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."


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.

What I'm Reading: A Little Profundity In Between the Profanity

One of the baseball blogs I read daily is Drunk Jays Fans, which is a reliably solid source of entertainment and Blue Jays info.

The excerpt here is a nice example of how they manage to be smart and profane at the same time, which is no mean feat if you think about it.

I think we've successfully driven away most of the Chicken Little types from this site by calling them retards in our comments sections, but I've got to admit, I do completely see where their frustration is coming from. I mean, it’s not like I want this site to host a community of pathetic eternal optimists, because they way the Jays are playing right now is bullshit, and it's fine to say that. Thursday's hitting performance was, again, abysmal. And yeah, there are now big time concerns about whether or not they can resuscitate the season. That's all very true.

But what kills me is when people start saying, with five fucking months to go, they're doomed! Season's over! I'm through!

I'm probably the exception here, but to me the thing about sports that don't have salary caps, like baseball or soccer, is that you're forced to appreciate the sport for what it is, and don't just live or die based on whether your team is winning or losing. If the season here goes down the shitter-- which I'm not saying it's about to-- it doesn't make it any less great to go out to the ballpark on a beautiful summer day, sneak down to some seats in the 100s and then sit in the sunshine getting stinko. Or to fire up the barbecue with the radio on in the backyard and listening to the ballgame in the simmering twilight. You know, bullshit like that. People in Cleveland got used to it for like forty years, and while I am fully aware that we deserve better than them, I really think that, if it comes to it, we should at least be able to watch this season slip quietly underwater without losing our fucking minds.

You'd think that with 26 of 30 teams staying home from the playoffs each year that fans would learn to handle losing with dignity. But that never, or at least rarely, seems to be the case.

So in the spirit of beginning small, I'm asking, here and now, in this tiny, cold and dark corner of the Interweb, that the three people who read this all resolve to "watch this season slip quietly underwater without losing our fucking minds."

Is that really so much to ask?

No offense, Cleveland.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Entrance Music: Eric Byrnes Likes Older Ladies and One Night Stands

Every time Eric Byrnes comes to bat at Chase Field in Phoenix, his home field, the public address system plays the same song: Your Love by The Outfield.

If you've somehow forgotten the lyrics to this classic, let's examine the opening stanza:
Josie's on a vacation far away,
Come around and talk it over
So many things that I wanna say
You know I like my girls a little bit older
I just wanna use your love tonight
I don't wanna lose your love tonight

Now, putting aside just how awesome this song is, and it is awesome, don't get me wrong, the opening hook (lyrics above) of Your Love is what Eric Byrnes chooses to hear every single time he comes to bat. I find that wonderful and horrifying.

Let's be clear: at home games, players choose their entrance music. What they pick says a lot about them and sounds like a great recurring feature for this blog.

For Byrnes, this is the one song out of all songs that most speaks to him, most excites him, most puts him in the right frame of mind to punish the baseball. Out of all other music across all time and place, this is what Eric Byrnes chose to prepare himself for battle and, let's not forget, to represent himself to the fans in the stands.

You know I like my girls a little bit older
I just wanna use your love tonight
I don't wanna lose your love tonight

How awesome is that. Eric Byrnes is my new favorite player.

"You know I like my girls a little bit older."

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Diamondbacks game starts in about twenty minutes I have to haul over to YouTube to see if I can’t get some video goodness.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Overheard on Extra Innings: Tom Seaver Had A Rubber Arm

Did you know Tom Seaver won both games of a doubleheader once? True story.

On tonight's Sports Time Ohio broadcast of the Indians-Twins game, the announcers were reminiscing about 20+ inning games of the past, apropos of, well, you know.

STO color man and former MLB outfielder Rick Manning described a 25* inning game he played in for the Brewers against the White Sox in 1984**, which at 8:06 is the longest game ever played in the MLB by time (and tied for the 2nd longest by innings).

The game began on May 8, 1984, and was suspended at 6-6 after 17 innings. Play resumed on May 9, and the teams played another scoreless 7 innings before Tom Seaver entered the game in the top of the 25th. He retired Bill Schroeder, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper in order. In the bottom of the 25th, Harold Baines came up for the White Sox with 1 out and hit a solo home run to win the game, 7-6.

Since the teams were already scheduled to play each other on the 9th, they went ahead and played just like it was the second game of a doubleheader. According to Manning, Seaver stayed loose between games by throwing in front of the dugout. He started the second game and threw an impressive 8 1/3 innings for the 5-4 win.

By 1984, Tom Seaver was on the downside of his career, but he still threw 230+ IP and went 15-11 with a 3.95 ERA that year. His real rubber arm days, however, had come years earlier. From 1967 to 1978, he threw fewer than 250 innings just once - 236 IP in 1974. He topped 270 IP in 7 of those seasons, topping out twice at 290 innings. Ye gods.

Just for that, let's get one more picture of Tom Terrific.

Incidentally, I can't even remember Seaver playing for the White Sox. As far as I'm concerned, he was a Met first and a Red second. Let's just pretend the South Side period never happened. Deal?

*I probably shouldn't throw Manning under the bus like this, but he thought it was a 26 inning game.

**He also thought the game happened in 1983.

Finally, this has nothing to do with either Tom Seaver or Rick Manning, but I thought you would want to know that Carlton Fisk caught all 25 innings of that first game, and went 3 for 11 at the plate.

All together: Carlton Fisk had rubber knees.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This Just In: Jose Reyes Now Allowed To Have Fun

I must admit I somehow missed the original prohibition on Reyes-fun, but reading this made me realize just how grave the situation was:

Carlos Beltrán had seen enough. So in a quiet moment Tuesday afternoon, he pulled a chair beside Jose Reyes's locker and offered some unsolicited advice. Recalling their conversation Wednesday night after the Mets' 5-2 victory against the Washington Nationals, Beltrán said he told him: “I want you to be the Reyes you’ve always been. Forget what people say, what they write about you, what people think. Just be you.”

By the way, read that paragraph again. Dude, I know you write for the New York Times, but you can't write every story like it's Middle East diplomacy. In a quiet moment, my ass.

If there were any doubt that Reyes listened, it was erased in the fifth inning when he sprinted from the opposite end of the dugout to be the first one to greet Beltrán, whose three-run homer put the Mets ahead to stay. Reyes met Beltrán at the top step with a semi-elaborate handshake. The self-imposed restraint was gone, replaced by the unbridled joy that the Mets have rarely seen through the early weeks of the season.

Reyes said in spring training that he would tone down his celebratory antics and choreographed handshakes, but since returning from a strained left hamstring he has played his last two games as if he is unencumbered by perceptions of what is right or wrong. A night after notching four hits, Reyes added two more, including a game-tying homer in the fifth, and he could not have been happier about it.

“That’s what brought me here to the big leagues — jumping, smiling, laughing in the dugout,” Reyes said. “That’s me.”

The real benefit of allowing Reyes to have fun is that it will distract attention from their starting lineup, which tonight included Angel Pagan in CF, Brady Clark in LF, and Raul Casanova at C.

So, can someone remind me why Reyes was previously not having fun?

Reyes irked some teams last season with his exuberant celebrations, his congratulating teammates with his helmet off and a complex series of hand-slaps and hugs. He vowed to curb those celebrations. His reasoning? He did not want to divert attention from what he hoped would be a bounce-back season.

The way the Mets ended the season, with a historic collapse in September, aided and abetted by Reyes abysmal .205/.279/.333 line, I can understand coming into 2008 all business.

But why is the focus on the fact that he "irked" other teams with his "exuberance"? Are there really other professional baseball players sitting in the opposite dugout stewing over the exuberance of Jose Reyes?


In a quiet moment between innings, Marlins' players gather on the bench to converse and share notes over just how much they hate Jose Reyes.

Dan Uggla: "Man, I hate me some Jose Reyes. Big time."
Hanley Ramirez: "I hate him so much. He is very irksome."
Josh Willingham: "It's his exuberance I find so offensive."
Jeremy Hermida: "I think I tweaked my hammy just sitting here."

"Did you see what Reyes is doing over there? What a dick."

It's worth noting that in the 3 games since Beltran granted Reyes permission to enjoy himself, he's gone 8 for 14 with 5 singles, 1 double, 1 triple and 1 homer.

Go forth, young man, and irk.

Overheard: Miguel Tejada is 100 years old

The interwebs are abuzz today with word of Miguel Tejada's age-based revelation.

My first reaction: I bet the Orioles are happy; Tejada was only 31 when they traded him. Once he went to Houston, he began aging in dog years or something.

"I'm old enough to be your poppy, Papi."

You know, I've always liked Miguel Tejada. He plays hard, he has fun and he's pretty darn good. Good note for up-and-coming ballplayers: Do those three things and I'll be a fan. I'm pretty easy that way.

"You traded me where?"

I suppose I'm a softie, but I can certainly understand why Tejada would have lied at the time he signed his first deal as a teenager in the Dominican Republic.

"I was a poor kid," Tejada said. "I wanted to sign a professional contract, and that was the only way to do it. I didn't want or mean to do anything wrong. At the time, I was two years older than they thought."

That reminds me: why are Dominican players such free swingers? Because you can't walk off the island.


Lying about your age is wrong, no question. But let's call it a youthful error in judgment. There are certainly worse things you could do.


UPDATE: Tejada went 3-for-4 tonight with a home run, upping his season average to .328. Maybe he was relieved to have the monkey off his back?

Steak at Stake, Chapter 3

For the newbies, here are the Steak at Stake ground rules.

Update: Much like his opponent in this wager, C.C. Sabathia sucks.

You heard me, big man. You are costing me steak.

Last night, Sabathia gave up 9 earned runs on 8 hits and 5 walks in just 4 innings to raise his season ERA to 13.50. His season line is 0-3, with 32 hits, 14 walks, 27 earned runs, 5 home runs and 14 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched.

Players in contract years are supposed to be motivated, and Sabathia could be costing himself a shot at Johan Santana money. However, those with steak on the line look at Sabathia's early troubles and recall the more than 250 innings he threw last year, playoffs included.

About that, I have only one thing to say: Eric Wedge, I know where you live.

Cleveland, right? You live in Cleveland? Yeah, I thought so. It makes sense. I mean, you're the manager, you would pretty much have to live in Cleveland. At least during the season.

Thanks for your time, Mr. Wedge, I'm glad we could settle that.

It's easy to get bent out of shape by a series of ugly starts, but we are after all talking about a mere 18 innings, which isn't really enough data to judge. In today's Baseball Prospectus ($), Joe Sheehan argues that this four-game stretch really isn't out of line with the worst four games Sabathia has thrown in any of the past four seasons.

It's a valid point, but he probably doesn't have steak at stake.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sky High Sky Sox...

...come crashing down to Earth.

Or do they?

The Colorado Springs Sky Sox are the AAA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. As such, Sky Sox players are both very near and very far from fulfilling their major league dreams.


Colorado Springs:

As a paper boy, it's in my nature to be fascinated by the thin line between triumph and setback. One morning you're rolling down the road like it's paved with rubies; you've got the papers nestled between the doors or in the old milk chute before sunup, before Old Man Jenkins can even think about sicking his man-eating standard poodle on you. The next morning, it's a sixty page insert and a black sky that reads 'paper boy struck by lightning.'

So you'll forgive me if stories like this strike a chord:

Before the game, National League championship rings were presented to 10 Sky Sox players for their contributions to the 2007 pennant won by the Colorado Rockies. Six others connected with the Sky Sox or Rockies also received rings.

The ceremony - and the game's first pitch - was delayed 32 minutes due to the late arrival of Rockies owners Charlie and Dick Monfort. Making the trip with the Monforts were assistant general manager Bill Geivett, director of player development Marc Gustafson and Walter Sylvester, an assistant in player development.

I mean, there you are, a fairly successful minor league ballplayer knocking on the door of the Major Leagues. Even so, you're one step ahead of most of your teammates; you're one of the lucky few, you've tasted The Show. Sure, it was ten days in May, but you've seen guys you know, guys you shagged spring fungoes with back at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, get to the World Series. Now you've got a taste for it. You want more.

So it's a new season and you're back in the minors, working your butt off, biding your time, but wanting more than anything to get back to Coors Fields, wanting it more than sex. One night at the old ballpark, you're reminded of just how far away it all is. The owners and the suits in the front office drive down the interstate and you get your NL championship ring, a standing ovation, and the envy of anyone you've ever met. And then you look up and you're playing the Tacoma Rainiers in front of 1,826 fans at a charming little grotto called "Security Service Field".

How do you get up for that? Isn't that the letdown of all letdowns?

"It was a great honor to get (the ring)," said Sky Sox center fielder Cory Sullivan, who had two hits and two RBIs. "It was exciting. All of us feel like we earned it."

All five Sky Sox starters who received a ring - Sullivan, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, Sean Barker and Joe Koshansky - either scored a run or had an RBI.

Smith, who drew three walks to contribute to the team's league-leading total, said, "We would much rather have been at Coors Field (in Denver) with the rest of the guys to get the ring but it was nice. It was like a late Christmas. The big-league team got their's about two weeks ago.

I'm impressed that all five starters who got bling had a run or an RBI. I guess you don't get that far by worrying a lot about how close you came or what might have been. You don't focus on the fact that you're down in the bus leagues now, you remember that you made it to The Show and you focus everything on getting back.

I guess that's why they're playing in the Pacific Coast League, with one eye on the National League West, and I'm stuck here in my Mom's basement stuffing newspaper inserts.

Man, I don't like the look of that sky.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Still Watching

Boy, Jeff Keppinger is making me look pretty good. He's also making the Kansas City Royals look pretty foolish.

Let's have some fun with small sample sizes, shall we?

Data set 1: Jeff Keppinger, starting SS, Cincinnnati Reds
2008 stats: 47 at bats, .340/.396/.532, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, 7 R

Data set 2: Tony Pena, starting SS, Kansas City Royals
2008 stats: 27 at bats, .037/.071/.037, 1 hit, 2 RBI (he's clutch!), 1 SB, 0 R

Transaction involving these two ballclubs: Royals trade Keppinger to Reds on January 10, 2007 for Russ Haltiwanger

I was going to post Russ Haltiwanger's minor league numbers this year, but frankly I'm kind of tired of piling on Russ Haltiwanger. Though I do enjoy saying his name. Haltiwanger.

What was I talking about again?

Oh, yeah. Tony Pena. He's not good.

Number one in your program, number forty-seven in your heart. Tony Pena.

What Do Al Kaline and Justin Upton Have In Common?

We’re back again, with a totally contrived creative and enlightening statistical comparison between Justin Upton and the greats of baseball past.

This has quickly become a regular feature, partly because Justin Upton is just that kind of prodigious talent and partly because my friends at Fox Sports Arizona can’t seem to stop coming up with this stuff. I call Daron Sutton and Mark Grace my friends because they come right into my Mom’s basement to tell me about every Arizona Diamondbacks game with insightful commentary and infectious enthusiasm.

At any rate, the complete list of all players to hit 5 HR in their team’s first 11 games of a season before the age of 21:

Al Kaline, 1955

Miguel Cabrera, 2004

Justin Upton, 2008

Good on ya, J-Up! Throw some lumber around, young man.

Bonus coverage: Let's not forget the awesomeness of Miguel Cabrera, who was recently traded to Kaline's Tigers:

"Okay, we've been traded to Detroit. Now, D-Train, I'm your friend, I'm only going to say this once. I've got a lot of friends in Detroit - Ordonez, Guillen. When we get there, it's really important that do I put this? That you stop the sucking."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Swear I'm Not Making This Up

Sorry for the light blogging recently, I've been doing a double paper route with my friend Billy in the hospital for mono. If I find out he's been kissing Jenny Ipswich, I'm going to egg his mom's Buick.

Here's a fun piece of trivia for you - and, just to be fair, I'm going to utilize my multi-farious blogging skills and hard return like 67 times so you can't see the answer from the question. Here we go:

Q. The NCAA Division I college baseball record for scoreless innings by a pitcher is 47 and two-thirds innings in 1994. Who holds the record?

Hint: You know, I've already gone to the trouble of typing the word "hint" but I just don't feel like giving you one. I will say this: if you care enough about baseball to be one of the three or four people reading this, you've heard of this guy. He's a big name and he's still playing in the MLB. Okay, that's sort of a hint.

Give up?

A: Todd Helton.

Todd Helton? Seriously.

I think it's pretty well known that that Helton was a college QB at Tennessee. Maybe a little less well known is that Helton was the starter before he got hurt and gave way to Peyton Manning.

But I had no idea he was a pitcher. No. Idea. Though I guess the idea of a college quarterback who played baseball being a good pitcher isn't exactly crazy. You know, now that I've had some time to think about it.

Number two in your program, number one in your hearts. Todd Helton.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Overheard on Extra Innings: Mike Marshall Had A Rubber Arm

This one's a couple days old, but worth the wait.

On Thursday's broadcast of the Padres-Astros' game, the Channel 4 San Diego broadcast team of Matt Vasgersian and Mark "Mud Cat" Grant were reminiscing about bullpen usage patterns in the past. They invoked the name Mike Marshall, and suggested that he used to pitch nearly every day out of the bullpen for the Dodgers. [Incidentally, there was another Mike Marshall who also played for the Dodgers, but was a hitter.]

Finding this to be an unlikely scenario, I checked my old friend Baseball Reference, which revealed the following: in 1974, Marshall made an incredible 106 appearances for the Dodgers, logging a totally insane 208 innings out of the bullpen. He went 15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA. Along the way, Marshall won the National League Cy Young award and finished 3rd in the NL MVP voting.

208 innings! Out of the bullpen!

Nice chops. Marshall should have gotten MVP for the facial hair alone.

208 innings in 1974 was his high water mark, but the year before was nearly as impressive: 92 appearances, 179 innings pitched. His record was 14-11 with 31 saves and a 2.66 ERA. He was 2nd in the 1973 Cy Young voting and 5th in the NL MVP.

I sit, stand and kneel corrected. Hats off to Mark "Mud Flaps" Grant - I will never doubt you again. I searched for a picture of Grant under "San Diego broadcaster" and came up with this. I assume it's him - it says Channel 4:

That guy on the right looks familiar. I think he used to be the distributor for my paper route. Or something like that.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Who I'm Watching: Jeff Keppinger

It happens sometimes in the MLB, a guy does everything he can to earn an everyday job but never gets the opportunity. Case in point, Jeff Keppinger.

He's not a star in the making, but he is a solid contact hitter who can play a decent shortstop or second base. Keppinger has hit for average at every level of professional ball and has a career minor league line of .321/.374/.420 over parts of 6 seasons and more than 2100 at bats.

Keppinger seems to be a classic example of a player who is knocked for what he isn't rather than celebrated for what he is. Though he doesn't have much power, and walks infrequently, he has tremendous bat control and rarely strikes out. He can put the bat on the ball in just about any situation, and that ability has translated well in limited opportunities in the majors. In fact, entering 2008, his major league career line is .313/.371/.448 over parts of 4 seasons and about 430 at bats.

At the same time, he's 28 and has been traded three times.

What gives?

Keppinger was a fourth round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 out of the University of Georgia. He wasn't a particularly sexy pick though he did homer twice off Mark Prior in one game of the 2001 College World Series.

Keppinger signed in August and made his pro debut in 2002 for Hickory in the Class A South Atlantic League. He put up a triple slash line of .276/.341/.404 and struck out just 33 times in 478 at bats. He made modest gains in 2002 for Lynchburg in the Advanced Class A Carolina League, but jumped his batting average up to .325.

He began the 2004 season in AA, playing for Altoona in the Eastern League. On July 30, he was traded with Kris Benson to the Mets for Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton, and Matt Peterson. He was assigned to the Mets' AA team in the Eastern League but was promoted to AAA after just 14 games. He was promoted again to the Major League team after just six games at AAA, and posted a respectable line of .284/.317/.379 over 118 at-bats. His combined minor league line for 2004 was a sterling .339/.397/.417.

After the trade and the August call-up, Keppinger was on the prospect map, weighing in as the #12 prospect in the Mets' system according to the 2005 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. Still, he was given little chance to unseat Kaz Matsui at 2B. BA reported that the Mets wanted to try Keppinger at SS and 3B in spring training to see if he could help the team in a utility role. Whatever they were hoping to see didn't materialize, and Keppinger didn't play a major league game in 2005.

He did put up yet another respectable minor league line, hitting .337/.377/.455 for AAA Norfolk, considered to be a tough hitting environment. Unfortunately his season was over in mid-June when he was taken out on a hard slide trying to turn a double play and broke his kneecap. It was a very costly injury for Keppinger as both Kaz Matsui and his backup Miguel Cairo went out with injuries. Keppinger would have been promoted if healthy but the Mets turned instead to Anderson Hernandez, who acquitted himself well and in the process passed Keppinger in the organizational depth charts.

He returned to AAA in 2006 but was traded to Kansas City on July 19 for Ruben Gotay. Perhaps pressing, and understandably so, he hit just .267 in 60 at-bats for the Royals (though he hit .354 in 32 games for the Royals' AAA team). Presumably convinced they had a quad-A lifer on their hands, the Royals unloaded Keppinger to the Reds on January 10, 2007 for A-ball pitcher Russ Haltiwanger.

I mean no disrespect to Russ or any member of the Haltiwanger family, but I follow prospects pretty closely and I have never heard of Russ Haltiwanger. I'd rather have Jeff Keppinger and I'm fairly sure the Royals would, too. Here's a nice reminder that 60 at-bats isn't enough to properly evaluate a player.

Moving to a new organization, Keppinger once again started the season in the minors in 2007, hitting .367/.418/.471 for an 889 OPS over 240 at bats at AAA Louisville. Granted, at 27 he was old for the level but he had long since earned the chance to show what he could do over a few hundred at bats at the MLB level.

He got that opportunity when Alex Gonzalez was injured, and made the most of it, hitting .332/.400/.477 in 241 at-bats, with 5 HR and just 12 strikeouts against 24 walks.

Just to repeat: that's a batting average of .332. In the major leagues. Had he garnered enough at-bats to qualify, he would have tied for third in the National League batting race with Chase Utley, Edgar Renteria and Hanley Ramirez.

The performance is in the books, but the question remains: was it enough to secure a full-time gig? The Baseball Prospect 2008 annual notes the precarious situation: "Given Dusty Baker's affinity for the Neifis of the world, there's reason to worry that the label 'offensive shortstop' will doom Keppinger in his new manager's eyes."

Keppinger started the 2008 season as the Reds' starting SS, but no one can say right now what will happen when Alex Gonzalez returns to health. It sure looks like Keppinger wants to make the decision as difficult as possible on the Reds, as he's jumped out to a scorching start, with 2 HR, 1 SB and a .435 average in his first 6 games. A sample size that small shouldn't mean much, but you never know with Dusty Baker.

Jeff Keppinger is already 28 this year so he may be as good as he's going to be. That shouldn't doom him to the bench, but it may. Only one thing is certain and that is that Jeff Keppinger will hit, if given the chance.

What Do Jimmy Sheckard and Justin Upton Have In Common?

Before going 0-4 today, Justin Upton had homered in 3 straight games, making him just the 4th 20-year-old ever to accomplish the feat.

The complete list:

Jimmy Sheckard, 1898, Brooklyn

Mel Ott, 1929, New York Giants

Willie Mays, 1951, New York Giants

Justin Upton, 2008, Arizona

Mel Ott did it twice. Upton will be 20 until late August.

Steak at Stake, Chapter 2

Steak update: no change.

Check out D-Train's line from yesterday's game: 5 IP, 1 H, 7 BB, 3 ER. No decision.

7 walks? Really?

He only went 5, but this might be in the running for the worst 1-hitter of all time.

Overheard on Extra Innings: Impossible to Rush a Prospect

On this afternoon's FSN Ohio broadcast of the Reds-Phillies game, George Grande mentioned an FSN interview with Mario Soto, a former Reds' hurler who now helps the team as an informal pitching coach.

In the interview, according to Grande, Soto said that Edinson Volquez was rushed to the major leagues three years ago in the Texas system, and that it was a disservice to him.

To which Chris Welsh replied:

"You know, George. I'm not so sure if I buy into that argument. You know, it seems like people want to make excuses later on as to why a player didn't fulfill his potential by saying we rushed him along. I hear that about Corey Patterson; I hear that about a lot of other players. You don't hear that about Ken Griffey, Jr., when he broke in at age 19."

Um, okay.

Couple things, though.

One, Ken Griffey, Jr. is a second-generation major leaguer, a precocious natural talent who was selected #1 overall in the 1987 MLB draft, one of the greatest players of all-time and a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer despite losing parts of each of the last eight seasons to injury. Edinson Volquez is...not any of those things. Nor is Corey Patterson.

Two....well, do I really need a two?

If you're using Ken Griffey, Jr., as your player development template, you're probably going to be disappointed by the progress of every player in your system for the next fifty years.

Now that's a disservice.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Overheard on Extra Innings: Johan Who?

During the Royals-Twins game last night, the Kansas City broadcast crew noted that the trade of Johan Santana to the Mets wasn't as big a windfall for Royals' batters as you might think.

Despite being division rivals, the Royals faced Santana only once in 2007. On the other hand, they faced Boof Bonser six times.

Six times Boof.

That's random.

Overheard on Extra Innings: Morgan Ensberg is a Tool

On last night's YES broadcast, in the later innings of a 13-4 drubbing of the Yanks at the hands of the Rays, Michael Kay and Kenny Singleton were chuckling over a story about Morgan Ensberg.

Ensberg, new to the New York area, was apparently frustrated by getting a traffic citation. He wrote the following on a white board in the Yankees' clubhouse:

Contract with Yankees: $1.75 million

Cost of my car: $75,000

Getting a ticket for talking on a cell phone: Priceless

I'm still scratching my head as to why they would tell this story. Theoretically, this is the "color commentary" side of the broadcast and they're trying to help us get to know the player. Kenny thought it was nice that Ensberg had "a sense of humor about it".

I do feel like I know Morgan Ensberg a bit better today than I did yesterday and here is what I know: he is a tool.

But that's not too surprising - what, a professional athlete with an exaggerated sense of privilege and entitlement? I'm shocked - shocked! What's more interesting is that perhaps Kay and Singleton think he's a tool too and wanted to throw him under the bus. All in the name of helping us to get to know the player.

Does that count as a public service announcement?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Steak at Stake

It's almost time for games know what that means, right? Of course - gambling!

A few years ago, a friend and I, tired of the annual media wheeze-fest over whether another pitcher could ever get to 300 wins, decided to put our money where our mouths were: we decided to gamble for foodstuffs. Specifically, steak. Each of us chose a young hurler we thought most likely to get to 300 wins.

We made our choices in late 2005, a fact which turns out to be relatively important.

I chose a young lefty, age 24, portly of composition but already in his fifth full season. He won 17 as a rookie in 2001 but hadn't topped 13 wins since. I specifically passed on both Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt; both had slight frames and violent deliveries. My choice was made partly on talent and partly on the fact that his listed height-weight of 6-7, 250 sang to me a song of durability. I chose C.C. Sabathia. I chose Grimace.

My friend, on the other hand, chose a 23-year-old lefty whose star was, at that moment, bursting through the baseball firmament. In 2005, he was en route to a 22 win season and a second place in the NL Cy Young voting. He chose a high-energy, high-charisma player with a high-effort delivery. He chose Dontrelle Willis.

At the end of 2005, this seemed like a fairly even contest. Willis was nearly two years younger and already had 46 wins through his first three pro seasons. Sabathia had 69 wins, but was not racking them up nearly as fast as Willis.

It was sort of like the tortoise and the hare, if only the tortoise had a three-season head start and was pushing 3 bills. Incidentally, Baseball Reference has Sabathia weighing in at 250 - I mean, come on! Shouldn't a site dedicated to baseball statistics demand a little more accuracy in its data?

The 2006 season was a wash. Both players had 12 wins. For their careers, Willis had 58 wins, Sabathia 81.

Still, there had to be cause for concern for D-Train fans in the underlying numbers. Willis went from a 2.63 ERA in 2005 to a 3.87 ERA and both his walks and home runs allowed spiked upwards. Sabathia on the other hand went from a 4.03 ERA in 2005 to a 3.22 in 2006. His K/9 increased while his walks and home runs allowed both decreased.

Fast forward to 2007, where Willis' trend continued to deteriorate; his ERA rose again to 5.17. Perhaps more importantly, at least for the sake of steak, was the Marlins' fire sale that eroded Willis' hopes for run support. Wins are, after all, a team game. No huge surprise that with a 5+ ERA and a last-place team, D-Train could manage only 10 wins.

Sabathia, on the other hand, had his long-awaited breakout season. His peripherals didn't vary tremendously from 2006, but he stayed on the mound for more than 240 innings. Backed by a playoff-bound team, Sabathia won 19 and earned the AL Cy Young award.

Career tally: Sabathia 100, Willis 68.

The 2008 season marks a new chapter in Steak at Stake, as Willis moved to the Detroit Tigers in the off-season in a move that can only help his win totals. The two hurlers now find themselves not only on the opposite side of a steak wager, but also on the two teams vying for supremacy in the American League Central.

We'll be updating the tally as the season moves forward, but, for now....

Steak on!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where Hype Comes From

I'm as much a fan of Jacoby Ellsbury as the next guy, although this post is liable to get me hate mail from at least one of the three people reading.

Jacoby is a fun player to watch, a good contact hitter, a stellar defender, often the fastest guy on the field. He made a terrific pro debut on the October stage, and he has a great personal story - the first player of Navajo descent to make the major leagues. If he does end up hitting for power like Theo says, then he'll be every bit of the star we all want him to be.

But but but - seriously now - can we just let the guy play and not try to make him into something he isn't?

Consider the mythmaking efforts of Wayne Thompson in The Oregonian, Ellsbury's home state paper (Ellsbury hails from Madras, OR):

With less than one-fifth of a year of major league experience -- he batted .353 in 33 games for the Red Sox last season -- Ellsbury starts this season with higher expectations than most veterans face.

Ellsbury's fans include 88-year-old Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, another native Oregonian.

Boston's elder statesman, who has seen more Boston spring training camps than any other living person, compares Ellsbury's potential to that of the great Ted Williams and is not shy about saying so.

"I've taken a lot of kidding for saying that, but look here," Pesky said. "Ellsbury's got the whole package. He hits to all fields -- something Ted refused to do during his whole career. And his speed makes him slump-proof."

Ever since Ellsbury raced from second base to home on a wild pitch last July in his third major league game, the so-called Red Sox Nation has been enamored of his speed on the basepaths.

"When he scored all the way from second on a wild pitch, it was the greatest single play I've ever seen in all my years in baseball," Pesky said.

The single greatest play ever seen by Johnny Pesky, who presumably has seen at least seven different baseball plays at some point in his lifetime. I don't even know what to say here. Paging Red Sox fans - can someone tell me if Mr. Pesky checked out early from the padded hotel room he's been staying in?

Compared to Pesky, Peter Gammons' comments are practically a cold shower:
"I think he will develop more power over time, perhaps in the 20-home run range," Gammons said. "He'll hit for average and be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder. If I had to predict, I'd say his future career will fall somewhere between a Grady Sizemore and a Steve Finley. He's a great athlete, extremely focused, with an uncommon work ethic."
Phooey on you, Gammons, you nay-sayer. Grady Sizemore, is that all you got?

Let's hear from someone who actually has some faith in the young man:

Lou Gorman, a former Red Sox general manager who also was general manager with Seattle, Kansas City and the New York Mets, said Ellsbury's batting style reminds him of the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki, noting: "He'll get his share of leg hits and he's already learned good plate discipline.

"I think he is about as fast as Willie Wilson was for us at Kansas City. Wilson was the fastest player out of the box I've ever seen. I'd expect Ellsbury to steal 60 to 70 bases a year if the Red Sox give him the green light on the bases."

So, let me tabulate my scouting report. Jacoby Ellsbury is Ted Williams crossed with Grady Sizemore and Ichiro, throw in a dash of Steve Finley and the speed of Willie Wilson. Do I have that right?

Let's see, doing some math, carry the one, by my count Ellsbury should hit .400 with 20+ HR and 60-70 stolen bases. That 's not too much to expect of a rookie. After all, he's young, he's got lots of energy.

Is there anybody willing to step away from the hype machine? Apparently, there's at least one guy:
"It's all new to me, being in a fishbowl like this," [Ellsbury] said. "I used to laugh about it when there was a lot of stuff said and written about other people. I don't think of myself as the next big anything, or the second coming of anybody, other than me. The comparisons are for others to make."
Godspeed, young man.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Who I'm Watching: John Patterson

This is the first in an occasional series on players that I'll be watching this year with special interest. I have a few in mind and there's no common thread.

Tonight's installment is John Patterson, the prototypical oft-injured power pitcher who was cut by the Nationals last week and this evening signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers. Call me a sap, but I hate to see players who can't stay healthy enough to enjoy the fruits of their own talent. There's something particularly poetic about Patterson, who has enjoyed just one shining season against a star-crossed career.

Patterson was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1996 and broke into the major leagues with Arizona in 2002. The owner of a power-fastball and a big-breaking-curve, he enjoyed by far his best season in 2005, when he struck out 185 batters in 198 innings with a 3.13 ERA, good for ninth in the National League. It was, to date, the only time in his career he topped 100 IP in a major league season, and he would follow it up with a disappointing 72 innings in 2006 and 2007 combined. Over parts of 6 MLB seasons, Patterson has started just 78 games and pitched just 454 innings.

Let's take a look at how his career has unfolded:

June 4, 1996: The Montreal Expos select Patterson with the fifth pick in the first round of the amateur draft, out of West Orange Stark High School in West Orange, Texas.

October 24, 1996: Granted free agency by Major League Baseball after Montreal failed to offer him a contract within fifteen days.

November 7, 1996: Signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a reported $6 million.

1997: A nice pro debut in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, with a 3.23 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 78 innings. His walk rate is high, at 3.9 BB/9 IP.

1998: A big-time breakout campaign, especially given the very hitter-friendly California League as a context, with a 2.83 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 127 innings. He exhibits improved control to go with his power pitching; his walk rate drops to 3.0 BB/9.

[Side note: Patterson's home park in the California League was High Desert, which Baseball America described in a 2006 story as "a pitching purgatory--a place where the thin air and high winds regularly produce farcical scores." Unless the park has changed markedly in the meantime, that makes Patterson's line doubly impressive. Man, I would love to see what the 1999 Baseball America prospect handbook has to say about him after that 1998 season. Anybody spare a copy?]

1999: Signs of regression. Patterson posts a 5.29 combined ERA in AA and AAA. He's still striking people out, with 10.0 K/9, but his walk rate is higher than ever, at 4.1 BB/9.

2000: Injuries start to rear their head. Patterson throws just 15 innings all season; undergoes Tommy John surgery in May.

2001: Returning from surgery, Patterson struggles, with a 5.47 ERA in 102 innings for AAA Tucson. His strikeout rate is down, at just 6.0 K/9, while his walk rate is a relatively low-for-him 3.8 BB/9.

2002-2003: Makes his pro debut in 2002; bounces up and down between AAA Tucson and the major league club in Phoenix, pitching 30.7 MLB innings in '02 and 55 innings in '03.

March 27, 2004: Out of options and not likely to make the MLB team out of Spring Training, Patterson is dealt by the Diamondbacks to the Montreal Expos for Randy Choate.

2004: Patterson makes 19 starts for the Expos, compiling a 5.03 ERA over 98.3 innings. Evidence of a power arm is there, as he posts a very solid 9.1K/9. Poor control is equally evident, with a 4.2 BB/9.

Baseball Prospectus 2005: Patterson is "cheap, armed with good stuff, and might be a few adjustments away from becoming this rotation's #2 guy. PECOTA likes his profile, and we like his curveball; when that things's really breaking, it's almost hypnotic. Breakout candidate."

2005: And there it is, he puts it all together for one scintillating campaign: 31 starts, 198 innings, 8.4K/9 and a 2.9BB/9. Power and control combine for a 3.13 ERA. The Nationals reward him with terrible run support; he compiles a modest 9-7 record.

Baseball Prospectus 2006: "Eyeballs and PECOTA agreed when we touted Patterson as a breakout candidate last year, and he more than lived up to the billing...There isn't a lot of reason to expect him to regress; the park's still roomy, his elbow surgery is pretty far back in his past, and the time he missed in 2004 was a result of a strained groin."

2006: Alas, it was not meant to be. After a well-deserved turn as the Nationals' Opening Day starter, Patterson manages just 40 innings over 8 starts before being shut down due to elbow and forearm problems.

2007: Patterson was the Opening Day starter again, but he was clearly rushed back and manages just 31 innings over 7 starts.

That brings us to 2008. By now, the bloom is more or less off the rose - per Baseball Prospectus: "This will be Year Three since Patterson's 2005 breakout, and there's still no certainty about whether his elbow is really right...He's supposed to be back, and he's supposed to be fine, but we've heard that before. Give it ten starts before you drink the Kool-Aid."

For his part, Patterson reported to Nationals spring training this year with a feeling of optimism.
"It was right around the time the calendar flipped to December, out on a ballfield in far East Texas, when John Patterson reared back and threw -- and saw something that made his heart flutter. The ball took off, toward its target, but instead of merely dropping into the glove of his throwing partner, Patterson could swear to God it accelerated in midflight -- or 'hopped' -- just like it used to do, a couple of years and a couple of surgeries ago. And it was right then, and it was right there, that Patterson knew he was back."

"'The ball just had a little hop on it", Patterson recalled Thursday, as he sat in the clubhouse of the Washington Nationals' training complex. "And I hadn't seen that in a couple years. . . . When I started seeing that again, I said: 'Here we go. We're going in the right direction.' "
February 22, 2008: Patterson looked forward to a big step in his recovery.
Patterson threw an eight-minute bullpen session Friday and spent much of it tinkering with his mechanics. "Everything feels good," he said. "I'm ready to face some hitters."
March 1, 2008: Patterson's first outing reveals that he may not be as far along as the team had hoped.
A day after potential Opening Day starter John Patterson said he did not go all-out in his first outing of the spring so that he could refine his mechanics, General Manager Jim Bowden said he would prefer for Patterson to establish his fastball and build arm strength.

"I was just glad that he took the mound and he got his first outing out of the way," Bowden said of Patterson, who has been limited to 15 starts the past two years by a series of arm injuries. "That being said, he was trying to get them out. He threw too many breaking balls. He cut his arm off. He had very short arm action.

"My preference would be, 'Let's establish the fastball and build up arm strength and get hit.' "

Bowden stressed that in his bullpen sessions, Patterson has let the ball go and extended himself more, giving his fastball more jump. But after his two-inning outing against the Baltimore Orioles, Patterson said he preferred to tweak his mechanics before unleashing his best fastball in games. He said his stride was about six inches shorter than it would be normally -- 5 1/2 feet as opposed to six. He also said he is working to get his hand in the right position on the ball at his release point.

March 6, 2008: A rainout delays the John Patterson watch.

"I'd like to see the fastball," General Manager Jim Bowden said.

"I think everyone wants to see what he can do," veteran reliever Ray King said.

Patterson is now in a bit of an odd space in his own clubhouse. He is neither promising prospect nor presumed ace, not a reliable 200-inning veteran nor a hanger-on. Rather, the Nationals need Patterson to be something he has been infrequently in a professional career that dates from 1997.

"He doesn't need to throw 200 innings," said José Rijo, a special assistant to Bowden who reached that number just three times in a 14-year career hampered by injuries. "He just needs to go out there every five days. The best thing he can do is make the manager feel comfortable. One thing the manager hates is something that he has to worry about. Then it's harder for him. It screws up the whole program."

Thus, each of Patterson's starts -- be it in Viera or Washington -- is met with some mix of anticipation and trepidation. What might go right often is overlooked, replaced by what could go wrong. "History's there," Manager Manny Acta said. "You can't change it."

March 17, 2008: Patterson struggles in a spring game in Fort Lauderdale.
Trying to build arm strength after a season in which he made only seven starts, [Patterson] allowed six runs in four innings in an 11-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles and said his entire body felt "tight" afterward.
March 20, 2008: The Nationals release John Patterson.
Faced with the prospect of sending John Patterson to the mound every five days this season with perhaps 75 percent of the stuff that made him a budding ace three years ago -- while forcing a younger, more effective pitcher to the minors -- the Washington Nationals abruptly released him instead, a bold move that would have seemed unthinkable a month ago, when Patterson was spoken of as possibly throwing the first pitch at the Nationals' new stadium on Opening Day.
"I knew it could happen," said Patterson, who has battled arm injuries while making only 15 starts and winning just twice over the past two seasons. "It's understandable. If I was in [Jim Bowden's] position, maybe I'd have done the same thing. I knew it was a tough mountain to climb. It was [a matter of] how much time they were going to give me."

According to Bowden, the Nationals felt Patterson's stuff was actually better last spring than this one, as his fastball has been clocked consistently in the 83-86 mph range, down from the low 90s at his best in 2005. It Patterson was truly healthy, as he claims, the Nationals believed it was possible this was as good as he would ever be again.

Patterson emphasized he had no regrets or hard feelings toward the Nationals over the move, but acknowledged feeling "caught in between" the forces he said were pulling him in different directions this spring, with Acta wanting to see him retire batters and Bowden telling him to throw his fastball more.
March 24, 2008 - The Texas Rangers sign John Patterson to a minor league contract.
Patterson, who was the Nationals' Opening Day pitcher in 2007, was pursued by a number of teams, but chose to go with the Rangers because of a long-standing relationship with pitching coach Mark Connor from their time together with the Diamondbacks.

"He understands what I need," Patterson said. "He's a big part of why I am here."

Patterson was 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA for the Nationals in 2005, but has made just 15 starts over the past two years, because of nerve damage in his right forearm. He underwent surgery on Sept. 14. The Nationals then released him .

He passed his physical on Monday and will begin a long-toss throwing program on Tuesday. The Rangers don't expect him to be ready to pitch in the Minor Leagues until late April or early May.

"I just need to throw," Patterson said. "I need to get out there and start throwing again. With the work I did in the offseason, I see my velocity getting there. It's just a matter of getting my strength built up and maintaining it over the course of the year."

You can hear it in his words: Hope springs eternal. There's something admirable about the fact that he just wants another chance to throw the baseball. Is it persistence? Is it denial and delusion? What's the difference?

John Patterson will get a chance to revive his career in Texas. If that doesn't work out, he'll probably get another chance somewhere else down the line. He's made a good living as a professional athlete, even if his body prevented him from cashing the really big paychecks. If he never starts another major league game, he'll always know that for one splendid summer he was among the best in the game. As long as he's willing to pick up a baseball, I'll be watching to see if he can do it again.

Next time on Who I'm Watching: Mark Reynolds.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Kind of a Big Deal Now, I Guess

So is this what fame is like? It still kind of looks like my Mom's basement.

Thanks to Aaron Gleeman for the mention of this humble blog. For all you new visitors, welcome and please come back often.

I'm just getting started, but I hope there's something here for everyone. If not, let me know. I'll respond to all e-mails, just as soon as I finish my paper route.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Carl Yastrzemski, the Louisville Courier-Journal and Fantasy Baseball

Okay, I'm officially outing myself as a fantasy baseball nerd (or is it geek?).

I've been playing since 1994, often with friends and sometimes with complete strangers. That first year we had eight of us, all good friends, and a points-based system that we invented out of thin air. It was pretty a bare bones setup, with starting lineups of just five hitters and two pitchers, but the data collection was such that we had to take turns as commissioner. The scores had to be hand-tabulated from the newspaper every morning. I still remember walking to the bookstore on Saturday morning to buy the street edition of The Washington Post for the late box scores from the West Coast. Our first season was derailed by the strike, but it didn't deter us. We've since spread out to the four corners of the country, but the league did survive a solid seven seasons.

The truth is, I wish I'd discovered the game far earlier. I was always following baseball as a kid. My Dad tells a story of coming down to breakfast when I was three years old and I was already sitting at the dining table perusing the Louisville Courier-Journal for box scores. I'm sort of proud of that, for reasons I can't fully explain. My Dad also likes to tell people my first word was Yastrzemski. That seems...improbable.

I have two core ongoing leagues, one annual, one keeper. I'll probably have something to say about those in future posts.

This year, I've decided to branch out and play in a league created by my friend Tim Dierkes, the genius auteur behind the insanely popular MLB Trade Rumors site as well as the Roto Authority Fantasy Baseball site. I say he's my friend because I applied to enter his league in the comments section on his web site and he did not turn me down.

Tim has committed to blog about the league on his Roto Authority site, and has already done so here, here, here, here, here and here. Six posts already and not a game has been played! No wonder he's a multi-media mogul.

You can download the teams and the draft results from these links. It was a very aggressive draft. If you wanted a specific guy, you had to know that reaching was the only way to get him, and it started early. I frankly think Tim is to blame - he took Corey Hart in the fourth round, at #46 overall. I took OF Chris Young next, at #47, and the race was on. I had planned to take Hart at 47 and Young at 50, but it was not meant to be.


My team is Santa's Magic Janitor. I don't think I have the strongest team, but I'm certainly not the weakest. According to Tim's latest post, PECOTA likes my team pretty well, for whatever that's worth.

Hope you'll follow along as I compete for a gentleman's fifth - and, please, make sure you patronize my friend Tim's burgeoning multimedia empire.

Finding Ways For Evan Longoria To Fail

With no clear word from the front office yet, speculation is rising in Tampa that the Rays will send hot-crap prospect 3B Evan Longoria (no relation) to AAA to begin the season.

Most observers, including some of Longoria's teammates, have concluded that the reason will be to delay Longoria's service time clock thus allowing the team to control his rights for an additional year. One could certainly argue that this is a smart move for a small market team. However, Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations, specifically denied that economics would be a factor in the decision.

So, what's left?

According to club officials, spring training was for evaluating Longoria on all kinds of things.

Friedman and manager Joe Maddon say they'll consider a series of factors beyond actual performance and results, everything from how Longoria carries himself and interacts in the clubhouse; his thought process at the plate and how he makes adjustments during, and between, at-bats; his preparation, work ethic and knowledge of the game; how he plays defense and does the "little" things. And they'll try to gauge other things more subjective such as how he'd handle the frustrations of what would be his first extended slump as a pro.

By all accounts, Longoria has passed the spring tests with flying colors. He's delivered on the tangibles and the intangibles. Coaches have raved, teammates have raved. The only thing he failed to do, it would appear, is fail.

Let's look at that last line again.

And they'll try to gauge other things more subjective such as how he'd handle the frustrations of what would be his first extended slump as a pro.

So, isn't this what it really comes down to? They want to see him fail, because they want to see how he reacts to failure. It's difficult, the story goes, for a hot-crap player to experience failure for the first time at the major league level. I have no idea if there's anything to this, but it has a certain logic and is often offered as a reason why, for example, Brandon Phillips' development curve got skewed.

The flip side of the argument is that a player yet to fail at any level is highly unlikely to fail on a return trip to the International League.

Or, as Cork Gaines puts it:
This is not the first time that the team has stated their concern over the fact that Longoria has yet to experience a slump as a professional.

If this is the biggest concern the Rays have with Longoria, then they have no concerns. "He has never slumped" is not a reason to keep somebody in the minors. "He can't handle curveballs" or "He smokes too much weed" are reasons to keep somebody in the minors. "He is too good" is not.

I think Rays officials are going about this all wrong; if they really want to give Longoria a taste of failure, there must be hundreds of ways.

Here's a few:
  1. Make him buy ice cream for spring training teammates and coaches using only spare change found in dirty laundry carts of visitors' clubhouse

  1. Eat 100 hot dogs in 5 minutes

  1. Resolve nuclear contest between India and Pakistan

  1. Compete on American Gladiators

  1. Compete on Project Runway

  1. Prove that methamphetamine is not addictive

  1. Adapt The Wire into Broadway musical

  1. Adapt The Eliot Spitzer Story into Disney animated feature

  1. Develop perpetual motion machine

  1. Foot race with B.J. Upton

  1. Crazy race with Elijah Dukes

Just pick one and let's get this over with.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Costas' Inane Comments Should Be Celebrated, Not Ridiculed

As noted in a few places across the Interwebs today, Bob Costas became the latest in a long line of journalists to denigrate bloggers:

''I understand with newspapers struggling and hoping to hold on to, or possibly expand their audiences, I understand why they do what they do,'' Costas said. 'But it's one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother's basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they're a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard's column or Bernie Miklasz' column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.''

``It's just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school yard bullies, or on men's room walls in gas stations. That doesn't mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.''

If you click through to some of the other sites and read the comments you'll see some not too surprising reactions: Costas is an idiot; Costas is a hypocrite; He's arrogant, he thinks sportswriters should be allowed to just issue proclamations from above; How can he say sportswriters are accountable and bloggers are not, what a load of crap; Wow, that's too bad, I used to kind of like Bob Costas; Sure, me, too, but he's been irrelevant for a decade at least; Wait a minute, maybe he's got a point, there's a lot of crap blogs out there.

Anyway, there's one obvious reaction that's mission: elation.

Ask yourself why a giant of the sports media world like Bob Costas would deign to speak about a few dudes clickety-clackin' away in their Mom's basement? I mean, seriously, why would he care enough to say anything at all?

I'll tell you why - warning: BASELESS SPECULATION ™ ahead - he's scared shitless feeling the pressure of a growing and challenging medium.

Read his words again. That's what the last gasp of a dying order sound like.

Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But let's understand what's happening here: he's not analyzing the blogosphere and making a factual statement or offering a reasoned analysis, he's making a defensive, emotional attack on something he doesn't understand. In short, he's lashing out. And here's the beautiful thing: you only lash out at something you fear.

Memo to bloggers everywhere: keep doing what you're doing. If Bob Costas is unnerved, then you're winning. Go back to your Mom's basement at once and re-double your posting.

Oh, and Bob? I used to think you were a pretty smart guy; surely you must be familiar with the meaning of this word.