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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26 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Potential Replacements for Posada

The Yankees announced yesterday that Jorge Posada will be sidelined for a while with a "torn hamstring tendon". Not that I don't believe them, but I'm pretty sure I've never heard of that injury before. I find it very hard to believe that in 150+ years of profesisonal baseball, nobody has ever had such an injury, so either I'm under informed, or this is just a game of semantics. It seems to me most likelt that the Yankees are making a concerted effort to assure their fans that Posada does not have a "torn hamstring" something every sports fan has heard of, and at which every Yankee fan should cringe.

They haven't yet put Posada on the disabled list, but then they haven't ruled it out either. Leg injuries have a hard enough time healing for outfielders, who get to stand still or jog around for much of the game. It therefore seems highly unlikely that Posada's whatever-it-is will heal itself with him crouching 150 times per game. The real reason, besides wichful thinking, that the Yankees have not disabled Posada, in my opinion, is that they don't really have any attractive options in the minor leagues, and are delaying the inevitable as long as they can. As I'm writing this, it's only about three hours before the first game of a weekend series with the Royals, and they still have not announced the promotion of anyone from their farm system. So, being the magnanimous public servant that I am, I will present the most likely options to fill Posada's cleats for the next few weeks, in the order of their probability of promotion. You can thank me later.

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DPD: Tigers to be Tested; Hernandez Not the El Duque of Old

My job is much too easy.

In today's sports world, there are always well-known personalities saying something on TV or talk radio, or writing something in the newspaper and/or on the Internet, something with which many fans may disagree. Heck, these days even the ballplayers can find out what the fans think, and issue their own retorts through the media. Ken Griffey took advantage of this opportunity to let the fans of Cincinnati know how he felt, for example. I'm sure that Mickey Mantle never knew what his fans thought of him, except of course for the boos at the Stadium, and I doubt he cared.

Tigers Prove Themselves Worthy After 40 games?

But more often than not, it's reporters and radio show hosts who express their opinions ofr the Public to hear or read, and too frequently those opinions are not very well thought-out. At the very least, they're not very well researched. In in the Information Age, it is simply too easy to look something up and find out whether or not your favorite talking head actually knows what his head is talking about. Years ago, this business was a lot harder. Before the Internet, you had to actually go to a library or visit a newspaper's archives, poring over old clippings or dusty volumes of books to look up certain statistics. Without Stats, Inc. and the Elias Sports Bureau, you often had to do your own research to determine the relative merit of some reporter's assertions. But in today's world, someone else has already done all that work, and finding the answers you need is generally just a few keystrokes away.

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24 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AAA Columbus Team Report, 5/24/06

It's been a game of musical chairs for much of the Clippers roster for the last month. Injuries in New York's outfield corps have led to the promotions of Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Mitch Jones and Terrence Long. Jones was optioned back to Columbus without getitng an at-bat, while Long has gotten eight of them, which in my opinion, is nine too many. Reese is 2-for-5 in New York after having hit .257 in Columbus. When Bubba Crosby returns from the DL, Reese will likely be sent back down as well.

Cabrera has played well in New York so far, and will probably get to stay there for a while, as Hideki Matsui may miss the rest of the season recuperating from a broken wrist. He's hitting .306 in New York after hititng .385 for the Clippers.

Also promoted recently were Soctt Erickson, who was 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 12 relief appearances for Columbus before his call-up, and Colter Bean. Bean was 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 26 relief innings (18 games) for the Clippers prior to his promotion, though he's allowed two runs in two innings for New York, and was designated for assignment to make room for Gary Sheffield. I'm hoping that the designation doesn't mean that some other club will get him, because I would really like to see what he can do in the majors, but I fear that this may be the end of his tenure in Yankee Pinstripes.

The gaps in the AAA outfield have been filled by Jason Conti, Rob Stratton and Long, before his promotion.

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23 May 2006

Interleague Play Still Interesting after Ten Years

A decade ago, Major League Baseball was still struggling to regain its fan-base. The Great Strike of 1994-95 had devastated attendance across the board. As Yogi Berra once said, fans were "staying away in droves". Both leagues had enjoyed record attandance, both in terms of total fans and average fans per game, in 1993, and the pace was just as high or higher in 1994 when the doors were locked and the players walked out. Cal Ripken would break Lou Gehrig's 2130 consecutive games streak in 1996, but that hardly did anything for the other 27 teams' fortunes, not to mention those of the two expansion franchises who would begin play in 1998. None of the basebll owners could forsee the great home run record chase in 1998 by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire either, so something had to be done.

Someone suggested interleague play. Regular season, official, non-exhibition games against teams in the other league? That's CRAZY talk!!

But it worked. Well, sort of.

MLB Average Attendance per Game
American Change National Change
1993 29,395 -- 32,553 --
1994 30,367 +3.3% 32,139 -1.1%
1995 25,108 -17% 24,936 -22%
1996 26,230 +4.5% 26,789 +7.4%
1997 27,635 +5.4% 28,118 +5.0%
1998 28,372 +2.7% 29,605 +5.3%

2005 29,339 +1.0% 32,108 +1.0%

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17 May 2006

Book Review: Burying the Black Sox, by Gene Carney

Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball's Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded
by Gene Carney
c. 2006 Potomac Books Inc. $26.95 (Hardcover)

"Was [reporter and scandal-investigator Hugh] Fullerton a Don Quixote? He took a huge risk, and lost. He underestimated baseball's ability to keep the lid screwed tightly on the scandal. Fullerton had a blind spot when it came to the Sox's owner...and this ultimately cost him. He imagined that the baseball owners and [American League President] Ban Johnson had consciences to which he could appeal with passion and logic. he may have hoped that his voice would be joined by writers in every major city, and his articles would be the snowball that started an avalanche. But instead, by iself, his case had more like a snowball's chance in hell."

I usually like to include a short but meaningful quote from the books I review, some pithy comment by the author, to give you an idea what his or her book is about, but Gene Carney presented me with a unique problem. There is very little about his book that could be accurately described as "pithy". Not to be misunderstood, it's not as though he goes off on weird, irrelevant tangents all the time like, for example, I do. It's just that his subject requires fairly dense prose to give it the proper attention, which he does. The quote above does the best job of summarizing the meaning of and reason for the book he wrote. It just isn't short. Sorry about that.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

I first found out about this book in March, when I wrote a column for All-Baseball.com about the 1919 Chicago White Sox, ostensibly because last year's White Sox team wasn't ineresting enough to justify a column, but really just because the Black Sox were what I wanted to write about anyway. Mr. Carney's publisher commented on the post and contacted me to see if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing this book, which of course, I was, and I did. You see, I spent perhaps the better part of a week doing research for my article, while Carney spent years researchiing his book. It turns out that I had a lot to learn.

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12 May 2006

DPD: An Open Letter to Roger Clemens

Dear Mr. Clemens,

You don't know me. I'm only a fan. Mostly I'm a fan of baseball, but in particular, I've been a fan of the Yankees for a long time, and so my familiarity with you goes back to the summer before I entered fourth grade. Back then, of course, you were a rookie with the Red Sox, pitching against my beloved Yankees.

During your rookie year, you'll probably recall, things were different. The System hadn't yet been put in place that prevented anyone but the Yankees or Red Sox from vying for the AL East Division title. In 1984, New York and Boston competed only for 3rd place, behind Toronto and way behind the Tigers, who eventually beat the snot out of the Padres in the World Series. The next year you had an injury that limited you to only 15 games, which of course is a large part of the reason the Sox struggled to break even at 81-81, while the Yankees competed with the Blue Jays down to the last weekend of the season, finishing only two games back.

Of course, 1986 was, how shall we say it, a "good year" for you? Yes, and Marilyn Monroe was an "attractive woman". Foregoing the understatements, 1986 was for you a season for the ages. An early harbinger of your success that year came in April, when you struck out a record 20 Seattle Mariners in a 9-inning game. Then in July, you started the All-Star Game, pitched three perfect innings, got credit for the win and earned MVP honors. Overall, you went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA (when the league average was 4.19) and 238 strikeouts in 254 innings. You won the AL MVP Award, and you were unanimously elected the Cy Young winner as well, against a pretty strong field. (Two other 20-game winners and six other 200-strikeout pitchers, not to mention Dave Righetti's 46 saves, a single-season record at the time.) And just to prove that you weren't a flash in the pan, or perhaps because you were so miffed at having lost the World Series to the Mets, you did everything you could to carry the team on your back and won another CYA in 1987 as well. Unfortunately, the rest of your mates on the pitching staff, excepting perhaps Bruce Hurst, stank on ice, so Boston finished in fifth place.

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11 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Melky Cabrera, International League Player of the Week, Called up by Yankees

Yankees outfield prospect Melky Cabrera was named the International League Player of the Week for the first week of May. He hit .458 for the week with three homers and eight RBI, both of which led the IL, as did his 11 hits. For the season, Cabrera was hitting .385 for the season with four homers and 24 RBI. Cabrera had walked 10 times and only struck out nine in 31 games (122 at-bats). His .385 batting average and 47 hits were leading the International Leagueand his 24 RBIs were second in the league.

Cabrera picked a good week to get hot, at least for himself, as it so happened that Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield was placed on the Disabled List with a wrist injury that's bothered him since a collision with Shea Hillenbrand last weekend in a game against Toronto. With Gary Sheffield unavailable until May 20th, the Yankees decided to give Cabrera another shot in the majors.

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10 May 2006

DPD: Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Colorado Rockies' Pitching Staff??!!

It's not supposed to work this way.

There are supposed to be a few things you can count on in baseball:

1) Barry Bonds is a jerk. A jerk who hits homers, but still a jerk.

2) Philly Phans boo everything and everyone, which is one reason I don't like them.

3) The Colorado Rockies couldn't pitch mittens to Eskimos.

In their not-so-long history, the Colorado Rockies have had some trouble with their pitching, to say the least. For Rockies pitchers who qualified for an ERA title (162 innings, except in strike-shortened seasons) the lowest ERA on the staff in each given year has been at least 4.00 in 12 of the team's 13 seasons. The lone exception, Joe Kennedy in 2004, was a 3.66 mark compiled in only one out more than the 162-inning minimum.

The team as a whole has only once compiled an ERA lower than 5.00 for an entire season. In 1995 they managed to get it down to 4.97. Lest you should be deluded into thinking that was actually somehow "good" you should understand that the team finished last in the National League in team ERA every year from its birth in 1993 through 1997. In 1998, they finished second to last. There was, of course, a new expansion team in the NL that year, but the Diamondbacks did not take that dubious honor from Colorado's hands. Rather, it was the Marlins, who fielded a pitching staff comprised mostly of untested rookies one year after winning the World Series, who wrested the Last Place in Team ERA Title from the Rockies' normally capable grasp.

After that, the Rockies finished last in the NL in ERA every season except 2000 and 2005. In 2000, the Houston Astros played their first season in Enron ("Home Run") Field, and their inability to make adjustments from the Astrodome helped them to bring up the NL rear in that category. Similarly, in 2005, the Cincinnati Reds played their third season in Great American Ballpark, which suddenly played like a hitter's haven, after having seemed neutral or even pitcher-friendly in its first two years. That, and the 186 innings they gave to Eric Milton (during which he compiled a 6.47 ERA) helped the team to eek out a last place finish, with a 5.15 mark that narrowly worsted (worsted?) the Rockies' 5.13 team ERA.

As a result, and not a surprising one at that, the Rockies have had a hard time winning games. In its thirteen seasons, the team has had a winning record only four times, and three of those four times were just barely over .500. They won 82 games in 2000, and 83 games in 1996 nd 1997. Their only really "good" year was 1995, when they won 77 games during a strike-shortened schedule. In a normal year, that would have worked out to something like 86 ot 87 wins, not exactly dynasty territory.

But this year seems different.

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05 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: Justin Christian

I mentioned Justin Christian in my Trenton Thunder Team Report last week, but as I looked at him, it seemed like maybe he'd be a good candidate to revive the Prospect of the Week column, so here goes...

Justin Christian, OF
Born: 3 April 1980, San Mateo, CA
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 188
Bats/Throws: Right
College: Auburn University, Southeast Missouri State
Signed by Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2004.

He was a second-baseman in college in 2001 and hit only .259 with no power, then missed the entire 2002 season rehabbing a torn rotator cuff. He played for Southwest Missouri State in 2003, and made the All-American Team and was named New Comer of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference. He hit .376 with 13 homers and 48 RBI, slugging .665 and stealing 18 bases in 20 attempts. Without any offers from the pros, he went to the independent Frontier League in 2003 and 2004. The Yankees saw him hitting .450/.518/.700 at River City with 26 steals in 30 games and figured that he was worth a shot, so they signed him in June 2004.

Justin Christian wearing a linebacker's number in 2005 Spring Training with the Yankees

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Double Play Depth: Camden Riversharks Opening Night

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Opening Night for the Camden Riversharks, an independent Atlantic League team based in Camden, NJ, across the river from Philadelphia. My professional society, ASM Philadelphia, had planned a tour of the Battleship New Jersey and then the game itself, and we had about 20 people at each.

Somehow I managed to convince my wife to come down for the game, and even more amazingly I convinced my friend Bill to drive down with her. That was an adventure unto itself, as both interstates that led to Camden through Pennsylvania (I-76 and I-676) had huge traffic problems. The whole reason my frind came with he was that my wife didn't want to have to drive into Camden alone, which is understandable.

Camden has a deservedly poor reputation for things like, well, people leaving there alive, for example. The crime rate is pretty high, and the city is perennially among one of the unsafest places to live in the U.S. Add to this the fact that the city is nearly impossible to navigate, and you've got yourself one heck of a problem if you leave the waterfront.

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02 May 2006

Double Play Depth: Everything's Coming Up Red Sox; Beat Yankees, 7-3

This was not the column I had hoped to write today.

With the Yankees facing the Red Sox for the first time this season, I hadn't planned on commenting on the game at all, but I promised Ben Kabak that I'd post something, and it seems silly for Double Play Depth to remain silent on this matter while Firebrand unabashedly gloats for all to read.

Of course, Evan and his compatriots in Red Sox Nation actually have something to gloat about, unlike those of us who have sworn allegiance to the Evil Empire, as the Red Sox won the first match of these division rivals' 19-game season series, 7-3.

This game, like much of the Boston-New York rivalry, was nothing if not dramatic. Knuckleballer RHP Tim Wakefield started for Boston, entering the game with only a 1-4 record and a 3.90 ERA in his first five starts. The Boston front office did everything they could to help Wakefield succeed tonight, which started by acquiring former Knuckle Kaddy Doug "Get In!" Mirabelli from the San Diego Padres, to whom they had traded him for 2B Mark Loretta in the off-season. (Josh Bard, Mirabelli's successor in the role of Guy Who Retrieves Wakefield's Pitches Before They Get to Harvard Square, had already allowed ten passed balls this season in the six games he'd caught for Wakefield.) Mirabelli literally had to be escorted from Logan Airport to Fenway Park to make sure he got there on time, as his plane from the Left Coast only arrived at 6:48PM, and the first pitch of the game was at 7:13. I bet most Boston commuters wish they could get through the city to work in 25 minutes.

With his old caddy back, Wakefield went seven hard-fought innings, allowing three runs on three walks and four hits with only two strikeouts. On a cold, windy night, Wakefield's knuckeball wasn't "knuckling" as it does in milder environments, and so four of every ten pitches were out of the strikezone, but that wind also helped keep a couple of hard-hit balls in the park, and the Yankees could ultimately do little with his offerings.

Another Knuckle Sandwich for the Yankees, the only thing on the menu at the Wakefield Cafe. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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01 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AA Trenton Team Report 04/30/2006

The Trenton Thunder currently sit in last place in the AA Eastern League Northern division, with a 6-14 record. Of course, when you consider that the team started the season 0-10, their record looks pretty good now. Having gone 6-4 over their last ten games, they took 2 of 3 from Connecticut (with a rain-out) and 3 of 4 from the New Britain Rock Cats, with the last game of that series to be played this afternoon. If they can win that, the’ll only be half a game behind the Rock Cats, but still in last place. Oh-and-ten is a big hole out of which to climb.

Shelley Duncan (1B) is hitting .297/.384/.568. That batting average and slugging percentage lead the team, as do his three homers, nine RBI, 11 runs scored, 11 doubles , nine walks, 42 total bases, 22 hits, 74 at-bats and 20 games played. Those 11 doubles lead the Eastern League and his .568 slugging percentage is second in the League.

JT Stotts is also hitting .297, with a .413 OBP, but only one extra base hit (a double) for a Neifi-esque .324 slugging percentage. 2B Kevin Howard, part of the swag from the Tony Womack trade, has two homers and is tied with Duncan for the team lead with nine RBI. He’s also struck out 19 times in 19 games, which leads the team as well, albeit in a somewhat more dubious category. OF Justin Christian has stolen 14 bases without getting caught, and is tied for the team lead with 11 runs scored, but is hitting only .257 right now. Those 14 steals are second best in the Eastern League to Akron’s Todd Donovan, who has 16 steals, but has also been caught three times.


Steven White has a 1.53 ERA in a team-leading 29.1 innings, but is only 1-0 in his five starts so far. White is repeating AA after a 2-7, 6.44 ERA performance in Trenton last year, which was fairly uncharacteristic of the remainder of his minor league record. Those first 29 innings look like a good start on getting promoted to Columbus, though it’s early yet.

Most of the rest of the starting rotation hasn’t been terrible by any stretch, but evidently hasn’t gotten any run support at all, as the starters have gotten credit for only two wins in 20 games. Tyler Clippard has struck out 27 batters in 24 innings, but is 0-4 in five starts with a 4.07 ERA as the Thunder managed to score only one run in each of his first four starts. He allowed only two runs in six innings yesterday but left with the score tied and therefore didn’t get credit for the win when Duncan hit a two-run homer in the ninth off Rock Cats closer Justin Olson to win the game, 4-2.

The bullpen has looked pretty good to this point. RHP T.J. Beam has an impressive 0.60 ERA in 15 innings of relief work and has the teams only save. Charlie Manning is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 14 relief innings, and Francisco Butto has a 1.50 ERA in 12 relief innings. J. Brent Cox has a 3.09 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.2

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27 April 2006

All-Baseball.com: A Song for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Your Pitchers are Made for Walkin’

Cue Nancy Sinatra...

You keep saying you've got something for us,
Some winning base-ball? ...but confess.
You keep throwin' balls outside the strike zone,
And now your bullpen doesn't get no rest.

Your pitchers keep on walkin'. That's just what they do.
One of these days your fans are gonna walk right out on you.

AP Photo/Linda Kaye

You keep passin', when you oughta be outin'
and you keep losin' when you oughta not play.
You've never won more than 70 games in a season,
And all those walks don't help towards winnin' ways.

Your pitchers keep on walkin'. That's just what they do.
One of these days your fans are gonna walk right out on you.

New Team Logo: The Walkin' Rays!

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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25 April 2006

Double Play Depth: Cincinnati Reds the Flakiest Team in Baseball

The Cincinnati Reds are kind of a flaky team. For one thing, they play in one of the more pronounced hitters' parks in baseball. The team has struggled to score runs on the road ever since the opening of Great American Ballpark, and this season is no exception. They're destroying opposing pitchers at home, to the tune of .316/.413/.560, but have limped along to a measley .229/.324/.439 pace on the road. In terms of last year's performances, that's roughly the difference between Vladimir Guerrero and Justin Morneau.

At no time this season has their flakiness been more apparent than this past weekend. They entered a four-game sries at Milwaukee with a 9-6 record (6-3 at home, only .500 on the road) and won the first game of the series, a 12-8 slug-fest on Thursday that took three hours and 44 minutes. Neither team's starting pitcher got out of the fourth inning, and Brandon Phillips, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians for "future considerations" only two weeks earlier, hit two homers and drove in six runs. (For the record, "future considerations" is baseball GM talk for "Buy me lunch at the next Winter Meetings.")

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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23 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes - 4/22 Team Report: Charleston Riverdogs

The Yankees' Low-A farm team is currently 6-8 for the season, which is "good" for second to last place in the Sally (South Atlantic League) South division. They have only been saved from the disgrace of last place by the lowly Kanapolis team, which has probably lost 12 of 14 games because they keep showing up to play at the Kunited Kstates Knaval Kacademy, and therefore losing by forfeit.

As for the Riverdogs (R-Dogs?), they've had a rather tough time of it to this point, especially on offense. Three of the Yankees' five best prospects, according to Baseball America, are on this team.

However, SS C.J. Henry is hitting only .172/.294/.310 and has already made three errors in the field. Optimistically, he has stolen three bases without getting caught and has one of the team's three homers.

Yes, you read that correctly: 14 games played, three homers. For the team.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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20 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: GCL Yankees’ Manager, Another Official Killed in Dominican Republic Car Crash

Oscar Acosta, field manager of the Yankees' Gulf Coast (Rookie) League team, and Humberto Trejo, another official in the Yankees' minor leagues, died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, according to AP reports on Thursday. Baseball America had a little more info on both Acosta's and Trejo's histories.

Acosta had served as the manager of the Gulf Coast Yankees of the Rookie League for the last two seasons, winning two GCL Championships in his first two seasons at the helm. The Gulf Coast Yankees' season does not officially start until June 20th and its roster is apparently not completely set, as the official website lists only two outfielders and no firstbasemen. No other information about the GCL Yankees' coaching staff was available, so I have no way of knowing who will succeed Acosta in the role of skipper for the team. Acosta had previously served as pitching coach for the AAA Columbus Clippers (1996-98) and also worked as a pitching coach for the Cubs and Rangers in the majors. The GCL Yankees were his first managerial job.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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19 April 2006

Double Play Depth: Information Overload - Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux turned 40 last week, the day after he won his 320th career game. There has been no shortage of accolades for the Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived (TM Rob Neyer) since then, but I thought that rather than simply praise him, I might instead analyze the man's accomplishments.


During his illustrious career, Greg Maddux has 321 wins, having gained another on Monday night, which ranks 15th all-time, not far behind Don Sutton, with 324. With a decent season in 2006, Maddux may break the top ten. That accomplishment would require 330 wins, which would get him past Steve Carlton, who needed nearly 100 more games in the majors to garner those eight more wins. After Carlton on that list is Roger Clemens, who may or may not be retired, and therefore may or may not add to his 341 career wins. In either case, there's no realistic way to expect that Maddux would win 24 games and surpass the Rocket this year, so top ten is about as well as we can reasonably expect him to do in 2006.

Continue reading at Double Play Depth...

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15 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Columbus Clippers Organizational Report 14 April 2006

A not-so-Good Friday if you happen to be a Columbus Clipper.

The Yankees' AAA affiliate lost badly, 9-1, to the Buffalo Bisons, the Cleveland Indians' top farm club. Kevin Thompson had half of the team's six hits and stole two bases, and Danny Garcia hit a solo homer. Those were the only real "high"lights for the Clippers. Matt DeSalvo walked five batters in thre innings and change, allowing four runs and took the loss. Justin Pope allowed another four runs, and only recorded three outs. Scott "What Elbow Cartilige?" Erickson allowed the ninth run in 1.2 innings of relief. Top prospect 1B Eric Duncan made an error, went 0-for-4 and is now hitting just .097 for the young season.

For Buffalo, DH Lou Merloni hit two doubles and a homer, driving in two, and catcher Einar Diaz had a double, two runs and two RBI. Two outfielders named Jason (Dubois and Cooper) each had two hits, one of which was a homer for Cooper, who scored three runs.

The Clippers are 5-4 on the season, having taken 3 of four games from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons to start the year and then splitting four games with the Charlotte Knights. All four of the team’s losses had been by one or two runs before tonight’s embarassment in its first road game. Two of the Clippers’ five wins had been blowouts, a 12-6 trouncing of the Knights on Wednesday, and a 13-1 Opening Day rout of the Red Barons last week.

Overall, several players are having pretty decent seasons at the plate, as the team is hitting .306 combined. Thompson is hitting .353, Melky Cabrera is hitting .429, Mitch Jones is hitting .355, and Russ Johnson is hitting .484, with two homers in eight games. The only regular who isn’t hitting is Eric Duncan, who’s also trying to learn a new defensive position. Backup infielders Damian Rolls and Andy Cannizaro aren’t really hitting either, but as backup infielders on a farm team, that’s neither a surprise nor much of a problem for the orgnization as a whole.

LHP Sean Henn is 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA, having struck out nine and walked only two in 11.1 innings over two starts. Darell Rasner allowed only one run and struck out 11 in seven innings in his first start, Colter Bean has allowed only one run in four relief appearances, striking out six, and Scott Erickson hadn’t allowed any runs at all before tonight. Closer Mark Corey has struck out 6 in 4 innings with no walks or runs allowed, saving three games. The two main problems on the pitching staff are Jeff Karstens, with an 8.64 ERA in two starts totaling 8.1 innings, and Matt Childers, with a 12.15 ERA in two starts (6.2 IP).

The Clippers have three more games at Buffalo and the four at Scranton, followed by two in Toledo to finish up the road trip. Hopefully the rest of it will go better than tonight did.

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11 April 2006

Book Review: The Last Nine Innings, by Charles Euchner

The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See
by Charles Euchner $22.95, 2006, Sourcebooks, Inc.

Charles Euchner is not a baseball writer. Unlike the Frank Defords and Dan Shaughnessys and Roger Kahns of the world, Euchner came from outside the sports writers' Old Boy Club, and yet he somehow managed to pen a book almost every bit as good as any from the hand of David Halberstam or Roger Angell. Like Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, Euchner took his outsider's perspective and kept delving deeper and deeper into the soul and mind of baseball, peeling away layers of time, emotion and analysis to explore the causes and effects of a single game. And not just any game, but the last game of the 2001 World Series, perhaps the most thrilling baseball championship in a decade. The result, The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See, should stand the test of time as one of the most poignant and comprehensive studies of baseball ever written.

Unlike my Double Play partner, Ben Kabak (whose review appears here), I do not continue to have nightmares about Luis Gonzalez fisting a broken-bat single over Derek Jeter's glove into baseball immortality. I am and have always been a Yankee fan, but I can also detach myself from that emotional bond, especially four and a half years after the initial pain. So while it wasn't necessarily pleasant reading a book that I knew would end badly for my favorite team, I could still recall the gravity and excitement of the game being discussed from my own memory, and Euchner's analysis of that game only served to focus those memories more.

The book's 23 chapters each concntrate on various factors that had an effect on that game. Inning by inning, out by out, Euchner looks at the game from the perspectives of the players, managers, coaches, fans, and even the family members thereof, in some cases. His narrative ranges all over creation, from the humble beginnings of some of the players, their struggles in the minor (and major) leagues, a brief personal history for nearly everyone who played that night. He accomplishes this with countless personal quotes form the players and others involved in the franchises and the game itself. Many of these likely come from personal interviews, as few of them are recognizable as "off the shelf" quotes, and this therefore is perhaps the best aspect of Euchner's work.

Avid, long-time baseball fans will find that some of the more notable details of the players' histories are already familiar to them, such as Curt Schillings' early struggles with his attitude in Baltimore and Houston, Randy Johnson's wildness as a young Montreal Expo, or Roger Clemens' grueling training regimen, but there is something here for everyone. Even the most ardent readers of baseball books and magazines will find something about which he can truly say, That was interesting. I didn't know that."

Euchner covers the physiology of training to play in the major leagues, and addresses different schools of though on the subject. Mercifully, he does not spend much time on the issue of steroids, dor does he bore the reader with endless references to arcane medical terms. Nevertheless, he manages to give the reader an idea of how far physical science has come, the approaches that baseball people are now taking to understand the impact that playing profesisonal baseball has on the human body, and what scientists are doing about it. He looks at the philosphies and sciences behind pitching and hitting, ways different players prepare to perform their respective tasks in the game, physically, mentally and emotionally. He focuses especially on Schilling's personal approach, his laptop computer, personal scouting reports and quasi-scientific efforts to prepare for any game situation. He looks at in-game managerial strategies, the split-second decisions that players must make during a game, and the effect that "luck" has on the outcome of certain plays and ultimately, the game itself.

Naturally, no event happens in a vacuum, even in baseball, where the sanitized and distilled box score from the seventh game of the 2001 World Series looks almost exactly like that from any other game played in the last 100 years. So no discussion of this game would be complete without making reference to the fact that America, and specifically New York City, had been attacked by Islamic extremist terrorists only two short months earlier, and less than 10 miles from where three of the seven games in the 2001 World Series were played. Every player and every fan was keenly aware of that fact throughout the Series, and Euchner provides some insight into the influence that event had on the series and the game at-hand.

Statistical analysis forms a significant part of Eucher's discussion as well, whether it's the issue of Derek Jeter's defense or how well pitchers perform at various points in the game, and he does a reasonably competent job of covering this diverse and complex subject. One of my few qualms with the book, however, lies in his discussion of the meaning and role of stats in baseball, as I think he tends to oversimplify things quite a bit. He calls OPS (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage), "Probably the best single measure of offensive production..." but of course "best" is a very subjective word. OPS is certainly a useful, "quick and dirty" tool for determining a hitter's overall effectiveness, but it doesn't take baserunning into account, and it inappropriately adds different types of units together, "apples and oranges," if you will, a cardinal sin in mathematics. Furthermore, it implies that slugging percentage and on-base percentage share the burden of offensive production equally, when in reality run scoring relies much more heavily on the latter than the former.

Other places where I take exception to Euchner's claims involve his tendency to ignore the influence of a small sample size on the stats he sites. He provides numbers to indicate how the players performed in various situations that year, especially for Clemens and Schilling, who started the game, but the numbers come only from 2001. Both of these men have been pitching since the 1980s, and it seems misleading, at best, to ignore 10 to 20 years worth of history and performance, making inferences based on one only year's worth of data.

With that said, my little quibbles about Euchner's misuse of statistics are no reason not to buy this book. Whether you're a fan of the Yankees, the Diamondbacks, or just baseball in general, The Last Nine Innings will make you want to go out and watch the next nine innings of baseball, anywhere you can, to keep an eye out for newly-discovered nuances and enjoy the game like you never quite could before.

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10 April 2006

Double Play Depth: No Relief In Sight

You know the scene well:

Bottom of the ninth inning. A rival for the AL playoffs in a bitter contest with the Yankees. The game is on the line. The fans are on their feet. The stadium is rocking, with everyone cheering on their team. The bullpen door swings open and out comes...

...Scott Proctor?

Excuse my French, but what the Hell is Scott Proctor doing out there losing a game to a team that will compete with the Yankees for a playoff berth while Mariano Rivera collects splinters in his butt on the bullpen bench?

Proctor had a 6.04 ERA in 44 innings last year, after posting a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings in 2004. Now, I'm all for giving a guy a chance, but perhaps a tied road game against a playoff rival in the bottom of the ninth is not the best time to give a guy some experience? And considering that he only returned from tending to his very sick infant daughter the day before, maybe he should have been given a couple of low-leverage situations to make sure his head, or at least his fastball, was on straight.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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05 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Last of the Spring Demotions

On Saturday, the Yankees released IF Luis A. Garcia and sent LHP Matt Smith, RHP Matt Childers, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Ramiro Mendoza, C Omir Santos, INF Russ Johnson, INF Damian Rolls and INF Felix Escalona to the minors.

    First, the real "Prospects":

  • I wrote this on Matt Smith in December:

    LHP Matt Smith pitched very well at both AA Trenton and AAA Columbus in 2005. He racked up 92 strikeouts in just over 82 innings at two levels, mostly in relief. He had been largely unimpressive in 2001, 2002 and 2004, and had been non-existent in 2003, evidently rehabbing an injury. Smith, like Bean, seems better suited to relief, but like DeSalvo, he walks a batter almost every other inning, which is a trend that must change if he is to have any kind of career in The Show. Another dangerous trend is his age. At 26, and with only 28 innings of experience above AA ball, he’d better turn a lot of heads in 2006 to earn a look in a major league bullpen.

    Smith gave up 4 runs in 6.2 innings of official work this spring, but he only walked one batter, so maybe he's getting that under control. Or maybe it was a fluke. Keep an eye on him in Columbus, as lefties who can strike batters out will always have a place on a major league roster somewhere.

  • Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    03 April 2006

    New All-Baseball.com Blog: Double Play Depth

    Welcome to the latest of my baseball writing ventures, Double Play Depth.

    Ben Kabak and I, both expatriates of 360thePitch.com's writing staff during its infancy, and both starved for an outlet to ramble on about baseball for pages at a time, decided to join forces. Ben, who cut his teeth writing on a blog called Talkin' Baseball, invited me to take part in this new blog here on All-Baseball.com, and though he doesn't look a whole lot like Marlon Brando, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so here I am. I will continue my work at Boy of Summer, as well as Pending Pinstripes, but this new site gives me a chance to write here and only be overshadowed by one person, instead of the 239 people who regularly contribute to the main page of all-baseball.

    Ben and I will make efforts to combat the myriad of shorter-form baseball blogs out there, giving you the depth of study and analysis you crave, but for which you probably don't have the time to perform yourself. Otherwise, I'd be writing with you, instead of Ben. Also, as we are both Yankee fans at heart, you'll finally get some Yankee flavor out of all-baseball, now that the dearly-departed Bronx Banter has defected to BaseballToaster.com. Hey, somebody's got to balance out Firebrand, right?

    But that's enough with the introductions. Let's move on to baseball..

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