29 May 2015

The Insurance Policy That's Paying Off

Astros prospect Jon Singleton is a millionaire ten times over. Keep that in mind as we recap his story.

A year ago in this space, Singleton made his debut. He had just been called up from the Minors by Houston after agreeing to a five-year, $10 million contract.

His signature was a pre-requisite for the promotion. Other prospects had rejected similar deals and the Astros had left them to marinate on the farm while the big club flirted with 100 losses.

As that post discussed, teams like offering talented prospects guaranteed multi-million dollar deals because, if they've scouted right, they pay off big, plus they eliminate the mess of arbitration and provide relatively low cost-certainty.

Some players like these offers because they're guaranteed, and as previously mentioned, the marginal utility of the first couple of millions is significantly greater than the opportunity cost of the subsequent millions they might be leaving on the table. In effect, young ballplayers are using future earnings to buy insurance policies against a flameout.

Consequently, the number of these arrangements has been increasing of late.

Without the contract, Singleton would have eventually made the Majors after tearing up Triple-A in the first half of 2014. He would have earned a pro-rated portion of the rookie minimum, or about half of roughly $500,000. Without leverage until year three, he'd have earned roughly the same the following year. Entering arbitration eligibility in year three, he would have begun commanding larger percentages of his market value, eclipsing $10 million in a single year if he were to perform as expected.

Sounds like a terrible deal for him, except it hasn't worked out that way.

The holes in Singleton's swing were big enough to drive a Major League breaking pitch through, leaving the 23-year-old with a .168 batting average and a demotion. Singleton didn't make The Show in 2015, and while he's king of Oklahoma City these days, the first-place Astros are no longer in the experimentation phase. For now, Jon Singleton is a Minor Leaguer.

Which, ironically, is good for him in an odd sense: The insurance policy is already paying off as he collects his $2 million-a-year.

The Last Shall Be First

A quarter of the way into the season, the three best teams in the American League have been the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. They are a combined 32 games over .500.

Those very teams were rated the three worst in the AL by most projection systems when the season began. Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system had the triad dropping 85, 92 and 91 games, respectively.

Is this a great game, or what?

27 May 2015

Trends of Note After One Lap

We're around the quarter pole in the 2015 season, which seems like a sensible time to begin taking note of developments. Before 40 games much of what we see is randomness and noise. Games played in parkas, impactful rookies still riding buses in Fresno and Toledo, strength of schedule weighing heavily, streaks with disproportionate bearing, that sort of thing.

By 40 games, trends that matter are starting to emerge. Not all trends are enduring but some are. So it's a good time to take stock.

Let's take a look at categories of teams by performance versus expectation:

Surprisingly wonderful
Houston Astros
St. Louis Cardinals+
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins

Wonderful as expected
Washington Nationals
Los Angeles Dodgers
Detroit Tigers

Surprisingly degenerate
Oakland A's
Milwaukee Brewers@
Miami Marlins
Cleveland Indians*

Unsurprisingly degenerate
Philadelphia Phillies
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
Cincinnati Reds

Back where we expected them
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Atlanta Braves

In the great middle as predicted
Everyone else

Not sure what to do with them
San Francisco Giants **

+ Might belong in the expected category
@ Might not be all that surprising
* Might be emerging from that category
** May just be on a hot streak

All of which suggests this, with three quarters of the season ahead of us:
1. A wide open AL East that might not resolve itself until Game 163. 
2. An AL West that is inconceivable: could the Triple-A Stros actually run away from Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, CJ Wilson and the National Debt of Anaheim? And Seattle's powered-pumped lineup behind King Felix?
3. The emergence of the Cubs and Mets, and the transformation of the Padres, are still at issue.

And how about these quirks:
1. The White Sox team have stolen nine bases and been caught stealing 12 times. Twelve players have 10+ steals.
2. The Pirates have hit one triple. Eighteen players have at least three.
3. No Blue Jays player has received a single intentional walk. Jose Altuve has six. Jose goes 5'6"- 165.
4. The Diamondbacks have been hit with seven pitches. Anthony Rizzo has been hit 12 times.
5. The Marlins' bullpen has four saves. Eleven pitchers have at least 12.
6. The Rangers pitching staff is without a combined shutout. Shelby Miller has thrown two himself.
7. Padres hurlers have allowed a league-leading 61 home runs so far . . . playing their home games in the toughest home park to go yard.
8. The Indians' pitching staff has averaged 10 strikeouts per game.

Love this game!


26 May 2015

Ninety Years of Doing It Wrong

During a quick perusal of the Sunday sports section -- yeah, I still take a gander at that old relic -- the team batting and pitching summaries leaped off the page and sucker-punched my eyeballs. Down at the bottom of the hitting stats were the Houston Astros, the very charlatans occupying first place in the AL West after winning a weekend series against the behemoths of Detroit.

There they were, the team known previously as the A-A-Astros, dwelling in the hitting cellar. Yet they are living large in the division penthouse. In fact, with a .228 batting average, Houston would seem to be batting in the sub-basement.

Of course, this compilation comes courtesy of the Associated Press, that venerable organization that voted Jimmy Foxx to last year's All Star team.

Thing is, the Astros have done something the Associated Press evidently has difficulty conceiving. They score runs by other means than compiling hits. Huh! Can they do that?

Houston has walked fifth most in the AL and leads the Majors in home runs. They are third in the league in runs scored. (As of the weekend.) That would be runs scored, the purpose of hitting.

So the Associated Press, and by extension newspapers across America, list the Astros as worst in their league at something when in fact they are third best. There is a word for this kind of journalism. That word is: Wrong.

The AP has been doing it wrong for 90 years, but since they've been doing it that way for 90 years they will continue doing it that way. When it comes to covering baseball, the Associated Press, which provides information to nearly every major news operation in America, has the credibility of Bernie Madoff's stock picks. That they are misinforming their readers seems not to make much difference to them. That informing readers is the very purpose of journalism seems to have equal impact.

This is a practice at the Associated Press. It's a policy. This is the way they list team batting statistics -- the way they've always done it.

Here's what should happen instead: Someone in a position of authority should take one look at this summary and determine, much as a third-rate spare-time blogger in Charleston, SC has done, that the formula is archaic, asinine and wrong. And he (or she) should deduce that wrong is bad and immediately declare that henceforth and without hesitation, it should be done right. This policy shift should come to pass without delay because doing it wrong is dumb and doing it right is smart. And smart is better than dumb.

Who could argue with that?

Well, I'm willing to bet it would generate much heat among the Neanderthals of baseball coverage and would take 17 months of review to alter a policy that pre-dates your grandfather. Meanwhile, when I look up the batting statistics in Baseball Reference the default is alphabetical, with Arizona first and Washington last. But clicking on any statistic will re-order the list in descending order of that stat, so if you want to determine the best hitting team, you just click on runs to see the Astros up near the top.

That's smart, which as you know, is better than the Associated Press.

And it didn't take Baseball Reference 90 years to figure it out.

25 May 2015

The NBA and NHL Playoffs Are sdrawkcaB This Year

It's been well-established in this space that pro hockey and basketball regular seasons pack all the relevance of Iranian elections and for opposite reasons.

In the NBA, there are usually only a couple of elite teams with any hope of winning the title, and the final contenders often seem pre-ordained. The first round often pairs a title contender with a lottery pick contender and offers less intrigue than a Dr. Seuss book. In the NHL, the results are so random that the regular season has as much bearing on the tournament as the zodiac.

This year though. This year, the NBA playoffs were something of a con flip. The reigning champs and -- in some eyes -- tournament favorites earned just a sixth seed and got bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Neither conference's top seed was necessarily the favorite entering the second season. And several popular contenders suffered injuries debilitating to their playoff prospects.

It's made the NBA playoffs much more interesting, much more like the baseball playoffs, where only good teams earn a bid and then the championship is up for grabs. As a special bonus, none of the four finalists has won the crown in at least two decades, and two of the four haven't ever held the trophy.

Meantime, the chase for Lord Stanley's parabolic hardware features a highly-unusual development -- semi-finals that include the top seed in each conference. If Anaheim and New York face off for the Cup, they will represent an NBA-style finals. The difference, much to the NHL's benefit, is that such a result carried 12-1 odds against entering the playoffs.

In other words, the results this year were somewhat less arbitrary, and whoever squares off for the championship will have been a reasonably worthy representative. Perhaps someone will take notice and reduce the number...

Nah.


24 May 2015

Where Are the All-Time Greats?

A recent spate of Hall of Fame retirements has transformed today's Major Leagues from a repository of the enshrined to a roster of stars whose exact composition is a mystery. Players who are Hall of Fame locks right now number three: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Miguel Cabrera.

Compare that to 10 years ago when Alex Rodriguez could have cruised into Cooperstown with hardly a dissenter. Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Kurt Schilling, Greg Madduz, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were all dancing their waltzes into baseball history.

Purely on the merits, of course, ARod is a no doubter, just as Bonds and Clemens were. The forecast for any of them seeing their bust carved is partly dubious with a chance of impossible. Illicit performance boosting may also work against the borderline case of David Ortiz. Infielders Chase Utley and Adrian Beltre have to rate as probably nots, barring late career second acts (or third acts in Beltre's case.) Carlos Beltran's candidacy depends on how much voters have evolved to appreciate all-around skills, and then which way their coins toss.

Of course, there are some mid-career probablies out there. You have to like Buster Posey's chances, particularly if he can remain behind the plate. On top of his lifetime .300+ batting average, he owns a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and three World Championships. In his sixth season, at age 28, Posey is at it again, posting a .314 TAv.

Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Craig Kimbrel are on promising trajectories as well, though Kimbrel has been lit up in 16 innings this year and Kershaw's powers seemed to have disappeared, Samson-style, with the loss of his hair, in his case facial. Those last three names illuminate how wanting the Majors are today in pitching greatness. The top active hurling careers belong to Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Adam Wainright, Chris Carpenter and Joe Nathan, fine moundsmen all, but hardly bronze material.  Other than King Felix, there will not be a single legitimate pitching candidate for a decade or so after the current backlog clears out.

Then there is Yadier Molina, who needs to keep hitting in the sunset years of his career to be considered this generation's Ivan Rodriguez. Twenty-nine-year-old Evan Longoria has a shot if he returns to the form of his first five full seasons. Joey Votto would have to maintain that consistent excellence for another decade to earn Hall stripes.  And we can always dream on the second and third-year players like Puig, Cespedes, Harvey, Abreu and their ilk. But potential outnumbers fruition by a healthy margin.

Experience tells us that a couple of those named will slide off the list, just as Nomar Garciaparra, Tim Lincecum and Joe Mauer did. And others will climb on, following a path paved by Paul Molitor and Sandy Koufax, to name two. Still, it's likely that the ballot clogging now vexing Hall of Fame voting will not be an issue a decade or two from now.


20 May 2015

Lousy Rotation, No Homers, No Bench: First Place!

The Kansas City Royals are this year’s Rocky Squirrel, defying the laws of physics. The team that shocked everyone to within 90 feet of a World Series title was by all accounts poised for a karma comeuppance in 2015.

Well, apparently Kansas City has been good to the gods. At 25-14, the team sports a two-game lead in the AL Central despite a lousy starting rotation and a near absence of home run power. They made almost no upgrades to their dubious 2014 roster, but they did manage to lose their best slugger, Billy Butler, and one of their best on-base guys, Nori Aoki.

The truth about KC in 2014 was that, other than a one-month stretch, they were a sub-mediocre squad, bereft of hitting of any type and entirely reliant on historically good relief pitching and outfield defense. That they discovered a little rocket fuel in October hardly obscured the notion that they were headed for a fall this season.

This year, the bullpen and defense are again igniting the wins. Although Royals starters sport a bottom-quarter ERA the team has allowed the second fewest runs in the league. That’s in part thanks to a relief corps (1.60 ERA) that’s relieving a lot of pain and in part thanks to stout defense that has held opponents to a .260 BABIP, about 40 points below normal. Low BABIP can be an indication of luck, but in this case it’s part skill. As Baseball Prospectus’s Matt Trueblood points out, “StatCorner credits their fielders with the second-highest Runs Above Average on grounders and the second-highest on fly balls; no one else is even in the top six on both lists.”

Up and down the lineup, Lorde’s favorite team is tearing up the league, not just by getting on base and running but also by slugging extra base hits that stay inside the park. Nowhere is the improvement more transparent than with the Greek God of Beating the Shift, Mike Moustakas. After a miserable 2014 in which the lefty third baseman batted .212, Moose altered his approach in the off-season and is no longer enduring an off season, hitting .331 so far, buoyed by handfuls of shift-busting oppo shots down the third base line.

But beware the dog days: the team’s kryptonite is its bench. For all the rockets’ red glare put out by the bullpen (1.29 ERA) there’s nothing along the pines. The entire bench has made 177 plate appearances and posted an abysmal .573 OPS, and only injured 34-year-old Alex Rios offers any promise of improvement. (By random comparison I chose the team at the bottom of the division, Cleveland, whose bench has come to the plate 278 times and contributed a .726 OPS.) That means Royals starters must carry the load for 162 games, and that’s not likely.

It’s a long season and May is quickly forgotten come Labor Day. If we look back then and see Kansas City still regal on the AL Central throne, we’ll admire their odd formula for success. And if they’re down muddling with the hoi polloi, we’ll know why.

15 May 2015

It Gets Late Early Around Here

The talk is already starting.

The Rockies (12-19) are  already in the basement, despite a hot start. The Phillies (13-23) claimed their rightful place almost immediately. The Brewers (12-23, 12.5 games out) have the worst record in baseball and the most ground to make up.

So who are they trading?

This is crazy talk, right?

In a word, no.

It's not like we're writing off the Indians or A's, whose early season performances have been similarly distressing. Colorado, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are simply ratifying their woebegone expectations.

All three teams employ aging, overpaid stars who will not be contributors by the time the rosters might conceivably inspire dreams of contention. The faster they convert what's left of those assets into prospects, the less the transition will hurt.

Take the Phillies. Please. By waiting to trade him, the returns on Chase Utley have cratered. In March he was an aging second baseman with some speed, defense and on-base skills. By May he's a decrepit has-been batting .118 and fumbling afield with utterly no trade value.

Ryan Howard has at least socked seven homers to go with his .293 OBP. But with his inability to move laterally or avoid the training table, he's already a $25 million sunk cost.

Still, Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang and Jonathan Papelbon might fetch something around the trade deadline. There's not much point in keeping any of them, particularly not Pop, whose whining, when mixed with a 100-loss season, is a recipe for indigestion.

In Denver, speculating upon Troy Tulowitzki's  next uniform is a favorite activity, along with ski jumping and mountain climbing. Tulo is only 30 and remains a great player during those fleeting interludes between DL stints, but he's signed for $100 million for the next five years (including this one). They need to flip him before his value divots, knowing that whatever the Rocks get for him will be tempered by injury fears.

The only other Colorado teammates over 30 of any note are catcher Nick Hundley and reliever John Axford. Ax might appeal to a contender with an ugly bullpen but there's not much of a market for a backstop worth six wins in eight years -- three of them in 2011.

The Brewers are suds of a different color. Most of their players exude the bloom of youth and the joy of skills. Two of their stars -- catcher Jonathan Lucroy and shortstop Jean Segura -- are on the shelf with injuries. With their return and the addition of one top starter Milwaukee could play meaningful September baseball. They might ultimately be buyers, not sellers.

If they had to unload, the best candidates are: Adam Lind, now producing his third consecutive TAv above .300 and at 31, signed for just one more season; Matt Garza, a 31-year-old third starter with three more years on his contract; and Kyle Lohse, another third starter entering free agency. 

But I don't see any of that. Not only will brass need more convincing that they can't contend, they just picked up Lind and Garza in the last year, so bouncing them would amount to admissions of defeat. Unlike Philly and Colorado, the Brewers might be wise to ride out the wave.

On the flip side, there are the Astros and Yankees. Neither should print playoff tickets just yet...

09 May 2015

Not All Homers Leave the Yard. Or Drink Duff Beer. Or Pitch for the Reds...

It's a bit of shooting fish in a barrel, admittedly, but local team broadcasts are always fun to pick on for their gross inanity. You can chalk up their vapidness to homerism, but these are major market broadcasts of billion-dollar enterprises.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves radio network claims to be the largest in all of professional sports. Certainly the fact that a fan in Charleston, SC can listen to the broadcasts 300 miles away is testament to their reach.

On the pre-game show before a tilt against the Nationals, one of the hosts offered that Washington may claim golden boy Bryce Harper, but Atlanta counters, at least this year, with Kelly Johnson, and he would take that match-up any day.

As well he should. In the sense that any day is as good as another in their comparison. Let's make it, just to see the depravity of his subjectivity.

Kelly Johnson is what you might charitably call a slugging second baseman who has donned the uniform of seven different teams over an 11-year career.  He has tallied 16 or more home runs in a season five times, despite rarely earning everyday status. He's an average-fielding keystoner.

For his career, Johnson has hit .250/.332/.425 with 19 HR and 67 RBI per 162 games. He's produced a .269 True Average (TAv) and 17.4 wins against replacement.

Bryce Harper is what you might call an emerging star who is still a year younger than Johnson was when he debuted. Harper has hit .274/.358/.478 with 27 HR and 73 RBI per 162 games. He's produced a .300 TAv and 11.7 wins against replacement in a four-year career. He's a highlight film in the outfield.

This season, Johnson is hitting .236, but with six dingers in just 77 plate appearances. Harper is hitting .292 and leading the league in walks. He's gone yard 11 times in 133 plate appearances.

So, to summarize, Harper is hitting for much better average than Johnson this year. He's on base at a rate 100 points higher. He's slugging a little better. He's a better fielder. Right now, Harper is a better player in every way.

For their careers, Harper hits for better average, on base and slugging, a much higher TAv, more home runs and RBIs and has accounted for six fewer wins than Johnson in seven fewer years. At the rate he's going right now, Harper will make up the difference this season

In short, Bryce Harper is a Hall of Fame contender; Kelly Johnson was an asset for about a four-year stretch of his career.

So yeah, any day is as good as any other to compare the two players. And if Braves' management is as utterly brainless (they're not) as an announcer blind with boosterism, they can expect their team to take permanent residence at the bottom of the standings.

07 May 2015

A Bit O' Bryce

Note: This post was updated on 5/9

Bryce Harper, now a four-year veteran with 1400 Major League at bats to his name, has still yet to face a pitcher younger than he is at any level of professional baseball.

What he faced on Wednesday was a pair of Marlin hurlers, and he produced more than 1250 feet of home runs, turning two of the three around at speeds over 101 mph.

Of the nine players to exit the yard thrice in a game at a more tender age than Harper, five of them have busts in the Hall—Mickey Cochrane, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews and Al Kaline.

Harper followed that with a two-homer game the next night and a walk-off homer the following day. No one so young has every ripped five home runs in two consecutive contests.

And he may be rounding into Hall form himself. Half of Bam Bam's hits this season are the extra base variety and he continues to pace the NL in walks.

It's early, of course, but it feels good to dream on his .380 TAv. 

06 May 2015

Peering Into Mets' Colon

Ha! This isn't about a body part. It's about a whole body, a substantial amount of body, 285 pounds worth of location and command from the fertile pitching fingers of Bartolo Colon, the 42-year-old rotation mainstay in New York's northeast outer borough.

Colon stymied Baltimore last night on a few feeble singles and an eighth inning home run en route to a Mets 3-2 triumph. Colon has now spun victory against the Orioles for seven different teams, a record for any pitcher against any team. Too bad the Expos didn't play Baltimore during Colon's stint there in 2002.

As any baseball fan knows, Bartolo Colon's career has followed a serpentine roller coaster path. In his early career he anchored the Indians' pennant-winning teams of the late 90s, going 135-75 with an ERA 19% below average, a Cy Young and as many as 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

Then from 2006-2010, injury, ineffectiveness and a year out of the league seemed to doom his career. In just 257 innings over those five seasons he was 14-21, 5.18.

Two years ago, he rejuvenated his career with Oakland, going 18-6, 2.65 and garnering Cy Young votes again. At age 40 he might have authored his best season.

And now this year, at age 42 and with the body of a mall cop, he's 5-1, 2.90. But he's doing it differently. Colon no longer brings heat; instead, he commands his pitches and ping-pongs the batter's eyeballs with his location. He hasn't fanned 10 in a game in eight years. After averaging three-and-a-half walks per nine in his early career, he's down to one-and-a-half now.

Last night Colon whiffed nine without walking anyone, bamboozling O's catcher Caleb Joseph with his high 80s tepidness. You couldn't have predicted it early on, but Bartolo Colon is a pitching savant.

05 May 2015

DH: I Love You Just the Way You Are

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
Ah, what will it take till you believe in me?
The way that I believe in you?

I said I love you and that's forever
And this I promise from the heart
But I couldn't love you any better
I love you just the way you are 


Billy Joel, Just the Way You Are, 1977

Adam Wainwright's unfortunate injury while running out a ground ball has given rise to the flipside of the more common argument to abolish the designated hitter. The worm has turned, for the moment at least, and now the loudest voices are decrying the travesty of forcing people  to attempt to hit baseballs who are trained to throw them.

It's like, the argument goes, asking the magician's assistant to become the knife thrower.

Moreover, they've co-opted the argument of their opposites that the two leagues should hew to a single policy. They note that NL teams suffer a decided disadvantage during inter-league play (and the World Series) because their rosters aren't constructed to supply an extra hitter.

And now that offense is sagging, to the (theoretical) detriment of fan interest, replacing pitcher at-bats with real hitters would counter that regretful trend.

I don't buy it.

For the record, I love the DH. It keeps luminaries -- particularly the eminences grises -- in the game. Without it, Paul Molitor's not in the Hall of Fame. David Ortiz has no position. Frank Thomas plays five fewer years. And Edgar Martinez's knees deny us of his amazing career.

The DH makes every at bat meaningful. There's no automatic out, no automatic sacrifice bunt attempt.

The DH allows injured players to return faster. They can take a few cuts a game while they heal without the rigors of on-field exertions.

The main argument against the DH falls flat in places where brains drizzle. Deciding when to hit for the pitcher is such a cookie-cutter choice that a single monkey with a typewriter could correctly discern it  90% of the time without a SABR card or Tony LaRussa whispering in his ear. The cosmic complexities of the double switch might have challenged the intellect of Ron Washington, but they don't amount to game-deciding strategies.

That said, I like having it both ways. I'm enjoying Alex Rodriguez resurrecting the final chapter of his career and completing his assault on the record books. But maybe that doesn't move you. As it stands now, hooray for both of us.

If you don't buy my pro-DH arguments, fine, there's a league for you. If you like to see Mike Leake helping himself with the stick, you can. If the spectacle of Bartolo Colon swizzle-sticking at the plate amuses you, content yourself. Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't.

The split in the leagues causes some slight disruption, sure, but on balance it's better that way. The current set-up makes everyone happy, which is part of the problem. Because some people hate it when that's the case.

03 May 2015

Wait, What?

Nelson Cruz has scored 15 runs this year. He's smacked 13 home runs. Who says runs scored is a team event?

D. J. LeMahieu, that's who. The Rockies' catcher is batting .423 in 72 at bats and his teammates have pushed him home five times. Five.

The NL team leader in scoring is...the San Diego Padres. That's despite the Majors' lowest Park Factor of 91. (In other words, you can expect the Pads and their opponents to score 9% fewer runs at Petco than at an average ballpark.)

In his first 37 innings, Astros hurler Dallas Keuchel has already garnered 2.3 wins against replacement this season. In his 15-year Major League career, Randy Wolf has earned 2.3 or more wins for his team over an entire season just four times.

The St. Louis Cardinals pace the Majors with a 2.28 team ERA. That's better than all but 21 individual pitchers with at least 24 innings pitched. And two of them are Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright's record right now looks like this: 2-1, 1.44 in 25 innings. Three walks, 18 strikeouts and no home runs allowed. Dang fine work. And that will be his line for the year.

The Yankees are in first place in the AL East thanks to the hitting of ARod and the back end of their bullpen. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have pitched 27 innings and allowed nine hits while fanning 46 batters. I'd tell you their ERA but they don't have one. 

Bruce Chen has delivered a 2.78 ERA for the Orioles in 23 innings so far this year, which leads us to conclude, Bruce Chen is still in the Majors? Oh wait, that's Wei-Yin Chen.

My eyes tell me the Kansas City Royals, whose right fielder is someone named Paulo Orlando, are batting .306 as a team and have scored the second most runs in the Majors. And the Houston Astros have the second best record in baseball and a six game lead in the AL West. I have got to stop taking those pills at night.

Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit .360 with 32 homers and 110 RBI. Okay, I feel better.

The leading Rookie of the Year candidates at the 1/8th pole are Blue Jays' second baseman Devon Travis, Cubs' rightfielder Jorge Soler and third baseman Kris Bryant, Dbacks' starter Archie Bradley, and Dodgers' center fielder Joc Peterson. Each is older than Bryce Harper.

02 May 2015

Fight of the Century? Pity the Century

It may be true that the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fisticuffs amount to the fight of the century. It is, after all, the 15th year of a century that forgot the sport exists.

If the much-hyped clinch turns out to be boxing's death rattle, its Battle of the Bulge, then it might be the sport's pinnacle, in the same way that Yakutsk is the warmest city in Siberia.

What's been lost in the run-up to this spectacle is that, at ages 38 and 36, neither fighter is in his prime. Pacquiao particularly, now with five losses and two draws in his career, got himself slobberknocked by Juan Manuel Marquez three fights ago and is a nearly 2-1 underdog in this contest.

Consider that: in no game on tonight's baseball schedule is any team such a prohibitive underdog. The Houston Rockets were roughly a 2-1 favorite to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Did that matchup intrigue you? Were you on the edge of your seat wondering who would emerge victorious?

The Rockets crushed the Mavs in five games. That's Mayweather-Pacquiao.

When undefeated heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier tangled the first time, they were the world's two greatest fighters. The first Leonard-Hearns duel unified the welterweight title and established a clash of styles. We couldn't wait to see who won, and neither could the sanctioning bodies. Mayweather-Paquiao? It's a big payday.

Enjoy the fight. I'll watch the Red Sox and Yankees.

01 May 2015

Coverage of the NFL Draft is Mentally Retarded

When we say that NFL draft coverage has consumed sports talk radio for the last two months, hyperbole has been left by the side of the highway an hour's ride down the road. Indeed, the endless lip-flapping about the draft bordered on mental illness.

Despite a weekend including the biggest boxing match in years, the Kentucky Derby, exciting NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs and the start of the MLB season, the draft monopolized time and attention for weeks on end. Sports coverage on radio and TV prattled on about the same two or three draft questions so obsessively it made Rain Man seem less like a movie and more like real life.

Eighty percent of the discussion revolved around two players and 80% of the rest focused on another half dozen or so. Every possible permutation of repositioning spent time in analysis, as if it was Woody Allen.

"Experts" pontificated endlessly about what they "think" teams were going to do, though they didn't actually have any information. They sometimes worked with the disinformation that's run up the flagpole by teams banking on dopey media members with more airtime to fill than brains. In nearly every case these "ideas" involved some complex trade full of intrigue and in need of four more segments of analysis.

And so what transpired on the first draft day? A big, fat, overblown, anti-climactic pile of nothing, that's what. Team selected more or less in order the most logical prospects. The first two picks, about whom seven billion hours of speculation had been spilled on air, went just as one could have predicted during the first snows of January.

Has the sports media been chastened? Are you kidding: that would require self-awareness unavailable to people suffering from this form of mental retardation. While teams are held accountable for every good choice that turned out poorly, sports media members simply continue talking.

30 April 2015

A Fond Farewell To April

April's in the books and so is D.J. LeMahieu's .406 batting average. No one can take either away from us. Check out what else April gifted us:

Rookie Blue Jay keystoner Devon Travis has ripped half a dozen home runs already, the same number he hit in 2013 for the West Michigan Whitecaps of the A-ball Midwest League. Travis, a Florida State product, rocks a .359 TAv in April.

Sophomore starter Nick Martinez of Texas has allowed just one earned run in 26 April innings. His 0.35 ERA is 11.9 times better than league average. But with 8 walks and 11 strikeouts in 26 innings, watch out for May.

Conversely, Citi Field's round moundsman, Bartolo Colon, has issued a single walk and authored 25 strikeouts. That's the formula for remaining in the Majors at age 42. 

At 14-7 and leading the AL West, the Astros have matched the win total compiled by the 2013 team in its 47th game., That squad was 14-33 en route to 111 losses. The best starter's ERA that year, by far, was Bud Norris's 3.93. With an 0.73 ERA in 37 innings, Dallas Keuchel would have to surrender 30 runs in his next 37 frames to reach that number -- the best Houston had that year.

There were a lot of questions about Nelson Cruz moving to the offense-killer in Seattle, about Hanley Ramirez signing with Boston where he'd have to learn a new defensive position and about Josh Donaldson leaving the magic of Oakland for Toronto. Donaldson leads the AL in runs scored. Cruz and Ramirez pace the majors in home runs and rank first and third in slugging.

As usual, Joe Mauer is batting .300. He's also so far failed to reach the seats in 2015, something he hasn't done much of late. In fact, Mauer popped 28 longballs in his MVP season of 2009, the same number he's recorded in all of 2011, all of 2012, all of 2013, all of 2014 and 21 games of 2015, combined. In his 12 seasons, that 28 has accounted for more than a quarter of his lifetime jacks.

Chris Davis is bouncing back from his dismal 2014 with above average on base and slugging lines and five home runs. He's also on pace to fan 247 times.

Stephen Drew has also bounced back from his disastrous 2014 when he batted .162. This year he's up to .177.

Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner have identical 3.73 ERAs in April. Kershaw leads the league in strikeouts but MadBum got the win in their head-to-head matchup.

Remember that vaunted Nationals rotation that seemed to be gilding the lily when it added Max Scherzer this season? Scherzer has been great, but Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez each sports an ERA of 4.88 or above. A league-leading 24 team errors can't be helping.

A 22-year-old outfielder leads the NL in walks, is fifth in runs scored and seventh in home runs. Great rookie year? Ha! He'd already walked 155 times and scored 210 runs in his career, that Bryce Harper.

Should be even more fun in May!

26 April 2015

Oh My Josh! The Angels Debacle

If reports about the reassignment of Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers are true, this is a capitulation of the highest -- and dumbest -- order. It is hard to imagine Anaheim brass handling this entire episode -- from signing to unsigning -- more incompetently.

The inking of Hamilton to a gargantuan contract following the 2012 season raised eyebrows in the first place. The Angels ponied up superstar money for a corner outfielder with enviable average and power but a history of injuries and drug use. They neglected to account for his age, physical and mental issues or home ballpark. Hamilton was 31 when he signed the $124 million deal and he was leaving The Hitters' Delight in Arlington.

When Hamilton stumbled in the first year of his contract, missed half of his sophomore season in Southern Cal and then admitted a drug relapse this off-season, management responded as if these developments were unimaginable. As if no one could have foreseen, or at least factored in the possibility of, a decline in performance, injury and continued fallout from addiction.

Word now is that the Angels are willing to eat $68 million of the remaining $80 million to unload Hamilton. They are sending him to their intra-division rivals who will pay their former and future left fielder just $7 million over three years after he forgoes the $6 million he'll save in income taxes by moving back to Texas. Anaheim gets bupkus in return, besides the serenity of knowing they don't have to babysit their #5 hitter anymore.

So to recap: The Angels paid Josh Hamilton $112 million for three wins against replacement, not counting the egg he laid in the playoffs or that's on the face of Anaheim brass. And the pain could be magnified if he bounces back even a little and contributes to Rangers wins against their club. For the next three years, they will be paying Josh Hamilton handsomely, perhaps to beat them.

The Angels may believe this is addition by subtraction but it comes at an incredible price. And the pain could multiply if he flourishes back in Texas. What a debacle.

22 April 2015

The Price Is Wrong. So %@#*!& Wrong

 “I've been accused of vulgarity. I say that's bullshit.”

 “Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.”
Spencer W. Kimball


Let's dispense with the irrelevant about Cincinnati manager Bryan Price's juvenile rant earlier this week: he cursed a lot. A lot, a lot. Seventy-seven times in five minutes, which is about as often as a lot of intelligent people use the word "like."

The first curse alerted his listeners that he was peeved. The second indicated he was annoyed. The third, irritated. The tenth, that he had lost control. And the thirtieth was incontrovertible proof that he was acting like a jerk. And he still had 44 to really drive home the point. He might say that he fucking drove it home.

Swear words are just words, symbols designed to communicate, as noted in this brilliant March 2014 essay by a sagacious and boyishly handsome philosopher. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about cursing, in and of itself. Employing the same adjective or adverb 77 times in 300 seconds on the other hand is not profane so much as it's inarticulate. It reduces the value of the rant's content.

Fortunately for Bryan Price, that's not possible. Because what's really objectionable about the tirade was its utter stupidity. Here is the crux of it in one sentence:

"Your job is not to sniff out every fucking thing about the Reds and fucking put it out there for every other fucking guy to hear. It’s not your job."

The problem with this statement is that it was made to a Cincinnati Reds beat reporter, whose job is to sniff out everything about the Reds and put it out there for every other guy to hear. That's his job.

Bryan Price was upset because a reporter had reported that Devin Mesoroco wasn't on a team flight due to injury and would not be available for the next game. The reporter was doing his job. Price may be confusing that reporter with the team's first base coach, or PR guy or assistant trainer. 

What makes this so perplexing is that Price is no MLB novice. A pitching coach with a long record of success across three organizations, Price is known around the league as articulate and thoughtful. He should have a firm grasp of the relationship between the Reds' manager and the Reds' beat reporters. He should have accepted it and learned how to make it work. That's part of the job of manager.

I hope this is merely a blip on the radar screen, indicative of a bad day and nothing more. Price's subsequent non-apology does not augur well, but perhaps he wrote that while still stewing in the moment, even hours later.

18 April 2015

Mid-April Noodlings

Chris Colabello led the Majors with nine doubles for the Twins at this point last season. He was batting .361. The big first baseman finished the season with 13 two-baggers while batting .229. He’s not on the roster this April.

Nelson Cruz has more homers in five games last week than the Twins, Brewers, Marlins, Cardinals, and Indians each have all season.

The Yankees’ lineup on April 14: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF; Chase Headley, 3B; Carlos Beltran, RF; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Brian McCann, C; Garrett Jones, DH; Stephen Drew, 2B; Chris Young, LF; Didi Gregorius, SS. That includes one player from the team two years ago, and that was Mark Teixeira, who played most of that season for the Disabled List.

Aaron Harang is pitching in his 14th season in the Majors. He’s won 123 games, earned 23 pitching wins against replacement, collected $60 million and hit like a girl. His .091/.100/.107 includes four walks and 278 strikeouts. In about a season’s worth of at-bats he has cost his teams four losses at the plate. 

With his first home run of the season, and the 155th of his six-year career, Giancarlo Stanton became the career leader for the Florida Marlins, passing Dan Uggla. That’s the fewest to lead any franchise, but it won’t be for long. Once Stanton reaches 164, he will pass San Diego’s all-time leader, Nate Colbert. The only other active team leader is Evan Longoria with 185 for Tampa Bay.

On April 17, Mike Trout became the youngest player to 100 home runs and 100 steals, breaking Alex Rodriguez’s record by two months. Trout is more than three months shy of his 24th birthday. The list of players to 100 homers faster than Trout – 10 in all – includes six Hall of Famers, one HOF-worthy (ARod), one future HOFer (Giancarlo Stanton) and two good players -- Tony Conigliaro and Andruw Jones. And hitting home runs isn’t Trout’s signature skill.

Diamondback hurler Josh Collmenter might want to retire now. He became the first pitcher to complete a game in 2015 with a four-hit whitewashing of the defending champs last night. He also threw the first shutout in baseball this year. He also piled up three hits, a run scored and an RBI.

16 April 2015

Early Season Fun

The great baseball writer Joe Sheehan once said that the best thing baseball writers could do to illuminate the game for their readers during April was to put away their keyboards.

But because we know better and are immune to the charms of early season over-reaction, we're going to have some fun with the Colorado Rockies.

No one outside southern Colorado thinks the Denver nine has even a puncher's chance at .500. A list of their weaknesses would include hitting, pitching, fielding, bullpen and bench.

But as of this writing, they have triumphed in 77% of their games, outscoring the vanquished by a 45-25 count.

They have three regulars hitting twice as well as league average: Keystoner DJ LeMahieu, batting .514, cornerman Nolan Arenado, who has poked an extra base hit every fourth at bat, and left fielder Corey Dickerson, batting .361. That doesn't even include Troy Tulowitzki who is simply doing what he does.

Nor does it include backup catcher Wilin Rosario and his double and home run in seven at bats. Or pitcher Kyle Kendrick, who is three for five. Sandy Koufax didn't collect his third hit until his fourth year in the Majors, by which time he had come to the plate more than 60 times.

And that's nothing compared to the vaunted Rockie hurlers. Two of the four starters boast ERAs below two, and at 2.25, Jordan Lyles has no reason for shame. All the members of the bullpen not named LaTroy Hawkins have allowed two runs in 33 frames. (Hawkins has surrendered five runs in three and two thirds.)

So the Rocks are 7-2 in first place in the NL West and Rockieing home field in the playoffs. And I predict they will win the pennant if they keep this up. The only thing preventing them is 153 more games...and reality.