Monday, June 13, 2011

Watched: Kansas City Royals vs. Anaheim Angels

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to avoid the media-made narratives and just watch sports while creating the narratives for myself. So far it has been kind of nice watching games without the announcers mindless drivel (although I do find myself to be more easily distracted from the game when I watch without sound).

I watched most of the Royals three games against the Angels over the weekend, mainly to get a first glimpse of Mike Moustakas, who was called up prior to Friday's game. Mike started all three games at third base and had a pretty decent series, going 3-10 with three walks and hitting his first home run during Saturday's game. He did not commit any errors at third base over the weekend, although his arm seemed a little erratic and Eric Hosmer had to make a couple of nice plays at first to save an error for Moustakas.

My overall impression of him is (small sample size alert!) that he is patient at the plate - he seemed to go deep in the count almost every time (he saw 4.08 pitches per plate appearance) - and when he finds a pitch that he likes, he swings hard and when he connects, hits it with authority. He was fooled by a couple of good breaking balls, but that is expected out of a 22 year old rookie. I think he'll end up being a guy that hits for a lot of power, gets on base at an above average level, but probably strikes out quite a bit and never hits for a high average. I don't think he's quite at the Mark Reynolds level, as far as that goes, but maybe Adam Dunn. His defense should be adequate, although I can see him bulking up as he gets older and becoming less mobile, killing his range. For the immediate future, though, he looks to be a very nice complement to Eric Hosmer in the middle of the Royals lineup.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sports Narratives

I am almost certainly the worst-disciplined blogger in the history of the internet. When will I learn that making a statement about a post that I am going to write in the future almost ensures that I will never write it? It's a good thing that no one reads this blog or else I'd owe an apology for never giving my reasons to watch the American League this year (let's see, Adrian Gonzalez finally in a hitter's park, can Bautista have another great year, the first wave of Royals prospects... that about covers it, right?).

Anyway, I've been watching a lot of basketball lately. We are in the middle of the NBA Finals and there have been some great storylines with LeBron/Wade/Bosh for the Heat and Dirk's incredible run through these playoffs. The thing that strikes me, though, is how quickly the narrative has changed over the course of this series. I read a lot of sports blogs (The Big Lead is a favorite) along with mainstream media sites (like ESPN, Yahoo and SI) and it seems like each game draws out different big picture conclusions. For example, after the Heat easily won the first game, the narrative was that they would cruise to victory, but LeBron gets no vindication because he did it as second fiddle to Wade. My first reaction to this was that people were really reaching for a way to hate LeBron. But then the Heat lost the second game and suddenly the narrative changed - the Heat suddenly weren't sure things to win it all anymore. Then they won game 3 and it changed back and so forth.

Now, it is natural for the blogs and the mainstream sites to read too much into small samples - it makes for a much better story if every game has an importance outside of the win or loss. So I don't blame them, but I have started to wonder if this insistence on creating a narrative has altered the way that I watch the games. I find myself thinking about the things that I've read as I watch the games - does LeBron defer too much in the fourth quarter? When the going gets tough does LeBron quit on his team (as some claimed after Game 4)? I found myself watching for these things, but then wondering to myself if I would have even considered those storylines if I was just watching the games and not reading other people's analysis.

I think back to the pre-internet days and I think that narratives were still created by sportswriters, but, without the immediacy of the internet, the stories were allowed to breath, to find life over time. It's hard to remember if reading the sportspage informed my thought process while watching the next night's game. Then I wonder if these narratives enhance my enjoyment of sports. Would I be better off without all the extraneous analysis? Without them, perhaps I could focus on the game and develop my own narrative based on what I am seeing, instead of looking for evidence to support or refute the narratives that I read elsewhere.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to stop reading blogs (sorry, TBL) and other analysis and I'm going to watch games with the sound off and let my eyes tell me the story. There will be exceptions, of course. I'll have to do some reading for news and I may have to turn the sound on for injury reports or other news-like information. But I am going to try and avoid analysis as much as possible. We'll see how long I last and if my sports-watching experience is altered for better or worse.


Speaking of watching a game - I am currently watching the Royals play the Angels. I've watched more Royals games this year than I have in several years, partly because I didn't buy the Extra Innings package this year, so some nights the Royals are my only baseball option, but also because they are becoming a fun team to watch with all the young players making their debuts this season. Tonight is the major league debut of Mike Moustakas (Moose Tacos), a power hitting third baseman. So far he has flown out to the opposite field (left) and walked. In the field he has only had one opportunity that I can recall (I've been writing the paragraphs above throughout the first five innings) where he handled a popup behind third base in foul territory without incident. And (not to turn this into a live-blog) he just fielded a groundball and threw a bit wide to first, but Eric Hosmer was able to adjust and save Moose from making his first error.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why to Watch 2011 - NL Edition

Well, let's see... I posted twice on this blog in 2010 and four times in 2009. I can't seem to figure out why it didn't become more popular... Anyway, rather than make promises to myself (and my hypothetical readers that stats reports tell me do not exist) that I am going to post more often this season or make excuses why I'm not posting very often (did I mention that I now have two daughters?), I'm just going to post randomly when I feel like it. Or not. So, with no further ado, here are the reasons why I want to see each National League team this season (AL coming soon):

Atlanta Braves - I want to see Jason Heyward develop - forget the Sophmore slump, this kid has a ton of talent and last year just scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing. I'm going to enjoy watching him mature. Also, the Phillies seem to be everyone's pick to walk away with the NL this year because of their rotation, but they better be careful of the Braves in their own division, this is a solid team from top to bottom.

Florida Marlins - I want to see how far Mike Stanton can hit a ball. This guy is a monster - he may not have the all around skills like Heyward has, but he may have more pure power than any other hitter in baseball. Also, Josh Johnson leads an underrated starting pitching staff and the offense has a few interesting young players to go along with Stanton and Superstar Hanley Ramirez.

New York Mets - I want to watch a team implode before my very eyes. There is talent on this team, David Wright is great and, if healthy, Jose Reyes is exciting to watch. But the pitching is awful (especially with Johan Santana injured again) and the state of the team is depressing. I am interested in seeing if Carlos Beltran can be healthy and productive again - he was always a lot of fun to watch. Also, will Jose Reyes get traded during the season?

Philadelphia Phillies - Well, this one is pretty obvious, right? I want to see Joe Blanton pitch. No, of course not, it's the big four in the rotation in front of Blanton: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels. If they stay healthy all year, the Phillies should make the playoffs, even with their newfound questionable offense.*

*Ok, here's the thing about their newfound questionable offense: I'm not buying that it might stop them from playing in October. Yes, Utley is injured to start the year and yes, losing Jayson Werth hurts. But it seems to me that this is the kind of narrative that happens when baseball analysts in the media have too much time in the offseason to consider a team. The Phillies looked like a juggernaut in January, but that storyline grew old quickly and now people are starting to poke little holes everywhere and reconsider their position. Take a step back and quit looking through a microscope: if the big four are healthy the Phillies will be fine. Utley will be back, Howard will hit homers (although he is aging rapidly and his contract sucks - I'm required to mention that to be a part of the blogger's union), Rollins will make a boatload of outs, but will also score a bunch of runs and the Phillies will find ways to win. Even if they win a lot of 1-0 games.

Washington Nationals - I guess I am most looking forward to the return of Stephen Strasburg late in the season (hopefully). Look, Ryan Zimmerman is a great foundation and there are some other intersting guys like Jayson Werth (overpaid, but still interesting to watch), but interest in the Nationals is all about Strasberg and Bryce Harper, neither of whom will be in the majors for most of the year. I am trying to find some positive reason to watch each team here, though, so I'll just say that I will watch to see if Rick Ankiel can resurrect his career and to watch Zimmerman field his position at third base (he's one of the best in the business).

Chicago Cubs - As a Cardinals fan, I'd like to say something snarky about watching to see how they'll lose this season. But as a baseball fan, I have to admit that I am curious to see how Starlin Castro develops as a shortstop. He seems to be fantastic with the glove and if he continues to be passable on offense, he will be a valuable guy. Also, Matt Garza's move to the NL could turn him into a premier pitcher.

Cincinnati Reds - I want to see if Joey Votto can continue his excellent 2010 performance. He unseated Albert Pujols as MVP in the NL and it took a mammoth effort to do so. It wouldn't be surprising if he regresses slightly, but I think he's the real deal. Also, I want to see if Jay Bruce can join Votto as a premier slugger. He's got the talent to do it and he could be poised to make that jump.

Houston Astros - I am looking forward to seeing if Brett Wallace can develop into a solid major league ballplayer. When the Cardinals drafted him it was clear that he wouldn't stick at third base, but it was always assumed that he would hit. The power hasn't really shown up and the hitting has been underwhelming, but I still believe that he can be a .280/.360/.450 type of a guy with 20 HR and bunches of doubles. Also, well, I guess I'm interested to see if Carlos Lee ends up with the worst defensive rating for a major league player in history.

Milwaulkee Brewers - I want to see Zack Greinke pitch when he is motivated. I saw Zack when he was a rookie and I was blown away by his assortment of pitches - all at different speeds and all plus pitches. Then, in 2009 I got to see Zack master his ability and become the Cy Young winner. But in 2010, he gave up on his team and his season because he got tired of losing. Milwaulkee should contend in 2011, so I want to see what he does when it really matters. Also, I want to see what Prince Fielder does in a contract year.

Pittsburgh Pirates - I am looking forward to watching Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon take the next step in their development. Both are exciting offensive players that can be the foundation for the first competitive Pittsburgh team since Barry Bonds left for San Francisco. Also, I am interested to see if the Pirates can crawl out of the basement and finish in fifth place in the division (I'm betting they do - ahead of the Astros).

St. Louis Cardinals - As always, I'm looking forward to seeing Albert Pujols. He's a free agent at the end of the year*, so this could be the last season I see him in a Cardinals uniform. It will be very interesting, though, to see what he does in a contract year. Also, I'm curious to see how the Cardinals overcome the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery. I'm betting they find a way to stay in contention.

*I am still of the belief that Albert remains a Cardinal throughout his career. That is the outcome that both he and the Cardinals want and in the end I believe that both sides will realize that there is more at stake than a few years or dollars. My guess is that Pujols will get some other offers and those offers will shape the outcome between him and the Cardinals.

Arizona Diamondbacks - I am looking forward to the emergence of Justin Upton. It must be difficult living with Ken Griffey, Jr. comparisons, but all of the tools are there. I'm not convinced that he ever reaches the homerun power that Griffey had at the top of his game, but he certainly could be a 30/30 guy that is exciting to watch in every phase of the game. Also, I'm interested in seeing if Stephen Drew and Chris Young (already underrated performers) can mature into star-level MLB players.

Colorado Rockies - I want to see the best player that most people either don't know about or forget about, Troy Tulowitzki. He is a fantastic defensive player that also hits for average, power and gets on base at a good clip. Also, I want to see if the breakout player of 2010, Ubaldo Jiminez, can repeat his success of last year.

Los Angeles Dodgers - I am looking forward to finding out if Matt Kemp will rebound after a down 2010. He proved his worth in 2009 after struggling to get regular playing time previously, but then struggled to follow up on his breakout year. I believe that he (as well as a finally healthy Andre Ethier) will put up a big season. Also, it will be interesting to watch the development of Clayton Kershaw, who could be a Cy Young candidate if everything works out for him.

San Diego Padres - I want to see if Cameron Maybin can finally put it together in the major leagues. This guy has the tools to be a good fielding centerfielder with speed and power, but he has flopped ever since he was brought up to the big leagues too early. Also, I am interested to see what effect Petco Park has on Aaron Harang, the kind of fly ball pitcher that might benefit greatly from the spacious park.

San Francisco Giants - Tim Lincecum is the main attraction on this team, as always, since he is Cy Young caliber year in and year out. However, I am really looking forward to seeing Buster Posey play. The young catcher looks to be a great hitter that really made a difference down the stretch for the World Champions last year. Also, I want to see Madison Baumgardner, the next stud starting pitcher the Giants have to go along with Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez (who I also want to see to find out if he can keep his walks down - if so, he is one of the better pitchers in the league).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watched: Edwin Jackson

Last night I was watching the Cardinals/Royals game when they broke away to show a highlight of the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Tampa Rays. The highlight was with two outs in the eighth inning and a runner on first for the Rays. The runner was Carl Crawford, pinch running. Crawford was thrown out attempting to steal, ending the inning and preserving a no-hitter for D-Backs pitcher Edwin Jackson.

I quickly decided to switch to the D-Backs game (a decision made quite easy by the frustrating way the Cardinals were losing to the Royals). I then was able to watch the end of Edwin Jackson's no-hitter, which marks the first time I have witnessed the end of a no-hitter as it happened.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this particular no-hitter. First, Jackson was not dominant in the early going. He walked seven batters in the first three innings, including walking the bases loaded in the third inning before he recorded a single out. But he was able to work his way out of trouble each time and didn't allow another walk until there were two outs in the ninth inning. An 8 walk no-hitter isn't totally unprecedented, of course. When AJ Burnett threw his no-hitter in 2001, he walked 9 and Nolan Ryan walked 8 during one of his no-hitters. What seems unusual is, like Burnett, Jackson struck out fewer men (6) than he walked (Burnett only struck out 7 in his 9 walk no-hitter).

The other remarkable thing is that Jackson threw 149 pitches in the game, the most in a game by a pitcher this year. While going for a no-hitter trumps the usual concerns over pitch counts, there is precedent for such an effort basically ending the career of a promising young pitcher. In 2001 rookie Bud Smith threw a no-hitter for the Cardinals in September and threw 134 pitches in that game. The Cardinals skipped Bud's start after that game in order to allow him to recover and Bud was effective in three of his last four starts that season.

The next season, though, he was mostly ineffective in 12 starts for the Cardinals and then was sent to the minors (where he did have some success in 6 starts). Then he was traded to the Phillies in exchange for Scott Rolen and Bud's arm trouble started shortly thereafter. He was injured for the better part of the rest of his career, which never again reached the major leagues.

There is, of course, no way to correllate Bud Smith's arm injuries to the strain of pitching the no-hitter that September night, but a look at Bud's numbers from 2001 combined with how his career turned out at least raises the issue. Bud was 22 years old that year and, in his first season of enduring the stress and strain of pitching in the major leagues, he was asked to throw more than 90 pitches in 7 of his 14 starts (including over a 100 in 4 of those starts), crowned by his 134 pitch no hitter. Maybe Bud's arm would have fallen apart anyway, but a workload like that for a young pitcher certainly couldn't have helped.

So will Edwin Jackson suffer the same fate? Only time will tell, of course. Jackson has some advantages over Bud: he is 26 years old and has been pitching in the major leagues since he was 19. This is already his fourth season of being a full time starter at the major league level and there is something to be said of the body becoming conditioned to the workload. Jackson has thrown over 100 pitches in 12 of his 16 starts this season, including 10 in a row (and a 123 pitch effort on June 2nd). Last season he threw over 100 pitches in 21 of his 32 starts, including a season high of 132 on May 21. So maybe Edwin Jackson is a horse that is capable of throwing tons of pitches every time out. Or maybe Jackson is headed for a burnout. Again, only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Watched: Stephen Strasburg

Well, probably every baseball blogger watched Strasburg's first start and is writing something about it. I guess it is a good enough story to bring me out of hibernation.

Everyone knows about the Strasburg hype by now: 100 mph fastball, hammer curve, and a sick changeup that just isn't fair. He brought all of those weapons to bear during Tuesday night's game. He seemed a little jittery at the start, getting behind each of the first two hitters, but he quickly turned on the dominance, getting six strikeouts in the first three innings.

And then he showed that he was mortal, giving up a two run homer in the fourth. But he settled back in and destroyed the Pirates lineup for the next three innings, striking out seven in a row at one point and finishing with fourteen strikeouts.

The only thing that limits Strasburg is his pitch count. Because he gets a lot of strikeouts, he ends up throwing a lot of pitches. The Nationals had him on a 90 pitch count on Tuesday and have stated that they will limit his number of innings this season. It is probably a smart move on their part for the long term health of Strasburg and only time will tell if he can physically hold up to the wear and tear of pitching in the major leagues. If he has the stamina to endure the high pitch counts and he stays healthy, he's got the ability to be the best pitcher in baseball for the foreseeable future. He showed on Tuesday that he's already got the stuff of a Cy Young candidate.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jack Wilson Questions the Pirates Front Office

I am not really writing to defend the Pirates front office. They've put together some really terrible teams over the last few years. But Jack Wilson's quotes really struck me as funny:

"I've been here nine years. I've seen two or three of these trades every year and still haven't had a winning season."

Um, well, Jack, if you want to experience a winning season, maybe you could - I don't know - play better? I mean seriously, a guy with a career OBP of .312 and a career SLG of .377 is complaining about trades that have not led to a winning season. He should be thankful he still has a full time job. The trade the Pirates should make to get better is one that would get rid of Jack Wilson.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Watched: The World Baseball Classic

I have never thought much of the World Baseball Classic. It seems contrived, as anything without history will, I suppose. For me, the interest in the first tournament, three years ago, revolved mainly around how it would affect the players once the MLB season started, especially pitchers. I didn't feel very different about it this time around. I enjoy baseball of any sort, so it would be fun to watch some of the best in the world competing, but I felt very little interest in the outcome.

Then I turned on the games this past Saturday. I had missed the majority of the Domincan Republic vs. the Netherlands, but when I started watching, the Netherlands were winning 3-2 in the eighth. This would be an incomprehensible upset. I found myself getting sucked into the game very quickly and rooting for the underdogs. In the ninth, Wily Tavarez walked and was moved to second on a groundout. Then, with one out and down by one, he attempted a steal of third. This was a terrible idea. Tavarez is one of the fastest players in baseball and steals a lot of bases, but the edge that his team would get from him being on third is nowhere near worth the risk of getting caught. As it turns out, the Netherlands catcher, Kenley Jansen, fired a perfect throw to third to get the second out of the inning. It was a fantastic play that deflated the Dominican Republic and reminded me of why I love baseball. When the Netherlands got the final out to record their huge upset victory, they celebrated like children and so did I.

In the second game, the United States faced Canada. The U.S. team seems much more determined this time around and it showed as they muscled up and scored six runs on three homers through the first six innings. But then something curious happened: Canada kept the pressure on the U.S. and got to within one run in the ninth inning. I have to admit that my patriotism was tested as a part of me would have liked to see the underdogs pull it out. But it wasn't to be. The U.S. closed the door and won 6-5.

I was surprised at the playoff atmosphere of both games (not all have been like that, as Sunday saw some double digit victories). The teams all seem to be taking the games seriously* and some good baseball has resulted. I'm not ready to say that I'm converted, but I will definitely be watching a little more intently for the rest of the tournament.

*The Dominican Republic, however, seems intent on not putting its best players on the field. They have both Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez and one is sitting at all times. I understand that you don't want David Ortiz playing first base, so he's got to DH; and Miguel Tejada is playing third and Robinson Cano is playing second. But Hanley Ramirez couldn't play leftfield during the tournament instead of Nelson Cruz? Or centerfield instead of Wily Tavarez? I'm sure he wouldn't be great in the outfield, but the improvement to your lineup over the alternatives would have to make up for his defensive liabilities. In fact, wouldn't playing him at first base (or Tejada at first base and Ramirez at third) instead of the Tatis/Aybar combo give you a better team? Their lineup is stacked no matter what, but Ramirez and Reyes are two of the top ten offensive players in all of baseball, it doesn't make a lot of sense to sit one of them.