Saturday, October 29, 2011

Game Picks - It's a Wrap for 2011

The Flagrant Fan finished his mission to pick the winners and losers of every game for every day of the Major League Baseball season. Not a day was missed. Not a punch was pulled. And while the math might be off a game or two, this picker picked 2,464 games including the post season and the All Star Game. 

While the accomplishment was self-imposed, finishing the mission feels good nonetheless. It is wished that the results could have been somewhat better. This picker's final tally for the season was 1386-1078 for a success rate of 56.25 percent. That's just a shade under last year's mark of 56.8 percent. Looking back on the season, interleague play really fouled up things. This picker's record in the interleague was terrible. And just think, if the commissioner has his way, there will be interleague games every day of the week once realignment happens. Oh goodie! 

For the record, the All Star Game was picked incorrectly, but the post season went pretty well. The picks were 5-2 for the World Series and 24-14 overall for the post season. And despite Bob Netherton's assertions otherwise, the picks had nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the games that were played.

But, anyway, it was fun. Picking games every day will be missed for the winter. But while many were ruing the end of the season, not this Fan of MLB. There is always something to write about and a story to tell. This site will continue to bring you content all winter long. So, see you on Twitter and stop by often during the off season. And thanks as always for your visits.

Pitching Does the Rangers In

Just eighteen days ago, this space featured a post on the dominant bullpen of the Texas Rangers. That sure seems like a long time ago now. Eighteen days ago, the story about the Rangers was built on their pitching. Yes, they could bang on offense with the best of teams. But they have always been able to do that. What separated this year's Rangers (and last year's for that matter) was the pitching. But the pitching that got them to the World Series could not get them the rings they so desperately wanted. You can talk about the fielding. You can talk about clutch hitting by the Cardinals and both story lines are valid. But the Rangers lost because--outside of Derek Holland--the Rangers could not shut down the Cardinals.

It seemed all series long that every Cardinal batter got into a hitter's count. Either a Ranger pitcher would start each Cardinal at bat with a ball or two and then have to find a way back for an out, or they couldn't put away a Cardinal hitter when they did get ahead in the count.

Let's look at some numbers. The Lord knows that this writer absolutely adores But that site's one Achilles Heel is that it won't update its stats until about noon today or after. So the Fan did his own figuring and came up with these numbers.

Ranger pitchers pitched 62 innings in this World Series. In those 62 innings, they gave up 41 walks. That works out to 5.95 walks per nine innings pitched. Obviously, that isn't good. Add those walks to the 56 hits Rangers pitchers allowed and it adds up to a WHIP of 1.565. And we're not even figuring in the hit batsmen. Just to give some perspective, that means that the entire pitching staff of the Rangers in this series pitched like Danny Duffy of the Royals. Apologies to Mr. Duffy, but that's not good. But it doesn't end there. The Rangers pitchers also gave up homers at a rate of 1.16 per nine innings. Anything over one is not good. The Cardinals on base percentage was .370 going into Game Seven and in Game Seven, they got on base at a .394 pace.

Ron Washington is certainly getting his share of heat for his in-game managing of this series. And he certainly deserves some of that heat. But you have to understand that the moves he made all during the World Series worked before the World Series. They didn't work in this one. Not one reliever the Rangers brought in to stop the Cardinals could stop them. Take Neftali Feliz's pitch sequence to David Freese in the ninth inning of Game Six. Yeah, Nelson Cruz could have played the ball better, but the skinny is that during the entire series, the broadcast team had told us that Freese and Allen Craig would hurt you on pitches on the outer half of the plate. So where did Feliz throw his two-strike pitch? Yup, on the outer third of the plate.

The starters (outside of Holland) could not get deep into games. Once the bullpen got into the games, they were ineffective. Here is a rundown of their final ERAs for the series:

Not a stop in the entire bunch. Give some credit to the Cardinals for good game plans and strategies against them. Obviously, they came into this series stressing making the Rangers throw strikes. The trouble is, they never did. No matter who Ron Washington gave the ball to made the Rangers' manager pay for the move in spades.

Some might ponder if, despite his near MVP-caliber World Series, Mike Napoli was the wrong catcher to start this series. But the numbers don't bear that out. With him behind the plate this season, Ranger pitchers walked 2.57 batters per nine innings. With Yorvit Torrealba, that figure was 3.24. The Rangers used the right catcher. They simply couldn't get the right results.

Was Koji Uehara hurt? Why was he left off the World Series roster? Perhaps he was hurt and this Fan missed the story. If he wasn't, he would have been a safer bet than Gonzalez and Mark Lowe at the very least.

You can say all you want about a wild card team getting home field advantage or the tight strike zones of World Series umpires. You can crucify Ron Washington if that makes sense to you. You can talk about the holes in the Rangers' defense at times. But the bottom line is that the Rangers fired blanks the entire series from what was a powerful arsenal of pitching before the series. The Rangers' pitching was like the Spanish Armada and it sunk the Rangers' ships before they could ever reach English soil.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Random Thoughts from Game Six

There is no way to write a coherent post about last night's epic game between the Cardinals and the Rangers in Game Six of the 2011 World Series. It was hard enough to be coherent through the entire game of ups and downs, heroics and boneheaded plays (and moves by managers). The emotions swings were massive no matter who you were rooting for in this game. Even folks like this writer who had no emotional stake in the game were moved by the events that transpired. Other writers can give you lucid recaps of the events that took place in this game. This one right here is as good as any if you need it. No offense will be taken here. The best this writer can do is give you some stream of consciousness thoughts in random order. So what follows are some random thoughts after watching the most sensational game ever.

This writer loves Ron Washington. The man is a baseball lifer who has seen it all. And yet he has unbounded enthusiasm that is infectious and hard not to root for. Unfortunately, he made move after questionable move during the game that will forever cement him in the "not a very good in-game manager" category. Not hitting for Colby Lewis in the top of the fifth inning with the bases loaded and two out is unforgivable enough. Bringing in Darren Oliver in the tenth. It just wasn't a good game for the old skip.

Twitter was certainly abuzz with the defense on both teams last night early in the game. But gosh, folks, you have one team trying to stay alive and the other team that has never won a championship trying to do so, the nerves had to be on edge to the nth degree. Give those people a break, will you?

How many footballs games have you watched when a team didn't take advantage of early scoring opportunities and ended up losing the game? That was the Rangers last night as they should have scored like ten runs in the first seven innings. It's hard to even remember Jaime Garcia starting this game. But he did and he had nothing. Flat as a pancake and the Rangers had a chance to put him away big time early and couldn't do it. First and third with no outs in the first? And they didn't score? Seriously? And that was just the start of it all night long.

You saw Mike Napoli's horrific slide into second, right? How the heck did he stay in the game? The ankle is not supposed to turn like that and survive.

After Neftali Feliz's performance in the ninth inning, can any of you remaining hold outs on the greatness of Mariano Rivera please step forward? Oh sure, Rivera "blew" the save against the Diamondbacks in 2001, but that was a bloop hit off of a great pitch over a drawn in infield. This writer is personally tired of people who say anyone can close a baseball game. No, anybody can't close a baseball game. It's a skill set. What happened to Feliz last night was as bad as Mitch Williams blowing that save against the Blue Jays.

Michael Young is a very good hitter who had some big hits in last night's game. But he was like Brett Favre in keeping both teams in the game. Farve would throw two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Young would drive in a run and then cost two on defense. The Rangers just can't seem to hide the guy. And he wanted to play shortstop!?

When this writer thinks back years from now on 2011, the name Lance Berkman will keep popping up. Seeing Berkman at the plate in this World Series after watching him bat for the Yankees last year is watching two different people. This year's version is slimmer. He has different body language. He is playing five to six years younger than he did just last year and you have to give the guy credit for reclaiming his baseball life and putting in the work to get back to where he is.

Shoot the messenger if you want to. But Fox showed the crowd dozens of times last night during the game. This writer kept thinking to himself, "Look at all those white people." St. Louis's population is made up of 47 percent African Americans according to 2009 figures. The continuing fact that so few are actually sitting in the stands during a World Series game is a problem. A big problem. And again, you can slam this writer all you want, but MLB has yet to address this overriding problem in the game.

That home run by Allen Craig off of Derek Holland in the eighth was huge. To the Cardinals, Holland had seemed invincible. If Craig doesn't hit that homer, the Rangers could have ridden Holland all the way through the end of the game. Instead, Craig's smash took away the aura and gave the Cardinals life. This writer doesn't believe that the rest of the game would have happened the way it did without that homer.

When you have been a baseball fan for fifty years, you know full well the heartbreak and exultation this game can bring to a fan. As such, this old heart literally broke for Ranger fans last night. So close on three different occasions to winning their first championship only to have it dashed time and time again. Oh, gosh, they must feel crushed. Conversely, this writer has been blessed by the many Cardinal supporters through this era of social media. Daniel, Bill, Angela, Erika, Bob, Christine, Dathan and so many others have become real people to this writer through interactions on the Internet that a smile for them can't help but play on the lips for how they must be feeling right now.

There is one more game to play. Will Ron Washington become the next Bud Grant and Marv Levy? Will Tony LaRussa cement his reputation as the genius of his baseball era? Who will be tonight's hero? Can anything top what we saw last night? We'll all have to wait to find out. Baseball is the greatest game on earth. Nothing else comes close.

Game Picks - Friday: October 28, 2011

Would it be any wonder that this picker, like millions of other baseball fans in the world, woke up groggy and stunned this morning? Last night was easily the most amazing post season game ever witnessed by this old fogey of a game picker. Truly amazing. Yes, the pick for yesterday was incorrect. But heck, it looked correct on three different occasions. Except it wasn't. Ever. And it wasn't going to BE correct. Ever. The Cardinals made sure of that. Amazing. What other adjective is there?

So we go to a Game Seven, which for a World Series lately, is news enough. Will the game be anticlimactic? Will it be like the 1986 World Series Game Seven after the Mets stunned the Boston Red Sox in that Game Six?  Or can the Rangers find some way to regroup and pull a victory out. After all, they haven't lost back to back games since...when?...August? Oh yes, that's the picker's job today. Who is going to win this last game of the 2011 season? 

  • The Cardinals over the Rangers: There's just no way the Rangers can recover from Game Six. They have to be shell-shocked. Matt Harrison is already 0-1 in this World Series. Chris Carpenter seems to be born for this moment in time. The Cardinals refuse to go into the night and refuse to give up. The Cardinals will go up early, Carpenter will pitch with wild abandon and the fans in St. Louis will go absolutely out of their minds. That 1986 Game Seven simply sticks too much in this picker's mind. The Red Sox couldn't recover and neither will these Rangers.

Yesterday: 0-1
Week: 2-1
Month: 22-14
Season: 1385-1078

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BBA Link Fest - Speaking in General

Thursday in the FanDome, we feature links from around the globe from members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance General Chapter. As the president of this wonderful chapter of generalists, it is both a pleasure and important to bring these terrific writers to your attention. So sit back, grab a cold beverage and enjoy some baseball links.

Over at 85% Sports, this writer loved how they round tabled their selections for the BBA's Stan Musial Award. Loved it.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball sang an old song for the new/old partnership of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Plus one sad comment from a Padres' fan.

The ever entertaining Ball Caps Blog laments a dreary night in Chicago while neighbors to the south enjoy World Series baseball.

Baseball Franchise Rankings is a neat site and this writer especially liked their recap of how 100-win teams fared in the post season.

The Baseball Hall of Shame as usual put their unique spin on the recent settlement of the McCourt divorce settlement. Now shame is the perfect word for that situation.

Robbie Clark over at her BaseBlawg site reported on a recent candidate for the Angels' GM position. This candidate is important to Clark as should be.

The terrific Blaine Blontz reports on the C.C. Sabathia saga for the Yankees over at his Call to the Pen site.

Our writer in Italy, Mario Salvini, wondered about Dirk Nowitzki's pants when that basketball player threw out the first pitch in a recent World Series game. Check out the Che Palle post.

Matt Whitener, one of our newest writers (and he's terrific), exults and points fingers at baseball's resurgence with this post season over at Cheap. Seats. Please.

If you are like this Fan and don't know who the heck this Ben Cherington is, Taylor over at Crack of the Bat helps us out.

Mevs over at Diamond Hoggers fills us in on the new award Ken Griffey Jr. just received.

Dugout 24 has a great article on the debate of baseball and technology. Very interesting read.

MC over at For Baseball Junkies gives a rousing argument on why a pitcher should have won the BBA Stan Musial Award.

The Baseball Index gives a good argument as to why the Boston Red Sox should consider Marco Scutaro as their 2012 shortstop. Hard to argue.

The ever creative Mike Rosenbaum of The Golden Sombrero gives us the best offensive World Series Game Six performances of all time. Fun!

The General Chapter has picked up some great new members in the past couple of months. Grubby Glove is one of them and you'll enjoy this rhapsody about the 2011 World Series.

There was so much good stuff to consider over at The Hall of Very Good that it was hard to pick just one. But this funny post about Mr. Holland's mustache is a good one!

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor riffs off of a The Platoon Advantage post about where the Cardinals would rank this year on a certain World Series winners list.

Speaking of The Platoon Advantage, here is Bill's post on that special World Series winners list.

Has the Fan told you how much he likes Left Field? Not only is it a great baseball site with superb writing but it also has great writing about other topics in life (and yes, there is more to life than baseball). As an example, check out this post on what life would be like if we already had instant replay.

Ryan Smith has a unique take on Theo Epstein's first day of the Epstein era over at Major League A-holes.

Jonathan Mitchell understands bargain hunting. The must be part of why he covers the Bay Rays for DRaysBay. But on his own site, MLB Dirt, Jonathan gives us one juicy item for bargain shoppers.

There's always a ton of great content at MLB Reports. This writer particularly enjoys the offbeat stuff like this piece here.

Chris Pappas is very happy the World Series is headed for a sixth game over at his NumberOneBaseball site.

MTD has a post over at Off Base Percentage that tells us that a porn star likes baseball. Now that's a link for you.

Old Time Family Baseball gives us a terrific chart of how pitchers have fared in the playoffs with three days rest. Great stuff!

ProSportsWrap gives us a historical profile of MLB Network's television personality, Harold Reynolds.

J-Doug keeps us updated daily on the latest World Series projections over at Rational Pastime. It's become a must go to destination for this writer.

The Fan was tempted to link to Replacement Level Baseball Blog's kudos to us General Chapter voters on our Stan Musial picks (thank you, thank you), but this post was too good for you to miss.

The Sports Bantor talks about betting and it seems the writer is very good at it. Perhaps his "hedge" will help you if you are of similar interests.

Sully is an expert in communication. Perhaps you have checked out his videos to see what the Fan means. Being such an expert, Sully is baffled by what happened in the World Series over at Sully Baseball.

Dan Kirby over at Through the Fence Baseball gives us a fascinating look at eight prospects who could break into the majors before their 20th birthday.

Peter Costa proves to us that he is not a fantasy baseball expert in an entertaining piece over at X-Log: The Rise of Excellence.

And now this Fan has a treat for you. Two links from our two newest members! Welcome aboard!

Ryan Sendek's site is Analysis Around the Horn and if this piece is any indication for what we are in for, welcome aboard indeed!

Christopher Carelli has a new blog called The Baseball Stance and he's terrific. Again, if this post is any indication of what's to come, he'll have plenty of momentum.

Happy reading everyone! And thanks as always for your support.

The Evaporating Season of Anibal Sanchez

According to Fangraphs, Anibal Sanchez was the 26th most valuable starting pitcher in baseball last season. He finished with eight wins. Somewhere, someone is shouting, "He just doesn't know how to win!" But seriously, to put Sanchez's season in context (if you believe WAR), Sanchez was just a tick less valuable than Zack Greinke in 2011. Greinke won sixteen games. He was as valuable as Edwin Jackson who at least won twelve games. Sanchez was a tick more valuable than Tim Hudson (sixteen wins), Jon Lester (fifteen) and Jaime Garcia (thirteen). The eight win total was shocking considering that Sanchez was 6-1 on June 10, 2011. He only "won" two more games the rest of the season. So what the heck happened?

According to his player page on, Sanchez had a decent first half/second half split. He was only slightly less effective in the second half, but you have to dig to find it. Here are some numbers from the splits (first half listed first, followed by the second half):

  • ERA - 3.58/3.78
  • WHIP - 1.230/1.344
  • K/9 - 9.3/9.2
  • BB/9 - 3.29/3.04
  • BABIP - .311/..325

Again, looking at those numbers, there is not really a significant breakdown in those splits to go from a 6-2 record in the first half to a 2-7 record in the second half. You might even explain away the higher WHIP with the higher BABIP. If you look at the team stats, the Marlins were slightly better on offense in the second half and middle of the pack and league average in defensive efficiency. So again, why did Sanchez not win more than two games after June 10?

The evidence (and admittedly, it's speculative) seems to point to the fact that after his June 10 start, Anibal Sanchez got a new manager. Why would that make a difference? Different managers have different styles, especially in the National League. Some will leave their starters in longer before pinch hitting for them. Some give more latitude and both appear to be the case with Jack McKeon when it came to Anibal Sanchez.

In the first half of the season, Anibal Sanchez averaged 6.27 innings per start. In the second half, that average went down to 5.95 innings per start. But even that is somewhat misleading because June 10 was quite a bit before the start of the second half. On June 10, before Jack McKeon, Sanchez averaged 6.56 innings per start. Under McKeon the rest of the way, Sanchez averaged 5.84 innings per start.

For whatever reason, McKeon did not trust Sanchez as much as Edwin Rodriguez did and had a quicker hook. A quicker hook would give Sanchez a significantly more difficult time winning games than otherwise. It might also account for some of the higher second half stats as he didn't get enough innings to balance them out. Who knows, perhaps Sanchez was on an innings count for the season. But this writer didn't hear of such a thing. But there does appear to be at least a hint of a suggestion as to why the 2011 season evaporated for Anibal Sanchez.

He will again have a new manager in 2012 in Ozzie Guillen. It will be interesting to see what happens and how long Guillen's patience with his starters will last. Guillen has been an American League manager for a long time so his performance with the pitching and pinch hitting will be fun to watch. It seems to this observer that Guillen would be wise to give Anibal Sanchez a bit more latitude because this guy can pitch.

Addendum *** Since this post was published, a rabid Marlins' fan on Twitter (@LoMoDimples) noted that this writer didn't mention the offense as part of the problem. It's a valid point. In Sanchez's first thirteen starts, the Marlins scored 3.84 runs a game. In his last nineteen starts, the Marlins averaged 3.0 runs per game. So it's a point well taken.

Game Picks - Thursday: October 27, 2011

Game Six wasn't played yesterday as MLB decided to cancel the game due to the threat of rain. (Well alrighty then). Since the same starters will go today as were supposed to go yesterday, this picker might as well copy and paste yesterday's post and make it easy. So here's yesterday's post in case you missed it:

Rain. Has any season season in Major League Baseball ever been more affected by rain? So it is only fitting that tonight's Game Six is seriously threatened by the stuff. By the way, kudos to the MLB and Bud Selig for fixing the playoff system. Even if today's game is washed out, the pace of the playoffs has been crisp and exciting with no long drags in the action. And even if we get a wash out today, the series will end before November starts. As much as this writer likes Derek Jeter, the Mr. November thing wasn't cool.

So what if the game is played? Let's all hope it's not a start and stop kind of thing. That bites worse than anything. Better to cancel it altogether if there is a chance for that happening. But if the game goes as scheduled, what will be the results? Here's the prediction:

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: This picker can't imagine that either of these starters will go beyond four or five innings. Jaime Garcia did throw a fabulous game in his first start of this World Series. But go look at his game log. How many times has he strewn two good games together all season? This picker counts only two such occasions. And Colby Lewis has this semi-reputation as a big game pitcher. But the reality is that he's just sort of ordinary or less than ordinary. If the Rangers were smart, they would put Mike Napoli behind the plate. This has been his series and that's where he should be. Facing the lefty Garcia would be right in his wheel house. If this becomes a battle of the bullpens, you'd have to give the Rangers the edge at this point. They have more weapons including an established closer. However, if Ron Washington continues to walk Albert Pujols in this game, he will get into serious trouble with the softer tosses of Colby Lewis facing Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. This game is too close to call, really, but the pick here seems to be the Rangers.

Week: 2-0
Month: 22-13
Season: 1385-1078

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World Series Coaches and Some Stuff You Might Not Know

So much attention has been paid in this World Series to Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington that you may not know very much about their respective coaching staffs. Oh, you probably have some idea of their pitching coaches as Dave Duncan has this uber-pitching coach reputation and Mike Maddux is developing the same sort of reputation (along with being the brother of a Hall of Fame pitcher). You probably also know Mark McGwire, probably the most prodigious slugger not in the Hall of Fame. But what about the other coaches? Do you even know who they are? Who is the Rangers' batting coach? See? Your genial host has decided to provide you some bits of information about these coaches just so you can add to your banks of knowledge. Let's do this.

Did you know that the Rangers' bullpen coach has the only World Series win in San Diego Padres' history? He started the very next season with an 11-0 record. Who is he? Why, he's Andy Hawkins, of course. The World Series was in 1984 and the next season when he finished with an 18-8 record was 1985. He is probably better known to Yankee fans as one of their more horrible pick ups during the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He was hated then about as badly as A.J. Burnett is hated now. Even his one shining moment with the Yankees turned to dust. On July 1, 1990, Andy Hawkins pitched a complete game (eight innings) and gave up no hits and lost. Jesse Barfield made an error in the outfield followed by an error by Jim Leyritz in left field. The two errors plated four runs to give Hawkins the loss. Jim Leyritz in the outfield? Whoever thought that was a good idea? Did you know that Andy Hawkins' real first name is Melton? Melton?

The Cardinals' first base coach was the first ever third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays after he was selected by that team in the expansion draft. His original team was the Minnesota Twins. For that team, he hit a home run in the first at bat of his big league career in 1971. That same 1971 season saw Dave McKay hit safely in 21 of his first 22 games in the big leagues. He also hit a home run for the Oakland Athletics in their division series against the Kansas City Royals in 1981. McKay was born in Vancouver and was elected to the Canadian National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. Those "1" years were good years for Dave McKay.

That Texas Rangers' hitting coach is Scott Coolbaugh. He fits into that amazing number of coaches category that were pretty insipid ball players. Coolbaugh played parts of four seasons in the majors and hit a solid .215 in total. His career OPS+ was 76. He did accomplish one solid feat. He hit exactly two homers in all four of his big league seasons. That's consistency. Coolbaugh also played several years professionally in Japan and Korea.

Who is the Cardinals' bench coach? Unless you were a core Cardinal fan, few of us would know that it is Joe Pettini and he has been in that role for ten years. Really? Who knew. Pettini played nine years in the minors but never made it in the majors to a starting position. He did show a solid bat in Triple A as a shortstop, so it's a little baffling to understand why he never got a shot. Perhaps his 46 OPS + in 392 big league appearances is the answer. Do the Cardinals need a bench coach with mad genius, Tony LaRussa, running around? Perhaps they do because Pettini has been doing it for a long time.

Rangers' pitching coach, Mike Maddux played twelve seasons in the big leagues for nine different teams. His 39 career wins is about one-tenth of his brother's totals. But Maddux did have 20 saves. He got into one post season with the Red Sox in 1995 and has a perfect 0.00 ERA in post season play covering three innings of work. Known primarily as a relief pitcher, Maddux did start four games for the 1989 Phillies and completed two of them, one a complete game shut out. Maddux compiled a mighty total of 4.4 rWAR in his twelve seasons.

Mike Maddux had a higher career rWAR than Derek Lilliquist did in his eight season big league career. Lilliquist has to be considered as a bust as a #1 draft pick.  Lilliquist started as an ineffective starter for the Braves and Padres in 1989 and 1990. But he had two terrific years for the Indians as a reliever in 1992 and 1992. He had a sparkling 1.75 ERA for the 1992 Indians in 71 appearances. Of course, in hindsight, it has to be one of the BABIP flukes of the century. He only gave up 5.6 hits per nine innings that season despite striking out only 6.9 batters per nine. His BABIP that season was .211. Lilliquist was a teammate of Mike Maddux on the 1995 Red Sox, but Lilliquist did not make the post season roster. Oh yeah, Lilliquist is the guy who answered the phone as the bullpen coach when LaRussa called the other day. 

The Rangers' third base coach was on the on deck circle in the 1988 World Series against the Athletics when Tommy Lasorda instead decided to pull Anderson back in favor of Kirk Gibson. The rest, of course, is history. Dave Anderson was another first round draft pick that didn't amount to much in the big leagues. He played a long time (ten years) and was never more than a utility player. He played every position in the infield during his career. But he finished with a 79 OPS+ for his career.

The Cardinals' third base coach was the first National League player since 1918 to play all nine positions in the field when he did so in the 1988 season. He is a big fan favorite in St. Louis and was named as the top utility man in voting for the All Time Busch Stadium II team. In 1990, Jose Oquendo set major league records for the fewest errors (three) and highest fielding percentage (.996) for a second baseman. Oquendo is one of the rare players who started his big league career as a low walk guy and ended up being a very good on base player. He played 163 games for the Cardinals in 1989 and finished that season with a .375 OBP. Of course, he always batted ninth, so he had 58 career IBBs.

The Rangers' bench coach played one season with the Detroit Tigers in 1965. He was their opening day starting catcher. Unfortunately, Jackie Moore didn't hit. He finished his one and only season with an .094 batting average and a .278 OPS. Oof. Moore managed the Oakland Athletics for parts of three seasons from 1984 through 1986 and finished with 164-190 managerial record. At 72, he's probably the oldest coach on either team.

The Rangers' first base coach, Gary Pettis was the Juan Pierre of his day. He stole a lot of bases, but was never worth much as a player, though he played a long time. Pettis was a better fielder than Pierre and won five Gold Gloves during his career.

The Cardinals' bullpen catcher is so indistinct that he doesn't even have a bio on the team's site. His name is Jeff Murphy.

Josh Frazier is the Rangers' bullpen catcher and started with the Rangers as an intern. He has a lot of duties now besides being the bullpen catcher. His bio explains them all. Can you tell this writer is running out of steam?

Coach Johnny Narron of the Rangers is another coach on the staff that has a brother who was a big league player. Jerry Narron is now the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Both teams employ off field hitting coordinators who were former big league players. The Cardinals employ former MLB player, Derrick May while the Rangers employ Spike Owen in that capacity.

Perhaps now you know more about the staffs of these two World Series combatants. At the very least, you can now act very smart and knowledgeable at dinner parties.

Enjoy the rest of the World Series!

Game Picks - Wednesday: October 26, 2011

Rain. Has any season season in Major League Baseball ever been more affected by rain? So it is only fitting that tonight's Game Six is seriously threatened by the stuff. By the way, kudos to the MLB and Bud Selig for fixing the playoff system. Even if today's game is washed out, the pace of the playoffs has been crisp and exciting with no long drags in the action. And even if we get a wash out today, the series will end before November starts. As much as this writer likes Derek Jeter, the Mr. November thing wasn't cool.

So what if the game is played? Let's all hope it's not a start and stop kind of thing. That bites worse than anything. Better to cancel it altogether if there is a chance for that happening. But if the game goes as scheduled, what will be the results? Here's the prediction:

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: This picker can't imagine that either of these starters will go beyond four or five innings. Jaime Garcia did throw a fabulous game in his first start of this World Series. But go look at his game log. How many times has he strewn two good games together all season? This picker counts only two such occasions. And Colby Lewis has this semi-reputation as a big game pitcher. But the reality is that he's just sort of ordinary or less than ordinary. If the Rangers were smart, they would put Mike Napoli behind the plate. This has been his series and that's where he should be. Facing the lefty Garcia would be right in his wheel house. If this becomes a battle of the bullpens, you'd have to give the Rangers the edge at this point. They have more weapons including an established closer. However, if Ron Washington continues to walk Albert Pujols in this game, he will get into serious trouble with the softer tosses of Colby Lewis facing Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. This game is too close to call, really, but the pick here seems to be the Rangers.

Week: 2-0
Month: 22-13
Season: 1385-1078

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Theo Epstein is a Good Man

Ian Tasso is a Twitter buddy under the moniker of @Tasso_SPORTS. He is one of those follows that make Twitter such a lovely place to be sometimes. Tasso is an up and coming sports broadcaster who at a very young age already has radio award feathers in his cap and a tenure at The Boston Globe. He just landed a job as the play by play man of the Las Vegas Wranglers. He's one of those young people you can vicariously live through as he makes his dreams a reality. Anyway, Tasso tweeted a link to a piece in his former newspaper written by Theo Epstein to the fans of the Boston Red Sox. As a writer, it was an event that would have been missed if not for this wondrous age of social media. So thanks, Ian.

The piece in question can be found here and you are encouraged to read it in its entirety. As we often comment on the goings on in sports, we always lose sight of the fact that the people we are talking about are real people. That seems like an obvious statement as they are real people. But when these real people become successful or reach the top of their profession, we tend to create caricatures of them. Theo Epstein's caricature has been as the young wunderkind of the successful Boston Red Sox franchise. He's also painted forever by a gorilla suit. His caricature certainly changed this year from the preseason of ambitious moves as another jewel in his crown to the overlord of all that can go wrong with a team in the final month of a season.

The final result of that final month was a goodbye to Terry Francona and now the wunderkind takes his act to Chicago to see if he can end the drought of title success there like he did in Boston. Certainly, the inglorious end to the Red Sox season sent waves of criticism in Epstein's direction. And in his editorial to the fans, he owns the criticism fully casting the blame on himself. His honest assessment of the team's demise and his role in it are noteworthy and praiseworthy. This isn't a young man that will throw others under the bus. 

From his piece, we learn that he is a fan, just like us. That he lived his dream. That he had great support from his employers and that he had the time of his life. He notes the relationships he made while serving the team and he lists the reasons for his departure. His reasons all make perfect sense and he makes us understand why he left for Chicago. The piece was as human and honest as any bit of writing this author can remember.

The Fan has seen this Boston Red Sox - New York Yankees rivalry for decades. It used to be ugly. The two teams hated each other. But under Epstein and Cashman, his counterpart in New York, the rivalry has become one of mutual respect and gentlemanly. Of course, we fans continue with the hate part. But both teams have acted so professionally for so long that if you are a rational Fan, a grudging respect for the other team happens despite whatever antipathy you naturally have as that fan. This mutual respect is something admirable and comes straight down from the general managers who run each team.

As such, it was difficult to hate Theo Epstein at any time during his run as the Red Sox general manager. Oh certainly, there was some exultation that the normally super-smart franchise in Boston had a few moments of dumbness this past season. But deep inside, you have to know that the events that occurred snowballed from a dozen different directions that no one shovel could overcome. Others can assign blame for the Red Sox collapse, but not this writer. This writer knows it was just one of those things. But still, on a cursory level, there was some inner gloating at the humbling of that great franchise.

But again, Theo Epstein has reminded us that the franchise is run by human beings. And these people are just like us except they have cooler jobs than we do.  Epstein's letter to the fans hit all the right notes for this Fan. He was humble and he was thankful. He was encouraging and he was excited about his new job. He paints a picture of a man who gave himself to his job in Boston and left the franchise in good hands with his successor. He felt it was time for a new challenge as well as a new perspective in Boston. No one can argue with his logic or his understanding. If anyone can have hard feelings toward Theo Epstein after the class he displays in this letter, such people are hard and narrow in their thinking.

Theo Epstein could not fake a letter like this. The writing and feelings he displays ring true and deep. His humility is refreshing. There will be more time later to analyse what Epstein is up against as the new leader of the Cubs. But for now, after reading such a letter, the only logical response is to root like crazy for Theo Epstein in his new job and hope like heck that he finds success there. Theo Epstein is one seriously good man.

Beauty and the Feast

Last night was one of those nights when it was known in advance that the ballgame would have to wait. The beautiful, talented and wonderful teen daughter that is the sparkle in this writer's eye came over yesterday as she does three times a week. And she had homework. As sometimes happens when you are a parent, that homework became "our" homework. She had a paper she had written on Romeo and Juliet and had received the first draft back from her teacher. There were a bunch of red marks on the draft and she relies on old Dad an his supposed knowledge of the English language to help her fix such things. Her home is computer un-savvy, so she was unable to bring her original file. That meant that sitting side by side, old Dad had to retype all five pages.

Reading your child's writing is eye opening. In the everyday and mundane interactions in life, we rarely get a glimpse inside our children's heads to see how they feel about things. Reading her take on whether Shakespeare's most famous work was about puppy love or the real thing was eye-opening in how the daughter views the world, relationships and life in general. So it was a pleasure and besides, old Dad types faster than her anyway.

Our little project went beyond nine o'clock and once it was finished, she needed to be driven the fifteen miles out into the countryside to her home. After be-bopping to our one and only radio station, we got to her door, said our goodbyes and old Dad started the drive home. Of course it was well past sunset which had occurred sadly by 5:30 and for those of you who live in a fairly average-sized town, you don't know dark until you drive out into the sticks. That, friends, is dark. Enjoying the ride to her home and savoring every minute of our time together, the sky was hardly noticed. Just a brief glimpse gave the driver the impression that it was cloudy or something. The sky seemed sort of whitish. But after starting the drive home, at the end of the daughter's road and at the stop sign, the sky was fully regarded and what a sight it was.

The northern lights were out in full force. Living in northern Maine, the northern lights are not a rare item. But usually, they are somewhat muted, hazy and seen to the far north. Last night, they were everywhere. Once the driver got through the dead zone for cellular telephone signals, the wife was called and told to go outside and see the wonder for herself. Old Dad couldn't wait to get home to see it with her without having to watch the road for stray moose. 

And what a sight it was from the front porch. Arm in arm with the best wife in the world, the sights in the sky were remarkable. Certainly such a display was as uncommon as can be. The local television station has a Facebook page and a fellow named Kevin Pelkey from just over the Canadian border (about twenty miles from here) posted this photo:

While the photograph is beautiful, it pales in comparison to what we saw. The light display was not contained to just the northern horizon, but filled the entire sky. Right over us above the house developed this unbelievable band of blood red light. Everywhere else in the sky were dancing lights of light blue and white. As the wife huddled shivering in her bathrobe, coat and sandals, the Fan called the daughter and excitedly told her to take her hand-held phone outside. There, Dad, wife and Dad's daughter shared a once in a lifetime moment of beauty. It was spectacular and a moment that will be tucked deep inside forever.

It wasn't until after that glorious moment that the World Series Game Five was finally turned on the television. And after such a thrilling and emotional occurrences that were already described, it was a bit less important to note the goings on down in Texas. Fortunately, the game captured attention right away. It was the start of the eighth inning, or at least the start of the bottom half anyway. You all know what happened that half inning by now with the communication problem between Tony LaRussa and his bullpen. Mike Napoli's big double off the wrong bullpen pitcher capped the inning and sent the game to the ninth. There we got even more of a feast of entertainment as that same Mike Napoli threw out Allen Craig on a failed hit and run and then, fittingly, Napoli ended the game on a Berkman strikeout by missing the ball, chasing it three-quarters of the way to first base and flipping it to Moreland to end the game. Mike Napoli has become everyone's Mr. Everyman in this World Series (at least for everyone not a Cardinal fan) and we are all just along for the ride.

So no, there is no in-depth analysis this morning. There is no game breakdown. This writer has no qualms about that as hundreds of writers around the globe are already providing you with that kind of content. Instead, the lasting impression this morning is of a daughter, a wife and one of nature's most wondrous gifts given to all of us. Perhaps it was not baseball profound, but it was profoundly ingrained inside one of your fellow human beings. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Game Four Charts

Sometimes pictures tell a story better than words. Here then are some graphs and stuff for Game Four of the World Series between the Rangers and the Cardinals won by the Rangers.

Derek Holland, Edwin Jackson and Mitchell Boggs' release points for Game Four from Brooks Baseball

Game Picks - Monday: October 24, 2011

Is it safe to say that Derek Holland had a moment yesterday? Yeah, you could say that. And this picker semi-called it yesterday in the game picks. Here was yesterday's quote:
Of course, it all depends on Derek Holland. Holland is a shut-down capable pitcher, but he's also had his share of clunkers along the way. He's just as capable of throwing a nine inning shutout as he is of getting knocked out by the fourth. For the Rangers to win, it has to be the former and not the latter, especially with the amount of outs his bullpen had to get yesterday.
You could say that Derek Holland did the former in spades. A one out walk was all that stood between him and a complete game in the ninth inning. Edwin Jackson was nearly as good, except, unlike Holland, Jackson flirted with disaster from the opening inning. How he escaped with only one run scored that inning was a real Houdini act. After that first inning, Jackson wasn't seriously threatened until his last inning when Mitchell Boggs made an unfortunate pitch to Mike Napoli whose homer plated both of Jackson's prior walks. As much as this was a signature game for Derek Holland, it was for Jackson as well. The Cardinal pitcher is in the same category as A.J. Burnett...great stuff, mixed results.

It's impossible to quantify how big Holland's effort was. If the Rangers lost, they'd be down 3-1 and would be forced to win two straight in St. Louis with the most loyal fans in baseball rooting their home team on. But every game is big now. If the Rangers lose tonight, then again, they must sweep in St. Louis and everything Holland accomplished will be for naught. If the Rangers win, then have a decent chance to take one of the two games to become world champs. Tonight is unbelievably huge. And underscoring the impact of the game is that both teams have their aces on the mound.

Except for Game Three, the starting pitchers have reestablished themselves in this series. It's impossible to forget Chris Carpenter's big time performance on the last day of the regular season to get the Cardinals into the post season. Meanwhile, it's easy to forget that C.J. Wilson was one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball in 2011. His post season hasn't cemented how good his season was. He has a perfect opportunity to follow Holland's effort and build on it to have his own moment. Which ace will come up big? And if the answer is neither, which bullpen will save the day? This is going to be fun!

The pick:

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: Both teams need this game badly but the Rangers have the most to lose. Fortunately, they have one more home game and that has to help them. Carpenter is certainly capable of throwing a gem, but so is Wilson. For the Rangers to win, they have to get to Carpenter early, take an early lead and let their crowd get into the game. The Rangers will need their top of the line up to scratch their way on base and create havoc on the base paths. And C.J. Wilson needs to pitch the game of his life. Both bullpens have reached their creative limits and if one of these starters doesn't start well, his team will be in big trouble. The pick has to be for the home team here. They have to win the game or you can start etching the Cardinals' team name on that trophy.

Yesterday: 1-0
Week: 1-0
Month: 21-13
Season: 1384-1078

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Still in Awe of Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan began his pitching career when this writer was ten years old. He didn't finish his career until this writer was 37. Ryan pitched for 27 seasons. And as such, Ryan was a major part of this baseball Fan's formative years. For each of those seasons, his legend grew. By the time he was finished, he was the all time strikeout king. He pitched seven no-hitters. And for a kid who grew up on baseball cards, the back of his card was right up there with Hank Aaron's and Pete Rose's as three of the coolest baseball cards ever with all those stats plastered everywhere. To this day, Ryan's page is a favorite destination for its sheer awe power.

He spent his first five seasons with the Mets who really didn't know what to do with him. They knew he had electric stuff, but they didn't trust that he could catch the strike zone often enough, and truthfully, back in those days, he couldn't hit the strike zone often enough. But his legend was already building. That legend became near fever pitch in the 1969 Miracle Mets season. Back then, before the World Series, the top two division winners (yes, only two divisions then, East and West) played a five-game playoff to see who would go to the World Series. Talk about a free-for-all, do-or-die format! The Mets won 100 games that season for the legendary Gil Hodges and faced the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. The Braves had Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda and could mash the ball. But the Mets were led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman.

The Mets won the first two games of that playoff series and were looking to sweep. The Mets didn't have much in their rotation after their top two guys. Gary Gentry was their Number Three and he was decent, but that was all. The Mets gave Gentry only two innings of that Game Three. Then they handed the ball to Nolan Ryan, a curious move since Ryan had only made ten starts and fifteen relief appearances for only 89 total innings that season. But Ryan totally dominated the rest of that game, pitching seven innings while giving up only one run and he struck out seven. He won the game and in doing so, sent the Mets to the World Series where they would go on to beat the powerful Baltimore Orioles for the title. Ryan only pitched once in that World Series. But his legend really started in that post season.

The Mets never really trusted Nolan Ryan full time and in his first five seasons in the big leagues, he never pitched more than 152 innings in a season for that club. After the 1971 season, the Mets traded Ryan to the California Angels (along with three other players!) for Jim Fregosi. That trade in retrospect is probably one of the worst trades in baseball history. Fregosi had one forgettable season in New York before the Mets practically gave him away to the Texas Rangers the following season. Ryan, meanwhile, went on to three of the most talked about seasons ever for a pitcher in his next three seasons with the Angels. He won 62 games in those three seasons while pitching an incredible 942 innings. He struck out 1,079 batters in those three seasons including 383 in 1973. The legend of Nolan Ryan hit full stride.

The thing about Nolan Ryan's career is that during his run, he was more of a fan favorite than a darling of the writers. He never won a Cy Young (though there is a case he should have won two during his career). He only made eight All Star teams in his 27 years of pitching. And it's somewhat understandable from that time period's way of thinking. A pitcher back then was valued for his won-loss record. Ryan would not have a .600 winning percentage for a season until his fifteenth season in the big leagues (in the strike shortened 1981 season) and he would have a winning percentage of .600 or better only four other seasons after that. Despite all those strikeouts, his eight year record for the Angels would only add up to a mundane 138-121 record. While he would lead the league in strikeouts for seven of his eight Angel seasons, he also led the league in walks for six of those seasons. It's simply a shame that we don't have pitch counts from those days. One can only imagine how many pitches Ryan threw during those years.

It was only later in his career that Ryan would harness his control. It wasn't until he was 40 years old that Ryan reached the three strikeouts per walk ratio. Ryan's final career tally of 324 wins against 292 losses led to quite a debate during his Hall of Fame eligibility days. Yes, said the writers, he finished with the all time strikeout record, but he also finished with the all time walk record. But even in his forties as in most of the rest of his career, Nolan Ryan was the one pitcher that every fan wanted to see pitch. Any game could be historic. Any game could be a no-hitter. Heck, his last no-hitter came when he was 44 years old. And he was striking out nine batters per nine innings in his 26th season as a 45 year old.

Nolan Ryan finished with a career ERA of 3.12, that's pretty remarkable for a pitcher who threw as many games as he did. Fangraphs pegs his FIP at 2.97...even better. He gave up only 6.6 hits per nine innings for his career, an all time record. He only gave up homers at a rate of 0.5 per nine innings for his career. His career slash line against looks like this: .204/.307/.298. Remarkable.

And for those of us who cut our baseball teeth on Nolan Ryan, to see him sit on the sidelines as the head and glue of these Texas Rangers as they battle in their second World Series in a row, he's still a legend and we are still in awe of him. Nolan Ryan was always larger than life and his baseball life is somehow matched and perfect in his status as the head of the American League's best team. In a world where "awe" is thrown around like candy, Nolan Ryan has inspired more of it than almost anybody.

Game Picks - Sunday: October 23, 2011

Yesterday's pick of a Rangers win in Game Three of the World Series was off by about ten runs. Sure, the Rangers scored the amount of runs this picker thought they would score. But to think that the Rangers would give up that many runs is unthinkable. Hats off to Albert Pujols and the rest of his teammates for a rousing win and a wild ride yesterday. Once again in this post season, starting pitchers couldn't make it to the fifth inning, but this time, the bullpens weren't pretty. Scott Feldman became human, Alexi Ogando became human and the rout was on. The Cardinal bullpen wasn't great either, but then again, they didn't have to be.

Where does Albert Pujols' three-homer, five-hit performance rank up there with all time great games in a World Series? To say top three would be fair. The three-homer game matched the record held by Babe Ruth (three times) and Reggie Jackson (once). Pujols' six RBIs also tied the record for most in a World Series game. Pujols did set a new record for total bases in a WS game though, so that puts his performance above Hideki Matsui's performance in 2009. But Matsui's feat and Reggie Jackson's feat came in the final games of their World Series wins, so they have to get a few more points. But make no mistake about it, Pujols was awesome and certainly gave us history that we'll not soon forget.

The Rangers have to put yesterday's game behind them quickly and their ability to do that has to figure into today's pick. And here it is:

  • The Rangers over the Cardinals: The Rangers have been nothing if not resilient in this post season. Nothing seems to bother them for very long. They are still in their home ballpark. They still have the full backing of their adoring fans and they still have a great team. Of course, it all depends on Derek Holland. Holland is a shut-down capable pitcher, but he's also had his share of clunkers along the way. He's just as capable of throwing a nine inning shutout as he is of getting knocked out by the fourth. For the Rangers to win, it has to be the former and not the latter, especially with the amount of outs his bullpen had to get yesterday. Edwin Jackson has a decent ERA in his years of pitching in Texas (3.24). But he's also come away with a 1-3 record there lifetime. How he performs will also have a big say in how this game progresses. The Rangers do have a problem with Josh Hamilton being injured. He's certainly not the same player and is much less of a threat. But it's not like the Rangers don't have other hitters. The Cardinals need to hope their smashing offense is again evident in Game Four. One thing is for sure, this series sure is entertaining!

Yesterday: 0-1
Last Week: 3-1
Month: 20-13
Season: 1383-1078