Saturday, July 24, 2010

Game Picks - Saturday: July 24, 2010

This picker had another good day and is starting to feel his oats. That's not a good thing. Getting humbled always seems to follow feelings of empowerment. Cripes, that sure is the mixed up psyche of a Sicilian Italian is it not? There was one game rained out so that probably made the final tally look even better. In any case, the Fan has to stop babbling as there is a tee time calling his name.


  • The Cards over the Cubs: Was going to pick Gorzelanny to beat Hawksworth. Then said, ""
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Mitre versus Davies. The Yankees win something like 12-10.
  • The Rockies over the Phillies: Ubaldo over Kendrick, who this Fan thought was sent to the minors. That didn't last long.
  • The Dodgers over the Mets: Would go with the Mets on this one, but Pelfrey has been mysteriously bad lately.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Would rather have Mazzaro than Freddie Garcia.
  • The Astros over the Reds: Oswalt has to win 100 games before he leaves Houston.
  • The Padres over the Pirates: Latos over long as he doesn't sneeze.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Home Run Baker versus Hard Luck Matusz.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers: Still think Marcum will beat Porcello.
  • The Brewers over the Nationals: Parra over Martin. The Nationals are brutal on the road.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: Medlen versus Sanchez in one of those match ups where anything can happen.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The Rangers finish off the Angels despite Feldman pitching.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Bumgarner has been great. Ian Kennedy has been occasionally great.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: The Mariners won't hit Lester. Won't be close.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: Mr. Price will be Right.

Yesterday: 10-4
Week: 53-30
Month: 166-109
SEason: 825-606
Games of the Day: 50-43

Playing in the Sandbox

Playing with statistics is a lot like playing in a sandbox. You can do it by yourself and you can make any sort of interesting patterns you want. The biggest difference is that you don't get any actual sand in your underwear. You might get some in your reputation though because for every statement about statistics, someone is going to dispute what you say and a lot of times it's justified. But it's still fun. The Fan's sandbox of choice is Let's play.

Everybody today is focuses on On Base Percentage. A big part of OBP is how many walks a batter or a team receives. So it would make sense that preventing walks would go a long way towards pitching effectively and defeating that game plan. The top five pitching staffs in limiting walks before Friday's games:

1. Twins - 202
2. Phillies - 241
3. Rays - 278
4. Cardinals - 280
5. White Sox - 284

Yup, all contenders and it makes sense. The Twins are ridiculous at how good they are at preventing walks. Their 202 is amazing considering the average pitching staff has given up 316 walks. So which pitching staff has given up the most walks? The Giants. Now that is a surprise, but there it is. They've given up 384 free passes. You would expect teams like Cleveland and Milwaukee to be among the leaders and they are at second and third.

Walks are something a pitching staff can definitely do something about and the Twins seem to do it better than anyone else. They were second in the league last year and only gave up 466 walks. The Cardinals did them better though and came in at 460. The league average last year was 554. You have to wonder how the Twins and Cardinals can get these kinds of results and nobody else can. The Cardinals, though, have more talent than the Twins and are in a great three-way race for the MLB ERA race. The Cardinals sit at 3.26, the Padres at 3.33 and the Giants at 3.38. The Giants are the MLB leader in ERA+ though at 127. The Pirates and the Brewers have the worst ERA+ in the majors with 81. Yuckie.

How about defense? That's the other thing teams are stressing these days. The best five teams in defensive efficiency thus far:

1. Rays - .710
2. Padres - .707
3. Rangers - .706
4. Yankees - .705
4. Athletics - .705.

Athletics? Heck, that's what the numbers say. The A's have had a decent season considering their talent level. All the other four teams are among the best teams in the majors and this is just one of the big reasons. The two top teams in fielding percentage are the Twins at .991 (an incredible number) and the Padres at .990. The worst fielding team in the majors is the Astros and it isn't even close. According to the stats, their defense has compiled a -45 runs below replacement level. Astounding. That alone makes Myers and Oswalt look even better than their current counting stats.

The Royals continue to be an impressive offensive team. They still lead the majors in batting average and their batters have the fewest strikeouts in the league. The average major league team strikes out 663 times. The Royals have struck out only 489 times. They are the only team under 500 in that category. That's the good news. The bad news is that only two teams in the majors have walked less than the Royals: Houston and Baltimore.

The Yankees and Red Sox are one and two in OPS+ as a team. The Red Sox have the highest slugging percentage in baseball. The Twins are the only team to have hit into more than 100 double plays (the league average is 74). The Rays are the only team with more than 100 stolen bases. They have stolen 116 bases and have only been thrown out 28 times. That's an 80% success rate. Amazing.

The flip side of the coin is that the Rays have only two teams in baseball that have struck out more times than they have: The Diamondbacks, who will break all kinds of records, and the Marlins. Strikeouts must be a hot weather event.

The Astros have the worst OPS+ in baseball at 74. Oof! So they have the worst offense and the worst defense. That's a potent combination for disaster. The Astros are batting .238 as a team and they are the only team in baseball with a team On Base Percentage under .300 (.296). That's pretty sad stuff right there. Close on their heels is the Seattle Mariners who sport a nifty OPS+ of 77. The Mariners have the worst slugging percentage in baseball.

The slowest teams in baseball are the Blue Jays and the Red Sox. The Blue Jays have stolen 33 bases and the Red Sox, 32. The Red Sox lost Ellsbury which is one reason for that low a number. The White Sox lead the majors in being thrown out trying to steal. They have been thrown out 45 times. Eight teams have less steals than the White Sox have caught stealings. The White Sox have stolen 87 bases or tied for second in the majors, but they are only successful 66% of the time, which is the second worst in baseball. The only team caught stealing at a higher percentage is the Orioles. Figures.

Boston leads the league in doubles (Toronto is second). The Rockies lead the league in triples (by quite a bit too). The Blue Jays lead the league in homers with 144. The Brewers are second with 123.

By playing in this sandbox, it's easy to see the team numbers and see why some teams are so bad and others so good. What's the old saying? "Numbers Don't Lie."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Game Picks - Friday: July 23, 2010

Doh! Holy cow! This picker came within one pick of being perfect. The only blemish on the entire day was that Hamels matched Wainwright zero for zero until it became a bullpen game that the Phillies won. That's it! One wrong. Singing with Bono, "It's a beautiful day..." The day's windfall took an ordinary or pedestrian week and made it a good one. If this picker could do that every day, then Las Vegas would be calling.

But Friday is another day and while it is tempting to quit while ahead, the picks must go on:

  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: Suppon is starting for the Cardinals. Ick. Going with Randy Wells and the Cubbies.
  • The Pirates over the Padres: The Pirates have been hitting better of late and face Correia. Maholm has a full run better ERA.
  • The Phillies over the Rockes: Cook was great last time out but butts up against Halladay. Hasn't been a good stretch for the Rockies.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Duensing has taken over for Blackburn in the rotation. That's a good thing.
  • The Indians over the Bay Rays: Niemann is good. But so is Carmona, especially lately. The Indians have been much better of late.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers: Marcum versus Porcello. Going with Marcum who has had an excellent year.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Any other pitcher than Bannister and the Fan would pick the other guy instead of Burnett.
  • The Marlins over the Braves: This kids, Sanabia, looks really good. Lowe is Lowe.
  • The Reds over the Astros: Mr. Wood gets to face the weakest hitting team in baseball. Mr. Norris does not.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Taking Wilson over Saunders. This really is the Rangers' year.
  • The Brewers over the Nationals: Narveson has been good of late. Think he will out pitch Stammen.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Giants: Both Sanchez and Jackson could be good. The D-backs are better at home and just swept the Mets.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Cahill is the A's best pitcher. Buehrle can be had.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: Beckett is back from the DL and that is scary, but come on, it's the Mariners.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Mets over the Dodgers: The Mets finally win a game as Santana is better than Padilla.

Yesterday: 11-1 woooooo!
Week: 43-26
Month: 156-105
Season: 815-602
Games of the Day: 49-43

I Wish I Had a Dollar Every Time...

If you watch baseball enough, certain things drive you crazy. Those are the times that tend to cause the viewer to start screaming at the television. You can go insane. Of course, all of us long-time viewers think we are smarter than any manager, player, umpire and official scorer that ever lived. We just didn't have the talent to actually play. As such, it is our sacred duty to yell at the screen to point out to the umpire, manager, player or official scorer what morons they are. Nothing helps though. Those overpaid people just don't know the game like we do. In honor of us, the aggrieved viewers, the Fans that watch these dorks play baseball every day, here is a list for us.

The list goes like this:

I wish I had a dollar every time...

...A batter takes two meatballs for strikes and then swings at a pitch in the dirt for strike three. Swing at the meatballs, Stupid!
...A fielder worries about that guy on third when they have a two, three or four run lead in the late innings. Get the out, stupid!
...An umpire calls a runner out because the ball beat the runner to the base. That still doesn't mean he didn't avoid/beat the tag, Stupid!
...A player on a bad team fails to hustle and costs his team a run. A perfect example is runners on second and third with two out and the batter hits one sharply in the corner. The outfielder makes a great adjustment to the ball and throws the runner out at second. Meanwhile, the guy who was on second is jogging and doesn't get to the plate before the guy at second is tagged for the last out. Run, Stupid! This happened AGAIN to the Royals Thursday night.
...An official scorer gives the hometown hero a hit at home when it was clearly an error. Hey, Homer, that's bogus!
...An announcer gets all stoked when a ball is hit deep only to have the ball land safely in the outfielder's glove on the warning track. You got the best job in history! At least wait until you see where the ball is going to end up.
...An umpire has no idea where the outside or inside corner of the plate is. Come on, you guys have been doing this for decades through every level. Get it right for crying out loud. What really sucks is when you miss a called strike three and then the batter gets a key hit he never should have had.
...A home town fan in the first or second row interferes with his own team's fielder so the foul pop can't be caught. Moron!
...The shoe is on the other foot when the home town fan DOESN'T get in the way of an opposing team player reaching into the stands for a foul pop. Geez!
...A National League pitcher bunts for a sacrifice with one out. Get some cahoonies, NL managers!
...The third announcer in the stands doesn't know how long to talk before he/she interferes with the play in progress. Shut up already!
...A postgame interviewer asks the player how he felt when he hit the game winning homer. You get paid for that crap!?
...Every time Jorge Posada goes to the mound to find out what his pitcher should throw. You've been doing this for how long now?
...Every time a base runner on first will flinch and step back towards first whenever a lefty is pitching. Relax! The coach will tell you when to get back.
...All the base runners that slide hands first. You have a death wish or something?
...Every fan that boos when a pitcher throws high and tight to the home town batter. Come on now.
...Every time a manager lets his starter begin a late inning (7th, 8th or 9th) only to pull him out if he gets a runner on base. Oh Yee of little faith (or lack of foresight).
...Every time a reliever walks the first batter he faces. That isn't helping!
...Every time a guy swings at the first pitch when the pitcher has just walked two guys in a row. Were you watching?
...Every time a guy swings at a ball in the dirt when he just did the same exact thing for strike one and strike two. Slow learner, ain'tcha?
...A home town fan throws a home run ball back on the field if the opposing team player hit the home run. Do you know how many odds you beat just to get that souvenir? Keep the darn ball! It's the only thing you'll get at a ballpark that doesn't cost $5 or more.
...Every fan this Fan sees in the stands talking on a cell phone. You paid all that money and aren't watching the game?
...A reliever who throws to first fifteen times when up two or more runs. Forget about that guy!
...For every egotist that tries to beat a shift in the infield, especially with men on base. Just dink it down towards third! Do that twenty times and your average will go up five points which helps your WAR and the infielders of the world will stop doing that and you can go on with your life.
...For every manager who will intentionally walk a batter when he's got to know his pitcher is averaging four walks per nine innings already.
...For every LOOGY that thows that sweeping curve on the first pitch that ends up three feet outside. Read these lips: THAT DOESN'T WORK!
...For every time a batter will bunt the ball towards the pitcher or first with a man on second. If you have to bunt, bunt it so the third baseman has to make the play!
...For every umpire that takes his mask off when his strike or ball call is challenged. Keep your mask on and be a pro for crying out loud.
...For every batter that walks completely around the umpire and catcher after a swing and miss. Hurry up already! Cano does that every at bat.
...For every pitcher that will walk around the mound after every ball he throws. Just forget about it and get up there and throw a strike.
...Every batter who calls time when there is a man on second and the signs take too long. What a waste of time! And for every umpire that lets him do it.

And the Fan's very least favorite...I wish I had a dollar for every time a pitcher gives up five or more runs and only one of them is earned because of his own error.

Got some of your own? Comment away!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game Picks - Thursday: July 22, 2010

Another mediocre day of picking. Once again, the day games were all fine, but the night games simply ralphed big time. This picker was just thinking yesterday that Billy Wagner ought to be given the same kind of consideration that Mariano Rivera has always gotten and how cool it was that Wagner's last year would be such a good one. Of course, then he goes on to spectacularly blow the save against the Padres blowing that pick. So much for those good thoughts. The Mets lost again! Come on! They have to win one sooner or later. Right? The Tigers ended their losing streak. Should have seen that one coming. Buchholz didn't do well in his return. The Pirates have gone absolutely crazy. Should have picked the Marlins and didn't. And finally, Clay Billingsley suddenly was amazing against the Giants. Didn't see that one coming.

There are twelve games scheduled today. Five of them are during the day, so we'll see if the daytime remains a bright time:

  • The Marlins over the Rockies: Josh Johnson versus De La Rosa? Yeah, the Fan is thinking the same thing.
  • The Nationals over the Reds: Yeah, this is a crazy pick. But you have to go with Livan and Volquez is still iffy to this picker.
  • The Braves over the Padres: Got to go back to the Braves and Tim Hudson, a pitcher who has thrown one bad inning out of his last 50 or so.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: Normally wouldn't go against Romero, but Verlander is an exception to that rule.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Wainwright buries the Phillies deeper into the pit despite Hamels efforts.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Gallardo has been one of the best pitchers in the NL this season. Sorry to pick against Ohlendorf though.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Just what the Twins needed, some Millwood butt to kick around. Pavano gets another win.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Sabathia is the big man and the Royals take it on the Chen.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: This is why the Rangers got Lee. And he pays them back for their efforts.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Could never see Cain losing to Rodrigo Lopez.
  • The Dodgers over the Mets: Kuroda versus Takahashi. The Dodgers have the better oriental pitcher. The Mets lose again!

And the Game of the Day

  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: The Sox eat guys like Rowland-Smith up for breakfast.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 32-25
Month: 145-104
Season: 804-601
Games of the Day: 48-43

Pedro Alvarez On A Tear

On July 7, Pedro Alvarez was batting .194 and had an OPS of .573. His slow start was very disappointing because we've been anxiously awaiting Alvarez ever since he was the second overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. But that disappointment has dissolved in a shower of sparks as Alvarez has gone on an amazing tear.

Since that low point, Alvarez has gone 14 for his last 35 (a .400 clip) that has included five homers. Four of those homers have come in back to back games this Tuesday and Wednesday. Alvarez has raised his average to .256 and his OPS to over .800. Yeah, he still strikes out too much and he did make his fourth error of the year on Wednesday, but this has to be exciting for Pittsburgh fans and Fans in general.

It's also easy to forget that Alvarez has only played a year and a half of professional baseball after his career at Vanderbilt. He's so new to pro baseball that he doesn't even have a nickname yet. And as such, there are certain aspects of his game that are easy to understand. He hasn't proved he can hit major league left-handed pitching. He hasn't hit in the clutch or in high leverage situations and he is a much better hitter at home than he is on the road. It's also not yet a given that he can be a long-term major league third baseman.

If you put all that to the side, consider that he has hit seven homers in July and has shown just why he was the draft selection he was. Consider also that batting in tandem with Lastings Milledge has raised both of their games. Milledge has long been synonymous with draft pick busts but whether one is sparking the other or they are sparking each other, Milledge has also come to life. In the same time span as Alvarez, Milledge is also 14 for his last 35. The difference is that Milledge hasn't struck out as much as Alvarez in that span nor has he hit for Alvarez's power. But perhaps this is just the atmosphere that Milledge has needed to quick-start his own highly touted career.

Another Yankee Legend Dies

The old folks say that things happen in threes. That certainly seems the case for the Yankees as the third Yankee legend has died, making it three in two weeks after Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner. This time it was Ralph Houk. Anybody under 35 years of age who is reading this post just said, "Who??" Yeah, Houk's time was a long time ago but he does live on as a minor character in Jim Bouton's famous "Ball Four."

Ralph Houk was born way back in 1919 in Kansas. He was a catcher in the Yankees' farm system when World War II intervened. To pick up from there, this is what Wikipedia has to say:

"He enlisted in the armed forces, became an Army Ranger, and received a battlefield commission, rising from private to major. He was a combat veteran of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Bronze Star."

After the war, Houk returned to the Yankees and made his major league debut at the age of 29. He played in parts of eight seasons but only compiled 171 plate appearances. He finished his playing career with a .272 batting average. He also threw out 43% of potential base stealers.

After the Yankees dumped Casey Stengel after the 1960 season, Ralph Houk took over as manager and won two straight World Series titles in 1961 and 1962. His team also won the AL pennant in 1963 but they lost the World Series. It wasn't bad enough that Houk took over for a legend, but he also didn't get any credit for those two titles. Much like Joe Torre's run with the Yankees, everyone assumes that any manager could have turned those teams into titlists. The Fan doesn't happen to think that's true.

After the 1963 season, the "Major" was kicked upstairs where he served as general manager for two years. The 1964 season was the last hurrah for that era's Yankee teams and the sorry years followed. One of Houk's players was a young phenom named Jim Bouton. Bouton's description of Houk is hysterical and included the swear word combination that fascinated this young reader all those years ago.

The Yankees came in last place in 1966 but Houk was asked to take over the team early in the season and actually rallied the abominable team to a .475 winning percentage. The year after that, with Houk at the helm, the Yankees came in ninth. The team gradually got better and Houk's team won 93 games in 1970, good for second place. But the team was only a .500 team for the next three seasons. When George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973, Houk was swept out with everyone else and he was hired by the Tigers.

Houk managed the Tigers for five seasons and the team never rose above fourth place (division play had started by then). They lost 90 games his first year and 102 his second. His best year with the Tigers was his last when the team finished 86-76, but the team still finished in fifth place.

The Boston Red Sox hired Houk in 1981. Unfortunately, that was the strike year with that forced first half/second half business. The Red Sox finished in fifth place in the first half and in second place the second half. The team won 89 games in 1982 but finished in third. They regressed in 1983 but Houk rallied them back to an 86-76 record in 1983, his last year with that team and his last season ever as a manager.

Ralph Houk was another of those treasured icons from the Fan's early life. His antics when arguing with the umpires are still remembered with a chuckle. He was a dirt kicker. Houk finished his managerial career with a .514 winning percentage. Not great, but not bad. He won two titles, or one more that Lou Piniella.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Game Picks - Wednesday: July 21, 2010

What a wild night in baseball! The Orioles, the Bay Rays, the Blue Jays, the Cubs, the Pirates and the Rockies all scored more than ten runs. The Orioles and the Bay Rays did it in the same game! The Cubs were down something like 6-1 fairly late in the game and went on to win by scoring 13 runs in the last four innings. The Giants beat the Dodgers when Don Mattingly, filling in for the ejected Joe Torre, walked off the mound after talking to Broxton, then went a few feet back to the dugout and then turned around to say something else. The U-turn was considered a second visit to the mound and Broxton had to leave the game. Another pitcher (Sherrill) had to come in and he promptly lost the game. Weird. The Indians won yet again and the Twins and the Tigers are sinking like mafia corpses. Oh yeah, the Yankees sleep-walked through their game and got beat badly. All in all, with all of that weirdness going on, the Fan was happy to escape with nine correct and six incorrect.

Wednesday could be a bit more conventional. But then again, that wouldn't be as much fun:

  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: The Orioles have showed some pluck as of late. They came back twice to beat the Rays last night. But the Bay Rays are just too good to lose another one.
  • The Yankees over the Angels: Vazquez should beat Piniero or should at least cancel each other out leaving one superior offense to beat the other.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Liriano stops the bleeding.
  • The Royals over the Blue Jays: Zack Greinke pitches against that Blue Jays guy with the long name and all the consonants.
  • The Astros over the Cubs: Two guys auditioning for stints with other clubs: Myers and Lilly square up. Lilly has been hurting though.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: Buchholz is back.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: The Pirates either score nine runs or none lately. Betting on none against Wolf.
  • The Rangers over the Tigers: The Rangers look awful hard to beat lately, especially with Kinsler smoking.
  • The Rockies over the Marlins: Can someone tell the Fan why the Marlins are using Bonifacio again?
  • The Nationals over the Reds: Riding the Strasburg wave. And he's on television tonight!
  • The Braves over the Padres: This possible playoff preview should feature a second straight Braves' win.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: The Phillies no longer have the mojo. The Cardinals still do.
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Good bye Dodgers. Thought you would win the division, but you won't even finish in the top two...
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: King Felix needs to come up big.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: The Mets can't lose every single game after the All Star break can they?

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 24-18
Month: 137-97
Season: 796-594
Games of the Day: 48-42

Lou Piniella Will Step Down

After calling for his head in this space for much of the year, Lou Piniella handed his own head on a platter and announced this is his last year managing. Unfortunately for the Cubs, it's one year too late. That sounds harsh and you'll have to forgive this writer for appearing so. Lou Piniella has been a personal hero for many, many years. He was a part of those great Yankee teams of the late 70s. Back then, he was the poor man's version of Kevin Youkilis. He didn't have the Boston first baseman's power, but every at bat and every game was a war and he wore it all over his uniform.

Piniella brought that same style to managing but judging from some of the comments from the players who played for him like Alex Rodriguez, Rob Dibble and Derrek Lee, he was also a manager who took time to get to know and care about his players. And certainly, Piniella had his share of managing success. He won a World Series with the Reds. He set a record for season wins in Seattle. His early Cubs years were successful. But time has passed him by.

But perhaps even that is unfair. It can also be said that Piniella was done in by personnel moves dictated by Jim Hendry, who apparently, and unbelievably, will be back next year. Hendry brought in one-dimensional players like Aldolfo Soriano and troubled ones like Milton Bradley. The Cubs of the past two season were an odd fit and the team never seemed to have any chance to gel. So from that standpoint, it's hard to point fingers at Piniella.

But there are little things. Who can tell if he could have handled the Bradley situation better. Give all the blame you want to Bradley, but Piniella never made it work. The same can be said about Zambrano. Sure, these players need to be held responsible for their actions, but the whispers you hear about was an atmosphere of enabling where factions formed that contributed in part to what happened with Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano.

Piniella's facial expressions during Zambrano's tirade are stuck in the Fan's mind. It was a face of bewilderment. And that seems to be the right word for Lou Piniella the last couple of years. To this Fan at least, it seems rare when an older manager can still reach the young players he manages. There are a few exceptions, but with today's players in this modern world, it seems more of a younger man's world. Joe Girardi and Maddon come to mind. Piniella just seemed too far removed from things.

We live in a cynical day and age. It's easy to speculate that Piniella was already told that he wouldn't be retained after the season, or perhaps he saw the writing on the wall. This is the gracious way out. Lou Piniella has seen it all in his nearly 50 years in baseball. He has three championship rings, two as a player and one as a manager. He's had a proud and good baseball career. This Fan hopes he enjoys the rest of his life with fond reflection.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yankees Lack Imagination

As you look around the majors, there are many teams that are bringing up young talent to see what they can do. There is no time like the present right? The Yankees have a chance to do the same thing with Pettitte missing four to five weeks with his groin pull. Instead, they stick with the mundane (and mostly unsuccessful) choice with Sergio Mitre. Nothing against Mitre, but the guy isn't much of a pitcher.

The Yankees could have given Jason Hirsh a chance or even more creatively, David Phelps. Phelps just got promoted to Double A and has pitched well there. It's not like he is a raw kid. He is twenty-four and pitched for Notre Dame. With his stuff, he would give the Yankees a lot more chances to win than would Sergio Mitre.

But the Yankees can be like BMW. Why mess with colors when you can make a million cars that are gray or slate blue?

Game Picks - Tuesday: July 20, 2010

Yesterday wasn't a good day for this picker. The day ended nearly square with one more incorrect pick than correct ones. That's not what the Fan was hoping for. Pelfrey got clobbered. The Red Sox eked out a win. Ubaldo wasn't sharp. The Blue Jays blew a lead. The Orioles pick was a really stupid pick. Oh well. A bad day will happen now and then.

Let's see if the Fan can do any better on Tuesday:

  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Okay, this one should be easy. Bush over Lincoln.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Won't make that mistake again. Garza triumphs.
  • The Rangers over the Tigers: Hunter over Galarraga. Both pitchers better pitch deep into the game because the bullpens are toast.
  • The Yankees over the Angels: Hughes goes for the Yankees. O'Sullivan makes an emergency start for the Angels since Kazmir is out.
  • The Rockies over the Marlins: Last night was a bummer for the Rockies but Francis should beat Roberston.
  • The Reds over the Nationals: Leake over Atilano. Shouldn't be close.
  • The Braves over the Padres: Jurrjens should pitch well and LeBlanc loses more than he wins despite a good ERA.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Slowey needs to come up big though if Masterson pitches well.
  • The Blue Jays over the Royals: Litsch versus Leruw is no fun to pick. No fun at all.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Carpenter versus Moyer. Shouldn't be close.
  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: Not thrilled picking between Dickey and Enright. Dickey could get clobbered or he could be good. The same with Enright.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: Wakefield is due for a good game which always seems to happen just as he is about to lose his rotation spot.
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Marquee match up of Lincecum versus Kershaw. The latter is more apt not to pitch well.
  • The White Sox over the Mariners: Danks should beat the Mariners weak hitting team.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Cubs over the Astros: Dempster should have an easy win here as the Astros will pitch Wright.

Yesterday: 6-7
Week: 15-13
Month: 128-92
Season: 787-589
Games of the Day: 47-42 Two game losing streak.

Cardinals are Fun to Watch

ESPN featured the Cardinals at home against the Phillies on Monday night and it was one of the first times this Fan has had a chance to watch the Cardinals play. They are thoroughly entertaining as a ball club. Long-time readers know that Tony LaRussa has never been one of the Fans favorite managers. But there is a grudging respect as he plays each game to win, he doesn't do things solely by the book and he has no problems letting kids play.

And that's what makes the Cardinals so entertaining. They have some good young players in John Jay and Allen Craig that follow in the footsteps of the terrific 23 year old Colby Rasmus. Rasmus has been amazing and is currently sporting a gaudy 139 OPS+. He has already tied his 2009 season output for homers and is just four behind last year's total in doubles. He plays well in the outfield and will steal some bases. The only knock on him is that his strikeouts are too high.

But John Jay looks like a ballplayer. He is quiet in his batting approach, goes to all fields and explodes into the ball. In the Monday night game, he hit two opposite field doubles. Jay also looks comfortable in the outfield. He's just a really good looking player.

According to the broadcasters for ESPN, LaRussa is even higher on Allen Craig, another kid they drafted just a few years ago. Craig has done nothing but kill the ball in the minors since he was drafted and though he got off to a slow start, he drove in the winning runs on Sunday and hit his first major league homer on Monday night.

Contrast LaRussa with some other long-standing managers with his willingness to give young guys a shot. Look how long it took Piniella to get Colvin in the lineup regularly. But here is the thing: Jay, at least, looks ready for the majors now. But there is a logjam in the Cardinals' outfield once Ludwick gets back. You aren't going to replace Holliday or Rasmus and Ludwick is firmly established. But the Cardinals do have some holes. Shortstop seems to be one of the biggest ones.

Brendan Ryan had a decent year last year batting .292. But if you put his whole package together, he still ended up with a 96 OPS+ last year. This year has been just brutal for the young shortstop as he can't seem to get over the Mendoza line. He is a decent fielder with some speed, but he just doesn't look like he'll ever be much of a major league hitter. The shortstop position has been a weak one for the Cardinals for several years now. The Fan isn't real high on Schumaker either, but LaRusa loves him, so the Fan will let that one be.

The Fan tried to play GM and see what shortstops could be had that could help. You know, there isn't much out there. The only trade that seems to make sense would be to send Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan to the Diamondbacks for Stephen Drew. Whoa! That's a pretty cool trade. Drew seems to have hit a wall in Arizona. He just hasn't hit his stride there. Perhaps a change of scenery would help him. He would be a better shortstop than the Cardinals have had in a long time. With Jay and Craig, Ludwick is expendable.

As for the Diamondbacks, Gerardo Parra and Conor Jackson just haven't panned out and Ludwick would be an upgrade there. Hey, it could work.

But even if the Cardinals do not get a shortstop, they are the team to beat in the NL Central and they play an exciting and upbeat game with good pitching and the best hometown fans in baseball. If you haven't gotten a chance to see these guys play, do it soon. Heck, Pujols showed on Monday night that he's ready to have a monster second half, so that alone is worth the time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Delmon Young is Finally Becoming a Star

It seems like a long time has passed since Delmon Demarcus Young was the number one pick in the country. The year was 2003 and the team was the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays. He had been picked before Richie Weeks (who went second). He was picked before Nick Markakis, Aaron Hill, Daric Barton, John Danks, Ian Stewart, Carlos Quentin, David Aardsma, Chad Cordero and Conor Jackson. Up until this year, most would look at that list and look at Young and say that the Bay Rays miscalculated. Young--the younger brother of Dmitri Young--was 18 at the time.

Young was fast tracked through the minor leagues where he accumulated an .884 OPS mostly in Double A and Triple A. He showed that he had it all. He stole bases, he hit for power. Just three years after he was drafted and by then still only 21 years old, Young made his debut for the Bay Rays in 2006. He got 40 hits in 30 games and finished batting .318 that season with an .812 OPS. The one hole in his game was that he walked only once in all those games.

The very next year, he played in all 162 games for the Bay Rays. The good news was that he had 186 hits and drove in 93 runs. The bad news was that he led the league in grounding into double plays, didn't walk much and finished the season with little power and a 91 OPS+. He also struck out 127 times. He wasn't particularly impressive in the outfield either with negative numbers in fielding categories. He did throw out 16 runners though and he came in second in Rookie of the Year voting. Not a bad start.

But all during those early years, there were stories of trouble concerning Young. He didn't hustle. He didn't concentrate. He wasn't coachable. Those were the stories. This Fan doesn't know if they were true or not. In what seemed at the time like addition by subtraction, the Bay Rays traded their 2003 first round draft pick to Minnesota along with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan. The Bay Rays, thanks in part to that trade, went on to the World Series and the Twins, for one of the few times in the decade, missed the playoffs.

Young did a few things right in 2008 though he played in ten less games than the year before. His batting average went up to .290 and he improved his On Base Percentage to .336 but he still didn't hit with any pop and finished the season with an even 100 OPS+. His outfield defense was even worse in 2008 than it was in 2007.

After that season, his Twins' manager, Ron Gardenhire--who said his words were faulty, but they probably weren't--told the media that newly acquired outfielder, Carlos Gomez would be one third of the Twins' 2009 outfield along with Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span. He didn't mention Young at all. The statement caused quite a stir at the time and probably showed Gardenhire's disenchantment with his outfielder.

True to Gardenhire's words, Young made it into only 108 games in 2009. His OPS+ regressed back to 91. His On Base Percentage was a paltry .308. He did show more pop though and his .474 slugging percentage was the best of his young career. His outfield defense also improved. Carlos Gomez turned out to be a bust or Young might have been forgotten altogether.

Those of us who had seen this early track record of Delmon Young assumed he was not as talented or driven enough to live up to his draft selection. He was lumped into conversations with Lastings Milledge and other recent and supposed busts. The Rays certainly seemed to get the better of that deal and the Twins looked like they got taken (Harris has been a bust too).

But something seems to have clicked for Delmon Young. He has seemed fired up since the start of the season. He seemed to be having more fun playing baseball. Whether that is the case or not, we can also consider that he is still only 25 years old and still growing as a player. That growth has gone into overdrive. This year, he is one of the Twins' best players.

Prior to Sunday's game with the White Sox, Young had a robust OPS+ of 122. His line was .304/.343/.497. He had already driven in 60 runs and 35 of his 89 hits had been for extra bases. He had only struck out 36 times. All this had been evident for weeks, but has really crystallized in this weekend series against the White Sox. It was a series that the Twins really needed to win as the White Sox were red hot and had taken over the division lead. And like a true star that Young is becoming, Young rose to the occasion and had a big series.

Young went 6 for 16 in the series which was capped by his performance on Sunday. He started Minnesota's scoring with a two-run homer and then, after the White Sox had stormed back to take a three run lead, the Twins got to closer, Bobby Jenks. Jenks never got anybody out. The culminating hit was by Delmon Young. His single to right, a nifty bit of hitting for the right-handed batter, scored the tying run and when Alex Rios airmailed the throw to home, the winning run scored on the error. Young was mobbed by his teammates and he was all smiles.

It seems those smiles were a long time coming. Maybe when all is said and done, the Twins will be seen to have made a good deal in getting Delmon Young. His best years are ahead of him.

Game Picks - Monday: July 19, 2010

Well, it was a good day, but just an okay, good day. The Game of the Day was a bust as the Cubs jumped all over Roy Halladay and thumped the Phillies. The Reds lost a 1-0 heart breaker. The Pirates again pounded the Astros. The Twins won a thrilling game over the White Sox. The Diamondbacks were, admittedly, a stupid pick. The one game that seemed the most bizarre was the Boston - Rangers game. This Fan had picked Jon Lester to win and he certainly pitched well enough to win. But his team played awful behind him. Narva, the feelgood player for the Red Sox, misplayed two balls in left field. Youkilis made a fielding mistake and everything seemed to go against Lester, including a wonderfully pitched game by Colby Lewis. But that's the way it goes sometimes.

There are thirteen games on tap for Monday:

- The Brewers over the Pirates: The pitching match up isn't anything to write home about with Capuano dueling Karstens so the Fan will go with the Brewers and their fire power.
- The Orioles over the Bay Rays: An upset pick! Tillman has been pitching well and Wade Davis has not been.
- The Rangers over the Tigers: The Tigers have been awesome at home, but the feeling here is that Feldman will pitch a good game and Bonderman won't.
- The Cardinals over the Phillies: The Phillies are stumbling. The Cards are starting to roll.
- The Rockies over the Marlins: Ubaldo!!
- The Reds over the Nationals: Martin has been good for the Nationals but they don't score enough for him. He faces Cueto, who should be good enough to win.
- The Astros over the Cubs: Probably a dumb pick, but Wandy Rodriguez (except for his last start) has been building back to where he was last year.
- The Twins over the Indians: The Indians are red hot, but so were the White Sox when they entered the Twins' new digs.
- The Mets over the Diamondbacks: Like Pelfrey over Ian Kennedy.
- The Athletics over the Red Sox: The Sox lost poorly on Sunday and they fly across the country to play the A's. Betting here that they will be a bit foggy. Sheets over Dice-K.
- The Giants over the Dodgers: Bumgarner over James McDonald, making his season debut.
- The Mariners over the White Sox: An impossible game to pick. The White Sox are starting Daniel Hudson who was decent in a few outings last year and bad his first time out this year. The Mariners start Pauley who was great his one time out but got no run support. Who knows...

And the Game of the Day:

- The Blue Jays over the Royals: Cecil is having a good year. Davies is Davies.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 9-6
Month: 122-85
Season: 781-582
Games of the Day: 47-41

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Game Picks - Sunday: July 18, 2010

Eleven correct, five incorrect. Another successful day and a very successful week where this picker went 36-17. If you were wondering, there were 16 games yesterday because the Tigers and the Indians played a double header. Surprisingly, the Tigers lost both and both losses meant bad picks not to mention a kick in the side of the Tigers' division chances. The other bad picks were the Rangers (Lee almost pulled it out but should have intentionally walked Youkilis in the ninth), the Mariners and the Braves.

And so we move on to Sunday and a fresh new week:

- The Indians over the Tigers: Okay, so the Indians have taken all of this series and all those picks were wrong. So if the Tigers pitch Oliver and should lose, will they?
- The Yankees over the Rays: Scary pick as Mr. Price faces Mr. Pettitte. Pettitte is so money that it's hard to pick against him. But beware, Price has had success against the Yankees.
- The Marlins over the Nationals: Going with Sanabia over Stammen.
- The Reds over the Rockies: Travis Wood has been sensational. Cook goes for the Rockies.
- The Braves over the Brewers: Another scary pick but going with Lowe over Parra.
- The Red Sox over the Rangers: Lester should have no trouble winning here. Lewis goes for the Rangers.
- The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Marcum should win this one unless Matusz comes up big.
- The Astros over the Pirates: Roy Oswalt throws another gem against the lowly Pirates.
- The White Sox over the Twins: Garcia versus Blackburn (rhymes with heartburn). Logic dictates a Chisox win.
- The Athletics over the Royals: Mazzaro should be better than Bannister.
- The Cardinals over the Dodgers: Hard to pick Suppon, but the Dodgers look awful.
- The Mariners over the Angels: Vargas versus Santana. All the numbers point to a Mariners' win, but it sure is a troubling pick.
- The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Correia is the Padres' weak link. Edwin Jackson should win.
- The Mets over the Giants: Santana has been amazing lately and the Mets should be patient enough to pile up Sanchez's pitch count.

And the Game of the Day:

- The Phillies over the Cubs: Roy Halladay versus Gorzelanny. Oh yeah, mark it down.

Yesterday: 11-5
Last week: 36-17
Month: 113-79
Season: 772-576
Games of the Day: 47-40

Carl Freakin' Pavano

The heading is how New York fans named Pavano, except they probably used a different word that began with the letter, "F." He was disparaged by his own teammates. Mike Mussina, who never said boo about anything to anyone, was quoted as calling out Pavano. He was a quitter. He was a guy who took the Yankees' money and was tooling around in his car in Florida with a woman when he was supposed to be getting ready to pitch. The rest is well documented. It was the worst deal that Brian Cashman ever made.

And then just as suddenly as it began, his tenure in New York was over. New York fans were relieved. At least the team wasn't forking over any more money to a no-good-for-nothing, money-grubbing iconoclast. Hmm...not sure a lot of Yankee fans would use that "i" word. But anyway, he was gone. Thank goodness! New York fans laughed when Pavano signed with Cleveland. They laughed even more when he got bombed his first couple of starts there.

As 2009 rolled along, the Pavano skeptics, including yours truly, kept wondering how long he would pitch with his history. But he kept on pitching. After a rough start, he started pitching better. In fact he pitched well enough that the Twins wanted him for the stretch run. Whuh? The Twins WANTED Pavano? But there it was. And he did fairly well for the Twins down the stretch. He won some big games. He had a clunker here and there, but he helped.

When the season was finally over, Pavano--who tallied only 26 starts over three years for the Yankees--finished with 33 starts. The guy who only put in 146 innings over three years and finished his Yankee career with nine wins pitched 227 innings in 2009 and won fourteen games.

The Fan figured that Pavano had done it with mirrors. After all, he did lead the American League in earned runs allowed in 2009 with a combined ERA of 5.10. But the more this writer looked into it, the more it seemed that his numbers were deceiving. He had his best ever season in strikeouts per nine innings. His 1.8 walks per nine innings was also the best of his career. Obviously, his K/BB ratio was the best of his career. He got blown out a few times, but in games where he wasn't blown out, he kept his teams in the game long enough for them to win more than half his starts.

And then the Twins signed him again to pitch for them in 2010. They gave him $7 million after he had made only a million and a half the year before (quite a bit less than the $11 million the Yankees paid per year for him). That seemed like a lot of money for the Twins for a fourth starter...especially when that fourth starter was Carl Freakin' Pavano.

Pavano has delivered. His teammates rave about the guy. The pitcher that Mike Mussina called out as a wimp was now being called a bulldog. On Saturday night, in a game against the White Sox that the Twins just had to win, Pavano pitched a complete game on only 102 pitches and won the game 3-2. He is now 11-6 and seems a lock on winning 17 games or more. Wouldn't the Yankees love to have that instead of the Adventurous Journeys of Burnett?

Pavano's WHIP now stands at 1.03. His ERA is 3.48. He has four complete games. He is striking out four times as many guys as he is walking. And speaking of walks, if it wasn't for the freakish and surreal Cliff Lee who has only walked six batters all year, people would be talking about Pavano. He has only walked 18 batters all season. His 1.3 BB/9 ratio is sterling. He is the Twins' second best pitcher. He is averaging 7.08 innings per start. Among his wins this year, he has beaten the Angels, the Red Sox, the White Sox (twice), the Rangers, the Phillies, the Mets, the Rockies and the Tigers. That's nine wins against contenders. Amazing.

If ever a player's reputation has been rebuilt as strongly as Pavano's, the Fan can't think of one. Where once there was scorn and derision, there is now respect. There is nothing you can do but to admit that Pavano has proven us all wrong. And, this is hard to admit, but he is rapidly becoming one of the Fan's favorite players in baseball. Carl Freakin' Pavano. Amazing.