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Archive for October 2009

Brendan Ryan, a.k.a. The Boog

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When the St. Louis Cardinals began Spring Training, they did so with Khalil Greene as their projected starting shortstop. The team acquired Greene in an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres. Whether it was poor scouting or lack of disclosure about his condition, it wasn’t long before Greene went into a slump and then onto the disabled list for social anxiety disorder.

Brendan Ryan stepped in and the Cardinals never looked back.

Ryan was drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round, 215th overall, in 2003. He battled his way through the minors and on June 2, 2007, he made his MLB debut against the Houston Astros. He finished 2007 with a .289 average in 60 games played at 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop. In addition to his versatility, Ryan became known for another skill: pranking.

A rib cage injury sidelined Ryan during Spring Training 2008 and the first month of that season. In 80 games, his average dipped to a paltry .244, but his flexibility in the field was a good fit for Tony LaRussa. His seriousness about the game was the only thing stopping him from being a complete player.

This season, Kyle Loshe and Joel Pinero talked the pitching staff into growing mustaches for team unity. The rest of the team soon joined in. And when everyone started shaving them off, Ryan’s ‘stache was the last one standing. True to form, he started growing it longer towards the end of the season in order to curl up the corners a’la Rollie Fingers.

And this time, his goofy attitude was welcome. He was the starting shortstop. He was making great plays. He was hitting well. He’d found his way.

The 2009 season started with a lot of changes from “The Boog,” a nickname Ryan’s father gave him. He came in more determined and slightly more serious. By June, Ryan was starting every day at shortstop. The position isn’t easy but it’s made even harder when the fans remember seeing one of the greatest of all time there, “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie’s fielding percentage was .978 career. When Smith was 27, the same age Ryan is now, his fielding percentage was .984. Brendan‘s fielding percentage was also .984 but in 105 games. Only Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies (155 games/.990) and Troy Tulowitzki (151 games/.986) of the Rockies were higher than Ryan’s this season. A full season at the position could see Ryan’s number improve.

Ryan’s batting average improved to .294 in 2009. He had 114 hits, 19 doubles, 7 triples, and 3 homeruns, one of which was his first career grand slam. A newfound discipline at the plate made him a valuable hitter for LaRussa. Ryan could be stuck anywhere in the lineup, and he normally was. Dependability with the bat, and speed on the bags, makes him more valuable to a team that uses flexibility and versatility on a daily basis.

Ryan may take the game more seriously but that hasn’t stopped his joking nature. As teammate Jason LaRue said during a pregame interview, “He’s just looking for attention.” The reason for LaRue’s comment? A pair of scissors sneaking into the frame, pretending to cut LaRue’s long locks. The camera panned out enough to show Brendan smiling widely under that ‘stache.

And it didn’t stop him from playing wiffleball with Joe Mather at Busch either.

Or acting in the St. Louis Cardinals “Play like a Cardinal” commercials.

Even LaRussa got into the pranks. After Ryan had been removed, Tony convinced his shortstop that there was a special rule that a player could reenter the game once on the last day of the season. Ryan, never one to miss an opportunity to play, grabbed his batting helmet. It didn’t take long for him to realize he’d been had.

The 2010 Cardinals will be back with a vengeance. Some players will be gone. New ones will be ready to show devoted fans what they can do. And Brendan Ryan will be there at shortstop making great plays, getting on base, and pranking whomever he can when he’s not in the lineup. The Boog will be there in all his glory. Take it or leave it.

Written by LS Murphy. Mrs. Murphy is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and is a consistent contributor to Cardinal’s Mix. She can also be followed on Twitter.


Postseason FAIL.

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While the umpires in both leagues give reason to shout “FAIL“ every time they get it wrong (Tim McClelland, anyone?), there is another cause: TBS. The coverage for this postseason was simply horrible. So, thank you Philadelphia for making quick work of the Dodgers during the NLCS, sparing fans more dull commentary from Chip Caray and Dick Stockton.

How has TBS failed? For starters, the play by play was boring and the language was repetitive. Even when the umpires made an obvious error, the lack of excitement from the booth left something to be desired. Not to mention the horrible calls, mainly made by Chip Caray. He started his poor play by play during the Twins/Tigers tie-breaker. Nick Punto hit a line drive into left field. Caray called it a “Line Drive. Base Hit.” And the ball sailed into the left fielder’s glove. He quickly added “Caught out there.”

It continued during game one of the Yankees/Twins ALDS when Delmon Young caught Nick Swisher’s fly ball. Caray’s take on the play? “A base — fly ball, I should say — out to center field. That ball was hooking and nearly fell in front of Delmon Young.” Was he even watching the game? Being the son of a legend does not make you a good analyst.

It wasn’t always Chip’s fault. Point fingers at Dick Stockton as well. At one point during the NLDS between the Cards and Dodgers, he referred to Ronnie Belliard as Ronald Belisario. While I understand that they play on the same team and their names are similar, at this level in broadcasting those mistakes are unforgivable. Dan Quayle could do better, even if he can’t spell.

And don’t even get me started on how many balls were “fisted” into play.

They need fresh blood in the booth. MLB needs to put their own people in the show.

The initial numbers were records for the station, the highest in the 33 years of its existence, but that does not mean it’s a success. When the Yankees make the playoffs, television numbers skyrocket. New York is a huge market. So is Los Angeles, and there were two teams from California still in the hunt. And when TBS is the only place that baseball fans can go for a game, the numbers will be fattened.

MLB needs to step forward and demand changes in the coverage. Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley are fine in the studio but how about trying them in the booth? They know baseball. Then again a ten year old knows more than Chip Caray, Carl Sager, and Dick Stockton combined. Or MLB can bring in their own team. At a minimum, they can demand that Sager dress like a respectable human being and not a wannabe pimp. Lavender suits, Sager? Really?

Unfortunately, TBS has a contract through 2013. It’s entirely up to MLB on how the 2010 post season goes. Let’s hope the public outcry at the horrible coverage is heard. And be glad that Fox had the ACLS Game 4 coverage. Joe Buck’s outrage over Tim McClelland’s blown call was appropriate. Chip Caray would probably have argued in favor of the ump.

Written by LS Murphy. Mrs. Murphy is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and is a consistent contributor to Cardinal’s Mix. She can also be followed on Twitter.

Written by dylansharek

October 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Let the Aroldis Chapman bidding war begin.

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The other day I profiled 2010’s top free agent starting pitchers.

I purposely left the biggest question mark of them all out of the discussion: Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis Chapman: 2010's biggest free agent?Chapman is a 6’4″ lefty out of Cuba. Chapman’s fastball hits 100 miles per hour on the gun, actually clocking at 102 in a Cuban game, but usually sits around 96 when he doesn’t rear back. His two-seam fastball hovers at 91-92 and his slider is thrown in the low-80’s with a hard, glove side break. He doesn’t have a true changeup.

Chapman also has youth on his side. According to unverified documents, he’s just 21 years old.

His tantalizing natural stuff and still-moldable skill set seems to peg him as a future number one starter.

This past weekend, Chapman and his agent, Edwin Mejia, met with several teams in New York City. On his itinerary was the usual suspects, the New York Yankees and Mets and the Boston Red Sox, but also several other surprising teams: the two Chicago clubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles.

The Oakland Athletics, despite their small payroll and generally lackadaisical attitude towards high profile free agents, have also recently disclosed serious interest in Chapman. The St. Louis Cardinals have also since thrown their hat into the ring.

According to a New York Post contributor, Chapman’s asking price (suspected to be upwards of $60 million) may price him out of some markets.

It is suspected that Chapman will command $30-60 million, a figure between the initial contracts of fellow Cuban defector Jose Contreras and Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka. In 2003, Contreras signed a 4-year, $32 million contract with the New York Yankees. In 2006, Matsuzaka signed a 6-year, $52 million dollar contract, not including a posting fee of $51.1 million.

Chapman is just the most recent example of Major League Baseball teams’ willingness to throw big money at an unproven commodity.

Chapman, however, could also be the best case for overspending.

Contreras was already in his early 30’s when he signed with New York. He never had triple-digit stuff, but by the time he reached American soil, he was a right-handed veteran with a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, an able sinker and slider, a curve and a developed changeup. He was MLB-ready and after getting knocked around for a year, became a good major league starter.

Much like Chapman’s 100 mile per hour fastball in 2009, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s gyroball was the focus of everyone’s attention in 2006. The 26-year-old (at the time) Japanese pitcher was believed to throw eight different pitches and was expected to be an ace from the day of his signing. In the three seasons since arriving in America, Matsuzaka is 37-21 with a 4.00 ERA. His problems with American physical conditioning, which he views as a reason for his struggles in 2009, are well-documented.

Chapman is much younger than Contreras or Matsuzaka were when they made the transition. Major League pitching coaches still have time to standardize his mechanics and to work with him on his varying release points. If there’s any gripe with Chapman, it’s his underdeveloped control.

During his time with the Holguín club in 2006, Chapman ranked first in strikeouts, but also sixth in walks. Through the 2008 season, he led the Serie Nacional with 130 strikeouts in 118.1 innings pitched. He was also fifth in walks and first in wild pitches, allowing 62 and 14, respectively.

From video, it’s clear that Chapman lacks confidence in his breaking stuff, starting batters off almost-exclusively with a hard fastball.

Chapman will either be a pitching coach’s dream, or his worst nightmare. His delivery doesn’t have too many moving parts, like other hard-throwing lefty Dontrelle Willis, but it might not be a quick-and-easy fix either. Early in his career, Chapman worked almost exclusively from a three-quarter slot, slinging the ball to home plate. Over the years, however, his release has gotten gradually higher, wreaking havoc on his fastball control.

Chapman’s inability to throw from a consistent slot had compounded his control problems. When he’s throwing overhead, fastballs consistently run in on the feet of righties and outside on lefties. And according to the U.S.S. Mariner’s observations, his curveball is best from three-quarters.

Pitching coaches will most likely recognize his natural three-quarters delivery and relegate him to that slot.

Chapman’s physique is also a huge plus. On paper, his height (6’4″) isn’t too intimidating, but when one sees him rise from his thick, stilt-like legs from the mound, he becomes an ominous presence.

Aroldis Chapman is a true rarity, a developed physique with tremendously overpowering, raw stuff from the left-hand side. He’s been pegged as the “#1 prospect in the world,” but his future in Major League Baseball remains to be seen.

At just 21-years-old, Aroldis Chapman could be this offseason’s best excuse to spend big money.

Washburn, Wolf highlight second tier free agent pitchers.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim starting pitcher John Lackey is going to command a lot of money in free agency this offseason, putting him out of the reach of all but Major League Baseball’s biggest wallets.

2010 FA Starters

So for everyone else, who’s up for grabs?

The type B free agents in the 2010 class are: Erik Bedard, Doug Davis, Justin Duchscherer, John Garland, Rich Harden, Braden Looper, Jason Marquis, Vincente Padilla, Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Joel Pineiro, Tim Wakefield, and Brandon Webb. All of these pitchers would earn their former teams a sandwich pick in the 2010 draft if they departed.

Wakefield will most likely renew his contract with Boston for $4 million, Pavano will get a contract offer from Minnesota, Pettitte will be resigned by New York, and Webb’s option is certain to be picked up, meaning the crop will be reduced to a handful of resurgent or injured veterans and unreliable and finicky innings eaters.

Besides Lackey, however, there is one other type A free agent: Randy Wolf. Wolf compiled his strongest campaign in a major league uniform in 2009, reaching 200 innings pitched for just the fourth time in his 11 year career. He posted a 3.23 ERA and an 11-7 record.

Many analysts tab Wolf as an option for the teams that do not land Lackey.

In those conversations, another name usually mentioned is Jarrod Washburn, an unclassified free agent.

Washburn had a topsy-turvy season in 2009, dominating the American League for much of the first half, and struggling mightily following his acquisition by the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline. In 20 starts with Seattle, he posted a 2.64 ERA and earned eight wins. After the trade, he went 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA.

According to news reports today, neither Wolf nor Washburn are in their current teams’ 2010 plans. They will not be tendered contracts.

I do not see Wolf or Washburn as solutions to any contending team’s pitching woes. Both have proven that they can pitch effectively, but neither has been reliable. During his eight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Wolf’s arm was as durable as uncooked spaghetti. And while Washburn’s 2002 campaign with the Anaheim Angels proved he has ace-potential, he’s been just as consistent as a Charlie Zink knuckleball since.

For many, the ship has sailed on the two revived starters. According to Dodger’s General Manager Ned Colleti, “This [free-agent] class doesn’t have…allure to it.”

To sign either starter to a big money, multi-year contract, despite their recent successes, would be disastrous. So what plan of action should GM’s take?

This will be the offseason of one-year, low-money, incentive-laden contracts for starting pitchers. Every free agent starter proved in 2009 that they can pitch successfully when there’s a contract on the line (Jason Marquis and Joel Pineiro being the best examples), so make them do it again. Much like the 2008 offseason, this will be a buyer’s market and players will be forced to sign deals offering less years and less money than expected.

That’s not going to make Randy Wolf happy.

When Wolf signed with the Dodgers in 2009, he was inked for just $5 million. By reaching 200 innings pitched, he earned an extra $3 million in incentives. During the previous three seasons, Wolf averaged a little over 90 innings pitched so the Dodgers were hesitant to sign him for anything spectacular. Any team looking to hire him for a substantial sum of money should also work within those parameters.

According to FanGraphs, his incredible 2009 drove his worth up to $13.6 milion on the open market, an unfathomable figure for someone with his track record.

As a GM, I’d get into a bidding war over just a few guys: the oft-injured Erik Bedard and Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, who could come on the cheap because of his battle with clinical depression.

I’m thinking this could be a strange offseason for last year’s best pitchers.

The Fall of Gary Matthews, Jr.

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Will the real Gary Matthews, Jr. please stand up?

From 2003-2007, Gary Matthews, Jr. was an above-average outfielder, patrolling centerfield and providing a significant amount of pop in the first-half of the batting order for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In 2008, Matthews’ production dropped off and he clubbed just eight homeruns with 46 RBI while batting significantly lower than his career average of .258.

What happened to Gary Matthews, Jr.This year, Gary Matthews, Jr. disappeared.

In parts of 103 games, he hit just four homers and scored just 44 runs. The speed that once made him a top of the order asset and outfield whiz vanished. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) dwindled for the second consecutive year and his Ultimate Zone Rating, an indicator of fielding prowess, dropped to -17.6, nearly twice what it was in 2008.

Gary Matthews, Jr. is approaching liability status. His contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is valued at nearly $10 million a year, making him one of the highest paid fifth outfielders ever. The 5-year, $50 million contract he signed with the Angels in 2007 has rendered him non-tradable.

Prior to the 2009 season, the Angels looked to deal Matthews. One suitor was the Cincinnati Reds, but they balked at the idea of giving up an arm for a league average bat with dwindling speed and glove skills.

It’s hard to imagine how much the 2009 campaign hurt Matthews, Jr.’s trade value.

Matthews, Jr.’s struggles coincides with three events: the move from hitter friendly Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington to the dimensions of Anaheim in 2007, his implication in the purchase of Human Growth Hormone and steroids the same year, and left knee surgery prior to the 2009 season.

Matthews, Jr.’s lack of power can also be linked to all three sources.

Ranger’s Ballpark is the seventh most friendly hitter’s park. Angel Stadium is ranked 15th, putting it right in the middle of the pack. The dimensions of the two parks are almost the same, but the air is incredibly different and that’s one thing Matthews benefitted from. Of the four homeruns Matthews hit this season, one was in Arlington on September 20.

An indication that his knee is still bothering him is his stolen bases. In 2006 and 2007, he stole a combined 28 bases. In 2008 and 2009, he stole a total of 12. At the same time, his slugging percentage has gone from a pretty good .457 average in 2006/2007 to a poor .359 in 2008/2009.

According to Matthews’ FanGraphs profile, there is no indication that pitchers are pitching him any different. He’s seeing the same stuff and handling that stuff in the same way (groundballs, flyballs, line drives), but isn’t driving anything out park.

One writer pegs Matthews, Jr. as a player who may never bounce back.

With another season’s rest, Matthews will look to improve upon his 2009 season. If the Angels have it their way, it won’t be in a Halo uniform.

Gary Matthews, Jr. is yet to get a hit this postseason.

Where’s the coverage of the Mariano Rivera spitball incident?

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ESPN dedicated a brief article to it on its website.

The MLB Network didn’t mention it.

The official site of Major League Baseball acted as if nothing surfaced.

Today’s media has a tendency to squeeze every, last drop of juice out of a story that it can. Sportscenter is the epitome of that. The coverage of Brett Favre’s return last year is perhaps the best example.

Yesterday, ESPN featured a segment on Tennessee Titan’s coach Jeff Fisher. At a charity event on Tuesday, Fisher wore a Peyton Manning jersey, stating, “I just wanted to feel like a winner.” His team is 0-6. While the situation is worthy of a few laughs, it was brought up on every show and debated over. Would it effect his team? Was it the right thing to do?

It was a small piece of news, and got more time than it should have.

On the other hand, the Mariano Rivera spitball incident was, despite its tremendously controversial material, a blip on the big networks’ radars. Video had the game’s best closer spitting on, or near, a baseball. Still photos seemed to purport that the spit hit somewhere near the baseball.

Where was the coverage? Was it squashed before it got too big?

I smell conspiracy. Seriously.

Rivera looked awfully suspicious before spitting. He looked towards second, then peeked over towards third before hawking one in the general vicinity of the baseball. FOX then cut from the scene in quick fashion.

There’s a whole lot of attention on the blogosphere regarding the incident, the reactions ranging from: “Spitballs are thrown using vaseline, not spit!” to “Angels fans are f****** idiots.”

And my answers to that are as follows: A) The spitball is called the spitball for a very good reason and B) Yeah Angel’s fans may have latched onto something menial as the scapegoat for their performance against the Yankees, but they have the right to question the video.

But perhaps everyone is paying attention to the wrong aspect of this story.

And that is, where is the story?

Did the spit hit?

Did the spit hit?

Even if the spit didn’t hit the ball, per se, it certainly came close. To the naked eye, it looked like some of it hit Rivera’s hand. Anyone over the age of six can control where they spit, thus making this pretty explosive evidence that maybe, just maybe Rivera was trying to do something.

Major League Baseball released a statement hours after the video surfaced before clearing him of any wrongdoing. After that, it was water under the bridge.

Considering that MLB umpires have proven they can’t see much of anything (see: prior blog) and that the 45,000 fans in attendance were hundreds of feet away, what makes this news blasphemous enough to reduce it to a non-story?

I smell conspiracy.

Tim McClelland’s bad day.

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Last night’s American League Championship Series game between the Angels and Yankees was just another lynchpin in the case supporting instant replay in baseball.

Game 4 was not even about baseball; it was about disastrous officiating. Nitpicking over catcher Mike Napoli’s positioning behind the plate, a missed pickoff play at second base, and a botched tag up call weren’t even the worst of it. In what Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo! is calling the “worst call of all time,” crew chief Tim McClelland called the Yankee’s Robinson Cano safe at third base, despite the fact that he wasn’t standing anywhere close to the bag and had been physically tagged with a live ball.

The controversial calls made the umpires the stars of the show. And that’s unforgivable.

The only part about this messy affair I can forget about is the whole much-ado-about-nothing home plate umpire Jerry Layne had with Napoli’s “standing kneel.” If it was impeding his line of sight, then it was admirable that he spoke to Angel’s manager Mike Scioscia, got the problem fixed, and then was done with it.

While I didn’t see any problem with how Napoli was positioned, the brief delay foreshadowed what can only be described as the Murphy’s Law of Umpiring.

Blown call #1.

Blown call #1.

In the top of the 4th inning, second base umpire Dale Scott called the Yankee’s Nick Swisher safe on a pickoff attempt by the Angel’s Scott Kazmir.

As the FOX Sports feed replayed the video on the stadium’s big screens, a collective grumble rose from the legions of Angel’s fans in attendance. Kazmir’s throw was, in fact, on the mark. Swisher should have been called out. Nevertheless, Swisher advanced to third when Derek Jeter walked to load the bases.

Cut to the next batter: on a sacrifice fly to right field, Swisher held the bag, waiting to tag up and score. When the ball dropped into Torii Hunter’s glove, Swisher broke for home plate, apparently plating another Yankee run.

Torii Hunter asked for an appeal. Chone Figgins stepped on third. Third base umpire Tim McClelland raised his right arm and pumped his fist. According to McClelland, Swisher had left early, thus nullifying the run and ending the inning.

Blown call #2.

Blown call #2.

One has to believe that McClelland was trying to right his crew’s wrong because Swisher, by all accounts, did not leave early.

By far the most egregious error came in the top half of the 5th inning. On a ground ball to reliever Darren Oliver, Jorge Posada attempted to score from third base but got caught in a rundown. Robinson Cano, who was on second, smartly began to advance to third, recognizing Posada’s imminent fate. As Posada retreated to third base, Cano stopped in his tracks a foot or so from the bag. Angel’s catcher Mike Napoli ran down the line and tagged both Posada and Cano as the two admired the shiny white object in the dirt.

That’s a double-play, right?

Well folks, not last night.

McClelland called Cano safe. In a postgame interview, he said he couldn’t see that Cano was off the base “for whatever reason.”

Blown call #3.

Blown call #3 or "What's that white thing?"

To add my opinion to the slew already available on the Internet, baseball must institute some kind of instant replay.

On that end, I am not for the let’s-review-everything mindset that has slowed down so many football games. Baseball is already snail-paced and by instituting anything that extends a 3-hour game to a 3 1/2 hour game, the sport will lose even more fans.

Baseball should have a review team ready, whether it’s in the booth, clubhouse, or production truck, to reverse or uphold calls. It can be quick and simple, done on the fly. There’s not as many nuances in baseball’s individual plays as football’s and I think this is a feasible and easy solution.

Use instant replay extensively only during the postseason and the run up to the postseason. These games often dictate who is going to the World Series, not who is going to finish 63-100 or 83-80.

Each blown call takes a small part of a team’s ultimate fate out of its hands and directly in the hands of umpires. That’s not how it should be. And while last night’s calls didn’t have a firm bearing on the game’s outcome, how demoralized were the Angels? They must have felt like they couldn’t win, no matter how hard they tried.

I understand the hesitation to remove the human element from a sport built on physical prowess and natural ability, but games like last night’s should never happen.

Would the Rockies have even made the World Series in 2007 if Matt Holliday was called out on during the 164th game of the season against the San Diego Padres?

That’s where we need instant replay.

And we need it now.