Archive for March, 2007

Friday: 03.30.2007

Zumaya Hits 107 MPH???

I’d love to think that this was completely legit, but I feel like this was probably just a glitch with the radar gun:

Thursday: 03.29.2007

Spring Training Extravaganza: Day 2 – The Day In Pictures

I’m pretty wiped from another long day in the sun, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking today.

I got to the yard around 10:30 AM only to find out that they don’t open the gates until 11:00 AM. Oh well, at least I was there from the start. I was contemplating a move to the berm to see if I could catch some batting practice home runs, but instead I decided to stick around and see what autographs I could catch.

There you see ESPN’s Steve Phillips interviewing Gary Sheffield after batting practice. The interview was a good 20-30 minutes between the two. I’m wondering how much, if any, was off the record as it seemed that Phillips turned off the recorder part way through. Just prior to this interview, I got Phillips’ autograph as he walked from the batting cage to the area they were seated at in the picture above. I’m not a huge Phillips fan by any stretch, but he was very nice and I responded in turn as we bantered for a good 2-3 minutes. One lady asked Phillips the following, “Are you someone famous?”

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This is flamethrowing reliever Joel Zumaya during some sort of photoshoot. Not sure what it was for, but he was nowhere to be found after the shoot. Hopefully he pitches Friday against the Yankees.

Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe heading to the locker room after some quality batting practice. The two respectfully declined to stick around and sign autographs. Neither were snide or rude, just said that they were busy and would try to be available later. Monroe made himself available about an hour after this just before game time as he made his way to the dugout.

Curtis Granderson warming up in the bottom of the first. While I preferred my Wednesday seats because of their proximity to the Tigers’ dugout, these actually offered a better view.

Jim Leyland signing a bunch of post-game autographs, including my program!!!!! I had moved from my seat and was making my way around the stadium to the exit as Todd Jones closed things out. I stopped immediately to the left of Detroit’s dugout where Leyland had sat with Gene Lamont just outside of the dugout all game. As Jones closed out the final scrub that Houston offered up this afternoon, I hopped down a few steps to see if Leyland would hook me up. He was very kind with his time and continued to sign despite saying he had to go three or four times. I was the second one to get an autograph and snapped the above picture and the two below immediately after.

Another great day in Florida!

I had initially planned to go to Sarasota this evening for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins game, but I was just too tired. Tomorrow the Yankees will be here and I will be on the berm hoping to catch a baseball.

Wednesday: 03.28.2007

Spring Training Extravaganza: Day 1

I actually arrived in Lakeland Tuesday afternoon, but with only a few hours of sleep Monday night before the flight out and a couple of fantasy baseball auctions to get through, I pretty much just stuck around the hotel and relaxed save a pre-trip to Joker Marchant Stadium just so I’d be acclimated with the area. My plan was to wake up super early on Wednesday, eat the free breakfast downstairs at my hotel and then head to the ballyard. That didn’t quite happen. It turns out I was really tired! It was a 1:05 start against the Los Angeles Dodgers so even waking up at 10:45 AM left me plenty of time, but I was aiming to catch batting practice and snag a few autographs.

After showering and grabbing something to snack on from 7-11, I made the five minute drive to the stadium at around 11:45 or so. I arrived in my seat shortly thereafter and was extremely impressed with the view. I was hugged up against the Tigers dugout about six rows up from first base. I knew had picked “Best Available” on the web when there were plenty of seats left, but I was still pleasantly surprised and overwhelmingly happy with what I got. I got there in time to catch the back half of Dodgers’ batting practice. The part where guys like Tony Abreu and Larry Bigbie are hitting. However, I was also able to watch Andy LaRoche take some cuts and he was raking, including two moonshots to left.

The game was broadcast on FSN Detroit meaning announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen were on hand. I remember that when I first started subscribing to MLB.tv to watch the games, I absolutely hated the pair. I’m not 100% why, but I just really didn’t care for them. They have since grown on me to the point that I quite enjoy them now. I guess the adage is true: Winning does cure all! I snapped the pic below when they came to do their on-field opening. Shortly after their appearance, many of the players began to filter into the dugout and stopped along the way to sign autographs for those seated near the dugout. For whatever reason, the geriatric manning our particular section had a “Kids Only” policy and wasn’t allowing others to filter down there even though there wasn’t an overwhelming group seeking signatures. I was two rows higher than his blockade which left me out in the cold and severely miffed. I can understand wanting the kids to have access to their favorite ballplayers, but to make it exclusively for them? Get outta here with that crap, grandpa!!

FSN Detroit’s finest:

I was happy to see Gary Sheffield endearing himself to the fans by taking as much time as anyone else, and maybe even the most, to sign memorabilia. I loved the move the day it happened and continue to become more and more comfortable with it when I see things like this, however small they may be. I also liked what I saw three innings later when Sheff clocked his team-high fourth Spring Training home run into the left field Bermuda. His blast gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead, and could’ve led to a 4-0 lead had backup catcher Dane Sardinha not been gunned down at the plate by about 50 feet on the play before. Obviously, the pitch sequence might’ve played out differently, but I bring it up more to call into question the motive of 3rd base coach Gene Lamont. In fact, it was one of two flubs on the basepaths that kept the Tigers from having a really big inning against Derek Lowe. Carlos Guillen was pegged down at third trying to stretch his hit into a triple. Without the benefit of replay, I cannot tell if it was Lamont’s aggression or Sardinha’s lack of speed of Guillen’s poor decision that led to the two outs.

Celebrating #4 for Sheffield

Back to Lowe for a second, I was surprised to see him hitting 90+ on the gun several times. Maybe I just didn’t realize that he threw that hard or maybe he hasn’t until this year, either way, I was caught off guard. The Tigers weren’t though; they knocked him for seven hits in four innings of work.

Guillen’s next error was in the field and it led to the Dodgers tying the game as he misplayed a routine groundball that would have ended the inning. Starter Nate Robertson went through three innings unscathed, but the fourth inning was filled with seeing-eye singles and bleeders only to be capped off with Guillen’s error allowing the Dodgers to tie it at three. The game remained that way for the duration ending in a 3-3 tie as both bullpens locked one another down. Los Angeles’ pen amassed nine more strikeouts in addition to Lowe’s four giving the Tigers a total of 13 showing that 2006’s bugaboo might still loom large. It should be noted that only four of the strikeouts were by regulars: Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames and Ivan Rodriguez (2).

Speaking of Thames, he looked great at first base. In order for Jim Leyland to find him 400+ ABs, Thames was going to have to learn first so he can give Sean Casey a rest from time to time. Unlike the Sheffield experiment that the Yankees pulled in the playoffs, Thames was quite adept in his positioning, his picks and holding the runner. I’m a huge Marcus Thames fan, so anything that gets him more time in the lineup is a plus in my book, but I’m even happier that it appears as though he won’t be a defensive liability while out there.

One of the funnier moments at the game came late when Neifi Perez predictably failed at the plate and in the midst of pin-drop silence a fan yelled: “You suck, Perez!!!” Too true, too true. Meanwhile, my happiest moment of the day’s events was when Curtis Granderson was lifted from the game and headed to the locker room. He took a moment for the fans in a small area between the stands and the locker room and I was able to snag his autograph on my program. Instead of telling him that I sponsor his Baseball-Reference.com site, I asked this doozy, “Is that really you on your MySpace page?” I guess I’m a 14-year old girl or something… jeez. For the record, it is.

No need for zoom when you’re this close

It turns out that I was part of history in my first ever Spring Training game. The 5,972 people in attendance helped to break the attendance record for the Tigers in Lakeland previously set in 1979. The guy next to me said it was 1989, but he couldn’t hear me when I was shouting into his ear, so I don’t trust him. I’m going to go with the ’79 that I heard.

I left the game with the beginnings of a fully expected sunburn. My nose got the brunt of it given the absence of a hat. For whatever reason, it’s really splotchy on my arms so it looks like I have some sort of skin disease. Hopefully it evens out Thursday and Friday. I got back to my hotel room and starting poking around the internet. I decided to see what games hadn’t been played in Grapefruit League action. Once I saw that the Yankees were hosting the Houston Astros at Legend’s Field, I decided that I must go. I knew that Tampa Bay/St. Pete’s wasn’t too far away having flown into Tampa, but I wasn’t sure how things would play out at 5:00 with traffic and all. I needed to be better prepared for autographs for the next two games here in Lakeland, so I decided that if things looked fine on the highway as I went to Target to pick up some things, then I’d head out to Tampa. The roads were damn near empty and so after picking up my Sharpie and some cards for signing, I jumped back on I-4 and headed to Tampa.

The only real traffic I hit was in Tampa itself after getting onto I-275 South, but I only had to be on that highway for two and a half miles! After driving in Austin traffic, this was a cakewalk. I knew that Yankees’ Spring Training was popular, so I wasn’t realistically expecting to walk up to the box office to snag a ticket, but I knew scalpers would be on hand. The first two guys I saw were on the side of the road a mile or two from the yard. I decided to see what they were offering to get a gauge of what I’d need to get in. I didn’t budget for this trip, so I wasn’t going to pay through the nose. The guy who greeted me was a slightly thinner version of Michael Moore so I immediately distrusted him. He didn’t have a single ticket, so he called for The Greasy Worm working someone a few yards away. When TGW gets over to us, he and Michael Moore have the following exchange:

MM: He needs a single
TGW: Oh great, I have that box seat. How much… wait… did you tell him how much?
MM: No, no…
TGW (to me): Hey man, listen. As you know, the Yankees are very popular and they have a lot of season ticket holders and they generally sell out, but I have a box seat here for you. I can let it go for a hundred.
Me: A hundred what?
TGW: A hundred bucks man!
Me: Umm… well I have $20.

He proceeds to give me directions to an ATM. I guess he thought I was actually going to pay $100 not only for a Spring Training game, but for a Spring Training game at the home of a team I hate! I pulled away and called my sister. She’s generally a solid voice of reason to turn to when in need. No, I wasn’t going to ask her if I should pay $100, but instead I asked her if she thought I should just peace out and forget about this. We came to the conclusion that I should park somewhere relatively cheap, take a walk around and see if I can’t get in for $20-30.

After paying $10 for parking (and that was cheap for Legend’s Field!), I decided that I really didn’t want to pay any more than $20 for this game. It had already started and again, I hate the Yankees! The first guy I saw had a single and met my $20 requirement, so I was in. The ticket’s face value was $17, so I was more than fine with paying a $3 surcharge. The Yankees already had a 1-0 lead on a Bobby Abreu single by the time I reached my upper level seat.

While Legend’s Field is most certainly nice, I prefer the more intimate Spring Training atmosphere found at Joker Marchant earlier in the day when I saw the Tigers. Legend’s looks more like a Triple-A ballpark like Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express. Again, it’s beautiful and the Single-A Tampa Yankees are easily playing in the fanciest park, but I was hoping for the closer environment again. Still, I’m really glad I went. I ended up next to two cool guys in their late 20s that lived in Florida. The one was wearing a Tigers hat and the other a Cardinals shirt. This was their 11th Spring Training game of the season. Being from Florida, they bounced around catching games here and there. They both agreed that Philadelphia’s Clearwater home was the best of the bunch.

Darrell Rasner was ripped by the Astros to the tune of nine hits and seven runs in just over four innings and Ron Villone was no better in relief. The Astros held a commanding 10-2 lead after five. Luke Scott tattooed a Rasner offering parking it into the right field trees and Chris Burke went 2-for-5 with a double and triple. Imagine if Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee had played!! There were two foul balls in the section next to us, but nothing headed our way all night. Both foul balls were caught with the face of an elderly gentleman looking to barehand the ball. How the second guy didn’t learn from the first, I’ll never know.

One of the guys I met, Wes, knew a young lady in attendance with much better seats than us. In fact, she was in our section, but in row AA. We were in row J. They were her company seats, so once her co-workers left she invited us down for the remaining inning and a half. Here’s a look at the disparity between the two seats:

What I paid for

Where I ended up

I couldn’t have asked for a better first day and I know things will only get better as I’ll be at the park earlier tomorrow and more prepared should I run into Mr. Granderson again.

One final note: I subjected my eyes to this drek tonight and almost died laughing. Homerism aside, how this clown ranks Minnesota above Detroit is beyond me. They have ONE starter!! He is an absolute super-stud, but even still he can only pitch every fifth day. Right there, these pathetic rankings lost all of their credibility. Of course, even before C.C. Sabathia’s injury today, I’m not sure the Cleveland Indians have even arms to merit the #2 ranking. Not only does this guy spell his name D-a-y-n, but he is wildly uneducated in the study of baseball. The Twins third, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Let’s Play Two

Monday: 03.12.2007

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: 2nd Basemen

A look at the thinnest position in baseball for 2007:

1. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies – Utley sits atop his position by a wider margin than any other position in baseball heading into 07. His production at such a thin position raises his draft stock considerably. Of course, he doesn’t need the wide margin to justify a top pick as his numbers speak for him.

2. Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles – His 05 power disappeared in the first half of last season, but came back to life as he erased the nagging injuries. His primary value remains tied to his speed and AVG, but the power potential still exists. Expect another bundle of steals and an assault

3. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – He won’t be hitting .340 again this season, but with a full season of work you can expect more RBI in that lineup and an increase HR that could top out above 20.

4. Josh Barfield, Cleveland Indians – Brilliant rookie season despite some struggles against right handers (.266 AVG). His trade to Cleveland does not elevate his power potential as much as many would expect as Petco and Jacob’s Field are both pitcher friendly parks that limit HRs.

5. Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins – A repeat is highly unlikely and given the fact that his value will be inflated, he is someone to avoid. He started to hit the ball on the ground a lot more in the second half and if he does that for the entire year, he could slice that 27 HR output in half.

6. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers – Health after wrist surgery at the end of 06 will determine how high his ceiling is this season. Suffered a significant power drop in first full major league season limiting him to one category of bankable productivity (speed).

7. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers – Breakout candidate in a quality lineup with 20 HR potential while chipping in double-digit stolen bases approaching the 20-mark as well. Look for a sophomore surge instead of the proverbial sophomore slump.

8. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds – Burst back onto the scene after a move to Cincinnati from Cleveland. A busted uber-prospect with the Indians that was left for dead before putting together a fabulous season for the Reds. Repeated performance is hardly a stretch given the fact that despite his storied history, he is just 25 years old.

9. Jeff Kent, Los Angeles Dodgers – Still producing at 100 years old, but his power capabilities are on a three-year downtrend. A risk regardless of whether or not he stays healthy, but the fact that the injuries are such a question raise red flags high in the air.

10. Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels – A very bright prospect that is atop many preseason ROY lists with his combination of power and speed. He will struggle some with a full-time job in the majors, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect double digit outputs in HR and SB.

11. Jorge Cantu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays – An injury comeback player who is still just 25 years old and part of a quality lineup. His struggles against lefties has been pronounced and couldn’t match his .296 output against righties from 2005 leading to a horrible AVG last year. Expect a return to the 20 HR plateau.

12. Orlando Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks – Increased power and speed output due in large part to the sharp increase in plate appearances. At 29, he is still in the midst of his prime and could be onto something big with career highs in AVG, OBP and SLG.

13. Marcus Giles, San Diego Padres – Joins his brother in SD and remains a viable double digit threat in HR and SB especially considering he still on the right side of 30. Fluctuations in production has been due in large part to nagging injuries.

14. Ray Durham, San Francisco Giants – A career high in HR at age 34 raises plenty of eyebrows and you’d be plenty smart to expect a significant drop in that total. Should still offer an output around the 15 HR mark with a .285+ AVG in the late rounds of drafts.

15. Tadahito Iguchi, Chicago White Sox – Has delivered on expectations after coming over from Japan, but is in the midst of a four year speed decline dating back to his days in Japan. Increased his HR in 2nd half despite increasing his groundball rate as well.

16. Mark DeRosa, Chicago Cubs – The Cubs wildly overrated DeRosa, but I don’t think too many league owners will do so coming into this season. His 2nd half dented the AVG and brought it back down to Earth.

17. Luis Castillo, Minnesota Twins – A nice AVG and bag full of SB has been the expectation of Castillo for years and he continues to deliver the goods. His 25 SB was the highest total in four years.

18. Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners – Huge 2nd half dropoff in power could be attributed to workload with 603 AB. Given the dearth of talent 2B, he does offer value with his potential especially if he can stay consistent over the entire season.

19. Chris Burke, Houston Astros – Still a little raw even at 27, but there is plenty to like with Burke especially if he gets the AB. He offers that same power-speed combo found a lot within this group of 2B after Utley.

20. Ty Wigginton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Peripherals back up the power surge and at 29, it is reasonable to expect him to retain that ability. Again, as part of that solid Tampa Bay lineup, the opportunity for success should present itself over the course of the season.

21. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox – Big time prospect with a skillset that far exceeds his dismal .191 showing in a cup of coffee last year. Inexperience may leave him undervalued in many leagues.

22. Placido Polanco, Detroit Tigers – Value could be inflated from postseason success. Had an uncharacteristic struggle with OBP last year, but retained his high AVG. Four year drop in SB saps any significant fantasy value as he moves into his 30s.

23. Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays – Not much different from Polanco except that he has more potential to perform, while Polanco is a known AVG commodity. Secondary numbers say he hit above his head in 06 and a drop in 07 could be in the cards.

24. Jose Vidro, Seattle Mariners – A shell of what he once was, Vidro may finally be able to stay healthy as a full time DH with Seattle. There isn’t much reason for optimism here as he has dropped and stayed the same in HR for each of the last five seasons.

25. Craig Biggio, Houston Astros – His skills are certainly eroding, but he remains a viable power threat three straight 20+ HR seasons. At 41, there is no reason to gamble on a guy like Biggio especially when he is in the throes of a four-year OBP decline.

Sunday: 03.4.2007

Best GMs In Sports

Billfer brought to light, by way of Baseball Think Factory, a Forbes magazine listing of rankings for all the general managers in sports. Dave Dombrowski ranks 48th, which is right in the middle. It is tough to argue with most of the baseball GMs ahead of him: Billy Beane (26), Omar Minaya (29), Theo Epstein (30), Brian Sabean (31), Pat Gillick (39), John Schuerholz (42), Larry Bienfest (43) and Walt Jocketty (47). I think that Schuerholz is underrated while Sabean and Gillick are both overrated.

Joe Dumars is the highest rated Detroit GM at #15. That is about right, he is definitely the best in Detroit and I could see a justification for him being in the top 10. According to the list, the Red Wings brass has dropped significantly landing Ken Holland at 90th out of 98, yet they continue to win and pile up the points so I don’t know how he’s so low. As Billfer mentioned, Matt Millen not registering last really blasts the credibility of the list as a whole, but he is coming at 96th being only Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and Michael Lombardi of the Oakland Raiders. Kevin McHale of the Minnesota Timberwolves checks in at #1, but I thought the whole Joe Smith fiasco more or less decimated the franchise. So who knows how valid the ranks are at all.

Saturday: 03.3.2007

New Column Up

I’ve started my weekly column over at Sportsblurb.com for the season. I’m doing a strategy piece for fantasy baseball and this week I tackled the top pick in American League-Only drafts as I discussed taking Alex Rodriguez or Johan Santana.

I’ll have my 2B and SS Top 25s up soon, as well.

Friday: 03.2.2007

Cool Picture…

Just wanted to show this cool picture, courtesy of Yahoo!: