Saturday, October 12, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Saturday: October 12, 2013

The game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers took thirteen innings to reach a bottom line in favor of the Cardinals. Don Mattingly is getting clobbered with criticism for moves he made during the game. To be honest, some of them were lame. But then again, it is fairly unlucky when none of them worked. But yeah, a lot of those moves were based on old baseball traditions that are not grounded in statistical reality. To me, the most egregious was that in such a game, the best pitcher in his bullpen only pitched to one batter.

But anyway, the marathon bore out my pick for the game and if memory serves, I have been correct in the last five games. Two more chances to screw up occur today, which is exciting for baseball fans and nerve-wracking for a game picker. The NLCS features its second game while the ALCS begins today.

The picks:

  • The Dodgers over the Cardinals: After watching these two teams compete, I now like the Cardinals for this series. That being said, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Picking against him is not logical. Then again, the Cardinals are going with Michael Wacha, who has had some amazing moments himself in the post season. I cannot see Kershaw allowing any more than three runs and the odds of him giving up that many are long.  That does not leave Wacha any margin for error. The best the Cards can hope for here is that Wacha matches zeroes until it becomes a bullpen game. Sure, anything can happen and Kershaw can face extreme bad luck and bounces. But I have to go with him here despite the home town crowd.
  • The Red Sox over the Tigers: The Red Sox have truly bowled me over all season with how good they are. They will not get punked in this series like the Yankees did last year. The only soft spot the Red Sox have is the bottom third of their lineup. The Tigers have more soft spots than that. To me, the only wildcard is Jon Lester. While he has been brilliant in stretches in 2013, the memories of 2012 and 2011 linger for me. If I was to put him head to head with Anibal Sanchez, who goes for the Tigers, I would always pick Lester. So I have to stick with that. Add in 35,000 screaming Boston fans and I go with the Red Sox

Yesterday: 1-0
Post Season: 15-7
Season: 1389-1075

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bryce Harper a key to who manages the Nationals

When I think about managerial openings, I think a lot about what man fits a team's personality the best. This stems from my belief that the biggest work a manager does is managing players and his success in the clubhouse more than any other factor involved. A manager can and does make hundreds of game day decisions and maybe a handful of them make a difference in the game's outcome. So I do not see that as a huge factor. Besides, no matter who manages, there is a bench coach whose responsibility is to help the manager in those types of decisions. But it is the clubhouse and the personalities a manager has to manage that are a strong part of his job. Saying all of that, Bryce Harper seems to be a key personality on the Nationals to think about.

Saying as much might make it seem like I think Bryce Harper is a bad kid. I do not think that at all. I think this young Turk has a lot of the right stuff to play the game. He plays hard. He hustles. He wants to win and at least if you believe his MLB Network commercials, is very interested in bringing the Nationals to the post season.

But Harper is not a wallflower. While he has a lot of the right stuff and the right attitude and seems to play the game the right way, he is willful as many young people are. He gets in trouble with umpires. He sometimes gets in trouble with the other team. He willfully throws his body around on the playing field when such a tendency can shorten the effectiveness of careers.

To me, Harper is a key to the Nationals as a player. Yes, you have Werth, Strasburg, Zimmermann and others. But Harper is the guy who can shine the brightest. Therefore, he is a key when considering a manager.

This is all speculation here, and I will admit to you that I may not know a stitch about what I am talking about. But if I am somewhat on the right track about how I perceive Harper as a personality, then who the Nationals pick as a manager is a key to how that relationship is going to work with a willful young man.

My perception leads me to believe that Harper would need a manager he looks up to and respects. He would need a manager who can communicate in such a way that the good things about Harper can shine while the willful side can be mitigated as much as possible for the good of the young player. To me, this means that the Nationals' new manager would need to be someone who had a meaningful playing career, or a respected career as a manager.

One such guy out there would be Dusty Baker. But I don't know if the Nationals want to go there. Baker, at least to me, seems soft on players. He is perceived to be a players' manager to the extreme. What do I mean by that? Well, if all of your players love you, then that must mean that you are not always challenging them. I think Harper needs to be challenged (carefully) on occasion.

I happen to think that Davey Johnson was one of the best managers of our era. He was the kind of guy that a kid like Harper could blossom with. But even Johnson seemed to have his hands full at times. That said, I don't see this as a good fit for a career service guy who "paid his dues" learning how to manage in the minors. Most of those guys (who can make great managers, don't get me wrong) were fringe players who did not make a lot of money and earned their way forward through commitment and hard work. I don't see that as a fit using the criteria for Harper I have outlined here.

As I think on this more and more, Cal Ripken, Jr. makes more and more sense to me. No, he does not have any managerial experience. But his dad was a manager and Ripken served under some good ones over in Baltimore. He is a player that a guy like Harper could respect. Heck, who does not respect Cal Ripken, Jr.?

I also see Ripken as being strong-willed and that could be what is needed here. I also see Tony Pena as a good fit here. Pena has really needed a shot for a long time. I think he has the respect factor and he has had success in winter ball and others. He has had a front row seat beside Joe Torre and Joe Girardi, two managers I really admire.

The Nationals have a crucial decision to make here. I think they had a blah season with a really talented team. I think they are still talented enough to be a huge factor in the 2014 season. But the right manager will be important. And a manager that can bring out the best in Harper and mitigate the worst in him is one of the real important components of the decision.

MLB Game Picks - Friday: October 11, 2013

We now have our lineup for the National League Championship Series and the American League Championship Series after Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers again put a Game 5 ALDS dagger into the hearts of the Oakland Athletics. I was a little torn on that pick yesterday but I should not have been. There was never a doubt about the outcome. The A's simply had no shot against Verlander and their expectation that Sonny Gray could keep up with him was a pipe dream.

So now, the Tigers and Red Sox will decide which team goes to the World Series and the Cardinals and Dodgers try to figure out the same thing for the National League. Both Series should be very interesting. I will keep picking every day, but I expect the Dodgers and Red Sox to win their respective series and go to the big show.

Having two left-handed starters will make a difference against a Cardinal team that struggled against southpaws all season. And the Red Sox just seem like a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. But predictions are meaningless. They have to play the games and while a seven game series is more apt to produce the correct winner than a five game series, anything can still happen.

So here we go. It starts tonight with the NLCS. The pick for Game 1:

  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: This is a really tough pick. Zack Greinke has beaten the Cardinals four out of the last five times he has faced them. And he has beat them three times in a row. But those efforts were really spread out over a three year period. He only faced them once this year and once last year. And yes, he beat them both times. But that is too small a sample size. I think Greinke will pitched decently. I see a six inning outing with two runs allowed. But the real key to this game is how well Joe Kelly pitches. Here is a pitcher the Cardinals have not even wanted in their rotation for the last two seasons but he ended up there both times due to injuries and others' failures. He is a good pitcher who is really tough when he is on. But he can have his rough outings too. I think he will be fine at home. My problem with this game and with this series is wondering when and if all these young Cardinal pitchers are going to crack. To me, the Cardinals have the slightly better lineup and it all comes down to which pitcher does a better job. Edge to the home team.

Yesterday: 1-0
Post season: 14-7
Season: 1388-1075

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Thursday: October 10, 2013

The last of the division series will be decided tonight after the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 5 of their series yesterday. Today, the Tigers and the Oakland Athletics will play a Game 5 of their own for the second straight year to decide which team will move on to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.

Just like last year, the A's must face Justin Verlander who they could not solve last year and in the second game of this year's ALDS. Their home field advantage did not help them last year. Will it help the A's this year?

The pick:

  • The Detroit Tigers over the Oakland Athletics: This game has several scenarios that could happen. The A's have taken a huge gamble by bringing back Sonny Gray to start instead of Colon. After the second game of the series, will the Tigers have a better gauge on Gray? Scenario one: Gray and Verlander are again dominant and the A's again win late because of the Tigers' bullpen. Scenario two: The cracks in Verlander's season reappear here in Game 5 and the A's get to him early with Gray being good enough to get to the A's bullpen. Scenario three: Neither pitcher is effective and the A's win a slugfest with superior defense. Scenario four: Verlander is again dominant and the A's pay the price for starting a  young and inexperienced pitcher in the biggest game of the season. The trick is to pick which scenario is more likely. As much as I'd like to believe the first three scenarios are possible, the last one seems the most probable. Verlander has been here before and knows what to do. Sonny Gray is being asked to pull off a miracle. I don't see it happening.

Yesterday: 1-0
Post season: 13-7
Season: 1387-1075

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Smart teams get guys like Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow has always been a pitcher who has intrigued me. My interest probably started when he was featured on Josh Borenstein's "Jews in Baseball" site. I am not Jewish, but Josh ran a good site with an interesting idea. Getting familiar with Breslow from that site, I followed him through his career. I saw that he went to Yale University, which by reference, makes Breslow a smart guy. I saw when the Twins dumped him in the middle of the 2009 season. Then I saw that the A's picked him up that same season and he was terrific. Billy Beane's A's are a smart team. The Red Sox are a smart team. Smart teams get guys like Craig Breslow.

Saying as much, the opposite is: dumb teams get rid of guys like Craig Breslow. That was brought to my mind last night when Breslow was killing it in relief for the Red Sox' clinching game against the Rays. That thought was cemented by this tweet from my Twitter bud, Brandon Warne:

I love guys like Brandon Warne. Not only has he worked his butt off to become the sports journalist he has become, which led him to a job at 1500ESPN Radio as a Twins beat reporter, but he is also one heck of a nice guy. Warne has always been a Twins guy, which has to be difficult because the Twins seem to do things the opposite of trends in the rest of baseball. That has not worked out so well. Personally, I think the Twins are not a smart organization. I could be wrong, but I will stick with that for now.

But Warne is correct. The Twins had picked up Craig Breslow off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in 2008 an Breslow pitched brilliantly for the Twins that same season. But in 2009, Breslow had a bad month to start the season. It really was not as bad as the numbers indicated. Breslow pitched seventeen times for the Twins from April 6 in 2009 to May 19. His ERA was over six. Yup. His walks per nine were also over six, a kiss of death if you are a Twins' pitcher as they get upset over that kind of thing.

But if you look at his game log for those seventeen games, ten of those outings were quite good. Maybe Breslow was out of options. Maybe he did not jibe well with the Twins' manager or pitching coach. But he was not sent to the minors to figure things out. He was jettisoned. The Twins waived him. The A's swept him up in a heartbeat.

That's what smart teams do. Breslow pitched two very good seasons for the A's and one so-so season. Since I followed him every day, it seemed that whatever problems he had with the A's were because he was so good, they went to the well too often with him.

Left-handed relievers are like gold. You can never have too many of them. And when those left-handed relievers can also get right-handed batters out, then they more like platinum. Breslow is one of those guys. His career splits against either side batter are within points of each other (both under a .650 OPS against). The strikeout to walk ratio is much higher against lefty batters (naturally), but the results are pretty much the same. That raises Breslow above the situational lefty that just comes in for one or two lefty batters. He proved that again last night against the Rays with a brilliant inning and two thirds of relief with four strikeouts.

If you look at Breslow's overall numbers, you are not blown away. He still walks 2.7 batters per nine. He doesn't blow away a lot of hitters. In fact, his 2013 K/9 rate was way down to five. Despite all of this, his strand rate is excellent (over 80% this season) and he does not give up a lot of runs. And in 97 games for the Red Sox so far, he has only allowed three homers.

Breslow does not throw gas. He is a 90 MPH guy. But he still throws mostly fastballs and they score highly. He is throwing much more two-seam fastballs now than he used to. He has a pitch that PitchF/X calls a cutter and Fangraphs calls a slider. He throws a curve and a change-up. But his fastballs are his most effective pitches despite the lack of velocity.

He is a big cog in the Red Sox bullpen and to think they got him from Arizona (not a smart team) for fungible Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik, that was pretty brilliant. The transaction looks even more brilliant since the Red Sox have a team option on him for 2014.

Craig Breslow is a really smart guy who has made the most of his ability and has pitched for two really smart teams. I do not think that is a coincidence.

MLB Game Picks - Wednesday: October 9, 2013

After yesterday's games, the Red Sox are in and the Tigers get to fight another day. The Tigers forced a Game 5 with a thrilling (and disputed) win over the Athletics. Yesterday, I speculated on whether Max Scherzer would start instead of Doug Fister. He did not. But Fister was decent and Scherzer did pitch after all and got the win in relief. After all, he got the run support, right?

The Red Sox could not afford to let their series get to a fifth game and ended their series with a third win down in St. Pete. I think the Red Sox are going to win it all, but let's see what happens. What I do know is that Joe Maddon emptied his pitching staff to get a win and could not get it done because his offense could not score more than a run against Jake Peavy and a great bullpen. Koji Uehara did not blow this one and made the Rays look silly in the ninth. You know what was brilliant? The Red Sox making Rodney throw strikes. Brilliant.

We are left with two Game Fives to figure out the rest of the ALCS and NLCS casts of characters. The NLDS will conclude today and the ALDS tomorrow.

Today's pick:

  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: This is not the most confident pick I've ever made. This game really feels like it could go either way. The Pirates were smart to bypass A.J. Burnett, who is not a good match-up against the Cardinals, and will instead go with Gerrit Cole. Have you ever seen a playoff series rely on young pitchers as much as this one? Cole will have to be pretty darn good for the Pirates to have a chance here. While Adam Wainwright is in the ace category, he is not unstoppable. He can be had for two to four runs. Or he could shut the door too. It depends on how strong he comes out of the gate. The Cardinals have everything set up their way. The game is in their bullpark. They have their ace on the mound. Now they have to execute. The Pirates will need to play their best game of the season to continue their Cinderella's ball.

Yesterday: 2-0
Post Season: 12-7
Season: 1386-1075

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Tuesday: October 8, 2013

You could not ask for much more excitement than yesterday's playoff action. Four thrilling games in one day left my picks at 2-2. But seriously, who cares this time of year. It is all a crap shoot anyway.

The Dodgers could not do much with Freddy Garcia and fumbled a couple of unearned runs onto Clayton Kershaw's column. But Juan Uribe had another great post season in him and pushed the Dodgers into the NLCS.

The Cardinals won a thriller against the Pirates, who only tallied one hit the entire game. Michael Wacha was sensational and Matt Holliday took care of what offense they needed. That series is going to a Game 5.

The Red Sox and Rays probably played the most entertaining game in one that went back and forth until Jose Lobaton hit a homer into the rays tank off the best reliever in baseball to walk off a win and stay alive.

And the day started with the game that had the least amount of drama at least until Grant Balfour acted like the biggest jerk in the world in the ninth during his save as the A's beat the Tigers to go up 2-1 in that series.

Today's two games are going to seem like a letdown. But a lot can be decided in the two ALDS games. Either the Tigers and Rays will tie the series and send them to five games or they go home.

The picks:

  • The Red Sox over the Rays: Jeremy Hellickson will have the shortest of leashes or the Rays will come back with Matt Moore. We will have to see as the day goes along. But either way, the Red Sox have shown the ability to hit both, so it should not matter. What does matter is what kind of game Jake Peavy pitches. This is why the Red Sox got the guy and he is the toughest of competitors. But that does not mean he will pitch well. And anything can happen in a ballpark that features rings of a dome that are in play or not. Jose Lobaton. I cannot get over that. Will that propel the Rays? It could. But I see a Red Sox win. They are clearly the better team. But the better team does not always win in a five-game series.
  • The Tigers over the Athletics: The A's do not have an ace. Well, you could call Bartolo Colon the ace, but he is not really. So there is no question for them staying with the program and having Dan Straily, their fourth starter, pitch today. You never really know what to expect from Straily. Meanwhile, the Tigers will have a decision to make. Do they stick with Doug Fister today and save Max Scherzer for a Game 5 that may never come? Or do they pitch Scherzer on four days rest? If I were them, I would go with Scherzer and then you still have Verlander for Game 5 if they win. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have been invisible in this series and Austin Jackson has been Curtis Granderson-like with all the strikeouts. It will be an interesting day in Detroit.

Yesterday: 2-2
Post season: 10-7
Season: 1384-1075

Monday, October 07, 2013

MLB Game Picks - Monday: October 7, 2013

Both games were picked correctly yesterday though the Dodgers - Braves game did not go according to what I envisioned. Hyun-jin Ryu was ineffective for the Dodgers and they quickly went to Chris Capuano. That decision won the game because Capuano was terrific and he earned the win. The Braves, as we shall see in a minute, are now in big trouble.

The Pirates also have the Cardinals on the ropes, but we shall see if the shortness of their rotation becomes a factor as they lack a shut down guy today and if the series extends, have to come back with A.J. Burnett, who was shellacked in his last outing.

The two ALDS games will be exciting too. The Tigers and A's are tied and the series goes to Detroit. The Red Sox have a chance to sweep the Rays but must do so down in St. Pete. Four big games today. It should be fascinating.

The picks:

  • The Tigers over the Athletics: Jarrod Parker is my problem here. At times, he looks spectacular and on others, not so much. His one start against the Tigers this season was disastrous. His home/road splits do not tell us much nor do his day/night splits. I think the Tigers hit him. Anibal Sanchez goes for the Tigers and few people realize what a great season he had. His record does not pop out at you, but he is right there among the leaders in many categories. If he pitches well, the Tigers win.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: This game completely depends on how Michael Wacha pitches. The young stud pitcher for St. Louis has the kind of arm that can shut down anyone. But he is young and he makes mistakes. If he can limit them today and get off to a good start, the Cardinals win. If he doesn't start well, then anything can happen with the fans in Pittsburgh going nuts. Charlie Morton does not strike fear in anyone. He is a pitcher totally dependent on BABIP or where his batted balls go upon contact.
  • The Red Sox over the Bay Rays: I see a sweep. Clay Buchholz has been unbelievable this season and if he is good today, the Rays will not get him. I questioned Lackey in Game 2, but as a Twitter pal pointed out, Lackey is better at home and if the Red Sox won, could come back with Buchholz for game, set and match. The only sticking point is Alex Cobb, who has been amazing himself. But that amazing goes against every team except the Red Sox. The Red Sox can make any pitcher look mortal and if that offense shows up, there will be nothing Cobb can do to stop them. Cobb lost only three games this season. One of them was to the Red Sox. Overall, he faced them four times and had a 5.16 ERA against them.
  • The Dodgers over the Braves: The Braves are in big trouble and I see the Dodgers closing out the series today. Fredi Gonzalez's decision to bring Alex Wood into the game as a long reliever in yesterday's game means that Freddy Garcia will start for them today. Excuse me while I pause to gag. Oh, Freddy is capable of a surprise good start. He has done it a couple of times this season. But he has given up 18 homers in just 81 innings. Yeah, that's bad. Alex Wood should have started this game and Garcia should have performed the long relief. Of course, Ricky Nolasco had a great start with the Dodgers and kind of petered out as the season went along. But gosh, all he has to do is be ordinary today and the Dodgers should win.

Yesterday: 2-0
Post season: 8-5
Season: 1382-1073

Sunday, October 06, 2013

BBA Post Season Awards 2013

Every year, the membership of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance votes for the BBA's versions of the post season awards. This is an Internet version of the awards given by the BBWAA with similar categories containing different names for the awards. I have already given you my manager choices here and here. What follows is the rest of my ballot.

The Willie Mays Award is the award for the top rookie of the season. My votes:
  • National League - Yasiel Puig (Dodgers). This one was really difficult. Baseball Prospectus and both rated Puig as being more valuable than Jose Fernandez of the Marlins. But rated Fernandez much higher. It is a bit of a fallacy that the Dodgers took off as soon as Puig showed up. In fact, the team was 7-10 in his first seventeen games. If I could pick a tie, I would pick them both. But since I must choose one, I will go with Puig.
  • American League - In the junior circuit, the pick came down between Wil Myers and David Lough. Both were rated similarly, but Lough's value came mostly from his defense and base running. The defensive stats are still troublesome for me, so my pick is Myers.
The Goose Gossage Award goes to the top relief pitcher of the season. My votes:

  • National League - I do not base my picks on saves, but on overall value, WPA and other factors. In the end, Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen and Trevor Rosenthal were all right there. Jansen had the better WPA and clutch scores while Kimbrel had the higher RE24. Rosenthal had the best FIP. I don't think you can go wrong with any of the three, but I am choosing Craig Kimbrel as my winner.
  • American League - This comes down to a two-horse race between Greg Holland and Koji Uehara. Both had amazing seasons. Uehara had the better ERA, but Holland the better FIP. Uehara beat Holland by 30 points in WHIP. Holland comes out on top in WPA and Clutch, but Uehara came out on top in RE24. I have to go with Koji Uehara as my winner, though I could support Holland too.

The Walter Johnson Award goes to the top pitcher of the season. My votes:

The Stan Musial Award goes to the top player in each league. My votes.

  • National League - My order of finish was: 1. Andrew McCutchen, 2. Matt Carpenter, 3. Carlos Gomez. 4. Paul Goldschmidt. McCutchen is my vote.
  • American League - This award says, "top player," and not, "MVP," That being the case, Mike Trout was the top player in all of baseball, never mind just the American League. There is nobody close to him.

So those are my votes. The results will be released just after the World Series concludes.

MLB Game Picks - Sunday: October 6, 2013

I picked both home teams to lose yesterday and they both won. Oof. I thought that David Price would be much better than he was. Give credit to the Red Sox. They had a good plan against him to attack him early in the count and it worked to perfection. The Tigers - Athletics game could have gone either way. Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray were equally brilliant with Gray lasting an inning longer (eight innings). That inning seemed to make a difference as the Tigers needed their bullpen to be great for the last two innings and it was anything but. Austin Jackson took a Golden Sombrero as he went zero for four with four strikeouts.

All the series are tied at one game each except for the Red Sox, who have a commanding 2-0 lead with Clay Buchholz lined up for Game Three. The two National League games are on tap today. 

The picks:

  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: The Cardinals have struggled all season against left-handed pitching and you do not get a much better lefty than Francisco Liriano. Meanwhile, the Cardinals go with Joe Kelly, which is a bit of a surprise considering the other choices they had like Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. Don't get me wrong, Kelly is very capable of pitching a great game. The Pirates fans have really rocked that home stadium and if the play-in game was any indication, will be a huge factor in this game, especially if the Cardinals' offense doesn't quiet them down early. My only worry in this game is a Liriano meltdown, which occur from time to time. But if he is on, the Pirates win.

  • The Dodgers over the Braves: Having Hyun-jin Ryu pitch at home the right call for the Dodgers. His ERA at home is 2.32 and is a run and a half higher on the road. I do not think that Ryu is untouchable. He can be had by a team with a good plan and good execution. I just wonder if the Braves are that kind of team. Ryu did pitch against the Braves twice earlier in the season. He did not get a decision but he pitched well with a 2.13 ERA. The Braves go with Julio Teheran who is quite capable of shutting the Dodgers down too. He pitched well down the stretch, going 7-3 with a 3.47 ERA in his last ten games. I am going with the Dodgers at home.

Yesterday: 0-2
Post season: 6-5
Season: 1380-1073