30 June 2006

DPD: Golden Age for the Hot Corner

Certain times throughout the history of baseball have featured a plethora of talent at a particular position.

Center Field became the center of attention in the 1950s, as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snyder, Richie Ashburn and Larry Doby all compiled the bulk of their Hall of Fame credentials.

The Decade of the Starting Pitcher might have been the 1970's. (Excluding the 19th Century and Dead Ball Era, when it seems like 20-game winners grew on trees.) Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Don Sutton all saw their heyday in the 1970's, though most of them pitched very well during other decades as well.

In the 1990s we saw the re-birth of the Shortstop. With due and appropriate respect, Sir Cal may have paved the way for good-hitting shortstops in the mid 1980's, but his influence was not fully felt until the mid-90's, when Barry Larkin, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter joined Ripken's ranks and started regularly making All-Star appearances, not to mention Omar Vizquel.

But what about the Aughts? What's the best position, if there is one, for the 2000s? While the snide answer to that question may be "Pharmacist", I'm here to tell you that we are blessed with some of the greatest third base talent ever to take the field in a major league stadium. Let's examine this premise, shall we?

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29 June 2006

DPD: Brett Myers' Absence Punishes Struggling Phils, Not Him

Three months ago, I predicted that the 2006 Phillies would choke. I know, I know: That's almost as gutsy a pick as when I predicted that the sky would be blue, but stick with me here. I spent a whole column, over 4,000 words, analyzing exactly how the Phillies would do, but as is their wont, The Phillies' ineptitude has surprised even my cynical sensibilities this year, and things look to be going only downhill from here.

In the purest sense, the Phillies have already choked. On the field, the team has performed below the levels of mediocrity I predicted for them, with a 35-42 record right now that would require them to win almost 57% of their remaining games just to get to the sub-par 83-79 record I anticipated.

The offense, which did so well last season, scoring more runs than all but four major league teams in 2005, has dropped even farther, all the way down to 18th. After seemingly making strides the last two seasons, averaging about .290/.340/.440 in 2004 and 2005, leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins has taken another step back. Only a "hot" June (.291/.342/.515) has brought his numbers back to within striking distance of his career averages. Now 27, Rollins should be having his best season at the plate, but seems instead to have plateaued, and is clearly mis-cast in the leadoff position, despite his speed. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have cooled down since April, but are still among the best in the NL at their positions, and Bobby Abreu, even though he's on a pace for his lowest home run total since 1998, is doing what he always does. Pat Burrell's hitting only .252, but at a 40-homer/116 RBI pace, it's hard to complain about that. But they've gotten nothing out of the catcher or third base positions, which are both ranked 28th in the majors in OPS. The team as a whole has hit only .239 with runners in scoring position, after hitting .278 in that situation last year, and that's probably the biggest reason their decline.

The pitching, too, has been much worse than expected. After finishing right in the middle of the pack last year, with a 4.21 team ERA that ranked 16th in MLB, the 2006 Phillies have phought their way down to 23rd in that department. Jon Lieber, while not a star, was being counted upon for about 180-200 LAIM innings, but he hasn't pitched in a month, will miss at least another week or two, and wasn't very good when he did pitch. Cory Lidle has been healthy (91 innings), but has not been good (5.11 ERA). Ryan Madson (6.40 ERA in 72 innings) and Gavin Floyd (7.29 ERA in 54 innings) have both been unmitigated disasters, and nobody has stepped up to fill their cleats. Cole Hamels, a promising, young lefty, has managed a 4.41 ERA in 31 innings so far, but is still pretty rough around the edges.

And now the lone bright spot in the rotation, Brett Myers, is about to go dark.

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23 June 2006

DPD: Roger Clemens First Game of 2006: A Running Blog Commentary

Roger Clemens returned to Major League Baseball tonight. The Houston Astros, and really, the rest of the baseball-loving world, will once again be blessed by The Rocket's presence.

Well, I guess the blessing remains to be seen, as nobody really knows how well he'll do. His three minor league "tune-up" starts have been a mixed bag. After allowing only five hits, no walks and one run, striking out 17 batters in nine combined Single-A and Double A innings, Clemens allowed three runs on five hits and three walks in 5.2 innings at Triple-A. And that was against the last-place New Orleans Zephyrs, an affiliate of the Nationals. The Zephyrs have the 4th worst team OPS in the 16-team PCL, though they're ranked slightly higher in runs scored. It will be nice to see him do well, but we may be hoping for too much there.

On the other hand, he could hardly have drawn a better assignment for his first major league start. He's got 23 career wins against Minnesota, and they're among the worst-hitting teams in the majors this season, in the bottom third among all MLB teams in runs scored overall, runs scored on the road, and runs scored in the month of June. Should be fun watching him compete with Liriano, an upcoming stud in his own right, who's nearly 21 years his junior.

Let's see how this goes:

8:14 PM
Clemens' first pitch of the evening sails in at 91 mph for an easy strike. Minnesota 2B Luis Castillo lets the next two pass wide for balls before slapping another 91 mph fastball back up the middle. His bouncer nearly gts over Clemens' head but Roger stops it. Unfortunately, the ball slips out of his glove and he can't make a play, so Castillo is safe on an error. Eight months we had to wait for Rocket to get back to the majors, and his first play is an error. Oh well.

8:16 PM
Well, that was over quickly. Despite the error, Clemens induced a ground ball double play by Twins LF Jason Kubel. I guess the defensive miscue didn't rattle him. He then struck out AL batting leader C Joe Mauer on four pitches.

8:28 PM
Clemens first pitch to Twins 1B Justin Morneau sails wide for a ball, but hits 92 mph, the fastest he's thrown so far. Morneau eventually hits a 2-1 splitter (87 mph) to right for a clean double, the first hit of the ballgame for Minnesota. There goes the no-no. Torii Hunter leaves him stranded by popping up an 0-2 pitch to center field.

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15 June 2006

DPD: Johnson/Torre, Guillen/Tracey Situations Very Different

Big Unit 's Big Mistake

Last night, I checked the box scores and saw that the Yankees had won, and better yet, that Randy Johnson had actually pitched well. I was a little perplexed when I saw that he lasted only 6.1 innings, and even more so when I noticed that he'd thrown only 78 pitches, until I saw this at the bottom of the boxscore:


The situation, of course, was a bit more complicated than that. Indians starter Jason Johnson buzzed Derek Jeter in the 5th inning, and the Jorge Posada was plunked in the 6th, on his arm. That got Posada fired up, but perhaps inappropriately so. Jason Johnson is a control pitcher, walking only 49 batters in 210 innings alst year. Despite his 6'6", 225 lb frame, Jason doesn't throw particularly hard, notching only 93 strikeouts last season, relying on ground balls for outs, when he can get them. (He's struggled quite a bit this year, as his nice, round 6.00 ERA attests.) He'd just given up a homer to Johnny Damon in the 5th inning, making it 3-1, Yankees, and a single to Mekly Cabrera, who was thrown out trying to get to second. That's when he threw inside to Jeter, who eventually walked, though he got Jason Giambi to ground out to end the fifth.

After allowing a single to Alex Rodriguez, Jason Johnson hit Posada, but the plunking came on a 1-2 count, with A-Rod on first base and nobody out, the game still very much in question, at only 3-1 in the sixth, so it's hard to make an argument that Posada was hit intentionally. Still, Jorge didn't like it, and jawed at Johnson all the way to first base. Jason fot Robinson Cano to ground into a double play, but pretty much fell apart after that, allowing an automatic double to Bernie Williams, which scored A-Rod, and then a homer to Andy Phillips, making it 6-1, Yanks. At that point, both benches were warned about retaliation, so when Randy Johnson threw a 1-0 pitch WAY inside to Eduardo Perez with one out in the seventh, he was automatically ejected.

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13 June 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Charleston Riverdogs Team Report, 6/13/2006

The Yankees' Low-A affiliate currently sports a 34-30 record, in fourth place in the Southern Division of the Sally League, 6.5 games behind the Rome Braves. Interestingly, The Riverdogs have the best home record in the South Atlantic League, 23-9, but one of the worst road records, 11-21.


The team's .332 OBP is right in the middle of the pack in the Sally League, but they almost completely lack any power, with a .341 slugging percentage and a total of 24 homers (in 64 games) that are both second-worst in the League. The team is third in steals, with 94, but is only 10th out of 16 South Atlantic teams in runs scored.

Naturally, therefore, the team boasts precious few offensive standouts. Among these, however, is OF Jose Tabata, hitting .316 with five homers, and leading the Riverdogs with 66 hits, 16 doubles, 42 RBI and 99 total bases. He's also been hit with a pitch six times and grounded into eight double plays, both of which are also the most on the Riverdogs. He's also stolen eight bases in 12 attempts, which in and of itself isn't bad, but probably means he won't be a threat if he ever makes it to the majors. He's only walked 14 times in 55 games, but considering that he'd only walked once in the team's first 14 games, maybe that's not so bad. Heck, the kid's still only 17 years old, so we'll cut him some slack.

Austin "Action" Jackson leads the team with 24 steals (5th in the South Atlantic League), 32 walks (10th in the Sally) and 49 runs scored (2nd in the Sally). However, he has also struck out 69 times, 4th most in the League, in only 62 games. Jackson's only 19, and should fill out his 6'1", 185 lb frame as he ages, but for now, it would behoove him to stop swinging for the fences like he's Dave Parker.

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12 June 2006

Book Review: The Only Game in Town, by Fay Vincent

The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved by Fay Vincent

In an era in which it seems like the game of baseball has been abused and scandalized, its name dragged trough the proverbial mud, a new book by the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Fay Vincent, harkens back to a time when the game was more than a little bit purer. The Only Game in Town includes interviews with some of the stars of that era, both from the major leagues, which were segregated at the time, and from the Negro leagues. Each inerview comprises a chapter in the book, ten in all. These are, in order: Elden Auker, Bob Feller, Tommy Henrich, Buck O'Neil, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Warren Spahn, Larry Doby, Ralph Kiner and Monte Irvin. And these men really were stars in their era. Half of them (Feller, Spahn, Doby, Kiner and Irvin) were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, and Henrick, DiMaggio and Pesky all made All-Star teams at some point. Auker wasn't really a star, per se, but he won 130 games as a LAIM for a decade with the Tigers, Red Sox and Browns.

The title of the book is a rather ironic one, as the major leagues really were not The Only Game in (most) Towns, with Negro league teams barnstorming through regularly. Certainly the major leagues were exclusive to Black players, but in many ways the Negro Leagues were quite competitive with them, and the book contains some interesting stories about exhibition games and barnstorming tours, from both black and white players. Some of the more interesting stories in the book relate to the annual barnstorming tours that Bob Feller and Satchel Paige arranged, and Feller indicates that he and the other players made more money in that ventue than they ever did in the majors.

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Pending Pinstripes: Trenton Thunder Team Report, 6/12/2006

Since my last report on the AA Trenton team, they have "thundered" from last place into second, but that's not really as good as it sounds. They're still just barely at .500, at 31-31, seven games behind the Portland SeaDogs.

Thirdbaseman Shelley Duncan's batting average is down from .297 to .253, but he leads the Eastern League with 15 homers, and he leads the team with 19 doubles, 39 RBI and 34 runs scored. 2B Gabe Lopez is hitting a modest .277, but leads the team with 37 walks and a .391 OBP. RF Bronson Sardinha and 1B Randy Ruiz (team-best .281 batting average) are tied for second on the team with eight homers, and OF Vince Faison has seven bombs. Nobody else on the team has more than four homers, a batting average higher than .274, or an OBP higher than .344. OF Justin Christian continues to burn up the basepaths (32 for 35 in steal attempts) whenever he actually get on them (.256 BA, .325 OBP). Shortstop JT Stotts is 4-for-5 in that category, but nobody else on the team has more than 2 steals. As a team, the Thunder are hitting only .243, but they actually lead the Eastern League with 55 homers.

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08 June 2006

DPD: I Am Shocked, Shocked to Find That Jason Grimsley Used Steroids!

No, really.

Easily the biggest sports story of 7 June 2006 was the revelation that journeyman relief pitcher Jason Grimsley's house was raided by federal investigators. The Feds spent six hours searching his Scottsdale, AZ residence for anything and everything they could find related to Grimsley's alleged use and/or distribution of performance enhancing drugs, including but not limited to Human Growth Hormone (HGH), anabolic steroids, and amphetamines.

In a signed affidavit describing the probable causes that justified the search warrant, the investigating federal officer, IRS-Criminal Investigator Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, detailed his interactions with Grimsley on April 19, 2006. He indicated that the Feds had knowledge in advance that Grimsley would be receiving a package in the mail that day with two HGH "kits" and they arrived at his home, confronted him with what they already new, and seized the package. Grimsley freely agreed to cooperate and spent two hours being interviewed by Novitzky and probably other agents regarding his use of and knowledge of the role of performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball. During the two hours, Grimsley named several current and former major league players who used sugh substances, though as of yet, these names are not known. The affidavit is available in any number of places on the internet, but the names are blacked out, so we'll all just have to wait for the inevitable information leak that will let us know what we're all dying to find out.

Much of that, of course, you already know, unless you've been under a rock for the last 24 hours. But it seems to me that there are several, interesting if underreported aspects of this story. These are, in the order that they occur to me:

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