31 August 2014

Did Trading Cespedes Ruin The A's?

A month ago, the Oakland A's celebrated the best record in baseball and a comfortable AL West lead with a trade that injected Jon Lester into a rotation already bolstered by Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in previous deals. 

Billy Beane was rightly lauded, including here, for packing the rotation for a deep playoff run. And if the price of those deals was a bevy of prospects and Yoenis Cespedes, that seemed like a a good deal.

With the benefit of hindsight, we're now hearing the bleating, as if an outfielder with a .303 on base percentage is indispensable. The A's are 12-16 since jettisoning Cespedes, falling four games out of first. Offense has been the culprit: Oakland has hit .224 and scored just 3.6 runs/game in August. And that has led many to bemoan the trades.

Let's all say it together: correlation is not causation. 

The A's aren't scuffling because Yoenis Cespedes moved his 1,300-pound leg press and his out-sized reputation to Beantown. By slipping Stephen Vogt into the lineup at first and sliding Brandon Moss to the outfield, manager Bob Melvin positioned his team to maintain its punch at the plate. At the time of the trade, Vogt was out-hitting Cespedes by batting average, on base and slugging.

But since the moves, the entire A's roster has hit a wall -- and not much else. Moss is batting .178 with no home runs and 35 strikeouts in August. Derek Norris is batting .188; Coco Crisp, .191; Vogt, .222 and John Jaso, .149. Unless Cespedes is sticking pins in a John Jaso voodoo doll, he's unlikely the cause.

The odds say the A's will right the ship before the playoffs start, because they have too much talent to play this badly for long. Then, to kick off the postseason, they'll put the ball in Jon Lester's left hand. At which point, A's fans will forget about Yoenis Cespedes.

30 August 2014

What Happened To Baseball This Year?

As the first strains of Commissioner Bud's swan song begin to play, ESPN, FOX and other media outlets have been wondering aloud what happened to baseball. Why, they've asked, has the game receded from our consciousness this year?

There's some truth to the question. The pennant races are heating up and all the chatter is about NFL exhibition games, NFL fantasy leagues, the upcoming NFL season, colege football, the college football playoffs, football, football and football. LeBron and the World Cup dominated the middle part of the baseball season and the NBA playoffs and NFL draft stole the early season's thunder.

So what happened to baseball?

What's happened to baseball is ESPN, Fox and other media outlets. Four networks broadcast every NFL game played. But baseball games are broadcast almost exclusively by local networks. ESPN, the 800-pound gorilla of sports, has a big stake in the NFL and nearly none in baseball. Consequently, they spend more time talking NFL exhibition games than they spend talking baseball. 

They've probably mentioned the name of a quarterback who has yet to play a minute of professional football more times than they've mentioned all baseball players combined.

And when it's not the NFL it's college football. ESPN carries hundreds of college football games. Because, as Marshall McLuhan observed 50 years ago, baseball is best enjoyed at the park; football on the tube.

Well, ESPN doesn't care about the park. They're on the tube. They make their money from TV ratings, not from full ballparks. And they set the sports agenda, along with Fox, CBS Sports and their ilk, so the agenda is all football all the time.

Meantime, baseball fans have enjoyed an overflow of drama. Clayton Kershaw is making his Hall of Fame case while Derek Jeter tops off his. Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout have continued their antics while rookies Jose Abreu and Billy Hamilton are banging them out and tearing them up, respectively. Kansas City has ambushed Detroit while Seattle and Baltimore are elbowing the Yankees out of the playoffs. Milwaukee and Pittsburgh -- two of the smallest markets in baseball -- are challenging St. Louis for Central supremacy. And much of it is coming down to the wire.

And the national sports media are all missing it.

So nothing's happened to baseball. Something's happened to your television.

28 August 2014

I Want My MVP

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire must be spinning in their, um, sofas.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig have got to be smacking their foreheads.

Where have all the steroids gone?

Consider this: Josh Donaldson is Baseball-Reference's leading AL MVP candidate. He's hitting .253 and his .802 OPS is 94 points lower than Gehrig's worst -- his rookie season.

Sure, Donaldson would snag an MVP with his glove. A third of his value is in the webbing. Mike Trout, though, owes all his value to offense this year. By Trout standards, he's scuffling in almost every way. He is batting under .300, stealing half as many bases and striking out more than ever. His OBP has cratered. His SLG had dived. (He is hitting a few more home runs.) And the award might be his to lose.

In the NL, once you get past Giancarlo and Tulo, you get Juan Lagares. The Mets' centerfielder has four homers, 15 walks and 38 runs scored. B-Ref says his fielding places him fifth in the league in value. Wha? Bring back the hitting! Chicks dig the long ball.

If ever there was a year when pitchers were positioned to win an MVP this is it. Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez are historically great hurlers bolstered by an historically weak-hitting season. If you're like me and don't consider pitchers for MVP (they have their own award and require apples-to-oranges comparisons) then you're almost forced to pick a player batting below .300, hitting fewer than 40 home runs and stealing fewer than 30 bases.

If you gave me a ballot, and I had to cast it right now, I'd pick Stanton in the NL. He leads the league in homers, RBI, walks, on base and slugging, and he plays manly defense. McCutcheon and Tulowitzki have been studs but for abbreviated stretches due to injuries. Backstop Jonathan Lucroy earns a mention for batting .300 and leading the league in doubles while squatting half the game.

In the AL there'd be some real nose-holding. Trout's the leader in the clubhouse, with Robinson Cano (.325 BA at a defensive position in a tough hitting park) on his tail. Chicago's Jose Abreu (lots of pop), Cleveland's Michael Brantley (a little of everything) and Toronto's Jose Bautista (25 homers and a league-leading OBP) would contend.

But a late-season surge sure would be appreciated so we could vote for someone who looks like an MVP.

21 August 2014

Your Favorite Team Is -- You

What do Ryan Braun, Ray Lewis, Barry Bonds and Ray Rice have in common?

Their hometown fans cheered all of them. 

That's after Braun wriggled out of accountability following a year of self-righteous lying. That's after Lewis escaped punishment for his involvement in a double murder. That's after Bonds, generally despised by media and teammates, admitted to a years of cheating and lying about it. That's after Rice beat his wife unconscious.

Do fans not care about smarmy, cynical liars? Do they not care about murder? About inveterate cheating? About domestic abuse?

Sure they do, in theory. But they care much more about something practical and immediate. They care about their own enjoyment.

They care about the success of the teams they care about.

And if disgust over homicide or assault and battery or a malign personality interferes with the hometown nine (or eleven) winning, well, suddenly it's in conflict with something more important. Because our mood is elevated when our team wins. Our happiness is marginally diminished when they lose. And we don't like our happiness diminished, no matter how slightly. Someone else's murder or beating or lying, cheating and stealing are of little consequence compared to a sliver more contentment. So we support the sociopath who helps our team win and rationalize his actions.

Some examples
Consider this: whom did you root for in this past year's NCAA basketball tournament? Unless you have a connection to a contending team, the answer is probably whoever you wagered would win. (And if you have a natural preference, you probably picked that team anyway.) You didn't really care about the teams, schools or fan bases. Your favorite team was -- you.

Jameis Winston was accused of rape and caught red-handed stealing food from a supermarket. If he were an ordinary student he would have been expelled from college. Yet he will start every game at quarterback for first-ranked Florida State this football season because virtually the entire population of Tallahassee cares more about Seminole victories than about moral issues. That's for people in Gainesville and Coral Gables to concern themselves with, at least until their key guy commits some felony.

We're All Guilty
In fact, the college football universe generally supports Winston. They want to see him play. Watching him brings us pleasure even if we're not Florida State fans. Consequently there's been almost no backlash at all, even in places like Eugene, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin and Oxford, Mississippi and most certainly in Bristol, Connecticut. 

It's also why sports fans are generally self-deluded about the college-sports industrial complex that makes billions of dollars for schools, media companies and apparel sellers, at the expense of athletes who are not and never could be college students but are compensated for their profit-creating services with scholarships of utterly no value to them.

So next time you see some thug welcomed back by the hometown fans despite actions that should have landed him in the state penitentiary, don't be surprised. The fans are just honoring the desires of the most important person in the world. Themselves.

19 August 2014

Miguel Cabrera's Worst Season

You've probably noticed that Miguel Cabrera's name hasn't been on anyone's tongue this season. The double-reigning MVP is having an off-year.

It's our first opportunity to gauge what an off-year is for a prodigious talent like Miguel Cabrera. In his brilliant 11-year career, his previous worst full season -- that excludes his rookie campaign, at age 19, in which he played only 87 games -- was his first with Detroit in 2008. Cabrera batted just .292, posted an OPS just 30% above league average, tallied 75 extra-base hits, paced the league in home runs and total bases and hauled his glove and his heft to first base.

Six years later, it's another downer. After leading the AL in batting the last three seasons, Cabrera stands just fifth so far at a mere .309. His .370 on-base percentage and .512 slugging average are the worst since reaching voting age. (Technically, he can't vote at any age, not in the U.S. Presumably he retains his franchise in Venezuela.) The 23 home run pace is the lowest of his career. 

Overall, Cabrera is the 35th best offensive force in the majors, and only the second-best Cabrera (17 slots behind Melky). Add his defensive woes and he's the 50th most valuable player in the game.

That's a long way from the first or second most valuable, but there are more than 400 position players in the Majors each year. Being 50th in a disappointing year is like being the coldest spot in the Bahamas.

It's easy to forget that Miggy tore his groin at the end of the 2013 season and began this Spring recovering from the surgery. It's also easy to ignore his league-leading 40 doubles. Even in his worst season, Miguel Cabrera leads the league in doubles.

18 August 2014

Has the Baseball World Shifted Or Is It Just A Crazy Year?

Am I dreaming or has the god of competition awoken from a long slumber and begun to smite the wicked?

Is my prescription ripe for an update or are those the Red Sox and Rangers at the bottom of the pile?

Is that a typo or do the Pirates have a better record than the Yankees, 120 games in?

Did Milwaukee and Kansas City just grow into big media markets? Because I notice they're both atop the standings.

Wait, was that Oakland taking on mega-payroll for a playoff run? Oakland?

The media markets of KC, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Pittsburgh combined are smaller (by two million TV sets) than N.Y. And all four teams have assembled better rosters than either the Yankees or Mets. Did I just write that?

Sure, the big market Dodgers and Angels are World Series contenders, and first place Washington is no cow pasture (although it has more than its share of male cow excretions and methane gas being expelled.) But we're on track for a post-season without representatives from New York, Chicago, New England or the state of Texas. Aren't we?

Thank you, God, for this season. And thank you, Mr. Selig, for more competitive balance.

16 August 2014

Dear Rob Manfred

Dear Rob,

Congratulations on your ascension to Commissioner. Always nice to see a Cornell guy from my year make good.

Here are your top priorities:
1. Speed up the game so women and children can identify with it.
2. Maintain your focus on labor peace and competitive balance.

3. Keep your eyes on the future while remembering the power of tradition.
4. Act as if baseball is in the entertainment business.

Specifically, to speed up the game and make it more interesting:

1. Enforce the 20-second rule between pitches with no one on base. That will eliminate all the apparel repositioning that sandbags the action and does nothing to build drama.
2. Instruct umpires not to allow batters to exit the batter's box unless they're hurt. That means pitchers can work fast and batters can't stop them.
3. Pass a rule that bans the replacement of a pitcher in his first inning of work unless he has allowed a run. Mid-inning pitching changes suck the life out of the game in the late innings, just as it should be getting exciting.
4. Speed up instant replay. It's saved time by eliminating most arguments. Its execution, though imperfect, has exceeded expectation. Keep tweaking it so that reviews don't take three minutes.

  • Continue to expand alternative media so that young fans can plug in on any device and revenues can be distributed equally.
  • Find a way for the A's to move into the Valley. No other franchise has been held hostage to a dying city like they have.
  • Hitch your wagon to Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutcheon. The four best players -- or at least young players -- in the game are Americans, and they're all humble, mature, articulate and charismatic. Throw in Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper and King Felix. Sell them! People will buy.
  • Alter the schedule so early April games are played in warm weather cities and inside domes. 
  • Get some doubleheaders into the schedule and move up the playoffs to prevent the abomination of flurries and freezing rain on World Series games.
  • Pardon Pete Rose. It's time. He's paid his debt. While you're at it, pardon Joe Jackson too. 
 Do all that and you'll be the best commish ever. Go Big (Manf)Red.

15 August 2014

When Is It Time To Give Up On A Player?

After two years of below-replacement value, Dan Uggla finally earned his pink slip from Atlanta, despite the lottery numbers they still owe him. Even before that, Uggla had lost his job to rookie Tommy LaStella at second.

Now the Braves have a similar decision to make with albatross number-two, B.J. Upton. Two years into a five-year, $72.5 million deal, Upton has caused more harm to Atlanta than Sherman.

Last season Upton hit like a pitcher (.184/.268/.289 with 151 strikeouts), costing the team 1.3 wins compared to a Triple-A replacement outfielder. This year, it's more of the same: a .209 batting average and whiffs in a third of his at bats, costing the Braves another win.

That's followed eight seasons in which the former number one draft pick hid flashes of brilliance in a sea of offensive mediocrity.

It's hard to argue that young Melvin is going to break out after 900 plate appearances, or that the Braves shouldn't just cut bait and find a replacement. Except, they don't have a replacement.

Atlanta doesn't really carry any backup outfielders. Upton, his brother Justin and Jason Heyward have played 113, 115 and 114 of the team's 121 games this year, flexing in Jordan Schafer and Ryan Doumit in the remaining contests. Schafer hit .163 without power and now toils in Phoenix. Doumit is a catcher.

Either GM Frank Wren is loaded up on Quaaludes, wagered heavily in Vegas on an Upton prop bet or can't find other GMs' phone numbers. Because landing a superior option can't be that hard. There are above-replacement outfielders on the waiver wire, warming benches, stashed in Triple-A and lounging in man caves across America. A couple of phone calls and the sacrifice of a non-prospect Double-A middle reliever can land some non-contender's fifth outfielder who'll hit .240 and shag flies.

It doesn't much matter while the Braves spiral into oblivion. But as long as they nurture playoff dreams, they'll need more than a strikeout with legs in the batting order, no matter how much he's paid.

09 August 2014

Why Your Team Stinks and Will Win Their Division

Congratulations! You just assumed the helm of a Major League Baseball team. 

Here's the problem: I'm going to saddle you with the following:

You're middle of the pack in runs scored. Really, how many games can your charges win? 

Well, if you're Buck Showalter, the answer is: enough to build the largest division lead in baseball. The Baltimore Orioles are acting like their counterparts in the East Bay -- winning with a patchwork of defense, good health and smart managing. And, of course, a tablespoon of good luck.

Despite the lack of names, the rotation has performed credibly and the bullpen anchors have delivered -- a 1.30 combined ERA for closer Zach Britton and set-up man Darren O'Day. The team leads the league in fielding percentage and the advanced metrics peg their overall defense as above average.

Showalter doesn't have a plethora of options at his disposal, but infielder Steve Pearce has bopped 11 homers in 230 at-bats and outfielder Delmon Young is hitting .316. Back-up catcher Caleb Joseph, spelling Matt Wieters while he misses the rest of the season following elbow surgery, has homered in five consecutive games.

Wieters not withstanding, the Baltimorons have enjoyed the blessings of extraordinary health. Six pitchers have made all but one of the Orioles' starts this year and the three best hitters -- Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz -- have perfect attendance on the season.

The O's are also doing the small things. They're 36-22 in one- and two-run games. They've won 12 of 16 extra-inning games. They don't waste many at-bats on sacrifice bunts and they've lost just 14 runners attempting to steal. The defense has turned 114 double plays, two dozen more than they've hit into. It helps explain why since June, they're 39-22 and haven't lost two straight.  And it doesn't hurt that they're dominating their division rivals in head-to-head matchups.

The million-dollar question is whether the Birds can maintain the pace. While their rivals piled up more bodies at the trade deadline, Dan Duquette added just lefty fireballer Andrew Miller to bolster the pen. And a few late-season injuries can erase all the good fortune. 

But the O's have the easiest remaining schedule in the league and they've been improving as the season has progressed. The last time they held a lead this large, this late, was 1997, when they won 98 games and the AL East.

07 August 2014

Keep This In Mind Come Playoff Time

As I was saying about the Yankees...they just rattled off three victories in four games over Detroit despite facing a triad of Cy Young winners and the AL wins leader.

Keep that in mind this fall when some monkey claiming to be a sports expert or "analyst" or "insider" proposes that Team A can't win a five- or seven-game series against Team B because Team B has dominant starting pitching.

Max Scherzer has started 23 games. He's not 23-0; he's 13-4.

David Price has started 24 games. He's not 24-0; he's 11-8.

Jon Lester has started 22 games. He's not 22-0; he's 11-7.

Everyone can be beat. And has been.

And the Yankees have scuffled around .500 all year, but they've won four of their last five, which would be enough to capture a playoff series. 

So counting out any squad that can sneak into the post-season is a fool's errand.

Thanks, Yanks, for that point, made in the previous post. Now, go back to losing.

05 August 2014

Dismiss the Yankees At Your Peril

The clouds are gathering in the collective wisdom and coalescing into dismissal of the New York Yankees. Go ahead, at your own peril.

For sure, the Yankees are a pale shadow of their former selves. Their stockpile of big ticket free agents are nursing osteoporosis now. Many of their richest players pass the season on the disabled list -- or the suspended list. They have made a habit for two years now of auditioning one reclamation project after another in the hopes of catching lighting in a bottle for 300 at-bats.

It's certainly nothing like 1996-2012, when NYY was a post-season lock -- 16 times in 17 years, reaching seven World Series and capturing five championships. Last year, Joe Girardi's nine won 52.5% of their games, their worst performance in more than two decades. This season, it's a tick below that. The Yankees are basically a .500 team.

And yet, the Bombers are 58-53, just five games out of first in the limp AL East and a mere game out of the Wild Card. In another week or two, Michael Pineda returns to the mound, and ace Masahiro Tanaka could be hurling for them again in September.

They would complement new additions Chase Headley at third and Martin Prado anywhere they want.

Could the Yankees emerge from the scrum among Toronto, Seattle, KC, Cleveland and Tampa for the last playoff slot? Sure, why not? Every team on that list has an Achilles Heel as vulnerable as New York's punchless outfield. Could the Yankees overtake Baltimore for the AL East with a few hot weeks? Stranger things have happened. Heck, Hunter Pence parallel parked yesterday.

Then once they're in, all bets are off. Or on. Or...whichever it is. Baseball playoff series are only slightly less random than GEICO ads.

Which brings us to another piece of conventional wisdom gone astray. Since the trade deadline, it has become doctrine that the Tigers, with their three Cy Young starters, or Oakland, with their own trio of aces, are locks to compete for the pennant. As if Max Scherzer has never lost 2-1 (to the Yankees yesterday). Or Justin Verlander, blown up (seven starts of five runs or more allowed this year). 

It's certainly an advantage to throw three aces at an opponent in a seven-game series than not. It's an advantage to throw three aces at opponents all year. But it's not a guarantee of anything, particularly over a handful of games.

The Yankees aren't the favorites. the Tigers and A's are. (Perhaps the stacked Angels' lineup too.) But the favorite entering baseball's playoffs -- much less entering August -- hasn't won the championship the last four years. For that, you have to go back to 2009 when -- well whaddaya know! -- the Yankees won it all.

01 August 2014

Beane Ball: Do the Opposite of What Billy Beane Would Do

There's a new general manager in Oakland. He is Not-Billy Beane.

The actual Beane, he of Moneyball fame, the first of the sabermetric-inclined GMs; the savant whose early trades humiliated his trade partners; the first to recognize the power of on-base percentage, the fungibility of closers and the real value of managers; the ex-prospect who assembled one playoff team after another without a payroll, a stadium or a fan base; that Billy Beane would never swap a young stud like Yoenis Cespedes for a two-month pitching rental, even of the Jon Lester variety.

That Billy Beane takes the long view, cobbles offensive machines out of platoons and role players, inks low-cost, high-value free agents and recycles young arms. He wins division after division after division -- seven playoff teams in the last 14 years.

And then -- disappointment. His teams have succumbed in the division series six times, each of them in the final game. In several of those series the A's led two games to none and then got swept. And in the one league championship series of Beane's reign, the A's were tomahawked out without a win.

Beane famously said "my shit doesn't work in the playoffs," and yesterday Not-Billy Beane went about proving that he believed it. Blessed with his best team in years, a squad leading baseball in runs scored, fewest runs allowed and the best record in the game, Not-Billy Beane did what Billy Beane would never do.

First, a month ago, he swapped a pair of promising minor leaguers for two good but not great Cubs' pitchers. Then yesterday he relinquished his five-tool outfielder for a two-month Jon Lester rental. 

Except it's not the two months that Not-Billy Beane needs Lester for. The A's know perfectly well how to win in August and September without high-cost rentals like Jon Lester whom Oakland will never be able to re-sign.  

Not-Billy signed Lester for the 19 games of October that really count. Not-Billy realizes that all there is no finger hardware for division titles. There are no t-shirt sales proclaiming the team Division Champions. No documentaries, no parades and no delirium in the streets. They require a World Championship.

So Not-Billy brought in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija to supplement Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir for those five- and seven-game series that have formed the bulwark against Beane's World Series quest. Come Games Three and Four of the ALDS, Beane won't be outmatched on the mound against anyone. The same thing in Games Four through Seven of the ALCS and World Series.

Over the years, we've seen Billy Beane change his strategy numerous time from focusing on OBP to defense to BABIP en route to accomplishments well beyond his revenue stream. Today we're seeing Beane change his fundamental principles. We'll find out soon whether Not-Billy Beane fares any better.

26 July 2014

Joe Maddon Knows What Matters

One of the reasons you can't count out the Tampa Rays, besides a balanced lineup, solid defense and deep pitching, is their manager Joe Maddon. He's one of the best on the planet.

The Rays are hosting Boston as I write this, nursing a 2-0 lead with two outs in the fifth. Right-handed starter Jeremy Hellickson has walked a tightrope through 14 outs, allowing five hits and two walks over 96 pitches. 

If Hellickson retires Dustin Pedroia, his evening is complete and the scorekeepers can credit him with a win, as long as the Rays maintain their lead.

Instead, Pedroia rips a single up the middle, bringing up David Ortiz with a tiring Hellickson on the hill. Maddon doesn't like that matchup and he yanks his young starter in favor of a fresh southpaw.

Think about that. Hellickson had pitched a shutout and was one out from earning a win. Joe Maddon didn't care. Winning the game is more important.

The results are irrelevant. The best decisions only offer a better chance of winning, not certainty. In fact, Ortiz turned around a Jeff Beliveau heater -- right into the mitt of first baseman James Loney. The screaming liner ended the Red Sox' threat.

Hellickson won't get the win. Big whoop. The Rays will, or at least are in better position to. That would put them within three games of the Yankees and Blue Jays in the Wild Card race. And that's the statistic that matters.

22 July 2014

Marlins Get A Good Laugh About Dan Uggla

Were the Florida Marlins really smart when it comes to Dan Uggla or just really lucky?

The squat keystoner was released by the Braves last week after a year-and-a-half of hitting your IQ. With no takers on the market and a solid replacement in rookie Tommy LaStella, Atlanta dumped Uggla and will eat the $18 million left on his contract.

The Uggla whom Atlanta swapped infielder Omar Infante and lefty reliever Mike Dunn to acquire in 2010 appeared only in brief flashes, mostly during his first season in a tomahawk uniform. Whereas he batted .263 with 31 homers per 162 games for the Marlins, he slumped to .209 and 26 homers per 162 with Atlanta. Since moving north, his batting averages have headed south -- .287-.233-.220-.179-.162. That is what we call "trending poorly."

To make matters worse, Uggla is slow-footed and iron-gloved. Without his stick working, he's a muscled beer vendor.

Drafted by Arizona in '01, Uggla didn't make the Majors until he burst on the scene with Florida in 2006, hitting .282 with 27 bombs. Four similar seasons followed, exposing him to free agency as the fastest second baseman in history to reach 100 home runs and the first keystoner ever to smack 30-a-year for four consecutive seasons.

It's not like Miami brass knew Uggla had peaked, offering him a four-year, $48 million deal, which he wisely rejected. That's when they shipped him to Georgia.

Following a fifth straight 30+ home run season in Atlanta, Uggla inked a four-year, $52 million contract with the Braves at the age of 31. But the Marlins had sucked out all his talent had to offer, enjoying 19 wins against replacement over five years for the MLB equivalent of a dinner and a movie ($14.2 million).

For $61 million, the Braves salvaged 2.4 wins against replacement of value from him, worse than any one of his three best seasons in Miami. So today, at 34 and without a team, Dan Uggla will be some contender's pinch hitter, hoping a few well-timed hits, particularly in a playoff situation, can earn him another year in The Show.

For the Braves, the only salvation is that by paying Uggla not to play, they maximize his value (i.e., minimize his damage) and open up a roster spot. And the Marlins get to laugh and wipe their brows in relief.

21 July 2014

What Colby Lewis Really Meant

By now you know the enigmatic musings of Colby Lewis, the Rangers' pitcher who took issue with Blue Jay outfielder Colby Rasmus bunting against the shift.

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate it. You're up by two runs with two outs [in the fifth inning] and you lay down a bunt. I don't think that's the way the game should be played."

Lewis has been rightfully shredded here and here and here and here and frankly everywhere for conjuring a new unwritten rule.

But I think Colby Lewis was misquoted and now he's being unfairly criticized. 

What he really said was this:

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate having a 6.54 ERA. You're a .233 hitter and even you just got a hit against me. I don't think we Rangers, at 39-59, know the way the game should be played."

See? That's totally understandable. So lay off poor Colby. He might not be in the Majors much longer.


20 July 2014

Is Andrew Rector A Douchenozzle? Reflections On A Mid-Game Snooze

Andrew Rector is either a genius or he’s an extremely not genius of any kind. I’d like to use more descriptive words but Andrew is the litigious sort. Which is the story here.
In case you hadn’t heard, Andrew Rector is the gentleman pictured below who entered into repose along with all his chins at a nationally televised baseball game. Being a proud, upstanding American, I consider this a sin on the order of knocking over a little old lady and smacking an ice cream cone out of a child’s hand. But if everyone who fell asleep at a baseball game were charged with a crime, we’d have to put fencing and barbed wire around America. And I’d have to bail out my otherwise-sweet wife.

Anyway, the game announcers -- Dan Shulman and John Kruk -- had some good, clean fun at Andrew Rector’s expense, speculating on the number of beers required to reach this particular Zen state.
From there, of course, the InterWebs picked it up and turned Andrew Rector into a cross between Bozo the Clown and Pig Pen. You can just imagine. Bloggers and tweeters called him a “fat bastard,” a “douchenozzle,” and also some unflattering things. 
And then tomorrow happened. In this case, tomorrow was April 14, by which time everyone would have forgotten about Andrew Rector except he sued Major League Baseball, ESPN and the announcers personally for $10 million, blaming them for heaping scorn and ridicule upon him.
Even a moron knows that this suit will die a slow, ignominious death. (I am not suggesting that Andrew Robert Rector of the New York metropolitan area is a moron. Considering that he filed the suit, there’s evidence that he has not achieved that vaunted status.) Suing ESPN and MLB for showing him in slumber (and apparent mid-droolage) is a fool’s errand. Suing the announcers for their tepid remarks is patent dopiness. Not that Andrew Rector is a dope, but his lawyer certainly is. (Note: From the semi-coherent ramblings of the lawsuit, he may not have a lawyer. Infer what you will.)
As a result of the lawsuit, millions of people around the globe who never noticed Andrew Rector conked out live on TV, or checked in on the disparagement of Andrew Rector on Twitter are suddenly aware that Andrew Robert Rector, a used car salesman in or around NYC (you can’t make this stuff up!) dozed ungracefully through the whole fourth inning of a Yankee-Red Sox tilt at The House That Ruth Built.
With his baseless and juvenile lawsuit, Andrew Rector has frittered away the sympathy his case inspired and catapulted the ridicule seven-fold, this time for good reason. And for that, you might think Andrew Rector is a flaming goober.
But is he? After all, you now know Andrew Rector’s name. You recognize his visage. You might be intrigued by his story. Maybe he’s just angling to extend his 15 minutes of fame to a half hour so that he can cash in. Think of the possibilities.
His people might be on the phone at this very moment encouraging the Yankees to do Andrew Rector Bobblehead Night, with the bobbling noggin on a rightward tilt. I see a book deal with a big advance: “Dreaming of Being A Thin Dodger Fan.” The endorsement deals from Tempurpedic and Jenny Craig practically sell themselves. A speaking tour, a magazine spread – and I do mean spread – Andrew Rector is positioning himself for all of it. The guy can stop selling cars – used or otherwise – and join the one percent.

Maybe Andrew Rector’s not a flaming goober. Maybe he’s a flippin’ genius.

18 July 2014

Clutch...My Stomach

One more shot at the out-of-control Derek Jeter narrative:

Did you catch the All-Star Game description of Jeter's .441 batting average in All-Star Games (now .480 after a 2-for-2 night)? 

"Derek Jeter has been clutch in the All-Star Game."

Of  the thousands of ballplayers over the 125-year history of Major League Baseball, only Derek Jeter could be described as clutch for performing well in meaningless exhibitions.

(Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jeter mostly batted in the early innings of those games, so his hits have come in non-critical moments of meaningless exhibitions.)


16 July 2014

Derek Jeter 174, Tony Gwynn 0

Fox issued 84 unnecessary mentions of Derek Jeter at the All-Star game and cut away to him unnecessarily 90 times, according to Baseball Prospectus. ("Unnecessary" in that he wasn't batting, baserunning or making a play.)

They never mentioned Tony Gwynn once. Not once.

Today MLB and Fox, under widespread withering criticism for a blatantly shameful misorder of priorities, issued a statement claiming that they ignored Gwynn because they didn't want to slight Jim Fregosi, who also died since the last All-Star Game.

Oh, never mind then.

When did Major League Baseball hire Ryan Braun for their PR department? 

So here's a fun game: 

Which notable attempt at spin has reached the highest level on the laugh meter?
1. We're emancipating the oppressed Germans of Poland and Belguim. -Adolf Hitler
2. It was a wardrobe malfunction. -Justin Timberlake
3. We have repelled the Americans. -Baghdad Bob
4. The Civil War wasn't about slavery. -Embarrassed Southerners
5. Well, Frank Cashen died too, ya know. -MLB and Fox

I used to think that Fox was the worst network for MLB because they obviously don't like baseball or know much about it. But now I realize, it's a perfect marriage.

R.I.P. Tony Gwynn. You were a great ballplayer and a good man who died way too young.

14 July 2014

Texas Rangers: Missed It By That Much

If you picked the Texas Rangers to win the AL West, or to compete for a Wild Card, or at least to outplay the Oakland A's, you're not alone. Texas has won 90+ games each of the past four seasons, annually sports a lineup of big-boy bats and worked a pair of deals this year for a couple more boppers. 

But as the great philosopher Maxwell Smart observed:

"Missed it by that much."

The Rangers are not going to win the AL West. They are not going to compete for a Wild Card. They are currently 20.5 games behind Oakland and the gap widens daily.

The Rangers are, in fact, in last place in Major League Baseball. They trail the Cubs, the Padres and even the Astros. One more loss drops them behind the Toledo Mud Hens.

Texas represented the American League in the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Since then, they've lost Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, David Murphy, Bengie Molina and Chris Davis. They traded a superb player, Ian Kinsler, for a superb hitter, Prince Fielder. 

What they have left is Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Yu Darvish. Fielder is done for the season after contributing three home runs. Free agent signing Shin-soo Choo is up to his on-base ways but not much else. Number-two starter Colby Lewis sports a 6.54 ERA.

Somewhere between locusts and slaying of the first born have come a plague of Ranger injuries. Fielder is done due to a neck injury after playing every game of the previous three campaigns. Infield phenom Jurickson Profar -- the reason GM Jon Daniels traded Kinsler -- can thank a shoulder tear for keeping him off the field. Outfielder Kevin Kouzmanoff's .362/.412/.617 brilliance lasted until April 23 and neck surgery. Catcher Geovany Soto is toast after tearing a ligament in his knee. Rotation cog Matt Harrison lasted four starts before a spinal nerve flared. DH Mitch Moreland's on the shelf following ankle surgery. And Derek Holland, the team's second-best pitcher, has yet to visit the mound.

Oh, the humanity!  

The results have been grotesque. The team isn't hitting. They're not fielding. After Darvish, they're not pitching. They're third in the AL in stolen bases but first in caught stealing (a miserable 65 for 104). They're last in the league in ERA and ninth in on-base and slugging. With starters like outfielder Michael Choice, who's hitting .177, imagine how painful their bench is. (Here's some help: Carlos Pena, who's hitting .136  with one home run, is not the worst backup on the roster.)

So the Rangers are done in 2014. The question is whether their window was closing or whether return from injury will catapult this squad back into contention next year. Watch whether Daniels starts flipping veterans in order to restock the barren upper levels of the farm to know which way they perceive themselves.