The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Joe Torre”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 2

If you read Part 1 of this series, you already know what to expect from the next three installments.  If not, here’s the last paragraph of the introduction:

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

When last we met, I was in my final year of high school, had smoked pot for the first time in the bathroom of my Catholic high school, had attended a dance with a girl I didn’t particularly like, and witnessed perhaps the worst pitching staff in the history of the New York Mets.

Shall we proceed on to 1981?  I will do so with mixed feelings of trepidation and nostalgia.  You’re going to want to sit down for this one.

1981:  In October of 12th grade, a yearbook form was distributed to each of us to fill out so that the traditional non sequiturs, meaningless dates, pledges, lyrics from our favorite Rock songs and other forms of generalized nonsense could be included under our final high school picture.  I sat there with a couple of friends of mine, who happened to be Hispanic-Americans, and we brainstormed what kind of junk we could include.

One of my friends suggested the Spanish translation of “My Penis is Itching!”  (something like, Me Pica La Pinga!)  So, of course, I duly noted it on my form, in Spanish.  The lead editor of our yearbook (who was very cute; I asked her to the Prom, but she turned me down), was also one of the Spanish teachers, so I figured this would be a cool way to cause her some minor embarrassment when she inevitably edited out that particular statement.  I assumed she’d come to me in a week or two, form in hand, and kindly request that I write something else to put under my picture.

Except she never came to see me.

As the weeks went by, I completely forgot about what I had written on that form.   Christmas Vacation came and went, and the final countdown to graduation day was upon us.  By the end of March, with the first hint of spring in the air, I was already making plans for summer vacation, except it wasn’t going to be summer vacation, it was going to be the rest of my life, a concept I still couldn’t quite grasp.

Then, sometime in April, my name was called over the school intercom.  I was in the middle of Mrs. Wulster’s English class (I liked her very much; she regularly called us barbarians,) when my name was called sometime around late morning.  Not once in my four years of high school had my name ever been called over the school intercom.  Usually, this was not at all a good thing.  When Sister Jeanette, the principal called you down, the odds were about 1 in 3 that you had spent your last day at Kolbe-Cathedral High School.  Around 30% of the boys I had started Kolbe with were already long gone.

Sitting in Sister Jeanette’s office, I could tell she was not about to ask me to make the commencement speech at our graduation ceremony.  Her face was waxy and her hands seemed fidgety, yet carnivorous.  She looked at me and said, “William, do you know why I called you down here to my office?”  I quite honestly responded, “No.”

“William, the yearbook staff was here until nearly 6:30 yesterday evening trying to undo the damage you’ve done to the yearbook. ”  I looked at her blankly, awareness just beginning to dawn regarding what she was talking about.

“Are you even aware what words appear in Spanish under your yearbook picture?”  I murmured, “I don’t think I remember,” an outright lie at this point.  Easily forty lashes in Purgatory.

I watched her steel herself to tell me, in English, the heinous words that appeared under my picture.  I felt sure that she’d never uttered any words like this before in her life.  Assuming the floor beneath my chair wasn’t about to open up and drop me straight into Hell’s Everlasting Fire, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.

“William,” she started, then paused dramatically, though perhaps not intentionally, “You wrote, ‘My Penis is Itching.'”

She then informed me that the only reason she wasn’t going to expel me from school then and there was because graduation was just five weeks away.  She told me I had to apologize to each and every member of the yearbook staff, and…that was it.  I apologized to her, the bell rang signaling the end of Third Period, and I went directly to first lunch to tell my friends what had happened.

A week or so later, we all received our yearbooks.  Everyone went directly to the page which included my picture.  Under my picture, in every single yearbook that year, was a little white piece of white-out tape covering the infamous words.  First thing everyone did, of course, was peel off that tape.  Under the tape, the short, four-world declarative sentence had also been inked over by some sort of black marker or felt-tip pen.  Then someone realized that if you held the page up to the light, you could still read it!  After that, I couldn’t walk down the hallways of Kolbe without someone either high-fiving me, or sneering at me, depending on their point of view of the situation.

As you can imagine, I still count this as one of the few outright successes of my life, a true high point if ever there was one.  I also knew that Instant Karma was gonna get me, sure as you can say, “Me Pica La Pinga!”

Fortunately, 1981 also saw a work stoppage in Major League Baseball, so the awful Mets were mercifully allowed to play just 105 of their scheduled 162 games, more than enough as it turned out, as the Mets winning percentage was just .398 in ’81.  The lone bright spot this time was rookie third baseman Hubie Brooks, who batted .307 in Joe Torre’s final season as Mets manager.  I like to think that both Torre and I managed to escape our awkward circumstances the very same year, and we each had a prominent place in a yearbook as well.

1982:  Well, freedom from Catholic high school was not all fun and games after-all.  I had quit working at Carvel Ice Cream during the late summer of 1981, and had gone on to work at U.P.S.  I had no idea what else to do with my life.  Neither of my parents had made it past tenth grade, and we didn’t have a lot of money for college, so I thought I would work for a living, just like everyone who had ever come before me in my family had done.  Only, UPS sucked.  After nearly two years of being harassed by managers who wore brown shirts, black boots and herded us to and from our ten minute breaks under watchful eyes, I’d had enough.

Image representing UPS  as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

On a side note, my cousin Jimmy had bugged me for months to get him in to UPS, because the money was good.  I told him repeatedly that he would hate it there.  He kept pestering me until I finally told a union rep that I had a cousin who wanted a shot at loading the big-rigs from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am, the same shift as me.  Jimmy got his opportunity one late summer night, meeting me in the dirt parking lot out back in his ’78 Camaro.  We were assigned different departments, so I didn’t see Jim again ’till break-time.

At around 12:40 am, I saw him walking towards me, slump-shouldered and defeated.

“I’m done,” was all he said.

I just said, “What?  Man, you’ve only been here for two hours.”

“No, I’m all done.  Your were right, this place is terrible.”  Jimmy walked out of the huge warehouse, and went on to work for Bradlees over at the Dock Shopping Center in Stratford.

On my final night, about a year later, an assistant manager came into my steamy truck, frowning purposefully.

“Miller, you allowed this package into this truck.  The zip code is for Stonington.”

Packages fell off the conveyor belt into the back of the truck at a rate of around a dozen per second.  I had two rigs to load in the next three hours.  I just looked at him and said, “I didn’t ‘let’ in into my truck, it fucking fell on its own,” which was clear even to a douche-bag like him, since he had to step over a mound of packages to come see me.

“Miller, you have to sign this form right here acknowledging that you allowed this unauthorized package into your truck.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then I’ll have to fire you.”  He was clearly moving in for the kill.  Another notch on his fucking belt.  Clearly pushing for district supervisor some day.  Then he could sit in his fucking little office, going over the days production forms, sipping crummy coffee, day-dreaming of the day he could afford a split-ranch in Trumbull.  Fuck him.

“What happens if I sign it?”

“Then the manager will decide what disciplinary action is appropriate.”

“I want to talk to my union steward.”

“Well, you can’t.  Sign this or you’re fired.”

“I have a right to speak with my union steward.”

“Sign this form, or you’re fired.  Last warning.”

Before I could really think about what I was doing, I threw the small, brown package I had in my hand during this entire conversation at him as hard as I could, narrowly missing his head.  He looked stunned, then said, “You’re fired!”  I burst out of the back of the truck, climbed over the wall of packages that had formed there, and left.  On my way out, I saw my union steward.

“Where the fuck were you when I needed you.”  His mouth opened to respond.  “I just got fired,” I told  him.

“Come to the manager’s office tomorrow morning” he told me.  “I’ll be there.”

On my way out the door, the radio that piped in Rock music for the workers was playing, “Train in Vain,” by The Clash.  It was one of my favorites, and felt right to hear on my last night at UPS.

Next morning, I had already made up my mind that I was all done with this place, but I thought I’d get my say in any way.  Walking in to the manager’s unremarkable office, I was told to sit down.  My union steward was already there, and it was clear that the two of them had been discussing this situation for a while before I got there.

“We’ve decided that, if you sign this form, we’ll give you another chance,” the manager, a half-digested piece of carrion informed me.  Every worker he had ever dug a knife into was a pockmarked scar on his face.  I looked over at my union steward for guidance, though I really didn’t give a damn at this point.  He shook his head no at me.

“Don’t sign it,” was all he said.  Now I was confused.  Clearly, if I didn’t sign it, I’d be all done.

“Sign here, ” the manager said as he leaned forward, pen and paper in hand, acidic coffee breath escaping into my face.  Again, I looked over at the union man, expecting him to explain to me exactly why I shouldn’t sign it.  He said not a work, just stared into space, and shook his head again back and forth.  What the fuck was his problem?  Was he having a mild stroke or something?  I looked back and forth at these two men, each in their thirties, and decided I’d had enough of this pantomime little opera.

“O.K., guys,” I began, not knowing exactly where I was going with this.  I looked at the manager and said quietly, “You can shove that paper right up your ass.”  Then I turned to union man and added, “Thanks for nothing, asshole.”  I got up, walked out the door, which I did not slam behind me, and left that place for good.

I can’t say for sure if I got fired, or if I quit, so I’ll call that entire episode a draw.  Not the best of times, but surely not the worst of times, either.  I was still only nineteen-years old.  I went down to Seaside Park, cracked open a beer, and watched the sun burn away the day.

That same year, the Mets upped their winning percentage to .401.  Thirty-seven of Dave Kingman’s forty-seven extra base hits that year were home runs, but in 607 plate appearances, he hit just .204.  Free agent bust George Foster slugged just 13 homers while posting a .247 batting average.  Staff “ace” Craig Swan managed to win 11 games.

Clearly, over in Queens, things were faring no better for the Mets than they were for me.  Perhaps 1983 would bring better times.

And so, my friends, let’s end this post right here and right now.  I’ve had enough, and in all probability, so, too, have you. We’ll resume this series when I can remember what the hell happened to me in ’83.

Thanks for riding along with me.

Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Lenny Randle

I am excited to kick off a new series today, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.”  This is Part I of a twelve-part series analyzing those unfortunate players who performed well on otherwise terrible teams.  Almost every last-place team seems to have one of them, and their efforts are usually forgotten by all but that team’s biggest fans.

My colleague, Graham Womack of the baseball blog, “Baseball Past and Present,”  will be co-authoring this series with me, on a weekly, alternating basis.

The six players I will focus on in this series have all played since 1961.  Graham’s focus, then, will be on half a dozen players from pre-1961 baseball.  We have decided not to concern ourselves with splitting up the A.L. and the N.L., so ultimately, it is possible that one league or the other will end up being featured more prominently than the other.  So be it.

Graham and I have been in contact with each other regarding co-writing a series together since before Christmas.  This is the topic we have come up with.  We decided to keep the entire series here on my blog to avoid possible confusion for our readers, and, speaking for myself, the writers.  Graham’s first post will be featured next Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy this series.  If you have any suggestions about players you would like to see featured, please drop us a line.

Now, without further adieu, here is our initial offering.

The 1977 New York Mets are underrated as one of the worst teams in Mets history.  Almost everyone knows that the pre-1969 Mets were God-awful, but the decade of the ’70’s also featured some of the worst efforts, or non-efforts, that New York’s National League franchise ever produced.

There are actually several reasons, though, why the ’77 team stands out as a tragic example of how a Major League baseball team is quite capable of kicking its fans in their collective teeth, and appearing not to notice.  Specifically, given that the Mets had played better than .500 baseball in three of their previous four seasons, including a trip to the ’73 World Series and a couple of respectable third-place finishes, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ’77 Mets would be a competitive ball club.

For one thing, the Mets were returning with one of baseball’s best rotations:  Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, as well as promising young starters Nino Espinosa and Craig SwanBob Apodaca and Skip Lockwood provided above-average relief help in the bullpen.

The Mets defense also appeared solid, with the exception of Dave Kingman in left-field.  Young catcher John Stearns provided above-average speed behind the plate, and 22-year old outfielder Lee Mazzilli appeared to be a future star.

Very quickly, however, things began to unravel in Gotham.  The Mets, under manager Joe Frazier, stumbled out of the gate with a 15-30 record.  Then, on June 15, 1977, the unthinkable happened.  The Mets traded their 32-year old franchise player, Tom Seaver, for four young prospects, none of whom were to make much of a mark on Major League history.  Then they also traded their only legitimate power-hitter, Dave Kingman, to the San Diego Padres.

Thirty-six year old Joe Torre, now a player-manager, took over the helm in his very first shot at managing.  He didn’t have much left to work with.

In the previous off-season, however, the Mets did manage to pry a young third baseman named Lenny Randle from the Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named later.

Lenny Randle was no prospect.  He was going to be 28-years old in ’77, and few Mets fans had any idea what to expect.

But, as it turned out, Lenny Randle provided spark on a team whose guts had just been ripped out by upper-management.  He gave Mets fan a reason to keep watching their team long after it was obvious that ’77 was a lost season.

Randle’s statistics for the 1977 were not spectacular, but he was the best the Mets had to offer that year.

Randle led the team with a .304 batting average.  He led them in stolen bases with 33.  He also led the Mets in on-base percentage (.383, tenth best in the league), and in hits (156), triples (5) and runs scored (78).  His 4.2 WAR was the highest on the team.

Defensively, he played the position more like a middle-infielder.  His Range Factor per nine innings was a solid 3.06, 4th best in the N.L.

Although Randle’s  power numbers were terrible, accumulating just five home runs and 27 RBI,  Mets fans understood that Randle’s job was to get on base and make things happen.

But Randle turned out to be little more than a flash-in-the pan.  He performed poorly in Flushing in ’78, then bounced around between the Yankees, Cubs, and Mariners for the next several seasons, until his retirement in 1982 at the age of 33.

In 1983, Randle became the first American major league player to play in Italy, where he won a batting title by hitting .477.

On a really good Major League baseball team, Lenny Randle would have been a nice complementary ballplayer.  On the 1977 Mets, however, he was the star attraction on an abysmal team.

Firing a Major League Manager

Some things never change.

Already, fans and sportswriters for certain teams are suggesting, even demanding, that their favorite under-achieving franchise fire the manager.

But when is it time to fire a major league manager?

Another way of asking the question is, how much actual difference does firing a manager make in turning around a particular team’s fortunes?  Also, if nothing is expected of a team going into a season, as with Kansas City, Cleveland, Baltimore or Pittsburgh, then what exactly is the point of firing one of their respective managers once it is apparent that another unsuccessful season is in the offing?

Lets take these questions one at a time.

Yes, sometimes, although not as often as fans and some sportswriters like to think, a managerial change can make a positive difference.  Last season for example, after getting off to an 18-28 start, the Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with Jim Tracy.  From that point on, the Rockies went on a 74-42 run, finishing second in the N.L. West.

Notice that the Rockies fired Hurdle after 46 games, about the middle of May.  That’s just about where we are this season, which is why this issue is now relevant.

Taking the second question, is there much point in firing the manager of a team that is universally expected to be bad?

That depends.  How bad is bad?  Is the team at all competitive?  The Pirates, for example, currently have a predictably poor 14-18 win-loss record.  But considering their run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) of -83 is the worst in baseball, they have actually over-achieved this season.

In other words, their on-field talent is so poor that their record should be something more like 9-23.  So not much point in firing the manager there.

So how about under-performing teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Cubs, White Sox (sorry, Chicago), and Mariners?

Taking the first three of those teams, no one is going to fire Joe Torre, Bobby Cox (in his last season, anyway), or Lou Piniella, at least not this year.  They have accumulated more than enough managerial capital over the course of their careers to make it politically impossible for them to be terminated.

Not so the case, however, of Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox and Don Wakamatsu of Seattle.  Taking the White Sox first, they are 13-19 on the season, already a full eight games out of first place.  Guillen also a tendency to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and he has had his share of run-ins with G.M. Ken Williams over the years.

Lately, the blame for the White Sox poor start has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of closer Bobby Jenks.  Admittedly, Jenks, never one to care much about conditioning, hasn’t done his job very well.  But, with the exception of first baseman Paul Konerko and pitcher John Danks, few of the White Sox players have gotten off to a good start.

Finally, Guillen, despite winning one World Championship in 2005, doesn’t exactly have a long track record of success, and his tendency to call out his players in public, rather than in private, will catch up to him eventually in terms of being able to motivate his players.  In fact, it may already have.

Guillen, therefore, is certainly a possible candidate to lose his job this season.

Don Wakamatsu, manager of the Seattle Mariners, is, if anything, on an even hotter seat in his town than is Guillen.  With the splashy additions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, many people, including yours truly, expected the Mariners to have a legitimate chance of winning the mediocre A.L. West division.

The Angels were weakened by off-season losses of key personnel, and neither the A’s or the Rangers were obvious choices to replace the Angels atop this division.

But the Mariners anemic offense, the worst in their league, coupled with the injury to Cliff Lee, may have doomed their chances of stealing the crown.  Although the Mariners are only 5 1/2 games out, a record of 12-19, and a team playing without any apparent spark at all, is a major disappointment.

And Wakamatsu has little in the way of a track record to buttress his reputation.  Already, the Mariners have fired their hitting coach, Don Cockrell.  Firing a coach or two is often a warning to a manager that things better improve sooner than later.

If  Seattle continues to languish in their ineptitude over the next several weeks, don’t be surprised to see this team decide to change its manager.

Other teams whose managers might not survive the season include Baltimore’s Dave Trembley (9-23), Houston’s Brad Mills (10-21), Kansas City’s Trey Hillman (11-21) and Arizona’s A.J. Hinch (14-19.)

Although not much was expected of the first three of those teams, there is bad, and then there is really bad.  Kansas City, for example, made a big show in the off-season of signing a couple of free agents (Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall), and during spring training their players and manager all said the right things like, “People are going to be surprised this year.  We’re going to make some noise in our division.”

Nonsense, of course.  Ankiel and Kendall were poor signings, and this is a team that could only avoid last place due to its fortuitous geography of being in the same division as the Indians.

But if some of the powers-that-be within the Royals organization really believed, however erroneously, that their Royals should be much more competitive this year, then Manager Hillman might be looking for work before the end of summer.

Hinch, in Arizona, also appears to be vulnerable.  Granted, the Diamondbacks have several young players still in their initial stage of development, but if this season ends up being an organizational step backwards, it is doubtful that this turn of events will be tolerated in Arizona.

Houston manager Brad Mills, is in his first full season as the field commander, will be allowed a significant honeymoon period.  The truth is, Houston is a lousy, and in some quarters, overrated team with a handful of good players surrounded by a cast of replacement level talent.  The inevitable overhaul of this franchise starts at the top.  Mills, therefore, appears to be safe at this point.

The truth is, of course, that none of us know how the 2010 season will progress from here.  Surprising turnarounds happen all the time.  When we look at the standings come the All-Star Break, they could, and probably will be, significantly different from what they look like today.

One thing is certain, however.  At some point, perhaps sooner than later, we will be reading about how a particular team has come to the unavoidable conclusion that it is time to change horses.  References to last year’s Rockies will be made, and the expectations laid upon the head of the new manager will be many.

Yet it is also virtually certain that the teams who actually make the playoffs are not going to be the teams who change managers this season.

The teams that make the playoffs will be, as always, the teams that actually have the best players.

Some things never change.

Fantasy Baseball Player Ratings: The Pitchers

This is the final installment of my four-part Fantasy Baseball Preview.  In my previous post, I rated over 120 major league hitters by position, with accompanying commentary.  In this post, I will sort starting pitchers into four primary categories:  The Studs, The Near Studs, The Average Javiers, and The Cannon Fodder.  Pitchers in bold print are sleepers that I believe should be aggressively targeted.  Pitchers listed in italics are potential bust candidates.  At the end of this post, I will briefly discuss Relief Pitchers / Closers. 

I define Studs as pitchers who have already proven themselves to be true #1 staff aces that are Cy Young worthy contenders, pitchers you should consider drafting very early.  None of them are likely to be busts, unless the injury bug catches up to them.  Obviously, there aren’t that many of them.  Here they are:

1)  Tim Lincecum – Can he win a 3rd consecutive Cy Young?  Regardless, he is young and dominant.  His win total will actually go up this year.

2)  Roy Halladay – Future Hall-of-Famer could (will) absolutely dominate N.L. this season.

3)  Zach Greinke –  All that potential finally came together.  Not a fluke.

4)  Felix Hernandez – See Above, Greinke.

5)  C.C. Sabathia –  New York City pressure?  What pressure? The only sure thing in the Yanks rotation.

6)  Justin Verlander – As long as he keeps those walks under control, he’s fine.

7)  Dan Haren – I know, I know, he collapses in the 2nd half year after year.  But if finishing a season with a WHIP of 1.00 represents a collapse, I’ll take it.  And 223 K’s to 38 walks is simply amazing.

8)  Adam Wainwright – Even better in the second half last season, and still just 28-years old.  No reason to doubt he’s for real.  Only question is, will last year’s huge jump in innings pitched catch up to him?

9)  Chris Carpenter – When healthy, virtually no one is better.  But health will always remain an issue, especially for a 34-year old with a long injury history.

10)  Johan Santana –  Still has to be considered an ace until he proves otherwise.

11)  Cliff Lee – Ranking him #11 doesn’t mean he won’t win a Cy Young in Seattle this season.  In fact, he’s my choice to do just that.  Great park for him.  I’m estimating he’ll win 20 games in his contract season.

The Near Studs are pitchers who I think have a good chance to pitch well enough to garner at least some, perhaps a lot, of attention when voting for the Cy Young Award rolls around after this season ends.  These are, quite simply, the pitchers who will make or break your chances to win a Fantasy League Championship this season. All have exhibited some degree of excellence to this point, and all are young enough and (apparently) healthy enough to take a jump into the Stud category going into next season.

1)  Josh Johnson –  Has gone 22-6 since returning from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, averaging around 8 K’s per 9 innings.  Hasn’t turned 27 yet.  Could be in-line for a very big year.

2) Jon Lester –  A young, left-handed strikeout pitcher who hasn’t peaked yet.  Go get him, or you’ll kick yourself every time he tosses a dominant start.

3)  Josh Beckett –  The reason why I like Boston to win the A.L. East this season is their pitching depth which, despite the Vazquez signing in New York, is still better than the Yankees rotation.  Beckett has shown flashes of brilliance, has been used relatively conservatively over the years (he’s now almost 30), and is in his contract year.  Good year to grab him.

4)  Jake Peavy –  Pitched extremely well in a limited stint in Chicago at the end of last year, but he has an injury history, will now be pitching in a good hitter’s park, and will now have to cope with a DH every outing.  But even with those qualifiers, he will be a high quality pitcher.

5)  Matt Cain –  May become the best pitcher who never wins more than fifteen games, at least as long as he pitches in San Francisco.  Excellent young talent, but probably destined to always be a really good #2 pitcher.

6)  Cole Hamels –  2009 was a lost season for Hamels.  He simply threw too many hittable pitches for a guy with his stuff.  If his head is on straight this season, he will provide a nice counterpoint to his new staff-mate, Roy Halladay.  Still just 26-years old,too talented to be just an average pitcher.

7)  Tommy Hanson – Posted a 2.89 ERA in his first go-round in the N.L.  Strikes out nearly a batter per inning.  Composed, but not over-c0nfident.  Enjoy watching him grow into a true ace in the next couple of seasons.

8)  Clayton Kershaw –  Still very young (22) but has dominant stuff.  Very nice pitcher’s park, too.  Only downside, throws too many pitches to ever get to 7th or 8th inning.  If he learns to be more efficient, look out.

9)  Ricky Nolasco –  People will look at his 5.06 ERA from a year ago, and walk away.  That’s good news for the rest of us.  Cut about a run and a half from that ERA this season (which he will) and you have a 27-year old pitcher who K’s a batter an inning, has a good WHIP, and is about to bust out.

10)  Yovani Gallardo –  This 24-year old was used carefully by the Brewers last season, but still K’d 204 batters in just 185 innings.  Walks a few too many, but the league hit just .219 against him.  Could become a Stud as early as this season.

11)  Matt Garza –  Similar to Ricky Nolasco in that people will look at his won-lost record from a year ago and think he is a back-0f-the-rotation starter.  He’s much better than that.  League hit only .233 against him in ’09.  Could finish in top ten in Cy Young voting this season.

12)  Ubaldo Jimenez –  Although he calls Coors Field home, his fastball is so dominant, it really doesn’t matter where he pitches.  At age 26 posted a 1.23 WHIP, a .229 batting average against, and 198 K’s.  He’s a good one.

The Average Javiers are quite a mixed bag, and, of course, there are a lot of them.  Being an Average Javier doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a pitcher of relatively  low value.  In fact, a few pitchers in this category, like Javier Vazquez himself (for whom this category is named) will provide a reasonable amount of value per draft position.

In general, these are pitchers you will need to draft to round out your rotation who are either improving or are declining, but who either aren’t a complete waste of roster space, or haven’t yet proven themselves to be rated consistently higher than this category allows.  A few may improve over the course of the season to be rated as Near Studs, or perhaps even as Studs, going into next season.  But they still have a lot to prove.

1) Javier Vazquez  –  So let’s start with Javier himself.  I wrote an entire blog post about Javier entitled “A Tale of Two Pitchers.”  Javier enjoyed his finest season last year, at age 33, pitching for the Braves.  In another season, with a bit less competition, he might have won himself a Cy Young award.  So why rate him as an Average Himself?  Because although he has always had excellent control and a nice strikeout rate, his win totals and even, in several years, his ERA, seldom quite seem to match his peripheral numbers.  In other words, outside of a couple of seasons, he has never been much more, when all is said and done, than an average pitcher.  This has been especially true when he has pitched in the A.L., as he will again this season.  So draft him as a #3, and you will probably be content with his final numbers.

2)  Aroldis Chapman –  The Reds signed this Cuban defector to a six-year deal in January.  His birth-date is either 2/28/88, or 9/11/87, depending on which web-site you choose to believe.  But for all we know, he was born on 5/29/81, so he is either very young, or already over-the-hill.  He allegedly hit 102 MPH on the Radar Gun.  And he can perform open-heart surgery with nothing but a spoon.  Or something.  Anyway, know one has any idea what the Reds are going to get for their money, least of all, the Reds.  But it should be fun watching.  He may be an Ace, a Near Ace, Just Another Javier, or Cannon Fodder.  So I will allow him to settle into category #3, for now.

3) Scott Baker –  Here’s a guy we know much more about.  Baker is 28-years old, made 33 starts last year, and tossed 200 innings for the Twins.  His ERA was 4.37, which may not seem all that impressive until you remember that it was well over 7.00 at the end of May.  Which means, of course, he pitched excellent baseball over most of the final four months of last season.  Oh, yeah, and his WHIP was a very nice 1.19.  And now he will pitch his home games in what will probably be a park friendlier to pitchers.  There’s a lot to like here, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on calling him a Near Ace just yet.

4)  Roy Oswalt –  It saddens me to rate Oswalt in this category, because I think he had a chance to be a Hall-of-Famer.  But a declining strikeout rate, pitching for a bad team, and last year’s poor performance lead me to believe that, at age 32, his best days are behind him.

5)  A.J. Burnett –  Guess which three pitchers have the most second-half strikeouts over the past four years:  Sabathia, Javier Vazquez, and A.J. Burnett, all now pitching for the Yanks.  This was a very astute move by Brian Cashman to stack his rotation with guys who can get K’s during crunch time.  It also reflects his understanding that his Yanks team is usually below average defensively, something strike0ut pitchers don’t have to worry about.

But enough of Brian Cashman.  How about A.J. Burnett?  Well, Burnett, like Vazquez, will once again put up some nice strike0ut numbers, but unlike Vazquez, he will walk too many batters (97 last season) have a higher WHIP, and quite possibly get injured, to boot.  Burnett has occasional flashes of brilliance, but there is generally less than meets the eye here.  At age 33, he is good, but not great, and we have already seen his best.

6)  John Lackey –  If healthy (he has started each of the past two seasons on the D.L.), Lackey is a very solid #3 starter.  Now 31-years old, he has a significant amount of wear-and-tear on his right arm, but pitching for the Red Sox should continue to allow him to be a successful pitcher.  Expect 14-15 wins, about 190-200 innings pitched, and an ERA around 3.75.

7)  Ted Lilly –  Has been underrated for a few years now.  But at age 34, and coming off of shoulder surgery a few months ago, he is far from a sure thing.  Still, last season he demonstrated the best control of his career and recorded a very nice WHIP of 1.06.  Watch him carefully in Spring Training, and stay on top of the medical reports.

8)  Brett Anderson –  Unlike Lilly and Lackey, Anderson in very young (22).  His second half last season, during his rookie campaign, was very impressive.  But he is bound to go through some growing pains, still has a lot to learn, and pitches on a team that will give him little run support.  Also, he is not a huge strikeout pitcher.  Temper your enthusiasm with caution here.

9) Edwin Jackson –  I don’t enjoy writing this because I like this young pitcher, but I think he will be a bust this season.  He was over-worked in Detroit, and his second half numbers declined significantly compared to the first-half.  Now he will pitch in Arizona, one of the best hitter’s parks in the N.L.  Let someone else take the chance.

10)  Max Scherzer –  The pitcher Detroit received from Arizona in a swap of two young arms.  Scherzer, unlike Jackson, could enjoy his best season yet.  Even though he now has to face a DH instead of a pitcher, his high strikeout rate and relatively weak competition in the A.L. Central should allow him to enjoy a pretty successful season, if he improves his command of the strike zone.

11)  Chad Billingsley – By now, I should have been able to rate Billingsley as a Near Ace, but Manager Torre decided to conduct an experiment in human anatomy by allowing Billingsley to throw more pitches than anyone else in the known universe in the first half of last season.  After that, this young man’s arm was toast; you could see him physically laboring with every pitch through the late summer.  Maybe he’ll bounce back.  If he does, he’ll move up a notch on this rating scale.

12)  Wandy Rodriguez –  Guess how old he is?  Did you say somewhere in the 27-29 range.  Nope, he’s already 31-years old.  One fantasy baseball magazine claims the best is yet to come.  Nope, he’s as good as he’s ever going to get, and, on a bad Astros team, he might not be quite as good this coming season, considering he enjoyed almost all of his success at home last year.  A good pitcher, but not a blossoming Near Ace.

13)  Ben Sheets –  If truly healthy, which is what the A’s are banking on (at least until the All-Star break) he is actually a Near Ace, perhaps even an Ace.  But he didn’t throw a single pitch in anger (I love that phrase) last season, and, pitching for the A’s, he has his work cut out for him if he is to enjoy a successful season.  Take a late-round flier on him, and it could pay off.

14)  Kevin Millwood –  If nothing else, extremely durable.  Now in Baltimore, he enjoyed a fairly successful season last year with a 3.67 ERA in just under 200 innings while pitching his home games in a great hitter’s park.  But Millwood is now 35 and will be pitching in the toughest division in baseball, the A.L. East.  His K rate dipped to a career low last year.  Next year, he will rate as Cannon Fodder.  Steer clear.

15)  Francisco Liriano –  Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

16)  Scott Kazmir –  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, because he may already be washed up at the age of 26 (!)  In a curious way, Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach who allegedly convinced the Mets to trade Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, may have been right about Kazmir.  He didn’t think this guy’s arm would hold up for long, and it hasn’t.  That’s not to say that the Mets received any value in return, but at least Kazmir hasn’t won a Cy Young.

17)  The White Sox Pitching Staff (minus Peavey) – Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd are the Wonder Bread of the American League.  They all pitch to contact, they all keep their walk totals under control, they are not big-time strikeout pitchers, and none of them will ever win a Cy Young award.  Buehrle is the de facto ace, despite his 105 strikeouts last season, but Danks may have the most upward potential, a relative term, given his staff competition.

20)  Jorge De La Rosa –  Not a kid at 28-years old, but I want him on my team.  He averaged over a strike0ut per inning, and he has pitched very well in the second half each of the past two seasons.  If he starts out well this season, he could have a very nice year, and may end up as a Near Ace.

21)  Carlos Zambrano –  Although he is still just 28-years old, he has logged a huge workload on his right arm over the past several seasons.  Durability is now his primary issue.  If he can make 32 starts, he is still a quality pitcher, although he still walks too many batters.

22)  Brandon Webb – Up until Spring Training of last season, he was the most durable pitcher in baseball.  So, naturally, his arm breaks down.  Now, only time will tell what he is still capable of doing on the pitcher’s mound.

23)  Matt Latos –  I like this kid.  He can strike batters out, and he will pitch his home games in the best pitcher’s park in baseball.  Should produce nice value in about 20 starts this season.  Just don’t expect many wins.

24)  Joe Blanton –  Just signed a nice (for him) contract with the Phillies.  A dependable #3 starter with no upside.

25)  Randy Wolf – Ended up being the Dodgers ace last season, and now calls Milwaukee home.  At age 33, could be a bust for the Brew-Crew this year.  Miller Park will not be nearly as forgiving as Chavez Ravine was to his fly-balls.  No chance of matching last year’s 1.10 WHIP, or his .227 Batting Average Against.

26)  Ervin Santana – Was a Near Ace going into last season, but now is a borderline Average Javier.  Unimpressive strikeout rate following elbow surgery does not bode well for his future.  Still just 27, however, and pitched pretty well in 2nd half of last season.  Watch him in Spring Training.

27)  James Shields –  A once promising young pitcher, he is now nearly in Cannon Fodder territory due to a declining strikeout rate.  Look, you just aren’t going to finesse the A.L. East.  Three straight seasons of 215+ innings may have taken its toll.

28)  Jair Jurrjens –  Where do the Braves find these guys?  This 24-year old had an outstanding 2.60 ERA last season in only his second full year.  Not much of a strikeout pitcher, Jurrjens will have to continue having some luck with balls-in-play, and will need to continue to limit his walks to be successful.  Look for a little regression, but he won’t be a bust.

29)  Scott Feldman –  Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

30)  Dice-K – Pitched only 59 innings last season, and looked terrible while doing so.  But, at age 29, he has enjoyed significant success in his brief Major League career, and pitching for the Sox, if he is fully healthy, he should be at least a league-average pitcher, capable of winning 14-15 games.

31)  Rick Porcello – So young (21) should really still be pitching in Triple A, not because he isn’t talented but because the Tigers may do to him what they did to an also very young Jeremy Bonderman.  Porcello achieved surprising success last year, but a very low strikeout rate doesn’t bode well for him a second time around the league.  If you draft him based on last year’s 14-9 record, you will probably end up disappointed.

32)  Andy Pettitte – Is now a league-average pitcher, except in the play-offs, of course.  Now 38-years old, this (say it with me) crafty lefty should still win 12-14 games.

33)  Bronson Arroyo –  Has somehow managed to win 15 games each of the past two years, despite perfectly ordinary stuff.  His ERA after the All-Star break last year was 2.24, which is, of course, very strange.  His low K totals should be a red flag for prospective owners.

Cannon Fodder: Here they are folks.  Draft at your own extreme risk, or better yet, don’t draft them at all.

1)  Joel Pineiro –  No, it won’t happen again this season.  Just forget it.

2)  Jon Garland – Innings eater, nothing else.

3)  Derek Lowe – Just another aging veteran

4)  Mike Pelfrey –  Hey Mets fans.  No, he doesn’t have potential, unless you mean potential to get shelled.

5)  Gil Meche – Had a bit of a decent run back in April.

6)  Kevin Correia –  Who?

7)  Kyle Lohse – Nothing to see; keep moving.

8)  Brad Penny – Should be good for about eight wins.

9)  Glen Perkins – Gave up 120 hits in just 96 innings.

10)  Clayton Richard – Terrible Walks / Strikeouts ratio.  Home park may mask how bad he is.

11)  Ian Snell – Looked promising a couple of years ago, but has been dreadful past two seasons.

12)  Andy Sonnanstine –  Batters hit .311 against him.

13)  Chien-Ming Wang –  Lucky to have won 19 games in ’07.  At age 30, he is probably all but finished.  All peripheral numbers are poor.

14)  Jeff Suppan –  Yup, he’s still around.  League hit .309 against him in ’09.

15)  Brian Moehler –  Has a chance to lose 18 games if he gets enough starts.

16)  Jeff Niemann – Maybe not quite cannon fodder, but a low strikeout pitcher toiling in the A.L. East just isn’t going to find much long-term success.

17)  Brett Myers –  Year after year, he is a “dark-horse” or a sleeper.  Don’t bite.

18)  The Mets Pitching Staff (Other than Santana) –  They should collectively be known as the Wrecking Balls because of what they will do to the staff ERA.

19)  The Blue Jays Pitching Staff (With the possible exception of Ricky Romero) –  But even Romero posted a 1.52 WHIP.  See Above:  Mets.

20)  Ross Ohlendorf –  Has slight potential to climb up to Average Javier status, but not much.

21)  Carl Pavano – His comeback last year featured 235 hits surrendered in 199 innings (how did he last that many innings?)  ERA: 5.10.

22)  Justin Masterson –  Lots of people like him and hope he does well in Cleveland, but he is much better suited for bull-pen work.

23)  Manny Parra – 6.36 ERA last year.

24)  Micah Owings – Not a good one.

25)  John Lannan –  Has the occasional good outing, but 89 strikeouts in over 200 innings pitched is horrible (and he walked 68.)

26)  Kenshin Kawakami –  Undeserving of a place in the Braves rotation.

27)  Johnny Cueto – Has perhaps the greatest ability to move up a notch out of Cannon Fodder due to his youth (24) and his decent talent.  But has had two seasons in a row of ERA’s north of 4.00, and some arm problems.

28)  Doug Davis – A control, finesse lefty who walked 103 batters, and added 203 hits, in 203 innings.  Wow.

29)  Fausto Carmona –  The Indians may have the worst pitching in the A.L., and that’s saying a lot.

30)  Jose Contreras –  Approaching 40-years old, finished 6-13 last year.

31)  Aaron Cook – Somehow hasn’t been shelled all that often over the past few years.  Even managed 16 wins in ’08.  But hasn’t reached 100 strikeouts over the past three seasons, and that WHIP is steadily climbing.

32)  Zach Duke – The Pirates somehow end up with young pitchers who can’t strike anyone out.  Why is that?  Anyway, Duke has shown us his best stuff over the past few years, and his best stuff has resulted in 230 safe hits given up each of the past two seasons.

33)  Aaron Harang – Used to be underrated.  Not any longer.

34)  Nick Blackburn –  Gave up an astonishing 240 hits in ‘o9.

35)  Chad Gaudin –  Three straight seasons of ERA’s over 4.40.

I’m sure you will be able to think of other names I missed, but they aren’t going to make much difference one way or the other, are they?

Here’s a final list of pitchers that I didn’t list in any of the above categories because they just haven’t pitched enough for me the really get a handle on what they are capable of this year and on into the future.  A few of them may become Studs, or Near Studs, and the rest will be mid or back of the rotation kind of guys.  It might be another 3-5 years before we know for sure.  I’ll just list their names without comment:

1)  Clay Buchholz

2)  Chris Tillman

3)  Brian Matusz

4)  Trevor Cahill

5)  Wade Davis

6)  David Price

7)  Ryan Rowland-Smith

8)  Stephen Strasburg

9)  Madison Bumgarner

10)  Ricky Romero

As for Brandon Webb, we’ll just have to wait and see what he has on display this spring.  Obviously, he should be approached with extreme caution.

Finally, a word about Relief Pitchers / Closers. There are only three or four you can count on:  Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jon Papelbon, and Jon Broxton.  If you pay attention, you can get a good closer in the middle or even the later rounds.  I never draft a closer before the 8th round in my A.L. / N.L. mixed head-to-head, ten team points league.

This marks the end of my four-part series on Fantasy Baseball – 2010.  If you have any comments about my player rankings, or any of my other posts on this topic, please let me know. 

Future Posts: Under the Radar:  Part 3.

Then a commentary on Bud Selig’s new statue to himself.

After that, we shall see.  Thanks again for reading.

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