Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Apologies to Ernie Banks

Dear Mr. Torre,

While I'm sure that we all admire and respect the Hall of Fame career of Ernie Banks, and fondly remember his enthusiastic remark, "Let's play two!", I think it's important to keep our perspective on this time honored sentiment. Baseball Reference's listing for Mr. Banks informs us that:

"Even though Ernie was voted to the All-Century Team as a shortstop, he actually played more games at first base."

First base is a position that demands less wear and tear on a player. A shortstop playing two games in a day takes more of a beating than a first baseman. (Thanks for the effort Jeter.) It stands to reason that a first baseman also takes much less abuse than a pitcher, who is involved in every play. Pitchers perform their craft by violently whipping their arm back to front, or top to bottom, creating a projectile out of a leather ball. Are you still with me Mr. Torre?

Due to this extremely unnatural and exhausting act, many pitchers take several days off between events. It kind of blows the whole "Let's play two" thing out of the water, but then again it is kind of an old saying, like "Don't take any wooden nickels." Have you ever SEEN a wooden nickel, Joe? Don't answer that.

You've been blessed with some of the best "hurlers" money can buy, and some of them can even pitch several days in a row. Mazeltov! Huzzah! The thing is, throwing a leather ball at people 20-30 times in the span of 30 minutes or less is tough work. You might need a good night's rest and a whiskey to take the edge off. It requires you to warm up a bit, stretch yourself out, and achieve a supreme level of focus and concentration to do it well. Asking a man to do it twice in a day is a little much.

So, with all due respect to the legendary "Mr. Cub", next time we play two, let the first baseman soak it all in, and give the pitchers a rest. They deserve it.


Mike Plugh
Canyon of Heroes

Sit and Wait

After an intense 3 weeks of baseball, it's been weird to fish for news amidst this 2 day lull. The Pavano story has been the only real matter of consequence in Yankeeland, and I suppose it would be a stretch to even call it consequential. It's very easy to forget that Sandbag Carl is even on the roster. Hideki Matsui is taking BP these days, which is a big boost for the offense. Not that we need it exactly. The team boosted its run differential from 1.16 prior to the trading deadline to a nice 1.27 after the Abreu deal. The big Red Sox scores have a lot to do with that increase in margin of victory, but either way it is plenty to succeed on most nights. Adding Matsui's bat to the lineup makes us very left handed, but also makes it hard to find an out.


You could stack lefties if you wanted to do so, moving Cano behind Matsui and hitting Cabrera 9th to put a switch hitter before Damon. You could also flip flop Cano and Matsui until Godzilla gets his timing back. It would be quite the story to have Matsui DHing and hitting 9th. The Japanese media would be very curious.

Speaking of the Japanese media, I am in the process of debuting a new blog. Yes, another one. The Canyon of Heroes mother ship has been a fertile ground for Yankee news and info of many kinds, but it has proved to be a clutter when it comes to the dual task of covering the home team and presenting original content on Japanese baseball. To that end, I started Matsuzaka Watch as a way to scout the best young pitcher outside the United States. My new venture is called Baseball Japan. It is going to be your closer look at Japanese players, and stories of interest from the Land of the Rising Sun. I'll do my best to talk about the best players and those who may impact Major League rosters one day. I'll also be touching on a variety of uniquely Japanese baseball items that you may simply find interesting. Keep visiting the blog and give me feedback about the things you want to know more about. I'll do my best to listen to the audience and give you what you want. It's still a work in progress, but you'll find a more well-rounded blog in about a week or so. For now, go visit.

See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pitching Stud, Pitching Dud

Hold on to your's happening. Can you feel it?!

The Seibu Group, and president Hidekazu Ota, announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka will likely be posted following the 2006 Japanese season. Ota commented that the posting did not occur last season because the team still needed Matsuzaka at the request of his manager. This season, however, the ace has distinguished himself on the field and in the World Baseball Classic and Ota has agreed to let the voice of the fans guide his decision.

Matsuzaka has declared his wish to play in the Majors several times, and the people at Seibu have declined despite great consideration. Ota called Matsuzaka the "treasure of Japan" and indicated that he hoped to make the young man's wish come true. The final decision will be made after the season is complete, and a serious consultation will be made between the hierarchy at Seibu, the pitcher, and the fans via the team website. The website played an important role in swaying opinions at Seibu. After the WBC, fans flooded the site with praise for the MVP and an overwhelming number of people indicated their desire to see Daisuke play in the Big Leagues next year.

For his part, Matsuzaka has kept quiet all season. He is focused on winning the championship and he has maintained a quiet resolve to complete his current mission before thinking about the next. Upon hearing the news of his imminent posting, the ace stated that he hoped to finish 1st in the league and share the customary beer celebration with his teammates before considering his future. Make no mistake, this public pronouncement is a gigantic leap towards seeing our hero in the US next year, and we'll keep you posted on reactions and any further news on this front.

In other Yankees related news, Carl Pavano is a jackass. I want to shout at him like Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men". Not the bit about "The Truth", that's far to much to expect from Pavano. What I want to shout is the part of this film when Cruise and Kevin Bacon get into it in a bar at the height of the trial. You know. "You're a lousy F&%^ing softball player, Jack!!"


There. That feels much better. By the way, yes Cruise is wearing a Red Sox cap in A Few Good Men. Fitting that the actor*slash*lunatic that I like least and the team I like least would meet. It's like the anti_Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It seems that Cashman is P.O.ed about the whole affair too and is exploring ways to void the so-called pitcher's deal. I doubt very seriously that there's any chance of that happening, but can you blame him? Pavano is practically stealing money. He's leaving the door open to other stiffs to do the same to the Yankees in the future if there's no recourse for his sandbagging. I, for one, hope he gets his bags and heads out of Yankeeville on the next steamship to wherever. It would have been nice to see him come back and make up for his nonsense by pitching us into the World Series, and it may yet happen, but I would be just as delighted to see him depart. Let's pretend this whole ugly incident never happened.

See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sickening Yankees

I'm absolutely disgusted that the Yankees are playing this poorly. It goes to figure that this club would sweep a 5 game series against the Red Sox and then proceed to hand part of that success back to the Boston club in the games that followed. If there's one team I hate as much as the Red Sox it's the Angels. Well....almost as much. The Angels play the game like they're in 1975, but they always beat the Yankees. It's unbelievably frustrating.

The problem is a combination of an inconsistent offense, and a God-awful bullpen. The starters have been fair and better, but the pen is blowing things up every time out. In the West Coast swing so far the pen has produced the following results:

13.2 IP
18 Hits
13 ER
10 BB
13 K
8.56 ERA
2.049 WHIP

The only game that the bullpen sat out was Randy Johnson's complete game loss. Myers and Dotel did their jobs nicely in Wang's win, but have bombed every other time out. Villone has been dreadful. Wright was unwatchable in relief and as a starter. Farnsworth made a nice cameo, and Mariano hasn't seen the light of day. Overwork is to blame for much of this meltdown, and just plain bad starting pitching is also a factor. Mussina's absence is huge right now.

The bats have quited a bit, which could be expected after the huge Boston outburst, but the arms have not picked them up during the brief lull. I expect the hitting to return to the 6 runs a game form it should produce, but the pitchers need to buckle down and do their jobs. I'm going to single out A-Rod as a guy who needs to step his game up. I bashed him for his off the field wishy-washiness a couple of days ago. It was a bit unfair given that his OPS in both July and August has been .950 and above. The thing is, looking at his recent numbers more closely, he's been awful. What I'm about to look at is a bit unfair, given that you can pluck stats from any player's season total and call it a cold streak, but I think it's worth examining nonetheless.

If you subtract the 3 games in two days that started the Boston series, in which he hit the ball well, A-Rod has done this in 11 games dating back to his 2 hit performance against the Angels on August 13th.

11 Games
7 for 40 with 4 walks and 17 strikeouts
.175/.250/.325 for a .575 OPS
2 HR, 2 runs, 6 RBI
0 stolen bases

Remember, that's excluding his 3 games against Boston. A bit unfair, but indicative of his recent struggles. He has 13 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 3 hits in his last 23 plate appearances after those 3 aforementioned games. You don't need to exclude them to see his atrocious play. That line alone would produce a .150/.261/.261 result in the last 7 games. Yes, he may be sick. Should he be playing at all if that's the case? Should he have been sent back to NY to recover? I thought Joe should have moved him up to the 2-hole for a game to see what happened prior to the last game, and we must have been thinking along the same lines. It didn't work, and it's clear that there's something wrong with A-Rod beyond a slump. Call it illness, but he shouldn't be playing right now. He should be in bed, or on his counselor's couch. I hope he starts to shred the ball for the stretch run. He's a killer right now and he's seriously hurting the team. C'mon A-Rod, buddy, get it together and let's put this thing to bed.

I put up some of Daisuke's Matsuzaka's MLB Projections at Matsuzaka Watch. Go check it out. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!

Friday, August 25, 2006

A-Rod Flu

I posted the following commentary over at Bronx Banter just after the loss to Seattle. Read it, and then check out my post-bitterness feelings on said monologue:

"This will be my first real criticism of A-Rod this season. I've been disappointed in his performance on a number of occasions, but not more so than any other member of the club. What's going on right now bugs me.

I have no evidence whatsoever to indict Rodriguez on sandbagging games, but this season has certainly seen more than its fair share of little bitchy excuses for not playing or not performing. I have no beef with A-Rod's performance, you see. He isn't having his best season, but he's still a potent offensive weapon in the middle of our lineup. His defense has been shit.

I have beef with his multitude of excuses and wishy-washy attitude about everything. I wish A-Rod would grow some balls and just tell everyone to shut their f-ing mouths. Also, I wish he'd stop hiding behind viral infections and tummy aches and mysterious unnamed injuries for his failures. Everyone fails in baseball. Even the best players in history sometimes fail more than other times.

The thing is, if you are struggling against your own past and the expectations of fans, you should eventually put your foot down and tell people to kiss your ass. Get a little Sheffield in you. Wishing everyone liked you makes you shy away from tough public relations. Needing appreciation makes you sit out the Seattle series to get away from the booing and the fake money showering down from the stands. Again, I have no proof that that's what's happening, but you can't tell me that you aren't thinking it too.

Coming in to pinch hit in the 9th was an iffy decision by Torre. The guy is sick or he's not. He's in a bad state of mind or he's not. I know he's an All-World player, but what good is he at that moment. We know the answer now.

I like A-Rod VERY MUCH. I think he's a great player, a Hall of Famer, a good Yankee, and all that crap. I cheer for him every at bat. It's on the sidelines that I think he's a bitch."

There you have it. I spilled my guts about Alex Rodriguez. I don't feel all that different about it now, but I really should count my lucky stars that he's going to be a Yankee for better or for worse. It's tiring to hear all the excuses for his relatively mediocre play, the crap about his lukewarm relationship with Jeter, and all the rest. I'm not sure he'll ever win over the fans in New York, and that's a bitter pill to swallow for me. He's too great a player to be so maligned. It goes back to my earlier point. If he was just a little more of a hard ass, he'd probably win some of those cranky fans over and he also might just get his edge back. Only time will tell, but I seem to recall that Tino and Knoblauch were villified for their lack of "clutch" play, but the big World Series game 1 in 1998 that they had swung the pendulum back in their favor. I hope we win it all, and Alex is the WS MVP. That would help a lot.

See you tomorrow. Go Yanks. (New posting @ Matsuzaka Watch)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Return of the King

A very nice return to form for our young star. Chien Ming Wang has been fair in his last 2 starts, but not nearly the dominant pitcher we've enjoyed all season long. Today was another story as the 26 yeard old sinkerballer from Taiwan rolled through the weak Mariners lineup, showing pop on his pitches and great poise as usual. 11 ground balls against 5 fly ball outs marked a very effective mix of pitches and helped the Yankees cruise to a 9-2 victory, picking up where they left off in Boston. The loss in the opening game of this series was kind of an expected thing, but getting back in the win column right away is the sign of a very good ballclub.

It was a pleasure to see Mike Myers in action, making Ichiro look foolish, and going 1-2-3 in the eighth. The best appearance however was reserved for "The Sheriff" Octavio Dotel, who really had life on his pitches and worked an effective 9th inning. Raul Ibanez worked a walk, but you could almost hear the whoosh on his pitches before they hit Posada's mitt. The return of Dotel to the lineup means a lot actually. It means more rest for Proctor and Villone, and it will eventually mean that Farnsworth will be saved for less precarious spots. A fresh, top-line reliever finding his way into a good team's pen in August is like a Christmas present. That's especially true with the Yankees, as Torre likes to abuse his bullpen arms. In the stretch run Dotel may just make the most important contribution to a World Series run.

Before I wrap things up, I want to give roll call to 3 guys who are really showing their best games recently. Not that other guys haven't been on point, but rather my eyes have been open for the following 3:

1. Johnny Damon
In August, Damon is hitting .296/.355/.633, which comes out to a .988 OPS. That's his highest OPS of any month this season. As you'll note, his average and OBP are not the highest monthly tallies of 2006, but that .633 SLG is impressive. He has 6 doubles, 3 triples, and 7 home runs in 22 games this month.

2. Bobby Abreu
Abreu has brought his season average all the way up from .277 to .301 while hitting for the Yankees. What has he done in pinstripes to achieve the .301 mark? Only hit .393/.505/.562 for an OPS of 1.062 in 23 games. Can anyone say, "Dave Justice?" The guy is an absolute machine. With the Yankees, Abreu is on a 162 game pace for 127 runs and 49 stolen bases. C.J. Who?

3. Robinson Cano
He's hitting .328 on the season, but the story is what he's done in the 17 games since he returned from the DL. As I recall, he hit 3 doubles in one of his rehab games, and looked to continue his mashing of the baseball with the big club. In 17 games he sports a line of .343/.380/.657 for an OPS of 1.073! In those 17 games he has 4 homers and 20 RBIs which are a 162 game pace of 38 homers and 191 RBIs. The crazy number (as if 191 RBIs isn't crazy enough) is his 9 doubles which figures out to 86 doubles over a full season. He's very very hot.

Let's close things out tomorrow and keep the wins-a-comin'. This feels really good. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sea-No Evil

Not much to say about the loss to Seattle. There was a let down in the air after the great Boston series, and the Yanks were still fighting to win it. If Mo had been called upon to close things out, we'd have our 6th in a row, but you can hardly blame Joe for getting the man a little rest after some exhausting work recently and a cross-country flight. The Sox lost too, so we're still golden.

I'll have more to talk about tomorrow, but my baseball energy was spent this evening on Daisuke Matsuzaka's 20th outing of the 2006 season. He won, throwing his 6th 130+ pitch game of the year. Ouch. Save him quickly. You can read more at Matsuzaka Watch if you're interested.

The Matsuzaka angle is especially timely now, with the two front-runners for his services squaring off. The Seattle newspapers have almost daily columns in their sports pages about the Mariners pursuit of Daisuke. The latest is from the Seattle Post Intelligencer's Art Thiel. He gets a bunch of the minor details about Matsuzaka wrong (he's still 25 years old and his ERA is 2.08, not 2.30) but otherwise it's a lot of wild speculation and desperate hope. Such is life as a Mariners fan these days. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Aftermath

Time for the statistical recap of the most beautiful 5 game series ever played in the history of all mankind. Are you ready? I thought so.

Yankees Bats
.321/.417/.554 (.971 OPS)
49 runs on 20 doubles, 2 triples, and 7 home runs
6/7 in stolen bases

Red Stockings Bats
.256/.344/.405 (.749 OPS)
26runs on 14 doubles and 5 home runs
1/1 in stolen bases

Yankees Starters
26.0 IP
5.89 ERA
1.770 WHIP
16 walks, 16 strikeouts

Stockings Starters
28.0 IP
8.04 ERA
1.786 WHIP
16 walks, 20 strikeouts

Yankees Pen
20.0 IP
3.60 ERA
1.500 WHIP
10 walks, 13 strikeouts

Stockings Pen
18.0 IP
11.50 ERA
3.000 WHIP
16 walks, 20 strikeouts

These numbers show just how badly we whipped Boston's ass. The difference in OPS between the teams is brutal. .971 for the Yankees and .749 for Boston is something that almost makes you look away in horror. The Yankees pitching was pretty bad actually. Lidle turned in the best performance for the Bombers, and his counterpart David "Crisco" Wells did his thing for the Red Sox. Ponson was the main culprit dragging the Yanks pitching into the basement, but thankfully he's sleepin' wit' da fishes (and Jose Lima) right now. Josh Beckett's hideous showing was the shame of the Cape Cod circuit. The Yankee bullpen was fair, if unspectacular, while the 11.50 ERA that the Sox pen vomited onto the Fenway diamond is an affront to my delicate sensibilities.

Nothing more need be said about this stunning turn of events. It's something I plan to glow in for a while. The Red Sox people (fans, bloggers, apologists) are starting to search for excuses. They seem to range from blaming Epstein for trying to rebuild and contend at the same time and getting caught in the middle, and blaming the Yankees payroll. Something like, "Waaaaah! Waaah! The big bad Yankees spend a wot ob money so us widdle Wed Sox can't win."

To that I say...horseshit (my favortie baseball word). You spend plenty of money in Boston and charge your fans a ton for breathing the rarified air of the Fens. You charge for thinking about the Red Sox. There's plenty of money there. You spend it too. Yes, the Yanks spend A LOT more, but your mistakes were thinking that Coco Crisp could replace Johnny Damon in center, and that a starting rotation featuring Wells and Clement was enough to win the AL East. In fact, overrating Josh Beckett was a big mistake too. Look at his numbers. You have to factor in the AL bump that NL guys get in their numbers.

The last note today is about Koshien and the Japanese High School champion Waseda Jitsugyo. The ace pitcher that led the Tokyo school to victory, Yuki Saito, says that he will go on to Waseda University (one of Japan's best private universities) and speculation is that he'll go directly to the Majors if anyone will give him a shot. He wrote in his Elementary School graduation note that he wanted to be a Major Leaguer when he grew up, and that he specifically dreamed of being a Yankee. Don't we all. Before anyone gets excited about this, remember that he's an 18 year old kid who stands 5'9 and weighs in at 165 pounds. Unless he develops Pedro's stuff, and continues getting taller and bigger, he will be a nice Japanese Pro and that's it. Scary good potential, but size issues that are hard to overcome. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks. Get them......Mariners.....ah was fun while it lasted.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Before I write about Yanks and Sox, Schilling and Mussina, Jeter and Ortiz, I want to report on the final day of the Koshien National High School Baseball Championship and something troubling. I've written a bit about this at Matsuzaka Watch but to quickly recap, Oh Sadaharu's alma mater, Waseda Jitsugyo, and defending champion, Komadai Tomakomai, fought it out for the 88th championship in the Summer tounament's history. In the game, played on Sunday afternoon, both teams played to a 15 inning 1-1 tie. The game ended a draw, and both teams were ordered to take the field the next day to do it all again.

Most high schools only have one reliable pitcher, so they throw him every day. Some teams, like the defending champs, try to go with the #2 guy but give in around the 3rd inning to their ace again. It's a big deal to win, so they go with the best. The Waseda ace, Yuki Saito, is a Matsuzaka-esque prince of baseball, who seems unhittable at times. He led the team to a tight 4-3 victory in the school's first ever crown at Koshien today, throwing 118 pitches a day after going a full 15 on 178 pitches. Actually, Saito pitched in 4 consectutive days, throwing 4 consecutive complete games. I don't have the exact figures on the previous two games, but you have to figure that the young man threw 500-550 pitches over 4 straight outings. Considering that he pitched something like 9 times in 10 days you have to marvel that he was allowed to throw 958 pitches in a week and a half. Criminal.

Still, my co-workers were all glued to their seats watching at work. Still they admired his hard work and his ability to fend off exhaustion to complete his duty. Only one teacher seemed versed in the American opinions on this, and I conversed with him in Japanese a bit about modern sports medicine and the effect of stress on young pitchers' arms. He understood. In typically Japanese fashion, he did not offer his own opinion, but he knows. I'm sure of it.

Now to the Yankees. You'll notice the equation I've used as the title of this post. It means, "Epic Story" plus "Heroic Quality" equals "Most Valuable Player". It's my way of explaining the way we REALLY choose our MVPs. I think it applies to all sports, but I'll expound on baseball.

To start, it's important to recognize the role that statistics play in choosing the Most Valuable Player in any given year. I think that without statistics, there can be no argument about who the MVP is. For this reason, we can annoint Alex Rodriguez the MVP while he plays for the last place Rangers. There are plenty of other examples of this kind of situation in history. When it's close though, I think we revert to ES + HQ = MVP.

Baseball is a part of our cultural fabric. It's out national mythology. From Ruth's called shot to Casey at the Bat, we have woven stories together that tell about who we are, and what we value. Like any mythology the struggle between opposing forces is important. The fight against all odds is the most satisfying. It tells us that we all have a chance, no matter how bleak it may seem. If you doubt this, think about how much the Red Sox beating their arch rival Yankees, against impossible odds, to buck history, was in 2004. It was the ultimate epic tale of heroes and underdogs.

The epic story is what keeps baseball a continuous thread from more than a hundred years ago until the present day. It's all connected and the story never ends. The players in this great mythology are the teams and the cities and the fans. Boston versus New York. Los Angeles versus San Francisco. The Cubs and the Cardinals. Those few examples are the greatest chapters in the epic saga of baseball, but there are plenty of subplots as well. Baseball means so much to so many because it has bent and twisted itself to the small nooks and crannies of America over the years. Small markets have had their Davids to the metropolitan Goliaths. There was Bill Mazeroski in Pittsburgh. Willie Stargell too. Lenny Dykstra is a hero in Philly, and they lost the Series in 1993. George Brett headlined the hey day of Kansas City, and Kirby Puckett in Minnesota. You can go back further and spread the net wider, but you get the point. The stories are connected.

I will argue that the first important ingredient to the MVPs candidacy is his role in the epic. It's simple to say that you want a player on a contending ballclub, but that's too clinical. Deep down we vote for the guy involved in the epic story. The struggle. The hero's quest for the Holy Grail. Without that story, the MVP is an empty award. Travis Hafner leads the world in VORP, but his team is without a role in the saga. Yes, they're losing, but more than that they're uninteresting. Joe Mauer may just yet win, but he's hurt by the possible exclusion of Minnesota in the final epic. The team has struggled against all odds to contend, and he's been outstanding, but they may find themselves on the outside, and that does not make for a very heroic finish.

To demonstrate this point further, I'll head to the "HQ" part of the problem. Heroic Quality is the point of a player's personality that helps him accomplish the impossible and carry his team to victory. Remember, this is about mythology. This is about Hercules. It's about Superman. We want someone to fill the role of Maximus. The thing is, depending on the context of the epic, we need different kinds of heroes. I'll run down a few of the myriad types and the players that best represent these qualities.

1. The Golden Boy: Derek Jeter

Jeter is the Joe Montana of baseball. He's a natural talent. Handsome. Perpetually clean, both literally and philosophically. He visits kids in hospitals and puts his jacket over puddles for ladies. Jeter spends his time away from winning championships rescuing kittens from trees. You get the idea. Kind of makes you sick, unless he's on your team. I despised Joe Montana and was thrilled to watch him get pounded into the turf in the NFC Championship Game in 1990 versus the Giants. Guys like this are so hard to hate that people have to spend over the top amounts of energy to dislike them. That's why they have a huge fan base, and an equally passionate movement of haters. For the record, Alex Rodriguez is shaping up as kind of a failed Golden Boy. Jeter steals his glory, and he always seems to grip the bat too hard under pressure. He's still a natural and Hall of Famer, but he'll never be as great a "Hero" as Jeter, if you follow me.

2. The Everyman's Hero: David Ortiz

This guy is never to pretty or muscular. He's not a Michaelangelo sculpture come to life in perfectly hewn form. He's rough. Unshaven. Imperfect. Fat. Goofy. Smiles a lot. Types in short, punchy sentences. Just kidding. Ortiz is likeable. Even Yankee fans like him, despite his untimely success against us. He's just so damn happy to be with his teammates, performing in front of his fans. His heroic moments grab all of us because we are this close to seeing ourselves out there too. He came out of nowhere and now stands with the best players of his generation over the last 3 seasons and likely more. I would put Manny in this category too, but he's really a weird hybrid of a few different types. He's hard to put your finger on, so Ortiz is the hero of the Red Sox, despite not being their best player.

3. The Hercules: Albert Pujols

Barry Bonds could have been this, had he not juiced himself up. He could have built his body on his own and hit 73 home runs and retired the All-Time Hercules of Baseball. Alas, he is the Fallen Hero and there is no epic hero's tale for him. Albert Pujols is the muscled giant of super-human feats now. At his still young age he has a chance to erase all the damage done by Bonds, and restore glory to the idea that Hercules is alive. The perfect physical specimen, shaking the Earth as he walks to the plate. The pitcher stands no chance and looks anemic by comparison. Pujols lifts the might bat and launches mere mortal offerings deep into the night. I see many MVPs in his future for his numbers and his perfect realization of this powerful hero's role.

4. The Working Class Hero: Jorge Posada

Okay, Jorge isn't an MVP candidate, but I struggled to come up with a current example of this character. In the past, I'd have gone with Lenny Dykstra, George Brett, or someone along those lines. These are good players who carry lunch pails and get dirty. They are tough and show emotion. Catchers make good Working Man's Heroes, as do guys nicknamed "Nails", or players that grind and dig. Sometimes these guys are given too much credit for things that they actually have no business getting credit for, but they bust their asses so much, people want them to be rewarded. Jim Edmonds is this kind of guy. Jorge is the Yankees' lunch pail player and probably deserved the MVP when A-Rod won it in Texas on a last place club.

5. The Little Man's Hero: David Eckstein

This guy gets a lot of credit for being small and the automatic underdog. Everything he does is inflated beyond reasonable proportion, but he's a hero to those who always believed they were the underdog. The chips were stacked against them. That's why a guy like David Eckstein always gets that lone head-scratching vote for MVP from some sports writer out there.

6. The Dying Hero: Curt Schilling and his Damn Sock

Willis Reed was the New York equivalent of the Dying Hero. He was that guy who was about to die on the court for the sake of winning the championship. Schilling and his Damn Sock are the most recent iteration of this hero type. They aren't season MVP candidates, but they are almost always assured of the Series MVP or Playoff MVP for their sacrifice for the team. Everyone loves this kind of story. The guy just cares that much, and that's what we want to see as fans.

There are probably a million more. I'm beginning to think that this season's AL MVP will go to the player that holds the golden chalice of victory to his lips to sip the mead of champions. All that nonsense means that the guy who best portrays the hero in fulfilling the outcome of the saga will win the MVP. Stats will play into it, but the mythology always wins out somehow. To that end, I'm leaning more and more towards believing that Derek Jeter will be this years Most Valuable Player. Before the current series began, I thought that David Ortiz would wrongfully claim the award ahead of his own teammate, Jeter, and Joe Mauer. ESPN is the holder of the storybook and push the chapters of the epic in the direction they feel it should go. As shamefully biased New Englanders, the smart money was on Big Highlight Papi for the award.

As the Sox drop further out of the picture, despite Manny and Papi's impressive efforts, it appears that the MVP may be slipping away too. Papi will still get his share of consideration from the blind, deaf, and dumb that can't see Manny as the More Valuable Red Sock, and he may still win the trophy. Joe Mauer is having an amazing year, but the Twins are still not in the playoffs. Jeter has all the "HQ", hero qualities, and the "ES", epic story, to go along with it. Jeter's 9th inning, 2 out hit against Papelbon to tie the game and send it to extra innings was just one more moment in his career that makes him shine. Red Sox fans know the guy that they don't want to see with the game on the line, as much as we know the two guys on their team that make our stomachs hurt. They had to know it was coming last night. It was just tailor made. Runner stranded on third, with two Yankees failing to bring him home. Last chance, Jeter at the plate. They knew he would get a hit and drive a spike into their hearts. We all knew it. He consistently fulfills his role as the Golden Boy despite not having a truly golden glove or home run power. The moments he produces are bigger that the everyday results (which aren't too damn shabby either).

The numbers are mostly there. The average, the VORP, the Win Shares. There are plenty of metrics to include Derek Jeter in the MVP conversation. I've made my case in the past. Mauer, Manny, Jeter. The thing is, this game makes people say and do irrational things sometimes. They go against science, metrics, and reasonable examinations of value. It's the reason that people like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver are celebrated despite their clear lack of sense. The thing is, sometimes this unscientific influence that comes from ES + HQ = MVP helps the case of someone deserving. Sometimes it's the final piece that puts one guy above a group of similarly talented and deserving players. It's the reason that Ortiz was in the best position to win a few weeks ago, and it would be hard to argue too vociferously about it. Sure, you could argue, but it wouldn't have been a travesty. Ortiz is among a small, select group of players that is competing to be called "the best".

The more the Yanks win, and the more Jeter produces those memorable moments, the more he fulfills the hero's role that goes along with the statistical performance. The more he does to cement his legend in our minds, and in the minds of the fans that dread him, the closer he is to winning the MVP. There are plenty of people in the media that want to give it to him as much as they want to give it to Papi. With another first place finish in sight, they have the fuel to make that vote. They can give him the award that has unoffically belonged to him for a decade in the hearts of Yankee fans and the media horde that wants the epic story to have its Joe Montana. This year may be their best chance to make the move, and I'm beginning to think he will win it, whether the metrics bear it out or not.

For my money, I think he deserves it without the story, but it makes the whole thing a lot more sweet. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tim McCarver Says

3 games. 39 runs. 4.5 games up in the standings. (5 in the loss.) What's not to like heading into the marquee game of the series, Mussina vs. Schilling? If we were to beat Fat Toad Schilling, the 5th game would be absolute gravy. Schilling is the symbol of all that is evil and must be destroyed. I'll get into the game a bit more in a second, but I'd like to mock Tim McCarver for a second. He needs it.

Fox insists on running a network of circus freaks in just about every on air position they have. T-Mac is a headliner in that carnival of buffonery. Last night's game showed him at his preachie best. I offer this for your amusement.

"Fire Joe Morgan" is one of my favorite reads every day. For those of you who don't know the blog, it is a collection of the world's worst baseball writing, critiqued and mocked by some really clever and insightful guys. Their favorite target is Joe Morgan, for obvious reasons, but also spread the wealth to cover just about all the most deserving hacks out there. As I was watching the Yanks/Sox telecast and listened to McCarver's first diatribe on pitch counts, I immediately thought about writing this commentary. Knowing the fine work at FJM, I knew they'd beat me to it, and sure enough they did. You can check it out for yourself. Essentially, "Timmy" argued that pitch counts are very overrated and that we should pay less attention to them. Some guys can throw 150+ pitches per start, according to him. Ugh. I wrote a piece yesterday at Matsuzaka Watch using Baseball Prospectus' "Pitching Abuse Points" to evaluate the stress on the Japanese ace's arm. When will they learn? How many more Kerry Woods and Mark Priors must there be?

The other thing he ranted about that struck me was the height of today's mound. He wants the mound returned to a pre-1969 15" to even the playing field for pitchers. He cites the fact that today's 10" mound, combined with the bigger, stronger hitters, has tilted the game too far in the direction of the offense. Almost as though he was reading my mind, he mentioned that the owners don't want it. He didn't elaborate too much about why that would be the case, but I will.

1. The owners want the mound where it is because fans like to see hitting.
2. Fans pay high ticket prices to come to ball games.
3. 2 hour ballgames generate 1 hour less tv ad revenue per game.
4. Americans are lukewarm to soccer because there's not enough scoring.

I could go on, but there's no point. The point he made about the reasons for the change speak for themselves. In 1968, Carl Yazstremski led the AL in hitting with a .301 average. In 6th place was Vic Davalillo of the Indians and Angels at .277! The 6th best American League hitter in 1968 only hit .277 if you can imagine that. FYI, the 20th best hitter in the AL was Jose Cardenal with a .257 average. 5 AL pitchers had ERAs under 2, and among the top 25 in that category only three pitchers had ERAs of 3 or more, culminating in Lew Krausse's 3.11 mark. The NL had no 3+ ERA pitchers in the Top 25.

I like good pitching. I certainly like pitching better than what we've seen in the current 3 games between the Yanks and Sox. I don't know if I'd want to turn on the tv every night and watch a 3-2 ballgame. In 1968, the average team scored 3.4 runs a game. In 2005, that number was about 4.7 per game. Yes, there's more offense. Yes, pitcher's ERAs are up to go along with that offense. The only point to raising the mound to 1968 height would be to reduce offense, get a bunch of pitchers with 2.50 ERAs and drive fans away from the game. Nice thinking Timmy.

I guess I understand though. He did win me over with this jewel in the Top of the 9th, "Pitching is such a vital part of the game, as far as winning is concerned." Yes it is, Tim. Yes it is.

My Red Sox jab of the day:

Johnny Damon this series
9/18, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 5 runs, 8 RBIs
.500/.500/1.111 (1.611 OPS)

Coco Crisp and Gabe Kapler this series
1/13, 2 runs, 1 BB
.077/.143/.143 (.286 OPS)

Johnny Damon this season (520 PAs)
.297/.369/.513 (.882 OPS)
29 doubles, 5 triples, 20 homers
90 runs, 67 RBIs, 22/30 stolen bases

Coco Crisp this season (351 PAs)
.276/.329/.398 (.727 OPS)
17 doubles, 2 triples, 6 homers
50 runs, 26 RBIs, 16/20 stolen bases

Think they miss him? Let's go Moose.

Twice as Nice

Okay, down to business. That sucked. I mean, it was great, but it still kinda sucked. Almost 5 hours of 9 inning baseball with a bunch of pitchers throwing batting practice on both sides. Ron Villone's arm was noticeably hanging from a single stringy tendon and he was walking the ballpark, but Torre was seen wiping the sleep out of his eyes in the dugout.

That was four consecutive days and 90 pitches for Ronnie Villone. I wanted to punch Joe. 'Tis but a flesh wound. You'll see him for 3 innings tomorrow.

My Red Sox jab of the day:

Johnny Damon: 6/12, 3B, 2 HR, 4R, 7 RBI, 0 BB, 1K
Coco Crisp: 1/9, 2R, 1BB, 2K

Bobby Abreu: 6/9, 2 2B, 2R, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 2K
Hinske/Pena: 3/14, 3 2B, 1R, 1BB, 3K

One is Johnny Damon compared to his replacement. VORSRP (Value Over Red Sox Replacement Player) = Googolplex.

The other is the guy that could have taken over for the injured Trot Nixon in right, but ended up in pinstripes. Hinske played right in game one, and Pena played game two. I used all their numbers over both games just to give them a boost, but it ended up hurting them. Statistical fairness is not my aim, so there you have it. VORSPO (Value Over Red Sox Patchwork Outfielders) = Googolplex +1.

When all is said and done, we are 3.5 up in the standings (4 in the loss) and happy about the outcome of the two ballgames. The Red Sox join us in exhaustion with the added sting of being humiliated twice in one long day. 3.5 games (4 in the loss) is very nice, but never make the mistake of thinking that the Sox are falling out of it. A hot week and a half will put them back in first if we let off the gas. Time to step on their necks.

The important storyline for the next game has shifted from the pitching duel between Randy Johnson and Josh Beckett, and now quite clearly must be the attrition of the bullpens on both teams. Unit and "Emily Post" Beckett need to go deep into the game to relieve the relievers, if that makes sense. I'll run down the pens to see who's in and who's out for tomorrow in my opinion. The list runs in descending order from least available to most:

Rudy Seanez - unavailable (1.1 innings and 47 pitches yesterday)
Keith Foulke - unavailable (2.0 innings and 42 pitches yesterday)
Kyle Snyder - unavailable (2.0 innings and 39 pitches yesterday)
Julian Tavarez - available but used (2.1 innings and 32 pitches yesterday)
Mike Timlin - available but used (.2 innings and 32 pitches yesterday)
Manny Delcarmen - available, but used (1.1 innings and 28 pitches yesterday)
Craig Hansen - available, but used (.1 inning and 21 pitches yesterday)
Jonathon Papelbon - available (1 inning pitched 8/16)

New York
Ron Villone - unavailable (3 innings and 90 pitches in 4 straight days)
Brian Bruney - unavailable (2.2 innings and 73 pitches over 2 days)
Scott Proctor - unavailable (4.1 innings and 61 pitches over 3 days, 4 games)
Mike Myers - 1 batter (3.1 innings and 47 pitches over 3 games, 2 days)
TJ Beam - available in emergency (1 inning and 26 pitches yesterday)
Kyle Farnsworth - ? (.1 inning and 6 pitches, but injured yesterday)
Mariano Rivera - available (1 inning and 14 pitches yesterday)
Octavio Dotel - available (.2 innings and 22 pitches on 8/17)

The Red Sox are in far worse shape than the Yankees, as their only reliable reliever other than Papelbon is Timlin. He's been bad lately, and was used yesterday and threw 32 pitches. Delcarmen and Hansen seem to be the likely options for Francona to bridge the late innings to Papelbon. I wouldn't trust either of them, especially given that they both threw 20+ pitches yesterday as well.

The Yanks have a rested Dotel, and a fairly fresh Mariano. Farnsworth would also be fresh if his leg is okay. I would anticipate a roster move or two to get more arms in the pen. Ponson should be banished from Yankeeland forever, which will let us get a pitcher from AAA to help out. If we send Bruney down, we can get one more. Maybe a long man, and a guy for the 6th inning.

I have to think that the Yankees will play Nick Green tomorrow. Maybe they give A-Rod the afternoon off to shake off the 9th inning error he made. Maybe Jeter gets a break, although I doubt it. You may even see Giambi at first with Wilson parking himself on the bench. Damon DHs with Bernie in center? I'm just trying to predict Torre's mood. A few guys would benefit from a day off. We'll all be there though. See you later. Go Yanks!

(Matsuzaka Watch has been linked to via Technorati at the Washington Post. In an article about the Orioles interest in Daisuke, you can find the link to me near the bottom at "Who's Blogging". It seems my mockery of the Orioles and their futile pursuit has made it to the highest of the high, albeit indirectly. Please head over and read my newest post about "Pitcher Abuse Points" and the rating for DM.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Let the Games Begin

Quick recap of the Yanks/O's:

Yankees Bats
.257/.324/.416 (.740 OPS)
10 runs on 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 3 home runs
1/1 in stolen bases

Orioles Bats
.240/.331/.452 (.783 OPS)
18 runs on 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 home runs
2/3 in stolen bases

Yankees Starters
15.1 IP
6.46 ERA
1.370 WHIP
8 walks, 12 strikeouts

Orioles Starters
18.1 IP
2.41 ERA
1.179 WHIP
7 walks, 19 strikeouts

Yankees Pen
13.2 IP
2.63 ERA
1.244 WHIP
5 walks, 16 strikeouts

Orioles Pen
7.1 IP
6.14 ERA
1.773 WHIP
2 walks, 4 strikeouts

After two series where our bats were working overtime, the Yankees were completely stymied by the O's starting pitchers. It's difficult to say whether the Yanks were bad, or if the Birds pitching has improved that much, but I'm inclined to say that it's 80% bad Yankee hitting, and 20% improved Orioles arms.

The Yankees starters, Mussina, Lidle, and Wright, went from good to barely adequate to awful over the course of the series. That's to be expected with Lidle and Wright. They're going to throw some stinkers. That's why they are at the back end of the rotation. The pen ended up working some good innings overall, but too many of them. 5 games in 4 days against the Red Sox is going to seriously test our ability to go deep into games, with the bullpen a bit overworked. Nevertheless, this is potentially a make or break set of games in the AL East. If one of the teams wins 4 of 5, or sweeps (highly unlikely) it could spell huge trouble for the other.

The Red Sox snatched up both Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena prior to the big series. Both are solid, if unspectacular, additions that will be very annoying if either of those players affects the outcome of any game in favor of the Beantowners. Hinske is a former ROY for Toronto, but was out of a job with few opportunities available behind the emerging star, Alex Rios. Pena snuck out of his Yankees' minor league deal to get a better shot at the Show. I can't say I blame him, but thanks for nothing you freeloading backstabber. If he factors in anything we have bigger problems than we thought.

I'll skip a lot of hype, in favor of a few comments on the storylines I like.

1. Is this Alex Rodriguez' big moment in 2006?

A-Rod has been more like "Lightning Rod" so far this year. (I like that line, and I hope it's original.) With all the negative publicity over his plentiful errors, and lack of MVP numbers, A-Rod is still having a very good year. He will only be remembered for his failures if he doesn't produce big in this series, however, and he needs to take his chance at redemption here. I, personally, don't believe he has a single thing to prove to anyone, but should he go 9 for 22 with 3 homers and a bunch of big hits, he could flip the script on his image. So far, in 10 games against Boston in 2006, A-Rod is .222/.317/.472 and that's bad.

2. What's the +/- on Bobby Abreu in the Yanks/Sox rivalry?

Both teams were in line for Abreu's services, but the Red Sox opted out. Trot Nixon was hurt a day after the Yankees added the right fielder, and probably would have been far more aggressive had the timing been different. The Bobby Abreu factor is big in this series. Imagine the lovefest that will ensue if and when Abreu wins a game for the Yankees in this rivalry. Boston will be saying, "woulda, coulda, shoulda." On the other hand, what does it mean if he stinks it up? Probably not much, but it will be a big storyline. You can bet on that. (Boston is betting on it, I'm sure.)

3. Whose starting pitching is worse?

The Sox are jumbling a rotation together out of Schilling, an inconsistent Beckett, and a bunch of rookies and has beens. The Yankees are throwing Mussina, a mostly good Wang, a shaky Johnson, and some very iffy Major Leaguers. The advantage seems to be ours, if barely, but they hit last.

4. Manny or Ortiz?

Pick your poison. I'll say it right now. Ortiz scares me because he seems to have those big moments. He's a killer. But, if I'm picking my poison and one guy on their roster to shut down, it's Manny Ramirez. He's the best hitter in the American League. He's the best player on that team. Not even close. Now, I'll go look at the numbers and try to justify that claim. Let's see...

Overall 2006
Manny - .320/.430/.615
Papi - .286/.401/.624

Against the Yankees 2006 (10 games)
Manny - .500/.581/1.000
Papi - .310/.370/.571

Against the Yankees All-Time
Manny - .303/.387/.589
Papi - .309/.383/.572

Well, I guess that settles it. Both are sick. Manny is sicker. If we can hold them to a reasonable output, and do our work on the rest of the team we can do very well. That's a huge if. Buckle up folks. Double header action in effect. Double the hype, double the pressure, double the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Get the F&^% Outta Dodge

That's right y'all, el commando
El commando you're in demand-o
-Chuck D (Apocalypse '91, Get the F&^% Outta Dodge)

Just in time for the Red Sox showdown, there's a new sheriff in town. Those of you who have been reading Canyon of Heroes for a while will remember this poster from some time ago:

Well, now the sheriff is back in town and he's a mean mother (shut yo mouth)! Octavio Dotel is the X-factor from now until the end of the season. If he can get back to being bulletproof, there will be no room in this one horse division for the Yankees and the Red Sox, and we've got the best law man this side of Mariano setting up....for Mariano.

Okay, Big Papi....DRAW!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Johnny Damon-ite

I skipped Johnny Damon yesterday in my roll call of feel good stories. I felt bad doing it, so I said I'd "get him tomorrow". I guess I knew something, huh?

I'm a bit tired from literally HOURS! of blogging over at Matsuzaka Watch tonight, so I'll leave you with this photo tribute of today's hero. Told you I'd make it up to you bro!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dr. Feelgood

Yesterday's ballgame was really the picture of a feel good game. A lot of things happened to make you smile. Let's count them one by one. You'll get a sense of why that game was so satisfying after the rundown.

1. Derek Jeter busted out of his 2 for 11, and 8 for 40 skid with a big 3/5 night that featured an absolute bomb to dead center for his 10th home run. The fans chanted "MVP" with about as much conviction as I've seen all season for the Captain.

2. Abreu seems like he's 1/3 with a walk every night. He has a .346/.424/.462 line in pinstripes which goes for an .886 OPS.

3. Giambi is stinging the ball lately. He was only 1/3 with a walk and a sac fly, but it felt like more the way he was swinging the bat.

4. A-Rod made some very slick plays in the field and showed a really good arm. He was also 1/3 with a walk and 2 RBIs. The ball he hit to Cabrera bounced off the shortstops face and he smiled. So did I. Funny.

5. Cano is also swinging a great bat. He only had one hit, but it was a very nice one on a ball low and inside. He stroked it into right field and continues to impress. Plus, he's not Miguel Cairo.

6. One of my favorite things about tonight was Jorge Posada breaking the longest hitless drought of his career at 0 for 25 with a 3/4 performance including a line drive home run that went out of the park so fast that Jim Kaat commented he high fived Tony Pena on his way past 1st. Hip Hip....Jorge!

7. Craig Wilson is quietly putting up a .300/.300/.525 line for the Yanks. The .300 OBP draws attention to the fact that he has no walks against 13 Ks in 10 games, but the .525 slugging is wonderful. Andy Phillips, we hardly knew ye.

8. LECHE!!!!!!!! The other favorite part of the night was Melky going 3/4 with 2 runs. He seems to get better and better every game. Much like Cano did last year. He's now at .282/.358/.416 which is only a .774 OPS, but looking more closely reveals that he's .313/.373/.507 for a .880 OPS in July and August combined! Se hace un cuerpo muy bien!

(I left out Damon, who scored twice, but I didn't feel good as a result of anything he did, so I skipped him. Get you tomorrow bro.)

9. Randy Johnson was sharp again through 7. His 2 run 7th didn't even bother me because it never felt like it was snowballing out of control. It was midly annoying, but I thought he was excellent all game. The ovation from the fans on his 4,500th K was a nice Stadium moment for him. One of his few so far.

10. Kyle Farnsworth hit 100 about 10 times. That was nice to watch. He had control of his heat tonight, which you can't always say. His 90 MPH slider was working too. Impressive.

(I'll leave out Mo, because his feel good moments are bigger than this game. It was beneath him.)

The only things I didn't like we're Jim Kaat and Michael Kay's discussion of the Angels leading the Majors in "productive outs". That's a really backhanded compliment if I've ever heard one. Like, "For a fat girl, she's got a pretty face.", or, "This sauce don't taste too bad if you put a lot of salt." I'm all for making a productive out if there's an out to be made, but the really productive out is the one you don't make when you hit a home run over the center field wall. The Angels are smack dead in the middle of the Major League pack in runs scored. Maybe, if they turned some of those "productive outs" into "productive hits" they'd be a better ballclub.

The other thing I didn't care for was all the bunting. It is what it is, but you need to have your head examined when you ask Bobby Abreu to bunt with runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. I mentioned earlier that Abreu has a .346 average in pinstripes. He also has a .424 OBP which means he's just as likely to walk the man to third without making the out as he is anything else. It was bad enough that he laid down his first sac bunt since 1998, but he did it after working the count to 2-1. I couldn't find the chart, but I'm sure OBP goes up when guys are ahead in the count. Just say "No" Joe Torre.

Here are the numbers for the teams in the 4 game series. The Yankees and Angels split at 2 games apiece.

Yankees Bats
.307/.389/.551 (.940 OPS)
19 runs on 7 doubles and 8 home runs
2/3 in stolen bases

Angels Bats
.285/.347/.409 (.756 OPS)
16 runs on 5 doubles and 4 home runs
10/12 in stolen bases

Yankees Starters
21.2 IP
4.57 ERA
1.662 WHIP
9 walks, 13 strikeouts

Angels Starters
25 IP
3.96 ERA
1.600 WHIP
12 walks, 21 strikeouts

Yankees Pen
14.2 IP
3.07 ERA
1.023 WHIP
3 walks, 10 strikeouts

Angels Pen
9 IP
7.00 ERA
1.667 WHIP
4 walks, 10 strikeouts

There you have it. I wanted more from the Yankees in this series, but we have a 2 game lead on the Red Sox (3 in the loss) and the Orioles are up next. That's the double feel good ending for today. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

GM For a Day

I'm not feeling up to posting about the struggling Yanks again today. I hope people will bear with me while I try to sidestep their recent funk in favor of more pleasurable writing experiences. The Red Sox series looms in the not too distant future, and I'm sure things will get very intense around the Yankees blogosphere. For today, I'm going to do something I've wanted to do for a while. I'm going to play GM of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Why, you ask. I actually kind of like the Rays. There's something about that franchise that is begging to be brought out. They're kind of like the Cleveland Indians in Major League. I'd like to see the Tampa franchise do well, if for no other reason than they should either compete or be contracted. I am one for the contraction of every major American sports league, but since that is very unlikely to happen, I'm going to lend my services to the Rays and make them a contender, or at least put them in the Wild Card chase.

According to the Wikipedia account of the Devil Rays 2005 off-season, changes were in the air.

"Immediately after the season ended, Stuart Sternberg, who bought into the ownership group in 2000, took over from Naimoli as managing general partner, thus taking over executive control of the team. He immediately fired Chuck LaMar, who had been the team's general manager since the team's first season, and most of the front office. Matt Silverman was named as team president, and Andrew Friedman took the role of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. Gerry Hunsicker, former General Manager of the Houston Astros, has taken over as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, and will advise Friedman. Sternberg has decided not to have a de jure General Manager, calling the position "outdated", and Friedman and Hunsicker will share that role at MLB functions."

That's where I come in. I've read numerous articles on Sternberg which insinuate that he's out to increase the budget and get the team on the right track. I'm going to imagine that I've walked into Mr. Sternberg's office with a plan, at which time he's going to be so impressed that he will hand me the GM's job that he thought was outdated. Here we go.

The first thing we need to do as a business is figure out how we're going to make some money on this franchise. Forbes appraised the franchise at a worth of $209 million in 2006. The operating income of the team, called EBITA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, and Amortization) is $20.3 million. That amount of money is good for 13th in Major League Baseball, placing the team just between the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds in yearly income. For reference, the Yankees operate at a net $50 million dollar loss putting them at the bottom of the 30 franchises, with the Red Sox (-$18.5 million), Mets(-$16.1 million), Marlins (-$11.9 million), and Angels (-$2.6 million) being the other franchises operating at a loss. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets on the other hand are easily worth the most money, on the opposite end of the franchise spectrum.

What that tells me is that the value of the Tampa franchise is low because it is a small market. It also tells me that the value of the franchise can be improved by making some moves. If we can tap into emerging market opportunities in our own backyard, we can generate income opportunities, excitement about the team, and change the entire direction of the organization. By maximizing our earning potential, we can approach the level of the Reds or the Pirates and add $50-60 million to the value of our team, without even factoring in inflation. The following excerpt from Mega Communications, Spanish-language radio in Tampa/Orlando, helps me to set the stage.

"Tampa ranked as the nation's 5th fastest Hispanic market with growth of 168% from 1990 through 2005 and during that time, the make-up of Tampa's Hispanic community changed as well. Once primarily a Cuban community, Mexicans are now the #1 Latino group essentially driving the population growth......followed by Puerto Ricans, Cubans and those from Central and South America. Tampa has truly become one of the most diverse Hispanic markets in the country and now compromises nearly 20% of the Tampa - St. Petersburg Metro population.

And Tampa's Hispanic growth far outpaces that of the general market. Projections show Tampa's population growing 44% from 1990 - 2011. During that same period, the Hispanic community will grow 295% - nearly seven times the general market rate!"

Therin lies the future. The fan base of the future doesn't exclude the lily white majority of the current demographic, but it needs to adjust to account for the generation of future Tampans who will be forming their loyalties from today. That generation will be increasingly Hispanic. Floridians are used to the Latin element of their neighborhoods. Perhaps some old guard don't care for it, but it's undeniably a Florida cultural force. I look at San Diego when I imagine the future of Tampa. What did the San Diego franchise do to immediately connect with their natural Latin fan base? They named the team in Spanish.

The first thing I want to do to remake the identity of the franchise is to rename the club. Tampa Bay Devil Rays is too long and obscure. What the hell is a Devil Ray anyway? The picture helps, but I thought that was a Manta Ray. It's not a good sports image. Try again. The Florida teams have been successful with keeping their ocean roots. The Dolphins and the Marlins are decent icons for a Florida team, so I'd like to keep that. Using Spanish for the team name helps a lot, because I've always liked the shark as an image for a sports team, but the word "shark" never grabbed me. Tiburon is much better. The Tampa Tiburon is my choice. Drop the "Bay". It's unnecessary.

I'll get into graphics and uniforms later. The key is the language of the franchise. Bi-lingual services, broadcasts, and marketing are essential, and we need to ramp those up a notch. We also need to build stronger ties with young people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other nearby Caribbean communities. We want to be their team. Planning a few home games in Puerto Rico every year will help that connection, and youth clinics, player visits, and other permanent community affiliations in each of those countries will sell the brand. It will also open the door for young players who want to play Big League ball to dream about being a member of the Tiburon. That's the next step.

The big spenders are beating us to all the good young Caribbean talent. The money they have to spend is going to make that happen, but there is a lot of under the radar talent out there too that we can tap into with the right kind of Latin scouting machine. We need to build that and nurture our connections on the ballfields and sandlots of those countries.

I propose an informal Cuban initiative that builds ties with Cuban baseball people, without violating any US regulations against business with that country. We want to have access to that treasure chest when Fidel's Cuba is a thing of the past and the US and Cuba normalize relations again. If we start now, a revolution (no pun intended) of new baseball immigration will lead to our doorstep.

As for the other development and scouting, I think we need to look at what other small market, low budget, organizations have done to be competitive on a consistent basis. Look no further than Oakland and Minnesota. Neither of those teams is financially distinguishable from us. I refer you back to the Forbes chart for a look at team revenues. Those teams have committed to building their minor league systems, generating low cost talent on a consistent basis. You not only need to develop players for your Major League club, but also bring in new players EVERY year who will be Major League ready by the time free agency rolls around for your big stars. Scouting is key, and great instruction is just as important. Draft college pitchers, and look for high on base percent batters, who are patient at the plate. That can be taught, and the earlier the better.

I propose we hire current Sacramento River Cats' manager Tony DeFrancesco to be our Director of Minor League Development. He's an outstanding baseball man, with a mind for the modern game. He understands how to develop talent in the way I just described as he's presided over a number of the Athletics' farm teams over the last decade or so. He believes in the Billy Beane philosophy and will make sure that it's taught from the ground up in our organization. If he's interested in continuing his managing career, offer him a 5-year assignment to oversee the building of our farm system, at which point he can take over as our Major League manager. By that time, the players he's helped to develop will be ready and their replacements will already be in the system. It's a win-win for him.

As for the Major League situation. We need a new stadium. I'm sure things are in the works to fund that stadium, but we need to convince people that it's worth the investment. Getting the team competitive in a hurry is the one sure fire way to convince investors that something worth their dollars is going on. In order to be competitive in the short term, we need to increase the payroll and move our players in the direction of the so-called "Moneyball" way of competing. The current crop of guys is not worth hanging onto for the most part, and I think we can do some dramatic things to improve our roster. Let's use the Oakland and Minnesota models for our plan. Both teams spend about $63 million on their current teams. We spend $35 million. Investing heavily in our scouting and minor league systems is going to take some cash, so we'd better play it a bit more conservatively the first couple of years. Let's tap into our $20 million dollar operating income to fund the increase in payroll. We'll raise the expenditure to $45 million in 2007, and another $10 million in 2008. By the end of 2008 we will be spending $55 million on our roster and developing good young ballplayers. Here's how to spend that money, position by position.

Josh Paul ($475,000 expires 2006)
Dioner Navarro ($332,000 minor league service contract)

Here's a position where I see room for improvement. Paul is a 31 year old catcher who has never done a thing with his time in the Big Leagues. Even at that low salary, he's a waste of a roster space. I propose we use his roster spot to acquire a veteran catcher who will split the time with Navarro and teach him the ropes. It worked for the Yankees with Girardi and Posada, as they managed to win a couple of championships with the formula. A modest increase in the $475K that Paul makes will land you a better catcher.

Option #1 is to pursue Mike Piazza. He makes $2 million for 2006, but gets bumped way up to $8 million for 2007. The Padres hold a $750,000 buyout option and probably figure to exercise it with Josh Bard and Rob Bowen both ready to play backstop for a good young team. I offer Piazza the same $2 million(with incentives) to play in Tampa as a part time catcher, part time DH.

Option #2 is to go after a less exciting player who will sit on the bench when Navarro is catching. A veteran guy like Mike Lieberthal upgrades the position, offers a little DH help on occasion, and figures to be looking for work when the season is over. He's been making $7+ million a season for the Phillies on an absolutely awful contract and figures to be had for much less. I offer $1 million, plus incentives.

First Base
Travis Lee ($2.45 million contract expires in 2006)

This is just money being pissed away. Lee is dead last among Major League first baseman in VORP at a -1 billion. He's one of the 3 worst players in the Majors at any position. He's gone. I want power from this spot, and we're going to find it for the same salary or less.

Option#1 is Hee Seop Choi. He signed a one year, $725,000, contract with the Red Sox, but has languished in Pawtucket all season. He was recently released and is basically sitting around waiting for someone to want him. We want him. He's an average defender at 1st. He sports a good On Base Percentage when he's in the lineup regularly. His VORP while playing somewhat regularly for the Marlins in 2004 was 21.8 and he even posted a modest 8.4 VORP for the Dodgers in 2005 while playing part time. He's not going to knock down any mountains, but he's a good Major League player waiting to get a deal and a full time job. It's his in Tampa for $1 million.

Option #2 is Erubiel Durazo. Yes, he's a designated hitter. I don't care. He's playing first base for us next season when he's not DHing. In 2003, Durazo had a 25.4 VORP for the Oakland club, and in 2004 a whopping 49.4! He'll be our everday DH, but he'll also serve as backup to Choi when he needs a day off. He's also sitting around twiddling his thumbs, after the Twins cut him loose from their AAA roster. Any guy that puts up a career OBP of .381 can be on my team, provided he takes $500,000 with incentives. That's what the Twins were giving him, and I think he'll be hard pressed to find better with the Baseball Prospectus projections showing him to be a strong candidate for collapse, if he's not there already. Nonetheless, he's worth a flyer and my two first baseman/DHs cost me a total of $1.5 million, a savings of $1.04 million.

Second Base
Jorge Cantu ($355,800 minor league service contract)

I think Cantu's contract is a minor league deal. He only has a couple of years of Major League service now, so I don't think the money gets bigger and I think Tampa still has control of him. He's a keeper. I don't care for his low OBP, and his 2006 campaign has been forgettable. He is coming off a 2005 year in which he hit 40 doubles and 28 homers, drove in 117 runs, and he's only 24 years old. If he can come anywhere close to those numbers in a healthier 2007 we'll have a bargin on our hands. He doesn't cost us much, and hopefully his bat will make up for his subpar performance in the field at second. I think we can expect about $375,000 for his services in 2007.

Third Base
Ty Wiggigton ($675,000 contract expires after 2006)

I think Wigginton's deal is also still dependent on the team option, and I'm inclined to keep him. He's a versatile player that can handle multiple infield assignments, and frankly there's no one better out there in the 2006 free agent crop. I'd look to upgrade here, but in lieu of a really good option, I'm happy to stick with Wiggy at even money. B.J. Upton has been playing 3rd while Ty is on the DL, but SS is his position and that's where he's going to be for the next 10 years.

B.J. Upton (ML minimum - minor league service contract)

Oh, how sweet it is to develop your own talent. Upton costs us nothing for now, and has an immense upside. At 21 years old, this kid is perhaps in the bigs too early, but the time is now for him to show his stuff. The team needs him and I believe he will help to generate some excitement for the club. His comrade, Ben Zobrist is up with the Major League club now, but is not ready for primetime. Upton has this job all to himself.

Utility Infielder
Tomas Perez (? - one year deal)
Russel Branyan (? - one year deal)

Both of these guys are waiver claimed scrap from other ballclubs. They probably make the Major League minimum, but I don't like either one of them. I want an established veteran, who can handle the glove and the bat. I'll try to get someone like Alex Cora from the Red Sox to provide leadership and a reliable glove. He can play all the infield positions, with above average defense at the middle spots, and his bat isn't too dismal. I'll shell out $1.5 million for his services, matching what he makes with the Red Sox.

Right Field
Damon Hollins ($346,200 minor league service contract)
Jonny Gomes ($355,800 minor league service contract)

Damon Hollins does nothing for me. If he's got minor league options send him to AAA. If not, DFA him. Gomes on the other hand is a good hitter. He's also a serviceable corner outfielder. He won't knock your socks off on defense, and he should see some time at DH, but he'll do just fine for me out there every day. I think I can expect 30 home runs out of him in 2007, provided he can stay healthy. Hmmmm. I think I need a good backup.

Center Field
Rocco Baldelli (3 years/$9 million - club options on 2009 and 2010)

Oh Lord. I don't want to bash Rocco. He's a good young player. He's also overrated and overpaid. I don't want him, so I think I need to find a buyer somewhere. I plan to trade Baldelli for whatever I can get. My plan is to get pitching for the guy if I can, so I'll hold off on what I think I can get for him until I address pitchers. The only thing you need to know is that he should be gone before 2007 Spring Training.

I plan to move Carl Crawford to center field next year. He rates about the same in center as he does in left. He's slightly above average in both positions and his speed is an important factor in that decision. By moving him and his $15 million contract to center field, I can acquire a power hitting left fielder. There are plenty more of those out there. 24 year old guys who hit for power and can run are very rare, and Crawford covers that nicely.

Left Field
Greg Norton (ML minimum - minor league contract)

You can see a plum position for upgrade here. The team has plenty of speed and good power for the bottom of the lineup, but it really needs a guy who will scare somebody in the cleanup hole. For $3 million dollars a season over 3 years, I'll work with Jose Guillen. He is an excellent power hitter, and plays the outfield at about a league average rating. He has good power and is a good investment as a Dominican slugger on a team names the Tiburon. His durability and attitude have been called into question, but on our budget he may just prove to be a bargain.

Utility Outfielder

I'm going to find myself another good glove here. Major League minimum. Perhaps a guy in the organization.

There you have our offense. I think the lineup stacks up this way, with projected 2007 OPS:

Carl Crawford (L) - .850
BJ Upton (R) - .797
Erubiel Durazo (L) - .830
Jose Guillen (R) - .855
Hee Seop Choi (L) - .866
Jonny Gomes (R) - .913
Jamie Navarro (S) - .741
Jorge Cantu (R) - .792
Ty Wigginton (R) - .763

Bench: Lieberthal/Cora/OFer

For that group (averaging a .823 OPS) I'm spending about $13.5 million. I still have $31.5 million to spend on pitching. Great. Here's how I spend my money:

Starting pitching
Scott Kazmir ($371,700 minor league service contract)
Casey Fossum (2 years, $4.55 million, club option for 2008)
James Shields (? _ League minimum minor league service contract)
Tim Corcoran (? - League minimum minor league service contract)
Jae Seo ($350,000 contract expires in 2006)

First off, Kazmir is a stud and a bargin at $375,000. We'll plan to spend big on him when his payday comes. He needs help, so we need to spend our money on good pitching. Fossum is with the club next year regardless of whatever else we do, so count him in at the back of the rotation. Seo is a good bargain that will help Hee Seop Choi feel comfortable with us. I'l sign him for $500,000. Shields and Corcoran are history.

The top guys I am targetting with a budget of about $24 million dollars for 2007 are:

Barry Zito (LHP) - 4 years, $48 million
Jason Schmidt (RHP) - 4 years, $40 million
Mark Buerhle (LHP) - 4 years, $32 million
Kerry Wood (RHP) - 3 years, $21 million

I know I'm overpaying for all of these guys, but we are the "Tampa Bay Devil Rays" after all. Until we establish a winning tradition that's what we're going to have on our hands. I'm hoping for any combination of two pitchers from that list. If I can only get one of them (none is not an option; we'll go higher to get at least one), I'll find a more moderately priced guy to fill in on a short term deal around 3 years at $5 million per. Let's assume this is the rotation for 2007:

Scott Kazmir ($375,000)
Mark Buehrle ($8 million)
Kerry Wood ($7 million)
Casey Fossum ($2.5 million)
Jae Seo ($500,000)

The budget remaining for the bullpen is about $13 million dollars after my $18+ million starting rotation is set. Wood worries me, so I need a good long reliever that can make some spot starts. I also want a reliable closer. What do I have in house already?

Seth McClung ($343,000 minor league service contract)
Dan Miceli (2 years, $1.5 million through 2007, club option 2008)
Brian Meadows (ML minimum contract expired after 2006)
Shawn Camp ($335,000 minor league service contract)
Ruddy Lugo ($327,000 minor league service contract)
Chad Harville ($525,000 contract expires after 2006)
Jon Switzer (ML minimum minor league service contract)
Travis Harper (DL - contract expires after 2006)
Tyler Walker (DL - $387,000 contract expires after 2006)
Shinji Mori (DL - 2 years, $1.4 million through 2007, club option 2008-09)

That is one disgraceful bullpen. Let's keep it short and sweet. I'm keeping McClung as insurance. I have Miceli and Mori under contract through 2007. I like Ruddy Lugo. The rest of the guys get DFAed. Here's my bullpen in 2007, after a $13 million dollar overhaul:

Seth McClung ($350,000)
Dan Miceli ($750,000)
Shinji Mori ($750,000)
Ruddy Lugo ($350,000)
Jamie Walker ($1 million - 3 years, $3 million)
Ryan Dempster ($5 million - $10.5 million through 2008)*
Francisco Cordero ($4 million - 3 years, $12 million)

* Baldelli trade

I plan to use either Dempster or Cordero as my closer. I prefer Cordero in that role, but we'll have to see how things play out. I indicate that I acquired Ryan Dempster for Rocco Baldelli's services. I'm not sure I can make that happen, but I intend to try. I hope I can get someone of Dempster's caliber for Baldelli. If not, I may go after Arthur Rhodes on the free agent market and pursue a trade with Baldelli elsewhere. I do have one spot on the 25 man roster open for competition. Delmon Young may end up getting that spot and supplanting Johnny Gomes in right. That will all depend on how he continues to perform at AAA, and how his demeanor matures as well.

If I don't feel that Young is going to stabilize, I may look to package him and Baldelli together for something big. All in good time. Adding up all my payroll, not including a little put aside for the 25th man, I spent $43 million and a pinch. Well within my budget. I upgraded the roster, I put together a very nice pitching staff, and built a solid bullpen. If the scouting and minor league situations improve, we're on the right track to a new ballpark, bigger fan base, increased revenues, and a better Forbes appraisal next time out. We also might stay in the wild card hunt for a couple of months this year. Certainly, we're better than the Orioles.

The last thing left is the logo and the uniform. I'm going to abandon the color scheme and borrow from the local NFL franchise for my inspiration. I'm going with pewter for my base color with black and red as sub-colors. I'll put up the logo and uniform mock up another time. You'll have to wait with bated breath.

So, Mr. Sternberg, do I get the job?