Posted on: March 29, 2008 11:00 am
Edited on: March 29, 2008 11:57 pm

Saturday Baseball Blog

It's the last Saturday of spring without regular season baseball. Things are winding down in draft prep mode and gearing up for in-season help. You'll notice our player updates are starting to change a little in their language, going from "Draft him in the later rounds as a sleeper" to "Don't feel bad, J.D. Drew is already killing my team too."

So since this is the last sane Saturday, I thought today's blog would be in honor of "The Bugs Bunny, Road Runner Show" -- the all-time greatest Saturday morning cartoon ever. I'd wake up at seven in the morning on a non-school day, wearing my footy pajamas, get a big bowl of Sugary Sugar O's, or whatever colorful cereal I could find with a cartoon on it, and settle in for the greatest few hours of the week. And that was just two Saturdays ago, when I watched "The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume I" on DVD.

"I say, I say, I'll reluctantly take Aaron Harang!"
The Sporting News pointed out an interesting fact about Aaron Harang last season. (Doesn't he kinda look like Foghorn Leghorn, at 6-foot-7, 275? Does that make Bronson Arroyo the Chicken Hawk?) The Reds' brutally bad bullpen blew five saves that would have been wins for Harang. Even if they just save three of those five games, that give Harang 19 wins to lead the NL! He's an innings-eating beast that somehow gets away with allowing a flyball for every groundball he induces, yet keeps an ERA under 4.00 in a tiny ballpark. Only six other 15-game winners last season walked fewer batters than him, and he has gone over 200 strikeouts for consecutive seasons.

Those facts haven't gotten past the eyes of Fantasy owners, as they made him the 10th-highest drafted SP in Head-to-Head leagues this season (12th in Rotisserie). But let's be honest, owners are reluctant to make him their ace because of the Great American Ball Park, and the fact that he has allowed 28 home runs in each of the past two seasons. When it comes time to trade for an ace for your team -- or better yet, a stellar No. 2 -- see what you can dangle in front of him for a trade. "You gotta keep your eye on the ball. Eye! Ball! Eyeball! I almost had a gag, son. Joke, that is."

The Bugs Bunny Delivery
I've always thought that Francisco Rodriguez's crazy, Bugs Bunny whiplash delivery would be the cause of injury for him at some point. He's definitely proven me wrong over the past three seasons, going on to save more games (132) than any other pitcher in the game (Trevor Hoffman is just one behind at 131). The Angels' pitching staff is a little banged up this season, but the addition of Jon Garland gives them another innings-eater that can reach the bullpen. Setup man Scot Shields had some tough outings last season in one of his worst years in a while. The Angels went from the 7th-best bullpen in 2006 (with a 3.78 ERA), to 20th-best in 2007 (4.24 ERA).

The Angels have always produced solid setup pitchers throughout the 2000s, from K-Rod (who was behind Troy Percival for a few seasons), to Shields, to Brendan Donnelly to J.C. Romero. But what's interesting is that the Angels' bullpen dip last season comes in the first year of Mike Butcher's tenure as the Angels' pitching coach -- or should I say, the first season without pitching coach Bud Black, who went on to manage the Padres in '07.

Either way, you can pretty much write in K-Rod for another 40-save season in a contract year. The team hasn't locked him up and they are bracing against possibly losing him and his goggles (eat more carrots to improve your vision!) to another team next year. That sounds like incentive for the best closer in baseball over the past three years.

By the way, if you get a chance to read this column about Baseball Bugs, I highly recommend it. It ended up in the 2007 Best Sports Writing Annual.

One Dozen ACME Off-the-Table Curveballs

San Francisco's ace, despite what Barry Zito is being paid, will be Tim Lincecum this season, make no bones about that. In a steady drizzle, Lincecum did his best Wile E. Coyote impression by crafting a plan to strike out nine batters in five no-hit innings. This Giants team will not offer him much run support, that much we're certain of, and his bullpen is going to be below-average again (4.10 ERA ranked 18th lst year, despite pitching in a great pitcher's park), but Lincecum could approach 200 strikeouts this season, depending on how many innings the Giants let him throw (he's just 23). He was sixth in the majors last season with a 9.23 K/9 average among pitchers with at least 100 innings thrown. He's going to climb into the top five in the strikeouts-per-9 innings category this season. Here's who he'll have to surpass:
  1. Erik Bedard, SEA: 10.93
  2. Scott Kazmir, TB: 10.41
  3. Jake Peavy, SD: 9.67
  4. Johan Santana, NYM: 9.66
  5. A.J. Burnett, TOR: 9.56
Three reasons why the '08 Dodgers Make Me Feel Like Pepe LePew:
  1. I have to admit, I'm starting to get a man-crush on Jonathan Broxton. I'm 6-foot-2, 290, and I can't reach the Oreos without pulling a hamstring. So I have to show some love for this right-handed fireballer that weighs in at 288 and stands 6-foot-3 coming into his second full season as the Dodgers' setup man. He picked up his first spring save Friday, but considering Takashi Saito is 39 years old with little injuries starting to take their toll (calf and buttocks soreness this spring already), Broxton could be a great sleeper for saves. If you're in a mixed Rotisserie league, he can be a great help in strikeouts (second only to Bedard in K/9 among pitchers with at least 80 innings in '07) and the Georgian's ERA and WHIP will help you more than some of your starting pitchers. He has a mean attitude that totally befits a closer -- and Dodger Stadium is awfully pitcher-friendly.
  2. Chad Billingsley had just 20 starts last season, but he struck out seven or more batters in five of those games. He struck out seven in Friday's spring game against the Red Sox also. Among all 140-innings-plus '07 pitchers with a dominance (K/9) number of 8.00 or higher, no one had a better command (K/BB) ratio than his 2.20. He was top-15 in ERA as a starter (3.31) and the Dodgers have a much-improved offense this season. He could finish the season as a top-20 SP.
  3. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp could become top-40 outfielders in an outfield that has plenty of potential if Andruw Jones can return to his former self. I've grown up as a Dodgers hater all my life, until I went to a game at Chavez Ravine last season. These youngsters give this club a new look that have little cartoon hearts coming out of my chest.
I ended up blogging more about Saturday Morning Cartoons HERE!
Posted on: March 28, 2008 10:02 am
Edited on: March 28, 2008 10:04 pm

Fridays ... Not Just the Fried Green Beans Place

Psssssssttt ... Wanna see something pretty cool? ... [looking left] ...[looking right] ... [reader starting to get uncomfortable] ... Check this out! [opens up trenchcoat to gasping reader] ... Go to your League page, mouse over "Stats," then click on "Weekly Planner."

This is a tool I've worked with Jason Fox, one of our programmers, for the past two months. What it gives you:
  • Weekly schedule broken down daily with gametimes
  • Color indicators to show you which Top-10 hitting teams are facing bad Bottom-10 pitching teams (GREEN), and Bottom-10 hitting teams facing good Top-10 pitching teams (RED).
  • Breakdown of how many games each team has in the upcoming Fantasy scoring period.
  • Hitting and pitching stats for each team (currently set to show '07 numbers). You can click back and forth between Hitters and Pitchers.
  • More importantly, this shows Home and Away hitting and pitching stats also (again, set for '07 for the first couple weeks of this season).
  • Top 10 hitters and pitchers over the past seven days (currently set to show top hitters and pitchers in our projections).
There's still some stuff we have to iron out. For instance, when double-headers are scheduled, what will that do to the table, stuff like that. But I think this tool will really help you get a bird's-eye-view at the week ahead before setting your lineup. Hope you feel the same!

Nationals Park
We're just a couple days away now from the opening of Nationals Park against the Braves. The pitching canyon known as RFK Stadium is in our rearview mirrors. What's weird, though, is that Washington's home still wasn't that friendly to their pitching staff over the three seasons they have played there.
  • 2007 -- 4.08 ERA (10th), 77 HRA (12th-fewest)
  • 2006 -- 4.66 ERA (20th), 91 HRA (16th-fewest)
  • 2005 -- 3.56 ERA (7th), 66 (5th-fewest)
In '05, their best season in that park, they had three pitchers (Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza and John Patterson) throw sub-4.00 ERA seasons. And each either eclipsed or came very close to throwing 200 innings. None of the three have had a better season since, with both Hernandez and Loaiza changing teams the next season, and Patterson starting just 15 games over the next two seasons combined.

Early indicators seemed to convey the thought that Nationals Park would be more of a hitter's park, but now, the thinking is just that it's going to be more hitter-friendly than RFK, but still it's going to be a pitcher's park. Here are the dimension comparisons:
  • RFK Stadium: 335' L, 380' LC, 410' C, 380' RC, 335 R
  • Nationals Park: 336' L, 377' LC, 402' C, 370' RC, 335 R
Players have disagreed with the posted distances for RFK Stadium in recent years, but it's obvious the difference isn't going to be a great one. George Washington and St. Joseph's failed to hit a ball out of the playing field in the new stadium's only game last week, even with aluminum bats.

Washington doesn't have a ton of big bats in their lineup to begin with, but the development of Ryan Zimmerman and the return of Nick Johnson, and the departure of big RFK Stadium, this season should be a marked improvement offensively. Last year, they ranked dead last in the majors with 639 runs scored. But considering offenses like Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and even the Padres should be even worse, the Nats lineup should climb a few spots.

Either Ethier or Perhaps Pierre
Remember a couple seasons ago, when Andre Ethier came to the Dodgers a couple seasons ago in exchange for Milton Bradley? And Ethier's rookie efforts proved to be outstanding, leading NL rookies in batting for a large part of the season. Now, it looks like he's forcing the Dodgers to pick between his upside and the weak defense/soft bat of Juan Pierre in left field. Something tells me he'll be coming out ahead in the long run and Fantasy owners should grab him now while his value is still low.

Posted on: March 19, 2008 10:16 am
Edited on: March 19, 2008 4:56 pm

Things That Start With the letter 'B'

Beginning: I'm feeling a little hyper right now. Not sure why (two cups o' coffee so far, on my way for a third), but my readers should be the beneficiaries of my spazziness.

Baseball Boogie: Oh my dear sweet lord ... Have you seen the 1986 Dodgers doing the "Baseball Boogie"? If you have, and I'm late to the party, my apologies. But a writer for the Orange County Register discovered this YouTube gem, and he's been trying to get it shown to the current team, since some current Dodgers coaches were involved in the making of this video. Apparently, it was made on the heels of the Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle. Unfortunately, Orel Hershiser's efforts at rapping earned the '86 Dodgers just a fifth (out of six) place finish in the NL West. I had to put this piece at the top and separate it from the rest of these items. It was just too good (or bad).

Books: First -- I bought Sun Tzu's The Art of War, at Barnes and Noble last night. I've always wanted to read it, and I've often seen business writers reference it, as well as Fantasy writers. Pretty much, anything you can compete in, Sun Tzu's got your back. He's like the Bill James of killing other armies. Expect random references over the next week -- especially with Tout Wars looming just a couple days away. Secondly, I also purchased The Essential Stephen King, which ranks one of the greatest American writer's works 1-100. (I took a quick peek and he has It above The Stand at No. 1, which is pretty tough for me to swallow. This was also written in 2003, before King's greatest work, The Dark Tower series, was completed. It's No. 1 without question.

Brett Myers: The Phillies' ace from a couple seasons ago went seven innings on Sunday -- the longest outing of any pitcher this spring. Talk about stretching him out. We're talking about a guy that probably threw in more games, with fewer innings, than almost any starting pitcher last season. His return to the rotation is interesting. Charlie Manuel is, without question, one of the more "baseball-knowledgeable" managers in baseball. In other words, I don't think he's someone that goes off of numbers, but instead decades of experience and thousands of innings. But moving Myers from the rotation (spring of '07) into the bullpen (April of '07) and now back to the rotation (spring of '08) is scary for both his arm, his psyche and his Fantasy owners.

Brian Barton: The demotion of Colby Rasmus appears to have opened up a spot in the Cardinals' outfield for either Barton or Skip Schumaker. Barton is batting .349 with a .674 slugging percentage (second on the team behind Albert Pujols) and eight RBI. He's a Rule V pick, so he has a great chance of making the team. Power isn't his game, despite what his numbers suggest, but he has plus-speed (41 steals in the minors in '06) and NL-only owners should take notice.

Boogers: Should never be referred to as a good source of protein.

Bad March: Ichiro Suzuki now has just four hits in 38 at-bats (.105) and his OBP is just .146. I still say he's going to be fine for the season and unless he's hurt and not telling anyone, you're going to get him at a discounted price. Let's put this spring in perspective with a deeper look into the Japanese superstar's 2007 season:
  • He had at least four hits in five different games.
  • He had four hits total in his first three games.
  • He did not go hitless in any four-game stretch.
  • He had 76 games with two or more hits.
  • He had only 28 games with no hits.
  • In May and June combined, he had at least one basehit in 49 of 57 ballgames.
Big Red Machine: Two young Reds pitchers, strangely enough not named Homer Bailey, are tearing through opponents this spring. Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, aptly nicknamed the Dominican Dandies by the Cincinnati Enquirer, have a combined pitching line that looks like this: 26 IP, 8 ER, 2.77 ERA, 31 Ks, 7 BB, 0 HRA. Note that last statistic, since that could be one of the most important numbers for them pitching in tiny Great American Ball Park.

Batting leaders: Anyone notice that the batting leaders in the AL and the NL this spring both happen to be former Tampa Bay Rays? Josh Hamilton (.556) has been a beast for the Rangers so far, and Jorge Cantu (.457) appears to have locked down the third base job in Florida.

Bill James: It's spring training! It's baseball being reborn! It's time to hear from Bill James, one of the best baseball minds in recent history! Coincidentally, it's also time for Bill James to fill out his NCAA March Madness bracket. So as you watch your brackets get ready to bust, here's a good way for you to determine if a lead is safe during a basketball game.
  • Take the number of points one team is ahead.
  • Subtract three.
  • Add a half-point if the team that is ahead has the ball, and subtract a half-point if the other team has the ball. (Numbers less than zero become zero.)
  • Square that.
  • If the result is greater than the number of seconds left in the game, the lead is safe.
  • My Thoughts: Now, once you took the time to do all those calculations, look up. The game is probably over and your March Madness hopes are likely obliterated.
Beaten to the punch: I'm very upset with Scott White. He's become a LOST freak over the past year or so, watching past seasons over and over, trying to buy flights on Oceanic Airline's website, digging a hole in his cube and hiding contraband while calling himself Sawyer. He's pretty good with the theories and such, but he never made this connection: The Yankees and LOST. Before reading this, I want to mention that Scotty Blanco could do a MUCH better job than this schlub. Hopefully he'll regale us with his LOST theories soon.

Big bats force tough decisions: The Dodgers currently have a glut of talented outfielders, with Andruw Jones cemented in center field, the corner spots could be up for grabs, despite Juan Pierre's hefty contract. Matt Kemp (.310, 12 RBI) and Andre Ethier (.340, 5 HR, 13 RBI) are exploding this spring, and their bats could become more valuable to manager Joe Torre than Pierre's speed (plus he's hitting just .204 with a sad .271 OBP). Ethier has decent wheels as well, whereas Kemp can flat out crush it. All four of these outfielders are interesting Fantasy picks. I think Torre inquired about what it would take to get the NL to add a DH this season. Even Jason Repko is batting .343.

Bleeding ears of listeners: Here's a link to our podcast from Tuesday. Things you will hear: People named after cold weather clothing, Cueto/Volquez and Scott Kazmir.

Big-time help for readers: In the next few days, we are about to unveil a pet project of mine, along with superstar Dilbert look-a-like programmer Jason Fox, a weekly planner tool that you will come to rely on every week. I don't want to say too much about it, other than it will be the greatest thing since the invention of Chili-Cheese Fritos.

Being the guy that doesn't give up: Joe Nelson is still battling for a roster spot on the Marlins' 18th rebuilding effort. He's a 33-year-old reliever that has bounced around the country, mostly in the minors, for the past 12 seasons. He has missed all or parts of the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007 seasons with a couple shoulder surgeries and Tommy John surgery (which helped him meet his wife, a radiologist). The South Florida Sun-Sentinel did a piece on him today. "Rehabs aren't easy, but my friends are on me, telling me I don't really want to get a real job," Nelson said. "One day they are going to take the uniform away from me and you can't have regrets." He kinda makes me feel bad for asking for a pinch hitter last week in softball because "I was winded" after walking to the on-deck circle. Oh yeah, don't draft Joe Nelson. He stinks for Fantasy.

Best Fish on the mound this spring?: Chris Volstad is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA this spring for the Marlins. Last season, I listened to Marlins GM Larry Beinfast talk excitedly about the future of Volstad. The 21-year-old is a former first-round pick from South Florida, and the right-hander is having one of the best springs of any Marlins player, much less pitcher. An interesting quote in the Sun-Sentinel from manager Fredi Gonzalez about this Volstad and this rotation: "His age and inexperience does not enter into any of the discussions. He's showing good signs." I expect to see him return to Double-A to start the season, but the way this staff is set up, you can bet you'll see him on this side of June, so pick him as a reserve in NL-only Rotisserie league drafts.

Being B.J. Ryan's backup: Manager John Gibbons told the Toronto Star that Accardo will be called upon early in the season for saves until B.J. Ryan, who reported soreness after Monday's outing, is completely ready. "I told (Accardo), 'If B.J.'s here (on the active roster), he's not going back-to-back days. If he's not, then you're going to be the guy." We have Accardo projected at 15 saves, and we're taking into account some early chances, as well as some chances midseason if Ryan goes back on the DL. Accardo proved last season he can get the job done. He is one of just three pitchers to save 30 games that were not among the top 300 players drafted in mixed leagues last season. David Weathers and Kevin Gregg were the other two. Folks, you can pick up saves late. I promise. Remember, about a third of all saves recorded each season are from players that aren't drafted in a normal 23-round Rotisserie draft.

Bad practical jokers: Some of the Cubs' pitchers pulled a spring training prank on their strength and conditioning coach, Tim Buss. They demolished his car ... Ha.

Seriously, the windows were smashed in, the sides were all dented up and some bats and balls were shoved through the front windshield to indicate this wasn't just some random crime. Buss was quietly fuming and trying to figure out what he was going to tell his wife, who owned the '95 Nissan, while Jon Lieber came up and said, "It's a shame. What kind of person would do something like that? It really just shocks me. I'm sure she'll understand." Finally, after the guy's blood pressure hit red on the gauge, the pitchers took him to see his brand new '08 Nissan Xterra ... For the record, wouldn' t the story have been much better if he just went postal and took a bat to Lieber?

Birth, Separated at?: A reader, Ed Swierbinski, emailed me just now, to ask me if anyone has ever told me that I look like the detective on "Dexter." I have NOT heard that, although I have heard the following: Kevin James, James Gandolfini, and finally, "the fat guy from MAD TV" (Will Sasso). I'm thinking he didn't mean Erik King, but possibly -- David Zayas? He has a cool first name, that's fo sho! Outside of the fact that he looks cool, and I look like the guy that always asks for extra cheese -- I AGREE COMPLETELY! (And no, no one has ever told me that, but thanks!)

Back spasms and baseball: NOT SO FAST, MR. WOOD! The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Kerry Wood was scratched from Wednesday's spring training game because of lower back spasms. Manager Lou Piniella immediately went into defense mode, since he Wood was going to be their closer to start the season. "Look, we do have one setback with Kerry (Wednesday) -- his back is really, really stiff and he's not going to be able to pitch Wednesday," Piniella said. "It has nothing to do with his shoulder, or elbow, it's just with his back. He went to see a doctor, and hopefully we'll get him out there (Thursday) or the next day. It's just a little bit of a setback, but nothing, nothing serious. Just a minor thing that he goes through every spring." Isn't that the point though, that Wood has broken down over the past few seasons and injuries pile up? Won't a bad back affect his mechanics? "We have three people here that in my mind that can close and I'm very comfortable with," the manager said. Speaking of which, move Marmol up a couple spots on your closer rankings.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com