Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rating MLB Managers

Major League players play the game and ultimately win or lose games and it's been said that managers get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when it loses. All that said, there is still this little award at the end of the season called the Manager of the Year. And as a member of the BBA, we have our own version to vote on as well. Managers do have some effect on the outcome of a game by setting line ups, choosing who plays and who pitches. Plus, there are the game moves such as bunts, steals and so on. Then there is the nebulous leadership abilities that nobody can seem to take into account. So how the heck, then, can you rate a major league manager?

Twitter is little help. This writer follows over 500 baseball people from bloggers to guys with media cards plus managers and ball players (and just plain fans). To hear most of them, Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves is the worst manager in baseball, but the Braves are having a great season. Mike Scioscia is taking a lot of heat for forcing the Mike Napoli trade and playing Jeff Mathis every day. But his team was in the race as late as last week with a really poorly constructed team. Cardinal fans and writers are very chafed by Tony LaRussa this season. Is that deserved? The perception is that the Yankees will win despite anything Joe Girardi does but Terry Francona does not get the same treatment. Can you see the problem here?

Some managers have already gone by the wayside. A near player revolt cost Bob Geren his job. Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman both walked away from their jobs. How are their replacements doing? Can you tell? How? The Cubs are having an awful season in Mike Quade's first full season. And now he'll have a new GM to determine his fate. How can you rate Quade with the players he has and the problems those players give him?

Obviously, this writer doesn't have the answers. One thing the Fan likes to look at is the Pythagorean win-loss record. This statistic looks at a team based on their runs scored and the runs allowed and comes up with the record the team should have.  According to this statistic, Mike Scioscia has been the best manager of the last eight years and not too many people would argue with that, except that with the exception of the one title, the Angels can't seem to get beyond the playoffs and last year and this year, might not make it at all. The Pythagorean win-loss statistic also exonerates Joe Torre to some degree from his handling of the Yankees from 2002 to his forced exit from that team.

Obviously (using that word too often when it may not be true), using the Pythagorean win-loss statistic as your sole rater of managers is flawed. A team with a lot of blow out games can toast this statistic quite a bit and a team like the Giants that win a lot of one-run games can skew the thing as well. But, without much else to go on, this writer will plunge on and rank managers by this statistic. What the Fan has done is subtract the actual win total by the Pythagorean win total to come up with a plus or minus number. Here's how our managers fare from top to bottom:

  • Ron Roenicke (Brewers): +6
  • Bruce Bochy (Giants): +6
  • Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks): +5
  • Jim Leyland (Tigers): +5
  • Ron Gardenhire (Twins): +5
  • Fredi Gonzalez (Braves): +4
  • Mike Scioscia (Angels): +3
  • Mike Quade (Cubs): +2
  • Charlie Manuel (Phillies): +2
  • Clint Hurdle (Pirates): +1
  • Manny Acta (Indians): +1
  • Ozzie Guillen (White Sox): +1
  • Davey Johnson (Nationals): +1   part year
  • Jack McKeon (Marlins): +1  part year
  • Bob Melvin (Athletics): +1  part year
  • Terry Francona (Red Sox): Even
  • Joe Maddon (Bay Rays): Even
  • Eric Wedge (Mariners): Even
  • Buck Showalter (Orioles): Even
  • John Farrell (Blue Jays): -1
  • Terry Collins (Mets): -2
  • Tony LaRussa (Cardinals): -2
  • Don Mattingly (Dodgers): -2
  • Ron Washington (Rangers): -2
  • Jim Tracy (Rockies): -4
  • Joe Girardi (Yankees): -4
  • Ned Yost (Royals): -5
  • Buddy Black (Padres): -5
  • Brad Mills (Astros): -6
  • Dusty Baker (Reds): -6

From this list, Ron Roenicke seems to have a leg up on Manager of the Year, especially if his team comes in first place while the Giants come in second (no guarantee that will happen). Jim Leyland is looking good in the American League. Again, teams like the Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies, Yankees and others that score a lot of runs and have many blow out games can skew the Pythagorean statistic, so we can't go by this entirely. And Buddy Black was a genius last year. Is he a mutt this year? This isn't a fool-proof method. But it's a start. If we were to factor in improvement over last year's record, guys like Kirk Gibson and Clint Hurdle would have to be factored into the mix. It's interesting to consider and the season still has a month to go.

Game Picks - Saturday: August 20, 2011

Yesterday's picks hit a bump in the road. Behind five solid days to start the week, the sixth day saw a slight bit of red. There were quite a few upsets. The Nationals shocked the Phillies in the ninth off a closer implosion by Ryan Madson. The Cubs beat the flaccid Cardinals late in the game. The Astros blanked the Giants, who refuse to play Belt while scoring no runs. Here's the pick breakdown:

  • Smart picks: Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Brewers (the Game of the Day), Angels and the Padres.
  • Dumb picks: Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies, Blue Jays and Cleveland.
  • Lucky picks: Reds
  • Unlucky picks: Mariners, Phillies and Cardinals

A winning week is still secure despite the slightly negative day. But let's see if the stats can get padded by a good finish:

  • The Pirates over the Reds: Charlie Morton can get left-handed batters out and after a short outing last time due to a forearm problem, this picker has no faith in Dontrelle Willis. Would love to be wrong, but that's the pick.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers have been a little on the hot side lately. Not thrilled with Ted Lilly as a starter (though he did shut down the Brewers last time out). Esmil Rogers is 6-2 despite a 6.00 ERA!
  • The Brewers over the Mets: The Brewers can't seem to lose. They have been amazing. Randy Wolf was great his last time out. The Mets counter with Chris Capuano and little else.
  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: Jim Hendry's Reign of Error is finally over. The black cloud is lifted over Wrigley and Matt Garza even wins a game. Edwin Jackson continues baffling us all.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: The rain delay match up resumes with David (Hassle) Huff versus Doug Fister. Fister hasn't been good lately.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Should the Astros keep sending Jordan Lyles out there at the tender age of twenty to keep getting beat? That's this Fan's question. Madison Bumgarner should win if only his team can score a run or two or three.
  • The Brewers over the Diamondbacks: This Fan never likes to pick a team featuring a pitcher making his major league debut. Wade Miley does so for the D-backs. Brandon Beachy goes for the Braves.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Tim Wakefield finally gets win number 200 on his fifteenth try (it seems) as the Red Sox will wait out Felipe Paulino and take their walks.
  • The Yankees over the Twins: A.J. Burnett (cough) gets the start for the Yankees and Francisco Liriano gets the start for the Twins in the "all-frustrating pitchers report for duty" game.
  • The Rays over the Mariners: Love Charlie Furbush (he was born in Maine!) but the Bay Rays will win this one behind Jeremy Hellickson.
  • The Rangers over the White Sox: Alexi Ogando hasn't been dominant, but he keeps winning. John Danks has been great. But he won't win this one.
  • The Padres over the Marlins: Aaron Harang over Clay Hensley in this one. The Marlins can't seem to beat this team.
  • The Orioles over the Angels: Joel Pineiro has been at a loss this season and starts today. Tommy Hunter has a big day for the Orioles.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Going with young Henderson Alvarez in this one (reluctantly) only because Gio Gonzalez has really struggled for the last month and a half.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Roy Oswalt was supposed to pitch yesterday but the delayed start of the game pushed him to today. That should get him a win against a struggling John Lannon.

Yesterday: 7-8
Week: 48-31
Month: 150-104
Season: 1024-845
Games of the Day: 87-50

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is A-Gone Bad for Youk's Health?

Kevin Youkilis was placed on the disabled list by the Boston Red Sox yesterday because of a balky back. Such an issue has to be unsettling for Red Sox fans as history has seen such great players as Don Mattingly and Todd Helton have careers sapped by such a thing. As we all know, Kevin Youkilis has to switch to third base after the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez in the off season. The trade was good news/bad news because the Red Sox picked up an MVP-type player but in the process necessitated taking what was one of the best first basemen in the American League and putting him over at third.

Let's be up front here and state officially that there are few batters in baseball that are as scary in big at bats than Kevin Youkilis. The guy just has this presence at the plate to do big things w hen the game is on the line. He's a big part in the never-say-die Red Sox. And let's also be frank by stating that Youkilis is an elite producer who has played at a value of nearly $18.5 million this season (4.1 fWAR). But still, there has been a perceptible drop in his production this year over past seasons.

First, there is his slugging percentage. In the previous three years, Youkilis has slugged between .548 and .569. This year, he's at .481. His homer to fly ball ratio is his lowest since 2007. Though he is still a human walk machine, he's swinging at slightly more pitches out of the strike zone. For the first time in three years, his wOBA is under .400. And perhaps just as telling, as an elite hitter, Kevin Youkilis has always hit with a high BABIP that was well over league norms. This year his BABIP is just slightly above league average. Without getting to nitpicking, his strikeout rates is slightly higher than his career norm and his ground ball percentage is slightly higher too.

Youkilis is 32 and regression is inevitable as he gets a little older and further from his peak years. But does playing third base make any difference? Fielding metrics do show that he was an elite fielding first baseman. He is not an elite fielding third baseman. His current metrics are in the negative numbers for the season. But the more this writer types, the arguments for third being more "unhealthy" for Youkilis seem kind of lame.

Playing third can't be any more stressful than playing first. Both positions are subject to hard shots. Both positions require setting up for a grounder. Both positions are required to set up for cutoff plays. Both positions have to field bunts. The only real difference is that third base requires more throws and those throws have to be made from multiple body positions. So maybe that's part of the answer, or at least a more favorable argument.

A balky back can happen from playing any position. And we don't really know how long it's been bothering Youkilis. From his .209 batting average in August, you would have to conclude that it's been going on for a while. Time will tell if this is going to plague him for a while and drags him down like it did other players.

And it could just be a down year for Youkilis. Whether it's due to his switch to third base could be no more than a coincidental argument. What can be said is that the 2011 Kevin Youkilis isn't quite as good as previous year versions. But just know he's going to draw a walk in the ninth inning of a big game, don't you?

Game Picks - Friday: August 19, 2011

Thursday was a good day at the office for the game picks. Eight correct out of ten is a nice little day. The only two stinker picks were the Diamondbacks, a completely emotional pick for Ian Kennedy, and the Giants. The Giants wasted a brilliant effort from Tim Lincecum and couldn't find a way to plate a runner if they had two dozen innings to attempt the feat. Bruce Bochy's refusal to play Brandon Belt just seems inexcusable at this point.

There weren't enough games to list out the good/bad/lucky/unlucky picks. If broken down, the Angels pick was probably lucky, the D-backs pick was stupid and the Giants pick unlucky. The rest would have been smart picks and they were. And the Nationals over the Reds was a brilliant pick. Heh.

On we go to Friday and back to a full schedule. It's incredible how fast this season seems to be going. And once again, after typing that, this writer is reminded that only old people say those kinds of things. The picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: Not an easy pick for the start. Jaime Garcia has been a mystery and has been in a funk. The Cardinals have been sleepy. Randy Wells is a capable pitcher with a weakness for the long ball.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: The Reds get an early lead on Kevin Correia and then Homer Bailey coasts.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: Josh Tomlin is back and bamboozling batters again. Max Scherzer has not been consistent in his last dozen outings.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: The Nationals are a sneaky team and Livan Hernandez is still capable of shutting a team down. But the Phillies prevail behind Roy Oswalt.
  • The Mariners over the Bay Rays: King Felix Hernandez pitches much better than his last Trop appearance and the Mariners eke out a few runs off of Wade Davis.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Braves: Derek Lowe seems out of gas at this point in his career. Well, at least if he is out of gas, he can't drive. That's probably a good thing. Meanwhile, Daniel Hudson shuts down Chipper and crew.
  • The Giants over the Astros: This game could take eighteen innings to see its first run score. Ryan Vogelsong goes for the Giants against Wandy Rodriguez. Another lefty probably puts Belt on the bench again #facepalm
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Andrew Miller has a WHIP over 1.9 but is still 4-1. The Red Sox are missing Ortiz and Youkilis but they still win. Jeff Francis goes for the Royals.
  • The Yankees over the Twins: Kevin Slowey goes for the Twins and while he won't walk anyone and throws strikes, his homers per nine for his career stands at 1.40. That's not a good thing against the Yankees. Phil Hughes makes his case for the rotation.
  • The Rangers over the White Sox: Matt Harrison will hold down the White Sox and the Rangers' offense will wear down Jake Peavy quickly.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: Coors Field is where finesse pitchers go to die and Hiroki Kuroda has an ERA over eight in that place. Jason Hammel isn't much better but at least he's used to the place. High scoring game perhaps.
  • The Angels over the Orioles: The Orioles can hit some and Jo-Jo Reyes pitched well in his last outing. The Angels can't hit at all but Dan Haren is pitching.
  • The Padres over the Marlins: Mike Stanton is an island and Chris Volstad has been the tidal wave. Wade LeBlanc wins two in a row and Hell freezes over.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Rick Harden can't throw enough strikes and the Blue Jays will get their hits. It's only a matter of how well Brett Cecil pitches.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Mets: Terry Collins pinch hits for Mike Pelfrey in the fifth inning. Pelfrey hits the water cooler with a bat. Collins says after the game that Pelfrey is a battler and that he loves that sort of thing. Meanwhile, Shaun Marcum goes out and gets another win.

Yesterday: 8-2
Week: 41-23
Month: 143-96
Season: 1017-837
Games of the Day: 86-50

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Short Post on David Robertson

This writer just spent a few minutes ogling David Roberston's numbers over on B-R. What an unbelievable season he's having. He's won three games against no losses. His ERA is 1.29. He's struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings. Robertson has 26 holds in 29 opportunities. He's making major league hitters look like minor league players. Literally. David Robertson pitched 82 games in the minor leagues. His ERA in those 82 appearances? 1.30. His strikeout rate in the minors was 12.7 per nine.

Angels Still Have a Chance

Before the 2011 season began, this writer gazed into his crystal ball and saw a runaway in a weak division by the Texas Rangers. For most of the season, that vision looked shaky. But after the Rangers' latest 9-1 run in their last ten games--including two against the rival Angels--their lead in the division is now up to seven full games. Is it over? Have the Rangers sealed the deal? Despite there being 38 games left on the schedule, this writer would have ventured to say yes. That is...until looking at their schedules for the next 21 games.

After a particularly lucky win against the Angels yesterday where Ian Kinsler got a broken bat base hit with the bases loaded and two out (the headlines are calling it a clutch hit. Say what?), the Rangers succeeded in making sure that even if they lose these next two games to the Angels (a good possibility facing Weaver and Haren), they will maintain a five game lead over their rivals. They have the third best record in the American League and the third best run differential. But again, the schedule is daunting.

In their next 21 games, the Rangers play the Red Sox seven times, the still tough Bay Rays six times, the Angels five times and the White Sox thrice. The Angels seem to have a softer road. Yes, they have three more games with the Yankees, three with the White Sox and five more with the Rangers, but while the Rangers are navigating that minefield, the Angels play the Mariners seven times, the Orioles three times and the Twins three times. The Angels very well could go 10-3 (or better) against those teams and if they do and the Rangers struggle to go .500 in that hard schedule, the race would tighten considerably.

A lot will ride on the next two days. If the Rangers can manage to sweep the series, then it would be a nine game advantage and that will look pretty steep. But that's a big "if" with the Angels having Weaver and Haren all lined up. Even if the Angels split the next two games to keep the lead at seven, they still have a decent chance based on the schedules.

For kicks and giggles, a quick glance at gives the two teams this projected record for the remainder of the season: Rangers: 22-17, Angels: 18-21. If that were accurate, the race is over. But two things have to remain stated. First, Mike Scioscia has a history of thumbing his nose at his Pythagorean win-loss record. And secondly, though the Angels have an offense barely more robust than the Seattle Mariners (that was sarcasm), they have three great pitchers in their starting rotation. Combine those two factors along with the softer schedule and there is no way you can put the Angels in their coffin just yet.

Game Picks - Thursday: August 18, 2011

Wednesday was successful with ten picks out of fifteen in the plus column. Most of the results were predictable, so that was no great feat of prognostication. The week has been solid. The month season and Game of the Day features are all solid. So, all in all, everything is okay in this picker's world, how about you?

Continuing with the Fan's new feature that breaks down yesterday's picks:

  • Smart picks: Bay Rays, Astros, Cardinals, Phillies, Reds, Brewers, Rangers and Blue Jays.
  • Dumb picks: Padres, Braves, Marlins, White Sox.
  • Lucky picks: Twins - double blown saves, A's - a bobble in the outfield and then a play at the plate that ends the game? How lucky is that?
  • Unlucky picks: Royals (ahem, that homer)

That looks like a good day! Ten more games on the relentless MLB schedule for Thursday:

  • The Dodgers over the Brewers: The Dodgers eke out one win in this lost series behind Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw goes against Marco Estrada, who is making his second emergency start.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Phillies: Agonized over this pick for a long time before settling on Ian Kennedy over Vance Worley. But this is not a confident pick.
  • The Nationals over the Reds: Bronson Arroyo has a sore Achilles heel but will pitch anyway. Um...Dusty? Jordan Zimmermann with the win.
  • The Giants over the Braves: Tim Lincecum should beat Mike Minor, right? hmm...
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Josh Beckett over Luke Hochevar. Beckett avenges an earlier loss to the Royals. Hochevar has been good lately, but the Red Sox have too many weapons.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Justin Masterson is terrific and if he gets a few runs, should win handily. Phil Humber goes for the White Sox and his good season has dried up with four clunkers in a row now.
  • The Padres over the Marlins: Who knows in this series. Tim Stauffer should bounce back from a pounding he received in the Great American Ballpark now that he's back at home. Javier Vazquez has been pitching well.
  • The Angels over the Rangers: Colby Lewis is up and down. Jared Weaver is too good to beat here. Angels salvage one game of the series.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Really good match up here as Trevor Cahill is great at home but faces a really hot pitcher in Ricky Romero. Going with Romero with a better offense behind him.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Yankees over the Twins: C.C. Sabathia needs to reverse two bad starts in a row. He should against a Twins line up that features holes. The Yankees should get to Brian Duensing.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 33-21 (yesterday's posted week's record was a typo)
Month: 135-94
Season: 1009-835  over a thousand correct picks!
Games of the Day: 85-50

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No, God! Not a Derek Jeter Post!

Writing about baseball every day can be a challenge when a bazillion other writers are doing the same thing. What can this writer say that's different or interesting? How can a different angle be found? Most of the time, those thoughts have to be discarded because in the end, you write what you know. Inspiration falls where it will and today it's fallen on Derek Jeter. Crap! This writer doesn't want to write about Derek Jeter. Nobody in the world has an non-emotional thing to say about the Yankee shortstop. Either it's all old-school para-praise or it's taking him down three or four pegs from his lofty pinnacle in baseball. Yuck!

But Jeter is today's inspiration. It doesn't help that this writer has admitted many times that Derek Jeter is this writer's favorite player ever. Being a responsible Fan, that man-crush comes with a price. To attempt any sort of respectability in this writing game, logic has to overcome raw fan-love. And so any post in the past with Jeter's name attached to it has gone in this space with as much of the rose-colored glasses off as possible. At times that has meant admitting that the Captain isn't as good as his build up. The Captain Clutch moniker is about as deserved as Paris Hilton's fame. The glasses-free stance here is that Mr. Jeter has been a nice cog in the Yankees' success for a long time--no more, no less.

For much of this year, that stance meant admitting that the old Yankee looked about done. After a sub-par year last year (following a brilliant offensive 2009), Jeter followed this year with another stinker and as Brien Jackson points out in his post today over at IATMS, the shortstop was batting .244 with a .648 OPS when the shortstop strained his calf a few hits shy of 3,000. Getting to that milestone meant a death crawl to the finish line like some Olympic marathon runner with a cramp.

It was painful to watch. When Jeter came up with men on base in big situations, this writer would cringe and assume a fetal position. You knew Jeter was going to fail. And he did...regularly. His pathetic stretch of emptiness with runners in scoring position was bandied about on Twitter every night. Jeter's jump throws from the shortstop hole no longer beat the runner by a step. Now the runner was safe by a step. When Gardner got on with a walk or a hit, you just knew Derek Jeter would hit into a double-play. He was playing better than Jorge Posada, but not by much. And with the admission that Jeter is this writer's favorite player comes the other admission that the Fan has watched just about every game he's played this season. And the truth was, the Yankees were winning in spite of Derek Jeter and not because of him.

This writer has still been watching since Jeter returned from that calf injury. And something interesting has happened. This isn't the same Derek Jeter from before that injury. This Derek Jeter is driving the ball even when he makes outs. When runners are on base, he's not an automatic out. In fact, it took him three months to compile twenty runs batted in. Jeter has driven in 24 in the last month and a half. In the first three months of the season, Jeter became Ichiro and had only twelve extra base hits. He's had twelve in the last month and a half. 

So far, in the second half of the season, Derek Jeter is batting .315. His slash line in August is: .388/.444/.914. He's looked very much like the old Derek Jeter. Before the season started, this Fan was hoping Jeter could at least hit .280. That's not a bad batting average for a shortstop. So when Jeter was hovering around .250 to .260, it was cringe-inducing. Now, Jeter is batting .283 for the season. His OPS is over .700 at least. The hope is coming true.

Will time catch up with Jeter again? It might. Will he falter again? He could. But as of right this moment, Derek Jeter has a little swag back. In the last month, the Yankees have been winning in part because of Derek Jeter's play and not despite it. If Jeter can maintain this kind of hitting for the balance of the season and into the playoffs, you have to like the Yankees' chances all that much more.

Yes, a Derek Jeter post is a dreaded thing to write. But Jeter's resurgence of late had to be written.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 17, 2011

Ten correct and six incorrect yesterday. Let's do something different today and qualify yesterday's picks into four categories: smart picks, dumb picks, lucky picks, unlucky picks. The smart ones and dumb ones are self explanatory. Lucky or unlucky depends on breaks, sudden injuries and blown saves or extra innings. Here we go:

  • Smart picks - Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox split, Tigers, Braves, Brewers and Blue Jays.
  • Dumb picks - Rockies, Orioles (oh yeah), Mets and Reds.
  • Lucky picks - Pirates and Astros.
  • Unlucky picks - Indians and Diamondbacks - Manual should have gotten Halladay out of there.

Looking at the picks that way gives a better feel for how this picker is doing and last night was pretty good as the smart picks were the largest category. It might be a lot of work, but next season, we'll keep track of these!

Wednesday's full schedule of games should look like this:

  • The Bay Rays over the Red Sox: No David Ortiz. David Price just whipped the Yankees. John Lackey. Those are three good reasons to make this pick.
  • The Astros over the Cubs: Bud Norris is much better than Casey Coleman and that should be the difference.
  • The Athletics over the Orioles: All other things being equal, you have to go with Brandon McCarthy over Alfredo Simon.
  • The Padres over the Mets: This picker can't get a Mets pick right to save himself. What a befuddling team. Matt Latos goes for the Pads. Dillon Gee goes for the Mets and that's the rub in this one. Gee has become homer prone. But San Diego should minimize that. Oh crap...
  • The Reds over the Nationals: Johnny Cueto is about the only sure deal you'll find in Cincinnati these days. He should beat five-innings of Ross Detwiler and the bullpen.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Carl Pavano should be better than Brad Penny, who could give up a dinger to Thome if the old slugger plays.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Kyle Lohse has had a solid season and Paul Maholm is probably the weak link in the Pirates rotation.
  • The Braves over the Giants: After a little rest, Jair Jurrjens gets back to his pre-All Star Game self. Matt Cain won't get any offensive support.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Mark Buehrle has quietly put together a strong season while Fausto Carmona is always a mystery. Indians should have won last night.
  • The Brewers over the Dodgers: Young Nathan Eovaldi threw six shutout innings in his last outings. But that was the Astros. The Brewers are not the Astros. Zack Greinke will show the youngster how it's done.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Bruce Chen has given the Yankees fits in the past, but this Chen isn't as good as that Chen. Bartolo Colon will need to pitch well.
  • The Marlins over the Rockies: Ricky Nolasco drives this picker crazy. On any given Sunday, he should beat Aaron Cook. But this isn't Sunday.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Ervin Santana has been the best pitcher in baseball in the last month. But C.J. Wilson is the Rangers' ace and the two should cancel each other out. The Rangers have the superior bullpen.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Brandon Morrow will cruise through the Mariners' line up and let his mates chip away at Blake Beavan.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Yes, the D-backs beat Halladay. But as far as lefties go, Cliff Lee is a Beemer while Joe Saunders is a Volkswagen.

Yesterday: 10-6
Week: 23-26
Month: 125-89
Season: 999-830
Games of the Day: 84-50

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thome Arigato

Thome Arigato. Thank you, Mr. Thome, for the thrill of watching you hit home runs #599 and #600 last night. What a thrill it was to watch you put such a cap on your Hall of Fame career. Never mind all that Derek Jeter talk that was unfortunately dragged up by Twins' announcer, Burt Blyleven. That all was a drag on your moment. But this is your moment. This writer watched both milestones this season and was just as happy for both. They both were the capstones for two of the classiest careers in this era of baseball. This writer is fortunate to have seen your careers from beginning to end and your two homers put a gigantic smile on this face.

It was an unfortunate moment for Burt Blyleven to say something really stupid. First, Blyleven denigrated Jeter's achievement by stating that the media acted like Jeter was the first to ever reach 3,000 hits. He was the first...Yankee. And that was pretty special. Mr. Jeter will be sitting next to you in the Hall of Fame soon, Mr. Blyleven. Then Blyleven rhapsodized that nobody would be watching Thome's achievement (comparing it to Jeter's). This was while both ESPN and the MLB Network had done live feeds to the game to see if Thome would reach the milestone. After so many people had campaigned for Blyleven's inclusion in the Hall of Fame, it was a rather self-serving moment for the announcer.

And unfortunately, his comments set off a firestorm that took away from Jim Thome's moment. Ken Rosenthal of the great site, picked up the theme from Blyleven and wrote today that Thome's achievement should not be overlooked. It was not. Again, ESPN was there. MLB Network was there. Buster Olney had two of his columns deal extensively with Thome's place in baseball in the past week. Yahoo Sports wrote a piece on Thome. This was a big deal and everyone knew it.

Which leads to a point about local announcers. MLB Network is showing four games a week now on its network. Those games always feature the home announcers and not MLB's announcers. That network also does dozens of live cut-ins every night to games all over the country. This new dynamic must force local announcers to clean up their acts a bit. Excessive homerism might work for the local markets, but on a national scale, they cut into the dignity of a national experience. Some broadcast teams get this. Michael Kay's "Seeya!" is just as emphatic for an opponent's home run as it is for a Yankee homer. But others simply carry on as if their own fans are the only ones that are watching. And yes, Burt Blyleven (and Ken Harrelson), this writer is looking at you. Blyleven should have known MLB Network would be peeking in and should have couched his comments accordingly.

And why choose this glorious moment to knock Derek Jeter? Both accomplishments were the result of storied and abundant careers. They are different. In the end, both players will end their careers with similar value. Jim Thome currently has compiled 71.1 rWAR while Jeter has compiled 70.5. Thome has 4,555 total bases and Jeter has 4366. Both should be celebrated as there isn't that great a difference between what the two have brought to baseball over the years.

Let Jim Thome's moment stand on its own. It's a testament to a very strong man who could hit a baseball a mile and did so often in his long, long career. This is Thome's 21st season. And the man is truly loved all around the country. Everyone loved that Thome reached this milestone. Everyone cheered for him. That should be enough for all of us. Don't muck it up. Don't compare it to anything else. Just enjoy it for what it is.

Thome Arigato. Thank you, Jim Thome. Good for you!

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 16, 2011

Monday was just about as exciting a night as you could possibly imagine for a short schedule. First, Jason Giambi rocked the house with a walk off homer for the Rockies. Then there was a triple play by the Brewers in their win. The Mariners got back to back jacks to steal a win from the Blue Jays. Jason Isringhausen recorded his 300th career save. And last, but certainly not least, Jim Thome blasted homers 599 and 600. The pick tally caused by those events? Wrong, right, wrong, wrong, wrong. But who cares. Monday was a perfect night to be a Fan of Major League Baseball.

And what of all those incorrect picks? Well, they led to a mediocre night of picking but the total still came out in the positive. But again, all that was just meaningless compared to experiencing those plays. What a night of baseball!

And what makes baseball the greatest sport on earth? The very next night, there are more games and more magical moments to come: Tuesday's picks:

  • The Red Sox and Bay Rays split their double-header: The Rays should find a way to win one of their games with James Shields and Jeff Niemann as their starters. Both have been red hot and the Bay Rays hit better on the road. The Red Sox counter with Jon Lester and Erik Bedard.
  • The Phillies over the Diamondbacks: Yes, the Diamondbacks are the surprise team of the NL West, but they face Roy Halladay and can counter with only Josh Collmenter.
  • The Reds over the Nationals: As much as this picker would love to see Chien-Ming Wang pitch well again, Mike Leake will get the win in this one.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: Justin Verlander is amazing. What a year he is having. He shuts down the Twins while Nick Blackburn gets the loss.
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: The Fan is sad to report of the demise of the St. Louis Cardinals. They look sadly under the weather. Jeff Karstens should have the Cards beating the ball into the dirt all game and the Pirates scratch out a few runs on Chris Carpenter.
  • The Braves over the Giants: Neither starting pitcher will last beyond four or five innings. The Braves should be able to win a slugfest that this game should be. Jonathan Sanchez versus Randall Delgado.
  • The Astros over the Cubs: Brett Myers is 3-12. Got that. But he is 12-3 lifetime against the Cubs. That symmetry is enough to be a sign for this picker to pick him over Ryan Dempster.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Ubaldo Jimenez blows away White Sox hitters while Gavin Floyd pitches a decent game.
  • The Brewers over the Dodgers: Yovani Gallardo keeps the ball rolling for the Brewers as they continue to win at home. Chad Billingsley has been only so-so lately for the Dodgers.
  • The Rockies over the Marlins: Jhoulys Chacin was so good in his last outing that it's hard to pick against him here. Anibal Sanchez is a much better pitcher than his record.
  • The Orioles over the Athletics: Brian Matusz has been pitching much better in the minors. Will it translate to the majors? We'll see. Guillermo Moscoso has had an up and down season. His last start was an up.
  • The Mets over the Padres: Jonathan Niese threw 122 pitches in his last start, which is a bit scary for this start. But the Mets offense should be better than the Padres. Cory Luebke gets the start for the Friars.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: A sweep would bury the Angels and the Rangers have it in sight with Derek Holland on the mound. Tyler Chatwood is a weak link in the Angels' rotation, which doesn't bode well.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: The Blue Jays are a puzzle lately. But they should win despite a Brad Mills start. Jason Vargas threw a lot of pitches his last start.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Yankees over the Royals: Ivan Nova is throwing the ball really well and the Yankees should beat Danny Duffy, though Duffy threw strikes for seven innings in his last outing.

Yesterday: 6-5
Week: 13-10
Month: 115-83
Season: 989-824
Games of the Day: 84-31

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ryan Vogelsong and Serendipity

In a week that featured such ugly stories as the Carlos Zambrano situation and the Logan Morrison debacle, the sweet story of Ryan Vogelsong continues its merry tune. He won his tenth game yesterday against two losses to continue such an "out of the blue" season that you can't help smiling when thinking about it. Vogelsong's season is serendipity, friends. There is no other word for it.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "serendipity: as "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." Yes, that about sums up the San Francisco Giants finding Ryan Vogelsong off the scrap heap of vagabond baseball players. Well, saying the Giants found him is a little misleading. They more rediscovered him since they drafted him in the first place way back in 1998. He had a cup of coffee with them in 2000 and pitched well for six innings in four relief appearances. Then he was awful in 2001, losing three games for the Giants before they traded him along with Armando Rios for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal.

Vogelsong lost two more games for the Pirates after that trade before being shut down for Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2002 after the surgery and most of 2003 but the Pirates pitched him for five starts in six appearances that season. After finishing 2001 with a 6.75 ERA, he finished 2003 with a 6.55 ERA. The Pirates then put him in their rotation full time in 2004. It did not go well.

How bad was it? It was historically bad. His season in 2004 was one of only fifteen seasons in major league history where a pitcher made at least 26 starts and finished with an ERA of 6.50 or higher. That's in Jose Lima and Jason Bere territory. 

The Pirates scrapped the starting idea the next season and Vogelsong made 40 relief appearances for the Pirates in 2005, mostly as a long man. That was at least a somewhat decent season. His ERA that season was 4.43, which in those offensive-minded seasons was at least good for a 96 ERA+. But 2006 was back to the bad times as he made 20 relief appearances, splitting the year in the minors and majors and finished with an ERA of 6.25. So let's recap Vogelsong's seasons to that point:
  • 2001 - ERA: 6.75, WHIP: 1.702
  • 2003 - ERA: 6.55, WHIP: 1.773
  • 2004 - ERA: 6.50, WHIP: 1.617
  • 2005 - ERA: 4.43, WHIP: 1.500
  • 2006 - ERA: 6.39, WHIP: 1.579
That wasn't exactly a recipe for success. At that point in his career, Fangraphs had him at a .3 WAR and has him at -3.9. It was little wonder that when the Japanese team, the Hanshin Tigers, came calling in 2007, he went. And it's not like he was great in Japan in his three years there either. His Japanese record finished with a win/loss record of 11-14 with a 4.22 ERA.

Back in America in 2010, the Phillies signed him and sent him to their Triple A team in Lehigh Valley. He was unspectacular with a 4.91 ERA. They released him. Then the Angels signed him and he pitched the remainder of the 2010 season for the Angels' Triple A team in Salt Lake City. He finished there with a 4.66 ERA and the Angels did not re-sign him in 2011. 

For some reason, perhaps because of his high strikeout rate in his mostly ineffective innings in Triple A in 2010 or because they were familiar with him, Vogelsong was given a Spring Training invite by the Giants this season. And that is where the serendipity started. He pitched brilliantly in the spring. He then went to the Giants' Triple A team and pitched brilliantly there, going 2-0 with an 1.59 ERA. Then Barry Zito got hurt. The rest has been...well...serendipitous.

In a season where the Giants are really struggling to be a factor in the NL West division so they have a chance to repeat as champions, Vogelsong is 10-2 with an ERA of 2.48. His WHIP of 1.283 is easily the best of his career. Fangraphs is still somewhat dubious as they give him a FIP of 3.53, which is +1.05 above his actual ERA. But even that is far and away the best he's ever pitched.

So how is he doing it? For one, he is using a plus fastball in the lower 90s and a plus curve around 76 MPH and mixes in a circle change that is a tick above league average. A big part of his success is a lack of patience by opposing batters. They are chasing 31.9 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone. Part of that has been facilitated by getting a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes than at any point of his career. His BABIP is pretty much league neutral, but his strand rate is an incredibly high 82.6 percent.

But do we have to talk about all that? Do we have to look for flaws in the armor of a 34 year old pitcher having success for the first time in his professional career? Let's just enjoy the story. Let us simply smile at the improbability that this guy who has been around the world, had Tommy John surgery and spent a career allowing 1.5 or more base runners per inning is suddenly 10-2 for a contending team. The name, "Vogelsong," means those that listen to the birds sing. Let's just listen to the birds sing and enjoy this improbable success story.

Game Picks - Monday: August 15, 2011

Not only does the East Coast get all the nationally televised baseball games, apparently it gets all the nation's rain too. Sunday lost two games to the stuff which may have hampered the success of the day. The picks were still on the plus side but not by much. In fact, they got off to an awful start with losses by the Angels, Reds and Braves but rallied to come out in the positive column.

Monday has a pretty good line up of games despite it usually being an off day for some teams. Eleven games are on the schedule. After careful study and a few sips of coffee, here are Monday's picks:

  • The Braves over the Giants: This picker is a big fan of Madison Bumgarner. He should limit the Braves' production. But Tim Hudson has been hot too and the Giants' offense has been spotty. Plus, the Braves are home.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: Rick Porcello will have to be a lot better at home than he was his last game when he got pounded. Francisco Liriano walked seven batters against the Red Sox and yet only gave up three runs to the Red Sox. Which one will break tonight?
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: This is a game that the Cardinals should win, which means they won't. James McDonald shuts them down while the Pirates nick Jake Westbrook for at least three runs.
  • The Cubs over the Astros: Ugh! Hate games like this! Rodrigo Lopez over Henry Sosa making his second career start. Sheesh.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: The Yankees had the perfect opportunity to skip A.J. Burnett with the rain out yesterday. But they didn't. The Yankees win anyway over Felipe Paulino.
  • The Marlins over the Rockies: Really want the Marlins to lose every game for the rest of the season. Still mad at them. But Kevin Millwood at Coors? Uh...that could be ugly. Clay Hensley ain't a cup of tea either.
  • The Athletics over the Orioles: This picker keeps waiting for a comeback by Gio Gonzalez. Perhaps this will be the game. Tommy Hunter goes for the Orioles and at least he gives them a competent starter.
  • The Padres over the Mets: Aaron Harang at Petco Park seems like a good call. R.A. Dickey will be his usual decent self and will lose again.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The Angels start their big series against the Rangers with a rookie? Garrett Richards has the unenviable task against Alexi Ogando.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Two young studs in Michael Pineda and Henderson Alvarez. Going with the Blue Jays because Jose Bautista woke up over the weekend and the Mariners have no offense.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Dodgers: The Dodgers had a good series against the Astros, but the Brewers are a different kettle of fish. Randy Wolf should be better than Ted Lilly, yet, they are basically the same pitcher. The Brewers are pretty much unbeatable at home.

Yesterday: 7-5
Week: 7-5
Month: 109-78
Season: 983-819
Games of the Day: 83-51

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Morrison Demotion a Twitter Bonanza

Logan Morrison was demoted after yesterday's game to the Marlins' Triple A affiliate. The news broke on Twitter, which has truly become the place to be for such events. Several of the beat writers that cover the Marlins have lustily included the Twitter riot the demotion has caused in their newspaper columns. This Twitter phenomenon, one that made Morrison one of the most popular players in the major leagues, is probably at its zenith. Yes, this is the new world.

This writer can't add much to the cacophony of what is already been written about the demotion. The current speculation is that the Marlins weren't happy with the player's candid statements concerning Hanley Ramirez. Perhaps the final straw was when Morrison refused to participate in a photo event with season ticket holders before the game. It doesn't seem coincidental that Wes Helms was released as he too missed that photo op.

The current opinion around the Fan's follows is that this is not about Logan Morrison's play. Yes, he's slumped since early June. Yes, his batting average is disappointing. But how can you demote a guy based solely on the fact that he is second on his team in slugging and third on the team in OPS? How many players have been demoted to the minors with an OPS+ over 110? Not many. So the opinions that this is more than just a performance demotion seem solid. Morrison's own statements seem to confirm those opinions.

But if there is an off-field problem, wouldn't it have been wiser simply to suspend the guy for a few games instead of weakening your team by demoting him? Seriously, is Bryan Peterson a better player than Logan Morrison? Please!

The Marlins probably don't understand that they have a serious PR problem here. No matter what their stance, Logan Morrison has over 59,000 followers on Twitter. He has, like it or not, become the face of the franchise and his demotion comes just a couple of months before the end of a season that was supposed to lead into the glory of their new stadium next season. This probably wasn't how the franchise drew up how to build excitement for next season.

And that's how Twitter has changed the world. Not only is Logan Morrison the poster child of the social media era, that world-changing phenomenon now creates the buzz for baseball teams more than just what happens on the field. Social media has been like a tidal wave that has washed over traditional media outlets and LoMo was one of its stars. Now that star--who was not that awful on the field for the Marlins in a sea of mediocrity--is creating a nightmarish backlash on a team parked in a stressful financial situation to begin with.

Logan Morrison is the second highest trending topic on Twitter today. It's not a good day for the Marlins.

Posada's Big Day Leads to Roster Headache

Watching Jorge Posada hit his grand slam yesterday to go along with his two other hits was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, you had to be happy for the grand old Yankee to have a moment in the sun in front of his faithful and appreciative home fans. But watching him round the bases, the first thought this writer had was: "What happens when Alex Rodriguez returns?"

You see, the Yankees have no wiggle room on their current 25-man roster--at least not for position players. The team only has four outfielders on the roster in Gardner, Granderson, Swisher and Jones. You need Nunez to spell Jeter and Cano. And Chavez can play first or third. So when Alex Rodriguez comes back, what does Jorge Posada do?

The Yankees have already indicated that they will start A-Rod as the DH three or four times a week to begin with. That will put Chavez or Nunez at third depending on the pitcher. That still leaves no room for Posada. He's definitely not going to catch, not with Martin and Cervelli firmly entrenched. That leaves him no role whatsoever on the team.

The return of A-Rod will lead to the decision of whether to keep twelve or thirteen pitchers on the 25-man roster. They currently sport thirteen. The extra starter complicates matters with six of them available. Robertson, Ayala, Soriano, Rivera and Logan aren't going anywhere. Cory Wade has earned his spot with solid performance since the Yankees stole him from the Bay Rays. The odd man out would seem to be Hector Noesi.

Noesi is useful if a starter falters early and you need to eat up innings. Those innings would have to be eaten up with Ayala and Wade, which is doable as long as it doesn't happen often because Wade is needed to spell Roberston and or Soriano when they pitch back to back games.

It's not the optimal situation for Girardi to lose a swing man like Noesi. But it's just for a couple of weeks until the rosters expand in September. Posada is a useful bat off the bench and as a spot starter. It wouldn't be a surprise if he lasts the season, a fact that at times have seemed to be in doubt. He's getting paid a lot of money, which does mean something to the Yankees. Look how they stick with Burnett, pretty much because of the money he is making. Posada also adds a lot of experience in stretch runs and over the playoffs. It would be a bit of a shock if Posada was the odd man out here. It will have to be Noesi. and that is the prediction from this vantage point.

Game Picks - Sunday: August 14, 2011

There was a lot of grimacing going on after Saturday's pick started 0-4. First Jared Weaver got smacked around by the Blue Jays. Then Colby Lewis continued his up and down year as the Rangers feasted on Trevor Cahill. Phil Hughes looked much better than Jeremy Hellickson and Jorge Posada has three hits and a grand slam. And then Kevin Correia gave up just one run for the Pirates and they still lost. It was a lot like watching your child run the wrong way on the bases in a Little League game. But the day rallied and ended with a brilliant pick of the Mariners over the Red Sox.

The Game of the Day feature is struggling lately. But that's what this picker gets for choosing the St. Louis Cardinals. What a baffling and infuriating team they've become to pick. You can't even count on a Jaime Garcia win at home? Sheesh.

But it wasn't a bad week. Nineteen games over .500 is a successful week so this picker can't complain. As August continues to fly by, a new week begins with Sunday, the best baseball day of the week:

  • The Indians over the Twins: Kevin Slowey gets the start for the Twins since Baker went on the disabled list. That should be good news for the home team Indians who start David (hassle) Huff.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: A.J. Burnett is starting in place of Freddie Garcia, who cut his finger. Never thought this picker would be saying this but Garcia is much more trusted than Burnett. Meanwhile, James Shields is having a great season.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Dan Haren shouldn't falter after his teammate, Weaver, did, should he? Brett Cecil starts for the Jays.
  • The Reds over the Padres: Hey Reds, you hit seven homers yesterday and scored over a dozen runs. Can you get some runs for Dontrelle Willis please? Thank you. The equally win-deprived Wade LeBlanc goes for the Padres.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: Let's hope the Marlins fall flat and tank after dumping LoMo in a strange and baffling move. Chris Volstad is back from that same New Orleans minor league team to get the start for the Marlins. Ryan Vogelsong starts for the Giants.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: Matt Garza keeps throwing quality starts, but can't get a win. Brandon Beachy will try to keep it that way. Nobody is making fun of Dan Uggla now.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Doug Fister has to be smiling a lot these days going from a last place team to a first place team. As for Jo-Jo Reyes, he went from off the scrap heap to still not being very good for the Orioles.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Chien-Ming Wang's win in his last start was a nice story. Today the story turns ugly facing Doc Halladay.
  • The White Sox over the Royals: The Royals hit lefty starters better than right-handed ones and get John Danks today. The White Sox hit equally pathetically against either hand. But the White Sox hit better in day games. Does any of that mean anything? That's why they play the game. Jeff Francis goes for the Royals.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Alas, the Pirates are dead. Maybe it was a mistake giving up on Overbay? Shaun Marcum with another win and Charlie Morton pours more salt in the wounds.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Matt Harrison has been solid all season and should beat Rick Harden and the A's.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: Tim Wakefield in his third attempt to get 200 wins for the Red Sox. He should get it today going against Charlie Furbush.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: Chris Capuano has been solid all season but it's all been in vain. Meanwhile, Jason Marquis hasn't won for the D-backs since that deadline deal. But he'll win today.
  • The Cardinals over the Rockies: Esmil Rogers is 6-1 but his ERA is near six. How does that happen? Edwin Jackson has always been a puzzle. Picking the Cardinals is fraught with danger these days.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Dodgers over the Astros: Hiroki Kuroda should breeze through this game with ease. Jordan Lyles with the loss.

Yesterday: 9-6
Last Week: 57-38
Month: 102-73
Season: 976-814
Games of the Day: 82-51