Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Matty's Personal Opening Day

I just got a ticket to see the Yankees play the O's on Saturday the 9th of April. Randy Johnson will make his second start in MF'n pinstripes. He'll opose someone wearing a uniform with a hat that say's "O's" on it. Man, those hats are dumb looking... does it really matter who's pitching for Baltimore? If Johnson is on the Yankees will win, if not the O's will probably score a bunch of runs and make the game competitive. The Yankees should score a bunch of runs off whoever Lee Mazzili throws up there (and I do mean "throws up"). If I'm lucky I'll be wearing my Red Sox hat and road uniform ($49 on sale!) to an 11-9 O's win in NY.

Last season the O's managed to lose the season series 14-5 or some such awfulness, so Matty's Key to Boston's Second WS Championship (MKBSWSC) is:

the O's must beat NY this season.

Because we won't.

Last year the Red Sox won the season series from NY 11-8. No small feat that. We also managed to lose the season series to Baltimore by a similar score - this is all off the top of my head so forgive the vague-itude - of something like 12-7. No small feat that either. Every time the Sox played Baltimore either the Sox would forget their bats in the clubhouse, or one of Baltimore's pitchers would have what could charitably be described as a career day. I was in Baltimore last year for Curt Schillings ignominious loss to Danial "The lovechild of Sandy Koufax and Juan Marical" Cabrera. Cabrera of the 12,000,000.00 ERA. Of course he's unhittable against Schilling and the Sox.

Anyway, for the Sox to capture the AL East this season they have to beat up on Baltimore, and/or the O's have to be semi-passible against NY. Hopefully on Saturday the 9th my iron lungs will be a small part of Baltimore's resurgence against NY this season.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Matty on Steroids

I had a very difficult time with the recent steroid hearings. There a number of problems with them, and while I won't try to list them all, I do feel compelled, in these lean baseball-related news times, to comment, if only a little bit. Let me take a few statements that have been put forth by the media and baseball pundits and run em through the ol' ringer.

1) Baseball is forever stained by Steroids.
This just isn't true. This is hardly the biggest scandal to ever hit the sport, though you'd certainly think so by listening to reactionaries like Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times and Bill Plachke of the LA Times. As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, the last baseball team to integrate (thanks to the ever immortal Pumpsie Green), I can tell you that people do get over the injustice eventually and remember that it isn't the people who run it but the sport that we all love. Yes, it can take a long time for this recovery to occur, but even suggesting the damage that steroids have done to baseball is comparable to the rampant racism who's domination of the sport through it's initial 100 years has yet to be alleviated, is tantamount to comparing George Dubya with Abraham Lincoln. In my humble opinion steroids aren't even comparable to the gambling problem that almost brought down the game in 1919.

2) Any player who used steroids should have his records banned or at least marked with an asterisk.
What is baseball's obsession with the asterisk? Can anyone explain this to me? Anyway... If you mark records made by players who are suspected of steroids then you're beginning a slide down a slippery slope. What about players who are suspected of or known to have gambled in the turn of the century? What about players who used (and continue to use) greenies and other uppers before games? What about pitchers who scuff the ball, or batters who cork their bats? And if your only concern is the integrity of baseball's sacred records, then what about expansion, lowering the mound, tightening the ball, the DH, shrinking the ballparks and even more expansion? The point is that there are different circumstances to every era, which when looked at through the prism of baseball history, must be explained. Would Bob Gibson be able to go a whole season with a 1.26 ERA against teams like the '04 Red Sox and '04 Yankees with a lowered mound, and decreased strike zone? Would Babe Ruth have hit 60 homers against today's specialized pitchers who employ pitches like the splitter that hadn't even been invented back in 1920? Would Ty Cobb have hit .400 against black and Hispanic pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Javier Vasquez? Ok, maybe Vasquez... The answers to these questions are as unknowable as who took steroids, how much they took, and how much it altered their on-field performance.

3) Players who used steroids are cheaters and morally bankrupt scum.
To any person who thinks this is accurate I would politely remind them that back in the late 80's and early 90's not only weren't steroids banned in baseball, but the weren't even illegal! This retroactive judgment is simply blatant hypocrisy. I don't recall reading many articles about how steroids were ruining the game anywhere back then, and the reason for that is simple: nobody was writing them. This is not to suggest that I condone taking steroids, but it is difficult to call someone out for speeding when there is no speed limit, even if they were going 120.

4) It is easy to hit lots of homers when you are on steroids.
This is one of the underlying assumptions that people make when the talk about asterisks and cheating. But there is simply no proof that steroids improve your performance as a baseball player. I would like to think that people would be a bit more analytical about this sort of thing without just rushing to judgment and condemnation. I know steroids can make you stronger and when you are stronger you are able to increase your bat speed and therefore are more likely to hit the ball farther. What we don't know is by how much. Anyone who has ever stood in against a 90 mph fastball, or an 85 mph curveball that drops off a table knows how difficult it is to just make contact, let alone hit the ball 370 feet. When you combine questionable increases in performance with suspected health problems it becomes debatable whether or not steroids are help or a hindrance.

Something we do know, or at least are reasonably sure of, is that steroids don't improve your hand-eye coordination. What I mean by that is steroids will help you hit the ball farther, but they won't help you to hit the ball in the first place. If you can't hit a curveball (maybe like myself) then you can take all the steroids you want with no improvement on the field to show for it.


On to another topic, I flipped on the ol' tele today and came across my first spring training game of the year today. Phillies vs. Indians. Jon Lieber and the fight'ns vs. the Tribe. I could care less about either team, but just for an hour or so I was transfixed. It was sunny down in Florida; I could hear the calls for peanuts and beer. Baseball is back, with it spring, summer, and another run at the World Series for the Red Sox. It's about time.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Matty's Baseball Mini-Primer '05

I started this as a look at up-and-coming teams in the league, but I got too into it and it turned into entire capsules on all the divisions.  It's not researched, everything is off the top of my head, but hopefully it'll be somewhat enjoyable to read.


AL East
As with all things, we start in the AL East.  The Red Sox should win 100 games.  Period.  They're too good not to.  I think the Yankees could win that many as well.  Or not.  It really depends on injuries for them, but they should make the playoffs or come really close trying.  They're hitting is too good, and their pitching is too deep (though the quality of their starters is debatable).  I think the Blue Jays will be better this year (more Halladay, for one), and if they stay in the race into June they can add lots of payroll thanks to the new owner.  I'm not sold on the O's who should score runs again, but probably won't prevent many.  The Rays, like always, have nothing and will suck.

AL Central
I think this could be the year that a team sneaks in and beats out the Twins.  I'm not sure it'll happen but it could.  The Twins probably have the best starting pitching in the division, based mostly on Santana and Radke. I'd give them 90ish wins.  I think a team that could take a big jump this year is the Indians.  I know this is a relatively popular pick, but they scored so many runs last year with such a young lineup that, taken as a whole they'll likely do it again.  The Indians problem is the same as everyone else's: pitching.  They have some young studs (jake westbrooke, cc sabathia) who need to step up, and who are a year older and a year more likely to do so.  I'd pick the Indians as a team that could sneak into the playoffs.  The Tigers are over-rated (hard to believe for a team that hasn't finished .500 for twelve seasons), but they just don't have any pitching after Bonderman, who is still 21 or 22.  Bonderman should improve, but after him they have nobody.  Despite trading Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik (shudder!) the White Sox actually had a good offseason.  They have quite a decent front five too, so, if their lineup produces they could give the Indians and Twins a run for the division.  KC is toast.

AL West
I really think the A's can win this division, so I guess, right there, that's your upset pick.  They almost won last season, and they improved their offense and their bullpen a whole lot over the offseason.  The question for them is their starting pitching.  Zito should be fine, and Blaton and Harden are coming into their own as top-of-the-rotation starters.  That leaves Danny Haren (formerly of the Cardinals) and someone else (from the Braves) who they got in the Mulder and Hudson trades.  I've looked this up and based on the stats I've seen both those new guys will be good to very good pitchers for their slots in the rotation. The only question is 'when?'  So, the A's winning the west is another 'upset' pick I guess.  The Angels are good, but I'm just not sold on their starters.  Also, they have a number of guys who are injury-prone which could come back to bite them.  The Rangers are the Indians last year. They can hit real well, but they still STILL don't have any pitching.  (Come on, guys, it's only been 5 years now!  Sheesh...)  Seattle should score more runs thanks to Beltre and Sexson, but again (sensing a theme here?) they don't have much in the way of starting pitchers.  I think they will finish last again.

NL East
This division is more wide open than everyone thinks it is, which means it's really wide open.  The Braves have added one good starting pitcher, but have lost immeasurable offense and, thus far, haven't replaced it.  They have a few young guys who could play well, but they haven't brought in anyone who can reproduce JD Drew's numbers.  They have the best rotation in the division, and for that you have to consider them the favorite, but I think they'll have trouble scoring runs all year long.  Mondesi + Hunter does not = Drew.  The Mets are intriguing.  I'm not as concerned about their bullpen, though I doubt it'll be a high point for them.  I think they're going to have trouble in the back of their rotation.  I think Benson will be decent, better than what most non-Mets fans are expecting, and I think Pedro will be terrific, but I'm not on the Glavine Wagon.  His numbers have been slipping for the past few years.  That guy they picked up from TB for Kazmir, Zambrano, he's as over-rated as anyone could be.  So he throws hard? So what?  It doesn't do you any good if you can't hit the broadside of a barn.  With Beltran and a healthy Floyd in their lineup, plus a year of Reyes (maybe?) and Wright, their offense should score more runs.  I'm just not so solid on the 3-5 of their rotation.  

The Marlins suddenly have some offense.  Now if only Josh Beckett and AJ Burnett can stay healthy.  They added Leiter and Delgado, too.  They should be a solid team, though they'll give the Mets and Nats a run for their money in terms of the Worst Bullpen in the Division title.  The Phils are interesting.  They could be very good, if things come together, but more likely they'll win about 84 or 85 games again and miss the playoffs.  I like the Lieber signing, at least for this season and next and letting Milton go was a sign that Ed Wade isn't a total moron.  They should score runs, as the 2-6 of their lineup are good.  Their bullpen is good too, though better with the guy they shipped to the Yankees for the desiccated remains of Kenny Lofton.  If two out of three of Padilla, Myers and Wolf remain healthy and improve this year then the Phils will make a good run, but it's tough to pin yr hopes on guys who haven't ever either been healthy for a full season or thrown well for a full season.  I think to make the playoffs the Phils will have to add some players at mid-season to cover up for some deficiencies, and as Wade has never really done that successfully before, it's tough to say he will this year.  The Nats could win 70, which for Washington, would be 70 more wins than we've had last year.  Or for that matter, since 1971.  Go Nats!  The Termel Sledge Fan Club starts now!

NL Central
If the Cubs rotation can stay healthy I like them to win this division. Prior should be fine, as should Zambrano, which should be enough to take the division right there.  They also have Wood and Maddux as well, which makes quite the foursome, so if they can score just a few runs (which for them will be harder than it really should be) they should take the division. Also, I think Nomar has his last great offensive season this year.  Last year St. Louis caught lightning in a bottle.  Their offense is for real, but their rotation has nothing but Mulder, and they gave up a couple good young players to get him too.  The Astros lost too much last year, with Beltran and Miller leaving.  They still have Clemens and they should have Pettitte back too, so they'll win a few games if those two old guys don't get hurt. Also, Brad Lidge is the best reliever in baseball.  Seriously. Milwaukee could be the shot in the dark pick to make a run at this division.  If Prior is hurt then Ben Sheets is the best pitcher in this division.  Also, the Brewers have a few young guys coming up who can club the ball.  I haven't looked too much into their team yet, but I've liked what I've heard. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are going to be bad.

NL West
The Dodgers are going to be a good team.  Drew should be healthy and will replace Beltre's production.  I'll never understand the amount of money that Depodesta threw at Derek Lowe, but at least Lowe should give them a lot of innings.  He can't be any worse than he was last year.  The Giants are going to be one huge media circus this season.  Their everyone's early season pick to miss the most games to injury this year too.  I think the average age on that team is something like 35. Seriously.  San Diego has some good young players, so they should be competitive.  Arizona is run by a bunch of imcompetents, and so is Colorado.  Neither of those teams will sniff .500 after June.


Surprise picks: this year the Indians, A's (if you can call them a surprise) and White Sox in the AL and San Diego, the Brewers and Cubs in the NL.
AL Division Winners: Red Sox, White Sox, A's AL WC: Yankees
NL Division Winners: Braves (somehow), Cubs, Dodgers
NL WC:  Whoever finishes second in
the NL East... probably Florida

--Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Verducci's MIP Award?

I love spring training! It's the time of year when everything is new, baseball included, and I get impatient waiting for the warm weather to come and with it the new baseball season. Of course there are some downsides to Spring Training. For instance, there is very little actual baseball to write about. The players are busying themselves with practices, drills and more practices. So with no games going on, the media has to find things to write about, or in this particular case, make them up. So we get all sorts of predictions, fluff pieces about what the players have done in the offseason, and ranking articles. Ranking articles are perhaps the most pointless, though sometimes well done ones can spark an interesting conversation. Who are the top five players in the game? Who are the best pitchers in the National League? These are subjective questions to be sure, but thats their beauty. There are no wrong answers (ok, a few), and as long as you can defend your choices it makes for interesting discussion.

Recently, Tom Verducci of CNNSI.com came up with a list of the five most indispensable players in baseball.  Heres the link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/tom_verducci/03/01/five.players/index.html. Not to spoil the suspense, but here's his list:

1. Bonds
2. Santana
3. Thome
4. Tejada
5. Berkman

I have a few quarrels with this list in both conception and follow-through, but hey, at least he got the first guy right, eh?  Bonds is at the top of just about any top five list in baseball, including the top five hitters, the top five Giants, the top five left fielders, the top five self-absorbed a$$holes, and the top five players most likely to endorse flax-seed oil.  Still, how do you not include Vlad Guererro, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez or Randy Johnson?  Verducci's rational is explained in this paragraph:

I know Randy Johnson means so much to the Yankees, especially in October, and Curt Schilling is the cornerstone of the Red Sox and Albert Pujols is the rock of the Cardinals, but those teams have the resources and star power to survive without them. With that in mind, based on their relative importance to their team's chances of contending, I'll give you my list of the five most indispensable players in baseball...

So, Verducci is essentially picking his top five MVPs not including anyone who plays on the Yankees, Cardinals or Red Sox.  Interesting idea.  I'm not sure what the purpose of such a list would be, but since the bastion of purposeful information that is CNNSI.com found fit to publish it I'll just assume that it's over my head and go along with it. 

Lets talk a minute about this "relative importance to their team's chances of contending" statement.  To me, this means a couple things, namely, to qualify for this list 1) A player's team must have a chance to contend, and 2) this player must be the most important player on that team.  This would seem to eliminate players like Thome and Tejada right off. These players aren't the best players on their own team (Thome), or are on teams that have no chance of contending (Tejada). But maybe I'm being nit-picky here...

How about follow-through?  How about the list itself?  As I said, Bonds deserves the top slot.  You can't argue with that.  Jason Schmidt asside, the Giants would be the Diamondbacks without Bonds (just as the Diamondbacks would be the Giants with Bonds).  That leaves slots two through five open.  Lets take a look at those individually: 

#2 Santana:  Santana's year last season was pretty indispensable.  He deserved the AL Cy Young award and, in what was probably some sort of clerical screw up, actually won it.  His pitching was a major part of the Twins winning their third straight AL Central title.  Without Santana they might not have been able to go on to lose to the Yankees in the Divisional round of the AL playoffs.  Perish the thought!  Since Verducci mentions in his rational that he's only concerned with a player's "importance to their team's chances of contending" you have to wonder about this pick (and, indeed, just about every player that follows, but I'll get to that).  The fact that the Twins won the Central last year in Santana's Cy Young year was obviously taken into account, but what about the 2003 season when he won only 12 games?  (Ok, to be fair he was 12-3.)  Or maybe in 2002 when he went 8-6?  The Twins won the Central the last three years with Santana as a major contributor ('04), an important cog ('03), and a member of the pitching staff ('02).  But maybe I'm not being fair here.  Verducci was talking about a player's team's "chances of contending."  Maybe he's only concerned with this upcoming season.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here.  Verducci's rational seems to be 'the Twins are a small market team with the best pitcher in the AL last season, so obviously that pitcher deserves to be on this list.'  Ok.  I'll go along with that.  If Santana goes down this year the Twins are probably in some trouble.  But the lousiness of the AL Central division leads me to believe that they might win it anyway, with Brad Radke as their ace. 

#3 Thome: This might be the one I have the most trouble with. First of all, Thome isn't even the best hitter on his team. That would be Bobby Abreu. Check out last seasons stats:

Thome: .274/.396/.581
Abreu: .301/.428/.544

Thome has an edge in slugging percentage (42 homers to Abreu's 30), but that's mitigated by Abreu's higher batting average and higher OBP (which is essentially a function of his higher batting average, but I digress). Then add in that Abreu plays a good right field and has a great arm (13 assists last year), Neither guy has missed many games, Abreu has missed a total of thirteen games in the last four seasons, while Thome has missed 22 in his two years with the Phillies. You might not agree that Abreu is better, but even if you don't you have to conceed that it certainly is close, and that alone should knock Thome off Verducci's list.

Secondly, Thome has had two monster seasons in Philly, but in both years the Phillies haven't won anything. With the lineup essentially unchanged from the past two seasons, how can you claim that Thome's bat is the most vital piece of the Phillies chance to contend when they haven't 'contended' the last two seasons with his bat. Last season the Phillies finished ten games behind the Braves, which was an improvement over the previous year when they finished fifteen games behind the Braves. To quote the great Branch Rickey, former GM of the Dodgers, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you." If the Phillies couldn't win their division or the Wild Card with Thome, it makes it difficult to argue that he's one of the five most indespensable players in all of baseball.
#4 Tejada: Tejada has been a vital part of a lousy team. The Orioles finished last year 20 games behind Boston for the Wild Card and 23 games behind New York for the division lead. How this is contending I don't know. Considering that the O's haven't added any starting pitching in the offseason to sure up their major glaring weakness, I don't think you could call Tejada's team contenders. Unless Verducci is figuring that the Red Sox or Yankees aren't going to win about 100 games each I don't see how the O's are going to play any important role in the upcoming season other than spoiler.

#5 Berkman: This is an curious pick by Verducci. Why not Mark Prior, Pedro Martinez or Josh Beckett? Sure, Berkman is an excellent player, but we already know he's going to miss at least the first two months of the season after injuring himself playing flag football in the offseason. Are four months of Lance Berkman worth more to the Astros than six months of Mark Prior or Josh Beckett are to their teams? I'm not so sure. Or how about this: are four months of Lance Berkman worth more to the Astros than six months of Roger Clemens? I'd bet the Astros would rather have Clemens. In the article Verducci says that he put Berkman here because of the Astros loss of Kent and Beltran. That makes sense in that with the defection of those two guys Berkman becomes the de facto most important offensive player on the Houston roster. Maybe it's just me, but I think the Astros are headed to a clear third place finish this season with Berkman or without him, so in that vein I wouldn't have Berkman anywhere near the top five most indispensable players. Roger Clemens or Roy Oswalt would make a better argument, but not Berkman.

I won't bother coming up with my five MIP but here are some names that I think Verducci missed on: Jake Peavey, Tim Hudson, JD Drew, Pedro Martinez, Bobby Abreu, Barry Zito, Josh Beckett, Mark Teixera, Mark Buehrle. All these guys are going to play major roles in deciding where their respective teams will finish this upcoming season. To me, I'd put all of these guys above the last three that Verducci mentions.

Thanks for reading.