The World Series kicks off tonight with an interesting pitching matchup, as Justin Verlander takes on Barry Zito in game one between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers. Verlander is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in baseball. He’s also rumored to be dating Kate Upton. So life is pretty good for the guy right now. Meanwhile, Barry Zito has revived his career. He was once a dominant pitcher, but then several years ago the Giants didn’t even put him on the World Series roster. Now he’s starting game one. And that’s how it often goes in baseball. Pitchers at the top of their game can lose it, but you never know when or if they might get it all back. Zito is one of those guys.
The Super Bowl is great, but there are few experiences like a World Series game. There’s all sorts of excitement in each city, with tons of memorabilia for sale as everyone wants something to remember the event. Also, this stuff can be worth something in the future as well. Things like programs are very valuable, and even third party stuff can be cool. All sorts of entrepreneurs try to cash in. Taking their ideas to a printing company or using UPrinting online brochure printing and then selling their creations on the side of the road. Of course you have to be careful. You have to respect the MLB trademarks, so if you’re selling your own creation without an MLB license, it better be completely original and not infringe on MLB trademarks.
Every year a hero emerges, and that’s where creative entrepreneurs can do cool stuff with nicknames, etc. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to attend one of the games in San Francisco or Detroit. And pick up a cool thing to remember the experience!
Every team in Major League Baseball has now played over 40 games. That’s more than a quarter of the season, which means we can no longer say Albert Pujols is having a slow start or the Orioles are just getting lucky. Let’s take a look at the two most surprising team performances so far, one bad, one good. Along the way, we’ll have a little fun at the expense of ESPN’s absolutely expert preseason predictions.
I’ve tallied the expert predictions and made all sorts of charts. The most surprising thing to the team over at ESPN has got to be the performance of the Los Angeles Angels, and more specifically that of Albert Pujols, their $240 million man. Jayson Stark said as much in his own quarter-season roundup, and the charts don’t lie. Of the 49 ESPN experts, 24 picked the Angels to win their division and 45 said they’d make the playoffs. As if that wasn’t enough, 18 of those savvy professionals picked them to win the World Series. That’s more than any other team by 10, in second place with eight picks were the division rival Texas Rangers.
Obviously, things are not going as well as was expected for the Angels. I mean, it’s not really going well by any means of calculation. They’re in last place with an 18-25 record, eight games behind the AL West leading Rangers, and to top it all off they’ve lost three straight.
If there’s one thing that’ll rile up a fan base, it’s the underperformance of a big money off-season signing. Just ask a Giants fan what they think of Barry Zito. Zito was one of my favorite players during his time on the A’s, and I wanted the Mets to get him, bad. Luckily I’m not the team’s GM, so we dodged a major bullet. For any Giants fans reading, I’m sorry to have brought that up. If you want I can riff about Mo Vaughn a while to make you feel better. No? Alright, moving on.
The trouble with Pujols is not that he’s underperforming, but that he doesn’t seem to be performing at all. The three-time NL MVP is hitting .212 with 3 home runs and just 18 RBI. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is at -0.1 according to baseball-reference, meaning he’s only a little bit worse than your average Triple-A shmo. He’s on pace to hit 12 total homers this year, or one for every million dollars he’s being paid. Fear not Angels fans, it’s far from a lost season, and I do believe Pujols will turn it around once he’s adjusted to all the AL pitchers he’s almost never seen. That said, I’m not sure I’d put any money on seeing him in the playoffs this year.
The Unbelievable Orioles
When I say unbelievable, I mean it. I don’t think anyone expected this kind of performance out of the O’s. If we look back at those preseason predictions, not one of the ESPN wunderkinds predicted the Orioles would grab a wildcard spot, let alone win the highly competitive AL East.
But look at them now. Forty-three games into the season, the O’s are at a cool 27-16, two games ahead of the Rays and five and a half in front of the tied-for-last Red Sox and Yankees (whom 37 of the analysts predicted would win the division). Like I said, a quarter of a season is far too long to call this a hot streak, lucky, or anything else of the sort.
If the fans in Baltimore have one man to thank, it’s manager Buck Showalter, who’s led his team to a 15-6 record while on the road. The Braves are the only team in the bigs with more wins on the road (16), but they’ve also got four more road losses (10). Furthermore, Showalter has helped Adam Jones develop into the star we’ve been told he is for oh so long, as well as getting fantastic performances from his starting rotation. Perhaps most importantly however is what Showalter has gotten out of his bullpen. Those of you who read my column last week know how I feel about closers. Showalter may not feel quite as strongly as I do, but he uses his pen with more logic than just about any other manager. It’s working too, the bullpen has converted 19 of 24 save opportunities and includes five different pitchers (Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Matt Lindstrom, Luis Ayala) with ERA’s of 1.75 or under in more than 13 appearances. Just don’t tell anyone who likes what I had to say about closers that the 5 blown saves have come from pitchers other than Johnson.
All that said, just as the Angels have plenty of time to turn things around, the Orioles have plenty of time to regress. Some statisticians see the team’s dominance as unsustainable. The team has relied fairly heavily on home runs to score, their league-leading 65 jacks has helped them score more runs (199) than just five other teams. Home runs, of course, are the fossil fuel of baseball energy, and you never know when the O’s will pass peak oil. If the team hopes to maintain its success they’re going to have to get a little more eco-friendly, meaning upping their team batting average (.249, or twelfth in the league) and OBP (.310, 21st).
If these preseason predictions tell us anything, it’s that preseason predictions are worthless. But hey, that’s what makes baseball great. Any team can get hot and come out of nowhere (or go into a total nose dive) at any time. Then again, it’s a long season and the baseball gods still have more than enough time to correct themselves if they see fit.
San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain celebrates after winning the 2010 World Series after defeating the Texas Rangers 3-1 in game 5 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants won the series 4 games to 1. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
“But he won the Giants a World Series.”
That’s the response I get whenever I criticize San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean. As if his one improbable World Series victory erases the blunders that the man has made before, after, and even during the Giants’ title season.
Yes, the Giants won a championship in 2010. But what does it say about Sabean when four of the top five players on his payroll were Barry Zito (who didn’t even make the postseason roster), Aaron Rowand (who shouldn’t have made the postseason roster), Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa (who didn’t make the postseason roster because of his wrist, which was held together by Elmer’s Glue when Sabean signed him in the offseason)? Sure, Renteria wound up being worth every penny of his $10,000,000 salary that year when he hit the eventual game-winning home run off Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the Series. But thanks to injuries and poor play, he was largely a non-factor in two seasons before that memorable home run.
Remember Cody Ross? Phillies fans sure do. Ross hit two home runs off of Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the 2010 NCLS and also hit a solo shot off Roy Oswalt in Game 2. If it weren’t for his bat, the Giants may not have reached the World Series that year, nevertheless won the whole shebang.
And Ross would have never made the postseason roster had Major League Baseball not conducted an investigation into Jose Guillen’s potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. Sabean acquired Ross that year in efforts to block any semi-productive player from going to the Padres, who at the time were leading the Giants in the NL West race. The fact that Ross wound up turning into “Ross the Boss” was more a product of luck than Sabean’s shrewd maneuvering. At one point, the Giants were thinking about putting Guillen (who ran like he had Oakland tied around his legs) on the postseason roster instead of Ross.
That spectacular pitching staff that the Giants currently boast wasn’t exactly all Sabean either. It was scouting director Dick Tidrow that gave such glowing reports on Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. (Not to mention closer Brian Wilson and former top prospect Zach Wheeler, whom we’ll get to in a moment.) Granted, Sabean deserves praise for pulling the trigger on this players during the draft, but too often he receives credit for “finding” the talented arms that the Giants currently have in their starting rotation.
Which leads me back to Cain. It’s embarrassing to read some of the reports out of ‘Frisco these days about Cain’s contract situation. The 27-year-old right-hander is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season unless the Giants can hammer out a long-term deal, which apparently is more difficult than correctly picking every winner in the NCAA tournament. It was only recently that Cain suggested that he’s considering testing the market. Before then, he stated how he wanted to remain a Giant but Sebean has yet to come to terms with the soft-spoken starter, who has meant as much to the Giants as Lincecum. (Had Cain received more run support from that putrid thing Sabean calls a lineup every year, maybe he too would have challenged for a Cy Young by now.)
There’s simply no good reason for Sabean not to lock Cain up to a long-term deal. If the righty wants $100 million, then the Giants should oblige. I mean, why not? Sabean had no problem overpaying Zito, Rowand, DeRosa, Renteria and Miguel Tejada, but he’s going to balk at signing a productive player? Are you kidding me? If Cain doesn’t get $100 million from the Giants, he’ll find it on the open market next winter. Thus, if he truly wants to stay, then all Sabean needs to figure out is if he wants to see Cain in a Giants’ uniform next season, or in Yankee pinstripes. And while there’s plenty of time to hammer out a deal before now and November, players usually don’t like discussing their contract situation during the season. Thus, Sabean’s window to sign Cain is closing.
Let’s not forget that Sabean was also the professor who traded Wheeler to the Mets at the trade deadline last year for a two-month rental named Carlos Beltran. Then Sabean didn’t even attempt to re-sign Beltran this past winter, even though the Giants had the second-worst offense in terms of runs scored last season.
Granted, not every decision Sabean makes turns to sulfur and he does have to worry about surpasing Cain’s deal when Lincecum because a free agent after the 2013 season. But the philosophies behind some of his moves are absolutely mind-boggling. It’s almost like the guy wakes up and says, “What’s the least logical thing I can do today while running this baseball team? Trade Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for one miserable year of A.J. Pierzynski? Yes. Yes that sounds good.”
If Sabean loses Cain in November after already dealing Wheeler for what amounted to nothing in return, then Lincecum turns around and heads to Seattle to play for his hometown Mariners (which is a distinct possibility), maybe then people will drop the whole “But he won the Giants a World Series” bit.
Because if Cain isn’t in a San Francisco uniform next season, there will only be one man to blame.
Barry Zito is apparently so bad that the Giants are actually willing to eat the $64.5 million left on his ridiculous contract just so there’s no possible way his suck will infect Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez.
From Bruce Jenkins at the San Francisco Chronicle:
A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is “exasperation” with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is “definitely not safe,” and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that’s what it takes to say farewell.
Heading into spring training, it was widely believed that the Giants were more than willing to ride it out with Zito, given the overall excellence of their rotation. But there’s a healthy sense of urgency in the world champions’ camp. They didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season, and they realize that just a single loss – something that could be avoided – could cost them a chance to repeat.
There is concern that Zito hasn’t been properly diligent in maintaining his physical conditioning, and that Monday’s performance (five walks in 13 batters) was all too reminiscent of Oct. 2, when he walked home two runs in the first inning against San Diego and took the loss at AT&T Park.
It’s absurd to think that the Giants wouldn’t just ride the situation out with Zito considering he’s nothing more than a fifth starter. Unless they trick some team into taking some of his contract off their hands, they have to pay him anyway so why not see if he can iron out his issues? (I mean we’re talking about a fifth starter.)
But it shows how bad this guy has been that the Giants are willing to pay him $64.5 million just to stay away. As Jenkins points out in his column, at some point the club will just have to cut their losses and move on because he hasn’t shown any signs of being the pitcher he was in Oakland (or even half the pitcher he was in Oakland).
That said, I refuse to believe that Brian Sabean can’t get on the horn right now with his old buddies in New York and have Zito in a Yankee uniform by 5PM today. Even if the Giants had to eat most of his contract, maybe they could save a couple of pennies and acquire a prospect in return (even if it’s a 38-year-old Single-A prospect with bad knees and poor vision). Anything would be better than dumping him and paying him right? You’re telling me that the Yankees, with all of their pitching problems, wouldn’t take a flier on Zito if the Giants were willing to pick up most of the tab? Come on, man…COME ON!
Philadelphia Phillies all-star pitcher Roy Oswalt delivers a pitch during first inning San Francisco Giants-Philadelphia Phillies NLCS Championship game two at Citizens Bank Park October 17, 2010. . UPI/John Anderson
So you’re the general manager of the new Las Vegas Craps team and baseball commissioner Bud Selig comes to you with the offer of all offers.
He says, since the Craps are going to struggle this year offensively with a lineup comprised of over-the-hill veterans and unproven rookies, you get your pick of stealing either the Phillies or the Giants’ starting rotation.
“Sweet mother of all that is holy,” you say to Selig. “Those are the best starting rotations in the game!”
“Yes they are, Craps owner,” Selig says. “But you have to choose one right now.”
So which rotation would you rather have? Let’s take a look at the deets first.
Roy Halladay Age: 33 Salary: $20 million in 2011; $20 million in 2012; $20 million in 2013; $20 million option in 2014. Career Stats: 169-86, 1,714 Ks, 3.32 ERA, 58 complete games, 19 shutouts Accolades: Two-time Cy Young winner, two-time wins champion, seven-time All-Star.
Cliff Lee Age: 32 Salary: $11 million 2011; $21.5 million in 2012; $25 million from 2013-2015. Career Stats: 102-61, 3.85 ERA, 1,085 Ks Accolades: Cy Young winner, two-time All-Star, 7-2 postseason record, 2.13 postseason ERA.