Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Winter Leagues Playoff Stats

As I did with the final regular season stats for the winter leagues, I have collected the final stats for the playoffs from each country. If any Braves participate in the Caribbean Series, I’ll try and keep you updated as to those stats as well.

Of particular note, is the play of Bryan Pena, who finished the regular winter season with a .326 BA, and followed that up with a winter playoff average of .347. Especially impressive were his three triples – not too bad for a catcher. As I’ve said before, I thought that Pena’s play this winter, which was similar to his play at AAA last year, was enough to get him at least the backup catcher job with the Braves in '06. Not that I don’t think Todd Pratt is going to be a decent backup catcher, but if you want McCann to have a mentor, then hire Eddie Perez on as a coach or bullpen catcher. Use that roster spot for Pena to develop (and be mentored as well) so that you can have two young above average catchers in the majors. Pena’s time to make the club may be very short lived with Salty knocking on the door.

For better viewing and larger more readable fonts, click on the picture below to enlarge it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Politics and Fundamentalism

I started this blog thinking I’d weave in politics with baseball in a similar but lesser fashion to how the Baseball Crank does. Though I tend to fall just on the other side of center from where he is. But I changed that approach to just focus on baseball, and the Braves in particular. Much of that change was due to my opinions and ideas about politics being just too damn complex to be blogged about along side baseball. Also, I thought there were plenty of bloggers out there who were talking about politics that did a ‘heckuva job’ as it was (some of them are linked on the column to the right).

But I came across a story that sums up many of my fears about where the politics of this country seem headed. This Rolling Stone article (quite long, but worth the read) details an example of what I have thought for some time is the systematic unraveling of the barrier that protects the state from the church and the church from the state. That wall is in place to protect each one of those institutions from the other, and there are many out there that wish to tear it down.

I also came across a great quote by Andrew Sullivan that sums up how I view all this in a nutshell: “We once allowed for strong religious faith but also for a neutral but respectful public square. What fundamentalism does is demand the complete submission of all parts of life - professional, civic, political - to the demands of dogma.”

Scary business, at least to me. That’ll be enough politics for now, I’ll get back to baseball tomorrow.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fan Fests Update

It looks like Francoeur and McCann will be attending the Braves FanFest in Atlanta on February 4th at The Ted. I had reported earlier that those two are also scheduled to take place in the Mississippi Braves’ Fan-Fest later that same day, and all indications now point to them attending both of those events. My thoughts are that they will be in Atlanta in the morning, probably leaving by 1pm to catch a charter flight to Pearl. So if you want either of their autographs, get there early.

Here is the list of Braves scheduled to appear:

  • Chipper Jones
  • Tim Hudson
  • Andruw Jones
  • Jeff Francoeur
  • Brian McCann
  • Marcus Giles
  • Horacio Ramirez
  • John Thomson
  • Kyle Davies
  • Pete Orr
  • Blaine Boyer
  • Edgar Renteria
  • Roger McDowell
  • Todd Pratt

Winter Leagues Update

For all those who are interested, I have collected the stats of Braves players and farmhands from the final regular season standings of the various winter leagues around the Caribbean. The best way I’ve found to display them is as a picture. For better viewing and larger more readable fonts, click on the picture below to enlarge it. Once the playoffs end for each country, I will collect those stats here in a similar manner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Around the Horn and Back to Leo

Here is a smattering of news this week from around the NL East.

The Braves brought back a grey-haired reliever. Remlinger might find success as a situational lefty ala Jeff Fassero, who just keeps hanging around the big leagues year after year even at 43 years old. And don’t even try to keep track of the two dozen or so pitchers who will be auditioning for bullpen spots with the Braves this year.

Some in Philly have very high expectations for Flash Gordon. Meanwhile, the Phillies are trying to plug a big hole in the bullpen in front of Gordo, but their latest attempt has hit a snag.

The Mets’ quest to build a stronger bullpen might be a big off-season gamble. The NY Daily News only gives the bullpen moves a ‘maybe’ towards helping ‘to finally end the Braves’ stranglehold on the NL East.’ I wonder if these trades will be remembered along side the trades the Mariners made for relievers in ’97 when they dealt away young players like Varitek, Lowe, and Cruz Jr. for rent-a-relief pitchers Heathcliff Slocumb, Paul Spoljaric, and Mike Timlin. The Mets’ trades have also left the starting rotation without any depth and with unproven competition for the fifth spot.

The DC stadium saga continues.

Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone was interviewed by Tim Kurkjian at ESPN about his past with Atlanta and his future in Baltimore. A Braves reliever from last year was told by Leo that they had some ‘unfinished business,’ and so he signed with the O's. Mazzone is already very popular with the fans in Baltimore.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sosa as Closer

Some people have suggested that Jorge Sosa may wind up as the Braves closer this year. Unfortunately, these same people also think that an inverse progression in blackjack is a good idea. I offer up some numbers to try and dissuade some people from thinking that Sosa would be a good closer.

Sosa’s season last year can best be described as abnormally lucky. Perhaps that’s why he was nicknamed Jorge Houdini by Braves’ TV and radio announcers. So what constitutes his luck? After all in 24 games as a reliever in 2005, Sosa posted a 2.31 ERA. But in those 24 games (27.1 innings) as a reliever he gave up 24 hits and issued 19 walks, while only striking out 17. That’s an alarming number of base runners for a reliever.

Let’s take what I consider an important indicator for relievers, and closers in particular; the first 15 pitches they throw in a ballgame and the batters’ results from those pitches. The first 15 pitches set the tone for any reliever’s outing. I’ve compared three other Braves from last year. Of course some of Sosa’s stats are going to be as a starter, but they are still indicative of what happens when he enters a game.

Pitches 1-15 Results (Hits + Walks / Plate Appearances = % of runners reached base):
Sosa – 32 H + 20 BB / 134 PA = 39%
Kolb – 54 H + 20 BB / 197 PA, = 38%
Reitsma – 64 H + 12 BB / 251 PA = 30%
Farnsworth – 31 H + 19 BB / 200 PA = 25%

Let’s just look at walks as an indicator of control over the first 15 pitches:
Sosa – 20 BB / 134 PA = 15%
Kolb – 20 BB / 197 PA = 10%
Reitsma – 12 BB / 251 PA = 5%
Farnsworth – 19 BB / 200 = 9.5%

From the first set of numbers (which is essentially on-base percentage), we can see that Sosa was not even as good as Dan Kolb when he first enters a game, allowing almost 40 percent of the hitters he faced to reach base, and walking every seventh batter. As we learned last year, this is not the kind of closer we want. From these numbers we can also infer that as lucky as Sosa was, Kolb was just as unlucky.

Sosa translates better as a starter because as the game moves on he settles down and issues fewer walks and gets more batters out. A starter is better equipped to deal with control problems early in the game. Even if he gives up a run or two early he has the ability to settle into a rhythm and pitch well for several more innings. Here are his pitches to % of runners reached base for the next 75 pitches:

Pitches 16 – 30: 18 H + 12 BB / 116 PA = 26%
Pitches 31 – 45: 12 H + 5 BB / 82 PA = 21%
Pitches 46 – 60: 19 H + 13 BB / 74 PA = 43%
Pitches 61 – 75: 21 H + 6 BB / 77 PA = 35%
Pitches 76 – 90: 17 H + 6 BB / 56 PA = 41%

He settles down dramatically from 16 to 45 pitches, but then he becomes a bit more hittable. I would imagine this is because he was only used sparingly as a starter the previous three years with Tampa Bay. After starting more games in one year than he has in any single year before in the Major Leagues in 2005, his arm strength should begin to rebound and we will hopefully see him able to go deeper into ballgames with better results in 2006. So Sosa’s value is as a starter and not a closer or reliever. That wildness and lack of control just after he enters a ball game will catch up with him as a reliever, but can be overcome as a starter.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Fan Fests Conflict

Hey fans! Want to see your favorite new Braves, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, and Blaine Boyer at this year’s Braves Winter FanFest on February 4th from 10am to 5pm. After all, they are the young stars that helped Atlanta recapture that baseball spirit. Well, odds are you won’t see them. They will be at Fan-Fest, but not at FanFest. This particular ‘Fest they will be attending is for the Mississippi Braves at Trustman Park in, you guessed it, Mississippi from 4pm to 8pm. I guess they could try to attend both if they had access to a plane to whisk them from Atlanta in the early afternoon to Mississippi at night. But my guess is that barring Deion Sanders showing up with a helicopter, the Major League club’s first event of 2006 will be without some of its most popular young talent. I wonder how the big club could let a scheduling conflict like this occur.

The Rome Braves hold their ‘Fest on Monday the 6th of February, with Giles and Salty headlining.

Friday, January 20, 2006

No Closer Than Yesterday

There are several good reads that went up the last few days regarding the Braves closer situation. Jeff Schultz at the ‘Atlanta Urinal and Constipation’ thinks the situation is bad enough that fans should “bring a glove” to next month’s FanFest and audition for the job. Jason Stark at ESPN considers several candidates for the job, as does Mark Bowman at MLB.com.

So after all that writing by the experts, the bottom line is that no one knows who the Braves closer will be. Even Schu says that “we don’t have an [answer] … at the moment.” Pretty much we are not going to have any resolution to this until spring training.

A situation to keep an eye on will be Chris Reitsma on Canada’s roster for the World Baseball Classic. If Eric Gagne is unable to return in time from the elbow surgery he had last June, then Reits would be the next logical choice for their closer. That could be a great early spring test and audition for him in that role.

The other side of that coin is that while Reitsma is away at WBC games, someone else may have a chance to step in and impress Braves coaches while closing games.

Of course the other other side of this wicked three dimensional coin is that the batters any potential closer candidate would face in spring training games in the ninth inning would probably not be of the same caliber that a closer would see in the ninth inning of WBC games. The last few innings of spring games are usually populated by minor leaguers. Whereas, one would think the final innings of a WBC game would see a bevy of very good All-Star pinch hitters.

I’ve gone ahead and put down the odds for the front runners:

Chris Reitsma: 2-1 he gets the job
Joey Devine: 6-1 he gets the job, 2-1 he gives up a grand slam in each his first two games of the year
Oscar Villarreal: 14-1 he gets the job, 3-2 Skip Carey can’t pronounce his name for the first three months of the season
Brad Baker: 40-1 he gets the job, 3-1 he makes the team
Trade: 8-1 some trade falls in Schu’s lap and he takes it, 10-1 he seeks out a trade

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Around the Horn in the NL East

There is quite a bit of little stuff going on around the NL East the last few days.

First off, the Braves signed all of their arbitration eligible players except for Jorge Sosa. Marcus Giles almost doubled his salary from a year ago to $3.85 mil, but still some people think he is underpaid. I have to wonder if Giles settling for less money than he may have gotten through arbitration is perhaps a symptom of the Chipper Jones contract restructuring. Long time Braves may now be afraid to take the team to the cleaners when it comes contract time.

Meanwhile, Jeff Francoeur was added to the World Baseball Classic roster.

The Nationals locked up their catcher, Brian Schneider, with a four-year contract. But it looks like Alfonso Soriano is going to try and take the Nats to the cleaners in arbitration, as he continues to be a thorn in their side while he resists any positional switch. And there’s still an impasse in the DC stadium talks.

The Mets continue to collect players as they sign a Japanese swing-man. Everyone must now learn to pronounce Yusaku Iriki.

In a tough love statement you don’t usually see made by management, the Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick has conceded that they will not win the NL East: “Are we going to win the division? No. We have to improve.” I wonder if he used that line a couple months ago when he was interviewing for the GM job. At least the Philly press is trying to turn his honesty into a good thing. But Gillick may be pissing off his best player as he tries to trade him away.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fan Clubs I’m Considering

With the glowing success of Francoeur’s Franks or Franc’s Franks, which was on the heels of the Sheff’s Chefs success, I’m tossing about a few ideas for Atlanta Braves player’s fan clubs that I could start. Being that my seats are on the front row of section 131 in the upper deck, that’s prime real estate for player-name-themed fan clubs. Here are the ones I’m considering:

LaRoche's Roaches: They're survivors. I think the costume would be a bit ungamely, and it would probably scare the hell out of kids. . . which could be a bonus.

Pete Orr’s Pirates: Orr, Arrr, Orr, Arrr, Orr, YeArr. Everybody loves pirates! This might not be a real good one for grabbing TV time, as Pete doesn’t come up to bat very often. But when he did, you better believe they’d show his pirates. Problem here is that there is already a baseball team with a pirate for a mascot, and therefore this might get a bit confusing. Maybe they can be Canadian pirates since he is from Canada. YeArr. . A.

Horacio's Whores: We could dress up like slutty Latino women. . . really ugly sluttly Latino women (unless that’s redundant). Problem here is in the late innings of the game when drunk denizens of the upper deck start hitting on us.

McCann's Cans of Whoop-Ass: Whether he’s hitting 3-run postseason home runs off of future hall of famers, or catching another future hall of famer, McCann needs a fan club that rivals the success of his buddy Francoeur’s. This may violate the stadium code of conduct, but I can bet you Skip Carey wouldn’t stop talking about it. We could be ‘McCann’s Cans of Whoop’ for short. It wouldn’t be hard for people to fill in the blank.

Friday, January 13, 2006

NL Award Winners

MVP: One of the most under appreciated nicknames for Albert Pujols is ‘The Machine.’ It so aptly describes what he is; a complete hitter who is at the same time feared and respected by pitchers. How he was beat out for second place by (choke) Adrian Beltre in ’04 will never cease to amaze me. If it weren’t for Barry Bonds, Pujols may have already accumulated four MVP awards in just five major league seasons. There is just no stopping him. Apologies to Carlos Lee and Chipper Jones.

Cy Young: In 2005 Andy Pettitte had what I call a stealth year. He was arguably just as good as the Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, but somehow managed to get only one third place vote for the award. He had a lower ERA than Carpenter, just as many quality starts to lead the league as Carpenter, he gave up fewer walks and hits per 9 innings than Carpenter did, and had virtually the same K/BB ratio. So why then did he get only one third place vote? Perhaps it was because he was overshadowed by his own teammates, Clemens and Oswalt. Perhaps it was because his run support was a whole run less than Carpenter’s, and he therefore came up short in that all important wins category. Look for him to continue the dominance he displayed in the second half of last year and pick up the Cy Young which has long eluded him. Apologies to Pedro Martinez and Ben Sheets.

Rookie of the Year: It may take Prince Fielder a month or two to adjust the big leagues, but the Brewers, by trading Lyle Overbay, have given the first base job to him outright. Look out for the big kid in the second half of the season as he mashes he way to the ROY with the help of the friendly hitting confines of Miller Park.
Apologies to Jeremy Hermida and Ryan Zimmerman

Comeback Player of the Year Award presented by Viagra: He’ll come back and he’ll be Barry. He’ll complain and tell the media to stay out of his business in that disconcertingly effeminate voice. But there is no doubt that Barry Bonds will, at some point next year, make us all remember what baseball armor on an elbow, cocked and hung out over the plate can do. Apologies to Ben Sheets and Nomar Garciaparra

Manager of the Year: I can’t pick a team like the Brewers to win the Wild Card and not give the craftiest skipper award to their manager Ned Yost. Cut from the Bobby Cox ilk, Yost’s patience and persistence in support of his players will finally be recognized and rewarded. Apologies to Bobby Cox and Grady Little

Thursday, January 12, 2006

NL West

Dodgers (91 – 71): Is there really any difference between Grady Little and Terry Francona? Little managed himself out of Boston with one decision while Francona sat back and watched the Boston miracle of 2004 transpire. Little will have a lot to work with in ’06 with the new acquisitions of Furcal, Mueller, Garciaparra, and Lofton, and the departure of trouble child Milton Bradley. This club will only get better as the recently signed free agents are joined by the deluge of young talent from the best farm system in baseball. That depth will allow the Dodgers to make up for any injury bumps throughout the season much like the Braves did in ’05. They may be ready to make another Rookie of the Year run much like they did from ’92 to ’96 when they developed Karros, Piazza, Mondesi, Nomo, and Hollandsworth. The new crop of Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman, and Jonathan Broxton could be household names for years to come. The free agents they signed also gives these young guys the time they need to develop. DIVISION WINNER

Giants (86 – 76): Old and getting older. By trading away Edgardo Alfonso for Steve Finley they get even older. Finley will be 41 by opening day and age may finally be catching up with him as his OPS suggests from ’02 to ’05: .869, .863, .823, .645. He joins the other geriatric All-Stars of Omar Vizquel (38), Jose Vizcaino (38), Moises Alou (39), Tim Worrell (38), and the loveable and immortal Barry Bonds (41). Don’t forget that they are managed by Felipe Alou who will be no spring chicken at age 71. This compulsion to sign aging stars has also had an impact on their farm system as other teams take their draft picks as compensation for the signings. In last year’s amateur draft they didn’t have a pick until the fourth round, and they haven’t had a first round selection since 2003. That coupled with their proclivity to trade away anyone in their system for a rent-a-player has led to them parting ways with pitchers the likes of Joe Nathan, Fancisco Liriano, Jerome Williams, and Jesse Foppert.

Diamondbacks (80 – 82): These guys are a hard team to measure. They’re sort of boring, though they may have made themselves a bit more exciting by adding Eric Byrnes for a year. They made a good move in re-acquiring Miguel Batista, who excelled in Arizona as a swing man. This year they will begin to work in their buffer crop of hitting talent as Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew push major leaguers Tony Clark, Shawn Green, Byrnes, and Craig Counsell from the lineup. Their pitching is still a couple of years away from being ready and they would serve themselves well by finding some takers for Russ Ortiz and Orlando Hernandez before their value becomes nil. They also need to find a closer who will last them more than half a year. Believe it or not, Byung-Hyun Kim is still the most consistent and uninjured closer the franchise ever had.

Padres (78 – 84): The Padres seem to have realized that they’re not going be a home run hitting club in their current stadium. At least the way their roster is currently constructed, they haven’t added anyone who’s capable of increasing their home run output from a year ago. That team of a year ago was possibly the most unglamorous postseason team that I can think of, and they rolled over and died as expected in the first round. They never even led in one inning of any of the three games against the Cards. Their admission to the postseason may have been more a cause of the rest of the division’s lackluster play, than of their own ability to win games. And that division, which let them win while being only two games over .500, has corrected many of its flawed teams of 2005. The Padres, on the other hand, overpaid to keep Giles and Hoffman until father time catches up with them. This team will be scrappy with the likes of Dave Roberts and Mike Cameron, but they will not be as good as they were last year.

Rockies (70 – 92): There are still a lot of growing pains yet to go through for this young team. If they could they should clone Jeff Francis, he’s figuring out how to win games at Coors Field (8-4, 4.88 ERA), now he just needs to figure out how to win games on the road (6-8 6.40 ERA). With kids like Francis, Fuentes, Atkins, and Barmes the future is looking up for the mile highers, but a winning season is still a year or two away.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NL Central

Cardinals (98 – 64): This was a very strong club that actually got a bit weaker. On the field they replaced Mark Grudzielanek, Larry Walker, and Reggie Sanders with Junior Spivey, Juan Encarnacion, and Larry Bigbie. If we take their career OPS and average them together then the Cardinals are trading an average OPS of .846 for .758. If we take the average of last year’s OPS then they are trading .837 for .676. Those are quite significant drop-offs, and you can bet that they will translate to the amount of runs the Cards score. But with a healthy Rolen the entire season, along with some guy named Poo-Holes, they should score enough runs to be very competitive. Matt Morris will not be as hard to replace as some think. Last year he was only about as good as Jason Marquis and not as good as Jeff Suppan. They should have plenty of depth with Sidney Ponson competing with youngster Anthony Reyes for the last spot in the rotation. Now we’ll see if Duncan and La Russa can actually develop a pitcher, something they have never really had much success at doing (save for the recently departed Matt Morris). DIVISION WINNER

Brewers (90 – 72): Every year a club surprises people, and in 2006 it is going to be the Milwaukee Brewers. They are vastly underrated by many people around baseball. A lot will depend on how their youngsters fare in their first full major league season. But with the big bat of Carlos Lee in the middle of the order, all Ned Yost has to do is pencil in the pieces around him. They will by a dynamic team with speed throughout the order and the willingness to use it. Fielder, Weeks, and Hardy will form the core of the Brew-crew for years to come. Sheets, Davis, and Capuano are the front three of one of the least appreciated starting rotations in baseball. They will continue to improve under the tutelage of perhaps the best young pitching coach in the business, Mike Maddux. The addition to the coaching staff of Brewer legend Robin Yount will have a profound impact on this young team’s character. WILD CARD WINNER

Astros (88 – 74): I may be undervaluing the ‘Stros a bit. After all, they did go all the way to the World Series in 2005. And they are bound to have a healthy Lance Berkman for the entire season. But this team has been really lucky the past few years, and that’s not just the jaded Braves fan in me talking. Miraculous comebacks and an abnormal Beltran postseason aside, this team has limped into the postseason and scratched and clawed their way from one round to the next. Their consistency on offense will be tested this year as the rest of the division gets stronger and more competitive. There is no doubt that Pettitte and Oswalt may be the best 1-2 pitching combination in all of baseball, but after them there is a sharp drop-off. Brandon Backe has stints of brilliance, but overall he’s a fourth starter at best. After him they will fill in with youngsters Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio. The departure (at least until May) of Roger Clemens will impact this team more than most people think. His 26 quality starts will be next to impossible to replace; Backe, Rodriquez, and Astacio had 25 between them last year. Even if he returns in May, his one month absence may be enough to keep the Astros from making the postseason.

Cubs (84 – 78): Dusty Baker is the most overrated manager in baseball. He doesn’t know how to handle a pitching staff, and he doesn’t know how to develop young players. Prior and Wood have had injuries each of the last two years, will this be Zambrano’s year to stumble. Regardless of if he gets hurt or not, Zambrano’s home runs allowed are headed in an alarming direction over the last three years: 9, 14, 21. And he is relying more and more on the strikeout (K/9): 7.07, 8.07, 8.14. Greg Maddux will pitch as long as you let him, but over the last four years his effectiveness is slipping (ERA): 2.62, 3.96, 4.02, 4.24. The loveable losers will keep on losing, and Baker will keep on chewing on that toothpick.

Pirates (78 – 84): These guys have vastly improved themselves. They finally realized they needed to surround Bay with more than the Wilson boys. Sean Casey’s respected veteran presence will have an amazing impact on this club. He will help youngsters like Chris Duffy, Ryan Doumit, and Jose Castillo come into their own. Their pitching has a lot of promise with Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, but guys like Oliver Perez and Kip Wells might be headed in the wrong direction and need to find some consistency. This team is getting better, but it is still a year or two away from being competitive.

Reds (68 – 94): They must not believe in an investment in pitching. This team, with a surplus of good hitting, made only one trade to try and improve the NL’s worst pitching staff. And the acquisition of the mediocre Dave Williams for well-respected slugger Sean Casey seemed more like a salary dump than a move to improve their staff. The only real question this year is who will lead the team in home runs; slugger Adam Dunn who hit 40 HR last season, or sluggers best friend pitcher Eric Milton, who surrendered 40 HR last season. And don’t try to blame Milton’s gopher ball problem on the GAB, his home / road HR allowed split reads 21 / 19. If you’re a baseball fan who likes home runs, go to a Reds game and you’ll see plenty.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

NL East

Braves (95 – 67): Who else did you expect me to pick to win the East. They won it last year with a rag-tag group of kids from AA. The only question is how are they going to engineer it this season. Will they win with pitching in the post Leo Mazzone era? Will they win with hitting now that AJ has proven he can hit 50 dingers? How much better will they be if Chipper is healthy for an entire season? They are still a team with holes in the bullpen and left field, but holes on this team are just opportunities for creativity from Schu and Cox. The Braves are still very young, and that can be a plus as well as an obstacle. Look for the rest of the East to be scratching their heads in late September wondering how it is the Braves have bested them once again. DIVISION WINNER

Mets (89 – 73): These guys are going to be the ones really scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong. They added Pedro and Beltran last year and it wasn’t enough. They’ve added Delgado and Wagner this year, but will that be enough to close the gap? They will put up more runs this year, but they will only go as far as their starting pitching takes them. After Pedro, every other starter has some questions surrounding him. Does Glavine have another year left in him? Can Benson, Zambrano, and Trachsel be more than back of the rotation starters with ERAs in the fours? Jose Reyes will have to learn how to get on base at more than a .300 clip, because with his speed and the bats behind him, when he gets on base he scores. Make no mistake about it, if he isn’t already, David Wright will become the star of this team.

Phillies (81 – 81): Who is the real Bobby Abreu? Is he the batter that slugged out 18 home runs before the break and put on a show to win the home run derby, or is he the batter that only hit 6 home runs the rest of the way. Can Ryan Howard be the run producer everyone thinks he will be? What’s alarming about his numbers last year is that in only 348 plate appearances he stuck out 100 times. Over a 162 game season that works out to around 171 strikeouts, which would have led the majors last year. Not that recently departed Jim Thome was any better, as he has topped 170 strikeouts four times in his career. But Thome knew how to draw a walk as well as strikeout; Howard has not yet learned that. But the real question with this team is how will the pitching hold up in what is considered by some to be Coors Field East. And how will Tom Gordon react if he blows a couple of saves in a row and the fans in Philly let him have it.

Nationals (74 – 88): Was anyone worse last year than Cristian Guzman? Maybe they’ll put Soriano at short and keep Vidro at second. This team didn’t get any better with the additions of Soriano and pitcher Brian Lawrence. The player they will miss the most is Brad Wilkerson. Even though he took a small step back last year, he was still the spark that ignited that team. Can Ryan Church take his place in the lineup and give them that spark? The window of opportunity for Tony Armas Jr. and Ryan Drese to prove they are effective major league starting pitchers is closing fast.

Marlins (41 – 121): Well, I’m glad to see that Wes Helms found a job. And it’s better than being stuck in AAA, although the Marlins are going to seem like a minor league club this year. Seriously can anyone pencil in half of their starting lineup. How about their starting rotation. After Dontrelle and the uncompromisingly below average Brian Mohler, the entire 40-man roster has only started a total of 42 major league games. Perhaps their slogan should be, “Willis and Mohler, and anyone else with a shoulder.”

Monday, January 09, 2006

This Week: 2006 NL Predictions

On the heels of my bold AL predicting comes the more important NL predicting. I can say that over half of you are going to disagree with my wild card pick, but I can only remind you that this is purely my opinion, and I have tried to back up my picks with an explanatory blurb.

Here is the schedule for the week:
NL East – Tuesday, January 10th
NL Central – Wednesday, January 11th
NL West – Thursday, January 12th
NL Award Winners – Friday, January 13th

Also, a big thank you to Joe over at Talking Chop for the great mention on his site. One cannot say enough good things about the job he does blogging the Braves.

Friday, January 06, 2006

AL Award Winners

MVP: Sometimes it takes a couple of good years for people to figure out how good you are, and if that’s the case then Indians DH Travis Hafner will be the AL MVP in 2006. His numbers will be enough to overcome the East coast awards bias. Look for him to post a 40 HR season and a top five batting average to go along with his league leading RBI total. He’s an animal with runners on base, and thrives in pressure situations. Apologies to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

Cy Young: How Colon ever won this award last year I will never know. Apparently, too many writers value wins over any other indicator of what constitutes quality pitching. This year the award will return to its rightful owner in the person of Johan Santan. His 2005 season was just as dominant as his 2004 Cy Young season, though he came up just short in wins. So if the major qualifier for this award is ticks in the win column then here’s to hoping Johan tops 20 wins so that the writers who vote will get it right this year. Apologies to Rich Harden and Cliff Lee.

Rookie of the Year: A glimmer of hope for Red Sox Fans will be the budding star of Craig Hansen. Out of the Huston Street mold, Hansen may be pressed into duty if Foulke can’t come back from last year’s injuries. And while many will want to move Timlin into the closers role, it’s eventually going to be Hansen’s, and Boston will give him his shot. Apologies to Kenji Johjima and Francisco Liriano.

Comeback Player of the Year Award presented by Viagra: I had to bone up on my baseball knowledge to figure this one out. There were some stats I had to straighten out before. . . okay, I’ll stop. The new South Side Thumper Jim Thome takes home this award. He will benefit greatly from not having to play the field, not to mention being surrounded in the batting order by Konerko and Dye. Apologies to Roy Halladay and Rocco Baldelli.

Manager of the Year: Since the White Sox edged out Cleveland last year, and Guillen edged Wedge as well, it only seems natural that the better of the two teams’ managers will win the award in 2006. So because I have Cleveland besting Chicago in the AL Central, that means Eric Wedge is in line to win the best skipper of 2006. Apologies to Ken Macha and John Gibbons.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

AL West

Athletics (89 – 73): The A’s didn’t do too much this off-season, but with their young crop of talent, they didn’t have to. They’re also looking pretty smart for wrapping up Loaiza early in the off-season, as the price for starters has skyrocketed. After posting a home ERA under 3.00 in RFK last season, Loaiza should enjoy the even more friendly pitching confines of the virus-free McAfee Coliseum. The real story is how Milton Bradley will fare in Oakland. Will his sometimes harsh nature infect the clubhouse, or will he silence that and let his hustle do the talking for him. Look for Rich Harden to compete for the AL Cy Young and lead one of the best pitching staffs in the game, if not the best with Harden, Barry Zito, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, and Esteban Loaiza. DIVISION WINNER

Angels (88 – 74): The Halos did a lot of standing pat this off-season as well, save for the swap of over-the-hillers Finley for Alfonso. The rest of the division is catching up with them, and their age is going to let the A’s overtake them this year. They need to infuse this team with the young talent now and let go of the Erstad’s and Anderson’s. Anderson’s OPS the last three years is going in the wrong direction: .885, .789, .743. Is Vlad’s OPS headed in the same direction: 1.012, .989, .959? Erstad is becoming a strikeout machine: 40, 74, 109.

Mariners (83 – 79): This team can’t be as bad as they were last year. They added another Japanese player in catcher Kenji Johjima to keep Ichiro company. It will be interesting to see how he makes the transition to the states as the first catcher to come over from the land of the rising sun. Don’t look for Beltre to be any better than he was last year. His OPS from 2001 to 2005 reads, .720, .729, .714, 1.017, .716. Maybe the M’s should have just signed him to a one year contract instead of that five year cash fest. Odds are he won’t put up numbers like he did in his first free agent year of ’04 until his next walk year in ’09. But the real question is will his contract be the worst one on the books, or will the averageness of Washburn and his bloated salary win the prize.

Rangers (81 – 81): Well they did what they said they would never do, and gave a pitcher a five year contract (well okay, four years with a vesting fifth year). Will the Millwood signing and the Eaton and Padilla trades be enough to boost the Rangers out of the cellar? Not this year, but I have stumbled upon the key. The answer to the Rangers’ quest for a trip to the World Series is to get rid of Buck Showalter, and the next year they’re virtually guaranteed to win the fall classic. After the Yankees got rid of Showalter in ’95, they won the Series with Torre in ’96. After Arizona got rid of Showalter in 2000, they won the Series with Brenly in 2001. They can hire whoever they want, hell, hire broadcaster Josh Lewin, it doesn’t matter just get rid of Showalter and the next year they’re a shoe-in to win it all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

AL Central

Indians (95 – 67): Even though they lost out on Millwood and had to settle on Wickman again, the core of this team is still solid. They learned how to win last year, but it was too late. In 2006 they’ll use that knowledge and experience of how to win starting on opening day instead of taking the first month off. For all you fantasy baseball players, Grady Sizemore might be next year’s Bobby Abreu. With over 20 HR and 20 SB in 2005, to go along with 111 Runs and 81 RBIs, he’s about to be Brady Anderson on steroids. . . oh, wait. DIVISION WINNER

White Sox (94 – 68): Ozzie Guillen is wacky and his act may wear thin at times, but he’ll put a winner on the field every game. Can he overcome the year-after pressures and keep his team focused through all the defending champ hoopla? How will Vazquez fare being a couple hundred more miles closer to the East coast than he was, and can he pitch in the cold of Chicago and readjust to the American League. He has been jerked back and forth between leagues from Montreal (NL) to New York (AL) to Arizona (NL) to Chicago (AL) for four years in a row and his stuff has not adjusted. Is Guillen the right manager for his fragile ego? WILD CARD WINNER

Twins (85 – 77): They’re a good enough team to be eight or so games over .500, but they just don’t have the hitting to rank up there with Cleveland or Chicago. They will be better than they were last year, but not by much. Until they develop someone who can hit more than 23 home runs in a season their ability to catch the two teams ahead of them in their division will be limited.

Royals (74 – 88): Aside from the best 3-4-3 double play combination in baseball (Mientkiewicz to Grudzielanek and back to Mientkiewicz) they made some other no frills additions, and those will be enough to pull them out of the cellar. In signing the afore mentioned infielders as well as Reggie Sanders, they’ve added some solid hitters to surround Mike Sweeney, and they’ve bought time for some of their young players to develop while they put a more competitive team on the field. Elarton, Redman, and Dessens will eat some innings while posting ERA’s north of 5, but they’ll rack up double digit wins and take pressure off last year’s over-taxed bullpen.

Tigers (69 – 93): Does it even matter who their manager is? Leyland’s just going to sit on the bench with his legs crossed smoking cigarettes. One must check out all the former Pirates on his coaching staff. Could this team be full of more average players than they already have, oh wait, Rondell White is no longer a Tiger. And the Bobby Higginson era finally comes to an end to every Tiger fan’s delight. Can I-Rod do any worse than last year’s .290 on-base percentage; we’ll see.

A Useful Tool From ESPN

ESPN put up some useful charts showing each teams' starting lineup and starting rotation (projected starters). The starting lineup is listed catcher through right field and not in a supposed batting order fashion, but it is still a great way to take a quick glance at all the teams. American League National League

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

AL East

Yankees (104 – 58): Just like the Bravos, they find a way to win the East every year – eight in a row now, and eleven straight playoff appearances. Their All-Star lineup added even more punch this year, and for the first off-season in a while did so without using their farm system. Credit GM Brian Cashman for holding on to his prospects while still improving the team – of course, when your spending money is equivalent to Fort Knox that’s not hard to do. If they use 14 starting pitchers like they did in 2005 they will once again make it interesting for the rest of the division in 2006, but if their starters can stay healthy they’ll wrap it up by the end of August. DIVISION WINNER

Blue Jays (91 – 71): Sorry Boston fans, as much as I like the Red Sox, I’m a big fan of ‘pitching wins championships,’ and in Boston’s case let me say that healthy pitching wins championships. Toronto has made the moves to make this team better, and their starting pitching can match up with anyone in the league. They have also added punch to their lineup to go along with the players they’ve developed that together will put up enough runs to win plenty of games. And if they are close games, then they’ve got a happy ending with B.J.

Red Sox (84 – 78): Yes, the Lester’s and Paplebon’s are another year away from making an impact, but my guess is they’ll be forced into action by injuries to old man Schilling and the annual bi-monthly Beckett blister. The team can survive without Damon’s bat, but not without his energy. Mueller and Millar are gone, and the idiots are all but a legend. It’s time to re-tool with the kids and load up for 2007.

Devil Rays (78 – 84): Late bloomers last year, this team will benefit from not having the overbearing Lou Pinella under foot all the time. Their kids are all maturing at the same time, and this is the year they start to separate themselves from the cellar dwellers. As the second half of last year showed, they have achieved .500 baseball. But maybe .500 baseball is too much to ask, maybe it’s enough just to have them not lose 90+ games, something they’ve never done.

Orioles (68 – 94): Yeah, I think they’re this bad. They have too many holes and not enough bats to fill them. Leo Mazzone will help some of their young guns develop, but when you can’t hit the ball unless you’re named Tejada then losing is inevitable. The off-season saga is not yet completed for the O’s, as we are yet to find out whether or not they will trade Tejada, and what they are going to do with two starting catchers in Hernandez and Lopez.

2006 Predictions

Over the next two weeks, of what promises to be very lean with baseball related news, I will present my predictions of what teams will finish where and who will win what awards. I’ve always wanted to actually do this, I’ve talked about it for years, but I’ve never put it in writing. So far it has been an interesting endeavor. I have been bold enough to not only predict what order each team will finish, but also what their record will be. Feel free to disagree, but after all this is only my opinion. I have, however, tried to back up my predictions with a blurb of why I rank each team where I do.

Here is the schedule for the next two weeks:
AL East – Tuesday, January 3rd
AL Central – Wednesday, January 4th
AL West – Thursday, January 5th
AL Award Winners – Friday, January 6th
NL East – Tuesday, January 10th
NL Central – Wednesday, January 11th
NL West – Thursday, January 12th
NL Award Winners – Friday, January 13th