Sports Outside the Beltway

Who is your NL MVP?

We still have just under 3 weeks of regular season baseball left to play, it’s not quite football season yet! The National League is totally up for grabs. The Central can be won by any of three teams. The East by the Mets or Phillies. The West by any of four teams. What a race! With all the competition, who is the National League’s MVP? I will list the top candidates and give you my pick for the NL MVP.

David Wright (3B Mets) – Here is the pick that you will most commonly see. Wright is a great option for the NL MVP. He is hitting .316/.411/.544 with a career high 28 homers, 35 doubles, 96 RBI, 98 runs, 31 stolen bases, and a 86/108 BB/K rate. Wright could, and should, win the gold glove at 3B. Wright kept the offense going while Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup due to injury and he has tore it up in the 2nd half (.355/.470/.609 and a 45/35 BB/K rate) with Jose Reyes struggling and hitting .258 since the break. Wright has carried the team on his shoulders but I tend to remember the team carrying him when he struggled at the beginning of the season.

Chase Utley (2B Phillies) – Utley has missed some time due to injury and if not for that missed time I think we would be looking at the NL MVP. He is hitting .338/.417/.565 with 18 homers, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, 86 runs, 9 stolen bases, and a 46/75 BB/K rate. He leads the league in AVG and is second in OBP. He plays a physically demanding postion up the middle and holds his own. The knocks on Utley are that he has a lineup around him and that he his home stats carry his total stats (.384/.458/.643 with 12 of his 18 homers). But imagine where teh Phillies would be if he never got hurt.

Matt Holliday (LF Rockies) – If the Rockies squeek their way into the playoffs this guy could easily win the award. Holliday is hitting .335/.396/.586 with 29 homers, 46 doubles, 5 triples, a league leading 191 hits, a league leading 116 RBI, 100 runs, 11 stolen bases, but a not-to-great BB/K rate of 52/111. Holliday also has improved his defense in left. The knock on Holliday will always be that he plays in Coors but he has hit .306 with 51 RBI on the road this season. If the Rockies miss the playoffs expect Holliday to finish in the 5-8 range in the MVP voting.

Prince Fielder (1B Brewers) – You want power numbers for your MVP? Fielder is your man. He has hit to the tune of .290/.387/.616 with a league leading 44 bombs. He has also driven in 105, scored 96, hit 33 doubles, and has a good BB/K rate for a power hitter at 72/105. The Brew Crew have had a hard time keeping the lead in the Central and Fielder could lose votes for that. He could also lose votes due to the surrounding cast he has in rookie Ryan Braun (tied for 5th in homer with 30 in only 388 at-bats), Corey Hart (hitting .297/.355/.536 and is a 20/20 guy), and J.J. Hardy having a career year at SS with 24 homers. But let’s not forget that Bill Hall is having a down year with only 13 homers and a .258 AVG. And Rickie Weeks has been injured and been sent down to AAA. Fielder is a good option for MVP.

Jimmy Rollins (SS Phillies) – If I had a vote it would go to Rollins. He has been the one constant in the Phillies lineup. While Ryan Howard was out he hit. While Utley was out he hit. While Pat Burrell sucked he hit. While the bullpen was blowing saves. While the bullpen and rotation were injured. While… wait, I think you get my point by now. Overall Rollins is hitting .295/.346/.532 while leading the league in runs scored at 125, triples at 17, at-bats with 633, tied for the lead in extra-base hits at 80, and third in hits with 187. He is second amongst shortstops in homers with 27, tied for the lead in RBI with 82, third in doubles with 35, and third in stolen bases with 30. Like Wright, Rollins should also win a gold-glove if there is any justice in this world. In my opinion defense is way overlooked when it comes to MVP voting and it should factor in. Now, imagine where the Phillies would be without Rollins.

Other notable options:

Albert Pujols (1B Cardinals) – .321/.424/.562 with 30 homers, 31 doubles, 89 RBI, 88 runs, and a ridiculous 90/56 BB/K rate.

Russ Martin (C Dodgers) – .297/.378/.475 with 17 homers, 30 doubles, 21 stolen bases, 81 RBI, 80 runs, and 60/79 BB/K rate.

Chipper Jones (3B Braves) – .330/.416/.598 with 25 homers, 39 doubles, 87 RBI, 93 runs, and a 70/70 BB/K rate.

Eric Byrnes (OF Diamondbacks) – .297/.367/.487 with 21 homers, 28 doubles, 8 triples, 81 RBI, 94 runs, 45 stolen bases, and a 56/89 BB/K rate.


Umpires vs. technology

As I’ve said before, umpires need help. And I refer you to a piece I wrote over a year ago on this very same subject. Baseball (and sports in general) is far behind the times in utilizing modern technology where it can, specifically to improve officiating.

I’ve thought about this topic for a long time. I think Questec is a good thing. (For those who dont know, it’s a computerized system that measures ball & strikes, and compares it to what the umpire actually called.)

One of the biggest and most frustrating problems in pro sports are bad calls by umps/refs. What I’d like to see is the steady removal of the so-called ‘human error’ from sports; I’ll talk specifically about baseball:

When umps are unsure when a ball is fair or foul down the line, why can’t a system be installed like they use in tennis? They could use technology to determine whether balls are just that, fair or foul.

Also, on disputed HRs, they must use instant replay. There’s no other fair way. An ump should be stationed in the park somewhere near a TV, like in the NHL. He should have the final word, since he’ll have access to the replay.

On balls and strikes, why not use Questec or ESPN’s ‘K-Zone’ (for example) to actually call the strikes? The only problem is that strike zone height is different for every hitter, but width is exactly the same, 17 inches (the width of homeplate). Rickey Henderson had a smaller up/down zone because he was short and crouched, and Richie Sexson’s up/down zone is bigger because he’s 6’8″. But their side-to-side zone is exactly the same. Therefore, computers/technology should be used to tell an umpire when a ball hits the plate or just misses. For the time being, umps will still need to call the up/down pitches (because every hitter is different), but will know for sure when a pitch crosses the corner or not. Or an ump could be assigned to determine the upper limit of each hitter’s strike zone dependent on his stance.

It also sucks when a pitcher throws a strike, but it’s not where he meant to throw it, the catcher has to reach for it, so the ump automatically calls it a ball. It doesn’t matter where the pitcher MEANT to throw the ball, it only matters whether it’s a strike or a ball.

For out/safe calls, when the closest ump feels the play is too close to call, he could send it to the ‘booth ump.’ TV technology is such today that it could be done in 30-60 seconds. Or (ala the NFL) managers should have two replays to use per game.

These steps would help legitimize the officiating and would make for fewer arguments from players and managers. You can’t argue with Questec strikes – it’s 100% consistent and 0% prejudiced (for veterans, or against rookies). Instant replay would also ensure the right call, and isn’t that worth waiting (at most) 60 seconds for – especially in close and/or playoff games?


Cubs ship Barrett to Padres

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs traded embattled catcher Michael Barrett and cash to the first-place San Diego Padres on Wednesday for backup catcher Rob Bowen and minor league outfielder Kyler Burke.

Barrett, batting .256 with nine homers and 29 RBIs, has had problems defensively and also been involved in two dugout exchanges this month with Cubs pitchers — one of which led to a clubhouse brawl.

Barrett and starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano got into a skirmish in the dugout June 1 and it carried over into the clubhouse, where Barrett got a black eye and needed stitches in his lip.

The Atlanta Braves had scored five runs just before Zambrano and Barrett went at it in the dugout. Zambrano pointed at his head and screamed at Barrett, who allowed a run to score on a passed ball and throwing error.

Less than two weeks later, Barrett and pitcher Rich Hill had a verbal exchange in the dugout during an eventual loss to the Seattle Mariners.

“The fight had nothing to do with [the trade],” general manager Jim Hendry said during a telephone conference call. “The Rich Hill situation, that’s normal Major League Baseball every night. It just happened to be seen and blown out of proportion. That happens all the time. It wasn’t even discussed in-house about being an issue. … We just felt like we were trying to shore up the position in a little different fashion, a little bit more defensively.”

An emotional player, Barrett was the central figure in a brawl with the White Sox last season. He set it off by punching A.J. Pierzynski in the jaw after he’d been run over at the plate. Barrett was suspended for 10 games.

Barrett, who signed a $12 million, three-year deal in January 2005, has a $4.5 million salary this year and will be eligible for free agency after this season. Of the $2.2 million he is still owed this season, the Cubs will pay $1.5 million and the Padres are responsible for the remaining $700,000.

“It was an honor for me to put on a Chicago Cubs uniform, and I want to personally thank Jim Hendry, the Cubs organization, and all of the Cubs fans for making the past four years so special,” Barrett said in a statement released through his agent. “At the same time, I’m very excited to go to San Diego and do everything that I can to help the Padres win the NL West.”

Barrett has been known more for his offensive abilities than his ones behind the plate. In 2006, he batted a career high .307 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs.

“We felt he was on his way to becoming a terrific player, an All-Star caliber player,” Hendry said.

“This year he has had a little tougher time defensively, and a lot of it is probably from trying too hard. Maybe some of it is it’s the last year of his deal. He’s been a really, really good offensive player and for the first couple years really showed a lot of improvement defensively, then, like I said, we’ve had a little rougher time the first half of this year. We just felt like we needed to make a change.”

Koyie Hill has become Zambrano’s catcher the last three starts. Henry Blanco, who was supposed to be Barrett’s backup this season, has been on the disabled list with neck problems.

Bowen is batting .268 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 30 games for the Padres this season.

Chicago obtained Barrett in a trade with Oakland on Dec. 16, 2003, one day after the Athletics acquired him from Montreal. Prior to the trades, he had spent his entire six-year career with Montreal.

Hendry said discussions on the trade with Padres GM Kevin Towers began three or four days ago. As the Padres negotiated the trade, former Cub Greg Maddux — now part of the San Diego rotation — was asked about Barrett and gave club officials a ringing endorsement of the catcher.

The trade comes less than a week after San Diego and Chicago got into a bench-clearing brawl at Wrigley Field, one that began when Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee was hit by a pitch and took a swing at Padres’ pitcher Chris Young. Each player is appealing his five-game suspendion.

Burke, 18, was San Diego’s first-round compensation pick in last year’s first-year player draft. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was the 35th overall pick in the draft out of Ooltewah (Tenn.) High School. In 62 games at Class A Fort Wayne, he batted .211 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 213 at-bats.

Information from The Associated Press and was used in this report.

I think this is a great move for the Padres. They get an All-Star caliber catcher for only $700K and they have no strings attached to him as he becomes a free agent this winter. The Padres, if they don’t trade him, will recieve a compensatory draft pick if they can’t re-sign him in the offseason.

This is a great all around move for San Diego. With Bard and Barrett behind the plate they will get plenty of rest and should both put up very good numbers. Beware though fantasy owners, their at-bats will both go down.


-Cleveland cut ties with reliever Roberto Hernandez today. Cleveland is responsible for the remainder of his $3.3 million salary this year and a $200,000 buyout of a $3.7 million team option for 2008. Look for Philadelphia, New York Yanks, and Tampa Bay to give him a call.

-Randy Johnson was placed on the 15-day DL with a herniated disk in his surgically repaired back, making the timing of his return to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation unclear.

-Curt Schilling is having shoulder problems and could miss his next start.

-The Oaklnad A’s brought back OF Milton Bradley from 15-day DL.

-The Cleveland Indians placed OF David Dellucci on 15-day DL.

-Kansas City placed DH hitter Mike Sweeney on the 15-day disabled list and recalled 1B/DH/LF Billy Butler from AAA. If you have room for Butler on your fantasy team then I would recommend picking him up. He plans on sticking with the Big League club and he has to hit to do so. Look for him to mash!


Yankees sweep Arizona – winning streak at nine

Tyler Kepner reports -

When the Yankees played in Chicago last week, Manager Joe Torre considered giving Alex Rodriguez a day off. Torre guessed that Rodriguez might be worn down mentally by the swirl of stories about his private life, and worn down physically by playing every game this season.

But Rodriguez seems to be rejuvenated, Torre said, and the best rest he could give him was a start at designated hitter Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees, as always, were happy to have him.

Rodriguez had three hits and figured in all three scoring rallies in Andy Pettitte’s 7-1 victory at Yankee Stadium. It extended the Yankees’ winning streak to nine games on the eve of this weekend’s series with the Mets at Yankee Stadium.

The nine-game winning streak is the longest by any team in the majors this season…

Pettitte pitched great again. It’s Clemens, T-Clip and Wang this weekend against the Mets.


Prospects You Need to Keep An Eye On

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Don’t you love prospects? Who doesn’t? Anyone from Brien Taylor to Alex Rodriguez have been top prospects. Some players have what it takes to dominate the minors and the majors while others end up as AAAA players or out of professional baseball all together. Below is a list of prospects you may or may not have heard of. These are all players that have done one of the above I mentioned: dominate the minors. All they have left to do is prove thier worth in the bigs.

I am not profiling guys that have any big league experience. No Alex Gordon, no Billy Butler, no Delmon Young, no Matt Garza, no Phil Huges… you get the point.

If you are in fantasy keeper leagues that allow you to have a certain number of minor leaguers stashed away I suggest you look closely at the list provided. Some of the players are you going to start tearing up the bigs this season, some will have to wait until 2009.

Without any more rambling I present you with a few prospects you need to keep your eye on.

3B Evan Longoria – Longoria is just 21 and only a year out of college. He has gone a combined .317/.393/.595 in 388 at-bats in his pro career. What is most astounding are his power numbers. Over those 388 at-bats he already has 28 homers, 22 doubles, 1 triple, 92 RBI, 73 runs scored, and a BB/SO ratio of 44/71 (including 25/27 this season). He is a plus defender at 3B with a good arm. He doesn’t have much speed but runs the bases well. He crushes lefties but he hits righties very well too. Longoria projects as a .300-30-110-5-100 middle of the order bat for the Rays. ETA: Sep 2007

SS Reid Brignac – In 128 games in 2006 he hit .321/.376/.539 with 100 runs 32 doubles, 5 triples, 24 homers, 99 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. His only knock is he is an “ok” defender and struck out 113 times. He has improved significantly on his defense and scouts say he can play SS in the majors. He got off to a good start, hitting .298 with 4 homers in his first 114 at-bats. He’s slowed down sicne, going 7 for his last 40 with no homers in his first full season in AA but don’t be fooled, he is one of the youngest players in that league. Brignac projects as a .290-25-90-10-90 guy at SS. If you are in a deep keeper league and have minor league rosters I would stash him away if he isn’t already taken. ETA: Sep 2007 at the earliest and could be the big league SS for TB starting 2008

OF Jay Bruce – Bruce, 20, is one of my favorite prospects. He is a true RF, with plus-plus power and a strong arm. He needs to imporve on hitting lefties so he doesn’t become a platoon plyer but he is too good to allow this to happen. So far this year for the Reds HiA Florida State League (pithcer friendly league) team he has hit .340/.389/.642 with impressive power numbers: 9 homers 12 doubles and 5 triples in only 162 at-bats, driving in 30 and scoring 31 in 40 games. He hit .291/.355/.516 last year with 16 homers 42 doubles 5 triples 81 RBI 69 runs and 19 steals in 444 at-bats. But don’t let the steals fool you, he only has 2 so far this year and isn’t exactly a burner. Bruce projects as a .310-35-110-8 guy in the bigs. That’s no joke! Store him now if you can. ETA: 2009

OF Cameron Maybin – Maybin, 20, is off to a hot start: .317/.434/.486 in 142 at-bats with 4 homers, 6 doubles, and 3 triples. He’s also scored 31 and drove in 20 in 39 games with 13 steals and a 29/47 BB/SO ratio. He needs to cut the strikeouts down a bit but that is an impressive walk rate for a young hitter in a pitcher’s league (HiA FSL). Maybin is the Tigers CF of the future and is an impact bat with plus range and a good arm for center. Last year he hit .304/.387/.457 with 9 homers 20 2B and 6 3B in 385 at-bats, not to mention he drove in 69 and scored 59 and stole 27 bases. He is very young and still a little raw. The Tigers expect him to fill his frame out and when he does they expect some of those doubles to turn into homers. He could be a yearly .300-18-85-30-95 guy in the bigs. ETA: 2009

OF Justin Upton – Upton, who doesn’t turn 20 until late August, is the younger brother of B.J Upton. Upton was the first overall pick by the Diamondbacks two years ago out of high school. He did “ok” last year hitting .263/.343/.413 with 12 homers and 15 steals in 438 at-bats. This year he is tearing up anything that comes his way. He is now in AA at the ripe age of 19 and is hitting a combined .347/.439/.611 between HiA and AA. He also has 9 homers 7 doubles and 2 triples to go with 10 steals a BB/K ratio of 22/33 and 34 runs and 28 RBI in 144 at-bats. The D-Back believe he can be a #3 hitter and see him as a .310-25-100-25-100 player. ETA: SEP 2008

OF Travis Snider – Snider, 19, is tearing up Midwest league pitching to the tune of .366/.394/.557 with 2 homers 11 doubles and 4 triples in 131 at-bats. He has driven in 27 and scored 16 with 3 steals. His BB/SO ratio (8/27 in 33 games) needs to improve and will with more experience. Snider impressed in the Appy league last year going .325/.412/.567 with 11 homers 12 doubles and a triple in 194 at-bats with a 30/47 BB/K ratio. He also stole 6 and had 36 runs and 41 RBI. Snider is projected as a RF, with plus power potential and a good arm that will be fine in RF. The Blue Jays won’t rush him. He projects as a .300/25/100 bat. ETA: SEP 2009

SP Jake McGee – McGee, 20, is 3-1 in 8 starts in HiA ball with a 1.51 ERA in 41.2 innings pitched. He’s also struck out 45 and walked 17. Here is what is key though, only 27 hits allowed for a .182 average and no home runs allowed. Last year he posted a 2.96 with 171 SO in 134 IP and only 7 homers allowed with a .211 avg. McGee is a power pitcher and is a front of the rotation type starter. ETA: Sep 2008 at the earliest

SP Wade Davis – Davis, 21, is 2-0 in 8 starts in HiA ball with a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 IP, including a no-hitter. He has struck out 45 against 14 walks. Like McGee, he doesn’t allow many hits, only 31 for a .191 avg and only one homer against him. Last year he posted a 3.02 ERA and struck out 165 in 146 IP while allowing only 5 homers. Anothr power arm like McGee and also projects as a 1-3 starter. ETA: Sep 2008 at the earliest

SP Adam Miller – Miller, 22, is waiting for a spot in the Indians rotation to open up. He is currently 4-1 with a 2.45 in 44 AAA innings. He a has struck out 39 and walked 14 and only given up 2 homers. His numbers last year were 15-6 with a 2.84 and 161 K to 46 BB in 156.1 IP. He could be at the top of the Indians rotation for many years. ETA: Sep 2007

SP Homer Bailey – Bailey is possibly the best pitching prospect in all of pro ball, possibly better than Phil Highes. Bailey is 21 and doing quite well in AAA with a 3-1 record and a 2.27 ERA in 39.2 IP. His walks are up and strike outs are down (27/19 SO/BB) and that is the only reason he’s not in the Reds rotation right now. Even with the high walk rate he has only allowed 2 homers and a .194 avg against. His numbers last year were 10-6 with a 2.47 in 138.2 IP and 156 SO and a .198 avg against. ETA: no later than Sep 2007

SP Kevin Slowey – Slowey, 23, is a pitcher with great command and control. Some scouts still like to question his “stuff” but his numbers tell the story. So far this year he is 4-2 with a 1.46 in 49.1 AAA innings. What is most impressive is his 44/3 SO/BB ratio. That’s right, only 3 walks! He has a .176 avg against and only 2 homers against. Last year he posted an 8-5 record with a 1.88 ERA and 151/22 SO/BB ration in 148.2 IP with a .188 avg against. He should join the Twins rotation very soon. ETA: mid June 2007.

-stats are from games through 5/18/07


One Month In – The April Baseball Update

On field performances took a backseat in the final weekend of major league baseball’s first month. The untimely death of Cardinals relief pitcher Josh Hancock cast a pall over a rather extraordinary month of early season baseball. Cardinal fan Wil Leitch of the site Deadspin offered a touching remembrance of Josh, which captures the relationship that fans have to the men who play the games they love.

The relationship that we, as fans, have with the athletes we follow is as genuine as it is bizarre. Not a single day has gone by since Opening Day 2006, when Hancock first appeared on the Cardinals’ roster, that he has not been on our mental radar. We cheered him, we cursed him, we forgot about him, we repeated the process; he occupied a real place in our lives. We did not know him, and we were not particularly curious to do so; if he got batters out, he made us happy, and that was enough. His sudden departure — shocking, horrible, insane — makes us feel as if we have lost something that we never realized we had. We want to go back and cheer harder for him, forgive his mistakes more easily … treat him as human in a way we never did as a mere fan. He shifts from middle reliever to human being only in death; this can drive a fan mad with guilt and confusion.

But we did not know him. Many did, in far more depth than our parents’ fleeting encounter 10 days ago. To those, he was never a middle reliever. He was just Josh, quiet, friendly, reserved, living the contradictory life of a Major League Baseball player who toils in relative anonymity. We cannot pretend to have known him, or to understand the anguish of those who did. We can only know that we have lost something small but real, and hope and pray that those who lost more than that can find some sort of peace.

I encourage you to read the rest.

Returning to the exploits on the field, Mark Buehrle and Troy Tulowitzki both joined very exclusive baseball fraternities. Buehrle hurled the 16th no hitter in White Sox history.

Mark Buehrle became the first White Sox pitcher since Joe Horlen in 1967 to throw a no-hitter at home, and the first in USCF [US Cellular Field] history. He was tantalizingly close to pitching the 18th perfect game in major league history. A 5th inning walk to Sammy Sosa was the lone blemish on Buehrle’s pitching line, and he would erase the baserunner two pitches later by picking Sosa off of first base.

Tulowitzki turned the first unassisted triple play since Rafael Furcal nabbed a line drive touched second and then caught the runner retreating to first base. Only the thirteenth such play in the 107 seasons since 1901, but the fifth since 1992. David Pinto has the details, plus a the link to the list of all 13 unassisted triple plays.

Troy Tulowitzki turns the rare unassisted triple play against Atlanta. His play prevented Atlanta from scoring in four straight innings, and the Braves ended up losing in eleven frames 9-7.

Baseball’s leaderboard at the one months mark has a few surprises. The Brewers, a fashionable spring training pick to win their division are proving to be fashionable, leading the six team division, with the defending World Series Champion Cardinals five and a half games off the pace tied with Houston and the Cubs in the cellar. In second place the Pirates, even with Adam LaRoche and his abysmal batting average. Cincinnati can’t decide who they want to be, contender or pretender. Check back in a month and they may still be a game under .500, and still vacillating on competing.

The new-look Diamondbacks are pacing the field, in the NL West, a division that only two seasons ago almost didn’t have a team over .500. This year only the Rockies have won fewer than they lost. The Dodgers, Giants and Padres are all chasing the youthful leaders.

Atlanta is enjoying a revival in the NL East, with the Mets keeping pace with them. Florida and Philly are off the pace, but both have enough talent to make a run. The Nationals are as bad as advertised, illustrating that just because a team plays in RFK doe snot mean that baseball has returned to the Nation’s Capital.

In the junior circuit, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California, USA, Earth, have won eight of their last ten to sit atop the heap in the West. Oakland’s solid rotation and regular second half dashes keep hopes up in the other city by the bay. Seattle’s collection of aging-veteran-has-beens and youthful rushed-to-the-majors-never-will-bes are keeping Ichiro company in what might be his last season in Seattle. Texas rounds out the field in what may be the weakest division in baseball.

The Central by contrast looks to be the strongest. Kansas City is scuffling, again, for what the fifteenth straight year? Meanwhile Cleveland has gotten off to a good start, showing the promise of the team that nearly hunted down the White Sox in 2005. The Twins and Tigers, last season’s central division post season participants are both a game and a half back. The White Sox are a game further behind. The ChiSox have to worry about the slimness of their run differential at this point. At one game over .500, their record is a little better than it should be with a 95-97 run scored versus runs allowed ratio. And remember Buehrle’s no-no night also feature multiple homeruns from Jim Thome (now on the DL) and a grand slam from Jermaine Dye.

Finally, baseball’s overhyped division, the American League East. The Red Sox are off to a hot start, behind a very stingy pitching staff. Their combination of good pitching and acceptable hitting has them ahead of the Blue Jays, Orioles and Devil Rays, oh and the last place Yankees. With the talent that New York has, they are unlikely to remain cellar dwellers for long, but the potential Vesuvius that is George Steinbrenner has let it be known the play of the Yankees to date has been unacceptable. Heads may roll in New York, which would spell the definitive end of the calm years of Yankee success that began in 1995 and produced the great Championship teams of the late 90′s. Teams, that featured homegrown stars and complementary role players and unlike the current Yankee incarnation did not have the bloated payroll, and aging all stars at every position.

May begins with a full slate of games tonight. And baseball’s season continues forward.


From Relief pitcher to Horse trainer

That sums up former MLB Pitcher Dan Plesac.

Dan Plesac has turned his lifelong dream into reality. The one-time major league All-Star relief pitcher has made harness racing his new passion after retiring from 18 seasons of playing professional baseball.

“Harness racing has been a love of mine since I was old enough to walk,” Plesac said. “This is what I’ve really wanted to do my entire life.”

Retired in 2004, Plesac, a youthful 45, has turned his hobby into a full-time profession. His Three Up Three Down farm, located in Crown Point, has produced 12 winners who have earned $37,408 under Plesac’s watchful eye. Plesac’s Major League Baseball career started in 1986 with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a three-time all-star and finished his career ranked fourth for the most pitching appearances in baseball history with 1,064 games.

“I always hoped to have a career that would lead me to be secure enough to train and have my own horses,” Plesac said. “Training horses is a very difficult job. I just want to start at the bottom and get a feel for what I need to do.”

Plesac’s 40-acre, Hoosier State facility includes a six-stall barn and a half-mile training track.

Plesac’s family — mainly his father Joseph Sr., and his brother, Joseph Jr. — have been involved with harness horses for four decades. The family’s first horse, Baby Hoey, was born in 1968 and earned nearly $100,000 during his career.

In April of 2004, Plesac scored his first training victory when his filly Holistic Hanover won. Plesac also had owned the filly’s sire, Ball And Chain.

“To win a race with a horse that I bought, who was sired by a horse that I owned, was just the greatest thrill imaginable,” Plesac said. “That was very special for me and I was more nervous before the race than I ever was when I was pitching.”

In 1972, I remember watching for the first time one of my father’s horses winning a race. In July of that year I watched Charlie Zam win at Brandywine Raceway in Deleware and Fast Clip at Sportsman’s Park in Chicago. After the race, the winner and its owners have their photos taken. I still have one of those photos somewhere around the house. It’s fun to watch your own horse win.

When I attended the races, I saw or met quite a few people from other sports.(Gordie Howe, Richie Allen, Ron Swaboda to name three) Mostly gamblers, but a few owned race horses too. Good luck to Dan with his new career.


NL Fantasy Sleepers

You already got a look at my American League Fantasy Sleepers with my last blog, now it’s time to move onto the National League Sleepers.

Nation League

– Chris Iannetta: Iannetta should easily win the starting catcher job in Colorado this spring. His best competition is aging veteran Javy Lopez. Iannetta has the ability to hit for a good average (.303 career in the minors) and produce double digit homers. He is well worth a late round pick and should be a top 10 overall catcher very soon. Plus he hits in humidor-less Colorado this year.

First Base – Conor Jackson: With the perfect combination of discipline and strike-zone judgment Conor Jackson could put up huge numbers in the middle of Arizona’s lineup. He makes consistent, hard contact. His gap power could produce 25 homers and he could easily drive in 100 runs while batting over .310. Jackson goes in the last 3 rounds and sometimes undrafted. Grab him, especially if your league has CIF in addition to 1B and UTIL.

Second Base – Chris Burke, Kaz Matsui: While Burke is currently blocked at 2B by future Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio the Astros are going to find him playing time in CF. He could bat at the top of this order and produce 100 runs and 12-15 homers with 20+ steals. Kaz Matsui is more of a longshot. He has to first win the 2B job in Colorado. Then he has to hold onto it if he wins it. In 113 at-bats in Coloroado, Matsui hit .345 with 2 homers, 22 runs, 19 RBI, and 8 stolen bases. Incredible numbers! Monitor him closely and if he wins the job grab him out of the free agent pool.

–Stephen Drew, Felipe Lopez: Stephen Drew came out of the gates swinging last year. He hit .316 in 209 at-bats with 5 homers, 13 doubles, and 7 triples. Drew is going to be the Diamondbacks’ starting SS this year and should get 550+ at-bats. He could provide great punch with a stat line around .285-15-80-10-90. Felipe Lopez is playing on a team that is going to try and get wins by using grit and letting players use their God-given talent. This is good news for Felipe Lopez. Lopez stole 44 bases last year. More importantly he learned how to take walks, 81 of them to be exact. He will be on 1B a lot this season and the Nats will need to find any way they can to score. Lopez is a sleeper to get 50 steals. He should also improve on his .274 AVG a bit. Don’t expect him to top 20 homers again though, look for 15-17 tops.

Third Base – Morgan Ensberg, Wes Helms: Get past Ensberg’s .235 AVG and 387 at-bats from last year. Look at his other numbers: 23 homers in 387 at-bats and 101 walks. Ensberg has improved his eye and has the protection of Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman in front of him now. Ensberg could put up huge numbers this year. Wait and grab him late. You’re probably thinking to yourself right now “Wes Helms? Why in the world would I want this guy?” I’ll tell you why. He’s the starting 3B for the Phillies (meaning he gets to hit in one of the 5 best hitters parks in the league, not to mention in a lineup with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins), he hits lefties with the best of ‘em (.336 in 107 at-bats), and has hit .316 over the last two years. Put him on your watch list because he most likely won’t go in any draft. Grab him out off of the free agent bin once you get a roster spot open. Oh yeah, he’s eligible at 3B and 1B too.

Outfield – Brad Hawpe, Luke Scott, Chris B. Young, Barry Bonds: Brad Hawpe put up good numbers last year (.293-22-84) and was available in the free agent pool. He won’t be available via free agency this year. He is going somewhere in the 14-18 round range and I’ve even gotten him in the last round in one draft. He is quite the uncommon by posting better numbers away (.303-16-48) than at Coors (.282-6-36). Don’t look for that to happen again. The humidor is gone and Hawpe proved that he can hit away from Coors. He could easily approach .310-30-100 this season. Luke Scott put up huge numbers in his major league stinit last season (.336-10-37 in 214 at-bats). He should win the starting job but will sit against lefties. If you are a competitive fantasy leaguer I would grab him in the last two rounds and sit him when the Astros face lefties. He’ll produce against righties. Chris B. Young is gonna be in the rookie of the year running all season long. He has 20-20, even 25-25 potential right away. Be careful though, his average will be in the .260-.270 range but if you can make up for it then grab young in the last 2 rounds, he seems to be going undrafted in almost every mixed-league. Bonds is Bonds. You know he can hit if healthy. Grab him, but don’t reach for him.

Starting Pitchers – Dave Bush, John Patterson, Tim Hudson: Dave Bush, if you haven’t read any other fantasy blogs, is the talk of the fantasy sleeper world. Everyone, including me, expect him to break out in a big way this year. Sure his ERA was 4.41 last year and he went 12-11. He’s 27 now and his secondary numbers suggest he is ready to bust out. He only gave up 18 homers and more importantly posted a WHIP of 1.13. His “converted” ERA, according to Bill James Handbook, was 3.47. The youngsters in that Brewers team are going to hit and they are going to field. Bush should put up 14-16 wins, an ERA below 4.00, and 160+ strikeouts. John Patterson has ace stuff. John Patterson also needs ace bandages everywhere. Grab him in the mid-late teen rounds and watch his progress. If healthy he can be amongst the league leaders in ERA, SO, and WHIP. Tim Hudson has worked out like a horse this offseason. He said he is putting his “horrible season” of last year behind him and working hard to get back to where he was when he was in Oakland. Look for Hudson to be somewhere in the middle of where he was in Oakland and where he was last year in Atlanta, which means great numbers! Grab him in the mid teen rounds.

Relief Pitchers – Jonathan Broxton, Tony Pena, Bill Bray: I don’t care if Saito is the closer in Los Angeles, Jonathan Broxton will likely get double digit saves and record over 100 strikeouts while posting an ERA below 3.00. Grab him late and laugh at everybody who missed out on him. For keeper leagues this guy is the closer of the future for the Dodgers. Tony Pena is someone to simply keep an eye on. Watch Arizona closer Jose Valverde and see if he struggles. If Valverde struggles and so does the team look for Arizona to trade Jorge Julio and put Tony Pena in at closer for good. Same can be said for Bill Bray in Cincinnati. Mike Stanton and Dave Weathers are supposed to split all the saves but young Bill Bray is the future closer. Watch the closer situation in Cincinnati and grab Bray if he gets the job midseason.

That’s all for now (fantasy-wise), I hope you enjoy the Fantasy Sleepers and good luck in your leagues!


Love for Baseball

On Valentine’s Day, the love comes out for the greatest game in the world -

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter: “I think because everybody can relate. You don’t have to be seven feet tall; you don’t have to be a certain size to play. Baseball is up and down. I think life’s like that sometimes, you know. Back and forth, up and down, you’re going through this grind. I think people like watching it. Baseball’s like a soap opera every day.”

Ernie Banks, Cubs legend and Hall of Famer: “It’s just life. When I think about baseball, it’s just life. It’s really the way life is. It requires a lot of mental capacity to be involved in it. It creates a lot of joy for people and memories for people who follow it. It’s a family. You like it because it’s a family. You started with it and know all these people — it’s family, it’s friends, it’s fun, it’s a beautiful game. All in all, baseball is amazing.

Joel Kweskin, 56, White Sox fan based in Charlotte, N.C.: “It’s unique unto itself. Football, basketball and hockey are variations of the same concept — back and forth in a linear progression to score a goal. Baseball, however, is mapped out on the field unlike any other sport. A running back or return specialist can run 100 yards, tops; a baserunner legging out an inside-the-park homer runs 20 yards farther. Baseball is the most democratic of sports — any size can play, and because the ball is not controlled by the offense but rather the defense, every player at any given time is involved in a play. Along with the anecdotally accepted premise that hitting a pitched baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports, so might be fielding a 175-mph line drive or grounder down the line. I love baseball because it is the greatest game ever invented.”

Former Royals star Willie Wilson: “The first thing is, I don’t think there’s any criteria for size, so anybody can play. I think people can relate. A lot of people never played football; basketball, you’ve gotta be tall and be able to jump. But baseball is a game where you pick up a bat and a ball, and you catch it, you swing the bat and you hit the ball. Most people have played softball or some kind of baseball, so they can relate to the sport. For me, that’s why I think America just embraces baseball, man.”

Baseball Blogger Travis G.: Where to start? I think better when I make a list.
1. Players. The requirements to be a good baseball player are very undefined. You can be short, tall, thin, chunky, anything really. You name the greats and you get tall and chunky (Ruth, Ortiz), short and chunky (Yogi, Gwynn), tall and thin (Sizemore, Jeter), short and thin (Reyes, Ichiro). They may not be the best athletes (e.g. David Wells), but when they’re playing the best game in the world, who cares?
2. The Mentality. Baseball requires more intelligence than any other sport (save for NFL QB). Simply put, every hitter that steps to the plate is trying to out-think the pitcher, and vice versa. 4-5 times a game, focus has to be completely on the man in front of him. Will he throw a fastball, curve, change? If you take an at-bat (or even a pitch) off, you’re toast. Same thing with the pitcher. The only other sport that comes close is football, but mainly just for the QB. Baseball requires every single player to have good mental capacity.
3. The Field. Football, hockey, basketball and soccer all use essentially the same type of field/playing surface: a rectangle. Baseball uses a diamond. It’s not only unique in that aspect, but every single ballpark is unique amongst the sport. Each park has its own quirks and intricacies that make it special. Not a single other sport can say that. Yankee Stadium has Death Valley, the short RF porch, and the facade. Fenway has the Monster. Shea has the apple. Wrigley has the ivy-covered brick. Pac Bell (or whatever it’s called now) has the bay in RF. Houston has the hill in center. Imagine if the RCA Dome’s field was only 95 yards; that’s the equivalent of Death Valley or the Green Monster.
4. One on One. Basically the speech DeNiro makes in The Untouchables. Baseball is a team game: 25 men. But each of them takes one turn – by themself – to help the whole team. Then the next batter gets a chance. Because of the batting order, a team can’t simply send its best hitter up every at-bat. You can’t just give the ball to Jordan or Shaq (Pujols or Ortiz) every time. A team’s best hitter will get 4-5 chances a game to help his team. That’s it. You need a complete team to win.
5. Substitutions. Once a player is removed, he’s done. You can’t just sub in the best defenders when you have a lead. You can’t take out Santana for an inning because he’s tired, then re-insert him. Could you imagine the way baseball would be played if there were no substitution restrictions? It would be bedlam. Players don’t get any breaks (outside of the DH) during the game. Even late inning defensive replacements are a gamble if the trailing team comes back. And substitutions play an ever bigger role in the NL.
6. No Clock. No running out the clock. It doesn’t matter what inning and what score it is, you still need 27 outs to complete the game. There’s no easy way to ‘seal’ a win. You still have to face every batter, and record every out.
7. History. When Japanese kamikaze pilots flew their planes into American ships, they would often yell ‘Fuck Babe Ruth!’ No other American sport has the history baseball does. Some of the most iconic figures in our culture are Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Ripken, McGwire, Bonds, Aaron, Clemens, Jeter. It’s goes all the way back to the 1830′s. The ‘Junior Circuit’ (AL) had been going strong for over 45 years before the NBA ever started. The Yankees had already won 20 World Series before the first Super Bowl was ever played. I just love that feeling of history when I watch a game.
8. Summer. What better sport to exemplify the feeling of summer than baseball. The only summer sport we have. Warm weather, kids are out of school; remember the day games with your dad, drinking a soda, eating a hot dog? No other sport lets you enjoy the weather. Hockey and basketball are indoors. And the football season lasts from September to February, nuff said.
9. Connection. This ain’t football where the most ardent fans get to see a maximum of just 24 games (including the pre and post-season). Baseball is 3 hours a day, 6 days a week for 6 months. You get a minimum of 162 games. That’s double basketball and hockey, and 10 times that of football. Not only do you get to see your ‘guys’ 162 times a season, but you actually feel close to them. They’re not wearing masks to cover their faces (football, hockey), so you see (and often share) their reactions and emotions. You don’t get that feeling of ‘closeness’ from other sports. And then when you add the fact that baseball plays 162 games, it’s easy to understand where the connection comes from. When the season is over, it’s like you not seeing your family for 5 months.
10. Home-field Advantage. Having the home team hit in the bottom of each inning assures that every team, every season (even Kansas City) will have its share of thrilling, bottom of the whatever, walk-off wins. It’s nothing like football where you squib kick it or have the QB kneel down, or in basketball where you dribble out the clock or foul the opponent 10 times.

Your thoughts? Lists Top 2007 Prospects

Sports Illustrated finished publishing its list of the top 75 prospects for the 2007 season today.

Alex Gordon from the Royals farm system grabs the top spot, one ahead of Delmon Young, who was the consensus top pick last year before he went all Al Capone on a minor league umpire.

Here’s the Top Ten:

10. Adam Miller, 22, SP, Cleveland Indians
9. Billy Butler, 21, LF, Kansas City Royals
8. Cameron Maybin, 20, CF, Detroit Tigers
7. Justin Upton, 19, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
6. Chris Young, 23, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Brandon Wood, 22, SS, Los Angeles Angels
4. Philip Hughes, 21, SP, New York Yankees
3. Homer Bailey, 21, SP, Cincinnati Reds
2. Delmon Young, 21, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
1. Alex Gordon, 23, 3b, Kansas City Royals

Both the Royals and the Diamondbacks land two prospects in the top ten. Tampa Bay and the Colorado Rockies each has six farmhands listed in the top 75, so the fan bases of both teams can look forward to more top prospects underachieving at the major-league level soon.


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