Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Yankees are Alone in First Place

The Yankees sure looked awful early in the season and there was a point where they were last in the league in all pitching categories. The wolves started circling and the naysayers started drooling. But since then, the Yankees have powered their way to the division lead and hold that spot for the first time since the last game of the 2006 season.

The Fan has to admit that Joe Girardi was viewed as suspect as the Joe Torre era ended in New York. The thing about Joe Torre is that he just kept the team on an even keel through the worst of situations. There was much hoopla about his book before the season started. Most of the fanfare was concerning his remarks about A-Rod, Wells and Damon. But to this reader, the most potent argument of the book is the way Torre continued to win when the front office made one bonehead move after another. The book was a real testament to the smarts of the Red Sox versus the doltish moves of the Yankees.

And then Torre is unceremoniously allowed to walk and Girardi takes over and the Yankees miss the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Again, the Fan has to admit that Girardi was suspect. But he really didn't have enough cards in his deck to win. The starting rotation was a complete mess.

Well, the rotation was dealt with by obtaining Sabathia, Burnett and another year of Pettitte. But they started terribly and Girardi was in the cross hairs.

But the evidence is starting to show that he's pretty good at what he does. Mark Teixeira has been quoted as saying that Girardi is the best manager he's played for. If you look back at Teixeira's teams, he played with some great ones. There was a story earlier in Spring Training where Girardi did something really creative and pulled the team from practice and took them to a pool hall for a day of fun and unity building. These are all great signs that he's a real guy and is doing a fine job.

Time will tell if the Yankees will stay in first. But they have a great lineup, much better defense than last year and the horses they need in the pitching staff. It will be interesting.

Kicking Manny When He's Down

It seems to be a popular sport in this country to shoot at people that are already on the ground. Manny Ramirez is on a 50 game forced hiatis due to a positive drug test. And after Manny is already facing the music of his own making, Gordan Edes has this to say:

"It has been commonly held against Alex Rodriguez(notes) that teams play better after he leaves. It happened in Seattle, where the Mariners won a record-tying 116 games in 2001 after he signed with Texas as a free agent, and it also was the case in Texas, where the Rangers improved by 18 games in the standings in 2005 after he was traded to the Yankees.

But if that’s going to be said of A-Rod, will we soon be making the same
observation about Manny Ramirez? Since Ramirez was suspended for 50 games on May 10, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 12-5, a .706 winning
percentage, even after a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs here Friday qfternoon that ended a four-game road winning streak.

Before the suspension, the Dodgers were 22-11, a .667 clip. Red Sox
officials, meanwhile, will gladly remind you that after trading Manny last season at the end of July, when they had their worst month of the year (13-16), they ran off their best two months of 2008, an 18-9 August and a 16-10 September.

Nice. If Edes thinks the Dodgers are a better team without Manny Ramirez, he's nuts (all due respect). The Dodgers have hit a total of nine homers since Manny departed seventeen games ago. That may be okay when facing the Diamondbacks and the Rockies of the world. But if and when they get to the playoffs and beyond, that won't cut it at all.

Also consider that Ramirez makes the lineup around him better. Ethier led the league in RBI early in the season. With Ramirez out, he's fallen like a rock in statistics. Pierre started hot in Manny's absence, but if you look at Pierre's lifetime stats, he'll settle back to where he's always been, which has never been nearly as good as Manny.

Say what you want about Manny Ramirez and kick the guy when he is down. But the Dodgers are a much better team when he is playing than when he is not. And Boston may have been good after he left them last year, but they are just so-so this year and the Red Sox lineup is not nearly as fearsome as it was.

And the Fan will leave with just one other thought: Would the Red Sox have lost to the Bay Rays in the playoffs last year if Manny was in the lineup? We'll never know, but this Fan doubts it.

Wieters Debut Uneventful

The Matt Wieters era began with a bit of a whimper last night as the kid got his first start and went 0-4 with a strikeout. He did have a chance for his first RBI with a liner to right with a man on third, but Mora was thrown out at the plate giving Wieters a DP on his scorecard.

He looked good behind the plate (whatever the heck that means). Bergeson pitched brilliantly for the Orioles and there are many that give catchers partial credit for such events, but that's always been sketchy to this here observer. Wieter didn't have to throw as nobody tried to steal anything.

The expectations are so high that it has to be hard for the kid. This Fan was watching the game and the kid looked tentative at the plate, like he was a boxer in the first round trying to feel out his opponent. Some coach should tell new guys that the best way to debut in the majors is to be aggressive. But oh well.

Tonight is another night.

Game Picks - Saturday: May 30, 2009

A comment on yesterday's game picks post was really comical and provoked a hearty laugh. The comment said that if the picks went like they did on Thursday night, you might as well start calling this picker, "The Fragrant Fan," as in you stink. It was a good natured jest and was appreciated. But, you know, the moniker may stick as last night was another brutal display of what can go wrong in this unpredictable and lovely game of Major League Baseball. Honestly, the Fan feels now like he doesn't know his butt from his elbow. the immortal words of Richard Nixon, "I am not a quitter." Of course, he did quit when faced with overwhelming evidence and the chance to get to use his "get out of jail" card. But in any event, the show must go on. Just think of this daily feature as entertainment instead of hard core prediction results.

Today's picks:

  • The Blue Jays over the Red Sox: Now that the Blue Jays have broken the losing streak, they can start to go the other way. Tallet beats Penny in what could be his last start for the Sox?
  • The Marlins over the Mets: This is where a pick can go horribly wrong. The Marlins best pitcher is facing the Mets emergency starter. Should be the Marlins, right? We'll see.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: The Braves can't hit. But the Diamondbacks can't hit worse.
  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Dempster for the Cubs. The Cubs aren't hitting. Another dangerous pick.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Oh man oh man! Liriano against Price. Two total wild cards. Wish the Fan had a joker card so he could get a free pass on this one.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Have been riding on Wandy's coattails all season. Going to stay with him.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: Yeah, yeah. The Phillies have Hamel pitching. But there has to be an upset or two in here somewhere.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: Bush and Harang are about even. So going with the home team.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Have to go with Verlander, who since after his first couple of starts, has been as good as Greinke.
  • The Yankees over the Indians: Sabathia should be better than Carmona. "Should" be the operative word.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: The Royals are sinking. But perhaps they'll win one here.
  • The Rangers over the A's: Billy Beane has to be curled up in a fetal position after yesterday's double header losses.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: First day managers never win do they? Besides, the Padres have really put their team in another Geer. Ha!
  • The Cardinals over the Giants: Chris Carpenter is like some mythical Shang Ri La. He never appears that often, but when he does, he's beautiful.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: King Felix should be better than Palmer. There is that word, "Should," again.

Yesterday: 5-10 Geez!
Week: 35-50 Double Geez!
Month: 192-185 With a little luck, the month should finish over .500 [[eyeroll]]

Friday, May 29, 2009

Game Picks - Friday: May 29, 2009

Only five games were scheduled Thursday night. So how bad could it be, right? Not much damage could occur with only five games on the schedule. That's what this prognosticator thought anyway. But how does a big goose egg grab you? That's right, a nice fat OH FOR FIVE! Oh my, that was painful. This game picker hasn't had that much fun since the colonoscopy.

Fighting the overwhelming urge to run and hide or to just plain quit, the Fan carries on and stumbles through another day of game picks. Man.

  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Will take Billingsley over Lilly.
  • Oakland over Texas: A battle of inexperienced pitchers favors the one who has actually gotten his feet wet already. Outan over Hunter.
  • The Pirates over the Astros: Another "oh no!" pick. Ohlendorf versus Moehler in a scintillating pitching matchup. Oh dear.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: Two more green pitchers. For crying out loud! It's Detwiler versus Happ. With games like this to pick, the Fan could continue being Happless.
  • The Orioles over the Tigers: Wieters hits his first major league home run and a post game interview shows Dontrelle Willis praise the good pitch the kid hit.
  • The Indians over the Yankees: The Indians' bats should jump on Pettitte and the Yankees' bats should be baffled by Lee.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Wakefield is pitching. That's good enough for the Fan.
  • The Mets over the Marlins: Pelfrey versus a new kid named West. New kids haven't fared very well this year.
  • The Twins over the Bay Rays: It's sad that the Bay Rays couldn't keep last year's magic going.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Cueto should beat Loop de Looper.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Only because it makes Joe Posnanski's "Banny Log" much more fun when Bannister wins
  • The Rangers over the A's: Feldman wins the second game of the double header. Don't day/night double headers suck? The Fan misses good old fashioned double headers.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: Rule #1. Never pick against Marquis.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: Rule #5. Never pick against Jurrjens.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: Like Lackey over Vargas.
  • The Giants over the Cardinals: Have to like Matt Cain over Pineiro.

There you have it. At least one thing is for sure tonight. The picks can't be worse than last night.

Week: 30-35
Month: 187-170

The Matt Wieters Show Begins Today

Some of you might be sad to see the Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller era end in Baltimore. After all, you may miss the .620 and .619 OPS they have respectively put up this year and the combined six RBI. Yes, you might miss the 24% success rate throwing out base stealers or the .571 OPS with runners in scoring position or the .164 batting average when leading off an inning. Heck, you may enjoy the daily buzz kill of those two old catchers. But cry as you might, the Matt Wieters era begins today.

If that first paragraph seems overly sarcastic, probably was. To the Fan, a team is selling a product and is asking fans to buy ticket at market prices and watch the team on television. As such, each team has the responsibility to put the best product they can on the field. The Orioles' decision to start Wieters in the minors this spring was completely an economic decision to buy one more year before Wieters can go to arbitration and later become a free agent. It was a cynical and calculated decision not based on the best needs of the team or the fans and it stunk like rotten tomatoes.

Who knows, the kid could bomb and become another Felix Pie. Life does that some times. But the fans at least deserved a chance to dream and to root for a kid that brings a lot of hope to the franchise. Now that the Orioles are hopelessly out of contention, at least the fans will have something new to cheer for.

Good luck, Matt Wieters. We'll be rooting for you.

The Daily Comfort of Baseball

How is Major League Baseball different than any other big time sport? They play nearly every day. It's so consistent and so comforting on a daily basis that nights like tonight when only five games are scheduled really suck. Days off are usually scheduled for either Monday or Thursday and baseball teams generally get a day off every week and a half. We all know that baseball is a sweet life for those who live it, but that has to be a grind some times.

Contrast this daily comfort to the NFL. The games are generally played Sunday and Monday and then later in the season, after the NCAA is finished, Thursdays and Saturdays too. And even so, the teams only play once a week. The NBA and the NHL only play a few times a week. Golf is a Thursday through Sunday thing, unless your favorite player doesn't make the cut. The it's a Thursday, Friday thing. Soccer? Uhh...Perhaps they play on Saturdays? Not sure.

And the daily comfort doesn't seem to drag on forever. Sure, MLB has a long schedule that starts in April and ends the first of November. But it doesn't seem long. Contrast that with the NBA and the NHL where the playoffs seem longer than the season. The NBA and NHL seasons are unbearably long. Especially if your team doesn't make the playoffs (which is darn near impossible in the NHL).

But Every day is a new day with new matchups and fifteen new box scores to pore over. The same two teams may play a four game series, but each night features two different pitchers and when teams platoon, several different lineups. Those pitchers may succeed, or won't. And if they don't, we have a whole new set of pitchers to watch.

There is nothing like baseball season. For one thing, the season corresponds with the beginning of spring and the flower of summer. It means nice weather and shorts and t-shirts. The Fan loves the NFL, but man, that's a winter game. Brrrr! The NFL is a time of gray landscapes, short days and high oil prices. Baseball season is barbecue time.

The NBA ceased to be a sport for the Fan after the rules started being disregarded. There used to be a walk rule and a palm rule and zones weren't allowed. Now, anything goes and when a player isn't dunking and hanging on the rim, he's trying for a bomb that clanks off the rim more often than not.

The NHL is just the NHL. In many ways it's like soccer. So much energy is expended for so little results. Back and forth they go, end to end and five goals may be scored all game if you are lucky. And a fight might break out if you are especially lucky.

This post didn't start out or wasn't intended as a war of the sports. Playing basketball was a childhood passion on Mickey's half court in his backyard. There were regular 3 on 3 games there with Italians, Irish, Jewish and African-American kids. It was great fun. Football was played in the street. The Fan still has a funny looking wrist from breaking it after falling on the pavement. All sports have their charm and their allure.

But for professional sports, baseball is the Fan's sport because every day fifteen games are played with 30 different pitchers and the next day features fifteen more games with 30 different pitchers. It's a daily odyssey of delight and discovery. It's a daily walk through gamecasts, web feeds, instant highlights and the players we love to root for and against. There is nothing like it.

Which is why, once in a while, Mondays or Thursdays suck.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Game Picks - Thursday: May 28, 2009

Another decent night of baseball picks in a bland vanilla sort of way. The few that were wrong were items of disbelief. Randy Johnson has been so consistently inconsistent all year, but broke his pattern last night and won his 299th victory. So, even though the pick was wrong, the results were cool. The Blue Jays are so cold right now that even Halladay couldn't save them. And one wake up call in Arroyo. The Fan has been picking against him all season and the guy has a record of 7-3. True, when he is off, he is way off as his 5.12 ERA suggests. But he is on more than he is off. So the Fan deserves to be wrong on that pick.

It has been enjoyable picking games on There system is easy and they make it fun. There is one caveat though. The Fan always goes by who should win. Based on matchups and how a particular team is going, history shows the Fan is more often correct than incorrect. Since the Fan started picking games on that site, the record is 800-658. That's pretty successful. But in's system, that doesn't work. The Fan is 142 games over .500 and yet has accumulated 39 total points.

Say you pick a team that is expected to win (for example, the Phillies were expected to beat the Marlins). If that team wins, since they were expected to win, you may only get 0.6 points for being correct. But you lose a whole point for being wrong. Okay, if you go for underdog and the underdog wins, then you get a good score. For example, correctly picking the Nationals to win might net you 4 points. But if you pick the underdog and are wrong, you still lose a whole point.

The problem is, you can go 9-6 like the Fan was last night and end up with negative points because all the picks that were correct were games that should have been won by the teams that did win. So nine correct picks times 0.6 points is 5.4 points. Six wrong picks nets -6 points. Therefore the day's tally is -0.6! That doesn't seem fair. There is a guy who picks regularly over there who always has a record of less than .500 but is the point leader consistently. This week (BallHypes goes from Monday to Monday for some reason), the Fan is listed at 18-12 and has 0.9 points. This OrioFan8 is 8-9 and has 4.6 points. Is that fair? No system should ever reward failure more than success. Wait! The banks and car companies scored billions from their failures, so maybe there is a life lessen here?

Anyway, tonight has a light schedule, so here are the short list of picks:

  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: The battle of two poorly pitching teams continues. The Bay Rays feature Niemann (Marcus) while the Indians pitch Huff (the magic dragon).
  • The Twins over the Red Sox: Beckett is pitching for the Red Sox against the young gun, Swarzak. Beckett should win, but the Red Sox are singularly unimpressive right now.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Galarraga has been iffy lately, so thus is this pick.
  • The Cubs over the Dodgers: The Dodgers are due for their once a week loss.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: Two really good pitchers pitching: Lowe and Haran. Two teams that really aren't hitting. All things seem equal so go with the better team.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 30-30
Month: 187-165

If the Fan Was in Charge for a Day

Tony LaRussa is a very good manager. Granted, he's a bit of an arrogant SOB and not very likeable, but you can't argue with his record. LaRussa was never a great baseball player. Terry Francona and Bobby Cox were marginal players and yet are great managers. The majors have coaches all over the place that weren't very good players. Bobby Meachem was a coach for a long time. Glenn Hoffman was a coach for a long time as was Eddie Brinkman. Just being awash with baseball for a lifetime can provide insight. And now with the explosion of data available to support the instincts, it's possible to know enough to be dangerous.

The Fan has been watching games since Ralph Houk managed both the Yankees and the Mets. Thats a lot of baseball over the years and pored over a lot of box scores and statistics. While there is no mistaking this experience for having the right stuff to be a manager or a general manager, perhaps the Fan is dangerous enough in his knowledge to make a few suggestions.

With that in mind, and in full knowledge that no manager or general manager is going to give two hoots to what the Fan thinks, here is what the Fan would do for each team if he was in charge for a day.

St. Louis Cardinals: Put Schumaker in the leadoff spot and keep him there. Find a good hitter with a decent OPS to hit behind Pujols. The poor guy is walked twice a game. Limit Tony LaRussa to two pitching changes a game. He used six pitchers tonight in a 3-2, nine inning win. Maddening!

Milwaukee Brewers: Move Hardy down in the lineup to seventh or something. Let Rivera catch more often since Kendell is not hitting. Give Gamel another couple of weeks and if he still doesn't hit, send him back down.

Toronto Blue Jays: Release B. J. Ryan. It's a cold business. Flip-flop Lind and Wells in the batting order.

Baltimore Orioles: Give up on Felix Pie. Put Riemold out in left full time. Bring up that young catcher! Slot Mora in the second slot in the batting order and move Jones to third, Markakis to fourth and Huff to fifth. Keep developing young pitchers.

Detroit Tigers: Keep doing what you are doing. You already made the move the Fan was thinking about by dropping Granderson in the batting order and moving Josh Anderson to lead off.

Kansas City Royals: Find a decent shortstop! Flip-flop DeJesus and Callaspo in the batting order.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Not sold on the LaRoche brothers. But keep progressing. The pitching has been impressive. Find out why McLouth is struggling.

Chicago Cubs: For gosh sakes, get Soriano out of the lead off spot. He's killing you. Put Theriot up there or something. The Ryan Freel thing isn't working out. Release him.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Carry on. You're doing great. Wouldn't change anything.

Colorado Rockies: Geez, where to start? Trade Helton to a contender for prospects. Move Tulo down in the batting order (like seventh?). Find some pitching somewhere.

Seattle Mariners: That batting order is a mess. Beltre should be traded for whatever you can get for him. In fact, tear down the entire infield other than Branyon. Anything would be better than what they have now.

Oakland A's: Billy Beane really trashed his legacy with this team. Trade Holliday for what you can get and then just tear the rest of it apart and start over. Terrible team.

Florida Marlins: Let's start with the obvious: Can Bonifacio. His lack of OBP from the leadoff spot is trashing the rest of the lineup. The entire team is batting .245. Any prospects you can call up?? Release Lindstrom.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ask Jamie Moyer to retire. Figure out what to do with Rollins. He isn't hitting at all.

Tampa Bay Rays: Switch Upton and Zobrist and let Zobrist lead off for a while. At least until Upton finds his groove again. The pitching is obviously not what we thought it was. Sonnanstine has been a disaster. The relief corp has been a disaster. How do you fix that? Find a bad team with good relievers and make a trade or something.

Cleveland Indians: Not much can be done with a pitching staff in total disarray. Bat Sizemore third. Start building for next year.

Washington Nationals: Draft pitching. Draft pitching. Draft pitching. Don't trade Johnson. You need all the excitement you can get. Replace Belliard. He's done.

New York Mets: Hold on until you get your people back. You're doing just fine. The Fan admits in full that he was wrong about Sheffield. He's doing really well.

Cincinnati Reds: You're 26-20! That's impressive. Move Bruce into the fouth slot behind Votto and keep him there. He's starting to get there.

Houston Astros: Find a bullpen. Somewhere. Move Bourn out of the leadoff spot. His OBP will never be high enough. Try Tejada or Keppinger there.

New York Yankees: Bring Austin Jackson up and put him in right field until Melky comes back. Swisher shouldn't play every day. Release Veras.

Texas Rangers: Put Jones in center and make Josh Hamilton the DH until he heals completely.

Boston Red Sox: Trade Dice-K for a shortstop. Jack Wilson would fit nicely. Youkilis should be batting third and Bay in the cleanup spot. It doesn't make sense to bat J. D. Drew in the third spot.

Minnesota Twins: Bat Harris second, Mauer third and Morneau fourth followed by Kubel. Find a second baseman.

San Diego Padres: Give up on Brian Giles. He looks done. Him batting leadoff is just killing the batting order. Try Tony Gwynn Jr. there for a while.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Gosh. You can't fire the entire pitching staff can you?

Chicago White Sox: Make a plan to get younger. Trade all the old guys you can to contenders who need temporary bats.

Los Angeles Angels: Hang in there. You should battle Texas for the division all season.

Atlanta Braves: Trade Medlen for a good bat. Their hitting is atrocious. Give up on the idea that Francoeur is a good player. He's not.

San Francisco Giants: Like the Braves, there is not much hitting. They simply cannot contend with that lineup. Randy Johnson won #299. Very cool.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Game Picks - Wednesday: May 27, 2009

It was a better day on what has been a bad week thus far. But one thing has this faulty projectionist a bit steamed. Yesterday's picks correctly predicted that Jarrod Washburn would pitch well against the A's. He did exactly that, but was lifted after six shutout innings and 94 pitches. What!? Why in the name of quality starts would you lift a hot hand after only 94 pitches? It's not like you are protecting a young guy or something. So, Washburn is lifted and the A's score four runs off of his replacement. Ball game. 4-3.

There has to be some kind of fine line between managing your personnel and winning games. The American League West is wide open with a lot of mediocrity (though the Rangers might be better than mediocre). Don't you want your team to win as many games as possible? Isn't that worth the risk of letting a pitcher throw 110 whole pitches instead of 94?

Anyway, rant over. Now on with today's picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Well, the Brewers had fun for a little while. Wellemeyer should beat Parra.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: The losing streak has to end some time. What better way to break the skid than pitch Halladay against the Orioles.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Porcello against Davies. Porcello should dominate the weak hitting Royals.
  • The Pirates over the Cubs: Zack Duke is currently better than Zambrano who hasn't heated up yet.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Are the Dodgers really this good or are they simply better than a really bad National League West?
  • The Mariners over the A's: Another Bedard crap shoot. Oy!
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Myers should beat Badenhop. Isn't the latter pitcher's name a great name for unearned runs?
  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: The Indians are playing better. Maybe the Fan was wrong about Pavano. Hmm.. Anyway, the Indians are pitching another green pitcher.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: If the Mets don't boot the ball around too much while Santana is pitching...
  • The Astros over the Reds: Never like the Reds' chances when Arroyo is pitching.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Burnett has to have a dominant game some time. Holland has been good for the Rangers but...
  • The Twins over the Red Sox: Still not confident in Dice-K nor the Red Sox lineup.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: Peavy against a greenie.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Gavin Floyd was much better last time out. But still have more confidence in Weaver.
  • The Braves over the Giants: This is Randy Johnson's turn for a bad outing in what has been a remarkably consistent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season. Mr. Hyde's turn to come out to play.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 21-24
Month: 178-159

More on Blown Saves

Eight days ago the FanDome featured a post concerning the dramatic rise in blown saves. Time was not taken to see if the blown saves were tied to an increase in appearances per game for pitchers. But without the math, a theory was espoused that the two must be tied together. Yesterday, the Fan commented on another blog about the blown saves and another reader commented that there were more blown saves because more pitchers were pitching per game. In other words, this other baseball fan had the same theory proposed here. But does the theory hold water? Well, the Fan had to stop being lazy and went to and got out Microsoft Excel to figure that out.

To refresh our memory, this is what the Fan wrote last week concerning the rise in blown saves:

Let's look at the past five years:

2005 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 68%. There were only two teams in the entire major leagues that had a save percentage less than 60%

2006 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 64%. There were five teams that had a save percentage less than 60%.

2007 - American League Save Percentage: 68%, National League: 67%. Again, there were five teams that were successful less than 60% of the time.

2008 - American League Save Percentage: 67%, National League: 62%. The number of teams that were successful less than 60% of the time jumped to eight.

2009 - American League Save Percentage: 63%, National League: 61%. An amazing 14 teams are currently under 60%. And four of those teams have been successful less than 50% of the time: Washington (37%!!), Houston (41%), Cleveland (47%) and Minnesota (46%).

To recap, if we look at that five year pattern, 2005 through 2007 were relatively stable. 2008 saw a plummet of success rate for the National League. 2009 shows a dramatic plummet in both leagues. So if our theory is correct, then 2008 and 2009 should show an increase in pitcher appearances for each year. The numbers do not support the theory. Here's what they look like:

  • 2009 - 3.94 pitcher appearances per game. 9.88 batters per pitcher appearance. The latter is the average per game including the starter and the relievers. So a starter could face 27 batters and the reliever 3, so for that game, the average batters per appearance would be 15 (30 batters, two appearances).
  • 2008 - 3.92 pitcher appearances per game. 9.87 batters per pitcher appearance. Not much difference.
  • 2007 - 3.97 pitcher appearances per game. 9.78 batters per pitcher appearance.
  • 2006 - 3.85 pitcher appearances per game. 10.06 batters per pitcher appearance.
  • 2005 - 3.71 pitcher appearances per game. 10.31 batters per pitcher appearance.
  • 1999 (for historical perspective) - 3.56 pitcher appearances per game. 10.98 batters per pitcher appearance.
  • 1989 - 2.88 pitcher appearances per game. 13.22 batters per pitcher appearance.
So what have we got here? Well, we can clearly see that the game has changed since 1989! But the game has been static in these two specific categories since 2007. There was a dramatic increase in appearances from 2005 to 2006 and then from 2006 to 2007. But since then, the staff usage remains the same for the past three years. So since only the last two years have seen a significant rise in blown saves, then the amount of appearances shouldn't be a factor or cause to the effect.

So what else explains it? We can pretty much rule out PEDs because the failure rate has only increased in the last two years and 2004 is the year you would look at for those kinds of number anomalies.

One possibility might be the number of walks, which has risen every year since 2005. Perhaps walks are reaching critical mass with more teams focusing on OBP and working deep into the count. Here are the walks per game since 2005:

2009 - 3.65
2008 - 3.36
2007 - 3.31
2006 - 3.26
2005 - 3.13

That 2009 number is quite a big leap. While it doesn't seem to be that much of a difference statistically, if the current pace continues, there will be 1400 more walks this year than in 2008. That's a lot of base runners a relief staff has to cope with.

The Fan doubts this is the final call on the blown save department, but we have at least trashed one original theory and have another in its place.

Red Sox Not Making Sense

Twice this week, the best fielding first baseman in the American League has played third base. Does that make sense? Why move Youkilis over to third and remove Lowell from the lineup? Lowell may not be the fielder he was two years ago, but he has eight homers and is batting .305. The Fan couldn't find any story about him being hurt. So what gives?

With Youkilis at third, the Red Sox have been playing Jeff Bailey at first. The kid has talent and can hit the ball a long way, but he's batting .185 with 21 strikeouts in 65 At Bats. With Bailey in the lineup and the sinking David Ortiz moved down to sixth in the batting order, the lower part of the Red Sox batting order looked like this:

6 - Ortiz: .197
7 - Varitek: .238
8 - Bailey: .185
9 - Lugo: .271

Not exactly awe inspiring for pitchers on the other team.

Rumor has it that the Red Sox are pursuing Nick Johnson. While Johnson fits the Red Sox batting philosophy, what would they do with him? At this point in their careers, Youkilis is the better fielder. The only sense Johnson makes is if he takes Ortiz's place.

A Rule That Doesn't Make Sense

Edwin Jackson had the unenviable task of trying to pitch better than Zack Greinke. Since Greinke has been fantastic this season, his odds were low to begin with. And true to the odds, he didn't win. But his pitching line was decent. He pitched six and a third innings and gave up two earned runs. Not bad right?

But here's the thing. He actually gave up four runs, but two of them were unearned. The unearned rule (without knowing the real history) was probably put in place to protect the pitcher who finds himself giving up runs because of bad fielding. In theory, if the team makes errors that should have been outs, then the runs aren't the pitcher's fault. But Edwin Jackson made both of the errors!

Why should a pitcher get unearned runs when he's the one who made the error(s)? Jackson certainly "earned" all four runs because he caused them all between his pitching and his fielding. This happens all the time and the Fan remembers seeing another box score earlier in the week where the same thing happened.

The thing this does is make the pitcher look better than he was. No matter what the box score says, Jackson gave up all four runs and shouldn't be rewarded statistically for what turned out to be his own runs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Game Picks - Tuesday: May 26, 2009

The Fan can relate to how the Blue Jays are feeling right now. Except the game picking slump is only two days in a row and not as long as the Jays has been. Who would figure that Chris Carpenter would shut out the mighty hitting Brewers for eight innings only to have the Brewers win in extra innings, 1-0? Who would figure that the Diamondbacks would completely Ralph on a 7-1 lead and lose the game? Who would have guessed that the White Sox would score 17 runs against anybody?

But that's the way the ball bounces. The picking of Cleveland over the Bay Rays looked terrible when the Bay Rays went out to a 9-2 lead after six innings. The Indians then scored nine runs in the last two innings to win the game. Go figure. So, what's the bottom line? Picking games is a crap shoot and it's a good thing the Fan doesn't gamble.

Here are today's picks:

  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Blanton is favored over a recently rehabbed Miller.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: The Jays losing streak has to end some time. The Jays are starting Romero who has been sterling thus far. The Orioles are getting a MLB from Berkin, so that is Rule #4.
  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: Garza is pitching for the Bay Rays against Pavano. As much as Pavano has been amazing at finding a way to win and the Bay Rays bullpen is in tatters, Garza should win this game.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: Is the Fan really picking the Mets to win a game that Livan Hernandez is starting? Yup. [[shiver]]
  • The Reds over the Astros: Warning! Emotional pick! Micah Owings is pitching for the Reds.
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Like the Blue Jays, the Cubs have to break their losing streak some time. It might as well be against Ian Snell.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Wainwright is a better matchup than Once Suppon a Time.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Good matchup of Chamberlain against Millwood. If Joba can get past the first inning...
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: Despite the fact that Papelbon is scuffling [[grinning with glee]], Lester should beat Blackburn.
  • The Royals over the Tigers: Superb matchup of Greinke versus Erwin Jackson. Greinke should have the edge.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Yeah, yeah, Milton is pitching for the Dodgers, but the Rockies really look bad.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: The Padres have to lose some time. Might as well be against Scherzer.
  • The Mariners over the A's: Washburn versus Braden should be a no-brainer. So this pick will probably be brained.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Joe Saunders should be a bit less sucky than Colon.
  • The Giants over the Braves: The great Lincecum goes against the great-in-the-minors, Medlen. Would always take the proven over the unproven.

Yesterday: 6-9 Again!?
Week: 12-18
Month: 169-153

Fielding Report Card

About a quarter of the season is in the books and it's been a surprising year in many respects. The Rangers are certainly a surprise (though they took it on the chin from the Yankees on Monday). The Indians are just as surprising on the other end of the spectrum. There are so many things to look at, which is what makes MLB the bomb that it is. But for today, let's look at fielding and see how the teams are doing compared to last year.

The statistics that will be presented are from FanGraphs, a terrific stat site. What you'll see below is FanGraphs' "Ultimate Zone Rating" ranking for each team. The first number will be where each team ranked in 2008. The second number is that same team's ranking for 2009 and the third number is the movement from the first number to the second:

Bay Rays: 1/1 0
Phillies: 2/14 -12
Athletics: 3/17 -14
Red Sox: 4/25 -21
Astros: 5/12 -7
Cardinals: 6/15 -9
Mets: 7/28 -21
Blue Jays: 8/13 -5
Giants: 9/11 -2
Brewers: 10/2 +8 Our first climber!
Indians: 11/23 -12
Cubs: 12/10 +2
Royals: 13/24 -11
Nationals: 14/30 -16
Orioles: 15/26 -11
Angels: 16/7 +9
Marlins: 17/29 -12
Braves: 18/18 0
Twins: 19/17 +2
Mariners: 20/7 +13
White Sox: 21/26 -5
Pirates: 22/3 +19
Diamondbacks: 23/9 +14
Padres: 24/16 +8
Rockies: 25/20 +5
Tigers: 26/4 +22
Reds: 27/6 +21
Yankees: 28/18 +10
Dodgers: 29/19 +10
Rangers: 30/4 +26

As you can see from that list, the Rangers are the most improved followed by the Tigers and the Reds. The Red Sox and the Mets have fallen farthest in the standings.

The Rangers have improved greatly at first base (since Chris Davis settled in full time), second base (Kinsler is far better than last year), shortstop (Elvis Andrus is fantastic as is his backup, the great Omar Vizquel), third base (Young is slightly better than the eight guys who occupied the spot last year) and the outfield is greatly improved.

The Tigers are also much better in outfield play this year. Ordonez is about the same, but Granderson is much better this year and Josh Anderson is getting most of the playing time in left and is much better than anyone they threw out there last year. Cabrera is much better in his second year at first base. Polanco has upped his game at second. Surprisingly, Adam Everett is faring worse than Renteria did last year in a year that was universally panned. Inge is a significant upgrade at third over Guillen.

For the Reds, the combination of Dickerson and particularly, Laynce Nix has been dramatically better than Adam Dunn. Willy Tavares is much better than last year's centerfielder, Corey Patterson. Jay Bruce has settled in nicely in right field and is much better than an aging Junior Griffey of a year ago. Third base is still a problem as Encarnacion is atrocious over there. The Reds fare better when Hairston plays third, but he doesn't hit as well. At short, Gonzales has slowed down a bit but he's much better than Keppinger who started last year. Brandon Phillips has been outstanding at second but Votto has slipped a bit at first.

The improvement of the fielding of the Reds, Rangers and Tigers is just one factor of their big improvement this year in the win/loss column over last year.

On the other side of the coin, the Red Sox have fallen 21 spots in defensive rankings. Don't blame Youkilis as he improves every year and this year is significantly better than a great year last year. Pedroia is also better than the great success he had last year. Shortstop is a big problem. Last year was aided by sparkling defense by Jed Lowrie. He got hurt this year and Green and Lugo have been abominable. Mike Lowell has fallen off a lot with his defense at third. Last year, he had a UZR/150 of 15.6. This year, it's -7.3. Jason Bay will never be a good left fielder. But he's slightly better than last year. Ellsbury is very capable in center. J. D. Drew is off dramatically from his UZR of a year ago.

The Mets have also fallen 21 spots from a year ago. Ryan Church has fallen a lot from last year in right field. Beltran is off from last year's numbers quite a bit. This year's left field by committee is as good as last year's large collection. Jeremy Reed has been real good, but he can't hit. David Wright is not having a good year with the glove and is off a lot from last year. Reyes is also off a lot from last year at short. Luis Castillo hasn't been good at second for a long time. Tatis has been getting most of the work at first base since Delgado went down and he is a much better fielder than Delgado.

Special mention has to be made of the Pirates who have gone from 22 to 3 in team UZR rankings. Adam LaRoche is much improved at first. Freddie Sanchez isn't that great with the glove, but he hasn't regressed since last year at least. Jack Wilson is always great and short. Andy LaRoche is doing well at third. Xavier Nady was the regular right fielder last year until he was traded to the Yankees. Brandon Moss holds that position now and has been terrific in the field and is a huge upgrade. Nate McLouth is doing much better in center than a year ago. And last but not least, Nyjer Morgan is like night and day over Jason Bay in the field. Morgan has been terrific.

The Marlins, Nationals and Indians have fallen in the rankings significantly, and the question then becomes: Is their pitching as bad as it is with the poor fielding, or is the poor fielding a result in so many more balls put in play?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Game Picks - Monday: May 25, 2009

Yesterday's games were another speed bump on the pathway to success. At least that's as kind a way to put it as there is. If Brett Gardner hadn't dived for that ball, or if the Cubs weren't playing so dead, or if Jenks hadn't have blown that save or if the Bay Rays hadn't blown their save, it could have been a good day. But what is that saying about wishes?

Either way, it's Memorial Day, and that still means something to this old Fan. The sacrifice of men like the Fan's Dad, and of so many other men and women who have served this country makes this one of the most emotional holidays there is. The Fan hopes you take a moment today and express a word of gratitude for all those who have served our country throughout the years.

Here are today's picks:

  • The Astros over the Reds: Wandy is pitching for the Astros and that usually means good things.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: The Blue Jays finally get a softer opponent and should take advantage of the breather.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: The Fan really should pick Gallardo as he seems to be coming into his own. But Carpenter is pitching for the Cardinals and that always seems to mean something special.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Hughes seems to pitch better on the road and Harrison doesn't seem likely to hold back the Yankee lineup.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: The Fan has been trashed lately whenever picking Gil (ga) Meche to win. Plus, Verlander is pitching for the Tigers.
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: Brad Penny is probably making his last start for the Red Sox. Liriano just hasn't been that good for the Twins.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: Just have a feeling De La Rosa might have a big game.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Like Davis over Gaudin. Has anyone noticed that Adrian Gonzalez has 16 homers already?
  • The Braves over the Giants: Vasquez is a new man. At least until the playoffs (if Atlanta gets there).
  • The Mariners over the A's: The Fan made fun of Jakubauskas his last outing and Jakubauskas made the Fan look stupid. Not picking against him again.
  • The Indians over the Bay Rays: David Price makes his debut for the season for the Bay Rays and that is Rule #4.
  • The Marlins over the Phillies: The Fan believes that Jamie Moyer's brilliant career is now over.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Lannon is going to make this the upset of the day.
  • The Pirates over the Cubs: Like Maholm over Dempster.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Danks has been suspect and Santana has been very good.

Yesterday: 6-9
Month: 157-144

Who Has the Best Record in the American League?

Okay fans, time for a pop quiz. Who has the best record in the American League? Toronto? The Red Sox? The Tigers? Nope, nope and nope. We all should know that the Dodgers have the best record in baseball and in the National League. But who has the second best record in the National League? The Phillies? The Cardinals? The Braves? The Mets? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

The team with the best record (currently) in the American League is the Texas Rangers. The second best record in the National League? That would be the Brewers. And both teams have the exact same record, 26-17--a .605 winning percentage. The Brewers even lost two games in a row and still maintain that status. Who would have predicted that these two teams would have a .605 winning percentage at ANY point in the season, never mind a quarter of the way into the season.

Both teams were expected to hit. Both teams have a lot of players who can really swing the bat. But both were supposed to be too light in the pitching department. Both teams have hit. Both are second in their respective leagues in homers. The Rangers are first in their league in slugging. The Brewers are fourth. The Rangers are second in their league in OPS, the Brewers fifth. So even though Josh Hamilton has been shut down for half of his team's games and the Brewers are getting nothing from the bats of Hardy, Hall and Hart (sounds like a vaudeville act), they are doing just fine at the plate.

It's the pitching and the defense that has surprised the most. The Rangers have ALWAYS had poor pitching. It was just a given. People always shook their heads and said mournfully, "If only they could pitch." But the Rangers' starting rotation is 17-11. They are averaging 6.3 innings per outing. They lead the league in complete games. They also lead the league in saves. Last year, the Rangers finished with an ERA+ of 82 and the team's ERA was 5.37. The team WHIP was 1.576. Contrast that with this year's numbers. ERA+ of 102; ERA of 4.52 and a WHIP of 1.370.

Of the Rangers' starting rotation, only Brandon McCarthy was not close to the league average ERA+ of 100. That was before Sunday's shutout he pitched.

The Brewers were highly suspect after losing Sabathia and Sheets. It would seem impossible for the team to come close to posting its team ERA of 3.87 of last year--a year where they finished first in several pitching categories. But the Brewers have held their own with a team ERA of 4.08. With the exception of Manny Parra, the starting rotation has been decent, with flashes of excellence. And the bullpen with only a couple of early exceptions has been exceptional, especially since anchored by Trever Hoffman, who hasn't given up a run this year and is making it seem impossible that Mariano Rivera will ever catch him in career saves (there is no way Rivera will catch him).

Mark DiFelice has been remarkable. Setter, McClung and Coffey have all been very good. It seems an unlikely combination of pitchers, but it is working thus far.

The Brewers and Rangers both have closers who have yet to give up a run this year. Frank Francisco might be the closer you have never heard of. But he is perfect thus far and has a rediculous WHIP of 0.766. Darren O'Day has been great as well for the Rangers.

The Rangers are also fielding much better than last year. They finished last year with a .978 fielding percentage, last in the American League. They had a team range factor of 4.16 and a Total Fielding Runs Above Average rating of -24. This year, their fielding percentage is fifth in the league with .986 while their team range factor remains the same.

The Rangers didn't handle the Michael Young move to third very well. In fact, they botched it pretty badly. But they made the right move. Young's range factor at short last year was 4.59. Young Elvis Andrus has already made an impact at short and is sporting a range factor over 5.

It remains to be seen if the Brewers can hold on in a division with the Cubs as the best team on paper, though they have been an enigma, the Cardinals much improved and the Reds getting good pitching, if not much hitting. The Rangers seem to have the much better chance to stay on top of the AL West, with Oakland, California and the Mariners all sporting glaring weaknesses.

It sure has been fun to see these upstarts doing so well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is Joey Votto the Next Big Star?

The Reds have done suprisingly well this season. They have ridden good pitching to a record that is above .500, which was hardly what anyone was expecting. While it doesn't appear they have enough gas to contend for the division, it does appear that they have a new superstar in the making: Joey Votto.

While the Reds are tenth in the league in pitching, they are in the bottom third of the majors in Batting Average, On Base Percentage and Slugging. All of which makes Votto look more impressive. He has no protection in the lineup but continues to pile up great numbers. Votto went two for four last night against the Indians with two homers and four RBI. He raised his batting average to .371 to which he already had an OPS of 1.054 going into the game. He is on pace to walk over 80 times. He walked 59 times last year so his .470 OBP doesn't look like much of a fluke.

Even his splits look really good. Votto's stats away from home are even higher than his home stats. A left-handed batter, he is holding his own against left-handed pitchers and is batting .325 against them. His stats are monstrous during day games and only superb in night games.

Votto came in second in rookie of the year voting last year. He put up decent numbers with a line of, .297/.368/.506. Those numbers were right in line with his career in the minors where his OPS was consistently in the .850 range. However, his last year in the minors, 2007, showed a big push upward and he continued that trend with a big start in his late season call up that same year. Last year saw him come in at his minor league standard. But that standard is very good and he had a 124 OPS+ last year.

Votto is now 26 and improving and though it might be prudent to believe he will end up in the same .870 OPS range of last year after all is said and done, his growth seems to be real and he could be a new star in this league. He needs some help in the Reds' lineup which doesn't seem forthcoming, but look to Votto to continue to be a breakout new star.

Game Picks - Sunday: May 24, 2009

The week ended on a positive note with more blown saves going in the right direction for a change. The real shocker was the shot off of Papelbon, though there is a measure of secret satisfaction in that event. Jonathan Broxton is having an amazing year in Los Angeles and is now 5-0 in games that he doesn't have a save opportunity. There were a few losses on the docket, the most frustrating of which was the Cubs, who were supposed to start Harden and didn't.

We start off the new week with some games full of pitfalls. It's another one of those days where anything could happen. But with growing confidence, the Fan forges ahead where many dare to tread:

  • The Tigers over the Rockies: Any Tigers pick with Willis pitching is a game of Russian Roulette. But Hammel is pitching for the Rockies, which is uninspiring.
  • The Yankees over the Phillies: The Yankees comeback win yesterday over Brad Lidge in the ninth was shocking and inspiring. Melky Cabrera is becoming the master of the walk off single. Sabathia pitches today against Hamel in a great matchup.
  • The Bay Rays over the Marlins: It's really hard to pick against the Marlins when Johnson is pitching because he is so good. But the Marlins seem to be in complete disarray at the moment.
  • The Reds over the Indians: This pick is very iffy as the Reds are struggling. But Cueto is such a major talent that it's hard to pick against him even when his opponent is Lee.
  • The Orioles over the Nationals: This game could go either way. But the Orioles have won the first two, so we'll lean in that direction.
  • The Braves over the Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are struggling and have lost five in a row. Jurrjens is pitching for the Braves which is Rule #5.
  • The Red Sox over the Mets: Wakefield is pitching for Boston and the Mets won't have much experience with a knuckleball. Redding is pitching for the Mets, which doesn't inspire confidence. Ortiz has gone 0-6 in the series with four strikeouts and two walks. How long do the Red Sox wait? It's been a fascinating story.
  • The Astros over the Rangers: This pick is a wish pick as Hampton is pitching for the Astros against McCarthy for the Rangers. There is a bit of logic here in a game where there is no DH. Hampton is a good hitting pitcher.
  • The White Sox over the Pirates: Buehrle should beat Karstens.
  • The Cardinals over the Royals: Pineiro should be Bannister. Did you see the video of Albert Pujols breaking the Big Mac sign with his homer? Wow!
  • The Cubs over the Padres: Do the Cubbies have a late surge in them? They don't look very promising at the moment. But Lilly should beat Young.
  • The A's over the Diamondbacks: Jon Garland doesn't inspire the Fan in this one and the A's are finally starting to hit a little bit.
  • The Mariners over the Giants: King Felix should out pitch Barry Zito, but this pick feels scary.
  • The Dodgers over the Angels: The Dodgers won a heart breaker last night and back that up with Billingsley today. Not a good scenario for the Angels.
  • The Twins over the Brewers: The Brewers were hot coming into this series. The Twins were cold. So naturally, the Twins have been all over the series and will continue the trend tonight.

Hope you're having a great Memorial Day Weekend!

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 54-43
Month: 151-135