Saturday, October 22, 2011

Official BBA General Chapter Ballot for Stan Musial Awards

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance is an organization of baseball writers around the country and around the world. The alliance is split into chapters based on teams affiliations, fantasy baseball writers, historians, etc. Your host for this site is the president of the General Chapter which features writers who are generalists. In other words, we don't write about any one team (though we may root for one). Each year, the BBA encourages its member sites to vote on the various BBA awards handed out in October. Awards already announced have included the Willie Mays Award (top rookies), the Connie Mack Award (top managers), the Goose Gossage Award (top relievers) and the Walter Johnson Award (top pitchers). The last award on our agenda is the Stan Musial Award which is awarded to each league's top players. After polling General Chapter members, this is the General Chapter's official Stan Musial Award ballot which is cast as a block vote. Much thanks goes to all General Chapter members who worked hard to make this ballot possible.

Here is our vote:

As you can see (if you can't, simply click on the pictures above to make them larger), Matt Kemp got the top spot in the National League and Jose Bautista won our top spot in the American League. Kemp was on the most ballots in the NL while Curtis Granderson was on the most ballots in the AL.

The following sites voted. Please visit their sites often as they are terrific.

Ball Cap Blog 
Flagrant Fan 
Left Field Cheap Seats Please Number One 
BaseballMajor League A-holes

Game Picks - Saturday: October 22, 2011

The venue for the World Series changes today as the series moves to Texas. The pitching match up seems to be as even as it gets. Kyle Lohse has had a very good season with a record of 14-8 with an ERA of 3.39. Matt Harrison has had a very good season with a record of 14-9 with an ERA of 3.39. How's that for symmetry? The Designated Hitter goes into effect in the home ballpark of the American League Team. Even that seems a wash. The Cardinals get Allen Craig into the line up in right field and allows Lance Berkman to DH. This adds a good bat for the Cardinals and tightens up their defense. The Rangers add a good bat in Mitch Moreland who tightens up the Rangers' defense playing first base (where Michael Young is not very good at all). So even that seems to even out. Mitch Moreland batted .469 in last year's World Series. We all know that Allen Craig is a perfect two for two in this World Series.

So what's the pick then? Oh, you impatient people! Okay, here it is:

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: The Texas Rangers have a home OPS of .860. Think about that for a second. That means that as an entire team, they are just below what Albert Pujols hit for the season when they play at home. With Mike Napoli catching, there are no holes in the line up. None. They averaged 6.1 runs per game playing at home this season. Meanwhile, their pitching at home (which also suffers some) has given up 3.9 runs per game. Although Kyle Lohse is induces more ground balls than fly balls, his career home run rate is 1.1 homers per nine innings. He's been significantly better at preventing them in the past two years, but he has a higher homer rate per nine innings than Matt Harrison. Add in Kyle Lohse lifetime post season record of 0-4 with a 5.09 ERA and you seem to have everything aligning for the Rangers. But again, that's why you play the game. Good luck to both teams and their fan bases.

Week: 3-0
Month: 20-12
Season: 1383-1077

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chuck Knoblauch And the Fickleness of the World Series

After several years out of the public eye, Chuck Knoblauch is back. He has a new website and has become a regular tweeter on Twitter. As such, it was kind of a perk when the former player hit this Fan's follow button. Today in twitterspeak is called #FF day, which is short for, "Follow Friday." Another Twitter guy this Fan follows is called @TheRealGruber and that person #FFed Chuck Knoblauch with a #WorldSeriesHero hashtag. For those not on Twitter, a hashtag is like a marker of sorts that helps such sayings trend on the Twitter site. Wow! If you had read this paragraph a decade ago, it would be really strange. But anyway, the hashtag got this Fan thinking about Chuck Knoblauch and the World Series. He was a big part of those Yankee championships in their run of the late 1990s. Since those events are all vivid in this writer's mind, Mr. Knoblauch became the poster child on the fickleness of the post season as a small sample size under a microscope.

Chuck Knoblauch was indeed a hero in his first three World Series appearances. The first one was with the Minnesota Twins in 1991 when they beat the Atlanta Braves. Knoblauch was everywhere in that series as he batted .308 with a .387 on base percentage. He stole four bases in four attempts. It was his first season, a year he won the Rookie of the Year and he might have been the toast of Minnesota at that point.

The Twins went through a long stretch without making the post season and by 1997, Knoblauch was unhappy in Minnesota. At least that's the way this writer remembers it. The Twins obliged him and traded him to the Yankees to start the 1998 season. Twins' fans never forgave Knoblauch and booed him lustily every time he returned to play against the Twins.

Knoblauch's timing was impeccable as the Yankees were about to embark on a three year run as the champions of the baseball world. Knoblauch's play that season wasn't his best, at least not by the standards he had put up before. But in the World Series, Knoblauch was again in the middle of everything. He batted .375 that series with an OPS of 1.063. A case could have been made for him for series MVP if it wasn't for Scott Brosius playing out of his mind in that series.

Knoblauch hit much better in 1999 and it was his best offensive season for the Yankees in his time there. But it was during that season that he developed (or at least it hit full stride) a real problem throwing the ball to first base. It was definitely a yip sort of problem that was one of those mental things that drive us in our humanity to distraction. He made 26 errors that season. But the Yankees still got to the World Series and again, Knoblauch was terrific, hitting .313 with a .912 OPS. To this point he had played in three World Series and had been brilliant in each of them. He was a World Series Hero all right.

But that's when the fickleness of life kicked in. His struggles in the field led to absences from the line up and he only managed to get into 102 games. He was still somewhat effective at the plate but the Yankees no longer trusted him in the field. Thus, when the 2000 World Series rolled around, he was the center of stories in the media. And the aforementioned darling of the World Series fell flat. He went 1-10 in that series and wasn't really any factor in the Yankees beating the Mets in four games.

By 2001, the Yankees gave up on Knoblauch as a second baseman and he was sent to left field to play. He wasn't Brent Gardner out there, but who is? The truth is that Knoblauch was a pretty good left fielder, especially since it was a position he wasn't used to playing. But his offense plummeted in 2001. After hitting well in the ALDS and the ALCS, Knoblauch nearly went zero for the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. He had one hit in eighteen at bats. The World Series ended the Yankee dominance and Knoblauch was viewed as one of the goats. Knoblauch had played in five World Series. Three were heroic and two were complete duds.

The Yankees had no interest in signing Knoblauch after the 2001 series and the former second baseman struggled through one more sad season as a member of the Kansas City Royals before calling it a career.

The point of all this is the fickle nature of the small sample size that is the World Series. At most, a series goes seven games. A player gets hot or goes cold and the narrative paints that player as the hero or the goat. But the narrative is really unfair. In such a short period of time, any result a player accomplishes is strictly in the fluke category. What we watch in each game is a new drama where anything can happen. Each game should be viewed separately as an event with the knowledge that extravagant story lines should be limited to each game and each event. Scott Brosius was a hero in three World Series and tanked in the fourth. Gene Tenace was a hero in the 1972 World Series and tanked in the next three. It's best not to get too excited about whether Albert Pujols "comes through" for the Cardinals or doesn't. It's the nature of the beast.

The Cardinals Deserved to Lose?

Writers are human beings. As such, they have emotions just like the rest of us. In the old days, a writer would write a piece and that piece would go to an editor who would either accept the story, kill it and/or make suggestions. A piece of writing that ran away with raw emotions would probably not fly in that scenario. But we live in a different age. Writers are now bloggers (even if they don't want to call themselves that) and their writing is posted instantaneously with little feedback or interference from cooler heads. Thus we have some stories hours after last night's Game Two of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. One from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports was full of ire over the fact that Albert Pujols didn't stay after the tough loss for the Cardinals to talk to the press. This observer will leave that one alone except to say that he gets what Passan is saying, just not the timing of saying it. Another headline that caught this observer's eye was bannered with the headline: "St. Louis Deserved to Lose Game 2."

The closing lines from the above linked post over at Seamheads read:
There’s no excuse for that kind of hitting. It’s totally unprofessional. I am stunned at what I saw tonight. Stunned. In my near 30 years of watching baseball, I have never seen a worse inning of batting. Never.
Whoa. That's a power packed series of words. These closing lines followed an account of the Cardinals' bottom of the ninth after the team had lost the lead in the top half of the inning. The Cardinals were down by a run and needed to score to prolong the game. The post points out that Neftali Feliz entered the game as the closer and it immediately appeared that he had trouble throwing strikes. He walked his first batter, Yadier Molina. Molina, not a paragon of patience normally trotted to first. The next batter was Nick Punto. And here is where the Seamheads post takes umbrage. Punto, who has been having a fine series with the bat, was given the sign to sacrifice Molina over to second.

What happened during Punto's at bat is the question. First, you take a guy who is hitting pretty well and therefore seeing the ball pretty well. Instead of having Punto take some pitches to see what Feliz will do, he was asked to bunt. Once a batter gets a sign like that, his mentality gets to be singular in focus. "I've got to get this bunt down." So instead of trying to work a walk, Punto's purpose in life became to bunt Molina over. This is why so many of us hate sacrifice bunting. But the Seamheads post looks at Punto's results rather harshly: "And then the unthinkable. Nick Punto bunted foul, off a pitch that was above the strike zone." After remarking how the Cardinals caught a break by that foul landing harmlessly on the ground, the writer then describes the second bunt attempt: "The next pitch, was another unsuccessful bunt attempt at another ball that sailed in above the strike zone." The writer finishes off Punto this way: "So the (sic) Punto struck out on another pitch that wasn't near the strike zone & didn't appear headed for it."

Does the reality match the rhetoric? Let's take a look at Brooks Baseball's PitchF/X data. Feel free to click on the pic culled from Brooks if you want a larger view.

According to what we are looking at above, the first pitch (and bunt attempt) was not above the strike zone. It was one nasty pitch though. We'll grant that the second pitch (and bunt attempt) was above the strike zone. But remember the miniscule strike zone in baseball. That second pitch was probably about letter high. When you are trying to get a job done a pitch just inches high thrown at near 100 MPH is probably a little difficult to lay off of. The strikeout pitch was a borderline strike, not that way out of the strike zone type of pitch the Seamheads writer indicates. It seems to this observer that we have to give Feliz some credit here. Quality pitches.

The writer then goes on to tear apart Skip Schumaker's at bat that followed. Skip got the count to two and one, taking two balls tremendously out of the strike zone. We'll let the Seamheads writer describe the next few pitches: 
That thought crashed fast with a foul tip, a foul, and swinging strike. If I remember right, only one of those pitches looked like it would’ve been a strike if Schumaker had just been patient.
The writer remembered wrong. The 2-1 pitch was right in the heart of the plate, probably a mistake Feliz got away with as it was fouled. That makes the count 2-2 and at this point, the pitcher is in control and the batter in the defensive. The fifth pitch was also grooved in the heart of the plate and again Schumaker fouled it off. Hey, that happens, especially with a pitcher as nasty as Feliz. With the count still in Feliz's favor, Feliz crossed up Schumaker with a pitch that was low. Again, this is understandable with a pitcher who throws that kind of gas and a batter is in a defensive count. Again, give the pitcher some credit here.

The writer then goes on to say that he doesn't remember much of Rafael Furcal's at bat but that he does describe it this way:
I just went nuts in my head when he stepped to the plate and managed to swing at the first two pitches, against a pitcher who was proving he couldn’t throw consecutive pitches in the strike zone tonight.
Of course Furcal swung at the first two pitches. They were right down the heart of the strike zone. This observer will spare you the chart this time. Just take his word for it. Furcal then took two balls before fliying out to end the game. And by that point, Feliz had thrown consecutive strikes on several occasions. 

Here is this observer's take on what should have happened. First, this observer hates the bunt. But if you are going to employ it, the bottom of the ninth in a one run game is probably not the worst idea. But the writer at Seamheads is correct that Feliz was shaky to start the inning. So the Cardinals should have given the take sign to Punto on the first pitch. It was a borderline pitch that the ump could have called either way. If it was called a strike, then you put the bunt sign down if you must. But if the ump called it a ball, then you give Punto the take sign again. The second pitch would have been a ball and then you go from there with take signs until you know that Feliz can throw strikes. It's hard to fault Punto when a decision was taken out of his hands and he was given a job to do right off the bat (pun not intended). Tip your cap to Feliz for making three quality pitches.

Schumaker had two pitches to hit and then swung at a pitch low and out of the zone for strike three. That's happened to dozens of batters against Feliz. Tip your cap to Feliz. Furcal was in a do or die situation and did the best he could. At least he put the ball in play with some juice behind it. It was a line drive that hung up so the right fielder could catch it.

Was this the worst inning of batting in history (ever)? Hardly. It didn't work out for the Cardinals. That happens, especially against a nasty pitcher like Neftali Feliz. A lot has been made over the genius of Tony LaRussa and this observer agrees that LaRussa is one of the best. But a genius is still limited in how much he can affect the action on the field as the players must perform. The decision to not have Punto take the first and second pitches after the walk to Molina was a "miss" by LaRussa. And Jason Motte finally got dinged after a near perfect post season. Motte wasn't helped by sloppy defense by John Jay and Albert Pujols. The Amazing Arthur Rhodes left a pitch up against Josh Hamilton resulting in the tying run and then Lance Lynn was put into a nearly impossible situation. It happens.

Let's just take this game for what it was. It was an exciting World Series game, a wonderful game that thrilled Ranger fans and killed Cardinal fans. That's the way it goes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MLB's Fan Cave - A Success?

Major League Baseball has announced that it will continue their Fan Cave for another season. Once again, MLB is having a sign up for two new cave men (this writer's term) to watch every single game next season. This MTV-like experiment is the latest in our modern world of our new social reality where an entertainment entity creates its own news by becoming the story. But is it successful? And if so, who is it successful for?

Let this writer ask any of you hardcore baseball fans one question: What are the names of the two guys who manned the Fan Cave this season? This writer couldn't name them before reading the above linked article. There is no doubt that Mike O'Hara and Ryan Wagner got the ride of their lives. They got to meet dozens of major league players and other celebrities. They got to watch the game they love everyday in ultra-cool style. And they even got great seats for the World Series. But like most reality television "stars," they never became household names and they are sure to sink back into relative obscurity once their run is over--not to mention that they will also be unemployed.

If you think of some of the great spots the Fan Cave did with David Ortiz and Nick Swisher, MLB did much to put a human spin on its players. But did you notice that they never show on those spots who the Fan Cave person is in those spots? Is there a name listed under Wagner or O'Hara in those spots? No. Clearly MLB has created an event that is not interested in its hosts, but in the event itself. Perhaps that's as it should be as the event will go on with new people watching the games.

But baseball could have created stars and they didn't. No offense to either Wagner or O'Hara, but neither bring much to the table in terms of charisma. MLB could have done a better job at picking unknowns who could become stars in their own right. Was this a conscious effort on MLB's part to pick mundane sort of people or did they simply miscalculate in their hiring strategy?

Saying all that, the Fan Cave has been a nice perk for Major League Baseball. Simply look at the number of followers on Twitter which currently stands at 47,200. That's an enormous number of followers. Contrast that with the less than 6,000 followers each for Wagner and O'Hara. And the celebrity mix of sports figures and other entertainment symbols have given the league numerous "hits" in the media not related to just the league's own network. Major League Baseball has created a venue that sustains the league in the news. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the idea as it has been carried out has brought a human element to the league's players. It was a lot harder to hate David Ortiz after his hugging adventure played out from those Fan Cave spots.

This writer is a bit jealous of Wagner and O'Hara. What a cool gig that would be for a year. But like those who idolize Henry David Thoreau and the lifestyle he espoused, it's not a gig for married men with families that depend on them. If you are young and single and unattached, by all means, go for it. We will envy you.

The Fan Cave has been a great idea for Major League Baseball. Whether planned or not, they did not get any star power from its hires of the two Fan Cave residents. That's a miss as far as this writer is concerned. But it was probably the only miss as the entire idea has been nothing short of brilliant for the league and its players.

Game Picks - Thursday: October 20, 2011

The first game of the World Series went almost exactly like this picker thought it would. And that's a little scary. Chris Carpenter was the difference at home, the match up of Lance Berkman versus C.J. Wilson was won by Berkman and then the bullpens took over the game. Alan Craig, a young player with star potential, got the game winning hit with a single in a pinch hit appearance. And what would a World Series be without a blown call in the ninth by the umpire at home plate as he clearly missed what should have been a foul ball off of Adrian Beltre's foot.

As predicted here, the Cardinals jump out to a 1-0 lead in the series. Tony LaRussa probably out managed Ron Washington who allowed Gentry to pinch hit against a lefty in a big spot and then sent up little used Estaban German for a second pinch hitter. Those two outs were huge in this game.

The Cardinal bullpen has made LaRussa a genius. Can anyone remember a post season like this where a team's bullpen was asked to get so many outs and yet come up with those outs time after time? It's amazing. Totally amazing. You have to keep wondering if LaRussa can ride this bullpen all the way to the end. In the NLDS and NLCS combined, the Cardinal bullpen pitched 42 of the Cardinals' 97 innings. That means that the bullpen has recorded 43 percant of all the Cardinal outs. That works out to roughly 3.89 outs per game. Remarkable (as Tim McCarver is fond of saying).

So now we head to Game Two and again the Cardinal are at home. What's the pick?

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: Scott Feldman saved the Rangers' bullpen last night with 1.2 innings pitched. He's been terrific in the post season. Those outs will be huge as Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz should be well rested and can take over the end of this game. As great as the Cardinal bullpen has been, they have been matched by the Rangers' bullpen. The Rangers should hit Jaime Garcia. Garcia has looked like he's throwing with a dead arm as his fastball has no life and his change up and breaking pitchers are flat. The big key in this game is Colby Lewis. Lewis has performed well in the past in the post season. He just doesn't fill this picker with buckets of confidence. A win for the Rangers would give them an advantage heading back to Texas. A loss for Texas would be pretty darned devastating for their chances.

Yesterday: 1-0
Week: 2-0
Month: 19-12
Season: 1382-1077

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Red Sox Press Release

The Red Sox Nation of fans became one of the biggest fan forces in baseball over the last ten years. Successful over the past nine years, those fans have seen two World Series titles and an end to a long curse and inferiority complex to the New York Yankees. Their team, the Boston Red Sox, became the model franchise. This space has lauded them consistently on how they have outsmarted the Yankees on numerous occasions and their reliance on statistical data went so far as to hire Bill James, the grand poo-bah of our analytic era. All of those apple carts have been overturned in the past few weeks as revelation after revelation has hit the front pages and the Red Sox seem poised to begin 2012 with a new manager and general manager. What the heck happened here?

The conclusions of the masses and of many members of the media seem to be based on the following basic story lines:

  • The Red Sox starting pitchers got out of shape and collapsed in September.
  • Terry Francona's hands-off style combined with a lack of in-house policing led to anarchy and losses.
  • There was a lack of team unity with a schism between the pitchers and the position players and most of the team with Jacoby Ellsbury. 

All of these story lines are cited as factors in the monumental collapse the Red Sox experienced in the month of September. They are also cited as the reasons Terry Francona was no longer the right manager for the Red Sox.

The major "symptom" of these story lines or the disease, if you will, have become the beer-drinking, chicken-eating, game-playing trio of Jon Lester, John Lackey and their supposed ringleader, Josh Beckett. The latest allegation in this game of symptom-calling was that these three drank beer in the dugout during games. This latest bombshell led to the press release yesterday with rebuttals from the three pitchers, "former manager," Terry Francona and CEO, Larry Lucchino. This press release follows recent interviews from Jon Lester and Jason Varitek that perhaps the pitchers did wrong at times and perhaps Terry Francona was part of the problem since he obviously let the pitchers do whatever they wanted. Curt Schilling has given his two cents that Francona is not to blame and that these pitchers should look at themselves in the mirror.

All three of the pitchers vigorously denied drinking in the dugout according to the press release. From an outside observer's view, their comments seemed a bit off-putting. They sounded like some television criminals defensively telling Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the interrogation room, "Look, we might have taken that old lady's handbag, but we didn't kill nobody." All three admitted culpability for "doing some things wrong" during the season. Lucchino was like the parent forcing the students to tell the teacher that they did something wrong. Thus, though denying the major allegation, they seemed to have accepted their roles as designated scapegoats.

Terry Francona chimed in perhaps trying to hold on to his last shred of dignity (and hopes of future employment) and said he's never seen anyone drink in the dugout "in his 32 years of professional baseball."

Larry Lucchino's part of the press release was grating. First, he states that he believes the "testimony" of these three pitchers. Then he goes on to make a point of calling Francona, "the former manager," and then he sort of whines that he wants this all to go away, which of course it won't. This writer can't help by being irked that he had to make a point about Francona. Lucchino could have simply named him without adding on that nice little tag line. That "former manager" led your team to the promised land twice, Mr. Lucchino.

Numbers do not lie. The numbers show that the offense was still potent in September. They weren't quite as potent as they were in August, but they were great numbers just the same. The numbers also show that starting pitchers went 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA with a WHIP of 1.753. The bullpen similarly failed as they had a 3-7 record with a 4.45 ERA in September. Let's call that, "Exhibit A." The defense also struggled mightily in September. Three pitchers have now admitted that they handled some things incorrectly during the season. We'll call that, "Exhibit B." What this writer struggles with is A+B=September collapse. Certainly "A" by itself is a major factor. But does "B" have anything to do with that?

The prevailing opinion is yes. This writer isn't so sure. Injuries to Buchholz, Dice-K and Erik Bedard didn't help either. The defense can partially be blamed on the long, drawn out way the Red Sox pitch. Several stories during the month showed an inclination of Boston pitchers to take minutes between pitches instead of seconds. How many times have we heard from fielders that a fast-paced pitcher aids the defense. The Red Sox would be the reverse of that. They easily led the majors in average game time.

We have become a pretty intolerant society since the PED scandal broke. Ball players are expected to be in shape and work hard year round (as long as they don't ingest anything that aids that aim). This is a relatively new phenomenon. Players didn't always take care of themselves. Players often partied and carried on to excess. And yet there has always been excellence by some players before this new norm and after it. But the new norm gives the fans (and writers) the expectations that players should be automatons and not the young human beings they obviously are. There is a double standard at work here in a society where most popular music is about how to party and enjoy life but our sports figures are to be the paragons of propriety. Life doesn't work that way.

To sum this all up, this writer isn't prepared to say emphatically that it was "A" plus "B" that equaled collapse or that "A" equals "B." On the surface it seems that a strange mix of injuries, pressure and calamity snowballed into disaster. That disaster has its fallout and it ended an era of Boston leadership. But like the fallout from the meltdown of a nuclear power plant, the radiation spewed out becomes the reason for the failure instead of the real reasons that are far more mundane and complicated.

Game Picks - Wednesday: October 19, 2011

After 2,460 Major League Baseball games, the sport's grand finale is finally here. It all comes down to the best of seven between the St. Louis Cardinals (who have home field advantage) and the Texas Rangers. Chris Carpenter will get the ball for Game One and will be opposed by C.J. Wilson. Both pitchers are their teams' ace. Both have struggled in the post season thus far. There is almost no history of play between the two teams as they have mostly managed to avoid each other in interleague play. So anything that happens is a complete surprise. Odds makers have the series slightly in favor of the Rangers, but this writer thinks it is too close to call. It seems to be one of the most evenly matched World Series events ever.

This post season has been all about hitting. Starting pitching has been nonexistent. But it seems time for the starters to get themselves back into the story lines. Hey, they have to be well rested to this point, right? So this picker is looking for a pitching match tonight with plenty of zeroes on the board. Wilson and Carpenter both have shut down capabilities. There was some talk of a bad elbow for Carpenter last week. But he says he's fine. We'll see. The slight Wilson has always been a concern for this picker. Here he's gone from a relief specialist throwing seventy innings a season to two straight seasons over 200 innings. Many experts see no trouble with this, however, so perhaps the Fan worries needlessly. Let's just say that if he doesn't come up big tonight, the Rangers might never recover because their rotation goes somewhat downhill from here.

Okay, we have to have a pick tonight, right? Here it is:

  • The Cardinals over the Rangers: In a big first game, Chris Carpenter has the edge, especially at home. His early season struggles have to be cataloged in the bad defense category. Since Rafael Furcal came along, Carpenter has been much better. There is no coincidence there. John Jay in center also helps as he's stronger in the field than Colby Rasmus. Key match ups in this game include Wilson versus a right-handed hitting Lance Berkman, Carpenter versus Josh Hamilton and Yadier Molina versus the Rangers' running game. The Cardinals have a lot of powerful right-handed hitting bats to counter Wilson's lefty tosses. The only way the Rangers win this game is if they jump on Carpenter early and often.

Week: 1-0
Month: 18-12
Season: 1381-1077

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Official BBA General Chapter Ballot for Walter Johnson Awards

October is awards time for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. The BBA--an alliance of baseball writers around the world--awards top managers, rookies, relief pitchers, pitchers and the league's best overall players each year. Chapters of the BBA are split up by team affiliations, fantasy baseball sites, historical sites, etc. Your favorite Fan is the president of the General Chapter and the votes from around the chapter have been tallied and this is the official chapter results. This post will serve as our chapter's official ballot and be considered as a block vote.

Today we send our vote for The Walter Johnson Award, awarded in each league for the best pitchers in the majors. The American League was a runaway with a unanimous vote for Justin Verlander. Verlander received every first place vote, the first such occurrence in the awards voted on thus far. The National League was more of a horse race with Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay splitting all first place votes. Kershaw, the wonderful young pitcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers is our winner.

Here are how the votes broke down:

The following sites participated in the voting. Please visit their terrific sites!

Ball Cap Blog 
Flagrant Fan 
Left Field Cheap Seats Please Number One BaseballMLB Reports

Fly on the Wall of Theo Discussions

Don't you wish you could be a fly on the wall when important negotiations are taking place? The current negotiations between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox over compensation for the last year of Theo Epstein's of contractual obligation to the Red Sox must be fascinating. Since none of us are privy to such conversations, all we can do then is to imagine what must be going on. Since this writer has an overactive imagination anyway, it might be a fun exercise to imagine what is going on behind closed doors. What follows then is a totally fictional view of the negotiations between Tom Ricketts, owner of the Cubs and John Henry, owner of the Red Sox.

  • Ricketts: Hello, John, thanks for coming.
  • Henry: Thank you, Tom, but it's not like I had any choice. We need to get this done.
  • Ricketts: Right. It was good of you to allow us to talk to Theo. I understand you could have said no when we asked if we could talk to him and I appreciate it.
  • Henry: We'll see how much you appreciate it. But you're welcome. This is what Theo wanted apparently and we weren't going to stand in his way. Why he wants to go from the Ivy League to the ivy is beyond me but that's where we are.
  • Ricketts: Where's Lucchino?
  • Henry: I can handle this. I have Larry running down a development with the soccer team.
  • Ricketts: Oh yeah, right. Soccer. Why would you want to get involved with soccer?
  • Henry: It was a business move and something we were interested in to bring on board. I love soccer.
  • Ricketts: Right.
  • Henry: What? Soccer is fantastic.
  • Ricketts: If you say so. Anyway, about Theo...
  • Henry: We're not going to just give him away, Tom.
  • Ricketts: Nor should you. He's terrific. But things haven't been that great between you and we shouldn't get carried away. You probably would have fired him anyway.
  • Henry: No, we wouldn't have fired him. We would have had some discussions next year when his contract ran out. But we were fine with him.
  • Ricketts: But you did criticize his signing of Crawford. You said you were against that idea.
  • Henry: Don't read too much into that. Do you think I would sign off on that big a paycheck without approving the deal?
  • Ricketts: Then why did you say that?
  • Henry: Because I was pissed at how the deal turned out. It really is Epstein's fault since it was his idea.
  • Ricketts: I see. We have our own...umm...crosses to bear.
  • Henry: You mean like Soriano and Zambrano? Yeah, I would have fired that guy a long time ago for those moves.
  • Ricketts: But you have Lackey.
  • Henry: Ouch.
  • Ricketts: Sorry.
  • Henry: No, that's fine. We deserved that. You want him? Take him off our hands and we're done here.
  • Ricketts: No thanks. We already have one jerk on our pitching staff.
  • Henry: [[chuckle]] Yes you do. And don't even offer him as compensation. We don't want that guy. We'll take that Castro kid though.
  • Ricketts: Uh. No.
  • Henry: But the kid won't take a walk. 
  • Ricketts: No.
  • Henry: How about Randy Wells?
  • Ricketts: No. I like that kid.
  • Henry: But he would play better in Boston than in Wrigley with the wind blowing out.
  • Ricketts: I wish I could give you Wrigley. That stupid name haunts me in my sleep. What a dinosaur.
  • Henry: Make it work. We have with Fenway.
  • Ricketts: We are stuck with Wrigley. Where am I going to put seats? Our fans think it's an Eiffel Tower or something. Ah geez. Drives me crazy.
  • Henry: I hear you.
  • Ricketts: So what's with the chicken and beer thing?
  • Henry: Oh God. Let's not talk about that, okay?
  • Ricketts: Heh. I appreciate your situation but also have enjoyed someone else's team getting a personnel black eye besides us. So what else do you want?
  • Henry: [[looks at his papers]] Geez, Tom, you've got a lot of crap here. Uhh...what about Sahmahjah?
  • Ricketts: [[laughs loudly]]  I love the way you said his name with that Harvard accent. No, we like him. You could have Marmol.
  • Henry: Too much indigestion. I'd have a heart attack by the time his contract is up.
  • Ricketts: Saw through that, did you?
  • Henry: Nice try. Seriously, though, you've got nothing we want. Let's just do a cash thing.
  • Ricketts: I was afraid you'd say that. How much?
  • Henry: How about two million?
  • Ricketts: Interesting. But we wouldn't be able to go that high.
  • Henry: You want the guy, don't you?
  • Ricketts: Well, yes. But that's a lot of money, John.
  • [[phone rings]]
  • Ricketts: Excuse me a minute...
  • [[Ricketts talks in a muffled voice on the phone]] Okay, Bye.
  • Ricketts: That was Selig.
  • Henry: What the heck did he want?
  • Ricketts: He wants us to wrap this thing up before the Series starts. Doesn't want the distraction.
  • Henry: Screw him.
  • Ricketts: Ah, he has his priorities. We have ours. Are you hungry?
  • Henry: Indeed. Let's go to dinner. We can pick this up tomorrow. You're buying.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nyjer Morgan Poll Shows Split

Just for fun, this site posted a poll asking fans about Nyjer Morgan and how his antics played for those of us who watch baseball. Almost predictably, the poll showed that Morgan is a guy you either love or hate. There is little in between. The results were split, just like his personality. The poll talked about the Brewers celebration as a team, but we all know the real flash point here is Morgan.

Eleven in the poll thought the Cardinals should drill Morgan in the ribs. And eleven thought his antics are fun and exciting. Five votes indicated that Morgan's antics were bush league and wrong while six thought they were good for the game.

It's all very interesting. Love him or hate him, people will have conversations concerning Nyjer Morgan. And anytime there is conversation, baseball benefits.

Of course, this writer thinks his season offensively was an outlier. We'll just have to see how opinions of Morgan change when he shows that he isn't quite the ballplayer this season painted him to be.

Milwaukee Brewers Post Mortem

The Milwaukee Brewers went all in this season in a team built to make a run at the National League Pennant. Unfortunately, their pitching fell flat in the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals and the team fell short of their goal. Still, it was a great season that included 96 wins (six wins above Pythagorean) and a tough win over an Arizona Diamondback team in the first round of the playoffs. They face a difficult off season and seem destined to lose Prince Fielder to free agency. The question to be asked about the Brewers is if this was a one year glory, something that seems built into their history, or can they stay atop team in the NL Central?

The Starting Rotation

The starting rotation for the Brewers seemed like a strength going into the playoffs but with the exception of a few good games from Yovani Gallardo and a good game by Randy Wolf, the rotation really crashed in their two post season series. Zack Greinke seemed to lack some maturity needed by a staff ace to climb the mountain in the post season. Yet, in fairness, defense wrecked his starts and it was his first taste of post season play. Greinke certainly had a good season and there is no good reason to believe that he can't continue to lead this pitching staff in 2012.

Yovani Gallardo stepped up during his post season starts until his last one. And he had another very good season. The Brewers need to hand Greinke the ball as the Number One starter which slots Gallardo really well as the Number Two. He will only be 26 in 2012 and should continue to get better as the years move on. The Brewers should be in good shape with Greinke and Gallardo in tandem for next season.

The rest of the rotation seems strong enough on paper. Randy Wolf is a solid Number Four and though his FIP was sixty points higher than his actual ERA, he's a proven major league pitcher that should allow his team to win more of his starts than lose. Chris Narveson showed flashes of goodness during the season. His home run rate went down though he still walks too many batters. His 4.45 ERA is nothing to feel great about, but his FIP of 4.06 shows better. Narveson is a capable Number Five.

The one glaring question mark after this post season is Shaun Marcum. He simply had nothing in the playoffs. As Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus pointed out on Twitter last night, Marcum was either out of gas for the season or injured. The Brewers would have to hope that it was the former and not the latter.

The Brewers control all five of their rotation members going into 2012. And they have Wily Peralta ready to crack the rotation if he shows well in the spring. Peralta made great strides this season and finished strong in Nashville (Triple A). He threw 150 innings this season and should be ready. His walk rate was better and his strikeouts, particularly in Nashville, were up.

The Bullpen

You can say goodbye to Francisco Rodriguez. He was terrific for them and this writer still ranks his acquisition from the Mets as the best trade deadline deal of them all. But K-Rod wants to close and famously stated that the Brewers lied to him. There is no doubt that he's gone.

That said, the Brewers have one of the best finishers in baseball in John Axford. He had another terrific season, was solid in the post season and is young. There are no worries about him moving forward. The question is who will get him the ball? LeTroy Hawkins was a nice piece in the bullpen, but the ancient pitcher is a free agent and will probably be allowed to walk. Marco Estrada looks good at times, but his propensity to give up long balls makes him more filler than back end. Kameron Loe does not seem like a guy to trust a seventh or eighth inning to.

Zach Braddock could be that guy if he can harness is terrific stuff. His walk rate is simply too high as it stands now. It would be great if Brandon Kintzler could return successfully from his disability to again compete for the Brewers. First, you want the young man to be able to live a normal and successful life. But best case scenario, Kintzler is a fine arm and if right, could be a big help moving forward. He's someone to root for.

The Infield

Obviously, the first base question will have to be addressed in the off season. The owner of the team said that the Brewers will try to sign Fielder, but how serious are they? As for Fielder himself, it's hard to see him fitting in anywhere better than he seems to fit with the Brewers. But the man is intent on making his money and it's hard to blame him. The honest assessment here is that he isn't worth the Mark Teixeira money that he will be asking for but someone will probably give it to him anyway. And certainly, Fielder has a lot more homers left in that bat going forward. Obviously, if the Brewers can't sign Fielder, they will have to go out and try to get someone to play first and fill some of the void left by Fielder's bat.

Second is all set with Richie Weeks who is one of the elite second basemen in baseball. This will probably shock you, but this writer is fine with Yuniesky Betancourt at short. As long as you don't expect him to take walks, his defense was as solid as it's ever been for him and he will show occasional pop. He's a bottom third of the batting order type guy, but there are worse shortstops...believe it or not.

Jerry Hairston was a nice story during the playoffs, but that was a short sample size fluke kind of a thing. His defense in the last two games certainly took away anything gained by his bat. And he was only playing because Casey McGehee simply flopped with the bat this season. McGehee was a total mystery this season. He was a bad fielder/good bat for the last two years but this season was great in the field and terrible at the plate. So what happens now? Based on past performance, it would seem to behoove the Brewers to try to fix him. He became overly pull happy and that threw his game all off. There are no other internal options, so that seems to be the best route for the Brewers to take.

The Outfield

Ryan Braun is obviously a superstar and his defense has improved in left. That's all set. Corey Hart is solid in right and he is all set. Center field is a bit maddening. Both Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan are solid defensively but both fast guys simply refuse to be more selective at the plate. This lack of selectivity absolutely sinks Gomez's game. Morgan had a great year offensively, but it really feels like an outlier season than what to expect moving forward. His enthusiasm is great at times and seems to work against him and his team at others. Caleb Gindl seems ready to step into the breach. Gindl doesn't have the range of Gomez and Morgan, but he's a solid on base guy who seems better suited long term. Gindl isn't a tools guy, but if he was a football player, they would say that his motor is always running. Kentrail Davis is still a couple of years away.


The Brewers are all set at the catching position. Jonathan Lucroy made a strong statement as their catcher moving forward. He improved his hitting but needs to improve further. Defensive metrics are listed in the negative for Lucroy, but this writer is impressed with only one passed ball all season. His ability to throw out base runners could be better at 28 percent. George Kottaras is a capable back up offensively if not great at throwing out runners (18 percent).


There is still a lot to like about this Brewers team moving forward. Sure, they need to address first base with a replacement for Fielder in the high likelihood they can't sign him. McGehee needs to bounce back, but there is a capable major league player at every position and two elite players in Weeks and Braun. Their rotation seems solid (on paper at least) as long as you forget all about the Cardinal series. Shaun Marcum needs to be watched closely. The bullpen needs an arm or two but they may have internal options that will do the trick. Ron Roenicke had a solid debut season at the helm and he should have plenty to work with to repeat as NL Central champs next season. They have become the darlings of Milwaukee and their fans are a terrific success story. This is a solid franchise with plenty of promise moving forward.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Detroit Tigers Post Mortem

The horrible finish to the season of the Detroit Tigers should not diminish what the Tigers accomplished in 2011. They ran away with an albeit weak American League Central division and then sent the New York Yankees to an unexpectedly early end to that team's season. A lot went right for the Tigers this season. Jose Valverde, Jhonny Peralta and of course, Justin Verlander all had career seasons. Alex Avila blossomed into one of the best catchers in baseball and Doug Fister gives them a strong number two starter to compliment Verlander. If you think the Tigers are satisfied with finishing as the second best team in the American League, you haven't been following baseball.

The Tigers are always dynamic in the off season and are not afraid of making bold moves to improve their team. And a few moves are certainly in the offing heading into 2012. They look to have little resistance again in the AL Central next season. The Royals and Indians will be more competitive but the Twins and White Sox have some major rebuilding to do. But the Tigers want more than to just win the division. This loss to the Rangers in the ALCS will make them even hungrier to take it further in 2012. So let's take a look at 2012 and where the Tigers go from here.

The Rotation

Good bye Brad Penny. Have a nice life. You can be certain that Penny will not be back and that's what is so encouraging about the Tigers' rotation heading into 2012. They are four deep already with Verlander, Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. They can fill the fifth role with either Jacob Turner or Casey Crosby (their two best pitching prospects) or go after someone like Mark Buehrle. Either way, they should be in better shape than what they started with in 2011. Verlander's season was no fluke. He truly is a stud and barring injury (heaven forbid), should lead this staff for many years to come. Having Doug Fister all season (and on the cheap too!) will be a boon for them. The guy simply knows how to pitch. In 448 career innings in the big leagues, Fister has walked only 1.7 batters per nine innings and keeps the ball in the ballpark really well. Unlike some, the comparisons to Maddux for this writer do not seem far fetched.

The two to worry about are Porcello and Scherzer. Of the two, there is less worry for Scherzer. Scherzer has the more dynamic arm of the two and he just needs to get better at keeping the ball in the park and limit the times when he flattens out in the hitter's zone. Porcello, on the other hand, doesn't fool many batters over the long haul and his 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings is of great concern. That's why it's important to either bring in another pitcher or hope that one of their two great pitching prospects (Turner and Crosby) can make the next step. Jacob Turner has been compared to Verlander and did get his feet wet this season. He's only going to be 21 in 2012, but Clayton Kershaw proved it can be done. Turner did get cuffed around in his cup of coffee, but he's got a great arm.

The Bullpen

Jose Valverde had a great season, make no mistake about that. Forget the close rate as that stat isn't all that meaningful. Saying that, he was fifth in the majors among relievers in WPA and until his last outing, was lights out in the playoffs. This writer would like to see him lose some weight and take better care of himself. And to expect him to not blow a save in 2012 seems like a stretch, but he's proven himself to be a reliable ninth inning game finisher and should be all set for 2012.

Joaquin Benoit was the target of a lot of early season jibes after he signed a big contract and then started so poorly. But Benoit turned it on in June and in the second half, he was nearly unhittable. He's a solid back of the bullpen guy. Phil Coke (can we forget the starting pitcher experiment please?) is a reliable arm from the left side with some juice. Leave him in the bullpen and we have no problems.

Alberto Alburquerque needs to be the pre-concussion pitcher and not the post-concussion pitcher. He also needs to find a way to throw more strikes. There's no doubt he has electric stuff and can strike out a ton of batters. He has the talent to be a David Robertson type of bullpen guy if he can throw strikes. After Alburquerque, the bullpen is thin (as we saw in the playoffs), so the Tigers will need to scrounge around and get themselves some more arms. But that's the case with pretty much every team in baseball.

The Infield

You can pencil in Miguel Cabrera's name in there for years to come. He too looked heavy at the end of the season, but how can you argue with those results? Pencil him in for another season of a 1.000+ OPS. The rest of the infield is a question mark. Third base was a wasteland of Wilson Betemit and Brandon Inge. Inge is one of those guys you root for and is a very good fielder. He just doesn't carry his weight with the bat. Betemit should be allowed to walk (or run). It's too bad the team gave up on Scott Sizemore. This writer still thinks that Sizemore could become a very good player. And to think they gave him away for David Purcey?

Second base is also a big question mark. The Ryan Raburn experiment is interesting. The Tigers should probably explore that further in Spring Training. Ramon Santiago isn't the answer and don't even discuss Carlos Guillen. Second basemen on the market are probably led by Aaron Hill (Towers is talking tough about not keeping him in Arizona). With a market led by Hill, Raburn looks a lot better.

Jhonny Peralta surprised a lot of people with his play this season. He certainly had a career year and played brilliantly at the plate and adequately in the field. To expect a season like that next season seems like a stretch. Peralta can play other positions and if the Tigers can pull off a Jose Reyes/Jimmy Rollins type free agent haul, they should do it and move Peralta to second or third. Prospects Dale Iorg and Daniel Fields both look like they will not be able to hit big league pitching.

Catcher and DH

There are no worries behind the plate for the Tigers. Alex Avilla is your number one catcher for years to come and Victor Martinez can catch the odd days and of course, is one of the best DHs in baseball.

The Outfield

The outfield is sort of a landmine for the Tigers. It didn't help losing Brennan Boesch to injury after 115 games. If he can come back healthy, he's set for right. He's only adequate in the field, but he can rake. Austin Jackson has proven himself as a fine defensive center fielder. But as a batter, he's a ninth hole hitter at best. He's got to get out of the lead off spot. Do that, and you can live with his inadequate offense. This writer doesn't believe in Delmon Young no matter how good he played in the post season. Magglio Ordonez is probably done, so you can't look there. You know who would really look good in this outfield? Andre Ethier. The Dodgers will be motivated to trade him and the Tigers would do well to get him say for Young and a strong second tier pitching prospect.


The Tigers have a solid core of pitching and offense to again win the AL Central next season. A few tweaks here and there and as scary as the Tigers were in 2011, with a few tweaks, they can be even better in 2012. The playoffs might have ended badly, but this team will be back in the playoffs again next season.