Friday, March 27, 2009

Let's Play Some Games Already

As the one year anniversary of this blog approaches, I'm getting pretty antsy for baseball to start. This looks like it could be a pretty wide open season. I don't see any clear cut favorites emerging. Even those with realistic World Series aspirations have weaknesses or questions at the very least. How will A-Rod's extra curriculars affect the Yanks? Will Jon Lester match his 2008 performance with the Sox? How will the Rays respond now that the expectations are so high?

As a busy family man, I have no time for any sports but football and baseball. College hoops doesn't do it for me anymore. I haven't been into the NBA for years. It's no knock on those sports. I just only have so much room in my brain. I watched a movie with my wife and her friend instead of watching the NCAA tournament last night. (Out of fear for my safety and possible revocation of my man card, I will not disclose the title of said movie. But I will say that I enjoyed it.) Good grief, I need baseball. There's nothing better on a summer evening than plopping my posterior on the couch, cracking open a beer, and turning on the Sox. This is especially true now that I have a shiny new TV. (TV! Teacher, mother... secret lover.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Big Schill calls it a Career

Curt Schilling made it official today by announcing on his blog 38 pitches that he will not attempt a comeback after be out all of 2008 with shoulder issues. He pitched 23 seasons with 3 teams. Schilling also has 3 World Series rings. 

The first question everyone wants to ask is: did he juice? I would say probably not, but at this point, nothing would surprise me.

The second is: Is Curt Schilling a Hame of Famer? Here are his career numbers: 3116 strikeouts, 216-146, 3.46 ERA, and no Cy Young awards. People will point to his postseason dominance of a 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA. Those are incredible stats and as a Sox fan I am grateful for his contributions to the '04 and '07 teams.  I say Curt lacks the credentials for the Hall. I can't remember a season when Curt was, hands down, the best pitcher in baseball. I think you need a couple of season's where you can say that to make it to the Hall and Schill has none. ESPN and the Boston writers will plead his case, but in the end, Schilling was very very good, but not great. 

Two Week Warning

The regular season is just two weeks away for the Yankees and the Sox and with the U.S. squad being eliminated from the WBC last night most of the players still missing from the Yankees will be returning to big league camp.

The Sox will still be waiting on Matsuzaka, but he should be along shortly with only the championship game left to play tonight in Dodger Stadium.

The big idea here is that, aside from a few injured players, both teams will be at full strength for the first time this year. In the case of the Red Sox it wont really be huge news because this team has been together for a few years now, but with the Yanks we'll get to see the full team with the new additions for the first time in real game play.

It's a little thing, but when your team spends $400 million dollars in the off-season you're intrigued to see them all together even if it is just Spring Training.

Friday, March 20, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part V

The fifth and final matchup is between Brad Penny and assorted others vs. Joba Chamberlain and fellow youngsters

It’s far from a guarantee that Penny will be in this spot for very long. The same can be said for Joba as well. Though both have the capability to be top rotation starters this season it really can’t be expected from either of them. For Penny the most important aspect of his game is health. He has a dominant fastball, though he doesn’t have overwhelming secondary stuff. But if that heater is out on the mound and he’s able to hurl strikes on a consistent basis then the Sox will be ecstatic with their minimal investment in Penny. If he doesn’t work out then they have either the stalwart John Smoltz on his way back from rehab or Clay Buchholz who is probably itching to prove himself after last year’s rough rookie season.

Joba on the other hand has slightly different concerns. Health is a big one for him, but in a different way. Aside from last season’s minor meltdown in his shoulder, Joba has proven to be healthy for awhile. But, like several other young Yankee pitchers, he hasn’t come anywhere near the innings levels that the Yankees want to see their big three at. The Yankees are saying Joba is going to get 30 starts which would lead one to conclude they want 180 innings out of him. If they could get that then they deserve a reward. It’s just unrealistic to expect that much out of arm that hasn’t been that taxed yet.

If Joba does slip up, then his first stop will probably be Triple A Scranton and in his stead will be Phil Hughes. Hughes has done several things better since his awful season last year. He has tweaked and improved his curve and he has begun to look to his a cut fastball on a regular basis and a change up on occasion. Beyond him there is Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa…

Sorry I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Verdict: If this was question of upside and pure talent the Yankees would win. Even when Brad Penny was healthy he wasn’t dominant in the NL West, and the Yanks young guns have more talent than he ever did. Joba and Hughes both have more ability than Penny, but like him and Smoltz they both have durability questions. It’s a close call but I really like the Smoltz pick up for the Sox and I fully expect him to displace Penny when he comes back. Smoltz is a badass, even at age 41, and his experience and tenacity give him and the Red Sox a slight edge in this final slot over the upside an optimism of Joba and Hughes. Sox make it a game, but Yanks win 3-2.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part IV

Match up number four is Tim Wakefield vs. Andy Pettitte

It’s hard to believe that Tim Wakefield is still pitching in the bigs after 16 seasons. He may be the last knuckleball pitcher to have a long and productive career in the majors since many teams look at them as glorified batting practice pitchers and a liability at the backend of the rotation. What’s surprising about Wakefield is that he still has the ability to get hitters out with a knuckleball, a basic curveball and a high school fastball. And despite a bad back he has stayed out on the mound with a good amount of frequency over the past two seasons, pitching an average of 185 innings with an ERA of 4.45. Those are some respectable numbers from a number four starter.

Andy Pettitte, on the other hand, spent his last four seasons of his career at the top end of both the Houston Astro and the New York Yankee rotations. Clearly last year he fell off a little but he has been a steady arm and a reliable 200 innings for the past four seasons. He has also has a better K/BB ratio than Wakefield over that time period and he also allows far fewer home runs (79 to 101).

The last thing that needs to be mentioned about these two pitchers is reliability. Though Pettitte is prone to getting knocked around like every pitcher, the likelihood of him laying an egg is far lower than that of Wakefield and most of that has to do with the knuckleball. It is an unpredictable pitch and that translates to unpredictable results.

Verdict: Perhaps this was never a fair match up for the Sox and if you asked them maybe they would say Wake is the fifth starter. But that Brad Penny/John Smoltz/Others fifth spot is still in the air to much to jump Wakefield who has a guaranteed slot. All that aside, this one goes easily to the Yankees. Pettitte has the better track record in terms of performance and durability. Wakefield does a fine job at the backend of the Sox rotation and he is perfectly respectable in the position of a five starter and to an extent of a fourth. But Andy Pettitte is of a different pedigree than Wakefield. He is a pitcher who can step up and be fully capable of being a three or even a number two on any given day and because of that he is a step above most other fourth starters. Yanks take a commanding 3-1 lead.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part III

Our third match up is Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chien-Ming Wang:

These guys are polar opposites. Though both arrived to their respective teams from the Pacific Rim, one was signed as an amateur free agent while the other was ransomed off for a grand total of $100 million dollars.

They also differ greatly in their pitching styles. Matsuzaka relies heavily on the strike out and Wang is a ground ball machine. That also means that Wang pounds the strike zone, never walking more than 59 batters in a season and even when one of those walks does occur, he usually can erase it with a double play ground out.

Contrasting Wang, Matsuzaka seemingly tries to walk the bases loaded every time out. In 2008 Matsuzaka had the fourth highest walk total in all of baseball while only throwing 167 2/3 innings. What saves him is his ability to limit hits and to strike out a ton of batters. Where Wang erases base runners with double plays, Matsuzaka strands them with a large amount of strike outs. The problem with this is the Japanese ace ends up expending himself early in the game and may only manage five or six innings a start.

If Wang has any fault it is that for a long time he never struck out batters. But over the last two years that seemed to change as his strike rate jumped up from 3.14 in 2006 to 4.70 in 2007 and 5.12 last season. If it rises anymore he may be able to take a step forward into the top echelon of pitchers in the league.

Verdict: Even though Matsuzaka has the better stuff and the higher upside, Wang is more reliable in terms of going deep into games. If Matsuzaka can stay around the plate a little more and avoid all those walks, then his raw ability will outshine Wang’s. Until then he runs the risk of the walks catching up to him. Wang may not provide as many dominating performances as Dice-K, but he provides more constistancy over the course of a season. Yanks jump back in front 2-1.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part II

Match up two is Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett:

I figured the match up of former Marlins flame throwers was the best way to go with our second rotation spot. At first glance, this match up would seem to heavily favor the Red Sox with Burnett having a checkered past in regards to his injuries and inability to stay on the field. But each pitcher came to the American League in 2006 and their numbers over the past three years are remarkably similar.

Beckett has thrown more innings in the AL East, coming in at just under 580 innings, while Burnett has managed about 174 innings a year or 522 2/3 over the three years he was with the Jays. You may be surprised to find out that it is not Beckett but Burnett who has the better ERA over the past three years, beating out Beckett by 0.17.

Burnett also bests Beckett in the strike out department (both total Ks and K/9) and opponent batting average (.242 to .248). Where they differ and Beckett probably has the greatest advantage is in the control department. The Red Sox righty walked far fewer people per nine innings than Burnett.

Everyone knows that these two guys bring the heat and compliment their solid fastballs with hammer curves. Though some question Burnett’s desire to actually play and stay on the field, anyone who has seen him pitch against good teams on big settings knows that he can be tenacious on the mound, while Beckett has a Hall of Fame track record when it comes big games.

Verdict: Even though Burnett has shown flashes of being a comparable pitcher to Josh Beckett and at times has exceeded his counterpart, Beckett has a track record that cannot be ignored. Maybe Burnett has figured out how to stay healthy over the course of a full season, but the odds are against that. While Beckett had some injury issues last season, he has become a work horse over the past three and is a much more reliable bet to contribute over the course of 35 starts and 200 innings. We’re all tied up at 1.

Monday, March 16, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part I

We have discussed the Red Sox and Yankee rotations a bit over the off-season but not at length yet. It should be a pretty fun discussion now that the Yankees have put together a rotation that on paper could edge the Sox starting five.

We’ll make this easy and start at the top. Both teams feature a strong ace and both happen to be left-handers. Some may argue with the order of which I’ve seeded these pitchers, but for further reference these are the match-ups for this week:

Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia
Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett
Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chien-Ming Wang
Tim Wakefield vs. Andy Pettitte
Brad Penny vs. Joba Chamberlain

And now onto the first match up of Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia:
Some may think that Beckett deserves to have this number one spot in the Sox rotation, but I disagree. If Lester is healthy during the regular season he is a superior pitcher to Beckett and his value as a left-hander emphasizes that point. You probably want to give the ball to Beckett in a big game, but you want Lester to lead the way through the summer.

Throwing out their salaries compared to the performance (Lester would win hands down) these two pitchers are just downright nasty. There is obviously a much smaller sample size for Lester over the course of his career since he is three and a half years younger than Sabathia and has missed significant time during his short major league career while dealing with his cancer.

But Lester has already made a significant name for himself during the 2007 playoffs and the 2008 regular season. He has quickly risen to the top of the Red Sox rotation and is on track to becoming one of the best lefties in the game.

Most of us already know the track record for Sabathia: Great 2007 and 2008 regular season performances, followed by post season flops. I am one who is less inclined to discount Sabathia in the post season because in both seasons he was forced to pitch a ridiculous amount of innings for teams that had shaky bullpens. Both instances wore him down to the point where his effectiveness in the post season was compromised.

Both pitchers have mid-90s velocity on their fastballs and both have a wicked breaking pitch to back it up. Each has stellar command of their pitches and in spite of Sabathia’s bad track record in big games, I’m going to say that those three starts he made on three days rest to personally deliver the Brewers to the playoffs give him some credits in the clutch department.

Verdict: Sabathia has an edge over Lester. Lester can pitch with the big guy any day of the week but Sabathia has the more established track record of dominance over the past eight seasons. Lester could pass him in the years to come but for 2009 CC is the better lefty to have on your staff. Yanks lead 1-0.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rotation Strength

Baseball season is less than a month away, so to occupy sometime I think its fitting if we began a discussion about the state of the rotations for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. Starting tomorrow I will be doing a five-part series comparing the two rotations against each other from top to bottom. At the end of the week we will see which one stacks up the best.

First up on the list will be the staff aces Jon Lester and CC Sabathia.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Rays?

I know the Rays are young and talented. I know they all buy into the team concept. I know that they slapped Boston around in the playoffs. And yet, I'm not too worried about them contending in the AL East. Everything went right for them last year. They avoided injuries by and large. Their young pitchers came of age, and they got all of the timely hits you could ask for.

They accomplished all of this when the expectations were at their lowest. After getting to the World Series, the Phillies put the breaks on the magical ride. They expended a lot of emotion in beating the Red Sox, then couldn't get things done under the pressure of the WS. Now that they will be sneaking up on no one, will they have the same regular season success?

I personally think there will be a drop off. The Rays of old are definitely deceased. I'm not talking 100 losses here. They will be competitive and a thorn in the Red Sox side. However, with all the mileage on the young arms and the unbridled enthusiasm of the 2008 season in the rear view, 85-88 wins is most realistic.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A-Rod's, Yank's season in trouble

Well it seems A-Rod has found ways to hurt the Yankees on the field now as well as off the field. Peter Abraham is reporting that not only does A-Rod now have a cyst in his hip, but he also has a torn hip labrum.

If Rodriguez had surgery to repair it now he would miss up to four months but it seems that Rodriguez and the Yanks will try to use rest and rehab to gut out the season. This could have disastrous results for the Yankees or Rodriguez could come through this a hero if he performs well with the injury.

Abraham brings up a good point on an earlier post for his blog when he notes that A-Rod has had an increase in his injury list since he supposedly went off steroids five years ago. It is definitely something that should be considered and it's definitely something the Yanks wish they knew during their last negotiating exchange in 2007.

Rodriguez and the Yankees are tied together for better or worse. Each one needs the other at this point. Hopefully A-Rod can manage the pain like he did last year. If not then all of Cashman's wheelings and dealings from this winter may have been for naught.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Manny gets exactly what he wants, right?

So Manny finally agrees to a practically identical offer to the one the Dodgers extended him in November or so. So instead of two years and $40 million from Boston, he will get two years $45 million from Los Angeles. And it only took Scott Boras five months to get that deal done. What a savvy agent! It's a 10% raise for Manny, yes, but it's nowhere near what they were seeking. What does five mil really mean to Manny anyway? At least Boras will get his cut of this contract. Thank blog for that!