Saturday, September 25, 2010

Award Votes - It Is Time

This writer does not have a vote in the big awards at the end of the season. But this writer is a card-carrying member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and as such, does have a vote in their awards, which, as posted earlier in the week, will be announced in mid-October. The Fan decided to post his award choices now with two things in mind. First, the season has only a week to go and things are not going to change much in a week. Second, the Fan has until October 10 to post his votes but this observer doesn't want to be colored by the early rounds of the playoffs. After all, these awards are based on what happens during the season, right? So there you have it. The Fan will make his official vote (the post is the official vote) with a top five in each category. Here we go!

Stan Musial Award - MVP

American League

  1. Jose Bautista - You can't argue with 52 homers, can you? Add in 32 doubles, 118 RBI, 105 runs scored, a .387 OBP and a 1.021 OPS and you have a winner.
  2. Josh Hamilton - Hamilton would have won but he missed the last month of the season. He still leads the AL in Fangraphs WAR, but this Fan can't vote for a player who missed that much time.
  3. Adrian Beltre - Fantastic season. Simply fantastic. But he can't match Bautista's numbers.
  4. Evan Longoria - Quietly put together another great season. He's as good a third baseman as Beltre.
  5. Carl Crawford - The best fielding outfielder in the AL. Another great batting season and all those stolen bases.
National League

  1. Joey Votto - The best offensive season in the National League. Penalized in WAR because of his position but still second in the league. Where would the Reds be without the year he had? No where. That's where.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman - The best third baseman in baseball. Good offensive season, but he can do better.
  3. Albert Pujols: A late push at the end are propelling his numbers, but he was a no show in the crush time when the Reds were surging and the Cardinals were sinking.
  4. Matt Holliday - He had a much better season in the field and put up good offensive numbers.
  5. Troy Tulowitzki - No telling what numbers he would have put up if he had played the entire season.

Walter Johnson Award - Cy Young

American League

  1. Felix Hernandez - 12-12 despite the best pitching season of his career. The Mariners simply couldn't hit and their defense wasn't great either. The Fan can't understand how Liriano and Lee have more WAR for Fangraphs. King Felix has out pitched them both.
  2. C. C. Sabathia - Say all you want about him giving up too many base runners and that his ERA is too high. Just think where the Yankees would be without him. Enough said.
  3. Justin Verlander - Same as Sabathia. He is a real stud that goes out there every fifth day and gives you all he has. The Tigers would be infinitely worse without him.
  4. Jon Lester - Had some inconsistency, but when he's been good, he's been as good as there is in the AL.
  5. Cliff Lee - You can't even fathom his K/BB ratio. It's one of the all time coolest stats ever. But he hasn't added much to the Rangers since he was traded there.
National League

  1. Roy Halladay - The league's best pitcher. Period. Will bend but never breaks. Gives you eight or nine innings every time out.  Awesome.
  2. Adam Wainwright - His best season in a fantastic career. Had a rough stretch when the Cardinals needed him most.
  3. Ubaldo Jiminez - Any guy that pitches as well as he does when half of his starts are in Colorado has to get extra points. His average fastball speed is off the charts.
  4. Roy Oswalt - Not among the leaders in WAR, but what has meant to the Phillies has to get him on the list.
  5. Tim Lincecum - A couple of bad stretches cost Lincecum his third Cy Young, but he has been terrific down the stretch.

Connie Mack Award - Manager of the Year

American League

  1. Terry Francona - This one will probably cost the Fan some negative comments, but look at how long the Red Sox stayed relevant despite losing so many key players, having a messed up bullpen and everything. This has probably been his finest managing job ever.
  2. Joe Maddon - Despite inconsistent pitching and weak hitting, Maddon always keeps his team in the game. The smartest manager in baseball this side of Tony LaRussa.
  3. Ron Gardenhire - A lot of the Twins' success has as much to do with the GM as it does with Gardenhire. But you can't devalue the season the Twins had despite losing Morneau and their closer.
  4. Ozzie Guillen - Despite a horridly constructed team (which is partly Guillen's fault) he made them relevant for a while and even saw first place for a day or two before falling hard in September.
  5. Joe Girardi - Debated here between Girardi and Washington. But Texas hasn't beaten a good team all year and benefited from a weak division. Giradi over manages at times, but he's handled his bullpen really well and kept the Yankees in the race despite off years from Jeter, injuries to Pettitte and a shaky rotation.
National League

  1. Bud Black - Amazing season for the Padres who simply can't hit. And yet, somehow, they rode good pitching to the best record in the NL for a long time and in the hunt for the playoffs until the final week of the season.
  2. Charlie Manuel - Doesn't get enough credit for the success of the Phillies. The GM gets a lot of the credit and deservedly so, but Manuel is the man in Philadelphia.
  3. Dusty Baker - You can't argue with the first team to clinch a division and win their first playoff berth in fifteen years. Baker has erased a lot of the bad ink he has gotten over the years.
  4. Bobby Cox - The Braves aren't playing well down the stretch, but the old master gave them a chance. Wish you didn't have to go, Bobby.
  5. Bruce Bochy - The Giants got a boost from Burrell and Posey otherwise, their offense would be Seattle-like. Great pitching needs a good manager and Bochy has done the job.

Goose Gossage Award - Best Relief Pitchers

American League

  1. Matt Thornton - The nice thing about this award is that you don't have to simply pick closers. Thornton leads the AL relievers in WAR. Great season.
  2. Joakim Soria - Has been unhittable this season. Best relief pitcher in a losing cause.
  3. Rafael Soriano - He is the biggest difference for the Bay Rays this year over past years. He's closed the door. Hard.
  4. Daniel Bard - Has thrown more innings than any other reliever. Throws BBs all the time. He will be the closer next year.
  5. Neftali Feliz - A rookie closer with great stuff. Has had his bad moments, but has had a whole lot of good ones too.
National League

  1. Carlos Marmol - Eye popping numbers. 4.8 hits per nine innings. 15.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Leads the NL is games finished. More innings than most closers.
  2. Brian Wilson - Fantastic season. Never blows a save. Good control. Great, great season.
  3. Heath Bell - Another strong season for the Padres. He's better than Trevor Hoffman in his best seasons. A little, short bad stretch ruined his chances for the top spot.
  4. Matt Belisle - 72 appearances covering 88 innings. 89 strikeouts. A real work horse.
  5. Sean Marshall - 72 appearances. 10.9 K/9. Only three homers all season. Great year.

Willie Mays Award - Rookie of the Year

American League

  1. Austin Jackson - This is the hardest award to pick because it's hard to know who all the contenders are. But after some homework, we have a winner. Jackson has scored 99 runs on his 172 hits. He has stolen 25 bases. Plus, he's played good defense. 3.3 WAR
  2. Danny Valencia - If Valencia played more, he wold have won this. But in basically half a season, he's compiled a 2.7 WAR with great offense and great defense. He makes the Twins a different team.
  3. John Jaso - Jaso is such a good base runner that it's hard to believe he's a catcher. 2.4 WAR with a .387 OBP.
  4. Brennan Boesch - Boesch started really well, then faded and then rebounded a bit. His WAR is 2.1 for the season.
  5. Neftali Feliz - The Fan tends to devalue closers as they only contribute about 70 innings a season. Still Feliz has saved 37 games in 40 attempts. Pretty amazing.

National League

  1. Jason Heyward - Heyward wasn't as spectacular as we thought he was going to be. But he did get hurt and played despite his injury and the Fan suspects that has had a lingering effect. Nevertheless, Heyward has hung on and based on his overall numbers, takes the top vote. His 4.5 WAR tops all rookies.
  2. Buster Posey - Posey really changed the dynamic in San Francisco and he's been better behind the plate than we thought he was going to be. He's been as good at the plate as predicted. 4.0 WAR is second only to Heyward.
  3. Jaime Garcia - Garcia simply didn't get enough innings to move into the top spot. But he did win 13 games with a really good ERA. He's going to be a good pitcher for a long time. 3.2 WAR.
  4. Gaby Sanchez - WAR suffers a bit because he plays first base, but he has been very good for the Marlins all year. 2.7 WAR
  5. Starlin Castro - Competed for the batting title for a while. His defense has struggled and he doesn't walk enough. But he's going to be a good one. 2.1 WAR

That's it folks, those are the awards as the Fan sees them. This post is being sent to the BBA for tabulation.

Game Picks - Saturday: September 25, 2010

There was a post written here last night called, Staggering to the Finish Line. That could certainly describe this picker too. The picks for the last three days have come up empty and are sitting at 15-25. That's pathetic. The Fan picks Liriano over Verlander. What the heck was that? Where is this head? The Braves are the Cardinals of the NL East. They can't beat a bad team. The Yankees hit six homers and lost. The Bay Rays had no Longoria and six sub-.250 hitters (including three at .200 or worse) and still out scored the lowly Mariners. The Reds lost. The Twins never stood a chance. It was all bad. Maybe it's time for an opposite day where the Fan chooses all the teams that should win and pick them to lose. That might be more successful.

With fear and trepidation (and a great deal of shell shock) here Saturday's picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: Now the Cardinals start winning. A little late boys.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Romero over Guthrie. It should be low scoring.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: It's pretty bad when you have to depend on Lowe to get a win. But he faces Maya, whose ERA is way over Cinco.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Gio Gonzalez should be better than Mr. Holland's Opus.
  • The Padres over the Reds: The Padres have something to play for. The Reds are playing out the string. Garland over Wood.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Lester should beat Nova, who is a five inning pitcher at best.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: The Phillies have to lose sooner or later. Gee over Kendrick.
  • The Royals over the Indians: Greinke sure has had an uneven year, but he should beat the Indians and Gomez.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Which bad pitcher who pitched well in his last outing can make it two straight good outings? Figuring Norris has a better chance of it than Duke.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: Pavano over Bonderman.
  • The Brewers over the Marlins: Are Volstad and Matt Garza the same guy? Totally unpredictable. Brilliant. Bad. Brilliant. Bad. Going with Narveson.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: They can't be the same guy because Garza is pitching against Seattle. Mystery solved.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Hudson and Ely are two young pitchers going in opposite directions. Hudson improves to 7-1.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: Zito's curve won't bend as much in Colorado. Hammel wins.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The White Sox over the Angels: Would pick Danks over Kazmir ten out of ten times.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 38-42    geez
Month: 170-152
Season: 1287-973
Games of the Day: 81-74   This feature was seventeen games over .500 just a while back.

Staggering Toward the Finish Line

The Atlanta Braves had their destiny in their own hands. All they had to do was in the series against the Phillies and then suck up the wins against weak teams like the Pirates and the Nationals. They lost big time to the Phillies which killed their division hopes. But they still had the lead in the wild card. That too has evaporated as they can't get a big stop by any of their pitchers and their batting has been silent. The Braves have now lost seven of their last eleven. But they are not alone.

The Yankees took the first two games of the series against the Bay Rays and took a two and a half game lead over their rivals. They then had the lead in the following two games of the series, but couldn't get a stop with their pitching. They gave up a quick ten spot to the Red Sox in the first game of that series. The Yankees have only won five of their last ten and it has not been a good September. It would seem a stretch to think they can make it to the World Series never mind repeat at this rate.

The Bay Rays took those two clutch games against the Yankees and were beating the Mariners. By the end of the day, they could be in first place. But they lost Longoria for the Mariners series and their line up on Friday night featured six batters hitting under .250, three of which were batting .200 or less (Pena, Jennings and Shoppach). If they get the win on Friday, they will be 6-5 in their last eleven games.

The Rangers have played .500 baseball of late as well. Cliff Lee lost again. Hunter hasn't been as sharp. Josh Hamilton is still out of the line up and it's a real good thing they built up such a lead in the division. They too are staggering toward the finish line.

The Rockies, everyone's September darlings have lost four straight and six of their last ten. And on Friday night, they looked bad against Lincecum. The game is still in doubt as of this writing as the Giants hold the lead 2-1 on yet another Burrell homer.

The Reds have played .500 ball in their last ten games and are fortunate that the Cardinals went out and lost all their feathers. They too are limping toward the finish line.

The Padres are playing .500 ball and have been flip-flopping with the Giants for first place the last few days. They are in a fight with the Giants for the division and the Braves for the wild card. Both are dead heats. They have knocked over several gates hurdling towards the finish line.

The baseball season is like a marathon. Like most marathons, teams pace the field for a long time and there is always one or two guys with that big kick to come roaring back to the front in the last couple of laps. The Phillies and Giants are those two guys. And both have been doing it on the strength of their pitching. The Giants and Phillies are so evenly matched in their rotations, it will be very interesting if the two teams meet in the playoffs. Both teams get timely hitting of late and the Phillies are running away with it. It remains to be seen if the Giants' kick will be enough.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who's the Coward?

Joe Torre hasn't exactly had the best PR week in the history of sports figures. He alluded to the fact that he would be open to the Mets' managing position despite the fact the position is not yet vacant. That was certainly a mistake and unseemly. Mr. Manuel wasn't exactly magnanimous in his response, and rightly so. But to Mr. Torre's credit, he did apologize and accepted that he was wrong in what he said. In steps David Wells, that erstwhile former pitcher who couldn't quite keep himself focused or in shape enough to make the most of his incredible skills. Wells came out and publicly blasted Torre and called him a coward.

This smacks the Fan of a kid who made it a habit through his school years to be in hot water with the principal taking pot shots at the principal years after getting out of high school. Wells claims that Torre treated him differently. Well, so do principals treat troublesome students differently than the ones that follow the rules. Come on, David.

The worst part is that this Fan always liked Wells. But then again, we always like rebels in this country, don't we? We love Willie Nelson and get some weird satisfaction from his long hair and the fact that his tour bus keeps getting busted for pot. We look up to the kids in school with the leather jackets and the look of indifference. But sooner or later, we'd much rather put our stock with people who are solid and do things the right way. Wells was never that guy.

Wells was the rock 'n roller of baseball, a trait that made him embraceable to the fans but an irritant on all the teams he played for. The fact is that David Wells didn't make so many stops around the majors because more people wanted to get in on his citizenship. He kept getting jobs because he could get big league hitters out. But he wore out his welcome just about everywhere he went.

But the thing is, Wells has ridden his bad boy image to a cushy job as a baseball analyst for TBS. That gives him a platform to blast his former employers with impunity and where they can't respond. That is its own brand of cowardice. Wells never bought into anyone's rules. He never wanted to be a good teammate or a good citizen in baseball. He was enabled because his golden left arm got the job done. But now he is again enabled to throw rocks in the form of pot shots from a lofty perch that he was given largely because the American public is a sucker for the iconoclast.

Keep it classy, David Wells. Nice going

Game Picks - Friday: September 23, 2010

Ugh! Another bad day yesterday. That's two brutal days in a row. This picker is sucking up the end of September as much as the Rockies are. Sabathia had a 3-1 lead and couldn't hold it. Latos lost. Cliff Lee lost. Felix Hernandez lost. That's four aces, folks. Dempster was put in the dumpster. It was ugly. ARRRGGGHH! Okay, now the Fan is mad. Today's picks are going to be spanked...HARD.

Here goes:

  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: Wainwright wins his 20th. Gorzelanny hangs tough, but doesn't get the run support.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: The Yanks have punished Beckett over and over for beating them in the World Series. Pettitte rights the ship.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: So much for getting to .500 after that dreadful Nationals' series. But Myers should beat McDonald.
  • The Twins over the Tigers: The Twins still have a shot at home field advantage so they do have some motivation. Liriano over Verlander.
  • The Royals over the Indians: Hochever and Tomlin cancel each other out, so again going with the better offense.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: The Phillies were one-hit by Dickey earlier in the season. But these aren't the same Phillies. Blanton wins.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Cecil over Tillman. Go Bautista, go!
  • The Rockies over the Giants: The Rockies are back home where they get their offense to explode again. Chacin beats Lincecum.
  • The Mariners over the Bay Rays: Vargas has a good game. Niemann has seen his ERA rise over a run a game in his last six starts.
  • The Brewers over the Marlins: Miller has an ERA over 8. Mark Rogers gets his first career start. He is from Brunswick, Maine. So the Fan has to pick him.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Freddie Garcia is back. But so is Pineiro.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Enright has been alright. Kershaw can't get any run support.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Cramer has looked great. Hunter has been iffy. But the Rangers have to win sooner or later.
  • The Reds over the Padres: Arroyo has been consistently good and the Padres' offense offers little resistance. Young makes his second start for the Padres.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Braves over the Nationals: The Braves HAVE to win. Hudson needs to get it done versus Zimmermann.

Yesterday: 4-6
Week: 32-33
Month: 164-143
Season: 1281-904
Games of the Day: 81-73

A Bright Spot in a Dreary Season

This Fan's daughter is fourteen years old and of course, she is the princess in this Fan's fiefdom. As of yet, this old world hasn't colored her too much. One of her favorite shirts says, "This is going to be an awesome day." That, my friends is indefatigable outlook. This Fan used to be like that, but the clouds have been heavy the past couple of years. Thank goodness for her sunshine. And that leads us to Yovani Gallardo and the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers have certainly not had a fun year. Their lack of pitching and some holes in their line up have short circuited their season. Fortunately, the Brewers still drew nearly three million fans this season into their ball park. Those fans might be in the minority of those that have any idea that Gallardo is having a stellar season and is a bright and shiny blip in an otherwise dark and gloomy season. Oh, there are other Brewers that have had good seasons. Prince Fielder had a much better season than most people realize. His 141 OPS+ has gone unnoticed as has Ryan Braun's season with an OPS+ of 131. Corey Hard had a very good season with his own 131 OPS+. Jim Edmonds filled in nicely as a reserve outfielder. But Gallardo has been the nicest story of the season for the Brewers. You expect Braun and Fielder to do well, but Gallardo gives them hope.

And what is so remarkable about his season is that when the spring began, he was a question mark. After tearing his ACL in 2008, he came back last year and started well, but seemed to run out of gas toward the end of the season. His stamina was questioned. His results were mixed. But the pitcher (who remarkably, is only 24 years old) really became an ace this season.

Gallardo still walks too many batters, but he has struck out more than nine batters per nine innings. He ran his record to 14-7 on Thursday after shutting down the Marlins. He is 3-0 in September with an ERA under 2 for the month. He had a great start to the season with very good months in April, May and June. But he struggled in July and August and those old concerns came back. And so it is good to see him finish strongly and have a complete season.

While Gallardo has become an ace for the Brewers, he has another facet to his game. He's one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball. How many pitchers can say that he has a WAR of 2.4 as a starting pitcher AND a WAR of 1.2 as a hitter? He drove in two runs on Thursday night with a single. That gave him ten ribbies for the season in 61 at bats. That projects to a 100 RBI season if he batted every day. Of his sixteen hits, eight have been for extra bases. He's hit four doubles and four homers. How about a pitcher with an OPS of .863? To add to all the rest of the benefits that Gallardo gives you, he's also a very good fielding pitcher.

Fielder will be the big story in the off season. Will the Brewers keep him or watch him go? Gallardo is locked up for a while and so there is no worries on that end. It's always nice to see a player come into his own and that's what Gallardo has done this year.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Announces New Award Names

Changes reflect appreciation for history of the game

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) recently announced the renaming of their annual postseason awards to comply with the wishes of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), thereby avoiding confusion between the two organizations. This allowed the BBA an opportunity to recognize some of the legendary greats of the game, naming their highest honors after them.

“Earlier in the year, the BBA reached an agreement with former Yankee reliever Goose Gossage to name our newest award, recognizing the best relief pitcher in each league, after him,” said Daniel Shoptaw, founder and president of the Alliance. “It only seemed fitting, then, that we rename the rest of our awards after other legends of the game.”

The five awards are given to a player in each league: The Connie Mack Award, given to the top manager; the Willie Mays Award, for the top rookie; the Goose Gossage award, mentioned above; the Walter Johnson Award, which would be analogous to the BBWAA’s Cy Young Award; and the Stan Musial Award, awarded to the most valuable player in each league.

According to Shoptaw, “These names are synonymous with quality, achievement, and dedication. These names have not only stood the test of time, but have been strengthened by it.”

The schedule for the announcement of these awards is as follows:

Connie Mack Award: October 14
Willie Mays Award: October 18
Goose Gossage Award: October 21
Walter Johnson Award: October 25
Stan Musial Award: October 28

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was founded in 2009 and numbers 222 blogs covering all major league teams and various other aspects of baseball, as well as blogs and sites that are affiliated as Friends of the BBA. The official website of the BBA is located at The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. Members of the BBA may be heard at Blog Talk Radio every Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk, which may also be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Do We Care About 20 Game Winners

Rob Neyer asked a valid question this morning on his Sweet Spot blog. The question was: Why are you obsessed with twenty wins? Neyer goes on to point out that twenty wins isn't appreciably different than nineteen wins. No, it isn't. But that's why we're baseball fans. In a numbers-driven game, we obsess about these milestones. We can't help ourselves.

It's hard to say when all these milestones became so ingrained into the immortal baseball fans' psyche. We just know what we want. 49 homers isn't really anything different from 50 in value. But we all want Bautista to get to 50, right? Sabathia was always a great pitcher, but he never won 20. Now he has. In our fan minds, we equate that with success.  We remember that Ron Guidry won 20 games four times. We don't remember how many times he won 17.

Thirty stolen bases and thirty homers isn't any different than 29 stolen bases and 31 homers. But we don't have a 29/31 club. We have a 30/30 club and a 40/40 club. We don't care if a guy is a "299 hitter," but we do care if he is a "300 hitter." We don't care if a guy hits 39 homers, but we do care if he hits 40. We don't care if a guy drives in 97 runs. But we do care if he drives in 100. We don't care if a guy gets two doubles, a homer and a single in a game. But we do care if he hits a single, a double, a triple and a homer.

Those of us that are semi-intelligent baseball fans (and that would be most of us) know and understand that these milestone markers are meaningless. We get it in a brain receiving kind of way. But we fans are an emotional group and these milestones resonate to us in ways that we just accept. It certainly matters that Bill Swift won twenty games as a guy from Maine. It wouldn't have mattered much if he won seventeen. His fans won't care if Derek Jeter gets 3245 hits. We care deeply that he gets to 3000. And we can solace ourselves in his bad year by at least knowing he scored over 100 runs. Jim Thome is no less a Hall of Fame guy if he finishes with 595 homers. But we all want him to get to 600. We are going to be disappointed if Bautista doesn't hit another homer this year. We are going to be disappointed if Ubaldo Jiminez doesn't get twenty wins.

It's funny how the new statistics have given us new emotional markers. The new ones include a .400 On Base Percentage and a 1.000 OPS. A .300 wOBA now matters. A FIP under 3.00 matters just as much to us now as an ERA under 3.00. Ten strikeouts per nine innings matters now just like 200 strikeouts in a season (will we ever see 300 in a season again?).

Yes, Mr. Neyer, we are guilty as charged. We still care about sub-four mile runs when most of the world doesn't even know what a mile is. And we will always care that a guy hits .300 and drives in 100 runs or wins 20 games. It's part of who we are as fans. We don't change our lives because of them. We don't rate players because of them, but they matter even if it is an obsession that doesn't make any sense.

Emotional Career Markers: 300 wins, 500 homers, 1000/1500/2000 RBIs, 1500 runs scored, 3000 hits, 1000 extra base hits, 400 stolen bases, 3000 strikeouts, and a new one: 600 saves.

Emotional Season Markers: 20 wins, 200 hits, 30/40/50 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 200/300 strikeouts, 50 stolen bases, 50 saves, 50 doubles, .300 batting average, .400 On Base Percentage, sub-.3.00 ERA, sub-2.00 ERA, .600 winning percentage, .500 slugging percentage.

Game Picks - Thursday: September 23, 2010

Wednesday was a train wreck. It was bloody awful. Nothing went right. The Cardinals were awful. A rain delay forced the Yankees into long relief (not their strong suit). The Rockies and Ubaldo lost. The Orioles lost. The Astros' bullpen defeated a good effort by Wandy. The Reds were led to the slaughter. It was brutal. Crap! Oh well. Stuff happens. On to a new day.

Thursday features ten games between these twenty teams:

  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Carpenter couldn't win. Garcia couldn't win. Westbrook couldn't win. But somehow, Suppon will. Baseball is a funny game.
  • The Mariners over the Blue Jays: King Felix will dominate and Shawn Hill will do what Shawn Hill usually does.
  • The Astros over the Nationals: The Astros can beat the Cardinals and the Reds but not the Nationals? Figeuroa over Detwiler.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: Sabathia over Price in another big duel.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: The Giants ran into a hot Cubs team and face a hot pitcher in Dempster. Bumgarner will not be enough.
  • The Royals over the Indians: The battle for last continues. Neither O'Sullivan or Talbot scare anyone. Going with the better offense.
  • The Brewers over the Marlins: Gallardo over Sanchez. Now the Brewers' offense is waking up? Now?
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: The Rockies have messed the Rockies up, eh? Kennedy over Francis.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Maybe the Fan's post about the Padres last week was premature. Latos over Kuroda.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Cliff Lee wins. Braden loses. The Rangers' hopes rest in Lee's back.

Yesterday: 5-10   oy
Week: 28-27   that went in the crapper quickly
Month: 160-137
Season: 1277-958   Didn't want to get to 1000 wrong picks, but it looks good to happen now.
Games of the Day: 81-72   two losses in a row

Five Disappointing Teams - Looking Ahead to 2011

The White Sox, the Tigers, the Angels, the Dodgers and the Cardinals have all been disappointing this season after high hopes starting the season. The Mets could be added to this list, but that team has probably been dumped on enough in this space and will be spared another round. But that is misleading. This post isn't to dump on these teams. Things happen and stuff goes wrong and there is no shame in that. There are thirty teams and obviously, they can't all get to the post season. But these five teams thought they had a good shot and hence the disappointment. Let's take a look at each of the five and talk about what happens in the off season.

The Angels: The Angels might be the easiest discussion we'll have in this post. They have long term stability in Scioscia. With Haren, Weaver and Santana, they already have the makings of a good rotation. The team seemed to get old this year, especially on offense. Hideki Matsui came on in the second half. Actually, Matsui is considered by most to be a bust in California, but his OPS+ is a very good 124. His season really is just as good as most of his years in New York.. But, it seems unlikely that the Angels bring him back except as a role player. Bobby Abreu has had a great career and a good run with the Angels, but they might want to cut that tie. Abreu is not a good outfielder and though he still gets a lot of walks and the occasional big hit, his skills on offense have eroded as well. Abreu would be a good fit for the Bay Rays for a fairly cheap DH. Napoli could probably do a decent job as a DH. He's not a first baseman or a catcher. But he's hit fairly well (not for average, but has a decent OPS+). Torii Hunter is still a solid guy in the line up and moving him to right (or left) is a good call and he should have another good year in him.

Peter Bourios is a terrific centerfielder, but still hasn't shown he can hit. He has shown flashes at the plate, but for the Angels to compete next year, he'll have to hit. The Angels do have to make some moves in the infield. As a unit, the second basemen have a .698 OPS, the shortstops a .625 OPS and the third basemen an abominable .595 OPS. It seems they could take any minor league players at all three positions and do no worse than what they have here this year.

The Angels also need to fix their bullpen. Rodney is not the answer as the closer. Scott Shields is having the most invaluable bullpen season in the majors this season and it doesn't get much better from there. Kevin Jepsen is the only candidate to keep out of the whole bunch. Fortunately, (at least in theory) bullpens are easy to fix. It would be not unexpected for the Angels to go after Papelbon when the Red Sox let him walk at the end of the season.

The Angels will be busy in the off season. Look for them to make a bunch of strides to get infield help and perhaps pick up Carl Crawford to take Abreu's position in the outfield.

The Cardinals: The first question for the Cardinals is who is going to manage next season. The odds are only 50/50 that LaRussa will return. If he does, and so does Duncan, the team will maintain some stability. If LaRussa leaves (and takes Duncan with him), then the Cardinals have to be very smart about who will follow him. The Cardinals still need a shortstop. The Cardinals still need to figure out if things will work out with Colby Rasmus after things got ugly and Pujols made some pointed comments.

Wainwright, Carpenter and Garcia will continue to be a great 1-2-3 punch in the rotation next year as all are signed up with Wainwright and Carpenter signed through 2011. They will have to decide on the fourth and fifth starters. But that seems to be doable with what will be out there and with what they already control. So the rotation will be fine.

The bullpen was surprisingly good this year and this Fan sees no reason to mess with it. Most of those guys though are contact pitchers and a power arm would be nice so they can blow people away when the need to. Franklin has had his ups and downs but this Fan likes how he throws strikes. He's only walked eight batters all year.

With the exception of Pujols, the infield is almost as much of a mess as the Angels. Freese needs to come back strong after missing the second half with injury. But if he does, that will anchor third base. The Skip Schumaker experiment doesn't work if the guy doesn't hit. His 85 OPS+ won't get it done, especially since he isn't the best fielding second baseman. Brendan Ryan will probably get the spring to see if he can learn how to hit. The Cardinals have enough outfielders so a key deal for infield help could be enough to put them back in the playoffs next year.

The Dodgers: James Loney said today in one report that the Dodgers don't always run hard and play hard. That's quite a statement. The Fan doesn't know what to make of Loney. He doesn't thrill you with the normal first base ferocity at the plate. But the guy leads the league in line drive percentage and always drives in his share of runs. He's also a good fielder. He's kind of like Mark Grace, isn't he? The rest of the Dodgers infield is puzzling. Furcal is great at short, but he's getting older and he needs to stay healthy. If he can do that, he's a great player. Theriot for DeWitt is a wash as far as the Fan is concerned. DeWitt might be better offensively but Theriot is probably better defensively. But neither was much to write home about. Casey Blake is going to be 37 next year. He's batting .248 this year. Seems like they need an upgrade at third.

What do you do about Kemp? Do you see how he does next year now that Torre is gone? Do you consider this year a blip? His situation reminds a lot of Granderson, who started peaking and then just tanked. Will that be Kemp's fate too? He is a tough call. You might want to give him a fresh start somewhere. Or you might want to bring him back. Andre Ethier regressed after his injury, but that only makes the Fan think that he just wasn't right physically. He should be fine next season. The only scary part was that this injury is a lot like what Nomar Garciaparra went through with the Red Sox. He was never the same player.

The Dodgers need pitching help. The NL West is all about pitching and the Dodgers are too weak to compete in that area. Kershaw can be a stud, but then who? Kuroda had a fine year, but he's going to be 36. Billingley could use a change of scenery in this Fan's opinion. But then who? Lilly will be expensive to sign and there is no clues yet as to what the Dodgers are going to be able to do financially until the McCourt thing is settled. The bullpen should be fine. Broxton still has great peripherals. He struggled during a stretch and it seemed the team was too quick to turn on him. In the big picture, the bullpen isn't what ails the Dodgers, it's the rotation.

The Fan doesn't think that Russell Martin is done yet in Los Angeles. It's easy to say that he's had two down years, but he's good with the pitchers and he is the heart of the team. Nobody really knows how much his health has to do with his hitting as he is one of those guys that would never talk about it. We'll see.

The real wild card here is Don Mattingly. It seems that he is just a younger version of Torre. This Fan feels that Torre lost the team in the second half, but that's just one perception. If Mattingly is known as Torre's guy, will that make a difference in the clubhouse?

The Tigers: The Tigers still seem to be Jim Leyland's team. The Fan likes the vibe they have given off all year despite some deep troughs they went through. They have played really well in September and that speaks to a team that keeps playing hard and didn't pack it in after their losing streak took them out of contention. But there are some question marks to this team. Let's take a quick look.

Johnny Damon really didn't have a great season and it wouldn't hurt the Tigers no to bring him back. He's not the typical DH anyway. Dunn would be a great pick up or somebody like that. The team also creates a lot of question marks with their young players. Austin Jackson has had a very good rookie campaign. But is his season a fluke with a BABIP near .400?  His defense surprised a lot of people and he's been a lot better than advertised. Boesch had a strange season. He started out gangbusters, then went into a black hole but is finishing strong. So what is he? His numbers in the minors weren't amazing. Ryan Raburn looks good so far and there seems a lot of upside to him. But these guys are all question marks for next season. The Tigers don't appear to have much choice but to hope they will all continue to improve. It is a given that Magglio Ordonez will not be back unless he takes a HUGE paycut.

Please don't tell the Fan that the Tigers will bring Peralta back next year. The mere thought gives the Fan a headache. But that's just the beginning of the trouble for the Tigers' infield. No problems at first base with Cabrera, but who plays second? Short? Inge has heart, but little else anymore. Thus, the Tigers really need to get stronger at all three of those skill positions. Perhaps Will "Busta" Rhymes will work out.

The Tigers have three fifths of their rotation set for next year. Verlander is a stud. Scherzer and Porcello both hit speed bumps early and came back strong in the second half. So they should be fine. Bonderman made a valiant effort to resurrect his career, but he isn't good enough. Galarraga is okay as a fifth starter perhaps. But the Tigers could use one more starter they can count on.

The bullpen wasn't great this year, especially after Zumaya went down. You can't count on him coming back from that nasty injury. Phil Coke was very good but got over used and wore down at the end. Valverde is a decent closer, but he doesn't scare anybody. Schlereth is an interesting find for the bullpen. He could be very good in that role.

The Tigers are one of those character teams that just don't seem to have enough horsepower to keep up with the Twins. Their off season will be an interesting one. This Fan hopes that Leyland is safe.

The White Sox: Wow! Did the White Sox implode or what? The Fan was wrong about them but ultimately right. They constructed a team that couldn't hit enough, especially against tough pitching. They tried to go the speed route and it flopped. Their pitching is very good and should remain so and that fact alone means you can't ever count them out if they can retool the offense.

The big interest is in what happens with Williams/Guillen. All reports indicate the relationship is fractured. The question is if one of them goes or if both of them go. It just doesn't appear possible that both will survive, especially after the ugly finish and with Williams throwing money away on Manny. And so, until all those issues are settled, all bets are off when it comes to the team's future.

The White Sox have a good rotation and that is their strength. This Fan can't imagine that they will be throwing to Pierzynski next season. He's had another poor season at the plate and appears done as a good starting catcher. The bullpen was great too except they seemed to run out of steam at the end.

Paul Konerko had an amazing year. His 160 OPS+ is astounding. That leads to a problem for the White Sox. Do they pick him up again for next year or let him go? He's going to want good money. But he'll be 35 next year. What would you do? What will the White Sox do?

Juan Pierre was a huge mistake. And it is a mistake that will keep on giving as he has another year on his contract. His defense is fine, but his OPS+ is 76. And he's batted lead off all year. Ouch. His acquisition seemed like something the Royals would do and not the White Sox. But he'll make a lot of money next year. If the rest of the line up hits, you can keep him for his speed or his defense, but for heaven's sake, bat him ninth or something.

Here's an idea. The White Sox need a DH. How about Carlos Quentin? Of all starting outfielders, he comes in as the worst defender in baseball. That solves the DH problem, but now they need an outfielder...or two...or three. Actually, Alex Rios had a surprising comeback year and played solidly all year. He's all set for next year.

The White Sox also need a third baseman in the worst way. You're not going to throw Omar Vizquel out there full time at 44 are you? Teahan should be released. Nix should be nixed. Yeah, they need a third baseman. And the jury is still out on Beckham. He started to hit, then he didn't. His time is running out. But he is only going to be 24 next years, so there is still hope he can become the player everyone saw he could be.

Add all that up and the White Sox need help in the outfield, third base, catcher and they need to figure out this leadership thing. Again, another interesting off season awaits.

Expect the Angels to bounce back, but the other teams we've surveyed here all have huge question marks. Scioscia and Leyland are terrific and Guillen will be terrific for somebody. All have talent and strengths. It's just a matter of how well the front office does to mend some of the glaring weaknesses that have done these teams in this year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Game Picks - Wednesday: September 22, 2010

Tuesday was another one of those days that make the Fan question if he will have any sanity left by season's end. Sure, the picks were over .500, but by just one game. Buchholz was as good as expected, but then the Red Sox bullpen absolutely imploded. The same thing happened to Houston with the Nationals who scored seven runs in the eighth inning. Whuh? Zambrano was great, but the Cubs never scored a run. The Rockies lost which really hurts them because the Padres and Giants won. Pittsburgh beat the Cardinals...again. But the real kicker was talking about Bruce Chen's surprising season and then picking against him. Dummy. But hey, congrats to Roy Halladay on his 20th win. Picking anybody else for Cy Young in the NL will be difficult.

Wednesday is a fresh new day. Here are the picks:

  • The Phillies over the Braves: Come on, Bobby Cox. Stick around for one more. Oswalt over Hanson.
  • The Indians over the Twins: The Twins have clinched. Bring on the scrubs. Carrasco over Blackburn.
  • The Astros over the Nationals: Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Marquis are two pitchers going in opposite directions.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Anderson over Jackson. Wow have the White Sox fallen.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: The Cards will beat Morton despite themselves. Amazing collapse. Simply amazing.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: Wade Davis can't throw enough breaking stuff to overcome the Yankees' love of fastballs. Uh oh! Picked Burnett to win [[shiver]]
  • The Mets over the Marins: Two teams that will have new managers next year. Niese over Sanabia.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Scherzer should beat Davies.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: Wells out pitches Sanchez. Not feeling great about this pick, but the opposite feels worse.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: The Fan likes how the Reds have stayed focused even after wrapping up the division. Cueto over Wolf.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Millwood versus Lackey in a lackluster match up. Neither have been anything to write home about. Was Papelbon's woeful outing yesterday a fitting end to his Red Sox career?
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: The signs all point to Ubaldo getting his 20th win as he faces Rodrigo Lopez.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Wilson over Haren. But the Angels did win the first two games of the series to salvage some pride.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Stauffer over Lilly. The Dodgers' season needs to end. It's painful.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Loss number 100 for the Mariners? Drabek gets his second major league start and beats Pauley. Everyone on the Blue Jays hit a homer last night EXCEPT Bautista.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 23-17
Month: 155-127
Season: 1272-948
Games of the Day: 81-71

How the Twins Do It

If you asked thirty teams what they focus on as an organization, most would probably list throwing strikes right up there as one of the biggies. Another focus must surely be putting the ball in play so that 30% of those balls in play will find a hole. Slightly different than the previous focus mentioned, the third would be getting on base. You have to think that all teams think about and plan for those three areas. The question then is how come so few teams succeed in the areas they focus on. And once you answer that question, why do the Twins do so well at them?

This space has already talked about the Twins philosophy of throwing strikes. The major league average is 3.3 walks per nine innings. The Twins average 2.3 walks per nine innings, easily the best in the majors. There are only four teams that average less than 3.0 walks per game: The Twins, the Phillies, the Mariners and the Cardinals. Just to put this in perspective, the Twins have walked 348 batters. The next closest to that low a total would be the Phillies who walked 382 batters. That' 34 more base runners avoided.

The Twins put the ball in play. The team's batters strike out less than all but two other teams in the majors. The only teams with less are the White Sox and the Royals. The Royals have been really good at putting the ball in play this year.

The Twins also stack up very well in getting on base. The Twins trail only the Yankees in On Base Percentage. And the Twins are tied with the Texas Rangers for the best team batting average (.277). To put it another way, the Twins have the second most hits in the majors and the sixth most walks.

So how do the Twins do what other teams only want to do? It looks like it's a chicken or the egg kind of question. Do the Twins mold players (both internally and those they obtain from the outside) or do they draft and trade for players that fit their focus? If it's the former, why can't other teams do that? If it's the latter, why can't other teams do that.

Let's look at a couple of test cases of guys who they traded for. J. J. Hardy might be a difficult example because he's missed quite a few games. Hardy played most of his career with the Brewers. His lifetime strikeout percentage is 15.7, so he's dead on his career. Hardy has walked .073 of his plate appearances. For his career, that figure is .081. So Hardy is a little behind there. This seems to show that they look for players within a certain parameter before making a trade.

Carl Pavano has walked only 1.5 batters per nine innings this year. His career average in that category is 2.3. While that's a pretty good career number, Pavano has improved significantly in the amount of walks he gives up. This would seem to show a team that molds a player in their own image.

No matter how it all works, there is no mistaking that it works. The Fan has been appreciative of the job that Craig Breslow has done for the Oakland A's and the Fan has often wondered why the Twins gave up on him. The simple answer is walks. When Breslow was with the Twins, he simply walked too many batters. That didn't fit the team's profile so they dumped him. But they certainly had an effect on Breslow just the same. In the last two years, Breslow has improved his BB/9. For his career, he was over four walks per nine before Breslow joined the A's. In his two years for the A's, Breslow 's walk rates have been 2.9 and 3.3. That's league average, which is a darn sight better than his past.

So there's the third wheel of the equation. They mold players they take in. They get players from the outside that match their philosophy and they discard those who don't. It seems simple. But if it is, you would think that more teams would be able to do the same. They certainly don't.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Game Picks - Tuesday: September 21, 2010

Seven correct picks out of ten chances was a good day. The Yankees winning was a surprise. Livan let the Fan down. And a grand slam scored the only runs in a Cardinals defeat. But other than that, everything else went as expected. The Tigers got to Greinke for a big five run inning. Matusz held the Red Sox down. The White Sox are tanking. The Reds got a win they didn't need. The Angels got some pride in beating the Rangers as Holland was tunneled. Yes, it was a good day.

Today is the first day of autumn and it's officially time for the apex of baseball. Hold onto your seats because here comes Tuesday:

  • The Astros over the Nationals: The Astros continue their push to .500 with a Happ win over Lannan who has pitched well his last few starts.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Did anyone ever expect Chen to win ten games? But he's been hammered by the Tigers. High scoring game as Chen faces Galarraga.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Alas, the Braves aren't taking Cox to the promised land. Halladay wins #20 and Minor takes the loss.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: The Yankees like facing Shields. Hughes needs to come up big though.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Westbrook gets the win over Maholm in a meaningless game.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Rzepcyinski gets a rare win as Bautista hits his 50th off of French.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: Young Mendez shuts down the Mets while the Marlins get a few off of Pelfrey.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Bergesen has been very good, but Buchholz gets the win.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: Zambrano has been great and will beat Matt Cain and the Giants.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Baker will want to make his case for the playoffs and beats Carmona.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: Potentially ugly game as Volquez takes on Bush.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Cahill wins again as the White Sox can't get the season over fast enough.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Lewis will edge Santana in a low scoring game.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: The Padres got to Billingsley in his one start against them. But Richard will have to be good.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: De La Rosa over Saunders as the Rockies continue to push.

Yesterday: 7-3
Week: 15-10
Month: 147-120
Season: 1264-941
Games of the Day: 81-70

How the Phillies Can Win the World Series

Those amazing Phillies have done it again. For like the 100th year in a row, it didn't appear that they were going to make it to the post season. And once again, the Phillies hung around and hung around and inched their way to the top. This Fan knew it was coming though. In fact a post was devoted to them about a month and a half ago stating that they were far from dead and look out in September. And they have four really good reasons they have risen to the top once again. Those reasons? Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and Blanton. currently has Halladay as the number one pitcher in the National League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). They list Oswalt and number 8 and Hamels at number 9. Fangraphs rates Halladay number one, Oswalt at 9 and Hamels at 14.

Halladay's ERA was 2.19 in the first half and 3.01 in the second half. So you might be thinking that he's slipped a little bit. But those numbers are a bit misleading. In the second half, Halladay has walked nine batters in twelve starts and his K/BB ratio in the second half is 9.11 to 1. Holy smokes!

Cole Hamels has an ERA in the second half of 1.98. Incredibly, he's only won four of those twelve starts despite striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings and having a K/BB ratio of 5.83.

Roy Oswalt has gone 7-1 since joining the Phillies with a 1.94 ERA and a WHIP of 0.947. And those numbers wouldn't even be that high if it wasn't for his first start which accounted for his lone loss when he was asked to pitch the same day he joined the team.

Joe Blanton is 4-1 in the second half with a 3.68 ERA. His K/BB ration in the second half is a healthy 3.55. Blanton has been unlucky in both halves of the season with a BABIP of .336 in the second half after it was .322 in the first half. That's a pretty long streak of bad luck.

So those are your four pitchers for the playoffs. Unlike last year when you only needed three starters most of the post season, there are less days off this year (Thanks, Bud), so teams will need four starters. Let's hypothetically look at match ups for every series the Phillies could play.

If they play the Giants:

Game One: Halladay versus Lincecum. Toss up. Though the Fan would rather have Halladay.
Game Two: Hamels versus Cain. Hamels takes that one.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Sanchez. Oswalt easily. Sanchez walks too many batters and needs to leave too many games too early.
Game Four: Blanton versus Zito. Advantage Blanton.

If they play the Reds:

Game One: Halladay versus Arroyo. Halladay is better.
Game Two: Hamels versus Cueto. It's got to be Hamels.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Homer Bailey. Oh please.
Game Four: Blanton versus Travis Wood. Slight edge to Blanton.

If they play the Padres:

Game One: Halladay versus Latos: Latos faded down the stretch. Halladay.
Game Two: Hamels versus Garland: Hamels.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Richard: Oswalt.
Game Four: Blanton versus Luebke? Who? Blanton no matter who.

If they play the Rockies:

Game One: Hallday versus Jiminez: A draw or slight edge to Halladay.
Game Two: Hamels versus Hammels (which is kind of fun): Hamels
Game Three: Oswalt versus Chacin? Who? Oswalt
Game Four: Blanton versus De La Rosa: Probably a draw in fairness.

If they play Atlanta:

Game One: Halladay versus Hudson: Halladay.
Game Two: Hamels versus Hanson: Hamels.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Lowe: Oswalt.
Game Four: Blanton versus Who? Miles? Blanton

If they play the Yankees:

Game One: Halladay versus Sabathia: A draw.
Game Two: Hamels versus Pettitte: A draw
Game Three: Oswalt versus Barnett: Oh please.
Game Four: Blanton versus Hughes: Hughes in Philly or Blanton in New York. A draw?

If they play the Rays:

Game one: Halladay versus Price: A draw or slight Halladay edge.
Game Two: Hamels versus Garza: Hamels
Game Three: Oswalt versus Shields: Oswalt.
Game Four: Blanton versus Wade Davis: A draw.

If they play the Twins:

Game One: Halladay versus Liriano: Slight edge to Halladay.
Game Two: Hamels versus Pavano: Hamels.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Slowey: Oswalt.
Game Four: Blanton versus Anybody Else: Blanton

If they play the Rangers:

Game One Halladay versus Lee: Lee.
Game Two: Hamels versus Wilson. A draw.
Game Three: Oswalt versus Hunter: A draw
Game Four: Blanton versus Lewis: Blanton

From this perch, the Phillies can out rotation anybody in the National League. They can out pitch the Rays. They have a slight edge over the Yankees. They out pitch the Twins. The Rangers might be their worst match up. Of course, all of those series would be more than just the rotations. You have to look at offenses and defenses and the bullpens, but more often than not, post season series hinge on the rotations. From where the Fan is sitting, the Phillies have never been in better position to win the World Series. And that is scary considering they've been in the last two and won one of them already.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Being a Fan

[[switching to first person]] It seemed odd to me upon reflection that the name of this site is the "Flagrant Fan" and yet I hardly ever talk about being a fan. To be sure, the shear volume of words here emote a deepness in that fan experience and yet it's never really talked about here. This is in stark contrast to sites like Sporta and the City and Sliding into Home which are much more open in the daily ups and downs, head rushes and disappointments that go along with being a fan. I guess that in the FanDome, things are more intrinsic which probably reflects the author. Perhaps discussing being a fan here has not occurred because it is such a broad part of my life that it cannot be covered in five to six paragraphs. But at the risk of boring you to death, let me discuss being a fan for just a little while and I'll make it as brief as possible.

First, being a fan (I will not beat you over the head with the device of capitalizing "Fan" for once) means dying inside at least sixty times a year even if your favorite team is one of the best teams in the league. Within those sixty deaths, most of them happen quickly as the game quickly determines its outcome. The worst ones though are when a sure victory turns into a loss or when your team struggles mightily to catch up only to fall at the end. Those are the worst. I can only imagine the pain felt by fans of teams who are struggling at the closer position when there may be ten or more of those events a year. These losses hurt the deepest. And no matter how I try to be a grown up about them, they still come close to ruining my day and my mood.

Within all of the 162 games of a schedule there are thousands of individual misfortunes when your favorite players on your favorite team fail to produce. Despite the fact that the brain knows that a batter will fail 60 to 70 percent of the time, the heart hurts during each single at bat that doesn't go the way you hoped. The worst of those times are when your favorite player comes up with the bases loaded when your team is behind and either hits into a double play to end the inning or strikes out (grounds out, flies out) to end the inning. Those really suck the wind right out of me.

My favorite pitchers will fail 40% of the time if they are a starter when they are really good. Relievers, no matter how good they are, will break your heart occasionally too. But moving away from that for a moment, let me paint a little story to talk about one of the worst kinds of heart-rending times.

When I first moved to northern Maine, I lived on a old farm that had about 100 acres of cleared land and 200 acres of woods. It was a beautiful place and the house was built in 1879 and still contains the original family. I had married into that family and my children still call that place home. One of the neat features of that place when I first moved there was a preheating tank for the hot water tank. This ingenious invention of a shrewd farmer's common sense was an old tank painted black and placed outside where the most amount of sun would hit it. The tank was encased by a box frame made of two by fours that framed glass that would sharpen the suns rays to hit the black tank and warm the water, which was then fed to the main hot water tank to aid in keeping the oil bill down. Smart right?

The frame around the tank had its open sides covered with wire mesh so that animals wouldn't get in there. Once day, as I was tending to my flower gardens, I noticed a blackbird had gotten trapped inside the frame after crawling through a small hole in the wire mesh. Being the softy that I am, I tried for a good twenty minutes to coax that poor bird in its frightened state to the opening and to freedom. In the bird's panic, it couldn't quite get the idea that I was trying to help it. But finally after much patience and soft words, the bird finally made it to the opening and flew out. I was thrilled and exhilarated by its freedom and shouted and cheered. Unbeknownst to me and to the blackbird, a marsh hawk must have found this entire enterprise highly entertaining while it watched in a nearby perch. After the blackbird had risen no more than ten feet into the air, the hawk buzzed by my head and caught the blackbird in mid-flight. My exultation quickly went to horror and then awe. I don't think I've experienced anything like it.

And yet I have. Say my favorite team is down a run in a very important game and it's getting late in the game. My favorite player comes up with a couple of runners on base and the crux of the game is right here and right now. My favorite player hits a shot that from years of watching and hearing the crack of the bat, surely means something good has just happened. The announcer is shouting, "That ball is hit DEEP to right field..." and the picture shows the outfielder moving back to the wall. The rush of good feelings are starting to build and then the fielder jumps up, reaches over the fence and snatches the ball. The hawk just got the blackbird.

So far, I have dwelt on only the negatives of being a fan. If your favorite team is a good one, then roughly 90 to 100 times in the year, the feeling will be one of satisfaction. 160 to 200 times a year, your favorite players will succeed on the field and it's always a thrill. Those are great times. And if your favorite team happens to do the impossible and win a World Series? There is no better feeling on earth for a fan.

But what if you are a fan and your favorite team is terrible most years? I think your expectations are lowered a bit. The wins are great. The losses expected and it becomes more about the players. I know because I've been there. Then it becomes all about rooting for your favorite players and for the young kids who will inevitably be given a shot because what the team has been putting on the field regularly isn't working anyway. Those are great times.

I can remember being a kid watching basketball and keeping score of the games. There was no 3-point line back then (yes, I am old). So a field goal was a two (2) and a free throw was a one (1). So you could easily add up the points and know how many points the players scored and how many of those points were field goals or free throws. The very best of times were blowouts when your favorite scrubs would get to play. I remember vividly being thrilled when Phil Jackson would get in such a game and put three of his left-handed sky hooks into the basket.

Poor teams also come with the side shows that really aren't permitted on competitive teams. There was Steve Hamilton and his Folly Floater (a really slow humpback pitch) or Oil Can Boyd and all his comical antics on the field. Those kinds of things eased the pain of the daily losing and that didn't hurt as bad. In reflection, it's almost easier to be a fan of a bad team than it is to be one of a good team.

The strangest thing about being a fan has been the evolution of the media. When I was a kid, all we had to go by were baseball cards, the Sporting News and whatever body language you could pick up by watching players. We didn't know the personal demons or foibles of our players. We knew that Mickey Mantle had a charming smile on television with his aw shucks speaking the few times you got to hear it. I took to liking Mike Shannon of the Cardinals because his picture was eminently appealing on his baseball card. He was later a star of my strat-o-matic games.

There were players you grew not to like because they glowered on the field like Eddie Murray or Roy White. Murray holds the major league record for sacrifice flies. Did you know that? Sad to say, but we liked or disliked players based on how they looked, how they smiled, if they laughed and so on. I think my eternal dislike for Randy Johnson was a double dip of his ugliness (sorry) and his demeanor on the field. He never had a chance with me. But if a guy like that was on your own favorite team, you turned that around to be positive attributes like being a tough son-of-a-gun and a competitor.

It gets really confusing now because we know a lot more about the players than ever before. They have Twitter pages and Facebook pages and pregame interviews and post game interviews. There are news stories about the player's private lives, magazine tours and cable shows about their glamorous homes. We know about their charity work or their lack of it. Often times what we learn from the media seems to contradict the body language we see during the game. I hope Swisher is as fun off the field as he seems to be on it.

Baseball is much easier than other sports on fans. If your favorite football team loses, you have to wait a full seven days to see if they can redeem themselves. But in baseball, there's always tomorrow. In football, the preseason is a total drag and the regular players hardly ever play. In Spring Training, your favorites are good for at least several innings every week. That means the wait for the real deal is a lot shorter.

Fortunately for me, wherever I've lived in my life, those I was closest to rooted for the same teams as me. My brother and my day-to-day best friend in my childhood had the same favorite teams and we lived and died with them together. My first wife liked the same teams as me as does my current wife. It's not uncommon for my wife and I to high five when something good happens. It's not uncommon for both of us to be yelling at the television when things aren't going right. My son loves the same teams I do. That has led to a closeness all of his life based on those threads alone. But it's okay that my daughter could really care less. She's much more interested in the latest song on iTunes.

There is nothing rational about being a fan. There is no logical reason to care so much about something that matters so little in the grand scheme of things. But there is no way to turn it off. I tried that once. When baseball went on strike, I tried valiantly to give up the game. "Screw them!" I shouted. But I think that was the worst summer ever. And after it was over,  I tried to forget about it and move on to other passions. But being a fan is too large a part of my life. Being attached to my teams take up too much history and so much energy has been given there that it would be like losing an arm.

My favorite team is in the hunt for the playoffs. That's wonderful and it's also horrible. The stress is so great that I have trouble even watching the games. My emotions can't seem to handle it anymore. I'm like a kid during a horror movie running out of the room during every scary part. I have no idea if my team is going to go very far in the post season. If they do, it will be thrilling and satisfying. If they don't, it will be heartbreaking and no, knowing they had a good season will not mollify the feelings any. But no matter how they do in the post season, once again, my stomach will be churning until all the favorite players are signed back into the fold for next year. They are family and I'm a fan. I can't help myself.

A Glance at the Standings with 14 Games Left

The Fan doesn't regularly look at the standings. When you follow every game every day, you pretty much know where everything and everyone is placed. The Fan used to have a standings feature on the site, but no good ones seemed to be found this year. Perhaps it was lousy searching. But every once in a while, scanning the standings leads to interesting observations.

For example, a quick look at the standings reveals that if the Astros finish 9-4 over their remaining games, they can get to .500, which would be a remarkable feat considering how they started and who they traded away. Remember that the Padres and the Reds both had losing seasons last year but really good second halves. That success at the end foreshadowed the success they would have this year.

The standings also reveal that the Marlins have lost six in a row and are finishing the season with a whimper. That won't help Edwin Rodriguez lose his interim status as manager. The Marlins seem to be fraught with underachievers. Their pitchers seem to have an abundance of talent and no natural means of harnessing it. Guys like Uggla play at the wrong positions and Hanley Ramirez is a mystery as deep as Manny Ramirez, his namesake.

The standings also reveal that all the teams in the American League that will be in the playoffs are pretty much decided. The only remaining drama will be whether the Rays or the Yankees are the wild card and if those two beating each other's brains in on a daily basis will allow the Twins to get home field advantage. The Twins are currently one game back on the Yankees for that important status.

The standings also reveal that the Twins have the best record of any major league team within their own division. They are 43-20 against AL Central teams, which means they have played at a .683 clip against them. That's impressive.

The National League still has a few tricks up its sleeve. The wild card isn't settled yet with the Braves, Padres and Rockies all in contention. The NL East seems like it will remain with the Phillies perched on top, but that's not a lock yet. The NL West, of course, is still a shoot out with three teams vying for the top spot. The last two weeks will be exciting in the NL.

The Rangers and the Braves have both played terribly on the road and are the worst contenders in that category. The Rangers are 35-39 on the road and the Braves are 34-41 on the road. Those aren't particularly impressive stats for series when they won't have the home field advantage.

The only team that seems to be a lock for 100 losses is the Pirates who sit at 98. But they've won three in a row, so maybe a miracle will happen and they won't get there. The Orioles would have to lose ten of their last thirteen games to get to 100 losses, the Mariners would need to lose eight of thirteen and the Diamondbacks, nine of thirteen. They are probably safe from that ignominy.

The Angels and the Tigers are finishing strong. The Angels have won seven of their last ten and have a chance to finish over .500. The Tigers have won six of ten and are at .500 right now.There are six teams within 7/100s of a point away from .500.

The Cubs won't get to .500, but they've won eight of their last ten and six in a row. Maybe Quade is the best guy for the job after all? On the opposite end of the spectrum, the D-backs, White Sox and Mariners have lost eight of their last ten and are ending the season with a resounding thud.

Game Picks - Monday: September 20, 2010

Sunday was a real mixed bag. This picker only finished a game over .500. The White Sox couldn't hold off the Tigers (again). The Orioles' bullpen pitched seven and a third innings of three hit, shutout ball against the Yankees while the Yankees' bullpen with Mo and Wood let the game get away. Wainwright won his 19th as expected. The Braves won as expected. But the Pirates beat the Diamondbacks again and the Angels beat the Bay Rays again. The only thing really good about the day was that the Fan doesn't pick NFL games as that would really have been a mess today.

Monday has ten games on the schedule:

  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: The Rays have to have an edge with the Yankees starting Nova and the Yankees dinged up and not hitting.
  • The Cardinals over the Marlins: Carpenter should beat Volstad as the Marlins continue to slide into the off season.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Porcello beats Greinke as the Tigers roll along.
  • The Phillies beat the Braves: Hamels is so much more of a sure thing than Jurrjens at this point.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: The Fighting Showalters should get to Dice-K while Matusz shuts down Boston.
  • The Nationals over the Astros: Livan shot the Fan in the foot last time. Just call this picker a sucker.
  • The Twins over the Indians: All Duensing has to do is work around Choo.
  • The Reds over the Brewers: It's too bad that Braun is the only Brewer that hasn't packed it in for the season.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: The White Sox played eleven innings on Sunday Night Baseball and then have to fly to Oakland to face Gonzalez. Oy.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Angels over the Rangers: It doesn't matter, but the Angels save face with a Weaver win.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 140-117
Season: 1257-938
Games of the Day: 80-70

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Game Picks - Sunday: September 19, 2010

Now we're cooking! Eleven out of fifteen yesterday and twenty-one out of the last thirty. That puts this picker in a really good mood and the coffee takes real fine. The only real surprises for the Fan yesterday were the Padres, who survived Young's first start of the season; the Pirates beating Arizona again; the Cubs beating Sanchez and the Marlins and Gallardo out dueling Lincecum. There was some good fortune involved in the picks as Rodney blew a save for the Angels which eventually cost the Angels a win. The Blue Jays also held on as their bullpen saved Romero and Bautista. (WOW!) hit his 49th. What a season!

Without further horsing around, let's get to Sunday's picks while the iron is hot:

  • The Cubs over the Marlins: Ugh. Horrible game to pick to start things off. It is Samardzija versus Miller. Sorry about the link there, but it's the only way the Fan can get that guy's name right.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: The Jays keep throwing quality starters at you night after night, but Lester is a great one and should win.
  • The Braves over the Mets: Lowe has been great lately and the Braves score enough on Dickey to get the win.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Pettitte is back. Unfortunately for the Orioles, so is Tillman.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Hudson has been unbelievable since joining the D-Backs. Duke gets yet another chance for the Pirates.
  • The Bay Rays over the Angels: This one could be a high scoring game as it is Niemann versus Kazmir.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Blanton has been much better of late and Mayo has an ERA well over cinco.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: Liriano is still in the Cy Young hunt but this kid, Cramer, for the A's was great his first career start.
  • The Astros over the Reds: Wood has been inconsistent and Myers has been the model of consistency.
  • The Royals over the Indians: Like Hochever far more than is sane. But he should be better than Tomlin.
  • The Cardinals over the Padres: Wainwright gets his 19th win. Garland hangs in there but can't keep up.
  • The Brewers over the Giants: The Brew Crew should tee off on Zito and Narveson has been really good of late. Plus, he's the best hitting pitcher in the game right now this side of Zambrano.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: It is unfortunate for the White Sox that they got in the race because they could have used a house cleaning. They will beat Bonderman today though.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers are sleep walking and pathetic, but Kershaw should shut the Rockies down at home.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Hunter takes care of what little offense Seattle has and poor Fister keeps throwing his heart out in a losing cause.

Yesterday; 11-4
Last Week: 57-35
Month: 132-110
Season: 1249-931
Games of the Day: 80-69

When Does a Hero Become a Hindrance?

No, this post isn't about Derek Jeter. There is this axiom in sports that to play with injuries is heroic. What a man! What guts! You'd have to tear the uniform off of that guy! Yeah, we've heard it all a million times. But there are two things to consider about such heroism. First, is the player going to do further damage to himself and thus threaten his long-term existence? The second is: When does an injured starter (pitcher or fielder) hurt the team more than that player helps the team?

Let's deal with the first question since it is more personal but less interesting. That's cold, eh? How many times do we see a pitcher start to struggle, see his strikeout rate plummet and then after four or five games of said troubles, find out that the pitcher was hiding an injury or trying to work through one? It happens a lot. How long did Johan Santana pitch with an injury last year and this year? How much worse could that have made his injuries? Some players feel they have to live up to their salaries (which is admirable). Some feel the peer pressure to keep going out there. Some just don't like admitting that they can't will their bodies to overcome what hurts.

Nick Johnson signed with the Yankees in the preseason and was penciled in as the team's DH. His signing set in motion the Johnny Damon power play that booted him to Detroit. Johnson went nearly zero for April before finally admitting that he was a wreck physically. He had such a tendency for injury over his career that he did not want to admit he had another one. How much more serious could he have made his injuries?

The hero thing with injuries is much more dangerous with pitchers than any other player. The shoulder can take only so much fraying and a bad knee can alter a pitching motion and kill an arm. Teams should have some sort of rule where if a pitcher pitches two or three straight starts with uncharacteristic results, that pitcher should get a physical and be checked out. The pitcher, nine times out of ten, is not going to tell anyone that he hurts. It seems Maine with the Mets did just that and nearly ruined himself.

The second part of the equation comes down to how much an injured player hurts his team by playing. Nick Johnson really hurt the Yankees early in the year because he couldn't do anything at the plate and yet kept silent. Maine cost the Mets with a half dozen terrible starts before he was mercifully put on the DL.

In recent weeks, we've heard of Albert Pujols getting a shot and Cliff Lee and Nick Swisher getting a shot (and there were others). Does that scare anyone else besides the Fan? Yeah, let's give a guy a shot so he doesn't feel how bad he really should feel because his body is basically broken. That doesn't make sense.

The Fan has to admit that this post was completely inspired by Placido Polanco of the Phillies. About a week or two ago, it was revealed that Polanco's left shoulder (not throwing shoulder) was basically spaghetti and that he needs an operation. But Polanco is playing with the thing. That's probably not the right call for his long-term health. It's also a potential hindrance to the Phillies and their post season hopes. The Phillies are going to win the NL East. It's quite possible that they don't lose another game. But still, Polanco is real close (if not over the line) to being much more of a hindrance than a help.

Polanco is hitting just under .240 for the month of September. He's still getting his fair share of walks, but his OPS is .663 this month and it was .644 last month. When do you decide that what he is able to do with a spaghetti shoulder just isn't good enough to carry his line up position? Albert Pujols is hitting .250 this month. If you are the Cardinals, do you shut him down when the magic number gets to zero?

The Fan doesn't have any real answers here. Let's just say that the questions are being put out there. Each situation is different. Joe Girardi seems to have a real good finger on the pulse of his team's health. He's a big picture kind of manager. More managers have to be that way. There aren't a lot of them out there. Girardi's only blind spot might be Jeter. The Fan suspects that Jeter gets dinged up pretty good some times and will not sit. See, this post got back around to Jeter some how after all.