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votto phillips choo

Filling out my first All-Star Ballot of the Summer

All-Star voting is underway and fifty games into the season is a good enough sample size to identify some selections. These will likely change a little before July 16, so don’t kill me for omitting the first place Red Sox, Rangers and Cardinals. But hey, this is my ballot.

Along with your traditional home runs and batting average, my favorite baseball statistics are:

  • On-base percentage (hits plus walks plus hit-by-pitches)
  • Extra-bases (homers, doubles, triples, stolen bases)
  • Runs produced (runs scored plus runs batted in minus home runs)

After all, getting on base, moving around the diamond and producing runs are like the hokey-pokey: that’s what it’s all about. Those aren’t the only stats I’m judging on, and defense is also considered.

American League

First base: Chris Davis, Orioles. 17 home runs, 18 doubles, .344 batting average and 29 walks. He also plays solid defensively at first. Davis has become one of my favorite sluggers.

Second base: Robinson Cano, Yankees. The way Cano leads the Yankees with nothing resembling an All-Star around him on the active roster to the top of the division for nearly two months is amazing. One of the best players in baseball.

manny machadoThird base: Manny Machado, Orioles. Okay, this spot should and will go to Miguel Cabrera, but this is my chance to put in a plug for one of the brightest rising stars in the game. The 20-year old phenom is hitting .335, leads the league with 23 doubles, and is tield with Cabrera for most hits in baseball. And it’s safe to see we all would rather watch this Web Gem collector flash the leather at third than Cabrera.

Shortstop: Johnny Peralta, Tigers. Cabrera’s teammate on the left side gets my vote at short. Batting .400 in May, Peralta, who has always been a solid hitter and fielder, is taking advantage of injuries to regular All-Stars Jeter and Reyes.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins. What’s there to say about a catcher batting .330 who also collects lots of walks and smacks doubles?

Center field: Mike Trout, Angels. The wonder kid is among the league leaders in extra base hits, stolen bases and runs produced, and is a human highlight reel in center field.

Left field: Adam Jones, Orioles. It’s amazing how last year’s Baltimore superstar is now third on the team, even though he’s still hitting .318 with power, speed, and a recent Gold Glove on his shelf.

Right field: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. After missing much of last year and starting slow, it’s nice to see Joey Bats back to doing his thing. Especially at the Rogers Center. After sitting out four games with an injury last month, Bautista’s on-base percentage at home since April 19 (20 games) is .538. Wow.

miguel cabreraDesignated hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. Miggy will be at third but he should probably be the DH instead. Let’s see… he leads the league by a mile in on-base percentage and runs produced, he’s second in home runs, he’s the reigning MVP and has a good chance to win the Triple Crown again.

Pitcher: Chris Sale, White Sox. While Clay Buchholz has pitched lights out against the Twins, White Sox and Astros, Sale has pitched very well against some of the best lineups in the AL (Angels twice, Indians and Rangers). He’s allowed 20 less hits than innings pitched. And other than one bad game in Cleveland, Sale has a 1.51 ERA and a quality start in each game. And he did it last year, too.

National League

First base: Joey Votto, Reds. One of the best measures for a hitter is how often he is walked. Joey Votto has 44 bases-on-balls, ten more than everyone else except his teammate Shin-Soo Choo. If a .354 batting average isn’t impressive enough, a Bonds-esque .477 on-base percentage is.

Second base: Brandon Phillips, Reds. The slick-fielding vet doesn’t do much when the bases are empty (awful .260 OBP), but takes advantage of the plentiful times Votto and Choo get on base to the tune of an impressive .478 OBP with runners in scoring position and league-high 43 RBI and 68 runs produced.

Third base: David Wright, Mets. The Amazin’s captain is having another stellar season. Some interesting stats: 4 triples, 11 stolen bases, 27 walks.

Shortstop: Jean Segura, Brewers. Probably the toughest decision of the whole process is Segura or Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo’s home splits at Coors are staggering, but not much different than Segura’s impressive road splits. Segura has higher average, on-base percentage, 14-0 steals edge, and comparable power numbers.

buster poseyCatcher: Buster Posey, Giants. The reigning MVP and World Series champ is hitting .304 and a ton of walks brings his OBP to .394, fifth highest in the NL.

Center field: Shin-Soo Choo, Reds. What do you want in a leadoff hitter? How about a .450 on-base percentage with power?

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies. CarGo has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball doing it all: .311/.388 and among the leaders in homers, doubles, walks, stolen bases, and runs produced.

Right field: Justin Upton, Braves. It comes down to a couple Brewers and a struggling Bryce Harper, and Upton beats them out right now as the Braves are in first and Upton’s hot start is holding up.

Designated Hitter: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks. Goldy is the primary reason Arizona is in first place out west. He’s pretty much Top 2 or 3 in just about every offensive category.

Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. Tip my hat to Matt Harvey, but I still think Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball right now.

miguel cabrera

Baseball Power Report: Week 5 (Month 1)

A month is in the books so here is my early May Power Report. For each team I have a ranking and a few interesting stats/observations for not just the last week, but the season to date. Enjoy it because it took a lot of work!

30. Astros. Lost 10 out of 11 and outscored by 24 runs the last two. The 198 runs they’ve allowed is 34 more than the next team. On pace for 41-121 record. They’ve also racked up an impressive 323 strikeouts, which will shatter the all time record. Philip Humber not only has the highest ERA but also the lowest run support; that’s how you go 0-7. There’s no question that second baseman Jose Altuve (NL-most 43 hits, .331 average) will be the team’s All-Star rep.

29. Marlins. Even with their 14 run outburst against Roy Halladay on Sunday, Marlins are the only team yet to score 100 runs (in 32 games), and with the only real legitimate player (Giancarlo Stanton) out another month, runs will continue to be hard to come by.

(The Astros and Marlins are so bad that for the rest of the league, if I say worst/lowest/fewest/most/highest, it means among everyone else.)

28. Cubs. Believe it or not, the Cubs starting pitchers have given up the lowest batting average of any rotation (.218) and they have the most strikeouts in the NL. Unfortunately, the bullpen has dragged down the staff with a .356 on-base percentage allowed and 8 blown saves.

27. Padres. They have no hitters you’ve ever heard of but it is the pitching that has been bad. League’s worst ERA for starting pitchers. But since San Diego’s 5-15 start they are a respectable 8-3.

26. Mets already have 14 losses to the Marlins, Phillies, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres. All starters not named Matt Harvey have combined for a 5.63 ERA.

25. White Sox. The Sox have gotten some great starting pitching and bullpen work but the offense is anemic. They have scored the fewest runs and at .281 have the lowest on-base percentage in all of MLB. They have three regulars (Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, and Tyler Flowers) batting under .200. Right now they have less than half as many walks as the A’s and yet more strikeouts.

24. Mariners. Michael Morse has an impressive 9 home runs, but he’s hitting .091 with runners in scoring position, giving him 14 RBI. King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma have been an outstanding duo at the top of the rotation, yielding just 17 earned runs in 95.1 innings (1.60 ERA), but starters for the rest of the games have been atrocious (100 IP, 76 ER = 6.84 ERA).

23. Blue Jays. Yes, I picked them to win the East and I still think they can get back into the race. But at this point Toronto has had one of the worst offenses (.232 average), worst fielding (16 unearned runs), and worst pitching (.776 on-base plus slugging percentage allowed) and worst run differential. Jays hit a lot of home runs but that’s it. I’m not writing them off yet but there is definitely room for improvement. J.P. Arencibia doesn’t watch many pitches: 42 strikeouts, 2 walks.

22. Twins. Off to a good start but it’s not sustainable. They have very little power, the pitching staff doesn’t strike anyone out, and they have given up 43 more hits than they’ve produced.

21. Phillies. You know there’s trouble when Kyle Kendrick is leading the staff. Phillies are a shocking 5-15 in starts by Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay.

20. Angels. A team that was supposed to be much improved is the biggest disappointment. Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo are starting to pick up but Josh Hamilton (.208) and Albert Pujols (.237) are not. Chris Iannetta has had a base stolen off him 21 times in 24 games and caught only two runners. But the biggest problem has been the pitching, which has been the league’s worst. Angels are 9 games behind the Rangers.

carlos gomez

19. Brewers. Already this season Milwaukee has a losing streak of 5 games, winning streak of 9 games, and another losing streak of 5 games. Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Yuniesky Betancourt have been great but the pitching has been very inconsistent.

18. Rockies. After an amazing start the Rockies haven’t won back-to-back games since April 19-20. Hitting has reigned both home at Coors Field and on the road and the Rockies have the best offense in baseball led by Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki and Wilin Rosario. The pitching is better than last year, but we don’t know how much better.

17. Dodgers. There is a lot of great with Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez (.337 average, .398 OBP), Carl Crawford (.383 OBP), Nick Punto (.441 OBP), A.J. Ellis (.390 OBP), and Mark Ellis (.342 average), but the Dodgers still sit four games under .500. Josh Beckett is still winless in six starts and Matt Kemp has just one homer. One other interesting stat: Dodgers have a .305 batting average against lefties, best in the majors.

16. Rays. Didn’t see this coming: since April 17, James Loney is hitting 28/53 (.528) and providing Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist with some much-needed support. Matt Joyce has 6 home runs and 9 RBI (in 26 games!). Tampa hitters homered in 17 straight games, a streak that ended surprisingly in Colorado Saturday. Rays starters are now one of six teams since 1916 to have starters pitch at least five innings in each of the team’s first 31 games. Matt Moore has been great, which is a good thing because David Price has not (1 win in 7 starts, 6.25 ERA).

15. Indians. Here’s a stat you probably couldn’t guess: Indians pitchers have the lowest opponents batting average. Catcher Carlos Santana doesn’t offer much defensively, but with the bat he is crushing, leading the league with a .379 average and adding power (6 homers). Mark Reynolds is hitting an un-Mark-Reynolds-like .296. The pitching is erratic, but the hitting should be good enough to keep them around the middle of the pack.

14. Royals. Jeremy Guthrie is 9-0 since August 3. The new additions in the rotation (James Shields and Ervin Santana) have lifted the Royals to one of the most productive rotations in the AL. At 17-10 KC is off to a hot start but I’m not a believer. There is no power in the lineup (just 16 total homers) and their .393 OBP with runners in scoring position will drop. Things get tougher as 23 of their next 26 games are against the Orioles, Yankees, Angels, Athletics, Cardinals, and Rangers. We’ll see where they are at in a month, but my guess is on the other side of .500.

13. Diamondbacks have done a good job fighting through injuries but have one glaring weakness: the bullpen. Arizona relievers have blown 10 saves in 18 chances. Funny thing is the peripheral numbers aren’t bad: 3.12 ERA, .229 average against. Starter Ian Kennedy hasn’t won a game since Opening Day. Didi Gregorius is batting .433 in 8 games with 7 extra-base hits.

12. Pirates. Hitting has improved and pitching has slipped as Pittsburgh floats closer to the .500 mark. Jason Grilli has been lights out: 12/12 in saves, 21/4 K/BB, 0.69 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. One early cause for concern: Pirates relievers have thrown the most innings of any bullpen. Pedro Alvarez has had 39 at bats with runners in scoring position and just 6 hits (.154).

11. Yankees. Watching them every day I feel like they should be lower, but they keep winning. Looking at their record I feel like I should put them higher, but they keep losing players to injury. Right now Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Granderson, Youkilis, Cervelli, Nova, Pineda and Chamberlain are all on the disabled list, and Eduardo Nunez and David Robertson are also hurt. There is no doubt that a 18-12 start is much better than anyone could have anticipated, but can it continue with Jayson Nix, Chris Nelson, Lyle Overbay, Ichiro and Chris Stewart playing every day? Robinson Cano has serious legitimacy as the MVP so far.

10. Giants. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval haven’t disappointed, and Madison Bumgarner (1.55 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) has leapfrogged Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum as the dominant ace of the staff. Giants have allowed ten more home runs and doubles then their offense has provided, but they’ve still outscored their opponent by ten. Giants starters have 10 wins, relievers have 9.

9. Braves. 6-11 record since their 12-1 start. Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson have been good surprises, but overall Justin Upton hasn’t gotten much support in the lineup. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann have all been hurt, but B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Heyward (when he’s played) have been totally awful, combining for a .158 average. And while their starting pitching overall has been great, the Braves have lost nine of the last ten starts by Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. Justin Upton’s 12 home runs is worth mentioning again.

8. Athletics. Traditionally a pitching team, things have changed dramatically in Oakland, and without any true slugger. I don’t know what’s so scary about the Athletics lineup but they have tallied the most (by far) base-on-balls in the league, extra-base hits, and runs. (Sounds like Moneyball to me.) They are also near the top in stolen bases. 39 year-old Bartolo Colon has issued one walk in six starts.

7. Orioles. Speaking of extra-base hits, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones have 53 of them, most of any teammate trios, and if you add Nate McLouth’s nine stolen bases, that makes four O’s that get themselves around the bases into scoring position. Matt Wieters isn’t doing anything with the bat but he’s been great defensively, throwing out eight would-be-basestealers (57%).

6. Cardinals have 23 quality starts in 31 games and the lowest starters ERA. In fact, all five starting pitchers have an ERA under 2.80. That’s good because their relievers have been the worst group in all of baseball. With Beltran, Holliday, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig, the St Louis lineup is very balanced and has been the best with runners in scoring position, hitting .328 with a .405 on-base percentage. Cardinals are MLB-best 13-6 on the road.

5. Reds. Shin-Soo Choo has been the most impactful new addition to any team this year, with his .463 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. He has a .615 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position, and thanks to 8 walks in those situations actually has more runs scored than at-bats. Joey Votto’s overall OBP is higher, at .464. Jay Bruce hit 66 home runs the last two seasons but has just one so far in 2013 (with 46 strikeouts).

4. Nationals. I said they had the most complete (and best) team and even with their poorish start I still believe. The strange things are Strasburg’s struggles, the offense’s inability to score runs, and the most errors in baseball. Nats only hitting .203 against lefties. Jordan Zimmerman has been outstanding (5-1, 1.64) but Gio Gonzalez (4.97) and Dan Haren (5.01) have a long way to go. If I had to make my season predictions again I would still pick the Nats to make the World Series.

3. Red Sox. The Sox still are tied for the best record in baseball despite getting swept in Texas. David Ortiz has a 25-game hitting streak, going back to last July and through a couple stints on the DL. Mike Napoli is enjoying the Green Monster as he leads the league with 22 extra-base hits. Clay Buchholz has won all 6 of his starts, with a 1.01 ERA and 0.96 ERA. I’m still not picking them to win the division, but with their soft schedule the next four weeks Boston should stay around the top for another month.

2. Rangers. Yu Darvish has emerged as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, but the key to the Rangers success has been the rookies: Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers. Even with their hitter-friendly home of the Ballpark in Arlington, the Rangers have the league-lowest ERA and WHIP. They are also the only team without a blown save.

1. Tigers. Miguel Cabrera has picked up right where he left off. He leads baseball in hits and has walked 17 times and has knocked in 36 runs already. He is definitely enjoying lots of protection in the Tigers lineup with Prince (8 HR, .429 OBP, 32 RBI), and Torii Hunter (.361 average). Being on the unemployment market and then in the minors has gotten Jose Valverde’s attention; he has only allowed one baserunner in four innings and put the back of the Tigers bullpen under control. And then there’s Verlander, Sanchez and Scherzer. Any question why the Tigers are in the #1 spot?

Players of the Week

AL: Ryan Raburn, Indians. (I could have gone with Miguel Cabrera here, but he did all his damage in one game against the Astros.) Raburn had two multi-homer games followed by a 4-hit game, and another multi-hit game on Sunday.

NL: Carlos Gomez, Brewers. Milwaukee lost 5 in a row, but you can’t blame Gomez. He went 12-26 with 6 extra-base hits and 5 stolen bases. The centerfielder is now hitting .368 on the season, with 6 HR and 7 SBs.

 

boston

greatest day in Northeast sports history?

(April 20)

For a mid-April Saturday with no rings or trophies being awarded, it has been one of the most incredible sports days in the Northeast I can ever remember. In Boston, the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics were all in action, and after yesterday’s heroic triumph over evil, what a day for celebration! For New York, the Yankees, Knicks, Nets, Mets and Devils were all playing and gave fans a great show.

Here’s the rundown:

Boston Red Sox triumphantly return to Fenway with a great ceremony, dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to win it; Ortiz returns and contributes, Buchholz goes to 4-0

New York Yankees win in 11 innings; Kuroda pitches a gem and Rivera saves the game

New York Knicks matched up with the Boston Celtics in playoff action

Brooklyn Nets trampled the Bulls in a dominant playoff debut

New York Rangers win in a shootout

New Jersey Devils win big

Boston Bruins returned to home-ice action with an emotional ceremony and played a great game

New York Mets played a great game with the Nationals and at least got to see Bryce Harper show some magic

Traveling a little farther south but still in the region…

Baltimore Orioles swept a double header on the memorial day for the late Earl Weaver

Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the first-place Braves

Pittsburgh Penguins won their hockey game in dramatic fashion

Philadelphia Flyers took care of business

- Afore-mentioned Washington Nationals won in dramatic fashion

Washington Capitals won big over division-leading Canadiens

What more could you ask for?

tim duncan

Miller’s NBA Playoff Predictions

(April 20)

In my first year trying I dominated my fantasy basketball league, finishing 9 (Roto) points ahead of the next guy, grabbing the most assists, steals, blocks, and three pointers. Now that that is done, the next obstacle is the real NBA Playoffs.

Generally, the playoffs go to the teams that play better defense, shoot better free throws and stay healthy, and that is where I trend.  Here are my picks for the first round (in order of comment length). There are traditionally few upsets in the NBA, but I pick some.

Nets vs. Bulls: When the Nets fired Avery Johnson back in the day when they were 14-14 I said it was a good thing for the team and that Brooklyn will improve and not only make the playoffs but they would win a series. Joachim Noah has a bad foot that makes him doubtful for Game 1 and compromised in the series. Derrick Rose could surprise everyone and decide to play, and that could change things as the Nets have struggled against quick and offense-minded point guards. But Rose hasn’t faced NBA competition in twelve months, so even if he did play he wouldn’t be effective. Meanwhile, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are playing their best ball of the year right now, and a few extra days off should help Joe Johnson be in prime condition. Reggie Evans has emerged as the best rebounder in the NBA. Historically, D-Will performs at the highest level in the playoffs. Bulls are a trendy pick; in fact, it seems like the Nets are the underdogs. Nets advance in their first year in Brooklyn. Nets in 5

Knicks vs. Celtics. Knicks set the record for most threes in a season. Historically, teams reliant on the three-ball have not done as well in the playoffs. Also, the Knicks haven’t won a playoff series in thirteen years. They are facing a Celtics team that is missing Rajon Rondo but still has KG, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers, along with Jason Terry off the bench who has hit big playoff shots in his career. Celtics have been waiting for the playoffs for a month now. They don’t have much depth, especially in the middle, and that could cause concern, especially if Garnett gets in foul trouble. Carmelo Anthony is the best player in the series, but if he and J.R. Smith fall in love with the mid-range and shots from downtown, Boston will come away on top. And how nice that would be for a city coming off such a terrible tragedy. Celtics in 7

Nuggets and Warriors. I like the Warriors’ team and I want to pick them here, but for a lot of the same reason as the Knicks, I’ve gotta go with Denver. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are great shooters but in the playoffs the better defensive team usually controls the game. Even in Curry’s best games when he takes over the Warriors still typically don’t win. And the Nuggets are really solid perimeter defenders. One concern for Denver is health; they are losing players (Gallinari, Faried, etc.) at the wrong time of the year. If Golden State can get the ball inside to David Lee and Andrew Bogut regularly rather than I like their chances but I’m afraid they won’t do that. Nuggets in 7

- Clippers vs. Grizzlies. These are two great teams in one of the best matchups of the first round and a rematch of last year. Lob City won in seven games last year, but I’ve gotta go with my gut and my heart and pick the Grizzlies; I like their defense and inside game with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. And to pick another stat I like, Memphis is a Top Ten free throw team while the Clippers are a bottom five, and free throws could make the difference in a long tight series. Grizzlies in 7

- Thunder and Rockets. An intriguing matchup as James Harden faces his former team. There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the season as to whether the Thunder made a big mistake “breaking up the band” so early but they still managed to finish on top in the West and are the favorites to represent in the Finals again. Rockets are exciting with Harden, James Lin, Chandler Parsons and Thomas Robinson but they just don’t play much defense and OKC is simply a much better team. Thunder in 6

Spurs vs. Lakers. Lakers aren’t very good with or without Kobe. Tim Duncan is having one of his best ever seasons and now is where his focus has been. There is no focus in LA and Dwight Howard is going to be shooting about 18 free throws a game. How many can he make? Not enough. I like San Antonio big in this series. Spurs in 4

Heat vs. Bucks.  LeBron and Bosh are playing their best ball of their careers and while Wade has played in just 3 of the last 10 games, he played 23 effective minutes in their last contest. Heat haven’t even been trying and they’ve still won 8 in a row. Won’t be a sweep, but the Bucks won’t challenge the Heat too much. Heat in 5

Pacers vs. Hawks. Atlanta has been falling apart lately and they just aren’t that good! They haven’t beaten anybody good in over a month. Indiana’s defense will wear out the Hawks and end the series quickly. Pacers in 5

EAST
Heat in 5
Celtics in 7
Pacers in 5
Nets in 5
WEST
Spurs in 4
Thunder in 6
Nuggets in 7
Grizzlies in 7
FINALS
Heat over Spurs in 6
stephen strasburg

Look into my Crystal Ball – Projections for 2013

I can think of no better way to open up the baseball season than with one game on a Sunday night in March in Houston, home to the worst team in the whole league. Tough to take this “Opening Night” thing serious. Naturally, the Astros start the season with a win. But hey, the Yankees and Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers, and Phillies and Braves all kick off the true Opening Day on an April Monday for one of the most anticipated season kickoffs in memory.

On Friday I gave my season preview and projections for the AL East. Here are my predictions for the rest of the Major Leagues. Division standings are first and awards follow.

There is a lot of parity in the AL while the NL is pretty much the haves and the have-nots. With two terrible teams in both the NL East and West, the wild cards will come from both, while at least one wild card comes from from the AL West (possibly two), and it won’t be the Astros.

American League

East

1. Blue Jays 89-73. Toronto New Jays bring winning back to Canada.

2. Orioles 88-74. Starting pitchers improve and the young nucleus of sluggers give opponents headaches as the Orioles get back to the postseason.

3. Yankees 84-78. Too many issues to overcome and the early hole they get into will be too deep to crawl out of.

4. Rays 83-79. Price will be dominant, one of Cobb, Hellickson or Moore will breakout, but not all three. Wil Myers won’t make much of a rookie impact as the Rays struggle to score runs.

5. Red Sox 80-82. Improvement is unavoidable but too much has to right and another team will have to fall apart for the Red Sox to finish above the bottom.

Central

justin verlander

1. Tigers 97-65. In his second year in town Prince is settled in comfortably and V-Mart is back. Rotation is solid led by the horse of the AL. Even without a designated closer the bullpen is very strong. Look at what the Giants did last year without a “closer.” Tigers start the season much better and pull ahead instead of climb back.

2. Indians 81-81. It all comes down to pitching and if they play like last year Cleveland will be under .500. But if Francona can get Ubaldo and Masterson to pitch well the Indians could compete for a Wild Card. I like their lineup.

3. Royals 79-83. It’s an all-new rotation with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. That is still pretty mediocre with a mediocre lineup for support.

4. White Sox 77-85. I picked them to finish last in 2012 and they surprised by leading the way well into September before falling. Chris Sale and Jake Peavy are strong anchors for their rotation, but there’s not much upside on this team.

5. Twins 63-99.  Mauer, WIllingham and Morneau could provide a little firepower but this is a 96 loss team last year that didn’t get any better. The whole rotation is a bunch of #5 starters.

West

1. Angels 93-69. Trout, Hamilton, Pujols and Trumbo with a clear ace in Weaver, along with a couple quality arms in C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hanson. Bullpen is a question mark, but barring injuries the Angels should have no trouble eclipsing 90 wins.

2. Athletics 91-71. They fooled me last year and won’t do it again. This young pitching staff will outperform expectations again and Yoenis Cespedes will lead a surprisingly competitive lineup. Playoffs again.

3. Rangers 85-77. This group is a disappointment candidate without Hamilton unless A.J. Pierzynski repeats his career year at age 36 and Berkman slugs for a whole season. I don’t trust any of the pitchers after Yu Darvish, and the bullpen is also highly questionable.

4. Mariners 82-80. The pieces are coming into place (Morse, Morales, Montero, Seager, Smoak, Ibanez on the bench) and King Felix will be around for a while. Are the Mariners ready to make the jump above .500? Perhaps, but not much above that.

5. Astros 46-116. Ask me how I really feel about them. It will be a long inaugural season in the AL as the Astros are completely starting over and doing so in the toughest division in all of baseball. The payroll of their entire active roster ($19M) is less than about a dozen individual players’ salaries.


National League

East

1. Nationals 99-63. Best rotation, lineup and bullpen in the National League. Strasburg makes the next great step in his career as he plays the whole year and collects the Cy Young award while teammate Bryce Harper wins MVP.

2. Braves 92-70. Craig Kimbrel is the most dominating pitcher in the game, but for the first time in decades there are serious questions about the starting rotation. If the Upton brothers breakout together along with Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, the offense will be explosive.

3. Phillies 86-76. Howard, Utley and Young looking for a big comeback campaign. A Halladay-like Halladay would get the Phils in the playoffs, but instead they will fall just short.

4. Marlins. 64-98. Giancarlo Stanton is on an island in Miami.

5. Mets. 65-97. David Wright is also on an island. Too many injuries already for a team that has such little talent to begin with.

Central

1. Reds 93-69. Outstanding offensively, and Votto is back healthy. Strong bullpen and top of the rotation. Reds run away with the division.

2. Brewers 86-76. This changes if Braun gets suspended or injured. Brewers have an All-Star ace (Gallardo) and three great young pitchers. The solid core of Braun, Ramirez and (eventually) Hart will benefit with a rebound by Rickie Weeks and solid surprise production from Aoki, Segura and Gomez. Braun has another MVP-caliber campaign but loses votes because of PED suspicion. Brewers in the playoff picture all season long.

3. Pirates 84-78. On July 28, 2012 Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500. The previous year they were 7 over on July 19. In 2013 they contain the summer swoon and finish with a winning record led by a rising star in Andrew McCutchen.Russell Martin will help the starting pitchers step up their performance.

4. Cardinals 80-82. Losing Chris Carpenter, along with their closer, shortstop and third baseman to injuries already, plus their #2 starter to free agency, plus losing fifteen scheduled games against the Astros all make me question how successful the Cardinals will be this season. Will Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran each play 150 games again? I doubt it. I may be wrong but I’m just not excited about this team.

5. Cubs. 66-96. Starling Castro is your All-Star but the pitching is seriously lacking (both starters and relievers). Bottom half of lineup will put you to sleep.

West

1. Dodgers 91-71. The free-spending Dodgers are a bit of a wild card. There is so much talent on this team. The ceiling is very high if Crawford, Greinke, and Kemp are healthy, if Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett step up, and HanRam comes back after his injury motivated. The rotation is very deep. However, there are tons of injury flags and risks as well as possibly combustible clubhouse chemistry with this Fantasy Baseball All-Star construction. The Dodgers could win 100 games or 80.

2. Diamondbacks 87-75. There is not a single star on the team but still, surprisingly solid pitching with an offense that should score a ton of runs. Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero will emerge as All-Stars as the D-Backs sneak into the playoffs.

3. Giants 86-76. It is impossible to explain just how this team became champs last year other than that they snuck in and hung in there until the World Series started. Matt Cain and Buster Posey are crazy good and Giants still get a lot of wins, but they will just miss the playoffs unless Lincecum returns to form, and still, that may not be enough.

4. Rockies. 70-92. So much went wrong last year. Most of their sluggers and pitchers got hurt, the coach tried some creative managing that didn’t work, and it was back to the Old School Rockies Way (historically bad pitching). This year they get a little less unlucky but still struggle to win games in a competitive division.

5. Padres 64-98. One of the least-talented teams in baseball will play like it.


Postseason

A’s over Orioles – Tigers over A’s – Angels over Jays

Tigers over Angels

Braves over D-Backs – Nationals over Braves – Reds over Dodgers

Nationals over Reds

World Series

Nationals over Tigers

bryce harper

Awards

MVP: Jose Bautista – Bryce Harper

Cy Young: Justin Verlander – Stephen Strasburg

Rookie: Jackie Bradley – Wily Peralta

Manager: Buck Showalter – Kirk Gibson

Comeback: Mariano Rivera – Ryan Howard

Batting Champs: Miguel Cabrera – Joey Votto

Home Run Leaders: Jose Bautista – Ryan Howard

robinson cano

AL East Preview and Predictions

AL BEast Notebook – March 29

I’ve been covering each of the five East teams all winter and spring long and here is my “Official 2013 Preview.” Yes, it’s long so bookmark and come back often. I’ll have the rest of the league up in the next couple days.

The AL East will be the most interesting division in baseball with five teams that could each reasonably finish in first or last place. All should have win totals in the 80s. While the division has been known for it’s intimidating sluggers and top-to-bottom lineups, there has been a clear shift to pitching.

For each team you have:

1) my report with reasons to be excited and reasons to be concerned

2) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to succeed

3) specific bullet points of what must happen for them to end up in the basement

4) Season headline

5) My record prediction

6) How many more wins in best-case scenario (ceiling)

7) How many fewer wins in worst-case scenario (floor)

8) A player that is likely to outperform expectations

9) A player that is likely to disappoint

Boston Red Sox

After being MLB’s most disappointing team two years in a row Boston is looking for a bounce back season. They definitely aren’t in typical “Rebuilding Mode” with the likes of Victorino, Napoli, Gomes, Dempster, Lackey and (eventually) Ortiz all in prominent positions. Now that expectations are so low after losing 93 games they hope that a new manager, revamped lineup and more secure bullpen will get them back into prominence. But it won’t be easy.

Two of the best pitchers this spring were Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. After a dismal 2012 campaign, that is a welcome sight for Sox fans. Even Jon Lackey has been effective. In fact, the Red Sox staff led the league in Spring Training ERA. It may just be Grapefruit League but it’s much better to be good than bad!

There are issues with the lineup. Your Opening Day lineup will include Jose Iglesias, Jonny Gomes, Jackie Bradley, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The #5 hitter is a player with less than a full year of major league experience (Will Middlebrooks). If things go poorly—and with injured and injury-prone players like Ortiz, Ellsbury, Napoli and Gomes, and young players like Middlebrooks, Bradley and Iglesias, you can expect it—there is virtually no depth on this roster.

The weak bullpen from a year ago looks to be put together well. New closer Joel Hanrahan, former All-Star Andrew Bailey, and veteran setup man Koji Uehara are expected to shorten games to 6 innings.

For those that think the pitching staff will bounce back to greatness, consider this: Saltalamacchia is the signal caller. Jason Varitek is long gone. Once Salty took the majority of the time behind the plate the starting pitching (everyone) fell apart. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good catcher (or impact of a catcher the pitchers don’t trust).

Red Sox will WIN the division IF…

1) Jon Lester wins 20 and Clay Buchholz wins 18

2) Ortiz and Ellsbury combine for 55 home runs

3) Napoli and Middlebrooks stay healthy all year

4) Dempster or Lackey pitch effectively

 Red Sox will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Ortiz and Stephen Drew are ineffective

2) Two of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Napoli or Middlebrooks miss significant time

3) Any two of the starting five pitchers miss significant time

Miller’s Forecast

“Sox Crumble Third Year in a Row”

80-82 +8 ; -8

Surprising impact: Jacoby Ellsbury

Biggest Disappointment: Ryan Dempster

Tampa Bay Rays

david price

Tampa Bay had the best team ERA in all of baseball last year and won 90 games, but still finished third in the division, three games out of the final playoff spot. And in the offseason they lost James Shields, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena and didn’t really replace them.

The biggest question for the Rays is where is the offense going to come from? Yes, Evan Longoria is ready after missing half the season and could finally emerge as an elite player, and Wil Myers will get called up sometime, but who else is there? Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott?  That’s it! And while Myers is the best hitting prospect in baseball, he probably won’t break out like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. He could be great, but the Rays tend to baby their young players. Myers will be a star in 2014, but for ‘13 Tampa has the weakest lineup in the division.

Of course, their pitching is very good.  David Price won 20 games, the other starters were great and Fernando Rodney finished 2012 with a 0.60 ERA and 48 saves. Can young Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb keep the Rays’ team ERA microscopic again? Well sure, but it’s not a guarantee. And if you check the history of Rodney, his first year in Tampa was his first since 2006 of an ERA lower than 4.24 and WHIP under 1.47. Seems like a fluke.

Many people are picking the Rays to make the playoffs. The Rays have been the quietest team in the league this spring, and that’s surely a very positive thing. Great pitching in Tampa has been a given for like eight years now. Joe Maddon, perhaps the best game manager in baseball is running the show. But I cannot see how a team that continues to lose key players year after year without bringing in free agents will keep it up this year, especially in such a competitive division.

Rays will WIN the division IF…

1) David Price wins 20 games again and another pitcher wins 16

2) Evan Longoria plays 155+ games

3) Wil Myers is called up early and breaks out in a big way

4) Fernando Rodney continues where he left off in the WBC with another All-Star season

5) Two of Zobrist, Joyce, Scott or Jennings hit .295+ with 25+ homers

Rays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Something happens to Price and Longoria

2) Hellickson and Matt Moore regress

3) No hitter beyond Longoria provides power

Miller’s Forecast

“Where’s James Shields?” and “Not Enough Help for Longoria”

83-79; +7 ; -4

Surprising impact: Alex Cobb

Disappointment: Matt Moore


New York Yankees

Yankees won 95 last year, and this team looked like the worst 95-win team in the history of baseball. Due to injuries and questionable personnel decisions the lineup is very different, especially early in the season.

Everybody knows about the crowded star-studded disabled list (Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Pineda, Hughes and Jeter) and they have a whole bunch of other players that could potentially fall apart (Hafner, Youkilis, Wells, Ichiro, Pettitte, Rivera) and some key positions that are serious offensive question marks: catcher (Stewvelli) and first base (Overbay). It is just not the situation you want to be in to start the season.

One concern with this team is that they are very lefty-heavy in the lineup. Cano, Granderson, Gardner, Ichiro, Hafner, and Overbay all bat from the left side. That’s great for Yankees Stadium, but they will struggle on the road against left-handed starting pitchers.

Robinson Cano is the one rock on this team. He will be an MVP candidate every year he stays in pinstripes. Reports are that Curtis Granderson should return on time and back to form in May. The power is gone, but there is still ability to score runs with Ichiro, Gardner, and Jeter/Nunez at the top of the lineup. The starting pitching is strong and deep. The bullpen, even without Rafael Soriano, should be very strong again as long as Mariano is effective.

Eduardo Nunez struggles defensively, but if he ever gets a full-time job he could hit .300 with 25 homers and 30 steals.

 Yankees will WIN the division IF…

1) C.C. Sabathia makes 28+ starts

2) Derek Jeter plays 145 games and hits .290+

3) At least two of Hafner, Youkilis, or Wells make it through the season healthy and somewhat effective

4) At least two of Teixeira, Rodriguez or Pineda return and are somewhat effective

5) Mariano Rivera stays healthy and Rivera-like

 Yankees will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Sabathia and Cano miss significant time

2) Teixeira and A-Rod miss the season, or are ineffective upon return

3) Rivera shows the effects of his 43rd birthday, getting hurt or pitching poorly

4) Yankees get nothing from Wells and Youkilis

Miller’s Forecast

“Old Age and Injuries Catch With Bombers”

84-78; +5 ; -6

Surprising impact: Kevin Youkilis

Disappointment: Derek Jeter

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore had a miracle season, winning 93 games taking the Yankees to a full series after knocking out the Texas Rangers in the playoffs. And all this after averaging 94 losses for the previous six seasons. What was most miraculous was how they won. They did not even have a positive run differential until September 28, the last week of the season. They dealt with tons of injuries. They only had one pitcher start more than 20 games or pitch 140 innings, and that was an unspectacular rookie. And of course, their 29-9 record in one run games, including a record 13 in a row, is something difficult to explain.

Looking ahead to now, there are actually very few question marks with this team. While they don’t have a true “ace,” they have one of the deepest reservoirs of starting pitchers in the league including a handful of pitchers that were outstanding in limited 2012 action. Due to 65 starts by terrible pitchers their overall ERA was mediocre, and that should improve this season with a little stability.

Baltimore’s bullpen was one of the AL’s best, led by closer Jim Johnson’s league leading 51 saves, and Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala. Johnson is a regression candidate, but the ‘pen should still be very strong.

The lineup is also very stable with many players on the way up in their careers (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nolan Reimold). Nate McLouth may have regained his All-Star form after the trade to Baltimore. Late call-up Machado looks like he could be a star player and is here for a full sophomore year. The biggest difference could be in the middle of the field as two-time All-Star Brian Roberts is finally healthy and looking good in spring. It looked like he would be hitting leadoff but just today Showalter announced that Roberts will start at the bottom of the order.

Buck Showalter has turned this young group into winners. They have a very good core of players in Jones, Wieters, Machado and Davis, and if the starting pitching doesn’t fall apart they should contend for the Wild Card again. If Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta develop and improve, they could win the East outright.

Orioles will WIN the division IF…

1) Team pitching gets their ERA down to 3.80

2) At least three pitchers win 13 games

3) The bullpen remains a strength

4) Brian Roberts plays 140+ games

5) Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make their third All-Star game

Orioles will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) The inexperienced pitching falls through

2) Two of oft-injured Roberts, McLouth, Reimold and McLouth can’t stay healthy and produce

Miller’s Forecast

“Critics Still Waiting for Showalter’s Club to Fade”

88-74; +4 ; -8

Surprising impact: Brian Roberts

Disappointment: Wei-Yin Chen

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto sailed along at 45-44 until July 16 when Jose Bautista injured his wrist. Several pitchers broke down as well and the Jays floundered, going 28-45 the rest of the way. GM Alex Anthopoulos was very busy this offseason, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and re-hiring coach John Gibbons. Suddenly, Toronto looks like the most complete team in the division.

The biggest x-factors for the Jays this year are Johnson and Brandon Morrow. If they can stay healthy the Jays rotation should stay quite effective. You know what you are getting with Dickey, Buehrle and J.A. Happ, and the offense will score a lot of runs and hit a lot of home runs. Johnson and Morrow have top-of-the-rotation potential. If they stay healthy Toronto will win a lot of games.

One concern critics have is all the moving parts. Reyes played poorly in Miami, Johnson was less effective, Melky was suspended 50 games, and Dickey moves from pitcher friendly Citi Field and the NL East to the AL East. Bautista is coming off a wrist injury that has the potential to drain his power. All that being said, this is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in twenty years. Changes had to be made! Opportunities presented themselves and the Jays jumped. And with three pitchers coming from the NL to AL East, remember that none of the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox or Orioles improved their lineups; in fact, they all (other than the Orioles) should have worse offenses.

I love the way this team is made: Knuckler, power righty, soft lefty, power righty, lefty. Reyes, Melky, Bautista and Encarnacion (42 homers in 2012) should be the most productive 1-4 this side of Los Angeles, and if Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie produce they are even deeper.

The one issue with the Jays is their bullpen, which was dead-last in the AL in 2012. They didn’t add anyone new. Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season, and Sergio Santos missed most of the regular season with shoulder surgery as well. The way the Jays are set up for “Win Now,” expect them to look at the free agents available (Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez) should things start to fall apart.

Blue Jays will WIN the division IF…

1) Morrow and Johnson pitch 56+ games

2) Jose Bautista regains his power stroke and has an MVP-level season

3) Reyes and Cabrera each play 145+ games and hit over .290

4) Bullpen finishes no worse than 10th in the AL

Blue Jays will finish LAST in the division IF…

1) Any two of their top four starters miss significant time

2) Bautista re-injures his wrist

3) Bullpen repeats a dismal season

4) Major chemistry issues emerge

Miller’s Forecast

“Joey Bats is MVP” and “Anthopoulos’ Aggressiveness Pays Off”

89-73; +5 ; -5

Surprising impact: Brett Lawrie

Disappointment: Melky Cabrera

ra dickey

Toronto 89-73

Baltimore 88-74

New York 84-78

Tampa Bay 83-79

Boston 80-82

joe flacco

well Joe, I hope you’re happy!

Know what happens when you sign the wealthiest contract in football history, in a salary cap sport?

Let’s rewind a few months to New Year’s Eve. The Ravens had just lost their final regular season game to the Bengals. They had truly backed into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games. The offense (led by Flacco) was so bad that they fired their offensive coordinator.

And then Ray Lewis returns for his final playoff farewell. They match up against a weak Colts team, the Broncos’ secondary makes one of the worst gaffes in postseason history, Baltimore’s defense punishes Brady and the Pats, and Flacco shines in the Super Bowl thanks to some amazing catches by his receivers and a 108-yard kickoff return. Frankly, I think the Ravens’ win was flukey and a result of a lot of good luck.

Suddenly, Joe Flacco is a free agent at the perfect time and the quarterback that has never been selected to a Pro Bowl is offered a six-year, $120.6 million contract. Good for you Joe, get what you can get.

The only problem is, there isn’t enough to go around. I hope you’re ready.

The Ravens didn’t have the budget to keep Anquan Boldin and wanted to reduce his salary. What did Flacco say? Boldin should “stick to his guns, and that’s the way it should be.” Well, he stuck to his guns and immediately got traded for a sixth round draft pick. According to ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, Joe Flacco completed 62% of his passes to Boldin and just 48% to everyone else. If Flacco takes a little less there is likely enough to not even worry about Boldin. How will you do without him, Joe?

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it. We know that linebacker Ray Lewis retired. The Ravens let go of Dannell Ellerbe and sack-leader Paul Kruger. They also just lost their leading tackler safety Bernard Pollard. Other players no longer on the team include veteran guard Bobbie Williams and retired center Matt Birk. And what about Ed Reed, the future Hall of Famer?

So Mr. Flacco, you got your money and I hope you are happy. Because of your new contract there is much less financial flexibility in Baltimore, your top target is now playing for the other Harbaugh and your defense got a lot weaker. Now we will all see whether you really belong among the most valuable quarterbacks in the league because there is no one for you to hide behind. You will soon realize that your teammates had a lot to do with your success.

In a team sport with a $123 million salary cap to cover 53 players, when one player counts for $30 million (24%) of that, he better be a superstar. And Joe is not a superstar.

johnny damon

should the Yankees sign Johnny Damon?

AL BEast Notebook – Feb 26

Johnny Damon was on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York on Monday, and immediately the conversation began with the Curtis Granderson injury and the new vacancy in the outfield.

First question from Michael Kay: “Do you have any interest in going to the Yankees?”

“You guys know that I would have tons of interest to go to New York… Hopefully it would be a perfect fit. It always has been. Have me for six weeks and then send me off on my merry way. That’s fine.”

Don La Greca: “You think you could come here and be successful? You feel comfortable that you could step right back in with Granderson out?”

“Oh absolutely. Losing Curtis Granderson is definitely a tough thing to swallow, but with the way I hit at Yankee Stadium and with the right field porch, it worked when I played with them… If they want to see what I can do, then I’ll definitely be interested… I hope they have interest.”

Kay: You would be okay with coming in until Curtis could come back?

“It was almost like that last year. I signed in Cleveland with the intentions of being there for one month until Grady Sizemore came back, and he never came back… I’m not going to hold any team hostage, ya know, if they want me they want me, if they don’t then I’ll walk, and maybe try to pick up somewhere else or get ready for the summer.

“Last time I played with them we won a World Series… I know the players there really liked me and respected me, and a few of the players ended up going there because I was there.”

Kay: Would you be willing to pick up the phone and call Cashman and go, ‘Listen, I could give you six weeks if you need it’?

“Well, I probably should. But I know how the New York media works, and I’m talking to you so I’m sure he’ll hear about it tomorrow.”

What about money?

“Oh no, money is not an issue. I mean, I’ve made plenty, and I understand that I don’t have a job right now so I’ll go in, I just want to play. You can give me the minimum, that’s all that I care about. That chance to be in the Big Leagues and shoot, the New York Yankees, I loved my time there, and I know a bunch of the players loved my time there, and it’s just a matter of if they want me.

“I still have that want to play… I won’t say I’ll be waiting but I will be listening, still get on with my life and if works out, it works out.”

I don’t know who initiated the interview, but it was a clearly orchestrated plea by Damon   to get the attention of GM Brian Cashman. There were several key points that he made sure came across without subtlety. 1) He wants to play for the Yankees and wants them to know that. 2) He played well for the Yankees and is a good fit offensively. 3) He’s a good clubhouse guy and well-liked by his teammates. 4) He’s even willing to be a just a fill-in until Granderson returns. 5) He doesn’t require a significant financial obligation. 6) He helped the Yankees win a World Series.

The first thing that pops into every listener’s mind at the idea is “That’s crazy; Damon is old and washed up. There’s gotta be someone else on the roster.”

The problem is, there isn’t.

Damon played four seasons in New York. He hit 24 homers the first and fourth years, his on-base-percentage that World Series season was .365. He stole a combined 93 bases. He is now 39 and has probably lost some of the wheels, but even in his last full season starting in 2011 he still stole 19 bases.

So even an old Johnny Damon can probably give the Yankees (at a full-season scale) close to 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and get on base about 33% of the time. Not bad for a minimum pay veteran fill-in.

Would you rather go with Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz, two 34 year-old career fourth outfielders that both give you practically no power, speed, rarely walk, and hit .245? Or a Melky Mesa or Zoilo Almante, minor league prospects that are not yet ready to play at the big level?

Yes, Damon is a liability defensively. But on this Yankees’ team there are already offensive holes at catcher and third base (apologies to Youk) and showed an inability to play small-ball last year. They can’t afford to stick another offensive liability into the lineup. The offense should be the priority. And Damon is a career .352 OBP guy with over 2,700 hits who demonstrated he can hit at Yankees Stadium.

Girardi can sit him on the road or DH him from time to time if he is concerned. This is really a low-cost, low-risk idea. Johnny isn’t asking for much, just an opportunity to play on a team. If it doesn’t work, tell him thanks and good-bye and trot out Diaz, Juan Rivera or a minor leaguer.

If they just need to patch a hole in the boat for a month and a half, why not go for a Yankee hero? There’s not a lot to cheer for with A-Rod and Grandy out, Ibanez and Swisher gone, and Hal Steinbrenner sticking to a tighter budget. Just like picking up Ichiro last summer, Damon would add some excitement to Yankee fans and add life to the team. And like Ichiro, maybe he still has some pop in his bat and life in his legs.

The other thing that Johnny mentioned in the interview is that he expects it to take him three to four weeks to be ready in prime form. In other words, “Cashman, hurry and sign me now and I’ll be there Opening Day!”

I say yes. What harm would it do? The Yankees have a need and he can fill it. Now that I think about it, other than Giancarlo Stanton (who isn’t going anywhere), there’s nobody I’d rather see in left field at Yankees Stadium this April than Johnny Damon.

henry rodriguez

Three Baseball Rule Changes to Make

Here’s your latest “What’s Wrong With Baseball” discussion, and there’s not one PED reference!

There are few things in sports that are worse than a bad relief pitcher. Very few. No matter how great or intense a game can be, all it takes is a reliever who can’t throw strikes to bring the game to a screeching halt and ruin the enjoyment of a game. Last spring I watched an amazing Nationals/Dodgers game featuring Stephen Strasburg versus Clayton Kershaw. It was as good as advertised. Then Henry Rodriguez came in for the Nationals and couldn’t find the strike zone. When he did he got pounded, and he blew Strasburg’s chance at a win. The game went into extra innings and another reliever gave up a home run to the first batter he faced. In fact, overtime in baseball is worse than any other sport because it generally becomes a matchup of bad relievers.

One of the craziest things about baseball is how they score statistics for relief pitchers. And it’s not like one thing. The three most important statistics for pitchers are ERA, wins, and saves. Here are several things I would change if I were the commissioner.

1) Vulture wins. Last August, White Sox reliever Addison Reed came into a game with a 4 run lead. He allowed 5 runners to score, recorded only two outs (one being a run-scoring sacrifice fly), and comes away credited with a win. The day before, in a tight game between the Angels and Red Sox, Ernesto Frieri came in to pitch the ninth with a one run lead. He promptly gave up a home run to the first batter he faced. In the tenth inning he allowed another run. He was the winning pitcher of record.

Rockies’ middle reliever Rex Brothers (yeah that’s one person) blew 5 saves (leads) and still the back of his baseball card shows an 8-2 record.  Ryan Cook blew 7 leads for the A’s and yet finished with a 6-2 record. How does that happen?

A few years ago, Alan Embree “earned” a win without even throwing a pitch.

The letter of the law is this: after the starter leaves the game, the pitcher on the mound immediately prior to his team taking the lead gets credit for the win. Look, that’s not good enough! There has to be some aspect of “effective pitching” to qualify for a win.

Solution: If a starting pitcher does well and leaves with the lead, and his replacement blows the lead and his team regains it soon after, give the win to the starter. Or at least, use some discretion on identifying who pitched the best and deserves the win. Vulture wins don’t make anyone happy.

mets

2) ERA – inherited runners who score. I understand that baseball views the runners that cross home plate a responsibility of the pitcher that put them on base, but what about the guy actually pitching when they score?

Imagine this hypothetical situation: with two outs and no one on base, a starting pitcher gives up a single. The manager makes a pitching change, and the new relief pitcher walks the next three batters. He doesn’t even come close. The third walk forces in a run. After that he gives up a long fly ball to left field for the third out. The run scored goes against the starting pitcher’s ERA, one of the most important stats for a pitcher. The relief pitcher is removed from the game next inning. His ERA for the game = 0.00.

Actually, it’s not too hypothetical at all. In a Pirates/Cubs game last summer, James McDonald was yanked in the fourth inning of a 1-0 game with the bases loaded. The first reliever gave up a double, allowing two runs to score. The reliever was relieved, and the next pitcher gave up an RBI base hit. Even though McDonald left with a 1-0 game, he was charged with 4 earned runs. Those two relievers, the guys that were actually on the mound when all those runs scored, the box score shows them pitching squeaky clean. Couple base hits, that’s it.

White Sox’ pitcher Nate Jones appeared to have a pretty decent rookie season with a respectable 2.39 ERA. But then you notice that he allowed 24 inherited runners to score (44%). Suddenly he doesn’t seem very effective.

Enough with starting pitchers getting blamed for reliever’s shortcomings.

Solution: There are two actions, letting him on base and letting him score. Split the responsibility. The first pitcher is only half liable. Each inherited run that scores = +0.5 ERA for the starter and +0.5 ERA for reliever. Official scorers and statisticians deal with 1/3 and 2/3 innings pitched; I think they can handle half an earned run.

There is room for compromise. Runners on third already can be the sole responsibility of the pitcher who got them there. But for runners on second and especially first, it’s a team effort and the “blame” can be shared.

3) Saves. Under current rules, a save is recorded when a relief pitcher finishes a game his team wins and either 1) he enters with a lead of three runs or fewer; 2) enters with the potential tying run either on base, at the plate, or on deck); 3) he pitches effectively for at least three innings.

There is no more overly inflated stat than saves. I was thinking about how silly the save rule the same time that Jim Caple published this great article about it.

jose valverde

When you think of the greatest relief pitchers of all time your mind undoubtedly goes to Rivera, Hoffman or Eckersley. You probably don’t remember Quisenberry.

Some thirty years ago there was a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals named Dan Quisenberry. In 1983 he tallied 45 saves. (What’s so great about that? Jim Johnson saved 51 games for the Orioles last season!) Consider this: Quisenberry appeared in 69 games that year and threw 139 innings. That’s an average of two innings per appearance. (And with that heavy dose of long late-inning work, Quiz ended the season with an ERA under 2.) Compare that to Jim Johnson’s 71 games and 68.2 innings. Yes, that’s less than one full inning per appearance. Who was more valuable?

Quiz led the league in saves in each of 1982-1985. Let’s compare that to modern times. Jonathan Papelbon was the only closer to finish in the Top Ten in saves from 2007-10, the best four-season stretch of his career. Most people will consider him one of the current league’s premier closers, so let’s take a closer look:

- Quisenberry 1982-85: 161 saves, 297 appearances, 533 innings (+236)

- Papelbon 2007-10: 153 saves, 257 appearances, 262 innings (+5)

Translation: Paps, like any of the other 29 closers, rarely did anything more than wait until the start of the ninth inning to run in from the bullpen. My, how things have changed.

One of the toughest things to do in all of baseball is getting called into the middle of the 8th inning of a one-run game with a couple (or three) men on base. Yet managers nowadays will hold off bringing in their best weapon available so that he can trot on out to start the ninth inning with nobody on base in order to record as easy a “save” as rules will allow. And even stranger, the value for relief pitchers is mostly determined by how many of these cheap saves he can tally. Rafael Soriano just signed a $28M contract to pitch the ninth innings for the Nationals (as long as they have a 1-2-or 3 run lead). The afore-mentioned Papelbon is in the middle of a $50M contract with the Phillies. Heath Bell signed a $27M contract with the Marlins and then after being among the worst pitchers in baseball was finally shipped off to Arizona. This silly stat is killing the pocketbook of MLB owners.

What are they paid so much to do? “Don’t screw up.” That’s all.

Unfortunately, some guys can’t even handle that (John Axford = 8 blown saves, Alfredo Aceves, 7, etc. etc.).

Some more crazy save facts:

- August 23, 2007, Wes Littleton “saved” a 30-3 game.

- There have been two 19-run “saves,” in 1999 and ’96.

- May 4, 2012, Joel Peralta recorded one out in a game the Rays led by 5 runs, and earned a “save” for his performance.

- May 30, With a Mariners’ 12-run lead, Hisashi Iwakuma allowed five hits and three runs over three innings and received a “save.”

It’s time for a little prudence.

Solution: As Jim Caple writes, no more cheap saves. No more five-run saves.

“Saved” a three-run lead, seriously?

Also, each ballpark has a hired official scorer. Give them something to do; make them relevant. If a team wins a close game, let the official scorer decide who “saved” the game. Maybe it was the guy who pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth. Maybe it was the reliever who pitched two scoreless innings. Maybe it was the setup man who struck out two in the eighth with men on.

Doing this would help managers manage in a more sensible way, using their best resources to give them the best chance of winning in the most crucial moments; not just helping some appointed player accrue stats so he can sign a fatter paycheck in the winter.

In 2011 Yankees’ David Robertson had a stretch of 10 straight strikeouts with the bases loaded. Talk about a closer! Craig Kimbrel is great (no really; he’s amazing), but what about Eric O’Flaherty, who allowed just one of 22 inherited runners to score?

Adjusting the save rule will allow managers to feel more confident at any point in a game, keep salaries for relief pitchers more reasonable, and reward the other pitchers that are the real reason games are won and losses avoided.