Saturday, April 16, 2011

Digging Into Lance Berkman's Hot Start

It's been since 2008 since Lance Berkman was a force in the National League. Up until 2009, Berkman was one of the premier players in the senior circuit until injuries and age slowed him down for progressively worse 2009 and 2010 campaigns. Then the Cardinals signed him and announced that he would be their starting right fielder and people either gasped or laughed. But now, Berkman is one of the early fascinating stories of 2011 and though thirteen games is way too small a sample size, let's dig a little into his numbers and see if this falls under the fluke category.

A few things jump off Berkman's stat page over at for his 2011 start. The first is that Berkman is being much more aggressive in the strike zone. The last two years, it seems Berkman was tentative in that area. In 2009, he swung at 68.1 percent of pitches in the strike zone. The following year, that figure dropped to 66.4 percent. This year, that figure is way up to 79.1 percent which is much more reminiscent of the 74 percent rate he had during his good years. Perhaps this shows a confidence and well-being factor that wasn't there the last couple of years.

The second thing noticed was that his BABIP is sitting at only .278. Since that figure should be around the league average of .299 or .300, Berkman isn't getting lucky on balls in play. Despite the lack of balls falling in for him, Berkman is batting a healthy .327. This seems to indicate a sustainability for his average, if not his current home run rate.

On the negative side, Lance Berkman's line drive percentage is way up at 23.8 percent, much higher than his career norm of 19.7 percent. Berkman has not had that kind of line drive percentage since 2005. Perhaps the swing percentage in the strike zone and his line drive percentage add up to Berkman getting a lot of good pitches to hit early in the season. This might also reflect in his walk percentage, which is way down from his career norms. Berkman's walk percentage has always been consistent, so look for that to improve as the season goes along. Or perhaps, Berkman made a decision to be more aggressive this season and it's paying off. If you account for the extra line drives, Berkman's ground ball and fly ball figures fall in line with his career averages.

The power numbers shouldn't surprise anyone. Berkman now has 333 homers in his career and has hit over 40 homers in a season twice and over 30 three other times. All of Berkman's homers have been hit as a left-handed batter. The switch hitter has been vulnerable from the right side against lefties for quite a while now and he's only had eight at bats in that situation thus far this year with only one hit. Berkman will need to prove he can still be effective when the Cardinals face more lefties in the future. The likelihood of that happening will increase and Berkman has only hit one-sixth of his career homers against left-handed pitching.

Lance Berkman also has a really good situation thus far with how deep the Cardinals' line up has been. Theriot has been getting on base, Colby Rasmus is hitting near .400 and after pitchers get through Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Berkman has been making pitchers pay for any relief they have been feeling once they get through those two guys.

One last thing on the negative side of his numbers. Berkman is killing fastballs, which he is seeing about sixty percent of the time. But he has negative values against curves and change ups. That isn't the norm for him as he's always had some success against those pitches in the past. But for some reason, he is vulnerable against those this year. But even that negative can be a positive if you figure he will bounce back on those pitches to get back to his career norms.

The bottom line here is that this Fan doesn't think Berkman's early start is a fluke. He's in a good line up and in a good situation. Unlike the last few Houston years, he is playing for a contending team that has more professional players to inspire him. The big thing, of course, will be his health. Every time he trots out to right field, we will be holding our breath that he doesn't hurt himself out there. He needs to have a full and uninterrupted season to continue to be successful. But if he can manage to do that, Berkman is going to have a really nice season.

Oh! And one last thing. According to, Berkman is holding his own in right field. Negative numbers, but not a disaster. So far, so good it seems.

Game Picks - Saturday: April 16, 2011

When this picker went to bed last night, the tally stood at 2-7 and things were looking pretty grim. But somehow, the late night magic seemed to be in the air and the day ended up an even 7-7. Granted, that isn't success or anything to hang a hat on. But at least it wasn't the disaster it seemed to be earlier. Those early games though. Ugh. Morton poured salt into the wound. Harrison had the Yankees on the mat. Buchholz had feet made of clay. And there was no way to come to the Brewers defense in the way their game ended with the Nationals.

Saturday is a new day but also the end of the week. The Fan needs a good day here:

  • The Orioles over the Indians: The Orioles end their four game slide behind Guthrie, who has been reborn under Showalter. Tomlin has been good, but the feeling here is that it's a bit of a mirage.
  • The Brewers over the Nationals: The Brewers and Gallardo are too good to lose to the Nationals again. Oh boy, those are dangerous words.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Everything points to a Yankee loss in this one. Freddie Garcia makes his first Yankee start. Holland has been good for the Rangers. But blog buddy, Dan McCloskey, said on Twitter that he has a good feeling about this one. If this is wrong, blame Dan. heh.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: James McDonald has an arm. Ee-eye-ee-eye-oh. But with that arm he faces the Reds, ee-eye-ee-eye-oh-no.
  • The Mariners over the Royals: King Felix against Sean O'Sullivan. Kings have tread on Irish heads for a thousand years. All you can do is gnash your teeth.
  • The White Sox over the Angels: Tyler Chatwood is no Jared Weaver and Gavin Floyd was really good last time out.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Two teams going in opposite directions. Niemann is still the Fan's favorite pitcher in Tampa against Home Run Baker, who never seems to get over his homer trend until June.
  • The Braves sweep the Mets: Derek Lowe wins the first game over Carrasco and then the Braves' bullpen bails out Jair Jurrjens making his first start in the second game against a struggling Pelfrey.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Can't see Hamels losing to Anibal Sanchez. Really depends on which Sanchez shows up.
  • The Padres over the Astros: Wish this series would end already. How do you pick which anemic offense will score more runs? Going with Latos over Figueroa.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Seems to the Fan that the one time last year when Hamels and Hammel pitched on the same day, they both lost. [[[shiver]]]  Oh well, sticking to it with a win over Casey Coleman.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Crappy match up between Zito and Saunders. Simply closed the eyes and picked this one.
  • The Tigers over the Athletics: Is it this Fan's imagination or do the Tigers play tighter than a drum when Verlander pitches? Probably just imagining things. He beats Dallas Braden.
  • The Dodgers over the Cardinals: Kershaw cools off the hot Cardinal bats. McClellan with the hard luck loss.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Several reasons why the Red Sox win. First, Beckett was amazing last time out. Second, Varitek will catch him and not tip pitches like Saltalamacchia does. Third. The Red Sox are better than 2-10.

Yesterday: 7-7
Week: 40-35
Month: 103-90
Season: 103-90

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gnash Your Teeth - A-Rod's Back

Many have chosen to enjoy the fact that Alex Rodriguez seemed to regress over the past few years. That he was no longer among the elite players of the league made people happy. See? The guy can't play without steroids. See? He's getting old. See? How stupid the Yankees are for paying him so much. Unfortunately for these folks, Mr. Alex Rodriguez came into Spring Training in his best shape in years thanks to finally being cleared by doctors to do full flexibility workouts years after his hip surgery. A-Rod ripped the ball all over Florida and in the early going, he's doing it in the games that count too.

If you look over at and their leader board, these are the top five right now in baseball. There's Tulowitski--another guy getting healthy now. There is Matt Kemp, who is enjoying life after Larry Bowa. Both are sitting with a 1.3 WAR. Right below them and tied with 1.0 is Joey Votto (whom you would expect), Colby Rasmus (who is having a breakout season) and Alex Rodriguez. And A-Rod leads them all in wOBA and wRC+.

Having watched A-Rod play for a long time, this does not have the feel of an early season fluke (ahem - Miguel Montero). He started like this in 2007 and he never let up. Yeah, he had more early homers in 2007, but he was just as locked in and it carried through the entire season. Watching him this early season, you can just see he knows he's going to hit the ball hard. You can sense that he feels comfortable and focused. No, he's not going to finish with a 1.400 OPS, but there is no doubt that barring injuries, he can climb his way back to his familiar 1.000 and higher.

Consider that a year ago, when everyone could see that he couldn't move vertically, he still hit 30 homers and slugged over .500. Consider that some scouts are saying that he has more freedom in his hip movement than they've ever seen from him...ever. Everyone at Yankee Stadium III knew he was going to get a big hit in the tenth inning against Baltimore yesterday. Watching him, you just knew. He might make an out, but he was going to hit the ball really hard. He did and he didn't make an out.

You may hate him, but he's back and as good as ever. His head and his place with his teammates have never been better. Barring injury, Alex Rodriguez is going to have a monster season. The Fan is greatly sorry if that is disturbing to many of you. But if you can put your prejudices aside for a few moments and watch the guy hit, what Alex Rodriguez is doing now is as pretty as it gets in baseball.

Bonds, Manny and Fallacies

The federal government was able to pin one charge against Barry Bonds and that was obstruction of justice. They were unable to get a jury to convict Bonds of lying to a grand jury. Was that a victory for the feds? Was that a victory for Bonds? The answer is hardly on both counts. Bonds, unless he appeals, is now a convicted felon. The government might decide to retry Bonds on the hung charges. If they do so, it will be a further waste of federal resources. The verdict came down within a week of the news that Manny Ramirez tested positive again and retired rather than take the one hundred day suspension. Since then, dozens of writers have marked their lines in the sand on issues such as the Hall of Fame and these two players' legacy. As someone who has loved the game for almost fifty years, this writer must too draw that line.

The evidence of the use of performance enhancing drugs is overwhelming. For anyone in this day and age to believe otherwise is misguided. Equally misguided is anyone who believes that the players we think we know about were the only ones who used the substances during their careers. If you decide to take the slippery slope of listening to Jose Canseco, usage was rampant and those we think we know about are just the tip of the iceberg of who used during their careers. The safest thing to say is that we'll never really know the full extent of who used and who didn't. Even if someone leaked all the names on that famous list of those who had tested positive in 2003, we still wouldn't know because those were only the ones that got caught by the test.

Another safe statement is that usage was widespread around baseball by both those who hit the baseball and those who pitched. But what we end up here are a handful of scapegoats, who also happened to be among the top performers in the game. These whipping boys for the sins of many cause all the prose that is thrown out over the Internet and in news copy day after day. Count Bonds and Manny Ramirez at the head of the class in this category.

The argument that these guys were "cheaters" is a strong one. No one can deny that those who used PEDs were at the very least, circumventing the rules. That's a nice way of saying they cheated. The argument that there was no testing is a weak one. Yes, it casts the net of blame wider to include owners, the union and the players. But it still doesn't negate the argument of cheating.

But there is another argument that is worth considering. And that is that if more than half of the players were using, how come all of those players didn't shatter home run records or win 300 games or hit 600 homers? For every successful user such as Jason Giambi, there was an unsuccessful one such as Jeremy Giambi. It didn't make everyone great. It may, at most have made the great...well...greater.

Athletes have always done whatever they could to get an edge. Does anyone think that PEDs were the only transgression in the long line of history? If you believe that, then you believe that the White Sox of 1919 were the only ballplayers that ever took money to affect the outcome of a game. Do people really believe those White Sox acted in a vacuum. If you do, then perhaps you should read this interesting article. We'll never know, but a lot of early baseball was probably mishandled with gamblers' money.

But just like in 1921, baseball found itself with a problem and fixed it. Same as today. Other writers have made a case for "greenies" or other medication that helped ballplayers stay "sharp" before the PED era. There is evidence that one of the most famous homers ever hit may have been aided by a team accomplice in centerfield flashing the signs. Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame though he has admitted cheating. Did Joe Neikro learn to scuff baseballs in a vacuum? Was he that much of a genius? How do we know his Hall of Fame brother didn't do the same thing?

Nolan Ryan pitched for a long, long time. And he was effective a long, long time. Do we know he never cheated? Do we know with certainty that all of the recent inductees into the Hall of Fame never cheated? What we have here is a generation of players that got caught.

There are two issues that are the most problematic that Bonds and Manny cause us to focus on. The first is the record book and the second is the Hall of Fame. Both suffer from rose-colored glasses and the fallacy that baseball remains the same over time. Let's take each of these issues separately.

First, the record book. There is no doubt that until this point, the numbers in that record book have been held in awe. And now for the first time, we are faced with a challenge to those hallowed numbers. But even that is not a true statement. At the time Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record, the talk of an asterisk was very prevalent due to the fact that Roger performed his feat in 162 games instead of Babe's 154.

The Maris-Ruth controversy only shows the lack of honesty there is in comparing play from one era to the next. When Maris played, the league expanded and there were many more pitchers in the game who wouldn't have been with less teams. Ruth played when African Americans were banned from baseball. Performance enhancing drugs are just one factor in the numbers being put up today. There are more teams than ever before providing more mediocre pitching (and hitting if you look at it conversely). Plus, the baseball isn't the same from era to era. Oh, the commissioner might tell you otherwise. But we know it was different prior to 1920. We call that the "Dead Ball" era. How can you have a defined era and say confidently that the ball hasn't changed periodically since?

So the record book that we all cherish and love is a fallacy and always has been. How can Babe Ruth be vaulted higher than Home Run Baker when they didn't play the same game? Sure, the record book does give us some hints on who the best players are over time. But to think that it was ever fool proof is nonsense. Boog Powell just might have been a better player than Jason Giambi. So as much as it pains this writer's sensibilities. it may be a good thing for the record book to become less holy.

The problem with the second issue (the Hall of Fame) is similar to the first. We have that ridiculous clause in the voting rules that talks about the integrity of the game. The clause assumes that none of the Hall of Fame players that played before 1919 ever took a bribe. It assumes that racism is treated differently than other evils. It assumes that players such as Ruth were bastions of goodness. It's all a bunch of hooey. Did Bob Feller report all his income on those barnstorming tours with black teams? We don't know. Is Pete Rose the only player that ever bet on baseball? We don't know. Was Gaylord Perry the only pitcher who doctored the baseball?

The only thing the Hall of Fame should do is include players who were the best players at the time in history for which they played. Period. That means that Pete Rose is in the Hall of Fame and Shoeless Joe, and yes, it means that Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmiero and anyone else are Hall of Fame players. Period. And if the present Hall of Fame can't do that, then there should be a movement to create a new institution that does. The alternative is leaving out some of the greatest players of the game and having their places taken with lesser talents. Then you have a meaningless institution.

Contrast baseball's hallowed Hall of Fame with the NFL. O. J. Simpson is in the NFL Hall of Fame. Jim Brown hasn't stayed always on the right side of morality issues. He's in there. Lawrence Taylor is in there. He's a registered sex offender. How many football Hall of Fame players are there that took steroids? It's not about morality. It's about who the best players were in their era.

Does this Fan think that MLB should ban steroids? Well, yes. What about blood replacement methods? Geez, who knows. The game should always strive to create as fair an environment as possible. But all that said, it's never been completely possible and there are too many gray areas to make it black and white. Bonds apparently became envious of lesser talents getting so much media attention. His ego drove him to his supposed choices. Manny Ramirez is a player in a long line of players from the Dominican Republic who took any edge to get out of that poverty situation and were helped in many ways by unscrupulous scouts that made those choices easier. Growing up in that culture leads to way of life and a confusing sense of right and wrong. But Manny Ramirez was one of the best players of his era. End of story. Bonds was the best player of his era. End of story.

Bury the record book as a measure for all time greatness. And bury the silliness of baseball writers deciding the morality lines in America. Those cats are long out of the bag. They may never have been in the bag in the first place.

Game Picks - Friday: April 15, 2011

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Two come-from-behind thrillers saved the day as both the Yankees and Bay Rays found a way to come back from early deficits only to have walk off situations at the end. The Bay Rays, of course, had Johnny Damon hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the tenth to win the game. Also, of course, Sam Fuld singled ahead of Damon to set up the dramatics and personally willed Damon to hit the homer (#legendofSamFuld). Jorge Posada, who hadn't had even a hit in something like 24 at bats, tied the game with a massive homer in the ninth off of the Orioles' closer and then after yet another scoreless outing by the great Mariano Rivera, Teixeira walked to start the bottom of the tenth, A-Rod (who looks like the MVP right now) hit a double and Swisher won the game with a sacrifice fly. Exciting stuff.

But the most wonderful news of the day was the Game of the Day feature finally getting a break thanks to an unbelievable Cliff Lee performance against the helpless Nationals. The correct pick gives that feature a long way to go, but at least the bleeding stopped for a night.

Friday's games features some fun match ups. Let's take a look:

  • The Indians over the Orioles: First, the Orioles had their hearts ripped out by the Yankees. Second, after a late game, they had to travel to Cleveland. Third, Justin Masterson has been brilliant for the Indians thus far. Lastly, Zach Britton has been really, really good thus far, but could hit a bump in the road here.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Roy Oswalt should allow fewer runs than Vazquez, who looked a lot like the pitcher who pitched for the Yankees last year.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Ivan Nova has never faced the Rangers, so there will be some surprise factor there. Matt Harrison has pitched beautifully for the Rangers but has a real bad history against the Yankees.
  • The Brewers over the Nationals: The Brewers are on a roll. Narveson was great last time out and Gorzelanny not so much. The Nationals are having trouble scoring runs.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Blackburn has been real good so far. Wade Davis has been so-so. But the Twins are scuffling of late, Mauer is out indefinitely and the Bay Rays are coming off a thrilling win.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: The Pirates had a decent start to the season, but are falling fast and look feeble suddenly. Bronson Arroyo has been terrific. Morton has looked good too, but his stats are a bit deceiving.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Cecil and Buchholz have both struggled, but we have to look at history here. Cecil has a terrible history against the Red Sox and Buchholz has a terrific history against the Blue Jays.
  • The Braves over the Mets: The Mets are as flat as a team can get. Collins is not the right manager. Lowe over Carrasco.
  • The Astros over the Padres: You know neither team can hit when Moseley and Norris put up all those goose eggs yesterday. Harang is 2-0 at home but this is his first road start. Going with Happ who was good last time out.
  • The White Sox over the Angels: Jared Weaver has been amazing thus far. But the White Sox have a potent line up and are the home team. Taking a flier on Humber.
  • The Royals over the Mariners: This Fan still hopes Bedard has a good comeback season. But the Mariners are futile at this point and the Royals are on fire. Hochevar with the win.
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: Garza has had homeritis so far and that's not a good thing against the high-flying Rockies at home. Chacin with the win.
  • The Tigers over the Athletics: McCarthy was terrific his last time out and Porcello has really struggled. But the Fan has to go with the Tigers ability to score over the A's lack therein.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: The Cards are starting to thump the ball and Lohse is having a nice bounce-back season. The Dodgers have Jon Garland making his first start of the year. That won't go well.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Matt Cain does what he does and the Giants score enough off Daniel Hudson to win.

Yesterday: 7-4
Week: 33-29
Month: 96-83
Season: 96-83
Games of the Day: 5-10

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not Walking the Walk

Every season, one of the fun exercises is seeing what player will go the longest without doing something. For example, what player will go the most at bats to start the season without a hit? With the increased value placed on on base percentage, the figure this Fan is following is who will go the longest into the season without a walk. A quick use of the fantastic Play Index gives us fourteen players with more than 25 plate appearances thus far without a walk. They are:

  • Adam Lind - 51 plate appearances with nary a walk. He's batting .250 with a .253 OBP.
  • Brent Morel - 43 plate appearances. No walks. He walked four times in 70 PAs last year. He's batting .244 with a .263 OBP. He did get hit by a pitch once.
  • Kevin Kouzmanoff - 44 plate appearances without a walk. No surprise here as he walked only 24 times last year with 586 plate appearances. He's batting .171 with a .182 OBP. He was hit once as well.
  • Vladimir Guerrero - 43 plate appearances. No walks. Vlad will swing at anything. His batting average and on base percentage are dead even at .268.
  • Jason Kubel - 43 plate appearances. No walks. This is a surprise because Kubel has walked 56 times in each of the last two years. But his bat is hot and he probably wants to keep swinging until his hot streak wears off. He's hitting .325 with an OBP of .341. He too has been hit once.
  • Jose Lopez - 35 plate appearances without a walk. No surprise here. Lopez has 3,634 lifetime plate appearances with a 3.7 percent walk rate. Eww. 
  • Yorvit Torrealba - 33 plate appearances. No walks. He is one of two catchers on our list. Catchers don't fool around. His .242 batting average exactly matches his on base percentage.
  • Rajai Davis - 32 plate appearances without a walk. He's our second Blue Jay on the list. Davis is a speed guy who totally refuses to get on base to use it. His BA and OBP match at an abominable .142.
  • Aaron Rowand - 30 plate appearances. Zippo walks. On the one hand, it's really cool to see Rowand hit so effectively early this season. He looks great at the plate with a BA of .367 after not hitting for a couple of years. But to use a pun in that same sentence, He doesn't look great at the plate. No walks.
  • Jeff Baker - 26 plate appearances with no walks. He's in the Rowand category. Big .382 batting average. Same OBP.
  • Jeff Mathis - 27 plate appearances. Nada walks. The catcher finally gives us one of those neat statistical anomalies with a batting average of .192 and an OBP of .186. 
  • Jack Wilson - 28 plate appearances without a walk. And he might just stay that way as it's unclear whether the Mariners will play him again. He is that deep in the doghouse. Matching .231 BA and OBP.
  • Melvin Mora - 27 plate appearances with no walks. Since he's hit into two double-plays and hit two sac flies, his batting average is .280, but his OBP is .259. How cool is that...if you're not a Diamondback fan.
  • Aaron Miles - 26 plate appearances with no walks. The good folks at might be pleased to see their boy on the list. 

Who among these players will be the first to take a walk? The drama builds...

Is This Who the Minnesota Twins Are Now?

The Minnesota Twins have only played eleven games. So any early observation has to be taken with some word of caution about sample size. And while other perennial winners like the Red Sox and the Bay Rays have played worse than the Twins, the team from Minnesota currently sits at 4-7 and in last place in their division. Fortunately, it's very early and they aren't that far off the pace from the leaders. That's the good news and bad news in a nutshell. What will follow here is discussion on some observations made long before the season started. This team doesn't seem to fit. The same observations were made in this space about the White Sox last year. And though the White Sox did have a mid-summer run to catch the Twins in the AL Central last year, they again sunk out of the race, thus proving out those observations. So, for the sake of writing its own safety net, let's just call this post one about observations made with reservations.

That was a long-honking opening paragraph, eh? You still here? Whew! Good. Let's explain why the Twins just don't seem to fit this year and why their early results don't seem to be out of place. First, the Twins have  a pitching staff built around contact. As stated here many times before, the Twins hate a pitcher giving up walks as much as most humans hate cockroaches. And with that philosophy, they eschew strikeout pitchers and focus on pitchers that can throw strikes. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates have a lower K/9 rate than the Twins this year. The Twins were fifth from the bottom (out of thirty teams) in that same category last year. They hate walks so much that they once released Craig Breslow, who has become a very successful reliever (don't worry, he'll come around this year) for the Athletics, simply because he didn't throw enough strikes.

When you have a team pitching philosophy of pitching to contact and throwing strikes, you need to be able to handle all those balls put in play. The Twins already had weaknesses at corner defense in the outfield last year with the statuesque Delmon Young in left and Cuddyer/Kubel in right. And in the off season this year, they set about with determination to weaken their infield defense up the middle.

J. J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson drove Ron Gardenhire crazy last year. Both have already moved a lot in their careers. Hardy can't seem to stay healthy (he's on the DL with a strained oblique right now) and Hudson is famous for playing to his own rhythm and giving you a healthy dose of base running blunders along the way. But darn it, both guys could sure play some defense. Both have rated highly in their careers for their glove work and range. The same could be said about Nick Punto--one of the favorite punching bags of this site--who played short before Hardy. Punto couldn't hit, but he was a fine fielder by most metrics for most of his time in Minnesota.

Since the Twins knew they were going to let Hudson walk, one of the team's biggest acquisitions in the off season was signing second baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, from Japan. From everything we heard, Nishioka was sort of the Ichiro-lite who would get his bat on the ball and give you an exciting brand of slap and run offense. The one difference from Ichiro is that Ichiro was also known for his defense. None of the pre-season pundits were unanimous on Nishioka's ability to translate his infield defense in the majors. And certainly, the Japanese player struggled early on for the Twins on defense. But then he broke his leg in the Swisher take out slide and the point has become moot for at least two to three months. By all appearances, Luke Hughes, Nishioka's replacement can hold his own with the glove.

Meanwhile, over at shortstop, the Twins dispatched Hardy to the Orioles for a minor league player and Jim Hoey, which rhymes with hooey. They didn't get a major league tested shortstop to replace him. Instead, they handed the spot to former utility player, Alexi Casilla. Casilla, in six years in the majors, has only played 50 total games at shortstop. It's probably his best position, but despite the small sample size, hasn't really shined (shone?) defensively at the position. He's adequate, the numbers show. But his defense hasn't show the ability to save runs on defense. Add to that fact that Casilla has a 72 lifetime OPS+ and you get a weaker shortstop position than you had last year. The unfortunate fact is that barring trades, the Twins have no Plan B at short to turn to.

Let's now turn our attention over to third base. Danny Valencia took the position over by storm last season. He did so well offensively that it overlooked that he did pretty well defensively as well. But again, we are talking about sample size and in the minors, Valencia wasn't thought of as a great defensive third baseman and we are starting to see that this year.

So if the Fan were to wrap this all up in a bow, the Twins pitch to contact and need its fielders to make that contact pay off in outs. To be fair, Delmon Young's defensive metrics this year look much better, so we'll leave that one alone. Span is very good in center, but no matter who the Twins put out in right will hurt them. The infield is suspect at third and short. Now that Hughes is at second, he should be pretty sold there. Morneau was very good at first but he missed a lot of time and it will take a few more weeks for his glove to catch up with his much better head. To say it more succinctly, the Twins' defense doesn't match its pitching aspirations.

And could that defense account for the surprising number of walks the pitching has given up this year? That may be a stretch, but they are currently 11th out of 14 American League teams in walks allowed after two years in a row where they led the league in that category by a long margin. Liriano has walked nine all by himself. And let's talk about Liriano for a second while we're here. Has any team had less respect for a pitching talent than the Twins have had for Liriano?

Francisco Liriano was in the top five of all AL pitchers last season. He was dominant and he was effective. What was the first story we heard this spring? That he was being shopped around. His pitching coach has gone on record that Liriano's strikeouts weren't viewed with favor because he could be more effective pitching to contact. Last year, Liriano struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings while only walking 2.7. But that's not good enough? Just like his season in 2006 wasn't good enough. Has any dominant pitcher ever received so little praise from his own organization? His early struggles this season only exacerbate his situation. He needs to get out of there. He really does.

The Twins will hit better than they are now. Mauer hasn't gotten going yet. Morneau is just now starting to hit the ball hard. Valencia has started slowly. But there are holes in this line up. On any given day that Mauer doesn't play, the Twins have one of the weakest players at back up catcher in baseball. Casilla has never proven he can hit. Kubel and Cuddyer get more offensive respect than the numbers indicate. And there has yet to be an indication that Jim Thome has anything left in his tank. Hughes has been solid in the minors but how will he do over two or three months in the majors? That's anyone's guess.

So, yes, friends, the Twins are in trouble. It is very, very early. But this Fan is not impressed with the construction of this team. And don't call the Fan a hater. The resurgence of the Twins in the Minnesota marketplace has been one of the shining stories of baseball in the last decade. They have done a fabulous job of building up their fan base. And that's great for baseball. But the bottom line here is that the Twins do not seem to be a favorite to maintain their longstanding hold to the top spot in the least this year.

Game Picks - Thursday: April 14, 2011

Yesterday wasn't that bad a day for picking games. Eight correct. Six incorrect. The results were certainly better than Tuesday. It is wished that in a toss-up game like the Braves/Marlins, that this picker had believed more in Josh Johnson. Picking against the Cardinals was a pretty dumb move. But overall, one can't be too unhappy with the overall results. But one fact continues to gall. That darn Game of the Day feature has to be dragged out and shot. The Fan simply cannot buy success for that feature. Remember that the Game of the Day is usually a pick that the Fan feels more strongly about than any other game. In other words, if the Fan was a betting man, this would be the game the Fan would put his money on. Let's just say it's a good thing the Fan isn't a betting man.

The Red Sox and Bay Rays were rained out. That may have been the most merciful of anything that happened yesterday. The game will be made up at a later date since the Rays have to play Minnesota today.

We've been fortunate so far in that no day has not been without a pretty good selection of games. We haven't had a Monday or a Thursday where nearly everyone was off. Today (Thursday) is no exception with eleven games on the schedule including a make up double-header by the Rockies and Mets. Here's the picks:

  • The Rockies and Mets split their double-header: The Mets will win the first game with Dickey pitching. Greg Reynolds counters and was decent against Pittsburgh. The Mets should be more of a challenge though. The Fan like De La Rosa in the second game over Capuano.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Carl Pavano looks pretty hittable to this point and so, for a fact, does Shields. But the Rays are over their little offensive coma and should score enough to win at home.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: This game will go one of two ways. Either Hughes will stink again and get lit up and it will be a slugfest, or Hughes will figure some things out and pitch a good game. In either case, the Yankees win.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: This game features little hope for pitching as Wolf faces off against Maholm. So, in a game of batting practice, the Brewers are always going to look better than the Pirates.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: The Fan should leave off the Marlins in this daily feature because you never know what team you will get from day to day. Nolasco could be good. Or he could be terrible. They could hit. Or they can't. Ah well, let's pick Beachy and the Braves in this one and hope for the best.
  • The Padres over the Astros: Dustin Moseley versus Bud Norris. Now there's a match up for the ages, eh? Neither has won a game yet. One of them has to. But will either pitcher make it to the sixth inning to qualify? Moseley has more of a chance to do that than Norris, who is 1-4 with a stratospheric ERA against the NL West.
  • The Royals over the Mariners: Bruce Chen has made a believer out of this Fan. He's not a great pitcher, but he's made a career out of beating weaker teams. The Mariners qualify. Poor Doug Fister. He might qualify for this year's Blyleven award.
  • The Athletics over the Tigers: Phil Coke will give the lefty-leaning A's trouble, but Gio Gonzalez is one of the best and will give up nothing.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: Great pitching match up here that could go either way. It's Kuroda versus Jaime Garcia, who has been brilliant. Kuroda has also been brilliant. Somebody has to win. Going with the Cardinals who now have Albert Pujols hitting again and Berkman is making a genius out of this humble writer.

And the Game of the Day (pleading for this to be right):

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Poor Jordan Zimmermann is not going to get any benefit from his better pitching this year. Not when his buddy over at third with one less "N" in his last name is on the DL and he is facing Cliff Lee.

Yesterday: 8-6
Week: 26-25
Month: 89-79
Season: 89-79
Games of the Day: 4-10 oh hush.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Look Who's Leading the League in Walk Percentage!

After spending a morning perusing the batting leaders over at, one stat jumped up and grabbed some attention. If you look at the leader board and click on the walk percentage stat, you'll see it. The top ten in that category includes some of the usual suspects. Kevin Youkilis is up there. He is after all the guy Billy Beane called the human walk machine. Jose Bautista is up there proving that last year wasn't a fluke. Of course Jason Heyward is up there. Bobby Abreu is not a surprise being up there, nor is Troy Tulowitzki. But the leader? You'll never guess it. The leader so far (in admittedly early results) in walk percentage is Jonny Gomes. Jonny Gomes!?

It's astounding, but there it is. Jonny Gomes leads the league in walks received with thirteen. And no, none of the walks are intentional. This is stunning. Why? Well, history is why. Last year, Gomes walked only 39 times in 571 plate appearances. Last year's walk percentage for Gomes was 6.8 percent. So far this year, his walk percentage is 29.5 percent. Somehow, Gomes has made leaps and bounds in pitch recognition? His strikeout percentage is down as well from last year's 24.1 percent to this years 23.3 percent. Was there ever any hint that Gomes could do this? Frankly, no.

Gomes was better in Triple A with his walk percentage than he has been in the majors. His last three gigs in Triple A were 19.6 percent (only 53 plate appearances), 9.8 percent and 8.9 percent. Those are better than his lifetime major league 9.5 percentage. But it's safe to say that nobody saw this coming. Projections for Gomes ranged from 8.8 percent to 10.7 percent.

If we look at last year, could we have predicted this? Again, no. his walk percentage was slightly higher in the second half over the first, but not by much. Did his Spring Training results predict this? Not at all. His walk percentage in Spring Training this year was 9.1 percent. So this has to be a fluke, right? Perhaps he has just had a run of games against wild pitchers. Let's look at his games:

  1. Faced Gallardo who had decent control and only walked three. Gomes was one of them.
  2. Faced Shaun Marcum, who walked five that game. But three of them were Gomes.
  3. Faced Wolf and a bunch of Brewers relievers. They walked four in nine innings. One was Gomes.
  4. Faced Happ who did have control issues. Happ walked five, but two of them were Gomes.
  5. Brett Myers and three relievers walked four. Gomes was one of them.
  6. Ian Kennedy and Aaron Heilman only walked two in nine innings. Both were Gomes.
  7. Daniel Hudson and two relievers walked five. Gomes was one of them.
  8. Joe Saunders walked five in his poor outing. Gomes was one of them.
  9. Matt Latos and three relievers walked three batters. No walks for Gomes.
  10. Clayton Richard and four relievers walked four and Gomes was one of them.

This early run of ten games doesn't show any real cases of wildness except for perhaps Saunders and maybe Hudson. So, something weird is going on here. The Play Index over at also shows that Gomes went 114 games of his 148 games played last year without a walk. So far this year, he's walked in nine out of ten games.

The last time there was this kind of dramatic walk percentage increase this writer can remember isn't really remembered that well because the numbers don't back it up. Chone Figgins went from 62 walks in 2008 to 101 in 2009. But that was only an increase in walk percentage from 17.7 percent to 18.9 percent. In other words, Figgins was pretty good at taking a walk before that. Robinson Cano's walk percentage jumped last year, but many of those walks were intentional.

We'll have to keep watching this because it almost seems unprecedented. But that being said, it seems impossible for Gomes to maintain due to his history and that fact that most players don't go from impatient to patient in the course of one season. Whatever is going on here, this Fan finds it darn fascinating.

Game Picks - Wednesday: April 13, 2011

This picking gig has turned into a roller-coaster. Good day. Bad day. Good day. Bad day. Yesterday was a bad day. Perhaps the three rained out games didn't help. But that doesn't hide the fact that Mr. Pineda was terrific against the Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter had nothing for the Cardinals, the Royals' bullpen couldn't win the game nor could the Athletics bullpen. Ah well. Such is life.

None of the three rained out games will be replayed today. The Mets will play a double-header on Thursday. The Yankees/Orioles and Brewers/Pirates have decided to reschedule their make up games later on in the season. That leaves us the standard fifteen games to mull through. Here goes:

  • The Tigers over the Rangers: Losing Josh Hamilton was huge (and yes, he should have kept his mouth shut) and the Rangers are forced to start Dave Bush today. Ugh. Give the Tigers and Scherzer the win.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Liriano should get back on his game against the Royals and the Twins should torch Kyle Davies.
  • The White Sox over the Athletics: This picker has already flip-flopped twice on this game. Anderson has been very good but can't buy a team run. Danks hasn't been that good but is lefty and neutralizes some of the A's putrid offense. That fact finally won out.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Love this kid, Kyle Drabek. Remember his father too. Drabek out pitches Vargas for the win.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Same match ups as yesterday moved up to today. Burnett should win over a five-inning Tillman.
  • The Angels over the Indians: Just can't pick the Indians when Carrasco starts. Going with Santana and the Angels, who at least should get a decent pitching performance.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Yesterday's match up is still today's match up. Marcum still beats Correia.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Livan got the Fan yesterday. Again. But Lannan won't be able to match zeros with Halladay.
  • The Reds over the Padres: Wood should out pitch Stauffer and the Reds' offense is simply too much for the Padres to overcome.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: The same thoughts on the pitching match up as yesterday. Emil Rogers is on a mission and is pitching for his sick dad. Niese is nice, but not nice enough today. This Fan still thinks the Mets hired the wrong manager.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: The marquee match up of the day with Josh Johnson versus Tim Hudson. Both pitchers have been excellent so far. But the Braves are at home and the Marlins' defense has been far too leaky.
  • The Red Sox over the Bay Rays: This will be an offensive game with Lackey versus Shields. And the Red Sox have more offense.
  • The Cubs over the Astros: Zambrano should be able to dominate the Astros' offense and though the Fan loves Wandy Rodriguez, the Cubs have a lot of righty bats to score against him.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Cardinals: Westbrook has been a stream out of control so far. He has a 9.90 ERA. Kennedy is a good starter for the D-backs. Berkman is hitting well though.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Switching strategies for this feature today. The clearcut winner thing isn't working, so we'll go with an underdog. Ted Lilly pitches a heck of a game and Sanchez again doesn't survive the sixth inning.

Yesterday: 5-7
Week: 18-19
Month: 81-73
Season: 81-73
Games of the Day: 4-8

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Ode to John Tudor

This post was sparked by an article over at The post listed a bunch of pitchers who pitched over 1500 innings and finished with an ERA+ of 100 or better but never made the All Star team. At the top of the list was John Tudor. Sometimes things spark a memory when you've loved the game as long as this Fan has. John Tudor is a pleasant memory. If you opened the dictionary for the meaning of "crafty left-hander," you would find a picture of John Tudor.

As mentioned many times here in the past, this Fan grew up in New Jersey, but when young and dumb, went to college in Manchester, New Hampshire, met a girl and never again left New England. Married by 1977, this couple settled in Rochester, New Hampshire and lived there for many years before moving just over the border to Lebanon, Maine. In those early days, there was no cable. An antenna on the television allowed us to get just a few stations and Channel 38 was one of them and they broadcast the Red Sox games. Since John Tudor made his debut in 1979, the timing was just about right.

Tudor was never a great prospect. He pitched for Georgia Southern University, hardly a big-time sports name. Upon his senior year, he was drafted by the New York Mets, but not until the 21st round. Tudor didn't sign with them and six months later was drafted by the Red Sox in the January Secondary draft in the third round in January of 1976.

Tudor was never any great shakes in the minors but the talent in the Red Sox in the late 1970s had dwindled and Tudor got a call up in 1979 and he made six starts. They didn't go well. He gave up way too many hits and his ERA was over six. He was much better in 1980 when he pitched in sixteen games and made eleven starts. he went 8-5 with an ERA of 3.02. But 1981 did not follow as a good season. He again pitched sixteen times and that year, he simply had trouble keeping the ball in the park. Fenway, with that Monster in left field is not a good place for left-handed pitching, especially the non-fireball kind.

But 1981 was Tudor's last bad year. He would never again post a season less than 100 in ERA+ and many times he was well over it. But those early 80s weren't good Red Sox teams. And though Tudor pitched well in 1982 and 1983, in 65 starts, he only finished with a 26-22 record. The Red Sox had started to build pitching talent in the minors by that time and Tudor became expendable. After the 1983 season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mike Easler, a good hitter who did well in Boston.

Tudor pitched one season in Pittsburgh. They weren't a good team. How bad were they? Well, Dale Berra was the starting shortstop. Does that tell you? But despite a finish well down in the standings, Tudor made 32 starts and finished with a 3.27 ERA. But again, he had to settle for a 12-11 middling record. After that season, the Pirates traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals along with Brian Harper for George Kendrick and a career minor league player named Steve Barnard. It should go down as one of the best trades the Cardinals ever made and one of the worst the Pirates ever made.

John Tudor was stupendous for the Cardinals in 1985. Harper saw only limited playing time that season for the Cardinals and it was his only season for that team. Harper really was a late bloomer and it wasn't until he hit his thirties that he became a starting player for the Twins and he had some nice seasons there. But Tudor was the bomb right away. How good was he in 1985?

Well, he went 21-8 and finished that season with a 1.93 ERA in 36 starts. He pitched 14 complete games and led the league with a whopping ten shutouts. He also led the league in WHIP with an amazing 0.938. He only gave up 0.5 homers per nine innings and walked only 1.6 batters per nine innings. How did he not get a call to the All Star game?

Tudor was very good the first half of that season. But his record stood at 10-7 and his ERA at the break was 2.27. The ERA says he was overlooked. But the record wasn't spectacular enough. It was the second half that Tudor dominated. In the second half, Tudor went 11-1 with an ERA of 1.52. It was probably one of the greatest second halves of pitching ever. But it really started the month before the All Star break.

At the end of May in 1985, Tudor was 1-7 with an ERA in the mid-threes. But from the end of May until the end of the season, Tudor went 19-1! Wow! By the end of the season, batters had a feeble .538 OPS against him. Left-handed batters were even worse with an OPS against of .507. Amazing.

After a season like that, he would be the Cy Young Award winner right? Wrong. 1985 was the year of Dwight Gooden and his 24-4 record. Gooden was clearly the best pitcher in the National League and was easily the right choice. Think back though to the beginning of this article. Can you imagine if Tudor had signed with the Mets in that 1975 draft? He and Gooden would have the 1-2 best pitching seasons of 1985 and it could have been for the same team!

Tudor's 1985 season mirrored that of his team. The St. Louis Cardinals went a pedestrian 8-11 in April and by the end of May were only 24-21 and in fourth place, four games back of the leaders. But the Cardinals took off after that. Tudor led a great pitching staff and teamed with Joaquin Andujar (21-12) and Danny Cox (18-9, 2.88) to anchor a very good rotation rounded out with serviceable work from Kurt Kepshire and an aging Bob Forsch. They also had a great bullpen grounded with terrific seasons from Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley.

The 1985 Cardinals won 101 games and then dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, four games to two. They then went on to one of the most thrilling World Series ever played against the Kansas City Royals in a series those who live in Missouri will never forget. Ultimately, the Royals prevailed, four games to three. Tudor pitched three games in that series. He was great in the first two. He only gave up a run in the first game, a win. And then he pitched a shutout to win Game Four. But pitching on short rest in Game Seven, Tudor didn't have anything left and the Royals jumped all over him and the relievers that followed to win the Series.

John Tudor had been everything for that Cardinals team. He pitched 275 innings in the regular season and another thirty and two-thirds innings in the post season. Looking back, it was probably too much. He was still good the following season in 30 starts, but not as good. He had no shutouts and only three complete games and went 13-7 with a still good 2.92 ERA. But it wasn't enough and the Cardinals missed the playoffs.

The following season, 1987, injuries plagued Tudor and he only made 16 starts. But they were well placed starts. Most of them were in the second half and Tudor went 8-1 down the stretch to finish at 10-2 with a 3.84 ERA (high, no doubt, due to his first four starts, which were terrible). The timing of his run in the second half was fortuitous for the Cardinals for in this year, they started very strongly, but struggled down the stretch. Tudor kept them on top with his well-timed wins.

The 1987 Cardinals faced the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series and won a hard-fought 4-3 series win. Tudor made two starts and was brilliant with a 1.76 ERA. His shutout in Game Six allowed Danny Cox to win Game Seven to give the Cards a come-from-behind victory in that series.

Tudor didn't get the ball until Game Three of the World Series against the Twins that season. But he got the win in a brilliant performance and only gave up a run. But unfortunately, much like two years earlier, Tudor didn't have anything in Game Six, pitching again with short rest. He got bombed in that game, though much of his runs were inherited runs in the fifth inning given up by his relief.

The Cardinals fell hard after that season and were never a factor in 1988. They fell well below .500, though no fault of Jon Tudor. Tudor made his first 21 starts that season and had a stellar 2.29 ERA with four complete games and a shutout. But since the Cardinals were out of the race fairly early, they pulled the plug and traded Tudor to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero. The Dodgers were fighting for the NL West title and needed Tudor.

Tudor pitched well down the stretch for the Dodgers. His 4-3 record for them wasn't awe-inspiring, but his 2.41 ERA certainly was. The Dodgers won the division and then beat the Mets in the NL Championship Series. Tudor made one ineffective start in that series with no decision. The Dodgers then went on to play the Oakland A's in the World Series. That of course, was the Series of the famous Kirk Gibson homer off of Dennis Eckersley in Game One. The Dodgers won the first two games of that World Series and John Tudor was scheduled to start Game Three. He pitched an inning and a third of scoreless ball, but his elbow was toast and he was done for the year. The A's won that game, 2-1. It was their only win of that World Series. So at least, John Tudor finally got a ring.

The elbow cost the then 35 year old John Tudor almost the entire 1989 season. He only pitched 14+ albeit effective innings. After that season, he became a free agent and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, his old team. It was a beautiful swan song for the team and the pitcher.

The 1990 Cardinals were a really bad team. They went through three managers in one season including the great Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst and Joe Torre. But nothing could save that team that season. But you can't blame John Tudor. At the age of 36, Tudor made 25 appearances including 22 starts and went 12-4 with an ERA of 2.40. It was a testament to Tudor's pitching savvy that despite nothing left in his arm (he only struck out 3.9 batters per nine innings that season), he was able to bamboozle opposing batters that whole season. He pitched his last shutout and complete game that season too.

It was a lovely parting gift for Tudor and he retired the following season. John Tudor finished with a winning percentage of .619 in twelve seasons and finished with a career 3.32 ERA, good for a very impressive career ERA+ of 125. He was always a class act and perhaps paved the way for other crafty left-handers like Tom Glavine and Buehrle. Tudor has remained out of the limelight since his retirement and has been long gone. But he'll never be least by this writer.

Game Picks - Tuesday: April 12, 2011

Did you ever have a successful day or event and felt sheepish about it? That was yesterday for this game picker. Take the Blue Jays - Mariners game. The pick was that the Mariners would win because of King Felix. Well, King Felix was not royally treated by the Blue Jays and they built a six run lead. Bad pick right? That's what the Fan thought. That's what Kryss (long time commenter here and welcome back!) thought. But inexplicably, the Mariners--the same team that can't score normally--scored seven runs in the last two innings to win the game. Good pick, wrong reasons. Sorry Blue Jays fans, that had to suck.

But you know what? The Fan will take it because the ball bounces both ways. It doesn't matter that Sam Fuld, of all people, would hit four extra base hits to help make the Bay Rays pick correct. It was a good pick. We'll call them broken bat hits. They still count on the scorecard.

Okay, what are we looking at for Tuesday?

  • The Rangers over the Tigers: This pick has every danger sign imaginable going for it. The Rangers are bound to lose some time. But Brad Penny is not the answer for the Tigers, who have had to open with one heck of a tough schedule. C. J. Wilson with the win.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Hardy was a tough loss for the Orioles as he anchored their defense. Tillman throws too many early pitches and A. J. Burnett looks much better this year.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Kevin Correia has been surprisingly good. But Marcum should be better and the Brewers are starting to play really well together.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Blanton pitched four good innings last time out and then got hit hard after that. He should bounce back. Livan is hard to pick against. It's a pick that usually bites. But the Fan will take his chances.
  • The Rockies over the Mets: Want to pick Niese and the Mets, but the Mutts look like they aren't responding well to Terry Collins. That's just how it looks here. Plus, Emil Rogers was really good his last start and is pitching with purpose.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: The Braves haven't started well and two bad starts by Tommy Hanson is one of the reasons. The Fan is counting on him bouncing back in this one and beating Volstad and the Marlins.
  • The Bay Rays over the Red Sox: Tough call here. David Price versus Jon Lester is an electric match up.
  • The Astros over the Cubs: Myers is the Astros best pitcher and the Cubs counter with James Russell making his first major league start. Not a good combination for the Cubbies.
  • The Royals over the Twins: The Fan has a man-crush on Jeff Francis and wishes a certain New York team had picked him up. Francis beats Duensing and the struggling Twins.
  • That Athletics over the White Sox: Another tough pick. Jackson has looked like an ace. But haven't we seen that a dozen times before? Cahill, fresh off his new contract, should pitch with confidence and shut down the White Sox.
  • The Padres over the Reds: Upset pick of the day. Sam LaCure was decent for the Red in his first start, but reality sets in this time. Richard has a good game at home.
  • The Angels over the Indians: The Indians' winning streak comes to an end as they get buzz-sawed by Danny Haran. Carmona pitches well in the loss.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Love this kid, Pineda, but Ricky Romero has been awesome thus far. The Mariners can soak in their dramatic win, but they won't walk eleven times in this one.
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Tim Lincecum. Enough said? Yeah, the Fan thinks so, especially against Billingsley.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Diamondbacks: Chris Carpenter is still the ace. Galarraga is throwing well, but the Cardinals are past due for a breakout streak.

Yesterday: 7-3
Week: 13-12
Month: 76-66
Season: 76-66
Games of the Day: 4-8

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Time to Retire Tim Wakefield

Monday night's game with the Tampa Bay Rays was/is (it's still going as this is being written) just one of those blowouts that happen during a season. And for sure, the story after the game and in tomorrow's articles and posts will be the pasting that Daisuke Matsuzaka received at the hands of the formerly punch-less Bay Rays. Perhaps the stories will be even more about Sam Fuld's almost-cycle (he only needs a single currently). But this post isn't about any of that. This story is about everyone's favorite knuckleball pitcher, Tim Wakefield. It's terrible to even type this, but it must be said. He's done. He's too old and he needs to be released.

In fact, this observer felt that way in Spring Training after watching him in a few of those games. But then the season started and Wakefield appeared in four games and his ERA was 3.00 in six innings and everyone said that the old guy still had it. But he didn't. Not really. His BABIP for those six innings was .000. That's right, .000. He was throwing atom balls. His ERA may have been 3.00 but his FIP was 6,86.

Sure, it would be easy to say that the season is early. But then you have to look at last year. Last year, he finished with an 82 ERA+ and his worst ERA and his lowest WAR since 2000. That was eleven years ago. It would also be easy to want to continue this love affair for this unique talent that has made us smile for nineteen seasons.

Residing up here in the northern reaches of New England, this Fan has watched him for most of those years, . He's been an institution. On a team full of athletes and sluggers, he was our Everyman. We smiled when he threw his fastball for a strike and it registered 72 on the radar gun. Hey, that's not far from what we could do. We could relate to this guy more than most ball players.

And his fan base and his long term service to the Red Sox probably puts an emotional blinder on Terry Francona  and Theo Epstein. That's understandable. But this team doesn't need a mascot. They need someone younger that can more consistently get the job done. If you want to make him a $4 million mascot, retire him and let him become the team spokesman or something.

After the Matsuzaka massacre, the Red Sox called on Wakefield because it was already 7-0. This Fan watched him jog onto the field and toward the pitching mound. He looked like a middle-aged guy with a giddy-up stride trying to get across the street to the mailbox before the traffic caused him to pause for five minutes. He immediately picked off B. J. Upton because Upton has these brain farts five or six times a season. One out. The next batter hit an atom ball to Pedroia, who quickly started the double-play that ended the innings. The ESPN announcers were effusive in their praise for the old guy.

By the time that Francona came out and got Wakefield after three plus innings, the old guy had given up eight base runners and five runs. By the last of it, the announcers were softening the blow by saying that Wakefield must be understandably out of gas. No, he isn't out of gas, he's out of time.

It's not like Tim Wakefield has kept himself in great shape. His newfound portliness makes him look like he was on the same banquet circuit as Joe Maddon this past off season. Maybe if Wakefield had kept working himself physically, he wouldn't look like an old man now. But he didn't and he does.

There were signs of this last year. Whenever a team bunted and Wakefield was on the mound, the old guy couldn't move. He had no chance to field the ball and get the out. His fielding bible scores gave him a -2 runs saved on defense and a -4 total defensive runs saved. In other words, he didn't save any runs with his fielding, he cost them. Again, this Fan has watched Wakefield for a long time and he used to move much better than this. He was a pretty good athlete at one time. He isn't any more.

It's not easy to write a piece like this. Tim Wakefield is a beloved figure in Boston and New England. He means a lot to his team as one of the last holdovers from both championships. He's had a lot of great moments and has been highly versatile. He was even the Red Sox closer for a time in 1999. Only Roger Clemens has more wins in a Red Sox uniform.

But, it's time, Boston. It's time to give him a grand send off. Have your Tim Wakefield day. Put a plague out there somewhere on the field. Sure, even retire his number. All of those would perfectly suit the old warrior who has meant so much to the team and the area. But making him some kind of mascot to come in and look old and creaky in blow out games doesn't do any service to him or your fans. Some times, old horses just need to be put out to pasture.

It's well past that time for Tim Wakefield. It hurts to say it, but that's the reality we're living here.

The Indians' Fast Start

Manny Acta was never a favorite here in the FanDome, but you have to give the man some credit for the Indians' fast start. Not only do they sit on top of the AL Central, but their 7-2 record isn't a fluke. They are +15 in runs scored versus runs allowed and are winning with the long ball and with small ball (as their suicide squeeze bunt win the other day showed). Let's take a closer look at this team to see what's under the hood.

Offensively, the Indians are hitting the ball really well so far despite their best player, Shin-Soo Choo, off to a slow start. To be sure 36 year old, Orlando Cabrera is not going to hit .375. He is a career .274 batter with occasional pop and is playing second base, a move in response to his age. But by all mean, he seems to be a positive influence on shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera. The younger Cabrera is off to a great start, but it's not a start out of line with his career. He's a .285 career hitter and him hitting .312 doesn't seem a stretch for a 26 year old hitting his stride. The three homers is a surprise. His lack of plate discipline is the only thing that brings up warning bells. He's struck out 10 times in 38 at bats and has only walked twice.

Travis Hafner isn't going to hit .370. But perhaps his shoulder is stronger than it has been in the last few years and he could return at least part ways back to the kind of killer he was five years ago. He used to be one of the most feared hitters in baseball and it's certainly possible for him to have an excellent year. It is impressive that he's only struck out five times against three walks. He's hit two homers so far. Is 30 out of the question? Not really.

Third baseman, Jack Hannahan, is hitting solidly at .286 with an OPS of .891. It's hard to quantify what Hannahan can do since he is 31 years old and getting the first solid playing time of his career. His nine years in the minors show a guy who should give you a .781 OPS with only occasional power, a decent eye and a few too many strikeouts. He'll come to earth a bit, and won't provide the kind of power at third that most teams like, but he seems solid enough.

Michael Brantley is only going to be 24 in May. He's been another nice surprise as he is hitting .303 with a .368 on base percentage. Those numbers are right in line with his minor league numbers, so it's not a stretch that Brantley can put up those kinds of numbers. He doesn't have any power, but he has good speed and he should be fine at the top of the order.

Carlos Santana isn't off to a blazing start, but the young catcher is going to hit. His current slash line of .268/.316/.353 isn't very impressive and he only has one extra base hit. But give him 500 plate appearances and he'll be fine. The same can't be said with any kind of optimism for Matt LaPorta. LaPorta's .231 average is right in line with his career line of .232 and his on base percentage is down. Maybe this is just who he is and is not, at 25, going to be the star the Indians hoped he would be.

One thing you can be sure of and that is Shin-Soo Choo will hit. His track record has been one of the better kept secrets in the majors. He isn't hitting yet, but he will.

There will be some regression in the Indians' current offensive production. That would be offset some when Choo and Santana get going. Sizemore will be back at some point but you have to wonder how he will do. The team is a little thin behind the starters. Austin Kearns offers nothing, but Lou Marson, Shelly Duncan and Adam Everett are decent spot players.

The nice thing about all of these offensive players is that they are good defensively (even Kearns is adequate). They have made only four errors all season and all of their starters are in the positive numbers for zone ratings. And so we've determined that the offense and defense can keep the Indians competitive. How about the pitching?

Of course, a lot of the Indians' season success will depend on the starting rotation. They have two very good members on the top with Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson. Carmona was lit up his first start, but was really, really good his second time around. Masterson is 2-0 and really seems to have figured out how to be a successful starter. The Fan likes those two on top. The next three offer problems.

Josh Tomlin is 2-0 after his first two starts with an ERA of 2.68. But this Fan doesn't buy it. He's struck out seven batters against six walks. It's possible for him to be a league average pitcher and that would be fine if the top two do their jobs. But he isn't as good as he is showing early on.

Mitch Talbot has to find a way to keep his pitch count down. He seems afraid to attack the strike zone and the other day threw 102 pitches in four and a third innings. He has an excellent strikeout rate, but he needs to throw more strikes. Can he do it? Possibly, but we'll see. He certainly has a better chance at doing well than Carlos Carrasco, who seems destined to be a pitcher who finishes with an ERA in the mid-five range.

The Indians need three quality starts in every five appearances, and that is certainly possible with this rotation. Whether that will happen or not really will determine how far this Indians team can go in 2011.

The bullpen has been quite good. Chris Perez is a quality closer and hasn't given up a run yet in 2011. Tony Sipp hasn't given up a walk or a run in five innings of work. Rafael Perez walks too many batters, but so far has walked that tight rope and hasn't given up any runs. If you have those three at the end of the game, you're in pretty good shape. Chad Durbin has yet to show his usual form and could be a nice addition once he gets going. The bullpen has no depth beyond that, so again, the starters have to deliver the game to the back end of the bullpen for this to work all season long.

The Indians are currently third in the league in scoring and third in preventing runs. That combination has led to their 7-2 record. They really are improved from the horror of last year and it is conceivable for this team to win 85 games. It isn't conceivable at this point for them to stay as good as they are now, but it would be a fun story, would it not? The White Sox look like the team this year, but the Indians could surprise a lot of people.

Game Picks - Monday: April 11, 2011

Remember that great day on Saturday? Well, a lot of it was given back on Sunday. It wasn't a good day. It looked like the Reds had pulled out their game and then the bullpen exploded. The Mariners kicked the ball around for Bedard. Cole Hamel and Josh Beckett showed their first starts were flukes. No, it just wasn't a good day. And like the Bay Rays, the Game of the Day feature just can't buy a win. That feature now has six straight losses.

It's raining here, but at least it is somewhat warm. But to quote the Carpenters, "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." Let's see if these pick can't provide a pick-me-up:

  • The Tigers over the Rangers: Yeah, the teams are going in opposite directions, but you have to pick Verlander over Ogando, don't you?
  • The Mets over the Rockies: Pelfrey has looked bad so far. But Hammel wasn't great his first time out either and has lost his only outing at Citi Field. Mets with the win.
  • The Bay Rays over the Red Sox: Got to believe that Hellickson will bamboozle the Red Sox while Dice-K gives up enough runs to lose.
  • The Cubs over the Astros: Dempster hasn't exactly been throwing lights out. But neither is Figueroa. The Cubs out-score the weak hitting Astros.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Going with Braden over Buehrle since Buehrle is 4-13 lifetime against Oakland. Braden will have to be better than last time out though.
  • The Cardinals over the Diamondbacks: The Cards hit better yesterday, have McClellan on the mound and Enright will implode like Enron.
  • The Padres over the Reds: Impossible game to pick. You never know what Volquez will do nor how Latos will respond in his first start of the year. Going with the home team in a game that might be a bullpen affair.
  • The Indians over the Angels: Another impossible game. They all look difficult, don't they? Talbot? A kid making his MLB debut for the Angels (Tyler Chatwood). Who knows.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Going with Kershaw over Bumgarner. Bumgarner is at home and seems to pitch better on the road. Kershaw can be no-hit stuff on any given night.

And the Game of the Day

  • The Mariners over the Blue Jays: How can you ever pick against Felix Hernandez? You can't and be sane.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 6-9
Month: 69-63
Season: 69-63
Games of the Day: 3-8

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Backup Catchers Suck

Just about every team has a starting catcher. Few teams platoon catchers. The Reds may be one of them. But as a rule, teams have a Number One guy behind the plate. Some of them are very good such as McCann and Mauer. Some are very bad such as Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez (at this stage in his career). But unlike just about every other position, catchers aren't asked to play 150 games in a season. Squatting  for nine or more innings a game is extremely challenging physically and few are allowed to play behind the plate more 135 games or so.

In fact, only a handful of catchers played 130 games or more. They are: Brian McCann (who led all catchers in games), Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Kurt Suzuki and Mike Wieters. And even they played a few games at DH or another position to get some rest. All this means that a backup catcher is going to play thirty or more games a season. The real problem with playing so many games with backup catchers is that for most big league teams, backup catching is a vast wasteland of players who aren't very good.

To prove this point, the Fan took all catchers from 2010 that played between 20 and 60 games. Why those totals? Well, if you caught more than 60 times, you're more in a platoon situation than in a backup situation. And yes, a few good performances are missed by making the range up to 81 games such as Josh Thole and Ryan Hanigan. But you also miss a bunch of poor ones such as Jason Castro and Koyle Hill. So it's not like we're going to skew the numbers any by making the range a little larger. And any less than 20 games behind the plate are really cup-of-coffee-type players who really shouldn't figure into our conclusions.

So after defending the games played range for this little study, here is what the Fan came up with. If you add up all the plate appearances by all those in the range, you get 723 plate appearances by these backup catchers. That's just about right for a full season of games for a starting player at most other positions. As a whole, those plate appearances did not go over very well.

Adding up all the plate appearances, at bats, hits, total bases, walks, HBPs, extra base hits and everything else and by doing the divisions (the Fan loves Microsoft Excel by the way), you get the final accumulated slash line: .223/.299/.335. Yeah, that's what the Fan says, "Ugh." That's a .634 accumulated OPS for all of these catchers. That means they were as bad as the worst full time players in baseball last year.

Of course, they added no stolen bases, hit only 11 homers, 2 triples and 34 doubles. They only walked 8.7 percent of the time and struck out 25.5 percent of the time. Okay, you can now commence in telling the Fan that these guys are good in the clubhouse or good at handling pitchers or good behind the plate or whatever you want to add in here. But the bottom line is that these guys are a total drag on a team's offense when they play.

The average age of these players was 30. There were some in this group like Carlos Santana, who was supposed to be the starting catcher but got hurt. And then there were a bunch like Brad Ausmus and Gregg Zaun, the ancients. Most are between 28 and 32 years of age.

Of all these catchers, only three had a WAR above 1.00 for the season. They were Carlos Santana, David Ross and Ramon Castro. Those three provided value in their games played. There were nine that had a WAR in negative values. That means they not only didn't add any win values, they lost win values. The worst two backup catchers in value last year were Kevin Cash and Adam Moore, both of whom cost their teams more than a win in value.

The conclusion here is that backup catchers suck as a group. Granted, there aren't very many good starting catchers either. But when you employ the current basket of backup catchers, there is no place to hide them in the line up and in most cases, you are giving up any chance at getting any offense from the position. The Fan isn't sure why this is. Does the entire minor league system have that few quality catchers? Do these backup catchers that play year after year simply have good reputations and are liked by their managers, pitching coaches, etc.? The Fan doesn't know the answer. But the bottom line remains. Those who are backing up a position that require the tools of ignorance have very few tools in their tool bags at all.

Game Picks - Sunday: April 10, 2011

Saturday was a breakthrough day. Not only was the week saved, but for once, it actually seemed like this picker knew what he was doing. Yesterday's picks predicted a great ballgame by Zach Britton over Texas and then a bad game by Arrieta in the double-header's finale. That's exactly what happened. A great game by Gio Gonzalez was exactly what happened.  That the Yankees would get to Buchholz happened. That the Dodgers would win the suspended game and that Kuroda would throw a gem in the regular game was exactly what happened. The prediction was the Mets would win behind Capuano and they did. The prediction was that Narveson would be good, he was great. It was a terrific day of picking.

There were a few dumb things. The Pirates blew a save situation or Morton would have gotten the win as predicted. The Fan totally missed the White Sox/Bay Rays game. How does that happen? And once again, the Game of the Day was wrong. That's five straight bad picks for the game the Fan predicts to be a lock. And apologies have to be sent to the Fan's Cardinal blogging buddies as that was a brutal loss as Franklin blew yet another save. But that made the Fan's pick right.

Since the week ended so well, let's see if Sunday can start off the new week with a bang:

  • The Tigers over the Royals: The Tigers have been terribly disappointing this season. They have to start winning games that Verlander doesn't pitch. Thinking today that Porcello should out-pitch Hochevar.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: The Mets continue to be rewarded for gutsy pitching signings as Chris Young wins his second game over Jason Marquis.
  • The Rockies over the Pirates: James McDonald starts for the Pirates in his second start coming off a strained oblique. But he isn't stretched out yet, putting more pressure on a stretched Pirate bullpen. The Rockies win behind Chacin.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Simply like Derek Lowe's chances over Cole Hamels with the Braves being home.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: Jeremy Guthrie missed a start due to pneumonia and could still be weak. Holland should silence the Orioles' bats.
  • The Marlins over the Astros: Happ has gone back to being Happless after pitching well last year. Anibal Sanchez wins the game.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Casey Coleman isn't a bad replacement for the injured Randy Wells, but Gallardo should out-pitch him and get a hit along the way himself.
  • The Twins over the Athletics: Brandon McCarthy shouldn't be able to stop the Twins' offense and Home Run Baker doesn't have too many homer hitters in Oakland's dugout to worry about.
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: The Fan has always liked Jeff Niemann and keeps waiting for him to break out. Perhaps it will be this game with a win over Gavin Floyd.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Weaver should have no trouble with beating Jo-Jo Reyes, who was terrible in his first start.
  • The Padres over the Dodgers: Never been a big Fan of John Ely, who gets the start for the Dodgers. Harang should win.
  • The Cardinals over the Giants: The Cardinals have serious bullpen issues, especially at the back end. So Kyle Lohse really needs a good game to beat Barry Zito. The Cards have to hit sooner or later.
  • The Mariners over the Indians: The heart is in the way on this pick as this Fan is really rooting for this Bedard comeback. He beats Tomlin, who was good his first time out. Beware of this pick.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: Sabathia was brilliant last time out. Beckett, not so much. Are the Red Sox really 1-7?

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Leake pitched well his last time out. Saunders is a guy who will never get a pick in this space. Ever.

Yesterday: 12-4! Yay!
Last Week: 45-41  Whew!
Month: 63-54
Season: 63-54
Games of the Day: 3-7  Oh come on now!