Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bobby's HiJenks

Perhaps you have seen this story this morning where Bobby Jenks, the injured pitcher of the Boston Red Sox, was charged with five misdemeanors including DUI and leaving the scene of an accident that involved property damage. There should be little tolerance for this kind of thing. Sure, we can all say that young men with lots of money will make mistakes. But it's not like these players aren't warned about these kinds of happenings. And 99.9 percent of major league players never become involved in this sort of behavior.

The story is kind of frightening actually. Jenks knew he was going to flunk the field sobriety test and said he had been taking too many muscle relaxants. Taking too many muscle relaxants? Why would he be doing that? This would seem to indicate that Jenks is having a problem with his medication as he tries to recover from a back surgery. If he knew he would flunk the field sobriety test, then he should have known that he shouldn't be driving.

After he was pulled over, Jenks mentioned that he hit a parked car at a strip club earlier. The story goes on to say that he actually hit two parked cars. The admission was nice and stuff, but why the heck didn't he stop after he hit those cars? Talk about bad judgement after bad judgement. And why do players go to strip clubs? Look, there is no moral objection to strip clubs here. The sex trade is as old as time and people are going to do what they are going to do. Far too much money is spent in this country trying to root out this sex business that could be spent better in other places. But still. Strip clubs cause massive headaches for young men with lots of money. Why risk that?

So now Bobby Jenks is going to face charges and perhaps could see some short jail time. The Red Sox cannot be pleased. They have already had a contentious off season and this doesn't help. Plus, Jenks has accused the Red Sox' doctors of screwing up his back. So the marriage between the team and the player can't be in the best of shapes to begin with. The team is now going to be torn between taking care of the player's health and distancing themselves from his actions. Plus, expect MLB to get involved because the influence he was driving under was drug related. Fun, fun, fun.

Bobby's HiJenks are an unwelcome story. It can't be winked at and it can't be ignored. Jenks has shown in this incident multiple errors of judgement and he's made a mess that he is going to have to live with for quite some time.

Not a Fan of ball in Japan

The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will begin their regular season schedules playing each other for two games in Japan. The games will occur nearly a full week before anyone else is playing regular season baseball. Why is that? Do people really like this idea? After the two games are played, the two teams will not have any more regular season baseball until a week later. Does that make any sense? This is all about Bud Selig's world view and taking baseball's popularity around the world. But is it necessary?

Perhaps this writer is being a bit of a curmudgeon. Things are supposed to be linear, at least in this mind. Everyone is supposed to start the season at the same time. Opening Day should be one grand event where all thirty teams are in action and we can all celebrate together. Instead, we'll have an odd standings for a week where two teams will have a record and the rest of the teams won't. And then when the regular season opens on April 4, two teams won't be heard from until April 6.

The first question is whether baseball needs this. It is easy to see that Japan is already extremely big on baseball. Since the sport was introduced over there in the early Twentieth Century, the passion for the sport  has been transforming. As such, there is already much interest in Japan for all baseball--their own and in the majors. Many of Japan's biggest stars have signed in the majors and media interest has been through the roof over there. So it is not that these games will pique that interest any higher. It will be nice for the Japanese fans to see Ichiro Suzuki in action again. But still. What is to be gained by the exercise?

Is this a bone that Selig has thrown the Japanese for the hundreds of millions of dollars the fans there spend on MLB merchandise? What about the Mariners' season ticket holders? They lose two home games plus the Mariners lose those gate receipts and all that goes with it. The venders and parking garages lose two games of income. Since the A's struggle with attendance anyway, why not at least have made these two games Athletic home games?  ***Update. The schedule was looked at incorrectly. The A's are considered the home team. But still...

And how does the exercise affect the two teams that have to go over there to play? It has to disrupt the springs of those two teams as their pitchers can't get their full spring reps to get ready for the season. It has to affect the young and fringe players who needed a full spring schedule to make their cases to make the big club. Sure, there will be some exhibitions over there and that will help. But it's not like facing big league pitching here.

It all just seems kind of pointless. Plus, it makes the start of the season messy. This may make Bud Selig all squishy inside, but the feelings here just fall kind of flat. Not a Fan of ball in Japan. Not a Fan at all.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Reds are Dusty

You know how you avoid bending over so that your underwear does not show? Writing about baseball can be like that. Topics are sometimes avoided because of fear you will look either biased or uninformed and neither is a comfortable place to be. In this particular space, posts about the Cincinnati Reds have been particularly avoided and it is not because the team is disliked. On the contrary, Cincinnati is a great baseball town with a rich baseball history. Some of the players there are favorites like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Mike Leake. To be honest, the Reds have been avoided because of bias about their manager, Dusty Baker.

No, it is not Baker's skin color that causes the bias. This space should not even exist if that were the case. The bias goes back to personally blaming Baker for the demise of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior during Baker's tenure with the Cubs. Those two pitchers should have been the dynamic duo for a decade. And like most biases, this one is not even logical because we simply do not know if Wood and Prior would have developed the injuries they did no matter how they were used by Baker. But they were hurt under his watch and care and he is held responsible.

And it is not like those two were isolated instances. There was Bill Swift and Jeff Brantley and others that were never the same after perceived overwork under Baker's watch. There is also the perception here that he hasn't been able to close the deal. In his eighteen years as a manager, his teams have won a grand total of one National League pennant and no World Series titles. His record in the post season is 17-22 including the Reds' colossal blowout at the hands of the Phillies in 2010.

But big picture, Dusty Baker has had success as a manager. His teams have a .521 winning percentage and all of his teams combined have finished in first place in the division four times. That is not a bad record. He managed Barry Bonds for ten seasons and lived to tell about it (if he so chose). So, there's that. And it cannot be forgotten that he was a very good baseball player in his day as well. This bias has to be dealt with because the Reds are still a factor in the NL Central this coming season and his team cannot continue to be avoided like they are contagious or something.

It is time to "man up" about this particular bias. Now that it is out in the open, it can be dealt with. Baseball Prospectus predicts the Reds will win slightly few games than the Cardinals in 2012. With such a close race predicted in the NL Central this coming season, that race will need attention. And a lot of Baker's decisions will be important if every game counts in that divisional battle. It all starts with how his rotation will start the season as he has seven pitchers vying for the five spots. The season will be fascinating and this space and its readers have been shortchanged by a bias that simply has no good reason for existence. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Buck Showalter meets his Waterloo

No one can exactly determine the benefit or harm a baseball manager brings to his team. The oft-trotted out discourses are the chemistry, organization, inspiration sides of what a manager does. But how to you measure that? You can't. Fairly or unfairly, a manager is judged by the bottom line of wins and losses. If his team wins, the manager gets to hang around. If it loses, he's soon replaced. Some managers are known for the long-term stability they bring to a team like Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Cox and others. Some are known for changing teams, changing the culture and bringing new-found success. Billy Martin comes to mind. Some did both such as Tony La Russa. Buck Showalter is in the Billy Martin category. That is until he met his Waterloo in Baltimore.

Showalter's hiring in Baltimore to lead the Orioles was seen as brilliant coup by the organization. And the honeymoon of 2010 when he took over a ragtag bunch and led them the rest of the way to a nearly .600 winning percentage was the stuff of legends. Showalter had done it again after previous experiences of helping build the Yankees to their first playoff berth in years back in 1995. He was considered one of the architects of the Yankee glory years that followed. He followed that up by piloting the Arizona Diamondbacks as a new franchise back in 1998 and had them in the playoffs with a 100-win season just a year later. His 91-game run as the Orioles' skipper in 2010 seemed to cement his reputation as a re-builder of lost dreams. And then 2011 happened.

Unlike Showalter's last miracles, 2010 ended up as a mirage. The full weight of a strangled organization came tumbling around his ankles like a pair of old trousers in 2011 and the team was abysmal. To be fair, Showalter would have needed a hundred fingers to plug the water of runs that poked holes in the 2011 dike that was the Baltimore Orioles. The team simply could not prevent runs if their lives depended on it. The team was dead last in runs allowed, home runs hit and hits in general. And that wasn't their only problem.

Poor old Vladimir Guerrero and his aching wheels were just a semblance of his former self and he walked only seventeen times in 590 plate appearances. Mark Reynolds struck out another 196 times and played some of the poorest third base seen in this generation. Injuries to Brian Roberts and Luke Scott didn't help nor did a revolving door of replacement players like Felix Pie, Jake Fox and Josh Bell. 

There were some bright spots. J.J. Hardy had been discarded by two different organizations and found himself near the top of a weak MLB cast of shortstops. Nick Markakis had a solid season, Matt Wieters started to show why he was such a highly touted prospect behind the plate and Jim Johnson was yeoman in the bullpen. But they weren't enough.

Many look at the front office of the Orioles past and present and can't see any kind of solid plan taking shape. The team has an owner with the reputation of sticking his hands in the pie and defeating the process. A once proud franchise has fallen on hard times and their new neighbors, the Nationals, have a chance of eating into the fan base.

Where does Showalter fit into all of this? He doesn't. He's just a tired, old guy who has taken to randomly taking verbal shots at the AL East competition. Perhaps that's harsh. In fact, it is harsh. He did rouse his bunch to knock off the Red Sox last September. You have to give him his share of credit for the improvement and belief in Hardy and Wieters. He simply doesn't have enough horses and there isn't much rising help underneath the major league level to come and lift them.

Will 2012 be any better for Showalter and his Orioles? Perhaps just a little. They have pitched well in Spring Training, but the projected rotation of two unproven Japanese imports, two former pitching prospects that have had trouble mastering the majors and Jason Hammel do not provide much hope that this year's rotation will be any better than the last. Brian Roberts is still in limbo. The bullpen, led by Johnson could be decent but is suspect at the back end with Alfredo Simon and Pedro Strop. All in all, the Baseball Prospectus prediction of 73 wins seems downright giddy.

Buck Showalter, former franchise savior, has met his match in this scenario. His reputation has met its Waterloo. You have to wonder if in the back of Showalter's mind, he wishes he had stayed at ESPN.

BBA Linkfest - General Thaw

Winter can be a painfully depressing time for a New Englander. Vast white and gray landscapes, short days and day after day without warmth can wreck havoc on a soul. To complicate matters, there is no baseball except in the memories, the stat sites and with the writing of fine colleagues of the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Reading their work has helped get this New Englander through another long winter. A surprisingly warm spell hit this area of the world this week and three feet of snow melted in four days. The ground lays bare with just a few remnants of blackened and mottled snow. The thaw is here. The sump pump is humming. Recreational baseball is being played in Arizona and Florida and the General Chapter is chirping happily from their fingertips. Here are Thursday's links:

Who doesn't love prediction posts this time of year? This Fan will break out his own crystal ball here in a week or so. In the mean time, what do you think of For Baseball Junkies predictions?

The Baseball Index is doing their own prognosticating and selects its key players for each team in the National League East.

Got to love trick shots performed with a baseball bat. Perhaps you've seen that viral video of that guy hitting a ball into the nets strategically placed around the infield. If you loved that, you'll love this one featured on The Golden Sombrero. And congrats to Mike Rosenbaum for his new gig at The Bleacher Report. He promises he will still maintain his site though.

If you love great writing and baseball cards, check no further than Grubby Glove's latest entry.

Leave it to the Hall of Very Good to find the second coming of the Batting Stance Guy. And he is terrific too. Just like HOVG.

Yes!! Theo of Hot Corner Harbor has another installment of his great series on retired numbers. 

The Fan's good friend and writer of Left Field explains in a lovely piece how he developed such a eclectic taste in music. 

Thank goodness for Michael Schwartze! This Fan can never figure out easily who is a rookie and who isn't. Now all this Fan has to do is go to Mike's post over at MLB Dirt and refresh the memory.Oh, and check out the Fan's post over there this week. It was a fun one to write.

Watching spring baseball can get...umm...boring after a while. Sam Evans of MLB Reports has some great suggestions on how to punch it up a bit. You go, Sam.

Nik has been listing the top ten players on each team for the past couple of weeks over at his Niktig's Baseball Blog. Check this one out on the Red Sox.

So this Fan was hoping to someday see Trevor Bauer do that long toss thing he does. So it was a miracle of sorts when MTD came through with a video of said event on his Off Base Percentage site.. And it's amazing. Make sure you click the full screen thingy on the video to get the full scope. And then hit escape to read MTD's always terrific writing of the feat we just saw.

Old Time Family Baseball always has lots of exotic and kinky baseball stuff to enjoy everyday. Unfortunately, this Fan hasn't been able to figure out how to link the ones it doesn't title. So the link is to the site and then scroll down to find the cool rally hat.

Geoff Ratliff of the Pop Fly Boys gives us ten fantasy baseball players to shoot for in his latest post. And he gives all the appropriate warnings too.

In a post that only TCM could pull off, his The Platoon Advantage post tells George Brett to shut up.

This Fan is probably the only guy in America that hates March Madness. But if it's your thing, check out Rational Pastime's bracket challenge series. It's so good that the Fan almost got interested.

Speaking of that NCAA extravaganza, The Sports Banter made some predictions.

Sully of Sully Baseball somehow predicted American Idol's theme night topic with his heading for his great piece on the Mets this week.

In probably this Fan's favorite post this week, Jeff Dickinson of Through the Fence Baseball asks the great question: Is Jerry Sands the next Paul Konerko?

Mike Cardano of the X-Log tries to dampen our enthusiasm of Yeonis Cespedes and has a point.

Jeremy Wolf is in prediction mode as he's begun a series over at his Wolf's Den site. This one is on the Cardinals.

Staying in prediction mode, Eugene Tierney of 85% Sports fame previews the Philadelphia Phillies.

For years now, previewing the Pittsburgh Pirates has been a drag. Ryan Sendek's 2012 version isn't anything of the sort over at his Analysis Around the Horn site.

Has the Fan told you that he adores Babes Love Baseball's Haiku season previews? This version is for the Baltimore Orioles and check out that picture! How perfect! We also learn that J.J. Hardy is a hottie.

Daniel over at The Ball Caps Blog pays tribute to some female sports writers and rightly so. There needs to be a book on this topic!

Somehow the Fan missed this on Twitter, but Dirk Hayhurst has left Italian baseball behind. Stevo-sama of the terrific The Baseball Enthusiast fills us in on the details.

Baseball Unrated has the headline of the year. Seriously, how can you ever top, "The Tortoise and LaHair"? You can't.

FHPromos of Baseballism bounces off a Tyler Kepner article on this Fan's favorite 2012 topic. Oh pleeeease let it come true Rockies!

Justin Jabs ranks first basemen in a great offering on his Baseblog site.

Mario Salvini covers the recent flap of C.J. Wilson's Twitter prank on Mike Napoli at his Che Palle! site. This Fan didn't think it was funny.

The predictions barrel on in spectacular fashion as Matt Whitener previews the AL Central over at Cheap.Seats.Please.

Dizzy Valance of the Crum-Bum Beat starts us off with a great picture and it is all good from there in his sleeper picks of 2012.

The Diamond Hogger's TheNaturalMevs gives us ten bold predictions for 2012. Yes, they are bold. But they make sense.

And finally, Dugout 24 reports on Lance Berkman's shy comments to the commissioner this past week. Yup. Berkman is shy all right.

Have a great week everyone. Real baseball is almost here!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bullish on the Blue Jays

Yes, we know, we know: Spring Training stats mean nothing. Heck, there was a post here by that title just a week ago. Even so, it is hard to look at what the Toronto Blue Jays are doing this spring and not be a little impressed. Yesterday, on a piece for MLB Dirt, it was explained why the prognosis for the Tampa Bay Rays was bearish. This was a justification for the prediction earlier on that site that the Rays have too many holes to capture a playoff spot for 2012. Before this preseason started, there was already the thought that the Blue Jays were going to be a lot better in 2012 than people thought. The spring they are having merely gives a hint that this thought might be valid.

In a comical response to the aforementioned Bay Rays piece, the terrific Michael Weber (@m_weber) asked MLB Dirt's proprietor, Jonathan Mitchell (@FigureFilbert), if anyone could name the 3-4-5 starters of the Blue Jays rotation. Mitchell responded that he didn't agree with the bearish projection of the Bay Rays but that the piece was well written. But the real answer to Weber's question is that the 3-4-5 rotations spots are going to be better than a lot of people think.

That rotation starts with two studs. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are two terrific starting pitchers but for different reasons. Romero is a ground ball guy (54.7 percent) who won fifteen games last season with a 2.92 ERA. His FIP was a lot higher at 4.20 but that is somewhat understandable in that his homer rate was over one per nine innings and his BABIP and strand rates have regression shouted all over them. But even if he comes in with a solid ERA in the mid-threes, he's going to be a solid starter in 2012 and will get his share of wins.

Brandon Morrow on the other hand is a guy with an amazing arm who has the ability to just blow people away. Morrow struck out over ten batters per nine innings a year ago. His ERA of 4.72 was very high but his FIP was a lot lower at 3.64. If Morrow can be a little better at home and lower his walk rate just a bit, he is going to be a Cy Young Award candidate. He has that kind of talent.

But Weber's question still hasn't been answered yet. Who are the next three starters? There is the forgotten Brett Cecil for one. Cecil had just about as bad a season in 2011 as a pitcher can have. He went 4-11 with an astronomical ERA (and a FIP that was even higher), a 1.60 homer per nine inning rate and a whole lot of messiness. But we are talking about a guy who won fifteen games the year before and by all accounts, he has used 2011 as a wake up call and is on a mission for 2012. Look for a much better season for Cecil in 2012. Book it in fact.

Then there is Henderson Alvarez, who is a lot better pitcher than people realize. He has amazing control and his only limitation will be that the Blue Jays have to monitor his inning count, probably to about 150 innings.

The fifth starter is a problem. By default, the position will go to Dustin McGowan, a guy we all root for because of what he has overcome to get back to the major leagues. But McGowan isn't a long term solution. Kyle Drabek looks a lot better this spring and could regain his once terrific prospect standing. If McGowan falters, Drabek could step in nicely.

So, yes, this rotation isn't filled with the big names everyone knows about. But it's a lot better than people think and since run prevention was the Jays' biggest problem last year, could show a lot better in 2012 and surprise a lot of people. Add this to a much improved bullpen and the Blue Jays could prevent fifty or more runs over last year's total allowed.

Last year's bullpen for the Blue Jays was a disaster. The top two guys, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch simply couldn't close the deal at the end of the game. The projected bullpen of Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver, Jason Frasor and Carlos Villanueva should be very good.

Add an improved pitching staff to a potent offense and you have a surprise team. Jose Bautista has proved that he's a real force and will remain so for years to come. Brett Lawrie looks like the real deal and is killing the ball this spring. The Blue Jays will get his benefit all season which will help tremendously. Adam Lind needs to be better and he has showed that in the past, but his last two seasons lead to a big concern. All the Blue Jays need is for one of the three enigmas of Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames and Travis Snider to have a big season. Edwin Encarnacion will be a good designated hitter and J.P. Arencibia should improve offensively and defensively in his second full season as the everyday catcher. 

Yunel Escobar has proved to be a terrific shortstop away from Bobby Cox and Kelly Johnson is solid if unspectacular at second.

The view here is that the Toronto Blue Jays are a dangerous team. Baseball Prospectus projects them to win 77 games in 2012. Take the over on that big time. There is no reason this team can't win 85 games. For more of an in-depth look at the team's players, The Tao of Stieb has had a fantastic series called "30 Jays in 30 Days." It's highly recommended reading.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Five Years Ago

The latest news on Chase Utley is not good. The Philadelphia Phillies' second baseman has hit a "plateau" in his rehab for his chronic knee problem. Utley has already missed 102 games combined over the last two seasons and his once great career seems at a crossroads. 2010 wasn't quite as off for Utley statistically, but last year, his numbers really dipped. His power at the plate seemed sapped and it really cannot give anyone any optimism that Utley can again be the elite second baseman he once was. There is no joy in this for any baseball fan no matter what team you root for. When an elite player has his career and abilities cut short due to chronic injuries, we all suffer. 

It was this sort of mourning moment that prompted a look at Utley's career. Just five years ago, he was one of the best players in the game. Not only was he a hitting machine as a second baseman, he was the best at playing his position. It was noting his several top ten finishes for the MVP Award that prompted this post. The focus was put on 2007. That was just five seasons ago. Five years is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but so much has changed in baseball since then that perusing the MVP finishes for 2007 are astounding. Let's look first at the American League:

  1. Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees) - A-Rod hit 54 homers, drove in 154 and finished with an OPS of 1.067. A-Rod has become a shell of that just five years later.
  2. Magglio Ordonez (Detroit Tigers) - Ordonez had 216 hits in 2007 batted .363 with 28 homers and 139 RBIs. Ordonez is now out of baseball.
  3. Vladimir Guerrero (Angels) - Guerrero had 186 hits in 2007 and batted .324. He drove in 125 and even posted a .403 on-base percentage. Guerrero could not get a job this off season.
  4. David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox) - Ortiz is still cranking.
  5. Mike Lowell (Boston Red Sox) - Lowell batted .324 in 2007 with 191 hits. He drove in 120 runs with 21 homers. Lowell has been out of baseball for two seasons now.
  6. Jorge Posada (New York Yankees) - 2007 might have been Posada's finest season (at least offensively). He retired this off season.
  7. Victor Martinez (Cleveland Indians) - Had a terrific year in 2011 but busted up his knee and will miss 2012. He might not have a job when he returns.
  8. Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) - Cranked out 234 more hits in 2007. Didn't reach 200 last season for the first time.
  9. Carlos Pena (Tampa Bay Devil Rays) - Had a 2007 slash line of .282/.411/.627. Hit 46 homers. He has flirted with the Mendoza Line the last couple of seasons.
  10. Curtis Granderson (Detroit Tigers)
  11. Derek Jeter (New York Yankees)
  12. Grady Sizemore (Cleveland Indians) - Scored 118 runs and hit 24 homers as a lead off batter. Injuries has derailed his career.

And now the National League:

  1. Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies) - Rollins was the best shortstop in baseball in 2007. Had a two-digit season in doubles, homers and triples. Rollins is not the best shortstop anymore. 
  2. Matt Holliday (Colorado Rockies) - Among the best sluggers in the game in 2007. OPS of 1.016. Now he is more known for moths in his ear and injuries at critical times.
  3. Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers) - Prince wasn't rich yet. But he was working on it. He is now.
  4. David Wright (New York Mets) - Wright has become a tragic figure in New York and Citi Field put a stop to his prodigious numbers. Has not come close to having MVP-consideration numbers for years.
  5. Ryan Howard (Philadelphia Phillies) - Bad contract, but lots of RBIs. Blew out his Achilles Ankle in last year's playoffs.
  6. Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves) - Now a part time player on his last gimpy legs.
  7. Jake Peavy (San Diego Padres) - After several years of coming back for devastating injuries, there is now talk of making him a relief pitcher. Five years ago, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
  8. Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies) - The player that prompted this exercise.
  9. Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals) - Still mashing and should have a big season for the Angels.
  10. Hanley Ramirez (Miami Marlins) - Considered at the time the best player in the NL not named Pujols. Looking for a comeback season in 2012 after a couple of way off years.
  11. Eric Byrnes (Arizona Diamondbacks) - Eric Byrnes!? Just five years ago...
  12. Alfonso Soriano - (Chicago Cubs) - Not much talk of a bad contract just five years ago like there is now.

As you can see, a lot has changed in just five short seasons. Remember how brittle careers are and enjoy today's great players. Who knows what will happen to them five years from now.