Sunday, February 29, 2004

There is a very interesting post on AstrosDaily about the possibility of trading Jeriome Robertson to the Baltimore Orioles for middle infielder Brian Roberts. The Orioles would almost certainly do this deal because they've got Jerry Hairston, Jr. blocking Roberts at 2B and newly signed Miguel Tejada at SS.

I kind of like this deal, and here's the long, stat-heavy expanation:

Roberts is a hell of a lot better than Jose Vizcaino and Eric Bruntlett.

Ok, so maybe trading a young pitcher who just won 15 games for a backup middle infielder with a career high 704 OPS sounds a little weird:

The Good

1. Roberts is 26. He's going to get better.

2. He has an excellent career SB% - over 80%. He would immediately become the Astros best pinch runner (not saying that much)

3. He's an above average fielder. He had a Range Factor of 5.08 at 2B last year, compared to 4.94 for the league, and a fielding percentage of .987, compared to .982

4. He draws a few walks. 46 out of 460 ABs last year.

5. He hits righties fairly well - 720 OPS against them last year.

The Bad

1. He has very little power.

2. (The Main Reason) We might be able to get more for Robertson. A good prospect or two (from Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, the Rockies, the Rangers...) would be great.

All in all, if Gerry Hunsicker can't find much else for Robertson, he might want to do this deal - Roberts isn't going to set the world on fire, but anything that'll get Jose Vizcaino off the team next year has my approval.



Friday, February 27, 2004

The I-can't-believe-they-were-All-Stars team:

C Ramon Hernandez
1B Dmitri Young
2B Luis Castillo
3B Troy Glaus
SS Rafael Furcal
OF Hideki Matsui
OF Rondell White
OF Carl Everett
DH Jason Varitek

SP Roger Clemens
SP C.C. Sabathia
SP Shawn Chacon

RP Lance Carter
RP Mike MacDougal
RP Armando Benitez

And the All-Star MVP:

RP Mike Williams (with an ERA over 6.00)

These guys don't even make a good fantasy team.

I also like that Atlanta and St. Louis accounted for 6 of the NL's 8 starting position players.
Pop quiz, hotshot.

Jack's favorite place in Amsterdam was:

A) The Red Light District
B) The Netherlands House of Cheese
C) Grey Area, a local 'coffeeshop'

If you answered B, you are damn right! Ok, which sounds better to you:

Having scantily dressed....um....women of the night...beckon provocatively at you, unravel the Stoner Mysteries of the Universe, or biting into a huge hunk of goat cheese with herbs? I mean, COME ON MAAAAN. Barstool knows what I'm talking 'bout.

Plus the cheese place was in this awesome little town called Zaanke Schans, like a twenty minute train ride outside big ol' Amsterdam, so it was really nice to get away for a bit. Plus there were sheep and windmills.

Ok, new baseball idea: it's commonly accepted that a starting pitcher who normally throws 90 mph, if converted to a reliever, could throw 93-95 mph by 'letting it all hang out'. So if this is true for relief pitchers, might it also be true for pinch hitters? That is to say, if a guy knows he's not going to get many AB's, does he really GO FOR IT when he doesn't get that many AB's? It's an interesting idea; you could check it by comparing a guy's OPS as a pinch-hitter vs. his OPS as a regular. Food for thought....

Using my advanced math skills, I realized I still have approximately 16 places I had planned on visiting (Ready? Berlin Prague Budapest Munich Vienna Bern Venice Florence Rome Athens Barcelona Madrid Bordeaux Paris Dublin London) and about 35 days in which to do it. So I gotta cut down...2 days per place is too rough a pace to keep up. I don't know what to cut out, though.

More approximations: I finished my first disposable camera already! That's like 30 pictures gone in 10 days. And they're all of cheesy landscape/touristy stuff, too...I'm still kind of embarrassed to ask people to take pictures of me doing wild things.
Yeah. It's snowing in South Carolina too. Which must be about 3000 miles south of Amsterdam. Weird.

Anyway, I have to say I am now officially scared of the Cubs. Let's just forget about the Astros for a minute. Compare the 2003 Cubs with their 2004 roster. They have improved in numerous areas (bullpen, 1B, rotation) and will have improved starters at 3B and CF for the entire year. Plus the 6-fingered freak is not haunting them.

True, the Cubs got "lucky" last year, meaning their run differential was not as impressive as the Astros'. But this means nothing. They still won more games than we did, and their club is looking even more impressive this year. If Clement and Zambrano can dominate again, we have some trouble.

I think whichever team can stay healthier will win the division. Both teams have aging stars, and both teams are relying heavily on their position players. Houston has a slight advantage in terms of bench strength and spot starters, but either team will suffer greatly if any pitcher or position player goes down.

Houston cannot afford another bad wrist from Kent or another groin pull from Oswalt. At the same time, the Cubs are relying on Corey Patterson's complete recovery from knee surgery, which is asking a lot.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Well, no one else is writing much (Andy? Barstool?), so I better keep it up. There's another great article at Baseball Prospectus about the Astros, although it's subscribers only, but I'll give you the scoop:

They don't like Craig Biggio or Brad Ausmus.

Surprise, surprise, huh?

They go through the entire offense in terms of VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), and Biggio and Everett are slightly positive, Ausmus slightly negative, and everyone else pretty solid. They also project a massive rebound year for Berkman and for Hidalgo to regress a bit, both of which I basically agree with.

Ok, but here's the thing about Biggio. They project him at .267 / .344 / .401....which is NOT that bad. They also have him at below-average defensively, which I also agree with....but he's not insanely bad, like Bernie Williams.

They project Lane at .275 / .340 / .472, which I think is also pretty accurate.

Anything surprise you there? Biggio has a higher projected OBP than Lane!

Yeah, yeah, Lane is younger, has more power, is better defensively....

But OBP is still the most important stat in baseball, and if Biggio's is projected to be higher, it's not an absolute tragedy that he's starting over Lane. Hopefully Lane will still get plenty of AB's (backing up Biggio, filling in for Berkman against LHP, backing up Bagwell, first PH option), so it's not a question of Biggio-or-Lane.

Anyway, I'm gonna get a little more of Amsterdam in before I leave for Berlin tomorrow. Bye!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

It's snowing in Amsterdam, which means I've got a little free time at the computer, so get ready for a nice big post.

First, I think JT's on the right track about Tyler Houston. He's got some pop, a career 724 OPS against righties, can play 3rd and back up Ensberg, and is much better than Viz. I wish he drew more walks, but what the hell, we're kind of desperate. I say DO IT. And you gotta love the PR from having a last name of Houston.

Second, there have been some really good articles (most of them subscription-based, unfortunately) about the Top 50 prospects (anyone can see the final list, actually) at BPro. The good news is that it's entertaining to read - the bad news is 0 - the number of Astros on the list. NONE! Lane is too old to be a prospect anymore, and the only other ones that could be considered are Burke and Bucholz, I guess. That's not a great sign for the organization - we need some good drafts/trades in the next few years.

Hey, it stopped snowing! So anyway, it's a bit misleading that everyone thinks of Amsterdam as the World Wide Weed Capital, with one Smokey McPot as the mayor, 'cause it's not true. Well, maybe a little, but there's a lot more, tons of classic old buildings and canals and nice people who all speak English and awesome beer and clean beds. If it would stop snowing (it started again) I'm a-gonna rent a bike and rip up - there are bike lanes all over the place. I'll probably be here for a coupla days, and then on to Berlin.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Alright...so I've got what needs to be the Astros next offseason pickup....

Tyler Houston!

The Yankees just released Houston...they had no use for him now that they've convinced the greatest SS in the game to play 3rd for them. He's a lefty bat who can back up Ensberg if needed, so that Viz isn't given the at-bats that he doesn't deserve. Houston's also got a little pop. He can also be an emergency catcher since he used to play there too. AND his name is H-O-U-S-T-O-N...I mean, c'mon it's only fitting. What's not to love...I say DO IT!

Monday, February 23, 2004

I'm in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, and so far it has been a night-and-day kind of city.

Night: I get in from a delayed six-hour journey from London, am immediately disoriented, wander around aimlessly for two hours, an ATM eats my debit card for a minute before finally spitting it back out, then I finally ask someone for help, and find the hostel in the next ten minutes, at which point I grab a quick beer and go straight to bed after waking up my other five roommates.

Day: I walk through the entire city, stopping only to maul a Belgian waffle dipped in chocolate. I took about ten pictures, it was awesome weather, I found this great internet cafe...everything's perfect. What a difference a day makes.

Tomorrow I'll be heading to Amsterdam sometime - I've got a hostel lined up. I'll probably check out the city the first day and then rent a bike and cruise around the countryside - supposedly there is a lot to see outside of the main city. Can't wait! But until then, I gotta relax for a while.

On a side note, Astros fans, check this out. How awesome is that?? OSWALT STARTS OPENING DAY. I adore our rotation: Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens, Miller, Redding. That is *spectacular*. Bring it, Cubbies.

See ya.

Friday, February 20, 2004

My time in London is coming to an end - I booked a bus/ferry/bus combo thing to Brussels, Belgium, home of Tintin (most famous comic book hero in Europe), Mannekin Pis (a statue of an impudent little boy peeing - think Calvin and Hobbes), and Van Gogh. London's been a lotta fun, but it's a little too BIG. I mean, it's huge. There are people and buses and dogs and parks and monuments and museums and libraries and it's all EVERYWHERE. Man, my feet still hurt just thinking about it. But the people are friendly, the beer is great, and the fish and chips are salty and hot, so all in all it was pretty good.

I gotta move on, though, lots more to see and only 5.5 weeks to do it in! The next time you hear from me it'll be in Belgium. Until then, au revoir.

P.S. Maddux to the Cubs. Man. I remember watching Maddux pitch for the Cubs.....over ten years ago!! Man, those were the days....Shawon Dunston, Ryan Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, and Greg Maddux. Andy knows where I'm coming from. ANd now he's back in Chicago. Too bad the Astros are still better bwahahahahaha.

Later!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Baseball: How good is Jeff Bagwell? Only 10 players in baseball hit more homeruns than he did last year. And he was one of only 29 major leaguers to reach 100 RBI. But he also posted his first sub-.900 OPS since 1995 (his OPS has declined in each of the last 5 years). He'll turn 36 in May and, as Jack says, his right arm may fall off at any moment. He is no longer a premier slugger (his OPS wasn't in the top 40) but he can still produce. It all depends on the size of his goatee.

Non-baseball: I'm still undecided as to whom I like for the Democratic candidacy. Here's the breakdown:

John Kerry plays guitar. Apparently he was in a rock band back in the 70s. 5 points.

John Edwards' daughter is hotter than either of Kerry's daughters. 10 points.

Kerry is a HUGE Red Sox fan, and still hasn't forgiven Grady Little for leaving Pedro in to pitch the 8th inning. 50 points. Kerry wins.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

So I've been reading about the ARod trade and I've been discussing it with some friends. Turns out, after all is said and done, that the Rangers will end up paying ARod $140 million for 3 years of service. Meanwhile, the Yankees will only be paying him $110 million for 7 years...which is about $15.7 million/year. How exactly did the Rangers think this was a good deal again?!?! This trade just further increases my hatred of the Yankees, and yet another one of my favorite players becomes less liked because he has joined them (the first was Giambi).

So the true question is...if the Yankees are only having to pay ARod about $16 million/year, why the hell didn't the Astros make a run for him? I mean, trade the Rangers Hidalgo and Redding (or whomever they want for that matter). I mean lets face it...the Rangers got a good offensive player (but hardly a stellar defensive player) in Soriano, but they still have one of the most pathetic starting rotations in baseball. I would venture to say that Redding would be their #2 starter this year. Certainly with all our pitching depth, we could have helped them out there. We'd throw in Hidalgo to help us out financially this year, and the Rangers can not resign him and get their payroll flexibility. And the best part about this trade....we could actually keep the best SS in baseball at the SS position.

That is all for now.
C'mon, guys, nothing new posted yet? Anyway, I'm here in London, arrived at 6:15 am here, took a train to central London, and finally found the hostel after wandering around for 4 hours or so with my big-ass backpack. Good exercise, though, and I managed to stumble across Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and Royal Albert Hall. Unfortunately, it's overcast and drizzling, but I guess that's to be expected. Oh, and I watched Matrix: Revolutions TWICE on the flight over, and I still don't like it.

Start writing crap, you lazy bitches,
Jack

Monday, February 16, 2004

Gone backpacking. Be back in six weeks.

-Jack

Sunday, February 15, 2004

So I'm watching ESPN and all of a sudden a harmless little message scrolls across the bottom of the screen: Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a PTBNL (player to be named later).

Wow. I mean, WOW. The Red Sox had tried to add ARod earlier this offseason, but it fell through. So the Yankees wait a while, pick up Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez (ho hum).....and then add the best all-around player in the game, an inner-circle Hall of Famer, and probably the best shortstop of all time, who just happens to be 28 years old.

Ok. First, the good news if you're not a Yankees fan:

1) Apparently, the Yankees are going to move Arod (an excellent defensive shortstop and Gold Glove winner) to 3B, and keep Derek Jeter (a terrible defensive shortstop who does, however, have a good arm) at SS.

2) They're trading away their only remaining good YOUNG player in Soriano. Yes, Soriano's overrated - he doesn't control the strike zone well, he's only average defensively, and he's too aggressive on the basepaths. But so was Sammy Sosa, and Soriano is only 25, and he's the type of player that's likely to age well. Now: who do the Yankees put at 2nd? Miguel Cairo?? That immediately takes away some of the gain from the ARod deal.

But seriously. Forget all the stats and defense and everything on the field for a second. The Yankees just traded for the best, most marketable player in the game................at a position where they already pay their team captain 16 million a year!!! What the HELL is going on?? Seriously, this is ridiculous.

I understand it from the Rangers point of view, though. Yes, it's ARod. But they're going to save tons of money, Soriano is not a free agent for two or three more years, and ARod has been wanting to play in a national market for a long time. Well, here ya go, Alex. Have fun.

Damn, I hate the Yankees. If one team doesn't play by the same rules as everyone else, I think it's time to change the rules.

Friday, February 13, 2004

One of the hot topics that has been dominating talk at a few of the baseball message boards that I visit is this:

Right-handed batters have a fairly consistent platoon advantage against left-handed pitchers. On average, righties have an OPS that is 8% higher against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers.

Here's the thing, though:

At the major-league level, no matter who the right-handed batter is, and no matter what they've done in the past against left-handed pitchers, the odds are that they will remain approximately 8% better against lefties than righties.

Why does this matter?

Well, for one, some batters have a reputation for being "lefty-mashers" - guys that just kill left handed pitching. Frank Thomas, Reggie Sanders, Brian Jordan, Phil Nevin, etc. all have much higher career OPS against lefties than righties (more than 8% higher, that is.) So why is the smart money on betting that everyone will do equally better?

Well, a few things. Sample size. The average right-handed batter only gets about 100-150 AB's a year against lefties - some a lot less than that. That's not a whole lot, really. You're going to get a lot of variance. There are also a TON of right-handed batters in baseball. Every year, a few will do much better than normal against lefties, and a few will do much worse than normal. But you have to think of these as outliers - on either end of an imaginary Bell Curve. Even though every year there are consistent outliers - guys that are always on one end or the other of the curve - this, too, is not completely unexpected. Other researchers have crunched the numbers, and it's right. It works.

So, what does it mean?

Basically, lefty-mashers don't really exist. It's a myth, like clutch hitting, Derek Jeter's defense, and eating too many breadsticks at Fazoli's. And that is all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I recently realized that, well, this is my blog. So I can write about anything I want. And you have to read it. Or leave. Oh, and I can delete posts, too. Andy's Lonesome Dove book review? Gone. But seriously, even though I love baseball, I don't have to write about it. I mean, yeah, I'm still going to. No worries there. But every now and then I'm gonna journal it up and there's nothing you can do about it. So there.

So anyway my thought for the day is why don't we do the things we should do? You know what I mean. Why don't you get up in the morning and be productive? Why do you have cheesecake for breakfast? Why don't you call your parents and tell them you love them? Why don't you sleep eight hours a day, exercise regularly, never drink alcohol, and go to church every Sunday?

Well, if you're anything like me...you're not entirely sure why. In the long term, I know that I probably should do all of those things. But I don't. I don't think of myself as an instant-gratification sort of guy, although maybe I am. Give me a choice between starting a new book or watching TV, and I'll usually choose TV, even though I don't even really like TV that much. It's just so much effort starting a new book. (Sidenote: I will, however, re-read Dune, even if I've read it three times and I should be doing other things.) That's the key, isn't it? Effort. Time. Who's got the time to do anything these days? Rush, rush, rush! Well, I've probably got more free time than anyone reading this blog, and I still don't get nearly as much done as I should. See, here's the thing. The other day I'm waiting for Mark at a restaurant (we'll call it Sweet Tomatoes, because it was) and a lady who is standing there with me says (out of the blue) "Did you know the average American spends 9 hours a year waiting at red lights?" And of course I respond with a shake of the head and say "Wow" or something like that. But, um...that's not that much time. 16 'awake' hours *365 days = 3653 hours. So ya gotta do something with all that time. But, if you're like me, not nearly as much as you should.

Resolution: Maybe I can change, though. A little bit at a time.
Wow, it's been a while since I posted on my own blog. It's good to know that there will be plenty of interesting posts by Andy, JT and Jason while I'm gone, though.

But before I leave, I thought I'd weigh in on the road trip issue. The two road trips that I took with Andy were amazing. However, I think that part of what made them so amazing is the fact that they were so out-of-the-ordinary, so different from everyday life. So I understand why Jason wants to work now - because he knows he'll appreciate it more when he's got the time and money to do so. But I know how Andy feels too, 'cause I've been out there with him, and there's nothing else like it - you just pack up and GO. I'm going on a road trip of my own on Monday, and I'll try to post an occasional message telling you how it is. One thing's for sure - it'll be a little different without Andy sleeping in the passenger seat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Ya know…I read Andy’s article about road trips and I wondered to myself, “Barstool, why don’t YOU quit school and go on road trips?” I thought about it for a while, first looking at the positive aspects of quitting school and going on road trips. If I quit school I wouldn’t have any more homework to do, there would be no tests, no more books to read, no more projects, and (in my case since I commute) no more commuting. I could see all of those places I’ve never seen before and meet all sorts of interesting people all along the expansive highway system of this great country. I know for a FACT that I would have such a wonderful time….

…but then reality hits…

A single lesson comes back to haunt me whenever I think of going on such excursions. I felt the same way people like Andy do back in my first two years of college. Entering college, I vowed to study and do my best. I was an electrical engineering major at Texas A&M University in Galveston….I was to spend a year there and then move to the main campus in College Station. My first semester wasn’t that tough and I ended up with a 2.7 GPA (which I wasn’t THAT happy with but I would take it). The second semester rolled around and I started thinking about my college career and which major I should REALLY be in. Believe it or not, I had actually wanted to major in some kind of art. Ever since I was 4 I had been able to draw rather well according to other people. All through high school I was fed incessant suggestions to enter the art field. Those thoughts started creeping back and I lost all interest in my major. Why should I major in something I’m not crazy about? Why should I spend all of my time studying physics, math, etc. when I could be drawing and having fun? I went on several road trips that semester…and I also ended up with several bad grades in my classes.

I was forced to take classes at a community college and work my way back to A&M College Station, which I did. But again, I went through that cycle (that and I really didn’t like living there) and wound up with terrible grades and academic probation. Here’s where I owe my family big time. After such a terrible semester they took me back and pounded into my head one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned.

You work hard to earn your free time.

I site my grandfather, a man that I have respected and admired all of my life. He grew up in a tiny house in Sour Lake, TX with his two brothers and two sisters (I think that’s the right number) during the Great Depression. He and his brothers were drafted into the army for World War 2 but he never saw combat since he was color blind. Instead he was assigned to assist in research on prosthetic limbs although he almost got assigned to something called the Manhattan Project (whatever that was, right?). After the war was over he attended the University of Texas and got a mechanical engineering degree. I asked him one time why he chose that degree and he changed my perspective entirely by saying six words…

“So I could get a job.”

He later went on to do grunt work in the oil industry, work his butt off to climb the ladder of success, and become one of the top dogs in the company. Later he started our family company that’s still going strong today. All the while he was able to travel and experience life. What was the difference between doing it then and doing it when he was younger? Traveling in class, comfort, and spending all of his time enjoying his travels and not having a worry in the world.

That’s what I realized that summer after my horrible semester at A&M. I need to get a job, work hard, make money, and then I’ll have the rest of my life to do all of the things I want to do. Drawing? I can do that while I work if I’m serious enough about it. Road trips? Three words….paid vacation time. True, I might miss out on some things that I may only be able to do right here and now. But look at it this way, when I’m older, wiser, and RICHER I think the things I actually do get to experience will be experienced better than I could have possibly experienced them when I was younger. I think about the future NOW so I’m sure to enjoy it LATER.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Barstool
Hi, I'm Barstool, and two weeks ago I was asked to submit entries into this blog.

I rejected the offer.

However, I have been approached repeatedly since that time with the same request and have finally given in to the annoying (yet ego-inflating) inquiries as to whether or not I would write articles. This is primarily an outlet of baseball knowledge and analysis but since I know NOTHING of baseball I will write about other topics....such as buffalo wings! Yes, buffalo wings...bad for the body but good for the soul! Stay tuned to read what I have to say.

Barstool the Incredible
Hey all,

I'm JT and I will be posting from time to time while Jack is on one of his many excursions. The plan is to stick to what I know...which is limited to most sports, especially baseball, and poker. Keep an eye out for my stuff later on. I probably won't have the in-depth statistics that Jack does, but I usually have some good opinions and insights.

Later.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Hi everyone. Jack's little bro here. Nice to meetcha.

I got a letter from Sweet Madre the other day containing an article about the two California dudes who created Road Trip Nation, a documentary-slash-reality show-slash-group interview-slash-book. But really it's more of a cult following. Basically these two guys got sick and tired of studying all day to become doctors or accountants or whatever. So they quit college, bought an RV and started driving around the country, interviewing random people along the way.

What a trip.

First of all, I can't believe these guys actually got paid for taking road trips across the country. But they sure had the right idea. Why waste your prime years wasting away in study halls, stuck inside dorm rooms or labratories? Heck, I know a ton of guys my age who might spend 8 or 10 years studying to become doctors or engineers. My fear is that they'll wake up after graduating and realize, "I'm old!"

Obviously, the world needs doctors and engineers and what have you. And if that's your calling in life, then I wish you all the more luck. But I can't get over the fact that some people would rather put their futures ahead of their presents.

But back to my main point here: A road trip is more than just getting from point A to point B. It's the ride that counts. (Like the inspirational posters say: Life is a journey, not a destination). Fact is, the best road trips don't have set destination. Sometimes you don't know where you're headed, much less where you'll wind up. Of course it doesn't really matter where you go or what you do, as long as you have fun. And as long as you have someone along with you on the ride.

Usually the back roads are the better way to go. You won't see too much of the country if you keep to the Interstates the whole time. Make sure to stop at only local restaurants for some home cookin'. And you have to stop at as many of the 'historical marker' signs you can find. (Ronald Reagan's boyhood home is in Dixon, Ill., by the way.)

I suppose you can get all the tips you need from Jack Kerouac or the Motorcycle Maintenance guy. But really you ought to hit the road for yourself and make up your own rules. That's what the Road Trip Nation guys thought. And that's what Jack and I thought when we started road tripping.

Jack and I began the first episode of our baseball road trip in the summer of 2000. We met up in Nashville and drove to St. Louis, Kansas City and Arlington, catching a series at each stop. At each location, we'd walk around the city and take in the local sports bars, bowling alleys and disc golf courses. We may have even inspired our friend J.T. to take his own baseball road trip with some of his family across the Midwest.

The saga continued last summer, when we drove from our jobs in the Grand Canyon out to California, looking up baseball schedules on the fly. We stormed through Chavez Ravine, Edison International Field of Anaheim, Networks Associates Colliseum and Pac Bell Park. Slept in the back of the van most of the time -- much to the dislike of local authorities. Met up with some relatives in Stinson Beach and swam, surfed and sailed to our heart's delight.

Now I'm planning yet another road trip to Mardi Gras in two weeks. I'm currently in Anderson, S.C., interning at a newspaper here. But to tell you the truth, I'd much rather be out on the road.
Fantasy baseball's right around the corner! Hot damn! And I, for one, cannot wait. JT is already talking smack, telling me how much research he's going to do, but I don't need no stinkin' research, 'cause I already know it all. Here's a question: who do you take now?

1) Alex Rodriguez
2) Alfonso Soriano
3) Albert Pujols

4) Your pick

Is the answer:

A) Barry Bonds
B) Vladimir Guerrero
C) Mark Prior
or D) I don't care, write more non-baseball articles!

The answer, of course, is E) JT is a jackass, 'cause he's gonna have the pick right before me and RIP ME UP REPEATEDLY! Dammit.

Time to go outside.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Where did Lance Berkman's power go?

2001 slugging percentage, extra base hits: .620, 94
2002 slugging percentage, extra base hits: .587, 79
2003 slugging percentage, extra base hits: .515, 66

What happened?

For one thing, he had trouble hitting at home at Minute Maid Park in 2003: 884 OPS, 11 HR's - both way down from previous years.

Also, it seems that he's been putting in extra time working on batting right-handed against lefties. Unfortunately, this has had the adverse effect of his splits while batting left-handed go down:

RH OPS, LH OPS

867, 1099
715, 1059
884, 973

The only problem with Lance concentrating on working on batting right-handed is that over 3/4 his at-bats are as a lefty. I'm guessing that his RH OPS was so low in 2002 that he (and others) decided that he had to improve in that area. However, you shouldn't always work on eliminating your weaknesses; sometimes you should just focus on your strengths.

Mathematically, it's not worth it for Lance to raise his RH OPS 169 pts if his LH OPS drops 86 points, simply because the great majority of his at-bats are as a lefty. I admit that there's a chance that some of his more important at-bats will be as a righty because teams will bring in a lefty to pitch to him, but (on the other hand) the Astros might not even have as many 'important' at-bats if Lance doesn't get his power back. Hopefully Lance will get back to what he was doing in 2001, and have a huge year.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Two quick notes.

One: Journalism major / little brother Andy Wade's going to start 'contributing' (haha...no, seriously) a lot more, especially when I depart for Europe in a few weeks. By then the plan is to have all you guys hooked, at which point Andy will be free to write about whatever he wants. But if that doesn't work, I'll remind him to write about baseball too. But honestly, he's a better, funnier writer than I am, so this is good news.

Two: I was deleting all my old papers from college when I found this little essay from my favorite class ever, Baseball in American Life. Enjoy.



"On June 8, 1996, Warren Morris becomes a collegiate legend, hitting “the most dramatic homer in the history of the College World Series.” (Associated Press) Morris’ two-run blast with two outs in the bottom of the ninth – his first homer of the season – gave the LSU Tigers the NCAA Championship over the University of Miami. He was named a preseason All-American, but missed forty games after breaking his right hand in April – he returned to the lineup just before regionals.
At the beginning of the 1999 season, Warren Morris, in his first year in the big leagues, is named the starting second baseman for the perennially disappointing Pittsburgh Pirates. At the end of the 1999 season, Warren Morris has just completed one of the more remarkable rookie years in recent memory. His numbers:
G AB R H HR RBI OBP SLG AVG
147 511 65 147 15 73 .360 .427 .288
“Possessing impressive patience and control in the batter's box, Morris always appears to control the strike zone well. Equipped with a short line-drive stroke, he has good gap power, and should eventually reach the 20 home run plateau. Morris has the make of .300 hitter, with good power potential, and is expected to improve on his stellar 1999 season.” (STATS, Inc.)

On May 17, 2001, Warren Morris is a twenty-seven year old second baseman for the Nashville Sounds. After an unexpectedly disappointing 2000, he has been optioned to Nashville to try to recover his lost swing. However, it is not easy to make it back to the major leagues. On this night, Morris (initially batting .301) appears to be pressing a little too hard:
1st at-bat: 1st inning, Tike Redman on 3rd, 1 out. With a runner in scoring position, Morris is expected to drive in the run, with a grounder to the right side, a sacrifice fly, or a base hit. Instead, he fouls out to the third baseman on a 1-2 count.
2nd at-bat: 4th inning, 0 on, 0 out. Morris (now batting .298) flies out to shallow center on a 2-2 count. Morris, a speedy runner who has been known to beat out infield hits, has hit two weak pop flies.
3rd at-bat: 7th inning, 0 on, 0 out. Morris (now batting .295) strikes out looking on a 3-2 count. He trudges slowly back to the dugout, showing no emotion.
4th at-bat: 9th inning, 0 on, 1 out. Morris (now batting .292) reaches on a weakly hit infield single to the pitcher on a 1-0 count. He moves to second base on a single. With his team down by two runs, the next hitter (the tying run) grounds out to 2nd base, ending the game.
Morris’ story, like baseball (and life), is full of highs and lows. At twenty-one, you’re a College World Series hero; three years later you have a spectacular rookie year; two years later you’ve been demoted to the minors. Perhaps this is one of the enduring characteristics of baseball – the fact that is so damn hard to consistently succeed. I think that we all can relate to that." 5/14/01
Quick, name which team would probably have the most representatives in a 2004 NL Central-only All Star game. My answer....

Catcher: Jason Kendall, Pirates
Honorable Mention: No one. Jason LaRue, if you must. Ausmus, Barret, Matheny, Eddie Perez...yikes.

First Base: Derrek Lee, Cubs.
HM: Jeff Bagwell, Astros.
I'll give the Lee the nod; he's younger, faster, cheaper, less injured, and better defensively. But Bagwell has more facial hair.

Second Base: Jeff Kent, Astros.
HM: D'Angelo Jimenez, Reds.
Kent's got more power, but Jimenez was awesome after coming to the Reds, and he lit up winter ball.

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria, Cards.
HM: No one else is even close.

Third Base: Scott Rolen, Cards.
HM: Morgan Ensberg, Astros.
Rolen's awesome. Look up his stats. (Check out his OPS+ line!) Ensberg needs to prove he can do it again.

Right Field: Sammy Sosa, Cubs.
HM: Richard Hidalgo, Astros.
Cork or not, Sosa's more consistent, more patient, more powerful. Hidalgo's got a better arm and more bullet wounds.

Center Field: Jim Edmonds, Cards.
HM: Tie - Corey Patterson, Cubs, Scott Podsednik, Brewers.
Edmonds is a monster when healthy - Patterson and Podsednik are suprisingly similar players (Patterson has a little more power, Podsednik a little more speed.)

Left Field: Albert Pujols, Cards (if they keep him there, and I've read that they will.)
HM: Lance Berkman, Astros, Adam Dunn, Reds.
Pujols is the second-most dangerous hitter in the game today - Dunn had 27 HR's, 74 BB's in only 381 AB's and is younger than Berkman.

Starting Pitcher: Mark Prior, Cubs.
HM: Roy Oswalt, Astros.
Prior is the best pitcher in the game today. He's 23. Oswalt's up there, but there are injury concerns.

Reliever: Octavio Dotel, Astros.
HM: Latroy Hawkins, Cubs.
To tell the truth, Hawkins could well be more valuable than Dotel next year because he could easily throw 20+ more innings since he hasn't been cursed with the closer label yet. But I'll stick with Dotel for now.

Final tally:

Astros: 2 winners, 5 HM.
Cubs: 3 winners, 2 HM.
Cards: 4 winners, 0 HM.
Reds: 0 winners, 2 HM.
Brewers: 0 winners, 1 HM.
Pirates: 1 winner, 0 HM.

So, what does all this mean? The Astros have the most total 'votes', with 7. I think they've got the most balanced team. The Cubs are next with 5, and I could have easily added Kerry Wood, or Aramis Ramirez, but I felt like they just missed the cut. Their pitching staff is young and dominant. The Cards have the stars (Renteria, Rolen, Pujols, Edmonds), but too many holes, and very little pitching. The Reds, Brewers, and Pirates? Well, there's a reason everyone's calling it a 3 or 2 team race. These last 3 teams just don't have the players yet.

Well, that's it for today. Oh, in case you haven't heard, this blog was recently linked by Aaron's Baseball Blog, which was (in many ways) the main inspiration for me to start writing about baseball. So go visit his site. Now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

At last, it is time for The Tournament to continue. Drew, it's all yours. (For anyone that has no idea what this is, click here for Round 1.)

The Sandman's Uber-Supreme Championship of Toughness

ROUND 2
Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I finally decided to take some more of my precious study time away and write the second round. I’d like to give a shout out to the many millions of new readers from AstrosDaily. Jack thinks that writing more about baseball will bring you in, but we all know the truth. You all want to see who’s tough. So, without further delay or rambling from me, I will get down to it. Let’s get it on!

Mr. T vs. John Wayne
Wow! Can I just say that before I get started? What terrible luck it is that these two guys would have to meet in the second round. Both seem pretty ├╝ber if you think about it. However, this tournament is not about perceived toughness, it is about how many hot dogs one can eat! Wait, sorry, I just reverted to Harry Carry-mode. I guess I just got a little excited about Vandy’s win over Kentucky last night and remembered the good times with the Wadester and the Maniacs. Good times Norm. Anyway, these two guys were both college football players. Can you imagine Mr. T attempting to tackle you? Hell, I would soil myself right there. On the other side, John Wayne played several years at USC. Props go to the USC Trojans this year for having a great season and getting second place. I’m sure it would have made The Duke proud; although if he had been on the team, there’s no way miniscule California would have taken them down. Alright, let’s get down to it. I mentioned in the first round that Mr. T was America’s Toughest Bouncer. Well, unluckily for him, John Wayne has developed a fighting style that’s perfectly designed to fight a bouncer. His friend once bet him that if they stood on opposite sides of a newspaper, The Duke couldn’t hit him. He laid the paper down in a doorway, and just when Wayne was about to swing, he shut the door. To most people, this would have caused a problem, but never count his Dukeness out. Wayne punched through the door and floored his buddy. Ok, that’s what John Wayne did to his friend, imagine what he’d do to T. Geez, I can’t believe I just made Mr. T lose.

Alexander Karelin vs. Jet Li
Alright all of you martial arts fans out there. I’m sure most of you are counting this match as over and done with before I write anymore. Well, if there’s one thing that the Ultimate Fighting Championship has shown us, it is that grappling and wrestling are invaluable skills when fighting. So, this should be a pretty good match. At this point I’m just going to describe a little bit more about Karelin, dubbed The Experiment, for those of you who don’t know too much about him. If you’ll remember, Karelin KO’d Hulk Hogan last round with something called the reverse body lift. This move is Karelin’s signature move, and it has been the end of many of the world’s finest Olympic wrestlers. Let me just give you a description of the move: “First he wraps his arms around the stomach of his prone opponent and rolls him over in the ‘gut wrencher.’ Then, as the muscles in his massive arms and legs come alive as if there are snakes under his skin, he lifts the helpless guy up and tosses him over his shoulder. Greco-Roman wrestling, unlike freestyle wrestling, allows only upper body grappling. Throws are not uncommon, except in the superheavyweight division, for who could pick up a squirming 300-pound body? Karelin can.” It’s called “the most painful, frightening, and humiliating move in wrestling.” Yeah, that’s pretty tough. Ok, so why am I bringing up this throw maneuver so much? If you’ll remember when Jet Li first introduced himself to American audiences, it was in the movie, Lethal Weapon 4. In the climactic scene, Li squares off against Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. Of course, everyone knew that Li was going to lose, but it should have come from some unbelievable luck from the dynamic duo. NO! They actually held their own against Jet for a while. The key move in this analysis comes during this fight. Jet Li, master of Chinese martial arts, gets picked up by an old guy and thrown over his shoulder. This sounds eerily similar to Karelin. I’m sorry Jet, I know you’re fast, but how are you going to take out a man who weighs 300 lbs and is every bit as fast as you? Karelin ends up putting Li in the reverse body lift, and he still hasn’t landed.

Dolph Lundgren vs. Sylvester Stallone
Here’s a great rematch for ya. Rocky IV’s climactic final fight was one of the greatest boxing fights of cinematic history. The hulking Russian vs. the smaller, but still beast, American. Rocky, Stallone, won that fight of course. That, however, was in movieland, and we all know that Dolph Lundgren always gets his butt wrapped up and handed to him in a basket in movieland. I’m just going to make this short and sweet. Remember, that Stallone’s only formal training was getting some boxing lessons while filming the Rocky movies. Lundgren undoubtedly got the same type of training. This should give the edge slightly to Stallone since he did five movies in the Rocky series. Unfortunately, when you add in Lundgren’s karate skills, the match just gets silly. The European heavyweight karate champion is going to destroy the fictional world boxing champion. I wish I could add more to this analysis, but Stallone just doesn’t belong here in the second round.

Bruce Lee vs. Lou Ferrigno
I shall call this match, the Berzerker Match. Both of these fighters have the berzerker-mode option. Ferrigno, as you recall, played the Hulk in its original form. There was no need to make him a CGI character when Ferrigno was around. He was TOUGH! For the uneducated and utterly hopeless people reading this, I’ll give a bit of an explanation. When a wimpy scientist guy gets a little miffed, his body expands and he rips through his clothes (saving us the horror at looking at a green pecker of course) becoming the Hulk. Bruce Lee has a similar mode. The few times that he seems to be having a little bit of trouble in his fights, Bruce usually just kinda looks at the guy, tastes his own blood, rips his shirt off, then flexes for a bit. I’ve never seen anyone that had more control over every single muscle in his body. Well, once he’s in that mode, there’s just no stopping him. Not even claws, ala Vega from Street Fighter, can stop him. Ok, so it’s Hulk vs. enraged little Chinese man. I mean, the Hulk could throw a tank for miles, how’s he going to have trouble with Lee. Well, the Hulk was not supposed to be that strong, it was just a little exaggeration on the part of Ang Lee, who made the recent dud of a movie. The other weakness Ferrigno has for him is that the Hulk is fictional. I’m sure you all knew that this observation was coming, but after the cheap shot I gave you all with the Stallone/Lundgren fight being so short, I thought that I would make this one a bit longer. In truth, this fight is probably over much quicker. Bruce Lee doesn’t even have to resort to berzerker-mode because Ferrigno won’t even be able to hit him. Sorry Lou, but Bruce Lee finds you quite cute and cuddly when you’re angry.
A Few Baseball Notes:

Pudge Rodriguez officially agreed to a 4-year, $40 million deal with the Detroit Tigers yesterday. He immediately said, "I don't think of the Tigers as a bad team...they just had a bad year." Conversely, a poster on Baseball Primer wrote If all the moves the Tigers have made over the offseason result in 20 more wins...the Tigers will still lose 99 games. I don't think this is a great move, though - $10 million a year for 4 years to a 32-year old catcher? Pudge is a Hall-of-Famer, yes; his last six season have produced OPS+ values (OPS+ = OPS compared to the rest of the league, taking ballparks into account - 100 is average) of 120, 125, 152, 130, 123, and 124. He's still got a great throwing arm, and his Defensive Range Factor is well above league average. But, as has been mentioned elsewhere...he's a 32-year old catcher, and 32-year old catchers simply do not age well. Pudge is such a unique player that he's not truly similar to anybody, but according to Baseball Reference, his most similar players include Ted Simmons, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, and Joe Torre. All of these players experienced a fairly significant offensive decline following their age-32 season, particularly Simmons and Carter. The human body wasn't meant to squat for two hours a day, 162 days a year, which doesn't include practice, postseason, spring training, etc. It's hard on the legs, thighs, and ankles, and it's gotta make you hella stiff. Although it is true that sports medicine is much better than it was during the careers of the four previous catchers, I still don't believe Pudge will be the same player four years from now that he is today. Would I love to have Pudge on my team. Hell yeah! For 4 years @ 40 million? Nope. Not even to replace Brad Ausmus.

There have been murmurs that the Astros might go after Ugueth Urbina as either a closer or a set-up man. First things first: yeah, he's still pretty good - he averages well over a strikeout an inning for his career, he's only (about to be) 30 years old, and he was lights-out after joining the Marlins midway through the year. BUT: He'll be expensive. He's earned 4.2, 6.7, and 4.5 million the last 3 years, and now he's got World Series Ace Reliever stamped on him. There was also a very nice study done over at BPRo that argued NO reliever is worth that much money, simply because: even great relievers don't last long, they get injured often (Robb Nen, Wagner in '00), and they only pitch 80 (at most) innings a year. I'm sure Urbina will get a multi-year deal somewhere, probably something like 2 years, 10 million. I hope it's not in Houston.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Wow. What a weird Super Bowl:

With 5 minutes left in the first half, the score was 0-0. At halftime, the score was 14-10, New England. At the end of the third quarter the score was still 14-10. At the end of the game it was 32-29 New England.

At the end of the first quarter, Jake Delhomme was 1-of-9 for 1 yard. By the end of the game, he was 16-for-33 for 323 yards and 3 TD's.

20 minutes into the game, Carolina had 0 net yards. By the end of the game, they had amassed 387 yards, including the longest TD drive (95 yards) and the longest TD pass (85 yards) in Super Bowl history.

All numbers aside, the Panthers simply did not play well enough to win the game. Their vaunted defense was dominated most of the night; if Vinatieri goes 3-for-3 and Brady doesn't throw a stupid, stupid interception from the 10, the Patriots easily score 40 points. They had 12 penalties. They allowed 4 sacks. John Kasay couldn't even keep his last kickoff inbounds with 68 seconds to play.

The Panthers couldn't stop the run OR the pass, especially near the end of the game, when they had to have a stop. Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning, hero of the NFC Championship game, repeatedly got ripped by David Givens, Deion Branch, and anyone else the Patriots threw at him. Hell, the entire Panthers secondary absolutely SUCKED when the game was on the line. Their supposedly terrific defensive line was also nullifed; Brady was never sacked, and although he was repeatedly rushed and hit hard, he generally had enough time to find the open receiver(s). I just can't get over how bad the Panthers defense was. It seemed like they guessed wrong on every single play all night. Early on, they stopped the pass, so the Patriots ran the ball well. Then they load up to stop the run and Brady rips them on two play-action passes for TD's. Then at the end of the game they allow three straight scoring drives when one stop could mean the difference in their season.

Oh yeah, the commercials weren't all that great either. My top few were: 1) NFL - "Tomorrow" song, Jerry Jones does cartwheels 2) Budweiser - The Clydsedale Donkey and 3) Frito/Lay - Old People Battle for chips. But good commercials were few and far between, with tons of crap like CBS promos, AOL 9.0 crap, and the most boring car commercials ever. All in all, kind of a lackluster Super Bowl, with the main excitement being how the hell the Panthers will score next and a nice shot of Janet Jackson's right breast at the end of halftime.

But it's still the Super Bowl, a celebration of football, fun, and American excess. You gotta love it, right?

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Yesterday I received two phone calls at almost exactly the same time from two of my friends telling me that this blog had just been added as a link from AstrosDaily, the best Astros site on the internet, and one that you can visit by checking out my links at the bottom of the page. To some of you, this may not seem like such a big deal, and to those of you who fall into this category, I must respectfully ask you to shove it, because this is a big deal, and it rocks, and it is the best.

What this means for this blog is I'm going to talk about baseball a little bit more often. Don't worry, I'll still have time for occasional ramblings, guest blogs, etc.

There was an interesting article in today's Chronicle by Richard Justice. Justice is pretty good, although he occasionally Writes. In only. Short Sentences. For Maximum. Dramatic Effect. But I like most of his articles. Today he wrote about Astros manager Jimy Williams, and that although he may be on the hot seat (which would be new to me), he shouldn't be, because he is a good manager, a player's manager, and a professional. Let's take an in-depth look at Jimy Williams:

He is 866-746 for his career, a .537 winning percentage.
He managed the Toronto Blue Jays from 1986-1989, finishing 4th-2nd-3rd-4th.
He managed the Boston Red Sox from 1997-half of 2001, finishing 4-2-2-2-2.
He's managed the Houston Astros in 2002 and 2003, finishing 2nd and 2nd.

A new way to judge managers, which may or may not be completely accurate, is to look at a team's expected win-loss (also known as Pythagorean) record (bases on runs scored^2 and runs allowed^2) and see how this compares to their actual won-loss record. The theory is that a good manager will get the most out of his team, winning more close games than he loses, etc.

(Thanks to FredUD for these stats:)For reference, Bobby Cox has 'beaten' Pythagoras 11 out of 13 years - he has 'added' 30 wins over those 13 years. Dusty Baker has 'beaten' Pythagoras 7 out of 11 years, and is +18 overall. *Drum roll* Jimy Williams has beaten Pythagoras 1 out of 11 years, and is -36 overall.

-36 wins / 11 years = -3.27 wins per year. -3.27 WINS PER YEAR!!

I know this isn't the most reliable statistic in the world, but if you're an Astros fan this has to make you sit up and take notice.

One thing I think Jimy does well is manage his starting pitchers. He caught a lot of flak last year for having a quick hook, but I thought he did an excellent job, particularly with Oswalt, Miller, and Redding - there is a (hard-to-define) correlation between high pitch counts and injury, and Williams is playing it safe. Dusty Baker, on the other hand, had Mark Prior and Kerry Wood throw 120+ pitches per game multiple times each down the stretch, which may well have damaging long-term effects.

Here are some other interesting numbers:

The 2003 Houston Astros ranked 14th in the NL in stolen bases attempted. I think this is a good thing - we certainly didn't have any speed demons, and there has been work done that demonstrates stealing bases is generally overrated - it's usually not worth risking an out.

The Astros had 61 sacrfice bunts, which ranks 13th-lowest in the NL. I think this is a great thing - we're not giving away many 'free outs'.

The Astros issued 53 intentional walks, which ranks 6th-highest in the NL. I think this is a little high, especially since we don't play in a division with Barry Bonds. The only guy I would intentionally walk in the NL Central is Pujols. No one else.

I think Jimy has done a good job handling the pitching staff, and we're not wasting tons of outs bunting and stealing, so why does he have such a bad record against Pythagoras? I don't know, but I don't like it. He better do pretty damn well this year, because he certainly has the talent to go a long way. Otherwise, I'll be one of the first in line calling for his replacement.