Category Archives: Sports
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
At .321/.414/.433, Mauer’s power may be a thing of the past, but he’s still an offensive force and one of the best pure hitting catchers in recent memory. AJ Pierzynski has cooled off considerably after a strong start to the season and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s poor on-base skills negate his much-improved power showing.
1B: Paul Konerko, White Sox
Even with a wrist injury putting a damper on his numbers in June, the AL’s longest tenured first baseman is outpacing a ton of new headline acts. Albert Pujols took longer than expected to get accustomed to a new league and Prince Fielder, while excellent, has seen his numbers fall slightly in a tougher league and a bigger ballpark.
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a slow start, Cano has dramatically improved his OPS in each month — .712 in April, .970 in May, and a sizzling 1.177 in June. He leads all AL second basemen in all three triple-slash categories and his 18 homers are 7 more than Jason Kipnis and more than double every other AL second baseman. Smooth at the plate and in the field, Cano has distinguished himself as the game’s best all around second baseman.
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Cabrera’s power and on-base prowess edges him ahead of the league’s slickest defensive shortstop, KC’s Alcides Escobar. With the game in Kansas City it would be a nice touch to run out the hometown kid as the starter, but Cabrera is just about his equal in the field, and far more advanced as a hitter. Escobar has added enough to his offensive game to be considered a top AL shortstop, but his 43:9 K/BB ratio is still troubling and a .372 BABIP will correct itself over time.
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
The shift across the diamond has been a little rocky defensively for Cabrera, but if it has affected his offense, it’s hard to tell. Having been atop the offensive leaderboards at first base for the past several seasons, Cabrera is having no problem topping the league’s third base crew.
OF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
His other-worldly start to the season has enabled him to remain the league’s top outfielder even after hitting a rough patch here in June while dealing with an illness. Hamilton has long been one of the game’s most talented players, and when he avoids injuries and distractions, there’s none better.
OF: Mike Trout, Angels
If Josh Hamilton is the game’s best player now, Mike Trout will be challenging him for that title from here on out. The Angels started slowly this season, but took off once Trout was summoned from the minor leagues. Despite playing in only 53 games this season, Trout leads the American League in batting average (.344) and stolen bases (21). Add in terrific OBP and SLG numbers in addition to one highlight catch a night and you’re looking at a player who is still only 21 and who should be an all-star for years to com.
OF: Mark Trumbo, Angels
Power. That has always been Trumbo’s redeeming quality, but this year he seems to have added average to his bag of tricks. I keep waiting for him to regress, but he continues to rake and has hit his way into all-star consideration. He’s a position-less player who is below average anywhere he plays, but his bat more than makes up for any defensive short-comings.
C: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
Yadier Molina may have more vocal supporters, but Ruiz’s OPS is over 130 points better than Molina, outpacing the Cardinals backstop in average (.362 to .316), on base percentage (.429 to .367) and slugging (.588 to .518).
1B: Joey Votto, Reds
Possibly the easiest call this year, Votto is easily the best of a weak NL first base class. No other NL first baseman is within 100 points of him in either on-base percentage or slugging.
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
This spot was Dan Uggla’s to lose about a month ago, and lose it he did with a terrible June. While Uggla was mired in a terrible slump, Hill has returned to the form that took him to his first all star appearance in 2009 with Toronto. Brandon Phillips has turned his season around nicely, but here it’s a little too late.
SS: Jed Lowrie, Astros
Rafael Furcal started the season with a bang, but has since faded back to the middle of the pack, while Jimmy Rollins is starting to heat up after a brutal start to the season. Lowrie’s average is relatively low at .266, but he makes up for it with patience (.355 OBP) and pop (.500 SLG), both tops among NL shortstops.
3B: David Wright, Mets
No one expected Wright to hit .400 for the entire season, but here we are nearing the midway point of the season and Wright’s triple slash line is still insanely good (.357/.449/.559). Wright is second in the National League in both average (Ruiz) and OBP (Votto) and third in OPS (Votto & Ruiz). He’s a pretty clear-cut selection here.
OF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Gonzalez has blossomed into one of the league’s truly elite players and leads a bevy of impressive National League outfielders. Playing half his games in Coors Field certainly helps (1.171 home OPS vs. 806 away OPS) but he’s improved his platoon splits and deserves to start the all star game.
OF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
McCutchen leads the Pirates in everything. Literally everything. Average, on base percentage, slugging, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, everything. His first half has earned him this spot, but he’ll hope to sustain his success through the second half after falling off towards the end of last season.
OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Even with his overturned positive PED test hanging over him this season, Braun has put up his usual ridiculous numbers (.311/.392/.596). Prince Fielder’s departure to Detroit via free agency left Ryan Braun rather unprotected in the lineup, but his .988 OPS is just .006 points below last season’s MVP campaign.
I’m certainly interested in the NFL draft, especially this year. After putting up with the circus that surrounds my beloved New York Jets, I have adopted a second NFL team to root for this upcoming season, and most likely beyond. I will still root for the Jets, but I will also start to follow a new team just as closely. I chose that particular team after a rigorous elimination process.
1. The team could not be in the AFC (16 eliminated teams)
2. The team could not dominate the mainstream media outlets (New Orleans, Philadelphia)
3. The team could not be considered a Super Bowl contender (Green Bay, New York Giants, San Francisco, Atlanta)
4. The team could not be from a huge market (Washington, Dallas, Chicago)
5. The team could not be a complete train wreck (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, St. Louis)
After all these cuts were made I was left with three teams – Arizona, Carolina or Detroit. To make the last two cuts I tried to figure out which of these teams I would enjoy watching the most. I cut Detroit first because I do not like the way that Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh play the game. Too many late and dirty hits for my taste. Finally, I chose Carolina over Arizona simply because the Panthers have the most exciting player between the two teams. I have my Cam Newton jersey all ready to roll and will wear it on draft day.
I now have two teams to look forward to in the upcoming draft, and the upcoming season.
1. Indianapolis Colts — QB Andrew Luck (Stanford)
I think that Jim Irsay has had this pick all figured out since about October of last year. There’s been some smokescreen interest in Robert Griffin III, but Luck’s been the consensus number 1 pick for two years now and I don’t see any way he doesn’t come off the board first.
2. Washington Redskins — QB Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
I don’t think I’ve ever been as confident in the first two picks of an NFL draft as I am in these two. A team does not trade three first round draft picks to select anything other than a franchise quarterback. If the Colts throw a curveball and take Griffin, then Washington will take Luck. Either way, they will have their quarterback of the future this time next week.
3. Minnesota Vikings – OL Matt Kalil (USC)
The Vikings have a number of positions they could look to improve, but the offensive line is the most glaring. Kalil would allow Minnesota to flush out their line to open more holes for Adrian Peterson as well as improving the protection for young Christian Ponder. Morris Claiborne is a consideration, but ultimately the Vikings should go with the safest, and surest bet.
4. Cleveland Browns — RB Trent Richardson (Alabama)
The Browns need a lot of help on offense, but with Luck and Griffin off the board, the choice comes down to wideout Justin Blackmon or Richardson. With Peyton Hillis departing, I think the Browns will take the guy that won’t need to rely on Colt McCoy’s questionable arm strength and accuracy.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — CB Morris Claiborne (LSU)
For a guy tabbed as a defensive genius and for a team that has spent a lot of high draft picks on defensive talent, Raheem Morris and the Bucs have fielded some awful defensive units the past few seasons. With a new coaching staff in place, the Buccaneers could decide to go a different way, but I think Claiborne is the best player left on the board and he fits an area of need.
6. St. Louis Rams — DT Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State)
Justin Blackmon is the popular choice to go to the Rams, but have extra picks and this year’s draft is deep at the receiver position. Cox is a much better value pick this early in the draft and will help the defense immediately.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina)
Like St. Louis, Jacksonville could use a wide receiver, but I think seventh is still too early for Blackmon, so the Jags will look to shore up their defense as well with Gilmore, who is widely considered the second best corner in the draft behind Claiborne.
8. Miami Dolphins — WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State)
I think the Dolphins take Blackmon here to replace the recently traded Brandon Marshall. There’s a lot of speculation that the Fins will take QB Ryan Tannehill, but I think they like Matt Moore more than most people realize and I don’t think Tannehill is that much of an upgrade, if he is one at all. I don’t think they panic about missing out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and will improve the offense in other ways.
9. Carolina Panthers — DL Quinton Coples (North Carolina)
While the Panthers offense score 21 points or more in 12 of their 16 games in 2011, the Panthers desperately need help on defense and they will address it in the first round. After monster reviews in his junior season, Coples fell off a little in his senior campaign, but the ability is still there and he can play everywhere on the line and everywhere is exactly the place the Panthers D-line needs help.
10. Buffalo Bills — OL Reilly Reiff (Iowa)
Buffalo fixed their defensive line in a big way during free agency, so they’ll use the draft to fix a patchwork offensive line. Reiff is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest prospect of all time or even of this draft, but he’s a solid fit for this Buffalo team.
11. Kansas City Chiefs — QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
It’s no secret that Matt Cassell isn’t the long term answer KC thought they were getting when they traded a second round draft pick to New England to acquire him in 2009. He’s been hurt and a game-manager at best, while Tannehill could prove to be a game-changer. With Cassel still on board, Tannehill would not be forced to step in on day one and take charge of the offense.
12. Seattle Seahawks — LB Luke Kuechly (Boston College)
Kuechly does not rush the quarterback well, and that type of linebacker doesn’t typically get drafted this early, but Kuechly does possess very impressive coverage skills for a linebacker. The Seahawks re-signed Skittles-machine Marshawn Lynch and have a healthy QB battle brewing between incumbent Tavaris Jackson and newcomer Matt Flynn, so focusing on defense early in the draft makes sense.
13. Arizona Cardinals — OL David DeCastro (Stanford)
The Cardinals desperately need help on the offensive line and DeCastro’s pure physical tools and hard hitting attitude make him as good as just about any lineman prospect in recent years.
14. Dallas Cowboys — SS Mark Barron (Alabama)
America’s Team needs help at several positions on defense, but none more so than in the secondary. They need a hard-hitting playmaker and Barron was that guy for the national champs and can be that guy at the next level too.
15. Philadelphia Eagles — DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse)
The Eagles look good to go on offense, but the defense still needs some work, beginning with the front four. Jones will bring a big presence and the potential to be a multiple-time Pro Bowler for the City of Brotherly Love.
16. New York Jets — DE Melvin Ingram (South Carolina)
Ingram is just the type of player that Rex Ryan loves. Whether or not he’ll be able to get everything out of Ingram that he wants, Ryan will surely try his best. Ingram can play outside linebacker for the Jets or put his hand down and rush the edge. The Jets struggled to provide consistent pressure last season and Ingram should help. maybe the Jets fan still inside me is a bit optimistic that a talent like Ingram would fall to them at 16, but if not, Ryan may look inside at a DT like Dontari Poe who has all the potential in the world.
17. Cincinnati Bengals — WR Michael Floyd (Notre Dame)
Floyd had some off-the-field red flags at Notre Dame, but the Bengals aren’t a team that puts too much stock in those things. It’s the football talent they want and Floyd has tons of it. Lining up across from AJ Green, he will give Andy Dalton two imposing physical threats to work with in a division that figures to throw out some of the league’s toughest defenses.
18. San Diego Chargers — OL Jonathan Martin (Stanford)
With Kris Dielman’s unfortunate retirement, the Chargers need a replacement and Martin is a good one. He’s not the flashiest of picks, but a solid one that should provide good value for quite a few years.
19. Chicago Bears — DE Whitney Mercilus (Illinois)
Da Bears took care of getting Jay Cutler some help by trading for Brandon Marshall. While not the elite Top 5 receiver he could have been, he’s familiar with Cutler and allows the Bears to spend their first round selection on another position of need.
20. Tennessee Titans — DT Michael Brockers (LSU)
Brockers will give Tennessee some much needed size and power on the interior of its line. They struggled to stop the run and also to rush the passer last year, and Brockers will help alleviate both problems.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama)
Janoris Jenkins could jump Kirkpatrick, but I just don’t see teams overlooking Jenkins’ off-the-field misconduct to risk him this high. Kirkpatrick is an NFL-ready corner who won’t wow anyone with flash, but will provide very solid corner play.
22. Cleveland Browns — WR Kendall Wright (Baylor)
It’s always nice to have multiple first round selections, and Cleveland gets its wide receiver here at 22. They could always package this pick to move up and target Blackmon or Floyd, but Wright isn’t as far behind those two as he seems. He played big and fast at Baylor and should be able to do so at the NFL level.
23. Detroit Lions — OG Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State)
Even with the defensive help they very much need, Detroit’s key to success is keeping Matthew Stafford healthy. To do that, they need Silatolu, or someone like him to fortify a shaky offensive line. Although not as household a name as someone like Cordy Glenn or Mike Adams, Silatolu’s hard-nosed style of play should endear itself to Jim Schartz and the Lions.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers — LB Donta Hightower (Alabama)
The Steelers need some youth on their defense with so many key contributors growing older and slower. Hightower can help immediately and the Steelers will look for defensive line reinforcements later in the draft.
25. Denver Broncos — RB Doug Martin (Virginia Tech)
Willis McGahee isn’t getting any younger or faster, and the rest of the RB depth chart isn’t anything to be optimistic about. Martin is a hard runner who won’t be intimidated when asked to help with pass blocking. Which as we all know by now, is something that Peyton Manning desperately desires in a running back.
26. Houston Texans — DE Nick Perry (USC)
With the departure of Mario Williams, the Texans will need someone new to pair with last year’s first round sensation, J.J. Watt. Perry should make a solid pick and will add to Houston’s line of successful first round DE selections (JJ Watt, Mario Williams, Jason Babin)
27. New England Patriots — LB Shea McClellin (Boise State)
If it seemed as if New England was succeeding in spite of their defense in 2011, it’s because they definitely were. Despite their defensive issues, New England found themselves still playing come Super Bowl Sunday. McClellin will add some youth, but more importantly talent and versatility, to New England’s horrid pass defense.
28. Green Bay Packers — DT Jerel Worthy (Michigan State)
The Packers will look to add a running back at some point in the draft, but I think they’ll attend to that later rather than sooner. Here, they’ll look to add a versatile defender to a defense that was rather porous last season despite their ability to force turnovers. Chances are it could be secondary help, but the Packers could use help just about anywhere on that side of the ball.
29. Baltimore Ravens — WR Ruben Randle (LSU)
Here’s where the trades may start to come in bunches. The Ravens are a very solid and complete team as currently constructed and could look to use this pick to get more picks for later. If they do stay put, adding a bigger receiving threat makes sense. Anquan Boldin is no longer a threat week in and week out, and Torrey Smith has only put flashes of potential on display.
30. San Francisco 49ers — WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech)
Hill has the same knock on him that every Tech receiver does — he’s a system guy, and it’s not a passing system. But Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas have certainly made out okay in the NFL. Even with Randy Moss, another receiving threat can’t hurt at all. If they decide they want to try the Patriots 2-TE set, they could go with Stanford’s Cody Fleener, Coach Harbrough’s old pupil.
31. New England Patriots — C Peter Konz (Wisconsin)
The only question here is “who?”, but not as in which player, but which team. If there’s one thing we know about the Pats and Bill Belichick is that he will use one of his first round picks this year and turn it into a better first rounder next year. But with the slight chance they make their own selection here, Konz is a strong fit.
32. New York Giants — SS Harrison Smith (Notre Dame)
They’re pretty set on offense, with some weak spots that should be taken care of later in the draft. The studs on the defensive line cover up a lot of secondary and linebacker deficiencies, and Smith can step in and help right away on defense and on special teams.
American League East
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.
3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.
5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.
American League Central
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.
2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.
American League West
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.
National League East
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.
National League Central
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.
National League West
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals
This video has been making its way around the internet since Brad Pitt’s Moneyball was released. It’s a fun few minutes, a trailer for the yet-to-be-produced Yankee version of Moneyball. Go ahead and give it a watch, it’s well done and a nice little video spoof.
Boston Red Sox
September 1: (83-54) Led Wild Card by 9 games
September 29: (90-72) Lost Wild Card by 1 game
After signing free agent prize Carl Crawford and trading three unspectacular prospects for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox spent the offseason being touted as the greatest team in Major League history.
Their rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka found themselves labeled as Five Aces, despite serious injury or performance concerns on all but one of them. Hundreds of articles were written about the lineup scoring over 1,000 runs in 2011, despite never accomplishing that feat in over 100 years of existence.
Every single “expert” at ESPN picked them to win the AL East and over half of them picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. But then something funny happened—the season started. Boston opened the season by losing its first six games and ten of its first twelve.
No worries, the media said, it was just an adjustment period for a team with so many new additions. And then for awhile it seemed as though they were right. The Red Sox put together winning streaks of five, seven, five, nine and six and headed into the All Star Break leading the division and with the best record in the American League.
They won eleven of their sixteen games following the All Star Break and entered August with the best record in the American League. They lost two of three to the Yankees at the end of August, but still entered September with the best record in the league and atop their division. A 6-0 win over Texas on August 25 left Boston with a 99.989% chance of making the playoffs. But then everything fell apart.
They lost two of three to Texas and two of three to Toronto. Then they lost six of seven against Tampa Bay and three of four to Baltimore, dropping their playoff chances to 80.0%. But the free fall didn’t stop there as they lost four of their last six games, including the last game of the season which let Tampa Bay roll right on by them.
The greatest team ever ended up with the ninth best overall record in baseball and missed the playoffs. In order to completely collapse, everything needed to go wrong for Boston and it did. The offense disappeared with the exception of a handful of games and the pitching and defense were worse.
Boston went 3-19 in September when the offense scored less than 10 runs and received just four quality starts out of twenty-seven September games. Their team ERA was 5.84 for the month and their starter’s ERA was 7.08. Of the six pitchers who started a game for the Red Sox in September, Tim Wakefield’s ERA of 5.25 was the lowest.
Boston has a lot of question marks moving forward. With the game’s second highest payroll, someone is going to have to take the fall for the historic collapse. It could be the general manager Theo Epstein, who despite high media praise, has swung-and-missed on several key free agent signings.
John Lackey still has three years and over $45 million left on his contract and Carl Crawford has six years and $122 million. Previous free agent endeavors JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Smoltz has flamed out in spectacular fashion.
In addition to big free agent blunders, Epstein has failed to build any semblance of starting pitching depth and the upper levels of Boston’s farm system are severely lacking any impact talent.
It could be the manager, Terry Francona who seemed unable to motivate his players down the stretch. Or it could be the pitching coach who saw his pitchers succumb to injury and poor performance throughout the year.
Personnel-wise, Boston has the opportunity to shake things up, but not in their rotation. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all under contract for 2012. There are no better internal options, and unless they can find someone desperate enough to take Lackey or Dice-K off their hands, the Boston rotation is full. Boston would have to eat a ton of cash to move either guy, and while I’m sure they’d be willing to, I doubt they could find a taker.
Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will be back manning the right side of the infield, and will provide MVP-caliber offense and defense. The left side of the infield is less certain. Boston can bring Marco Scutaro back on a team option for $6 million and will probably do so. Kevin Youkilis is under contract for 2012, but the team may consider shifting him to the DH role to try and keep him healthy while replacing him at third with Jed Lowrie or from outside the organization.
If the team moves Youkilis to DH full-time, David Ortiz’s time with Boston is probably up. JD Drew’s definitely is. Drew was never as terrible as Boston fans may have thought, but his playing time was sporadic due to his injuries. Boston will probably cut ties with Drew and look to free agency to fill RF after youngsters Josh Reddick failed to impress. Carlos Beltran is the best available RF option, but Boston may choose to go with someone who has a better track record health-wise, like Oakland’s Josh Willingham. Ellsbury and Crawford will return to complete the outfield.
The biggest turnover could happen in the bullpen. Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon will be a free agent and could jump ship after some unpleasant ends to seasons recently. If he does leave, Daniel Bard is the likely heir to the ninth inning unless Boston chooses to pick from the plethora of closers that will be on the open market.
Next season doesn’t promise to be any easier regardless of how the Red Sox look to plug their holes. The Yankees will undoubtedly hit the offseason with money to spend and word is Toronto will be looking to raise their payroll as well. With the Yankees and Rays already among the games powerhouse franchises, Toronto’s return to respectability would make the game’s best division even better.
Boston will need to make some smart free agent decisions this offseason while hoping that some of their dead wood can bounce back from atrocious seasons. It’s tough to be successful when your highest paid players put up some of the worst numbers in the game.
September 1: (81-56) Led Wild Card by 8.5 games
September 29: (89-73) Lost Wild Card by 1 game
When play began on September 2, the Braves held a comfortable 9 game lead in the loss column for the NL Wild Card over the Cardinals and the Giants. The Braves were sitting pretty, with a playoff probability of well over 90%. Everything was going right for Atlanta—the starting pitching was strong, the back end of the bullpen was superb and the hitters were finally starting to show signs of life. Dan Uggla was fresh off a 33-game hitting streak and Chipper Jones was healthy and regaining his stroke.
But just around the time when Atlanta playoff tickets went on sale, disaster hit. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two of the Braves top three starters went down with injuries. The offense up and disappeared, with four regulars hitting under .250 and no one with over 60 AB hit over .271 in the month of September. The enormous workload of relief duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters finally caught up to them and fastballs down and on the corners started leaking back over the middle of the plate.
The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 games, including their last five contests. They were swept by the Cardinals in mid-September and went 0-6 against Philadelphia. September produced the Braves highest ERA of any month of the season, and their lowest OPS. Seventeen of their last twenty-six games were against teams with losing records, but the Braves managed just an 8-9 record in those games.
What does the near future look like for Atlanta? There shouldn’t be too much roster turnover, as many of the Braves core players are under team control for 2012. Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla will undoubtedly return to the right side of the infield and Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are under contract for 2012. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the only infielder without a contract for next season, so the Braves may look to bring in a replacement with more offensive upside.
Jason Heyward (pre-arbitration), Martin Prado and Michael Bourn (both arbitration eligible) should make up the outfield next season and the prospective OF class doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade available apart from Carlos Beltran.
The rotation and bullpen should stay mostly the same with the returns of Hanson and Jurrjens. Both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are in the final years of their contracts and the Braves could look to unload one or both. Hudson should be fairly easy to deal if they choose to do so, but Atlanta would have to kick in a lot of money for anyone to take Derek Lowe off their hands. The Braves have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to fill out the rotation and to act as starting pitching depth.
The bullpen should see the normal amount of turnover with the top guys staying locked into their roles and guys like Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill should be replaced either by similar veteran arms or from within the system.
The Braves will return pretty much the same team that missed the wild card by one game this year, but their path to the playoffs might be significantly more difficult. Washington is finally seeing some returns from their high draft picks and finished the 2011 season just one game under .500. I wouldn’t count them as a lock to finish worse than Atlanta next season. The Marlins will move into a new stadium and a new name (Miami Marlins) and the new revenues that come with those. There have been rumors of the Marlins spending that money and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a shot (however remote) at Albert Pujols. Certainly they’ll be in on the top pitchers (CJ Wilson) and they always have plenty of young homegrown talent.
With the division’s toughest inter-league schedule and the improvements of the rest of the NL East, the Braves will have a more daunting task awaiting them in 2012, without a whole lot of room for outside improvement. Atlanta will once again have to rely on the continued development of its young players and hope to keep its key rotation pieces healthy for a full season.
Realistically, the only major change the Braves could make is to their coaching staff, which despite the collapse seems unlikely. Fredi Gonzalez is a poor manager, but will certainly won’t be let go after just one season.
Justin Verlander failed to win his 25th game of the season the other day, but regardless of that he’s had a superb season. He has gone 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and a 250/57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 251 innings and has MLB award voters touting him as a runaway Cy Young winner and a possible MVP winner.
But delving deeper into his season might show otherwise. Undoubtedly, traditional stats like wins, ERA and strikeouts confirm that Verlander is the clear Cy Young winner. He will win the pitching triple crown this season by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. While not as rare as the hitting triple crown (average, HRs and RBIs) the last dozen pitchers that have won the triple crown have also won the Cy Young award.
However, more extensive statistics show that Verlander might not be the clear-cut best pitcher in the American League. His WAR of 7.0 is tied with CC Sabathia for the best in the American League, but of qualified starters, Justin Verlander ranks just fourth in FIP and second in xFIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and eliminates things that pitchers have no control over, such as defense. His FIP is actually the highest it has been since 2008, while his ERA this year is a career-low.
CC Sabathia has a lower FIP and xFIP than Verlander, and the 0.60 edge Verlander has in ERA is due entirely to Sabathia’s unusually high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .318 this season. Verlander’s 2.40 ERA is due mostly to an abnormally low BABIP and an abnormally high LOB% (left on base percentage). Both of these statistics are based mainly on “luck” and if these numbers were more in line with Verlander’s career numbers his season may have a different look. His career BABIP is .285 which is a very normal number, but in 2011 it is .238—much lower than the league average.
Another aspect of Verlander’s season that must be taken into account is the competition he has faced. Pitching in the American League Central division, Verlander will have made 10 starts against teams with a winning record this season, and just three such starts since July. CC Sabathia on the other hand has made 19 starts against winning teams, 11 since June.
Traditional statistics point to Justin Verlander as a clear-cut Cy Young favorite, but advanced metrics show that CC Sabathia has been the American League’s best pitcher in 2011. Cases can be made for either man to win the award, and I wouldn’t be all that upset if either pitcher received the award.
But, I can see no case whatsoever where anyone can make a case that Justin Verlander is the Most Valuable Player.
First of all, anyone that says the Tigers would have missed the playoffs without Verlander is insane. Detroit will end up winning the division by at least 14 games, probably more. The Tigers also outscored every team in their division by anywhere from 40 to 160 runs. Hitters like Miguel Cabrera have a much better case for MVP than Verlander. Cabrera is somewhat overlooked because he is this good every season. Verlander is having a career year, but Cabrera has a career year every year. The Tigers would have made the playoffs if I replaced him in the starting rotation.
Secondly, pitchers have had much better seasons than Verlander is having this year. If Pedro Martinez didn’t win the MVP for his 1999 season, Verlander shouldn’t finish top 10. That season, Pedro struck out 63 more batters than Verlander did this year, despite facing 134 less batters. Never mind Pedro did it in the midst of the Steroid Age and Verlander’s doing his thing in an offensive decline.
Every day skill players like Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera are more valuable to their team than Justin Verlander. I believe that in baseball, the best player is the most valuable player. During a short playoff series, one starting pitcher can most definitely be the most valuable player, but over the course of a 162 game season, an everyday player provides a team the most value.
Justin Verlander is having an incredible season, but it is far from the historically good year that would force me admit that he is as a runaway Cy Young winner or a serious MVP candidate.
JULY 2, 2011 — The second of thirty Major League stadiums on our list was the home of the Cincinnati Reds, Great American Ball Park. About four hours from Murfreesboro, eight hours from Atlanta and nearly 1100 miles round trip, the GABP may be the last of our trips to be accessed entirely by car. The Florida stadiums are a possibility but in no way a certainty.
Great American Ball Park gets a very high grade in my book. It was spacious with plenty of room to move around, yet it didn’t feel like behemoth of a structure. It was friendly and accessible all at the same time. Food was reasonably priced and parking is a breeze. Located right on the Ohio River, very affordable parking garages abound within walking distance in all directions. You could park in Kentucky and walk across one of several bridges without breaking a sweat.
There were very few superfluous annoyances around the park, which enables fans to focus on the game they came to see. There is no grating PA announcer and the mid-inning gimmicks are tasteful and enjoyable. The only real complaint I had was the brutal heat (mid 90s all game) but our seats were directly in the sun, and there were numerous “Cool Zones” with misting fans and water to keep fans cool.
Speaking of fans, the Reds fans impressed me immensely. The crowd was solid, well informed and well behaved. I don’t think I heard a single curse word the whole afternoon which may be a baseball game first for me. Certainly they were more involved than Atlanta fans, more hospitable than Cardinal fans and more numerous than Royal fans.
The baseball experience doesn’t begin and end with the product on the field, but it incorporates many more elements. TJ and I enjoyed a well-played and entertaining game in a venue that was both accommodating and comfortable.
We ended our long weekend trip with by swinging through the Louisville bat factory in Kentucky. A cheap and fascinating way to spend an hour or two, ten bucks gets you into the museum and through the factory where millions of bats are produced each year.
I typically vote for MLB’s all-stars twice each year—once on June 1 and then again on July 1. By the first of June, players have had a couple of months to impress voters, but by July 1, they’ve had one more month, and voters are able to get a better idea of the type of season a player is having.
Catcher: Alex Avila, Tigers
Avila has quietly put together a fantastic year for the Tigers. His .300/.373/.532 triple-slash line is impressive for just about any position, but for a catcher it’s exceptional. He strikes out quite a bit (27.6%) but that’s about the only black mark on an otherwise flawless offensive campaign. Russell Martin has missed some time due to a lingering back injury and Carlos Santana’s little hot streak is coming just a bit too late.
June 1 pick: Russell Martin, Yankees
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
Back on June 1, three AL first basemen were clumped together, but in the 30 days since then the imported Red Sox slugger has distanced himself from his competitors. Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera haven’t been bad at all, Gonzalez has just been that good. He’s hitting .417/.488/.792 in June and is on pace for over 150 RBI. Gonzalez’s antics have overshadowed performances from guys like Paul Konerko (.331/.400/.610) and Adam Lind (.328/.371/.603).
June 1 pick: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a somewhat disappointing May, Cano has rebounded to MVP-level performance, hitting .329/.397/.529 in June. He’s slowly rounding into form and is very easily the best second baseman in the league. Dustin Pedroia has also rebounded from a rocky April and May, but his power away from Fenway is still non-existent (9 XBH in 131 AB). Zobrist has struggled to maintain his early season performance and Howie Kendrick spent an extended time on the DL
June 1 pick: Ben Zobrist, Rays
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Rodriguez remains the class of the American League’s third basemen. Despite slumping for three weeks in May, A-Rod holds a .296/.375/.510 line with above-average defense at the hot corner. Kevin Youkilis has rebounded from a slow offensive start, but not quite enough to earn him the starting nod over Rodriguez.
June 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Cabrera has carried his strong early-season performance into the beginning of summer, and therefore retains my vote as AL shortstop. Jhonny Peralta has been nearly as impressive with the bat, but his defense is steady rather than spectacular. JJ Hardy is also making a push with a strong June in Baltimore, but it’s too little too late.
June 1 pick: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
OF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
I don’t really need to change much from the comments I made on Bautista a month ago. Even with the down month of June in which his power completely disappeared (.227/.378/.288) he stills leads all outfielders in average, on-base percentage and slugging. There should be no debate about who is the American League’s best outfielder.
June 1 pick: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
OF: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
If you’re looking for things to critique about Granderson’s season so far, you won’t find much that amounts to anything. He’s hit for average (.280) and power (.481) and has a 10% walk rate, which is eighth-best among AL outfielders, but third-best among Yankee outfielders. He’s hit lefties (.978 OPS) and righties (.934 OPS) and he’s hit at home (.968 OPS) and on the road (.926 OPS). All that offense and above average defense in centerfield? All-star all the way.
June 1 pick: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
OF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Ellsbury completes my outfield from the AL East. He surpasses guys on my list who have struggled (Matt Joyce) or been hurt (Josh Hamilton). Ellsbury has rebounded spectacularly from a 2010 season lost to various injuries by posting a .313/.373/.469 line and setting the table for baseball’s best offense. His defense is adventurous but exciting and he’s just the guy to leadoff for the American League in Arizona.
June 1 pick: Matt Joyce, Rays
DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Ortiz is still the leader in a weak field and by a large margin. His offense carried the Red Sox lineup through early season struggles and now only complements his teammates as they put up ten-spot after ten-spot.
June 1 pick: David Ortiz
SP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Verlander already has a no-hitter to his name this season and if not for pesky Orlando Cabrera, he might have two. Absolutely un-hittable when he’s on, Verlander’s pure stuff can blow hitters away even when he doesn’t have everything working. He’s a little homer prone and has a slight tendency for flyballs, but other than that he’s been nearly a perfect pitcher. A workhorse and ace in every sense of the words.
June 1 pick: Jered Weaver, Angels
C: Brian McCann, Braves
Brian McCann has to be one of the most underrated players in Major League Baseball. Year after year he posts some of the best numbers amongst major league catchers and does it all while catching 130+ games. Miguel Montero will make a fine back-up, but McCann is clearly the class of the National League catchers.
June 1 pick: Brian McCann, Braves
1B: Prince Fielder, Brewers
Gaby Sanchez was my nice little story, but since the beginning of June, he’s cooled off somewhat while Prince Fielder has gone on an absolute tear. Surprisingly, there are only two NL first basemen slugging over .502 (Prince and Washington’s Michael Morse). Albert Pujols’ injury removes him from the race, and Joey Votto is still looking for the home run power he had last year.
June 1 pick: Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
2B: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
Rickie Weeks is without a doubt the National League starter at second. He has been consistently good in all facets of the game since Day 1 and holds statistical advantages just about across the board. Washington’s Danny Espinosa has been putting up some good counting numbers, but a .230 average and .320 OBP put him in a tier well below Weeks.
June 1 leader: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
3B: Chase Headley, Padres
Headley has used three four-hit games in the past week to really push his case for the NL squad. He’s not hitting for much power (.108 IsoP) but nobody does in Petco Park. He holds a .297/.392/.406 which makes him the most valuable offensive third baseman in the league. He’s adjusted well to hitting in the middle of the lineup and is now a foundation for the Padres’ future.
June 1 pick: Placido Polanco, Phillies
SS: Jose Reyes, Mets
No change in shortstops over the last month, as Reyes continues to outpace his peers with a .338/.372/.550 month of June. Jimmy Rollins has heated up over the past few weeks and Starlin Castro has been consistently good, but both still fall well behind Reyes.
June 1 pick: Jose Reyes, Mets
OF: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
After last season’s dismal showing, I needed more than two months to buy into what Matt Kemp was selling. It’s now summer and Kemp is still punishing every pitcher who pitches to him. He’s hitting for power and average and he’s amongst the league leaders in stolen bases. He’s a complete offensive package, which is good enough for an all-star spot even if his defense is a little lackadaisical at times.
June 1 pick: Matt Holliday
OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Braun is in the midst of another MVP-caliber season that should see him start his fourth consecutive all-star game for the senior circuit. His numbers do not quite stack up with Kemp’s but they outpace just about everyone else in the NL.
June 1 pick: Ryan Braun, Brewers
OF: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have surprised many this year and are in serious contention for their division, with Justin Upton being the biggest reason why. After a less-than-ideal 2010 season, Upton has rebounded to superstar levels of production in 2011 as he leads Arizona to the top of the NL West. Upton fits the mold of the new power-speed combo that teams are looking for now as he, Braun and Kemp will all enter the All-Star weekend with excellent chances at 30-30 seasons.
June 1 leader: Lance Berkman, Cardinals
DH: Lance Berkman, Cardinals
If the National League really wants the pitcher to bat so freaking badly, let them. But don’t force the AL to follow your stupid rules. If your game is better, then beat us at our game, using yours. Rant aside, Berkman has been fantastic for the Cardinals this season amidst slumps and injuries to other star players. He’s been pushed out of the starting outfield, but his consolation prize is here because of the game-destroying DH rule implemented for the ASG.
SP: Roy Halladay, Phillies
What else can you say about the man? He’s consistently phenomenal regardless of who he is facing, where he is pitching or whatever other extenuating circumstances there may be. He’s thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter in the last year and is once again the NL’s elite talent when it comes to starting pitchers. He has the league’s lowest BB rate and pairs that with nearly a strikeout per inning and an overwhelming amount of ground-balls. He’s the ultimate video game pitcher pitching in real-life.
My friend TJ and I have decided to attempt to travel to all 30 MLB stadiums within the next 20 years. Obstacles will undoubtedly arise, but we hope to address and overcome those if possible. We are currently planning for one short trip every year, combining stadiums when practical.
There are 10 trips that could be worked to logistically include more than one stadium. Cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles each have two teams and a handful of other cities are close enough so that we could catch a Saturday game in one city and a Sunday game in another. If we squeezed as many stadiums into individual trips as possible, this project could be finished in 16 years. But hopefully we’ll have the means and opportunity to stretch them out a little bit, and enjoy the sights that each city has to offer.
Earlier this year, we officially kicked this project off with a trip to Atlanta’s Turner Field. Both of us had been to numerous Braves games before, but thought it would be a good starting point for our project. The Braves won 7-6 in extra innings, so we certainly weren’t cheated out of great baseball during out first leg. The picture to the left is the piece of fence from the late Atlanta Fulton County Stadium that Hank Aaron cleared when he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Turner Field is a relatively new stadium, having hosted Braves games since 1997 after it served as the home to the 1996 Summer Olympics. With both of us having lived in Atlanta for a good portion of our adolescent lives, it only made sense to make Turner Field the first stop on our MLB Tour-de-jour.
In two weeks, the two of us will head out on our first actual trip when we make our way to Cincinnati to visit the Great American Ball Park. Another benefit of planning these trips is that they will help me continue to fulfill another personal goal of visiting all 50 states. I have been to 32 states so far and will add several more if we do end up completing our tour of all 30 MLB stadiums, I will add at least six more states (Arizona, Texas, Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan). It’s also possible that during our trip to Boston to see Fenway Park that we take an extra day or two or three to explore a little more of New England.
Green states are ones that I have spent time in, whether it be years, weeks or days.
UPDATE 7/1: Father reminded me about our Plymouth trip which had completely slipped my mind. Driving from New York, we traveled through Connecticut and Rhode Island on our way to Massachusetts. A childhood trip to New Mexico and a college trip to Denison University add two more states to my current total.
C: AJ Pierzynski
Sometimes, you just can’t find a guy to hate. And other times, AJ Pierzynski makes it real easy. An overall punk, he’s had multiple run ins with opposing players over the year, including his most infamous exchange—Michael Barrett. Whether you are angry at Pierzynski for trying to sell an umpire that something that didn’t happen actually did, or because he put ridiculous looking bleach-blonde highlights in his hair or because your team gave up Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser to get him, Pierzynski is universally unappealing.
1B: Kevin Youkilis
There’s a rumor going around that no one has ever thrown a called third strike to Kevin Youkilis—the umpire has always made a mistake and called a ball a strike. I can understand frustration over inconsistent umpiring, but repeated temper-tantrums are simply unacceptable from a grown man. Plus, I can’t tell if that’s his actual batting stance or if Terry Francona just sends him up to the plate whenever he notices Youkilis has to pee.
2B: Dustin Pedroia
Anyone that refers to their own offensive production as a “laser show” and then promptly posts a .240/.351/.332 line is pretty full of themselves. Dustin Pedroia isn’t a bad player and most of the times he’s pretty good. But I hate the way that people talk about how it’s as if he’s overcome such huge odds to make the Red Sox. He was a damn good college player and a very high draft selection. It’s not as if he went undrafted and sent in an audition tape to Theo Epstein himself. Also, Fenway Park drastically increases the perception of his ability. He has a career OPS+ of 112 at home and 88 on the road. The presence of the Green Monster allows him to turn routine flyballs into doubles and singles. 114 of his 176 career doubles have come at home (65%).
SS: Yunel Escobar
Ridiculous blonde highlights aside, Escobar was a whiny punk in his time in Atlanta and I assume he’s continued his unflattering ways north of the border. I’m also unsure as to why he feels the need to leap high in the air before each at bat, but it seems to me to be an unnecessary injury risk and a way to make a pitcher want to drill you right between the shoulder blades.
3B: Chone Figgins
He’s fast and black and has somehow turned that, along with no marketable skills into a luxurious free agent contract. For his career he’s been a below-average offensive player and hasn’t ever posted an OPS north of .825. His pulls faces and throws tantrums and yet his teams continue to bat him atop of batting orders. A man that willingly chooses to have people call him “Chipper” takes second place.
OF: Milton Bradley
Another unanimous decision to be included on the all-annoying team. Bradley’s me-first style of play has seen him shuttled from team to team to team for his entire career. In 12 seasons Bradley has played on eight different teams and hasn’t lasted longer than 3 seasons with any of them. He’s perpetually angry and has some distorted vision that everyone everywhere is out to get him.
OF: Shane Victorino
When you hear that his nickname is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Victorino sounds like a fun dude to be around and to watch. But on the field he’s more of dirtbag than the rosin bag on the mound. In addition to the cheap groin shot pictured here, Victorino’s been known as a player who will do all the wrong little things to rub teams the wrong way. Here he is breaking up a double play in a less than honorable way. He hides his guilt well because he’s always smiling or slapping someone playfully on the rump, but under that jovial islander exterior lies a cold-hearted competitor who will stop at nothing to gain a slight tactical advantage.
OF: Luke Scott
Luke Scott can sure run into a fastball from time to time but as we’ve seen time and time again throughout baseball history, athletic ability does not correlate well with superhuman intelligence. Or even average-human intelligence. There’s a time and place for Luke Scott’s political views and those never include anyone other than Mr. Scott himself.
SP: Josh Beckett
Perhaps one of baseball’s most enigmatic pitchers, his go-to move when things don’t go his way is generally to hit the next batter or two.
SP: Carl Pavano
Blisters, buttocks injuries and car crashes with supermodels for a guy that’s not even really any good. Plus, he grew that abomination of a mustache that looks like it belongs much more on To Catch A Predator than it does on any 1970s news anchor.
SP: Brad Penny
Third consecutive starter on this list that spent a considerable amount of time with the Florida Marlins. Perhaps it’s the crappy stadium, the disloyal fanbase or the overwhelming Hispanic population, but something in South Florida breeds discontentment amongst its hurlers. Along with Pavano, Brad Penny proves that you don’t need to be much more than a giant tool to be romantically linked to Alyssa Milano.
SP: Dallas Braden
I thought about throwing a hissy fit because Braden was on this list because after all, it is MY list but then I realized that that is exactly why he’s here. He’s like that terrible 2-year old that suddenly believes everything is “MINE!” You can spank the child but really, he’s still just annoying, but now he’s crying too.
SP: Carlos Zambrano
After five consecutive walks and a bases-loaded double, your team is up by 5 runs before recording an out. But the only thing the announcers can talk about and the only highlights from the game will be Big Z beating the crap out of a water cooler, breaking a bat over his knee and attempting to strangle six or seven teammates.
RP: Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon is nothing if not cocky. When he and Mariano Rivera were selected to represent the American League at the 2008 All Star Game at Yankee Stadium, he suggested to the media that should a save opportunity arise, that he be given the call. Well, after the AL tied the game at 2 in the seventh inning, Papelbon got the call and promptly gave up the go-ahead run the very next inning. He’s commanded more and more money despite fading performances and can regularly be found pouting and screaming in the dugout should he fail at his job.
RP: Jose Valverde
Winning a major league baseball game is a pretty big deal, I get it. I’ve never done nor will I ever, but sheesh — Jose Valverde celebrates every out of his ninth innings as if he’s won the freaking World Series. Hopping around, pointing to the sky and hollering at the top of his lungs, all because he closed out a 6-3 game against the Kansas City Royals. I mean good grief man, how would you feel if Yuniesky Betancourt beat out a bunt single off you and then stopped the game and asked to keep the ball as a souvenir?
RP: Francisco Rodriguez
Another closer fond of the excessive celebrations, “K-Rod” holds the single-season save record and the single-season rage record. 62 saves in 2008 landed him a sizable contract with the Mets, but an assault on his father-in-law at Citi Field landed him in jail and cost him over $100,000 in forfeited wages. Sounds like just the guy you’d want to bring home to dad…too soon?
Manager: Tony La Russa
Every once and a while I’ll be watching a Cardinals game and hear the commentators praising La Russa’s unorthodox style of managing. The pitcher is batting cleanup, his second baseman is playing left-field and he just went through four reliefs pitchers to face four batters in the sixth inning. And he’s somehow still winning. All that jazz and he’s a habitual drunk driver.
Announcers: Hawk Harrelson
Spending even a part of a half-inning listening to Harrelson and his crew makes you want to PUT HIM ON THE BOARD … the waterboard. He is an unabashed homer who distinctly and openly hates opposing teams and their fans. Harrelson is also a blow-hard individual from Chicago that is grating on the ears and spends a considerable amount of time loving on certain people while pooh-poohing on anyone that doesn’t think exactly the same way—has anyone ever seen Hawk Harrelson and Oprah in the same place at the same time?
Owner: Hank Steinbrenner
Another blow-hard who has rightfully been reigned in the past year or so by his much more well-behaved brother Hal. Hank certainly inherited his father’s flair for the dramatic and often over-the-top baseball sense. Certainly he cares, but in my opinion owners should be neither seen nor heard. True it’s their team but they’re most likely an MLB owner because of the sound investment returns rather than their overwhelming baseball operations knowledge. The McCourts in Los Angeles have to be up there now because off their all-too-public and all-too-messy divorce. The Brewers Mark Attanasio and the Marlins Jeff Loria are also good candidates here because of their constant whining and their frugal nature, respectively.