March 2009

That Was Fast

Little doubt now that the Braves are ready to go with the aforementioned Jordan Schafer in center. For real. This year.

The last impediment was finding somebody who would take Josh Anderson off their hands – he’s out of minor league options. The Tigers accepted, payment in the form of a 25-year old AA-pitcher named Rudy Darrow who has fought back from Tommy John surgery and might be a middle relief candidate sooner rather than later.

But it might as well have been Clarence Darrow. As I understand the way the Bravos’ thinking evolved this spring, it went from 1) Gregor Blanco in front with Anderson as an acceptable alternative and Schafer as a long shot, to 2) Blanco sliding to the back of the pack, to Schafer looking so sharp that they began to try to deal Anderson to clear a path for him before opening day, to 3) a fallback of keeping Anderson for a little while after Opening Day and sending Schafer to keep in shape in Richmond while they continued to try to trade Anderson, to 4) committing to Schafer and resigning themselves to losing Anderson on waivers if necessary.

Anderson has proved himself a superior baserunner, decent centerfielder, and adequate hitter in each of the last two Septembers. But given the Astros’ inexplicable desire to trade for Michael Bourn when they already had a Bourn-like figure in Anderson, and the Braves’ willingness to sacrifice Anderson to give Schafer a clear path, one assumes his own teams have seen weaknesses in his bat that would be soon exposed over a full major league season.

In any event this underscores the Schafer point below. Pure fans, step back and admire what is to come from the kid. Fantasy players, grab him and tell no one of what you have seen this day.

National League Fantasy, and Closers

Promised a few National League notes for anybody still drafting, as soon as my league was set, and here they are (the American League auctions next Sunday, so I doubt that will be of any use to anybody, but I’ll try to put in some abridged notes then, too).

Nothing drives me more nuts than hearing a Rookie Of The Year candidate described as a sleeper, so let’s just describe a few guys in terms of how seriously you should take them when compared to more proven commodities. I believe in Cameron Maybin (didn’t draft him only because Beltran, Chris Young, Bruce, and Upton were all available in the first 71 picks) and would expect he will outperform the likes of Andre Ethier and Mike Cameron.
Another guy I can’t praise too much is Daniel Murphy (again, had to go and fill out a pitching staff after the primo guys fell into my lap unexpectedly and late). There’s the potential for a batting champion in there – plate discipline that is all but lost in the 21st century game. Fernando Tatis will see a little work in leftfield, maybe Nick Evans too, against tougher righthanders but I would expect Murphy will get 450 or more plate appearances and is several times the player that some of the guys drafted ahead of him in our outfit are – Spilborghs, Fukudome, Byrnes. Right now, Murphy may be what Chase Headley is supposed to be.
Two outfielders could either shine this year or wind up in AAA and I took chances on both of them in the later rounds. Two weeks ago Hal McRae told me the difference between a successful Colby Rasmus and the one who coughed it up in the minors last year, is how much he can talk himself out of swinging for the fences. There will be homers, but this is a line drive guy and this spring, Hal says, he’s been doing a great job of – cliche warning – staying within himself.
You should think long and hard about Jordan Schafer. The suspension last year, the limited experience in the minors, the youth, the presence behind him of Gorkys Hernandez, the usefulness of Josh Anderson ahead of him – these factors are irrelevant. It’s not a lock that he’s going to open the season in centerfield for them, but the Braves would be delighted if he did. This is the real deal and he’s ready to play in the bigs today. If you are drafting this week, and he hasn’t been sent out, and it’s round 20 and your choice is between him and a Hairston brother – take the kid, then take the Hairston brother later if you have to (alter the analogy as needed for keeper leagues, reserve drafts, auctions, etc.)
And if you like redemption stories, one of the top prospects of 2007 may have finally straightened himself out. The Pirates think they’ve leveled both Andy LaRoche’s swing and his mentality. Too many people know about Travis Ishikawa’s homer-happy spring to make him the guy you sneak in to your 1B/3B slot – try LaRoche.
Let’s wrap this up with that most vexing of dilemmas: the Closer follies. Here’s all I know, culled from a variety of sources (and if you think these people annoy you, consider my plight – our league also counts Holds – try figuring them out in advance).
Arizona: Qualls is set. Pena is the alternative, but I don’t think it’ll come to that. Do not listen to any Max Scherzer rumors – he’ll open on the DL, then start.
Atlanta: This too is surprisingly clear. Moylan (when he gets off the DL 4/15 or so) and Soriano will set up Mike Gonzalez. The problem here isn’t with the intent, it’s with the curse. The list of Bobby Cox’s closers since he returned to manage the Bravos 19 years ago is now about 30 guys long. They change often, and usually after big messy explosions and injuries. For crying out loud, he literally had a closer for one day last year in Smoltz.
Chicago: I love and respect Lou Piniella but this announcement tonight about Kevin Gregg neither makes any sense nor will it last. Gregg barely hung on to the job in Florida and will not repeat the trick at loftier atmospheres. This makes Marmol more of a risk, but it’s a risk I’d take – he seems really (and appropriately) steamed. Another reason the Cubs are a lot more vulnerable than they, or most fans, think.
Cincinnati: Cordero has gotten lit up like Christmas this spring, but as we saw last year with Eric Gagne, a lot of money in a small market means you can blow about 10 saves before the manager dares to switch off. And to whom? Weathers?
Colorado: No freaking clue. Street pitched well, terribly, well. Corpas pitched well, but it’s as if he’s waiting, waiting for you to rely on him.
Florida: No information to back this up but any time they say “oh, we’re just going to let our closer sit out the rest of spring training but he’ll be fine come Opening Day,” I tend towards disbelief. I would guess Lindstrom is in far rockier shape than they are letting on – or know. The backup here was Scott Proctor, but he is officially hurt. Behind him is Leonel Nunez. Good luck sorting that out.
Houston: Valverde. As long as you don’t have to watch him pitch in person or have your job or your health depend on him, he’s fine.
Los Angeles: Broxton. Up and down but certainly the best arm of any of the closers or would-be’s in the NL and Joe Torre doesn’t have a second option.
Milwaukee: Florida, only colder. Hoffman is hurt, they’re being coy with the information, and Ken Macha says the sub could be Seth McClung. Or Carlos Villanueva. Or Todd Coffey for crying out loud. McClung of course is also a possible starter, long man, and 8th Inning guy. He’ll be busy.
New York: K-Rod, obviously. Putz in the 8th. Some suggestion Feliciano may move back to a full-time 7th Inning guy rather than a specialist against lefty batters.
Philadelphia: Lidge, period. As unambiguous as New York. Unless his saves streak ends with three or four in a row and then… who knows? There’s a Peter Pan quality to his stardom.
Pittsburgh: Capps, although there are fears that last year’s injury might return.
St. Louis: I think it’s going to be Motte as evidently he’s been given nearly all the pseudo-save situations in camp. The latest crystal ball readings suggest Chris Perez is going back to AAA. I don’t think McClellan or Franklin are options.
San Diego: It’s Heath Bell and I think he’ll do okay. Then again he might get fewer than 30 save opportunities. It’s not a robust ballclub.
San Francisco: Brian Wilson, and he has a touch of Valverde in him, but unless you subtract blown saves from counted ones, that’s not your problem.
Washington: Joel Hanrahan, in circumstances not unlike Wilson.
So to rank them:
1 K-Rod
2 Lidge
3 Broxton
4 Qualls
5 Cordero
6 Valverde
7 Wilson
8 Marmol
9 Hoffman
10 Bell
11 Capps
12 Gonzalez
13 Hanrahan
14 Motte
15 Gregg
16 Lindstrom
17 Corpas
18 Street
19 Villanueva
20 Nunez
21 C. Perez
22 Soriano (for Gonzalez, if the curse hits him afresh)
23 Moylan (for Soriano, if it then gets him)
24 Kerry Ligtenberg (if they lose the first three, it might as well be him or Schafer, or maybe it’s Stephen Marek)
Lastly, we all do this. Comes the fourteenth round, Jose Reyes having long since been the overall first pic
k (mine), my offense rounding out nicely, but my bullpen – in a Saves and Holds league – empty except for Broxton. And I pick… Edgar Renteria. I do not know what I was thinking.
Nevertheless, I was topped in the 23rd round (of 25) when my buddy the Commissioner, worried that Ramon Hernandez would be insufficient in a one-catcher league, taps… Sal Fasano, who was in camp with the Rockies this year. He apparently had him briefly in ’06 when Fasano was with the Phillies (he thought it was last year) and he hit a home run or something. So my Commish remembered his home run fondly. And his mustache.

Well, You Asked

First, thanks to all who posted comments. Let me violate the standard format of responding by addressing topics and not individuals (to quote Billy Crystal from a long time ago, “and you know who you are”).

There is a correct answer on the trivia. I’m at the Giants-A’s in Phoenix Municipal Stadium Saturday when a “security” fella (typical to the Spring Training equation, he’s a retired judge from Jersey named Bob) asks if I know the story of the lights in the ballpark. Obviously I did not and it appears very few people, even other stadium nerds, do. Yet there, as part of a series of timeline notes, engraved in the stone flooring ringing the ballpark, is the tale of how the lights were removed from the Polo Grounds after the last National League game there in September, 1963, and brought to Phoenix Stadium in time for its opening in March, 1964. This more or less confirms something I’d suspected: the Mets appear to have rented the Polo Grounds from the Giants in 1962 and 1963 – certainly as bizarre an arrangement as baseball has ever seen. The Giants had built or re-built at least the last three versions of the ballpark, and apparently retained ownership even after they moved to San Francisco. The land, oddly enough, was still owned by the Coogan Family (as in “Coogan’s Bluff”) at least into the ’60s.
To more contemporary issues: I actually retired from Fantasy Ball in 1995 for fear of having to draft a line-up of UPS Drivers. Got talked back into it in 2007 by my friend Jason Bateman, then played football in his league that year. The rust having been shaken off, I won them both last year (NL-only, six-by-six format, no freezes, Jason likes to count Holds for goodness sakes). This year I’m co-owning an AL-only team in a league with some of the ESPN experts. I take this way too seriously (the league that went out of business in 1994 had 40-man rosters and we actually held a two-round amateur draft two weeks ahead of the actual MLB draft). I’m better now but I still can’t imagine giving away my sleepers, at least until after the draft Sunday. I will say this, if it’s of any use: I saw Albert Pujols in Clearwater ten days ago and he looked 100% healthy for the first time in years. And no hint of a paunch. And I know my paunches.
There were questions about the Dodgers and Pirates, specifically about Andre Ethier. I have always expected great things of him, but against some pretty mediocre Texas pitching he went 0-for-5 and the response in the press box was neither encouraging nor sympathetic. As to the Buccos – an organization filled with some of the best people in baseball – they would be competitive if they had more than one starting pitcher. There may actually be a deep bullpen: Evan Meek has inherited – no, sorry, I’ll stop there, but he does look like he grew up after last year – and they think Donald Veal might have, too. Combine them with Grabow and Capps and it’s an entirely different concept from last year’s bullpen, which more resembled the firemen from Fahrenheit 451. Pittsburgh’s problem, of course, is July 31st. Since the starters would have to perform miracles to get them to .500, they will have to sell off again, and that means Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson and maybe even Freddie Sanchez. But McLouth’s the real deal, McCutchen will be, and they think they’ve straightened out Andy LaRoche. Sadly, the sports-record-breaking 17th straight losing season still seems tragically inevitable.
And there was a question about George Kell, who I always thought was an underrated player, an underrated broadcaster, but anything but an underrated man. Ernie Harwell rightly got the lion’s share of the love but George was a gentleman of the old school: he assumed nobody knew who he was (he approached me when I was at ESPN and said, and this is verbatim, “Hi, Keith, I’m an announcer with the Tigers. My name is George Kell” – the sweetness of the introduction overcame my surprise that he would think anybody in baseball wouldn’t know him by sight, or at least when he used that remarkable voice of his. I have a few tapes of his radio work in the 1962 post-season and he might have been the best play-by-play man among ex-players. His ability to convey rising excitement by getting louder and especially faster, matched that skill in the Gary Cohens and Brent Musburgers.

FAREWELL TO THE BARD OF ORANGE PARK

The highlights that Sunday night on the WWL showed everything except what the home plate umpire described as the “most impressive thing I’ve seen all spring.” Justin Masterson looked sharp, Jonathan Papelbon struck out the side (amid two rocketing singles), and they even showed Junichi Tazawa getting in and out of james with four strikeouts in two innings.
Not even a quick cutaway of Daniel Bard, who merely dropped a small universe of 100 MPH heaters on three of the Tampa Bay Rays least equipped to handle them. And though it was Morgan Ensberg, Ray Sadler, and Elliott Johnson swinging through what they couldn’t catch up to, it was awe-inspiring, largely for the additional reason that the Red Sox youngster who struck out 107 men in 78 innings in the minors last year appeared to be generating his speed with a motion just slightly more involved than a guy long-tossing on the side.
I have not seen this in a long time. It harkens back to the days of Brien Taylor, the ill-fated Yankees’ prospect who regularly topped 100 with no more motion than you throwing something at a nearby trash can. Sunday night, the Red Sox managed to resist the temptation to keep such a weapon at the big league level; commendable restraint considering the early March effort against the lesser Rays was just the start – he ended the spring with 9-1/3 scoreless and twelve strikeouts.
If his long-term value isn’t readily apparent (and long-term could mean after the summer solstice), add in this factor: after that one inning, Tim Tschida, working the plate, said that obviously the speed was the most impressive thing he’d seen thus far this spring, but that would almost nobody else could tell was that Bard had been painting the corners with his lasers. Moving the damn thing around, inside high, inside low, outside low, outside high.
I only managed to see eleven games in Florida and Arizona, and I witnessed not just the aforementioned triple play, and other adventures I will recount here before opening day (Craig Monroe? Four homers in five at bats?). But The Bard — and we better use the article — remained the most stunning sight.
POLITICS-FREE

Thanks to all for the comments and the welcomes and the flaming go-to-Hades. This blog is about baseball and not politics; I won’t touch the latter here unless it unavoidably pertains to something between the foul lines, so write all you want about left-versus-right – I hope you find it entertaining to yourself, I won’t be reading it. As elsewhere here, abuse won’t be tolerated and the fine folks at MLB.Com will ultimately decide if we have to start approving comments. Doesn’t matter to me; I come here under the banner of the greater good: Baseball.
TRIVIA
Love trivia. But only if it means something. Here’s one I didn’t know about until 96 hours ago. What happened to the lights from the Giants’ last New York home, the Polo Grounds? The hint is: they’re still in service, today, in this country.

Introducing the Baseball Nerd

Phoenix, Arizona

GREAT TRUTH

Do not be overwhelmed by the 15 homers propelled yesterday in Surprise by the Angels and Royals, nor any other offense you see in the Arizona boxscores. An unrelenting 20 MPH wind blew across the fields of the Cactus League. Cars wobbled on highways, at least one canopy was toppled at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, and Randy Wolf pounded the Rangers for two long hits, including a two-run double.

ON THE OTHER HAND

It’s not like the Dodgers managed to turn the wind off as Wolf shut down a Texas lineup that included Josh Hamilton on two hits over six (six strikeouts). The positioning of the otherwise splendid new park the Blue share with the White Sox appears to have been done in the dark. The sun will not let up on the batters; the batters’ eye in centerfield is about half standard size, and the Dodgers’ bullpen is uncovered and does not see shade until nearly sunset. The players have less of a chance of being grilled than do Dodger Dogs.

MISLEADING HEADLINE OF THE DAY: MARTINEZ REJOINS DODGERS

That’d be Ramon Martinez, who celebrated his 41st birthday yesterday by sitting in the dugout of the team for which he won 123 games in the eleven seasons ending in 1998. The former 20-game winner – who set the land-speed record for going from being “The Martinez,” to “He’s Pedro’s Brother” – looked not much heavier than the 165 at which he pitched for the Dodgers’ last champions. He knew nothing of his brother’s chances, silently underscoring the mumbles of the spring: that Pedro’s WBC performance did not resonate, and with his killer fastball down to 90, is unlikely to find a home this year – or at least not a prominent one.

UNLIKELIEST SIGHTING

The skinny blond guy in the Rangers’ uniform staying low-key in the tunnel between the clubhouses and the field was not a minor leaguer summoned to take the road trip in hopes of a late-game at bat. It was actor Owen Wilson, getting into what is apparently his next character – that of pitcher – in his next film, opposite Reese Witherspoon. Coincidentally, Ms. Witherspoon was on The Tonight Show last Wednesday with your faithful Nerd, and offered viewers a bewildering variety of jokes based on the German words “Ausfahrt” and “Einfahrt.”

NERD THRILL

Like the relaxed pace and increased interaction of Spring Training wasn’t thrill enough. This is the start of my 43rd year as a fan, my 43rd year attending games, and my 43rd year of keeping score. On Saturday in Phoenix, I witnessed, for the first time, a triple play. First and second, Oakland’s Bobby Crosby with a solid one-hopper to Ryan Rohlinger of the Giants. Rohlinger unsuccessfully tried to tag elusive Oakland runner Matt Carson, fired to Matt Downs at second for one out, who relayed to Scott McClain at first for another. That’s when it became evident Carson had been called out for leaving the baseline. A double play is, of course, scored by writing the position numbers (5-4-3) and circling them. A triple play requires two circles. Making my first “second circle” was the thrill of the spring

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,867 other followers