Archive for April, 2005

MLB.com’s MLBlogs tries a corporate approach to baseball blogging

The cyber-world of baseball blogs has become a very successful cottage industry over the past few years. Baseball blogging is, by far, the most vibrant of any sports blogging community. In fact, baseball blogging seems to rival political blogging in terms of its popularity.

This revolution in amateur commentary and analysis has brought about a growing awareness of cutting-edge statistical analysis in assessing players and teams. It’s tough to imagine the Moneyball Era without popular bloggers and Baseball Prospectus leading the way. I think it’s safe to say that the increased attention paid to baseball and all facets of the game is one of the greatest stories illustrating the benefits of the Internet.

Today, baseball blogging gained yet another measure of legitimacy as MLB.com announced the creation of MLBlogs.com, a pay-per-blog service established by Major League Baseball to create a more interactive community under the auspices of MLB’s Web site. For $4.95 a month or for $49.95 a year, potential bloggers get a site address of http://something.mlblogs.com, and they have the opportunity to sound off on the game.

For MLB.com, this represents another example of the site rushing headlong into the Internet’s unknown future. MLB.com already has the best real-time game-tracker on the Web. They have long offered fans the opportunity to listen to every game of every day for a flat rate of $14.95 for the season. And last year, they introduced MLB.tv, giving fans the chance to watch many games online for only $79.95 for the entire year. This is cutting-edge exploitation of the Internet’s multimedia capabilities.

I wonder, though, if Major League Baseball may be overestimating the potential of blogging. While baseball blogging is pervasive on the Internet, the idea of paying for a blog may not appeal to many casual bloggers. Those that are interested in paying for a blog have already purchased their own domain spaces.

One of the best aspects of blogging is how the only cost is time on the part of the blogger. If I were to use Blogger, as I have done in the past, then I would be blogging for free. Many popular baseball sites are hosted on Blogger. Considering their popularity, these sites wouldn’t gain much from a move to a pay-per-year blogging service.
A quick glance through MLBlogs.com reveals a service trying to address two distinct ideas. First is the one I’ve already mentioned. Major League Baseball wants this new site to develop into a blogging community for fans. Whether this can be successfully accomplished while charging a fee is up in the air. The second function is more in the spirit of other corporate blogs such as those hosted by major media outlets. MLBlogs.com will provide baseball figures with blogging spaces of their own.

In introducing MLBlogs.com, MLB.com’s Mark Newman wrote about some of the more prominent baseball officials and personnel joining MLBlogs.com. Included in this group are Tommy LaSorda, Brewers broadcaster Daron Sutton, and a groundskeeper. The site also features blogs from many of MLB.com’s reporters.

For me, these blogs are the draw of the new site. Hopefully, these “celebrity” blogs will contain interesting insights into the way the game is played and manage. Those of us who blog from the outside looking in often do not recognize the complex economic equations that baseball teams must consider when constructing a team. We don’t have the behind-the-scenes look at baseball that these baseball guys may share with us.

I don’t think MLBlogs.com will be a financial success in the same way that MLB.tv or Gameday Audio is. I think bloggers still like the opportunity to blog for free or on their own domains. I’ll tune in to MLBlogs though to see what those baseball insiders have to say about the sport, and I hope these new venture adds to the already-vibrant discussions that take place within the baseball blogging community.

Early All Star voting reveals a flawed selection process

The ubiquitous advertising on MLB.com is a reminder to one of Bud Selig’s darkest days as baseball commissioners. The ads calling fans to vote for their favorite players as 2005 All Stars all repeat the same mantra. “This one counts.?

Major League Baseball won’t have a repeat of 2003, the ads are telling the fans. No more games ending in 11-inning ties because, well, baseball games just don’t end in ties. No more managers running out of pitchers just to get someone into the game. Plus the whole “this one counts? idea worked fine in 2004. Let’s do it again this year.

But for all of this emphasis on turning the Mid-Summer Classic into a meaningful game, Major League Baseball has to improve the All Star Game process. It’s now a meaningful game with players selected in a meaningless fashion. Until those in charge can figure out how to reconcile the competing interests of the fans and the integrity of the All Star Game, having this one – or any of the All Star games – count just seems wrong.

The first warning sign arrived in my inbox last Wednesday, April 20, when I got an e-mail telling me to vote for my favorite players for the All Star Game. At first, I thought this was a mistake. By last Wednesday, most teams had played all of 15 games, and the All Star Game in July was nearly three months in the future.

Fifteen games into the season doesn’t give anyone enough time to start evaluating players for the All Star Game, but it certainly gives those die-hard fans ample opportunity to vote for players only from their favorite team. After 15 games of the season, all we knew was that Brian Roberts was going to hit 64 home runs, that the Dodgers were going to win over 125 games, and that Dontrelle Willis was going to pitch 33 complete-game shutouts this season. So much for projecting stats based on the first two weeks of baseball. But, hey! Vote for your favorite Yankee everyday for the next three months. There’s plenty of time.

This ridiculously early voting kick-off date was of no concern to Major League Baseball. Selig and Co. need people to watch the game, and what better way to get people planning for the July game than early online voting. Furthermore, this is a system that inherently favors people off to good starts. Roberts, the Orioles’ second baseman, is doing exceptionally well this April, and I’m sure more than a few people will vote for him in the early going. What happens when June 10 rolls around and Roberts hasn’t hit a home run since late April? He’ll still have those All Star votes and could wind up starting in Detroit on July 12. As an American League fan, I may not want him out there come the second week of July defending my team’s shot at homefield advantage.

The second problem with the All Star game is the voting itself. If the game counts and players are supposedly motivated to play for homefield advantage in the World Series, the fans shouldn’t be the ones voting for the All Star starters.

Looking at the ballot, Kevin Millar and Tino Martinez enjoy the highest level of name recognition among AL first basemen right now. Playing on the two biggest baseball stages in the country, Millar and Martinez have great fan bases in Boston and New York respectively. But in the early going, the real All Star is Paul Konerko. The White Sox just don’t enjoy the same level of exposure as the Red Sox or Yankees do. How can a biased system be relied upon to pick a team of players who will really be the All Stars?

The issue of injured players also rings a similar bell. As Mark Newman introduced the All Star voting last Wednesday on MLB.com, he questioned whether or not Barry Bonds would get the votes this year. He does after all have a great deal of prestige and recognition attached to his name. Never mind that by July 12 he may not have even made his 2005 season debut. Are you really an All Star if you haven’t set foot on the field? How can a system that extols the game as counting this time allow for an injured player to have even the slightest shot at garnering a starting spot on the All Star team?

All of these flaws point to the biggest problem facing Major League Baseball and the All Star game. It’s an issue of defining the game. Is the All Star spectacle about securing homefield advantage in the World Series or is the game about giving the fans what they want so they’ll watch the game? If it’s about homefield advantage and rewarding the true All Stars, it’s time for the coaches, managers, and players to pick the guys who stand out as the real All Stars. If it’s about the fans and giving them what they want (as an All Star game should be), then it’s time to drop the whole “this one counts? mentality that surrounds the All Star game.

Either way, April 20 – Game 15 for many teams – is simply too early to start calling for All Star votes. Who knows what great players won’t get the call because fans are locked into their selection after just two weeks? Plus, we shouldn’t risk rewarding the wrong guys as All Star. This one counts.

Dodgers Deny DePodesta Doubters…For Now

Four months ago, many baseball commentators were ready to leave the Los Angeles Dodgers for dead. Paul DePodesta had just wrapped up a calendar year in which he traded away the team’s setup ace and their heart-and-soul catcher for an injured pitcher and a Korean first baseman who has yet to show he can hit Big League pitching. He failed to resign emerging star Adrian Beltre and shipped Shawn Green to Arizona for four minor leaguers.

To drive the nail into the Dodger coffin, DePodesta signed 35-year-old Jose Valentin who was fresh off a season where, in 450 at-bats, he hit .216 and had an OBP of .287, to replace Beltre. He signed Jeff Kent for two years at $17 million, more money than a 37-year-old is worth.

Then, having made the Dodgers’ defense worse, DePodesta gave groundball-pitcher Derek Lowe a four-year deal at $9 million a season. Lowe was coming off a year where he allowed 41 more hits than innings pitched and had an ERA of 5.42 for a team that won the World Series. The media railed against DePodesta’s falling for Lowe’s post-season starts against New York and St. Louis. There was no way that Derek Lowe was worth $9 million a year.

But then, something went wrong. DePodesta was supposed to be the poster boy for the end of the Moneyball Era. He came to fame as Billy Beane’s right-hand man, and his reconstructing of the Dodgers was going to prove to the world that baseball games are played on the field and not on paper. However, no one sent this memo to the Dodgers, and team is now 11-2. They hold the best record of baseball and have built up an early 4.5-game lead in the NL West. This was not supposed to happen.

For all the anti-DePodesta talk, it seems so far that his OBP-based strategy is working. The Dodgers currently have a Major League-leading team on-base percentage of .363. They lead the Majors with 88 runs scored or approximately 6.7 runs per game. Even more impressive is the team’s Isolated Power. ISO is a calculated by subtracted batting average from slugging percentage. With a league-leading ISO of .207, the Dodgers are creating more than two extra base hits every 10 at bats. (For more on Isolated Power, check out this primer.)

On the pitching front, DePodesta’s moves are paying off. Derek Lowe has been absolutely stellar for the Dodgers. In three starts, he has thrown 20.1 innings, allowing just 15 hits and six earned runs. He has struck out 14 and walked four. Opponents are hitting just .197 off of Lowe. In Chavez Ravine, Lowe has allowed just three hits in 31 at bats.

Meanwhile, Jeff Weaver, who was booed out of New York and traded for one of the Yankees’ many albatrosses, Kevin Brown, has reemerged as a very competent pitcher. In 20 innings, he’s allowed 21 hits and two walks. More importantly though is the fact that Weaver has allowed just one home run. Pitching in New York, Weaver couldn’t stop giving up the long ball.

After today’s comeback win against the Brewers, many writers seem to be on their hands and knees asking for forgiveness. Those that aren’t are already proclaiming the Dodgers the 2005 World Champions are patting themselves on the back for recognizing DePodesta’s genius. Hold your horses, I say. Let’s look a little bit closer at the guys propelling the Dodgers’ offense.

First up is Jose Valentin. DePodesta was ridiculed for signing Valentin. At 35, Valentin has done his best to prove that he can’t on base. He has a career OBP of .322 to go along with his career average of .244 and a slugging mark of .454. That’s hardly going to blow anyone away. In the first 13 games of the year, Valentin is hitting .306/.447/.556 and is currently on pace to obliterate his single-season mark of 66 walks set way back in 1996.

Next is 37-year-old Jeff Kent. Kent is hitting .353/.459/.706 with four home runs in the young season. Compared to his career mark of .290/.353/.507, his numbers aren’t as exaggerated as Valentin’s are. I would, however, be very surprised to see Kent put up career numbers all year long.

Last but not least is 27-year-old Milton Bradley. Bradley (no relation to the Parker Bros.) has been a highly-touted prospect for approximately forever. With a career mark of .268/.352/.424, he’s gained more notoriety for his temper and attitude than for his hitting. But like Valentin and Kent, Bradley is having an explosive start. He’s hitting .373/.411/.745 with five home runs, eight extra base hits and 14 RBI. Of the three Dodgers off to stellar starts, Bradley, who is now entering his peak years, is the one most likely to maintain his performance.

Meanwhile, one of their biggest off-season acquisitions, J.D. Drew with his five-year, $55-million deal, is a bust at .159/.321/.250. Just as I am wary of Valentin and Kent, I don’t expect Drew to stay this cold for much longer.

All of this goes to show that 13 games is simply too little time to start worshiping at the altar of DePodesta. For 13 games, the Dodgers look like a baseball juggernaut. That’s less than one-tenth of the season. They are relying on two hitters on the wrong side of 35 who are exceeding their career numbers by a wide margin and one who has yet to fulfill his promise.

In time, the true Dodgers will emerge. J.D. Drew will hit some; Valentin won’t. Jayson Werth will come off the DL and could be a force in the lineup. On the mound, Weaver and Lowe are bound to hit some rough spots. But Eric Gagne’s return is on the horizon. So how can we really know how good the Dodgers are? We can’t. At least, we can’t until we see more at bats so players have a chance to ride out their hot streaks and settle down into their season norms.

For now, let’s admire DePodesta for a job seemingly well done, but save those accolades for the end of the year. After all, no one knows more about small sample sizes than Paul DePodesta himself.

Is Curt Schilling bound for the Hall of Fame?

All of the hype surrounding the World Champion Boston Red Sox will come to a hilt tonight as the conquering hero makes his return from the Land of the Bloody Sock.

At approximately 7:07 p.m. with a game time temperature hovering just over a brisk 40 degrees, Curt Schilling and his mended ankle will amble up to the mound on Fenway Park. Schilling, as we all know by now, is the most hyped player on this Red Sox team. While Johnny Damon may be running around with a new wife and a book deal, it’s Schilling whose viewed as the man who brought the Red Sox the championship.

With all of the attention focused on Schilling’s heroics, it’s often hard to cut through the rhetoric. One article, written by The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers, questioned Schilling’s motivation. Rogers doesn’t think Schilling can duplicate his successes from the past five seasons. “Success comes at a higher price as you get older,” Rogers wrote, “and the 38-year-old Schilling spent more than his share of the time mugging for the camera in the off-season. The bet here is the run of greatness he started in 2001 is due to take a downturn.”

On the other side of the coin are those members of Red Sox Nation who think Schilling is the best thing to happen to the Red Sox since the 1918 World Series. With all the hype surrounding Curt Schilling and his accomplishments over the last 12 months, his career perspective is often obscured. This is, after all, a pitcher who didn’t really break out until he turned 30 when he struck out 319 men. And while he’s won 20 games three times, those three times have all been since the turn of the millennium. Is Schilling, famous for his workhorse tendencies and off-the-charts pitching over the last four seasons, bound for enshrinement in Cooperstown?

Predicting a player’s Hall of Fame chances has, like most statistical evaluation in the rich field of baseball analysis, become something of a science. Bill James, one of the giants in the world of baseball statistics, has developed four different metrics for evaluating any player’s shot at the Hall of Fame.

First up is the black-ink test, the least scientific of the bunch. This is a test to see how often a player led the league in important statistics such as wins, ERA, strike outs, fewest walks, and so on. The gray-ink test looks to see how often a player finished in the top ten of the black-ink categories. Then, there is the Hall of Fame Career Standards Test and the Hall of Fame Monitor Test. Suffice it to say, both of these Jamesian creations require a lot of space to explain them. (If you’re interested in the statistics behind these methods, check out Baseball Reference’s detailed descriptions.)

As it stands right now, the Hall of Fame stats say that Curt Schilling is probably in Cooperstown but not definitely yet destined to be there. For the black in test, he scores a 40, where 40 is generally considered to be the bottom line of Hall of Fame measurements. On the gray ink test, he’s at 195, where 185 is the norm for the average Hall of Famer. Schilling, in other words, has been consistently in the top 10 of pitchers in his league. His Hall of Fame Standards test is at 42, where 50 is considered average, and his Hall of Fame Monitor test is at 151, where 100 denotes a likely Hall of Famer.

Outside of these metrics, what do Schilling’s career accomplishments tell us? In 17 years, Schilling has won just 184 games and only one Cy Young Award. While those wins rank him ninth among active players, numerous retired pitchers have won more than Schilling but aren’t in the Hall of Fame. These include Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris, two pitchers who probably should be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Currently, Schilling is sitting on 2745 career strike outs. That’s good for fourth among active players and 18th on the career list. Only Frank Tanana, Mickey Lolich, and Bert Blyleven (and his 3701 strike outs) are ahead of Schilling but no in the Hall. Considering that Schilling has at least two years left, he should finish his career with 3000 strike outs. Everyone who has reached that plateau except, inexplicably enough, Blyleven, has made it to the Hall. While the wins are lacking, that seems to be more due to factors outside of Schilling’s control. He’s often pitched well enough to win but has been victimized by bad offensive teams. As much as I would like to, it’s hard to argue with 3000 strike outs.

To seal the deal further, Schilling has turned in some amazing postseason performances, sutured ankle or otherwise. He has a career postseason record of 8-2 and two World Series rings. In 109.1 innings pitched, he’s given up just 79 hits and 22 walks while striking out 104, or just a shade under nine per nine innings. With an ERA of 2.06, he’s pitched four complete games and two shutouts. He won the World Series MVP in 2001 when he pitched Arizona to the championship.

In the end, this Yankee fan is forced to admit that, in spite of personal feelings about Curt Schilling and a few bouts with mediocrity every few years, Number 38 is headed for the Hall when he finally hangs up those blood-stained socks of his. What team his plaque will feature is an entirely different matter.

Young Florida Marlins Could Win It All in ’05

One week into the young 2005 season, I would like to make a prediction. The Florida Marlins are going to win the World Series.

The Marlins are often forgotten in the National League East. They didn’t make the back pages of major sports sections this offseason by signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They haven’t won 13 straight divisional titles. They haven’t been an orphan team for three years that finally settled in the Nation’s Capital. And they’re not perennial underachievers playing in a city that always seem to come in second place (or worse).

Instead, the Marlins are often remembered for their ownership, their battle with Wayne Huizenga and their constant search for a new stadium in downtown Miami. Owner Jeffrey Loria is the man who sold out the Expos to Major League Baseball. They’re the team that can’t get approval from the state of Florida, Dade county or Miami for a new stadium, and Huizenga, former team owner, has threatened to evict them from Pro Player Stadium after the 2009 season. What is overlooked on the field, however, could bring this team its second World Championship in three years.

The Marlins live by their pitching and die with their offense. That much was clear in 2004 when the team gave up just 700, fifth-lowest in the Majors, but scored just 718, eighth-fewest around the Bigs. As the defending champs, they finished at 83-79, 13 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves and nine behind the Wild Card-winning Houston Astros.

In scoring fewer than 4.5 runs per game last year, the Marlins’ weaknesses were obvious. They needed another established bat in the lineup, and they needed a lefty threat in the middle to break up the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Lowell tandem that powered their offense last year.

During the winter, they addressed their needs. While the Mets were making waves by giving Kris Benson a lot of money and landing Martinez and Beltran, the Marlins quietly stole Carlos Delgado from under everyone’s eyes. With Delgado in the lineup, the Marlins addressed both of their needs in one swoop. Delgado, who has driven in 91 runs or more every year since 1996, gave them their lefty power hitter to insert in the clean-up spot. For those Marlins, just one year removed from a shocking World Series title, it was a match made in heaven.

So far this year, the Marlins have shown why they should be considered the team to beat in the National League East. While they sport a 3-3 record, that stat doesn’t begin to tell the tales from the first six games. Against two of their NL East opponents, the Marlins have given up just 9 runs. That’s just 1.5 runs per game. On offense, they’ve scored 31, nearly a run per game more than they averaged last year. But with that pitching, who needs 5 runs per game? Last year’s 4.5 would be just plenty.

Incidentally, their losses again show why they still live by pitching and die by the offense. They’ve thrown three shuts outs but have lost two games by one run and one game by two runs. The most they’ve surrendered is four runs, and they’ve scored eight or more runs in their three shutouts. Eventually, the offense will catch up to the good pitching, and when it does, the rest of the NL should look out.

I pick the Marlins precisely because of the pitching. For the first time in a few years, their two young guns – Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett – started the season in the rotation. Burnett and Beckett have been highly touted prospects for approximately forever. They’ve also had their fair share of arm problems, recurring blisters, and bouts of inconsistency. This year is the year they put everything together.

Beckett, who turns 25 in May, impressed the world when he threw a complete game shut-out in the decisive game 6 of the 2003 World Series. Statistically, his trends indicate that this is the year he really comes into his own as a pitcher. He strikes out a little over nine guys per nine innings. He lowered his walk rate last year and threw a career-high 156.2 innings.

This season, he’s racked up 17 strike outs in 15.2innings. He given up just seven hits, while walking four, and he has yet to give up a run, earned or otherwise. He’s also changed his approach on the hill to one that resembles the way his idol Roger Clemens approaches pitching. “It’s a basic formula I’m using this year – control the things you can control, and don’t worry about anything else,? he said after his shut out on Sunday. “Right after the last pitch of the game, you start thinking about your next one. If you don’t, you’ll go out and get shellacked, and I’m back to being a .500 pitcher again.?

Behind Beckett is Burnett, Dontrelle Willis, Al Leiter, and Brian Moehler. Burnett missed much of 2003 and some of 2004 with a serious arm injury, but he came back last year to put up impressive numbers. Willis, just 23 years old, threw a five-hitter against the Nationals on Friday and sports a career ERA of 3.61. Leiter gives the Marlins a veteran lefty presence who will throw strikes.

On offense, Delgado completes the picture. The lineup starts out with speed and contact in Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo. Cabrera, Delgado, and Lowell are as good as any 3-4-5 hitters in the Majors. Paul LoDuca, Alex Gonzalez, and some combination of Juan Encarnacion (plus his two grand slams this year) and Jeff Conine round out the bottom part of the order.

This team is well-balanced with a potent pitching staff. They’re young, energetic, and finally learning how to become pitchers instead of throwers. I, for one, won’t be at all surprised if the World Series trophy once again gets to winter in Florida this year.

Opening Day 2005: Top 10 Stories for the New Season

Nothing is sweeter than Opening Day. It’s the symbolic start of spring and the start of a new baseball season. With 30 teams playing out their 162-game schedules, anything can happen between now and the end of October.

Maybe another cursed team can break a decades-old spell. Maybe the .400 mark will finally fall. Maybe baseball will have a glorious return to the nation’s capitol. The beauty about baseball is that anything can happen on any given day. For now, though, I’m just going to take a look at what I think are the top ten compelling storylines for the 2005 season. Feel free to disagree with me. That’s what the comment section down at the bottom is for.

So without further ado…

1. The Boston Red Sox, Defending World Champions – After winning their first title in 86 years, the Red Sox underwent something of an overhaul this winter. Gone are Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera. Joining the self-proclaimed idiots are David Wells, Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, and Wade Miller. With the team and its fans basking in the glow of the World Series trophy, expectations will be at an all-time high for the Boston Red Sox, and anything short of a first-place finish will be viewed as a disappointment. But will the team be able to meet these expectations or will David Wells’ failed Opening Night start serve as a harbinger of a long season?

2. Overcoming the Choke – As everyone and their mothers now know, the Yankees, baseball’s most storied franchise, chalked up a dubious record last October when they became the first Major League team to blow a 3-0 series lead. For the first few months of the season, many eyes will turn to the Bronx to see how the Yankees rebound from what could have been a crushing psychological blow. Mariano Rivera, who was once viewed as infallible, will be particularly scrutinized at first. If last night is any indication, however, the Yankees looked looser on the field than they have at any time since the start of the 2002 season, and Randy Johnson in a very average start was better than most of the Yanks’ 2004 rotation. Considering the pressure, that’s a good sign for Yankee fans and a bad sign for anyone else.

3. The Post-Steroid Era or Not? – Just hours before Opening Night, Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez became the first player to be suspended for violating the new drug policy. While Buster Olney is ready to feed Sanchez to the dogs and move on, I disagree with his assessment. Sanchez’s suspension shows that players may still be using steroids. For baseball to put this scandal in the past, no one else should test positive this season. But if more players are suspended, the public – and Congress – may grow more skeptical of baseball’s commitment to clean up.

4. Challenging .400 – Last season, Ichiro Suzuki hit .372 and set a new record for hits in a single season. What isn’t mentioned is that for the last three months of the season, Ichiro hit .408. Then, for an encore, he went 31 for 71 during Spring Training. While the eyes on Seattle may focus on the newest additions to the Mariners’ lineup, the rest of the baseball world may see a hitter reach the .400 plateau for the first time in over 60 years.

5. New-Look Mets – The Mets, New York’s other team, is trying to become New York’s team again. They signed Pedro to a sizable contract and wooed Carlos Beltran to Shea Stadium. With a solid young core of players, including Beltran, David Wright, and Jose Reyes, and a sturdy group of veterans, the Mets have the makings of an offensive force. But can Pedro Martinez and Tommy Glavine, two aging starters, make up for a back-end rotation that reeks of mediocrity? The path to Braden Looper, the Mets’ closer, is fraught with failure as well. I don’t expect Omay Minaya to sit pat, but I don’t think 2005 is the Year of the Met in New York.

6. Billy Beane’s Magical Touch – A’s fans the nation over are despairing about the offseason. After blowing a late-season lead, Billy Beane traded away Oakland’s top two starters. Left with Barry Zito and Rich Harden as their 1-2 guys, the A’s aren’t in the dire straits their fans think they are in. They too have a solid core of young players, and Nick Swisher should move beyond his Moneyball reputation this year. It may be a mini-rebuilding year in Oakland, but with Billy Beane at the helm and more money in the owners’ pockets, don’t count out of the A’s just yet.

7. A Reverse Switch – Many prominent pitchers have gone from the starting rotation to the closer role with devastatingly effective results. Now, one of the game’s top closers who has already made the switch once is heading back to the rotation. What kind of starting pitcher will John Smoltz be after four seasons as a closer? The Braves’ hopes for another division title may rise and fall on his right arm.

8. Barry’s Knee and the NL West – With the race to 756 on hold while Barry Bonds recovers from another knee surgery, the Giants will have to find ways to win without the most potent threat in baseball in the lineup. With a bunch of grizzled, old (and I mean old) veterans, they just might be able to stave off disaster until Barry comes back to resume his assault on the Babe and Hammerin’ Hank.

9. The Rocket Redux – What do you do for an encore when, at age 42, you win your seventh Cy Young Award? Is it best to retire when you’re ahead or push through for another season?

10. Breaking a Curse – Who gets to break their curse this year? Will it be the Cubs behind the arms of oft-injured Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Will it be the White Sox behind the arms of the Cuban tandem of Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras? Or will curses remain in place for yet another season in the Windy Season?

Now play ball!


RSS River Ave. Blues

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    Mike Axisa
  • Carter’s clutch homer helps Yanks to an 11-5 win over Pirates April 22, 2017
    Source: FanGraphs Well that was a wild one, huh? Look at that win probability graph up there. The Yankees went from being no-hit in the fifth inning to having two five-run innings by the eighth. The end result was an 11-5 win over the Pirates in the middle game of the series. It’s Saturday, so […] The post Carter’s clutch homer helps Yanks to an 11-5 win ove […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 17: Still no DH April 22, 2017
    Four days ago the Yankees lost to the White Sox to snap their eight-game winning streak. They rebounded the next day with a blowout win. Last night the Yankees dropped the series opener to the Pirates due in part to some sloppy defense. How will they rebound today? Hopefully with another blowout win. That’ll be […] The post Game 17: Still no DH appeared firs […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Saturday Links: Top 50 Prospects, Cabrera, Forbes, Uniforms April 22, 2017
    The Yankees and Pirates will resume their three-game series with the middle game later this afternoon. Until then, here are a few bits of news and notes to check out. Three Yankees on Law’s updated top 50 prospects list I missed this last week, but Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted an updated list of the […] The post Saturday Links: Top 50 Prospects, Cabrera, F […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Bad pitching, bad defense send Yankees to 6-3 loss to Pirates April 22, 2017
    Source: FanGraphs Blah, that was a clunker of a series opener. A little of this (bad pitching), a little of that (bad defense), and a little of everything in between (0-for-7 with runners in scoring position) sent the Yankees to a 6-3 loss to the Pirates in Friday night’s series opener. Have I mentioned I […] The post Bad pitching, bad defense send Yankees t […]
    Mike Axisa

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