Thursday, April 29, 2010

Managing by the save rule

Managing by the save rule has increasingly become a problem for baseball. Managers find a "closer" and stick with him in save situations, almost no matter what. Yesterday's Phillies/Giants game was a perfect example.

Much has been made in the media, good and bad about Ryan Howard's $125 mil. extension, so his righty/lefty splits have been re-hashed all week. Coming on the heals of the 2009 World Series, where the Yankees beat the Phils in part by throwing a lefty at Howard every chance they got, every manager in baseball should know about Howard's splits. This year, his OPS against righties is .932, .568 against lefties. So Giants' manager Bruce Bochy had to know about it. But just in case he didn't, he watched Howard take his ace, two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, deep earlier in the game. So that's the set-up. (I should also mention that Chase Utley, also a lefty, had hit Lincecum hard all day, but with nothing to show for it.)

So yesterday Lincecum is cruising with a 4-1 lead. The only run being the aforementioned home run to Howard. He's got 11 k's, as well. But then, with one out in the 9th, he walks Victorino on four straight pitches. With a three-run lead, Bochy goes to the "closer" Brian Wilson, a hard-throwing righty who's had a good start to 2010. Predictably, Wilson gets Polanco for the second out, but is hit hard by Utley. Then, he pitches around Howard, and walks him, putting the tying run on base. After a protracted battle with Jason Werth, on a 3-2 pitch, Werth hits a blooper down the first base line that hits the foul line, scores all three base runners, and ties the game.

Had it not been for the save rule, Bochy almost certainly would have brought in tough lefty Jeremy Affeldt to pitch to Utley and Howard. Who knows how it would have turned out, but Affeldt was the better option to face those two guys in that situation. If Utley and Howard did manage to get on, Wilson could have faced Werth with the game actually on the line. Instead, Wilson put the game on the line by giving up a hit to Utley and walking Howard.

"Why do I care?" you ask. Well, I've got Lincecum on one of my fantasy teams and needed the win. But am I upset? Nope. I also have Ryan Madson on that team and in another league, and he ended up with the win, albeit after blowing a save chance in extras.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comment on Lost

I've said all year that I don't think Lost could possibly live up to the expectations of explaining the mysteries that it started. Here is a much more articulate explanation for what I was trying to say:

When tonight's show ended, a friend sent me an e-mail suggesting I check out footnote 59 from David Foster Wallace's essay about the director David Lynch. DFW was assessing the second (far worse than the first) season of Lynch's show Twin Peaks, but I think his words might just as easily apply to the later seasons of Lost:

Like most storytellers who use mystery as a structural device and not a thematic device, Lynch is way better at deepening and complicating mysteries than he is at wrapping them up. And the series' second season showed that he was aware of this and that it was making him really nervous. By its thirtieth episode, the show had degenerated into tics and shticks and mannerisms and red herrings, and part of the explanation for this was that Lynch was trying to divert our attention from the fact that he really had no idea how to wrap the central murder case up.

Food for thought. What do you think, Shafer? Has Lost fallen victim to its reliance on mystery as a structural device? When the pleasure of a show lies almost entirely in its puzzles, a denouement that promises answers will likely bring nothing but disappointment.

More on Dusty

According to this morning's Enquirer, Dusty denied that he asked the Reds for an extension, but the quote from Dusty isn't that clear. We'll see how it shakes out.

Speaking of Dusty, he's now about half way there. I've been saying for awhile now that BP should be in an on-base role, not a run-producing role. Last night, Dusty put BP in the two hole and moved Rolen into the clean-up spot, with Bruce batting fifth and O-Cab sixth. Dusty alluded to this move earlier when he mentioned O-Cab as an rbi guy (and in fact O-Cab led the team in rbis). I would still rather see BP leading off, with O-Cab second and Stubbs moved to the 8th spot. This would take some pressure off of Stubbs, who is struggling to get on base. BP has struggled, too, but he's now a veteran and we know what he can do over the season. Another worry: Dusty has made some line-up moves (like moving Stubbs down in the order) that made sense, but has then abandonded them right away. I'll be disappointed, but it wouldn't surprise me to see BP back in the clean-up spot almost right away.

I also like that Dusty's playing Hanigan who is hot instead of sticking with Hernandez full-time. This team should be playing the hot guy. Soon enough, that will be Hernandez and he'll get the majority of the starts again.

Harang certainly pitched well enough last night to keep his rotation spot for at least another couple of turns. Stay tuned on that as well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More on Chapman

Here is an interesting post at discussing when the Reds should call-up Chapman. There are a lot of comments, making it an interesting discussion.

Harang and Arroyo are very high-priced, Cueto is actually pitching decent in spite of his era, and Homer is out of options. Of course, Leake has been the best of the bunch so far. Do the Reds demote Harang to the bullpen? Tonight's start might answer that question one way or the other.

We saw earlier today where Dusty has not been given an extension. It looks like the only way he keeps his job is to win this year. And the only way for them to win this year (probably) is for Harang and Arroyo to turn it around. So look for Dusty to do whatever it takes to make that happen. In other words, lots of chances for Arroyo and Harang.

Interesting tid-bit about Dusty

Here is a link to the latest article from Ken Rosenthall at Fox Sports. There is some interesting stuff about Mike Leake and Steven Strasburg, but near the end at the beginning of the bullet points he discusses Dusty's apparent request for a contract extension from the Reds. Right now, it looks like the Reds are standing pat. To be continued . . .

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mike Leake

We've spent a lot of time and energy on Aroldis Chapman, but there's another rookie actually pitching for the Reds, Mike Leake, who skipped the minors and went right into the rotation. Thursday night he got the first win for a Reds starter. Rachel and I met him on Friday; he's a very small guy. A little taller than Daniel Ray Herrara, but not much.

Here is a link to a post about Leake from the terrific fantasy blog at Bloomberg Sports.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Game 17; and hope?

Not a great night at the ballpark last night. For the most part the rain held off, but that wasn't necessarily good news for the Reds. Arroyo looked great . . . in the first inning. He lost it in the second, giving up four runs. He was gone by the time Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam in fourth off of Micha Owings (who in the sixth flied out to left on a ball so high I was sure it would bring rain). Arroyo was charged with eight runs.

Mostly because of the weather and the 10-0 score, our group wanted to leave early. But Kevin Correia had a no-hitter through five so we couldn't leave. Thankfully, Ryan Hanigan (who looks good this year) led off the sixth with a solid double in the gap. That left us free to go, and to contemplate where the Reds are heading. Right now, they're tied for next to last with the Cubs at 7-10, a half game ahead of the Astros, and three and a half behind the Cards. Still too early to give up, but if both Harang and Arroyo don't have it, the Reds are in for a long season.

So is there hope? Here is some interesting stuff from Will Carrol at Baseball Prospectus, who saw the Cuban Missle pitch last night in Indianapolis. This is from his Under The Knife column regarding baseball injuries.

Aroldis Chapman warms up on an overcast Indianapolis evening.

I finally got the chance to see Chapman live last night in Indianapolis, and he didn't disappoint. Forgive me if I sound like a scout (reminder: I am not a scout), but he's a smooth lefty with a live arm, showing two plus pitches and the makings of two more. The Reds' prospect with Triple-A Louisville throws a very good fastball that lives at 92-94 mph and can touch 100 when he gets angry. He has a slider with two-plane movement, enough to buckle the knees of a good hitter. That good hitter, Pedro Alvarez, saw three pitches in his second at-bat. First was a 93-mph fastball that tailed back in over the outside of the plate. The fastball, when below 95, has a very late tailing action that comes back in to lefties. The second pitch was an 84-mph slider that had Alvarez, the Pirates' top prospect who is playing for Indianapolis, leaning back, but the sharp break pulled it over the inner half. He finished Alvarez off with a hard 99-mph pitch right over the black on the inside of the plate, handcuffing Alvarez.

But he's not perfect. The fastball really flattens out when he throws it faster than 95. Now, at that speed, a lot of guys won't be able to catch up, especially after having their eyes shifted by the slider, so it's not that big a deal yet. His second fastball—which acted at times like a cutter—didn't seem to have much control and had much earlier movement. When he got it over the plate, it was pretty fat. His changeup is a work in progress, at best. His entire delivery changes, tipping the pitch, and he tends to put it in the dirt. He does have a tendency to miss low, only working up in the zone with his good heat. He also has a tendency to "fly open," losing the timing between foot strike and ball release, pushing the ball up but usually well into the lefty batter's box.

There are also some oddities. Chapman has a devastating pickoff move. Jose Tabata got on with a walk, but still has no idea what happened once he was at first. Chapman's delivery is slow, an uncorking that has a lot of hip turn on top of a drop-and-drive motion that recalls parts of Orlando Hernandez's delivery. While Chapman pitches over the top, that hard drop with his back leg doesn't give much downward plane to his pitches. He also has one physical oddity that I haven't heard mentioned before, in his shoulders. Many pitchers have an imbalance in their shoulders, with their pitching shoulder larger than their glove-side shoulder. Chapman is the opposite and I couldn't get any explanation for why that might occur. Chapman is a natural lefty and not a weight room guy. It's possible this is some sort of quirk of the uniform, but I watched him closely and it does appear that there's a difference. Were this on the throwing side, it would suggest sick scapula, but again, it's on the glove side.

Chapman's stuff is very good, but he's inefficient and seems to get frustrated on the mound. At times, he "pitches angry," overthrowing, adding more leg drive and stride length, and giving off some bad mojo. If he can harness this, the 100-mph heat will keep that frustration from growing, but I do wonder how he'll adjust to those that can hit that kind of pitch. (There aren't many of them.) He doesn't have the polish of the Rays' David Price, someone I also saw pitch from the same mound a couple years back. His fastball is better that Price's and his slider can be, but Price had more of an understanding of pitching and was more consistent and controlled on the mound. The fastball did not appear to be nearly as good as that of the Rangers' Neftali Feliz. It is coming lefty, but Feliz keeps its movement, even at the higher velocities. We'll see if Chapman's results can approximate that of those two elite pitchers. Let's just hope this is the last time Chapman appears in this column.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Game 16

We finally made it to another game last night not having been since game 2. Mike Leake looked great last night if you don't count the two two-run homers he gave up. The second was particularly bad, a pinch-hit home run to Garrett Anderson after the Reds had just taken the lead. But the Reds tore up the Dodgers' bullpen in the 7th, scoring four runs to re-take the lead 8-5. They won, taking 2 of 3 from the Dodgers and inching toward .500. At 7-9 and a weekend series coming up with the Padres, hopefully the Reds will be at .500 by Monday.

The Reds have struggled this season so far and I've struggled with how to write it up on the blog. Here's what I've come up with: it's too early to panic, but Dusty has to go. I'm formulating my argument and will post as soon as I'm sure what I want to say.

Survivor: Heroes v. Villains

After last week where we witnessed perhaps the dumbest Survivor move in a long time, this week we saw perhaps the greatest. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen last night's Survivor yet, stop reading.

Last week, J.T. attempted to get the edge on the Villains by giving his immunity idol to Russell, figuring Russell was on the outs of an all-girl alliance. J.T. recommended the Villains take out Parvati. (Everyone seems to think Parvati is a huge threat and they want her gone. She has, after all, already won a Survivor All-Stars.) Of course, that move was not smart because Russell was actually in control of the alliance. (As Rachel pointed out, Steven is sitting at home saying, "see, I told you I was the brains behind my alliance with J.T.")

This week we got the much anticipated merge, with the added bonus that the two sides were equal with five each. So this is the big vote. Whoever goes home, the other side has the majority and can "easily" reach the final five. So this is why Pavarti's move was so brilliant.

She already knows that the Heroes think there is an all-girl alliance among the Villains and that they have "flipped" Russell. So there's a pretty good bet that Russell is safe from the first vote by the merged tribe. So she tells Amanda she has an idol and Amanda tells her she better play it. Here's the big move. They made a big deal last week about how Amanda has played over 100 days of Survivor and Parvati is like one day behind. So they're the top two players ever, at least by that stat. Parvati's instinct tells her Amanda is not being entirely truthful so she sets out to protect her ENTIRE TRIBE. First, she gets a second idol from Russell, who assumes she's going to be voted out by the Heroes because they already wanted Parvati out. And he assumes the Heroes think he and Parvati already think they played whatever idol they had (because he told them that).

Then, and here is where the brilliance of the plan starts to show, Parvati and Danielle outlasted everyone on the immunity challenge. So what does Parvati do knowing that she's going to be voted out? She concedes the challenge so that Danielle will have immunity. So Russell and Danielle are now safe. And what do the Heroes do? They fall for Parvati's move and start to think that maybe Parvati does have an idol (as told to them by Sandra). So the Heroes decide for sure, say Parvati, vote Jerri. This plays right into Parvati's plans.

At tribal, she gives the two immunities to Jerri and Sandra, leaving her entire tribe, except for her, safe from the vote. Here is where she had to rely on her instinct about Amanda, which of course was correct, and take a risk. It paid off handsomely, because the Heroes went for Jerri and the Villains all voted for J.T. Brilliant.

So the Villains will coast to the final five, right? Don't count on it. This has been a great season of Survivor and I expect it will only get better. Jerri seems a sure bet to follow Parvati anywhere after last night. But Sandra still has it in for Russell. Maybe we will see that all-girl alliance after all. (And when I say "we" I mean everyone but J.T.) And Russell has to be angry that Parvati played his idol without telling him her plan. Russell likes to be in control and he lost that control last night. His ego won't let him see the brilliance of the plan and the net result. He'll be gunning for Parvati. But so what, they've been gunning for Parvati since the opening credits first ran and she still there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reds get much needed off-day

The Reds are off tonight for the first time since the day after opening day. Boy, do they need it. They have lost five in a row after starting 5-3. But all five of their wins came in their last at-bat. So they were getting a little lucky. That luck caught up to them in Pittsburgh where they got swept, including two walk-off wins for the Pirates.

The starting pitching has been nothing to write home about (or blog about, apparently) and the bullpen has been mediocre at best. But the problem is clearly the offense. Bruce hit two home runs yesterday, so he may be breaking out, but so far his much touted breakout hasn't happened yet. And the Reds continue to get poor on-base percentage from their lead-off hitter. I don't think Dusty is ever going to agree that the main trait you need in lead-off guy is the ability to get on base. The fact that a guy is a fast outfielder with good defense doesn't necessarily mean he's a lead-off hitter.

But the big question on everyone's mind: What's up with Aaron Harang and how long before Chapman takes his spot in the rotation?

I don't see it happening soon for a couple of reasons. 1. I'm holding out hope that Harang turns it around. 2. The Reds must have Harang pitching well to either help the team or bump his trade value. 3. Chapman's not really that stretched out. Right now, Chapman is shadowing Leake, but that's only one spot removed from Harang. Stay tuned. . .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Cuban Missile takes off

Rachel and I went to Toledo yesterday to see Aroldis Chapman make his professional debut. Here's a video of his first pitch. We bought our tickets before we knew Mike Leake was also making his debut, but with the Reds. Had we known, we probably would have stuck with the Reds game and skippped the 6 hours in the car. But we did have a good time. Chapman looked very smooth in his warm-ups, although he has a bit of an odd start to his wind-up. A video of his warm-ups is at that bottom of this post.

Chapman ended up going only 4 2/3 innings. I suspect he was on a strict pitch count because he came out after 85 pitches, one out from a victory. He was let down a bit by the defense and could have easily been out of the fifth but for on error in the infield. (An aside on minor league baseball. When the error was made we saw Homer Simpson say d'oh about 40 times on the replay board, but were never told whether the first baseman or third baseman got the error. And I still don't know the first name of the Mud Hens' stating pitcher.)

Chapman consistently hit 99 on the radar gun in the first inning. We deduced the gun didn't go to 100, but were proven wrong (thank goodness; that's a long drive to see "100" on the gun and have the gun not go that high) on the last pitch of the first inning. A 101 mph fastball to strike out the Mud Hens' number three hitter. Chapman gave up three hits (none cheap) in the third, but worked his way out of the jam. He stuck out 9 and didn't walk anyone. He did give up the one unearned run, and did not factor in the decision.

Zach Cozart looked good, too, with three doubles. He batted second and played short. He'll be the Reds' shortstop in 2011 if he keeps it up.

One more note. The Reds' best hitting prospect is Todd Frazier. But he doesn't have a clear position. He was in the line-up (clean-up) on Sunday, but was the DH. What's the point of that? He should be playing somewhere in the field.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Legend: Part One

After watching the fun spring training prologue from afar (Cincy), Rachel and I are headed up to Toledo on Sunday. Look for a full report on Monday.

Game 2: O-Cab and the wave

Game 2 is in the books and it looked a lot like game 1, with the Reds never getting the lead in spite of decent pitching and the bullpen not able to hold on. Cueto gutted out 6 tough innings only to have the bullpen blow it, this time mostly by rookie Logan Ondrusek. He came in (after Herrera gave up a hit to Schumaker) and walked Brendan Ryan on four straight pitches with Pujols on deck. Not a winning recipe. Rather than wasting Herrera on one guy and bringing in the rookie, Dusty should have gone straight to Rhodes with the idea that Massett would pitch the eighth and Cordero the ninth. But that didn't happen, and the Cards scored big off of the bullpen for the second straight game.

O-Cab had a bit of a coming out, with a two-run homer and an rbi double, but his leadership was on full display last night, and that's much more important to this team. Cueto seemed upset when Yadier Molina seemed upset that Cueto hit him. In fact, Ramon got into a shouting match with someone in the Cards' dugout, which further upset Cueto. O-Cab aggressively took control of the situation at the mound and the Reds and Cueto got out of the inning with the score tied.

Rolen had a nice game but it won't show up in the box score. He hit the ball hard each time, with little to show for it, and made a great defensive play to end a Cards rally. O-Cab made a nice diving catch, but it wasn't as timely as Rolen's gem. Those guys are going to be really good for the Reds this year.

Finally, a thought about the fans. It was very discouraging for me, and I'm sure worse for the players, to be in a tight ball game in the late innings with a rally going. O-Cab doubled in a run late, but nobody noticed. The fans were doing the wave.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alonso moves to the outfield

It looks like the Reds are moving Yonder Alonso to left field in hopes of getting him to the majors more quickly. If he looks good in left, he could help right away, but I wouldn't count on that. Plus, guys that change positions often take a step back offensively as they concentrate on their new roles. We'll keep you updated on this ongoing experiment.

TV update

Several great things happening on T.V. right now. Here are some notes:

1. Veronica Mars may be back.

2. Surprisingly, last night's American Idol, doing the Beatles, had more good performances than cringe-worthy moments. You haven't heard from me about Idol this year, but that's because the season has been so uninspiring. I do think the contestants are getting better and most of the bad singers are gone. But there's not that much there to like this season. I think Andrew Garcia is going home tonight.

3. The best show on T.V. is back next week: Glee!

4. Last night's Lost gave me actual hope that the show's ending will be satisfying. They may not tell us everything, but I think we're going to know all of the big stuff.

5. Damages has been terrific this year. The season finale is April 19. Taking its place in our line-up, the terrific new series, Justified, based on an Elmore Leonard story and starring Timothy Olyphant.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blue Sox in last place

After day one, the Blue Sox are in last in the bgal. Too early to give up though, right?

Worst thing to happen: Jason Frasor blows his first save chance. Loosing the save is bad, but if he loses the job, then I'm in serious trouble. I have Gregg as a back-up, but I want to cut Gregg in favor of a starter. Now, it looks like I'll have to keep him.

League of Nations draft re-cap

I wasn't too thrilled with my bgal team and the jury is still out on the Colonial League draft (a re-cap to come), but I was thrilled with my League of Nations team, The East Dillon Lions.

League of Nations is a Yahoo! league, which is head-to-head, not roto. We have 21 categories including things like net steals and OPS for hitters and holds and on-base percentage against for pitchers. I did the best I could putting the categories into BP's Player Forecast Manager and used the results to pre-rank my players for the draft. The Yahoo! computer draft page is really nice. It allows you to toggle back and forth between the Yahoo! rankings and your own rankings. We did our draft by computer, although it was still live -- some guys used the computer to draft, others followed along and made each pick.

We can make daily moves, so you have to have a good mix of relief and starting pitchers so you can have as close to a full staff as possible everyday, and you need good position eligibility flexibility for the same reason.

Anyway, here's how I ended up:

C Joe Mauer
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B Martin Prado
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
OF Andre Ethier
OF Shane Victorino
OF Michael Cuddyer
Utl Miguel Tejada

Bench: Juan Rivera
Chris Iannetta

SP: Josh Beckett
SP: John Lester
RP: Mariano Rivera
RP: Trevor Hoffman
P: John Lackey
P: Max Scherzer
P: Rich Harden
P: David Price

Bench: Joba Chamberlain
Ryan Madson
Chris Perez (since dropped for Brandon League -- remebmer we use holds)

Opening Day

We had great weather, but not so great a game. Harang was okay, but not great and certinaly not good enough to beat Pujols and gang today. Harang's slider looked great when he kept it down, getting a lot of swings and misses, but he got a couple fastballs up and Pujols and Rasmus crushed them.

The bullpen really gave it up, with Massett giving up a grand slam late that put it out of reach. The bullpen will not be that bad, though.

You have to wonder why the Reds went with their fourth and fifth outfielders, especially Nixy, who barely made the team. Gomesy has the most power on the team (as evidenced by Sunday's batting practice display) and should be playing. But with Harang pitching (a fly ball guy) I could see using CD in left, but not center with Nixy in there and Drooooo on the bench. That doesn't make sense. Of course, when Drooooo did get in there he went 2-2 with an rbi. He's got to play every day, not platoon, or he should be in AAA.

Rolen, Rolen, Rolen looked good with a big fly and so did Joey Votto. Broooooce struck out looking with guys on late (but pre-grand slam). That hurt.

Not a great day, but I'm still excited about the season. The Reds still have a chance. I was back on the Dusty band wagon coming out of the spring, but I'm right on the edge, about to fall off.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reds show intent to win with "final" roster announcement

The Reds Opening Day roster will be as follows:

Ramon Hernandez
Ryan Hanigan

Joey Votto
Brandon Phillips
Orlando Cabrera
Scott Rolen
Miguel Cairo
Paul Janish
Juan Francisco

Jay Bruce
Drew Stubbs
Chris Dickerson
Jonny Gomes
Laynce Nix

Aaron Harang
Bronson Arroyo
Johnny Cueto
Homer Bailey

Francisco Cordero
Nick Massett
Arthur Rhodes
Daniel Ray Herrera
Mike Lincoln
Micha Owings
Logan Ondrusek

I say "final" roster because this roster does not include a fifth starter. The Reds don't need one right away, so they're not taking up the roster spot right now. But Mike Leake has won the fifth starter spot. If we needed proof the Reds are trying to win this year, it's this move. If the Reds didn't think they could win, there would be no reason to use Leake right away. He has zero minor league time. Instead, however, the Reds picked the guy they thought would give them the best chance to win as many games as possible. Cutting Aaron Miles and Jared Burton, in favor of rookies Juan Francisco and Logan Ondrusek confirms this.

The Reds will have to make one more cut when they do activate Leake. I hope they send down Janish. O-Cab will play everyday and only needs an emergency back-up. BP can do that and so can Miguel Cairo. Janish just doesn't do much for the team since he can't hit. I wanted the Reds to keep Drew Sutton for his left-handed pop, but they went with Nix and Francisco instead. Those guys should get the job done, but look for Sutton to make and impact later this year when someone gets hurt.

Rachel and I are headed to batting practice today. Like last year, today is a beautiful day. Hopefully, like last year, tomorrow will not be crappy weather. I remember last year listening to Marty at the Q & A discussing the fact that Gomesy hadn't made the team (Marty didn't know; a fan told him). I was really disappointed, but the point here is Gomesy was a big part of the Reds last year. So this is a fluid roster. I like the Reds' depth this year and I feel confident the AAA guys will be helpful when called on to contribute.

I guess the big question here is this: What does the Mike Leake situation say about Aroldis Chapman? I have to assume the Reds will go with the best guy for the spot. So as soon as Chapman is declared healthy, it might get very interesting. Stay tuned.