Saturday, May 21, 2011

Out of the Ordinary

With a tee time waiting and time for only one more post today, this writer should commit to writing another scintillating story or analysis of baseball. Yes, that was typed with a bit of tongue and cheek. And while in the grand scheme of things, writing another post that would boost readership would be the best thing to do with the time left to write, this Fan isn't going to do it. Because something even more important happens today. The Fan has a son and that son turns 32 today. 32? How does that happen?

The boy who is no longer a boy now lives in Florida. While that's hard to be so far apart, the Fan is happy about that fact. The economy in northern Maine is so bad...the state of things so depressing with no industry, slipping population and the lack of any real momentum. At least in Florida, he has a chance. Florida is depressed too. But will bounce back far quicker than it ever will up here. And a boy who isn't a boy anymore has talent. He's smarter than his old man. The Fan remembers how the boy could look at the Fan's computer screen and in one glance see all the information written there. He's a spacial learner. He picks up everything in the atmosphere and somehow makes sense of it. He needs a place where he can grow. The soil may be good in northern Maine, but nothing is growing here.

A day like today brings back such a flood of memories. When the boy was little, his dad worked the graveyard shift. That left the days to choose to sleep early or late. And so, this Fan had a lot of time to do fun things with the boy. We would do the grocery shopping. Trying to keep the boys hands in the cart and not grab everything from the shelves would be a problem, but we would get through it and after, we'd go to Friendly's to get lunch. Friendly's had a waitress named Lisa. She was a pretty little thing and worked there for a long time. Truth be told, both father and son had a crush on Lisa. And she knew exactly what the boy wanted to eat and after would make the boy a special sundae with a smile made of Reese's Pieces.

The Fan bowled in a Tuesday morning league and the bowling alley offered nursery services. On the way to the site, one had to drive this huge cloverleaf to get to the highway. Both father and son would sing-song, "Around and around and around and around and around," until we got to the entrance of the highway. Each "around" would get faster until the final turn led to the straight part and then father and son would yell, "Goooooooo!" One of the fondest memories of those days were how special the nursery attendants treated the young boy. They loved him to death.

We lived in an apartment and at the back of the building was a vacant field that led to the back of a country store on the main road. The boy would be on his father's shoulders and go to that store to get a treat. Or there were times when father and son could go to Milton Lake and spend a leisurely few hours in the sun and in the water.

The boy grew to love his father's passion of baseball. He was a far better ballplayer than his dad. And he could fly. What speed! Actually, the boy had no choice as the ballgame was always on the television. One incident in little league still makes the old man smile. The boy had a knack for not knowing when to keep his mouth shut. When the father hit his shin on the table and lose his temper, the boy would chime in that the father was acting like an idiot. Of course, that took the anger's focus off the table and onto the boy. He was sort of dumb that way. Well, this was perfectly illustrated in a little league game. The coach of the team was coaching the bases and he didn't have an assistant. And so the boys from the team would all start to act up in the dugout. The coach would finally yell over, "You kids settle down over there and sit down!" The boy chimed up, "I'm not doing anything." Why he felt the need to say that is still beyond the father. The coach was upset at eleven boys to begin with and now his gaze was only on one boy. That's the father's boy all right.

The boy didn't have fun in school. Schools can't handle spacial learners. All the boy had to do was see, hear or feel the information and he got it the first time. He couldn't handle the teacher having to go through the information fourteen times to make sure all the kids got it. The boy would get so bored he'd start snapping his pencils in half. Another teacher made the mistake of telling the boy that homework was a way for teachers to know if the students were learning. The boy thought that was stupid because he knew he already learned it. The boy never took a test where he didn't get 100. But he always got C's and D's because of the homework. Plus, the boy had a penchant for getting noticed as explained earlier. Seventh grade was the worst. The father believes he knew the principal's wardrobe better than the principal's wife did.

The strongest memory for the father is that day 32 years ago. The father had spent many uncomfortable days sitting in Lamaze class with the boy's pregnant mother. The thing noted by the expectant father is that none of the men wanted to be there. In fact, the only other time the father had seen those same faces on men was when they were seen coming out of the Triple X section of the video store. But months of those darn classes were put into practice for the big day and the father did his best to be a supporting partner.

So the big day arrived 32 years ago and the father was called at his job in the tannery and told to meet the boy's mother at the hospital. Once the father arrived, he discovered with irritation that the mom-to-be had brought her mother, who insisted on going into the birthing room. Once events started to occur, the mom-to-be wanted nothing to do with the father who had gone to all those silly classes with her. The mom took over. Which is probably just as well.

Why? Because nothing prepares one for his first experience at an actual birth. All such events shown on television were sterile events with a woman screaming, but everything else being clean and pristine. An actual birth is a horrible event. The blood and the gore is similar to something you'd see on CSI. It's awful. The father had all he could do not to fall helplessly to the floor. Especially since the father was only 22 years old at the time.

But then the boy was born and that changed everything. All the newborns the father had seen were wrinkly and somehow flawed. The babies would eventually get cute after their faces filled in a little bit. But not this boy. He was perfect with perfect skin. He was angelic in appearance. The father took him in his arms and it was one of the happiest moments of his life. It was love at first sight.

That seems so long ago now. It was a long time ago. But the memory is still bright and so is the son's future. He's a fine boy with a good heart. It hasn't been easy, but he turned out just fine. There was always so much love there and for some reason, the boy still looks up to his father. That hasn't always been deserved. But it's always been a blessing.

The father loves that boy. Deeply and emotionally. He's a blessing beyond the mere words of a blog post. Happy birthday, Bill. See you soon.

Game Picks - Saturday: May 21, 2011

Interleague play has begun and that fact didn't stop the bleeding here for this game picker. That's three straight losing days after a beautiful start to the week. Nothing makes sense this season. The Pirates are to be admired. They simply aren't the same roll-over team they were in the past. The Blue Jays could not score enough runs nor hold the lowly Houston Astros with their bullpen. The Mets floated over the Yankees...literally. The Royals knocked off Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals. At least the Marlins pick over the Bay Rays was a good pick. And the Game of the Day feature is on fire.

And so we move to Saturday. Can the Fan finish the week on a better note? Let's take a look:

  • The Blue Jays over the Astros: Brandon Morrow should strike out twelve Astros in this one but he has to limit his walks to hang around longer. Brett Myers goes for the Astros.
  • The White Sox over the Dodgers: Mark Beuhrle has 23 interleague wins in his career. Any more questions? Jon Garland loses again, though he isn't pitching badly these days.
  • The Cardinals over the Royals: Nate Adcock gets his first major league start after eight relief appearances. You know he won't be able to go anything beyond five innings. Jake Westbrook must have a good game though.
  • The Reds over the Indians: It seems like suicide to pick against the Indians at home these days. But Homer Bailey should shut the Cleveland team down. Josh Tomlin has been very good too, but is due for a clunker against Votto and the boys.
  • The Orioles over the Nationals: Jeremy Guthrie has a good start and the Orioles get the bad taste out of their mouth from last night's pasting. John Lannon with the loss.
  • The Tigers over the Pirates: There the Fan goes picking against the Pirates again. When will he ever learn? But this time, they are facing Max Scherzer, who is very good. Kevin Correia has had a good year though.
  • The Red Sox over the Cubs: Yeah, Carlos Zambrano versus Alfredo Aceves seems like a mismatch. But the Red Sox are playing like the team everyone thought they would be and the Cubs are terrible.
  • The Brewers over the Rockies: How did these two teams get to miss out on interleague? The Brewers win because of two words: Shaun Marcum. Clayton Mortensen goes for the Rockies.
  • The Yankees over the Mets: Chris Capuano has been the Mets' best pitcher. Who saw that coming? A. J. Burnett needs to rebound after his last Mr. Hyde outing.
  • The Athletics over the Giants: The feeling here is that Brett Anderson will out-pitch Tim Lincecum. It's not as silly as it sounds.
  • The Phillies over the Rangers: The Rangers will have some extra motivation against Cliff Lee, but they don't have all their horses. Colby Lewis with the hard luck loss.
  • The Braves over the Angels: The Braves win a low scoring game in this one with the very good match up of Tommy Hanson against Joel Pineiro.
  • The Mariners over the Padres: Michael Pineda has a big game against the low-offense Padres. Clayton Richard will give up enough runs to ensure Pineda's victory.
  • The Twins over the Diamondbacks: As much as this Fan loves Micah Owings (one of the Fan's all time favorites), there's no way the good-hitting pitcher will win this game. Scott Baker with the win.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Bay Rays over the Marlins: David Price versus Javier Vazquez? Uhh...can you say mismatch?

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 43-39
Month: 138-129
Season: 351-307
Games of the Day: 28-23

Friday, May 20, 2011

Grit Your Teeth - Jonathan Papelbon is Back

There weren't too many people around the country who were too upset that Jonathan Papelbon had a down year last year. The erstwhile closer just seems to be the most hated closer since John Rocker. Paps may have been right about Manny Ramirez when that trade went down a few years ago, but he broke etiquette by blasting his former teammate. He famously was upset at his own manager for choosing Mariano Rivera as the All Star closer a couple of seasons ago. His demeanor on the field and after games just seem to lead to loathing. And that's all fine and good if he is blowing saves and rocking a 3.90 ERA. But even the hoariest of haters have to admit that Papelbon has been the bomb this year.

Papelbon is currently rated by Fangraphs as the second best reliever in baseball, just slightly ahead of Mariano Rivera after Rivera blew the save on Wednesday, and just behind Craig Kimbrel and his 14.57 strikeouts per nine innings. Papelbon's ERA of 2.41 is certainly better than last year, but it's not a true indicator of how well he is pitching. His FIP is 1.02 and leads all relief pitchers and his xFIP is 2.06. A high BABIP is all that stands in the way of Papelbon's overall ERA. He's been a bit unlucky.

There are three stats that stand out for Jonathan Papelbon this year. His strikeouts per nine have jumped back to his highest level since 2007 and stands at 12.05. His walk rate is the lowest it's been since 2008 and sits at 1.45 and he's given up no homers, something he had a little trouble with last year. His 8.33 K/BB ratio is outstanding and the second best of his career. The up-tick in numbers lead to the question of what he is doing differently this year than last year.

The one thing noticeable is that he's throwing more sliders this year. After throwing that pitch a little over nine percent of the time the last two years, he's thrown the slider 12.1 percent of the time this year. And his slider seems to have more vertical and horizontal movement than a year ago when it was a lot flatter a pitch for him. His split-fingered pitch is still devastating. Few people can throw that pitch with an average speed of 89 miles per hour like he can. It's his top rated pitch and is rated even higher than his 94 MPH fastball.

One of the knocks on Papelbon last year was that he relied too heavily on the fastball and stubbornly stuck to that pitch. The numbers don't bear that out. His percentage of fastballs relative to all his pitches was at the lowest percentage in his career last year. The real difference it seems was that his fastball was flat and had little movement (only -0.5). This year, his fastball has more movement (-2.0) vertically and along with his slider and split, has led batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone at the highest rate (39 percent) of his career.

Few people who follow baseball root for Jonathan Papelbon. Even his own fans in Boston are split on whether they want him or Daniel Bard to close games for the Red Sox. But last year notwithstanding, Jonathan Papelbon is an elite closer with few peers in baseball. His success will be a big key to how far the Red Sox go this season. And so far, so good.

Game Picks - Friday: May 20, 2011

Yesterday did not go well from a picking perspective. And it was the second bad day in a row after doing so well earlier in the week. One would think that correctly picking a Dillon Gee win and a Blue Jays win over the Bay Rays would lead to a good day. But the picks leaned too heavily on favorites to win and underdogs took the day. The Pirates beat the Reds again behind McDonald. The Diamondbacks with Joe Saunders, of all people, beat the Braves. Yeah, a little crow eating there. The White Sox showed the Indians that this won't be easy and the Royals hung in there and ruined a shutout in the ninth inning and beat the Rangers in ten innings. It was a good win for them, but not a good outcome for that pick. Bullpens are always part of the picking nightmare. Neftali Feliz is in a slump of sorts and you have to wonder if he's feeling okay.

Tonight starts interleague play, as if things aren't difficult enough. Now we get match ups we haven't seen before. There's no great love for interleague play. You have two sets of rules depending on which park the series takes place. You have guys like David Ortiz that have to sit in NL parks. The games feel like exhibition games. But the games are here to stay it seems. So here we go:

  • The Reds over the Indians: The games start with a puzzler. The Reds get an extra bat in the line up. Both teams have lost two in a row. Both teams start young pitchers in Travis Wood versus Alex White. Going with Wood who has more experience.
  • The Tigers over the Pirates: It's not pretty when you depend on Brad Penny with a pick. But he's been mostly good and the Tigers should score on Jeff Karstens.
  • The Yankees over the Mets: The Mets get an extra hitter in the line up. But who? Not a great nod to Freddie Garcia and the Yankees have to find a way to hit the knuckleballs of R. A. Dickey.
  • The Phillies over the Rangers: Neither team is hitting much lately. With Roy Halladay and C. J. Wilson, that won't change. But Halladay should prevail.
  • The Orioles over the Nationals: Two pitchers with 5-1 records in Jake Arrieta and Jason Marquis. Marquis does not have a good record in interleague play and thus the nod to the Orioles.
  • The Blue Jays over the Astros: Let's see, Jo-Jo Reyes is winless in 26 straight starts. The Astros start Aneury Rodriguez, who hasn't been effective. Something has to give.
  • The Marlins over the Bay Rays: Can't pick the Bay Rays in any game that Andy Sonnanstine pitches. Going instead to Anibal Sanchez and the Marlins.
  • The Brewers over the Rockies: The man-handling of the NL by Zack Greinke has begun. The Rockies are on the road and start Jason Hammel, who struggled his last time out.
  • The White Sox over the Dodgers: The White Sox are coming alive and the Dodgers have gone to sleep. Phillip Humber over Ted Lilly.
  • The Cardinals over the Royals: Both Chris Carpenter and Jeff Francis have struggled. Francis will continue to struggle. Carpenter with the win.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Twins: Have to go with Ian Kennedy, who is on a roll. The Twins will struggle to score and the D-backs get some runs off of Brian Duensing.
  • The Braves over the Angels: The Angels are sliding some. Tim Hudson will continue that trend. The puzzling Ervin Santana goes for the Angels.
  • The Padres over the Mariners: Matt Latos can work around Justin Smoak and have a big game. Should be low scoring as neither team is offensively great. Erik Bedard pitches for the Mariners.
  • The Giants over the Athletics: Hideki Matsui has to sit this one out. No DH. The Giants haven't lost a game that Ryan Vogelsong has pitched. Trevor Cahill, a great pitcher, is the wild card.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Red Sox over the Cubs: Mismatch of Jon Lester versus Doug Davis. This could be ugly.

Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 37-30
Month: 132-120
Season: 345-298
Games of the Day: 27-23

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Charlie Morton's Improbable Success

Charlie Morton won again last night. And he didn't just win. He threw a complete game shut out against the most prolific run scoring team in the National League--the Cincinnati Reds. Morton has now improved his record to 5-1 and his ERA to 2.62. How improbable is this? Consider that Morton went 2-12 last year with an ERA of 7.57 and a WHIP of 1.732. Morton has pitched for three seasons prior to this one and has started fifteen or more starts in each of those three seasons. And his five wins already matches his career high. What's going on here? And can it last?

There is so much to talk about when looking at Morton's numbers. His statistics show him to be a completely different pitcher than he's ever been before. It's almost like a different person inhabits his being than the previous Charlie Morton. The biggest difference in his pitching is that he is throwing almost all fastballs. Around the majors, only Bartolo Colon as a starting pitcher has thrown a higher percentage of fastballs than Charlie Morton. Morton has thrown his heater 82 percent of the time. In previous years, he'd thrown 37.5 percent of his pitches of an off-speed variety. That number is down to 18 percent this year. He has nearly abandoned his slider, a pitch he threw 12.1 percent of the time last year. He's only thrown that pitch 1.5 percent of the time this year.

And even the fastball is different. We have to keep in mind that Pitch/FX was tweaked this year and there are variations in how pitches are categorized. But keeping that in mind, the data does show that last year, 29 percent of Morton's pitches were four-seam fastballs and 31.6 percent of his pitches were two-seam fastballs. This year, 6.4 percent of his pitches are four-seam fastballs and an incredible 75.2 percent of his pitches are two-seam fastballs. What that says is that three of every four of Morton's pitches are that two-seam fastball.

And those pitch selection changes have affected how opponents hit the ball. Last year, 46.8 percent of his pitches put in play were ground balls and 29.4 percent were fly balls. That rounds to a five to three ground ball to fly ball ratio. This year, 61.9 percent of his batted balls are ground balls and only 17.9 percent are fly balls. That's roughly over a six to two ratio. The rest, of course, are line drives, a percentage that is down from last year's 23.8 percent to 20 percent this year.

What this seems to tell us is that all those two seam fastballs are causing batters to hit grounders, which so far, have managed to find infielders to grab them. His BABIP is way down and that can be in part all the grounders plus a large increase in the percentage of his pitches that are popped up weakly to the infield. It also means much less homers which would naturally occur with less fly balls. But Morton has also managed to drastically cut the percentage of his fly balls that leave the park.

Are there any troubling numbers among all this good news? Well, maybe. You would think that his strikeout percentage would improve with all those fastballs. But it's actually at his lowest point in his career. Morton has never been a strikeout pitcher. His career strikeout percentage is only 5.82 per nine innings for his career. But this year, that number is down to 4.75. And while his strikeouts per nine have never been lower, his walk rate has never been higher. His 4.2 walks per nine innings is the highest it's been since his rookie season with the Braves in 2008. Thus, his 1.12 strikeout to walk ratio is kind of ugly.

What conclusions can we gather from all this? What we seem to see is that Morton has remade himself into an extreme ground ball pitcher. As long as those ground balls continue to find infielders, that will work out just fine for him. He's allowed only two homers in 55 innings of work and that's a terrific number and a grand improvement over last year. The suspicion is that his homer to fly ball ratio would rise as the season goes along, but as long as he limits the amount of fly balls like he has, that shouldn't hurt him too badly. His walk rate is certainly dangerous if his BABIP rises from it's current .256 tally to one more approaching the league average of .284. Even so, Morton's FIP and xFIP still paint him as an effective pitcher this season. Charlie Morton is probably not this good. But he's no where near as bad as he was in the past either.

Game Picks - Thursday: May 19, 2011

Late last night, this game picker was mulling what turned out to be a bad night of picking games. And during that thought process, it was decided that in the grand scheme of things, success or lack of success in picking games doesn't really matter much because baseball has been exciting. And that excitement is all that really matters when you love this game. Outside of maybe the Houston Astros, there aren't any really terrible teams and everyone is playing competitively. Games are going into extra innings and that doesn't necessarily mean the so-called "elite" team is going to win. It's fun to follow baseball right now.

So how can a bad night of picks compare with a Jason Vargas shutout or a Jake Peavy shutout. The latter was so gratifying for what he has been through. The Yankees won with a relief pitcher making his major league debut and pitching four innings of adventurous, but ultimately scoreless innings. Cody Ross was just another player on the Marlins, but in San Francisco he's a hero of the post season and of last night. The Pirates Charlie Morton threw a shutout against a first place team to improve his record to 5-1. Two of the Pirates' young players homered in the win. Yeah, this is fun. So what if the picks weren't very good. This Fan will take the excitement of baseball anyday!

And guess what? There are a full fifteen games on the schedule...on a Thursday! And five games are day games. How cool is that?

  • The Reds over the Pirates: On any given day, James McDonald can shut people down. But Johnny Cueto must be ridden here until he shows that this fast start is not a fluke.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: Impossible game to predict. Dillon Gee was all over the place his last start and still won. Livan Hernandez is, well, Livan Hernandez. Whatever that means.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: J. A. Happ isn't a bad pitcher. But he's been a bad pitcher against the Cardinals. Kyle McClellan has been very good for the Cardinals.
  • The Athletics over the Twins: The Twins have handled the A's pretty well the last two nights. But Tyler Ross has had four very good starts in a row. Nick Blackburn has been solid for the Twins though and could throw a good game.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: Dan Haren should have no trouble against Doug Fister. But that was the thought last night with Jared Weaver. Still going with logic.
  • The Rockies over the Phillies: Jhoulys Chacin is very long as his manager knows when to pull him. Joe Blanton doesn't seem right. His velocity is down. Plus, the Phillies are in one of their familiar offenseive funks again.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: The Blue Jays should handle Wade Davis while Ricky Romero has been understated in his goodness. Bautista is due for a bomb.
  • The Marlins over the Cubs: Two struggling pitchers in Chris Volstad and Casey Coleman. If that holds true, the Marlins' offense will do more damage.
  • The Red Sox over the Tigers: Wow! What a match up in Justin Verlander versus Josh Beckett. The only edge goes to the Red Sox because they always seem to find a way.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Worried about this one because Peavy's gem could inspire the White Sox. But Fausto Carmona should be better than Gavin Floyd. The Indians may be without Pronk though and are already missing Sizemore.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: The Royals have hit a low in their season and Luke Hochevar simply isn't that good. Derek Holland with the win.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: Josh Collmenter has been amazing thus far. But he'll hit a snag tonight against the Braves. Jair Jurrjens makes this the battle of undefeated pitchers.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: Chris Narveson has looked great at times and bad at others. Aaron Harang the same. Harang is at home, which means that he won't be as bad as he was in Colorado. But still think the Brewers handle this one.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Wow! Two hard luck pitchers. Clay Billingsley gave up only one hit in his last loss and Bumgarner has four quality starts in a row with nothing to show for it. Something has to give here. Going with the Dodgers at home.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Yankees over the Orioles: C. C. Sabathia will make sure the Yankees only need nine innings to win tonight. Brad Bergesen won't stand in the way of that.

Yesterday: 5-10  Spanked!
Week: 31-21
Month: 126-111
Season: 339-289
Games of the Day: 26-23

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some Amazing Lance Berkman 2011 Facts

Before the season started, Lance Berkman was this writer's pick for Comeback Player of the Year. Wasn't that genius? The year he is having for the St. Louis Cardinals has truly been one of the coolest stories of 2011. We can't be concerned about whether Berkman can keep up his heroics. We can't worry about whether he will get hurt. All we can do is enjoy the ride as long as it lasts. After his game winning single sailed over the center fielder's head last night to beat the Phillies, the thought struck this Fan that Berkman got that hit batting right-handed. And that's just part of the interesting story of Lance Berkman's 2011 season.

Here are some facts concerning Berkman's amazing season:

  • Lance Berkman has a career OPS as a right-handed batter of .783. He's made his career on batting left-handed, where is OPS is over one for his career. Last year, his OPS as a right-handed batter was .517. Yeah, .517. He hit just one homer that way. The year before (2009), his OPS against lefties was .710. This year? As a right-handed batter, his OPS (before last night's game) is 1.098!
  • Before last night's game, Berkman had played as many games for the Cardinals this year as he played for the Yankees last year. In those same 37 games, he has 21 more runs scored, 15 more hits, two more doubles, ten more homers, 25 more ribbies and two more walks. The Yankees have to be scratching their heads.
  • Lance Berkman has walked more than once in a game this season seven times. He is on pace to walk more than 90 times this season.
  • Lance Berkman has not been on base in only six of his 38 games this season.
  • Berkman now has ten go-ahead hits this season. What that means is that ten times this season, his hit has put the Cardinals ahead when they were either behind or tied.
  • Of Berkman's 35 RBIs, 27 of them have plated either Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday or himself.
  • Lance Berkman has walked more than he's struck out this season.
  • Berkman has an OPS at home of 1.126. His OPS on the road is 1.142.
  • Lance Berkman has a .526 on base percentage at home this season.
  • Berkman has only popped out to the infield once all season.
  • Berkman's fWAR of 2.1 is already tied with his entire 2010 season.
  • Lance Berkman is making $8 million this season and has already provided the Cardinals with $9.6 million in value.

One could say that Lance Berkman is having fun again. One could also say that Cardinal fans have a new hero to love.  His season is just a fabulous story and this Fan is enjoying every single moment in watching it develop.

Game Picks - Wednesday: May 18, 2011

Three more washed out games. The Northeast has been one perpetual cloud. Since that's where this game picker happens to reside, it's almost time to go stark raving loony. And the postponed games did have an effect on the outcome of yesterday's mundane results. Yes, it was over .500. But after the giddy days of Sunday and Monday, it's a bit of a letdown. The Fan can't blame the weather completely. There were some bad picks. Francisco Liriano out-pitched Felix Hernandez, who once again gave a brilliant performance in a losing cause. Ivan Nova was indeed a stopper. Surprise! The Cubs game with the Red was going according to plan until Kerry Wood got into the game. Picking the Royals to beat the Indians was truly misguided. And Matt Harrison was sailing along until Brent Morel stepped to the plate. Brent Morel? Oh well.

There are no double-headers on Wednesday, which is surprising. When are all these games going to be made up? Here are Wednesday's picks:

  • The Phillies over the Rockies: Jorge de la Rosa has nearly a ten ERA against the Phillies in his career. Cole Hamels should win this one easily enough.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Bartolo Colon can't continue to throw 85 percent fastballs can he? We'll see as he squares up against young Zach Britton. The Yankees haven't faced Britton before.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Jesse Litsch is a Fan favorite, which is a stupid reason for picking the Blue Jays. This feature never claimed to be scientific. Litsch will have to be better than Jeremy Hellickson. No easy task.
  • The Marlins over the Cubs: Ricky Nolasco always pitches good against the Cubs, his former team. Ryan Dempster has been better of late, but the Cubs always find a way to lose.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: Bronson Arroyo should have no trouble with the Pirates' line up and the Reds will score off of Charlie Morton.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Let's see. No Ike Davis. No David Wright. Yeah, not good. Tom Gorzelanny over Jonathan Niese.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Sort of an important series for the Indians as they have to prove they can beat the formerly good White Sox. Justin Masterson needs to throw a gem while the Indians need to jump on Jake Peavy early.
  • The Rangers over the Royals: Danny Duffy makes his major league debut. He could be impressive, but it's doubtful he'll go more than five innings. If you leave the Royals' bullpen twelve outs to get, well, that's not good. Alexi Ogando keeps his perfect record.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: This pick looks stupid on the outside looking in. The secret weapon here is Bud Norris, who always looks like Sandy Koufax against the Cardinals for some reason. Kyle Lohses with the hard luck loss.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: Tough game to pick. Julio Teheran goes for the Braves and he didn't look ready for the majors in his first start. But the Braves face Joe Saunders, who literally has nothing to offer.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: Yovani Gallardo pitches a great game and hits a homer and the Brewers beat Dustin Moseley.
  • The Athletics over the Twins: Really tempted to pick the Twins behind Carl Pavano, who has to be better than he has looked so far. But logic just couldn't let that pick happen. Brandon McCarthy will hold the Twins' meager offense down.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: Jason Vargas has been good enough to stick with Jared Weaver, but the Mariners have to score to win. They won't.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Like Clayton Kershaw over Matt Cain in this one. But with these two pitchers, anything can happen.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Red Sox over the Tigers: Clay Buchholz versus Phil Coke seems like a mismatch and that's how the Fan is playing it. The Tigers had a rain out. Why not skip Coke? [shrug]

Yesterday: 6-5
Week: 26-11
Month: 121-101
Season: 334-279
Games of the Day: 25-23

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who Will Win the NL Central

The Cincinnati Reds just swept the St. Louis Cardinals in what is currently the best rivalry in the major leagues. The Reds then won their first game against the Cubs. The Cardinals are dealing with defensive issues and their ability to close out games. The Milwaukee Brewers dug themselves a hole but have won seven of their last ten games. With the Pirates, Astros and Cubs seemingly in no-man's land, the National League Central appears to have three contenders in what could be a serious competition for the top spot all season long. Who will win this thing?

Let's take a look at all three teams and try to appear into the future:

The Cardinals:

The Cardinals very well could have four or five more wins in the win column if they could finish out a game. Their bullpen is their biggest problem and they are next to last in the National League in bullpen ERA. Chris Carpenter has looked a lot like A. J. Burnett of late and is losing emotionally as well as physically. The defense behind him is part of the problem. They are 15th of 16 teams in fielding percentage and 14th in fielding efficiency. With off season moves that weakened their defense in right field and at shortstop, guys like Carpenter are just going to have to live with suspect defense and not let that get to their heads.

The good news is that bullpens are the easiest things to fix on any team. Yeah, you need the arms to get the job done, but a trade or two for the right arm or a dip into the minors could turn things around there in a hurry. One of the things observed from this distance is that there are no defined roles going on over there. Closers are flopping around and so are the set up innings. Tony LaRussa needs to set roles and stick with them for a while. Unfortunately, at the age of 38, Ryan Franklin looks finished and should be released.

The other good news is that the Cardinals can rake offensively. Yes, they have holes in the line up, but they are second in the National League in runs scored per game and that's without Albert Pujols yet to be Albert Pujols. You know he'll get going sooner or later. Berkman has been an on base machine. Matt Holliday is terrific offensively and Colby Rasmus has a .393 on base percentage. Yadier Molina is batting above .290 which is a nice bonus. They also have nice bench players in Allen Craig, John Jay and Daniel Descalso.  The offense will be fine.

The Cardinals' starting rotation is solid from one to five. Jaime Garcia is an ace and everybody falls in line pretty well after him. Carpenter will have to get better. Kyle McClellan has been a nice surprise and Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook will keep you in the game more times than not.

A suggestion: The Cardinals should flip Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto. Punto is a proven shortstop who has shown himself to be one of the better defensive infielders in the league. Theriot simply isn't a good shorstop. He's adequate at second and that's where he should be playing. This Fan has never been a big believer in either player's offensive ability, but if you're going to have two weak-hitting infielders, at least put them in positions to best perform on the field.

The Reds:

The Reds have overtaken the Cardinals as the most prolific offense in the National League. They lead the National League in runs per game. Joey Votto is a superstar with the top WAR in the league and he hasn't even started hitting homers yet. Drew Stubbs has arrived and has hit seven homers and has stolen thirteen bases in fourteen attempts. Brandon Phillips is simply terrific on offense and very good on defense. This Fan doesn't know if Jay Bruce will ever be a superstar, but he's a good offensive player who will win you some games with his bat. Scott Rolen can still contribute offensively if you can keep him on the field. And, the Reds have the best offensive catching tandem in the league for the second year in a row. They will need to figure out if Jonny Gomes or Chris Heisey is the best option in left field. Gomes has huge holes in his offensive game but is scary when he gets on a roll. Heisey is more consistent offensively. Both are liabilities defensively.

Defense is one of the Reds' strong suits. They are currently fourth in the NL in defensive efficiency and fielding percentage. It all starts at shortstop. This Fan doesn't care if Paul Janish ever hits. He currently has an OPS+ of 60. But they won the division last year with a shortstop who hit just as poorly and Janish is a wonder with the glove. If this Fan was the manager, Janish would play every day for the rest of the year.

The one worry with the Reds is pitching. They are 14th of 16 National League teams in earned runs allowed and 14th in walks allowed. Their starting rotation can be very good if they get them all lined up and performing solidly. Getting Johnny Cueto back and pitching well has been a bonus but he and Edinson Volquez will always be question marks for this writer. They always teeter between stardom, injury and lack of consistency. Homer Bailey has won all three of his starts since coming off the DL. Bronson Arroyo is a warrior. Travis Wood has pitched better than his 5.01 ERA suggests. He'll be fine.

The bullpen is effective at the back end but thin. It's even thinner now that Aroldis Chapman has lost it and is now listed as among the hurt. A lot will depend on if Francisco Cordero can stay this good as a closer and if Nick Masset and Logan Ondrusek continue to be run into the ground with so many appearances. They need help. Bill Bray has been a nice LOOGY thus far.

This Fan has no suggestions for the Reds. They seem to have their pieces in place and just need to stay healthy.

The Brewers:

The Brewers dug a deep hole with a bad start to the season by Yovani Gallardo and the loss of Zack Greinke to injury. But as mentioned, they have won seven of their last ten and things are starting to fall in place. All Greinke has done since returning is strike out twenty batters in fifteen innings with only two walks. Woot! His return will solidify the starting rotation. Randy Wolf should be the only weakness of the group from here on out. Gallardo will get it going and Shaun Marcum has been everything they hoped he would be.

The offense hasn't really shown a lot to this point outside of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Richie Weeks. But Casey McGehee has started to hit of late and Jonathan Lucroy has been a nice surprise behind the plate. Mark Kotsay is getting way too many at bats and that points out how thin the offense is outside the five guys mentioned earlier in this paragraph. Center field has not produced, especially since Nyger Morgan can't get out of the trainer's room and shortstop is a disaster. Enough said there. Taylor Green down in Nashville might be a better shortstop option. He's not much better offensively, but at least he'd walk once in a while and can't be any worse defensively. There's not much help available otherwise in the minors unless you give Matt Gamel one more shot or give Brendan Katin a chance.

The bullpen is a big worry on this team. When LeTroy Hawkins and Sergio Mitre lead your bullpen in ERA, that's pretty scary. John Axford's 1.442 WHIP isn't what you'd want from a closer, but perhaps he'll settle down. The bullpen lacks power beyond Brandon Kintzler. They need to get Zach Braddock back. Kameron Loe his getting way too many appearances and that's not a good thing.


The Brewers could come on if their rotation gets hot behind Greinke. Braun and Fielder are one of the best three-four punches in the league and their line up is potent from two to five. They are too thin though and would appear to be a long-shot to win the division. The Cardinals have a clear edge in Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. Their starting rotation has to hold up and they need to keep Lance Berkman healthy. The Reds have questions in their bullpen and rotation but will hit the ball consistently. If the Fan had to call it, the edge would go to the Cardinals if they can get their bullpen settled down. They are just as good as the Reds in offense and both of their starting rotations should offset. The Reds have the edge on defense, but the Cardinals are going to win this thing.

Game Picks - Tuesday: May 17, 2011

What a roll! The picks are 21-6 this week. It took two colossal collapses by the Orioles and the Yankees to seal the night. The only blemishes yesterday were losses by the Phillies, the Tigers (with Scherzer!) and the Giants (with Lincecum!). The Cardinals win over the Phillies was particularly ironic after picking them to win three times in a row over the weekend only to see them lose. This picker finally picked against them and they won. That irony cannot contain the rest of the sparkling week so far.

Tuesday is a new chapter though. Let's see if the week falls back to the mean or if this picker can be like the Indians:

  • The Braves over the Astros: Wandy Rodriguez is 0-2 with an ERA over seven lifetime at Turner Field. Derek Lowe with the win.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: If Jordan Zimmermann can strike out eleven Braves, how many will he get against the Pirates? Charlie Morton has pitched well this year and has won on the road. But he gets the hard luck loss here.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: Still holding out for Ubaldo Jiminez. Call the Fan crazy. But he has to bust out sooner or later. Jonathan Sanchez will be gone by the end of the fifth.
  • The Rays over the Yankees: Ivan Nova as stopper? James Shields with the win.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers. Jesse Litsch is a favorite of the FanDome. Got to go with him over Rick Porcello.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: How can you not take Zach Britton over Tim Wakefield? But these so-called easy picks are always the ones that make the Fan look stupid.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: The Cubs haven't won many games lately, but tonight might be the night with Matt Garza facing Edinson Volquez. The question will be if the Cubs can score any runs.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: Ricky Nolasco looks terrific this year and has always been good on the road (like tonight). Jonathan Niese was good his last time out, but you can't count on the guy. Plus, Ike is out and Wright is out.
  • The Royals over the Indians: The Indians will be plum tuckered out after running all those bases yesterday. Sean O'Sullivan is better than Carlos Carrasco, but that's not saying much.
  • The Rangers over the White Sox: Matt Harrison has to pitch well but the Rangers can throw a lot of right-handed bats at John Danks, who has yet to win this year.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Jaime Garcia is one of the elite pitchers in the National League. Roy Oswalt has had back issues and hasn't pitched much in a few weeks now.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Don't know what to make of this game. The Padres have scored 45 runs in their last five games. THAT has the Fan all confused. The match up of Tim Stauffer and Daniel Hudson is equally baffling.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: If Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Chatwood equal themselves out and the game goes to the bullpen, the A's have the advantage.
  • The Dodgers over the Brewers: Hiroki Kuroda is one of the most underrated starters in the league. The guy is just flat out good. The Brewers counter with Randy Wolf, who so far has turned out to be the second coming of Jeff Suppan.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Mariners over the Twins: Felix Hernandez! Francisco Liriano? The Twins just can't win lately.

Yesterday: 12-3
Week:  21-6
Month: 115-96
Season: 328-274
Games of the Day: 25-22

Monday, May 16, 2011

Matt Joyce as Ulysses

You have to wonder if Matthew Joyce is related to James Joyce because he certainly is playing like Ulysses. has Joyce as second in the majors in WAR. Fangraphs has him rated as fifth. The difference between the two computations, as always, is fielding. Fangraphs has Joyce as fielding neutral while B-R lists Joyce as 55 runs over average in fielding. Regardless, both sites agree that Matt Joyce is killing the ball at the plate for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Joyce is yet another of those coups by the Tampa Bay think tank, which, on a shoestring budget always seems to make correct player evaluations. Joyce was never considered a great talent. He wasn't chosen by the Detroit Tigers until the twelfth round in the 2005 draft. He showed some mild power in the minors with a pretty good idea of the strike zone but stayed stuck in Triple A for a couple of years. His .828 minor league OPS is pretty good but not over the top. But the Bay Rays saw something and traded for him straight up for Edwin Jackson, a pitcher who was getting too expensive and had a tendency to exasperate his manager and coaches, a distinction that's still true today.

In his first year in the Bay Rays' organization, he again stayed in Triple A most of the year except for brief, non-productive appearances early in the season in 2009. Joyce again started in Triple A in 2010 and was called up by the Bay Rays on June 25, 2010 and played regularly for the rest of the season. The results were mixed. His batting average was low at .241 but he contributed with a good on base percentage and some decent pop. His final OPS of .837 was just slightly higher than his minor league average, but in a pitcher's park, it was good for a very impressive 135 OPS+. Joyce finished with a 1.8 WAR for 2010. Not bad, but not spectacular. He didn't hit well in the ALDS against Texas.

But this year, he's flying. His current slash line is: .368/.424/.615. You can't get much better than that. His line drive percentage is amazing so far this year at an unheard of 29.5 percent. That's a lot of line drives! With Evan Longoria out early this season, Joyce gave the Bay Rays an offensive weapon and with Longoria now returned, that third basemen is not an island of hitting delight anymore for the team from St. Pete. Last year, if you got Longoria out, you had a chance of beating the Bay Rays. This year, you have to worry about Matt Joyce too.

Obviously, Matt Joyce can't keep this pace up. His .414 BABIP is not sustainable. But because he is killing the ball, his walk rate is down (who wouldn't swing when you are that hot?). So while the batting average will come down, he has a chance to maintain the on base percentage as his walk rate returns to his normal percentages. Joyce has hit six homers and frankly, he can hit a bunch more before the season is out. He has a sweet left-handed swing and his home run to fly ball rate of 19.4 percent should hang around in that territory all season.

The one drag on Joyce is his lack of ability to hit left-handed pitching. He's a career .152 batter against lefties and this year, as well as he's playing, he's no better. He has 18 plate appearances against lefties and is batting .132 with seven strikeouts. This will keep the Bay Rays from playing him against tough left-handers and when that happens, they will miss his bat. If he could learn to at least hit .250 against southpaws, he'll really be a superstar. But until then, he'll be a guy who can really rake against the right-handers.

But, as usual, the Tampa Bay Rays are flexible and can mix and match when lefties pitch, which won't be nearly as often as the other way around. They also got a break when teams like the Blue Jays traded a tough lefty in Shaun Marcum and Andy Pettite retired for the Yankees. That's two less tough lefties they have to face. Of course, they now have Zach Britton in their division and he's a tough lefty to say the least.

The bottom line here is that Matt Joyce has arrived in a big way--at least against right-handed pitching. His current WAR for 2011 already matches his total output for 2010 and he should continue to be a very good part of the Bay Rays quest for a second straight American League East title.

Update! As someone on Twitter reminded the Fan, Matt Joyce here is more like the Greek Ulysses than the James Joyce version. :)

Celebrating Ross Grimsley

Every writer started out as a big fan of the game. Shawn Anderson over at the Hall of Very Good is no different. Ross Grimsley was a very good pitcher (well, until the last four years of his career, anyway) who began his career forty years ago today. He is a pitcher that captures Shawn's imagination and Shawn will be celebrating Grimsley all week long. It's a lot of fun and this Fan invites you to Shawn's party.

Game Picks - Monday: May 16, 2011

Sunday rocked the house! Nine correct picks out of twelve and the Game of the Day feature is over .500 finally. The only three blemishes on the scorecard were recorded by teams beating two aces. The Braves beat Halladay and the White Sox beat Trevor Cahill. The other bad pick was not expecting the Cardinals to get swept. The Cardinals may be the only team in baseball that had a worse weekend than the Yankees. But other than those three, everything went according to plan. Heck, as Alan pointed out in the comments yesterday, this picker even guessed the correct amount of runs the Diamondback scored. Giddiness ensues.

All thirty teams are playing on a Monday. How rare is that? Usually the schedule is light on Monday. Well, the Fan says all thirty teams are playing but with the weather like it's been, who knows how many will actually play. When is summer going to arrive in the major leagues? It seems every game that is played is in the gloom and windy and cold. Three games were rained out yesterday. Holy cow, that's a lot of rain outs. Regardless, fifteen games are on the schedule and IF they all play, here's what should happen:

  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: After a lost weekend and a late night loss to the Red Sox, the Yankees had to travel overnight down to St. Pete to get ready to face David Price. Yeah. Good luck with that. A. J. Burnett with the hard luck loss.
  • The Phillies over the Cardinals: Just like the Yankees, the Cardinals come off a horrible weekend only to have to face Cliff Lee. Good luck with that as well. Jake Westbrook will get lit up.
  • The Nationals over the Pirates: The Pirates haven't had much fun since they reached the .500 level last week. Paul Maholm is much better at home than on the road. John Lannon will get the rare win.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: These two teams are on a roll, but only one of them can win. Going with Max Scherzer over Kyle Drabek.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: The Red Sox saved Dice-K for seven days, but have to pitch him some time. It doesn't matter though because he faces Chris Tillman. Tillman was very good his last time out. But the Red Sox are certainly not the Mariners.
  • The Reds over the Cubs: Homer Bailey has come of the DL smoking. He won't have to be so good this time as the Reds will score a few off of Carlos Zambrano. This pick could go wrong if Zambrano can avoid his first inning problems.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: The Marlins have their line up intact again and they can do some damage. The Mets have been playing well, but face Josh Johnson today. Mike Pelfrey won't have a chance.
  • The Braves over the Astros: Tommy Hanson needs to go deeper in games, but he's pitching well. He should have no trouble beating Brett Myers and the Astros.
  • The Indians over the Royals: You would think that the Royals would skip Kyle Davies with all the rainouts, but no such luck for Royals fans. Josh Tomlin with the win.
  • The Rangers over the White Sox: Colby Lewis was impressive his last time out as was Edwin Jackson for the White Sox. The difference here will probably be the Rangers' offense.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: You need power to win in Colorado so a lot will depend on how good Tim Lincecum's fastball is. Clayton Mortensen is the wild card in this game. He's looked good so far including a good start (but no decision) against the Giants last time he faced them.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: Here's something new: The Padres have been scoring runs in bunches. What? And they get Armando Galarraga to feast on today. Clayton Richard's BABIP has killed him. Some of those ground balls need to find infielders! Monday might be the first time in history that two Claytons start games in the majors on the same day.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: Very good pitching match up in this one with Joel Pineiro versus Brett Anderson. Anderson only seems to walk Texas Rangers and nobody else. He'll have to be very good today because Pineiro has been outstanding.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: If the Twins can't beat the Mariners, then they are truly as bad as we think they are. They face Michael Pineda on Monday. Not a good thing. Scott Baker might be the most unpredictable pitcher in baseball. He can be great and he can be terrible.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Dodgers: Jon Garland has a sparkling record against the Dodgers in his career, but a lot of that was pitching in good pitching parks. Milwaukee doesn't boast one of those. Plus, he'll be out-pitched by Shaun Marcum.

Yesterday: 9-3
Week:  9-3
Month: 103-93
Season: 315-271
Games of the Day: 24-22

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Fine Mess in Yankee Land

The Yankees are led on the field by two former catchers. With Joe Girardi as manager and Tony Pena as his right hand man, they knew the writing was on the wall for Jorge Posada as a catcher after watching him last year.  They saw what we all saw and that was that Posada just wasn't a good option for the Yankees behind the plate any more. And so Posada was told flat out after the season that he was done as the Yankees' catcher. It was the right call. In fact, it should have been done sooner. Except the Yankees had no one else to take his place. This decision hasn't set well with Posada as anyone can imagine. This writer had posted earlier in the season that Posada's body language was terrible. If you sort through all the garbage that went down last night at Yankee Stadium, the thing that becomes clear is that all this boiled over for Posada with the news that he would bat ninth in the Yankees' batting order.

As we all know by now, Posada took himself out of the line up. The reasons behind his move have been debated and picked over as all things concerning the Yankees always are. He says his back hurt. Girardi and Brian Cashman said they had no knowledge of said injury. There were reports of a heated argument between Girardi and Posada prior to his Posada's self-scratch. What a mess. Now all parties are in spin control and none of this helps the fact that the Yankees are sinking toward the .500 mark while the Bay Rays are on a run and the Red Sox are finally charging the .500 mark.

None of this, of course, should take away from the fact that Jorge Posada had a great career as the Yankees catcher. He's got a fist full of World Series rings and he's been one of the greats as an offensive catcher. But it also seems obvious that Jorge Posada is a proud man and sometimes that pride creates situations that proud men will eventually regret. David Ortiz, who has been on his own end of the "put-up-or-shut-up" scenario in Boston defended Posada and said the Yankees were doing to old catcher wrong. And while Ortiz did say that Posada shouldn't have taken himself out of the game, Ortiz shares Posada's pride and can relate to what Posada is going through.

This Fan has the same take on things as with the Michael Young situation in Texas. When you are making that much money, you should smile while you clean the toilets. That's life. The difference is that Young got to play due to injuries around the diamond and got off to a great start. Meanwhile, Posada's performance is what led to the current crisis the Yankees now face.

Here are some other salient points this Fan can think of:

  • Yes, the other member of the old Core, Derek Jeter, is struggling offensively and seems to get a pass.
  • But, Jeter is manning his position capably, something Posada could no longer do.
  • Posada isn't the face of the franchise like Jeter and is not pushing for a milestone like Jeter is. If Jeter is still struggling when he reaches 3,000 hits, we'll see what happens to his place in the line up.
  • The Yankees helped create this situation by overpaying Posada a couple of years ago to a contract that would take the old catcher way past his point of usefulness. They are now reaping the crap of that decision.
  • Jorge Posada has not handled this situation with any amount of grace. His acts, at least from what we can see, are unprofessional.

So, yes, the Yankees are magnified above and beyond any other team in baseball. When things start to go sour, the media (both social and professional) pounce on any kind of controversy to the tenth degree. It can't be any fun right now for Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter, Brian Cashman and yes, Jorge Posada. If all this was happening in San Diego, nobody would be noticing and this wouldn't add so much pressure to the situation. Posada's situation seems a lot like Ken Griffey's last year. That didn't end well in Seattle and this situation with Posada won't end well either. It's not a good thing when sagging performance due to age is combined with those struggles of the team.

Who knows where the Yankees go from here. Perhaps they stick Posada back in the nine hole (though strategically, eight seems better) and leave him there and perhaps Posada starts to hit a little bit after getting his hubris hit by this story. Perhaps the Yankees trade him to the two million teams who need a catcher. Perhaps if the Yankees start winning again, the whole story goes away. From any perspective, the whole thing is a mess right now and the Yankees and Posada better find a way to turn things around in a hurry.

Game Picks - Sunday: May 15, 2011

Saturday was not a good day. Kyle McClellan's perfect season was made less perfect. Josh Beckett again throttled the Yankees while ace, C. C. Sabathia, has not been able to throw zeros. Josh Collmenter was terrific in a rain-shortened game. Didn't see that coming. The Padres destroyed the Rockies' bullpen with the culminating blow hit by their old friend, Brad Hawpe, off of Huston Street. The Reds completely out-played the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks won a 1-0 game over the Dodgers. All those bad picks left this picker sucking wind as this strange season continues. The rained-out game in Cleveland didn't help as that would probably have been a good pick. The downer of a day left the week and the month pretty near the .500 mark.

Perhaps this week will be better. It all starts with Sunday:

  • The Tigers over the Royals: This hasn't been a good weekend for the Royals. Today won't be any easier as Max Scherzer is already 6-0 and all the Royals can do is counter with Kyle Davies. Not pretty.
  • The Indians over the Mariners: The rain-out yesterday allows the Mariners to skip a weak link in their rotation and get Michael Pineda back out there against the hot Indians. But it won't be enough as the Mariners can't score enough to win. Josh Tomlin gets the win.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: It's been a tough weekend for the Cardinals. And today's game looks tough to pick. The Cards defense and bullpen have been problems and Chris Carpenter has struggled. But the Cards should score enough against Travis Wood to at least win one game of the series.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: Jason Marquis has had a season to match his last name. Meanwhile, the Marlins continue to roll out Javier Vazquez to negative results.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Roy Halladay should dominate and the Phillies hit Tim Hudson pretty well. Not a good day for Braves fans.
  • The Orioles over the Bay Rays: Simply can't go with the Bay Rays with Andy Sonnanstine pitching. Going with Jake Arrieta and the Orioles.
  • The Mets over the Astros: The Mets have the advantage facing Aneury Rodriguez. Chris Capuano has three quality starts out of his last four. Don't let his record fool you.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Kevin Correia has been good, but the Brewers have Zack Greinke on the mound. The Brewers are hanging around thanks to see-saw play from the rest of the division.
  • The Blue Jays over the Twins: Brandon Morrow has yet to have that lights out game. The Twins offense will allow him to have that today. Brian Duensing won't have enough support to win.
  • The Giants over the Cubs: Carlos Zambrano is back to being a very good pitcher for the Cubs. But he's no match for Tim Lincecum.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Ervin Santana has been MIA so far this year. You have to wonder if he is healthy as he's just not fooling anyone. The Rangers, meanwhile, throw out their ace in C. J. Wilson.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Today's upset special is for the Padres to win their second game in a row over the Rockies. Matt Latos isn't as bad as his record and is due for a win. Jason Hammel has had a good season but can be had.
  • The Athletics over the White Sox: Trevor Cahill has been the best pitcher in the American League and is starting to make believers out there. The White Sox counter with the usually reliable Mark Beuhrle.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Ian Kennedy is starting to make a case as a very good pitcher. Ted Lilly is good but not great. The D-backs have to score four runs to win.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Jon Lester versus Freddie Garcia. Game. Set. Match.

Yesterday: 6-8
Last week: 45-43
Month: 94-90
Season: 306-268
Games of the Day: 23-22

Jose Bautista Is Early MVP

Can we put the "Jose Bautista's 2010 season was a fluke" stories to rest now? Yeah, you could say that. The season is early and the sample size small, but Jose Bautista is ruling the world. What offensive category do you want to look at? Jose Bautista is there. He's third in the majors in batting average. He's first in on base percentage. He's first in slugging. He's first in homers. He's first in wOBA. He's first in wRC+. And he's first in WAR. In many of those categories, nobody is even close.

Everyone focused on Bautista's homers last year. But even more of a surprise was his patience at the plate. If he didn't get his pitch, he wasn't going to swing. He walked one hundred times last year and only two of those walks were intentional. Which leads to the question of why teams pitch to him. He's only received one intentional pass this year. But the point is, Bautista has become a terrifically selective hitter. The only knock on his season last year was his batting average of .260. That fairly mundane batting average was almost directly related to his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). His BABIP last year was an amazingly low .238. This year, his balls in play are finding the ground and the batting average has responded accordingly. He is also hitting more line drives this year, which helps tremendously.

Jose Bautista has played 31 games so far and already has 13 homers. He's already walked 35 times and has struck out only 19 times. JoBau has also scored 39 runs and has driven in 23. His walk to strikeout ratio is double what it was last year. If you can believe this, his home runs to fly ball percentage is actually up from last year. Last year, 21.7 percent of his fly balls went over the fence. This year, that figure is up to 27.7 percent.

Bautista is in the perfect home ballpark for this blossoming of his career. His home/road splits last year showed his home OPS at 1.118 while his road OPS was still a respectable .879. There is still a disparity for the slugger at home. His OPS at home this year is an obscene 1.667. But his road OPS is still otherworldly at 1.091.

Last night began as a tough night for Bautista. Playing in the spacious Twins' home park, he had gone hitless in  five plate appearances with a walk. The game was still tied going into the top of the eleventh inning. Corey Patterson hit a single to start off the inning. The Twins immediately pulled Glen Perkins and replaced him with Jim Hoey. That ended up haunting Gardenhire as Bautista then hit a mammoth shot to the opposite field, only his second opposite field homer in the last two years. Both have been in Minnesota. Hoey was obviously rattled by the homer and walked the next two batters. That led to a six-run rally, all started by Bautista, and sunk the Twins. It was a typical reminder of just what Bautista can do to destroy a team in any given game.

There were debates before the season started if Bautista should play third base. The Blue Jays have struggled at that position. The Blue Jays finally decided to leave their best player in right field. It was the right decision. And not only is Bautista delivering at the plate, he's turned himself into a really good right fielder and his defensive metrics are fantastic this year. Not only is his UZR impressive, but his arm and arm accuracy rate at the top of the charts in the Fans Scouting Report. Bautista is the complete package for the Blue Jays.

This Fan doesn't blame the skeptics who believed Bautista's season last year was a fluke. The guy came out of nowhere to put together a monster season. Watching him play last year, you could just see that Bautista had figured something out and that he was as confident as any player could be. His performance when watched put to rest any kind of doubt about how good this guy was. He is even better this year. There is a lot of season left to go, but judging from what Bautista has done so far, last year looks more like the new norm than any kind of fluke. And it sure is fun to watch.