Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Saturday, September 30, 2006

74,922,200 Baseball Fans Can't Be Wrong

Yeah, I can see how the steroid controversy is killing fan interest.

Pretty much everything that the Baron says in this piece is self-serving hogwash. We like to think that the biggest reason for this new record is that this is a great game, and it's never been played better.

Friday, September 29, 2006

MVP, MVP...huh?

Twins fan did the MVP chant every time Justin Morneau came to the plate tonight. No disrespect to Morneau, who I think is a terrific hitter, but can't Twins fan even identify the best player on their own team?

I'm not going to tell you who I think the MVPs are (that's a subject for after the games are all played), but I will tell you that the best player on the Twins is Johan Santana. I'm not sure how anyone could look at this team and say otherwise.

But if you subscribe to the idiot theory that pitchers can't be the MVP because they already have the Cy Young Award, how about Joe Mauer? I don't notice too many catchers with a .432 on-base percentage around these days.

Morneau's candidacy rests on one number: his 129 RBI. Who, exactly, do you think he's been driving in? Someday the writers who vote for MVP will wean themselves from their infantile fascination with RBI, but I'm not holding my breath until that happens.

Anyone who drives in 129 runs has done something, and Justin Morneau has been a huge component in the Twins' incredible run to the postseason. But MVP? He shouldn't be in the discussion.

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You

I said goodbye to my 2006 White Sox tonight.

With my work schedule, I'll miss the final two games, both of which will be played during the day. So tonight was my last chance to watch the Sox live this year, and I took advantage of it (while peeking in at the Tigers, Astros, and Cardinals). I got pretty much what I've been getting for the last month: solo homers, a strong start by Freddie Garcia, and a near-collapse by the bullpen (in this case, Bobby Jenks).

You did just fine, guys. See you in February.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Godspeed, F. Robby

Let us take a moment to honor the service of Washington Expos manager Frank Robinson.

As this article implies, the Expos will be moving in another direction for the 2007 season. We can only hope the wish Robinson well in his future endeavors.

I think that Brian Schneider put it best when he said, "He took care of this team when no one really wanted to."

No one, including the team owner and Major League Baseball (often one and the same), really cared. MLB may have treated the Expos like a joke, but Robinson never did. Despite the stripped-down rosters and ridiculous travel schedules, he never griped and maintained a professional atmosphere. If Robinson weren't already a Hall of Famer, he would deserve to get in for putting up with all the crap the Expos had to endure the last five years.


So are the Mets still the lock for the NL pennant that they appeared to be at the beginning of August? Well, maybe not, after this news.

With Pedro out of action, who do the Mets turn to? Tom Glavine has pitched well since suffering a brutal July. But Orlando Hernandez might be the best starter they can throw out there now. He's been the best in September, at least (26.1 IP, 8 runs allowed, 17 hits, 25 K, 9 BB).

After those guys, things get a bit dodgy. John Maine has as good a chance as any at being this year's Brian Backe. Maine has been almost as good as Hernandez, with the exception of a few more walks. Maybe Brian Bannister, if the Mets put him back in the rotation.

There are also Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez, neither of whom inspire much confidence.

Given the state of the rest of the National League playoff contenders, I think the Mets should still be considered the favorites, even without Pedro. The Padres or the Dodgers might come into the playoffs with their pitching a little more settled, but Glavine Hernandez, and Maine might be enough to carry the Mets. And given the Mets' explosive offense, this trio wouldn't even have to put together a string of Pedro-like performances to get to the World Series.

Where Would We Be Without Him?

I have to admit, when I read this I had the same thought Death of the Goat Riders had:

I'm in my lunch break and don't have a lot of time to write. But I was reading an article on the Trib's site about Henry Blanco, who apparently is getting ignored by the rookie pitchers who he's trying to help. That shouldn't be a surprise - I suspect that even Greg Maddux's influence was limited in that regard - but Dusty was quoted as saying something some of us have been expecting for a number of weeks now. On Henry Blanco:

"I don't know where we'd be without Henry," Baker said. "Some guys keep getting better as a hitter. A few years ago, that was why Henry wasn't playing every day. He always has been a catch-and-throw guy, but his confidence is better."

He doesn't know where we'd be without Hank? Try last place! That's where you'd be! Look, I like Blanco. He's a fine backup and, shockingly, he's actually put up respectable offensive numbers the last two years. But I'm just amazed at Dusty, who uttered basically the same thing about Neifi last year. Hey, Doubleswitch - your team is in last place. There are no "saviors," there's nobody who has positively effected "where you'd be," you're in last place. End of story.

Loving the Sound of His Own Voice

Is straight-talkin’ Ozzie Guillen even trying to make sense anymore?

The Cleveland fans who flashed manager Ozzie Guillen the choke sign Monday night were only a few of many people whom Guillen believes were happy the White Sox were eliminated from postseason contention.

"A lot of people are," Guillen said Wednesday night. "That's part of the game. I'm not happy I didn't make the playoffs, but I'm happy Jim Leyland did and Gardy (Ron Gardenhire) did because I'm big fans of theirs and respect them as a manager. With the other guys I could care less. [Leyland and Gardenhire] are the guys I talk to the most.

"I'm sure there are people in Chicago who are happy we didn't make it. And not just Cubs fans either. White Sox fans too. Some people think, the media, they're happy we didn't make it. But we can't please everyone. We just have to come back strong and try to get another shot next year."

Guillen believes that those detractors do respect him.

"Some people don't like the way I am," Guillen said. "I'm the way I am, and no one is going to take that away from me. Of course, some people are really sad we don't ake it, but they're true fans and the people who work at the park."

Getting His Shots in While He Can

It’s the last weekend that the Chicago media will have Dusty Baker to kick around. With time running short, Dr. Phil pulls off a triple play: he dusts off a favorite Baker-bashing script, engages in idle speculation, and manages to pass it off as a solid piece of journalism:

Trey Hillman, a 43-year-old product of the baseball factory at the University of Texas-Arlington, is in his fourth season as manager of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japanese Pacific League. He has helped them to the league’s best record as the regular season winds down and seems interested in using his overseas success as a springboard to the big leagues. He has been mentioned as a possibility to replace Girardi in Florida and could surface as a serious alternative for the Cubs.

Hillman played in 2,039 fewer big-league games than Baker – 2,039-0. He cannot swap stories about Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds and most likely would not require wristbands during games.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Those wristband jokes never, ever get old. And the way Baker goes on about all the stuff he learned while playing with Hank Aaron – it’s like listening to Grandpa Simpson!

I would lament the fact that the level of discourse has sunk so low, but the level of discourse started out more or less at this level. There are plenty of reasons why Baker is less than optimal as a Major League manager. Some reasons I’ve discussed on this blog include his inability to manage a pitching staff and his bizarre lineup choices.

But such cursory examinations seem beyond the grasp of the scribes in Chicago. What little analysis there is takes the form of “They lost again – what can’t Baker teach them to hit/pitch/run the bases/field/do the ‘little things’ better?” Easier instead to focus on the trivial: the wristbands, the toothpick, the annoying use of the term “dude,” the folksy reminiscing of his playing days. Make a joke, submit the story, and leave plenty of time to hit the press box buffet.

Will Trey Hillman have great success as manager of the Chicago Cubs? How the hell do I know? Dr. Phil’s fever dream is the first I’ve ever heard his name brought up.

Hillman has a reputation for being one of those tough, no-nonsense, detail-oriented guys that many people see as a cure for what ails the Cubs. So does Girardi, for that matter. But a word of caution for those who believe that Baker’s laid-back style is the root cause of this year’s floundering:

Don Baylor breezed into Cubs camp as the tough, no-nonsense, detail-oriented guy who would fix all the flaws inflicted on the time by mellow Jim Riggleman. Unfortunately, Baylor shared many of the same managerial shortcomings of his successor, including a complete inability to manage a pitching staff and a penchant for questionable lineup constructions.

Perhaps the team would be better served if Jim Hendry focused not on what kind of guy the new hire is, but on what kind of manager he is.

A Man Can Dream

Dare I even hope? As I write this, the Milwaukee Brewers are beating the Saint Louis Cardinals just like Al Cowens once beat down Ed Farmer.

Mere days after the White Sox fumbled their chance at a repeat, the Cardinals are a hair’s breadth away from battling it out with the Cubs, Royals, and White Sox for those coveted October tee times. Does God like me enough to let me see such a grand Cardinal choke job, too?

And before you send me the hate mail, White Sox and Cardinal Fan, remember – I kid because I love. Besides, if God really liked me, do you think my boys would be where they are now?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

House Of Cards?

Admit it, you thought that this race was over ten days ago, too, didn't you?

With none of the three teams (yeah, the Reds still count) facing each other in the final days, it looks to me like the whole shebang is going to come down to whose pitching is less flammable than the others. That doesn't look good for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have one top-notch starter, Chris Carpenter. Carpenter lost a four-run lead on Tuesday night to the Padres, and won't pitch again until Sunday. Jeff Suppan has been sort of ok; he's the next best they have, and will pitch on Saturday. To try and break the seven-game death spiral that the Cards are in, they will send out rookie Anthony Reyes tonight. Reyes is a terrific prospect, but is 5-7, 4.92 for the season and has alternated good starts with terrible ones. For Thursday and Friday, Jason Marquis (14-15, 5.80) and Jeff Weaver (7-14, 5.79) are the pitchers. Good luck with that.

The Astros, on the other hand, have three, count 'em, three, outstanding pitchers for the final five games. Roy Oswalt will pitch Thursday, Roger Clemens on Friday, and Andy Pettitte on Sunday. The other two starts will both be by rookies, both of whom are promising but neither of which have been very effective, Jason Hirsch and Matt Albers.

Even the Reds have one more strong starter left than the Cardinals, with Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. But they are trailing both the Cards and the Astros, and the other three starts will be taken by Chris Michalak, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Belisle. It's certainly possible that they could all win, but I don't find it likely.

The Cardinals also have the possibility of having to play a makeup game on Monday with the Giants, should the matter not be decided by Sunday night. The Cardinals would probably have to bring Reyes back. The Giants have Jason Schmidt scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Dodgers, and he'll make that start if it matters in the NL West or Wild Card race. But if it doesn't, they may well hold Schmidt back a day. That's not what the Cardinals would want to see.

If I'm Astros fan, I like my chances.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fun While It Lasted

All good things, it is said, must come to an end. The Chicago White Sox reign as World Champions came to an end yesterday when the Minnesota Twins crushed the Kansas City Pony Leaguers again, 8-1. The win, following the 14-1 pasting the Sox were given earlier in the day at Cleveland, reduced the magic number for the Twins to clinch the Wild Card to zero.

There will be no tears shed here over this. The 2006 White Sox gave a good effort, built the team to win, and will likely win 90 games and finish with the fifth best record in the AL. The problem is that the top four get to be in the postseason.

Sure, it's disappointing. But no one (that means you, Yankee fan) should ever go into a season expecting a championship, with no other outcome acceptable. Unlike Donald Rumsfeld, Kenny Williams had a plan for this campaign. It was a good plan, and honestly, if he had it to do all over again, he'd probably do it the same way, and I'd support that, just as I did then. Of course, that was another web site, and the season is dead.

Anyone who talks about how the Sox "choked" is an idiot. They were beaten out by two better teams. The Tigers and Twins got to this point the old fashioned way; they earned it. It's not shameful in any way to have finished third to the two of them.

Oh...and to Cleveland fan, seen giving the "choke" sign to the Sox on Monday...how many games did your supposed pennant contender win this year? I guess that you must still be feeling the pain of the final week of the 2005 season. Let it go, brother.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Free Press

ESPN's Jim Caple dramatically describes the contempt of court case against the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams as a War on Journalists:

If a reporter can't guarantee confidentiality, sources won't talk. That means stories about crooked government contractors pocketing your tax money, companies that are polluting the water you drink, corporations that are building unsafe vehicles you drive, cops on the take who are supposed to be protecting you, elected officials bending the law to serve themselves instead of you -- you name it -- won't get written.

You will, however, still be able to get some very nice releases from a government spokesperson or slick PR guy telling you that everything is just fine, the radiation leak isn't harmful at all, contamination from the spill didn't reach dangerous levels, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, these aren't the droids you're looking for.

Caple grudgingly admits that well, yeah, the reporters are protecting…well, to be blunt about it, lawbreakers:

Who is the real target here? Steroid abusers or the press?

I can understand the court's desire to protect what is supposed to be confidential grand jury testimony by finding the source of the leaks. Yes, that's a legitimate aim. But how about doing a little investigative work yourself before tossing the reporters in jail? Besides, didn't they do exactly what the investigation was supposed to be doing? Shine the public light on the steroid business?

Funny, I thought that the investigation was to determine if laws were broken. And not to shine the public light on stuff that’s supposed to be kept confidential.

This isn't a case of the press valiantly defending the rights of the little guy. It's a case of someone breaking the law to deny someone else's rights (i.e., Bonds' right to confidential grand jury testimony). Freedom of the press is not the issue; the issue is whether or not the law applies to everyone equally.

Fair and Balanced

Things are looking bleak for the World Champion White Sox (Jim will have more on that soon, I'm sure). And, true to form, White Sox Fan has become outraged about the "disrespectful" way the media is treating the team.

The proof they offer to support this contention? A cartoon newspaper in Chicago ran some piece of fluff comparing the collapse of this year's White Sox team with another famous Chicago collapse.

That's what they think is "disrespectful?" Maybe they should check out how the Cubs are covered. Somewhere amidst reporters not bothering to get the basic facts of the game correct to reporters exhibiting open contempt for the players (and, if you want to dig not too far back into the archives, everything since Game Five of the 2003 NLCS), you may be able to find something more "disrespectful" than the fluff piece they dug up.

What did they expect, anyway? Did they not realize that the only thing the media loves more than a winner is ripping the losers?

Probably not. For that group of White Sox Fans, any criticism is "disrespectful." Perhaps they should start their own Sox News Channel.

[Ironically enough, Gonzales' story in today's Tribune can be summed up thusly: Jiminy jillikers, it's sure disappointing that the White Sox won't make the playoffs. But it sure was swell that the fellas could hit all those home runs to give the fans one last thrill! Score it an 11 on the Disrespect-ometer...]

Absolutely Worthless

How lazy and worthless is the baseball press corps? Smirky Paul Sullivan offers yet another example in this uninspired piece of banality.

Yes, it was written after an off-day. But a real reporter would have at least pretended to try to find something newsworthy to submit, rather than phoning in a tired collection of recycled snideness.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kneed-ed Relief

Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports:

Every six months, New York Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson gets injected with a substance in his right knee that allows him to pitch without pain. With the injections, Johnson can work out longer and harder and stay fresh at 43 years old despite the complete lack of cartilage in his knee.

And this treatment – the one that seems to turn back Johnson's clock – is completely legal by Major League Baseball's standards and endorsed by trainers and doctors around the game.

How baseball reconciles Johnson's therapy with the murky world of performance-enhancing drugs is largely a matter of semantics. Doping doctors claim that treatments such as Supartz – Johnson's preferred brand of hyaluronic acid, a substitute for the synovial fluid that keeps joints lubricated – are for therapeutic uses. Drug companies go to lengths not to call hyaluronic acid a drug...

"Without it, my knee would bother me," Johnson said. "It would swell. But the reason why it doesn't swell now is that buffer's in there. If I didn't have that, there would be more swelling and irritation, and I'd have to have my knee drained like it was in the past.

"I could pitch (like that). How effectively and how long, I don't know."

Less pain. Increased performance.

Sound familiar?

This is not an indictment of Johnson or any of the other dozen or so baseball players known to have taken hyaluronic acid as much as it is a showcase of the conundrums created in the intersecting world of modern medicine and baseball. What enhances performance and what rediscovers status quo? And in cases with aging athletes, is achieving what was previously there all of a sudden enhancing performance?

Long-time readers may remember I raised this very issue at our old site. Like Passan, I wasn't trying to slam Johnson. And like Passan, I wondered where the slippery slope of performance-enhancers ended.

No answers yet. Not that I'm expecting an answer anytime soon...

Like Rats...

Given how the Chicago White Sox came roaring back the last week of September 2005, I hesitate to refer to them as a "sinking ship."

And yet, when some of their biggest backers start bailing on them, the rodent metaphor seems apt.

Oops He Did It Again

Straight-talkin' Ozzie Guillen blasted Magglio Ordonez the other day...

That's not really surprising, of course. But the White Sox sent one of their PR flaks out to make sure eveyone knew the that Guillen had responded to comments Ordonez made that were "misrepresented."

That's as may be, but however badly Guillen was set up, he's still responsible for what comes out of his mouth. Every once in a while, just to keep us all on our toes, would it kill him to take the high road and not shoot from the hip when the media comes around looking for a sound bite?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Big Papi, Big Mouth

I'll cut David Ortiz a little slack, though. I'm sure that this is a very disappointing season for the Red Sox. Still....better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot than to open it and remove all doubt.

I got my biggest chuckle when Ortiz whined, "Don't get me wrong -- he's a great player, having a great season, but he's got a lot of guys in that lineup. Top to bottom, you've got a guy who can hurt you. Come hit in this lineup, see how good you can be." First, thanks for the slap in the face, I'm sure, from your teammates.

And second, hasn't David Ortiz been fortunate enough to spend his entire Red Sox career batting right behind Manny Ramirez?

Hurts So Good

Well, at least one of the 2005 White Sox will be going to the postseason this year.

Snarkiness aside, there is no one happier than me for Frank Thomas; I've been loving watching his terrific season. After all of the injuries and controversies over the past few years, it's great to give everyone a reminder of what a great, great hitter Thomas is.

That said, I fully agreed with the decision to let Frank go after last year, and to bring in Jim Thome to replace him. Well, ok, I had reservations, based on Thome's injury-plagued 2005 season, but as for replacing one injury-prone slugger with another, I felt it was a good swap.

And I still do. If Kenny Williams had to go back and do it again, I'd still advise him to. Both have been great, but the Sox (a) needed to remove the distraction that Thomas was (rightly or wrongly) accused of being, and (2) break up the right-handedness of the lineup with a lefthanded power threat.

Who has had the better season?

Thomas 431 73 121 10 38 105 75 73 .281 .425 .568
Thome 462 103 132 23 40 101 97 135 .286 .412 .595

Thome, I would say, although it's close. The kicker are the 13 more doubles and 30 more runs scored, showing that Thome, while not exactly Carlos Beltran on the bases, is much more mobile than Thomas, who once was pretty good running the bases but now moves no better than a cement block.

Mobile or not, Thomas has been great. Anyone still doubt that he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect

Baseball Prospectus uses that (usually abreviated as TNSTAAPP) when discussing young pitchers, the idea being that there are so many things that can go wrong with a young pitcher that the ones who make it are survivors, not prospects. There is certainly more than an element of truth to it. If you read all the way through the Peter Gammons piece that I just posted, you saw him discussing this, with a chart of the top 10 pitching prospects, year by year, since 1990, as named by Baseball America. I'm going to crib from him nw (hey, everyone cribs from Peter Gammons at some point) and reprint the list here, because I want to make a few points of my own.

Baseball America's Top 10 Pitching Prospects, 1990-2006

1. Steve Avery, Atl
2. Ben McDonald, Bal
3. Kiki Jones, LA
4. Darryl Kile, Hou
5. Willie Banks, Min
6. Mike Harkey, Cubs
7. Roger Salkeld, Sea
8. Mike Stanton, Atl
9. Pat Combs, Phi
10. Rafael Valdez, SD

1. Todd Van Poppel, Oak
2. Roger Salkeld, Sea
3. Arthur Rhodes, Bal
4. Willie Banks, Min
5. Rich Garces, Min
6. Mike Mussina, Balt
7. Reid Cornelius, Mon
8. Kurt Miller, Pit
9. Anthony Young, Mets
10. Kirk Dressendorfer, Oak

1. Brien Taylor, NYY
2. Todd Van Poppel, Oak
3. Roger Salkeld, Sea
4. Arthur Rhodes, Bal
5. Frankie Rodriguez, Bos
6. Pedro Martinez, LAD
7. Mark Wohlers, Atl
8. Kurt Miller, Tex
9. Tyrone Hill, Mil
10. Lance Dickson, ChC

1. Brien Taylor, NYY
2. Todd Van Poppel, Oak
3. Jason Bere, ChW
4. Allen Watson, Stl
5. Tyrone Hill, Mil
6. Kurt Miller, Tex
7. Tavo Alvarez, Mon
8. Brad Pennington, Bal
9. David Nied, Col
10. Frankie Rodriguez, Bos

1. James Baldwin, ChW
2. Jose Silva, Tor
3. Darren Dreifort, LAD
4. Steve Karsay, Oak
5. Chan Ho Park, LAD
6. Brien Taylor, NYY
7. Jeff Granger, Kan
8. Bill Pulsipher, NYM
9. Salomon Torres, SF
10. Terrell Wade, Atl

1. Armando Benitez, Bal
2. Bill Pulsipher, NYM
3. Alan Benes, StL
4. Antonio Osuna, LAD
5. Paul Wilson, NYM
6. Billy Wagner, Hou
7. Dustin Hermanson, SD
8. Doug Million, Col
9. Scott Ruffcorn, ChW
10. James Baldwin, ChW

1. Paul Wilson, NYM
2. Alan Benes, Stl
3. Livan Hernandez, Fla
4. Jason Schmidt, Atl
5. Matt Drews, NYY
6. Billy Wagner, Hou
7. Bartolo Colon, Cle
8. Kerry Wood, ChC
9. Chan Ho Park, LAD
10. Rocky Coppinger, Bal

1. Kerry Wood, ChC
2. Matt White, Tam
3. Kris Benson, Pit
4. Bartolo Colon, Cle
5. Carl Pavano, Bos
6. Jaret Wright, Cle
7. Livan Hernandez, Fla
8. Matt Morris, Stl
9. Chris Carpenter, Tor
10. Braden Looper, Stl

1. Kerry Wood, ChC
2. Matt White, Tam
3. Kris Benson, Pit
4. Carl Pavano, Mon
5. Matt Clement, SD
6. Rick Ankiel, Stl
7. Brian Rose, Bos
8. Ryan Anderson, Sea
9. Matt Anderson, Det
10. Eric Milton, Min

1. Rick Ankiel, Stl
2. Bruce Chen, Atl
3. Brad Penny, Ari
4. Ryan Anderson, Sea
5. Matt Clement, SD
6. Roy Halladay, Tor
7. Bobby Bradley, Pit
8. Chris George, KC
9. Donnie Bridges, Mon
10. Matt Belisle, Atl

1. Rick Ankiel, Stl
2. Ryan Anderson, Sea
3. Mark Mulder, Oak
4. Kip Wells, ChW
5. Matt Riley, Bal
6. Josh Beckett, Fla
7. A.J. Burnett. Fla
8. Brad Penny, Fla
9. Wilfredo Rodriguez, Hou
10. Tony Armas, Mont

1. Josh Beckett, Fla
2. Jon Rauch, ChW
3. Ben Sheets, Milw
4. C.C. Sabathia, Cle
5. Roy Oswalt, Hou
6. Chin-Hui Tsao, Col
7. Juan Cruz, ChC
8. Jerome Williams, SF
9. Bobby Bradley, Pit
10. Chris George, KC

1. Josh Beckett, Fla
2. Mark Prior, ChC
3. Juan Cruz, ChC
4. Ryan Anderson, Sea
5. Dennis Tankersley, SD
6. Nick Neugebauer, Mil
7. Jerome Williams, SF
8. Jon Rauch, ChW
9. Carlos Hernandez, Hou
10. Ty Howington, Cin

1. Jesse Foppert, SF
2. Jose Contreras, NYY
3. Gavin Floyd, Phi
4. Francisco Rodriguez, LAA
5. Scott Kazmir, NYM
6. Adam Wainwright, Atl
7. Jeremy Bonderman, Det
8. John Van Benschoten, Pitt
9. Sean Burnett, Pit
10. Rafael Soriano, Sea

1. Edwin Jackson, LAD
2. Greg Miller, LAD
3. Scott Kazmir, NYM
4. Adam Loewen, Balt
5. Zach Greinke, KC
6. Cole Hamels, Phi
7. Dustin Magowan, Tor
8. Gavin Floyd, Phi
9. Chi-Hui Tsao, Colo
10. Angel Guzman, ChC

1. Felix Hernandez, Sea
2. Scott Kazmir, TB
3. Matt Cain, SF
4. Adam Miller, Cle
5. Chad Billingsley, LAD
6. Jeff Niemann, TB
7. Jeff Francis, Col
8. Jose Capellan, Mil
9. Mike Hinckley, Was
10. Edwin Jackson, LAD

1. Francisco Liriano, Minn
2. Chad Billingsley, LAD
3. Justin Verlander, Det
4. Matt Cain, SF
5. Jon Lester, Bos
6. Bobby Jenks, ChW
7. Scott Olsen, Fla
8. Joel Zumaya, Det
9. Mike Pelfrey, NYM
10. Jonathan Papelbon, Bos

Wow, look at that 1991 list. Mussina went on to become a great pitcher, and Rhodes became very effective once he was shifted to the bullpen. The rest of the list is as big a group of flameouts as you could imagine. The first several years are all like that, a scattering of Pedro Martinez and Mussina and a few modest successes surrounded by Brien Taylor and Roger Salkeld and Tyrone Hill and Lance Dickson.

But look at the lists since 2000. The 2000 list is topped by two of the most famous flameouts since Karl Spooner in Rick Ankiel and Ryan Anderson. But below them are Mark Mulder, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, and Brad Penny, all of whom have had a bit of success. Each of the top five in 2001 has become a successful major league pitcher, and look at 2003. There is the usual group of failures, but if you had Scott Kazmir, Jeremy Bonderman, and Jose Contreras in your rotation and Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Adam Wainwright in your bullpen, I'd say your staff was pretty decent.

And check out 2006. I'd say that they nailed it pretty well, wouldn't you?

So, what are my points? First, I think that the difference in the success rates of 1990 and 2006 are due in large part to the increased input of knowledge brought into the game by the performance analyst community. Now, before you bring out the cat 'o nine tails and lash me for my disrespect of traditional scouting, let me make this clear. I don't think that it's because scouts who drive around the country and watch high school kids play games in the rain in Billings, Montana are fools who should go the way of the dodo, nor do I think that performance analysts are geniuses who are saving the game from themselves. What I am saying is that the wedding of new information to old is making player development and thus, the game, better.

Second, it's easy to overdo the excitement about the 2006 group. Having success one time around the league is one thing, lasting as long as Mike Mussina is another. Liriano and Papelbon, wildly successful this year, have both suffered injuries. There are plenty of red flags flying around Bobby Jenks, and Jon Lester's story is just plain sad. It's altogether possible that in ten years this group could look just like the 1990 group that featured Steve Avery, Ben McDonald, and Daryl Kile, all of whom looked pretty damn good for a few years.

Third, teams are much, much more protective of their young pitchers than ever before. As Bob pointed out, all of the protective measures such as pitch counts are not guarantees of health, but taken as a whole they are very effective, much more so than the pond dunking method of testing pitchers previously used.

And, this list gives Bob another opportunity to beat me over the head with Roger Salkeld. As has been said, TNSTAAPP.

Good News

Welcome back.

Wild West Coast

This is for everyone who still says that baseball is boring. Especially compared with the sacred NFL, which offered this to a nationwide audience on the same night.

Thanks to the magic of MLB-TV, I got to see this one. Well worth staying up for, I would say. It's the leader in the clubhouse for best game of the century. Marlon Anderson hit two homers, a triple, and two singles. Marlon Anderson. This is the great thing about baseball, that over 162 games great players will be great and sucky players will suck, but in any one game Marlon Anderson can play like Stan Musial, and Trevor Hoffman can pitch like Brian Meadows.

One more thing. It's a cheap shot, but as always, the true color of Dodger fan showed up. From the ESPN game story:

Fans who had left the game and were in the parking lot starting streaming back into the ballpark during the long-ball display.

Pete Rose Refuses To Go Away

Just when we thought that Pete Rose couldn't sink to lower depths, we find this.

The article says that Rose didn't make any money off of this, but the Sacramento Bee's Mark Kreidler and I find that hard to believe. Pete Rose hasn't signed anything in 40 years that he didn't think he could make a buck off of.

I wonder if Mike Schmidt and Rose's fawning admirers in the media still think he should be allowed to be elected to the Hall of Fame? The Hall of Fame of Hucksterism migjht be a good place for him.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Nature Versus Nurture

What should we make of Francisco Liriano’s situation? The Twins’ beloved rookie righty was on the DL for about a month before attempting a comeback Wednesday. As you know, he left the game after 28 pitches after hearing something pop in his elbow.

Rotowire reports Liriano has a “mild” tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. Twins GM Terry Ryan said, “The MRI came back exactly the same as the previous one. He has a ligament strain, but there is no structural damage.”

Some might think that a tear, however “mild,” would constitute “structural damage.” I’m surprised that some of the medical experts in our media haven’t stepped up to offer their diagnoses.

[By the way, can you imagine the Vortex of Armageddon™ that would result if a promising young pitcher managed by…oh, I don’t know…this guy went on the DL for a month only leave his first start after 28 pitches and be found with a “mild” tear in his ulnar collateral ligament?]

At any rate…by all accounts, Liriano has been handled carefully throughout his minor league career, and the Twins don’t appear to have overworked him this year. Could this mean that the old-timers who say that those pitchers shouldn’t be molly-coddled (and the Pitch Count Police worried about games becoming too boring) are right? If counting pitches and monitoring workloads can’t prevent injuries, why bother?

My opinion (and, no, I’m no doctor): some guys are just going to get hurt, no matter how much the teams try to protect them. Whether it’s bad mechanics, poor conditioning, brittle bones, week ligaments, whatever, those guys will break down.

However, pitch counts are a tool that teams can use to put off the trip to the DL as long as possible. Just as conditioning programs will keep the pitchers in shape, and delivery adjustments will keep their mechanics in line, limiting pitches will reduce the stress on muscles, ligaments, nerves, and everything else in the pitchers’ arms and shoulders.

Think of it as preventative maintenance. And it’s worth the effort, even if some people hate watching batters take all those pitches…

Things Are Tough All Over

According to the AP, the Braves disabled Larry Jones so their insurance company would pick up some of the $13.6 million Jones will rake in this year.

I wonder if the guys at Time-Warner are trying to make the team’s financials look a little better while they negotiate the sale of the Braves.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You…

Things change, I guess. Luis Gonzalez then:

I’m pretty much taking the approach this is where I want to be. But at the same time, if I have to move, I’m not afraid to move on…If I’m not involved in the direction the organization wants to go, I’m not afraid to move on…If we can’t work something out, I’ll be excited to play somewhere else.

And Luis Gonzalez now:

There was one door and that door said exit. That is the way I took it. I don't have hard feelings. That is the route they want to take. There are going to be teams out there for me…For me it is another challenge. The Diamondbacks didn't feel that I was worth bringing back and it sparks me another fire. It is another motivational thing to push me. I hope I get a chance to play against the Diamondbacks. (Manager) Bob Melvin knows that because every time I go to Houston (former team) I want to go ten-for-two.

I guess what Gonzo calls “excited” others might call “lust for revenge.”

I know Gonzalez is a great guy and everybody loves him…but even though he says he has no hard feelings he comes across as being pretty bent out of shape (he even made some oblique comments about the “new regime”). Could he really have expected that the team would pick up his $10 million option for next year?

The harsh facts of the matter is that Gonzalez is 37 years old and stood to make an inordinate amount of money for what he produces. His performance in the 2001 World Series doesn’t enter into the equation. His being to oldest player to tally fifty doubles in a season doesn’t, either. Not when the D-backs have two guys who are much younger and much cheaper than Gonzalez.

Another Team on the Move?

Now that the Twins and the Expos have their new ballpark financing in place, which team is next in line for Baron Budhausen’s extortion tactics?

It looks like the next beneficiary will be the A’s, who announced they broke off negotiations for an extension to their lease at the Coliseum. The AP reports that the team is looking at Fremont, and possible some locations in the South Bay (if they can get past the Giant’s territorial claim on the area).

A few years ago, I said that the winner of the Expos sweepstakes would be the first city to give the Baron a free ballpark. Is there any reason to believe that the standards will change when it comes time to decide where the A’s new home will be?

More Get Well Wishes

Derrek Lee announced today that his young daughter is ill, and that he will be taking some time off in order to be with her.

Dave van Dyck wrote the Tribune piece on the announcement. No word yet if he adopted Sully’s “game face” while Lee was discussing his decision…

Pop Quiz Time

The Cubs beat the Reds 11-3 today. What will tomorrow’s Tribune game story focus on?

A. The brutal beating the Cubs gave to Reds starter Eric Milton?
B. The first multi-homer game in Ryan Theritot’s career?
C. Carlos Zambrano coming off a two-week layoff to pitch seven scoreless innings, win his fifteenth game, and hit his fifth home run?
D. Ryan Dempster giving up three runs in the ninth inning?

If you answered anything but “D,” you don’t understand how the Chicago media works…

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Easily Alarmed

Baseball Weekly’s Steve DiMeglio must be easily alarmed:

One looks around baseball and sees fewer and fewer players such as [Craig] Biggio, the Braves’ Chipper Jones and the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who have played their entire major league careers with one team. Meanwhile, stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Nomar Garciaparra have moved on and changed teams with alarming regularity.

Alarming regularity? Sheesh – it’s not like we’re talking about Mike Morgan or Reggie Sanders…

DiMeglio’s article is the latest in a favorite chestnut of the baseball punditocracy: a piece lamenting the fact that not every player gets to enjoy his entire career with one team. How will fans develop a close connection with their team if the players come and go willy-nilly? Who will think of the children?!

Ironically, DiMeglio notes a favorite fact of mine: “Only about 25% of the players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame spent their entire careers with one team.” But somehow, in the minds of many fans, those players moving from team to team is not as alarming as when Nomar or A-Rod move from team to team. It’s tricky the way it works, I guess…

Get Well Soon

Saw a news item that former Cub outfielder Dwight Smith was busted for cocaine possession. Everyone loved Dwight back in the day – he was almost the second coming of Shawon Dunston – and it’s a shame that he’s become involved with drugs. I sincerely hope he gets the help he’ll need to get his life back on track.

Also, Pat Hughes reported before last night’s game that Glendon Rusch is in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. Regular readers know that I’ve never been a fan of the guy (with the possible exception of that glorious July 4 night when he shut down the White Sox, a game that ended on a bases-loaded walk to Todd Walker), but life-threatening medical emergencies have a way of pushing other quibbles off the table. So no matter what I said in the past, I’m pulling for Rusch.

Now word on whether Sully had his game face smirk in place when the Cubs announced Rusch’s malady…

Don’t Hate the Manager, Hate the Team

I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine, another Cub Fan, who is firmly in the Baker Hater camp. Unfortunately, he’s one of those guys who thinks that Baker’s foibles are more of a problem than, say, how he constructs a lineup.

At any rate, we were having the same circular conversation about why Dusty is a bad manager and a bad guy when brought up a favorite chestnut of the Baker Hater brigade: the only reason he won all those games in San Francisco is because he had Barry Bonds on his team. And now that he’s running a crappy team, he doesn’t know how to win.

Puzzled by this line of thought, I asked my acquaintance what Baker could do differently to win more games. The response: nothing, because it’s a crappy team.

That, in a nutshell, is the pretzel logic many Cub Fans are engaging in now. We’re not winning because Baker is a horrible manager. But even a great manager couldn’t win because we have a horrible team.

My advice to Cub Fans: don’t tie yourself into mental knots trying to reconcile both ideas into a logical “If A, then B” statement. Simply accept that both concept wrap neatly into a quasi-Aristotelian syllogism:

The Cubs are a team so bad that even a good manager would have trouble winning 70 games.

Dusty Baker is not a good manager.

Therefore, the opportunity for suckiosity is increased by several powers of ten.

Despite Jim Hendry’s assertions that Baker’s final fate won’t be determined until the off-season, would anyone be surprised if Baker left for other opportunities? I don’t want to say that Baker is giving up on the rest of the year, but he just has the look of a guy who knows he’s out. And it will probably be a relief for him, after the abuse he’s taken the last two years.

Whoever Hendry brings in to manage the team next year will probably be an idiot, too, if only because the team has major issues that need to be addressed before we can even think about challenging .500, let alone the Cardinals.

Pretty much everything I wrote about last time I talked about the Cubs is still open, along with the ongoing Aramis Ramirez saga. Talk that he’s going to opt out of his contract and become a free agent is getting louder, although neither Ramirez nor his agent will confirm or deny the rumor.

If Ramirez goes, then we better hope that whoever we get with the first or second overall draft pick this year (a) plays third base and (b) will be ready for the Show sometime in 2008.

On the other hand, I like what I’ve seen of Matt Murton lately. He should get a real chance next year. Maybe not in an everyday role – perhaps a platoon situation would provide the best use of his talents. And Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett will be back…

Well, that’s three lineup spots covered. Time for Hendry to start working on the other eight…

Monday, September 11, 2006

Not Getting the Point

Straight-talkin' Ozzie Guillen was asked yesterday who he supports for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award: Jim Thome, or Frank Thomas.

Guillen, of course, favored Thome. There's nothing wrong with that. Thome's having a great year, and you can't fault Guillen for supporting his own guy.

What I don't get is the rationale Guillen presented to defend his selection:

I think Jim Thome because nobody thought he would have the year he's had this year, and the expectations for Jim were higher than for Frank.

Not to take anything away from Frank, but when he went to Oakland, he was another guy in the bunch, and he was hopeful of making the team. When we brought
Thome here, he was replacing [Pants] Rowand, and there were expectations to win. The expectations were higher.

Thome was all over the news. Frank was in the news in the wrong way. I think it should be Thome.

To summarize (to the extent that it's possible to summarize Guillen), Thome deserves the award because he got a lot of good press, and because no one thought Thomas would do squat this year.

Some people might think that the fact that no one thought Thomas would do squat this year actually works in Thomas' favor. And while expectations for the defending World Champions were higher than in Oakland, I don't think anyone expected the A's to put up a Cub-like season. Thomas has definitely pulled his weight as the A's have pulled away from the AL West pack.

Despite the "wrong" press, Thomas has had a hell of a year. It makes you wonder what kind of numbers he would have put up if he could run without worrying that his foot would break off at the ankle.

Oh, well. Maybe "comeback" means something different in Venezuela...

In a similar vein, I'm puzzled by the folks who are saying that the Tigers would be a major disappointment if they don't win the AL Central.

I'm sure Jim Leyland, the Tigers, and their fans would be sorely disappointed if they can't lock up the division title. But from an outsider's point of view, can a team that no one really took seriously in March be considered a major disappointment if they win 90+ games and stay in playoff contention deep into September?

Of course, this interpretation is a subtle put-down on the Twins and White Sox, too. Why talk about how those two teams made a race of it after it looked like the Tigers would run away and hide? It's easier to crack on the team for "blowing" it than to find reasons why another team won it.

There are still three weeks to go, and there is every chance the Tigers will make this discussion moot. Let's wait for the Tigers' corpse to get cold before we start kicking it, shall we?

Iron Man!

Please indulge me for a moment while I venture off-topic for the merest of moment. Readers who want all baseball, all the time, feel free to skip this post.

I would be remiss if I didn't offer my sincerest and most heart-felt congratulations to my friend and co-worker Mark. Mark completed the Ironman Triathalon held this weekend in and around Madison, Wisconsin, mostly in the midst of a cold September rain.

Completing a triathlon is a phenomenal achievement and one deserving of major props (as the youngsters in Mark's demographic would say). Congratulations again!

We now return to regular programming...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Howard's End

Just to follow up on Jim's comment about Den Wetzel...

I'm amazed at how quickly he's moved from "Howard must be juicing" to "Howard is peachy-keen." Even professional front-runners like Dr. Phil and Ken Rosenthal will wait a week or two before recanting their previous positions (not that they would actually admit it, of course).

Then again, even changing course like that allows Wetzel to stand on the Soapbox of Righteousness™...especially since Roger Maris' family has decided to climb on with him:

"If he breaks it, it's legit," Roger Maris' son, Rich, told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday.

Yes, the sudden rise of this 26-year-old causes pause. As I wrote earlier this week, the fact that MLB does not test for human growth hormone or many other favored drugs means declaring any player 100 percent clean is a leap of faith. And after a summer of scandal courtesy of Floyd Landis, Marion Jones and others, it is natural to be skeptical.

But this is what we have. This is the new reality. We can either take each performance on a case-by-case basis or write off the entire operation and no longer believe any accomplishment ever again.

What we have is this: Baseball is testing for some performance-enhancing drugs and Ryan Howard has not failed any tests. Moreover, with his big frame – 6-foot-4, 250 pounds – that doesn't look bloated or strained like the previous three, and his history of being a power hitter back to high school, he at least looks clean.

Maybe he winds up burning us, but at this stage he passes both the drug test and the sniff test.

"In my mind," said Rich Maris, "I feel Ryan Howard's clean. If baseball's doing what they're supposed to be doing and say they're doing – I feel bad for people bashing him.

"Right now people should be looking at baseball saying it's cleaned up. I know if I were a baseball player, there would be no way I'd come close to touching that stuff. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He had first-ballot Hall of Fame statistics. And then that stuff comes out."

If Rich Maris is for it, then that is good enough for me. This is a painful subject for the Maris family, who were burned by the steroid boys. They rightfully consider their father the single-season record holder and, truth be told, aren't that interested in seeing someone else break it.

Oh, well -- if noted steroids expert Rich Maris is down with it, who are we to judge? Oy...

One last thing -- it's ironic that the Maris family considers the Bonds and McGwire marks illegitimate. If you recall, back in 1961 a lot of people were saying the same thing about Maris' record. There was plenty of gab about how Babe Ruth hit his homers in 154 games, and how unfair it would be for Maris to have eight extra games to set the record, yadda yadda yadda.

Of course, the whole "astericked" record nonsense was just that -- nonsense. Maris' 61 homers was rightly the record, because he was playing under the rules in effect at the time. Like it or not, MLB did not ban steroids in 1998, or 2001. Should McGwire and Bonds get whacked for that?

But if Wetzel and the Marises want to retroactively erase records because of stuff that's currently banned, they should take a look at that 1961 season. There is plenty of evidence those naughty (and currently banned) amphetamines were flying around the Yankees clubhouse that year. And, as Jim pointed out a few months back, there are plenty of other reasons to trash the record book. Why stop at steroids?

Who'd have thought Maris' family would be pimping a new set of "astericked" records? As the Bard so wisely said, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Congratulations on Winning the Award...I Guess

USA Today awarded Twins pitcher Matt Garza its prestigious Minor League Player of the Year Award. You can tell it's prestigious by the list of other guys who won the award:

1988: Right-hander Mike Harkey
1989: Infielder Todd Zeile
1990: First baseman Tino Martinez
1991: Right-hander Mark Wohlers
1992: First baseman Carlos Delgado
1993: Outfielder Cliff Floyd
1994: Outfielder Billy Ashley
1995: Outfielder Andruw Jones
1996: Outfielder Andruw Jones
1997: Outfielder Ben Grieve
1998: Outfielder Gabe Kapler
1999: Left-hander Rick Ankiel
2000: Outfielder Josh Hamilton
2001: Right-hander Josh Beckett
2002: Shortstop Jose Reyes
2003: First baseman Prince Fielder
2004: Left-hander Jeff Francis
2005: Left-hander Francisco Liriano

Forgive me for being snarky, but the names on this list are a reason why I take those "top prospect" lists with a grain of salt the size of a blue whale. Look at these guys -- the only real superstars there are Delgado and Jones. Fielder and Liriano have a chance to get to that level, but it's too soon to tell right now. The rest never really lived up to their minor league hype (although Floyd, Zeile, Wohlers, and Martinez enjoyed good careers).

Obviously, hindsight is 20-20. But it just goes to show how difficult it is (even for the expert) to project a player's career arc. Just something to keep in mind the next time your team's GM doesn't draft your pet amateur player, or throws in that tantalizing Class A pitcher in a short-sighted trade...

If I Wanted to Count, I'd Be in School

Sports Illustrated's Frank Deford says that pitch counts are ruining the game.

According to Deford, pitch counts are bad because (a) it makes teams beholden to agents (who don't want their clients to suffer injuries from overuse) and (b) teams want their batters to work the count more, because that increases pitch counts and gets those pampered pitchers out of the game quicker. Oh, and all those batters working the count bore him.

He also mentions Hamlet and Robert Coover's novel The Universal Baseball Association into his argument. No, it doesn't make any sense to me, either. But then again, I'm just a schmuck in my basement, and he's the expert. Who are you gonna believe?

No Wailing or Gnashing of Teeth?

Baseball Weekly [no link, sorry] reports that Twins uber-prospect Matt Garza was allowed to throw 122 pitches while in Triple A this year. Where were the Pitch Count Police, and why didn't they immediately send those responsible to Gitmo?

What a Yahoo

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo!Sports thinks that if Ryan Howard hits 62 homers this year he is the true single season record holder. Because, you know, those other guys cheated. Especially the rude black guy who's never been proven guilty of anything.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Perfect Metaphor for the Year

Michael Barrett will probably miss the rest of the year after undergoing surgery to stop “inter-scrotal bleeding.”

That pretty much describes the year in a nutshell (if you’ll pardon the expression…).

Class Act, Part I

Sully today:

Mike Remlinger is sitting in a recliner in the clubhouse, gets his pinky finger caught in between chairs and is out for two weeks.

“The handles on them are wood,” Remlinger explained. “I just kind of turned quickly and didn’t know the other chair was right there.”

The other chair had been in the clubhouse all season, but Remlinger apparently didn’t notice its existence. He accused me of “smirking” after he revealed his injury, which was hard to deny because that’s my game face when listening to explanations of Cubs injuries.

While cheering may be forbidden in the press box, mocking seems to be A-OK.

Class Act, Part II

Some things never change…Greg Maddux leaves the Cubs, and can’t resist taking some parting shots. And the doting media nods as it types up the sage wisdom. It’s like 1992 all over again…

Reality Meets Idiocy

In what we refer to as “Organized Baseball” (i.e., the minor league teams currently bound to Major League franchises by a form of indentured servitude), it’s not unusual for teams to focus on things other than winning games. Player development takes precedence over the team’s position in the standings.

The independent leagues are supposed to be different. The Northern League, the Atlantic League, and their brethren aren’t beholden to any Major League team, and are free to do what’s best for their teams (while the players on those teams do their best to land a gig in Organized Baseball, of course).

When one of those independent teams does something goofy (such as, for example, signing Jose Canseco), the team can usually spin it so it appears it’s to help the team win. And if a stunt (such as signing Jose Canseco) helps put some fannies in the seats, all the better.

But when a team is participating in an on-line reality program that allows fans to vote on that day’s starting lineup, can that help the team win? Or will it merely line the owners’ pockets?

That’s what the Northern League’s Schaumburg Flyers are doing this year. This was the same team, you may recall, that wanted to have two fans play the first three innings of a game on the Playstation, and then have the real teams finish the game from there. I didn’t think it possible to make a bigger mockery of the game than that, but I was wrong.

It’s easy for some people to dismiss the Northern League as “just” a low-level independent league that doesn’t matter a lot in the grand scheme of things. Well, maybe it doesn’t matter a lot. But the Northern League has its fans, too, and they deserve that the games be played to win, not subject to the whim of on-line voting. That might work for lousy reality TV, but it has no place in baseball at any level.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Still a Bum

Five home runs in four days? Yeah, it's nice, I guess -- but it's not as good as Derek Jeter...


Listening to the Cubs game on WGN Radio this afternoon. Pat Hughes just mentioned that Phillies firts baseman Ryan Howard just hit his 53rd dinger of the year. He then asked Ron Santo, "How can he not be the MVP this year?"

Well, there are lots of reasons. Maybe hitting homers is the only thing he's done well. Maybe the Phil's ho-hum record will be held against him. Or maybe somebody else is just having a better year than he is.

I haven't looked closely at any post-season award candidates yet (it seems rather silly to do so with almost a month left in the season), so I don't know how Howard stacks up to my default MVP pick, Albert Pujols. Howard is having a fantastic year, and I don't mean to insinuate that he wouldn't be a deserving winner.

But statements like Hughes' point out the inherent bias in MVP voters' mind -- if a guy has lots of home runs and RBIs, he must be pretty darned valuable. Nothing else seems to matter.

Thinking like this is the only explanation as to why people believe that Jim Rice and Andre Dawson are Hall of Fame candidates...

On another Ryan Howard front, it's disturbing to see that the whispering has already begun:

Is Ryan Howard juiced?

Don't blame me for wondering. It might not be fair, but it isn't my (or your) fault for asking before plunging headlong into another home run chase. Blame baseball, blame society, blame a summer that has given us Floyd Landis, Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds and a host of other drug cheats who can make a cynic out of anyone.

The Philadelphia Phillies first baseman knocked home runs 50, 51 and 52 out of the park Sunday. So here on Labor Day he is within striking distance of Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61, which means the attention, and the debate, will become sharper now.

There is no reason, no whisper, no allegation that suggests Howard is cheating. In fact, there is plenty of talk that he is clean. But how can you blindly trust anyone anymore?

Thanks to Yahoo's Dan Wetzel for clearing that up. There's no reason to believe that Howard's on the juice, but we'd better consider him guilty until proven innocent anyway. And while we're there, we'll mock Dusty Baker for his "steroid McCarthyism" comments -- nothing like that could ever happen here, right?

Wetzel goes on to make two more points: MLB is testing, but there's stuff like HGH that they can't detect with current tests (and the chemists are hard at work making more undetectable stuff as we speak), and humans are by nature cheaters (especially with the amount of money involved in baseball), so no testing program will offer enough of a deterrent to keep players clean.

It's hard to argue with logic like that. But if you accept that line of reasoning, you might as well just pack up your fandom (of any sport, not just baseball) and take it to the dump. If you're going to automatically suspect anyone who has a good year, what's left in the game to enjoy? Pretty soon the only players Wetzel and his ilk will cheer for will be guys like Neifi, because they'll be about the only guys left that they won't suspect of doping.

Wetzel may be right when he says you can't blindly trust anyone anymore. But is blindly mistrusting everyone really a better option?

Is This Thing On?

Maybe if Bert said that those naughty words had entirely different meanings in Dutch people would cut him some slack...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Quack Quack

The latest from straight-talkin’ Ozzie Guillen:

Now I am not guilty and people keep throwing that out. It’s not fair, not for me, my reputation, and my team. I am not that type of person. You can call me anything you want, [but] don’t call me a liar and don’t call me a headhunter.

Ummm…OK. I won’t call you a headhunter, as long as you don’t scream at pitchers in the dugout for not drilling an opposing player, ship him back to Triple A for his failure, and then claim that neither incident had anything to do with not exacting a metaphoric pound of flesh from the batter.

Incredible…when Dusty Baker makes an offhand comment about how many games Derrek Lee is worth, the Chicago media can’t go to enough sabrematricians to prove what an idiot Dusty is. But Guillen can make statements like this, where there are enough historical incidents to make one think that perhaps he’s full of crap, and the reporters eat it up with a spoon. Must be that famed Tribune bias…

Dreaming Is Free

After spending most of the winter fretting that mean ol’ Dusty Baker wouldn’t give deserving youngsters Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno a fair shot at earning everyday gigs, our old friend Paul Sullivan presents this as the bestest possible Cubs lineup for 2007:

CF Gary Matthews Jr.
2B Ray Durham
1B Derrek Lee
RF Gary Sheffield
C Michael Barrett
3B Mike Lowell
LF Jacque Jones
SS Cesar Izturis
Starting Rotation: Carlos Zambrano, Mike Mussina, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Mark Prior
Co-Closers: Bobby Howry, Scott Eyre

Sully’s premise is too silly to even try to sum up here. It reminds me of a bit Stephen Colbert did on Buy This Book – If You Have the Balls (where Colbert says to the audience, “Well, do you? Have the balls?”). You can read about Sully’s magical fantasy land here – if you have the balls…

Setting aside the snarkiness (as well as the fact that five of the players Sully lists are currently under contract to other teams), it did make me wonder how much of the roster the Cubs would have to jettison this off-season. Dipping into Cubs blogdom, the vibe I’m getting from other fans is that with few exceptions (Zambrano, Lee, and maybe Barrett), Hendry should put the rest of the team in a sack, throw the sack in a river, and then throw the river into space. Other fans aren’t nearly as forgiving, and say that the sack should have room for Baker, Hendry, and Andy MacPhail.

For the record, now that Neifi has moved on to bigger and better things, the only guy left on the roster that I feel deserves the sack treatment is Glendon Rusch.

Once again attempting to set aside the snarkiness, here are the big questions facing our heroes heading into the off-season:

Lead-off hitter. I think I’ve been saying this for eight or nine years. Juan Pierre hits free agency this winter. Rumor has it that Hendry is hoping to re-sign him, but Pierre’s strong second half might push his salary demands up a notch or two. If Pierre doesn’t come back, then the question is whether or not Felix Pie is ready not only for the Show, but also for a lead-off gig.

Middle infield. Cesar Izturis is Neifi Jr., and will always be a drag on the lineup, unless he manages to get to about 1,200 ground balls. Ronnie Cedeno has struggled in the second half. What’s disappoints me most about Cedeno is that I haven’t noticed him making any adjustments to his plate approach.

Alas, we’re stuck with Izturis for the time being. But who would replace Cedeno? Ryan Theriot is not an everyday player (although he has an outside chance of being an OK utility guy). Sully suggests Ray Durham, but he’s (a) old and (b) an injury risk. Back in the day (i.e., 2005), the idea that the Cubs would acquire such a player would be immediately followed by mocking Dusty’s love of them proven veterans. Things change, I guess.

Corner outfield. Matt Murton has come on strong in August. Has he earned another shot at an everyday gig? Or would he be best used in a platoon role (for the time being, at least?).

And what about Jacque Jones? There has been talk about moving him to left to help hide his awful throwing. There’s also gab he could be on the trade block.

Rotation: Lots to sort out here. First, of course, is Prior and Wood. Wood’s option will be bought out. Do we bring him back and hope for the best? Or is it time to part ways?

Prior won’t be a free agent for a few years. The question with him is how much we can count on him. I think Ken Rosenthal might be right – count on him as a “number six” starter until he proves otherwise. But I also find it amusing that Rosenthal thinks that adding Jason Schmidt and Jeff Suppan would be better (as if those guys don’t have issues of their own…).

Then there are the kids. We’ve had something like a bajillion rookies start games this year. OK, I may have exaggerated slightly. But it’s been a lot. Now the task is to separate the precious few grains of wheat from the roster-filling chaff. Rich Hill has been great his last two starts. Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol, and Sean Marshall have had flashes of goodness, and should get another look in spring training.

Closer. Ryan Dempster must have caught something from Brad Lidge last month in Houston, because he’s been suck-tacular since then. After two years in the bullpen, would he be able to work back into a starting gig? John Smoltz did it, but how many people are John Smoltz?

Sorry I’m being so vague with this Q&A. We won’t know if there are any viable alternatives at any of these positions until after the World Series, when players file for free agency, and trade rumors add fuel to the Hot Stove rumor mill.

At this point, it’s easier to figure out who the Cubs should hang on to: Zambrano, Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Barrett, Murton, Pierre (for the right price, and if Pie isn’t ready), and Hill. What happens in September will determine if the rest of the roster gets on my list…

Late update: From the Goat Riders -- Paul Sullivan Back on Smack!