Saturday, August 13, 2005

 

Donde esta Tim Kirkjian?

ESPN rolls out the C-list tonight as Buster Olney and Orestes Destrade (who?) join Scott Reiss for Baseball Tonight. Guys, try not to offend me tonight. I'm sky high after eating a $13 lobster roll and watching the Red Sox shank the White Sox again.

* Dennis Eckersley is shown passing the Oakland closer job onto Huston Street. Alright, so he's only 10 years behind on that transition. On any other team, this might be a death knell for Street -- an indictment that he's relegated to the 9th inning for the rest of his career, but this is Oakland. He'll pitch the 8th, too. Smile, Huston -- you'll be there a while. Unlike other recent Oakland closers like Keith Foulke and Jason Isringhousen, Street is under Ken Ma -- er, Billy Beane's control for quite a while.

* Pedro Astacio, starting tonight for the Padres, is 10-10 in his career against the Phillies. Color me mystified -- why do sportscasters continue to tell me a pitcher's record against a given team? Pedro Astacio hasn't pitched meaningful games against the Phillies since 2003, and hasn't started more than 20 games in the AL East since 2002, when the Phillies were fielding a team starting Travis Lee and Scott Rolen. I'll bet there's value in those 1993 Dodgers/Phillies matchups, though. Those teams had Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenrich tearing holes through opposing starters.

I can see Reiss as he's about to hit the air, yelling at a production assistant -- "get me those 1994 strike-shortened stats pronto!"

* Curt Schilling gave up a home run in the 9th inning for the second time in as many games, and has yielded 4 home runs in his last 5.1 innings pitched. Watching him "close" (I use that term very loosely, since Curt seems to think he can gopherball the boxscore into a save situation) inspires no confidence in his return to the rotation.

* Roger Clemens, Houston -- 8 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 earned runs, and 9 strikeouts. No "W" next to his name in the box score, though -- that ERA of 1.32 is only good for 11 wins. Orestes says that there's no pitcher in the WORLD that can do what Roger does. Somebody call Gabe Kapler and get the update from his time in Japan! He only hit .153, so he might beg to differ.

Scott Reiss calls Clemens a "legitimate Cy Young Award candidate" and Buster says voters look for victories first. If Roger Clemens is denied the Cy Young Award after a season in which he will give up fewer than 1.5 runs per game, yield fewer than 1 runner per inning, and strike out over 8 batters per 9 innings, then I should travel from city to city, to every Baseball Writers of America dinner, incendiary device in hand, and light their membership cards on fire.

* Lou Piniella to Seth McClung: "Either you learn to throw strikes in the big leagues, or we're sending you back to the minor leagues to learn!" I remember when the Rays traded Piniella for Randy Winn with the expectation that he would teach their players how to succeed in the show. Ask Dewon Brazelton how that turned out.

* Scott Reiss calls out Shawn Green's home run as number "two-nine-nine" for his career. They teach those iterations in broadcasting school, you know.

* Josh Beckett pitches a complete game 4-hitter, giving up 1 run and striking out 7. First pitch strikes to 20 out of 33 batters. Remember early in the year when the knock on Beckett was -- wait for it -- he'd never won 10 games in a season? I wonder if Felipe Alou agrees with John Kruk on that one.

* Best note of the night: Olney focuses on small-market teams with potential, such as the Pirates with Oliver Perez and Zach Duke, or the Brewers with Ben Sheets and Rickie Weeks. Adjacent to the Royals: "?????" My roomate says that when he was in Missouri, he went to a Royals game (he's from India). My response, "sorry."

* I already respect Orestes Destrade. "Mike Sweeney can only sign so many autographs in Kansas City. You gotta let him go." Gorgeous!

* Certain things make a baseball fan smile -- seeing Matt Treanor block Trevor Linden from crossing home plate, and watching the Marlins fans sitting behind home plate break from their seats and scream, fists flying with passion.

My "Most Important Thing" for baseball, tonight: the Boston Red Sox have won 14 straight at home, and will try to sweep the Pale Hose tomorrow. Get it done, men in red.

Friday, August 12, 2005

 

Baeball's Glass Ceiling

A recent post on the Sons of Sam Horn message board highlighted an ESPN.com poll asking users which of the following stats is the most overrated: Batting Average (AVG), Home Runs (HR), Runs Batted In (RBI), On-Base Percentage (OBP), and Slugging Percentage (SLG). John Kruk must have eschewed his intense dislike for technology and stuffed the ballot box, because the results came out as follows:

SLG% – 44%
HR – 24%
AVG – 13%
OBP – 11%
RBI – 9%

Not surprisingly, ESPN’s vox populi continues to refuse change in their baseball analysis, and why should they? When ESPN’s talking heads – particularly Kruk, but also Joe Morgan and, to a lesser extent, Harold Reynolds – disdain any stat that doesn’t count for the triple crown, progressive thinking about mainstream baseball will be minimized.

Why would an ESPN.com editor even place on-base percentage or slugging percentage on that list? Each statistic refers to proven, measurable offensive prowess – OBP telling us how often a player reaches base, and SLG% telling how many bases per at-bat. I’m surprised that slugging percentage is even on the ballot since I’m hard-pressed to find it in newspapers and box scores.

Batting average, runs batted in, and home runs are the three most ubiquitous numbers amongst the five, and yet RBI – the one statistic that measures not the skill of a hitter, but his ability reliant on the capacity of the hitters in front of him – is deemed the most important of the three statistics. I wonder what would happen if this poll asked which of the following stats is most overrated, and VORP was thrown into the equation. Wikipedia would crash from the horde of sabermetric searches it has to process.

I can’t even refer to statistics like on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) as metrics – it’s just simple arithmetic that the stalwarts on television refuse to accept. I wonder how Tim Kirkjian and Peter Gammons can sit at the Baseball Tonight desk with Kruk and Reynolds and refrain from throwing pens at him (he wouldn’t be hard to miss). Recently, Karl Ravech asked Kruk and Reynolds about their choices for the AL Cy Young Award, and Kruk responded that Jon Garland deserved the Cy Young Award – not for his 3.29 ERA, not his 1.14 WHIP, but solely since he led the American League in wins.

He said the same thing midway through last year about Jarrod Washburn. And there’s a twelve year-old somewhere in Peoria watching ESPN, becoming brainwashed by Kruk’s nonsense. Nevermind that his teammate Mark Buehrle has given up half as many home runs (8) as Garland (16), that his ERA is half a run lower, or that he strikes out over one more batter per game than Garland. Certainly nevermind that Roy Halladay, despite his stints on the disabled list, is running away with VORP for American League pitchers and posting a 2.41 ERA – Garland deserves the Cy Young Award.

According to Kruk, it’s simply because he happened to pitch when his team came to hit. Garland has won twice this year while giving up 6 runs, Buehrle hasn’t been as lucky – and Roy Halladay has given up THREE runs in only one victory.

It’s funny that there can be such a quandary over a sport as deceptively simple as baseball, but progressive thought takes perseverance (just ask Galileo). The cognoscenti on ESPN mightn’t preach slugging percentage quite yet, but I’ll take solace in the small things – watching NESN or YES and catching OBP% in the stat box for every player.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

 

But I Was SO Good at MVP Baseball 2005...

Most fans who breathe baseball get most exhilarated come the dog days of summer, when the pennant races are narrowing and magic numbers start to appear in the local papers. My blood speeds quickest around October 1st, when the last regular season games are played and 24 teams are dreaming of February instead of the Division Series.

But while I obsess during October, my baseball mind starts churning the day after the World Series ends, when teams begin to offer contracts to their free agents and players begin to test the markets. Teams can be made during the offseason, but just as easily, teams can be broken -- except a long contract can albatross a team for more than just one upcoming season. During the winter months I turn into a couch comptroller, damning every GM who signs Cristian Guzman, and praising each GM who signs Chris Hammond to a minor-league deal.

The following GM's should be out of their jobs immediately, but never fear -- there's always an opening in one of my fantasy baseball leagues. Sign up for a team soon!

* Bill Bavasi, Seattle Mariners -- Richie Sexson had to sign somewhere, and 4 yrs/$50 million is high, but it follows the more recent trend that struggling franchises need to open their wallets to high-profile free agents, enticing them to the bottom of their division. But I've a much bigger problem with the Adrian Beltre signing -- not because of the .713 OPS, but the contract that came with it.

On the other hand, I can't sugarcoat this one any longer -- I can't respect any man that signs Scott Spiezio to a 3 yr/$9 million contract.

* Chuck LaMar, Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- It's important to note that a general manager means much more than the contracts he offers and the trades he completes. While LaMar succeeded in one of the biggest baseball coups ever -- Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir -- he still keeps hitters like BJ Upton and Delmon Young in the minor leagues, and outfielders Joey Gathright and (until recently) Johnny Gomes were stuck in constant purgatory between AAA and the show.

Alright, there were still plenty of bad signings and decisions. Hideo Nomo into that rotation? Alex Gonzalez at third instead of BJ Upton? Was this team saying to themselves, "with this veteran leadership, we might have a shot at fourth place?"

* Allard Baird, Kansas City Royals -- I've got a bit more angst for Baird, who received overflowing praise in 2003 for his upstart Royals team that has since taken its place back at the bottom of the American League Central. In 2004 he had the bright idea to sign Juan Gonzalez, and at the deadline this year made no effort to move Matt Stairs, and couldn't dish Mike Sweeney, even though both of these certainly above-average sluggers could have netted a nice return in the futures market.

Hey Allard, how's John Buck looking?

* Dan O'Brien, Cincinatti Reds -- To his credit, he's inherited a pretty awful set of contracts, and an even worse team, but he made matters worse this winter when he decided to give a 3 yr/$21 million contract to Eric Milton and another smaller, yet equally as egregious one to Ramon Ortiz. I never thought I'd say this, but it's been a boon that both of those pitchers have stayed healthy this season -- I'm sure that any AAA callup could give up fewer home runs than Milton.

* Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants -- Let the record state that I have never been impressed with anything this general manager has done. His team has coasted due to the mammoth on-base presence of Barry Bonds in their lineup, and though they deserved to win the World Series in 2002, Sabean has done little to combat his squad's inefficiencies. This year's rotation continued to incorporate slugs like Kirk Reuter, washouts such as Marquis Grissom, and "relievers" like Matt Herges. Heaping contracts to players like Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel, and the decision to trade mid-season for Michael Tucker -- oh, wait, they traded for Randy Winn when they already HAD Tucker on their roster. See ya, Jesse Foppert!

I'm confused. I mean, this season in my fantasy baseball league, I fleeced an owner for Roy Halladay, Bobby Abreu, and AJ Pierzynski, while giving up, among others Armando Benitez. Couldn't Brian Sabean realize like I could that he was going to get hurt this year?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

Rocky Mountain Lows

In his latest column, Peter Gammons offers insight into the recent "trade that wasn't" between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, in which Red Sox Assistant GM Josh Byrnes reportedly agreed in principle to acquire OF Larry Bigbie from the Rockies. Gammons reports that the trade was later nixed by Larry Lucchino, but I'm sure that Theo Epstein, John Henry, Dr. Charles Steinberg, and the Sausage King on Yawkey Way were able to eschew their disapproval as well, thus voicing refusal on the part of the Red Sox.

Reportedly, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd is pissed. Apparently, he thought he could fleece the Red Sox by trading Larry Bigbie and Ryan Shealy for -- wait for it -- Abe Alvarez, Kelly Shoppach, Adam Stern, and a player to be named.

And somehow this stems from another earlier deal -- the Rockies traded Eric Byrnes (previously acquired from the A's for Joe Kennedy) for Bigbie with the intention of shipping him to Boston. Yet O'Dowd is miffed? I'm sure he would have loved to take Byrnes to arbitration instead of keeping costs down with Bigbie.

Joe Kennedy and Ryan Shealy for Alvarez, Shoppach, Stern, and a PTBNL? Heck, which GM wouldn't dish five players for those two studs? I think Dan O'Dowd relocated himself into a Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball League with "Theoz Redd Sox" and figured he could propose any trade he desired, only to find himself geniunely dejected when Epstein clicked "Reject Trade."

I don't mind O'Dowd judiciously working to improve his struggling club. While Dave Littlefield claims to be rebuilding his team, O'Dowd is actually working toward change. But there's no way O'Dowd would have preferred to keep Byrnes as his team festers at the bottom of the NL West (also known as the '03-'04 NBA Eastern Conference) instead of the cheaper, younger Bigbie.

Major League Baseball is an industry surmised of 800 employees whose fates are determined by 33 superintendents (the Orioles have 2 GM's), and this season, two such GM's clashed over a deadline deal involving five minor-leaguers and the remnants of Eric Byrnes, and before that, a struggling pitcher with a 32-46 career record.

Who could predict that Joe Kennedy would cause such a mess?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

 

Bye Bye, Baltimore -- Adios, Raffy

Daniel Cabrera is 6'7" and seems to run every hitter to a 3-1 count. Bruce Chen had started more than 15 games in a single season only once before -- and there's a reason why. Sidney Ponson officially weighs over 20 lbs more than David Ortiz.

Yet somehow, as late as June 21st, the Baltimore Orioles held a two game lead over the second place Boston Red Sox, and a five game lead over the New York Yankees. As Eric Bedard, the lone bright spot in the Baltimore rotation recovered from an injury, as Javy Lopez spent time on the disabled list and forced Sal "How YOU Doin'" Fasano to take over catching duties, as Brian Roberts fell back from the stratosphere, and as Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora understood that they couldn't carry 23 other players on their back for a full season, the Baltimore Orioles began to regress from their statistical meridian.

But as the walls came crumbling down in Camden Yards, one swatch of orange was raised to the sky -- a bold number 3,000 in left field representing Rafael Palmiero's Cooperstown milestone. An "in your face" to the Yankees and Sox, who can make it through a game without having to scribble "Sosa" onto the lineup card. Peter Angelos, sitting in his luxury box, must have been thinking, "at least something will come of this season."

But nothing will come of this season for the Baltimore Orioles. A season that started so promising -- after all, if the White Sox can buck the pre-season predictions this year, why couldn't the Orioles? -- has crashed like the Berlin.

And as the walls came crumbling down in Camden Yards, all the while, Rafael Palmiero was taking steroids. Palmiero, who had the gall to point his finger at our nation's legislators and indignantly state that he had never, ever taken steroids, is as guilty as the next Jorge Piedra or Alex Sanchez. Palmiero is no better than Jamal Strong -- only with 3,018 more hits and 569 more home runs. Palmiero is, in the end, a steroid abuser.

Perhaps most damning is that as more information emerges about baseball's steroid policy, it becomes apparent just how egregious Palmiero's pastime sins were. Originally, Will Carroll, in his August 1 "Under The Knife" reported that, "the list of banned substances under the Major League Policy is very narrow. While it is possible that a legal supplement was contaminated, it is unlikely that the test was for anything other than a steroid or steroid metabolite." This is particularly important, because I reserved a hint of skepticism for players who tested positive for steroids, not knowing whether they knew they were taking enhancers, or if their Wal-Mart brand Sudafed ended up contaminating their pee.

But in Palmiero's case, he's been outed for taking stanozolol, reportedly the same steroid that Ben Johnson tested positive for in 1988. This is a dedicated performance enhancing substance that was a means to an end for Palmiero.

Rafael Palmiero always stood out in my mind for refusing a trade to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, who were preparing to make a push for the playoffs and would eventually fall in the NLCS. Instead, Palmiero chose to remain in Arlington with the Texas Rangers -- a team that ended the season 25 games out of first place. This was a slap in the face of baseball fans not just in Chicago, but in Boston as well, as a friend of mine remarked, "what's the point in playing the season if you don't want to win it all?"

In the end, Palmiero wanted too much. Perhaps he thought his Hall of Fame credentials would mask the chemicals in his drug test -- that he would be impervious to the result.

But as Palmiero serves his 10 game suspension, there are a host of other questions that we await answers to. Did Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan know about the upcoming positive test, and hence push to trade Sidney Ponson for potential Palmiero replacement Phil Nevin? Did Lee Mazilli turn his head the whole time, while Palmiero juiced up? What of young arms on the Orioles, like Hayden Penn and Chris Ray? Did they arrive from Ottawa and Bowie and see that steroids are their ticket to the Hall?

As the season closes in on its final two months, the Orioles find themselves four games under .500 and 9.5 games out of first place in the AL East, behind Toronto and New York, chasing the Sox. An insurmountable lead, without question. But the season could have been benign -- an 8th straight season under .500, with a vow to retool in the offseason just like every year -- if Palmiero could have held back. Instead, he's tarnished himself and his organization, and 3,000 more hits could not make fans forget this mistake.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

 

Baseball's Top 10

In his most recent column, Peter Gammons identifies Frank Robinson as one of the 10 most important men who ever played baseball. This spurred discussion on the Sons of Sam Horn message board, and led me to question who I felt were the most influential baseball players in the game's history. Instead, I've decided to focus on the 10 most important individuals in baseball history.

In no particular order...

1. Jackie Robinson
The assumed chart topper, and there's no reason to think otherwise. Though we might credit Branch Rickey for his arrival in the show, it was Robinson who earned the spotlight.

2. Hank Aaron
For doing it with class.

3. Babe Ruth
For just doing it.

4. Ted Williams
Percieved as the greatest hitter who ever grabbed a Slugger and knocked the ball around. Never won a World Series, but won two wars. The newly erected statue of him outside Fenway Park with an impressionable fan speaks to his character. His numbers speak to his game.

5. Curt Flood
Can not ever be removed from this list. Ignore the 15-year playing career, and you've got a man who would be a trendsetter in any industry in any nation. He just happened to be a baseball revolutionary. Everybody from Chan-Ho Park to Chris Widger owes their livelihood to this man.

6. Rickey Henderson
There will never be another hitter like him, who could walk, steal two bases, and score almost instantly.

7. Cy Young
Undisputed. The greatest pitcher to ever throw the ball, winning 511 games and throwing over 7,000 innings. We look up to him today while we debate whether Mark Buehrle or Dontrelle Willis is deserved of his trophy.

8. Cal Ripken Jr.
For breaking the unbreakable, and for being an upstanding stalwart of the game, while doing it at SS or 3B (when it was time for Mike Bordick to arrive. Anybody ever wonder why Bordick never moved to 3B?)

9. Mark McGwire
Following Ripken and re-establishing baseball as America's pasttime. Whether he used Andro or anabolics, fans didn't care. If it made our country dream about the Fall Classic again, it worked.

10. Willie Mays
For being the best center fielder that ever played. Name another player that, like Mays, can do EVERYTHING.

Tough omissions:

* Roger Clemens
* Nolan Ryan
* Sandy Koufax
* Bob Gibson
* Barry Bonds
* Ty Cobb
* Stan Musial
* Lou Gehrig
* Mickey Mantle
* Joe DiMaggio
* Roberto Clemente
* Ichiro
* Branch Rickey
* Bill Veeck


Very tough list to make, considering that in 1/5 of the time it took to create the list, I came up with more snubs than spots. In the end, I think that the 10 above represent all that is adored about baseball, and the dozens of names that should be on that list represent all that is outstanding.

Monday, July 04, 2005

 

Where's the $210 million?

The New York Yankees are spending $210 million United States dollars on their payroll this year, with a star-studded 25-man roster including the following players:

* Bubba Crosby
* Russ Johnson
* Robinson Cano
* John Flaherty
* Chien-Ming Wang
* Scott Proctor
* Buddy Groom
* Wayne Franklin
* Jason Anderson

John Flaherty makes $800,000 a year. Outside of Flaherty, I don't think anybody else makes more than the major league minimum of $350,000. Buddy Groom might, but I can't find his contract.

Tally the numbers and you have MORE than ONE-THIRD of the Yankee roster making a COMBINED 3.6 million dollars. That means that $206 million is being distributed to 16 players.

Recently, George Steinbrenner was featured on ESPN in a segment detailing his career, and he made an interesting point: his father's constant pressure led him to constantly excel to greatness. I find there to be something disgustingly admirable about the fact that the Boss is willing to go the extra four miles to lead his team to greatness. The only problem is that many of his decisions have been disasters.

Out: Yhency Brazoban and Jeff Weaver
In: Kevin Brown ($15 million)

Out: Alfonso Soriano (how's that Womack/Cano rotation working out?)
In: Alex Rodriguez ($20 million in 2005, up to $24 million in 2007 and 2008.

Out: Brad Halsey, Javier Vasquez, Dionner Navarro, and $9 million in cash
In: Randy Johnson (I believe in the $15-16 million a year range)

And, of course, those ever-deserved $20 million/year contracts for Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.

Put yourself in Terry Ryan, Kevin Towers, or Mark Shapiro's shoes. These GM's built their franchises with shrewd signings, clever trades and drafts, and farm systems that produced major-league players. And your rivals up north and to the east are spending piles of cash on endlessly fruitless trades.

As I write this, the previously impervious trio of Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, and Wayne Franklin have managed to blow a 6-0 Yankee lead. Sturtze, who made a spot start today, and his duo of relievers are simply not "Yankee caliber" pitchers. Most of these players shouldn't be more than the 23rd, 24th, or 25th men on some rosters. And yet, they are playing critical roles for a team that not only is spending $210 million on its trials and errors, but that has convinced itself that it should be the very dynasty that is competing for this year's World Series.

 
In yesterday's Boston Globe, Bob Hohler reported the trouble among "student" athletes at Boston College.

My e-sarcasm is noted around any indication that young men and women, recruited to play high-profile athletics at a school like Boston College, are driven by academics or intellectual persuits. Instead, college becomes four (sometimes five or six) years of training, running wild, and for males, getting more ass than a toilet seat.

Hohler's article paints Chestnut Hill as a failing canvas for opportunity and growth for these athletes, instead leaving them to fester among crime and debauchery as they take their newfound status as basketball players and use it to sell drugs, counterfeit currency, beat women, and exude a sickening overconfidence that offends other students on campus (most of whom are likely under 6-feet tall).

And yet, without saying it, Hohler incriminates BC Head Coach Al Skinner, indicating that most often, he offered indifferent replies to the accusations upon his star athletes. Skinner and his "tough love" philosophy didn't seem to work very well for Ryan Sidney, whom Hohler depicts as a changed man only after he removed himself from college basketball and Boston College.

Reading Hohler's article, it's times like these when I'm pleased that the only star athletes at my University wear facemasks on the ice, and after a game, blend neatly into the Boston University population. The same can't be said for other colleges, where athletes are deified by their peers AND their administration, until they themselves buy into the fallacy that they are something that they are not.

This week's NBA Draft is the most explicit example of college athletes, lionized on campus, convinced that the world is their oyster, being smacked back down to reality by a harsh roster of ruthless basketball executives that, for once, they had zero influence over. Surely Matt Walsh, from the University of Florida, or Kelenna Azubuike, from Kentucky, could have mounted their throne once more in September, as King of the Campus, and played their hearts out on the court (though likely not the classroom).

Instead, Rob Babcock and Danny Ainge and Joe Dumars passed on these kids. These overgrown adolescents have seen their bubble burst, and many are now praying that a shot in Las Vegas on a NBA Summer Team might somehow, someway get them a chance to play in the show.

Hohler's article mentions that Ryan Sidney starred overseas, playing basketball in Turkey and averaging more points than Allen Iverson does in the NBA. But it took the chance to see the world outside of Boston College -- outside of being a star on a campus full of students -- for Sidney to learn who he was.

Unfortunately, this reader closed that newspaper thinking that Sidney was just one of the lucky ones.

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