Monthly archives: March 2007
A WSJ Writer Stands Up For Blogs
From today's Wall Street Journal book reviews:
The only dud in this quartet of books is George Castle's "Baseball and the Media" (University of Nebraska, 262 pages, $24.95). Subtitled "How Fans Lost in Today's Coverage of the Game," it is a cri de coeur by a veteran sportswriter who complains that "elitism and arrogance, as bad as any practiced by wealthy players, exist among the pen-and-mike crowd."
Not surprising that the book is called a dud: It's just another grumpy reporter expressing his frustration, this time in book form, with the changing media world. Some people will never change.
The reviewer, Russ Smith, made me smile, though, with his final paragraph:
Actually, it could be argued that fans have never been better served by "the media" if that includes games from all over the country on MLB.com; ESPN and sports-talk-radio; and, gasp, baseball blogs, some of which are excellent sources of information and analysis. Sure, as Mr. Castle says, much of it is "entertainment," not "journalism." But, hey, it's just a game the best game, but still a game.
TIC Projection: NL Central
Predictions and projections, of teams and individuals, are all the rage these days. So I think to myself, Maybe I should put together my own set of previews and predictions.
But I pretty quickly came up with three solid reasons not to: 1) It's a lot of work, 2) Everyone else has already done their own – what else is there to say? and 3) It's pretty likely I'd make a fool of myself in the process.
So what you have instead is a projection of the NL Central that took only a few hours to complete, but will tell you about every injury, ranking and meaningful statistic.
A Tongue-In-Cheek Projection.
All it took was an old copy of MVP Baseball 2005, some roster updates, the creation of a few players, and a quick simulation. Who knew projections could be so easy?
April: The Cubs began the season ranked 5th in the majors in pitching, 7th in batting, 14th in fielding, and 19th in baserunning/speed.
Injuries: 4/9 – Adam Wainwright (STL), strained right forearm, out 12 days. 4/12 – Ken Griffey, Jr. (CIN), strained right ribcage, out 15 days. 4/18 – Prince Fielder (MIL), hernia, out 22 days.
Notable Cub Performances: Closer Ryan Dempster threw 11 scoreless innings, earning 7 saves. Rich Hill won 4 games and threw 2 shutouts over 32.1 innings. Alfonso Soriano hit 5 home runs. Cesar Izturis hit 3.
Prior's velocity on his fastball reached 90 mph just once as he worked in the 95-degree heat. He typically throws in the mid-to-high 90s with ease, which means he definitely needs a couple more starts in the Minors.
But it does not describe that outing.
It comes from a May 30, 2006, Cubs.com article about Prior's first 2006 rehab start, a two-inning stint with the Peoria Chiefs.
But more interesting, from the same article, is this tidbit:
"The only thing I can say, to me, what I'm throwing is what I'm throwing right now," he said. "I've always been a guy who takes time to kind of build up my velocity. I'm usually throwing harder later in the year. I was happy with the way the ball was coming out of my hand."
Yesterday, Prior was clocked at between 86-87 MPH, according to MSM reports, topping out at 89.
To which I must say: For all his enthusiasm ("I'm ready to go"), renewed confidence ("There was never any doubt" concerning his readiness for Opening Day) and swagger ("They weren't taking that many good swings off me"), he needs more time.
Last season, Prior didn't make his first start until nearly three weeks after his two-inning Peoria rehab start. With only 7.1 innings under his belt this spring, and his slowly-increasing velocity at much the same place it was after his initial '06 rehab start, Prior should expect to be ready in no fewer than two weeks, perhaps even three. Until he proves he can throw strikes, with all of his pitches, consistently from outing to outing with acceptable velocity, there should be no talk of returning by Opening Day.
The Cubs want an effective Prior each start, after all, not the BP pitcher we saw earlier this spring.
Vote Or Die
Per Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts post, it seems this little blog is part of a web poll over at SI.com asking, "Which blog or fan site has the best Cubs info?"
Need I say more?
If you don't, then I might have to send the deadliest relief pitcher alive after you. ;)
There Must Be Something In The Stew
I'll take my daily dose of Derrek Lee and his .513/.537/1.331 line over Harden any time, thankyouverymuch. ;)
A Proposal To MLB: For Preventing Disparity And Eliminating The Abuse Of Steroids In Baseball
Probability says that every major league team has the same chance to win the World Series: 1/30.
But history says otherwise.
Some teams have yet to win a title like the 45-year-old Houston Astros while others have not tasted glory in nearly a century. And though the days of the dynasty seem gone, parity remains elusive. The last time the Kansas City Royals, for instance, even qualified for the postseason was over 20 years ago; Milwaukee last played in October in 1982; and the former Montreal and current Washington franchise last saw the postseason in 1981. Five other teams have currently gone more than 10 seasons without a playoff appearance, and Baltimore and Tampa Bay have waited nine seasons.
One-third of all MLB teams have not been to the playoffs in nine or more years. Simply put, this utter lack of competitive balance is unacceptable. It is detrimental to the health of the game; it alienates fans; it shrinks revenue for non-playoff teams; and the longer this lack of parity continues, the harder it will be to overcome the perpetual deprivation of competitive balance.
There can be but one solution, then, a simple proposal that will bring not only parity, but also an end to the widespread drug abuse that has long plagued baseball, and the exploitation of youth across the globe, from Little League to the Dominican.
Advances in genetic engineering and cloning technology mean player homogeneity is closer than one might think. If each roster is filled with genetically identical players, with skill sets honed to specific positions, there can be no question of parity on each squad. Of course, some will inevitably be better than others genetically identical does not equal physically or mentally identical but mandated rosters of clones will nearly eliminate the type of talent hoarding seen in New York and other large-market cities.
But to prevent a crafty owner from exploiting the system and giving his team an inherent advantage by signing those clones that are inevitably better, every player will be assigned a rating, as assigned by a computer using a mathematical formula, and each rating will correspond to a specific salary. Free agency will be no more; contractual value will be handled systematically. Each team, then, will be allotted a set number of players at each rating, so as to prevent any one team from having too much talent.
Further, each clone will be in service only during his prime years; once one grows too old, a younger clone just entering his peak years will replace him. Minor leagues, then, become obsolete new players will be handled by MLB's cloning contractor allowing teams to focus on the present state of their major league clubs and creating further parity. Dominican academies, a current source of talent for major leagues clubs, would become unnecessary, and the exploitation of young men that often results from them would be eradicated.
MLB's steroid problem would be immediately eliminated as well, for each clone would be genetically designed to produce excess amounts of testosterone and other hormones vital to muscle growth, making steroids, like the minors, obsolete and irrelevant.
To create further competitive balance, all existing MLB ballparks should be replaced within the decade with indoor, climate-controlled, neutral parks devoid of any advantage to hitter, pitcher or fielder on either team. So as to not give preference to a "home" team, first at-bats will be determined by coin flip prior to the start of each game. Fans will be separated from the field by a transparent, soundproof barrier in order to prevent the crowd from influencing the outcome of the game in any way.
Strict rules for grounds keeping will also be implemented. No more than one rock or dirt particle exceeding 2 cm in size may be found within one square foot of dirt. Grass must be exactly 7 cm high.
Only one model of bat may be used, and gloves will be standardized based on position. Balls will be used once and then discarded to prevent the introduction of any foreign substance.
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Only with the strict implementation of these and other similar reforms can competitive balance truly exist. Only then will the probability of winning truly be 1/30. Only then will the critics who decry the dominance of a small group of teams be finally satisfied.
The result will be a bland game lacking in the personality and aesthetic beauty that fans want and love and, as far as I'm concerned, without that which makes the simple game of bat and ball "baseball."
Let The Groaning Begin
Okay everyone, you know what to do: Cross those fingers, wave your rabbit foot, pull out that horseshoe, and don't forget your lucky underwear.
Now, repeat the words of Jim Hendry until your tongue loses all feeling: "Hopefully, he'll be fine in a couple days."
All Hyped Up About Nothing
Felix Pie's .344 batting average this spring is generating quite a bit of buzz. The consensus among the MSM seems to be that Pie is ready, and Jacque Jones the odd man out.
Chris De Luca from today's Sun-Times:
Then there is Pie, whose time appears to have arrived, even if there isn't a spot waiting for him.
Here's the problem with the first bit: Pie is not ready. He may be batting over .300, but all of his hits have been singles. Small sample size, yes, but coaches and scouts say he just isn't ready for the majors. The MSM see a stellar batting average and fall down on the story like Carlos Zambrano hit the ground on his way to third base.
Jacob Luft chimes in at SI.com today:
I'm more skeptical about the Soriano scenario in Chicago. The Cubs have a rapidly developing future star in Felix Pie, who is being blocked by Soriano and his massive new contract. Early reports on Soriano's acclimation to the position are less than glowing. The best possible solution might be for the team to trade away Jacque Jones and play Pie in center with Soriano at one of the corners.
I just don't understand the appeal of trading Jones to make way for an underdeveloped Pie, even if it means moving Soriano to the more-manageable right field. Pie may be the future, but do we really want to create Corey Patterson v2.0, especially if the Cubs won't gain anything on offense by doing so?
So if Pie isn't ready, and the Cubs won't gain anything by rushing him to the majors, then where's the incentive?
Really, it hinges on two things: What the Cubs can get in return for Jones, and the defensive benefit of putting Pie in center and Soriano in right.
A trade certainly won't be for another outfielder, and around the diamond, the only position that is really lacking in offensive punch is shortstop. If Jones does indeed go to San Diego, as Luft suggests, would the Padres be willing to give up Khalil Green? I'm not so sure they would.
As for pitchers, the Cubs are pretty well tied up, and Jones isn't likely to net anyone significantly better than the team's in-house options in the rotation and bullpen.
The defensive impact of putting Pie in center doesn't seem all that impressive, either. Even the most valuable fielders in the outfield like Carlos Beltran (8.3 Win Shares) and Mike Cameron (7.3 WS) contribute at most two wins with their gloves. Soriano managed 3.6 fielding WS in left last season, and he'll likely finish somewhere between two and three in center. So even if Pie were to play All-Star-caliber defense, the defensive gain would be no more than a single win.
To me, that seems hardly enough of a gain to put Pie's offensive development at risk. Trading Jones is nothing more than a convenient solution to a supposed problem.
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There are still a few spots left in the Cub Town Fantasy Baseball League. Don't miss your chance to compete against both Derek and myself. E-mail me if you're interested: phil.bencomo AT gmail.com
Does Our Pie Need More Time In The Oven?
Banal pun aside, the Hardball Times includes Felix Pie in a list of "The Best Young Center Fielders of 2007." Pie's in a category titled "Good Upside, Close To Prime."
Pie was on pace for a breakout season in 2005 before he injured his ankle, but he rebounded from the injury and a slow start to the 2006 season to put together a solid performance as one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League last year. While Pie has great speed and the potential to hit 15 to 20 home runs for the Cubs as soon as this year, his plate discipline is a work in progress. He is a free swinger with the potential for Corey Patterson-like deficiencies in fulfilling potential and reaching base at a reasonable rate.
I can't say I disagree with that assessment. If there is one reason to keep Pie in the minors for at least another half-season, it's plate discipline. Last year's AAA manager and current Cub third base coach Mike Quade commented on this at the Cubs Convention, saying Pie is still very raw at the plate. Defensively, Quade, also the Cubs' outfield coach, said Pie is ready though not perfect.
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And don't forget to sign up for the Cub Town Fantasy Baseball League. Plenty of spots are still available, so send an e-mail to phil.bencomo AT gmail.com if you're interested.
Cub Town Fantasy Baseball
I'm not a fantasy nut; I don't play in a dozen ultra-competitive, all-consuming leagues.
That being said, I do enjoy playing in a league or two each year.
So here's the deal: If you're interested in joining me and Derek in a league, shoot me an e-mail (phil.bencomo AT gmail.com). It'll be first-come, first-serve, but I will open a second league if there is enough demand. I'm thinking a total of 12-14 teams per league.
Once I've got all the participants set, I'll e-mail out league invites and the like. Unless the majority of you have serious objections, we'll be using Yahoo, 1) because it's free, and 2) I've had good experiences with it in the past.
A draft date will be determined once the participants are set.
As for stats, standard 5x5 rotisserie is fine with me. If you feel strongly about including a certain stat, please leave a comment, and I'll take it into consideration.
Questions? Feel free to ask in the comments.
... is how Lou Piniella described Kerry Wood's performance today.
"In Spanish, it's 'bastante,'" Piniella said. "Enough."
As one who knows some Spanish himself, I'd also add this to Piniella's description:
Wood made one mistake and got stuck with some tough luck, but it was an altogether pleasing outing.
And a note on Felix Pie: If he continues to play as well as he has (2 more hits today, plus an outfield assist), the Cubs may be forced to make room for him sooner than they might have thought.
Only time will tell.
Life, Baseball, And Cynicism
I have a condition. If it has a medical name, I don't know it, nor do I particularly care to. If gets the best of me sometimes, despite my honest attempts to ward it off.
It's a malignant disease, really, spreading through mind and body a little bit more each year. Though it has been frequently beaten into remission, it always comes back stronger and faster than before.
I call it the fanatically abject syndrome, or fan's disease for short.
Fan's disease is a terrible affliction, and anyone who has been let down year after arduous year is at great risk. Whether from home, work, or play, disappointment is the leading cause, and few have not felt the disease's wrath.
The disease strikes early, usually before the age of 10, when the harsh realities of the world first become evident and crush impossible hopes and dreams. The result is devastation, and fan's disease firmly grabs hold.
But even after hope and faith are lost, the disease can still be beaten. Good fortune helps stave off the effects, if only for a short time. Joyous events like marriage and the birth of a child beat it into the deepest crevices of the mind, alongside things like birthdays, anniversaries and the collective works of James Joyce.
But fan's disease can never truly be beaten, even by the greatest of accomplishments; it will always slowly creep back to drain the hope from your soul.
In late 2003, the disease within me was greatly diminished maybe even close to final subversion, which remains ever elusive.
Despair took hold. After so many years, to be so close, but turned away a mere arm's reach from glory. 2004 rattled the ailment, but by season's end it was back and unfazed.
It's still something I struggle with today. I don't aspire to be negative, but years of disappointment have left me jaded. Some of you took exception to my comments about Mark Prior, and thinking about them now, I wish I hadn't written them. I'm a fan first and analyst second, and sometimes that fact, when amplified by cynicism, becomes terribly clear. I've grown frustrated with Prior, but now thinking with a far clearer and less reactionary mind, I'm not ready to give up hope.
So thanks for keeping my head held high where it belongs, not down in the muck that is fan's disease.
After all, without a dream to chase, what's the point of living?
Of Fantasy And Reality
One day, when I've grown old and what hair I have left has turned the color of the cold, winter sky, I will tell my grandchildren a story. It will sound like a fantasy epic torn from the pages of Tolkien, Jordan or Howard a long, twisting tale seemingly plucked from the mind of a man with a wild imagination.
But it will be true.
I speak of the story of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, a tale that has more twists and turns than can be counted. Both careers reached their peaks in 2003, but have since spun wildly out of control. And today, each stood at a fulcrum, and each went a separate direction.
Perhaps this day will be remembered as the end of an era when Prior and Wood, tied together for years by performance and injury, finally forged their own separate paths.
Perhaps, in 20 or 30 years, the name Prior will be the answer to a trivia question, nothing more, forgotten by all but the oldest fans.
And Wood will he become the dominant closer we all envision? Or will he, too, be another answer on a game show?
I don't know the answers. I don't know if great performances from Wood and Prior will someday be called legend or myth. Nobody knows.
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One more start: That's what I'd give Prior before officially giving up on him. Apparently he's healthy, but he reportedly, according to the AP, topped out at 87 today with poor control. Other reports say "mid- to low-80s." I just don't know what to make of it.
Wood, on the other hand, was outstanding, and his future looks bright:
Looking svelte after dropping 25 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame with a rigorous offseason workout and diet regimen, Wood breezed through a 1-2-3 fifth inning with a sizzling fastball that topped out at 96 mph and was the winning pitcher.
This game was so ugly, it doesn't even deserve recognition, let alone comment. In fact, when Lou Piniella said during an in-game interview that "Garland is ahead of the hitters," he should have added, "And everybody's ahead of the Cubs right now."
But I'm a merciful man.
First: Let it be known that Rich Hill did not impress me today. His control, of curve and fastball, was spotty, and his fastball lacked zip. Popping the glove, he was not. But given a few more weeks in camp, Hill should be fine.
Alfonso Soriano, though, had an excellent game. Three hits in three at-bats. Two doubles. Better yet, two opposite field hits. At the plate, Soriano looked impressive.
Derrek Lee hit his first spring home run, middle infield combo Cesar Izturis and Mark DeRosa turned a flawless double play, and Scott Eyre and Clay Rapada combined to throw 1.2 scoreless innings in relief.
But that was the extent of the positives. I hate to be negative so early in the spring, but watching today's game was painful. I'll admit it: I stopped watching after the seventh inning.
Masochism has its limits, after all.
It's As If Patience Were A Sin
After Ronny Cedeno poked the first Dan Haren pitch he saw over the left field fence for a home run, no Cub could seem to keep the bat on his shoulder perhaps Cedeno's homer was the reason. But with two innings in the books, the Cubs had seen a total of eight pitches, and Michael Barrett was the first Cub to see more than two when he walked on four pitches in the fourth inning. Barrett recorded another first when he hit an inside-the-park homer in the sixth (if only I'd been there to see it ).
But most disconcerting about today's game was not the blown lead, but the ubiquitous Hack-At-Everything mentality that has plagued so many a Cub team in the past. I'd hoped a new manager and coaching staff would at least partially rid the club of the desire to swing at the first pitch of every at-bat. By my count, the Cubs saw only 69 total pitches. In ten innings.
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Starter Wade Miller threw two innings, allowing one run and striking out two. Gameday says he threw only 12 pitches, none of which were called for a ball. His command was excellent, but still I wonder what his velocity was like, given this report from last week.
Jeff Samardzija made his spring debut in the sixth, using only three pitches to retire Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Travis Buck in order. Both Chavez and Ellis are established major leaguers; Buck is one of Oakland's top prospects. As Michael Barrett suggested in this article, Samardzija's stay in the minors looks to be very short:
"As far as mentality and as far as stuff, he's way ahead of the game," Barrett said. "He has a very good idea. I haven't been around a whole lot of guys who play football but he's the first real high-profile football player to play baseball and I'm impressed with his mentality.
If Samardzija is really as good as Barrett says, I wouldn't rule out a Matt Garza-like scenario, shooting through the system in a year. I think he's still too raw to make the majors this season, but ending it at Triple-A is very possible.
Felix Pie showed off his speed with two stolen bases, though I wouldn't give them too much thought, since Barrett, Jacque Jones and Angel Pagan also stole a base each. And Barrett has a grand total of nine stolen bases in his career, the last of which came in 2004.
But it's still just a spring training game in early March, one that looked like a sure Cub victory until Carlos Marmol reminded us why his ERA was 6.08 last year.
The Perfect Lineup?
There has been much talk throughout the Cubs blogosphere about this lineup configuration:
This is the lineup we saw in the spring opener, and the consensus seems to be that this is perfection.
But I must ask: Does that claim have any merit? And what should be expected of that lineup?
... and the above lineup is, indeed, as near to perfection as the Cubs will likely get: It yielded 5.119 runs per game, while the optimized lineup with those batters (Murton, Lee, Barrett, Ramirez, Soriano, pitcher, DeRosa, Jones, Izturis) only barely beat it with 5.223 runs per game.
5.119 R/G equates to about 829 runs over 162 games. Last year's squad only scored 716 runs, and the league-leading Philadelphia Phillies scored 865.
Soriano will be leading off that much is certain so the opener's lineup is the most productive configuration we will see. If Lou Piniella's only significant contribution is this lineup configuration, his hiring may very well be worthwhile.
Picking Out The Positives
In an otherwise unspectacular game (one that was not broadcasted; I'm just reading boxscores here), Matt Murton drove in two-thirds of the Cubs' runs, and his first spring homer capped a perfect day at the plate. Carlos Zambrano was sharp in his two innings, with four strikeouts and, more importantly, no walks.
Back to Murton: his home run against Angel starter Joe Saunders serves as further confirmation of his prowess against lefties. And Murton, unlike the LA batters who hit homers off marginal prospect Clay Rapada, can say that his home run came against a legitimate major leaguer Saunders is no slouch, with a combined 17 wins between Triple-A and the majors last season. Eric Patterson, who homered against Greg Jones, of career 5.31 ERA, cannot make such a claim either.
But a strong Murton performance also makes one wonder about Cliff Floyd's role on this club. A lefty-righty platoon is tempting, given Floyd's excellent numbers against right-handers (career .281/.368/.496; .290/.382/.533 in '05, his last full season). But Murton has held his own against right-handers (.295/.356/.426 in '06), and it is Murton, not Floyd, who has a future with the club beyond 2007. A platoon would limit more than Murton's at-bats; it would stunt his development as well. If Murton is part of the Cubs' future plans, a platoon makes little sense.
But this discussion may be moot if Floyd cannot stay healthy. Will the Cubs get the Floyd of '05 or '06?
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Cesar Izturis had a good game at the plate, as did Derrek Lee. Both had two hits. Prospect Sean Gallagher, a very exciting right-hander, threw two uneventful innings, something neither Rapada (5 ER) nor Neil Cotts (3 ER) could not manage.
Alfonso Soriano went hitless again, but I'll hold off comment on the Cubs' biggest acquisition until after Sunday's telecast, when I've actually had a chance to get a good look at him, both in the field and at the plate.
It's Better Than Nothing
It may have been a stinker, but today's Cactus League opener was refreshing nonetheless. Hearing Pat and Ron on WGN for the first time in months was more than enough to warm the soul on a rainy day in Chicagoland.
Carlos Zambrano makes his debut tomorrow in a game that will not be on the radio or TV.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com