Saturday, July 02, 2011

Game Picks - Saturday: July 2, 2011

And yes, another day of interleague play ended and once again, this picker was just barely over .500. On Monday, while the rest of the country celebrates Independence Day, this Fan will celebrate the end of interleague play.

At least the Fan has learned a few things along the way. The first is that the Kansas City Royals can lose in any league. This picker has maintained every day that the team has to win once in a while. But they can't and won't. The manager seems to have gone belly up and doesn't care, which is a shame. The team takes its cue from him and rolls over day after day. Similarly, it has become clear that the Marlins can change managers, but they can't change their losing ways. And this one is fairly easy to pinpoint. As long as Emilio Bonifacio is in the line up, this team will continue to lose. Plain and simple. Oh yes, they also have absolutely no bullpen. The third thing learned is that the Brewers are a terrible interleague team. They simply cannot win consistently against American League teams in American League ballparks. And finally, the last lesson is that the Giants will never lose a one-run game ever again.

With those lessons in hand, perhaps this picker can have a good Saturday. Here are the picks:

  • The Phillies over the Blue Jays: Roy Halladay finally goes home. Do you think after all this time that the Doc won't be amped up for this one? Hardly. Carlos Villanueva has been pretty good, but this is Halladay's game.
  • The Nationals split their double-header with the Pirates: While the world plays interleague, these two teams revolve in their own orbit. They are tightly matched and should each win a game.
  • The White Sox over the Cubs: The White Sox are still in the AL Central Race. The Cubs are simply playing baseball games. Philip Humber over Matt Garza.
  • The Indians over the Reds: Fausto Carmona and Homer Bailey cancel each other out with a bit of sucktitude. Going then with the Indians who seem to have the Reds' number.
  • The Mets over the Yankees: Dillon Gee and his magic bullets should be better than Bartolo Colon coming off of the DL. At least, that's the theory.
  • The Tigers over the Giants: The Tigers tee off on Barry Zito and his slow tosses while Max Scherzer shuts down the Giants.
  • The Braves over the Orioles: This one is difficult. Believe it or not, Tim Hudson is 3-14 lifetime in interleague play. Ugh! But he also beat the Blue Jays last time out with a really good performance. Ugh. Jake Arrieta leads the Orioles in wins. Ugh. But he only lasted five innings his last time out. Ugh again.
  • The Twins over the Brewers: Chris Narveson beat the Twins last time out. Carl Pavano lost to the Brewers his last time out. So...we'll go with the opposites today.
  • The Cardinals over the Bay Rays: The first question is: Which is the real Jeff Niemann? The one from his first start or the one from his last start? The second question is: Which is the real Kyle McClellan? We'll find out today.
  • The Rangers over the Marlins: Derek Holland should have no trouble beating Brad Hand. Stranger things have happened. But this is the right pick.
  • The Rockies over the Royals: What a mess this one is. Kyle Davies is back to torture Royal fans everywhere. And Matt Reynolds got called up from the minors to take Jhoulys Chacin's place. Royals will still lose.
  • The Athletics over the Diamondbacks: Josh Outman has a great name. The D-backs are slipping a bit. Joe Saunders has been good though. Remind the Fan why he does this feature every day?
  • The Dodgers over the Angels: In a battle of aces, Clayton Kershaw comes out slightly ahead of Jared Weaver.
  • The Padres over the Mariners: The Mariners do not score when Doug Fister is pitching. He has the lowest run support of any pitcher in baseball. The Padres counter with Cory Luebke, who is capable of five good innings.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Red Sox over the Astros: The Red Sox seemed to make a decision last night to stop losing to lousy teams. Not real down with Andrew Miller starting, but the Red Sox will get it done versus J. A. Happ or the bullpen that follows him.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 41-37
Month: 8-7
Season: 661-561
Games of the Day: 59-34

Friday, July 01, 2011

Justin Upton Quietly Having Good Season

Several years ago, the Upton brothers, Justin and B. J., filled baseball with such promise that MLB used the tandem as part of their promotional campaign. Remember that? The commercial showed the Uptons as youngsters and they said nice things about each other. It was the perfect commercial about the possibilities of baseball. Unfortunately, since that commercial first aired, the careers of the two brothers stalled. Both seemed to have awesome physical skills. But both had gotten into high strikeout, not-enough-production ruts. B. J. perhaps is still there (though he has looked better lately). Justin Upton, on the other hand, is having a really good season that is flying a bit under the radar.

Justin Upton is currently sporting a slash line of: .304/.385/.518. The average and on base percentage--if they hold up--would be the highest of his career. The slugging percentage is his highest since 2009's .532 but is not that far off. Upton has always had a high BABIP, a number that stands at .344 for his career. This year is right in line with that career average and sits at .343. The big difference is that with less strikeouts, he is putting more balls in play and Upton is on pace to compile the most hits in his career.

Let's talk about those strikeouts. Let's face it, the Diamondbacks had a definite strikeout culture up until this year. Mark Reynolds was allowed to set the record and then break it twice. Adam LaRoche was on the team last year and struck out 172 times. Upton was caught up in that culture and struck out 152 times himself last year. The Diamondbacks easily paced the majors in strikeouts in 2010. While they still strike out, they are only third highest in the National League. That's a significant improvement. And Upton is among those thriving because of it.

Upton's previous seasons for strikeout percentage look like this:

  • 2007: 26.4 percent
  • 2008: 34 percent
  • 2009: 26 percent
  • 2010: 30.7 percent

In 2011, Justin Upton's strikeout percentage is only 20.1 percent. That's a big improvement. The weird thing about his improvement is that he is swinging at more pitches than ever. His swing rate is the highest of his career and that includes swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. His swing and miss percentage is right at his career average. So how, then, can his strikeout rate be down? Perhaps it has to do with being more aggressive and not so passive. Perhaps far too many of his strikeouts were looking. Mark Reynolds does swing and miss a lot, but he also gets called out on strikes a lot.

It's no surprise then that Upton's walk percentage is down from last year's 11.2 percent. His current rate of 9.1 percent is lower than his career average of 10.4 percent. Though his current 9.1 percent shows that he is being more aggressive, he could improve even more if he continued to be aggressive with a little better discipline within the strike zone. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Upton hasn't reached his 24th birthday! He can certainly get better. Cutting down his strikeouts is the first step and even with the lower walk rate, his walk to strikeout rate has never been as good as it is this year. The one pitch he seems to chase the most is the slider. Fix that and Upton will be flying!

Nothing else stands out in Upton's numbers to show this much improvement. Yes, he's been hit by a lot more pitches this season (probably a fluke?). The number one difference seems to be more balls in play. Justin Upton is a good fielder and a good base runner with plus speed. He has an outside chance at 30 homers along with 30 stolen bases. At his age, and in the right hands, Justin Upton can yet live up to those commercials about how special he can be. The signs are all positive in 2011 for that to be the case.

Game Picks - Friday: July 1, 2011

Another interleague day, another day just barely over .500. Will this ever end? The day started well with wins by the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers. Those went off without a hitch. Then the Cubs and Giants played a marathon that kept going back and forth until the Cubs eventually won in the 13th on a homer by Giovanni Soto. That was bad pick number one. The White Sox won their own extra inning game, which made that pick correct and the tally stood at 4-1. It was a good day for Chicago. Then the Marlins got a great performance from Chris Volstad and doubled Trevor Cahill to death and it was 4-2. It was there that the Fan realized a critical mistake.

There is an internal rule here that a pitcher coming off the disabled list or called up from the minors is never picked to win a game. But Brett Cecil seemed to be unceremoniously dumped by the Blue Jays earlier in the season and that was the pick. He wasn't effective and Jeff Karstens again pitched really well. The Pirates are simply amazing. So the picks went to 4-3.

It soon went to 4-4 when this picker picked against Wandy Rodriguez. Wandy has always been a favorite here, but his team is so bad that the Rangers couldn't possibly lose, right? Wrong. Houston shut them out, 7-0. Only the Cardinals, backed by two homers by Lance Berkman, overcame another dismal start by Jaime Garcia to out-slug Brian Matusz and the Orioles. Poor Matusz was sent to the minors after the game. That win saved the picks and also won the Game of the Day.

Thanks in large part to interleague, the Fan ended up with a winning percentage of just .537 for the month of June. July will be better, doggone it. And it starts today:

  • The Blue Jays over the Phillies: What!? Starting off the new month with a questionable pick? Well, Kyle Kendrick starts for the Phillies while Ricky Romero starts for the Blue Jays. That seems to add up to a Blue Jays' win.
  • The Cubs over the White Sox: Let's give the Cubbies a nod after a plucky win yesterday. While the White Sox had their own plucky win, this picker can never count on Edwin Jackson. Going with Randy Wells.
  • The Pirates over the Nationals: The Nats were doing great until Davey Johnson showed up. They haven't won since. But that's just a fluke, of course. Things won't get better today as Tom Gorzelanny hasn't been very good (except his last outing). The Pirates win despite putting Charlie Morton back on the mound.
  • The Giants over the Tigers: Comerica is cavernous like where the Giants play. That works for Madison Bumgarner and against Brad Penny.
  • The Indians over the Reds: Justin Masterson's luck has to change sooner or later. Bronson Arroyo is a tough hombre, but the Indians have the bats that can get to him.
  • The Yankees over the Mets: Ivan Nova needs to make his case to stay in the rotation once Phil Hughes comes back. So he has a good game against the Mets and Jonathan Niese.
  • The Cardinals over the Bay Rays: Wade Davis throws a straight fastball. The Cards should jump on it early to provide enough of a cushion for the erstwhile Jake Westbrook.
  • The Braves over the Orioles: The Orioles are in a really bad stretch and it shouldn't improve against Jair Jurrjens today. They counter with Jeremy Guthrie, their most experienced pitcher...for what that's worth.
  • The Red Sox over the Astros: Bud Norris can be good. But the Red Sox's line up is just too good. Tim Wakefield with a win for the geezer set.
  • The Marlins over the Rangers: Anibal Sanchez is probably the Marlins' best pitcher and gives them the best chance to win in this series. Alexi Ogando has lost his confidence after a couple of bad outings.
  • The Royals over the Rockies: Danny Duffy has good stuff but needs to locate it better. He started to do that his last outing. Juan Nicasio hasn't done anything good since his first start.
  • The Brewers over the Twins: The Brewers desperately need a win and Yovani Gallardo needs to be very good to get it against Francisco Liriano.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Athletics: Rich Harden makes his first start of the season after a bad lat pull put him on the 60-day DL. Can't pick him under those circumstances. Josh Collmenter with the win.
  • The Dodgers over the Angels: Hiroki Kuroda deserves a win. He's been pitching so well with nothing to show for it. He'll probably get traded anyway. But he beats Tyler Chatwood in this one with Kemp and Ethier doing the damage.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Mariners over the Padres: Give Dustin Moseley props. He's hung in there. But Jason Vargas should shut the Padres' offense down enough to give the Mariners a win. Dustin Ackley looks like the real deal.

Yesterday: 5-4
Week: 33-30
June: 217-187
Season; 653-554
Games of the Day: 58-34

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Unluckiest Pitchers of 2011

There have been 1,082 games so far this season where a pitcher has pitched at least six innings and has given up two or fewer runs. The pitchers in those situations have not gotten a decision in 333 of those games or roughly 30.1 percent of the time. When the pitchers have recorded a decision in such games, they are 611-138. That's a winning percentage of .816. Pretty impressive. Even if you add in the 333 no-decisions, a pitcher still wins 56 percent of those games. But there are a few pitchers who haven't been so fortunate.

Obviously, if a pitcher has only had a couple of those games and doesn't succeed, it's kind of a statistical fluke. But if we go to pitchers that have pitched at least nine of those starts, then we get a little more of a sample size. Focusing on pitchers who have at least nine of these kinds of starts still yields an 82 percent win rate (246-54) and even when including no-decisions, still win 60 percent of the time. We'll make this our base line. And the unluckiest pitchers would have the least percentage of wins in such games.

There are ten pitchers who have won less than 50 percent of such starts that have at least nine such games. That's a bit unwieldy for such a list. To shorten it down a bit, we'll focus on the four pitchers who have nine or more such starts and have won less than 40 percent of those games. The Fan will list the other six in the honorable mention. Here are the Fan's unluckiest pitchers of 2011 (so far):

1. Jordan Zimmermann (Washington Nationals): Come on! You knew if you read today's game picks post that Zimmermann would be on this list, right? But it's true. One of the great things about being a Fan of the game is that every year brings players the Fan kind of latches on to. Jordan Zimmermann has become such a player for this observer this year. It all started last season when Zimmermann made a start and was blasted so completely that the pitcher broke down and cried in the dugout. How can you not feel for such a player? So this year, when Zimmermann began pitching really well, this Fan was very happy for him. Unfortunately, Zimmermann has nothing to show for his efforts.

Jordan Zimmermann is tied for the lead in said starts with twelve. In those twelve starts, he is 4-5, meaning he has won only 33.33 percent of his terrific starts. That bites. The other three pitchers with twelve such starts (Weaver, Romero and Halladay) are 25-4! Poor Zimmermann. In those starts, he has an ERA of 1.69 and a WHIP of 0.98 and his team has only won him four of those games. Amazing. The Nationals have won thirteen of their last eighteen games. Despite such success, Zimmermann, who hasn't had a bad game in a long time, is only 1-1 during that stretch.

2. Paul Maholm (Pittsburgh Pirates): In Maholm's nine games that match our criteria, he has pitched really well. His ERA in those nine games is a minuscule 1.29 with a WHIP of 0.97. And yet he is only 3-3 in those starts with three no-decisions. Maholm doesn't have the pure stuff that Zimmermann has. Zimmermann's strikeout to walk ratio in his twelve games mentioned is 3.25. Maholm's is only 1.68. But Maholm has only given up one homer in those nine games and only 39 hits in 62.2 innings. That's incredible pitching that hasn't led to personal glory for him.

3. Tim Stauffer (San Diego Padres): Stauffer doesn't quite match the other three on this list. Unlike Maholm and Zimmerman and the fourth pitcher we'll talk about, Stauffer at least has a nice winning percentage in his eleven games that match our criteria. His 4-1 record is great. But what about all those non-decisions? Stauffer has seven no-decisions in his eleven great games pitched meaning he's won only 36.4 percent of those starts. With the Padres offense, this selection makes sense.

Stauffer's ranking on our list is a surprise to this author and is probably a surprise to you as well. The Fan hadn't realized that Stauffer had pitched so well so often. In those eleven games, Stauffer has a 4.25 strikeout to walk ratio. He has a WHIP of 0.89! His ERA in those eleven games is 1.31.

4. Justin Masterson (Cleveland Indians): Like Stauffer, Masterson has eleven starts that match our criteria. But unlike Stauffer, Masterson's winning record is 4-3 and his percentage of wins in those starts matches Stauffer's 36.4 percent. Masterson has a sterling ERA of 1.75 in those games with a WHIP of 1.14. He's only given up one homer in all those starts.

Masterson's last start was typical in how bad his luck has been. He had pitched six scoreless innings against the Giants. In the seventh, he gave up a double to lead off the inning, but that batter (Nick Schierholtz) was thrown out trying to get to third. Masterson then induced a ground ball to second, which was booted for an error. Masterson then got a pop up to short. He then threw another ground ball and his second baseman made yet another error. At that point, his manager came out and relieved him of duty and brought Tony Sipp into the game. Sipp walked the next batter and then balked in the only run. Masterson got the loss for the 1-0 game. Has anyone ever lost an unluckier game?

Honorable Mention: Dan Haren (ten such starts, 4-1), Hiroki Kuroda (nine such starts, 4-3 record), Philip Humber (nine such starts, 4-2 record), Ryan Dempster (nine such starts, 4-1 record), Madison Bumgarner (nine such starts, 4-4 record) and Nick Blackburn (nine such starts, 4-2 record).

Maybe tomorrow we'll look at the luckiest starters for 2011.

Game Picks - Thursday: June 30, 2011

Yesterday was a travel day again as the Fan and his lovely wife drove to a location north of Orlando to spend a few days with the grown son. It's the first time to his place and he has a lovely apartment with his girlfriend. Much pride goes to both.

While traveling, the interleague picks didn't get any better. They just barely scraped above .500 again. The Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, Twins, Marlins, Mets, Rangers and Indians were all good picks. But several things shot the rest of the picks down. The most grievous of which was the continued screwing of Jordan Zimmermann. The guy pitched a complete game. He only gave up one unearned run and lost. What the heck, Nationals!? You win every other game but when this poor kid pitches? The Royals lost again to the Padres. Holy crap, why can't that team win a game? Perhaps having the line up start with Melky Cabrera on top followed by Chris Getz would be a clue.

James Shields continued his impressive pitching, but one pitch that resulted in a three-run homer did him in. Meanwhile, the Bay Rays only had eight base runners the entire game and hit into two double-plays. That didn't help. King Felix was again dethroned. He simply hasn't been dominant for a large part of this season. Ryan Dempster was better than Tim Lincecum. And then Carlos Marmol blew his save, but the Cubs still won in the bottom of the ninth. Ubaldo was good, but Mark Buehrle matched him and the White Sox bullpen was better than the Rockies'. Picking against Brandon Morrow was a bad idea, even if it was against the Pirates. Can you believe the Fan just typed that last sentence? Even-if-it-was-against-the-Pirates. Different.

There are nine games on the short-Thursday schedule. Six of them are day games so it won't take long to know how this day is going to go. Here are the picks:

  • The Red Sox over the Phillies: The Red Sox salvage the last game of the series with lefty, John Lester doing his ace-like thing better than Cole Hamels does his ace-like thing. Lefties aren't good for the Phillies offense.
  • The Yankees over the Brewers: C. C. Sabathia makes it game, set and match against the Brewers as the Yankees complete the sweep over Randy Wolf.
  • The Tigers over the Mets:  The Mets record offense this series comes to a screeching halt against Justin Verlander. Mike Pelfrey will be looking around and wondering why they didn't save any runs for him.
  • The Giants over the Cubs: Good match up of Matt Cain versus Carlos Zambrano. Going with the better team.
  • The White Sox over the Rockies: The Rockies' goose is Aaron Cooked in this one. Jake Peavy with the win.
  • The Athletics over the Marlins: This Fan wondered about Trevor Cahill before his last start and he turned out brilliant. Okay. We'll go with that then. Chris Volstad with the tough luck loss.
  • The Blue Jays over the Pirates: Something about established veterans being sent to the minors gives them a kick in the pants. Brett Cecil was one such dude. He beats Jeff Karstens, which is tough to do these days.
  • The Rangers over the Astros: Wandy Rodriguez wasn't so good in his last outing, but he's a favorite here. But the Astros won't score against Matt Harrison.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Orioles: Jaime Garcia has been scuffling a bit. But if he has a good day, he'll tame the Orioles quite nicely. Brian Matusz simply hasn't been the same pitcher lately.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 28-26
Month: 212-183
Season: 648-550
Games of the Day: 57-34

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


This Fan is a card carrying member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. It's a nice affiliation and has been a wonderful way to meet other writers around the country. The BBA recently sent out a press release of its official ballot compiled by members around the country (including this site). Here is the press release:
Outfielders Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays and Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers led their respective leagues in balloting for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game as conducted by members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and announced today. 
Bautista, who has an American League-leading 1.133 OPS to go along with his 24 home runs, was named on 50 ballots, not including one ballot that placed him at third base.  Bautista was joined in the outfield by Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees, who received 48 votes, and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox, who tallied 23 votes.
There were few close races in the AL voting by the BBA.  The tightest was at third base, where Yankee Alex Rodriguez outpolled Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers 30-16.  All other races were decided by at least twenty votes save the nod for starting pitcher.  Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander won that 16-6 over Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels, but many bloggers did not designate a specific starter so fewer votes were cast in that category.

Other American League nods were to Tigers catcher Alex Avila, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox, Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano, and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians.  Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz was selected at that position.

Over in the National League, Kemp’s stellar first half--he sits second in batting average, first in home runs, second in RBI and has 21 stolen bases to boot--earned him mention on 54 ballots.  Accompanying him in the outfield was Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals.
As in the junior circuit, the closest race in the NL was at the hot corner.  Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco edged out Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres 21-14, with Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones receiving 10 votes.
The other races were not a contest, as Braves catcher Brian McCann, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks, and New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes all won their slots by at least 25 votes.
Starting the contest for the NL was Roy Halladay, who easily outpolled his Philadelphia teammate Cole Hamels for the honor.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in 2009 with the purpose of encouraging collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  As a secondary goal, they vote on various awards throughout the year.  In January, they recommended Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for the Baseball Hall of Fame and in March, they created a new award to honor the top internet writer and then named it after the first recipient, Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski.  You can find the BBA at their website or on Facebook.  You can follow the Alliance at @baseballblogs on Twitter or via the hashtag #BBBA.

Told You the Beltran Contract Was a Good One

One of the most childish and yet fun things to do in life is to yell: "I told you so!" Well, this writer did tell you back in February of this year that all that criticism of Carlos Beltran's contract with the Mets was mislabeled as a bust. After Beltran's injury-plagued season of a year ago, Beltran was derided as the worst signing ever for the Mets. Beltran was on many people's lists as one of the worst signings ever. All the while, this writer scratched his head and said, "Whuh?" And so this writer then set out in that February post to prove that if Beltran could have just a decent season this season, he would earn every dollar of his contract. Here we are half way through the season and let's see how that looks now.

Buried beneath the season that Jose Reyes is having is the nice comeback season for Carlos Beltran. After speculation earlier in Sping Training that Beltran would have trouble getting his knee in playing shape, Beltran has played nearly every day for the Mets and is having a nice season. That, of course, makes  this Fan look even smarter for that February post. So here, once again, are the numbers:

This is the final year of Beltran's contract. In total, the Mets will have paid him $119 million over the last seven years. In those seven years, he has been valued by the following:

  • 2005: $9.1 million
  • 2006: $29.1 million
  • 2007: $22.5 million
  • 2008: $34.3 million
  • 2009: $13.5 million
  • 2010: $3.2 million
  • 2011: $11.3 million

If you add all that up, you get $123 million. So Carlos Beltran could stop playing right now and would have earned his contract. Sure, you'd like to make your contracts so that they make you money. But how many long term contracts actually work out for the teams that made them? That's right, very few. This isn't one of them.

Beltran has a 138 OPS+ currently for 2011. He has eleven homers and 53 runs batted in. He's also added 21 doubles. His slash line of .281/.373/.489 are remarkably close to his career numbers. His wOBA is three points higher than his career average in that statistic. His walk percentage is higher than his career average and his strikeout percentage is currently below his career norm. All the while, he is playing positively in right field after being a center fielder his entire career. Beltran seems poised to have another season valued above $20 million if he keeps up this pace.

Carlos Beltran was one of the best center fielders of this generation. Because he missed large chunks of the last two seasons, he became one of the symbols of the Mets' mistakes. Except that he wasn't a mistake. So the next time you hear that Carlos Beltran was a bad signing by the New York Mets, politely disagree and send that person this way. Deal?

Game Picks - Wednesday: June 29, 2011

At one point, this picker was 5-1 and then 7-2 with the picks. Then they improved to 9-3. Unfortunately, the Fan went oh-for-the-West-Coast. Oh well, it still wasn't a bad day. Picking the Tigers proved to be as stupid as picking the Mets the day before. The Mets got two grand slams and four more hits from Jose Reyes to laugh away a route. The Fan knew that the Reds/Bay Rays game was a tight one. David Price was left in an inning too long by Joe Maddon and the pick looked good. Then Johnny Damon hit a little doink to plate two runs and it looked like the pick would be wrong. Then Kyle Farnsworth coughed up the lead in the ninth and the pick looked better. Longoria then ended the game in the tenth with one swing. Bye bye, pick. Ted Lilly had nothing and the Twins were aggressive to win that game against the Dodgers. Another bad pick. Then of course, the West Coast games started and nothing went right there.

Interleague marches on and the month of June is heading to a close. Here are Wednesday's picks:

  • The Bay Rays over the Reds: This game starts a little after noon on the East Coast. Weird. James Shields can't be counted against until this hot streak ends. Nobody is pitching better right now who isn't named Cliff Lee. Edinson Volquez goes for the Reds. That win at home yesterday was huge for the Bay rays.
  • The Twins over the Dodgers: Young Rubby de la Rosa can bring that fastball, but he doesn't put it over the plate enough. Scott Baker wins.
  • The Royals over the Padres: Yes, this picker keeps stubbornly making this pick. Come on, Royals! Stop making the Fan look like an idiot. Bruce Chen over Tim Stauffer.
  • The Mariners over the Braves: Felix Hernandez shuts down the Braves and the Mariners scratch out a couple against Derek Lowe.
  • The Indians over the Diamondbacks: The D-backs stubbornly keep sending Zach Duke out there to get his butt kicked. Perhaps it's leavening or something for the team. Carlos Carrasco with the win.
  • The Phillies over the Red Sox: The good news for the Red Sox is that Vance Worley isn't Cliff Lee. The bad news is that John Lackey isn't Josh Beckett.
  • The Yankees over the Brewers: The trouble with this series for the Brewers is that the Yankees know all their pitchers. Shaun Marcum may be good overall, but he is 1-4 with a 6.55 ERA lifetime against the Yankees. A. J. Burnett goes for the Yankees.
  • The Mets over the Tigers: The first two games of this series were split and this Fan had them both wrong. Today shouldn't be wrong as Chris Capuano has been much better than Phil Coke.
  • The Cardinals over the Orioles: Chris Carpenter is going to go on a roll now that he got his second win. David Freese back in the line up helps a lot. Chris Jakubaustas with the loss.
  • The Nationals over the Angels: The Fan will stubbornly stick with Jordan Zimmermann because he is terrific. So what if the Nationals never score for him and the bullpen keeps blowing his saves? Dan Haren goes for the Angels.
  • The Pirates over the Blue Jays: The Fan hates to pick against Brandon Morrow but somehow the Pirates keep winning and Paul Maholm keeps throwing his junk and somehow it all works. Let other people figure it out.
  • The Rangers over the Astros: This should and could be a win for Brett Myers against Colby Lewis. But it won't be.
  • The Rockies over the White Sox: Ubaldo beat the Yankees. He can beat the White Sox. Mark Buehrle, though, is the best interleague pitcher ever. Interesting.
  • The Marlins over the Athletics: Guillermo Moscoso was great his last time out against the Phillies. But Ricky Nolasco is going home. Marlins win.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Cubs: The death pall continues for the Cubs after their massacre of a double-header yesterday. Today they get Tim Lincecum. Oh boy. Ryan Dempster hangs in there in the loss.

Yesterday: 10-6
Week: 20-19
Month: 204-176
Season: 640-543
Games of the Day: 57-33

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If Only Matt Kemp Didn't Play Center

One of the most unfortunate facts about the Dodgers is that their ownership situation and what happened to a Giants' fan in the parking lot have completely overshadowed anything that's gone on in the games themselves. Clayton Kershaw's season has gone largely unnoticed. Andre Ethier is having another very good season. Despite all the distractions, one guy keeps getting noticed because of the huge numbers he is putting up. That, of course, is Matt Kemp.

Last season, we all know that Matt Kemp was a malcontent. It's hard to forget how bad his season was and how often Kemp's agent was making accusations and damaging statements about the people that Kemp was playing for. With Joe Torre gone and some of Torre's coaching staff also gone, Kemp has retaken his status as one of the premier up-and-coming players in baseball. "Up-and-coming" seems like the wrong phrase. At the age of 26, it would seem that Matt Kemp has arrived.

Kemp is second only to the great Jose Bautista in OPS, slugging, wOBA, ISO, wRC+ and several other categories. Kemp, according to, is third in baseball in WAR behind only Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes. Consider that Kemp has hit 50 homers in the last two seasons or 25 a season for an average. Half way through this season, he already has 22. He's poised to blow the doors off that average. Add to his home run total his 16 doubles and two triples and it's a monster season.

Kemp has already been intentionally walked ten times (which leads the National League). That does account in part of his career high in walk percentage. His strikeout percentage is slightly down from previous seasons and his plate discipline is better as he is swinging at less strikes out of the strike zone. His line drive rate is the highest of his career while his ground ball rate is at its lowest. Of course, his fly ball to homer ratio is off the charts. To boil it all down, Matt Kemp is killing the ball. Add to all of those nice offensive numbers the fact that he's stolen 21 bases in 24 attempts and that just adds to the wow factor.

So why then the heading of this post? Kemp reminds this writer of a more powerful Bernie Williams, a key member of the Yankees' title runs of the late 1990s and early aughts. Williams was a terrific offensive player, but he lost a lot of respect among analysts because he wasn't a great centerfielder, which is where Williams would play his entire career. In much the same way, Kemp's defensive ability in center detracts from how good a player he is. As good a season as Jose Reyes has had, there's no way that Reyes should be ahead of Kemp in WAR. But Kemp's defensive metrics are always in the negative numbers and this year is no different. In fairness, rates Kemp's defense more highly than Fangraphs. But the point is still valid.

According to scouting reports, Kemp gets a bad jump off the ball and has mediocre instincts. Some of his speed makes up for these lacks, but not enough. He's already made four errors in center and that really is way too many errors for an outfielder. The bottom line here is that Kemp's defense detracts and adds negative value to his off the charts offensive numbers. After several years in center now, you can't expect those fielding metrics to get better, can you?

If this writer ran the Dodgers, Tony Gwynn would be playing center every day, Kemp would move to left and young Jerry Sands would be playing first. James Loney just doesn't cut it there at first for the Dodgers and they should demote him, release him or trade him. Not only do you give the Dodgers a better defense this way, but you also clear those negative numbers off of Kemp's resume. As good as Kemp has been, it would be nice to not have to add at the end of all the superlatives, "Yes, but he's not a very good center fielder."

Game Picks - Tuesday: June 28, 2011

Yesterday's short schedule couldn't have been less kind to this picker. Blame it on interleague. Blame it on the picker being in Florida. Or more probably the case, just blame it on bad picking. Most laughable was the pick for the Twins. That couldn't have gone any worse as the Dodgers smacked them 15-0. Yeah, that was close. The Nationals ruined Davey Johnson's debut as they lost in extra innings. The Indians got two hits from Lonnie Chisenhall in his debut, so that was cool. But that was a bust of a pick too.

The only two correct picks were the Reds over the Bay Rays as Mike Leake shut down the team from St. Pete as predicted. And the Tigers beat the Blue Jays behind Max Scherzer and good relief pitching. That's the only two games where this picker seemed to have a clue.

Ah well, nothing to do but keep going. Another day of interleague intrigue. Oh goodie. The picks:

  • The Giants over the Cubs: Ryan Vogelsong continues his impressive season and wins the first game of a double-header. Doug Davis goes for the Cubs.
  • The Phillies over the Red Sox: No DH means no Big Papi. Cliff Lee beats Josh Beckett.
  • The Yankees over the Brewers: The Yankees are familiar with Zack Greinke. The Yankees are home. So it doesn't matter that Freddie Garcia is starting.
  • The Tigers over the Mets: R. A. Dickey averages giving up four runs a game to the Tigers in his career. The Mets may not score three against Rick Porcello in Tiger Stadium.
  • The Cardinals over the Orioles: The Cardinals are in a serious funk and face Zach Britton, who has good stuff. But Kyle Lohse has been their most consistent starter and they get an extra bat in the line up with the DH.
  • The Pirates over the Blue Jays: It feels so weird to pick the Pirates so often. But Kevin Correia has been great in interleague plays and the Pirates get another bat in the line up with the DH. Jo-Jo Reyes has bounced back nicely but the Pirates win.
  • The Reds over the Bay Rays: Hard to pick against David Price. But again, the Bay Rays don't score much at home and face Johnny Cueto, who has been excellent.
  • The Giants over the Cubs: Yeah, it's Barry Zito, back from the DL. Yeah, that doesn't sound like good news. But he's up against Rodrigo Lopez, who is infinitely worse.
  • The Rangers over the Astros: It's a night game so Josh Hamilton should be okay to hit. (eyeroll). No, the Rangers win at home as C. J. Wilson is simply better than Jordan Lyles.
  • The Dodgers over the Twins: A mini-hot streak last week notwithstanding, the problem is that the Twins simply aren't very good. Ted Lilly is a smart lefty who will know how to use the Twins' big ball park. Brian Duensing with the loss.
  • The Rockies over the White Sox: Jason Hammel hasn't been good of late, but he'll know what to do in Colorado more than Gavin Floyd will.
  • The Athletics over the Marlins: Javier Vazquez isn't quite the pushover anymore. His velocity has picked up over his last half dozen games. That makes him tougher. But he faces Gio Gonzalez, who is awfully darned good.
  • The Royals over the Padres: It's time for Felipe Paulino to win a game. The Padres will send Clayton Richard to the mound and he gives up a lot of hits.
  • The Nationals over the Angels: Joel Pineiro has been pedestrian while Jason Marquis simply keeps winning. The combination of Mike Morse and Ryan Zimmerman have been clobbering the ball. Davey Johnson wins his first.
  • The Mariners over the Braves: Has this picker been right on a Braves pick more than ten times this year? Don't think so. They are the most confusing team in baseball. Tommy Hanson is supposed to be coming off the disabled list to pitch this one. Michael Pineda has been awesome.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Diamondbacks over the Indians: Daniel Hudson wins his tenth game as the Indians give up too many runs with Josh Tomlin on the mound in a park where the ball will fly.

Yesterday: 2-6
Week: 10-13
Month: 194-170
Season: 630-537
Games of the Day: 56-33

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nothing Like the Yankees' Old Timers' Day

Hyperbole follows the New York Yankees whereever they go and as such, many things about the team are overblown and overstated. But Old Timers' Day is not one of them. Like it or not, the history of the Yankees is richer than most teams simply because of those 27 titles. And because the Yankees have played over the years in the number one media capital of the world, their players have the highest name recognition too.

There is nothing like Old Timers' Day in Yankee Stadium. Through the years, the spectacle has featured long-time greats like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. And even now, the team can trot out Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Don Larson of World Series perfect game fame. And with several generations of champions, the team can showcase the older stars already mentioned, stars from their 1970s champions and starting yesterday, even a few of the guys from the team's most recent titles like Joe Girardi and Tino Martinez.

No matter how much you may hate the team from the Bronx, they are the center of the baseball universe and their place in that firmament is cemented with this yearly spectacle that ties their past with their present. There is probably no team that instills its current players with the pride of the past more than the Yankees. There is this passing of the torch kind of thing that confirms to today's Yankees that they are the continuence of a long line of champions. Sure, other teams have Old Timers' Days, but they are not the same. The inner purpose is not the same.

In those other events, teams simply celebrate past players. This is as much for the fans as it is for anything else. The Yankees' version is deeper. Yes, it's for the fans. But again, it's also the passing of the torch aspect of years of titles. Plus, it sends a message to other teams that you are fighting history if you fight the Yankees.

Perhaps this writer is overstating things. In many ways, only the Yankees' bluster is bigger than their reality. Writers have a way of buying into that bluster and blowing things up larger than they are. But that doesn't seem to be the case in the Yankees' version of Old Timers' Day. This is the real deal. This is a true celebration. And it's a message that is louder than anything bluster can serve up to the rest of the league and to the media.

Game Picks - Monday: June 27, 2011

Another day of interleague play, another day just barely over .500. And it's not over! Geez, will it ever end. This will be the third week in a row, right? There were good moments yesterday, but not enough of them. Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay did what they were supposed to do. The Yankees won as expected. But the Fan got caught up by the Pirates. Livan Hernandez bit this picker again. The Rangers couldn't stop the Mets. This picker confused Dillon Gee with Alexi Ogando and jumped off the bandwagon. Surprise! There were simply too many things that went wrong for this picker to make headway.

There's only a light schedule for today. Here are the few games being played:
  • The Rockies over the Cubs: The Cubs are home and have Matt Garza on the bump. But the pick here is for Jhoulys Chacin to continue his dominating pitching.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: This must be a make up game because it sticks out on the schedule as a one game series. Max Scherzer should triumph at home over the Jays who go with Zach Stewart, who was pounded last time out.
  • The Reds over the Bay Rays: The Bay Rays don't hit as well at home. Jeremy Hellickson is good, but not unbeatable. And Johnny Cueto has been terrific.
  • The Twins over the Dodgers: The Twins resurgence was dealt a huge blow in Milwaukee as they got smoked out there. The Dodgers just can't seem to muster anything. Nick Blackburn over Chad Billingsley.
  • The Royals over the Padres: The Royals are a good fastball hitting club and face Matt Latos. Meanwhile, their Jeff Francis can bamboozle the Padres' offense for seven innings.
  • The Nationals over the Angels: John Lannon is starting to make believers as his last three starts have been terrific. Ervin Santana is so unpredictable though.
  • The Mariners over the Braves: Both teams will have trouble scoring with Brandon Beachy and Erik Bedard as the match up. Going with the Mariners at home.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Diamondbacks over the Indians: The Fan was wrong about the Indians being able to hang in there. They simply have fallen and can't get up. Today, the Fan's favorite pitcher, Ian Kennedy should beat them and Mitch Talbot.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 192-164
Season: 628-531
Games of the Day: 56-32

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: John Thorn's New Tome is Ultimately Disappointing

One of the great things about this writer's annual trip to Florida is that it provides a chance to catch up on some reading. The latest book completed on this trip was John Thorn's Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game published this year by Simon & Schuster. While the book includes some amazing research and photographs, the content is ultimately disappointing.

Part of the problem is that Thorn had too many great themes in mind when he wrote the book. The first was to bust the notion that Abner Doubleday "invented" the game of baseball in Cooperstown and how that myth was created in the first place. First of all, we all know that Doubleday did not invent the game, but through Thorn's amazing research, we get an understanding of how the myth came to be and why. The second grand theme was to show the early roots of the game and how it developed from several regional versions until the New York version of the game came to displace all others. The third great theme was to show how this simple game played more or less as an intramural type of thing became the game we know today. The fourth theme (you see what this author means?) was that gambling had a large part of the growth of the game. And finally, Thorn wants to present us with the idea that baseball was branded in religious, mythological and patriotic terms to make it something it never was.

That long paragraph succinctly shows how Thorn had too many thoughts in mind so that in the end, the book loses its way. It's not that Thorn doesn't pull a lot of it off. The book starts with the myth making of Abner Doubleday and that early start of the book was fascinating. We got to see how Albert Spalding and his 1905 "commission" led to the adoption of Doubleday as the creator of the game to the exclusion of other candidates. Thorn's research is thorough and we get to pursue other interesting characters like Louis Fenn Wadswroth. The detective work here is thrilling and very educational.

As is the next section of the book where Thorn--after discounting Spalding's commission's findings--goes on to give us a fascinating look at the earliest roots of the game. The regional aspects of "Base Ball" and the different rules used by each region were terrific sections. The pictures that accompanied Thorn's research were wonderful. We do get a wonderful sense of how the game developed over decades from a very early period in our history. Thorn's description of how the New York style of play ultimately eclipsed all other version of the game is also terrific.

Following this early history, Thorn then takes us on a tour of how the game changed from an amateur game to one played by professional athletes, the early formation of leagues and, in the end, the major leagues. It is in this section of the book that Thorn begins to lose us. For example, Thorn again tries to tie in one of his beliefs that the popularity of the game grew in large part because of gambling. While he makes a good case that gambling was prevalent in the early game (as it is to this day), Thorn never really wins his case that gambling propelled the game to the heights it attained.

There were so many times during this section of the book that the reader starts asking questions that never find their mark. Where did these teams play? Thorn mentions a few "enclosed parks," but what were they like? Who built them? Where were they? Thorn mentions "bare-handed fielders," but we never know how that turned into gloved fielders. We know that Albert Spalding, one of the central characters of the book, made his fortune by beginning to equip baseball, a game he had played and been such a large part of for decades. But we miss the evolution of things from the equipment standpoint.

Thorn does do a terrific job during this section in describing the formation of the leagues that were to become our "major" leagues. Thorn also paints a fascinating picture of how the reserve clause came into being and limited what had been a wide open world for players as they frequently jumped clubs before the clause. We got to see the early roots of the labor issue that would plague baseball for over a hundred years. That was well done indeed. We get a great history of how the leagues started as player associations and turned into owner-centric leagues as profit centers.

After bringing the history of the game to about 1890 or so, the book loses its way entirely. We spend perhaps the last seventy pages of the book back to the myth-makers We get far too much information on Albert Spalding and the Theosophy movement that helped create the religion and myth of Major League Baseball. Some of that background could have been covered in the early stages of the book and left there. In the end, we don't care anymore about Spalding, Templeton and other Theosophists and how baseball became our apple pie.

To more effectively pull this book off, Thorn could have begun the book with the myth and why it was created. He could have talked about the Spaldings and Templeton's and the rest who were responsible for the myth-making and then left them there. More time then could have truly been spent in "the secret history of the early game" and more development of rise of the early game to the game we know today.

This writer still recommends Thorn's book as the history that is effectively presented is extremely valuable. We get to meet some of the early great players. The research is fascinating as are the pictures that support the  research. It's simply too bad that Thorn got lost in too many cross-purposes and muddied things up to the point where the history is lost due to too much focus on the myth-makers. This writer sure wants to know a lot more about Wadsworth!

Game Picks - Sunday: June 26, 2011

The week did end on a positive note yesterday. But all it did was finish the week exactly at .500. That's the second straight week that has finished at that mediocre mark. But considering that we've had two weeks of interleague play, it's hard to complain. The coup of yesterday was picking the Pirates to beat the Red Sox. Those kinds of picks are like getting a birdie in golf. But unlike birdies, such picks don't count for anything on the scorecard.

The Royals and the Marlins both won. In the former game just mentioned, both starters did a good job and left with the score tied at two. Jeff Samardzija then came in and pitched a horrible inning and it cost the Cubs the game. In the latter game mentioned, Chris Volstad had the rare effective outing and drove in a run himself as the Fighting Fish scored four times to beat Jason Vargas and the Mariners. Both of those were losses on this picker's scorecard.

The Mets walloped the Rangers, which wasn't expected. Josh Hamilton and his blue eyes whiffed four times in the game. Golden Sombrero? Hiroki Kuroda couldn't get it done and the Angels beat the Dodgers again. Another bad pick. In the final bad pick of the day, Juan Rivera hit a three run homer off of Jaime Garcia which sunk the Cardinals. Lance Berkman has gone cold since Albert Pujols got hurt. Carlos Villanueva pitched very well for that win for the Blue Jays.

And here we are for a new week. It would be nice to get off of this .500 crap and get back to successful picking. Sunday's picks:

  • The Tigers over the Diamondbacks: We start off with a clunker as Joe Saunders matches up with Brad Penny. How awful is that match up? Cripes. Going with Penny at home.
  • The Pirates over the Red Sox: The Fan hates to admit this, but the Red Sox lose something without David Ortiz in the line up. Andrew Miller doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence either. John McDonald better be on his best behavior though.
  • The Reds over the Orioles: Homer Bailey returns (again) to pitch for the Reds. The Orioles counter with Jeremy Guthrie, who hasn't been effective for a while now.
  • The Phillies over the Athletics: Roy Halladay marches on like the methodical robot that he is. Josh Outman doesn't get enough outs in this one to matter.
  • The Yankees over the Rockies: The Yankees will make young Juan Nicasio throw too many pitches early in the game. Ivan Nova is this year's Phil Hughes. Not pretty, but he wins.
  • The Rays over the Astros: The Bay Rays are sneaking up on the AL East while the Red Sox fiddle around in Pittsburgh. Jeff Niemann over J. A. Happ.
  • The Royals over the Cubs: See what happens? The Royals finally get a win and the Fan expects them to win another. Talk about greedy, eh? Well, Luke Hochevar is going to have a good game and Randy wells will not. So there.
  • The Twins over the Brewers: Carl Pavano has his ERA all the way down to 4.05 after a horrible start. While Pavano has been heading in the right direction, Chris Narveson has been going the wrong way.
  • The White Sox over the Nationals: Wasn't Peavy amazing yesterday in relief? Wow! The White Sox ride that with another good performance from Phil Humber as the White Sox get to Livan Hernandez for enough runs to win.
  • The Cardinals over the Blue Jays: Very torn on this one. Kyle McClellan has been very good but so has Ricky Romero. Despite Romero's 2.98 ERA, his team has lost nine of his fifteen starts due to poor run scoring. But the Blue Jays are hitting better of late. Oh heck.
  • The Rangers over the Mets: Yeah, it's Dillon Gee's turn. But that magic spell was broken in his last start. Derek Holland has been terrific and that's what the Fan is counting on for this one. It is a day game, so watch out for Ol' Blue Eyes.
  • The Dodgers over the Angels: In the battle of the aces, Clayton Kershaw will beat Jared Weaver. Maybe. He's at home, so that's the pick.
  • The Giants over the Indians: The Giants are the most amazing team. They have nothing. And yet they keep winning those 1-0 and 2-1 games. Amazing. Madison Bumgarner gets the win over Fausto Carmona.
  • The Marlins over the Mariners: Anibal Sanchez is the Marlins' most effective pitcher and Doug Fister is the Mariners most unreliable. So there you go.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Padres: Cory Luebke? Uh, no. Going with Tim Hudson instead.

Yesterday: 9-6
Last Week: 45-45
Month: 184-157
Season: 620-524
Games of the Day: 65-32