Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brandon Morrow Apologetica

Brandon Morrow hasn't gotten a lot of love here from this particular writer. He has often been picked against on the game picks feature and to be honest, he's been picked on a bit on the Twitter side of things too. And to be honest, he can be a frustrating pitcher akin to Matt Latos of the Padres. Big time arms like theirs don't always harness that power to the kind of results you'd expect. But Brandon Morrow just crushed the hopes of the Tampa Bay Rays last night with a gutty and big time performance. Again, there were too many pitches early and four walks too many, but Morrow was otherwise sensational and perhaps that in itself is the guy in a nutshell.

Brandon Morrow seems to know no middle ground. He averages less than six innings a start. He has a rather high home run per nine inning rate, but perhaps that can be understood by pitching half his games in that dome in Toronto. He's given up four or more earned runs in nine of his twenty-nine starts. His home park seems to be part of his problem. Morrow has a 5-8 mark at home with a 6.31 ERA. On the road, he is 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA. The equation seems simple, when he gives up a homer, he loses. When he doesn't, he wins. In his eleven wins, not a single homer allowed. In his eleven losses, fifteen dingers allowed. In eleven wins, a 2.07 sparkling ERA. In his eleven losses, a crushing 8.63 ERA. In no decisions, his ERA is just above league average.

So we're talking about a guy who is either very, very good or not depending on the date and the location. His strikeout rate remains constant at home or on the road. Every other home/road split is eye-catching. His BABIP at home is .349. On the road it's 2.44. His OPS against at home is .794. On the road it's .589. Since he fares so poorly at home, he has become sort of a whipping boy to the home town crowd. And that's unfortunate.

Morrow's statistics are still arresting. In his last 55 starts covering a two year period, Morrow has struck out 374 batters in 319.2 innings pitched. His FIP this season is -1.21 to his actual ERA. His xFIP is even better. His swinging strike percentage was higher than his career average this season and his first pitch strikes were the highest of his career. His infield pop up rate was also the highest of his career.

Brandon Morrow has more talent than most pitchers in baseball. Perhaps the frustration comes from not seeing him put it all together. He's only 27. There is still time for that to happen. First, he has to learn how to beat his home park. He needs to go deeper in games and if he can do those two things, he can be the pitcher we all want him to be. To be sure, there would be 29 other teams that would love to have him. Perhaps next season will be the one where we see what Brandon Morrow can really do.

The Diamondbacks Are a Lovely Story

Isn't it sort of refreshing that four of the six divisions will feature a different division champion than the previous season? The World Champion San Francisco Giants will not repeat or even make the playoffs. The Reds were never a factor. The Bay Rays will not win their division again nor make the playoffs and the Tigers ended the long hold the Twins have had on the AL Central. There are a ton of great stories in there. Jim Leyland has done a wonderful job with the Tigers. Joe Girardi did a wonderful job getting the Yankees were they are. Milwaukee is loving their Brew Crew. But the story that captivates this writer more than any is the division title from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

First of all an admission. This writer did unequivocally state before the season that Kirk Gibson was the wrong guy for the Diamondbacks. If ever there was a stupid statement made by this writer, it was that one. Managers do get too much credit when their teams win, but you'd have to say that Kirk Gibson set the tone in Arizona and it has flowered in the desert. The Diamondbacks are a full six games over their Pythagorean O/U for the season. You have to give the manager some props for that kind of magic.

But who picked the Diamondbacks to win the division this season? Gibson was unable to turn them around after taking over last year's team. They won only 65 games in 2010. So this writer wasn't alone in not giving the Diamondbacks any hope of competing this season. Once again, baseball shows us that the more we know, the more we don't know and can't predict what will happen when the games are actually played. Everyone loves a good Cinderella story, right? The Padres almost pulled it off last season. The Diamondbacks did fill the bill this year of Cinderella and they are going to the ball.

The numbers say that the Diamondbacks are unremarkable. They are tenth of sixteen NL teams in batting average. They are eighth in on base percentage. Their pitching ERA is eighth, or smack in the middle of the National League. They are fourteenth in the NL in pitcher strikeouts. Their two big off season acquisitions were Joe Saunders and Jason Marquis--two 30-something pitchers coming off of terrible seasons. Marquis got hurt early. Saunders has given them surprisingly effective innings. They traded away Mark Reynolds and his strikeouts after setting a record last year in that statistic. But they still strike out more than twelve other teams in the National League. If you look at the numbers, you have to wonder how this has happened.

Can you say that somehow the stars have aligned? Josh Collmenter came out of nowhere to win nine games and had a 3.56 K/BB ratio despite only 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Micah Owings hasn't looked like much more than a novelty act for most of his career and somehow went 7-0 in vulture wins and spot starts to compile a nifty 3.10 ERA. Aaron Hill had looked like his career was withering for the Blue Jays the past two seasons. Yet he came to the desert at the trade deadline and has hit at an .876 OPS clip for the D-backs. But if you want a little pixie dust, look no further than first base.

The Diamondbacks employed no fewer than seven players at first base. Combined for the season, the D-backs first basemen have a collective .740 OPS. For an offensive position, that isn't very good. But the last guy they tried, Paul Goldschmidt, an eighth round draft pick on nobody's prospect radar, has an .830 OPS and hit the division-clinching triple in last night's game. Talk about serendipity! In just 43 games, Goldschmidt has seven game winning hits. Amazing.

So what exactly do the Diamondbacks do well? They field the ball very well. They are fifth in the NL in fielding efficiency and in the top five in fielding percentage, but are just mere points behind the leaders. They don't hit into double plays. Their 79 GIDP are by far the fewest in the National League. Their pitchers don't walk people. Only the Phillies and the Brewers' pitching staffs have allowed fewer walks in the National League than the Diamondbacks. They do not allow free bases to other teams either. Their 41 percent success rate at preventing stolen bases leads the National League. 

To be sure, the Diamondbacks have had some outstanding breakout seasons by Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy. Daniel Hudson has been a top starter all season. J. J. Putz has had a fantastic season as the closer. But in the end, this is simply a team that seems to do a lot of little things well and that has to reflect some on the manager and his staff and the front office led by Mr. Towers. 

The Diamondbacks are a lovely story. Who knows what will happen in the playoffs. Those events are usually determined by who gets hot when and how the ball bounces. It would be kind of neat for a Diamondback/Yankees World Series ten years later than the last one. But, for the Diamondbacks to lose 97 games in 2010 and come back to win the National League West a year later is truly one of the best stories of the year in MLB. The Diamondbacks make you smile. That's all there is to it.

Game Picks - Saturday: September 24, 2011

Your faithful Fan sat down to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees. The Coca-Cola was ready, some pretzel rods sat on the TV tray and the recliner was set to heat and vibration. But then the MLB Network showed Yankee Stadium with the tarp on and it was soon announced that the game was canceled. Only mildly disappointed, this game picker then spent the rest of the evening on Twitter and it was a blast. There were folks this writer follows who were living and dying with all their contending teams. There was heart break from rooters of the Cardinals, Giants, Bay Rays and Angels and victory dances for the Rangers, Braves, Brewers and Diamondbacks. It was all fun to watch. Baseball is what ties us all together. When you love this game, then there is a shared angst that binds somehow. What a fun evening!

As for the picks, despite two rain outs, it was a decent day. The Cardinal, Bay Rays and Giant losses were not expected and were all on the loss column of picks. But the Rangers, Braves, Athletics and Brewers were correct picks. The Indians were a correct pick thanks more to a big game by Jim Thome and the offense and not the pitcher this Fan expected to carry the team. The Royals smoked the White Sox, who appear to have quit on Ozzie. That's simply the view from here. The Dodgers shut out the Padres as predicted and Matt Kemp hit another homer. Three more and he can be a 40/40 guy. And in other games, the Tigers had to go extra innings to seal that pick and the Pirates should have been picked and weren't.

Can you believe there are seventeen games on the schedule again today? Two more double-headers are on the schedule. That's a lot of baseball. The Saturday picks:
  • The Nationals over the Braves: The thought here is that the Nats offense will score off of Brandon Beachy and Chien-Ming Wang continues his comeback success.
  • The Indians over the Twins: In the first game of two for these two teams, David (Hassle) Huff will have to be much better than he was last time. Brian Duensing goes for the Twins and this picker can't remember the last time he had a good outing.
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: The Cards will keep trying despite the party being almost over. Kyle Lohse has had a really nice season and Rodrigo Lopez should be good for two or three gopher balls.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: How magnanimous it was of the Yankees to give the Red Sox the choice yesterday on whether or not to play the game last night. Last night's pitching match ups Will Carry over to today and Jon Lester will still beat Freddie Garcia.
  • The Mariners over the Rangers: Clinching teams have always looked terrible the next day this season. That will be no different here. Felix Hernandez should have a nice, easy win over Alexi Ogando who won't pitch long for the Rangers.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: It's simple. This picker has more faith in Travis Wood than Brad Lincoln. Otherwise, a pretty meaningless game.
  • The Astros over the Rockies: The Rockies are toasted this season. And J.A. Happ has pitched well for the Astros since his stint in the minors. Jason Hammel goes for the Rockies.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Don't you love when Hammel and Hamels pitch on the same day? Cole Hamels should get his fifteenth win over R.A. Dickey in the first game of this double-header.
  • The Indians over the Twins: The Indians sweep the double-header behind Mitch Talbot. Scott Diamond was lit up in his last start by the Yankees, but otherwise has been decent.
  • The Marlins over the Brewers: Again, the game after clinching is not pretty for the clinching team. Zack Greinke won't pitch for long and Alex Sanabia is a decent pitcher for the Marlins.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Everett Teaford has won both his major league starts. John Danks won't get much help. This Royals team is fun to watch.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: Whoa! It's a Joe Blanton sighting! The long-ago fifth starter will get to face Dillon Gee. It would seem doubtful that the Phillies would start their regulars for two games in a double-header.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Ricky Romero kicks the Bay Rays to the non-playoff curb. Jeff Niemann will simply throw less zeroes than Romero.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Giants: Sure, sure, this picker picked against the other division clinchers. Why pick the Diamondbacks? Well, two reasons. First, Ian Kennedy will not want to ruin his pretty record. And secondly, the Giants can't hit.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Hate picking against Aaron Harang at home, but the Dodgers are playing inspired baseball and Chad Billingley will benefit from the Padres' pitcher-friendly ballpark and line up.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: The Angels will not throw in the towel despite being near-death in the wild card race. Jerome Williams will baffle the A's hitters and the Angels will scratch out a few runs on Guillermo Moscoso.
And the Game of the Day!
Yesterday: 8-5
Week: 45-35
Month: 188-120
Season: 1319-1030
Games of the Day: 108-64

Friday, September 23, 2011

Matt Kemp IS the MVP in the National League

Attempt after attempt was made to come up with a heading for this post that wasn't so argumentative. There is a price to be paid for pigheaded smugness when making such declarative statements. But no matter how many different headings were considered, the words couldn't be toned down. And it wouldn't matter to this writer if Matt Kemp played for a team that was 10-152. The season he is having is the most valuable in the National League. Last night's one-man show against the Giants, against one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball, simply demonstrated how good Matt Kemp has been this year. He is the Most Valuable Player.

Even with the supposed drag of his defense in center field, he leads the NL in WAR on both Fangraphs and His 9.6 over at B-R is the highest total there since Albert Pujols in 2008. Over at Fangraphs, he gets more penalized for his defense, but his 8.2 fWAR is far above Ryan Braun and Joey Votto at 6.9. With due diligence, this author also checked in with Baseball Prospectus and again, Kemp leads the second place Braun in WARP 7.8 to 6.6. But it isn't just WAR to be consulted. Let's look at a whole array of statistics.

Kemp's standing in MLB and NL in the following categories:
  • Batting Average:  6-3
  • On Base Perc.:  7-5
  • Slugging Perc.:  3-2
  • Total Bases:  3-2
  • Stolen Bases:  4-2   78.4 percent success rate.
  • Home runs:  5-2
  • Hits:  6-2
  • Runs scored: 4-1
  • RBIs:  2-1
  • wOBA: 4-2
  • wRC+: 3-2
  • ISO:  6-2
  • WPA: 5-3
  • Runs created: 2-1
  • OPS+: 2-1
  • HR/FB Perc.: 6-3
  • Power - Speed Perc.: 1-1
And just for the sake of cherry picking statistics, he leads National League center fielders in assists. Kemp's biggest contenders for the MVP are Joey Votto, who has had another great season, Justin Upton, and Ryan Braun. Kemp has clearly had a better season than Votto and plays a position considered more valuable than the Reds' first baseman. Upton has had a fabulous season and leads the NL in extra base hits. But Kemp has him in everything else. This author's problem with Braun is that he is part of a tandem. Braun and Fielder got together. That may not be fair to Braun but the perception here is that Fielder batting behind him makes him see better pitches. Who hits behind Kemp? Juan Rivera? James Loney? Not even close. It will be interesting to see how Braun does if Fielder moves on to another team.

This author understands the thinking of many that an MVP has to come from a contender. But part of that equation is to think about where a team would be without a player's contribution. Would the Dodgers be a game over .500 without Kemp? Hardly. The Dodgers have played a role in the races by playing the Diamondbacks and the Giants throughout the season. Kemp has a .946 OPS against the Diamondbacks and a 1.118 OPS against the Giants this season. It seems by those numbers that Kemp has been quite a factor within his division. Kemp struggled against the Brewers, had a .916 OPS against the Braves, a .962 against the Phillies and absolutely murdered the pitching of the Tigers, the Reds and the Cardinals.

No matter how this season gets sliced up and dissected, this writer cannot come up with any other choice for MVP than Matt Kemp. All of these same arguments can be made for Jose Bautista by the way. If the MVP were only for players on contending teams, then the award should be called the MVPFCT (most valuable player for contending teams). But it's not. It's called the Most Valuable Player. No one in the National League has been more valuable than Matt Kemp. Oh, and just in case you are down with the pitchers as MVPs scene, Kemp leads Halladay in fWAR, 8.2 to 8.0.

Game Picks - Friday: September 23, 2011

After swinging and missing on the first three picks yesterday on a short schedule, this picker is just fine at finishing 5-5. Things sure looked like they were going to be far worse than that after the Rangers' bullpen squandered a game against the A's, the Cardinal bullpen imploded against the Mets and the Twins actually won a game (in walk off fashion no less). But then the Nationals won again proving that the Phillies have indeed taken the rest of the regular season off. The Indians and Bay Rays won as predicted and the Orioles beat the Tigers as predicted. Then this picker got lucky with an extra inning win by the Blue Jays over the Angels. At that point the day had gone into the black and things were looking up. They crashed back to mediocrity again when the Astros mounted a major comeback on the Rockies and Madison Bumgarner got unexpectedly rocked.

Oh well, that's baseball in the wacky last week of the season when any team can play anybody and anything can happen. Such a week does not favor having to pick a full slate of games on this Friday, but that's what this picker is going to do. Friday's picks:

  • The Braves over the Nationals: So the Braves have to win. There aren't any other options for them. And they get to face Stephen Strasburg. Fun, eh? They better hope Tim Hudson brings his A-game and they can scratch out a run or two.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: The Tigers will win only because Alfredo Simon is all over the place. Rick Porcello needs to show he belongs in the playoff picture.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: The Red Sox need a win. Freddie Garcia looks gassed and faces Jon Lester.  The Yankees should be a bit more on their game than yesterday, but still.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: This pick is difficult. Jeff Locke could pitch a good game but will only get five innings. Then what? Edinson Volquez has been on a steady diet of losses. Who knows.
  • The Indians over the Twins: Justin Masterson should win his thirteenth in this one over Carl Pavano.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Yes, the Phillies will win a game before the playoffs start. Cole Hamels needs to pick it up after struggling of late. R.A. Dickey goes for the Mets.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: The Jays bullpen has to be a little tired after that long game yesterday. Brandon Morrow looked great against the Yankees. But he faces David Price in a must win game for the Rays.
  • The Rockies over the Astros: Drew Pomerantz is the real deal. He faces Brett Myers who has been very good lately after a tough season.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: The Rangers would like to nail this division coffin shut and Matt Harrison has won three straight and is 5-1 against the Mariners. Meanwhile, Anthony Vazquez hasn't yet shown he belongs on a major league mound.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Bruce Chen holds on long enough for the Royals to put another win on the board against Zach Stewart who they beat a week ago.
  • The Cardinals over the Cubs: The Cardinals will probably run out of time this season, but Chris Carpenter will delay the call of the reaper for another day. Ryan Dempster will get hit in St. Louis.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: Matt Cain is simply better than Joe Saunders. That is all.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Give it up for the Dodgers who could have packed it in long ago but continue to play with a lot of pride. Ted Lilly over Wade LeBlanc.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: Gio Gonzalez loves him some Angels. He's got a great record against them. Jered Weaver's stuff has diminished some of late but he's still a great pitcher with a huge heart. We'll see.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Marlins: It's time for the Brewers to clinch and a home game with Yovani Gallardo on the mound is as good a time as any. Chris Volstad has been better lately but won't be able to stop the Brewers completely.

Yesterday: 5-5
Week: 37-30
Month: 180-115
Season: 1311-1025
Games of the Day: 107-64

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Joe Girardi For Manager of the Year

When you are the manager of the most famous franchise in sports it's a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes in undeniable wealth in which your franchise can obtain talent to put at your disposal. The curse is the largeness of the media presence that watches your every move. Joe Girardi is mostly skewered on a nightly basis on Twitter and that's to be expected when you manage the most loved and hated team on the planet. But it's hard to ignore that preseason predictions didn't give the Yankees any chance to win the division this season. Forty-five ESPN contributors predicted the Red Sox to win the division (for example) and none picked the Yankees. But here the Yankees are as they clinched the division title last night.

The Yankees have the biggest run differential in baseball. As such, they are four games behind their Pythagorean win-loss projection. That's how this writer usually rates managers and their performance. But using a single tool can hardly be excused by anyone considering players or managers for awards after the season. If that was the case, Ryan Howard would win the MVP for his RBIs. Statistics tells us a lot, but beyond the black and white of numbers is this ugly thing we call intangibles. You can't quantify them and you can't talk about them intelligently. The observation here is that the Yankees have won the division because of their run differential. But Joe Girardi has gone a bit beyond that black and white to give New York yet another division title.

Consider first the Yankees starting rotation. One of the reasons that nobody predicted the Yankees to win the division was because they had Sabathia and then who? Credit many for finding and utilizing Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon. But it was Girardi that employed them and he seemed deft at milking these two pitchers for all he could get out of them. Girardi seemed to always have a finger on the pulse of when to keep them in the game and when to rescue them when their stuff wasn't there. You can't blame Girardi for the A.J. Burnett mess. Tied with an enormous contract, Burnett is going to pitch whether that becomes a circus or not. But Girardi rarely left Burnett in the game long enough to put games beyond the reach of the team coming back to win the games Burnett started. Girardi, from this observer's perspective handled that situation about as well as you can. He defended his player admirably and yet never gave Burnett a very long leash to bury the team. Credit Girardi for his belief in Ivan Nova which paid huge dividends down the stretch.

Girardi is hardly the first manager to rely on the back end of his bullpen to seal ball games. He played for years under Joe Torre as Torre won championships riding Rivera and companies. But unlike Torre, Girardi kept his bullpen fresh, never overworked them and for the most part kept them effective all season. This writer thinks his handling of Rafael Soriano was brilliant and now that reliever is a big part of the bullpen's success. Simply look at the amount of appearances of the Yankees' key bullpen performers compared to teams like the Braves. The argument can be made (in all fairness) that the Braves played ten more one-run games than the Yankees did (54 to 44) and those ten more close games meant ten more appearances for big-time relievers. Fair point. But even so, Girardi used his bullpen well.

Girardi also handled the Jorge Posada thing extremely well. He was straight up with his aging veteran and told him exactly where he stood and then found places for Posada to contribute. That Posada clinched the division with a clutch hit is as much a reflection on Girardi as it is for Posada.

Posada is yet another example in the fact that the Yankees rely on some older veterans. Girardi might not be the pioneer of the DH has a resting place for his older players, but he's used the strategy to great success and got the most of his older players when he really needed them. Many say that he stubbornly stuck with Derek Jeter when Brett Gardner was the more logical choice for the top of the order. But Jeter's second half proved him right as Jeter has a higher on base percentage than Gardner when all is said and done. Girardi has rested Jeter and A-Rod, Teixeira and Swisher at appropriate points in the season and it seems to have been a deft strategy. 

Girardi also stuck with Russell Martin as his primary catcher. Martin had a rough stretch at the plate and in the field in the middle of the season, but Martin has been a terrific catcher for the Yankees and is a big part of their pitching success. It's really the first time the Yankees have had a competent catcher behind the plate since...well...since Girardi. Martin is certainly not a great offensive player. But he's no Jeff Mathis either.

The other thing you have to like about Joe Girardi's season as manager is his use of young players to add to his veterans. Brett Gardner has become one of the best left-fielders in baseball. Cory Wade added 35 big appearances to the bullpen. We've already talked about Nova. Phil Hughes was given every chance to get his season back. Eduardo Nunez has had some rough patches but has been a decent fifth infielder. Hector Noesi, Nova and the young David Roberston and Boone Logan combination have been played with more than mild success (understatement). Jesus Montero got a nice taste of Major League Baseball at the end of the season. But probably the biggest thing Girardi did was what he didn't do. He rarely put young players in position to fail. When push came to shove, he leaned on his established players when appropriate to get the job done.

You also have to take into account things like Mark Teixeira calling Joe Girardi the best manager he's ever played for. The team seems so lacking in internal bickering and strife that you have to give some of that to Girardi. This seems to be a tight-knit group and one that plays together well. The manager of your ball club has to foster that environment and Girardi seems to do that very well.

Many wondered what would become of the Yankees after Joe Torre was allowed to walk away. You can't argue with Torre's success as the Yankee skipper. But this brand of Yankee baseball is Girardi's baseball and it's different in slight ways if you watch closely enough. Girardi has become just as good as his predecessor and perhaps could be even better. You can find fault at times with Girardi's game management and question some of the in-game moves he makes. But it's hard to argue with the bottom line, isn't it?

BBA Link Fest - Four Star Generals

Every Thursday here in the FanDome, this site has featured a links page of posts from the past week of member sites of the general chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). This writer is proud to be a part of such great peers and is happy to introduce many of you to their terrific writing. Enjoy.

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor considers the MVP and Hank Aaron Awards. Did a pitcher make the list. Click to find out!

Dugout 24 has an interesting post on dirty baseballs. It might not be what you think.

Diamond Hoggers thinks that Justin Upton is a very strong man.

Bryan over at Replacement Level Baseball Blog does some heavy lifting considering the Cy Young Award races. Great read.

The Cy Young Award and MVP Award was also on Jed Rigney's mind over at Through the Fence Baseball. Nice analysis.

Michael Schwartze is among a bevy of great writers over at MLB Dirt. He gives his take on Ryan Braun's candidacy as MVP.

Mickey Brignall is very excited about the National League post season and shares his thoughts over at Call to the Pen.

Robbie marvels at the Flying Showalters and their late penchant for playing the spoilers. Robbie also find out once again that baseball is as unpredictable as ever at The BaseBlawg.

Aaron Somers of Blogging From the Bleachers fame provides us with a thorough comparison of Trott Nixon and J. D. Drew and perhaps ends a long-standing debate. Terrific read.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball thinks Justin Verlander is out of control.

Over at The Baseball Index, the rookie campaign of Brett Lawrie is considered.

There is always a lot going on at The Platoon Advantage. With a a fine quartet of writers, the SweetSpot Network site is a must read just about every day. Consider Bill's take on the improbable season of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Russ Blatt congratulates Mariano Rivera in style over at 85% Sports. Good read.

An intern at Off Base Percentage saw Moneyball. MTD reports.

Featured Site of the Week!  MLB Reports was founded over a year ago by Jonathan Hacohen who has been writing about baseball for twenty years. Many of us start our sites with the hope they catch a spark and become well received and popular. MLB Reports has showed us the way with hard work, great writing and a nice finger on the pulse of what social media can do to promote what we do. If you love a great baseball site and want to know how to make a dent in this media, look no further than the work Jonathan, Rob Bland and April Whitzman do over at MLB Reports. For their featured link this week, the choice is a great look at the farm system of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Game Picks - Thursday: September 22, 2011

Life for a baseball game picker has gotten sure confusing down the stretch. Teams like the Phillies and Red Sox keep losing. The Yankees took care of business to secure their division. How many games will they care to win down the stretch? Teams like the Rangers and Diamondbacks are still attempting to put their divisions to bed. And then teams like the Angels and Cardinals are like horses trying to win at the wire with a strong finish. One thing seems sure and that is the Bay Rays have been hurt badly by the Yankees in their hopes for a wildcard. They were only a game back in the loss column to the Red Sox but after getting swept, they fell two games in the loss column despite the Boston loss. It's all very exciting but very hard to predict.

Only ten games are on today's schedule which seems puny after having seventeen and sixteen for the last two days. But less games doesn't make it easier. The picks for Thursday:
  • The Mariners over the Twins: It sure isn't difficult to pick against the Twins these days. The poor blighters. Blake Beavan has been very good for the Mariners and Anthony Swarzak is mostly irrelevant for the Twins.
  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Jake Westbrook isn't a mortal lock and Chris Capuano is a professional big league pitcher. But the Mets aren't exactly giving the Cards much of a run for their money.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Trevor Cahill is sort of a Rangers killer but this is a determined Rangers bunch. We all know what Colby Lewis can do in big games.
  • The Orioles over the Tigers: Zach Britton is finishing strong for the O's and the Tigers are coasting after clinching and pitch young Jacob Turner.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: The White Sox have already won this season series and Phil Humber has been good and okay of late. Jeanmar Gomez is on a roll for the Indians though so that's the pick.
  • The Rays over the Yankees: The Yankees will have their Triple A team on the field after clinching. Expect Romine behind the plate and Pena and Ramirez somewhere in the infield. Perhaps we'll even see some of their young pitching today. Matt Moore has his first start for the Bay Rays and he's very good.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: Brad Peacock gets his second win and the Phillies will get a few tune up innings from Roy Oswalt. Otherwise, they won't care very much either way.
  • The Blue Jays over the Angels: Henderson Alvarez has the stuff to shut down the Angels and Ervin Santana will allow a couple of Blue Jays to score.
  • The Rockies over the Astros: Alex White is homer-prone but has still won three of five decisions. Henry Sosa hasn't been half bad for the Astros.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Giants over the Dodgers: Hiroki Kuroda is good at home, but Madison Bumgarner just may be the Giants' best pitcher. He's had a great second half.
Yesterday: 9-7
Week: 32-25
Month: 175-110
Season: 1306-1020
Games of the Day: 107-63

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Game Picks - Wednesday: September 21, 2011

Yesterday's picks slogged through the mud on the biggest baseball day of the season (17 games!) to finish just barely above water. The day started at 1-3 on those double-header picks. The Phillies were predicted to win both and won neither. Then Bud Norris got hurt by the second inning and that pick went bye-bye. Then the Red Sox lost (seriously?). The Pirates slowed down the Diamondbacks who have suddenly lost their bats. The Twins lost (okay, that was a dumb pick). And finally, the Royals behind Eric Hosmer's big night walloped the Tigers. It seems the bad Penny always turns up.

All through the losses, the wins started to climb. The Yankees won behind Ivan Nova. The Dodgers won behind Clayton Kershaw (the Game of the Day). The Padres won behind Matt Latos. The Cardinals won in a come-from-behind fashion. The Braves won. By the time the Rangers won their game, the picks finally climbed out of the hole, thank goodness.

It's sad knowing the regular season is winding down. The day to day routine of baseball is so enjoyable. It will be missed. Here are Wednesday's picks:
  • The Astros over the Reds: Wandy Rodriguez holds the Reds' offense in check while Bronson Arroyo continues to have one of the worst seasons ever by a starting pitcher.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: The Yankees aren't sure if Phil Hughes can make his start today. James Shields goes for the Rays. They should win this one.
  • The Cubs over the Brewers: Matt Garza has been terrific and has an outside chance to even his record with two more starts to the season. Randy Wolf goes for the Brewers.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Anthony Bass wins another one as Aaron Cook gets the start for the Rockies. The Rockies don't have much left on the field.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Ross Ohlendorf came back pretty well in his last start after some disasters to begin his short season. But Wade Miley and the D-backs come to life in this one.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: Ubaldo Jimenez has been anything but a lock this season. But Mark Buehrle has put together some ugly starts lately.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: The Yankees win the second game by getting to Jeremy Hellickson. C.C. Sabathia hopes to reverse a losing trend of late to win his 20th.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Leave it to Vance Worley to get the Phillies back on track. John Lannon goes for the Nats.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Dustin McGowen is a nice story, but he won't be able to match the zeroes thrown up there by Dan Haren if Haren is on that is.
  • The Marlins over the Braves: Has Derek Lowe stunk lately or what? Meanwhile, Javier Vazquez is talking about retiring and is going out in style.
  • The Royals over the Tigers: The Royals have been awfully fun to watch lately. Hosmer is over .300 now and the Royals are flourishing. Felipe Paulino is starting to harness his stuff. Max Scherzer is another reason why the Tigers are not a mortal lock come playoff time. You never know what you're going to get with him.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: Carp might be the hottest hitter on the planet right now. Michael Pineda is certainly not a lock. But Kevin Slowey has not looked good and the Twins find creative ways to lose every day.
  • The Cardinals over the Mets: Jaime Garcia shouldn't have any trouble beating youngster, Chris Schwinden, who is already 0-2 in spot starts this season.
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Brandon McCarthy has become the ace of the A's this season, but he hasn't fared well against Texas. The Rangers go with their ace, C.J. Wilson.
  • The Dodgers over the Giants: The Dodgers are trying to finish the season above .500 and pitch Dana Eveland tonight. He's been a nice story for them. Ryan Vogelsong is slowly coming to earth for the Giants.
And the Game of the Day:
Yesterday: 9-8
Week: 25-18
Month: 166-103
Season: 1297-1013
Games of the Day: 107-62

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Game Picks - Tuesday: September 20, 2011

What a crazy, amazing, stunning and weird day of baseball. Despite picking both games of the Red Sox - Orioles double-header correctly and the Yankee win over the Twins (despite A.J. Burnett's rim shot of a start), it wasn't until J.J. Putz closed out Ian Kennedy's gem of a 20th win that the day went in the black. Along the way, the Marlins stunned the Braves with a walk off homer off of ace closer, Craig Kimbrel, the Cardinals held on for a  win against the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, the Brewers lost to a starting pitcher with an ERA over six, the once-vaunted Cincinnati Reds  lost to a team that has lost 100 games this season and the Mariners crushed the Indians until the rains came up with their own mercy rule. All of the games in the last sentence were incorrect picks.

For this picker, the win by Kennedy and the new record set by Mariano Rivera for saves were the highlights of the day. Mike Stanton's two homers deserve honorable mention as they helped set up the walk off homer by Infante.

Can you believe there are seventeen games on tap for Wednesday? Holy smokes, this picker has some work to do:

  • The Phillies sweep the Nationals: Yes, the Phillies will rest people. But Kyle Kendrick and Cliff Lee will still beat Ross Detwiler and Tom Milone.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Fausto Carmona has been really, really bad lately so Gavin Floyd should win the first game of this double-header.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Should have just said the White Sox sweep, right? Dylan Axlerod has looked good in his look-see starts while Zach McAllister has been blistered in his.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: The Yankees will do their part to keep the Bay Rays from making the playoffs. Wade Davis has been the weakest link in a strong rotation for the Rays. And Ivan Nova will do just fine in his playoff tune up.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: The Angels will have a good game at the plate if Brett Cecil pitches or doesn't. Either way, Joel Pineiro should get the win.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: The Braves must win this game and must get a longer outing from Randall Delgado to help their tired bullpen. Anibal Sanchez goes for the Fish.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Calm down, Red Sox Nation. You'll be fine. Erik Bedard takes this one against Rick VandenHurk, who hasn't been very good.
  • The Astros over the Reds: The Reds have packed it in for the season. It's kind of noticeable. Bud Norris has a good game and beats Homer Bailey.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Shaun Marcum will have a nice bounce back after a clunker against the Rockies and the Brewers will get to Randy Wells.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: The Tigers have a chance at home field advantage in the playoffs if they keep winning. Brad Penny can be either so-so or bad depending on the day. The real challenge in this one is not knowing how Luis Mendoza will do in his MLB debut after a great minor league season.
  • The Twins over the Mariners: This picker will believe one more time in Liam Hendrik. Another start like the last one and he'll be off the bandwagon. Jason Vargas goes for the Mariners.
  • The Cardinals over the Mets: The Cardinals are in this thing! Edwin Jackson has a good day and Mike Pelfrey will give up enough for a Cards win.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: The Rockies look like a lake float pulled to shore during the winter. Jhoulys Chacin looked awful his last start and Matt Latos just has to have a decent game to win.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Daniel Hudson is better than Ian Kennedy so the analysts say. He faces Charlie Morton who was on the schedule to pitch yesterday but Jeff Karstens started instead (and pitched great in a loss).
  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Derek Holland has been really good in his last three starts but he only needs to be adequate for the Rangers to win this one. Rick Harden goes for the A's and if you toss out his start against the Yankees, Harden has been fungible.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Dodgers over the Giants: Clayton Kershaw again out pitches Tim Lincecum and wins his 20th. Hopefully, Kershaw won't get tossed by the umps in this one.

Yesterday: 6-5
Week: 16-10
Month; 157-95
Season: 1289-1005
Games of the Day: 106-62

Red Sox Split Ugly Double Dip

The Red Sox and Orioles played two games on Monday and they were uglier than Camilla Parker Bowles. Well...that wasn't very nice. Oh well. Perhaps Camilla is more attractive. The pitching was terrible, the fielding worse and even the umpires couldn't avoid a costly gaffe. The two games ended with a split for day which is sort of a victory for the Red Sox these days. Even so, the loss in the first game moved the Red Sox six games back in the loss column from the Yankees with ten games to play. The split kept the Red Sox two games ahead of the Bay Rays for the wild card, but the Rays are only one back in the loss column.

The Red Sox were forced to give Kyle Weiland another start and again, it wasn't pretty. Weiland gave up three homers to the Orioles and five earned runs in just four and two-thirds innings of work. Shoddy defense behind him didn't help as one of his six runs allowed wasn't earned due to a Darnell McDonald error. But it wasn't as if the Red Sox didn't have their chances.

The real story of this loss was two-fold. First, the Red Sox got on base nineteen times in the game but could only score five runs. They hit into three double-plays which certainly didn't help. They had plenty of chances to bury Jeremy Guthrie but couldn't put him away. Guthrie also got a break from the umpires. David Ortiz smashed a liner to Pesky's Pole in right at Fenway and replays (duh MLB) clearly showed the ball hit fair. But the first base umpire ruled it foul and after the umpires huddled up, the call stood. In the same amount of time it took them to have that conversation, they could have looked at a replay and got the call correctly. But we all know that MLB doesn't have an adequate replay policy.

John Lackey started the second game. The pitcher was staked to several leads but couldn't hold down the Orioles. Lackey has become the most hated guy in Boston sports. If you think Yankee fans hate A.J. Burnett, that's chicken feed compared the dark thoughts Red Sox Nation has for its free agent pitcher. The Red Sox gave Lackey eleven runs to play with and Lackey still couldn't stay around long enough for the win. His final line was four and a third innings yielding eleven hits, eight earned runs with two walks and three strikeouts. His ERA now sits at 6.49.

The Red Sox were fortunate to get a start against Brian Matusz, once one of the Orioles' most heralded prospects. Matusz has now faced the Yankees and Red Sox in his last two outings and was destroyed both times. It's really kind of sad. You watch his body language and the poor kid simply wants to crawl under a rock. There is either something physically wrong with the kid or mentally, he's lost it. Whatever it is, his Fangraphs velocity chart speaks volumes:
But Matusz wasn't alone in this stink-a-thon. By the time the Red Sox were done with their seven-run seventh inning, the final tally against the Orioles' pitching in this game was eighteen runs on twenty hits and eight walks. Yeah, ugly. Despite everything he could do to allow the Orioles to win, Lackey's team doubled the amount of runs the Orioles scored.

To put these two games in perspective, the two teams combined for 38 runs on 53 hits with 16 walks. There were five combined errors and six double-plays. And the umps blew a call. Pitchers in these two games threw a combined 657 pitches. Holy Toledo!

All in all, the Red Sox got one in the win column they desperately needed. They can play their games against the Orioles and hope the Yankees swat down the pesky Bay Rays this week. This is still the beantowner's wild card to lose. They just have to win a few this week to get there.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Brewers Are a Pitching Team

When you think of the Milwaukee Brewers, you think of the punishing Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder combination. You think offense. And at times, that offense can really pile up the runs. They are third in the National League in batting average and first in that league in slugging percentage. But taken as a whole, the offense is sort of mundane. They are only sixth out of fourteen National League teams in on base percentage and seventh in runs scored. There are three holes in the line up at catcher, shortstop and third base. The Brewers are going to win the National League Central division (locking up the division will happen any day now) and the surprising thing about it is that they will do so as a pitching team.

The Brewers are fourth in all of baseball in WHIP behind only the Phillies, Bay Rays and the Giants. They are third in the majors in the least amounts of walks allowed behind only the Phillies and White Sox. The Brewers are fifth in the majors in strikeouts. They have hit the fewest batters in the majors. And they are tied for fifth in the majors in ERA+. And it really starts in the starting rotation.

The five guys in the starting rotation, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Chris Narveson and Randy Wolf have made all but seven of the Brewers' starts. Marco Estrada made those seven starts and though Estrada's overall season is mostly negative, he was effective as a starter. The six pitchers that have started for the Brewers all have positive (Fangraphs) WPAs for the season as starters, even Estrada. This writer went through all the contenders and all other good pitching teams and could not find a single team that did not have at least one starter with a negative WPA. has a statistic called Game Score. The average game score for starters is listed as 52. The Brewers' starters have an average game score of 54. Of the six starters that started for the Brewers, only Chris Narveson has an average game score under 53. Narveson is sitting at 50. The Brewers have a winning record in games when every pitcher starts with the exception of Shaun Marcum. And the Brewers have a 15-16 record when Marcum starts. 

This is all remarkable when compared to last year's Milwaukee Brewers. Last year, ten different pitchers started games for the Brewers. Their average game score was 48.  Only 46 percent of their starts last year were quality starts. That figure has improved to 61 percent this season. The brilliant additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum have solidified the rotation and have given the Brewers an excellent chance to win every series they play.

The addition at the trade deadline of Francisco Rodriguez (despite his whining) is probably the best trade deadline deal this side of Hunter Pence. After early bullpen struggles, K-Rod has really helped settle this bullpen down and put the relievers in their proper slots. John Axford has been superb as the team's closer, a position he solidified after taking over for Trevor Hoffman last season. 

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder might be in the top five in line up duos in the majors. Both have killed the ball this season. The Brewers are an average fielding team with a fielding efficiency just a slight tick above average. But the NL Central crown has come on the arms of the pitchers. It's hard to believe, but the Brewers are more than anything else, a pitchers' team.

Game Picks - Monday: September 19, 2011

This picker has the distinct taste of shoe leather in the mouth after Brandon Morrow pitched about as good a game as you can pitch Sunday against the Yankees. True, the Yankees did not have a third of their regular line up on the field at the time, but still. This picker had picked against Morrow and said the flamethrower hadn't put together a good game all season. Well, there you go.

But it was one of only five bad picks on the day. Ryan Dempster was indeed good at Wrigley as predicted. But Brett Myers was even better. Esmil Rogers was terrible against the Giants who jumped all over him. Matt Cain did give up the three earned runs he was predicted to give up. But he got the win. Both the White Sox and Royals banged out fifteen hits. But the White Sox doubled the Royals' runs at 10-5. Thought it would be the other way around. The Amazin' Mets beat the Braves. How did that happen? This picker will tell you how it happened. The Braves' bullpen is gassed, just like the post here told you they were a week ago.

Other than that, all of the other picks were right. Two of them involved teams scrambling to make a run at the wild card. The Cardinals and the Bay Rays did what they had to do by winning their games. The wild card standings are much closer than anybody ever thought they would be a month a go. Arizona, Milwaukee and Texas wins all pushed those teams closer to clinching their divisions. The Yankees, despite the loss, took another notch off of their magic number with the Red Sox loss.

Monday's picks:

  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: As if it isn't bad enough for the Red Sox, they come off a tough series and now have a double-header on Monday. They will probably lose the first game as they must start Kyle Wieland against the rejuvenated Jeremy Guthrie.
  • The Yankees over the Twins: Yeah, another pick for the Yankees when A.J. Burnett is pitching. This make up game at home against the Twins should be a win though they face Scott Diamond, who has been holding his own in the majors since his call up.
  • The Indians over the Mariners: David (Hassle) Huff has lost three straight, but as a lefty, he should give the lefty-leaning Mariners fits. Plus, Charlie Furbush is worse on the road than he is at home.
  • The Phillies over the Cardinals: It was a nice run, Cards, but you face Roy Halladay on Monday. Kyle Lohse will not be able to keep up with the big right-hander.
  • The Blue Jays over the Angels: Jerome Williams has been a really nice story. But he has to lose some time. It might as well be to the tough Ricky Romero.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: Geesh, the Braves need to win a ballgame here. Mike Minor needs to be pretty good and the Braves need to get to the tough (sometimes) Ricky Nolasco.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Yeah, John Lackey starts for the Red Sox but they should get to Brian Matusz. This Fan doesn't get the Twitter delight by Yankee fans of the Red Sox troubles. Wouldn't the Yankees have a better shot at the Red Sox right now than the Bay Rays?
  • The Reds over the Astros: The Reds have rolled over and are playing dead baseball. They will start either Dontrelle Willis (who was scratched with an achy back on Sunday) or Travis Wood.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Casey Coleman goes for the Cubbies against Chris Narveson. The Brewers would like to get this clinching business out of the way.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: This game could go either way and it was a struggle to pick it. Kevin Millwood has been better than expected and Cory Luebke will suffer at Coors Field.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Diamondbacks over the Pirates: Ian Kennedy wins his 20th and faces Charlie Morton, who has run out of steam for the last month of the season.
Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 10-5
Month: 151-90
Season: 1283-1000
Games of the Day: 105-62