A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Craig Kimbrel

Ok, so Mariano Rivera makes $14.9million a year, and he's the only closer in the game since the days of Sutter, McGraw, Fingers, and Gossage who is worth giving a contract that lasts past the first few years of being determined to be that great.
That said, who the hell determined that adventure waiting to happen that is K-Rod (whether it's with his father in law or on the diamond) is worth a $17.5million option that could AUTOMATICALLY kick in for 2012? Oh, that's right... the Mets former management that isn't calling the shots anymore.
Perhaps that's why K-Rod's sorry self was shipped to the land of Laverne and Shirley. Milwaukee needs a closer that isn't named John Axford (and a first baseman that isn't so chubby that he can't run quickly enough to catch a pop fly behind the bag in the shallow outfield - though 3-run home runs do make up for creating situations that almost let more runs in).
The idea that having a closer that can be bought from outside - instead of developed locally and shipped off to free-spending teams in the offseason - is truly  ridiculous. For instance, Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel is number one in saves right now (28). However, he's 1 blown save off of tieing 5 pitchers for the lead (6). Does this make him elite? There was discussion at the All Star Game last night that he was striking out 15+ batters per 9 innings (adjusted to his minimal 1 inning stint at the end of a game). However, his WHIP is over 1 and his ERA is over 2.00. I know that players can't be perfect all of the time, but when a man comes in throwing flames and breaking pitches with gusto, the game should be 3 up, 3 down... at least every other time (and even then, 1 batter on is more  than enough). And sure, he's getting bottom of the barrel salary to be good, but really? When will his reward come? When will he sign for big bucks in Georgia because Atlanta never really had a great reliever during their run (save when they converted Smoltz to the bullpen and gave him up in their rotation).
And that really is the issue here... free spending and make believe combing to make people think that their team's closer is a worthy part of a long stretch run (ok, in the case of Mariano Rivera, it is, but what other teams? Boston gave up Keith Foulke soon after 2004. The Yankees gave up John Wettland after 1996 added Rich Gossage after Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award (now that says something).
Is Craig Kimbrel going to be worth millions in free agency?
Is K-Rod really the pitcher that a team wants to pay mega millions to when they're not competing with the division leaders (and let's be honest, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are flashes in the pan looking for a ticket out of the Big Apple)?
So welcome to Milwaukee, Francisco. Hopefully, you can convince Prince Fielder to stick around for mega millions of his own.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robinson Cano

It's a nice moment to see Robinson Cano taking pitches from his dad to win the Home Run Derby, but...
other than watching the home runs that he hit in the second round, I didn't watch any of the rest of it.
I did, however, have father and son bonding night for the All Star Game, and I must say that it was the best game that I've watched in a while.
At one point, my dad asked me who I was rooting for, and my only answer was a good game with individual achievement. For the most part, I got that.
Sure, it was sad to see Cliff Lee let up a home run - even if it was to Adrian Gonzalez.
However, the saddest moment of the evening was a 3 way-tie. This was either the meltdown of Joel Hanrahan who let up a double after Starlin Castro ONCE AGAIN proved he needs to be the world's first 125-pound designated hitter by throwing short to first base and letting the 1,2,3 ninth go to seed, OR it was Prince Fielder proving that he needs to be the game's other 300 pound designated hitter rather than dropping balls that go too far behind his fat ass as he drops a relatively easy basket catch (which SOMEHOW doesn't get called an error - could it be the game needs Fielder too much to call it like it is?). The 3-run home run that won it for the National League did nothing to make up for the error (because that's what it was). It was just a sad display of the John Kruk attitude (I ain't an athlete) made worse for the fact that it's all about being a 2nd generation hero to a new generation that wants to make the game hip to the hip hop world in an effort to bring African Americans back to the game.
And while we want to see people of all colors, cultures, and persuasions in the game, do we really want the NBA or the NFL in our game of baseball? Seeing Andrew McCutchen's dreads in comparison to David Robinson's Opie look shows that the game can compete with people of all interests and attitudes. In this, we have no problem with Prince's tattoos (or Brian Wilson's tattoos or beard). It's style in the same way that Charlie Finley had when he paid for cool facial hair in the seventies (thank God for Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter).
However, we want our players doing the outstanding things that go with being an ESPN Web Gem or an MLBTV highlight at the end of the week, month, or season. Seeing how sluggish Prince Fielder is, we have to wonder what consideration for MVP he can get when he can't play the field. Just like his compadre Big Sluggi, the defensive liability of the Red Sox, we need to put him where he can do well - off the bench and attempting to knock in runs and get on base. No harm in that. Let's not pretend he's an all around player. Let's not let him think that he's any more Hall of Fame eligible than Edgar Martinez, who was generally considered the greatest DH of all time.
Seeing who came to the game and who didn't, it's nice to see that the game loves Fielder enough to make him the NL team captain of the Home Run Derby, but let's see him for what he really is: a one dimensional player that benefits from having a lot of hitters in front of him in the lineup. Where would he be if he was playing for Houston or the Cubs?
But all the same, those are only 2 moments of the 3 way tie. The final saddest moment...
Not seeing Justin Verlander 6 up, 6 down the NL team. Watching 100 MPH fastballs devastating the best of those who showed up would have been like Pedro in 1999 or Carl Hubbell in 1934. Sadly, he pitched Sunday, so he was mandated to sit out. Guess we'll have to hope he's there next year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hank Aaron

I get it.
There's always a sense of exhaustion when so much happens in so little time, and we just want our time off to be away from it and not think about things that are going on and have happened. In most of what passes for life, it's all good, and it's the way it should be...
Unless the fans are voting for you to be an All Star, and they expect to see you giving your all amongst the other great players from your generation.
Which brings us to Derek Jeter.
He's been doing it since 1996, which might seem old hat, but consider that he plays in the Big Apple. He plays for the Yankees. He's a "bi-racial angel" (at least according to the movie The Other Guys). He just got to 3,000 hits (in a 5-5 game against the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price in which hit 3,000 was a home run - oh, and he had the game winning hit). He does have a super hot gal pal (Minka Kelly) who he most likely wants some time with to get a little bit of lovin', but he is one of the pre-eminent baseball players of his generation and his fans invited him to the game (to start no less!), so shouldn't he be there?
He was 6 for 9 in his last 2 game with a double, home run, 2 RBIs, and a stolen base. He had the game-winning hit when he came through big on Saturday. That's what he does. That's why the fans love him. And even a certified Yankee hater like myself who self hatingly has to admit that he doesn't hate Jeter anymore but somehow feels a degree of respect for him is now forced to think back on the days of old and sum up that old A-Rod style hate for Jeter (and we all know what the chances of sending a get well soon card to A-Rod is going to be for his surgery).
This whole All Star sit out thing has me upset to the point that I now have to wonder about Jeter's situation (so convenient because it allowed for him to get the hit at home instead of on the road). And I'm not here to make conspiracy theory seem real because that isn't what this is about, but it is about a man who should be giving the game a chance to celebrate it's past, present, and future, but instead, he thinks that he's above the fans. Hopefully, they'll leave him off the ballots in his final 2 years. We'll see if the Yankees feel obligated to him beyond the contract he's in now.
Hank Aaron said it best:
“There is a commitment I think that players have. At least it ought to seem like it’s a commitment. It is a game that belongs [to the fan]. I was privileged to play in 23 [All-Star Games] in the first one as much as I was the 23rd one. So I feel like these players should deem it’s a privilege. It’s their game; it belongs to them. And it’s a privilege when you can go out there when you can stand next to stars that you performed against and with. … Sometimes I think that some of the players take for granted that these things are going to go on forever.”

In response to stepping up to speak to the players about their attitudes towards today's game:
“I would be willing to speak and tell them the importance of this game … sure I would. It matters to me that baseball keeps going in the direction that it’s going in and I think that the All-Star Game is one part of baseball that we need to keep improving on. … The only way you’re going to improve upon them is if these guys are going to take out of their busy schedules and come here in play in these games.”

In response to making pitchers who were picked show up at the game:
“I don’t know so much about that. … But I do know one thing, if he pitched in the game on Sunday but was nominated to come to the game, he would come here just to show his face. … The fans appreciated when his name was called and he walked or ran out on the field.”

Once again, baseball's most outspoken former player (Willie Mays also has a lot to say, so it's not like Aaron is the only one) puts it exactly as it needs to be. If Jeter listens, he'll understand. It's all straight forward. This may be a high-paid profession, but at the end of the day, it's a kids' games that adults get the right to play and be idolized for. If he'd rather sleep with Russian models that run, hit, catch, and throw, then so be it, but then he needs to retire and do that 24/7 instead of this. There are tons of players that would love to take his place.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rickie Weeks

Last night, pitching excellence was on display in Anaheim as Justin Verlander let up 1 run in 7 innings... but he lost as Dan Haren just devastated the Tigers in every single way with a complete game 2 hitter where he walked NOBODY. In the end, it was representative of what the game of baseball has become - all pitching and very little hitting (save Jeter's 4 hits that he still has to get before Sunday night and Albert Pujols returning from the sick ward to kick the hell out of the National League Central pretenders).
Yet instead of embracing it, we pretend that the home run derby still matters in 2011.
The same could be said about Pittsburgh and Cleveland's rejuvination, but as they're on the other side of the PA Turnpike's 4 tunnels, so nobody seems to care what goes on out in the Alleghenies and Lake Erie. It's all about the longball - even if we have to utilize the aging, the one hit wonders, and the contact hitters of baseball to get it. People still aren't turning on ROOT and listening to the sound of joy come from a city better known for its football team.
Nope... it's all about post steroids era sluggers  of which Ryan Howard wasn't even invited to be a part of it.
And with that, it seems that Big Sluggi is starting some kind of a trend that is about 13 years too late - picking his own home run derby team. In a day and age when the bashers aren't really coming to play (they're too afraid to hurt their swings) and the All Star Game is filled with sub par types (is Chipper Jones there because he's actually that good or is it because he's actually healthy at this point in the season), can anyone out there really feel that it's time to dig into the wallet and watch Chris Berman come up with new ways to cheer on a home run when it's Rickie Weeks doing the swinging? OK, so it's not like Prince Fielder had many good choices to go with for his team (someone equally pudgy had to counter Big Sluggi's actions after all), but certainly there had to be someone worth choosing... (Lance Berkman, maybe).
So the excitement of excitement is Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista (my pick to win it), David Ortiz, Weeks, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, and Matt Kemp. I won't be wasting time watching too much of it (besides, I teach during the first part of it), but all in all, were I to wait for the replay in the morning, I wouldn't really feel too glued to the TV for those guys.
What I would watch wtih slobbering affection is Justin Verlander going toe to toe against Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Felix Herndandez, James Shields, and David Price in a contest of seeing how many times that they can strike out Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Howard, Austin Jackson, Kelly Johnson, Adam Dunn, Mike Stanton, and Ryan Raburn. Today's crop of free swinging losers need to be shown up for what they are - overpaid and forgettable players.
There would be something beautiful in watching Howard get tripped up with a nasty pitch thrown high and inside or seeing Reynolds looking absolutely glazed over as he goes down again (and again and again) with a  nasty curve ball. Adam Dunn's utter futility this year would be on display as he would surely chase many a slider that exploded in the dirt. And if that's because the pitchers are better, so be it. Let's see their nasty prowess, and let's see how they make players as worthless at the plate as an Eric Chavez type that just gives up to cower in fear from the bench.
And that's the point. It's the Year of the Pitcher 2. If Drew Stubbs wants to feel big and potent (like Rickie Weeks who is somehow in the derby), let him face some real pitching. If he can  hit for power, let him take on the best of the best for pitching power. Hell, I'd even pay to see Randy Johnson take time off from his gig at making old guys not feel gray to come back and devastate the lineup that is going into the derby. Ten pitches each... who can hit this guy? Johnson would still be the Big Ugly, I'm sure.
So in this era of the guy on the mound, let's not pretend that any of these batters are worth a hill of beans.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chone Figgins

I guess it all comes back to hope and belief in the future. There is reality, and there is dominance, but in the end, there is the brutal truth. Either we follow the example of Admiral Stockdale and confront it, or it confronts us.
 For example, in the world of 4th of July fun, one can eat lots of hot dogs over the course of 10 minutes at Nathan's for a chance at national glory and a $10,000 top prize. There is something to be said about gulping down pounds of food in order to be the best, but whether it's throwing, catching, hitting, or running, there is something to be said about being the best.
In the eating world, to win this year, it took 54 dogs making it to the point where they're in the belly, but Mark Chestnut put down 62 because he could. That's ass kicking power. Since the days of Takeru Kobayashi and his domination over all comers, which reportedly still exists - though outside of the world of Major League Eating, which he refuses to be a part of - there has been a national following for the 4th of July competition. Chestnut is still there... but Kobayashi has gone away.
Where do stars go when we don't see them on TV? I know where I'd like to see the Kardashians go, and I'd be willing to watch TV to see them go there, but alas, that's just me.
One has to wonder where do great stars go when they can't play anymore? Is there an old folks home for these guys to go? Do they take back large parts of excessive contracts (from Denny Neagle sized to Barry Zito sized) in order to allow the players to hang out there and be pampered by guys and gals who will say "I remember you when..." Do the guys still whip out game-used memorabilia to sign? Do the girls still want to get naked? Do they still allow them to play and manage the same baseball team in corners of the country (Yuma, Arizona) where nobody knew there was baseball, let alone people who wanted to watch baseball?
Oh, Jose Canseco, where have you gone and why can't you just vanish?
There was a great article on ESPN's website today about players who don't live up to their promise. Some of this is injury related, while some of it is just plain disintegration of talent - Chone Figgins, case in point. Maybe he was good at one point, but this year, he's lousy in that special Dunn / Uggla kind of way.
In fact, he was referred to as:
"the worst everyday hitter in baseball."
ESPN followed this up with "His defense has tailed off sharply from peak levels, and his baserunning skill has also started to wane. Figgins might be the former star who's least likely to bounce back.. Two and a half more years to go on his four-year, $36 million contract, and that assumes his $9 million option doesn't vest in 2014. Oy."
It's another sub Mendoza Line blunder. If anyone couldn't see that giving him big money to leave Anaheim and make things happen for Seattle was a bad idea, they shouldn't be within 20 miles of a baseball stadium - much less covering the game.
Such is the nature of being a 2nd tier team with no hope for the immediate future other than to play well enough that King Felix doesn't demand a trade before you can make the miracle happen (Pittsburgh is feeling it at 3 games over .500 and Cleveland is remembering the good old days, too, as they continue to hold off Detroit for first place). Sadly, sometimes, it's all about the gambles that you don't make in hoping that the hot girl with the "do me" eyes is actually going to pay off in life for you when in actuality, she's just a Hooters waitress looking to make bank off you while giving you nothing in return.
And that my friends is Chone Figgins - except he doesn't have implants and he doesn't look good in a tight top - at least to me.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Alex Avila

Ok, so how does a catcher from Detroit who nobody knows the name of beat out the catchers for the Yankees and the Red Sox to make it to the starting lineup of the All-Star game?
Could it be because the Red Sox catchers are old (Varitek) and in the way (Saltalamacchia)? Could it be the gods of baseball are actually making sure that a guy with a .303 average and 10 home runs who is playing his heart out is there to represent the Motor City in the desert?
Whatever it is, Mr. Nobody Could Recognize Me at the Mall beat out Russell Martin in the final week of voting (showing that just because Jose Reyes can deservedly beat out Troy Tulowitski in the last week of voting with a little help from the Big Apple, then other people can do it, too). But let's be clear - while Martin has 10 home runs, he's batting .219. That pretty much sucks. And because this is a New York friendly game and most catchers in baseball are rather pedestrian in stats, Martin still gets to come.
Nevertheless, if fans can't be trusted to vote with their heads and not their baseball caps (or in the case of a lot of people in Japan - though not this year - their nationality), then let's take the vote away from them. Isn't it bad enough that the Royals, Twins, and Orioles are sending players to the American League squad this year? The same can be said for the Marlins, the DBacks, Nationals, and Carlos Beltran, who pretty much sucks except for the fact that he is considered trade bait in July, so he'll get a new paint job to trick someone used car salesman style (think Sidney Ponson). Then again, the same can be said for closer Heath Bell, who will finally play his way out of San Diego and into someone's debt as they overpay for a reliever (instead of creating one from a little bit of intensity and heart, which can come from their minor league system).
I get that Oakland gets to have a pitcher (Gio Gonzalez) there. It's not their fault that they can't back him up enough with run support. However, if a team can't field a respectable team, they shouldn't get represented. Let their fans revolt when the roster is picked from deserving talents (mind you, their exclusion can't be at the sake of adding CC Sabathia's slug self just to have another frickin' Yankee on the team).
Last year, Avila was a .228 hitter in about half of a season. This year, he's playing to win. He's holding down the catcher spot for a team that just paid Victor Martinez a lot of money (4 years and $50million) to play behind the plate (and first base and designated hitter) to help the team wrap up the division. He's doing the job with that .328 (even though he hasn't YET been invited to Phoenix), but now the Tigers get to ride some offense to go with that Justin Verlander dominance in their quest to reassume first place from those pesky Indians (still in first mind you - even in the midst of a series with the Yankees).
And there is a lot to be said for that first All Star bid... we're feeling a hell of a lot of local pride for Ryan Vogelsong's appearance, and it's great to see Lance Berkman come back from the dead to reappear in the game, too. That said, it's nice to see a new guard in baseball. And it's nice to see Milwaukee represented, but it's sad to not see Albert Pujols. It's depressing as hell to think about Chris Berman trying to make a home run derby with this cast of characters entertaining.
Yeah... it's not 1970, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cal Ripken Jr.

Staring at the MLB website for the all star teams, I see this:

The visiting AL roster will look like this:
• Catcher: Alex Avila (Tigers)
• First base: Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox)
• Second base: Robinson Cano (Yankees)
• Third base: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
• Shortstop: Derek Jeter (Yankees)
• Outfield: Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Curtis Granderson (Yankees) and Josh Hamilton (Rangers)
• DH: David Ortiz (Red Sox)

The AL pitching staff: starters Josh Beckett (Red Sox), Gio Gonzalez (Athletics), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), David Price (Rays), James Shields (Rays), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Jered Weaver (Angels) and C.J. Wilson (Rangers); and relievers Aaron Crow (Royals), Brandon League (Mariners), Chris Perez (Indians), Mariano Rivera (Yankees) and Jose Valverde (Tigers).

And the backup position players are: catchers Russell Martin (Yankees) and Matt Wieters (Orioles); infielders Adrian Beltre (Rangers), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) and Howard Kendrick (Angels); outfielders Michael Cuddyer (Twins), Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), Matt Joyce (Rays) and Carlos Quentin (White Sox); and DH Michael Young (Rangers).

The NL shakes out this way:
• Catcher: Brian McCann (Braves)
• First base: Prince Fielder (Brewers)
• Second base: Rickie Weeks (Brewers)
• Third base: Placido Polanco (Phillies)
• Shortstop: Jose Reyes (Mets)
• Outfield: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Matt Kemp (Dodgers) and Lance Berkman (Cardinals)

The NL pitching staff consists of: starters Matt Cain (Giants), Roy Halladay (Phillies), Cole Hamels (Phillies), Jair Jurrjens (Braves), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Cliff Lee (Phillies), Tim Lincecum (Giants) and Ryan Vogelsong (Giants); and relievers Heath Bell (Padres), Tyler Clippard (Nationals), Joel Hanrahan (Pirates), Jonny Venters (Braves) and Brian Wilson (Giants).

The NL's bench will include: catcher Yadier Molina (Cardinals); infielders Starlin Castro (Cubs), Chipper Jones (Braves), Brandon Phillips (Reds), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins), Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies) and Joey Votto (Reds); and outfielders Carlos Beltran (Mets), Jay Bruce (Reds), Matt Holliday (Cardinals), Hunter Pence (Astros) and Justin Upton (D-backs).

So yeah... this is what we're faced with... a midseason yawner - even for a Red Sox fan.
It's the sensation that it's all about the casual fans or the fans of the big 3 (Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees) and getting their players in the game. And this is not to say that their players aren't deserving, but...
It's always the but.
Derek Jeter seems to be the go to figure of hate this year as he gets ready to come off the DL and his time in Trenton to sit 6 hits away from 3,000, and that's a great feeling, but...
There's always a but.
Right now, he's hitting .260 with 2 home runs.
But according to Yankees fans, he's the best player in the game - careerwise - so why not let him play? After all, Cal Ripken got himself slobbered over in 2001 when he didn't deserve to be there either. In that year, he wasn't even at the Mendoza Line until May 6th. At the All Star Game, he was hitting .240. In 128 games, he hit 14 home runs and batted .239. But when the All Star Game was played out, he was the short stop with Alex Rodriguez moving to third base to let Cal have his own position. Foreshadowing of what he would do for the Yankees when he basically played the Red Sox off against the Rangers and Yankees, alienated Manny and Nomar, and proved how despicable he truly was, anyone (and why no Red Sox fan has ever felt, "we should have gotten him.")?
But Ripken went on to hit a game-winning home run and become the summer classic's MVP, which says a lot about what old men can and can't do. Can't say it makes me like him any more or any less. He's just Ripken... a great player that was Baltimore, but Baltimore was never my team and Ripken was just the game's Iron Man when it needed a hero. And he was the hero... in the same way Jeter is the hero, so if we have to put up with Jeter in the game, so be it.
I'm not going to feel giddy and all that he's there, but I understand and I get it. The fans get their votes, and why not let them pick? Why not ensure that there will be good ratings in a few cities at least?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Adam Dunn

It's 10 days or so until the All Star Game, which is usually reserved as the halfway point of baseball. However, the official halfway point is now gone, and where are we? What do we have to say about the baseball season that truly sums it up?
In the 10th year of his career, Adam Dunn was a high stakes big money free agent that was supposed to get 40 big swings despite the fact that his average wouldn't be "great" and he would strike out a lot.
What did Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox get? Ozzie got even more high blood pressure than normal, which definitely causes him to tell it like it is and to have baseball columnists wonder why he's still in management (though I have to say that I think he's awesome). The White Sox got a .171 hitter in 234 at bats (he's seriously challenging Dan Uggla for futile zero of the year).
For the 7 home runs that they bought with $12million (ok - $6million since it's the first half of the season), they got 100 strike outs. While that's good enough for 2nd place (Drew Stubbs is still in first place with 112 - there's no catching abject futility, is there), there's a sign around Mudville (located on the otherside of Wrigleyville) that Chicago isn't going to be represented in the post season and next year will be another rebuilding year for both the south and the north side.
So while a player that should be hitting in 4 at bats every game for the first 85ish games could be doing some damage, he's getting about 2/3 of the at bats he could be getting because he's a liability. When you look at the facts - 1732 punched outs in 1517 games for his career - you see danger to the playing and the rooting and the paying. It's clear as day, but now he's an albatross for the White Sox. He's got 4 years and $56million to go for Obama's team, so we have to wonder... when will Ozzie crack and start kicking Dunn's ass like it was a catcher's mask?
On the other side of the Second City, there's Carlos Pena, who pretty much sucked all year, but is at least a little better lately. He's got 76 whiffs in 251 at bats. He's carrying a .219 average (.171 for the last week, mind you). He does at least have 17 home runs in the homey capacity of Wrigley, with it's wind blowing out in these nice summer days (the kind of thing which helps our favorite steroids mirages transcend from attitude to baseball altitude until they're asked to answer questions on the witness stand, eh Sammy Sosa).
Texas, Detroit, Oakland, Boston, Tampa Bay... and the Cubs... they're all trying and have tried to figure out what to do with a problem like Carlos in the same way that the White Sox are joining the Reds, Diamondbacks, and the Nationals in dealing with a problem like Adam.
At some point, baseball is going to say that we can't all be Rob Deer. We can't flirt with the Mendoza Line all year and hope that it will get better... especially when the home runs aren't clearing the walls... especially when the player needs to ride the bench to figure it out or because he is a liability.
It's times like this that the defensive play of David Ortiz... you know... he who isn't a true player because he can't make Terry Francona bench Mike Cameron or Darnell McDonald in favor of moving Adrian Gonzalez to the outfield in order to get Big Sluggi's 4 at bats in (at .300 batting average, mind you) actually seems like it's an over rated thing. Mind you - the fact Francona wouldn't play him all of the inter-league games - that's scary because once you get past Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield, Boston pretty much sucks. JD Drew is fortunately about to get his unconditional retirement for the purpose of never letting Philadelphia fans chuck D cell batteries at him from the 600 level of Veterans Stadium again (in retrospect, the anger should have been celebration - other than the first September he played in 1998, he was pretty much hype over hall of fame).
So this brings us to the question - what is a baseball player supposed to be?
While many players look to crack the leagues, some veterans hold down spots just because. Other players play half of the game, although they do that well, and make us wonder about the logic of inter-league or the DH (or Astroturf - oops, I've come unstuck in time again). And maybe we wonder about other things, too, like a home run derby that will be shockingly devoid of names and power because the big boppers only bop, so they won't make it and the big names will probably opt out because they'll be too afraid to hurt themselves in a meaningless "exhibition" game.
Which only makes us wonder... what's wrong with this game today?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jair Jurrjens

So we may as well say that we're at the halfway point of the season right now. During this time, we've celebrated some people that are excelling and some that were excelling. We've looked at the strikeouts of all of those free swingers that just keep thinking that they can win if only they swing for the fences (a concept that works better against alien invaders that come out of a Pennsylvania cornfield than it does in reality).
However, today, let's look at pretenders and winners on the win / loss circuit of pitchers.
In the last 10 games, Cole  Hamels has let up 4 runs once. In that stretch, he has let up 0, 1, or 2 runs 7 times to include his last 6 starts. In those game, he has lost 2 times and his team blew the game a third time. For that reason, his record is 9-4. However, his WHIP is 0.96 and his ERA is 2.49.
This definitely sounds a lot better than the vast majority of 10 game winners not named Justin Verlander (124 strikeouts, 0.84 WHIP and 2.38 ERA because nobody can touch him right now), who is my Cy Young pick for the season (at the halfway point). It's definitely better than CC Sabathia's 3.25 ERA and 1.22 WHIP (very pedestrian) to get to that 10-4 record (definitely a benefit of playing in the Bronx, I might add).
Roy Halladay is truly becoming Mr. Consistency in that beautiful way that numbers like 2.40, 1.03 and 123 add up to (and 5 complete games now, too).
But what about the forgotten people? We've remembered Justin Masterson, Dan Haren, and Kyle Lohse, but where is Jair Jurrjens who is now 10 and 3 with a WHIP of 1.14 and an ERA of 2.07? We see these numbers now, and we say "shit god damn" (ot at least we listen to the Eagles of Death Metal singing them).
This is becoming an every non-injured year thing for Jurrjens.
However, what sets him apart from the other guys on the list is 3 fewer starts. He's just winning, and he's winning for Atlanta... a team that isn't exactly scaring the hell out of other pitching staffs. The strikeouts may not be there (55), but the walks aren't really that numerous either (22). He's just quietly good on a team that's always been known for its pitching. Is he the Tom Glavine to the flashier Greg Maddux-esque characters listed above? I hope not since I never thought much of Glavine (he always reminded me of a David Cone type player - you know, a Yankee who wins because he's on a team that wins a lot and he's above average).
In 3 years in the bigs (we'll forget the short season in 2007 and the injured campaign in 2010), he's doing some good things (13-10 and 14-10 - getting a little better in ERA year 3 as he dropped to a 2.60 from a 3.68).
And while he's not doing it with a winning team, he's still doing it and doing it strong as he shores up his options at getting to Phoenix in the next 2 weeks.
Hopefully, the abundance of teams that aren't worthy of having anyone go, but still, they send someone because Bud Selig hasn't ammended that rule (not necessarily a bad things because nobody wants to watch the Yankees / Red Sox combined team take on the Phillies (other than a few players who will be there on talent and fan vote alone, you know that it's true) won't affect Jurrjens deserved spot on the NL All Star roster.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Joel Hanrahan

Ok. I get it. You don't live in western Pennslyvania. You don't live remotely close to western Pennsylvania so that you can watch ROOT, a network on television that carries the Pirates. You don't remember when the Pirates were good (hint - Barry Bonds still played for them) and thus, you still might root for them just because. You don't think of Sister Sledge and wonder if Andrew McCutchen could make this team family, too. You don't root for the Washington Nationals and follow their former players, no matter what way the wind takes them. You don't scan the highlights and stats of those obscure teams that time and better sense seem to have forgotten. You only think of Pittsburgh when Bud Selig threatens to contract another team and you hope that your team can get Andrew McCutchen because MLBTV and your fantasy magazines talk about how good he is supposed to be.
You're just clueless because Joel Hanrahan has 22 saves and a sub 2.00 closer ERA (1.24 and 0.94) for the season. Sure, he only has 1/3 of an inning over the minimal 1 inning per outing thing that makes most closers today so.... lame, but yeah... he's doing it for Pittsburgh!
And sure, Pittsburgh lost today, but they're still 39 and 38 after a weekend series with the Red Sox. And sure, it was at PNC Park, but folks... they had the biggest crowd ever on Saturday night to watch Hanrahan come in and shut the show down for the first 2 batters. Barring a missed opportunity to catch the 3rd out at the wall by Xavier Paul (something any other red blooded web gems seeking outfielder - to include Manny Ramirez - would have done) and thus, a runner on 2nd, he brought out the real fireworks - not the ones that came when the control booth let a few loose too soon hoping and believing that the end was real. And after Adrian Gonzalez (he who is currently tops in batting average in the majors) was eliminated, it was pandemonium. People were literally screaming for their Bucs like in the days of Andy Van Slyke... like in the days of Kent Tekulve and Dave Parker and Willie Stargell... like in the days of Manny Sanguillen... like in the days of Bill Mazeroski... like in the days of Honus frickin' Wagner.
And I'm not a Pirates fan, but I do appreciate the good things in baseball (even enough to eat crow on how I said the Red Sox would mow through them and the Padres - neither happened, I might add). Seeing a city that has been dead since 1993 return and rejoice. Man... that was nice.
And what does this mean? Sure, there are over 80 games left, and a team can go to seed, but a team can also believe in itself. They're 4 games out with the loss on Sunday, but this is the Pirates and it's June 26th and they're only 4 games out and they're above .500 and St. Louis is stick a fork in it done and Milwaukee is up front, but a few key series, a lot of hanging on, a lot of wins against underachievers like the Astros...
This is a team with a closer who looks like Eric Gagne without the glasses and the Canadian who might be getting some fist pumps of energy ready for the Three Rivers area.
And wouldn't that be nice?
Like Cleveland's turn around season (1 game out in 2 less games than Detroit - 40 and 36), we have to feel good about lots of teams in this (and few teams out - the Marlins, Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres - AND thanks to the Minnesota turn around (at least for a while) no teams that dead in the water in a non-respectable way YET in the American League (even though we all know who the pretenders are - Kansas City, Baltimore..).
So please... .forgive us our happiness and excitement if we get carried away, but methinks that my cousin's kids might actually be having a year worth remembering when it comes to baseball!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kevin Millwood

When you need a job, you look at the openings, your talents, and your needs, and you make a logical decision to see what you can do.
For example, Kevin Millwood is currently hanging out with the Red Sox in the minor leagues. He's not very happy because he's not in the pros, but to be honest, this isn't the days when he was filling the number 4 slot with the Atlanta Braves. His ERA isn't league leading like it was when he was in Cleveland. He's not throwing a no-hitter for the dead era Phillies. He's just a pitcher with an upside that hasn't lived up to expectations for quite some time. The 4-16 stint in Baltimore last year with a 5+ ERA wasn't good either.
So if he's crying over not being in the majors - just because he once was all right (thank you, Leo Mazzone), then perhaps there is a sense that he "just hasn't earned it yet (baby)."
And he isn't alone.
Future Just for Men spokesman Jason Giambi is sending out all the right signals to the Yankees to let them know that he doesn't want to be a role player for Colorado and wants to play for them (it's not quite Rickey Henderson informing the major leagues that "Rickey wants to play and he wants to play for you," but hey, it's a start. With comments like:
“I wasn’t touching the ground, I was excited." (at the prospect of playing in New York and hitting a home run).
“Just being excited like old times to have that opportunity to play in front of (the fans) again. I went up there, and I think he could have thrown the resin bag at 2-0 and I would have swung at it, no matter what.” (in an attempt to ass kiss for the Big Apple since his second stint with the A's wasn't quite the way his first stint with them was.
And we can't fault him for trying since we're trying to work and we're willing to work any number of places - though having a specialized advanced degree pretty much says that I'm stuck in some variation of it because too many employers think I'm too "skilled" to be "happy" at lesser part time jobs that would accomodate my slightly over part time hours of teaching. Too many other employers think I'm too pricey for the starting salaries that they can afford due to my "advanced" degree (interesting because I thought that a liberal arts masters degree wasn't quite as "advanced" as a STEM degree, but yeah...).
So if there is love and a paycheck and an opporuntity to get it, so be it. Let Mr. Giambi do what he has to do to earn it. Let Mr. Millwood work hard to have the comeback he deserves (and who can say that he's not worth one more chance - aren't we all?).
In the end, all people deserve the right to earn a living - even Barry Bonds - he who was so hated that he didn't get a job after posting a .480 OBP and 132 walks to go with his 28 home runs in the year he set the all time home run record. And yeah... this was something about BALCO, and Bonds was a clubhouse cancer, but if that's the case, why bring him back for the record? And maybe there was a fear of the perjury trial and what could be said, but if you look at Barry's stats... they were positively sick (even if it made me physically sick to see him beat McGwire's home run record). This was a man who in 2004 walked 232 TIMES! Somehow, only 120 of these were intentional. This was a man who is ranked #21 all time on Baseball Reference Dot Com. This was a man who was walked with the bases loaded. This was the man who was walked 177 times the year he hit 73 home runs (McGwire was walked 162 in the year he hit 70).
But like so many others from an era that made a mistake, he was passed over and left to be forgotten. It's not that he didn't shoot himself in the foot and sabotage his world, but still... isn't ours a society of second chances? Aren't all sins save upsetting Oprah worth another chance?

Friday, June 24, 2011

AJ Burnett

It's really a dubious honor - 4 strikeouts in an inning, but on Friday night, AJ Burnett achieved this honor that gets achieved about once a year since the stat was first acknowledged (although Baseball Almanac does list some old time greats that have achieved it - Walter Johnson being the most notable and Ed Crane being the first on October 4,1888).
The rest of the game wasn't as memorable for the New York Yankees wild man and occasional solid pitcher as he threw 6.1 innings to get the loss against the Rockies. Other than that 6th inning, he only whiffed one other Rockie, and he walked 5 and allowed 7 hits. Nothing special...
But the 4 in one inning... that's special.
Last year, Manny Parra of the Brewers and King Felix achieved the feat. Hell, in 2002, Burnett did the same feat as well, so he's no stranger to the phenomenon. However, he's still got one more to go before he gets to first place in a tie with Chuck Finley - you know the guy who had the tar kicked out of him by Tawny Kitaen, she of the Whitesnake "Here I Go Again" video. And maybe it's hard to find control when you're throwing heat with movement, but there's also something to be said about picking up and starting again when you should be out of the inning and there's a runner on first because your catcher can't handle the nastiness that you throw. Maybe it's hard to find your control when you want to put a fastball behind your dirty tramp wife's eyes and are so wild with anger that (in the words of Crash Davis), "you couldn't hit water if you fell out of a boat."
And so Nuke Laloosh is going for a new league record.
It's not like opposing teams don't know the book on Burnett. The Phillies knew that if you get to him early in the game, you can get him out, but if you sit and wait on his pitches, you're going to lose (and they did - instead choosing to sit on his pitches and let him find his routine and end their dreams of back to back World Series victories in 2009).
Thus, AJ Burnett's 4+ ERA and 76 strikeouts that go with his 7-5 record really aren't worth the time and attention that the Yankees made us all think that they deserved when they signed him (in the same way that Big Sluggy CC's contract won't be much good when he opts out of it this offseason).
It will be nice to see people fleeing the Bronx - even when they're throwing money out like it was growing on trees. And if AJ is stuck in New York... call it a fitting punishment for a team that thinks that to win is to buy all of the name players - without checking what happens when they aren't making a name for themselves with a no hitter and 4 Ks in an inning.