6/28/09

On the Red Sox - Braves 9th Inning

Forgetting for a moment that the notion of a "closer" is silly, Bobby Cox has two great arms at the back end of his bullpen in Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.  One of these is right-handed, and the other is left-handed.  When the guys due up in the 9th inning are (RH) Kevin Youkilis, (RH) Jason Bay and (LH) David Ortiz, which one would you bring it?

If you said you'd bring in the left-handed Gonzalez, congratulations, you've made the Bobby Cox Decision.  But you're still wrong.  Play the matchups, not the closer card.  Especially when you're in the Braves' situation, with two great guys available to you.

Mark DeRosa Traded to Cardinals

The Indians made further steps to improve their bullpen late last night by trading jack-of-all-trades Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for RHP Chris Perez and a player to be named later.  Perez is a closer prospect, and if the PTBNL is Jess Todd, they'll have acquired two above-average arms for the pen.

Unfortunately, while the bullpen is obviously Cleveland's weakness, you don't trade a guy with  a bat as good as DeRosa's (he was on pace for 28 HR this year) for two bullpen arms.  When you factor in DeRosa's above-average multipositional defense and the Cardinals' desperate need for a bat, you have to wonder what, exactly, Mark Shapiro was doing.

Not only is this return not enough for a player of DeRosa's caliber, but why would you trade him now?  Why not wait til a time closer to the deadline, when you certainly could've gotten more than a couple relief arms?  And especially coming from the Cardinals, who clearly lost their faith in Perez early this year - you know that they key part of the deal is a person that the team trading him doesn't even think that highly of!  

Far be it from us to suggest that Shapiro doesn't know what he's doing; the guy did pull in Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Cliff Lee for a song.  But he erred this time.  

6/27/09

Tomo Ohka Is Being Paid. To Play Baseball.

Yes, you read that right.  The Indians actually pay Tomo Ohka, late of the Red Sox, Expos, Nationals, Brewers, Blue Jays, and various minor league stops.

He's currently on the MLB Network getting knocked around by the Reds.  Theres no outs in the top of the 2nd and has given up a homer, two doubles - one of which should've been a donger - and we're fairly sure that every "fastball" he's thrown near the zone has been hit.  

Teams: please stop reusing personnel.  Find someone new.  Ohka hasn't been effective in years, and didn't even play in the majors the last two years.  He probably isn't going to pull it all together as a 33-year old.  Just use your organizational guys.

Oh, look, another run scores.

Shin-Soo Choo just made a beautiful, beautiful throw home to nail Jerry Hairston Jr.  If not for that, we're talking 5-0 in the 2nd.

Well, at least he may not be getting paid to play much longer.

The Condensed Version of "Doug Davis' Slider Rules All (Except Denard Span)"

Our last post was super long, so if you want to see the best pitches and best hitters of those pitches without our droning commentary, this is where to check.  See the previous post for much more detail.

Best Fastball: Dan Haren
Best Fastball hitter:
Victor Martinez

Worst Fastball: Armando Galarraga
Worst Fastball Hitter:
Bengie Molina

Best Slider: Doug Davis
Best Slider Hitter: Denard Span

Worst Slider: Matt Cain
Worst Slider Hitter:
Mike Fontenot

Best Cutter: Kevin Slowey
Best Cutter Hitter: Mark Reynolds

Worst Cutter: Zach Duke
Worst Cutter Hitter:
Ivan Rodriguez

Best Curveball: Brad Bergesen
Best Curveball Hitter:
Robinson Cano

Worst Curveball: Chris Young
Worst Curveball Hitter:
Jose Guillen

Best Changeup: Braden Looper
Best Changeup Hitter: Ryan Braun

Worst Changeup: Ryan Dempster
Worst Changeup Hitter: J.J. Hardy

Best Splitter: Trevor Cahill
Best Splitter Hitter:
Yunel Escobar

Worst Splitter: Jeremy Guthrie
Worst Splitter Hitter:
Kevin Kouzmanoff

Best Knuckleball: Tim Wakefield
Best Knuckleball Hitter: Jose Guillen

Worst Knuckleball: Tim Wakefield
Worst Knuckleball Hitter:
Jason Bay

Put it this way: if this were a science fair project, our (simplified) hypothesis would've been: Albert Pujols Is The Best At Hitting Each Pitch And Tim Lincecum's Pitches Are All The Best.  And we'd have been wildly wrong.  And probably lost, since this is a post about baseball, not science.  But that's why we use stats like these: because who would ever predict that Brad Bergesen would be the most adept at making Jose Guillen look silly with a curveball?


Doug Davis' Slider Rules All (Except Denard Span)

Note: This post is some pretty long weekend reading; if you want a shorter version, we've condensed the results into a brief read here.

For as long as baseball's been played professionally, there's been one question that's endured all the way through dead balls, juiced balls, lowered mounds, stadium shenanigans, the color barrier, and the decision to sell beer to people in their seats.  Namely: Who's The Best?

It's a natural part of sports, really, and as time has gone on, we've come up with more and more detailed ways to track the game we love in order to answer that very question.  Of course, there's also the flip side of that coin, or Who's The Worst?  In any event, that's essentially the purpose of statistics in sports: to tell us who the best and worst players are.

Now, when it comes to pitchers and their craft, the debate about whose fastball is the best, whose slider is the nastiest, and whose changeup collapses stadiums (you'll see later) has always been a matter of qualitative, rather than quantitative, speculation.  People swear that Bert Blyleven's curveball would make the greatest of hitters' knees buckle.  People swear that Walter Johnson could induce a batter to merely walk back to the dugout shaking their head after 2 strikes because they knew they couldn't hit his fastball.  But the debate about who threw The Best Fastball, or the The Best Curveball rages on, because, really, there's no way to know.

Until recently.

You see, over at the great Fangraphs, they've got a new toy called Pitch Type Linear Weights.  It's not the catchiest title (and if anyone knows titles, it's us), but the data is really neat.  Basically you can see how many runs above average a pitcher's pitch is worth - like BP's WARP, except condensed to measure the value of a specific pitch.  We'll be using the /C value, which gives you the measure of how valuable a pitch is in terms of runs above average per 100 thrown/seen.  Basically it gives you an idea of who's really got a great fastball, slider, etc - and also who can hit these pitches better than most.

So today we decided that since there's not much going on in the baseball world besides a Brewers pitching prospect failing his second marijuana test and subsequently being suspended for 100 games (should've made the Majors before you started getting caught, bud.  Learn from Geo.), we'd take a look at who throws the best/worst pitches in the game and who's the best/worst hitter of the pitches.  We know that's an awkward description but we don't know how else to put it.  Just...follow along.

Best Fastball: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks. Runs above average per 100 thrown: 2.45

Best Fastball hitter: Victor Martinez, Cleveland Indians. Runs above average per 100 seen: 3.69

Both of these are a bit surprising to us.  We'd have expected a guy like Justin Verlander or Ubaldo Jimenez to top the list since they average over 95 mph.  Haren's average velocity is now 90.6, down from last year's 91.1 and his career average of 91.6, but he's been very effective with it.  As for Martinez, he only leads Albert Pujols by .02, but it's still surprising to us that after his shoulder injuries, he's still able to catch up with the heat.  Also we think this is a very basic indiciator of success; if you throw a great fastball, or can hit a fastball like nobody's business, you're in a great situation to succeed.  

Unexpected Pitchers in the Top 10: Joel Piniero (5, 88.5 mph) Rick Porcello (6, 90.9 mph) Tim Wakefield (7, 72.5 mph) Jarrod Washburn (9, 88.5 mph), Kevin Correia (10, 90.8 mph).  Just goes to show that velocity isn't everything.  Also, Wakefield, whose reliance on the knuckler makes his fastball sneaky, was leading the league in RAA/100 earlier this year.  You can't make this stuff up.

Unexpected Hitters in the Top 10: Michael Young (8), Jason Kubel (9).  The rest of the top 10 reads like a who's who of great hitters; while Young's had a renaissance this year and Kubel's got a big money deal (by Twins standards), that they rank in that list surprises us.

Worst Fastball: Armando Galarraga, Detroit Tigers.  RAA/100: -2.16

Worst Fastball Hitter: Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants. RAA/100: -2.59

Galarraga has certainly struggled this year, and this looks like a big part of the reason why.  If a pitcher has a significantly below average fastball, there's not much to work off of in the repertoire.  And that an aging catcher (hey oh!) who plays on the Giants has trouble hitting the fastball is not terribly surprising to us.  

Unexpected Pitchers in the Bottom 10: Francisco Liriano trails Galarraga by .02 which is surprising.  His tailspin is a sad story considering he was the next Johan for awhile there.  Also, Roy Halladay and Joba Chamberlain rank in the negatives.  

Unexpected Hitters in the Bottom 10: Pretty much what you'd expect.  Make a list of guys who aren't very good hitters and/or strike out a lot, and you'll get your (not?) top 10.

Best Slider: Doug Davis, Arizona Diamondbacks. RAA/100: 26.08 

Best Slider Hitter: Denard Span, Minnesota Twins. RAA/100: 4.98

Wow.  Well, we weren't expecting that.  We assume there's some kind of statistical anamoly that allows Davis to be at an astounding 26 RAA/100, like he's only thrown 10 of them all year or something, but those 10 were apparently pretty nasty.  But the next guys are still pretty close to his number, so we'll allow it.  And Denard Span...well, let's just say we don't expect big things from him.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Top 10: A.J. Burnett's 21.62 is worth a mention, as is Rick Porcello's 11.75...Kenshin Kawakami checks in at 5th (5.25, to give you an idea of the dropoff) while Mark Buerhle and Paul Maholm make the 8th and 10th spots, respectively.  Porcello is doing the lord's work with his fastball/slider combo, but runs into trouble elsewhere.  That Kawakami, Buerhle and Maholm make the list is surprising to us since they don't profile as power pitchers.  Plus, two of them aren't really very good.  You can guess who we mean.

Unexpected Hitters in the Top 10: Kurt Suzuki and Juan Rivera come in at 2nd and 4th.  The rest are all guys like Chipper Jones, Carlos BeltranAlbert Pujols and other elite-level hitters, so nothing too surprising here, except for hot-hitting Ben Zobrist's appearance at 7.

Worst SliderMatt Cain, San Francisco Giants. RAA/100: -4.15

Worst Slider Hitter: Mike Fontenot, Chicago Cubs. RAA/100: -4.83

Odd to see Matt Cain topping the list, since he's been having such a great year.  By the looks of it he's been getting by on a fastball/changeup platter.  On the other hand, we're not surprised to see a Cub top the list of worst hitter of any pitch since they've been such a poor-hitting team this year.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Bottom 10: Justin Verlander's -3.83 ranks 2nd to Cain.  Two great pitchers, two awful pitches.  But with heat like Verlander's, your slider probably doesn't need to be devastating for you to be a great pitcher.

Unexpected Hitters in the Bottom 10: Geo Soto and Victor Martinez make the list at 7 and 8.  Like we said: there's probably plenny o' Cubs in these bottom 10s.  Martinez can get around on the heat, but it appears that he's easily fooled by the breaking stuff.

Best Cutter: Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins. RAA/100: 21.62

Best Cutter, non-inflated division: Jason Marquis, Colorado Rockies.  RAA/100: 4.30

Best Cutter Hitter: Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks. RAA/100: 11.32

We feel like Slowey's huge lead on the field means that we should look past his number to see who's a more reasonable member of the pack, and surprisingly we came away with Marquis.  Whom we still hate.  But he's been having a good year, and it appears that this success with his cutter is one of the biggest reasons why.  We're not sure if we're surprised about Reynolds topping the list, since he's been having a great year, but with the amount he strikes out, he must really be laying into these when he does make contact.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Top 10: Todd Wellemeyer ranks third.  We'd always thought he lived off his heater, but apparently the cutter's working for him...Dallas BradenScott Feldman and Jon Garland take up the next three spots after Wellemeyer, and, well, none of these guys seem like they should be ranking in the top 10 in anything, but good on them for finding a pitch that works for them. 

Unexpected Hitters in the Top 10: Juan Rivera and James Loney are a close second and third...Bengie Molina can't hit the heat but is 8th best at hitting cutters, right ahead of Jeremy Hermida.  

Worst Cutter: Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates.  RAA/100: -6.16

Worst Cutter Hitter: Ivan Rodriguez, Houston Astros. RAA/100: -10.48

Most pitchers don't throw cutters, which sort of skews these numbers, but it appears that Duke would be best served by joining the ranks of those who don't give this pitch a whirl.  It's pretty awful.  And again, we're not surprised by the old catchers being bad at hitting pitches.  On a game we watched recently, the announcers described Rodriguez's swing as being "slider-speed;" it appears that cutters are indeed faster than sliders.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Bottom 10: Josh Beckett's #2 spot is surprising here...Jake Peavy's in the negatives, with the 8th-worst cutter in the lig.

Unexpected Hitters in the Bottom 10: Eh, no one surprising.  Everyone here's having a bad year and/or is a bad player.

Best CurveballBrad Bergesen, Baltimore Orioles. RAA/100: 10.29

Best Curveball Hitter: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees.  RAA/100: 6.18

Bergesen has been a nice shot in the arm for the pitching-starved Orioles, who still lack for a Major League-quality output from the mound.  But he'd best not hang one to divisional foe Cano, who apparently lays the wood to yakkers with regularity.  

Unexpected Pitchers in the Top 10: Dallas Braden is 2nd with a 5.49 mark...Livan Hernandez lays claim to the 4th best...Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson, and Todd Wellemeyer round out the top 10.  Floyd's calling card as a prospect was his curveball; looks like it hasn't deserted him yet.

Worst Curveball: Chris Young, San Diego Padres.  RAA/100: -9.48

Worst Curveball Hitter: Jose Guillen, Kansas City Royals.  RAA/100: -5.70

How the mighty have fallen, eh, Chris?  Maybe he should've studied more physics at Princeton to figure out how to get a little more tumble on the old Uncle Charlie.  Jose Guillen's struggles come as something of the opposite of a surprise, because he's a hacktastic dude who probably doesn't wait on easy pitches to hit.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Bottom 10: CC Sabathia's -3.48 clocks him in at 6th.  Big ole Bronx cheer for him, eh?...Rick Porcello can't do it all, it seems: he's posting a -2.92, 8th on this list.

Unexpected Hitters in the Bottom 10: Matt Holliday, at -4.81, shows us another reason for his struggles this season...Alfonso Soriano represents the Cubs with pride at the 7th spot.

Best Changeup: Braden Looper, Milwaukee Brewers.  RAA/100: 6.25

Best Changeup Hitter: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers.  RAA/100: 9.36

Looks like Looper gives Braun some tips on how to hit the slowball.  The teammates are both first in their respective categories by a healthy margin.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Top 10: Ken Kawakami is 2nd.  Not unexpected for a guy who pitches like he does, but unexpected because he's not been great...Tim Lincecum finally makes an appearance, coming in right behind Kawakami.  We'd have expected him to be higher on the fastball and curveball lists...Chris Young redeems himself a bit with a 5th place showing, right ahead of Brian Tallet of the Blue Jays and Zach Duke.

Unexpected Hitters in the Top 10: Jerry Hairston, Jr is 6th, while Alexei Ramirez is 10th.  A couple impatient shortstops recognize and pulverize one of the tougher pitches in baseball to see.  Weird.

Worst Changeup: Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs.  RAA/100: -126.69

Worst Changeup Hitter: J.J. Hardy, Milwaukee Brewers.  RAA/100: -6.26

Wow.  We like to think that Dempster threw one changeup and the result was so disastrous that he scrapped the pitch entirely.  Like maybe he blew a no hitter and the game by throwing one in the bottom of the 9th with bases loaded and giving up a grand slam.  And then, we don't know, the stadium collapsed.  That seems like it's worth a -126, right?  Also, we were hoping that Dave Bush or someone would have the worst changeup so the Brewers would sweep.  It appears that Braden Looper does not take too kindly to Mr. Hardy.

Unexpected Pitchers in the Bottom 10: Carlos Zambrano continues the Cub suckfest at #2, and #3 ain't even close to him...hey, Brewer Dave Bush comes in at 7.  Not quite bad enough for the Brewer sweep, though.  Maybe he should take lessons from Dempster.

Unexpected Hitters in the Bottom 10: No one, really.  Those guys all suck.

As for splitters and knuckleballs, the last two pitches that Fangraphs charts, very few pitchers throw them so we're not gonna spend much time on them.

Best Splitter: Trevor Cahill, Oakland A's.  RAA/100: 26.63

Best Splitter Hitter (heh): Yunel Escobar, Atlanta Braves.  RAA/100: 37.98

Worst Splitter: Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles.  RAA/100: -141.41

Worst Splitter Hitter: Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego Padres.  RAA/100: -21.62

Good God, Guthrie!  That's the sort of thing we expect from Oriole pitching.  If Dempster's -126 brought down a stadium, Guthrie must've caused an international incident with his split piece.  Also, Mark DeRosa and Ben Francisco have yet to see a splitter.  We feel like they're deprived.  Won't someone have pity on them?  

Best Knuckleball: Tim Wakefield, Boston Red Sox.  RAA/100: 0.45

Best Knuckleball Hitter: Jose Guillen, Kansas City Royals.  RAA/100: 38.58

Well, Wakefield's the only guy with a recorded knuckler, and so he wins even though his .45 is pretty shoddy.  But that also means he's the worst knuckleballer around, so there's that.  

Worst Knuckleball Hitter: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox.  RAA/100: -23.38

The fact that Wakefield is the only pitcher with a recorded knuckleball this year begs the question of how, exactly, Jason Bay (and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis) have seen the pitch.  We think the Red Sox are practicing black magic.

Also, we wondered if hitting  a knuckleball is an actual skill, so we looked at some of the leaders' career numbers versus a knuckleball.  The answer: nope.  Probably because they see so few of them every year, the average RAA/100 for hitters fluctuated wildly from year to year.  

So, what do we ultimately learn from all this?  Well, think about "elite" players.  With the exception of Haren's fastball, none of the "bests" from above are guys we think of as cream of the crop-type players. Yeah, the elite guys show up in the top part of the rankings, but in terms of runs above average, they're not the best of the best.  Pujols, for example, handles fastballs, sliders, and cutters with aplomb, putting up ~4, 3, and 2 RAA/100 each.  But he's below average on curveballs and splitters.  There's probably a good deal of statistical noise that is involved with sample sizes and such, but even dominant players can have significant weaknesses in their game.

In fact, if you exclude knuckleballs, only one hitter is above average at handling each pitch: David Wright.  Everyone else is in the negatives with at least one type of pitch.  And on the pitching side, only three pitchers are above average at throwing each of their pitches: Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, and Josh Johnson.  And furthermore, that the guys who are best at a particular pitch aren't necessarily great players shows us that there's perhaps less of a difference between elite and mediocre than we might think.  If, say, Denard Span is the best in the league at hitting a slider, but has a barely above-average 109 OPS+, or Ryan Dempster has the worst changeup in the league but can get well-deserved Cy Young votes (last year, we mean), then it appears that the talent distribution is more even than we, at least, initially thought.  

Put it this way: if this were a science fair project, our (simplified) hypothesis would've been: Albert Pujols Is The Best At Hitting Each Pitch And Tim Lincecum's Pitches Are All The Best.  And we'd have been wildly wrong.  And probably lost, since this is a post about baseball, not science.  But that's why we use stats like these: because who would ever predict that Brad Bergesen would be the most adept at making Jose Guillen look silly with a curveball?

6/26/09

Geovany Soto Is...Well, Pretty Normal

Well well well.  ANOTHER FAMOUS ATHLETE BUSTED FOR WEED!  If you're interested, by the way, here's a slideshow of a whole bunch of athletes busted for possession or failing a test: http://www.suntimes.com/sports/-1,pot-smoking-athletes-062509.photogallery?index=0

And the reaction is...meh.

We're not going to get into the should it be legal/illegal argument here because that's a moot point.  In fact, we don't really know what to say about the whole thing.  The guy smoked weed before the WBC.  He got caught.  Now, he can't participate in Venezuelan team sports for two years.  

We're sure there are plenty of moralizers out there who are going to say that this is affecting his performance this year, that hitting .220 and hitting a bong are related.  But, to the credit of the internet, we haven't found them yet.  Even columnists have remained relatively silent on the issue, which is a shocker to us.  These guys never miss a chance to grandstand!  We guess that since there's no MLB penalty, it's just not a big deal.  Hell, half these guys grew up with Mickey Mantle, whose alcoholic tendencies probably contributed to the decline of his otherworldly career.  To make an issue out of this would be hypocritical, and we all know baseball writers are above that, right?

In any event, we're pretty sure no one's really surprised that professional athletes drink and smoke and do drugs.  It's been a pretty well known fact for some time; that a positive test was revealed is unfortunate for Soto, but ultimately the silence that greeted the news was deafening.  We won't go so far as to say no one cares, but...we've yet to hear from them.

Jeff Bennett Is a Man's Man

...now if only he were a better pitcher, we'd be onto something.

Bennett, as you may have heard, came into the game yesterday in relief, and allowed Alex Rodriguez to turn what was a tie game into a Yankee lead with a two-run single. Bennett got out of the inning, and then, in a shining example of the cool, calm, calculated decision-making process common among professional athletes, punched a clubhouse door. And broke his hand.

Now, this sort of thing is not uncommon.  What is uncommon is what makes this story newsworthy in our eyes.  Bennett proceeded to pop the fractured bone back into place and then go back out on the mound and pitch.

We're not Will Carroll, but part of this seems fishy to us.  You can't just pop a fractured bone back into place.  It may move, but the damage is already done to the bone itself, not the structure of the hand.  So something seems like it's either been misreported or misdiagnosed.  

IN ANY EVENT, though, how cool is that?  Prior to yesterday, Jeff Bennett was a nondescript middle reliever who could be stretched out a few innings and whom we'd rather not see in the ballgame, but there were worse pitchers.  But now...well, now he's still a pretty bad middle reliever.  But he's much cooler in our eyes!  Sure, it was his nonthrowing hand, but we've played ball with a fractured finger and anytime the ball goes into the glove, that thing's throbbing.  And the pitcher does have to catch the ball pretty frequently.  So props to him for plying his mediocre trade in self-inflicted, self-diagnosed, and self-treated pain.  Hopefully the club doesn't release him for his lack of judgement in a frustrating situation.

6/23/09

On Aging Catchers

It may surprise some of you - it certainly did us - that Brad Ausmus is still (!) playing.  The Bossmus, if you will, was a longtime backstop for the Houston Astros, so much so that when he was playing, there was talk of his being a player-coach and assuming managerial duties for the team immediately upon retiring.  Of course, his 10 years in the dirty dirty was the most unproductive stretch of his career; even this year, as a 40-year old, he's putting up his highest OPS since he was a spry 30 year old.  In fact, his age-30 season was one of only two seasons in his entire career when he posted a league-average 100 OPS+ or higher.  The three-time Gold Glover (a meaningless award, the nature of which we'll attack in a post sooner or later) and one-time All Star (another meaningless award that we'll attack, probably in the same post where we post our ballot) has stuck around because of presumed defensive and game-calling skills.  Which, we suppose, is as good a reason as any to keep a catcher around.  And it's not like game-calling gets worse with age.  

But really despite the fact that we never much cared for him as an Astro, and despite the fact that he was never, you know, that good, we respect a guy who can catch until he's 40.  And who, thusfar, is doing a good job of ensuring that no one is going to mention the Brad Ausmus Dodgers jersey as one that belongs in the company of Jerry Rice's Seahawks jersey, Michael Jordan's Wizards duds, Wayne Gretzky's St. Louis Blues getup, or Steve Carlton as a Minnesota Twin* (we ran out of "jersey" synonyms.)

*Goodness, Steve Carlton looks unhappy to be in a Twins jersey.  Poor guy.

ANYWAY, the revelation that Brad Ausmus is not only alive, but also appearing in actual Major League Baseball Games got us to thinking about the recent run of hangers-on we've had at the catching position.  We find it astounding that, given the high demands of the position, people can continue to do it until they're collecting AARP benefits - we kid because we're young.  In terms of the old dudes - meaning those over 35 - currently backstopping, we're in a veritable golden age (har har): Ausmus (40), Gregg Zaun (38), Jason Varitek (37), Jorge Posada (37), and Ivan Rodriguez (37).

*In the course of our research for this, we discovered that Jason Kendall is only 35, as is Jason LaRue - also still active! - while no Molina is older than 34 (3 guesses as to which one!), and Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Olivo are only 30.  We don't know why we thought Torrealba and Olivo were older, but...that seems young, doesn't it?

Zaun is currently employed almost entirely because he's old; the Orioles felt like they needed an older dude to show young stud Matt Wieters the ropes.  Which, we guess, justifies paying a guy who's had more concussions from a knee to the face (1) than good offensive seasons in which he's seen over 250 PA (0).  Hey, it's their money.  

On the other hand, we have Varitek, the Red Sock for life, and Jorge Posada, a Yankee stalwart.  Both have had several excellent offensive seasons, though Posada's been noticeably better with the bat throughout his career (132 OPS+ for hip-hip-Jorge, 100 for Tek).  Varitek, like Ausmus, has drawn effusive praise for his game-calling ability, though his overall defensive prowess has declined some with age.  The same can be said for Posada, who, after shoulder surgery last season, is probably going to be relegated to a lot of DH duty during the final years of his contract. 

Ivan Rodriguez, of course, was what catchers strove to be.  He had a bat like Piazza, but he could actually play defense - he threw out almost 50% of baserunners.  He was a 2-time MVP and appeared in more All-Star games than we care to count.  He even stole the nickname of one of the best catchers of all time; because of this larceny, we refuse to call him Pudge*.  As far as we can tell, no one ever praised his game-calling ability, but maybe that's because it was lost in the sea of adulation heaped upon his bat.  Of course, now he's a .300 slugger who lost a ton of weight after steroid testing started, inviting loads of speculation, but let's forget about that because we just don't care.

*Seriously, how did this happen?  Why recycle nicknames?  There's a good reason why B.J. Ryan isn't "The Ryan Express," and it's not just because he can't hit 90 anymore.  There's a reason why Albert Pujols isn't "The Big Hurt."  There's a reason why Felix Hernandez isn't "Wild Thing."  The reason is because THE NAMES WERE ALREADY USED.  We can't support Rany Jazayerli's campaign to get nicknames for Royals players (hello, Mexicutioner) enough.  Bill Simmons had a good riff on this re: LaDainian Tomlinson being nicknamed LT.

But with these guys, it's not about the future, or even the present.  It's really about the past.  Age doesn't seem to be a drag on catchers the way it is on most positions, even though it seems like catchers should wear down faster.  Most GMs (clearly, we're not looking at you, Jon Daniels or Brian Cashman), for example, wouldn't want to trot out a 35+ year old shortstop.  But man, if there's a catcher who's old and able to produce at something mildly approaching mediocrity, that's a hot commodity right there. 

Why?  Well, consider the cliches.  Catchers wear the "tools of ignorance," they're like "coaches on the field," they know more about what's going on at any given time than anyone else out there.  They're responsible for managing their pitcher, for working the umpire, framing pitches, and, if they're especially resourceful, asking the batter what that guy at his wife's strip club was doing wearing her panties on his head.  Ooh, Rexie, I don't think this one's got the distance...

These intangibles, if you will, are things that people attribute to those who play the game The Right Way.  They're the guys who run out ground balls, chatter in the infield, and drink milk after games.  You know...white guys grinders.  And catching is the ultimate grinder position.  Hell, it's practically the only position where a player might actually break a sweat.  So, if a GM wants an easy way to endear his team to the media and fans, he can bring in the aging veteran behind the plate who does all those things because he cares about the game.  He's been around.  He understands pitchers and umpires.  He'll help the team while hitting about as well as you or we might.  

In a way, this makes the cliche that catchers are like managers on the field one of the truest ones every uttered.  Backstops get recycled just like managers do.  Brad Ausmus, Astro For Life, played with Detroit, San Diego, and LA.  Ivan Rodriguez, Bob Boone, and Tony Pena bounced around to several different teams.  GMs just love the catcher who's been around and seen everything.  With catchers, you can take that "veteran presence" that GMs love to bandy on about after they waste heaps of money on, oh, let's say Aaron Rowand, and multiply it by 100.  The same logic that leads to the Rockies hiring Jim Tracy, who's getting all the credit for the team starting to finally play up to its talent level, leads to the Cardinals paying Jason LaRue to play for them despite his hitting .185/.286/.323 in the three years prior to this season.

What we're saying is, mamas, forget about raising a lefty if you want him to have a long baseball career.  Raise your boy to be a catcher and he'll be set for life.  

6/22/09

Trimester Checkup: NL West

Last one of these bad boys.  Enough prologue, let's get crackin'.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 46-24

2. San Francisco Giants, 37-31

3. Colorado Rockies, 36-33

4. San Diego Padres, 30-38

5. Arizona Diamondbacks, 29-41

Biggest Surprise: Every team in this division has a good candidate for this award, so let's go in order.  The Dodgers' Orlando Hudson has had a surprisingly strong year at .309/.382/.453; the second baseman is known mostly for his glove, but this year he's increased all his triple slash numbers to go along with his sturdy leather.  People knew Pablo Sandoval was good, but not this good, this fast; the dude's putting up a star-caliber .338/.386/.543 line.  He's not the most patient guy at the plate, but his ability to put the bat on the ball is outstanding.  Oh, and Barry Zito has been serving notice that he's not actually dead yet.  For the Rockies, we're going to give it to Jason Marquis.  He always seemed like the weak link on the Cubs rotations of the last two years and his 3-year/$21 million dollar deal looked incredibly foolish coming off a season where he'd posted a plus-6.00 ERA.  After two years of utter average-ness (100 ERA+) in the Windy City, he was traded to Colorado, where mediocre pitchers traditionally go to die.  And yet...Marquis has thrived.  He's posting a 123 ERA+, which would be a career best if not for 120 innings of 128 ERA+ ball he threw 8 years ago.  Adrian Gonzalez deserves mention for his work in San Diego.  He's been one of the most underrated players in the lig for the last few years, but OPSing 1.000+ while in one of the Majors' toughest hitting environments has drawn attention, as has his 23 HR. For the DBacks, Justin Upton has put up a performance commensurate with his status as one of the most talented prospects in recent history.  Only 21, he's flashed the power (near-1.000 OPS) and speed (9/11 SB) that makes him a 30/30 - or even 40/40 - threat.

Biggest Disappointment:  For all the excellent performances the division's seen thusfar,  there must be some pretty bad ones to explain the low quality of this fivesome.  And, indeed, there are!  In LA, Russell Martin's been shoddy, slugging .302 and, according to scouts, looking pained and slow on the basepaths and behind the plate.  Edgar Renteria was supposed to be rejuvenated by a return to the NL; if rejuvenation means .249/.312/.311, then we shudder to think what he might look like in the AL.  Well, actually, we might have a perfect example right in the division: Brian Giles has been the worst player in MLB so far, with a .191/.277/.271 line that makes him almost 2 full wins worse than your average minor leaguer.  Garrett Atkins was supposed to be a star at third base for the Rox; his numbers the last few seasons suggested that he was one of the better regulars at the position.  This year, however, he's tumbled to a .207/.288/.310 showing.  As for the Diamondbacks...well, anyone besides Dan Haren and Justin Upton is a good choice.  Brandon Webb's been hurt, but that in and of itself is a diappointment for one of the most consistent pitchers in the league.  Chris Young has done a lot to make us believe that his near-30/30 campaign two years ago was a fluke; .204/.272/.380 will do that to a promising young talent.  The offense as a whole has been horrendous all year; only Upton and Mark Reynolds save it from being epochally awful. 

Moves That Should Be Made

  • The Dodgers can just sit pretty.  They've got the league's best run prevention unit, have one of its best sluggers coming back from suspension soon, and have a stacked lineup from top to bottom that'll only get better if Russell Martin bounces back.  There's a reason they have the best lineup in baseball.
  • The Giants have no shot of catching the Dodgers.  Let's just be honest.  The pitching's been as expected with Lincecum, Cain, and, yes, Zito holding down the fort.  The lineup has been predictably bad, though Sandoval, Aaron Rowand, and Bengie Molina have been producing very well.  But, given GM Brian Sabean's past transgressions in the trade and free agent market, we'd rather they not do anything than to do something rash. They're not competitors, but there's no need to disband.  
  • The Rockies went on an 11-game winning streak and still found themselves 10 games out of the division.  That says a lot about them and the teams they're chasing.  They'd be best served to trade Huston Street to a team with bullpen issues.  The Indians don't have much to give back, but they're in a winnable division and have a chance to upgrade their biggest weakness.  
  • We don't even know where to start with the Padres.  They lost the chance to trade off their best asset in Jake Peavy since he's probably out for the year.  We suppose their next best trade chip is closer Heath Bell, who's been superb.  But, as with the Rockies, this team is not good enough to need an elite closer.  We say, trade him to the Phillies for Lou Marson.  The Pads need a catching prospect, and the Phils are going to need some help at the back end of their bullpen unless they believe Brad Lidge is totally healed up.  Call us skeptics, but we don't think all is well in Philly's pen. 
  • Speaking of the WFC, if you're into Philly coverage, check out phoulballz.com.  Nice site, lots of good stuff on it.
  • There's not much the DBacks can really get up to, trading-wise.  They're not about to trade guys like Dan Haren or Brandon WebbMax Scherzer's too young/good, Upton's untouchable, and their other hitters/pitchers just aren't that good.  We suppose Jon Garland might fetch some organizational arms if a contender needs an innings eater at the back of their rotation, but that's really all we can offer.

Prognostication:

The Dodgers are the clear favorites here.  There's almost no shot that they lose their death grip on the division title.  The Giants have made strides this year, that's for sure, but until they get some lineup help, this is just not going to be a super-competitive team.  Great pitching only takes you so far.  The Rockies have the lineup pieces, and Dexter Fowler's going to be a stud, but beyond Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and, yes, Jason Marquis, there's not a lot going right for them pitching-wise.  Manny Corpas is getting elbow surgery, further thinning their pen that already lost one of its more talented members in Taylor Buchholz; they need to flip Street for some high-upside arms.  The Padres are just awful everywhere except at first base and left field.  Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best players in the division, and we still hold out faith for Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks, the newly called-up 6'8'' 280-pound manchild.  Unfortunately, when your only good players play first base, left field, and closer, you're a team in trouble.  The Diamondbacks are troubled by a similar lack of talent.  They expected their pitching triumvirate of Haren, Webb, and Scherzer to keep them in games, but no amount of great pitching can hold up this bad of an offense for a full season.  Add in Webb's injury, and you're talking about a disaster of a season.  That said, we think they still have more going for them than the Padres, so at least they won't finish in the cellar.

Final Standings:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Colorado Rockies

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

5. San Diego Padres

Trimester Checkup: AL West

After a (pretty big) hiccup, we're back with the trimester checkups. Last, and definitely least, we're hitting the western circuits.  AL first.

1. Texas Rangers, 37-31

2. Los Angeles Angels, 36-31

3. Seattle Mariners, 35-34

4. Oakland A's, 30-38

Biggest Surprise: Well, the Rangers, of course.  This is a team with loads of young talent in the bigs and the minors; that they put it together this quickly is remarkable, even if it is still fairly early.  But their pitching looked like it might have been Orioles-level bad, and instead they've managed to stay above .500 as their motley mound crew, headed by the resurgent Kevin Millwood, has pitched above expectations.  They're not quite hitting like Ranger teams of old, but Josh Hamilton's likely to put up numbers once he returns from surgery, and Chris Davis is due to rebound.  If he doesn't, they've still got Justin Smoak ready to take his spot at first.  The bats should heat up with the weather; the Rangers just have to hope that their pitchers don't wear down in the Texas heat.  Oh, and Russell Branyan of the Mariners deserves a mention here.  Dude's been mashing lefties for years, and he finally got a starting job at the tender age of 33.  What's he done with it so far?  Oh, just OPS'd over 1.000.  NBD, brah.  Jarrod Washburn's been surprisingly good for the fishermen of the northwest as well.

Biggest Disappointment: The A's, we suppose.  Some places had tabbed them as divison winners; we didn't share their optimism, but we did expect better than the sub-.500 performance they're tossed up so far.  Key culprits include a punchless Matt HollidayJason GiambiOrlando Cabrera...heck, a punchless lineup.  No one on this team is slugging .500.  Oddly, what was seen as their biggest Achilles heel going into the season was their young pitching, and Dallas BradenJosh Outman, and Trevor Cahill have done an above-average job fronting up the rotation.  Brett Anderson has left a lot to be desired, but the team that doesn't have problems in the back end of its rotation is a rare one.

Moves That Should Be Made:

  • The Rangers need to shore up their pitching staff.  We know, we know, we just extolled their virtues.  But the fact is, most of these guys just aren't very good, and most of the young guys aren't ready yet.  They do have a position of rare strength with their young pitching and catching depth; our suggestion is to call up RHP Neftali Feliz and flip C Max Ramirez and RHP Neil Ramirez for RHP Aaron Cook.  The Rockies are out of contention right now, and while C Chris Iannetta is a very good backstop, catching is one of those places where teams always want more.  Both Ramirezes are relatively high-ceiling prospects; if Max finds a starting job, it won't be with Texas, though.  Neil is young and inconsistent, but could be a star - and the Rox could stand for some upside with their hurlers.  Cook's groundball tendencies should play well in the Texas bandbox.
  • The Angels need to call up 3B/SS Brandon Wood.  And he needs to play every day.  That this guy has been held in the minors for so long, putting up so many numbers, that it's absurd the organization hasn't given him a fair look.  He's played 3 years in AAA now, hitting 25, 23, and 31 HRs while his extremely high strikeout rate has declined each year.  The guy's learned his batting eye, he's slugging .600, and he can play shortstop.  Most teams would be dying to have this guy on their team and the Halos are willfully witholding his wings.  They don't have the money or flexibility to go get anyone else, either.
  • The Mariners need to trade Jarrod Washburn to the Rays for SS Reid Brignac or OF Fernando Perez.  That is, assuming the Rays don't do as we suggested here and flip Brignac to the Indians.  The Rays need another pitcher to remain competitive in the ridiculously stacked AL East; between Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine, they've basically been punting games.  If Kazmir can come back healthy, and if Washburn keeps this up, all of a sudden the Rays have a starting five that can compete with anyone in the league.  As for the M's, they get a guy with higher upside than incumbent SS Yuniesky Betancourt (best name in the majors) or another fast glove guy who happens to have some upside with the stick to put alongside Ichiro, and Wladimir Balentien, or whosoever takes the third spot in the outfield.
  • The A's need to decide whether they're contenders or not.  In our opinion, they aren't.  So, there's a couple deals they should make.  Send LF Matt Holliday and 2B Adam Kennedy to the Tigers for OF Wilkin Ramirez and 1B Ryan Strieby.  Both Ramirez and Strieby have 40-HR potential, and the A's are all about stockpiling high-ceiling guys.  Whether that's enough to reel in Holliday is questionable, and he also has to prove he can play right field, but that's a foundation for a deal.  The Tigers have the high upside guys that they don't need now as division title contenders, and the A's have expendable veteran pieces in Holliday and Kennedy.  Owner Mike Ilitch has said that he's willing to spend whatever it takes to turn this team into a winner; he can put his money where his mouth is by landing the big fish on the market.

Prognostication:  The Rangers are going to slow down a bit if their pitching starts performing as expected.  They're going to come to a screeching halt if that happens and Josh Hamilton fails to find his swing.  We see them calling up Justin Smoak at some point and also trading for pitching, both of which should be a big help. The Angels need to get healthy; once John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar get fully healthy, they will have three more star-caliber pitchers in their pocket.  Escobar's probably going to be relegated to bullpen duty the rest of the way, which is convenient since star 8th-inning guy Scot Shields is out for the year, and Lackey and Santana should be great for a rotation that's been mediocre.  Vlad better start hitting, though.  There's another guy who might be washed up... The Mariners are in a rebuiliding process that is showing better results now than was expected.  But we don't think that's a good thing; this team is not good enough to actually win at a good clip all year.  If they fail to recognize this like they did 2 seasos ago, when they went for broke trading for Erik Bedard after a fluky season, they'll dig themselves deeper into the same hole they're working out of right now.  The A's don't have a whole lot to build on.  Their offense is moribund and we have very little hope for them to recover.  The way we see it, Matt Holliday and Jack Cust are really the only two major-league caliber hitters in the group.  Their pitching is showing signs of improving, which is great for the youngsters, but they won't contend this year the way some thought they would.

Final Standings:

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Texas Rangers

3. Seattle Mariners

4. Oakland A's

6/17/09

Soliloquizing on the Slammin' Sammy Sosa Steroid "Shocker"

Since we run a baseball blog, we figure it's a rite of passage that we write a steroids-related post.  It kills us to do so, because we think the entire issue's been way, way overblown.  And yet, here we are, fanning the flames in our own small way.

The recent news, of course, is that Sammy Sosa is reportedly among the list of names of players who tested positive in 2003's round of "anonymous" testing - the same list of 104 players that saw A-Rod dragged into this mess.  Basically, if you don't remember, there's a list of names that correspond with the sample numbers on the test results.  This list was supposed to be destroyed, but never was, and though it was kept separate from the results list, some people saw the two together.  This then prompts the question of why the second name they chose to reveal was Sammy Sosa.  If the person knows all the names on the list, you'd have to imagine there's a more provocative name on there than Sammy, right?  Or perhaps the remaining 102 players are all...mediocre.  Who knows.

In any event, the first thing we said upon seeing the BREAKING NEWS alert was: "Well, yeah.  Of course."  We get the sense that this was the general reaction; Sosa and McGwire "saved" baseball with their 1998 home run duel, and in doing so, put themselves front and center in the media-driven witch hunt that followed.  As such, when steroid talk started rumbling, they were some of the first to be implicated.  And, really: was there any doubt?  Those guys were enormous.  If you need to be refreshed, take a gander at Sosa and McGwire in their playing days.  It's fun.

We're also going to mention that our indifferent reaction is not due only to the fact that we were fairly sure that Sosa had juiced, but also because, well, we don't care about steroids in general.  We made it through 49 posts without mentioning steroids in any significant way, but we feel compelled to cave since one of our heroes growing up tested positive.  If anything, Sosa's test should make us feel outraged and indignant and all these things that the media loves to say we should feel.  But...we don't.  Even when it hits close to home like this.  We're not disappointed in Sosa.  We're not angry with him.  We don't think he tainted the game.  Because here's the thing: we suspect that everyone did it.  And that's fine by us.  It made games more entertaining, it made us want to watch.  

And furthermore, we sort of feel like we'd be more outraged if Sosa - or, say, Chipper Jones - didn't juice.  Because if it was as widespread as we believe, or as Jose Canseco wants us to believe, then we would like to think that our heroes were willing to do whatever it took to stay competitive, to stay on top.  If that's what the game demanded, then so be it.  Is that unfair?  Absolutely.  But we don't think there's any moral high ground in being able to look back and say "yeah, I batted .250 in the majors, but I did it without steroids!"  If you're good enough and competitive enough to get to the very top level of baseball, not only are you more disposed to take drugs that'll help you compete, but if you get that far and don't take the extra step that so many of your peers are taking, at the cost of your own career...well, we have to wonder why.

We understand the health effects of steroids.  We understand that they were illegal by law, if not by the rules of the game.  We understand that not everyone has access to the same kind of drugs.  But if baseball wasn't interested in testing, and steroid use became widespread, and the media was just as willing as the rest of us to turn a blind eye while we all became enthralled by 100-mph fastballs and 500-foot bombs...then who's to look back now, after the fact, and say "It's Wrong!  They didn't do it The Right Way!"  We certainly don't feel that holier-than-thou compunction.

Oh, and one more thing.  ESPN ran a reaction on Sosa's positive test from Fergie Jenkins.  In it, Jenkins said that he was surprised, because he'd always thought that Sosa had accomplished what he did "through his own hard work."  We feel like a lot of people believe that if you take steroids, they're just some magic substance that makes your muscles huge and lets you drop dongers with the best of 'em.  But, of course, they aren't.  The amount of work that guys like Sosa, McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, etc. had to put in to get where they did is incredible.  Yes, steroids can make it easier to put on muscle and shorten recovery times.  But you still have to put in the work in the weight room to make it happen.  And just because you get big doesn't mean that you can all of a sudden hit home runs whenever you please.  The degree of hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition skills that is required to hit like they did, the amount of cage work and pitching drills people were doing...it's insane.  It's harder to be a pro athlete than just about anything else in the world, and all anyone who juiced was doing was trying to better their career in possibly the most physically and mentally demanding field in the world.  And it's naive of us to say that we wouldn't do the same in their situation.  

So, there: hopefully that's our last word on steroids.  Kids: they're bad.  Unless you're a professional athlete, and everyone's doing them, and the sport isn't testing for them, and you stand to make millions upon millions of dollars if you do them.  In that case, go nuts.  

6/15/09

Entire Indians' Bullpen Arrested for Arson

Pictured: Flames Engulf Progressive Field

CLEVELAND, OH - Heartening news for Indians fans tonight, as word has just come down that the entire Indians relief corps has been placed under arrest for arson.  The group was apprehended after a particularly egregious episode of firestarting behavior while on national television late Monday night, during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Brewers were trailing by 4 runs in the top of the 8th inning, 12-8.  As the score indicated, both teams were hitting the ball well.  "We really felt like our guys were giving us a chance to win up there at the plate," said beleaguered Indians manager Eric Wedge.  "You usually feel pretty comfortable with your chances to pick up a win when you put up 12 like that."

And yet, signs of the Indians relievers apparent torching of their team's chances surfaced as early as the 6th inning.  Cleveland boasted an 8-6 lead after both starters submitted lackluster performances, but RHP Greg Aquino allegedly surrendered a single to Milwaukee SS J.J. Hardy, who advanced to second on a subsequent single, then to third on an Aquino wild pitch.  Witnesses say he scored shortly after, as 2B Craig Counsell hit a sacrifice fly to score him.  

With the score 8-7, the action turned to the 7th.  The Indians, evidently feeling the imminent implosion, scored 4 more runs to create a 5-run lead.  And yet, according to witnesses, Aquino was docked another run in the bottom of the frame when his runner, Ryan Braun, scored after Corey Hart hit a sacrifice fly against RHP Luis Vizcaino.  Brewers relievers held fast in the top of the 8th, at which point Vizcaino allegedly took his fateful turn on the mound.

What follow is all according to witness testimony.  Vizcaino induced a flyout on the first batter, then walked the next two, prompting his removal.  At this point, RHP Matt Herges entered the game, promptly walking a third batter and then surrendering an RBI single to LF Ryan Braun.  With the bases loaded, Wedge signaled for left-handed Rafael Perez to pitch to Milwaukee's left-handed slugger, Prince Fielder.  This was done to gain a tactical advantage over the hitter; however, the reader will note that Perez, to this point, was allowing left-handed batters to hit at a .382/.463/.529 clip.  If true, this information suggests that Wedge may have been complicit in the ensuing inferno.

Immediately subsequent to Perez's entry, he allegedly grooved a fastball on the inner half of the plate to Fielder, who deposited it in the right-center field stands for a grand slam and the 13-12 lead.  Perez then remained in the game, allowing a single, a walk, and then another single to add gasoline to the blaze.  At 14-12, bystander Joe Smith entered the scene and put out the raging flames with a lineout and a strikeout of the final two batters of the game.

"It's just something where you see something awful going on, and do what you can to stop it," explained Smith after the game.  "It's really just a case where I think that anyone would've done what I did."

Cleveland fans seemed glad to see that perceived justice was being upheld.  "These guys have just been running wild for too long," said Angela Lang, a fan in Section 307 at Progressive Field.  "It's good that we're finally taking steps to get these guys off the streets."  

While this is the first time the bullpen has officially been brought up on charges, they have been suspected in previous firestarting episodes throughout the season.  The group as a whole has been involved with 11 blown saves as compared to 12 saves, and, as a whole, provides negative support for their starting pitchers, at .671 runs below average - meaning starters sacrifice .671 runs every time the bullpen takes over.  Further, only two of them has a sub-4.00 ERA in at least 10 innings of action, though the aforementioned Perez's ERA actually went down from the 15.00-range to just under 12 after last night's performance.  

Defense attorneys seem likely to point to this improvement as well as the demotion of Masa Kobayashi after 9.1 innings as evidence that the pitchers are trying to rehabilitate themselves and also that team is aware of and trying to correct the heinous actions of their bullpen.  There also remains the question of how to try Matt Herges; his 1.93 ERA in 18 innings suggests that tonight's actions constituted a first-time offense that does not deserve the same punishment as repeat offenders like, for example, free agent signee Kerry Wood.

The trial proceedings are scheduled to begin at some point this week.  The bullpen, with the exception of Smith, are being held on bail in Cuyahoga County Jail.  The group is facing charges of first-degree arson, which carries a sentence of 5-15 years of prison time as well as a $50,000 fine each.  Prosecutors say they are going to seek the maximum allowable penalties.

6/11/09

On David Ortiz

We know that David Ortiz has been hot.  Hit 3 HR in the last 5 games.  That's great.  But the guy still hasn't hit one out to right.  There's a good reason for that: he can't get his bat around fast enough.  For proof, look at the fact that teams don't even play him with the shift anymore; the shortstop stays at short, instead of playing at second base.  And for further proof, look at the fact that that type of player simply does not hold up very long.  Ortiz seems young because he's only been with the Sox for a few years, but he's into his 30s.  And that's about the limit for guys of his body type/skill set.  If pitchers would stop fearing his reputation and just bust him inside with big-league heat, he'll go right back to hovering around the Mendoza line.  

We know, we know: ...says the blogger.  But come on, folks: stop thinking that David Ortiz is still godlike.  3 HR in 5 games is just not that big of a deal.  Plenty of hitters have done it; it does not mean that Ortiz is not washed up.  We're standing by our OFFICIAL KCSD stance that he's washed up.

....boy, we hope we're right.

Trimester Checkup: NL Central

Time for the NL Central's exam.  Drop 'em and cough, boys.

1. Milwaukee Brewers, 33-26

2. Cincinnati Reds, 31-27

3. St. Louis Cardinals, 32-28

4. Chicago Cubs, 29-27

5. Pittsburgh Pirates, 27-32

6. Houston Astros, 26-31

Biggest Surprise: The Milwaukee Brewers.  They have 2 guys who are producing big numbers at the dish in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.  They have 1, maybe 2 quality starters in Yovani Gallardo and Dave Bush.  They're relying on big contributions from pitchers like Seth McClung, Mark DiFelice, and Todd Coffey.  Rickie Weeks is out for the year and hasn't played in several weeks, but still ranks as the third most-productive hitter on the team in VORP.  And yet...here they are in first place ahead of the near-consensus favorite from Chicago, and dark horses in Cincinnati and St. Louis.  We're going to chalk this one up to a nice hot streak for a team that's playing over its head right now.  

Biggest Disappointment: We have a trio of winners: Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, and Geovany Soto.  Unsurprisingly, the Cubs have been the division's most disappointing team.  Also, for those of you who expected a healthy year from Rich Harden: silly yo- ok, silly us, because he's been pretty banged up this year.  You've gotta figure they'll get better once Aramis Ramirez comes back from his calf troubles, and once Milton Bradley gets over his, and once Alfonso Soriano stops having a sore knee, and...y'know, the Cubs just need a better training staff.  Or a bunch of replacement legs. 

Moves That Should Be Made:

  • The Brewers should find themselves another hitter.  Trade J.J. Hardy for...well, there's not much available.  Alberto Callaspo, if they're sick of Craig Counsell's stick.  If it's Corey Hart they want to give up on - and he's been trending downward - they could go after Ryan Ludwick.  The Cards need a shortstop - they're rumored to be in the market for Miguel Tejada, after all - and the Brewers need to do something about their limited offense.
  • The Reds have been playing like the bizarro Reds this year - all pitching, no hitting, when in previous years, they've been hitting and not pitching.  Maybe if they hadn't let Adam Dunn go, they wouldn't be in this predicament...and we'd suggest that they try to get him back.  But, since neither party appears to enjoy each other's company, that doesn't seem so likely.  They don't seem to have much to trade, and their biggest problems, like with many other clubs, are up the middle - Ramon Hernandez is having a bad year, Alex Gonzalez isn't hitting, and center field is a black hole.  We say, call up Drew Stubbs and Chris Valaika.  Stubbs can take over for Willy Taveras in center, and Valaika can fill in for the injured Edwin Encarnacion.  He's a shortstop by trade, but Gonzo's defense is adequate to keep him there for the year.
  • The Cardinals are rumored to be in the market for Miguel Tejada, and that seems like the right move to us, as long as they aren't concerned about his salary.  We still think Cristian Guzman makes sense, though Tejada's track record may make him more appealing.  Regardless, the Cards desperately need to do something to bolster their lineup.  It's a one-man show with Albert Pujols; no one else is worth even 1 win over replacement.  As for what they can offer, we already covered the Guzman trade.  Tejada might cost as much as Brett Wallace, though if we were Cardinals faithful, we'd hope they don't get that desperate.  
  • The Cubs need to get healthy.  They've got the talent to win right now, but injuries to their starting first baseman, third baseman, left fielder, right fielder, and most talented starter and reliever have decimated the team's performance to this point.  Just don't panic, Chicago.
  • The Pirates are out of the cellar!  There's no more moves they need to make, either.  They don't have any high-paid veterans, unless you count Jack Wilson, and even if you do, he won't bring a very big return.  Their most tradeable asset, Nate McLouth, already got moved, and his return was somewhat less than we expected.  Really, unless the Buccos flip Wilson and Freddy Sanchez for any kind of high-ceiling guys, there's no further dealing to be done here - unless teams overvalue their starting pitching, which has been pitching above expectations this year.
  • The Astros are in a bad situation.  They're saddled with four huge contracts in Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and Miguel Tejada.  Beyond those four, there aren't any real assets on the team besides Jose Valverde, Wandy Rodriguez, and Hunter Pence - and maayyybe Michael Bourn.  They need to do whatever they can to shed those deals and improve a mediocre-at-best farm system.  Berkman is having a down year, so his value is likely somewhat surpressed.  Lee is untradeable beacuse of his contract and weight.  Miguel Tejada is expensive and old, and they're gonna have to probably eat some of his deal to get back quality prospects - unless, as we mentioned, a team like the Cardinals gets desperate enough at short to cash in on his big year thusfar.  Oswalt is probably their most tradeable player, but he's having a down year, too, and is more or less the face of the franchise.  The other big problem here is that Houston has historically overvalued its chances to compete, and has been loath to get rid of guys that can contribute to what will be at best a mediocre season for this club.  There are plenty of teams who need pitching, and you can bet that Roy Oswalt has a big enough profile to bring back a top-level prospect from some team in desperate need of one more pitcher to put them over the top.  We like the idea of the Astros trading Roy Oswalt to the Rangers for CF Engel Beltre and RHP Michael Main.  Both are the sort of high-ceiling players that the Astros need in their system, and Oswalt - along with the possible influx of youngsters like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland - should provide the Rangers with the sort of pitching help they need to compete in the division.  

Prognostication: This is an interesting division that has a lot to sort out over the remainder of the season.  The Brewers have likely been playing over their head, the Reds remain intriguing, the Cardinals seem to always be competitive despite a team that looks underwhelming on paper, and the Cubs have been underperformed.  Really, the  Brewers are the only team that's been firing on all cylinders thusfar, as the Reds should be hitting better, the Cardinals have an utter lineup outage outside of Pujols, and the Cubs have too much talent to play sub-.500 ball for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee fans, it's doubtful they can put it together like this for an entire year.  We expect the cream to rise to the top as more games get played - the Cubs should make it to the top, the Reds look well-poised to stay in second, and the Cards look viable at third.  We see the Brewers swapping spots with the Cubs as their non-stars start playing like their old selves.  The Pirates and Astros are bad enough to make their finish a near-coin flip, but the Pirates just look like they have more talent across the board.  Really, the only reason for the 'Stros not to deal Oswalt and/or Tejada is to avoid a last place finish, and that should never be a team's goal.

Final Standings

1. Chicago Cubs

2. Cincinnati Reds

3. St. Louis Cardinals

4. Milwaukee Brewers

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

6. Houston Astros

On Kevin Gregg

Here at KCSD we have no love lost for Kevin Gregg.  He's the poster boy for being overrated because of saving games, and as such made the Cubs give up a young reliever who's probably already better than him in Jose Ceda.  And he looks so, so goofy when he throws.  We hate short-armers.  

And righties are hitting .298 against him.  Yes, he is right-handed, why do you ask?

And those yellow-tinted goggles look stupid.

Just go away, Kevin Gregg. Before you blow another game.

6/10/09

Trimester Checkup: AL Central

Back to the AL for the third episode of the Trimester Checkup.  We're gonna cover the Home of Mediocrity: the AL Central.

1. Detroit Tigers, 32-26

2. Minnesota Twins, 29-31

3. Chicago White Sox, 27-32

4. Cleveland Indians, 26-34

5. Kansas City Royals, 24-33

Biggest Surprise:  Call it a tie between RHPs Zack Greinke and Carl Pavano.  We had faith in Greinke to have a great year, but certainly not to the extent that we've seen from him thusfar. And as for Pavano, we never thought he had as much talent as, say, the Yankees did.  We thought that he was given an unreasonable contract based on a career year, and that he failed to deliver in such a spectacular fashion as he did, well, that was icing on the cake.  And yet, this year, he's holding his own with Cliff Lee on the Indians' staff.  Who knew?

Biggest Disappointment:  The Indians, we guess.  Though we didn't really expect much from them (we picked the Tigers to win the division. Ha.), the general consensus was that they were the favorites to win the division after a remarkably strong second half last year and the potential addition of power broker Matt LaPorta.  Buuuuut as you can see from the record above, too much has gone wrong for one reason or another.  The bullpen's imploded, the staff beyond Lee and Pavano has been horrendous, and Grady Sizemore - an individual candidate for biggest disappointment - has been as bad as we can remember him ever being.  A far cry from a guy who should be putting up MVP caliber numbers for this offense.

Biggest Question:  What impact can Jeremy Bonderman have?  Bonderman was a highly touted youngster when he came up during the Tigers' leanest of lean years, but has since derailed with a lengthy list of serious injuries.  He recently returned from the newest addition to his medical file, having just rehabbed from surgery to remove a clot in his throwing arm.  If healthy, and if finally able to fulfill the promise that he showed early in his career - which, we will admit, is less than most would have you believe; he was really only good as a 23 year old - then the Tigers should have enough pitching to hold on to the division lead.  His presence will lessen the pressure on Rick Porcello to keep up what is a mostly unsustainable performance thusfar, and give the Tigers some insurance should Dontrelle Willis cease being effective...again.

Moves That Should Be Made:

  • The Tigers should....well, they can't really trade anyone, since their cupboard is pretty bare.  They're already cash-strapped and their prospect list is pretty depressing.  So we'd recommend that they go after a second baseman, since Placido Polanco no longer appears to be capable, but they just don't seem to have the pieces.  Fortunately, what they have now should be enough to get them into the playoffs.
  • The Twins need to figure out what to do with Delmon Young.  He can't be optioned to the minors because of his contract, but he also clearly can't play in the majors right now.  His trade value can't be high because of his shoddy all-around performance, but that's the same reason why they can't afford to keep throwing at bats at him.  They need to send him somewhere that, to put it bluntly, doesn't matter.  Even though it means admitting that they essentially gave away Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, Terry Ryan can't let that be a hangup.  We say send him to the Marlins and see if you can't bring back, say, Jose Ceda.  We doubt that could happen, but that's the type of move they need to make with him.  Unless they have no faith in Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer to stay healthy...which is reasonable.  Oh, and find a witch doctor for Francisco Liriano.  Dude needs some kind of magic.
  • The Chicago White Sox should do something - ANYTHING - to add some OBP and/or speed to their lineup.  They just seem like...old dinosaurs to us.  As opposed to the young kind, you know.  Their rotation should come around, as Buerhle, Danks, Floyd and Richard should be enough to carry them to contention, but they only have 4 capable hitters...and Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko aren't getting any younger or more fleet of foot, and Carlos Quentin flat-out doesn't have a foot anymore.  Dude's out until July with a torn tendon "down there."  SOOOO how about RHP Aaron Poreda and 3B Brent Morel for either Mike Cameron, Ryan Spilborghs (stretching the definition of CF, we know) or LHP Clayton Richard for either Michael Bourn or Willy Taveras.  Not that we necessarily believe in either of those guys, they just seem like the type of player Ozzie might want.
  • The Indians...ah, the Indians.  They need the aforementioned witch doctor to fix up Fausto and Grady, and then they'll be in much better shape to contend.  That or do anything possible to address the bullpen.  And that, ladies and gents, is the sound for some KCSD theorizing!  Look - bullpen arms are wildly unpredictable.  Since they throw relatively few innings each year, there's not much statistical significance to be found in their numbers.  Rare is the bullpen man who lasts many years; plentiful is he who dominates for a year or two.  Our favorite example is Ben Weber.  He was a key cog in the Angels winning the 2002 World Series, and then he quickly ended up ineffective and out of baseball.  What we recommend in a situation where a team needs to improve their bullpen is not to trade for an "established guy" bur rather to just...call up guys from the minors.  No one's got books on them, no one's seen them, and bullpen guys are almost always interchangeable.  Trust us.  Just give random guys from AAA a shot and they can put together 10-20 good innings.  And then swap 'em right back out!
  • The Royals have absolutely no hope.  They can't hit their way out of a wet paper bag, and the problem is too widespread for them to even think about building around a great pitching core in Greinke, Meche, and Joakim Soria (God rest his shoulder).  To wit: only Alberto Callaspo has been worth even one (1) (1!) full win above replacement level.  And he's only a 1.2.  So...we don't even know where to start.  This team is far, far away from being able to put together a truly competitive core.  Try to trade anybody and anything you can.

Prognostication: The Tigers looked the best to us heading into the year, and we're sticking with our guns so far.  Getting Carlos Guillen back should only help their already powerful offense going forward, and Jeremy Bonderman should also provide a boost if he can stay healthy.  The Twins are getting great years from their key hitters, and should remain a thorn in the Tigers' side if they can keep it up...but they're going to need a bigger performance from their pitching if they want to overcome the current leaders.  The White Sox are going to need a lot of production from Gordon Beckham in his rookie campaign if they hope to avoid a singularly one-sided offensive attack.  Their pitching looks solid enough in the weak AL Central that if they can put any degree of dynamism out on the field, they could surprise.  And, yes, we do feel ridiculous for saying the key to the White Sox' future success is "dynamism."  BUT ANYWAY.  The Indians simply don't look like they can keep scoring runs at their current pace, even if Travis Hafner is healthy again.  They've only got two legitimate lineup forces, plus a complimentary part or two in Shin Soo-Choo and Mark DeRosa.  Combined with only two good pitchers in the rotation and one of the worst bullpens in baseball, well, you've got a recipe for disaster.  The Royals...are simply a disaster.  Let's just hope Soria's injury isn't too serious and that maybe, just maybe, Alex Gordon can start delivering on some of his promise.  And yeah, we're picking the current standings to be the same at the end.  Borrrrring, we know.  Sorry.

Final Standings

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Minnesota Twins

3. Chicago White Sox

4. Cleveland Indians

5. Kansas City Royals


6/9/09

Trimester Checkup: NL East

A couple days ago, we did our first installment of our Trimester Checkup, looking at the AL East.  Today, we look at its senior circuit counterpart, the NL East. 

1. Philadelphia Phillies, 33-22

2. New York Mets, 30-25

3. Atlanta Braves, 28-28

4. Florida Marlins, 25-31

5. Washington Nationals, 15-40

Biggest Surprise: Raul Ibanez.  Ibanez has been mashing out of his mind this year, posting a .329/.386/.676 line with 19 dongers.  His signing was widely panned this offseason, as one might reasonably question the wisdom of signing a 37-year old who's never lit the world on fire to a 3 year deal.  But the investment has paid off in spades as Ibanez has helped carry the offense to a 3rd-best 5.5 runs per game.  The offense, of course, has had to be great, since the pitching's not picking up any slack; the staff's allowing 4.78 runs per, good for 19th in the majors.  We don't mean to insinuate there's anything wrong with J.A. Happ, but when he's leading your team in VORP, that can't mean good things.  Luckily for the Phils, Cole Hamels looks like he's gotten his legs back under him, and...well...that's about all that's gone well for Phils pitching.

Biggest Disappointment: This is a tough one, but we're gonna say Jose Reyes.  The Mets' sparkplug has been dealing with calf injuries all year, but is still posting a meager .279/.355/.379 line, and has been out-stolen by David Wright - who is having a disappointing year in his own right, thanks mostly to a surpressed line at home.  They're gonna need him to step up if they want to make moves on the Phils and hold off the Braves, who we think are going to charge upward with the additions of Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, and Nate McLouth.  Speaking of the Braves, we'd also like to mention Garret Anderson in the disappointment column, since he's been horrible.  But...we can't say we're disappointed because, well, we weren't expecting anything.  We just hope that the McLouth acquisition pushes old man Anderson to the bench.  PERMANENTLY.  If you know what we mean.

Biggest Question: Can the Mets get some quality pitching after Johan Santana?  Livan Hernandez is currently second on the team in VORP, which is laughable to us.  There's absolutely no way he can sustain anything resembling an above-average performance.  So, someone's going to have to step up.  John Maine needs to stop walking everyone he can, Mike Pelfrey's got to start trying to strike out anyone he can, and...well, Oliver Perez is beyond help.  

Moves We Think Should Be Made:

  • The Phillies should trade RHP Kyle Kendrick and INF Pablo Ozuna to the Indians for INF Jhonny Peralta.  The Phils have no depth up the middle, and Eric Bruntlett is an incapable defensive or offensive caddy for Jimmy Rollins.  If Rollins keeps struggling and the team decides they need to take away some of his at-bats, then they're going to need to upgrade the position.  Piggybacking off of our earlier trade suggestion for the Indians, they would have an available shortstop in Peralta who has shown consistent 20-25 HR pop, albeit with a sieve in place of a glove.  Which is fine, we think, as long as he's playing backup duty.
  • The Mets should trade OF Fernando Martinez, 3B Jefry Marte, and RHP Bobby Parnell to the Padres for RHP Jake Peavy.  Assuming, of course, that Peavy will go to New York.  Given his demonstrated willingness to use that no-trade clause for all it's worth, that's a definite question mark.  If Peavy can't be had, they could turn to the Pirates for any of Zach DukePaul MaholmIan Snell, et al.  The Pirates have a ton of young hurlers who all seem to be pitching over their heads thusfar and might make for trade bait.  Alternatively, we don't see a lot on the pitching market.
  • The Braves already made the move they needed to make by bringing in Nate McLouth and adding an actual Major League-caliber bat to their outfield.  Now if they can jigger the playing time properly (say, so that Brandon Jones and Matt Diaz platoon in left, Gregor Blanco mans center, and McLouth slides to right; anything to get Jeff Francoeur and Garret Anderson off the field), that might be all they need to make a run at the division crown.
  • The Marlins need to just stop with the Emilio Bonifacio nonsense.  It's great that he had a fantastic first week, but so did Chris Shelton.  Just toss him back to AAA and forget that he was even up.  Chris Coghlan was a good callup, and since the Marlins only seem to work from within their organization unless they're trading guys away, we won't suggest that they do anything drastic.  Like, say, upgrading their pitching.  Which they need to do.  Josh Johnson's great, Ricky Nolasco will come back to form, and Anibal Sanchez should post better numbers, but how long do you want to wait on that?
  • The Nationals...where to begin?  They already took Stephen Strasburg, so there's a big step toward relevancy.  But they need so, so much more.  My advice would be to flip Cristian Guzman to a team in need of a shortstop, and see if you can't get near-big league guys to keep building around Zimmerman and Dunn.  Our best bet would be Cristian Guzman to the Cardinals for C Bryan Anderson and RHP  Jess Todd.  In them, you get two guys who, if you're desperate, can come play with the big boys by the end of the year.  By the way, the Dunn signing never made sense to us.  Why sign a slugger like that when your biggest strength is in the outfield, you already have issues assigning playing time, and you're not going to be a competitor anyway?  Just save the money...especially since you're going to need it to pay Strasburg.  

Prognostication:  We see the Phillies repeating as champs.  Ryan Howard looks like he's actually manging to put together an entire season of productive slugging, maintaining a .550+ SLG into June, Chase Utley has been excellent, and Raul Ibanez's decline should be offset by Jimmy Rollins rounding into form.  If they can get some back-end pitching to help out their lineup's above-average output, they could be in good shape to make another run at the World Series.  The Mets, despite their bullpen upgrades, are still lacking in the rotation and lineup as compared to the Phils, and can only boast a superior lineup when compared to the Braves.  The Braves, in fact, should rise above the Mets and at least challenge the Phillies thanks to the addition of McLouth and healthy production from Brian McCann.  The Marlins have room to improve, of course, what with all the youngsters they have.  We'd like to see them call up Cameron Maybin and make like the Indians in the second half of last year.  And hopefully the Nationals let Strasburg skip the minors, purely for the sake of our enjoyment.  We're curious to see if anyone can really pull off that feat without turning into Chad Cordero.

Final Standings

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Florida Marlins

5. Washington Nationals

 

"Bad Eyes Not Reason for Big Papi's Bad Slump"

http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/31177610/

We know the reason for Big Papi's bad slump! We know! We know!

He's washed up.

6/7/09

Trimester Checkup: AL East

It's about a third of the way through the 162 game grind, so we're going to take a look at the various divisions and tell you who's coming up in the world, who's fading, players to keep an eye on, and what moves the teams should make to better themselves for the rest of the season.  KCSD: believing we're MLB GM material since 2009!

Let's kick this business off with baseball's most competitive division - the AL East.  As of this writing, they boast 4 teams with .500 or better records, which ain't too shabby in our eyes.

1. New York Yankees, 33-23.

2. Boston Red Sox, 33-24.

3. Toronto Blue Jays, 32-27.

4. Tampa Bay Rays, 29-29.

5. Baltimore Orioles, 24-33.

The biggest surprise thusfar has got to be the Blue Jays' offense.  We were as bearish as anyone on their chances to contend with what looked like a punchless offense that goes unrivaled north of the border.  Which goes without saying, we guess.  But lo and behold, they're scoring 5 runs a game, 8th best in MLB - yet only 4th best in the division, which goes to show you how potent the AL East is.  If anything, we'd have guessed that the Jays' pitching would have to be elite to keep them relevant, but while Doc Halladay has, of course, been outstanding, the rest of the staff has been mediocre.  Even with Halladay's superior start to the season, the unit's 4.62 runs allowed per game clocks in at 14th in MLB.  If they are to maintain their pace and remain contenders late into the season, the Jays are going to have to step that up, since we aren't of the opinion that, say, Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro are suddenly world beaters at the dish.  But other than Matt Holliday, who would be the cure for a lot of team's ills, we can't see an easily upgradeable spot as long as the hitters somehow maintain their torrid pace; as such, trading for a pitcher may be the best way to hang around.  The problem for the Jays is, with the Red Sox and Yankees ahead of them, and the Rays probably a better overall team, it doesn't make sense to sell the farm to acquire a Jake Peavy or Matt Holliday, since that won't be enough to put them over the top.  We're glad we're not Jays fans.

The biggest disappointment in our eyes has got to be last year's Cinderella story, the Rays.  This was an easy choice; projected by some (us) to win the Series after an unexpected AL Pennant last year, the Rays are playing .500 baseball on the heels of wildly disappointing performances from stars like Scott Kazmir, Pat Burrell, B.J. Upton (remember when we thought he was gonna be MVP?) and down years from guys like Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine.  Their bullpen has, of course, regressed some to post numbers more akin to what we'd expect from the motley crew; they're lucky that Jason Bartlett (!), Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, and Ben Zobrist (!!) have been hitting like it's their job.  Akinori Iwamura's also gone for the year now, which is a shame considering that he was posting his best offensive year since hopping the ocean, though it does give the Rays more at bats for Ben Zobrist to continue to prove his mettle.  And on the bright side, some guy named David Price finally made his for-good-this-time debut; he should provide a nice shot in the arm with his strikeout stuff and fresh arm.  As for fixes, maybe Matt Joyce could get some more ABs...other than that, they might have to trade for someone.  But you've gotta think Upton, Burrell, and Navarro should start putting up numbers like we've been expecting, so there's no holes to fill in the lineup.  We recommend seeing if they can't flip Scott Kazmir for some pitching help. It's unlikely, but that's the place where they can stand to make the biggest improvements, and Kazmir's star is falling quickly.  Best trade him while they still can.

The biggest question mark the rest of the way?  Whether David Ortiz is done or not.  If Ortiz can regain his slugging form, the Red Sox have a lineup that can hang with the Rays in terms of 1-9 balance, and it'll be huge having contributions from Big Papi make up for what they're going to lose in Jason Varitek's inevitable dropoff.  They have so much talent in the rotation that they can compensate for either of the two hitters being terrible, but if both of them start hitting like little leaguers, the back end depth that was supposed to be a Sox strength but has instead been shoddy patchwork may reveal itself as their undoing.  John Smoltz will help, and Clay Buchholz is (still) waiting in the wings while Brad Penny and Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to struggle, but neither the rehabbing Smoltz nor the green Buchholz are sure things.  

Here are some moves we think these teams need to make to tighten themselves up for the rest of the season, since the McLouth trade broke the seal on deals.

  • The Yankees should trade INF Ramiro Pena and RHP Alfredo Aceves to the White Sox for INF Alexei Ramirez.  The Cuban Missile should see his power numbers rebound a bit, and with the Yankees' lack of depth and power in the infield, Ramirez's bat could have a useful bit of punch.  The White Sox aren't going anywhere, and with the way they rushed SS Gordon Beckham to the bigs, Ramirez may or may not be part of the plan going forward.
  • The Red Sox should call up RHP Clay Buchholz.  The primo pitching prospect has been dominating in the minors for too long not to get starts over the likes of Brad Penny.  How much longer can they leave this kid down there?
  • The Rays should trade LHP Scott Kazmir and SS Reid Brignac to the Indians for OF Nick Weglarz and C Kelly Shoppach.  The Indians could call up Carlos Santana to serve as Victor Martinez's catching partner, slot Kazmir into the rotation behind Cliff Lee, slide SS Jhonny Peralta to the bench since his star seems to be falling, and improve their chances to win the tepid AL Central.  The Rays get another impact bat in the outfield/DH mix as well as a backstop who can take over if Navarro remains as bad as he's been this season.
  • The Jays should decide if they're going to go for broke on the back of an overperforming offense or not.  Or if they can even really go for broke at any point in the near future.  It's really an awkward point for the Jays, since they have impact prospects who will be ready at a point in the future when the Sox/Yanks/Rays triumverate may be weaker, but not enough significant depth to get impact talent that can play right now.  We don't envy anyone running front office duties for the Jays right now or in the near future.  Our best recommendation?  Just soak in Roy Halladay's pitching genius.
  • The Orioles already made their best moves by starting the youth movement.  OF Nolan Reimold and C Matt Wieters are tossing in their lot to improve a stacked young lineup, and while the pitching still sucks, newcomers Matt Albers, Troy Patton, David Hernandez, Rich Hill, and Koji Uehara provide some nice depth with the potential to be more.  Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Brandon Erbe have even greater potential than the above group and have yet to make their debuts.  Our recommendation is for the O's to trade George Sherrill, a bullpen arm making too much money, for any infield prospect help they can get.  We don't care who they get, as long as it's someone who's more than organizational filler.  And give some of the Tillman-Matusz-Arrieta-Erbe group a chance to show what they've got in September at the latest.

As for our prognosis on how this'll go the rest of the way, we're still going to stand by the Rays to come back and win this division.  The Yankees have been great, but we're not of the belief that they'll be able to muster enough pop from their lineup as summer stretches on and their age/injury problems come into sharper focus.  The starting pitching has been great, and we love the depth, but the bullpen's been subpar, and Mariano Rivera's been anything but automatic this year as age takes its toll on Mr. Sandman.  The Red Sox are going to see Jason Varitek come down to last year's levels, and we don't think David Ortiz is going to show any signs of life - he's done.  The rotation's good, but we still trust Tampa's more.  If Kazmir can turn it around, or the Rays can flip him and call up any one of their elite prospects, they'll have a 1-5 capable of beating anyone.  The lineup's too good not to start hitting as a complete unit; once Upton, Burrell, and Navarro step up, they'll be a force.  The Jays just don't have enough pieces right now to win, and their lineup is going to start performing like we thought it would.  And the Orioles are an exciting young team...but they play in the AL East. Sorry, kids.

Predicted Final Standings:

1. Tampa Bay Rays

2. New York Yankees

3. Boston Red Sox

4. Toronto Blue Jays

5. Baltimore Orioles

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