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?