Saturday, April 30, 2011

Post Number 2000

This is the 2000th post since this site started in 2003. And for the occasion, all kinds of cute number studies were going to be attempted around that number. But all of that seemed dry and calculated. Other ideas were bandied about. But none of them seemed to fit. So this milestone post won't be about anything. It's only a simple milestone for a site that isn't that complicated. There is only one reason why so much effort would go into writing that many posts. And that reason?

Baseball is the best game in the world. Major League Baseball is not perfect, but no other sport captures this writer's imagination and loyalty. Only baseball is a common thread from the early days of this writer's life to these now middle-aged years. There is no other game like it. There is no other casual joy that comes close.

That's why this place exists. This Flagrant Fan of the game of baseball is thankful many of you have been along for a lot of this journey. Thanks for listening. Thanks for the encouragement. And thanks most of all for sharing this passion that binds us together.

Change Up Behind Marquis' Early Success

Jason Marquis is 3-0 with a 2.62 ERA after out pitching Tim Lincecum yesterday. Marquis' start is among the many surprises of this early 2011 season. And Marquis' success hasn't been lucky. His BABIP is normal. And the ERA is no fluke either as it is slightly higher than his FIP, which stands at 2.52 and is only slightly lower than his xFIP which stands at 3.18. Obviously, this isn't the Jason Marquis of 2010 who went 2-9 with an ERA over six. What's even more obvious is that we've never seen this Jason Marquis before.

For starters, Marquis isn't walking anyone. Even in his Dave Duncan, Cardinals seasons, Marquis walked over three batters per nine innings. His career average is 3.46 walks per nine. His lowest rate was 3.00 under Duncan in 2005. And yet this year, Marquis is only walking 1.31 batters per nine innings. That's in the Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay range.

Secondly, Marquis' strikeout rate is his highest since 2004. That was a long time ago. His 6.29 strikeouts per nine innings is more than a full strikeout over his career average of 5.26. Plus, Marquis has only given up one homer this season giving him the ridiculous rate of 0.26 homers per nine innings. His career rate in that category is 1.1. The only two seasons Marquis has kept his homer rate below one per nine innings was in 2008 for the Cubs and 2009 for the Rockies. Note: He was also under one early in his career in part time duty.

So how is Jason Marquis suddenly among the elite pitchers in the National League? Well, he's healthy for one thing. Last year's poor performance was due in part to nagging injuries that limited him to only 13 starts, his lowest total since 2003. But Marquis has been healthy plenty of years and not pitched like this. The real key to his success thus far seems to be his change up.

Why the change up? Because it's the only real anomaly in his statistics. His ground ball rate is nearly the same. The effectiveness of his fastball is not out of line with his career. His line drive rate isn't greatly changed. The only real change that jumps out at you in his statistics is his change up. He's thrown the pitch 23.2 percent of the time this season. The highest rate he's ever thrown that pitch is 13.3 percent last year. And for his career, the pitch has only been in his arsenal to the tune of 9.1 percent. His rate of pitches being chased outside the strike zone is higher to a pretty significant degree and perhaps that can be directly related to the increase in change ups and the effectiveness of that pitch.

And Fangraphs certainly seems to show the change up has been very effective. It's by far his most effective pitch type. Marquis has never had a devastating fastball and its values are always in the negative numbers. His slider is slightly more effective this year than in the past. But the change up this year is rated very highly.

Normally, you might expect Marquis to regress from his stunning 2011 early numbers. His walk and homer rate seem so out of whack with the rest of his career. But there is also the chance that he's found something like lightning in a bottle with his change up and just perhaps, he can ride that pitch all season as long if his health holds up.

Game Picks - Saturday: April 30, 2011

Ouch. Friday night wasn't a good one for the old game picker. Marquis out pitched Lincecum. The Yankees stranded 137 runners. David Price wasn't good. The Twins inexplicably handed a good game by Baker to Burnett instead of to their top relievers and blew the game. The amazing Indians rallied to overtake the Tigers. Cahill was better than Wilson. Dice-K came out of the game early with an injury and the Mariners won. It wasn't pretty unless you root for one of these teams that won.  The day was deeply in the red and that happened despite a brilliant pick of the Pirates over the Rockies behind Correia. Sad.

The Fan needs a big day on Saturday to save the week:

  • The Bay Rays over the Angels: Pineiro is making his first start back from injury. Shields has been pitching well. Both facts should lead to a Tampa win.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: The Mets got hammered yesterday and it won't be any better today with Halladay facing Niese.
  • The Cardinals over the Braves: The Cardinals are on a big roll and should win if Westbrook pitches decently. The Braves don't seem to be as good as this picker thought they were. Beachy with the loss.
  • The Giants over the Nationals: Sanchez should overpower the Nats' hitters while the Giants score a few off of Lannon.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Brett Anderson has been the A's best pitcher. Dominant stuff. Lewis has been poor thus far for the Rangers.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: The Yankees should wear down Drabek and get him out early. Burnett has to keep the Blue Jays in the yard though.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: What the heck, right? Might as well ride the wave. Alex White, the Indians first round  draft pick in 2009 makes his major league debut and shines. Porcello takes the loss.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: Wandy threw 125 pitches his last time out in a loss. Randy Wolf suddenly looks good again. Strange season.
  • The White Sox over the Orioles: The White Sox are really struggling. But Humber was so good last time out. Let's see if he can repeat it. The Orioles start Tillman who has been hurt and also sports a 6.16 ERA.
  • The Marlins over the Reds: Josh Johnson goes to 4-0 after this game and Volquez will have his usual bad first inning. 
  • The Twins over the Royals: The Twins always seem to win when Duensing pitches. The Royals counter with Sean O'Sullivan. Too bad Duensing can't pitch every day.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Cubs: Going with Ian Kennedy over Matt Garza. Garza has some of the weirdest stats in baseball. His record is bad, but his peripherals are outstanding.
  • The Rockies over the Pirates: Hammel pitched real well last time out. So did Maholm. Going with the Rockies at home.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Again, until the Padres can start scoring runs, you can't pick them. Kuroda with the win over Stauffer.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: Fister has been good but the M's don't score when he pitches. Lackey has had two great starts in a row.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 38-40
Month: 205-175
Season: 205-175
Games of the Day: 15-15

Friday, April 29, 2011

MLB Needs to Grow Up About Social Media

Major League Baseball is a bit like some grandparent with a computer down in a Florida condo. While they think they are approaching hip status for finally joining the computer age, they are hopelessly out of touch with the new world we all live in. Nothing brings this home more intensely than the two game suspension MLB just announced for Ozzie Guillen for "tweeting during a game" after he was ejected from a recent baseball game. The ejection came in the first inning.

To show how confusing this all is for MLB, their Twitter feed announces almost on a daily bases the latest ball player who has joined Twitter. But heaven help those poor suckers should they use their Twitter service in a way that MLB feels is unbecoming.

Let's face it, this Fan thinks that getting fined or suspended for criticizing umpires is un-American. Free speech is one of our greatest tenants. And yet organizations routinely fire people or suspend them for speaking their minds when they disagree with decisions being made around them. The Fan has no problem with an umpire throwing a player or manager out of the game. But to expect blind and quiet obedience on what is a human element of the sport is wrong.

So imagine, then, if the Fan already feels that fining players and managers is un-American, how much more so is it to do so when those free speeches are made in a private medium. Perhaps you can argue Twitter as a public mode of conversation. But the follows and followers of a person on Twitter are personal choices. But perhaps that is a lame argument. In fact, it feels so already. The basic point here that isn't lame is that Twitter and other forms of social media are here to say. They are the new world. They are where we are on this planet. Does the league have rules against using the telephone during a game? Don't know. Can't imagine it, but don't know.

What MLB needs to understand is that Twitter is a major development on the free speech frontier. It gives everyone a voice to say whatever they want. It has also become how many of us get our breaking MLB news because that news comes nearly instantaneous. And barring a major meltdown of our communication and Internet system, this is how it is now done. The only difference is the timing of the communication. In the "old" days (say three years ago), Ozzie's comments would have had to wait until after the game and perhaps they then made their way to SportsCenter. But this is a new world.

Pat Neshek announced to the world that the he was heading to San Diego before his teammates even knew and before the Twins had a chance to announce the story. How did that happen? Twitter. This is the world, MLB. Get used to it. What does it ultimately matter when Ozzie says what he says?

To sum up the Fan's feelings on all this: A player or manager should never be fined for stating how they feel about what happened in a game UNLESS those statements include racially or sexually insensitive sentiments or character or a direct question of an umpire's character. And secondly, Major League Baseball can't be promoting the use of social media and using it in their own propaganda and public relations work only to then turn around and bust people for what they say on that media and when. Get with it, Gramps.

Hey! The Mariners Can Hit...A Little...Better

The Seattle Mariners do not have the worst offense in the majors thus far in 2011. That in and of itself is big news after last year. There are currently four teams that have worse offenses than the Mariners (Oakland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and San Diego). That's progress. But let's not get carried away. Their team OPS is only .658, which is only 22 points above last year's abysmal .636. The improvement though, gives the Mariners a chance on any given night and with the pitching of Hernandez and Pineda, they have an improved chance to win ballgames.

But can it last? Call this Fan skeptical. Miguel Olivo isn't exactly tearing the covers off the balls. But what he is doing is far and above what the Mariners have received at the catching position for the past two years. He shouldn't regress from where he is and may even improve a bit. The biggest boost has come from Justin Smoak, who is finally turning into the kind of player the Rangers hoped he would be and the kind of player the Mariners were willing to give up Cliff Lee for. Smoak currently has an OPS of 988 and seems to have a good sense at the plate. But can he sustain this newfound success?

Smoak can have an excellent season. He has the plate recognition needed and has cut down some on his strikeouts. Smoak won't stay at .988, but he could very well stay near .900. The real problem will be if nobody is hitting around him. If that happens, pitchers will just start skipping him in the batting order. And the line up is still a problem. Figgins is so far showing that last year's dismal showing wasn't a fluke. He has a .525 OPS. Oof. Milton Bradley looked early as if he was going to get back to some modicum of productivity. But he has fallen off lately and is down to batting .208. Despite that low batting average, his OPS+ still sits at 100 so he is contributing in other ways. All he has to do is hit .250 with his walks and occasional power and he can still be useful.

Jack Wilson has never been a good offensive player. He is hitting near his norms. Brendan Ryan has yet to hit consistently and looks more like last year's Ryan and not the Ryan of two years ago. This Fan still likes his upside and his value lies in run prevention and defense. Adam Kennedy has been an early surprise but should sink to his career norms over the course of the season.

Chris Gimenez has given the Mariners a brief spark, but he got hurt recently. Jack Cust has been a disappointment so far. He still gets his walks and still strikes out a lot. The question will remain if he can ever again be a valuable slugger. The odds seem against it.

The bad news here is that only Ichiro is doing what he normally does and Justin Smoak gives them a star in the meat of the order. But the rest of the line up is questionable and as the season wears on, will struggle often to secure runs. They now have two stud pitchers which gives them a good chance to split any series. Perhaps they aren't the pushovers they were last year. But despite better play of late, the Mariners still remain a team that will lose more games than they will win.

Jorge Posada is Toast

Lost among some Yankee success stories and the struggles of other players in their line up (Jeter, Gardner, Swisher), the Yankees have a black hole in the DH spot in Jorge Posada. It is not easy to write this piece because the Fan's wife loves Posada and Posada is also the favorite player of one special fifteen year old girl here. But he's done. The signs were pointing that way last year and this year, he has fallen and he can't get up.

The question is: What will the Yankees do about it? Posada will make $13 million this season, but that's not a problem for the Yankees. What is a problem is Posada as a local hero. One of the original "Core Four" that hearkens back to the glory days of the recent Yankee past. But he is 39 years old and looks every day of it. And he isn't just 39 in player terms. He's a 39 year old who spent the bulk of his career squatting behind home plate.

The Yankees took care of the first part of the equation this year by removing Posada from catching. He was the second worst defensive catcher in the game last year and his skill back there were seriously hurting the team. Russell Martin has been a brilliant acquisition who even if he doesn't continue to hit this well, has been terrific behind the plate and with the pitchers, something the Yankees haven't had in ions. But the Yankees softened the blow by still giving Posada a full-time position as the DH. After batting .248 last year, his lowest since 1999, Posada is hitting .130 after 78 plate appearances. His on base percentage is a paltry (for him especially) .232.

Complicating the decision has been Posada's power production early this season. He does have six homers. But the reality is that Posada has never had this high an ISO. His career number is .228. His current ISO is .261. There is no reason to believe that he will keep that up. His homer to fly ball rate is also sitting at 27.3 percent. His career average is 15.8 percent. Again, he won't sustain this power clip.

Normally, when someone is struggling this badly, you look at the BABIP and surely, Posada's is incredibly low at a freakish .091. Again, normally, you would say that would even things out over the course of time. But you have to couple that thought with the fact that Posada has a career line drive percentage over 20 percent. Last year, that sunk to 18.5 percent and this year, the figure is down to 12.2 percent. Simply put, Posada isn't getting good wood on the ball.

When a player gets to Posada's age, the normal trend is not being able to catch up to a good fastball. That doesn't seem to be the case with Posada. To avoid that, he is probably looking for fastballs so he can gear up and he's not getting them. Pitchers have never thrown Posada so few fastballs. He's seen 58 percent of them over his career. This year, he's seeing only 46 percent fastballs. That seems to mean that pitchers have gotten the word not to throw him any. And they are probably right. Posada is getting eaten up by curves and change ups.

And this Fan has watched quite a few Yankee games and Posada's body language has been awful. Perhaps since he lost the catcher position, he has also lost his place as an important member of the least in his own mind. He often sits by himself in the dugout and looks downcast. Could his self-esteem have taken a hit with his demotion from behind the plate? It's very possible. He does seem to have a good relationship with Martin and that is helpful and professional. But not being in a good frame of mind can't be helping a 39 year old hitter.

Projection systems gave Posada a projection of .233/.331/.454. That certainly is on the low end of what you want from your DH. And now those numbers look fantastically optimistic. Can the Yankees win without a DH? They did it last year and the Bay Rays have done it two of the last three years. But will they choose to do so? They certainly have a problem on their hands. Posada looks like toast at this stage of his career and it remains to be seen what the Yankees do about it. They either bite the bullet and get Posada out of there or they bite the other bullet and keep Hip Hip Jorge in there as a mascot of sorts.

Game Picks - Friday: April 29, 2011

Finally! A good day with only three wrong picks on the scorecard. Unfortunately, one of them was the Game of the Day. Livan messed up more prettiness with a win. The Cubbies got crushed. Seriously, what is up with Dempster? And Vogelsong had a magical day after a career of wandering. But those were the only bad choices yesterday. The Fan correctly picked the double-header sweep of the Twins. But, there would be guilty feelings about any kind of gloat there. Feeling badly for those Twins fans right now. The Twins' season has been gruesome. The most surprising event of Thursday was that no games were washed out. Haven't seen that in a while.

We move on to Friday and April's close is drawing near. Now that the week is finally out of the red, let's close in style:

  • The Tigers over the Indians: Is this the first time all season the Indians haven't played the Royals? Sure seems like it. This pick is no knock on the Indians. The thinking is that Scherzer will be good and Jeanmar Gomez will not.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Vance Worley gets an emergency start for Blanton (DL) and in his few appearances last year did not look overwhelmed at all. Good strikeout to walk rate in the minors. Pelfrey has been struggling.
  • The Giants over the Nationals: The Giants have looked sleepy lately. But Lincecum should wake them up against a good pitcher in Marquis.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Ricky Romero has a 5.70 career ERA against the Yankees who like facing lefties. Garcia will keep the potent Blue Jays off balance.
  • The Rays over the Angels: The Rays are on fire and Price pitches tonight. Santana is zero for the season but struck out nine last time out. Should be a close game.
  • The Reds over the Marlins: The Marlins have to get Vazquez out of there. Travis Wood should win easily.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: The resurgent Dice-K slows down the resurgent Mariners. Vargas hasn't looked good so far.
  • The Cardinals over the Braves: Two proud old starters in Carpenter and Hudson equal each other out. The Cards have the better offense. Going with that. The wild card is the Cardinals' bullpen.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: The Astros will be bamboozled by Marcum and the Brewers will score enough on Myers to win.
  • The White Sox over the Orioles: The White Sox have had trouble scoring runs. Going home and facing Arrieta could help. Danks should hold the Orioles' offense down.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Baker has been great his last two times out. The Royals just got swept by Cleveland. Both teams have had a bad week, but one of them has to win.
  • The Pirates over the Rockies: Correia was very good his last time out and knows how to pitch in Coors. Chacin has been very good but is due for a clunker. This is the Pirates best chance for a win in this series.
  • The Cubs over the Diamondbacks: Galarraga's 3-1 record belies the fact that he's been one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball this season. Zambrano should win. Expect the Cubs to get plunked for hitting Upton yesterday.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Both are throwing good pitchers, Wilson and Cahill. But the Rangers have an offense. The A's don't.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Dodgers are at home and will win behind Lilly. Richard is vulnerable against the hot-hitting Dodgers.

Yesterday: 8-3
Week: 32-31
Month: 199-166
Season: 199-166
Games of the Day: 14-15

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bartolo Colon Was NOT Crafty

A headline today on one of the major sports outlets led off with a headline that "crafty old veteran," Bartolo Colon beat the White Sox. There was nothing crafty about Colon. He bludgeoned the White Sox with power from beginning to end. It seems impossible to understand what Colon is doing. Nor is it possible to know whether he can keep it up. But for right now, Colon has joined the conversation in 2011 as one of the most intriguing stories of the 2011 season.

And Colon's performance on Wednesday night was not some out-of-the-blue event. He's been doing this since the start of Spring Training. We kept hearing that he was ahead of the curve because he pitched this winter. But hundreds of pitchers have pitched in the winter and haven't come out of the gate like this. If that was the secret of success, more pitchers would do it. No, this is something else entirely. This is a resurgence of what used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

We had gotten used to making fun of Bartolo Colon. After he won the Cy Young Award with his 21 wins for the Angels in 2005 (Johan Santana SHOULD have won the award that season), Colon went through a series of injuries. His weight had ballooned and we took that to mean that he was careless and buffoonish. Which, if we examined ourselves carefully, was a bit racially profiled. Success had gone to his head, we said. He made his money and let himself go. But the bottom line is that his health wasn't there and he tried to pitch anyway. He went 14-21 from 2006 to 2009 with an ERA over that span of over five. By 2010, nobody wanted him.

The Yankees headed into Spring Training famously without Cliff Lee and then without Andy Pettitte. Both lefties spurned the Yankees heading into 2011 and the Yankees scrambled to find arms. Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia were two fliers the Yankees took along with later fliers on Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva. We all laughed. Come on, admit it. We ALL laughed. Haha! The Yankees were finding every old goat who had ever pitched.

But then Colon became the best pitcher for the Yankees this spring. He pitched so well that some of us were screaming when he didn't make the rotation to start the season. He was bullpen fodder when Phil Hughes faltered in his first start. Colon came in early in that ballgame and gave up a bunch of runs. People started laughing. But his second mop up outing on another aborted Hughes start was better. And then his next relief outing was better. And then Hughes was pulled from the rotation and Colon was inserted.

Colon started April 20 against a tough Toronto line up and pitched well and got the win. And then last night, against a White Sox team that beat the Yankees in two tough games in a row, he was absolutely dominant. He struck out six in his eight innings. He threw 99 pitches and yet only had five swing and misses. So, yeah, that sounds crafty. But he threw only five breaking balls all night. Five! He dominated the White Sox with 55 four-seam fastballs that averaged 93.1 MPH. He threw one to end the seventh at 96 and ended the eighth throwing 95. He threw 35 more two-seam fastballs that ran like the famous Greg Maddux fastballs. Except Colon threw them for an average of 91.8 MPH and topped out at 94.2 MPH. Maddux never threw those pitches that hard.

Colon now has averaged nine whiffs per nine innings against only 2.1 walks. That's good for a 4.33 K/BB ratio. That's elite kind of stuff with good control. Nobody knows how long this will last. But it's been a fantastic ride thus far. His rebound has begun to rival those other intriguing stories such as Sam Fuld and Andre Ethier. Laugh if you will at his rotundness. Scoff at the early results. But if you are fan of the game, this has been a very cool story.

Game Picks - Thursday: April 28, 2011

"So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."  Yesterday was another day of exactly .500 picking. This picker is neither cold nor hot. And this mouth is "spueing" alright. Yet another postponement led to yet another 7-7 finish in what has become a frustrating week of picks. First, the Orioles got to Josh Beckett, who had been red hot. And then the Red Sox stormed back to tie the game late. The old Orioles would have crumbled. These didn't and came back with a run of their own and won the game. The Brewers roared back several times to overcome deficits. But the Reds scored one more run and it was too much. The Marlins scored four early, but couldn't contain Andre Ethier, who is on fire. The Mariners scored ten runs. The Mariners? Seriously? The Giants couldn't crack James McDonald and the Pirates won the game. The Angels' fielding left Dan Haren with an unearned run and couldn't touch Tyler Ross and win the game. It took three straight late game correct picks just to salvage the lukewarm. And so it went.

With all this boiling inside the Fan's head, the thoughts turn to Thursday and its short schedule that still features eleven games thanks in part to a make-up double-header in Minneapolis. And a glance at that games sees a tangled web. It's not going to be easy:

  • The Pirates over the Giants: This game is impossible to pick. The current Pirates are a plucky bunch. They don't just roll over and die like so many Pirate teams in this decade. Karstens was certainly plucky last time out. He faces old Pirate friend, Ryan Vogelsong, who gets an emergency start for the Giants. Vogelsong started way back in 2006 for the Pirates and it didn't go well. He then went to Japan and Korea and now is asked to beat his old team. Seems too long for the odds.
  • The Mariners over the Tigers: Pineda versus Penny. Penny was super his last time out. Pineda is one of the big stories of 2011.
  • The Bay Rays sweep the Twins: Hellickson will beat Blackburn and then Niemann beats Swarzak making a start for the still Mauer-less and toothless Twins.
  • The Blue Jays over the Rangers: The Jays get to Ogando and Brandon Morrow comes up huge in his second game back from injury.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Lester pulls the Red Sox out of last place and beats Bergesen, who will be ground down to dust by the fourth.
  • The Yankees over the White Sox: You can't pick against Sabathia at home, can you? Jackson is so unpredictable though. He could be brilliant or he could suck. The Yankees may have to play without Teixeira.
  • The Indians over the Royals: The Fan is sooooo sick of these two teams playing over and over. Carmona over Davies. The Royals need to call up Hosmer or something.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: Might as well ride this Mets' wave a while. Capuano over Livan, who seems to have a scandal on his hands.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Kyle McClellan and Nelson Figueroa are two pitchers heading in opposite directions.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Cubs over the Diamondbacks: Dempster and Enright have been among the worst starting pitchers of the 2011 season. But picking the one of them that doesn't have a history of this kind of sucktitude.

Yesterday: 7-7
Week: 24-28
Month: 191-163
Season: 191-163
Games of the Day: 14-14

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leake's Season Start Eerily Familiar?

A year ago, Mike Leake was the talk of baseball. Aroldis Chapman had been the talk of the spring of 2010 with his big fastball and large contract signing. When Chapman was sent to the minors, Mike Leake, recently drafted out of Arizona State University, quietly made the Reds' rotation despite not having pitched a day in the minors. By June 5, 2010, Mike Leake had won all five of his decisions and became a baseball darling.  Underneath all the hoopla, baseball analysts like Rob Neyer and others were cautioning that Leake's numbers didn't seem sustainable. But the baseball public didn't care. This was a story. It's now a year later and Leake is having the same kind of start. Yes, he made the news last week for some very bad reasons, but he's 3-0 and pitching well. Will this season have the same sort of ending as last season?

The analysts were right last season. Leake's success couldn't be sustained and eight out of his next thirteen outings were terrible. Leake came into the spring of 2011 not having a position on the team. The rotation was set and it didn't include him. Most thought he would finally get the call to go to the minors and thus end that storyline. Dusty Baker kept saying that he had too many starters and thus didn't need Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. He didn't need Leake either. But then Volquez got hurt. And Cueto got hurt and Homer Bailey got hurt and there was Leake as the emergency starter to start the season.

And the year is different but the results are the same. Leake started the year 3-0. He pitched again on Tuesday night and got a hard-luck no-decision despite pitching seven strong innings. Is there any reason to believe that this season won't dissolve the way that last season did? Are we getting our hopes up again only to have luck catch up with Mike Leake? His ERA is higher at this current point than last year. Is he winning this year because of the Reds' offense?

The answer as always this time of year is maybe. But there are signs that Leake's season is less of a fluke than last year. His BABIP is low at .264 just like it was a year ago. But it seems that Leake has more command of his arsenal and is getting better quality outs. For example, Leake is striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings compared to last year's 5.9 per nine. He's lowered his walk rate from 3.2 per nine innings to 2.9. According to, four of his five pitches are in the plus category with only his curve lagging behind. Last year, Leake only had one pitch that finished in positive numbers. So, there is a bit more reason for optimism.

Leake is also leaning much more heavily on a cut fastball this year. Last year, the threw the pitch twelve percent of the time. This year, that figure is a bit over thirty percent. The action of the pitch must be working because his rate of infield fly balls has more than doubled. His contact percentage is down while his swing and miss percentage is up. The numbers seem to indicate that Leake knows more about what he is doing this season.

There still is the problem with homers. His rate of 1.2 homers per nine innings is exactly the same as last year as is his percentage of fly balls to homers. Any time you have that kind of propensity to give up homers, you have to cringe a bit. But overall, Leake seems like a better pitcher this year. His ERA is a bit high at 4.40. But that is largely due to one bad game his second outing of the season in Arizona, a place that is tough for pitchers anyway. You do have to like that four of his five starts have been quality starts.

The bottom line here is that Leake could fade again like he did last year. But at no time last year did his strikeout rate come close to what he is doing now. He is missing more bats, increased his infield fly ball rate and has four quality pitches at his disposal. While anything can happen over a long season, there is much more reason for optimism for Leake than last year. The question is, will Baker keep him in the rotation once Cueto and Baker come back. Unless Leake falters, there's no reason why Baker shouldn't keep sending Mike Leake out there every five days.

Game Picks - Wednesday: April 27, 2011

Tuesday started off with correct picks over the White Sox over the Yankees and the Orioles and Zach Britton over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays over the Rangers. So it was going to be a good night, right? In fact, the night started  with five of the first seven picks correct. The problem was that five of the next seven ended up being wrong. The Cardinals kept coming back and retaking the lead against the Astros. But then they kept giving back the lead including a final meltdown in the bottom of the ninth, an inning that featured a passed ball, a wild pitch and an error. That had to be fun to watch. A washout in Minnesota ensured that the day's final tally was a dead even 7-7 and a bad week continues.

Come on, Wednesday! Lift the Fan out of this mess! Five day games on the schedule is a happy day despite the picks:

  • The Marlins over the Dodgers: The near-no-hit guy, Anibal Sanchez, faces Ethier who has a 23-game hit streak. Something has to give there. Just in case, the Fan went back to 2006 to see how Sanchez pitched after his real no-hitter and he threw a strong game the next start too. Bad news for Billingsley.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: Gallardo over Sam LeCure has all the makings of a mismatch. Why is that so scary?
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Chacin over Casey Coleman has all the makings of a mismatch. Why is that so scary?
  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Hamels over Saunders has all the makings of a mismatch. Why is that so scary?  Geez, need to get a therapist or something.
  • The Braves over the Padres: Okay, the Fan isn't picking the Padres again until they can score runs like the Mariners. Hanson over Latos.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Beckett over Jeremy Guthrie has all the makings...oh nevermind.
  • The Yankees over the White Sox: Colon over Buehrle in a battle of old goats. The Yankee bats should explode against Buehrle.
  • The Royals over the Indians: It still seems like these two teams have played each other twenty times already. Francis over Tomlin.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: Dickey and Gorzelanny have similar results. But the Mets are on a roll of sorts.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: Haren should win this one as this Fan won't get on the Tyler Ross bandwagon until he throws strikes.
  • The Tigers over the Mariners: You have to go with Verlander over Bedard right? Bedard's velocity has been missing thus far. But it's a miracle of sorts that he's still pitching.
  • The Giants over the Pirates: James McDonald is yet another in a long line of unsuccessful starters for the Pirates. Bumgarner needs to get his act together though.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Despite the end of the game being a scary place for the Cardinals this season, they should take a bigger lead into the late innings in this one where Lohse beats Happ.
  • The Rays over the Twins: Wade Davis leads the Bay Rays over Liriano, who desperately needs to be traded away from the Twins.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Rangers over the Blue Jays: Can't see Jo-Jo Reyes having any chance against the Rangers. Holland with the win in a laugher.

Yesterday: 7-7
Week: 17-21
Month: 184-156
Season: 184-156
Games of the Day: 13-14

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is Kyle Drabek Telling Us?

Kyle Drabek, a large part of the hopes of Toronto Blue Jays' fans, has now made five starts in 2010. His record stands at 2-0. If that was all we looked at, Blue Jay fans should be ecstatic. His ERA is also an impressive 3.30, good for a 121 ERA+. Also party-worthy. is somewhat impressed and gives him 0.6 WAR accumulated so far. isn't impressed at all and gives him a WAR of only 0.1. So what does all that tell us? The large part of the answer is that we don't know yet.

The Good:

Drabek has only allowed 7.2 hits per nine innings and has done a reasonable job keeping the ball in the ballpark with a rate of 0.9 homers per nine innings. He has a two to one ground ball to fly ball ratio.

The Not So Good:

Drabek leads the American League in walks with 17. His 5.1 walks per nine innings compared to his 6.3 strikeouts per nine leads to a pretty pedestrian K/BB ratio. Drabek's BABIP of .256 seems unsustainable. So even if his walk rate comes down, his hit rate should go up. He's averaging six innings per start and his pitch counts have been high. That doesn't bode well for long-term durability.

What is surprising is that Drabek has abandoned his slider in favor of a cut fastball. Or perhaps the pitch was mislabeled in the past? But Fangraphs rates the pitch as effective and Drabek's curveball has been effective too. The fastball is not doing well according to Fangraphs and that is a bit of a concern. Drabek's change up is not a plus pitch thus far according to what the Fan is seeing.

All that said, the guy is only 23 years old and just getting his feet wet. If he has been this successful just falling out of the nest and flying for the first time, what can he do when there is more confidence in his flying? We'll just have to wait and see.

Baseball and Improbability

In a baseball journalistic world where we are fed analytics each and every day that caution us to see the big picture and not to get caught up in short term performance, it becomes easy to become jaded. It's not that they aren't right. And the "they" is not meant derogatorily. At heart, this writer is an analyst but lacks the talent to be one. And there is beauty in the patterns that happen over a long season and over long sample sizes. But what happens is that short term stories lose their flavor. The very fact that failure is built into the game of baseball and that failure rate is a large part of the 162 game process leads to anomalies. Things happen every day we don't expect. For example, after knowing the analysts are right in that Melky Cabrera was one of the worst players in baseball last year, it's fine to predict that he won't finish this year well after a fine start. But does that lessen the beauty of his two walk-off hits thus far this season? Hardly. Like all things, you have to temper the long walk with time to smell the roses.

Monday, April 25, 2011, was one of those times to smell the roses. The short-schedule led to only nine games being contested. And yet, for that small a schedule, so many improbable things happened that you just have to smile and remember why we love this sport called baseball. Yes, that has to happen even when it is your favorite team on the wrong end of the outcome. Monday just seemed to bring it home that baseball is a daily sport to be savored. Yes, we should always keep in mind the big picture and what the numbers are telling us. But, as Bill Ivie has said recently, take time to be a fan. Go back to what drew you to the game in the first place.

Let's start with Ian Kennedy. While what happened yesterday wasn't unique to how Kennedy has been pitching, it did finally bring home the fact that this guy beat the odds to become a pretty darn good pitcher. You might remember Ian Kennedy for all the second guessing that Brian Cashman received in the pre-season of 2008 when he passed on acquiring Johan Santana and started the season with Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes in the rotation. Both pitchers started so badly that season that Cashman was roasted. Kennedy went 0-4 with an ERA over eight and a WHIP of 1.916. It was ugly.

It turned out that Kennedy was hurting and shut down after that. He made one major league appearance in 2009 and then became part of that massive trade that sent players all over the place from Arizona to Detroit to New York. Most Yankee fans were happy to be rid of the bad memory. The Yankees kept Hughes, which seemed like a good idea last year, but not so much this year.

We were all surprised then when Ian Kennedy popped up in the Diamondbacks' rotation in 2010. Really!? And he held his own in a hitters' environment and finished the season with a 111 ERA+ in 32 starts, giving up only 7.6 hits per nine innings along with a semi-impressive 2.40 strikeout to walk ratio. All of this build up leads us to Monday, that great day of improbabilities when Ian Kennedy did something he's never done before. He pitched a complete game. That's never happened before. And he pitched a shutout. He's never done that before either. And it was against the Phillies! Beautiful.

That result was fun because it brought Ian Kennedy into the spotlight. Wouldn't he look better in the Yankee rotation right now than Ivan Nova and/or Phil Hughes? You betcha.

Then there was Brandon Wood. Brandon Wood was the Angels' first round draft pick way back in 2003. He was their third baseman of the future. They liked him so much that Chone Figgins became expendable after some fine seasons in southern California. Except that it never worked out. Wood struck out 158 times in 498 big league plate appearances. He was handed the starting job in 2010 and responded by hitting .146 with 76 strikeouts in just 243 plate appearances before the Angels finally pulled the plug. His final OPS+ was 5. FIVE! They tried him again this year and Wood had two hits in 15 plate appearances before the Angels said enough. The Angels were so fed up with their guy with the 22 career OPS+ that they tried to send him to the minors and let him slide off the 25 man roster. The Pirates scooped him up on waivers and the Wood era ended with a whimper.

So Wood then gets in his first game with the Pirates on Monday, that day of improbabilities. Wood went 1-4, which is improbable to begin with. He didn't strikeout, another improbability. But the beauty comes in with Wood hitting a double that plated two runs, the two runs that ended up being the difference in the ball game. It's a beautiful thing. Sure, the important thing is not to get caught up in just one game's performance. The game doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things and Wood's results to date or in the future. But for one game, on a Monday of improbabilities, it was a lot of fun.

Another former Number One prospect also played yesterday. Phil Humber was drafted in that round a year after Brandon Wood. The Mets had gotten themselves a star. But Humber blew out his elbow in 2005 and as the nationally broadcast announcers mentioned on Monday, had bounced around from organization to organization. He was part of the Mets trade with the Twins for Johan Santana. The Twins tried to recoup their investment and let Humber pitch in a handful of relief outings. He didn't throw enough strikes. That's a no-no if you are a Twin and they let him go.

Then the Royals picked Humber up as a free agent. They let him get into eight games in 2010, one of them a start. Humber did not pitch badly. The numbers show that he was actually pretty good. But the Royals didn't protect him and the White Sox took him off waivers. All Humber did on the Monday of improbabilities was no-hit the Yankees for six innings and pitch seven innings of shut-out ball to get the win over the hottest hitting home run hitters in baseball. Right-handed batters have 28 at bats against Humber in 2011. They have three hits.

And we have to close with Dustin Moseley. The Fan wrote a piece the other day about how well Moseley has started this season and yet, how unfortunate he's been about the win-loss results from his efforts. The piece wasn't meant to be negative and yet was perceived that way. The entire piece was meant in the same theme as this one in that what was happening was so unusual that it was fascinating. Moseley is another Number One pick, the third (the Fan thinks) in this article alone. That was way back in 2000 (by the Reds).

Moseley never pitched in the majors for the Reds who traded the pitcher to Angels for Ramon Ortiz. The Reds felt they had nothing to lose and with Ortiz, they didn't gain anything either. Moseley became a swing man for the Angels in 2007. He wasn't quite good enough to crack the rotation, but he was a good guy to have around to start in spots and pitch long relief. He had some good moments. But then the Angels put him in the rotation in 2008 and it didn't go well at all. Moseley then made only three MLB appearances for the Angels in 2009 (all starts) and moved on.

Moseley's year for the Yankees in 2010 is most notable for the two strong appearances he made for them in the post season without giving up a run. His relief effort won a game for the Yankees against the Rangers in the ALCS, about the only Yankee highlight of that entire series. But his efforts landed him on the free agent market again and San Diego picked him up for $900,000, a nice payday for what was now a journeyman pitcher. Pitchers got hurt in the San Diego rotation and there was Moseley, hurling zeroes for four starts with nothing to show for it.

Moseley didn't get the win on the Monday of improbabilities, but he didn't get the loss either. For the first time this season, he gave up more than one run in a game. He gave up three. And he didn't lose. That is poetry, friends. His team eventually won in extra innings. Moseley now has a 1.99 ERA. Baseball is beautiful.

Game Picks - Tuesday: April 26, 2011

This feature is way late this morning. The feeling here is that this game picker overslept because subconsciously, the debacle that was yesterday just couldn't be faced. But sometimes, ugly has to be faced down and medicine has to be taken. Except there is no Julie Andrews singing that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. There is no way to sugarcoat how bad yesterday was here in the FanDome. There were just two correct picks. The Marlins and the Blue Jays were the only thing that separated the day from excruciating to a doughnut. The week is now in the red and the Games of the Day feature is back to .500. Lovely.

Maybe Tuesday will be better:

  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Two odd forces are at work here. First, the Orioles have been so bad of late that it would seem that they have again become the outcasts of the pre-Showalter days. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are playing so well after their rough start that they seem irresistible. Then you have two young pitchers in Britton and Buchholz who can be game-changers. But which one will it be? It may well could be Britton.
  • The White Sox over the Yankees: There is nothing worse than a cold team facing the Yankees. It seems that those teams find their desire to beat the Yankees stronger than their desire to suck. Thus a 2-0 shutout last night and a blow out win tonight over Nova. Floyd gets the honors.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Doesn't it seem that these two teams play each other every night and nobody else? Masterson over Hochevar.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: The Fan can see this one coming. Young will only last three innings and then the Mets have to scramble with mediocre relievers. The unlucky Zimmermann benefits from the happenings on the other side.
  • The Mariners over the Tigers: Felix Hernandez has to win a 1-0 game again. But he is certainly capable of striking out twelve or so in this game to do it. Coke has been Pepsi-like so far.
  • The Giants over the Pirates: Morton got smoked his last time out after an early good start. Cain has been uncharacteristically generous of late. But Cain is able to win this one. Looking over all these picks so far, all of these games could be wrong. Disaster looms. Ah well. Keep going, Fan.
  • The Dodgers over the Marlins: The Marlins might be the best team that nobody watches. But Volstad has an ERA near five lifetime against the Dodgers and he faces Kershaw. Adds up to a loss.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: De La Rosa has been really good and the funny thing is, nobody believes he is this good. Except that Fan that is. But one thing is for sure, he's got to be better than James "Gypsy" Russell.
  • The Blue Jays over the Rangers: Jesse Litsch will make it harder for the Blue Jays to play roster tag with him anymore. The Blue Jays match up well against Matty Harrison.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Just when you think the Reds are dead, WHOOSH! Leake wins. Estrada will not be able to cash in his c.h.i.p.s.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Just once, this Fan would love it if Liriano would look at his coaches and manager and say, "Screw you. Let's do this my way." But the Twins continue to hate on Liriano, who needs to get himself traded to be appreciated for the talent he is. Meanwhile, Wade Davis shuts down the Twins.
  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Daniel Hudson is going in the opposite direction from last year. Oswalt takes advantage.
  • The Padres over the Braves: Harang is on a serious roll. Watch him as he goes 5-0 as the Braves drives go out to die in the outfield. Jurrjens gives up enough to lose.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: If only the A's could hit. With the pitching they've been getting, nobody would touch them. But they can't hit which makes this pick problematic. Facing Chatwood might help.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Bud Norris beat the Mets. The Cardinals aren't the Mets. Jaime Garcia never seems to lose. The Cardinals will be glad to be away from tornado alley for a while. Stay safe people.

Yesterday: 2-7
Week: 10-14
Month: 177-149
Season: 177-149
Games of the Day: 13-13

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oakland Ace May Not Be Who You'd Think

If you were to guess that Trevor Cahill and his 3-0 record would make him the ace of the Oakland Athletics' pitching staff, you might be wrong. If you would guess that among all starters, Cliff Lee has the lowest walk percentage in baseball, again, you would be wrong. The answer to the first statement might be Brett Anderson. And the answer to the second statement is definitely Brett Anderson.

Anderson has now started five times for the Oakland A's. According to, he is currently valued as the third best pitcher in baseball behind only Roy Halladay and Dan Haran. That's pretty good company. Four of his five starts have been quality starts and he hasn't given up more than three runs in any of them. Sure, two of those starts have been against the Mariners, a team that struggles to score runs. But he's also faced the Twins, the Red Sox and the White Sox. Anderson has only allowed four walks in his 34.2 innings and best of all, he hasn't yet yielded a homer this season.

But those are just the glamor stats. Everywhere you look with Anderson, you see a good number. His pitching has not been lucky. His BABIP is right around where it should be, especially for a ground ball pitcher. His infield to fly ball rate currently sits at 3.94, the best of his career. That is due to 68.4 percent of batted balls against him resulting in that type of contact. His line drive percentage is also the best of his career at 14.3 percent. Opposing batters are definitely having a tough time squaring up the bat against his pitches.

The thing with Brett Anderson is that he doesn't throw too many pitches that aren't wrinkled. He's never thrown less fastballs as only 46.1 percent of his pitches have been of that variety. And those have good movement. Anderson is throwing less sliders this season but many more curve-balls. And that is the pitch that everyone is raving about. The success of Anderson's curve has allowed him to effectively spot his fastball, which makes the fastball more effective. Fangraphs puts a higher value on his fastball this year than at any point of Anderson's brief career.  He's throwing his curveball more than twice as much as in any time of his career, almost twenty percent. And it's been a killer.

It feels like Brett Anderson has been around for a long time. He is only in the third year of his career. He was drafted as an eighteen year old out of Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Oklahoma back in 2006. He made the jump from A+ ball in 2008 to Double A and combined for a little over a hundred innings in those two 2008 stops. He went right from Double A to the Oakland A's' rotation in 2009 and made 30 starts that season. Perhaps his 175+ innings that season were too much of an increase from the previous season for his young arm. He lost much of 2010 to injury.

Perhaps it was because he was limited to only 112+ innings in 2010 that most projections were hesitant to project him this year at more than 21 starts. But so far, so good and Anderson is chugging along. To think that he's only 23 years old is quite scary for the rest of the league. After all, he's this good now and he's three years younger that Josh Johnson, seven years younger than Haran and ten years younger than Halladay.

It will be interesting how this young group of Oakland pitchers holds up. The previous time the Athletics had young pitching like this in Hudson, Mulder and Zito, all of them lost arm strength as time went on. Only Hudson has survived as an effective pitcher. With someone as young as Anderson, you kind of hold your breath. But with that said, right now, there are few pitchers better in the majors than Brett Anderson.

Game Picks - Monday: April 25, 2011

Sunday's pickers were definitely a scrum and finished with a 8-7 record. As the day progressed, every correct pick was countered by an incorrect on. The Angels put up no fight in any of their games with the Red Sox. The Indians had the Twins until the seventh inning. When Carrasco got hurt early, they simply had to use too many relievers. Zambrano gave up five runs in the first inning against the Dodgers killing that pick. The White Sox continued to be moribund against the Tigers. Bad pick. Shields held the Blue Jays from scoring. Bad pick. Ubaldo and Josh Johnson both did not get a decision. Instead the game (and the pick) was toasted by a Mike Stanton bomb. And the Braves won a battle of the bullpens. Those wrong picks added up quickly and it was only the Cardinals beating the Reds behind Westbrook that put the day over .500.

But glory be! The Game of the Day feature climbed all the way back and is now over .500. Holy cow! That feature (and the Red Sox) are not dead after all. Never thought the Red Sox were anyway.

There are nine games on Monday's schedule. Here's how this Fan sees them:

  • The Yankees over the White Sox: As usual, much depends on how Burnett pitches. And the Fan is also wary that the White Sox are due for a win. Humber goes for the White Sox. A young Humber going for the White Sox sways the vote.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: Hate picking against the Pirates, especially with Tony out there watching. But Maholm has a lousy history against the Nationals. Lannon is no picnic for the Nats, but the Fan will go with that.
  • The Cubs over the Rockies: Emil Rogers proved fallible his last time out. Garza with his first win for the Cubbies at home.
  • The Marlins over the Dodgers: The Marlins have won eight of ten and have the third best record in the NL. Nolasco was really good his last time out. Garland has had one terrible start and one great one. Oy.
  • The Blue Jays over the Rangers: Let's see. The Rangers have lost their closer and their best player. Colby Lewis has been less than inspiring and Drabek has shown he is the real deal. Blue Jays.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: Narveson has to be good. Arroyo is a solid pitcher. But right now, the Reds are ice cold.
  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: The Phillies have been getting every other dominant starts from their big guys. Lee was only so-so his last time out, so it's his turn to be dominant. Ian Kennedy is good. But not as good as Lee.
  • The Braves over the Padres: Mr. Heyward and Mr. Uggla are starting to rake. Lowe should keep the ball in the yard in San Diego. Moseley has been outstanding (if not lucky) but unlucky in the win-loss column.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Athletics over the Angels: Super match up between Gio Gonzalez and Jared Weaver. Going with Gio against a flat offense for the Angels.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 175-142
Season: 175-142
Games of the Day: 13-12

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reconsidering Ike Davis

A comment on one of yesterday's posts in this space kind of resonated. Writing stories about some of the negative things that go on in baseball are always easy and often times more interesting than the other way around.  But perhaps the negative is dwelt upon too often and writing a positive piece once in a while would lead to more balance. And being that it is Easter, let's talk about a positive story for a change in Ike Davis. The fact that he's Jewish only makes that choice kind of ironic. But Davis has been a positive story for the Mets and after the young player was kind of left off the early season projections by most people, his current play needs a re-examination of what kind of player Ike Davis is and what he can still be.

Ike Davis is only 24 years old. He was just drafted a mere three years ago in the first round by the Mets after his play at the Arizona State University. Carlos Delgado played his last few years as a Met and served that team terrifically, but last year, it was obvious that his body would no longer allow him to continue his borderline Hall of Fame career. The Mets had no other real answers at first base after starting the 2010 season disastrously with Mike Jacobs. Davis was given the call on April 19, 2010 and ended up as a rookie, getting 601 plate appearances.

Looking at Davis and his minor league numbers, it's easy to assume why the Mets weren't gun shy about turning to Davis. The former first round pick rose through the minors spectacularly, performing better with each rise in the system. It was obvious in this case that Davis and his college experience left little use for more minor league experience.

Davis started off really well for the Mets. He collected two hits in his major league debut and by May 19, was still hitting .311 with a .952 OPS. A slow and steady slide in performance began after that and by the end of the first half of the season, his average slipped down to .258 with an OPS of .773. His second half was only slightly better and his final numbers of .264/.351/.440 were okay for a rookie just getting his feet wet, but far and away from the standard for most first basemen in baseball. Those final numbers also led to meager projections by all of the big projection systems. Davis, it seemed, was destined to be a run-of-the-mill kind of first baseman and not much more.

And this writer has to admit falling for it. After all, 601 plate appearances are a pretty good sample size. It was easy to forget that it was only his first season and only three years removed from his being drafted. It was easy to think that pitchers found some weaknesses in his approach and learned to exploit them. What we didn't take into account was that Davis could be filing all this early information away and was making his own adjustments.

So now we jump to 2011 and Ike Davis's second big league season. While cautioning that it remains early with a small sample size and while also cautioning that he started well last year, it seems that Davis has grown from his first campaign. He looks like he belongs now. His body language is different. Heck, he even has facial hair now. And after hitting one of the longest homers this writer has ever seen yesterday (take a look at this mammoth shot!), Ike has now homered in three straight games. Among's leader board, Ike Davis currently ranks fifth among all major league first baseman, behind only great names like Joey Votto, Cabrera, Fielder and Teixeira. His current slash line stands at: .301/.384/.562. But are those numbers fluky early numbers? This Fan doesn't think so.

First, Davis started to get benched a few times last year against lefty pitchers. That thinking led to the idea that he is somewhat lost against left-handed pitching. That thinking is wrong. Davis actually had a higher OPS against lefties last year than right-handed pitchers. Those numbers are somewhat mixed this season. Overall, against lefties, he appears to be struggling. But against left-handed starters, his OPS is 1.150. His success against southpaws last year combined with early success this year against lefty starters shows that his numbers should remain consistent moving forward.

Plus, there are indications that Davis is controlling the strike zone. He has swung at 19.9 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This is a nice improvement over last year when that number was over 27 percent. Ike's walk percentage is solid and consistent with last year. He will get even better as the year goes along (that's the prediction here). His strikeout rate is still too high at 26 percent, but that's down slightly from last year. Fangraphs shows that he was really vulnerable last year against sliders and curveballs. He has improved a lot so far this year on those pitch types. His massive homer yesterday was on a breaking pitch. And Ike's line drive percentage is up nicely as is his homers to fly ball rate. And his wOBA is a healthy .402 and could also improve. Ike's BABIP is not overly out of line either.

The bottom line here is that perhaps we forgot about how young Ike Davis was. Perhaps we viewed his results last year too skeptically. He remains a well-above average fielder at first, which is a lot more important than people realize. Someday, this writer is going to find a way to increase the view of how valuable good fielding first baseman are. If Miguel Cabrera was a little better in the field, Brad Penny might have had a no-hitter yesterday. This Fan sees no reason to doubt Ike Davis and his current numbers. And just perhaps, a star resides in the New York Mets' dugout.

There, now isn't that a lot more positive?

Game Picks - Sunday: April 24, 2011

Happy Easter everyone! This picker had another successful day in his basket this morning. It wasn't fantastically successful like Friday, but it was a good day. Things started off great with four straight successful picks, but then there were four straight wrong picks. Props to Brad Penny for doing what this picker didn't think he could do. The Reds beat the Cards. Didn't see that coming. Lincecum wasn't as sharp and lost to the Braves. And props to Karstens for his great start. Livan is always an adventure to pick. This time, he gave up five runs in the first inning and that was that. It was a nice Pirates win, but led to a bad pick. The Houston and Phillies wins both came in extra innings to sink those picks. But the Rockies, Rangers, Red Sox and A's all did as expected and saved the day. Best of all, the Yankees romp over the Orioles brought the Games of the Day feature back to .500 after a horrible start. Reminiscent of the Red Sox and Bay Rays? Truly.

Easter Sunday features a full slate of games, but no make up games. Who knows when all those rain-outs will be rescheduled. Here's how the games should go:

  • The White Sox over the Tigers: There are several things going on here. First, the White Sox are due for a win after losing several in a row. Secondly, Danks has pitched well but has nothing to show for it. That has to change. And finally, Scherzer hasn't lost yet and that may change too.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: The Blue Jays have hung in there despite slow starts from their pitching staff and some of their line up. If they want to have a good year, they have to beat good teams. Romero gives them a shot today against Shields, who has been very good too.
  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: Galarraga is 3-0 despite an ERA over 6. Niese needs to have a good game at home. But this could be the Mets' fourth straight win. Bay has given them a lift.
  • The Rockies over the Marlins: Everything points to a Marlins win right? Josh Johnson has been unhittable. Ubaldo Jiminez has not started well. Yeah, but those are the games that always bite this picker in the butt. Ubaldo has a big game and wins.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Not exactly sure why with all the Yankees' day offs this week that they would still pitch Garcia. But it doesn't matter. The Yankees are simply the better team and beat Arrieta.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: This game is way too close to call. Marquis and Correia are a virtual match in odds. But one of them has to win. Just beware that there is no confidence in this pick.
  • The Indians over the Twins: Carl is Pavanoing the Fan again. Pick him and he loses. Pick against him and he wins. Carl Freakin' Pavano. Sigh. Carrasco with the win.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: Two pitchers who pitched really well their last time out in Wolf and Wandy. Going with the home team. It just better not go into extra innings or the Brewers are sunk.
  • The Cubs over the Dodgers: The Dodgers have had their way early in this series. And Kuroda is a really good pitcher. But Zambrano rises to the occasion and gets it done at home.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: Somebody on Twitter said that this wasn't a good park for the Royals' pitchers. That's proven to be the case. And the Rangers are impervious to quality left-handed pitching. Wilson over Chen.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: The Red Sox are playing like we all expected before the season started. Lackey is still the weak link. But for this pick to come true, Matt Palmer has to win. Whoo boy. The Fan must be crazy.
  • The Giants over the Braves: There are whispers that Chipper's knee is hurting. Not good news for the Braves. Nor is a Sanchez/Beachy match up.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Anderson is really good. Fister is not off to a good start. The A's over the M's.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Westbrook needs a good start. The Reds haven't announced a starter yet. Is that some Dusty gamesmanship after LaRussa pulled that rain delay stunt the other day? Or does Dusty simply have a bunch of bad options? Going with the latter.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Phillies over the Padres: Halladay bounces back from a human start and LeBlanc is an emergency starter for the Padres with an ERA over 7 in Triple A so far. The only thing is that LeBlanc is a lefty, which could help him.

Yesterday: 9-6
Last Week: 57-38
Month: 167-135
Season: 167-135
Games of the Day: 12-12