Wednesday, June 30, 2010
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 know...talk 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
Friday, June 25, 2010
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
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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)
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
W-L IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9
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
Thursday, June 24, 2010
People who don't follow tennis, a match going 70-68 in a set and lasting 11 hours is beyond ridiculous. It's a struggle to even find an accurate analogy to another sport. Imagine a college football game going into 20 overtimes. Or a baseball game going at least 100 innings. That's basically what these two athletes did over the past three days.
I won't recite all of the stats, but both players had more than 100 aces. Most Grand Slam champions will not have that many aces in a tournament. Granted, Wimbledon is on grass and results in more aces than any other surface. But it's still an absurd number of aces. Andy Roddick would have had more than 200, but we're digressing.
One of the big winners of this match was neither Isner or Mahut (obviously, seeing that he lost), but was Thiemo De Bakker. That's the man Isner plays in his second round match. De Bakker has been resting and patiently awaiting his for an opponent since Tuesday. It would be stunning if Isner wins that match. The effort and emotion put into winning such a close contest really drains a tennis player. Multiply that by drainage by 15, because that final set was about 15 times longer than the average tennis set. Hell, it was about four times longer than most tennis matches!
Jim Caple of ESPN's Page 2 took an interesting spin on the match by observing multiple sporting events that took place during the match. You can read it here.
Jackson Browne - Running on Empty