Friday, March 31, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/31
On an early afternoon in New York an event happened that nicely summarized (Texas manager) Whitey Herzog's frustrations. After a rain out at Yankee Stadium that completed the road swing, the team climbed aboard the bus to LaGuardia. While some equipment trunks were being loaded into the baggage bin, a kid of about twelve, who was typical of the attitude and demeanor of the youth who prowl the badlands around the stadium, sneaked on the bus. Standing in the aisle near the front, the youngster began a little tap dance, all the while yelling, "Rang-uhs fuck! Rang-uhs suck! Rang-uhs eat shit!"
That routine continued for about forty seconds...until Herzog himself issued a suggestion: "Hey, kid. Why don't you go beat your meat!"
"Yeah," added the bus driver. "You gettin' ready to get a shoe up you ass." With that, the driver grabbed the kid by his shirt and heaved him through the door and onto the hard sidewalk. I was sitting close enough to Herzog to hear him mutter, "The hell of it is, the kid's right."
-Many have been panicking over Armando Benitez's struggles this spring, especially after he coughed up ten runs in one inning last week. Granted, when your ERA is safely over the drinking age, you know you've got problems. However, whenever something like this happens, I like to recall spring 1998, when newly acquired Robb Nen tossed up a 16.88 ERA in the Cactus League. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but then Nen went about mowing down the National League in the regular season, so there were no worries.
Of course, Nen wasn't coming off a brutal injury-plagued season like Benitez, and his velocity and strikeout rates hadn't dropped in recent seasons like Benitez's have. Still, we have to remember that spring stats are largely worthless. I mean, Jamey Wright was the Giants' best pitcher this spring, for God's sake. Benitez has surely looked terrible, and his knee trouble is a bothersome development, but until he implodes in the regular season, it's best not to get too worked up.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
2006 AL Central Preview (featuring The Police)
1. Cleveland Indians (Rehumanize Yourself)
For those of us who were sick of seeing the Yankees and Red Sox in the playoffs, Cleveland's utter collapse in the last week of the 2005 season was especially maddening. Still, you've got to love how GM Mark Shapiro has rebuilt (or rehumanized...eh, eh?) his team from the ground up after completely destroying the 1994-2001 contender. There's a lot to like here. They have a lot of strength up the middle, with All-Star caliber players at catcher and center field in Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore, respectively. They have two solid young starters in Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia, and they have one of the best hitters in the majors in Travis Hafner.
They have some questions, of course, (like, why does Casey Blake still have a job?), but overall they look like one of the strongest teams in the majors, and if everything breaks right, they could roll to a 100-win season.
2. Minnesota Twins (Walking In Your Footsteps)
The Twinkies are probably my favorite team behind the Giants, so, like the Giants, it's maddening when they do stupid stuff like squash Jason Bartlett behind Juan Castro or give Tony Batista the starting job at third base. They had the worst offense in baseball last year and, while they surely improved it by acquiring Luis Castillo and Rondell White, it probably still won't be characterized as anything close to good. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau should only get better, but an offense can only be so good with guys like Batista and Castro dragging it down. What is good is that pitching, led by #1 Golden God of the mound Johan Santana and a deadly bullpen (led by Joe Nathan, whom they acquired via some trade that I have no recollection of). That pitching will keep them over .500, and in the division race if they dump Batista and get some offensive help.
An interesting note about that bad offense. In 2005, the Twins led the league in "productive outs", that is bunting to get runners over and generally giving up outs in the pursuit of getting one run. The argument behind this, and one trumpeted by myriad sportswriters, is that good offenses are adept at pushing across one run when they need to. If you sit around waiting for the big home run, the saying goes, you're still going to be waiting.
Of course, the more enlightened of us know that this is total malarkey. Bunting and giving away outs is all well and good, and if you do it at the right moments (say, getting the winning run from second to third with no outs in the ninth inning), they can indeed be productive. But having guys bunt in the second inning is sheer idiocy. Apparently the Twins did this kind of thing ad nauseum last year, and their offense sucked horribly as a result. Obviously to score a lot of runs you need the players and the talent, and the Twins didn't have that last year, but they surely didn't help themselves in this regard, and giving away outs for fear of grounding into double plays is silly and counterproductive.
3. Chicago White Sox (You Know I Had the Strangest Dream)
Sox fans place a fatwa on anyone who dares say that the White Sox got lucky last year, but come on, Scott Podsednik winning a World Series game with a home run? And don't even get me started on the A.J. Pierzynski/Game 2 incident, or Phil Garner's bizarre decision to put Ezequiel Astacio into Game 3. Many veteran teams that come out of nowhere to win a World Championship tend to fall into oblivion the next season, and the White Sox are probably no different.
Credit Kenny Williams, though, for not being complacent, making some major roster adjustments. The Jim Thome deal could be a disaster or could be the deciding factor in a pennant race; it's hard to see any in-between. Javier Vazquez is a major improvement over the fifth starters last season. It's the holdovers I'm skeptical about. Jon Garland and Jose Contreras both had years way out of line with their career numbers, and with Contreras's age and Garland's lack of strikeouts, they may have been helped by a lot of (gasp!) luck. Podsednik is worthless if he's not hitting .290, and Joe Crede and Juan Uribe are just plain worthless anyway. They could well win the division, but don't be shocked if they muddle around .500 all year, with the media concocting ridiculous stories about their supposedly lost clubhouse chemistry.
4. Detroit Tigers (When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around)
They stink, but give them credit, at least they're trying their best to make people forget about that 2003 debacle. The last time this formerly proud franchise made the playoffs was 1987, when the team was led by Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell (who should have won the MVP that year, yikes), Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, and Jack Morris. That seems like a long way away, though. Hell, I was four years old and George W. Bush was busy driving Spectrum 7 into the ground.
The Tigers are weird. They don't seem totally inept, like plenty of other bad teams. Their free agent signings haven't been disasters (uh, except for Troy Percival), their pitching has been OK (well, except for like the entire starting staff), and they have some young talent (like Curtis Granderson, Justin Verlander and, um...line). Ok, so they really are pretty crappy, and the influx of free agents is sort of a placebo, not a long-term antidote like they really need. They are getting better as a franchise, and there is at least a ray of light at the end of the tunnerl. They should make a push at .500 for the first time in eons, but that's the upside.
5. Kansas City Royals (Deathwish)
They have a front office that has no clue what it's doing. They have a moron for a manager. They spent a bunch of money on zero-upside veterans who aren't any good. Their future ace went nuts. Their best hitting prospect can't field worth shit. Their farm system is a barren wasteland. They had to pay Jose Lima incentive money because they failed to cut him after 19 starts of burning-log tossing. They refuse to trade their one tradeable commodity in Mike Sweeney. They've lost at least 100 games in three of the past four years. And their fanbase has basically given up on them.
Other than that, they suck.
-Random Stankeye Shameless Plug
Apologies for the continued tooting of my own horn, but here again for those interested is a player profile I wrote for my school paper. It's a puff piece, yes, but it was the feature article in our sports section, which was kinda cool. Also, the usual John Ryder/fake ID thing applies.
-Victor Conte, fresh from da Federal pen, denies that he ever gave Bonds steroids. This in no way proves Bonds's innocence, of course, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
2006 NL Central Preview (featuring Pink Floyd)
1. St. Louis Cardinals (Us and Them)
Billy Beane gets all the hype, possibly because he throws chairs into walls and attributes playoff success to “fucking luck”, but Cards GM Walt Jocketty is probably more deserving of the accolades. Since 2000, the Redbirds have missed the playoffs exactly once, and they went to the World Series in 2004 before being stomped by a Red Sox team of destiny. He’s done some goofy things, like signing Sidney Ponson, and some not-so-goofy things that look terrible now, like the Mark Mulder deal, but he’s assembled a collection of hitting and pitching talent that seems destined to stay at the top of the Central for a few more years.
However, there are warning signs ablaze. So Taguchi and Juan Encarnacion manning the outfield corners is no one’s idea of quality, and they’ve got a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells ready to stink it up at 2B. Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan could easily fall apart, and Mulder is ready for a quick collapse. Barring a big trade, they won’t win 100 games in 2006, but with the Brewers still a year away, the Astros fading, and the Cubs doing who knows what, it’s not going to take as many games to win this division.
(Okay, see how this whole Floyd song thing goes? “Us and Them”, Roger Waters’s indictment of war, with the “us” meaning the Cards and the “them” meaning the rest of the division and…ah never mind.)
2. Milwaukee Brewers (Signs Of Life)
Brewers...second place...whaaa??? Yeah, it’s been a long time since we could utter those words, but the Brew Crew have climbed their way back into the upper echelon of the NL Central and they're here to stay. Not since the days of Harvey's Wallbangers has there been this much to get excited about in Brewer territory.
Check it out. Prince Fielder, Richie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart. That's a lot of young hitting talent to be putting in front of solid sluggers like Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee, and they have another star on the way in Ryan Braun. They've got a good rotation and a good bullpen put together the way you're supposed to, cheaply and effectively, and they could get scary real fast. Make no mistake, they're a good team, and if everything breaks right they could leapfrog the Cards and make the playoffs for the first time since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was gracing audiences with its brilliance.
3. Chicago Cubs (Brain Damage)
I always get fooled into thinking the Cubs are more talented than they really are. It's mostly because of their pitching, and let's be candid, if Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood are all healthy this team will contend, but that hasn't happened since 2003 and pretty much everybody's given up on Wood ever being healthy again. Also, overpaying for two old relievers and a crappy swingman isn't the way to break the billy goat curse.
You know how it goes with Dusty Baker. He glad hands the pro-Ronny Cedeno/Matt Murton crowd, saying with a smile that he'll stick with them through thick and thin. Then after one 0 for 4 the young guys are gone and before you know it Neifi Perez is getting 500 at bats, playing a key part in helping the Cardinals win the division and depriving Derrek Lee of another MVP award. Lee and Aramis Ramirez are guys to build around, but instead Jim Hendry brought in overrated players like Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre. Can the Cubs overcome all this adversity and the injuries to put together a winning formula? I don't know, but Neifi is a pretty bad player.
4. Houston Astros (On the Turning Away)
2005 was their last shot at winning a title for a long time, and they fell a little bit short. Thank you, Ezequiel Astacio. If Roger Clemens comes back, they're probably better than the Cubs, just on the strength of their starting pitching, but as of now it looks like it'll be a struggle to break 80 wins.
That offense is just full of bad hitters. Willy Taveras, Adam Everett, Brad Ausmus, and a quickly declining Craig Biggio. That's a lot of mediocrity for a team that's supposedly going to contend. Big offseason acquisition Preston Wilson is no prize himself, either. Then take a look at the bench...just ghastly. I'm talking Karl Rove in a thong-caliber ghastly. One of Brandon Backe, Wandy Rodriguez or Series goat Astacio will need to step into Clemens' shoes and be reasonably competent (not bloody likely) for this team to come close to the Cards or Brewers. Otherwise, they'll sink like a rock.
5. Cincinnati Reds (Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun)
Trading away Sean Casey (or, for that matter, Sean Casey's salary) is exactly what I would have done if I were running the Reds. It's the kind of smart move not seen by this franchise since the Lou Pinella days of yore. Get rid of a mediocre player with an albatross salary, move one immobile outfielder to first base, and give your formerly blocked young slugger an everyday job to see what he can do. Unfortunately, along comes Wayne Krivda, who immediately trades Wily Mo Pena, the blocked outfielder, for a so-so pitcher. Inheriting the first base spot: Scott Hatteberg. And the city of Cincinnati collectively drops the hair blower in the bath tub.
This kind of purpose-defeating idiocy is why the Reds have sucked since 1999. Given a wise move that could pave the way for a road to contention, Krivda comes in and bludgeons it with a board and nail. I understand the concern for pitching; the Reds staff is just horrible, and Wily Mo might well turn into Ruben Rivera. However, you can't panic and trade a possible asset for a guy who probably won't help much. Ken Griffey is coming off his first (relatively) healthy season in years, so he might have had some trade value, and the White Sox were said to be willing to take on much of his onerous salary at the trade deadline last year, so anything's possible. Instead the Reds will keep him and probably watch his knees burst from their sockets. Par for the course for this sad sack franchise. Maybe they need to channel the old days and bring in Joe Morgan as GM and reinstate Pete Rose to manage. Boy, that would be a match made in hell.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (Bridge Over Troubled Water)
Well, it looks like another long year for the Pirates. An offseason of...wait, what the hell? Simon and Garfunkel? How did that get in here? Ugh, and to top it off, a song sung by Art Garfunkel. Oh man, I do not know how that happened. Let's try that again...
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (The Show Must Go On)
I'm sick of writing about the freaking Pirates. Why continue to discuss a baseball team that doesn't even try? Last year I devised a song for the Pirates, and that's way too much effort than they deserve. They have an interesting pitching staff, and I'm hoping Oliver Perez puts it back together, because he's dynamite to watch when he's on. Jason Bay is also a superstud, but that doesn't mask the fact that the Pirates are the same ol' Pirates.
They pretend to be rebuilding, but they go out and get Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, and Joe Randa. I mean, what's the point? Are these guys going to help the team win? No. Will they be around when the Pirates are good again? No. Will they help sell tickets? NO! Will they provide "veteran presence"? Yes, they'll tell the young guys all about how to lose major league games, because by and large these three have been on losers thir entire careers. They'll crawl around in the NL Central cellar for another year, but hey, I can't say too many bad things. They did give us Jason Schmidt for Ryan Vogelsong, after all.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Another Barry Bonds/Steroid Rant
I want to go back to World Series Game 2, a bad game for the Giants, for sure, almost as bad as Game 6, but one that particularly sticks out because of one moment in the ninth inning. I'm sure all Giants fans will remember it. With the team down 11-9 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Bonds strolled up to the plate. Down one run in situations like this, teams would walk Bonds and take their chances with the next guy. But with a two-run cushion, the Angels were going to go ahead and pitch to Bonds, figuring that if he hits a home run, fine, better that than walking him so the next batter can tie it.
So Troy Percival went after him, and Bonds sent a fastball halfway up the bleachers at Angel Stadium. Just an absolute bomb, estimated at 485 feet. Folks, that's greatness. When an entire team's gameplan revolves around not letting one player beat them with home runs, and then when the situation dictates that you have to pitch to him, and everybody everywhere expects him to hit a home run, and he does, it's the mark of something special.
I ask you, does all the HGH, THG, cow testosterone, or magic butt juju in the world turn a guy into this? Do PEDs really turn a guy into a superstud, especially when that guy was a superstud already? I have my doubts. Bonds' postseason that year was littered with moments like these, from his blast off of Kevin Milwood to his three-run jack off Chuck Finley, to his monster home run off of K-Rod in Game 6.
Now, if steroids do this to you why does Alex Sanchez still suck so bad? Why can't Michael Morse hit the ball out of the infield? Sometimes people have a hard time believing that a player might truly be that good, so they latch onto something and don't let go until he's brought down.
Bonds is the best. Live with it.
Random Stankeye Political Rant
Not to go on a tirade about the military-industrial complex, but shoud we really have been surprised?
Random Gary Gilette Rant
Gary Gilette of ESPN Insider said in his latest chat he thinks that Matt Cain will be the Rookie of the Year and will be a borderline Cy Young candidate. Gilette is one of the better analysts anywhere, so needless to say he's head and shoulders above most of the crap they have at Insider (Neyer and Gammons excepted, of course). I have my doubts that Cain can be so good so fast, but it's nice to see a guy like Gilette hype him up a bit.
By the way I provided no link to the chat because you have to have Insider to read it, and it's only a little blurb anyway. And if you're tempted to get Insider anyway, don't be. It's a serious waste of money.
Random Bad TV Show Rant
Yes, this terrible show is still on the airwaves. What's the deal here? Is America this desperate for entertainment? Why are people watching this? Is Eva Longoria over at ABC suddenly not hot? I mean, War At Home is not even worth watching for her. I know how to flail my arms wildly and look baffled, does that mean I could get my own show like Michael Rapaport? The Simpsons and Family Guy are both pretty bad at this point, but they still look like genius compared to this garbage.
Jamey Wrong To the Rescue
The awarding of a major league spot to Greene was about as expected as a McG film sucking. When he was brought to camp the backup catcher race basically became a formality, as Felipe Alou can't resist those lovable proven veterans. Hell, anything that prevents Yamid Haad from picking up a bat at the major league level, I am so down for.
Greene is an ideal backup. He's not a good enough hitter to be out there everyday, but if he's getting a start or two a week he'll give you some offense, and he's certainly not an automatic out like so many backup catchers scumming their way around the majors these days. Of course, when your starting catcher is backup quality as well, it kinda defeats the purpose, but I digress...
Moving on to the outfield battle, Jason Ellison beat out Todd Linden for the role of "fifth outfielder destined to be overused due to the geriatrics in front of him". Ellison has a ton of range in the outfield, has speed on the bases, and can hit lefties, so as outfield reserves go, he's pretty good. Under no circumstances should he match the 352 at bats he had last year, although with crazy Felipe these things are never a certainty.
Linden has nothing left to prove at AAA, and with no space on the roster, he's probably going to be dealt. What the Giants can get in return is an open debate. Linden beat the crap out of the ball at Fresno but has shown no ability to hit consistently in his trials in the majors. It took him a while to develop that power at AAA, so maybe he's a late bloomer, but it's hard to believe the Giants will get much for a 26-year-old non-prospect who looks like the second coming of J.R. Phillips.
Now we get to Jamey Wright. Ohhhhhh, boy, I did not see this coming, but I guess I should have. Lord knows I'm no Brad Hennessey fan. His combination of slop and high-wire traversing give me heart palpitations to no end. The chances of Hennessey being an above-average pitcher: very, very remote, but at least there's that 10% possiblity or so that he'll get lucky a lot or develop a new pitch. The chances of Jamey Wright being good: fucking zero.
I understand that fifth starters are way down the totem pole in terms of importance, but what the hell? I guess Wright made it because he's "proven", but that's silly. Wright is proven in the same way that Greg Ostertag is; yeah, he's been through the wars, but that doesn't hide the fact that he's going to get dunked on like ten billion times a year. With Wright you know what you're going to get: bad pitching and lots of early 3-0 holes. With Hennessey or Kevin Correia or even Merkin Valdez you might well get the same, but there's at least a chance that they'll break out or something.
Wright has at no point in his career been a servicable pitcher, and at 31 it's not like he's going to suddenly turn into Jason Schmidt. According to Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA, Wright's top comparable is Pat Rapp (otherwise known as "Pat Rappa the Rapper", or simply "Pat Crapp"). Rapp was never any good, but at 31 his game had pretty much fallen down a well and died. I think we can expect the same from Wright until June or so, when Hennessey will be called back up for good.
Maybe Wright will prove me wrong and grind out 160-180 decent innings. And maybe Monica Bellucci will show up at my doorstep in need of an emergency repair to her busted spaghetti strap. And maybe the brilliance of this blog will be recognized by Billy Beane and I'll get a cushy front office job with the A's. All these things have about the same chance of happening, but I don't know, I guess anything's possible. What I do know is that every single team that has ever given Wright 15 or more starts has been flat out bad. Do the Giants want to be the next one?
Monday, March 27, 2006
2006 AL West Preview
1. Oakland A's
Once upon a time, in my earlier days as a Giants fan, I hated the A's more than anything in the world. Just hated them. I would have rather listened to Wanda Sykes do standup for all eternity than pick the A's to finish first in a preview of this sort. In the "Bash Brother" days they had such a collection of hideous mullets and grotesque beards that they were just impossible to even look at, much less root for. Watching a guy like Ron Hassey lumber up the first base line was just amazingly brutal. It was bad enough that they beat up on the Giants in the '89 World Series (how the hell do you give up a home run to Walt freaking Weiss??!?!), but the fact that they were so consistently good burned my soul to no end. When a collection of Damon Mashores and Ariel Prietos conspired to bring them down in 1997-98, I took great pleasure.
However, the times they are a becomin' quite different. As the A's have become the symbol of low-budget success and managerial competence, my hatred has fizzled considerably, to the point where I pretty much root for Oakland over anybody except the Giants and Twins. I've done such a 180, in fact, that the A's are now my preseason World Series pick. They have the best five man rotation in baseball, a solid bullpen, and an improved lineup that could be stellar with a physically healthy Frank Thomas and a mentally healthy Milton Bradley. We should probably expect the usual first half swoon and second half blitzkrieg, so look for the A's to come out on top in the West after a two year layoff.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wild card)
Here's a quick lesson in mediaspeak for you. Whenever a talking head announcer like Tim McCarver describe's a team's offense as good at "scratching out runs" or manufacturing runs, its code for "that team's offense sucks". One of the things that drove me up the wall at the end of last year was all the praise being heaped on the Angels for their scrappy offense. They fought, they bunted, they got runners over, they weren't afraid to give up outs to get one run. This inevitably led to a discussion of the A's and their supposedly inferior "Moneyball" offense, culminating in an inane rant by McCarver during one especially uninsightful broadcast. The A's didn't bunt or steal bases, the mantra went, so they must be worse than the Halos because they don't know how to get runs in, right? One problem: the A's scored more runs than the Angels. 11 more, to be exact.
The Angel offense isn't bad necessarily, but there's one reason and one reason alone that their offense was middle of the pack in 2005: Vladimir Guerrero. They can bunt and slap the ball all over the yard, but in the end Darin Erstad, Orlando Cabrera, and Garret Anderson are still bad hitters. Their pitching is what won them the division last year, and it is what will keep them near the top in 2006. They have a killer bullpen, maybe the best in the majors, and they have five solid starters. They'll be right up there battling the A's until the last weekend of the season, and the offense will get better when their stud prospects in the minors start to show up on the major league diamond.
3. Texas Rangers
This winter I read a book called Seasons In Hell by Mike Shropshire, a sportswriter who was assigned to cover the Texas Rangers in 1973, a year they lost 105 games. The team was so boring and unwatchable that Shropshire would usually mosey on over to the mini-bar in the press box in the early innings and get nicely sloshed for the rest of the game, and then get even more wasted with the players in the hotel bar afterwards. It's basically 200 pages of this. Needless to say, it's a great book.
Thanks to Ameriquest Field, the Rangers these days will never be unwatchable, because all hitters have to do in that ballpark is hit the ball in the air and it has a 90% chance of going out. Because of this, Ranger hitters are perpetually overrated. They hit .278/.341/.509 at home in 2005, but .258/.318/.430 on the road. No hitter exemplified this extreme split than Alfonso Soriano, who was Joe Dimaggio at home (.315/.355/.656), but Joe McEwing on the road (.224/.265/.374). These kinds of statistical shenanigans make it hard to figure out which players are truly great and which are overrated. Are hitters like Kevin Mench just creation of the park? Was Chan Ho Park really as bad as his numbers attested?
It's hard to tell, but in the middle of summer, those 11-10 games can equate to a lot of fun, but not a lot of winning. Unfortunately, the Rangers will once again be relegated to being the one-trick sideshow of the AL West. I like the improvements they made to the pitching staff, and the Soriano/Wilkerson deal was a heist of epic proportions, but they stink so bad on the road it's hard to believe they'll challenge the A's or Angels. A run at 85 wins seems to be the upside here.
4. Seattle Mariners
In the 1980's there was a band called The Church, a group who had one big hit before fading away like so many Right Said Freds and Naked Eyes. That one hit was a song called "Under the Milky Way", a brilliant, haunting piece, and one of the best things to come out of the '80's. Everything else that The Church did is pretty much sordid crap, but the pure beauty of that one song makes them worth mentioning, and perhaps worth buying a greatest hits album.
The '06 Mariners are kind of like this. They have two guys, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro, who are worth the price of admission. Everything else here is just unwatchable. Ichiro slaps singles and creates mayhem on the bases, only to get stranded when Adrian Beltre wails away at a slider five feet off the plate. King Felix throws an 8-inning beauty, only to lose the win because of a crappy offense that can't plate runs for him. The Mariners will be like this all year, continuing to periodically dazzle their fans with their two stars while simulaneously fading away in the AL West.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/24
-Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi in Jeff Pearlman's book The Bad Guys Won.
Schiraldi is notorious for blowing Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series. Carter has repeatedly said over the past 20 years that he knew the Mets could come back against Schiraldi because he was a coward. This is poor Calvin's response.
-Instead of suing for libel, Barry Bonds's lawyers are taking a different route, asking a judge to freeze all of the profits going to the authors of Game Of Shadows. The lawyers argue that because much of the material in the book was gathered illegally (from leaked grand jury testimony), the authors should not stand to profit from the book.
I don't profess to be any kind of expert in media law, but to me this is a silly tactic, because I don't see how Bonds can win. Even if the authors came across illegally disseminated information and published it, that is well within their right. As reporters, it is their job to gather such information and report it to the public. As long as they themselves obtained the information legally and innocently, they can't be sued, and that seems to be the case here. As I understand it, a third party leaked grand jury testimony to the San Francisco Chronicle, so the one in the wrong would be the leaker, not the Chronicle or Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. If they had stolen the documents or killed someone to get them, then obviously it'd be another story.
The 2001 case of Bartnicki v. Vopper provides a good comparison here, and though it deals with illegal wiretaps instead of leaked court documents, the argument is essentially the same.
I assume Bonds's lawyers went this course because they realized that a libel suit would probably be fruitless. Few people realize that it is incredibly difficult for a famous person, especially one as famous around the globe as Bonds, to win a libel suit. Bonds would have to prove that the authors showed actual malice in their book, that they published bogus information just to smear his name. Given the supposedly vast mountains of evidence they've compiled, and that they're seemingly just reporting on, it'd be very difficult to prove that. And a libel suit is now pretty much out of the question anyway, because Bonds's lawyers have, in essence, acknowledged that the facts contained in the book are in some way true by suing to freeze the authors' profits instead of arguing libel.
See the kind of boring crap you learn when you're a journalism major in college?
-Apparently ESPN Radio windbag Colin Cowherd is a big, fat plagiarist.
Season starts in a little over a week. Yeeeee-haawwww!!
Thursday, March 23, 2006
2006 NL "Worst" Preview (haha...I'm so clever)
1. San Francisco Giants
What, you really thought I was going to pick somebody else to win the division? Did you think a guy who writes a Giants blog, doing a half-assed season preview, is really going to pick somebody like the Dodgers? Just what do you take me for? If the Giants were taking the field with a lineup fronted by Jose Macias and Denny Hocking, or a rotation being anchored by a stunningly revived Jaime Navarro, I'd probably still take them to win the West. I crazily thought they'd win it in 1997, when everybody was ready to hand the division to the Dodgers, and look what happened.
Of course, it'd be easier if we had something resembling a real ballplayer at third base, and it'd help if Brian Sabean weren't intent on blowing team payroll on guys entering their fourth decade on planet Earth. The rotation and bullpen look pretty solid, and while the 6-7-8 guys in the lineup are terrible, having Barry Bonds getting on base 60% of the time helps make the offense look not quite so bad. The key is Barry, of course. Playing 130 games, we're in it 'til the end. Less than 100, we're cooked.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
If this weren't a Giants blog, and if I didn't have a pathological hatred of L.A., with the moves they made this offseason, I might, might have chosen them to win the NL West. As it is, they suck ass and should go down like the Hindenburg by May.
I was excited when the Dodgers fired Paul DePodesta and hired Ned Colletti. I assumed Coletti was a guy hung up on character instead of talent and would go about filling his team with "proven" guys with good attitudes like Tony Womack or something, instead of guys who could actually play. To my horror, he actually acquired some people who were good, players like Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, and Giant prodigal son Bill Mueller. A far cry from the Matheny-esque signings that I was sure were to transpire.
So while I hate the Dodgers, I have to admit that without the ridiculous number of injuries they suffered from last year, they're looking pretty good. With lovely personalities like Brett Tomko and Jeff Kent now on the team, it just makes it a lot easier to root against them. And Ricky Ledee, he of the 1 for 182 with the Giants in 2004, is still with them? Perfect. Even with Stankeye fave Bill Mueller on the team, it's easy to gather enough hatred by pretending these jokers are a bunch of flaming neo-nazis, or by picturing Jeff Kent hopping around at second base with his pornstache ablaze. Expect a good ol' Giants-Dodgers down-to-the-wire rivalry race like in 1997 or 2004 this year. And we'll stick it to them.
3. San Diego Padres
They were the worst division winners in baseball history, edging out the '84 Royals or the '73 Mets (who could whoop the '05 Padres' asses any day of the week). They accidentally wandered into the playoffs like Richard Simmons strolling into a Christian Coalition of America meeting, and they appropriately got beat down. Moves like trading Adam Eaton for Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez get me a little worried. Moves like trading for Vinny Castilla make those worries go away. They didn't make too many waves this offseason, and didn't make any significant improvements, so the Dodgers and Giants should blow past them in the standings.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Maybe the most pathetic thing about the Giants last year was that they couldn't even suck it up in the last two weeks of the season to wrest second place in the West from the hapless DBacks. The DBacks have convinced themselves that players like Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, and Russ Ortiz still have enough in them to make a run at the top, but it's one big delusion. Their old guys are getting older (and aren't that good in the first place), and their young prospects aren't ready. They could be studly in 2008, but this year the most exciting thing about them will be watching fat guys fall into the BOB swimming pool chasing after home run balls. Or maybe Eric Byrnes will start punching unruly fans who run onto the playing field.
5. Colorado Rockies
There's a raging debate over whether or not a baseball team can win anything while playing at such a high altitude. I say no, but nobody will ever know until the Rockies find some front office people who know what the hell they're doing. With the Devil Rays going through a management change for the better, the Rockies are now running neck-and-neck with the Royals for the title of MLB's resident dipshit franchise. They have no hitting (on the road, at least), no pitching, no defense, no direction, no plan, no upside, no promise. Other than that, no problem. Coors Field is hell on any opposing team, but don't get too excited. In 2006 they'll take it in the rear from the rest of the National League, as usual.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: Da Bully (or, a Ridiculously Overlong Look at the Giants' Bullpen)
The usual suspects were behind the mess. Matt Herges, so bad as the closer in ’04, proved that he could be just as horrendous in a meaningless mop up role. Jason Christiansen reprised his role as the lefty specialist with the unfortunate inability to get lefties out. He also got into a midseason wrestling match with Barry Bonds which may or may not have re-aggravated Bonds’s knee. Even Jim Brower, the team’s most effective reliever in 2004, suffered from a dead arm and was beat to a pulp. Benitez tore his hamstring covering first base in an April game and wouldn’t come back until August, and his replacement was the exceedingly vanilla Tyler Walker. Only Scott Eyre was anything resembling effective. It got so bad that “Divine” Al Levine was brought in as a potential solution, only to unsurprisingly add kerosene to the raging inferno.
Then around June the Giants did something unheard of. They began scrapping the charred corpses of Brower, Herges, et al and began to give young, cheap guys like Scott Munter and Jeremy Accardo a chance. Amazingly, shockingly, the young guys not only didn’t embarrass themselves, they actually outperformed their veteran predecessors by a wide margin. When the starters began to put things together in August, the Giants had themselves the makings of a pretty darn good staff.
The fact that the young guys pitched so well just highlighted the insanity of keeping old garbage like Christiansen and Herges around. Relief pitchers are the single most replaceable commodity in baseball. If you scrounge long enough though AAA or the indy leagues you’re going to find somebody who can pitch effectively in the majors for 50-70 innings. Knowing where to look negates the need to toss 4 million dollars a year at someone like LaTroy Hawkins. With young, unproven guys you can take a chance, because even if they suck, they’re not getting paid much and you can go on to the next project. If you find a diamond in the rough, well, you’ve got yourself a good cheap pitcher. Smart dumpster diving is how the Giants came up with John Johnstone, Felix Rodriguez, and Scott Eyre. It’s worth the limited risk if the upside is relatively high. Meanwhile, you know Matt Herges is going to blow, so why the hell keep trotting him out there?
The Giants do have some key changes this year. Most importantly, they lost Scott Eyre, who was nothing short of fabulous last season. Eyre bolted for the Cubs, and while his presence will be missed, it’s pretty much lunacy to give a 34-year-old middle reliever coming off his best season $11 million over three years, as the Cubs did. The Giants added Tim Worrell via free agency and Steve Kline through a trade too stupid for words. They also have Benitez back and healthy and ready to maybe kinda start living up to his bloated contract.
And they have the young guys. With Accardo, Munter, and Jack Taschner all looking like quality pitchers, the Giants seem to be perilously close to having a good bullpen. Even though Worrell and Kline are old and overpaid, they’re still solid. This looks to be the best bullpen the Giants have fielded since 2002, and after watching the bullpen’s disintegration in early ’05, I don’t think any Giants fan could have expected that.
Armando Benitez I’m willing to give ‘Mando a mulligan for that whole torn hamstring thing, but even before the injury he didn’t look very good. His velocity was down and the bite on his splitter was pretty lacking. I was willing to swallow his 3 year/$21 million dollar contract after sitting through a year of Matt Herges and Dustin Hermansen closing, but if Benitez can’t improve substantially upon last year’s numbers this signing is going to look terrible. The guy who threw up a 1.29 ERA in 2004 isn’t coming back, but that’s what we’re paying for. Kudos, though, for his amazingly fast comeback from that injury.
Allow me, if you will, to go on another “proven closers” rant. Paying a guy like Benitez tons of money to anchor the bullpen is insanity, and it goes back to the whole thing about how easily replaceable relievers are, and how overrated closers are. If you can find a guy who throws hard and who has at least some semblance of where the ball is going, you can stick him in as closer and he’ll more than likely do just fine. Having funny facial hair and goofy glasses helps, but mostly you just need a guy with a live arm.
Look at Derrick Turnbow and Bobby Jenks, two of the best closers in the league last year but who in 2004 were being ignored in the minor leagues. And check out Ryan Dempster, an awful starter but a guy who magically transformed into a star closer on a whim. Finding decent closers is that easy, and you don’t need to empty the wallet for a Benitez when you can just find a talented castoff and give him a chance. Billy Beane understands this; it’s how he came up with Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen, Keith Foulke, and Huston Street. Why can’t other teams figure this out? Sure, a guy like Eric Gagne, who strikes out a bajillion batters with an ERA lower than George Bush’s IQ (rim shot) is probably worth a ton of money. But a guy like Benitez? No way in hell. End Rant.
Tim Worrell Ah, the old man comes back after being overpaid by the Phillies. I’d have fonder memories of Worrell if he hadn’t been the one the mound hacking up Game 6, or if he hadn’t lain that fat fastball in to Pudge Rodriguez on an 0-2 count in 2003. Worrell was awful with the Phils last season, but his troubles were chalked up to “personal problems”. He was pretty good with the Dbacks after being banished to the desert, and it’s hard to put up a 2.27 ERA in that hitting environment, so color me impressed. It’s hard to know how much Worrell has left, but there are worse alternatives out there, and I can see Worrell being an asset.
Steve Kline I already expressed my displeasure with the Kline/Hawkins deal here, so I’ll spare you another tirade. I will point out that lefties hit .317 against Kline last season, which begs the question, if you’re a LOOGY who can’t get left-handed hitters out, what the hell are you doing in the majors? His career record against lefties is very good though, so we’ll chalk last year up as a fluke. It’s still hard to believe that we traded a solid reliever like Hawkins to get him though. In essence, we traded Jerome Williams and David Aardsma for Kline. Where’s a good oven when you need one? I think I need to stick my head in it. Unless Kline starts getting righties out and pulls a Scott Eyre 2005 out of his ass, he’ll be only marginally valuable.
Apparently Kline is a bit of a jerk, too, as he’s butted heads with former managers, most notably Tony Larussa, giving him a rep as a lout. This never ceases to amuse me. It’s one thing if you’re talking about a guy like Milton Bradley, a goofball who teams have to force themselves to deal with because he’s so amazingly talented. It’s another if the cancer is a guy like Steve freaking Kline, who’s a duck’s fart away from being a worthless piece of crap. When a guy like this causes a stir (sort of like Derek Bell’s legendary “Operation Shutdown”), all that is really required is a brief little “WTF?” and a one-way ticket to Fresno.
Tyler Walker Reason #6,782 why saves (and closers in general) are overrated. Walker was the Giants’ closer for three and a half months, and he racked up 23 saves, a pretty impressive total in that span. Of course, no one is confusing Walker with Dennis Eckersley, or hell, even Jose Mesa, and that’s the point. Given the lead and the chance to get three normally easy outs at the end of games, pretty much anybody with a decent set of pitches can succeed. Walker is barely above average as a pitcher, but he did a reasonable enough job in the closer role in 2005. He’s not a guy I want out there closing games regularly by any means, but if the choice is between paying Benitez $21 million or throwing Walker into the fray again for practically nothing, the decision isn’t so easy. If I’m Brain Sabean I’m dangling those 23 saves out like a lollipop in front of some retarded GM, hoping to get some return value on the basis of Walker being a “proven closer.”
As for Walker’s role this year, he’ll fill in as a 7th inning type. He throws pretty hard and I can see him throwing together a John Johnstone year or two, but his upside is limited. If Jeremy Accardo develops, Walker will take a more appetizing role as a mop-up guy in blowouts, like the post he held in 2004.
Scott Munter Bill Murray had a hell of a time getting rid of that pesky gopher in Caddyshack, but he should have just hired Munter. Owner of a heavy, dipping sinker, Munter was responsible for the deaths of myriad crickets, ants, and many other slimy creatures that dwell on the ground. His ability to get those groundballs gives him a place in the Giants’ future, but his gawdawful 11:12 K/BB ratio in 39 innings has to improve if he’s going to have a role larger than as a ROOGY-type. I can see how he’d be good as a guy who comes in to face slow-footed righty hitters with men on base, hoping to get that crucial double play ball. Sort of like a Julian Tavarez, without the horrific acne scars and penchant for bizarre ranting.
Jeremy Accardo For all the nasty stuff he throws, that strikeout rate (16 in 29 2/3 innings) is fairly poor. Not sure what to make of it, unless it's just rookie nerves. Unfortunately for Accardo, his most memorable moment last season was surrendering a game-winning home run to Jeff Kent, but that was only one of two jacks he gave up all year. He has the repertoire and the funky delivery to be a very good relief pitcher, and I wouldn't be surprised if he takes Tim Worrell's job by June. Accardo wasn't even drafted but he made his way through the Giants' farm system and into their major league bullpen plans. See, this is how you find good bullpen arms. You don't go shoving truckloads of money at some Felix Rodriguez-type. Have I made my opinion on this clear yet? No? Ok, then, more frothing ahead.
Jeff Fassero Well, there it was. I wrote last year that if the Giants were lucky, Fassero could throw up 60-70 innings of 4-ERA ball and all would be good. I was expecting something more like a complete explosion like the guy in Scanners. Thankfully, the planets aligned just the right way and Fassero ate up 91 innings with a 4.05 ERA. Asking for a repeat this year is wishful thinking along the lines of one day getting a date with Kate Beckinsale, but I don't see why Fassero can't be reasonably good again. He can come in and weather the storm if the starter is rocked early, and he can serve as an emergency LOOGY. He's certainly one of Brian Sabean's geezer pickups that paid off.
Jack Taschner With Kline and Fassero already holding roles in the bullpen, Taschner might be the odd man out, which is too bad, because he's probably better than both of them. Taschner is a case study in why teams should never, ever pay a million bucks for a LOOGY. Coming in to face one hitter per game is the single most undemanding job in major league baseball. There are cheap left-handed hitters all over the place, from Timbucktu to Portland, Maine (or Portland, Oregon, for that matter). Finding a reasonably talented lefty pitcher to get his hitting counterparts out doesn't take a genius. Sure, there are Alvin Mormans and whatnot out there, but there's also quality no names like Jack Taschner, ready to outperform the Steve Klines of the world while making pennies on the dollar.
I like Taschner quite a bit. He throws hard, is tough on lefties, and he might even one day be able to transcend the LOOGY moniker.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Brief Shameless Plug in Lieu of Interesting Content
Also, check out some of the other sportswriting on the site. There's a lot of really good stuff. Trust me, writers at State Hornet produce better articles than 90% of the crap they have on ESPN Insider, and you don't even have to pay for this stuff.
Oh, and if you're wondering who the "Paul Rice" of the byline is, well, I guess it's time to confess that that's the real name of the guy who runs this blog. "John Ryder" is just a fun little alias inspired by my favorite movie psycho. That's right, my secret's out, but for the sake of silliness I'm going to continue with the whole "Ryder" charade.
Did I mention the season starts in two weeks?
Friday, March 17, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/17
"The mainstream press called him an 'insurance policy' for McPherson in the wake of the deal, but Alfonzo's the sort who makes insurance necessary, and on the hot corner depth chart, should rank behind McPherson, Figgins, Robb Quinlan, utilityman Maicer Izturis, and maybe even hitting coach Mickey Hatcher."
-Baseball Prospectus on Edgardo Alfonzo. Cold, just cold.
"I mean, it's not my fault you got off to a bad start. You suck -it's not my fault. I wasn't off to a great start, either, but I wasn't blaming him for me not getting any hits."
-A.J. Pierzynski on his feud with Brett Tomko in 2004.
There's a new article about Pierzynski on ESPN where this quote is taken from. The article basically repeats the old tired story about how Pierzynski is misunderstood, about how you love him if he's on your team, how he was a catalyst on the Sox after being labeled a cancer on the Giants. However, it also sheds some insight into the Giants' clubhouse and Felipe Alou's rapport, or lack thereof, with the players. A.J. may have been a goof, but perhaps the Giants' chemistry problems went far beyond him.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: Pray For Rain
Such is the search for a suitable fifth starter in the major leagues. We're not trying to find the next Sandy Koufax, or even John Tudor for that matter, just a guy who can take the ball when called upon and a guy who won't self-destruct in a flaming heap on the mound, at least not most of the time. Fifth starters tend to be either mediocre veterans clinging to a last hope or young projects with very little chance of a career. They're cheap, they're fun, they get you through a boring weekend without too much fuss. Just don't get caught with Chris Brock.
Brad Hennessey 5-8 4.64 1.51 WHIP
If Hennessey faced the Cardinals every time out, he'd be the best pitcher to ever live, having not given up a single run against them in over 14 innings last year. It's the other 30 teams he has problems with. Hennessey is pretty much guaranteed a starting role this season, at least to start, unless he has a spring so atrocious that the more appetizing alternative becomes Jamey Wright.
In terms of consistency, Hennessey was all over the map last year. One start he'd look like an ace, painting corners with aplomb and keeping hitters off balance. Then in the next he'd look like the scrubby Rule V infielder sent out to throw a garbage inning at the end of a blowout, getting smoked out of the second inning. He doesn't have great, or heck, even good, stuff, and relies on deception and offspeed shenanigans to succeed. For a guy who walked 52 batters in 118 innings, that ain't good. That ugly 1.51 WHIP means that in a less lucky season his ERA would have been in the mid-5's.
Hennessey might luck into a sort of Jeff Suppan-like career if he stays in pitcher-friendly ballparks, but he's more likely to put up maybe one or two okay seasons before fading into the ether. He's not a long term solution, but if he gives the Giants 170-180 innings of sub-5 ERA, there'll be little complaining from this writer.
Kevin Correia 2-5 4.63 1.58 WHIP
Allow me to equate Correia's potential upside with a little video game experience I've been having recently. Last week I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare for XBOX, and have been chipping slowly away at it. Why, you ask, did I buy this crappy game? Better yet, why am I admitting that I threw down $20 on a game geared for ten-year-olds? The reason is because locked within the new game is the arcade version of Turtles In Time from the early-90's, one of my favorite video games of all time. The game that, in it's day, was fairly advanced graphics-wise, the first Ninja Turtle game where you could chuck foot soldiers at the screen and whoop Leatherhead's ass on a speeding train.
The only problem is that you can't just pop the new game in and play Turtles In Time, you actually have to unlock it. In order to do so, you have to beat the first episode of the new game, which is comprised of 16 levels, not a one of which could be described as fun. So the only way I had to treat myself to that glowing piece of boyhood nostalgia was to slog through 16 interminable levels of 3D melee boredom. The other day I finally, mercifully, got to the end and unlocked Turtles In Time (or TIT, as I call it...wait, never mind). It was worth the twenty bucks, and now I can enjoy hours upon hours of ninja butt-whipping instead of productive activity such as school work and socializing with friends.
Anyway, the point. Kevin Correia's upside is like Turtles In Time, in a way. You have to get through a whole bunch of crap, a lot of home runs, a lot of wild sliders ten feet off the outside corner, before the good stuff ever shows up. Correia has upside. He throws hard, he has good breaking stuff, and he has the ability to be a formidable pitcher in the majors. It's just a matter of whether the Giants want to stick the clothespin on their nose long enough to wade through the refuse in order to finally get to the quality.
Correia's problems are control and home runs. He walked 31 batters and gave up 12 homers in 58.1 innings last year, and that's just not going to do it in the big leagues. He had his moments, like a brilliant start against the Mets, but more often than not he simply didn't know where the ball was going, and when he did, it was leaving the ballpark ten times faster than it left his hand.
At this point Correia is an underdog in the fight to win a roster spot with the Giants to start 2006. If he can work on his control, he can be good, and he's still young enough to realize his potential. I do think there's a Turtles In Time somewhere inside there. Of course, I could be wrong and maybe the Giants will just be left with a crappy version of Pong. Only time will tell if the $20 was worth it for Correia.
Hello, worst-case scenario! If Jamey Wright opens the year as the Giants' fifth starter, Hennessey and Correia ought to be ashamed of themselves. Even though he's spent a majority of his career in Coors Field, Wright has at no point been a decent pitcher. Even on the road last year he threw up a 1.50 WHIP and a 4.63 ERA. He doesn't strike people out and he doesn't induce enough grounders to make up for it. There's just no upside here, unless you consider watching home run balls off the bats of scrub Dbacks hitters sailing into McCovey Cove upside.
As a mop-up/swingman guy like Jeff Fassero, I guess he's tolerable, except that we already have Fassero, and those two guys in the same role means way too much mound time for somebody. Wright might have something to offer, but if you figure out what it is, give me a call. I liked him a lot better when he was on the mound being used as cannon fodder against the Giants, instead of for them.
Random Stankeye Stuff
-The U.S. got beat by Mexico in the WBC to send the Red, White, and Blue to an early exit from the proceedings and putting an end to any faint interest I may have had in the whole charade. Two words: Wh'ua Happened? The USA was on the short list to win the tournament, only to get blindsided by a vengeful Hee Seop Choi and a recalibrated Oliver Perez. I guess this means we'll see Randy Winn back in camp a little earlier, which is certainly a good thing.
-The Tar and Feather Barry Bonds Bandwagon continues, this time with an excerpt from an upcoming book by Jeff Pearlman, better known as the guy who in 1999 brought love and joy upon the world with a story about how John Rocker was a moronic bigot. I actually don't mind Pearlman too much, unlike a lot of people. His book The Bad Guys Won, about the 1986 Mets, is one of my favorite baseball books of all time.
With that said, though, the guy is still a jerk, and his stories reek of a dweeb with an axe to grind. He likes to supposedly uncover the dark underbelly of baseball players, but usually he just ends up making himself look like a jackass. And if Jay Canizaro is the best in-house source you can come up with to incriminate Bonds, maybe you should try a little harder.
I especially love this supposedly incriminating quote in the excerpt by Russ Ortiz:
"One of the things I noticed was how fast he was able to put the bat on the ball. He could recognize the pitch well before he had to swing, and then he would get around so fast, so hard."
Is this supposed to be damning? This just sounds like a scouting report of Bonds from 1992. Taking quotes out of context to support your argument is a bad journalistic practice as old as the industry, but at least do it so it makes sense. So Bonds can get around on a fastball quicker than most. That's a result of steroid use? I seem to remember Bonds lacing 98 mph fastballs over the right field wall long before the sterois speculation. Guess what, that's why he's the best player in the league. And the reason Rickey Henderson stole all those bases was because he was faster than everybody else. According to Pearlman, that's hard evidence of some wrongdoing.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: The Caint-Miss Kid
Like Uma Thurman's frantic escape from the lonely grave of Paula Schultz in Kill Bill Vol. 2, Giants' pitching uberphenom Matt Cain has made an amazing rise through the treacherous, combustible surroundings of the minor leagues. With a blazing fastball, killer curve, and a neck that would make Geoffrey the Giraffe proud, Cain has burst upon the major league scene like the second coming of Doc Gooden, providing one incredibly bright point of light in the Giants' otherwise dismal post-Barry future outlook.
Ever since being drafted in 2003, Cain's name has brought visions of a future stud building a Roger Clemens-esque monopoly on the Cy Young Award. Cain has been heralded as a can't-miss Curt Schilling-type, and was widely regarded as the best pitching prospect outside of Felix Hernandez. The results seemed to back up the hype. Cain was pretty much untouchable as a teenager in the low minors, and last year in AAA, while not quite as impressive, he still managed to whiff 176 batters in 146 innings, all as a 20-year-old facing much stiffer competition.
All that hype and the implosion of the Giants' starting staff earned Cain a trip to The Show, and I'm sure a drunken and jealous Crash Davis hurled a whiskey glass at him upon hearing the news. Cain generally impressed, sporting a shiny 2.33 ERA and holding opponents to a minuscule .151 batting average. Like any 20-year-old on the big stage, he had problems with his command at times, but generally he showed tremendous poise, the kind you'd expect from five-year veterans and that we never, ever saw from Shawn Estes.
Lots of people looked at Cain's ERA and started drooling, expecting a 2006 full of Juan Marichaly dominance. He'll no doubt be good, but he's still got stuff to work on, and I think it's fair to temper expectations a little. Projecting a Mark Prior 2003-esque campaign is a little extreme at this point. First and foremost, he has to iron out his control problems. He walked 73 batters in 146 innings at Fresno. With his nasty stuff, he can generally get away with that without too much damage, but the walks lead to a lot of unnecessary baserunners and huge pitch counts, which is not what you want from your 20-year-old pitching prospect.
Also, Cain's major league numbers were somewhat misleading. He made seven starts, all against teams that certainly couldn't be accused of sporting a good offense. He faced the Diamondbacks twice, the Rockies twice, and the Padres, Nationals, and Cubs once apiece. The best offense of the lot is probably (bizarre enough as it is) the Padres, or maybe the Cubs if you take Derrek Lee into account. Everybody else was garbage, and the Rockies were fielding a lineup that bordered on being AAA-caliber, Coors Field or no (though it must be said that Cain's one start in Colorado's house of horrors was very impressive).
As far as the end results go, Cain looked to be rather "hit-lucky", allowing just 24 hits in 46 1/3 innings. Normally, this kind of stinginess is matched with a great strikeout rate, but Cain only managed 30, and his 30/19 K/BB was unimpressive. It gives us two alternatives: 1)Cain was just so nasty that batters couldn't make solid contact, turning his pitches into easy outs, making the lack of K's moot, or 2)Cain had a four-leafed clover hidden in his pants, and those bloopers and low liners that found holes for other guys were being caught by Giants fielders. Cain's BABIP (batting average on balls in play, for those not familiar with saber-lingo) was .160. The league average is something like .300, so Cain's hit rates are sure to rise next year, especially if he can't whiff more batters. And forgive me for conjuring up the ghosts of Kurt Ainsworth and Trevor Wilson, but we can't forget that he's 20, and young pitchers who rush to the majors tend to make unfortunate trips to the surgery table.
In the interests of being fair, though, it's my job to point out these caveats. Now for the gushing. The low strikeout rates are almost surely a product of Cain's being a young guy getting a first look at major league hitters. You don't fan nearly ten batters per nine in the minors just to turn into Rick Reed in the big leagues. Cain's stuff is already pretty fierce, but once he adds a third quality pitch, like a changeup, he'll be absolutely filthy. He might be in the right organization to do that too, seeing what Dave Righetti did for Jason Schmidt's career by teaching him the change. His control problems are something that will eventually get ironed out; it's not like he's Rick Ankiel or anything. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling both had control problems early in their careers. Heck, even Greg Maddux, the paragon of impeccable control, walked 74 batters in 155 innings in his first full season.
The excitement Cain has generated is deserved. Other Giants prospects have been hyped up without much to show for it, guys like William VanLandingham, Kurt Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, and Jesse Foppert, but none of them had the stuff or the dominant minor league record that Cain has, and at such a young age. In projecting Cain's 2006, I'll stay conservative, like a good George Will devotee. I'll go with about 180 innings of an ERA straddling 4.40, as Cain mixes rookie lumps with fits of brilliance. It's a little pessimistic, but there's a very good chance Cain beats the projection, and I don't see any way he fails to match it. After this year, if he can avoid injury, the road to Cy Young stardom should begin. The post-Bonds era Giants is cause for many a sleepless night, but ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a silver lining.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/10
Thursday, March 09, 2006
And So It Begins...
No, the reason I'm so down is because we're about to enter a long period where the baseball being played will take a backseat to an endless stream of preaching and outraged blather from any number of idiot sports columnists. If you needed any evidence that professional sports journalism is (mostly) a cesspool of knee-jerk, senseless, and completely unfounded raving, you're about to get it in droves.
The media is out to get Bonds, and it has been for as long as I can remember. These new allegations just add fuel to the moronic fire. You're going to read articles accusing Bonds of being a cheater, a liar, a criminal, and of killing Little Leaguers and all that other bullshit. Dumbasses will want to strip him of his Hall Of Fame Credentials and all of his records. There will be no intelligent debate, no questions asked about how much Bonds's use of PEDs improved his play, just a bunch of self-righteous moralizing.
I won't apologize for Bonds. I think he set a bad example by using PEDs, if true. But I also believe it's idiocy to strip him of his records, HOF candidacy and whatnot. The guy was a Hall Of Famer before 1998, when he supposedly started taking steroids. And if you strip him of his records, you're taking away history, and how do you do that? Just pretend that he didn't hit this home run on such-and-such a date?
In Ken Kesey's great book Sometimes a Great Notion, one of the characters talks about how loggers will stop what they're doing, no matter what it is, to watch a gigantic tree come crashing to the ground after being cut down. People like to watch big things fall, because there's always a lot of commotion when they do, and that's why they like to see famous people fall from grace. It's why when O.J. Simpson murders his wife it turns into a national fiasco. It's why when Bill Clinton gets blown by a fat intern, he gets impeached. Bonds is famous, way, way more famous than these guys who wrote "Game Of Shadows" will ever be, and people go after him because it's fun to see millionaires and guys on the big stage get taken down.
Do you think that if there were a wonder drug that would turn two-bit, piece of shit sportswriters into Leonard Koeppet, that every single struggling sportswriter on some no-name publication wouldn't be tempted to take it? Come on. Steroids are bad, everybody knows it, and Bonds was wrong to use them, but I don't want these assholes to sit there and tell me that in the same exact situation, given the chance to be the best at what they do, and to make lots of money while doing it, those writers wouldn't take that extra step to get that extra competitive advantage. I mean, is Dan Wetzel a fucking saint or something?
This post may not have any coherence, but I don't really give a rat's ass. It's just flat out disgusting that we can't just focus on baseball. It's unfortunate and depressing that for the rest of the season we have to be treated to this garbage. Instead of enjoying the greatest player in the past thirty years hit moonshots into the McCovey Cove water, we'll have to listen to diatribe after diatribe about how every home run is tainted and how Bonds is a cheater and blah blah fucking blah.
If you want what is probably a more level-headed, articulate, and less blatantly profane take on the Bonds thing, go to this post on McCovey Chronicles that was written by Daniel of Orange and Black Baseball. It's a refreshing change of pace from the usual teeth-gnashing, but unfortunately there just isn't enough of this kind of common sense to go around.
I should be back with the end of my pitching preview next week, with Matt Cain and the bully. Until then, let's just play some baseball.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
A Giant Fave Retires
Rueter was never the best pitcher in the league, and his fastball wouldn't scare a Little Leaguer, but he always found a way to keep his team in the game and to carve out a win, even when he wasn't hitting his spots. His two best years came in 1997 (13-6, 3.45) and 2002 (14-8, 3.23), and not coincidentally the Giants made the playoffs in both years. He pitched well in every postseason he played in, and his semi-comical bunt hit in Game 4 of the '02 Series started a big rally that got the Giants back in the series. And, of course, we all know that it should have been Woody on the mound in that Game 7 instead of The Blob.
The first time I ever heard of Rueter was in this awful game. Rueter was a member of the Expos, and he completely dominated a Deion Sanders-led Giants (sarcasm intended) team, one-hitting them in what I believe was the only complete game shutout of his career. I had never heard of Rueter, and I doubt anybody on the Giants had either, but I'm sure this game is what pursued the team to go after him (ironically, the Giants got Rueter for Mark Leiter, the pitcher Rueter outdueled in that fateful game). I remember throwing shit around in my room after Sanders made the final out in that game and the Expos mobbed Woody.
When the Giants acquired Rueter in the summer of the 1996 debacle, I was excited. Rueter had been inconsistent with the Expos but showed flashes of brilliance, like the aforementioned shutout of the Giants. Rueter rewarded my excitement by becoming a stalwart in the Giants rotation. As the years passed and various VanLandinghams and Estes were oozing in and out of the Giants' rotation, there was always Woody, winning games with 87-mph fastballs, slurves, and lord knows what else.
It's hard to believe the Giants would have enjoyed the success they had from 1997-2003 without Rueter. He worked quickly on the mound, kept the defense on its toes, and kept his head up even when he took his lumps. He was an affable guy and a fan favorite, and he had ears that you just wanted to pinch.
So long, Woody, you were a great Giant, a Stankeye fave.
-It looks like Barry Bonds might be in some really deep poopy with this new book hitting the racks. This is going to be the story of the Spring, I'm afraid. The pundits can preach and pile all the shit they want on Bonds, but that still doesn't change the fact that he's the greatest player of this generation.
-I haven't been able to keep up with the Cactus League games as much as I'd like since I'm too cheap to get MLB Gameday and I have to work on weekends. I was kinda bummed that I missed the game vs. Team USA though. Apparently Chase Utley has to continue destroying the Giants even in meaningless games, even without LaTroy Hawkins around.
But as the WBC kicks into high gear...ah, who cares?
-I couldn't have exhibited more apathy to the Academy Awards on Sunday, though I was amused that George Clooney won a Best Supporting Actor award for his work in Syriana. Not bad for a guy who began his career running from killer tomatoes.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Fantasy Sleepers (Pitchers)
Ok so everyone is in the search for the next great unknown commodity for their fantasy team and I am no different. So, with my limited statistical analytical abilities I decided to throw some people into the old sabermetric box of goodies and see who comes out. Here are few pitchers which might be something of note in the future.
1) Daniel Cabrera-BAL: I know he is the sexy pick for breakout candidate and I must say the analysis I did allowed me to see it for my very own eyes.
2) Doug Davis-MIL: He had a quietly dominant season and was a reason that the Brewers' new found enthusiasm might equate to some more wins.
3) Chris Young-SD: This guy had a great rookie season in the 2nd best hitters park in the whole league and the best in the AL, and now he is moving into arguably the best pitchers park in the NL. It doesn't require a genius to figure out the answer to that equation.
4) Jae Seo-LAD: The Dodgers have themselves a good pitcher. Seo put up excellent numbers in the 14 starts he received. Good luck this year NYM while you are watching Tom Glavine throw his rapidly declining repertoire around.
5) Robinson Tejeda-PHI: I had barely heard of this guy until the stats popped his name up. He spit time between the pen and the rotation last year. He is 23 and being given a very good opportunity to win a starting spot with the Phillies this year. I just traded for him in one of my fantasy leagues and I hope he works out for me.
1) Brandon Medders-ARZ: Young guy that put up good numbers for the D-backs last year. Hell, he might even get a save or two.
2) Julio Santana-MIL: Who? I still have no idea who this guy is but I know that the Brewers bullpen last year was not a one man show with Derrick Turnbow turning in an excellent year.
3) Matt Wise-MIL: Another example of the lights out Brewers pen last year.
4) Mike Wuertz-CHC: Why would the Cubs go out and give 3 year, $11 million dollar deals to relievers when they have guys like this in house?
5) Aaron Heilman-NYM: Can someone explain to me why a pitcher like Kaz Ishii (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?playerId=5006) and Victor Zambrano (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?playerId=4791) are getting starts when they have younger players like Heilman (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/stats?) playerId=5410) languishing in the pen. I say the Braves take the next 100 NL East titles when you have organizations in the same league that stifle pitchers this way or trade for players who won't change positions and can't hit outside of the confines of their hitter friendly home park (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2223628).
My name is Clark Lay and if I am right I will gloat and tell everyone that I am the smartest person ever. If I am wrong then I will disavow any knowledge of this blog ;p. Thanks for reading my silly opinions about baseball players and I encourage all of you to follow these players. Adieu.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/3 (and Spring Training Stuff, as Promised)
-Russ Davis in Spring Training 2001, taking offense to Julian Tavarez's histrionics after Tavarez struck him out. In the clubhouse following this incident, Tavarez proceeded to go on a bizarre rant to the media about queers and San Francisco and whatnot. Oh, Julian.
With that squared away, here are the early positives I took away from the Giants' 10-5 win over the Brewers yesterday. It's hard to get too excited about meaningless exhibition games, but just hearing Jon Miller and Dave Flemming kibitzing over the dulcit drones of the afternoon crowd was enough of a delight for me. Most of the Giants regulars sat in the game due to the WBC or injury concerns, so we got to see snowball's-chance-in-hell types of guys like Abraham Nunez and Angel Chavez in the starting lineup. Jose Vizcaino batting in the #2 slot was a horrifying sight, but then I reminded myself it was just a Spring game. Just...a...Spring...game.
-Randy Winn apparently forgot to shed his Superman cape in the offseason, as he slammed a home run off of Chris Capuano in his first Cactus League at bat. Unfortunately, that was probably Winn's last hurrah for the spring, as he leaves to play in the World Baseball Classic today. Justin Knoedler also threw his hat into the backup catcher contest with a home run late in the game.
-Two huge positives from a couple of big question marks. Todd Linden went 4 for 4 with a walk. I had pretty much given up on him after last year's disaster in the majors, but he's still young enough and has enough pop in his bat to become a quality major leaguer. His outfield play was dreadful, but we won't dock him too many points for that.
Also, Lance Neikro drew three walks, and two of them were of the grind-it-out variety in long at bats. This is a great sign for a guy who wailed at everything within shouting distance of home plate last season.
-On the negative side, Noah Lowry was tagged for three runs in an inning and a third, but two of the runs scored as a result of Linden's fielding shenanigans, so no big worries.
And Yamid Haad got into the game, which is never good for anybody.
Funny story about Abraham Nunez, the guy who started in right field yesterday for the Giants. Nunez, a non-roster invitee who is trying desperately to catch on with the big club as a fifth outfielder, has had a less-than-inspiring major league career, hitting just .209/.288/.308 in 302 big league at bats, but he just so happened to royally screw my fantasy team over in his one major league highlight.
It was August of 2004, and the A's were facing the hapless Royals in Oakland with Mark Mulder, who happened to be one of the top starting pitchers on my fantasy squad, on the mound. Seeing the band of ne'er-do-wells the Royals were trotting out to the field on that night, I just assumed that Mulder was in for an easy victory, possibly a quick complete game. Through five innings, Mulder was dealing shutout ball, and even though the A's hadn't scored any runs either, I had smug grin on my face. It was only a matter of time before the A's would break through and Mulder would coast to his easy victory.
Well, things didn't go quite the way I expected. Mulder got the first two Royals in the sixth inning, but then proceeded to walk the bases loaded. Up comes Abraham Nunez, a Quadruple-A scrub who couldn't hit a white whale against a black background. No problem, I thought.
Mulder ran the count to 3 and 2, then gassed a payoff pitch fastball right down the middle. Nunez swung and clubbed a high fly ball to center field that I thought might be tracked down by Mark Kotsay. To my utter horror, the ball sailed over the wall for a grand slam. 4-0 Royals. My day: ruined. Chances of my fantasy team making a run into first place: fucked.
Mulder gave up three more runs to an absolutely awful offense and the A's went on to lose the game 10-3. It was the beginning of the end of Mulder's run as one of the best pitchers in the league. After that start, he just wasn't the same, and he totally fell apart that September, and really hasn't been very good since. My fantasy team, standing at a strong third place that night, would eventually plummet to seventh thanks to a complete collapse of my starting pitching, helped in no small part by Mr. Mulder.
And Nunez? He sucked the day before, he sucked the day after, and he's sucked, sucked, sucked ever since. His one shining moment in a major league uniform served only to screw me over. And now he's a Giant, trying to make the club against incredible odds. Good luck, jackass.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Giants Baseball...On the Radio!
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Is it just me, or is that a lot of money to be giving a guy who, before a crazy-good second half of '05 when his bat was hotter than Jennifer Connelly (wait, not possible), was basically a better version of Michael Tucker? I'm a fan of Winn and all, but maybe we're getting a bit too lovestruck over his uberhot September. His career totals are .288/.346/.425, good for a center fielder, but $23 million good? Excuse me for being a skeptic. If Winn were like 27, I'd be a little more excited, but he'll turn 32 this season and long-term contracts on middle-of-the-pack players in their 30's rarely turn out well. If Winn's bat and range start to deplete this contract could turn into quite the albatross. Remember how hideous Marvin Benard's contract looked at the end? Winn is obviously better than Benard, but the same danger lurks.
On the bright side, the list of players most comparible at the same age as Winn according to Baseball Reference includes several guys who continued to play well going into their mid-30's, like Steve Finley, Jose Cruz, and Dom Dimaggio. It's entirely possible that Winn could age well and still be effective in a Grissomish way in 2009, in which case the contract will be pretty much justified. And it's not like the Giants have any rock solid, blue chip replacements climbing the farm ladder in any hurry. In the end, this extension doesn't look too egregious. The dollar amount is eye-opening but not payroll-busting, and center fielders who can swing it and who can field adequately are hard to come by. This contract can certainly be justified by the, excuse me, Winn now philosophy, but I have kind of a sick feeling that in 2008 we'll be regretting this.
But hey, if in the next year the Giants are hoisting the championship trophy on the back of a .320/.400/.500 season by Randy Winn, who gives a shit, right?
BTW, I'm wondering, just why did Winn get so damn hot after coming to the Giants? With the Devil Rays and Mariners he was basically a .770 OPS blah guy, and there was nothing to indicate the terror he'd become as a Giant. Did he like NL pitching more? Was it the Bay Area air? He absolutely tore it up at Mays Field, hitting .368/.410/.711 in a place where gaudy hitting statistics go to die. Did he suddenly have some sort of epiphany and become a different hitter? Did the ghost of Mickey Mantle invade his body? Did aliens kidnap him one night and, deciding on a change of pace after years of anal probing, decide to bestow upon him magical powers?
More likely it was a confluence of his normal abilities, luck, and random chance. Looking closer, Winn's hot streak last year can be isolated to one month, September, when he hit an amazing .447/.479/.877. People like Stephen Jay Gould have argued that luck, not some innate ability or adjustment, is the main cause of hot streaks. It's highly likely that Winn's amazing month was a weird blip on his resume, like Davey Johnson's 1973 or Brady Anderson's 1996. Those expecting another Joe Dimaggio impression will probably be disappointed.