Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas themed line-up

1. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - CF

Rudolph is a historically significant character because he was ostracized by his peers, treated differently because of a physical difference and not allowed to participate in the "Reindeer games". However, his natural leadership ability and blazing speed allowed him to be successful. Because of this, I liken Rudolph to another historically important person, former Negro League's centerfielder Cool Papa Bell. Rudolph will use his light to man a great centerfield and his speed to get on base, although I am not sure what he will use to swing the stick. Baseball-Reference actually likes Rudolph as a Shortstop, as seen here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/reindeer/rudolph.shtml
If he can put up the steals numbers that baseball-reference suggests he might, than we will be just fine.

2. Clarence Odbody (It's A Wonderful Life) - RF

At a still young 239 years old, Mr. Odbody finally acquired his wings through a ringing of a bell on the Bailey's family tree. This newfound flying ability should play very well in right field, where him and Rudolph should catch anything in sight. No mention of his hitting abilities were made in the film, but an Angel from heaven is probably given some strength and hand-eye coordination (one would hope). As an old, speedy right fielder with questionable hitting abilities, Clarence seems akin to a modern day Ichiro Suzuki. One can only hope that Ichiro will somehow find his wings this year and reach 3000 MLB hits.

3. Frosty the Snowman - 1B

Frosty's skills at the plate and in the field will obviously depend on keeping his hat on throughout the game, and of course the cold temperatures to prevent him from melting. His particular needs on the field are very similar to that of former Blue Jays and Mariners first baseman John Olerud. Olerud played primarily in cold temperatures, and of course was known for wearing his helmet out in the field to protect his soft cranium. Here's to hoping that Frosty can hit .363 with 107 RBI's, as Olerud did in 1993.

4. Santa Claus - DH

Santa Claus, aka Kris Kringle, aka Saint Nicholas, aka Father Christmas, will be a staple in this line-up for years to come, just as he has been a staple on Christmas day for generations. Santa's supreme upper body strength (he's been lifting a sack with millions of toys in it for years) should play well as a power hitter. There are obvious questions about his conditioning and endurance, as he is only accustomed to working one day a year. However, I believe that his raw power and leadership should help anchor this squad. I believe his potential ranges anywhere from Adam Dunn (Tim Allen in the Santa Claus status) to a Babe Ruth (Bad Santa or Futurama's robotic santa).
Santa's left-handed swing sure does look good

5. John McClane - 2B

John McClane, Bruce Willis' famed character from the epic Christmas classic Die Hard, is the kind of take no attitude character this team needs. Frosty and Clarence are great, but every team needs someone who is got some arrogance about them. John McClane's off putting personality and general aggressiveness, combined with his pure strength from NYPD police training, make him an ideal candidate to be a power hitting second baseman, similar to former Giants two bagger Jeff Kent. Kent hit 377 round trippers, most ever for a 2B, and his surly personality and general disregard for social norms mirror the character traits of John McClane. 
Yippie Ki yay

6. George Bailey - SS

It's a Wonderful life get's two representatives in our starting line-up, as Clarence Odbody would not have gotten his wings without the help of lovable George Bailey. Bailey demonstrates early in the film his amazing dancing abilities, and after watching his quick footwork I determined he would be an ideal candidate to man the six hole at shortstop. Again, it is hard to say what his bat would look like, but his footwork and steady hands should make him a defense first infielder, a la former Cardinals shortstop the Wizard of Oz, aka Ozzie Smith. Bailey's mental insecurities could hurt him a bit if he falls into a slump, but hopefully having Clarence around as a mentor will help Bailey feel as if he is a necessary and valuable part of this team. 
That screams double play ball to me.

7. The Grinch - C

Every team has a pariah, and the Christmas team would not be complete without token Christmas hater the Grinch. Although Grinchy would probably despise being a member of this squad, his resourcefulness and creativity, along with his strength and clear squatting ability (as seen below) make him an ideal candidate to catch. After all, any opposing player barreling into home would want to think twice about sliding hard into Christmases evil spirit. Grinch reminds me a lot of another catcher that is generally not well liked by his teammates, current Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Grinch seems likely to at least draw a lot of HBP, if he proves he cannot hit (Also similar to Pierzynski).
Looks like a natural behind the dish.

8. Eddie Johnson (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) - 3B

Cousin Eddie, the outrageous relative of Clark Griswold, is a mainstay for any Christmas type list. His cooky belief system and simple ways are traits that fit in well with every baseball team. Teams need someone who at any moment could say something outrageous and quotable, and what is more memorable than quotes like "Save me the neck, Clark" or "I don't know if I should go sailing down no hill with nothing between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic".
Although they do not play the same position, Eddie and his antics remind me a lot of post playing Jose Canseco, a character who at any time could bust into a random, unintelligible rant (See Canseco's twitter account if you need more proof). Regardless, Eddie seems like a strong dude and his reckless attitude could provide some interesting stories, if not much on the field.
Kinda looks like Canseco too.

9. Olive the Other Reindeer - LF

Olive, the main character from Matt Groening's Christmas classic of the same name, is a determined dog who believes, due to a misinterpretation of the radio, that she is the only reindeer that can help save Christmas. Olive sets out on a journey and ends up using her pluck and charm to help save the gang and give everyone their gifts, including giving the Pope a Phillies hat (I have no idea why). I have always found that teams sometimes need a player who, even if they are not the most talented player on the team, can help motivate everyone by simply being themselves. Olive will hit last in the line-up and play LF, the easiest position on the field, but her love of Christmas and never-give-up attitude will do nothing but positive things for the team, much like former Angels middle infielder David Eckstein. Eckstein was undersized and not the most gifted, but he got the job done when it needed to be. Olive can fill a similar role for this team. 

As long as Olive doesn't bring Drew Barrymore.

Jesus Christ - SP

I feel that other teams would already have a hard time against this lineup with the monstrous strength of Santa and Frosty, and the blazing speed of Clarence and Rudolph. However, they will have an even harder time at the plate against the Prodigal son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is in his prime at age 29, and his ability to heal himself and others (and rise from the dead) seems to give him an unfair advantage, even more than the advantage steroids gave pitchers like Roger Clemens. Jesus has worked with his hands most of his life, and his general strength and killer abs seems to indicate he would have a real blazing fastball. His endless endurance means he will be able to throw very large amounts of innings, and it seems almost pointless to have a full rotation.

Scott Farkus - CP

Even with Jesus' healing abilities, it is always necessary to have relief help in case the Lord can't seem to work himself out of a jam. Relievers are often known for their very eccentric personalities, and the scariest, most intimidating guys already have an advantage without even throwing a pitch. Enter the villain from Christmases greatest film, A Christmas Story. The haunting line "He has yellow eyes, YELLOW EYES!" speak volumes about this bullies fear inducing stare. Farkus shows some upper body strength when he gets into a punching fight with his small accomplice, and that coupled with his personality scream first rate closer. However, his bark seems to be worse than his bite, as Ralphie is easily able to take him down in a fight. Because of this, I compare him closely to displaced closer Grant Balfour, a man with an intense personality who has crumbled when actually faced with some adversity. Here's to hoping our Farkus can perform at a level higher than Balfour did in 2014.

The squad is complete. I feel this teams combination of strength and speed and the Lord's ability on the mound make this a team that could win all year around. I am thinking our team logo will have to be the infamous leg lamp from A Christmas story, perhaps something like the hat below:
Merry Christmas everybody! Have a great holiday, and may all your baseball wishes come true!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas pitch wish list

With Christmas fast approaching, it is that time of year when kids (from one to ninety-two) begin to fantasize about what gifts they will find under the tree on Christmas morning. As a lifelong baseball fan, I have yearned for everything baseball related under the sun: baseball cards, autographs, posters, bobbleheads, bats, gloves, tickets, etc. and I have acquired a huge collection of memorabilia. However, as a left-handed pitcher who never quite touched 80 mph, a lot of my talent wish list was never fulfilled. So I present to you my Christmas pitch wish list, a collection of the five dream pitches that I wish I had in my arsenal. Equipped with this collection of heaters and hammers, no hitter is safe.

1. Randy Johnson's fastball

The Big Unit, a surefire HOFer when the ballot is announced in early January, was known for his looming, 6'10 frame, scary demeanor, great slider and excellent strikeout numbers, but was known primarily for his wicked upper 90's fastball. With a 6'10 frame, Johnson was able to explode down the mound and release his heater six or seven feet closer to home plate, giving hitters roughly .38 seconds to make a decision (or to get out of the way). In the case of the bird casually flying through the infield one Spring Training game in 2001, he had even less time, and unfortunately did not make the right decision:

2. Jeremy Bonderman's Slider

Randy Johnson's fastball was a pretty obvious choice, so I'm taking a less heralded slider in the form of former Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, aka Mr. Snappy. Armed with a mid to high 90's fastball, Bonderman was able to use his fastball to set-up his very nasty slider. Bonderman's slider was around 81-84 mph, and had an incredible late break that made it extremely hard to hit. According to fangraphs, Bonderman saved about 1.42 runs per every 100 sliders that he threw (a solid explanation of this can be found here: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/interpreting-pitchfx-data/) Effectively this means that his slider was substantially above average throughout his career. Statistics can only prove so much, however, so I turn to video for the rest: 


3. Trevor Hoffman's change-up.

It is pretty rare, especially in today's game, for a closer to rely on a change-up the way Hoffman did. However, Hoffman's change-up was nasty enough to help him become the MLB's first 600 save man. Take a look at this chart showing the average movement (From the side portrait) of both Hoffman's fastball and his change-up: 
This chart shows the nearly identical trajectory both his fastball and changeup took, making it that much more difficult to recognize out of his hand. 
Hoffman finished his career with a 9.36 K/9 and was able to hold hitters to a .208 average for his career, thanks largely in part to his devastating change-up.

4. Mariano Rivera's cutter

Quite possibly the most devastating pitch in the history of the Major Leagues, Mariano Rivera relied on one pitch for his entire MLB career, his cutter. Rivera finished with an 8.22 K/9 and held batters to a .209 batting average, en route to an all time high 652 saves. Rivera had previously relied more on his fastball, but later in his career began to use the cutter more and more, eventually leading to his final season in 2013 where he threw his cutter a whopping 89.2% of the time. Interestingly enough, Rivera averaged 92 mph on his cutter, compared to 93.2 on his fastball. Considering the movement his cutter had compared to his fastball, it is not surprising to see him move toward making the cutter his number one pitch. 

5. Kazuhiro Sasaki Split-finger AKA "The Thang"

I had a really hard time selecting my fifth pitch. I considered adding a big, heavy curveball to compliment the hard cutter/slider that I already have. I looked heavily at curveballs from Bert Blyleven, Kenny Rogers, Barry Zito, and Clayton Kershaw; and the 12-6 hammers of Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum. I also looked at two seam fastballs, including Jeff Nelson, Greg Maddux, Brandon League and Felix Hernandez. Other splitters considered included Bruce Sutter and Hisashi Iwakuma, and even knuckleballers Phil Niekro, RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield were given some thought. 

Eventually though, I settled on a pitch that earned it's own nickname, having simply been called "The Thang". It may seem odd to select a pitch by a pitcher who earned 7 career wins and only threw 233 innings in his career, but Sasaki very quickly earned a reputation as a dominant closer, mainly because of the effectiveness of his split finger. Sasaki threw his splitty roughly 40% of the time, and the average of 84 mph along with the devastating drop that it had would create quite a deadly combination along with the other pitches already established.

Hitters from either side of the plate would have an extremely hard time handling the heat by Johnson, the late, sharp movement on Rivera's cutter and Bonderman's slider, and the devastating drop on Hoffman's change-up and Sasaki's split finger.

Merry Christmas everyone! And may all your Christmas wishes come true, whether it's for a iPad or a 92 mph cutter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My ballot for the 2015 class

Well, its December again and that means that conversation will turn to the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, and voters will be deciding who they do and do not want inducted into Cooperstown. A new rule change takes place this year, with players only allowed to be on the ballot for ten years, as opposed to the previous 15 years allowed. Lee Smith, Alan Trammell and Don Mattingly all will be allowed to stay on the ballot until they reach the 15 year plateau (for Mattingly that is this year) but this move severely impacts both Mark McGwire (9th) and Tim Raines (8th) who now only have one and two years left, respectively, as opposed to the six and seven they would have had before.
Additionally, this ballot provides a boat-load of new talent, including three excellent arms in Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz, and some great hitters such as Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye, Brian Giles and Nomar Garciaparra. So without further ado, let's look at this ballot and discuss.

With every ballot, the first step I always take is to find the "ballot fillers", guys who have virtually no chance of making the Hall, and will almost certainly get below the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot. For this year, that list includes:

Rich Aurilia
Aaron Boone
Tony Clark
Darin Erstad
Cliff Floyd
Tom Gordon
Eddie Guardado
Troy Percival
Jason Schmidt

All fine players, none who are deserving of Hall of Fame consideration (The only one on this list who I would investigate further would be Troy Percival, but relievers need to be very top tier in order to get enshrined, and Percival was not quite there).

We are now left with 25 names, and only ten spots on the ballot. I'll go ahead and eliminate a few more in a "Close but no Cigar category". These are guys who are very talented, and who I could easily see gaining votes, but who I believe fall short of being Hall of Famers.

Jermaine Dye
Nomar Garciaparra*
Brian Giles
Don Mattingly
Lee Smith

*I wrote a good piece about Nomar Garciaparra's candidacy on my old blog, the link can be found here.

20 names, ten spots left. At this point I have to acknowledge the elephant in the Hall of Fame voting "room", the steroid users. The voting rules for the Baseball Hall of Fame state this:

"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played".

Because of this, I do not believe in voting for players who are admitted cheaters to the game of baseball. This becomes tricky, obviously, as there is a good chance certain players will be inducted (or have already been inducted) who did steroids, while guys like Bonds and Clemens will not get in. I know it is a sticky situation, but if I had a ballot I would leave off the players who are known steroid users, in order to give my vote to other deserving players who did not cheat (or at least were not caught). So this eliminates:

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Mark McGwire
Gary Sheffield
Sammy Sosa

15 names, ten spots. This is where things become tricky. At this point, the names that are left (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker) are all worthy Hall of Fame candidates, at least in my opinion. However, the rules state that I can only vote in ten players, so the cutting ceremony must begin. As I re-read the rules for enshrinement, the statements about integrity and character jump out to me. Jeff Kent, the most powerful second basemen of all time, gets bumped off my ballot simply because he did not respect the game of baseball, was gruff and disrespectful to the media, and was a very poor teammate. I believe that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and if I had more room I would vote for him, but with my ballot already feeling crowded I can't in good conscience vote for him over other deserving players. That leaves me with 14 guys.

Here is who I would select, out of my pool of 14 players remaining, as Hall of Famers for the 2015 class, presented in alphabetical order:

Jeff Bagwell - 449 home runs and an OBP of .408 make Bags a surefire HOFer.
Craig Biggio - over 3000 hits, 5th all-time in doubles. Shame he did not get in last year.
Randy Johnson - No-Brainer, quite possibly the best LHP of all time, Unit will be a first ballot guy no doubt.
Edgar Martinez - Best DH of all-time. His hitting numbers are simply outstanding. Absolutely no reason he gets punished for playing a legitimate MLB position. It's time to change this vendetta against DH's. Thomas started it last year, it's Edgar's turn now.
Pedro Martinez - Another no-brainer, Pedro was simply electrifying. I look forward to hearing his HOF speech.
Fred McGriff - A 1994 strike away from having over 500 home runs and a 4 year old plaque in Cooperstown.
Mike Mussina - Moose was absolutely dominant, and his 270 wins and 3.68 ERA are among the best of the steroid era. Him and Schilling were very close, but I give a slight edge to Moose.
Mike Piazza - Best hitting catcher of all-time. Most HR by a catcher dwarves his very average defense behind the dish.
Tim Raines - Career OBP of .385 is obscene. If not for Rickey Henderson, the rock would have been considered one of the best lead-off hitters ever, but he was constantly overshadowed. (Drug problems may be costing him some votes as well).
John Smoltz - The modern day Dennis Eckersley, Smoltz had over 3000 K's while playing a few seasons as a closer. His 213 wins and 154 saves prove his dominance both as a starter and out of the pen.

With tremendous respect to the 473 home runs hit by Carlos Delgado, the 3116 strikeouts and one bloody sock by Curt Schilling, the 70.4(!) WAR by Alan Trammell, and the amazing five tool talent of Larry Walker, they will have to wait until the ballot clears up a bit more to get my vote (which is frightening for Trammell, as he does not have a lot of time left).

For what it is worth, if I had to predict who I think will go in next year, I would say that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Craig Biggio will all be inducted next year. I think Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and John Smoltz will all receive over 50% of the votes, but not enough to get in.

As always, I love having conversations about this topic. The ballot nowadays is rife with talent, and while the Hall of Fame voting has been filled with controversy surrounding Bonds and Clemens, I always welcome conversation about any of the candidates. Thanks for reading, please leave comments!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Assessing my 2014 predictions

This is now my third blog attempt, as my first two are no longer accessible for various reasons. My most recent blog can be found at thegeneral13.blogspot.com, but due to an email change is no longer accessible by me. So I am starting anew! Last year, before the 2014 MLB season began, I made 15 predictions for the upcoming season. I am going to list them here so we can see how I did! (Hint: Not Great).

1. Miguel Cabrera wins the 2014 MVP award, but not the triple crown. 0/1

I was correct (in a sense) that Miguel Cabrera did not win the triple crown, however he also only finished 9th in MVP voting after somewhat of a down year for the slugger. Cabrera's triple crown numbers were 25/109/.313, which is very good, however he finished 7th in batting average, 2nd in RBI's and outside the top 10 in HR. Mike Trout took home the MVP award, and deservingly so.

2. Chris Davis will hit less than 35 home runs this year. 1/2

Chris Davis finished the 2013 season with 53 home runs, so predicting such a big power drop was rather bold. However, Davis finished 2014 with only 26 home runs, after struggling most of the year and eventually being suspended 25 games for aderall use.

3. Taijuan Walker wins the AL Rookie of the Year award. 1/3

This prediction was made somewhat lazily, as I did not take into account both Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, who finished 1st and 5th, respectively. Walker did not place, as he only threw 38 innings last season due to injury and some conflict between him and Mariners manager Lloyd McLendon. I also predicted that Nick Castellanos (8th) and James Paxton (NR) would be Walker's main competition. Definitely incorrect here.

4. Robinson Cano suffers a home run drought, but still hits over .300. 2/4

Robinson Cano finished his first year in Seattle with a .314 average and only 14 home runs, firmly inside the prediction that I made. Cano had quite a few more singles than previous years, but a .314 average and a .382 on base percentage will continue to make Cano an invaluable piece to this Mariners team, and one of the most valuable second basemen in the game.

5. Brian McCann hits over 30 home runs for the first time in his career. 2/5

Brian McCann finished his first season in New York with 23 home runs, tied for the second most of his career. He still fell short of the 30 that I predicted, possibly because of an early season DL-stint.

6. Derek Jeter plays over 100 games this season, and hits over .280. 2/6

Derek Jeter played in 145 games in 2014, accruing 634 plate appearances. He only hit .256, but the memories and milestones he set last season were beyond measure.

7. CC Sabathia outpitches Mashahiro Tanaka this season. 2/7

Sabathia: 3-4, 5.28 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 46 innings, 48/10 K/BB ratio

Tanaka: 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 136 innings, 141/21 K/BB ratio


8. Justin Verlander rebounds from a poor 2013 season and wins the AL Cy Young award. 2/8

Verlander took a huge step backward in 2014, finishing 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA (his highest since 2008) and only 159 strikeouts, his lowest full season total since 2006. Here's to continuing to hope for a bounce back for the guy.

9. Eric Hosmer wins the AL batting title, with a .324 batting average. 2/9

Eric Hosmer his .270 last year, which is quite a ways off of the .324 I predicted. This was a self claimed crazy prediction, but I was still expecting more out of the young first baseman.

10. Matt Kemp wins comeback player of the year award, finishes top 5 in NL MVP voting. 2/10

Casey McGehee from the Pirates ended up winning the award, and Kemp was not a Top 5 MVP candidate, but he did make somewhat of a bounce back and landed himself a job on the rebuilding San Diego Padres.

11. Yasiel Puig does not finish in the top 15 for MVP voting, begins his slow fade into obscurity. 3/11

Yasiel Puig finished 19th in MVP voting, and while the fans voted him a starting OF in the All-Star game, "Puig-mania" has definitely slowed down since his debut in 2013.

12. Yankees, Tigers, Rangers win their respective divisions, Athletics and Red Sox play for the Wild card. 5/16

Orioles, Tigers, Angels ended up being the winners, with of course the up and coming Royals as the wild card winner over the A's. So 2/5 for a total of 5/16

13. Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers win their respective divisions. Padres and Braves play for the Wild Card. 8/21

Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers was a perfect 3/3. Giants and Pirates were in the Wild Card game, so 0/2 there. 3/5, total is 8/21.

14. Tigers and Nationals play for the World Series. 8/23

0/2 - 8/23

15. Tigers win in 6. 8/24


Here's to hoping I make better predictions for next season!