Sunday, January 11, 2009

I'm baaaaaaackk!

Greetings, faithful readers. Baseless Speculation is back and, hopefully, better than ever.

I'd like to apologize for leaving all three of you high and dry in the middle of the season last year. Unfortunately, the travails of the newspaper industry hit your friendly neighborhood paper-boy pretty hard. In a cost-cutting move, the paper in my town decided to have the morning edition delivered by a robot.





In short, I lost my job.

Although you might guess that my expenses are limited, what with living in my Mom's basement, I do require a nominal amount of income for room, board and other necessities. To make ends meet, I was forced to take on odd jobs, such as mowing the lawn at Old Man Jenkins' place. As it turns out, I have a pretty severe grass allergy which, combined with my (recently discovered) allergy to antihistamines caused me to suffer something like anaphylactic shock. I crashed on the bathroom floor, twitching like a rainbow trout fighting the hook. It damn near killed me. I spent most of the summer and fall in a light coma.

But, happy ending, faithful readers! I'm alive! Also, it turns out the robot didn't like being a paper-boy - the hours suck, you have to admit - so I've been hired back.

At any rate, Baseless Speculation is tanned, rested and ready for 2009. My hope for this season is to do a little bit more of the type of stuff I set out to do last year but didn't, namely make shit up. Shit about trades, free agent destinations, roster moves, etc. If the Interweb is good for anything, it's for spreading rumors like wildfire. I don't mean any disrespect to Tim Dierkes, who I consider a good friend, because I love a good juicy rumor and he provides a wonderful service by compiling them all in one place. But, and this is not Tim's fault, they're almost entirely full of crap. They're in fact largely meant to be crap. We need to ask why a rumor might exist, whose interests it might serve, if it was leaked by the team or the player's agent to increase leverage or what. Rumors are treated like news by reporters and fans alike and then fans become disappointed and angry to find there was never anything to it.

In that light, I think there's a certain integrity to just making shit up. Fake trades. Bogus rosterbation. When you're transparent about the baselessness of your speculation, the sky's the limit!

Let's be clear: I have no insider sources. I did not have breakfast with Scott Boras yesterday; I refuse to return Theo Epstein's calls, and let's just say Peter Gammons is still pissed about what I wrote.

I'm just one paper-boy, living in my Mom's basement, ninety percent recovered from a light coma, trying out ideas that make sense to me. As I've said before, I hope it's interesting for you, but I don't know why it would be.

I'll also post the occasional bit that tickles my funny bone.

What is it, like 35 days until pitchers and catchers report? Woo hoo!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Who I'm Watching: Rich Hill

Sorry for the light blogging, been out of town at a paperboy convention.


Lefty curveballer Rich Hill of the Chicago Cubs has struggled to start 2008, and was recently sent to AAA. The Cubs are hoping that history repeats itself, as Hill was demoted during the 2006 season and proceeded to tear up the minors for 2 months before excelling down the stretch for the Cubs.

Hill started 4 games for the Cubs in May of 2006, going 0-4 with a 9.31 ERA over 19 1/3 innings. At triple-A Iowa, Hill started 15 games and posted 135 strikeouts in 100 innings, with an ERA of 1.80. Recalled to Chicago in late July, Hill started 12 games, going 6-3 with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 80 innings. That works.

Will the second time back to Iowa produce the same results? I'll be watching to find out.

On a side note, here's a curious story by Chicago Daily Herald writer Bruce Miles. The headline reads: "Emotional Hill Demoted to Iowa".

A short while after comparing video images of his pitching delivery from this year to last, Hill was summoned to a closed-door meeting with Rothschild and manager Lou Piniella.

It was there he got the news he was being optioned to Class AAA Iowa, with righty Sean Gallagher getting called up from Iowa.

It was a bitter pill for Hill to swallow, and he had a tough time containing his emotions.
Okay, so my curiosity is up in a schadenfreude sort of way. I'm wondering what kind of a train wreck comes next. Was Hill angry? Did he yell? Did he trash the locker room? Did he slice Lou Piniella with a broken beer bottle?

Dear God, did he cry?
"You take that attitude down there," Hill said. "It's something that's not easy to do, obviously. You go down there, and you work on things that need to be worked on. Take it as, not as a demotion, but you go down there to get better, not to stay down there."

Huh?

That's the only quote from Hill that we get. If Hill indeed "had a tough time containing his emotions," Miles offers no evidence to back it up.

"You go down there to get better, not to stay there."

That's a perfectly rational reaction. It's almost surprisingly rational given the circumstances. But I guess "Surprisingly Rational Hill Accepts Demotion With Grace" is not exactly a grabber.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Overheard: Imagining The Unimaginable

Tonight on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball game featuring the Los Angeles Angels at the Detroit Tigers, Peter Gammons made the following report:
The Paper Tigers were supposed to roar through the 2008 season with the second highest payroll and a lineup that many projected to score 1000 runs only to lose their first 7 games and 10 of their first 12.

Little could they have imagined that they would have to do without Curtis Granderson until this past Wednesday after breaking his hand in spring training or that Gary Sheffield would need cortisone shots for both of his aching shoulders or that Placido Polanco would miss 8 games with a cranky back or that Jim Leyland would feel it necessary to flip-flop Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner infield positions or that Justin Verlander would come into tonight's start with a 5.93 earned run average.

Dontrelle Willis would not only walk 9 in 5 innings but be disabled with a twisted knee in his second start. They would come into this game with the worst starting pitching ERA in the American League and only 4 quality starts through 25 games.

But this week this team that scored 2 runs or less in 6 of its first dozen games exploded for 37 runs against the mediocre pitching of the Texas Rangers. Leyland had reassembled the defense and now tonight hopes Verlander will regain his delivery and velocity and continue the process of fulfilling Detroit's lofty expectations.

Now, before I tear this "report" to shreds, a couple caveats: 1) the guys at Fire Joe Morgan do this kind of thing much better than I ever will and 2) I am very fond of Peter Gammons.

So, with that, let's parse.

Now, I understand what Gammons is trying to do here. By talking about all the misery that befell the Tigers, he's reminding the casual viewer of the folly of predictions as well as the quirks and the human element of baseball - 'That's why they play the games.' That sort of thing. Gammons has a very romantic view of baseball and that's always been part of his appeal for me.

Having said that, I read an awful lot of baseball writing and many if not most of these disaster scenarios were not only predictable, they were in fact predicted.

Where do we start?

The Paper Tigers...

I love how he disses and dismisses them as "paper tigers" who presumably don't deserve the acclaim they've been given and then proceeds to give us like 57 reasons they haven't achieved everything that was prematurely projected.

A lineup that many projected to score 1000 runs...

I'm too lazy to link to all the sites and writers that de-bunked the 1000 runs theory; let's just say that those who projected it share their analytical framework with John Kruk, who sagely predicted that Randy Johnson would win 30 games for the Yankees in 2005.

They would have to do without Curtis Granderson until this past Wednesday after breaking his hand...

It's fair to say they couldn't have imagined an injury with this amount of specificity, but a good number of analysts pointed out Granderson as a strong bet to regress in 2008.

...or that Gary Sheffield would need cortisone shots for both of his aching shoulders...

Gary Sheffield is 39 years old and missed roughly 150 games over the previous two seasons combined. The real shocker would be if he didn't miss significant playing time in 2008.

...or that Placido Polanco would miss 8 games with a cranky back...

Polanco missed 20 games last year and 52 the year before. They'd be lucky if he only misses 8 games this year. Where are you going with this, Peter? Peter? I think he wandered out into the driveway again. I hope he's wearing shoes this time. Be right back.

...or that Jim Leyland would feel it necessary to flip-flop Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner infield positions...

Miggy is a wonderful hitter, among the best in the game, but he is a fat tub of goo large bodied individual who is a butcher with the glove challenged by the defensive requirements at the hot corner. I've been reading for two years that he would have to be switched to 1B or DH eventually.

As for Guillen, it was already unusual that he moved to 1B from SS (when Edgar Renteria arrived from Atlanta in the offseason to play SS); 3B is a more natural transition for an aging shortstop and a better fit for his offensive and defensive profile.

...or that Justin Verlander would come into tonight's start with a 5.93 earned run average.

Verlander's velocity has been down and it's no surprise that his results have suffered. Chances are, it's just a slump and by September none of us will remember his slow start. Hell, his ERA is less than half of what C.C. Sabathia's was through three starts.

Having said that, I've always felt Verlander was at least a teensy bit overrated in the popular imagination. As his struggles so far suggest, if he doesn't have that superior velocity, he's a very average pitcher. Still, I'd be willing to bet this is mostly just small sample size nonsense.

UPDATE: Verlander surrendered 6 ER on 7 H and 4 BB in 5 and 2/3 innings to up his season ERA to 6.50. Uh oh.

Dontrelle Willis would not only walk 9 in 5 innings but be disabled with a twisted knee in his second start.

Putting aside the wildness, which I think was eminently predictible (his walk rate has been rising steadily over the past few seasons), it feels like Gammons is resting his 'could little have imagined' case on the weird specificity of these injuries. Could the Tigers have imagined at the end of March that Willis would go down with a twisted knee in his second start? That Sheffield would require cortisone shots in both shoulders? That Cabrera would eat and digest a frightened and confused Brandon Inge in front of his teammates in the Detroit clubhouse? Probably not. You win again, Gammons. You win again.

They would come into this game with the worst starting pitching ERA in the American League and only 4 quality starts through 25 games.

You're right, Peter. We all thought they would have 5 quality starts and the second worst ERA in the American League. That's the folly of prediction. Lesson learned.

But this week this team that scored 2 runs or less in six of its first dozen games exploded against the mediocre pitching of the Texas Rangers.

They were cold? Now they're hot? They got hot against bad pitching? This is Hall of Fame stuff, Peter. What's that? You're already in the Hall of Fame? Dammit!

I give up. Gammons wins again.


OMG, he's rocking with Theo! He's so cool!111!!!111!

Steak at Stake

Update: unchanged.

Sabathia makes a fine start today but takes the loss. C.C. went 8 strong innings, allowing just 1 ER on 4 H and 1 BB, but lost a 1-0 pitcher's duel to the Yankees and Chien-Ming Wang.

Thanks for nuthin, Indians.



Ground rules here.

Who I'm Watching: Barry Zito


I'm only watching Barry Zito in the sense that you can't always avert your eyes from a train wreck while it's happening.

Here on Sunday afternoon against the Reds, Zito just gave up 6 earned runs in the first inning on 5 hits and a walk. That ups his season ERA to 7.42 and while you could argue 26 2/3 IP is a small sample, reports of diminished velocity give credence to the theory that Zito is toast.

Here are some quick data points:

A. Barry Zito 2007 ERA: 4.53
B. Average 2007 National League ERA: 4.44
C. Years and dollars remaining on Barry Zito's contract: 6 years, $116 million*

Zito made $10 million last year as a league average pitcher - in the first year of a 7 year, $126 million contract (plus option). He looks to be much worse this year but gets a raise anyway, to $14.5 million. And then at the end of this season they'll still owe him over $100 million.

Ugh. What a disaster. Avert your eyes before you become transfixed.


*Zito's deal includes a $7 million buyout on $18 million team option for 2014. The option vests automatically if any one of three things happens: 1) Zito pitches 200 innings in '13, 2) he pitches a combined 400 innings in '12-'13, or 3) he pitches a combined 600 innings in '11-'12'-'13. They're on the hook for at least $116 million and very possibly $127 million.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Steak at Stake

Nicely done, big fella.


C.C. Sabathia's line on Tuesday, April 22: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2BB, 11 K, W.

Running tally:

Sabathia 101
Willis 68

Mmmm, steak.

Once again, ground rules for newbies are here.