Jeter’s Slump and Pujols’s Surge

June 29, 2012

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Derek Jeter

Is Jeter reaching the end of the road?

 Jeter’s Slump

Derek Jeter got off to a fast start this year, hitting .389 with 5 homers and 13 RBI in April.  His current average is still above .300, but a steep downward trend – a .293 batting average in May and a .238 in June (through Wednesday) – should have Yankees fans a bit concerned.  This is not a young player we’re talking about – Jeter turned 38 earlier in the week.  Even worse, he’s a middle infielder – and middle infielders rarely reach age 40 with their offensive skillset intact.  Don’t be surprised if Jeter’s offensive skills start to slip away and he turns into a .240 slap hitter.

Albert’s Surge

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 06:  Albert Pujols #5 of t...

Albert Pujols

On the other side of the coin we have Albert Pujols.  After signing a monster deal with Anaheim in the off-season, Pujols had a horrific start to the season – unable to get his average to .200 and displaying no power at all.  After hitting .217 with no homers in April, the power returned in May when Albert hit 8 homers to go along with a .263 average.  In June, the batting average has returned, with Pujols hitting .333 with 4 homers.  When (not if) he’s able to consolidate those April and May statistics, he’s going to once again be one of the most feared hitters in the game.  even with the horrible start to the year, Pujols is on pace to hit 25 homers and drive in nearly 100 runs.  A reasonably good second half could push his homer total above 30, and I’d bet that his batting average gets close to .300 by the end of the year. 

Mike Trout

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 01:  Mike Trout #27 of the ...

Mike Trout

Pujols’s teammate in Anaheim, rookie Mike Trout, is having a tremendous season.  While Bryce Harper of the Nationals has been a highly touted player since high school, Trout slipped to the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, partly because of New Jersey high school players having a poor track record.  By the end of the 2010 season, he had emerged as one of the top prospects in the game.  Trout put up pedestrian numbers during a brief call-up in 2011, as is common with rookies.

This year, however, Trout has been tearing it up.  he was called up on April 28th, and has been one of the best players in baseball since his call-up – and he’s just 20 years old.  He’s leading the American league in batting average and stolen bases and showing good power for his age, with 8 homers in his first 54 games.  He’s also a terrific defender in the outfield.  Some worry that Trout won’t be able to maintain his elite speed, given his body type.  However, it’s possible that he could slim down a bit, or that he’ll simply be the exception.  In any cases, Trout is still several years away from reaching his physical peak – it should be fun to watch him improve and become an even better player.  If you’re looking for an example of Trout improving, look at his strikeout rates – 28 strikeouts in 108 at bats in May and just 18 strikeouts in 104 at bats in June.

Teams to watch

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Joel Hanrahan ...

Do you know this man’s name?

It’s been an interesting start to the season, with lots of good storylines.  Here are some teams to watch in the second half.

Phillies – The Phillies are in last place in their division.  Why are we watching them?  Well, although they are nine games behind the Nationals, they are only 5 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot.  With Chase Utley back in the lineup, Ryan Howard beginning his rehab stint, and Roy Halladay not too far away, the Phillies could very easily find a way into the playoffs.

Pirates – I was still in high school the last time Pittsburgh had a winning record.  They teased their fans last year before falling apart late in the year.  They are in contention once again this year.  Although their negative run differential suggest that they aren’t as good as their record suggests, I’d love to see them emerge with a division title.

Who do I predict as the playoff teams?  In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, and Rangers.  In the National League, the Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Pirates, and Giants.

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Rockies Roundup (And Other Baseball News)

June 1, 2012

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Rockies news

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25:  Dexter Fowler #24 ...

My Rockies swept a four games series from the Astros.  Coupled with the Brewers sweeping the Dodgers in a four game series, this means that the Rockies have cut LA’s lead from 14.5 games down to 10.5.    While that’s still a significant deficit, it’s a pretty big improvement – and a weekend series against the Dodgers provides the opportunity to make up even more ground.  Both teams will be without major stars, as Matt Kemp of the Dodger’s re-injured his hamstring and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies suffered a groin issue.

The Rockies exploded for 40 runs in the four games series.  Dexter Fowler woke up on Monday with a .237 batting average for the season.  By the time the day was over, his batting average was up to .276, thanks to seven hits in nine at bats (also a  walk and a sacrifice fly) in the doubleheader.  He had a homer and he won the nightcap with a walk-off triple.  I have to think that the walk-off triple must be one of the more rare plays in sports.  Most of the time the runner on first – who generally is taking lead – is going to cross the plate before the batter can reach third … and as soon as he crosses the plate, the game would be over. 

Fowler has been an enigma for years, mixing red-hot streaks with slumps.  However, he’s still pretty young (barely 26) and hopefully is coming into his own as a hitter.  At the moment, he is just a couple of plate appearances short of qualifying for the league leaders list (which requires 3.1 plate appearance per team game).  If he qualified, his .954 OPS would rank ninth in the National League.

When the series picked back up on Wednesday, teammate Carlos Gonzalez took the role of star from Fowler.  Fowler continued to hit – going 4 for 8 with a homer in the final two games of the series, but Gonzalez was an absolute monster.  CarGo went 6 for 9 with four homers.  The four homers were in consecutive at bats – three in Wednesday’s game and one in Thursday’s.  For the month, Gonzalez hit .351 with 10 homers and 26 RBI.  Gonzalez lead the league in runs (44), is tied for the lead in RBI (44), second in OPS (1.054), tied for second in homers (14), and is tied for fifth in batting average (.332)  and has also added 8 steals.  Like Fowler, Gonzalez is just 26.

Pujols Watch

Is Albert Pujols washed up?  Seems that there might still be some magic in his bat.  Pujols hit 8 homers in May (after zero in April), including four in a five game stretch.  Even with the horrible April, he’s still on pace for 25 homers.  It’s not a stretch to think that he can get to 30.


Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy broke his hand in what can best be described as a freak accident.  While Lucroy was on the floor looking for a missing sock, he wife shifted a suitcase that was on the bed.  The suitcase fell and landed on Lucroy’s hand, breaking it.  His wife has been the object of considerable wrath from Brewers fans.  Seriously?  It’s not as if she ran down Lucroy intentionally with a car.  It was an accident.  These sorts of things happen from time to time.

The Draft

Baseball’s draft kicks off Monday.  This will be the first year of what is effectively a hard slotting system.  Each pick in the first 10 rounds is assigned a specific dollar value.  Teams are then assigned the total value of these picks, and this is the amount of money they can use to sign players picked in those spots.  They could opt to spend all the money on one player (and not sign the others ) or spread it around.  However, penalties from exceeding this cap are very steep.  Going 15% over the cap would cause a team to lose two future first round draft picks.

Picks in rounds 11-40 can receive a maximum of $100,000.  If there is money left over from the pool for rounds 1-10, this money can be spent on later later players.  For example, if $1 million is left, a team could give an 11th round pick $1.1 million.

I’m not a fan of this change at all.  Baseball’s draft has always been a case of each side having leverage.  Due to baseball’s draft eligibility rules, many of the top players often have the options of attending college and being drafted again in a later year.  Teams who are unable to sign a player receive a compensatory pick in a later draft.  At times, talented players slip down to teams with deep pockets, but this could be fixed by allowing teams to trade picks (so that they could extract maximum value from the pick by getting rich teams to bid against each other).

Who will be picked first overall?  USC pitcher Mark Appel and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton are the names that pop up most often.  High school pitcher Lucas Giolito may be the most talented player in the draft, but a minor arm injury has scared some teams away (in any case, high school pitchers are a risky proposition in general). 

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Is Albert Pujols Washed Up?

May 2, 2012

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Prince Albert in a slump

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Albert Pujols wear...

Is Albert Pujols a $240 million mistake?

The big news around baseball so far has been the performance of Albert Pujols. Much was expected after he signed a $240 million contract with the Angels. So far, Pujols has managed exactly zero homers. As a point of references, that’s exactly how many homers I have this year.

I caution those who would write off Albert as a washed-up has been. Players have bad months all the time. Look at the early season struggles of David Ortiz in recent years as an example. It’s also important to realize that Pujols is learning the tendencies of an entire league’s worth of pitchers, whereas the opposing pitchers have a relatively smaller pool of league-crossers to study. Remember how Matt Holliday struggled early in 2009 after being traded to the A’s? Then you probably also remember that his May OPS was 250 points higher than his April OPS that year. No? Don’t remember that? It’s true.

Harper, Trout called up

SEATTLE - AUGUST 30:  Mike Trout #27 of the Lo...

Is Mike Trout better than Bryce Harper?

Over the weekend, top prospects Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels were called up. 19 year old Harper would likely have spend more time in AAA, but injuries gave decimated the Nationals lineup and they needed another bat in the fray. 20 year old Trout was expected to compete for a roster spot in spring training, but was sidelined by illness and really never got his legs under him.

Trout struggled a bit in a call-up last year, but the organization believes that he will be a great player. It’s probably to his benefit that Harper was called up on the same day. Harper is the most hyped hitting prospects in a decade or so, and this should allow Trout to fly under the radar a bit and feel much less pressure that he otherwise would.

Yu and the Rangers

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Pitcher Yu Darvis...

Yu Darvish is living up to the hype.

In the off-season, the Rangers watched the Angels snap up Albert Pujols in free agency – and also saw them nab C.J. Wilson. This was the second straight year they lost a star pitcher to free agency – Cliff Lee bolted to Phillies after the 2010 season. The Rangers didn’t skip a beat, signing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish to a deal. While many people didn’t think it made sense to essentially trade a known quantity (Wilson) for an unknown one (Darvish), I personally think the move was brilliant. Darvish cost them only money – no draft pick compensation. On the other hand, having the Angels sign Wilson gave the Rangers two draft pick – one of them coming at the expense of the Angels.

The move has paid off in spades, at least in April. While Wilson has put up stellar numbers (3-2, 2.70 ERA) Darvish has been even better (4-0, 2.18 ERA) and seems to be improving with each start. After allowing 13 walks in his first 17 2/3 innings, Darvish has allowed just 4 in his last 15 1/3 innings.

The “surprising rise” of the Nationals

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Stephen Strasbur...

Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg

The Nationals spent a good chunk of April in first place in the NL East. Their rise has seeming caught many observers by surprise. I’m really not sure why this is the case, when the Nats have been building toward this for a number of year, with some smart free agent moves and by obtaining excellent talent in the draft. And while the front office is getting a lot of credit for building the team, it’s important to note that the reason why they have the cornerstone pieces – Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman – is because they were consistent losers for a long period of time and were able to stockpile draft top draft picks. It didn’t take any sort of brilliant scouting to figure out that Strasburg and Harper were the guys to pick in the draft – they were the most highly touted pitching and hitting prospects in a generation. It simply required the Nationals to lose more games than anyone else. So while it’s true that the Washington front office has made some good decision, it might be prudent to mute the praise just a bit.

Around baseball

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is off to an otherworldly start, batting .409 with 12 homers and 25 RBI. As a result, the Dodgers are 17-7 and hold a 4 game lead in the NL West. It would seem that the Dodgers, now free from the shadow of Frank McCourt, are positioned for a playoff run. As a fan of the Rockies, I’m operating under the assumption that Kemp is going to cool off at some point, and that the Dodgers will face off their pace at that point.

The Angels are eight games out of first place. I can’t imagine that too many people expected that. It’s still very early in the season, but L.A. can’t afford to have the Rangers stretch out their lead much more.

The Red Sox and Phillies were buried deep in the standings after the first few weeks, but have started to make up some ground recently. The Phillies are now within 2 1/2 games of the Nationals, while the Red Sox are 4 games back in the AL East.

The Devil Rays recently pushed their way into first place, pushing past the … Baltimore Orioles. I have to believe that the 15-9 record of the Orioles is a mirage at this point.

The most competitive division so far has been the AL East, where the Indians, White Sox, and Tigers are effectively tied for the lead. The Indians are percentage points ahead, with a record of 11-10. The division also features the two teams with the worst records in baseball – the Royals and Twins.

Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham

The Cardinals have managed to hang on to first place in the NL Central, even after losing Albert Pujols. The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran as a free agent in the off-season, which allowed them to shift Berkman to Pujols’s old position. Beltran’s numbers have been solid – a .378 on base percentage and 5 homers so far. He’s not likely to match Pujols’s season numbers, but his addition allowed the Cardinals to at least patch the hole.

2008 #1 overall pick Tim Beckam (Devil Rays) has been suspended 50 games for a second violation of baseball’s drug policy.



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Cardinals Fan Reaction to Pujols Leaving

December 8, 2011

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Note: In the wake of Albert Pujols opting to leave the Cardinals and sign with the Angels, I asked a friend of mine who is a die-hard Cardinals fan to write about his reaction.

Albert Pujols is leaving the St. Louis Cardinals to join the Los Angeles Angels for a reported 10 year, 250 million dollar contract. And apparently, the Angels contract wasn’t worth as much as the Miami Marlins’ offer. The Marlins apparently offered Pujols 10 years, 275 million, but they wouldn’t give Albert a no-trade clause. Hearing these numbers, the Cardinals didn’t have a chance. They simply could not afford THAT much money.

To be honest, the big mistake by the Cardinals was not taking care of this several years ago when you could work with him and his agent. The worst thing that could happen for the Cardinals was for Albert to make it to Free Agency. And that’s a mistake I’m sure the they now regret.

My reaction as a Cardinals fan has to be to look for the silver lining. In one regard, he is going to the American League. Obviously, if he’s going to another team, it’s great that he’s leaving the league so you don’t have to compete against him. You may see him in the World Series, but even then, if you see him there, it means that the Cardinals were good enough to get back there without him. Secondly, this relieves quite a financial burden on the Cardinals organization. They will not be bogged down during the second part of a long-term contract with an aging player whose numbers will likely decline. Now, the Cardinals can go after several quality players and bolster their line-up.

As the Winter Meetings continue, they may decide to go after a premiere shortstop, or a quality pitcher. The Cardinals now know they don’t have Pujols and can therefore be an influential player in the remainder of the Winter Meetings. It’s an opportunity to fills multiple gaps rather than be hamstrung with a massive, long-term contract with one player.

Another aspect is that Cardinals fans can feel confident that the Cardinals now have the resources to keep Adam Wainwright. When his contract comes up after the 2013 season, Wainwright will likely demand much more than his current contract, $21 million over two years. It appears now that keeping Wainwright is no longer a worry.

Finally, I know that many Cardinals fans may feel betrayed by Pujols for leaving. He always stated it wasn’t about the money. Apparently it was. But personally, I want to thank Albert for the past 11 seasons. Over those 11 years I got to see a man play baseball who will go down as one of the best baseball players to ever play the game…if not THE best. With Pujols, the Cardinals went to 3 World Series, winning two of them. However, we won before without him, and we will win again without him. St. Louis is a passionate baseball city, and Cardinals management will do their best to bring a World Championship back to St. Louis.

It’s the end of an era. And while we’d hoped that he would be our generations “Stan the Man”, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Will Albert Pujols Sign With The Marlins?

December 7, 2011

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Sources around baseball believe that Albert Pujols will be making a decision about his future in the next few days – perhaps even today. One of the leading contenders for Pujols are the Miami (formerly Florida) Marlins. throwing $200 million at a player is a foreign concept to the Marlins, historically a very cheap organization.

Why do the Marlins want Pujols?
Obviously, Pujols is a great player.  But he’s also a Hispanic player, and 70% of Miami residents are hispanic.  Adding Pujols to current Marlin Hanley Ramirez and recently signed Jose Reyes would give the Marlins a trio of hispanic superstars.  In fact, all three are natives of the Dominican Republic.

The Marlins have been infamous for large expanses of empty orange seats.  Even with a new name, logo, stadium, and hispanic superstars, will the Marlins draw fans?  That’s the $200 million question at the moment.

Does the deal make sense for the Marlins?

Only if they are committed to building a winner around Pujols.  If they are forced to trade Pujols in mid-contract, they could be forced to pay a portion of the remaining contract in order to move him.  Big contracts are hard to move, even for great players.  Tom Hicks learned this the hard way when the Ranger unloaded Alex Rodriguez in mid-contract.  The Rangers were forced to subsidize the cost of A-Rod to the Yankees.

Then there’s the issue of money – likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $225 – $235 million over ten years.  That’s a ton of money, but the larger concerns is the length of the deal.  Pujols will officially be 32 when the season begins, although there has been speculation that he is older.  Even if he’s just 32, this means he’d be 41 in the last year of the deal.  There are a lot of great players who were washed up long before age 41.

Pujols is also rumored to be demanding a no trade clause.  He might accept a limited no-trade clause, but will likely want other concessions (or more money) to accept this.

Does the deal make sense for Pujols?


Pujols has his hand in a lot of things in the St. Louis are.  He makes a lot more money than his baseball income.  He’s a revered figure, and companies line up to have Pujols endorse them.

Would Pujols also have a lot of endorsement opportunities in Miami?  Definitely.  However, as part of the trio, he might be splitting opportunities with Reyes and Ramirez.  In St. Louis, he’s clearly the main man, even in the presence of players such as Holliday, Carpenter, and Wainwright.  While the fact that he’s hispanic will play well in the hispanic community, it’s really never been an obstacle to marketing opportunities in St. Louis.

More importantly, the Cardinals are a franchise that has consistently shown a commitment to winning.  The Marlins, on the other hand, have often gone into slash-and-burn mode and cut loose high-priced players.  As a result, the Cardinals have a large and devoted fan base, while the Marlins do not.

Even if the money is a bit less, I think the experience will be better in St. Louis.


Where Will Albert Pujols End Up

November 1, 2011

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Fresh off the heels of an improbable World Series triumph, fans of the St. Louis Cardinals are forced once again to face an uncertain future – will Albert Pujols return to the Cardinals, or opt for greener pastures elsewhere.

My advice to Pujols would be to stay put in St. Louis.  He’s a beloved figure in the city, in a city that truly appreciates baseball, affiliated with an organization that has surrounded him with enough talents to win two World Series titles in recent year.  At some point, quality of life takes precedence over dollars and cents – and I can’t imagine a situation that would result in a greater quality of life for Pujols.

Where will Pujols land?  My guess is that he will end up with the Cardinals.  There’s too much pressure on the team to sign him.  How much will they spend to keep him?  Here’s a humorous article on that topic from 2010.

If Pujols doesn’t stay in St. Louis, there’s speculation that he could go north on I-55 to the Chicago Cubs – the hated rivals of the Cardinals.  With Theo Epstein now in charge of the Cubs, if wouldn’t be a shock to see them make a splash in free agency.  Or the Milwaukee Brewers might try to grab him to replace Prince Fielder.  (Who is worth more – Pujols or Fielder?)

Of course, don’t count out the New York Yankees.  It’s true that the Yankees already have a high priced first baseman, Mark Teixeira.  However, with Jorge Posada likely not returning, there are some at bats available.  If I were Brian Cashman, I’d sign Pujols primarily as  DH, but then use him at 1B to give Teixeira a day off in the field and 3B when A-Rod’s DHing.  Furthermore, it’s possible that A-Rod could slide over to SS on occasion to give Jeter a rest, and Pujols could play 3B on those days as well.  Maybe Pujols would get 30 games at 1B and 60 at 3B (30 when A-Rod DHs and 30 when A-Rod plays short).  An extravagance to use Pujols in this manner?  Definitely.  But this is the Yankees we’re talking about.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

On the top of people getting a lot of money, the Buffalo Bills signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a six year contract extension worth $59 million.  I’m not going to ridicule this deal on the basis that athletes are overpaid, as I really don’t buy into that philosophy.  However, this particular deal is mind-boggling.

For the record, I like Fitzpatrick.  My wife’s favorite team is the St. Louis Rams, and Fitzpatrick played for the Rams for a few seasons.  However, let’s take a look at his career numbers.  He has completed 59% of his passes and has 59 touchdowns and 48 interceptions.  His career QB rating is 76.3.  Those numbers are serviceable, but hardly worth $10 million per year.  You can’t even look back to his college numbers to predict whether he will be an effective QB for the Bills, because he went to Harvard.  The Ivy League schools are great for academics, but not for athletics.

What are the Bills going?  Rewarding this year’s season, I suppose.  Fitzpatrick is off to a very good start – completing 66% of his passes, with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.  Good start to the year, but let’s not extrapolate such a small sample size.

The NFL and NFLPA said that the new rookie pay scale was designed so that established veterans could earn more than unproven rookies.  That sounds good in theory, but in practice, it means $59 million (6 years) for Fitzpatrick (not to mention Michael Vick’s $100 million contract), while Cam Newton gets $22 million for four years.  While I still need to see more to be convinced that Cam Newton is for real, I can’t imagine any point in time when a team would have valued Ryan Fitzpatrick considerably higher than Newton – but Fitz will be making nearly twice as much.

Of course, this is the same league where a team traded a first round pick (plus a conditional pick that could become a first rounder) to a team with no leverage that was trying to trade a malcontent (Carson Palmer), while at other times you see deals get scrapped because a team doesn’t want to include a fifth round pick – so I get confused as to what teams actually value in the NFL.

49ers Close to Division Title

It’s November 1, which is really early to be talking about clinching.  However, the 49ers could clinch a tie for the division title as early as November 13.  San Francisco is 6-1 and their closest pursuers are the 2-5 Seahawks (the Rams and Cardinals are 1-6).

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the 49ers have simply been feasting on a weak division, but this isn’t the case.  They’ve only played one game within the division so far.  Half of the ten games remaining for San Francisco are against NFC West foes – meaning that the 49ers could finish the season with a very impressive record.

Will Manning Return This Season?

There’s a possibility that Peyton Manning could be medically cleared to return this year.  However, the smart decision for the Colts would be to shut him down for the year and have him start anew in 2012.  With an 0-8 record this year, the only way the Colts will get to a playoff game is by purchasing tickets on StubHub.  Why risk a possible setback for a few meaningless games.

Then, too, there is draft position to consider.  Having Manning lead the team to a few late wins could mean that the Colts miss out on next generation franchise QB Andrew Luck.


Who are you pulling for in the BCS title game?  I’d like to see Oklahoma State vs. Boise State.  Would it receive the worst ratings of any BCS title game in history?  Perhaps.  But *I* would certainly enjoy it.

Baseball Update

September 7, 2011

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It’s September already, and baseball season is winding down (unless you’re a fan of the Cubs, in which case the season has been over for a long time).

This is always a bittersweet time of the year.  I love pennant races and the playoffs, but hate to see the season end.  As always, this has been a strange and wonderful season.  Let’s look back.

First, of course, we’ll start with my Colorado Rockies.  It’s been a disappointing season at Coors Field.  The Rockies started out 11-1 before fading out of contention in May.  Injuries played a part (particularly with the pitching staff), as did sub-par offensive performances by some players.

The biggest news of the season, of course, was the trade of Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians.  I like Ubaldo, but when you get the chance to nab Drew Pomeranz in a trade, while also picking up some other pieces, you have to make the deal.  Pomeranz is recovered from an appendectomy and will make his major league debut on Sunday against the Reds.

Troy Tulowitzki continues to make the case that he is the best all-around shortstop in the game – and one of the best players, period.  While playing gold glove caliber defense, Tulo has also contributed a .305 average with 30 homers and 103 RBI.  How impressive is that?  His closest pursuer among NL shortstops in homers and RBI is Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies.  Rollins has 14 homers and 58 RBI – 16 homers and 45 RBI behind Tulo.  And while Tulo is indeed killing the ball at Coors Field (.960 OPS), he’s also posted superb numbers on the road (.897 OPS).  Considering that the typical hitter has an OPS 31 points higher at home, Coors doesn’t seem to be inflating Tulo’s numbers much at all (especially if you believe in the existence of a Coors Hangover).

If the Rockies were in contention, it would be difficult to argue against Tulo as the MVP.

One of the most unappreciated performances in baseball is coming from another Rockie, Chris Iannetta.  Iannetta is much criticized for his poor batting average (.238), but a high number of walks elevates his OBP to a quite good .370, and he has 12 homers in just 320 at bats.  I’m sure the Rockies are going to cut ties with Chris at some point, and a team that properly utilizes him is going to get good value.

The most disappointing performance for me this year was Ian Stewart.  I’ve always liked Stewie, and he has shown good power (54 homers in 1242 career at bats) but has struggle to make consistent contact.  His batting average sank to a career low .156 this year and stands at .236 for his career – not high enough for a third baseman.  He’s been in a funk all year, and with just 122 at bats, didn’t get a chance to hit his way out of it.  I think a lot of people forget that Stewie is still just 26.  I see him as a possible reclamation project – but probably in another uniform.

OK, so what’s going out outside Denver?

Justin Verlander is kindling the argument of whether or not a pitcher can be MVP.  Personally, I’m OK with this.  While it’s true that a starting pitcher plays only once every five days, his impact on those games is far greater than the impact of any other player.  Verlander is already at 21 wins and is the main reason why the Tigers were able to push the Indians aside and claim first place in the AL Central.

Zach Greinke made news in the spring with an basketball-related injury and then got off to a slow start.  However, after posting a 5.45 ERA prior to the All Star break, he has a 2.41 ERA since.

How good are the Phillies pitchers?  Four of them have 11 or more wins and an ERA of 2.85 or better (Halladay and Lee are a combined 32-12 with a 2.48 ERA).  Conventional wisdom suggest using a three man rotation in the playoffs – but might the Phillies go four deep and have their guys 100% fresh for each start?

Remember when Albert Pujols was going to miss a couple of months with an injury and cost himself a bunch of money when he wouldn’t be able to prove that he still had his power?  I think he’s OK.

The National League has no interesting races this year.  The closest divisional race is the NL West, where the Diamondbacks hold a 6 game lead over the Giants.  Even the wild card race is a yawner, with the Braves holding a 7.5 game lead over the Cardinals.  In the AL, the Yankees and Red Sox are having their annual battle for the division title, with the Devil Rays putting together yet another strong season.  The Rangers hold a 3.5 game lead on the Angels in the best “loser stays home” race.  Angels rookie Mike Trout has hooked some media attention by making the best of his second call-up to the majors, stringing five homers on his line in just 84 at bats.  Is the 20 year old from Jersey up for good?

And finally … we’re a week away from the release of Moneyball.  I hope the movie is as good as the book (but I doubt it will be).

Break Up The Pirates!

July 9, 2011

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Going into play on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a tie for second place in their division, just one game behind the Brewers.

The last time the Pirates wrapped up a winning season, I was starting my senior year of high school.  The year was 1992.  George Bush (the elder) was president.  Jeffrey Dahmer had recently been sent away to prison, the original Dream Team was romping to victory in Barcelona,  and Hurricane Andrew had just smashed into Florida.  In other words, it has been a long time.

The fall of the Pirates has been due in large part to running the team on the cheap – pocketing revenue sharing money from teams like the Yankees and Red Sox without any attempt to use the money to field a competitive team.  The modus operandi for the Pirates has been to trade away talented players before they become too expensive to hang onto, and to sacrifice quality for affordability in their top draft picks.  For a team with a championship history – the team of Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, and Roberto Clemente – it’s a sad state of affairs.

The Pirates hired Clint Hurdle as their manager in the off-eason.  Hurdle had struggled through several losing season with the Rockies before breaking through and winning the pennant with the 2007 club.  He was fired after a terrible start in 2009 and replaced with Jim Tracy – who led a dramatic turnaround that led the Rockies back to the playoffs.  The irony?  Tracy was fired by the Pirates in 2007 after a failed stint with the team – and the Pirates managerial job is now held by the man who was fired in Colorado to make room for Tracy!  Although I do think the firing of Hurdle was justified (things had just run their course), I do have respect for him as a manager, and am pleased to see him doing well.

There are a lot of “feel-good” stories with Pittsburgh.  Joel Hanrahan (an Iowa kid) was beginning to run out of opportunities before being installed as the closer in Pittsburgh.  Hanrahan is 26 for 26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA.  Jeff Karstens has shaved nearly 2 runs off his career ERA and stands at 2.55.  Kevin Correia posted a 5.40 ERA last year for San Diego – even with the benefit of an extremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  This year, he’s making a run at a 20 win season, standing at 11-6 with a 3.74 ERA (he has decisions in 17 of his 18 starts, which is nothing short of amazing). (Note: all stats are through Thursday).  I’m nominating Correia as my dark horse candidate for the Cy Young award.  If he manages to win 20 games – for the PIRATES – how can you fail to give him the award?

Around the diamond

Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup after his stint on the DL and once again is closing in on 3000 hits (if he had a two hit game after we went to the presses Friday night, then he’s already reached the milestone). 

It’s often noted that Jeter will be the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits.  This is interesting, but it really doesn’t add anything to the accomplishment.  Would Jeter’s achievement be diminished if he played for a team which already had some guys with 3000 hits in their career (the Pirates, for example)?  Of course not.  Neither, then, does the fact that he’ll be the first Yankee with 3000 hits add to the accomplishment.  If anything, it points out a bit of an oddity in baseball.  With all the superstars that have worn pinstripes, you’d think at least one of them would have racked up 3000 hits for the Yankees.  Had he stayed healthy, Lou Gehrig surely would have joined the 3000 hit club 70 years ago.  In recent decades, the Yankees have tended to acquire stars rather than develop them – and it’s almost impossible to have 3000 hits for a team unless you play nearly your entire career with them.

Albert Pujols returned to the Cardinals lineup on Wednesday night – a month ahead of schedule.  I discussed the issue with a friend of my who is a huge Cardinals fan.  He was in agreement that it would have made more sense to shut Pujols down until after the All Star break to make completely sure he’s healthy.  The benefit from a few extra games before the break isn’t worth the risk of aggravating the injury by trying to come back too early.  However, I’ll assume that the medical staff for the team knows that they are doing.

The All Star game is on Tuesday.  I absolutely love the All Star game.  I’m not much of a fan of the home run derby (too artificial) but love seeing the biggest stars in the game in the field.  I definitely agree with the sportswriters who would like to see the rosters trimmed a bit – and also agree that not every single player needs to get into the game.

Go National League!

Who’s Worth More – Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder?

June 30, 2011

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First basemen Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Prince Fielder of the Brewers will hit the free agent market this off-season, unless they are re-signed by their current teams.  The Yankees (Mark Teixeira) and Red Sox (Adrian Gonzalez) already have significant money tied up in their first basemen, and are not likely to chase after them, which could limit the payout slightly.  However, each player is likely going to get somewhere upwards of $20 million per year.

Who is worth more? Let’s break it down and allow you to reach your own conclusion.

  Pujols Fielder Edge
Stats In each of his 10 full seasons, Pujols has hit at least .312 with no fewer than 37 homers and 103 RBI – often exceeding those numbers. For his career, he has a batting average of .329, on-base percentage of .423, and OPS of 1.041. Truly remarkable numbers – even his worst season would be a career year for many. Has show great power, hitting 50 homers in 2007 and 46 in 2009. However, he is a bit of an up and down player. In his full season in odd-numbered year, his lowest OPS is 1.013. In the even-numbered years, his highest OPS is .879. His career batting average of .282 is 45 points lower than that of Pujols, and his OPS of .929 is more than 100 points lower. Fielder’s stats are nothing to sneeze at, but they just aren’t Pujolsian.
2011 Pujols got off to a horrible start and was rebounding nicely before he broke his forearm. For the year, he is hitting .279 with 17 homers in 280 at bats. The big questions is whether he will regain his arm strength. Fielder is having arguably his finest season, on pace for his first .300 season. His OPS os 1.031 is the highest of his career. His 44 strikeouts also puts him on pace to strike out fewer than 100 times in a season – his previous low for a season is 121 (as a point of reference, Pujols has never struck out more than 100 times, and his 76 strikeouts last season were the most since his rookie season). Fielder is definitely having a much better year.
Age Pujols will turn at least 32 in January. I’m fairly sure that is his correct age, but others have raised questions and alleged that he is older than that. It’s not uncommon for players born outside the United States to lie about their ages. Fielder will turn 28 next May. There isn’t much doubt about his age – his father Cecil was also a Major League player, so baseball insiders have been aware of Prince for a long time. This is straight math – Prince is younger. Younger is usually better.
Physique Pujols is listed at 6’3″, 230 pounds. He’s a big, strong guy, but is still nimble enough to have stolen double digit bases three times (80 steals in 114 career attempts). Fielder is, um, BIG. Listed at 5’11” and 275 pounds. He’s definitely every ounce of that – and possibly more. His weight already makes him a liability on the base paths (he rarely goes from 1st to 3rd on a single), and he has 15 total steals in 5+ seasons. I worry that he’ll eat himself out of the game – or at least into a DH role. However, he has been a vegetarian for a few years, so maybe that will keep the weight off. Pujols – no contest.
Marketing Pujols grew up in the Dominican Republic, and is understandably popular with hispanic fans of the game.
Pujols has 425 career home runs and 1978 career hits – seemingly a lock to reach the milestones of 500 (or even 700) home runs and 3000 hits.

Barring a complete meltdown, he is a future Hall of Famer.

Fielder is one of a few African-American stars in the game and could help Major League Baseball attempt to attract and retain African-American fans, who have largely left to follow (and play) other sports.

Hall of Famer? Maybe – but I wouldn’t punch his ticket quite yet.

You gotta go with the near-lock Hall of Famer.

There’s one really interesting scenario that I haven’t heard discussed much. The Cardinals and Brewers could each end up with a high quality first baseman and a free draft pick if the Cardinals were to sign Fielder and the Brewers nabbed Pujols. A team that signs a type-a free agent surrenders its first round pick to the team losing the player, but the team losing the player ALSO gets a “sandwich” pick between the first and second round of the draft. Let’s say the Cardinals had the 10th pick in next year’s draft and the Brewers had the 11th. If the Cardinals signed Fielder and the Brewers signed Pujols, the Cardinals would lose pick 10, but gain pick 11 and a sandwich pick, while the Brewers would lose pick 11 but gain pick 10 plus a sandwich pick. (More about free agent compensation here).

Pujols, the McCourts, and More

June 22, 2011

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St. Louis is still in mourning after the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols for 4-6 weeks with a non-displaced fracture of his radius (a bone in the forearm). After being pulled off first base by a throw, Pujols reached out his left arm in an attempt to tag out the baserunner. It was a bang-bang play, with runner Wilson Betemit having no opportunity to avoid the collision (nor was he under the obligation to do so). Although there hasn’t been the furor that followed the Buster Posey injury (should baseball ban home plate collisions?), the NY York Times has suggested a double bag at first base.  This seems like a rather silly idea to me, as all it would really do is force the first baseball to slide over another step before reaching out for a tag.  It’s worth noting that Betemit didn’t run into the body of Pujols, but into his arm.

The Cardinals have remained in the hunt in the NL Central this year despite being snake bitten by some injury.  Co-ace Adam Wainwright went down for the season during spring training, and Matt Holliday has lost time due to an injury and an appendectomy.  I do think the Cardinals can at least stay within striking distance until Pujols returns.

The big question is how this will affect Pujols’ status as the top free agent in the class.  Already, we had been hearing some murmurs that Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder – 4 years younger – might actually be a better option for a team needing an elite first baseman.  (I’m not sold on Fielder – his ability to keep his weight under control long term concerns me).  Pujols is going to have about 50 games at the end of the season (plus possible post-season games) to prove that he’s still the Pujols of old.  It seemed unlikely that his demands of a 10 year deal worth $30 million per year were going to be met in any case … but could this create a situation where Pujols signs a one year “prove it” deal rather than signing a longer deal at a lower rate?

In LA, the divorce case of Frank and Jamie McCourt (no, not the Angela’s Ashes guy) lingers on.  The two parties had finally reached an agreement, but it was contingent upon commissioner Bud Selig giving his OK to a new TV rights deal with the LA Fox affiliate.  Under the 17 year deal, Fox would have paid nearly $3 billion.  The deal would have featured $385 million in up front money.  $170 million would have been earmarked (by the divorce settlement) for personal debt and the divorce settlement.  Selig believes that baseball revenue should be used to pay baseball debts, rather than personal debts.

McCourt will likely sue baseball.  Upon buying a team, owners sign an agreement not to sue baseball, so this should be an interesting case.  The courts could rule the agreement unenforceable because of it being unconscionable … but I have a hard time buying into that argument.  It seems more likely that a judge would decide that McCourt had access to adequate legal counsel prior to signing the agreement and then made a conscious choice to sign it.  People sign away their rights all the time – that’s what contracts are used for.

As far as I can tell, the McCourts are still married, as the divorce settlement is still in limbo.  I’m sure that’s not awkward at all.

A potential suitor for the Dodgers would be Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.  Cuban has tried to buy teams before, but Major League Baseball has opposed such a move.  Personally, I think he’d be a good owner.  He does make the headlines from time to time in the NBA, but the fact of the matter is that he puts together good teams.  His “misbehavior” is generally due to the fact that he loves his teams, rather than just seeing them as a business.  It’s a bad thing to have an owner who is actually interested in the report?

It wouldn’t be a baseball article if I didn’t mention my Colorado Rockies.  After struggling mightily in May, the Rockies have rebounded in June and have pulled to with 2.5 games of first place San Francisco.  Last night, an effectively wild Jhoulys Chacin took a no-hitter into the sixth inning.  He walked six and allowed two his in 6 2/3 innings.  Although he didn’t come away with a win (the bullpen allowed the Indians to tie the game before the Rockies rallied to win), Chacin is emerging as one of the better young pitchers in the game.  Chacin actually had a very strong rookie season in 2010 (9-11, but with an impressive 3.28 ERA), but was overshadowed by Ubaldo Jimenez.  With Jimenez struggling this year, Chacin has become the ace, at least for the moment.

Another overlooked Rockies player is catcher Chris Iannetta.  Although his batting average (.229) might trick people into thinking he is having a bad year, Iannetta has actually been one of the most productive offensive catchers this year.   He has 9 homers in just 170 at bats and is among the league leaders with 43 walks.  His OPS of .836 is a very good number for a catcher.

Among the six division leaders, only the NL East’s Phillies (4.5 games ahead) have a lead greater than 2 games.  The Pirates – who haven’t finished above .500 since 1992 – stand at 36-37.  The Marlins have brought Trader Jack McKeon back on board to right the ship.  (I’ll go on record as saying McKeon won’t lead the Marlins to the same miraculous finish as he did in 2003 … you can only pull a rabbit out of the hat so many times).

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