Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Tigers’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.

email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“Remember where they were when Pujols had no homers for two months? The thing is they finish in the exact same spot with or without him (Trout) and there was a dominant player to take his team to the playoffs in Miggy.”

-The Internet

Let’s get this out-of-the-way, I don’t think Miguel Cabrera had a better year than Mike Trout did and I also think he was a fine choice for the MVP. This isn’t a case of Zolio Versalles winning the MVP award. It’s not a travesty, nobody was “robbed” of anything, it’s a choice that a group of older baseball writers made and it’s probably the last dying gasp of the dinosaurs that guard the game.

Essentially what the BBWAA told us is that Miggy carried his team to the playoffs while Trout put up empty selfish numbers that did not help his team as much as Miggy did. They are positing that it does not matter that Trout did what he did because the Angels would’ve been in the same place had he not existed at all in 2012.

This is ludicrous and ultimately where I take issue with the MVP vote.

Saying Miggy carried the Tigers to the playoffs assumes that Justin Verlander did not go 5-1 in Sept./Oct. (posting a 1.93 ERA with a 4-1 K/BB ratio), assumes that Prince Fielder didn’t OPS .978 over the same span, assumes that there was zero production from Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer and it also assumes that the White Sox did not collapse in the final stretch of the season.

The Angels actually outplayed the Tigers in a tougher division against tougher opposition, and Mike Trout did put up historic numbers as well. If we look at the whole set of statistics and how they helped their respective teams you have to say that Mike Trout contributed more en total on both offense and defense than Miggy did. This is a case that can be made without the “scary stat-head” creation, WAR. Mike Trout was 4 points of average behind Miguel Cabrera. If Trout gets 5 more hits over the course of a long season he is likely the MVP. Trout got on base at a better clip than Miggy did, Trout did more damage while on base via his ability to steal bases at a high percentage and his base running skills. Mike Trout plays a premium defensive position at an extremely high level, Miggy struggles at an easier defensive position.

The larger conclusion out of this is that the MVP voters do not value defense at all and only see this as a best hitter award which they still arguably got wrong.

Baseball is a game of individual match ups but it’s not basketball, an individual does not give a team +30 Wins. Giving Miggy the award isn’t a crime, but the made up reasons for giving him the award is sad.

Old man rant

I’ve seen a lot of stupid on the internet in recent days. Most of it stems from ESPN blowhards like Rob Parker who still insist that numbers are scary and the WAR guys are still crying in their chocolate milk.

This fucking guy

In the larger picture all the bullshit opinions you’ll read on Twitter usually stem from this “Embrace Debate” crap First Take is shoving down viewer’s throats. This has been extremely well documented elsewhere, ESPN has figured out that what gets people to watch is two guys yelling at each other on every single sports subject there is. This is ridiculous because it assumes that every sports topic has two equal views worth debating.

That line of thinking is false and insane.

You see, what happens when we all “Embrace Debate” on every single issue is that you end up with a lot of wrong, uninformed, stupid idiots on twitter making fun of guys who look at the sport they cover in an objective manner. This doesn’t accomplish anything and it only serves to clutter intellectual space in the collective sports consciousness.

To put it bluntly, it fills our heads with useless bullshit.

What it creates is an entire segment of the sports watching community that thinks they are right and only pursues the information that confirms what they think. Instead of objective analysis we get buzzwords and highlights. Instead of an open exchange of ideas we get people yelling at each other. Instead of people looking to advance the conversation we get a group of people who believe that their way is the right way and there is nothing that can possibly augment or enhance their way of thinking.

Terms like underrated, overrated, great, elite, awful, lose their meaning because they are so often used and misused. We are a sports viewing culture that cares only about the extremes and cares not for the subtlety of it all.

Look, I get that I’m going off on something that really doesn’t matter. It’s just sports. I do think that this is perhaps reflective of our overall line of thinking, however. It’s disheartening to see professionals deny a new idea merely because it flies in the face of what they believe to be an absolute truth.

It reflects poorly on the culture overall when the rejection of new ideas is encouraged.

 

[audio http://awmr01.podbean.com/mf/web/vah9fj/TBL3.m4a]

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

A brief summary and look ahead at the 2013 World Series.

TBLcast 1.1

Posted: October 17, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Columns, Podcast, Through Both Lenses
Tags: , , ,

20121017-134156.jpg

In today’s minicast I talk about Justin Verlander and misconception.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

And so there was Delmon Young, standing in the way of Chris Sale as the budding phenom was attempting to pull off another escape trick. This is the scenario that Robin and co. imagined when the reset the rotation this way. Get Sale a start against Verlander in case we have to stop the bleeding. It worked out poorly, but before we get into that, let’s take a look at why this game was so important/meaningful/fun.

Prologue:

Quote:
Andy: RE: Fantasy Baseball:
“Sorry for the anal rapeage on the last day.”

Chris Sale is having a tremendous year at the tender age of 23. The lefty is putting together a Cy Young caliber year in his first full exposure to the league as a starter. He is lightning in a bottle and the Sox are trying to convert it into a post-season berth. Sale has been off a bit lately. The breaking stuff is still sharp, but there is a noticeable dip in velocity that concerns White Sox fans. He is, however, the unquestioned ace of the staff, armed with the stuff (shit your pants slider with a good change) and good feel for pitching. The White Sox moved him back a few days and matched him up with perhaps the preeminent ace of the modern age.

Justin Verlander is having an off-year. And by off-year I mean that he’s only third in the AL in ERA and WHIP, only second in HA/9, and only second in total strikeouts. Verlander set the bar impossibly high last year when he put a filthy repertoire and a feel for pitching together and created a monster that the AL is having great difficulty dealing with. The man is a monster, and I believe he is the best pitcher in baseball. He toys with you in the early innings, hitting 90-95 on the gun as needed before unleashing the hellish 101 fastball that, grouped with an elite curve/slider/change combo, is just unfair to the rest of humanity. He also manages to pitch deep into ballgames, using superior pacing in his game.

Normally, this should be chalked up as an automatic loss. Losing this game would mean many things. Heading into the Tigers series the White Sox enjoyed a fairly cushy 3 game lead, only a sweep would produce a tie atop the division standings and the Sox had their two aces going in Peavy and Sale. Well Peavy did yeomen’s work, but he pitched sub par according to his 2012 standard, and Scherzer shoved it on Saturday, setting up the improbable sweep that the Sox feared.

I would feel better about the White Sox chances with a 2 game lead instead of a tie. Detroit is an enigmatic team that finds “it” in spurts. They are perfectly capable of rattling off an 8-2/9-1 stretch and that could be bad for the Sox. They needed this game and they had the right guy on the mound.

With the division hanging in the balance, there aren’t many pitchers I’d pick over Sale.

There are none that I would pick over Verlander.

1st Inning

Quote:
Keith Law:
MVGIDP ‘@Buster_ESPN: And Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in hitting into double plays. espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batt…’

Verlander:

There was a time when Verlander struggled against the White Sox. It wasn’t that long ago either. The Chicago White Sox are a historically good fastball hitting team. When Verlander was first called up in 2005 he was a thrower with good stuff. He cranked it to max velocity at all times, and that played right into the hands of the White Sox.

You had to think that maybe the White Sox would find a way to get back to those days when De Aza launched a “get me over” fastball into the right field bleachers. The book on Verlander is that you have to get him early, and when he fell behind Youk I thought this would be a big inning for the Sox. Verlander battled in that first inning, he managed to get 3 strikeouts, the first being on Youk, but he was working from behind consistently. The fastball was gettable, the Sox were sitting on it and laying off the two-seamers down and away, and the junk that he was throwing low. As the inning progressed I realized that they needed to score all the runs they could this inning because that slider/curve combo was sharp today, and he gains a feel for those pitches as the game goes along.

What makes Verlander so dangerous and tough is that he doesn’t get weaker as the game goes along.

He only gets stronger.

Line: 1ip/2h/3k/0bb/1er

Sale:

Chris Sale has struggled against the Tigers in his first season as a starter. He carried a 6+ ERA against Detroit heading into the game, so the first go around would be extremely important. In 2012 opponents hit .197 against Sale the first time they face him in a game. By the third PA the average jumps to a still respectable .241. If Sale is going to go deep, he needs to be solid the first time through the order.

It started dubiously, it wasn’t a lead-off HR, but he did walk Austin Jackson. He had a solid attack against Infante and met Miggy for the first time. Sale hints at a strategy forming in this at bat, which only lasted 2 pitches. He pitched backwards a little bit. Old axioms dictate that a pitcher establishes the fastball first and then moves on to the slow stuff. Sale threw Miggy a slider that was high and away before burying a moving fastball low and in to induce a double play. It was smart pitching and a professional attack on a great hitter, ensuring that Prince Fielder would lead off the next inning.

Line: 1ip/0h/0k/1bb/0er

2nd Inning

Quote:
Me:
“Needless to say, Verlander made it move a little.”

Verlander:

Have you ever had your definition of “Art” questioned? I remember once I was sitting in the waiting room of a mechanic, watching as he bent a metal frame and melded it back together with precision and grace. The craftsmanship bordered on art, and I wanted to call it art, but I knew that would be silly. I did it anyway, and I brought it up in art history class where I was shot down, and perhaps rightly so. “There’s no creativity!” the teacher barked.

I suppose not.

I was reacquainted with that feeling when Justin Verlander struck out Tyler Flowers in the 2nd. Verlander dialed up the velocity to 95 in the first as he had to overcome sloppy control. He brought it back down to the usually 90-92 in the second inning and then he found “it.”

“It” can be many things. “It” can be command/control, “It” can be touch on a fastball, the comfortable grip on a breaking ball, the right arm slot for a change. “It” in this case was a combo of breaking stuff and command.

What Justin Verlander did to Tyler Flowers should be illegal but it was wonderful to watch. It will go down as another strikeout, and you might see it on Sportscenter, but the pure attack of Flowers was sublime. Verlander got Flowers to swing at a fastball, wasted a pitch and then threw two breaking balls that made me wish I could do that just once. I would shit my pants against all MLB pitching, but that combo of breaking stuff is probably the closest we’ll get to the baseball equivalent of “The Brown Note.” All that was missing from that sequence were peace doves going off in the background.

It was Art, and it was masterfully done.

Line: 2ip/2h/4k/0bb/1er

Sale:

Chris Sale is hell on lefties. The delivery that he employs hides the ball extremely well. It’s a lot like Jared Weaver from the left side. The fastball isn’t overpowering, but it’s effective as it just looks like it’s coming from behind you to right over the plate. Prince Fielder is pretty effective against lefty pitchers. When I first saw it I thought that Sale was falling in love too much with his fastball. We’ll see in later innings why I was wrong, but for now, Sale was able to get Fielder to swing at a pitchers pitch and fly out harmlessly to center. Delmon Young followed up with an awful at bat, he was confused by a slider on the second pitch and struck out on a fastball.

Peralta made solid contact and I thought it would lead to trouble, but Sale ate Garcia up on a fastball in and worked out of it once again. Sale’s secondary stuff looked excellent thus far, but the fastball was worrisome at this point. He was trying to establish it, but the Detroit hitters looked like they were getting closer to squaring it up. Sale would need to make an adjustment.

Line: 2ip/1h/1k/1bb/0er

3rd Inning

Quote:
Elizabeth Hathaway, with priorities clearly in order:
“I need Sale to do well tonight. My fantasy playoff is in the balance!!”

Verlander:

This was the point of no return for the White Sox. Verlander wasn’t lights out in this frame, but the stuff was filthy and the way he finished was pretty much a sign that it was lock down time. Verlander started the frame by allowing Hudson to single on a bad fastball.

Then he went to work.

De Aza was bunting at this point. Miggy Cabrera has two bad ankles which severely limits his range over at third. Hawk and Stoney were practically begging for the White Sox to bunt/slap shit his way all series and I can’t fault that logic. Pride and honor probably kept Robin from employing that strategy, but when the chips are down and you’re fighting for your playoff life, pride and honor should go out the window. The White Sox should have taken advantage of that situation and did not. De Aza failed on the bunt attempt and then was fooled by an off speed pitch and hit into a fielder’s choice.

Youk is a pain in the ass in the batter’s box. Even though Verlander hit him, Youk was guessing up there. Verlander had him as he set him up with the classic fastball/breaking stuff combo. Youk was fooled so badly that he half swung and ran into the pitch.

Wise notes:
Change, Nasty. Curve, Nasty. FB up the ladder – great attack, doubled up on fb’s, sequence was filthy.

Paul Konerko is fun to watch at bat to at bat. He has a plan when he goes up there and he adjusts on the fly so well. Paulie has an oval that he will absolutely not go outside of unless the stuff is filthy. Konerko is the guy that I would show to my kids if I was teaching them how to approach an at-bat.

Verlander made him swing like a little leaguer.

Line: 3ip/3h/5k/obb/1er

Sale:

Sale flashes a deeper understanding of craft in the Boesch at-bat. One day, if given the opportunity to grow and mature as a big leaguer with minimal injury, Sale will be the perfect blend of dominant and smart, and the league will bend to his will. As good as he is right now, he can be the dominant ace Verlander is if he stays healthy. I have no doubt. He was hinting at nibbling away with Boesch, putting him in his safe zone. Boesch can relax now, he’s going away with soft stuff, and then he blew a fastball by him with no warning.

Laird didn’t want to take the bat off his shoulder and I don’t blame him. It was a bad walk because Sale missed the zone, not because Laird coaxed it. Laird was passive, Sale did not attack here. He did attack on Austin Jackson and induced a double play.

This was an example of good, smart pitching. Sale is flashing that more consistently now that his fastball velo is trending downwards as the season goes on. This is important in the development of a young pitching mind, you have to be able to be on even when your stuff isn’t great. Sale’s slider is the only pitch that is wowing at this point, yet he is pitching smart and working all corners of the plate at this point.

We have a legit pitcher’s duel on our hands.

Line: 3ip/1h/2k/2bb/0er

4th Inning

Quote:
Matt Spiegel:
“So, haven’t watched a ton of Terry francona this year. Disappointed to hear him being MLB Gruden. Everyone is awesome.

Verlander:

At this point, Verlander has settled into his happy zone and there isn’t much you can do about it when he’s there. The curve/slider isn’t so much a breaking ball as it is a snap dragon from hell. Verlander left a fastball up to Rios and he hit a harmless flyball out to center. After that Verlander punished AJ Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez with breaking pitches. He got Pierzynski looking on a curve and AJ knew it, he calmly left the batter’s box with his head down and a look of confusion on his face that told the whole story. He ramped up the velo on Alexei and made him take a silly swing at an unhittable pitch.

With Verlander settled in it’s up to Chris Sale to not blink.

Line: 4ip/3h/5k/0bb/1er

Sale:

The middle of the Tigers lineup is scary good and the back half of it is absolute shit on a stick. Sale has a test here, and it’s one that young pitchers need to ace in their development. At a certain point, top prospects can get out any AA lineup, even most AAA lineups, but the MLB is a different beast with a steep learning curve. You’re going up against men who have seen everything you have to show them, and it’s up to you to fool them.

Sale had to go through Infante, Miggy, Prince, Delmon, and Peralta. He shoved it to Infante, but then Miggy showed the type of approach that separates the men from the boys. Sale had a good attack, he was working both sides of the plate, but Miggy was waiting for a mistake, and Miggy didn’t swing at pitcher’s pitches. He coaxed a walk and set up a dangerous situation.

Prince Fielder is made fun of quite a bit. I get it, he’s fat and he has dreads, it’s funny in a way. What people overlook is how he’s grown from a slugger to a hitter. He has more walks than strikeouts this year, and while the slugging % is down, he’s become a better hitter this year. Sale worked him carefully, he had him set up for a slider when he hit him inside with it. He had him and then he lost him.

Pitchers fall in love with certain pitches sometimes. When the fastball isn’t working pitchers find ways to work around it. Sale fell in love with his slider in the Delmon Young at-bat. He showed him 3 sliders down in the zone and got him to strike out swinging. This is important to remember, that Delmon saw three sliders in this at bat. It becomes very important in a few innings.

He did much the same with Peralta, didn’t pop a fastball in that at-bat and just threw offspeed stuff. He got Peralta to ground out on a sick slider.

Line: 4ip/1h/3k/3bb/1er

5th Inning

Quote:
Elizabeth Hathaway:
Well I’m indifferent to Sox or Tigers winning, I just want Sale to do well.
Sale gives up a HR to Boesch on a mistake pitch
Elizabeth Hathaway:
Damnit!”

Verlander:

Verlander fell behind on Flowers and let up to issue his first walk of the game. This was the K-CS sequence that had me scratching my head. I’m all for being aggressive in a baseball game against a premier pitcher, but to put on the hit and run with a catcher while the batter has 2 strikes and Verlander is pitching is odd. He’s a good bet to strike the guy out and Flowers is not going to be safe at second. The changeup was sick, and the throw to second wasn’t even that good, but Flowers is slow, so it arrived in plenty of time.

Just like that the dreaded lead-off walk doesn’t matter and Verlander can go back and attack De Aza. Which he did and it was sick.

Line: 5ip/3h/7k/1bb/1er

Sale:

Major League hitting is a bitch.

One moment you’re thrashing around Garcia, making him look like the untested rookie that he is, the next you make a mistake to Boesch and he makes you pay dearly for it. 430 ft. worth of home run later and it’s all tied up. Many things can happen at this point, but this was the junction that I knew Sale wouldn’t get the win. Verlander looked locked in and he can go longer than Sale. All Sale could do at this point was keep it tied.

I think the Laird out was what finally convinced Sale to abandon heavy use of his fastball. Laird hit a big fly ball out to left that he just got under. It was a loud out and it looked like the Tigers were about to break out.

So Sale adjusted and went to the slurve.

Elizabeth: “And for the love of god what was that last play?”
Me: “Twas a Hammertime play, both of them.”

Quick break: There isn’t much in baseball that’s funnier than a pickle. Perhaps a slap hit that the 1b allows to roll, hoping it goes fair, only to bounce off the bag and into fair territory allowing the runner to reach 1st safely. That play was glorious. The pick-off/pickle was equally fun. AJax gave us some grade A entertainment there.

Line: 5ip/2h/4k/3bb/1er

6th Inning

Quote:
Andy: 
“Well this one is done. Gonna need Detroit to continue to suck against the rest of the league.”

Verlander:

Contrary to old SABR dogma, there is such a thing as a pitcher inducing weak contact, and it is documented here. In this inning Verlander got Youkilis to line out softly to third with a good mix of pitches and differing eye levels.

Wise Notes:

LOL Slider
LOL Curve
Weak Contact. Again.

Remember when I said that Paul Konerko has a great approach? This was the at bat that showed it. Remember, the last time he saw Verlander he took an ugly looking cut. Now Konerko was waiting for a pitch, he saw something in the last at bat and adjusted to it. He hit a single, which doesn’t seem like much, but the approach was golden. He didn’t go outside of himself, he remained in his zone and hit a pitch he could do something with. It was a fine piece of hitting.

Verlander dialed it up against Rios and got him to fly out to center. Verlander was in pure attack mode.

Line: 6ip/4h/7k/1bb/1er

Sale:

Infante started the frame with a seeing eye single to left. Sale was then very careful to Miggy and walked him on sliders. Which put Prince on the spot. 2 on with none out and the game/division hanging in the balance.

  1. Slider: strike/sick
  2. Slider: ball (Sale falling into bad habit, needs to get away from sldr)
  3. Change: swing+miss, 1-2
  4. Slider: ball 2-2
  5. Slider: foul 2-2 (CHANGE!)
  6. Slider: K! GREAT attack!

And so there was Delmon Young, standing in the way of Chris Sale as the budding phenom was attempting to pull off another escape trick.

I thought he was going to wiggle out of this at that point, and the game would still be tied. Instead Sale dipped into the well again, throwing more sliders to a guy who’s already seen a bunch of sliders. Delmon Young hit what would be a good pitch in a vacuum. However, Sale’s sequencing deteriorated after the second Young AB and he became to reliant on the breaking stuff to bail him out. Young waited on a slider he could handle and got one, sending the Tigers to first place with one swing.

After that Sale punched out Peralta, gave up a single to Garcia, and then k’d Boesch, but the damage had been done. Pending the BLOLpen, the White Sox had once again been swept by Detroit.

Final Line: 6ip/5h/7k/4bb/4er

7th Inning

Quote:
Me: “Yeah there’s still the Detroit BLOLpen though”
Andy: “Yeah but Verlander may throw 130 tonight”

This was more or less closing time for Verlander. He had a lead, he had a manageable pitch count, he was into the 7th and his stuff was still sick.

AJ Notes: Changeup, still nasty.
2 seamer, still nasty.
Killed with FB’s, nasty.

He walked Flowers and dropped a hammer on Hudson. After 100+ pitches Verlander is just now pumping the velo up to 99 mph.

Line: 7ip/4h/9k/2bb/1er

8th Inning

Quote:
Andy
: “Verlander is a bitch. He’s been talking shit to AJ for years, not sure why.”
Buster Onley: “For those asking: It looks like A.J. thought Verlander was staring him down, and asked what the problem was; Laird waved him to the dugout.”

Verlander:

There isn’t much to say about this inning besides that Verlander finished with dominance. The sequence to Wise was particularly nasty, as was the sequence to De Aza to start the frame. Yes, this was a Sunday lineup, but even so the stuff was biting, and as the game went along, he got stronger and pitched smarter.

Final Line: 8ip/4h/11k/2bb/1er

9th Inning

Quote:
Andy: 
“I know you’re gonna see the new baseball movie, but man I have to download that shit off the net cuz no way in hell am I giving that old bastard my money.”

I hate Jose Valverde, that is all.

Epilogue

Quote:
After watching Valverde suck his own cock on the mound:
Andy: 
“Makes me sick to my stomach watching that cocksucker. I’d say that if he was on a AAA team, he’s just scum! Lol!”

When Chris Sale grows up he will be in the Justin Verlander tier of great. There are probably only 5-8 true aces in the game of baseball, guys that you want starting games 1-4-7 of a World Series. Verlander is at the top of my list. This game if anything showed how smart he pitches. The sequencing by Verlander was absolutely supreme and after the initial trouble he settled in and put the White Sox down.

Sale will learn, it’s all a part of the process. Major League hitting is hard, and this lineup is particularly brutal to learn against. Sale dipped into the well one too many times and he got burned. It happens. He showed enough flashes of smart pitching to believe that pending health, he will be special. Pitching is a craft, one that takes years to hone. Right now his stuff is allowing him to get by. Soon he will hit a rough patch and then he’ll really learn how to pitch.

And then the league is fucked.

September

It’s hitting that familiar fever pitch now. The kettle’s getting hot and it’s screaming for a release. The baseball wave is hitting that crescendo, that peak where every minute detail matters. The pitches are magnified, the losses feel awful, the wins feel euphoric. September is that crazy month where the ragged post season hopefuls beat the ever loving shit out of each other for 30 days. It can be elegant, it can be ugly, but mainly it just is a fight to survive. The White Sox are entering that month tied atop the division, and now it’s like the season started over.

Now the fun shit begins.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I love the very beginning of baseball season for a multitude of reasons. Small sample sizes make for fun numbers, like guys with OBP’s lower than their AVG’s, players with more home runs than entire teams, guys who haven’t walked or struck out all year, the dudes that are on pace for 300 RBI’s, it’s great for nonsensical stuff like that. It’s also fun for identifying who actually watches baseball vs. who is a football fan and is just killing time complaining about things that don’t matter. To be clear for all you football fans, the MLB season is a 6  month (7 if your team is good) long odyssey that begins as nature wakes up from it’s slumber, thrives as the world around it gets greener and warmer, and finishes when the outside world dies. It’s cyclical, natural, and takes a long fucking time to complete. They play 162 games in a season. Some teams are gunning to win this year, some teams are caught in the middle of rebuilding and competing, and others are instituting a plan that revolves around youth and smart spending.

I’m talking to my fellow Cub fans. Yes, yes, Theo was hired this year, but as some ignorant White Sox fans are quick to remind me, he doesn’t play a position (BTW, White Sox fans, I’m aware of this. He doesn’t swing a bat nor throw a ball for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t need to be reminded of this). The team this year is awful. They told you they were going to be awful all off-season. They made no major moves, they acquired no impact talent, they did not change anything from last years squad that was also awful, really. So why are you so surprised about their struggles? Is it hard to watch? Yeah, nobody likes blown leads or bad fielding or an anemic offense.

“DEN WHAT DA FUCK AM I GONNA WATCH FOR TREE FUCKING MONTS UNTIL DA FOOTBALL COMES BACK AND DA MIDWAY MONSTERS OF HALAS HALL COME CRASHING BACK WIT DA VENGEANCE OF A TOUSAND MINI DITKAS?!?!?!?!?!”

I have no idea. I can’t help you.

“Good sir, if I may inquire, what shall I remain vigilant for this season on the North Side?”

Soccer, go back to Europe. Try again.

“Dude, they suck, is there anything that I can look for as a reasonable Cubs fan with realistic expectations for this year and the next three years?”

On the Major League roster there are a few players you should be watching for a myriad of reasons. I’ll be doing my best to update you guys on them as the season drags on, but for now, here’s my list.

  1. Starlin Castro – Nobody makes me say “That’s a great play,” and “That’s a dumbass play,” in the same game quite like Starlin.
  2. Marlon Byrd – If he manages to get his average up he will be a valuable piece to a team that’s in contention. Players with solid contact skills and good defense don’t fall out of trees these days. Could bring back an ok haul of prospects if a team decides to buy high at the deadline.
  3. Matt Garza – The goal is to either extend him because of the thin crop of FA starters in the coming years, or to bring back a better haul than you gave up to acquire him. I still think he ends up a Tiger.
  4. Darwin Barney – It’s debatable, but I think he might be on the Cubs the next time they are ready to compete. TheoCo (thanks Short-E) values defense a lot, and I think his bat might stick as a 2-hitter.
  5. Bryan LaHair – If his bat is legit, he can play in left and then you can have a 3-4 of Rizzo and LaHair. That’s awesome to think about.

Which brings us to who I think is the most intriguing Cub, Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs did the right thing and stuck Shark (Jeff’s rather unfortunate nickname) in the rotation. He had some interesting gains last year as a reliever, but if he was going to be worth anything to the organization, it was going to be in the rotation. As I stated before, I love small sample sizes, they’re fun, and when we talk about Shark’s numbers it’s in the tiniest of sample sizes, but dating back to last year he’s gained something valuable; the ability to miss bats.

See, dating back to his minor league days, Shark was always a bit of a mystery. He had good-great stuff, and a 98 MPH heater, but he never consistently posted legit prospect K/9 numbers.

His fastball was described as fast and straight, which is an issue. Major League hitters will time up fast if it’s straight, just ask Armando Benitez. Since 2011 however, his K rate jumped to 8+ and it looks like it’ll stay there. Begs the question, what’s different?

Well, this year he’s walking less people. His BB/9 rate is dramatically slashed so far this year, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The difference is that his stuff is just, better. Let’s look at his PitchF/X data for a second.

PitchFx tracks the movement and speed of pitches thrown. In this case it’s illustrating Shark’s improved movement on all of his pitches. SL=Slider, CH=Changeup, and FT=Two Seamer, something that is a relatively new classification and can be misleading. Before ’11, Shark’s slider wasn’t moving across the plate much, it was simply spinning and dropping with gravity. In 2011 however, that pitch improved, and it’s clear when you watch him. I don’t know for a fact if he improved his grip on the slider or if he just has a better feel for it, but it’s a real pitch now. It’s become a wipeout pitch. The Changeup has also greatly improved, even if he limited his use of it in 2011. This year it has legitimate drop  to it and it looks like it comes out of the same slot, with similar arm action, as his fastball. The Two-Seamer is a bit of a mystery, PitchFx did mis-classify this pitch as a regular fastball until around 2010, but it has live action and is a few ticks slower than his 4 seamer. All of his pitches have good movement on them, with his two fastballs being his best pitches. The slider is now a legit weapon and the changeup is coming along. That alone explains the uptick in strikeouts, but there’s also one more trend that appeared during spring training and has some people (myself included) optimistic about his future as a starter.

He’s walking less people.

Let’s go back to his Baseball Reference card

During Spring Training Shark walked 1 batter and struck out 16 in 20 innings of work. Spring Training stats are misleading sometimes, but I don’t think they were with Samardzija this year. His command has dramatically improved this year in limited innings. To properly illustrate that:

That’s shark in a nutshell. Drop in ERA, rise in K/9, cliff dive in BB/9 and a rocket trip in K/BB ratio.

Conclusion

He’ll probably have some missteps over the course of a long season, but the improved control and the improvement on the movement of his pitches are all reasons to be optimistic. Shark’s change in approach will raise his ceiling, the questions for the remainder of the year revolve around the durability of his arm, I think. Can he throw 150+ innings? Can he retain the gains he’s made in control? Can he be a dependable starter? I don’t know for sure, but I’m finally optimistic about Samardzija.

“Isn’t it strange? The same people who laugh at gypsy fortune tellers take economists seriously.”

I think it’s important for baseball fans on both sides of Chicago to understand that neither the Sox nor the Cubs will be seriously competing this year. The Sox have a better shot at catching lightning in a bottle this year if they get great years from their roster, but it’s a big if at this point and oddly enough it can all hinge on Jake Peavy’s health, which is a scary proposition. The Cubs have virtually no hope, the rosters of the teams in front of the Cubs are all better. The Reds, Brewers and Cardinals will fight for the Central lead leaving the Cubs in a slap fight with the Astros and the Pirates to avoid the cellar.

So a lot of people are going to tune out without properly understanding what you’re watching. For the Sox this is Kenny’s last stand. His acquisitions all have a strange propensity to blow up in his face. Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn were all massive faceplants to this point. He let fan favorites Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buerhle take their talents to Miami. He hired a manager that no one knew was a serious candidate and took full control of this team moving forward. Any success the team enjoys will be his, but so will the failure. Not many GM’s get to fire 2 managers, so Kenny’s on the clock

Epstoyer is enjoying a honeymoon currently, but they’ll have to work efficiently to rebuild a decimated Cubs organization. The Cubs have almost no pitching help in the minors. There are a few Cub fans that will want the Cubs to win now . When Cubs start getting traded most of these will get restless and wonder what the aim of the organization is. There are even a few that believe Theo and company only won because they spent Yankee money. This is true to an extent, but the Red Sox also drafted wisely and had good talent come up from their farm system. The make over the Cubs are going to get will be impressive, but the clock will start once the Cubs trade a marquee name.

Which brings me to the purpose of these two pieces. AL/NL Central “Predictions.” I’m placing the teams in order of believed finish, but I’m not going to place a W-L value on it. We’ll start with the AL Central. NL Central will go live tomorrow.

1. Detroit Tigers – They are the favorite to win the division and they are a candidate tot make some noise in the playoffs. They added Prince to Miggy and have a potent offense. The lose of Victor Martinez will hurt as Ryan Raburn will get more burn in the lineup, but Prince more than makes up for that. We all know what Prince can do with the bat, ditto with Miggy. The real question is how awful that IF defense will be. Prince-Raburn-Peralta-Cabrera has a serious chance at being the worst IF defense of all time.

Especially considering that this dude played third 60 lbs ago.

It would be pretty astounding to see what Verlander would do with a good defense, but as it stands the defense shouldn’t affect him too much. He probably won’t be as great as his 2011 season, but he’ll still be a Cy Young candidate in 2012. The rotation guy that might suffer is Doug Fister. Verlander and Scherzer both strikeout batters at an above average clip, but Fister’s career SO/9 is 5.5. He upped it to 7.3 in 70 ip with the Tigers, but I would expect that rate to fall. The ‘pen is solid and a name to look for is Daniel Schlereth. If he can gain some semblance of control he can become a high leverage pitcher.

2. KC Royals – It’s hard to predict a 2nd place finish for a team that boasts Bruce Chen in it’s rotation, but here they are, on the back of what should be a rather impressive offense. The kids can play, Hosmer is legit and should emerge as KC’s best player overall this year. Alex Gordon is going to be a great leadoff hitter this year, and Moustakas should make some positive gains at the big league level this year. The question with this team is when will the pitching help get here? All of their starters are projected to be below average this year, the only pitcher that may be worth his salt will be Jonathan Sanchez. Daniel Duffy is a few years away and like I said, Bruce Chen is an important part of this rotation. A lot of what this team does moving forward will depend on what they can do to solidify the starters. The bullpen has some names to keep an eye on, but losing Joakim Soria hurts. I think the Royals take a major step forward but the rotation will hold them back from competing for a wild card spot.

3. Cleveland Indians – Carlos Santana is the damn truth. He will emerge as the best catcher in baseball this year. He’s great with the stick and he’s a good defender. The Indians should surprise people this year, but a bad offense will keep them from really making noise in the central. Shin-Soo Choo is key for the Tribe. If he can get back on his star track this year the Indians can scare the Tigers for a few months. If not, the Indians will be relegated to fending off the Sox and the Twins in third place. Ubaldo Jimenez won’t be competing for Cy Young’s anymore, but he is a solid top of the rotation pitcher. He should emerge as the ace over Justin Masterson this year. Josh Tomlin needs to increase his K rate to his minor league levels to have a breakout year, but he should still remain as a decent mid-rotation option. The Bullpen will keep this team from being a complete cellar dweller.

4. Chicago White Sox – It’s not an awful rotation. Danks should have a rebound year, Gavin is a candidate to have a great year, Chris Sale will make some noise in the rotation, but their success or failure all depends on the offense. Adam Dunn was historically bad and that saved Alex Rios from more criticism. Gordon Beckham lost his swing and will have a difficult time getting it back. AJ Pierzynski is hitting second in the lineup. Brent Morel will get significant playing time. It’s just a bad offense. Dunn should rebound somewhat, he’s currently crushing fastballs which is a good sign considering how slow his bat looked last year. Dayan Viciedo has light tower power but we have to wait and see how his game translates in the MLB. Rios is likely to hit 3rd for most of the season. The Sox have too many questions regarding the offense to be a serious contender, you have to hit HR’s in the Cell to compete, because everyone else will.

5. Minnesota Twins – This team is awful. Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham will carry the load on offense, and their pitching rotation will be flat out awful. Carl Pavano’s K-rate might dip below 4 this year. They have no frontline starter in their rotation. The bullpen will be using gasoline to put out the fires this year, there’s little help down on the farm, Justin Morneau is probably done playing baseball, they will be in the cellar this year. They have a long rebuild ahead of them and Gardy should probably get fired this year.

There are 108 stitches on a baseball. A pitcher manipulates those stitches to make the ball do certain things, he will use 4 seams to make a ball go fast and straight (ish). He will use two seams to cut the ball a bit. He will use torque to make it curve. Pitching is the most unnatural athletic feat in all of sports. It’s hell on your arm, it destroys ligaments in your elbow, it shreds your rotator cuff, it gives you pain like no other the morning after, but when you are able to master the artistry of pitching, I argue that nothing is more rewarding.

Jake Peavy mastered the art, but his body has betrayed him. It has led to an identity crisis that derailed a once promising career. Peavy was a great pitcher at the height of his powers. He was overwhelming at one point. Plus movement on all his pitches, command of the strike zone and a mentality that screamed “Ace.”

It’s a funny word, “Ace.” It’s a heavy word that sounds ultimately silly. How often would you take a man named Ace seriously? Almost never. In the baseball lexicon, home of the silly moniker, Ace is the ultimate compliment a pitcher can be paid. It means so many things because it has no set parameters. An Ace can be like Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens. He can be Pedro Martinez or Tom Glavine. To be an Ace is to be both a competitor and a sublime talent.

Jake was either an Ace, or on his way to being an Ace. He was simply outstanding from 2005-2007. He was a 20-something year old phenom with the mentality of a pitbull. He increased his repertoire in 2005, mixing in a cutter to go along with his standard power pitcher’s array of fastball, slider, curve and changeup.

As you can see, he experimented with the pitch in 2004 and threw it with increased volume from there. Peavy’s health has always stood in his way to continuing to build on the success that he established in 2005. In this chart you’ll note that since joining the White Sox he is throwing his fastball less and less, bottoming out at 49% in 2011. This can be due to a couple of factors. Peavy has moved to a more difficult league that employs a DH. Pitchers usually get a steady diet of fastballs. Perhaps the more important reason is that he’s lost confidence in his fastball, which is an issue. Peavy’s fastball used to sit in the 94-96 range. However:

vFA and vFT are his fastball velocity values. That’s a fairly precipitous drop. He’s becoming more of a junkballer and less of a fireballer. Reputation is a hard thing to overcome, and Peavy’s was that of a gamer. It still is. He famously volunteered to throw a 4 inning relief stint when his team desperately needed it last year, but after that outing he was hardly effective. More alarming is the in-between area he occupies as a pitcher. Consider the following:

He gets hit the first time around, which kind of puts a damper on the whole theory that you could put him in the pen, and he gets pounded after pitch #75. If he could somehow exist as a 2-3 inning reliever every 2-3 games, I feel that his effectiveness would be high. It’s clear that arm fatigue take miles away from his fastball, and that he has lost confidence in the pitch. What isn’t clear is what the Sox plan to do to fix it, if anything. Peavy is penciled in as a starter on this squad entering the 2012 season. He’ll need to perform in order for the Sox to have a chance at competing this year. I don’t see him gaining a few MPH’s on his fastball, so that cutter/change combination he’s grown fond of will have to be his bread and butter when he navigates through the improved lineups of the AL Central. If’s are big with Peavy, and it’s no guarantee that if he stays healthy he’ll be effective. Detroit is no joke and the Royals will have a solid lineup this year. Peavy has a long road ahead of him if he wants to stay relevant in the Sox rotation this year.

I’ve been there before, down that path, feeling that same sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s the feeling you get deep within your being when you have so completely failed to live up to the expectations of people that support you. The sensation is truly nauseating. You begin to realize that people put their faith in your ability to perform a task, or to get a job, or to be special.

Yes, I’ve failed miserably before, odds are that I will again.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Adam Dunn. He is the type of slugger that I appreciate nowadays. Low average, walks a lot, hits monster home runs, strikes out quite a bit as well. I’ve drafted him to every fantasy team I’ve owned since 2006. There are three true outcomes when it comes to Adam Dunn, and I can appreciate that.

Last year was painful for me as well.

When you fail, when you fall down, it’s usually not in front of 20,000 people. To watch Adam Dunn last year was to watch the slow death of a confused animal. One who is not completely sure why it is dying, but one that is certain of it’s fate. Dunn knew he was going to fail towards the second half of last season. He looked lost in a mire of his own personal doubts and the pressures to perform a duty that used to come so easy to him before.

Perhaps that is the issue, it was easy before. There were little to no expectations for Dunn in his previous stops. Cincy was never in contention with him, Arizona had a brief stint as a contender when he was traded there, and the Nationals weren’t ready to contend when he landed there. His destiny as Sox DH was predestined, it’s a home run happy park, one where Dunn could exercise his prowess and become something more. He was traded to a team that was supposed to contend.

And then 2011 happened.

Historically, there has never been a full season collapse like this in baseball history. Think about that, baseball records have been reliably kept since 1885. Since then, no one has fallen on their face harder than Adam Dunn.

Dunn’s bat looked slower, and statistical evidence seems to back that claim up. From 2007 through 2010 Dun averaged 536 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 87 times pers season. In 2011, Dunn had 411 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 100 times. Pitchers threw fastballs to Dunn 62% of the time from 2007-2011, but in 2011 Dunn saw fastballs 69% of the time.

Pitchers aren’t afraid of Dunn, and that’s an issue. Adam Dunn needs to figure out if he truly loves baseball, because he didn’t just fail to live up to expectations, he set a record for failing.

There is one silver lining in his numbers.

Despite being historically bad, Dunn saw an uptick in his BB ratio. You can take this as a sign that his patience could help in 2012, or that he is too afraid to swing at anything and he lucked into a few walks. Either way, it’s something positive that he did.

Dunn wasn’t alone in failure on the south side. Rios and Beckham were supposed to be two very good hitters for the Sox. Rios was claimed off waivers by Kenny Williams in 2009 and had a respectable 2010 year. Beckham was a first round pick with a hitting pedigree from Georgia. He was a College World Series hero and many argued that he should have been the rookie of the year in 2009.

Both players were expected to have good years for a contending team in 2011, and both failed to meet expectations. Here is a graph of the trio’s wOBA

Or if you want more traditional stats:

Those three players had 1623 combined PA’s and severely under performed last year.

Rios looks like a gifted athlete. He patrols centerfield with grace and speed, he makes it all look so easy. His tools are apparent and that’s what makes his struggles so infuriating. He can be a good baseball player, but there is this odd mental block with him that is impossible to describe. He should be a 30 home run guy, but he isn’t. He should hit .300, but he doesn’t. He should be a gold glove centerfielder, but he never will be. Perhaps it is lapses in concentration that leads to his poor play, but he needs to play better.

Beckham looks like a lost cause. He was a stellar fielder at second base in the first half, but his fielding dipped as his bat never really got on track. He has regressed every year he’s been in the league, and that’s a terrible sign for a rookie phenom. Beckham collapsed in the second half last year, but the dip wasn’t as visible because he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in the first half. He struggled to hit .213 after the All-Star break as his K-rate shot through the roof.

Beckham will never be an OBP machine, he doesn’t walk enough and his swing looks lost, but he can be somewhat valuable since his glove could theoretically justify his bat. He needs to be around .270-.280 for that to happen.

The White Sox have an outside chance at competing in 2012. The Tigers IF defense will be awful and there is a slight chance the the Sox will pitch enough to stay in the race. The mitigating factor will be the bats. 3 of the 4 times the Sox have made the playoffs in New Comiskey the team has belted 200+ home runs. That’s the magic number, if the Sox can hit, the pitching might hold up enough to stay relevant into September. For that to happen, these three players will have to play well.

Dunn is the wild card, if he can return to form, the Sox will do well. The question with him will always be about his love for the game. Picking up a bat this offseason was a healthy start, but he’s going to have to mash for the Sox to compete.

Catchers are a funny beast. It’s rare to have the Carlton Fisk model of consistency. More common is the Roy Campanella model which truly displays the volatility of the position that is arguably the most physically demanding in baseball (perhaps starting pitcher is more taxing, but that’s really only one body part that gets damaged).

Victor Martinez is of course now a DH and the Tigers are not hurting behind the dish with Alex Avilla handling the catching duties. Yet even while playing a significantly less stressful position Martinez has managed to put most of his 2012 season in jeopardy, and that only means great things for the White Sox. Martinez was a cog in the Tiger lineup. He provided some gap power (40 doubles last year) and a tremendous control of the bat (.330 avg. in 2011). Replacing that production in the DH spot will be something the Tigers struggle with all year.

A torn ACL is no joke, athletes are never the same after an ACL injury. It robs your athleticism. It’s a good thing Martinez was already relegated to the DH role because his catching career is all but over at this point, and it’s questionable if he can take 1B duties anymore. His talent with the bat, however, was clear last year. He had an increase in his Line-Drive Ratio, he cut his strike out percentage, he had a slight uptick in his walk percentage, he had the highest batting average of his career, by many metrics it was his best year at the plate (largely thanks to no longer being behind it). He was an extremely productive player for the Tigers and one of the reasons they one the division.

The Tigers will struggle to replace that production. Their options on the bench are limited, you can theoretically slot Magglio Ordonez in the DH slot and play Ryan Raburn out in the outfield, but it’s still clear that there will be a dip in production next year.

Take a look at these graphs. It compares Martinez to the league average (where blue is league average and Martinez is green).

Mags is still a great hitter, but he’s not replacing that.

What does it mean for the White Sox? It means that they can pretend to contend for another year. We’ve seen this song and dance from Kenny Williams before. He pays the lip service to the fan, “All In” being a prime example of this. The teams he assembles, however, were always a potpourri of what he wanted and what Ozzie demanded. This year, however, it’s all on Kenny. The rebuilding word has been thrown around in the offseason, but I’m not one to believe that Kenny will remain patient, especially now that this little speck of blood hit the AL Central waters.

Kenny has balls, I’ll give him that much. A lot would have to go right for the White Sox for them to be serious contenders, Dunn and Rios would have to hit just a little bit, ditto with Beckham. Peavy would have to actually contribute something, Danks needs to replace the Golden Redneck, Floyd would have to find some consistency. It’s not impossible that the Sox are contenders for the AL Central crown early in the 2012 season. It wouldn’t fit into the rebuilding plan, however. Do you believe that Kenny would stick to the plan and let a gettable division pass him by?

I don’t. He’ll go for it if it’s there, and it might cost him his job.