Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Super Bowl Halftime Show

I might be in the minority (especially with some/all of the writers of this blog), but I hate the Superbowl half time show. It is absolutely the worst part of the 4 hour spectacle that is the broadcast of the Super Bowl.

Pre-game? It sucks - but I'm still anticipating the game and mostly just using details (that Chris Berman is able to fumble out of his mouth) to make smart bets (because I believe I could gamble for a living). What's that you say Marques Colston has a sore hamstring? Take the under on number of first half catches!!!

The Game? Always somewhat exciting.

The Commercials? These have also declined in recent years, but this is the first time you'll get to see commercials that you will fast forward through for the next 6 months! (Bud Light Beer House I'm looking at you.)

Post Game? Always an emotional moment. On screen, Drew Brees is sobbing tears of happiness. While off screen I'm sobbing tears of fear (not to be confused with tears FOR fears), because I actually love all of my limbs equally, and I do not want them to be broken because I may or may not owe my bookie thousands of dollars.

So that leaves the halftime show as the worst moment of the night. In recent years the NFL has developed some sort of life rejuvenation system to pump blood through the veins of Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and members of the Who (that last one is still up in the air, pretty sure they just stood their as someone played an mp3 of their songs on a Zune.) As you may be able to tell from the last line of all of our posts, most writers on this blog listen to classic rock like it's still even remotely relevant.

It is not. I'm not saying the music is bad (if you like to prove how big your or that I hate it (I'd rather wash my eyes with lemon juice than listening to Mick Jagger croon about how many ladies he's banged), but let's put on a show that people are interested in. I think even some of my fellow bloggers will admit that the shows are very lackluster. Hell, two years ago Springsteen had to use teleprompters to remember some of his words! That's just what I want to see... an old washed up celebrity reading during my halftime show (if I wanted to see this I'd turn on Reading Rainbow).

The point is this - I vividly remember the half time show when Nelly, Britney Spears, N Sync and Aerosmith all did a song together (mostly because of Britney's outfit - who knew football jerseys could be so sexy on half naked ladies). THAT was exciting, I remember this from 10 years ago - back when Springsteen was only 65!

So here is the solution: Justin Bieber. This is perfect scenario for the NFL. The Super Bowl is already the most watched show every single year, but who are the only people not watching? 14 year old girls. EVERYONE ELSE WATCHES. Justin Bieber will help bring this television viewing country together (even though he's Canadian) through his shockingly agile dance moves, a voice that's in the middle of puberty (like you wouldn't watch just to see if it cracks on national TV) and the anticipation of him possibly dying on live TV when a throng of girls rushes the stage to hug him. Now THAT is a Super Bowl halftime show.

So, I'm not quite sure how to say this, but who wants to get the "BieberBowl" Petition started?

The Sweet Sound of the Metal Ping Brings A Ring

When you think of college sports, baseball is not one of the first ones to come to mind. Everyone always thinks of football, basketball, soccer and some may even bring up the Frozen Four. Yet, the NCAA Tournament for baseball may actually be just as exciting, if not more exciting than the Big Dance and one school in particular took their fans on a wild ride that won’t soon be forgotten.

In the interest of full disclosure, I attend the school that is now home to the College World Series Championship, The University of South Carolina, so there has been plenty to cheer about in this regard. The Gamecocks baseball squad is very much a story of heart, determination and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

South Carolina came into the NCAA Tournament in a bit of a tailspin, having lost 4 out of 5, including the SEC East Title to Florida in a three-game series in Columbia on the final weekend of the regular season.

They were rewarded for their overall body of work in the regular season, as a regional host for the first round. In their first game they trailed to the four seed in their region, and a team with a losing record, Bucknell, 5-4, before exploding for five runs in the bottom of the eighth. The next night against The Citadel, they trailed 4-2 in the seventh, before scoring five runs in the top of the inning to grab the lead and never look back. They were in a battle with Virginia Tech before blowing that game open with a six-run sixth inning.

So, from there, the Gamecocks traveled down to the beach, Myrtle Beach, to take on the national four seed, Coastal Carolina. In game one, South Carolina jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then held on for dear life in the later innings, including closer Matt Price working out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the eighth. The next day, in a see-saw battle, trailing 9-7 in the bottom of the eighth, the Gamecocks rallied to get two men on, before freshman Christian Walker, belted a three-run homer to put the Gamecocks ahead for good and a trip to Omaha.

Fast forward to Omaha, the Gamecocks lose a heartbreaking, rain-delay filled game to Oklahoma, 4-3, in the opener (in which they left the bases loaded in both the 8th and 9th innings) and immediately have their backs against the wall. The next game, against the overall number one seed, Arizona State, is an unexpected blowtorching by the Gamecocks, 11-4. Two nights later, Oklahoma and South Carolina go to extra innings and Oklahoma takes the lead in the 12th inning. The Gamecocks are down to their final out, then their final strike, in the person of sophomore center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (their best hitter). With a runner on second, Oklahoma pitches Bradley carefully and gets to a full count before Bradley slaps a single to right to tie the game and two batters later senior Brady Thomas wins the game with a RBI single of his own, scoring Bradley and eliminating the Oklahoma Sooners.

This brings the Gamecocks, to a showdown with their bitter, in-state rivals, the Clemson Tigers. Having to beat them twice, to advance, Gamecocks Head Coach Ray Tanner, turns to a situational lefty Michael Roth. A kid who had not started a game since April of 2009 and is often only used for one or two batters at a time. All Roth does, is throw a complete game, three-hitter to send the Gamecocks into a one game showdown with Clemson.

In 2002, Clemson and South Carolina were in a similar scenario, where South Carolina needed to beat Clemson twice to advance to the College World Series. They did so and Gamecock fans were well aware that history could be repeating itself. Clemson fans tried hard not to think of it. Clemson and South Carolina are separated by about 130 miles and the two programs are rivals and while there is hatred among the fans, there is respect on the field. Throwing junior Sam Dyson on short rest, South Carolina battles in a tie game until squeezing two runs across in the eighth inning to take a 4-2 lead and hold on for a 4-3 win.

The final of the College World Series is a best of three affair. In game one, South Carolina rode the arm of senior right-hander Blake Cooper to a 7-1 win. Offensively, it wasn’t flashy, lots of bunts, bleeders and bloops but it got the job done and put the Gamecocks within one win of their first national title in baseball. Tuesday night, Michael Roth took the mound and kept the Gamecocks in the game early. Yet, they entered the eighth down 1-0 and in typical gamecock fashion this year, got a runner on, moved him up, made contact, got some help from the UCLA defense and tied the game. Then in the 11th inning, following a wild pitch that moved Scott Wingo to second and bunt that moved him to third, Whit Merrifield got the base hit heard round Columbia and delivered only the second ever NCAA title for South Carolina in any sport, and the first in any male sport.

Head Coach Ray Tanner is a veteran baseball man having been at South Carolina for 14 years and previously was at NC State for nine years as a head coach and eight as an assistant. Tanner has been to the College World Series four times with the Gamecocks. This team takes its cue from the headman who is a jokester at times but provides the steady, strong and forceful hand when needed.

Many teams had the flashy players, the big names, the high draft picks, but this was a team in every sense of the word. The team was paced offensively by junior right fielder Whit Merrifield (drafted in the ninth round by Kansas City), sophomore centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and freshman first baseman Christian Walker. Bradley is a five-tool outfielder, who is already being projected to be a first round pick in next year’s draft, and after his coming out party in the College World Series, it’s hard not to see that happening. Freshman left fielder Evan Marzelli provided a late season spark since being inserted into the top of the order at the start of the NCAA Tournament. One of the hallmarks of this club has been its defensive prowess led by senior catcher and catcher Kyle Enders and the double play combo of senior shortstop Bobby Haney (drafted in the 22nd round by San Francisco) and junior second baseman Scott Wingo. For years, Tanner’s clubs were known for waiting on the three-run bomb, but this club catches the ball and is extremely solid on the mound and in the field.

On the mound, the Gamecocks were paced by senior right-hander Blake Cooper (drafted in the 12th round by Arizona) and junior right-hander Sam Dyson (drafted in the 4th round by Toronto). Dyson has the better pure stuff but Cooper knows how to pitch, constantly pounding the inside part of the plate and mixing his off-speed pitches in with a mid-80’s fastball with movement. The Gamecocks bullpen was also extremely important led by relievers: junior Jose Mata; junior John Taylor, a sidearmer; sophomore Michael Roth, a lefty; and freshman closer Matt Price, who shut the door in the late innings.

The Gamecocks changed from their traditional formula of long ball to pitching and defense and as a result have a NCAA Title in their grasp in the last College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. They didn’t just do it for themselves, Tanner, alumni and student body. They did it for Bayler Teal, a seven-year old lifelong Gamecock fan, who had become close with the team, before dying of cancer last Thursday night. The Gamecocks triumph in Omaha was about much more than ending the misery and wait til’ next year mentality that an entire fan base across all sports had grown tired of hearing. It was much simpler than that; they made a little boy’s wish come true even if he never got the chance to see it.

Many heroes emerged on the road to Omaha for the Gamecocks and more came forward while they rolled off six straight wins after starting the Series with their backs against the wall. Baseball is a team sport and there was no greater example of that the 2010 South Carolina Gamecocks, your College World Series Champions.

History In The Making-Darius Rucker

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bond could have good bad guys again

Who said the Cold War ended 20 years ago? According to this New York Times story, there have been at least 10 Russian spies living amongst us Americans in the past decade. They had secret identities, made secret drops and used invisible ink. How sweet is that?

OK, so maybe it's not that sweet as they may have been selling nuclear secrets to our enemies. But this opens up the possibility of James Bond having legitimate bad guys to vanquish, something that has been lacking since the Cold War. By the way, SNL predicted this problem through a Wayne's World sketch back in the early 90s. I can't find it on YouTube, but trust me.

Just look at all the bad guys from the "Goldeneye" to "Quantum of Solace". Goldeneye had a good bad guy because Trevelyan had ties to Soviet Russia. After that they were all crap. From a guy with a bullet in his brain who doesn't feel pain (except when Bond kicked him in the groin on the sub) to a man with a menstruating eye, they all suck! New Bond Daniel Craig needs someone whose ass is worth kicking.

One of the main points people loved about "Casino Royale" was that it was more realistic. I point to the 3-hour poker scene and the final hand as an argument against that statement, but compared to previous Bond movies it did have a more real feel to it. Bond didn't have any crazy gadgets like laser pens or shoe phones like he did in the previous films. Well now there is a real story of Russian spies that can be used as source material.

Maybe it's all a big misunderstanding and the FBI wasted the past five years chasing ghosts, but I sure hope not. Russian spies running around trying to create mischief can help writers piece together at least three Bond movies.

For those of you who think the recent ones are great and don't need Soviet spy bad guys, go watch the poker scene from "Casino Royale" and try telling me they weren't desperate to fill time.

Asia - Heat of the Moment

The Onion gets on board with ripping the Pirates

It was only a matter of time before The Onion started making fun of the Pittsburgh Pirates. All the real media were doing, why wouldn't the jokesters.

You can read the article here.

Fans of real teams might get mad about the mockery, but Pittsburgh fans might actually take it for a fact. Seriously, after some of the players they have signed or traded for in the past few seasons (Aki Iwamura, Matt Morris, Brandon Moss), would it really surprised you if a guy running across the street impressed them?

Pirates fans are so screwed.

Steve Miller Band - Dance, Dance, Dance

Monday, June 28, 2010

Random Baseball Musings

By: RJ
This segment that I will hopefully contribute bi-weekly or perhaps it will exist weekly (and someone can trade off with me) will focus on giving a brief recap on the week that was in baseball. We had confrontations, call-ups, injuries, blowups and more.

BJ Upton, feel free to hustle anytime
It is an unwritten rule to hustle in baseball. Some managers make it one of the written rules. Jogging to first base has sadly become a somewhat accepted practice. However, dogging it in the field is not as the Hanley Ramirez incident showed us. BJ Upton apparently failed to take note of that Sunday, jogging after a ball in the gap, that allowed “speedster” Rusty Ryal to get a triple. (See video here.) Upton was subsequently confronted in the dugout by Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and things got a little intense. Upton was also later picked off by a right-hander in the bottom of the inning. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Upton has shown a lack of hustle on the ball field. Manager Joe Maddon benched Upton several times during their 2008 AL Pennant season. I would say something similar is in order here, but perhaps more needs to be done. Tampa has not been afraid to jettison a problem child (Elijah Dukes) and they also have a youngster in Triple-A, Desmond Jennings, who is ready to be brought up at any time. There is no question Upton is a talent, but at some point the 10-cent head and lack of hustle has to outweigh the talent.

The Boston Injury Bug
As soon as the Red Sox catch the Rays for second and control of the wildcard, the injury bug strikes. Dustin Pedroia was lost for at least several weeks with a broken foot, Victor Martinez has a broken bone on his left thumb and Clay Buchholz came up gimpy running the bases. The Pedroia and Martinez losses could be crippling if they are sidelined for a serious amount of time, as they would leave Boston without their top three hitters from opening day (including Ellsbury) in a lineup that wasn’t really deep to begin with. The Buchholz injury appears less serious but they need him and Josh Beckett healthy because their title hopes are entirely on the pitching now, if they already weren’t.

Matt LaPorta will get at-bats for now
Matt LaPorta was the top prospect Cleveland got back in the CC Sabathia deal with Milwaukee in 2008. Thus far, Cleveland has managed to find ways to not give him at-bats under both Eric Wedge and now Manny Acta. However, after Cleveland was able to some how right a wrong and move Russell Branyan to Seattle for some inexplicable reason (I didn’t realize 13 games out was close), it is believed Cleveland will hand the first base job over to LaPorta to see what he can do. It's about time. Cleveland needs to see what they have in this kid or they will risk having another Andy Marte on their hands.

Texas keeps on rolling
The team that the Mariners are chasing in the American League West (or one of them at least) keeps on rolling. The Texas Rangers are 20-5 in the month of June and have rattled off 13 wins in their last 14 contests. They have garnered little attention for their play (hardly a surprise when ESPN and FOX put the Yankees and Red Sox on TV every chance they get, and failing that it’s the Steven Strasberg show). But what the Rangers are doing is remarkable. They had a manager, Ron Washington, who was under attack in spring training for a positive drug test. The Rangers stuck by him when many thought they wouldn’t. Their current sale process has become a drama with everyone wondering if baseball will allow them to take on salary at the deadline. They switched closers a week into the season and everyone had questions about their pitching. Yes, their offense has been strong (third in runs scored, first in batting average), and the Josh Hamilton-Vladimir Guerrero revival certainly hasn’t hurt them. But their pitching has been remarkable threw the first half of the season, currently placing fourth in ERA at 3.90. 

Now can anyone name their rotation? The standouts thus far have been converted reliever C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis (who came over from Japan after being a failure in the majors prior to that) and Tommy Hunter (who spent the first two months of the year on the DL). And this is coupled with the fact that their big free agent acquisition, Rich Harden, is on the DL (I know, big surprise) and their best pitcher from last year, Scott Feldman has a 5.32 ERA. For years, the Rangers have been a team people liked because of the big offense but were scared off by the pitching. Well, the pitching has finally arrived and is ready to end the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s reign in the AL West.

Is Raul Ibanez’s time as a regular-everyday player finally over?
After Ben Francisco got a rare start yesterday and produced a 3 for 5 day with two doubles, manager Charlie Manuel hinted that he might see more time in left. As a Phillies fan, all I can say is it is about time. Raul Ibanez was great for two months last year, got hurt and then when he returned (too early), was nothing like he was at the start of the year. This year he has been a corpse. He is hitting .241 on the year with five home runs and while he generally can’t hit anything this year, he especially can’t hit left handed pitching (.206 average against lefties). Ben Francisco, meanwhile, is probably good enough to platoon on most teams and up until now has had 78 at-bats, which to me is inexcusable when you factor in Ibanez’s struggles (I could go off about how Manuel doesn’t spot start his bench enough but I won’t). Francisco is a decent hitter with some pop and a bit of speed and should be playing much more than he is. 

At the bare minimum, Ibanez and Francisco should be platooning and it is nice to see Charlie finally opening himself up to that. Now if only we could dump that final year and $10.5 million of Ibanez’s contract, maybe we could afford to keep Jayson Werth around.

Big Z erupts
Carlos Zambrano, he of a bloated body and contract, was suspended this weekend by the Cubs after he exploded in the dugout after he allowed four runs to the White Sox and yelled at first baseman Derrek Lee. (See video here.) He was then sent home by skipper Lou Piniella and preceded to go out to dinner with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s family (who by the way manages the team Zambrano’s current team was facing this weekend). Pretty much inexcusable behavior all the way around from Zambrano. 

Being angry at yourself is one thing but then completely blowing up and getting into a shouting match with Derrek Lee (who by all accounts is one of the really good guys in baseball) makes you look like a jackass. And then on top of it, he goes out to dinner the same night with the “enemy”/opposing team’s manager. Don’t be afraid to show a little remorse for your actions, Carlos. He has been sent to the bullpen where he will likely live out his year for the Cubs before they desperately try to find someone to take that awful contract, so they can start fresh for the Ryne Sandberg era of managing the Chicago Cubs.

Jonathon Broxton….the new Billy Wagner?
And lastly this weekend, Jonathon Broxton got torched for four runs on Sunday night, blowing a 6-2 lead for the Dodgers in ninth inning. It wasn’t a save situation but it was still a bad outing nonetheless, for a closer who always seems to fall apart in a big spot or on the national stage. In the previous two postseasons, Broxton has blown game four of the NLCS to the same team (the Phillies) in different ways. In 2008, he served up a game-winning two run homer to Matt Stairs. In 2009, he was so scared of Stairs that he unintentionally, intentionally walked him, lost his control for a bit and then served up a game-winning two run double to Jimmy Rollins.

Last night, on national television, he walked a few guys, served up some base hits and before you knew it, the Dodgers and Yankees were tied. Broxton reminds me of someone who is retiring at the end of the year, Braves closer Billy Wagner. Billy was, and still is, solid as a closer in low-pressure spots when the lights weren’t bright. Yet, when the times got tough and the pressure was packed, Billy Wagner always came up small.

You can ask Astros, Phillies and Mets fans about how frustrating Billy Wagner is. He served up a gopher ball in a 2005, September game against the Astros that was ultimately the difference between the Astros making the playoffs and the Phillies missing the playoffs. Mets fans will recall the agony he put them through in the 2006 playoffs and how Willie Randolph’s lack of trust in him resulted in Aaron Heilman pitching late in that tie game a. Mark my words, he will blow one key game for Atlanta down the stretch, if not more, and if they should make the postseason, he will add his name to Braves relievers who melted down in the postseason like Mark Wohlers and John Rocker.

Anyway, I regress. Broxton seems to be very similar to Wagner, in that his numbers look good and he racks up the saves in low-pressure spots. However, when the lights get bright and the going gets tough, Broxton gets a blowin’, just like Wagner did and probably still will.

The Rolling Stones - Midnight Rambler

Bad calls, refs stealing too much attention

Maybe it's because I didn't follow the 2006 World Cup as closely, but this year's event seems to have more bad calls than ever before.

I'm not just talking about the multiple USA goals called back because of bad calls. They are happening all the time, it seems. The latest examples were Sunday.

First, England scored what would have been the game-tying goal when the ball hit the crossbar and then clearly landed behind the goal line before taking a second bounce in front of it. The sideline official for the game was not in position for the call, and so play resumed as if you ball was never in. England lost 4-1. I'm not saying England wins if that ball goes in, they played an atrocious second half, but that could have tilted momentum in their favor for the second half.

Second, Argentina's first goal against Mexico should have never happened. Argentina player Carlos Tevez was blatantly offsides, yet no call was made and he had an easy goal. Mexico never recovered and they lost 3-1.

Both of these wrongs could have been righted in seconds if FIFA used replay for plays on the goal line or for offsides. Don't tell me it will slow the game down and that you like the human element. Getting the call right is all that should matter if we have the technology to do so. This is the World Cup. The biggest tournament in sports. FIFA owes it to the teams and fans worldwide to do everything they can to get the calls right. Not just shrug their shoulders and say "Mistakes are part of the game."

Not all plays should be reviewable. With the way soccer players dive, the game may never end as we review every single foul. But goals and offsides, where it takes practically no time to make the right call, should be reviewed. How hard is it to have a fifth official in a booth who can communicate with the head official? They are already doing it now. Have you notice how all four officials have headsets? Well, they're using those to communicate to each other in case someone missed a call that the other saw. Soccer has embraced technology, they are just being stubborn on this front.

In a recent story, FIFA even said they are going to limit what can be displayed on stadiums' screens. This is because Mexico, and the whole stadium, saw that they got screwed over on that first goal and they weren't happy. If that game were in Azteca, there is no way the refs make it out of the half, let alone the game, alive.

Soccer, and sports in general, need to stop being so defensive of their officials. Fans understand that you're going to make the wrong call from time to time. They are just calling for a way to reduce these bad calls. Hell, even baseball has made some compromises when it comes to replay! It's time FIFA makes some too.

Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band - Blinded by the Light

Johan Santana- A PitchFX Odyssey

By Mike

After reading Kelson's great post about Johanna, I was interested in to see how dramatic this drop off in velocity and pitching performance has been. In true geek form, I went back and analyzed his fastball velocity from 2007 to today, as well as analyzing his pitching performance from his last start on June 20, and his start one year preceding that date, June 20, 2009.

This graph indicates that the average velocity on his fastball has declined not only this year, but has been dropping since 2007. Here are his fastball averages over the past 4 years in MPH: 2007-91.8, 2008-91.0, 2009-90.6, 2010-89.4. A 2.4 MPH drop in average velocity is a statistically significant decrease. This year, he's had 4 starts where his average velocity was below 88, and all but 2 of his starts this year had his peak velocity lower than his average velocity from 2007. Yikes.

If I compared a start from 2007 to today, there really wouldn't be anything groundbreaking in that, at least little that could interpreted from the above graph, for our purposes. Instead, I looked at starts from this year and last, about a year apart from each other, since the velocity dropoff between years was greatest between 2009 and 2010. Aside from natural variation in these years, the results were similar, so I'll stick with his most recent start that the pitchFX data is available. Santana's statistics from the games are an irrelevant variable, but for curiosity's sake, here's his lines for both games.

6/20/2010 vs Yankees: 6IP, 8H, 4ER, 1BB, 3K
6/20/2009 vs Rays: 7.1IP, 3H, 2ER, 3BB, 3K

The graph on the top is Johan's pitch release point in 2009, the bottom being 2010. There isn't to much here at face value, except that he moved his release point from about overhead to slightly to the left of his head this year. It may not mean much at all, but I'll explain in my subsequent charts why I hypothesize this may be affecting his pitches.

Here's more graphs, this time for the overall movement for his pitches. Again, 2009 on the top and 2010 on the bottom. He has lost a ton of horizontal break on his pitches this year. Also it looks like he had trouble controlling his slider (red dots), so I further looked into this to see if that is the case. He has cost himself about 1/2 of a run overall this year, his only pitch that has him given up more runs than he has saved this year. The biggest red flag for me is the loss of horizontal movement on his changeup (yellow dots), his best pitch. In years he's pitched well, his change up saves over 20 runs over the season, a crazy amount, including 23.7 in 2008. This year, it's only 5.4. This is really alarming, indicating this is the pitch he's getting clobbered with.

So does his release point have anything to do with this? Fangraphs has PitchFX data through 2007, and this year is the only year where his release point is this far to the left. I do thing this could be be hurting his horizontal break, since he's not releasing pitches as "high" as he could be. Plus there are reports he may be tipping his changeup. Couple that with the fact there's less break on the pitch, making it easier to hit, he's become Johanna. With a xFIP of 4.67, it indicates he's pitching worse than his current statistics indicate. If he doesn't fix things soon, he could be Johanna for quite a while.

Chad Perrone - Wanting More

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When Your Ace Becomes A Joker

By: Kelson Fagan

It’s absolutely inevitable - your superstar (in any sport) hits the point in his career when he will never get any better. He will plateau among the elite of his sport for a few years, based on respect, guile and experience and then his attributes will slowly decay until he retires a mediocre pitcher that used to have an amazing changeup and a incredible fastball to go with it. No matter what sport, this will happen to your favorite star. (Wait, what are you saying, football players don’t throw changeups? Basketball players consider a “fastball” a mixture of cocaine and crack?) Ok you got me, we are talking baseball here and we are talking one baseball player. 

Johan(na) Santana (we are adding an “na” to his name, because he has been throwing like a drunk whore from the Austin season of “The Real World.”)

Johanna has never been amazing since he came to the Mets (which is fine, considering we gave up 4 players for him, only 1 of whom has been mildly successful in the majors - Carlos Gomez), but he was still absolutely exciting to watch. For a kid who grew up watching number one starters for the Mets whose names were “Leiter, Reed, Astacio and Tom Glavine’s Corpse,” Johanna was a real treat. His first year was great - lead the NL in ERA and broke 200 k’s for the 5th consecutive year. 

But numbers are just numbers in retrospect, I remember watching her first year and not being terribly impressed, sure she was a stopper, but I knew she wasn’t the Cy Young award winner we thought we were getting. You can argue that from 2005-2008, she hit his plateau. 200 IP+, 200 K’s,  3.00 ERA on average. Those are fantastic numbers and I’ll take them any day of the week over Pedro Astacio and Mike Hampton. Santana’s final calling card was the gusty game she pitched on the second to last day of the season in 2008, keeping the Mets playoff hopes alive for another day (which were then immediately erased by Tom Glavine’s Corpse). 

Last year, Johanna hit an extended rough patch, corrected herself and then started pitching well again (although her K/9 rate had dropped almost 1.5 points since her days with the Twins by this point). She ended up getting injured (like every other Mets opening day starter from 2009) and ended up on the DL for the rest of the year. 

2010 has arrived and Johanna arrived in all her glory. Pitching well for most of April and May (other than a complete rape and torture vs the Phillies on national TV), she cruised into June with a great ERA but with a K/9 rate hovering around 5.7 (down another 2 points from 2008-2009). Johanna isn’t striking out anybody anymore, she was getting lucky. Her luck has now run out. In the last 4 games, she has allowed at least 4 runs against high slugging teams (including the Adrian Gonzalez’s, the Indians and the “we only have Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, don’t even bother trying to remember any of our career Utility guys.”)

The worst part of this for me is that she has by far been the worst Mets starting pitcher for the month of June (and now this is not a month long problem, she can’t get above 90 on the gun and she can’t spot her change up anymore. I’m pretty sure Artie Lange’s “Beer League” team would rack up 10 runs against her.)

So what do you do when your ace becomes a joker? Here are some helpful hints from yours truly:

1) Tell her she’s pretty - She’s been called the cream of the crop for so long, that maybe she just needs for you to tell her that she’s the best, that she’ll get there again. Just because she’s 31 doesn’t mean she can’t look hot! Sure she’s got cankles that a cow would be jealous of, and yea, she goes all fish like during sex these days. But don’t scold her, just tell her how pretty she is. 

2) Buy her nice things - Don’t worry about the fact that you are already paying her $20 million a year to get repeatedly beaten like a hooker that keeps a little bit too much cash from her pimp. Give her a new car! Buy her a Louis Vitton purse! If she keeps getting lavished with gifts, maybe she will actually get her shit together and, you know, pitch like a number 1 starter that doesn’t get out pitched by RA Dickey (a career minor league knuckleballer). 

3) Do extra chores  - Listen, maybe she’s just tired from working so hard all these years. So, maybe you could make sure you drive her to the ballpark, dress her in her uniform, shine her cleats for her, and sure, a rubdown between every inning is MORE than expected. 

4) Stop Paying Attention To Her - If the above things don’t work, just sit her down on the bench and don’t play with her until she learns what shes done wrong, and that her behavior on the mount is unacceptable. No sunflower seeds, no gum, no crazy handshakes with Jose Reyes. She will learn her lesson real fast when she becomes the outcast of the team. 

5) Kill her - My preference would be to take her out back Old Yeller style, but perhaps a more sensible thing to do is to hire someone to come at your ace like she was Nancy Kerrigan (pre-olympics). If she’s injured, maybe you can void her contract and start from scratch.
It’s the worst thing in baseball when your superstar doesn’t measure up anymore, but we can get through this together, Johanna. You’re still a great teammate, and your goatee trimming is impeccable! This offseason, maybe you, me, Omar Minaya and some other GM could go to Aruba, and you about things. We’ll find you a good home where someone always buys up washed up players.

Then I wake up and remember that that place is the New York Mets. 

The Kooks - Naive

Fredi Deserved Better

By: RJ

Hidden in this week’s big sports week of the United States World Cup triumph and then later heartbreaking disappointment, the NBA Draft and the longest match ever in tennis history, was the Marlins firing of Fredi Gonzalez. To those that have been following the Marlins a bit, this does not come as a shock. Owner Jeffrey Loria seems to have been chopping at the bit to fire Gonzalez as early as last offseason. However, Gonzalez deserved better on multiple fronts.

Gonzalez went 276-279 in about three and a half seasons with a club that had a payroll near the bottom of the league., finishing over .500 the past two seasons, including a second place finish in 2009. Yes, the Marlins were underachieving a bit this season but that was also a result of the teams that compete against them getting better, making improvements or getting healthier. There was plenty of time for Gonzalez to turn the season around if ownership was willing to do so, and giving him some help might not have killed him either.

What is really disappointing, is this comes a month after Gonzalez received wide spread praise around baseball for benching Hanley Ramirez after he didn’t hustle after a ball that he had kicked down the left field line. It could be interpreted that the firing was done to placate Ramirez, which would not send a good message to the Marlins clubhouse. Gonzalez did something that we never see in sports anymore; the authority figure stood up to the multi-million dollar superstar. Too often superstars are coddled and babied but not in this instance and that was with the fact that Gonzalez job was already in jeopardy.

The real person to blame here is Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. He ran Joe Girardi out after one season where he overachieved big time with a Marlins club that was expected to finish dead last in the National League East and won the 2006 NL Manager of the Year Award. Gonzalez was nearly fired in the offseason because Loria felt his club should have made the playoffs despite his refusal to spend a little more on his club as the other teams in the division were doing. The rumors that his job was in jeopardy this off-season seemed to also create the mirage that this should not have come as a shock.

Loria is now reportedly turning to Bobby Valentine, he of the Groucho Marx disguise and near .500 managerial record of 1117-1072 in 15 seasons. Valentine has been to the playoffs two times in his 15 years, so the question is if Loria thinks his team is a playoff team, why hand it over to someone who has failed to get his teams to the playoffs over 80% of the time? Frankly, I think Valentine is an overrated manager and at best, a short term fix for the Marlins, before Loria will tire of his act. The only good that comes from this is that if gets Bobby Valentine off ESPN, because he was nearly as brutal to listen to as Steve Phillips was.

We shouldn't feel too bad for Fredi, though. He will make out quite alright in the long run. He has a tremendous amount of respect around baseball and will certainly resurface this offseason as a managerial candidate and will almost definitely land in a better situation, with a owner who isn’t a jackass. The smart money is on Gonzalez succeeding Bobby Cox in Atlanta, given his ties to that organization as a coach under Cox and in the minor leagues for the Braves prior to his managing the Marlins as well as the fact that he still resides near the Atlanta area.

The bottom line is the Marlins did the rest of baseball a favor by firing a solid, young manager, and Gonzalez will certainly make the Marlins and more specifically, Loria, pay for their mistake.

Georgia On My Mind-Ray Charles

Friday, June 25, 2010

NBA Draft Week: Winners and Losers

By: RJ

Now that the NBA Draft has passed, and the LeBron, D Wade and Chris Bosh free agent party is about to begin, lets examine who I think were winners and losers during the NBA Draft week. On the bizarre front, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard had a solid draft after being relieved on his duties effective after the draft. If Portland didn’t fire him, they would have been on the winner list. Overall, it was a night full of boredom until the trades began to roll in towards the middle of the first round. Then, teams decided to reach on big men in the second round because everyone else was doing.  

Anyways, the winners on the night were:

Cap room, cap room, cap room. Moving Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards, gets the Bulls far enough under the cap for two max deals. So for now they are winners, if the room fails to net them James and/or Bosh, then they have likely failed.

Cap room, cap room, cap room. Miami has nearly $45 million in cap room for Wade and potentially 2 more max deals.  The Heat wound up with three second-rounders; the most notable picks being Jarvis Varnado (the all-time NCAA shot blocker) and Da’Sean Butler (who if he can rehab his knee from that brutal Final Four injury will be a steal). It seems as though Wade re-signing is a formality, how they use the rest of their cap room will determine if they were winners tonight.

The Bucks who were the surprise team in the playoff party this year, have added some nice pieces to a solid nucleus of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. They picked up Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts for basically nothing, and those two should make up for the likely loss of John Salmons and bring much needed scoring on the perimeter.  I also loved the pick of Larry Sanders at 15 as they needed a defensive-minded, big body down low to play with Bogut. Tiny Gallon in the second round could be similar to “Big Baby” Davis and a solid rotation player. These additions should help Milwaukee return to the playoffs for the second straight year, despite the current uncertainty regarding the balance of power in the East.

San Antonio
Initially appeared like they needed some size, but word came out this week that 2007 first round pick Tiago Splitter is coming over from Europe, which should help ease the load on Tim Duncan. One of the best scorers in the draft fell to them in James Anderson.  Gives them tremendous backcourt depth with Tony Parker, Many Ginobili, George Hill and Anderson. I fully expect San Antonio to be better than they were this year and Anderson will be a piece that helps them not miss a bit if someone is out (Parker and Ginobili are usually good to miss 15 games apiece.)

New Orleans
Loved their deal for two back half first-rounders from Oklahoma City to add depth. Moving Cole Aldrich at 11 and Morris Peterson’s contract to get out of luxury tax was solid and getting two guys who can help off the bench was even better. Craig Brackins is a solid backup power forward who can effectively spell David West and Quincy Pondexter will be a nice running mate for Chris Paul and Darrin Collison. These additions help fortify a suspect bench (minus Collison) and will help New Orleans return to the playoffs under first-year head coach Monty Williams.

And the losers on this night were:

New Jersey
They are here because they lost the draft lottery even though they had the worst record in the NBA, and that because of the teams with cap room adding additional cap space, they are even less likely to get a free agent better than David Lee. Favors was not a bad pick but is a bit of a project, and will need time and patience, two things I am not sure new owner Mikhail Prokhorov has. Trading picks 27 and 31 for Damion James (a player I like) doesn’t seem smart for a team that needs a lot of help and not another non-shooter.

Oklahoma City
I have been a big fan of how Sam Presti has built this club around Kevin Durant, letting the pieces grow and mature with him, making it tough for him to leave as a free agent in a few years when the team should be at the top of the West. However, I was not a fan of the deal with New Orleans mainly because I think there were bigs available with more upside (Larry Sanders, Ed Davis) than Cole Aldrich, who was not worth giving up two picks for. They appeared to pick up a future first rounder from the Clippers, which was a nice move. Morris Peterson and Daequan Cook give Durant and Russell Westbrook more shooters to find but who is going to take the pressure off them in the paint?

New York
How does a team without a first round pick make the list? Well, when Miami and Chicago are creating cap space to skip past New York as the destination of choice for the Free Agent class of 2010, blowing their plan sky high, that’s how.  Miami is likely to retain Wade; Chicago has Rose, Deng and Noah, and what does New York have again? Spike Lee and Donald Trump don’t cut it on the court. They had two second-round choices and neither were particularly inspiring, although in the D’Antoni seven seconds or less system, Andy Rautins might be effective.

Yes, they got John Wall, but their other moves were puzzling. Frenchman Kevin Seraphin is a bit of an overseas project and is not ready to come over to the states. Adding Hinrich’s contract to a crowded backcourt with Wall, Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye and Nick Young makes no sense and was a heavy price to pay for the Chicago pick. And trading a high second and the last pick of the first round for the rights to Trevor Booker was very questionable, considering most believed he was a mid-second rounder.

I wanted David Kahn to be on this list and he didn’t disappoint me with his draft. Minnesota acquired three small forwards in Wes Johnson, Lazar Heyward and Martell Webster (in a trade from Portland). What is the obsession with loading up on a position? He did it last year with point guards and he did it again, as I correct stated in the mock draft, that he would. He turned the second round over to his foreign experts so only time will tell on those, maybe they will beat Ricky Rubio over to the States.

For those scoring at home, we went 9 out of 30 on the mock for a 30% score; in baseball that puts you in Hall of Fame; in academia, you get kicked out. You be the judge.

Even Flow-Pearl Jam

World Cup group play recap, round of 16 preview

By Joe

What we learned so far…

1. South America brought their A-game. All five teams from the continent have made it through the group stage (assuming Chile survives today’s match). That’s insane. I think they should get five guaranteed spots for the next World Cup in Brazil 2014.

2. Africa…not so much. Ghana is the only African nation to make it out of the groups. Huge disappointment for the teams that got to play on their home continent. What happened? Too much pressure? Insufficient talent?

3. Traditional powers France and Italy bow out early…I don’t know about you all but I’m glad to see some new teams in the final 16. I told you Italy looked old, and that France didn’t deserve to be there…France makes me look like a genius.

4. ESPN’s coverage has been absolutely tremendous. There are a lot of things I cannot stand about the WWL, but they’ve been all over this tournament. Knowledgeable analysts, thorough recaps/previews. If you see any weaknesses in the coverage, share them below.

5. This is the greatest sporting event in the world…America is finally catching on.

What can we expect?
We’ve moved to a 16-team bracket style tournament. It’s so rigid, so easy to follow. No more ties, or “draws” has Ian Darke and the rest of those awesome British commentators call them. Win or go home…or have a shoot out with penalty kicks.

June 26, 10:00 am on ESPN
Uruguay vs. South Korea

Diego Forlan plays his club football in Madrid, Spain. Not Real Madrid…their suburban neighbors Atletico Madrid. He led them to a Euro League title this season, but apparently has plenty still left in the tank for this WC run. Ladies, if you’re craving some serious abdominals, do yourself a favor and Google image search for Diego. You’re welcome. He had two goals in Group A. It’s a toss-up between Uruguay and The Good Korea…I have to give the slightest of edges to the Uruguayans. The winner plays the winner of our next match…

June 26, 2:30 pm on ABC
United States vs. Ghana

I had a friend ask; “Are people mad that he’s on the team? He’s the coach’s son!” True, Michael Bradley is Bob Bradley’s son, but he’d still be on the team if Maradona was the US skipper. His work-rate is high, he wins balls in the midfield, and he’s getting better ever day. Oh, and he’s 22 years old. What were you doing when you were 22? Trying to get that freshman to sleep with you because you were her connection for getting alcohol…I digress.

US won their group for the first time since 1930. You’re probably thinking, ‘Joe, why is that important?’ Well, dear reader, winning the group keeps the Yanks away from Germany and eventually Argentina (more on that match up later). Landon Donovan and friends will be looking for revenge against the Black Stars after the 2006 WC loss in the group stage, which eliminated the US from the WC. The goal was to make it out of the group. I hope they aren’t content, because they look like they could make a run to the semis this year. I like the Yanks to stay hot, beat Ghana 2-1.

June 27, 10:00 pm on ESPN
Germany vs. England

England stubbed their toe in the group stage and finished second to the US. Their reward punishment is a match with old foe Germany, the Group D winners. (Sidenote: I cringe anytime a broadcaster (cough, Bob Ley, cough) says something like “The Champions of Group C, the United States”. The champions?? Really? You haven’t won anything by placing first in the group. The goal of group play is just to survive and move on. Let’s stick with “winners” and leave the “champion” titles for after the trophy presentation).

Germany is battling an injury bug, and England is battling, well, themselves. John Terry thinks he’s still the captain. He is constantly butting heads with manager Fabio Capello, and was forced to apologize for comments he made in a press conference. I’m betting the Germans rally to knock out the real-life soap opera that is the Three Lions. Wayne Rooney will not score, again.

June 27, 2:30 pm on ABC
Argentina vs. Mexico

Lionel Messi in the house. Argentina waltzed through Group B. Mexico survived Group A thanks to Uruguay beating the host nation 3-0. Argentina is the favorite but I think El Tri is ready to pull off the upset. If Mexico can bunker down, and get one goal…they could shock the soccer world. If it goes to penalties, I give Argentina a huge advantage. Should CONCACAF have two teams reach the quarterfinals, it would be considered a giant success. Then again, I might just be “crazily optimistic.” Argentina could go America all over Mexico’s ass and win like 4-0. DVR this match if you’re busy. Make time to watch it. Invite a friend who isn’t in love with the game yet.

That’s all for now, I’m headed to Lake Erie for the weekend. Enjoy this weekend’s match ups.

The Rolling Stones - Shattered

10 most intriguing Pirates pitching prospects

By Mike

After watching the abomination that is the Pirates pitching staff for the first half of the season, it’s obvious they are in dire need for some help. With nobody in the rotation now that has a ceiling above a #4 in Paul Maholm, and the only pitcher with any sort of potential got absolutely shelled this year in Charlie Morton, there is no help in AAA to speak of. However, from AA Altoona and below, there are plenty of intriguing prospects with potential high ceilings and/or are just pitching lights out. My goal here is not to give you the top 10 prospects per se, but 10 guys I’m most excited about. Since I haven’t seen more than 2 or 3 of these guys pitch, and that mostly came from YouTube videos, it’s tough for me to put a firm ranking on them. I can put together a top 10 list if there’s enough interest after this post, but that wouldn’t be until after the signing period ends for this year’s draft, (Spoiler alert!) as I would have the top 2 picks this year, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, heads and heels above anybody else in the system.

1) Bryan Morris, 23, RHP – Fastball (92-95), Curveball, Changeup – AA Altoona
4-2 39.2 3.72 3.62 1.29 8.17 (AA)
3-0 46.1 0.60 2.24 0.95 7.77 (A+)

Morris was acquired in the Dodgers-Red Sox-Pirates trade involving Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez. He was a former first round pick by LA in 2006, had Tommy John surgery in 2007 that had him miss the whole season, and didn’t really have great results in the minors after that. This year, all he’s done so far is dominate, save for one start recently in Altoona. At the time of his call up from high A, he had the lowest ERA in any level of professional baseball. K/9 and FIP (fielding independent pitching) are usually pretty reliable for projecting performance at higher levels. The high K/9 and low FIP project great for Morris, and there’s a great chance he could contribute to the Pirates some time during next season. He’s probably the Pirates top pitching prospect in the system.

2) Rudy Owens, 22, LHP – Changeup, Fastball (88-93), Curveball – AA Altoona
6-3 86.1 2.80 3.47 0.94 6.57

Here’s probably the biggest surprise out of not only the Pirates pitchers, but also one of the biggest surprises in the minors the last 2 years. After only being a 28th round pick in 2006, he was 10-1 with an ERA under 1 in A ball last year. This year, he’s been fantastic as well. He’s supposedly improved his already plus changeup and the curveball is becoming a useful pitch for him. The fastball sits closer to the high 80s though, and he just isn’t striking enough batters out to be a projectable high-end starting pitcher, but he doesn’t put anybody on base. He’s still young enough at his level that the low strikeout numbers isn’t a red flag yet, and could have an outside chance of pitching in Pittsburgh as a September call up next year

3) Jeff Locke, 22, LHP – Fastball (90-94), Curveball, working on Changeup – A+ Bradenton
6-3 72.1 3.58 3.16 1.08 8.46

Locke came over in the Nate McLouth trade and he’s another pitcher that screams upside, not unlike Morris. He didn’t have outstanding numbers through 2009, but some huge K/9 of over 10 in A ball made him promising, and it looks like he’s putting the pieces together now. He’s really keeping hitters off-balance now, thanks to his serviceable changeup he added over the off season. He’s only walked 11 batters through 14 games; I’m looking to see how far he’ll jump up the Pirates top prospects list after the season. He isn’t all that far behind Morris in terms of talent and ceiling.

4) Nathan Adcock, 22, RHP – Curveball, Fastball (88-92), Changeup – A+ Bradenton
7-2 77.2 2.90 3.46 1.11 8.12

Here’s another Huntington trade pickup, this time coming over in the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade with Seattle. Adcock is another pitcher simply mowing down high A batters. He was forced by the organization to learn how to throw his fastball for strikes when he came over, which kept his stats rather ordinary in 2009. However, he’s using the fastball well this year to better set up his curveball, his strikeout pitch. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in Altoona where he will meet more disciplined and better curveball/breaking ball hitters.

5) Zack von Rosenberg, 19, RHP – Fastball (88-91), Curveball, Changeup – A- State College
0-2 8 6.75 4.93 1.75 3.24

Here’s a very intriguing player to watch. He was drafted in the 6th round in 2009, but there are many people who feel he isn’t far behind 1st round pick Tony Sanchez. A signing bonus of $1.2 million (1st round money) kept him from keeping his LSU commitment. He’s 6-4, 200 lbs, and the Pirates feel that he will fill out, and add a few MPH to his fastball. He’s one I’ll be watching closely.

6) Colton Cain, 19, LHP – Fastball (90-93), Curveball – Gulf Coast League Pirates (Rookie Ball)
0-0 4 0.00 2.43 0.25 4.50

Cain’s situation was very similar to von Rosenberg. Cain was drafted in the 8th round last year, but dropped because he had committed to pitch at Texas. A signing bonus for over $1 million helped change his mind. He’s already a big kid, listed at 6-3, 225 but he’s highly projectable as well coming straight from high school. He just made his first start this week after off-season back surgery and this is certainly the type of stuff the Pirates are expecting out of him.

7) Tim Alderson, 21, RHP – Curveball, Changeup, Fastball (83-87) – AA Altoona
6-3 79.2 4.50 4.37 1.41 5.20

Alderson came over in the Freddy Sanchez to San Francisco deal last year. There are a ton of red flags here because his velocity has dropped 5-7 MPH over the past year. The Pirates are confident that his velocity will come back as he matures and re-works his delivery. He is starting to pitch well in the past month, with a FIP of 3.27. At 21, he’s still young for AA, so there is still time for him work through these problems.

8) Quinton Miller, 20 RHP – Fastball (90-93), Slider, Changeup – A West Virginia
1-0 6 1.50 3.19 1.00 4.50

Miller is another pitcher in the von Rosenberg/Cain mold. He was drafted a year before them in the 2008 draft, but in the 20th round because he made a strong commitment to pitch at UNC. He ended up signing for $900,000 (which ended up pissing of a ton of people in MLB for paying way out of slot, so late in the draft) He’s just starting as well, but he is intriguing because of the late draft money committed.

9) Justin Wilson, 22, LHP – Fastball (88-93), Curveball, Slider – AA Altoona
5-4 72 2.99 3.12 1.18 8.00

The knock on Wilson since his time at Fresno State has been the inability to control his fastball because of some hard late movement. The fact that he’s striking out a ton of people and keeping his WHIP low indicates he might be overcoming this problem. With more disciplined hitters in AA, I feared that he’d get rocked, but that hasn't been the case so far. He may still have a ceiling of a 3rd starter, but this season has me feeling much more optimistic than the beginning of the season.

10) Jared Hughes, 24, RHP – Fastball (89-92), Slider – AA Altoona
10-3 82.1 3.83 3.29 1.29 6.37

Hughes picked a good time to finally live up to expectations, as this may have been his last year before he got pushed out by other prospects. He was a 4th round pick in 2006 out of Long Beach State. College pitchers from major programs are expected to fly through minor league systems, but Hughes didn’t do anything until this year. He’s a tad old for AA, but it’s tough to ignore these numbers, although the low K/9 worries me. If it weren’t for the great season he’s having, I would’ve put a Trent Stevenson or a Hunter Strickland here, who are similar to Cain and von Rosenberg.

(Note – I don’t consider this next guy a great prospect, but he is an interesting case to look at, so think of him as an honorable mention)
10B) Daniel Moskos, 24, LHP – Slider, Fastball (88-93), Curveball, Changeup – AA Altoona
2-1 32.2 1.45 2.40 0.97 8.54

Here’s a bonus pitcher because he was promoted to AAA Indy last night. Relievers don’t excite me nearly as much as a starter, but he has performed well in Altoona and earned this promotion. He supposedly has a wipeout slider that is just devastating, but I’ve read a few articles contradicting this. The lack of a good slider was a big reason why he was a reliever with Clemson. He could become a nice bullpen piece, and could even be a September call up this year.

I hope this gives you an idea of what’s in the system, and that there hasn’t been this much talent on the farm in years, even if there are no aces in this bunch. If you have a question on any of the guys mentioned of any of the other guys you can think of, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it.

Them Crooked Vultures – New Fang