2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

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Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

***

My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

***

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

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San Francisco Giants vs Cincinnati Reds—NLDS Preview and Predictions

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San Francisco Giants (94-68; 1st place, NL West) vs Cincinnati Reds (97-65; 1st place, NL Central)

Keys for the Giants: Get depth from the starting pitching; keep the Reds hitters in the park; don’t fall behind and need to score against the Reds bullpen.

The Giants won the World Series two years ago behind a deep starting rotation and a dominating closer in spite of a limited lineup. They still have a deep starting rotation and it’s probably deeper than it was in 2010, but they’re without closer Brian Wilson. This series—and the Yankees series against the Orioles for that matter—will be a good case study of how important it is to have a “name” closer in the playoffs. The Giants have survived with a closer-by-committee with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Clay Hensley. They’d probably prefer to have their starters throw a complete game or three to prevent the question from even being asked of how much they miss Wilson.

The Reds have a lineup full of power hitters and will also have bench players (depending on who among Todd Frazier and Scott Rolen are in the starting lineup) who can go deep.

The Reds bullpen has a diverse set of arms led by Aroldis Chapman and his searing 100+ mph fastball and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.

Keys for the Reds: Get ahead, stay ahead; hit the ball out of the park; try and be patient to get the Giants’ starters’ pitch counts up.

The Reds pitching from top-to-bottom is too good to fall behind them. Johnny Cueto had a breakout, 19-win year; Mat Latos overcame a slow start to slot in neatly behind Cueto; Bronson Arroyo is a solid veteran who won’t be intimidated by the post-season. With that bullpen, no team wants to fall behind late in games, but the Reds have so many power bats—Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, and Brandon Phillips—that keeping them in the park is a difficult order. On the bright side for the Giants, the Reds don’t manufacture runs with walks and stolen bases, so if the Giants keep them in the park, they have a great chance of low scores.

The Giants starting pitching has the ability to turn out the lights on any lineup no matter how good that lineup is, so the Reds need to try and get early leads and hand the games over to their pitchers.

What will happen:

If the Reds play poorly early in the series, it’s only a matter of time before the “witty” Dusty Baker critics make coarse jokes about his recent illnesses and suggest that the Reds would’ve been better off if he’d stayed sick. I guarantee it.

With Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and a resurgent Tim Lincecum, the Giants pitching is among the best in baseball. The Reds have talent in their starting rotation, but it’s not on a level with that of the Giants. I don’t trust Cueto in a playoff game. Arroyo, as gutty as he is, is hittable.

The Giants offense doesn’t have the lightning strike power that the Reds do, but the Giants wound up 6th in the National League in runs scored, while the Reds were 9th. Buster Posey is a bona fide star who might win the MVP in the National League. After his dreadful first half, Lincecum quietly finished the season respectably, if not in his Cy Young Award form.

The Giants’ pitching will keep the Reds in the park during the first two games in San Francisco. Because the Reds are aggressive at the plate and limited on the bases, they have to hit the ball out of the park to score. If that doesn’t happen, they have a hard time winning. The Giants have speed, some power, and more ways to score without the homer than the Reds do.

This series will come down to starting pitching and the Giants starting pitching is battle-tested and simply better.

PREDICTION: GIANTS IN FOUR

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National League—Mid-Season Award Winners

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Yesterday I listed my American League mid-season award winners. Now here’s the National League along with my preseason picks from my book.

MVP

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF—Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s a pleasure to watch a player who I knew would be a star the first time I saw him run out a triple begin achieve that vision; that he’s doing so for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992 and suddenly finds itself in first place in the NL Central and is a legitimate playoff contender makes it all the more gratifying,

McCutchen is leading the Majors in batting at .362; he has a .414 OBP and .625 slugging with 18 homers and 14 stolen bases. It was almost as if he was sending a message on Sunday to let the world know that he’s not playing around; that this is the real McCutchen as he went 3 for 5 with 2 homers.

I’ve seen some random, inaccurate comparisons to Barry Bonds but in reality McCutchen is more like an Eric Davis-squared and is fulfilling what Davis was supposed to be but just barely missed becoming—an MVP.

2. Joey Votto, 1B—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ leader on and off the field is celebrating his new, long-term contract by replicating his MVP season of 2010. Votto is leading the Majors is OBP and OPS, has 35 doubles, 14 homers and is leading the NL in walks.

3. David Wright, 3B—New York Mets

It’s amazing what happens when a star player is healthy and playing in a home ballpark that no longer makes it necessary to change one’s swing to have a hope of hitting a few home runs.

Wright’s having his best season since 2007-2008 when he was an All-Star, MVP candidate, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner.

4. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

Those hoping he’d fall flat on his face after getting out of a PED suspension on a technicality are being horribly disappointed.

5. R.A. Dickey, RHP—New York Mets

Sylvester Stallone couldn’t conjure a story this ridiculous.

In my book I picked Troy Tulowitzki. He’s been injured.

Cy Young Award

1. R.A. Dickey, RHP—New York Mets

It’s not simply that he’s dominating and doing it with a knuckleball, but he’s throwing a knuckleball at 80+ mph and is able to control it. Hitters have looked helpless and he’s been the Mets’ stopper when they’ve appeared to waver in their greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts play.

2. Matt Cain, RHP—San Francisco Giants

The ace of the Giants’ staff is not named Tim Lincecum anymore.

3. Johnny Cueto, RHP—Cincinnati Reds

Cueto’s ill-conceived comments about Tony LaRussa aside, he’s had a great year.

4. James McDonald, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Another Pirates’ player whose talent I lusted after is fulfilling his potential. This is how fiction-style stories of teams rising from the depths are written.

5. Cole Hamels, LHP—Philadelphia Phillies

His rumored trade availability, pending free agency and “look how tough I am” antics are obscuring how well he’s pitched as the Phillies’ empire crumbles around him.

My preseason pick was Lincecum. I think we can forget that now.

Rookie of the Year

1.  Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

Considering his arrogant statements and behavior in the minors, I was dubious about his maturity. He’s proven me wrong and been an absolute professional handling the scrutiny like a 10-year veteran.

On the field, he’s the real deal.

2. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Miley has picked up for the inconsistent Ian Kennedy and the injured Joe Saunders and Daniel Hudson; the Diamondbacks would be buried in the NL West without him.

3. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

He’s had more than a few big hits in picking up for the injured Scott Rolen.

4. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

He’s 30 and a rookie in name only, but he’s batting .300 and has played well for the Brewers.

5. Wilin Rosario, C—Colorado Rockies

He’s struggled defensively and is a hacker, but he does have 14 homers.

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso.

Manager of the Year

1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

He…doesn’t…take…crap.

2. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Johnson was always a bridesmaid in the Manager of the Year voting. He still is. He’s dealt with the new age game that clearly grates on him with the pitch counts and the relentless “experts” from the outside questioning him; he’s also dealt with the Harper/Stephen Strasburg sideshows far better than other veteran managers dropped into the middle of it would.

3. Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers

They Dodgers have slumped lately, but Mattingly has proven he can handle pretty much anything.

4. Terry Collins, New York Mets

What he’s done with this team amid all the off-field distractions and non-existent expectations is Amazin’.

5. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

Lincecum’s been horrific and he lost his closer but still has the Giants hovering around first place in the NL West.

My preseason pick was Johnson.

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2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Tony LaRussa Was A True Innovator

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The easiest thing to do when examining a manager’s—or anyone’s—record is to look at the numbers.

Tony LaRussa‘s managerial numbers are up in the stratosphere of baseball history and will be there forever.

He managed for 33 years; made the playoffs 14 times; won 6 pennants; and 3 World Series.

He won 2728 games and had a .536 winning percentage.

But that doesn’t explain what it was he accomplished in baseball.

LaRussa was one of the true innovators, using data and in-depth scouting reports to adjust his lineups, fielder’s positions and pitching maneuvers according to what would best enable him to have an advantage and win the game. Before stats became so prevalent that laymen thought their utilization made them a baseball expert, LaRussa epitomized the best of both stat-based/detailed information decisionmaking and old-school baseball instincts.

Being a journeyman infielder who batted .199 in 203 career plate appearances in the big leagues and lasted for 15 years in the minors (he had a few good minor league seasons), he soaked up the knowledge that contributed to his innovations as a manager; his legal training (he graduated from law school) provided a linear method of thinking that he adapted to baseball; and he had the courage of his convictions.

There were no, “I’m doing this to keep my job” moves with LaRussa. Immediately upon getting the White Sox job, the likes of Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson—baseball lifers and great managers—noticed and were impressed with his fearlessness and attention to detail.

Blamed for the advent of the “bullpen roles” with the Athletics and Dennis Eckersley, that too was an example of coldblooded rationality rather than reinventing the game. In his early seasons managing the White Sox, LaRussa used his short relievers for multiple innings just as every other manager did; it was when he got to Oakland and the veteran former starter Eckersley was making the transition to the bullpen that LaRussa decided it was best to use him for only one inning at a time. He had the other relievers in his bullpen to do it and it worked.

No one told the rest of baseball that this new strategy was the template of how to run a club without deviation—that was never the point—they were copying while LaRussa was creating.

The stat people cling to the concept of a bullpen-by-committee. This can only succeed, in part, if there’s a manager who can’t be questioned if he decides to use it—the 2011 Cardinals used the closer-by-committee with eight different pitchers recording saves.

Planning hand-in-hand with his pitching coach/aide-de-camp Dave Duncan and his GMs Sandy Alderson, Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak to find players who fit into what he wanted to build, he rejuvenated and saved the careers of dozens of players. Without LaRussa and Duncan, there’s no Dave Stewart; Mike Moore would’ve been a “what might have been” disappointment; Chris Carpenter would’ve been a journeyman bust; and Eckersley would’ve been finished at 33.

Rightful in his indignation at his portrayal in Moneyball as a “middle-manager” who wasn’t supposed to have his opinions granted any weight, he won and won and won and did it under a budget—his Cardinals teams were generally in the top 10 in payroll, but never competed financially with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Moneyball became the bane of his existence long after its publication as his longtime Cardinals GM Jocketty was forced out as the club mitigated the power of both LaRussa and Duncan and tried to use numbers and baseball outsiders to save money and restructure the organizational philosophy. LaRussa rebelled. Competing in the big leagues is hard enough without having one’s experience and strategies questioned by outsiders who think that calculating a formula can replace 40 years of analytical observation and in-the-trenches baseball.

He fought back viciously and eventually won that organizational tug-of-war.

He didn’t have much patience for young players who didn’t catch on quickly; his doghouse was entrance only and his feuds with players like Scott Rolen bordered on the embarrassing; he could be condescending, thin-skinned and Machiavellian; he overmanaged in circumstances where he shouldn’t have; he was a skillful manipulator of organizational politics to maintain influence; and his teams didn’t win as much as they should have judging by their talent.

But when a team hired Tony LaRussa to manage, they would never be outworked and if he was given the players to compete, he’d get them to the playoffs. Sometimes he got them to the playoffs when he wasn’t given the players to compete.

In an interesting footnote, the championship teams—the 1989 Athletics; 2006 Cardinals; 2011 Cardinals—weren’t anywhere near as good as the teams that got bounced in the playoffs or shocked in the World Series. The 1988 and 1990 A’s were better than the 1989 team; the 2004-2005 Cardinals won a total of 205 games, but those teams didn’t take the title.

The 2006 club collapsed in September and nearly missed the playoffs; once they got in, they regained their footing and, carried by a journeyman starter Jeff Suppan and a rookie closer (who wasn’t a closer) Adam Wainwright, they were the underdogs in every post-season series and won them all.

In 2011, the Cardinals were all but finished in late August before getting a reprieve because they had a great September and due to the Braves falling apart. Seemingly overmatched by the mighty Phillies and the pitching-rich Brewers, the Cardinals took both out. Then, down to their last strike twice in the World Series to the superior Rangers, the Cardinals came back and won an unlikely championship.

I have to wonder whether LaRussa takes more pride in winning when he wasn’t supposed to win or wanted to win with the teams that were great in every conceivable metric other than taking home the World Series trophy.

One accomplishment lends itself to his managerial skill; the other to his ability to put a club together over a long year from the winter to the fall. Neither is more important than the other, but more credit is doled for winning when a team isn’t supposed to win.

LaRussa got away with the things he did because he won and in a circular occurrence, he won because he had the nerve to do things that other young managers might not have done. He didn’t do them to be quirky; he did them because he believed in them. As much as he tried to keep his thumb on everything in his world, he was a big picture, deep strike thinker who took risks for big rewards.

Not every manager can say that.

Most new managers are going to make calls that are safe; that can be explained to the media and meddling bosses; that will keep the players in their corner—but not LaRussa.

He was a rarity among mangers for that fervent adherence to his theories and the courage to implement them.

There won’t be another LaRussa not only because he won, but because of the way he won.

He went out on top and walked away from a lot of money.

There have been intermittent and idiotic caveats from know-nothings diminishing all he did in baseball.

They need to be ignored.

LaRussa deserves to be applauded for his dedication to the game and a career that won’t be surpassed in its duration and scope.

He’s one of the best managers in the history of baseball.

LaRussa’s retiring on his own terms and he’s going out as a World Series champion.

It fits the story of his managerial career perfectly.

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Trading Joey Votto Is Risky For The Reds

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The Reds are said to be prepared to listen to offers for Joey Votto.

It will only be known in retrospect whether this is similar to the Diamondbacks “listening” on Justin Upton before ultimately deciding not to trade him or the Rockies trade of Ubaldo Jimenez.

I’d be willing to listen on any and all players, but for Votto—age 28 and signed through 2013 at $9.5 million in 2012; $17 million in 2013—they’d better get at least one established, young, star-caliber player and two blue chip prospects.

At least.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty has received an undue amount of credit for circumstances out of his control. The Cardinals won regularly with him as GM and he made some solid moves in getting Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Mark McGwire and Darryl Kile for very little. But his drafts were never particularly strong and he made some drastic mistakes such as trading Dan Haren for Mark Mulder.

Relying on a Hall of Fame manager in Tony LaRussa, a brilliant pitching coach in Dave Duncan and having players accept less money to stay in St. Louis were greater factors in the Cardinals success under Jocketty than Jocketty himself.

With the Reds, he again is benefiting from a foundation already in place upon his arrival.

The 2010 team that won the NL Central was put together before took over. Jocketty didn’t hire the manager, Dusty Baker; didn’t acquire any of the key players apart from Scott Rolen, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. And Chapman is the only one for whom Jocketty receives accolades for foresight.

On the subject of Chapman, I will never understand how the same people with the Red Sox and Yankees thought that it was a good idea to give the amount of money they gave to acquire Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa chose not to spend the $30 million it cost to get that raw talent and searing fastball of Chapman.

Either they were gun-shy or stupid. Or both.

As for the Reds taking offers on Votto, they have a first baseman in waiting in Yonder Alonso and payroll constraints make it difficult to keep one player making $17 million in 2013.

But they’d better make sure they know what they’re doing, what they’re getting and that Alonso and others can replace Votto’s bat, glove and leadership.

It does make some semblance of sense. They’d ask a lot for Votto. And if they pull the trigger, they’d better get it.

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A Scheme From LaRussa’s Nemesis?

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Matt Holliday had to leave the field during the Cardinals-Dodgers game last night when a moth flew into his ear. The clip is below.

It was similar to the earwigs used on captured prisoners by Khan in Star Trek II to set a trap for Captain James T. Kirk and exact revenge. And it worked.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether one of LaRussa’s long-lost enemies (Dusty Baker? Michael Lewis? Kirk Gibson? Scott Rolen? Jose Canseco? Hawk Harrelson?) had come up with a scheme to incapacitate Holliday and be worthy of a bit of overracting along the lines of the following.

Some of the above mentioned individuals aren’t known for their brilliance, but it might be a cover; and I’d love to see LaRussa scream some version of: KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!!

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Viewer Mail 2.25.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Hank Steinbrenner:

I agree about Hank. Very entertaining and good copy for us bloggers.

Hank the Tank just says “stuff” and much of the time I don’t think it’s off-the-cuff and reactionary to a question he was asked; I truly believe that he plans these things. Maybe not verbatim, but he’ll have something in his head that he wants to get out, it eats at him and pops out in the most inappropriate ways.

I don’t understand why Hank chose Derek Jeter to pick at. It’s as if the mansion offends Hank’s delicate sensibilities. George used to give Jeter a hard time as well. I could see if Jeter was risking his reputation in places he’d be better-served to avoid, but Jeter’s been around too long and is too smart to risk it all now.

It seems to me Hank—more than Hal—is offended at paying the salaries he does and the only way he can express that indignation is with his idiotic statements the type which he uttered earlier this week.

Perhaps that too is a calculated act; Jeter, as captain of the team, has to take the brunt of criticism directed at others in the clubhouse and keep quiet about it. Alex Rodriguez is too sensitive; Jorge Posada would explode; Mark Teixeira is too vanilla to criticize—that leaves Jeter.

I’m sure he doesn’t like it; doesn’t understand it; doesn’t agree with the bullying nature of segments of the Steinbrenner clan, but he knows the deal, shakes his head and lets it go.

Let Hank say his piece 3-4 times a year and go back to the horse ranch to scream at the trainers and maybe even the horses.

Who knows? About his horses, he might say, “He was too busy thinking about his future out at stud than the race…”

Know what? The same could be said of Jeter!

Tim Berger writes RE the Cardinals:

You can’t replace Carpenter. he’s worth 6 wins to the cards this season, which puts them back at .500. This doesn’t affect the win/loss percentages of the Brewers and the Reds (or if it does, it actually might give each of them a win). You can’t mute a loss of an ace, and your inference that they can recover even half of Wainwright’s wins back with Kevin Millwood is laughable. Healthy Scott Rolen – pretty lucky, run producing Jonny Gomes – pretty lucky. But Bruce and Stubbs are only getting better, Phillips actually had a down year, and Votto’s year is just a start. Lets start with facts, fill the middle with rational inferences, and end with reality – which spells an atom bomb sized whole for the Cards, one they likely cannot recover from.

Who said anything about Chris Carpenter? He’s supposedly healthy. If he gets hurt (not a small possibility given his history), then they’re screwed.

You missed the point of what I wrote. The value of Wainwright wasn’t the number of wins he accumulated as much as it was the quality innings he threw; they can patch together the wins elsewhere.

It’s beyond simplistic to say that because he was a 5.7 WAR player last year, then the Cardinals will be a .500 team without him. It’s like looking at a playoff series and matching the players up on a position-by-position basis—it’s meaningless.

I’m glad I made you laugh, but am not sure what’s funny. You’re telling me that Kevin Millwood can’t win 10 games for the Cardinals by showing up and being competent? Competence and durability is why Millwood is still around.

Jeff Suppan won 44 games in 3 seasons with the Cardinals from 2004-2006 with nothing in terms of stuff. Nothing. Millwood or some other cog can’t replicate that?

You don’t think they’re going to get a better performance from Kyle Lohse? He can’t be much worse. With a full year from Jake Westbrook, a minute improvement from Jaime Garcia and if whomever they plug into Wainwright’s spot is breathing and throwing strikes, they’ll have a win total in the mid-80s as a team; however many they win after that will determine their fate.

As for the Reds, yes Jay Bruce is getting better.

But what’s the genesis of the opinion that Drew Stubbs is getting “better”? He’s been in the big leagues for one year, hit with some pop, struck out a ridiculous amount of times and had a poor average/on base percentage of .255/.329. He’s got speed and is a good outfielder; in the minors, he never hit more than 12 homers and bashed 22 last year. You think he’s going to improve on that? Based on what?

As for Votto’s year being a “start”, you’re asking a lot. Another near Triple Crown/MVP season isn’t fait accompli. He’s a fine player and will put up big numbers, but a “start”? Really?

Obviously you’re a Reds fan and need to look for a few facts, rational inferences and reality of your own before pointing said stick at me.

You can equate the Twins trading Johan Santana in 2008 (and getting nothing in return) as losing their ace and recovering from an “atom sized hole” in their rotation; they nearly made the playoffs.

You can’t make these “season’s over” assertions in February especially with a team that has Albert Pujols in a contract year and Tony La Russa managing it.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright:

The main issue (for me anyway) is that we don’t match up with the Reds, Brewers and Cubs when it comes to 1-2 in the rotation anymore. And, the bigger problem: team morale.

It’s my team. I’m behind them all the way no matter what. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say we aren’t the favorite in the NL Central anymore because of this. We’ll be lucky to be in the hunt after the All-Star break. And MY morale… well, not feeling much of it right now. Still dealing with the shock and everything.

This just blows.

It’s a positive that it happened so early in the spring that they’ll be able to come to grips with it, find alternatives and let it go by the time the season starts.

I wouldn’t worry about the 1-2 matchups—they’re generally overblown and much of the time the pitchers don’t face one another in the games.

I’m low on sympathy after what’s happened to the Mets in recent years. I understand though.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Cardinals and Kevin Millwood:

I watched Millwood in Texas and he’s no slouch. I don’t think he’s a big game pitcher, but he’s a grinder. He’s a durable veteran who does his job.

He may not be suited to be your #1, but the Cards already have one of those. Millwood could slot in nicely behind Carpenter.

People are forgetting about Garcia. He was a rookie and was terrific.

As I said earlier, they could do worse than Kevin Millwood; Dave Duncan is the man who coaxed 18 wins out of Kent Bottenfield. He and La Russa have had their gacks (I’m going to talk about that very thing in an upcoming post), but with a veteran like Millwood, what they’d need is innings and he can definitely deliver those.

Gabriel writes RE the Cardinals and the media:

I think nobody should bag the season without even playing the first game. No one knows how things are going to unravel. The tone of the news reminded me of tabloids, always looking to sell the shocking news instead of presenting objective analysis.

It’s a big loss and a huge story, but it’s not a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Things need to break right for them, but it’s not absurd to believe they can win without Wainwright.

You’re expecting objective analysis? Is there such a thing anymore?

Well, there is here, but elsewhere?

It’s mostly agenda-driven, twisted and self-aggrandizing knee-jerk responses or lame swings at comedy.

These types are looking for attention and, unfortunately, getting it.

Duck And Cover

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

Or cover and duck.

One of those.

Yesterday, in all my roto-innocence, I listed a few names that might help you in your fantasy baseball drafts, picks, trades, acquisitions, wheelings, dealings, healings and feelings.

Today, here are players you should avoid like the plague; or like Jose Canseco when he’s on Twitter and/or off his meds.

If you see these names available? Run.

But the strange part is that while some of them aren’t “numbers” players, they likely have use to their clubs on the field which, in part, proves my point of the need to place stats into their proper context; why being a numbers cruncher does not automatically imply a baseball expertise that takes years of watching, analyzing and participating to be able to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion.

Let’s have a look.

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

If you pick him up during one of his hot streaks, then fine, but too often Upton doesn’t look like he wants to play. He has barely evolved from the 2008 World Series when he grounded into a double play because he wasn’t running hard. Upton plays hard when he feels like it and this is not a positive attribute on the field or stat sheet.

He’ll steal you some bases, hit a homer here and there; but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t get on base. His terrible attitude shows in the numbers if you read between the columns.

Russell Martin, C—New York Yankees

He’s coming off numerous injuries and his offense has declined drastically in the past three years.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

He’s listed as the center fielder on the Red Sox depth chart and even if he’s healthy I think he’s going to share time with Mike Cameron and lose the full-time job by May. If anything, the Red Sox might play him regularly to bolster his trade value.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ellsbury; he’s more of a product of the Red Sox PR machine than actual use on the field; he’s not a good defensive center fielder; he doesn’t hit the ball out of the park; and his stolen bases and triples aren’t worth the trouble of picking him when he’s not going to play regularly and there are many other options available.

Speaking of options available, I forgot to mention Josh Willingham in my list of players to pick up. Grab him. He can hit.

Jose Bautista, INF/OF—Toronto Blue Jays

This has nothing to do with any allegations of impropriety on his part to achieve the *absurd* heights he did last season. We don’t know whether it was due to the first chance he’s gotten to play every day; the approach advocated by Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to look for a fastball and try to hit it into space; illicit means; or a fluke.

No.

He’ll be very expensive because people will recognize his name and while I do think he’ll hit his homers (I’ll say 30+), he’s not worth the presumptive cost.

J.J. Hardy, SS—Baltimore Orioles

Hardy’s never gotten on base at an impressive rate and he’s been injured and awful  in the past two years. He’s a good fielder, but I don’t think you get credit for that in your fantasy leagues.

In reality, he’s a giant upgrade from Cesar Izturis for the Orioles, but because what a club now has is better than what they had previously, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily “good”.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

I’m sure there will be those who look at his 17 wins last season and say, “well, he won 17 games,” but I wouldn’t touch him.

I’m cognizant of the “relaxation factor” where he’ll have his contract in hand and want to go to the beach. I doubt that’s going to happen again, but I didn’t expect the ludicrousness of his time with the Yankees; nor did I expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make an offer to bring him back(?!?).

With Pavano, there’s a vortex of unreality that I want no part of. If you get sucked into someone else’s madness, it infects you fast.

And his numbers, apart from the wins and innings, were not impressive. The Twins defense is worse than last year and, as a club, they’ve got some major issues.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Chicago White Sox

Here is the epitome of a player you want on your team when you’re actually playing the game of baseball, but do not want in a fantasy league.

Buehrle is the guy you want at your back in a dark alley. If White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walks up to him and says, “we need a compete game from you today,” or, in Ozzie-speak, “Compleh gah today babeh, huh?” Buehrle would not question nor complain; he’d stay on the mound for 140 pitches and if he allowed 10+ runs; he wouldn’t worry about how it blew up his ERA or hits/innings pitched ratio because it helps his team.

If you do pick him up, you have to be lucky in getting a “good Buehrle” day as opposed to “bad Buehrle”. The good one pitches a perfect game; the bad one gives up 7 runs in the first inning.

Stats do not adequately define a player and Buehrle is proof of that.

Grady Sizemore, CF—Cleveland Indians

People might remember what he was before micro-fracture surgery and he’ll be in demand; I’d expect absolutely nothing and wouldn’t waste my time.

The one saving grace is the fear that he won’t be able to come back and his availability/upside—it depends on whether he’s cheap or not.

Brandon Webb, RHP—Texas Rangers

More name recognition and remembrances of greatness; considering that he’s missed two years and his fastball was reportedly puttering in at 82-mph last summer, he’s going to be picked because he’s known for what he was.

There’s a big difference between a bowling ball sinker at 90+ and at 84; and he’s pitching in Texas in a ballpark highly conducive to hitters.

Carlos Ruiz, C—Philadelphia Phillies

A career .260 hitter batting .302 with a .400 on base? Are you buying that? I’m not.

Craig Kimbrel, LHP—Atlanta Braves

Because he racks up the strikeouts and has been anointed as the Braves closer entering spring training, he’ll attract interest; he has has trouble throwing strikes and will be closing for a team with playoff expectations. He’s only 23.

It’s a shaky combination.

I have no clue how it works with 40-man rosters and fantasy drafts, but here’s what I would do if he’s available—take Billy Wagner.

He’s still on the Braves 40-man. Pick him late and hope he possibly comes back at mid-season.

Angel Pagan, OF—New York Mets

I’m hesitant to believe in a player when he has his first full season as a regular and puts up the numbers Pagan did last season; plus he’s got a history of injuries that can’t be ignored—that would be my biggest concern.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

How is he going to fare as the focal point? As the highest paid player? With a long-term contract in hand?

Out of the cocoon of the Phillies lineup and into the wasteland of Washington, I wonder whether he’s going to fall on his face.

Probably not, but if you think you’re getting huge numbers from him, think again.

Scott Rolen, 3B—Cincinnati Reds

At age 36 and after two mostly healthy seasons, he’s due for an injury.

Zack Greinke, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

Amid all the talk that a move to the National League will inspire a Roy Halladay-style dominance, it has to be remembered that mentally, Greinke is no Halladay.

Having taken time to learn to deal with high expectations pitching for a team with no chance at contention with the Royals, how’s he going to react as he’s picked to win the Cy Young Award and an entire organization is pinning their hopes for contention on him?

Brett Myers, RHP—Houston Astros

He was excellent last season and got paid.

That’s what worries me.

He’s emotional and has had injury issues in recent years; the Astros defense is awful and Myers is a contact pitcher.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Since you don’t know which Zambrano is going to show up, he’s a dart flung at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.

There will be those who believe his renaissance in September is a portent of turning the corner, but how many times has that been said of Zambrano?

I’ll believe it when I see it…and still be dubious after I see it.

Brian Wilson, RHP—San Francisco Giants

Tim Kurkjian wrote an article for ESPN that looked into the workloads of pitchers in the post-season and their results in the following season—link.

I haven’t torn it apart yet (I intend to), but after a quick glance, it’s a simplistic and broad-based way of analysis.

But one pitcher for whom it might be a problem is Giants closer Brian Wilson.

He’s tough, durable and willing to take the ball whenever, wherever and for however long he’s needed. The aftereffects of the long playoff run and intense innings are cumulative and the slightest downgrade in Wilson’s velocity/movement will give the hitters that extra split second to react to his power pitches; plus his control might not be as good.

It’s imperceptible but real.

Jason Bartlett, SS—San Diego Padres

People think he can hit after his 2009 career year, but he’s moving into a rotten lineup and a giant ballpark. He is what he is as a hitter and that’s not much.

Cameron Maybin, CF—San Diego Padres

With Maybin, you’re waiting until his rough edges are smoothed; he’ll be a good player one day, he’s not yet. Horribly inconsistent, strikeout prone and still learning the game, Maybin has a lot of expectations in his third big league stop and that’s a bad combination for a young player.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was impressive for the Diamondbacks last season and let his pitching do the talking as opposed to the constant yapping, tweaking and ignoring he did with the Yankees. Away from the hype and in an atmosphere with limited expectations, he pitched well.

It’s still not enough to take a chance on him yet. He’s the type to think he’s “made” it and relax. This is not good.

Buyer beware.

I’ll do the mail tomorrow.