Saturday, October 27, 2012

Game Picks - Saturday: October 27, 2012

The World Series moves to the cold confines of Comerica Park today and temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 30's by the end of the game. Of course, that would be different if Major League Baseball and their sugar daddy, Fox, would allow any of the World Series to be played during the day. But we can't have that. After all, who needs to have kids watching for the next generation and those kids are certainly less important than Fox losing their precious college football games on Saturday or their prime time revenue stream.

By the way, just out of curiosity, have any of you paid MLB extra to have a few extra camera angles on Just wondering. You're still stuck with Buck and McCarver, right? So it's not like you get a break with the announcing crew unless you are allowed to switch to the radio broadcast.

Everything has gone the Giants' way thus far in the series. Will that take them all the way to a sweep? Here's the pick:

  • The Tigers over the Giants: A little home cooking should help the Tigers, even if what's cooking will freeze in the pan. Plus, for the first time in the series, they will face a right-handed starter in Ryan Vogelsong. They are a much better team against right-handed pitching. Vogelsong has had a terrific post season run thus far, but traditionally, he's not as good on the road. The Tigers go with Anibal Sanchez, a talented pitcher with a lot of different weapons in his arsenal. Sanchez has also pitched well in the post season and has good career numbers versus the Giants. The big thing is for the Tigers to take an early lead so this does not become a bullpen game. Their bullpen is a mess and will lose the game if it comes to that. The Tigers do not want to face the back end of the Giants' bullpen if they can help it. Look for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to come up big in this one. The DH helps the Tigers more than the Giants.

Thursday: 1-0
World Series: 2-0
Post season: 16-19
Season: 1,349-1,036

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kyle Gibson tearing up Arizona Fall League

The Minnesota Twins have to be thrilled with what they have seen from top prospect, Kyle Gibson, after his return from Tommy John surgery. After putting up good numbers in the minors in three stops following his rehab, Gibson has pitched three times in the Arizona Fall League and looks tremendous. Obviously, this is all terribly small sample sizes, but still. His success is enough to believe the elbow problem has been successfully corrected and he has a great chance to be the kind of pitcher they hoped he would be when the Twins drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft.

We are always cautioned when it comes to the AFL. The games are played in the thin, dry air of Arizona and batting numbers are inflated and pitching results have to be taken with a grain of salt. Well, pass the Morton's then because Gibson is killing it.

He has started three games and pitched a total of thirteen innings. Yes, ultra small sample size, granted. But he has only allowed one run on thirteen hits and two walks and has struck out nineteen. Except for the 9.0 hits per nine innings, those are pretty gaudy numbers. And they follow right in line with his 28.1 innings pitched in the minors once he returned from his long rehab.

Gibson pitched at three different levels in the minors this year after getting cleared following his rehabilitation. And granted, he did get cuffed around at the Triple-A level for the six-plus innings he pitched there. But he did strike out ten batters and only walked one in those innings.

And it is those strikeout and walk peripherals that have to get the Twins all excited. After all, the Twins loooove guys who can throw strikes. In his 28.1 innings at all three levels in 2012, he struck out 10.5 batters per nine while only walking 1.9 per nine. Those are nice numbers to dream about, no?

So, if you follow his 19 strikeouts and only two walks in the AFL with what he did in those minor league innings and you see where this piece is going.

Kyle Gibson was one of the Twins' best prospects before he got hurt. And though the team and the organization will have to slowly build up his innings again, they again seem to have themselves a prize.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Game Picks - Thursday: October 25, 2012

Yes, October baseball is always unpredictable. In the first game of the 2012 World Series, Barry Zito easily out-pitched Justin Verlander and even singled in a run against the stud pitcher along the way. The Giants would go on to score more runs in the game (8) than the Yankees managed against the Tigers in four games total. Heck, with three homers and a run scoring single, Pablo Sandoval drove in only one less run in the game than the entire output of the Yankees. What a crazy game baseball is.

You've got to love the narratives the MSM latches on to in these games. During several cutouts for commercials, FOX would show the fierce look on Angel Pagan's face after his double. What a gamer, eh? What a big time player. Oh brother.

So anyway, Game Two is tonight and a pick has to be made. Did you happen to notice that yesterday's pick called the Giants' win? Let's see if it can go 2-0 for the series. The pick:

  • The Giants over the Tigers: Yeah, yeah, Doug Fister is a big time post season pitcher. He's had two good outings this season too. And Madison Bumgarner is supposed to be a bad thing having to pitch for the Giants. Say what!? Has everyone forgotten what Bumgarner did to the Rangers two years ago in that World Series? He won sixteen games this season with a 3.90 strikeout to walk ratio! Here's the deal: Bumgarner has supposedly found a flaw as to why he was struggling. He will pitch well. Doug Fister has pitched well and that will continue, but he doesn't go deep into games lately. The Giants will foul off and run up the pitch count. The Tigers will then have to get into their bullpen. Game over. The orange towels fly.

Yesterday: 1-0
Post season: 15-19
Season: 1,348-1,036

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dunn and Rodney are lazy picks for comeback awards

The Comeback Player of the Year Award is a strange animal. Basically, you qualify for the award if you completely sucked the previous year(s) or were injured and could not perform. To top off the weirdness of the animal, there are two of them. The Sporting News has awarded the prize since 1965 and then Major League Baseball came up with its version in 2005. Both have already awarded their picks for 2012. They both got it wrong. The selections were lazy, plain and simple.

The Sporting News went with Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox. The funny thing here is that the link was found on the Sports Illustrated site, a magazine that has long been in competition with TSN and did not even mention in the story that TSN was the author of the award. Anyway, TSN got it way wrong.

Major League Baseball gave the award to Fernando Rodney. Rodney, as we all know, had an amazing season, one of the best ever for a reliever/closer. But Rodney's season does not fall in the category of a comeback. His season was more in the, "where-the-heck-did-that-come-from," category. He did not come back. He never was before.

Let's start with Dunn. Yes, Adam Dunn had the most putrid season in baseball history in 2011. And yes, he was not nearly so putrid in 2012. For those wildly impressed with power numbers, Dunn did hit 41 homers in 2012 after hitting only eleven in 2011. That certainly is pretty. And he knocked in 96 runs and received an incredible 105 walks.

Even so, he was still only fourth on his own team in wRC+ and since he was mostly a DH and a really bad first baseman, and since he is the stodgiest of base runners, he still garnered only 1.7 fWAR or 0.9 rWAR. Dunn came within a strikeout of tying the major league record and struck out a preposterously 34 percent of the time. If you liked Dave Kingman, then Adam Dunn is your guy.

Dunn was not the best choice for comeback player on his own team, never mind the entire league. Alex Rios should have won the award. If we go by WAR for example and use's numbers for that statistic, Dunn went from -3.0 fWAR to 1.7, a jump of  4.7 wins. Alex Rios went from -0.8 fWAR in 2011 to 4.3 in 2012, a jump of 5.1 wins. has an even bigger swing. According to that site's WAR calculation, Dunn gained four wins in 2012 higher than his 2011 figure while Rios jumped a whopping 6.2 rWAR from 2011 to 2012.

And Rios isn't the only one on the White Sox worth considering. There was also Jake Peavy who went from 111+ innings in 2011 to 219 in 2012 and went from 0.0 rWAR in 2011 to 4.3 in 2012. Here was a guy nobody thought would pitch effectively again and he finished with a 3.73 FIP.

So again, Dunn wasn't even the best candidate on his own team. But what about Fernando Rodney? There is nothing but superlatives to say about Rodney's season. But he did not come back from anything. He never was anything until this season. Before 2012, Rodney had never finished higher than 1.0 rWAR in his career since 2005 and that was the highest he'd ever finished in that statistic. 2005 and 2006 were his only two seasons to finish under 4.00 in ERA.

Rodney's lowest FIP of any full season was 3.88. Yes, he had 37 saves in 2009, but it's not like he had a good season that year. He didn't. Rodney's 2012 season came out of nowhere. His dominance in K/9, K/BB ratio, WHIP, FIP and every other statistic were unprecedented in his career. Rodney was certainly the reliever of the year and should get a top ten finish in Cy Young Award voting, but he does not qualify for the comeback thing. He just doesn't.

So yes, we've started the award season and it is already off to a bad start. The voters of the Comeback Player of the Year Award (both versions) were lazy and did not do the homework needed to get it right.  But that isn't really a surprise to anyone, is it?

Ozzie Guillen's firing was inevitable

The only question is why it took so long. You would think that a 90+ loss season after going all in with free agents in the first year of a new stadium would have resulted in a dismissal of Ozzie Guillen right as the season ended. But here it is, more than three weeks later, and the Marlins finally made the move. What took them so long? And where does the team go from here?

For Guillen's part, he handled the dismissal with tact. His tweet was gracious:

"to the fans that support me and for those who are happy as well my love and respect to you as well"

But then again, Guillen is going to get paid for two more seasons despite his new-found unemployment, so he can afford to be gracious. Guillen has a no-prisoners style of managing and speaking in his public position. He lived and died with that style and this time, he did not survive. Nor probably should he have. This space was on record when he was hired for the position that it was a big mistake and that proved to be the case. (don't you hate I-told-you-so's?).

So where do the Marlins go from here? First of all, most opinions on the ownership of the Marlins are bad. Real bad. And they seem markedly deserved. Bobby Valentine flew down there and left in a hurry after assessing that situation. It's a no win situation for a manager. Just ask any of the last five they have had in the last four seasons. So who in their right mind would take such a job?

It won't be an established name, that is for sure. Nobody is going to bake their reputation going to that pit of an ownership situation. So that leaves it for first time managers who deserve a shot at the big league seat.

A couple that come to mind quickly because of their Hispanic background and respect in the game would be Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Tony Pena. Pena would not be a first timer of course. He managed the Royals in the mid-2000's and but for the 2003 season, did not have fun there. But he has not gotten a shot since, so he is in the same category as someone who would take a chance with a faulty ownership situation to get another chance to manage.

Whatever the case and whomever gets the job, the Marlins remain a mess and Ozzie Guillen was not the total scapegoat for what happened there this season. Even so, he was not a good fit and the mistake will cost the team millions. Baseball needs the Marlins to succeed and perhaps the right new manager can catch lightning in a bottle and make it work.

But that is at best wishful thinking. But thanks for the fun, Ozzie. You were certainly different.

Mulling Valentine's words on David Ortiz

The Bobby Valentine era in Boston will not be forgotten any time soon. And as long as Valentine has a mouth and someone willing to engage that mouth to action, the stories will just keep coming. Valentine has nothing to lose as he has to know that he will never get hired to manage again. So there is no need for him to be protective in what he says. And what he said about David Ortiz is explosive. 

In case you missed it, here is the money quote:

"He realized that this trade meant that we're not going to run this race and we're not even going to finish the race properly and he decided not to play anymore," Valentine said in an interview airing Tuesday night on "Costas Tonight" on NBC Sports Network. "I think at that time it was all downhill from there."

The Red Sox, who are actively trying to extend David Ortiz, of course have blasted Valentine for what he said. The linked article above quotes general manager, Ben Cherington, as saying that he wouldn't be trying to sign Ortiz if what Valentine said was true. But why IS Cherington trying to sign Ortiz? After years of one-year deals and hedging their bets, the Red Sox are suddenly interested in tying up an aging David Ortiz for two seasons? We'll talk more about that in a bit.

And most of the opinions read about what Valentine said have come out strongly against Valentine for saying what he did. But with nothing to lose, why would Valentine make something like that up? Doing so would be out of character for Valentine who has long been known for his honesty that has gotten him in trouble.

Here is what this observer thinks: Bobby Valentine was a disaster as the manager of the Boston Red Sox. But that wasn't totally his fault as the players had a culture of entitlement that worked against Valentine from the beginning. It is the opinion here that Valentine was right about Kevin Youkilis but stupid to say so publicly. It is also the opinion here that he is probably right about David Ortiz.

That being the case, the question is, does the truth about Ortiz make him a bad guy here? No, it doesn't. Valentine is old school. In the old school, you played until your arms fell off. You played with concussions and you played with bad wheels. That old school thinking probably ended a lot of careers prematurely. Valentine had an old school player in Dustin Pedroia. "Pedey" would try to play if his head was only attached by a strand to his neck. 

But is that way of playing and thinking the best thing for the team? Was the heroic Pedroia helping his team when he had an OPS of .538 in June? Nope. The little guy should have sat out a few weeks instead. But Pedroia is the old school that Valentine respects.

Ortiz took a different route. He saw the Red Sox had given up on the season. He saw that his heel still hurt and he knew that at least $25 million was on the line with the decisions he made. There is no doubt here that Valentine is correct in what he is saying. But what is being said here is that Ortiz did what was best for his long-term future and made the right decision. This is perhaps his last chance at a big payday. And if he comes back healthier for making the decision, his decision will be good for the Red Sox too.

Getting back to the Red Sox for a second, signing Ortiz for two seasons is a risk and yet a no brain decision. After the season they just had, they have to know it will take a season or two to rebuild that franchise. During that time, they will need to keep the fans engaged in the team. So despite the fact that Ortiz's value comes completely from his bat and despite the fact that the bat was worth the investment the past two seasons after not being so the three seasons prior, it is truly worth it for the Red Sox to keep the old hero around for the fans. They are doing the right thing considering where they are right now even with the risks involved.

And that is why Cherington is so adamant about blasting Valentine's words. But while Cherington and Ortiz's agent might take issue with what Bobby Valentine said, and while public opinion might be against Valentine, Valentine is probably right. Ortiz probably did pack it in for the season. But just because Valentine is right (despite the groundswell of opinion otherwise), doesn't mean that Ortiz's decision was wrong.

Game Picks - Wednesday: October 24, 2012

After a long 162 game season, wild card games, division series and championship series, we have finally made it to the World Series. There is no other sport like baseball that tests its players and teams to get to the bottom line. The Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants have an opportunity to win it all as the World Series starts tonight. Will it be a drama-filled event? Will one team dominate and make this a one-team celebration? At this point, anything can happen.

It is said that the Tigers are in a better place because they are rested and have their rotation set up perfectly. Apologies to those that think that way, but a short series is a crap shoot, plain and simple. The best laid plans can turn to dust in a heartbeat. Come on, did anyone expect Marco Scutaro to be the hero of the NLCS? Marco Scutaro!? And the climax of the series was Barry Zito pitching the game of his broken down life? Who saw that coming?

So, yeah. Talk about who is in a better place all you'd like. The series starts at 0-0 and neither team has the advantage other than the Giants getting an extra home game thanks to a player the team won't even allow back on the field (see Jeff Passan's column today--excellent).

The prediction here is that the Giants will win the series in six. But that is just a guess. What actually happens is anyone's guess. Whatever the case, the Game Picks will end the year with this series. So let's start it off right.

The game pick:

  • The Giants over the Tigers: Call this picker crazy, because Justin Verlander is a great pitcher. But he is not unbeatable. That Giants home crowd will be nuts, absolutely nuts. Barry Zito is the zeitgeist star of the post season. He exemplifies all that can happen in a short series in its glorious unpredictability. Of course, the Tigers have a ton of right-handed bats they can throw at Zito. But they also have lousy fielding. Fielding won't matter if Verlander strikes out fifteen. But we'll see. Everyone in the world is picking Verlander to win. This pick flies in the face of all of that. We'll just have to see what happens.

Monday: 1-0
Post season: 14-19
Season: 1,347-1,036

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ryan Vogelsong's work in the kitchen

Ryan Vogelsong has already had a career that is worthy of a movie script. Most folks already know the story of a guy who was originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants way back in 1998, was traded to the Pirates where he pitched four ineffective seasons with that team and saw his career come to a screeching halt after the 2006 season. He would be lost to the world for four major league seasons. He tried a comeback in 2010 and the Phillies signed him and waived him. The Angels picked him up that same season but he never saw major league action. And then the Giants gave him an invite in 2011 and the rest is the stuff of legend. His 27-16 record for the Giants with an ERA around three the past two seasons is enough to make that movie. But now it turns out that he could also host a cooking show on television because he was in the Cardinals' kitchen all night as he won his second straight gem of the NLCS.

Vogelsong was so good last year that it seems silly that he might change the way he pitched in 2012. But look at these heat maps (courtesy of on how he has pitched to right-handed batters:

The first thing you notice in the top heat map (2011) is that he lived on the outside part of the plate. Very little of his pitches were inside. While he still threw the bulk of his pitches on the outside of the plate in 2012, he threw much more inside to right-handed batters and also elevated the ball much more often.

It was this kind of change that helped him against several of the Cardinals top right-handed bats, the ones that do a lot of damage for the Cards. The first two are Allen Craig at bats, the second is against pinch-hitter, Shane Robinson and then two David Freese at bats, one of them a strikeout:

(courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

Note: The heat maps and strikezone plots are from the catcher's perspective. The right-handed batter would be standing on the left side of the pictures.

As you can see, Vogelsong lived in the kitchen of these right-handed batters. One batter's charts that weren't shown were Yadier Molina's. Molina grounded out meekly on a first pitch fastball inside. And then he did the same later in the game after a few more pitches seen.

Vogelsong really struggled coming down the stretch in August and September. He had a 2.36 ERA in the first half but that ERA ballooned to 6.32 in August and 5.34 in September. Part of that can be seen as his BABIP against exploded in those two months. After being in the mid-.250 range for most of the season, his BABIP shot up to .365 in August and .358 in September.

And there was some trepidation about him starting in the post season the way the last two months of his season started. But he finished the regular season with a couple of good starts and pitched well against the Reds in the NLDS in his only start.

Now after his two brilliant starts in the NLCS, he has a 2-0 record with a 1.42 ERA in three post season starts with a WHIP of 0.895. To say he is having a great post season run would be a vast understatement. And it simply adds a new story line to what has already been a movie-turning career. After his work in the kitchen against the Cardinals, a cooking show on television should not be far behind.

Game Picks - Monday: October, 22, 2012

We have ourselves quite a National League Championship Series this season. While the Yankees faded faster an NBC sitcom, the NLCS has gone the distance. The last two games have not been drama-filled. But just the fact that the Giants were down three games to one and have rallied back to tie the series is quite amazing. And what about that Ryan Vogelsong!? Maligned for much of the second half, the guy has been huge. Barry Zito saved the series. But Vogelsong has owned it.

So we come down to a single game. Who will win it? Both teams have their top starters going in Kyle Lohse and Matt Cain. Cain is going on short rest. Both teams will yank their pitchers at the first sign of trouble. So who will win?

The pick:

  • The Giants over the Cardinals: This will go down as an epic comeback similar to the Red Sox of 2004. The home crowd will help propel the Giants and Matt Cain will have a very good night to frustrate the Cardinal batters. Kyle Lohse will not have his best stuff and will yield a few runs and then the Giants will get several innings of Cardinal relievers. The Cardinals have rewritten several books on post season pluck. But the Giants, who had that 2010 experience, have matched them and will ultimately win out. Of course, this pick could be the stupidest pick in history. Who knows.

Yesterday: 1-0
Post season: 13-19
Season: 1346-1036

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Game Picks - Sunday: October 21, 2012

Things were going swimmingly for the St. Louis Cardinals. They held a commanding lead in the NLCS at three games to one and just had to beat Barry Zito for their second straight trip to the World Series. But then serendipity showed up and a hashtag was born and somehow, a three games to two lead does not seem as solid as the series heads back to San Francisco. Can the Giants hold off elimination for one more day at home? Can the Cardinals ride the back of an old ace who has not won a ballgame this season? Anything can happen in this one. But what will happen?

The one day off between contests does mean that the bullpens will be at full force for both teams. That is better news for the Cardinals than for the Giants. Either way, there won't be much leeway for the starters if things don't go well early.

So what is the pick then?
  • The Giants over the Cardinals: Ryan Vogelsong threw a beautiful game earlier in the series against the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter's start did not go as well. But there is something to be said that defense let Carpenter down in that first game. And few have Carpenter's post season resume. On the other hand, the Giants are fresh from a really impressive Game Five and can ride that momentum at home to push the series to the limit. For baseball fans, that would be the ideal. So this pick is ultimately a hope for the type of series the fans crave...a Game Seven showdown.

Friday: 0-1
Postseason: 12-19
Season: 1345-1036