derek jeter

2015 Predictions

Despite my complete failure to predict anything correctly last year, I’ve decided to roll out another set of predictions this year, apparently because I am a depraved masochist.  While I referred to my 2014 predictions as “bold”, I make no assertion about the boldness of this year’s predictions.  I no longer care about my perceived boldness.  I just want to get one right.

1.  Each National League division winner from 2014 (Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers) will repeat.

While the 2015 American League looks like a complete crapshoot, with various upstarts on the rise and traditional powers on the decline, I don’t expect much to change at the top of the NL.  The Nationals started with three excellent starters in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and then over the past year have added 40% of what used to be the best rotation in baseball (Max Scherzer and Doug Fister from Detroit).  The Dodgers are still the best team in the West on paper and have the means to add whatever they need over the course of the season.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, do seem to be vulnerable in the Central after a rather underwhelming 2014, but I’m not sure their division rivals have made quite enough strides to overtake them this year.  Which leads me to my next prediction…

2.  The Cubs will be a massive disappointment.

Everyone seems to love what the Cubs have done over the offseason, from signing Jon Lester to poaching Joe Maddon.  Add that to the best group of prospects in baseball, and many are picking the Cubs to experience a huge turnaround.  In fact, fans and bettors are so excited that the Cubs are leading World Series odds in Vegas, now at 6 to 1.  I’m sorry, this is just insane.  This is still a team that finished in last place in 2014, and the success of the team is largely tied to the development of youngsters with little to no major league experience, such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.  I have no doubt that the Cubs are headed in the right direction, but those counting on big things for 2015 are going to end up being very, very sad.  I mean, we’re talking about the Cubs!  Have we learned nothing from the past 100+ years?

3.  Two of the three longest postseason droughts will come to an end.

Only three teams have failed to make the playoffs in the past ten years: the Blue Jays (21 year drought), the Mariners (13 years) and the Marlins (11 years).  All three are improved for 2015 and have major sleeper potential, and I expect at least two of these teams to finally break through and return to the playoffs.  Honestly, I hope it’s not the Marlins, because I despise this franchise and their scumbag ownership, but the bottom of the NL East (Atlanta and Philadelphia) looks terrible and the Fish should get fat playing those teams 19 times each.

4.  Baltimore will win the AL East.

The Orioles look mediocre on paper and are generally not highly regarded by the advanced stats community.  This has been true for the past three years, but the O’s have posted three straight winning seasons, averaging 91 wins a year.  And while they have lost some key contributors from last year, like Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller, one must remember that they dominated the AL for significant portions of 2014 without Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.  Sure, the rotation is nothing special, but the same can be said for nearly all of their AL East rivals.

5.  The Yankees will have a losing record for the first time since 1992.

The post-Jeter era in New York has begun, and it does not look pretty.  Sure, Jeter’s statistics were in sharp decline over the past few years, and he was barely a shell of himself during his farewell tour in 2014.  But people tend to forget that statistics can only measure so much…and that Derek Jeter is magic.  Without magic, there is no life to the Frankenstein’s monster of the Yankees roster.  All you’re left with is a bunch of inanimate rotting body parts sewn together.

6.  The Giants will miss the playoffs.

Like clockwork.  It’s an odd year.  This will mean that this “dynasty” (I shudder at this word) will have made a total of three playoff appearances over a span of seven seasons.  What a joke.

7.  The Tigers will not win 90 games.

This is the same prediction I made as last year, but it’s significantly less bold this year, as many see the Tigers as on the verge of falling off a cliff.  I wanted to go out on a limb and say that the Tigers wouldn’t make the playoffs at all, but I can’t do it.  Or rather, I don’t want to.  With all the parity in the AL and two wild-cards, who knows.  Plus, unlike their emerging division rivals, the Tigers are clearly in all-in mode, and can go for broke at the trade deadline if they are anywhere close to contending.  But, even with some good breaks, I think 90 wins is the ceiling.

8.  The Nationals will be the best team in 2015…and it won’t matter.

I’ve lost all faith in the playoffs.  They are a complete crapshoot, and the more the playoffs are expanded, the more crappyshooty they will be.  I think the Nationals are the best team in the majors, but since when does the best team win the World Series?  Or even a good team?  Whatever.  I think I’ll just root for a Beltway Series, that will be fun.  May the best team win?  Not likely.

Playoff predictions:

NL East:  Nationals
NL Central:  Cardinals
NL West:  Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Pirates, Marlins

AL East:  Orioles
AL Central:  Indians
AL West:  Mariners
AL Wild Cards:  Angels, Tigers

NLCS:  Nationals over Dodgers
ALCS:  Orioles over Indians

World Series:  Orioles over Nationals

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.

Fantasy Memories: Ryan Klesko

In late April 2001, I had just graduated from college and was planning to go backpacking through Europe for most of the month of May.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to check my fantasy baseball team very much while I was traveling (no smartphones in 2001), so the night before I left, I set my roster one last time.  I think my first baseman was hurt or something, so I just picked up the highest ranked first baseman available on the waiver wire, who happened to be Ryan Klesko.  Despite a solid 2000 season, Klesko had started 2001 slowly, hitting only .247 in April, so someone had dropped him.  I didn’t know much about the dude at all, so I was just hoping that he would stay relatively healthy and at least not hurt my team too much while I was gone.

When I returned to the U.S. at the end of May, I finally logged back on to a computer and took a look at the numbers next to Klesko’s name.  My jaw fell off my face.  Ryan Klesko had gone insane.  In May 2001, Klesko hit .354/.464/.788 with 11 homers, 40 RBI and 10 stolen bases.  That’s double digit steals and homers in a single month.  I have no idea whether anyone else has managed this feat, but it seems like it would be extremely rare.  I checked all of the 40/40 seasons in history (Canseco, Bonds, A-Rod, Soriano) and none of them did it.  And Klesko was primarily a first baseman!  While I was off traipsing across Europe, Klesko was doing work, carrying my fantasy team on his back for an entire month.

Fantasy baseball managers tend to develop irrational attachments to certain players, or at least I do.  Very often, it’s a guy you feel like you “discovered”, someone you bought into and believed in before anyone else did.  In those cases, a large portion of that ongoing attachment comes from personal pride in your own fantasy baseball skills.  You identified a star before he became a star, therefore, you are also a star and every time you see his name in your lineup, you feel good about you.  I definitely feel that way about some of the guys I’ve had on my team over the years, like James Shields or R.A. Dickey. But this wasn’t the case with Klesko.  I was just plain lucky that I happened to have added him right before he exploded; I can take no credit in this.  But I continued to roster him on many of my teams up until he retired in 2007, and this was a different kind of attachment.  Call it eternal gratitude.

The 2001 MLB season was perhaps the most memorable of my lifetime.  Seattle won 116 games.  Barry Bonds hit a billion homers.  Ichiro won rookie of the year and MVP honors.  Albert Pujols’ ridiculous rookie year as the oldest-looking 20 year old in history.   9/11.  The Jeter Flip.  All of this culminated in the greatest World Series I have ever seen.  So it’s not surprising that Klesko’s amazing May has been virtually forgotten.  But not by me.  My gratitude continues until this day.  For that amazing month, thank you Ryan Klesko.  Thank you until the end of time.

All-Star Game Thoughts – Part 1

Ah….All-Star selections. In recent years, I haven’t had too much beef with the selections, but man, do I have a lot to say about this one:

– First of all, many of you may not agree with this, but I believe that the All-Star game should exactly be that: a game of STARS. I have no problem with superstars that are having off-years or declining surefire hall-of-famers being included in the game over mediocre journeymen having small-sample-size-skewed randomly good first halves. So, I have no problem with including Jeter and Chipper on the rosters, especially when there aren’t really great alternatives available. Even though I’m a Tigers fan, do I want to see Jhonny Peralta over Jeter in an All-Star game? HELLLLLLL NO.

– Along those lines, because the sample size of just the first half of a season is so small, past achievements should be considered, especially performance from the second half of the previous season. Obviously, current season first half performance should be the primary criterion, but if a player has an awesome second half the previous year and ended up winning the MVP award (or getting close), that’s fresh enough in people’s minds that they should want to see that player in the all-star game. So I have no problem with putting a defending MVP like Josh Hamilton in the game, even though he has been injured this year.

– On the other hand, I don’t believe that you can reward players based simply on a team’s performance from the previous year. Let’s all admit it now; the Giants got lucky last year. Does that mean they should get undeserving players into the All-Star game because their manager has a hand in selection? That’s stupid. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are borderline but acceptable selections due to their track records, but Ryan Vogelsong is not an All-Star and neither is Brian Wilson.

– Let me say that again, BRIAN WILSON IS NOT AN ALL-STAR. The guy is like the 2nd ranked reliever in fantasy but he has a 1.42 WHIP and, trust me, every Giants fan in the Bay Area is having a heart attack every time he is on the mound. Moreover, he is a relief pitcher. More on that later.

– How bad is the National League? The NL starters include Rickie Weeks at second base and Placido Polanco at third base, and those selections are actually defensible. That’s sad. The Polanco selection is particularly bad. This is a guy who has no power and no speed, whose only asset is hitting for average….and he’s hitting .274. Aramis Ramirez would be a better choice, but it’s not like there’s a huge difference between those players. Whatever.

– RANT FOR ETERNITY: For the millionth time, there are WAY TOO MANY RELIEVERS IN THE ALL-STAR GAME. Think about it this way: in the American League, there are five starting pitchers per team, so about 70 starting pitchers total. There are only 14 closers; one per team. All-Star selections should conform to those ratios; there should be five starters on the roster for every closer. The ratio this year is two to one. That doesn’t even factor in the fact that starting pitchers have thrown well over 100 innings by the break, while relievers are more at like, what, 30? And, since most selections are made off of current season performance and not historical performance, how do you put a reliever in an All-Star game after a measly 30 innings pitched? That’s like putting a starter into an All-Star game after four or five good starts. It’s immensely stupid. Again, I love the Tigers, but Jose Valverde does not belong in the All-Star game, and Brandon League and Chris Perez DEFINITELY do not. In general, the AL All-Star pitching staff should annually be made up up of 10 starters, Mariano Rivera, and then MAYBE one other closer if they are having a great year (none of this year’s selections qualify). And don’t even get me started on including MIDDLE RELIEVERS. Craig Kimbrel beat out Johnny Venters for the closer job in Atlanta, and is having a fantastic season, tied for the major league lead with 25 saves with good ERA and WHIP numbers and is the #1 fantasy reliever this year….and VENTERS is the All-Star and not KIMBREL? I don’t care how good Venters’ numbers are. He’s a middle reliever. The only way a middle reliever should be in an All-Star game is if he has 50+ IP, 75+ Ks, zero losses, an ERA under 1.00 and the ability to fly. Tyler Clippard is having a great season but he’s not quite there.