Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Common Man's 2011 Predictions

The Common Man revealed his picks in last night's podcast with Bill and Larry Granillo, but for those of you who are too lazy to patiently listen to the whole thing, here's TCM's predictions in written form:

Click to embiggen.

These picks were made about a month ago, but TCM won't change them.  If he made them today, he'd probably change the following things:

  1. The Rockies would move down.  The more he thinks about that team, the less potential TCM sees. 
  2. Correspondingly, the Giants and Padres would move up, and based on the Giants decision to play Brandon Belt, TCM would probably put them as division winners.
  3. The Brewers would finish behind the Cubs or the Reds for the NL Central, as the Greinke injury has the potential to linger.
  4. The Phillies would end up finishing behind the Braves, but will still win the Wild Card.

And since TCM has little to nothing in the way of scruples, he's going to blatantly rip off Bill's idea and give you 11 random predictions of his own.  To his credit, TCM is coming up with 11 different predictions than Bill has, so we'll see who has the most right at the end of the season:

Random 2011 Predictions

We talked rather extensively last night about our predictions for the 2011 season, in terms of final standings, postseason awards, that sort of thing. Something I did last year, though (and it actually came out rather well), was rattle off a bunch of random things (eleven of them) I thought would happen and put them in a post to check back on in six months or so. So here are my 11 random things for '11:

1. John Lackey will have a better season than Clay Buchholz.
2. This will be the year Justin Upton breaks out -- 35 homers, 25 steals, something like 6.5 WAR.
3. Joe Mauer will hit more than 16 home runs, but fewer than 23.
4. The Yankees will have traded for or otherwise acquired another veteran starting pitcher by June 10.
5. Joba Chamberlain will post a sub-3.00 ERA.
6. Adrian Beltre will have a better season than Alex Rodriguez.
7. As in 2010, one pitcher from each league will win 20 games or more. This time, both will win the Cy Young Award.
8. Adam Dunn will fall short of the 50 homers some are predicting, but will hit 41 or more for the first time since 2004, leading the AL.
9. The following players will no longer be regular starters for their contending teams by the end of this season: Brewers shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt; Twins shortstop Alexi Casilla and/or third baseman Danny Valencia;  Yankees catcher Russell Martin; Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia; and (gulp) Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
10. Max Scherzer will lead the majors in strikeouts.
11. Hate to say it (even though he's on both of my fantasy teams), but: Derek Jeter will rebound nicely from his worst career season, batting over .290 with more than 15 home runs and a WAR close to 4.

Back to enjoying opening day...

Epic Season Preview Podcast

By The Common Man
Good news for those of you wanting even more baseball today, or who can't stand listening to Michael Kay, history's greatest monster.  Last night, The Common Man, Bill and Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospecuts put on an epic podcast that lasted almost two hours breaking down each division race, making predictions, and generally holding the feet of the Twins and Angels to the fire.  Also, who fails to make the playoffs in the AL East, the Red Sox, Yankees, or Rays?  Can the Phillies and Brewers overcome their injury problems?  And The Common Man passionately defends the San Diego Padres somewhere in the 2nd hour.  Give a listen after the jump:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Ryan Madson a Bad Closer?

By Bill

Yesterday, it was made official that Brad Lidge had a rotator cuff injury that would keep him out for some time -- maybe a few weeks, maybe half the season, maybe more -- thus saving the Phillies from having to appoint one of the worst pitchers on the team to (arguably) the most important spot in the bullpen. Instead, veteran Jose Contreras, age 39 going on 60, takes over in the closer spot, with arguably the best reliever in the National League, Ryan Madson, remaining in his customary 8th-inning role.

The truth is, the decision is unlikely to make a difference. Contreras established himself as a fine reliever last season, and even if that was a fluke or he suddenly starts acting his age, the Phillies figure to have a quick trigger and swap Madson in at the first sign of a real struggle. Even more to the point, though, it doesn't really matter who's pitching the eighth and who's pitching the ninth; they're of pretty similar importance, and really, since the silly made-up "rules" applied to closers don't apply to set-up guys, you might argue this is better for the Phillies just because Madson's not being the closer will get him into the game more often and for more total innings.

But that doesn't mean that the decisionmaking makes any sense. The prevailing opinion among fans and the media -- and as far as I can tell, the Phillies' manager, pitching coach and front office have bought into it, too -- is that Madson, while he's great in the 8th inning, really struggles when you get into the 9th and into save situations, that he doesn't have the mental make-up to be a closer. And this doesn't come from anything Madson has said -- he's stated that he wants an opportunity to close -- just, apparently, from perceptions of his performance. He "has pressed when he has closed." But is there anything to that, really?

Seven Games in Three Days (kind of)

As some of you may have ascertained, The Common Man was in Arizona over a four-day weekend to take in the tail end of Spring Training. What follows are a few of the notes and remembrances from the trip:

Mike Sweeney and son after dropping
off the Royals' lineup.
 On Friday night, The Common Man hit up Royals camp in Surprise for their game with the Giants. The stadium the team shares with the Rangers is nice and spacious, clean and friendly. The Baseball Project was playing in front, imploring TCM not to be “another foul-ball fatality,” which was reassuring. Inside, the Royals honored Mike Sweeney on the day he retired by allowing him and his son to deliver the starting lineup to the plate, and to hang in the dugout. Sadly, something like 60% of the fans were there to watch the Giants, and he didn’t get nearly the ovation he deserved. Maybe he’ll get a proper day in KC this year.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diamond Trading

By The Common Man

Ripped from the notebook of Bill Smith
 The Common Man has argued in the past that he believes the Twins are an inherently irrational organization.   Part of that is their unfortunate tendency to start down a path (trade Santana, trade Hardy, carry Butera, start Punto) and build organizational momentum around this notion, to the point where they can't stop themselves, even if they should realize their decision is a bad one. They become invested in ideas or courses of action until, no matter what, they accomplish their goal. It’s the baseball equivalent of putting the team into a steep nose-dive and being unable to pull up at the last minute. Or deciding you want a certain car, and not caring that you’re paying 20% over blue-book value. 

Once again, this seems to be the case with the Twins and the Scott Diamond-Billy Bullock trade. According to Aaron Gleeman, “there are reports about the Twins wanting Diamond so much that they nearly traded up in the Rule 5 draft to make sure they got him and reports about how they've since grown to like him even more this spring.“ the Twins had fallen in love with Diamond’s grounder-inducing/homer-killing tendencies, and decided that, come hell or high water, he was going to be a Twin. Price didn’t matter. There simply was no way the Twins were going to allow Diamond to go back to the Braves; they had simply invested too much time and energy into him. It's enough to make TCM want to start a poker game just to get Bill Smith involved.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rangers X Factor: C.J. Wilson

By Bill

Not for lack of trying, but the Rangers now find themselves trying to defend a league championship with a rotation that finds at the top a guy just one year removed from being a full-time relief pitcher, and just two seasons removed from an absolutely disastrous year as the team's full-time closer. That makes C.J. Wilson a pretty obvious choice for the Rangers' "X Factor" for 2011.

Wilson responded brilliantly to his conversion back to a starter (about three-quarters of his minor league appearances were starts), especially by traditional methods, going 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 204 innings across 33 starts. But there are reasons to question whether that kind of performance can be repeated.

Wilson's strikeout rate dropped precipitously, as you might guess -- falling from 10.26 Ks per 9 to 7.5 as his innings per appearance jumped from almost exactly 1 to over 6 -- but you might expect at least a slight increase in control to go along with that, right? That is, if you're not striking out as many because you can't afford to simply throw every pitch as hard as you can (and his average fastball dropped by almost 3 miles per hour from 2009 to 2010), you'd think you'd have more of a say in where those pitches go, and give up fewer walks. But that didn't happen for Wilson; his walk rate actually climbed a bit, from 3.91 in '09 to 4.10 in '10. The combination resulted in the sixth-worst K/BB rate (1.83) of any qualifying pitcher in the AL, well below the league average for starters of 2.17.

Wilson was successful nonetheless, posting a 3.56 FIP that isn't terribly out of line with his ERA, but did it by limiting home runs, permitting only ten of them in his 204 innings. His xFIP of 4.20 (higher than the 2010 AL average ERA of 4.14, in this new pitcher-happy world) suggested he was probably getting pretty lucky on that front, though, and that several more of the fly balls he permitted should have left the yard. So if he's going to actually take his place as the ace of a contending team, one would think that at least one of these things should have to improve: he starts striking out more, starts walking less, and/or starts getting more ground balls.

I'm rooting for Wilson; he's a great Twitterer, and he's proving my "starter >> reliever" credo. And frankly, the Rangers, with the underappreciated Colby Lewis, the promising Derek Holland and easily the best offense in the division, will probably be at least competitive whether Wilson comes in at 3.00 or 4;50. But a repeat performance from Wilson would sure help, and it seems likely that if he's going to repeat his 2010, something's going to have to change.

Angels X Factor: Kendrys Morales

By Bill

This is another in the series of "X Factor" posts we're doing in conjunction with's spring previews, the AL versions of which will go up sometime on Tuesday.

For a pretty old team, and one whose recent history has been nothing if not predictable, the Angels seem to have a whole lot up in the air right now. Dan Haren is coming off his worst year by ERA since 2006 (though he was brilliant upon making the move to the Angels); Ervin Santana seems to alternate decent years with awful ones, and is coming off one of those decent ones; the bullpen is just kind of a mess. But the one question mark that seems bigger than all the others right now is the status of the team's first baseman and best hitter, Kendrys (formerly known as Kendry) Morales.

While never exactly a premiere prospect, Morales made top-100 lists in 2005 and 2006. He looked like something of a bust after his first three partial seasons in the majors, though, hitting just .249/.302/.408 in his first 407 plate appearances and not doing much in the minors to suggest he was a lot better than that. Then in 2009, at age 26, he took over the full-time job and hit .306/.355/.569 (139 OPS+) with 34 homers and 43 doubles -- a performance which, coupled with pretty good defense, was good for 4.0 WAR, close to an All-Star level performance (though probably not justifying his fifth-place MVP finish). He was off to a similar start last year on May 29 -- the power was down, but you might've expected that to jump back up as we entered June and July -- when he managed to fracture his left leg while celebrating a walk-off grand slam.

Morales missed the rest of last season, of course, and now will start the 2011 season on the DL. It's clearly a freak injury and didn't figure to affect his long-term potential, but now that he's still experiencing soreness ten months later, you have to wonder (or I do, as a complete novice as to all things medical) how long this will affect him, whether the soreness (in his plant leg when he bats right-handed, which is most of the time) will sap his power when he does come back, and how long it will take him to get back up into full game shape once he finally can play again.

While he's out, Mark Trumbo figures to be the guy at first base. Trumbo is 26 and, even after tying for the lead among all minor leaguers with 36 home runs in 2010, failed to make Keith Law's list of the Angels' top ten prospects and placed 8th on Kevin Goldstein's. Goldstein says his power is real, but that he offers little else. Considering he hit just .301 with a .366 OBP even in his big AAA year -- and this was in Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League, an exceptionally hitter-friendly environment -- he could be a pretty big drain on the lineup from all the outs he'll be making, despite the home runs. Minor League Splits' Minor League Equivalency (MLE) Calculator suggests that Trumbo's 2010 in Salt Lake would translate to a .244/.300/.448 line in the bigs, well below average for a first baseman (especially one that plays poor defense).

This is a team with very little offensive firepower even with a healthy Morales -- the Angels' biggest offensive strength, if they can be said to have one, is their lack of a gaping hole at any one position except catcher, where Jeff Mathis continues to exercise his threatening hold on Mike Scioscia's mortal soul -- and with Trumbo in Morales' place, it goes from "uninspiring" right to "just plain weak." The Angels figure to have trouble competing with the Rangers and A's this season anyway, but if they're going to do it, it'll take a heavy dose of a healthy Morales to get them there.

White Sox X-Factor: Gordon Beckham

By The Common Man

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.

Batting order doesn't matter all that much, but it would surely be a slight boon to the White Sox to have a resurgent Gordon Beckham hitting in front of Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. Beckham lost the #2 slot in the lineup last year thanks to a disasterous first half that saw him hit just .206/.271/.280, but much of that was due to a .246 BABIP. His second half (.316/.380/.513), fueled by a .371 BABIP, was much better before a hand contusion curtailed his playing time in September. The true Gordon Beckham lies somewhere between these two extremes, but probably closer to the second-half Beckham that we saw last year given his history and that he's still only 24.

Aside from Konerko and Dunn, the rest of the Sox lineup is very OBP-challenged, but has good power. No other player with more than 100 plate appearances had an OBP of over .342 last year. And new 3B Brent Morel is a slick-fielding 24 year old with absolutely no plate discipline. And Beckham isn't exactly a walk-machine himself. But by evening out his luck and developing his skills a little more, he can improve that OBP back into the .340-.350 range. If he can't, the Sox are going to have to win with a lot of solo homers.

The White Sox are slight favorites to win the AL Central as they are currently constructed. But they'll improve those odds significantly if they can just get Beckham on track.

Indians X-Factor: Matt LaPorta

By The Common Man

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.

It's make-or-break time for Matt LaPorta, the central piece of the CC Sabathia trade two years ago, who showed so much offensive potential in the minors (.310/.400/.548 in 111 games at AAA). Last year was an unmitigated disaster for LaPorta, however, as he hit just .221/.306/.362 in 425 PAs, while mostly playing first base. That wouldn't cut it from a shortstop, but it's untenable from a key offensive position.

The Indians aren't going anywhere in 2011, and are rightly focused on building from within. They had hoped that LaPorta was going to be an important part of that, but it's looking less and less like he's a building block, and more like he's a quadruple-A hitter, a notion that's supported by his horrible .148/.220/.370 Spring line. He's only 26 in 2011, so he may not entirely be done developing. And there's some chance that, even with more than 600 PAs under his belt, he's been the victim of some bad luck. He does have just a .260 career BABIP, which doesn't seem terribly sustainable, though some of that is due to his propensity to hit the ball in the air.

The restoration of the Cleveland Indians was already poised to be a slow process, especially since they have a lack of real boppers in the minors to begin with. LaPorta's development, or lack thereof, in 2011 will dictate not only how the rest of his career will shake out, but how the rebuilding plan will have to adjust to compensate for a zero at a premium offensive spot.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pirates X-Factor: Pedro Alvarez

By The Common Man

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.

The Pirates aren't going anywhere this year, but have a few nice hitters that look like building blocks going forward. Andrew McCutchen is a force who is quickly turning into one of the best players in the National League. Neil Walker surprised as a solid 2B in his first season at the keystone. Jose Tabata has a solid approach at the plate and is a good basestealer, who could end up adding more power in the next year or so.

But big questions surround former #2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez, who has the talent to be an impact hitter, but whose plate discipline has been nothing short of atrocious. Last year, he struck out in more than 30% of his at bats at the big league level, while walking just once for every 3.22 Ks. He simply does not make enough contact. If he had played enough to qualify for the batting title, Alvarez would have been third from the bottom in contact percentage, according to Fan Graphs, behind only noted whiffers Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard. This is mainly due to his absolute inability to reach anything out of the strike zone, where he would have trailed only Reynolds with enough playing time.

Strikeouts aren't nearly as bad as most fans think. They often are the price for better patience and power, which can make a play much more valuable. But Alvarez's skills in those two areas are still maturing. He is still young, he'll play as a 24 year old this year, and has room to grow. But whether he learns to actually control the strike zone is going to determine whether he ends up being another Adam Dunn, on which the Pirates can build their franchise back up, or Tony Batista, on whom they cannot.

Rockies X-Factor: Chris Iannetta

By The Common Man

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.

When he's not mashing, it's easy to forget why people like Chris Iannetta so much in the first place. He doesn't throw out baserunners (23% for his career) and he doesn't control balls in the dirt well (21 Wild Pitches and 5 Passed Balls in just 49 starts in 2010). But when he hits, Iannetta is the rarest of breeds, an offensively-minded catcher, who gives his teams a significant competitive advantage.

When Iannetta has struggled in the past, the Rockies have always had a fallback option. For two years, that was Yorvit Torrealba, and last year it was a resurgent Miguel Olivo. In 2011, the backup option behind the dish is Jose Morales, a catcher in the mold of Gregg Zaun, who offers a little patience and no power to speak of, who couldn't convince the Twins he was a better option than Drew Butera (aka the worst hitter in the Major Leagues) to back up Joe Mauer. There's no net for Iannetta in 2011, and he'll need to recover his stroke that saw him hit .264/.390/.505 in 2008 for the Rockies to conquer a competitive NL West.

The more The Common Man looks at Colorado, the less he sees. Troy Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are both incredible players, and Ubaldo Jimenez is a master on the mound. But their third baseman (Ian Stewart) has not developed into an offensive force, as expected. Todd Helton's back continues to sap his power (no homers this year in Spring Training). The #2 starter (Jorge de la Rosa) is signed for $30 mil over the next three years, walks 4 batters per nine innings, and has thrown more than 130 innings once (185 in 2009). Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, and Jose Lopez, all penciled in for big playing-time in 2011, are underwhelming. A resurgent Chris Iannetta will go a long way to stabilize this team in the coming dogfight for the division title.

Marlins X Factor: Javier Vazquez

By Bill

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow.

I think the Marlins are going to be better than a lot of people expect. Yes, they made some bewildering moves this offseason, one of which involved sending Dan Uggla, arguably the team's best player last season, to the division rival Braves. But they've made some improvements, too, and are still better than the Mets and Nationals. I think they'll surprise some people.

To do that, though, will require another good pitcher or two to go with Josh Johnson. And one of the reasons I like the Marlins this season is that they've got plenty of possibilities in that area: Ricky Nolasco has had great peripherals for the last three seasons, but they haven't translated to even a decent ERA since 2008; Anibal Sanchez finally put together a very solid full season last year, and could emerge as an excellent number-two starter if his mysterious ability to avoid the home run continues. The most intriguing one, though, and thus my pick for the team's "X Factor," is the one who was the best pitcher in the division two seasons ago: Javy Vazquez.

The path Vazquez's career is awfully interesting, and raises some interesting questions. It's almost certainly more complicated than the usual "guy who can't get it done on the big stage" silliness, but there also may well be a bit more to that silliness than most stat guys want to admit.

For the sabermetrically-minded fan or analyst, it's easy to look at Vazquez and note that with the Yankees in 2010, his fastball was down over two miles an hour on average (from 91.1 to 88.7, per FanGraphs), and conclude that that led to the drop of almost three strikeouts per nine innings (9.77 to 6.92) and the more than doubling of his home run rate (0.82 to 1.83), and that compensating for the loss of velocity led to a more than doubling of his walk rate (1.81 to 3.72), and that these things -- not some fear of New York or pinstripes or something -- caused him to have the worst year of his career in 2010. And you might well be right.

But consider: 2004, his one other year with the Yankees and now the second-worst of his career, paints a surprisingly similar picture. Compared to his 2003 with the Expos, Javy's fastball dropped in average velocity by almost two miles per hour (91.8 to 90.1), his strikeouts dropped by more than two and a half per nine (9.40 to 6.82), with smaller but still significant jumps in his walk and home run rates (2.22 to 2.73 walks per nine and 1.09 to 1.50 homers per nine). The following year he was with the Diamondbacks, and those rate stats didn't quite snap back to their excellent 2003 levels, but each improved on his dreadful 2004, with significant improvements in his walk and strikeout rates.

On one hand, Vazquez's falloff was more pronounced this time than it was in his last tour with the Yankees, and he's pushing 35 now, so we might expect that this one's more likely to be permanent. On the other, though, 2009 was the best year of his career, so maybe the falloff was bigger because the numbers he was faling off from overstate his true talent. 2009 has never been who Vazquez is, but this analysis certainly makes a bounce back to his still-excellent 2005-2008 levels easier to imagine.

So is Javy really just allergic to pinstripes? I still kind of doubt it, but the parallels to 2004 make it seem more plausible than you might think. The Marlins are betting that he is, and that makes him the team's X Factor for 2011.

Diamondbacks X Factor: Justin Upton

By Bill

We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow.

"X Factor" isn't really a term I'm comfortable using, and especially not for a team whose fate, like the Diamondbacks', appears to be more or less decided. Last year's Padres showed that just about anything can happen in the NL West, but Arizona is a team that looks very likely to lose 90 or more games, and no one "factor" is going to suddenly turn this mess into a contender. 

That said, the most interesting and volatile piece of the 2011 Diamondbacks is definitely Justin Upton, the still just twenty-three year old former #1 overall pick (who I will always think of as "the Justin Upton" thanks to a now-completely-forgotten-by-everyone-else line from a Keith Law chat two years ago) entering his fourth year as the team's starting right fielder.

I think a lot of people are forgetting about Upton's talent and tremendous potential nowadays. Which you might say is just what always happens: he was the biggest prospect in the game a few years ago, but he's had a couple underwhelming seasons, and now there's Jason Heyward -- whose skills profile as kind of a left-handed, better Upton, at the same position -- and Upton just kind of becomes an afterthought.

The thing that makes it different, though, is that Upton has already had a pretty awesome season, and it was just two seasons ago. The raw numbers are inflated a bit by the park he plays in, but it seems silly to get too particular about a 21 year old who hits .300/.366/.532 with 26 homers and 20 steals in 25 chances. You'd have to figure that someone who did that was destined to be a superstar.

Then, of course, 2010 was a big step back in almost any way. Oddly, his batting average on balls in play stayed almost absurdly high--dropping from .360 to .354--but his power went way down while his strikeouts (which were already something of a problem) went up. He was still a very productive player overall, but .273/.356/.442 with 17 homers is harder to get excited about, especially in that park.

But it's still just one year, he was still just 22, and he still has worlds of talent. The most interesting thing about the D-Backs' season, to me, will be seeing what Upton does. Does he take a huge step forward and continue along the Griffey-esque kind of career path it looked like he might be on a year ago? Does he duplicate his 2009 and merely recapture his star status? Or is who he was in 2010 (and 2008) -- a productive and useful but non-special and ultimately pretty uninteresting corner outfielder -- just who he's going to be now?

Well, we won't know who he is six months from now, but we'll very likely know a lot more then than we do now, and that's your D-Backs' X Factor for 2011.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off Final Results

By The Common Man

Oh wow, The Common Man almost left town without declaring a winner in the Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off. Sorry about that.  But the masses are clammoring, and it's time to reveal a winner. 

It has been an amazing ride that's seen the sad mustaches of Ron Davis and Nick Punto, the mighty beard of Jeff Reardon, the precise goatee of Johan Santana, and the smoothness of Misters Brian Harper and Shane Mack

And now we're here.  And the results of the three-way face off between Ken Landreaux, Carl Pavano, and Mike Marshall are:

Landreaux 39.1%
Pavano 21.7%
Marshall 39.1%

That's right, there is a tie between teammates, former centerfielder Ken Landreaux and closer Mike Marhall.

Frankly, The Common Man is inclined to leave it that way.  It seems right.  Those are some awesome whiskers.  Congratulations to them both.  Would that all Minnesota Twins aspire to your example.

What Keeps Curtis Granderson Up At Night?

By The Common Man

Life be hard no matter who you are. There are important life-decisions with wide-reaching consequnces that we wrestle with all the time.  Sometimes late into the night.  Curtis Granderson is no different:

(h/t to Baseball Think Factory)

Dude, just pick "Eye of the Tiger" and be done with it. You're not going to do any better.

Or, better yet, try this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MC Hammer, Baseball Pioneer? That Can't Be Right.

By The Common Man
The Common Man came across this story while he was researching Mitchell Page last week.

Most of you (well, not Jack Moore or Nick Nelson) remember the heyday of MC Hammer. While not the first mainstream rapper with crossover appeal into pop, he was the most successful. And along with his success, we learned important things about his life. Born Stanley Burrell in Oakland, Hammer got his first job when Oakland A’s owner Charlie O. Finley saw him dancing for money outside the stadium. Finley hired him as a batboy and to entertain the players, and nicknamed him “Hammer” because he supposedly resembled Hank Aaron.

That’s usually where the behind-the-music story of Hammer’s youth ends, and articles continue on to talk about Hammer’s rise in the music industry and subsequent financial difficulties. But the truth is actually more interesting.

Finley was widely famous for, among other things, his hands-on approach to running his baseball team. He did it on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew in the front office. Charlie Finley was an incredibly frugal man who did not accept wasted effort or resources. Scott Ostler, writing for the Los Angeles Times in August of 1980 ("A's An Odd Setup," August 4), described it:
“There will be no final judgment here as to whether the A’s are the worst-run organization in sports. Ther’s not much dougt, however, that they are the least run. With the A’s, you don’t get a whole lot of bureaucracy. The front office…consists of a vice president, a controller, a farm director, a ticket manager, a director of promotions and group sales, and a public relations director. Ther is one secretary and two switchboard women, who also do secretarial work. That’s nine people, and the A’s have worked with less. Last year there was no full-time PR man or promotions man.”
This kind of austerity made Finley wealthy, but it also made him
incredibly unpopular with his players and the fans of Oakland.
Hammer is on the left.

It also meant that Finley was always on the lookout for cheap talent to help out. Young people just out of school would call him out of the blue and ask for a job, and Finley often hired them. One of his favorites was the young Hammer, who was 10 years old when Finley first saw him around 1972. Stanley Burrell worked a as a batboy for six years for the A’s, before Finley began adding to his duties. According to Ostler,
“After Burrell turned 16, Finley made him a vice president [actually, Executive Vice President], though his duties were somewhat nebulous. There were rumors that he spied on the players, though this was probably more paranoia than truth. Hammer did phone Finley in Chicago every night from the stadium to broadcast a play-by-play description of the last four or five innings. One night Hammer was allowed to broadcast an inning of a game from Detroit over the A’s regular radio staion, on orders from Finley. The station manager was not happy.”
According to Hammer, on an HBO Documentary about sports in Oakland in the 1970s, he also earned the nickname “Pipeline” because everything he heard got related straight to Finley.  Burrell left his job with the A's (presumably because he was not legit enough, and therefore had to quit) after he graduated from high school, and eventually joined the Navy for three years.  He didn't exactly leave a mark on the game.  But still, thus did MC Hammer become one of the first African-Americans to be an executive of a Major League Baseball team.

Monday, March 21, 2011


By The Common Man

Something's in the air, feelin' uptight.  It's the right mood for a blog fight!

You might have noticed earlier today that Rob Neyer suffered a ding to his apparently questionable reputation. Rob wrote about the new anti-stats tome that’s made its way around the internet in the last couple weeks, saying,

“Is it worth pointing out that these same Red Sox have built their organizational philosophy around the Bill James-Moneyball myths? That without sabermetrics the Red Sox wouldn't have won one World Series, let alone two? That every respectable sabermetrician (and most of the other ones, too) is highly aware of the Pigeon in the Outfield Factor?

Anyway, I think I ordered this book months ago. Should be a hoot.”
Scrappy, unaffiliated blogger Murray Chass responded to Rob, and pointed out the error of his ways,
“One blog, by Rob Neyer, criticizes the book based not on the book itself but on a news release about the book. When Neyer was at, he seemed to be building a respectable reputation, but he has moved to a new Web site,, and I guess that site’s standards are lower than ESPN’s because I doubt that his blog on the news release would have been posted on the ESPN Web site.”
Ouch. Et tu, Mur-ray? His point about Rob Neyer's irresponsibility since he left is well stated. Those bloggers have absolutely no standards at all!

It’s true, Rob probably should have read the whole book (which he’s promised to buy and read and comment on) rather than simply trusting the authors’ and publisher’s press release about the book. After all, those press releases have a history of distorting a book’s message and of taking its arguments out of context. They are clearly biased, and often seek to ruin the reputations of the writers who they are promoting with misinformation.  Clearly, Rob cannot simply trust the authors to tell him what their book is about and react to that description.

Still, The Common Man remains firmly convinced that Rob would have read the book had he simply been able to get ahold of it in time. Alas, TCM understands that Rob was out of the country on vacation with no access to information, such as telephone numbers or e-mail addresses, for people who might have known. So he had no way to verify, as he normally would, what the book was even about, given that he was unable to trust the authors’ description of the book in question.

Here, however, Rob has an excuse. After all, he was not trained in journalistic ethics like the excellent Murray Chass, who would never be so foolish and unethical as to go off half-cocked about some topic he doesn’t fully understand, or without all the most accurate information well in hand! Stupid bloggers.

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: The Final Three-Way Battle Royale!

By The Common Man

Well, this is it. We’ve reached the end of the line. And just two men remain standing. But they’re in for a surprise in the finals. But first, the results of the Semi-Final voting:

Face-Off #1
#1 Ken Landreaux vs. #1 Gary Gaetti
Landreaux 75.5%
Gaetti 24.5%
It’s hard to blame the G-Man here. Ken Landreaux’s mustache and side-burns combo is epic.

Face-Off #2
#5 Rick Aguilera vs. #2 Carl Pavano
Aguilera 32.1%
Pavano 67.9%
Aggy’s Cinderella run ends when it runs into the Pav-stache. Bow down to the Pav-stache.

So, the finals are set between Ken Landreaux and Carl Pavano…or are they? Wait, that’s Mike Marshall’s music! Mike Marshall is in the building and headed for the ring! And he’s got a folding chair of awesomeness. It’s perhaps unfair that Mike Marshall is getting a bye in the first few rounds here, but The Common Man was only alerted to his awesomeness by an intrepid commenter after the first round had ended. The only way to insert him was to include Marshall in the finals, which TCM is pretty sure he would have made on his own anyway. So, without further ado, we have a three-way battle royale for the title! The competitors are:

Ken Landreaux

Landreaux lasted just two seasons with the Twins, but they were memorable. He was acquired as part of the deal for Rod Carew. Playing CF (not particularly well, according to, Landreaux posted a 111 OPS+ in 1979 and had a 31-game hitting streak in 1980 that is still the Twins’ record. During the streak, he hit .392/.445/.496 with 49 hits, but only 10 of those were for extra-bases. His BABIP was .416 during the streak. But from May 31 on, he hit .238/.291/.384 to drop his overall OPS+ down to 99. Behold, the power of random luck. The Twins used the hype from his hitting steak to deal Landreaux to the Dodgers for three prospects, including Mickey Hatcher. Sadly, Landreaux mustache went with him.

Carl Pavano

Pavano was acquired by the Twins in August of 2009 for a PTBNL, and has turned in very solid performances since. He’s won 22 games in just 44 starts and has proven to be a workhorse. The Twins re-signed him this off-season for the next two years. His biggest contribution to the team, the Pav-Stache, has inspired imitators around the Twins clubhouse who are looking to capitalize off the mojo of the mustache. It’s a true team leader.

Mike Marshall

The rubber-armed Mike Marshall signed as a free agent with the Twins in May of 1978, after it looked like he was done in 1977. Over the next two years, he pitched 241.2 innings out of the bullpen, winning 20 games, saving 53, and posting a 2.57 ERA. Marshall was nothing short of amazing, but his 1981 was a bust and the Twins let him and his epic mustache go, which was basically the end of the line for the good doctor.

So that’s it, vote in the final poll below. And we’ll announce the winner on Wednesday!

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What the End of the Selig Era Looks Like

By The Common Man

(Note: This column was originally slated to run on ESPN's SweetSpot blog, but was one of two stories by The Common Man that was "spiked" for being "totally inappropriate."  The other column is here.)

I don’t like Bud Selig. You don’t like Bud Selig. None of us really likes Bud Selig. And yet, despite several PR nightmares, such as the strike in 1994, the All Star Game tie in 2002, and the steroid scandal in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as his epoch as the Commissioner of Baseball winders down, baseball seems to be in a relatively good place. Revenues are up. Attendance is relatively strong. There is labor peace. Baseball has its own TV network. The owners are pretty organized. But the public perception of Bud Selig has continued to lag. The reasons for this are easy to see. He’s still acts like a bit of a boob. He’s still seen as a little clueless. He follows the tradition of creatively named commissioners (Happy, Bowie, Ford, Kenesaw, Fay). Indeed, he’s still not terribly popular outside of Milwaukee, where he will always pretty much be a patron saint.

And rightfully so. When baseball has struggled, so has the commissioner. He’s been a reflection of baseball’s failings and strengths over the last 20 years. He’s struggled to explain why baseball didn’t respond sooner to steroids. He’s looked clueless as the spectacle of the All Star game turned into a debacle. When baseball’s excesses have taken the stage, Bud’s proven ill-equipped to put out public firestorms, and often exacerbated the problem by undermining the game itself (such as by saying that “small market” teams couldn’t compete). Someone with more P.R. sense might have managed to make lemonade out of baseball’s lemons (or at least a decent G&T), but Bud’s only managed to pour juice into baseball’s wounds. He’s tried so hard to be the commissioner that fans need and want, but he’s ultimately the commissioner baseball deserves. One who publically seems incompetent while privately marshaling forces and keeping the ship on course (even if it isn’t always steady).

Image via Hauls of Shame
Earlier this offseason, Bud made the ship wobble a little when he told autograph expert Ron Keurajian that “As a student of history, I know there is a great debate whether Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright really founded the game of Baseball. From all the historians which I have spoken with, I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball.’” And now, according to Gordon Edes, he’s apparently decided he needs a committee to investigate this myth, bringing in noted historians John Thorn, Ken Burns, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, among others.

This is, of course, ridiculous. The myth of Abner Doubleday comes via another commissioner-convened committee that was charged to explore the game’s origin. The Mills Commission of 1905 used the testimonial letter of 71-year old Abner Graves (a man who soon after sending it murdered his wife and was committed to a mental asylum) to declare that Doubleday invented the game in 1839 on the shores of Lake Otsego near Cooperstown, New York (despite the fact that Doubleday was enrolled at West Point at the time). Frankly, you probably know most of this story if you’ve ever watched Ken Burns’ documentary. You also may have read similar versions of the story in John Thorn’s Baseball In the Garden of Eden or Harold Seymore and Dorothy Jane Mills’ Baseball: The Early Years. Or seen’s documentary on it (h/t to Craig Calcaterra).

So what gives? Why in the world would we need a committee to investigate what everyone already knows? Forming committees gives the impression of action. Bud Selig isn’t actually going to do anything. But in putting the committee together, it looks like he is. And when the group comes back with its findings,* Bud will get to stand up at a podium and announce the results. And he will get to look the part of the commissioner, even if he’s accomplished absolutely nothing. Commissioner Bud loves committees. After all, he’s had the committee to determine whether the Oakland A’s can move to San Jose meeting since March of 2009. He’s had a special committee for on-field matters (which has yet to recommend anything meaningful) and a blue-ribbon committee to recommend changes to the playoffs (which streamlined the playoff structure). But every time they meet, Bud Selig gets to stand in front of a podium and act like a commissioner.

*And really, the meeting should go something like “Anybody here think Abner Doubleday invented baseball? Put your hand down, Mr. Selig. No one else? OK, what’s for lunch?”

Bud’s time as a commissioner is winding down. He’s 76 years old. He’s supposedly set to retire after 2012 (though he’s had his contract unexpectedly renewed before). This is the time when the head of any organization starts to think about his legacy, and how he will be remembered. Bud’s looking for more opportunities to act like the commissioner we wish he were, rather than the one he’s been. So expect more of this. More grandstanding, more pronouncements, more committees. You’re going to see a lot more of Commissioner Bud as he puts his final stamp on the game that he has served (and which has served him) for so long. He can’t give up trying to be the commissioner that baseball needs, rather than the one it deserves.*

*I think what I’m saying is…Bud Selig is Batman.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Free Barry Bonds!

By The Common Man

(Note: This post was one of two originally submitted to ESPN's SweetSpot blog, but was "spiked" for being "totally inappropriate."  This post was called, "nothing more than a forum to call [Bonds] a jerk," which is the exact opposite of TCM's thesis.  The other post is available here.)

I'm so sick of this. Barry Bonds is, indeed, a pretty bad dude. He comes across as petty and childish and mysoginist, and he probably is all that and more. But it's time to move on.

Yesterday, prosecutors tried to get evidenence introduced at his perjury trial that consisted of text messages and voicemails he left for his then girlfriend. Those messages were not flattering, but nor did they mention steroids, BALCO, Greg Anderson, Victor Conte, the San Francisco Giants, baseball, or even parking illegally. They were evidence that Barry Bonds is a jerk. Which, fine, he is.

But none of that...not one bit...has anything to do with whether Bonds perjured himself in front of a grand jury in 2003. Prosecutors must have known that. After all, it was virtually laughed out of court as the judge wrote, "They are at most very marginal in terms of any relevance to this case," which is a polite way of saying, "I can't believe you actually want me to rule on this crap."

Given the way the initial questioning was bungled by prosecutors and their increasingly desperate motions, it's looking more and more like Barry Bonds will never see the inside of a jail cell (for this allegation, at least). But that seems to be ok with the US Attorney's office. Since this investigation began in 2003, this has not been about justice; this has been about embarrassing a public figure.

Now, that public figure may deserve some embarrassement. Again, Bonds does seem to be an absolute jerk. But since 2003 (EIGHT YEARS!!!), Barry Bonds has had his life turned upside down. He's seen his family fall apart. He's had his friends harrassed and jailed. The world has been told of all of his misdeeds. At this point, there can't be even one Bonds believer left among us. Everything that can possibly be done to this man short of actually starting the trial against him (a trial the US government seems destined to lose) has been done.

All that's left is to spend more money and time and effort to discredit a man who is no longer an icon. No longer an example. The crowds don't cheer his name anymore, and he's almost certain never to work in Major League Baseball again. All that's left is his name in the record books, and even those records will fall sooner or later, whether the US Attorney keeps up her fight or not.

It's time to let go, people. Not just for the government lawyers, but for us too. It's time to stop being angry and vindictive. Let the man be. If you really want to hurt him now, just forget him. Let his memory and legacy fade. Try and forget how you tuned in to ESPN every night during his 2001 chase, waiting to watch him break the single-season record. Don't look back on his 2007 at bats, when you were watching him close in on, and then pass, Hank Aaron. Because while our attention and our worship created this monster that now we all hate, our inattention can end it. It doesn't matter anymore; let bygones be bygones. The baseball season is about to start, let this season of renewal and hope be the last time you think on Barry Bonds and whether he lied under oath almost a decade ago. Find something worth caring about. And that goes double for the US Attorney for Northern California, Melinda Haag and those working for her.

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: The Final Four

By The Common Man

An exciting round ends with our closest vote yet, and the field has been set for the Final Four.  Who will it be?

Griffith Region

#1 Ken Landreaux vs. #3 Gary Ward
Landreaux 71.1%
Ward 27.9%
Landreaux's mustache and sideburns combo continue to prove impossible to retire.

Pohlad Region
#1 Gary Gaetti vs. #2 Jeff Reardon
Gaetti 51.2%
Reardon 48.8%
In the closes vote we've had so far, Gary Gaetti eeks out a victory by a single vote. This epic battle was everything that was promised.

Worst=to-First Region
#5 Rick Aguilera vs. #3 Jack Morris
Aguilera 62.8%
Morris 48.8%
Aggy's finely-trimmed beard takes down Black Jack's untamed mustache.

21st Century Region
#1 Johan Santana vs. #2 Carl Pavano
Santana 39.5%
Pavano 60.5%
And yet, here the trimmed goatee falls to the Pav-stache. What gives, people?

And so the Final Four is set. Cast your ballots according after reviewing the following candidates:

SweetSpot Roundup 3/18

Baseballin' On a Budget (A's): Best Five Managers in Team History
It's the Connie Mack/Tony LaRussa death match that TLR has always wanted!

Ghostrunner on First (Blue Jays): So It Gose
Drew's dreaming on prospects.  Is Michael Gose the next Jacoby Ellsbury (which he totally means in a good way)?

Pro Ball NW (Mariners):  So Now It All Means Nothing?
A spirited defense of advanced statistical analysis by Tommy Lee Jones.

Baseball Time in Arlington (Rangers): Why the CJ Wilson Extension Hasn't Happened
Are the Rangers destined to lose their ace?  How high do you go with a pitcher with such a rare career path?

The Ray Area: Another Franchise First?
Do the Rays finally have a bonafide ace in the rotation?

Fire Brand of the American League (Red Sox): Much Ado About Dice-K
How do you solve a problem like Dice-K?

Royals Authority: Three Catchers, No Waiting
Thanks to Jason Kendall's untimely return, the Royals may have to carry three catchers, which will make them incredibly thin elsewhere.

Nick's Twins Blog: Position Analysis, Second Base
What can the Twins expect to get out of newcomer Tsuyoshi Nishioka?

It's About the Money, Stupid (Yankees): Taking Stock of the Rotation
With just two weeks left before the season starts, how does the Yankees rotation stack up?

Capitol Avenue Club (Braves): Derek Lowe named Atlanta's Opening Day Starter
I don't get it.  This must be one of those performance art pieces.

The View From the Bleachers (Cubs): Where did these guys come from?
Joe's breaks down how the current Cubs came together.

Dodger Thoughts: State of the Opening Day Roster
Jon has a really thorough analysis of which Dodgers are on the 2011 squad, and who's on the bubble.

Bay City Ball (Giants): Things That Make Sense
No matter how much you pay him like a starter, Aaron Rowand seems destined to hit like a 4th outfielder at best so the Giants are giving him time around the outfield to prepare him for that.

Mets Today: The Second Base Debacle
Welcome to life with the Mets: "We've had one big blah of a competition."

Nationals Baseball: Breakouts?
Is anyone on the Nats poised to take a big step forward in 2011?

Ducksnorts (Padres): Gardenhire's Cat
Geoff coins a new term, and I'm going to blatantly steal it.  Awesome!

Crashburn Alley (Phillies): Spring Training Injuries Happen
"We have these scares multiple times every year and most of them turn out to be rather meaningless. The real problem here is that the Phillies have an image problem."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Twins Facial Hair Face Off: Elite Eight!

By The Common Man

(Note: If you're hear to vote, Round 3 voting is now closed.  Click here to see the results and to vote on the Final Four.)

Wow, some huge surprises in the 2nd round, as both Brian Harper and Shane Mack go down. It’s becoming clear that you people don’t appreciate a properly grown mustache. Well, it’s not your fault. You just weren’t raised right. Before we get to the final tallies from round 2, if you want to relive the first two rounds, you can click here and here for all the hairy goodness.  Now, here are the final results from the latest voting:

Griffith Region:
#1 Ken Landreaux vs. #4 Alvaro Espinoza
Landreaux 84.3%
Espinoza 15.7%
Landreaux dominates like he’s in the middle of a 31 game hitting streak.

#3 Gary Ward vs. #2 Dan Ford
Ward 58.8%
Ford 41.2%
It must have been the soul patch.

Pohlad Region
#1 Gary Gaetti vs. #4 Tom Brunansky
Gaetti 52.9%
Brunansky 47.1%
In the closest race by far, The Rat sneaks by Bruno by just 3 votes.

#3 Juan Berenguer vs. #2 Jeff Reardon
Berenguer 15.7%
Jeff Reardon 84.3%
Yet again, Berenguer yields the mound to Reardon.

Worst-to-First Region
#1 Brian Harper vs. #5 Rick Aguilera
Harper 43.1%
Aguilera 56.9%
Brian Harper’s mustache is apparently just as underrated as his role on the early-90s Twins. You guys know closers are overrated, right?

#3 Jack Morris vs. #2 Shane Mack
Morris 72.5%
Mack 27.5%
Speaking of over/underrated…apparently Jon Heyman told his BBWAA buddies all about this contest, because he had it all over the suave Shane Mack. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to maintain a mustache? Morris just let his run wild. That’s like taking credit for having the tallest grass in the neighborhood. Mow the lawn every now and then, you’re driving down property values!

21st Century Region
#1 Johan Santana vs. #4 Nick Blackburn
Santana 78.4%
Blackburn 21.6%
As it should be.

#3 Eddie Guardado vs. #2 Carl Pavano
Guardado 11.8%
Pavano 88.2%
This thrashing was entirely appropriate.

Now, on to the matchups for Round 3. Please review these truly elite eight examples of Twins Facial-Hair and vote below for your favorites:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: Sweeter-than-the-sweetest-honey Sixteen

Well, the first round of the Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off is in the books, and we’ve got 16 winners ready to move on to round 2. First, the results, and then we’ll follow that up with the second round voting.

The Griffith Region
#8 Ron Davis vs. #1 Ken Landreaux
#8 Davis 3%
#1 Landreaux 97%
Davis received three sympathy votes.

#5 Larry Hisle vs. #4 Alvaro Espinoza
#5 Hisle 47.5%
#4 Espinoza 52.5%

#6 Lyman Bostock vs. #3 Gary Ward
#6 Bostock 14.1%
#3 Gary Ward 85.9%

#7 Ron Washington vs. #2 Dan Ford
#7 Washington 35.4%
#2 Dan Ford 64.6%

Pohlad Region
#8 Dan Schatzeder vs. #1 Gary Gaetti
#8 Schatzeder 2.5%
#1 Gaetti 97.5%
The G-Man is just way too dominant, and feasts on left-handed pitchers.

#5 Frank Viola vs. #4 Tom Brunansky
#5 Viola 26.3%
#4 Brunansky 73.8%

#6 Bert Blyleven vs. #3 Juan Berenguer
#6 Blyleven 47.5%
#3 Berenguer 52.5%
This was incredibly close until the last hour or so, with the two tied at one point.

#7 Keith Atherton vs. #2 Jeff Reardon
#7 Atherton 8.8%
#2 Reardon 91.3%
Fear the beard.

Worst-to-First Region
#8 Dan Gladden vs. #1 Brian Harper
#8 Gladden 29.4%
#1 Harper 70.6%
Gladden's mustache gets the thrashing it so richly deserves.

#5 Rick Aguilera vs. #4 Junior Ortiz
#5 Aguilera 69.6%
#4 Ortiz 30.4%
A strong upset here.

#6 Kirby Puckett vs. #3 Jack Morris
#6 Puckett 13%
#3 Morris 87%
Kirby didn't have a chance.  But he's in the Hall of Fame.

#7 Wally Backman vs. #2 Shane Mack
#7 Backman 14.5%
#2 Mack 85.5%
Backman doesn't even get a callback interview.

21st Century Region
#8 Nick Punto vs. #1 Johan Santana
#8 Punto 11.1%
#1 Santana 88.9%
This region is so top-heavy, it's kind of unfair.

#5 Francisco Liriano vs. #4 Nick Blackburn
#5 Liriano 47.2%
#4 Blackburn 52.8%
Apparently nobody else gets the chinstrap phenomenon either.

#6 Scott Baker vs. #3 Eddie Guardado
#6 Baker 18.1%
#3 Guardado 81.9%
Eddie G. is the sacrificial lamb that gets to face...

#7 Justin Morneau vs. #2 Carl Pavano
#7 Morneau 5.6%
#2 Pavano 94.4%
Just a route.  Which we've come to expect from the Pav-stache.

So, we bid adieu to 15 worthy competitors and Ron Davis, and move on to the next stage of voting. Here are the matchups for Round 2:

(Note:  The Second Round voting is closed.  For results and to vote in round 3, please click here.)

SweetSpot Roundup 3/16

Austin's Astros 290 Blog: Fifth starter race leaning Figueroa...for now
Breaking down the team's candidates for that last rotation spot. One hopes the Astros themselves have a bit more to base their decision on than statistics after two or three spring starts.

Capitol Avenue Club (Braves): Wilkin Ramirez Rant
"Both [Ramirez and Ed Lucas] have quickly captured the attention of a fan base that appears desperate to debate the fifth bench role rather than more important battles between Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy for the final spot in the rotation or the handful of guys competing to break camp in the bullpen."

The View from the Bleachers (Cubs): Around the MLB: Breakout Players
Daniel lists and discusses the players he likes to take a big step forward in '11. Nice list overall, but I'm not feeling the Loney love.

Dodger Thoughts: March Mudness
Bill Cosby, an extensive list of notes and observations from Monday's game, and a bunch of interesting links.

Bay City Ball (Giants): Things That Make Sense
Trying to figure out what to do with the $60 million mistake that is Aaron Rowand.

Mets Today: Mets Bullpen Outlook
Evaluating a couple options for filling out the team's bullpen.

Nationals Baseball: Offensive Keyhole: Ian Desmond
Harper tries to rein in fan expectations for the offense of the Nats' shortstop-who-should-totally-be-a-second-baseman.

Ducksnorts (Padres): Open Thread: Who Do You Wish You'd Seen Play?
An interesting question (though, personally, I find it hard to accept any answer besides Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, but that's just me) followed by a long list of great links.

Crashburn Alley (Phillies): Starting Rotation Improvement
"Overall, Phillies starters in 2010 combined for a 3.55 ERA in 1055 and one-third innings. How much better does the 2011 rotation figure to be?" The answer: probably not quite as much better as you think.

Redleg Nation: Jay Bruce: Young, promising and historical
I really think people are unfairly overlooking Bruce, who I pegged for the Hall of Fame in 2033. Brian finds some reasons to get excited about the guy again.

Baseballin' on a Budget (A's): Thoughts From a Giants Fan
Thoughts largely unrelated to Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson, sadly.

Ghostrunner on First (Blue Jays): The Company You Keep
"No sense burying the lede here: I'm legitimately concerned about J.P. Arencibia."

Pro Ball NW (Mariners): Michael Pineda likely to make the Opening Day Rotation
"The Mariners would only need to keep Pineda in AAA long enough for one rotation turn in order to delay free agency for one year.  How can you pass that up?"  Apparently very easily, if you're Jon Shields. 

Weaver's Tantrum (Orioles): Spring Training History
Amazing news: "Winning these games is more fun than losing them, and there is something to be said for building a young team's confidence. Still, it doesn't look like there is much connection between a winning record in the spring and a winning record through the summer." Try to contain your shock.

Baseball Time in Arlington (Rangers): I need a doctor to bring me back to life..." and his name is Feliz
How good is Neftali Feliz going to be this year?  "It never ceases to fascinate me how stark the difference of opinion can be between several people who are all presumably rendering their judgment based on the exact same visual evidence."

The Ray Area: Joe Maddon, Puppet Master
What makes Joe Maddon special?  Mark breaks down the job of a manager beyond the strategy.

Fire Brand of the American League (Red Sox): Are There Any 20-Game Winners Lurking in the Red Sox Rotation?
Who's got the right combination of durability, effectiveness, offensive support, and dumb luck?

Royals Authority: Bullpen Revelations
In Da Vinci Code-esque fashion, Clark Fosler devines the composition of the KC pen.

The Daily Fungo (Tigers): The Mysterious Enos Cabell
Cabell went from a valuable 1B on a 92 win team to a castoff.  Mike wonders why.

Nick's Twins Blog: Position Analysis, Catcher
Nick starts off his annual analysis of the Twins around the diamond with the easy one.

It's About the Money, Stupid (Yankees): Banuelos Should Have a Chance for the Rotation
Is Manny Banuelos the solution to the Yankees' rotation problem?  Or will promoting him at 20 stunt his development?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: 21st Century Region

By The Common Man

Finally, we're here. The last bracket of Round 1. The 21st Century Region. As before, review the candidates below and then vote for who you think should advance to the next round. And without further ado:

The Twins Facial Hair Face Off: Worst-to-First Region

By The Common Man

This is the third region in the opening round of the the great Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off.  In the Worst-to-First Region, you'll be voting on members of the team from 1988-1991.  There is, by necessity, some overlap with the 1987 squad, but The Common Man has tried to put players on the team where they fit best.  Please, review the candidates below and then vote in the poll to determine who moves on to the next round.  And without further ado:

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: Griffith Region

By The Common Man

Yesterday, The Common Man mused on his way home from work about the 1991 Twins, and their most mustachioed of men, Brian Harper and Shane Mack. And as he pondered the awesomeness of all that facial hair, The Common Man wondered, if their mustaches threw down and fought each other, which one would win? As much as he wanted to, The Common Man couldn't answer the question by himself, so he's turning to you readers.

It's tournament time in some sport or another, so we're going to expand this contest to include 32 Twins beards and mustaches. It will be your jobs to decide who wins each matchup to advance to round 2, which we'll hold tomorrow. First, review the candidates below, then vote in the poll for each region.  (We're getting some questions on this, so please note that there's a link below to move on to the next region.) Vote early and, like White Sox fans do, vote often.

(Note:  Voting is closed for the first round.  Please feel free to vote in the second round here.)

The Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off: Pohlad Region

By The Common Man

This is the second region in the opening round of the the great Twins Facial-Hair Face-Off.  In the Pohlad Region, you'll find members of the 1987 World Champion team.  Please, review the candidates below and then vote in the poll to determine who moves on to the next round.  And without further ado:

Monday, March 14, 2011

You Can't Help Who You Love (or Hate)

By The Common Man

Last night, Reds reporter John Fay complained that statheads don’t really like Johnny Gomes (h/t to Redleg Nation), saying “As soon as Dusty Baker basically named Gomes his everyday left fielder, the outrage poured from Twitter and the blog world. The disdain for Gomes is largely rooted in sabermetrics.” Having not heard that outrage, TCM thought hard about why anybody would vent that much spleen over Gomes. Sure, he’s a good platoon bat and a terrible defender, and playing him fulltime is likely to cost the Reds a bit this year, but how can you dislike a guy who grew up quasi-homeless, had a heart attack at 22, and overcame organizational mismanagement in Tampa to craft himself into a legitimate big league ballplayer?

The answer, of course, is that Gomes’ weaknesses (right-handed pitching and defense) simply overshadow his strengths (hitting lefties) as a ballplayer. But that doesn’t matter, because TCM likes him now, and will root for him. Despite his inclination to rationally assess ballplayers on their abilities, The Common Man freely admits to having completely irrational feelings about some of them. No amount of statistical kung fu will turn TCM around on these guys one way or another. His reaction to the following players is visceral and palpable.

All-time Faves:

Terry Mulholland (124-142, 4.41 ERA)

Mulholland was a good pitcher for about three years, and a pitcher for about six dozen more. He was left-handed, and they don’t really have an expiration date. Given his two seasons with Minnesota in 2004 and 2005, in which he had a 4.89 ERA, you’d think some of the shine would have rubbed off on Mulholland. But it never did, mostly because every time Captain Graybeard pitched, TCM pictured this:

Look at how the bottom half of his body is angled so awkwardly compared to his top half. And look at how the left arm is cocked while the glove appears to be keeping the rookie Mulholland from seeing where the pitch is going. And, to the young The Common Boy, it looked like his arms were doing a strange twisty thing or were on backwards.  Don’t know why, but TCM always thought this was cool.

Dave Henderson (.258/.320/.436, 197 homers)
TCM had never heard of Dave Henderson before 1988, when he leaped to superstardom with the Bash Brothers. He had been a decent player with the Mariners and Red Sox, and had that big homer in the ’86 playoffs, but nothing about Hendu at all prepared baseball for his .304/.363/.525 breakout. TCM went to A’s training camp in 1989, just after his MVP caliber year with the A’s. Henderson was joking and smiling with fans, making sure they knew he was DAVE Henderson, because “Rickey is my brother.” Also, the man had a helluva mustache.

Mitchell Page (.266/.346/.429)

Page just passed away this weekend actually. TCM became aware of him while researching the post-firesale A’s of 1977, then TCM saw his picture and saw that he had a serious Don Mossi-appeal. Page tore up the minors for the Pirates, who didn’t have room for him with Dave Parker and Al Oliver already manning the corners, and no DH. So they dealt him and several others to the A’s for 2B Phil Garner. At 25, Page broke camp with the now depleted Oakland team, and hit .307/.405/.521 (154 OPS+) as a rookie with 21 homers and 42 stolen bases in 47 attempts (including making it on his first 26 consecutive attempts). He looked like a complete superstar. He followed that up with a decent season, hitting .285/.355/.459, but his baserunning and defense were both terrible. By 1980, Page was reduced to a platoon DH by Billy Martin, yet was being paid like a superstar. After winning his arbitration case in 1981, he was making at least $250,000 (and perhaps as much as $400,000) but hit .141 over his first hundred at bats. So Martin optioned him to Tacoma just before the baseball strike. His career never recovered. He saw part-time work with the A’s for the next couple years, and finished up in the Pirates system. He could still hit, but it’s clear he was on the bottom of the depth charts. It’s unclear exactly what happened that short-circuited Page’s career (his later drinking problem suggests that it may have been self-induced), but you have to look at that 1977 season and wonder what might have been.

Steve Balboni (.229/.293/.451, 181 homers)

It’s the name, and the nickname, and the mustache, and the power, and the strikeouts. It’s the fact that Steve Balboni did exactly one thing well on the baseball field, hit the ball a long, long way. It’s that, in 1990, he had 6 doubles in 307 plate appearances, but 17 homers. He scored 24 times, which means that other players knocked him in only 7 times all year. It’s that, despite playing 11 seasons and hitting 181 homers, he was actually below replacement level for his career. If you don’t love Steve Balboni, you don’t love ice cream on a hot day.

Oddibe McDowell (.253/.323/.395)

It’s the name. Oddibe (Oh-dib-be) McDowell just rolls off the tongue. McDowell was drafted in 1984, after being voted the College Baseball player of the Year by both the NCAA and Baseball America, signed, and went straight to AAA to start 1985. After 31 games and a .400 batting average, the Rangers called him up at just 22 years old. McDowell showed good power immediately, and some patience too. Like with Mitchell Page above, it’s unclear what exactly stalled McDowell’s career. He went to Cleveland for Julio Franco in 1989 and stunk on ice, but finished the season strongly with the Braves. But he completely tanked in 1990 and was basically done at 27.

Rob Deer (.220/.324/.442, 230 homers)

Deer struck out so much it was hilarious, but was still a very good player. He had patience and played good defense, and had the kind of power you’d expect from a guy who swung from his heels every time.  Also, there's a good chance he was Major Dad. Deer’s time on the early ‘90s Tigers was impressive, with other huge K guys Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, Tony Phillips, and Travis Fryman surrounding him. The club was wonderfully entertaining. On April 24, 1993, Bill and TCM were in the stands as Pat Mahomes got rocked for 10 runs in less than 3 innings, and ended up losing 17-1. We stayed the whole game, begging Rob Deer to get more at bats and to strike out at least once for us. Kirk Gibson flew out in the 9th with Deer on deck, and the we were denied. It still is probably the most fun TCM has had at a ballpark, since everything was just a joke from the 2nd inning on. Thanks for the good time, Rob.

Bernardo Brito (.219/.237/.466, 5 homers in 76 PAs)

Brito was a minor league journeyman who debuted in the minors in 1981, and didn’t make the majors until 1992. He hit 295 homers across 16 seasons, and TCM remembers at one point hearing he was the minor league leader in homers. Whether that’s true or not, TCM has no idea. But he was a cool Crash Davis type. Brito played outfield, and probably wasn’t that great at it, and he had absolutely no plate discipline. But he had power in abundance, and The Common Man remembers hoping the Twins gave him a legitimate shot. They didn’t, and TCM knows now it never would have worked out if they had.

Alex Cole (.280/.360/.351, 148 steals)

It’s the glasses.

Looking at the list above, it’s clear that TCM just has a soft spot for guys whose baseball cards he collected in the ‘80s. But who doesn’t make the cut? Who will forever and always suck, no matter how many babies they rescue from burning buildings or homers they hit in the postseason?

Burning, enduring hatred:

Von Hayes (.267/.354/.416, 143 homers, 253 stolen bases)

The Common Man knows he’s not alone here. Virtually all of Philadelphia hates Hayes, who was acquired from Cleveland for five players (including Julio Franco). In training camp, Pete Rose quipped that the new Phillie should wear the number 541 on his jersey. Hayes was incredibly talented and was sold as such by Philadelphia management, so there was always a vague notion that he never lived up to his potential. But he really was a very good player for about 10 years. TCM’s irrational dislike stems from Hayes’ baseball cards, in which he always looked tall and gangly, more like a basketball player. The uniforms didn’t help. The Phillies’ pinstriped home whites were terrible, and the blue roadies just offensive. For whatever reason, TCM thought Hayes looked like a preening dandy.

Howard Johnson (.249/.340/.446, 228 homers, 231 steals)

When HoJo was good, he was great, especially in 1989 and 1991, when he was the first two-time 30-30 guy. But he played for the Mets, who were bad boys back in those days, and his mustache made him look like a villain from the Wild West. It didn’t help that Johnson had clearly identifiable weaknesses, his defense (from bad to atrocious) and the strikeouts (which TCM believed were a lot worse in the late ‘80s), and that he was so inconsistent from season to season.

Bernie Williams (.297/.381/.477, 287 homers)

Everybody loves Bernie. Apparently he’s something of a renaissance man and just a sweet guy. Plus he was really, really good for a lot of excellent Yankees teams. Which is the problem, as far as TCM is concerned. Rightly or not, TCM always associates the Yankees’ obnoxious success around the turn of the century (how weird is it to say that?) with Bernie Williams, rather than Derek Jeter. Sorry, Bernie.

Carmen/Carmelo Castillo (.252/.298/.418)

Castillo was known as Carmen as late as 1988 with the Indians, but as soon as he signed with the Twins, decided he wanted to be known as Carmelo, which a) sounds like a candy and b) is harder to say. TCM never really forgave him for this. Pick and name and go with it. This goes for Joey/Albert Belle too.

Frank Thomas (.301.419/.555, 521 homers)

Yes, Thomas is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time and a legitimate two-time MVP. He was a wonderful player. But this undying hatred is born of years of watching him launch moon-shots into the LF bleachers at the Metrodome. God, he was unstoppable. But you want to know the crazy part? It’s that, even with the Twins’ bad pitching in the 1990s, he was actually much worse at the Metrodome than overall. In 98 games, he hit .255/.349/.451 with only 16 homers across 19 years. Against the Twins overall he also fell short of his career marks, hitting .290/.383/.587. As usual, the mind plays tricks. But that doesn’t change TCM’s mind one bit.

Chuck Knoblauch (.289/.378/.406, 407 steals)

Yes, the 1998 trade ended up being a good thing for the Twins, who picked up Christian Guzman and Eric Milton for Knobby. But, one year after the Twins gave him a five-year, $30 million extension, the ingrate demanded to be traded. The Twins obliged, and karma struck the thoroughly unpleasant Knoblauch in 1999, when he developed the yips. His career fell apart fairly quickly thereafter, and he was eventually implicated in the PED scandals. Twins fans pelted him with batteries, golf balls, and garbage when he played leftfield in 2001, which wasn’t cool (also not cool that TCM’s brother was tossed from the park because of it, though TCM’s brother claims to this day to have not thrown anything), but Knoblauch remains the only player in Minnesota sports history to elicit that kind of hatred.

No matter how they feel about advanced statistical analysis, nobody doubt that baseball is a game of the heart, as well as the head? The Common Man doesn’t.