Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Tale of Four Old Catchers

This post isn't a comparison really. Three of the old catchers we will be discussing start. The other just plays once a week. But what is really striking is how different old catchers age. Johnny Bench was basically done as a young man and even moved to the infield. Carlton Fisk excelled into his forties. Generally, catchers don't hold up over the long haul. After all, it's a tough position. Catchers get beat up every single game they are behind the plate. Part of their job is to smother balls in the dirt even when it means bruised chests and shoulders (and shins, etc.). The four catchers we are going to talk about have all aged differently. They are: Brad Ausmus, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek.

Brad Ausmus is now forty years old. In all those years, he's never been very good offensively. Well, he did have two seasons at league average. But he's averaged 61 on the OPS+ scale for the three seasons before this one. It's easy to state that nobody has ever paid Ausmus to hit. In fact, the only thing he ever led the league in was grounding into double-plays (2002). But he's always had a great reputation as a catcher behind the plate, not only defensively, but for his handling of pitchers. The Fan still doesn't know how you measure that kind of thing. During his prime, he did throw out anywhere from 35 to 48 percent of base runners trying to steal against him. That's pretty good. In 1914 games behind the plate, he's only had 61 passed balls in his career. That's pretty darn good too.

But the last four years haven't been great for Ausmus. Not only has he not hit well, but his caught stealing rate fell into the twenties. How can you explain then that a 40 year old catcher has thrown out 38% this year? Or that he has his highest batting average in fifteen years? Or that he has his highest OPS+ in nine years? You can't other than his playing time is way down and he picks his spots in odd starts. Still, it's a nice swan song for the old guy.

Ivan Rodriguez has been a major league catcher for nineteen years now. When you think of Rodriguez, you think of his arm. Always the arm. And his numbers back up the hype. He's thrown out 46% of base runners trying to steal in his career. That's a weapon. Since the ideal success rate for stealing is 70%, the 54% success rate versus Rodriguez is outstanding. And he is still dealing there. Even at 38 years of age, Rodriguez has thrown out 33% this year. Still very good.

The one thing about Ivan Rodriguez though is his hitting. For twelve years, he was an offensive force. In those twelve years, he averaged an OPS+ of 112. He won the MVP in 1998 when his OPS was .914. He still has a career batting average of .299. He is no longer a force. In fact, he has become a rather easy out, especially since he basically forgot how to take a walk for the last eight years. He's pretty much a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame unless the whispers of PED use become confirmed.

Jorge Posada got a later start than those last two guys. But he's just as old. Now 38, Posada is still dishing it pretty well at the plate. Since Posada became the regular Yankee catcher in 1998, he has only had a sub-100 OPS+ season since. His lifetime OPS+ is 124, which is outstanding for a catcher.

But Posada has never been nearly as good a defensive catcher as Ausmus and Rodriguez. His overall RTOT for his career is -15. Compare his 133 career passed balls in 15 seasons to Ausmus's 61 in 19 or Ivan Rodriguez's 122 in 19. Both Rodriguez and Posada have had run ins with pitchers over calling a game. You never hear that about Ausmus. And Posada hasn't been great at throwing out base stealers. His career 29% is way below the other two. He is at his career average this year in that category, which is a surprise for a 38 year old.

Jason Varitek was probably the soul of the Red Sox during their championship years. As such, he has been the Red Sox captain which speaks volumes about his leadership during that time. He has the reputation as a fiery guy who is great for pitchers. Those are all intangibles that can't be measured. But you can't discount them either. What can be said is that he was the starting catcher for two champions. You can't take that away from him.

Varitek was a good offensive catcher for a stretch too. Though it took him longer to break into the major leagues than the others (the 37 year old is in his 13th season), he had a nice five year stretch where he averaged an OPS+ around 120. But three of the last four years have been abysmal. In his early years, he didn't strike out that much. But in the last five seasons, he has averaged well over 100 strikeouts a season. His one saving grace is his ability to take a walk, something Ivan Rodriguez has never been very good at. Varitek has something else over the other three we've talked about: He's the only one of the four that has not led the league in grounding into double plays.

Varitek has been a good defensive catcher on the RTOT scale with a positive number for his career. But like Posada, he's never been great at throwing out runners. His career number of 24% is even worse than Posada's. So you can't lump him into the same category as Rodriguez and Ausmus. And unfortunately, this year has been historic in failing in that category. He's thrown out only 12% of base runners this season. He's been stolen on 106 times and has only caught 15 of them. Ugh! Those are similar to a certain former Dodgers/Mets catcher.

Of these four old catchers, all of them have had bright moments with playoff teams. All of them have been among the best of their era for differing reasons. Ausmus has had a nice swan song this year. Ivan Rodriguez is no longer a valuable major leaguer. Posada is still an elite offensive catcher. Jason Varitek unfortunately, looks like he has played one season too many.

Game Picks - Saturday: September 26, 2009

Aww! Hot streak over. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Well, it had to happen. Hit streaks end with "O-fers" and pick streaks end with the mean. But that's okay. Ian Kinsler reached 30/30. Roy Halladay pitched a masterpiece. The Twins gave us a reason to keep checking the standings. It's all good.

It's hard to believe, but the MLB season has only nine or ten games to go (depending on the team). It's also hard to believe September is almost over too. All four major sports are in full gear. The PGA is in its last week before the silly season (go Tiger!). The leaves on the trees are in their peak of full colors (at least up here). It's all a crescendo before winter sets in.

And so, my friends, there are only a few days left of these daily picks. Let's enjoy them together on a beautiful Saturday:

  • The Braves over the Nationals: The Braves need a miracle, but they aren't dead yet. Hanson goes today.
  • The Mariners over the Blue Jays: Purcey isn't Halladay.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: How can the Fan pick the Cubs when Gorzelanny is starting? The Giants can't hit, that's how.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: The Sox couldn't beat Chamberlain. They're not going to beat Sabathia.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Going with Kendrick over Looper.
  • The Pirates over the Dodgers: The Dodgers mailed it in last night. Maholm is the Pirates best pitcher.
  • The Reds over the Astros: Hard to fathom the Astros sticking with Paulino. The Reds will continue to give their fans hope for next year.
  • The Orioles over the Indians: Toss up game of Berken versus Sowers. Who knows.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: The Tigers are playing with wobbling knees these days. Barely a whimper out of them last night.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: That is if the Marlins' bullpen doesn't implode again, which seems like a nightly occurrence.
  • The Twins over the Royals: The Twins continue to make this very interesting.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Millwood smiles as he counts his money for next year.
  • The Rockies over the Cardinals: The Rockies have to keep winning. The Cardinals don't. Jiminez has beat all the best pitchers in the NL. Wainwright will be another.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Have a feeling Haran will come up big today.
  • The A's over the Angels: The A's have had a good second half. Too bad their first half was such a stinker.

Yesterday: 7-8
Week: 53-27
Month: 187-142

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yet Another Post About Intangibles

The word, "Intangible," has been bandied about for quite some time in baseball. But the term is much more prevalent in the years following the growing acceptance of sabermetrics (now a generic term for all new baseball stats) and is usually used to refute those newfangled stats. Old timers say, "You can't measure intangibles." Derek Jeter's name is usually a lightning rod for such discussions. But other players whose names are mentioned often are Manny Ramirez (in a negative way), Milton Bradley (ditto), Kevin Millar (the great clubhouse guy) and so on. Two of the players just mentioned were part of the 2004 World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox. That team's lore has been filled with much "intangible" stuff and is probably as good an example as we can find to examine the word.

The Red Sox team of 2004 entered that season with a championship drought that went back to 1918. The team just couldn't seem to get by the Yankees and their fans had a fatalistic view of life. Frankly, it was much more charming than the bully mentality those same fans have now. Anyway, much mystique has been built around that team. The examples are boundless. The team turned around when they dealt Nomar Garciaparra away. That was an intangible. The team got a spark from Orlando Cabrera, their new shortstop, who was such a positive force. Another intangible. Kevin Millar and his band of idiots kept the team loose and helped them overcome past demons. Intangible. Curt Schilling was indomitable and his bloody sock inspired the team. Intangible.

It's hard to refute those kinds of things. We can't psychoanalyze the players on that team in retrospect. Certainly, a positive mental approach to the game is a good thing. Otherwise we wouldn't have sports psychologists (it seems that Jon Smoltz was a leader in that movement). Kevin Millar is still supposedly a great clubhouse guy. But he had a career year in 2004. He's the same guy for the Blue Jays this year and that team has fallen on hard times and Millar has been terrible. Was he part of the Red Sox success for reasons other than performance? It hasn't worked out that way for him since 2004.

Maybe, just maybe, the reason the Red Sox got past their long-time hump in 2004 had nothing to do with intangibles and had everything to do with performance. Let's start with the Garciaparra trade which also leads us to the addition of Cabrera. The trade was completed at the deadline of July 31, 2004. The team at that point was sitting at 56-46 and in second place (where they ended up by the way). That was good for a .549 winning percentage. They went 42-22 the rest of the way. They then proceeded to beat up on the Angels for a sweep of the ALDS and then made history with the Yankees in the ALCS. The rest was anti-climatic as they swept the Cardinals in the World Series.

It certainly seems that they were a much better team after Garciaparra left. So that intangible must be correct right? Garciaparra was pouting. He didn't get the feeling he was appreciated. He was a negative impact on the bench and blah blah. They got Orlando Cabrera in return. Cabrera was no where near the offensive player Garciaparra was that year. Garciaparra posted a 118 OPS+ for the Red Sox that year. Cabrera finished at 97. The one contribution of the trade was in the field. Cabrera was vastly superior than Nomar at shortstop. That's a measurable and not an intangible. While Nomar's bat was worth a win or so over Cabrera, Cabrera's fielding evened that out value-wise.

So yeah, the team was a .549 team with Nomar and a .636 team with Cabrera. Must be that intangible thing. But again, remember that Cabrera wasn't the offensive player that Nomar was, even at that point in their careers. Yet the Red Sox posted their best team batting stats in August. And that had been building since the beginning of July as July was their second best hitting month. Kevin Millar had an OPS of .762 in the first half and went .975 in the second half. Jason Varitek had an OPS of .818 in the first half and .942 in the second half.

The pitching was outstanding in August as well. They posted their second best ERA month of the season in August behind only April. Their strikeout to walk ratio jumped that month. And the fielding certainly improved. The team gave up far few unearned runs in the second half than in the first half.

To this writer, the only intangible that seems to count was the Dave Roberts walk and stolen base that led to a blown save by Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the ALCS. That blown save gave the Red Sox the impetus they needed to win the next three games. It was one of the few times in the Fan's life that he knew what was going to happen before it happened. As soon as the Fan saw Roberts cross home plate, the series was over. It just was. There is no other explanation.

But take that with a grain of salt. The Red Sox simply out-performed a flawed Yankee team the rest of the series. Those numbers are calculable for all to see.

So the bottom line after all these words? Perhaps there isn't one. The Fan would like to rule out intangibles as a fallback for any argument. Team chemistry may be worth a game or two in the standings. But for every Kevin Millar, there was a Manny Ramirez, who most would agree, was more a negative clubhouse presence than Nomar ever was. Who knows. Fate could be brought into the argument. The stars aligning could be true too. The only facts we can hang onto are that the Red Sox were slightly statistically better in the second half than they were in the first. They had a very talented team. They had the second best record in the majors, they were first in the AL in OPS and second in the league in earned runs allowed. That's a pretty potent combination that seems like it would have won, intangibles or not.

Game Picks - Friday: September 25, 2009

*Blink* Yeah. 8-1 last night. 32-8 over the last three days. Whuh? Now this picker knows what it feels like to go on a hitting streak. And it also proves nothing, just like that hitting streak. The basis of all statistical analysis is not what is going on in the short term, but what has happened over time and how that data will prove out in the future.

History shows that your game picker will be right 53.6% of the time. That's what 3083 picks over time shows. So that probably means that this current hot streak is just that. The Fan hasn't finally figured it out. It's just a hot streak and will be enjoyed for what it is. But it sure has been fun.

Ignoring the feeling that we should quit while we're ahead, let's go stumbling into Friday's games:

  • The Dodgers over the Pirates: The Rockies might have done a favor to the Dodgers by getting so hot over the last two months. The Dodgers got off to such an early lead that they kind of coasted. Now they are playing better with the need to clinch and get this over with.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: The Braves are three games off the wild card lead and are 10-2 over the last couple of weeks. Vazquez, who has been brilliant pitches tonight.
  • The Orioles over the Indians: The Indians have lost 11 in a row. Carmona has been terrible which would leave the prospect that 12 looks imminent.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: The Yankees may win a few Joba Rules games here and there, but not against the Red Sox and Jon Lester.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Like the Jays' chances with Halladay on the mound against the weak hitting Mariners.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: Yeah, Redding has been pitching great lately. But would you bet your life on him?
  • The Reds over the Astros: The Reds sure have looked sweet lately.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Cliff Lee in a basically meaningless game.
  • The Bay Rays over the Rangers: Last one up turn out the lights. It's that time in Arlington.
  • The Cardinals over the Rockies: The Cardinals have basically clinched. Playing the Rockies gives them that natural incentive to knock off a contender for the wild card.
  • The Twins over the Royals: It really hurts to pick Pavano to win. It really does.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: Only because Peavy is pitching and the White Sox are still trying to impress the newcomer. Oh yes, the Tigers are starting Bonine. Who?
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: Another one of those "anything can happen" type of games.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: The Angels want to clinch and get this over with.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: Zambrano over Lincecum, who hasn't been himself of late. Back problems?

Yesterday: 8-1
Week: 46-19
Month: 180-134

Jim Ed Rice - Oh Man. Shush Already

Jim Rice hasn't exactly lit up the world since he was voted into the Hall of Fame. While this writer still thinks that vote was dubious, it is clear that Rice has strong opinions and those opinions are even more dubious. First he disses several current Yankees including Derek Jeter by telling a bunch of kids that the players in question aren't good roll models. Now he comes up with this gem. (The headline is more spurious than the actual post if you click on the link in the word, "gem.")

Let's start with the opening headline of Rice's winner: "Greinke is a Good Pitcher, Not Dominant." Let's at least give Rice's site props for capitalizing the heading, a rarity these days. But other than that, what a dumb thing to say. Not dominant? 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings, not dominant? Uh. That's a really good number for a relief pitcher. But a starter? That seems to be dominant. Batters have a .608 OPS against him. That means that on average, every batter he faces is WORSE than Yuniesky Betancourt. That sounds dominant, no? He has given up 0.5 homers per nine innings. The league average is 1.0. Sure sounds dominant.

If you turn Rice's words around, he's really dissing his own team. Greinke wasn't dominant, but the Red Sox didn't do anything with him? That must mean that the Red Sox weren't up for just a plain old good pitcher. Oops.

Rice's big point was that Greinke wasn't as dominant as Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens. If he made the point that Greinke hasn't been as dominant for as long as those guys, that would be valid. But for this season at least, Greinke is in the ball park. Zack Greinke is as dominant as there is in the American League this season.

Proverbs 18: 1-2 says: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." That has been corrupted to today to be: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." The problem is that he gets paid by NESN to speak no matter what comes out of his mouth.

Rice is just another old ball player stuck in the past who believes that what he "knows" and what he "sees" is more reliable than data because, after all, he was a star player. Now with HOF cred, he is even more empowered to believe what he believes. Oh well. Knowledge is knowledge and with all the thoughtful and informed writers all over the country with knowledge at their fingertips. Those sheer numbers of educated people will surely overcome one old foo...err...player.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts About Bobby Cox

Switching to the first person: I always liked Bobby Cox. How could I not? As a twelve year old kid keeping score for every Yankee game as a New Jersey youngster, Cox played third base for the Yankees for two years in 1968 and 1969. It would end up being his only two years in the majors. And for that team, he was pretty good.

The 1968 Yankees were perhaps the weakest hitting team in the history of the majors. The team batted .214 for the year. That was easily the worst in the American League that year. It was the last year for Mickey Mantle, the hero. Many, including Mantle, say he shouldn't have played that year. He only hit .237. But he walked over a hundred times and still had an OPS+ of 142. That was certainly better than anyone else on that team.

Cox was a proud member of the weakest hitting collection of infielders ever. Horace Clarke was given 607 plate appearances and put together this incredible line as a lead off guy: .230/.258/.254. He scored 52 runs. He had nine extra base hits. Nine. The guy was terrible. But he wasn't alone. There was Tom Tresh, who played 150 games and batted .195. There was Gene Michael, who batted .198 in 119 plate appearances. There was Dick Howser, who batted .153 in 190 plate appearances. There was Mike Ferraro, who batted .161 in 87 at bats. There was Ruban Amaro who batted .122 in 50 at bats.

Bobby Cox was a stud among those guys. His line for that season? .229/.300/.316. Hey, compared the the litany you just heard, that's a stud. So certainly he was one of our favorites. At least he got on base once in a while. But again, he only played two seasons and then disappeared.

Wasn't I surprised when ten years later (1978), he shows up as the manager of the Atlanta Braves. Cool! But not so cool because the Braves were awful. They lost 93 and 94 games his first two years there. The 1978 Braves posted the worst batting average in the National League that year. Cox's streak continued!

The 1979 Braves were worse. Their batting improved to eighth in the league, but their pitching was dead last. That was the year Phil Niekro won 21 games, but lost 20, a feat that may never happen again. The rest of the starters were 24-46. Gene Garber lost 16 games in relief. To lose 16 games as a relief pitcher may never happen again either. It's an amazing fact.

1980 saw the Braves improve to a .500 club. They finished in fourth place. A moral victory of sorts. But when the strike year of 1981 saw a regression for the Braves, Cox was done for his first stint as a Braves' manager. Few remember that he spent the next four seasons as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.

I would say he had a successful run for the Blue Jays. He inherited a bad team there in his first season as manager in Toronto. The team finished last in the division in 1982. But the team went on to win 89 games the next two seasons and finished fourth and second respectively.

But 1985 is the season to remember. The Blue Jays won 99 games that year and easily won the division. Then they played one of the most memorable American League Championship Series ever against George Brett and the Royals. The Royals won it in seven games but it was nip and tuck all the way. Bobby Cox came a game away from taking that team to the World Series. It was the last game he would manage for the Blue Jays.

Remarkably, he didn't manage for the next four seasons. He almost didn't manage for the fifth, but the Braves fired Russ Nixon half way through the 1990 season and Cox took over. It was too late to turn that team around as they finished sixth. But the rest is history as the 1991 season started a run of success that is unparalleled in the history of Major League Baseball. During that run, the Braves finished: 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.

Of course, the knock on Cox is that in those thirteen first place finishing seasons, his teams only won the NL pennant five times and the World Series once. But I don't think that diminishes the job Cox did at all. He won all those years in all kinds of ways. He won with a big offense and with hardly any offense. He brought in young players and the team stayed consistent through all those years. And sure a manager probably gets too much credit when a team is successful. The team's general manager and scouts deserve a lot of the credit, the players deserve a lot of the credit, but the constant was Cox. He was always there to get the most out of his teams and they did nothing but win.

The Braves fell on harder times in recent years. There fabulous starting pitchers got old. Their ownership faltered. But they were never really a rollover team. Cox kept them competitive and they are in second place this year and were only a Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez away from being able to give the Phillies a run for the money. It will be fun to see what they can do next year.

And it should be a year to celebrate Bobby Cox. Look, I have always hated the Braves. In fact, it's one of my security questions on one of my accounts: "Which team do you root against the most?" The Braves. But you can't hate Bobby Cox. He has earned too much respect for too long and he's always been a first-class guy. I hope the Braves' fans and all baseball fans appreciate him and give him a loving ride next year. He deserves it.

Game Picks - Thursday: September 24, 2009

Two very good days in a row? Can you feel it? Is there a full moon? No. Are the planets aligned? No. Was it luck? Maybe. Whatever it is, it's time to bask a little in success, if only for a couple of days. Heck, the FlagrantFan is even in first place for the week on That won't last though, not with their goofy scoring system. The only bumps on the road were another loss for Marquis (what's with that?) and the Blue Jays beating up on the Orioles (should have seen that coming).

And the good news is that Thursday is a short schedule so things can't go terribly wrong until Friday. Here's what little Thursday has to offer:

  • The Reds over the Pirates: Arroyo should have little trouble here against Morgan and the light-hitting Pirates.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Go Feldman, go! On the road? Check.
  • The Dodgers over the Nationals: Padilla's freak side hasn't come out yet for the Dodgers. It will eventually. But not today.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Carrasco was the big pearl the Indians received in the Cliff Lee trade. But he's just been a big oyster so far. Verlander will get it done.
  • The Mariners over the Blue Jays: Felix Hernandez needs two more good starts to stay in the hunt for Cy Young.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Happ is pitching versus Suppon. Even as a rookie, Happ is the better pitcher.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Buckholz is showing flashes of his hype. The Royals start Lerew which rhymes with - who?
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Going with the young Richard over Hammel. Still say the White Sox were crazy for trading him.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: Still can't believe Penny is doing this well for the Giants. Perhaps this will be the night he gets back to where he's been.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 38-18
Month: 172-133

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Brian Roberts: The Quiet Oriole

Year in and year out, Brian Roberts plays the game to little fanfare. Granted, he's been stuck on a terrible Orioles team for his whole career, but still. Every once in a while, his name will come up on trade talks and rumors, but he's still an Oriole and he just goes about his business of putting productive numbers on the board.

Part of his problem is that his numbers never really pop out at you. As a lead off hitter, his lifetime OBP is .354. Good, but not elite. He has stolen 255 bases in his career with a very impressive 80% success rate. But he's only led the league in that category once. He has only batted over .300 once in his career. He's never had more than 200 hits. FanGraphs only rates him as the 15th best fielding second baseman in baseball.

Despite all that, for a second baseman, the guy quietly goes out every year and puts up above league average offensive seasons on the board. Brian Roberts also does one thing really, really well besides stealing bases: He hits a huge amount of doubles. Roberts has been a full-time starter for six seasons (it seems longer). This year will be the third time in those six seasons where he has hit more than 50 doubles. This year, he has 55 and has a long-shot chance to reach 60. If he gets there, it will be the first time a MLB player has hit 60 doubles since 1936. That would be a pretty cool feat.

Roberts has scored over a hundred runs once again this year (the third year in a row) and is having a good power year with fifteen homers. He's also knocked in 74 runs, excellent for a lead off guy.

Brian Roberts isn't a guy who will wow you. But his consistent and relentless production stand up for what has been a pretty darn good career.

Game Picks - Wednesday: September 23, 2009

Tuesday's picks were the kind you dream about. Everything went right except for the Marlins winning the second game against the Phillies, the Bay Rays losing improbably and the Giants, who just as improbably, scored ten runs and lost. Other than that, there was nothing but "W's" all over the place. It sure feels good to have a good day for a change. Can't believe that so many doubters didn't think Greinke would beat the Red Sox. The guy is the best pitcher in the American League. Period. Anybody who doesn't vote for him for Cy Young is a moron.

Okay. The question now is: Can this picker build on such a good day of picks, or will the picks fall back to the mediocrity that has permeated this place for more than a week. The former would be nice. Let's see what we have to deal with:

  • The Yankees over the Angels: It's Kazmir for the Angels and the Yankees have 34 wins against lefties. A. J. Burnett goes for the Yanks.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: Homer Bailey has looked good of late.
  • The Dodgers over the Nationals: The best team in the National League versus the worst.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Porcello versus Masterson. Masterson has got talent, but can't seem to stay on top of it. How come Porcello doesn't have Joba-like rules?
  • The Orioles over the Blue Jays: Just like Guthrie's chances better than Richmond's.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: Two young guns: Wade Davis versus Brandon Morrow. Davis is the next big pitching star.
  • The Braves over the Mets: Hanson was cruising in his last start and then somehow lost it. He won't against the Mets.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: The Phillies have clinching on their minds.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: This is one of those impossible to predict games. Two young pitchers but the one for the Cubs is making his first start of the year.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: Just can't pick Smoltz to win a game.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Beckett should cruise in this one as long as he can keep the balls in the park.
  • The Twins versus the White Sox: One of these years, the Twins will play a whole season like they play the last month.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: Hey Colorado! You're going to have a playoff team!
  • The Angels over the Athletics: Mr. Hunter continues his pretty good rookie season.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: If the team doesn't pack it in after last night's loss, that is.

Yesterday: 13-3
Week: 27-14
Month: 161-129

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Houston's Love for Cooper Tires

Nice guys finish last. Nah. Nice guys who can't communicate, finish last. The Astros fired their manager, Cecil Cooper, yesterday after four years of not being able to live up to their 2005 World Series appearance. For more on what went down, click here. Maybe Cooper wasn't the right guy for the job. Maybe he wasn't the answer. But maybe, just maybe, the players he was given to manage weren't good enough. Here is (using Rob Neyer's words) the money quote from owner Drayton McLane:

“If you'll look, this is the most expensive baseball team the Houston Astros have ever had,” McLane said. “It's a huge investment we've had here. It's over $100 million. And we invested it in players that we thought could be championship players."

This may be an attempt to justify the firing of their manager with nothing to lose at the end of a bad season, but it is just as much an indictment of the front office for how they spent that money. In 2005, the Astros spent their money on pitching. The team didn't have a great offense. But they had Roy Oswalt in his prime, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Their fourth and fifth starters, Brandon Backe and a young Wandy Rodriguez, were decent and they had a light's out bullpen. They were first in the league in walks allowed, runs, hits and third in strikeouts. They had a team ERA+ of 120.

This year's team is worse than that team offensively and much worse on the mound, particularly in the rotation. A fading Oswalt was league average at best. Wandy Rodriguez had a great year, but the rest of their starters went 25-36 with 771 base runners allowed in 483 innings. Despite a fairly dependable bullpen, the team is next to last in hits allowed twelfth out of sixteen in homers allowed.

The defense is also a big difference. The 2005 team was first in the NL in defensive efficiency and second in fewest errors made. This year, the team is second from the bottom in defensive efficiency.

Everyone points to Berkman as having an off year. But his OPS is .900, hardly banal. The problem is that the Astros gave too much money to Kazuo Matsui and brought in Ivan Rodriguez. Ivan the Terrible did pretty well behind the plate, but his OBP was .280. Since he was traded to Texas, his replacement's OBP is .278. We won't even talk about poor J. R. Towles. The Astros also have stuck way too long with Geoff Blum.

Much like the situation with the Cubs, the General Manager has to take the fall for this team. McLane may have shelled out more than he ever has, but it has been on the wrong players. Cecil Cooper may or may not have been the wrong guy in the dugout, but McLane really needs to evaluate his front office and if he takes a hard look, Ed Wade will be following Cooper out the door.

P.S. I love that the Astros provided a nifty word play for a title.

Game Picks - Tuesday: September 22, 2009

Two games over .500 is better than one game. The much is true. 60% sounds better than 50%. But face it, that still isn't very good for a "baseball expert" to pick only 60%. The Royals have won eleven of thirteen and came back from behind twice when down six runs last night...against Boston no less. The Pirates were probably a stupid pick. But when they are just as bad as the Padres, what can you do? Wandy had a rare bad start. Maybe he was upset that his manager was fired. And finally, the Cubs' lousy pitcher was much better than the Brewers' lousy pitcher. That's the way it goes.

Tuesday's games look this way:

  • The Phillies over the Marlins: This is a tough game to pick. Josh Johnson goes against Blanton. Both have been really good lately.
  • The Dodgers over the Nationals: Kuroda versus Livan. Livan hasn't thrown a good game in a while.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: Cueto versus Duke. How come Duke always gets the best pitcher on the other team? Is he like the designated pinata?
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Jackson versus Laffey. How come every time the Fan hears Laffey's name, he hears Bertin Cummings singing: Laffey...haha ha ha haha...Laffey...
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Tallet hasn't had a good start in like forever. But the Orioles are starting a reliever.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: Got to like Niemann over Rowland-Smith.
  • The Braves over the Mets: Jurrjens should get more fanfare than he does.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: The real question isn't whether Moyer will beat Sanchez. The real question is whether the Marlins will draw more than 5,000 fans combined for the two games. The secondary question is whether the weather will allow both games to be played.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: The firing of Cooper is Bazardo.
  • The Cubs over the Brewers: Randy Wells needs to bounce back after a really bad last start.
  • The Royals over the Red Sox: Go Greinke, go! This is a good opportunity since Byrd is starting for the Sox.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: What a mess Chicago baseball has been this year.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: De La Rosa over Mujica as the Rockies march toward the wild card.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Cain versus Abel...errr...Davis.
  • Oakland over Texas: Cahill was really sharp last time out. McCarthy wasn't.
  • The Yankees over the Angels: This is one of those games the Yankees are supposed to lose with Gaudin pitching. But that's when they win.

Yesterday: 6-4
Week: 14-11
Month: 148-126

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Happy Thoughts

After writing that Milton Bradley post, this writer needs to have a little more fun and look on the brighter side of life. After all it is Monday and more cheer is needed to get the week started. This post will center on what has been fun to watch this year. The list below will be things that made the Fan happy during this baseball season. After all, this blog is about being a Fan. And from the Fan's perspective, the best thing about being one of those is having players to root for and follow. It's the fun side of baseball and why we keep coming back year after year.

So here goes:

Zack Greinke: Sure, Greinke is the standard bearer for mental struggles. But his problems of the past and the way the Royals responded to those problems make you root for a guy like that and a team that worked so hard to help him. His season has been tremendous fun and a big smile will occur when he is voted the American League Cy Young.

Scott Feldman: Thanks to Josh Borenstein, the Fan has latched onto Feldman and rooted for him every time he went to the mound. Watching him win 17 games (with an outside shot at 20) has been a really fun ride. Feldman is a bit of an everyman that we can all root for.

Derek Jeter: All of you know that Jeter is the Fan's favorite player. You can't hide from the truth. To see Jeter, at age 35, enjoy one of his finest seasons and have a great year in the field to boot (bad unintended pun there) has been gratifying. The Fan looks forward to that 3000th hit.

Mark Reynolds: To see a guy whiff over 200 times and still put up a .924 OPS has been a lot of fun. Never before has there been such a win/lose type of player. His 42 homers and .360 OBP sure are a mystery for a guy who strikes out 38% of his at bats.

Adam Dunn: Now here is a classy guy. He went to a basement-dwelling team but has had dignity in the situation and needs three more dingers to hit 40 for the seventh straight season. His .406 On Base Percentage and .957 OPS are among the league leaders. Dunn is a guy to root for and not just for the mammoth homers he hits.

Ryan Zimmerman: Dunn's teammate is having his third straight season where he has improved his batting average, OBP and OPS. His 64 extra base hits show that he has really arrived as a player. The Fan hopes he can get the four more ribbies to put 100 on his resume.

Joe Torre: This Fan feels that Torre has never gotten the respect he deserves for his time in New York. To see him succeed in Los Angeles has been very gratifying. Last year, the Dodgers weren't even supposed to compete and Torre led them to a first place finish. Torre was always given the rap that he doesn't like inexperienced players. That's all he's had in LA and has watched many of them blossom.

Ken Griffey, Jr.: Yeah, he's batting .219. But who cares. It was still fun to watch that picture perfect swing connect sixteen more times before he closes out his HOF career. Thanks, Griff. It's been great.

Chris Carpenter: Carpenter threw all of five games the last two years. Hurt all that time, we all forgot about him. But he is 16-4 with a 2.34 ERA. Who of us ever saw that coming? Every time he starts now is an event and that's what being a Fan is all about.

Adam Lind: It's always great to see a new star blossom and Lind has certainly blossomed in an otherwise desert that has been the Toronto Blue Jays. His season has to give his fans up in Toronto some measure of hope for the future. The guy is a stud.

Neftali Feliz: All of 21 years old. Fifteen games and 26.2 innings of relief have yielded only 11 hits and five walks while he has struck out 34 batters. What fun!

Daniel Bard: Admittedly, it's hard to root for anyone on the Red Sox, but this kid caught the Fan's attention in Spring Training and he hasn't disappointed. Yeah, he walks too many guys, but he's pitched 45.2 innings and has struck out 61. He throws 100 without even looking like he is trying. How fun is that?

Hanley Ramirez: Dan Uggla be darned, Hanley Ramirez has become the best all around player in the National League and the Fan got to watch him for three straight weeks while in Florida this summer. The guy is amazing and so much fun to watch.

Wandy Rodriguez: Anybody who follows the Daily Picks knows that the Fan has really latched onto this guy. He's short and he's skinny, but dang, he has been the Astros' best pitcher and he'll go toe to toe with any pitching stud in baseball.

Mariano Rivera: The Fan lives and dies by every Rivera cutter. It's hard to fathom that he never throws any other pitch and yet has converted 40 out of 42 save opportunities. At the age of 39 too. He has more class oozing out of his pores than any other player in baseball. Here's hoping that his mojo can deliver during the post season. The Fan would hate it if the Yankees were to lose because of a Rivera blown save. That would suck.

Evan Longoria: This guy captured our imagination the first time he got his Bay Rays' uniform last year. No sophomore swoon for this guy, not after 75 extra base hits and a .283/.363/.537 line.

Prince Fielder: 40 bombs, 130 ribbies, 100 walks, Fielder chalks one up for the big guys. The guy has fun and it shows. Heck, the big guy even has three triples. How much fun did those triples have to be to watch! All the while, he has improved his defense, making only seven errors after making seventeen last year. And of course, that walk off homer with that amusing scene at home plate just topped the whole thing off.

Milton Bradley - What Gives?

Well, it finally happened. The Cubs got tired of Milton Bradley and sent him home for the rest of the season. The suspension is probably without pay? The union will probably have to get involved with that. Apparently, Bradley said some negative things to the press about his time in Chicago. The Cubs called their decision: "Actions that were a detriment to the team." The whole thing just seems to be the final straw to what has been a long, unhealthy season for the Cubs and for Bradley. Certainly that has to be the case since a man has a right to say what's on his mind in this country, doesn't he?

Reed Johnson, Bradley's teammate, was quoted as saying that he couldn't understand how anyone could be unhappy playing in Chicago for great fans and a great organization. It's a good question. The Fan can add: And for good money. It seems that whatever chip Bradley has on his shoulder could be softened by the immense amount of money he makes performing his task. But that's now how it goes for Bradley. He's a, "me against the world," kind of guy and apparently, he hasn't grown out of it. He seems like the Carl Everett of today.

As the Fan has stated in this space before, when it seems that it is me against the world, some times the world may be right. Maybe Bradley got teased a lot as a kid with a board game company for a name. Who knows. But man, Milton, you are more fortunate than 99.9 percent of the people in the country to make the money you do playing this game that we all love. Shouldn't you get over it by now?

There are always two sides to a divorce and there has to be another side here to be fair to Bradley. After the Cubs made their decision, manager, Lou Pineilla, was quoted as stating that he supports the decision. The manager was also quoted as stating that he doesn't know what more he could have done to help Bradley." But come on. Pineilla probably chuckled after that interview and pumped his fist in the air in victory. Pineilla isn't exactly a teddy bear and that's probably part of the problem. The manager is prickly at the best of times and that intensity has been his salvation and his undoing during his long career as a player and a manager.

Of course, if Bradley had played better this year, a lot of his "sins" would have been more tolerated. But the Cubs have an out with this decision. The bad performance can be chocked up to Bradley's bad behavior instead of the real problem, which was that he was a bad fit for the Cubs in the first place and Hendry and his team made a terrible personnel decision. Hendry can be off the hook now since it's all Bradley's fault. Except that it isn't.

Ultimately, you do have to lay this at Milton Bradley's feet. He had a great opportunity to cash in on his successful run in Texas. He could have been a better teammate. He could have been more supportive of his team and more gracious in his struggles. He seems to be the kind of person that blames others for his problems and bites at every supposed slight. Sooner or later, you have to grow up and understand that fighting the world doesn't end up as a progressive strategy. Sooner or later, you have to enjoy simple things and find contentment where you can find it.

The Fan hopes that Milton Bradley can work it out as it's not too late. He doesn't want to end up like Carl Everett and spend the latter part of his career playing for Newark in the independent leagues. Who knows, maybe the Dodgers will take him. They already have Manny, Jeff Weaver and Vicente Padilla.

Game Picks - Monday: September 21, 2009

They say this happens when you get older, but September is just flying. Perhaps it is because the frozen tundra of northern Maine starts to ice over in October and there is a desire to hold on to September as long as possible. That's probably why three idiots tried to play golf on Saturday in a howling wind, no sun and the thermometer sitting at 45 degrees. Yeah, that's life around these parts. But it's supposed to hit 70 today. That's cheerful at least.

Much more cheerful than the meandering of the picks this week. Another day just above the .500 level brings out a bit of the blahs. That's four straight days of such mediocrity in a row (if you are keeping score). But did the Fan peg Zambrano yesterday or what? The Fan knew he would come alive for national television. The bum.

Monday has a fairly full slate of games, which is somewhat unusual. Let's see if we can get more than one game over even today:

  • The Pirates over the Padres: We start with a head-scratcher. McCutchen (the pitching one) starts for Pittsburgh while LeBlanc (who doesn't throw shutouts despite his name) starts for the Padres. Flip a coin.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Now that Halladay isn't pitching, the Blue Jays can go ahead and score some runs.
  • The Braves over the Mets: Logic dictates that Lowe would beat Misch. But logic happens so seldom lately.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Gorzelanny versus Looper. Now there is an inspiring duo. Yeesh.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: Go Wandy, go!
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Man, do the Red Sox finish with a cushy schedule or what?
  • The Twins over the White Sox: The Twins pretty much have to win them all at this point.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Ditto for the Giants.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Thinking an old song for this one: "It's too late,'s too late..."
  • The Angels over the Yankees: Pettitte is listed, but the Fan thought he was supposed to skip a start?

Yesterday: 8-7 (9-6 in football too)
Week: 8-7
Month: 142-122

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Game Picks - Sunday: September 20, 2009

For the first time in about twenty years, this picker slept in. Can't remember the last time the clock said it was ten o'clock when the eyes were first opened. And it seems that the extra sleep was worth about one win in the picking category as the week of so-so picking continues. But at least the extra win put this sleepy head in the black for a change.

The Giants lost big and not only was the score a disaster, but it was a disaster in the standings as it was a game swing with the winning Rockies. In the other race still alive, the Twins beat the Tigers' best pitcher and the Tigers are in a serious funk. They have the big time feel of the Mets two years ago. It's like they smell death and keep running but whatever direction they run, they get hit by a truck. The Twins have put all the pressure on the Tigers. The Twins have nothing to lose.

Sunday's games:

  • The Angels over the Rangers: It will be sad to see the Angels finish the Rangers off. Feldman gave them a one day reprieve.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Only because it sure looks like Maine isn't yet ready to pitch.
  • The Marlins over the Reds: Forgive the Fan, but he just can't pick Kip Wells to win.
  • The Pirates over the Padres: {sigh} Ohlendorf didn't win yesterday despite pitching well. Maholm will win today though.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Despite facing Cliff Lee, Tommy Hanson has arrived.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: The Red Sox going into the post season on a roll is a scary thing.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Halladay's short little funk is over. Book it.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: Gallardo's last start of the year as they will shut him down after to protect his arm. This sure is new territory for a baseball Fan.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Just because the Fan wants to see more Ozzie rants.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Let's see, the Tigers can't start Washburn because of a bum knee (that trade worked out really well) and Nate Robertson is starting despite a bum hip. Good luck.
  • The A's over the Indians: Carmona walks five more and has yet another bad outing. So sad.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: The Dodgers behind Randy Wolf, beat the Giants 1-0, beating Lincecum and making the Cy Young even more confusing in the National League.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: Ubaldo Jiminez beat Lincecum. What makes you think he can't beat Haran?
  • The Yankees over the Mariners: The Yankees win despite another Joba Rules game.
  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: After munching his way through an inconsistent season, Zambrano pitches his heart out for national television.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 45-38
Month: 134-115