Baseball BeatApril 30, 2006
Jered Weaver: Good to Go
By Rich Lederer

Speaking of measuring strikeouts per 100 pitches, Jered Weaver is averaging 8.24 K/100P through his first five games at Triple-A Salt Lake City.

Weaver pitched six innings in a game suspended yesterday and resumed today. He actually relieved starter Dustin Moseley, who went just one inning. The tall right-hander faced 23 batters. He threw 90 pitches: 64 strikes and 26 balls. Of the 18 outs, 12 were retired via strikes, two on the ground, and four by air.

Here is Weaver's 2006 game log, complete with batters faced (BF), number of pitches (PIT), strikes (ST), balls (BA), groundouts (G), and flyouts (F).

            IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   BF   PIT   ST   BA   G   F
4/08 @ TUC   7   2   1    1    0    8   24    83   62   21   5   8
4/13 @ LV    5   9   4    4    0    6   23    91   63   28   1   7
4/19 vs TUC  6   5   0    0    2    6   25   102   64   38   3   8
4/24 @ POR   5   7   5    5    2    6   23    95   58   37   2   7
4/30 @ TAC   6   4   2    1    1   12   23    90   64   26   2   4
TOTALS      29  27  12   11    5   38  118   461  311  150  13  34 

In addition to Weaver's outstanding K/100P, he has K'd 12.7 per nine IP and whiffed 32.2% of the batters faced. The Angels' #1 draft pick in 2004 also has a 7.6 K/BB ratio. The only bone of contention is his low G/F ratio of 0.38. Jered has given up four HR but it's important to note that he's pitched three of his five games in hitter-friendly ballparks. According to the indispensable Baseball Prospectus 2006, Tucson has a park factor of 1099 (or 9.9% above average), Las Vegas 1076, Salt Lake City 1085, Portland 944, and Tacoma 917 for 2003-2005.

I suspect that Weaver is ready to make his major league debut. With Bartolo Colon on the DL and Kelvim Escobar nursing a blood blister, his opportunity may come sooner rather than later. I can't wait.

Baseball BeatApril 30, 2006
New Sidebar Features
By Rich Lederer

Effective today, we have begun to list the league leaders in the four QUAD categories and the top three in strikeouts per 100 pitches at the bottom of our sidebar. These stats will be updated every Sunday morning (through games of the day before).

As a reminder, the QUAD encompasses the four most important offensive categories: on-base percentage (OBP), slugging average (SLG), times on base (TOB), and total bases (TB). The first two measures are rate stats and the latter two are counting stats. Players who lead their respective leagues in both rate and counting stats--such as Albert Pujols--are clearly the most productive hitters in the game.

Pujols is leading the NL in SLG (.925), TOB (52), and TB (74). Jason Giambi sits atop the AL in OBP (.557) and SLG (.828). The 2005 NL MVP led the league in TOB last year, while placing second in OBP, SLG, and TB. The 2000 AL MVP led his league in OBP last season, while finishing eighth in SLG. (See the 2005 top ten leaders in all four categories for both leagues here.)

The strikeouts per 100 pitches (K/100P) stat is more highly correlated to run prevention than strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) or strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF). It measures pitching proficiency as well as any stat using just one variable in the numerator and one variable (such as innings, batters faced, or pitches) in the denominator.

Ben Sheets is showing just how valuable he is to the Milwaukee Brewers, leading the majors in K/100P with 8.77. Johan Santana led MLB in 2005 with 7.14 (among those with 162 or more IP). Activated from the DL on April 16, Sheets has started three games, throwing 18 innings while striking out 25 batters against just one walk. His 1-2 W-L record and 4.00 ERA do not reflect how well he has pitched in the early going.

Cory Lidle is probably the biggest surprise among the league leaders. The Philadelphia right-hander has whiffed 33 batters in 30 2/3 IP and is averaging 7.48 K/100P. He has the lowest number of pitches per plate appearance (3.47) and pitches per inning (14.4) among the strikeout leaders, primarily owing to the fact that he has only walked three batters thus far. Lidle is first in K/BB at 11.00. The only stat failing him is batting average on balls in play (.344). If Cory continues to pitch as well as he has in his first five starts, look for his BABIP to regress toward the league average--usually around .300--and his ERA (4.40) to decline accordingly.

Seeing J.J. Putz leading the AL might also open up some eyes. The Seattle relief pitcher has struck out 21 batters in 14 innings and is averaging 8.57 K/100P. Other than 2001 when pitching for San Antonio in Double-A, Putz has never had 7 Ks per 9 IP in his minor or major league career. J.J.'s groundball-to-flyball ratio (G/F) of 2.38 is also intriguing. Keep an eye on the 29-year-old Mariner as a pitcher who may be on the verge of a breakout season.

Be sure to check back on Sundays for ongoing updates throughout the season.

WTNYApril 28, 2006
True Colors
By Bryan Smith

Apologists will blame Elijah Dukes. Or the Devil Rays front office. Or a bad call by a replacement ump. But simply put, there is no excuse. Delmon Young's gaffe on Wednesday was as embarrassing, immature and irresponsible an action as a twenty year old can produce.

For those unaware, following a strikeout against Jon Lester in Pawtucket on Wednesday, Delmon Young argued strikes and balls with the umpire. This was no surprising act for a phenom suspended a year ago for bumping an umpire in a similar situation. After jawing and standing in the batter's box for too long following his strikeout, the umpire justifiably ejected Young. Delmon, then walking towards the Durham Bulls' bench, threw his bat, hitting the ump across the chest. Video is at

Young is now suspended indefinitely, deserving of a ten-game suspension. The move highlights the belief that Young's largest weakness as a prospect, and he doesn't have many, is a lack of maturity. And without question, this is a problem more important than numbers-crunchers will believe. Young will enter 2007 with high expectations, a blue-chip prospect starting in the Majors at the age of 21. A lack of poise could certainly lead to a bad year.

Prior to his outburst, Young was in the midst of an odd season. Lauded for his power projectability, Delmon has now played 21 games without a home run. In fact, the former top overall draft pick has just four extra-base hits and a .392 slugging percentage through 79 at-bats. Instead, he's showing the skillset of a leadoff hitter, showing great contact skills -- a .329 average and low 13.9 K% -- and good baserunning (12/13 SB).

Currently, the Devil Rays are receiving a line of .240/.293/.480 from right field. Now, a team already patient with their prospects will (in all likelihood) push back the timetable for their best youngster. Not only has Young delayed the date of his first home run in 2006, but he has also delayed his debut in Tampa.

From a talent standpoint, Delmon Young isn't far from being Major League ready. However, Delmon has now made it all-too-obvious that from a maturity standpoint, he isn't close.

Other notes from around the minor leagues...

  • With a week of play under his belt, there is no better time than now to begin analyzing another former top choice, Justin Upton. Upton's raw statistics are good, he's 9/26 with three steals, three doubles, four walks and five strikeouts. His line reads: .346/.433/.462. From these numbers alone, we can understand that Upton has fantastic speed, good patience, moderate power and contact skills that need improving.

    But there is more to be read into. Since starting his season 1-for-9, Upton has caught fire, eight for his last seventeen. He's relatively untested in center, with no assists or errors as of yet. His baserunning has been sound, although Justin's last attempt was a caught stealing. To me, what most speaks volumes about his play is this: there have been 21 balls that Upton has put into play this year. Given the game logs at, we know that in these 21 instances, Upton has pulled 10 balls, gone with 8 the opposite way, and hit three to center.

    Speed, patience, developing power, and a balanced approach at the plate. Justin Upton has just begun.

  • Staying in the Midwest League, another hot 2005 draftee is the Cardinals' first round pick Colby Rasmus. After seven games, Rasmus had collected just two hits and was batting .071/.188/.071. Since then, the product of Alabama has caught fire , collecting 25 hits in his last 64 at-bats. His line, during that time, is .391/.426/.625.

    My first minor league game of the season was last night, catching the majority of a 15-inning game in which Rasmus hit his third home run, a right field shot off Kyle Waldrop. Rasmus impressed me a great deal, showing a patient approach at the plate which later yielded a walk. Colby was great running the bases, stealing second after each of his two singles.

    In the one game in which I have seen from Rasmus thus far, my guess is that he is a fastball hitter. Two of his three hits, including the home run, were off heaters. His lone strikeout, a horrible swing at a slow, Yohan Pino curveball. If Rasmus can better stay back on slow stuff, the patient, powerful teenager has a fantastic ceiling.

  • In addition to Rasmus, the game I attended last night pitted two former first-round pitchers against each other: Kyle Waldrop (Twins) and Mark McCormick (Cardinals).

    Waldrop, 20, was a first round pick by the Twins in 2004 from a Tennessee high school. All the praise surrounding Waldrop centered upon his polish, including the best change-up of his senior class. In 2004, Waldrop wasn't great in 27 Beloit starts, with a 4.98 ERA, 182 hits and 17 home runs in 151.2 innings. Kyle struck out just 108 batters, while walking only 23.

    Last night was nothing out of the ordinary for Waldrop. In 4.1 innings, Kyle allowed 8 hits, including the home run to Rasmus. He struck out four batters, mostly on his great change, walking none. Waldrop offers an unimpressive fastball, with decent sink, good control, and very little velocity. His curve is inconsistent, poor in many ways, and the result of an inconsistent delivery. I don't see future success for Waldrop, but stranger things have happened.

    McCormick, on the other hand, comes with a far more decorated history. Baylor's Friday Night pitcher in 2005, McCormick had a 2.96 ERA in the Big 12, and was drafted 43rd overall because of a fantastic fastball. He dropped that late because of poor control, at Baylor, McCormick had walked 152 batters in 223 innings. Entering his Thursday start, McCormick's Midwest League career had started with three inconsistent starts: 16 strikeouts, 13 walks, 9 hits allowed in 13.2 innings.

    And like Waldrop, McCormick's performance was no great surprise. The right-hander didn't allow any runs and just two hits in 6 innings; he overmatched the Beloit Snappers. His fastball was fantastic -- easily above 95 -- but an odd hitch in his delivery seemed to promote a lack of control. His curve was also inconsistent, but when he snapped it, it helped in a few of his six strikeouts.

    I think McCormick could have a future in the Bigs; his fastball was as good as I've seen in the minors in awhile. But, if he does, it will in all likelihood come in a relief role, and following a great deal of time spent with a pitching coach.

  • While McCormick's six shutout innings were a personal best, his start was hardly the best of a great Thursday for high-level pitching prospects. Homer Bailey, a breakout prospect of mine (and one that I figured would end the year in my top 20), lowered his ERA by 0.95 points with six shutout innings of his own.

    In his six innings, Bailey did not allow a single hit, his only baserunners the result of two walks. His dominance was also evident in the strikeouts column, where Homer whiffed nine in his six innings of work. Suddenly, Homer's stats for the year look more impressive: in 26.1 innings, the Cincy phenom has allowed 18 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 29.

    But even six hitless innings couldn't make for the best start of the day. Instead, we turn our heads to AAA, where former first rounder Cole Hamels was making his debut at the level. Following four successful starts in the Florida State League, Hamels was promoted to the International League, skipping AA. In his debut, Hamels may have his best start of his 33-start minor league career.

    Playing against blue-chip prospect Lastings Milledge and the Norfolk Tides, Hamels allowed three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings. Hamels dominance, founded upon three great pitches, produced 14 strikeouts. When healthy, and acting mature, Hamels is one of the game's top five (or so) pitching prospects. Along with Gio Gonzalez (1.48 ERA through 4 AA starts), the Phillies have one of the best pitching prospect tandems in the Major Leagues.

    And, without question, it's much needed. The current Philadelphia staff offers Brett Myers, a stud and significant part of the Phillies long-term plans. After that, the group worsens. The other four pitchers -- Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson -- have not fared so well, allowing 80 runs in 92.1 innings, good for an obscene 7.80 ERA.

    Less than a month into the season, the fog is beginning to clear in Philadelphia. The verdict: Cole Hamels and Gio Gonzalez belong, where Cory Lidle and Gavin Floyd do not.

  • Designated HitterApril 27, 2006
    The Rise and Fall of Artificial Turf
    By Mark Armour

    Remember the time, not long ago, when we feared that baseball would be overrun with artificial turf? The phenomenon started indoors, somewhat forgivably, but by the 1970s every new park had to have fake turf, and even some of old fields were ripping up God's green grass and putting down the industrial stuff. Better living through chemistry.

    After a few years no one would admit to actually liking it, but its adoption continued for a few years more, largely in deference to King Football. At some point a light went on, and baseball operators decided that whatever drove them to the carpets in the first place could no longer justify the discontent of their fans and players. Whereas nearly 40% of major league games were played on artificial turf over a period of nearly two decades, 90% of all 2005 contests took place on natural grass.

    Although few people weep over the demise of artificial surfaces, the game played on these fields was spectacular. The baseball of the 1970s and 1980s, whatever one might think of the uniforms, or the hairstyles, or the color of the "grass," offered a wonderful balance of offense and defense, provided a fascinating variety of ball park experiences (home run parks, doubles parks, speed parks, pitchers parks), and gave us a dynamic group of stars, many of whom were defined by the places in which they starred - often as not, stadiums without a blade of natural grass.

    It all started in Houston, Texas. The Astrodome served as the home of the Houston Astros for thirty-five seasons, and also housed the Oilers football team, college football and basketball, and the assorted auto convention, rodeo and tractor pull. The facility re-entered the news in September 2005 by serving as temporary housing for thousands of evacuees from New Orleans, victims of Hurricane Katrina. But the building's principal sports legacy rests with two claims-to-fame: it was the first domed stadium, and the first professional facility to use an artificial playing surface.

    The Houston club was awarded a National League franchise in 1960, and originally hoped to have its dome in place before their first game in 1962. Legal issues delayed the start of the project, which led to the construction of a temporary 32,000 seat stadium on adjacent land. In fact, the two stadiums were constructed simultaneously in sight of each other. The original Houston team was called the Colt 45s, and its temporary edifice was Colt Stadium, famous for its unbearable heat and giant mosquitoes. Few mourned the park's demise after the 1964 season.

    The opening of the Harris County Domed Stadium in 1965 was a much anticipated event, as commentators wondered whether it was possible or practical to play baseball indoors. Judge Roy Hofheinz, the team's principal owner and the longtime champion of the dome, changed the team's name to the Astros, and its new facility to the Astrodome, both monikers in celebration of the city's role as the center of the thriving space industry of the 1960s.

    Branch Rickey observed, "The day the doors open on this park, every other park in the world will become antiquated." On opening day twenty-four actual astronauts threw out twenty-four first balls. A 475-foot wide scoreboard displayed an elaborate light show after each Astro home run or victory, including two "cowboys" shooting guns whose bullets ricocheted around the scoreboard, leading to a series of loud explosions. The Astrodome showed American "progress" at its finest. The facility, without a single beam obstructing the view of a single seat, was soon called the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

    The field was natural grass, carefully tested to hold up under the building's roof, which was made up of over 4000 lucite panels to let in nature's sun. Unfortunately, the panels caused so much glare during practices in the spring that players had trouble catching pop flies. The solution was to paint the outside of the dome off-white, which caused the grass to die. The Astros played the last few weeks of the 1965 season on spray-painted dirt.

    Hofheinz contacted Monsanto, a company that had installed "Chemgrass" in 1964 at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, and got the firm to put its product in the Astrodome. Monsanto installed the turf in the infield in time for the Astros' April 18, 1966 opener, and the outfield was converted by their July 19 contest. The first man to bat on the fake grass was Dodger shortstop Maury Wills, who singled up the middle off Turk Farrell. The players accepted the surface pretty quickly, perhaps partly because the field it was replacing in Houston was filled with holes and ruts. Monsanto changed the name of its product to "Astroturf," a name often used for the next two decades to describe all artificial surfaces, though there were other competing technologies and brands.

    Throughout the late 1960s, many journalists were predicting - and advocating - the installation of synthetic surfaces on all grass playing fields. The Sporting News, the erstwhile Bible of Baseball but accelerating rapidly downhill towards football primacy, favored the surfaces at least for football or multi-purpose fields. Football was a major impetus for the spread of artificial surfaces, as many of the new stadiums being built in this era were multi-purpose. Baseball didn't really have a lot of pull - for the most part, the reason municipalities agreed to build new stadiums was because of football, which was booming in popularity.

    The University of Houston played its home football games in the Astrodome in 1966, and many college football facilities were converted by the end of the 1960s. In 1967, Astroturf was installed at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, which hosted a pro football team, the Seattle Rangers, in the Continental League. The AFL Oilers moved over from Rice University in 1968. The Philadelphia Eagles became the first NFL convert when fake grass was installed at Franklin Field in 1969. Baseball's All-Star Game in 1968, at the Astrodome, was billed as "Monsanto meets Ron Santo."

    The reasons given by its early proponents were many: ease of maintenance, simpler conversion from baseball to football or vice-versa, better drainage. Football teams, even at the high school level, would not practice on their main field for fear of tearing it up during the week - with artificial turf, there was no longer a need for practice fields. The biggest reason of all was that the surface reduced injuries. If you didn't believe that, you only had to read the weekly half page articles written by Monsanto for The Sporting News - or the occasional four- or eight-page spread regularly appearing in the same paper. The stories boasted of the rapid, and apparently inevitable, revolution being waged - putting greens, tennis courts, welcome mats, front lawns, rooftop parks, surrounding the family swimming pool. Seemingly everywhere you turned there was a grass-like rug lying beneath your feet.

    Many baseball teams, some with new stadiums in progress, seriously considered synthetic surfaces in the late 1960s, as regularly reported in the press. The first outdoor baseball field with artificial grass was Memorial Stadium in York, Pennsylvania, home of Pittsburgh's Eastern League (Double-A) affiliate. The Pirates were considering the surface for its new facility being constructed in Pittsburgh, while Monsanto was so eager to show off its product that it agreed to install the surface at no cost.

    The Chicago White Sox became the second major league team to forego grass, installing a synthetic infield in White Sox Park in 1969, hoping it would lead to higher scoring games. The first major league outdoor game on a synthetic surface took place on April 16 when the White Sox beat the new Kansas City Royals, 5-2.

    The next season brought four new turf fields, beginning with the conversion of the surfaces in San Francisco's Candlestick Park and St. Louis's Busch Stadium. The first outdoor NL game on turf saw the Astros beat the Giants, 8-5, in San Francisco on April 7. Four days later the Cardinals became the fourth team with Astroturf, and they celebrated with a 7-3 victory over the Mets.

    In mid-summer, two new ballparks opened with artificial surfaces. Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium debuted on June 30, featuring (for the first time in the major leagues) dirt cutouts around the bases - a characteristic first showcased at Portland, Oregon's Civic Stadium. The next month the Pirates opened Three Rivers Stadium with Tartan Turf, 3M's rival product to Monsanto's AstroTurf. The season also showcased the new surfaces in the post-season for the first time, as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, in their brand new parks, met in the NLCS with the Reds advancing to the World Series. It would be 18 years until baseball had another post-season with all grass fields.

    Sometime in the mid-1970s, baseball turned its pivot foot on this issue, though it was not obviously perceptible for many years. In 1970, not only were all new parks being introduced with artificial surfaces, but existing parks were replacing their natural grass. Within a few years, the new turfs (and the symmetrical concrete stadiums that housed them) were no longer looked upon as progress, but as a sign that the modern world had gone seriously awry. Dick Allen, future horse breeder, remarked, "If horses can't eat it, I don't want to play on it." Though his wit was typically unique, his sentiments were carrying the day.

    After the two converts in 1970, no baseball park would ever again remove its natural grass in favor of an artificial surface. In fact, the White Sox became the first team to reinstall grass, in 1976, and the Giants followed suit in 1979. The last new outdoor baseball facility install an artificial surface was Toronto's Exhibition Stadium in 1977. There were three new synthetic fields built in the 1980s, but they were all under domes - in Minneapolis, Toronto (retractable) and St. Petersburg. The latter park was built in order to entice baseball to award them a franchise, but by the time the city got their team in 1998, their hardly-used facility was a dinosaur.

    The visible effects of the shift away from fake grass had to wait for an entire generation of stadiums to be replaced, which began in the 1990s. The ten new stadiums completed between 1970 and 1990 (beginning with Riverfront and Three Rivers and ending with the dome in St. Petersburg, opened in 1990) all had synthetic surfaces. Starting with the new Comiskey Park in 1991, major league baseball has christened eighteen new baseball parks, every single one with real grass. There were still ten artificial surfaces used in 1994, and nine in 1998, but today there are just three, the three 1980s domed facilities. Of these, Toronto probably could switch to grass, since their roof retracts and all other retractable fields have grass. Minneapolis and Tampa Bay are likely stuck, though the teams have been trying to get new parks built for many years.

    Artificial turf still lives on in pro and college football, though in reduced numbers. The surfaces have improved in many ways - many of them look more like grass than they used to, players run and cut better than in days past, and there are less funny turf bounces on the newer surfaces. That said, it is unlikely baseball will be returning to those days. The fans, media and players are united on that score.

    Artificial turf in baseball is an anachronism today, and the mere mention of the subject is no longer considered appropriate in polite company. But make no mistake: the introduction of Astroturf in 1966 had a huge impact on the way the game was played for two decades, two of the best decades in baseball's history. Some of the more interesting teams of the era - the Big Red Machine, Herzog's Cardinals, George Brett's Royals, the 1980 Phillies - were defined by the fields they played on. In our mind's eye, when we see Brett and Ozzie Smith and Mike Schmidt, they are running, and diving, and hitting on a lime green carpet.

    I miss them, and the game they played.

    Mark Armour writes baseball from his home in Corvallis, Oregon. The co-author, with Dan Levitt, of the award-winning book Paths to Glory, Mark has written extensively for leading baseball web sites and publications, and is the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. His current effort, which he is shepherding with Dave Eskenazi, is Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, which will be released in conjunction with SABR's 2006 convention in Seattle.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYApril 25, 2006
    Sanchez Slowly Catching Pack
    By Bryan Smith

    When evaluating the resume of the minor league's hottest hitter, there appears to be two misprints: the year drafted, and that 1 before the decimal point in his current OPS. It is these surprising truths that make Marlins prospect Gaby Sanchez the intriguing story of baseball's first month.

    It would appear that many prospects, in many organizations, follow the Sanchez path. Had he been drafted in 2004, the Marlins would simply have been credited with giving Gaby rest after a long, draining college season. They, borrowing philosophies from other organizations like the Cubs, would even delay the beginning of his first professional season until the short-season leagues had started. It would be following Sanchez' second Spring Training that his full season debut would take place.

    But, again, Sanchez' resume contains no typos. His path has not been well-traveled. He's just making up for lost time.

    Sanchez, drafted in the fourth round of 2005 from the University of Miami-Florida, brought with him two years of good experience. In both 2003 and 2004, he had played in 62 games for the Hurricanes, hitting seven home runs and boasting a .300+ batting average. After a successful summer in the Cape Cod League, Sanchez entered 2005 as an All-American candidate. His draft prospects were high, as were projections for a Miami offense boasting a heart of Sanchez, Ryan Braun and Jon Jay. Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. Sanchez then broke team rules and was subsequently suspended from game play during his junior season.

    A third baseman during his college career, Sanchez' suspension luckily did not extend to practices. Given time to experiment, Sanchez did, strapping on catcher's gear and kneeling behind the plate. It was this versatility, in addition to his respected and powerful bat, that made Sanchez worthy of the Marlins' $250,000 investment.

    However, even a year's worth of hard work has not sped the Marlins plans for him. Florida maintains his transition to catcher will be slow, as Sanchez manned just 29 innings behind the plate through 17 games. The results, for the most part, have been positive. In a league in which baserunners have succeeded at a 70% clip in 386 chances through Sunday, Sanchez has thrown out each of the four attempted base stealers he has faced. His throwing arm will support his move to the mask, his athleticism will not.

    In fact, Gaby's athleticism will not help him at any position, besides Designated Hitter. In 2006, Sanchez has played in 12 games at first base, and already the Miami product has committed four errors. While range is not a trait emphasized in young catchers, critics maintain Sanchez' lack of agility will stunt his transition in the long run. They don't, however, question his bat.

    Likely sent to the South Atlantic League for his defensive inexperience, Gaby has hit like a 22-year-old should in low-A. After collecting two hits and a home run in his season debut, Sanchez pushed forward, registering a hit in the next nine games in which he would register an at-bat. The lone exception was his fourth game, following a 5-for-5 effort on April 8, when Sanchez would walk in all four plate appearances. At the end of his torrid ten-game streak, Sanchez was hitting .465 with seven home runs and six walks. He was the minors' own Chris Shelton.

    As statistics tend to do, Sanchez' numbers regressed in the last week, though his pace has hardly come to a halt. In the seven games since Sanchez hit his seventh home run, Gaby has eight hits in 25 at-bats, with just one walk and one extra-base hit. Perfection has escaped Sanchez, juggling the minors best set of statistics with multiple positions.

    If nothing else, Sanchez -- along with 2005 Texas suspendee Sam LeCure (25/5 K/BB ratio in FSL) -- speaks highly to a particular draft strategy. Oftentimes, these players teach us, the nation's great programs do as much behind-the-scenes preparation as they show us on the diamond. Without the pedigree and resources that Miami and Texas provide, these two talents could still be toiling in the world of aluminum bats. One-time big program talents (Nick Adenhart fits, too) should now be considered to be worth mid-round selections and early round money, even despite a delayed pay-off.

    Catching prospects, for the most part, can be twisted and contorted into three molds. First, at the top, are the blue-chip players, well-rounded and suited for a future everyday role. The minors ain't exactly chock full of 'em. Instead, there are either catchers primarily adept with the glove or the bat. The former are referred to as "future back-ups" while the defenseless are thrust down the defensive spectrum or onto the bench.

    Until further notice, Sanchez is the latter, the hitter with the 1.233 OPS, four errors and a passed ball. But, unlike other failed-catcher stories (see: Ryan Garko, Craig Wilson, etc), this situation provides hope. Sanchez, just a year into his transition and perfect against opposing baserunners, has the ceiling to put the Marlins gamble in the money.

    Looking at the other top catching prospects in the minors...

  • Like was said earlier, the everyday catcher is an extremely rare commodity. The current minor league landscape speaks volumes to this fact, as I believe there are currently just four prospects that will go onto catching 120 games a season at the Major League level: Jeff Clement (Mariners), Russ Martin (Dodgers), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Braves), and Neil Walker (Pirates). Three of these players -- all but Martin -- could see their defensive inadequacies moved to another position. One, Walker, is out for a month following wrist surgery. It isn't a position of depth.

    Of the group, it is Salty's bat that gives him the nod for tops at the position. After a great 2005, Jarrod's 3-for-3, 2B, HR outing yesterday has raised his numbers to respectable levels. But with Brian McCann at the League level, it will take a lot for Salty to knock down the door. The same is true for Jeff Clement, last year's third overall pick, watching as his .382 Texas League OBP is shrugged off thanks to Kenji Johjima.

    Not only does Martin's defensive prowess promise to keep him behind the dish, but his organization does as well. Intrigues with Dioner Navarro be damned, Martin is creating his own timetable in Las Vegas. Currently, Martin has continued his patient and consistent ways (9/7 BB-K rate vs. 51 AB's), while merely showing traces of replacement level, big league power.

  • For the second straight season, April is proving to be a powerful month for Diamondback prospect Miguel Montero. Last year we saw Montero's breakout start out of the gates, and before long, he had been promoted out of the California League. Don't expect Arizona to be quite as trigger-happy in 2006, even given similar fantastic numbers. What is so amazing about Montero's start has been his balance of power (10 XBH's), contact (just 8 K's) and patience (13 walks).

    Houston will, in all certainty, also soon be approaching the "to promote or not to promote' question, soon. Community college steal Justin Towles' start should remind some of Hunter Pence's 2005 beginning. However, Towles great start seems to emphasize the "sample size" warning more than that of Montero's or Pence's. Because while collecting 18 hits in 38 at-bats, Towles has just five extra-base hits, 2 walks, and has struck out eight times.

    Other big starts include 2005 draftees Caleb Moore (.364/.397/.473, MIN) and Bryan Anderson (.412/.512/.500, STL), both showing high hit rates in the Midwest League. And don't forget the Brewers' Angel Salome, a 20-year-old with patience, budding power, and just three strikeouts in 65 at-bats. Finally, two former college draftees, Chris Iannetta and Kurt Suzuki, have also started on positives notes in 2006. Of the two, expect Iannetta's skillset, and future ballpark, to shine the brightest.

  • Conversely, no positional group is complete without the proper set of slump victims. Double-A "talents" like Miguel Perez (CIN) and Curtis Thigpen (TOR) are currently hitting .184 and .211, respectively. Brandon Snyder, a first-round pick last June (whom followed with a fantastic debut), has been a disappointment in the Orioles farm system with a .268 on-base percentage. Other '05 draftees, collegiate selections Chris Robinson and Nick Hundley, have been awful, as neither has a .250+ slugging percentage.

  • And finally, we'll close things out today with a ranking of the big ten catching prospects in the minors right now:

    1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Braves
    2. Russ Martin - Dodgers
    3. Jeff Clement - Mariners
    4. Neil Walker - Pirates
    5. Miguel Montero - Diamondbacks
    6. George Kottaras - Padres
    7. Brandon Snyder - Orioles
    8. Gaby Sanchez - Marlins
    9. Justin Towles - Astros
    10. Chris Iannetta - Rockies
    11. Angel Salome - Brewers

  • Baseball BeatApril 24, 2006
    The Lincecum & Kennedy Connections
    By Rich Lederer

    I attended one of the best college pitching matchups of the year at Dedeaux Field on the campus of USC on Friday. The game pitted two of the top amateur pitchers in Washington's Tim Lincecum and USC's Ian Kennedy.

    Just as Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy have been inextricably linked over the years, so have Pitchers Lincecum and Kennedy. The junior right-handers have been their team's Friday Night starters throughout their college careers. Lincecum (2004) and Kennedy (2005) were named the Pac-10 pitchers of the year the past two seasons, and both were preseason All-Americans in 2006.

    Lincecum entered the game with a 36 2/3-inning scoreless streak. With two outs in the bottom of the first, he gave up a two-run double to designated hitter Baron Frost but Washington bounced back to score seven runs in the fifth to defeat Kennedy and the USC Trojans, 7-2 (box score). All nine runs were scored in just two innings.

    Pitching six innings, Lincecum (9-2) allowed two runs on five hits with four walks and 11 strikeouts. Kennedy (3-5) went 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs (four earned) on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts. Although Lincecum's streak was halted at 37 1/3 innings, the NCAA strikeout leader has allowed only three earned runs on 19 hits over his last 59 innings.

    There were approximately 40 scouts in attendance. The Kansas City Royals, owners of the #1 pick in the draft this June, had a large contingent of scouting personnel paying close attention to Lincecum. The Royals are considering selecting either Lincecum, North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller, or Houston right-hander Brad Lincoln. Kennedy was among a quartet of pitchers (along with Miller, UNC teammate Daniel Bard, and Missouri's Max Scherzer) on Kansas City's radar when the year began but is apparently no longer under consideration.

    Deric Ladnier, the Royals' senior director for scouting, told Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star, "We're looking for an advanced player. One thing we're asking is, 'Who can be productive at the major-league level the quickest?' We want to see command, stuff and the makeup to be a front-line starter in the big leagues."

    Lincecum's stuff is as good as or better than any college pitcher in the draft (video). He throws a mid-90s fastball and an outstanding curve. A veteran scout that I spoke to rated Lincecum's fastball as a 7 (on the 1-8 scale the team uses) or a 70 (on the more traditional 20-80 range). He called Lincecum's curve and change-up a 6 and his pitchability a 65.

    The same scout graded Kennedy's fastball a 50, curve 55, change 60, and pitchability 60. I was surprised he gave Lincecum a higher ranking for pitchability than Kennedy. The scout believes Kennedy will be "better with wood bats," pointing out that the Trojan ace "knows where to put it" (video). He would like to see Kennedy pitch inside more often than he has been allowed in college and mentioned that Ian tends to "get around his curve a little," producing what's known as a "slurve."

    With respect to Lincecum, the talent evaluator said he had never seen a pitcher of his size throw so hard. He believes Lincecum is closer to 5-10 1/2 or 5-11 than his listed height of 6-0 and projects him to be what he called a "stopper," which, upon clarification, meant "closer." To be an effective big leaguer, the scout contends that Lincecum needs to get "more ride" on his fastball or learn to "keep it down."

    * * * * *

    I charted Lincecum and Kennedy on Friday night. Both pitchers have the traditional fastball (FB), curveball (CB), and change-up (CH) repertoire. I have also included some game notes along the way.

    Lincecum vs. USC

    Bottom of the 1st

    Cusick: FB-95 ball, FB-93 ball, FB-93 called strike, CB-81 called strike, FB-96 foul, CB-82 foul, CB-82 ball, CB-82 called strike three.

    Sharpe: CB-84 called strike, FB-95 foul, CB-83 ball (just inside), FB-96 foul, CB-82 foul tip, CB-82 ball (big curve), CB-84 single to RF.

    Hankerd: FB-93 foul, FB-94 strike swinging, FB-95 foul, CB-82 ball, CB-82 5-4 fielder's choice.

    Perales: FB-94 foul, CB-81 ball in the dirt, FB-95 line drive single to LF. Runners on first and second.

    Frost: CB-81 called strike, FB-96 strike swinging, FB-94 line drive double down LF line. Two runs score.

    Duda: FB-93 ball, FB-93 ball, CB-81 ball, FB-92 called strike, FB-93 foul, CH-81 ball four. Runners on first and second.

    Vierira: FB-92 foul, FB-94 called strike, CB-81 foul tip, FB-94 single to LF. Bases loaded.

    Coach Knutson makes a brief visit to the mound.

    Estrella: CB-81 ball, CB-81 called strike, CB-81 ball, FB-93 called strike, CB-81 6-4 fielder's choice (barely getting runner at second).

    2 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 3 LOB. 8 BF, 41 pitches. 21 FB (92-96), 19 CB, 1 CH.

    Bottom of the 2nd

    Bowden: CB-81 ball high, FB-92 ball, FB-91 called strike, FB-94 strike swinging, FB-94 strike three swinging. Lincecum blew him down.

    Cusick: FB-94 fly out to CF.

    Sharpe: FB-89 called strike, CB-82 called strike, FB-95 foul tip, CB-82 ball high, CB-79 strike three swinging. The last pitch was a slow curve.

    Three up, three down. 11 pitches. 7 FB (89-95), 4 CB.

    Bottom of the 3rd

    Hankerd: CB-79 called strike, CB-80 called strike (big 12-to-6 curve), FB-94 strike three swinging on a pitch high out of the zone--a great 0-2 count "pitcher's pitch."

    Perales: CB-83 called strike, CB-80 ground out to 2B.

    Frost: CB-82 called strike, FB-94 strike swinging, FB-95 foul tip, CB-83 ball down and in, CB-82 foul, FB-94 foul, CB-84 strike three swinging. Poor swing. Lincecum totally fooled him.

    Three up, three down. 12 pitches. 4 FB (94-95), 8 CB. Lincecum threw first pitch called strike on all three batters.

    Bottom of the 4th

    Duda: CB-85 foul, CB-84 called strike, CB-80 strike three swinging. Duda looked bad. Lincecum struck out four of the previous five batters.

    Vierira: FB-94 called strike, CB-84 ball, CB-80 called strike, FB-94 foul, CB-82 ground out to 2B on a high hopper. Play went 4-1. Lincecum hustled over and covered first.

    Estrella: FB-94 ball high, CB-76 ball, FB-92 ball down, FB-91 ball four.

    Bowden: CB-86 called strike, CB-82 ball high, CB-81 called strike, FB-91 6-4 fielder's choice.

    0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 LOB. 4 BF, 16 pitches. 6 FB (91-94), 10 CB.

    Bottom of the 5th

    Most of the scouts have put their Stalker Sport guns in their cases.

    Cusick: CB ball, FB called strike, FB bloop single to LF.

    Sharpe: FB called strike, FB foul, CB strike three swinging.

    Hankerd: FB swinging strike, CB called strike, FB ball high, CB ball, CB ball (looked good), CB ball four. Runners on first and second.

    Perales: FB-92 called strike, FB-93 called strike, CB foul, CH ball, FB called strike three.

    Frost: FB-93 ball, CB-78 called strike, FB-94 ball, CB ball, FB foul, CB-79 ball four high. Bases loaded.

    Duda: FB ball, FB called strike, FB ball, FB foul, CB called strike three.

    0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 3 LOB. 6 BF, 28 pitches. 16 FB (92-94), 11 CB, 1 CH.

    Bottom of the 6th

    Vierira: CB called strike, FB-94 ball, CB foul, CB ball, CB ball, FB foul, FB called strike three.

    Estrella: FB foul, FB strike swinging, CB bal, FB-94 foul, FB-95 foul, CB ball down, CB-82 ball, FB-93 ground out to SS. Estrella is the only batter who Lincecum didn't strike out.

    Bowden: FB-93 strike swinging, FB-94 ball inside, FB-93 strike swinging, FB-94 ball, FB-94 ball, CB-81 called strike three.

    Three up, three down. 21 pitches. 13 FB (93-95), 8 CB.

    Total: 129 pitches. 67 FB (89-96), 60 CB, 2 CH.

    * * * * *

    Kennedy vs. Washington

    Top of the first

    Rife: FB-89 ball, FB foul, CH-79 ball, FB fly out to RF.

    Hague: FB-89 called strike, CB-74 ball, FB-90 fly out to RF.

    Clem: CB-82 called strike, FB-88 ball, CH-78 strike swinging, CB ball (checked swing, just outside--xlnt 1-2 pitch location), FB-88 foul, FB-91 fly out to CF (against the wall just left of the 395' sign).

    Three up, three down. 13 pitches. 8 FB (88-91), 3 CB, 2 CH.

    Top of the 2nd

    Rindal: FB-90 foul, FB-90 called strike, CB-82 ball outside, FB-90 ball, FB-88 called strike three.

    Lane: FB-89 foul, FB-91 foul, CH-76 strike three swinging. Vintage Kennedy. He pulled the string and fooled Lane.

    Boyer: FB-90 fly out to CF.

    Three up, three down. 9 pitches. 7 FB (88-91), 1 CB, 1 CH.

    Top of the 3rd

    Stevens: FB-90 pop out to 2B.

    Kaluza: FB-89 ball, FB-89 ball, FB-89 called strike, FB-88 called strike, FB-89 ball just outside, FB-88 strike three swinging. Kennedy ties Mark Prior in career strikeouts (352) at USC.

    Cox: FB-90 foul, B-78 ball down, FB-91 HBP. Kennedy overthrew it.

    Rife: CB-82 hit and run single between 1B and 2B. Runners on first and third.

    Hague: CB-80 ball, FB-88 ground out to 3B.

    0 R, 1 H, 1 HBP, 2 LOB. 5 BF, 13 pitches. 10 FB (88-91), 3 CB.

    Top of the 4th

    Clem: CB-82 strike swinging, FB-89 ball just inside, FB-91 ball, CB-84 foul, FB-91 foul, FB-91 foul, FB-90 foul, CH-80 ball low. 3 & 2. FB-90 foul, FB-92 foul. Kennedy really reached back on that pitch. CB-83 called strike three. 11-pitch AB. Kennedy passes Prior in career strikeouts and now ranks fourth Rik Currier (1998-2001), Seth Etherton (1995-98), and Brent Strom (1968-70).

    Rindal: CB-85 ground out to 3B.

    Lane: FB-91 called strike, CB-76 strike swinging, CB-75 ball in the dirt, FB-92 foul, CB-77 ball just missed inside (Kennedy ran off mound, thinking he had a K). FB-91 ball high, FB-92 foul down the LF line, FB-90 ball four low.

    Boyer: FB-90 called strike, CB-81 ball, FB-89 fly out to CF.

    0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 LOB. 4 BF, 23 pitches. 14 FB (89-92), 8 CB, 1 CH.

    Top of the 5th

    No radar guns in sight.

    Stevens: CB ball, FB called strike, FB swinging strike, CB fly out to RF.

    Kaluza: FB called strike high (lots of barking from the Washington dugout), CB called strike, CB ball outside (waste pitch), FB ball just missed, FB ball just missed away. 3 & 2. FB line drive single between 3B and SS.

    Anderson: FB ball. Kennedy getting squeezed. FB foul bunt down 3B line (not a SAC attempt), CB ball outside, FB ball. Runner steals second base. Double pump by Bowden owing to one of the middle infielders failing to cover. FB line drive single off Kennedy's thigh. Trainer and pitching coach check him out. Runners on first and third.

    Rife: CB ball inside. Fake pick off to 3B, look to 1B--no throw. FB called strike, FB called strike, CB ground out to 3B. Run scored. 2-1 USC.

    Hague: FB ball just missed outside, FB single to RF (not particularly hard hit). Run scored. Game tied, 2-2.

    Clem: FB ball low and away. Kennedy overthrew it. Pickoff attempt at first. FB called strike, CB ball high and inside. Kennedy quit on the pitch. FB ball low and away. Ball overthrown again. Kennedy has clearly lost his rhythm. FB strike swinging. 3 & 2. FB fouled to the right side, FB fouled to the left side. Kennedy took something off that fastball. CB ball four. Runners on first and second.

    Coach Gillespie visits the mound.

    Rindal: FB ball, FB called strike, FB ball, FB ball, FB ball four just outside. Bases loaded.

    Lane: FB double to LF. Two runners scored. 4-2 Washngton. Runners on second and third.

    Boyer: FB foul, CB ball, FB called strike, FB ball, FB ground ball to 3B. Cusick throws wildly to first. Two-base error. Two runners scored. Both runs unearned. 6-2 Washington.

    Stevens: FB called strike, CB double to RF. Runner scored. Unearned run. 7-2 Washington.

    John Dunn relieves Kennedy.

    Kaluza: Ground out to 2B.

    7 R (4 ER), 5 H, 2 BB, 1 E, 1 LOB. Kennedy: 10 BF, 42 pitches. 31 FB, 11 CB.

    Total: 100 pitches. 70 FB (88-92), 26 CB, 4 CH.

    * * * * *

    Lincecum outdueled Kennedy on Friday night and has clearly been the better pitcher this season. The latter arguably had put up superior stats the previous two campaigns.

    Lincecum's Career Stats:

                IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO  HR    ERA   W-L
    2004     112.1   83   55   44   82  161   5   3.53  10-3
    2005     104.1   62   40   36   71  131   4   3.11   8-6
    2006      85.0   41   23   15   45  140   5   1.59   9-2
    Totals   301.2  186  118   95  198  432  14   2.83  27-11

    Kennedy's Career Stats:

                IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO  HR    ERA   W-L
    2004      92.2   86   34   30   31  120   4   2.91   7-2
    2005     117.0   85   40   33   38  158   6   2.54  12-3
    2006      74.0   69   40   32   24   75   3   3.89   3-5 
    Totals   283.2  240  114   95   93  353  13   3.01  22-10

    Drafted by the Cubs (48th round, 1408th overall) in 2003 and the Indians (42nd round, 1261st) in 2005, Lincecum has been climbing the draft boards all season long and is going to make every MLB organization wish it had met his $1 million price tag last year. Kennedy, on the other hand, has seen his stock slip of late and could wind up falling further than anyone could have imagined three months ago. The fact that he will be represented by Scott Boras only adds to his uncertain status.

    Notes: With 432 career strikeouts, Lincecum is now 17 shy of the Pac-10 record set by USC's Currier...Zach Clem, an undrafted senior left fielder for the Huskies, slugged his league-leading 17th home run of the season on Sunday. He doubled, tripled, and homered while driving in three runs in the second 7-2 victory of the three-game series...USC won the middle game, 15-8, as senior second baseman Blake Sharpe went 4-for-4 and freshman starter Tommy Milone (7-0) kept his perfect won-lost record in tact...Trojan third baseman Matt Cusick reminds me of Bill Mueller. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore bats left and throws right. He is hitting .392 with 31 BB and 10 HBP while striking out only 7 times in over 200 plate appearances. His OBP of .512 is the school's highest since Steve Kemp's .526 in 1975. Geoff Jenkins recorded a .500 OBP in 1995. Cusick was named the most outstanding player at the NCAA First-Round Regional in Long Beach last year.

    WTNYApril 21, 2006
    Friday Bullets
    By Bryan Smith

    Disheartened by Derrek, lifted by Lind, fascinated by Francisco and more in this week's casual Friday notes column, covering everything from college to the Majors...

  • Sample size be damned, I am officially jumping onto the Alex Rios bandwagon. The fifth overall prospect in my first published prospect list, Rios has had me kicking myself for nearly a year and a half (13-18 on the list: Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, David Wright, Grady Sizemore, Delmon Young, Bobby Crosby) with his sub-.100 ISOs. However, I was in attendance last weekend when Rios slugged his fourth home run of the season on a Mark Buehrle fastball. It simply seems as though Rios has more strength than in each of the last two seasons, as the home run barely made it over the fence -- likely a fly out in 2004 or 2005.

    Another difference in Rios' play this season is likely an issue of pitch selection. Before the 2004 season I stated that Rios had some of the best contact skills in the minor leagues. In 2149 career minor league at-bats, Rios struck out just 296 times, a fantastic 13.8%. Entering 2006, his Major League career had already produced 185 strikeouts, whiffing in 20.4% of his at-bats. Alex isn't the type of player that will draw 50+ walks at the Major League level, but instead will live and die by his ability to hit the ball, and to do so with power.

    With increased strength and improved pitch selection, Rios is a dangerous player. As early as this season, he could begin to become one of the best power/speed threats in the American League.

  • Try as he might, Rios is not the hottest property of the Toronto Blue Jays. To find that, however, you have to look in the direction of New Hampshire, the organization's AA affiliate. Adam Lind, a player on my preseason breakout list, is in the middle of a fantastic streak. In the first eight games of the season, Lind struggled, collecting just six hits in his first 26 at-bats, including only one for extra bases (and an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts).

    Since then, he has caught fire. On April 15, Lind had a hit in each of his four at-bats, two of which were home runs. This was the beginning of a six game streak in which Lind is 12/24, striking out just once while hitting five home runs. My faith in Lind's power breakout was founded upon a high doubles rate, a tough league and stadium, and a July streak that proved Lind's potential. I do believe he is starting to realize it.

    Luckily, Lind brought my April batting average to my breakout list to .250. We have previously detailed Reid Brignac's hot start, which has his OPS well over .900. Besides these two players, things aren't looking great. Brad Harman has just one extra-base hit versus 12 strikeouts in his first 48 at-bats. Mark Trumbo's first nine games include just 5 hits and zero walks. Adam Bostick has issued 13 walks in 13.2 innings. Neither Garrett Mock or Homer Bailey have been particularly impressive. Let's just hope Christian Garcia returns to the mound soon, and returns to it well.

  • Someone asked me what I would do if put in Jim Hendry's chair, forced to find someone to replace Derrek Lee with. My response was to have Jacque Jones start fielding groundballs at first base, while putting Felix Pie in right field for the Iowa Cubs. While the long-term prospects of Jones at first base are laughable, Pie is the member of the Cubs organization best suited for replacing a bit bat in this lineup.

    In the first 10% of his minor league season, Pie has done everything in the leadoff role for the I-Cubs: seven extra-base hits, six walks, three steals. Pie would bring electricity to a Cubs lineup that will enter their series against the Cardinals as very lifeless. But instead, Dusty Baker is left picking between John Mabry and Jerry Hairston/Neifi Perez. It isn't a good situation.

  • Over at Baseball America, Jim Callis posted an update on his top twenty draft prospects for the coming June. Max Scherzer's low ranking comes in as a bit of a surprise, but given his injury, the Missouri right-hander might now be a reach for the Colorado Rockies, drafting second. My current belief is that the organization should go with Brandon Morrow, the pitcher least dependent on a breaking pitch of those in consideration. Coors Field has never mixed well with breaking balls, but it's hard to imagine Morrow's power splitter being too affected by the thin air.

    The most surprising inclusion on the list is probably Brett Sinkbeil, a player we talked about last summer from the Cape Cod League pitching well for Missouri State. Sinkbeil is a tall, lanky right-hander that projects well to add velocity as he fills out. As of right now, he has good control of a sinking, 90-94 mph pitch. His specific draft selection will depend upon the improvements of his secondary stuff this spring. In my preseason talks with Missouri State pitching coach Paul Evans, he said that as a sophomore, Brett had "difficulties finishing off hitters when he got to 2-strike counts." If Sinkbeil shows scouts he can throw his slider for strikes, and trusts his change-up enough, Callis' ranking indicates a first round selection isn't out of the picture.

    Tim Lincecum is third on this list, and at this point in time, I'd guess he is drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Thanks to hometown ties -- as well as the M's being the least frugal team in the top five -- the pick makes sense. Also, one spot ahead, don't be shocked if the Pirates grab right-hander Kyle Drabek. Or, at least, you can bet he would be the marketing department's selection, given his familial ties with a certain former Bucs' ace.

  • Sadly, Francisco Liriano allowed his first earned run of the season Wednesday, as a walk, steal and single brought his ERA up to 0.96. Nonetheless, Liriano has been one of the most impressive young players in all of baseball thus far, boasting a 3.0 G/F ratio to go with his 14.5 K/9 rate. Apparently, hitters have trouble with sliders that can touch 92 mph.

  • Also on Wednesday, viewers were treated to the best Javier Vazquez outing in years, as the White Sox newest right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The end? A check-swing single by Doug Mientkiewicz that simply would not roll foul, as much as Joe Crede willed it to do so. Vazquez was in complete control in the outing, mixing pinpoint fastball control with a devastating curve and change. This came just a day after Jose Contreras' dominating outing; with Roger Clemens out of baseball, Contreras has the game's best splitter. He's my dark horse Cy Young pick.

    But back to Mientkiewicz, who would be hitting .205 had his check swing been brought back an inch more. Meanwhile, Justin Huber is batting .372/.481/.814 in the Pacific Coast League. As much as some have attempted to justify the Royals winter veteran movement, the presence of third-tier thirtysomethings will not help in the win column. Instead, it will force good players like Huber into building a bit too much into their minor league credentials.

    And Royals fans shouldn't be totally hopeless. Thanks to one of the best journalistic articles of the young baseball season, we learn that Zack Greinke is progressing back towards pitching in 2006. Greinke, Andrew Miller, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. It's a start.

  • Designated HitterApril 20, 2006
    Everything I Needed to Know About People I Learned at Wally Moon's Baseball Camp
    By Jeff Angus

    Back in the early Sixties, my parents needed to ship me off for a couple of summers so they could marinate in married life and the excessive drama of their lives. Each had been born into small families unwilling to put up with the likes of me (overly talkative, overly active, overly curious -- who can blame them?), so the alternative was to park me at summer camp. And there I quickly learned more lessons about life than David Carradine got on 62 episodes of Kung Fu, and I didn't even need to shave my head.

    At that time we were living in West L.A., and I was a baseball fanatic, so when they discovered Wally Moon's Baseball Camp in West Covina, they decided it was perfect. It had baseball, it was far enough away that they wouldn't be expected to show up for games or regular visits, and the food was bad enough that I might shed a bit of my excess blubbericiousness.

    Wally Moon didn't teach me any important life lessons himself, but he was an interesting player. If you don't know about him, read the next two paragraphs.

    Wally Moon was an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, normally batted third in the line-up. Walked more often than he struck out. I would like to tell you he was "like" someone playing today, but no one came to mind and when I checked out his comparable players on Baseball-Reference, none of them really seem to channel, as Plato said when he saw him play, The Wallyness of Wally. Moon was an outlier, an exception in every way you could analyze him. First, he looked really unusual in a "good looking" way, and he sported a unibrow. His stance was odd, too...not Craig Counsell weird, but just weird enough that 10-year olds might imitate it -- except there was nothing cool about it to a 10-year old and I didn't know anyone who did. He was a college man, making him an exception. He went to a school, Texas A&M, that hadn't produced a major leaguer with at least a medium career since Beau Bell 13 years earlier and wouldn't produce another one until Davey Johnson 11 years later. And Moon reportedly earned a Masters degree, making him an incredible exception for a baseball player. He was a power hitter who hit to the opposite field. He was from a place in Arkansas that not only produced no other major leaguers, but a part of Arkansas that developed not a single major leaguer within 55 miles of his home town. He had been the N.L.'s rookie of the year in 1954. His range numbers were never good after his rookie campaign, but he won a Gold Glove in 1960 that may have been deserved -- his home park's ultra-short left field fence behind him would trim the number of balls he could get to, so even with low range numbers, he may have played the field that well.

    And his best stretch, 1959-61, saw him put up a .310/.405/.485 batting line. That this was his best stretch is both a reason for acclaim and a factor that makes some revisionists undervalue his performance. The Dodgers during those years played in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, an Olympic track facility that worked for football but was beyond funkadelic for baseball. Look. The right field fence was near Tijuana, so it killed most lefties. The left field fence had to be squashed into the rectangle so it was only 251 feet from home plate. To try to balance that zaniness, the team put up a 40 to 42 foot screen, about 10% taller than Fenway's Green Monster. Wally Moon was able to launch occasional homers by looping to the opposite field with an inside-out swing, and people in L.A. took to calling those kinds of lazy high-arcing big flies "Moon Shots". To look at Moon historically, should we diminish our appreciation because it was such a ridiculous park configuration, or should we grant him a bit of reverence for figuring out how to overcome an equally ridiculous punishment for left-handed batters?

    I had never gotten to play on a formal team. Little League was too far away and my parents too unwilling or unable to ferry me back and forth. So all my previous experience was of the two- or three-a-side variety Wiffle Ball, three flies up, and a myriad of invented games, played in backyards or nearby parks not intended for such activities, usually with weird-o Washington Park dimensions and grounds rules and neighboring yards that ate balls including my Warren Spahn-autographed Wiffle Ball, ordered for a dollar and two box tops.

    Beyond my lack of formal experience, I was at some other disadvantages. I was short for my age. And I was overweight. And slow. Edgar Martinez-slow...Walter Young-slow. Special effect slow, like The Six Million Dollar Man...but much slower. And fatter. I came equipped with only two aptitudes: when I made contact with the ball, I hit flat beautiful ropes you could hang the wash on (and to all fields), and I had a rocket launcher for an arm. The hitting to the opposite field knack was environmentally-etched...if you couldn't hit to right in The Park I played in, you'd lose the ball in the underbrush.

    The baseball camp routine went like this. At the start of the week, camp counselors chose teams aimed at balancing skill. I ended up on Bill's Braves, managed by Bill Tucker, a total gem of a fellow. He was a really fine athlete (a back-up quarterback at La Verne J.C.) and extremely tolerant of limitations, even extreme ones like mine. Extremely positive. Mornings were drills, and after the third day or so, games in the afternoons. My first couple of weeks I would end up like 3-for-18 in games with 12 strikeouts, and at least a couple of my outs were beautiful frozen rope singles that would be turned into humiliation when the outfielder's throw beat me to first. There's the first lesson...

    Epiphany #1 -- What you value personally may not have any value in the environment you're in.

    To me, lashing a rope was, in and of itself, a magnificent piece of art. In the schoolyards of my youth, I would frequently hit for my own personal version of the cycle -- a line drive hit to left, center and right in the same game -- and my peers would appreciate the artistry involved. At camp, this meant zero. Any hit to right that went into the gap was merely a single for my brick-footed amble, and anything near the right-fielder was a potential 9-3 putout. Bill worked with me on my hitting, and he taught me valuable lessons I would apply with good use for the next 20 years, but nothing that broke me out of my slump.

    Coach observed my struggles and taught me a simple thing. I wasn't very good at hitting the inside pitch. Most of my strikeouts were on inside pitches. Yes, I needed to learn to hit them, but Coach realized it would be faster in terms of yield if I could get pitches over the fat part of the plate. So he taught me to lean into inside pitches and get hit. The umps were generous with the strike zone, but found it impossible to call a hit batsman a strike. So I started overcoming my fear of being hit by doing it accidentally-on-purpose and becoming almost an asset to my team. Moreover, once I'd been hit in a game, all the pitchers at camp except one (he liked hitting people) would try to keep the ball away from me and that meant I could get my arms extended and make good contact. This leads to the next lesson...

    Epiphany #2 -- We all have weaknesses and sometimes the best way to attack one is to try to turn it into a strength.

    By the fourth week, even Bill's patience was stretched. I had improved a little bit, but I wasn't good enough to be average. I got shifted to a new counselor's team. Casey didn't know one-fifth what Bill did, but he knew a few things, and some of them were things Bill didn't. He noticed that when I swung and missed, my front shoulder was coming up, so he taught me to lock it down hard while in my stance. It wasn't much, but it just happened to work. That week, I was 13 for 16, and two of my outs were 9-3 putouts. One of my hits went so far, I got a triple out of it (imagine a David Wells triple). Lesson time...

    Epiphany #3 -- Coaching, teaching and managing are not either/or, good or bad, they are additive.

    No matter how much you know, everybody knows something useful you don't. Go to the greatest expert in the world, find me a replacement-level actor in that same field, and that inconsequential nobody will know something valuable Ms. Nobel Prize doesn't. A corollary I believe but haven't yet proven is that coaching/managing is additive. You work for a great manager, and she teaches you a bunch of useful things. You go to work next for a total dinwiddie, nowhere near as good, but that total dinwiddie has some small thing to teach you and it just happens to break a logjam for you or make what you learned earlier ten times as valuable. You never dismiss totally even the most incapable coach because he has something somewhere you can gain from. And opening yourself up to learning doesn't mean throwing away what you already know; presume you're adding, not replacing, knowledge.

    I have to share a caveat on that insane .812 batting average week, but there's another life lesson in there. By a fluke of scheduling, 9 of my hits were against the same pitcher. I was only 4-for-6 against the rest of the league. But a rainout and something else meant we faced this one team over and over, and that team had this stud fastball pitcher with an almost perfectly-overhand delivery (think Rick Sutcliffe), a delivery that terrified most batters. Maybe it was because I was so short, or just some sort of dumb luck, but whatever he threw, it looked like batting practice to me. I could see the ball from release and it was just easy to see all the way, bigger than the moon. Everyone else in the league struggled against him but me. And the life lesson is...

    Epiphany #4 -- Rock, paper, scissors. Everything good can be beaten by something better. Everything not good can beat something great. Match-ups can be unpredictable. Don't assume.

    Everybody's stud pitcher is someone else's cup of meat. Mark Belanger hit .221 lifetime against right-handed pitchers. Nolan Ryan yielded only .203 lifetime to batters. But Belanger hit over .300 lifetime against Ryan. Whatever magic Ryan had over hitters, it just didn't happen to work on The Blade. And it's true at work and in school and in dating and everywhere.

    I had dozens of other lessons, but I'm going to leave you with one last one, because it may be the single most important thing I have to teach you, Grasshopper.

    Epiphany #5 -- Never staple your lips together with a heavy-duty Bostitch stapler. Or do it twice.

    I'm not making this up. One morning I was skipping breakfast, reading a Sporting News and this terrible scream came from down the hall. I ran towards it and there in the office was Gene, screaming as though someone had stapled his lips together with a heavy-duty Bostitch. The sound was so unnerving it took me a second to realize he was bleeding and that his lips were, actually, snapped together with a metal strip.

    Gene was the (apparently) well-adjusted kid on my team. Normal in every way, except perhaps a little more self-assured and much more popular. But he'd walked into the office, picked up the front desk's stapler, said "Excuse me", and when the staff looked up, stapled his lips together. He was gone five days. He came back to get his belongings and go home. And the story the office women told was that on the way out with his mother, Gene and parent stopped in the office, and Gene took the stapler and did it again.

    My life has changed in almost every way since that summer. I am easily the fastest 50-year old on the field. My opposite field stroke is no longer my best one. I'm not so rotund as to make bending over for a ground ball a challenge. Some things are the same. I still have a deadly arm, and I still use the hit-batsman technique to make umpires call a ball that's more than a foot inside a "ball" instead of that automatic strike they love to use to move the game along.

    You may think I'm a wuss, but I have never been tempted to staple my lips together with a Bostitch or Swingline or any other stapler twice. Or even once.

    And I learned that lesson, among everything else I needed to know about people, at Wally Moon's Baseball Camp.

    Jeff Angus' new book is Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Field (Harper Collins, May 2). Jeff is a management consultant and baseball writer (stats columns for The Seattle Times) who speaks on Management by Baseball topics.

    WTNYApril 19, 2006
    Minors Not Short on Talent
    By Bryan Smith

    One of the complaints that followed the former Devil Ray front office clan -- led by Chuck Lamar -- centered around B.J. Upton. Lucky enough to draft him in 2002 (thanks to a Pirates gaffe), Upton's bat predictably tore through the minors. Conversely, his glove played as if it had a tear down the center.

    Entering the season, Upton's minor league line read: .304/.396/.474, in over 1,400 at-bats. By contrast, the Devil Rays' left side hit about .290/.350/.430 last year. Fans called for Bossman's promotion. Lamar and company pointed to his fielding record: 144 errors in 367 games. Fans called for a position change. The front office went silent.

    While Lou Piniella had toyed with the idea of using Upton at the hot corner in 2004, last year Upton played in Durham while no one offered a direction. When the group was fired, Tampa fans reveled in the hope that Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker would bring Upton Blueprints.

    Thus far, the two have been bailed out as Upton's bat has yet to warm up. In fact, the current Devil Ray SS line (.273/.360/.386) is better than Upton's in the International League. However, his patient approach and aggressive baserunning mentality (8/9 already this season) have left Tampa fans again salivating. But again, they remain disappointed, as all the focus has been on Upton's fielding: 7 errors in his first 11 games.

    Despite the pessimism that Upton's fielding record produces, no one questions that his future is bright. They do question, however, the existence of a plan.

    A long-term plan like the organization that B.J.'s brother was just drafted into. A prep superstar with a scouting report more glowing than his brother, Justin Upton was drafted listed at the most ideal position on the defensive spectrum. However, when he opens his season in a few weeks, Upton will be in centerfield, where the club believes it can best utilize Upton's arm. Once magnificently wild in high school, it will now be difficult for Justin to overthrow his target.

    In addition to his mistake-prone issues at shortstop, the first overall pick was also moved thanks to foresight by the D-Backs' new front office. Like Tampa with Upton, Arizona was lucky on draft day to land their blue-chip shortstop -- Stephen Drew, who fell into the teens in 2004 thanks to signability concerns. Once signed, the path to the Majors was set into action for Stephen, who began his minor league career by tearing up the California League last season.

    Now playing for Tucson in the Pacific Coast League, Drew is -- like Upton -- struggling in the early going. Fans have been put off by his .269 OBP, as well as a high strikeout percentage: 12 in 48 at-bats. However, there is a sign of the player chosen to lead Arizona into the next decade -- four home runs through his first twelve games. No one expected AAA to be easy for Drew, barely removed from AA, and he has plenty of time to be acclimated.

    Craig Counsell signed with Arizona in December of 2004, months after the club had drafted Drew, months before they signed him. Now, the two-year contract to which Counsell was handed appears to be the perfect length, as Stephen will be given a full season to prepare for the Major Leagues. There will be no worries about player's catching him from the minors, or some veteran taking his slot. Drew is aware that on Opening Day, 2007, the shortstop job in Phoenix is his until he loses it.

    This is what the Devil Rays need to provide Upton: a clear view at his future. With that weight off Upton's shoulders, it might be then that his potential is truly untapped. Once the undeniable best shortstop prospect in the minors, the Tampa front office has allowed Upton to lose that label.

    Looking at the other top shortstop prospects in the minors...

  • As I said, Upton is no longer on top of the shortstop heap. Instead, at least on my list, Bossman currently ranks third overall. He's one slot behind Drew, the powerful man with the plan, a guaranteed job at a particular position. Ahead of both of them is Brandon Wood, also likely questioning the motives of his front office, currently in their second year of a four-year contract with Orlando Cabrera.

    Wood is already putting pressure on the Angels to consider moving Cabrera, or even, move Wood to the hot corner. His power spike has not dulled in eleven contests, as Brandon has eight extra-base hits in 44 at-bats. However, before Wood holds Bill Stoneman's hands to the fire and forces him to make a move, the strikeouts need to decrease. With fifteen whiffs already in eleven games, Brandon is doing nothing to inspire projections of his future batting average. Even given his weaknesses and uncertainty, Wood's big-time power leaves him with an advantage over both Stephen Drew and B.J. Upton.

  • Looking at the second tier, I see three obvious names, with three more players looking to bang down the door. Last year's top ten pick Troy Tulowitzki leads the group, only an exit from Sample Size Theatre away from joining the first pack. I believe in Troy as a player, and sincerely believe Clint Barmes will be out of the organization or at second base in about a year. However, Tulo could inspire even more faith if he proved a bit more patient, added a bit of power (lots of gaps thus far), and toned down the strikeouts. Complaints in each offensive department, I know, but it won't take significant changes to make him a top 25-caliber talent.

    While Tulo is close to spending most of his time in Coors Field, our other second tier shortstops are a simple injury or slump away. Dustin Pedroia needs to restore his own injury before Boston becomes a reality, but it isn't as if the Sox are too emotionally invested into Alex Gonzalez. Pedroia, a small player with limited upside but nearly guaranteed certainty, should be up by the trade deadline.

    Erick Aybar should be in Los Angeles before then. Cabrera's contract be damned, Aybar is ready, currently hitting .348/.362/.543 in Salt Lake. It appears at this point that Aybar has certain flaws that we will simply have to deal with: a lack of baserunning instincts, no discernable plate discipline, and no great power. But given his good contact abilties, plus speed and great defense, Aybar has everything needed to become a Major League shortstop. Everything but a job.

  • As we move down our shortstop rankings, we find players far more removed from the Major League landscape. No talent better exemplifies this than Elvis Andrus, currently the Rome Braves starting shortstop at the tender age of 17. Andrus drew rave reviews from his short-season companions last year, but has hardly kept his name in the news this April. Showing pretty good patience and contact skills, complaints will almost certainly rally around his inevitable raw weaknesses: undeveloped power, baserunning ignorance, and fielding mistakes. The fact that Andrus could have three minor league seasons to improve in these areas before reaching 20 is what makes Elvis the most intriguing Brave prospect.

    Readers know the players I find most intriguing -- the group I choose each season as my projected breakout players. One this season, Reid Brignac, has assured himself good early season statistics by hitting three home runs in a game earlier this season. Besides that, Brignac is off to a start that proves his potential. It is his ceiling that has me thinking Brignac might be a better prospect than Marcus Sanders, one of the two biggest Shortstop Slumpers of the early season. Since Opening Day, in which Sanders doubled and walked, the Giant prospect has reached base just three times, and never via the extra-base hit. Still, once the ball starts to find the holes, Sanders will start again wreaking havoc on the basepaths and proving his future as the projected Giants leadoff hitter.

  • On the next level there is a slew of players, easily broken in to a few groups. Predictably, one if filled with fantastic defensive players destined for bench careers or mediocrity in starting roles. Leading this clan in potential is Alcides Escobar, who has dazzled in High-A so far. While Kevin Goldstein pointed out yesterday that Escobar's plate discipline is on an upswing, the opposiote seems true with the White Sox' Robert Valido, walkless in 50 at-bats. At this point, neither he nor Tony Giarratano (.250 OBP, 1 walk) have proven to be anything more than defensive specialists.

  • Before diving into the world of 2005 draftees, there are four that don't fit into that category that merit mention. Two are first rounders from 2004, both of whom disappointed in low-A last year. The Twins moved Trevor Plouffe up to the FSL after his Midwest League disaster, and his .446 OBP certainly shows signs of life. A similar heartbeat has not been found in Chris Nelson, former top ten pick repeating low-A. Don't let the .295 batting average fool you, it's empty, his lack of power and patience are currently producing a .744 OPS.

    While many pegged those two players for breakout seasons, I opted for Australian Brad Harman. Also in the FSL, Harman has shown nothing close to Plouffe's polish. Instead, Harman has been awful, hitting just .205/.289/.231 through his first 11 games. His struggles outshine even those of Eduardo Nunez, a PECOTA sleeper with a similar sub-.600 OPS in the Florida State League. Something must be in the water in the Sunshine State.

  • It's foolish not to trust scouts and scouting directors, to shy away from the rankings that these professionals created. In 2005, shortstops were drafted in this order, following Tulowitzki: C.J. Henry, Cliff Pennington, Tyler Greene, and Jeff Bianchi. Henry is now on the DL, a hamstring problem after struggling in his debut. Pennington has struggled like no one else in April, sporting a .114 slugging percentage as we speak. And Greene has been awful as well, striking out 17 times in his first 32 at-bats. Bianchi is rising up prospect lists simply by not playing, at this point.

  • Time to close this article out with a ranking of the top ten shortstop prospects in the minors right now:

    1. Brandon Wood - Angels
    2. Stephen Drew - Diamondbacks
    3. B.J. Upton - Devil Rays
    4. Troy Tulowitzki - Rockies
    5. Dustin Pedroia - Red Sox
    6. Erick Aybar - Angels
    7. Elvis Andrus - Braves
    8. Reid Brignac - Devil Rays
    9. Marcus Sanders - Giants
    10. Alcides Escobar - Brewers

  • Baseball BeatApril 18, 2006
    Sigh Young and Mr. Cy Young
    By Rich Lederer

    I had the pleasure of watching two pitchers with distinctly different approaches and stuff dominate opponents on Monday. On a night in which Pedro Martinez won his 200th game and Jose Contreras combined with two relievers to throw a one-hit shutout, I witnessed the young and inconsistent Daniel Cabrera and the wily veteran Greg Maddux carve up and beat the two Los Angeles franchises in convincing fashion.

    Cabrera entered the game with 16 walks in 6 1/3 innings. You might say he had been the Rocky Horror Pitcher Show in his first two outings. He left Monday's contest with 17 BB in 13 1/3 IP. The 6-foot-7, 258-pound right-hander yielded his only walk with two outs in the seventh. He permitted just one runner past second base through six innings and the only run allowed was on a passed ball by Ramon Hernandez. His mechanics were outstanding, employing a nice and easy delivery with a mostly consistent release point throughout the game. Cabrera's fastball sat in the mid- to high-90s and topped out at 99.

    Maddux, on the other hand, was working in the low-80s, mixing two-seam fastballs with curves and changeups. The four-time Cy Young award winner, who turned 40 last Friday, put on a pitching clinic. He proved that a pitcher can win by throwing strikes, painting the corners, keeping the ball down, and changing speeds. The Professor retired the first nine batters he faced and also got the sides out in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. He won his 321st game in less than two hours and is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1994. Oh, Maddux also went 1-for-3, scored a run and had an RBI. In addition, he showed everyone why he has won the Gold Glove for 16 consecutive years by fielding his position superbly and picking Rafael Furcal off second base.

    Here are the pitching lines for Cabrera and Maddux:

                IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO 
    Cabrera      7   5  1   0   1   6
    Maddux       8   3  1   1   0   6 

    I charted Cabrera's outing vs. the Angels. He threw 106 pitches, including 70 strikes. (FB stands for fastball, CB for curveball, and SL for slider.)

    Angels 1st
    Figgins: Ball in the dirt (FB), Ball (FB), Strike looking (FB-95), Foul (FB-96), Foul (FB-96), Figgins struck out swinging (CB-83).
    Cabrera: Strike looking (FB-96), Ball (SL-93), Foul (FB-97), Foul (FB-96), Cabrera grounded out to shortstop (CB-83).
    Guerrero: Ball (FB-95), Guerrero grounded out to third (FB-94).

    Angels 2nd
    Anderson: Strike looking (CB-83), Strike looking (FB-96), Ball (FB-96), Ball that hit catcher's target just outside (FB-97), Long foul down the RF line (SL-86), Anderson flied out to deep left (FB-97).
    Erstad: Strike looking (FB-99), Ball (SL-86), Strike looking (CB-84), Ball (FB-96), Erstad grounded out to first (FB).
    Kotchman: Strike looking on the inside corner (FB-92), Strike looking down and away on the outside corner (FB-97), Foul (FB-98), Ball (FB), Kotchman fouled out to third (CB).

    Angels 3rd
    Kennedy: Ball (FB), Foul (FB-95), Kennedy flied out to left (FB-97).
    Molina: Strike swinging (FB-96), Ball (FB-96), Foul (FB-96), Ball (FB-98), Ball in the dirt (SL-88), Molina struck out swinging on a pitch up and out of the strike zone (FB-97).
    Izturis: Ball (FB), Ball (FB), Strike looking (FB), Ball well inside (FB), Strike looking (FB-95), Foul (FB-96), Izturis reached on an infield single off the glove of Roberts (FB).
    Figgins: Figgins popped out to third (FB-96).

    Angels 4th
    Cabrera: Ball (FB-95), Ball (FB-94), Strike looking (FB-96), Strike swinging (FB-96), Ball high (FB-98), Cabrera grounded out to pitcher on a low pitch out of the strike zone (FB-97).
    Guerrero: Foul (FB-95), Strike swinging down and away (SL), Ball (SL-86), Guerrero reached on an infield single with Tejada showing a lack of range (FB).
    Anderson: Strike looking (CB-84), Strike looking (FB-96), Anderson singled to right on an 0-2 pitch above the belt and right down the middle (FB-96), Guerrero to second.
    Erstad: Ball (FB-98), Strike looking (SL-86), Ball (FB-96), Foul (CB-84), Erstad struck out swinging on a low and away great "pitcher's pitch" (FB-96).
    Kotchman: Strike looking (CB-85), Kotchman flied out to left (FB-96).

    Angels 5th
    Kennedy: Strike swinging (FB), Ball (CB-85), Foul (FB-97), Kennedy lined out to first (SL-89).
    Molina: Strike looking (FB-96), Ball (FB), Molina flied out to the warning track in LF (FB-96).
    Izturis: Strike looking (FB-96), Strike swinging (SL-87), Izturis struck out looking (FB-98).

    Angels 6th
    Figgins: Ball (FB), Strike looking (FB-94), Strike swinging (SL-88), Figgins struck out swinging when the ball was already in the catcher's glove (FB-98).
    Cabrera: Ball in the dirt (CB-84), Foul (FB-96), Foul in on the hands (FB-97), Ball (SL-87), Ball just missed outside (FB-98), Cabrera popped out to shortstop (FB-97).
    Guerrero: Guerrero grounded out to shortstop on a ball that was a full foot inside (FB-95).

    Angels 7th
    Anderson: Ball in the dirt (CB-84), Anderson singled past a diving Roberts just right of 2B (FB-96).
    Erstad: Ball (FB-94), Strike swinging (FB-95), Strike swinging...totally overmatched (FB-95), Erstad singled to left center, fighting off a pitch late (FB-95), Anderson to second.
    Kotchman: Kotchman grounded out to pitcher (FB-96), Anderson to third, Erstad to second.
    Kennedy: Strike looking (CB), Foul (CB-84), Ball (FB-95), Foul (FB-96), Kennedy struck out on a lazy swing and miss...ball popped out of the glove of Hernandez, who tags Kennedy to complete the out (FB-97).
    Molina: Strike looking (FB-94), Ball (SL), Ball (CB-85), Ball high and tight (FB-95), Molina walked (FB-94).
    Izturis: Ball (FB), Anderson scored, Erstad to third, Molina to second on passed ball, Izturis lined out to center (FB).

    Cabrera left the game with the Orioles leading the Angels, 4-1. Latroy Hawkins and Chris Ray preserved Cabrera's first victory of the season, a huge confidence booster for the man with as much potential as any pitcher in baseball.

    Ray picked up his fifth save of the campaign and impressed me in doing so. His fastball was timed at 95 and 96 with one pitch supposedly touching 99 on the radar gun. He has a hurried windup and his 3/4-arm angle is likely to cause problems for right-handed batters.

    * * * * *

    Although I didn't chart Maddux's pitches, I have included his pitch-by-pitch log vs. the Dodgers below (courtesy of

    Dodgers 1st
    Furcal: Ball, Strike looking, Ball, Strike swinging, Ball, Furcal grounded out to second.
    Lofton: Strike looking, Foul, Ball, Lofton struck out swinging.
    Cruz Jr.: Strike looking, Cruz grounded out to pitcher.

    Dodgers 2nd
    Drew: Ball, Drew grounded out to first.
    Saenz: Strike looking, Saenz flied out to center.
    Mueller: Ball, Mueller grounded out to first.

    Dodgers 3rd
    Robles: Strike looking, Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Robles grounded out to second.
    Navarro: Ball, Strike looking, Navarro popped out to third.
    Tomko: Strike swinging, Strike looking, Ball, Tomko struck out looking.

    Dodgers 4th
    Furcal: Strike looking, Foul, Ball, Foul, Furcal singled to center.
    Lofton: Lofton sacrificed to catcher, Furcal to second.
    Cruz Jr.: Furcal picked off at third, pitcher to shortstop to third, Cruz flied out to center.

    Dodgers 5th
    Drew: Drew singled to center.
    Saenz: Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Saenz flied out to center.
    Mueller: Ball, Foul, Pickoff attempt, Mueller doubled to deep left, Drew scored.
    Robles: Ball, Strike looking, Foul, Robles struck out looking.
    Navarro: Ball, Ball, Navarro grounded out to second.

    Dodgers 6th
    Repko: Strike looking, Strike swinging, Repko struck out looking.
    Furcal: Ball, Ball, Strike looking, Furcal grounded out to third.
    Lofton: Ball, Foul, Ball, Ball, Foul, Lofton struck out swinging.

    Dodgers 7th
    Cruz Jr.: Strike (missed bunt), Strike swinging, Cruz flied out to center.
    Drew: Ball, Foul, Drew flied out to deep right.
    Saenz: Saenz lined out to third.

    Dodgers 8th
    Mueller: Mueller grounded out to second.
    Robles: Ball, Strike looking, Ball, Foul, Ball, Robles grounded out to second.
    Navarro: Strike looking, Strike looking, Navarro struck out looking.

    Maddux was seemingly breezing through eight innings, throwing just 85 pitches (including 57 strikes). However, Dusty Baker brought in Ryan Dempster to work the ninth, presumably managing to the save rule--something I will never understand.

    Cabrera and Maddux. A contrast in styles. But exhibits A and B as to how pitchers can win in the major leagues. The common thread yesterday was throwing strikes. Maddux has been known to do that his entire career. If Cabrera can reduce the number of free passes allowed, he could be on the verge of a big year.

    WTNYApril 17, 2006
    Pluses and Minuses
    By Bryan Smith

    For those following the upcoming June amateur draft, 2006 has been a year of cynicism. While no one ever proclaimed the '06 class to be top-heavy, the preseason talk centered around one of the best and deepest group of pitchers in recent memory.

    After a 2005 draft in which no pitcher was chosen among the first five picks, the tables were set to be turned in 2006. However, one by one, the wheels have come off for many of the junior blue chippers. Max Scherzer, injured. Daniel Bard, inconsistent. Dallas Buck, ineffective.

    With the draft just about two short months away, player's stocks seem as volatile as ever. Take Ian Kennedy as an example. Early in the season, we saw the player many had labeled the safest pick in the draft, dominant through three starts.

    Opponent IP H ER K BB
    Long Beach State 6 5 3 7 1
    Florida International 7 3 0 10 2
    Kansas 8.2 1 0 13 3

    However, what followed was a string of mediocrity, when Kennedy proved as flappable as anyone in the country. He hadn't suffered such a slump in all his years as a Trojan.

    Opponent IP H ER K BB
    Hawaii 7 7 3 5 2
    Georgia 6.2 9 3 11 2
    Stanford 6.1 9 5 2 1
    Oregon State 6 6 1 5 5
    Stanford 6.1 9 5 6 2

    But with one start, the stock of Ian Kennedy was back. Pitching against Brandon Morrow and the rival California Bears, Kennedy went ten innings to earn his first win in quite a few outings. He showed great control and pitchability in addition to proving his valuable "innings-eater" label.

    This week, unfortunately, Kennedy could not keep scouts' spirits high. Pitching in the thin air of Tempe, Arizona, Kennedy had his worst start of the year: 11 hits and 8 earned runs in 5.1 innings. Despite his best efforts, Kennedy has been pronounced a first rounder through all of 2006's trials and tribulations. But as the last two weeks have shown, single starts will have plenty of impact on how much slot money Ian is allotted.

    Without question, each member of this year's draft class comes with a serious number of caveats. Here's one attempt at balancing the positives and negatives with a few players making movement on draft boards...

    Tim Lincecum, RHP: Washington

    If the season ended today, no player would be more deserving of the Golden Spikes trophy. It took Lincecum a while to get going, but since he has not looked back. A quick glance at his last four starts, in which he has not yielded an earned run:

    Opponent IP H ER K BB BF
    Brigham Young 6 1 0 14 1 20
    Arizona State 9 2 0 12 4 33
    UCLA 9 2 0 18 1 31
    California 8 5 0 8 3 32

    During this streak, Lincecum has struck out about 45% of the hitters he has faced. He has been so dominant, in fact, that just 16.4% of these batters have reached base via a hit or walk. Once full of control problems, Lincecum has been on point since rocky starts against Santa Clara and Cal Poly.

    Statistically, Lincecum is at the top of college baseball. He could very well enter an organization with the nation's most prestigious prize. In addition, he will come with maybe the most devastating two-pitch combination out there, with a mid 90s fastball and devastating curve. Everything rosy?

    Not exactly. While scouts fixate on Lincecum's tiny frame, others point to a workload that would run most pitchers ragged. In four straight starts the Huskie faced more than 30 batters, during which time he also pitched in relief on short rest. The best player on an overachieving team, Lincecum is ridden very hard.

    While some pitchers can thank a rubber arm for endurance, some see Lincecum as a ticking time bomb. His herky-jerky delivery, mixed with that small frame and heavy workload, seems to be a definite sign of arm trouble down the road. Once considered a third round pick because of this red flag, Lincecum's dominance has some teams hoping to play roulette.

    Matt Antonelli, 3B/2B: Wake Forest

    I have been tooting Antonelli's horn in this space for quite some time now, as I fell in love with his patience-athleticism combination display in the Cape last year. Even while Antonelli started to show newly-developed power this year, I said the former football and hockey star could handle a move to the middle of the diamond.

    Someone was listening. After showing his offensive versatility with a move from the middle of the order to the leadoff slot, Antonelli started to show versatility in the field this past weekend. For the first time in his career, Antonelli helped the Demon Deacons at another position, playing half the series at second base. Certainly, this will not help alleviate the long-standing comparison to Edgardo Alfonzo.

    Entering the season as a definite early round selection, many think his newfound power (hitting his 11th homer on Sunday) will undoubtedly lead to a first round selection. But be careful, as teams are not afraid to look at context. At his site, Boyd Nation ranks the Division I baseball teams each week, top to bottom.

    According to Nation's rankings, Wake Forest has played nine top 100 teams this year, playing 18 games against the group. More of his games have been against worse teams, including six games against club's ranked below the 200 slot. Against the 11 schools he has faced ranked below 100, Antonelli has been dominant, hitting .430 with 20 of his 25 extra-base hits.

    However, when up against the best his schedule has to offer, it has been a different story for Antonelli. Against the nine top 100 teams, Matt is just 17/69, good for a .246 average and .391 slugging percentage. While being able to pound Wright State and Virginia Tech is important, Antonelli has much to prove in upcoming weekend series against Florida State, Miami and Clemson. His performance should dictate whether or not Antonelli is among the top 30 picks in the draft.

    Daniel Bard, RHP: North Carolina

    For the first time in the school's history, the Tar Heel baseball team was recently given the #1 overall ranking by one outlet. This fact goes far to validate much of the preseason hype surrounding North Carolina, seen by many as the most top heavy baseball team in the nation.

    "With those two, how could they lose?" one reader asked me, referring to the consensus top-six pitchers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard. But while Miller has been fantastic, staying consistent and on pace to be drafted first overall, Bard is pitching his way out of the top ten. Instead of two sure-fire wins per weekend, extra onus has been placed on other Tar Heels, like shortstop Josh Horton, third ace Robert Woodard, and closer Andrew Carnigan.

    This past weekend, Bard had his first quality start in five outings. By shutting out Virginia Tech (ranked #131 by Boyd), Bard put a temporary stop to his recent decline. Still, the right-hander walked five batters in 7 innings, bringing the five-start total to 20 in 26.1 innings.

    Like Antonelli, Bard has struggled against the best on the Tar Heel schedule. In three consecutive starts against good programs in Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, Bard failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He allowed eleven earned runs in 12 innings. Without the slider -- a potential plus pitch with the development of consistency -- Bard is just another hard thrower.

    Early in the season, I claimed Bard had cemented his status as one of the nation's top three pitchers, and was challenging Scherzer for the second spot. Oops. Now, both Brandon Morrow and Brad Lincoln have firmly moved past Bard, who will be in a two-month race with a few other starters for the fifth college pitcher selected honor.

    Greg Reynolds, RHP: Stanford

    Personally, I have never understood it. OK, Brandon Morrow had an ERA over 9.00 his sophomore year. And Max Scherzer was a disaster as a freshman. I get that, but each balances those poor statistics with an upper 90s mph fastball. While Greg Reynolds possesses good stuff and great size, I have never understood the love for Reynolds.

    Like Kennedy and Bard, Reynolds appeal is for his early season statistics. Through four starts, Reynolds was validating the preseason hype, especially after dominating Fresno State, striking out 11 in 7.2 innings. Since, Greg has only been impressive in one start, against the Cardinal's lone second half cookie-cutter opponent: San Jose State.

    Reynolds is a mixed bag in every sense of the phrase. His delivery isn't fluid enough, and his head-bobbing wind up is blamed for control problems. But Reynolds also offers fantastic arm action to go with his size, indicating a lot of velocity and pitchability in his future.

    But with first round picks, results are important. Without a better resume, Reynolds stands to have a more disappointing draft day than many are projecting.

    Rounding out the Pitchers

    After a bad couple months, Joba Chamberlain had a big weekend pitching against Texas A&M. With Bard and Kennedy, he has a chance at becoming the fifth college pitcher drafted. As do the two college closers -- Mark Melancon and Blair Erickson -- though that's probably too early for both. Melancon was out this past weekend, while Erickson had an unsuccessful attempt at the rotation. Sleeper Josh Butler has been too hittable for San Diego this past week, and now stands as a fringe first rounder. Jared Hughes is in the same boat, and with a big finish, teammate Andrew Carpenter could catch him. Falling is Dallas Buck, who finally this weekend had a good start (if not dominant) against a good team.

    Other Big Hitters

    Wes Hodges had a good weekend, and his numbers are sitting at the best point of his season. While I still question whether his power will make it to the next level, it's hard to imagine he slips past the middle of the first round. The same is true for Drew Stubbs, who will be worth the gamble for some team. He is the Tyler Greene, if more talented, of 2006. Slugger Matt LaPorta continues his all-or-nothing ways; I'm convinced Mark Hamilton (Tulane) will make for the better choice. Finally, look for some teams to snatch up sure-fire players like Chad Tracy and Shane Robinson around supplemental draft time.

    College baseball's short season makes each weekend more important than the previous. In a world where Tim Lincecum is mentioned for the top overall pick thanks to four fantastic starts, expect major changes in common draft mentality before the next time I bring this up. Welcome to the world of "ping."

    Baseball BeatApril 15, 2006
    Curt Flood: Between the Lines
    By Rich Lederer

    My good friend Alex Belth spent the better part of the last three years writing the first-ever biography on Curt Flood, a player I had the privilege of watching perform with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1960s. Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights tells the life story of a man with a conscience who took on the system and paved the way for free agency. The book is long overdue and is an important part of baseball and social history.

    Belth is well-known in the baseball blogosphere as the founder and co-writer of Bronx Banter. He is also a contributing columnist for In addition, Alex penned a guest article (Otis Redding Was Right) - a stirrring tribute to a dear friend - as one of our designated hitters last November. He is an exceptional writer and storyteller. An excerpt of the book and interview with Belth are available for readers who would like to preview Stepping Up.

    I wrote the following essay on Flood exclusively for Alex has granted me permission to publish it here as well. Whereas Stepping Up details Flood's formative years in Oakland and off-the-field battles against Major League Baseball as an adult, my article is 100% about Curt Flood, the baseball player.

    * * * * *

    Curt Flood. With those initials, he was destined to be a center fielder. And what a center fielder he was!

    He wasn't a power hitter. He wasn't a base stealer. He didn't draw many walks either. But Flood was a terrific player.

    Sure, Curtis Charles Flood has become more famous over the years for what he did off the field. Taking on the owners by challenging the reserve clause was a courageous act. But let's not forget what he did between the chalk lines. Flood, in fact, was best known for what he did right smack in the middle of those white lines.

    You see, Flood was one of the greatest fielding center fielders of all time. He won seven consecutive Gold Gloves. Yes, from 1963-1969, Curt won the coveted Rawlings award every year.

    Only 11 outfielders have been named a Gold Glove winner more often than Flood. Two of these players - Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente - were on the National League Gold Glove team with Flood for six straight years. Now that is pretty good company to keep. To wit, Mays and Clemente are tied with the most Gold Gloves (12) of any outfielder since the inception of the award in 1957.

    Mays and Clemente were automatics year-in and year-out. That meant Flood had to beat out the likes of Hank Aaron, Johnny Callison, Willie Davis, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, and Bill Virdon to earn a spot on that team. A 25-year-old Flood replaced Virdon as a Gold Glover in 1963. Virdon, in turn, had beaten out Pinson in 1962. Davis, whose career began in 1960, picked up two Gold Gloves after Flood retired.

    From Flood's rookie year in 1958 through his last full season in 1969, he had a higher fielding percentage than Mays (.987 to .982) along with more assists (114 to 100) and double plays (28 to 23). Among all NL center fielders during that span, Flood ranked first in fielding percentage and double plays; and second in putouts (4005 to 4239 for Mays) and assists (only Pinson, with 116, had more). It is noteworthy that Flood remained in center and Pinson was switched to right the one year they played together in St. Louis (1969), even though the latter was seven months younger than the former and a lifelong CF.

    Flood had marvelous range. He could run down fly balls with the best of 'em. Flood, however, didn't have much of a choice. He played the majority of his career in what was once known as Sportsman's Park. It was renamed Busch Stadium in 1953, but it was a vastly different ballpark than the one that was built in 1966. The center field fence at Sportsman's Park-turned-Busch Stadium I was more than 420 feet from home plate. Flood had a lot of ground to cover, and, boy, did he do it well.

    The man who wore the number 21 on the back of his flannel jersey also played a pretty mean center field in the first year of the new Busch Stadium. He led MLB in putouts with 391 and was the only outfielder who played in at least 100 games not to make an error all season. Flood played 159 games in the field and remains one of only 10 outfielders to field 1.000 in 150 or more games in a season. Among these players, nobody had as many fielding chances as he did that year.

    From September 3, 1965 through June 2, 1967, Flood played 226 games in the outfield and handled 568 chances - a league record - without committing an error. Two weeks after his streak was broken, Flood completed the first unassisted double play by an NL outfielder since 1945.

    According to Baseball Prospectus, Flood's defensive prowess in 1966 was worth 23 runs above an average outfielder. He had his worst year offensively that season (.267 AVG/.298 OBP/.364 SLG) since 1960, but he more than made up for it defensively. For his career, it is estimated that Flood saved about 109 runs in the field over an average player and 380 runs over a replacement level player.

    Over the course of Flood's career, his defense was worth about 10 runs per year compared to a typical CF and more than 30 per year vs. a backup or bench player. In the world of sabermetrics, every 10 runs equates to a win. As a result, Flood's defense alone was worth at least one extra victory annually for the Cardinals and perhaps as many as three.

    Although best known for his work with the glove, Flood was an important member of the Cardinals' offense as well. He played during an era when batting average was more highly valued than it is today. Curt batted over .300 six times during his career, including a personal high of .335 in 1967 when the league average was just .249. He had more than 200 hits in back-to-back seasons and led the NL with 211 in 1964. You could find Flood's name in the top ten in hits and batting average five times, doubles four times, triples once, and hit by pitch twice. He ranked in the top ten in times on base for three consecutive campaigns.

    Putting the ball in play was another emphasis of the day and Flood could do that about as well as anyone. Curt never struck out even 60 times in a single season despite seven years in which he had more than 600 at bats. Importantly, he was one of the eight toughest batters to fan in the NL every year from 1962-1968.

    Flood was also a player who could do the "little things." He was a leadoff hitter before Lou Brock arrived on the scene and for another year after that. The unselfish Flood then batted second or third the rest of his career (in lineups that featured players like Ken Boyer, Bill White and later Orlando Cepeda, Roger Maris, and Joe Torre). He could take pitches to allow Brock the opportunity to steal bases and was adept at hitting behind the runner and bunting. Flood, in fact, was tied for fifth with the most sacrifice hits during the 1960s.

    The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Flood finished in the top 24 in the MVP voting every year from 1963-1968. He placed fourth in 1968 (behind teammate Bob Gibson, who won the MVP and Cy Young that year; Pete Rose; and Willie McCovey), yet ranked in the top ten in just two categories - placing fifth in hits and batting average. Of his 186 hits, 160 were singles. He had just 17 doubles, 4 triples, and 5 home runs. Granted, it was the "Year of the Pitcher," but Curt really didn't do anything fancy. The co-captain just went out and played spectacular defense in center field while putting up solid numbers at the plate.

    Flood ranked 21st in Win Shares during the 1960s. In fairness to other players of that era, using this period most likely overstates Flood's standing among his peers because it just so happens to coincide with the ten best years of his career. Nonetheless, he was a key player for the Cardinals, tying for the team lead in Win Shares in 1962 and never finishing worse than fifth from that point forward.

    The Win Shares formula rates Flood as the best defensive outfielder in baseball history, per inning played. As Bill James noted in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Flood "rates higher than he probably ought to because he skipped the decline phase of his career." James ranks Paul Blair, Garry Maddox, and the DiMaggios with Flood as the best ever in terms of their "prime years."

    More than any everyday player, Flood was the face of the Cardinals during the 1960s. He led the team in games, at bats, hits, doubles, runs, times on base, and total bases. Flood was also in the top three among NL center fielders - along with Mays and Pinson - in each of these categories.

    A competitive player, Flood was all about winning. The three-time All-Star was a major factor in the Cardinals going 1027-883 (.538) with three NL pennants and two World Series championships during his stay in St. Louis. Although Flood's offensive numbers pale by comparison to the greats of his day, he was good enough to bat first, second, or third for one of the most successful franchises during the 1960s.

    But it was Flood's defense that will be remembered more than anything else - well, at least when it comes to what he did between the lines.

    Designated HitterApril 13, 2006
    Can Money Buy Love in Baseball?
    By David J. Berri

    One of the prizes in baseball's free agent market was Johnny Damon. Expected to re-sign with the Boston Red Sox, Damon shocked the Red Sox nation when he left the team he helped win a title in 2004. What was even more shocking was his destination, the dreaded New York Yankees. Note only did Damon break the hearts of the Red Sox faithful, for the extra millions the Yankees paid, Mr. Damon was required to dramatically alter his personal appearance, cutting his trade-mark hair and shaving his beard to join the men in pinstripes. The Damon story suggests that money can buy looks. But can all that money buy another World Title for the Bronx Bombers?

    We are told over and over again that money can indeed buy the fans love in baseball. Supposedly teams that spend the most win the most. As is so often the case, the numbers tell a different tale.

    Our story begins in 2001. That year the Yankees, Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers became the first teams in Major League Baseball history to spend more than $100 million on player salaries in a single season. The following year the Yankees pulled away from the pack, becoming the first team to clear the $125 million barrier. In 2003 the spending continued with New York's payroll surpassing the $150 million mark. The next season another record was set, with Yankee salaries rising above $180 million. In 2005 team payroll actually cleared the $200 million barrier. Among all teams excepting the Yankees, player payroll has increased only 7% in the last five seasons. Over the same period the Yankees have increased payroll by more than 85%.

    Year Yankee Payroll Yankee Wins
    2005 $208,306,817 95
    2004 $184,193,950 101
    2003 $152,749,814 101
    2002 $125,928,583 103
    2001 $112,287,143 95
    TOTALS $783,466,307 495

    Source: Payroll Data is from USA

    Over these past five years the Yankees have spent more than $780 million on player salaries. What did all this spending buy? The Yankees have won more regular season games than any other team in Major League Baseball. New York has averaged 99 wins per season, while the next berst teams, the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals, have averaged 96. Yes, over five years, those $780 million Yankees have only won fifteen more games than their closest competitors.

    This neck-and-neck competition on the field should have been reflected in the payrolls of each team. The numbers defy this expectation. Over these five years Oakland has spent less than $240 million on player salary, or less than a third of the Yankees payroll during the same period. St. Louis has been a bit more spendthrift, paying its players more than $410 million. Still, St. Louis and Oakland combined have spent over $100 million less to achieve almost as many wins as the Yankees.

    What else did the Yankees gain from all this spending? They did manage to win the same number of World Series titles as Oakland and St. Louis combined: zero. A massive payroll, more massive every year, and in each season the last game the Yankees played ended in a loss. To be fair, the Yankees are not alone in their failure to buy a title. Of the eighteen teams in baseball history that have spent more than $100 million on players in a given season, only the 2004 Boston Red Sox managed to win the World Series.

    This lack of success leads us to wonder, given the amount of money the Yankees are spending, why have the Bronx Bombers not won the World Series recently?

    Contrary to popular perception, payroll in professional sports is not strongly linked to wins. A $100 million team does not win twice as many games as a $50 million team - not even close. Our own work has shown that only about 18% of a team's regular season wins can be attributed to its payroll. In other words, more than 80% of a team's regular season record cannot be tied to team spending. We would add that this is what we see when we look at teams in Major League Baseball from 1988 to 2005. In other words, the lack of a link between spending and wins is not a recent phenomenon. Across time more spending is not an elixir that leads automatically to success on the field. As the saying goes, games are not won on paper. Moreover, they are not won just because you spent a pile of paper.

    The Yankees, however, both spend and win. The Yankees have consistently placed near the top of the league in regular season wins and at the very top in payroll. But near the top is not actually ascending to the ultimate height, a point principal owner George Steinbrenner often notes when he frets about his team's lack of a World Series title over the past five years.

    Steinbrenner should well fret. A number of factors can conspire to bring down even a team packed with all-stars. The three most salient roadblocks are: performance inconsistency, the ravages of time, and luck.

    Baseball is a game of inherent inconsistency. Remember, we are talking about grown men hitting a round ball with a round bat. Even the very best hitters are unsuccessful more often than not. And even the best cannot simply create success whenever they like. Take the Yankees most recent addition, Johnny Damon.

    Year Damon's OPS Ave CF OPS Difference
    2005 0.805 0.776 0.029
    2004 0.857 0.816 0.041
    2003 0.750 0.799 -0.049
    2002 0.799 0.805 -0.006
    2001 0.687 0.781 -0.094
    2000 0.877 0.807 0.070
    1999 0.856 0.799 0.057
    1998 0.779 0.779 0.000
    1997 0.723 0.798 -0.075
    1996 0.680 0.819 -0.139
    Ave 0.781 0.798 -0.017

    Note: OPS stands for on-base percentage plus slugging percentage.

    Hitting performance can be measured many different ways. When measured via OPS, the Damon story illustrates our story of performance inconsistency. Some years, like 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, and 2005, Damon's performance at the plate exceeded the average hitter at his position. In other years, like 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2003 Damon performed below the average centerfielder. The Yankees will be paying Damon $52 million over the course of four years - and hope he will be above-average each season. Yet Damon has never had a four-year span of consistently above-average play, and there is no reason to expect he will have one now. Given his past performance, at least one of these four campaigns will likely be below average for the Yankees' new centerfielder.

    Damon's career performance is not anomalous. Our analysis indicates that less than 40% of player performance in any given season can be attributed to what a player did the previous season. That is past success - or past failure - is a weak predictor of future outcomes. Hitting success will naturally fluctuate - due to chance, injury, schedule, diet, and perhaps hundreds of other factors - just as weather fluctuates in July. July may be hot and sunny on average, but any given day can be rainy and chilly. Neither Damon or his teammates has demonstrated the ability to overcome the reality of statistical variation, any more than anyone can guarantee that everyday at the ballpark in July will be sunny and warm.

    Inconsistency is not the only challenge facing the Yankees; the passage of time is an enemy as well. The Yankees management has tended over the past half-decade to sign or trade for well-established players with strong reputations. Unfortunately, the nature of free agent rules has resulted in a Yankees line-up replete with players over the age of 30. Yale economist Ray Fair demonstrated in a recent study entitled "Estimated Age Effects in Baseball" that the performance of baseball players will peak at age 28 and slowly decline thereafter. Of the players projected to start for the Yankees on opening day in 2006, only Robinson Cano is under 30. The remaining players have crested the statistical hill and will all tend to decline rather than improve on their previous feats.

    Still, the end is not so close that the Yankees roster is ready for retirement. Over the last five years the Yankees have employed older players and still crafted the best winning percentage in baseball. The World Series title, though, has proven elusive. Hence we come to our third road block to success. Beyond inconsistency and time, teams must also contend with luck.

    Year WS Champion Season Wins ML Wins rank
    2005 Chicago White Sox 99 2nd
    2004 Boston 98 3rd
    2003 Florida 91 7th
    2002 LA Angels 99 4th
    2001 Arizona 91 Tied-6th
    2000 New York Yankees 87 9th
    1999 New York Yankees 98 3rd
    1998 New York Yankees 114 1st
    1997 Florida 92 4th
    1996 New York Yankees 92 3rd

    How often has the team with the best record in the regular season won the World Series title? In the past ten years, this has happened once. In 1998 the Yankees led Major League Baseball in regular season victories and also won the last game they played. In 2000 the Yankees posted the 9th best record in baseball and took home the trophy. Although each Yankee team since has outperformed the 2000 edition in the regular season, the parade each year was held someplace else. As the Yankees learned in 2002 and 2003, being the very best from April to September does not guarantee happy days in October.

    Certainly a student of Yankee history would see a different story. In the forty years beginning in 1923 and ending in 1962 the Yankees took the World Series title twenty times. In sixteen title years, the Yankees also posted the best record in Major League Baseball.

    In the 1960s the frequency of the best regular season team capturing the crown changed dramatically. Part of this change can be explained by how many teams are allowed to participate in baseball's post-season. Until 1969 the World Series was played by the best teams in the American and National League. In other words, only two teams played in baseball's post-season. In 1969 baseball introduced two divisions in each league and post-season participation was expanded to four teams. With four teams participating the fortunes of the best team declined. Across 25 seasons, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1993, the team with the best record won the title in seven years, or 28% of the time.

    After the 1994-95 labor dispute was resolved, baseball began allowing eight teams to participate in the post-season. Now the path to the title required the champion to win three different playoff series. Perhaps it is not surprising that in the years since only the 1998 Yankees managed to win the most regular and post-season contests in the same campaign.

    It is important to note that post-season expansions are not the whole story. The difference between the best and the rest has changed since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In the days of Ruth, baseball players were primarily white players from the Eastern United States. The integration of baseball, coupled with the willingness of teams to search the world for playing talent, has greatly expanded the population of available talent.

    What does this mean for the Yankees? The Yankees may be able to acquire the best free agent talent available, but no team can buy all the best players - there are just too many of them to fit on a single roster. No matter how large the Yankee payroll, the opposing teams will also have good players, especially in the playoffs when the weakest teams have been eliminated. In the end, when two good teams face-off the outcome can be more about luck than about skill. And with the playoffs expanded to three rounds, winning a title in the 21st century might require more luck than ever before. Unfortunately for the Yankees, luck is the one thing money cannot buy.

    Even without a crystal ball, death, taxes, and the uncertainty of baseball can reasonably be predicted. The natural inconsistency of player performance, declining productivity of aging veterans, increases in the league-wide level of talent, and the unpredictability associated with a long post-season, all conspire to rob George Steinbrenner of the World Series titles he keeps trying to buy. So although we are sure the Yankees will lead Major League Baseball in payroll in 2006, a payroll title does not guarantee a parade in October. And Damon may look better in 2006. But just like he did in 2005, he may still lose the last game he plays in 2006.

    David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook are authors of The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sports (Stanford University Press), forthcoming in May, 2006.

    Baseball Beat/WTNYApril 12, 2006
    Baseball With the Numbers
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    Larry Borowsky wrote a guest column last week called Baseball Without the Numbers. It was a refreshing piece in an era dominated by statistics. But enough with the refreshments. Man needs his meat and potatoes, too. If you like baseball with the numbers, then this piece is for you. If you don't, be sure to check back this summer as we're bound to come up with another numberless article.

    Numbers, numbers, numbers. We have 100 of them for you. Yes, we've got something for every number from 0 to 99. Baseball With the Numbers.

    00: the number of HR Jason Kendall will hit for the second straight year.

    01: Nap Lajoie hits .426, the highest batting average since 1900.

    02: how many different times San Francisco fans get to pay for the day/night doubleheader between the Astros and Giants on Thursday, April 13.

    03: the size of the Angels' lead when K-Rod comes into the game.

    04: hits, runs, RBI, and SB combined Brandon Watson has in 23 AB this year (but all's not lost--he has 2 CS).

    05: starts until the Red Sox regret letting Curt Schilling throw 231 pitches in his first two outings.

    06: hitters Will Ohman faced, and let on base before being taken out of Tuesday's loss to Reds.

    07: years since Ken Ray -- the Braves new set-up man -- last appeared in the Major Leagues.

    08: the number of saves Chris Ray will have at the end of April.

    09: consecutive home openers the Yankees have won.

    10: more baserunners Kyle Lohse has allowed in the same number of innings as Francisco Liriano.

    11: walks allowed by the Daniel and Fernando Cabrera in their first outings this year, totaling 2 1/3 IP.

    12: hits by Florida Marlins outfielders in 54 at-bats.

    13: a lucky number for Derrek Lee and David Ortiz.

    14: days until we expect George Steinbrenner to issue his first statement.

    15: Win Shares we suspect David Wright has earned through the Mets first five wins.

    16: number of players fighting at the bat rack to face Glendon Rusch.

    17: strikeouts, including Spring Training, Chan Ho Park has recorded in 13.1 innings since his great World Baseball Classic.

    18: number of strikeouts among six Brewers starters in 130 at-bats.

    19: number of strikeouts between Geoff Jenkins and Prince Fielder in 53 at-bats.

    20: Happy Birthday, King Felix.

    21: how many BB the Brothers Giles have thus far.

    22: how many BB the Brothers Molina will have all year.

    23: men left on base by Juan Encarnacion this season without an RBI.

    24: Philadelphia's run total after seven games.

    25: baserunners Andy Pettitte has allowed in two starts this season.

    26: Spring Training hits (in 60 AB) that earned Josh Barfield the Padres 2B job.

    27: games into the season it took in 2005 for Jose Reyes to match his current walk total.

    28: days since Roger Clemens last pitched in a baseball game.

    29: consecutive years Tony LaRussa has been managing in the big leagues.

    30: groundball outs Mark Mulder has induced in 15 innings thus far.

    31: reader's choice.

    32: scrabble points in Doug Mientkiewicz's last name.

    33: home runs Barry Bonds hit in 1990, when he won his first MVP award.

    34: Babe Ruth's last year with the Yankees.

    35: strikeouts that Leo Mazzone's pitching staff has through 63 innings, six less than their total number of walks.

    36: the most extra-base hits Ozzie Guillen ever had in a single season.

    37: reader's choice.

    38: consecutive games in which Vladimir Guerrero has gotten a hit vs. the Texas Rangers.

    39: years since the last Triple Crown winner.

    40: Greg Maddux's age as of Friday.

    41: weeks since Eric Gagne last struck out a Major League hitter.

    42: games it took Jim Thome to hit his first four home runs in 2005.

    43: percent of the time the Detroit Tigers have been successful on the basepaths in 2006.

    44: games into the season it took for COL to win the same number of road games last year as it has won this year.

    45: regular season home runs Brandon Wood has hit since 2005, spanning 573 at-bats.

    46: Nolan Ryan's age when he pummelled then 26-year-old Robin Ventura in 1993.

    47: reader's choice.

    48: Julio Franco's age by season's end.

    49: what's 7x7 (just checking to see if you're still following along).

    50: games until Ramon Ramirez, Waner Mateo, Ryan Rafferty and Justin Mallet will be playing baseball again.

    51: number of pitches Ronny Cedeno has seen in his first six games, lowest in the Majors.

    52: Barry Bonds' uniform number...oh thit...25!

    53: reader's choice.

    54: the fewest number of career wins by a pitcher (Bill Stoneman) with two no-hitters.

    55: games before anyone will notice that Ramon Ramirez, Waner Mateo, Ryan Rafferty and Justin Mallet are back.

    56: Mickey Mantle.

    57: hits the Colorado Rockies have collected in four road games, in which the team is 4-0.

    58: appearances between Johan Santana allowing 10 or more hits in a game, a streak which ended on Opening Day.

    59: how many wins Jim Leyland needs over the next like number of games to get his lifetime record up to .500.

    60: shutouts Bert Blyleven threw during his 22-year career.

    61: batting average for Jeff Francoeur's 2-for-33 start.

    62: number of days before the Atlanta RF is back in the minors.

    63: pitches Jon Papelbon has needed to cruise through his first five appearances, including four saves.

    64: batters University of Washington right-hander Tim Lincecum has faced in his last two starts, 30 of which ended in strikeouts.

    65: errors that defensive specialist -- and $20.2 million man -- Jack Wilson projects to have in 2006.

    66: the inning in which Cal State Fullerton ace Wes Roemer walked his first batter of the season.

    67: after Tuesday, the percent of Khalil Greene's hits that have gone for home runs, the highest in the Majors west of Bronson Arroyo.

    68: 1.12.

    69: number of years since the last NL Triple Crown winner.

    70: Pete Rose and Ray Fosse.

    71: reader's choice.

    72: Steve Carlton. 27 of Phillies 59 wins, 1.97 ERA, 310 K's, 346.1 IP.

    73*: Billy Crystal's next movie?

    74: Mike Marshall pitches 106 games and 208.1 IP--all in relief--and wins the Cy Young award.

    75: percent of Atlanta's four wins earned by Oscar Villarreal.

    76: average speed of Tim Wakefield's fastball last year.

    77: Reggie...Reggie...Reggie.

    78: reader's choice.

    79: "We are Fam-i-ly!"

    80: Mike Schmidt and George Brett.

    81: home runs that the San Francisco Giants currently project to hit this season.

    82: how many victories it will take to win the NL West.

    83: reader's choice.

    84: J.T. Snow's uniform number this year in honor of his dad, Jack, who died in January.

    85: highest OPS+ that Neifi Perez has posted in a single season.

    86: how many months before Hank Aaron's career HR record is broken.

    87: the approximate average speed of a Freddy Garcia fastball in two starts.

    88: walks plus hits allowed by the Kansas City Royals in 53 innings.

    89: days until the All-Star Break.

    90: last full season in which the Braves didn't finish in first place.

    91: days until we know for sure that the AL has home field advantage (again) in the World Series.

    92: Kansas City losses by Labor Day.

    93: number of intentional walks Todd Helton is currently on pace for, which would still fall 27 behind the single-season record.

    94: did baseball really not have a World Series that year?

    95: career OPS+ of Twins third baseman Tony Batista in over 4,500 career plate appearances.

    96: average speed of A.J. Burnett's fastball last year.

    97: last year in which the Yankees failed to win the AL East.

    98: reader's choice.

    99: Wayne Gretzky. All right, all right. So this is a baseball site. Sue us.

    Please feel free to add your best ideas in the comments section to the numbers marked "reader's choice." Don't be afraid to have some fun with this "contest."

    WTNYApril 11, 2006
    Youth Moving North
    By Bryan Smith

    This past winter, the Chicago Cubs spent $38.5 million on three overpriced relievers on the wrong side of their peaks. They traded 3 blossoming young pitchers for a center fielder with no power coming off the worst season of his career. Right field was filled with a hitter lacking in big-time power and the ability to hit southpaws. And, inevitably, their two headline starters were deemed not ready for Opening Day.

    By April 3, Cubs fans were ready to cry their typical, "Wait 'Til Next Year." What's odd, however, is that this call to the future suddenly provides genuine hope: there is reason for optimism around the bend.

    Despite a little pressure from the front office, Dusty Baker's opening day lineup card featured two young guns: 23-year-old shortstop Ronny Cedeno and 24-year-old left fielder Matt Murton. While young pitchers have been in and out of the North Side for the past five years, recent history has offered Wrigley Field visitors few looks at prospect position players. Corey Patterson didn't instill very much confidence.

    But in his first at-bat of the new season, Murton proved me (and others) wrong, hitting a 3-run homer that would lead to the eventual Cubs victory. His three-hit effort provided a glimpse to a bright future, one with consistent contact and steady, solid power. Cedeno has built confidence with great defense, an early season five-game hitting streak, and a 4-for-4 effort on the Cubs largest stage yet.

    Those that tuned into Sunday Night Baseball were also lucky enough to see a 25-and-under starter that entered the big leagues without daunting comparisons to Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan. Sean Marshall -- on my 2005 breakout list, though he saved his big jump for Arizona, 2006 -- became the Cubs fourth starter in the most non-Dusty move of the current manager's tenure. In the face of other, older (though not by much) options, Baker opted for a southpaw with a blend of poise and upside narrowly removed from A-ball. For that, he should be commended.

    A quick glance at Marshall's line (4.1 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2 K, 1 BB) instills the image of a true rookie, producing nightmares of Steve Smyth for Cubs fans. However, Marshall was far better than his line suggests. His two-seam fastball was controlled and consistently down in the zone, producing 8 groundball outs. His cutter was a great mix, jamming right-handers, and his curve showed fantastic potential. He made one gaffe -- a belt-high fastball that Scott Rolen tatooed -- and was taken from the game too early to fix his own bases loaded mistake.

    While Marshall doesn't bring with him a ceiling that matches Cubs pitching prospects of old, the poise he showed Sunday was a welcome addition to the Cubs future plans. Amidst the uncertainty of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and soon-recalled Angel Guzman are more dependable options like Carlos Zambrano and Marshall. It's a future rotation in desperate need of sixth and seventh starters on deck, without question, but it also has top-of-the-NL upside.

    If Angel Guzman is the next phenom set to join the Cubs, Felix Pie is likely the most anticipated. The long-boasted young outfielder has started his AAA season magnificently, batting .500 through four games. In them, Pie has also collected two triples and three (for three) stolen bases. The 'raw' labels are starting to become replaced with 'ready'. While Juan Pierre currently stands in the way -- and his constant praise and considerable cost does pose an unnecessary burden -- one can only think Jim Hendry will provide a path for Pie when needed.

    Offensively, Hendry has only become locked in to his most necessary players. As of today, both Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee will be officially in blue until Pie's superstardom. While the development of Murton, Pie and Cedeno are all essential to long-term success, Lee and Ramirez provide the team with needed certainty. Middle of the order certainty. And Michael Barrett, fast becoming a clutch-legend in the Windy City, will be in town (at the very least) through 2007.

    The Cubs are also financially committed to their bullpen, in which their three game-ending veterans will be in town until the end of 2008. Relievers, however, age slowly, so the Cubs will need to mix keeping Ryan Dempster, Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry healthy while finding other cheap options like they have in Mike Wuertz, Will Ohman and even Scott Williamson. This balance, between expensive and inexpensive, is essential. Despite trading away possible lenders in Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto (among others), others like Carlos Marmol and Jae-Kuk Ryu should keep the Cubs options plentiful for some time.

    At the end of the season, Jim Hendry will be forced to make decisions regarding his aging mentor (Greg Maddux), steady second baseman (Todd Walker), and a slew of other role players. The idea of trading Kerry Wood, and even Mark Prior, will undoubtedly pass by his desk more than once. The temptation of big-name free agents will have the Cubs making calls.

    Chicago is in a good position for the 2007 season not because of the money they have to spend. Instead, it will be Jim Hendry's ability to make meaningful miniscule additions (Murton, maybe Freddie Bynum) and to cultivate enough prospects that will leave the North Side on top for some time.

    Notes From Below the Surface

  • For those of you curious to know what Andrew Miller might pitch like, Sunday Night Baseball could have provided you just that. While Sean Marshall is a poor man's Miller, they are not without similarities. Both are big southpaws (6-6 or 6-7) known for inducing groundball outs via a two-seam fastball and cutter. However, Miller trades in Marshall's plus command and sweeping curve for some extra velocity and a tight, vicious slider. In addition, the North Carolina ace and probable #1 pick offers a four-seam fastball in the mid-90s that can catch hitters off guard.

  • Clearing up any preseason questions, my predicted breakouts for 2006: Homer Bailey, Adam Lind, Garrett Mock, Christian Garcia, Brad Harman, Mark Trumbo and Chuck Lofgren. The latter is the only player to not make the BP article I wrote in January, but I have since come to really develop some faith in the athletic, Indian southpaw. First week returns, however, have not been positive on the group. Both Bailey and Mock lost their debuts while pitching decent-but-supbar, while Garcia and Lofgren have yet to start the season. Of the hitters, Trumbo is a ghastly 2-for-14 thus far, while Harman and Lind are merely treading water. April be damned, I'm still advocating to buy low on all of these players.

  • Pitchers that have made big opening week impressions, however, include Adam Loewen, Lance Broadway, Humberto Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez and Mark McCormick. Loewen might be the most interesting case, as he needs a big year before his Major League contract kicks in. Sanchez could be the Arizona Fall League darling of the spring, and provide the Tigers with yet another live, young arm. Finally, an early season sleeper (damn, missed him!) is Tyler Lumsden, a White Sox pitching prospect that is healthy, reportedly full of velocity, and already dominating.

  • In case you needed reminding, Howie Kendick is really good. A nice office pool bet: what date does Adam Kennedy return to the Cardinals (via trade) so that the Angels can bring up their blue-chip prospect? And, certainly, I expect Kendrick's 9-for-17 start to change a few answers.

  • Finally, a kudos is in order for Ian Kennedy, who went ten innings this past weekend to beat California and notch his first win in quite some time. Kennedy was free-falling a bit on draft boards before this start, but his Jack Morris-esque effort brought back comments of his "bulldog" mentality that led to Kennedy's high standing. A big finish will make scouts forget about the month of March, but Kennedy could certainly stand to start striking out hitters as if it were his sophomore season all over again.

    Back with more on Friday...

  • Baseball BeatApril 10, 2006
    First Week Notes
    By Rich Lederer

    On the heels of my Opening Day Notes last Tuesday, I thought it would be appropriate to add a few more facts, observations, and questions into the mix after the first week of the season.

    Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon...

  • Jered Weaver made a brilliant debut at the Triple-A level on Saturday. Pitching in a ballpark (Tucson) that is the minor league equivalent of Colorado's Coors Field and against a lineup featuring two of the top prospects in baseball (Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin), Weaver allowed only two hits, no walks, and one run while striking out eight batters over seven innings.

    Here are Jered's last four outings, including his three spring training starts:

                       IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO 
    04/08/06 vs. Tuc    7   2   1    1    0    8    W 
    03/30/06 vs. SFG    5   2   0    0    1    4    W
    03/17/06 vs. Oak    5   2   0    0    0    5    -
    03/12/06 vs. CWS    4   2   0    0    2    2    -
    Totals             21   8   1    1    3   19   2-0

    Peter Gammons saw Weaver in person earlier this spring and said his "stuff is far more powerful than that of his brother." Buster Olney called Weaver "terrific" and said that he keeps hearing that he "looks great."

    Call him a #3 or a #4 if you feel the need to do so. That's fine. I've never understood such comments anyway. I'll just go on record and say that Jered Weaver will be one of the top 30 starting pitchers in the majors (as measured by ERA, DIPS, VORP, RSAA, K/100, you name it) for at least a few years of his career.

  • The most impressive MLB team thus far? After an opening night loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians have won five in a row. The Tribe won two out of three against the defending World Series champs and followed that series by sweeping the Minnesota Twins. The Red Sox and Tigers are also 5-1. Although Boston and Detroit got off to great starts, neither club played a team that is likely to contend for a playoff spot.

  • The most surprising team? The Milwaukee Brewers, I'm sure, fits the bill for many. However, Bryan Smith picked the Brew Crew to win the NL Central, and I chose them as my wild card team. I realize that Milwaukee hasn't really beaten anyone of note yet, but winning five of six without Ben Sheets is pretty impressive. Chicago Cubs fans are feeling pretty good, too, sweeping their archrival St. Louis Cardinals without any help from Mark Prior or Kerry Wood.

  • Speaking of the Redbirds, Juan Encarnacion is 4-for-23 with no XBH or RBI, and he has left 20 runners on base during the Cardinals first six games. I've seen him on TV twice with the bases loaded, and he grounded out to second on a feeble swing with a 2-0 count and struck out on a breaking pitch that was out of the strike zone.

    I thought Walt Jocketty made two mistakes with respect to Encarnacion. Number one was signing him. Number two was giving him a three-year contract. I feel badly reminding St. Louis fans that Encarnacion won't be Juan Gone for a long time.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the worst openings since Blue Swede's Hooked on a Feeling, losing their first six games before salvaging a victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. I still see the Bucs and Reds battling all year for fifth place. What I'm not sure about is which of these two former successful franchises will win the NL Central first--and when.

  • The Atlanta Braves have given up more runs (53) than any other team. True, they are one of only five teams to have played seven games already, but allowing between seven and eight runs per contest sounds like a club in need of a pitching coach like Leo Mazzone. By comparison, the Baltimore Orioles have given up 34 thus far. Subtract the seven allowed by Daniel Cabrera in 1 1/3 IP last Friday and the Birds have held opponents to just 27 runs. I drafted Cabrera--surprise, surprise--for my fantasy team, so wish Daniel and me good luck in his next outing.

  • What is the over/under for the number of home runs Chris Shelton will hit this year? This isn't saying much, but he should slug somewhere between the 21 Lou Brock ripped in 1967 and the 46 Barry Bonds jacked in 2002. Let's split the difference and call it 33 1/2. According to ESPN's Baseball Tonight, Brock and Bonds just so happened to be the only other players who went yard five times in their first four games. In the meantime, Barry is homerless but is doing quite a bit of walking (in more ways than one).

  • Joe D. can rest easily once again. Joltin' Jimmy has left and gone away. Hey, hey, hey.

  • Baseball Beat/WTNYApril 07, 2006
    Pre-Season All-OOPs Team
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    Last December, we introduced a formula for identifying overrated offensive players (or OOPs). It is simple and straightforward:

    1. Batting Average > League Norm
    2. On Base Percentage and Slugging Average < League Norm

    As noted when we rolled out the idea of OOPs, "the players who meet the above criterion are singles hitters who only walk on occasion and rarely slug home runs." Such players have batting averages that are "hollow" with little else to support their value. By definition, the qualifying hitters have low Isolated Discipline (IsoD) and Isolated Power (IsoP). IsoD equals OBP minus AVG, and IsoP equals SLG minus AVG. These isolated stats tell you what's not a part of batting average.

    In order to make the all-OOPs team last year, a player had to hit higher than .264 with an OBP less than .330 and a SLG below .419 with a minimum of 400 plate appearances. We won't know what the league averages will be this year until October but that didn't stop us from picking our pre-season all-OOPs team.

    A little drumroll, please...

     C: Paul Lo Duca
    1B: Nomar Garciaparra
    2B: Mark Grudzielanek
    SS: Jose Reyes
    3B: Joe Randa
    OF: Willy Taveras
    OF: Juan Pierre
    OF: Darin Erstad

    C: Paul Lo Duca, New York Mets

    Did you know that Lo Duca is going to play for the San Diego Padres next? How do we know that? Well, LoDuca has been following in the footsteps of Mike Piazza his entire career. Both players were drafted and signed by the Dodgers and later traded to the Marlins and then the Mets. Piazza joined the Padres as a free agent in the off-season. Given that Lo Duca has succeeded Piazza at every stop along the way, it only makes sense that he will wind up in San Diego.

    There is one major difference that separates these two catchers. Whereas Piazza is inarguably the greatest-hitting catcher of all time, Lo Duca is the most overrated offensively to don the tools of ignorance among active players. Paul hit .320 with 25 HR in his first full season but has been stuck at or around .280 and 10 homers ever since. He turns 34 next week and is unlikely to improve on these numbers this year.

    Honorable Mention: Johnny Estrada, Arizona Diamondbacks

    1B: Nomar Garciaparra, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Perhaps a surprise pick at first base, we believe Garciaparra is no longer anywhere close to the hitter he was the first six years of his career. The Dodgers' decision to move Nomar to first surprised every DePodesta-ite out there, as all had been praying Hee Seop Choi would finally get his chance. Instead, Los Angeles opted to stake first base production in a 32-year-old former star with a vicious history of injury problems. To boot, Nomar has spent his entire career in stadiums like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, both of which are far cries from the spacious confines of Chavez Ravine. In 2005, Garciaparra's .169 Isolated Power matched a career low (previously set in 2004), and his .037 Isolated Discipline was his lowest since 1997. The writing is on the wall for this signing to look bad for all involved, as a healthy season could yield .290/.330/.440 production. Whither Choi?

    Honorable Mention: Sean Casey, Pittsburgh Pirates

    2B: Mark Grudzielanek, Kansas City Royals

    How could we possibly refrain from the Most Overrated Offensive Active Player? Mark has had a long, successful career in the Major Leagues simply on his ability to bat .287. However, in more than 5,500 career at-bats, Grudzi's career OPS lies closer to .700 than .750. Despite being a late bloomer and having his best years ever these past three seasons, we're convinced the 1996 version (.306/.340/.397) is coming back. And really, what better environment to do so than Kansas City, the organization that placed a lot of unnecessary hope in his veteran leadership. We would all like to see Grudzielanek, one of the game's better guys, go out on a high note. But no matter how you slice it, an OOP is always an OOP.

    Honorable Mention: Aaron Miles, St. Louis Cardinals

    SS: Jose Reyes, New York Mets

    Reyes was a second team all-OOPs member last year. His ability to beat out infield hits adds batting average points but the lack of walks and extra-base power hurts him in the other two rate stats. Jose is an excellent base runner so his weakness offensively is simply how he performs at the plate. He led the majors in outs in 2005 and, as a leadoff hitter, is a prime candidate to become the first player to repeat this trick since Chad Curtis in 1994 and 1995. If Reyes ever learns to take a walk, he could go from overrated to a true star as fast as it takes him to get down the line.

    Honorable Mention: Omar Vizquel, San Francisco Giants

    3B: Joe Randa, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Last year's Great American Ballpark-caused power outbreak notwithstanding, Joe Randa has a long history of OOPs-like behavior. From 1996 to 2004, Randa's batting average slipped below .280 on just two occassions. However, Randa eclipsed a slugging of .450 only three times and has not had an OBP of .350 since 1999. The NL Central was good to Randa last year, but with another year of age and a new, tougher ballpark, don't expect anything close to the line he put up in Cincinnati. Randa has been told he's a useful stopgap his whole career, and it seems as if he will finish his career with that notoriety. A good player some years, a bad player other years, we think he will simply be overrated this year.

    Honorable Mention: Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers

    OF: Willy Taveras, Houston Astros

    Taveras is a pretty easy choice here. By virtue of having the highest batting average among those players who failed to match the league average in OBP and SLG, Willy was our OOPs Player of the Year last year. Taveras has next to no power as evidenced by his .050 IsoP in 2005. It's hard to bunt for a double. His IsoD (.034) was just as poor. It's difficult to walk when you don't take pitches (3.53/PA). He has no business batting second, despite manager Phil Garner's insistence that Taveras is a good bet to sacrifice leadoff hitter Craig Biggio to second. The math doesn't really compute in terms of run expectancy but, hey, who are we to question a skipper who is 2-for-2 in taking the Astros to the postseason?

    OF: Juan Pierre, Chicago Cubs

    A general rule around Analysts' parts: never, ever give up three good arms for a player with a long history of overrated behavior at the plate. The Cubs were hellbent on signing Rafael Furcal this winter, and when the Dodgers surprisingly inked him, the Cubs acted quickly and irrationally. Last year was his worst season as a Major Leaguer, making the Cubs trade look like even more of a panic move. Pierre's baserunning has helped shadow the fact that he is not a very good hitter, despite a fantastic ability to beat out a lot of groundballs. And no, he's not really a player that will make up for defensive inefficiencies in the field, as Pierre no longer can boast of great defense. Too many Cub fans will likely be wowed of Pierre's ability to bunt for a single or steal a base, but we just hope Pierre doesn't prevent the Cubs' front office from using Felix Pie when he's ready.

    OF: Darin Erstad, Los Angeles Angels

    Erstad was our all-OOPs first baseman last year. Heck, he could probably make our squad at any position. Once upon a time, the man affectionately known as Ersty was a very good offensive player. Hard to believe now but the former Nebraska Cornhusker hit .355 with 240 hits (including 70 XBH) and 100 RBI from the #1 hole in 2000. His OBP and SLG exceeded .400 and .500, respectively. He won't sniff .300/.350/.400 this year and, as such, is a lock to ensure that the all-OOPs team is once again represented by a hustling, scrappy, aggressive, all-out (so to speak) player who just so happens to wear eye black and favor the unshaven look.

    Honorable Mention: Joey Gathright, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    That's about it, folks. OOPs, I guess we left out a DH. Any suggestions?

    Designated HitterApril 06, 2006
    Baseball Without the Numbers
    By Larry Borowsky

    There's a college campus not far from my house where I used to walk the dog. I say "used to" because old Fred didn't quite make it to opening day this year; after 14 years, the hips finally gave out. He liked the campus because nobody enforced the leash laws there; I could just let him roam. He'd lead and I'd follow, and at some point my mind would go off duty and head on back to the car, leaving Fred and me to wander unsupervised. A wolf pack of two.

    It was on such an occasion last summer that he walked us around a one-story building and down a hill, on an asphalt path we'd never followed before. It darkened briefly as the forest closed in; then the boughs parted, and there appeared in the clearing a ballfield - instantly recognizable even to a subcognitive BEING - with a game in progress.

    The bats were aluminum and the uniforms ugly - burgundy and squash yellow at bat, spearmint and berry in the field. Neither team was the home nine; the college team wears navy blue with yellow trim, and in any case the Division II season had ended weeks before. Some of these players could have been college-age, but for the most part they looked older - thicker-built, hairier, more deeply settled into adulthood. I reckon it was an adult league game.

    Fred and I were about the 7th and 8th spectators, joining one old guy in a grey nylon windbreaker and a handful of girlfriends perched on aluminum bleachers. We had approached from behind the third-base dugout - the spearmints', empty but for the manager and a couple of subs. There was a guy on first, and the ump called ball four on the batter just as we ambled up. That put two men on with . . . how many out? The scoreboard was dark. What was the score, anyway? What inning? The girlfriends could probably tell us, but when Fred and I went wolf-packing he was the Alpha dog; I took my cue from him. He parked his belly down on the grass; I laid myself on one side and propped myself up on an elbow.

    The next hitter stepped in, 6'4" or so with a long stride. Looks like a hitter, I thought, and my eyes turned reflexively to the blank scoreboard, as if expecting the guy's batting average and HR/RBI totals to appear. But the board remained empty; no stats. No scorecard in my lap either, nor any graphic across the bottom of a TV screen. Just the plain old batter, holding the bat. I sized him up as he took his stance; didn't look particularly hard, but I must've seen something I liked - maybe his grip, or the geometry of his limbs, or the way his head locked into place. For whatever reason, I looked at this guy and thought, Here comes a base knock, and seconds later he rapped it on one hop to the centerfielder to load the bases. The ensuing batter gave off the same vibe - "hit" - and he got one, too, chasing two runs home. But there was something off about the hitter up next - a little too broad, maybe, or too blocky in his motions; maybe too far forward in his stance. "Grounder to short," I mused, and sure enough he hit it right there - another run scored on the force out.

    How seldom we watch baseball this way in the post-James, post-Rotisserie, post-Moneyball era - without the collar of numbers tugging our perceptions into line. If you're younger than 30, you probably don't know what it's like to sit in ignorance of platoon splits and win expectancy and value over replacement; and if you're older you may well have forgotten. When we watch baseball today - in person, on TV, via the Web - we expect to be fed a steady diet of data, and augment the supply from our own warehouses. Sometimes the numbers help us understand and anticipate; at other times, they're just background noise. But their omnipresence shapes the way we follow the action. They condition what we look for, hence what we see.

    Out here, on the back diamond with my dog, there was no scoreboard, no radar gun, no pitch count, not even a distance painted on the outfield fence. Baseball without numbers. We were off the leash, completely unsupervised.

    The Spearmints brought in a new pitcher - the former centerfielder, lean and wiry, his obvious athleticism wasted on the mound. He looked pissed off about it, too; his warmup pitches came in hard, and the catcher's mitt popped. I took a half-glance at the on-deck hitter, a big jowly dude sporting a mustache like Bob Horner's; and knew right away what would happen: He'd swing late on a couple of fastballs and foul them off the other way, then chase a slider in the dirt and get himself out. Which he did, in just that order; down on three pitches.

    There was a time when I fairly routinely had what can only be called premonitions - accurate foreknowledge of baseball outcomes. They invariably came to me when I was distracted, semi-engaged in the game - watching from a figurative distance or through half-closed lids. Ordinarily I didn't share these inklings with others, but once in a while I would chance it - and then be the least surprised person in the room when I turned out to be correct.

    On my first trip to Fenway Park, in 1987, Jim Rice came up with two outs in the 9th, Sox down by a run, and was greeted by a shower of boos. "You people should never boo this guy," I told the fan sitting next to me. "You know what's gonna happen? He's gonna golf one up over the Monster, then run around the bases really slow with his head down - no emotion, nothing. That'll show 'em." I said this without the slightest hesitation; also without the slightest idea that Rice, in nearly 30 career at-bats against Dennis Eckersley, had never homered - and had struck out nearly half the time. Had I been aware of those numbers, then I surely would never have "known" what was about to occur - viz., that Rice would indeed hit a game-tying homer over the Monster and then circle the bases matter-of-factly, head bowed, while the boos turned to cheers. this game, where Albert Pujols literally barred John Rodriguez from going out to the on-deck circle in the midst of a 9th-inning rally. "Eckstein's going to end it right here," Pujols said - even though it would take at least a double by Eckstein (hardly known for his power) to drive home the winning run.

    Eckstein hit a walk-off grand slam, the Cardinals' first one in nearly 20 years.

    Asked afterward if he'd seen something in the pitcher's delivery or pitch selection or some such, Pujols demurred. "I couldn't tell you," he said. "I just knew."

    The Spearmints still were not out of it; still one out to go, and the sacks jammed again after another walk. It had been a long half-inning, but I was still enjoying myself and in no hurry to leave; Fred appeared content to wait around for a while. But as the next hitter stepped into the box the dog suddenly stirred; hoisted himself up onto his front paws and then painfully, laboriously stood up. He stretched, shook, and looked down at the field with his tail erect. For a moment he fixed his gaze, as if reading a sign; then he turned and sauntered off slowly, his nose in the grass.

    I was watching him go, trying to decide whether or not to get up and follow, when I heard the clang of the bat. By the time I picked up the ball, it was already soaring over the fence. The Burgundys came charging out onto the field, and the Spearmints walked off dejectedly; game over. A grand slam. The girlfriends were not happy; Spearmints. Sorry, ladies.

    I hadn't seen it coming and still wasn't sure it had really happened. But the field was empty, so I picked myself up and started walking after the dog, who was already halfway up the path on his way to the car.

    Larry Borowsky writes Viva El Birdos, a blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.

    WTNYApril 05, 2006
    Wood and Metal
    By Bryan Smith

    By the end of this week, baseball in all forms will be back. Every Major League Baseball team has now played their first game, and the minor league season begins April 7. The wooden bats join the aluminum ranks that have been competing since February.

    So for the first time in 2006, the week has provided me with a wealth of information and opinions to share. As will likely become a tradition this year, here is a notes column detailing everyone from young veterans to college teenagers. Enjoy...


    We knew this was coming, didn't we Prince Fielder fantasy owners? As I mentioned during Fielder's slow Spring Training, the big guy has a history of slow Aprils. So while 7 strikeouts in eight at-bats would be scary to any sane baseball fan, don't lose confidence and start yearning for Lyle Overbay or ... worse ... Jeff Cirillo. Expect a gradual decrease in strikeouts as the year progresses, as well as an increase in home runs. Still a future star, as is Edwin Encarnacion, another highly touted young player with a bad debut. Patience is a virtue with phenoms.

    Interestingly enough, it has been the less touted rookies that I have noticed thus far. Marlins rookies Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham were both close to making my top 100 prospect list, but limited skillsets scared me from each. This looks stupid thus far, as Jacobs and Willingham were integral in up-ending the Astros in their second game.

    Chris Denorfia was the opposite case to these two, missing out on the top 100 for having a skillset too rounded. So much of Denorfia screams "FOURTH OUTFIELDER!", though I have began to think Denorfia is the right third outfielder for that club (if only because Adam Dunn's Opening Day performance might be the worst OF defense in the history of baseball ... seriously). Chris' double to centerfield in his first at-bat was an impressive display of power. The Reds have more than a future bench player in Denorfia, who in some ways reminds me of Gary Matthews Jr.

    Real power was on display in Joel Zumaya's first appearance as a reliever, in which the young right-hander struck out three batters in two innings of work. Zumaya should be a force with his mid-to-high 90s fastball and hard-breaking curve out of the pen, but I pray it doesn't infatuate Jim Leyland too much. Other former starters relieving that impressed early -- besides Brandon McCarthy and Jon Papelbon whom were mentioned yesterday -- were Adam Wainwright and Chuck James, both less skilled players than Zumaya.

    Finally, no rookie watch is complete without a mention of Kenji Johjima, who hit his second home run of the season last night. Johjima has a natural feel for the game that is quickly becoming the most positive trait of Japanese position player veterans. If Kenji shows this type of power at home, in Safeco Field, his trips to Dallas should make for good fun.


    I made a mistake. In picking preseason breakout candidates -- and looking mighty deep for sleepers -- I chose Ben Johnson and Blaine Boyer. Johnson is currently being inexplicably blocked by the likes of Eric Young and Terrmel Sledge, while Boyer is further from the Atlanta closing job than ever. Apparently, I should have gone with option C -- which in all honesty, was Sergio Mitre.

    After years of watching Mitre thrust into different roles in Chicago, I was pleased to see the Juan Pierre trade allow him to spread his wings. While his potential is extremely limited, Mitre has all the makings of becoming a rubber-armed, groundball invoking middle of the rotation starter. If Jake Westbrook has value in Cleveland, Mitre can have long-standing value in San Antonio, err, Miami.

    Bold predictions have become a staple of the Internet, and while the season is underway, it's not too late for one last guess: Brian McCann is going to hit at least 25 HR's this year. His first was almost nullified when the Los Angeles-Atlanta game was delayed yesterday, but the clubs finished and McCann's first homer went into the books. Brian's power potential is no secret, and I firmly believe it becomes unveiled this year.

    Some quick thoughts to round it out: if you didn't think so three days ago, it's time to come around - David Wright and Rickie Weeks are future perennial NL All-Star starters ... Ambiorix Burgos has absolute lights-out stuff, and really should be a bright spot in KC, who can't be wedded to the 9th-inning-only closer idea ... Khalil Greene continued from impressing me in spring to doing so in his first game; while many predicted Bobby Crosby to win AL MVP, it's not a stretch to say former first-round mate Greene could be a better player in the end ... It isn't one start or one spring that is making me say this: if you own Dontrelle Willis in a keeper league, trade him once his value gets a bit higher. His future seems to be as clouded as ever.


    No notes here, since games have not begun and I don't have a myriad of thoughts yet. But with the announcement that Justin Upton will begin the season two weeks late, in the Midwest League, playing centerfield, I won't leave you with nothing.

    First of all, the Diamondbacks should be lauded for this decision. If anything, it was too late, as Upton should have been learning the tricks of the outfield trade since the beginning of Spring Training. A rough senior year in the field provided evidence that Upton's infield career was headed down the same path as his brother's. His arm was so erratic in high school, but at the very least, it never lacked power.

    If Carlos Gonzales breaks out to the degree that Jim Callis and Kevin Goldstein have predicted -- and it's tough to get two better backers -- then we can say that Arizona now has four of the game's best outfield prospects: Upton, Gonzales, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin. In the end, only three can fit into the long-term plans, so, who doesn't fit.

    Upton is obviously in the team's future plans, and my guess is that he will stay in centerfield for quite some time - no better D-Back prospect has better speed. Besides, while Young's range is fantastic, a move to left field could help minimize his one defensive weakness: a lack of arm strength. Young is in the team's future, too, they chose to trade for him just a few months ago. These players are locks.

    So it's down to Quentin and Gonzales for the final spot, in right field. And simply put, I think the Diamondbacks have put a good majority of their chips behind the latter's corner. Quentin has not been shown a lot of confidence from the organization that drafted him, as the club barely pursued the idea of trading Shawn Green to make room for him. Instead, it was Quentin's name that was brought up in trade rumors, namely to the outfield starved St. Louis Cardinals.

    When July rolls around, expect Arizona to really re-evaluate their outfield situation. If Gonzales hits the California League in a big way -- and that is no bold prediction -- then Quentin could be moving teams by August 1. Not often are top 20 prospects blocked in from above and behind, so some Major League organization must step up and take advantage. Any takers?


    At this point in time, it seems as though sixteen college players have separated from the pack and identified themselves as first round picks. As Lance Broadway proved last year, these things are susceptible to change, but there are probably only a handful of players that could even do so (I will provide deeper lists as we inch closer to the draft). Before I divulge my current list, here's the hot/cold list as seen in the past couple weeks:

  • Hot: Brad Lincoln (Houston) - While the Cougars do not have the schedule of a big program, Lincoln has been the most consistently dominant performer this spring. Many of Lincoln's peripherals are par for the first round course (48 H, 83 K's, 1.62 ERA in 66.2 IP), but it's the rest of his package that has flown Lincoln up draft boards. His consistency, endurance, and control have all been excellent thus far, as Brad has been great in every start since mid-February. And to boot, Lincoln has been fantastic as a hitter, showing athleticism that few other pitchers can match. Remaining starts against Tulane and Rice will dictate where in the top 15 Lincoln takes his talented arsenal - he has top 5 overall potential.

  • Cold: Ian Kennedy - On February 17, against Kansas, Kennedy struck out 13 batters in 8.1 innings while allowing just one hit and an unearned run. He had preceded that outing with good starts against Florida International and Long Beach State, and was poised to become the third pitcher chosen in the draft. Since dominating the Jayhawks, however, Kennedy has not taken a game by storm and the Trojans have lost each of his starts. The strikeouts, endurance and bulldog mentality remain, but Kennedy is showing flaws he didn't expose as a sophomore. He's on the outside of the top 5 college pitchers list and looking in, but given his solid schedule, a good final two months could mean a re-entry into the top ten.

  • Hot: Josh Butler (San Diego) - No team took college baseball by storm out of the gate like the Toreros, sweeping then-#1 Texas to start the season. While San Diego has slowed a bit since then, they have been well-anchored by ace junior Josh Butler, who has joined the first round ranks. His fastball has been in the mid 90s this spring, and Butler's miniscule 1.13 ERA has had the scouts buzzing. A better strikeout rate and secondary arsenal would help Butler, but he has done enough to move into the first round.

  • Cold: Dallas Buck (Ore. St.) - There had been a time when Peter Gammons mentioned Buck as a #1 overall candidate, and many times when people (myself included) thought Buck was a lock to take his sinker into the Rockies organization. But the fact is that since conference play began more than a year ago, Dallas has been less than impressive. After a poor showing in the Cape, Buck's control has been off, his demeanor has worsened, and his velocity is down. The Kevin Brown potential remains, but any certainty in his future is gone. If any player from the top 16 is going to fall from grace, it will be this guy.

    Onto my current top 16 list, with a few comments mixed in. By the way, if you are interested in any of the videos of the West Coast players here, head over to, as the collection of videos (and velocity reports) have been gathering for the past two months. College baseball's top 16 juniors...

    1. Andrew Miller (UNC) - KC all but locked into this pick.
    2. Max Scherzer (Mizzou)
    3. Daniel Bard (UNC) - His groundball numbers might be reason for going #2 overall.
    4. Evan Longoria (LBSU)
    5. Brad Lincoln (Houston) - Forget the recent Houston failures, this isn't Rice.
    6. Brandon Morrow (Cal) - Command issues remain ; I really see Joel Zumaya.
    7. Drew Stubbs (Texas)
    8. Joba Chamberlain (Neb) - Hanging on by a thread
    9. Ian Kennedy (USC)
    10. Wes Hodges (GTech) - Frustrating lack of power consistency
    11. Matt LaPorta (Fla)
    12. Mark Melancon (AZ) - .222 SLG Against in thin Arizona air.
    13. Matt Antonelli (Wake)
    14. Josh Butler (SD)
    15. Dallas Buck (OSU)
    16. Jared Hughes (LBSU) - Scouts trust control, size and sinker

    Many will surely be writing in with complaints about the omission of Greg Reynolds, whom Kevin Goldstein recently mentioned as a first round lock. Kevin may be right, but if so, let me stress how poor the selection would be. A nice blend of size and stuff, to be sure, but Reynolds lacks any meaningful results to speak of. Tacking together two consecutive solid starts would be nice.

  • Baseball BeatApril 04, 2006
    Opening Day Notes
    By Rich Lederer

    At the risk of being apprehended by the small sample size police, here are some facts, observations, and questions about the greatest day of the season (unless, of course, you are a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays or Minnesota Twins)...

  • ...the Sunday night game counts, too, because it didn't end until Monday morning. It did end, right?

  • If C.C. Sabathia (NYSE: CC) were a stock, how much would it have plummeted in the third inning when he walked off the mound with a strained abdominal muscle?

  • Didn't Joe Morgan all but guarantee that Sabathia would win 20 games this year?

  • Was there anybody rooting harder for the rain to continue Sunday evening than Fernando Cabrera? I ran into him at Bally Total Fitness yesterday. The Cleveland relief pitcher was apparently trying to work down his 54.00 ERA. Hey, if he holds opponents scoreless for the next 17 innings, he can cut his ERA to 3.00.

  • Upon further thought, maybe I should invest in Bally's. I hear Barry Zito (47.25), Jon Lieber (21.60), Scott Kazmir (13.50), Derek Lowe (12.60), Tim Hudson (11.25), and Aaron Harang (10.80) are all desperate to join. In the Fernando Cabrera category of relievers, Blaine Boyer's 81.01 looks more like an average golf score than an ERA.

  • In total, there were 156 runs scored--or an average of 11.2 per game--in the first 14 contests. Last year, the average number of runs per game for the season was 9.2. Just wait 'til we run those #4 and #5 starters out there. Man, King Felix is already feeling the pressure.

  • Kudos to Roy Oswalt (8-5-0-0-1) for pitching the best game of anyone. He is the only pitcher who has won 20 games in each of the past two seasons. However, before we hand him the Cy Young award, let's see how he does vs. a major-league team.

  • Are Brandon McCarthy (3-0-0-0-0-2 and a "W") and Jon Papelpon (1-0-0-0-0-1) auditioning for starting assignments? Throw Francisco Liriano into the mix and, like basketball, we might have to come up with a Best Sixth Man award.

  • The attendance at the Astros home opener might have been my favorite stat of 'em all: 43,666 (106.6% full). The Rangers didn't fare too badly either: 51,541 (104.9% full). Must be something about Texas. The Dodgers didn't do as well at the turnstile in their opener. Attendance: 56,000 (100% full).

  • Who says Dodger Stadium is a pitcher's park? An 11-10 score with 29 hits. I wonder what its park factor is now?

  • All right, the stat I really liked was this one...

    Ground Balls-Fly Balls: B Webb 15-2

    Did I mention that this game was played at Coors Field?

  • Did Francisco Rodriguez's performance prove, once and for all, the silliness of the "save" as a meaningful stat? The guy comes in with a two-run lead, gives up a home run to Roberto Petagine, records three outs, and gets "credited" with a save? Where do I sign up?

  • ...Oh, and if we are going to make changes in the way we keep score, how 'bout getting rid of the notion of a "sacrifice" fly? At best, it should be a scorer's decision, similar to a sacrifice bunt. But isn't giving a player an RBI enough? I mean, how different is a F9 vs. a 4-3, especially when the infield is playing back?

    I couldn't give a better example of how ridiculous a SF is than pointing to what Jason Kendall was credited with last night. He hit a sacrifice fly in the NINTH inning of a 15-1 game. Now there's a selfless player!

  • Was there a basketball game last night?

  • Did anybody else notice that Curt Schilling threw 117 pitches? Or that Carlos Zambrano tossed 105 and couldn't even make it out of the fifth inning?

  • Curtis Granderson went 0-for-5 and struck out three times. He hit a ton (5 HR plus 14 BB and 7 SB) in the Grapefruit League. Just goes to show how much more difficult it is to hit in a big-league game than it is in spring training. Oh wait, the Tigers center fielder was facing the Kansas City Royals. Scratch that thought.

  • While on the subject of tough openers, how about Prince Fielder's debut? He was K's, that is. Granted, the rookie faced a tough left-hander in Oliver Perez, but Cecil's son is going to have to make better contact if he wants to avoid being platooned.

  • Jason Bay walked three times. With Joe Randa hitting behind him, I wonder how many good pitches Bay will get this year? Don't be surprised if the Pirate slugger racks up about 120 free passes and an OBP well over .400.

  • Chris Shelton went deep twice. I can just see fantasy league managers scrambling to get him into their lineups, like yesterday.

  • Jonny (or is it Jhonny?) Gomes, Vladimir Guerrero, J.J. Hardy, Adam LaRoche, Matt Murton, Mike Piazza, and Frank Thomas all went yard their first time up. Is there a better feeling for a ballplayer?

  • I gotta wonder though if Piazza's home run isn't going to raise the expectations of Padres fans and perhaps set him up for a fall later in the year? I would be surprised if the future first-ballot Hall of Famer hits more than 20 HR this year. Poor Mike, the guy can sure pick his ballparks, huh? Let's see...Dodger Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Shea Stadium, and now Petco--four of the most difficult hitter parks around.

  • Jim Thome's homer was a feel good story for everyone who lives outside Cleveland. Well, now that I think about it for a moment, maybe there are some Thome fans from his days with the Indians. He and The Big Hurt are likely to battle for the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Over in the NL, Scott Rolen (remember him?) got off to a nice start with three hits, including a grand slam. Rolen and a guy named Barry Bonds are the favorites for such honors in the NL.

  • Looking for another warm and fuzzy? Kenji Johjima hitting a HR in his first game certainly qualifies. I don't know if the veteran should be eligible for AL Rookie of the Year or not but, as long as he is, there is no use in betting against him.

  • Are the reigning MVPs any good? Albert Pujols went yard twice and Alex Rodriguez slugged a grand salami. They did a few other things, too. Hmmm, did I really draw #1 in my fantasy pool and elect to slide back to #8?

  • Is there a better feeling than seeing a bunch of crooked numbers in the boxscore of one of your fantasy team players? Yes, seeing them for two or more players, right? Let's face it, Albert's 2-3-2-4 line screams two HR and two BB for those of us who know how to "read" what otherwise looks like nothing more than a street address.

  • Xavier Nady went 4-for-4 with two doubles. I bet Padres management is hoping he doesn't pull a Jason Bay, circa 2004, on them.

  • Hideki Matsui had a pretty good line, too. He went a perfect 4-for-4 and added a couple of runs, four RBI, and two walks for good measure.

  • Tom Glavine (6-6-1-1-3-5, 1-0) began 2006 in the same manner he finished 2005. Few people realize that the two-time Cy Young Award winner had the third-lowest ERA in the majors in the second half last year. He is pitching inside and throwing his curve more than ever.

  • Is David Wright still an emerging growth stock or has he already graduated to a blue chip? If this is his so-called breakout year, what do you call 2005 when the then-22-year-old hit .306/.388/.523 with 42 2B, 27 HR, 72 BB, 17 SB, 99 R and 102 RBI?

  • Is Ryan Howard hot or what?

  • I'm happy for Jimmy Rollins but...

  • Cardinals fans might want to take a photo of the following line:

    Hitters    AB  R  H RBI  BB  SO  LOB  AVG 
    A Miles 2B  5  2  4   2   0   0    1 .800

  • For proponents of Pythagorean won-loss records, are the Yankees really 3-0 now? By the same token, I guess that makes the A's 0-3.

    My turn's up. What did you notice?

  • Baseball Beat/WTNYApril 02, 2006
    One on One: 2006 Predictions
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    The wait is over. In a matter of hours, the newest season of baseball will begin the way it ended -- with the White Sox attempting to pitch their way to victory.

    Over the course of the last six weeks, we have attempted to preview each division in a detailed fashion. Here's a quick link to each of those Two on Twos:

    AL Central: Aaron and Cheat
    NL Central: Larry and John
    AL West: Blez and Rob
    NL West: Jon and Geoff
    AL East: Cliff and Sully
    NL East: Mac and Jeremy

    Thanks again to all the participants. As a final cherry-on-top to finish our 2006 Season Preview package, we wanted to go over all the categories not yet covered. Before we get to that, however, here's a review of our 8 picks to make the playoffs:

    AL East AL Central AL West AL Wild Card NL East NL Central NL West NL Wild Card
    Rich Red Sox Indians A's Yankees Braves Cardinals Giants Brewers
    Bryan Red Sox White Sox A's Twins Braves Brewers Dodgers Mets

    Next is a look at our picks for the major awards:

    Rich Ortiz Pujols Santana Zambrano Johjima Jackson Thome Bonds
    Bryan Ramirez Pujols Harden Hudson Anderson Fielder Thome Gagne

    Now onto the fun stuff. Below we have created another three categories which might be of interest. The first is the OOPs MVP (OOPs = Overrated Offensive Player), given annually to the player with the highest batting average while posting below average on-base and slugging percentages. Next, as we did last year, are the guesses for the first manager to be fired. The last category is a guess at who will win the minor league player of the year award. Our picks:

    OOPs MVP 1st Fired MiL POY
    Rich Lo Duca Narron Stewart
    Bryan Pierre Hurdle Salty

    While Barry Bonds might be garnering most of the veteran press this spring, we believe Roger Clemens will be the major subplot of the 2006 season. In honor of that belief, here is a series of categories dedicated to the Rocket. We asked each other whether or not Clemens will play this year, and if so, for what team and on which date he will begin.

    Play? Who? When?
    Rich Yes Red Sox May 22
    Bryan Yes Rangers June 11

    And as is only appropriate, we close today with our picks for the World Series. Sure, sure, neither of us had even considered the White Sox last year, but we're both sure we nailed it this year.

    World Series
    Rich Red Sox over Giants
    Bryan A's over Braves

    Let us know your own predictions in the comments and have a wonderful day away from work and glued to the television!