Rants

2014 All-Star Rosters: Addition By Subtraction

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Imagine that it’s the late innings of the 2014 All-Star Game, baseball’s summertime showcase where all of the best and brightest stars across MLB are on the field together.  The score is close, and the outcome of the game hinges on each pitch.  In from the bullpen comes…Tony Watson????….to face….Kurt Suzuki????

Let me say it simply: the All-Star Game sucks.  It SHOULD be much better.  But it’s been watered-down and dumbed-down to the point where the game itself is a complete farce.  And that starts with the roster selections.  Now, in the past, I’ve advocated for broad, wholesale changes to the game format.  But apparently no one is listening.  So let me take a moment to plead for one simple change: reduce the roster sizes from 34 to 25.

The huge current roster size is one of the reasons why the All-Star Game itself is such a clowncar shitshow.  It also dilutes the value to the player of receiving an All-Star Game invitation: is it really such an honor for a closer to be named an All-Star when 25% of all closers are named to the team every year?  No wonder many players would rather go on vacation than show up.  And yes, while contracting rosters might lead to more deserving players being snubbed, well, a lot of those players are being excluded anyways (e.g. Chris Sale, Ian Kinsler, Stephen Strasburg).

So let’s take this year’s rosters and trim the fat a little bit:

American League 

CUT:  C Derek Norris and C Kurt Suzuki
There’s already a rule that allows a player to re-enter the game to replace an injured or ejected catcher.  So why do we need THREE catchers on a roster, as is the case this year with both the AL and the NL?  Suzuki is still nothing more than a journeyman and Norris has only recently emerged from strict platoon player status.  Let Victor Martinez be the backup catcher for the AL; he can handle it.

CUT:  RP Dellin Betances
While I don’t think it should be impossible for a middle reliever to make an All-Star Game if they are having a mind-blowing season, the bar should be very high.  Generally, middle relievers aren’t even the best relievers on their own teams, so why are they getting All-Star nods?  Betances has been really really good for the Yankees and has thrown a ton of innings for them (over 50), but he has no past track record of this kind of success.  And yeah, he’s racked up a lot of strikeouts, but his strikeout rate of 13.95 per nine innings is only second best on his team, behind closer David Robertson (16.43).

CUT:  RP Sean Doolittle
Even after cutting Betances, there are still three relievers on this team, which is one too many.  I’m going to keep Glen Perkins, since Minnesota (where the ASG is being played) should have at least one representative.  I’d probably take Koji Uehara instead of either Greg Holland or Doolittle, but since I’m just cutting and not adding, I’ll remove Doolittle, who’s only had the closer job for a month and a half.

CUT:  1B Brandon Moss and 3B Kyle Seager
No doubt, both Moss and Seager are having great years.  But there simply isn’t room for Moss with two more deserving first basemen (Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu) already on the roster.  Same thing for Seager, who’s behind Josh Donaldson (he’s been slumping, but I’m honoring the fan vote for now) and Adrian Beltre (longer track record, more star power).

CUT:  OF Yoenis Cespedes
You don’t need three extra outfielders, so I’m cutting one.  To me, Michael Brantley is clearly deserving, so it comes down to Cespedes and Alex Gordon.  Advanced stats love Gordon’s defense, ranking him third overall in FanGraphs WAR largely due to his glove and arm, and I have a hard time stomaching Cespedes’ mediocre .316 OBP.  (The A’s ended up with an insane seven All-Stars (if you count newly acquired Jeff Samardzija) and I’m cutting four of them here.  The thing is, if I were adding players, I’d probably cut Scott Kazmir for Chris Sale or Corey Kluber or Garrett Richards.  And as mentioned above, I’d consider cutting Donaldson as well if he weren’t already voted in as a starter.  And Samardzija’s not going to pitch in the game.  So yeah, the A’s are probably the best team in the majors right now, but they are doing it without any true superstars; they could just as easily have ended up with zero All-Stars.)

CUT:  SS Alexei Ramirez
There are those who are complaining about Derek Jeter’s inclusion in this year’s game, but there simply aren’t any really worthy candidates at shortstop who are being shortchanged here.  It’s picking the best of a mediocre lot.  We don’t even need a backup here; just let Jetes play the whole game.

Trimmed AL Roster

C Salvador Perez
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Robinson Cano
3B Josh Donaldson
SS Derek Jeter
OF Jose Bautista
OF Mike Trout
OF Adam Jones
DH Nelson Cruz

SP Mark Buehrle
SP Yu Darvish
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Scott Kazmir
SP Jon Lester
SP Max Scherzer
SP David Price
SP Masahiro Tanaka
RP Greg Holland
RP Glen Perkins

1B Jose Abreu
2B Jose Altuve
3B Adrian Beltre
OF Michael Brantley
OF Alex Gordon
DH Victor Martinez

National League

CUT:  RP Pat Neshek and RP Tony Watson
Again, middle relievers, and neither of these guys have even been as good as Betances.

CUT:  C Devin Mesoraco
Having a good year, but again, don’t need three catchers.

CUT:  3B Matt Carpenter and 2B Daniel Murphy
As above, the team doesn’t need a third 3B or 2B.  Murphy’s having a nice half year for the Mets, but I’d like to see a little more before granting him All-Star status.  (Elimination of Murphy would mean there are no Mets on the NL team.  A necessary result of the reduction of roster size would be the elimination of the one-player-per-team rule, which would be a great thing.)

CUT:  SP Tyson Ross
Ross is the token Padre, but he’s actually been pretty good this year.  Still…not quite good enough and everyone from the Padres has the stink of their awfulness.

CUT:  OF Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon is a result of player and fan balloting starting WAY too early in the season.  After a scorching April, Blackmon has proven he’s nothing special in May and June.

CUT:  OF Josh Harrison
WAAAAAAHAHAHAHA.  Seriously?  Get outta here.

Trimmed NL Roster

C Yadier Molina
1B Paul Goldschmidt
2B Chase Utley
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Carlos Gomez
OF Yasiel Puig

SP Madison Bumgarner
SP Johnny Cueto
SP Zack Greinke
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Julio Teheran
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Jordan Zimmermann
RP Aroldis Chapman
RP Craig Kimbrel
RP Francisco Rodriguez

C Jonathan Lucroy
SS Starlin Castro
3B Todd Frazier
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dee Gordon
OF Hunter Pence
OF Giancarlo Stanton

Now isn’t that much better?  We were even able to preserve the one-player-per-team standard for the American League.  We can talk about snubs another time; but as you can see, simply cutting down the roster size greatly improves the overall quality of these rosters and would result in a much more interesting game as well.  Unfortunately, I have little to no hope that this will ever change.  So, whatever.  Stay tuned for another rant about All-Star selections next year.

The Rules of Booing

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Jim Johnson has sucked hard this year.  Really hard.  I’m talking Phil Coke level sucking.  (I simply don’t have the words or the energy to rant anymore about the disaster that is the Tigers bullpen.  Coke, for example, may have some utility remaining as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) who faces lefties exclusively.  But he should not be facing ANY right handers at any point of any game, not even switch hitters who hit worse right handed and are being “turned around” against Coke.  I don’t understand.  This has been true for years, and this year it’s even worse: righties have an OPS over 1.000 against Coke in 2014.  And yet, somehow, he’s faced more righties than lefties.  Why does Tigers management insist on continually running him out there against right handed hitters?  Are they hoping he’s going to figure it out or something?  My deepest fear is that Coke starts to get lucky later on this season and somehow gain more trust from Brad Ausmus, increasing the chances that Coke is in the game in a big situation during the stretch run or in the playoffs.  I’m actively rooting for Coke to suck more right now, even if it means the Tigers lose, because the sooner that the Tigers get it through their thick skulls that this guy is a walking turd and release him, the better.)

Wait.  What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Jim Johnson.  So, Johnson has been terrible ever since the moment he arrived in Oakland, and A’s fans have been booing him mercilessly since April.  Johnson’s new teammates have scurried to his defense, making public statements beseeching the fans to stop booing him.  The tone of these statements have ranged from reasoned (“It doesn’t make him pitch better when you boo”) to clichéd (“We don’t come boo you at your place of work”) to condemning (“You are terrible people if you boo”).  A’s fans have continued to boo anyways, because Johnson has continued to suck.  This culminated in an incident last week where Johnson’s wife was booed at a team charity event.  I think booing Mrs. Johnson was, while slightly hilarious, over the line.  But where, exactly, is that line?

Look, I believe firmly that we as fans should generally be free to boo who we want to boo.  We the fans are the reason that players get paid millions of dollars, so players shouldn’t whine about being booed; better to be booed than to have no one watching at all.  So yeah, the general rule should be that you can boo anyone you want, whether he’s on the opposing team or on your team.  But as with most general rules, there needs to be a few exceptions to preserve the rightness of the universe:

The Human Decency Exception:  Don’t boo or cheer if a player is lying on the field injured.  Don’t be a bigoted booer.  Don’t heckle opposing players with a stream of non-stop expletives when you’re sitting next to a bunch of kids (maybe a few scattered f-bombs are okay).  These are all, like, duh.

The Derek Jeter Exemption:  A few years ago, Jeter started the season in a horrific slump, and he started to get booed a little bit at home.  This is after he’d already won four championships and pretty much established himself as the greatest shortstop in Yankee history.  This was messed up.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you do NOT boo Derek Jeter because he’s in a freaking slump.  To make this a more general rule, you don’t boo a guy on your own team solely based on performance if that guy still has a significant net credit with your franchise.  So let’s take the A’s, for example, who’ve made two consecutive postseason appearances.  Should any of the guys who were fundamental pieces on the 2012 and 2013 teams (e.g. Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson) be booed if they were having a rough start to 2014?  No way; there’s no way that a few horrendous months can offset what they’ve done previously.  Obviously, the length of the exemption depends on the magnitude of the positive contribution.  Maybe you can start to boo Coco next year, but franchise-changing guys like Derek Jeter have lifetime exemptions.   This is why it’s completely okay to boo Jim Johnson; he has zero track record with the A’s.  The exemption only applies if the booing is based solely on performance; if the booing is based on off-the-field stuff (like if Miguel Cabrera started drinking again), the exemption would no longer apply and booing would be permitted.

The Jacoby Ellsbury Corollary:  This is an offshoot of the Derek Jeter Exemption.  What happens when a guy who has given a ton to your franchise, including a couple of World Series titles, leaves as a free agent to go to your arch rival?  This was the sticky situation with Jacoby Ellsbury this year.  When he returned to Boston for the first time, the response was very mixed.  Some people cheered and some people booed.  Both were right.  This is a gray area.  Go with your heart.  You are free to boo or cheer as you please, regardless of what that player has done for your team in the past, because that player no longer plays for your team.  The only exception to this is that booing is not permitted when (1) a player had previously earned a lifetime Derek Jeter Exemption and (2) did not completely burn his bridges with his old team.  So Albert Pujols, who earned a lifetime exemption in St. Louis and left as a free agent largely because the Cardinals wouldn’t pay him his market value, should never be booed in St. Louis.  But LeBron James, who came close to earning a lifetime exemption in Cleveland, left so acrimoniously that he deservedly was booed every time he returned.

The Women and Children Caveat:  When I went to the Detroit Lions’ only playoff game victory in their history in 1991, there was a presentation at halftime to the national winners of the Pass, Punt & Kick competition.  These were kids between the ages of 7 and 14.   The Lions were well on their way to winning the game and going on to face Washington in the NFC Championship.  Washington had obliterated Detroit earlier that season, but it was a game that Barry Sanders didn’t play and Lions fans were itching for a chance at a rematch.  So when it was announced that one of the Pass, Punt & Kick winners was from Washington, the entire stadium booed the poor kid.  I mean, it wasn’t a malicious or threatening kind of booing; it was more like a collective reaction by 70,000 people to the announcement of the word “Washington.”  It was kind of awesome.  Anyways, the point is this: the rules of conduct in a stadium aren’t quite the same as in real life.  It’s perfectly acceptable to boo a player from the stands, but if you met him in person on the street and started booing him, you’d look like a crazy person.  A sporting event is entertainment and the spectators are the audience; it’s okay to respond to the presentation, even if it’s not directly related to the game.  So if they showed Mrs. Jim Johnson’s face on the Oakland Jumbotron, I think it would be okay to boo her (not saying that I would personally do that, but I’m not condemning it either).  But it wouldn’t be okay to harass a player’s family at a game since that’s not a part of the presentation, and booing Mrs. Johnson at a charity event is probably not okay as well.  But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure.   It’s all about context.  I mean, if it was really funny, maybe it was okay.

The Douchebag Catch-all:  None of these exceptions apply to Alex Rodriguez.  Boo him on the street.  Boo his family.  Boo him while he’s sleeping.  Boo him forever.  BOOOOOO.

Mike Trout – WAR Machine

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I can’t stand it when parents become over-proud of their children.  Every good development is totally overblown.  “My kid’s head size is in the 99th percentile!”   At the same time, every negative thing gets glossed over or explained away.  “Well, my kid may have gotten a D- in that class, but the teacher had it out for him.  We all know he’s a genius, because he has an enormous head.”

This is how statheads think about Mike Trout.  He’s their baby.  To them, it’s a foregone conclusion that Trout is simply the greatest thing since sliced bread; any attempts to criticize him will be met with rancorous rage.  I’d almost rather deal with telling a parent that their kid is smart but not that pretty, than asking a Trout defender “hey, this guy is really good, but why does he strike out so much?”

Trout’s a great player, no doubt, but why are the nerds so obsessed with every little thing he does?  Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is the preferred stat of statheads, and Mike Trout racks up WAR like no one else in history.  Seriously, sometimes I think that Trout could spend an afternoon mowing the lawn and still rack up positive WAR. Statheads love Mike Trout because he gets WAR.  Or…maybe Mike Trout gets WAR because statheads love him?

The synergy between Trout and WAR is nearly perfect.  Almost too perfect.  Which leads me to the ultimate conclusion that Mike Trout is not a human being.  He was constructed in a garage somewhere by an army of statisticians.  They also created WAR at the same time, then unleashed both upon the world.  So Mike Trout really is their baby.  Their gigantic robot baby.  So don’t say anything bad about Mike Trout.  There are a lot of Mike Trout daddies out there.

 

Suspended Game Singularities

Last Thursday (May 22), the game between the Giants and the Rockies was suspended due to rain tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 6th.  Most likely, this game won’t be completed until the Giants return to Colorado during the first week of September.  That’s a long time to wait to finish a game.  The suspended game (as opposed to the postponement or shortening of a game due to weather) is a relatively rare occurrence, and brings with it a bevy of interesting hypothetical scenarios.  For example, let’s say between now and September, the Rockies trade Michael Cuddyer to the Giants.  When the game is completed, Cuddyer would be eligible to enter the game for the Giants, thus appearing in the same game for both teams.  This has never happened before in the history of baseball, but in this age of increased in-season trades, this is bound to occur sooner or later.

Hypothetically, it would also be possible for even stranger situations to occur when players switch teams prior to the completion of a suspended game.  Nick Masset completed the top of the 6th for the Rockies; if the Rockies were then to take the lead in the bottom of the 6th, Masset would be in line to get a win.  But what if Masset were traded to the Giants, then, when this suspended game is resumed, enters the game in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases empty and gives up a tie-breaking run?  In theory, at least, Masset could get credit for BOTH the win and the loss in the SAME GAME.  While this can’t happen in this particular situation because a runner is currently on base with two outs (even if Masset entered the game immediately for the Giants, the go-ahead run couldn’t be charged to him), you can see how it’s at least a plausible scenario.  At the very least, this is yet another reason why wins and losses are super fun.

Finally, let’s look at one other possible (but even more unlikely) situation: as before, Masset pitches the top of the 6th for the Rockies, the game gets suspended, Masset gets traded to the Giants, the game resumes, then Masset enters the game for the Giants in the bottom of the 6th.  Upon entering, however, Masset ends up facing the pitcher’s spot in the order for the Rockies…which is of course currently occupied by Masset himself.  Of course, there’s no situation where Masset could actually walk up to the plate and face himself, unless, you know, he’s Multiple Man.  So in 99.99% of these situations, the Rockies would just put a pinch hitter in Rockies Masset’s spot to face Giant Masset (wait…is a single member of the Rockies team called a Rocky?  Or are the Rockies one of those team names that can’t be singularized like the Heat or the Red Sox?).  But let’s say Rockies management has a colossal brain fart (or just wants to make history) and somehow just skips Rockies Masset’s spot in the order.  According to MLB rules, if you skip a player in the order, that player would simply be called out.  Statistically, I’m not sure how that would be recorded (probably an 0 for 1 for Rockies Masset and 1/3 of an inning pitched for Giant Masset), but I would like to think that this would mean that Masset gets credit for an at bat…against himself.

The fact that it is possible (however unlikely) for two versions of the same person to appear in a single game proves that suspended games are far more insidious than they initially appear.  How can there be two Nick Massets?  Think of it this way: the unholy act of suspending a baseball game creates a tear in the space-time continuum , allowing Future Nick Masset to interact with Past Nick Masset.  In other words, a suspended game behaves like a black hole. Taking that reasonable analogy to its logical conclusion, the upside of suspended games is the possible creation of interestingly quirky box scores, while the downside is the potential destruction of the entire world.

The Tigers’ In-House Shortstop Solution

Tigers starting shortstop Andrew Romine is currently on pace to hit .179/.256/.192 (yes, that is a slugging percentage of .192 to accompany his career slugging percentage of .247) with 101 strikeouts in 316 ABs and 8 RBI. EIGHT. This is all after the incumbent  Jose Iglesias got hurt and Alex Gonzalez couldn’t hit OR play defense. Romine can pick it at short, I’ll give him that, but the Tigers are winning despite basically trotting out a National League lineup on a nightly basis (Romine being the equivalent of a pitcher). 

Can it really be that hard to upgrade on Romine?  (I didn’t think it was worth the resources to chase Stephen Drew, so I was relieved to hear he re-signed with the Red Sox today.  I’ve wanted to write about his contract situation and the fact that his own greed backfired in his face…but really it just looks like Drew’s agent Scott Boras severely underestimated the impact of the draft pick that any team signing Drew would have to sacrifice.  But who knows…maybe Boras warned Drew that this would happen and it really was his greed that did him in.)  Um…does Tigers management realize they have one of the best defensive shortstops of all time on the field every night? I’m talking about the Tigers’ first base coach, Omar Vizquel. Now, I think the Tigers joked about this possibility back in spring training, but now that we know how bad the alternatives look, could a 46-year-old Vizquel really be that bad of an option? While Vizquel at his age probably couldn’t match Romine’s range or arm, Omar could probably play at least a passable short even if he were 60. And I’m 100% certain Vizquel would be an offensive upgrade over Romine. And more importantly, this would be fun! He can be fantasy eligible at both SS and 1BC (1st Base Coach). And the Tigers are all about fun: 

Most importantly, Omar Vizquel just seems like such a nice guy.  He has such a nice smile.  I just want to be his friend.

Replay Repair

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Six weeks into the season, my thoughts on instant replay are mixed at best.  The way I see it, MLB’s method of instituting replay review this year is kind of like using a spoon to perform surgery instead of a scalpel.  The whole thing lacks deftness.  Accuracy is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing, and I’m concerned that game flow and watchability are being negatively impacted.  Moreover, there are opportunities being lost because even if replay in its current form is beneficial overall, it could still be much improved with just a few tweaks:

–  No reviews on “safe” calls for pickoffs.  Virtually every pickoff throw results in a somewhat close call at first base.  No one has ever complained that a game was lost because of a blown “safe” call on a pickoff play.  And baserunners should get the benefit of the doubt, because stolen bases add a dynamic and enjoyable element to the game.  Let’s just leave this one alone.

No more stalling.  If you think about it, each replay review currently involves TWO separate reviews.  There’s the official review after a challenge, when MLB officials decide whether to overturn a call.  But there’s also the review by the challenging team prior to deciding whether to challenge, where the team manager walks oh-so-slowly out to the field and casually asks the umpire what he ate for lunch, then peers into the dugout to see whether his bench coach (who’s on the phone with the team video guys) gives him a thumbs up or thumbs down.  Watching television is probably a waste of my time as it is; I certainly don’t need additional minutes of that time wasted watching the cameras zoom in on some guy TALKING ON THE PHONE.  The rules actually say that a manager needs to say whether he wants to challenge “immediately” when “prompted” by an umpire; the umpires need to enforce this more stringently.  Let’s cut the time that teams have to decide whether to challenge; if they can’t figure it out in that time, well, it’s probably not worth challenging in the first place.  Also, managers shouldn’t be able to stall by walking slowly; they should have to make an irrevocable signal to challenge prior to the next pitch without delaying the game.  They could throw a red flag on the field, like in football, or even better, there should be a big red lever set up in each dugout where if you pull it, all the lights in the stadium start flashing and a loud booming voice says “CHALLENGE!” and then the Final Jeopardy theme music starts to play.   You can even customize the effects for each team and stadium or use evil-sounding music for visiting teams’ challenges.  The more I think about this idea, the more I am completely incredulous that this hasn’t happened yet.

Two challenges per game per team, period.  Currently, each team has a challenge per game.  If you challenge a call correctly, you get another one.  Simple enough, right?  The problem is what happens in the late innings, because no one seems to really know.  If you have a challenge left after the 7th innings, you can of course use it.  But if you don’t have one, you can request that the umpires review the play anyways.  As far as I know, umpires have never denied this request, which means as long as you don’t piss off the umps too much, you can have essentially unlimited reviews in the late innings.  Theoretically, if every inning after the 9th ends with a tie score, a baseball game could last an infinite amount of time.  In some parallel universe out there, there is a baseball game that started in 1900 and is still going.  Being a person that likes conflict to eventually resolve, this thought makes me uncomfortable.  But if you add in a potentially infinite amount of reviews, then you’re talking about games that could last infinity x infinity.  And I just can’t handle that.  Let’s make it two reviews, with one additional review if you get your review correct.  Not only will this make me sleep better at night, it introduces an additional element of strategy and minimizes the frivolous reviews of insignificant plays.

Max Scherzer in Verlanderland

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To the surprise of absolutely no one, Max Scherzer dominated the Lastros last night: 8 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts. Despite a drop in fastball velocity this season, he’s still put up an impressive 1.72 ERA so far. Yet, after he spurned the Tigers’ six year $144 million extension offer, I feel slightly conflicted about rooting for him. Don’t get me wrong, I still want the Tigers to win every game he pitches, but part of me feels like it wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to be, like, slightly less awesome. If he puts up another monster season, does this mean he definitely leaves as a free agent next season (especially since the Tigers blew all their money on the insane Miguel Cabrera extension)? Is he leaving regardless? There’s definitely a bit of a mercenary sheen on him this year, and no one likes rooting for mercenaries.

That being said, I think I understand his rationale in turning down the Tigers’ offer. I’m convinced that the Tigers were unwilling to pay Scherzer greater than or equal to what Justin Verlander is making. And I don’t think Max wanted to be told, “Sure, we’ll pay you as a top five pitcher in the league, but as long as you’re in Detroit, you’ll always be #2.” What defending Cy Young winner would want to sign a long term deal like that?

So who’s #1? If Scherzer keeps doing what he’s doing and Verlander continues to be mortal, I’m interested to see if a debate develops between the Verlanderlanders and the Scherzerians. (If Justin Verlander were a country, it would of course be called Verlanderland and its citizens would be called Verlanderlanders. No, the country would not be called just Verland. That sounds dumb.) I’m a Verlanderlander. And Scherzer is pretty damn good, but the guy doesn’t have a single complete game in his entire career. That’s right. Not once has he retired all 27 guys; he’s always needed help. And that’s why he’s not #1. But prove it Max. Do it again, but sprinkle in a few shutouts and I just might be convinced to defect. And, more importantly, Scherzeria can have all of the gold in Ilitchtenstein. Well, whatever’s left, that is.

The Terrible Tigers Bullpen

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The Detroit Tigers bullpen is a flaming wet turd. You may ask, how can something be both wet and on fire at the same time? Such is the seeming impossibility of this craptitude. The Tigers bullpen has a 5.65 ERA, ranked 29th in the majors. The only team that is worse so far is Houston at 6.05, but the Astros are not a real team. Well, they are real in the sense that they are physical objects and not illusions, but, according to reliable sources, the entire Astros roster is actually a barnstorming team from the 1890’s (people were generally smaller back then, so this explains the existence of Jose Altuve) that has been resurrected via Edo Tensei, which best translates as Impure Reincarnation Summoning Technique. In other words, the Astros are literally the walking dead. But…the Tigers’ aggregate bullpen numbers include 6 innings of scoreless “relief” thrown by Drew Smyly, a starting pitcher. Subtract Smyly’s innings from the total and the bullpen ERA rises to a spectacular 6.22. As mentioned in my season preview, the Tigers will likely struggle to create any space in the division all year, because the bullpen is the terriblest in the league. They are even terribler than a bunch of zombies.

Other thoughts this week:

  • Hitter of the year, to date: Who the hell is Charlie Blackmon? And what the hell is he on? He’s the #1 hitter in fantasy at the moment, hitting .402 with 5 HR and 6 SB. I’ve heard him mentioned in the same sentence as Mike Trout, and that sentence is usually “Let’s not get carried away and compare Blackmon to Trout.” But Trout hasn’t been running this year and has 31 strikeouts. Blackmon has struck out six times. SIX. I’ve always said that Trout, with his square head, blocky frame and red garb, looks like an Autobot, specifically Hot Rod (I’m talking about Transformers the Movie from 1986, not any of this Michael Bay garbage. If you have not seen it, you need to go see it immediately. I just made it a requirement for league membership). Blackmon, swathed in black and purple, may be Trout’s perfect Decepticon counterpart. Charlie Blackmon is Cyclonus




 Hm…looks like Mike Trout could use some more courage. 



So what is Charlie Blackmon on? A little energon and a lot of luck. Or maybe it’s a little luck and a hell of a lot of energon. And steroids. And HGH. I don’t know. But we know now, thanks to my connecting the dots, that he is definitely a bad guy. Because all Decepticons are bad guys. So nothing would surprise me. 

  • Pitcher of the year, to date: Adam Wainwright is the #1 pitcher in fantasy, and right now looks like he can do whatever he wants. He has not been scored on in 25 straight innings, and has only given up 9 hits in that span. Waino had two starts last week; he left the first start after 79 pitches and 7 innings because he tweaked his knee and left the second start after 99 pitches and 8 innings probably because of lingering concerns about that knee.  It looks like the knee will be a non-issue, but in normal circumstances, that should have been two shutouts. We are inundated these days with good starting pitching performances (ESPN reports that Sunday produced a record 10 pitchers throwing 7 innings with 3 hits or less allowed), but Wainwright still stands apart from the crowd. Despite my well-documented loathing of the Cardinals (I found a new reason this weekend, as I discovered their Hawk-Harrelson-esque announcers are audio vomit), this is not an attempt to jinx Adam Wainwright. I can be objective (sometimes), and I think Wainwright finishes the year as the #1 pitcher in fantasy baseball. It won’t even be close. 
  • Pitching line of the week #1: On Saturday: Danny Duffy, 0.0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, LOSS, 3 batters faced. The mystery is in the line; if he faced three batters, how come his line is all zeros? This was a disaster for Duffy. Hit batter, then the next batter bunted and Duffy threw it away. Then the following batter bunted and Duffy threw it away AGAIN as the winning run scored. You’ve really got to watch it, it’s spectacular. For all that, Duffy still gets to have an ERA of 0.00 for the season. Sometimes stats make no sense. 
  • Pitching line of the week #2: Again on Saturday, Brandon Morrow: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 1 K. This is how you get pulled from a no-hitter in the 3rd inning. Thing is, he almost got away with it. Despite walking four batters in the first two innings, two double plays helped Morrow to enter the third inning unscathed. He then walked four batters to allow one run to score, got pulled, then the reliever came in and gave up a grand slam. I blame the manager for this. Only one run had scored at this point. Leave Morrow in and either let him work it out or go for the all-time walks record (16). No-lose scenario. 

Baseball Card Lessons

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Life lessons that baseball cards taught me as a kid:

  • When I was a kid, I managed to accumulate several thousand baseball cards.  Obviously, I had no money back then, so I would try to persuade my mom to buy me cards by telling her that they were a good investment.  This was boom-time for the sports card industry, and I think the whole cards-as-investment thing was a lie that the card manufacturers foisted on children to sell more cards.  I mean, they knew that these cards were going to end up being worthless.  If you’re printing millions of cards at a time, I don’t care how many years go by, how are any of these cards going to be worth anything?  (I encourage everyone in the world to throw their baseball card collections away.  Only then could my cards possibly be worth anything.)  Lesson learned: the basic economic principles of supply and demand.
  • Baseball cards were the original form of fantasy baseball.  I still remember the first trade I ever made:  Eric Davis for Don Mattingly.  Davis was a rising star for the Reds, and I had his rookie card.  But I really thought Don Mattingly had a cool sounding baseball name, and he was really good and he looked sweet with that eye black.  But it wasn’t his rookie card I was getting back, so it wasn’t worth as much.  I didn’t care; I just really wanted a Don Mattingly card, so I got one.  In hindsight, this was a fair trade, since both cards are now worth exactly zero dollars.  Lesson learned: that Don Mattingly was once awesome and that the dude currently managing the Dodgers is some sad impostor.
  • I was also a huge fan of Jose Canseco.  I thought he would be the greatest baseball player of all time, especially after his 40 homer / 40 steal season in 1988.  So I decided to go all-in on Jose.  I traded a Dwight Gooden rookie card (plus other cards) for nine various Jose Canseco non-rookie cards.  I really liked Jose, and I figured that when he eventually broke every record and went to the Hall of Fame, I would be rich. Lesson learned: the perils of not diversifying one’s portfolio. (I was kind of obsessed with Jose Canseco.  When I was bored I would just randomly call the operator and ask for Jose Canseco’s number.  Then I would hang up giggling.  I don’t know why, but I thought this was great fun and the pinnacle of daredevilry.  Yeah, I was a weird kid.)
  • One of the most valuable cards I owned wasn’t a baseball card, but this Wayne Gretzky card (as further described below, I didn’t have many valuable cards).   This was worth something like $15 according to the Beckett price guide, which seemed like a ton of money to me at the time.  So I went to a local card shop to try to sell it, but failed because my negotiation skills were even worse than they are now.  I then forgot that the card was in my coat pocket, and of course my mom then washed my coat and ruined the card.  Lesson learned: that doing laundry is bad.

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Despite having so many cards,  my cards all sucked.  Everyone else had all the hot cards.  The rookie cards of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Bo Jackson.  The cool Mark McGwire Team USA Card.  Older cards from the 70’s that my friends had gotten from their dads or older siblings. Cards from Canada.  Autographed cards.  I had none of these.  Every pack of cards I got brought new promise and turned out to be crap.  Topps used to have these stupid checklist cards, those were the worst.  I had hundreds of those.

It was embarrassing how terrible my collection was.  I would meet with my friends to trade baseball cards and I would just sit there while they ignored my sad cards and traded with each other while I sat there alphabetizing my cards by team name and deeply pondering whether “A’s” goes before “Astros”.  I was sick and tired of it.   So I told my friend Mark that I owned a Mickey Mantle baseball card.  I was smart about it (or so I thought); I didn’t claim that I owned THIS Mickey Mantle card, I just said I owned a Mickey Mantle card.

Mark was impressed but he wouldn’t let it alone.  He asked to see it over and over again until I realized he wasn’t going to stop asking.  So I told him I would bring the card over to his house and then biked over there.  When I arrived I pretended to check all of my pockets and said, “Oh no…it  must have fallen out of my pocket when I rode over here!”   Mark freaked out and insisted that we go look for it.  Now, if I really wanted to commit to this lie, I should have gone outside during the middle of a Michigan winter to scour the streets for a few hours.  I should have shed a few tears.  But that all seemed like too much work to me.  So I just said, “No, it’s okay.”  Yes, this is the best method I could conceive to resolve this situation.  Lesson learned: don’t lie; not because lying is bad, but because I suck at it.  (Once, I didn’t feel like doing my work at school so I just threw my worksheet away and then went to the corner to read Curious George.  My teacher came over to ask me where my worksheet was.  I went to the turn-in basket, did a poor job of pretending to look everywhere, and said “I don’t know.”  She then proceeded to pick my crumpled worksheet out of the wastebasket.  She asked me, “Is this yours?”  I said, “No.”  She then uncrumpled the paper to reveal a blank worksheet.  Blank except for my name fastidiously scrawled at the top of the paper.  Thus, this lesson was reinforced; I suck.)

Ryan Braun Hate Monster

I hate Ryan Braun. 

A-Rod is gone. Maybe forever. And thus my hate became a wizened specter, starving in the shadows. For a while, I thought that wretched wraith would die and I would be free of my hate and my mind could be filled with rainbows and puppy paws. But then along came Ryan Braun. I don’t mind that much that he got suspended for the PEDs. I don’t even mind that much that he lied about it. But what really pissed me off was that he went out of his way to vilify the poor guy who screwed up his urine sample (even perhaps calling him an anti-Semite). Then, despite all that, the morons in Milwaukee gave him a standing ovation on Opening Day? Grrrrr…my hate…just…won’t…die. 

So when Ryan Braun ruined my fantasy team last weekend by destroying Jason Grilli (who’s on my team) on Saturday AND Sunday with 9th inning homers to blow saves, my hate monster roared back to life. Like, literally. Like my hate is sitting on my couch right now roaring and eating Cheetos. He has a name. He says his name is Chet. I asked him if Chet was short for Chester and if he was named for Chester Cheetah because he liked Cheetos or maybe it was the other way around and he likes Cheetos because his name is Chester. But he says his name is just Chet and that it’s not short for anything. 

So yeah, Chet tells me that I now hate Ryan Braun forever. I will obey.

spirit 

You can believe one of two things: 1) I actually have a hate monster sitting on my couch or 2) I actually think I do. Either way, I’m probably not okay.