Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bobby V is Back

In a story released by ESPN, it was announced that Bobby Valentine will be returning to America after six productive seasons as the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. He will appear as an analyst during the LCS and the World Series, and will be a regular on Baseball Tonight starting next season. It's a shame that the Marines could not afford to pay Bobby's salary - despite over 100,000 fans signing a petition to try to convince the Marines to let him stay - because they are losing a great manager that really knows how to win ballgames. Bobby Valentine is one of the managers I remember the most from my adolescent years, due in large part to his popularity with his players and fans, and his famed "Groucho Marx incident" after being ejected from a Mets game (pictured above). It's a shame to me that someone with his knowledge and zest for the game has been kept out of American baseball for so long. He is still the last Mets manager to lead the team to consecutive postseason berths, in 1999-2000.

Here's to hoping this new TV gig gets Bobby V some much deserved exposure and lands him another coaching job in the bigs. Not to throw any names out there, but this is the guy I wished the Brewers landed last year instead of Macha.

Brewers 77-79 (3 @ Rockies, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 74-82 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 81-74, -2.0 (4 @ Tigers, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 61

Monday, September 21, 2009

Odds and Ends

As the 2009 season draws to a close (14 days remaining), here are just some factoids and tidbits I've been compiling over the year that didn't really warrant an entire post.

- In July, the Wall Street Journal released a "Cooperstown Code" that I think is worth a look for any avid baseball fan. It's a computer-generated formula that calculates a player's probability, based on statistics and any outside factors such as drug use, of whether or not he will make the Hall of Fame. It seems to be pretty accurate and ingenious. For example, a shoe-in guy like Trevor Hoffman was calculated at 86% probability, whereas maybe a guy that might get in on his 10th ballot like Mike Mussina was calcuated at 47.8% probability.

- A couple weeks ago, Erik emailed me an article entitled "Can a Ballclub's Record Justify its Beer Prices?" This article points out that, as you may expect beer price to be affected by the quality of the stadium and the team as ticket prices are, it is not always the case. The Phillies were noted to have the best beer value in the majors, based on them being the best team charging the least per ounce (31 cents, or $6.75 for 21-oz beer). The cheapest beer overall is in Pittsburgh, as you'll only pay $4.75 for 21-oz beverage. Fenway Park, Nationals Park, and Citi Field top the list as the most expensive beer. In Boston, you'll spend an attrocious $7.25 for only 12 ounces. One flaw I found in the system was the souvenir cup factor - I am willing to pay the second highest price in the majors at Nats Park because they offer three varieties of souvenir cups - at least they did when we were there in 2008.

- Keeping an eye on the Northwoods League as I always do, the league announced a yet-unnamed expansion franchise in Willmar, Minnesota will begin in 2010. To make an even number of teams, probably one of the league-owned teams (Brainerd, Battle Creek) will cease operations, or Waukesha, Wisconsin's Frame Park proposal will go through and get built for a new team, or some combination of these. The Green Bay Bullfrogs are also fielding proposals for much-needed new stadium. The Madison Mallards achieved the highest attendance of any college summer league team in America by quite a substantial margin, for the 3rd year in a row.

- In other ballpark news, Marlins Park looks to be a go as ground was broken in July, and there are some pretty cool renderings out - finally a park that seems to deviate from the beloved brick retro style! Erik and I look forward to visiting the park on the site of the old Orange Bowl in 2012. Meanwhile, the Athletics and Rays parks look to be going nowhere. The Rays had planned on building on the site of their spring training home, Al Lang Field, and the A's are now fielding proposals for a joint MLS-San Jose Earthquakes/Oakland Athletics stadium. Wisconsin's two minor league teams, the Timber Rattlers and Snappers, are also both exploring options for new stadiums. As regular readers may know, I think that Pohlman Field is a disgrace, so Beloit's proposal talks are coming not a moment too soon.

- A sad day for baseball fans and preservationists everywhere, as the final remaining pieces of Tiger Stadium were demolished yesterday. Like Detroit has anything else going on right now that they needed that land ASAP? What, a big Ford expansion?

- For anyone who has not picked up "The Yankee Years" yet, it is a great read and I highly recommend it. It's over 400 pages but reads very easy - I read it in about 5 days. I'm also looking forward to picking up a copy of "The Machine" (about the Big Red Machine, obviously), which came out this week.

- Ever notice that injuries are getting weirder and weirder every year? Oblique strains, post-concussion syndrome, tired arm, anal fissures, and who could forget this year's blessure du jour, anxiety disorder! This year, the Mariners' Adrian Beltre took the cake, after recently coming back from a 30-day stint on the DL with a bleeding testicle. Maybe he'll think about wearing a cup next time.

- Last but certainly not least, Major League 4 is becoming a reality - the writers and directors from the original, as well as Bob Uecker, are already signed on.

Brewers 74-75, -10.5 wc (3 v. Cubs, 4 v. Phillies)
Reds 69-81, -16.0 wc (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Astros)
Twins 76-73, -3.0 (3 @ White Sox, 3 @ Royals)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 59

Thursday, September 10, 2009

MiLB Playoffs & September Call-ups

Labor Day signifies the unofficial end of summer in many ways, the most disheartening of which of me is the end of the minor league season. Almost every MiLB league began their playoff schedules early this week, and here's a look at some of the matchups.

International League, AAA:
Gwinnett Braves v. Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees
Durham Bulls v. Louisville Bats

The Braves had a fine first season in suburban Atlanta after the move from Richmond for the 2009 season, and they take on Scranton, who will look to defend their 2008 IL title. The player to watch in this series is Gwinnett outfielder Jason Heyward, who is ranked as the MLB's #3 prospect and has done well at three levels in the Braves' system this year, including 4-11 with 2 RBI since a recent promotion to AAA. The Bats have had a lot of their breakout players called up by a depleted Reds team before and after the September 1st roster expansions, including IL All-Star starter Justin Lehr and top prospect Drew Stubbs. They will struggle to piece together a solid rotation in this series against the hard-hitting Bulls.

Pacific Coast League, AAA:
Albuquerque Isotopes v. Memphis Redbirds
Tacoma Rainiers v. Sacramento River Cats

Every offense at all levels of Cardinals' baseball has done well this season, and four players on the Redbirds' everyday roster finished the season over .300. The Dodgers have had a lot of the same players at AAA the entire seasons because of the high volume of major league acquisitions over the past year, so they definitely have that familiarity going for them. The players to watch in the other series are the River Cats' two slugging 1st basemen, Tommy Everidge and Chris Carter. Everidge finished the season at .368, and Carter has 14 RBI in 13 games since being promoted from AA-Midland. The Athletics perennially have one of the best minor league systems and will be tough to beat.

Southern League, AA:
Birmingham Barons v. Jacksonville Suns
Huntsville Stars v. Tennessee Smokies

The Barons had the best season in their franchise's history, and were highlighted for most of the year by several propects that have since seen action with the White Sox, including Gordon Beckam and Tyler Flowers. The Suns seemed to be the hottest ticket in town this year, amidst rumors of the entire NFL Jaguars' home schedule being blacked out for the '09 season. Huntsville is going to be the lone representative for the Brewers in the playoffs at any level this season, and Tennessee is affiliated with the Cubs. The Brew Crew promoted 2008 first-round draft pick Brett Lawrie to AA a couple months ago as a DH to prepare him for international play, and he has flourished. The Stars' roster also features most of the Brewers' top organizational prospects, including 3B Taylor Green, C Jonathan Lucroy, and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Midwest League, low-A:
South Bend Silver Hawks v. Fort Wayne TinCaps
Great Lakes Loons v. West Michigan Whitecaps
Burlington Bees v. Kane County Cougars
Peoria Chiefs v. Cedar Rapids Kernels

The Midwest League Playoffs feature 8 of the 14 teams in the league playing three rounds. Fort Wayne will definitely be the team to beat. They enjoyed a 94-46 record at their new ballpark, including a 16-4 mark against their first-round matchup South Bend, and they had the best season of all minor league teams this year. The 2008 MWL champion Burlington Bees went a measely 64-79 this season, and are certainly enjoying the fruits of the large NBA-style playoff schedule as they look to defend their title. The players to watch in this postseason are batting champion Alexi Amarista of the Kernels, and league co-MVP Kyle Russell of the Loons, who led the MWL in homeruns and runs batted in.

Minor League playoffs are fun because they feature so many of MLB's rising stars, and are so hard to predict because of September call-ups. Players that remain on minor league posteason rosters are then often rewarded with a later call-up. Many of these players will just be bats off the bench or spot-relievers, but there are a few every year that make an immediate impact for contending teams, or fight for consideration for next year's roster on the teams that are out of the race. Some players, including ones I've listed, get called up even earlier out of necessity due to underperformance at the big-league level, or trades opening a roster spot. Tampa Bay's David Price last year, and then-Angel Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 immediately come to mind. Here's my potential 2009 class:

1. Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee
2. Drew Stubbs, OF, Cincinnati
3. Matt LaPorta, OF, Cleveland
4. Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida
5. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Kansas City
6. Josh Thole, C, New York Mets
7. Garrett Jones, 1B, Pittsburgh
8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
9. Carlos Carrasco, P, Cleveland
10. Wade Davis, P, Tampa Bay

Brewers 66-73, -17.0, -13.5 wild card (3 @ Diamondbacks, 4 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 63-76, -18.5, -16.5 wild card (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros, 4 v. Marlins)
Twins 70-69, -5.5 (3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Indians, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 58

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New batting helmets

A few days ago, it was announced by Major League Baseball that Rawlings' S100 batting helmet, which has already been used in little leagues across the country, will now be required in the minor leagues starting next season. Six helmets have also been sent to each major league team to try out for the rest of this season. The helmet is designed to better protect players from head injuries caused by beanings and foul balls. In response to all of the star players - including Scott Rolen, David Wright, and Edgar Gonzalez - that have gone on the DL this season after being hit in the head, Major League Baseball felt like it needed to remedy the problem as soon as possible. The S100s are heavier and use an extra-thick layer of polypropylene foam on the inside to help withstand direct impact of fastballs up to 100 mph.

This story came to my attention when I was watching the FOX Saturday game and saw Ryan Dempster wearing a huge helmet that made him look even goofier than usual. He said that it made him feel like "a Smurf" and that it was "my own bobblehead day." Dempster, along with several columnists and players, feel that these helmets will not be received well because they are much heavier. A ballplayer spends his entire playing career perfecting his swing based on repetition of motion and constant factors, e.g. balance, hand position, weight - any disruption of this will take some getting used to. Football and hockey players probably felt that today's required padding was bulky and inconvenient at the time, but in hindsight it has probably saved hundreds of careers, if not lives.

The unfortunate part of the story is that as of right now, there doesn't seem to be anything being investigated for pitcher protections. Hitters at least have a helmet and are in a position to react. There have been many pitchers that have had their careers cut short after getting hit with a line drive, and Joe Martinez is lucky to still have his life after what happened to him on April 9th. It's also clear that catchers and umpires could use a new case study in their current padding. There are the sudden-impact cases like Mike Matheny's of 2006, but there are also many unofficial reports floating around about cases involving retired catchers and umpires that suffer head trauma from years of repeated glancing blows and foul tips, much like a boxer. The bottom line is that baseball will always be a very fast and dangerous game, and injuries will still occur, but for every Tony Conigliaro or Mike Coolbaugh case that can be prevented, these new helmets and any future equipment improvements will be worth it.

Brewers 64-66, -12.0, -7.5 wild card (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Giants, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 58-73, -18.5, -14.0 wild card (4 v. Pirates, 3 @ Braves, 4 @ Rockies)
Twins 62-63, -3.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 @ Indians, 4 @ Blue Jays)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 56