Dodgers Continue To Roll

August 12, 2013

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English: Vin Scully

Vin Scully – the only Dodger I don’t hate.

I hate the Dodgers (with the exception of Vin Scully) with a passion.  Early in the season, when the Dodgers were sinking in the NL West and hefting a massive payroll, I was happy to enjoy their misery.  However, since June 22, the Dodgers are an MLB-best 37-8.  That’s an incredible record, and has pushed the Dodgers to a 7.5 game lead in the NL West.  Rookie Yasiel Puig has been a big reason for the resurgence.

With about 1/4 of the season remaining, some of the races are losing suspense.  Atlanta has a massive 14.5 game lead in the NL East.  To put this in perspective, if the Nationals were to go 37-8 down the stretch (matching the Dodgers’ incredible run), they’d end up at 94-68.  The Braves would need to merely go 22-22 down the stretch to tie for the division title.  I’ll go out on a limb and hand the division title to the Braves.

Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland managed the 1992 Pirates – the last Pittsburgh team to have a winning record.

The Pirates – who have not had a winning record since 1992 – are in a fairly tight division race, with a 3 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.  They are a virtual lock to finish above .500 this year, though.  They’d need to merely go 12-33 to finish at 82-80.  A playoff spot is nearly as safe.  They have a 10.5 game lead over the odd man out in the NL Wild Card race, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  If the Pirates can keep their heads on straight and just play one game at a time, they should be in good shape.  If my Rockies can’t win the World Series this year (and this seems like a long shot), then I’ll pull for the Pirates.

The Kansas City Royals have also been playing well lately.  Although many fans criticized the Wil Myers for James Shield trade in the off-season, it’s hard to fault the performance of Shields this year.  Shields doesn’t have a lot of wins this year (his record is 7-8), but he has pitched extremely well.  As the team improves around him, Shields’ numbers should only improve.  First baseman Eric Hosmer’s power stroke has been missing, but he’s hitting .297 with a .782 OPS.  If he can regain the power, he should be an offensive force.  Third baseman Mike Moustakas is probably the key to the future.  If he figures things out, this team could go far.

Mike Trout is still great

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27)

Mike Trout

Last week, Mike Trout became the first player in MLB history homer on his 21st and 22nd birthdays.  The major leagues date back to 1876.  Of course, this is an impossible feat for half the players – the ones born during baseball’s offseason.

Cool historical footnotes aside, Trout is having another incredible year. He’s hitting .330 with 20 homers – and is leading the American League in walks, with 71.  Young hitters don’t often have the patience or command of the strike zone to lead the league in walks.  Trouts walks actually allow him to maintain a high batting average, because he’s swinging at fewer balls (this generally results in weakly hit balls).

How historically good is Trout?  A career WAR (wins above replacement) of 60 is the general guideline for a Hall of Famer.  After just 294 games in the majors, Trout is already at 18 WAR.

Bryce Harper is pretty good, too

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

Remember when Bryce Harper was the hot prospect?  He hasn’t been keeping up the incredible pace of Trout (who just turned 22), and has also been getting overshadowed by Yasiel Puig (turns 23 in December).  Harper’s actually be doing pretty well, though.  He has 17 homers in just 331 at bats (he missed some time due to injury), and despite a somewhat pedestrian .262 batting average, Harper has a .866 OPS.  Those are good numbers regardless of age, but for a guy who doesn’t turn 21 until October, they are downright fantastic.  Trout has set expectations sky high for 20 year olds, but the reality is that the vast majority of 20 year old players are still a few years aware from the major leagues.  While it’s likely that Trout will remain the better all-around player, don’t be surprised if Harper contends for a home run title in the next few years.

How underrated is Felix Hernandez?

6-21-09 King Felix

King Felix – the consummate ace

Felix Hernandez has been around forever – but he’s just 27.  People who track velocity say that he has lost a couple MPH off his fastball.  Despit this, his strikeout rate continues to increase, and is at a career high this year – while his walk rate is at the lowest of his career.

The only thing keeping Felix from racking up multiple Cy Young awards is his team.  Over the course of his career, Hernandez is 103-25 when the Mariners score at least 2 runs for him.  His record for all games?  110-81.  In addition to the 7-56 record when the team scores zero or one runs, there are also a lot of no-decisions for Felix.  If Hernandez was on the Yankees, he might have 160 or more career wins by now.

Barring injury, Hernandez still has a really good shot at the Hall of Fame.  240-250 wins would probably be enough, and at age 27, he still has plenty of time.  However, I think a lot of people may be underestimating just how good Hernandez is.  We could be witnessing one of the all time best pitching careers and might not even realize it.

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Baseball Preview 2013: What To Watch For

November 30, 2012

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The 2013 baseball season is just around the corner.  At some point in the coming months, I’ll delve into each league in more detail.  Today, however, we’ll just take an overall look at things to watch for in 2013.

Players to watch

Mike Trout – Trout’s season was a historically great season.  He hit .326 with 30 homers and 49 steals in just 139 games, and also provided great defense at a premium position, center field.  It’s very possible that Trout will never again have a season as good as his 2012 season.  In fact, this is pretty likely.  If Trout averages .300 with 20 homers and 30 steals for 15 more years (he’d be 36 at the end of that span) while playing above average defense in center field, those numbers would most likely get him into the Hall of Fame.  Don’t engrave the plaque yet, though – a lot can happen in 15 years.  Some are worried that Trout’s body type (stocky) won’t be able to retain his blazing speed for very long.  This could be true, but it might also be true that he’s just a freak.  Trout still is several years away from a player’s traditional peak years, so it’s possible that he might actually get better …

Bryce Harper – Harper was a far more highly touted high school player, but he was completely overshadowed by Trout in 2012.  However, Harper still had a very good season, hitting .270 with  22 homers and stealing 18 bases.  He’ll need to kick those numbers up a fair amount to reach the potential people see for him, but the fact that he was able to hold his own in the majors at age 19 is extremely impressive – this is a rare achievement.

Jurrickson Profar – The top prospect in baseball was promoted by the Rangers at the end of the year.  He had a cup of coffee in the majors and put up fairly bad offensive numbers in the very limited action.  If Profar can hold his own in 2013 – and I think he can – this will create an excess of middle infielders for the Rangers.  The smart move would be to trade Elvis Andrus.  They could also trade Ian Kinsler and move Andrus to second base, but this would actually destroy value.  Shortstop is a more valuable position than second base, and converted Andrus to a second baseman would make him a less valuable player.

Shohei Otani – Otani announced that he wanted to sign with a Major League team out of high school rather than a Japanese professional team.  He was then drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, which could put a wrinkle in the plans.  The consensus seems to be that Otani is still free to sign with an MLB team, although this might straning relations between MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball League.  Otani is 6’4″ and boasts a 100 mph fastball.

Josh Hamilton – Hamilton is a free agent and will get a lot of money from somebody.  There are a couple of things that should scare some teams.  First is the history of off-field problems, most notably with drug abuse.  Everyone is cheering for Hamilton to stay clean and sober, but realistically, Hamilton’s risk is greater than that of some random player (Peter Bourjos, for example).  A related concerns is whether the drug abuse in his earlier years have caused damage to his body that will cause him to break down in a few years.  Major League contracts are fully guaranteed, which means a team could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if something bad happens.

Teams to watch

Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays made a trade with the Marlins that netted them Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes.  This is a big influx of talent and I’d expect the Blue Jays to make a big jump in the standings.

Florida Marlins – The Marlins won just 69 games last year … and then dumped most of their good players (with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton).  This could be a historically awful season.

The 2012 playoff teams – The Yankees are getting older.  The Orioles have a great bullpen – but can they sustain their incredible record in one run games?  Can the Nationals close the deal with Strasburg pitching an entire year?  Are the A’s for real?  Can the Angels avoid digging a big early hole again and win the West?



Baseball’s September Story Lines

September 5, 2012

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Baseball bell lap has begun, with just one month remaining in the season.  As baseball winds down, there are several story lines to watch.

Teams I’ll Be Watching

Joel Hanrahan

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan

Pittsburgh Pirates – The last time the Pirates has a winning season, I was still in high school.  Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, the Pirates should at least get to 82 wins.  Pittsburgh is currently 2 1/2 games out of the final National League wild card spot.  Although I also like the Cardinals (who currently hold the final spot), I’m definitely pulling for the Pirates to make the playoffs.  I think it would be great for the fan base to have a playoff appearance.  Although an entire generate of young fans doesn’t realize it, this is a franchise with a proud and successful past.

Jim Johnson

Orioles closer Jim Johnson

Baltimore Orioles – Through Monday, the Orioles were 15 games over .500 (74-59) with a run differential of -31.  Of all the other teams with a run differential worse than -25, the next best record is the Mets at 64-71 (7 games under .500).  The Orioles bullpen has been great, allowing them to win close games (which allows a team winning percentage to exceed the projected based on run differential).  It remains to be seen whether they can make a playoff run … but through Monday, they were just one game behind the Yankees. 

Players I’ll Be Watching

Mike Trout

Mike Trout

Mike Trout – At this point, Trout has the American League Rookie of the Year award in the bag and is making a strong case for MVP.  Although Ichiro won the MVP in his “rookie” season, he was already a well established professional player at that point.  The only “true” rookie to win the MVP was Fred Lynn in 1975.  Through Monday, Trout was hitting .336 with 25 homers and 43 steals (caught 4 times) and 108 runs scored in 112 games.  If the Angels managed to make the playoffs, it will be due to Trout.  Trout spent the first month in the minors.  However, it’s hard to blame the Angels for sending him down to start the year, as he was sick during much of spring training.  Trout’s season is going be one for the ages.  He has a shot to win a batting title, hit 30 homers, and steal 50 bases (in an abbreviated season) all while providing signficant defensive value in the outfield … in his age 20 season. 

The real challenge may be in trying to match his 2012 output in future season.  Trout could conceivably have a Hall of Fame caliber career while never touching those numbers again.  A .290 career batting average with 450 homers and 500 steals would almost certainly get him into Cooperstown – something he could do by averaging 23 homers and 25 steals over a 20 year career.

Albert Pujols – After signing a monster contract with the Angels in the off-season, Pujols struggled mightily in April.  He has righted the ship in recent months.  Through Monday, Pujols was hitting .287 with 29 homers and 92 RBI.  He’s still a tick below his career numbers, but that will happen when you basically throw a month away.  I think we need to be a little slower to judge players who switch leagues.  Some guys take a bit longer to adjust, but do just fine once they get locked in.  Matt Holliday was the same way in Oakland – after his initial struggles, he really hit well before being traded to St. Louis.

Stephen Straburg – Strasburg’s season will likely come to an end September 12.  The Nationals have an innings cap and will shut him down once he reaches that number.  This means that Strasburg will not be a part of the post-season for the Nationals.  I personally think this is a wise move for the Nationals.  Putting 220+ innings of work on a recently Tommy Johned elbow seems to be a risky proposition.  This is a team that is built to contend over the long run.  Don’t blow out a young arm.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 10:  National League Al...

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper – Harper gets overshadowed on his own team by the Strasburg talk and doesn’t fare well in comparisons to Mike Trout.  To be fair, no rookies will ever fare well in a comparison to Trout.  However, Harper has actually been a slightly above average hitter this year.  That’s actually an incredible achievement for a 19 year old.  Most 19 year olds in professional baseball are playing in cities like Grand Junction, Cedar Rapids, and Delmarva.  Harper’s career is still 100% on track.

Plenty more to watch

These definitely aren’t the only story lines to watch.  The Nationals are looking to make their first playoff appearance and do it with the best record in baseball.  The Angel, despite the heroics of Trout and Pujols, are still outside the playoff picture.  The Devil Rays are knocking on the playoff door … and could the backsliding Yankees fall out of the playoffs?  Those stories and more as the regular season winds down.

Congrats to Kevin Goldstein

Kevin Goldstein @ Saber Seminar 2011

Kevin Goldstein

On Friday, it was announced that Kevin Goldstein would become the professional scouting director for the Astros (professional scouting pertains to minor league and Major League players, as opposed to scouting of unsigned amateurs).  A lot of scouting directors work their way through the scouting ranks of an organization before being promoted to an executive role.  Goldstein moves into the job after writing (and podcasting) about prospectus, mostly for Baseball Prospectus.  His expertise is very well respected, but it’s still a somewhat out of the box hire.  The move also resulted in the death of my favorite baseball podcast, Up and In.

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Should Cole Hamels Have Hit Bryce Harper?

May 8, 2012

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Bryce Harper
Photo: Bryce Harper
Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies pitch...

Photo: Cole Hamels

On Sunday night, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels hit Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper in the back with a pitch.  This was not mere accident – Hamels freely admitted to hitting Harper on purpose.

Why did he do it?

Hamels’s explanation was that he felt that Harper approached the game in a disrespectful manner and that Hamels took it upon himself to give him an old school welcome to the Major Leagues.

It’s true that Harper is a very confident player.  Most observers would even say cocky or arrogant.  It’s also true that he has ruffled a lot of feathers in high school, community college, and the minor leagues.  However, he hadn’t done anything to disrespect the Phillies at this point.  Had he done something to show up Hamels – such as a painfully slow trot around the bases after a home run – Hamels might have a leg to stand one.  However, lacking such motivation, it seems that Hamels simply took it upon himself to launch a preemptive strike against Harper.  If anything, this event could soften the image fans have of Harper, with some people seeing him as a victim in this incident.

It’s absolutely true that Harper needs to grow up a lot.  But it’s also true that he’s still just 19.  If you take a random sample of 19 year olds in the minor leagues, I’d guess that there are a decent number of them with big egos, particularly guys who were picked in the first round.  My thought is that Harper’s teammates and manager are the ones who should work with Harper on his maturity.  Maybe some Crash Davis Bull Durham style tough love.

The Aftermath

Harper took his base and later stole home when Hamels tried to pick off a a runner on first base.  Jordan Zimmerman later hit Hamels with a pitch, at which point the umpire warned both benches (meaning that the next pitcher to hit a batter would be ejected).  I think the umpire handled this the correct way, allowing the Nationals to retaliate before issuing the warning.

Major League baseball suspended Hamels for five games after he admitted to hitting Harper on purpose.  I’m starting to get annoyed at MLB “punishing” starting pitchers with a five game suspension.  In reality, the pitcher doesn’t miss a start – the team just juggles the rotation a bit.  In the Phillies’ case, Cliff Lee will be inserted into the rotation when he comes off the disabled list, so there’s really minimal impact to the rotation.  Personally, I’d like to see a minimum of a 8-9 game suspension for pitchers, to make sure that they actually miss a start.  What’s the point in suspending a player when they don’t actually miss any time?

Around baseball

Albert Pujols finally hit his first homer of the season,   but is still struggling to hit .200.  Don’t worry, Angels fans, he’ll come around.

The Rockies lost yet another pitcher to the disabled list.  Drew Pomeranz was hit in the leg by a line drive last night.  He stayed in the game long enough to hit a 395 foot homer at Petco (notoriously difficult to homer in) before leaving a bit later in the game with a quad injury.  He joins starters Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jorge De La Rosa on the DL. 

Mariano Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury while shagging fly balls in batting practice.  The 42 year old says that he’ll return to the Yankees next year.  Only time will tell.  This spring has been tough on closers, with Joakim Soria, Brian Wilson, and Ryan Madson being lost for the yearand a bunch of other closers getting nicked up with less serious injuries.

The Orioles are tied for the best record in baseball, while the Twins are on pace to surpass the 1962 Mets as the worst team in history.  They are 7-21 and have been outscored by 64 runs.  No other team has a run differential worse than -35.

Three base ball stars here for the World Serie...

Photo: Sisler (left) and Cobb (right) flank Babe Ruth.

Orioles DH Chris Davis went 0-8 against the Red Sox on Sunday, but was still a key contributor to the Baltimore win.  Davis pitched the final two innings of a 17 inning game, becoming the winning pitcher when Adam “Pac Man” Jones jacked a three run homers off Red Sox outfielder Darnell “Old” McDonald.  In was the first time since 1925 that each team used a position player to pitch in a game.  The two players in that 1925 game?  Hall of Famers Ty  Cobb and George Sisler.  Cobb had two hits and a walk in five plate appearances and pitched a scoreless inning in relief.  Sisler was 0-4 at the plate and allowed no runs, one hit, and a walk and struck out a batter.  Who were the managers who were dumb enough to risk injuries to their star players in such a stunt?  Ty Cobb and George Sisler, of course.

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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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Millionaires on food stamps (and other random topics)

May 21, 2011

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I’m going to ramble on a lot of topics today, so bear with me.  Or stop reading.  The choice is yours.

If I Had Two Million Dollars, I’d Be Poor …

Leroy Fick on Michigan won $2 million on a television show affiliated with the Michigan lottery in 2010.  A year later, he’s on food stamps.  Has he fallen on hard times?  Well, lottery winnings are considered assets, but not income, are aren’t used to determine eligibility for assistance.  Federal guidelines DO use assets to determine eligibility, but Michigan (and at least 40 other states) have a waiver that allows them to ignore assets.  I’m sure that the thought process behind the waiver was well-intentioned (perhaps so that you wouldn’t have to sell your house to buy bread if you were laid off?), but I suspect that nobody ever dreamed that a lottery winner would apply for assistance.  The state is not aware of any other lottery winners receiving food stamps, and is quickly moving to close the loophole.

I think (hope) many of us would feel very blessed if we won the lottery, and use some of that money to help others – instead of taking money out of public coffers (although I guess that’s one way to reover what you’ve paid in taxes).

How does a lottery winner have no investment income, you ask? Easy. Put to money into investment funds that don’t pay dividends. You don’t have any income until you sell.


The general manager of the Washington Nationals has indicated that 18 year old prospect Bryce Harper will not play in the Major Leagues this year, not even as a “September call-up” when rosters are expanded to 40 players on September 1.  This seems like a smart move.  Unless the Nationals are in contention late in the year, there’s no reason to rush Harper’s development.  He’s demolishing low-A pitching right now, and would expect him to be promoted to high-A soon, and probably to AA before the end of the year.  However, he still needs to polish some of his skills, and a 2012 debut makes a lot of sense.

On the topic of talented youngsters, I’m pegging Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro as a lock for 3000 hits.  Castro has a lot of things going for him – not only is he young (21), but he hits in the early part of the order and doesn’t walk much (both of which boost his at bats).  As long as he doesn’t develop much power, he could be in the 1 or 2 hole in the order for many years to come, and if he doesn’t walk much he might make a push for 700 at bats some years.  You only need a .286 batting average to get 200 hits in 700 at bats.  If he stays healthy at consistently hits above 300, you might even see Castro make a run at 4000 hits.

Giants fan Bryan Stow remains in the hospital after he was beaten severely by two men at Dodger Stadium on March 31.  Despite a $200,000 reward and composite drawings of the two attackers, they have not been apprehended.  I find it unlikely that nobody knows who the attackers are, and I hope someone comes forward.  How can you sleep at night if you know who is responsible for this terrible crime?  I have as much hatred for the Giants as anyone, but it’s absolutely crazy to carry things this far.  We can have healthy rivalries without violence.  Best wishes, Bryan.

Jim Tressel

Ohio State will not be paying the legal expenses football coach Jim Tressel incurs as part of an ongoing NCAA investigation.  This seems perfectly fair, since Tressel kept the university in the dark, rather that taking the correct steps of informing his athletic director and compliance director when he learned of potential violations.  I’m hoping to see the NCAA drop the hammer hardon Tressel … but I’m not overly confident in the NCAA, given their spotty decision-making history.

Fiction status

I’m going to cut back on my short stories for a while. I’ll still try to write 2 stories per month for the site. I’ll likely shift those stories to Saturday and have a different type of article on Fridays.

The first class of my fiction school wrapped up. There were several delays, most of them caused by me. However, it was a very rewarding experience. My job ended up being a lot more difficult than I imagined, simple because of the relatively high level of polish the writers exhibited. I was expected to have to point out more flaws in technique, but the three writers in the class put forward some very fine work. Maybe you’ll see some of their work on this site in the future.

I’m working to get some traction on my novel (which is why I’m cutting back on stories a bit). I recently wrote a new beginning for the book – a prologue that shows the villain planning for the evil that will come. The prologue had gotten rave reviews … now I just need to write 90,000+ more words to finish the book.

New Logo

The parent organization for The Soap Boxers, Hyrax Publications LLC, has a new logo.  Scroll to the bottom to see it.  It’s a bit minimalist, but I like it.

Amazon, Sports, Chili, and Bruised Shins

February 24, 2011

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No one thing is grabbing my interest today, so I’ll talk about a lot of stuff.

First of all, the shin is not broken.  The x-rays confirmed it.  Good news, although a deep bone bruise isn’t much fun, either.

A revised version of the Kindle edition of Mountains, Meadows, and Chasms has been released.  I fixed a few small issues that had crept into the book during the Amazon conversion process, and also added the cover art and a clickable table of contents.  I will likely be revising the cover art in the next few days, at which point I’m not going to make any more changes (unless someone finds a serious problem).  If you want to give it a test drive, try the absolutely free “send a sample” functionality.  You’ll get about 10% of the book, at no cost to you.  If you like it, you can buy later.  Buyers can also lend the book to their friends for 14 days, free of charge to the friend.

Don’t have a Kindle?  You can buy one on Amazon for as little as $139 (or as much as $379) or download the Kindle viewer for your Mac, PC, Droid, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, or Windows 7 phone (download a viewer here).  Personally, I still prefer paper and ink to e-readers … but it’s pretty cool that you can download free Kindle version of classics.  I paid about $50 for my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare when I took English 370 back in the mid 90s (it will set you back almost $90 these days) – you can nab a Kindle version of the complete works of the bard for $2.99 (there are also free versions, but the $2.99 version has good reviews).  For fans of works that are in the public domain, e-readers could be great.  I’ll be covering the whole Kindle authoring experience in another place and time (on another site, in other words).  More details later.

Sadly, there won’t be a print edition at this point.  If I were to use Amazon’s print-on-demand service (CreateSpace), I’d have to set the price in the $15-$20 range (for a paperback) in order th make the same profit I make on the Kindle edition.  That seems too high for a new author.  if you want the non-Kindle format, you can buy it from my store in PDF format (also just $3.49).  You can probably print a copy for less than I’d have to charge for a print edition, if you really want the book on paper.

In the world of sports:

Bryce Harper says that he’s trying to make the Nationals team in Spring Training.  That’s a nice thought, but it’s not going to happen.  Even if the Nats thought the 18 year old was ready, they’re not going to start his free agent clock ticking yet – delaying a call-up until June would keep him under their control for another year.  I really doubt that he gets more than a token call-up this year, though. As good as Harper is, I’m sure there is a lot he needs to learn about the game, especially as he moves to a new defensive position (outfielder).

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals are holding their breath for news about co-ace Adam Wainwright, who injured his elbow.  While nobody is yet saying that Wainwright is done for the year, GM John Mozeliak said “things do not look encouraging.”  Most often, you’re going to see a GM make a neutral statement when there is a degree of uncertainty about an injury – seeing a negative comments makes me very concerned.

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 last weekend, while Tony Stewart won the Nationwide Series race.  Interesting, neither racer is the points leader.  A new NASCAR rule this year allows drivers to pick up points in just one series.  You can still win races (and money) in any series, but only contend for the title in one series.  The main reason for this was drivers from the top level Sprint Cup dropping down the Nationwide and winning titles.  Even with the change, you’re going to see the stars run Nationwide races – because it gives them more experience with live competition and allows them to gain familiarity with the track.  Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill pushed Stewart to victory in the Nationwide race.  He finished 3rd in the race and is atop the points race.

In the world of food:

I’m in search of the best canned chili.  I love chili, but it has to be in a relatively thin band of the broad chili spectrum.  Surprisingly, Campbell’s Roadhouse Chili is pretty good (and, oddly, you can buy it on Amazon).  I’m planning to try about a dozen differnt types of chili in my quest to crown a king.

K-Rod, Bryce Harper, and Kyle Parker

August 17, 2010

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Things went from bad to worse for Mets closer Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez.  Last Wednesday night, he got into a fight with his girlfriend’s father at the Mets’ ballpark after a game with the Rockies.  K-Rod was arrested and charged with assault and harassment.  It turns out that Rodriguez also tore a thumb ligament in his pitching hand.  Apparently, he didn’t follow the advice of Crash Davis to never punch someone with your pitching hand.  Rumors are swirling that the Mets are considering voiding his contract.  K-Rod was scheduled to earn $11.5 million in 2011 and has a vesting option of $17.5 million for 2012, with a $3.5 million buyout.  It is very unlikely that the vesting option will vest now.

Voiding the contract is easier said than done, though.  If the Mets void his contract, the MLB Players Association could file a grievance on behalf of Rodriguez.  Back in 2004, the Rockies terminated the contract of pitcher Denny Neagle on grounds that he violated the morals clause of the contract.  Neagle had been charged with soliciting a prostitute.  Neagle was pulled over for speeding and a cop got a little curious about why his pants were undone.  Neagle’s companion told the cop exactly why his pants were down, and exactly how much it had cost ($40).  Neagle filed a grievance and ended up reaching a settlement roughly equivalent to the amount remaining on his contract.  If the Rockies couldn’t win a grievance against Neagle, the Mets probably won’t win one against K-Rod.

Yesterday was the signing deadline for most Major League draftees.  The exceptions are college seniors and those playing in independent leagues.  The top pick, 17 year old Bryce Harper, signed a deal with guarantees him $9.9 million.  This is quite a bit less than the $15 million Stephen Strasburg got last year, but it’s also likely that Harper will need at least a few years of minor league ball before making the jump to the majors, whereas Strasburg made a near-immediate jump to the Nationals.  Thus, the Nationals will be getting minimal major league production from the signing bonus. 

Notable players who did not sign were Barrett Loux (#6, Arizona),  Karsten Whitson (#9, San Diego), and Dylan Covey (#14, Milwaukee).  Loux is a college junior who will be draft eligible again next year.  Whitson and Covey are high school kids who will be eligible again after their junior year of college (assuming that they don’t transfer to a JUCO at some point to accelerate their draft eligibility).  The three affected teams will receive a pick in the 2011 that is one slot below their pick in the 2010 pick (but if they fail to sign the player taken with the compensatory pick).  Considering that the 2011 draft is considered to be a very deep draft, the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Brewers probably aren’t shedding a lot of tears.

The Rockies signed their first round pick, Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker.  Parker was a junior in baseball eligibility, but a was freshman in football eligibility last fall.  You’re probably wondering how this is possible – I certainly was intrigued.  Parker graduated a semester early from high school and played baseball as a freshman in the Spring of 2008.  He then redshirted in football in the fall.  He was a baseball sophomore in spring 2009 and a football redshirt freshman in the fall.  He was a junior in baseball this spring and will be a football sophomore in the fall.  Parker signed a $1.4 million deal with the Rockies, but the team is allowing him to continue his football career.  This is somewhat unusual, but not exactly rare.

I don’t typically follow SEC football, but I’ll definitely be taking an interest in the health of the Clemson offensive line.  Keep the defense away from the QB, guys.

Around The World Of Major League Baseball

June 8, 2010

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Strasburg – It is FINALLY HERE
The hype is almost over … well it is still going on for a few more hours until the highly touted pitcher makes his debut for the Washington Nationals tonight at home in D.C. against the Pittsburgh Pirates. You have seen numerous articles mentioning Strasburg here on the Casual Observer, everything from talent to sports card prices. The place is sold out tonight, which is great for the home team. Here is hoping the kid has a good outing and does not get chased early.

Speaking of Nationals …
They also had the first overall pick in the “Live” draft that was conducted on Major League Baseball Network last night. Bryce Harper was not surprisingly taken as the #1 pick. He graduated high school early and spent this past year in Junior College where he tore the cover off the ball. Harper, according to an ESPN article, hit . 443 with 31 home runs, 98 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 66 games, That is video game type of numbers. Looks like we have another super hyped Washington Nationals player to keep an eye on over the next couple years.

Speaking of Draft …
The draft coverage last night was definitely the worst coverage of such a type of even I have ever seen. Of course Bud Selig is about as exciting as reading the white pages in the phone book. The real disappointment was twofold. First of all, the “in studio experts” really did not add anything to the equation at all, and secondly the “ticker” at the bottom of the screen showed more historical information about a team’s draft pick from something like 8 years ago and rarely did they actually show the picks that had made THIS year. For reference when the NFL draft is run, the pretty much have the continuous crawl at the bottom of the screen, so if you happen to run to the fridge or the bathroom, you can come back and actually see who was picked over the last couple of minutes. MLB network only updated this what seemed like 4 times an hour … poor job MLB Network. Maybe you can learn from this next year.

Speaking of MLB ….
It is shaping up to be another exciting year in baseball. We have already had a number of events happen. Griffey Retiring, Ubaldo Jimenez winning 11 games and being pretty much unhittable, and what seems like everyone in the American League East winning most all of their games (except the Orioles)

So for you baseball aficionados out there … grab your favorite beverage, and a snack and kick back tonight and see what the kid can do … a lot of people will be watching.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper

June 6, 2010

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Stephen Strasburg will make his major league debut on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates were originally scheduled to have Monday off.  However, a rained out game pushed a game against the Cubs to Monday, meaning that they won’t have the extra day of preparation.

Judging from all the hype around Strasburg, some fans may be disappointed with anything less than a no hitter and 20 strikeouts.  My own expectations are a bit lower.  I do think he’ll win the game, but I also expect some rookie jitters.  After all, he IS a rookie – and is facing immense pressure as the face of the Nationals.

17 year old Bryce Harper will become the second face of the franchise when the Nationals pick him with the top pick in this year’s draft.  Harper skipped his final two years of high school and is attending community college in order to gain eligibility for this year’s draft.  He’ll actually turn 18 in October, so he’s not substantially younger than some of the high school seniors in the draft.

Harper’s high school years were spent criss-crossing the country competing in All-Star tournaments.  This year, he led his school to the Community College World Series.  Harper was ejected from his final game (which his team lost) after drawing a line in the sand with his bat to indicate that a called strike was actually out of the strike zone.

This brings more attention to the issue of Harper’s maturity.  Many observers say that Harper is quite immature and vain.  While I’m not going ton condone these behaviors, it is important to remember that he’s just 17.  Think back to high school – was the star athlete a bit immature and vain?  Did he grow out of it later in life?

Harper has always been the biggest star, and life has been a bit of a whirlwind for him.  On Monday, this will change.  A day after he is picked, he will largely be forgotten as the media flocks to cover Strasburg’s debut.  This should serve to reinforce the fact that he is playing second fiddle with the Nationals, not lead guitar.  Getting into the routine of a minor league system should also help him.  I am convinced that Harper will mature as he ages.

With all the attention given to the top pick in the draft, it can be easy to forget the other 1499 players picked in the draft.  I’ll give a nickel to the first person who can tell me the name of the player picked second in the 2009 draft.

Do you you give up?  It was Dustin Ackley out of the University of North Carolina.  Ackley was an outfielder for most of his career before being relegated to first base during his final season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.  The versatile Ackley is now playing second base in the minors.  So far this season, Ackley is hitting just .244 for Mariners AA affiliate West Tennessee – but he has walked 38 times in 49 games.  I’m sure Ackley’s numbers will improve by the end of the year.  Even the best prospects usually struggle a bit in their first minor league season.

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