Saturday, April 23, 2011

Back to Back to Back Plays Cost the Bay Rays A Game

Jose Bautista had a legendary game. Bautista hit a triple, a double and a homer and went three for three with two walks and four runs scored. The Blue Jays' best player certainly helped win the game for the Blue Jays. Those last two walks cost him the cycle as all he needed was a single. But it was that first walk and his luck that followed that cost the Bay Rays the game and turned things around for the Blue Jays.

The Toronto crowd was on their feet when Bautista came up in the eighth inning. Not only was the hometown crowd hoping Bautista would do something about the 4-3 deficit that Blue Jays faced, but they knew he just needed a single. But as @TaoofStieb said on Twitter, they would have gladly traded the single for a patented JoBau homer. They got neither. Joel Peralta came in to pitch the eighth for the Bay Rays and he'd been very effective so far this season. He pitches almost exactly like a pudgier Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets' closer.

Peralta didn't want anything to do with Bautista and walked him. The crowd booed lustily. Adam Lind came up next and appeared to have like a ninety pitch at bat. Peralta got behind and then Lind fouled pitch after pitch. Finally, Peralta got Lind to ground hard to first baseman, Dan Johnson. There are two things you need to know about Dan Johnson. The first of which is that in part time duty, he has batted under .200 for three straight seasons and is currently batting .121. The second is that, though his numbers aren't bad over at first defensively, he's never played there full time. Johnson fielded the ball close to first and stepped on the bag and then threw to second to try to get Bautista. Johnson had plenty of time, but the ball sailed a little bit and ended up hitting Bautista in the back. JoBau was safe.

The announcers in the game went on and on about how Johnson should have gone to second right away and not stepped on first to begin the play. The Fan doesn't agree with that at all. Johnson was two feet from the bag when he caught the grounder. Big league first basemen have been making that play for a hundred years. All Johnson had to do was throw the ball on the shortstop side of second and Bautista would have been out by a mile. Johnson didn't and Bautista was safe. For those of you wondering, Bautista was not out of the base line while running to second. It was simply a bad throw from Johnson.

So now the tying run was on second with only one out in a one run game. There should have been two outs with nobody on base. What happened next proved that this was Bautista's day and cost the Bay Rays the game. JoBau was trying to get a good lead so he could score on a single. The Bay Rays knew that and Sean Rodriguez sneaked in behind Bautista, opened his glove to give the signal and Peralta whirled and delivered a perfect pickoff throw. Bautista was a dead duck except Sean Rodriguez failed to catch the ball. It hit the webbing of his glove and bounced a few feet behind him. Seriously, Bautista would have been dead in the water, hung out to dry or any other cliche you feel like coming up with. But there he was still on second twice after he should have been out.

Edwin Encarnacion was up next and hit the ball over Zobrist's head in right field. It appeared that Zobrist had broken in first before trying to retreat to catch the ball. He couldn't catch up to it. Perhaps if Fuld had been back there, it would have been an out (#LegendofSamFuld). but the double scored the charmed Jose Bautista and that tied the game at four. The Blue Jays eventually won the game when John McDonald, who was only in the game because Nix was injured earlier in the game, hit a walk-off homer scoring Woodward, who was running for Juan Rivera, who finally got a hit while batting .089. Talk about an unwieldy sentence that described an improbable event!

But the game turned on those two plays on Bautista at second. No errors are recorded in the score book. You never assume a double play, so Dan Johnson didn't receive an error for hitting Bautista in the back. And Sean Rodriguez didn't get an error for dropping that pickoff throw. Zobrist didn't get an error for breaking in on a ball over his head and yet all of those things were plays the Bay Rays could have made to make the outcome turn out differently than they did. But that's the way it goes in baseball sometimes.

One other note about this game. Felipe Lopez, who has worn out his welcome in several cities before making his way to Tampa, went 0-5 in the game with two strikeouts. But it was his last at bat that will be his last for the Bay Rays. We are talking about a tie game here that both teams wanted to win. In the top of the eleventh inning, Lopez hit a routine grounder to second and loafed toward first. It turns out that McDonald booted the ball. But Lopez didn't hustle and that gave McDonald time to recover and throw him out. Joe Maddon pulled Lopez from the game after that. Look for Lopez on the waiver wire today.

Game Picks - Saturday: April 23, 2011

Yesterday was terrific! Even with three games postponed due to rain, this picker had ten of twelve correct. The only blemishes were Toronto coming back on the Bay Rays (more on that in a coming post) and stupidly picking against Verlander against the White Sox. That one was a case of not doing enough research. Verlander--in the words of one tweet on Twitter--owns the White Sox. But that was it. Those were the only two bad picks. That's pretty darned exciting.

Which leads to the picks for Saturday. Two great days in a row would be sweet. None of those three Friday washouts will be made up on Saturday (which seems strange):

  • The Cubs over the Dodgers: Ryan Dempster can't seem to get his game out of the dumpster. Perhaps the Dodgers will help as Dempster has always done well against them (7-3, 2.23). He'll beat Lilly today.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: It's always dicey picking a pitcher just coming back from the DL like Morrow. So going with David Price and the Rays.
  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: Gee, who will win this game? Heh. The Fan loves that. But Gee will win because he faces Barry Enwrong.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Yesterday's match up becomes today's match up and Duensing will beat Carmona.
  • The Giants over the Braves: Lincecum is back in 2009 form. Which means he's not hittable. Hudson is a worthy opponent, but Lincecum takes it.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: A bad Penny always turns up. Love that pun. But it's true too. Jackson is always either terrible or terrific. He better be terrific today.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: The Cards and Reds are going in opposite directions. Carpenter keeps that trend going against Travis Wood.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: Picking against Livan always burns this picker. Karstens is better in relief than as a starter. It's surprising that after a rain-out, the Pirates wouldn't bump Karstens, who was an emergency starter in the first place.
  • The Rockies over the Marlins: Hammel is the weakest of the Rockies' starters, but he's better at this point in his career than Javier Vazquez. Plus, the Marlins offense will really miss LoMo.
  • The Brewers over those plucky Astros: You have to give the Astros credit. They never give up. But Marcum's change up will bamboozle them today. Myers with the tough luck loss.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: Read a piece the other day that said Kyle Davies is the worst starter in history. It built a strong case too. He didn't have enough starts to make the Fan's version last week of the worst starting pitchers in history. Ogando should bounce back from a bad start against the Yankees.
  • The Padres over the Phillies: The upset pick of the day. Stauffer has been very good and Blanton has been a weak link for the Phillies.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: The Red Sox have their swagger back. Dice-K over Santana.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Boy, are these two offenses weak. But Cahill is terrific. He beats Vargas.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Yankees over the Orioles: They simply moved yesterday's match up to today. Sabathia still beats Bergesen.

Yesterday: 10-2 Yowza!
Week: 48-32
Month: 158-129
Season: 158-129
Games of the Day: 11-12

Friday, April 22, 2011

Unlucky When Lucky - Dustin Moseley

Dustin Moseley should be having the time of his life. He's made four starts--a surprise in and of itself--and has pitched 25 and a third innings about as good as he's ever pitched in his life. He's only given up four earned runs for a sparkling 1.40 ERA. Moseley, forever a fringe kind of guy, should be on top of the world. Moseley has always been the last pitcher on a pitching staff, the long reliever, the mop up guy. This is his sixth season in the majors and has pitched a grand total of 259 major league innings. So this should be great right? Well, it would be if he wasn't 0-3.

The problem for Dustin Moseley is that he is never going to pitch this well again. He never has before. In many ways, his successful pitching has been a mirage. He's only striking out 2.81 batters per nine innings. Only Mark Buehrle has thrown as many innings as Moseley with a lower strikeout per nine inning rate (2.77). Everything is going right for Moseley. He's never had a higher ground ball rate than his current (and amazing) 58.1 percent. He's never had this high an infield fly rate (10 percent). He's never stranded this many batters (84.5 percent). All of his pitches are working except, perhaps, his change up. He has his sterling 1.40 ERA despite a FIP of 3.71 and an xFIP of 4.12. And yet, he has nothing to show for it.

For a guy like Moseley, forever the fringe guy, to finally get his chance to start every five days has to be huge. To do this well during those four starts has to be a bonus on top of bonus. And yet, he's 0-3. How unlucky can you be when you are being luckier than you've ever been in your life? Sure, Felix Hernandez was given the Cy Young Award last year for being unlucky while being great. But Moseley is being unlucky when he is being lucky to be this great. That's a whole other kettle of fish.

The sad news for Dustin Moseley is that he can't keep up this kind of pitching. There is absolutely no chance you can strike out that few major league hitters, give up that much futile contact and strand that many runners for more than this small sample set. Reality will set in and he'll start giving up three, four and five runs an outing like his pitching suggests and what chance will he have then when he couldn't buy a win during this four game, brilliantly lucky streak? It has to be one of the unluckiest lucky streaks in the history of the game.

Moseley's career does have some bad luck involved already. His career 4.90 ERA is lower than his career FIP and xFIP. But nothing can compare to his unlucky lucky streak going on early this season. To finally have his chance to start regularly (thanks to injuries in San Diego) and to have everything that could possibly go right, go right and have nothing to show for it is the height of irony. For a guy to give up four earned run in four starts and have a record of 0-3, how much worse can it get when he's giving up that many earned runs in a game? Poor guy. You have to feel for him.

Game Picks - Friday: April 22, 2011

Roy Oswalt pitched beautifully. That was good news for the Phillies. And it made for a stupid upset pick. And a certain first place team blew a save and a win upsetting that heretofore correct pick. The Mets won the disabled list sweepstakes with a Chris Capuano start that was brilliant. And Mr. Home Run Baker didn't give up any homers and proved the worthlessness of that pick. Those were the blemishes for Thursday. But King Felix was quietly brilliant (or  the A's simply can't hit). The Cardinals continued to roll. The Dodgers and Red Sox both helped out with extra inning wins. Fortunately, more went right for the picks yesterday than went wrong.

And it's Friday already. It's really true that the older you get, the faster time seems to go. Fridays are always fun though. New series get started, every team plays and there is always lots to consider. Let's consider Friday's games:

  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Chad Billingsley has only pitched three times in his career at Wrigley Field. But they have gone well. That has to give this pick the edge to the Dodgers. Coleman starts for the Cubs.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: Comerica Park is perfect for Buehrle with its wide open spaces. And he's pitched well there with a 3.07 ERA. He should be able to hold the Tigers down long enough to beat Verlander.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: If ever a pitcher was due for a win, it's Sabathia. He is countered by Bergesen, a pitcher that has great days and not so great days. This pick will depend on which of those shows up.
  • The Natinonals over the Pirates: Livan does his thing. McCutchen is out for personal reasons. Karstens is better in relief than as a starter. 
  • The Rays over the Blue Jays: It's hard to figure out what the Jays are doing with their rotation. Cecil and Litsch are sent to the minors and Jo-Jo Reyes gets the start? Doesn't make sense. Hellickson with the win.
  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: A crappy game to pick as Pelfrey and Saunders have been equally horrible. At least Pelfrey seems to have a chance to improve. Saunders is Saunders.
  • The Marlins over the Rockies: Sanchez struck out eight last time out and is due for a win. Chacin has been great for the Rockies. But the young hitters in Florida get to him.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: A lefty like Francis doesn't have an advantage against Texas with all of their right-handed power. Holland with the win.
  • The Twins over the Indians: Hard to pick against a hot team, especially when Carmona is pitching. But Duensing always keep the Twins in striking distance.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Kyle McClellan has been terrific. Volquez is always an adventure for a game picker. Cardinals are hot. The Reds are not. Cards are home. Got to go that way.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Dan Haren has been awe-inspiring thus far. But the Red Sox are not the Mariners and they counter with their own ace, Jon Lester.
  • The Phillies over the Padres: The Padres have no bullets in their gun. Hamels with an easy win over Richard.
  • The Mariners over the Athletics: Tough one here. Tyler Ross and Michael Pineda are two good young pitchers. But neither team can hit. They could go twenty scoreless innings. But if the Mariners can give Pineda a couple of runs, they will win.
  • The Braves over the Giants: Tommy Hanson has the kind of arm that can quiet the Giants' lineup. Bumgarner has been inconsistent thus far. Longshot pick here, so beware.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Astros: Gallardo should have no trouble against the light-hitting Astros and Figueroa hasn't been very good thus far.

Yesterday: 7-4
Week: 38-30
Month: 148-127
Season: 148-127
Games of the Day: 10-12

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Do We Give Up on B. J. Upton?

B. J. Upton is now 26 years old. You look at him and see his athletic frame. You see the glide in his step, the grace in all he does. You have heard of his promise for more than half a decade now. When he first broke in to the big leagues in full time action in 2007, he hit .300 with an on base percentage of .386 and he slugged .508. His fielding was suspect and he struck out an awful lot (32 percent), but for a first year, you'd take that as a sign of great things to come, right? Despite poor fielding numbers, he compiled an fWAR of 4.4. You might have flinched a bit at his .391 BABIP, but nobody can be that lucky over 600 plate appearances, could they? Perhaps that BABIP told us what we should know now.

It's been all downhill for Upton since then. His batting average slipped 27 points to .273 in 2008. But he did walk 97 times. His homers fell from 24 to 9. His doubles rose from 25 to 37. His stolen bases increased to 44. And his fielding metrics were terrific. You'd still take that and continue to think a star was on the rise, right? His fWAR was actually higher that 2008 season and rose to 4.7. So far, everything about Upton seemed to point to stardom.

It didn't happen. It still hasn't happened. If you combine his two seasons of 2009 and 2010 covering 1,236 plate appearances and 1,096 at bats, his batting average has been .239. His on base percentage has been .318 and his slugging percentage, .398. He still stole a lot of bases. His defense suffered, particularly in 2010. If we look at Upton's wOBA history, it's been on a sliding scale for four years. It reads: .387, .354, .310, .337. The rise in 2010 accounts for a return of some of his power as he hit 18 homers, the most since 2007.

At some point, you have to raise the question: Is this all he is going to be? And the equally troubling question: Has the B. J. Upton we've been waiting for a myth? All of which ultimately leads to the question of how long we continue to believe our dream of the Upton that could be and finally settle on the fact that he is more of like he is now. Should we give up on him?

The Fan still grapples with the question. Whenever you see him play, his ability to the eye and his grace scream, "STAR!" But he hasn't been a star. Does he need a change of scenery? Is he a somewhat better Mark Reynolds that just needs to move on? Pouring over his statistics lead to more questions than answers. For example, his strikeout rate refuses to come down. It was 30.6 percent in 2009 and 30.5 percent in 2010. But then again, he doesn't swing at pitches out of the strike zone. His career rate is 19.4 percent, which is more comparable to Lance Berkman than Miguel Montero. His rate did increase noticeably in 2010 to over 25%. But that doesn't indicate a total lack of plate discipline.

So what is it then? Is it the quality of his contact? There may be something to see there. His line drive percentage has shrunk alarmingly. His first full season, that figure was at 19.8 percent. The last two seasons, his line drive percentage has been 15.4 and 16.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, his infield fly ball rate (pop ups to the infield) has risen from 5.4 percent his first full season to over 8.0 percent the last two seasons.

His split stats are also revealing. The simple fact is that he cannot seem to hit right-handed pitching. Last year, his OPS against pitchers from that side was .664 while his OPS against lefties was .919. He was better against right-handers than left-handers in 2009, but it was by far his worst season in the majors. In 2007 and 2008, his splits were nearly identical. And so it seems that scouts and pitchers have seen something they have exploited the last two seasons and Upton and his coaches have not been able to make the adjustments.

Just in case you still think this Fan is overstating the case, if we look at fWAR for last season among center fielders, here is a list of some of the center fielders that were more valuable than Upton last season: Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Shane Victorino (who had a really down season), Austin Jackson, Curtis Granderson, Colby Rasmus, Torii Hunter, Michael Bourn, Chris Young and Angel Pagan. Wouldn't you look at Upton and think he was better than some of those guys?

So how is this year going? Unfortunately, it is more of the same. His OPS before Thursday night's game was .696. He went 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout, so those numbers won't change much. It's frustrating. It has to be for Upton and it has to be for his team and its fans. He should be better than this. Why isn't he batter than this? Perhaps we are at the point where the Rays have to simply cut their losses and simply get as much value for him as they possibly can. It's obvious that the team can't simply wait forever for the promise that may never be delivered.

The Washington Nationals Are Poorly Named

Image is everything in this day and age. Everything has to be catchy and up-tempo. Products need to be buzz-worthy and brand names need to roll off your tongue. The Washington Nationals have a poor product name. It's too stodgy and conservative. Plus, it suffers the most because it doesn't really mean anything. Take, for example, the Texas Rangers. That's a cool name even if steeped a bit in sleepy history. At least it's cool history of a bunch of mean hombres that rode around on fast horses shooting bad guys without asking questions first. But the Nationals? What does that mean?

Yes, we know that the "Nationals" hearkens to the "nations capital." But is that cool like the Rangers? Or the Pirates? Or the Reds? Check that. The "Reds" is a really stupid name and is lucky it outlasted the Joe McCarthy era. Anyway, you get the idea. How can you ever get excited for a brand with a heavy name like the Nationals? You can't. It speaks of old era and lead weight. It causes us all to remember that Washington doesn't work very well and hasn't in quite a long time. It centers itself in an area that many across America view with scorn and acrimony. We are "nationalistic" in our sympathies, but against our nationalistic government that we view as too large and too unwieldy.

It is an upgrade from both prior versions of the Washington "Senators." Now that's worse. Raise your hand if you are fond of most of our nation's senators these days. Don't see many hands out there. Oh, sure, the Senators could bring back thoughts of those Romans. But those senators took out Julius Caesar and we all loved him. So even that didn't work.

New York's national league team has a problematic name. What is a met? But we all know that is short for Metropolitan. And the New York Metropolitans would have been just as stodgy as the Washington Nationals. So the "Mets" was a good replacement for that. But again, the Mets have an image problem and that name doesn't help. Their predecessors, the Giants and the Dodgers, had exciting names. The Mets are kind of inert next to those two names, right? Plus, when they are going poorly, it's too easy to rename them the Mutts. That's not good.

The whole point of discussing the Mets is that the name really doesn't help the New York team that shortened down a overbearing and longer name. Many Washington fans simply call them the "Nats." And while "Nats" is cooler to say and rolls off the tongue better, they become synonymous with pests. Nats are pests right? Well, gnats are. Is that what you want your team to always be considered? Pests? Even in its best connotation, pests are "gamers" that play above their ability and pester the supposedly more talented team. No, you want your team to signify being dominant when they are good. The Giants may not have always been giants, but when they were giants, they were Giants, not pests.

Now the Nationals aren't alone. What good is naming a team the Athletics? Isn't that kind of stupid? All ball players are athletes, even the worst of them. But when you shorten that name to the "A's," that becomes cool and allows them to wear cool yellow home jerseys and white spikes. So, even if their full name is stupid and meaningless, their nickname isn't. The Nationals are meaningless and their nickname equals pests.

And Washington has never had a good sports name. The "Redskins" are not politically correct. The "Generals" doesn't work. The "Capitals?" That's as bad as the "Nationals." The aforementioned Senators were not a cool name. If a team is going to represent something as myopic as our nation's capital, then it has to have a cool name.

Another problem with naming this Washington Nationals team is that there are two Washingtons. There is the state, which avoided the problem by naming their team for the city in which they play (Seattle). And then there is the city that houses our government. But "Washington" isn't even its name. It's Washington, D.C. And it's bad enough that none of us actually understand why our nation's capital has such a city name. To name a team after said city doesn't help. And even if the city was named after our most famous founding father, George Washington has an image problem too. He is known far more for his wooden teeth and his imperious and imposing portraits that we saw as kids to have any kind of warm fuzzy about him. He has a stodgy image which belies the swashbuckling and interesting character that he was.

So nothing works here. Last year, the Stephen Strasburg phenomenon was cool. Having him play for the Washington Nationals sapped some of that cool. The image we have of Bryce Harper is cool. But he is a prospect for the Washington Nationals, which isn't cool. So say someday this team actually becomes a good team. A lot of that buzz will be dissipated by having such a boring and nondescript name.

But there is a problem with a baseball team name. Once it arrives, it is set in stone because baseball is all about setting itself up as enduring and timeless. Change doesn't happen quickly. And when big changes happen, they don't always happen all the way (hello DH). So once an MLB team has a name, how dare you ever consider changing it? But it shouldn't be so. The Cleveland Indians need to change their name and their awful logo (Chief Wahoo must die). And the Nationals need to change their name.

What would you name them? The DC ACs? The DC Electrics? This Fan doesn't have an answer. You need a marketing team to help you with that. But anything would build a more image-conscious rallying point than the Washington Nationals do. This Fan didn't mean to pick on the team and its fans. There is empathy for those fans as all fans of baseball are passionate and nuts about their team. We root for them to have their day in the sun. We just don't want that glorious day to be dappled in the gray of a name like the Nationals.

Game Picks - Thursday: April 21, 2011

Remembering that Tuesday's picks were brutally bad, last night's games were watched with great interest for their redeeming value. And since there were an unusual plethora of games for the day (17 games must be a near record), there was plenty of chance for success. Imagine then the excitement built when at one point, the picks reached a 10-2 margin. The only blemishes to that point were a non-win by the Cardinals in the first game of their double-header and a good pitching performance by Clay Buchholz and a timely hit (imagine that!) by Carl Crawford. 10-2! That was grand. Then the Pirates lost. The Mets lost (see the scathing post on their stupid bunt attempt in the ninth). The Rangers lost and the Braves lost (again!). Crap! Mediocrity seized what has been a great start.

Oh well. It wasn't that mediocre and it sure beats getting smacked in the head with a two by four. There are eleven games on the schedule, which isn't bad for a Thursday. Somehow, those pampered Yankees get their second off day in the same week. Here's a look at the day ahead:

  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: The Reds have looked dormant of late. But Leake should steal a win (get it?) and Hudson is building a record that is the reverse of his record with the D-backs of a year ago.
  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: Kyle Lohse might just build a case for comeback player of the year. But that would assume that his career had more good in it than bad. So check that. But he'll win today over Gorzelanny simply because the Cards have an offense.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: The Fan has been consistently picking the Braves in the belief that they are supposed to be a good team. They haven't been. Jair Jurrjens was very good last time out but his velocity is still strangely missing. Going with Kershaw here because his velocity is never missing.
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: The Bay Rays are the first team in history to go 1-8 in its first nine games and then go 8-1 in its next nine games. That perfect symmetry would be great if they lost tonight. They won't. Niemann over Floyd.
  • The Orioles over the Twins: Scott Baker has hit an eddy. Get it? Baker Eddy? Oh nevermind. We'll stick with Home Run Baker, which is what Scott always is early in the season before he hits his semi-stride that always keeps him in the major leagues. But at least he throws strikes and pitches to contact, right TCM? Guthrie gets the win.
  • The Astros over the Mets: Boy, do the Mets suck right now or what? Happ over Capuano.
  • The Marlins over the Pirates: Good pitching sometimes snowballs and after two big games by Johnson and Nolasco, Volstad wants in on that act. His current ERA is 5.59 while McDonald's is over seven. But for those of you that think Bonifacio is going to keep hitting .364? Get over yourself.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Is Josh Tomlin's 3-0 record and 2.75 ERA a bit of a fluke? Yes. Is Sean O'Sullivan's 5.00 ERA? No. Thus, the rub.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Josh Beckett is on fire. Tyler Chatwood had a good start his last time out, but the Red Sox eat those kinds of pitchers alive.
  • The Padres over the Phillies: The upset pick of the day. Like the idea of Latos winning at home and don't like the nagging thought of Roy Oswalt pitching after his back went lame the last time out.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Mariners over the Athletics: Will the real Felix Hernandez show up? If he doesn't, this pick will look mighty stupid. McCarthy goes for the A's.

Yesterday: 11-6
Week: 31-26
Month: 141-123
Season: 141-123
Games of the Day: 9-12 (going backwards again)

When Not to Bunt

The New York Mets haven't exactly set the world on fire to start the 2011 season. They went into Wednesday night's game 5-12 with a terrible home record. After an off season filled with controversy, that's not exactly the kind of start they hoped for. They played against the Houston Astros. The Astros are a plucky team that seems to continually play over their head. But they aren't a contender by any means. The Mets, meanwhile, have already appeared to be in panic mode. They had a game a few days ago that they just had to win. And so they had two starters (Dickey and Capuano) make relief appearances to try and get it done. That, friends, is panic.

That very same R. A. Dickey who relieved to help win that must-win situation the other day started the game Wednesday night against the Astros. He got off to a rough start and gave up three runs in the second inning. It was just one of those innings. A walk here, a wild pitch there (a wild pitch for a knuckleball pitcher? No way) and a couple of dying quails plated the runs. Dickey settled down after that and held the Astros scoreless until the eighth inning.

Meanwhile, the Mets clawed back in the game against Bud Norris. Norris is from Georgia and his name...Bud...just seems to fit, doesn't it? Anyway, Beltran plated a run with a double and later Daniel Murphy hit a two-run homer in the sixth to tie the game. Right about then's win probability chart went decidedly over the the Mets side of the chart. So the Mets were right in this game.

Dickey, who had been very good from the third inning through the seventh, gave up a massive home run by Pence. The Astros then had a win probability just barely on their side. When the Mets didn't score in the eighth, then the win probability took a definite slide in the Astros favor. Old friend, Jason Ingringhausen, pitched a scoreless top of the ninth and this is where our story really begins.

Brandon Lyon was called upon by the Houston Astros to close the game. Lyon isn't your lights-out kind of closer. He's struck out two batters in five innings of work. In other words, he's not going to blow you away. But the odds beginning the inning were already 91 percent in the Astros favor because that's how often any team wins when leading going into the ninth inning.

But Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. At that point, the Mets' chances of winning jumped from nine percent to about 32 percent. With Lyon already owning a 25 percent line drive percentage, you have to feel better in the Mets' dugout at that point. The next batter is Josh Thole, the promising young catcher. The Mets obviously believe in his ability because he was batting second in the order, right?

It's obvious that the Mets were worried about a double-play. And the Fan gets that. Brandon Lyon throws to a lot of ground balls. He's sitting at 50 percent this year and 42 percent for his career. Meanwhile, Thole has hit a lot of ground balls. Of all the balls Thole has put in play, 64.9 percent of them have been grounders. Yet, he's only hit into one double-play all season. But you can understand the concern, right?

So Terry Collins, the manager of the Mets, gets that old, unofficial rule of play book out of the dugout closet that says you play for a tie and then take your chances. So he had Thole bunt. There are several problems with that decision. The first of which is that even if Thole is successful in his attempt, you actually decrease your chances of scoring a run when you give up an out. That's already proven. But the ripeness of this call goes beyond that.

Can you guess how many successful sacrifice bunts Josh Thole has executed in his short major league career? That would be none. If you go back to his minor league career, he had one each in 2008, 2009 and 2010. So you are asking a guy who doesn't have a great deal of bunting experience to bunt Reyes to second despite the fact that giving up an out hurts your chances AND despite the fact that Lyon isn't a stud closer.

And sure enough, this questionable decision turned into the worst possible outcome. Thole popped the bunt up, Reyes was doubled off, then there were two outs and the Mets' win probability sank to 95 percent. Sure, you would like to think that a professional baseball player could get a bunt down. But pitchers bunt all the time and often fail. It happens. Don't blame Thole. Blame the decision.

There is another element to this decision: The runner on first. Jose Reyes is fast. He's stolen six bases this season without getting caught. Meanwhile, J. R. Towle (why are there so many dang initials in baseball now?), the Astros' catcher, has thrown out 20 percent of base steal attempts this season and only 28 percent for his career. So you have a successful base stealer against an unsuccessful catcher and that adds up to an 80 percent chance that Reyes will be safe at second, which is where the Mets wanted him. That's a risk. Sure. But a good one compared to bunting a guy who is not used to bunting in a situation where the game is on the line.

At the very least, the Mets could have just let the inning play out and see what Thole and Wright could do with a non-dominant Brandon Lyon. But they chose to bunt. They chose to bunt because they are in panic mode when it's way too early for that. But that fits the mold for Terry Collins, who has always faced each game with a do or die attitude. Frankly, the Fan has said this before the season and repeats it now. Terry Collins is not the right guy for this team. Not under these circumstances. The Fan isn't saying he's a bad manager. This just isn't the right situation. The bunt by Josh Thole seems to be a symptom of the general problem.

This Fan hardly ever thinks the bunt is a good idea. The Fan's wife spits at the television screen whenever somebody bunts. She's right. If bunting is very often a bad idea, this particular bunt was a terrible idea.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Game Picks - Wednesday: April 20, 2011

Yesterday was brutal. How brutal? Let's call it, don't-even-want-to-talk-about-it brutal. Elite closers failed, aces pitched like scrubs. Scrubs pitched like aces. Awful. It's days such as Tuesday that makes the Fan question whether he ever really know anything about this game. Humbling. Seriously.

But when falling off a horse, the best thing is to get right back up and mount it again. So here are Wednesday's picks:

  • The Phillies over the Brewers: The Brewers have had the best of the series so far and even beat Roy Halladay handily, but Cliff Lee can shut them down and the Phillies win despite Narveson, who has been outstanding thus far.
  • The Cardinals sweep the double-header from the Nationals: Rained out yesterday, Westbrook still beats Lannon and then later, Garcia beats the hard luck Zimmermann.
  • The Cubs and Padres split their double-header: The Cubs knock out Moseley in the first game. Garza gets his first win. Harang wins the second game over Russell.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: A low scoring game with De La Rosa out-pitching Matt Cain. The Giants have already taken the first two games of this series.
  • The Athletics over the Red Sox: Brutal umpiring yesterday masked the fact that Oakland pitching dominated the Red Sox. It doesn't get any easier with Gio Gonzalez on the hill. Clay Buchholz has not been sharp thus far.
  • The Tigers over the Mariners: The Mariners spiked the Tigers yesterday and two pitchers, Bedard and Porcello, are both winless. Something has to give.
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: The Rays are on fire and could reach .500 today. Wade Davis gets them there and beats Humber.
  • The Orioles over the Twins: The Orioles snapped an eight game losing streak against the Twins, who are struggling mightily. Britton over Blackburn.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Colon gets his first start. The Jays counter with Brett Cecil. Cecil's velocity was up against Boston, but the Yankees should win the game barring another closer meltdown.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Reds: Where are the Reds right now? Ian Kennedy out-pitches Bronson Arroyo.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Norris confounded last time out and pitched really well. Still think the Mets will get to him. Dickey has lost two in a row. Think he'll win tonight.
  • The Pirates over the Marlins: The Marlins are 9-6 and the Pirates 6-9. But Morton has been surprisingly good and beats Nolasco, who has been spotty.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Great pitching match up here. Weaver has been dominant and is 4-0. Harrison has been dominant and is 3-0. Going with the home team: Texas.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Each team has won a game in this series. The thinking here is that the Indians score more off of Hochevar than the Royals can score against Masterson.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Dodgers: The Braves are really scuffling, but Lowe is consistent. The Dodgers give the ball to Jon Garland. That didn't exactly go well the last time.

Yesterday: 3-10 (ugh)
Week: 20-20 (well, it was a good week)
Season: 130-117
Month: 130-117
Games of the Day: 9-11

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mitch Moreland is in a Perfect Situation

Mitch Moreland has flown under the radar for most of his time in the majors thus far. For years, the Rangers have struggled to find someone to play first base and cement that position. Smoak was supposed to be that guy. That didn't work out and Smoak was used to get Cliff Lee from the Mariners. Then the Rangers tried Chris Davis and after 45 games, he was batting under the Mendoza Line. By the time the Rangers tried their third option, Mitch Moreland, there weren't many expectations. But Moreland quietly stepped in and put his stamp on that position for perhaps years to come.

Moreland's 47 games for the Rangers at the end of last year were more solid than spectacular. He batted .255. And while that's not great, it was better than his predecessors. But Moreland was also surprisingly patient at the plate and hit nine homers in his 47 games and finished with a respectable .833 OPS, good for a 121 OPS+. But where Moreland really shined was in the post season. Moreland had a slash line of .348/.400/.500 in the post season and was really the only Rangers' threat in their weak World Series showing.

Despite Moreland's post season, analysts were not overly optimistic on his 2011 season. ZIPs pegged him with a final OPS of around .780 while Baseball Prospectus predicted an even smaller .779. In fact, BP indicated that Moreland would finish with a negative WARP. Part of that was his defensive projection, which wasn't optimistic.

So far, Moreland is making those projections look silly. He's already accumulated 0.5 WAR in just thirteen games, his defense looks much improved and his current .931 OPS and 155 OPS+ look mighty fine. To be sure, it's way too early in the season to make any kind of call on how Moreland will finish, but the early signs are very good.

The great thing for Moreland is that he is in a perfect situation in Texas. He can just be another cog in a powerful offensive wheel. With guys like Kinsler, Hamilton (when he's not hurt), Cruz, Young and Beltre in the line up, there is no pressure on Moreland to be a linchpin. Compare his situation with Jason Heyward, who the Braves need to be a star because Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla are the only other legitimate threats in that line up. Moreland doesn't have that kind of pressure to perform.

And Moreland has a history of fighting up hill. Only 25, he was only a 17th Round draft pick who has already beat long odds. He hit well in every level of the Rangers' minor league system and his minor league totals feature a slash line of: .313/.383/.509. With those numbers, which are pretty darn close to what he is doing now, there is no reason to think he can't replicate that in the majors.

Digging a little deeper into Moreland's numbers, he's successful on every pitch type except for the split-fingered fastball and the knuckleball, two pitches he won't see all the much. Since he's young, pitchers only throw him about 56 percent fastballs, but he handles the slider and curve just fine so that strategy isn't working for the pitchers thus far.

The one concern is how Moreland will fare against left handed pitching. He's only had three plate appearances this year and the Rangers seem more apt to slide Napoli or Young over to first when a tough left hander is pitching. The Rangers are probably basing that on Moreland's less than stellar .604 OPS against lefties last year. But that was in only 23 plate appearances. The Rangers should give him more at bats against lefties so he can show what he can do against them. If the team's current strategy holds up, Moreland will only play 80 percent of the time during the course of the season.

But again, Moreland is in a perfect position in Texas. He's not asked to be one of the stars. He's not in the limelight. And he is thriving. This observer thinks he will thrive all season long and for many seasons to come.

Game Picks - Tuesday: April 19, 2011

Monday was a very good day. The picks were well on the plus side. In fact, only three were wrong and in hindsight, sort of dumb. The Red Sox always win on Patriots Day and it should have been obvious that the Blue Jays are too full of free swingers to test Dice-K. The Pirates continue to confound and beat the Reds again. And those Orioles are sinking fast. But with those three blips on an otherwise successful day were just that. The Indians are now tied for the best record in baseball. How long do we ride the wave?

Tuesday brings us back to a full slate of games. Perhaps this picker can build on Monday and have a big week:

  • The White Sox over the Bay Rays: This Fan has more faith in Danks than Shields and though both are pitching pretty well at home, homers make the difference for the White Sox.
  • The Phillies over the Brewers: Don't think you can ever pick against Roy Halliday. Pick him and you'll be right seventy percent of the time. Wolf with the loss for the Brewers.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Arrieta got beat up his last time out and Pavano should give a professional outing for the Twins.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: Burnett is 3-0 and pitching well. Drabek is tough, but will yield just enough for the Bombers to win.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Reds: LeCure is not pitching against San Diego this time and the D-backs can hit. Galarraga is difficult to predict. The Reds are scuffling though.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Toss up game. Niese and Wandy have both struggled. One of them has to win. The Mets have a good line up against lefties.
  • The Marlins over the Pirates: The Fan got burned picking against Josh Johnson last time. Like a child, the Fan learns not to touch the burner again. Maholm with the loss.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Colby Lewis is great in big games and this one qualifies. The Angels counter with Matt Palmer, who is really no better than Kazmir.
  • The Cubs over the Padres: Dustin Moseley is 0-3 despite an ERA under two. He might pitch better than Russell for the Cubs, but will the Padres score enough? No.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Chen is bound to hit a rough patch here. Jeanmar Gomez comes up from Triple A to pitch, but he's not some young kid. He's 32 years old and he handles himself well.
  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: The Cards will out slug the Nats as Lannon and Westbrook don't exactly throw a pitcher's duel.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: Ubaldo is back in his house. Sanchez with the hard luck loss.
  • The Athletics over the Red Sox: The Red Sox traveled across he country yesterday. Not an easy thing to do. Lackey has not been good. Anderson should be better.
  • The Tigers over the Mariners: Coke should be better than Fister. Tigers offense is definitely better.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Dodgers over the Braves: Starting to worry about this Braves team. Beachy hasn't been effective. Kuroda has been except for his last start. The Dodgers finally got themselves a left fielder in Jerry Sands.

Yesterday: 8-3
Week: 17-10
Month: 127-107
Season: 127-107
Games of the Day: 9-10 (almost caught up!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pluses and Minuses of the Rockies Hot Start

The Colorado Rockies are off to the best start in the majors. With twelve wins against only three losses, they certainly look great in the first two weeks of the 2011 season. And since this particular writer picked them to win the National League West, that pick is looking pretty smart. But it's certainly early. The Giants aren't going away and the Dodgers are playing with more animation than last year and have good rotation pitching too. And since this writer is always looking for the sky to fall (it's been a tough three years, man), it felt like a good idea to check in with the team and to look a bit more closely. What do the early statistics say about this team. What are the pluses and minuses to the team's early start. Let's take a look.

The Pluses:

The Rockies currently have almost a completely neutral home/road split. That's nearly unheard of in their recent history and maybe their entire history. The team has a .789 OPS at home and a .794 OPS on the road. Compare that to last year when the splits were an .866 OPS at home and .654 on the road. If the Rockies can maintain that kind of road success, they will stay in good shape.

Troy Tulowitzki is healthy and is on pace for an MVP-type season. Tulowitzki has shown what he can do in the past when he is healthy but he hasn't been able to stay in the line up all season. If he can stay healthy this season, he will show that he is the best player in the National League (with all due apologies to Albert Pujols).

The Rockies are currently second in the National League in on base percentage. Three of their regulars (Chris Iannetta, Tulowitzki and Jonathan Herrera) are among the top eight in the majors in walk percentage. Of course, they are balanced out a bit by guys like Jose Lopez (no walks in 46 plate appearances). But overall, they are a patient team that drives the pitch count up on opposing teams.

The Rockies have built this success without their best pitcher. Ubaldo Jiminez has only made one early start and has been out with a finger problem. He is due back soon. Despite his absence, they are getting great work in the rotation by guys like Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Emil Rogers. The Fan said in the pre-season that the Rockies success would depend on their rotation. So far, so good.

The bullpen is humming along nicely. Street, Belisle, Betancourt, Lindstrom and Reynolds are the core five guys and they are pitching really well. Paulino has been hit around, but he has nine strikeouts per nine innings and should be fine going forward.

That's a lot of good news as you would expect for a team that is 12-3. What are the minuses and do they throw any warning flags into this optimistic overview?

The Minuses:

It might be a stretch to call Jason Hammel a minus at this point. He needs to do better at keeping the ball in the yard and he has a 99 ERA+. But is that bad for a fifth starter in this day and age? Hardly. If he can give the Rockies that kind of performance all year, the Rockies might take it happily.

There is no way that Jonathan Herrera won't regress as the season goes along. He was a solid .731 OPS guy in the minors and to expect him to stay over 1.000 in that category is silly. He's had a nice start and has helped the team immensely to get to this point. He could be a solid second baseman all season long, but he's bound to get back to normal as the season goes along. And his early fielding numbers haven't been great either.

Carlos Gonzalez has been pretty quiet. The Fan couldn't quite buy his season last year and the feeling here is that he will play better than he is right now, but he won't likely reach the kind of production we saw last year.

Third base has been a huge problem thus far. Jose Lopez, Ty Wigginton and Ian Stewart aren't getting the job done. Currently, the Rockies have a slash line of .155/.222/.241 from their third basemen. Ian Stewart has gotten off to an abysmal start. With consistent playing time, he should bounce back, but he's never been a great hitter to begin with. Ty Wigginton is a solid back up, but not a full time option and Felipe Lopez simply does not have any patience at the plate to be a factor despite his occasional pop. This position could be a drag to the Rockies all season.

The Rockies have gotten good early production from Todd Helton with his .828 OPS. But his back is acting up again and all of his power is gone. Jason Giambi is nothing but a pinch hitter at this point. So first base remains a position to watch.

Early Conclusions:

It's pretty darn obvious that the Rockies' season will go as far as their starting pitchers can take them. The Giants have a decided edge in their experienced and deep rotation. If Chad Billingsley can pitch like he did the other day, the Dodgers have a solid rotation as well. Tulowitzki's play can elevate this team and he can carry them a long way. He MUST stay healthy though. They have serious concerns at first base and third and some reservations here about second base. Seth Smith is having a solid season at the plate but isn't a great right fielder.

The team currently rates third in the National League in fielding efficiency, so that part of their game is solid. The bullpen has been very good. Huston Street has already appeared in ten of the Rockies' fifteen games so his health will have to be watched.

The final thought here is that the Rockies should be among the candidates for leading the NL West all season long. But it certainly won't be as easy as it has been thus far. They will continue to do well if their rotation holds up and they keep their road splits up all season long. There's no reason they can't win 92 games. But the thought here is that they've outplayed their ability thus far.

Game Picks - Monday: April 18, 2011

Sunday again showed how tough this season is to pick MLB games. While some picks were very good such as the Pirates beating the Reds and the Yankees beating Ogando and the Rangers, others weren't so good. A blown save cost a pick and the game for the Cardinals. The Brewers lost both games of their double-header and not just one. The Mets played a game like it was the 163rd game of the season, using two starters in relief to pick up a win they must have wanted badly. And the Twins finally got a save against the Bay Rays. After two days of .500 results in a row, it seems two picks over .500 will have to do.

There are eleven games scheduled for Monday, which is quite a few for a usual day off. The games include the annual Patriots' Day game in Boston which starts at 11:05 in the morning:

  • The Blue Jays over the Red Sox: Interesting game to pick. An impatient offense goes against a pitcher with a lot of walks per game. But the Blue Jays pitch their ace in Romero who should win over Dice-K.
  • The Bay Rays over the White Sox: The White Sox can't seem to get going and now face David Price. He'll beat Jackson.
  • The Brewers over the Phillies: Marcum will have to be good after Sunday's debacle for the Brewers. He'll face Blanton, who is vulnerable.
  • The Orioles over the Twins: Liriano and Tillman have had a tough time getting past the fifth inning. Who knows how to pick this one. The Orioles are due for a win.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: The Reds should get to Correia and Travis Wood comes up big for the Reds against a young line up.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Big early-season series. C. J. Wilson needs to come up big after a tough series for the Rangers in New York. The Angels counter with Santana.
  • The Cubs over the Padres: Zambrano has been steady. The Padres should pose no problem for him. Stauffer the hard luck loser.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Whoo boy. Carrasco versus Davies. We'll just go by their current ERAs with the Indians winning 9-5. Yeesh.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: This is a big series for the Giants if they don't want the Rockies to run away and hide. Lincecum nees to come up big against Emil Rogers, who is 2-0.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: The Dodgers play well at home and are coming off a big ninth inning win. The Braves are on the wrong coast. Lilly over Hudson.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Tigers over the Mariners: The Tigers should get a good outing from Scherzer and Vargas gets no run support.

Yesterday: 9-7
Week: 9-7
Month: 119-104
Season: 119-104
Games of the Day: 8-10

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Wild Ride of Alfonso Soriano

Has there ever been another player quite like Alfonso Soriano? Despite common derision for his play over the years, Soriano has amassed over 319 homers in his twelve year career and is one of the few guys to hit forty homers and steal forty bases in the same season. He came a homer away from doing so in another season and was a 30/30 guy another three seasons. According to, for every 162 games played, Soriano has hit 35 homers and stole 29 bases. He has a lifetime slugging percentage of .509 but an OPS+ of only 113. His contract with the Cubs is considered one of the worst in baseball. This Fan can't think of another player who has had this much good news/bad news attached to his career.

The sides stories over the years have provided much of the fodder for those who are puzzled by Soriano's career. Early in his career, he insisted at playing second base despite never being any good at it. It finally took none other than Frank Robinson to pry him off of that position and put him in the outfield. Then, for years, Soriano insisted on being a lead off batter despite the fact that his power suggested he should bat elsewhere. None other than Lou Piniella had to finally put an end to that. And it wasn't just the power. Soriano has one of the highest free-swinging reputations in baseball and the numbers back it up. And then there was the discrepancy about his age. The Yankees thought they had a much younger player when he first started playing with them. He ended up being two years older than they thought he was. Add all these stories to his obvious power and speed numbers and you get a lot of weird angles on his career.

It seems really hard to peg the kind of player Soriano has been over the years. has a feature where they give each player "comparables" to try to fit a player's stats against others that have played the game. Soriano's two closest "comparables" are Raul Mondesi and Aramis Ramirez. What does that tell you? It tells you just what the point of this piece is all about. A player like Soriano is all about the good news/bad news sides of his play. You need a good scale to be able to balance which side is stronger. This Fan is unsure he is smart enough to make that call.

Let's talk about Soriano's fielding for a moment. By all accounts, he was a terrible second baseman. When he combined with Derek Jeter for the Yankees in his early years, the middle infield for that team was a vast wasteland. Baseball-reference rated him almost 79 runs below average in the nine years he played there. But both B-R and give Soriano positive marks in the outfield. No case ever showed how weak these fielding metrics are more than Soriano's positive marks in the outfield up until the 2009 season. Fangraphs does include a "Fans Scouting Report" but it only covers 2009 and 2010, years which his outfield play deteriorated according to the advanced fielding metrics. But the Fans Scouting Report does show what we've all known: Soriano has some of the worst instincts and worst hands for an outfielder we have seen.

But Soriano wasn't given the big money for his glove. It was his bat that teams wanted. And yet despite all those homers and all those doubles and all those stolen bases, there is doubt about Soriano's worth at the plate. His career batting average is .277 but his career on base percentage is only .323. His career walk percentage is only 6 percent. And yet he strikes out a lot--22 percent (and higher the last five years). For his career, he has swung at 35 percent of all pitches out of the strike zone. That's almost Vlad Guerrero-like.  Compare that to Derek Jeter's 20.4 percent or Lance Berkman's 21.4 percent.

Soriano has made his career on hitting the fastball. Since 2002, Soriano (according to Fangraphs) has hit fastballs to the tune of 196.2 runs above average. He is slightly above average since that time against a cutter and a knuckleball. But he is 34.1 below average against a slider and slightly below average against a curve. The question this writer has is why anyone would ever throw Soriano a fastball? And in fact, pitchers have taken notice. In his career, Soriano has only seen about 52.2 percent of fastballs. Most batters see around 60 percent.

Soriano's lack of ability against pitches that bend was well played out in the post season where he has been absolutely futile in posting a .562 OPS in 186 post season plate appearances with a 30.5 percent strikeout rate. Once he got to the post season, those very good pitchers knew what to do and since Soriano never saw a slider breaking away from him he didn't like, he was easy pickings. This single fact alone probably ticketed his exit from the Yankees.

So what do you make of Alfonso Soriano? Good question. This Fan has expended nearly 1000 words and still can't pinpoint an answer. He has started hot in 2011 with five homers in his first fourteen games good for a slugging percentage over .600. But he's also only received only one non-intentional walk and has an OBP of .309 despite a .283 batting average. Out in the field, he's already made two errors but has already thrown out two base runners. Such is the up and down ride that he provides. That old scale shows he's built up 21.8 bWAR or 33 fWAR. Soriano has a 115 wRC+ for his career, making him a solidly above average player. But whether he's earned his salary over the years depends on whose WAR you go by.

There are no solid answers for Alfonso Soriano. And that's what makes him one of the most confusing players of our time.

Game Picks - Sunday: April 17, 2011

Mediocrity reigns supreme here as the picks had there second straight 7-7 day. The weather keeps playing havoc with the early season as the northeast continues a pall of gray and cold. That the 7-7 included picking a Braves sweep of the Mets and a Red Sox win (a rarity so far this season), shows how bad some of the other picks were. Aces Kershaw, Verlander and King Felix all had nothing. Youngsters like Sean O'Sullivan, Casey Coleman and Tyler Chatwood all pitched like aces. What's a picker to do?

Keep picking, that's what. Here are Sunday's games:

  • The Indians over the Orioles: The Orioles have gone as cold as the Indians have been hot. And they can't seem to win in Cleveland. Carmona has been very good of late with nothing to show for it. Time for him to win over Bergesen, who gets the start for the Orioles. Doesn't Sizemore return today?
  • The Pirates over the Reds: Upset time as Karstens beats an inconsistent Volquez. Yeah, probably a crazy pick. But the Fan is "feeling" it.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Same scheduled pitchers as the rained out game yesterday: Hamels over Sanchez.
  • The Brewers and Nationals split their double-header: Gallardo beats Marquis the first game and Livan beats Marco Estrada in the second game. Marco Estrada? Whodat?
  • The Braves over the Mets: The Mets are now 4-11 and are currently flatter than the Fan's wife's meatloaf (inside joke). Things get no better today as Gee makes his first start of the year against Hanson. A death watch should be started on Terry Collins.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Weather permitting we thinks. Pity the poor Blue Jays to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as the Red Sox break out of their funk. Lester over Litsch.
  • The Bay Rays over the Twins: Little hope is seen here for the Twins. Old Gardy sure looks grim in the dugout. Hellickson over Duensing.
  • The Astros over the Padres: The last few days have shown that the Padres will not be anywhere near as good as last year. Brett Myers goes 2-0 as he beats Richard.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Dan Haran goes for his fourth consecutive win and he's been a beast so far. Sure hate picking against Buehrle though, especially with the White Sox fighting not to get swept.
  • The Mariners over the Royals: Horrible game to pick. Can Pineda keep pitching this well? Can the Mariners muster any hits off of Jeff Francis? Oh gosh.
  • The Cubs over the Rockies: Another tough game to pick. Dempster hasn't been very good thus far, but is too good to be this bad. And the Rockies counter with Alan Johnson making his major league debut. Oy.
  • The Athletics over the Tigers: Have much more faith in Trevor Cahill than in Brad Penny and hence this pick.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Bumgarner gets off the schnide while the Giants jump on Enright. Enright has lost his last six decisions spanning over to 2010.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: Chris Carpenter needs to bounce back off of an uncharacteristic blowout from his last start. But the Cards' bats are red hot and should continue to pound against Billingsley.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Sabathia wins the game and the Yankees finally change Ogando's earned run average.

Yesterday: 7-7
Last Week: 47-42
Month: 110-97
Season: 110-97
Games of the Day: 7-10