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.