Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, March 31, 2008

Well, They Couldn't Have Won In The Tenth Without Him, I Guess

I've written about this before, and probably will again. This is the pitching box score for the Brewers in today's opener with the Cubs:

Ben Sheets 6 1/3 2 0 0 2 7 0
Salomon Torres 2/3 0 0 0 1 0 0
Guillermo Mota 1 0 0 0 0 2 0
Eric Gagne 1 3 3 3 1 1 1
David Riske 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

So, which of these pitchers is credited as the winning pitcher? Why, Eric Gagne, of course, the only one of the five who completely failed in his job.

Gagne blew his save opportunity and nearly the game, but is rewarded for his effort with credit as the "winning pitcher." Baseball's scoring rules for determining this are archaic and illogical and really need to be changed. A few years ago I suggested that a better ruling would be that no relief pitcher who allows the tying runs should be credited with a victory, except possibly in unusual circumstances such as an extra inning game which he completes. In the case of today's game, the winning pitcher would have been Mota, who left the game three runs ahead. Riske would still get a save, and Gagne would get nothing except a blown save marked against him.

Eventually, the MLB rules committee gets around to changing the more ridiculous rules in the books. I move that they get around to this one soon.

A Houston Tradition

It seems that the Astros have not let the retirements of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio eliminate the position of Active Player General Manager. Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt seem puzzled by the release of Woody Williams.

Yes, I know that spring training stats can be misleading. But when a 42 year old pitcher gets ripped up for 37 hits, including five homers, in 20 2/3 innings, that's hard to misread. When you add it to the 216 hits allowed in 188 innings by the same pitcher last year, the message is pretty clear. It reads, "this guy isn't fooling anyone any more. He's done."

It just seems odd to me how professional athletes can't seem to look past friendships to see that their buddy is costing them games. I must be a cold-hearted SOB, because when I see co-workers that can't do the job, I want to get rid of them, because they make me look bad.


That Also Sucked

My team's opener was pretty entertaining too, even if the final score wasn't really satisfactory. When your starting pitcher gives up a seven spot in the second inning, you probably aren't going to be winning that one.

Still, they gave it a good shot. A good catch by Jason Michaels in the seventh, a terrible call at the plate in the eighth, and a bad baserunning play by Orlando Cabrera in the same inning wiped out the Sox' chances to take the lead.

But at least the game was exciting, unlike the sleep-inducing play of the 2007 Sox. If I can't get winning baseball, I'll at least settle for fun baseball.

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Big Mouth Strikes Again

Shorter Big Mouth Morrissey: Hey, rubes! Those Cub Fans shore are stooopid, ain't they?

By the way, my money's on Big Mouth for the most shrill reaction to today's loss, followed closely by Sully. Big Mouth'll carp about how sucky Kerry Wood was today, and find some way to work billy goats into his column.

Will he mention the White Sox at all? Hell, no. He knows who's signing his paychecks...

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Well, That Sucked

Good game between my heroes and the guys from up nort' dere yah hey. Except for the final, it was a great way to start the year. Looking forward to another great race between us and them...

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Blackout or Blockheads?

I am now getting a message from MLB saying that "we are unable to successfully validate your information for purposes of checking your information against our blackout system." Meaning, no more baseball for you today, buddy, until we fix this.

It's not like I'm a new subscriber; I've had an MLB package for several years now. And it's not like they haven't had all spring to figure this out since I re-subscribed.

Of course, if MLB didn't have such archaic, ass-backwards, out-of-touch blackout rules, this wouldn't be a problem, anyway.

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Gagne With A Spoon

I suspect that Eric Gagne is about to be the most unpopular Brewer since Jeffrey Hammonds or Franklin Stubbs. Just a guess.

TV Update

MLB TV has apparently heard my complaints. Mosaic is now up and running. Life is very good.

Rainy Days And Mondays

The Yankee Stadium opener with Toronto has been rained out. The Arizona/Cincinnati game is under a delay. The Brewers and Cubs are just about to get started, about an hour late.

Imagine that, having weather problems for major league openers scheduled for March 31. MLB, are you ever going to get the message that the season is too long on both ends?



Watching the Tigers/Royals opener right now. Through three innings, Justin Verlander doesn't look like he's going to give up a hit today, or ever again.

Must be nice to have a fastball that can hit triple digits, a changeup that freezes hitters, and a curve that disappears. And to have them all working. A guy like that is going to win a lot of games for a long time.

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The Clutch Is The One On The Left

Detroit broadcaster Mario Impemba just pointed out that Edgar Renteria "hit .331 with runners in scoring position last year. Clutch indeed."

Renteria hit .332 last year. Is hitting a point less than your overall average any indication of being an extra special hitter in the clutch?

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Memo to MLB TV

When you promote your season opener from Japan as "being available on MLB TV," don't black it out. It's not like I was gonna hop on a plane that morning and make it to Tokyo to catch it live.

When you advertise your Mosaic system for premium subscribers as being "available on March 31," have it available on March 31.

Paying customers really like it when they get the services they are paying for, and don't much like it when they don't.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Was Saying, "Booooooish"

Seems that the fans at the Nationals opener knows a losing manager when they see one.

Luckily for us all, we'll be under new management by this time next year.

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Trees Died for This

If you're ever wondering why the Hall of Fame voters can do such stupid things -- like not voting for your favorite player -- here's a telling example.

One of the Hall of Fame voters typed this up (and allowed himself to smirk over using the word "testicle" one more time). Several other voters lazily waved it into print.

Read it if you must. But fair warning -- plenty of passes are handed out in the course of those 3,500 words. Don't tell Kenny Williams.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Let That Be a Lesson to Us All

Jerry Reinsdorf got a special award for "enduring contributions to equality?"

Geez, I guess the guy isn't as big a putz as I thought...

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(Dr) Phil Us in on the Cub Rules

Our old friend Dr. Phil has spent the last week entertaining readers with his 2008 season previews. Discussing the Cubs' chances this season, he shows once again that he knows the rules that today's baseball journamalism plays under.

For each team, Dr. Phill offers pros and cons for each team going into 2008. Here's his very first reason why the Cubs won't win this year:

Con: Check the uniforms. This is the 100th anniversary of their Cubs' last World Series title.

Readers, let me ask a question: if you asked me what I thought about the Brewers' chances this year, and my first take was the fact that they haven't made the post-season since 1982, what would you think about my analytical skills? Or if I said that there's no way the Pirates will contend because they spent the better part of the '40s and '50s as also rans?

Or, more provacatively, if I said that the White Sox won't win the AL Central because of what happened way back in 1919?

At best, you'd laugh me off as a crank. At worst, you'd think I was deeply disturbed. After all, what does any of that have to do with this year?

None of that has anything to do with this year. But when it comes to discussions about the Cubs, it's perfectly crumulent to bring up events that happened three-quarters of a century before some of the current roster were even born. It's almost like a requirement nowadays -- any mention of the Cubs has to mention the hundred years.

Dr. Phil knows which side his bread is buttered on. He plays by the rules.

The good Doctor shows his in-depth knowledge of the Cub Rules in this discussion of the NL West:

While still feeling the effects of his 2007 shoulder surgery, [Mark] Prior had an outstanding spring training. He will benefit from being away from the intense scrutiny that came with the expectations he created for himself at Wrigley Field. He will start the season on the disabled list but could make 20-plus starts. Prior can be a free agent after this season, which was a factor in the Cubs not offering him salary arbitration, so he won't lack for motivation. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs will have two starters pitching better than Prior in August and September, when he could have been pushing the Cubs toward the playoffs.

For the past three seasons, the favored script about Prior always (as per the rules) mentioned his fragility, how the Cubs couldn't count on him, and how stupid the Cubs were for counting on him to make any kind of contribution during the season -- no matter how good he said he felt during spring training.

This year is different -- Prior threw twenty-five pitches in batting practice, and everything is all good for him. No snide remarks about his past. No questions about whether or not he's a malingerer who's not tough enough to pitch in pain. No mocking the Padres for thinking they'll get anything at all out of him.

Not this year. This year, Dr. Phil is counting on him to get 20 starts in. And he wonders if the Cubs will have two pitchers better than Prior this August. Things change, indeed...

But what changed? Gentle Reader, it's so simple -- check the uniform!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thanks, Sully!

On Saturday, March 22, the genius that is Paul Sullivan notes this as an area the Cubs "needed to shore up:"

Winning attitude

The Cubs have not won more than two games in a row all spring and have had several games in which the bullpen blew a late-inning lead. With seven games remaining and most of the regulars playing six or more innings, they should start treating the games with a little more importance.

Since then, my heroes are 3-0-1. The only non-win -- the remarkably un-remarked up come-from-behind-several-times tie against the White Sox.

I'm sure that the players read this in their paper that fateful Saturday morning and said, "Damn -- Sully's right. We'd best be treatin' the games with a little more importance. Let's go out an win one for Sully!"

Amazingly, there wasn't a mention at all in the paper about how yesterday's big win catapulted the team to its first three-game winning streak of March. Funny the way it works...

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Numbers Don't Lie (But They Can Deceive the Easily Confused)

This week's issue of Baseball Weekly features some random noise from Tommy Lasorda, as typed by Bob Nightengale.

Most of it is pretty much what you'd expect out of Lasorda nowadays. But this caught my eye and resulted in some dark chuckles:

I remember one time, Alejandro Pena is pitching and (Yogi Berra's) son Dale is hitting. I told (then-Dodgers pitching coach Ron) Perranoski to go get him. He's had it. Then I said, "Wait a minute, look at that sheet." How has he done against Berra? They told me he was 1-for-11. I said, "OK, let him stay." Well, he hit the ball against the gate in left field and cleared the bases. I told him, "Don't ever let me look at that (darn) sheet again." And I didn't.

To sum up: Lasorda let Pena pitch to Berra and got burned. Lasorda blames the damned stat geeks for making the damned geeky match-up information available, because that swayed him to decide to leave Pena in the game.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

** Lasorda evidently is unfamiliar with the concept of small sample size. Eleven at bats? You can't conclude jack from that many at-bats. Maybe if Berra was 5-for-55. But no sentient being would think eleven at-bats was a significant sample.

** Lasorda says in his anecdote that Pena "had it." So he kept a pitcher in the game that he knew had nothing left just because the stat sheet showed he had some small success against a hitter? He deserved to get burned.

I know the anti-Moneyball crowd's favorite canard is to say that the stat geeks don't care about traditional baseball thinking or scouting in general. And while I can't universally say that there aren't any knuckleheads sitting at their computers who agree that the scouts don't know anything, the really smart guys (like Billy Beane, for instance) understand that there is a place for the more traditional ways of thinking. And that to ignore that received wisdom out of hand is dumb.

Lasorda should have known better. If Pena was done, he wouldn't have gotten anyone out. Not even a guy who went 10-for-110 against him.

Lasorda messed that up. Blaming the stats crowd just doesn't add up.

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Two Teams Are Better Than One

It's not anything that anybody has actually bothered with, but tucked away at the very end of one of Sully's obscure blog posts is this nugget o' joy:

[MLBPA Executive Director Don] Fehr also was asked about [Tribune Corp. owner] Sam Zell having a piece of the White Sox while being in charge of the Cubs at the same time.

“That’s potentially an issue, but I assume that will all be sorted out when they get [the sale] taken care of,” he said.

Back in the day, this kind of thing was rather a big deal. But now that we're living in an age when Baron Budhausen can swing sweetheart deals for his buddies to buy the Red Sox, while simultaneously allowing another buddy to score the Marlins while abandoning a once-healthy franchise in Montreal, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that he'll let a crony get away with owning a piece of two separate teams. Especially if one of the teams is run by one of the guys who installed the Baron in his position of power (allegedly...).

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The Hell???

Shorter Dr. Phil: If the Boston Red Sox really cared about their coaches and support staff, they would have paid them for the Japan trip out of their own pockets. Damn those greedy bastards!

I think the guys at Fire Joe Morgan put it best when the respond to stuff like this with "F*ck the heck?"

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It's Tricky the Way It Works

Chicago's city series always draws some bizarre coverage from the Chicago typists...errr...journamalists.

Like last week's Cubs/Sox Cactus League game. The 5-3 White Sox win engendered this piece by Dave van Dyck about the "oddities" he saw.

Yesterday, Jim's crew and my heroes battled to an 8-8 tie that saw the Pale Hose choke on leads of 4-0, 5-4 (in the 9th), and 8-5 (in the 10th). Apparantly, there was absolutely nothing odd about the game, because Sully's waste of newsprint didn't mention the game at all.

Sully's only query -- Are the Milwaukee Brewers being overlooked?

Short answer: no. But if you want to spend 670 words reading about it, click here.

Unsurprisingly, the Cubs' game recap mentioned how Kevin Hart and Scott Eyre blew up in the ninth and tenth innings, respectively. On the White Sox recap, the bullpen did a bang-up job, despite blowing the three-run lead in the tenth.

When will that unnamed team stop getting passes? Somewhere, Kenny Williams weeps quietly to himself...

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Hey -- did you hear about that Chicago reliever who missed an appearance in the Cactus League because of back issues?

I'd be surprised if you hadn't. I mean, it was right there in the Chicago Tribune. Plain as day, right there in the seventh paragraph of Mark Gonzales' story about how Juan Uribe had been placed on waivers:

During the game third baseman Josh Fields was hit hard on his right forearm with a pitch and afterward it was learned reliever Scott Linebrink wouldn't pitch asscheduled Friday because of back pain.

Will the ragging ever end? Lay off the guy, Mark! It's just minor back pain in March. What's the big deal???

Oh, and for those of you who thought I was referring to Kerry Wood...yeah, right. Hardly anyone said a word about that guy. Kenny was right -- that other team always gets a pass...

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Circle of Life

Some folks are already grumbling about the Reds' demotion of Jay Bruce, reportedly so Corey Patterson can play center field. Damn Baker's love of Proven Veterans(TM), they grumble.

Gosh, it wasn't that long ago that people were grumbling that ol' Dusty wouldn't give Corey a real shot at playing center field in Chicago, because he loves him some Proven Veterans(TM).

And the circle of life continues to turn...it's like a Disney movie, isn't it?


Heart and Soul

Pop quiz time!

Guess who typed this script up for today's Tribune:

All we have heard from manager Lou Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry is how much competition there has been for the rotation in spring training. Seven pitchers for five spots is a luxury, they say. If someone struggles, someone else will take his place, they say.

An embarrassment of depth, they say.The depth they're talking about is Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. You know, the Jason Marquis whom Piniella refused to use in the playoffs last season, even though Marquis had been in the regular-season rotation. And, you know, the Sean Marshall who has 30 big-league starts under his belt.

Dempster is trying to transition back into being a starter after a rocky three-year period as a closer. This, of course, makes him the Cubs' No. 3 starter. Hill, like Marshall, is young and promising. We're supposed to focus on Lieber's veteran wiliness and not on the fact he turns 38 next month or that he was 12-17 the previous two seasons with the Phillies, with an earned-run average near 5.00.

Need a hint? It's the same guy who said this:

Computers have no use for heart, or least they can't quantify it. They can't analyze what's inside an athlete, for example. They can't tell you who has the heart of a lion or the backbone of an earthworm.

Computers can't tell you that White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is upset with how he played last season. All they can tell you is that he hit .259 in 2007, that he just turned 32 and, therefore, he must be on the downside of his career because that's what the model says is supposed to happen to him.

That's right -- our old pal Big Mouth Morrissey strikes again!

Apparently, Big Mouth must have used one of those profane computer-devils to analyze the Cubs' rotation this year. Otherwise, he would have looked inside Jason Marquis, and not the circumstances surrounding the final month of his season. If he had bypassed the microprocessors, he'd see the leonine power battery embedded deep in Ryan Dempster's chest, giving Demp the steady beat needed to roar back into the starting rotation.

The damned computer even blinded Big Mouth to Marshall and Hill's off-the-charts heart measurements. At the start of camp, both pitchers checked in at over 150 mega-Erstads of Heart-n-Grit(TM).

And c'mon Big Mouth -- don't you realize how upset Lieber is with his last two years? Don't let some box of circuits tell you he's on the downside of his career just because of some stinky ol' statistical model. By the way -- Lieber was a punter for his college football team. True story (except for the punter part).

And let's not even bring up the fact that yet another pass has been given to that unnamed Chicago team. If Big Mouth keeps this up, Kenny won't talk to him anymore...

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty...

Sweet zombie Jesus! Just when I thought the baseball media couldn't get any more inane or insulting than the pin-heads currently running the show at Tribune Tower, I had the misfortune to chance upon this today.

This week's Baseball Weekly's cover story is a profile of Alex Rodriguez by Jorge L. Ortiz (couldn't find a link, sorry). Here are the first two paragraphs in his piece:
In Alex Rodriguez's latest national TV ad, he looks behind him to find a youngster shadowing his every move at third base. The scene soon turns into a crowd of kids who appear to come from different countries.

The ad's theme is open to interpretation, but it would be easy to draw a parallel with A-Rod's first few years in New York: looking over his shoulder, feeling crowded, concerned about what might be lurking behind him.

So it's come to this...our media's obsession with A-Rod's mental state has grown to the point that they're parsing his TV ads looking for clues.

I'm no mind-reader, or psychologist, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest just what that theme might be: the company Rodriguez is shilling for (and Ortiz never indicates which company that is, or exactly why those kids are "lurking" behind the third baseman) wants to sell an ass-load of product, and think that using Rodriguez will help them sell it.

I'm old enough to remember when sports reporters would tell you what happened on the field and why it happened that way. The pursuit of grander themes or deeper motivations were the parlance of Roger Angell or Roger Kahn. Nowadays, not even the highlight shows will tell you what actually happened in a particular game, unless someone hit a home run.

Nowadays, it's all about feeding the 24-hour news cycle. And that means focussing on stupid crap like A-Rod's latest commercial in a weak attempt to uncover deeper motivations or grander themes.

The difference between the guys peddling this stuff and Angell & Kahn -- Angell & Kahn could write. The vast majority of today's baseball media -- typists, rehashing the same scripts over and over.

Angell, Kahn, and others made baseball journalism something worthwhile, something fun and interesting to read. Now, thirty years on, it's a shambles. As the poet Shelley once said:

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Despair, indeed...

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The National Pass-Time

Hey Kenny Williams -- check out all the passes that one sports team in Chicago is getting because of injuries and stuff! It's just not fair that the evil, biased media doesn't treat your team with the same amount of respect...

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Union Spirit

Remember, professional baseball players are all greedy bastards who only care about themselves. Except when they take a stand for others.

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Open The Pod Bay Doors, HAL...To Push Rick Morrissey Out

A number of smart people, such as Ken Tremendous at FireJoeMorgan.com, have already booed and taunted this piece of crap until their throats were sore. I have just a few points that I want to make about the complete lack of insight and understanding displayed here.

Morrissey (not to be confused with the clever, interesting Morrissey) makes so many ridiculous points that my head wants to explode as I read them. Let's start with the assertion that Paul Konerko is disappointed with his performance in 2007. Morrissey assails computers for not being able to calculate the goodness inside a players' heart or his determination to improve. He also wonders if, as forecasts show that older players decline in value, isn't there a chance that occasionally they might have a better season?

That the Sox dropped from 90 victories in 2006 to 72 games last season was one of the shocks of the baseball season. But not to Baseball Prospectus, and the people who run it deserve their props. They chalk up a lot of what happened on the South Side last season to the inevitability of time catching up with older athletes. I chalk it up to a number of players having down years at the same time.

Isn't there room for a number of Sox to have good years at the same time? Say, in 2008? If Jim Thome stays healthy, he could have an excellent season.

Yes, there is room for that, and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system reflects that. If Morrissey actually bothered to read the details of PECOTA and the complete forecast lines of Sox players, rather than just spout inanities off the top of his head, he'd know that. PECOTA projects the following lines for Konerko and Thome as their most likely (50th percentile) performances:

Konerko .266-.354-.477, 25 HR
Thome .262-.374-.518, 26 HR

It also predicts Thome missing around 150 or so plate appearances to injuries, which hardly seems out of line considering the last four years of Jim Thome's career.

But it also shows that their "heart" or "determination" or maybe just plain "talent" and "good luck" could produce the following numbers, although the chances aren't great (90th percentile):

Konerko .296-.389-.547, 34 HR
Thome .303-.418-.622, 40 HR

It also shows the result of a possible total collapse, although the odds don't favor this, either (10th percentile):

Konerko .229-.310-.390, 15 HR
Thome .214-.320-397, 13 HR, only about 350 plate appearances.

Impossible, you say? Ask Richie Sexson. I guess that Sexson in 2007 had no heart and wasn't determined.

Heart and determination and grit and feistiness all show up in the numbers, no matter what Morrissey and his ilk tell you. Along with talent and hand-eye coordination and age and learning ability and everything else that makes up a professional baseball player. Combine every factor in whichever weighted recipe you want; what you have in the end is performance. And performance shows up in the statistical line.

Do you really mean to say that Paul Konerko had less heart and determination in 2007 than he did in 2006?

Which leads me to another point. I don't doubt for a minute that Paul Konerko, or Jim Thome, or Jermaine Dye, or Mark Buehrle are determined. But so are Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander. So are Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner and C. C. Sabathia. So, for that matter, are Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen and Zach Greinke. That's a given among people who rise to the level of major league athlete, or for that matter anyone who becomes successful in their chosen field. Very few players rise to this level and none get to be really, really good on talent alone; that requires working your ass off. It's foolish to suggest that the Sox will improve in the standings just because Paul Konerko is upset with himself and determined to do better. Everyone in the game is determined to do better.

Which leads me to a final point. There is a myth that professional athletes want to believe and perpetuate, and which writers like Morrissey freely enable. The myth is that professional athletes succeed because they are better people than you and I; not just faster and bigger and stronger but also more determined, more focused, more blessed. Athletes want to believe this for obvious reasons. Hack journamalists like Morrissey want to espouse it because it's their way of showing celebrities that "hey, I get it, I understand, can I be part of the clique, too?"

I call bullshit on it. Athletes have no monopoly on determination, not even within their peer group. When Paul Konerko hits a three run homer in the first inning off of Gil Meche, does that make Konerko a better human being than Meche? What about when Meche strikes Konerko out on a slider in the dirt in the third inning? Who is the superior being then?

But determination and "heart" and "character" aren't the sole properties of Major League Baseball, not to be rebroadcast or otherwise redistributed without express written consent. I'm damned good at my job, because I care about it and work my ass off at it. The same with Bob. My girlfriend entered her profession later in life and is exceptional at it, because she never passes up a chance to learn and improve. My father dropped out of high school to go to work; by the time he retired he had risen to a management position with a major, well-known manufacturer, overseeing the efforts of hundreds of inspectors. Was he less determined than Paul Konerko, because he couldn't hit a curve ball?

Athletes have an agenda for what they tell the public, just like politicians and religious leaders and Hollywood types and anyone else in the public eye. And journamalists have an agenda for repeating it. But you don't have to buy it.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It's been a pretty quiet March for the Cubs. Even though certain people will shout until they're blue in the face to convince you otherwise.

And while that's good for my heroes, it's bad for the 24-hour news cycle and the poor typists who have to fill all those column inches. As a result, we get inanity like this, courtesy of Dave van Dyck:
Two weeks remain before Milwaukee visits Wrigley Field for real. Do you know where your Cubs are?

Some may still be in Baltimore (Brian Roberts) and some in Boston (Coco Crisp).

Maybe a better question is: Do you know who your Cubs are?

Yes, van Dyck spends 700 words talking about how stuff might change between now and Opening Day. Unfortunately, there's no real information here...just a bunch of warmed-over trade rumors, half-baked hunches, and plain B.S. strung together to form an incredible simulation of a news report.

It's annoying, and I probably whine about stuff like this more than I should. Lord knows I should be glad the paper is just full of stupid crap like this instead of the daily updates on injuries and disgruntlement that have marked Cubs' camp over the last decade.

And just to show how well everyone's getting along, here's a very nice story from Sully. No, seriously. Keep some tissue handy -- you might need it...


It Hurts to Be in Spring Training Camp

I don't know if I'm just paying more attention to this kind of stuff than I used to, but it seems to me that there are a lot of odd injuries cropping up the last week or two:

** Felix Pie got some Cub Fans' undies in a twist by...errrr...twisting something he keeps in his undies.

** Rocco Baldelli's downright scary ailment -- which the New York Daily News described as "a rare metabolic, mitochondrial abnormality in which not enough adenosine triphosphate - a molecule that acts as an energy carrier within cells - is getting to his muscles." Yikes. Although some folks don't consider it so much "scary" as "hilarious."

** Baseball Weekly reports that Coco Crisp has contended not only with "a pair of balky groin muscles," but he's also had a root canal. That, if you'll pardon the expression, must bite.

** No, we weren't surprised that Juan Gonzalez got hurt. Neither were we surprised when Jim Edmonds tripped in the batter's box and strained his calf.

** Finally, and almost as scary as the Baldelli thing, is Noah Lowry's "exertional compartmental syndrome." I'm not a doctor, but I know a lot about the English language -- and any time you get two words with the -al suffix strung together before the word "syndrome," it can't be good.

Although you gotta figure that if Lowry were a Cub, his condition would score 9.37 kilo-smirks on Sully's injury scale...

I've got no grand point to tie this all together. Just struck me as quite a week for the injury lists...

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I guess if it's collusion for teams to not want to sign a 43-year-old DH who reportedly wants to sign for a not inconsiderable amount of money and who also reportedly faces some not incosiderable legal issues and who reportedly is an inconsiderate jerk, then I guess the MLBPA has a case here.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Oh No -- They Got to Tommy!

Saw this a few days ago and was shocked. Shocked, I tell you:

Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda's second game as the Dodgers manager in place of Joe Torre left him feeling a little sick. Los Angeles managed just two hits, home runs by Andre Ethier and minor leaguer Jamie Hoffman, and the Dodgers split
squad fell 10-4 to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. "Every time I looked up, I kind of got sick," said the 80-year-old Lasorda, filling in for Torre while he's in China with part of the Dodgers team that will play the San Diego Padres twice this weekend. The Dodgers lost to Florida 7-6 in Lasorda's first game as their manager since he retired in 1996. The Dodgers have focused on manufacturing runs through aggressive base-running, but it only took them so far against the Nationals. "You've got to be able to get them on to do it," Lasorda said.

Have to get runners on base to score runs??? Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd say Lasorda had been reading that new-fangled sabermetric crap, instead of the tried-and-true baseball knowledge that has been passed down from on high.

If the Moneyball geeks have got to Tommy, what chance do the rest of us have?

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We Got a Pass

Dr. Phil -- the same guy who taught us that trading Babe Ruth for Neifi Perez and Brad Ausmus gives your team a +1 -- presents his latest bit of statistical analysis:

The Cubs, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Phillies need to pick up the pace a little bit. Entering the weekend, those four 2007 playoff teams were among the 10 biggest losers this spring. There was only one playoff team from among the 10 teams with the worst records last spring. …

This just might be the first and only time that I've ever seen anyone refer to any previous year's spring training records. Because, frankly, who the hell cares about spring training performance?

And before you raise your hand and shout "Me! Me!" answer this question honestly -- what was your favorite team's exhibition record last March? I sure as hell don't know what the Cubs' March record was last year, and I'm the biggest Cubs geek in my circle.

By the way...as of this writing, there are ten teams with ten or more losses this exhibition season. The Cubs, Phillies, and Diamondbacks (along with the Giants and Pirates) lead the suck parade with twelve losses. Running a close second with eleven losses are Houston, LA, and Toronto.

Right behind those guys, with ten losses so far, are Washington...and the Chicago White Sox. Yep, the Pale Hose are among the "10 biggest losers." And yet, there is no exhortation from Dr. Phil for them to "pick up the pace," lest they fail to make the playoffs.

But remember -- there's only one sports team in Chicago that will get a pass. I won't name them. But it ain't the White Sox.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

No, Really?

Least surprising headline from Spring Training, 2008.

That news flash is even less surprising than this one.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

This Just In...

Stuff costs more than it used to!

Also -- young people use curse words...


Them's Fightin' Words

Perhaps it's a sign that the Tampa Bay Rays are becoming a team to be reckoned with: the Yankees start a brawl with them during a Grapefruit League game.

If this is how the teams are gonna roll during meaningless exhibition games, the regular season should be a treat.

Speaking of over-reacting...ESPN reports that Ozzie Guillen "reacted to some shoddy bullpen work during a recent Cactus League game in Hermosillo, Mexico, by breaking a couple of chairs in the clubhouse."

Hey, at least it's about something important...

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If I may quote golden-age rocker Dee Clark, there must be a cloud in White Sox general manager Kenny Williams' head, because rain keeps falling from his eyes:

• Williams on the pecking order in Chicago: "Our fans don't care about injuries and other things that happened last season. It's all about what you do on the field. There's only one sports team in Chicago that will get a pass. I won't name them. But it ain't us.''

Gee, who could he be talking about? Maybe these fine folks?

Of course not. White Sox family members whine about one thing, and one thing only. And that's the team that gets free passes.

You know, like that free pass those evil-doers have been getting all year about 1908. And the free pass they got last year after the NLDS. And I guess it must be a free pass when predictions of a 91-win season and division title are spun as a disappointment.

And free passes about injuries? Maybe Kenny should talk to these guys about those free passes.

In the meantime, keep the waaaaahhhh-mbulance on call. Just in case it gets cloudy in Kenny's head again...

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Green Was My Baseball Team

Usually when MLB talks about green, it involves the kind with pictures of founding fathers on it. So this is pretty good news.

Monday, March 10, 2008

SIlly Stuff

Been distracted the last few days, but just had to toss out some of the goofier stuff I've seen out on the internet tubes...

** The Trib's exceedingly estimable Dave van Dyck writes up Baseball Prospectus' 2008 predictions here. The sub-head reads:
Sox likely to improve; Cubs better but not good enough

Uh-oh...things sound bleak for my heroes. Let's go to the tape and see what those BP geeks have to say:
• The Sox, because of a series of off-season dealings, will rebound to 77-85 and third place in the American League Central, trailing the dominance of Cleveland and Detroit.

• The Cubs will follow their 85-victory NL Central championship with another division title, this time with a 91-71 record, second best in the National League but not enough to break their 100-year drought of winning the World Series.

Yes, there you have it, folks -- the eds at the Tower are quick to trumpet that the Sox will "improve" by five games and "rebound" to 77 wins (because of Kenny's brilliant wheeling and dealing). Meanwhile, the Cubs will schlep their way to 91 wins (without any off-season acquisitions, evidently) -- and while that six-game improvement is enough to be second-best in the league, it's just "not good enough."

To sum up, third place -- and an "improvement." Ninety wins -- sure, good enough to win the division, but ultimately a disappointment.

Tell me again about the bias, George...

** As you can imagine, whenever those pencil-necked stat geeks go after Chicago's favorites, the columnists are there, defending their own. Today, Big Mouth Morrissey cracks back on the BP predictions:
Computers have no use for heart, or least they can't quantify it. They can't analyze what's inside an athlete, for example. They can't tell you who has the heart of a lion or the backbone of an earthworm.

Imagine about 800 more words describing White Sox players as lions and Cubs players as worms, add a bizarre and unnecessary reference to Marie Osmond, and you've got yourself a column. Another triumph from the Tower of Ideas!

** Sully checks in with this medical update about Felix Pie. A few quick thoughts:

1. Not content to provide a Wikipedia link about Pie's "personal problem," Sully goes on to describe it in detail.
2. I'm no mind reader, but given Sully's admitted history, I'm betting he had a big smirk going when he heard about this.
3. Sully concludes his post with a plea for "no tasteless comments." Ummm...Sully...are you familiar with this Internet thing? And the people who usually troll the message boards?

** The March 5 issue of Baseball Weekly notes that "Josh Hamilton is causing quite a buzz in camp."

Given Hamilton's well-documented "personal problems," should we really use the term "buzz" to describe how he's doing?

** Prince Fielder is a vegetarian. Thankfully, bagels don't contain any meat.

** Will the usual suspects claim that this guy is better than A-Rod, too?

** Hey Ranger Fans -- at least it's just a minor league contract. There's hope Jon Daniels will come to his senses soon.

** I like Dusty Baker as a person. As a manager, I've found cause to disagree with him. Usually because he keeps talking about how he doesn't like it when his hitters take a free pass when it's offered...

** Finally, just a word of advice for the kids out there -- if you're bent because you got lit up on the mound, don't punch doors with your throwing hands...

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Free At Last, Free At Last!

The Pirates conclude our 2008 team previews. Thirty teams in 28 days. I'd like to see The Great Leslie try that one!

Pittsburgh Pirates 2008 Preview: My GM, He Wrote Me A Letter

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

There's no way to sugarcoat this. The Pirates of 2007 were a crappy ballclub, a continuation of an unbroken trend dating back to the day in 1992 that Pirates management decided that 27 year old Barry Bonds was going to be too rich for their blood and that it would be more prudent to give long term contract security to Andy Van Slyke instead. Since then the Pirates have never won more than 79 games in a season and have lost 90 or more six times. This might be hard for the younger whippersnappers amongst our readership to realize, but the Pirates used to be one of the best franchises in the National League, winning two World Series titles during my lifetime and being a contending team most of the time between 1960 and 1992. In 2007 things may have finally begun to turn around. This wasn't apparent on the field, where the Pirates continued to be mostly dismal. But new management took over, replacing former chief owner Kevin McClatchey, GM Dave Littlefield, and manager Jim Tracy with new chairman Robert Nutting, president Frank Coonelly, GM Neal Huntington, and manager John Russell, who takes over this spring. If you have some concerns that this group isn't serious about returning this organization to sanity, read this. That's a remarkable letter; it takes a lot of sack for a GM to publicly admit to the fan base that yes, your team was run by a pack of idiots for 15 years and has become a laughingstock that made every mistake imaginable. If Huntington has the organization management skills to match his honesty, the Pirates will be back to being one of the game's premier franchises by the 2010's.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The 2007 Pirates weren't too adept at scoring runs. Their home park slightly favored pitchers, but the Pirates were actually worse in scoring on the road. Knee injuries that greatly diminished Jason Bay's season and a horrible start by new first baseman Adam LaRoche dragged the offense down, as did the season long lack of a true leadoff hitter. Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and Xavier Nady were solid if unspectacular contributors, and Nyjer Morgan and Steven Pearce came up in September and showed some promise.

CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Jack Wilson
2B Freddy Sanchez
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Jason Bay
RF Xavier Nady
3B Jose Bautista
C Ronny Paulino

Well, this is a bit better, although still not the lineup of a .500 ballclub. Bay should be healthier and better this year, and LaRoche should build on his fine 2007 second half. The problem for the Pirates moving forward is that most of their best hitters (Bay, Sanchez, LaRoche, even the rookie Morgan) were late bloomers and are already pushing 30. By the time management is able to put a contender on the field all of them will be long gone. This is a concept that Pirates fan (and they do still exist) is going to have to understand, even if it's painful. Bay, Wilson, LaRoche, Sanchez, and Nady all have more value to the franchise for what prospects they could bring in than in their performance on the field.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Pirates finished 14th in the NL in runs allowed. In road games they allowed 5.63 runs per game, worst in the league. However, the core of the staff is young and very promising and the on field turnaround of the franchise began here.

SP Ian Snell
SP Tom Gorzelanny
SP Paul Maholm
SP Zach Duke
SP Matt Morris

Here is the current strength of the franchise. Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny are a fine young tandem at the top of the order. Zach Duke has been messed up over the past couple of years but is still young enough and healthy enough to regain the form that made him so impressive in 2005. Maholm isn't in the class of the others but can at least be league average, which has value. Capps is very effective as a closer and is only 24. Even Morris should get the credit for one thing: it was the insane trade for him and his entire contract which finally brought upper management to the end of their patience with Littlefield. A month after the trade the Pirates told Littlefield goodbye and good luck. They may not have said good luck.

Witnesses for the defense

The 2007 Pirates made few errors. Well, fielding errors, anyway, they made plenty of mistakes. However, only the Marlins were worse at making outs out of batted balls. With most of the lineup returning intact it's difficult to see any change in this area in 2008.

Farm aid

Among the many deficiencies of the Littlefield administration was its handling of the draft and the farm system. Let's recap their first round picks since 2000:

2000: 19th pick overall, Sean Burnett. Burnett made an impressive debut but has had arm problems due in part to poor handling and is just hanging on the 40 man roster. Taken after Burnett in round one: Boof Bonser, Adam Wainwright, Aaron Heilman, Dustin McGowan, Kelly Johnson.

2001: 8th pick overall, John Van Benschoten. One of the top college sluggers in his class, the Pirates decided his future was on the mound. Several surgeries later he has a 1-10 record with an 8.78 ERA for his major league career. Taken after him: Casey Kotchman, Aaron Heilman, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Noah Lowry, and some guy named David Wright.

2002: #1 overall, Brian Bullington. Littlefield overrode the judgement of his scouting director who wanted to pick B.J. Upton and chose this Ball State righthander. Bullington developed slowly, had shoulder surgery which cost him all of 2006, and will never be more than a back of the rotation starter, if that. Taken after him: Upton, Adam Loewen, Zach Grienke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Hermida, Kahlil Greene, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francouer, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, Mark Teahen. This is one of the greatest classes in draft history; the Pirates got to go first and decided to play the part of Charlie Brown.

2003: #8 overall, Paul Maholm. At least they got something this time, even if Maholm isn't anything special. Taken after him: Lastings Milledge, Aaron Hill, Conor Jackson, Chad Cordero, Chad Billingsley, Deric Barton, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Adam Jones.

2004: #11 overall, Neil Walker. Walker is still a fair prospect, although moving from catcher to third base reduces his possible future value. Still, he'll probably replace Bautista by late this year or early next year. Taken after him: Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Steven Drew, Josh Fields, Phillip Hughes, Huston Street.

2005: #11 overall, Andrew McCutchen. Finally, a prize! McCutchen is far and away the best prospect in the system; he held his own after being overpromoted to double A and then triple A at age 20 in 2007. He's got Andruw Jones like abilities. Taken after him: Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Travis Buck, Clay Buchholz. McCutchen is as good as any in the group.

2006: #4 overall, Brad Lincoln, RH pitcher. A good pick but the Pirates suffered bad luck here as Lincoln blew out his elbow. We'll see what his recovery is like. Taken after him: Andrew Miller, Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, Travis Snyder.

2007: #4 overall, Daniel Moskos. A lefty reliever with a good fastball, Moskos could turn into a Billy Wagner type. Or not. Moskos was thought to have been chosen in this spot because of what the Pirates could pay him, rather then on his talent. Chosen with the next three picks after him: Matt Wieters, Ross Detwiler, Matt Laporta, all of whom have a higher ceiling.

Due to all of this, the Pirates are just now starting the system wide rebuilding that should have begun about ten years ago. McCutchen projects with real star potential; the best homegrown player the Pirates have come up with since Aramis Ramirez ten years ago. Walker and Pearce should at least turn into above average players if not actual stars. So can Moskos and outfielder Jamie Romak, who should be ready by 2009. Lincoln is now a project rather than an immediate help. The rest of the system is pretty empty.

Watch out for that tree!

A team of this type shouldn't have a long entry in this category. To the credit of the Pirates, they don't. The trade for Morris is one of the worst ever; when I first heard about it I seriously thought that the person who told me was kidding me. Morris is 33 and has pretty much lost his fastball. I'm pretty confident that Neal Huntington already knows this and is trying to take appropriate action.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The bad news is that this team isn't going to win anything this year, and won't win anything next year, either. The good news is that the Pirates finally seem to have a management team that recognizes and understands all of the failure and incompetence of the previous 15 years and is determined to do something about it. Honestly, after reading Huntington's open letter, as well as this one and this one, I'm rooting for this franchise. For 2008, the Pirates will likely be mediocre, instead of really, really bad. We shall see what the future brings.

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Cincinnati Reds 2008 Preview: Building a New Machine?

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

While the 2007 season was not exactly groovy for the Cincinnati Reds and their fans (the Reds finished 72-90, 13 games out), it was at least an interesting one. There was the ongoing story of Josh Hamilton's recovery and comeback, the insane accusation by a loudmouthed local radio host that their best player played like he was drunk on the field, Ken Griffey Jr. playing his most complete schedule since 2000, one of the scariest on-field collisions in recent memory, the midseason replacement of the manager, and more. Amidst all of the drama there were some real steps forward taken as some outstanding young talent debuted or moved very close to the major league level.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They play their home games in a bandbox, so the Reds looked a bit better at the plate in 2007 than they actually were. They finished fourth in runs scored at home but only seventh in road games and seventh overall. Adam Dunn takes a lot of crap for what he's not (a graceful outfielder who hits .300) while what he does do (hit 40 homers and draws 100 walks) gets ignored. Griffey and second baseman Brandon Phillips each reached the 30 homer mark. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion returned from a demotion to triple A to hit .337/.383/.553 in August and September, raising hopes that he's finally turned a corner in his career.

2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Adam Dunn
CF Jay Bruce
SS Alex Gonzalez
C David Ross/Javier Valentine

An impressive group. Phillips isn't really a leadoff hitter but neither is anyone else in the lineup, so he goes there by default. He did score 107 runs in 2007 with his combination of speed and power. Votto is an outstanding prospect who hit .321/.360/.548 in September. Bruce is the leading Rookie of the Year candidate in the NL; both Baseball Prospectus and prospect maven John Sickles rate him as the number one prospect in baseball. Given good health this could be an 850+ run team.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Despite the continued development of Aaron Harang into one of the NL's best starters, the pitching staff was pretty bad in 2007, allowing the second most runs in the league. Playing in the Great American Ball Park didn't help, but the Reds also allowed 5.11 runs per game on the road.

SP Aaron Harang
SP Bronson Arroyo
SP Matt Beslisle
SP Josh Fogg
SP Jeremy Affelt

CL Francisco Cordero
RP David Weathers
RP Bill Bray

Harang is one of the league's elite starters. Arroyo is a dependable innings eater and a decent number two. Forget the other three listed starters; they're placeholders who may not even make it out of spring training. Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Edinson Volquez will have those spots by midseason at the latest. All three are outstanding prospects and the odds are that at least one of the three will turn out to be very, very good. Adding Cordero bumps Stormy Weathers back to setup man, improving the bullpen all around. Look for some help in the pen from Jon Coutlangus; he's no closer prospect or anything, I just wanted to type the word "Coutlangus."

Witnesses for the defense

On the one hand, the 2007 Reds made few errors. On the other, they were among the worst in the NL at turning balls in play into outs. It's unclear if any improvement can be expected in 2008. Bruce is capable of handling center but isn't expected to transform into Andruw Jones. Dunn really is a bad left fielder. A full season from Gonzalez at short would help. Encarnacion has made a few strides at third at might at least battle the position to a draw.

Farm aid

A bumper crop. Votto and Bruce should be in the Opening Day lineup. At least one of the group of Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez will probably break camp in the rotation with the rest following promptly. None of these guys are middle of the road prospects; each has the ability to be real stars at the major league level. That's all there is at the moment, the rest of the best prospects are still at the lower levels.

Watch out for that tree!

Call this spot the annual Griffey Jr. watch. As much as we love him, we have to realize that he's 38, hasn't played a full season without injuries since Monica Lewinsky was a tawdry news item, and can't and shouldn't play center field any more. I'd write that Mike Stanton might break down any moment at age 41 except that he already has. Scott Hatteberg is 38; Votto's arrival makes Hatteberg's new position "pinch hitter."

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Reds are one of the most interesting teams I've written about this spring. They look at least solid at every position, and five members of the lineup have the ability to be all stars. They have a strong number one starter and a good closer. If the young pitchers break through quickly this is the team in the NL most likely to take a huge leap forward. The Brewers and Cubs are good clubs but neither one is anything like the 1998 Yankees. The Reds could spend the year in development, but I can also see them jumping over the rest of the division to capture a surprise title.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Houston Astros 2008 Preview: Houston, We Have a Whole Pot Full of Problems

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

After a run of ten winning seasons in eleven years which included a World Series appearance, the Houston Astros turned the 2007 season into a preview of a spy satellite gone bad. Their trajectory started well, playing .500 ball at 21-21 as late as May 19. Orbit immediately decayed from that point as they lost ten straight and fell permanently out of the pennant race. They were double digits to the rear by June 20 and had only one winning month, August, when they played a rousing 15-14. Rather than begin to rebuild, management allowed zombie Craig Biggio to remain in the lineup for 141 sub replacement level games in order to achieve a personal milestone before retiring, and obtained 32 year old former star Miguel Tejada and 30 year old mediocrity Ty Wiggington to replace the left side of the infield and 32 year old Kaz Matsui to replace Biggio.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Juice Box is known as a hitters park, but was actually a big help to pitchers in 2007, reducing offense by about 5%. Astros hitters didn't really notice; they were bad at home and on the road. The Astros finished 13th in the league in runs scored despite having four regulars who each slugged better than .500. How is that possible, you might well ask? Start by looking in the direction of Biggio, who wa permitted to bat leadoff much of the year despite a .285 on base percentage, in order to maximize his chances of reaching 3000 career hits. Remember that the next time that team management tells you that it's wrong for players to be more concerned about personal numbers than about the success of the team. Shortstop Adam Everett hit .232/.281/.318 and catcher Brad Ausmus, whose continued employment by a major league team defies any logical explanation, batted his usual .235/.318/.324.

CF Michael Bourn
2B Kaz Matsui
SS Miguel Tejada
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
3B Ty Wiggington
C J. R. Towles

Bourn, obtained from the Phillies, has little no power but can get on base and run like the wind. Matsui was signed by a management team completely oblivious to the fact that his "comeback" season of 2007 was entirely driven by Coors Field; he batted .330/.381/482 at home and .249/.304/.333 on the road. Oh, and he's got a three year contract. Let us know how that works out for you, Astros. Pence was one of the top rookies in a very strong 2007 NL class. Wiggington looks much better as a utility guy than he does in a starting lineup; telling me that you have Geoff Blum to pick up platoon at-bats with Wiggington doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Towles is a very fine young catcher with offensive and defensive skills; best of all, he's not Brad Ausmus.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Even a helpful boost from their home park couldn't disguise the dismal performance of the Astros 2007 staff. Mediocre at home (sixth in runs allowed), they were awful on the road, allowing more runs than anyone except the Pirates. Being mentioned in the same breath with the Pirates is not a good thing. The Astros had (and have) one of the five best starters in the NL in Roy Oswalt. Wandy Rodriguez, a decent number three or four on a good team, was forced up into the number two spot here, results varied. Woody Williams was brought in at age 40 to be the number two guy; he allowed 35 homers and 216 total hits in 188 innings. Luckily, management signed him to a two year contract, so he'll be back for more this year. The Astros had high hopes for Jason Jennings, but he was a disaster health wise and performance wise, going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA and was allowed to walk away over the winter. Brad Lidge and Chad Qualls were good relievers; neither is back in 2008.

SP Roy Oswalt
SP Wandy Rodriguez
SP Brandon Backe
SP Woody Williams (ouch)
SP Shawn Chacon (ouch)

CL Jose Valverde
RP Doug Brocail
RP Geoff Geary

This will end in flames. Not only are Oswalt, Rodriguez, and Valverde the only three guys capable of pitching for a good team, there isn't any depth on the major league roster and nothing in the high minors to replace the likes of Williams and Chacon and Brocail when they melt down. If the Juice Box returns to it's previous ways as a hitters park this team could allow 850 runs.

Witnesses for the defense

The Astros were eleventh in defensive efficiency and allowed the ninth most errors of any NL team. Hey, come on, they were playing a 2000 year old man at second base. Matsui will at least provide some value for his defense at second. Bourn can cover a lot of ground in center; he moves Pence to right, which is another improvement. Tejada will be a step down defensively from Adam Everett.

Farm aid

Not much. Towles is a terrific prospect. Felipe Paulino is a righthander who needs more work in triple A before he's ready for a rotation spot. That's it. Nothing else to see here folks, move along.

Watch out for that tree!

With the retirement of Biggio and the replacement of Ausmus, the Astros don't have anyone really, really washed up in the lineup other than Williams. Tejada has begun to decline both offensively and defensively but most likely has another year or two of being a good player left. Matsui is an excellent candidate to be one of the worst contracts given out this winter. Lee, like Tejada, can probably remain a good player for another year or two, but a 235 pound outfielder without a lot of secondary skills isn't a candidate to play well into his mid thirties.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Astros have a lot of good players. Berkman and Oswalt are two of my favorites and remain among the best at their positions. Pense was one of the best newcomers of 2007; Towles will be one of the best of 2008. Rodriguez could take another step forward and become a true number two. Tejada, Lee, Valverde, and Bourn should be good players who can contribute. But the other half of the team is dreadful, and the poor farm system offers no opportunities for replacement either through bring up younger, better players or through trades. With good years from their better players the Astros could hang around the .500 mark this year, but within two years this could be the worst team in the NL.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Bad Birds

When you're 25 and just getting out of class A ball, you don't have much status as a prospect. And if you pull this, you have none.

Normally I would have just let this story go by without comment, but it made me wonder. Add this to the Josh Hancock story and the antics of Scott Spezio and the question arises about what kind of culture the St. Louis organization is creating or allowing.

St. Louis Cardinals 2008 Preview: Slip Sliding Away

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

In 2006 the St. Louis Cardinals were a bit of a mediocre team, finishing with an 83-78 record but played in a weak division, got hot at the right time, and won themselves a World Series championship. In 2007 the Cardinals were a bit of a mediocre team and got down years from their best players and thus finished 78-84 behind two much better ballclubs. Over the winter team management traded one injury plagued third baseman for another, one mediocre shortstop for another, and signed aboard another veteran reclamation project for the pitching staff.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Newest Busch Stadium played pretty much as a neutral park in 2007 and the Cardinals offense reflected that. They scored about the same number of runs at home as on the road, but with injuries to Scott Rolen, Jim Edmunds, and lesser players, the total wasn't enough, leaving them eleventh in the NL in scoring.

RF Skip Schumacher
CF Rick Ankiel
1B Albert Pujols
3B Troy Glaus
LF Chris Duncan
C Yadier Molina
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Cesar Izturis

Pujols, of course, is the best hitter in the NL, by far, and only has to argue with this guy for bragging rights in all of the major leagues. Glaus is still a dangerous hitter for the 120 or so games he might be able to play in any given year. Duncan is a godawful left fielder but has enough power and patience to be a productive left fielder. Ankiel has turned into a dangerous power bat; batting him second exposes his problems with plate discipline. Schumacher hasn't proven he can be an every day player, and is a placeholder for Colby Rasmus. The idea of spring training invitee Juan Gonzalez as being of any possible value is laughable. The Cardinals are continuing the NL trend of finding an inappropriate spot in the batting order for a member of The Catching Molinas. With the third member of the troupe backing up Jorge Posada, at least the Yankees won't contribute to this fad.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Cardinals lost their number one starter from 2006 to injury and the number two guy to free agency. As those were the only two starters with ERAs under 5.00, you might have expected that the Cards would allow a lot more runs in 2007, and you'd have been right. The Cardinals allowed 829 runs as opposed to 762 in their championship season. It would have been worse but for Adam Wainwright stepping up as a staff leader and unexpectedly good performances from desperation starters Joel Piniero and Todd Wellemeyer.

SP Adam Wainwright
SP Braden Looper
SP Joel Piniero
SP Matt Clement
SP Anthony Reyes

CL Jason Isringhausen
RP Ryan Franklin
RP Tyler Johnson

Chris Carpenter won't be available until late in the season if at all. Wainwright should continue to develop into a fine starter. Reyes was once considered Wainwright's equal as a prospect but hasn't developed any consistency and will be fighting to keep a starting job unless he begins to. Clement hasn't pitched since June 4, 2006 and won't be ready for the rotation until at least May. Isringhausen remains an effective closer but won't get any healthier at age 35; the Cardinals should test his trade value if they fall out of the race. Which they will.

Witnesses for the defense

The 2007 Cardinals didn't play defense like a championship team. Only the Marlins made more errors, and the Cardinals were well back in the pack in defensive efficiency. When your first baseman and an injured third baseman are your best defensive players, you have problems. Having a shortstop who simply can't throw all the way to first without a running start didn't help. Izturis can't hit a lick but he should at least be a defensive improvement over Eckstein at short, no matter how scrappy Eckstein is.

Farm aid

Three excellent prospects should show at Busch Stadium at some point this year, although none should be expected before midseason at the earliest. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus looks like everything you want in a top prospect...he's fast, has a strong arm, has a good eye at the plate, and can hit for power. He'll be in the Cards outfield by July. Catcher Bryan Anderson will probably wait until September for a call up, and his path to the majors is blocked by a silly contract handed out to the incumbent catcher. Hard throwing righthander Chris Perez will likely start at triple A and reach the majors by July or August when Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer wear out their welcomes. The rest of the organization is weak pretty much all the way down the system.

Watch out for that tree!

Troy Glaus is only 31, but has had three years in the past five in which he was able to play fewer than 115 games. Isringhausen has a long history of ailments; as mentioned before, the Cards should be trying to get whatever they can back for him before he goes down for good. Adam Kennedy, 32, completely collapsed in 2007, slugging .290 before going down with a knee injury. His career arc is about to come into solid contact with the ground.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

I hate to count out any team that has Albert Pujols playing for it, but this Cardinals team doesn't look too good. I can't see them either scoring enough runs or preventing enough to be a real contender. Hoping to build the middle of your rotation with Looper, Piniero, and Clement is asking for a meltdown. At least three spots in the batting order will contribute almost nothing. We mock Tony LaRussa often, but his record as a manager is a pretty good one. This team won't go down as one he'll want to remember fondly.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Put A Lid On It

MLB has adopted a new safety rule this year, in the wake of the death of Rockies minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh in 2007. Coolbaugh was killed during a July 22 game between the Tulsa Drillers and the Arkansas Travelers when he was struck by a foul line drive. Coaches are now required to wear batting helmets while on the field. It's a simple, sensible precaution.

Not to hear some coaches talk about it, though. To listen to them, you'd think that the rule falls somewhere between the horrors of socialized medicine and the Black Helicopters.

Some of the complaints crack me up. Jose Oquendo can't chew gum with the helmet on? Andy Van Slyke thinks it's too hot? The umpires don't wear them, so why should coaches? Call the wahhh-mbulance!

By next year umpires will probably be wearing them too. Cubs third base coach Mike Quade asks why don't pitchers have to wear them. Good question! They should. And it won't be long before some of them start.

And then there is the reason that coaches don't wear the ear flaps, which are required for hitters, because the ears are part of coach's signs, and have to be exposed? Why? If the area of the ears needs to be visible for signs, why not just paint the flap white or something?

The real reason is that coaches are a bunch of macho guys who don't want to feel like sissies. They'll get over it.

Here's a postscript to the Coolbaugh story. When the Rockies made the postseason last year, their players voted a full share of their winnings to Coolbaugh's widow. Remember that when you hear the complaint that all professional athletes are selfish bastards.

Milwaukee Brewers 2008 Preview: Ready For Prime Time Players

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Brewer fan, relax a bit. I know that the end result was kind of disappointing, but come on. Your team hadn't even been over .500 since 1992. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Jim Gantner were all on that team. Your guys spent 121 days in first place and didn't lose the lead for good until September 18. They never quit, going 16-12 in the final month, which is not exactly Rockies hot but hardly a Mets fold either, and they gave you the thrills of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun at the plate and the chills of Braun in the field and Chris Capuano on the mound. And you've got the sausage races. Sounds like a pretty groovy summer to me. For 2008, the Brewers added a better defensive outfielder to the mix, signed a good but risky closer, and replaced one bad catcher with another.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The 2007 Brewers scored 801 runs, fifth in the NL. They got a little help from Miller Park, which slightly favored offense. They got even more help from Fielder and Braun, who each slugged better than .600. Ricky Weeks started slowly, had some minor injuries, fell into a terrible slump, got demoted, and then came back hotter than Chief Wiggum's Insanity Pepper Chili, with a .442 OBP and a .553 slugging average after August 1, including nine homers in September. Corey Hart slugged .539 and threw in 23 stolen bases just for kicks.

2B Ricky Weeks
3B Bill Hall
RF Corey Hart
1B Price Fielder
LF Ryan Braun
SS J. J. Hardy
CF Mike Cameron
C Jason Kendall or whoever replaces him by August

Best lineup in the league, with only the number eight hitter keeping it from being truly outstanding. Weeks, despite everything that happened last year, scored 87 runs in 118 games. Hall will hit better now that he's no longer doing OJT in center field. Everyone in the lineup is a 20 homer hitter or more other than Kendall, whose signing was completely inexplicable.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Brewers allowed 776 runs, about a league average number. Injuries once again curtailed staff ace Ben Sheets, the guy the Brewers need in order to compete with the big boys. Chris Capuano started 5-0 and after that was both bad and snakebitten; the Brewers were 0-22 in games in which Capuano appeared after May 7. David Bush had only a slightly better year than his presidential namesake, going 12-10 but posting a 5.12 ERA. Francisco Cordero saved 44 games, then left as a free agent. The problems in the rotation did lead to opportunity, which Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Villanueva, and Manny Parra took advantage of to position themselves for rotation spots in 2008.

SP Ben Sheets (on the odd days he can pitch)
SP Jeff Suppan
SP Yovani Gallardo
SP Carlos Villanueva
SP David Bush/Chris Capuano/Manny Parra

CL Eric Gagne
RP Derrick Turnbow
RP David Riske

When your number one starter is fragile, it's great to have depth, and the Brewers have that. If Gallardo pitched for Boston or either New York team, he'd be getting the same write ups as Joba Chamberlain or Clay Buchholz. My personal opinion is that he's better than the former and just a bit behind the latter. Suppan, Bush, and Capuano had checkered seasons in 2007, partly because of their own struggles and partly because of the defense behind them, which we'll discuss in a minute.

Witnesses for the defense

The Brewers were pretty bad defensively in 2007. That might be an understatement. They tied for fourth in most errors committed and were near the bottom in defensive efficiency. Start with Ryan Braun. The Hebrew Hammer fielded .895 at third base last year. No matter how good a hitter you are, that ain't cuttin' it. Hall was out of place in center, running bad routes to the ball and generally playing the position like a guy who had never played their before. Which, except for seven games in 2006, he hadn't. Weeks has a ways to go before he becomes a competent second baseman. Management tried to kill two birds with one stone by signing Mike Cameron to play center. When Cameron comes off his 25 day suspension for violating MLB's PED policy, Hall will move to third and Braun to left.

Farm aid

The Brewers system just turned out an entire infield, two outfielders, one of the best starting pitching prospects in the game, and several other good pitchers. Let's try not to be too disappointed if no impact player comes out of it this year. Luis Pena could be a nice addition to the bullpen later this year. As if having one Prince Fielder isn't enough, the Brewers will aggressively promote another one, 2007 first round pick Matt LaPorta. LaPorta is a first baseman whom the Brewers are trying to teach to play left; if they can, they are going to have some very tough choices to make in 2009.

Watch out for that tree!

Eric Gagne, 32, pitched only 15 1/3 innings total between 2005 and 2006. Last year he pitched very well in 33 1/3 innings for Texas, but not so well in 18 2/3 innings for Boston. The Brewers need 65 good innings out of him in 2008, or they are looking at another year of Derrick Turnbow closing games. Cameron has always been a favorite of mine; it hurts that he's now 35. Ben Sheets shouldn't be on this list at age 29, but he hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season since his brilliant 2004 season. Jason Kendall hit the tree at age 28 way back in 2001; for some reason teams continue to employ him. Catching is hard to find, but it's not this hard.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Brewers, more than any other team in the NL, have the potential to be scary good. The top six hitters in the lineup are young and dangerous. With good health and some luck they could score 900 runs. The pitching staff has talent and depth and could be one of the best in the game. But...there is downside, too. One or more of the young hitters could step backwards. Another injury plagued season by Sheets could start a domino effect among the remaining starters. Gagne could implode; the options behind him aren't great. The defense could continue to give away runs. Ned Yost might prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that while he did a good job helping mold this team, he's not capable of taking them further. I'm putting my money on the upside. It would greatly amuse me to watch Bud Selig having to hand the World Series trophy over to the team that his family once ran into the ground.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Chicago Cubs 2008 Preview: The Adventures of Sweet Lou and the (S)crappy Shortstop

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Cubs started slowly. A six game losing streak at the end of May left them with a 22-31 record, 7 1/2 games out of first. With the Milwaukee Brewers starting the season practically perfect in every way, there was no shortage of prophets of doom in the always upbeat Chicago media, and no doubt that many gave up on the team already. But the Cubs turned around fast, going 34-20 in June and July to pull back into the race. The Cubs were no great shakes in August (12-16) but the Brewers were falling flatter than a case of bad, week-old opened beer, going 9-18 in the month to let the Cubs pass on the left hand side. Both teams played good ball in September; the Cubs were just a bit better and clinched the division title on the final Saturday. The Cubs were then immediately swept out of the postseason by the Diamondbacks, who didn't need a goat or Steve Bartman or the pointing finger of Babe Ruth but just played a better brand of baseball. Over the winter the Cubs swept out two unproductive outfielders in favor of their best prospect and a Japanese star and decided to cut bait on the frustrating career of Mark Prior.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Cubs finished eighth in the NL in runs scored in 2007. That's less impressive than it sounds, and it doesn't sound all that impressive. Wrigley Field played like the Wrigley of old last year, inflating offense by 6-7%. The Cubs scored well at home (as we all should) but were next to last in the NL in runs scored on the road. Somebody please explain to me why Lou Piniella had Alfonso Soriano, who has lots of power (.560 slugging) but is not overly skilled at reaching base (.337 OBP) was leading off, while Mark DeRose, with modest power (.420 slugging) but a .371 OBP was hitting sixth?

LF Alfonso Soriano
SS Ryan Theriot (really? I mean, really?)
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
2B Mark DeRosa (again with the sixth spot!)
C Geovany Soto
CF Felix Pie

I'm sure that Bob will have more to say about this, if this really is the lineup that Sweet Lou goes with. I'm just going to point out the absurdity of having the guy with the .560 slugging average leading off and the guy who had the .443 OBP in Japan batting third. And what is the fascination with Ryan Theriot, anyway? Just because the Cardinals had David Eckstein, the Cubs need one just like him? I'm sure that Theriot is fun and scrappy and inspirational, but he can't really hit (certainly not enough to be a top of the order hitter) and really can't play short all that well. If the Cubs really don't want to play Ronny Cedeno, they really need to look around at some real options. I think that the White Sox have a shortstop they'd like to ditch donate to a worthy cause.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Cubs pitching in 2007 was absolutely incredible, not that anyone noticed. Despite their bandbox of a ballpark, the Cubs allowed only 690 runs, second in the NL only to the Padres, who get to do their pitching in Petko Field. Every Cubs starter was better than league average, even Jason Marquis.

SP Carlos Zambrano
SP Ted Lilly
SP Rich Hill
SP Jon Leiber
SP Sean Marshall or Jason Marquis or Ryan Dempster

CL Kerry Wood/Bobby Howry/Carlos Marmol or most likely all three.
RP The above plus Scott Eyre

Zambrano is the ace and gets all the attention, some of it unwanted. Geovany Soto probably knows better than to emulate Michael Barrett when dealing with your leading starter. Ted Lilly was the real story in 2007; he cut a huge chunk out of his walk rate while maintaining his strikeouts and was really the Cubs best pitcher. Hill struck out 183 batters in 195 innings. Leiber, Marshall, Marquis and Dempster are all decent back of the rotation starters. Lou Piniella has some history of success fashioning a bullpen out of a group of hard throwers; just keep Bobby Ayala way from the mix.

Witnesses for the defense

The pitching staff didn't do all the work; the Cubs were the league's most efficient defensive team in 2007. When a ball was put into play by opposing hitters, the Cubs turned it into an out 71% of the time. Flipping Jones and Soriano was a turning point in the season; Soriano was poor in center (to no one's great surprise) but was outstanding in left. Pie should at least be strong in center even if he struggles with the bat. Aramis Ramirez, so often maligned for his play at third, was outstanding in 2007. A real shortstop is still needed here.

Farm aid

With Pie and Soto already graduated to the starting lineup, the Cubs don't have any more impact players at the upper levels. Pitcher Donald Veal made big strides with his control over the second half of the season at double A; he could be in the running for a rotation spot in 2009. Eric Patterson has speed and a decent bat and no defensive position.

Watch out for that tree!

The Cubs wisely got rid of pretty much anyone who might qualify for this category: Michael Barrett, Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones. They did bring in a new candidate in Jon Leiber, but they have plenty of other options if Leiber tanks. Scott Eyre is another candidate, but who would know or care if Scott Eyre takes a dive?

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The NL Central is a weak division, and the Cubs are a good team. A team in this division that features Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, Zambrano, and Lilly has every right to consider itself the favorite. The only problem is that the Brewers are a pretty fair country ball club too, and if the Cubs are going to do stupid things like making Ryan Theriot the everyday shortstop and number two hitter, it's going to cost them. With Fukudome and Soto replacing Floyd and Barrett they have upgraded two positions. Getting a real shortstop would make it three and give this team a chance at winning 95 games.

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The Code of Silence

ESPN's T.J. Quinn makes an obvious point about some people who were conspicuously silent while the Steroids Era cranked up twenty years ago:

In the wake of George Mitchell's report on doping in baseball, LaRussa's professed ignorance about what went on around him in Oakland and St. Louis has marked him as one of the steroid era's enablers. The 311-page report is filled with tales of missed opportunities for nearly everyone in the major league universe to have intervened in baseball's problem with performance-enhancing drugs. LaRussa might well be emblematic of the enabling that went on, but he was far from alone.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, starting life afresh with the Dodgers this spring, managed 20 of the 86 players named in the Mitchell report, more than any other major league skipper. Many of those players, such as Canseco, played only briefly for Torre and did all or most of their alleged doping while with other teams.

But as ESPN spoke to Torre and LaRussa, along with current and former players, trainers, strength coaches, front office officials and owners, a picture emerged of a culture in which loyalty and secrecy trumped integrity -- and winning trumped everything. Baseball was practically an incubator for performance-enhancing drugs because almost everyone in a position to speak up chose not to.

Quinn goes on to talk about how the players weren't exactly breaking down doors to get this story out, either. Because of MLB's tradition of "what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse," you know.

Noticably absent in Quinn's "code of silence" wrap-up is the media's scrupulous following of the code. Or at least it's faithful adherence to the code until a few years ago, when it became convenient for them to not follow it.

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