Saturday, July 25, 2009

Game Picks - Saturday: July 25, 2009

This picker expressed yesterday that there were dangerous games everywhere you looked last night and wasn't wrong. Three aces pitched and their teams did not win: Santana, Halladay and Greinke. The Dodgers lost at home and the Indians pounded out nine runs and didn't give up even that many hits to the Mariners. So all in all, an 8-7 mark for the day feels pretty fortunate. It was enough to stay on top for the week at

The Saturday schedule doesn't look any easier. Lots of funny match ups and possible pitfalls. But there is no sense in being timid. The Fan will play to win rather than playing not to lose so here we go:

  • The Reds over the Cubs: If Cueto has a good game, he's a much better pitcher than young Mr. Hart. But that's a big "If."
  • The Yankees over the A's: This should be the one safe bet? Pettitte versus the Holliday sans A's?
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: In another battle of the "Ays," the Bay Rays have to keep winning to stay with the Red Sox and the Yankees. Price has been wild, but other than Hill and Scuturo, the Blue Jays aren't very patient.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: A little worried about Lohse pitching as he's had a difficult season, but the Cardinals are still blooming with Holliday.
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: Floyd has been good, but Jackson is the better pitcher.
  • The Mariners over the Indians: Bedard is supposed to be much better than Sowers.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Remind the Fan why he keeps picking the Twins?
  • The Braves over the Brewers: The Braves are on fire and have an ever improving Hanson on the mound.
  • The Padres over the Nationals: The Padres play the only team in the NL worse than they are.
  • The Astros over the Mets: The Mets scored four runs yesterday. That was an event in and of itself.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Lester is much better than Guthrie.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: This is a tough one. Hochever has been much better lately and Holland has not been. But man, the Royals just can't hit.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: No-hit man, Sanchez, has pitched only one good game all year. De La Rosa has pitched a lot of good games for the Rockies.
  • The Pirates over the Diamondbacks: The Fan can't seem to go wrong with Ohlendorf.
  • The Marlins over the Dodgers: Vanden Hurk was brilliant last time. He'll need to be again. Kuroda is too iffy for this picker.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 55-27
Month: 152-105

The Tigers Take Control

The Tigers had played their last 21 games in total mediocrity. Posting an 8-13 record during that span, they let the Chicago White Sox back in the American League Central race while they floundered around. Inge has a pinge in his knee. It's more like an almost total tear, though, somehow, he's still playing. The entire offense has sputtered. In thirteen of their last twenty games, the Tigers have scored three runs or less. Six of those games featured only one run on offense. With the White Sox coming in for four games in three days, this really could have gotten ugly. But they wrested control of the situation by sweeping a double-header from those White Sox.

And it wasn't offense that got the job done either, so that is a concern. The Tigers only scored six runs in the entire double-header. But the White Sox only scored three. Verlander came up big in the first game, throwing 127 pitches to go the distance in a 2-0 shutout. Meanwhile, the White Sox made three errors and left nine men on base.

In the second game, young Eddie Bonine kept the Tigers in the game for six innings (he gave up three runs) and the bullpen was great as the Tigers went on to win 4-3. The Tigers induced two Chicago double-plays and young catcher, Dusty Ryan, threw out two potential base stealers.

The Tigers' offense is still a big concern, but they made a semi-statement on Thursday and went two games ahead of the White Sox.

Spending the Hollidays in St. Louis

Manny helped the Dodgers last year. Teixeira helped the Angels. And now Holliday is going to help the Cardinals. We all knew it was coming. Speculation concerning Holliday and Halladay have been swirling for weeks. Certainly his teammates weren't surprised. The Cardinals, who though imperfect, were already on track to win the division. But recent surges by the Astros and more life in the Cubs (and Milwaukee isn't out of it) seemed to give more impetus to getting a bat to hit behind and protect Albert Pujols. Holliday should fill that spot perfectly.

And the Cardinals are getting Holliday at just the right time. Holliday really struggled early in the year. It seems that he spent some time in the off season working with Mark McGwire, who got Holliday to do away with his leg kick with his front leg as he was driving into the ball. McGwire seems like a great guy and players are drawn to him, but once Holliday went back to the leg kick, his whole season went into a leg kick.

The first three months of the season, Holliday's Slugging Percentage showed: .360, .456 and .440. His Slugging Percentage has skyrocketed in July to .574. And something else is impressive about Holliday. Most guys who get traded seem to take a couple to three days to get to their new team. Holliday hopped on a plane immediately and was in the Cardinals' lineup tonight. How did he do? He went four for five with a double, a run scored and an RBI. Not a bad start. He also stole a base.

The Cardinals' other new player, Julio Lugo, abandoned by the Red Sox and needing a new home to possibly ressurrect his career, went two for five with a homer, two runs scored and an RBI. The Cardinals seem to have enough pitching (Pineiro was great again tonight), but their offense was really struggling. Eight runs tonight against a pitcher who was 7-0, seems (sure, it's only one game) to show that they have fixed that problem.

Give the Cardinals credit. They made the right moves and rented Holliday for a few months to get them where they need to go. Oakland, on the other hand, though they are happy for their now ex-teammate, have to be bumming. And it showed in their game against the Yankees.

Against the Yankees, the A's looked flat and listless. They only managed three hits against Joba and allowed two runs to score on a throwing error. Johnny Damon drove in two runs with ground outs. And this was a team, who with Holliday, that overcame a ten run deficit earlier in the week against the Twins and just pummeled that team from Minnesota.

But that's the way it goes. When you're in last place, you're going to lose your spare parts, especially with Billy Beane who will always trade what he has for young prospects. It's the way of the world. The A's have to live through the rest of the year with a patchwork offense with hopes for the future. The Cardinals are delighted to have Holliday (and Lugo) and seem poised to be the best team in their division.

Tough Night for Some Aces

How many times would Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke all start on the same night and combined come up with zero wins? Well, it happened Thursday night. Halladay and Greinke were brilliant. Santana was not.

Poor Greinke. He pitched seven innings and only gave up one run (a solo homer by Marlon Byrd). He gave up only three hits and walked three while striking out ten Rangers. But the surprising Scott Feldman combined with a miserable Royals' offense spelled "S-H-U-T-O-U-T" for the Rangers.

How bad is the Royals' offense? They are last or next to last in thirteen offensive categories and 11th and 12th (among 14 teams) in two other categories.

If Thursday night was Roy Halladay's swan song with the Blue Jays in front of their home crowd, he sure gave them something to remember him by. It was vintage Halladay as he went nine full innings, giving up only two runs on four hits. One of his runs was unearned as beleaguered catcher, Rod Barajas suffered his fifth passed ball of the season. Halladay's performance against one of the better offenses of the league was simply brilliant and he struck out ten batters.

Matt Garza matched Halladay with his own nine innings, striking out nine and only surrendering five hits. He didn't walk anyone. It was hard to tell if Garza was that good or if the Blue Jays' offense is sputtering that badly lately. It was probably a combination of the two. The bottom line is that Scott Downs lost his second game of the week in relief for the sad Blue Jays, who started the season so well.

As for Johan Santana, he just didn't have it Thursday. In six and a third innings, he gave up fifteen base runners (12 hits and three walks) and surrendered a two run homer to winning pitcher, Mike Hampton. Hampton is now batting .312 for the season (with a .345 OBP). Santana also gave up two doubles in the game and only struck out three batters. It was not vintage night for the great Johan.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Game Picks - Friday: July 24, 2009

For the first time ever, the Flagrant Fan is number one on's list of game pickers for the week. This picker doubts he will stay there because, first, every day's list of games is fraught with contradictions such as in a game where two unknown youngsters like Mock and Latos pitch, how to you sanely pick such a game? Second, stupidly rewards people who only pick underdogs all the time and gives you more points for having a losing record than having a winning record. But this Fan refuses to play that game. It's about picking winners, right? I suppose and gambling would be two exceptions to that rule where underdogs garner more points. But whatever. The Fan will shut up now and just pick the games:

  • The White Sox over the Tigers: The Fan has this sick feeling that the geezers are going to take this division and that the Tigers are in the process of rolling over. They play a double header today and it could be a White Sox sweep. This is one case where the Fan hopes his picks are wrong.
  • The Reds over the Cubs: In games where everyone thinks the Cubs are going to win, they usually don't.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Pineiro has been impressive lately. Happ hasn't lost yet and the law of averages say that can't continue.
  • The Padres over the Nationals: Don't have any idea who Mock and Latos are, but apparently, they are are pitching today. Flip a coin.
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: Contradicting the first pick only because Colon is pitching for the White Sox. How does such a team of old guys stay competitive?
  • The Yankees over Oakland: This is a big game for Chamberlain to see if he can put together two impressive starts in a row.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Halladay's Toronto swan song?
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Whuh? Well, Bergesen has been the Orioles' best pitcher and Penny hasn't been very impressive lately.
  • The Braves over the Brewers: Will take Vazquez over Parra any day of any week of any month.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Santana will win if he gets at least two runs.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: Feldman beats Greinke? Whuh? How can you pick the Royals to win at this point?
  • The Giants over the Rockies: Big game with wildcard ramifications. Going with Cain.
  • The Pirates over the Diamondbacks: Zack Duke, the All Star.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Scarily, Liriano has been the Twins' best pitcher lately. Like him better than Lackey.
  • The Dodgers over the Marlins: Tough game here with Josh Johnson against Clayton Kershaw. Both have been excellent. Going with the Dodgers at home.
  • The Mariners over the Indians: Rowland-Smith pitching for the Mariners. Is he the first hyphenated-named pitcher ever?

Well, that's it. Not very confident in the above list, but that's the way the Fan sees it, and so it goes. Have a great weekend everyone.

Yesterday: 7-2
Week: 47-20
Month: 144-98

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Game Picks - Thursday: July 23, 2009

This picker is going to ride this bus as long as it keeps on rolling. Only four wrong last night. Picked against the Dodgers for some reason. Oh yes, Arroyo. Ah well. Picked the Rays to beat the White Sox. For some reason, those geezers always find a way to win, especially against a bullpen. Picked the Twins who were destroyed by Oakland. And picked the Mets to win with Pelfrey. Should have gone with the Nationals. But eleven out of fifteen is great and with a light schedule tonight, the Fan can bask a while with his gaudy record for a couple of days at least.

Tonight's picks:

  • The Indians over the Blue Jays: In a battle of young pitchers, Huff has been around longer than Rzepcynski. Isn't it odd that the Fan can spell Rzepcynski but can't ever spell Francoeur? or Wieter?

  • The Mariners over the Tigers: The Mariners are starting Washburn while the Tigers are starting French. The Fan was never good at French.

  • The Braves over the Giants: Like Kawakami at home over Zito.

  • The White Sox over the Bay Rays: Buehrle has been great lately. Kazmir has not been.

  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: Wainwright should beat a kid named, Balester.

  • The Phillies over the Padres: Hamels in a cake walk.

  • The Yankees over the Athletics: Sabathia isn't Perkins and the Yankees aren't the Twins.

  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Haran!

  • The Twins over the Angels: Yeah, yeah, the Twins just lost 16-1. But that was yesterday.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 40-18
Month: 137-96

P.S. - The Fan is now 1179-1026 at this year and still has -0.7 points there overall. Is that stupid or what? What a lousy system.

The Intentional Walk

Wednesday, in Rob Neyer's Sweetspot, Mr. Neyer commented sagely on another blog post concerning the intentional walk. The other post in question (you can get the link from Mr. Neyer's post) postulated that a rule change that changes the nature of the game shouldn't be considered just because the fans hate the intentional walk. Mr. Neyer correctly questioned the logic and reasoning of the original piece.

Bud Selig has gone on record a number of times stating his concern for the fan who has to spend diminishing money to go to the ball park. In these times, the concern Selig is speaking about is a real issue and families all across America are prioritizing how their money is spent.

Say a middle class parent in St. Louis decides to make a trip to see the Cardinals a priority because the parent's children are huge Albert Pujols fans. So the budget is carefully consulted and the parent makes a reasonable attempt to limit the damage and tells the kids they can have a popcorn and share a large soda. The family settles into their seats and much to the kids' excitement, Pujols is coming up to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. There is a runner on second and even though this is the first inning, the catcher stands up and signals the pitcher for four intentional balls. The kids are disappointed (especially if it happens multiple times in a game) and the parent is saying, "I spent all that money for this?"

First, let the Fan say categorically that the intentional walks to Barry Bonds earlier in the decade and the walks being issued to Albert Pujols (34 so far this year) are acts of cowardice. Yes, the Fan can see it in the eighth or ninth inning when the game is on the line. But geez, two out of the five times the guy gets to the plate? That's just playing scared and it may be smart, but it's a cheap escape and it does nothing but hurt the game and the fans who watch it.

The pitchers and managers the Fan admires are those that take the ball and force Bonds or Pujols or whomever and take on the challenge. As good as Bonds and Pujols were and are, they will still get themselves out six out of every ten plate appearances.

Should MLB ban the intentional walk? How effective would it be since the manager, pitcher and catcher would just have some other type of sign and the pitcher would simply unintentionally intentionally walk the guy anyway? It isn't the rules that you can change, it's the culture. Stress during the GM meetings and the owner meetings that the fans are what matter most and depriving the fans of the spectacle of a Bonds or Pujols at bat is a detriment to the game. Have those at the top send those messages down to the managers on the bench and let them know that such doings (except where the game is on the line late in the game) are unacceptable and unseemly.

If you want a rule change that can be enforced, make it a rule that a relief pitcher has to face at least two batters and put an end to this LOOGY business and the LaRussa/Piniella roulette of three pitching changes in an inning. Now that IS certainly a drain on the game (although it does allow the revenue stream of more commercials during a game for the television people).

The Fan hates intentional walks. They are the coward's way of baseball. But the Fan doesn't see where a rule against them will change anything. Try to change the culture. Because until you do that, managers will still find a way to work around Pujols and others when their inner chicken wing starts itching.

Pondering the Red Sox Trades

Upon first hearing about the two trades the Red Sox made today, the first gut reaction was: "What the heck did they do that for?" But after reflecting a bit, the two trades don't look too bad in second thoughts. First of all, any trade that frees Julio Lugo from his Red Sox experience is a good thing for him and for the team. Secondly, while LaRoche isn't the best player in the world, he's had some pretty above average seasons until recently. Let's explore this a little bit further.

The first reaction to the LaRoche trade was negativity about moving Youkilis off of first base to third. The Fan has commented several times in the FanDome and on Josh Borenstein's blog that Youkilis is one of the best first basemen in baseball and it's stupid to move him. But the Fan isn't always right. A review of the statistics show that this year's batting splits between first and third are a statistical anomaly. Over his career, Youkilis has better offensive numbers when playing third than when playing first. Though his career at bats at first far outweigh what he's hit at third. Plus, according to the defensive stats, Youkilis is an even better third baseman than he is a first baseman. So, on those occasions when LaRoche plays first and Youkilis moves to third, the Fan has been incorrect and the Red Sox don't lose anything as LaRoche is pretty good around first too.

The second reaction was the opinion that LaRoche wasn't a very good hitter. He's certainly down this year with a showing of .247/.329/.441, but if his career is any indication, he's more like a .275/.350/.485 kind of guy, which is a heck of a lot better than Jeff Francoeur. He had his best year in 2006 for Bobby Cox and was traded the following year to Pittsburgh. Perhaps three years in a losing situation with a surrounding lineup that doesn't leave much protection has taken its toll. At least with the Red Sox, he'll be in an upbeat environment with solid major league hitters around him. Don't be surprised if he does well. The only sad part is seeing him split up from his brother.

Thank goodness for Julio Lugo's sake. Not since Renteria has a shortstop felt such hatred from Red Sox Nation and seemingly crumbled as a player because of it. In a recent interview, he was very up front and said he tried his best and it just didn't work out. At least now, he is free to rediscover his career and the Red Sox are free from the burden. And as much as you all know how much the Fan thinks of Tony LaRussa, he and his staff seem to find a way to rebuild castoffs and fix them somehow. The Cardinals had a real mess at shortstop with Khalil Greene out with emotional problems and Tyler Greene not showing much at the plate. Lugo at least will hit over there in St. Louis and perhaps will regain something of himself again.

It was clear that the Cardinals' executives had felt the end had come for Chris Duncan. Duncan showed huge holes in his swing and was struggling mightily at the plate. He seems pretty much the same as his brother who plays in the Yankee organization. Both are big guys that can get tied up and lack discipline at times. It's hard to see him having any impact with the Red Sox in the future. It appears that this was a case of both teams unloading parts that weren't working for them.

The bottom line for the Red Sox is that they added a potentially above league average bat, subtracted a negative and aren't hurt when Youkilis has to play the occasional third base. Since it appears that the AL East has three teams that are dead even personnel-wise, a slight positive and a good subtraction can't hurt and might even help.

Instant Replay

While we are on a roll concerning rule changes, the topic of Instant Replay has come up again because of the completely blown call in the Twins game earlier this week where Cuddyer was called out at the plate and replay showed how easily Cuddyer beat the tag. The run would have been the tying run and it was the last out of the game. The Twins might have won that game. Does baseball want that kind of notoriety?

One of the problems of Instant Replay is that it's not really "instant." It takes time for the umpires to go to their system and get the signal from the umpire in the sky (or wherever he is) for the proper outcome. Yeah, okay, that might draw out the game a little bit, but not any more than ten attempted pick off throws to first or three pitching changes in an inning.

In the long run, it's certainly worth it to get it right. Rob Neyer, lately one of our few mainstream voices of reason, correctly pointed out that the world hasn't caved in with the advent of the replay system already in place for homers.

Gardenshire, the manager of the victimized Twins said he wants a red flag like they have in football. Uh. No! Why not allow the manager of a team the right to question any call? Each game might have one or two disputed plays. Big deal! Review them! The technology is there. Use it.

There is no reason in this day and age that a call can't be questioned and put right when it is wrong. The one big problem is figuring out where all the runners should be if there were multiple runners on base. But that can be figured out. After all, there are four umps watching the bases at any given time. For those of you who say that human error is part of the game, you aren't living in reality. Human error is what brought the major automakers down. The Japanese showed the way using technology to limit errors.

The bottom line is that the players should determine the outcome of games, not the umpires. Doing anything possible to limit the latter from happening should be investigated, tested, perfected and put into place. Soon!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

McCann Carrying the Braves

Remember earlier in the year when Brian McCann couldn't see anything? All through Spring Training and through the early part of the season, there was a daily story about McCann trying glasses or different contacts and so on. If you don't remember the story, here is a link. Well, McCann is seeing the ball well now and has been crushing it. Much of the Braves recent success can be attributed to Mr. McCann.

Of course, McCann isn't much of a defensive catcher. Well, the Fan needs to be careful here because judging catcher's defense isn't as easy as it is for other fielders. But his RTOTs have always been in the negative though his range factors (how the heck do you figure out the range for a catcher?) are higher than league average. The one measurable factor is that he doesn't throw out runners very well (27%).

But as long as he can hit like he does, the defense will be serviceable. McCann blasted a serious homer to dead center last night and now has ten for the year. His batting and On Base Percentage are almost identical to last year's .301/.373 and only his slugging is down a little. But still, with an .872 OPS and a career OPS+ of 123, McCann doesn't seem to get enough press for what he does at the plate.

While it doesn't look like the Braves have any hope of catching the flying Phillies, McCann continues to be one of the best-hitting catchers in the game and has kept the Braves competitive all season.

Game Picks - Wednesday: July 22, 2009

Wow! This picker had a really good night: only three wrong out of sixteen. The three wrong? Thought the Yankees would lose, the Red Sox and the Rockies would win. Strange. The Rangers are showing a lot of mettle to win two of three from the Red Sox to at least stay close. One pick that didn't feel that good to get correct was the Indians over Toronto as the Blue Jays loss was heartbreaking and ruined a great outing by Cecil.

Let's keep the ball rolling and see what Wednesday has in store for us:

  • The Pirates over the Brewers: The Brewers are the much better club, but Maholm is better than Suppon.
  • The Cubs over the Phillies: The Phillies have to lose some time and it might as well be against Zambrano.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: A. J. Burnett will make sure the Orioles go Oh for 2009 in Yankee Stadium.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: How exactly did the Rockies lose that game last night?
  • The Marlins over the Padres: Nolasco has been terrific and that should continue against the poor Padres.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: Mercifully for the A's, Giambi is now on the DL.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: How about that Lannon last night? His rhythmical partner, Stammen won't have the same success.
  • The Mariners over the Tigers: King Felix will shut the Tigers down.
  • The Blue Jays over the Indians: The Pavano Experience continues. Romero should bounce back from his last bad outing.
  • The Braves over the Giants: In the best match up of the year, Jurrjens squeaks out a win over Lincecum.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: Another great match up of Oswalt versus Carpenter. The Astros have been hot, especially at home against the Cardinals.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Okay, let's ride this puppy.
  • The Angels over the Royals: The heart wanted to go with Bannister and the Royals, but the head said, "What are you, stupid?"
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: The listing says Shields versus Danks, but the Fan read somewhere that Danks was going to miss this start.
  • The Reds over the Dodgers: Arroyo has been great and Billingsley has looked tired.

Yesterday: 13-3 Woooo!
Week: 29-14
Month: 126-92

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thinking about Livan and Moehler

The Fan has totally bought into sabermetrics and all the new stats that have emerged in the present day game of MLB. Part of it is the fear of being left behind as an old dog that can't learn new tricks. Part of it is the love of statistics even though the math skills got rusty something like thirty years ago. And because of these new statistics and partly because of observation, this writer has spent a lot of time in the FanDome ragging on Livan and Moehler and other pitchers that seem to get cuffed around a lot. But then those pitchers seem to win their share of games. So where is the truth here? What does those vaunted stats say or not say about those pitchers? Let's take a different approach.

What if these pitchers are really good half the time and really bad half the time? That would make their overall stats pretty horrible and thus the ERAs over 5.00 and such. Those end result stats would make most (including this writer) conclude that these pitchers aren't very valuable to their teams. But is that true? If a guy is effective half the time and ineffective half the time, isn't he as valuable as someone who was effective half the time and passable half the time and loses? Both types of pitchers win as often and lose as often, right? So does it matter what happens in the losses? They will still be losses either way.

As the Fan writes this, he wonders if he is making any sense or if the sabermetric guys would crucify the Fan as a heretic. But something must be said for the fact that Livan is now 6-5 and Moehler is 7-5 even though they sport identical ERAs of 4.92. Both are good when they win and bad when they lose.

Want proof? In Livan's six wins, he has an ERA of 1.54. In those games, he has an OPS against of .700. His strikeout to walk ratio is 1.5/1 which is respectable. Those are good numbers! In his losses, his ERA is 9.59 and his OPS against is 1.087. So when he wins, batters against him are like Jeff Francoeur. When he loses, batters against him are Pujols.

Now Brian Moehler. In wins, Moehler has an ERA of 2.54 and an OPS against of .746. Good numbers. In losses, the ERA is 12.76 and the OPS against is 1.209. Ugh. But again, if he is good more times than he is really bad, then isn't that the same as someone who is good the same amount of the time and passable the same amount of time as Moehler is bad?

Most would agree that Andy Pettitte, for example, is a much better pitcher than Moehler and Livan. But let's look at the same win/loss splits. In wins, Pettitte has an ERA of 2.44 and an OPS against of .664. In losses, he has an ERA of 8.20 and and OPS against of .908. Pretty similar, so maybe not a good example. How about John Danks of the White Sox? Danks has a 3.98 ERA. So he's better than Livan or Moehler, right? Danks is 8-6, not much better than Livan or Moehler. Again, he his spectacular in his wins and has an ERA of 7.52 in his losses.

Both Pettitte and Danks have better ERAs and OPS against numbers in their losses than our friends Livan and Moehler. But all four are as effective in their wins. And all four have more wins than losses. So isn't it similar?

There are some other factors. For example, if Livan and Moehler get blown out when they lose, as they often do, then their team's bullpens will take more of a beating then a Pettitte or a Danks who at least hang around long enough in their losses to not overly tax the bullpen. So that's a factor.

But perhaps, when all is said and done, teams like the Astros and the Mets will take the ugly with the good as long as the good happens slightly more often than the ugly. Perhaps they know more than this writer.

Game Picks - Tuesday: July 21, 2009

Yesterday's picks were fraught with danger and it seems fortunate that six games were picked correctly out of twelve. No complaints there. Can't believe the Twins blew their game. When this picker went to bed, they were ahead. Livan did this picker in again. And whatever possessed the keyboard to help this picker pick against the Phillies needs to be exorcised. But whatever the success rate of the picks occurred, it was still sweet that the Rangers beat the Red Sox.

Sixteen games are on the schedule today because of the rain out in Kansas City. So it will be a big day at the ball parks:

  • The Angels over the Royals: Santana versus Ponson? Yeesh. This won't be pretty.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Oliver Perez is a younger version of Livan. Either very ugly or very effective. There are no in betweens.
  • The Phillies over the Cubs: The Phillies juggernaut is stomach turning, but what are you going to do?
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: The Brew Crew needs to get moving or they will be cooked soon.
  • The Tigers over the Mariners: Garrett Olson versus Porcello. Ick. Could go either way.
  • The Orioles over the Yankees: Why would the Yankees throw a game away starting Mitre? They have nothing better in the minors than that?
  • The Indians over the Blue Jays: Not sure about Cecil, but Lee has been pitching great.
  • The Braves over the Giants: The Big Sadowski looks good, but Lowe should win.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: Got to go with main man, Wandy Rodriguez.
  • The Red Sox over the Rangers: Beckett is due for a clunker. But it won't be in this game against Hunter.
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: Don't feel good picking Richard to win, so will go the other way.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: The Rockies as the wildcard would be kind of a cool thing.
  • The Angels over the Royals: Again. Hate day/night double headers. Chen is pitching for the Royals. The Angels will enjoy that.
  • The Marlins over the Padres: Volstad should beat the poor hapless Padres.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: How the heck did the Twins lose last night??
  • The Dodgers over the Reds: Homer Bailey needs to change his first name. It's unseemly for a pitcher.

Yesterday: 6-6
Week: 16-11
Month: 113-89

Monday, July 20, 2009

Joba the But

Watched the Yankees game yesterday against the Tigers on and it was a great game...unless you are a Tigers' fan. The big story of the game was not that the Yankees won the game 2-1 on two solo homers by Teixeira and A-Rod. The story was that Joba Chamberlain had a very good game and Phil Hughes came in and did what Joba used to do in the eighth inning. Much has been written about the role Joba should be playing for the Yankees. The "but" though is if he can pitch like yesterday in any kind of consistent manner.

It's hard to forget that Joba Chamberlain is just three years out of the University of Nebraska. He is only 24 years old. He didn't exactly get much seasoning in the minors before being on the express lane to the Yankees. His trouble is the expectations he created with his mind-boggling debut in 2007. The guy came up late in the year and quickly became the eighth inning stud and probably saved the Yankees' season that year. He pitched 24 innings, struck out 34, gave up 12 hits and only walked six. His ERA+ was a stupid 1192.

But here is another "but" concerning that mythical year. Joba was lucky. Yes, he did have a great strikeout to nine inning ratio, but his line drive percentage was 22.8%. Those line drives didn't fall in very often. And when runners did get on base, 96.6% of them didn't score. His xFIP for that short stretch of games was 2.55. That's still very good, but shows he was very fortunate too.

Last year fell more into line with how Joba pitched. His ERA for the season was a very good 2.60 compared to his FIP of 2.66. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped but that was to be expected with some starts thrown in the mix. His ground ball ratio improved and his line drive percentage improved as well.

This year, there was much reason to be concerned. His walks per nine innings are way up. He's given up way more homers. And watching him regularly, he just didn't seem to have the same fire in his belly when he pitched. The Fan thinks that a post-game interview yesterday with Teixeira showed a lot of insight. Teixeira said that Joba pitched more quickly, which kept his fielders more in the game and on their toes. That insight seems to be right on point as Joba has given up ten unearned runs this year. But despite the unearned runs, Joba hasn't been great this year up until yesterday and he seemed to be on the brink of losing his place.

The Fan read a story yesterday. Can't find it now to give you the link, but it was probably on Yahoo Sports concerning Joba and the pitcher mentioned going home for four days to play with his son. The story came out before Joba pitched yesterday. In the story, Joba talked about how energizing it was to spend time away from baseball and with his son. He talked about getting back to having fun and getting back to helping his team. Again, the article was insightful in that Joba is just a young guy who hasn't figured it out yet. He did seem to lack focus and he did seem like he wasn't having any fun.

Yesterday was the Joba Chamberlain that people have been looking for. Against a very good team, he had the fire back. He pumped his fist after an inning ending strikeout. He looked intent and focused on each batter. It was the kind of performance that (despite the three walks and another homer) indicates the kind of pitcher he can be.

We'll see what the next start brings. "But" the role for Joba is right where he is. If he can keep his focus and go out there and have fun and keep his team in games, he is worth much more as a starter than a reliever. Phil Hughes is now going through much the same thing. He's pitching like Joba in the bullpen and now the debate will shift to Hughes and what he should be doing. But Rob Neyer is right, the future for Hughes is as a starter. Just like it is for Joba.

And this Fan still believes that in the long run, the Yankees are better off with those two in their future than the great Roy Halladay. Both are cheap for a few years, have a longer up side and can keep the Yankees competitive for quite a few years. Time will tell how it all plays out though.

Game Picks - Monday: July 20, 2009

Another gorgeous day in Maine! This game picker fared very well on games yesterday but poorly on the golf course. Not exactly sure if the picker would have been happier if those results had been switched. Nah. It's all good. Well, all good except for Tom Watson. What a shame. The Fan bets that Stewart Cink knows how Roger Maris felt in 1961. If Cink had not sunk that birdie on the 18th hole, we would have had history. Nobody but Cink's mother wanted him to win that tournament.

Anyway, this is a baseball blog, so we must get back on track. Today is a good day for a Monday as there are thirteen games scheduled, not bad for a Monday. Here is a look at how the day should go:

  • The Pirates over the Brewers: Yeah, yeah. The Fan knows the Brewers are the better team. But how many times can the Fan get burned picking against Ohlendorf?
  • The Cubs over the Phillies: Ted Lilly has been a bull lately and the Cubs are starting to heat up.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Former Marlin, Scott Olsen, should beat Livan.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Pettitte has been shaky lately, but he's at home and he's rested.
  • The Giants over the Braves: Lots of tough games today! This one pits phenom Hanson against the no-hit guy, Sanchez.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: The Cardinals need to show the Astros that this is their division.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: The Rangers got a big win yesterday and should do well against an aging John Smoltz. Millwood goes for the Rangers.
  • The Angels over the Royals: This one looks like a sure a lock as any, but young O'Sullivan is pitching for the Angels against You-never-know-what-you'll-get-from-Ponson.
  • The White Sox over the Bay Rays: Still not sold on David Price.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: De La Rosa should beat those guys.
  • The Marlins over the Padres: Perpetual prospect Vanden Hurk goes for the Marlins over another young Padres' pitcher.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: The Twins should have no problem here. Joe Mauer is in a huge slump though.
  • The Reds over the Dodgers: Micah Owings sentimental pick. Still, the Dodgers are sending Schmidt out there which doesn't inspire confidence.

Those are some tough games to call today. It could be disastrous. But that's what feels and looks right based on knowledge and experience. Enjoy your day today.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 10-5
Month: 107-83

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pitching Ace Pinch Runs

So the Astros were losing to the Dodgers going into the ninth inning on Saturday, 5-2, and faced Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Broxton promptly walked Tejada. He then gave up a single to shortstop. Broxton then whiffed Pence and Coste. Two outs, men on first and second. Lance Berkman pinch hits for Michaels and walked. If Broxton walked Berkman on purpose, it was brilliant even if it was the tying run. With the bases loaded and the tying run on first, the Astros send out arguably their best pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez, to run for Berkman. Whuh?

Sure pitchers have been pinch runners in years past. But did it ever make sense? First, pitchers hardly ever get on base and would be less prepared to have the instincts needed to make the right decisions. Secondly, only a double that bangs around the wall awhile or a triple is going to score a runner from first, so why wouldn't any old bench player do?

All strategy aside, we're talking about the Astros best pitcher. Pitching is gold these days. Teams like the Red Sox hoard it like 1849 panhandlers in California. Why would you risk injury to your best pitcher on a long shot that he may score from first base on a double or a triple. That's a lot of hard and wild running to ask a non-hitter to do. And no other lesser pitcher was available to run?

The Astros were fortunate that Ivan Rodriguez pinch hit and struck out to end the game. It did mean the game, but they were fortunate that Wandy didn't have to run the bases.

Game Picks - Sunday: July 19, 2009

This picker is on a serious roll now. Even picked against Greinke and got it correct, thanks to the usual mismanagement of his bullpen by Trey Hillman. It could have been even better, but the Marlins game was washed out before a complete game could be determined. The Fan had the Marlins and they were winning. But no complaints here. After a rainy day, the sun is shining and the golf course is calling the Fan with its song of bliss.

So here are today's picks in a hurry so the tee time isn't missed!

  • The Mariners over the Indians: Never have much faith in Bedard, but it's the Indians after all.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Hate picking against Halladay, but Lester has been awe inspiring lately.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Just can't see the Marlins winning this one with Miller on the mound.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Hate picking Cueto because you never know what you are going to get. He's terrific or he's blown out early. And he's facing Gallardo. But Braun is out with a sore thumb, so we'll go with the upset.
  • The Pirates over the Giants: In a match up of All Stars, Duke out pitches Cain.
  • The Nationals over the Cubs: Hart versus Mock. Who? and Who? Riggleman has to win his first game some time. Might as well be today.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Jackson could give the Yankees fits, but Chamberlain is pitching to stay with the Yankees as Halladay looms in his head.
  • The White Sox over the Orioles: The Orioles will probably stay in the game with Guthrie, but the White Sox (dang it all) are on a serious roll.
  • The Bay Rays over the Royals: Hochever has the look of a pitcher figuring it out. But the Bay Rays have a much better bullpen (and manager).
  • The Cardinals over the Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks got their win for the week already with Haren.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: Main man, Jason Marquis gets the call and the win.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: The Angels are going to win the West. Darn it all.
  • The Dodgers over the Astros: California may be broke, but they have good baseball teams.
  • The Braves over the Mets: Vazquez should have no trouble with the Mets'...ahem...lineup.
  • The Twins over the Rangers: The Twins finish the sweep and the Rangers begin their slide out of contention.

Yesterday: 10-4
Week: 35-17
Month: 98-76

A True Kindness

This post doesn't have anything to do about baseball, so if you want to skip it, the Fan will understand. But it's a post that needs to be written because sometimes such things have to come out of the soul. Today is such a day.

First a few things about the Fan. The Fan has two knees and neither one works very well. Besides that, months working in the basement and at the mall during the Christmas season have left the Fan with a painful heel that is hard to stand on, never mind walk on. Not to sound like your Aunt Margaret, but the Fan also has a bad back. Lastly, money is kind of tight (the understatement of the year). So when a recent freak storm blew 65 MPH for four or five hours, the shingles on the garage nearly all blew off. It was one of those things where the garage faces south and the wind was a south wind.

The insurance company would have covered it, but they have a $500 deductible and so the Fan decided to forgo that route (why do we even have insurance anyway when it never pays to have it?). So the Fan went to the hardware store and purchased some packs of shingles, some nails and was going to attempt the roof alone. Well, the storm was a month and a half ago and the roof was still a mess. With some major orders to fill and really crappy weather this summer, the roof had to wait.

When John heard of the Fan's plight, he offered to help. The Fan didn't think he was serious. After all, John was just an acquaintance: not someone the Fan has even known that long. So the Fan didn't think much of it until the Fan ran into John the other day and he said he'd be over Saturday. "Okay," thought the Fan.

The Fan woke up on the appointed Saturday and it was pouring. Teeming is more like the word. And the radar looked like it was going to rain all day. So the Fan poured some coffee and started planning what to do on a rainy day. But then John's pickup pulled into the driveway. "What the heck?"

So in the rain, John sets up his ladder and gets his tools out. "Uh, John, it's pouring."


Well, okay. So the ladder is set up and John heads up. The Fan started heading up and John saw the Fan wincing in pain plus saw the look of ennui on the Fan's face and said, "I don't expect you to be on the roof."

When the Fan replied that didn't make sense, John just smiled and said that the Fan could be his gofer.

In the pouring rain, John stripped off broken shingles, pried up half buried nails until he had a clean work space and then spread the tar paper out. The Fan retrieved dead shingles from the yard, brought up supplies, bought lunch at Burger King (well the Fan's wife did), and fretted on the ground about not doing anything very constructive.

But John worked up there all day. Did the Fan mention that it was raining all day? John finished at six o'clock after ten hours on the roof. His Saturday was spent on the Fan's roof when he could have been with his family. He worked in the rain when he could have been home and dry. He gave up his day off with his kids to see the Fan's rain soaked face all day.

When John was done, we shook hands and the Fan has to admit that he cried with thanksgiving and relief. A major problem was solved and a man the Fan hardly knows did all the work and saved the Fan countless days and endless frustration. The Fan doesn't know how to shingle! Not that the Fan wouldn't have given it a go. But now the Fan doesn't have to because John did it for him.

Shingling isn't what John does for a living. He's not a handyman or a carpenter. He's not a factory worker or someone who gets paid for working with his hands. This kindness...this incredible kindness...was performed by the president of our local bank. John is the president of the Fan's local bank. And he shingled the Fan's roof. Incredible.

Thank you, John. Thank you so very much.

Ghost of Rolen Past

Scott Rolen went two for three on Saturday, scoring two runs, and was a big reason why the Blue Jays put an end to the Red Sox winning streak. Scott Rolen is now batting .322. Yes, that's .322. And no, that's not for just a few games here and there. That's over 79 games and over 300 plate appearances.

At the age of 34, Scott Rolen is looking a lot like the Rolen that was a member of every National League All Star team from 2002 to 2006. And it's a story that few outside of some of the Fan's friends in Toronto are even aware of. The Blue Jays installed Rolen into the cleanup spot after the struggles of Vernon Wells and others to fill that role. The move has worked out beautifully even if the Blue Jays have not fared well as a team over the last month of the season.

Rolen has been around for a long time. He was drafted right out of high school by the Phillies in the second round of the 1993 draft. He debuted in 37 games in 1996 and followed that season with a Rookie of the Year campaign in 1997. That season began a run of eight straight seasons with an OPS+ of 119 or higher.

The big mystery is why Rolen didn't make the All Star team until 2002. He hit 31 homers and drove in 110 in 1998. He hit 25 more homers and drove in 107 in 2001. But he either lacked recognition until he was traded to the Cardinals in 2002 or something.

Rolen had his two best seasons for the Cardinals in 2003 and 2004 with 2004 being the only year that Rolen recorded an OPS over 1.000. He continued that fine play throughout the 2004 World Series run that eventually led to the famous Red Sox series win. Rolen came in fourth in MVP voting that year.

Then the big feud with Tony LaRussa started in 2006, a year that saw the Cardinals win it all despite a mediocre season. There is no sense rehashing that event when it has been so well documented. If you somehow missed the feud, it is pretty well documented in this article. The end result was a poor year in 2007 for Rolen, who was not on speaking terms with his manager. LaRussa made classless remarks that the linked article details. Rolen asked to be traded and he was to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus.

After 2008, the deal looked like a steal for the Cardinals. Rolen struggled with his health and at the ball parks while Glaus had a successful campaign. After two down years, Rolen was pretty much forgotten.

But Cito Gaston didn't forget about Rolen and apparently healthy, Rolen is paying Gaston dividends. With Scuturo and Hill ahead of Rolen, the third baseman should have plenty of runs to drive in the remainder of the year.

Driving in runs is what Rolen has always been good at doing. He is three RBI away from 1100 for his career. He has also hit 750 extra base hits. And even after two down seasons, Rolen's career line is .284/.370/.500. Those numbers indicate that his problems of the last couple of years had to be health related because he's been just too good and too consistent a player to have it otherwise. And of course, the Fan hasn't even touched on Rolen's eight time Gold Glove wins. His defense is still top notch and Toronto has the current pleasure of watching one of the best third basemen of his generation.