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October 28, 2014 at 8:52 pm ET
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I Didn’t Know Him…

oscar-taveras-mlb-st-louis-cardinals-photo-day-590x900I didn’t really know Oscar Tavares.

I’m no longer totally immersed 24/7 into prospects, especially National League prospects, especially prospects of my 2nd least favorite team.

I may have his baseball card somewhere amongst the few packs and boxes I bought this year. I think it may be in a pile in a box in my office, and I’ll dig it out after we move offices in a week or so.

He didn’t play for the Cardinals’ FSL club that I saw on occasion when I lived in Florida. I didn’t watch a Cardinals game this year until the post season, I don’t think. If I did, I didn’t pay attention to him.

I do know he was very highly regarded.

I do know he played well in the post-season, after having a rough debut in the regular season.

I also know he died young, too young.

I didn’t know Mike Miley, either, nor Danny Frisella. I knew about them.¬† I got their baseball cards in 1977, and they were already dead, in tragic circumstances.

Yet my 11-year old self didn’t realize they were dead until after I got their cards; I read about it by looking at my Street and Smith’s guide that Spring.

I didn’t know Danny Thompson. He didn’t get a 1977 card, because Topps may have guessed he was done. See, he played the 1976 season while going through treatment for leukemia. Yes, he played major league baseball while he had mother-fucking leukemia. He finished the year, had surgery on his spleen, and died in December. He was so loved¬† that they still have golf tournaments in his memory.

I didn’t know Lyman Bostock. I knew all ABOUT him though. I know that he could have been a Hall-of-Famer, and his death was totally senseless. Go Google it, and then you wonder what if, and why, and how, and why this stuff still happens.

I didn’t know Nick Adenhart. I didn’t know Dernell Stenson.

I didn’t know Cory Lidle or Thurman Munson.

I could go on with more players that have died way too young. I knew OF them, of course. Knew a lot about them. I knew more about them than I knew about Tavaras.

But I didn’t know them. I didn’t know their personalities, their sense of humor, their beings and essence that you can only know if you know them personally.

What I do know that all of these gentlemen were robbed of their life by happenstance and circumstance.

I do know that their deaths were tragic.

I do know it’s sad for us as baseball fans, but it’s infinitely sadder for friends and family.

I do know that death is part of life; it still sucks to have it strike so quickly.

I do know that every day, people die too young. Every day, someone like Ray Chapman dies. Not in that manner, of course, but someone with his hope and promise.

I do know you need to live life, and love life.

RIP, Oscar. RIP, all of those who die young.

 

 

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October 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm ET
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There’s Luck, and Then There’s…

dungeons-dragons-dice-set-role-playing-games-11266479Baseball is unique among all sports, in that probability plays a huge role in each game’s outcome. No other game almost solely derives its outcomes from success-or-fail dynamics. At the core, baseball is boolean. Boolean Fever! Catch it!

That’s not a very catchy slogan, I’ll admit.

Over a 162-game season, the various variations settle down and show the true performance of a team, and somewhat of a player. One great month or two can skew a player’s. It doesn’t HAVE to even out, it probably will revert to ‘normal’ so that one set of odd data will make a player look great or lousy by comparison because of that stretch of results. Still, a player playing a regular role over a long season will tend to normalize at or near their performance level. As cruel as it is, it’s orderly. For teams, it’s even more likely. Your won-loss percentage is about where you should be within a few games most of the time.

That’s why I don’t get TOO excited about hot streaks or slumps unless they’re sustained over 2-3 months.

In the post-season, though? There’s no order, no chance to normalize. One odd result can tell the tale!

It’s just a bunch of guys throwin’ D&D dice around and seeing what happens!

Ozzie Smith’s home run off of Tom Niedenfuer? He rolled three 20’s in a row.

Think about the wild Oakland / KC game. Ned Yost hit about five saving throws, and caught big lucky breaks on opponents injuries and fielding plays that almost never go wrong. If Perez and Crisp don’t get hurt, does the pitchout get dropped, does the triple happen? Does Donaldson make that play 99 times out of 100? It was one game, out of 163. But it was THE game.

In the first Angels game, Yost rolled great again, because Aoki does NOT make that catch 99 times out of 100.

His strategic decisions haven’t hurt him, because in a short series the result does not always match the process. In the regular season, KC was 22-25 in one-run games, though. But no one remembers the one-run losses in April. No one remembers when Yost out thought himself and bunted and ran himself out of big innings. No one really remembers Yost’s strict bullpen mangling costs him games, because, you know, the post-season and all that. KC’s a great story, but jeez..it’s like Yost drew a pair of queens in blackjack, split ‘em, and then drew two aces!

Players can have bad games, sure. But what are the chances that two absolute stud pitches fall apart in the same game in spectacular fashion. Buster Olney had to create three different narratives for Game One of the Dodgers / Cardinals series alone!

Mediots and yakkers are still at it, claiming that Matt Carpenter is the LORD GOD of the postseason. Carpenter’s a fine players, gets on base, and can hit for extra bases even if he doesn’t have classic home run power. He’s a great sabermetric player since a lot of his value isn’t tied up in BA and RBI.¬† But he’s NOT ‘clutch’, even if he’s come through in some big moments in the post season. He’s also failed spectacularly as well in the big stage. For all the talk of ‘clutch’ – his post-season OPS is 753, compared to 811 in his regular season career. Adjusting for the better pitching you should find in the post-season, he’s performing as he normally does. It’s just that when he hits a home run against San Diego in July, Harold Reynolds isn’t getting a chubby.

So next time Delmon Young comes up in a big spot, he’s not ‘due’, he’s not ‘clutch’, he’s not ‘special’ (well, he may be special but in a different way), he’s Delmon Young, and he will perform as Delmon Young will normally perfom, whether it’s May or October. The Tigers bullpen will perform as they normally perform (much to Brad Ausmus’ chagrin). It’s just that the extremely small sample sizes magnify the boolean outcomes of the game.

Ain’t it great!

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September 30, 2014 at 6:00 am ET
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Pick a Team, Any Team!
The Official 2014 Bugs & Cranks Playoff Prediction Graphic (of DOOM!)

The Official 2014 Bugs & Cranks Playoff Prediction Graphic. The thicker the line, the more confidence we have in that team going forward through the playoffs. (Also, we really don’t seem to like St. Louis.)

It’s that time of year. The leaves are turning. Our jackets emerge from their summer naps. Everything is¬†pumpkin spiced. Most importantly, though,¬†the marathon Major League Baseball¬†season ends in an all-out October sprint. It’s a baseball writer’s¬†Christmas. This year, we’ve collectively picked 7 of the 10 MLB Playoff teams to win it all. And, perhaps counter to intuition, none of us liked¬†MLB’s best regular-season team to advance past the Championship Series.¬†Go figure, right? Baseball can be crazy like that sometimes.

So, to explain the mind behind the madness, we present the Bugs & Cranks 2014 MLB Playoff Predictions:

Scott Fendley

Oakland over Kansas City – Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City! Now they get to feel crushing playoff defeats like the rest of us.

Pittsburgh over San Francisco – The one-game play-in play-off is no good very bad, because this would be a fun series. Pirates because they won in 1971, and I like playing the ’71 Pirates in Diamond Mind.

Los Angeles over St. Louis – By Grathbar’s Hammer, Niedenfuer will be avenged!

Baltimore over Detroit – Neither team trips my trigger as an elite squad. However, the Tigers are relying on Joe Nathan to close out games. I don’t think a AAA team would want Nathan as their closer in the playoffs.

Oakland over the LA Angels – You know, the baseball sharps and pundits and narrative writers will say a lot about momentum and crap. Screw them and their pre-made stories and lazy analysis. Team Oakland!

Pittsburgh over Washington – Again with the narrative. Buster Olney’s already insufferable about how well Washington has pitched over the past month. Dude, it won’t be September anymore. Baseball is fickle. Stop with the narrative!

Oakland over Baltimore – I can see the Oakland team, with their elite pitching, win playoff games because they’ll shut people down. Yes, actual baseball analysis here.

Los Angeles over Pittsburgh – Kershaw and Greinke will make Pittsburgh all cranky. Sorry…

Oakland over Los Angeles – Again, just to tell the narrative writers and Beane haters to stuff it!

Patrick Smith

Wild Cards

OAK @ KC – Oakland’s not used to playing the overachiever. And the role doesn’t suit them. The Royals will win this and the ghost of Dick Howser will rise from the fountains and barbecue sauce will flow in the streets. Sticky.

SF @ PIT РThe Giants, surprised to learn that Pittsburgh still has a team, will fly across the country and stay at the TraveLodge near the Monroeville Mall, made famous in Dawn of the Dead. Raise the Jolly Rancher! Bucs win.

LDS

DET @ BAL – Everyone in baseball is terrified of the Tigers, but it took them all year to shake Kansas City off their backs. Nobody should ever pick against Detroit. But for absolutely no good reason, I am. O’s win.

KC @ ANA – You know who was from Anaheim? Richard Nixon. Well, maybe not Anaheim proper. He was from Yorba Linda, right next door. And you know what President Nixon knew how to do? 1) win. 2) kick people’s asses. I didn’t like Nixon and I don’t like Mike Scioscia. But the good guys don’t always win. My pick: the Angels.

STL @ LA – The Cardinals are the handsome, polite guest who tips the maitre’d. The Dodgers don’t wear a dinner jacket and have to borrow one. The Cards order the red snapper Livornese. The Dodgers bring a bag of Carl’s Jr., into the restaurant. Winner: Dodgers.

PIT @ WAS – Hahahahaha! Nats.

LCS

BAL @ ANA – If the Angels borrow Oakland’s uniforms, they might beat Baltimore. But¬†Scioscia can’t squeeze his XXL ass into Bob Melvin’s M pants. O’s win the pennant.

LA @ WAS – Hahahahaha! Nats again.

WS

WAS @ BAL – 38 miles separate Nats Park and Camden Yards. But since there’s no subway between DC and Baltimore, let’s call this the Above-Ground Commuter Train Series. Or the Gladys¬†Noon¬†Spellman Parkway Series. Or the Liveable City With Affordable Housing versus the Ridiculously Expensive and Congested City Series. Or the Decades-Old Heroin Problem Series. Whatever you want. Orioles.

Landon Evanson

NL

Pittsburgh over the G-Men in the wild card game.

LA over St. Louis 3-2 in the LDS. Can’t beat Kershaw twice in a five-game set.

Washington over Pittsburgh 3-1.

NLCS — LA 4-3. Again, Kershaw the difference.

AL

KC over Oakland in the wild card. It’s been 29 years since there was a playoff game in Kansas City, the players will feed off of that energy.

Detroit over Baltimore in the LDS, 3-2. The Tigers have superior starting pitching, and the big boys will earn their money while the bullpen watches.

KC over the Angels 3-2. The Royals have better pitching and defense and are a very good road team.

ALCS — KC over Detroit, 4-3 setting up what would have been a hell of a Fall Classic in 1977.

World Series — Pitching and defense win championships. And I just have a feeling the likes of Billy Butler and Omar Infante are going to take it to another level in October. KC 4-2.

Series MVP — Norichika Aoki.

Elisabeth Galina

AL Wild Card: Oakland

NL Wild Card: San Francisco

ALDS: LA

ALDS: Detroit

ALCS: LA

NLDS: Washington

NLDS: St. Louis

NLCS: San Francisco

Final: San Francisco

I always go with my doppleganger, Tim Lincecum, when making playoff predictions. Lincecum, if you’re reading this, please cut your frigging hair. I had this coif first. It’s getting to the point that when I go the salon for a trim my stylist asks, “Do you want the Big Time Timmy Jim?” Enough is enough, dude. It’s my hairstyle and I want it back. Or, if your team wins the World Series, gimme your ring. It’s only fair.

Keith Good

ALWC: Hard to tell which smelled worse in September, the Oakland Coliseum or the team occupying it. KC wins

NLWC:¬†I’ll take the Pirates¬†to beat San Francisco.

ALDS 1: Every year, Detroit walks into the playoffs high and mighty and I think to myself, ‚Äúcertainly they‚Äôll fustigate all comers!‚ÄĚ And every year, they fall flat on their high-priced, MVP-stealing faces. I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU FOOL ME AGAIN THIS YEAR, DETROIT! I’ll take Baltimore¬†to win.

ALDS 2: I would really love to say KC is going to walk up to Los Angeles de Los Angeles de Anheheim (as my espanol amigos say)¬†and punch them on the nose. I would really love to say it… but I won’t. Halos win.

NLDS 1: I’m torn here, because St. Louis just seems to win in the playoffs against all dictates of logic and reason. Kersh is just too damn good, though, to let the redbirds steal another series. I’ll go with the Dodgers.

NLDS 2: I feel I owe it to Anthony Rendon, after the numbers he put up for me in fantasy this year, to take Washington over Pittsburgh.

ALCS: Call me stupid, but I got a hunch Los Angeles peaked just a tad too early. Baltimore in 6.

NLCS: Kershaw, Kershaw, Kershaw! Dodgers take the pennant.

World Series: The Dodgers’ top-shelf pitchers are better than Baltimore’s top-shelf pitchers. So are their top sluggers. I really would love for Baltimore to win, but I just can’t see it, especially depleted as they are. The Dodgers win it all.

Wayne Laufert

NL Wild Card: Pirates beat Giants

NLDS: Nationals beat Pirates; Dodgers beat Cardinals

NLCS: Nationals beat Dodgers

AL Wild Card: Royals beat A’s

ALDS: Royals beat Angels; Orioles beat Tigers

ALCS: Orioles beat Royals

World Series: Nationals beat Orioles, damn it

Brad Bortone

Kansas City over Oakland

San Fran over Pittsburgh

Kansas City over Angels (5)

Detroit over Baltimore (5)

San Fran over Washington (4)

Dodgers over Cardinals (5)

Detroit over Kansas City (5)

Dodgers over San Fran (4)

Dodgers over Detroit (6)

MVP – Kershaw

Seth Tearz

ALWC – Royals edge A’s

ALDS – Angels over Royals

ALDS – Orioles over Tigers

NLWC – Giants over Pirates

NLDS – Dodgers beat Cardinals

NLDS – Nationals over Giants

World Series: Nationals over Orioles

David Chalk

Wild Cards: SF & OAK

Divisional Series: STL. SF, DET & LAA

Championship Series, STL & DET

World Series: DET over STL

It’s the usual, here. Teams that clinch early lose early. After that its experience and pitching and most of all bullshit luck.

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September 28, 2014 at 11:24 am ET
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How Did We Get to 162?

question_makrs_cutie_mark_by_rildraw-d4byewlBy any reasonable analysis of their offense, the Mariners should be merely playing out the string today, and not fighting for the right to play a one-game playoff for the right to play a one-game post-season playoff game for the right to enter the Championship Series playoffs.

(Got that?)

Their offense has been riddled with sub-par performances compounded with bad personnel decisions and some bad luck.

Their full-time left fielder is a league average hitter. Left fielders shouldn’t be league average hitters.

Their full-time catcher has as many HBPs and walks and his hitting under .200 (with some power, but still).

They gambled that Justin Smoak would return to form. Nope.

They gambled on Corey Hart to regain his offensive stroke. Sorry.

They gambled at Stefen Romero and Abraham Almonte could handle the big leagues. Not a chance.

They called up James Jones when Almonte was found wanting. Except for a burst of speed, he’s not the answer.

Michael Saunders was having a good year. Then he got hurt and only played 77 games. Endy Chavez has played more games than Saunders. Endy. Chavez.

They gave the shortstop job to Brad Miller, full time. They had to call up another rookie shortstop to bail them out.

They traded for Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia. All three have been lacking, to say the least. Dreadful, some would say.

Logan Morrison spend half the year in a funk so deep, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton wanted him in their band.

Only Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano did full-time good work on offense. They met expectations. Two out of 9 positions.

They’re 15th and last in OBP. Somehow, they’re 11th in runs scored, thanks to being 11th in SLG and some situational luck.

While it’s not the Chone Figgins offense, it’s still lacking.

But somehow, we’re here, at 162, watching Seattle play a meaningful game (depending on what happens in Texas an hour before).

When the starting pitching isn’t working and the bullpen is wanting, the Mariners don’t have a chance to win. Those are words that have not been uttered many times. Yes, there are times where things haven’t gone well. Iwakuma’s had a bad stretch. Felix had some bad starts. They basically gave up having a fifth starter for a time (probably a smart move) thanks to some shuffling of the rotation around and using ‘bullpen games’ where one of the relievers would start.

As many things that have happened wrong on offense, they have happened right on the other side of the ball.

Chris Young has lasted the entire year and pitched well – take a picture, this may not happen again. Rookie Roenis Elias solidified the rotation. James Paxton was a revelation after his callup. To his credit, Lloyd McClendon used his rotation well, took chances with players, and trusted his staff to get people out. His trust in Brandon Maurer to be a stopper in the pen and be the guy to get the M’s out of jams early in games, after Maurer was found totally lacking as a starter, is a testament to his work as a manager of a staff this year.

That bullpen? Despite the fact that their second worst relief pitcher is the one grabbing all the saves, this is a historic pen. All of ‘em – sometimes there were eight – were tough as nails at times.

The only way this team is at 162 is this pitching staff. All 12 to 13 of ‘em at a time. When one of them wasn’t on – the team couldn’t win.

So God bless Fernandez, Iwakuma, Elias, Young, Paxton, Walker, Rodney, Wilhelmsen, Leone, Furbush, Beimel, Farquahr, Medina, Maurer and even September callup Carson Smith. Those individuals are the reason we’re at 162.

Oh, and the fact that the Oakland A’s have played these last 45 games like they were the 1916 A’s with Jack Nabors, Tom Sheehan, Whitey Witt and Charlie Pick. Thanks, Oakland!

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September 24, 2014 at 9:30 am ET
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And Down the Drain They Go…

stock-footage-water-swirls-down-a-sink-drainJust a couple of weeks ago, the Mariners were sitting fairly pretty.

Historic run prevention, other teams foibles, and a decent finishing schedule had the Mariners as favorites to secure an AL Wild Card spot. With the Royals being Yosted, the A’s collapsing, and the other teams not getting traction, Seattle was the hot trendy pick to advance to the post-season for the first time that historic 2001 season.

Lloyd McClendon was setting up his rotation to maximize the appearances of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. James Paxton was being a rookie revelation. The bullpen was historically strong. They had just won five in a row. They were outperforming every expectation, and surpassing all of their statistical projections. Destiny? Could be.

The schedule? Six games against Houston. Three against the “’64 Phillies Have Nothing on Us” A’s. Four against Toronto. Yes, they had six against the Angels, but most of those games would be after LA clinched the division and best record. One against Texas. Easy peasy, right, even if the Mariners reverted to their previous offensive level. (Which was, well, offensive…)

Not so fast my friend.

First they get shut out by Texas, 1-0. Then they go home and drop four of six to Houston and the A’s. After a split with the Angels, they sat at 82-70, and a little worse off than they were. Still they were just a game behind Oakland and KC, and could conceivably take the first wild card spot with a good finishing kick against the Astros and Blue Jays.

That’s not what happened. They’ve lost four out of five, and have played at a level more suited to the 2012 Mariners (or even 2011, or worse…)

Their vaunted pitching staff has gone *poof*. The starters can’t get out of their own way. Iwakuma’s had two bad starts in a row. Paxton’s control has abandoned him. Even King Felix is having issues, as he got lambasted by the Jays yesterday.

If they can’t pitch, their hitting won’t help. In this bad stretch since the last Texas game, they’ve scored 0,1, or 2 runs in nine of the 16 games. These last four games, it’s been Other Guys 42, Seattle 10. The Mariners are baseball’s equivalent of a low level college football team facing Alabama.

Is there any hope for Seattle, with a horrible offense, and a now-shaky pitching staff? Sure, it’s baseball – anything can happen. It wasn’t that long ago that Oakland was going to win the World Series without a sweat, and Milwaukee was going to win the NL Central. Now look at them.

Seattle has five games left. The Angels are coasting and the Blue Jays are mercurial. Ned Yost is still the KC Manager. There is hope until there is no longer hope.

It was just the exact wrong time to regress to the mean,

 

 

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September 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm ET
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Jesus Screams About Ice Cream

You’ve heard about the ice cream kerfuffle featuring B&C Weight Control Poster Boy Jesus Montero and a Seattle Mariners scout in a late-season Pioneer League game in Boise, Idaho?ice_cream_truck

(Those words, no doubt, are the strangest ever posted by this writer…)

If you haven’t, here’s a dizzyingly quick recap.

Montero is down at Boise to rehab and coach up the Everett Aqua Sox. I guess Seattle wanted their young players to be fat layabouts, but anyway…

A scout FOR SEATTLE (again, it’s a SEATTLE scout) starts heckling Montero as he was coaching first base. He probably used the famous Ball Four line “One man to a pair of pants out there…”

Said scout allegedly sends Montero an ice cream sandwich between innings. You know, for laughs.

Montero, who is now in the stands charting pitches (such grueling rehab work, eh?) objects. There’s words and maybe a pushy-shove.

Noted hack GM Jack Z (subject of a slurping, sycophantic article in another publication today) blabbers words about thus and so and HOW WE CAN’T HAVE ANYTHING LIKE THIS GOING ON HERE. Montero’s shut down (for an entire week. Who. Hoo.) and the scout cast into the abyss of something or other.

Anyway, we here at B&C decided that this entire incident was absurd. It would make a great movie. And like every great movie, it needed a soundtrack! So thanks to Spotify, we gots one:

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August 16, 2014 at 12:16 pm ET
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Nut-Cutting Time in Detroit

betel-nut-cutter-500x500Whatever you really feel about Bud and the Minions (coming soon to a discotheque near you), the addition of the Wild Cards have added a lot of drama and intrigue into the pennant races.

This weekend, the white-hot Seattle Mariners travel to Detroit, Rock City, to face the flailing Tigers in a critical, crucial series for the Second Wild Card in the AL and also Detroit’s hopes to be AL Central Champs. Seattle took round one yesterday, as the Tigers continued to reel.

Today’s game (Saturday) is THE highlight, with Felix Hernandez squaring off against new Tigers ace David Price. That matchup is a get-your-popcorn-and-beverage-and-don’t-move-from-the-couch classic on paper.

It is, as they used to say, nut-cutting time.

Despite their offensive torpor for most of the season, the Mariners are now tied for “the lead” for the second wildcard spot. Many critics, like yours truly, didn’t think their offense could sustain their pitching and they’d fall out of the race. Here they are, though, and their goal is simple. Score four runs a game.¬† Achieving that seeming simple task (the league AVERAGE team scores 4.24 runs per game) portends victory; the M’s are 49-10 when scoring four runs.

The recent Mariners hot streak has now propelled them to an average runs per game of 3.97, as former millstones Dustin Ackley, Kendrys Morales and Logan Morrison have become productive. Ackley hit .365 with an .892 OPS in July, and still has an OPS+ under 100. So that should tell you how effective he was in the beginning of the year.

Seattle’s historic run prevention means they just need league average run production to excel – right now they’re doing that. They’re harvesting at just the right time.

The Tigers, proclaimed LORD GOD KING WINNERS OF THE TRADING DEADLINE QED, are (insert clever metaphor about a sinking ship or some other disaster). They made a mistake in thinking their competition was really Oakland in the ALCS, when instead they forgot they had to GET to the playoffs in order to beat Oakland and get to the World Series. Sure, they’ve had some key players get injured (Verlander, Sanchez and Soria all have owies), but they gambled to get the ace (Price) and not solidify their entire roster. Which means now, in the middle of a pennant race, tjhey have to trust guys like Robby Ray, Nick Castellanos and Austin Romine.

The fruit of their early labors, which looked so tasty and ripe a couple of weeks ago, may be taken away.

These games mean more for Detroit, since they have a series in Tampa next before heading to Minnesota, while the M’s go to Philadelphia and Boston for their next series. Detroit has to have these two games, else Seattle could build on their lead when they face the geezzers and gimps this next week.

Still, this being baseball, anything could happen. Tonight’s game could be 14-12, the M’s could get swept by the putrescent pair next week and Detroit could re-assert itself after the weekend.

This weekend, though, is critical. The team that handles the pressure, and can gather those nuts wins will have the upper hand moving forward.

 

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August 9, 2014 at 2:05 am ET
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Hang On…Hang On Tight

zuninoEveryone hang on tight,¬† just to keep from being thrown to the wolves…

The pennant races in baseball are all nutty thanks to the second wildcard, and the nuttiest is the current cluster-flop in the American League.

Every team, except Oakland and perhaps the LA Angels, have some serious flaws, and of course one of aforementioned teams will have to win the wild card game to make the playoffs proper.

Right now, Kansas City is leading the pack for Wild Card #2, followed closely by Seattle and the Yanks at 1/2 game back, then Toronto at 1 1/2 games behind. Cleveland and Tampa Bay are long¬† shots, but at 5 and 5 1/2 games behind Kansas City, they’re certainly not out of it.

But do those teams really scare anyone?

Oakland and the Angels are seemingly solid from top to bottom (with only the bottom half of LA’s pitching staff being suspect). Nobody wants to play them in the playoffs.

Baltimore is in good shape in the AL East, mainly due to some good luck in that the rest of the East is flaky, and their pitching is pretty darn solid. But their offense has some cancer bats in it (Schoop, Lough, Flaherty) and two other guys (Hardy and Davis) that aren’t hitting near what they could or should. That pitching isn’t spectacular, it’s just…good.

Detroit made a BIG MCLARGE HUGE SPLASH in getting David Price. However, they didn’t shore up their bullpen, where the Joe Nathan Festival of Nausea reigns supreme. Plus, JD Martinez can’t sustain this production for much longer, can he? If he doesn’t, then the Tigers are going to struggle to score runs and as good as Price, Scherzer, and company can be, counting on winning 1-0 and 2-1 isn’t a guarantee for success.

Then there are the potential Wild Card #2 teams. The Mariners haven’t been able to score runs until this past week. Dustin Ackley’s been out of his mind of late and is still just at league average. While rookie Chris Taylor has helped at short, the vaunted pickups of Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia have struggled, just like me trying to spell Denorfia the first time through. Scoring is still going to be an issue going forward.

KC’s offense isn’t as bad as Seattle’s, only because the Royals don’t have anyone as heinous as the worst of the Mariners hitters. They have no power, and I don’t know if I can trust some of their rotation over the long haul of these last two months. The bullpen, though, has been incredible. (Wade Davis?!?!?!)¬† It makes you wonder the juggernaut the Tigers could be with the Royals pen.

The Yankees have made a lot of moves and skeeterd back into contention. Is it enough? They’re a true over-the-hill gang saddled up for one last ride and have gotten some good performances from some retread pitchers (McCarthy and Capuano, hello!) They could easily creak ahead, or their offensive could fall apart totally like Derek Jeter’s defense. Oh, that fell apart in the 90’s? Well, then.

Then there’s Toronto. I mean, the hell? Yes, injuries have hurt them, but they should have enough offense to club¬† their way past Baltimore. Their pitching’s not THAT had and they definitely had the means to take a bigger lead before the owies happened. Yet here they are, struggling along and having to play guys like Josh Thole, Steven Tolleson and Danny Valencia in key situations.

So we’ve got a cluster bomb here. Of the five AL teams to make the playoffs, three of them are going to have some gaping weaknesses and a team that may be only the 8th or 9th best team in the league may make the post season because of luck, dumb luck, schedule, and happenstance. Just like you draw it up!

Baseball, being like it is, that team will probably win the World Series. They all might be giants when it comes to the randomness of baseball.

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July 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm ET
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Just What Is the Optimal Staff Size? Part One: The Travers Game.

traversWhile researching the Oquist Game, I found that the last pitcher before Mike Oquist to give up 14 runs in a game was Bill Travers. I remembered him and looked up the game and his career. When I did, a whole new set of questions and ponderings entered my head about pitching staffs, abuse, and how many pitchers do you really need on a staff.

Pitching staffs have changed dramatically from ye olden days to modern times, where at times managers have more pitchers on the active roster than position players. This causes a whole series of lineup and staff management issues, and a lot of consternation when those manglers wind up using up all of their position players AND still run out of pitchers in a game even with a bloated staff.

But in the mid-70’s, after the AL instituted the DH, things were a wee bit different as you can see by running through the Travers game.

In 1977, Bill Travers was in his fourth big-league season, and was coming off of an All-Star year in 1976. just 24, he endured a heavy workload after being a swingman for his first two years. He also missed almost the entire 1973 minor league season recovering from arm surgery. The workload of 1976 may have taken its toll in 1977, as he pitched just two games between May 12 and August 2nd. His third start after his long DL stint was August 14, the second game of a double header. He was pitching on four days rest. To that point, despite the DL stint, his numbers were pretty decent (4-5, 3.45) but his control was a bit off as he walked 37 in the 73 innings he pitched to that point, while fanning just 34.

The Brewers were in Cleveland for a double header, and 16,590 fans actually showed up to watch these teams duke it out for fifth place in the AL East. The Indians won the first game of the DH 12-4 as the Tribe plastered Jim Slaton and relief ace Bill Castro (who pitched 3 2/3 mop up innings) for nine runs in the fifth.

Milwaukee as abominable on offense that year, which is weird because their 1978 resurgence started with their offense. Manager Alex Grammas lost Sixto Lezcano for about a month and had to play guys like Jim Wohlford, Von Joshua, Jamie Quirk (who hit like a shortstop yet was their DH), and Lenn Sakata way too much. They’d have to win with pitching. Travers was one of their key guys.

Was.

It didn’t start out well for Bill that day. Cleveland plated two in the first on an Andre Thornton home run and five more in the second as Travers was pilloried about, with the capper being a Thornton triple. It was 7-0 after two. Now, a starter may be asked to get another inning or two at the most after that kind of performance. Not in 1977.

Cleveland scores two more in the fourth behind key hits by Bill Melton and Ron Pruitt. Travers trudges on, down 9-2, and has trouble in the sixth and seventh but gets out of it. It’s now the 8th, and he’s STILL in there.

Two singles and two walks score one run against him. Double, strikeout, and single make it 14-3. Does Grammas get him then? NO! Only after Frank Duffy doubles does the manager relent and put in Bob McClure who faces on batter.

Travers’ line:

7 2/3 18 14 14 4 4. 1 HBP.

Yes, he gave up 18 hits and four walks and hit a batter. 23 baserunners. He faced 45 batters.

Bill Travers wasn’t an economical pitcher. He had relatively high walk totals for his era and hit a lot of batters, too. But 45 batters? At four pitches a batter, that’s at least 180 pitches.

Alex Grammas let a young All-Star pitcher that had arm surgery in his past and had missed 2 1/2 months with arm trouble that season throw about 180 pitches.

Needless to say, Travers was toast for the rest of 1977. He made seven more starts, and went 0-6 with an 6.37 ERA.¬† As for his career, Bill came back to around league average performance for three years, signed a four year deal with the Angels in 1981, and then had more arm issues in 1981 and threw just 42 innings during that contract. While this one game can’t be THE cause of his issues, because pitchers do get hurt, it couldn’t have helped any. It certainly affected his 1977 performance, and the performance of the Brewers the rest of 1977, since one of the guys they were counting on to keep them in games was totally wrecked.

How does this tie into the size of pitching staffs?

The 1977 Brewers used 13 pitchers – total. That’s it. 13.

Now, that’s not totally unheard of- as the 1976 Tigers used just 12 and other teams didn’t yo-yo pitchers up and down like they do now. But of those 13 pitchers, two (Rich Folkers and Barry Cort) threw just 30 2/3 innings between them and were basically fill-ins while Travers was hurt. Mike Caldwell was a mid-season pickup from the Reds to also make up for Travers’ absence. Gary Beare was up and down as well. So even though the grand total was 13, the actual number was less. Now, teams can use 13 pitchers in a three game series if they use their DFAs and minor league options judiciously.

Basically, the Brewers had a nine-man staff, and just a four man bullpen. Castro, Sam Hinds (a rookie that basically just mopped up), McClure and Eduardo Rodriguez, who was also the swingman. Rodriguez pitched 142+ innings in 42 appearances, including five starts. In this game, Castro was out because he threw in game one, and Rodriguez had to start in another double header two days prior in place of Moose Haas, so he was out. The day before, Hinds threw one inning in relief of Caldwell, so he was supposedly fresh. Well, as fresh as you can be in mid-August.

So yeah, the Brewers had two pitchers ready to relieve Travers, but chose not to until he had already thrown an amount of pitches that would make Rany Jazayerli and Will Carroll froth at the mouth. The end result was that Milwuakee stunk, Grammas was fired, and George Bamberger (and some key free agents) molded the team into the Brew Crew that terrorized AL pitchers.

Nine men seemed like a very short staff, and it was. In the early DH days, managers shortened the staffs because they thought they could keep their starters in longer since they didn’t need to pinch hit for the pitcher. Earl Weaver used to break camp with just eight pitchers and added one or two after April, when the off days were fewer. But Earl Weaver also knew how to break in young pitchers and specialized in pitchers that threw strikes and didn’t mess around. If you don’t throw a lot of pitches per batter, you can pitch a lot more innings. But 8-and-9 man staffs assumed that your top guys could go deep every game and not break down. A lot of these pitchers couldn’t handle it, but in the epoch before real sports medicine pitchers toughed it out, lest they be made fun of like Steve Barber in Ball Four. Too often, it was too late.

It wasn’t until Billy Martin wrecked the young A’s arms in the early 80’s did¬† teams really move to larger staffs with more judicious use of relievers and a lot less emphasis on complete games. Ten man staffs were regular, then it moved to eleven with the advent of dedicated one-inning wonders as ‘closers’. Offense began to dominate, and teams had to add more and more pitchers. Then uber-hyper specialzation became the vogue and now we have times where 13 pitchers make up the active 25-man roster. That’s just too many.

In the second part of this easay, coming soon, I’ll try to find what the optimal number of pitchers are, and what KIND of pitchers you need to make up an optimal staff that also allows you to make the most of each of your roster spots.

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July 24, 2014 at 12:56 am ET
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It Ain’t All Pitching & Defense

broken bat

I know I’ve done a post like this earlier, but today, the OPS+of the lineup Seattle put out against the Mets, in order:

82

85

141

138

78

79

86

70

28

I’ll let you decide which ones are Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

A few days ago, noted clouter Stefan Romero hit cleanup for the Mariners when Cano had to take a day off. His OPS+ is 58.

Pitching and good defense can keep you in games, but in order to win games, you need to score more than 8 runs total in a three-game series against the New York Mets.

Next up is Baltimore – who are not the Mets in any way, shape or form.

 

 

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