Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sale: A Cool Story That is Under the Radar

Chris Sale was just a college kid when this MLB season started. He finished his college career with little-hyped, Florida Gulf Coast University, with an 11-0 record. And so it was a good bet the kid would get drafted and he did in the first round by the Chicago White Sox. He signed rather quickly (as those things go) and went to the minor leagues. But just two months later, he was in the major leagues.

And so Chris Sale became the first 2010 draftee to make it to the big leagues. And he's proved that he belongs. He's pitched in ten games and has been a life saver for the White Sox whose injury-depleted bullpen needed a major lift, especially with the injury to Thornton, the White Sox All Star reliever.

Sale has pitched in ten games and now has ten innings under his belt. The Fan knows that is a small sample size. But he's struck out sixteen batters and has only allowed one run and five hits. His only problem currently is his walk rate. He's walked seven in his ten innings, but he showed good control in college and in the Cape Cod League last summer.

It's just a cool story going from college kid to the majors in the span of just a few months. It's storybook really. If he was starting, it would probably have received more fanfare. But even so, it's a fun story and just another reason why baseball is such a fun adventure year in and year out.

Doggonit, Manny!

Just when the Fan jumps out of the Manny pool, Manny puts on the charm and apologizes for the ending of his Boston career saying that the whole thing was his fault. Shoot, Manny, you did it again. The Fan had decided not to care how Manny does in Chicago. The Fan was determined to cut emotional ties with the most entertaining baseball player of the last fifteen years. And then Manny goes out and does this gesture. Crap.

Joe Torre came out and said after the whole last-Dodger-at-bat thing that he didn't think Manny quit on the Dodgers and though he was mad at the time, after talking with Manny, the manager said he believed it was a bad move on the umpire's part to eject the aging slugger. Crap. Another dagger in the "The Fan hates Manny now" mindset.

But the Fan has to be strong. One of the Fan's favorite readers commented with congratulations when the Fan threw away his Manny fetish. Now what is the Fan going to do? But it's hard, man. It's really hard because the guy is just so compelling. He always has been. And like it or not, there is always a soft spot in this writer's heart for redemption. AAARGGHHH!!

Stop it, Manny! Stop it right now! The Fan had this thing all figured out and there you go being all humble and crap. Not fair. Not fair at all.

Game Picks - Saturday: September 4, 2010

Oh my. That was a bad day. Only four correct picks out of fourteen with one postponement. Oh my, that's a bad day. Nothing went as expected. Dickey was game but couldn't hold back the long ball. Morrow couldn't hold the Yankees. The Reds can't seem to beat the Cardinals that everyone else has beat lately. The Twins stole one from Texas. The Pirates won. Greinke couldn't hold a lead. Oh my, that was a bad day. The month of September's decent start was washed away as if from the rains of Hurricane Earl (of which we are getting the rain right now).

But when the going gets tough, the tough keep picking. Saturday:

  • The Red Sox will split their double-dip with the White Sox: Buchholz wins one game and Lackey loses the other. Or it could be the other way around. Either way, they split. Manny...stop caring Fan. Stoppit!
  • The Cubs over the Mets: Zambrano is back. He even hit one of his patented homers last time out. Meja gets the start for the Mets.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Sooner or later, a losing streak has to end. Garland makes it end.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Funny how the Reds are the only team the Cards can beat lately. Wainwright finally gets win number 18. Wood gets the loss.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Everyone is contributing for the Yankees. Vazquez has to be decent, but only decent as the Yankees should hit Rzepcynski. Do you like how the Fan has learned to spell that name?
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: How do you pick two teams playing rope-a-dope? Lannon over Maholm.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: The Yankees proved how Cahill's success was pretty lucky (look at his BABIP!). The A's won't hit Weaver as they can't hit good pitching. Well...they can't hit pretty much any pitching.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Can you almost feel how the Phillies can smell blood? Yeah, they're on their stretch drive. Halladay over Bush.
  • The Twins over the Rangers: The Rangers get Pavanoed and Lewis is fading. Unfortunately.
  • The Marlins over the Braves: Josh Johnson at home. Jair Jurrjens isn't throwing enough strikes.
  • The Orioles over the Bay Rays: This is probably stupid, but Guthrie has been great lately and Shields can be had on occasion.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Porcello's had two great outings in a row and four good outings out of his last five. He beats Chen.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Lilly continues to seek a Dodger deal and the Dodgers get to Cain.
  • The Mariners over the Indians: Talbot has really fallen apart (IE, his BABIP caught up with him). Pauley has been good at times.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Diamondbacks over the Astros: Bud Norris is 0-2 in his career versus the D-backs with 12 earned runs given up in six innings. Not promising. Saunders wins.

Yesterday: 4-10  ouch
Week: 41-37
Month: 15-20  ugh
Season: 1132-843
Games of the Day: 74-60  two straight losses and four out of the last five. Not good.

Is There Any Hope for the Pirates?

Chicago Cubs fans are considered the most long-suffering of all fans in baseball. After all, Chicago hasn't won it all in over a hundred years. But ask Kansas City Royals fans or Pittsburgh Pirate fans if they wouldn't change places with those Cubs fans any day. At least the Cubs have been competitive the last ten years or so. At least they have a fighting chance to win most games, even if they don't. To say that the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a slump would be like saying that the Beatles sold a few records. Since the last Pirates team to make the playoffs (1992), the Pirates have a record of 1170-1607 (.421). From 2000 to 2009, the Pirates went 687-936 (.423). The ten years makes for easy division so their average season in that decade was roughly 69-93. Last year, the Pirates finished at their second worst winning percentage since 1993 at .385. This year, they are chugging along at a .331 pace. If that winning percentage stays true to the end, the Pirates will finish this season at 54-108. That's about as bleak a landscape as can be painted in baseball. For this poor franchise and its fans, the one question is: Is there any hope?

The answer is the same as any answer becomes when pondering the future of a baseball team or a baseball player: Maybe. But at least maybe is better than, "Heck no." The trick is getting beyond where they are this year. And this year is horrid. They are absolutely dead last (30th place) in winning percentage, pitcher VORP, runs against per game and run differential. The are next to last in (29th place) in runs scored. They are 27th (out of 30 teams in fielding efficiency. That, friends is nearly the triple crown. They can't hit, they can't pitch and they can't field. It's tough to overlook all of that. No doubt there.

There are some signs of life since the Pirates basically purged their team of its entire starting line up a year ago. Ryan Doumit is a good hitting catcher. Unfortunately, he's not a good defensive catcher and has only thrown out 10% of base stealers this season and has a defensive efficiency rating of -13. But there is good news at this position because one of the Pirates' best prospects is Tony Sanchez, who the Pirates took in the first round of the 2009 draft (Boston College). He has a plus-plus arm, is considered an excellent defensive catcher and is projected to hit in the .270 range. Sanchez could make it to the majors by next year. If he can make that leap and perform as expected, Doumit will be a great back up catcher.

Neal Walker was the Pirates first round draft pick in 2004 and is seeing his first extended major league playing time this year. He's played in 81 games and his slash line is very good: .310/.352/.487. That's one good thing about being awful every get good draft picks. Walker is learning a new position for reasons we'll see in a minute, so his defensive stats at second base are a little rough. But he has the talent to develop into a good second baseman. Walker is also in the midst of an eight game hitting streak. Walker is 24.

And the reason for Walker's shift to second? Pedro Alavrez, the only 5 star rated (according to Baseball Prospectus) stud in the Pirates' system. Alvarez made a huge splash in Spring Training and then had a good minor league year and was called up a while ago. He had a really rough start with lots of strikeouts and few hits. But he's come on of late and is up to .233 with a .315 OBP. He's hit ten homers in 67 games and that is bound to go up as he gets his feet wet. Alvarez has struggled in the field and has 10 errors already. But that should improve with time plus, if he hits, that is what he will be getting paid to do. Alvarez is 23.

A nice story this year has been Jose Tabata. Tabata was signed out of Venezuela in 2004. Tabata has played in 67 games and has a nice slash line of: .307/.360/.420. According to scouts, he has the quickest bat in the Pirates' system. He gets on base. The question is if he'll hit with any power. McCutchen is going to play center, so Tabata will play left and ideally, you'd like to have a thumper there. But Tabata can at least hit and hit very well. Tabata is 21.

Garrett Jones was a lifer in the minors until last year when he became a big surprise and had a great second half. He finished last year with a 147 OPS+. But this year has been a crashing disappointment. His OPS+ is sitting at 95 and his numbers have fallen off quite a bit. He also had a horrid August, so he isn't exactly finishing strongly. The Pirates need to answer whether last year was the fluke or this year. Jones is 29.

And, of course, there is Andrew McCutchen. What an exciting baseball player! McCutchen broke in last year and played 108 games. He finished with a 124 OPS+ with good pop for a lead off batter and a good knack for getting on base. This season is his first full season and he's holding his own with a slash line of: .277/..354/.433. McCutchen has now stolen 108 bases in his fledgling career and has only been thrown out 13 times. Amazing stat. He shows great promise in center with great range. He hasn't put together that part of his game, but it will come.

Shortstop is a problem for the Pirates. Ronny Cedeno is decent enough in the field, but he offers nothing at the plate. The Pirates real hope is the quick ascension of Chase d'Arnaud, a 2008 fourth round draft pick from Pepperdine University. Here is what Baseball Prospectus says about him: "D'arnaud is a classic max-effort grinder, but he's not without tools. Slightly above-average speed and a plus arm buoy his outstanding defensive fundamentals. He displays a solid approach to go with a line-drive swing and gap power at the plate. He's an excellent baserunner and plays with an infectious energy."  The Fan likes that "max-effort" part. Sounds like a Pedroia-type player. D'Arnaud is 23.

The Pirates are also short one outfielder. Lastings Milledge still isn't getting there and may never be the player scouts thought he was going to be. The Pirates' best two outfield prospects are Gorkys Hernandez of Venezuela. He was really rated highly but has struggled to maintain that status in the minors. The other good prospect is a very good one in Starling Marte, a 21 year old from the Dominican Republic. He's rated as a top notch defender and the best athlete in the system. But he is still a couple of years out. The Pirates need to find someone to play right who can field some and at least hit league average.

Like most teams, a lot of the success of the Pirates will depend on if the defense and the pitching can improve. Brad Lincoln is the Pirates' best pitching prospect, but he's gotten roughed up in a few starts with the big club. Scouts say his fastball is much too straight (think Farnsworth). If he can find a way to get some movement on his big fastball, it would help a lot. The Fan still likes Zach Duke. He seems like a battler and if he could just get some consistency and lower his walk rate, he could still be a very good pitcher. He shows flashes, but not on a consistent bases.

Ross Ohlendorf is one of the Fan's favorite players, the best 1-11 pitcher in baseball. And as such, it was very disappointing when he got hurt recently. At one time, Paul Maholm looked like he was going to be a good pitcher. But the simple fact is that he just can't punch out enough guys to compensate for the amount of hits he gives up. Perhaps if the defense tightens up, he can be a back end of the rotation type of guy, but he's not a front end guy and never will be, but that's his current role on this team and that is a problem.

The Fan has ragged on Jeff Karstens this year, but the kid hangs in there. What the Fan likes about him is his control. He doesn't walk many batters and thus is K/BB ratio is 2.63. Perhaps if he could get some defense and if he could cut down on the home-run ball (his rate is a really bad 1.6 per nine), he could be a decent enough starter.

But that's it for starters. Forget Charlie Morton or Brian Burres. James McDonald has a good, live arm and has struck out 37 in his six big league starts (34 innings). He has been extremely unlucky to this point and he could be a good starter too. Daniel McCutchen had a real good start last time out but isn't really counted on to be that great a pitcher by most scouts.

The Pirates have four good looking young pitching prospects, but three of them were 2009 draft picks and look to be years away. The Pirates could use one very good starter they can count on to pitch well in most of his starts. Could the Pirates sign a guy like that?

It appears that the Pirates have built a good young core in McCutchen, Walker, Alvarez and Tabata. If Jones isn't the answer at first, they will need to find a new one. Fortunately, there will be plenty on the free agent market this year. But could they or would they sign any of them? The Fan likes the Pirates chances of improving next year. They probably need a new manager, preferably one who has a track record this time. But for once, this team seems like one on the rise instead of simply a perennial loser.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Game Picks - Saturday: September 3, 2010

Woke up  this morning to find northern Maine getting rain from one of Hurricane Earl's shower bands. That's interesting at least. The picks yesterday weren't interesting. They were just putrid. Out of six games, the Fan only picked two correctly. One was Sabathia, who you can always count on (see other post). The other was the Tigers, who did it the round about way by messing up the Twins' bullpen (Crain, Jesse Crain).

Friday should feature some interesting games and hopefully more correct picks:

  • The Mets over the Cubs: R. A. Dickey has been one of the top five stories of the year. Wells was on last year. Going with this year's great story.
  • The Blue Jays over the Yankees: Morrow always pitches the Yankees tough. Nova is a wild card. He and Bautista already have history.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Hamels wins easily as there is no way the Brewers should be starting Capuano.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Matt Garza has a good day and Millwood is Millwood.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: Going with Livan over Zach Duke, who was pretty darn good his last time out.
  • The Red Sox over the White Sox: No matter where the Red Sox end up this season, their manager should win Manager of the Year. Buchholz over Danks.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: Not thrilled picking the Braves when Kawakami is starting. But the Marlins counter with Miller. Not going there.
  • The Rangers over the Twins: Holland starts for the Rangers. Which is an iffy proposition. But Blackburn is supposed to start for the Twins. But he pitched in relief last night. He won't still start, will he?
  • The Reds over the Cardinals: A lot sure has changed since these two teams last met. Arroyo over Garcia.
  • The Royals over the Tigers: No Cabrera for the Tigers? Greinke over Bonderman.
  • The Astros over the Diamondbacks: Myers has been good and will out pitch an impressive, young Hudson.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: The A's got spanked by the Yankees but Gonzalez should right the ship over Kazmir.
  • The Indians over the Mariners: The Mariners will make Carmona look like a great pitcher. French goes for the Mariners.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Zito versus Billingsley. The Giants are 32-33 on the road. The Dodgers are very good at home.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Padres over the Rockies: The Padres' streak has to end some time, right? They are back home and a rookie is making his debut. But the Rockies hit poorly on the road.

Yesterday: 2-4
Week: 37-27
Month: 11-10
Season: 1128-833
Games of the Day: 78-59

Does Paycheck Devalue Sabathia?

In C. C. Sabathia's last eighty starts, he is 49-15. That, friends, is a .765 winning percentage. And yet, since he's become a Yankee with a fat paycheck, he's never really considered an elite pitcher in the eyes of today's most popular analysts. And this is puzzling. The Fan is torn himself about the lack of respect Sabathia receives. Lee is a better they say. Greinke is a better pitcher. Felix Hernandez is a better pitcher. Maybe they are. Today's metrics all rate those pitchers higher (in WAR) than Sabathia. It's considered old school to talk about wins. Wins are overrated. Anyone can win with a big hitting team. Except they don't.

It might have been Mike Mussina that said a really good pitcher will win half of his starts. Sabathia has made 317 starts in his career and has won 155 of them. That's pretty close. In those 317 starts, he has averaged 6.6 innings per start. His won-loss percentage in those starts is .642. Cliff Lee, who was a teammate of Sabathia's for many years, has a .625 winning percentage in 103 less starts. What seems to set Lee apart is that he's been crazy stingy about walks since the start of the 2008 season. And this year, the walk totals for Lee are astounding.

The Fan gets the numbers. There is xFIP which is Fielding Independent Pitching. Without going into great details, this strips out fielding from the equation and tries to rate the pitcher's true earned run average. Right now, in the American League, Liriano and Felix Hernadez are one and two. If we are talking about Cy Young Award right now, it would have to be those two as the front runners. All the stats place Sabathia around 20th in effectiveness. His xFIP (before Thursday's gem against Oakland) is sitting at 3.85. Liriano's is at 3.02 and King Felix sits at 3.26. The Fan gets it. So the Fan isn't saying Sabathia is the best pitcher in the American League this year. All he's saying is that the guy just goes out there every five days, pounds you for seven or eight innings and gets the 'W."

Sabathia has only missed about three or four starts in his entire career. He's like a clock, you can set your watch by him. He'll bend here and there with a few runs, but he rarely breaks. Other than opening day, Sabathia has had only two outings all year where he's pitched less than six innings. He is practically unbeatable at home in Yankee Stadium. He's as reliable as they come and it's hard to figure out where the Yankees would be without him the last two years or where Milwaukee would have been the year before that. For that level of consistency and that level of success, he's worth every penny the Yankees are paying him.

So yeah, maybe there are better pitchers. Maybe other pitchers should win Cy Young. But Sabathia deserves more credit than he gets and there is something to be said for winning 76.5 percent of your decisions out of the last 80 starts.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Game Picks - Thursday: September 2, 2010

This feature seems to be stuck on the 9-6 mark. Three of the last days with full schedules have ended up at the same numbers. The continued Cardinal woes just messes with things as does the Padres. A. J. Burnett surprisingly won a game. The Dodgers were a bad pick in hindsight, though Kershaw was as good as predicted. Seattle was probably another stupid pick although Vargas did pitch well. The good news is that this is the first month in the last three that didn't start out really bad. The Fan had come to fear the first of the month not only for paying bills but for always coming up with disaster days. At least that was avoided. Now about paying those bills...

Last night was one of the most uncomfortable sleeping nights of the year. Boy was it hot. So with all the rolling around and tossing and turning, there's been a lot of thought going into today's picks. Of course, that wasn't too difficult as there are only six games on tap:

  • The Rockies over the Phillies: The Rockies are a different team at home in their launching pad. Blanton won't get much break on his breaking pitches. Chacin wins.
  • The Yankees over the Athletics: The A's have lost the first three games of the series and now have to face Sabathia. Ouch.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: The Orioles will get to Dice-K and Bergesen is really pitching well.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: The Fan simply likes Verlander's power over Baker's gopher balls.
  • The Marners over the Indians: Fister over Tomlin in a battle of bad teams.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Braves over the Mets. Hudson is on a serious roll. Santana has been decent. But the Braves will win at home, especially with the Mets not hitting and playing more kids. Heyward is on fire.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 35-23
Month: 9-6
Season: 1126-829
Games of the Day: 74-58

How Are Those Trade Deadline Deals Doing?

There is still a month left to go in the season, so it isn't really fair to rate how trade deadline deals have worked out for the contenders who tried to strengthen their chances. But call this an early report and we can do it again at the end of the season.

Ryan Ludwick - San Diego Padres: Ludwick has struggled in San Diego and thus far doesn't look much different than all of their other weak hitters. He was 2 for 4 on Wednesday in a losing cause, but so far with the Padres, he's put together this slash line: .231/.308/.351. Plus, according to B-R, he's not been good in right field either. Ludwick has another month to contribute though and his history indicates that he should at least help a little down the stretch.

Matt Capps - Minnesota Twins: Matthew Dicus Capps has pitched in 15 games for the Twins so far and he's really done the job. He has seven saves and a win to go with a 1.80 ERA. He's a bit of an adventure at times as he's given up 19 base runners in his 15 innings of work. But so far, so good. This was a brilliant pick up by the Twins. Isn't it weird that there has never been a player named Capps in the big leagues before Matt? And the Fan would think there haven't been too many Dicuses either. (there was a George Dicus that played in the minors in 1955).

Kerry Wood - New York Yankees: Wood has been outstanding. He didn't have good command on Wednesday night, but he got out of the jam and put another zero on the board. Wood has now pitched in twelve games for a total of 13.1 innings of relief. He's given up just one run on ten hits with sixteen strikeouts. His walk rate (6.4 per nine) is a big alarming, but he's been solid and a key addition for the Yankees. The big key is if those walks will come back to bite him or if he can stay healthy through September.

Lance Berkman - New York Yankees: Berkman just came off the DL after turning his ankle on a freak play at first a couple of weeks ago. He had an awful start with the Yankees and was just starting to get his game on when he got hurt. He pinch hit his first game back and roped a double to the gap, which is a hopeful sign. But you would have to think that Berkman won't finish his Yankee run with a .200 average.

Austin Kearns - New York Yankees: Kearns has gotten a lot more playing time than the Fan expected with the Yankees picked him up. He's not a bad bench guy against tough lefties and a fill in for Granderson or Gardner. But he's already played in 21 games and has picked up 68 plate appearances. He's holding his own with a slash line of: .250/.323/.400 which is league average. For a fill in guy, league average is pretty good. He's no great shakes as a fielder, but will be replaced in the late innings.

Cliff Lee - Texas Rangers: Lee has been a disappointment since joining the Rangers. he's 2-5 in 11 starts with an ERA of 4.69. His hits per nine are up from 8.0 with the Mariners to 9.5 with the Rangers and he's given up ten long balls in 80 innings. But all his other peripheral numbers are nearly identical to his Mariner innings and you'd have to think that if he keeps that up, success will come. Besides, the Rangers have already won the division, Lee's real value will be in the post season.

Roy Oswalt - Philadelphia Phillies: Unlike Lee, the Phillies desperately need Oswalt to perform as they are in a dogfight for a playoff spot. And Oswalt has been delivering. Oswalt has made seven starts with the Phillies and has gone 4-1 (after his win on Wednesday night) with a 1.89 ERA. His peripherals are almost dead on with his career and with what he was doing with Houston this year. His only big improvement has been hits per nine innings which is almost down a full hit per nine since joining the Phillies. He was a huge pick up and he is paying dividends.

Scott Podsednick - Los Angeles Dodgers: The Fan still doesn't see this deal. Podsednik is at best a good bench guy. But if you play him every day, he'll just hit his career numbers (which he is nearly dead on this year for the Dodgers). And his career numbers are not close to being great. He's a nice little player in a not quite league average kind of way.

Pedro Feliz - St. Louis Cardinals: Not even gonna go there. Momma said that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Zipping.

Rick Ankiel - Atlanta Braves: Of course, everyone hopes that Ankiel does well, but he hasn't. He did get two hits for Atlanta on Wednesday night, but even so, is only hitting .232. That's not much different than what Melky Cabrera gives you. But Ankiel has been surprisingly effective in the field in small sample sizes.

Jhonny Peralta - Detroit Tigers: Peralta has come on of late and his stats with the Tigers are now well over league average. It's all a moot point though as the Tigers are going nowhere.

Dan Haren - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on the West Coast of America: Haren had a rocky start, but all of his numbers are excellent except his won-loss column. So he's been great. But the value of this deal will really be next year when the Angels hope to bounce back from an off year.

Bengi Molina - Texas Rangers: Look, Molina is no great shakes as a hitter. But he settles down a position for the Rangers that has been a huge problem. He's great at blocking balls and he calls a good game. He's a solid pick up for the Rangers as long as he keeps hitting .230 or so.

Chad Qualls - Tampa Bay Rays: The Bay Rays needed a DH but instead got Chad Qualls. It's hard to rate a reliever on their ERA because one or two bad innings messes up their stats badly. Suffice it to say that Qualls has a 5.06 ERA since joining the Bay Rays. His WHIP is okay but his K/BB ratio (1.40) is terrible. Too many walks and not enough strikeouts.

Jake Westbrook - St. Louis Cardinals: Westbrook has been solid but has been given little run support. He's made six starts for the Cardinals but is only 1-3. His K/BB ration is excellent and his ERA is 4.03. The Cardinals couldn't have hope for better from this quality, but middle of the pack starter.

The Weathermen

Weathermen have a pretty interesting job. They get a first row seat on what is going on in the world and get to watch it happen. Sometimes though, weathermen get bored. Take Florida for example. How many different ways can you say each and every day that it will be partly sunny today and 89 with a chance of afternoon showers? It's no wonder then that they get all excited about a hurricane. Weathermen love hurricanes like firemen love fires. They get beside themselves with giddiness at the projections and possible paths the storm might take. Of course, they do the obligatory duty of telling people to get out of harms way, but you understand and get the feeling that secretly, they hope a big one hits so they can be a part of it. Meanwhile, the viewers...the ones that rely on those weathermen are fraught with concern and watch with impending doom hanging over their heads and drape themselves over every word the weathermen say.

Wait. You thought this was a baseball blog. It is! The first paragraph is a simple English ploy called an analogy. What the first paragraph set up was the idea that the ESPN announcers tonight, O'Brien and Sutcliffe, were the weathermen. The storm they were watching was A. J. Burnett. They dragged up the dirty numbers and pored over all the data. They watched for every indication that Burnett might turn into a fury of base runners and runs for the Oakland Athletics. You could almost sense their anticipation. They were hanging on every Burnett pitch. Sutcliffe was the senior weather guy like that guy they go to in Florida with the bald head that always has the charts in his hand. Sutcliffe was just waiting for the perfect storm to blow onshore.

Yankee fans, meanwhile, were those viewers fraught with concern and were watching with impending doom hanging over their heads and cringed at every statistic and every base runner. Was another game with Burnett pitching going to go down the drain? And you can't blame the fans a bit. Burnett had such a bad August (and June) that the worst could only be expected. Imagine the hope that built inside them after the first two scoreless innings. But then the storm started veering back in dangerous waters. Kouzmanoff hit a two run homer. Burnett walked the guy after that. A few innings later, he again got in trouble and allowed a third run to score making it a 4-3 Yankee lead. The weathermen were ready to sound the warnings. They were ready. The viewers were tied up in knots.

And then a funny thing happened. The storm passed over. Somehow the storm called Burnett got through the sixth inning and the Yankees were still ahead. The viewers looked up at the skies and saw stars instead of clouds. It was a miracle!

But you could tell some of the wind had gone out of the weatherman's sails. They said at the end of Burnett's night that he struggled for six innings. They didn't understand how the storm didn't hit the mainland. But knowing the fine line between taste and poor taste, a weatherman would never state that he was disappointed that the big storm didn't happen. They trot out the old line of, "dodging a bullet." But you can tell that they were deflated a bit. Senior weatherman, Sutcliffe, did, somewhat begrudgingly mention at the end of the game that Burnett can build on the victory.

For the viewers, it was akin to walking out of the in-ground shelter. The blinked and saw that the house was still standing.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Game Picks - Wednesday: September 1, 2010

The month of August ended in mediocrity as this picker was 9-6 yesterday. Lee certainly was NOT dominant...again. Carpenter and the Cardinals lost AGAIN as the Cardinals suffered their eleventh shutout of the season. Remarkable. Should have gone with Wandy. The Pirates spanked the Cubs. The Dodgers lost at home. Masterson, as predicted, was masterful against the White Sox. But he shouldn't have started the eighth and then the bullpen lost the game. And the Reds overcame Gallardo and the Brewers. That was the bad news. The good news is that the Yankees won. Matusz beat the Red Sox as predicted. The Twins posted a win. And the Arizona pick was again correct. Also feeling good about King Felix and his continued domination.

And so we're into the home stretch. An exciting month of down to the wire action awaits us. Alas, for some teams, they will continue to just play out the string. Here's how the month will start:

  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Everything indicates the Cardinals won't win. Suppon is starting. The team isn't hitting. But the Cardinals will jump on Figueroa.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: The Manny circus begins. Garcia over Carrasco.
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Let's show Gorzelanny some love. He's hung in there all year in a losing cause. McDonald with the loss.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Lester is regaining his elite status. Arrieta can't get the job done.
  • The Dodgers over the Phillies: Marquee match up of Oswalt versus Kershaw. Thinking here that Kershaw gives the Phillies line up fits at home.
  • The Athletics over the Yankees: Can't pick Burnett. Just can't. Though the caveat is that the Yankees have hit Anderson hard this year.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: The Padres have lost SIX in a row [[looking around]] but Latos stops the bleeding and beats the impressive Enright.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: David Price should win his 17th in this one.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Volstad needs a good game for this pick to be correct, but he's done it before.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Scherzer has been great lately, but Liriano is a Cy Young candidate.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Narveson has been really good of late, but Cueto has also been great.
  • The Mets over the Braves: Pelfrey is a better pitcher than Hanson right now. That's the reason for the pick even though the Braves rarely lose at home and the Mets look moribund.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: The Fan likes Vargas this year. The Fan doesn't like Bell.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: Once again, Ubaldo can't get any help from his offense. Lincecum will win.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Rangers over the Royals: Hunter got back on track in his last start. Bullington can at least say he beat the Yankees.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 26-17
August Final: 216-168
Season: 1117-813
Games of the Day: 73-58   two game losing streak

The Bay Rays Little Secret

When you are winning a lot of games, little things get lost in the shuffle. Weaknesses are overlooked. Trends are downplayed. But when you are tied for the best record in baseball, it's easy to focus on the positive and not dwell on the negative. That has been the case for the Bay Rays. But they have a secret that has been hidden by all the success. The secret? They don't hit very well.

As of August 31, the Bay Rays were 12th in the AL (there are only 14 teams) in team batting average and in total bases. They are only 8th in slugging. Would you have guessed that? Probably not because they seem to make the most of the base runners they do get. The run the bases well and they are patient at the plate. But yeah, they don't hit very well.

It's not a secret to anyone that the Bay Rays don't have a designated hitter. In fact, what they have most nights is a guy that probably isn't better than most pitchers in the National League. The DH has accounted for a combined line of: .237/.313/.371. In other words, the Bay Rays' DH has produced roughly a Bonifacio. But that isn't their only trouble spot in the line up. But it is certainly troublesome. When your DH bats ninth, what does that tell you?

Including the DH, five of the regulars in the Bay Rays' line up have an OPS+ under 100 (or less than league average). They have one catcher who can hit but has no power. They have another catcher who can't hit and doesn't have consistent power. They have two shortstops that aren't hitting. Bartlett is perhaps the biggest surprise in the line up as he was so good last year and so bad this year. It's hard to understand. And second base has been no picnic either. Sean Rodriguez has shown glimpses of being something special, but he doesn't walk enough and his power numbers are inconsistent. He has a 93 OPS+.

Carlos Pena is batting .214. But at least it's a productive .214. He's driven in 77 runs with his 85 hits. His OPS+ is in the plus column thanks to his OBP and Slugging Percentage. But Ben Zobrist has gone from Most Valuable Player candidate to Missing Valuable Player. Last year, Zobrist was near the top of the league in OPS+. But this year, he's sitting at 93. His power has dried up and he is not hitting for average. Again, like Bartlett, it's hard to figure.

Of course, the biggest mystery of all is B. J. Upton. When you watch the guy play, he looks like a superstar. He just can't seem to put it together though. He is batting .233 with a .320 OBP that with his slugging adds up to a 97 OPS+. You just have to feel that he is going to bust out some time. He just looks too good to be this much of a bust.

Who knows where the Rays would be without Longoria and Crawford. Longoria has good numbers. Not as good as last year, but good solid numbers that add up to a 137 OPS+. Crawford has done it all. He steals bases, he runs down balls in left. He hits for power. Crawford is going to make a lot of money next year. It won't be with the Bay Rays though.

You can't count this team out by its offense though. They play smart. They have an excellent manager. They pitch well (recent struggles by Niemann notwithstanding) and man can they fly around the bases. Pitching tends to dominate the playoffs though and the Rays offense going into the post season could be a really big problem.

Can We Agree That Toronto Can Hit a Little Bit?

The Blue Jays of Toronto can flat out murder you if you aren't careful. Just ask the front running Yankees and the second place Tampa Bay Rays. The Blue Jays, who lead the majors in homers and are second in the AL in slugging and third in the league in doubles, have two unbelievable innings against those two front running teams. Back on August 2, the Blue Jays scored seven runs in the fifth inning against the Yankees that included an amazing six doubles in the inning. Travis Snider hit two of them in the same inning. Unusual? Not for the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays outdid themselves on the last day of the same month against Jeff Niemann and Lance Cormier. This time it was the seventh inning instead of the fifth and the Blue Jays sent sixteen men to the plate and only three of them (naturally) made an out. They scored ten runs. They hit four doubles. two homers and three singles. Here is how the inning went:

  • Freddie Lewis bunted for a single and then stole second.
  • Dewayne Wise singled and Lewis scored. Wise then stole second.
  • That must have rattled Niemann because he then plunked Bautista with a pitch.
  • Vernon Wells doubled and Wise and Bautista both scored.
  • Adam Lind doubled and Wells scored.
  • Buck doubled and Lind scored. That was it for Niemann. Cormier came in to put gas on the fire.
  • Aaron Hill greeted Cormier with a homer and both he and Buck scored.
  • Travis Snider struck out. BOO! HISS!
  • John McDonald walked.
  • Freddie Lewis fouled out. He batted .500 for the inning.
  • Dewayne Wise singled. He was 2 for 2 in the inning with two singles and two runs scored because...
  • Jose Bautista homered scoring Wise, Lewis and himself, of course. It was Bautista's 43 of the season and he now has 103 ribbies.
  • Vernon Wells doubled! That tied Travis Snider's feat with his second double of the inning. That has to tie a record? Couldn't find out if it did or not. But since only two men in history have ever had three hits in an inning (Johnny Damon is one of them), it has to tie a record.
  • Adam Lind flied out to end the inning.

What an inning! The Jays had 16 total bases in the inning. Plus they had walk and a HBP.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 31, 2010

Monday was a decent day for this picker. The Fan really thought it was going to be better though. After the early games, the record was sitting at 7-1 with only a pick against the Yankees (go figure) the lone mistake. But the Fan proceeded to go 1-4 in the late games which included a Kuroda one-hitter over Halladay, a Giants loss and another Padres loss (their FIFTH in a row). Oh well, it still wasn't a bad day.

Today is the last day of August. It sure flew by in a hurry. There is just a month left after today. Let's see if the Fan can end the month with a bang:

  • The Braves over the Mets: The Braves will not lose at home. Minor has another good game and Niese gets the loss.
  • The Yankees over the Athletics: A pick against the Yankees at home is fairly stupid. Not going to be stupid again. Hughes over Mazzaro.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: The Jekyll and Hyde Marlins get a win from Jekyll and Hyde Sanchez. Zimmermann gets the loss.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Call the Fan crazy, but Masterson has always pitched well against the White Sox and beat them earlier in the year fairly easily. Jackson gets his first loss as a White Sox player.
  • The Brewers over the Reds: Gallardo should be much better than Harang, who gets a rare start.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Matusz has been brilliant of late and beat the Red Sox handily in his last start against them. Beckett gets the hard luck loss.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: This game is super tough to call. Wandy Rodriguez has been great lately. Carpenter is still Carpenter despite a rough outing or two. The Fan has to go with Carpenter.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Niemann was putrid last time out. Romero will shut down the Rays.
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: The Pirates keep sending poor Karstens out there. Dempster gets the win.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Duensing versus Galarraga. The Twins should win at home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: The Padres have lost FIVE in a row (listening) and send Correia out there to face Ian Kennedy. Sounds like six in a row.
  • The Dodgers over the Phillies: The Dodgers are at home and Monasterios was good last time out and should equalize Kendrick at least.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: King Felix has truly been royal lately. Haran has been knocked around since coming to the Angels...not that Seattle is going to knock anyone around, but all Hernandez needs is a couple of runs.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: As usual, the Rockies can't score on the road and Bumgarner should hold them enough for the Giants to get to young Rogers whose ERA is just under six.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Rangers over the Royals: The Rangers breathe a sigh of relief as Lee dominates the Royals who counter with O'Sullivan.

Yesterday: 8-5
Week: 17-11
Month: 207-162
Season: 1108-817
Games of the Day: 73-57

Managerial Crystal Ball

There are going to be a lot of manager vacancies in baseball after this season is over. The Orioles have already got their guy. But a lot of turnover is going to happen and it's sort of fun to try to figure out how it will all go down. What follows is a brain trip around what might happen and what should happen.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Fan's feeling is that Joe Torre is done in LA. And the Fan would be highly surprised if Mattingly got the job if that happens. Mattingly is an outsider to the Dodger Blue and the home town team might turn to a local hero.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Kirk Gibson sure had a rough start out there in the desert. But his team is 14-13 in August and their tough play against the Padres might just keep him in the job into next year. He's got star power and name power and is an in-your-face kind of guy. There could be worse choices.

Colorado Rockies: Tracy should be safe. His run last year pretty much cements him in that seat for at least another year, especially if the Rockies finish strong this year and make it interesting.

Chicago Cubs: It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Ryne Sandberg will be the next manager. You have to give a Hall of Famer credit for putting the time in the minor leagues to earn a shot. That takes class and Sandberg will be the next Cubs manager.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ken Macha will probably be fired after the season. It really isn't his fault that he has no pitching. And the team is actually over .500 since the first of June and actually have more wins than their run differential indicates. But his constant line up changes are maddening and his misuse of the bullpen comes into question. Also, you have to consider that their record since June includes so many games against the Pirates that the record is inflated. The team does not have a winning record against any of the other division rivals. Whether it is his fault or not, Macha will not be allowed to continue after the Brewers worked so hard to build up their fan base only to have such a sub-standard season.

Houston Astros: At the end of May, the Astros were 17-34 and first-year manager, Brad Mills has to feel the heat. But since then, the Astros are 43-37 despite being last or next to last in just about every offensive category and in the bottom third of most pitching categories. He stuck with Wandy Rodriguez and that paid off. He stuck with Brett Myers and that paid off. The Astros are 16-14 in one-run games and 7-4 in extra innings, so they battle and have never given up. Mills deserves to keep going.

Pittsburgh Pirates: This will probably be John Russell's last season. That may not be fair as he doesn't have much to work with and the team has outplayed its run differential. But the fact is that the Pirates are baseball's worst team and Russell will be the one that pays for the losses. The Pirates usually go on the fringe for its managers and get fringe guys like Russell. They need a big name manager with a proven track record to add some stability and some respect to the proceedings.

New York Mets: It's time for the Mets to clean house...and from top to bottom. Manuel's team has underperformed it's run differential and Manuel really misused his closer. Jerry Manuel has done some good things. Takahashi and Dickey have been nice surprises and he's let Ike Davis play. But his handling of other things like Francoeur have been questionable. The biggest thing for the Fan is Manuel's body language in the dugout. His body language varies from helpless to bored, neither of which is very uplifting to watch. Maybe it's time to bring back Bobby Valentine.

Florida Marlins: Edwin Rodriguez is over .500 since he took over the Marlins. But not by much. Some of his moves like moving Hanley Ramirez to the lead off spot and playing Bonifacio are unforgivable. But he seems like a solid guy and the players seem to like him. But the bottom line is the bottom line. Loria is cheap and Edwin Rodriguez is cheap. He'll probably manage next season.

Atlanta Braves: Still can't figure out why Bobby Cox is quitting. He's still at the top of his game. But it looks like he's going to be gone. He'll be replaced internally and not from an outside hire. You know what we haven't seen in a long time? A player-manager. Who was the last one? Frank Robinson maybe? Let Chipper Jones manage next year. What the heck, eh?

Toronto Blue Jays: Cito Gaston will be an advisor next year. For better or worse, Toronto fans won't have him to kick around any more. The odds seem to favor the Blue Jays hiring internally rather than going outside the organization. But they have a bright new general manager who may want to add his own stamp in the dugout. This one will be very interesting and crucial because the Blue Jays are bursting with young talent and very well could contend in the next couple of years.

New York Yankees: The Fan never would have thought Joe Girardi would be on this list. But if the Yankees don't win and Girardi doesn't get the money he wants, he could walk or be pushed. His last week with Chicago was odd and unsettling. Who would replace Girardi if he doesn't come back? Mattingly?

Chicago White Sox: The relationship between Ozzie and his GM have been an odd story all season. If the White Sox fade quickly out of the race, this could be a story in the off season. Ozzie should shut up more often than he does, but there is no question that he is a very good manager. The White Sox have won with mirrors this season.

Cleveland Indians: Manny Acta has always been uninspiring to this observer. His team this year was terrible and they are now retooling. But still. the Fan just doesn't feel like Acta is the right guy.

Oakland Athletics: Bob Geren has not won 80 games in a season. They have a chance to get there this season but even if they do, they won't get there by much. Geren's four seasons of mediocrity follow Ken Macha's 90 win seasons which followed Art Howe's playoff runs. Geren will be fired.

Kansas City Royals: Ned Yost is their guy. He'll be around for a while.

That's a long list! Everyone else is safe and will be back next year. What do you think? The Fan would love to hear your thoughts.

Manny Loses the Fan

It's time to admit that the years spent defending Manny Ramirez were a waste of energy as much as it was a waste of energy for Manny to pinch hit in a game the Dodgers really needed and in a spot where he really could have made a difference. Even the Fan isn't gullible enough to believe that Manny didn't do that on purpose. Please. So yeah, the Dodgers did what they had to do. He crossed the line just like he has on so many other occasions. The Dodgers couldn't let the White Sox have him fast enough after that.

The Fan has blindly defended Manny Ramirez for all these years. He's entertained this writer like few other players in major league history. But Manny has a character flaw and the Fan tried to overlook it...defend it...laugh at it. It's not funny anymore. The character flaw is obvious. Manny Ramirez has little if any integrity. And if you knew the Fan, you'd know how important that character trait is. Integrity is probably the only thing in life we have complete control over. It's one of our few true freedoms, the choice to be a decent human being and to put others before yourself. Manny Ramirez has twice now (that we know of) chosen to not be a decent guy and not put others before himself.

So yeah, Manny will go to Chicago and get a few big hits for the White Sox. Only, this time the Fan won't care. This time, the Fan won't smile. Joe Torre is one man the Fan respects more highly than others he has rooted for in this life. The most telling thing about Sunday's swan song for Manny is that after he got himself kicked out of the game after one pitch, Torre did not even encounter the umpire. Torre never even left his seat. That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Pete Rose is Talking - Is What He Says Worth Hearing?

Yahoo Sports has a series of video clips of an interview with Pete Rose. They turn out to be very interesting and full of insight into not only the man, but how his thinking is influenced constantly by his exile from baseball. Rose turns out to be as feisty as ever and though he now admits that he bet on baseball while managing, his statements that he always bet on his team to win (every game) don't ring true. Here are a few ways the interview shows answers by Rose that are colored by his current status:

  • He says there are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame that weren't alter boys.
  • He blasts Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for the steroids they used. He at first defends Bonds but then lumps the 73 homers in with the steroid conversation.
  • He wants to manager and still believes that he is the best manager currently not managing.
  • He thinks the Hall of Fame is strictly about statistics.
  • He criticises guys like Ryan Howard that strike out too much and states that he couldn't play in today's game.
  • Rose was very perturbed by the betting questions and particularly to the interviewer's statements implying that he was an addict.
  • He rationalizes his actions by saying he didn't break up the Beatles or shoot JFK.

The interview clearly shows that Rose hasn't softened a bit. He believes he should be in the Hall of Fame and that he should be reinstated. His interview shows no remorse about breaking the rules or any humility that would aid him in gaining sympathy for his current place outside of baseball. This is clearly a guy who will not sweet talk his way out of his current situation.

And in many ways, that's better than the other way around. Rose's reputation as a player was as a hard-nosed, gritty and violent player. To see him in his old age groveling for admittance back into the game would be unseemly and out of character and in many ways more pitiful than what he actually did. And who knows what he actually did. No one will ever know the full extent of Rose's crimes just the way we'll never know what Bonds did or didn't do. Guys like that don't come clean all the way and never will. It was their pride and their force of will that made them great players. It also led to the decisions they both made later. That same pride will not allow them now to admit that they failed in any way. Rose will only admit what he does because there is evidence he can't refute. He won't admit to anything where there is no evidence.

What does the Fan think about all of this? Really nothing that wasn't felt before seeing the videos. The Fan still thinks Rose is a deeply flawed human being but who among us aren't flawed in many ways? The Fan thinks that Pete Rose belongs in baseball and in the Hall of Fame. It would be a hoot to see him manage again. What he accomplished on the field is worthy of him being in the Hall and there is no evidence that he ever did anything wrong while he was playing. Gambling is a complicated issue, especially now when states and Native Americans are profiting from it all over the country. It is natural for sports to want it out of the game because NO ONE wants the actual outcomes affected by the gambling. But guys like Horning and others were given a couple of years suspensions, not lifetime bans. Guys like McGwire can coach in baseball despite admitting to steroid use. Guys like Andy Pettitte can still pitch after admitting to using. Guys like Manny Ramirez, who was suspended AFTER 2003 are still playing baseball.

Rose is an ass in many ways. Yeah. Granted. But he was good for the game when he played and the fans still love the guy. Wouldn't it be fun for him to be the Mets next manager? Rose hasn't softened his stance one little bit. But so be it. Let him back in for crying out loud.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Trying to Figure Out the Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are now five games behind the Cincinatti Reds after losing to the Washington Nationals on Sunday 4-2. Since they swept the Reds in that big series to take the lead in the division, the Cardinals have gone 5-9 which included series against the Pirates, the Astros and the Cubs. They are 17-22 in one run games. They are a hard team to figure out.

Tony LaRussa is one of the greatest managers ever. And you have no idea how hard it is for the Fan to type that. No, he's never been a favorite. He is the Don Shula of baseball, the head guy you love to hate but have to respect. His team this year has outscored its opponents by 97 runs. According to their Pythagorean win-loss expectations, they should have 74 wins this year. They have 69. It's very un-LaRussa-like to have his team five games under the wins they should have at this point.

The big news today was that Wainwright failed to win his 18th game for the third straight time. The Fan loves the hyperbole. It's not like Wainwright has pitched poorly. He's been great. He just hasn't been perfect and in order to win those three starts, he had to be because his team barely scored. And that seems to be a trend. Or is it? Before the Fan makes a fool of himself, it would be smart to look at the numbers.

The Cardinals have been shut out ten times this year or 7.8% of the time. They were shut out ten times all of last year so that was 6.1% last year. The Cardinals have scored one run 13 times this year or 10.1% of their games. They scored only one run 11 times all last year or 6.8%. Yes, that looks like a factor. The fact is that the Cardinals have scored three runs or less 44 times this year or close to 35% of the time. Last year was worse though because the Cardinals only scored two runs an amazing 25 times last year and only three runs another 21 times. Last year, the Cardinals scored three runs or less 41% of their games.

The Fan wanted to see if the numbers in the last paragraph mean anything. So let's look at a .500 team like the Marlins to see what the comparison is. The Marlins have been shut out seven times or 5.4% of the time. The Marlins have scored only one run in 10.8% of their games. That's pretty comparable. But the Cardinals are supposed to be a lot better offense than the Marlins. Right? We have to dig deeper to see what the problems could be.

The Cardinals fare equally well against right-handers and left-handers, so that isn't a problem. They also don't have a serious deficiency on the road compared to home. It's a little lower, but not that bad. So that's not a problem. As you can probably suspect, the Cardinals are a great hitting team in wins with a .300 team batting average and an .856 OPS. In losses, they bat .229 with a .626 OPS. That's sort of a smoking gun, but in checking some other teams this year, that's pretty consistent. There are a couple of things that do pop out though.

The first is that they have a real weakness at shortstop. Their shortstops have a combined line of .223/.294/.328. So that really means that the Cardinals have to get all their work done with seven guys in the line up (the pitchers aren't going to hit well). The other glaring weakness is their lead off batters. Persons batting first in their batting order have a combined line of .251/.318/.362. The lead off guy is the guy who gets the most at bats in a game. He's the guy that is supposed to set the table for Pujols and Holliday. But whoever that guy has been, he has only gotten on base 31.8% of the time and that is not enough.

Another stat that popped out at the Fan was the second inning. The second inning would be the inning after Pujols gets up, right? In the second inning, the Cardinals combined line this year is .213/.281/.313. That's not good. The Fan hates to keep comparing the Cardinals to the Marlins, but the Marlins second inning has a line of .246/.315/.387. Still not great, but much better than the Cardinals. Okay, one last thing that pops out to this Fan.

One of the old saws in the game is that the longer a team bats against a starting pitcher. the better the chances of hitting that pitcher. The Cardinals don't seem to do that. Here are their stats against a starting pitcher the first, second and third time through the batting order:

1st time: .251/.314/..385
2nd time: .271/.334/.417
3rd time: .260/..332/.456

The OBP and slugging goes up, but not that batting average. Let's look at the Marlins:

1st time: ..251/.314/.385   Uhhh...that is exactly the same. Weird.
2nd time: .249/.316/.386
3rd time: .289/.384/..512

The Marlins don't fare any better the second time through the batting order, but the third time, they do a much better job than the Cardinals.

The Fan really hasn't proved anything. But a couple of conclusions are that the Cardinals, despite being in the top five in the National League in Batting Average (2), On Base Percentage (3) and Slugging (5), they have an awful lot of games where they don't score many runs. They have terrible production from the shortstop position and from the lead off batter. After the pitcher gets by Pujols, they fare terribly in the second inning. The sneaking suspicion here is that the Cardinals rely far too heavily on one or two guys in their line up and when those two guys aren't having a good game, neither do the Cardinals. The Fan didn't think the Reds had any chance to unseat the Cardinals as Central Division Champs, but five games is a lot of games to make up.

Second Guessing Gardenhire

The Twins have a four game cushion on the Chicago White Sox. But as the White Sox have already proved once this season, you make a mistake if you think they are dead. That's why every game counts and the Twins blew one today. It's very easy for a blogger to second guess a manager. In fact it is too easy. But hey, the guys are millionaires and that's part of the job. The Fan tries to do this as little as possible, but this one screams out so loud that it can't go without at least one more look.

The Twins are having trouble scoring runs and they were holding on to a slim one-run lead (it was 1-0 in fact). Carl "Freakin'" Pavano continued his great season (despite the recent losses) and held the Mariners scoreless through six. The Twins pushed their one run through in the top of the seventh on a Cuddyer homer. Pavano started the bottom of the seventh and this is where the problems began.

Branyon grounded out and then Lopez singled. Kotchman singled to right center but Lopez stopped at second. Pavano then threw a wile pitch (catchers who can block those kinds of things should get more credit). This is where the Fan thinks Gardenhire messed up. It's second and third with one out. Franklin Gutierrez was at the plate. Gutierrez isn't having that good a year. His average is under .250 and his OBP is under .310. But for the Mariners, that's one of their better hitters. Plus, he was good last year. He's already ahead in the count thanks to the wild pitch. Why not walk him to load the bases?

That makes even more sense when you consider who was coming up after him, the one, the only, Adam Moore. Catching has been the pit of hell for the Mariners for a couple of seasons now. Moore is probably a nice receiver, but his OPS is sitting at .523. Five-Twenty-Three! His OPS+ is 44 and his career (short though it is) OPS+ is 48. Sure, he hit some in the minors and is actually #83 on Baseball Prospectus's list of top prospects. That's pretty good. But the Fan goes by the theory that a prospect isn't a player until he proves he can do it in the majors and so far, Moore hasn't done that.

A golden rule in baseball is that you don't pinch hit for your catcher. You only carry two of them and if the second catcher comes in the game and gets hurt, you are out of catchers. So Moore was going to bat one way or another. So why not take your chances with him instead of Gutierrez? But Gardenhire had Pavano pitch to Gutierrez who rapped a single to tie the score. Moore then hits a broken-bat grounder that is too slow for a double play and the second run scored. With the infield in and the bases loaded, that grounder could have gone home and no runs would have scored. Yeah, you still needed the third out, but that had to come from the number eight hitter in the batting order (Tuiasosopo), who did end the inning with an out.

The obvious play here would have been to walk Gutierrez to load the bases and then pitch to Moore. Why Gardenhire didn't go that route is hard to fathom. In this Fan's mind, the lack of a move there cost the Twins this game and kept the White Sox (who lost to the Yankees) that much closer in striking distance.

Game Picks - Monday: August 30, 2010

Well, that's batter. Not fantastic. But better. Sunday would have been better still if the Pirate and Marlins' bullpens hadn't imploded or that the Dodgers shouldn't have let Manny pinch hit (come on, Manny, really? Get thrown out after one pitch? Another bone to your detractors). But after three losing days in a row, the Fan will take what he can get.

Monday is surprisingly busy. All National League teams are in action and ten of the fourteen AL teams. Here's how the Fan sees them:

  • The Nationals over the Marlins: Marquis was better last time out. He's got to win a game this year. Senabia doesn't make the Fan go all tingly.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Buehrle will keep them in the game and the White Sox will jump all over Talbot.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Homer Bailey gets the win and Wolf the loss. The Reds bullpen is breaking down though.
  • The Athletics over the Yankees: Can't see the Yankees beating Cahill with Moseley on the mound.
  • The Braves over the Mets. The Braves have lost only 18 games at home this year. Jurrjens over Misch.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: Wade Davis has his groove on now. Cecil is the hard luck loser.
  • The Cubs over the Pirates: The Cubs haven't fared well against Pittsburgh, but Zambrano is getting stronger all the time.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: The Rangers have looked sleepy of late, but Wilson should beat Davies.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Westbrook has been a nice addition. He'll beat Happ.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: This game should be a yawner with those offenses. But Santana should prevail over Pauley.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: The Padres have lost three in a row. Panic time? Hardly. LeBlanc over Saunders.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: The Rockies are 25-40 on the road. The Panda is getting hot. Sanchez over De La Rosa.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Phillies over the Dodgers: Good match up between Kuroda and Halladay, but the Phillies get the win.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 9-6
Month: 199-157
Season: 1100-812
Games of the Day: 73-56

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Game Picks - Sunday: August 29, 2010

A third straight day under .500. Just barely, but still. Because of the three-game slump, last week ended up only three games over .500. That's not good. A good month is going out with a whimper. And this was despite brilliant picks of Arizona, Toronto, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Baltimore. What went wrong? Pitchers like Santana that were once rock solid picks are not any longer. The Pirates blew a save (shock!). Greinke was game but the Royals lost in extras in the AL Central fight for last place. The Dodgers lost (should have seen that coming). Add it all up and there were too many losses. But the Fan will take comfort in what has been a successful season and in the fact that the sun will shine again today.

Sunday's picks:

  • The Reds over the Cubs: Coleman was good last time out but horrible his first time. Wood was terrible last time out but good overall. What to do? Going with the Reds.
  • The Royals over the Indians: Hey, if the Fan makes this pick enough days in a row, some day it has to be right. Chen over Carmona.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Dickey gets the win and Norris the loss. What a great story Dickey has been.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: Porcello is no lock pick but he should fare better than Rzepcynski.
  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: Wainwright seems to have hit a wall lately, but he'll win today over Lannon, who has had two good starts in a row.
  • The Yankees over the White Sox: Injections of B-12? Nova over Floyd.
  • The Marlins over the Braves: Josh Johnson has also hit a wall. But predicting he'll get it back against the Braves today against Lowe.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Gio Gonzalez has been super. Lewis has been leaky lately for Texas.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: It's no fun picking Bush to win. But then again, the other option is picking Morton. No thanks.
  • The Angels over the Orioles: Want to go with Guthrie and the feel good Orioles, but can't pick against Weaver in this one.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Ted Lilly is a really good pitcher.
  • The Twins over the Mariners: Carl "Freakin'" Pavano beats French and the Mariners.
  • The Padres over the Phillies: Just another game for Hamels. He'll pitch brilliantly only to lose to Richard.
  • The Bay Rays over the Red Sox: The Bay Rays should get to Lackey and Shields has to have a good game. No easy task though.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: When was the last time Rodrigo Lopez won a game? Point made.

Yesterday: 7-8
Last Week: 40-37
Month: 190-151
Season: 1091-806
Games of the Day: 72-56

Chapman, Strasburg and Arms

David Brown posted an interesting observation on his blog today at Yahoo Sports. His post was about Aroldis Chapman, the Reds' phenom from Cuba hitting 105 on the radar gun at a recent Triple A outing. That alone is interesting, but that wasn't the interesting part. The interesting part was Brown's concern that in the aftermath of Stephen Strasburg's unfortunate injury, perhaps Chapman shouldn't be throwing so hard. That is a natural fear that Strasburg's injury has clouded over the entire sport.

The Fan has read a lot of articles about Strasburg's injury and a common theme is that the human arm isn't supposed to throw a little round object that fast without serious injury. And the more that the Fan read on the subject, the more the Fan realized that nobody really knows the secrets of protecting golden arms. After all the science and all the pitch counts and all the protections put on pitchers today, just as many elbows and shoulders are blowing out as there ever has been.

Consider how for every story about Dusty Baker blowing out Mark Prior's arm due to overuse there is another one about a Stephen Strasburg getting more protection than all due diligence could offer and still ending up in the same place as Prior. It seems the more we know, the more we don't know.

You hear all kinds of theories. For example, one theory suggests that young kids don't throw as much like we did as kids (us older folks anyway). And while it's true that baseball doesn't hold the same place in American society as it did when the Fan was growing up, the Fan really doesn't think pitchers today blow their arms out any more than they did years ago. The landscape of all eras is full of dead arms. The Fan's first wife had a cousin in the Yankees organization who once was a stud pitcher until his arm blew up. That was 30 years ago.

We hear about it more now because there are wire services telling us instantly who is going on the disabled list and why. Years ago, we had to wait for the once a week Sporting News to give us the transaction news and the team news to find out who go hurt and even then there was no mention of minor league players that got hurt. Now we have published scouting combines that give us ratings for all players in all organizations that keep us up to date on such things. Without knowing the numbers, the Fan would guess the casualty rates really haven't changed all the much since the turn of the century.

We hear a lot these days about pitch counts. 100 per game seems to be the willy-nilly of this era. But is that an accurate number? Does it change for different pitchers? Does it matter for preventing injuries? Nolan Ryan was quoted last week with what sounded like a really intelligent organizational plan for building pitchers through the system with a graduated innings pitched per year system. But will that work any better at preventing injuries than any other plan?

There are cases where abuse seems to happen. One well-known case involved Gil Meche of the Royals. In Meche's case, he was a really effective pitcher until his manager left him in a game to throw 130 pitches. According to that story, Meche has never been the same since. But the nagging question is if we really know that's what toasted Meche? Years ago, the case was made that Ralph Houk ruined a young Jim Bouton because Bouton was thrown out there for 525 innings combined in 1963 and 1964. Bouton wrecked his arm in 1965 and Houk was forever blamed. But how does that explain the arm injuries sustained by Phill Hughes and Ian Kennedy a few years ago for those same Yankees when both of those young pitchers were on pitch counts and innings limits?

We just don't know. Research seems to suggest that a pitcher's efficiency decreases after 120 pitches. That makes sense. But little else does. The Fan's theory is that it simply doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Those pitchers that escape serious injuries to their arms are simply pitchers that are freaks of nature or simply beat the odds. Nolan Ryan certainly threw his share of pitches. Satchel Paige threw his share of pitches. They were the freaks, not the other way around. Seattle's great, Felix Hernandez, has been throwing 190+ pitches since he first came into the league. He doesn't appear to show any effects and is getting better all the time. C. C. Sabathia has been making 33 starts since his rookie season and he doesn't seem to have a problem. Those guys are simply freaks or lucky freaks, one or the other.

Imagine the head scratching going on around baseball concerning Strasburg. Ever since he started playing college ball, he's been watched and coddled and babied and brought along slowly. Despite all that, to all of our sadness, he's done until at least 2012 and there is no guarantee he'll ever make it back to this year's magic. Baseball wags everywhere must be wondering what to do now. The Fan doesn't know if there is an answer. All you can really do is keep throwing talent at the wall. Like spaghetti, a few will stick and a whole lot will hit the floor.