Monday, July 26, 2004

Maine Baseball Hall of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2004 Induction Ceremony for the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday at the Holiday in By the Bay. Among those being honored was my father-in-law, Drig Fournier. Over 500 people were on hand to honor Drig and the nine other inductees, as well as other award winners during the four-hour ceremony.

The 2004 class was a combination of legendary town-team players, umpires, coaches and other champions of the sport - some of these gentlemen served in each of these capacities over their careers.

The Class of 2004 includes:
Al Davis, a Wilton native whose tricky knuckleball fooled hitters all over western Maine. His career spanned from 1940-59, including time in the military, where he struck out Hall of Famer
Enos Slaughter.

Drig Fournier is a native of Jay who had an excellent town team career in the 1950's and 1960's. Drig led the Timber League with a .454 batting average in 1961, and reportedly finished with a career batting average over .400. Known for his heady play and knowledge of the game, Drig also served 28 years as an umpire, and is also a
pretty fair golfer.

Bill Harris of South Portland spent 40 years coaching youth baseball, primarily Little League. He was recipient of the 1983 Kenneth Sills Award as Little League's Manager of the Year, and also umpired at all levels of baseball and softball.

Herb Libbey, Jr. of Mattawamkeag was another legendary town team player. "Junior" reputedly completed his four year high school career without ever having struck out, batting .400 over that time span. His town team career spanned 30 years and over 1,200 games. He was a smooth fielding first baseman and clutch power hitter. Libbey also set a new record by bringing 118 paying guests (allegedly the entire population of Mattawamkeag) to the induction ceremony.

Gene McClure was a member of the Maine Suburban Little League squad that went to the 1951
Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. McClure's playing career included Legion ball, prep school, and the Twilight League in Southern Maine. However, it is McClure's 40+ year coaching career, which includes the 1984 Class A state championship with Deering High. McClure is currently head coach at Falmouth High School.

Jerry McConnell was honored posthumously for his umpiring career during the 1940's and 1950's. One of the top umps in the state, McConnell worked minor league games in the Downeast League and New England League, as well as games featuring barnstorming Negro League teams. McConnell's son David, who is now head usher at Hadlock Field, accepted the award.

Howard McFadden of
Dennysville (way Down East) was honored for his career in the Quoddy League in Washington County. McFadden's playing career included two stints in the military (where he was named the MVP among non-professional ballplayers in Ft. Bragg, NC in 1962), and lasted until he was 51 years old! McFadden has also served as an umpire from 1988 - 2004.

Al McNeilly was honored for his playing career at the University of Maine, and for his post-playing days as a tireless champion of
UMaine Sports. McNeilly earned a chemical engineering degree and spent 35 years working for Esso (later Exxon). Al recently celebrated his 60th college reunion, and showed himself to be a very gracious and humble during his remarks.

Hank Richards of South Portland was a three sport standout during his high school career in the 1950's, and he continued to star on the diamond and gridiron at both the University of Deleware and University of Maine in the early 1960's. Richards spent several years coaching both sports, but it is his long time umpiring career that earned his induction this year.

Merrill "Red" Wilson also attended the University of Maine, but his wish was to play hockey. Unfortunately for him, UMaine didn't have a
hockey program in 1950. Instead, Wilson was left to play catcher, earning all Yankee Conference honors in 1951 and 1952. Wilson coached high school and played town team ball in Maine in the mid 1950's, before moving to Dennis-Yarmouth High School on Cape Cod. Red played in the Cape Cod League from 1956-62, earning the MVP award in 1961, then coached for a long time in the league, managing such future big leaguers as Craig Biggio, Kirk McCaskill and Mike Bordick. After retiring from teaching, Wilson returned to Maine to coach at Husson College.

Also honored was Max Jackson, who received the President's Award for his tireless fundraising activities to keep the Caldwell Post American Legion team alive in the 1970's. This year's scholarships were presented to Michaella Bartley of Greenville High School, Shaila Delea of Sacopee Valley, Patrick Duchette of Oak Hill, Brittany Tibbetts from Noble, Adam Vachon of Cony, and Josh Withee from Foxcroft Acadamy.

The ceremony was primarily an afternoon of stories, jokes and lies, all of which were a great deal of fun. There were some surprises, however, mostly from the irrepressible Sonny Noel. The General Chairman of the Maine Baseball Hall, Noel kept things loose with his quick wit and by bringing out both guitar and harmonica for a couple of warm up tunes. Mort Soule also provided a dramatic reading of Casey at the Bat.

The Maine Baseball Hall of Fame is a worthy organization, and Mr. Noel's energy is evident in the magnitude of the ceremony that he has put together. I am not aware of a formal museum for the Hall, nor does there appear to be a web site devoted to the Hall of Fame. Both would appear to be worthwhile ways to expand the Hall's reach, and to formally memorialize the great individuals who have contributed to the rich history of baseball in Maine.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sea Dogs Monthly Luncheon

The Portland Sea Dogs have a monthly luncheon at Hadlock Field during the season, something that I just found out about this week.  The cost is $8 (anybody can attend), and the fans are treated to lunch in the picnic area (nice) and a talk by a special guest.  I attended my first lunch this afternoon, and found it to be a fun experience.

Most of the fans in attendance were veteran season-ticket holders.  By "veteran", I mean "retired".  I was well below the median age for attendees, though there were a couple of people with their kids (10-12 years old or so).   In talking to a couple of folks, I found that the monthly speaker is usually a Sea Dogs player, coach or manager, though they have brought in other guests of note (the guy with the frisbee dogs, for example).  The Sea Dogs are just returning from a road trip, however, so today's speaker was Dean Rogers, who has been the PA announcer for the Sea Dogs for all 11 years of their existence.  Rogers is a veteran radio man whose familiar voice has been on the Portland airwaves (WHOM currently) since the late 1970's. 

Rogers talked briefly about his radio career and his role in establishing an over-30 baseball league in southern Maine, and more extensively (including a question and answer period) about his work with the Sea Dogs.  Rogers described the cramped quarters that he shares with the sound effects person, the video board person, and the stats person. 

The biggest challenge by far is pronouncing names, especially all of the hispanic names that he sees (Gonzalez is the most common name that he comes across).  Rogers has learned to talk to the opposing team's radio personnel to make sure he gets the names right - apparently word gets back to him surprisingly fast if he mispronounces a player's name.  The most challenging name through the years has been current Chicago Cub infielder Mark Grudzielanek (it's impossible to spell, too!).

Rogers also shared his most embarrassing moment: calling for the seventh inning stretch - in the middle of the sixth inning!  (I might have been at that game).  The announcer saved face by making a joke about it being a practice run, and everybody had a good laugh!

I encourage anybody who is not busy, or has time on their lunch hour, to find their way down to Hadlock Field for this monthly program.  The next luncheon is scheduled for Wednesday, August 11.  Hope to see you there!  (Unless I have a job by then, that is!)

Alvarez Makes Major League Debut.

Abe Alvarez was called up to start the first game of the doubleheader yesterday afternoon, making his major league debut just over a year after being drafted out of Long Beach State.  He got boxed around a little bit, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs over five innings pitched with an uncharacteristic five walks, but he settled down after a three-run first inning and impressed catcher Jason Varitek in the process. 

Bringing up Alvarez for the start was kind of curious, in my mind.  I would think that the Sox would have wanted their best option to win the game on the mound - and maybe that was Alvarez, but he's never pitched above AA before and he could be expected to be nervous.  Plus, it starts the arbitration clock running for him at an early age, which could be a problem.

I would have expected someone from Pawtucket to make the start, most likely Frank Castillo, with Jamie Brown or John Stevens also in the mix.  All have pitched well for the PawSox, and Stevens and of course Castillo have a fair amount of major league experience.  It could be something as simple as the fact that none of those guys were ready (I haven't checked out the Pawtucket rotation), but since this double header wasn't a surprise, that seems like an issue that could be worked around.

The one other option (and the one that I hope is not the case) is that Alvarez was being showcased for a trade.  He's obviously the top pitching prospect in the organization, and maybe the Sox were putting him on display in hopes that he shows himself to be major league ready.  I don't think that Alvarez did anything to dissuade anybody from trading for him, but I think he obviously needs more seasoning.  If the Sox do end up trading Alvarez, I sure hope they get somebody real good in return. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Dogs are Winning

The Sea Dogs have won five out of their last six, and now stand 2.5 games ahead of last-place New Britain and only 0.5 games behind fourth place Trenton in the EL North.  The highligt of the recent streak was battering Kevin Brown for five runs in two innings during Thursday's 9-1 victory over the Thunder
The Sea Dogs appear to have replaced Sean McGowan and Edgar Martinez on the roster with Stefan Bailie and Clint Chauncey, but I don't see any official announcement about these moves anywhere. 

Baseball Gods Grant Second Chance

There was an ad in the recent Maine Sunday Telegram, looking for independent score keepers for Portland Sea Dogs home games.  This outfit (Baseball Scorers - they don't even have a web site up at this juncture) seems a lot more fly-by-night than my previous opportunity (ESPN SportsTicker), and the pay is significantly less ($15/game less, in fact), and there's no press box access, but what the hey, I'll give it a shot.  Getting paid to watch baseball - what could be finer?

Friday, July 16, 2004

A look at Mark Bellhorn

Trying out a new font - just keeps coming up with new ways to improve the Blogging experience.
Maybe I'm obsessed with this guy, but there's been a lot of debate over the merits of Mark Bellhorn at The Big Jab forums.  I think that he's been doing a terrific job, and I believe that his ability to get on base really trumps the fact that he strikes out a lot, and that his defense is a little on the shaky side.  Still, I believe that his range is pretty good, which many others disagree with.  His zone ratings, per, are actually pretty decent for a second baseman, though obviously not as good as Pokey Reese .
The biggest argument against Bellhorn is his strikeout rate - you can't have your #2 batter striking out so much.  Putting the ball in play can cause errors, move runners along, etc.  All this is true.  Putting the ball in play can result in double plays, too, and many many balls in play with runners on don't actually move anybody.  I did this purely subjective analysis of strikeouts vs. other kinds of outs:
Let's start with the obvious: strikeout vs. popup to the infield. How often does a popup to the infield result in anything more than one out with no runners advancing? I'd say it's far less than 1%, so a strikeout isn't really worse than a popup to the infield.  Next, strikeout vs. shallow fly to the outfield. How often does a shallow fly to the outfield result in anything other than one out with no runners advancing? Well, outfielders don't drop many balls, maybe one in 100 at most. Sometimes you'll get a runner to tag and score on a shallow fly, but I'm not sure that they score when running on a shallow fly any more often than they get thrown out trying, but say they succeed 75% of the time - you're looking at a strikeout being worst than a shallow fly only about 3% of the time. That's not too much. 
Strikeout vs. deep fly ball - here you've got more chance to move a runner or two along - but how many deep fly balls actually move runners along - one in 10? Also, you get more errors on deep fly balls, maybe two in 100 vs. one in 100 on shallow flies. So K's are 10% worse than deep fly balls - but deep fly balls are probably going to be the least prominent in the mix.
Finally, K vs. ground ball. If nobody is on base, there's no difference, other than a 3 - 5% chance that an error will be committed. Not a lot. If a runner is on base, you might move him up with an out (better than a K), you might force him with an out (no difference), or you might get a double play (worse than a K). What is the probablility of each happening, and how often do you bat with bases empty vs. runners on? I think you get as many DP's as you get runners moved along, but even if not, it can't be more than a 5% disadvantage for a K.
So, if you throw it all together, based on frequency of each happening with nobody on or with runners on base, I'm thinking that a strikeout is maybe 3% worse than any other out. Make it 5%, if you prefer "rounder" numbers. So once out of every 20 times a guy strikes out vs. making another kind of out, the team is worse off. That's not a lot.  But it's also worse than people who have looked at this objectively, like Bill James with his "runs created" statistic.  (I used to link to a page that did a great job of explaining RC and the expanded formula, but it seems to have gone missing.  You can email me if you would like to know the formula that I used).  In the RC formula, strikeouts are given a 2% negative adjustment - not much at all. 
So for Bellhorn, I decided to look at how many times an "average" batter strikes out, then plugged that number into the RC formula instead of Bellhorn's actual strikeouts. Per the Hardball Times pitching stats, AL batters strike out, on average 6.4 times per 27 outs made. This means that an "average" AL batter would have 57 K's this year over the number of outs that Bellhorn has made, whereas Bellhorn has 96 K's (10.8/27 outs).
The results:
Bellhorn (96 K's) has "created" 57.7 runs this season.
Bellhorn (57 K's) would "create" 58.1 runs this season.
It is also appropriate to look at the positive impact of Bellhorn's walks. The average AL pitcher allows 3.4 walks/27 outs, whereas Bellhorn earns 6.9 walks/27 outs (more than double!). That would reduce Bellhorn's walks to 30 on the season. I moved those walks to at-bats and increased hits and total bases based on Bellhorn's current BA and SLG rates.
The results:
Bellhorn (61 BB's) has "created" 57.7 runs this season.
Bellhorn (30 BB's) would "create" 50.6 runs this season.
So, the walks have been worth 6.1 runs, while the strikeouts have cost 0.4 runs. Net 5.7 runs to the positive. Considering that a 10-run differential is worth about one win, Bellhorn's selectivity will be worth about one win for the season compared to a guy who has the same BA and SLG but with average BB and K rates.
The summary, then, for Mark Bellhorn:
.268/.388/.443, 61 BB, 96 K, 57.7 RC, 6.5 RC/27 outs "as is"
.268/.331/.443, 30 BB, 57 K, 51.0 RC, 5.3 RC/27 with "normal" walk and strikeout rates.
I'll stick with the "as is" version, thank you very much!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Sea Dogs, at the break

The EL all star game is today, and the Sea Dogs currently wallow in 5th place in the EL North with a 42-48 record. That puts them half a game ahead of New Britain, but nine games behind the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for second place (and a playoff spot). With only 51 games to go, it looks like golf in September for the Dogs.

There have been some good performances in the first half. Jeff Bailey (314/429/561-12-52) has led the offense, but there is some question if it makes him a "prospect" or not. He's a little old for the league at age 25, and he's never shown this kind of power before. Is he a late bloomer, or a sample-size fluke?

Also continuing to develop is last year's Red Sox minor league player of the year, John Hattig. Hattig was on the DL for a couple of weeks, but he's been strong with the bat: 293/421/547-12-32. Hattig's a little rough with the leather, reminiscent of Kevin Youkilis last year, and like Bailey, he's never shown this kind of power. Still, the 1.5 years difference in their ages (Hattig vs. Bailey) means that the home run stroke is more likely to be a real development - he's always had decent doubles power. Hattig's progress may actually make Youkilis more expendible in a trade for help down the stretch, as his name comes up in pretty much every rumor.

The other big stick goes to Brett Roneberg (my apologies for consistently spelling his name incorrectly), who has put up a steady 288/375/480-12-56 pace this season. At 25 and in his 4th season in the EL, it is probably time for him to move up to Pawtucket. He'll represent Australia in the Olympics later this summer.

Also having decent seasons are Kenny Perez and Mike O'Keefe. Bailey, Perez and Roneberg were named to the EL all star team.

Some batters have been disappointments, however. Sean McGowan (262/312/342-3-32) has been a massive singles hitter at 1B/DH and I'd be surprised to see him last the season at this pace. Edgar Martinez (163/207/206-1-10) has been a good glove man, but is overmatched by AA pitching at this point.

The pitching has had some bright spots. Joe Nelson was 3-2, 1.78 with 13 saves before being called up to Pawtucket and now Boston. He's a veteran with a couple previous major league innings, and was in under his head at this level.

Juan Perez (4-0, 2.66, 3 saves) is Nelson's heir apparent in the closer's role, and has been solid. He was chosen for the minor league futures game over the All Star break. The bullpen has had its struggles, but those in the mix right now have done a good job overall.

Among the starters, Abe Alvarez (8-6, 3.64) and Chris Smith (5-2, 3.75) have led the way, with Abe going to the EL all star game. Alvarez has shown good control and strong poise after reaching Portland a year ahead of schedule. Alvarez could be in line for a late season callup to Pawtucket, but I think the Sox probably won't rush him this year and let him start there fresh at the beginning of 2005.

Smith is a hard throwing righty who was leading the EL in strikeouts before missing a couple of starts with a sore arm.

The biggest disappointment by far was Charlie Zink, whose return to Portland was highly anticipated but turned into a bust. The knuckleballer struggled with his command all season, and had a 1-8, 5.79 mark with more walks than strikeouts before being sent back to Sarasota to right himself.

Josh Stevens was doing well after being returned from Pawtucket, but he's hit a bit of a rough patch and now stands at 4-6, 5.20, though he has shown excellent control in averaging just over one walk per inning pitched.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

AL Mid Season Report

AL East:
Prediction: Boston, New York, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Baltimore
Actual: New York, Boston (-7), Tampa Bay (-13.5), Toronto (-17), Baltimore (-17.5)

Things have really changed since the Q1 update for the AL East. New York got hot, Boston got cold, Tampa got real hot, Toronto stayed bad and Baltimore hit the skids. Right now my bold prediction that the Orioles will finish in last place is looking solid, though Toronto is giving them a run for the money. As stated before the season, the Orioles' problem is pitching, or lack thereof. Daniel Cabrera has come out of nowhere to post a 6-3, 2.90 record at the break, and Rodrigo Lopez has had a nice bounceback, but "Ace" Sidney Ponson is 3-12, 6.29 and he's not been the worst pitcher in the bunch! Toronto's pitching is a little worse than I expected, especially Pat Hentgen and the entire pen, but the offense has struggled behind an ineffective and sometimes injured Carlos Delgado, with nobody else really stepping in. I'm not sure what happened in Tampa Bay. The once anemic bats have shown some life, and the Crawford/Baldelli tandem is an exciting one. The pitching is mediocre, which is a big improvement even from May. Just being average is good enough to cause some excitement in Tampa Bay, though their run differentials indicate a second-half slump. Speaking of slumps, the Red Sox have played indifferent ball for two months now, but with the offense intact were showing signs of life prior to the break. I think they'll still give the Yankees a run for their money, because there just has to be a significant injury in that (New York) lineup before the season is out. In the meantime, they've played awesome ball.

AL Central:
Prediction: Minnesota, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit
Actual: Chicago, Minnesota (-.5), Detroit (-5.5), Cleveland (-5.5), Kansas City (-15.5)

The White Sox have had an awesome offense this year, and average pitching which is good enough given the runs scored. The offense was so good that it got a White Sox pitcher (Loaiza) onto the all star team. The Sox traded for Freddy Garcia to make a run at the playoffs. It's a definite improvement over the dregs they've had in the #5 slot, but do you want to put your postseason hopes on Freddy Garcia's shoulders? It shouldn't be a problem, though, because the Twins just don't excite me. They have a first baseman with a .364 slugging % (making Kevin Millar look good!), give too many at bats to Guzman and Rivas, and have been riding Lew Ford through the season. Even if Joe Mauer hits like he has since returning, I don't see this team with enough offense to compete. They might not need it if the pitching holds up - Brad Radke's having another good year, and Johan Santana has a 2.01 ERA since June 1st. Detroit and Cleveland both continue to surprise and remain in the hunt, and both have done it with high scoring offenses. Pudge Rodriguez is having a great year, and Carlos Guillen is making me look pretty smart for the Tigers, while Cleveland is led by Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Matt Lawton. The Indians have received good pitching from their top 3 (Sabathia, Westbrook, Lee), but the bottom of the rotation and the bullpen have stunk. The Tigers pitching has been more consistently mediocre-to-poor. The Royals have been all poor. The Royals have just been bad. The pitching has been terrible, save for rookie Zack Grienke, who has his bullpen and offense to blame for a 1-6 W/L record. The offense is anemic. Mike Sweeny is having an off year, and with Carlos Beltran now traded and Ken Harvey having taken a good hard look at the name on the back of his jersey, there just isn't any help there. The fire sale is on in KC. Boy, did I miss the boat on them this year!

AL West:
Prediction: Oakland, Anaheim, Seattle, Texas
Actual: Texas, Oakland (-2), Anaheim (-2.5), Seattle (-17).

This division has turned over a lot in the second quarter, too, but Texas, Oakland and Anaheim continue to be tightly bunched. We knew that the Rangers would score runs, and they have not disappointed, but it's the pitching - particularly Rogers and Drese - that has them in first place. The bullpen has held it together for the rest of the rotation, and Francisco Cordero has been lights out at the end of the game. Still, I don't see a team with Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese as it's two best starters winning this division - it'll be third place by the time they are done. Oakland has the legitimate pitching, and I still believe they'll finish in first place. With the surprising Scott Hatteberg, the resurgent Jermaine Dye and Mark Kotsay, and the return of Eric Chavez, the offense is good enough to win 60% of Oakland's games. The Angels look like a great offensive team, but it's really Vlad, Guillen, Anderson and Jeff Davanon at this point. Kennedy and Eckstein have disappointed in the middle of the infield. Darin Erstad is wasting space with his patented .740 OPS at first base. The Angels pitching has been good despite Bartolo Colon's struggles, and I think that the rotation is good enough, given the bullpen support that they get, to stay in the wild card race with the Red Sox and Twins. As for the Mariners - I didn't think they'd contend, but I didn't dream that they would be this bad. The offense has been abysmal, with only four guys (Randy Wynn, Raul Ibanez, Jolbert Cabrera and Dave Hansen) sporting slugging percentages over .400. Ichiro!, Edgar, Boone, Olerud, Spiezio, Wilson - all under .400. That's just gross. Rich Aurilia (the guy they got rid of Carlos Guillen for) was so bad that the M's simply cut him last week. The pitching has been so-so, though the guy most responsible for positive results was traded to the White Sox. July will be a big selling month in Seattle as they wallow in the basement.

Monday, July 12, 2004

NL Mid Season report

We're at the All Star Break. Let's check in on the pre-season predictions.

NL East
Prediction: Phillies, Marlins, Braves, Expos, Mets
Actual: Phillies, Braves (-1), Marlins (-1.5), Mets (-2), Expos (-15)

Only two games separate the 4th place Mets from the 1st place Phillies. Having allowed more runs than they've scored, the Marlins are actually a bit over their heads right now. I actually think they are more like a .500 team and they will fade out of contention by the end of the season, especially of Beckett misses a lot more time. I expected better from the Phils, and they have scored a lot of runs but the pitching (particularly Millwood and Myers) has disappointed, leaving them with a 46-41 record. The Braves are playing like the .500-ish team that I thought they were, while the Mets have really surprised me offensively. The top 3 in the rotation have been solid, and they seem determined to get help before the trading deadline, so they'll be in the thick of things until September. The Expos have been abysmal, particularly on offense, where nobody is performing like expected. MLB needs to find them a home and stop abusing this franchise.

NL Central
Prediction: Cubs, Astros, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Pirates
Actual: Cardinals, Cubs (-7), Reds (-7.5), Brewers (-8.5), Astros (-10.5), Pirates

The Cardinals have really surprised me. Everybody knew that they could hit, but the pitching has been great and the Redbirds have the best record in the NL. Jeff Suppan, Chris Carpenter (?!?) and Jason Marquis have all been much better than expected - but do you want to bet your post season on these guys? The Cubs are on pace for about 88 wins, but they have both Prior and Wood healthy finally, and their worst starting pitcher at the moment is Greg Maddux. They will challenge for the division. Both the Reds and the Brewers have been nice surprises, but the Reds have been outscored by 41 runs and have terrible pitching. With Junior finally injured, this team is ready to fade. I think the Brewers are actually a better team than the Reds are, but still a .500 team unlikely to contend for the wild card. The starting pitching, led by Ben Sheets, has been excellent. The Astros were built for a run this year, and at 10.5 games out, things aren't looking too good. Still, they are only 4.5 games out of the Wild Card slot, and any semblance of health for Andy Pettitte will be good news in the second half. Turning Richard Hidalgo into Carlos Beltran was a nice move for them. The Cubs are for real, and the Cardinals are way ahead, so the Astros definitely have their work cut out for them. The Pirates are fulfilling their destiny of last place.

NL West
Prediction: Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies
Actual: Dodgers, Giants (-0.5), Padres (-2.0), Rockies (-12.5), Diamondbacks (-18.5)

The Dodgers are in first, but I think that it's a war of attrition here. LA has had "good enough" pitching (exception: Hideous Nomo), enough offense from Beltre, Lo Duca and Bradley, and soft competition. I don't like their chances with Ishii, Weaver and Lima in the rotation, but nobody else in the division is any good, either. The Giants are as many games over .500 as Jason Schmidt is. As much as they rely on Barry Bonds, they won't go anywhere if Schmidt breaks down, because the rest of the rotation is "mediocre". Bonds has been all world, some guys (Tucker, Grissom) have fortunately been better than expected, some guys (Durham) have fortunately been about what we expected, and some guys (Snow, Perez) have unfortunately been about what we expected. There is just not enough behind Bonds and Schmidt for this team to seriously compete. That leaves the Padres as still my choice to win this division. With any sort of power from Klesko, Burroughs and/or Payton, the Padres will walk away with this division, because the pitching is there, especially with the return of Jake Peavey. The Rockies are bad, with their usual superficially good batting stats not enough to make up for shoddy pitching. I totally missed the boat on the Diamondbacks. I didn't think that they would be good, but I never thought they would be this bad. They have certainly missed Richie Sexson, but the offense has been there. Still, Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb have combined for a 3.38 ERA - and a 13-16 W/L record. The rest of the rotation has combined for a 6.99 ERA! This team has no chance, and is now in the uncomfortable position of needing to trade it's best player.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Sea Dogs on the All Star team

Four good choices. Lefty Abe Alvarez, c/OF Jeff Bailey, OF Bret Ronenberg and (a bit of a surprize to me), SS Kenny Perez.

As of this writing, Bailey is Portland's top hitter, sporting a 326/445/596-12-50 line while playing out of his normal position for most of the season.

Ronenberg has been Mr. Consistency at 284/369/484-12-54 while appearing in all but two games. He recently was upgraded to the "Top Prospect" list.

Perez started out fairly slow, but he's put up a 286/322/415-3-34 line, which is just fine for a shortstop. He's been a top producer for the last month or so for the Sea Dogs.

Abe Alvarez has been terrific, especially considering that he was originally scheduled to play in Sarasota this year. He's only had a couple of bad appearances, and through 16 starts he's got a 7-5, 3.54 record. Abe's got a 1.24 WHIP and a 73/22 K/BB ratio in 86 1/3 innings pitched.

John Hattig's injury may have kept him off the team, as he's posted a strong 278/405/522-10-27 line in 59 games, though his defense leaves a bit to be desired.

Joe Nelson (3-2, 1.78, 13 saves) also deserved consideration, but his consolation prize was a promotion to Pawtucket, which I'm sure he would probably prefer.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Red Sox kick fans right in the gut...

...or maybe a little south of there. Good thing I wear my cup while watching games!

The Yankees completed a three-game series sweep of the Red Sox with an excruciating, 5-4 13-inning victory last night. The game was a real roller-coaster ride, with each team continually getting runners to third base with zero or one out and failing to score in the late and extra innings. Players were moving around the defense like it was a merry-go-round, with Kevin Millar playing three different positions, wearing three different gloves (and using none of them) in a bizarre bottom of the 12th inning. When it looked like Boston had finally put the game away with Manny Ramirez' second home run of the night, a solo shot in the top of the 13th, the Sox put their heavy boots on and reared back.

One out from winning a big game in New York City is not where we want to be as Red Sox fans.

After Miguel Cairo's leadoff triple in the bottom of the 12th, things became truly bizarre, with manager Terry Francona filling traditional gaps in the infield defense and creating non-traditional gaps in the outfied defense. This was accomplished primarily by moving Millar around. First, with Jason Giambi pinch hitting for the injured Derek Jeter (who hurt himself flying into the stands in making a spectacular catch of Trot Nixon's popup in the top of the 12th), Millar donned an infielder's glove and covered third base, with the rest of the infield swinging around to the right side. After Giambi struck out, Millar grabbed a first baseman's mitt and covered first base, with left-handed throwing first baseman David McCarty moving to the second baseman's slot. After Sheffield was hit by the pitch, Millar moved to back to right field for an intentional walk to Alex Rodriguez. Then he was back in motion, back to first base while Bubba Crosby hit a ground ball to shorstop Pokey Reese (a ball Reese likely would have fielded in a traditional defensive setting), forcing Cairo at third base. The defense was again restored to normal for Curtis Leskanic's strikeout of Bernie Williams.

Asked about the defensive histrionics in an exlusive* interview with Joe's SeaBlog, Red Sox manager Terry Francona explained the moves.

"We're all kind of sick of Millar's bat. I think Pokey is the only guy with a lower slugging percentage on the team. We figured, if he's going to hit like a utility infielder, we'll play him like one. We were just (messing) with him, really. He's got a great sense of humor."

"It was a lot of fun. I like to do lots of different things during the game," said Millar in another exclusive* interview.

Asked why Millar wasn't put at second base instead of McCarty, Francona offered, "David is a better fielder than Kevin. Everybody knows you want your better fielder at second base." When it was suggested that having a left handed thrower play second was rather unusual, Francona waved off the question. "Everybody can plainly see that David McCarty bats right handed."

Things brightened considerably for the Red Sox in the top of the 13th, when Ramirez (who simply owns Tanyon Sturtze) led off with a line drive home run to left field. The Sox had a one run lead, Tanyon Sturtz on the mound and also in the batting lineup with DH Bernie Williams now in center field, and Gary Sheffield now playing third base for the first time in a decade. Millar benefitted from an errant throw from Sheffield following Jason Varitek's third strikeout of the evening, and McCarty was issued a walk. Super utility man Cesar Crespo ended the rally by jumping on the first pitch for an inning-ending double play.

Asked if he had ever considered having Crespo, who literally is not batting his own weight (which is 170), try to lay a bunt down the third base line to take advantage of the fact that A FREAKING RIGHT FIELDER WAS PLAYING THERE!, Francona replied, "Well, yes, I considered that. But Crespo has been struggling with the bat, and Sturtze really stinks. We thought that giving Cesar a chance to get his bat going against a poor pitcher might pay dividends later in the season, if we again found ourselves relying on his bat after bringing him into the game as a defensive replacement."

Still, things looked good for the Red Sox, as Leskanic easily retired Jorge Posada and Tony Clark to start the bottom of the 13th. One out from victory is often a sign of trouble to come, however. Ruben Sierra bled a single through the middle, and Babe Cairo followed with a double to tie the score. With the pitcher due to bat, backup catcher John Flaherty (another guy who isn't hitting his own weight) was the only hitter available to Yankee manager Joe Torre. He proved to be enough, however, ending the game by bouncing a double over the left field fence.

Asked in an exclusive* interview about getting through the slugging likes of Giambi, Sheffield, ARod and Posada, only to be undone by three has-beens and never-weres in the end, Leskanic replied angrily. "Don't talk to me about has beens. I got waived by the freaking Royals last week. What do you expect?"

After the game, a baseball insider (who wished to remain anonymous) explained the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry to Joe's SeaBlog in yet another exclusive* interview.

"What a lot of people don't understand, and what Red Sox fans don't want to know, is that it would be bad business for the Sox to win a World Series. See, the team is hugely popular, and the fanatic followers all want to be there to see them 'the year' they finally win. And if they win, that will be great - for a while. But long term it doesn't work, because then you would lose all of those fans who want to say they were 'at the game when...'. If the Sox win the Series, they lose a lot of attendance over the long term. And the Red Sox need that attendance to keep up financially with the Yankees, because even though Boston is one of the largest markets in baseball, New York is still more than five times bigger. So the Sox put a strong enough product on the field to create the illusion of a shot at a championship, but they are never as good as the Yankees. To even remotely compete with the Yankees financially, they can never beat them for a championship.

"That's the hard news for Red Sox fans. That, and last night's loss, has to really feel like a kick in the (testicles)!"

*So exclusive that even he wasn't aware of it.