25 August 2008

Rays @ White Sox: Pierzynski's Botched Run-Down Highlights Umpires' Need for Instant Replay

One of the stranger plays in the realm of baseball occurs any time there's a run-down in a game.

Rundowns, in and of themselves are interesting to watch, if not uncommon, and it's a rare baserunner who can regularly get out of such a pickle. Jackie Robinson was supposedly great at it, as was Willie Mays, I believe, but otherwise, I don't know of any notable players who had such a reputation.

Unlike throwing to the cut-off man, or the roundhouse play for defending a bunt, there's no standard, time-honored set of rules for who throws the ball to whom at what time. The fielders just have to keep throwing and running, running and throwing, until the batter is either tagged out, arrives safely at a base, or runs out of the baseline and is therefore called out by the umpire.

But on Sunday, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski found a new way to get out of a rundown: Get tagged out, but brush up against a fielder who doesn't have the ball and fall down. Then the ump, thinking that you were a victim of interference, will call you safe.

In this case, the umpire in question was Doug Eddings, and the play was between second and third base. Willy Aybar had just been running A.J. back to second base and he tossed the ball to shortstop Jason Bartlett at second base, who tagged A.J. as he fell down, trying to reverse his momentum toward second. Pierzynski's left arm touched Aybar as he passed, though from watching the replays, that was clearly not the reason for his falling down.

Second base umpire Eddings was watching the play from the infield side of second base, which is to say with Pierzynski between him and Aybar. Eddings called "safe" due to interference by Aybar, whom he presumably could not see well, since A.J. was between them. Given his vantage point, it seems like Eddings probably thought that Aybar somehow tripped him, which of course would be a legitimate reason for calling interference, right? An honest mistake, right? Wrong.

From an umpire's perspective, an honest mistake is still a mistake, and umpires do not make mistakes, no sir. Or at least they don't admit to them. (Must be tough being married to an umpire, don't you think?) Another umpire, either the crew chief or an ump who had a better view of the play, is allowed to overrule an umpire's call.

For example: Third base ump Ted Barrett had a better view. What did he think?

"As a runner, you're allowed to do that. What Doug ruled at second base was, even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way. So A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third. So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner, which is what Doug ruled happened. And in a rundown, even though A.J. was going back to second, the rule of obstruction during a rundown is he gets his next advanced base and that's why he was rewarded third base."
So Barrett, whether he thought the Pierzynski should have been out or not, has decided to side with Eddings, and in order to do so, has asked you to perform some mental gymnastics. Let's break this down:

"...even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way."

Wait, even though A.J. had to reach out to touch him, he was still in his way? By this logic, I could sue the State of Pennsylvania when I drive off one of its roads and into a bridge abutment, because even though I had to get off the road to hit it, the thing was still in my way, right?

"So A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third."

Aybar was slightly behind him, but mostly to his left when A.J. fell down, so Barrett must be thinking that third base is located in short left field somewhere. However, Eddings did not realize that this was a moot point, as Pierzynski suffers from Zoolander-ism, an inability to turn left.

"So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner..."

Fair enough, but is he obstructing him from running to second base by being behind him? Do you think Pierzynski wanted to run backward all the way to third base?

"...even though A.J. was going back to second..."

So Aybar was in his way even though Barrett admits that A.J. was not actually going that way? Pierzynski was facing 2nd base and he was moving toward 2nd base, at least until he noticed that guy on 2nd had the ball, at which point he did his best impersonation of Manu Ginobili and hit the dirt, in hopes that he could steal a call. By this logic, anyone standing in the baseline next to third base, 75 feet away from A.J., is also guilty of obstruction, because if A.J. had turned around and Usain Bolt-ed it to third, there would have been someone in his way. Even though that's also impossible.

"If Aybar's got the ball, there's no obstruction. You protect the fielder when he's in the act of fielding. Once that ball's released and out of his hand, he has to vacate."

Vacate? He was doing that. He tossed the ball to second and was moving off when Pierzynski reached out and elbowed him. But he can't get out of the way instantaneously. He's subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else. Aybar was trying to vacate. Barrett makes it sound like he needed to vaporize.

The real irony here, and with some of the other notable botched calls this weekend, is that just last week the MLB Umpires' union complained about and eventually settled on a system for using instant replay to review disputed home run calls, and only home run calls. No discussion has been made of reviewing balls and strikes, or safe/out plays at a base using instant replay, but there have been noises about using it for checking outfield catches that might actually be trapped balls and other difficult judgment calls.

Like, you know, run-downs. This kind of play begs for the use of instant replay, and yet the MLB umpires stubbornly refuse to budge.

As a rule, umpires have a tough job, and I freely admit that I wouldn't want it. Traditionally, I think, they've held the ridiculous position that they are all but infallible under some misguided notion that if they admit to ever making a mistake, the players can somehow use it against them. Perhaps that was true a hundred years ago, before digital, high definition TV and Pitch f/X and other technological marvels invaded the game, but now? Now the only reasons for sticking to their guns are tradition and stubbornness. Which is another umpiring tradition, anyway.

And perhaps because they think that by conceding something like this, they are owed something in return. Allowing MLB to change the rules, something they do not have to do, is something that should entitle them to some added benefit under their collective bargaining agreement.

Never mind the fact that this actually makes their jobs easier in the long run, as they can make the "gut call" they feel they should make in a given situation with the knowledge that if they're wrong, instant replay can set things right. No more need to lose face being overruled by another human being. Everyone knows that machines and computers are better at this stuff than we are. No need to worry about having screwed someone out of a run or an out. The play will have ended with the correct result regardless. You can always say that you just didn't have as good a view as the TV camera did, and let it go.

No more mental gymnastics, even if the baserunner is performing gymnastics of his own.

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22 August 2008

Carl Pavano's Injuries: Joe Torre's Fault?

The big news in Yankeeland is that Carl Pavano is slated to start the game tomorrow.

The big question, then, is:

Will he get out of the fourth inning?

Exactly three years and three months ago, 22 May 2005, Pavano was still looking good. Coming off an 18-win season he was signed to a 4-year, $39.95 Million contract in the off season. Pavano had made 10 starts at that point and was 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA, averaging just a hair over 6 innings per contest, and with 37 strikeouts to just 11 walks. The defense had been more than a bit sloppy behind him, leading to 13 unearned runs that helped mask the fact that he really hadn't been all that good, but the results were certainly acceptable, to that point.

And then the bottom fell out. After a decent start on the 22nd (7 IP, 3 R, 1 earned), the bottom fell out. Over the next month, Pavano went 0-4 in seven starts with a 6.46 ERA. The defense buckled down and so he didn't allow any unearned runs, but when you give up 56 hits in 39 innings, the opposition doesn't need your team to make errors.

And then he got hurt. And hurt. And hurt again. Pavano had a shoulder injury in 2005 that cost him the rest of the season, though oddly, he was not put on the DL until July 7th, a week and a half after his last start. In 2006, it was thought that he might be back, but a back injury landed him on the DL, and then two broken ribs from a car accident and a wrist injury kept him there. He pitched well, if sparsely, in the minors but not at all in the majors in 2006.

Last year was more of the same. After making two starts in April, and even winning one of them, he was back on the DL to stay, this time an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He's been working his way back to you, babe, with a burning love inside but hopefully not a burning sensation in his elbow.

Three years and three months ago, Pavano had just thrown the most pitches of his career, 133 of them on May 17th, 8 more than his previous career high, from September 2004. It was also 32 pitches more than his previous 2005 maximum and 47 more than the average over his first eight starts. Joe Torre wanted to get him that shutout, and dammit, he got it, but at what cost?

Pavano was new to the team, and it's likely that Torre was not that familiar with him or his history. He probably didn't know that Pavano had never thrown more than 125 pitches in a game before. he probably didn't know that Pavano had been worked pretty hard in 2004, at least in comparison to the past. He averaged 103 pitches per start in his walk year, as the Marlins knew they couldn't afford to re-sign him and wanted to get as much as they could out of his arm before he left.

And they did. Between mid-June and mid-September, he averaged 108 pitches per start, including nine times in which he threw at least 111. (His last two starts were each only about 75 pitches, as he was lifted for a pinch hitter in a 0-0 game in his penultimate start and then relieved after the 7th inning of a 9-1 blowout in his last start of the year.) Pavano's performance after high-pitch count outings had been a mixed bag - some good, some really, really bad - but this much is clear: He'd never been stretched that far.

Whether all of this is, therefore, Joe Torre's fault is debatable, but impossible to prove. Lots of pitchers have thrown 133 pitches in a game with no apparent ill effects, though probably a lot more of them have gone down after such abuse. Pavano may have been the one who insisted on staying in to get the shutout, but of course it's the manager's job to look to the future of the team and override the pitcher's whims, and Torre did not do that.

This much, however, is clear: Since June of 2005, Pavano has made exactly three starts above AA ball. Seventeen innings, none of them this year. In 2008 he's got only 19 innings: 5 in Single-A, and the rest at AA Trenton, where he's 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. More important, he's allowed three homers in 14 innings. Two of them were hit by Sebastien Boucher, the Bowie Baysox center fielder, who was demoted from AAA earlier in the season, and who has a career minor league slugging percentage of .373. The other was hit by journeyman catch-and-throw guy John Suomi, who slightly improved his .398 career slugging percentage with that dinger.

So he's allowing too many homers, and worse yet, he's allowing them to guys who generally don't hit homers, and certainly shouldn't be hitting them off a seasoned major leaguer making $10 million per year. This is not a good sign.

So I ask again: Will he get out of the 4th inning?

You tell me.

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19 August 2008

Greg Maddux Traded to Dodgers

The San Diego Padres have reportedly traded RHP Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The deal is as yet unofficial, and no terms have been announced, though it's expected that the Padres will receive one or two mid-level prospects (i.e. not much).

Maddux has a modest 3.99 ERA but only a 6-9 record.. The reasons for this are two-fold:

1) The Padres suck,

2) a LOT.

Maddux has gotten only 3.99 runs/game from the Pads, on average, which is 48th among the 53 NL pitchers who have thrown at least 120 innings so far this year. He's had 11 Quality Starts this year in which he's gotten either a loss (5 of them) or a no-decision. The Padres simply don't score runs, being second to last in the majors with 3.82/game. The Dodgers aren't much better (they're 24th in MLB, with 4.25 R/G) but they can probably get him a few wins.

And what difference they can't make in run scoring should be accomplished with the bullpen. The Dodgers' relief corps has a 3.02 collective ERA, second in the majors, while San Diego is 23rd, at 4.23, and that despite playing half their games in an extreme pitchers' park. If Maddux can continue to provide 6 or 7 quality innings - and really, he's already 42 and there's no evidence that he can't - the Dodgers should only need to score 4 runs or so and then Maddux can turn it over to Beimel and Park and Kuo and Co.

Maddux may not be the innings leader he once was, but he's still an innings eater. He's LAIM at best these days, but that's still pretty valuable, especially to a team that may be trying to save a young pitcher's arm, as ESPN's Rob Neyer suggests. He was among the NL top 10 in Innings Pitched every year from 1988-2001, and 2003-05. He also tossed 199.3, 210, and 198 innings in the other three years, good for the top 20 in the league each time, and is 18th in the NL this year. Maddux rarely gives you much more than about 6 IP, but he gives you six decent innings, and anyway, these days a guy who can amass 180 IP with a league average ERA is pretty valuable.

Maddux has a full no trade clause in his contract, but he agreed to waive it for this deal, something I doubt he would have done if they'd wanted to trade him to, say, Arizona, where he's 1-7 with a 6.01 ERA for his career. He's smart enough to know that staying in places like LA and SD toward the end of his career, i.e. severe pitchers' parks in a league with less offense, will only help to maintain his impressive legacy by keeping his ERA down. His 3.99 ERA in SD this year would have been more like 4.38 in a neutral park, 4.89 in a place like Philly, according to http://www.baseball-reference.com/. You think there would be much call next year for a 43-year old pitcher with a record of 8-12 and a 4.90 ERA? Yeah, neither does Greg.

Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived, indeed.
Keeping his ERA in that cozy 4.00 neighborhood keeps his options open to come back next year if he wants, as his stats, at least on the surface, make him look like he's still an effective commodity. And that's crucial if he wants to move up in the record books. With two more wins this year he'll pass Roger Clemens for 8th place on the all time list, and don't think Maddux isn't aware of that.

If he can win just four of his remaining eight or nine starts this season, Maddux would be sitting at 357 Wins, within striking distance of Kid Nichols at 361, Warren Spahn at 363, and also Pud Galvin at 364. That would leave only Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Cy-Freaking-Young ahead of him on the list.

Galvin and Nichols both pitched in the 1800's, and regularly racked up 400, 500, even 600+ innings in a season, against a league that was brand new and inexperienced, where the home run champ for the season was frequently in the single digits. Maddux' accomplishments, against the best players from around the world, with world-class training regimens, dieticians, and - yes, I'll say it - steroids at their disposal, stand head and shoulders above the men he could pass. He just wants the chance to prove it.

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07 August 2008

Yankees All-Time Lineup: The "Moonlight Graham" Team

For Bleacher Report's "Open Mic" feature this week, their editors suggested putting together an all-time lineup for our favorite team, which is a good idea if there's any challenge to it. I put together an All-Birthday team for myself once, but this was kind of a new thing for me.

But with the Yankees, it's pretty silly. Their all-time best lineup goes (more or less) like this:

SS Derek Jeter
CF Joe DiMaggio
RF Babe Ruth
1B Lou Gehrig
LF Mickey Mantle
3B Alex Rodriguez
C Yogi Berra
DH Reggie Jackson
2B Joe Gordon

Want to change the batting order? Knock yourself out. Bat Ruth ninth if you like. What difference does it make? I hate to put the Mick in Left, but he did play there 129 times in his career, according to baseballreference.com, so it's not completely bogus. Anyway, what can you do? Put Dave Winfield in there instead and leave either Mickey or Joltin' Joe on the bench? That's just silly.

I would have Mattingly, Winfield, Bernie Williams, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, and Phil Rizzuto on the bench, but really, how often are they gonna play?

The starting staff consists of

Whitey Ford,
Red Ruffing,
Lefty Gomez,
Roger Clemens and
Ron Guidry.

The bullpen has Mariano Rivera, Goose Gossage, Dave Righetti, Sparky Lyle and, for my money, Johnny Murphy, who can provide long relief on those rare occasions where it might be needed.

You want Elston Howard or Jorge Posada instead of Dickey? Take him. Lazzeri starting instead of Gordon? Plug him in. Roger Maris or Hank Bauer or Roy White or George Selkirk on the bench instead of Bernie? He's yours. Clete Boyer or Willie Randolph or Bobby Richardson? No problem. You can have them. This team is going to score 1000 runs easily and probably win 100-110 games, even against the all-time lineups of the other 13 American League teams.

But the one thing you can't do is put four starting pitchers in the bullpen and pretend that they're relievers. We've got to have some law!

Anyway, that's boring. So I put together some other lineups, for your (and my) amusement.

All-Time Yankee "Moonlight Graham" Team
Yankees With One-Game Major League Careers.

There are 29 players in history who have played the one and only game of their major league careers for the Yankees. Unfortunately, most of these are pitchers who did not do very well, like Andy O'Connor in 1908 or Christian Parker in 2001. Several of them were backup catchers as well, which is all we've got on the bench (unless you want more lousy pitchers). This is the best I could do with a limited supply:

Starting Lineup
C Harry Hanson , 1913, 0-for-2, one PO and one Assist.
1B* Heinie Odom, 1925, 1-for-1 and an Assist in the field.
2B George Batten, 1912, 0-for-3, one PO and one Assist.
3B Phil Cooney, 1905, 0-for-3, 1 PO and 1 Assist.
SS Frank Verdi, 1953, no PA or defensive plays.
RF Elvio Jimenez, 1964, 2-for-6 with 5 Putouts and no errors.
LF Larry McClure, 1910, 0-for-1, no plays in one game in Left Field.
CF Alex Burr, 1914, no at bats or plays in the field.

The batting order, frankly, doesn't matter. These guys aren't going to score any runs anyway. Ocf course, several of them never got a chance to bat, so who knows? Given three or four trips to the plate, they might surprise us.

I had to take a thirdbaseman named after his own butt and put him on first base, since I couldn't find a moonlight Graham for that position anywhere.


C Honey Barnes, 1926, walked in only plate appearance.
UT Charlie Fallon, 1905, Fielding position unknown, and no PA or plays in the field.
UT C.B. Burns, 1902, For the old Baltimore Orioles before they moved the franchise to NY and became the Highlanders. No position given, but he singled in his only at-bat.

RHP Roger Slagle (1979) Two perfect innings.
RHP Loyd Colson (1970) 2 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 walks and 3 K's.
RHP Clem Llewellyn, (1922) One scoreless inning.
RHP Sam Marsonek, (2004) 1.3 scoreless innings.
RHP Walter Bernhardt (1918) Faced and retired 2 batters in his only game.
RHP Floyd Newkirk (1934) 1 IP, 1 Hit, 1 Walk, no runs.
LHP Hal Stowe (1960) 1 IP, 1 Run on 1 Walk.

Totals: 9 innings, 2 Runs allowed, but we lose 2-0 because nobody in the lineup ever scored a run.

Anyway, it was more interesting than deciding whether to bat Joe D. second or sixth.

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06 August 2008

Chris Waters Orioles Debut: As Good As It Gets

The Baltimore Orioles and their fans have not had much to be excited about in the last ten years or so. Sure, they had Cal Ripken brekaing Lou Gehrig's record, but that was a long time ago, and anyway the team was lousy by then. They've had a losing record every year since their Division title in 1997, and have finished higher than 4th place once in that span, and are on a pace to finish last this year.

But last night, they felt they had a little reason to hope. Lefty pitcher Chris Waters made his major league debut, and one-hit the AL West leading LAnahfornia Angels for eight innings before giving way to George Sherrill fo rthe save. He allowed no runs and three walks while striking out three.

Some Orioles fans have found my site this morning because one of them linked to my study of rookie pitchers' debuts, which I did back in April when the Reds' Johnny Cueto so impressed us with his dismantling of the Diamondbacks. Unfortunataly, Cueto (currently 7-11 with a 5.00 ERA) has not been nearly as good since, at least not consistenly, which is not unusual for such a young pitcher.

Waters' performance last night gave him a game score of 80, which is of course very good, in the top 30 debut scores of all time, but does it bode well for his career? Well, in some measure, it certainly does, if only because it means that in his next appearance he'll be starting against the Indians in Cleveland instead of the Mud Hens in Toledo.

That debut is also the best game score for anyone who has debuted in the majors at 26 years of age or older (Waters is 27), at least so far as the archives at baseballreference.com can tell me. And that's the distressing part.

When I looked at Cueto's stats, I found that there had been 13 other pitchers with similar stats in their debut, and many of them went on to significant success, at least for a time, and one even went to the Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal). But Waters, because he's so "old" is a different story. Sure, he one-hit the Angels over eight innings, but he also allowed three walks, and only whiffed three. based on game score and age alone, there have been 16 pitchers to make a debut at age 26 or later with a Game Score of at least 70. These are:

Paul Edmondson - Pitched reasonably well in 14 games in 1969, but with bad luck went 1-6. Killed in a car crash en route to Spring Training in 1970.

Wally Burnette - Knuckleballer went 14-21 over parts of three seasons with the kansas City A's and was done at age 29.

Brian Tollberg - Went 15-16 as a spot starter with the Padres for parts of four seasons, the last in 2003 when he was 30. Retired from organized baseball at age 32.

Masato Yoshii - Debuted in US at age 33 after a 13-year career in the Japanese league. Went 32-47 over parts of 5 years here, then went back to japan at age 37, where he finally retired after the 2007 season, at age 42.

Gordie Richardson - Only made 6 other starts in MLB career, plus 62 relief appearances over three years. Already washed up at age 27.

Roberto Hernandez - Only made two more starts...but over 100 relief appearances, with 326 Saves over a 17-year career that ended after last year.

Kazuhisa Ishii - Won 14 games as a rookie in 2002, but only pitched enough innings toqualify for the ERA title once in his four seasons here. He posted a 5.14 ERA in 91 innings in 2005 and then returned to Japan, where he has won a total of 20 games in the past two seasons.

Geraldo Guzman - Posted a 5.04 ERA in about 70 innings in the majors in 2000-01. Got hurt at age 27 and hasn't pitched since.

Ramon Ortiz - LAIM at best, but won some games for the Angels back in the early 2000's. FInished his career with an 84-80 record in nine years with an adjusted ERA about 9% worse than average.

Hiroki Kuroda - Another Japanese veteran who debuted here at age 33 after a long, successful career in Japan. Has shown flashes of brilliance, like his 11-K, 4-hitter against the mighty Cubs in June and his 1-hit shutout of the Braves (after seven perfect innings) in July, but he probably won't be worth the three-year, $35 million contract he signed before the season.

Osvaldo Fernandez - Cuban refugee who bounced back and forth between the majors, minors and the Disabled list from 1996 to 2002, when he reired at age 33, with a major league record of 19-26 and a 4.93 ERA.

Jim Archer - The best pitcher on the woeful 1961 Kansas City A's, posting a 3.20 ERA in 205 innings, even though he only went 9-15. Tossed just 28 more innnings in the majors before an injury forced him to retire at age 30.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Won 15 games as a rookie last year after seven very succesful seasons in Japan, and could win 20 this year. Probably still not worth the $100M+ the red Sox paid for him, but then, who is?

Brian Sikorski - After a short stint with Texas in 2000, right after he turned 26, Sikorski wasn't seen in the majors again until 2006, when he made brief appearances with the Padres and Indians. He's been back and forth between the American minors and the Japanese major leagues, and is currently 34 and pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Rick Anderson - Had a handfull of appearances with the Mets and Royals in the mid-80's, but won only four games in the majors and retired from playing at age 31. Has been a pitching coach for the twins since 1989, in the majors since 2002.

So there you have them: The 16 players who have had an impressive MLB pitching debut in their late twenties (or later). Among these, it's a little unfair to include the four Japanese guys, since they would have been in the majors at a much younger age if not for the presence of a separate league in Japan, and that likely applies to Ozzie Fernandez, too.

That leaves Roberto Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, seven guys who washed out by age 31, and one fluke death.

Sorry, O's fans, but this is not a good sign.

Waters was drafted out of South Florida Community College by the Braves in the 5th round of the 2000 amatuer draft, and though he showed impressive work in the low minors at first, he struggled in Double-A and with left shoulder tendonitis that cost him about half of 2003, almost all of 2004 and some of 2005. After 2006, the Braves let him go as a minor league free agent, whereupon the desperate-for-pitching Orioles picked him up.

Still somewhat lackluster as a 26-year old in Double-A last year (8-9, 4.49), he did OK in one start at AAA at the end of the year, but was back in Bowie to start 2008. He doesn't even appear in any of the normal pre-season prospect publications, like Baseball Prospectus, as 27-year olds who have yet to dominate even Double-A rarely do. However, against the odds, he was excellent in AA this year, going 5-0 with a 1.59 ERA in six starts. Then, at AAA, well, notsomuch (3-6, 5.70). before the O's called him up last night.

He's a lefty with a good curveball, an 86-88 mph fastball, a changeup that sits in the low 80's and not much else. The modest difference between his fastball and changeup means that when he loses a little bit of velocity, there won't be much difference at all, and his lack of a true out pitch will hurt him in the majors. He's a crafty lefty with nine years of experience, but his stuff won't likely be good enough to get him past major league hitters, once the players and scouts have all had a look at him.

Additionally, he's got to be able to throw strikes to keep hitters honest, and with that 87-mph "fast"ball, unless you have the control of a Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina, there's just no way to make that work up here. He averaged more than 4 walks per nine innings in the minors and he threw only 61 of 104 pitches for strikes last night. For that matter, he was lucky to get that many, as the Angels swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Put him in there against a patient team like the Red Sox and he's doomed.

Being left handed should get him a few extra chances, at a bullpen role if not much else. According to his player bio page on MLB.com, he had almost a 100-point L/R platoon split in 2005, and I would guess that that was no fluke, given his repetoire. He's in good shape and works quickly, but his prospects for any kind of long-term success are very, very slim, unless a 3-year stretch as a LOOGy is your idea of "success".

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05 August 2008

Yankees Trading Deadline Review: It's Over

I know I'm a little late to the party on this stuff, but I was on vacation for a week and a half or so, and never got a chance to comment on all of this. Frankly, with the splendor of Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons in front of me, somehow the importance of the 2008 Yankees' postseason hopes seemed a bit small in comparison. Of course, now I'm back home, and my priorities have been set straight.

So now I'm back and I don't recognize half of the faces of the players on my favorite team. Well, I recognize some of them - I mean, who's been paying any attention at all to baseball for the last 15 years and doesn't know Ivan Rodriguez by sight? - they just don't look right in Yankee uniforms is all.

Fortunately, in the case of Pudge, all we gave up was Kyle Farnsworth, who, while having a decent year to date (for once) was bound to fall off the table at some point. To wit, he gave up two homers to the Rays a couple of nights ago and blew a save. Brian Cashman was selling high with Farnsworth, who had a 4.44 ERA as a Yankee entering 2008, but managed to put up a 3.65 this year.

I-Rod, on the other hand, is on the tail end of his Hall-of-Fame career, and despite the way Brian Cashman has talked him up in the wake of this deal,

“In theory I think we upgraded offensively. Pudge is obviously still having a
tremendous year, one of the top catchers in the game today."

I beg to differ. Pudge is hitting close to .300, but with no walks and no power. He's on a pace for about 50 Runs and 50 RBIs. After Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Russell Martin, Geovany Soto, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Doumit, and (before they got hurt) Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez, you could say that Pudge was "one of the top" catchers. That's roughly the top third or so of major league catchers, and maybe his defense pushes him into the top 25% or so, but that's a pretty generous definition of "one of the top" and that's about all I'm willing to concede.

Still, the main idea here was that Pudge would be an imporvement on Jose Molina, not Jorge Posada or Brian McCann, and that he is. According to Baseball Prospectus, Pudge had been worth about 3.4 Wins above replacement to date, while Molina was at about 2.3, most of that via his defense. Pudge brings comparable defense along with a bat that, if nothing else, at least is not a total zero. He should be worth something like one to two wins over Molina from here on out, but no more than that.

The other "big" move by the Yankees was to pick up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates for prospects. Not that these two are likely to make you want to rush out gotickets and drop $500 on a couple of seats to the next game, but they're both solid, useful role players.

The Yankees gave up Jose Tabata, who was tabbed the Yankees' "Centerfielder of the Future", but since that future wasn't likely going to happen before 2010 or 2011, and since he was hitting .248 in the Eastern League, Cashman decided to take his chances with guys who can play now.

The other three given up in that deal, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Dan McCutchen, are all righty pitchers who may grow up to be useful major leaguers someday, but all of whom have some kind of significant strike against them. Ohlendorf struggles with his weight and has had arm problems in the past. Karstens is a finesse pitcher whose lack of a good fastball leaves him with only the slimmest of margins for error, and McCutchen, though successful in the minors to date, has no true out pitch. Twenty years from now, he may prove to have been the best of the three, but even that is likely to be a #3 or #4 starter for about four or five years, tops.

In return the Yanks got Nady, who was hitting .330 with Pittsburgh, and amazingly did even better after joining the Yankees, winning AL Player of the Week honors for hitting .385 with 3 homers. With his "swing hard in case you hit it" approach, he won't keep that up, but if he can hit .285 with a little power and some walks, as his career averages suggest he can, the Yankees can plug him into left field every day while Hideki Matsui and/or Johnny Damon are injured.

Marte is a lefty who strikes batters out, and has posted solid ERAs in every year since 2002. And he's no LOOGy, being nearly as effective against righties (.716 opponent OPS) as he is against southpaws (.581). His acquisition allowed the Yankees to get rid of LaTroy Hawkins, who was inexplicably wanted by the Houston Astros, or at least their GM, Ed Wade. The Yanks gave up some cash and got a minor league 2B named Matt Cusick, who's got patience but not a whole lot else in his repetoire.

Other Acquisitions:
My younger brother has a theory. In college, he suspected that his school must have had the Worst College Football Player in the country. His reasoning was this:
1) He went to the University of Rochester, an excellent school academically, but for athletics, it (ahem...) competes in Division III, the lowest division in the NCAA system, against teams like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Salisbury Steak State University.
B) The Rochester football team was, at least during my brother's tenure there, the worst team in its sad division. (They went 5-31 overall from 1996-1999, and had to "rally" to a 3-6 record in his senior year to do that.)
Therefore, the guy at the end of the Rochester bench, a guy who was not good enough to play on the worst team in the worst division in college football, was likely the de facto Worst Player in College Football.

On a related note: Richie Sexson.

Sexson was bad enough to get released by the worst team in the league, while still owed over $5 million for the rest of the year, and somehow I doubt that all he needed was a change of scenery. Besides, the guy's like eleven feet tall, which means that all the pitcher has to do is make sure the ball gets to the catcher, and it's a strike. Sexson has been used mostly as a pinch hitter, but if he gets more playing time than that, something is very, very wrong in Yankee Land.
I hate to say it, because he's only nine days younger than I am, but the dude is washed up. Shelley Duncan or fellow ex-Indian, ex-Mariner (and singer/guitarist) Ben Broussard could be just as bad for (probably) less money. Juan Miranda (25 years old and hitting .306/.394/.460 in AAA this year) might even be a little better. At least he'll make some contact.
Another bit of jetsam pulled from the drink, perhaps more literally than that metaphor would normally suggest, is Sidney Ponson. Ponson has been surprisingly good so far, or at least useful, but it's probably just a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he turns back into a pumpkin. I'm pretty sure those two metaphors don't actually work together, but you get my drift.

In summary, while I'm glad that the Yankees have played a little better of late, and are at least competitive most of the time, I think they made a classic blunder. They took their July hot streak as a harbinger of a big turn around, when maybe it was really just a streak. Thinking that the whole team was turning around, they tried to fill a few of the remaining holes, and fill them they did.

But at what cost? Granted, among those they gave up, only Tabata was thought to ever become a star, and that was a long way off if it ever happened at all. However, some of the others who got traded might have filled holes cheaply here and there in the next few years. The safer play was to cut bait, to sell their high priced players in the last years of their contracts and try to stockpile talent for the future, like the Oaklands have done, but "safe" is not a word in the Yankee lexicon, and "rebuilding" is something they do in Kansas City.

Even if Robbie Cano really has turned it around, and even if Johnny Damon is healthy and productive for the rest of the year, they still have the streaky Giambi and suddenly aging Derek Jeter going out there everyday, not to mention Melky Cabrera and his sub-.300 OBP. Is it really reasonable to think that a team with only two proven starting pitchers, one proven reliever and and a patchwork lineup can oust either the Red Sox or the Rays from playoff contention? I don't see it happening.

Mark my words: The dynasty is over.

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18 July 2008

Blanton Traded to Phillies, Prospects to Oakland

In the latest move of desperation to shore up teams' rosters for the stretch drive, and Billy Beane's latest move to rid himself of burdensome (or perhaps soon-to-be-injured) starting pitchers, the Philadelphia Phillies have acquired RHP Joe Blanton from the A's for three minor leaguers.

Blanton's only 5-12 this year with a 4.96 ERA, which is even worse than it sounds when you consider that 70% of his innings this year have been pitched in the hitters' hell of McCavernous Coliseum, and he's managed only a 4.63 ERA there. Baseball-Reference.com's stat neutralizer/adjuster sayshe'd have a 5.91 ERA pitching in last year's conditions in Philly. Run scoring is down a little in both leagues this year, so any adjustments made for that would be all but negligible.

That, of course is in the past. What really matters is whether we can expect Blanton to bounce back to his previously useful LAIM form as he pitches for the Phils this year. He shows no particular tendency to pitch better or worse in the second half, with a second-half ERA only 0.31 lower, much of which can be acocunted for by the rough first half of 2008. Historically, he's gone from 4.05 in April to 5.81 in May, all the way down to 3.29 in June, only to go back up to 4.81 in July. He cruises along at 2.67 in August only to rocket back up to 4.75 in September. He's all over the place, with the only pattern being that there is no pattern.

What he does show is a tremendous reliance upon the miracles of his home park to keep his ERA in check, a full run split from a 3.79 ERA in Oakland to a 4.78 ERA on the road, and this over a significant sample size, over 750 innings total. This does not bode well for him in Philly, where Citizens Bank Park increases run scoring by about 4 or 5% compared to a neutral park, and Oakland is anything but neutral.

His walk rate is up almost a full walk per nine innings from last year, but that's just about his career average, and still well below average. He has not allowed an unusual number of in-play balls to become hits, either, with an opponent .304 batting average on balls in play, just about the league norm. The real problem has been that he's hardly striking anybody out, only 4.39/9 innings, almost a full whiff below his pre-2008 career average, and way below the 5.48 he posted last year.

In short: He's lost something. I don't know what, exactly, but it's real, and it's not likely to come back any time soon. Oakland's front office realized that this, combined with his pending arbitration eligibility, would make him suddenly both expensive and ineffective, something a small market club like the A's cannot afford.

So they got what they could for him, when they could.

LHP Josh Outman (Double-A)

He's 23 years old, 6'1", 180 lbs, and he can throw about 95 mph. And he's left-handed, so he's desirable, even though he walks a batter every other inning. Baseball Prospectus' commentary on him two years ago suggested that the control problems may have been due to his trying to learn to pitch with a more conventional motion*, but this is now his fourth year at that, and it seems like his control is getting worse instead of better.

*In high school and college he used a method developed by his father, Fritz, who wrote a book called Over Powering Pitching, describing a methodology that both increases maximum velocity and lowers injury risk. Obviously, he was sufficiently successful in college that the Phillies drafted him in the 10th round...and then promptly told him to scrap it. He still throws hard and strikes batters out, but his inability to keep the free passes in check will keep him from becoming a useful starting pitcher in the majors, and he may instead be relegated to LOOGy duties. There are worse fates, of course, but it's sad that so many "baseball people" are so closed minded, and that others suffer because of it. I personally would love to see someone using the Outman Methodology, Dr. Mike Marshall's Maxline approach, or some other scientifically-based pitching style make it to (and succeed in) the majors, but it will probably never happen.

With that said, Outman is the top prospect in this deal, and still could have a long career as a lefty out of the pen, if not much more than that. Southpaws who can hit 95 on the gun will get plenty of chances.

2B Adrian Cardenas is only 20, and has hit .303/.365/.430 between Rookie ball and two levels of Single A in the last two plus seasons. He's got a little patience (averaging a walk every ten at-bats or so) and steals bases effectively (48 for 58 in 234 career games) if not often. His modest home run totals may not look like much, but the nine homers he hit last year in Lakewood tied him for second on the team, and his batting average, slugging, OBP and OPS were all in the top 11 or higher in the Florida State League this year before the trade.

Baseball Prospectus called him an "outstanding hitting prospect" in their first comments on him for their 2007 book, and nothing he did last year changed their minds. This year is more of the same, though they anticipated a position change due to his poor defense at second. If he can improve that, he would be the heir apparent to the Keystone in Oakland now, but he's still probably two years away, at best. Still, a very good pickup.

OF Matt Spencer (Single-A) 6'4", 225 lbs, hits and throws lefty. He hit .378/.448/.616 at Arizona State and led the Sun Devils to the 2007 NCAA championship, got picked by the Phillies in the third round of the draft...and quickly turned into a non-prospect. He hit only .263 in the NY-Penn League the rest of 2007, and though he led the team with nine homers (congratu-freakin'-lations) he walked only about once every five games, and his paltry .320 OBP was artificially supported by getting plunked five times.

He's 22 now and should be destroying the unproven talent in the FSL, but instead he's hitting only .249 (including a-buck-ninety-one aganst lefties) and has lost most of his only asset: his power. He's hit only 6 homers all year and is "slugging" .367, which is like Ryan Garko without the cool, barbarian-sounding name. And the major league contract. Basically he's a throw-in.

But make no mistake, the Oaklands got themselves a solid hitting prospect in Cardenas and may have a lefty reliever or more in Outman (not to mention another cool name) plus whatever Spencer does, for a starting pitcher whose best asset was the park in which he'll no longer pitch. Oh, and who's soon eligible to start making millions of dollars just for having been in the majors for the last three years.

How does Beane keep doing this?

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16 July 2008

All Star Game Almost Another Tie, Needs More Incentive

Are they listening?

Hello? Are the All-Star managers listening at all?

"This One Counts."

Or so we're told, and yet the managers continue to utilize their respective rosters as though their main concern is "to avoid stepping on anybody's toes", rather than "to win the damn game". Last night's contest, and epic, tension-filled, 15-inning record-breaker, featured 11 NL pitchers and 12 AL pitchers. Every pitcher on each team was used.

Boston skipper Terry Francona was supposedly checking with J.D. Drew to see if he could pitch in a pinch, though I'm sure nobody expected the second coming of Christy Mathewson. Rockies/NL All-Star manager Clint Hurdle was said to have asked David Wright the same question. I wonder if he regretted not choosing Cardinals' outfielder Rick Ankiel for his roster, who at least has some experience as a pitcher in the majors, disastrous though it may have been.

With the embarrassing 2002 "Kissing your Sister" All-Star Game not all that far off in the rear view mirror, Major League Baseball drives on as though nothing is wrong. The managers were reminded that they're supposed ot be trying to win this thing, which seems to me like reminding an archer that his goal is to hit the target, not just use up all his arrows so he doesn't have to carry that heavy quiver all the way back to the storage shed.

Nevertheless, to sweeten the pot, they decided that awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game would be enough. Clearly, it's not. Neither league's manager has been the same in consecutive years since before this rule was instituted in 2002, so it's tough to argue that this incentive has any meaning at all. Clint Hurdle's team is clearly not going to repeat, as they currently sit near the bottom of the sad-sack NL West division. What does he care who gets home field advantage? He'll be watching the World Series from his couch, just like you and me.

Most of the players in the game will not be in the World Series. The Cubs had a record nine All Stars this year, yet they did not encompass even one third of the NL squad, so even if the team with the best record in the league gets to the World Series (which doesn't happen as often as you would hope or expect), well, their representatives can only do so much to assure that they get the advantage come October. If they get there.

Since they started the All Star game in 1933, there have been 11 contests that went into extra innings, out of 78 games played. That's more than 14%, which is about a one-in-seven chance. Given those odds, you'd think the managers would prepare better, leave themselves a little wiggle room. Nope. Instead, they use their starting pitcher for two innings, maybe just one, and rarely use anyone else for more than an inning or two, and then only when they start to sweat about the game going into extra innings.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that they should play this like a regular game, trying to get six or seven innings out of their starters. That wouldn't be fair to anyone, especially the pitcher, who's not used to facing an entire lineup of world-class players. Three innings is probably enough. But then what's wrong with letting the next guy pitch three innings? Then you can mix and match for the last two, assuming a regular 9-inning contest, and still have three or four pitchers left over in case of a tie after nine.

There has never been a time when this game was managed like a real game, no matter what anyone tells you. Right from the beginning, it was managed like an exhibition. In fact, there have only been two games in All Star history in which one of the starters went more than three innings. One of them was Hall-of-Famer Lefty Gomez, who went six (!) in 1935, a record that still stands.

The other was Spud Chandler, who went four innings in 1942 against a WWII-depleted NL squad. That team featured 2B Jimmy Brown (.256 with 1 homer), Aarky Vaughan (.277 with 2 homers), and SS Eddie Miller, who hit .243 that year with an adjusted OPS of 81, i.e. almost 20% below average. Pete Reiser batted third, with a .310 average, 10 homers and 64 RBIs that year. The backups weren't all that great, either: Billy Herman, Mickey Owen, Pee Wee Reese, Terry Moore, Willard Marshall, and someone named Danny Lithwhiler. Not exactly threatening.

Fun fact: The other five innings of that game were all pitched by Detroit's Al Denton, who went 7-13 on the year. Another fun fact: The Cardinals' Mort Cooper started (and lost) the game, throwing to his brother and St. Louis teammate, Walker. That's the only combo of All-Star brothers who didn't play the same position, and they did it twice (1943, too).

Anyway, back to my point: There is no reason to think that the managers should try to get 6 or 7 innings from an All-Star starting pitcher. It's never happened before, and it shouldn't now. But three or four is hardly unreasonable. As the teams went into extra innings last night, Terry Francona had to look past

  • Joe Saunders (averaging 6.7 IP/start with a 3.20 ERA),
  • Roy Halladay (7.6 IP/GS, 2.71 ERA),
  • Ervin Santana (6.8 IP/GS, 3.34 ERA) and
  • Justin Duchscherer (6.8, 1.82)

Why? Because he had already used them. For one inning each.

Halladay, who had three days of rest and who averages 107 pitches per start, threw nine pitches. Nine.

"Thanks, Roy. Nice effort. No, that's OK, we don't need to win. Go take a shower. Well, even if you didn't get sweaty."

After six years of this home-field-advantage-in-the-World-Series silliness, it's obvious that something has to be done. My proposal is as follows:

Go back to what motivates people: Money.

Back in the day, the players used to really try hard to win this thing for two reasons. One of them was that they had a sense of league pride, something that has essentially disappeared with the advent of free agency. But the other was money. Players got a bonus for winning the All Star game, and since their salaries were not so exorbitant, that bonus actually meant something. Let's get back to that.

Major League Baseball probably already makes a killing at the All Star Game, but they could be making even more. StubHub was selling bleacher tickets for over $1000 apiece yesterday, so imagine what box seats would be worth! Players get bonuses for being selected to the All-Star Game, which are written into their contracts. Let's do away with those, or at least limit them, so that the real money can be doled out to those who actually win the game, not just those who play.

Maybe a $500,000 bonus for each player on the winning team? That's $15 million, but hey, that's pocket change for a $4 billion industry like MLB. If they sell tickets at an average of $500 apiece, that's $27.5 million right there, just for filling Yankee Stadium! And that doesn't include concessions, television rights, advertising, Home-Run Derby revenues, or any of the other things that MLB does to squeeze every last nickel out of the American Consumer.

Better yet, since it's really the manager who's the problem, not the players, give a $5 million bonus to the manager of the team that wins. Maybe an extra mil to each of his coaches. That's an incentive, since most managers don't make anywhere near that much money. Sure, it's kind of mercenary, but heck, these guys are professionals. They're not doing it for free now. Let's motivate them where we know they'll feel it: In the wallet.

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15 July 2008

No "Cheap Seats" In New Yankee Stadium

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick laments the staggering increase in prices for some of the tickets to the Yankees' and Mets' new digs next year.

Well, not the price increases per se, but the fact that none of the nationally telecast games feature any discussion of said increases.

But what prevents McCarver and other national commentators who work Mets and Yankees games from adding that the cost of tickets to these new parks will price many longtime and even lifetime patrons right out of their seats and even out of the parks?

What prevents them from simply stating, "By the way, the cost of many of the tickets will be staggering"?

The story's out. And it's a sensational story. So why the silence?

Oh, I dunno...maybe because they don't really care? McCarver or Jon Miller or anyone else who does commentary on a baseball game is supposed to be talking about the game. It's only on the FOX post-season broadcasts that anybody pays any attention to who's in the stands, and then it's only to notice celebrities in the stands, to plug the new season of Lost or The Hills or CSI: Ulaanbaatar.

The announcers aren't paying for their tickets. They're not reporters, and probably aren't even aware of what tickets will cost in Yankee Stadium next year. If Phil Mushnick wants to complain about that stuff, he's free to do so. Or, alternatively, he's free to try to get a job as a color commentator on a national network, so he can air his complaints there. But I think he'll find that there's not much tolerance for that kind of thing. people tune in to those broadcasts to watch and listen to the game, and don't much want to hear how much more money it's going to cost to attend such a game next year.

Think about it: The people watching the game on TV are, by definition, not at the game. Most of them won't attend a game all year. They either live too far away, or can't afford the time or the money or both. And those who do attend games probably already know that their prices are going up. They know the new park is going to be smaller, which means that the prices will be that much higher, besides the normal increase you would expect with a new park. They have to choose whether they're going to

A) pony up the money for the kind of seats they usually buy,

2) spend the kind of money they usually spend for lesser quality seats, or

iii) spring for MLB.tv or satellite television.

There really aren't any other options, and that's true for season ticket holders, too. Well, except that if someone who has two box seats this year decides to go for the satellite TV deal instead, he can buy tickets to a game or two through an online broker and then drive to the game in the brand new Lexus he bought with his savings. What a pity.

I don't have much sympathy for people who can afford to spend half my salary on season tickets but can't afford to spend all of it. I do, however, feel that the casual fan is being squeezed out. I am more than a casual fan myself, but due to my distance from the team I follow, I only attend games at Yankee Stadium once or twice a year, and the rest of the time I have to make do with an occasional Phillies game or a minor league game when I'm on the road for work or something.

My mom's a lifelong Yankee fan, now in her, um...well..she reads this blog, so I can't tell you how old she is. But she 's old enough to remember the one time the Yankees lost to Brooklyn in the World Series. Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, I got to take her to her first game ever about ten years ago, when I was right out of college. Back then, I could afford to go to three or four or five games a year.

While I was still in college in 1994, and almost literally dirt poor, I got to take two friends to a game on a Wednesday night, back when "half price nights" for students applied to any seat in the park, not just the seats that you need a Sherpa to reach. We paid about $12.50 each for (half-price) seats in the Main Section, right behind first base. Those seats cost $100 each now, and no discounts are available unless you have seven grand burning a hole in your pocket and you want to buy a full season plan. Oh, and that's for one seat.

Another time I went with one friend and got seats right behind home plate for $25/each, seats that now cost $400/each.

Now I'm married and my wife and I make almost four times as much as I was making then, but we can only afford to take my mom to about one game a year because the tickets are ten times as expensive. I have no delusions about entitlement. There are much greater problems in the world than how many baseball games per year someone like me gets to attend. I wish things were different, that there weren't so many people these days who wanted to go to Yankee games.

But I also understand that there are market forces at work here about which I cannot do anything. The Consumer Price Index in cities in the northeast has risen about 53% since 1993, while ticket prices have gone up, in some cases, 1500%. Sure, part of that is due to the legalized monopoly the baseball owners have, but most of it is just due to demand. The supply has decreased (since the Yankees don't sell those seats out in the black in center field any more) and the demand has increased because the Yankees have been good, so they can afford to charge more money for the same product.

When I travel to other cities, I find that the demand for tickets there is not nearly as high. I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and had hoped to go to a Dodgers-LAnahfornia game. Alas, my work schedule wore me out and I had nobody to go to the game with, so I passed up a chance to see a no-hitter in person, even though the other team won the game. Woe is me, right? Well, me and Jered Weaver.

But I looked for tickets, and if I had wanted to, I could have bought two tickets right behind home plate for the Friday night game. Not from a broker/scalper, but from the Dodgers themselves. Granted, those seats were $400/each, so it wasn't all that difficult to turn them down, but still. There was no shortage of tickets still available at face value, from the Dodgers, just days before the interleague rivalry. In New York, tickets for the Subway Series get snatched up within nanoseconds of when they go on sale. Not just the good seats: ALL of them. Brokers are already selling them for ten times their face value within minutes. The demand is simply higher there, and therefore so are the prices.

Rob Neyer commented on Mushnick's article and had this to say:

Yes, baseball teams are businesses. But they're not run like businesses. Owners routinely lose money on purpose. Owners benefit from being parts of a legally sanctioned monopoly that should, by almost any standard, be illegal. Owners buy teams not because they want to make money, but because they like baseball (usually) and because they want to see their names in the newspapers. Baseball owners derive immense benefits -- many of them falling under the heading of psychic income -- from their teams, far different from those enjoyed by the owners of, say, trucking companies and widget factories.

So, don't tell me it's all about the free market, because it's not and shouldn't be. I don't expect the owner of my favorite team to lose money every year, but I do expect him to have a heart. And that includes somehow ensuring that fans who can't afford $70 for one ticket can still occasionally watch a game without needing binoculars.

I'm not an economist, but then neither is Rob. While I think that what he said about teams losing money may have been true years ago, I doubt very seriously that many - if any - of the owners are actually losing money any longer. Thirty five years ago, when George Steinbrenner's group bought the Yankees from CBS, they were paying another network to broadcast their games! Those guys were losing money. Baseball owners didn't know what they had in baseball, how much money there was to be made. Now they do, and they've spent the last ten years or so making up for lost time.

Today's owners are smarter, at least about the business end of things, if not about how to develop talent. Whether they are obviously making money is tough to determine, because rich people can afford to hire expensive, sneaky accountants and attorneys, but it seems to me that in a monopoly like Major League Baseball, which collects something like $4 Billion in revenue per year, some of which is shared even with inept teams like the Royals, it's hard to imagine that owners would not be in it for the money.

Sure, they like owning a baseball team more than they'd probably enjoy owning a mid-range paper supply company, but they get some money from it, too. Probably a lot of money. Many of the teams are owned by groups of people, and many of those people remain predominantly anonymous. They're not in it for the ancillary benefits. They're in it because they like baseball, AND they like making money, not necessarily in that order.

Ticket prices have gotten to the levels they have because that is what the market will bear. Until people start saying "no" a little more, nothing - absolutely nothing - is going to change. Owners have the right to charge whatever the hell they please, and consumers have the right to tell them to take their $400 box seats and put them where the sun don't shine.

And I don't mean in the back of the Loge in right field.

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09 July 2008

Rich Harden-to-Cubs Trade Analysis: Don't Think the A's Got Cheated

Well, that didn't take long.

Despite the patently transparent protestations of Cubs general manager Jim Hendry that he would not ramp up his efforts after the big CC Sabathia deal, the Chicago Nationals have acquired their own pitcher for the stretch drive, getting Rich Harden from the Oakland A's in a 6-man swap. The Cubs get RHPs Harden and Chad Gaudin in exchange for RHP Sean Gallagher, OFs Matt Murton and Eric Patterson, and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson. (It's being incorrectly reported as John Donaldson in some places, which would really be a bad deal for the Athletics, since John Donaldson is either 65 years old, or dead, depending on which one you're talking about.)

Of course, some parties didn't think this could happen, and if Oakland had waited for the kind of package the Tribe got in return for Sabathia, it never would have. But in the end A's GM Billy Beane settled for less than anyone thought it would take to pry Harden away from him.

Make no mistake, though. If we've learned anything about Billy Beane in the last ten years or so, it's that the man is no fool. He got the best deal he thought he could get for Harden, or he wouldn't have traded him. Actually, for Harden and Gaudin.

Rich Harden has talent coming out of his ears. Maybe you remember him coming to the majors in 2003, a fresh-faced 21-year old with a sizzling fastball, a hard curve, a nasty slider...and, it would eventually turn out, a penchant for getting hurt. He struck out ten Devil Rays as a rookie, won 11 games as a sophomore, and looked every bit like the Next Big Thing in Oakland, following in the footsteps of Hudson, Zito and Mulder (not to mention Dave Stewart, Vida Blue, and Catfish), but alas, 'twas not to be. Harden simply could not stay on the mound, and the Oaklands really weren't even counting on him to come back this year, mostly just hoping he'd be healthy enough to trade by the deadline. Who knew they'd be within striking distance of the division lead by the All-Star break?

A foolish GM would think that Harden has suddenly discovered some magical ability to stay healthy, some Fountain of Youth -or at least Health- to which he'd never before had access. Billy Beane is not a foolish GM, so he can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. Jim Hendry may not be a foolish GM either, just one who happens to be holding on to a tenuous grasp of first place with a club desperate for a World Series win, which the Cubs have not had in (all together now...) 100 years.

So he looked to trade harden while the young righty still had some value. And while he was at it, he got rid of Chad Gaudin, a young, short righty who's A) playing over his head and 2) been in the majors for parts of six seasons and is therefore about to become expensive.

For his trouble, Beane got the following:

Josh Donaldson: A 22-year old Single-A catcher who hit .346/.470/.605 last year in 49 games in Boise. (He was 0-for-2 with two walks as a DH in the game I saw there last summer.) Nobody seems to think he's injured or anything, so he should eventually get out of the slump he's currently struggling through (hitting only .217 through 63 games this season) and become the top catching prospect the Cubs thought he would be when they drafted him in the supplemental phase of the first round last season.

Matt Murton: A 26-year old right-handed hitting outfielder with a decent batting eye, who has not yet displayed much power or speed. On a bad team, he might be a starter in centerfield. On a good team, he's a 4th outfielder who can pinch hit because he won't go up there swinging for the fences. On the Cubs, with Soriano and Fukudome on the corners and Reed Johnson playing center, he's taking up a roster spot. Baseball Prospectus 2008 called him "a good bet to be traded".

Eric Patterson: Younger brother of Corey, he's a 25-year old outfielder/secondbaseman who has bounced back and forth between Chicago and AAA Iowa this year, where he's hit .320/.358/.517. He's only hit .237 in the majors, which is why he hasn't stuck, but then if you only played once a week or so, you'd be rusty too. In the minors, he hit for average, took walks, stole bases effectively and even hit a few homers. If the Oaklands (currently playing .247-hitting Mark Ellis at the keystone) decide to give him a chance at the second base job, he could be pretty useful for a few years.

Sean Gallagher: The real jewel of the trade, 22-year old Gallagher is a big righty (6'2", 225-235, depending on your source) who's dominated the minor leagues. Over parts of five seasons, he's gone 27-12 with 482 strikeouts and a 2.71 ERA in 481 innings. He's walked only about 3.5 per nine innings and has allowed an obscenely low 0.49 homers per nine frames.

The numbers are all there, but the scouts don't love him, or haven't, because he didn't have a great fastball and they at least used to think he was a little overweight. One report on MLB.com indicated that he lost 30 pounds this spring, or presumably, coming into the spring, and when you see him now, he looks like he's in fine shape, probably not more than about 205. More important, his fastball now clocks in at 92-93 mph and can hit 95 on occasion. He still has the sharp, 12-to-6 curve, plus a slider and change he can throw for strikes. What he has not yet shown in the majors is stamina, as he's averaged just 5.4 innings per start this season. That should come with time, though, and moving from the Friendly Confines to McCavernous Coliseum should only help his progress into a very good starting pitcher.

In total, the Cubs got two pitchers who can help them get to - and maybe even win - the playoffs this year, but who will be expensive to retain, too expensive for a club with Oakland's modest budget.

The Oaklands got a starting pitcher they can plug in right now, to go along with Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, and Joe Blanton. The names may not be all that familiar to you, but the four of them have combined for a 3.48 ERA in 434 innings this year, and Blanton, at least, hasn't even pitched up to his capabilities yet. They got a useful third or fourth outfielder, a potential starting secondbaseman and a minor league catcher who has shown the ability to hit like Mike Piazza, at least for a little while in the low minors.

In time, when Harden is either hurt or playing for another team, and oakland is still reaping the benefits of one or more of their acquisitions, I don't think A's fans will still be complaining.

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07 July 2008

Sabathia Deal Helps Both Brewers and Indians

C.C. Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, has apparently been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for prospects, according to various sources. The names of the prospects have not been officially announced, as the deal is not officially complete yet, but everyone seems to agree that Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta is the top name in the group.

With the Tribe looking up at the rest of the AL Central and no hope of re-signing Sabathia during the season, they're folding their cards early in an effort to get a decent return on their trade.

Sabathia gives the Brewers a legitimate ace for their rotation right when they need it most. Forget the lackluster 6-8 record. The Tribe has averaged just 4.41 Runs per game when he pitches and he was inexplicably terrible in April. Since then, however, he has a 2.39 ERA and has walked only 16 batters while striking out 90 in 90 innings. He immediately becomes the #1A pitcher on the Brewers' staff, along side Ben Sheets, just ahead of Manny Parra and way ahead of Dave Bush and Jeff "LAIM" Suppan.

More important, it keeps the likes of Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung in the bullpen and/or the minor leagues. And that upgrade (from Seth McClung to Cy Young) could get the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century. After this year, however, he's anybody's free agent, and the Yankees will likely be trying as hard as anyone to sign him.

For their part, the Indians are rebuilding, and they know it. They don't seem to be getting any major league-ready talent in the trade, though some of it is very close.

LaPorta, according to Baseball Prospectus, had been considered a top power hitter in college but was drafted low after an oblique injury ruined his junior year. Returning to college for his fourth season paid big dividends, as he was drafter #7 overall by Milwaukee last year, and so far he has not disappointed them. He hit .304/.369/.696 in 30 games combined in 2007, split between the Rookie Pioneer League and Low-A West Virginia in the Sally League. This year has been spent entirely at Huntsville where he's hit .291/.404/.584 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in 82 games to date.

The Southern League is known as a hitters' league, and Huntsville is a hitters' park within that league. Currently, five of the top 9 players in OPS in the Southern League are on the Huntsville team, and two others are in the top 30. That's either a remarkable coincidence, a remarkable assemblage of hitting talent, or a park/league effect. So you'd like to discount those numbers a little.

With that said, however, the Reds' Joey Votto had similar numbers in the Southern League last year and he's already holding his own in a major league lineup. Two years ago Evan Longoria had similar numbers and he's on the AL Final Man ballot with a chance to be an All-Star as a rookie. In 2005, Dan Uggla put up very similar numbers playing for Tennessee, and though few people gave him much of a shot at success in the big leagues, for the exact same reasons, Uggla is an All-Star and currently is one off the MLB lead in homers. So there.

All of that is to say that LaPorta should be a very good hitter when he reaches the majors, perhaps as soon as next year. He's not a good defensive OF ("Ron Kittle-bad" according to BP) but with the Indians' firstbasemen either injured, struggling or both, that may not matter. He was a firstbaseman in college and could easily return to that role. More easily than Travis Hafner could learn to play left field or Ryan Garko could learn to, I dunno... hit.

It appears that AAA southpaw Zach Jackson, and AA RHP Rob Bryson are also part of the deal, along with a PTBNL. Earlier rumors had suggested Single-A 3B Taylor Green, Single-A OF Lorenzo Cain, and Keith Law suggests that Green might be the PTBNL.

Jackson pitched a few games in June and July of 2006 in the majors, after some solid work in Class-A, but he was overmatched and got busted back down to the minors, where he'd been ever since. Though unimpressive and mired in the minors for the rest of 2006 and all of 2007, he did pitch a couple of innings for the Brewers in May of this year. Otherwise he's spent 2008 helping to keep the Pacific Coast League's reputation as a hitter's haven intact. He's 1-5 with a 7.85 ERA and has given up 10 homers in only 57 innings. Hitters' league or not, a homer every 5 or 6 innings would be lousy if you were pitching on the Moon. He's a throw-in.

Bryson, on the other hand, is a real talent. He's only got a 4.25 ERA in Double-A right now, mostly because he's a little wild (22 walks in 53 innings) but he's fanned 73 batters, has only allowed three homers, and has been much better as a reliever (3.96 ERA) than a starter (4.82). He's only 20, so he could still reign in the wildness a bit, but if not, his lack of command will prevent him from becoming a good starting pitcher. However, he has the stuff and the stamina to be an excellent long man out of the bullpen or a top-notch closer.

Green, if he is the fourth player in the deal, gives the Indians a real prospect at the hot corner for the first time since Jim Thome came up in the early 1990's. He's hitting .295/.380/.444 with 10 homers in 302 at-bats, but he's also displayed impressive patience, with 42 walks (2nd in the league) and only 42 strikeouts in that span. His 54 RBIs are also second in the league, and his 10 homers place him 9th. He's not a sure-thing kind of prospect, but he should be a productive major league hitter in a few years. He'll be 22 in November, which means he has plenty of time, and he's a lefty who can hit lefties, with a .344 opponent average this year against southpaws that should help keep him from getting platooned whenever he does arrive.

The Brewers have a press conference scheduled for noon to announce the actual deal.

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01 July 2008

National League Will Win the 2008 All Star Game

OK, so it wasn't "tomorrow" but here's my NL All-Star Ballot, for what it's worth:

First Base: Berkman, L., HOU
Second Base: Uggla, D., FLA
Third Base: Jones, C., ATL
Shortstop: Ramirez, H., FLA
Catcher: McCann, B., ATL
Outfielder: Braun, R., MIL, Burrell, P., PHI, Lee, C., HOU

There are not a lot of votes here that are very difficult to defend. Nevertheless, I'll go through them one at a time.

Lance Berkman leads the entire National League in slugging percentage, OPS, Runs, total bases, extra base hits, times on base, and several sabermetric categories, such as VORP, Adjusted Batting Runs, Runs Created and Batting Wins. He has been, put simply, the best player in baseball up to this point. If he doesn't make the All-Star team, they shouldn't have one.

I assume that Berkman's monster year has netted him the top spot in the vote getting, but now that the balloting is closed, MLB's holding its cards close to the vest and will not divulge the All-Star rosters until Sunday. Honorable mention to Albert Pujols, who's having a great year despite the fact that his elbow might snap in two at any moment, and Adrian Gonzalez, who's somehow managed to hit 21 homers despite playing half of his games in a 1:8 scale replica of the Grand Canyon. Good to see him finally living up to the hype that comes with being a #1 overall draft pick.

Chase Utley has been great, but when you adjust for the effects of their home parks, Dan Uggla has been even better. The two are tied for the MLB lead with 23 homers and are both slugging over .600. Utley's 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts, while Uggla's 4-for-5, and both are decent, if not Gold Glove, fielders. Utley, however, was blowing away all of the competition, leading the major leagues with over 2.6 million votes, last I checked, more than Jeter or A-Rod. He's certainly a solid choice to start the game, and Uggla should have no trouble making the reserve squad.

Chipper Jones is hitting .391. Three-ninety-one. And with power and walks and stuff, too. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury has cooled him off a bit, as he's hit only .244 over his last 16 games, albeit still with lots of walks and a few homers. David Wright is having a decent year, but after generally increasing his percentage numbers across the board for the first three and a half years of his major league career, he's taken a decided step back, and the New York fans have not been voting for him as much as you might expect. Still, he's likely to make it as abackup, but I didn't vote for him because of, well... Three-ninety-one.

Hanley Ramirez was holding onto a slim lead over Miguel Tejada in the voting department, but in terms of stats, there's little comparison. Miggy's .286/.324/.446 line is decent, but his adjusted OPS is only about 3% above average, while Ramirez is 46% better than the norm. Add to that the fact that Hanley is handy on the basepaths (20 steals in 25 attempts, compared to just 6-for-9 by Tejada) and that both players are pretty bad with the leather, and there's no comparison. Jimmy Rollins has been injured and underperformed, but was still within striking distance the last time they let the vote totals see the light of day. Jose Reyes would be an excellent addition to the squad, and should be.

The outfield is all-power, all the time. Ryan Braun, Pat Burrell and Carlos Lee are all in the top 10 in the NL in extra base hits with 42 or more, and though you'd like a little more patience from Lee and (especially) Braun, the threat of three guys who could readily hit one out will loom large over the AL pitchers' heads. Yankee Stadium is not the cavernous righty-killer it once was, and all three of these guys is capable of smashing one into monument park if a pitcher makes a mistake.

Unfortunately, those guys are all left fielders, so if the NL squad wants some defense in center, they'll have to look to Carlos Beltran or someone like Aaron Rowand. (Hey, someone from the Giants has to make it, right? More likely they'll start Alfonso Soriano there, as he was leading NL outfieldrs in votes at last tally. He's mis-cast there, despite his speed, but he'll be OK for a couple of innings, which is as much as these guys play anymore anyway.

Looking at the big picture, despite the fact that the AL is generally considered better than the NL, this may be the year that the NL breaks is consecutive losses streak in the MLB All-Star Game, which started in 1997. There's a lot of really impressive options for filling up the NL bench, and a lot of really great players leading the vote getting (or at least there were, two days ago).

The American League is a different story. The voting has been dominated by Yankees and Red Sox, and this is not always a good thing.

  • Kevin Youkilis was leading AL firstbasemen in votes when I wrote my last article on the subject, despite being demonstrably inferior to Jason Giambi, and arguably Justin Morneau.
  • Dustin Pedroia was leading the AL secondbasemen, and while he's been on a tear of late and is hitting .311 with nine homers, he's clearly inferior to Ian Kinsler, at least this year. Worse yet, Robinson Cano was not far behind, and he's having a horrible season. If somehow Pedroia or Youk should miss the cut, Red Sox and All-Star manager Terry Francona will undoubtedly put them on the team anyway. Brian Roberts would be a much better choice to back up the winner.
  • Derek Jeter was leading the entire American League in votes and will be the AL starting shortstop despite his pedestrian offensive numbers, while Michael Young and Jhonny Peralta will likely miss out. Francona will probably choose his own guy, Julio Lugo, who's hitting .268 with one homer and playing atrocious defense.
  • The catcher's spot was only tenuously held by Joe Mauer, with Jason Varitek right on his heels, and Jorge Posada not far behind. If Mauer holds on to win it, and depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, Francona may again pick his own man instead of a more productive hitter like Dioner Navarro or A.J. Pierzynski.
  • Though soon-to-be-divorced Alex Rodriguez hald a firm grasp on the starting job at the hot corner, second place was held by Boston's Mike Lowell, who could get tabbed for the backup spot there. Lowell is having a solid season but is not as good as Rays rookie Evan Longoria. More important, if Francona wants some late-inning defense, Scott Rolen might be a better choice. Again, someone from the Blow Jays has to make it, so why not him?
  • In the outfield, though Manny Ramirez doesn't really deserve to be the leading vote-getter, he's certainly no slouch, except, you know, when he's slouching. But be that as it may, he'll do, as will Josh Hamilton. In third place, however, was Ichiro Suzuki, who's an exciting player to watch, but is only about the 8th best outfielder/DH in the AL this year, well behind not just Hamilton and Ramirez, but also Milton Bradley, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quenton, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Hideki Matsui and (I hate to admit it) J.D. Drew. Ichiro's speed may come in handy, but not as handy as someone who can do something besides hit singles and win the hearts and minds of every voter in Japan. Again, this probably means that he'll pick Drew and/or Jacoby Ellsbury if Ichiro wins the third spot in the outfield.
  • The DH spot, while being unfairly led by Big Papi and followed by Hideki Matsui, both of whom are injured, should not be a problem. As Papi won't be able to play, Francona can pick anyone he wants, and may even surprise us by going with the smart choice of Aubrey Huff.

All told, these bizarre voting practices, combined with the blatant nepotism usually displayed by the All-Star managers, have really put the AL in a bind. To his credit, the last time he managed an All-Star game, Francona only picked one Red Sock for his reserves (Matt Clement), but then he had four starters that year as well. If he feels that one or more of his players was cheated out of a spot they deserved, he'll likely pick them over someone who might actually be a better option.

Time will tell, but I'm going on the record now as saying that the NL will have home field advantage in the World Series this year.

See? I told you that was a stupid idea.

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American League 2008 All Star Ballot

Tomorrow is the last day for online All Star voting. I know because I get about two dozen emails per day telling me so. (OK, more like one.) I voted today, and thought it might be interesting to discuss why I voted as I did. here's my AL Ballot:

First Base: Giambi, J., NYY
Second Base: Kinsler, I., TEX
Third Base: Rodriguez, A., NYY
Shortstop: Jeter, D., NYY
Catcher: Posada, J., NYY
Outfielder: Damon, J., NYY, Hamilton, J., TEX, Sizemore, G., CLE
Designated Hitter: Huff, A., BAL

I'm a Yankee fan, and I make no apologies for that. With that said, I don't think any of these picks need too much explanation.

Jason Giambi, despite the .263 batting average, leads all AL first basemen in walks, homers, slugging, OPS, OBP and awesome facial hair. In fact, his .398 OBP is almost 20 points higher than that of Kevin Youkilis, the so-called "Greek God of Walks", who leads all AL firstbasemen with 48 Runs scored. Youk also leads the pack with about 1.9 million votes, almost 300,000 more than second-place Justin Morneau. For his part, Morneau leads AL firstbasemen with 63 RBIs. More to the point, if you're trying to actually win the contest, the Giambino and his child-molester/pizza guy moustache have been raking at a .324/.444/.642 clip since early May.

Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler leads not just the Al, not just second basemen, but everyone in MLB with 71 runs scored. He's hitting .321 (5th in the AL) has 20 steals (6th in the AL) and his .532 slugging percentage is 10th. In addition, he leads all AL second basemen in homers, RBIs (50) and OBP (.375), and is one point behind Placido Polanco in batting average and one steal behind Brian Roberts. Granted, his home park helps him, as you can see from the approximately 100-point spread between his home and road batting and OBP numbers, but he actually has hit 10 of his 13 homers on the road. So that's something. Regardless of that, nobody else is even in the same category. Also, I just fleeced someone in my fantasy league out of him, so I have to pull for him.

Third base was practically a no-brainer. Despite missing three weeks with an injury, A-Rod leads all AL hot cornermen in homers, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and Steals. He's two runs off the pace of league leader Alex Gordon (who needed about 75 more at-bats to score those two runs) and is three RBIs behind the pace of Mike Lowell and Evan Longoria. There are also some bizarre rumors about him being "linked to" Madonna, so maybe he and Jose Canseco have more in common than the Juice Man would care to admit. If we notice the reigning MVP wearing a red string bracelet at the All-Star Game, we'll know why. In any case, A-Rod will be there, as he leads all AL players with 2.52 million votes.

Shortstop was one of the tougher decisions. Derek Jeter is clearly having an off-year (for him), hitting only .280 with 4 homers and steals, though that's only 5 points behind Michael Young, and Jeter doesn't have the benefit of playing half his games in a Texas phonebooth. (Young's hitting just .254 on the road.) Jhonny Peralta has a dozen bombs, but the one he hit yesterday was hist first in more than a month. He's also struck out more than any other AL shortstop, and is hitting only .257 with an OBP that barely cracks .300. Plus he spells his name wheirldy. Nobody else has more than half a dozen homers, is hitting more than about .275 or has stolen more than a dozen bases. So, without a clear leader, I went to my fall back. Which is apparently what 2.5 million other voters have done, as Jeter is second only to A-Rod in AL votes.

Catcher was tough, too, since I really like Jorge Posada, but he hasn't played much due to the problems with his throwing shoulder. Despite missing all that time, he has as many homers as Joe Mauer, and his OPS (min 100-at-bats) is second to Mauer as well. I should probably have voted for Mauer instead, who leads the AL with a .323 batting average, is third in OBP with a .410 mark, and has caught 71 of his team's 83 games. Additionally, he leads all AL catchers in runs, RBIs, doubles, walks and OPS.

Incidentally, with about 1.6 million votes, Mauer is the only non-Yankee or Red Sock to be leading a position in the AL voting, and his lead over Jason Varitek (.222 with 7 homers, *yuk*) is only about 150,000 votes, so he could get overtaken if the Red Sox make a mad vote rush in the 11th hour.

The outfield was fun because there are so many good options. I left Milton Bradley off because he's been a little gimpy (I know because he was one of the players I got rid of in the Ian Kinsler trade, which also netted me A-Rod and Dan Haren). We want to win this thing, so I couldn't pick a guy I know is hurt.

I did pick Hamilton because he's leading the majors in RBI's and he's a great story. I picked Damon because, well, he's a Yankee, but also because he's hitting .315 with patience and he's got some speed, and we're a little short on that. Jacoby Ellsbury was looking like a great option a month ago, but he's hit just .176 woth zero homers and one RBI in the last two weeks, and we don't need speed that badly.

Grady Sizemore, despite the .263 average, has 19 homers and 19 steals (in 21 attempts), so he's a threat both at the plate and on the basepaths. J.D Drew is doing very well, or has had a great month, at least, but I'm not convinced he's for real, not after a year and change of mediocrity. Manny Ramirez, who leads all AL outfielders in votes, is having a good year, but not a great one, not for him, and anyway screw Boston.

And speaking of screw Boston, David Ortiz leads all Designated Hitters in votes, despite the facts that

A) He's hitting .252 on the year and
2) He's been on the DL since the end of May.

Maybe that's why he got all those votes? Fans thought it aid DL, not DH?

the number two vote getter, Hideki Matsui, was having a decent year as well before he got hurt, so I couldn't vote for him. Jack Cust has a lot of walks and 13 homers, but is hitting just .234, and ditto for Jim Thome, one of my favorites.

So, instead I voted for Aubrey Huff. He's hitting a respectable .274, leads the AL DH field with 14 homers and 46 RBIs, and we share a birthday, though he's two years younger than me. Just to show you I'm not that biased, though, I did not vote for either David DeJesus, who's injured but was hitting .316, or David Wright, who's having a sold year over in the Senior Circuit.

Tomorrow I'll share my NL ballot...

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