing that Bonifacio did have.

Murphy has played mostly short and second base in the minors, but he has played some third. His defense at third should be better than Bonifacio, who was terrible there. But he isn't known as a great fielder. The bottom line here is that Murphy, because of his power has more potential upside than Bonifacio and he should handle third better than our ersatz punching bag. But saying all that, it's not like the Fan would recommend him as a sleeper for anyone's fantasy league team.

At best, the Marlins can hope that Murphy plays decently enough, long enough for Matt Dominguez to get his act together and prove that he's the next big thing for the Marlins at that position. Murphy is known as a hustling player or a grinder as they say. He was hurt making a spectacular play on a pop up. Hustling isn't something the Marlins are known for. Perhaps that alone gives us something to root for.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Derek Jeter Is Fighting History

This writer would like to think that he is the most rational of all die-hard Derek Jeter fans. His strengths are well established in his statistics as well as his weaknesses. But there is a scale of sorts that weights the strengths and weaknesses quite well (albeit with some flaws). It's called wins above replacement or WAR. As long as a player is scoring in positive numbers in WAR, he is helping out his team (especially if you don't consider what a player is being paid). And Derek Jeter did have a positive number in the WAR category last year. But it was his smallest WAR of his career. This year, Jeter will strive to prove that last year was a blip and that he still has it in him to be one of the elite at his position. History is not on his side.

As mentioned in the last post, the Fan has fallen in love with War Graphs over at What the Fan thought he would do was use War Graphs as a means of showing what Derek Jeter is up against. So the Fan used this wonderful feature to plot Jeter's career against a couple of other Hall of Fame shortstops: Luis Aparicio and Pee Wee Reese. Here's how the graph looks. Click on the graph to make it larger and then click the back arrow to get back to this post.

As the War Graph clearly shows, Aparicio and Reese both continued to climb in accumulative WAR just like Jeter has but hit the wall at the age Jeter is attempting to play. Both Aparicio and Reese flattened out in their careers in their 37th year. Aparicio did have one good last year, mostly as a utility player.

This next War Graph gives pretty much the same story with Jeter and two other Hall of Fame shortstops, Phil Rizzuto and Cal Ripken, Jr. Ripken, of course, played third in his later years.

Phil Rizzuto stopped accumulating positive WAR after his 36th birthday. Ripken continued to climb for a year or two more but then he too flat-lined. Jeter is more the physical body type of Ripken than any of the other Hall of Famers we have pitted him against. So the best we can hope for here is that Jeter has another one or two positive years like Ripken did while staying in a position that Ripken was bumped out of by Mike Bordick.

Perhaps it would be instructive to include one more War Graph. This one pits Jeter against the career of Paul Molitor. While Molitor wasn't a shortstop, his career of accumulating WAR is markedly similar to Jeter's. Take a look:

This War Graph shows that Molitor had a very similar drop in production as Jeter did last year, but it was at an age a year later than Jeter. Molitor had one more positive season and then flat-lined. 

The bottom line for these graphs is that Derek Jeter is fighting history. If he follows Ripken and Molitor's career path, he might have one or two more productive years. But that is the best we can hope for. Anything else would defy history. The good news is that if Jeter can defy what these charts are telling us, then he will write a new chapter in his storied career.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

War Graphs - Pujols, A-Rod, Aaron

Everyone is having fun with War Graphs, one of the best features of the site. This one shows how nearly identical the careers are of Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols really are. Take a look at the chart below. If it's too small for you to see, click on it and it will get bigger.

This Fan finds that graph amazing. Note how Alex Rodriguez is just above Hank until the last two years, which shows the effects of the hip injury A-Rod suffered. A-Rod appears to be much healthier this spring and could jump back on Aaron's pace this year with a big year. Pujols is on an almost identical path for his first ten years as Aaron.

Let's do the same thing, but remove Aaron and add it Barry Bonds. Note that Bonds and A-Rod are nearly identical at A-Rod's current age. But then Bonds had that late career boom which you can debate some other time...perhaps after the trial is over. Pujols is right there with them.

That's pretty remarkable stuff. Albert Pujols seems to be marching on at a steady pace just like A-Rod and Aaron. Considering he plays first base and gets a positional penalty from that position, Pujols clearly is an astounding player and we should certainly enjoy it while it lasts.

Ubaldo the Magnificent

When talking about the top pitchers in the majors, Ubaldo Jiminez is not always in the conversation. We rightly here about Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Felix Hernandez gets a lot of mentions. Clayton Kershaw gets a justifiable amount of mention as a good young pitcher. C. C. Sabathia is mentioned. Jon Lester and his teammate, Buchholz are usually mentioned. Verlander is usually in the mix. But Jiminez was magnificent last year and the strange thing is, the only time this writer heard him mentioned was how lucky his fast start was last year.

Ubaldo Jiminez is about as exciting a pitcher as there is in baseball. He's only going to be 27 in 2011 and he's won 34 games in the last two years. He "only" won 19 games last year after starting the season 15-1 by the All Star Game. And yes, the Rockies scored a bunch of runs in those early 15 wins. In his first 18 starts that led to that impressive record, the Rockies scored 5.3 runs a game when Ubaldo pitched.  But most of us know by now that wins and losses aren't always in the pitcher's control.  Yes, the Rockies scored 5.3 runs per game in his first 18 starts leading to 15 wins. But Ubaldo's ERA at that point was 2.20. It's not like he was wheezing into those wins. And how come after the All Star Game, few people mentioned the bad luck he received from his offense?

Before the All Star break, Jiminez had two no-decisions. After the break, there were four. Jiminez did struggle in July and parts of August. But starting August 21, he lost three straight decisions and in those three games, his team scored a combined four runs. The game after that, he won in a laugher. Then he got a no-decision in a 2-1 Rockies win. On September 17, he won his nineteenth game despite not being sharp. He pitched three more times and his team totally tanked on the offensive department.

Finishing with nineteen wins after having fifteen wins at the All Star Game left the impression that his second half was a disappointment. He did struggle in July, but his ERA in August was 2.83 and it was 3.57 in September. Those aren't numbers to sneeze at. The point is that you have to look at his season as a whole and the positive trend that his numbers have shown in the past three years. You also have to look at his record in the context that he pitched half of his games at Coors Field and managed to allow opposing batters there a .661 OPS the entire season in that atmosphere. To show how good Jiminez would be just about anywhere else, his OPS against on the road was .564! and Fangraphs calculate wins above replacement differently. If you go by B-R's way of that calculation, Ubaldo Jiminez had the highest WAR of any pitcher in the National League last year, yes, even higher than Roy Halladay and much higher than Adam Wainwright. Fangraphs gives him a slightly lower WAR but it was still high enough to rank in a tie for third in the entire majors. If you go by another statistic called win probability added or WPA, Jiminez was second in the majors behind Halladay.

Ubaldo Jiminez is known for his blazing fastball. He was once again near the top of the league in the average speed of that pitch in the National League. But Jiminez throws four plus pitches. His fastball was 30 runs above average last year, but his change up was slightly over nine and his curve and his slider were also above average. He had his best season getting batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone and it's very tough to square the bat on his pitches. His 16.2 percent line drive percentage against is very impressive.

Whenever a pitcher has as good a year as Jiminez, you want to look at more than just the 2.88 ERA. How did his pitching look in context? One of the ways you do that is to look at his fielding independent pitching or FIP. This statistic takes out factors the pitcher can't control and gives a truer picture of how well a pitcher pitched. Jiminez fared very well in FIP with a final number of 3.10

So what can we expect from Ubaldo the Magnificent in 2011? Heck, it's like anything else. Anything can happen once the real games start. But if you go by his trends, you'd have to think he'll have another outstanding season. In 2010, his hits per nine innings went down for the third straight year. His strikeouts per nine increased for the second year in a row. His ERA+ has increased two years in a row. And he is excellent at keeping the ball in the park--another amazing feat for a guy who starts half his games in Colorado.

Baseball Prospectus predicts Ubaldo Jiminez will finish 17-12 with an ERA of 4.00. While the win total sounds about right these days for one of the top pitchers in the league, the Fan is definitely under on the ERA. As good as 2010 was, we probably still haven't seen how good Ubaldo Jiminez can be.