Thursday, June 30, 2011

Attitude Problems

Johnny, an 11-year old little leaguer swings with ferocity, hoping to hit the ball as hard and as far as possible.  Maybe he does so to make his parents proud, prove to his friends that his small frame does not imply a lack of power, or to prove something to his older brother.  Despite the reason, the youngster fails to hit the ball very far, instead popping it up to the shortstop.  In disgust the hitter walks up the first base line readying himself to return discouragingly to the dugout.  Instead, the shortstop drops the pop-up and then hurries a throw to first base that goes 3 feet over the first baseman's head hitting the fence next to the dugout.  Wallowing in his lack of power Johnny does not hear his coach, his teammates, and all of the parents in the crowd screaming for him to run to first base, and by the time he comprehends the situation the first baseman has already retrieved the ball and tagged first base completing the out.  

Despite feeling depressed and embarrassed for Johnny, this moment depicts a rudimentary yet crucial baseball lesson.  Johnny, as well as all young baseball players, learn that no matter what happens, always run it out.  Whether the hitter pops it up foul to the third baseman or hits a home run, he or she should always run hard to first base.  Although 9/10 times a weak popup in the infield will be caught for an out deeming the act of hustling to first base a waste, there exists a chance that the fielder will drop the ball.  Many times in sports, players will weigh risks and rewards, quickly calculating in their minds whether to attempt a deep pass or to dump the ball off to the running back, or try and take on 3 defenders instead of waiting for your teammates to run down court.  All sports involve split second decisions in which a player decides to make the safe play with less likelihood of reward or to attempt the spectacular play with higher risks but greater rewards.  In baseball these decisions occur often, but the decision to hustle or not should never be one of them.  

A player who does not hustle or run the ball out, not only embarrasses themselves, but disrespects the game as well.  The decision not to hustle is one in which the player puts themselves ahead of their team and the game.  In little league, coaches use such occurrences as learning opportunities for the youngsters, a time to teach them that not hustling is wrong.  When a professional baseball player does not hustle or run out a seemingly routine play, fans boo, managers yell, and reporters ask questions.  Fans understand, to some extent, that players will not always get a hit or make the spectacular catch, but they expect that a man who plays a game for a living and gets paid 40 times as much money to do so as a public school teacher does to tame and educate rowdy 11-year olds will put all his effort into an act as simple as running.  Managers want their team to win, and winning first and foremost comes from playing hard and playing intelligently.  Not hustling constitutes laziness and stupidity, thus most managers will not accept lackadaisical and asinine play.  Reporters will berate players with questions pertaining to the lack of effort, possibly over-examining the play causing the player to respond with anger, another bad move.

Recently such situations have "popped up" in Major League Baseball.  As a Phillies fan I still remember June 5th, 2008 when Jimmy Rollins hit a pop up to shallow left field with runners on 2nd and 3rd base and 2 outs.  Reds shortstop Paul Janish dropped the ball allowing Carlos Ruiz to score.  Rollins jogged apathetically to first base where he remained when the play finished.  Had Rollins been running hard, he would have easily made it safely to second base.  One inning later Rollins did not join his teammates on the field because Charlie Manuel benched him.  When asked about the play after the game Rollins said, "There is no explanation," Rollins said. 
"I just didn't do it. It happens every once in a while. Sometimes the manager gets you. It shouldn't happen. I'm not disappointed in myself. I know better. Just go out there and make sure I don't do it again. Nothing to get disappointed about. Something you learn from. Don't do it again."
   Despite Rollins' unenthusiastic play the Phillies finished the season in 1st place in the NL East and won the world series.  Rollins' lack of effort did not affect the game or the season adversely, but it represented a style of play that, if contagious, could cause a team to lose respect, fans, and games.  

Even more recently, Phillies rookie right fielder Dominic Brown scalded a ground ball to Oakland A's second baseman Jemile Weeks who bobbled the ball, recovered and easily threw out the speedy Brown. Brown did not hustle up the first base line, making what could have been a close play into a routine out.  When asked after the game Brown said, 
"It was definitely a wake-up call, I wasn't even thinking about it until I talked to Charlie. I was like, 'You know what, that's not my style of play.  I'm not mentioning no names, but a couple guys got on me, which is good," Brown said. "I was wrong. My dad got on me. He said, 'You need to run the ball out and I'm not going to say anything else.' He got on me pretty tough about it." 
 Brown's manager, teammates, and even father found it upsetting to see such a bright young talent not playing the game correctly.  Dominic responded the next day by hitting a home run and a double against Josh Beckett.  Although home runs and doubles do not make up for Brown's mental error the previous game, it shoes the resilience needed to be an everyday Major Leaguer.   

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen never hides his emotions, cringing during losses and celebrating wildly during wins.  He never shies away from talking to the media and has always called out his players and sometimes even his superiors when he is unhappy.  Guillen's center fielder Alex Rios popped up in foul territory to Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton on tuesday lazily jogging up the first base line.  After Rios' next at bad Guillen benched him for his lack of hustle.  Unlike Brown and Rollins Rios barely commented on the play saying,  
"It happened last night, and what can you do? [Guillen] had to do what he had to do, and it’s all good. Let’s move forward."
Guillen's response perfectly depicts the attitude of spectators when professional athletes become lazy.  
"I don’t think I send the message to him — I just send the message to the team.  I think the worst thing that can happen to any manager is when the players don’t play the game right. I’m a big baseball fan. We have people in the stands watching us play. As long as I’m here, I’m not going to let it happen.  I don’t have nothing against Rios. . . . I never criticize my players for being 0-for-4 or striking out, but I will criticize my players when they’re not playing the way they should be playing." 
No matter your size, age, or skill level, every athlete should hustle.  In a competition, apathy is akin to giving up.  Major Leaguers are paid exorbatent amounts of money to play a game.  Fans revere professional athletes, wishing they could switch places with them for even one day.  Professional baseball players are blessed to play instead of work for their salaries, being compensated for it very well.  In doing so they become icons who, at times, may not perform up to their potential, but must always remember to play hard.  No play is ever over until the umpire says out or safe, and no player should ever assume anything because to do so is to become a prima donna instead of a professional.  Whether it is 11-year old Johnny or a two time All-star outfielder like Alex Rios, all players at every level should play with purpose and vigor. Respect the game, hustle, and play intelligently, these three axioms ring true at all times and should never be forgotten.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Hook

As a former pitcher, my baseball specialty is pitching.  Previously I wrote about the changeup, and in continuing the series on different pitches, I will now focus on the curveball.  First it is important to rectify one glaring misconception about the curveball.  Despite its name, a curveball rarely curves.  The closest pitch that comes to curving is a slider, but it is better described by its given name because it slides across the plate.  When I was younger and I mentioned throwing a curveball, those adults in my life who thought they understood baseball would tell me that one throws a curveball by snapping their wrist when throwing the pitch.  Sadly, yet not surprisingly, these self-determined "baseball experts" had it all wrong.  The wrist snapping motion will produce something closer to a slider or possibly a “slurve” (in between a curveball and slider).  A slider is not only difficult to throw, but also a dangerous pitch for a young pitcher to throw, whose body hasn't fully developed.

A true curveball has a 12-6 motion.  Imagine a clock, with 12 o'clock at the top and 6 o'clock at the bottom.  A curveball loops from the top of the strike zone (12 o'clock) to the bottom of the zone (6 o'clock).  It is classified as a breaking ball because the pitch literally has a breaking point—the point at which the ball drops from the 12 o'clock position.  Curveball speeds can vary depending on the pitcher's strength, arm speed, and mechanics.  An average major league curveball clocks in between 70 and 83 mph.  Given that the average fastball speed is 90 mph, a curveball constitutes a solid difference in velocity, something a pitcher needs to be effective.  

A classic curveball grip has the pitcher find the backwards "C" on the ball that is created by the seams and place his pointer finger and middle finger side-by-side with the pointer finger on the top seam that makes up the "C".  Next the thumb is placed seam on the bottom of the ball.  The ring finger and pinky finger are curled under and away from the ball.  While gripping a curveball is simple, throwing the pitch correctly takes much practice and concentration.  

The curveball, unlike the changeup, has a specific arm motion attached to it.  If a pitcher takes his arm with the back of the hand facing up, and then turns the arm 90 degrees clockwise as if to give the thumb's up signhe is ready to throw the ball.  Using the aforementioned grip, he throws the curveball with a chopping arm motion while simultaneously letting the ball roll off his fingers so as to create a tight spin.  Look at the arm motion involved in throwing a curveball in this slow motion shot.  Notice the chopping motion and the way Lincecum holds the ball; they are both classic curveball attributes.  This spin and grip cause the ball to arc in a parabolic motion.  If thrown improperly, the ball may sail on the pitcher or sometimes land in front of the plate.  Controlling the curveball isn't easy and takes practice.

Mastering the curveball can instantly improve a pitcher's abilities on the mound.  When I first began throwing the curveball I could not throw it consistently for a strike, but I used it as an 0-2 or 1-2 count pitch in order to strike out the hitter.  In those situations the curveball is best thrown so that the ball appears to be a strike but then, because of the spin, breaks out of the strike zone and lands below the knees of the hitter.  Hitters will see a ball that looks to be slower and in the strike zone but instead ends up at their feet, thus causing them to swing over the pitch.  Eventually, I learned as most pitchers do, to throw the curveball for a strike, improving my pitching abilities even more.  Hitters adapt to the pitching they face.  If a pitcher does not learn to throw the curve for a strike, hitters will recognize the curveball, will know it will be a ball, and refrain from swinging.  

Most high school and college pitchers throw the curveball, but many abandon it in favor of the slider because a slider can be thrown with greater velocity, and can be easier to throw for a strike.  Nonetheless, many major league pitchers who throw curveballs do so with great success.  Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, and Tim Lincecum throw three of the best curveballs currently in the majors.  Historically, no one threw a better curveball than Sandy Koufax. His legendary curveball earned him Hall of Fame status.  In this video, Cliff Lee demonstrates the effectiveness of a curveball.  Start watching the video at the 30 second mark and watch until the 50 second mark.  Within those 20 seconds, Lee displays a great looping curveball.  There he is throwing the pitch to a right handed hitter, but when a pitcher is facing a hitter who hits from the same side that the pitcher throws, a breaking ball such as a curveball can be devastating and unhittable.  

So, to recap, a curveball is a breaking ball that doesn't actually curve, but instead loops from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock.  It is a good pitch for a young teenager to learn and add to their repertoire.  Major-leaguers use it by playing it off of the fastball due to the curveball's difference in speed and its break. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Setting The Table

What do Jose Reyes, Ichiro, and Juan Pierre have in common? If you guessed that they are all career leadoff hitters, then you are correct. Every player in Major League Baseball is described by their defensive position. PA announcers around the league announce players by their defensive positions. Likewise, fans will refer to players as "the shortstop" or " the catcher." Players are sometimes referred to by their most common offensive position in the batting order, but these occurrences are less frequent. Even though baseball fans choose to call players by defensive positions, certain offensive positions remain important and unique. Specific spots in the batting order such as 1-5, 8 and 9 have significance to them, just like defensive positions. For example, the fourth hitter in the lineup is usually reserved for the player with the most power and the best ability to drive in runs.

The leadoff position in the batting order has extreme importance as well. The leadoff hitter has to have speed, good base running ability, and most importantly, the ability to get on base. The first hitter in the lineup is responsible for reaching first base safely however he can, so that the big bats that follow can score him. Whether a team is built upon manufacturing runs using bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases, or hit-and-runs, or built on home run hitting, every team needs a qualified and productive leadoff hitter.

Leadoff hitters should excel in specific statistical categories in order to prove their worth. These statistics have evolved over time. In the past, a hitter with a high batting average and lots of stolen bases would be considered a good leadoff hitter. Players that fit this mold include Kenny Lofton, Craig Biggio, and Rickey Henderson. Biggio and Henderson both compiled over 3,000 hits in their careers and all three players stole at least 400 stolen bases. These players were among the best at the leadoff position, finding numerous ways to get hits including bunting for singles and using their speed to beat out infield singles. Despite the success of these types of players, , managers in 2011 do not look to those strengths when choosing their leadoff hitters.

Instead, managers look for players with high on-base percentages (or “OBP”). As a result, players like Jayson Werth, Kevin Youkilis, David Eckstein, and Ryan Theriot find themselves leading off for their respective teams despite lacking blazing speed or frequent hits. These players consistently get on base, whether by hit, walk, or getting hit by pitch. None, except Werth, has ever shown above average speed, but their responsibility is not to steal bases. All four players have career on base percentages over .340, and career batting averages below .291. Werth and Youkilis are considered doubles hitters with above average power. Such hitters would not usually find themselves leading off, but their ability to give their teammates chances to collect RBIs separates them from other faster leadoff hitters.

The key to Werth and Youkilis’s success is their high pitches seen per plate appearance (or “P/PA”). Both see over 4 pitches per plate appearance, ranking them in the top 15 in MLB this season. P/PAis an indicator of plate discipline and patience. Usually a P/PA over 3.90 is considered good and anything over 4.00 is great. Leadoff hitters should sport high P/PAs because as the first hitter of the game, they have the responsibility to enable his teammates to see the types of pitches the pitcher throws, his speed, and accuracy. Players who have high P/PA and high OBP usually hit well with two strikes and foul lots of pitches off, thus putting in play only a pitch they want. These players provide other benefits for the rest of the lineup. In addition to allowing fellow teammates a better look at the pitcher, players with high P/PA cause the opposing pitcher to throw more pitches. This is important because the game has evolved from a time when pitchers had no pitch counts to the present, where pitchers begin games with a maximum number of pitches they can throw before exiting the game. If a team wants to exhaust a pitcher, hitters with high P/PA will do the trick.

Eckstein and Theriot fit the mold of players who may not have great talent but are hustlers. These players are not physically gifted like many of their counterparts.Instead, they play a cerebral game, outsmarting the opposing team and out-hustling them. David Eckstein played 10 seasons in Major League Baseball and compiled 143 hit-by-pitches. When batting, Eckstein always stood very close to the plate, forcing pitchers to either throw the ball where he wanted to hit it or to hit him. Both possibilities result in Eckstein reaching base. In addition, both he and Ryan Theriot are smart base runners. Despite not accruing lots of stolen bases, both infielders scored, on average, one run every other game over their careers (Eckstein-.535, Theriot-.529). Both hitters read the ball well and thus knew when to go from first to third or when to turn a single into a double.

Leadoff hitters have the dubious job of beginning the process of scoring runs. Getting on base, staying on base, and then scoring runs are responsibilities that fall to the first hitters in the batting order. Recently, these hitters have not all fit the previous model of the first hitter in the lineup, but despite not having Ricky Henderson-like speed or an Ichiro-like batting average, today's leadoff hitters still produce runs. Seeing lots of pitches, taking an extra base, and making few mistakes make a good modern day leadoff hitter. Hitters will probably never be known by the position they held in the batting order because such positions are fickle and sometimes from game to game. Despite this fact, the leadoff position, like the clean-up (4th spot) role, possesses special qualifications for which only a select few players qualify.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Injury Bug

In sports vernacular, the "disabled list" (“DL”) or "injured reserve" are commonly used terms thrown around as if the average inhabitant of the earth understands its meaning without the need for further explanation. For those unfamiliar with these terms, they describe a special status given to athletes with injuries in order to allow substitute players to temporarily replace them for the duration of their injury. If I sprain my ankle running, I still come into work or go to class, but professional athletes do not have that luxury. Recently Derek Jeter, who is in pursuit of 3,000 hits, attempted to leg out a slowly hit ground ball and strained his calf muscle. From the moment Jeter left Monday's game due to injury, the media has offered conjecture as to the severity of his injury. Will he will be placed on the disabled list? And, of course, how this will affect his quest to accomplish a goal that only 27 other Major League Baseball player have reached in the sports 230+ years of existence?

Jeter's injury probably won't adversely affect his team's play or their chances to be competitive, especially if his stint on the DL is short. Unfortunately, for many teams, most of the time that is not the case. Many times, an injury, depending on the type, length of recovery time, and who is injured, can dramatically affect a team and its chances of winning. The Minnesota Twins finished first in the AL central last season making the playoffs for the second consecutive season. This season they find themselves in last place mostly due to injuries. The 2011 Twins roster looks fairly similar to the 2010 roster, which begs the question, "Why have they been so bad this season after such a successful 2010 campaign?" The Twins' star players are without a doubt Joe Mauer, Justin Mourneau, and Delmon Young. Mauer has played in only 11 out of 65 games this season, Mourneau has missed 10 games, and Young has missed 20. Three key players on the DL has been the leading contributor to the Twins' struggles. Injuries, especially when afflicted upon smaller market teams with one or two key players, can plummet a first place team to the cellar.

Bigger market teams may avoid this plight. For An example bigger market teams affected but not debilitated by injuries are the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants. Recently, the Phillies, for the first time all season, put out their original starting lineup. Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton, Carlos Ruiz, Dominic Brown, and at least three bullpen pitchers have all visited the disabled list this season. Only recently have the Phillies had a starting 9 with no bench players. Because the team did not lose key players like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Placido Polanco to injury, the team has sustained its winning ways. But only a team with talent like the Phillies, Yankees, or Red Sox can sustain a high winning percentage while suffering numerous injuries to crucial players.

The San Francisco Giants lost star catcher Buster Posey for the rest of the season, second baseman Freddie Sanchez for an indeterminate amount of time, and will only now get third baseman Pablo Sandoval back in the lineup after a long DL stint. The Giants, like the Phillies, haven't lost all of their key assets and thus remain afloat and competitive despite injuries to 3/5 of their starting infield. Pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson, and Sergio Romo have all remained healthy, thus allowing the Giants to retain their lead in the NL west. Not all teams are so lucky. The Twins are only one example of a smaller market team where 2-3 injured stars have lead to a drop in the standings. The A's and Angels have suffered similar fates. The 2011 Oakland A's were destined to win because of their young but formidable pitching staff. Regrettably, key pitchers Andrew Bailey, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, and Josh Outman have all succumbed to the DL for short periods of time. Anderson recently received good news regarding his elbow pain. At first Anderson's meeting with "Tommy John" expert Dr. James Andrews raised alarm bells, but ultimately his injury only required 6 weeks of rehab instead of major surgery followed by 18 months of rehab.

Not all teams are blessed with a prognosis like the A's pitcher Anderson. Last season, Stephen Strasburg burst onto the scene throwing 100 mph and winning baseball games, something few Washington Nationals pitchers have been able to accomplish. He left a game a few months after his debut with tightness in his elbow and received a diagnoses requiring Tommy John surgery. He remains injured, and most likely will not pitch again in the majors until August. In his case, the Nationals not only lose his stellar pitching, but they also miss the thousands more fans that would have attend games in D.C to see Strasburg.

Injuries are not always an awful scenario for a team. Sometimes injuries allow teams to call up highly touted prospects who otherwise wouldn't be called up. Other times injuries cause a general manager to make a trade that leads to better results than expected. Although these situations occur, injuries, especially to starters, always have negative aspects to them. In Derek Jeter's case, his team may barley miss his play, but his pursuit of 3,000 hits will be put on hold. Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies shortstop, suffered a similar injury to Jeter's current calf strain, and when asked about it, said,
"The best advice I can give Derek is, you’re going to get healed in the offseason."
He also mentioned that despite returning to play last season, his calf injury never fully healed until December."When you think your good, you’re not even close," remarked Rollins.
Essentially Rollins is telling Jeter, "Just because you’re about to become the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits, the 27th major leaguer of all time to accomplish the feat, and secure your eventual induction into the Baseball hall of Fame, don't rush coming back because that may just worsen the injury." This seems to be good advice from someone who plays the same position with similar energy and competitiveness, and suffered a similar injury.

Jimmy Rollins is right. Players should make sure they are healthy before returning to the lineup, no matter how much their team needs them to play because other factors are stake. At the same time, baseball players are commonly referred to as wimpy athletes because they go to the disabled list with injuries like a mild calf strains, blisters, and elbow tightness. In hockey and football players regularly play with injuries more serious than those just mentioned, and such behavior is seen as gallant by fans who see such players as putting their team and teammates ahead of their own personal health. However, such behavior is foolish, especially for injuries like concussions, which can be sustained at any time and have few physical symptoms. I do not have a problem with a player playing injured as long as it is determined that the injury will not affect their play and will not have lasting affects on their health. But when players play through serious injuries, they need to rethink their decision. These injuries may not just affect the rest of their sports career—they may affect them for the rest of their lives.

I seriously injured my elbow pitching in high school. The injury was bad enough that my Orthopedist told me that I needed Tommy John surgery if I was to return to the mound. Instead of going through the surgery and extensive rehab, however, I opted out of the surgery and never pitched ever again. Although I still think about whether I made the right choice, overall I know that not pitching again is probably the best and healthiest choice. Although these decisions are never easy, especially when they affect one's livelihood (in professional sports), players need to consider all of their options and do what is best for their health, which sometimes means sitting out for long periods of time. So, I say to Derek Jeter, 3,000 hits will happen, and despite the media hoopla it does not matter when. So sit out, rehab and return healthy, strong, and ready to join the 3,000 hit club.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Power Rankings June 13th

Top Ten Teams as of June 13th: On Mondays, most sports websites come out with their power rankings. Power rankings are a complete ranking of teams in a sports league from top to bottom. Usually websites list the team, their record and then a small piece about how they have been playing lately. Power rankings often are superficial, worth only a quick glace because they provide little information and are fairly subjective. I find baseball power rankings uninteresting because they rarely surprise me, and untrustworthy due to lack of substance. That being said, for sports for which I have less in-depth knowledge, I like power rankings. They provide me with a quick overall summary rather than requiring me tolook into in depth stats and other analysis to get a sense of what is going on.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for baseball power rankings, I figured I would provide my own rankings for this week. I won't go into all 30 MLB teams, but I will mention my top 10.

1. Boston Red Sox:
The Red Sox have been on fire the last few weeks. Adrian Gonzalez is proving to be exactly what the Red Sox were hoping he would be: an RBI machine that can hit for average while playing well above average defense at first base. Their pitching has been great too, with old timer Tim Wakefield filling in very nicely for the injured Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Sox pitching staff gave up only 6 runs to a fairly potent Blue Jays offense in a three game series. To give some perspective on the Sox offensive awesomeness, they scored 16 runs in one game against the Jays, which is 2.5 times the number of runs the Jays scored in the whole series. If they keep this up, they will have a chance to sport the MVP (Gonzalez), Cy Young winner (Lester) and at least an AL Pennant.

2. Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies are a team with a specific modus operandi. They out-pitch you at least 3 out of every 5 games, most likely 4/5. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels all looked great their last times out, including Oswalt's best start since coming off of the DL. The bullpen has had some ups and downs with injuries and bad pitching from J.C. Romero, but overall most games they only pitch the 8 and 9 innings. Between Madson, Contreras, Stutes (rookie), and Bastardo there isn't much left to want out of the backend of a bullpen. The offense still leaves something to be desired, but with pitching like the Phillies have, you don't need massive amounts of runs. Ryan Howard's batting average is low, but his rbi totals are 3rd in the National League. Chase Utley seems to be hitting his stride lately, but that was against meager Chicago Cubs pitching. Overall the team has a .320 obp which is good for 18th in the majors. If they get number up, more runs will come.

3. New York Yankees:
I thought about putting the Milwaukee Brewers in this spot, but the Yankees can't be overlooked so noticeably, even for someone who despises them. Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez are doing the heavy lifting for the Yankees offense. Home runs are their go-to weapon, especially for left-handed hitter with Granderson (20), Teixeira (19) and A-rod (13). They use that short porch in right-field to perfection. Pitching-wise, they will most likely lose Jaba for a while, which hurts because he was pitching very well. Colon will go to the DL as well, but they can combat that with good hitting. The Yankees’ strategy for the near future has to be to score lots of runs to back a barely above average pitching staff. Oh, and Jeter accomplishing 3,000 hits is nice too. There is a good article by Tyler Kepner in NYT Sunday sports section on Jeter and Roberto Clemente.

4. Milwaukee Brewers:
Fourth place is where I will put the recently rising Brewers. Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum make up a solid pitching staff that is currently healthy and pitching well. With Axford handling the end of games, the Brewers have innings 1-6 and 9 covered for probably 4 out of every 5 games. Everything else is dependent upon their hitting which is outstanding. They have: Prince Fielder, 2nd in NL in HR(19), 1st in NL in RBI (58), 4th in NL in BB (37), 2nd in NL in SLG (.627), and 3rd in NL in OPS (1.042) and Ryan Bruan, 6th in NL in HR (14)4th in NL in RBI (48), 1st in NL in R (48), 5th in NL in BB (35), SB (14), SLG (.560), and OPS (.958). The Brewers are designed to win now, and although St. Louis has held the top spot in the NL Central most of the year, the Brewers could easily take over the top spot and hold it until September.

5. Atlanta Braves:
The Braves have come on very strong of late. They have been doing so with all around good play. Their pitching, which is stellar, has been just that, with Jair Jurjens, Tommy Hanson, and Derek Lowe pitching well in their last three starts. Tim Hudson has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a sinker ball pitcher who throws strikes and overall such pitchers do well. Hitting-wise, they have been getting great performances from Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman. Freeman, a rookie, is hitting well against both LHP and RHP. With Jason Heyward on the DL, this team has hung around offensively, and has done so well enough to boast a .576 winning percentage. Much kudos to Frank Wren, GM of the Braves, for putting together a great bullpen of pitchers who all throw hard.

6. St. Louis Cardinals:
Although the Cardinals were recently swept by division rival Milwaukee, the team still has 38 wins, and is only out of the division lead by .5 games. With Albert Pujols beginning to put up better power numbers and Lance Berkman crushing the ball behind him, the Cardinals have the middle of the order muscle needed to win. They also have an underrated pitching staff. Chris Carpenter hasn't pitched up to his usual ways, but Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jack Westbrook are performing at least average to above average. The Cardinals are a good team, but if they don't play very well over the next two months, the Brewers will take a commanding lead in the central that may prove insurmountable.

7. Texas Rangers:
No matter what changes the Rangers make, their success has always been centered around their hitting, and this season is no different. Michael Young, a healthy Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, and Mitch Moreland have given opposing pitchers fits. Young, Kinsler, and Moreland all have OBPs in the top 40 in the AL. Pitching-wise, Jose Ogando has been a great surprise and C.J. Wilson continues to grow and succeed against good lineups. Agreat stat for them is Ogando’s 0.90 WHIP, which is pretty good. They should be able to hold off the Angels and Mariners' meager attempts to win first place in the west.

8. San Francisco Giants:
The Giants are the most puzzling team in the major leagues. Their lineup is riddled with no-names and old has-beens, yet they lead the NL west and have the most come-from-behind wins in the majors. This team uses their huge and oddly shaped ballpark to its advantage. They have a great fan base, a great manager in Bruce Bochy, and probably the best end –of-the-game pitchers in the game. Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Brian Wilson are shut down 8th and 9th inning pitchers who rarely relinquish a lead and predominantly keep their team in the game late, allowing for comebacks. Lincecum hasn't pitched as well as past years, but he has the ability to pitch a complete game shutout every time he takes the hill. With Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez behind him, this team will always be in the game. Losing Buster Posey and Freddie Sanchez won't be easy, but this team has yet to stop surprising me this year with their tenacity and ability to prevent opposing teams from scoring, two variables that often lead to victories.

9. Detroit Tigers:
The Tigers have been really good lately. There is no other way to say it. They have given up the six fewest hits of any pitching staff in the AL, which is an improvement from last year. When the Tigers went to the World Series they did it with pitching. Justin Verlander is a top 10 pitcher with top 5 talent. The fact is, although their pitching is decent, their offense is fantastic, carrying them to the top of the AL Central. Miguel Cabrera is putting up MVP-like stats again, though he is getting help from Victor Martinez, Brennan Boesch, and Johnny Peralta. The biggest surprise has been Max Scherzer, who has 8 victories, and a 2.53 strike out to walk ratio. He needs to limit the number of base runners because he pitches better from the windup, but overall he's having a career year.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks:
This may seem odd—the D-back making the top ten—but winning-percentage-wise, they have the Cleveland Indians bested. The Indians were my next choice for this spot, but they have sputtered lately losing 9 out of their last 10. Arizona has the best run differential in the NL west, with a +22 in comparison to the 1st place Giants who have a -3 run differential. The D-backs weren't supposed to be this good, in fact they were supposed to compete with San Diego for the bottom of the NL west, which is code for competing for the worst record in the NL. Their offense is centered around hitting the long ball, they have the 3rd most runs scored in the NL, and they have the top slugging percentage and HR's hit. With a sub 4.00 team ERA that is equal to the major league average, the D-backs have discovered what I call the "Colorado Rockies playbook for success". They take good arms that are unproven and hope they pitch at least at average while allowing their young, speedy, powerful hitters to unleash their impressive power numbers on other average pitching staffs. In the past it has been Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Seth Smith, and Todd Helton performing these tasks for the Rockies. In this case Justin Upton, Chris Young, Ryan Roberts, and Kelly Johnson are putting up the necessary power to propel the D-backs into the power rankings top ten.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Blog

Hey all, this is my first post using a different blog website. became too annoying for me to use and thus I have switched to If you want to read my previous posts, visit