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Tag: "baseball"

The Playoffs and the Phillies Offense

[ 64 ] October 8, 2011 |

Great two days, wasn’t it? Three elimination games, all classics. I’ll be very happy to make a donation to Planned Parenthood for my reverse-hedge bet with Howard. For the championship series, I’ll take Brewers in 6 and Rangers in 7.

Since this has come up a lot in comments, a note about the Phillies. I have been arguing that while the Cards winning was probably the biggest upset of the first round, it’s not a historic upset, simply because the Phillies are more the rich man’s Giants than a great two-way team on the order of the 2004 Red Sox, 1998 Yankees, 1989 As, or 1986 Mets. Their rotation was historically good (although the massive edges they have over the rest of the league in the 4 and 5 slots largely vanishes in the division series.) But the Philadelphia offense, I insist, is ordinary. While I thought “worse than the Mets” was enough to make the point, apparently not, so it’s worth going through this a bit. They key is Howard, still perceived as a star but in fact not even a good player. And I don’t mean that he has a bad contract, I mean he’s below average now. For a (poor) 1B in a tremendous hitter’s park, 253/346/488 is barely good enough to stay in the lineup, no matter how many MVP ballots he’s listed on. And he wasn’t significantly better in 2010. Ibanez, posting a sub .300 OBP with limited power and atrocious defense in left, is even worse. Polanco makes a defensive contribution but no longer an offensive one. You can overcome three spots with inadequate production with stars, only (unless Utley, the greatest player of the Phlly mini-dynsasty even if he’s the one without the MVP award, can come back) the Phillies don’t really have any. Ruiz, Rollins, Victorino and Pence are good solid players, but nothing more than that (although the latter two had career years and half-years, respectively.) It’s an offense good enough to win with their rotation, but it’s fundamentally mediocre, and when you play a team with a better offense it counts.

This isn’t to say that, in the short term, this should be a major problem. The long-term issues with the Phillies are well-known, but the window remains open and Amaro knows what he’s doing and isn’t complacent. The Citizens Bank issue has another side to it, of course — it conceals the fact that Howard isn’t really helping the team, but the pitching is even more amazing than it looks at first glance. They’re probably stuck with Polonco (who’s under contract for $6.5 million), but Utley might have another great year or two left in him. They have nowhere to go but up in LF, although they need to resist the temptation to give the job to Mayberry after his fluke half-season. They could get Reyes. And even if the offense doesn’t improve a lot they’re by far the best team in the division. But as of now, it’s just not a very good offense despite having a lot of famous people. The could use an upgrade or two going into next year’s postseason.

Championship Series

[ 68 ] October 8, 2011 |

This has to be the easiest to watch and most pleasant set of championship series in some time. Most right-thinking people without explicit rooting ties to the other two teams will be rooting for a Milwaukee-Detroit World Series, though who could really complain about the Cardinals, a team with a great history and great fan base without being entitled about it. Moreover, how great is it that all the East Coast big spenders with their insanely entitled fan bases (and the Cubs with their incredibly stupid fan base) are all out of it. I do feel bad for Philadelphia a bit. If Halladay is the greatest pitcher of our generation, Chris Carpenter is probably the most underrated and he threw an utter masterpiece. But somehow there are major problems with the team that will require people being fired or something. I’m looking forward to hearing Phillies fans complain that had resigned Jayson Werth for an obscene amount of money to go along with the Howard albatross contract they somehow would have won, despite the fact the kind of production you get from Werth in an average year can be had for about 5 million.

I will also provide reasons to root for the Rangers. This is the team progressives are least likely to root for, between its location and its connections to George W. Bush. I understand this. But as a 3 year resident of Texas, I went to several Rangers games and developed a kind of affinity for them, despite being in the same division as Seattle. I am very happy for hard-core Rangers fans. Unless they are winning like now, the Rangers are completely ignored in the Dallas market. A couple of years, I was driving up to Dallas in May and the subject on sports radio was not the Rangers or even the Mavericks, but whether Jerry Jones should have fired Tom Landry 20 years ago. The Cowboys not only completely dominate Dallas, but Jones revels in shitting on the Rangers. When Arlington was chosen for the new stadium, Jerry had to agree to respect the Rangers traditional ballpark next door. As soon as the contract was signed, he ignored that stipulation and built the Death Star.

This is a long-suffering fan base who has rooted for an endless number of atrocious teams. Plus, the Rangers have the 3rd longest World Series drought, going back to their days as the second version of the Senators. Founded in 1961, the franchise has yet to win a series. Only the Cubs and Indians have longer droughts.

Elimination Day

[ 76 ] October 6, 2011 |

…for someone. Hopefully the home team. If I wanted to be optimistic, I could point out that while the Yankee starter in Game 4 was a better bet than the basic numbers might indicate, Nova is worse. 5.4 K/9, with a less than 2-1 K/W ratio, ain’t that good, and his low HR rate in that park screams “fluke.” The Tigers do have some power and might be able to get to him. Fister isn’t a great bet either, but he gets a few more Ks and has much better command. What I don’t like about the game is that the Yankees have a very deep and very rested bullpen, so if Nova doesn’t have anything the Yanks aren’t a lot worse off. They can use their ace and the Tigers can’t, Rivera is better than Valverde, Roberston better than Benoit, etc. It’s hard to think this will work out.

It’s also NHL opening Night; congrats to the Bruins fans out their on banner-raising day and performing such an invaluable service to humanity last June. I have to object to the characterization of the Flames as “most likely to disappoint.” This implies that someone expects them to be good…

And on that second optimistic note, let’s call this an open thread.

…Giradri managing like he’s in a Tony LaRussa wet dream. I actually think cutting bait on Nova was a good idea but platoon matchups with 1 on in the 4th might be a bit much.

…Trying to watch hockey to avoid watching the Yankees take lead you really absorb the fact that the mean Yankee half-inning is about 90 minutes.

…would feel better about this lead if Tigers didn’t strike out on terrible pitches at least twice an inning. And 3 runs ain’t going to hold up if they need 5 innings from the bullpen.

…49-for-49 my ass, this is terrifying. And I think we can be pretty safe in assuming the Yankees won’t be first-pitch swinging.

…woo-hoo! Congrats Tigers, and time to break out the good stuff.

Wedding Gifts

[ 37 ] October 4, 2011 |

Take lessons from Farley, because he’s doing it right.

It’s especially appropriate that this arrived in time for what might be the greatest day of the year, Yankee Elimination Day! Although the pictured quantity is not nearly sufficient for any game involving Jose Mesa Valverde and a 1-run lead.
Superficially, the elimination seems likely to occur — an elimination game at home against Mr. A.J. Burnett seems like a great scenario. The problem is Rich Porcello, who’s just as bad as Burnett. Actually worse, since while Burnett at least misses bats and has some upside, Procello is the kind of Twins-style pitch-to-contact guy the Yankees specialize in beating the shit out of. This seems like a battle of bullpens, and the Yankees have an edge there.

Prove me wrong again, Tigers, prove me wrong!

…could Leyland ease up on the damn bunting? They may let Burnett off the hook even if he doesn’t have any command.

Playoff Picks, Part Deux

[ 24 ] October 1, 2011 |

Rangers v. Devil Rays: I missed the opening game in this series,which would be a problem if I was planning on picking Tampa Bay, because who would believe me? But since my pick is the Rangers, it’s not an issue. It’s hard not to be impressed by the Rays and their spectacularly good organization. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Rangers have been about 80 runs better and are good on both sides of the diamond while the Rays were outscored by the Royals. The series is not as much of a mismatch as the run differential indicates, as the Rays play in by far the best division in baseball and the Rangers play in a division where the other three teams have approximately no good hitters between them. Still, the first game notwithstanding, the Rays just don’t have enough offense for me to pick them. RANGERS IN 5.

St. Louis v. Philadelphia. Now this looks like a mismatch, a 102-win team with a historic rotation against scraped into the playoffs on the last day during a historic choke by the competing team. Amaro has done a terrific job keeping the Phils in top, recognizing the team’s narrow window and getting top-shelf talent without paying a huge price. The fact that Tony LaRussa does a lot of irritating stuff has lead to a common pundit’s fallacy in which people want to deny that he’s a great manager, but he and Duncan’s tape and baling wire rotations tend not to hold up so well in a short series against an outstanding offense. And yet, as Rany Jazayleri notes in his contrarian analysis, the Phillies offense is in fact mediocre — lest you think that’s an exaggeration, they were outscored by the Mets in neutral parks by 50 runs. And while I was aware of that I didn’t know that the Cards’ offense was the best in the league by a fair margin. Combined with the fact that great rotation teams (not just the Cox Braves but the Weaver Orioles, Beane A’s, ’54 Indians) haven’t necessarily fared well in postseason play, and the contrarian case becomes rather compelling. Still, I’m not ready to go there. The fact that the small handful of comparable teams lost some series in which they were favored doesn’t really prove anything, and I’m inclined to believe that front-line pitching is a pretty good strategy for post-season success (cf. the 2010 Giants, who make the Phils offense look like the ’95 Indians.) If Holliday was healthy and the Phillies hadn’t acquired Pence I would pick the Cards — but as is, I think the Phillies win a somewhat closer-than-expected series. PHILLIES IN 4.

Tito

[ 70 ] September 30, 2011 |

…apparently out.

I suspect this will be a minority position, but I think this probably best for all involved. Francona has, on balance, done a good job in Boston. And I don’t think he’s committed a clearly firable offense, such as screwing up an elimination game a la Little 2003 or Showalter 1995 or running his lineup into the ground up to and including a third baseman who couldn’t throw like Zimmer 78. But:

  • It’s very rare for a manager to do work comparable to his best in the second decade of his tenure.   Maybe Francona is a truly cream of the elite manager like Weaver or Cox or McGraw, but it’s much more likely that he’s a more typical good manager whose effectiveness attenuates severely over time.
  • Keeping Francona will probably keep more emphasis on this year’s debacle than is helpful in an intense media market.
  • Because flops like this are by definition rare, there’s no way of clearly judging based on past instances.   But, still, what anecdotal evidence there is isn’t encouraging.   The Sox regressed under Zimmer, although since he was a bad manager who enjoyed very little success I’m not sure what this proves.   Mauch did a very good job with three other teams but never had a year in Philadelphia as good as 1964 again.   The Cubs underachieved under Durocher, once a great manager, after 1969.   In retrospect I think most Mets fans would agree with me that Randolph should have been fired after 2007, although I think overall he did a decent job — the team certainly started in 2008 as if he had lost the clubhouse.    I wouldn’t say this proves it would be better for Francona should move on, but I don’t think it’s meaningless either.
  • I don’t know if I would say that it’s Francona’s fault that the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs. exactly.   But it’s hard to say that he’s done a great job over the last three years either.    What I said about Friedman doing more with far less than Epstien also applies vis a vis Maddon and Tito. You can whine about injuries all you want, but it doesn’t explain why the Red Sox had a worse September than the Astros or Mariners or Pirates.

Francona has had a very successful tenure, and I can understand Sox fans not wanting his tenure to end on this note. But I think it’s probably for the best (and the reports seem to imply that Francona agrees.)

LGM Baseball Challenge Won By Guy Who Wins it Every Year

[ 3 ] September 29, 2011 |

Yawn.  Matt Ricci’s Free Leonard wins the LGM Baseball Challenge.  Again.

1 Free Leonard, mattricci 3919 8757
2 Jersey Burkers, john theibault 4025 8588
3 Roberts Steals Second, Smokin Joe 70 4050 8293
4 Ambulance Chasers, jsmdlawyer 3798 8286
5 Headless Thompson Gunners,hickes01 3605 8232
6 Carmalita, JeffLOrth 3762 8058
7 Too Much Coffee, PeterFD59 3603 7937
8 Hosmer Mubarak, DocPaisley 3775 7902
9 Petes Players, 54Pete54 3530 7861
10 BValer entry 2, BValer 3578 7711

The winner should contact me for information about the prize he always declines etc. etc. etc.

Dan Johnson

[ 38 ] September 28, 2011 |

I called it! His season batting line entering that AB: 108/178/157.   Hey, quality beats quantity…

Should the Rays win, I’m sure a lot of BoSox fans will complain about the parade of stiffs that Girardi ran out to the mound in game 162.   My position is that you can never complain about not getting help from other teams — Giradri’s job is to maximize his team’s chances of winning the World Series within the rules period.   Even leaving aside the whole “blowing a 10 game lead in a month” thing I don’t think there’s any basis for complaint.

…and we have a micro-choke to complete the macro-choke for the Braves.   At least the wildcard will go to a market than can actually sell out playoff games.

…OK, Crawford not making the play and then launching a throw that made Bonds ’92 look like Clemente was the way that had to end.   That signing was like sending yourself Anthrax.

…and both chokes completed.   Wish there could have been at least one playoff, but best regular season day in memory.

…Red Sox correspondent about 30 seconds after the game ended, but before Crawford’s throw got to the general vicinity of home plate:  “Luzinski would have had that.”

…I’m not helping, but it should also be noted that Crawford and Papelbon have plenty of co-goats. The Sox had plenty of chances to put that away.

Aceves

[ 19 ] September 27, 2011 |

Y’know, I’m just going to go out on a limb and declare that Terry Francona’s decision to use Alfredo Aceves out of the bullpen in the final week was a good one.  6.1 innings with one run and four hits is pretty solid, and using Aceves from the bullpen made it more likely that his contribution would be in high impact innings.  I suppose the argument could be made that Aceves should have been switched with either Lackey or Bedard, but then he obviously couldn’t have contributed in the other game, much less stopped the bleeding in the Beckett start.

Dressen. Mauch. Randolph. Tito?

[ 77 ] September 27, 2011 |

We don’t know if the Red Sox will complete the choke, but they’ve already blown it.

And while Epstein isn’t to blame for the choke per se, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Cashman and (especially) Friedman have been running rings around him for a couple years.   This has partly been luck both ways — Garcia and Colon were both good cheap gambles, but between them they had been simultaneously good and healthy exactly zero times in the previous four seasons, and I’m sure even Cashman would concede that they didn’t expect 300 quality innings from them.    And while Crawford and Gingrich Lackey were bad contracts, there was no reason to expect them to implode like they have in the short term.   Lackey was a consistently good pitcher with consistently good K rates, and last year pitched in bad luck that has gotten even worse.     I don’t understand what the Red Sox were doing with Crawford, but there was no reason to expect him to immediately veer into Wells/Bay territory.  Not only has he hit nothing, the defense and baserunning that figured to give him an acceptable floor have completely deteriorated.  Before writing him off it should be remembered that after 2010 most Sox fans wanted Ellsbury’s head on a pointed stick — talent can be resilient — but it could be a historically bad contract.   In addition to the failed big tickets, Epstein hasn’t been able to make the little moves to provide depth; when Drew very predictably reached the end of the line he wasn’t backed up with anyone who should be playing a corner OF slot for a contending team.   They still might hold on, but however it turns out the Rays have done a lot more with far less.

The Deal that Lost the West?

[ 32 ] September 24, 2011 |

I think that Mike Scioscia is a pretty good manager, and that he’s done about as well as he could with the team that he has in LA.  However, it bears notice that Mike Napoli is about five games better than Jeff Mathis this year, and that Napoli is playing for the Rangers instead of the Angels in large part because of how Scioscia evaluates catcher defense.  It isn’t all Scioscia’s fault; somebody in the front office might have made a mental note that having a player who can play catcher, first base, DH, and can rake is worth more than the difference between Juan Rivera and Vernon Wells (!).  Also due credit to Ron Washington for appreciating what he had and steadily increasing Napoli’s playing time over the course of the season.

[SL] What bears emphasis here is that the Angels lost the trade horribly even leaving aside the fact that they took on one of the worst contracts in baseball. Wells, who has a handsome .252 OBA (albeit with very good defense in left), would be killing the team even if he had been signed to a cheap one-year flier. It’s a staggeringly bad trade. About the only thing you can say in their defense is that “winning” the Carl Crawford auction might have been even worse.

Things That Are Now Safe to Say

[ 18 ] September 19, 2011 |

I guess my earlier arguments about the lack of an AL East pennant race because of the wild card are now inoperative. I would strongly advise the Red Sox not to start Tom Glavine the last weekend of the season if the pennant is still on the line…

I also don’t remember exactly how this affects my annual bet for charity with Howard, but I do know that the generously sent me a copy of The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Tapes, for which I am immensely grateful.  If you’re a Red Sox fan, I assure you that taking a piece of Mr. Parker’s band will make you feel better…

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