Saturday, July 04, 2009

Game Picks - Saturday: July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, America! 233 years ago today, the cream of American colonial society risked everything to sign the Declaration of Independence. The Grand Experiment is still not perfect nor will it ever be. The past is checkered and littered with mistakes. But this is the greatest country on earth and this writer is extremely thankful for the sacrifices of those men in Philadelphia and the every day people that defeated an empire.

Oh yes, and what is as American as apple pie? Baseball! And there are fifteen more games to speculate upon this morning. Here are the picks:

  • The Nationals over the Braves: The Nats played them tough last night and have their best pitcher on the mound tonight. The Nats are patient at the plate which will mean an early exit for Hanson.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: This is just a hunch that it will be a low scoring game and the Brewers will prevail in the end.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: The Mariners got their one win of the series. That will be all.
  • The Blue Jays over the Yankees: Halladay goes into the All Star break with a bang. Or is that a Wang?
  • The Reds over the Cardinals: Caution! Sentimental pick for Micah Owings.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Can you root for the "Royals" on July 4th? Seems unpatriotic.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Lincecum!
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Like Wolf over Geer. Like Manny over Geer.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: Nieve over Moyer. But if Rollins has finally awoken, this could get ugly.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Liriano has gotten better. Like him in this game over Jackson.
  • The Pirates over the Marlins: In Zack Duke we trust.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: The Indians exploded last night but run Pavano out there today against Mazzaro. Will take Mazzaro.
  • The Bay Rays over the Rangers: Two green pitchers in Price versus Holland. Price has better stuff. We'll see.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: Cook has been a chef lately.
  • The Orioles over the Angels: Hey it worked for one night. Perhaps it will work again.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 39-30
Month: 21-18

Florida Baseball

In two weeks of watching Florida baseball, there is much to be excited about when it comes to baseball down here. The Marlins and the Bay Rays are both exciting young teams. The Bay Rays are probably more talented from top to bottom in their lineup and bench, but the Marlins seem to have better pitching. But watching both the Marlins and the Bay Rays are two different experiences.

Neither team draws well at home. The Bay Rays draw slightly better than the Marlins, whose attendance is down right pitiful. But watching the telecasts for both teams reveals an experience of professionalism for the Bay Rays and a minor league feel for the Marlins. It's hard to pinpoint in just a few words the difference so the Fan will have to figure out a way to get this observation to make sense.

Let's start with the announcers. The Bay Rays' announcers are top notch. Dewayne Staats has been doing play by play for thirty years. He has a full, rich voice with lots of timbre and is excellent in building up a game to its maximum. After being partnered for years with Joe Magrane, Staats is now joined by Kevin Kennedy after Magrane joined the MLB Network. Kennedy is one of those rarities in that he is a former manager who is interesting to listen to. He doesn't spend any time talking about his own career (thankfully and take note Steve Phillips) but he does do an excellent job of describing the nuances of the game.

If those two pros aren't enough, the Bay Rays' in game color guy (and pregame and post game guy) is Todd Kalas. If that last name sounds familiar, yes, he is the son of long time Phillies' announcer, Harry Kalas. Todd is a chip off the old block and is one of the best the Fan has ever seen at doing those in-game cut ins. He dresses professionally and has a rich, interesting voice.

By comparison, the Marlins' broadcast team sounds amateur. The Fan hates to be so negative about a guy like Tommy Hutton, but the difference between someone like Kevin Kennedy and Tommy Hutton is like the difference between Carrie Underwood and Kelly Pickler. Sure, both are paid to be "homers" and they both are. But Hutton just sounds too saccharine and he's like eating pancakes with sugar-free syrup.

The quality difference between Staats and the Marlins' play by play guy, Rich Waltz, is similar. Waltz has been around for a while, but his voice is too high and lacks timbre. In fact, there are often times when the listener can't tell when Waltz is speaking or Hutton. And then there is the Marlins' guy in the stands. He sort of looks like Kenny Rogers and he wears undistinguished clothing. Again, the difference between the Bay Rays' team and the Marlins' is striking.

Hopefully, much of the Marlins' problems will be solved by a new stadium. The Fan liked his one trip to where the Marlins play. But as pretty as the park is, on television, everything looks tacky. Most teams now have those terrible ads behind home plate. They are generally an abomination, but at least most teams have electronic signs. The ones at the Marlins' games look like signs printed on canvas. They are unattractive and add to the minor league feel of the game. Has the Fan mentioned that the Marlins also have scantily clad girls dancing before the game? While a red-blooded man enjoys that kind of show, it does seem to be a bush league sort of thing.

The Fan isn't sure you can do much about this problem, but since there are so little fans in the stands, you can hear individual fans yelling and what they yell is not always flattering or suitable for television. Also, things get so quiet, you can hear the players goofing around in the dugout. And the Fan doesn't know if it's his imagination, but the picture quality at the Bay Rays' games seems much clearer and sharper and more intimate than those at the Marlins' games.

One more difference between the Bay Rays and the Marlins: Joe Madden. The guy looks like a thin version of Drew Carey. He often looks bemused and he is unflappable. Watching him gives the fan and casual observer the feeling that he is totally in control of himself, his team and his situation. He is very impressive. Fredi Gonzalez is a good manager as well, but he doesn't seem to have the personality, presence and polish of Madden.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Grabbing the Tail of Curiosity

If you are any fan of this site and have been reading all along, you know two things. First, the Fan recently read Leigh Montville's, "The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth." Secondly, you know that the Fan has an over active curiosity gland. So when Montville talks about the fog he uses as a metaphor for Ruth's early life and the fog that surrounds Ruth's parents, the Fan couldn't resist. The problem is that this post comes after just a few hours of research on-line and not intensive on-the-ground research that you need. But oh well. You may or may not be interested in what little the Fan did find out about Ruth's family on his father's side.

Montville begins the process with Ruth's father taking the young George Herman Ruth to St Mary's. Montville uses the fog and a metaphorical trolly ride to the boy's reform school very effectively to teach us how little about Ruth's early life we know. But it was the following text amidst that story that piqued this writer's curiosity:

George Ruth Sr.'s parents were both born in Maryland. There is dispute about
where his grandparents were born, either in Germany or Buck's County,
Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Dutch country. Pick one. If Buck's County is the
choice, the great-great-great grandparents were from Germany. (pg 11)

After spending a night on, the Fan can understand the confusion. There is no confusion about Babe Ruth's parents. He was the son of George Herman and Katie (Schaumberger) Ruth. George Herman Ruth Sr. was the son of John S. and Mary Ruth and was born in Baltimore. Katie was the daughter of German immigrants, Pius and Anna Schaumberger. There is even no confusion on John S. Ruth who was born in Baltimore in 1844. You can follow his life in from the 1850 census records of Baltimore on up to the 1900 census. It is John's wife and his parents that are confusing.

Let's start with John's wife. Though Maryland marriage records are available on line, John's marriage to Mary is not recorded so nothing is known about her. She appears with John in the 1880 census and in the 1880 census it seems that the census takers tried to be more accurate concerning the origins of the residents. John is listed as having been born in Maryland but Mary is listed as being born in "Hanover." There is no Hanover in Maryland. There is one in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Ohio, but not in Maryland. And, John lists his parents as being born in Prussia. But that is not what earlier records state. We'll get to that in a bit. So who was this Mary, Babe's paternal grandmother?

She was born (according to the 1880 census) in 1845, so searching the 1850 census for "Mary" in any Hanover born in 1845 gives us 77 possibilities. One clue could be the "Herman." There were no Hermans on John Ruth's side. He had no brothers or uncles by that name. So maybe that was a maternal touch. Well, none of those 77 Marys had a father or brother named Herman, so that's a dead end.

The other mystery concerning Babe Ruth's paternal grandparents is if they were divorced. In 1900, John S. Ruth was listed in the Baltimore census records as living with his brother, Frank, and his mother Mary. He is listed as "single" and not "divorced" or "widowed." John S. Ruth Jr. is listed as a lightning rod manufacturer (he had earlier been a railroad clerk). He was not a poor man. So why then, is George Herman Ruth Sr. living on the poor side of town? In 1880, George was working for John in the lightning rod business as a clerk. Was there a falling out? Were they estranged? George Herman Ruth Sr. was later to purchase a bar. That money had to come from somewhere.

John S. Ruth Sr. was born around 1815. Census records from 1850 list him as being born in Maryland. He married Mary Moffitt in 1842 in Baltimore. She was either the daughter of either Thomas or Neal Moffitt, the only gentlemen of that name in the 1820 census in Maryland. But that hardly seems like a Prussian name.

The Fan can pretty much discount the Buck's County, Pennsylvania angle. The confusion there is easy to see as there was a John S. Ruth born in Buck's County in 1817 who did marry a Mary there. But he lived and died in Buck's County. And though his life parallels Babe's ancestor, they are not the same men. Babe's great grandfather, John S. Ruth Sr. was a bricklayer who died in middle age.

So that's as far as the Fan has gotten in one night of fiddling around. There is no idea if this is of any interest to you. It is to the Fan, but then he loves genealogy.

Game Picks - Friday: July 3, 2009

The picker had a case of the blahs. It was one of those blah nights with a short schedule and no games were on television (watching MLB.TV at Mom's is impossible). So this picker spent the night chasing a bone of curiousity (see the next post). This stage of the vacation is the weird stage where half of you is noting that it's almost over and the other half is longing for home and a familiar bed. Ah well. All will be chased away by the pool in an hour or two. It's a tough life, but somebody has to do it.

Here are today's picks:

  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: This one is really tough. Burnett got clocked by his former team last time out but has pitched really well of late. Tallet has been a nice story, but doesn't quite seem good enough to beat the Yankees. This pick could go wrong in a hurry.
  • The Cubs over the Brewers: The Cubs are at home and despite some crap lately from Zambrano, he should beat Suppon.
  • The Marlins over the Pirates: The Pirates are starting some guy named Morton. What happened to their rotation that was so strong? Even Maholm got whacked last night.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: The Braves are making a move and beat up the Phillies. They should do even better against the Nats.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: What the heck is going on with the Mets. The Fan assumed they were dead and they win two in a row! Now what? Both of these teams have been wallowing.
  • The A's over the Indians: The A's are hitting pretty well these days and have Cahill on the mound.
  • The Reds over the Cardinals: On paper, Pineira should beat Homer Bailey. But the Reds are a different team when Votto is in there and they had that thrilling win yesterday.
  • The Mariners over the Red Sox: King Felix should be better than Wakefield. But this will be the only Mariner win of the series.
  • The Bay Rays over the Rangers: Can't see the Rangers winning with Hunter on the mound.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: De La Rosa has been a bit shaky, but should win this one.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Slowey versus French. French? Who is he?
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Grienke!
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Manny is back! Oh stop your moralizing and just enjoy the show.
  • The Angels over the Orioles: Santana should win.
  • The Astros over the Giants: The Astros are on a bit of a roll and Paulino could win this one against the weak-hitting Giants.

Yesterday: 4-5
Week: 33-21
Month: 18-9

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Game Picks - Thursday: July 2, 2009

Well, what do you know, a good day! That was a nice happenstance. It would be fun to keep this going. So without any more useless prose, let's get to today's picks. It's a short schedule Thursday:

  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Harang over Davis. The Reds are simply a better team.
  • The Pirates over the Mets: Redding won't or can't duplicate what Pelfrey did yesterday and a shutout is the only way the Mets are going to win these days.
  • The Astros over the Padres: Wandy Rodriguez gets back on track.
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: Sabathia completes the sweep over Vargas.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Everyone is picking the Braves in this game and Vazquez but Happ has been really good so the Fan is bucking the trend.
  • The Cardinals over the Giants: The Giants just don't have the offense to compete with good teams.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Hate to pick a team that has Seth McClung starting the game. But the Brewers are a better team right now than the Cubs and their offense will explode after getting bottled up.
  • The White Sox over the Royals: The Royals can't do any better than Chen? Whuh?
  • The Orioles over the Angels: The Angels are still reeling from the series in Texas. The Orioles (despite last night's meltdown) have been giant killers lately.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 29-16
Month: 11-4

A Dearth of Lead Off Hitters

As box scores are checked on a daily basis, this observer finds himself repeatedly asking himself: "Why is THAT guy leading off?" The lead off batter has long been considered the "table setter" and as such, you want a guy batting first who gets on base a lot, is not necessarily a power threat (or else you would want him lower in the order) and if he can run and steal bases, then great. Of course, the modern prototypes are Ricky Henderson and Tim Raines. Those guys could steal bases. But others such as Wade Boggs--who couldn't run except when his mistress was calling--got on base a high amount of the time. There are very few of those guys around now. And far too many teams have guys with batting averages around .250 leading off. Here is a quick run down of the teams around the majors and their lead off batters. Oh wait! Before we do that, let's make up a statistic (just for the fun of it).

The object of a lead off batter is to get on base. This is good for the obvious reason as he is on base so others can drive him in. But it's also good because this guy will get more plate appearances than anyone else on the team. So you want that guy to be worth all those plate appearances, right? Well, here is a stat for you. We'll call it the Lead Off Quotient or LOQ. Now obviously, it would have been nice if the abbreviation was catchier, but oh well. The LOQ would equal OBP + LOOBP. The LOOBP is the OBP of the player when leading off the game. For example, for his career, Rickey Henderson's LOQ was .781 His OBP (.401) + LOOBP (.380).

What about Tim Raines? .748 (.385 + .363). What about Wade Boggs? .798 (.415 + .383). The weakness of this stat can already be seen. While it is an accurate measure of getting on base, both overall and leading off the game, it does not take speed or stolen bases into effect. The stat as it stands now would give Wade Boggs the edge over Henderson. But Henderson was the better player wasn't he? This is why the Fan doesn't get asked to work with Baseball Prospectus.

Okay. Let's add base running on a .020 scale divided by total stolen bases and success rate. We'll give .010 points for 40 steals or more, .008 for 30 steals or more, .006 for 25 steals or more, .004 for 15 steals more, .002 for 10 steals or more and nothing for under 10. For the other half of the .020 scale, simply multiply the success rate by .01. For example, Rickey Henderson was successful stealing bases 80 percent of the time or .80. Multiply that by .01 and you get .008. Then give him .01 for averaging 52 bases stolen a year. So then we can add those two to his results above and you get .799 (.780 + .008 + .010). And thus the base running gives him a slight edge over Boggs who gets nothing for his total lack of base stealing. Tim Raines comes in at .767 (.748 + .010 + .009).

There you go. You may be as confused as can be. The Fan barely knows what he is talking about. But now that we have our silly stat called LOQ. Let's finally look at the teams around the leagues...Oh! One more thing. Since we are near the halfway mark of the season, we'll double the current amount of steals to get our results:

Arizona Cardinals: Felipe Lopez - .781 (.356 + .410 + .002 + .008). That's a good score!
Atlanta Braves: They've tried several guys, so we'll have to go with the cumulative numbers - .597 (.329 + .263 + .000 + .005). Obviously, these numbers stink.
Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts - .750 (.347 + .387 + .008 + .008). Good score.
Boston Red Sox: Again, they have had several guys lead of. Cumulative numbers - .622 (.318 + .286 + .010 + .008). This is a big weakness for the Red Sox, though they are good at stolen bases.
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano - .639 (.296 + .333 + .002 + .008). There is no way Soriano should be leading off. No way.
Chicago White Sox: Various guys, so we'll go with cumulative - .758 (.339 + .403 + .008 + .008). Surprisingly good.
Cincinnati Reds: Willy Taveras - .566 (.281 + .268 + .008 + .009). Terrible. Dickerson or Hanigan (though he has no speed) would be better choices.
Cleveland Indians: Various. Cumulative - .605 (.321 + .278 + .002 + .004). Also terrible. Off year for Sizemore and then his replacements.
Colorado Rockies: Various. Dexter Fowler - .594 (.342 + .237 + .008 + .007). Not bad over all, but is terrible leading off the game.
Detroit Tigers: Can't just go by Granderson because he's been other places too. Cumulative - .644 (.331 + .299 + .006 + .008). Granderson really should bat lower in the order. But the Tigers don't have anyone else.
Florida Marlins: The season started with Bonifacio which was a disaster. Now they are using Coughlin. We'll go with Coughlin - .788 (.366 + .414 + .000 + .008). It's kind of unfair to rate him this high as he has only been doing this for 29 games.
Houston Astros: Michael Bourn - .760 (.370 + .372 + .010 + .008). Bourn has been great. He is way above his career numbers which is one note of caution.
Kansas City Royals: Various. Cumulative - .633 (.329 + .289 + .008 + .009). Crisp was okay. DeJesus is not close to being okay.
Angels (not typing out that ridiculous name): Chone Figgins - .715 (.386 + .311 + .010 + .008). Great numbers except when leading off the game.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Various (Pierre won't be leading off once Manny is back) - .784 (.356 + .410 + .010 + .008). Pierre has certainly done well despite his history.
Milwaukee Brewers: Various (Hart, Hardy, et al) - .602 (.329 + .273 + 0.00 + 0.00). Imagine how good they would be if they had a lead off batter.
Minnesota Twins: Denard Span - .722 (.373 + .339 + .004 + .006). Overlooked player. Good score.
New York Mets: We'll go with various since Reyes has missed so much time - .660 (.340 + .303 + .008 + .009). If Reyes doesn't come back soon, this will fall like a rock.
New York Yankees: Derek Jeter - .767 (.381 + .369 + .008 + .009). Having a great year.
Oakland Athletics: Various - .659 (.295 + .355 + .002 + .007). Middle of the road...
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins - .457 (.250 + .194 + .006 + .007). A mystery. A real mystery.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Have to go with cumulative since McCutchen is so new - .722 (.355 + .351 + .008 + 008). This has been a strength for the light hitting Pirates.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn Jr. has settled in nicely, but not long enough. Accumulative - .640 (.330 + .303 + .000 + .007).
San Francisco Giants: Aaron Rowand - .681 (.359 + .314 + .000 + .008). Not very speedy. But solid.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki - .745 (.405 + .324 + .008 + .008). Ichiro is batting .371 but as always he doesn't walk much. In fact, he has not walked leading off the game all year!
St. Louis Cardinals: Skip Schumaker - .645 (.352 + .288 + .000 + .005). Doesn't do well leading off a game.
Tampa Bay Rays: B. J. Upton - .593 (.330 + .243 + .010 + .008). Terrible at leading off a game. But these numbers will improve a lot before all is said and done.
Texas Rangers: Ian Kinsler - .721 (.344 + .360 + .008 + .009). A good number for a guy who is not having his best year.
Toronto Blue Jays: Marco Scutaro - .758 (.382 + .367 + .002 + .007). Scutaro has been amazing. His season is the most over looked in all of baseball.
Washington Nationals: Guzman has been there but not anymore, so various - .556 (.308 + .250 + .002 + .007). Guzman's unwillingness to take a walk helped lead to this awful number.

The average is .672 which really isn't very good. So the numbers seem to prove out that with a few exceptions, there are not many good lead off batters in the majors. The numbers make you appreciate what Scutaro, Jeter, Lopez, Bourn and Brian Roberts do day in and day out.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Game Picks - Wednesday: July 1, 2009

Holy cow! Did you see that Orioles/Red Sox game? Going into the rain delay, the Red Sox were winning 9-1. NINE to ONE! The rain delay knocks Smoltz out of the game and he pitched great for the Sox last night. After the rain delay, the Orioles knocked around every one of the vaunted Red Sox relievers and scored five runs in the seventh and five in the eighth and won 11-10. Amazing. It just goes to show you that anything can happen in a Major League Baseball game and picking games is strictly a crap shoot. After all, who could have predicted that?

And so June is over and July is a new month. In the spirit of the Baltimore Orioles, who did not give up despite an eight run lead, here are the first picks of the new month:

  • The Marlins over the Nationals: The Marlins are 8-0 against the Nationals this year. They have Josh Johnson pitching. All signs point to a win.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Romero has been really good for the Jays. But it will be tough to beat this really hot team.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Beckett restores order to the Red Sox world.
  • The Brewers over the Mets: Hey, if Santana can't win, these Mets can't win.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Just have more belief in the Twins right now than the Royals even if Perkins is pitching for the Twins.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: The Dodgers are just trying to hold on until Manny gets back in a couple of days.
  • The Tigers over the Athletics: Verlander should have a "pahrty."
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Wells versus Vazquez. Have no clue who is going to win this game. None whatsoever.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Looks like the White Sox are trying to make their move.
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: Washburn versus Pettitte in the battle of the crafty lefties.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Hopefully, Cueto will be on tonight and not all over the place.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Slight edge to Jurrjens over Hamels in this one. Rollins looked sick at the plate again last night.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The Rangers got the job done last night. Millwood will beat Weaver tonight.
  • The Giants over the Cardinals: Cain wins his tenth.
  • The Astros over the Padres: What a match up: Moehler versus Silva. Another game where the Fan has no idea who will win.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 18-12
Month: 180-186 Final for June.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Game Picks - Tuesday: June 30, 2009

It was a maunder Monday as the picks came out dead even. Considering that Halladay lost and Porcello lost and this picker actually thought the Mets could beat the Brewers with that AAA team they are fielding, the results are understandable.

Rant: The Fan has been picking games on since Spring Training. During that time, the Fan's overall record there is: 1012-904. That is 108 games above .500. But do you know how many points the Fan has from BallHype during that time? You would think it a positive number right? Nope. The total points accumulated are -14.8. Minus!? For being 108 games over .500? There is a guy on there who has picked his games at 46% and has over a thousand points. So then, BallHype's system is like the federal government where it actually pays to fail. Those that work hard and have a little success are screwed and those that take the easy way out--like picking every underdog every night--are just like those who do so little they qualify for every government handout there is. It's not BallHype. It's BallCrap. Rant over.

Now that we've gotten that off our chests, on to today's picks:

  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Like Lilly over Ohlendorf, though the latter has been pitching well lately.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Smoltz gets his first win out of a Braves uniform.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Cliff Lee pitches another good game while a hundred scouts sit in the stands in the lost hopes that the Indians will unload him.
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: Joba Chamberlain should be better than Morrow, especially at Yankee Stadium.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: Uh oh, here come the Bay Rays and it's pretty scary.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Notice how the Fan has picked all the favorites. So he'll go 10-5 and get -5 points after it's all said and done.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Blanton over Lowe in a great match up. Don't want the Phillies to win, but they will.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Haran is pitching for the Diamondbacks, but his team is dead in the water.
  • The Brewers over the Mets: Johan Santana is pitching, but it's just too hard to picture the Mets beating anyone at this point.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Feldman over Saunders. If the Rangers don't win, it's pretty much over.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Baker should be better than Bannister. The Twins are so unbelievably hard to pick. All that talent. Why don't they win more?
  • The Cardinals over the Giants: Chris Carpenter over Randy Johnson in a great match up.
  • The Astros over the Padres: The Astros win 3-2 with the Astros' three runs driven in by its pitcher.
  • The Tigers over the A's: Galarraga should be better than G-g-g-Geo Gonzalez.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: In a great match up, Marquis squeaks by while Billingsley pitches well in the loss.

Yesterday: 6-6
Week: 16-11
Month: 178-185 Will be a very good thing to get this month over!

Are the Giants This Good?

There was no way that anyone could have predicted that the National League West would have the three best teams in the National League. The Dodgers have had the best record in the National League (and probably all of baseball) since April. The Rockies have surged since firing Clint Hurdle and the Giants have quietly put together a good season. But the Giants seem so ordinary. How are they doing so well and will they continue to do so?

Part of the ordinary feel of the team from San Francisco is that they don't hit very well. Out of sixteen National League teams, they are fifteenth in runs scored, fourteenth in home runs and dead last in On Base Percentage and OPS. In fact, only two regulars have an OPS+ over 100. Several regulars are really struggling at the plate. Bengie Molina has a 78 OPS+ and has walked only three times in 271 plate appearances. Second baseman, Emmanuel Burress has an OPS+ of 49. Others on the wrong side of the OPS+ list: Renteria (68), Randy Winn (82) and Fred Lewis (92). Sandoval has been a pleasant surprise and leads the team with a 151 OPS+.

The strength of the Giants is their pitching. They have two number one pitchers in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The two are now a combined 17-4 and each have an ERA+ over 170. Lincecum is simply unbelievable. He now has 134 strikeouts in 114 innings pitched.

But not only do they have two number one pitchers, they have decent three and four pitchers in Barry Zito and Randy Johnson. Face it, neither one are going to give you the fire they had in their best years, but they are better than most three and four pitchers for most teams. Johnson can still strike people out and his K/BB ratio is a healthy 2.78. Zito has a 96 ERA+. If he can stay around the 100 mark, the Giants will be very happy with that. Their only problem so far is the fifth starter. Jonathan Sanchez wasn't getting the job done. But they just got a great start from newcomer, Ryan Sadowski. So if Sadowski can lock down that position, they will be in great shape.

Starting pitching has led to a great bullpen. They have seven relievers with ERA+ figures over 100, most of them way over. And those seven have 159 strikeouts in 187 innings pitched. That's pretty good.

The Giants did score ten runs on Monday night against a good Cardinal team (while Lincecum was pitching another gem) so that is hopeful. But the Giants' hopes are pinned to their top two pitchers and the bullpen continuing to get the job done. Looking at their lineup, they don't have the kind of players that will get much better. In other words, guys like Renteria, Winn and Molina are well past their primes. They could use some more help for their offense. And like a lot of teams, they are one or two injuries away from being a poor team as they don't have any depth.

If the Giants' pitching holds up, they have a good shot at the wild card and it will be an interesting battled the rest of the way with the Rockies to see which team gets that spot.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Game Picks - Monday: June 29, 2009

Aha! The game picker sees how it goes now. The game picker just needed a cloudy day in Florida for the picks to come out right. It was a cloudy day here in Paradise and the picks had their best day in quite a while. Well, it's cloudy again today, so let's keep this ball rolling.

Today's picks:

  • The Pirates over the Cubs: The Fan likes Zack Duke in this matchup against Harden. The Cubs just seem so flat and so lost at the moment that this feels right.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Berken is pitching for the Orioles and he's been super since coming up, but he's facing Lester, who figures to be even stronger.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Floyd versus Pavano. Ugh! What a lousy match up.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: The Bay Rays are on a roll, but Halladay is back for the Blue Jays.
  • The Mets over the Brewers: Can Nieve go 4-0? He can against Looper.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: The Fish should be so happy to get out of Tropicana Field after a lost weekend that they whack Olsen all over the ballpark.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The Rangers have been stumbling and need this win to remain a factor.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Blackburn should be better than Hochever.
  • The Giants over the Cardinals: Lincecum over Thompson. It's hard to believe but the Giants have the second best record in the National League.
  • The Astros over the Padres: Oswalt should be better than Geer. And the Astros are due for a win.
  • The Tigers over the A's: Porcello should beat Anderson.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers have been so-so lately. They are counting the days until Manny is back.

Have a good Monday!

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 10-5
Month: 172-179

The Great Mariano Rivera

This writer has never hidden that fact that he is a Fan first and a reporter second. What this blog attempts to do is to give its readers informed observations from a fan's perspective. As such, it is impossible to hide the favorite players who creep into those observations from time to time. These players are interesting, inspiring, surprising and have simply touched the Fan in a core place that resonates deeply. Mariano Rivera is one of those players.

There have been very few moments in Rivera's career that the Fan hasn't watched. For all of those years, there has been constant amazement that the man simply throws one pitch and almost always hits his catcher's target. His command and his effectiveness have been enduring and at times breathtaking.

Every year, Rivera has a stretch where people have thought time finally caught up to him. Two bad games and suddenly, he is washed up and not as scary as before. Each year, he has proven those people wrong. Each year, he does his job better than others in the game. In fact, he has now done it 500 times, becoming only the second closer in history to hit that mark. Rivera will probably never catch the great Trevor Hoffman. But Hoffman has never been as good as Rivera despite the record he will forever hold. Hoffman is a Hall of Famer, but he was never a lock in the post season or at the All Star game or down the stretch in a pennant race.

Rivera has been glorious to watch. He has been an inspiration as a humble man with strong beliefs. He has been a thrill ride from his very first season in the bullpen as setup man for the Yankees' closer of that time. Since he took over as a closer, he has very rarely been beaten and when he has been, it has been big news, which only goes to prove how successful he has been.

How fitting that on the night he records his 500th save, he also records his first career RBI. It's been a blessing and a glory to watch this great pitcher do what he does year in and year out. And he's done it better than anyone else longer than anyone else. He is Mariano Rivera and he has now saved 500 games. Enjoy this while it lasts, because you'll never see anyone this good for this long again.

Sweet Lou Gone Sour?

This post is difficult to write. Lou Piniella has always been a favorite ever since his playing days. He's always been a passionate, feisty player and manager in all his years in the game. As a manager, his teams have come in first place six times including two in a row for the Cubs. He won a World Series championship in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds. But perhaps he isn't the right guy managing the current Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs came into the season after two first place finishes with extremely high expectations. Universally selected to win the division, the hopes of a desperate fan base again hope that this is the year. And it sure feels like the Cubs are playing tighter than a suspected heretic on the rack during the Inquisition. That tightness may well explain the blow ups we have seen all year by Zambrano, Bradley and others. In such a situation, Lou Piniella isn't exactly a loosey goosey kind of manager.

Piniella's intensity is perfect for a team that has lacked a spark for years. The Reds, Mariners and Cubs are perfect examples. He came in at a time when all three of those teams were spinning around and he brought intensity and turned them around. But it is possible that the same intensity wears on his players. The year after his Reds won the World Series, they came in fifth the year after. In Seattle, despite guys like Alex Rodriguez and Junior Griffey, his teams finished first three times, but never sustained that success the year after.

Obviously, the Fan does not have any inside dope on what goes on in the clubhouse or in the heads of the Cubs players. The observation while watching them playing lately is that they are so tight that they can't perform. They seem paralyzed.

Perhaps Pineilla has done all he can do. Perhaps he isn't the right person for this current situation. The Fan feels the same way about Jerry Manuel of the Mets. Manuel's body language is all wrong in the dugout. He is wearing too much on his sleeve. Torre and Cox are great because you can never tell from their demeanor if they are winning or losing. The Cubs, and the Mets for that matter, may still pull it together and win their respective divisions. But this observer isn't sure they can get it done with their personalities and the personalities of their respective teams.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Game Picks - Sunday: June 28, 2009

Another day in Paradise. Last night, the town of Lake Worth had their fireworks. They always set them off the Saturday before the Fourth of July. They were spectacular. Florida seems to do the best job with fireworks of any state in the Union. This picker has sat on the beach of Fort Lauderdale and watched the Fourth of July fireworks set off from a barge just off the coast. Talk about awesome!

Awesome still doesn't describe the picks from Florida. With only one good day out of ten, it seems that Karma is the offset of having so much sun and fun by the pool. Well, this picker will take that trade off any day. Of course, if you are foolish enough to post bets based on these daily picks, you may not feel the same.

Here are Sunday's picks:

  • The Reds over the Indians: Warning! Emotional pick for Micah Owings. Didn't Huff just pitch for the Indians the other day? Man, all these days just blur together.
  • The Blue Jays over the Phillies: Tallet over Moyer. The Phillies have been playing like crap forever but their one win last night in their last ten increased their lead in the NL East. Incredible.
  • The Nationals over the Orioles: Like Lannon over any Oriole pitcher.
  • The Royals over the Pirates: Greinke!
  • The Braves over the Red Sox: Hanson throws an incredible game and Penny gets rubbed the wrong way.
  • The Marlins over the Bay Rays: The Marlins have to win one of these games. Miller over Price seems to be the ticket. One thing in the Bay Rays favor though. Price can't throw strikes, but the Marlins don't walk much.
  • The Brewers over the Giants: The Giants sucked wind last night and blew a game they should have won.
  • The Tigers over the Astros: Jackson should be better than Ortiz.
  • The Cubs over the White Sox: Zambrano should best Danks, who has not been nearly as good as last year.
  • The Twins over the Cardinals: Pineiro and Liriano are both questionable. So we'll go for the upset.
  • The Rockies over the A's: Cook over Mazzaro. A proposed movie about Moneyball was just axed by the studio. Maybe it's because of how this year's A's have taken a lot of lustre out of Beane's supposed genius.
  • The Dodgers over the Mariners: Kuroda was very good his last time out. Of course, he is from the Bedard school of health.
  • The Angels over the Diamondbacks: Like this kid, Scherzer, but let's face it, the Diamondbacks stink.
  • The Yankees over the Mets: The Mets look positively down and out. Wang will beat them today, especially with Livan on the other side of the match up.
  • The Padres over the Rangers: It's too bad the Rangers don't have any pitching besides Millwood and Feldman.

There it is. Now back to the pool!

Yesterday: 7-8
Week: 42-50
Month: 162-174

Why Does Wakefield Win?

Let's state right up front that this post takes nothing away from Tim Wakefield. He's found a way to succeed for a very long time with what he can do. What this post tries to deal with is why he is so successful. You see, the Fan watched a good part of Wakefield's game today. His knuckleball, at least early on, was consistently up in the strike zone. The pitches looked like great big lollipops. And yet, when the Braves did connect, they were way out in front and pulled the ball foul. When the ball was fair, it was a squib somewhere for an easy out. Wakefield only gave up three hits.

Understand that the Fan has never tried to hit a knuckleball. Heck, the Fan was forced from his baseball dreams because he couldn't hit a curve. But the Fan was a pretty darn good softball player. It seems to this observer that hitting a knuckleball is a bit like hitting a slow-pitch softball, especially when it's up in the zone.

From this perspective, the problem that Wakefield's victims all have is that they try to pull everything. If you sit back on the pitch, like a slow-pitch softball, and mentally try to put the ball up the middle, then when it is pulled, it will be hit hard and in the field of play.

The second observation: Why don't all Wakefield's opponents move up in the batter's box to take away the last break. From what this observer can see, there is usually a big dip or zag right as the ball is crossing the plate. If you move up in the box, you miss that last big break and--it would seem--have a better crack at squaring the pitch up.

If the Fan was a manager, to prepare for Wakefield, the Fan would bring in a softball pitcher from the neighborhood to pitch batting practice. Let the guys get the feel of hitting something slow with an arc and practice keeping the front shoulder down and attempt to hit the ball up the middle.

It doesn't seem as hard when watching as it must be to actually hit against Wakefield. But it seems that teams could take a smarter approach. After all, the batter already has the advantage in that he knows what's coming. The smarter approach to this writer would be to move forward in the batter's box, stay back, keep the front shoulder down and hit the ball up the middle.

"Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee" A Review

Thanks in part to commercials like the Aflac barbershop commercial, Yogi Berra is mostly known to this generation as a lovable clown. Most people would know a few of his most famous sayings or "Yogi-isms" but his reputation is a caricature. Yogi Berra has made a lot of money playing off that caricature and so can take a share of the blame. Now a new book by Allen Barra, "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee," rightfully restores Yogi Berra as arguably the best catcher of the 20th Century and the most enduring symbol of the best that is the New York Yankees.

Barra, who lives close to Berra in Montclair, New Jersey, has written a true biography chronicling the early life of Lawrence Peter Berra from his youth growing up a son of Italian immigrants on "The Hill" in St. Louis. These young years are interesting and are enjoyable reading, but this reader would have liked more from these years. Yogi quit school after the eighth grade and was considered a leader by his friends at the time, but not a whole lot was written about his early baseball exploits, how he became a catcher, etc. More would have been better here.

Soon after Berra was signed by the Newark Bears, the Yankees' farm team, he enlisted into the navy since he figured he would be drafted soon anyway. Barra reveals a special force that Berra joined to board special boats ending up in the very front lines of Normandy on D-Day that paved the way (at least by a little bit) for the invasion force that is so famous today. The critical and heroic squad earned Yogi medals for his heroism. This unknown side of Yogi Berra was again fascinating and amazing. But again, this reader wanted more. For example, Barra mentions that Berra was wounded, but it does not state where or the severity of the wound or whether it was any hindrance to his baseball career.

Barra does do a great job with Berra's Yankee career and how he started as a raw catcher, how Bill Dickey "learned him all he needed to know," and how his impact was felt immediately on offense. Few would know that Yogi Berra led the Yankees through all those great years in RBIs for seven straight years. Barra also does a great job picking through the complicated relationship with Casey Stengel. The Yankee years are dealt with pretty much one by one and it's a enjoyable romp through the incredible run that the Yankees experienced during the Yogi years. As always, this section was so good that it left the reader panting for more.

A sweet subplot to Berra's transition from player to the coaching phase of his career is his relationship with Elston Howard. It is obvious from the narrative that Berra didn't have any problem's "learnin' Howard what he should know" no matter that Howard would eventually take over as catcher or that Howard was the Yankees' first African American player.

Berra had a successful run as a coach and a manager and won the league championship with the Yankees and the Mets, one of the few besides Tony LaRussa to do that. The fact that Berra lost both of those World Series contests left him one short of the dreams he hoped to accomplish in his career.

This period of time in Berra's life also deals with the rift between Berra and George Steinbrenner and showed Berra as one of the few people whoever dealt with the Yankee owner who stuck with his principles. Berra did not appear at Yankee Stadium for fourteen years until a push by a dying Joe DiMaggio pushed the Yankee owner to patch the rift with Yogi and apologize and bring him back home.

An excellent and intelligent comparison of Berra next to the greatest catchers ever to play the game was well done, fair and very comprehensive.

Throughout the book, Barra shows Berra as a man of intelligence who did well financially on and off the field, who was almost as good a manager as Gil Hodges and Casey Stengel. Barra paints a picture of a humble yet strong individual who more than any other player in Yankee history, ties the generations together with a life led with class, fun and purpose.

This writer has always loved Yogi Berra, but never more than after the full education that Allen Barra gives us. Barra uses a scholarly approach and yet gives us common prose that speeds the reader through the book with amazing ease. Along the way, he gives us a very human Lawrence Peter Berra and gives us a man much deeper, stronger and smarter than the caricature his image has become over the years. Barra's book is important and is a huge triumph.