2009 MLB Preview: #7 Arizona Diamondbacks

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Offseason movement: The D-Backs made a couple of nice moves, including signing potential leadoff hitter and everyday second baseman Felipe Lopez, as well as free agent starter Jon Garland. They also added Tom Gordon and Scott Schoeneweis to help setup closer Chad Qualls. Randy Johnson, Orlando Hudson, Adam Dunn, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz and David Eckstein all vacated the desert this offseason.

Top Prospect: Jarrod Parker, RHP
Unlike other clubs that have a couple of players that could be viewed as top prospects, there’s no question that Parker is the best of the best in the D-Backs’ farm system. The 9th overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, Parker stands just 6’0”, 175 pounds and is rather small in stature. But his fastball is dominating and has even drawn comparisons to Roy Oswalt, which is quite the compliment in itself. The 20-year old probably won’t get the opportunity to crack the big league roster for another year or two, but he could be quite the No. 3 behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren as early as 2011.

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2009 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Starting Pitchers

Admit it, you passed on Tim Lincecum last year. You took one look at his 2007 record (7-5), his ball boy-type frame (he only stands 5’11” and is 170-pounds soaking wet) and the fact that he played on a team with one of the worst offenses in baseball and you said, “no thanks.”

But there was one owner (the smart one) in your league that bought into the hype, took a shot and reaped the benefits of Lincecum earning the NL Cy Young Award while going 18-5 with a major league-leading 265 strikeouts and 2.62 ERA.

Don’t feel bad; you weren’t the only fantasy owner last year that just couldn’t pull the trigger on Lincecum. Truth be told, he was a bit of a risk last season given his inexperience and the fact that the Giants weren’t expected to give him much run support. And assuming you’ve played a fair share of fantasy baseball, you’ve probably been burned once or twice in the past by taking a risk on that perfect young sleeper that everyone is gaga for in spring training, yet fizzles once the season starts.

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2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Learned

At the end of the year, it’s always interesting to look back at all that has happened in the world of sports over the last 12 months. 2008 brought us a host of compelling sports stories, including the culmination of the Patriots’ (unsuccessful) quest for perfection, a Bejing Olympics that featured incredible accomplishments by the likes of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and the Redeem Team, and, of course, Brett Favre’s unretirement, which managed to hold the sports news cycle hostage for a solid month or more.

As is our tradition, we’ve once again broken our Year End Sports Review into three sections. The first is “What We Learned,” a list that’s packed with a number of impressive feats. And when there are feats, inevitably there are also failures.

Don’t miss the other two parts: “What We Already Knew” and “What We Think Might Happen.”

The New England Patriots weren’t so perfect after all.

After rolling through the 2007 regular season unscathed, the Patriots entered the 2008 Super Bowl as overwhelming favorites to roll over the pesky, but seemingly inferior New York Giants. The Pats were just one win away from staking their claim as the best football team in NFL history. But thanks to a dominating Giants’ defensive line, an improbable catch by David Tyree, and a virtually mistake-free performance by Eli Manning, the unbeatable New England Patriots were beat. It’ll go down as one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, and considering Tom Brady’s season-ending injury in 2008 cost the Pats a chance for redemption, it seems that many have forgotten how New England stood just one win away from perfection. – Anthony Stalter

Michael Phelps is part fish.

Eight gold medals in one Olympiad? No problem. Michael Phelps made the seemingly impossible look (relatively) easy en route to one of the most – if not the most – impressive Olympic performances ever. Phelps had to swim all four strokes, compete in both sprint and endurance races, and deal with the constant media attention and pressure that came along with his quest. Sure, NBC turned up the hype, but what Phelps accomplished is simply incredible. – John Paulsen

Usain Bolt is part cheetah.

First, Usain Bolt made Jamaica proud by setting a new world record (9.69) in the 100-meter sprint. Then, he broke the 12 year-old 200-meter world record with a time of 19.30 seconds. He showboated during the first race but cleaned up his act to win the second race in a professional manner. Some even say that Usain Bolt – not Michael Phelps – was the biggest story to come out of the Bejing Olympics. – JP

The Big 12 has the best quarterbacks in the nation.

The Big 12 housed some of the best quarterbacks in all of college football in 2008. Texas’s Colt McCoy, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell were all considered Heisman candidates at least at one point during the season, while McCoy and Bradford are still in the running. Amazingly, Bradford and McCoy aren’t done; both will return in 2008. And although they don’t receive as much attention as the top signal callers in the conference, Kansas’s Todd Reesing and Baylor’s Robert Griffin certainly turned heads this year as well. In fact, the highly versatile Griffin is only a freshman and could make the Bears a very dangerous team for years to come. – AS

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Tim Lincecum wins NL Cy Young

San Francisco Giants’ 24-year old starter Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young award on Tuesday.

Tim LincecumThe slender kid with the whirling windup on Tuesday joined Mike McCormick (1967) as the only San Francisco Giants pitchers to win a Cy Young.

Lincecum received 23 of 32 first-place votes and 137 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks got four first-place votes and finished second with 73 points.

Well deserved. Nothing against Brandon Webb, but Lincecum was the most dynamic pitcher in the NL this season. Despite pitching for one of the worst lineups in all of baseball, “The Franchise” still found a way to go 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA. Had the Giants had any amount of offense, he would have easily won 20-plus games. I had him ranked No. 3 in my “Best Young Guns Vol. II” article.

Ironically, the Giants were looking to trade Lincecum in the offseason. GM Brian Sabean (who amazingly still has a job despite several trade gaffs) almost dealt his future ace to the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Rios.

For Your Consideration: Baseball’s MVP Candidates

Albert PujolsI am confident that both Dustin Pedroia and Albert Pujols had the best all-around years in their respective leagues. Based on their individual performances in the batter’s box and on the field, and considering how they contributed to their teams’ playoff chances, they each deserve to be MVP.

The voting process takes place the Friday before the regular season ends. As a result, even though guys like Derek Jeter and David Ortiz come through with jaw-dropping numbers in the post season, these figures won’t matter to the Baseball Writer’s Association of America—their minds have already been made up.

It’s the regular season that matters. Sports writers use various methods when deciding who gets their vote. Whether their basis is purely statistical or how the player individually affected his team, most can agree on one criterion: The team must have a good record. So, despite having superb seasons, Josh Hamilton and Lance Berkman probably won’t win the award. However, you could make a case for each as to why they should win, and this raises an interesting topic concerning the semantics of “Most Valuable Player.”

Much has been written about how the word “value” isn’t properly defined. Does “value” simply figure into hitting? What about defense? Or attitude in the clubhouse? All affect the performance of a team. You can already see how convoluted the decision-making process can get. Nevertheless, most baseball fans eschew statistical reasoning and data analysis, instead depending on gut instinct. In looking at the winners from the recent past, I believe the writers do as well. With this in mind, a clearly defined rule emerges: How would the team fare without the player in question?

There’s no doubt that a Texas Rangers team without Josh Hamilton would have finished with a worse record. The same goes for Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Carlos Quentin, etc., and their respective teams. You can see where I’m going with this. Each team has a keystone player whose absence would greatly hurt their team’s record. Unfortunately, this is why it’s hard to decide who is more valuable. Ryan Howard leads the National League in homeruns and RBIs but is only decent defensively at first base. Albert Pujols’ hitting has also been tremendous; on top of that, he’ll probably win another gold glove. Both the Phillies and the Cardinals would have had drastically different seasons without these players.

But would the Cardinals have fared worse without Pujols? Or the Phillies without Howard? In my opinion, Pujols, with his combination of hitting and fielding, is more of an asset that Howard. Obviously, much of this is based on conjecture—speculating how games and standings would turn out if a certain player wasn’t involved.

This is why critics have called the MVP candidacy of CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and Francisco Rodriguez “preposterous” and “embarrassing.” I don’t look at it that way. Nobody expected Sabathia and Ramirez to perform they way they have after getting traded. Same goes for Rodriguez surpassing the all-time single-season saves record. Baseball is the only professional sport which gives out separate MVP awards in both leagues (including numerous other accolades). Therein lies the problem—a problem I find intriguing rather than irritating.

Francisco Rodriguez will not win the MVP, but he will be close.

Only three relief pitches have ever won the MVP (Dennis Eckersley was the last to win it in 1992). The Anaheim Angeles are a very similar team to the ’92 Athletics. Rodriguez has already tallied more saves than Eckersley (breaking Bobby Thigpen’s record of 57 in the process). Shouldn’t Rodriguez then win as well? It’s hard to say. To quote Tom Singer of MLB.com:

The Angels have won 55 games by one or two runs; K-Rod has saved 47 of them, and picked up the victory in two others. No one else in the league, obviously, has directly affected as many team wins. By definition, no one else has been as valuable.

He makes a valid point, but I just don’t see it happening. History has shown the voting to be extremely prejudiced against pitchers. Of course, there is the Cy Young Award which recognizes their accomplishments. However, there’s also the batting title, gold gloves, and the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award. Rodriguez is definitely the most valuable player on the Angels. Still, I think the Red Sox would be worse for the wear without Pedroia.

CC Sabathia. You just can’t.

Chew on this: No player has won an MVP Award in a season in which he was traded. After leaving Cleveland for the Cubs, Rick Sutcliffe still managed to win the Cy Young, going 16-1 with his new team. Sabathia will have played in about 12 games with the Brewers. Even though he has helped Milwaukee’s playoff hopes, his time there produces too small a sample to even predict what might have happened. Also, his overall record, which includes his starts with the Indians, does not stand up to Brandon Webb’s of the Diamondbacks.

Manny Ramirez is the National League MVP.

No way. Not this year, and not next year since I don’t see him resigning with the Dodgers (or any NL team). Given a full year with Los Angeles, he would have won, hands down. He’s singlehandedly turned the Dodgers into a playoff team and I believe that merits the MVP votes he will garner. It just wouldn’t be right to give Ramirez the award after playing in only 52 games (maybe something else, like a bulky contract, will suffice). He’s played above average in left field and he’s hitting better than anyone in the league. What’s most important, however, is that he makes his teammates happier and more productive. Without Ramirez, the Dodgers might have fallen behind the Rockies in their division. His arrival has brought a sea change to their organization. This alone should qualify Ramirez for the MVP. Still, as with Sabathia, this sample is just too inconclusive. We’ve seen what Pujols can do in a full year on one team, and in one league.

Perhaps the Most Valuable Player Award should change its name to the Best Position Player Award. That way, both pitchers and the hitters have their own accolade. Until “value” becomes easier to define, and doesn’t steer conversations into “what if” territories, then we should welcome the preposterous and the embarrassing. It’s fun to flirt with the idea of a closer or a late arrival receiving the coveted honor, but the discussion is for the birds. When it’s all said and done, traditional thought will prevail.

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