Monday, September 29, 2008
I just submitted my vote for Coke. It wasn't an easy choice, especially considering Aceves pitched twice as many innings, in a completely different role, as Coke. But, in the end, I have to say that Aceves looks promising, but I'm very excited about Coke. With a 7-to-5 advantage and the poll about to close in less than an hour and a half, it looks like the consensus is that he's the Yankees' top pure rookie.
The first game of Sunday's doubleheader was the deciding factor as far as I'm concerned. Personally, I was surprised that Girardi took Mike Mussina out of his potential 20th win after 6 innings, and just 73 pitches. But, when Coke pitched the 7th and blew away Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew enroute to a 13-pitch 1-2-3 inning, I no longer questioned the decision. Then, of course, Joba Chamberlain faltered in the 8th and had to be bailed out by Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte and Mariano Rivera. This further emphasized what an impressive performance it was by Coke, in the only game that still mattered for the Yankees this year.
Aceves ends the season with an impressive 2.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .227 opponents' batting average in 30 IP. But, a few deeper statistics indicate that there's reason to be cautiously optimistic. With just 16 strikeouts, his 4.8 K/9 IP rate is below average, and although his control is above average (3 BB/9 IP), his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.6 is unimpressive. The league average is 2, and when I'm looking for a pitcher who I think is going to be dominant, I look for a ratio closer to 2.5 or better. I also look for a pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard, and his 4 HR (1.2 per 9 IP) allowed is a little worse than average. This is not necessarily cause for concern, but it's nothing to be excited about either.
Coke's statistics need to be evaluated on a somewhat different scale, because of a relief pitcher's inherent advantage of throwing only an inning or two at a time. However, there's really no downside to his September performance. I'll start with his 0.66 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and .160 opponents' batting average in 14 2/3 IP. Looking beyond those statistics, though, it gets even better. With a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (14 SO, 2 BB) and just 8 hits and no home runs allowed, I am absolutely hooked, and looking forward to another fix next season.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I've previously discussed my fascination with ranking the greatest concert double-bill I've ever seen. Well, last night's show at the Orpheum would have to be a serious candidate for the best triple-bill ever. The only other one that comes to mind that could even compete is this past summer's R.E.M., Modest Mouse and The National concert. That show featured two of 2007's top 5 album of the year honorees, as the opening acts, and a headliner that received some consideration for my Fab 40 list. Last night's show included one Fab 40 artist, one that was a finalist, but just missed the cut, and the cult favorite whose public profile was significantly increased by Kurt Cobain's reverence for them in the early 90s.
The latter band, of course, is the Meat Puppets. I definitely was on the list of people who developed a fascination with them following their guest appearance on Nirvana's Unplugged in New York. Last night, I just hoped to hear "Plateau" and "Lake of Fire", and I got just what I wished for, with "Up on the Sun" thrown in as a bonus. The Kirkwood brothers played a nice set, although the sound left a little to be desired.
Dinosaur Jr.'s set gave me an increased appreciation for Lou Barlow, someone I've never been a big fan of. He definitely embraced the role of band spokesperson, twice yelling into the microphone "We're from Massachusetts!", as if we needed to be told that, and displayed enough on-stage energy to make up for J Mascis' complete lack of it. Not surprisingly, theirs was the loudest set of all, but much more bearable in comparison to a Middle East show I attended in the late-90s. In addition to being the most ear-bleeding set, Dinosaur's was also my favorite of the night, highlighted by fine renditions of "The Wagon" and "Freak Scene".
The theme of Built to Spill's current tour is that they're playing 1997's Perfect from Now On in its entirety. An excellent concept, although my preference would have been for 1999's Keep it Like a Secret. Last night's set certainly started out strong, but as it wore on, it became very clear that I was right. While Perfect is still my second favorite BTS album, it eventually begins to drag a little, which can make for a somewhat boring live show. While I have nothing against the extended jamming that they sometimes have a tendency to get lost in, I would have preferred to hear them wrapped around Secret's more accessible songs. The show closed on a high note, though, with their defining moment, the youthfully philosophical "Car", and after more than 3 1/2 hours of indie bliss, it was time to call it a night.
My only complaint is that there's no byline, just a link to "Read more from this blogger", which links to the article as it appears on Seamheads.com. It would've been nice if the Sun-Times actually attributed the piece to my name. Maybe they didn't want to turn me into persona non grata in Boston for actually suggesting that the award should go to someone other than Dustin Pedroia, the MVP of about one month of the Red Sox season. Still, it's pretty exciting to see my work in such a major newspaper.
Meanwhile, Morneau went 2-for-15 during the Twins' recent four-game winning streak, including their sweep of the White Sox that moved them into first place. He's 1-for-9 in their two losses since that mini-winning streak, as the Twins and White Sox act like they're both scared of having to play the Rays in the opening round of the AL playoffs. Morneau also has one RBI since September 17, and he's 10-for-50 with 5 RBI (4 of them in the first three games) since I posted that article here. Sorry Justin, I guess I jinxed you.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Aceves started the game, pitching 4 innings, and giving 4 runs on 5 hits and a career-high 4 walks. The major damage came on first-inning home runs to Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis. Still, the Yankees led 13-4 when he was pulled after a second rain delay, costing him a chance for his second major league win. Coke relieved Aceves after the rain delay and pitched 2 innings, allowing his first major league run on 4 hits, while striking out 2.
Aceves has now pitched 30 innings, and is 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA. He's allowed 8 runs on 25 hits, while walking 10 and striking out 16. Probably done for the season after last night's start, he certainly has earned the opportunity to be considered for next year's starting rotation. Coke is 1-0 with a 0.66 ERA, allowing one run on 8 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 12 in 13 2/3 innings. He has most likely earned at least a role in the Yankees' bullpen for next year.
Coke leads the poll, which closes Monday night at midnight, by a slim 6-5 margin, with one vote for Brett Gardner as well. Incidentally, Gardner was 2-for-6 with 4 RBI last night, while another Yankees rookie, David Robertson, out-pitched both Coke and Aceves, earning the win by throwing 2 scoreless innings, striking out 3, and allowing just one hit.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
- Chicago Cubs vs. Tampa Bay Rays
What could be more interesting than a matchup of the two teams that, for very different reasons, might be thought of as the least likely to reach, let alone win, the World Series? Obviously, the Cubs are far from a dark horse, but everyone knows their story. That is, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the last time they won it all, the longest streak of futility among major league franchises. The Rays, of course, are the only current team never to even make the playoffs. In fact, prior to this season, their best record was their 2004 mark of 70-91 (.435). This is only their 11th year of existence, but the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that entered the league in the same year as Tampa Bay, have already won a World Series. Even worse, as far as the Rays are concerned, their counterparts in the sunshine state, the Florida Marlins, have been crowned champions of baseball twice in their brief 15 year existence.
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox
This matchup would feature Joe Torre in his first post-season matchup versus the Red Sox since 2004, getting the chance to enact a certain measure of revenge. Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra, the two malcontents run out of town, make their return to Fenway Park in games that couldn't possibly be more meaningful. Derek Lowe gets a chance to prove Boston management wrong for not bringing him back after winning three series clinching games in the 2004 post-season. Casey Blake gets another shot at the Sox after his Indians blew a 3-games-to-1 lead to them in last year's ALCS. Alright, so that part isn't such a big deal, but I happen to be a pretty big Blake fan, for some reason.
- Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox
What could be better than a Windy City World Series? The only time these two teams met in the Series, it was 1906, a season in which the Cubs posted a .763 winning percentage, at 116-36. The White Sox batted .230 as a team that year, and went into the Series as a huge underdog, but defeated the Cubs 4 games to 2. The Cubs went on to dominate the Detroit Tigers in the two Series that followed, but haven't won it all since, losing 7 Fall Classics between 1910 and their last appearance in 1945. Could the 100th anniversary of the Cubs last World Series victory be the year that they finally get this monkey off their back, and could they do it against their crosstown rivals? Or, could the South Siders contribute to the misery of Cubs fans by winning their second Series in four years at the expense of their North Side brethren?
- New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox
Possibly the greatest postseason in my lifetime was 1986. The Astros-Mets NLCS matchup was riveting, with Mike Scott almost single-handedly pitching his team past the highly favored Mets, the team that, along with the 1975 Reds, won more games than any National League team since the 1906 Cubs. The ALCS was highlighted by Dave Henderson's heroics and the Red Sox overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit to defeat the California Angels. Of course, everyone knows what happened in Game 6 of the World Series that year. That is, what Vin Scully referred to as "...a delirious 10th inning". As a Yankees fan and typical New Yorker, I rooted for the Red Sox in that Series, but it was more because I was rooting against the Mets. Now, as a Yankees fan living in Boston, I'd be pulling for the Mets, which probably means that the Sox will win in some memorably dramatic fashion.
- Milwaukee Brewers vs. Minnesota Twins
What would we call this, the I-94 Series? I know what the networks would be calling it: a ratings disaster. Why would I prefer this over an all-Los Angeles matchup between the Dodgers and Angels? Well, first of all, I don't need to tell you that the Angels don't actually play in Los Angeles, but let me answer that question with a question. Do either of these teams even sell out their home ballparks? I suppose they do, and actually I know that the Twins don't, but a Southern California series couldn't possibly compare to an all-New York or all-Chicago series. So, it really doesn't have any appeal to me. Twins-Brewers, though, would be a showdown for the ages. Also, it would be the third season in my lifetime (and this decade) that I visited the home parks of both World Series entrants. Can anyone venture a guess as to what the other two years were?
Of course, I left out the obvious one. But, do I really need to explain why Cubs-Red Sox would be an exciting matchup? Also, my apologies to the Angels and Phillies. It's not that I don't consider these teams interesting, it's just that I don't see any compelling drama in any Series involving either of them. That said, the Angels are still my pick to win it all.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Phil Coke has made two appearances since the last update. On Wednesday night, he pitched two strong innings, allowing only a hit, in the Yankees' 5-1 win over the White Sox. On Friday, he chipped in 2/3 of an inning, walking one, in a game in which he was one of three relievers to record strikeouts for every out they were credited with. Brian Bruney (2/3 IP, 2 SO) and Joba Chamberlain (1 IP, 3 SO) were the others. The Yankees won that game as well, 3-2 over the Orioles. For the season, Coke has now thrown 10 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8.
Since I started the poll, three more Yankees have made their major league debuts, all on September 18:
- Juan Miranda started at first base and batted four times, going 0-for-2, with 2 walks and a strikeout.
- Humberto Sanchez pitched a scoreless 8th inning in relief, allowing no baserunners and striking out one.
- Francisco Cervelli came in as a defensive replacement for Jose Molina, also in the 8th, catching one inning from Sanchez and one from Chris Britton.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I've said this before, but I'm now more convinced than ever that, once an act reaches a certain level of popularity, they're no longer worth seeing. That is, unless they're Neil Young, of course. I felt like I was at Fenway Park with the steady stream of people getting up and down from their seats, climbing over me as they worked their way to the end of the row. This was in stark contrast to the Orpheum show, which felt about as close to a night at the opera as one can get at a rock concert.
Then there was the guy sitting in the row behind me, who asked if the opening act, a decent but fairly boring band called Parachutes, was Sigur Rós. When told no, his response of "Are we sure?" was curious, considering when Sigur Rós did take the stage, he seemed to know the name of every song. His attempt at pronouncing them was quite amusing though, not that I would claim to know how. It's just that, I'm willing to admit that I have no idea how to say "Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur". Of course, the fact that I even had to listen to this annoying banter is further evidence that the "lowest common denominator" theory was in full effect at this show.
All in all, the show wasn't really disappointing, but the bar was set pretty high with the last one. They played a nice mix of their older and darker material, such as a couple of excellent choices from ( ), as well as a healthy dose of songs from the newer and brighter Takk... and Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. However, if I have any advice to offer, it's that you have to check them out at somewhere like the United Palace Theater in New York, where they played the two previous nights.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
First, let me say that this doesn't apply to me as much as I suspect it does to many others. I love the season's stretch run and October baseball, whether my team's in it or not. Don't get me wrong, it's more exciting when they are involved, but more stressful as well. So, I offer these suggestions as my short list of what Yankees fans still have to root for this year.
- Mike Mussina's quest for the first 20-win season of his career. As I write this, he looks to be in position for win #18 tonight, as the Yankees lead the White Sox 9-1 in the top of the 6th. I have to believe that, if he wins tonight, the Yanks will skip over Phil Hughes' next turn in the rotation, and let Moose pitch on the 23rd and then on the 28th, the season's final day. Mussina's comeback season has greatly improved his Hall of Fame credentials, and if he truly has reinvented himself a la Greg Maddux, he might not even need that 20-win season to secure his place in Cooperstown.
- The emergence of young pitchers Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke, both of whom have been nothing short of impressive since their recent callups. Aceves, who joined the team on August 28, has a 1.80 ERA, and has allowed 15 hits and just 3 walks, while striking out 12, in 20 innings, including earning the win in his first major league start. Coke, a September 1 callup, has pitched 10 innings in 7 relief appearances, and has been virtually untouchable, allowing no runs on just 3 hits and a walk, while striking out 6.
- Most importantly, Yankees fans can pray that their team is not eliminated from playoff contention in the final game played at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. With three Red Sox games and three Yankees games, including tonight's, between now and then, a combination of two Boston wins and New York losses could put them in the unfortunate position of needing to win that night to prevent the worst from happening. Being eliminated before that game would even be preferable to that scenario.
- Finally, of course, there's rooting against the Red Sox. While this sounds simple, I'm not talking about just rooting for a first round playoff exit. As difficult as this sounds, I challenge Yankees fans to actually pull for the Red Sox to reach the World Series, only to lose to Joe Torre's Dodgers, powered by Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. If not the Dodgers, the Sox could fall to the Mets in some kind of approximation of the 1986 World Series, or make history by being the team to fall to the Cubs in their first Series victory in 100 years.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Regardless, I'm excited about this opportunity, and believe it will be beneficial to my amateur writing "career". I'll continue to write regularly here as well, though, so don't be expecting me to slack off. I also want to say thanks to Joe Williams for sending me the info on the Seamheads search for new writers.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Alfredo Aceves started tonight's game, and pitched well in a no-decision, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out three over six innings. For the season, he's now 1-0, with a 1.80 ERA, over 20 IP, allowing 15 H, 3 BB and 2 HR, to go with 12 SO.
It's a tough call between these two right now. Obviously, Coke's numbers are more dominating, but Aceves has been impressive over 20 innings, including two very good starts, to just 8 IP for Coke. Most importantly, though, Coke is leading the voting 4-3.
That year, I also handed out Charles Simone's first "annual" Babe Ruth Awards to Albert Pujols in the NL and David Ortiz in the AL. Then, of course, I completely forgot about it and failed to honor anyone last year. So, as silly as this seems right now, I'll give Charles Simone's 2007 Babe Ruth Awards to Matt Holliday in the NL and Alex Rodriguez in the AL. I'll try to remember to announce this year's awards in a somewhat more timely fashion.
The title of this post, however, is about Justin Morneau's 2008 MVP candidacy. I've mentioned this a few times already, in this blog as well as a couple of comments I've made on Casey's Clipboard. I'm more convinced now than I've ever been that Morneau is hands-down the leading candidate for the American League's Most Valuable Player award. Let's take a look at my main arguments for this.
First, I'm a major advocate that the MVP should come from a team that was a playoff contender. There are some circumstances where I might consider making an exception, but none of those apply this year. So, I'll start with the fact that Morneau is tied for the AL lead in RBI with 124, and his co-leader, Josh Hamilton, plays for a Texas Rangers team that is 15 1/2 games out in the wild card race, and 19 1/2 games behind the West division leading "Los Angeles" Angels. Hamilton, also, has considerably cooled off since the all-star break, driving in just 29 runs in 51 games, while Morneau has produced 56 RBI in 54 games over the same time frame. Additionally, the next highest total by any player on a team within 10 games of sniffing the playoffs is Kevin Youkilis' 102, 22 fewer than Morneau's total.
Not that I need to, but let's take a closer look at the Morneau-Youkilis comparison. Obviously, having teammates who reach base is a very important factor in a player's RBI total. The Twins, as a team, are 5th in the American League with a .340 OBP, while the Red Sox lead the league in that category at .360. Taking this a step further, the three players who have most commonly batted in the 1-2-3 positions in the Twins order (i.e. in front of Morneau) are Carlos Gomez (.292 OBP), Alexi Casilla (.337) and Joe Mauer (.409). If you simply calculate the average of these three, it's .346, still considerably lower than the Red Sox team average. Not very scientific I realize, but I still think it supports my point that Morneau is producing big-time RBI numbers surrounded by a mediocre supporting cast.
While we're still on the subject of supporting cast, the hitters who have provided protection in the lineup for Morneau are no more impressive. Michael Cuddyer, the most common batter in the 5th spot in the order for Minnesota, has a slugging percentage of .377 and an OPS of .703, significantly below the league averages of .420 and .755, respectively. Jason Kubel, he of the second most at-bats in the spot behind Morneau, has slugged a solid .464 with a .805 OPS. Still, it's safe to say that the hybrid of these two players is an average American League hitter, hardly the type that is needed to ensure that opposing teams need to pitch to an offensive threat such as Morneau. The fact that Morneau is tied for the AL lead in intentional walks, with 15, backs up my point that he's not seeing as many good pitches to hit as other players with stronger lineup protection behind them, particularly those on loaded offensive teams.
But, obviously, I'm not making the case for Morneau based on just one statistical category. He's scored 92 runs, and his simplistic runs produced (HR + R - HR) total of 193 is tops in the league. He's also hitting .312 (7th in AL), with 44 2B (6th), a .386 OBP (6th) and a .526 slugging percentage (9th).
I think I've made a pretty good case that Morneau's RBI total is truly relevant. I've also addressed the opinion that RBI is an over-rated statistic by showing that he's racked up more than impressive numbers while at a slight disadvantage to players on more balanced offensive teams. However, it's when I dig further and look at the true SABRmetric categories, those that don't depend on the performance of teammates, that my case is really reinforced.
If I'm going to use SABRmetric statistics, they need to have park and league adjustments built in, and the two best categories that fit the bill are Adjusted OPS+ (On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage, adjusted to account for park and league factors) and Adjusted Batting Runs (the number of runs the player's production contributed to above that of a league average player, also adjusted for park factor). Morneau is 5th in the league in Adjusted OPS+, with only players from non-contenders (Milton Bradley, Alex Rodriguez, Aubrey Huff) and Carlos Quentin of the White Sox ahead of him. I'll address the Morneau vs. Quentin comparison later.
Morneau looks even better when Adjusted Batting Runs is used. He trails only Milton Bradley and Alex Rodriguez there. Bradley, despite ranking first in both of these categories, not only plays for a sub-.500 Texas Rangers team, but just hasn't produced enough actual runs to warrant consideration (74 runs, 74 RBI). Rodriguez has had a good year, although he's been booed almost incessantly in New York based on the perception that he hasn't come through in the clutch this year. Regardless of whether or not that's fair, he just hasn't done enough for an underachieving Yankees team to be a candidate for MVP.
Check out baseball-reference.com's 2008 American League Expanded Leaderboards to take a look at the statistics I've referred to here. For a better explanation of what these statistics mean, see their Batting Stats Glossary.
Since I previously referred to my personal preference of giving the award only to players on teams that at least were in contention for the playoffs, I should take a look at the other leading candidates from each of those teams. I'm really only considering five teams here: the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. The Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees are the only other teams above .500, and while both teams were considered playoff contenders at times this season, the Blue Jays, given their late push for the postseason that appears to be coming up short, would be the only of those two for whom I'd consider a candidate. However, that candidate would have to be pretty exceptional, and while Roy Halladay has had an excellent year, I don't think it's been good enough to warrant serious consideration. The Yankees were major underachievers, so I would find it hard to justify any player on that team being considered most valuable.
So, that leaves the five contenders, one of which, the Twins or White Sox, will be left out of postseason action. But, that doesn't matter, as a team remaining in the race until the last half of September is a championship contender. During the stretch run, they're simply playing for the right to advance to the next round. Let's look at the candidates from each of these teams.
Tampa Bay is one of those teams from which it would be difficult to choose who has been their most valuable player, let alone the league's. Many have suggested that it's Evan Longoria, but he's just returned from missing an entire month, doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the lead in any of the average categories, and doesn't lead the team in any significant cumulative categories. James Shields is their most valuable pitcher, but he's hardly an MVP candidate.
For Chicago, Carlos Quentin was once considered the league's leading MVP candidate, but he's out for the final month of the season, and that's reason enough to eliminate him from consideration, especially for a team that is still fighting for a playoff spot. Jermaine Dye has had a very good season as well, but he's still overshadowed by Quentin on his own team. The pitching staff has been solid, but there are no exceptional performers there.
The Los Angeles Angels have the best record in the American League, and have had the easiest road to the playoffs, clinching the division title earlier than any AL West team in history. Their most valuable player would have to be Francisco Rodriguez, but, despite breaking the all-time single season saves record, his season is statistically inferior to several other AL closers, including Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Joakim Soria and Jonathan Papelbon.
Among Morneau's own teammates, Joe Mauer has had a very good year (.322, 8 HR, 73 RBI), but his season pales in comparison to Morneau's. Joe Nathan has also been impressive, but a closer would have to be truly exceptional to earn my MVP vote, and Nathan comes up short of that distinction.
That leaves the Red Sox, and I saved them for last for a reason. They have who I consider to be the two most compelling candidates other than Morneau. The Boston media and fans have been trumpeting the candidacy of Dustin Pedroia of late, but it was just a few weeks ago that their man was Kevin Youkilis. Personally, I still think Youkilis is a stronger candidate, although it's hard to ignore the post-all star break numbers of Pedroia. I've already made the case for Morneau over Youkilis, though, and Morneau's second-half production compares favorably to Pedroia's. But, most importantly, the fact that the Red Sox have two strong candidates further supports my point that Morneau is easily more valuable to his team than either of those players, especially considering J.D. Drew was their first-half MVP.
With that, I rest my case, and welcome anyone to share their opinion with me on this subject, even if you disagree...in which case you'd be wrong.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Aceves took a huge step forward last night, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits in 7 innings to earn his first major league win, in his first major league start, so I find it interesting that Coke received his second vote last night to pull even with him. Since the game was a late starter on the west coast, I'll cut whomever cast that vote some slack...unless it was Lee, of course.
Coke and Aceves were both born in 1982 (Coke has already turned 26, Aceves will later this year), but they took two completely different routes to reach the major leagues.
Coke was drafted in the 26th round by the Yankees in 2002. He's worked his way through their system since, posting a 26-21 record, 3.61 ERA, and 413 SO to 163 BB in 495 2/3 minor league innings. Until moving up to AAA this season, he was primarily a starting pitcher, but the Yankees have been using him in relief.
Aceves pitched for six seasons in the Mexican League until he was signed by the Yankees this off-season. At three different minor league levels this year, he posted an 8-6 record, 2.62 ERA, and 114 SO to just 27 BB in 140 2/3 minor league innings, primarily as a starter.
After today's brief appearance by Coke, here's how they stack up, with 16 games to go:
Phil Coke - 2 votes (4 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 3 SO, 1 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 0.23 WHIP)
Alfredo Aceves - 2 votes (14 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1 HR, 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP)
I'll wait until the end of the season to cast my vote. This and Mike Mussina's quest for his first 20-win season are pretty much all we Yankees fans have left to be excited about this season.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I discovered Sirius radio in the car I rented on my recent baseball park tour of the midwest. "Left of Center", the indie rock station, seemed to be the best I could find, but just like every top 40, alternative and classic rock station I know, they had a fairly repetitive playlist. So, of course, they played the new Bloc Party single, "Mercury", quite a few times. The DJ raved about the song and expressed her excitement about their upcoming album. I wasn't quite as impressed with that particular song, but there are quite a few others that have really grabbed me, especially the closing track, "Ion Square". This album, a digital-only release until October 28, feels a little less plaintive than last year's A Weekend in the City, but maybe that's because there are more songs on which it's easier to ignore the lyrics. There is no "I Still Remember" here, but the album certainly measures up to their prior efforts.
Blue Mountain - Omnibus
Two-thirds of this alt-country trio from Oxford, Mississippi were the husband and wife team of Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt, until their marriage fell apart circa 2001. They struggled to stay together musically, but eventually the band broke up as well. This year, though, they've reunited...as a band, not a couple, as far as I know. The result is two new albums: Omnibus, a collection of re-worked versions of their greatest hits; and Midnight in Mississippi, their first album of newly written material in nine years. The updated songs on Omnibus are just different enough to sound fresh, but familiar enough to evoke a few pleasant memories of this band's heyday. I can't complain at all about the song selection either, as all the essential tracks are here, including "Soul Sister", "Generic America" and "Mountain Girl", although I may have selected a slightly different set of deeper cuts.
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne and Brian Eno worked together plenty in the late 70s and early 80s. Eno produced three albums for the Talking Heads from 1978 to 1980, and he also played various instruments on those albums as well. They also teamed up for 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which is credited to Brian Eno/David Byrne. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, though, is their first collaboration in the 27 years that have passed since. I have to say that this one can be a little hit or miss. There are some songs here that I absolutely love, but a couple that are emerging as candidates to be skipped over, particularly the last two, which I suppose means they don't really have to be skipped. On the album's first track, "Home", Byrne sounds even more welcoming than he does on my favorite Talking Heads song, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)", although no song moves me quite like the latter. Other standout tracks include "Strange Overtones", "Wanted for Life" and "Everything That Happens", the song that best fits the duo's description of the album as "electronic gospel". There's very little here that sounds as quirky or experimental as these two rock veterans' prior work. For the most part, though, this album is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Jennifer O'Connor - Here With Me
Of course, I love this photo of Jennifer O'Connor. Apparently, she's from the "better" half of Connecticut, with no offense intended to my friends from the eastern side of the Constitution State. I hope allmusic doesn't mind that I grabbed this image from their site. After all, I do tout their site by frequently linking to it (see also "Current Oldies"). Here With Me, Jennifer's latest, is even better than 2006's well-received Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars, in my opinion. It's a mellower affair, which runs the risk of venturing too closely to standard singer-songwriter territory, but the songs are so well written that that's never really a concern. Highlights include "Always in Your Mind", "Credit in the Cost" and "Highway Miles", but mostly this is a very consistent album without a bad moment from start to finish.
The Walkmen - You & Me
Earlier this year, I made reference to The Walkmen in touting Vampire Weekend's debut album. There was something about the guitars on some of the more upbeat songs on that record that reminded me of tracks like "The Rat" and "The North Pole", from Bows + Arrows. Maybe I was way off base with that comparison, but most of the resemblance to the rocking side of The Walkmen is absent here. Their trademark reverbed guitar sound is still present, but there's a much more somber tone than usual, even for a band that's never been accused of being happy. The standout tracks on You & Me , "In the New Year", "I Lost You" and "If Only it Were True" might not quite approach the highs of Bows + Arrows, but this may just be their most consistent album to date.
Wild Sweet Orange - We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
I read about this band when the Boston Phoenix did their 50 Bands, 50 States feature. They were The Phoenix's pick as the Alabama "band you need to hear, like, now". The album's opener, "Ten Dead Dogs" begins with the lyrics, "I saw ten dead dogs on the side of the road...", blatantly playing into the hands of every uninformed country music detractor. There's far more to this record, which I like to call alt-country with a side of indie rock, than trite country phrasing. That Boston Phoenix feature described them as "More polite (and literary) than Kings of Leon...", and I have to admit that the lyrical refrain of "Tilt" kind of gets to me, and not necessarily in a good way. It's a great song, though, and this is a very good album, one that seems to be continuing to grow on me with each listen.
Blue Mountain - Midnight in Mississippi
Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
Death Vessel - Nothing is Precious Enough for Us
The Music Tapes - For Clouds and Tornadoes
Sunday, September 07, 2008
We had intended to remain as true to the traditional style as possible, with a few minor adjustments, of course, but a couple factors caused us to have to improvise a little more than expected. First, due to the worldwide hop shortage, we were unable to obtain Perle hops, a German variety, from our local homebrew shop, and instead opted for the closest American equivalent, Sterling, based on a store recommendation. Second, because of our inability to utilize lager yeast at its preferred chilled temperature, we decided to go with a German Ale/Kolsch variety.
I've decided to share the recipe, sans our "secret ingredient", which was my apprentice's idea. For various reasons, though, the jury is still out on this one.
6.6 lbs. Light Malt Extract
1 lb. 2-Row Pale Malt
1 lb. Munich Malt
1 lb. Crystal Malt (40L)
1 oz. Sterling Hops (6% alpha acid), for bittering
1 oz. Hallertau Hops (2.4%), for flavoring
1 oz. Hallertau hops (2.4%), for aroma
1/2 tsp. Irish Moss
German Ale/Kolsch Yeast
To produce a 5-gallon batch, we heated 1 1/2 gallons of water in the brewpot, then steeped the grains (2-Row, Munich and Crystal malts) at 160-170 degrees for 20 minutes. After removing and discarding the grains, we brought the pot to a boil, then added the malt extract, and returned it to a boil.
We boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding the Sterling (bittering) hops for the entire boil, the Hallertau (flavoring) hops for 30 minutes, and the Hallertau (aroma) hops, the Irish Moss and the secret ingredient for 15 minutes.
After cooling the wort to about 160 degrees, we strained it into the fermenter, and added close to 4 gallons of Poland Spring Water, just enough to bring the batch to 5 gallons total. We then took an original gravity reading, pitched the yeast, stirred gently and sealed the fermenter.
We were disappointed that the original gravity reading was only 1.044, giving our brew a projected alcohol content of 4.2%, quite lower than we expected. I'm not sure why, considering the recipe was projected to reach a 1.065 O.G. and 7% ABV. Regardless, we're optimistically awaiting fermentation to begin, and fairly confident that we've produced another batch of fine ale, albeit one that may not be quite as deserving of its name as our 21st Century Schizoid Ale.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Up From the Valley (Part 1)
Up From the Valley (Part 2)
Matt Diaz (1999)
Matt Diaz was drafted by the Devil Rays in 1999, and played that season with Hudson Valley. He worked his way gradually through the organization's system and, after hitting .383 at AA Orlando and .328 at AAA Durham in 2003, was promoted to Tampa Bay. However, he didn't get much of a chance at the major league level, with a total of only 30 at bats between 2003 and 2004. Despite batting .332, with 21 HR and 93 RBI at Durham in 2004, he was released by Tampa Bay in the off-season.
He was subsequently signed by Kansas City and played most of 2005 at AAA Omaha, batting .371, with 14 HR and 56 RBI in 259 at bats. Still, he was traded in the off-season to the Atlanta Braves. It was with the Braves that he was finally given the opportunity to prove himself at the major league level. Between 2006 and 2007, as a platoon left fielder, he batted .333 with 19 HR, 81 runs and 77 RBI in 655 at bats.
His 2008 season has been marred by injury, though, as he's been out for three months with a left knee injury. Despite this, his career numbers (.310, 23 HR, 102 runs, 103 RBI in 906 at bats) are solid enough to expect that he should be able to return and continue a productive career as a platoon outfielder.
Josh Hamilton (1999)
By now, everyone knows the Josh Hamilton story: first-round draft pick (#1 overall) of the Devil Rays in 1999, after which he began his ascent through the organization, including helping to lead the Renegades to their first New York-Penn League championship in his first professional season. He actually batted only .194 in 72 AB with Hudson Valley that year. Still, his progression through the minors continued until injuries and drug problems put his career on hold following the 2002 season.
He was out of baseball from 2003 until his reinstatement from drug suspension in 2006. That year, he made a brief appearance with Hudson Valley again, but batted .260 and slugged only .360, with 0 HR in 50 at bats.
In the off-season following 2006, he was left unprotected by Tampa Bay and was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs, who subsequently sold his rights to the Cincinnati Reds. Since the Rule 5 draft requires the selected player to remain on the team's major league roster for an entire season, this turned out to be Hamilton's big break. Injuries to other Reds outfielders paved the way for him to earn considerable playing time, but his own injuries also limited him to 90 games and 298 at bats. He made the most of those at bats, though, hitting .292 with 19 HR and 47 RBI.
Cincinnati traded him in the off-season to the Texas Rangers, for Edinson Volquez, in a deal that's turned out well for both teams, with both players selected to play in the 2008 All-Star Game. So far this season, Hamilton has batted .301, with 31 HR and a major-league leading 121 RBI, and has emerged as a candidate for American League Most Valuable Player, despite playing for a team with a losing record. It may be a little early to say, but it appears he may be emerging as the tremendous player he was projected to be when drafted, and quite possibly one of the best in the game.
James Shields (2001)
Jamie Shields, as he was then called, was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2000, and played for the Renegades briefly in 2001. After a strong first professional season, injuries and ineffectiveness slowed his progress for the next few years.
Shields turned things around in 2005, though, posting a 2.80 ERA with 104 SO and just 31 BB in 109 1/3 innings at AA Montgomery. Then, a strong start at AAA Durham in 2006 (2.66 ERA, 64 SO, 6 BB in 61 IP) earned him a promotion to the big leagues. His rookie season was unimpressive, though, as he went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA, but still struck out 104 batters in 124 2/3 innings.
Somewhere along the way, he started going by his given name, James, again. 2007 turned out to be James' breakout year, as he showed his potential to team with Scott Kazmir as an effective 1-2 punch at the top of the Tampa Bay rotation, going 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 184 SO, to just 36 BB, in 215 innings. This year, he's built on that impressive 2007 season, and is one of several reasons why the Rays currently own the best record in the majors. His 12-8 record, 3.66 ERA, 140 SO, and just 35 BB, in 184 2/3 innings have demonstrated his ability to be the staff ace, a role he had to assume for the first month of the season due to an injury to Kazmir.
Other than a propensity to give up the long ball (66 HR in 524 career IP), Shields' statistics, particularly an almost 4-1 strikeout/walk ratio (428 SO, 109 BB), his stuff and his makeup show his potential to be a dominant major league starting pitcher.
Evan Longoria (2006)
Tampa Bay made Evan Longoria the third overall pick in the 2006 draft. He batted .424, with 4 HR, 11 RBI and an .879 slugging percentage in just 33 at bats at Hudson Valley before being promoted. Following that brief stint, he quickly rose through the organization, batting .304, with 44 HR and 153 RBI in 733 at bats in his two full minor league seasons.
He didn't make the Tampa Bay squad out of spring training this year, but quickly was called up following an injury to Willy Aybar. He's made the most of this opportunity, batting .278 with 22 HR and 71 RBI, before a wrist injury sidelined him in early August.
He joined fellow former Renegade Hamilton on the American League All-Star team, and is still among the top Rookie of the Year candidates, despite missing close to a month with the aforementioned injury. Wrist injuries are always cause for concern, of course, but he's expected back within the next couple of weeks, and his ability to return to his pre-injury productiveness remains one of the keys to the Rays run to the post-season. Assuming the injury has no impact on his future, the sky appears to be the limit for Longoria's career.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
- Hesitates, or stops, in his delivery to home plate.
- While in contact with the rubber, fakes a pickoff throw to first base.
- Steps on the mound without the ball.
- While in contact with the rubber, fakes or throws to an unoccupied base.
- Moves from the windup to the set position without stepping off the rubber.
- While in the set position, fails to come to a complete stop before delivering to the plate.
- Fails to step directly toward the base when making a pickoff throw.
- Fails to step directly toward the plate when delivering a pitch.
- Delivers to the plate while the catcher is not in the catcher's box.
- Hesitates or stops in the process of coming to the set position.
- Drops the ball while in contact with the rubber.
- While in the set position, breaks his hands while not in the process of delivering to the plate, and without stepping off the rubber.
- While in contact with the rubber, makes any movement associated with his delivery to the plate without completing such movement (i.e. delivering a pitch).
- Delivers to the plate while not in contact with the rubber.
Here's what the rule book says:
8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—
(a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery;
I covered this in #1 and #13, so maybe that was redundant after all.
(b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw;
I covered this in #2.
(c) The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base;
This is covered by #7.
(d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play;
This is covered by #4, although I left out the "except for the purpose of making a play" part. This allows the pitcher to throw to second, for instance, when the runner from first breaks before he delivers a pitch.
(e) The pitcher makes an illegal pitch;
Rule 8.05(e) Comment: A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.
I missed this one entirely.
(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;
This is sort of covered by #8, but not entirely. This has me a bit confused. I'm positive that, if the pitcher steps towards first, then delivers to home plate, it's a balk. It's possible that (c) also includes a delivery to the plate as well as a throw to a base, but I still think that's pretty vague.
(g) The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate;
#14 partially covers this, but not entirely.
(h) The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;
Another one I missed entirely.
(i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;
Partially covered by #3.
(j) The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base;
Covered by #12.
(k) The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally drops the ball;
Covered by #11.
(l) The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box;
#9, although I left out the fact that it's only a balk when it's in the act of issuing an intentional walk.
(m) The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.
Covered by #6.
8.05 (a) through (m) totals 13 ways to balk. This is why, I believe, one of the participants of the original conversation (at the Metrodome) that inspired this list referred to there being 13 different ways to balk. The only ways on my list that aren't covered in section 8.05 are #5 and #10. #5 is actually covered in section 8.01, which addresses the windup position, and states:
"From the Windup Position, the pitcher may...disengage the rubber. In disengaging the rubber the pitcher must step off with his pivot foot and not his free foot first. He may not go into a set or stretch position—if he does it is a balk."
#10 is definitely also a balk. However, it is essentially covered by 8.05(a) and, therefore, it was probably redundant for me to consider it a separate infraction. So, I'll count #5 as the 14th way, but not add #10 to the list. There are three additional ways, covered by the rule book, for the pitcher to balk:
- 7.07 states that it's a balk when, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat. The batter is awarded first base due to interference, but the rule book also considers this a balk.
- 8.02(a) covers illegal pitches, such as when the pitcher applies a foreign substance to, or defaces, the ball. An illegal pitch is considered a balk when there is a runner or runners on base.
- 8.01(d) refers to when a pitched ball slips out of the pitcher's hand during his delivery. The rule book is not entirely clear, but the approved ruling is that it's considered a balk, with runners on base, if the ball does not travel half the distance towards home plate or cross a foul line. So, I'm considering this a total of 17 ways to balk. As you can see, though, there is still a lot of gray area, at least in terms of how many distinctly different ways there are. Not that anyone really cared, but I'm sure this explanation did very little to clarify my original balk discussion. This also speaks to how clearly the baseball rule book is written. That is, not very.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Best Neighborhood: St. Louis, by a landslide. None of the other parks were downtown, except Minnesota, but that neighborhood was dead.
Best Out-of-Town Scoreboard: Busch Stadium (St. Louis). I think I've already written about the fact that the rest of them were pretty standard, while Busch's scoreboard provided in-game information, such as the current batter, runners on base and number of outs.
Best Promotion: The Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat, Kaufmann Stadium (Kansas City). I sat two rows behind the lucky owner of this seat. She won a copy of the book, The Soul of Baseball: A Roadtrip Through Buck O'Neil's America, by Joe Posnanski. I guess the promotions that night weren't all bad.
Best National Anthem: Barcel Suzuki String Academy, Miller Park (Milwaukee).
Best Performance (Pitcher): CC Sabathia, Milwaukee vs. Houston, August 18 (9 IP, 130 pitches, 11 H, 2 BB, 9 SO, 2 ER). Honorable mention: Justin Verlander, Detroit vs. Kansas City, August 22 (6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 6 SO, 0 ER).
Best Performance (Batter): Albert Pujols, St. Louis vs. Atlanta, August 23 (3-for-5, HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI). Honorable mentions: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit vs. Kansas City, August 22 (2-for-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI); Corey Hart, Milwaukee vs. Houston, August 18 (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBI).
Best Beer: Summit Extra Pale Ale (St. Paul, Minnesota). Honorable mention: Boulevard Pale Ale (Kansas City, Missouri).
Best Motel/Hotel: Microtel Inn & Suites, Kansas City. I stayed here two nights because, for $65, this low-end suite was a tremendous value, especially when compared to the dumpy Super 8 I paid $80 to stay at in Ames, Iowa.
Friendliest People: The employees at the 18th & Vine Museums, Kansas City.
Best-Looking Women: St. Louis. Sorry, no pictures.