The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Bobby Valentine”

American League Baseball Predictions – 2013

This is the time of year when many of us baseball bloggers get carried away with what we think we know, and proceed to make fools of ourselves by attempting to predict the future of the impending baseball season.  The great thing about these sorts of predictions, of course, is that no one ever goes back to check them out.  Did you predict, for example, that the Red Sox would win the World Series last season under new manager Bobby Valentine?  See?  No one remembers you made that hideous prediction, so you don’t have to hide your head in shame.

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper (Photo credit: L. Richard Martin, Jr.)

Having said that, it is cool when you turn out to be right.  For example, around three years ago, I predicted on this site that if anyone was to ever win the Triple-Crown again, it would be Miguel Cabrera (seriously, I did.)  Last spring, I correctly predicted that David Price would win the A.L. Cy Young award, and that the Nationals Bryce Harper would be N.L. Rookie of the Year.  Incidentally, here’s what I said about the Red Sox new manager Bobby Valentine: “Bobby V. is too much of a lightning rod for this to be a smooth year in Boston.”

In fairness, I do have to admit that I thought the Phillies would win the N.L. East (they finished right at .500) and that the Rays would win the A.L. East (they won 90 games, but finished 3rd.)  I also picked the A’ for last in the A.L. West, so of course they won their division.  For N.L. Cy Young, I picked the Brewers Yovani Gallardo.  He did win 16 games and led the league with 33 starts, and he did strike out 204 batters in 204 innings (his 4th straight 200-K season), but his ERA was a rather high 3.66 and his WHIP was 1.304.  In other words, he wasn’t really all that close to winning the Cy Young award.

Now, with little in the way of insightful analysis, here are my predictions for 2013.

American League

East

1)  Tampa Bay – Still the best pitching and most overall talent of the bunch.  Longoria will win MVP award.

2)  Toronto – Made a big splash in the off-season, but that doesn’t always portend a division title.

3)  Baltimore – Could be for real after-all.  Over-achieved last year, but Yanks & BoSox are ripe for the picking.

4)  New York – Older and more obsolete than last month’s Apple product, and more expensive as well.

5)  Boston – Forensic examiners are still trying to piece together last year’s car-wreck.  Lester becomes Steve Avery.

Central 

1)  Detroit – Verlander and Scherzer K nearly 500 guys between them.  V-Mart is back.  Another division title.

2)  Kansas City –  Acquisition James Shields adds credibility, and young hitters step up and rake = 2 game over .500.

3)  White Sox – Konerko & Co. can pound the ball, but team is full of inconsistent players = 2 games under .500.

4)  Cleveland – Went out and got Michael Bourn (The Bourne Futility), but this is still a 76 win team.

5)  Minnesota – Mauer turns 30 in April.  His knees turn 38.  Scott Diamond is the de facto ace of the staff. ‘Nuff said.

West

1)  Anaheim – Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, oh my!  Trout is great again, and this time, all the pieces fit = 93 wins.

2)  Texas – G.M. Nolan Ryan finally gives up on manager Ron Washington this year as Rangers win fewer than 90.

3)  A’s – Nice year last year.  Solid group of young pitchers, and a sound organization = 85 wins.  Poverty sucks.

4)  Seattle – Like the ugliest kid in the class, Seattle is now thrilled that a new uglier kid, Houston, has just moved in.

5)  Houston – Remember the glory days of Bagwell, Biggio, & Berkman, or Wynn, Richard & Cedeno?  Ancient history.

The Angels go to the World Series, and lose in seven games.

Next up, my National League Predictions for 2013.

Mediocrity, and Mets Fans Life: Part 4

So you’ve come back for more.  Welcome to the final installment of this series.  Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, should you feel the need to read them.

Now, boys and girls, away we go with Part 4.

1990-92:  Funny how relatively recent history, even personal history, can sometimes seem harder to recall than events of the more distant past.  When I think of the early ’90’s, I mostly recall my days drinking beer in the Old Port in Portland, Maine, my college classes at USM (I hated “Media and Politics” but loved “History of the Middle East”), sporadically dated a girl named ‘Becca (strange relationship, that one), tagged and shipped thousands of items in the L.L. Bean warehouse, and made two trips to the good ‘ole USSR.

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist ...

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1958 to 1991 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I could go on for several thousand words about my two trips to a superpower that was on the verge of disintegration.  What I can tell you are three things:  1)  No one saw it coming  2)  The Russian / Ukrainian people are just like us, and, at the same time, couldn’t be more unlike us  and 3)  I brought a Ukrainian girl home with me.

In May, 1990, on a student exchange with Kharkov University, Kharkov, USSR, I got to live with a Ukrainian family in this city replete with 1950’s Stalinist architecture, about twice the size of Atlanta, for one week.  Kharkov is about 280 miles from the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone.

A friend of mine lived with a family whose oldest daughter (let’s call her Valentina) often accompanied our little American / Soviet group on bus trips to various sites. (Gotta love those Soviet field trips.  “Please remember not to take pictures of our railroads or infrastructure!”)

The Russians often tried to impress us Americans with the sheer size of everything in their country.  One day, while passing a humongous factory in our railroad car, our Russian handler told us that this was the largest factory of its kind in the world, but, due to a shortage of spare parts, most of the tractors didn’t work.

Another time, we were shown a cannon in Moscow that was the biggest cannon of its time, used to face-down Napoleon in the early 19th century.  Unfortunately, it was so big, and required so much gunpowder, that it’s barrel cracked after the first time it was fired, so could no longer be used.  Then we were shown a replica of the world’s biggest chandelier, a beautiful, ornate monster that must have weighed as much as a T-34 Tank.  It was so big, we were told, that it couldn’t be hung from a ceiling for fear of it falling down and crushing someone beneath it.

This became the basis of a joke that would inevitably lead us to skewer the Soviet political system.  As we joked to ourselves, unkindly mocking our hosts, “We have the biggest cannon, but it is too big to use.  We have the biggest chandelier, but it is too big to use.  We have the biggest factories, but they, too, are too big to use.  And we also have the world’s most liberal Constitution.  Unfortunately, it is so liberal, we can’t use it.”

One thing led to another, and Valentina, a dark and mysterious girl who loved American jokes and jeans, but preferred the fatalism of the Russian soul to what we like to call “American Optimism,” became my girl, for a while.

Last time we met was a low lit room / We was close together as a bride and groom”

On a trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. in late 1991, Valentina was in the car with myself and my friend James, and a Russian dude of unknown origin (she had Russian contacts in America through her dad, a well-placed bureaucrat in the Russian government machine.)

“You led me on with those innocent eyes / You know I love the element of surprise”

On our way over the Brooklyn Bridge, she looked over at the amazing skyline of Manhattan, particularly over at the Twin Towers, and declared, as simply as you might discuss your favorite kind of salad dressing, “Someday, those will be destroyed.  All of this will be destroyed.”  By this time, we’d been together for several months, and she was already becoming more than a little weird to live with, so I wasn’t perhaps quite as patient or diplomatic as perhaps I should have been.  I said, “Honey, what the hell are you talking about?  This is Manhattan.  Who the hell is gonna destroy Manhattan?!”

We ate the food / Drank the Wine / Everyone having a good time / Except you, you were talking about the end of the world.”

I knew that she didn’t mean the USSR would be the culprit.  Hell, she and I both knew by that time what a lame fiasco her nation had become.  But that moment came back to me and froze me in place when I saw the news coming out of New York City on 9/11.

“In the garden I was playing guitar / I kissed your lips and broke your heart / You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.”

Valentina has been out of my life now for 20 years.  I heard she moved out west and joined a cult.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  But whenever I hear mention of Russia, or listen to the song featured in the music video below, I still think of her.

It’s easy to forget that amidst all this travel and confusion, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from USM in May of 1992, after five years of study, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.  Now what?

1993:  After the personal and international debacle that was the Soviet Union, I felt a need to reach out and embrace America in the most impractical way possible, I would drive across the entire country by myself.  I set out a couple of days after a monster March snowstorm that shut down the eastern seaboard from Maine to northern Virginia, arriving in Nashville, TN a couple of days later on a freezing, 25-degree morning.  My brother, Mark, was attending Western Washington State U. at the time in Bellingham, WA, a couple of hours outside of Seattle, and I decided to make the 3,000 mile journey out there to visit him and stay a few days.

Driving along I-40 through Memphis, this was the first time I’d ever crossed the Mississippi River.  The desert southwest, where I visited some relatives I hadn’t seen in ten years, was a revelation.  From the pine trees of Flagstaff, AZ down to the desert below, I had never experienced such a variety of climate and terrain in my life.  Some places, such as Kingman, AZ, Barstow and Bakersfield, CA each seemed to be a place I’d once seen in a movie set, perhaps a Sci-Fi monster movie from the 1950’s, (Them!) or a backdrop for an old Bogart film (They Drive By Night.)  I knew one thing.  I’d never be caught dead in any of those places after sundown.

Eventually arriving in Bellingham (Fairhaven, actually), I met my brother in a local coffee shop with his friend, Steve.  This was one of the coolest, most relaxing vacations I’d ever been on.  We were living virtually at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, we drove into Seattle a couple of times, and one day, we drove all the way on up to Vancouver, where I suddenly remembered that I should probably call my boss over at L.L. Bean to let him know where I was and that I’d probably be away from work for a while.  The conversation, as I recall, from a red pay phone booth in Vancouver, went something like this:

“Hey, Russ.  This is Bill Miller.”

“Hi Bill, you calling in sick today?”

“Ah, not exactly, Russ.  I had to make an emergency trip out-of-state.”

“Oh, you gonna be back tomorrow?”

“Not likely, Russ.  I’m in Vancouver, and I’m gonna need a leave of absence for about a week or so.”

“Vancouver, Canada?  Jesus H. Christ!  (Pause)…So there’s no way you can make it back by tomorrow?  We’re really swamped here, what with fishing season just around the corner.”

“Sorry, Russ, I drove out here, so it’s gonna take a while to get back to Maine.”

“You drove out there?  Well, see if you can make it back by next Tuesday or Wednesday.”

“O.K., thanks, Russ.  I’ll see you in about a week.  I owe you one.”

Russ was a good guy, but would have been in over his head in a glass of water.

Twelve days later, I was back in Maine.  My first day back at the L.L. Bean warehouse, Russ came over and said, “You feel like tagging items upstairs in Zone 50?”  “Sure, man,” I responded.  Just like old times.

Meanwhile, over at Shea Stadium, the Mets were on a journey of their own, from excellence to mediocrity, (why stop there?) and on down to awfulness.

In 1990, led by an unbelievable rotation of Frank Viola (2o wins) Dwight Gooden (19 wins) David Cone (233 K’s), Sid Fernandez (just 6.5 hits / 9 innings) and Ron Darling, the Mets won 91 games and finished in second place in their division.  Recall this is the same year as my first happy visit to Russia.

1991:  Gooden and Viola are now just ordinary pitchers, Cone gets zero run support, and Wally freakin’ Whitehurst replaces El Sid in the rotation.  37-year old former Yankee Rick Cerone is our glossy new catcher.  The wheels have now completely fallen off of the 23-year old Greg Jefferies bandwagon.  Dave Magadan is the most boring Mets player of all-time.  Ho-Jo enjoys a 30-30 season that almost no one seems to notice.  Even Hubie Brooks, once shipped off to Montreal in the Gary Carter trade, has now been reunited with the Mets, perhaps to fully recall and embrace the losing years of the early ’80’s.  Outfielder Kevin McReynolds foreshadows Jason Bay by nearly 20 years.

The Mets win just 77 games, good for 5th place.

1992:  The Mets are now fully locked into their “Lose Now” strategy.  They sign free agent Bobby Bonilla in the off-season to shore up their offense, and he repays the Mets confidence with 19 homers and a .249 batting average.  The grounds crew unearths a pair of fossils on the right side of the infield.  It is later determined by forensic experts that they were once Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph.  The Mets slide down to 72 wins.   Recall that this is the year both the USSR and my relationship with my Soviet-era significant other disintegrate.

1993:  I’m thousands of miles away from Anthony Young, and his 1-16 record, so I consider this year a success on my part, even as it’s an unmitigated disaster at Shea Stadium.  The Mets have hit bottom (again), and my time at L.L. Bean is also nearly done as well.  The good news is that I join my first fantasy baseball league with a couple of friends from L.L. Bean’s.  The league lasts 15 years before finally disbanding.

1994:  Is my last year at L.L. Bean.  To this day, the seven and a half years I spent at Bean’s are the most I have ever worked at any one single location in my life.  I had studied in the ETEP (Extended Teacher Education Program) through USM to be a teacher during the fall / spring of 1993-94.  So in early August, 1994, just as the baseball season ground to a tragic halt due to management-labor strife, I quit L.L. Bean and moved up to a little town called Penobscot along the Maine coast (Northern Bay) to be a sixth grade public school teacher.

As it turned out, one year in a small Maine town far from friends and family, was enough for me.  But I must say that working in a school where nearly every single teacher had a basement bar in their home certainly did help me get through the long winter.  I managed to get food poisoning once from eating a tainted raw clam, and I used up two entire cords of wood heating my small, rented home.  The year was quite an experience, but not one I’d be anxious to repeat.

1995:  A period of general flux and instability.  To continue to teach, or not to teach?  A year away from teaching convinced me that I wanted to get back at it, and as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, through my friend Steve and my brother Mark, I started working part-time at a place called Advanced Systems in Measurement in Dover, NH, overlooking Cocheco Falls, while I was now living in Gorham, ME., about an hour away.  We scored, using a rubric, the standardized tests taken by children in grades four, eight and eleven from various states around the nation.  Coffee, reading, grading, more coffee, reading, grading, etc.  Not a bad deal.  Low-stress work for which we were paid a “competitive” wage.

In a shortened, 144-game season, the Mets finished just six games under .500, but manager Dallas Green was already on his way to destroying the arms of three fine young prospects:  Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher, and Jason Isringhausen (“Isringhausen”, it turns out, is German for “elbow inflammation.”)

1996-97:  Another year and a half at Advanced Systems.  By the late summer of ’97, I knew two things:  1)  I was going to start teaching again in the fall and 2)  I really liked the girl who kept approaching me to double-check the student papers she was scoring.  She would feign confusion over what to make of a particular paragraph written by a student so that she could come and visit me over at my table two or three times a day.

I was now “Table Leader” of a group of six people, surely the least impressive middle-management job in the nation.  For some reason, this young woman seemed to take a liking to me, and couldn’t quite figure out what to make of me, since I so obviously couldn’t care less about the job, yet seemed to take it reasonably seriously.  (This has been the undercurrent of a good portion of my adult life.)

Meanwhile in 1996, the Mets win their normal 71 games.  But in 1997, the year I go back to teaching, and, more importantly, begin dating my future wife, Christa, the Mets really begin turning things around.  The ’97 Mets, with Bobby Valentine at the helm (before he completely lost his Goddamned mind), turned it around with a respectable 88 wins.  Better years were ahead.

1998-2000:  Christa and I date for a couple of years, then I propose to her in a little park in the North End of Boston, and we are married in the fall of 1999.  We get ourselves a little apartment in Sanford, Maine, I nearly punch out my redneck neighbor who makes a pass at my wife, and we have one snowstorm that lasts three full days.  I’m a special education teacher at Gorham High School, and Christa is working at the University of New Hampshire in the computer lab.

It’s a good life, and we’re happy.  No kids yet, plenty of money, and enough time to have fun together.  My job as a special ed. teacher is extremely challenging, but I grow to love my kids.  We are saving money for a house, and looking forward to starting a family together.  It took me a hell of a long time to get to this point, but it was worth the wait.

The Mets again win 88 games in 1998, then accumulate an impressive 97 wins in 1999.  They make it to the playoffs in ’99, where they lose to the Braves, 4 games to 2.

In the year 2000, New York has its first Subway Series in many decades.  Unfortunately, only one team comes to play baseball, and it’s not the Mets.  The Mets win just a single game to the Yankees as ‘Roid Rage Roger Clemens throws a piece of broken bat at Mike Piazza after Piazza’s bat shatters and a piece of it nearly hits Clemens.  Piazza looks at Clemens as if Clemens has lost his mind.

If only Piazza had charged the mound that day, it might have lit a fire under the Mets collective asses.  Still, a trip to the World Series, and an N.L. Pennant does not a bad season make.  Who knew that from that day to this, the Mets would enjoy only one more trip to the playoffs (2006), and no more visits to the World Series?

Over the past dozen years, I have been a very fortunate man.  I taught at the high school level for a dozen years.  My own family has grown and prospered.  We moved from snows of Maine to relative warmth of South Carolina about three years ago.  While America has experienced horror upon horror over the past decade, one tragedy almost appearing to lead somehow to the next, I have settled into a middle-aged man’s emotional toolbox of  regret, bemusement, and acceptance over the things I’ve done, the things I’ve left undone, and the short time I may have left to do the things worth doing.

My family is my strength, and my reason for being.  I am thankful for the friends I’ve made, even for the ones I’ve lost along the way, and for the ones I’ve met through this blog.

Thank you, all of you, for reading, for caring just a bit, and for listening.

I hope this series has been worth reading.  It has been, in an unexpected way for me, a necessary and useful investment of time and energy which I intend never to repeat.

Cheers, Bill

Eight Reasons Why the Red Sox Stink in 2012

Personally, I have nothing against the Red Sox.  It is true that, as a Mets fan, I did get my biggest baseball thrill from watching the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.  Yet I’ve never felt any animosity towards the proud Red Sox franchise.  In fact, I always root for the Red Sox to defeat the Yankees.

Still, a fact is a fact, and there is no denying that the 2012 version of the Red Sox are the least enjoyable, not to mention the least successful, Red Sox team I have witnessed in many years.

Not being a regular viewer of Red Sox games (though when I lived up in Maine for 20+ years, I often listened to WEEI, Red Sox radio), I haven’t paid close attention to the BoSox relative failure this year, aside from occasionally looking at the A.L. standings.

So I decided to examine a bit more closely why the Red Sox, despite their prodigious payroll, fanatical fan-base, and the bewildering wizardry of stat guru, Bill James, this team stinks.

Here are eight items I came up with:

1)  Red Sox pitchers are giving up too many bases on balls.  As of this writing, Red Sox pitchers have surrendered 370 walks this year.  Only four A.L. pitching staffs have walked more batters.  The Yankees pitching staff, by way of contrast, have walked the fewest.  They can’t score if you don’t put them on.

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH...

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH3 . . 1,943×2,936 (2.01 MB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  The Red Sox pitching staff is starting to show its age.  They are now the third oldest group of pitchers in the A.L.  Obviously, some pitchers age faster than others.  The Yankees staff is actually a bit older.  But Red Sox pitchers appear to be exhibiting a bit more wear and tear thus far than their New York counterparts.

Josh Beckett, for example, is 32 going on 36.  And Clay Buccholz, whom some Red Sox fans still maintain is a rising star, recently turned 28-years old.

In fact, the Red Sox currently have just one pitcher on their staff, the combustible Felix Doubront (4.70 ERA) under the age of 25.

3)  The Curse of the Piano.  What, you thought that just because the Red Sox won two World Series in the past eight years, that they’d no longer be cursed?  Well, no one told the Babe, a moulderin’ in his grave.  Perhaps you’ve never hear of the curse of the piano?  Well, unless someone drags the Babe’s old piano out of the pond up in Sudbury, this “other” curse might just linger for another century.

4)  Bobby Valentine is entirely miscast as a Major League manager.  In fact, he would be miscast as a manager at any level.  A manager, like a teacher, is a father figure (assuming the male gender, of course.)  Bobby V. is not a father figure.  He is the odd uncle who comes over on Christmas afternoon with his latest exotic girlfriend, this one from Saigon, the last one from the Philippines.

Always too quick to put little brother up on his shoulders (narrowly missing the overhead fan by mere inches), he always has an odd anecdote to tell about a business deal that narrowly went sour.  When he finally leaves around 7:45 p.m., he’s had one too many, and his hugs are awkward, and strangely tearful.  His girlfriend will do the driving, and you know as you wave to them as they back out of your dad’s icy driveway, you won’t see or hear from him again until next Christmas.

Wally the Green Monster

Wally the Green Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Wally the Green Monster, the Red Sox’ mascot, has been having some problems of his own.  After a torrid, three-year affair with Bernie Brewer, followed by a brief, drunken fling with the Milwaukee Sausages, Wally the Green Monster had just about settled down with the Swinging Friar (San Diego.)

But it turns out that the Swinging Friar had a few secrets of his own.  Apparently, he’s been seen leaving some local San Diego hot spots with the always unpredictable Stomper (Oakland), himself recently recovering from an addiction to powdered, fried dough.

Word is that Wally has been so depressed lately that he’s usually hung over and asleep inside the Green Monster until the 8th inning, when misty-eyed and reckless, he starts to undress for the fans in the center field bleachers during the bizarre routine of the disembodied voice of Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Socks

Socks (Photo credit: scalkins)

6)  Their socks.  They’ve been the Red Sox now for over a hundred years.  Perhaps it’s time to change those socks?

When either of my sons goes a couple of days without changing theirs, the stench is unbearable.  Why should it be any different for Major League baseball players who sweat in theirs all day long?

So, in keeping with the Sox recent advances into the 21st century (a Facebook page!), here’s a look (see pic) at what the BoSox are considering for their players next season.  David Ortiz is already on record endorsing the new look saying, “My toes get cold in April and in October.  Those little toes on the socks look toasty and warm.  I hate New England weather.”

7)  Their Offense:  Despite the fact that the Red Sox are among the league-leaders in runs scored, there are some problems here as well.  For starters, Carl Crawford, a huge disappointment since he joined the Sox (his on-base percentage in his last 160 games played is .293), is about to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday.  Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury, who enjoyed an MVP-caliber season last year, currently sports a .309 on-base percentage to go along with his one home run and six stolen bases.  Last year, he had over 30 steals and 30 homers.

The injury bug, then, has seriously affected the Red Sox ability to add to their already very respectable run totals.

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck i...

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck in Fenway Park in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Their Enthusiasm:  It hasn’t been this boring to watch the Red Sox play (and I don’t very often) since the heady days of Phil Plantier, Bob Zupcic, Jody Reed, and Luis Rivera.  The Red Sox have finished below .500 just three times since 1992.  This year could be their fourth finish below .500 in 20 years.

Worse, it is hard to say that any of the players on the field look like they’re enjoying themselves.  Sure, losing sucks, but you’re not likely to play any better if your approach is the same as the man who gets to go to work in the West Virginia coal mines, earning a tiny fraction of what the players make.  Gone are team leaders like Varitek, Wakefield, Millar and Damon, guys that could both lighten up the clubhouse and/or lead by example.

For the sake of the Red Sox and their fans, some of the veterans on this team (and it can’t be just Dustin Pedroia) have to step up and lead by example, while demonstrating to the kids that playing baseball can still be fun, even if you are expected to take home obscene amounts of cash.

Baseball 2012: Oddities and Conclusions, and Odd Conclusions

It’s never too early to draw specious conclusions from incomplete data.  Politicians do it all the time.  Therefore, not holding myself to a higher standard than those fine fellows, here’s what we’ve learned from this year’s baseball statistics thus far in 2012:

1)  Albert Pujols is actually 44-years old, and should be put out to pasture.  Seriously, I think it would be a bit premature to predict that Sir Albert will win this year’s A.L. MVP trophy.  Through nine games he has 40 plate appearances, no home runs, and 12 total bases.  It may take him the better part of a full year to adjust to the A.L., and even when he does, he still won’t automatically be the best player in the league.

2)  Break up the Mets!  They are off to a 6-3 start, including a pair of wins against the Phillies this past weekend.  Now just 0.5 games back of the Nats for first place in the N.L. East, and with baseball expanding to two Wild Card teams this year, it’s time to start printing up playoff tickets, isn’t it?

Well, no, it’s not.  The Mets Run Differential stands at exactly 0, meaning that this is essentially a .500 team, which is the best most of us Mets fans could hope for at the beginning of the year.

3)  The Pirates have the best pitching staff since the Braves when Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Neagle were hanging around.  The Pirates four primary starting pitchers: Correia, Bedard, Karstens, and McDonald all have ERA’s under 4.00, and the Pirates have given up fewer runs (22) than any other team in the N.L.

Conclusion:  Although the Pirates offense is awful, their pitching is good enough to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the N.L. this year, ensuring many low-scoring (especially at home) but competitive ball games.

4)  You can have your Verlander, Kershaw, Lee, Hamels, King Felix, etc., but for my money, the one pitcher who continues to be completely unreal (and a future Hall of Famer) is the Phillies Roy Halladay.  At 2-0, and having given up just one earned run in 15 innings this year, Halladay has a real chance to reach 200 career wins before he loses his 100th ball game.  His career record currently stands at 190-92, and he just seems to keep getting better with age.

Did you know that Halladay has increased his strikeout totals for each of the past seven years?  That he has walked over 40 batters in a season just once in the past nine years?  That he has never lost more than 11 games in any of his 13 full seasons?  He’s as good as they come, folks, so enjoy him while you can.

5)  Matt Kemp is staking his claim as the best player in the National League.  He should have won the N.L. MVP award last season, leading the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored, OPS+, total bases, and WAR.  He also stole 40 bases in 51 attempts, and plays above average defense in center field.  This year, with the Dodgers off to a 9-1 start, thanks in large part to Kemp’s torrid start, there’s every reason to believe he’ll win his first MVP award.

6) The A.L. East is the most mediocre division in baseball.  No team currently has more than five wins, nor fewer than four.  Only 1.5 games separates last place Boston from first place Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays.  Realistically, it is possible that no one in this division will win more than 95 games, and it is conceivable that four of these five teams might still be separated by as little as 1.5 games going into the final week of the season.

A look at the current run differentials in this division, where Toronto’s +12 is currently the best, suggests that there are no great teams in this division, just several good ones.

7)  David Wright will be the first player in baseball history to hit .500 this year, while posting an OPS+ well in excess of a KaZillion.  On his way to cementing his status as the best position player in Mets history (if you overlook a little thing called defense), Wright appears to enjoy the newly reconfigured Citi Field dimensions.  Most encouragingly, Wright has struck out just twice in his first 26 plate appearances this year.  Yup, he’s Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Paul McCartney and Brad Pitt, all rolled up in one perfect guy.  Let’s Go Mets!

8)  In the apparent pre-season bet between Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen to see which of them could throw their managerial job away first, Bobby V. appears to have the inside edge so far.  Yes, Guillen committed the worst possible sin in Miami by lauding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but, hey, he gets language confused, you know?  What he MEANT was the Castro was a brain-eating zombie who devours small children on whats left of the playgrounds in Havana.  It was the MEDIA who got him all confused, see?  ANYONE could have made that mistake, right?

Meanwhile, Bobby V. today managed to insult Kevin Youkilis in what was an apparent effort to “fire him up.”  Oh.  And then he apologized to Youk for saying what he said to fire him up.  Look, it is readily apparent that Boston, as a franchise, is still suffering from what they used to call shell-shock from last September.  Putting Bobby V. at the helm of a franchise suffering collectively from P.T.S.D. is like putting serial killer Ted Bundy in a rape-hotline call center (oh wait, he really did have that job.)

Prediction:  Both managers are fired before the season ends, Bobby V. getting thrown overboard first.

9)  Tommy Hanson will never pitch a complete game shutout in his career.  I’m not saying he’s not a good enough pitcher to do so.  Hanson’s a very good pitcher, but he is one of the least efficient pitchers in baseball, regularly going to 2-2 counts on virtually every batter he faces.  That’s not how you pitch deep into ball games.  In fact, Hanson has completed just one of his 79 career starts.  Maybe he’ll eventually learn to pitch to contact more frequently, but until he does so, he’ll always be a fine six-inning pitcher.

10)  Brett Lawrie will be an All-Star for the next twenty years.  Yes, he only has 211 career plate appearances, but here’s his 162 game average so far:  31 home runs, 100 RBI, 93 runs scored, 25 steals, a .911 OPS, and an OPS+ of 142 (the same as Mike Piazza.)  Waive the ten-years of MLB service requirement rule and put the kid in Cooperstown right now so he can enjoy the honor while he’s still young.

I’m sure you’ve drawn lots of early season conclusions of your own.  So please feel free to share them with me, and I’ll publish the best ones in my next post.

Baseball Predictions – 2012

As the calender turns to March, it is that time of year again when we force ourselves to turn away from the latest U.S. Women’s soccer headlines (“U.S. Starts Algarve Cup By Defeating Denmark!”), and turn, instead, towards the rising sun of Spring Training, and a new baseball season.

Which means it’s time for my 2012 baseball predictions.

You know the drill.  I predict, you shake your head sadly, we all forget about it a day later and move on with our lives.  So let’s get on with it.

American League 

East

1)  Tampa Bay

2)  Boston

3)  New York

4)  Toronto

5)  Baltimore

This is the year Tampa Bay begins to take charge in the East.  The pitching, the youth, the coherent plan emanating out of the front office.  It’s a good time to be a Rays fan.

Boston is still a very good team, but I don’t think they’ve gotten last season’s collapse out of their collective heads.  They wasted unbelievable seasons by Ellsbury and A-Gone, Beckett is a head-case, Lester let the team down in the end, and Bobby V. is too much of a lightning rod for this to be a smooth year in Boston.

With the retirement of Posada and the jettisoning of Burnett onto Planet Pittsburgh, The Yankees are going through a kind of youth movement by attrition.  Pineda was a nice pickup, but with two statues on the left side of the infield, a mediocre defensive outfield, and a team that is being heavily courted by the A.A.R.P, the Yankees have to hit a wall, and my money says it happens this year.

Toronto is like the girl on the fringe of her group that you should hit on because she’s the one most likely to say yes.  Not a threat to the others, but just interesting enough to keep your eye on.

Baltimore is the girl whom your best-friends wife insists has a nice personality.  Keep moving; nothing to see.

English: Miguel Cabrera at Dodger Stadium.

Image via Wikipedia

Central

1)  Detroit

2)  Cleveland

3)  Kansas City

4)  Chicago

5)  Minnesota

Not so comfortable with my three middle picks, but confident that Detroit and Minnesota will be the bookends.  I like where K.C. is headed, but I think Cleveland is, for the time being, a step ahead of them.

Robin Ventura will restore order in the White Sox clubhouse, and they could be better than I suspect, but there are just so many unanswered questions on this team right now that it is almost impossible to predict how they’ll finish.  So let me go ahead and foolishly say they’ll win 79 games.

Minnesota, even if Mauer and Morneau are reasonably healthy, is a bad team in a nice park.

West

1)  Angels

2)  Texas

3)  Seattle

4)  Oakland

If we’re going ahead this year with two Wild Card teams, and as of this writing it looks like we are, then one of the Wild Card teams will be either the Angels or the Rangers.  The other could be either Boston, or even, in a surprise, Cleveland.

Both the Angels and the Rangers have established themselves as the Dreadnoughts of the Western Division.  It should be a heavy-weight slug-fest of epic proportions, you know, like the ones we used to get excited about between the Red Sox and the Yankees.  I have to give a slight edge to Pujols and the Angels.

The Mariners, with Ichiro batting third, finish third by default because Oakland will basically field a Four-A baseball team (again) this season.

A.L.  MVP – Albert Pujols

Cy Young – David Price  

Rookie of the Year – Brett Lawrie  

National League

Bryce Harper

Image via Wikipedia

East

1)  Phillies

2)  Atlanta

3)  Nationals

4)  Florida

5)  New York

It all begins with the pitching, and I think the Phillies will find a way to score enough runs to support their legendary pitching staff.  Their window may not be open for much longer, but they should be able to hold off the competition in their own division.

The Braves have excellent young pitching, but there are some players on that team (Hanson, Jones, Jurrjens, and others) that are good friends with the D.L, and I’m not sure their lineup is sufficient to score enough runs to keep their pitchers from blowing out their arms.  Jason Heyward’s performance will go a long way in determining the overall success of this team.

I really like the Nats.  I think they are only a year or two away from being serious contenders.  I was even tempted to pick them to finish in second place in the N.L. East, but I chose the safe pick instead.  Harper will play at some point, and, for the Nats, the earlier the better.  Strasburg and the two Zimmerman boys (Jordan and Ryan) along with Harper will offer a plethora of choices for Nats fans to cheer about.

It is much anticipated that the Marlins, with all the changes they’ve made (not the least of which is their brand new stadium) will perhaps challenge for the top of the division this year, and perhaps they will.  I think Mike (Giancarlo, please) Stanton will lead the league in home runs.  But I also think  the rest of their best players are all too injury prone to lead this team out of mediocrity.  They’ll win more than they’ll lose, but they won’t see more than 85 wins this year.

The Mets won’t compete until around 2014, but I do like their G.M. and his associates, and Terry Collins was a good boy in Year #1.  Reyes was more exciting than he was highly productive, and I think they’ll be able to replace the runs they lost when he booked town, bogus batting title in tow.  But their pitching is probably the worst in the division, and until a couple of their young pitching prospects develop, and until current ownership is towed out to sea and buried in a lead-lined container, the immediate future looks bleak.

Central

1)  Brewers

2)  Reds

3)  Cardinals

4)  Cubs

5)  Pirates

6)  Astros

I had a hard time picking the winner here, but I like the Brewers starting pitching, and Braun will be back for a full year after-all, so I think they have enough to keep the wolves at bay for 2012.  The Reds are just too enigmatic to predict (though Votto is great)  and, yes, the Cardinals have been weakened by the losses of Pujols, LaRussa and Duncan.  Even with the return of Wainwright, I just don’t see enough pitching there to grab the division.

The Cubs, Astros and Pirates are each in various stages of rebuilding (or, in the Pirates case, re-re-re-rebuilding.)  The Cubs seem to be in the best position to turn things around the quickest of this group, but not this year.

West

1)  Diamondbacks

2)  Giants

3)  Rockies

4)  Dodgers

5)  Padres

The Diamondbacks are for real, and no other team in this division has enough balance to challenge them this year.  Justin Upton could win the MVP award this season.  They are not a GREAT team, but they are perfectly capable of repeating in this mediocre division.

I considered picking the Rockies to finish third, but Tulowitzki is due to carry this team into the playoffs (and, with a second Wild Card, he still might.)

I love the Giants top three pitchers:  Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner, but this team reminds me a little of the Mets in the early-to-mid ’70’s, excellent starting pitching with a well-below average offense.  They should win 80-something ballgames, but until they locate another serious bat, their fans will be treated to a lot of 3-2 pitching duels.

Even the magic of Kemp and Kershaw couldn’t lift the Dodgers out of mediocrity last year, and I don’t expect things to change much this year.  Another proud franchise undermined by horrid ownership.

The Padres play in lovely San Diego, so even if they suck, their fans will enjoy the day at the park.

N.L. MVP – Joey Votto  

Cy Young – Yovani Gallardo

Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper

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