Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Final Thoughts on 2011

Whether we like it or not, the 2011 season is in the books. Even though it was such a suck-fest for the Rockies, from the last day of the season on September 28th till the last day of the World Series this past Friday was one of the best months of baseball I've ever seen. It will be tough to top Wild Card Wednesday, the intense play-off series that followed, and especially Game 6 of the World Series last Thursday. That was the second best game I've ever seen (behind the 2007 play-in game, obviously).

There's been a lot of debate over whether this was the best World Series ever. I think it's important to make the distinction between "most exciting" and "most well-played." This was certainly not the most well-played series ever; especially on defense, both teams struggled to perform at a championship level. As far as most exciting goes, though, I think an argument can be made for that.

I've only been watching the World Series since 1995. Prior to this year, the most exciting series I had ever seen was in 2001, when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in a walk-off Game 7. That was such a tense series with so much emotion because of what was going on in New York, and the Yankees made several improbable comebacks. If they had won, I think that would still be the most exciting series to me, because that would have been such a terrific thing for the city. But the D-backs played evil spoiler so it was not to be. The following year, 2002, was another incredible series, with the Angels beating the Giants in 7 games. That series was a blast to watch. Both teams kept upping their game and rising to the challenge, to the point that it really was anyone's series to win. I remember being happy for Troy Glaus when he was chosen as the MVP, but feeling that the Angels had played so well as a team that it was hard to say any one player was more valuable than another.

Since then, there have been exciting times. In 2004, the Red Sox finally reversed their curse. In 2007, the Rockies went to their first World Series (and were stomped by the Sox). In 2009, I was pumped that the Yankees won because it was the first time I'd ever lived in the same city as the current world champs. But none of those series had anything like the level of tension that this one had. That Game 6, I thought I was experiencing organ failure. It was unreal. So this was not the most well-played World Series I have ever seen, but it was the most exciting, and to me that makes it the best.

And now Matt Holliday has his ring. As I've said before, I have unconditional love for anyone who was raised in the Rockies' organization, so that includes Holliday. Of course it hurt my feelings when he made a fuss about wanting to be traded, but that doesn't mean I don't want him to be successful. And it was a different kind of painful listening to him talk after the World Series about wanting to play for the Cardinals because he knew it was a winning organization that would do whatever it took to get a championship. He's right about that, and the Rockies haven't been that kind of organization. Generally speaking, I have more respect for a guy like Todd Helton who is a franchise player, win or lose. But nobody becomes a professional athlete expecting to lose. There's something to be said for doing everything you can to be in a position to win.

With nothing left to say on the 2011 season, it's time to look ahead to 2012. Don't worry, there will be a lot going on over here. Here's my off-season posting schedule so you can get a glimpse of what's to come. It goes into effect on Wednesday! And of course, recaps will be back in April.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Stan Musial Award

The final award the BBA gives out is the Stan Musial Award, which is to the player of the year. Any player is, of course, eligible, but for me there are too many great offensive players to really consider any pitchers. That is because I am voting in the National League though; if you ask me, Justin Verlander is the American League's MVP. Here are my choices for the NL.

1. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Here's the thing about Wins Above Replacement. I didn't pay much attention to it before this season, but I finally started to when I realized that it encapsulates what has always bothered me about the MVP race. It seems impossible for baseball writers to give that award to anyone who didn't get his team to the play-offs. But NO TEAM gets to the play-offs on the back of one player. It's not possible. You can have the best player in the league on your team, and if the rest of your team sucks, you will not make the postseason. Should that be player not be rewarded simply because his teammates couldn't pick up the slack? ABSOLUTELY NOT. What's great about WAR is that it quantifies a player's value completely independent of the standings. And that is why I simply must give my first-place vote to Matt Kemp. His WAR was 8.7, better than anybody else's in the NL. The Dodgers finished in third place, 10.5 games ahead of the Rockies in fourth. Nearly all of those games were thanks to Kemp. His .321 average, 32 home runs, and 126 RBI were certainly something, but it's the WAR that tells me that he was the most valuable player in the league this season. Period.

2. Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton is a player who nearly singlehandedly got his team to the play-offs. His WAR was only 6.4, but he and Ian Kennedy together made up more than the 8 wins the D-backs took the division by. Upton was an indispensable offensive force for the Snakes. 31 homers and 105 runs scored put him right up there with Kemp.

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

I cannot tell you how greatly it pains me to put Braun ahead of Tulo, since the one has been dogging the other since the Rookie of the Year race in 2007. But it is what it is. Braun's stats were just better. .307 average, 33 home runs, 111 RBI, 7.8 WAR. And I can't see the Brewers getting as far in the play-offs as they did without him. Sorry Tulo.

4. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

That said, it's so satisfying to vote for Tulo here, since he's the only Rockie I was able to give any kind of vote to this season. I hope that doesn't happen next year. For now, it's enough to know that Tulo finished with his first 30-homer, 100+ RBI season. And he hasn't peaked yet.

5. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

It wasn't that long ago that King Albert was a lock for the MVP multiple years in a row. I'm glad that era is over so that some new guys can shine a little, but that's not to say Pujols is no longer valuable. Despite a small-ish WAR (5.1), he still hit 37 home runs and drove in 99, and the Cards' postseason run is certainly credited in large part to him.

6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Votto was no sophomore slump the season after he won the MVP. He posted very solid numbers: a .309 average, 29 home runs, and 103 RBI. It was a tough year for Reds' fans, but Votto kept hope alive.

7. Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals

Berkman needed the Cards, and the Cards needed Berkman. They are the most valuable team to his most valuable player. He had a comeback kind of season, with 31 homers, 94 RBI, and a .301 average. I would not want to be a pitcher trying to mow down the heart of the St. Louis order.

8. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Fielder is as much to thank as Braun for the Brew Crew's success this year. It was fun to watch those two finally put the pieces together offensively. Fielder's 38 homers and 120 RBI are actually better than Braun's; what stopped me from giving him a higher position on my ballot was his 5.5 WAR.

9. Jose Reyes, New York Mets

If you don't like Jose Reyes, I'm not sure we can be friends. He might be the most fun to watch baseball player I've ever seen. This year, despite injury, he kept the Mets out of the basement, and his .337 batting average was tops in the league. He's got next to no power, but he doesn't need it to be great.

10. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

What Reyes did for the Mets, McCutchen did for the Bucs. His .259 average isn't as good as I think it could be, but 23 home runs and 89 RBI is solid. His 5.7 WAR means his value to the Pirates cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Method to My Postseason Madness, Vol. 3

The World Series is upon us! For all my occasional struggles over the years to be completely tuned in to what was going on in baseball, I have always been aware of the World Series. The energy of the two best teams in the game playing for season-long bragging rights cannot be matched. All bets are off, and the time for holding your cards close to your chest has passed. This is the real deal.

And this is going to be a great series. I wanted the Rangers to win the AL pennant and I wanted the Cardinals to win the NL pennant, so I won't be bummed out no matter who wins. I'm still just so thrilled that the big east coast teams are long gone (yes, even the Yankees ... I like it when New York teams win, but I never root for the Yankees with as much enthusiasm as I do the Mets).

I'd like to see the Cardinals win, for a variety of reasons. First, I like to watch Tony La Russa manage. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, he is a very very good manager, and after 2+ years of Jim Tracy fails, I love rooting for a guy who's pushing all the right buttons. That's not to minimize Ron Washington's managerial abilities. He knows what he's doing too, and he definitely has more charisma and energy than La Russa. But TLR is one of the greats, like Lou Piniella, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and I just like watching him do what he does.

Second, I like Matt Holliday. Yes, I know he threw a tantrum and that's what got him traded away from the Rockies in the first place. He didn't think we were good enough for him, and that is unfortunate. However, he gets more credit than anybody else for the Rockies' postseason success in 2007. And I can never completely let go of our homegrown guys. That's why I'm still pulling for Ian Stewart, even though I can't condone his attitude this season. I would be a terrible general manager, but I like to think I'll be a good mother, because I am fiercely loyal to my own. Matt Holliday, like it or not, is one of our own. I would like to see him get his ring, though obviously I would have preferred it to happen while he was wearing purple pinstripes.

Third, I really like St. Louis as a sports town. I think it is probably the closest to Denver without actually being Denver. Their fans are have good sportsmanship and courtesy and they support their team through thick and thin. Almost 15 years of living on the east coast has closely acquainted me with bad fandom, and massively increased my appreciation for a town like St. Louis. That's no dig on Arlington, because Texans certainly aren't bad fans, but I think St. Louis is better.

So those are my reasons. The Cards get a little extra edge for being the NL team. I certainly don't root for the NL as a rule, but it's still nice when they win. That said, I would be okay with the Rangers winning. It's always exciting to see a team win their first World Series, and there aren't many of those teams left. Plus, they fell just short last year and it would be a great ending to that story for them to come back. And I mean, come on, who doesn't like Chuck Norris?

I think the Rangers might have a slight edge, but I meant it when I said this is an evenly-matched series, and that's part of what will make it a good one (and hopefully an exciting one - I'm still holding my breath from the end of the 2002 Series, which is the last 7-game one we had). If the Cards had a healthy Adam Wainwright, I think they'd have a much greater chance. As it is, Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson are fairly equally talented, and fairly equally unreliable. If they both show up, we could have a very low-scoring Game 1. If only one of them does, that team takes it easily. In general, the St. Louis starters have struggled this postseason, but their bullpen has been unstoppable. Can the starters give the Cards a good 6 innings in each game? If they can, the Cards win. If they can't, the Rangers win.

And let's not forget that both offenses are raking. I can't remember the last time we had a World Series where both teams were coming in with a lineup card full of mashers like these. The potential pitching weaknesses on both sides will be fully exploited by the hitters. That means no one can predict the outcome of any one game. And that's the way it should be. Baseball is awesome.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Walter Johnson Award

The Walter Johnson Award is the BBA's Cy Young equivalent. It doesn't have quite the same ring as the Cy Young, but I'll roll with it. Here are my choices for the National League.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

No, I did not give my first place vote to Roy Halladay. If you are angry, please look below and see that he received my second place vote. Kershaw had the most wins (21), the most strikeouts (248), and the best ERA (2.38) among NL starters. I don't care that his team didn't go to the play-offs. That makes his accomplishments all the more impressive; that he managed to to top the field in so many categories with a terrible team behind him is amazing.

2. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Obviously, the good doctor had to find a place in my top 3. I find him kind of boringly good, but that's no excuse not to reward him for his talent. He finished third in the NL in wins (19), second in ERA (2.35), and third in strikeouts (220). He also boasted a WAR of 8.2, by far the best for any pitcher in either league. The Phillies probably would have gone to the postseason without him, but they sewed it up much faster with him.

3. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

A team that does not go to the postseason without its ace is the D-backs, who owe Ian Kennedy a fat contract and some very expensive wine. Kennedy had a shaky first couple of seasons, but he came into his own this year, and proved that he is one of the best pitchers in the league. He tied Kershaw with 21 wins and, while he's not a strikeout king, he posted a WHIP of just 1.09. In a stronger division, it's hard to say how well Kennedy comes out, but he's worth a second look regardless.

4. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

Is it terribly unfair that the Phils will have 2 starting pitchers finish in the top 5 in Cy Young voting, and that a third (Cole Hamels) is probably deserving as well? Yes. But it is happening and you can't fight it. Cliff Lee pounds the strike zone like nobody you have ever seen, and his 238 K's on the season is proof of that. More importantly, he strikes out almost 6 batters for every 1 he walks. Lee isn't as good in the postseason as you'd expect from a pitcher of his caliber, but these awards are based entirely on the regular season, in which he cannot be described as anything other than dominant.

5. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

I'm not really a Lincecum fan, and I don't think anyone will argue with me when I say that he's hit or miss. The thing about him is, when he's on, he is completely unstoppable. That's why he won back-to-back Cy Youngs at the beginning of his career, and no doubt he's due for another before too long. His record is rough (13-14) but blame that on the Giants' crummy offense. His 220 strikeouts tie him with Halladay for third in the NL, and his 2.74 ERA was 4th among starters. Also, my roommate has a massive and inexplicable crush on him. So whenever he pitches I don't have to watch baseball alone.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Goose Gossage Award

The Goose Gossage Award is given to the top reliever. My picks for the National League.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Could it really be anyone other than Kimbrel? I already sang his praises in my Rookie of the Year selection, and the fact that he led all NL relievers in saves, WAR, and strikeouts per 9 innings is all the more given that he was a rookie. Craig, I wish you weren't a Brave. You are a beast.

2. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers

The Ax-stache. I can't have anything but respect for what this guy has accomplished for the Brew Crew this season. They are where they are in large part thanks to him. He's the only NL reliever besides Kimbrel who saved 46 games this season. His K/9 rate is 10.51, second only to Kimbrel's. He does issue quite a few walks (3.05 per 9), but so does Kimbrel. If you can save almost 50 games, you can get away with letting a few guys reach base now and then. In Axford's case, he gives up so few hits that his WHIP is still just 1.14. And he has a poise on the mound that is priceless in a closer. I'm sure we Huston Street fans would miss the 9th-inning drama, but our team would have been that much closer to the play-offs, and I would take that trade off.

3. Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates

Perhaps some might see this as a sentimental pick, like the one I gave Clint Hurdle in my Manager of the Year vote. The Bucs were just an easy team to root for this year, and they earned it for the first time in a long time. But wait! Hanrahan was really good in his own right. He led all NL closers with an ERA of 1.83, which is stellar considering he pitched 68 2/3 innings. He also recorded 40 saves, and was by far the most reliable member of the Pirates all season long. And he posted a 2.0 WAR, better than all closers in the NL aside from, of course, Kimbrel. It's a bright future in Pittsburgh, and Hanrahan is a huge part of that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where's Larry When You Need Him?

From my diary, August 2nd, 1996.





Monday, October 10, 2011

The Willie Mays Award

The Willie Mays Award is given to the rookie of the year. Behold my picks for the National League.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I think Craig Kimbrel might be the most obvious Rookie of the Year baseball has had in many years. He was the best closer in baseball, so unless the best hitter or the best starter was also a rookie, he's a lock. Kimbrel also posted the best WAR for a reliever in the National League. WAR, for the uninitiated, stands for Wins Above Replacement, and it's a useful stat because it quantifies how many games a team wins thanks to this player that they would not have won with a comparable player. Kimbrel's is 3.2, and he was the only National League reliever to post a 3 or better. Considering how close the Braves came to the play-offs, Kimbrel could make a fair case for Most Valuable Player. At the end of the day, though, Kimbrel saved 46 games this season, and the previous record for a rookie was 40, set by the Rangers' Neftali Feliz in 2010. Feliz won the ROY, so I think it would be pretty unfair to keep it from Kimbrel.

2. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

Here's a confession: I did not immediately think of Danny Espinosa when I first started brainstorming who would get my Rookie of the Year vote. Because the Nats are such an under-the-radar team, everyone who plays for them and is not named Stephen Strasburg has to do a bit more than usual to get noticed. My bad for not noticing Espinosa, though, because I don't know what else he could have done. He led all NL rookies in home runs (21) and runs scored (72). Most importantly, he led all rookie hitters in the majors in WAR. I don't necessarily think WAR should be the deciding factor in these awards, but it's important. The fact that Espinosa added a full 3.5 wins to his team's output is substantial.

3. Vance Worley, Philadelphia Phillies

What is it with the Phillies and pitching? It's not enough for them to have four of the best starting pitchers in baseball, they also appear to have a farm system from which they can simply pluck another awesome guy every time one of their regulars goes down. This year that guy was Vance Worley, who came from out of nowhere and won 11 of the 21 games he started. His 3.01 ERA was best among rookie starting pitchers in the NL with at least 100 innings pitched, and second only to Jeremy Hellickson for best all around in that category. The reason those distinctions are important is that they show Worley has that quality most desired in a member of the rotation: stamina. He goes deep into games and doesn't start to tire and give up runs in the late innings. Painful as this is to say, it sure seems like the Phillies have a perfect 5-man for next season.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Method to my Postseason Madness, Vol. 2

Now that the Division Series is over and gone (and 3 of my 4 picks were eliminated), it's time to decide who to root for in the League Championship Series. If you forgot my highly scientific selection process, you can review it here. And without further ado ...

National League Championship Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

My pick: St. Louis
This one is easy. The Cards were the only team I liked to make it past the first round, so obviously I would like to see them take the NLCS. The fact that they took down the Phillies, the one team I thought was a lock for the pennant before the season started, makes them very special in my mind. I love it when the teams we all expect to dominate are instead dominated. Chris Carpenter was a top-shelf GENIUS last night, and after the season he had, hallelujah. I just like the Cardinals. This should be a really good series since both teams come from the same division. I hope it ends with Ryan Braun sliding headfirst into 1st base, a la Eric Byrnes in the 2007 NLCS. Rivalries are the best.

American League Championship Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

My pick: Texas
I'm kind of torn on this one. I didn't root for either of these teams in the ALDS, so there was no easy choice. I like the Rangers a lot, and it was really fun watching them play in last year's postseason. On the other hand, they won the pennant last year, and the Tigers haven't won it since 2006. Come to think of it, a Tigers-Cardinals '06 rematch could be kind of fun, especially since these days it's Detroit who has the better pitching. I'm conflicted. I'm going with the Rangers. You can never have too much C.J. Wilson.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Connie Mack Award

As a member in good standing of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), one of my responsibilities/privileges is to submit votes for end of year awards. The BBA will release the winners' names over the course of the next couple of weeks, and as they do so I'll be posting my personal choices and the reasons behind them. Feel free to disagree violently.

The manager of the year will receive the Connie Mack Award. My picks in the National League are as follows:

1. Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks

I'm amazed at what Gibby's been able to do with the D-backs since he took over as skipper last season. They only won 31 games in the first half and they finished dead last in the National League West. This year, they finished first and more than earned their spot in the play-offs. They don't have the raw talent of the Rockies or Giants, but they have played so well. They're enthusiastic and driven and, despite their youth, they do the little things that win ball games. The Rockies complete squandering of their talent this season is even more heartwrenching when you consider how easy it would have been for them to blow this division race wide open. When they didn't, the D-backs stepped into the gap, and Gibby shepherded them to 94 wins. Not a Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling in sight. That's a good manager.

2. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

In truth, I don't know that Hurdle deserves this recognition based on the Pirates' second half, but what a first half they had. At the break, they were 4 games over .500. They haven't been over .500 at the break since like 1783. That Hurdle was able to pull together a perpetually terrible team and get such an incredible first half was a major accomplishment. He has a talent for taking young, unfocused clubs and squeezing greatness out of them (see: Rockies, 2007). There was a time while they were in first place when I actually started to think they could make the play-offs. Of course, they struggled quite a bit in the second half and ultimately finished fourth. If they can make a couple of quality off-season acquisitions, they have a real chance next year, despite being in a tough division. Credit Hurdle for that.

3. Terry Collins, New York Mets

All right, picking guys for this award was hard because I didn't think anyone other than Gibby was really deserving. So maybe I'm stretching a little bit here. But living in New York, I can tell you that Collins was like the second coming when he took over the Mets. Yes, they were still pretty awful this season, but they are on the upturn. This was not reflected in their record so much as in how they worked with what they had. They lost Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, David Wright was injured, Jason Bay is always injured, and their starting rotation was just okay. Props to Collins for managing one of the unluckiest teams in baseball and more or less holding it together.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What the Rockies' Offense Can Learn from the Yankees

I realize that I haven't written a blessed thing in five days, and that I promised play-off comments. I didn't realize how fried my brain was upon the completion of the regular season. So I'm going to cheat and post a link to the article I just wrote at Rox Pile. New stuff coming soon, for sure. If nothing else, my picks for the various awards the Baseball Bloggers Alliance votes on. The first is due this weekend, so you can count on that.

What the Rockies' Offense Can Learn from the Yankees