Friday, May 2, 2008

Where Can Barry Bonds Find a Home?

Barry Bonds, still one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball (.276/.480/.565 last year in 340 PA), has not yet signed for a team in 2008. While I find this situation to be utterly ridiculous, it does make for a good opportunity for speculation about his future home. Some think that he will end up with the Tigers; others think that he will end up with the Yankees. I think that he will end up with the Mariners.

The Tigers already have a glut of hitters, including DH candidates Gary Sheffield and Marcus Thames. While both Sheffield and Thames are right handed, Sheffield remains competent against righties, posting a .819 OPS against them during the past three years. Plus, they have plenty of outfielders already; Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson will need to be rested from time to time and inserting Bonds as the DH full-time removes the possibility of giving other hitters partial days off. Due to an already clogged OF with good options available, Bonds doesn't make much sense in Detroit without a trade or two for bullpen help. And since good relievers are in short supply these days, it is unlikely that such a deal will be made and there has been no sign that one will materialize soon.

As for the Yankees, they suffer from a similar problem. They already have four outfielders who warrant regular play (Matsui, Damon, Cabrera, and Abreu) and a clogged DH situation. Jason Giambi is a liability at 1B and needs regular rest to avoid injury. Shelley Duncan can play 1B and OF and hammers lefties. Jorge Posada might need days off from catching once he gets back from the DL, and the DH spot is a perfect fit for him on those days. Plus, The Yankees are already heavy on lefty bats, making Bonds a less than perfect fit. And in the New York media circus, it is a near certainty that Bonds will dominate the headlines. All in all, this makes little sense.

The Seattle Mariners, however, are a different story. While they just called Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien, they still have room for Bonds. Their outfield situation isn't crowded; they have their starters (Ibanez, Ichiro, and Balentien) and Willie Bloomquist. No offense to Willie, but he's not an everyday player. Plus, their DH situation isn't that crowded either. Sure, Clement needs to start some days but he can catch and Kenji Johjima isn't exactly burning up the majors right now. If Clement catches against righties, then the Mariners have plenty of at-bats to give Clement and Bonds. Jose Vidro is washed up and has been for some time now. Additionally, the Seattle lineup only has 2-3 left-handed batters right now so there's no worry about overloading the lineup. There's nothing standing in the way of adding Barry to Mariners' lineup.

Plus, the Mariners are not built for long-term success. By trading away Adam Jones, they essentially went for broke this year. Adding Barry Bonds would make their lineup much more formidable and would improve their chances of catching the Angels in the AL West.

So how about it, Bavasi?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Second Home

I wanted to let everyone know that I'm writing for the Bleacher Report (link provided) in addition to this blog. There will be some pieces that you can find there that you can't find here. Those will be responses to other pieces on the site.

Anyway, I'm watching Kennedy's start tonight and will give a follow-up to my previous analysis. Hopefully, he'll attack the zone and justify my confidence in him.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mad Max

I was going to write about a few prospects who got the call-up recently but after watching Max Scherzer destroy the Astros, I had to write about him.

For those who are not familiar with his repertoire, Scherzer exhibits a nasty, heavy fastball that sits at 93-96 and touches 98 (Edit: The TV gun was slow and I revised this thanks to new information). His fastball is reminiscent of Kevin Brown in his prime; the ball simply explodes through the zone, forcing weak contact and getting lots of swings and misses. He was working up and down in the zone, getting 94 MPH fastballs at the knees for strikes early and then elevating later in the count (increasing the velocity as well). He also shows an average change-up from 84-88 and a show-me slider.

The major knocks on Scherzer are that really only has one plus pitch (his fastball) along with a strange head-whack he has toward the end of his delivery. The head-whack is a bit overstated, in my opinion. He jerks his head down and toward first base just before he releases the ball. This may put more strain on his shoulder long-term since it's moving his body farther away from the ball's release point but it doesn't seem to effect his control at all. He keeps his head facing toward the plate, unlike someone like Okajima, and can command both sides of the plate.

Edit: I looked through the tape again and found that his command wavered at times but improved near the end of his outing. He got quite a few players to swing at balls, which shows how much movement his fastball has. However, he doesn't need to have pinpoint command. If he can keep his walks down, then I think he'll be fine.

As for his line: 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 7 K. Not bad, right? This wasn't luck, either. He looked incredibly dominant. When he matched up against Lance Berkman, he got ahead with a fastball, a hard foul ball with a change-up, then blew Berkman away with two more fastballs (first one fouled off, the second one up and away). Berkman looked off-balance and was late on most of the fastballs. Now, Berkman is an outstanding fastball hitter. This wasn't luck. This was dominance.

I'm not sure if Scherzer can sustain this level of performance unless he can refine his offspeed pitches more. His repertoire might be better suited for a relief role as a dominant closer. I do want to see them give him a chance as a starter. He maintained his velocity through the four innings and he showed no control problems in the minors.

The skinny: This kid is the real deal. He could be this year's Joba (for you fantasy guys) and possibly even more. If you get a chance, watch a game and see how his fastball dominates big-league hitters. It might make you giggle (I definitely did) and it will certainly provide more evidence that the Diamondbacks are going to be a quality team for years to come.

Give Kennedy Time

In response to some comments on a previous post, I'd like to talk about Ian Kennedy, the third Musketeer in the Hughes/Joba/Kennedy triumvirate. He has had a rough start to his season, with an 8.53 ERA, 0-2 record, an a horrible 17:15 BB:K ratio. Terrible numbers, to be sure. However, I think he's going to be just fine.

Kennedy's hallmark as a minor league pitcher was his impeccable command of his fastball. In 2007, his only full year in the minors, he posted the following numbers (spread across A+, AA, and AAA): 12-3 W-L, 146.1 innings, 1.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 6 HR allowed, 163 K, and 50 BB.

These are outstanding numbers, with consistent success at all three levels. He continued to do well at the major league level last year as well in a three game cameo at the end of the season (19 IP, 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 15 SO, 9 BB).

This year, his command has been awful, as evidenced by his 17:15 BB:K ratio. So what is his problem and is it going to persist?

Looking at the Pitchf/x data (using Josh Kalk's excellent Pitchf/x tool), I spotted a few interesting things about Ian's pitching. First, a little information about his fastball. The most obvious thing that jumps out at me is that his command of it isn't quite as bad as previously indicated. He has 55 balls and 105 strikes (23 of those strikes being in play outs and 8 being hits). His other three pitches are also mediocre; if you combine his curveball, slider, and change-up, he registers 43 balls and 73 strikes (17 in play outs and 5 hits, all singles). So overall, his control isn't horrible, but it's not good either.

He's having trouble missing bats with his fastball (3.125% swing and miss but is doing ok with his other pitches (a combined 16.4% swing and miss). He's not Tim Lincecum but he's not horrible either. So what is his problem?

He's getting behind too many batters early in the count and walking too many guys. 29 of his at bats have ended in a hitter's count (any of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2). 34 have ended in a pitcher's count (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2). 11 have ended in a neutral count (0-0, 1-1). Clearly, he's not getting ahead of hitters with any regularity. Hitters do much better against Kennedy after reaching hitter's counts and much worse when put into pitchers' counts. This is true for pretty much all pitchers and hitters. It is called count leverage. And once the count gets to three balls and any number of strikes, guys are teeing off on him to the tune of an OPS well over 1.200.

About 26% of at-bats against him reach a 3 ball count. Compare that to Brian Bannister (who is a somewhat similar pitcher, having decent stuff but great command and control) who only has 12.7% of at-bats reach 3 ball counts. Clearly, Kennedy needs to be more aggressive in the strike zone early in the count.

So what's the diagnosis? I believe that Kennedy will make the necessary adjustments to succeed. He proved that he has the ability to throw quality strikes in the minors and there is little reason to believe that this suddenly deserted him. Plus, he's already throwing strikes now when he's behind in the count. His fastball tails in on right handers pretty well so he can be aggressive with it early in the count.

If he takes a page out of the book that Maddux bequeathed to Brian Bannister and uses count leverage to his advantage, he should be fine.

The Beginning of Zito's End

So as I mentioned in my last post, Barry Zito is flat out awful. And as of yesterday, he's now awful in the Giants' bullpen. While I definitely think Zito shouldn't be in their rotation, the question now becomes: What value does he have in their bullpen?

The most obvious place for him would be as a long man or as a lefty specialist. We'll start with the latter first.

This year, Zito is slightly better against lefties than righties. But that's not saying much; righties have an OPS of .947 against him while lefties sport a nifty .810 OPS. Last year was slightly better, with the righty/lefty split at .723/.714. In 2006, it went the other way, with lefties actually having a higher OPS against him (.767) than righties (.754). These are not the numbers of a man who dominates like-handed batters. So this not a good place for him at all.

We've already seen how ineffective he is over several innings so he will probably be just as bad out of the bullpen. However, there is value in him eating up innings in blowouts. If the Giants are down 8-0 in the fifth, they're not coming back. Their offense just doesn't have that sort of ability to score runs. So Zito can provide value by soaking up innings (even if he's horrible in doing so), keeping their effective bullpen arms well-rested. It's not a glamorous role (and probably one any average AAA pitcher could manage) and definitely not worth $126 million, but it's something.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Zito = Zero

I'm watching the matchup of Zito vs. Webb and it's not pretty. Sure, the score is 2-1 Snakes but it won't be for long, in all likelihood (edit: Byrnes just hit a ground-rule double to center to make it 3-1 and a flare to center right after makes it 4-1. Zito gets saved by an amazing diving catch by Velez to end the inning). Webb is nasty as usual; his sinker is one of the dirties pitches I've ever seen. It almost looks like a breaking ball. It falls vertically a ton and he creates separation from his actual breaking pitches by about 5-8 mph, which for him is plenty. It's different from Wang's because it's a bit slower but seems to break farther. I'll do a bit of looking at Pitch f-x later to see if that's actually true.

Anyhow, this post is about the corpse of Barry Zito. Not so long ago, he was a Cy Young caliber pitcher. He was in the low 90's with his fastball, had good command, and could throw a devastating 12-6 curveball for strikes or bury it out of the zone at will. He also had a decent changeup.

Today, his fastball topped out at around 85 mph and he had little control of it. Early in the game, he was missing up in the zone with his fastball and occasionally left his change up in the zone as well. His curveball looked fine, freezing a few batters and inducing some harmless pop-ups as guys went chasing it down. However, it is less effective now because he is usually behind in the count so guys can simply take the pitch and wait for a better offering. Also, it was not being called a strike with any regularity so Zito had to look elsewhere to get ahead.

His mechanics looked fine to me. He strides well, gets his body under him, and keeps his head steady. He firms up his glove side well and doesn't seem to do anything funky with his arm action. The ball simply has no life to it.

I have no idea if he's hurt. It doesn't seem like he is, to be honest. His velocity simply vanished. I have heard that pitchers can lose velocity if their tendons and ligaments get stretched out over time. Sometimes Tommy John's surgery can help correct that because the new ligament is tighter. That may be the cause of Zito's velocity loss but his loss of command and control is even more puzzling. He simply cannot succeed, even in the NL, without velocity and/or plus command and control.

The Zito contract was a mistake when it was made. However, it looks even worse now that the Giants are clearly the worst team in the majors. It would be virtually impossible to trade Zito without swallowing nearly all of his contract. Meanwhile, he is averaging $18 million a year for a team with a payroll around $77 million. That's over 23% of their total payroll going to one player who is now significantly below average.

Now, tell me again why Brian Sabean has a job? Anyone?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Notes on Pitchers

I watched a few games today and had the following thoughts:

1) Greg Maddux really knows how to pitch. There is a great piece on today about him that I heartily recommend. It's a bit fanboyish but there is no denying his brilliance. He is always going to be dependent on his defense at this stage of his career but if there is a pitcher who can defy the odds and keep his BABIP down, it's Maddux. Sure, Khalil Greene (or Blondie, to my girlfriend) helped him out by robbing Martin of a base hit on a ball to his glove side, but give credit to Mad Dog. At this rate, the guy could pitch for another five years and win at least ten games a year.

2) Chad Billingsley has nasty, nasty stuff. He struggled to put away San Diego hitters but his curveball had good bite and he was locating his fastball well. His early season problems might be over so if you're a Dodgers fan, the future looks bright in your rotation. If you play fantasy, see if you can buy him low. You won't be disappointed.

3) Tim Lincecum is unique and thoroughly entertaining to watch. The kid is small, five foot eleven on his baseball card (but I think that's being mighty generous), but brings serious heat. His delivery is unorthodox to say the least but it does seem to get him tremendous hip rotation and brings all of his body weight toward home plate. So while it may seem that he's putting considerable effort into generating velocity, that effort is spread out very well throughout his entire body. I wouldn't recommend trying that delivery but if you're a small guy and can't throw over 85 mph, maybe give it a shot. Though you will want to strengthen your lower back before you try. Trust me on that one.

4) Wandy Rodriguez is a strange, strange pitcher. He is also the Ervin Santana of the National league. The guy can't pitch at all away from home but when he's in his home stadium, he's lights out. I can't see any rational reason why this would happen but it's a real phenomenon. The same goes for Ervin Santana. I hope neither of these ever gets traded. I wonder if their managers might start them only at home and rearrange everything else around that. It would be a bit silly but there's a large enough sample size for these guys that it might be reasonable.

Dice vs. Lizard

I love watching Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch. The guy has a hilarious delivery, like a combination of pitching and belly dancing. Plus, it's Daisuke vs. Matsui, Godzilla vs. Mothra (or something along those lines). Both pitchers have shown control problems early in the game; Daisuke wiggled out of it but Hughes let up three runs. Suck.

One things I've noticed about Hughes is that he seems wary to throw his change-up or slider. While his fastball and curveball are plus, a starter must have more weapons. He did throw an ok change-up to Varitek but Molina had to talk him into it. It's obvious that Hughes is going to be a very good pitcher; his fastball has good life and his curveball can be downright nasty. But unless he refines his control AND starts mixing in more pitches, even as show pitches, he's going to struggle.

Another note: Hughes has trouble throwing his curveball to his glove side. It might be a mechanical issue. Some have postulated that he changed his mechanics after his knee injury last year, causing his arm to lag slightly behind his body. That could explain his loss of fastball command and tendency to throw the curveball to his arm side. I have no idea how hard it would be to fix his mechanics or even if it would be necessary. But it might help his development in the long run even if it takes a little time in the minors.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Other Thoughts

Jose Molina won't keep hitting for long. I keep counting down the days until Jeter is back in the lineup. Oh, and Manny Delcarmen just overpowered Jose with a high fastball for strike three. Sigh.

I thought Eric Byrnes was going to regress to mean this year but he looks good at the plate. He's still a free swinger and gets a bit pull conscious at times but I'm not entirely convinced that he's going to return to being the decent but not good player he was before. He might be a late bloomer finding his groove now that he has a full time role.

Also, Justin Upton looked overwhelmed by major league pitching last year, which was understandable considering how young he is. But I underestimated him and I told some fantasy friends to be cautious with him. However, he seems to have adjusted very quickly and is showing some serious bat speed and control. He seems ready to play full time and might turn into a superstar far sooner than most would have imagined.

And to round out this Diamondbacks kick, they're absolutely destroying the Rockies once again. I said it last year and I'll say it again: The Rockies are overrated. And this isn't my post-Matt Holliday not touching the plate bitterness showing through. Their pitching remains suspect and that offense's value is inflated by Coors. Franklin Morales showed, once again, that he's not ready for the big show and although they are a good defensive team, their pitching is really going to hold them back, as the Snakes showed them these past few days.

Some Yankees-Red Sox Notes

I just watched David Ortiz strike out after watching Mussina go right after him with 2 fastballs at 85 mph tops on the inside part of the plate. Papi has always been a smart hitter; he thinks along with pitchers and forces them to make his pitch. But he definitely looks like he's overthinking at the plate, guessing at pitches instead of identifying them and reacting. He also overswung at the breaking ball Mussina followed up with, another sign he's trying too hard. Luckily for him, Mussina stupidly threw a hittable fastball to Ramirez right after (plating two and giving the Sox a 3-2 lead).

I know this doesn't jive with the commentary after last night's game, but Wang wasn't nearly as good as his line. He got lucky several times with hard hit balls, including the final out. Going nine innings is great and he stayed ahead of hitters well. However, striking out 3 and giving up several hard hit outs will not translate into similar success in the future. I'm a bit concerned about the Yankees rotation because they aren't strikeout pitchers and they play in front of a mediocre defense. They're going to be highly dependent on luck (as non-strikeout pitchers are wont to be) and their defense isn't going to help them out at all, especially if Giambi plays first regularly.

Beckett looks pretty good. He's gotten a few borderline calls, including a low strike on Giambi right now in the top of the 7th, but he's been getting plenty of swings and misses. He should be fine as he builds up his endurance. The rest of the Red Sox team has looked sloppy at times, though. I already mentioned Ortiz's struggles but Varitek's baserunning blunder early in the game was simply unacceptable. Much is said about Varitek's baseball intelligence but it was MIA then.

Oh, and Giambi hits into a double play. The entire left side of the defense is open and he can't poke it down the third base line. His bat, homer last night or not, looks really, really slow. He can't catch up to decent fastballs and he's started cheating on balls inside. Plus, anything he hits that's on the outside part of the plate turns into weak grounders to second, tailor made double play balls. There can only be so much patience for the guy, especially when he doesn't look like he's going to be able to contribute much at all this year other than the occasional home run that gets completely offset by his inability to play defense or do anything else at the plate.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Surprise! (Or, the Orioles Still Suck)

The good news: the Orioles are in 1st place in the AL East.

The bad news: It's only a couple weeks into the season.

They've had a good two weeks or so. Great for them and I'm happy for their fan base. But this isn't going to last and here's why:

1) They've played the Rays, Mariners, and Rangers. The Rays, while improved, still don't have great pitching at the major league level. In the Mariners series, the O's beat up on Washburn, Batista, and then rallied against the Putz-less Mariner's bullpen. Then, in their one game against the Rangers (the one yesterday was postponed), they smushed Jennings. Notice a trend? They haven't faced really good pitching yet. And when they do, their offense will be exposed as shallow.

2) Lack of pitching depth. I like Jeremy Guthrie a lot, probably more than most, but other than Adam Loewen, there's not much there. Daniel Cabrera, he of the million dollar arm and one cent head, can't figure it out and probably never will. Steve Trachsel, he of the one cent arm and five dollar head, has passed his expiration date. And don't expect Brian Burres to keep that shiny sub-2.00 ERA for long. And no offense to Sherrill, who is a fine set-up guy, but that bullpen isn't going to stay good for long, especially once that starting pitching regresses to mean.

3) They're in the AL East. While rebuilding teams can avoid turning into road kill in some divisions (cough NL Central cough), there are three legitimate playoff teams and one rising star in the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox have some pitching depth issues but their offenses are going to turn it on soon. The Blue Jays, if healthy, have deep pitching especially if B.J. Ryan comes back soon and recovers quickly. The Rays have been able to hit for a while and their bullpen is improved over the debacle last year. That's some stiff competition and the O's are going to face very good teams for a large chunk of their schedule.

That, all together, is a recipe for a long season. It's great they've gotten out of the gate quickly, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. The longer the season goes on, the more their flaws are going to be exposed. I predicted a last place finish for the Orioles this year and I see no reason to change that now.

Sign and Drive

First, Chris Young signed a long term deal. Now, it's Fausto Carmona's turn.

I really like this trend because it bodes well for mid-level franchises. We've seen a slew of long-term deals locking up young, franchise cornerstone players, like Troy Tulowitzki or these two, through their arbitration years with options on their first year of free agency. It's basically trading a year or two of rock-bottom salaries in exchange for cost certainty. While I see the appeal of trying to get bargain basement prices out of players like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, I think it sends the wrong message to the fans and players. And while I certainly dislike it when young players bitch about money, I do understand when fans complain that their team's management cares more about profits than about fielding a good team (or is simply incompetent, like the recent Pirates).

It is a gamble and I recognize that. But the Brewers are backing themselves into a corner by failing to lock up Braun and Fielder long-term. As other young players receive guaranteed millions, Brewers fans are probably wondering when their guys are going to get deals. And they are right to wonder that. The Brewers don't really have a huge window to win unless the key elements of their team get locked up. Ben Sheets might be gone after this season. Fielder and Braun are set to receive huge bonuses in arbitration and eventually, free agency. Their bullpen may or may not be a mess depending on whether or not Gagne starts trusting his soft stuff. And their fans are probably thinking that this may be their best chance to make a run at the playoffs for quite a while. And if everything goes wrong, all of those new fans that last year's success brought in might just abandon ship, perceiving (and perhaps correctly) that it was a one time deal.

But if they sign the key elements of their team long-term, the Brewers will signal to their fans that they're in it for the long haul. Even if the team doesn't make the playoffs this year, they will have the bedrock for a playoff team for years to come. I think fans respond to that kind of commitment. Just look at the Rays. They have lost for years, routinely buried at the bottom of the monster that is the AL East. But there are signs that their fan base may be awakening and becoming increasingly optimistic about and involved in their team's future. Why do they have that optimism? One element may be that they have a huge amount of talent that is just about ready to break into the majors. But another element is that they recently locked up Carlos Pena and James Shields to long-term deals, committing (for them) significant financial resources into players they recognize as franchise cornerstones.

And you know what? Their fan base is responding. Ray's management, the fans are thinking, may not be such cold-hearted, money obsessed bastards as we thought. Our team has a future, and a bright one at that.

Invest in your team long-term and your fans will invest in your team as well. Simple as that.

Those Poor Friars...

So after my last post, the Padres managed to lose to the Giants 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. This led my girlfriend to say the following:

"what the fuck?
how do we keep losing to the worst team ever?"

Well, this time it was a combination of bad situational hitting, Jim Edmonds being really slow, and Heath Bell having his yearly bad day (that wasn't really that bad). I bet that the Giants don't win back to back games again for at least a month. Anyone who wants to take me up on that, feel free to post a comment and we're good to go.

There's really nothing more for me to say beyond what my girlfriend just added about her beloved Friars:

"sounds like us
always able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory"


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Giant Pain...

Much to the delight of one of my roommates, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not the worst team in the majors this year (for once). That dubious honor belongs to the historically awful San Francisco Giants. I know much ink has been spilled in the Bay area and elsewhere about the woeful Giants but the horror of their play practically compels me to toss in my 2 cents. A few thoughts as the Giants embark on the season of a lifetime (because it will make you want to end yours):

1) Brian Sabean is an idiot. It was fairly obvious a few years ago that the nucleus of the team was aging rapidly and youth needed to be brought in to keep their franchise alive. I know that they got a shiny new ballpark and had to fill seats to pay it off. The best way would have been to look at the long-term health of the franchise to make sure it was in contention each year. Seriously, it wouldn't have been that hard. The NL West was, at the time, one of the weakest divisions in baseball (remember those just barely .500 Padres making the playoffs?). Now, due to Sabean's short sighted mismanagement, the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Dodgers are going to be far superior teams for at least the next 5 years if not more. All have to say to Sabean is: Thank you. You've justified every angry expletive I've uttered about your employment during the past few years.

2) Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain do not a team maketh. Yesterday, Tim Lincecum pitched brilliantly; Padres hitters looked overwhelmed at times. Matt Cain wasn't so good in his last start but he's a fine pitcher now and is only going to get better. But as good as they are, they are in for some incredibly frustrating days. You know the old saying that good pitching beats good hitting? Well, decent pitching and decent hitting beats good pitching and horrible hitting. If you don't score runs, you don't win no matter how good your starters are. And so Tiny Tim and Mournful Matt are going to have to learn to lose. Or find a place to get Prozac on the down low.

3) The Giants are going to lose at least 95 games. I know that most pre-season projections had them closer to 88-90 losses. But after watching this team fumble its way through the first week of the year, I had to revise their win-loss estimate down. Way down. As in, one of the worst teams ever, down. Now, this goes against all of my SABR background but just this once, I'm going to let my subjective judgment get the best of me. Why? Well, here are a couple reasons:

A) They have a bad manager who looks like he hates his life. Bruce Bochy has started to make the Bochy face, the managerial equivalent of the Derek Lowe face. He looks disgusted at his team, that sorry, sorry mix of washed up geezers, under-performing veterans, and glorified organizational players masquerading as prospects. Plus, he bunts when there are men on 1st and 2nd with no one out and one of his middle of the order guys is up. If that isn't a recipe for broken spirits and shattered egos, I don't know what is.

B) Brian Sabean has no idea how to work the current trade market. Now, it would be easy to bash Sabean for the A.J. Pierzynski for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan trade (and can you imagine that Liriano was a throw-in on that trade?), it is far, far fairer to bash him for claiming that he doesn't want to trade away pitching while wanting to upgrade his hitting. Now, correct me if I'm wrong but the Giants basically have no hitting available at any level (apologies to Angel Villalona). Their farm system is as barren as any in the majors (2 top 100 prospects in BA's rankings). So basically, Sabean wants to get hitting but won't give up pitching. He doesn't have any hitting to trade and even if he did, it's unlikely that he would be able to get much more than an even split on any hitting trade if you take into account his horrible talent evaluation skills. He's created a closed system of suck. Garbage in, garbage out. And the end result? Losses. Lots and lots of losses.

4) My strategy of picking up the pitcher going against the Giants (if available) is working well. Randy Wolf went 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO. That's pretty good for waiver wire fodder even in mixed league. I'm sure Justin Germano will do fine tonight. For those of you who are in leagues that reward streaming, it is a good strategy. Hell, it might even be a great strategy! That's how little regard I have for these (not quite) Giants.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Don't Feel Your Pain

Nick Markakis is the latest young player to complain about his salary. While Markakis isn't openly complaining like Hamels or Papelbon, he has expressed his discontent. And I have to say to each of these young players: SHUT UP.

Yes, you're ungodly talented and hard working. Yes, you all are being paid less some of your contemporaries. But get some goddamn perspective and get it fast.

The league minimum is $390,000 a year. Markakis will make $455,000 this year. Papelbon made $425,000 last year. Hamels will make $500,000 this year. They can hardly call poverty. Furthermore, they'll all poised to make tens of millions of dollars in the upcoming years.

I know that baseball operates in a bubble and has not seen a significant negative impact from America's economic woes. But these guys are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in their early twenties and are practically assured of being multi-millionaires by the time they're 30. They are the privileged few acting the part of spoiled brats.

I understand feeling undervalued at work and disrespected by one's bosses. But complaining to the media about making more than 95% of the working population is classless and downright insulting. Seriously guys, a little humility would go a long way. Lots of young people in the US are struggling just to find jobs. Be happy that you're pretty much ensured enough money to do anything you want for the rest of your natural lives and leave the complaining Jane routine at home because I and pretty much anyone else I know would kill to be in your shoes.

That, and we'd keep our goddamn mouths shut.

Monday, March 3, 2008

ADP: Useful or Useless?

In one of my fantasy leagues, one manager posted how many "reaches" each team had according to Yahoo's draft ADP (Average Draft Position). There was a large variance among teams (I was tied for lowest with one) and opinions on the usefulness of ADPs. One manager, who won our league last year, thinks that they are useless. His argument essentially boils down to the fact that the average Yahoo drafter isn't that bright and you should get the players you want when you want them and screw everyone else. Also, you win leagues by going against the grain and doing something that puts you in a position to win even if it means taking a chance on an unknown quantity.

I generally agree but with caveats. I aim for maximum value for every pick. For example, even if I think that Stephen Drew will outperform Jhonny Peralta this year, I will pick someone other than Stephen Drew until either draft situations force me to take him early (such as a huge run on SS that leaves fewer higher ADP players left than there are teams without SS between me and my next pick) or it is only a round before the ADP and another team needs a SS. The team in question took Stephen Drew in Round 11 with pick 146. His normal ADP is 210.

I think this is a reach because there were only two teams left who needed SS, by his calculations. One took J.J. Hardy and the other took Khalil Greene about 4 rounds later. Hardy is, by the vast majority of players, the higher ranked SS. I like Drew more than Hardy but not 4 rounds more; you're simply giving up the possibility of taking a higher ranked player now and grabbing Drew for better value later. While I understand the idea of locking up players you absolutely, desperately must have, I think it was highly unlikely that anyone else would have taken Drew during the next couple rounds. And I don't see Drew as one of those players anyway.

That said, this player values players very differently than I do. For example, I like Snell, Burnett, and Hudson better than Lilly. He does not. He likes Joakim Soria more than Trevor Hoffman. Again, I disagree. The results of the season will tell but I definitely think that he could have grabbed a better pitcher and waited for Drew for a round at least. It's an incremental upgrade, sure, but it's by these inches that leagues are won or lost.

Brewin' Up a Storm

Prince Fielder is not happy. This could be bad things down the line, particularly since Prince is represented by Scott Boras. As mentioned in Jason Kendall discussion, the Brewers have a few good, young players whom they have failed to sign to any long-term deals (Fielder, Braun, and Hart). Now, Braun and Hart just finished their first full years so they're not an immediate concern. However, Fielder is up for arbitration after this year. Ryan Howard just made $10 million in arbitration this season. Do you see where this is going?

The Kendall contract was only about $1.25-2.25 million above market in my opinion. A little of that could go a long way in keeping Fielder, Braun, and Hart happy in the coming years. But that's not nearly as much as Fielder is going to command in arbitration, let alone Braun and Hart. So let's take a closer look at the Brewers' payroll to see if they have any hope of keeping these guys around.

Overall, the Brewers are middle of the pack with a payroll between $73 and $77 million (using a few different projections as a range). The notable contracts include Ben Sheets for $11 million, Eric Gagne for $10 million, Jeff Suppan for $8 million, Mike Cameron for $5 million, David Riske for $4 million, and Bill Hall for $4.8 million. Now, Sheets is reasonable provided that he stays healthy; they also signed him a few years ago so there's not much to be done about his contract now. Mike Cameron is a good deal since he significantly upgrades their defense and pushes Bill hall to 3rd and Braun to left (once he's not suspended, of course). Bill Hall could bounce back and make his number reasonable. My real beef is with Eric Gagne, Jeff Suppan, and David Riske's contracts (and of course, the ubiquitous Kendall).

The most obviously bad contract is Eric Gagne. He's fresh off a Jekyll and Hyde season, he's 32, and he's recently had arm trouble. During his time with Texas, he had 16 saves, a 2.16 ERA, and an OPS against of .546. After his trade to Boston to become a setup man for Papelbon, he had a 6.75 ERA and an OPS against of .856. So which is the real Eric Gagne?

It's hard to tell, really. He only threw 2 innings the year before so he might just have been gassed. Plus, he seemed able to pitch in a hitter's park in Arlington. He still has the intimidating mound presence and good stuff. Then again, his stuff, while still good, has significantly declined since his years with the Dodgers. His fastball, while still in the low-mid 90's, is still straight and not a strikeout pitch. With a smaller differential between it and his change-up and curveball, hitters are more apt to foul them off instead of flailing at the air. You can see it if you watch him pitch; hitters foul off more pitchers instead of swinging and missing. Plus, his control has slipped; even with the Rangers, his K/BB was only 2.42. During his peak years, he was posting K/BB above 5.00. That clearly points to declining skills and stuff.

Plus, some scouts have commented that he lacks the drive to get himself in great condition. Even at his best, he was never a paragon of fitness. Now that injuries and age have taken their toll a bit, he has to get himself into better shape. At 32, he's on the downside of his career particularly if he stays pudgy. He's being paid as if he's an elite closer when, clearly, he is not. Can he justify the $10 million he'll be paid this year? Maybe but I doubt it. Plus, the Brewers already have Derrick Turnbow. Sure, some of his outings are horrendous but he has a stellar strikeout rate, his OPS against last year as .581, and if his control improves even marginally, he might end up being better than Gagne.

Now think about what that $10 million could mean. That would mean another $10 million to invest for Fielder, Braun, and Hart. Combined with the Kendall signing, that could be another $12.25 million to put toward the young core of their team. Another million a year over three or four years for Fielder could mean the difference between locking him up through his first year or two of free agency or having to let him go once he can hit the free market. The fact that the Brewers are unilaterally renewing their contracts bodes badly for the Brewers' long-term prospects of making those deals. Now you see why bad contracts to veterans can make it hard for mid-market teams to keep their young talent.

More on this later because I have to actually work today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Real All-Stars

I don't really have much to add to this story. It's really easy to look at the misbehaving superstars and immature super-prospects and think that baseball players are in it for the money, glory, and fame. But while that's true for some, there are players who are still in it because they love the game and the camaraderie that comes with being on a team.

I still miss playing soccer. I miss the way that mist rises off the grass early in the morning, leaving the ball damp and dark. I miss the way that a ball sounds when it hits the net; I miss the mass exhalation that players and fans share when the first goal of a game whispers into the goal. I miss joking around with the guys and eating orange slices during halftime. I never played for money, I never got any real glory or fame. But it was never about that. It was about playing for love of the game and for the love of your fellow players.

There are still guys out there in the Majors who can't give it up because they still love everything that baseball is. It's those guys that I root for because they are the heart of the game. They're the ones I identify with and who are closest to the fans. So let's focus less on what's wrong with baseball and take a little time to appreciate the good guys for all they've given us, the fans, and to the game itself.

Kendall Continues

I want to continue the conversation about Jason Kendall because I think it's relevant to player evaluation and worth. The comparison between Brad Ausmus and Jason Kendall was brought up. Ausmus made $4 million last year with the Astros. Now, that's horrible for obvious reasons but at least he had a WARP of 3.3 with positive defensive stats. Kendall had a fantastic WARP of 0.1 and 0.9 split between the A's and Cubs. PECOTA has them projected for WARPs of 1.3 and 1.7 for Ausmus and Kendall respectively (link for Ausmus and link for Kendall).

So they're both pretty terrible players at this point. But Kendall is making $4.25 million in guaranteed money this year. Ausmus is making $2 million. Also, PECOTA has Kendall down as a below average defensive catcher and that will only worsen with age. At least Ausmus still has a positive defensive rating.

That's the entire point, though. Ausmus is being properly valued as a defensively minded, veteran catcher who can help a rookie, Towles, make the transition into the bigs. Kendall is being paid as if he's still a starter, a guy who can positively contribute to the team offensively and defensively. And he can't do either, really. The contract is just horrid and above market any way you cut it.

Oh, and one other thing in Ausmus' favor: he went to Dartmouth. 'Nuff said.

Corpas Collects

The Rockies locked up Manny Corpas long-term. Despite my usual aversion to long-term commitments to relievers, I actually like the deal. Essentially, the deal is for 4 years averaging a little more than $2 million a year, with club options for 2 more years including his last year of arbitration and first year of free agency. Those options, if exercised, could raise the overall value of the deal to over $22 million.

Corpas had a great year last year; while his K/9 wasn't great (6.69), he has a nasty sinker that generates lots of ground balls which is crucial in Colorado. That is supported by his sparkling HR/9 rate of 0.69. He's also young (25 years old) and does get lefties out as well. He held opponents to a .595 OPS last year. All of these numbers are the good side.

However, his K/9 rate may become problematic. I would wait and see if he might start striking out more guys once his secondary pitches develop. But the K/BB rate is fine (2.9 last year) so it's not a cause for too much concern. It really comes down to whether or not he can continue to close effectively. If so, the deal is great for both sides. The Rockies get cost certainty and Corpas gets financial security. Furthermore, the Rockies only really have to start shelling out money in the options years. By that point, they should know if he can handle the role. It's a smart gamble for them in the short and long-term.

Also, even if Corpas busts out and becomes a middle reliever, the contract is affordable enough for him to remain trade bait. There are always big-market teams looking for effective relievers. Just look at the money that the Yankees threw at Kyle Farnsworth. So the Rockies should be able to unload Corpas if they feel that they're not getting a good return. All in all, a good signing that might become great if Corpas can increase his strikeout rate and stay healthy.

Oh, and in Pirates news, Moskos was perfect in his spring debut. Silver linings, I guess.....but I'd still rather have Wieters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pitcher Up! and Other Thoughts

I wrote to Chris Jaffe yesterday about my blog post responding to his piece and he replied promptly. I won't post the email here but he basically said that park factors matter a whole lot more than he had anticipated. For example, the Green Monster at Fenway screws up the system due to its immense height; hitting a ball more than 10 feet over it or a wall's length beyond it is pretty damn difficult. I'm sure others are working on figuring in park factors for those numbers. I'm too lazy to do it myself at the moment but once I hear more, I'll post it here. In any case, Chris Jaffe is a great guy so please, continue to read his stuff at the Hardball Times.

Now, in other musings:

Apparently, Ned Yost is thinking about batting Jason Kendall 9th and putting the pitcher in the 8 hole. Now, Kendall had an OPS of .610 in 2007. Yup, that number is not a typo. To put this monumental suckage in perspective, Dontrelle Willis has a career OPS of .639 and Carlos Zambrano has a career OPS of .580. While I would prefer for Yost to bat Kendall 34th in the lineup, that isn't possible, at least not in this universe (but maybe in this one, if we're lucky). If Kendall does continue to get on-base closer to his career clip of .375 and not the horrid .301 that he posted last year, this move makes a lot of sense especially if Braun hits 2nd. Tony la Russa hit his pitcher 8th last year with some moderate success and the writers of "The Book" seem to agree that this could produce an extra couple runs a year. So all in all it's a fine gambit that will probably seem odd to purists but will continue to put a smile on the face of theorists around the globe. Whether or not Joe Maddon will try out his new kryptonite strategy against Big Papi and A-Rod remains to be seen.
But lost in all of this theory is the fact that Jason Kendall is a horrible ballplayer. In what world is he worth $4.25 million guaranteed with another $1 million incentives? He's worse than Neifi Perez since Perez was paid "only" $2.5 million last year to be absolutely horrible. On a side note, did you know that Perez has made nearly $21 million during his career to post a lifetime OPS+ of 64? So having Kendall hit anywhere is a loss for the Brewers, those 2 runs be damned. I am sick of teams throwing money at veteran players who have only proven that they suck. Give the kids a chance and if they fail, at least you're only out a bit of money as opposed to the millions that Kendall, Perez, and their ilk soak up. Plus, who knows when you'll hit pay dirt?

Now, on to veterans who deserve jobs, or fliers at least. I must admit that I am surprised that Barry Bonds does not have a job. No matter what drama he brings, the guy can flat out hit. For example, if the Mariners added Bonds to their lineup, they would have a legitimate chance to challenge the Angels. Plus, Bonds wouldn't be a significant downgrade defensively over Raul "The Statue" Ibanez if at all and he would be a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) upgrade offensively over Jose "Why Do I Have a Job" Vidro. That said, I'd still take Adam Jones back and start preparing for the future. But then again, maybe the M's will defy logic and statistics and somehow rip the division away from the Angels. Though if they do, I'll shave my head. Promise.

The situation for David Wells is more difficult. I have to admit that I am fond of Boomer if only because he actually got a case of gout (beat that, Bartolo Colon!). Regardless, I think that he should at least get a minor league deal as extra insurance for a team with a young rotation, much like Bartolo Colon received. No matter what his physical shape, Wells throws strikes. Sure, he gets hit much harder now than he did before but he's a great clubhouse guy who knows a ton about pitching. There are plenty of teams out of contention who could use a guy to soak up some innings to keep inning counts down for young arms and options/service time unused for replacement starters when the inevitable injury bug hits. Plus, he'd cost a whole hell of a lot less than Jason Kendall and might even provide more value. And as a final benefit, he could even lead these guys in a pinch.

That's it for tonight. More about manatees tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Length Matters

So I was reading the Hardball Times today and ran across this gem. The article discusses home run length and uses statistics from Hit Tracker to break down "no doubt," "plenty," "just enough," and "lucky" home runs. The first two categories seem throwaway since they contain homers that were plenty far enough so no matter what, they were leaving the yard. It's the second two categories ("just enough" and "lucky") that Rob Neyer talks about here (subscription needed) that warrant discussion. The Jaffe piece argues that teams and players with high percentages of "just enoughs" will have a higher probability of regression the next year. Notable teams and players include the Red Sox (36% compared to a league average 29%), Giants (43% cheap), Brandon Phillips (14 of 30 cheap), and David Wright (12 of 30 cheap). Jaffe then suggests that one can better predict a team or player's home run rate by normalizing their "just enoughs" to the league average of roughly 29%.

My problem with his analysis is that he does not take into account what I call "just misses." For every ball that makes it over the wall by ten feet or falls one wall's length beyond the wall (the threshold for "just enough"), there is in all likelihood a ball that falls short by the same amount (a "just miss"). If we normalize home run rates by adjusting "just enough" rates to the league average, we need to do the same for "just misses." Without "just miss" rates, we really have no concrete way to know whether or not Gary Sheffield's ridiculously low "just enough" rate of 4.17% is attributable to the kind of contact he makes or to horribly bad luck with fly balls within the "just miss" threshold. For all we know, he hit tons of balls that died short of the wall that could potentially be homers next year. We need to know "just miss" rates for individual players as well as the league average so we can normalize correctly on both ends.

Furthermore, Jaffe doesn't take the full effect of weather into account. For every fly ball that becomes a homer just because of favorable weather conditions ("lucky"), there is in all likelihood a fly ball that fails to go over the fence because of adverse conditions ("unlucky"). For example, David Wright had 10 "lucky" home runs last year. However, to accurately predict the overall effect of weather on Wright's home run rate, we have to know how many "unlucky" fly balls he hit. Additionally, we have to know the average rate of "unlucky" fly balls for the league so we can normalize his rate for predictive purposes. This will give us a complete picture of Wright's overall luck factor by taking in both the positive and negative effects of weather.

TLDR: Unless we can normalize for "just misses" and "unlucky" fly balls, we do not have a way to accurately predict home run rates through Jaffe's method. I hope he continues his analysis by taking this into account because it's a fascinating line of research; he simply needs to get both halves of the whole to see if there's a correlation to be found.

Sorry that there's not more to be posted today. Some things came up and I don't have more time to blog at the moment. But don't worry, I'll be plenty bored at work tomorrow so there should be more updates then.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Fat Man Signeth (and other news)

So the big (and I mean big) news of the day is that the fattest man in baseball finally signed today (and no, I haven't checked if he's actually the fattest. That's entirely besides the point and if you want to waste your life looking up that particular stat, you have far too much time on your hands). Most of the details haven't leaked but if the ESPN report is true and there is absolutely no money guaranteed, then it's a great upside play for the Red Sox. While Colon hasn't impressed this spring so far, he still has rebound potential and, as this breakdown suggests, there is upside here. Now, the story with Colon is always his conditioning and his health. They are very much related; you simply cannot weigh as much as Colon does and expect to anything other than disaster. That's why the Red Sox signing is so good. The only way Colon gets spending money for Ho-Hos is if he gets his ass in shape. That should be motivation enough and if he gets himself back to 80%, then he should be able to provide some insurance in case Buchholz needs spelling to keep his innings down, Wakefield's knuckler starts dancing like this guy on Dancing with the Stars, or Schilling turned out to be telling the truth about his shoulder. As much as I hate the Red Sox, Epstein and Co. run a tight ship and this is a great signing.

In other news, Brad Lidge managed to hurt himself on his first pitch off a mound. Big surprise. I know that people absolutely destroyed Ed Wade for some of his trades this offseason. Some were warranted. But Lidge, while possessing lethal stuff, is fresh off one surgery and is heading for another. He had a couple great seasons but never seemed to regain his aura of invincibility after he gave up that monster homer to Pujols. The Astros didn't get a ton for Lidge (outfielder Michael Bourn, pitcher Geoff Geary, and minor leaguer Mike Costanzo) but at the very least, they're not paying his salary this season. The less money they spend this year the more money they'll have to lock up players like Hunter Pence to long-term contracts. A team that should be rebuilding doesn't have the luxury of paying millions to relievers (particularly given reliever volatility). So even if they didn't get the best possible return on Lidge, it sure beats $5+ million to him this year to sit out for the beginning of the year and be a head case for the rest of it. That said, Ed Wade is still an idiot.

In vaguely related news, my girlfriend often says that my feet look like manatees. While being strange and somewhat disturbing, this is also untrue. These guys look like manatees. Hell, it's even their freaking NAME. And while I support gender equality when it comes to cheerleaders, I'm going to spend more time looking at the Mermaids.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Season Preview (part II)

Sorry about the delay; we have a guest coming over tomorrow so a clean-up was in order. Here is the rest of the list:

5) The Royals and the Rays: When most fans think about these teams, their first thought is futility. These franchises have embodied the concept for the last several seasons. However, there is breakout potential for both. The Rays may finally get some pitching to go with a surprisingly potent offense that will only improve with the addition of Evan Longoria if Kazmir and Shields continue to make strides, Garza becomes a suitable #3, and Price, McGee, et al. fulfill at least some of their potential. Their bullpen only has to be better with Wheeler and Percival so we'll be spared the brutality of Shawn Camp, Chad Orvella, etc. With the Orioles rebuilding and the Blue Jays potentially overrated (and as last year showed, brittle), the Rays should avoid the basement and might even place third! Crazy what a difference a year can make (and #1 picks help).

As for the Royals, they were a better team than the White Sox last year (just check the run differentials) and not much worse than the Twins. With the White Sox trading away the farm for Nick Swisher and still not addressing a horrible lack of pitching depth (along with a sub-par infield), the Royals have an opening, especially now that the Twins are officially in rebuilding mode. Teahen and DeJesus should bounce back, Billy Butler should mash, and Alex Gordon should build on a good second half to display his prodigious abilities. I actually like the potential in their rotation, particularly if Zack Greinke stops battling his boogeymen and focuses on the guy in the batter's box. Sure, that bullpen may have less name recognition than third Manning brother but at least they're not running Juan Uribe out there every day.

4) The NL West: My girlfriend, a Padres fan, thinks that this should rank higher but I like it right here. Why? Because it's a division in which four teams have a legitimate chance to win the division (everyone except the Giants). The Diamondbacks, who won the division last year, actually had a worse run differential than the other three contenders. The addition of Dan Haren should help but by how much? The Rockies had a miracle run last year but can they repeat it? The Padres have a great pitching staff but collapsed down the stretch last year. Can they hit enough to take advantage of their pitching advantage? Lastly, the Dodgers have a great core of young players. Will Joe "I like older men" Torre give the kids enough chances to succeed or will he plague us all with more Juan "I wish I could steal first" Pierre? This battle should last right up the wire like last season. I'm only hoping that this time around, someone checks to see if Matt Holliday actually touches home.

No, I'm not bitter. Ok, maybe a little. But I'm not the only one.

3) The NL Central: This is the division that no one seems to want. Sure, the Cubs and Brewers are better than the other teams but is it really much of an accomplishment to better than the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates? The Brewers can hit, no doubt, but their starting pitching is awful and once Ben Sheets takes his yearly pilgrimage to the DL, it's going to get uglier than Ricky Martin at sixty-five. The Cubs have more questions with their lineup (especially if Fukudome struggles) but at least they have Carlos Marmol to close out games once they get over this Bob Howry nonsense and drink their Marmol-ade. But they'll still be relying on Jason Marquis and the remains of Jon "Lefties make me pee my pants" Lieber to hold up the back end of that rotation. This could be an ugly division but in a train-wreck-in-slow-motion kind of way. It will be compelling theater for the exact opposite reason that the NL West will be so good. Just Tivo it so the kiddies can't watch and you'll see what I mean.

2) The AL East: As a Yankees fan (and no, I don't think Joba Chamberlain can cure cancer), this normally would be my #1 storyline. However, not much happened this off-season to justify too much hype. Sure, A-Rod re-signed for the GDP of Andorra, but the biggest storyline was a trade that never impacted the division (see storyline #8). Still, the Red Sox and Yankees still look like great teams that should pummel each other about the head and neck for the entire season. Plus, the Rays shouldn't be pushovers (see storyline #5) and the Blue Jays are dangerous if healthy. Sure, the Orioles are going to be terrible but at least their management realized that they weren't going anywhere and pulled the trigger on the Bedard trade. Plus, it's possible that winning the division will be the only way into the playoffs for the BoSox and Yanks because of the two powerhouses in...

1) The AL Central: With one blockbuster trade, the Tigers instantly turned themselves into true contenders for not only their division, but for best team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera turns that lineup into a combination of Charybdis and Echidna (the mythological creature, not the cute mammal). It's truly pick your poison and if Sheffield is healthy, that team is going to score more than Wilt Chamberlain. However, their rotation is their potentially fatal flaw. If Dontrelle Willis continues to decline (and I think he will), then they're going to have to win a lot of 8-6 games. Without Zumaya and possibly Rodney, that bullpen suddenly looks pretty vulnerable too. Meanwhile, the Indians were quiet over the offseason but didn't have much work to do. They still have an outstanding 1-2 punch in Sabathia and Carmona along with an outstanding bullpen (well, beside their closer). The offense isn't as explosive as the Tigers' but it's plenty good especially if Pronk rebounds and stops staring at Grady Sizemore wistfully during at-bats. Sure, he's dreamy, but I picked your team to win it all last year SO DON'T LET ME DOWN AGAIN.

And with that, the list ends. Feel free to crush my list in the comments section. There's just one rule: no poking fun at Grady. He's a dreamboat and I won't hear otherwise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Season Preview (Part 1)

I believe that 2008 is going to be one of the best years in recent memory. Despite all of the distractions (read: PEDs and that will be the last time we speak of them) circulating around the game, the game itself is in remarkably great shape. There are intriguing stories around the entire league and incredibly exciting division battles waiting to happen. Along those lines, here are the top 10 storylines I can't wait to watch this year:

10) Young Pitching: Due to the skyrocketing cost of acquiring mid-level pitchers on the open market (more here), more teams are taking chances with young pitchers from their own systems. It's always great to see fresh blood (and less Jeff Weaver et al.) and the inherent volatility of young pitching lends itself to great stories. Will Clay Buchholz and John Lester outduel Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in the AL East? Can Ubaldo Jimenez finally harness his stuff and stop walking everyone including my dead grandfather? Who will step up for the Twins(maybe these guys)? And that's just a small sampling of what awaits us.

9) The Big Trades (not named Johan): This offseason saw little happen in the free agent market (other than Carlos Silva making GMs across the game cringe with his 4 year/$48 million dollar deal) but lots of movement in the trade market. Big names like Miguel "I swear I didn't do steroids" Tejada, Nick Swisher, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Dan Haren switched teams while hordes of prospects came back to their former owners. Now the big question is: who won these trades? While it may seem obvious in some instances (ahem.... why the hell do the Astros and White Sox think they have a chance to contend?), others are not so clear cut. Miguel Cabrera can rake, no doubt, but can Dontrelle provide enough value to soften the blow of losing young, affordable superstars-in-waiting like Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin? Will Dan Haren be more his first half self or second half self? I honestly can't wait to see how all these moves pan out.

8) The Big Trade Named Johan (sort of): So this may be the #1 storyline to watch for those who don't find the Mets' HR apple unbearably annoying, but I honestly think that the Mets' fate rests more in the hands of the other pitchers on the staff. Johan is a known quantity (his late season swoon last year will be ancient history by May) and he should destroy the junior varsity. But the health of Pedro Martinez's shoulder will decide their fate far more. They simply don't have the starting pitching depth to rebound from significant injuries unless they try to rewind the clock and turn Aaron Heilman back into a starter (good luck with your bullpen then). So even if Johan wins 22 games and saves an entire bus load of Catholic schoolchildren from Megatron, the Mets will be mush by September if Pedro's shoulder blows out, El Duque finally succumbs to the ravages of 147 years of life, and they are forced to rely upon (shudder) their farm system for help.

7) The Seattle Experiment: I know that while the Bedard trade (details here) has been brutally lambasted by pretty much every sportswriter in the Western hemisphere (myself included), we could all be surprised. Although some of you are probably chuckling to yourselves, I'm being serious. Vladimir Guerrero's bum knee could finally cry uncle and make one of his legs a LOT shorter than the other. Howie Kendrick might turn out to be a bust (or at least empty average). Juan Rivera's leg might break off again, completing the gimpy set with Vlad. K-Rod might take advantage the leg situation and put up a new sign for the "Club-house," leading to a hilarious, hopping showdown in the locker room.

Ok, I'm grasping for straws. Bill Bavasi is an idiot.

6) Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic: The war of words between the Mets and Phils reached new heights today with suggestions that a fight might be in order. While I like the idea of a real fight, Nolan Ryan style, on a baseball field, I think there is a far better match-up available here than Pedro vs. Jaime Moyer in a slow-tossing contest (and no, I'm not talking about Brett Myers in a rematch vs his wife). I'm talking about Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic. Both are idiotic, irritating cast-offs from some bizarro Muppets show. Both deserve to die. The solution? A winner-take-all deathmatch between the two mascots for the division title. Weapons are open to debate, though I personally prefer knives. Why? Because they hurt more and take longer to kill you.

The rest of the list will follow in the morning.

My girlfriend doesn't actually hate baseball

but she does hate hearing me talk about it all day, night, and whatever lies between. Now that this little tidbit is cleared up (and I won't have to sleep on the couch tonight), a little about how I came to blog about baseball.

My love for baseball manifested itself late. Growing up, my parents didn't have much use for the sport; after making the last out during the Little League playoffs in second grade, I swore off the game. After all, standing around for minutes at a time at that age is damn near close to torture. So my attention wandered to other, more immediately gratifying sports like tennis and soccer.

After arriving in my college dorm during my freshman year of college, I heard a significant amount of swearing emerging from the room next to mine. Like a trained pig searching for truffles, I found myself drawn to the source of salty language. To my surprise, a small, disgruntled Asian guy was sitting on his floor, hurling imprecations at Mariano Rivera's heritage, parents' marital status at his birth, and views on incest. Introductions quickly followed and despite the fact that I came from New York, we quickly became friends. My interest in baseball was reignited and grew beyond mocking my friend's predicament as a Rangers fan.

This blog will focus on both real and fantasy baseball. The vast majority of my posts will focus on happenings and musings in the world of actual baseball; however, I openly invite guests to submit posts on real and fantasy baseball alike. I will try to incorporate statistical analysis into more traditional methods of evaluation since there are many ways to view the game. I invite guest posters to do the same.

Since my girlfriend is getting bored of me typing this post, I'll try to wrap it up. I am leaving comments open for now. Moderation is on but if everything goes well, I can turn it off. Many of the points that will be raised will create arguments, which is great! That's what is fun about talking about baseball. Just try to keep it civil and please, no trolling! Back up your opinions with facts and all will be well :)

Thanks for reading this far; this should be a great season!