Sports Outside the Beltway

Arizona pitcher Doug Davis has cancer

He got biopsy results this week that resulted ina cancer diagnosis. From AP-

PHOENIX – Diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Doug Davis decided he wanted to keep pitching until his April 10 operation.

And he said he expects to pitch again soon after that.

“It’s going to take me down for a while but not out for good,” said Davis, who spoke at a news conference after facing the Colorado Rockies in a Chase Field exhibition Friday night.


Doctors discovered a lump in Davis’ throat during a routine physical on Feb. 6, Davis said. On Wednesday, biopsy results revealed it to be cancerous.

Davis will have his thyroid gland removed and is expected to be out of the hospital the day after the operation, Diamondbacks head physician Dr. Michael Lee said.

Lee said the team doesn’t have a projected return date for Davis but said it could be within four to six weeks.


Davis went 13-12 with a 4.25 ERA and pitched 192 2-3 innings last season, his first with Arizona. Davis is 75-75 with a 4.34 ERA in nine seasons.

I’m a cancer survivor. My mother-in-law is a thyroid cancer survivor. First diagnosed in 2004, she is alive and kicking today. I wish Doug Davis the best.


MLB Pitcher Joe Kennedy dead at 28

He died in Florida today. RIP.

TAMPA, Fla. – Major league pitcher Joe Kennedy died early Friday morning, a Hillsborough County sheriff’s official said. He was 28.

Kennedy passed out at home and was brought to a hospital, Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. She had no further details.

Kennedy’s agent, Damon Lapa, told that Kennedy died while at home with family in Florida. He did not return phone calls and an e-mail from The Associated Press.

“We were terribly shocked,” Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey said. “From what we understand he was in Bradenton … to be the best man at a wedding today.”

Godfrey said he didn’t have any particulars on the cause of death.

“When a 28-year-old man dies it’s terrible,” he said.

The left-hander was 43-61 in seven major league seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays. Kennedy compiled a 43-61 record with a 4.79 ERA, pitching 908 2/3 innings over 222 career appearances. first reported the news of his death.

Kennedy made his major league debut in June 2001 and made his last appearance in relief on Sept. 29 in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay.


The John Hart Post-season

If someone would ask who is the most influential general manager in baseball today, many people would answer, Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics. Beane, the one-time prospect, was the first general manager to put the ideas of Bill James to practical use. By using metrics that other organizations ignored, Beane built a team that has been competitive over the past decade despite operating with one of the smallest budgets in the game. Now more teams are using statistical analysis to evaluate their talent, but Beane was the first to do it. (At least this time around. Other teams did it in the past, but there wasn’t a fancy name like Sabermetrics to describe it then.) And Beane had a book written about him. How much more influential can he be?

It’s possible though, that Beane isn’t the answer. In fact an argument could be made that the most influential GM in baseball isn’t even a GM anymore.

John Hart now a special assistant to owner Tom Hicks of the Texas Rangers may have transformed the game even more than Beane has. In fact, it’s the change that Hart introduced that has helped make statistical analysis more accepted throughout the game.

Hart did set an example in the early 90′s as he brought the Cleveland Indians back to respectability and the World Series (twice). He signed his young talent to multi-year contracts before they reached arbitration. He figured that if he locked up players early, he might spend more at the beginning of the deal but spend a lot less than he otherwise would have at the end of the deal.

Back in the day when teams controlled the players (and salaries) Branch Rickey famously said “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

For baseball, things have changed a lot economically in the past half century. Given the popularity of the sport, the free movement that players have achieved and the resulting rising salaries, identifying, signing, developing and keeping talent is the toughest challenge of every major league team. But what Branch Rickey describes that challenge.

What John Hart did in Cleveland was introduce a way to meet that challenge. But what he did behind the scenes was even more interesting.

At the time of the championship series this year, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN wrote John Hart’s family tree.

Excuse Hart if he feels as if his professional life is flashing before his eyes.

His former right-hand man, Dan O’Dowd, is riding a late-season wave with the resurgent Rockies. But first Colorado must get past the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are run by Josh Byrnes, a former front-office assistant in Cleveland at the height of Hart’s regime.

And the Cleveland Indians, the franchise Hart guided to six postseason berths and two World Series appearances from 1995 through 2001, will try to end 59 years of championship futility against Boston. General manager Mark Shapiro, yet another Hart protégé, is the man in charge in Cleveland.

That means three of the four general managers still playing consider Hart a mentor and lifelong influence. Which makes you wonder: How did he miss Theo Epstein?

How’d he develop all of this front office talent?

The John Hart front-office “tree” encompasses more than the three LCS general managers. Neal Huntington, the new GM in Pittsburgh, spent nine years in Cleveland. Paul DePodesta worked for the Indians before moving on to Oakland, the Dodgers and San Diego. And Chris Antonetti, Shapiro’s top assistant, is widely regarded as a GM-in-waiting.

Shapiro has a history degree from Princeton, Byrnes went to Haverford, Huntington is an Amherst graduate and DePodesta went to Harvard. Those academic pedigrees might seem a little highfalutin for the old guard, but Hart found a way to marry the two approaches in Cleveland. Nothing got done until John Goryl, Tom Giordano and the veteran baseball men had their say.

“This isn’t Sabermetrics,” Hart said. “I wanted our guys to hear what the manager says and how tough it is in that dugout, because I’ve been there. I wanted them to respect the old scout in the blue Plymouth who’s going from one city to the next trying to find the next young superstar out of high school or college. They all got schooled on old baseball.”

Antonetti was widely regarded as a future GM someplace else. His name came up as a possibility in St. Louis but Cleveland offered him a deal to stay in place. but look at the academic backgrounds of the men listed above. It appears that John Hart’s innovation to the front office was to introduce the interdisciplinary approach to running a baseball team.

There are still those who deride the statistical approach to baseball. But what Hart showed was that different approaches could be melded together to run a baseball team successfully.

Rob Neyer, in a similar article, four years ago had Hart describe his philosophy.

“My background was field development,” Hart recalls. “But as I noticed the evolvement of the game, I realized that while there were a lot of strengths I was going to bring, if we wanted to have the best organization, we needed to have people around that offered another skill set. When you’re in that position, you worry. You want to be good. And at some point I said to myself, ‘Here’s where we want to be. And if we want to get here, this is what I need. I can’t do this by myself.’ ”

As the new general manager, one of Hart’s first hires was Shapiro. “I knew that Mark had great leadership skills,” says Hart, “in addition to being a Princeton graduate and very bright. But what I wanted to do with Mark was get him to where he was in a leadership position, to where he could go lead a farm department. And the great thing was to get him around the baseball people, the guys that had made a living in the game for so long, the Johnny Goryls and the other 40-year guys. Mark picked it up. He just got it, and the baseball guys established a great confidence in Mark.”

But Crasnick didn’t give Hart enough credit. Hart’s model may well have been copied by the Boston Red Sox. No Theo Epstein didn’t serve under Hart, but he apparently learned quite well from him.

One majored in history at Wesleyan University. One studied psychology at Harvard. One pursued American studies at Colby College. One elected Russian studies and political science, also at Colby.

One managed two hits off future Anaheim Angel Jarrod Washburn as a sophomore at Wesleyan. One had a .301 career average for the Crimson. One began at Colby as an “OK field, no hit” infielder, took up pitching, and won nine games. One tried out for the varsity at Weymouth South High as a junior and was told “I’d made the team, but that I was never going to play.”

One grew up in Plymouth, N.H., one in Swampscott, one in Walpole, N.H., the other in Weymouth, all fans of the Boston Red Sox.

Today, they constitute much of the organization’s underpinning, literally and figuratively. Literally, they are based underground, below the Fenway Park box office at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way. Figuratively, they get the necessary and complex work — contracts, arbitration casework, player recruitment, advance scouting, and more — done.

But there was another way that John Hart influenced the Red Sox this year. Not in the front office but on the bench.

When he was a younger manager with the Phillies, Francona did little to distinguish himself. In four years on the job, Francona never managed more than 77 wins in a season, and by the end of his tenure he’d lost control of the team. There were also concerns that Francona overused his young pitchers in the service of, well, not much of anything. After the smoke cleared, it appeared that Francona had squandered his opportunity.

However, he then spent time in the Cleveland Indians front office and as the bench coach for the Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. In those roles, Francona learned new approaches to the game — namely, the value of statistical analysis when it comes to making baseball decisions. Certainly, Francona never abandoned his traditionalist bearing, but his time in progressive organizations like Cleveland and Oakland helped him learn to blend approaches. That rare skill impressed the new regime in Boston when they interviewed Francona for their vacant managerial post.

At the time of his hiring, Francona’s managerial record was pocked with failure, and he was viewed by fans and media as an uninspired choice; you may recall a similar reaction when Torre was named Yankees manager. Of course, Francona promptly proved them all wrong.

Dayn Perry, who wrote the article, also noticed what I did: the similarity of the Francona signing with the Red Sox to the Torre signing by the Yankees. Each came in with a less than impressive managing career, but both emerged as top managers. Francona, was prepared for his new position, in part, by learning the Hart approach to baseball.

Baseball Musings noted something about Francona right after he was hired.

I always thought this was Buck Showalter’s strength with the Yankees, using players in situations in which there was a high probability of them succeeding. If that’s Terry’s philosophy as well, he’ll do well with the Red Sox.

So it can reasonably be argued that John Hart’s influence extended to all four teams to reach the championship series this year. And with another Hart protege now running the show in Pittsburgh the interdisciplinary approach to running a ballclub continues to spread.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.


San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies to play wild card playoff game

Tonight’s game will be the first MLB tiebreaker since 1999.

DENVER – The San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies finished the regular season tied for the wild card and will play one game tonight to determine who advances to play the Philadelphia Phillies in one National League Division Series starting Wednesday.

Tonight’s playoff was set when the Padres were beaten by Milwaukee 11-6 yesterday and the Rockies stopped Arizona 4-3.

The one-game playoff is the first in baseball since the New York Mets beat Cincinnati in 1999. The Padres are going with 19-game winner Jake Peavy against Josh Fogg, who is 10-9.

I may stay up and watch it. If so, it will be the first game I watched all of 2007.

The Padres seem well positioned wit Peavy able to go tonight. In 1967′s great race conclusion, The Detroit Tigers had to play back to back doubleheaders the last two days of the season. Tiger Manager Mayo Smith used eight pitchers(remember most teams had 9 or 10 man pitching staffs in those days) in the season’s finale in a desperate attempt to keep Detroit alive. It would have been interesting to see who Smith would have put out on the mound the next day. Without access to some parallel universe, we’ll never know.


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?


Detroit Tiger infielder Neifi Perez suspended for 80 games

It was for testing positive for a banned stimulant for the third time.

DETROIT – Detroit Tigers’ infielder Neifi Perez was suspended for 80 games Friday after testing positive for a third time for a banned stimulant, a penalty that finishes his season.

Perez was suspended for 25 games on July 6 when he tested positive for a second time. Under baseball’s labor contract, a player who tests positive for the first time is sent for counseling.

Perez has been the only player suspended by baseball for stimulants since they were banned before the 2006 season.


His initial suspension cost him $396,175, and the second will cost him $792,350 — a total of $1,188,525 of his $2.5 million salary. He will miss the final 54 games of the regular season and finish serving the suspension next year, if he is signed.


The 34-year-old Perez is hitting .172 with one homer and six RBIs in 64 at-bats for the defending AL champions. His biggest contribution was when he started a spectacular double play to end the eighth inning of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter.


Perez won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2000 with the Colorado Rockies and also has played for Kansas City, San Francisco and Chicago.

I don’t know what would drive a glove man like Perez to use stimulants, except maybe he saw his career going down the toilet and decided to take desperate measures. Perez was always a talented glove man, but of little use offensively. This year Neifi’s hitting stats were well below the ‘Mendoza line’. If I had to make a guess, it is that the combination of Perez’s suspension and lack of offensive production will mean Perez’s baseball playing career is over.


Denver’s Top Five Current Athletes

FanHouse is posting the top five current athletes for America’s top 20 sporting cities. Here are Denver’s.

5. Joe Sakic: One of the classiest players anywhere in sports, Sakic is nearing the end of a long and distinguished career spent entirely with the Avs/Nordiques franchise. Age is not slowing him, either: he put up 100 points last season for the first time since 2000-01. A Hall of Fame lock whenever he decides to hang up his skates, the only thing keeping him down this list is the relative popularity of the NHL.

4. Matt Holliday: The Rockies’ 27 year-old left fielder is emerging into one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Last year he hit .326 and launched 34 homers; this year he is hitting the stratosphere with a .362 BA and an OPS that breaks the 1.000 barrier (he’s currently at 1.015).

3. Champ Bailey: The best player on the state’s most popular team, Champ had a ridiculous ten interceptions last year en route to All Pro status. Now if only the Broncos had John Elway still kicking around…

2. Carmelo Anthony: Though he’s overshadowed by draft mates Lebron James, Darko Milicic, and Dwyane Wade, ‘Melo also just happens to be one of the best players in the game; certainly he’s one of the highest scoring. Would have been an easy #1 on the list until the Sixers got restless and decided to blow the team up. But they did and thus…

1. Allen Iverson: Iverson is one of the most iconic players in the sporting world, to say nothing of the NBA. Though his tenure in the city is short — note to self: do not make hacky joke re: Iverson height here, good job self — and his impact on the court debatable (the Nuggets could have gotten bounced in the first round with or without him), by the criteria established above Iverson is number one with a bullet.

I don’t know, shouldn’t Champ Bailey be #1? After all, he is “The best player on the state’s most popular team”. I think I would also swap Melo and Iverson. Just for the simple fact, the City of Denver has a longer relationship with Carmelo Anthony. Joe Sakic is a great choice and great man. And, Matt Holliday would make the Blake Street Bombers proud.

10. John Elway, No One In Particular (It could be the year 2302 and Robot John Elway could still run for governor with a platform of WOOOOOOO I’M JOHN ELWAY and win 80% of the vote.)

Funny! But, true. haha


The Rockies Win, The Rockies Win

I spoke earlier about the invasion of the evil empire. Well, the first game is over and the Colorado Rockies beat the New York Yankees, 3-1. How about those powerful Yankee bats at Coors Field? What did it? Pitching. Josh fogg went 7 innings allowing 4 hits and 1 run. Not bad for someone who sucks, according to bronxbanter.

Josh Fogg kinda sucks, though, and he’ll take the mound tonight against the Yankees. One might not be surprised to find that Fogg’s only two wins came on the road and that his ERA at home is 2.77 runs higher than his road mark, though one might be surprised to find out that those two wins game against the Mets and Red Sox. What’s more, the Rockies have won Fogg’s last three starts and Fogg’s ERA over his last four starts (two home, two on the road) has been 3.91. Then again, opponents have hit .326/.375/.495 against him in those four starts, so, even when he does well, Josh Fogg sucks.

And, although in the eight there was a bases loaded scare. LaTroy Hawkins, came through to force a ground out. The bullpen pulls through.

Yorvit Torrealba was masterful in his game calling and added a home run. The Rockies recorded three runs off Yankees starter Mike Mussina, with Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins posting RBIs. Great game Rockies!


Evil Empire Invades Coors Field

It seems every night I see the New York Yankees on ESPN, ugghh. MLB, please install a salary cap! I have had enough, and here they come to invade the Colorado Rockies and Coors Field.

Nearly every series preview has everything to do with them Yanks, sportsnet. What about the Rocks? Maybe its the forgotten time zone? Whatever it may be, the Colorado Rockies have been playing at the same level as the NY Yankees. But, fly under the radar. Maybe, I shouldn’t complain about the lack of coverage. But, the Rockies are playing great ball.

Colorado (35-34) scored 19 runs in its two victories at Fenway Park and continued its hot hitting against the Devil Rays, totaling 22 runs in taking the first two games of the series. They failed to complete the sweep Sunday, falling 7-4.

This is why they are the Evil Empire

The Yankees began this season with a $195 million payroll. That’s $52 million more than the nearest team, the Red Sox. The Rockies ranked 25th in baseball with a $54 million opening-day payroll.


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