October 31, 2012

Biggest Free Agents to Watch

The season is over and and the San Francisco Giants are the champions. That's all well and good for all of the Bay Area baseball fans, but for the fans of the other 31 teams in the league, the time has come for off-season contract talks and Free Agency. All fans will be following intently to see if their team's GM makes the right moves to take their team deep into the playoffs. All that being said, here are some of the biggest Free Agents available, and some of the rumors swirling around them currently.

Josh Hamilton (OF)- I was going to save Hamilton for last, but his case is too interesting to ignore. His season ended in a chorus of boo's as he watched the Rangers crash and burn at the end of the season, ultimately being eliminated by the Orioles in the AL Wild Card Game. With such an acrimonious end to his season, and the problems Hamilton has had with coaching already, It would surprise me to see the Rangers hold onto him. If the Brewers are willing to ignore their pitching problems, they could definitely make a play for the Outfielder. The Red Sox might want to avoid the off-the-field problems that Hamilton comes with, but they certainly have the money for him. Both the Dodgers and the Yankees were considered suitors at one time, but with the Dodgers getting Crawford (to go along with Kemp and Ethier) and the Yankees already stretched thin, contract wise, I doubt either team will make a big play, although the Yankees always seem to end up finding some money for the big name players (i.e. A-Rod)

 My Prediction- I think Hamilton will go to Milwaukee, to give Braun more protection in the lineup

Mike Napoli (C)- There are not too many concrete rumors surrounding the slugging Catcher just yet, but Tamp Bay has emerged as an early favorite.Although if the Yankees lose Russell Martin, don't be surprised to see Cashman make a play for Napoli.

 My Prediction- Like I said, nothing has really materialized yet, but Tampa Bay does make sense, seeing as Napoli is a Florida native.

Zack Greinke (SP)- Let's get real, folks. This is a pitching league. GMs have started to notice this and have been signing their top tier pitchers to long term deals (Cole Hamels, Matt Cain), a guy like Greinke quickly rises to the top of the list of available pitchers. The Twins have already stated that they will commit all their off-season spending to Starting Pitching. Whether they have enough money to pay a top Free Agent like Greinke is yet to be determined. The Angels still hope to retain Greinke and have a definite shot at it. The team that will be interested in just about all Starting Pitchers on the market is the Dodgers. Stan Kasten, the one with all the money in the ownership group, has already stated that money is not an option this winter. No one should be surprised if the Dodgers are very involved in Greinke.

 My Prediction- I can't see the Twins winning a bidding war with the Angels or the Dodgers. I see the Angels landing Greinke for a second year, unless the Dodgers lose out on this next player...

James Shields (SP)- Shields is technically not a free agents. The Rays have picked up their contract option on the right-hander for 2013. That being said, the Rays have been very candid about their willingness to trade Shields to free up some money for other needs (See: Mike Napoli). The Dodgers have come out as the main suitor for Shields and have the money for him.

 My Prediction- I would not be shocked to see the Dodgers pull this move off, but it might be too complicated. I expect Shields will stay put in Tampa.

Other Notable Free Agents: BJ Upton (OF), Michael Bourne (OF), Nick Swisher (OF), Edwin Jackson (SP), Hiroki Kuroda (SP), Jake Peavy (SP), Anibal Sanchez (SP), David Ortiz (DH/1B).

October 3, 2012

Game 162

Baseball season started during the first week of April. It is October now and 161 games later, we still have no idea how the playoffs are going to look.

When Bud Selig announced that there would be two wild card teams, he could not have envisioned a better outcome than what we have today. Two divisions are up for grabs today and in the AL West, the two teams are playing each other. The National League wild card was just decided last night and the NL East was just decided two days ago. 

On Friday the two wild card games will take place. We know that the Cardinals will play the Braves in what could be Chipper Jones’ last game but we have no clue who will play in the AL wild card game. Let’s go over the scenarios.

If Oakland wins today against Texas, Texas will host a wild card game Friday against either the Orioles or the Yankees.

If Texas beats Oakland, Oakland will likely travel to the East to play either the Orioles or the Yankees. If the Orioles win tonight, the Yankees win, and Oakland loses, the A’s will play the Orioles at Camden Yards Friday.

If the Yankees lose and the Orioles win, they will play a one-game playoff at Camden Yards to determine the AL East winner. The loser of that game will play either the A’s or the Rangers in the wild card game.
Essentially, there will be a series of one-game playoffs. Today’s game between the Rangers and A’s is a one-game playoff and the loser will go on to play another one-game playoff. If the Yankees lose and the Orioles win, they will play a one-game playoff and the loser of that game will play another one-game playoff.
As a fan of the Orioles, a one-game playoff scares me and I am sure it would scare any fan of any team. For people who love football because there are fewer games therefore every game matters, a one-game playoff is ideal. Every pitch matters and it makes for amazing television. For baseball traditionalist the one-game playoff is terrible. They say your whole season ends up coming down to just one game and that is a bad thing. I understand both arguments.

Now, just a disclaimer, what I think will happen is probably way different than what will actually happen. I think Oakland wins today’s game against Texas which will put the cap on a dream season for A’s fans. A.J. Griffin is just plain better than Ryan Dempster right now. I predict both the Yankees and the Orioles win today which would make the Yankees the Al East Champions. This would cause a one-game playoff between the Orioles and the Rangers. The probable starters for that game would be Yu Darvish and Joe Saunders. 

Whether you are for or against the second wild card team, nobody can deny that this has been one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. I was skeptical about adding a wild card team but now I am grateful because it has helped keep baseball relevant during football season. Usually when football season starts baseball kind of dies out. This season, baseball will be on everybody’s TV Friday and I expect those wild card games to have outrageous ratings.

September 5, 2012

Orioles Magic

It is September 5th and the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. If I had told you this in April you would laugh in my face and think I have no business writing an article on baseball. Despite my Oriole fanhood, I would have thought it was ridiculous too.
Typically going into the season I am optimistic about the Orioles. I typically say to myself, “This is the year our young players develop and we put together a winning season.” They always make a couple of moves in the winter that I think are just enough to put the team over 80 wins. In 2004 the Orioles acquired Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Miguel Tejada. I was unbelievably excited because Tejada was a former MVP and Lopez was coming off a good season. Of course some of the younger players took a step back and the Orioles finished below 80 wins again. In 2011 they had a few good pitching prospects come up to start the season. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman were all supposed to be 15 game winners. With those guys coming up and the offseason acquisitions of Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee, and Vlad Guerrero I thought 2011 was going to be the year. Unfortunately, Arrieta got hurt, Matusz and Tillman took steps back, and Lee and Guerrero vastly underachieved.
That brings me to 2012. This was the first season in a few years that I did not feel good about the O’s. Their big offseason move was trading Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. Our rotation was once again relying on young pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Wei-Yin Chen. We had holes at second base and left field and a young bullpen. I was expecting a 60 win season at best.
Since April the Orioles have completely proved me wrong. Jason Hammel was one of the top ten pitchers in the American League in the first half and Chen was right behind him. Adam Jones came out playing like a MVP candidate and our bullpen was unhittable. I was excited but remembered that the Orioles started out similar last season.
Then things went south. Matusz, Arrieta, and Hunter got shelled every start and were all sent down to the minor leagues. Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis got injured leaving major holes in the outfield. At the All Star break, sports analyst like Michael Wilbon and Dan LeBetard said that the Orioles would come back to reality and quite frankly I agreed with them.
Once August came around the Orioles flipped a switch. The Orioles we see now are a totally different team than the Orioles even in June. They made a few small moves such as signing Nate McLouth, trading for Omar Quintanilla, and picking up a pair of lefty pitchers Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf. Also made moves like Mark Reynolds to first base instead of third where he had the worst fielding percentage in baseball in 2011. Moves like moving Brian Matusz to the bullpen because he pitches significantly better against lefties.
The reason the Orioles are winning is because they are one of the most balanced teams in baseball. The O’s don’t really have any stars, but instead have a bunch of good players who all contribute. Nick Markakis is not a star, but has the highest OBP in baseball since returning from injury in July. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez are not stars but reliable starters with low ERA’s. They have the best bullpen in baseball led by Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson. And finally they have Manager of the Year favorite Buck Showalter who has turned this team around in an incredibly short period of time.
The Orioles have not made the playoffs or had a winning season since 1997. This looks like the year that they finally do it. The Orioles have finally earned the respect of baseball analysts, opposing teams and most importantly their fans. If things continue the way they are going, expect to see the black and orange contending for years to come.

Michael Huntley

July 13, 2012

Is Defense Really as Important as People Say?

"Defense, to me, is the key to playing baseball" -Willie Mays
Now I am in no position to argue with Willie Mays, but I must respectfully disagree. Everyone talks about the importance of defense in every sport, but is it really as important as the analysts will lead you to believe?

To preface this, I must say that all my information is strictly stat based and, as we all know, the game is not played on paper. That being said, I think some of the information I found to be shocking.

Starting off, I will talking a lot about the Defensive Wins Above Replacement stat (The estimated amount of wins a player adds to a team, using his defensive numbers, compared to a AAA player replacement). The higher a players Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) is, the more valuable his defense is to his club. The players with the best dWAR in the NL is Darwin Barney, Second Baseman for the Chicago Cubs, with a 2.9. Second to Barney is his double play partner Starlin Castro with a 2.1. Now when we take a look at the Cubs overall, we can see that they are sitting at 33-52 at the All-Star break, a mere 0.5 games above the Houston Astros for the worst record in all of baseball. Turn to the AL, you will find Brett Lawrie, Third Baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, edging out Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners, 3.6 - 2.7, for the highest dWAR. The Blue Jays are playing pretty well with a 43-43 record, while the Mariners wallow at the bottom of the American League at 36-51.

Understandably, some people will criticize the fact that I am picking out a few players out of the nine men that take the field each game, so let me show those critics some team stats. The top team in dWAR in the league is the Toronto Blue Jays. As mentioned earlier, they have a .500 record, but they are 14 games behind the MLB leading New York Yankees. The Blue Jays have a 6.8 team dWAR so you would assume the Yankees must be close behind, but when you look at the numbers, the Yankees are a poor defensive team with a -2.1 dWAR. To simplify that a bit, that means if you made the two teams equal in the defense department, the Yankee's lead would really be close to 23 games. In fact, looking at all the Division leaders (LAD, PIT, WAS, TEX, CWS, NYY), the only team with a positive dWAR are the Pittsburgh Pirates at a 0.7. Meanwhile, looking at the teams at the bottom of each division, only two of the six have a negative dWAR, Philadelphia (-0.3) and Houston (-2.1).

Alright, you are all probably sick of me spitting numbers, but it all makes sense. Defense, while being very important, is completely reliant on the other facets of the game. In the case of the Blue Jays, they might have solid defense, but their pitching is a gaping hole in their team. Sitting in last in BBs and home runs allowed is basically a giant sign that their defense does not have a chance to help them out, seeing as those are two plays where defense is completely uninvolved.

In the end, good defense is just the icing on the cake. While it is nice to have a center fielder who can make an over-the-shoulder basket catch (i.e. Willie Mays), or a second baseman who never makes a mistake, if that player cannot hit, he is hurting the team more than he is helping.

July 7, 2012

MLB Playing Field. Is Everyone Getting Better/Worse?

I know some people will look at the title of this article and yell that the Yankees or Rangers are the greatest thing ever since Jeans were made. Yes, there are some teams that are just better than everyone else and are on the on top of their division but, most teams have improved and there are some division where all the teams are above .500.

As of July 6th, the whole AL East is above .500 or at .500. We are basically at the half way point of the season and the whole division is above .500? That is saying something about the talent level in that division and how it is now spread between most teams and not just a select few.

The Royals, who are still under .500, have become a better team each and every year. Why? It is called scouting and their farm system. The Royals are finally becoming a good team with fantastic young talent with Moustakas, Hosmer, and Myers (still in minors).

Also, the addition of the second wild card team levels the playing field. I know you are asking, Daniel, how does adding a team to the playoffs level the playing field? With that addition of the new team, many teams feel like they are now in the race. With that said, instead of dealing players away, teams would rather go out and buy players. With those trades, those teams out of contention then get prospects. These prospects are a chance but, if they pan out, it was well worth the trade. A historic one-sided trade with these implications was made with the Red Sox and Mariners in 1997.  The Red Sox dealt reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. The Mariners got what they wanted at the time but, Slocumb then only pitched 96 innings during the '97 season and the years after. What did the Red Sox get? The Red Sox got over 5,000 at bats with Jason Varitek and over 1,000 innings pitched out of Derek Lowe.

Recently, there was a trade made which explains exactly what I am talking about. Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros got traded to the Miami Marlins who are 4 games back of the second wild card seed. The Astros, in return, received two good prospects. Those prospects were Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. Dominguez was the #2 rated prospect and Rob Rasmussen was the #9 rated prospect in the Marlins farm system, according to MLB.com. The Marlins traded these two prospects because they needed a "now" guy. I do not have a crystal ball and cannot tell you that those two guys will pan out and the deal will then be one-sided but, there is a possibility.

If the MLB playing field is level and most teams are competing in their division and the wild card races, then baseball becomes exciting again. Now, we will not have another end to the season like we did in 2011 for a while but, more teams will be in the races and more fans will want to go out to games.

July 3, 2012

What Constitutes a "Real Fan"?

One of the more defining aspects of a team is their fan-base. Everyone knows that the Phillies have a historically judgmental fanbase. One that is as brutal to the opposing team as they are to their star player going through a tough spell.
2-Time Cy Young Winner's are not Heckle-Exempt

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Oakland A's or the Florida Marlins of the past few years (now the Miami Marlins). Both teams are more well known for a lack of fans. 
And someone in between there, you have the bandwagoners. These people tend to stick to the standards. The Yankee's, Red Sox, or, for the more masochistic people, the Cubs. These people deserve very little respect. I say very little because the fact that they are even pretending to watch baseball is admirable and at least they won't distract you from a game.

To put it a little more simply, and take note that this is one man's opinion
A REAL FAN takes an interest in his teams goings-ons throughout the year, even if it is just checking in every couple of weeks
A FAKE FAN waits to see if there team will make the playoffs and gets excited about there team if they are doing well
A REAL FAN has a reason for being a fan. Daniel comes from a Red Sox centered family because in Buffalo, you are a Yankee's fan or a Red Sox fan, and since South Buffalo is predominately Irish, they have the Boston connection (same with a lot of my family). Even if your reason is that you played for the Marlins in tee ball and have followed that team since then, you have license to rep that team, as long as you stick through the tough times.
A FAKE FAN, when asked why they are a fan of a team, will respond with "I just am" or even "Wild Thing is my favorite player of all time". This excludes people who are fans of local team. Thats just expected.
A REAL FAN engages is a somewhat intelligent discussion about which team is better, usually biased, but never resulting in lasting animosity.
A FAKE FAN yells unintelligibly at people wearing the colors of the opposite team and go to games, not to watch their favorite player, but to pick fights to show how much "tougher they are".

The main reason I decided to clarify a real fan is that, a little over a year ago today, on Opening Day 2011, a man by the name of Bryan Stow was viciously blindsided by what is believed to be two people in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, wearing his San Francisco Giants gear like a real fan. As a Dodger fan, I heard about how vicious and violent all Dodger fans are. Let me start this off by saying was happened to Mr. Stow is in no way excusable and literally makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. But let me also add that the two men who attacked Mr. Stow are in no way Dodger fans. They may tell people that they are "hardcore" Dodger fans, but that is not the case. You see, I was there that night. I sat with two friends and my dad in front of a group of Giants fans. We might have made one or two snide remarks, but for the most part, I talked about how much I think James Loney is a bum and he discussed his distaste for one Giant's player or another. It was casual and friendly. This is how rival fans should act.

Now I understand that when two friends are fans of rival teams, it can get a little more hostile. That being said, team affiliations should never affect a friendship. A real fan of the game would understand that baseball, and all sports for that matter, are something to be mutually enjoyed. So whether you are a die hard fan who reads every box score 100 times over, or someone who goes to a game with Instagram already pulled up your phone, go to have fun, make memories, and enjoy your life.


June 28, 2012

The Slow Demise of Baseball?

"I sure do love watching sports for the mental battles and subtle nuances" Says nearly no one my age these days. It seems that in this day and age, if you don't cover yourself in pads and fly into each other in potential debilitating hits, the people in the sport aren't athletes. Don't get me wrong, I love hockey and football just as much as the next person, there just seems to be a lack of respect for the mental side of athletes. The fact of the matter is, people would rather watch Blake Griffin posterize Kendrick Perkins than Joey Votto draw a full count walk from Derek Lowe without stepping out of the box once. A lot of you reading this won't even understand the significance of that. And that is a problem.
Some of the blame lies with television. Right now, if you were to watch Sportscenter, you would probably hear more talk about the Detroit Lions offseason legal trouble than you would about the recent injuries to the New York Yankees pitching rotation. Now on the flip-side, this isn't all ESPN's fault. On the whole, our society today has a notoriously short attention span. A majority of my fellow college students can't go five minutes in a class without checking their smart phone (not me though I'm a perfect child. Hi Mom and Dad). Football is the perfect sport for this. You watch a 30 second (tops) play, then you have another minute to update your status about how great of a play that was. Boom. Instant gratification.
Truth be told, the time between a play in football or a series in basketball is not that different from the time between pitches in baseball. That being said, until people can start appreciating the artistry and the skirmish within the battle within the war that each pitch in baseball is, my generation may be leading baseball to a slow, painful execution.