March 2011

Minnesota Twins Offseason Recap and Preview

As a Yankee fan they are a gift (up to this point) because of their record both in and after the season, which is somewhere between .200 and .300 in the 21st century. As an appreciator of cost efficiency, there playoff results absolutely kill me:

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Grade: D-
Notable Additions:
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Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Notable Subtractions:

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Matt Guerrier, Ron Mahay, Jesse Crain, J.J. Hardy, Brain Fuentes, Joe Crede, Orlando Hudson, Nick Punto, and Jon Rauch.
Why?: They lost what could be a bullpen in itself this Offseason in addition to what could be an infield on its own. Now I am aware of the fact that they have replacements for most of those positions and should at least come close to last year’s success. So they should have a higher grade… if the grade were for the state of the team, but it aint, it’s for what the Twins did in the Offseason which was get an infielder and lose all that listed above.

Now by talking with other baseball fans I realize that many just wondered “What? How are the Twins going to even come close to last year’s success when they lost that much talent?” First, Joe Nathan was the second best closer in baseball since he became a closer after his trade from San Francisco (still one of the worst trades in MLB history even after the hype died down). Do you not think that would make up for at least two of the reliever’s departures (Pat Neshek making up for one other)? Second, had Justin Morneau finished the season like he started, .345 AVG 36 HR 120 RBI. Now I realize this would have been pretty unlikely but that would have at least put him in the MVP discussion if not won it for him and he is typically a second half guy. Thirdly, the Twins always outplay their expectations. For example, SI predicted them to finish in last place in 2008 after they lost Johan, and Torii. What did they do? Only tied for the lead in the division and eventually lose their playoff spot to the White Sox in a one game playoff:

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I realize that there are a lot of “if”s in there but we must not forget that they did win 95 games without two of the faces of the franchise. I also remind people that they have made it to the playoffs more than anyone besides the Yankees since 2002 (they’re tied with the Angels).
Again, most of the fate of the team seemingly rests on how the injured players rebound but with the Twins they are coached in such a manner that whenever someone is injured there is always a person that steps up right behind him and temporarily. Though, if Morneau does comeback to full strength it will be the final piece that puts them over the top in the playoffs because of not only the statistical aspect he adds to the team but the protection he provides in the lineup to Joe Mauer. Also, I am not sure if it is over-looked by the common fan or not but if anyone was paying attention there was a party in support of Delmon Young as AL MVP at the end of the year.
Predicted Record Range: 91-96 this is assuming 2 out of the three injured Twins get back to true from by the all star break but if only one does then you can shift this scale down a few games.
Next Up: Chicago White Sox
I don’t know if any of you noticed but mine is the featured blog on the Mlblogs home page. So I would like to take this line to thank whoever was responsible for making that happen.

“The Baseball” book review

When I first heard of the fact that Zack was doing a book on the baseball itself I thought to myself, ” now why is he doing a book about the creation of the baseball. He should sell a second book solely on the topic of snagging baseballs. The other stuff will just come across as fluff to his fan base.” Boy was I wrong. I was hooked in the first few chapters of the predicted “fluff”.

 

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If you notice, my book might be the most worn 1 day old book I at least have ever seen.

Let me show you the anatomy of the book.

Part 1: Baseballs in the news

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80 pages

Contains:

Ch 1: The Souvenir Craze

Ch 2: Foul Ball Lore

Ch 3: Death By Baseball

Ch 4: Stunts

Ch 5: Foul Balls in Pop Culture

 

Part Two: Historical and Factual Stuff

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110 pages

Contains:

Ch 6: The Evolution Of The Baseball

Ch 7: The Rawlings Method

Ch 8: Storage Preparation and Usage

 

Part Three: How To Snag Major League Baseballs

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112 Pages

Contains:

Ch 9: Before You Enter The Stadium
Ch 10: Batting Practice

Ch 11: How To Get A Player To Throw A Ball To You

Ch 12: The Game Itself

Ch 13: Top 10 Lists and Other Things Of Interest 

 

I must say that every part seems like its own separate book. Each begin at the beginning of time for that respective subject. So will I in encompassing this book.

 

In the beginning, the world was a dark void where fans could not keep the baseballs they caught. That’s basically how the book starts, by introducing the fact that baseballs were too expensive for teams to replace. Then goes on to explain the fan revolt caused by this fact. Personally I would have had this section elsewhere in the book, but more on the structure later.

 

We then start to read the effect the value had/has produced many controversies amongst fans because of the greed of fans. Examples range from, Steve Bartman having to be transferred by his company to The Up For Grabs  controversy. From there, he shows how the price of baseballs has evolved, showing the 10 most expensive baseballs.

 

Move on to chapter 2. He again builds the chapter from beginning to end. Starting with the effect of the institution of the “foul balls are strikes” rule and what had happened prior to that. Leading all the way up to Denard Span hitting his own mother with a foul ball in 2009 spring training. This is a chapter of crazy stories that was extremely well researched and was not the summaries of the incidents but the whole story.

 

Then a more in a ( somewhat) more somber version of the previous chapter ( Hample was not himself somber as he took the role of reporter but the stories were obviously sad) retelling the tales of deaths by the baseball ranging from Ray Chapman to the seagull that almost had Dave Winfield incarcerated for six months in Canada ( Why would he kill a seagull *on purpose*? He’s from Minnesota). This was essentially the same as the last chapter but I get the separation to create the effect of an in memoriam.

 

The next is the scientific experimentation section of the book with stunts ranging from Myth Busters in baseball to Pakistanis trying to smuggle heroin inside of baseballs ( dang dogs!).This provides practical knowledge and some great fun facts about how things in baseball were proved and some of the crazy things the lull of baseball has made its players attempt. This was again really fun to read and great for retrospective reference ( I love when I can actually use big words and they make some sense together).

 

Then come the more relevant facts of the book to today. Of the past chapters you might say ” but Mateo, how do they affect the price of tea in China”. They don’t. This chapter might not have an affect on anything in China but it sure does have more to do with the modern world. First Hample undergoes the endlessly critiqueable ( that is a word… right?) job of choosing the most relevant foul balls in movies and TV shows. He analyzes the logistical flaws with each of twelve scenes such as, did the extras reacts in Movies from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to shows like  CSI: NY. Although, the critiques were even more uniform than my team recaps and previews (ok, so maybe they weren’t that uniform). The next section in this chapter was a personal highlight, celebrity ballhawks. I don’t really care about the significance of the ball as much as the human element that it added to the celebrities. The Celebrities ranged from Charlie Sheen to Justin Bieber totaling 9 . The section was done like the others with fun in the section and loads of background information.

 

Now to the negative. Chapter six starts off Part Two of the book, Historical and Factual Stuff. This is a great reference book on its own but feels like your are reading every single plaque in Cooperstown on a section dedicated to the history of the baseball from 1847 to 2009:

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The content which obviously cannot be avoided was about exciting as Irish history. That being: the English kicked them around, things got a little better, then they got kicked around some more, then they lived a little more happily in poverty, then there was black 47. Except in this section, after the initial architecture of the ball it was: hitters were complaining that the ball was dead, then they made livelier balls, then the pitchers complained about that, then they conducted some tests, then not much evidence showed up on the tests, and the last three steps repeated for about 100 years. Did I mention this section lasts for 62 pages? Had I been the author I think I would have merged this with various other sections but that’s just me. My advice to any reader is to read around it in some way shape or form. Either read it before or after the rest of the book and segment it so you don’t have to read it all at once. It definitely accomplishes the goal of being a history of the baseball’s evolution but might be best served as a reference when information is needed, as it might be tough for the more ADD readers ( I normally pay very good attention for long periods of time and still struggled sticking with this section).

 

The next section was based on the actual construction of the ball and is taken mostly from Hample’s trip to the Rawlings Baseball Factory in Costa Rica. The chapter goes from how to deconstruct a baseball( which is awesome if you ever get the chance to do it. Though I would not use nail clippers but an object similar to an awl to get the stitches off as they were too deep for me to get with the clippers) to the process to what commemorative baseballs are and how they are made. This is a great section, very informative with pictures to explain most things that a person would have questions about.

 

We are now on chapter 8 of 12 and the last of chapters on the baseball itself. This chapter is about how the balls are kept so that they are in prime playing condition at game time. This starts with the story behind the creation of now commonly used Lena Blackburne mud that helps pitchers grip the baseball.It then goes on to explain how teams started keeping balls in temperature and humidity controlled rooms starting when the Rockies used a humidor to counteract the arid nature of Coors Field.

 

Now ow ow the moment you have all been waiting for or or (well most of you anyway), How To Snag Major League Baseballs alls alls. Even though the rest of the book was great, this seemed to flow with a little more life than the previous two. First, this part has its own introduction.

The section starts off with chapter nine, the pre-game preparation. This was a great tutorial in what to do before you get in covering all the basics it ranged from how to choose a game to what to do when you arrived at the stadium.

He then goes on to explain the intricacies of the most important snagging time, batting practice. This was a bit more descriptive than the original namesake of part three. For example, when I started going early to batting practice I was hung up on the idea of hitters from both sides of the plate being able to hit the ball to me and so I stood in foul ground. A strategy I learned was almost completely wrong and should only be used on occasion when the situation demands it. You will have no problem if you have gone to batting practice but for the more inexperienced ballhawks there are technical problems such as the failure to mention that most rails block you from moving to a specific side if you are not standing in a place where there is a gap like here:

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You see how the railing prevents movement to your opposite side if you are not in the gap. This definitely messed me up in my earlier days. The book even taught me why my string is always tangled in the glove trick.

The next chapter is the toughest to put into practice, getting a player to toss you a ball. This is because the form in which you get different players to toss you a ball can vary so much from player to player. What I do like is that he does not write an aggressive strategy but one more along the lines of “it caint huit” or ” it can’t hurt” for those who don’t speak Brooklyn. He wrote the strategies that will always put you in more favor with the players and don’t have the possiblity of a backfire (although if you change hats right in front of players from either team “it caint heylp”). I guarantee that if you follow these instructions you will get at least one baseball  for every two games you go to ( and I say this reluctantly because that is an average of .5 balls per game, meaning that my skill only accounted for 2 balls a game which is pretty sad).

Finally, most casual fans don’t care about bp balls. They don’t mean anything. A game homer(or foul)’s where it’s at. In this chapter Hample goes from what the real odds are for catching a foul ball to how long NYC security guards will kick you out after the game. This section goes into great depth because great depth is required. It is well written but I am surprised he didn’t have any fun with his home runs celebrations given the informal atmosphere of the book:
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The last chapter was, at least for me, the best chapter of the whole book. It was a chapter going from the top 10 ballhawks of all time to how to document your collection. I found this chapter to be more informative of the whole book. The interviews with the ballhawks were fantastic because I knew of them but did not know them as a person. For example, I found out that I share a birthday with Minnesota’s best ballhawk, Greg Dryden. I know that the 10 best ballparks section will help me get a few extra baseballs at the respective stadiums.

All in all, like I told the author yesterday, this is one of my favorite books top 5 if not higher. The book was great and I would recommend the book to any mildly interested in baseball.

If you want to buy it, the paperback is $14.95 discounted on Amazon and Ebay though ( I don’t think I have a Canadian following) and is available in most bookstores. Hope you enjoyed and find the review useful.

Seattle Mariners Offseason Recap and Preview

In any sport, when you lose 100 games in a season it ain’t good. When you lose that many and have the best defensive player (pitcher in baseball) in the game it’s even worse. You may have remembered the lofty predictions for this team at this time last season:
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and actually those three players did do well this season. Lee became the highest paid pitcher in the game, Ichiro just went onto hit another 200 hits for the tenth time in his career (he has only played 10 seasons), and King Felix became a King to sabermetricians everywhere when he won the Cy Young award with only 13 wins.Unfortunately, they had a histroically pathetic offense, despite Ichiro.
 
Grade: C-
 
 
Notable Additions:
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Jack Cust, Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Nate Robertson, Chris Ray, and Manny DelCarmen.
 
 
Notable Subtractions:
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Jose Lopez, Chad Cordero, Jack Hannahan, Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith( for the people that will now see the Astros because they know RRS is so fan-friendly).
 
 
Por Qua?:  They lost some and added some. Not really much improvement or depletion. They lost a lot of depth in the bullpen but made up for it in their added depth in the field and rotation. Not really much to report on this team as far as transactions are concerned.
 
I do feel that they will win more games because of their young talent. There is a lot of room for growth in the form of Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Justin Smoak has now spent close to two years in the majors and I don’t see him hitting 50 homeruns but I do see him improving for next year and helping the run starven Mariners. Dustin Ackley, forever entrenched in the shadow of being the guy picked after Steven Strasburg (it could vice versa if Strasburg is a bust like Greg Oden and Kevin Durant but whatever), he is the Mariner’s top prospect and could fill the hole left by Jose Lopez as early as this year. Both have great hitting talent but have yet to translate it into statistics. When (if?) they do, they could anchor the middle of this line-up for years to come.
 
One thing I would worry about if I were the Mariner’s fans is the status of Felix Hernandez. His contract is back loaded and if the Mariner’s don’t get it started quick enough we could see another Zack Greinke. This is because the front office won’t want to pay big money for a star if they are not yet in contention. They realize (at least I hope they do) that they could save up the money that they would have normally paid Hernandez and buy a few good pitchers to solidify the staff or an Ace when their young players come around.
 
 
 Predicted Record Range: 61-65 wins. The seasons like the one after the one the Mariner’s just had are always difficult because there is such a range of factors going into the season and how they do. I expect them to be at least a little better but how much better… I don’t know. Long Story short, dont’ kill me if this isn’t true ( Well actually don’t kill me if anything I write doesn’t come true. Us atheists tend to value our lives.).
 
Up next: Minnesota Twins

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Offseason Recap and Preview

One word to describe this team, disappointment. So, what did the front office do?
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Well … let’s see, they disappointed. They actually worsened a team that really needed to improve. It could help them in the future, but looking at this season through a microscope it was horrendous.
 
 
Grade: D-
 
Notable Additions:
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Vernon Wells, Scott Downs, and Hisanori Takahashi
Notable Subtractions:
Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, and Hideki Matsui.
Why?: Like I said, disappointment. This team was left at .500 after being projected to be the division winners. They needed to improve at least slightly and they actually worsened. Believe it or not, what has me disappointed (there it is again) with this team is their “big splash” not lack of more splashes.
 
        I see the Vernon Wells move as one out of desparation and not very well thought through. Although Wells may have been a very good player last year he still has a contract that averages 18 million a year. Up to this point, he has not made significantly more than 10 million a year and so will start making figures in the 20 millions. This is for at best a very good player and at worst what he was early on in the contract. The upside to this offseason’s low spending was that they could make a run for Albert Pujols next but the Wells move effectively washed that away. Second, I am pretty sure the Blue Jays would have given him away for free. Instead, the Angels gave away one of the top five power hitting Catchers in the game. Is he better than Wells, no but it is still a bit much to give up.
 
 
          Sure, they sure-ed up their bullepen but whatever they gained in bullpen they lost in Matsui and Rivera leaving. The grade might seem a bit harsh but what I am going on is the fact that they were expected to be one of the biggest spenders: read improvers, in the game and lost out on everyone they bid on. Had they been the Marlins I would have been a little more lenient but they are in the biggest market in the west.
 
Predicted Record range: 80-85 wins. I know I said that they essentially tred water in their moves but they do get Kendry Morales back and he will get them at least a few games by himself.
 
Up Next: Well who’s the only team left in the AL West.
 
Baseball tryouts were this weekend so I will start blogging about that. To the people who read for entries like this one I apologize but it is mostly for parents who don’t want to come to the games but still want to know about how the team is doing. 
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