Friday, July 29, 2011

Phillies Add Pence in Exchange for Prospects

The Giants traded for Carlos Beltran, and the Phillies felt they needed to make a move.  Tonight, they were able to beat out the Braves and successfully trade for Hunter Pence of the Astros.  With Beltran off the market, Pence was the next big offensive piece available, but the Astros had quite a hefty asking price (which is what they should have done, as Pence is about the only player who was putting fans in the seats at Minute Maid Park this season).  The Phillies are sending Houston top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart (9-8 with a 3.92 ERA for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers), top hitting prospect Jonathan Singleton (.284 with 9 home runs and 47 RBI for Clearwater), and two more players, one of which is suspected to be Double-A pitcher Josh Zeid.  The Braves apparently offered four prospects to the Astros for Pence, but they were still discussing pieces when the trade was made this evening.

The move to grab Pence will help the Phillies push the Braves farther behind in the standings and will put them in a better position should they need to face the Giants again in the playoffs.  The Phillies offense was already better than that of San Francisco, but not by much.  The right field combo of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown has been below average, batting .233 combined with 11 home runs and only 49 RBIs.  Pence himself is batting .308 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs.  He isn't great defensively, but he plays with a high level of intensity and he produces.  He hit 25 home runs each of the last three seasons.  Pence is also under contract through 2013, an advantage that Carlos Beltran did not have.  The Phillies offense has gained some steam in recent weeks and it should only continue to get better with Pence, who is a career .300 hitter at Citizens Bank Park.  Now that the Phillies have responded to the Giants trade for Beltran, the Braves are the team most in need of a bat.  Without one, they will be in trouble as the Phillies and Giants have positioned themselves well for deep playoff runs.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Derek Jeter 3K Premieres Tonight

Derek Jeter 3K premieres tonight on HBO and details his pursuit of 3,000 hits.  As a Red Sox fan, I despise all things Yankees.  However, I do have the utmost respect for Jeter.  If you get HBO, be sure check out the hour-long documentary starting at 9 pm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Giants Land Beltran

The Carlos Beltran sweepstakes are over, and the Giants won the big prize.  Beltran left Cincinnati and is joining the Giants tonight in Philly (of all places, the Giants just happen to be in the city of their main NL competitor).  The Giants will give up prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who is 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA and 98 K's in 88 innings pitched for the San Jose Giants of the Class A Advanced California League.  The Mets will also include $4 million that will go towards paying Beltran's contract.

This was a great move by the Giants, because their offense is downright anemic.  Coming into tonight's game with the Phillies (which the Giants won 2-1) their .241 team batting average was fourth worst in the National League.  They are 15th in the NL in runs scored and they have the third worst on-base percentage in the NL at .307 (entering tonight's game).  Beltran adds immediate pop to a lineup in desperate need of it.  When he joins the Giants, he will suddenly be the only player on the roster who has a double-digit home run total.  He has a better batting average than all but two regulars.  Last season, the Giants won with pitching, but at least they had Buster Posey in the middle of the lineup.  With the rotation the Giants have, it would have been a crime to fall short of last year's success because of the inability to put a few runs on the board.  Now with Beltran, the Giants have catapulted themselves ahead of the Braves in terms of NL contenders.  Sure, Wheeler is one heck of a prospect to give up for a rental player, but the Giants already have the pitching to win now (again, for that matter).  All they needed was some pop.  By adding Beltran, the Giants could now be on a collision course for a rematch with the Phillies to determine the best team in the National League.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Best Center Fielder of All-Time: Willie Mays

There have been plenty of great center fielders: Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Tris Speaker, Duke Snider.  However, the greatest center fielder to play the game had to have been Willie Mays, and in my opinion that's a pretty easy choice.  He was the epitome of a five-tool player and he was a superstar during his 22 seasons playing with the Giants and the Mets.  It's hard to argue against Mays being the best all-around baseball player ever.

Mays began his professional career in 1947, when he played with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos during the summer while he was still in high school.  After playing for the Choo-Choos for a short time he returned home to Alabama in order to play with the Birmingham Black Barons.  The New York Giants signed Mays in May of 1950 and he made his Major League debut on May 25, 1951.  He was only twenty years old.

So let's start with his offense.  During his career the "Say Hey Kid" compiled a slash line of .302/.384/.557 (avg./obp./slg.).  He is eleventh all-time in hits (3,283), fourth in home runs (660), seventh in runs scored (2,062), tenth in RBIs (1,903), and 20th in walks (1,464).  He was a great base runner as well, swiping 338 stolen bases during his career.  If Mays hadn't missed a season and a half due to military duty, he may have broken Babe Ruth's home run record before Hank Aaron.

On defense, Mays was just as much of a force.  He won 12 Gold Glove Awards (in consecutive years) and holds the all-time record for putouts by an outfielder with a total of 7,095.  "The Catch", which took place in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Indians, is the most iconic defensive play in the history of Major League Baseball.  He owns a career fielding percentage of .981.

During his career, Mays appeared in 24 All-Star games.  He won the 1951 Rookie of the Year award, as well as the National League MVP award in 1954 and 1965.  He was the MVP of the All-Star game in 1963 and 1968 (back when players actually played most of the game: he played all nine innings of an All-Star game 11 times).  He was ranked second to Babe Ruth among the 100 greatest baseball players of 20th Century by "The Sporting News" in 1999.  ESPN ranked him eighth in their ranking of the top 50 athletes of the 20th Century.  He will always be remembered as one of the best ever to play the game.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Great Article on Kei Igawa in NY Times

Bill Pennington of the New York Times wrote a great article on Kei Igawa that was published this past Saturday, about Igawa's time in the minor leagues.  In Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee, Pennington describes the life Igawa currently lives as a secluded pitcher toiling in the minor leagues.  Most of you, myself included, probably assumed that Igawa had gone back to Japan after his disastrous stint with the Yankees.  However, he has been playing out the remainder of his contract for both the AA Trenton Thunder and the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The Yankees have tried to send him back to Japanese pro teams twice, but Igawa refused the trade both times, instead saying that he still has the dream of pitching in the big leagues and that it is his duty to do his best, no matter the situation.  The article tells the story of a pitcher who still commutes from NYC to minor league games, and who despite his huge contract and lack of success in the bigs, still has a relatively positive outlook (which definitely hides some disappointment).  I definitely recommend that you check the article out, it's worth the read.  Again, here is the link for the article:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Radical Plan for Realignment

With Bud Selig and the Players Association open to realignment in the game of baseball, the question remains as to what form of realignment would be the best?  The following plan is most certainly more radical than what will actually happen, and many baseball fans probably wouldn’t be excited about a huge change.  However, the following plan will create two even leagues and focus on natural geographic rivalries to create more fun for fans.  

One of the keys to the plan is the addition of two expansion teams, which will even out the two leagues at 16 teams apiece.  If one team was to move over from the NL to the AL, as planned, then the leagues would be even at 15 teams apiece, but there would always be one odd team left out.  There are plenty of cities which are big enough to support a big league ball club: San Antonio, Indianapolis, Portland (Oregon), Memphis, Sacramento, San Jose, or even Las Vegas.  If realignment is going to happen, it would be a good opportunity to expand the big leagues and to even out the NL and AL.

The next step would be to completely redefine the boundaries of the two leagues, in order to create inter-divisional rivalries with teams that are in the same geographic region.  Fans today like interleague play partly because you can watch teams that reside in the same region, but are part of different leagues, compete.  For example, more consistent matchups like Cubs-White Sox, A’s-Giants, and Dodgers-Angels, would create regional hype that would surpass what is seen at the present time during interleague play.  Obviously, the NL and AL as we know it would be destroyed and while it may be best to have no divisions at all, I can’t see leagues without divisions ever getting passed through the Commissioner’s office, the owners and the Players Association.  So, each league would have four divisions with four teams each, all built on geographic location.  For example...

League 1, Northwest Division:
Oakland Athletics
San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners
Portland/Sacramento/San Jose Expansion Team

League 1, Pacific Division:
Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres

League 1, Southwest Division:
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Texas Rangers
San Antonio/Memphis Expansion Team

League 1, Midwest Division:
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals

League 2, Northeast Division:
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets

League 2, North Division:
Detroit Tigers
Milwaukee Brewers
Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays

League 2, Mideast Division:
Baltimore Orioles
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Pittsburgh Pirates

League 2, South Division:
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Rays
Washington Nationals

The best possible playoff system for a realigned league would involve the best four teams from each league reaching the playoffs, but that would involve two leagues without divisions.  With divisions, each division winner would make the playoffs and then anywhere from two to four wildcard teams as well, depending on how many teams Selig and the owners wanted.  Either way, the regular season would need to end earlier in order to accommodate a longer playoff season.

While radical, the preceding plan would work to even out the two leagues and match divisional teams based on geographic rivalries.  Most likely, fans will only see the Astros, Diamondbacks, or Marlins change to the American league.  That will be the extent of realignment, but it may not work as well as a more radical, less popular option.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Red Sox Must Look Seriously at Beltran

Carl Crawford is finally back in the starting lineup for the Red Sox tonight against the Orioles, which means that the Red Sox are putting their Opening Day lineup on the field for the first time in awhile.  That doesn't mean however, that the front office can't make a change which would make the Sox lineup even more dangerous.  With the additions of Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Sox were supposed to field a lineup without any holes.  However, throughout the 2011 season whichever player has started in right field has been a liability.  J.D. Drew, who normally can be relied upon for around twenty homers, has had a pitiful season.  Through two bats tonight, Drew is only hitting .223 with four homers and 22 RBIs this season.  Darnell McDonald has an even worse batting average, .149, in 74 at-bats this season.  24 year-old Josh Reddick has been relatively successful in 71 at-bats this season, but he is only 6-29 in his last 10 games.

That leads to the question, who should GM Theo Epstein go after?  Obviously, Epstein could trade for a player like Josh Willingham or Jeff Francoeur, but in my opinion that wouldn't be much of an upgrade over Drew.  The best option for Boston is to seriously consider trading for Carlos Beltran of the Mets.  Beltran has shown this season that he can still be an all-star caliber player, batting .287/.381/.512 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs.  He is also a switch-hitter, and while he hasn't been hitting particularly well against lefties this season he his a career .291 hitter against them.

Sure, the Red Sox are good enough that they should make the playoffs with the lineup they currently have.  However, making the playoffs is not their team goal.  The goal is another World Series title.  The slogan on their website is "We won't rest until order has been restored."  Anything less than a World Series with the product the Sox have put on the field would be a disappointment.  In the mind of Theo Epstein a Drew/Reddick/McDonald combo in right field should not be considered good enough to go all the way.  The Sox have the money to help the Mets pay Beltran's contract, and adding his bat would make their lineup truly daunting. They should try as hard as possible to pull the trigger.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A More Impressive Streak Than DiMaggio's 56

Seventy years ago today Joe DiMaggio failed to get a hit and his epic hit streak ended at 56 games.  The streak captured the attention of the American public and is considered one of the most unbreakable streaks in baseball.  But is there a streak more impressive than Joltin' Joe's?

Cam Martin, a writer YahooSports: The Post Game, wrote an article entitled Does Ted Williams Own A More Impressive Streak Than Joe DiMaggio?, where he argues that Ted Williams' streak of reaching base safely in 84 consecutive games in 1949 actually may be more impressive than "The Streak" of 56.  Martin concedes that to a lot of fans a hit streak is much more captivating than a streak that can stay alive with a walk.  Williams' longest hitting streak was only 23 games, but his 84 game streak shows just as much consistency as DiMaggio's streak.

Just think, the 84 consecutive games that Williams reached base were more than half of the games he played during the 1949 season.  He ended up hitting .343 in '49, while leading the league in on-base percentage (.490), slugging percentage (.650), home runs (43), RBI (159), walks (162), doubles (39), and runs (150).  That is absolute domination.  To put the 84 game streak in perspective, DiMaggio only reached safely in 74 straight games during the summer of his legendary hit streak.  I agree with Martin, on-base percentage is more important than batting average, and Williams' streak should get just as much attention as DiMaggio's.

What Will Reaction Be to Thome's 600th?

Thome hits number 596 on Sunday afternoon
Jim Thome broke a 1-1 tie today with a three-run blast to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.  The home run, which was estimated at 490 feet, broke Thome's own record for longest homer ever at Target Field.  The blast was also the 596th home run of Thome's career, leaving him four long balls shy of 600.

The steroids era has dampened the excitement over home run milestones, as the public is skeptical about whether or not some career home run totals are inflated because of performance enhancing drugs (Bonds, A-Rod, Sosa, McGwire... you get the point).  One modern player whose home run total really isn't questioned is Ken Griffey Jr.'s.  Whenever you hear Junior's name it isn't automatically followed by steroids.  Jim Thome falls into the same category as Junior.  While people will now always ask if a player took steroids, Thome seems to escape the conversation, despite the fact that he's a big slugger who played during the steroids era, who quietly has amassed the eighth largest home run total of all-time.  His march towards 600 hasn't been too popular either, probably because 1) not many people associate Jim Thome with such a high number of home runs, 2) he hasn't put together a great all-around season in awhile, 3) he plays in Minnesota, and 4) he's only hitting .221 this season with seven home runs.

However, I think it would be really nice to see a genuinely positive reaction when he hits number 600.  Despite the fact that he played in the steroids era, Thome will do something that only seven others have done in the history of the game.  He is a great teammate and a great guy and he's lucky to play in Minnesota, where the fans love the game of baseball and love having him on the team.  So despite the questions over validity, expect a pretty positive reaction when Thome finally hits his eleventh bomb of the season and the 600th of his 21-season career.  He deserves the praise.

Check Out These Great Blogs!

Here are a few new blogs that I've found out about over the past few days.  Be sure to check them out, it is definitely worth your time...

Dear: Mr. Fantasy
Written by Chris McBrien, Dear: Mr. Fantasy is perfect for all your fantasy baseball needs.  Also look here for a baseball fun fact of the day.

The On Deck Circle
This is a great blog written by Bill Miller.  He has been blogging for a year and a half and he is a featured writer at MLB Blog Buzz.

Baseball Reflections
Baseball Relections was created by Peter Schiller.  You can find reflections on every MLB team.

Garlic Fries and Baseball
Written by Ronni Redmond, Garlic Fries and Baseball is about general baseball, but you can definitely tell that Ronni's home team is the World Champion Giants.

Ballpark E-Guides 
If anyone needs tips when they're going to the ballpark, check out Kurt Smith's site and grab a Ballpark E-Guide for your stadium!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ted Williams: Best Left Fielder of All-Time

Stan Musial and Barry Bonds (who may be the best of all-time, except for steroids) were iconic left fielders, but even they cannot touch the "Splendid Splinter."  Ted Williams, who roamed in front of the Green Monster for the Red Sox from 1939-1960, may not have been just the greatest left fielder of all-time, but the greatest hitter of all-time.  His offensive statistics rank among the best ever despite the fact that Williams missed almost five full seasons to military service.

Williams was born on August 30, 1918 (ironic since the Red Sox won the World Series that year, and Williams was never able to win one) in San Diego, California and lived in the North Park neighborhood of the city.  He graduated from Herbert Hoover High School and signed with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League before being sold to the Red Sox.  In 1938, Williams played for the AA Minneapolis Millers, where he hit .366 with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs.  He made his Red Sox debut in 1939.

The rest is history.  Over 19 seasons, "Teddy Ballgame" was masterful at the plate.  He batted .344, ranking seventh all-time, the highest average of any player who has played in the last 74 years.  He may have had an even higher average, but he was so stubborn that he refused to sacrifice power when teams employed the shift against him and he tried to smash balls through it anyway.  His career slugging percentage of .634 is second only to Babe Ruth.  His .482 on-base percentage is the highest of all-time.  He racked up 2,654 hits and hit 521 home runs, but he easily would have totaled over 3,000 hits and 600 home runs had he not missed so much time while serving during World War II and the Korean War.  His his at-bat of his career was one of his most memorable, as he hit his final home run of his career at a chilly and mostly empty Fenway Park.  Williams' stated goal was that when he walked down the street, people would point and say, "There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived."