Saturday, October 01, 2011

Game Picks - Saturday: October 1, 2011

The Tampa Bay Rays certainly made a statement in their opening salvo in Arlington against the Texas Rangers. Kelly Shoppach became this year's Terry Steinbach, Mike Scioscia or Jim Leyritz. C.J. Wilson struggled early and young Matt Moore, the kid with the smile, showed up amidst all the hype and shut down one of the most potent offenses in the game. It was an eye-opening game. The other game on the schedule was eye-opening for other reasons, mainly because it was suspended by rain and as such will test the Yankees ability to rewrite their plan of attack against the Tigers.

The irritating thing about the Yankees - Tigers game was that the greed of the networks and Major League Baseball turned it into a fiasco. Insisting the Yankees be available for the late game for ratings purposes put the game out of reach for the rains that came and washed it all away. How did those rating go after that, TBS? It's high time that playoff schedules were made via common sense instead of with dollar signs. Instead we lose one of the greatest pitching match ups we could have hoped for lost to the elements. There is no blame to not heeding the weather maps to start that game. The rain was apparently worse than expected. That happens. But when you start a game so late, you have no other options but to call it. It was yet another scheduling black eye for baseball.

Hey, a picks post turned into a rant. Sorry about that. Here are Saturday's picks:

  • The Brewers over the Diamondbacks: This one rolled around in this picker's head for quite a while. The pitching match up is outstanding with Ian Kennedy facing Yovani Gallardo. Kennedy has faced the Brewers three times to the tune of twenty innings and did a nice job of shutting them down with only one homer allowed. But as good as he's been, Gallardo has been even tougher on the Diamondbacks. He's never lost to them and has a sparkling ERA. Add a full house of screaming Milwaukee fans and it should all add up to a Brewers win.
  • The Phillies over the Cardinals: Let's face it, Roy Halladay was born to pitch these kinds of games. He is the Bob Gibson of this generation, which is ironic facing the Cardinals. Kyle Lohse has had a really nice season and is a wily and smart pitcher. But he won't be able to keep up with Halladay.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: This game all boils down to Derek Holland. Holland can be unhittable at times and put up nine zeroes and at other times, he can stink up the joint. He needs to be the former for this pick to pan out as James Shields is one tough customer and the Rays are flying on all cylinders.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Such a shame we lost that match up. But, it is what it is. Doug Fister has been brilliant but this is his first rodeo in the post season. How cool and calm can he be? Will he fall apart when things get tough? Ivan Nova is really in the same boat. The game will come down to who gets off to the faster start. Playing at home has to give the Yankees the edge when all other elements are equal.

Yesterday: 0-1
Week: 36-28
Month: 231-156
Season: 1363-1065

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Real Reasons Behind Terry Francona's Failure

Twitter is abuzz about Terry "Tito" Francona's future with the Boston Red Sox. Speculation abounds ever since Ken Rosenthal of CBS Sports tweeted his bombshell about Francona possibly being done with his current employers. There has been talk about the clubhouse and lack of leadership and all of that stuff that comes only in retrospect of a major team collapse. Talented and smart people are weighing in but they all have it wrong. This Fan knows exactly what went wrong with the Boston Red Sox and these are the following reasons behind Terry Fancona's failure:

  1. Francona gave up chewing tobacco. Having that wad in his mouth made him more ornery and scary to his players. Chewing gum or spitting sunflower seeds doesn't quite have the same effect.
  2. Tito stopped wearing a regulation uniform. Face it, the guy looked like a bum in the dugout. His mistake was thinking this lack of protocol worked for Bill Belichick and it would work for him. But every time he told a player what to do, they mistook him for a clubhouse runner.
  3. Francona didn't insist on keeping Heidi Watney off the field. Of course his players would turn into "me first" players. They all wanted to be interviewed by Watney after the game. Wouldn't you?
  4. The manager didn't put his foot down when the Red Sox introduced those red home uniform shirts. Hey, man, if you mess with tradition, it will burn you. You'd never see the Yankees out of pinstripes at home would you?
  5. Francona employed too many short players. Heck, they had seven player on their roster under six feet tall. And their second baseman can't even reach the phone book on the top shelf.
  6. He allowed David Ortiz to roam the streets looking for hugs. That took some of the competitive edge off the big guy. Even this writer didn't hate him any more.
  7. Francona allowed Epstein to get rid of all those egocentric iconoclasts like Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar. You need those kinds of guys for clubhouse chemistry. Right?
  8. The manager signed off as good ideas hiring that pitcher from Japan and that other one from the Angels.
  9. Tito didn't allow Josh Beckett to pitch with a bloody sock. Instead, he told him to hold the ball for three minutes between pitches so that his team became used to nap times during the game.
  10. Francona is to blame that Curt Young went from being the brilliant pitching coach of the Oakland A's to the total idiot that he was coaching the pitchers in Boston. Call it the Leo Mazzone affect.
  11. Tito didn't buy his notebooks from W.B. Mason.
  12. His first baseman's team last year lost their playoff bid on the last day of the season. The guy brought that mojo to his new team and Tito let it happen.
  13. Francona is brutal on the health of his right fielders. There was Nixon and then Drew. Drove both of those guys to their deaths.
  14. Tito employed two catchers with last names impossible to spell. While he should have been thinking game strategy before the game, he would spend fifteen minutes of important time writing their names down on the line up card.
  15. Francona totally ruined that guy the Red Sox got to play left field. Hey, the guy was a pretty good player before Francona got a hold of him.
  16. He found Afredo Aceves so versatile that the pitcher had to clean the clubhouse and line up everyone's sunflower seeds before the game. One man can't do everything.
  17. He had a 68 year old knuckleball pitcher that wasn't good enough for the bullpen nor the starting rotation. But even he was better than John Lackey.
And so you can see that all this debate about why Francona is losing his job is just plain spitting into the wind. As you can see from the above list, the guy definitely deserves to lose his job. After all, Jim Riggleman can be had much cheaper anyway.

Game Picks - Friday: September 30, 2011

The playoffs are here! And you know what that means, right? Yes, it means bleary-eyed baseball. TBS gets the telecasts. Let this writer state emphatically that TBS would not be this writer's first choice...or second...or third. Not only is this author not a fan of their telecast, but once again, Mr. Bud Selig has allowed the networks to bully around the fans. Common sense would dictate that the East Coast game would be on earlier and the game from Texas would be later. But no, the Yankees make the dollar signs dance in the eyes of TBS. And because of that, parents on the East Coast must again decide whether to let their kids stay up past midnight to watch their favorite teams. It's brutal and stupid and not in the best interest in the game. TBS, you fail on the TIS scale (inside joke).

Oh yes, this post is supposed to be about picking games, not ranting like some liberal democrat or ultra conservative. Right. So let's do that then. Here are the big picks for the first round of the playoffs:

  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: There is much admiration for starting Matt Moore. This is what separates the Bay Rays from the Yankees. They have the freedom to make whatever choice feels best. The Yankees should start Jesus Montero at DH and not Jorge Posada. But they do not have the freedom to even consider those kinds of things. But Moore has never thrown more than five innings of major league ball. Truly, he is impressive. And he could very well hold the Rangers down for five or six innings. But he will need relief and that's problematic. C.J. Wilson, meanwhile, should be strong and he is a worthy ace who if he can hang with Moore in the early innings should win the game in the long run.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: The Yankees faced Verlander twice during the season and held him to two no-decisions and a 4.50 ERA. The games were uncharacteristic for Verlander in that he walked more batters and struck out less against the Yanks than other teams. But he's still powerful and had a great season. C.C. Sabathia struggled down the stretch. He had several chances to get 20 wins and couldn't get there. He's had trouble with Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera (but who doesn't!?). Other than those two, the Tigers' line up can be handled, so the key for Sabathia is to handle those two carefully and be really tough on everyone else. And this writer doesn't care what anyone says, Sabathia's weight is an issue. Since coming to Spring Training in better shape, he's put on a ton of weight and that hurts him. But overall, the Yankees are home where they feel good and they smash the ball. So that's the pick.

Week: 36-27
Month: 231-155
Season: 1369-1064

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The MLB Regular Season Is Over - Awards Time!

Now that every game in every team's season is completed and while we all anxiously await the playoffs, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we all experienced and to proudly cast this site's official ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance annual baseball awards. Doing so is one of this writer's favorite parts about being a member of said organization.

The awards considered are the Connie Mack Awards, given each year to the league's best manager, The Willie Mays Award which goes to the top rookie, the Goose Gossage Award to the best reliever in each league, the Walter Johnson Award which goes to the top pitcher and the Stan Musual Award which goes to the majors best overall player. First you'll get the picks and then a few comments for each. Here we go!

The Connie Mack Award - Top Manager

American League
1. Joe Girardi
2. Jim Leyland
3. Joe Maddon
Comments: What Maddon did to get the Rays into the playoffs was spectacular. But which team won more games? And think back to before the season started. Did anyone think the Yankees had a prayer with that rotation? Leyland did a masterful job smashing the rest of a weak division. Honorable Mentions: Ken Macha, Buck Showalter, John Farrell.

National League
1. Kirk Gibson
2. Ron Roenicke
3. Don Mattingly
Comments: The Diamondbacks are the story of the year and Kirk Gibson has to be smack dab in the middle of that conversation. Ron Roenicke did a masterful job making his rebuilt team into a powerhouse. The third place vote for Mattingly is an admiration of the Dodgers winning 82 games despite the awful state of the Dodgers as a franchise. Honorable mentions: Tony LaRussa (though his mismanaged his bullpen terribly) and Davey Johnson whose Nationals finished the season with much promise.

The Willie Mays Award - Top Rookie

American League
1. Eric Hosmer
2. Ivan Nova
3. Michael Pineda
Comments: Hosmer's overall stats suffer from his defensive metrics. But the young player gave Royals fans hope for years to come. Nova became a lifesaver for the team that had the most wins in the American League. The last choice was tough between Pineda and Ogando. Honorable mentions: Dustin Ackley, Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton.

National League
1. Brandon Beachy
2. Vance Worley
3. Wilson Ramos
Comments: Beachy gave the Braves a fighting chance for the playoffs. Without him, there would not have been the heartbreak. Worley made everyone forget who Joe Blanton is. And Wilson Ramos's work went largely unnoticed. Honorable Mentions: Craig Kimbrel, Danny Espinosa, Josh Collmenter and Cory Luebke.

As mentioned in an earlier post, going by WAR only for rookies leads us down to a wobbly results.

The Goose Gossage Award - Top Reliever

National League
1. Craig Kimbrel
2. Sean Marshall
3. Joel Hanrahan
Comments: Went by fWAR for this one. And see? Kimbrel got his award. Great seasons by J.J. Putz, John Axford and Ryan Madson were not overlooked.

American League
1. Jonathan Papelbon
2. David Robertson
3. Mariano Rivera
Comments: Going by WAR kind of sucks because you can't say enough about the season Jose Valverde had. But he's way down on the list in overall stats. Papelbon had a great season so you can't let his last two games affect the vote.

Walter Johnson Award - Top Pitcher

American League
1. Justin Verlander
2. C.C. Sabathia
3. James Shields
4. C.J. Wilson
5. Doug Fister
Comments: Fangraphs has Sabathia ahead of Verlander, but this Fan just doesn't see it that way. Shields was a rock for the Rays all season and so was Wilson for the Rangers. Fister ranks in the top ten in WAR among AL pitchers and solidified the Tigers as they put away their division.

National League
1. Roy Halladay
2. Clayton Kershaw
3. Cliff Lee
4. Madison Bumgarner
5. Ian Kennedy
Comments: The heart really wanted to put Ian Kennedy on top, but the head prevailed.

Stan Musual Award - Baseball's Best Player

National League
1. Matt Kemp
2. Ryan Braun
3. Roy Halladay
4. Joey Votto
5. Cliff Lee
6. Clayton Kershaw
7. Justin Upton
8. Jose Reyes
9. Prince Fielder
10. Brandon Phillips

American League
1.  Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Jose Bautista
3. Dustin Pedroia
4. Ian Kinsler
5. Miguel Cabrera
6. Justin Verlander
7. C.C. Sabathia
8. Alex Gordon
9. Curtis Granderson
10. Ben Zobrist

There you have it. Now you can let the Fan have it. Enjoy the post season.

BBA Link Fest - General Euphoria

Each week, this site features the best from around the country and world with links from the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. What a treat it is to read all these peers.

This week is a little different because some of the links are related to individual topics and some are links to the sites' picks for the various BBA awards. First the general links from the generals:

Going Yard celebrates "Brewtober" with grand style and passion.

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor has a long and terrific pondering of whether Justin Verlander should be the Most Valuable Player.

Diamond Hoggers compares two teams desire to win.

Daniel has a review for you of Moneyball over at the Ball Caps Blog. Hint: He liked it a lot.

Mickey Brignall ponders if Jacoby Ellsbury's heroics in Yankee Stadium altered his MVP chances over at The Call to the Pen.

Baseballism celebrates the wild wild card race with verve and style and a nice history lesson.

The Batting Stance Guy has gotten famous imitating baseball players. Now a site is imitating him! The Hall of Very Good has all the details.

Rob Bland's post seems more topical now than ever as he wondered what happened to Carl Crawford in this MLB Reports post.

In one of this writer's favorite reads of the week, Bill and The Common Man have a give and take about the new Moneyball movie over at The Platoon Advantage..

Over at the BaseBlawg, Robbie Clark makes a stunning and welcome announcement. Way to go, Robbie!

For those of you that like visual evidence of an actual problem (this writer does!), you can't do better than this piece over at The Baseball Index that shows just where Daniel Bard went wrong.

Jonathan Mitchell over at MLB Dirt is in awe of Matt Moore. And rightly so!

A new obsession for this Fan has been watching Sully Baseball videos from the terrific Paul Sullivan. Here is an example. Watch them all!

And now for the awards links:

Aaron Somers over at Blogging From the Bleachers (love that name) casts his votes for the Willie Mays Award here and here. The Willie Mays Award goes to the top rookies. Then he casts his votes for the Connie Mack Awards here and here. The Connie Mack Award goes to the top manager.

Baseballism casts its official ballot in all the awards here. Terrific!

Hot Corner Harbor chimes in with their picks for the Willie Mays and Connie Mack Awards.

For Baseball Junkies makes their Willie Mays and Connie Mack picks with gusto!

The Ball Caps Blog makes its recommendation for the Connie Mack Award.

MLB Dirt has their official vote tallied in the Connie Mack Award.

Diamond Hoggers give you all their award votes in one shot. Great job!

Replacement Level Baseball Blog proudly gives us its vote for the Connie Mack and Willie Mays Awards.

Old Time Family Baseball casts its Willie Mays Award ballot here and its Connie Mack Award ballot here.


Game Picks - Regular Season Finale Recap

Major League Baseball is usually like a mighty but meandering river winding from spring to fall. The very nature of the game and the season lends itself to pleasurable voyages on the water craft of your choosing. The journey is what separates our national pastime's place in sports from other games. Last night, that mighty river met a cataract and its water cascaded spectacularly in a great waterfall of drama. For some, that cascade was a thrill ride that led to ecstasy. For others, the end was like hitting the jagged rocks below. Either way it was spectacular and a fabulous end to the sport we love so much.

This writer's first thoughts last night were of the fans of the Braves and Red Sox. There is no joy in their final defeat in a month of slip and sliding. Any Yankee fan who witnessed 2004 knows how it felt to see a 3-0 games lead in their series with the Red Sox lead to the great collapse knows how Red Sox fans feel right now. And the same with fans of the Atlanta Braves. What once seemed such a sure and promising season turned to mourning and shock. The heart goes out to them.

The second thought was of the joy for Cardinals fans and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, both teams with struggles all season that found a way to get hot when it mattered most. Both teams earned their way into the playoffs and those fans have to be thrilled silly. Congrats to all of you.

But those weren't the only games in town. An old man led the Mets to victory and their star shortstop, Jose Reyes won the batting title. But for those who came to see Reyes for perhaps the last time in a Mets uniform had to be disappointed when Reyes took himself out of the game after bunting his way on base in his first at bat. That move simply isn't cool to this observer, especially in this day and age when the batting title isn't what it used to be. 

The Brewers, Tigers and Rangers all won their final games and head to the playoffs on a roll. The Yankees...well the Yankees made this observer feel a little empty. While understanding that they earned the right to rest their players and setting up its rotation for the playoffs was an understood priority, relievers are not starters and have a day of rest before the playoffs begin. It would have been much more good for the soul if David Robertson or even Rafael Soriano had started the ninth inning for the Yankees instead of Cory Wade. The results might have been the same, but at least it would have felt right. And without taking anything away from the Rays, those last two homers (Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria) were really of the cheap variety, going to the shortest points in the outfield and just clearing absurdly low walls.

The Royals, Pirates, Nationals and Indians all finished with losing records again, but this year feels different for all of them. For once, their seasons showed the promise of what could be coming. Brighter days seem to be in the offing for these franchises. Lost in all the playoff hoopla last night was an amazing performance from Stephen Strasburg. The pitcher showed once again that if he can remain healthy, the future is unbelievably exciting. The same could be said for the Rockies with Drew Pomeranz.

This Fan of Major League Baseball has written these columns for 177 straight days that encompassed the entire MLB season. It's been a blast and an honor to predict and then chronicle the results from day to day. The column has kept this Fan's finger on the pulse of the entire season. The fun and this feature will continue through the playoffs but it's a very different animal to predict a couple of games a day instead of fifteen. Stay tuned and thanks as always for making this one of your daily stops.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 36-27
Month: 241-155
Season: 1363-1064
Games of the Day: 111-66

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diamondbacks Unbelievable Game

The Diamondbacks' improbable and amazing comeback yesterday against the Dodgers is a mini-microcosm of their improbable and amazing season. While this writer will not rehash the Diamondbacks' season (already wrote this last week), the game itself was amazing.  Stunning.

The first part of the problem for the Dodgers was the long-held belief by major league managers that a five run lead is safe in major league baseball. With the emphasis on saves and holds and close-game bullpen management, managers often find a way to get less than stellar relievers in the game to start the last inning when their teams are "comfortably" ahead. Don Mattingly was no different. But the Fan is getting ahead of himself just a bit. Let's start at the beginning.

The Diamondbacks naturally want to win as they fight for second seed in the playoffs, but unlike the Brewers, do not want to use one of their better pitchers to accomplish that goal. It was the perfect time to start Jarrod Parker. Parker was drafted in the first round by the Diamondbacks back in 2007. Just 22 years old, Parker had a successful, if somewhat disappointing season in Double A this season. Baseball America rated Parker the 33rd best prospect in baseball this past off season. Parker did his part by pitching five and two-thirds innings of four hit ball with one walk and one strikeout. Nice. He also picked up his first major league hit. And lest that last fact be a surprise, Parker has a .271 lifetime BA in the minors.

So Parker matched Hiroki Kuroda, who did what he usually does: give up no runs and not get a win. With both starters out of the game, both teams scored a run in the seventh. Dee Gordon drove in a run in the top of the inning for the Dodgers and then Lyle Overbay doubled in a run for the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the frame. Overbay is a nice player on the bench for the D-Backs. In a totally meaningless statistic, the D-Backs are 13-4 in games Overbay plays.

And so the game stood at 1-1 through the regular duration of the game and we get to the top of the tenth inning. The Diamondbacks brought in Micah Owings, owner of this writer's heart as a man-crush. Except he got crushed. On top of giving up four hits and a walk in the frame, Owings also made a fielding gaffe that cost another base runner. Chris Young also made a fielding boondoggle and by the time the inning was over, Owings had given up five runs, four of them earned. Game over right?

Except Mattingly fell into that dreaded manager malady of the safe relief appearance. Blake Hawksworth is Mattingly's fifth best reliever. And he showed why (although not all of it was his fault). Hawksworth actually retired the first two batters on routine ground outs. But then Cole Gillespie singled (his first hit of the season). Miguel Montero singled and Gillespie went to third. Chris Young walked. John McDonald pinch hit for Owings (Owings might be the better hitter of the two) and hit a hard grounder to third. Aaron Miles booted it and Gillespie scored. That could have been the third out.

And as happens so often in these "safe" relief appearances, Mattingly had to go to his closer anyway and he had to bring in Javy Guerra. Closers are strange people anyway and it's always better to start an inning with them than to bring them into tough situations. But Guerra needed to get just one out. It never came. He first walked Aaron Hill to force in a run. And then this happened. It was cute how Roberts mimicked his manager's famous home run trot in the World Series.

And thus the improbable happened. But why shouldn't it for the Diamondbacks? The Dodgers found a way to lose the game and the D-Backs found a way to win it. As for the Fan's man-crush, Micah Owings ended up with the vulture win and finishes the season, 8-0.  In a visual of how loony this game was, the Fan leaves you with the win probability graph of the game thanks to the good folks at It sure looks like a roller coaster.

Game Picks - Wednesday: September 28, 2011

Somewhere, Bud Selig is sitting and kicking his legs, cackling with glee. And why shouldn't he? Here we are on the final day of the regular season and both wild cards are tied. All eyes will be on MLB to see how this drama plays out and that's good for baseball. And if the day ends with those ties intact, the regular season will get an extra day as a one game playoff will have to be played tomorrow. The Brewers and Diamondbacks also have something to play for as the Brewers have a one game lead for second seed for the playoffs. If the Brewers lose and the D-backs win, then the D-backs hold the head-to-head edge and would be the second seed. The same can be said in the American League where the Rangers hold a one game edge for second seed. If the Rangers lose and the Tigers win, then the Tigers would get second seed. Such excitement! We also have a batting title on the line in the NL with Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun nearly neck and neck going into the last day.

As for the picks, they had a good day yesterday. The Red Sox win and the Bay Rays win were losses in the picks tally. The Yankees pick would have been gold if it hadn't been for Rafael Soriano. The Angels' pick was downright silly the way the Rangers are hitting. Picking the Royals when Sean O'Sullivan started was a stretch and the Mets lost a heartbreaker to the Reds. But that was it on the negative side.

The Fan has been sitting here for 176 straight days making these regular season picks and for the most part, enjoyed every minute of it. So it's sad that today will be the last full schedule until April. The game picks will keep chugging along through the playoffs and World Series. But still. There is something magical about the regular season and that ends today...or tomorrow. Today's picks:

  • The Mets over the Reds: Miguel Bautista. Sheesh. Okay. We'll go with the old guy. The other option would be Edinson Volquez, the Reds' version of Lackey/Burnett. Jose Reyes goes for the batting title.
  • The Blue Jays over the White Sox: The White Sox haven't lost in the post-Ozzie era. But they face Brandon Morrow who has strung some awesomeness lately. Phil Humber goes for the White Sox. Bet John Farrell is glad he isn't sitting in the Red Sox dugout getting all the blame for the Red Sox pitching. The Blue Jays have shown promise this season for the future.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: Two young pitchers in this one. Drew Pomeranz goes for the Rockies and Eric Surkamp goes for the Giants. Both are coming off of bad outings their last time out.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: The Marlins last game ever in their terrible home park. No sadness there. The Nationals have had a promising season and their biggest promise pitches today in Stephen Strasburg. He'll face Chris Volstad, who has been better of late.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles. The Red Sox haven't won back-to-back games since August. But everything is lined up for them to win today with Jon Lester on the mound versus Alfredo Simon. That should work.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: There's no reason to think the Tigers should win today. Rick Porcello will only go a few innings. But the Tigers just can't seem to lose and they should beat Zach McAllister.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Tim Hudson will have few obstacles in this game. He has to win it of course. But he faces Joe Blanton and a cast of irregulars.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Brett Myers is no roll over pitcher. In fact he's been brilliant in his last five starts. Chris Carpenter has to pitch his best and the Cards need to scratch out a few runs. TLR should be in his glory.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Matt Harrison and probably Scott Feldman and others are all better than Garrett Richards who starts the last game for the Angels as they finish their disappointing season.
  • The Royals over the Twins: It will be sad to see the Royals' season end. They have been terrific fun to watch this year. You can see promise all over the place. They need a stud starter next year and they could be contenders. Bruce Chen should be retained after the season he's had. Carl Pavano will mercifully end a really bad Twins season.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Zack Greinke will try to nail down the second seed, but at what cost? Greinke should be the opening playoff starter. This doesn't make sense. He's better than Gallardo. So why? Anyway, he'll accomplish his mission at the expense of Pirates' starter, Jeff Locke.
  • The Cubs over the Padres: The off season will be very interesting for the Cubs. Very interesting indeed. Ryan Dempster will end the season on a positive note though Wade LeBlanc suddenly discovered his fastball in his last outing.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: By the time the game starts, they might know the outcome of the Brewers game. So whether Joe Saunders actually pitches a real start will determine this pick. Ted Lilly goes for the Dodgers.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Gio Gonzalez has finished strong after a tough start to his season. He goes for win number sixteen. He should get it against Anthony Vasquez, a lefty with no stuff.

And the Game of the Day (last one of the season):

  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: Who will start for the Yankees? TBO. Who is not available in the bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano (thank goodness). How many regular starters will the Yankees play? Will they insist on getting Posada in there instead of Jesus Montero? Why? Never mind. David Price wins it.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 26-22
Month: 221-150
Season: 1353-1059
Games of the Day: 110-66

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Game Picks - Tuesday: September 27, 2011

Three of the four wild card contenders lost yesterday and the only one that won had to face the Triple A pitchers of the Yankees. Two of the three that lost cost this picker picks. It's a pretty sad state of affairs, these wild card teams. While on the one hand, it's great to have the stimulus of a wild card "race" (more like a crawl), on the other this year proves that the fourth team in the playoffs in each league do not deserve to be there. So while this writer is down with the whole wild card idea, it rankles the purist baseball sentiments that one of these teams will soon have an equal chance to win the whole championship when they weren't even good enough to compete in the first place.

Stepping down from the soapbox, Monday was the first positive day in the last few. Not greatly positive, mind you, but good enough to feel better than going 14-17 the two days before it. Some nice moments of the evening were a three run bomb by Justin Smoak. That homer cost a pick, but it was nice for the kid. The homer ruined an otherwise great outing by Brandon McCarthy. Others included a win for Mark Hamburger (can't get over that name) who relieved C.J. Wilson in his last tune up before the playoffs. Matt Kemp hit his 38th homer, a three-run shot that was the ultimate winner in that game (MVP). But Kemp won't catch Jose Reyes (for the batting title) who had three hits. Melky Cabrera went two for three which pretty much ensures he will finish the season over .300. Who would have guessed that? And probably the coolest thing that happened last night was Ryan Vogelsong pitching seven innings of scoreless ball to cap what has been a brilliant comeback season. Hats off to you star singer.

The picks for the penultimate day of the season:

  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Okay, this Fan has refused for days to believe that the Red Sox are incapable of winning. The bad picks have piled up one after the other. It's time to face facts. This team cannot get it done. Tonight they face lefty, Zach Britton who will pose the lefty-leaning Red Sox some problems. Meanwhile, Erik Bedard is an injury waiting to happen.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Jeanmar Gomez has been good, but the Tigers refuse to sleepwalk through these final games. Good on them. Max Scherzer with the playoff tune up.
  • The Mets over the Reds: Bronson Arroyo has a chance to break Burt Blyleven's single season record for homers allowed. That's something to watch for. Chris Capuano, all in all, has had a decent comeback season.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: The feeling here is that Bartolo Colon is the odd man out for the Yankees' post season rotation. He will make that decision complicated by throwing a gem to beat young Jeremy Hellickson pitching the most important game of his life.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: The Braves' season is on the line and Derek Lowe gets the start? Ugh. Roy Oswalt with the start for the Phillies who should win.
  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Maybe Ozzie Guillen coming to Miami will change Javier Vazquez's decision to retire. The pitcher has been quite great in the second half. He faces John Lannon. Whatever the outcome, the Nationals have made positive steps this season.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: If the Cards can't beat the Astros when Henry Sosa gets the start, then they shouldn't be in the playoffs anyway. Jake Westbrook gets the start.
  • The Royals over the Twins: Sean O'Sullivan's strange season comes full circle with a start for the big club before the season ends. The Twins are a nice team to start against. Anthony Swarzak can only hope for a miracle.
  • The White Sox over the Blue Jays: Mark Buehrle has to finish his White Sox career with a win, doesn't he? That would just be right. But the Jays' Henderson Alvarez is really good.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Former first round draft pick (2007), Jarrod Parker, makes his major league debut. Let's see what he can do against the Dodgers. Hiroki Kuroda is a fine pitcher with a perennially losing record.
  • The Cubs over the Padres: Matt Garza and the Cubs reel in Anthony Bass. Ha! The Fan made a funny.
  • The Angels over the Rangers: Colby Lewis hasn't fared well against the Angels historically. Ervin Santana should win this one.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Trevor Cahill versus Blake Beaven is a good match up. Could go either way.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: Alex White will make the Giants look like a hitting team. Madison Bumgarner will finish off a good season that belies his final record.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Despite the Brewers coasting toward the playoffs, Ross Ohlendorf versus Randy Wolf is a mismatch in Wolf's favor.
Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 16-17
Month: 211-145
Season: 1342-1054
Games of the Day: 109-66

Monday, September 26, 2011

WAR Muddies Rookie of the Year Thoughts

The Rookie of the Year Award has somewhat of a checkered past. For every Justin Verlander and Dustin Pedroia, we've also gotten Angel Berroa and Marty Cordova. The award is hardly a blueprint for continued success. Nor is it an award that has been given out with consistent logic. We can look back no further than 2009 to see that Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey were not the best choices in either league for the ultimate award winners. This year's award will be more controversial than ever. Jeff Passan, lead baseball writer for Yahoo Sports highlighted that succinctly in the following tweet this morning:

Rookies don't always get full playing time. Some may come up later in the season. Some may be babied along early in the season before getting larger roles. And then there is the matter of where they play and how those positions are valued compared to others. With a lot of emphasis on WAR these days (wins above replacement), awards are voted on more differently than they have been in the past. One only has to look at the Cy Young Award for the past couple of years to see the change occurring. And this author doesn't disagree with valuation being a strong part of the argument. It's certainly better than a bunch of storied writers voting willy-nilly based on what they perceive they see on the field. But Passan's point is well taken. Eric Hosmer plays first base, a lowly position on the diamond according to the lords of WAR. And since the metrics state that he doesn't yet play that position particularly well, he gets a double whammy of WAR hit for his position and his success at that position. Is that how we should vote?

WAR also tells us that Craig Kimbrel has been more valuable than other rookie pitchers such as teammate Brandon Beachy, Josh Collmenter and Vance Worley. All three of those latter pitchers have pitched twice as many innings as Kimbrel. Being a closer, Kimbrel has had a lot of glory in that role with his 46 saves and his WPA is certainly higher than all of them. But can a guy who has succeeded in 76+ innings be more valuable than a guy who has slogged through 154 tough innings? Perhaps. It just doesn't sit well. 

And in the American League, has Michael Pineda really been nearly a win better than Ivan Nova when Nova pitches in the AL East and still has a much better record? Is Pineda's fWAR the same as Alexi Ogando who has to pitch half his games in Texas where the ball flies out of the yard? The difference in WAR is basically because Pineda strikes out more batters than Nova. Should WAR put that much influence on strikeouts and is that really a difference of nearly a win? Again, perhaps. Like most posts here, this one doesn't shape the answers, but merely asks the questions. When it comes to voting for something like the Rookie of the Year, this WAR (which this author loves by the way) sure muddies up the water.

If we vote strictly on WAR, then Danny Espinosa of the Nationals would be your National League Rookie of the Year. He has an fWAR of 3.8 compared to Kimbrel's 3.4. Espinosa has had a promising first season, no doubt. He plays a prime position (second base), is a good fielder and a good base runner. But he's batting .239 with an on base percentage about league average. Freddie Freeman of the Braves is better in every offensive category including wOBA and wRC+ but is considered a clank at first (if you believe his fielding metrics) and leaden on the base paths. It doesn't really sit real well that Espinosa's fWAR is a full 2.3 wins above Freeman. But that's what we're seeing.

This writer will have his own official BBA ballot on awards in a couple of days, but as you can see from this post, the Rookie of the Year--or as we like to call it, The Willie Mays Award for the top rookie--has this writer gasping. WAR calculations do muddy the rookie considerations. Which only goes to show you that the more we try to understand baseball, the harder it sometimes gets.

Game Picks - Monday: September 26, 2011

The silly season is upon us as last night's marathon of a game between the Yankees and the Red Sox proved. The Yankees were determined to win the game as long as their cast of Triple A players were the ones involved. Not one move included a regular player getting a pinch hitting assignment. The only place the Yankees would not use a rookie was in the bullpen where they trotted out a weak cast of veteran losers like Laffey and Proctor. It's no wonder with such shenanigans that picking games is nigh on impossible. And we have three more days of non-meaningful games with only the Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and Bay Rays playing for anything with gusto and with their regular line ups.This is the time of year where picking games is like picking Preseason games.

Forty-five games stand between us and the end of the regular season--fifteen in each of the next three days. Monday will look like this:

  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: Tommy Hunter has been pitching well and the Orioles have enjoyed their role of spoiler. But the Red Sox will win behind Josh Beckett.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: The Tigers are still battling the Rangers for the second seed in the playoffs. Does that matter? Perhaps. Doug Fister has been terrific for the Tigers and should be their number two starter in the playoffs. He'll face Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher that has baffled this picker all year.
  • The Reds over the Mets: Homer Bailey is at least a big league pitcher. Chris Schwinden? Not so much.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: The Bay Rays battle to hold on to their wild card hopes. To that end, they pitch James Shields, one of their best pitchers. The Yankees counter with...with...Hector Noesi. Oy.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: This game means everything to the Braves and young Randall Delgado has been great. The game is meaningless to the Phillies who will have Cliff Lee throw a few innings as a tune up.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: The Nats are gearing up for next year. Tom Milone might factor into that scenario. The Marlins? They don't know how to gear up. Anibal Sanchez hasn't pitched badly the second half but hasn't won at all.
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Wandy Rodriguez is a good pitcher and will neutralize Lance Berkman at least. But look for Jaime Garcia to keep the Cardinals in the race.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Kevin Slowey is 0-7. He's a big league pitcher. The odds have to change right? He faces Felipe Paulino, a pitcher with dazzling stuff and at times zero command.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Who knows how long Shaun Marcum will pitch today. But the Brewers should score on Charlie Morton and have some fun along the way.
  • The White Sox over the Blue Jays: Still admire Dustin McGowan's story, but not his over-six ERA and his 85 pitch limit. Dylan Axelrod gets his first big league win.
  • The Dodgers over the Diamondbacks: A meaningless game for the D-backs with Daniel Hudson in a playoff tune up. Can't imagine he'll pitch long. Dana Eveland will have a good game against a team with no urgency.
  • The Padres over the Cubs: Low scoring game will feature a Matt Latos with great stuff against a rejuvenated Casey Coleman.
  • The Rangers over the Angels: Dan Haren got hit with a liner in the eighth inning of his last start and C.J. Wilson left his last start with a blister. Both said they will be ready to pitch. We'll see. The Angels still have small hopes for the wild card but the Rangers will crush those hopes.
  • The Giants over the Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin was supposed to start yesterday and didn't. He should have as his mates scored nineteen runs. They won't score that many runs in San Francisco against Ryan Vogelsong. Nope.

And the Game of the Day (remember, this surest pick, not the most dramatic):

  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Brandon McCarthy has been the A's best pitcher in the second half. Jason Vargas has been better of late, but will lose this one.

Yesterday: 7-9
Week: 7-9
Month: 202-139
Season: 1334-1049
Games of the Day: 109-65

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ellsbury over Bautista for AL MVP

Writing this post is like getting a splinter. It's painful when some of this writer's favorite writers and favorite Twitter follows are fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. Jose Bautista has certainly silenced the critics and the naysayers. Those who called his 2010 season a fluke were sadly mistaken. This writer wasn't one of them. In fact the prediction before the season that Bautista would hit between 40 and 45 homers this season is one of the few correct predictions made here in this spot. But in the end, after looking at everything closely, the MVP here has to go to Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox.

First to get the obvious out of the way. This pick is NOT because Bautista does not play on a contender. Such talk is rubbish from start to finish. If you define the "valuable" in Most Valuable Player, that's what we are talking about. We aren't talking about the Most Valuable Player on a contending team. Yesterday, this writer stated plainly that Matt Kemp is the MVP in the National League even though the Dodgers are going home after Wednesday's game. We are talking about value and which player is the most valuable.

And to get the second obvious thing out of the way, Justin Verlander was considered. And though it can be said that his season was phenomenal, there is disagreement between B-R and Fangraphs on just how valuable it was. The same can be said for Ellsbury whereas Bautista's value is calculated almost same on both sites. And though there is merit to a pitcher winning the MVP, since Verlander is not the leader in WAR on either of the two big WAR sites, then in the end, Verlander was dropped from this discussion.

Ellsbury leads Bautista in fWAR while Bautista leads Ellsbury in rWAR. Just to be totally fair here, Baseball Prospectus also gives Bautista a big edge on their WARP calculations. So two out of three point to Bautista. And indeed, Bautista leads the world in wOBA and wRC+ and also in slugging percentage. He also leads the majors in on base percentage. Ellsbury's big lead in fWAR seems to be all defense. And defense is a troublesome statistic as it is not as clear cut statistic as the offensive ones. Bautista is the leader in the majors for position players and WPA. Ellsbury has Bautista in the clutch statistic as calculated by Fangraphs.

And so the edge in a lot of categories goes to Bautista. But here is the swing vote for Jacoby Ellsbury: When two players are so close in the total value category with different sites disagreeing with the totals, the swing vote for this writer is the second half of the season. Jose Bautista had an amazing first half. But his statistics have sort of coasted since then. Jacoby Ellsbury outplayed him easily in the second half. Here are some numbers:

Second half slash line:  Bautista: .261/.420/.493   Ellsbury: .322/.370/.603.
Second half runs, homers, doubles, RBIs: Bautista: 32, 12, 9, 38.  Ellsbury: 52, 17, 19, 49

Certainly there are other things to take into consideration. Ellsbury's supporting cast is clearly superior to who Bautista has around him. Bautista's amazing first half does count for something. But in the end, the final decision for this writer came down to the old, "What have you done for me lately." And when their overall values are so close, that's what finally sways the vote for this observer. And there it is. Sorry about that Blue Jays' fans.

Game Picks - Sunday: September 25, 2011

Yesterday was not a good picking day. In fact, it was awful. With seventeen games to choose from, only seven were correct. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees. The Yankees have nothing to play for. The Red Sox have everything to play for. And yet they came up with a dud. The Phillies haven't won a game since they clinched. Whuh? Thought the Brewers would be hung over after their clinch. They weren't. Thought the same for Texas except they drank ginger ale. There were reservations about picking against Aaron Harang at home. They should have been heeded. Ricky Romero pitched as well as this picker thought he would. But his fielders couldn't catch the ball in one of the worst Blue Jays games of the season. That's just how it went. If it wasn't for Ian Kennedy and the Twins consistent inability to win a game, the whole day would have been a disaster.

There are sixteen more games today as MLB is having one final lurch before it all ends for the regular season. It's so weird for the season to end in the middle of a week. That hasn't happened in this writer's lifetime. This picker will keep picking right through the playoffs and World Series. But this week is it for the regular season. 

Sunday's picks:
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Poor Brian Matusz has been so bad it's painful to watch. His ERA is over ten. Over ten! Even Brad Penny can beat that.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: Tim Wakefield versus A.J. Burnett. To think we could have had a Burnett - Lackey combo. Now that would have been serio-tragic. But the thought here is that Burnett can get more Red Sox out than Wakefield can at this point.
  • The Indians over the Twins: Fausto Carmona over Liam Hendriks. The Twins are two games away from one hundred losses. Unbelievable.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: If ever Mike Minor needed a big game, this is it. He faces Ross Detwiler, who can be tough at times. The Braves are in trouble...
  • The Pirates over the Reds: Aww Dontrelle Willis. This picker really rooted for you. It wasn't to be. James McDonald gets his last start of the season and it will be a good one.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: Don't have much faith in either Wade Davis or Brett Cecil. But the Bay Rays should win.
  • The Astros over the Rockies: Both teams are playing with Triple A talent right now. Who knows. Jhoulys Chacin has not been good in the second half and Lucas Harrell is somewhat talented. Sheesh.
  • The Marlins over the Brewers: Yes, this was a bad pick yesterday. But Ricky Nolasco is capable of a big outing and the Marlins will push Chris Narveson out of the playoff rotation.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Luis Mendoza! Love this kid. He throws enough zeroes for the Royals to beat Gavin Floyd.
  • The Cubs over the Cardinals: Edwin Jackson. The season comes down to this trade deadline pitcher. Gosh. Randy Wells has had a really good second half and that's what this picker thinks will sink the Cards.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Derek Holland won't pitch long but the Rangers will party against Charlie Furbush.
  • The Angels over the Athletics: Rick Harden is not enough of a road block to keep the Angels from keeping their wild card dream alive. Joel Pineiro goes for the Angels.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Clayton Kershaw has no easy match up with Cory Luebke, who can really pitch. But Kershaw will win and strengthen his Cy Young Award cause.
  • The Giants over the Diamondbacks: It really looked like the Giants quit yesterday against Arizona. But Tim Lincecum goes out with a bang and beats Josh Collmenter.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: Alas for the Red Sox, they came into this double-header with their worst two pitchers. Ivan Nova over John Lackey.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Mets: Okay, enough of this nonsense. Roy Halladay with a playoff tune up is still better than Mike Pelfrey going full strength.

Yesterday: 7-10   ouch
Last week:  52-45
Month: 195-130
Season: 1327-1040
Games of the Day: 108-65