Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday Five

1. You can do one thing on your sports Bucket List: Go to a Super Bowl. A World Series—game 7. An NCAA Championship or Wimbledon Finals. Which one do you do?

2. Which song do you want playing when you walk up to the plate?

3. Which baseball uniform is the coolest?

4. Which is the ugliest?

5. Name the heavyweight boxing champion right now? Any of them.

Really?

So Big Papi was on the smack in 2003? Really? Oh, and Manny as well?

No kidding?

Geez people, is this even news? Did anyone believe Manny Ramirez earlier this year when he claimed that he was tested 15 times before and was clean? That the incident earlier this year was just an accident? Did anyone buy that?

Was no one suspicious when Ortiz went from a middle of the road player in Minnesota to the most feared left-handed hitter in the American League. Did no one find that suspicious? Or when he went from a skinny kid (see the card) to a Yeti?

And why does this stuff leak out like this? Who keeps "leaking" these names?

Really what's left to say? We suspected Sosa, Giambi, Bonds, Manny, Ortiz and Clemens. And were we proven wrong. About any of them?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Lefty Question

So the Yankees are 8-2 since the All-Star break. They're cruising. No worries, eh? Well, maybe.

Take a look at the two losses. Who'd they lose to? Gio Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir. Notice any similarities? Yeah, they're both lefties. Worse than that, they were lefties who were getting shelled until they met the Yankees. Then suddenly they both pitch like aces. Kazmir who has been a shell of his former self this season, pitched a 7-inning, 1 run gem. And Gonzalez, who's ERA had been hovering around 8.00, pitched 6.2 innings in Yankee Stadium and gave up only 1 run. Take a further look and ask yourself who got the RBIs in both of those games against these lefty starters. Gardner and Matsui, both lefties.

Where are the righty bats?

Now, to retract the gloom just a little bit. The Yankees did obliterate Rich Hill, another lefty. And yes, the Yankees splits this season against lefties is as good or better than against righties. So what's the problem?

The problem is the Yankees should pound Rich Hill and all the terrible lefties out there. And there are terrible lefties out there. Teams are so hungry for lefty pitching that they use guys who obviously aren't major league worthy/ready. Traditionally lefties' pitching stats are worse than righties. Why? Again, because teams are desperate for lefties and try to plug some of them in when they clearly are not major league caliber.

And this year is no different. Across the stats, lefties—even with all the terrible ones out there—have worse stats than righties.

On June 17th, John Lannan, a lefty for the epically bad Washington Nationals defeated the Yankees 3-2. He held the superpowerful best-that-money-can-buy lineup to just 2 runs in 8.1 innings. And again, the only RBI were by Damon and Cano, both lefties.

So what does this all mean? The Yankees overall have great stats against lefty pitching, right?

What it means, is that against the myriad of terrible lefty pitching out there, the Yankees can pound the ball. But when the Yankees face a powerful, above-average lefty, they have a hole.

On May 24th, Cole Hamels held the Yankees to 2 runs in 6 innings. Teammate J.A. Happ gave up 2 runs in 6 innings. On the Opening Day of the new Yankee Stadium, Cliff Lee pitched 6 innings on one0run ball. Scott Kazmir beat the Yankees in April as well, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings—the last run a result of leaving an obvious tired Kazmir in too long. Jon Lester has a total ERA of 3.46 ERA against the Yankees this year. David Price, erratic this year to say the least, pitched 5.2 innings against the Yankees and gave up only 1 run.

Again, this isn't to say that any lefty can shut down the Yankees. Above is a list of talented lefties; Hamels, Lee, Kazmir (who even as bad as he has looked this year had 2 quality starts against the Yankees), Lester, even talented but not quite ready Gio Gonzalez. There shouldn’t be—in normal cases, any shame in losing to those guys. However, these are the Yankees. The team that shelled out hundreds of millions to win this year. The team the Yankees have right now are built to win the World Series. And this fact—that quality lefty pitching gives them fits and can beat them—could be a significant problem. Any team they meet in the playoffs, with quality lefties on their staff, may be able to shut down the juggernaut that is the 2009 Yankees. Say, for instance, old friend Joe Torre's team, the Dodgers, with Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf. Or the aforementioned Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ on the Phillies....and if they get Cliff Lee......well, stay tuned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Transactions....

First off, look at this video of Joe Flacco. Can anyone tell me....is this for real? because if it is, I may go buy a jersey of this guy. That's amazing stuff.


Another thing I'd appreciate some feedback on: what the heck happened to Scott Kazmir?


With the Jets starting training camp this week, and there is a distinct possibility that both of the Jets star running backs might hold out due to contract squabbles. The New York Times does a good job breaking down the issues. One caveat: If I were a GM, and anybody referred to themselves in the third person (read the article), I would immediately cut them. I really would.


Interesting piece re: the SEC TV deal. In case you hadn't heard, even in this down economy, the SEC negotiated a budget-busting deal with ESPN and CBS, to the tune of (cue Doctor Evil) 3...billion....dollars. And while the other conferences are worried that this huge contract gives the SEC even more of a competitive edge, the writer of this piece, as well as your truly, feel that this just raises the bar, so that when the ACC, Big 12 or whomever goes in to make a TV, they can start from this contract and negotiate from there. And let me just say this again.....3 billion dollars.


And in the tooting my own horn section of AAPTBNL, it seems the Yankees are seriously scouting Ian Snell—especially now that Chien-Ming Wang may be out for the rest of the year. As you may recall, last week I wrote that the Yankees should look into picking him up cheaply. Snell has a relatively small contract, is blowing up AAA hitters and could really use a change of scenery. Putting him the locker room next to Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and all the other Yankee vets can only help Snell adjust and become something of a steal for the Yanks.


A while back I reported that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, aged 21, was diagnosed with cancer. Mark was a first team All-American LB for BC, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, was a finalist for the Butkus Award and was a projected first round draft in next year's draft.
Well good news on the Herzlich front. Apparently, the chemo treatment has caused the tumor to leave the muscle tissue and surgery is not required. As Herzlich said when he announced that he had cancer, let's hope he beats this and can play the game he loves again.


Enough ESPN with the Michael Vick coverage. he wasn't a good QB before the two year layoff (53.8 percentage completion rating lifetime; Matt Ryan, in his rookie year had a 61.1 rating), what makes anyone think he can quarterback any better now? And as for Mike Florio's article that Mike Vick is right now, one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the league, I'd say he might not have been one of the best 32 when he last was in the league. In 2006. When he had a 52.6 completion rating, a 6.4 Y/A and averaged a measly 154.6 yards a game through the air. Those weren't pretty numbers then, and they shouldn't be any better now.


Another thing ESPN: Enough with the Tim Tebow stuff. "Oh my god, a SEC coach didn't vote Tebow as best QB in the SEC." Like, wow. I mean, the way ESPN breathlessly covered this "story", you'd think Tebow can fly to Mars in 8 seconds, shoot lasers out of his eyes and is impervious to cold. "How can someone pick another QB as the best in the SEC?" Good Lord people, who cares about this soap opera stuff? Can we get some actual sports analysis please?


Has anyone caught the bizarre 24-hour Marbury-cam marathon. I hadn't even heard about it until I read this article. Sounds like a train wreck. Makes me sad....what a waste of talent.


And lastly, I'd like to give a shout out to a new blog I found. The Pinstriper. I put it on my links on the side because I liked his stuff. Go and give it a read.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hamilton V. Volquez

It's rare that a trade in baseball is equal. Normally trades are salary dumps: like the Julio Lugo trade this week. Or else they are the big team trading prospects to the small market team for the one player they have: think Pittsburgh every single year.

But the Josh Hamilton trade for Edison Volquez and Danny Herrera that occurred right before Christmas in 2007 was that rare trade. A trade that involved young, promising players—blue chip prospects really. And it was a trade the benefited both teams, right away.

Everyone by now knows of the Josh Hamilton story (soon to be played by Robert Pattinson and arriving at a theater near you—just kidding). His gargantuan talent, his battle with drugs. his comeback. That year, in only 90 games, Hamilton showed enough talent remained untainted by the years of self-abuse that teams took notice. One problem though. Cincinnati had a talented young blue-chip prospect slotted for CF; Jay Bruce was already a star at the AAA level when Hamilton showed up, and the Reds had other prospects who they were excited about. What they didn't have was pitching. The 2007 Reds team ERA of 4.95 was a hair better than the Florida Marlins' of 4.96 for dead last in the NL and they gave up 198 HRs, again 2nd worst in the NL.

The Texas motive for the trade is a little more tricky. True, the year before they tried filling the gaping hole they had in CF with the ageless wonder, Kenny Lofton, but that wasn't a long term answer. And with the Rangers firmly entrenched in a youth movement, they wanted a leader in the outfield, a certifiable blue-chipped patrolling CF.

Why the Rangers traded Edison Volquez could be described as "frustration." Volquez at the time was considered one of the true gems of the Rangers farm system. He had electric stuff; a 98 mile an HR fastball, and punchout material to spare. What he didn't have was his head on straight. Due to a lack of "maturity" both on and off the mound, the Rangers in spring 2007 not only demoted Volquez to the minors, but to single-A ball. They gave him a schedule; when to wake up, how often to shave, everything. Volquez responded by growing up and becoming a monster on the mound. After a rough bit in single A, he went 12-2 in AA and triple AAA. He also learned how to pitch, instead of just throwing really hard. The Rangers were impressed. So were the Reds, who noticed as well. When they proposed a trade for Hamilton, they demanded Volquez. No exceptions.

In 2008, both Hamilton and Volquez's numbers speak for themselves. In possibly the most notorious ballpark in the majors for pitchers, Volquez went 17-6, was 2nd in strikeouts, had a ERA+ of 140, 5th in the NL and was an All-Star. Hamilton led the AL in RBI with 130 and in total bases with 331. He had 32 HRs and batted .301. Both Hamilton and Volquez proved their new GMs very shrewd for the trade.

This year, injuries are the bane of both these young ballplayers. Hamilton has been seemingly chronicling injured this season, and his stats show it. His numbers are way down across the board, although he seems to be working off the rust recently—at least a little bit. Same could be said for Volquez. After a rough start to the year, he seemed to be pitching his way back into dominance. Then injury hit. And then hit again. First inflammation in his arm—thought to be mild—shut him down for a shot stint. Then after pitching one inning after coming off the DL, it was discovered to be much worse than thought—and Volquez was shut down for over a month. He's hoping to be back in Cincinnati soon.

Injuries aside, both teams benefited from this deal—and got exactly what they wanted, and more. Cincinnati got a promising frontline started with power-K stuff. And the Rangers got a excellent, athletic 5-tool CF young enough to make them not worry about CF for a decade.

The one thing everyone seems to forget about this deal is the other guy the Reds received. 24 year old, mighty mite Danny Herrera, all 5'6" 145 lbs of him, has been pretty solid himself since coming up to the big club this year. A specialist, who's holding lefties to a .266 OBP, has a 2.56 ERA and has 29 Ks in 38.2 innings. If he remains consistent, the Reds would have a commodity, a reliable lefty specialist who can come in and strike guys out.

So, as we wrote when we began, there really is no "winner" to this trade. No, in fact, it probably the most interesting trade in recent times because it is that remarkable and rare feat; a trade that benefits both teams

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Five

1. What would you rather see: A pitcher throw a perfect game or
someone hit for the cycle?

2. Have you watched the Erin Andrews video? Be honest.

3. Do you like soccer? Be honest.

4. Who is the best pitcher in the game right now?

5. Are sick of Tim Tebow a little?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Options

What if Sergio Mitre isn't the answer?

What if Sergio Mitre comes up and pitches for the Yankees, not like the guy who was 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA in AAA, but more like the guy with the lifetime 5.36 ERA and the 1.545 WHIP?

What do the Yankees do then?

With the report that Chien-Ming Wang was most likely lost for the year, the buzz in Yankee Universe was nearing panic mode. Joel Sherman of the Post fears if Mitre doesn't pan out, Kei Igawa is the next option. The overwhelming majority of Yankee fans in a Newsday poll said the Yankees should do whatever it takes to get Roy Halladay—even empty the farm system and pay him whatever he wants for as long as he wants. As stated previously: Panic is in the air.

When the Yankees came into the season they had a number of options at the 5th starter spot: Phil Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy. Now they have....Sergio Mitre.

So realistically, what are the options? Moving Phil Hughes back into the rotation is a move that is off the table, so sayeth Joe Girardi. Hughes has become too valuable as the eighth-inning guy and the time it would take to stretch him out and build him back up to a higher pitch count is prohibitive. And more to the point, an unsettled role would jeopardize Hughes' arm, something the Yankees really, really don't want to do.

Another in-house option would be to move Alfredo Aceves back into the rotation. Again Girardi rightly doesn't want to do that either. First off, it would greatly weaken the bullpen and overwork Rivera and Hughes. Secondly, Aceves' numbers as a starter are much worse across the board; as a reliever he's been dominating or close to it. So why move him from a spot he’s doing very well in to a position he doesn’t do well?

OK, so what are the other options? The Halladay trade rumors persist, but "unlikely" isn't a big enough word to describe that possibility. And neither is a trade for Eric Bedard or Cliff Lee; first Seattle is becoming less interested in trading him and second, the Indians want way too much for Lee. No, more likely would be a trade for someone low-key the Yankees could take a flier on. There has been some talk about Ian Snell, who was recently demoted—by his request—to AAA. Apparently, Snell blames his pitching woes on depression. A report on MSNBC earlier this month revealed that Snell was depressed, even suicidal playing in Pittsburgh and wanted a change. Since his demotion, Snell has a 0.34 ERA in 26 innings in AAA. Reports have Yankee scouts watching him pitch in AAA ball. And he can pitch in the bigs—when his head is right—as evidenced by his 23 wins in 2006 and 07. It's possible the Yankees could take a flier on him. It would cost nowhere near what Lee, Bedard or Halladay would, and really couldn’t hurt should Mitre fail.

Another interesting option, brought up by Buster Olney of ESPN, would be Justin Duchscherer of the Oakland A's. Duchscherer hasn't pitched in 2009 due to an elbow cleanup—but—he is a free agent next year and Oakland loves to sell high just before the trading deadline—the better to snag an array of prospects from a desperate playoff-hunt team. And while, yes, Duchscherer is as injury-prone as Elmer Fudd, his lifetime ERA is 3.14 and he has an ERA+ of 137. The A's wouldn't give Duchscherer away cheaply, but again, the cost wouldn't be that of Halladay, Bedard or Lee.

Another option mentioned is Aaron Harang. Problem with Harang is, even with his 4.17 ERA, he gives up a ton of hits—he's currently leading the NL in hits allowed with 143—and the majority of balls hit off him are in the air—almost 2-1 in fly balls vs. ground balls. In the new Yankee Stadium, that's a recipe for disaster.

Down on the farm, the Yankees can call up Casey Fossum, who's pitching well down there. Problem with Fossum is a tendency to give up a multitude of moon shot home runs—his ERA last year while playing in cavernous Comerica Park was 5.66. Scary stuff.

So, what to do? Well, prayer is an option—if your beliefs run that way. Or we could mortgage the farm for a Cliff Lee or Eric Bedard or some such. No, the best options, should Mitre flop, would be Snell or Duchscherer, if the cost were right. The Yankees made a trade deadline deal last year with the Pirates, so the communication is there. A deal could be possible.

Or there is one last option. a farm option: A guy who is in the top 15 in a bunch of AAA pitching stats and has a lifetime 3.53 AAA ERA. A guy with big league experience.

But I have a feeling the Yankees aren't going to rely on Kei Igawa.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Transactions....

The Raiders, draft gurus extraordinaire have already waived their 6th round draft pic, defensive end, Stryker Sulak. See, that's what's wrong with the franchise. They get rid of guys named "Stryker Sulak."


Funny report out of San Francisco. Insane football coach, Mike Singletary, reportedly made rookie WR Michael Crabtree cry during practice. Apparently forgetting that this isn't Texas Tech anymore, the rookie WR disobeyed orders and starting running on his newly healed foot before doctor's cleared him to. Coach Mike didn't like that. However, Singletary himself swears he spoke to Crabtree and just told him to stop, no screaming. That doesn't sound so bad, so why then the tears. Well, if anyone remembers how scary Singletary was when he was MLB for the Bears, how intimidating he was, then maybe you wouldn't blame Crabtree so much.Back in his prime, Singletary could put the fear of God into God himself.


A Yankee fan web site wrote an interesting article on why Joba Chamberlain's velocity has gone down—something that has Yankee fans murmuring in fear all season. In a nutshell, this blogger's contention is that the velocity is down on purpose. Here's a quote from the blogger:

Joba has added a hesitation in his arm action just after he breaks his hands for his breaking balls. This hesitation helps prevent his arm from rushing through his wind-up which helps him have better control of his pitches. At first, Joba’s arm was too fast for his body and this threw his timing off. Now he gives his body more time to get in front so he could deliver a strike. Joba began using this hesitation with his fastball as well. He would use this hesitation whenever he wanted to increase the likelihood of throwing a strike. What you get out of this though is a fastball with more command and less velocity.
Interesting stuff, but considering that Chamberlain's walks are way up this year, his Ks are down and he has already hit 10 batters so far, I can't say that its working. What Joba did yesterday, go after batters aggressively, not waste pitches by being too cute and getting ahead on hitters. Especially later in the game, when Chamberlain seemed to gain more confidence after a shaky start, he went after the Tiger lineup and dominated, striking 5 out of the last 6 batters he faced. IMO, Joba Chamberlain can throw some nasty stuff. And now it seems he's learning to pitch some nasty stuff as well.


Watching Mike Mussina pitch Old Timer's Day yesterday (which was really weird btw, him pitching just 8 months ago and now pitching to 70 year old guys), the thought came up: "Does Mussina make it to the Hall of Fame?" Going against him, he never won a Cy Young or a World Series ring. He didn't make it to 300 wins (though by his choice, he could have probably made it if he dragged his career out a few more years). And while he was a really good pitcher, he was never really a dominant pitcher; never one of the "best" of his generation, like Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson. On the plus side, he has a spectacular win-loss percentage, 270 wins to 153 losses. He's 88th all-time for adjusted ERA+, tied with Juan Marichal and ahead of guys like Bob Feller and Don Drysdale. He's 14th all-time in BB/K ratio. He's 19th all-time in strikeouts, has 7 Gold Gloves and—more important than people might think—he was well liked by the sportswriters. So how does all of this shake out.....I don't think Mussina makes it. He has an outside shot, but I just don't see him in there.


The NBA is the strangest place. Every summer, during free agents, guys like Paul Millsap get fought over/ridiculous money despite the most pedestrian of stats. Then, the second the season starts, all these teams try to dump these gargantuan contracts shackled to their roster. Seriously, Paul Millsap is an undersized PF who averages 13 points and 8 boards a game. How the heck does he get 32 million for 4 years? Guarantee that somewhere down the road, you'll hear about the Jazz trying to trade him to take his salary off their hands. Same thing for the Nuggets and the 5 years, 26 million dollar bomb they donated to Chris Andersen (6 pts per game, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks), and the Magic who resigned the immortal Marcin Gortat (4 pts, 4.5 rebounds 0.8 blocks per game, 5 years, 34 million).


A couple of weeks ago, I said that an interesting rumor floating out there was that the Braves, who had solid starting pitching—and Tim Hudson coming off the DL soon— might be interested in trading Javier Vasquez. Well forget that. Since June 18th, Vasquez has thrown a 1.08 ERA, and that includes games against the Red Sox, and Phillies. Unless some team is prepared to give up their stadium, their entire minor league system and the Ghost of Babe Ruth, Vasquez won't be going anywhere this year.


And lastly, it was great to see Don Zimmer at Yankee Stadium yesterday for Old Timer's Day. The man is baseball made roly-poly flesh. He should be allowed to go into whatever stadium he wants.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Camera

There was an interesting article on baseball TV angles in, of all places, in Slate magazine. Greg Hanlon wrote on July 1st about the oddness of the camera angles most TV stations use for ballgames. The majority of TV camera are behind the pitcher 15 degrees to the left. Therefore viewers at home get a skewed view of the strike zone. However, if the camera was set directly behind the pitched, but elevated a bit, viewers would get to see exactly how the ball breaks, where it crosses the plate—all without trying to guess the skew. For instance, look at the picture below.OK, so if the view is better, why don't more teams use it. Well, one reason is, many stadiums have other things where the camera should be: Luxury boxes, restaurants, bleachers, etc. But there has to be a way around this, no. As Tom Adza, who directs Oakland A's telecasts for Fox Sports Bay Area, says, "In sports TV, we've spent so much money to get better looks at what's happening in a game. But here we show thousands of baseball games on TV every year, and we're not showing the angle that gives the most exact information."

Exactly, why the heck is this outdated, and inferior angle still used. Why, when the Yankees spent the national debt building their new stadium, didn't they switch the camera podium to the better, dead-on angle. The Red Sox, for one, switched the camera angle to the dead center view for their local broadcasts and the results and feedback have been positive. Why haven't other teams done it? As of this writing, only 3 teams, Boston, St. Louis and Minnesota have the
dead center view. All of the MLB's other teams, who claim to want the best for their fans, should switch as well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Five

Taking a cue from a fellow blogger, I decided to have a quiz: Anyways write in with your answers.

1. If you could see one oldtime stadium that's gone, which one would you see?

2. Which athlete has the hottest wife/girlfriend?

3. You can have one pitcher (throughout all of baseball history) on the mound with 2 outs, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded in the World Series. Who would you have pitch?

4. Same question, except who would be batting? Again, anyone in the history of baseball.

5. If you could live one life; Derek Jeter's or Tom Brady's, who would you choose.

Can't wait to see your answers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ridiculous Dream

It being an off day for the Yankees and the Yankees on a mini-losing streak, the local papers have decided to try to give credence to the biggest fantasy of all Yankee fans: that is, Doc Halladay to the Yankees.

Kevin Keenan of the New York Post said it’s the right move for the Yankees to go and get Roy Halladay. Oh really? Well, then the Yankees should snap their fingers and make that happen. Never mind that to get Halladay to agree to a trade they would have to sign him to a budget-busting contract that would take him well into his late 30s—well after he starts to decline. Check out the article in SI written by Joe Posnanski and Bill James about the phenomenon of ballplayers turning 33 and the precipitous drop in their skills. Guess how old Holliday is? 32.

And never mind that the Yankees would have to give up a bunch of top prospects for an aging player. Think Austin Jackson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Melancon or Jesus Montero. And would have to take He Who Was Once Vernon Wells, who's signed through 2014 and owed nearly a 110 million in a huge back-loaded deal. Which would give the Yankees 5 of the 9 biggest contracts in baseball, with 3 of those recipients 30 or older. And that doesn't include the gargantuan deal they Yankees would have to bestow Halladay.

Anthony Rieber of Newsday feels that if the Yankees offer to take Vernon Wells with Halladay, that should be enough. Maybe through in Gardner, Melky and/or a few low-level prospects, and then Toronto would jump. What? Are you kidding me? The Yankees would have to take both, and then throw in Hughes, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero and then Toronto might flinch.

"No young talent should be off limits," continues Kernan. Never mind that for years, sportswriters eviscerated the Yankees doing just that, trading young talent for expensive aging stars. Doug Drabek for Rich Rhoden. Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps. Bob Tewksbury for Steve Trout. Fred McGriff for Dale Murray. Willie McGee for Bob Sykes. Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield. The list goes on.

All of this ignores the number 1 reason why the Blue Jays wouldn't trade Halladay to the Yankees. Because they would have to face him. And their fan base—what's left of it; 26th of out 30 in MLB—would desert them. Forever. Could you imagine if the Yankees went on to win the World Series this year with Halladay? Or the Red Sox? It would be the Blue Jays worst nightmare ever.

No, the Blue Jays—if they have any brains left—will trade Halladay to the Dodgers or Phillies. Or maybe the Rockies, where Halladay is from....anywhere outside the American League, and nowhere near the American League East. The Phillies were ranked 12th in Baseball America's organizational farms system rankings. Surely they would give up a few blue-chippers for Halladay. Especially with the way Hamels has pitched of late.

OK, maybe this article is a little overstated. Of course, it would be super-fantastic if the Yankees got Halladay. My point is, the way the tabloids write it up—it's not only inevitable, but impossible for it not to happen. And it's more likely than it's not, that the deal won't happen. The Blue Jays would want a mint plus the Statue of Liberty from the Yankees to keep him in the division. And Halladay would want a huge paycheck (think Sabathia-esque) well into his declining skill days.

So sure, Yankee fans. Dream of a playoff rotation of Sabathia, Halladay and Burnett. Just understand, it is most likely a dream. A wonderful, ridiculous dream.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Transactions....

The more I look at the Giants draft, the more I think their GM is the best GM in football today.

Did you catch Antonio Cromartie's excuse for not playing well last year. Was it because he was injured, or teams adjusted to his style of play? No, it was he was named in—wait for it—5 paternity cases. Oh, and that's not all. He's got 7 kids living in 5 different states. Dude, impressive start to your sports career. You've earned the honorary Shawn Kemp "Babydaddy of the Year."

Why the heck would the Kansas City Royals trade their best minor league pitching prospect (according to Baseball America) for freakin' Yuniesky Betancourt. The worst fielding shortstop in the majors last year (according to Bill James Fielding Bible), it's doubly bad because he can't even hit. Batting .250 his OBP is a sickly .278. And also, the Royals are stuck paying 8 million of his remaining contract which runs through 2011. Smoking the wacky weed apparently, The Kansas City Star love the trade. For me, though, he's a bust.

With all the focus on Halladay, let's not forget Matt Holliday. The Boston Globe has said that with Holliday starting to hit better (though not necessarily for power), and the A's 12 or so games out and falling, it might be time for Oakland to ship him for prospects. God knows the Mets could use him.


Seriously, I hope Fausto Carmona comes back to they way he pitched in 2007—and its entirely possible he might—but getting rocked by a AAA club and giving up 2 doubles and a homer. Silver lining, he only gave up 2 walks which is way down from his previous starts the past two seasons.


Have to say, watching Jeter this weekend, the man is a marvel. At 35, he is still batting over .310 and is on his way to 30 stolen bases. Oh, and he's on pace to hit more than 20 HRs and could challenge his personal record of 219 hits. Amazing.

And last, but not least, this one goes out to Sweet Lou out in Chicago.....with the performance your team is putting on this year....it might be time to hang 'em up. No offence, but if the Cubs,—with that talent, that rotation and those sluggers—flame out and miss the playoffs, I think it would be time to retire to that big chair in your living room and watch the games on TV.

Halfway Point

With the All Star break upon us, let's take a quick look at what most of us thought before the season began, and how our prognostications turned out.

The Races: Most of us picked the three big cities; New York, Chicago and L.A. to win each of the divisions respectively in both leagues. And so far in the 3 A.L. divisions and in the NL West, not bad. The Yankees are in the thick of it in the AL East, the White Sox are 2.5 out and the Angels have a .5 game lead on the surprising Rangers. In the NL West, the Dodgers all but ran away with the division in May. However, the Mets, with injuries to a number of people have completely imploded and should start thinking about next year. And the Cubs, with all that talent, have to be considered the disappointment of the year, only being .500 at this point. At. 3.5 games out though, they could still come back in the second half and win it all. They have the talent, but with Pinella at the helm, its not surprising they seem a little schizophrenic.

The Cy Youngs: Nobody thought Zach Grienke was going to be this good. Even slipping a little lately, his ERA is still at 2.12. As of now, he is the Cy Young frontrunner for the AL, and nobody, including me, predicted that.
In the NL, Tim Lincecum is not only matching last year's numbers, he's bettering them with 10 wins and 149 Ks. As is Dan Haren, who with Brandon Webb injured, stepped up to produce a sick 2.00 ERA. At the halfway point, they are neck and neck for the NL Cy Young.

The MVPs: With Joe Mauer leading almost every important offensive category in the AL (Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging, OPS) plus already hitting more HRs in this season than in any other season he's played—it might be hard to pick anyone else. That said, Ben Zobrist, Miquel Cabrera (my preseason pick), Torii Hunter and Mauer's teammate, Justin Mourneau should be considered as well.
In the NL, I picked Hanley Ramierez just to pick someone not named Pujols. Silly me, Pujols wins this award every year he plays, and this year is no exception.

Rookie Of The Year: In the AL, most of us picked Matt Wieters, (Mauer with power) and while he's been ok, Ricky Romero of the Blue Jays has quietly put up a sub 3.00 ERA, although don't count out Jeff Nieman or David Price, who are in position to make strong second half runs.
In the NL—with all the respect I can give to Colby Rasmus, who is having a fine rookie year, Tommy Hanson's numbers; 2.85 ERA, .219 BAA, give him the edge in my book. I had both in my top 5 as Rookie of the year candidates, but had Cameron Maybin as my ROTY pick. Ooooops.

Overall, not terrible in my preseason picks. However, there's still a lot of baseball left. Enjoy the rest of the season.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Players I Wished I Saw: Sandy Koufax


Take a look at the stats above: Seriously, click on the image and blow up the image, so you can read it. The stats are video game ridiculous—they don't seem real. But they are. Sandy Koufax earned them.

Stats are all my generation—and the generations that followed—have to go on with Sandy Koufax. But the stats are remarkable. And while the '60s were notorious for being a pitcher's decade: with guys like Denny McClain, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, and Juan Marichal putting up absolutely dominating numbers. And the hitters had to endure as best they could. For instance, the AL 1965 MVP, some guy named Zoilo Versalles with a .274 BA, 19 HRs and 77 RBI. Definitely a pitcher's decade.

But still that means nothing. Sandy Koufax, even in an era of pitching dominance was in a class by himself. The most unlikeliest of dominators—soft-spoken, shy, bookish—yet, on the mound, Sandy was all business. Even ruthless.

Here's just a few of his career stats. The 1st person to win the Pitcher's Triple Crown twice since 1937, Koufax did it 3 times between 1962 and 1966, and only injury likely prevented him from winning a 4th. In those years, he had a cumulative 2.02 ERA, a .926 WHIP and averaged 288 Ks a season. In 1963, he had 11 shutouts. The last time anybody had double digit shutouts was in 1985. Last year, Tim Lincecum, Joel Pineiro and Zack Grienke led the MLB with 2. Roy Halladay—known for being a hoss, innings-eater kind of pitcher has 12 shutouts. For his career.

Koufax was the first pitcher to win multiple Cy Young Awards, as well as the first pitcher to win a Cy Young Award by a unanimous vote. And all 3 of his Cy Youngs, he won unanimously.

But what makes Koufax's numbers even more astounding is that for a good chunk of his career, Koufax played with arthritis in his elbow. And while it hurt him every day, and especially while pitching, Koufax never complained to anyone. His arm once turned black and blue from hemorrhaging during the night. Oftentimes he wouldn't be able to straighten it and it would swell to the size of his knee. Years later, doctors eventually discovered that Koufax stretched the ligament in his arm so much that it allowed two bones to rub together. " He must have been dying from pain." a doctor would say about his condition.

As a result of his pined elbow, Koufax tipped off his pitches, keeping his elbows in different positions during the windup depending on which pitch he was going to throw. Didn't matter. Even knowing what pitch was coming, they couldn't hit it anyway.

For the rest of his career, Koufax would have to take a battery of drugs just to keep playing. Despite the arthritic elbow, Koufax pitched 3 times in 8 days and both games 5 and 7 of the 1965 World Series. In game 7 his arm hurt so bad, he couldn't throw a curveball—so he just used his fastball the entire game. Both game 5 and 7 were shutouts.

His last season, 1966, Koufax was told not to pitch another season, or he might lose his arm. He did, one last time, and put up a 27-9 record and a 1.73 ERA. After the season, Koufax retired at age 30. "I don't regret for one minute the 12 years I've spent in baseball," he said, "but I could regret one season too many."In 1972, at age 36, Koufax was the youngest player ever voted into the Hall of Fame.

Years later, Vin Scully recalled, at a charity golf event, a pro golfer said to Koufax that he would shoot better if he straightened his arm on his follow-through. Koufax replied, "If I could straighten my arm, I'd still be pitching." By that time, Koufax had had surgery on his neck, back, both knees and his shoulder.

Maybe it's because he's a Brooklyn guy like me. Maybe its because, in America in the 1960s, he was second fiddle to Drysdale (Koufax was shy and Jewish, Drysdale was blond and blue-eyed and outgoing) and I always appreciate guys who are maybe a little left-of-center. Or maybe because so many guys who saw him pitched all used the same words when talking about him. "He just blew hitters away." "He had movement on his pitches like you couldn't believe." "He was the best." But since I couldn't see him, I watch videos of him over and over. And you know what? The old guys were right. He blew people away with his untouchable fastball, then dropped his sick curve like a bomb on them. Go to 1:20 of the 2nd video video to see his curve.

He was one of the best, if not the best lefty of all time. And while the videos are great to watch, man, do I wish I could have seen him play.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Long Song For Joe Girardi

Pretty much from that day in late 2007 when Joe Torre turned down the Yankees "offer" Joe Girardi was screwed.

At least with the fan base. The Yankee fan base loved Joe Torre. "Mr. Torre" as Derek Jeter always called him, was the sole man responsible for 1996, Derek Jeter and the tickertape parades. Or at least that's how it seemed. And this is not to knock Joe Torre; he was a good manager. But the guy coming behind him, coming next, was screwed, no matter how well he managed.

The blogs and chants to fire Joe Girardi began almost immediately. Halfway through the 2008 campaign, whispers began, the Internet crackled; "Just Fire Joe Girardi already!" "Girardi is terrible!" And so on Even up until now. After a 2 game losing streak last month, the Internet was fuming with calls for Girardi’s head.

Kneejerk reactions aside, Joe Girardi has his team 1 game out of first place and is 1 of the best teams in baseball right now, as they have seem to have found the right mix of players to take them through the rest of the year. More to the point, I think Joe Girardi is a good manager.

Let's begin with last year, when the calls for Girardi's head began before we were even halfway through the season. As most sportswriters should have known, Girardi came into 2008 in a bad situation. Not only was he replacing a beloved legend, he was handed an aging, creaky team, and conversely, was told to give untested, unproved players real chances to prove their worth on the Opening Day roster. And don't forget—this is New York. "Rebuilding" and "patience" don't happen here.

Not surprisingly, Jason Giambi underwhelmed, Bobby Abreu seemed terrified to go back on a fly ball and Jorge Posada broke down. So did Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, all of whom missed time. Oh, and every pitcher under the age of 28 seemingly got hurt. Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Albaladejo and a myriad of other players were unable to answer the bell, so guys like Darrell Rasner, Sidney Ponson, Kei Igawa, the aforementioned not-ready-for-prime-time Ian Kennedy (before he checked out with his injury), the always hilarious Carl Pavano, and Dan Giese. Heck, even lifer bullpen man, Brian Bruney had to start a game (and was relieved by the immortal Billy Trauber). Handed that scenario, how do you think anyone would do? Well, Merlin couldn’t have done better than Girardi. In fact, Girardi's 2008 decimated and overwhelmed pitching staff outperformed Torre's 2007 staff; 4.28 to 4.50—and that 4.50 was with a Stadium-seasoned Roger Clemens and a healthy 19-game winner in Chien-Ming Wang, as well as Scott Proctor, Mike Myers and a ridiculous Joba in the pen.

Joe Girardi knows how to handle a staff. I don't think it’s any fluke that the bullpen's ERA dropped precipitously from 2007 to 2009. And I don't think it should be surprising that Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain have adjusted extremely well to their roles in the staff. Everybody and their mother thought A. J. Burnett was going to have a rough time adjusting to New York—go ahead, search the web; you'll find a jillion articles saying just that—and take a look at how's he's done. 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA, and on a pace for over 200 K's. Think maybe he found a comfort level here, right away, something a lot of pitchers have problems with when they first come to New York. Also, take a look how Phil Hughes has performed in his role since being shifted to the pen. (A role I'm ecstatic he's keeping for the rest of the year, even with Wang's injury—nothing screws up a young pitcher faster than continually shifting him around.) Since being shifted to the pen, and being given a license to relearn his talent as a young phenom and just "let it rip," Hughes has responded with a 1.23 ERA, a .614 WHIP and a .120 Batting Average Against.


The bullpen, an area where Torre was often criticized, has become a strength under Girardi. Early this season, it took a while for Girardi to find what he had out there. Now, it's arguably the best bullpen in the American League. In the last 13 games, the pen has rocked a 2.10 ERA. Considering that a boatload of innings in the beginning of the year were given to guys who were counted on to be a big part of the Yankees staff, who then underperformed and are no longer with the team—Jose Veras, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez and Mark Melancon (not to mention Brett Tomko, who is still way, way back in the pen)—forcing Girardi to switch on the fly; considering all that, and that the pen is performing as well as it has been over the past month (only a 29% Inherited Runners Score percentage and a 72% Save Percentage), is remarkable. Finding roles for Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves has worked out, to say the least.

The rotation has done well, too. New York is notorious for being hard on new pitchers with big new Yankee contracts. Ask Mike Mussina, Jeff Weaver, Kenny Rogers, Denny Neagle, Roger Clemens, etc, etc. Yankee fans know that just throwing a pile of money at a good pitcher doesn’t mean he is going to come to the Stadium and achieve great success. There is usually a long adjustment period to playing in New York. If there is ever one at all.

That said, it is remarkable how well Sabathia and Burnett have taken to playing for Girardi and Dave Eiland. Both have ERAs in the 3.7-3.8 range and both are on course for 18-20 wins. Remarkable that such a former pitcher’s catcher and now “clueless manager” (as one writer called him) could have such success with pitchers. In fact, take out Chien Ming Wang's mega injury-bloated ERA (rushed back by Brian Cashman, not Girardi) and the starters have a 4.04 ERA.

OK. Maybe Girardi did wait too long to bench Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano last year, but boy, did he send the right message. Since his benching, Cabrera has been a much more solid player, batting .280, and a mensch-worthy .362 with the game "late and close." Robinson Cano, likewise, after his benching last year has responded very well. Hitting coach Kevin Long was assigned to "watch over" Cano during the off-season. Cano has responded by hitting over .300 this year and playing a better 2nd base. Also, Francisco Cervelli's performance has been nothing short of revelatory. For a guy who was batting .190 in AA before being called up, to now be hitting .260—well, something is working. And the staff loves him, pitching at a better clip than when Posada is in there.

And the switch of Jeter and Damon in the order—something I was against at first—has worked out pretty well. Last year the 1st and 2nd batting slots on the Yankees—occupied mostly by Damon and Jeter, respectively, batted .291 and .287. This year, with Jeter leading off and Damon batting 2nd, those two spots in the order are hitting .318 and .302. Also, Jeter has 39 walks—he had 52 all of last year. Likewise, Damon has 39 walks so far—he had 64 all of last year. Jeter also has 10 HRs so far; he had 11 all of last year; and 17 stolen bases; he had 11 last year. Jeter and Damon also both have higher OPS+ numbers. While this can't all be attributed to switching their batting positions, it does seem to support the fact that they have both fit comfortably into their new roles.

And let's not forget that Girardi won Manager of the Year while with the Marlins. And he won because, after the Marlin's fire sale, management gave him a bunch of guys they pulled from the phone book, put them on the field and told Girardi, "Go manage." And up until halfway through September, Girardi had these guys in the playoff race.

Since the slow 15-17 start—with Alex Rodriguez just back from the IR and his bullpen completely failing him—the Yankees have gone 34-17. A .666 clip. Not too shabby, eh?

But the most important thing is that Girardi has shown some flexibility. There were complaints he was a little dictatorial last season, so he became less so this year, shortening preseason practices and trying to reach out more to veterans. There were some complaints that he ran his players too hard, so now we have the A-Rod Day Off each week. He may not be Bobby Valentine sitting in the dugout with Groucho Marx nose glasses, but he is willing to adjust when he has to.

This is not to say there haven't been bumps—Girardi has done some overmanaging. For example, there have been far too many sacrifice bunts for a team that has the lineup they do. And he still goes a little too long with his starting pitchers into games (Andy Pettitte), and sometimes replaces pitchers who are working when he feels another pitcher might be better (removing Phil Hughes for Brian Bruney). But heck, one night sportswriters complain when he doesn’t bring in Rivera in the 8th, then the next night, when he does bring him in, they complain he is overusing Rivera. That's New York.

But just because he manages under a microscope of media and fan scrutiny doesn't mean he deserves to be fed to the wolves. And just because we sure did like the previous manager a whole bunch, doesn't mean that the new guy is terrible. As a matter of fact, I for one think he's doing a pretty good job.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Transactions....

Told you the Mets needed a power bat. In a big rivalry series against the Phillies, the Mets—in a HR-friendly park—totalled exactly zero HRs, in getting swept by Philadelphia. In fact, the Mets totalled 3 runs, 3 doubles and 21 total bases in the 3 games. It may be too late now, but maybe not. The Mets are 2-8 in their last 10 games, and are in 4th place, 4 games out of first. If they are gonna do anything, the have to do it now.


Does "Rafa" bother you guys at all? Not the tennis player, the nickname. I'm sorry, don't mean to offend, but it irritates the bejeezus out of me when broadcasters call him "Rafa." Is Rafa-el too hard to say?


Speaking of silly tennis subjects, what's with people complaining about "grunting" on the court. Really? is this a problem. Who cares? I mean, sure, decorum is fine and all, but really. These are athletes trying their hardest to win; if grunting is part of the game, then leave it alone.


Looks like the Pirates are doing their annual pre-deadline trading frenzy to dump salary. Hopefully, at least, unlike previous salary dumps, they might actually get something good in return. The early returns on last year's big trades, however, have not been promising. Jose Tabata has seemed to have leveled off at AA-ball. Craig Hansen is a wash. Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf are journeymen. And Bryan Morris is mediocre at the A+ level. From last year's trades, only Andy LaRoche seems to be doing anything. Let's hope, for the poor Pirates fans sake, that this year's trades are better.


Interesting article on the new Yankee Stadium HR "surge." In the end, the slight differences in dimensions are not responsible for the spike in HRs at the new place. Through June 30th, a scientific study shows that comparing the slightly different dimensions would only account for 5 more HRs in the new park. What is it then, wind tunnels? Poorer pitching. Whatever it is, the Yankees should definitely look into it. They don't want a bandbox for a home stadium—the pitchers would hate it, and the team would have a difficult time winning. Ask the Rockies.


Interesting speculation regarding the Vikings. No not just the Brett Farve rumors, but actually Marvin Harrison. The scuttle is that Harrison wants to keep on playing and that the Vikings coaching staff might be interested, but presumably only if they can get Brett to sign on the dotted line.


Some more interesting scuttle—this time involving the Braves. Word has it that they might be interested in trading Javier Vasquez, even though Vasquez has been lights out—a 3.07 ERA and a WHIP barely above 1.00. Why try to trade him them. See, the Braves have a bunch of good starters, Jurrjens, Lowe, Hansen, etc. And with Tim Hudson expected back within the month, they might actually have too many starting pitchers. Also, the Braves can't hit HRs. At all. Their .396 slugging percentage and their 63 total HRs are among the worst in the league. And seeing that they are only 4 games out of the NL East lead, they might start looking for a trading partner and try to pick up a bat. Matt Holliday? Jason Bay? Adam Dunn? Stay tuned.


And finally, those fashionistas, the Oregon Ducks have unveiled yet another new uniform. Apparently deciding that their myriad of fashion mistakes over the past decade (see below) wasn't yet complete, the Ducks displayed their new crime against sports fashion. Actually their 5 crimes, as their new unis have a whole bunch of different looks—all of them atrocities. Really Oregon, stop these crimes against young athletes. We beg you.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I Watch

This past week has served up two examples that reminded me of why I watch sports.

Mariano Rivera, the amazing Yankee reliever, earned career save number 500. (Actually he's up to 537, if you include postseason saves.) He's been doing this for a decade and half now—coming into a game, mowing down hitters, going home. So dominating is he, so regular as clockwork, that if he actually blows a couple of saves, the usual media suspects start to question, "Is Mo slipping?" They've been doing this for years now. And Rivera's answer is simply to put up the same mind-blowing numbers again, year after year.

This season, when people were writing him off, saying he was losing it, getting old, all Rivera has done is keep his WHIP below his career average to the tune of .923. And he's raised his SO/BB rate to the highest of his career, a ridiculous 14.00.

Actually, Rivera has done two amazing things. Aside from his lengthy dominance on the mound, he has, in a media-saturated town, managed to be the best at what he does for over a decade—at a position that usually burns people up in a few years—and remain out of the spotlight. Almost underrated. There's never been any paparazzi shot of him at a club. No shouting matches with a manager. No commercials. There's hardly a picture of him on Google without one of his Yankee uniforms on. No one has ever rushed the mound at him. Nothing. Just Mariano coming out of the pen, shutting down the other side. End of story.

You've all heard the numbers: the first all-time in adjusted ERA...by a galactic 40 points. 17th all-time in ERA; with the sixteen in front of him all from the 19-teens, deadball era. Lowest career ERA in the postseason ever (0.77 ERA in 117.1 innings pitched). 3rd all-time on the SO/BB ratio. Most saves saved in a World Series (9, Rollie Fingers is 2nd with 6.) 3rd lowest WHIP all-time, and the 2 pitchers ahead of him last pitched in 1917 and 1910.

While compiling these video game numbers, throughout it all, there's been a sense of class. Of quiet dignity. Rarely anything but a "Just my job" type of walk off the mound and a handshake for his catcher. Nothing gets to him, even when he fails. And yes, he has failed. He gave up a huge home run against Cleveland in 1997, just four outs from the Yankees winning the AL Championship. He blew the 9th inning of game 7 of the 2001 World Series with a throwing error and a bloop single. And though giving up only one run the entire 2004 Championship Series, the Red Sox beat him and went to the World Series. Even still, Rivera retains that quiet confidence, that inner peace. No matter is it’s a meaningless game in April or the World Series, Rivera remains Rivera.

Former reliever, Goose Gossage once said that "...even if the hitters beat Rivera, they never get to him. Rivera does not scream or throw his hat or kick over water coolers; he won’t give them the satisfaction."

Of course it does get to him—the game means so much to him, and he has such respect for it— he just won't show it. “And I never will,” Rivera has said. “Never. You can’t let them get to you. You have to be the same, no matter what.”

To him, getting the 500th save was him just doing his job. Just another day. Another reliever, Trevor Hoffman, once said this about him, "Rivera will go down as the best reliever in the game in history. His presence in the postseason is so strong that the other team knows that if they’re losing in the eighth inning, they are going to lose.....I'm in awe of what he's been able to do.”

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Last year, this very blog called the Wimbledon finals match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the best match I've ever seen. And it wasn't just me; John McEnroe, the Sporting News, ESPN and a legion of other people and web sites all said the same thing. Unfortunately, for Roger Federer, he lost.

Despite the fact that he had won Wimbledon 5 times in a row, that he was widely considered to be the greatest tennis player in the world, if not ever, despite the fact that he had set a record for being the number one ranked tennis player for a preposterous 237 weeks, Roger Federer wept.

It mattered that much to him. He had won it 5 times in a row, yet still he cried because it meant that much to him.

In an era where players only play hard in their "contract year" or walk off the field before the game is over, or claim "it's only practice," to see a player not achieve as much as Federer has, but to see that it still matters to him this much, is a pleasure. If players take plays off at defensive end, or jog after a fly ball over their head, why should we care?

And like Rivera, there's never been a controversy with him. All the other players in tennis consider him a friend, even his rivals. He makes a point to be gracious to the ballboys and the security guards. When asked if it was true that some players dislike Andy Roddick, even off the record, Federer only said nice things about him.

After last year's devastating loss in Wimbledon, Federer lost again to Rafael Nadal in Australia in straight sets. Federer was devastated. Like Rivera, his defeats got to him, truly bothered him. But like Rivera, he regrouped and tried again. And he went out and beat Nadal in Madrid, ending Nadal's 33-game winning streak on clay. Then all he did after that was come back from down 2 sets, to eventually win the French Open and complete a Career Grand Slam. Then he turned around and won Wimbledon—the place of his greatest nightmare—by winning the longest men's singles final (in terms of games played) in Grand Slam history with 77 games played. With that nail in the coffin, Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player to ever play the game.

And these guys are the reasons I watch sports. And because of Michael Phelps and Peyton Manning. And because of Greg Maddux, Don Mattingly, Michael Jordan and Bjorn Born. The late great, Vince Lombardi said, It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up." Both these men have been hit, and hit hard in their sports career. But they kept going. They kept trying. Rivera was "finished" according to writers as far back as 2004. Since then Rivera has accrued 167 saves (so far). Federer, likewise was called "done" last year when Nadal beat him in the French, British and Australian Opens. All he's done since then is defeat Nadal on his favorite surface, and win three Grand Slams. And they've both done it with grace, civility and sportsmanship.

The great John Wooden once said, "Sports do not build character, they reveal it." In the cases of the two men who achieved milestones this week, that is most certainly true.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Phil Hughes A Reliever?

In 1995, when Mariano Rivera was a rookie, he came to the big club from the minors as a starter. The results were mixed, to be kind. In 10 starts, batters hit .306 of Rivera and 8 HRs to the tune of a 5.94 ERA. The following year, new manager Joe Torre put Rivera in the pen. Rivera responded by striking out 130 in 107 innings with a WHIP under 1.0. The rest is history.

Phil Hughes career as a starter has been mixed at best. His career ERA as a starter is 5.22, but that number doesn't tell the whole story. At times, Hughes appears to be dominating, in complete control, almost toying with hitters. At other times, he appears tentative, lost, almost afraid to use his arsenal and his prodigious talent. However, after moving to the pen earlier this season, the light has come on for Hughes. Opponents, hitting .276 off him this season as a starter, are now batting a paltry .116 off Hughes as a reliever. His ERA was a 5.45 as a starter; it's 1.38 as a reliever.

But that's not all. Hughes appears more confident on the mound, more aggressive. Freed from the starter's mentality of every 5th day, Hughes seems to come into the game and unload, give everything he has and attack hitters. Hughes confidence has gone up and so has his velocity, which has touched 96, 97 since his move to the pen, up from the 92 range as a starter. And with his new found velocity and his aggressiveness, his WHIP has dropped almost a full point from 1.5 to .615. And his SO/BB ratio has gone from 2.07 to an astounding 5.33.

However the Yankees have stated publicly that Hughes is a starter, not a reliever. Why? Yes, I know the whole debate of starter vs. reliever and which is more valuable. And yes, a starter pitches more innings, so therefore more innings = more value. Tell that to Mariano Rivera.

This year, batters hit roughly .230 off of Hughes up to his 50th pitch. After that, batters averages jump to about .300. His SO/BB walk ratio is a very good 4.40 in the first 25 pitches; it immediately drops to 1.71 in the next 25. The first time opponents see Phil Hughes in a game this year, they hit a paltry .191. The next time through; .321.

The bloggers have been writing a lot about this subject; mostly to the tune of "OK, fine. But next year you put him back in the rotation." OK, maybe. Maybe Hughes is just a young guy who has to learn to develop into a starting pitcher. But maybe not. Maybe Hughes is a natural born reliever. Maybe the Yankees should play to his strengths, which, like Mariano Rivera, may fall into the reliever role. Wouldn't it be better to have a shutdown reliever in the pen—possibly a future stud closer, then a mediocre starter? To whit, out of 7 starts this season, Hughes only had 2 quality starts.

Overall, I'm not saying the absolutely, without question, Phil Hughes should be in the pen. Its very possible that Hughes will develop into a fine starter. Maybe even a great one. All I'm saying is that the argument that he should absolutely be a starter shouldn't be so absolute. There is precedent. Just ask Mariano Rivera.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The List

There's an unconfirmed list of the 2003 baseball players who tested positive. As you may recall the list was supposed to remain anonymous and confidential. yet, of course, it didn't. First, A-Rod's name somehow leaked right before the season and Selena Robert's hatchet job of a book. How's that for a coincidence? And then, right after Sammy Sosa officially retired, whoops, his name gets leaked out. Now how did that happen?

Now, not to defend these guys. In my eyes, they are cheats and deserve what they get. But this is wrong. Whether you agree with the 2003 agreement or not, there was an agreement. And the date and siuation of the first two leaks makes me think that they were intentional leaks, which isn't right.

In any case, here's the link to the unofficial list. If you want, go read it.

http://www.rotoinfo.com/read_article.php?articleId=318