Saturday, August 27, 2011

Angels Mess With Rotation Rest

The Angels have done their very best to make this writer look like a genius. Back when they were five games out and were losing a series to the Rangers, many said the season was over and the Angels were toast. In a post that became prophetic, this writer showed that a soft schedule compared to the Rangers could propel the Angels back into the race. And that's exactly what happened as the Rangers ran into a buzz-saw in Boston, the Angels climbed to within a game of the leader. After making this writer looks smart, they risk pulling the whole thing down with a (possibly) dumb decision.

In a decision that smacks a bit of desperation, the Angels have decided to pitch Ervin Santana and Jared Weaver on three days rest in their series in Texas this weekend. The move couldn't be more risky. First of all, as this writer has already pointed out, with the schedules of the two teams, this series isn't as important as they think. All they had to do was win one game in Texas to stay close and then beat all the weak teams they will be playing while the Rangers play teams like the Bay Rays, the Yankees and the White Sox. Santana would have still pitched in this series on Sunday instead of Saturday.

Instead, the Angels will risk less-than-normal performances from their two hottest pitchers with short rest and a wipe out of their 'tween game routine. It doesn't make sense. Again, the Angels are acting like this series means everything and it doesn't. Meanwhile, the Rangers are given the upper hand as they stay the course and keep their rotation intact as they play the Angels in their own ballpark.

Look, Jared Weaver and Ervin Santana are work horses who give you lots of pitches and lots of innings. But you would have to think there are only so many bullets in those guns. Why do this when this series isn't as critical as they think it is? Neither pitcher has ever pitched on three days rest. Weaver's amount of rest does not show much change whether he rests four days, five days or more, his stats stay pretty static. But Santana's career splits show him to be a better pitcher the more rest he gets. His ERA, batting average against and strikeout to walk ratios all get better from four days to five days to six days of rest. That's not encouraging to give him even less rest.

Perhaps the Angels will win these two games and come out smelling like roses. Perhaps this writer is all wet. The odds aren't with them though and this writer doesn't like the move at all. Again, it reeks of desperation and it's totally an unnecessary risk.

**UPDATE** The Angels won behind Santana, who wasn't sharp, but good enough to win. So there you go.

Game Picks - Saturday: August 27, 2011

Blurry hazel eyes opened this morning to a perfect blue sky and it seemed strange. For one thing, sunny days have been rare this season as hot temperatures have continued to push moisture up the funnel of the Jet Stream to dump record rains to northern Maine. Secondly, south of us by a day's drive, Irene will begin to batter New Jersey, New York and then the rest of New England. For once this summer, our location is a good thing.

Predicting games today ought to be a nightmare as MLB has totally messed up the schedule due to the storm on the East Coast. Yesterday was no picnic even without any disruptions. Once again, this sad picker stuck with the Yankees even though A.J. Burnett was pitching. Once again, that proved to be the most foolhardy of events. Picture that as a pick going out on an ocean jetty to watch hurricane waves. Yeah, that was stupid.

And then there was the Phillies' pick. That proved to be a dumb pick too along with the Rockies pick as once again, Jim Tracy left Esmil Rogers in the game an inning too long. That's the second time Tracy has spoiled a great outing by Rogers by asking more of the pitcher than he had in his tank. The Blue Jays pick was also bloody stupid. The Bay Rays jumped out to an early lead and then Jose Bautista argued balls and strikes and made sure it stayed that way. Son, you're the team's best player, you've got to stay in the game.

The Athletics pick over the Red Sox was pretty brilliant, but there weren't enough picks like that to make it a great day. It was just a mediocre day. So let's check out Saturday's wind blown schedule:

  • The Red Sox sweep the Athletics: The A's pitching staff is already gassed and now they have to play two today. The Red Sox feast on young pitching and they will feast on Guillermo Moscoso and Graham Godfrey. Jon Lester and Erik Bedard go for the Sox.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: It would be a shock if this game is played, but if it is, Roy Halladay will beat Anibal Sanchez.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: This picker must be stupid or something to go back to a bad well time after time. But Luis Sanchez was brilliant in his last start and the Blue Jays have killed Jeff Niemann in the past.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Matt Kemp, meet Kevin Millwood. Pad your 30/30 season, son. Chad Billingsley continues his confusing season.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: Justin Verlander pads his Cy Young credentials against the hapless Twins.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: Lance Berkman has had such a smile inducing season, hasn't he? Chris Carpenter has had more smiles in the second two-thirds of the season than he did in the first third. He beats Brad Lincoln.
  • The Indians over the Royals: Really want to pick the Royals here behind Danny Duffy. But the Royals are so mismanaged, it's silly. Fausto Carmona will pitch well and maybe Jim Thome will make an impact.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: The Brewers at home? Please! Yovani Gallardo over Ryan Dempster, whose road ERA looks A.J. Burnettish.
  • The Nationals over the Reds: Ross Detwiler is looking impressive and has already beaten the Reds once this season. Mike Leake is...well...leaking.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: The decision to pitch Ervin Santana and Jared Weaver on three days rest is not a good one. They will pay for that as they can't beat the Rangers. They can beat everyone else in the AL West and thus should have stuck with their regular rotation. C.J. Wilson wins at home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Aaron Harang is 6-0 on the road. But his ERA is a run higher than at home. He's not a good bet today as he faces Joe Saunders in Arizona.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Despite the MLB debut of Eric Surkamp, the Giants will beat Brett Myers and the Astros.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The White Sox over the Mariners: This should be a close game as John Danks faces Michael Pineda. But the White Sox win late with their bullpen.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 44-38
Month: 201-150
Season: 1075-891
Games of the Day: 90-54  fixed a typo that snuck in six days ago. Four straight bad picks here!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cano and Pedroia

Debates are fun and a good exercise in using the thought process to come to some sort of logical conclusion. The problem is that logic rarely enters into debates. The human animal is a highly emotional one and loyalties and biases almost always enter the debate process. This writer wishes he could have been around to hear the debates concerning Willie, Mickey and the Duke back in the fifties. The Robinson Cano - Dustin Pedroia debate must be quite similar. But there is a difference with this debate. Statistics.

Sure, they had statistics back in the 1950s. But few paid attention beyond batting average, runs batted in and homers. No Topps baseball card listed fielding stats or base running skills. Today we have logical and rational analysts giving us more dope than we've ever had before. That doesn't mean that fans of the Red Sox won't forever hold their "Pedey" in higher esteem than "Robby" and vice-versa. But now we can look at those emotional debates and try to make them logical. 

Obviously this post is not going to have any conversation about second basemen and leave out the fact that other teams have great second basemen too. There's Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendricks, Brandon Phillips and others. Chase Utley leads all second basemen in fWAR since 2005. To set the record straight, though, Ben Zobrist leads all second basemen in fWAR the last three years followed closely by Chase Utley. Cano and Pedroia are tied for third. But this post is about the debate of the rival Red Sox and Yankees, and two of the best players on either team happen to play second base. 

The two players on the second base side of the biggest rivalry in baseball are tied in fWAR for the last three years. But there is a catch to even that statement. Pedroia missed most of last year to injury giving him 88 fewer games played than Cano. Pedroia, of course was the MVP in 2008, so why didn't this Fan go back four years instead of three or even five years?. Good question without a good answer. See, you're getting the hang of this debate thing.

In case you want to go back all the way, here are the War Graphs for the two players courtesy of Fangraphs:

It's highly convenient that both players began their careers at the age of 22. As you can see on the chart, their first three years were nearly identical with a slight edge to Pedroia. Cano had a really bad year in his fourth year as the chart shows and he compiled nearly no WAR during that season. Since then, both players have solidly padded their WAR to the point that at this point in their careers, their accumulated value is still nearly identical. Pedroia has accumulated 24.7 WAR compared to Cano's 23.4. That's pretty darn close. Here are some career comparisons:
  • Batting average: Pedroia - .304, Cano - .308
  • On base percentage: Pedroia - .374, Cano - .347
  • Slugging percentage: Pedroia - .464. Cano - .491
  • wOBA: Pedroia - .368, Cano - .359
  • wRC+: Pedroia - 123, Cano - 119
  • ISO: Pedroia - .157, Cano - .186

Pedroia is much more patient at the plate and strikes out less. Cano has more power and puts slightly more balls in play. To say they are pretty even at the plate would be fair. Cano is rated a better base runner with five runs above average for his career and Pedroia slightly in the negative column for that statistic. From a different perspective, gives Cano a 24.9 O-WAR for his career compared to 19.5 for Pedroia. That site values Cano's offense higher.

The real separator for these two players is defense. For their careers, Fangraphs gives Pedroia a positive 38.4 runs above average for defense for his career. Cano, on the other hand, is massacred in the category with a negative 41.9 runs below average. That is a defensive difference of 80.3 runs! is much kinder to Cano on defense and the two players are closer in that category for their careers there.

But there is a strange sort of thing going on in the defensive numbers of the two players. Let's look at this year. Pedroia has made only four errors and Cano has made eight. But we know by now that fielding percentage tells us very little. Some of the other numbers leave this writer confused. For example, Cano has played one more game at second this season than Pedroia. Cano (according to B-R) leads all second basemen this season in putouts and assists. Cano also leads all second basemen in Range Factor 9 and Range Factor G. Cano has been a part of 78 double plays compared to Pedroia's 66. According to Fangraphs, Cano has made 43 plays outside his zone compared to Pedroia's 42. And yet, Pedroia is rated at the very top of fielding metrics for Fangraphs while that same site lists Cano as the second worse fielding full-time second baseman in baseball! This Fan doesn't quite get it (as has been stated many times before).

The value of these two players is so very close that it seems difficult to call. Both add different elements to their teams. Both are key performers. And both are similar in value statistically. It's a debate that is bound to rage for quite a few years to come. Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano? Which would you rather have?

Game Picks - Friday: August 26, 2011

This picker took it on the chin yesterday. Apparently it was opposite day because everything happened the opposite of what was expected. The Rangers lost with their second best pitcher to the Red Sox spot starter. The Cardinals finally won a game. The Astros beat the Giants to send the Game of the Day feature to its third straight loss. The Bay Rays couldn't score at all for Jeremy Hellickson. The Orioles swept the Twins. It was just a bad, bad day.

Friday needs to be redemption day. Here are Friday's picks:

  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Clay Hensley goes for the Marlins and he is capable of a good game. The Marlins got some of their offense back from the minors (ahem), but they are playing the Phillies, the best team in the NL. Roy Oswalt goes for the team from Philadelphia.
  • The Indians over the Royals: You have to give the Indians credit. They keep going out there and get players. But they will still come up short in the AL Central. Ubaldo Jimenez is due for a good game. Sheesh, Ubaldo. Felipe Paulino goes for the Royals.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Yeah, it's A.J. Burnett's turn in the rotation. Sigh. But the team just hit three grand slams! Tommy Hunter hasn't been effective since coming to the Orioles.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: In another battle of the "Ays," it's time for Henderson Alvarez to win his first major league game. James Shields has been regressing of late.
  • The Athletics over the Red Sox: Whoa! Have you lost your mind, Fan? Well...Gio Gonzalez is capable of shutting down the Red Sox and Tim Wakefield is capable of giving the A's some runs.
  • The Reds over the Nationals: Oh man! Two of the coolest reclamation projects pitching in the same game? Dontrelle Willis deserves to get a win. Come on, Reds! Make it happen. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang has been getting better with every start. Tough game.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Nobody believed this writer when he posted last week that the Angels still had a shot due to a softer schedule than the Rangers. And now look where we are now! For the Rangers to win this game, Derek Holland has to be at his finest. You know Dan Haren is going to pitch well.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Randy Wolf is 5-10 lifetime against the Cubs. But it won't matter as the Brewers will pound Rodrigo Lopez.
  • The Tigers over the Twins: Bye Jim Thome. Doesn't matter. The Twins are the worst team in the American League. Rick Porcello should win unless the Twins' pitcher can prove to be a Scott Diamond in the rough.
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: James McDonald only has to throw more strikes to become one of the best pitchers in the NL. He is that close. Jake Westbrook has been surprisingly effective.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Wade LeBlanc has won his last two starts, but Josh Collmenter has been effective for his last three. These are the games the D-backs have to win.
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: Charlie Furbush is a different pitcher in Seattle than anywhere else. Jake Peavy runs into a surprisingly hot Mariner offense.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: The Rockies are making their annual year-end run and face Ted Lilly who has been battling an assortment of ailments. Esmil Rogers will have to be good though.
  • The Giants over the Astros: J.A. Happ's season of misery continues as he faces Madison Bumbarner, the best  7-12 pitcher in baseball.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Mets: Tim Hudson has been terrific in his last two months. Chris Capuano is decent. The Braves should win.

Yesterday: 2-7  ouch
Week: 36-31
Month: 193-143
Season: 1067-884
Games of the Day: 90-43

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adam Dunn's Historic Season

How many players in the history of Major League Baseball have had more than 400 plate appearances and hit less than .170? That would be none. None. Ever. Adam Dunn has the chance to be the first. With 431 plate appearances, Adam Dunn is hitting an incredible .165. He's had 60 hits all season. Sixty! Derek Jeter has had 61 hits since July 1. But say that Adam Dunn gets hot in the last month of the season. How high could his batting average go?

Say Adam Dunn were to get 150 more at bats this season. That's really unlikely as he isn't playing much these days. But say he does and hits .400 the rest of the way. That would raise his season average to .233. That's a huge stretch. Say he hits .300 over those 150 more at bats. That would raise his season average to just .204. The odds are that Adam Dunn will finish the season with a batting average under .200. Even if he hits .280 the rest of the way, he would just finish at .198.

All those things are possible of course. But all are highly improbable. Dunn certainly won't play against left-handed pitchers. His average against southpaws is an astounding .037 in 98 plate appearances. Even Jorge Posada is hitting for a higher average against lefties. So Dunn will only play against pitchers who throw with the right hand. And he's only hitting .208 against them this season. The odds are really strong that Adam Dunn is going to hit below .200 for the season. But how low?

That will depend on how much he plays. The White Sox have been linked to Jim Thome recently in waiver wire dealings. If that happens, forget about Dunn playing at all. And if Dunn does not improve his batting average over the last five weeks, it will be the lowest in major league history.

Only two players have ever had more than 400 plate appearances and batted under .180. Dunn certainly has a shot at joining that list. The two seasons it's been done before are Rob Deer's .179 in 1991 for the Tigers and Dal Maxvill's .175 for the Cardinals in 1969. 

Adam Dunn's fall has been unprecedented. You have to feel for the guy and for Ozzie Guillen who has to decide what to do with him. Dunn's current OPS+ of 60 is not even half of his career 128. It will be interesting to watch (in a way a buzzard watches road kill) to see if Dunn can become the only player ever to bat less than .170 with more than 400 plate appearances. The odds are very good that he'll at least join Rob Deer and Dal Maxvill in their dubious place in history.

Dan Uggla's Historic Season

Has anyone in the history of Major League Baseball ever had a stranger season than Dan Uggla of the Atlanta Braves? First he was hitting historically bad and rivaled Adam Dunn as the most disappointing acquisition of the last decade. Then he rattled off a hitting streak that lasted over thirty games. Despite it all, Uggla has managed to hit the ball over the wall/fence thirty times this season. With a month left in the season, Uggla has an outside chance to add one more strange feat to his season. If he can do it (or not do it in this case), then he will do something done only five times in MLB history.

Hitting thirty homers in a season is not rare. We, as fans, tend to view the number with a bit of awe. But it's been done one thousand, one hundred and fifty seven times. That's a lot, right? So Uggla's thirty homers is awesome to those of us casually watching, but it's a rather pedestrian feat. But combine that number of homers with a batting average under .250 and an on base percentage under .310 and with less than 80 runs batted in? Well, only four other players in history have done that:

  • Ron Kittle (White Sox - 1984) - 32, .215, .295, 74
  • Jeremy Burnitz (Two teams - 2003) - 31, .239, .295, 77
  • Jose Valentin (White Sox - 2004) - 30, .216, .287, 70
  • Chris Young (Diamondbacks - 2007) - 32, .237, .295, 68

As you can see, there is no chance Uggla saves Chris Young from his fate at having the lowest number of RBIs in this list as Uggla stands at: 30, .230, .300, 66. Surely, Uggla will get three RBIs between now and the end of the season. Only three players have hit thirty homers and had less RBIs than Chris Young did in 2007. They were Hanley Ramirez (38, 66 in 2008), Rob Deer (32, 64 in 1992) and the immortal Felix Mantilla (30, 64 in 1964).

And it's the RBIs that might foul this list up before the season is over. Uggla needs only fifteen ribbies in the next month and a week to climb out of this historical list. Judging from his RBIs per games played, Uggla is on pace to reach 81 ribbies before the season is over. That would land him just outside this illustrious gang of four. But it's still possible for a couple of reasons. First, the Braves don't exactly excel in getting on base from the lead off and second positions in their batting order. Their lead off batters have a .313 OBP and their second place batters are even worse with an OBP of .293. Less runners on base leave fewer opportunities to drive runs in. But--and this is a big butt--the Braves did get Michael Bourn, who will get on base far more times than previous lead off batters for this team.

So yes, if anything fouls up Uggla's final inclusion on this list, it will the the RBIs. But say we get rid of RBIs and replace it with WAR. Uggla currently has compiled 1.2 of rWAR. If you look for seasons with more than 30 homers, less than a .250 average, less than a .310 on base average and a rWAR of less than 2.0 for a season, only fourteen players have ever done that. Dave Kingman did it four times! Others included: Steve Balboni, Mike Pagliarulo, Joe Carter, Mike Jacobs, Jeremy Burnitz, Chris Young, Ron Kittle, Tony Bautista, Cory Snider and Tony Armas. Uggla has a great chance at joining that exclusive group.

There's one other semi-exclusive group Uggla can join. Actually, he could rejoin it as he's already done it once already. Dan Uggla currently sports a .458 slugging percentage. Of all the players who have ever hit more than thirty homers in a season, only 43 of them finished with a slugging percentage under .470. Dan Uggla already did that in 2009. If his slugging percentage stays under .460 (which would be hard to fathom), only 29 players have done that with 30 or more homers. Ken Harrelson (.419) and Dave Kingman (.417) have the two lowest slugging percentages ever for players who hit more than 30 homers.

To say the least, Dan Uggla is having a season to remember. This writer isn't exactly sure he'll want to remember it though. But if he wants to feel better, he can just think about Adam Dunn.

Game Picks - Thursday: August 25, 2011

There was an old television show once called Eight Is Enough which by far was one of the most sickening bits of television ever. This picker hated that show and eight is most certainly not enough when you have sixteen picks to choose from. 

It was a most distressing day. The Yankees got Sorianoed again. Great job, Randy Levine, or whomever outranked and outflanked Brian Cashman to sign that useless relief pitcher. The Cardinals have fallen and can't get up. The Brewers actually lost, which gave the Game of the Day feature its second loss in a row. The Phillies actually lost to Mike Pelfrey? Say what? The Bay Rays won in extra innings. The Reds only split their double-header when they were supposed to sweep it. The Twins were an absolutely dumb pick. And bad defense and a hot Randy Wells beat the Braves. Eight incorrect picks out of sixteen.

There is a weak schedule in MLB today as only nine games are on the schedule. That's the fewest games in a day in quite a long time. Thursday's picks:

  • The Yankees over the Athletics: The Yankees have been buzz-sawed so far by a very hot Oakland team. Phil Hughes needs to stop the bleeding. The Yankee bats (outside of Derek Jeter) have been missing. Rick Harden will try to keep it that way.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Let's try this one more time. Francisco Liriano should be better than Jo-Jo Reyes in a battle of bad teams.
  • The Bay Rays over the Tigers: Jeremy Hellickson is pitching well and should be better than Doug Fister of the Tigers. Will the Rays score enough? That's a good question.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: Brandon Beachy and Matt Garza have both pitched well. If the two pitchers cancel each other out, the better team is the Braves.
  • The Nationals over the Diamondbacks: Wade Miley didn't have much going for him in his first start against the Braves. The Nationals have good right-handed hitting to counter the lefty. John Lannon is a marginal major league pitcher, but has a pristine record against the D-backs (SSS).
  • The Blue Jays over the Royals: This was one of the best calls yesterday. Said the Jays would hit two homers and they hit two homers. This picker sees at least one more today off of Jeff Francis. Brett Cecil goes for the Blue Jays.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Andrew Miller isn't fooling many people and batters are hitting him at a .304 clip. He's the weakest link in the Red Sox armor. Alexi Ogando needs to be really good though.
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: The Cards need to show some life before this picker can pick them again. Edwin Jackson is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Charlie Morton has beaten the Cardinals earlier this season.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Astros: Henry Sosa is the sacrificial lamb as he is pitching on three days rest. He won't last but a few innings. Meanwhile, after a rough last outing, Ryan Vogelsong needs to get back in the win column.

Yesterday: 8-8
Week: 34-24
Month: 191-136
Season: 1065-877
Games of the Day: 90-42

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come Forth, Lazarus

Admit it. We are all suckers for redemption stories. There have been several this season and two just this week. On Sunday, Jerome Williams got his first win since 2005 and on Wednesday, Sean Burroughs rose from the dead and hit his first home run since 2005. Six years is an awful long time in baseball years and for both players to make those accomplishments after so long a period of time was beautiful to see. Both players have had long roads against heavy odds. But here they are in the majors and on teams fighting for division titles. How cool is that?

Since it happened earlier, let's talk first about Jerome Williams. Williams was once a first round draft pick and was the 39th pick overall in the 1999 draft for the San Francisco Giants. There is a bit of an unsolved mystery in his page. Their pages always list the high school the player attended and if any, the college. Williams has his high school listed and is also listed as attending Southeastern Louisiana University. But the site goes on to list Williams playing in the minors in the Giants' system in 1999 as a 17 year old. How does that all work? Either there is a possibility that something is amiss with his listed age or something there.

And that mystery kind of sums up Williams' professional history. It reads like a road map. After landing in Baseball America's top 50 prospects in 2001, 2002 and 2003, the pitcher got a call up from the Giants in the 2003 season and made 21 starts for that team. To be honest, this writer doesn't remember him at all. And that's odd because in 2003, the Giants were under intense media focus with Barry Bonds. Williams did pitch well that season and finished at 7-5 with an ERA of 3.30. He made 22 more starts with the Giants in 2004 and went 10-7. Not a bad start to the young man's career, right? But there were signs that something wasn't quite right. His ERA, WHIP, HR/9 all went up while his K/9 went down.

Jerome Williams' luck ran out in 2005 and he started 0-2 for the Giants and they traded him to the Cubs with David Aardsma for for LaTroy Hawkins and cash. Williams pitched fairly well for the Cubs in 2005 and went 6-8 with them with a 3.91 ERA. But his K/9 was down to 5.0. His diminished strikeout totals lead this author to believe that Williams wasn't right at the time but as happens many times, kept pitching. He started badly for the Cubs in 2006 but then pitched a brilliant game against the Mets. But in that game, he sprained an ankle and went on the disabled list. When he returned, he got cuffed around and was diagnosed with a rotator cuff problem. When he did pitch that season, it was in the minor leagues in the Cubs' system.

Here is a timeline for Williams' wanderings after that season:

  • 2006 - Cubs released him. Claimed by the A's. Non-tendered. Free agent.
  • 2007 - Signed by the Nationals. Pitched mostly in the minors but made six MLB starts. Went 0-5 with an era over seven. Released August 5. August 8, signed a minor league contract with the Twins.
  • 2008 - Signed a contract with an independent minor league team in April. Contract purchased by the Dodgers in June. Signed by the A's in December. Played winter ball in Puerto Rico.
  • 2009 - Pitched in the minors for the A's Played winter ball in Puerto Rico.
  • 2010 - Pitched for Uni-President Lions in Taiwan.
  • 2011 - Signed a minor league contract with the Angels in June. Pitched in the minors until his contract was purchased by the Angels.

And the rest is history. That's quite a story!

Sean Burroughs is another story worth telling. His father is Jeff Burroughs who was a slugger in the majors for sixteen seasons. Jeff compiled 240 homers in his career and finished with a 121 career OPS+. He also won an MVP award for his play for the Rangers in 1974. In all honesty, that's an award he should not have won as several players actually had better seasons. But anyway, the father was a good ball player.

Jeff Burroughs again made the spotlight when he coached the Long Beach, California Little League team to championships in 1992 and 1993. His star pitcher was none other than Sean Burroughs. This author can remember those championships and watched the young Burroughs pitch. He was amazing. Sean Burroughs even appeared on the David Letterman Show. 

Not surprisingly, Sean Burroughs was drafted by the San Diego Padres as the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 1998 June amateur draft. For three years running, from 2000 to 2002, Burroughs was among Baseball America's top ten prospects in the country. The Padres called him up in 2002 and in 63 games, batted .271 with a .317 OBP but with no power. 

The latter was Burroughs' problem with Padres fans. Unlike his father, Sean Burroughs was never a power hitter. His .445 slugging percentage in the minors was mostly due to other extra base hits besides homers. When a fan base has high expectations for a first round draft pick, they expect power, especially in a third baseman. But that wasn't Sean Burroughs' game plus he played half his games in the cavernous park in San Diego.

Burroughs hit .286 and .298 in full time duty for the Padres in 2003 and 2004. But his OPS was only .755 and .713 in those two seasons. To Padres, his nickname became, "The Bachelor" because all he hit were singles. 2005 saw him lose playing time and in 93 games, only hit .250 with an OPS of .618. The Padres traded him to the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays after that season for Dewon Brazelton, a pitcher who ended up with an 8-25 record in MLB and is now out of baseball. In fairness to Burroughs, the Tampa team didn't give Burroughs much of a shot in 2006. They only gave him eight games and 25 plate appearances. He only got four hits and they dispatched him. He was designated for assignment in August of 2006.

Burroughs allegedly had a substance abuse problem following his Devil Rays days and supposedly was living in Las Vegas and eating out of garbage cans. Burroughs claims to have been clean since 2010 and began his comeback after years out of baseball. The Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league contract in November of 2010 and he began this season in Reno. He was called up to the Diamondbacks on May 19, but after a month, the Diamondbacks designated him for assignment. After he passed through waivers, he went back to Reno. All told in Reno, Burroughs hit .412 in 34 games with a .450 OBP. He even hit two homers there.

The Diamondbacks had enough of Melvin Mora and released him and called Burroughs back up on July 1 and has played for them since. But then last night, he hit a two-run homer accounting for the only runs of the game for the Diamondbacks. Those two runs, along with the pitching of Ian Kennedy, allowed the Diamondbacks to end a six game losing streak and keep their position in first place in the NL West. It was an amazing moment for a guy who hadn't hit a major league homer in six seasons. And for the homer to win a game for a team fighting to win a division, it couldn't have been sweeter.

Yes, we are suckers for redemption stories. This season of Ryan Vogelsong and others have made it a year rich with such stories. Jerome Williams and Sean Burroughs made it all the sweeter as they too added their own stories. Risen from the dead, Williams and Burroughs made this writer smile. Good for them...and us.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 24, 2011

Even good days can leave a little sour spot on the tongue. The Yankees rallied back from a 6-0 deficit and game within three feet of a grand slam that would have won the game. They had the bases loaded with one out (Jeter's sacrifice bunt with no outs and a man on first and second was a controversial decision) and two of their best run producers coming to the plate and fell short. The real concern from this game was Bartolo Colon. Has the charm worn off? Perhaps.

That game was offset though by a four run rally by the Reds to beat the Marlins in the ninth inning. That had to be heartbreaking for Marlins' fans. And the writer's man-crush of Ian Kennedy had a very satisfying night in that regard. Here is a breakdown of the picks:

  • Good picks: Split double-header, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Braves, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Padres.
  • Stupid picks: Rangers, Blue Jays, Bay Rays and Astros.
  • Lucky picks: Reds.
  • Unlucky picks: Yankees. Almost.

For the second straight day there will be sixteen games on the schedule as the Reds and Marlins play two. How cool is 32 games in two days? Add in six days games today and that's a bonanza. The picks:

  • The Mariners over the Indians: Carp and Wells give the Mariners' line up a different feel. Ichiro is hitting some and Felix Hernandez is on the mound. Add all that up and you get an Indians' loss. Josh Tomlin pitches for the Indians.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Does Terry Collins really want to pitch Mike Pelfrey against the Phillies again? Seriously? Kyle Kendrick with the win.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: Rolled this game over several times. The Cardinals look dead, but Jaime Garcia is still tough to pick against at home, even if Hiroki Kuroda is pitching very well.
  • The Rockies over the Astros: Are the Astros really going to pitch Wandy Rodriguez against the team that is trying to trade for him? Isn't that a conflict of interest? If this author was Wandy, the decision to pitch half his games in Coors would be a no. Aaron Cook goes for the Rockies and has a stake in these proceedings too.
  • The Reds sweep the Marlins: The combo of Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey beat Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Daniel Hudson has regressed some after a good first half. Livan Hernandez is always a threat to rise up and have a good game.
  • The Red Sox over the Rangers: Josh Beckett has been strong but needs to keep the ball in the park. Matt Harrison is 2-0 lifetime against the Red Sox but has an ERA against them of 5.68. David Ortiz might be back.
  • The Yankees over the Athletics: C.C. Sabathia at home against the A's seems like a lock. Trevor Cahill does not pitch well at the new Yankee Stadium. Then again, Cahill hasn't pitched well at all this second half.
  • The Blue Jays over the Royals: Ricky Romero has been one of the hottest pitchers in baseball and no one has noticed. Luke Hochevar gives up a couple of dingers.
  • The Tigers over the Bay Rays: The big Tiger hitters should see a few flat fastballs from Wade Davis but Max Scherzer has to pitch well for the Tigers.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: The Braves win either because of or despite Derek Lowe. Randy Wells gets the start for the Cubbies.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Jeremy Guthrie has a real shot at losing 20 games this season. Kevin Slowey isn't a great pick, but a 20-loss season hasn't been seen for quite a while.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: You have to give Ozzie Guillen credit for his team playing .500 ball despite the bunch of players that he has. Zach Stewart is going to be a good pitcher. Part of his learning process will be watching Jared Weaver carve up his teammates.
  • The Giants over the Padres: Tim Stauffer is very, very good. But Tim Lincecum should win this game and shut down the Padres.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Ho hum, another Brewers win. Shaun Marcum goes for the Brewers against Aaron Thompson filling in for Kevin Correia.

Yesterday: 11-5
Week: 26-16
Month: 183-128
Season: 1057-869
Games of the Day: 90-41

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Phillies Should Tie Up Jimmy Rollins

While the Philadelphia Phillies continue to pave their way to the post season with win after win, it may be a bit premature to be talking about off-season concerns. But that's what's on this writer's mind this morning, so there it is. Once their post-season concludes (Will they win their second title in four years?), they have a Jeter-like decision to make concerning Jimmy Rollins. Rollins isn't as old as Derek Jeter, but at the age of 33 when he plays next season, he's no spring chicken either and he's shown some durability issues in the last couple of years. What should the Phillies do?

First off, the Phillies have no one to replace Rollins. None of their top prospects are shortstops. Well, you could include Freddy Galvis, who is as good as Rollins defensively but shows no promise of being able to hit. Though in fairness, his bat did improve this year in Double A. Wilson Valdez has filled in for Rollins during previous injuries, but Valdez doesn't hit consistently and isn't nearly the fielder that Rollins is. So who else is there? Their Triple A shortstop has a .588 OPS and a .957 fielding percentage. Ugh. There won't be any shortstops worth obtaining on the market. Rollins is the team's best option.

Rollins has been underpaid. Jimmy Rollins has been quite a bargain for quite a few years now. Even last year, a decidedly off year for Rollins, he still earned more with his play than his salary paid him. And for most of the last six years, his play was worth double and triple what his paycheck paid him. And that includes this year.  While it would be nice to keep that reality, the fact is that Rollins is going to get paid, if not by the Phillies, then by someone else. He's earned it.

The major stumbling block will be the length of the contract Rollins will ask for. Rollins will be looking for terms that will seal his earnings potential for the rest of his career. Anything longer for the Phillies than four years would be troubling. A way out for the team would be a four year deal with mutual options for two years after that. That way, if Rollins deteriorates, the Phillies have an out while protecting Rollins with a buyout.

Shortstops are valuable commodities. And Rollins hasn't lost anything in the field. He still runs well and has some pop left in his bat. He's certainly not a lead off batter anymore (if he ever was). But shortstops, especially when they have been a face of your franchise and highly underpaid for years, should be kept. The Phillies, as they are currently constructed, could compete for several more years with their core of players. Jimmy Rollins should remain among that core.

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 23, 2011

Yesterday's picks would have been fantastic if honesty wasn't the best policy. The Brewers and Pirates played a double-header. This picker predicted they would split their games. They did. And this picker didn't call which game would be which. But if you look at yesterday's picks, this picker did hint strongly that it would be the Greinke game that the Brewers would win. So, alas, in the name of full disclosure, this picker is taking them both wrong. Sigh, sometimes it sucks to be honest.

There were only two other bad picks. The Indians are sinking fast and lost again last night. Please get this picker off their bandwagon! Yeah, the pick was unlucky as it included a blown save based on bad defense, but still. The other bad pick was picking the Twins over the Orioles in a battle of bad teams. But in such a battle of also-rans, those things can happen.

All the other picks were correct including brilliant picks for the Nationals, Rangers, Dodgers and Tigers. Well, the Dodger pick was kind of lucky. The Cardinals should have won, but Tony LaRussa over-managed that puppy and the dogs got out.

Tuesday is back to a full schedule and the games should go like this:

  • The Mariners and Indians split their double-header: That's all this picker is going to say. There will not be a repeat of yesterday!
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Man, what to do when two of this picker's favorite pitchers are pitching in Ian Kennedy and Jordan Zimmermann? The Diamondbacks are way overdue for a win and need one badly.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Marco Estrada pitched really well in his first start, so this picker will stick with that, especially with Ross Ohlendorf making his first start back from the DL and minors.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Jonathan Niese is 2-2 against the Phillies this year. That's the good news. The bad news is that he is 0-2 and has been hammered in Citizen's Bank Park. Vance Worley with the win.
  • The Blue Jays over the Royals: Brandon Morrow should shut down the young Royals and the Blue Jays should park a couple off of Bruce Chen.
  • The Yankees over the Athletics: Bartolo Colon's cape has become ragged of late. But the Yankees usually beat the A's, especially at home. Brandon McCarthy gets the start for the A's. Everywhere you look, there is a Brandon.
  • The Reds over the Marlins: This picker is done picking Ricky Nolasco. Done! Going with Johnny Cueto.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: Mike Minor has been great since returning from the minors. The Braves should get to Casey Coleman.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Tough call here. Both teams can mash. The Red Sox are missing a couple of key guys and their starter, John Lackey, has an ERA over six. But Colby Lewis has an ERA over five lifetime against the Red Sox. Could be a high scoring game!
  • The Orioles over the Twins: The Twins are the island of misfit toys and can only hope that Santa can fix them in December. The Orioles aren't much better. The match up of Alfredo Simon and Brian Duensing doesn't shoot fireworks off either...or maybe that's exactly what they will do.
  • The Dodgers over the Cardinals: TLR frittered away yesterday's win and today faces Clayton Kershaw, the hottest pitcher in baseball. All Kyle Lohse can try to do is keep up.
  • The Astros over the Rockies: In Bud Norris, the Astros should have a pitcher that keeps them in the game. If the Astros can get to Alex White, they have a chance to win.
  • The Angels over the White Sox: Another tough game to call as Mark Buehrle and Ervin Santana have been good this season. Going with the power of Santana at home.
  • The Padres over the Giants: Just a hunch here that Matt Latos will shut down the Giants so much that it won't matter what Matt Cain does.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Bay Rays over the Tigers: Brad Penny is 0-3 lifetime in Tropicana Field and faces David Price fresh off of a big outing.

Yesterday: 7-4
Week: 15-11
Month: 172-123
Season: 1046-864
Games of the Day: 90-50   Forty games over .500!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Game Picks - Monday: August 22, 2011

Sunday was a kissing-your-sister kind of day. Yes, it was over .500, but just barely. There were lots of stupid picks and a couple of unlucky ones. Ubaldo Jimenez let this picker down (and his team) badly again. His season is officially in the disappointing category no matter what happens here on out.  The picks broke down thusly:

  • Smart Picks: Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals (the Game of the Day pick), Braves, Rockies and the Padres.
  • Stupid Picks: Indians, Athletics, Rangers (oh yeah) and Orioles.
  • Lucky Picks: Brewers and Bay Rays.
  • Unlucky Picks: Phillies (rain ends Halladay's day early), Pirates (blown save) and the Astros. The Astros had them! Oh well.

There are eleven games on Monday's schedule including a day/night double-header in Pittsburgh. The picks:

  • The Brewers and Pirates split their double header: Narveson is coming off the DL and faces Jeff Karstens in the first game. Zack Greinke should continue his dominance in the second game over emergency starter, Brad Lincoln.
  • The Nationals over the Diamondbacks: The Nats are on a semi-roll including a big win over the Phillies yesterday. Ross Detwiler is not an elite pitcher, but he is solid and keeps his team in the game. Joe Saunders faces tough right-handed batters in the Nats' line up.
  • The Indians over the Mariners: The Indians had a tough weekend against Detroit but Fausto Carmona has pitched much better of late. Meanwhile, Jason Vargas has been lit up lately.
  • The Tigers over the Bay Rays: Great pitching match up of Justin Verlander versus the very hot Jeff Niemann. You just can't pick against Verlander these days.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: The Rangers' right-handed bats should neutralize Erik Bedard and C.J. Wilson pitches well at home and faces a Red Sox line up without Ortiz and Youkilis.
  • The Twins over the Orioles: Hard to know what to expect from Zach Britton coming off the disabled list. Carl Pavano seems like a safer pick. Ugh.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: The Cubs have been playing much better, but Jair Jurrjens gets back on track with this one and beats Ryan Dempster, who is good at home.
  • The Dodgers over the Cardinals: The Cardinals can't seem to keep a good thing going. Chris Carpenter has been much better but not dominant. Nathan Eovaldi has opened eyes for the Dodgers. If the young pitcher can hold down the Brewers' line up, he can do the same with the Cardinals.
  • The Rockies over the Astros: Jhoulys Chacin will have to be on, but he should beat the Astros and Brett Myers.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Mets: Dillon Gee is the Mets' good luck charm, but they will need more than luck against Cliff Lee.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 165-119
Season: 1039-860
Games of the Day: 89-50

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Fleck of Gold in the Padres Season

If one can imagine hard enough, one can almost understand what it must have felt like to pan gold during the gold  rush days. Endlessly dipping that little tray into the sand at the bottom of a stream and then sifting it. They had to be endlessly optimistic sifting through all that debris with hope that something would...well...pan out. Sifting through the box scores is a little like that. Day after day, this writer dips his little tray into the sand in hopes that something shiny will remain once the silt slips through the screen. This writer found a nugget today and his name is Cory Luebke.

Cory Luebke pitches for the San Diego Padres. Way back in 2007, Luebke was a first round draft pick (he was selected sixty-third in that round) for the Padres and he's slowly worked his way up the Padres' system. Despite his high draft pick, those who evaluate talent haven't been too high on him. Luebke hasn't appeared in Keith Law's Top 100 picks or in his Top Ten Prospects for each organization. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the twelfth best prospect in the Padres system. Of BP's comments on Luebke, they said this: "A tall left-hander, Luebke combines plus command with average stuff and could fit in the back of the rotation down the road."   **Keith Law's work and Baseball Prospectus are both pay services.

It appears that road arrived at our doorstep. This writer knows what you are thinking! He pitches half his games in that pitcher's paradise in San Diego. True. But as we shall see, there's much more to this story than such simple answers.

Before we get into how Luebke is doing in the major leagues, let's talk first about his minor league experiences. For a guy with average stuff, Luebke has won at every level and the higher he went, the more successful he was. In 74 minor league starts (he also relieved ten times along the way), Luebke went 32-17 which translates to a .653 winning percentage. His WHIP was 1.145 in A ball, 1.085 in Double A and 1.025 in Triple A. His ERA in Double A was 2.95 and was 2.97 in Triple A. During his time in those two levels, Luebke went 13-3.

And the command part is certainly correct. For his entire minor league career, Luebke walked 2.1 batters per nine innings while striking out 7.5 in those same nine innings. During that time, his homers per nine was 0.7. His hits per nine covering all levels was 8.4, but it was 6.6 in Triple A. That's all pretty good stats for a guy who projects to having average stuff.

Now let's flash forward to his 2011 season in the majors. After getting a cup of coffee last year, Luebke won a job with the Padres coming into the 2011 season. But he was put in the bullpen. Two of his first four outings were rough and after four appearances, his ERA was a balloon-like 11.37. Luebke then went twelve straight appearances without giving up a run covering sixteen innings and he brought his ERA down to 3.22. Two of his next four appearances were negative.

Luebke had earned some of Buddy Black's trust though and he graduated to the back end of the bullpen and he racked off another nine straight scoreless appearances. Three of those resulted in holds. His ERA was by then down to 3.03. Luebke then pitched in long-relief on June 20 and gave up two runs in three plus innings.

Injuries and ineffective starts by the Padres' season-opening rotation started taking their toll and Luebke was forced into the rotation as the Padres really didn't have any other options. That turned out to be a great idea for the Padres.

In Luebke's first two starts against the Braves and the Mariners, he pitched eleven innings and gave up three hits and no runs. He got a no-decision and a win. He then pitched a quality start (six innings, two runs) against the Giants and lost. He pitched again against the Giants on July 16 and pitched seven innings and gave up two runs and won. The Luebke lost three straight starts but didn't pitch all that badly against the Phillies, the Diamondbacks (they were not then) and the Dodgers. He gave up eleven runs in twenty and two-thirds innings and his ERA was back up to 3.21.

Luebke has pitched very well since then. In his last four starts, he's won twice and had two no-decisions. The Padres won all four of those games. All told, Luebke has made eleven starts. The Padres have won seven of those starts though Luebke has gone 4-4 in those games. He has pitched 66 and a third innings in those starts and has give up 20 runs in those innings. That comes out to a 2.71 ERA. In those 66.1 innings, he's given up only 48 hits and 14 walks and two hit batters for a WHIP right around one. He's also struck out 69 batters in those starts. Again, not bad for a guy with average stuff. His strikeout to walk ratio as a starter is an impressive 4.92.

And what of his average stuff? Well, he is averaging between 91 and 92 MPH on his two types of fastballs. Between some pretty good velocity and his command and movement, Fangraphs has rated his fastball thus far  for the season at 23.5 runs above average. His slider is also above average. His curve and change up aren't plus pitches, but he only throws them some 6.7 percent of the time (combined). Luebke's been terrific at inducing batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone at a very high 35 percent. Some eleven percent of his pitches result in swing and misses. Compare that to someone like Wade Davis, who has a 5.5 percent swing and miss rate. His swing and miss rate is slightly higher than Jeremy Hellickson's!

Oh! This writer promised you some information that his pitching isn't so great because of his home ballpark. If you check his home/road splits, Cory Luebke has given up an OPS against of .634 at home. That's great! But his OPS against on the road is a miserly .484!

What prompted this little nugget of a post was Sunday's outing for Luebke. It became one of his signature games. He pitched six innings, gave up only three hits against no walks and struck out eight. His only run allowed was on a solo homer by Mike Stanton. The bullpen blew the lead for him, but the Padres came back to win the game in walk off fashion. Sure, it was against the weak-hitting Marlins, but even so. Starts like that are pure gold. Sometimes, pitchers like Cory Luebke force a team's hand and despite not lighting up a prospect evaluation, simply know how to pitch competitively. Luebke has done that all through his professional career and is now doing it in the majors.

Game Picks - Sunday: August 21, 2011

After whistling a happy tune for most of the week, these lips have gone dry and silent. The Yankees and Red Sox both lost. The Astros beat the Giants again. The Rangers lost to the White Sox. So the teams with the three best records in the AL all lost. How many times has that happened? The Blue Jays were probably a stupid pick. The Indians were definitely a stupid pick. The Orioles almost made a pick look brilliant but lost in extra innings. Oh yes, and for the record: A.J. Burnett's got to go.

Sunday is a fresh slate and a new week. The month is still looking good as is the season. The Game of the Day feature has been amazing. Sunday's picks:

  • The Indians over the Tigers: The struggling Ubaldo Jimenez should like pitching at Comerica Park and should beat a struggling Rick Porcello.
  • The Brewers over the Mets: Remember when the Brewers couldn't win on the road? Yovani Gallardo should beat R.A. Dickey.
  • The Braves over the Diamondbacks: The D-backs could quite possibly win the NL West, but they have shown against the Braves that they aren't an elite team. Josh Collmenter with the loss and Tim Hudson with the win.
  • The Pirates over the Reds: Mike Leake is usually a good pick, but he is facing John McDonald, who has been having a very good season.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Is there anyway that the Nationals and Chien-Ming Wang can beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies? Nope.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: James Shields finishes off the Mariners for a very good series for the Rays. Michael Pineda will not be a factor.
  • The Astros over the Giants: We have two starters with ERA's over six. How can you pick that? Henry Sosa faces his old team and the Astros are at home. Let's go with that.
  • The Red Sox over the Royals: Jon Lester shouldn't need Matt Albers to come in and blow this game. Lester might even go all the way in this win over Danny Duffy.
  • The Yankees over the Twins: Will A-Rod play? Is Ivan Nova the Yankees' version of Dillon Gee? Tune in at two o'clock. Nick Blackburn goes for the Twins.
  • The Rangers over the White Sox: Derek Holland has been very good in most of his starts. Gavin Floyd has been very good the first time through a batting order. It's the second time through where he struggles.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: Can you believe this picker is picking the Rockies with Kevin Millwood starting? Egads, man! But Chad Billingsley is horrible at Coors Field. Just horrible.
  • The Orioles over the Angels: Not a ringing endorsement for Brian Matusz in this game. But the Angels are starting Triple A pitcher, Jerome Williams.
  • The Padres over the Marlins: Great line on Twitter last night from @LoMoChimp: "Marlins, the Padres are calling. #Haveyournumber." Rich, but true. Cory Luebke finishes the Marlins off. Anibal Sanchez can't buy a win.
  • The Athletics over the Blue Jays: The A's seem to have the Blue Jays' number as well. Guillermo Moscoso should beat Luis Perez, normally a reliever making a spot start.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: The Cards keep losing series, but they always manage to win at least one game. Jake Westbrook beats Rodrigo Lopez.

Yesterday: 7-8
Last Week: 55-39
Month: 157-112
Season: 1031-853
Games of the Day: 88-50