2016 Picks Are In!

April 18, 2016

Wow – it is already two weeks into Baseball season! While some east coast cities are recovering from late-breaking cold air, much of the country is already enjoying a nice spring. Nothing like baseball in late April! And that also means, like every year, time to make 2016 picks. I got it totally wrong last year. I had Nationals vs Mariners. Both teams performed well below expectations and didn’t even come close to making playoffs. Ugh. I hope to recover in 2016. So, here goes nothing…

National League

I am going to start with the easy one. NL Central. How can anyone go wrong with Chicago Cubs this year? After years of dominating this division, Cardinals are going to give way to the new darling of the Central. Last year, I had mentioned that Cubs might surprise us all by being a year ahead of where everyone expected them to be, and sure enough they did. But, 2016 is their year. They made all the right moves in the off-season, adding some experience with Lackey and Zobrist. They can hit, they can pitch, and most importantly, they have the best “motivational” coach in the league, which is perfect for this rather young team. Cardinals are going to be strong as usual, but the real threat will come from Pirates. Their bullpen is solid, but starting pitching isn’t going to scare anyone. They will be in the running for sure, but this division is Cubs’ for sure.

I know Mets are everyone’s darling pick of the year for NL East, but I see this as Nationals’ comeback season. Yes, I bet on them last year and that didn’t turn out well, but they have all the right ingredients to be a winning team. They have three solid pitchers – Scherzer, Starsburg and Gonzalez – and a lineup that can truly hit. Let’s not forget that Mets got an unbelievable year from Curtis Granderson in 2015 and Cespedes was lights out when he arrived in August – which allowed them to pull away after a so-so first half of the season. That still remains their main challenge – can they hit? Yes, if Cespedes has a full productive year, and either David Wright (who is definitely way past prime) or the young Michael Conforto contribute. I am not going to bet on either happening. It will be a competitive finish, I think, between the two teams but I say Nats take the division in the end.

NL West is so hard to pick every year…on one hand, it has been Dodgers or Giants for ever, it seems, but every year, I feel tempted to pick someone else. It is an even year, which means Giants will likely win the World Series, like they did in 2010, 2012 and 2014, but that doesn’t mean they will win the division! And, what about those Diamondbacks, who were like the Padres were last year’s off-season. They made all the moves. Well, I am going to play it safe and go with the more talented team in the division – and that would be the Dodgers. Solid pitching, especially if the newcomer Kenta Maeda puts together a solid rookie season in MLB. Giants could easily win. Like Cubs, they made smart moves, adding two solid starting pitchers in Cueto and Samardzija.  Those moves should be good enough to secure one of the wild cards for the Giants, with Pirates taking the other.

American League

There are no easy picks in AL; there are no dominating teams. But, if there is one, that has to be the Blue Jays in AL East. Scary lineup, with Bautista and Encarnacion well aware that this has to be their year. Add last year’s MVP, Josh Donaldson, and probably the best-hitting shortstop in all of MLB, Troy Tulowitzki, and what you get is a lineup that can send any starting pitcher to the lockers very early. They lost David Price, but they get Marcus Stroman back for the full season. Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada provide a 2-3 punch behind Stroman. So, while Orioles can bash the ball as much as Jays can, I am going to go with Jays to win the division. Red Sox could threaten as well, but just like the Orioles, they lack the starting pitching (outside of Price) to truly stay in it the whole year. Yankees remain a flawed team. They have the best bullpen, arguably in all of MLB, but neither their starting lineup or starting pitching inspires any confidence.

Last year’s World Series winners Royals are certainly gearing up to do it all over again, but we know how hard it is in Baseball to repeat. And, this year, they might be in the toughest division of them all. AL Central could easily send three teams to playoffs this year. Royals have the benefit of essentially returning last year’s team, but Indians have a maturing starting rotation, which, on paper, is likely the best rotation in this division. Tigers strengthened themselves as well in off-season, adding Jordan Zimmerman and Justin Upton. But the team that made the biggest strides in off-season are Chicago White Sox. They added power (Todd Frazier), experience (Jimmy Rollins, Alex Avila), and pitching depth (Mat Latos). Will that be enough? In any other division, probably yes, but in the tough AL Central, probably not. I am going to go with Royals to repeat as AL Central champions with Indians taking the wild card.

Every year, there is a truly crapshoot division – not because each team is talented but more because none of them seem poised to win the division! And this year, that is AL West. Many people have picked Astros to win it all this year, but I don’t buy it. Yes, if Correa, Springer, Gomez all clicked, with Altuve setting the tables at the top of the order, they can blow everyone away. But will that really happen? They do have AL’s arguably best pitcher in Dallas Keuchel, but after that there is a significant drop-off. The bullpen is okay, but Luke Gregerson isn’t a premier closer and Ken Giles is not ready. I think Rangers will give them a run for their money and ultimately win the division. They have the best combination of talent and experience. Plus, in this division, expect Mariners, A’s and Angels to beat each other up. I think Astros will end up being the most disappointing team of the year.

Playoffs

I am calling for a Cubs vs. Nationals championship series. That will be a division series of a lifetime. Young hitting talent on both sides; experienced pitching staffs…but in the end, Cubs pull it off. Giants will truly be a wild card – so look for them to give Cubs and/or Nationals a scare in the playoffs. On the other side, I think it will be Blue Jays over Indians in ALCS. Don’t be surprised in Blue Jays make some July moves to get another starting pitcher to make sure they have enough horsepower to make it to World Series. So…..Cubs vs Blue Jays World Series…not the sexiest matchup for the Cubs fans but they will take enjoy every moment of it. In the end, however, those Cubs fans will have to be just satisfied with getting there, with Blue Jays winning it all for the first time since 1993.

Finally, my wish to Baseball Gods. Wouldn’t life be so much better if A-Rod just retired after this year? Come on, A-Rod, get to 700 home runs and ease into the Miami life where you belong.

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2015 Baseball Picks

April 20, 2015

Two weeks into the season, it is time to make this year’s baseball picks. A tradition that started back when I actually got my World Series picks right.  Well, here goes nothing.

NL East

Easiest pick of all divisions. If the Nationals can’t win with all that talent on the roster, then someone needs to get fired. Maybe the whole team. When the debate is whether Gio Gonzalez or Doug Fister is your fifth starter,  you know you have the rotation to die for. Only challenge they might have is whether they can hit, especially in those 19 games they play against classy Mets rotation. Talking of Mets, they are off to a hot start but I just don’t see how they mount a serious challenge as season wears on – that batting lineup just doesn’t have enough horsepower.

NL Central

Could Cubs really pull off a surprise this soon? I would so like to pick them but I am going with the safe bet here: Pirates. Haha, just kidding. I mean Cardinals, of course. Reds remain a mystery to me – two steps forward, four steps backward. I would love to see Pirates and Cubs make this a really fun division to watch at the end of the season if they are in it with the Cardinals.

NL West

I call this the OMG division. Padres managed to acquire everyone they possibly could and are now loaded. Did I just say the Padres are loaded?! OMG. Then there are the Dodgers. Talented line up but with weakened starting pitching. Did I just say Dodgers have pitching issues? OMG. Giants… Well, it is an odd year – so we know they will not be in it. See you back in 2016, Giants. Rockies – who are you? I can’t name a single starting pitcher on your rotation. OMG. Then there are the Diamondbacks – slowly building up to a great team but still a year or two away. So, guess what? I am going with the Padres to win it.  OMG.

AL East

Welcome to the crap-shoot division. Four flawed teams and one (Rays) that discarded the best rotation to start all over. The Yankees have the best bullpen but easily the most highly paid and ridiculously untrustworthy batting lineup, and let’s not even talk about how many of their starting rotation will actually pitch the whole season. Last year, there was only one – Kuroda – and he is enjoying life back in Japan. Red Sox – great hitting line up and they will need that to win slugfests since their pitching isn’t going to scare many hitters. Blue Jays are, on paper, the most balanced team in this division but they are notoriously inconsistent. And I don’t like their starting pitching. Then there are the Orioles, who just didn’t do anything in the off-season but lose much of their batting prowess. So who to pick? Well, I rolled the dice and Orioles came up. So there. Watch out for those Rays, however, to play spoilers along the way.

AL Central

This is such an interesting division: every team has a chance to win and because they are talented, not because they are flawed like the AL East teams. Indians, Royals, Tigers, White Sox – all should be good this year, and will likely beat up on rest of  the AL teams. I am going to go with Royals to win this division, primarily because they are the definition of a complete team right now. Balanced batting line up, solid rotation, and a great bullpen.

AL West

This is Mariners division for the taking. No Ifs and Buts about it. And if there is anyone who deserves to win a division crown it is King Felix. How many times have you heard him mentioned in Cy Young conversations with barely a winning record, followed by “let’s ignore his win-loss stats given that weak Mariners line up.” Well this year that excuse shouldn’t be there. Cano and Cruz can easily be the best one-two punch for RBIs this year. It also helps that other teams in this division are either in rebuilding mode (Astros are the perennial rebuilders) or have taken a step back. Angels’ starting rotation is a mess; Rangers seemed to be stuck in neutral.  Then there are the A’s, who depleted the roster like they do every year but yet remain ferociously competitive, and would be the best challengers to Mariners, who are my pick to win this division.

Wild Card Picks: Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, and A’s.

NL Winner: Nationals finally break through in playoffs with that superior rotation.

AL Winner: Mariners find a way to sneak by the Royals to make it to the World Series.

But in the World Series, Mariners’ luck runs out as Nationals take the crown.

That’s it, folks. Let this be a great season of baseball and let’s hope at the end of the season Alex Rodriguez isn’t the biggest story of the year. Ugh.

That’s it, folks. Let this be a great season of baseball and let’s hope at the end of the season Alex Rodriguez isn’t the biggest story of the year. That would be a year to forget. Ugh.

Spring Baseball: Where Hopes are Built and so are Memories

April 6, 2015

85 degrees, small ball parks where there is no such thing as a bad seat, beaches nearby for a lazy evening stroll, great restaurants – what’s there not to like about Spring Training Baseball? We went on our first trip 11 years ago to watch Grapefruit League games, and but for a couple years in the middle, have been regular visitors ever since. Last three times, it hasn’t just been a father-son trip, but also included two nephews, both avid baseball fans themselves. Fun for us isn’t just the game itself, but everything that surrounds it. Ad hoc trivia games, for example. This year, we were determined to go through learning each World Series winner starting from 1903. Yep, it took many tries but in the end we got them all. We will surely forget them by next year, and see if it is as much fun or we have to find another trivia game.

While we are having fun, what is not lost is what Spring Training means to careers of so many aspiring players. Careers are made and lost in a short period of a few weeks. Some players get labeled “minor-leaguers-for-life”, while others make the roster based on a fluke injury to a regular player, hoping that they will seize the opportunity. I will never forget that a few years ago, when we watched Brett Gardner play in a Spring game, both, my son (Devin) and I immediately proclaimed him to be Yankees future center fielder. What do we know about scouting? Nothing. All we saw was a kid willing to run into the wall to make a play, and when he got on base, there was no stopping him. It took a couple of years for him after that to become a regular on Yankee roster. On the other hand, we predicted the same for a big third baseman named Vasquez (I don’t even recall his first name any more) and he hardly ever saw any time on Major League roster. I don’t even know if he is still in the minor league system! How do these decisions get made? Who makes the roster? Why do some people never get to majors despite having amazing numbers in Spring baseball? To a lay person, that will remain a mystery.

Moneyball, a book by Michael Lewis about Oakland A’s rebuilding led by General Manager Billy Beane, introduced the common fan to the science of sabermetrics. Sabermetrics had been around for a while but had not been used like it was by Beane in creating the “best-value-roster” for a team. It is still unclear, however, how much sabermetrics truly plays in determining whether a person makes the majors or not. Those old scouts that you see in movies like “Trouble With The Curve” – yes, I am referring to Clint Eastwood’s character, who is not legally blind but very close to it, but yet is able to figure out the potential of a pitcher based on the noise the ball makes when it hits the catcher’s glove. Alright, that was a movie, but it isn’t far from truth. Players seem to get labeled very early in their career whether they have the tools to “make it” or not by scouts, sometimes independent of their actual stats. But yet every spring, everyone gets a fresh start to change minds. Rosters start with almost 60 players, and in some cases, even higher, with the idea of narrowing down to 25. The regulars know they are in, but those last 4 or 5 spots make everyone else work hard. And that is what makes watching the games themselves so much fun. Who cares what the score is if you get a chance to watch Aaron Judge – Yankees’ top prospect in the system right now – and then be able boast years later that you saw him in the Spring of 2015 and now (hopefully for Yankees and fans like us) he is their version of Giancarlo Stanton! Yes, we were there to watch that bouncer over the first base to score a run!

Spring baseball isn’t just about baseball. It is about creating bonds. For me, being out with three boys (my son and two nephews) the last three times has been priceless. In 2012, because we were tired after a long day, I decided to not drive down to Clearwater Beach for dinner, and instead took them to Roy’s very near to the Yankees spring training stadium – not necessarily a kid-friendly place. I ordered some sushi, not realizing that sushi to my youngest nephew (then 9 years old) meant rolls, not necessarily raw fish. Panic pursued for a few minutes, but he tried it and loved it. Since then we go to Roy’s every year. Not because it is the best restaurant around but because that is what we are supposed to do when we are in Tampa for baseball. It has become a tradition, even if it meant driving this year 40 minutes to get to it. So be it. We ate to our heart’s content and can’t wait to go back next year. Eating at any other Roy’s across the country will never be the same.

Spring baseball means different things to everyone. For young emerging players, it could be the difference between hopes crushed or a career made, but for us fans, it means creating new memories each year. And I can’t wait to create many more in years to come.

What in the world is going on in LA?

May 13, 2013

Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said this about Los Angeles: “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Well, that is how the two LA baseball teams seem like right now. Everything seems to have come unglued six weeks into the season. Both are hovering around .400 winning average, and rank amongst the bottom five in the league.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Dodgers have the second highest payroll in MLB, at over $200 million, and Angels are not far behind at $150 million. Both teams made a big splash over the last year, getting ready for 2013, signing (and in Dodgers’ case, acquiring) long-term contracts. Angels have managed to land the number one free agent in both of last two years: Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Dodgers followed up acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford with the signing of Zack Greinke.  Yet, that hasn’t translated to any success.

For Angels, the main excuse is absence of Jered Weaver. He has been out most of the season. Starting pitching was their main weakness coming into the season, and losing your ace in the second week of the season can really set you back. Then there is the schedule. They have played primarily within their own division, which can be hard on a team. Now, I didn’t think West was going to be as competitive as it has turned out to be. Seattle and Oakland have been surprisingly good, especially against the Angels. The Rangers are off to a hot start again and haven’t missed Josh Hamilton or Michael Young at all.  And to make matters worse, Angels have dropped three of the six games they have played against Astros, who are fielding nothing more than a minor league roster.  Oy vey… But here is why there is hope for Angels to make a comeback. Their big guns – Pujols, Hamilton – have been too quiet, and as they say, most players are ultimately as good (or bad) as the stats on their baseball card. They are going to hit. So, if Weaver comes back healthy soon, Angels are going to win some games and be in the running for the division title. They have, no doubt, a big hill to climb.

Dodgers have their own set of excuses. They have lost two of their starting pitchers – Chad Billingsley (now out for the season), and Zack Greinke, about to come back after being out over a month. But their biggest problem is offense. They rank 28th in the league in runs scored as well as in slugging. No power, no starting pitching equals losses. Unlike Angels, I don’t think Dodgers are going to be able to dig themselves out of this hole. It is true that Greinke is coming back, and Matt Kemp is going to hit a second home run this season, but the real challenge is the strength of the rest of NL West division. Not only are the Giants playing like World Series champions, the Rockies and Diamondbacks look very competitive and plan to stick around. Add to it the surprising strength of the NL Central, there will be strong competition for those wild card spots in NL.

So, if you are an LA sports fan, and you were thinking you will overcome the debacle that Lakers were this year, as well as the quick exit of upstart Clippers from NBA playoffs with some great baseball, well, you might have a long summer ahead of you. Hey, Kings are still in the running – another Stanley Cup to celebrate in warm, sunny LA?

A Season of Change?

April 7, 2013

2013 season will be different than any other in recent memory. At least for us on the East Coast. It has been almost two decades where we didn’t have the Yankees and Red Sox fighting to win AL East. Well, that will come to an end this season. They will be fighting for sure, but to avoid the fifth place in AL East. That is one prediction for 2013, here are some more before we get to the picks:

  • Adam Jones will be AL MVP and complete Seattle’s misery over having given him up for Erik Bedard. Erik who, you ask? Exactly. 
  • Talking of trades, here is one that will not work out (at least not this season) – the mega trade between Blue Jays and Marlins which brought Reyes, Johnson and Buehrle to Toronto. Very rarely do such roster swaps work, and it won’t this time either.
  • Cy Young winner R A Dickey will quickly figure out that his success in 2012 was directly related to pitching in NL. Those Cy Young memories will fade quickly.
  • The Yankees of the west – Dodgers – will finally have a Cy Young award for themselves: Clayton Kershaw will have a break-out season and give Strasburg a run for his money in the NL Cy Young race. 
  • MLB’s new HGH testing this season will result in at least two significant suspensions by end of July, and further expose that the players just don’t get it – or perhaps that money being paid for players is so high that the risk is worth the money. Remember Melky Cabrera? 

Time to make the predictions for each league. To start, let me point out that last April I picked Tigers to win it all in 2012. Well, I came close. They got through to the World Series but only to be swept away by the Giants. But it did prove one thing for me: pitching still rules in playoffs. I am sticking with the same logic here in 2013 picks.

If you look around the league, the best rotations belong to: Giants, Dodgers, Tigers, Nationals, Reds, Phillies and Rays – not necessarily in that order. Some might put the Blue Jays in the same grouping but I have a hard time seeing NL pitchers succeeding in AL – so, I am passing on the Jays. Just based on rotations some of the winners below are easy to predict:

  • NL Central: In a weak group, Reds should get an easy ride. Can the Cardinals surprise people for the third year in a row? Perhaps but hard not to go with the Reds with the rotation they have, and Chapman as the stopper.
  • AL Central: The Tigers are absolutely loaded. White Sox and Royals could challenge, but who can go up against the Tigers rotation, backed up by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup?
  • NL West: Giants or Dodgers? This could be one of the most fascinating races of the season. And let’s not forget the Diamondbacks – their rotation is not far behind. Hardest division to pick, in my opinion, but I am going to give the edge to Dodgers mainly because I really want to see Mattingly in the dugout in October! 
  • AL West: This is Angels’ division to lose. The Rangers have really taken a step back — in all departments. And then there is Oakland – my heart roots for them but I just don’t see how they surprise us again this year. So, Angels it is. Only other interesting thing about the division: Mariners finally have some competition for the last spot – the Astros, arguably the worst team in the league.
  • NL East: I have to go with Nationals again. Last April I picked them as the surprise of the year, and very proud to say I got it right. This year, they won’t surprise anyone but they are solid if they can stay injury-free. The Braves are improved offensively, with addition of Upton brothers but the real challenge to Nationals will come from the aging Phillies team which probably sees 2013 as the final year to make another run before the team has to go through a complete rebuild process. 
  • AL East: You already know what I said about Yankees and Red Sox above. This division will be tough as it always is – and to me the biggest issue is whether Rays pitching will overcome their lack of offense, and similarly whether Orioles offense can make up for the shaky pitching rotation? Tough choice. My heart says Orioles, but I will go with my brain: Rays take it. 

Playoffs: In AL, I see Orioles and A’s getting the wild cards but not making much noise past the first round. Tigers should and will win the AL beating the Angels in ALCS. NL will be a lot more competitive. Phillies will make noise as a wild card team, and Reds will finally get out of the first round, but NL champion will be your Washington Nationals. I may have called it a year too early, but nothing should stop the Tigers from winning the World Series this year.

From Dad With Love of Baseball

June 17, 2012

Ask any father – and I have been one for 12 years now – there are those moments they can recall that essentially define their relationship with their son or daughter. One of those moments came for me yesterday. As the Yankees vs Nationals game dragged on into extra innings, my son, Devin, turned to me and said – “We (meaning “Yankees”) have to wait out until Nats have to bring in Brad Lidge.” Sure enough, in 14th inning, Nats brought in Lidge, Yankees got to him, scored a couple of runs, and won the game. Only those who truly follow baseball would know Brad Lidge’s history – and consistent collapses in clutch moments, late in his career. I couldn’t have been more proud of his prediction, and on this father’s day, it got me thinking of how much baseball has defined my relationship with Devin.

It all started when Devin turned four, when he and I did our first of many trips to Tampa to go watch Yankees’ Spring Training games. Just he and I. No mom. No one else. One three-day weekend. That first year, he was more interested in buying those little souvenir baseball bats than in baseball itself. Between watching a couple of games, we also found time for a Mickey Mouse brunch (we were in Disney area for a Braves vs Yankees game), and if you had asked him, that was probably the highlight of his weekend. But then we went again the year after, and year after…. by then, the seeds of baseball-love were sown – a connection only he and I would share. Actually, one year, we decided to take Mom and his little sister (four years younger) – and it was clear it was not going to happen again – that Spring weekend was supposed to be about him and I, and that is the way he wanted it. This year, we went with my nephews – around his age, and that was a lot of fun. Just no sister or mom!

I knew that I had a baseball “thinker” on my hands very early. I don’t recall if he was 6 or 7 but we we were watching a game and he noticed that there was a lefty hitter coming up, and he turned to me and correctly predicted who the manager was going to bring in to pitch against him. Then there was the Bobby Abreu moment I will never forget. Those who don’t know, Bobby played for Yankees for a few years, and was best known for taking “walks”. Essentially, he would get two strikes on him but somehow get to a full count and then take a walk. That same year when Abreu was with Yankees, Devin was playing in a coach-pitch little league. The rule in that league was that you got six pitches – either you got on base, or you were out. That is, no walks. Coach reminded him every time before the sixth pitch – “hey Devin, you have to swing at this one” – and we would all be dumb-founded as he stood there and took the pitch. When asked why, he would tell me, “It was outside and I wanted to walk.” I didn’t know whether to be proud, be mad or laugh…  Four years later this year, he probably had the best on-base-percentage on his little-league team. Not surprisingly, even his coach remarked once that having Devin on the team is like having an analyst on the team! Like father, like son.

We have now been to many games together – and what is fun is analyzing the games as they happen. I wrote about the “King of Double Plays” (https://ppanjwani.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/king-of-double-plays/) moment last week; another one came up just yesterday as Nick Swisher got thrown out at home. He looked at me and I knew what he was thinking – if Derek Jeter is the king of double plays, then Nick Swisher is the king of “thrown-out-at-home”! I can’t pull those stats even on Baseball Reference website, but I am sure we have seen Nick Swisher thrown out at home than anyone else! Hey David (twitter: @illumiNats), perhaps you can analyze that one for me!!

I have no idea how long this love of baseball will last for him. Teenage years are around the corner; and who knows what is in store for us. But, perhaps selfishly, I do everything I can to keep that special bond going – be it getting season tickets for Orioles (despite the fact that we are Yankees’ fans!), finding time for that weekend in March for a trip to Tampa no matter how busy the schedule at work, being at his baseball games. I am not ready to “let go” anytime soon – I assume that is what being a “dad” means from my limited experience. To all fathers out there – I hope you take this day to celebrate that special bond as well.

King of Double Plays

June 10, 2012

My son and I are unapologetic Yankee fans, but more than that, we pride ourselves over our baseball acumen – which means we can go down rat-holes critiquing plays and discussing stats, boring everyone around us to death. But, we are not apologetic about that either. It was during one of such discussions, a couple of weeks ago, I told him that Derek Jeter is the King of double-plays (as in the offensive side of double plays, not the fielding side), as he grounded into one, increasing my frustration as Yankees left bases loaded – yet again. Now, you have to understand  one thing — like most Yankee fans, my son, now 12, has grown up with the notion that Derek Jeter can do no wrong, and defending statements about Jeter by pagans (the non-Yankee fans) is his birth-right. In contrast to that, critique of Jeter by a fellow-Yankee fan is to be taken very seriously, analyzed, and debated for hours, days or weeks.  It is what we Yankee fans do.

So, when he heard my comment about Jeter being the King of double-plays, not only did the debate start on whether my comment was true, it also got us paying attention to every double play any Yankee ever made. Every time Jeter hits into a double-play, all we have to do is exchange one of those head-shaking-side-to-side glances – no words have to be exchanged. Condemnation is complete. However, unlike my 12-year old, I decided to go back and look at some stats to see if I am actually right. It is interesting what I found…

First, let’s start with the most recent history – just in last 30 days, Jeter has struck into 10 double-plays, 12 this year – so, he is on a record pace to beat out Jim Rice, who holds the all-time single season record for double plays at 36. But, we all know that single 30 day period doesn’t mean anything. Here is what was more surprising, he is not even the leader for 2012, despite his record pace in last 30 days – that distinction belongs to one of my favorite players – Joe Mauer – with 14 this season. Kind of explains what is going on with the lowly Twins this year.

Second, I was mildly surprised to find that the all-time leader in double-plays is none other than our local hero, another short-stop – Cal Ripken. It makes sense to some extent – given his long career – 21 years – and 350 GIDPs (grounded-into-double-plays). Jeter, however, is now the leader in that category of “active” players – with 255 in 18 years. He has a long way to beat out Ripken.

Third, and more interesting debate to me is how the stat should be treated. Of all things in baseball, it is one of the most frustrating plays as a fan of the batting team. It is a total rally-killer. But yet, it is just a side stat in the box-score – it doesn’t affect (negatively) your average, slugging, on-base percentage – nothing – none of the offensive stats. My point is that it should have a negative impact – couple of things come to mind: a) simplest thing to do would be to count it as a “negative” hit – so, if you went 2 for 4 in a game, but one of those other times you grounded into a double play, you get a deduction of 1 – it becomes 1 for 4; b) it gets factored into the slugging percentage – in the same example above, we let the hitter keep his hits but subtract it during the slugging calculation. Second method is more realistic – first one might send purists jumping over a bridge. Anyway, I am no Bill James – but somebody has got to figure it out.

For now, our head-shakes continue as Yankees waste scoring opportunities every day. And, while Jeter may be King of many things baseball and Yankees, for now, he is also the notorious King of Double-Plays in my book – hey, the last 30 days prove I am right! Watch out, Cal Ripken!

My Picks for 2012 Season!

April 16, 2012

Let’s see what has transpired since that unbelievable World Series between Cards and Rangers last year: Giants won the Super Bowl (yay!), Peyton is no longer a Colt (sad), Tebow is where he belongs – united with Rex Ryan (OMG!); Red Sox lost both Theo and Francona (wow!); and then again some things haven’t changed at all – economy is still wobbly; Republicans candidates are still trashing each other more than MSNBC; and amidst all the chaos in the World, Baseball has returned, like it does every Spring, bringing much needed respite to all!

Best way to start the second week of the season – as has been my tradition – is by making my picks for 2012. Before I go there, one interesting twist for this season is the extra wild card in each league. Interesting because the two wild card teams in each league will play a one-game playoff. At first glance you might dismiss the idea as ho-hum, but I love it- primarily because it makes the division races a lot more meaningful. Remember the years where Yankees and Red Sox coasted in September knowing that one will win the division and other the wild card? Well, rest assured, this year they will be battling to win the division so as to avoid that one game playoff against the other wild card team.

Alright – time to get started with the picks.  Let’s go with the easy ones first. Detroit & Texas are my locks to make playoffs from AL Central and West, respectively. Tigers come loaded like few other teams I can recall in recent history. Pitching still has some holes after Mr MVP Verlander himself – especially with Fister on DL early in the season – but that line-up they have should score enough runs to overcome pitching concerns. Texas Rangers are remarkably well managed since combination of Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels came together at the helm. They have always been a good hitting team, but now pitching is as solid as it can be – including a strong bullpen.

Now comes the tough part – who will be the other three playoff teams from AL? Well, Angels seem too strong not to take one of those Wild Card spots. Great starting rotation for sure – better than even Rangers – but their bullpen leaks like a sieve until you get to closer Walden. Hitting is solid – Trumbo could have a monster year, and of course there is Pujols.

Finally, there is the age old question of who will win the AL East  — historically the toughest division and no different this year. You could make a case for Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, and I would say perhaps even Blue Jays. Reality, however, is that all four are likely to beat up on each other. Of the four, Red Sox have the most holes to fill, especially in pitching. Blue Jays would be a bold pick…and I am not there yet. So, it comes down to Rays or Yankees. Yankees have an amazingly solid pen – matched only by Rangers in my opinion – the real question is whether Michael Pineda will make a difference in his first year? Will he even pitch? Rays have the strongest starting rotation in AL East but not much of a bullpen, and I am not sure about that lineup either. So, by default, I will take Yankees to win the East. As to the final wild card, Rays should take it but I am going to go with Blue Jays to squeeze themselves in instead.

On to National League. Let me admit upfront – I usually don’t follow the senior circuit closely. But this year is likely to be different for two reasons: my Fantasy roster is loaded with NL players this year, and I am really excited about the local team – Washington Nationals. Talking of Nats, NL East could be a lot of fun this year – very competitive especially because of vastly mproved Nats and Marlins teams, and Phillies struggling offensively, with Utley and Howard out at the beginning of the season.  But I am not going to bet against Messrs Halladay, Lee and Hamels – so, Phillies it is to take NL East, with my favorite Nats sliding into one of the wild card spots.

NL Central is a total mess. With Fielder and Pujols departing, suddenly, there is an offensive vacuum in the league. But let’s not forget that this is the division that produced WS winner last year. I think the division will come down to Cardinals vs Brewers, although at one point I thought Pirates could finally rise up. I am going to go with Cards.

Then comes the other exciting division, and often ignored by us East Coast-ers – NL West. Just like AL East, I can argue for three teams to win this division – Arizona, who happen to be well coached, have a good rotation, and some exciting young hitters; Giants, just a couple of years removed from a championship and with the best rotation in the west – arguably as good as Phillies’ rotation; and Dodgers who have one of the Cy Young favorites in Kershaw as their ace and MVP candidate Matt Kemp setting the offense, both surrounded by a solid supporting cast. I will take Arizona to win it in the end, with Dodgers squeaking by Giants for the final wild card spot.

So to summarize, I have the following teams.

  • AL: Yankees (East), Tigers (Central), Rangers (West), Angels & Blue Jays as WIld Card teams.
  • NL: Phillies (East), Cardinals (Central), Diamondbacks (West), Nationals and Dodgers as Wild Card teams.

In ALCS, I will take the Tigers to upstage the Rangers, although Yankees could be in the running if the starting rotation comes together. NL playoffs could be a wild ride. Watch out for Nationals to make some noise and surprise a few people. In the end it will be Phillies vs Tigers in the World Series with Tigers finally bringing home the crown, followed almost surely by some top-notch rioting only the city of Detroit can produce.

Enjoy the season!

 

Moneyball – 10 Years Later

October 17, 2011

It is interesting that Hollywood chose to make a movie based on Moneyball seven years after the book came out but 10 years after the so-called Moneyball theory went into effect. Interesting because it is really hard to say if the theory ever truly worked, and no one can argue that 10 years is a long enough time to test it.

Before we go any further, it is important to decipher what “it” is. And I dare you to find two baseball fans who have read the book to actually align on what the Moneyball theory was or still is. At a basic level, the Moneyball concept is about finding value-players. It is no different than finding value wines but a lot more complex. Finding talented high quality players at low salary levels means you know what to look for, and herein comes the most controversial part of Moneyball — indeed, what should you look for? Billy Beane and his Ivy League economics major went about looking for players with the best “on-base-percentage”. Theory is straight-forward–if you get on base more often, and you have many players who do the same, more of them are likely to score runs. The more runs you score, the more games you are likely to win.

Moneyball explains the math behind it, building on Bill James’ ground-breaking work on Sabermetrics. It is fascinating. But the real issue is – how do you define success? If success is defined as “dollars spent per win”, yes, Oakland A’s of 1999 to 2006 proved that Moneyball was a huge success. No team can match their stats. Yankees may have won more games over that period, but at an average payroll 4 to 5 times Oakland A’s, I don’t need a calculator to say the A’s spent a lot less per win. But, here is the pinch – is success in baseball just winning enough regular season games? I don’t think so. Most fans wouldn’t think so. It is about winning the title. Oakland hasn’t won any in those 10 years.

Actually, the Oakland A’s lost four straight division series from 1999 to 2003 – all of them in game 5 of the division series. Short of the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s, show me one more professional team in American sports that had such a heart-breaking run. In 2006, the A’s finally made it to the ALCS, only to be swept away by the Detroit Tigers.  A’s haven’t made it back to the playoffs since. There is no doubt that other teams adopted the Moneyball concept – Red Sox are the most famous example. They brought a young Ivy Leaguer – Theo Epstein in 2002, and they hired Bill James as a consultant. Many people credit the 2004 Red Sox championship to Moneyball but I think that is a stretch. Yes, Red Sox adopted the theory of Sabermetrics in terms of constructing their team, but they never followed the most fundamental premise of Moneyball – “finding value players”. They spent $135M on payroll – that is about $1.37M per regular season win; compare that to $0.5M per win for 2003 A’s.

In my personal opinion, Moneyball remains a very interesting piece of work in Baseball history, and nobody would be more happy than I to see it pay off for the A’s. But to call it a “successful” formula is stretching the truth.

A final word on the movie itself. The movie ignores several aspects of the book and focuses more on Billy Beane himself. And that makes sense – hard to make a movie for the masses about “stats”. I loved it, and whether you are an A’s fan or not, you would have to be heartless to not have part of you rooting for Beane and A’s by the end of the movie. To think that joke of a GM across the Bay – Brian Sabean has won a World Series and Billy Beane has not is definitely hard to swallow. Go Oakland — now that movie is made, may 2012 be your year!

New Rule: Mandatory Steroid Program!

June 22, 2011

Here is a new rule MLB should implement right away: if you are a player making more than $5 million a year and as a hitter you are batting less than .250, or as a pitcher you cannot top 85 mph for your fast balls on a regular basis, you should be allowed to inject yourself with steroids or human growth hormones (HGH). Check that – you should be required to do so. Yes, I am proposing mandatory injections in the buttocks until performance improves enough to match what you make.

You are wondering if I have lost my mind. Well, work with me here… If you follow Yankees like I do, and watch Freddy Garcia toss up 85 mph fast balls for batting practice to rival Red Sox, and then you see old man Bartolo Colon throw 95 mph fast balls in the 8th inning, let me ask you – what do you prefer to see? If you didn’t know, Colon had stem cell based surgery in the off-season on his shoulder, conveniently performed by a doctor in Dominican Republic, where HGH are not illegal. Hmm…. He is pitching like he was a 24 year old rookie. As a fan, do I really care what Colon is injecting into himself (by the way, MLB cares and are allegedly investigating)? David Ortiz is having a renaissance in his late thirties, hitting well over .300 and his power numbers are up as well. Ortiz was allegedly named in the Mitchell Report as one of the players who tested positive back in 2003 (prior to MLB putting steroid testing in place), although he has denied it. Even the most diehard red sox fans don’t believe Ortiz and are conveniently enjoying his great year. Is he back on something? Who knows…and once again, as a fan, do I care?

Some purist fans do care – when a player is tested positive, it still makes news. People talk about it for a few days, and then go about their business and cheer the same player when he hits a clutch home run in a game. In other words, fans are more or less happy with what I call – “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to steroids or HGH use. As long as we are blissfully ignorant, we celebrate players’ performances and revel in our favorite teams’ success.

Lest I forget, there are couple of other benefits of my new rule. First, it is the nearest substitute for a salary cap. Let’s say you are an aging player, but based on your past performance, you are able to command a nice fat salary and longer-than-necessary contract, even though most people predict that you are not likely to maintain that performance over the full length of your new contract. Under MLB’s guaranteed contracts, this means the club never really gets full value for what they are paying you. The best recent example is Jorge Posada of Yankees. In his fourth year of a $52M contract, his performance has declined dramatically but he is still making $13M in the final year. Now, under my new rule, players like Jorge would have to either inject harmful substances into their body, retire, or negotiate a salary below $5M. The team can then take that extra money and spend on other players. Not quite a salary cap, but same effect. Also gives an opportunity for newcomers to come up faster in the system.

Second, in a similarly convoluted way, my new rule can also pass for consumer protection. Every time a team pays more than necessary for players, it leads to inflated payroll and expectations, which then turn into higher ticket prices, and in some cases, higher taxes when the city funds a new stadium for the team to accommodate for inflated expectations. Well, with the new rule in place, no more inflated contracts – and voila – no more higher ticket prices.

So, to sum it up, mandatory steroid policy is the best self-regulating solution available for MLB to finally find the right salary-to-performance balance. You want to make money, then perform – if not, get ready for a real sore tush and other side effects like erectile dysfunction and swollen heads. Very straightforward, don’t you think?