March 31, 2003

Mmmmmm, baseball

Like a man wondering the desert for 50 years that suddenly finds a drinking fountain, I turned on my television set yesterday at noon and watched 10 consecutive hours of major league baseball.

I had class until 12:15 yesterday, so I couldn't catch the very beginning of the Twins game on TV (it started at 12:05), but I listened to it while I walked back to my dorm. The first thing I heard when I flipped on my walkman? "Here's the first pitch from Maroth...Jones swings and hits it right back to the pitcher..."

You can learn a lot of things from one sentence. First, Jacque Jones is leading off against a lefty, which I had held out hope wouldn't happen (as much) this year. Second, Jacque is still hacking away. Now, last year he hacked away and hit the 2nd pitch of the season for a home run, but that was against a right-handed pitcher. You'd think that in the first at bat of the season, against a lefty, he might take a few pitches. Nah.

In fact, the entire top half of the first inning took exactly 7 pitches! I love the Twins and I know swinging away is more fun than talking pitches, but sometimes I wish they would just work the counts a little bit more. Not necessarily walk more, just work counts more and try to get better pitches to hit. We'll see. It was, after all, just the first inning of the whole season.

Just as I was getting to the dorm, the Tigers started their half of the first inning. Leadoff man Gene Kingsale reached on a bunt single (which I later saw a replay of - he should have been out) and the crowd in Detroit sounded like they had just won the World Series. Of course, the Tigers are still the Tigers, so Kingsale got thrown out trying to steal second and the next two batters made outs. By the way, I think Kingsale could have a nice little Dave Roberts-type season this year for Detroit.

I went into the cafeteria to get a quick bite to eat before going to my room to watch the game. I was wearing my Twins hat (as I almost always am) and the guy scanning the university ID cards at the door intiated the following exchange with me:

Guy: Hey, the Twins are playing today, aren't they?

Me: Yeah, they are on TV right now.

Guy: Who is pitching for us?

Me: Radke.

Guy: Who?

Me: Brad Radke.

Guy: Never heard of him, is he new?

Me: No.

Now, if you (presumably) care about the Twins enough to a) know that they begin the season today and b) see a stranger with a Twins hat on and start a conversation about the Twins with him, don't you think you should know who Brad Radke is?!

He has been the Twins' opening day starter for 5 straight years and 7 times in his 8 year career! I wish I would have thought to ask him what pitchers he did know of. He's probably a big Tony Fiore fan.

Some other notes on the Twins game...

Despite having a horrible first at bat against Mike Maroth, Jones did hit a nice double against him in his 3rd AB. I know it is only one hit and Mike Maroth aint exactly Randy Johnson, but Jacque only had 8 doubles in 160 ABs against lefties last year, so it's nice to see.

Al Newman continued to make some questionable decisions as third base coach. I was a little "down" on Newmie as 3B coach last year and what he did in the 6th inning yesterday didn't change my opinion. Jones led off the inning with that double and then Cristian Guzman hit a single up the middle. Now, I think that a fast runner on second base should always be able to score on a solid single up the middle, but Newman held Jones and Detroit's CF, Gene Kingsale, ended up double-clutching his throw anyway. So with Jones on 3rd instead of in the dugout after scoring a run, Torii Hunter hit a grounder to third, Jones went home and was thrown out at the plate by 10 feet. The next batter hit into a double-play and the Twins got ZERO runs out of a double and single to start the inning. It definitely had me shaking my head.

Bobby Higginson got moved from left field to right field this year, but he plays great D no matter where he is. He robbed Matthew LeCroy of a double in the 4th inning with a diving grab.

The Tigers moved the left field fence in during the off-season and it paid off immediately...for the Twins. Dustan Mohr hit a line drive right over the top of the newly moved in fence for the first homer of the year. It would have been a double last year.

Cristian Guzman's arm looks a lot better than it did last year, but he is still making what I would call "silly mistakes." Omar Infante hit a ball to him in the 4th inning that Guzman should have caught - and did for a moment - but dropped. He then ran over, picked the ball up and slung it to first base, in time to get Infante. The reason Guzman was able to take about 20 seconds and still get the out? Infante stopped running as soon as the ball hit Guzman's glove and then couldn't restart and get to first fast enough to beat the throw. The lesson in all of this? JUST RUN! It's the very first game of the entire season for god's sake! If you can't hustle now, when are you going to? If Infante, who is a fast runner, would have just run normally he would have beaten the throw easily. Instead, it's an out and he'll probably got yelled at by Alan Trammell after the game.

Michael Cuddyer got the start at third base for the injured Corey Koskie. I like Koskie a lot and hope he comes back from the injury soon and has a great year. However, I would eventually (like in 2005 or so) like to see Cuddyer be the everyday third baseman. Koskie is already 30, so maybe he could play 1 or 2 more years at 3B and let Cuddyer take over. That said, I am not real sure the Twins feel his defense is good enough at third, because he was taken out of the game in the 7th inning and replaced by Denny Hocking at 3B! What does it say when you take a guy out on opening day, in the 7th inning, against Detroit, because you want to put a better defender at 3B?

Brad Radke looked awesome. He needed 36 pitches (26 strikes) to get through the first 4 innings. And remember that leadoff bunt single that Kingsale had in the first inning? Well, that turned out to be the only hit Radke gave up in the first 6 1/3 innings! He gave up the bunt "hit" to Kingsale and then retired the next 18 batters in order, before Omar Infante hit a clean single to right field, which finally got the ball rolling for Detoit.

Dmitri Young then hit a ball about a foot from home plate and got thrown out at first and then Bobby Higginson walked, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs. Dean Palmer came up and Radke got ahead of him 0-2, but Palmer hit a squibber down the third base line and Denny Hocking (who just replaced Cuddyer at 3B) couldn't make the play fast enough. Palmer beat Hocking's throw to first and then Infante came flying home and beat Mientkiewicz's throw (he double-clutched) home to score the 1st run for the Tigers.

And just like that, Radke's day was over. He was cruising along for 6+ innings, gave up a single, a walk and a squibber down the line and he got yanked in favor of J.C. Romero. Romero, a lefty, came into the ballgame and Detroit did something very "interesting." They pinch-hit for Carlos Pena, also a lefty, with Craig Paquette, who proceeded to make the third out of the inning.

I'm all for getting platoon advantages and all that, and Romero is good against lefties, but Craig Paquette sucks against everyone and Carlos Pena is probably their best hitter. To make matters even worse, Pena was actually very good against lefties last year (.265/.333/.538) and Paquette hit .271/.306/.339 against them.

So the Tigers made it a 2-1 ballgame without really doing a whole lot. No matter, A.J. Pierzynski led off the top of the 8th against sidearming lefty Jamie Walker and hit the 1-2 pitch about 30 feet over the fence in right field to make it 3-1 Twins. A.J. slugged .393 against lefties last year and .167 (yes, .167!) against them in 2001, so it's beyond great to see him yank one out against not only a lefty, but a sidearming lefty reliever!

Luis Rivas, always wanting to impress me, singled to center in the top of the 8th and then advanced to 2nd on a Jacque Jones bunt. Then Guzman hit a little pop up into center field and Rivas, who apparently forgot their was only 1 out, just starting running ("I was running..."). Kingsale easily made the play in CF and tossed the ball back in to second base to double-up Rivas. Along with bad offense and bad defense, we can now add "baserunning mistakes" and/or "brain cramps" to Luis' resume.

Earlier in the game, Twins play-by-play man Dick Bremer talked about what "A GREAT JOB" Luis Rivas has done as the Twins' second baseman. I nearly lost my lunch. You may think a lot of things about Rivas and you may not agree with my fairly negative opinion of him, but one thing I think is painfully obvious is that he has not been great.

Romero stayed in to pitch the bottom of the 8th and faced left-handed Eric Munson to lead off the inning. Munson was allowed to hit, despite the fact that Trammell had just pinch-hit for Pena an inning earlier. Now, I understand that there were guys on base when Pena came to the plate, so getting a hit there was more important, but Pena is actually a good hitter against lefties and has shown that in the major leagues, while Munson is...well, we don't know yet.

Along with being really good relievers, J.C. Romero and Eddie Guardado lead all major league duos in "times adjusting protective cup per inning."

Franklyn German looked nasty. He came in and pitched the top of the 9th and was a little wild at first, but was throwing 95 MPH fastballs. Then he got Torii Hunter to swing through a 3-2 breaking ball. Matthew LeCroy yanked a single into left field against him, at which point Dick Bremer mentioned that LeCroy (whom I lovingly refer to as "Fatty LeCroy") lost 20 pounds this off-season. Because the game was on TV and my eyes still work, I would say that is a lie. German then got Denny Hocking (batting for Cuddyer) to ground into a DP and the Tigers got out of the half-inning down only 3-1. German actually reminds me a little bit of Armando Benitez, which would be pretty nice for the Tigers. I'd be surprised if he isn't closing games for them by mid-season.

By the way, that 7th inning move of Hocking in for Cuddyer didn't work out all that well, did it?

Eddie Guardado came in for the bottom of the 9th and put the Tigers down 1-2-3 for his first save of the 2003 season. All in all, a very good, clean, crisp first game. I would've liked a little more offense considering who were playing and who was pitching, but you gotta love the pitching and it was nice to see A.J. go deep against a lefty.

Radke's final line:

6 2/3 IP

1 ER

3 H

3 SO

1 BB

0 HR

78 Pitches

With the Twins game over, I flipped to WGN just in time to see Ken Harvey smack a double down the left field line to put Royals at 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 2nd inning against Mark Buehrle. Angel Berroa came to the plate and I, sitting alone in my room, literally said, "C'mon Angel..." Berroa listened to me and hit a single past the diving D'Angelo Jimenez and into right field, scoring Brandon Berger from 3rd base.

Amazingly, Runelvys Hernandez limited the White Sox to 2 hits and 0 runs over 6 innings, before turning it over the Jason Grimsley and then Mike MacDougal, who kept the shutout going.

So, after one day, the Twins are a game up on Chicago. You gotta love that!

In other games...

Chris Berman and Rick Sutcliffe did the Mets/Cubs game for ESPN. I know that a lot of people like Berman (although I've never met one), but I think he is an absolutely dreadful baseball announcer. And Rick Sutcliffe makes him look like Vin Scully. I am glad the Twins game was on at the same time so I didn't have to listen to more than 3 minutes of them at a time.

Chicago put a 15-spot on the Mets!

Corey Patterson went 4 for 6 with 2 homers and 7 runs batted in! I think Patterson will have a much better year than he had in 2002 (it would be hard to be worse), but I wouldn't get too excited about yesterday's performance. Patterson went 2-3 with a triple and 2 walks on opening day last year and followed that up a 3-4 with a double and a walk in the 2nd game. So, after 2 games, he was hitting .714/.800/1.143 with 3 walks. He went on to hit .247 the rest of the year and walked a total of 16 times in his final 618 plate appearances!

Juan Cruz also had himself a nice afternoon, coming on in relief and striking out 6 straight Mets. I will be shocked if Shawn Estes doesn't give up his rotation spot to Cruz at some point this season.

Heck, when you win 15-2, everyone has a nice afternoon. Hee Seop Choi went 1-3 with a double and 2 walks. Moises Alou went 2-3 with a double and 2 walks. Mark Grudzielanek went 3-3 with a walk. Even Kerry Wood had a hit and an RBI!

For the Mets, Roger Cedeno proved once again that he should never be allowed anywhere near center field. On one of Patterson's homers, Cedeno looked like had no clue where the ball was going and just seemed to be heading in the general direction of where he thought the ball could possibly end up. And then Mark Bellhorn hit a flyball out to center field that Cedeno proceeded to play into a 3-run triple.

I feel bad for Mike Bacsik, because he already had 2 outs before the Cedeno misplay and he ended up giving up 9 runs (all earned, since Cedeno didn't get an "error" on the play) in 2 innings, which is good for a 40.50 ERA.

The Orioles beat the Indians in the 10th inning when Gary Matthews Jr. hit a flyball into center field with the bases loaded and 2 outs and Cleveland CF Milton Bradley broke in on the ball, started to go back on and it and then basically said, "Screw it" and let it drop for a hit. Not the best effort I've ever seen.

Pedro Martinez pitched incredibly against Tampa Bay, allowing 1 unearned run and 3 hits in 7 innings of work. He turned a 4-1 lead over to the bullpen and watched as Alan Embree and Chad Fox combined to give up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th, including Carl Crawford's walk-off 3-run homer.

As you probably know, the Red Sox are going with a bullpen without a closer this year, which some people are calling "closer by committe." That's not really true, in that they are really going with no closer, because they don't think the save stat should affect the way a bullpen is run.

Anyway, this is about the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, because now the media, who has been waiting to rip this "new idea" to shreds can get an early start. I already heard the guys on Baseball Tonight talking about how the Red Sox need to have a plan B and "maybe they'll go out and get a veteran closer, like Kelvin Escobar or Matt Anderson." That is what I like to call completely missing the point.

The Red Sox realize that there is nothing particularly special about guys like Kelvim Escobar or Matt Anderson. They are just good relievers that are given the chance to rack up a certain stat. I guarantee you the Red Sox do not trade for a crappy "established closer" this year and I think the bullpen will ultimately be very effective for them in 2003.

Jim Thome made his NL debut by going 3-4 with a walk and an RBI. The Phillies' offense, which I have predicted will be one of the top 3 in the NL this year, scored 8 runs. And the Marlins' running game, which I predicted would lead MLB in steals by a huge margin, stole 3 bags today.

Randy Johnson got pounded for 9 hits and 5 runs against the Dodgers. If you remember, last year Randy started the season at 6-0 after 6 starts and he had a 1.37 ERA! Definitely something to keep an eye on, but I wouldn't be too worried.

Superman went 0-3 (with 2 walks, of course) in his 2003 debut and the Giants won 5-2, behind solo homers by Ray Durham, J.T. Snow and Benito Santiago.

The last game of the day was Yankees/Blue Jays. The game took a sad turn when Derek Jeter separated his shoulder sliding into 3rd base, as Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby came crashing down on him (Huckaby was covering 3rd and taking the throw from across the diamond). No doubt Yankee fans will think it was a dirty play or something, but it really wasnt. Hopefully Derek is only out for a couple of weeks.

I did think it was funny that Karl Ravech (on Baseball Tonight following the game) said, "Our thoughts will be with Derek Jeter tonight." I think that is just a tad over the top. I mean, the guy hurt his shoulder, he didn't get paralyzed or anything. And since when is Jeter the first guy ever to suffer a semi-serious injury? Do you think Karl Ravech would have said the same thing if Nomar had separated his shoulder yesterday against the D-Rays? I doubt it and I think that is why a lot of people aren't the biggest Derek Jeter fans.

Seconds after Ravech said that, Peter Gammons said the following: "A lot of people come up with stats saying how Jeter isn't a great player, but none of that matter, he is one." I have one question...what stat is there that says he isn't a great player? People need to learn that a player can simultaneously be great and overrated at the same time. Or even more importantly, can be great and still have major flaws (for example, defense).

In other news...

Kent Williams from the Batter's Box went to SkyDome to watch the Blue Jays' open batting practice and actually got to meet (and take pictures with) GM J.P. Ricciardi. I have to say that I am extremely jealous of this, plus the fact that J.P. says he reads Batter's Box every day. I'm still waiting for an invitation to meet my team's GM, Terry Ryan, but I think I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Today's picks:

Toronto (Lidle) +125 over New York (Pettitte)

Texas (Park) +110 over Anaheim (Callaway)

Los Angeles (Perez) +190 over Arizona (Schilling)

Total to date: $35

W/L record: 3-2 (won 3 and lost 2 yesterday, but one of the losses was the -170 on the White Sox, which I was glad to lose!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 30, 2003

The smiles are returning to the faces


"Here Comes the Sun"

Little darling, it's been a long, long lonely winter

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say, it's alright

Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since they've been there

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say, it's alright

Little darling, mmmmmm, I see the ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear

There goes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say, it's alright

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say, it's alright

It's alright

It's alright

OPENING DAY IS HERE! ("It seems like years since it's been here")

I started this blog way back on August 1st of last year, which means tomorrow marks the 8 month anniversary of this website. Over the weekend the visitor total went over 50,000, which is pretty cool.

Here's what the month-by-month visitor count looks like:

Month         Visitors

August 2800
September 3200
October 4200
November 4400
December 6600
January 7800
February 10100
March 11500
TOTAL 50600

That's a pretty steady climb, which is awesome - especially considering most of this blog's existence has been during the off-season!

I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for coming to this website and reading what I have to say about baseball. When I wrote that first entry back in August I never expected anything like this and it is really one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I hope you will all continue to visit here during the season, because I think it's going to be a lot of fun documenting an entire season with daily entries.

I opened up the "1st Annual Aaron's Baseball Blog Pre-Season Predictions Contest" a while back and I am proud to announce that I received a total of 85 entries for the contest, not counting my own.

Here is my official "1st Annual Aaron's Baseball Blog Pre-Season Predictions Contest" entry (and yes, I am eligible to win my own contest!):

AL EAST:

1) Boston Red Sox

2) New York Yankees

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Baltimore Orioles

5) Tampa Bay Devil Rays

AL CENTRAL:

1) Minnesota Twins

2) Chicago White Sox

3) Cleveland Indians

4) Kansas City Royals

5) Detroit Tigers

AL WEST:

1) Oakland A's

2) Seattle Mariners

3) Anaheim Angels

4) Texas Rangers

NL EAST:

1) Philadelphia Phillies

2) Atlanta Braves

3) New York Mets

4) Montreal Expos

5) Florida Marlins

NL CENTRAL:

1) Houston Astros

2) St. Louis Cardinals

3) Chicago Cubs

4) Cincinnati Reds

5) Pittsburgh Pirates

6) Milwaukee Brewers

NL WEST:

1) San Francisco Giants

2) Arizona Diamondbacks

3) Los Angeles Dodgers

4) San Diego Padres

5) Colorado Rockies

AL CHAMPS: Oakland A's

NL CHAMPS: Arizona Diamondbacks

WORLD CHAMPS: Oakland A's

AL MVP: Manny Ramirez

NL MVP: Barry Bonds

AL CY: Pedro Martinez

NL CY: Randy Johnson

AL ROY: Hideki Matsui

NL ROY: Marlon Byrd

BONDS OVER/UNDER 50 HOMERS: Under (40)

BONDS OVER/UNDER .500 OBP: Over (.600)

BONDS OVER/UNDER 120 RBI: Under (95)

BONDS OVER/UNDER .330 AVG: Over (.350)

BONDS OVER/UNDER 150 WALKS: Over (200)

BONDS OVER/UNDER .750 SLG: Over (.800)

Not a whole lot of surprises, I suppose.

There are 3 truly elite teams in baseball right now - New York, Boston and Oakland. Coincidentally they are all in the American League and 2 of them are in the same division. I think all 3 of those teams will win 100 games this year. In the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins aren't going to be quite as good as most people think. Because of that, the division race will be a very close one with Chicago, although I do think the Twins will win it.

During the regular season, I think the Philadelphia Phillies will be the best team in the National League. However, once the post-season starts I am going to go with the Arizona Diamondbacks and their 1-2 punch of Randy and Curt, simply because they can start 5 or 6 games in a given series and that is huge.

Here are a few more of my thoughts on the 2003 season:

Hideki Matsui will prove all of the idiots that say he won't hit for power in the United States completely wrong. The idiocy behind the "logic" used regarding Japanese players is incredible. When Ichiro! got here, all the experts were saying that he wouldn't succeed because he was too small and weak to hit major league pitching. Now, after he has established himself as one of the best players in baseball, those same experts are saying that Hideki Matsui won't succeed here because his power won't translate well in the states.

Let me get this straight? Ichiro! was too small and weak, but Hideki Matsui relies too much on power? Yeah, that makes sense. A great player is a great player, whether he is born in Nebraska, Tokyo or Santo Domingo. You have to wonder how many more players have to come over here from Japan and have success before guys like Dan Gladden and Rob Dibble will realize we don't have some special potion that makes American ballplayers superior to everyone else.

Matsui will have a tremendous season and will be one of the best outfielders in the major leagues. Some people have compared his offensive game to Brian Giles'. While I think that comparison is a decent one, I don't think he will walk as much Giles does (135 BBs last year), so I think a better comp would be Ryan Klesko.

Since coming to San Diego, Klesko has had batting averages of .283, .286 and .300, on-base percentages of .393, .384, .388 and slugging percentages of .516, .539 and .537. Those are the types of numbers I think Matsui will put up in 2003. I'll officially say .290/.390/.525, with some pretty good defense in left field.

Next year, when Kazuo Matsui (the next big star from Japan that is likely coming here) is questioned by the same people that have questioned Ichiro! and Matsui, just remember how ridiculous these people sounded after Ichiro! and Matsui's rookie years. I can just hear it now, Dan Gladden will say that he doesn't think Kazuo Matsui will have success here because, unlike Hideki Matsui and Ichiro!, he plays an infield position. Or some other crap like that.

I also think fellow AL rookie Mark Teixeira will have an incredible first season. I rated him as the #1 prospect in all of baseball and I think he will be an impact player right away. I wouldn't be surprised if he hit .280-.300 with 30+ homers this year (if he gets 500+ ABs), which would normally guarantee him the Rookie of the Year award, but probably won't be enough to win it this year.

Another rookie hitter I really like is Travis Hafner. I expect Hafner to be one of the top 5-6 first basemen in the AL this year, which would also normally get him the ROY, but will probably only be good for 3rd place this year.

And then you have Francisco Rodriguez, whom I expect to have an Octavio Dotel-type season (100 IP in relief, 2.50 ERA). Last but certainly not least is Twins rookie Michael Cuddyer, whom I think would also win the ROY in most "normal" years. I expect Cuddyer to hit about .280 with 20-25 homers for the Twins in 2003.

In all, it is an incredibly strong crop of rookies in the AL this year. The NL group isn't nearly as strong, although I do like Marlon Byrd and Hee Seop Choi quite a bit.

More predictions:

Mike Mussina had an ERA of 4.05 last year and I expect him to slice at least 20% off of that for the 2003.

Manny Ramirez will have a huge season hitting in a lineup full of guys that get on base and will lead the AL in runs batted in.

Casey Fossum will surprise a lot of people and have a great season in the rotation, despite an awful spring.

Josh Phelps will have a monster season and will be the best DH in the AL.

The Devil Rays will have the fewest walks by any team in the last 35 years (click here to read more about that).

Cristian Guzman and Doug Mientkiewicz will each have bounce back seasons for the Twins.

Joe Mays will either suffer a serious injury or will have an ERA over 5.00 (or both).

Frank Thomas will have a tremendous year and will be in the top 10 in the AL for batting average, RBIs and homers.

Bartolo Colon's ERA will rise at least 25% from what it was last year (2.93).

Casey Blake, a completely unknown minor league veteran, will have a nice little season as Cleveland's starting third baseman.

Jeremy Affeldt will lead the Royals in wins and innings pitched.

Erubiel Durazo will have a monster year in Oakland - think .270/.400/.540 with 30 homers and 100 RBI.

Keith Foulke will have a much better season than the guy he was traded for, Billy Koch.

The Anaheim Angels will not make the post-season and everyone will blame it on that damn Rally Monkey.

Alex Rodriguez will once again be the best player in the American League, but the Rangers will continue to stink and ARod will continue to get the shaft from MVP voters.

Mike Hampton will be very bad for the Braves in 2003 and the Braves will not make the playoffs for the first time in like 58 years.

Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla and Randy Wolf will combine to win 55 games in 2003 and the Phillies will be one of the top 3 offensive teams in the NL.

The Marlins will lead MLB in stolen bases and will score the fewest runs in the National League.

A.J. Burnett will suffer a serious injury at some point and Jeff Torborg will have no idea why.

Jeff Kent will have an incredible offensive season - something along the lines of .330 with 40 homers and 130 RBI, but he won't win the MVP because that Bonds guy still plays in the NL.

The Reds' outfield will lead all of baseball in outfield homers and Dunn, Kearns and Griffey will each hit at least 35.

Sammy Sosa will hit 50 homers and will drive in 98 runs because no one gets on base in front of him.

Arizona will have 3 pitchers among the top 10 NL leaders in strikeouts (Byung-Hyun Kim!).

Barry Bonds will have twice as many walks as hits and will set the major league record for walks in a season for the 3rd straight year. He will also increase his OPS for the 5th straight season.

Kevin Brown will be one of the best 3-5 pitchers in the National League; Odalis Perez will not.

Jose Hernandez will lead all non-ARod shortstops in slugging %.

Okay, enough with all the predictions and previews...LET'S PLAY SOME BASEBALL!!!

Oh, one final thing...

I enjoy betting on sporting events (hypothetically, of course), but since I don't have the disposable income (or any income) to do so, I thought it might be fun to forego actually betting on them and simply make my picks on this blog everyday and keep track of the hypothetical winning and losing.

For those of you unfamiliar with gambling on baseball games, here is how it works:

Say you have two teams, New York and Chicago.

The "betting line" for the game will be something like this: New York -150 vs. Chicago +140

What that means is that if you bet on New York to win, you would need to bet $150 dollars to win $100. And if you bet on Chicago to win, you would bet $100 to win $140. Pretty simple, right?

So here's how I will do it...

Whenever the mood strikes me (probably every day, but I'm not guaranteeing it), I will make a few "bets" on baseball games. I'll keep track of the wins and losses and we can all have a good laugh at the end of the year when I end up losing thousands of hypothetical dollars. Every bet will be $100, which will makes things easy to keep track of. And I'll list the teams, along with the starting pitchers, so you can get a feel for why I am making the picks.

Today's picks:

Cubs (Wood) +105 over Mets (Glavine)

Phillies (Millwood) -110 over Marlins (Beckett)

Twins (Radke) -175 over Tigers (Maroth)

White Sox (Buehrle) -170 over Royals (Hernandez)

Blue Jays (Halladay) +110 over Yankees (Clemens)

Total to date: $0

W/L record: 0-0

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

Aaron's Baseball Blog 2003 Season Preview: AL Central

Other Previews:

American League East

American League West

National League East

National League Central

National League West

Last year's standings:

AL Central        W      L    Win%      GB

Minnesota 94 67 .584 ----
Chicago 81 81 .500 13.5
Cleveland 74 88 .457 20.5
Kansas City 62 100 .383 32.5
Detroit 55 106 .342 39.0

This year's prediction:

I started to write previews for all the AL Central teams when I realized 2 things: 1) I have already written a combined 25,000 words on the Twins and White Sox for BaseballPrimer.com and 2) there is absolutely no chance that a team other than those 2 ends up even competing for this division or the Wild Card.

So, check out the abbreviated AL Central preview and make sure to go read my gigantic, in-depth previews that I wrote on the Twins and White Sox for Baseball Primer.

Looking Forward to 2003: Minnesota Twins (by Aaron Gleeman)

Looking Forward to 2003: Chicago White Sox (by Aaron Gleeman)



1) MINNESOTA TWINS

94-67 (.584) | 1st Place

768 Runs Scored (9th) | 712 Runs Allowed (6th)

I am not even going to attempt to say anything new or interesting about the Twins' 2003 season because I have already written 15,000 words on them for Baseball Primer and how much more could I possibly have to say?

If you haven't already, I urge you to check out my Twins preview. I put a lot of work into it and I think you'll enjoy it quite a bit:

Looking Forward to 2003: Minnesota Twins (by Aaron Gleeman)



2) CHICAGO WHITE SOX

81-81 (.500) | 2nd Place (13.5 GB)

856 Runs Scored (3rd) | 798 Runs Allowed (8th)

Ditto with the White Sox. I wrote a nice little 10,000 word preview for them over at Baseball Primer that I would love for everyone to check out.

Looking Forward to 2003: Chicago White Sox (by Aaron Gleeman)



3) CLEVELAND INDIANS

74-88 (.457) | 3rd Place (20.5 GB)

739 Runs Scored (10th) | 837 Runs Allowed (10th)

The AL Central is very clearly in a 2-1-2 alignment, much like the AL East. I don't see any circumstance where Chicago or Minnesota would finish outside of the top 2, Cleveland would not finish 3rd and Kansas City and Detroit would not finish 4-5 in some order.

I suppose it could happen, but I just don't see it.

I really like the rebuilding Cleveland has done with their farm system and I could definitely see them seriously contending by about 2005, but their rotation this year is a complete mess (Brian Anderson and Jason Bere!) and I don't envision their offense performing like the 1927 Yankees or anything. Still, they're good enough that they shouldn't have to worry about KC or Detroit catching them anytime soon.

Prediction: Travis Hafner is going to have a big season, so keep an eye out for him.



4) KANSAS CITY ROYALS

62-100 (.383) | 4th Place (32.5 GB)

737 Runs Scored (11th) | 891 Runs Allowed (13th)

The Royals are the best of the worst, which isn't saying a whole lot when their competition is the Tigers.

Carlos Beltran is starting the season on the DL and if he stays there for a long time I could see the Royals finishing in the cellar, but otherwise they should beat Detroit by at least 5 games.



5) DETROIT TIGERS

55-106 (.342) | 5th Place (39.0 GB)

575 Runs Scored (14th) | 864 Runs Allowed (11th)

Yuck.

Detroit walked 363 times last year (the fewest by a team in like 30 years) and scored the fewest runs in MLB. And yet their offense might just be a little worse this year.

They got rid of 2 of their top 3 hitters from last year, Randall Simon and Robert Fick. Now, those 2 guys are no great shakes, but they were still 2 of the most valuable Tigers last year. The good news is that the fences at Comerica have been moved in, which should help their raw offensive totals and at least make it seem like their offense is improved over last season. Still, they could move the fences into the infield and Detroit would have a hard time scoring 700 runs.

Right now their rotation includes a grand total of 18 career major league wins, which is the 4th fewest for an opening-day rotation since 1902 (thanks to Rob Neyer's most recent column for that tidbit).

The good news for me in all of this mess is that the Twins get to open the season against the Tigers, in Detroit. Anything less than 2 out 3 will probably have me ready to cancel the season, so the Twins better take care of business.

Okay, that's it for the division previews. I hope you all enjoyed them and I want to thank everyone that sent me emails with their own thoughts on the divisions. Make sure to check back tomorrow for a very special opening day entry.

By the way, did I mention TOMORROW IS OPENING DAY?!?!?!? I'm kinda excited, can you tell?

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 29, 2003

Aaron's Baseball Blog 2003 Season Preview: NL Central

Other Previews:

American League East

American League Central

American League West

National League East

National League West

Last year's standings:

NL Central        W      L    Win%      GB

St. Louis 97 65 .599 ----
Houston 84 78 .519 13.0
Cincinnati 78 84 .481 19.0
Pittsburgh 72 89 .447 24.5
Chicago 67 95 .414 30.0
Milwaukee 56 106 .346 41.0

This year's prediction:



1) HOUSTON ASTROS

84-78 (.519) | 2nd Place (13.0 GB)

749 Runs Scored (5th) | 695 Runs Allowed (6th)

I flip-flopped many times on the top 2 teams in this division, but in the end it came down to Jeff Kent. I really think that his addition to the offense will be huge and he is in for a gigantic year offensively, as he moves from the worst park to hit in to one of the best.

If you look at the raw numbers, it shows Houston as the 5th best offense and the 6th best pitching staff last year. Because of their home ballpark, those numbers don't really tell the truth. In reality, their pitching was a lot better than 6th and their offense was probably closer to the middle of the pack. That's good news for the 'Stros because by adding Kent their offense takes a huge leap up and their pitching was actually pretty great last year.

The offense now features a 3-4-5 of Bagwell, Berkman and Kent - who had EqAs of .310, .321 and .319 last year. Essentially, the only change from last year is that Kent is at 2B, Biggio is in the outfield and Daryle Ward is in Los Angeles. So actually Jeff Kent basically replaces Ward in the lineup, which is a gigantic upgrade. I'd say that switch is probably good for 40-50 runs over last year, which would put the Astros at about 800 runs scored.

I also see no reason why the pitching staff can't be at least as good as last year. The only 2 pitchers that pitched over 120 innings for them last year were Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller, who are both back and should perform similarly. Dotel and Wagner are both back, so the bullpen will be solid. The rest of the rotation has some question marks, but they really don't even have to be good to be way better than the 3-5 starters were last year.

Kirk Saarloos made 17 with a 6.01 ERA, Dave Mlicki started 16 games with a 5.24 ERA, Shane Reynolds started 14 games and had a 4.86 ERA. After Roy and Wade, they just weren't very good. This year the 3-5 starters appear to be Tim Redding, Jeriome Robertson and Brian Moehler. I don't think Robertson or Moehler will be very good, but I like Redding and, as a group, they should be able to at least give some league-average innings.

With a 3-4-5 of Bagwell, Berkman and Kent and some decent contributors in Biggio, Blum, Lugo and Morgan Ensberg (who deserves to play 3B everyday), this offense is going to score runs. If Richard Hidalgo snaps out of his 2 year funk and plays anything like he did in 2000 (.314/.391/.636 with 44 homers and 42 doubles) then they will be incredible, if he doesn't they'll just be very good.

This division is very deep in "okay" teams, but I don't think they really have any upper-level, 100-win squads. However, I think Houston has the best chance of turning into one of those, so I am going with them to win the division.

Prediction: Jeff Kent will hit .320+ with 40 homers and a ton of RBIs. In fact, he is my pick for NBBMVP (Non Barry Bonds Most Valuable Player).



2) ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

97-65 (.599) | 1st Place

787 Runs Scored (2nd) | 648 Runs Allowed (4th)

The Cardinals were really a very good baseball team last year. They finished 2nd in runs scored and 4th in runs allowed and won 97 games. So why do I have them in 2nd place? Injuries and starting pitching.

J.D. Drew is hurting, Jim Edmonds is hurting, Jason Isringhausen is hurting. And I think their rotation is hurting too.

Right now they are looking at Matt Morris (great), Woody Williams (very good, but injured last year), Brett Tomko (career ERA 4.46), Jason Simontacchi (11 wins last year and a complete and total fluke) and Garrett Stephenson (career ERA of 4.53, missed the entire 2001 season and had a 5.40 ERA last year).

The offense will once again be very good, with Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds and Renteria (a very underrated player) leading the way. At the same time, they also have Mike Matheny and Fernando Vina in the lineup. Vina used to be a good little player, but he slugged .338 last year and looks fairly close to done. If J.D Drew can't come back soon, they are looking at Eli Marrero in RF for extended time. Marrero is a good player, but he's more of utility guy, able to start at catcher and in the outfield, providing great flexibility. With him in right field full-time until Drew returns, they are looking at a horrible bench.

This is a good team and has been for quite a few years, but they have an awful lot of injuries and that rotation worries me quite a bit. Plus Isringhausen was huge for them last year and he's hurt too, so the pen is in some trouble.

They need Woody Williams to stay healthy for 200 innings and they need their injured guys to make quick comebacks. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if they won 90+ games and the division, but I like the Astros offense just as much as the Cardinals' and I think they 'Stros have a better pitching staff.



3) CHICAGO CUBS

67-95 (.414) | 5th Place (30.0 GB)

706 Runs Scored (11th) | 759 Runs Allowed (11th)

I really wanted to go out on a limb with the Cubs and put them in 1st or 2nd place. I thought about it for a little while and decided that in order to finish in the top 2 spots they would probably need to win 85+ games. They won 67 last year.

As much as I love their front 3 of Wood, Clement and Prior (and you know I love pitchers that strike people out, so I am basically drooling over them), I just don't think it makes sense to predict any team to improve by 20 games, barring some pretty major acquisitions. So, I stuck them in 3rd.

The pitching staff is potentially extremely good. Kerry Wood and Matt Clement are 2 of the top young starters in baseball and I think Mark Prior will be better than either of them. In fact, there isn't a pitcher in the world right now that I would take over Mark Prior if I were beginning a team. I think he's going to win multiple Cy Youngs and will finish his career as a Hall of Famer. I usually like to be conservative with young, inexperienced pitchers, but he is just on a whole different level.

It would not surprise me if he won the Cy Young award this season (although that would also include something happening to Randy Johnson, I guess) and it would surprise me if he didn't win 15+ games and finish in the top 3 in the league in strikeouts.

On a semi-unrelated note: I think Prior and Mark Teixeira will be two of the best players of their generation and they were both taken after the Twins selected Joe Mauer with the #1 pick in the 2001 draft. Now, I love Mauer and think he's going to be a stud catcher for many years, but Prior and Teixeira are ready right now and there is some value in that, because there are a lot of things that could go wrong in the time it takes Mauer to get to the majors. Still, how great were the first 5 picks of that draft if I think Teixeira and Prior are both once-in-a-lifetime, Hall of Fame players and I am still not upset that the Twins took Mauer? By the way, I think the D-Rays will probably feel like complete idiots for taking Dewon Brazelton instead of Teixeira after Teixeira hits his 35 homers this year and establishes himself as the young power hitter in MLB. Of course, it won't be the first time they'll feel that way.

I also like certain aspects of the Chicago offense. The core of Sammy Sosa, Hee Seop Choi, Mark Bellhorn and Moises Alou is very good, particularly if Alou bounces back to his pre-2002 level. Aside from that however, there are a few major holes.

First of all, I'm worried that Dusty Baker might start giving hundreds of at bats to Eric Karros or Tom Goodwin or Troy O'Leary (or all 3).

Plus, Mark Grudzielanek, Alex Gonzalez and Corey Patterson will not only be everyday players, 2 of them will likely bat 1-2 in the lineup. The OBPs of those 3 guys last year were .284, .312 and .301. Sammy Sosa isn't gonna have a whole lot of "ducks on the pond" this season. He'll probably hit 50 homers and drive in 97 runs, at which point some member of the Chicago media (I'm looking at you Rogers!) will start saying how he isn't a clutch player or some other crap.

I like this team for the long-term because their starting pitching could be unbelievably good if Juan Cruz and Carlos Zambrano come around. I still think they need to take some steps to improve the offense, which is why I have them in 3rd.

This division is wide open at the top though and it definitely wouldn't surprise me if they made a run at the division title this year.



4) CINCINNATI REDS

78-84 (.481) | 3rd Place (19.0 GB)

709 Runs Scored (9th) | 774 Runs Allowed (13th)

The Reds were 9th in the NL in scoring last year and could potentially lead the league this season.

They've got two of the best young power-hitters in baseball in Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn and still have that Griffey guy in CF that used to be really good.

Plus, they moved Aaron Boone (who hit .241/.313/.439 with 26 HRs in 2002) to second base in order to get Brandon Larson into the lineup. Larson isn't young, so he isn't really a "prospect" anymore, but he hit .340/.393/.667 last yeat at Triple-A and then .275/.362/.549 in 51 at bats with the Reds. He's not going to slug .667 or even .549, but he could definitely be a valuable player offensively.

At first base they have Sean Casey, who I am just about ready to stick a fork in, but who is just a year removed from 3 straight seasons with a .300+ batting average.

The lineup could score a lot of runs and I think they'll have to, because I don't think a whole lot of the pitching staff. They were 13th in the NL in runs allowed last year and they didn't really do anything to improve in the off-season.

They signed Paul Wilson to fill a spot in the rotation, which is okay. But he's injured and won't be that great anyway. Danny Graves joins the rotation after being their closer for several years, but I don't think he'll be going Derek Lowe on the league anytime soon (then again, who thought Derek Lowe was going to go Derek Lowe on the league?). I just don't see this staff finishing any better than about 10th in preventing runs, which is why I've got them in 4th.

Predictions: Adam Dunn will hit 40 homers and walk 120 times - at least. And the Reds will lead baseball in homers hit by outfielders by a pretty big margin.



5) PITTSBURGH PIRATES

72-89 (.447) | 4th Place (24.5 GB)

641 Runs Scored (15th) | 730 Runs Allowed (10th)

The Pittsburgh Pirates did something extremely hard to do last season: They managed to simultaneously have the 2nd best hitter in the entire National League and still have the worst team batting average, slugging % and on-base % in the whole league.

Brian Giles, one of truly underappreciated superstars in the history of baseball, had another fantastic season. In fact, check out his numbers for the past 4 years:

Year       G      AVG      OBP      SLG      BB     HR     2B      EqA
1999 141 .315 .418 .614 95 39 33 .330
2000 156 .315 .432 .594 114 35 37 .335
2001 160 .309 .404 .590 90 37 37 .323
2002 153 .298 .450 .622 135 38 37 .349

That's greatness and it is the best kind of greatness: consistent!

Despite that, the Pirates hit .244/.319/.381 as a team.

I thought it might be interesting to see how they hit without Giles, so I subtracted his contributions and came up the non-Brian Giles Pirates team offense of...

.238 / .299 / .355

Ouch.

So not only were the Pirates awful offensively last year, they weren't even spread out awful! I mean, they didn't have a whole bunch of crappy players spread throughout the lineup, they actually had one great hitter and a bunch of guys that hit like pitchers.

It is amazing that Giles was able to drive in 103 runs while playing in a lineup with a bunch of guys that got on base 29% of the time.

What's that you say? I am supposed to be previewing their 2003 season? Oh, yeah, right.

You know what? I actually like the Pirates as a team to surprise people in 2003. They won 72 games last year, which isn't completely awful, and that was a 10-game improvement over 2001, which is nice. And actually, they were hanging around .500 for quite a while last year. On July 22nd hey were 47-52 (.475), but they then went 25-37 (.403) to finish the year.

You already know all about what I think of Brian Giles and I expect him to continue to be a .300/.400/.600 player, just as he has been for his entire Pittsburgh career. And the Pirates actually made quite a few changes to that horrible rest of the offense over the off-season.

Last year, the Pirates played Kevin Young at first base, full-time. He got 525 plate appearances and hit .246/.322/.408.

This season, Young is still with the team, but they also brought in Randall Simon in a trade with Detroit. Randall Simon gets a lot of flak because he refuses to take walks, but he can actually be a very useful player, if used correctly. Believe it or not, I devoted the better part of an entire entry to Randall Simon and Kevin Young back in February (I know, I can't believe it either):

Before I say anything, let me remind everyone that Kevin Young has been one of the worst first basemen in baseball for quite a while. Over the last 3 seasons he has hit a combined .246/.314/.414, including .246/.322/.408 last season.

That said, Kevin Young is not a completely useless baseball player, he is simply a bad starting first baseman. Give him 450-500 at bats and he'll be at the bottom of the league in 1B value, but put him in certain situations - like playing only against lefties - and he can be pretty good.

The same goes for Randall Simon. As a 500 at bat first baseman, he is below average. As one half of a platoon he can be very productive.

Look what happens when we stop playing Simon and Young (that sounds like a law firm, doesn't it?) against all pitchers and start playing them against only lefties (Young) and only righties (Simon).

Kevin Young versus lefties:

Year      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 159 .308 .378 .535
2000 129 .264 .321 .488
2001 74 .270 .386 .486
2002 106 .283 .377 .519

Randall Simon versus righties:

Year      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 200 .325 .379 .460
2001 213 .319 .351 .437
2002 341 .320 .342 .510

Simon did not play in the Majors in 2000, which is why that line is missing from his stats.

Kevin Young and Randall Simon, like many "mediocre" Major League baseball players, can be valuable if used in the right situations. A Young/Simon platoon could very easily combine to hit .285/.360/.500, which is pretty damn good.

I've decided that there are two different types of crappy baseball players:

1) The crappy-when-relied-upon-too-much type of player.

Kevin Young and Randall Simon are perfect examples of this. When you put them in full-time, everyday roles, they become a negative to a team, but when you limit them to spots where they can thrive and use whichever skills are their best, they can be valuable players.

Eric Karros is another good example of this type of player. He stinks as a full-time 1B (hit only .271/.323/.399 last year), but is very good at hitting lefties (.287/.369/.487 against them in the past 2 seasons) and would make an excellent platoon option at 1B, much like Kevin Young.

2) The crappy-when-relied-upon-at-all type of player.

I would classify this group as the Rey Ordonez/Neifi Perez's of the world.

They can't hit lefties and they can't hit righties and, to make matter's worse, they somehow seem to manage to convince multiple teams to waste hundreds of at bats on them every year.

Okay, how was that?

A few hundred words on Pittsburgh's first base situation. I managed to say that Kevin Young and Randall Simon, together, form a nice first baseman. And, while they are crappy players, they are the better classification of a crappy player, because they are not completely useless.

I really think that, if they are put into a strict platoon, Simon and Young will be much better than the Pirates' 1B situation last season.

The other 3 spots in the infield remain the same.

The middle-infield combo of Jack Wilson and Pokey Reese is never going to remind anyone of Jeter and Soriano offensively, but they are, in my opinion, the best defensive middle-infield in baseball. So, I guess you could say that while Jeter and Soriano aren't going to remind anyone of Wilson and Reese defensively...nevermind.

Believe it or not, Pokey Reese was not a completely horrible offensive player last year. He hit .264, drew a reasonable amount of walks and went 12/13 on steal attempts. He had an EqA of .247 last year, which is only .012 points behind MLB second basemen as a whole. And he more than makes up for that with his great defense.

Jack Wilson, on the other hand, was a completely horrible offensive player last year. Well, actually, that isn't even true. While he did hit .252/.306/.332 last year (which is just plain bad), he did extremely well against left-handed pitching, hitting .360/.402/.526 in 114 at bats. Of course, depending on how you want to look at that you could also take that to mean he did horribly against right-handed pitching (.223/.280/.278), but I am trying to be positive here.

Wilson is also a great defensive player and he's still only 25 years old, so he's got a chance to make himself a useful hitter yet. The fact that he did well against lefties last year in significant at bats is a sign that he at least has some skills offensively that he could perhaps build upon.

I don't think Wilson or Reese will be significantly better in 2002, but not every lineup is strong 1-8 and, with their defense, they aren't complete liabilities.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez had a complete collapse last year.

Year    Age     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B

2001 23 .300 .350 .536 34 40
2002 24 .234 .279 .387 18 26

It is just not supposed to work like that. A 23 year old that hits .300 with 74 extra-base hits isn't supposed to hit .234 with a .387 slugging % at age 24.

It is pretty obvious from those numbers that something was wrong with Ramirez last year and something was - he suffered a severe ankle injury in April of last season and it was a major issue the entire year. He generally played through the pain, but he wore a big plastic thing on it the whole season and his performance obviously suffered.

While Ramirez's power did go down last season, it didn't drop as much as you think. His slugging % dropped 149 points, but 66 of those points were simply from his batting average going from .300 to .234. That also accounts for almost the entire drop in OBP.

Saying this now, after his awful season, sounds like 20/20 hindsight, but Ramirez walked only 40 times in 655 PAs during his fabulous 2001 season. I've said it before and I'll say it again, a player who's game is based so largely upon batting average can collapse very quickly when some of those singles stop dropping.

Ramirez's batting average dropped 66 points last year and even if you simply subtract 66 points from his 2001 OBP and SLG, he still has a bad line of .234/.284/.470. Batting average fluctuates more than almost anything else in baseball, so, considering the injury also, it isn't that surprising he had a bad year. I would almost guarantee Ramirez plays better this year and, if he can approach his 2001 numbers, he'll be a gigantic boost to their lineup.

Pittsburgh catcher Jason Kendall is another guy that a lot of people think will improve quite a bit, but I'm not so sure. He was a great hitting catcher from 1997-2000, but his last two years have gone .266/.335/.358 and .283/.350/.356. His power, which was never great, is almost completely vanished and he hasn't come close to the .320 batting averages he posted earlier in his career. I wouldn't bet against him having a better 2003 than his 2002, but I don't think he'll ever hit like he did in the late 1990s.

A month ago it looked like Giles would be playing centerfield and the other 2 outfield spots would probably go to Matt Stairs and Craig Wilson, thus making the outfield very good offensively and possibly the worst in all of baseball defensively. Now Wilson and Stairs are on the bench because the Pirates signed both Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders. This pushes Giles back to LF, where belongs, and improves their defense quite a bit.

Lofton is no longer a great CF, but he is way better than Giles would have been. Plus, Sanders is one of the top defensive RFs in baseball.

Offensively, I don't think the Pirates will be platooning very much, but if they wanted to there is a great opportunity.

Lofton:

vs RHP = .265/.357/.433

vs LHP = .248/.322/.339

Sanders:

vs RHP = .237/.313/.430

vs LHP = .289/.358/.537

Really, Sanders should probably only be an everyday player against lefties and Lofton should be on the bench against lefties.

Craig Wilson hit .313/.376/.482 against lefties last year, so he could step into the lineup in RF, with Lofton going to the bench. This would mean Giles would play CF against lefties or Sanders would.

Against righties, Sanders heads to the bench and Matt Stairs (who hit .249/.355/.494 against RHP last year) would replace him in RF.

Like I said, I don't think the Pirates will do that, but it would help them score some more runs.

It wouldn't surprise me if Pittsburgh won 78-85 games this year and possibly finished as high as 3rd in the division.



6) MILWAUKEE BREWERS

55-106 (.346) | 6th Place (41.0 GB)

627 Runs Scored (16th) | 821 Runs Allowed (15th)

The Brewers were really bad last year. [How bad were they, Aaron?] They were so bad that they're the only team that finished in 6th place. [rimshot!]

But seriously folks, at least they have a nice stadium. Oh, wait...nevermind.

You've got to seriously wonder what the hell is going on with this franchise.

Every team goes through periods of losing and my own Minnesota Twins just recently ended about a decade of last places finishes, so it isn't so horrible that the Brew Crew stunk last year (or the last 5 years). But this is a team with absolutely zero direction at the Major League level.

They stunk last year, no doubt about it. They scored the fewest runs in the National League and gave up the most runs of any team not playing in Coors Field.

Then they declined to offer arbitration to their best player from last season, Jose Hernandez. You may not think that Jose Hernandez is a great player, but he was very good last year and was far and away the best Brewer. He hit .288/.356/.478 with 24 homers and 24 doubles.

According to Baseball Prospectus' "Runs Above Replacement Level," he was the best shortstop in the National League and the 5th best in all of baseball (behind the big 4 in the AL). Despite all that - the .288 batting average, 2nd on the team in on-base %, the 24 homers from a shortstop, the good defense at a key position - the Brewers became fixated with one of his more meaningless stats: strikeouts.

Jose Hernandez strikes out a lot. In 2001 he struck out 185 times in 152 games and last year he struck out 188 times in 152 games. Actually, Jose Hernandez was 1 strikeout short of tying the all-time Major League record for strikeouts, which is 189 by Bobby Bonds. And he still had 11 games left to play. Basically, he was set to become the new record-holder. All of sudden the Brewers freaked out and decided it would be a horrible thing if a guy that struck out 188 times in the first 90% of the season was allowed to strike out 1 more time in the remaining dozen or so games. So they benched him, their best player, for 8 of the final 11 games and he finished the year 1 short of the MLB record.

I have this theory about good managers and general managers that I like to bring up a lot on this blog. It is that the good ones are able to see what a player can do, not what he can't. The Milwaukee Brewers did the exact opposite with Jose Hernandez.

He did so many things well last year...

He played good defense at shortstop.

He smacked 50 extra-base hits.

He hit .288.

He drew a decent amount of walks.

He was 2nd on the team in OBP.

2nd of the team in runs batted in and runs scored.

He was one of the top 5 players at his position in all of baseball.

And yet the one thing they fixated on and decided was more important than anything else is that he made 188 of his outs by way of striking out last season, instead of grounding out to the second baseman or popping up to shortstop or any of the other "acceptable" methods of making outs that the Brewers employed so very much last season.

No, they saw those Ks and they freaked out. They benched their best player for the final 2 weeks of the season for no good reason and then they declined to offer him arbitration at the end of the year.

Hernandez signed with the Rockies where he'll have a fabulous season and do you know who Milwaukee's shortstop is now? Royce Clayton.

The same Royce Clayton that hit .251/.295/.365 last season and is a career .258/.311/.372 hitter. You wanna know the funniest/worst part about it? Royce Clayton strikes out a lot too! In only 342 at bats last year he struck out 67 times. That is once every 5 at bats. If you project him to have the same amount of ABs that Jose Hernandez had last season (525) he projects to strike out 103 times.

So you got rid of .288/.356/.478 and replaced it with .251/.295/.365, because, if given 500 at bats, the first guy will strike out 180 times and the second guy will strike out "only" 100 times.

That says just about all you need to know about the Milwaukee Brewers. Seriously, what else would you need to know? They're gonna finish in last place (6th place) again this year and if Richie Sexson isn't careful with his strikeouts, he'll probably hit another 35 homers and get released next off-season so the team can sign Randall Simon and his improved rate of contact.

You know what? I don't want to end this rant yet. I have one more bug in my ass regarding the Brewers. You see, last off-season the Brewers biggest "fan" tried to eliminate my favorite team. I just thought I'd take one last chance to compare the two franchises, Minnesota and Milwaukee, and see which one would be a better candidate for contraction...

HISTORY:

Minnesota - 42 years (1961-2002) or 102 years if you include their days as the Washington Senators.

Milwaukee - 33 years (1970-2002) or 34 years if you want to include their season as the Seattle Pilots.

WINNING:

Minnesota - 2 World Series Championships, 3 American League Championships, 6 Division Championships (or 3, 6 and 9 if you include the Senators).

Milwaukee - 0 World Series Championships, 1 American League Championship, 2 Division Championships.

FAN SUPPORT:

Minnesota - 23,759 fans per game in 2002, while playing in one of the worst ballparks in all of baseball.

Milwaukee - 24,311 fans per game in 2002, while playing in a brand new stadium (with a leaky roof that makes noise when it opens and closes).

FAN SUPPORT MOMENTUM:

Minnesota - 2002 saw an incease in attendance by 8% over 2001 and 92% over 2000.

Milwaukee - 2002 saw a decrease in attendance by 30% compared to 2001.

RECENT SUCCESS:

Minnesota - 179-144 record over the past two seasons, a .554 winning %.

Milwaukee - 124-200 record over the past two seasons, a .383 winning %.

Minnesota will win more in 2002, draw more fans in 2002 and they'll do so despite an awful ballpark and the dark cloud of contraction looming over the heads for most of last season and off-season.

I don't have anything against Milwaukee fans (really!), but I am glad their team stinks, their front office doesn't have a clue, their fans don't care and their brand new ballpark leaks. Yep, this is Bud Selig's team all the way.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 27, 2003

So...about this preview thingy...

It is now 10 minutes past midnight and I just walked in the door.

I watched 2 phenomenal college basketball games tonight (or yesterday night for those of you reading this after about 5 am on Friday). The NCAA men's basketball midwest regionals were here at the Metrodome.

The Wisconsin Badgers pushed the Kentucky Wildcats to the edge, but just didn't quite get enough support for Kirk Penney and Devin Harris to topple the Wildcats, who played the majority of the game without their star, Keith Bogans. Marquis Estill, who averaged 11 points per game during the season, looked like Wilt Chamberlain down low and scored 28 points on 12-18 shooting.

It is was really amazing how many red shirts there were in the Dome. It was almost like a home game for the Badgers. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that there were at least 25,000 people (out of 29,000) rooting for the Badgers in the first game of the night, and at least half of them were wearing red (or so it seemed).

Kentucky had some good fan support too. But during the starting lineup introductions, their cheers for the Kentucky players were completely overtaken by the chorus of boos coming from all over the arena. The Wisconsin fans even booed the Kentucky band when they were announced before the National Anthem!

The second game was just as good, although the crowd was much less into it after most of their hearts were broken in the first game.

Marquette beat Pitt behind great guard play from Dewayne Wade (22 points on 10-19 shooting) and Travis Diener, who only scored 4 points, but had 8 assists and just did a marvelous job running the offense.

At one point during the second half I turned to my uncle (who had graciously given me a ticket to the game) and started to ask why the Gophers can't get someone like Diener. Before I could get 2 words out he said, "I know, why don't we ever get someone like Diener."

Brandin Knight was also great. He scored 16 points, had 11 assists and just seemed like he could get into the lane and to the basket at any point he wanted.

By the way, in case you haven't noticed, this is not a preview of the NL Central division!

I have about half of it written and was planning on writing the rest of it before I went to the game or maybe even after I got home. Well, I didn't get it done before the game and a complicated bus situation prevented me from getting back to the dorm at a decent time, so I am way too tired to finish writing it.

If you want to check back later today, I might have it completed. Otherwise, I will definitely make a rare weekend post and have the NL and AL Central previews up here on Saturday and Sunday.

In the mean time, check out some of the archives over there on the left side of the page. This blog has been here since August and I've written some interesting stuff from way back that you probably haven't had a chance to read yet.

Or, if you haven't read my previews of the other 4 divisions yet, you can check them out too:

American League East

American League West

National League East

National League West

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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