A commentary about sports, media, and interpersonal relationships encountered throughout everyday life.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

President Bush 'Booed' at Nationals Park on Opening Day

What a difference it was back in 2001. The image of George W. Bush standing on the pitcher’s mound before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks in engraved in my mind. The President walked out to the mound and stared into the roaring Yankee Stadium crowd. It was as though he wanted to look each ticket holder in the eye to provide assurance that it would be ‘okay.’ ‘It,’ of course, being the September 11th attacks witnessed by the Stadium crowd, and others, less than two months beforehand.

Todd Greene, the Yankee’s backup Catcher, crouched behind home plate awaiting President Bush’s delivery. Toeing the rubber, the President fired a 2-Seam Fastball to Greene—a perfect strike. Flashbulbs flashed, the crowd roared, and President Bush sauntered off the field waving to all the New Yorkers in attendance.

Today, less than 7 years later, George W. Bush was set to toe the rubber once again. The Washington Nationals, who originally played their home games at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, hosted the Atlanta Braves in ESPN’s national baseball game. The hype leading up to their match-up was the new Nationals’ ballpark, the optimism each Major League team possesses on Opening Day, and the President throwing out the first pitch.

George W. Bush stood in the tunnel waiting patiently for his introduction across the public address. Donning a bright, red Nationals wind-breaker, Bush heard the intro and made his way up the steps of the Nationals’ dugout. The crowd reaction was something much different than the one he received all those years ago…

Boo’s reined down unmercifully from the upper tiers of Nationals’ Park. Those cheering were completely drowned out, despite attempting to compete with the boo’s throw at the President. Talk about visual and audio aids for the President’s approval rating.

Bush’s body language took the cake, though. After making his way to the field, he quickly shook the hands of three Nationals and quickly made his way to the mound. The boo’s, however did not die down. In fact, it seemed as though the volume of the crowd's booing increased the longer the President remained on the field. There was no staring out into the innumerous fans in attendance tonight. No eye contact providing assurances that it would be ‘okay.’ All those in attendance received was a quick, over-the-shoulder wave.

Just as soon as President Bush toed the rubber, he fired another two-seamer in to Manny Acta; the pitch was high and outside.

After Acta caught the ball, he had to chase after the President, who already began to walk quickly back to the dugout. There was no sauntering to be seen, a brisk walk back is what everyone saw…

It’s just interesting to see how quickly and viciously public opinion has changed over the past six-plus years. If anyone was unaware of the incredible 180-degree about face that a majority of the President's supports took over that time span, they surely were made aware of it tonight.

Why Does Everyone Hate Johnny Damon?

Why doesn’t anyone love Johnny Damon anymore? In every draft that I’ve participated in (three to date, one more to come next week), there have been a number of outfielders who are over-hyped and therefore over-drafted. This hype machine results in reliable late number-two/early number-three outfielders falling further than usual. One such outfielder is New York Yankee left-fielder, Johnny Damon.

Now, last I checked, Damon is still batting lead-off for the most high-powered offense in the American League. Whether you’re in a Rotisserie League or a Points league, 100 runs scored is 100 runs scored. I’ve yet to see a fantasy squad that can do without production like that. However, in my research this offseason, I’ve seen a number of talking-heads who think that Damon is free-falling from the numbers he has posted in the past. One indicator, for instance, is Damon's failing to reach 100 runs scored, despite batting atop the Yankees’ order.

The Fantasy Baseball Guide: Professional Edition 2008 says of Damon that “when a player relies on his legs as much as someone like Damon, the decline is usually swift and absolute. Yes he’s still stealing bases, but his average is on the decline.” For RotoWire, the presence of Melky Cabrera in center field, combined with the huge contracts of Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui have turned Damon “into a part-time player.” And for FanBall’s Guide to Winning Fantasy Baseball, it is “tough to expect Damon to reach any digits he hasn’t already achieved.”

To these three periodicals, I say… “Thank You.” I am sure your words of wisdom/warning influenced a majority of the guys I’m competing against (as they should). I, however, have a few problems with the damnation of Damon for 2008:

1. The Guide tears on Damon’s legs despite his 27 stolen bases in an injury plagued 2007. For those of you keeping score, 2007’s 27 SBs were the most for Damon since 2003’s 30 stolen bases for the Red Sox. The Guide also has a problem with Damon’s “declining average,” but a look at the numbers reveals something different. For his major league career, Damon is a .287 hitter. Last year’s .270 BA is, admittedly, nearly twenty-points lower than his career average. However, Damon’s second-half numbers are more in line with his career: .289 average, 15 stolen bases, 57 runs, and a .365 OBP (a thirty-point increase from his first-half numbers!).

2. To their credit, I’m sure RotoWire projected Damon as a part-time player months before Spring Training was even though of (and if they didn’t head’s would roll in the fantasy world). As it stands now, Damon is the Yankees’ starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. The contracts of Giambi and Matsui, as many Yankee fans are already aware, mean nothing. Evidencing this point, Giambi made nearly 20 million dollars as a pinch hitter last year! So, while the huge contracts do exist, it seems that Joe Girardi is going to put the best possible line-up out on the field every night. If money outweighed potential, do you really think Melky “Major-League-Minimum” Cabrera would be starting in center for the bombers?

3. FanBall’s encrypted projection, to me, translates: “Johnny Damon will not put up big fantasy numbers again at this point in his career.” Again, I cite his second half numbers in 2007, when he was actually quasi-healthy, to refute that position. To date, Damon has reported to Spring Training in the great playing shape. His reason: "I've been pretty consistent over my career but ... when you talk about good players in the league, you know, my name hardly comes up and I don't think that's right. I think I really need to go out there and show them." Maybe it’s just me, but nothing is better than a former All-Star with a chip on his shoulder.

Ron Shandler refers to Damon as a “gracefully aging ‘idiot’,” which, in my opinion, is the most accurate description for the Yanks’ lead-off hitter. Not only do I expect 100 runs scored for Damon in 2008, but I would not be surprised at all to see him once again reach double-digit home runs (10-12) and 30 steals (you heard it here first). In fantasy baseball, like all fantasy sports, there’s a constant game of buying low and selling high. Right now, Johnny Damon cannot be further from his peak and is a perfect candidate for buying-low before he redeems himself in 2008 for the Yankees.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fantasy Countdown: Buy Smoltz, Gallardo; Sell: Kazmir, Liriano; Hold: Harden

In exactly three days, the most wonderful time of the year is here. Just as the sun sets and the clock strikes 8, I’ll be cracking open a red bull with spreadsheet in hand as the Ice Cold Conference (ICC) holds its fifth fantasy baseball draft. I made a statement to my family earlier this week that they found a little shocking, but, nonetheless, I feel it’s true: I look forward to this draft more than I ever looked forward to Christmas as a child. What brought me to this conclusion is the phrase, “Happier than a kid on Christmas morning!” I just feel that that metaphor doesn’t get the job done when anticipating the ICC's draft. For now, while I am at maximum capacity for fantasy baseball knowledge, I want to pick up where I left off two weeks ago with more players who I really love/hate for 2008. Focusing specifically on potential injury sleepers that you may want to target/avoid.

The first pool of players is the walking wounded. They came into spring training with a twinkle in their eyes and an extra kick in their step, but now find owners shying away from drafting them. First, Scott Kazmir has experienced the most trouble this spring. It all began during a February 26th warm-up session when Kazmir felt his elbow get “jammed up.” Isn’t this course identical to that taken by Francisco Liriano and Rich Harden before their Tommy John surgeries? Scouts have never liked the combination of Kazmir’s small frame and arm torque for this particular reason. Kazmir, however, eventually worked his way back to throwing live batting practice on March 13th, only before the Rays shut him down again and ruled out for at least the first week of the season. For me, this is scary because, though I love Kazmir’s potential, elbow issues are not something to mess arounf with. I know that many owners are going to be looking to buy low or draft low on Kazmir this year, but I would definitely stay away from him in this condition. Elbows, especially of the throwing variety, are something that I leave to Dr. James Andrews… and off my team.

From the bad, we look at something a little more optimal. Did everyone see Rich Harden’s debut against the Red Sox today? How filthy did he look? Harden is a starter that really intrigued me the entire off-season. In early February, Harden described his own physical condition as “tremendous,” and I think that’s what really did it for me. Since that day, I’ve been monitoring his starts and, more importantly, how his right shoulder and elbow feel after each outing. Today, however, Harden let the cat out of the bag as he held the Red Sox to one run over six innings with nine strikeouts. Nine K’s against a line-up as patient as the Red Sox? That's absurd! You know he was dealing this morning with a stat line like that. I wouldn’t get out of control when eying a guy like Harden in your draft though. He’s still and injury risk, but he would make a good (with the potential to be great) 5th or 6th pitcher for your fantasy rotation.

Francisco Liriano pitched well all spring, but was only rewarded with a trip to Triple-A. Not fair? I know, but he should be back in the Twins rotation by early-mid April and ready to rock-and-roll soon thereafter. The precaution with Liriano stems from the fact that his fastball is not quite as fast as it should be. Earlier this month his fastball clocked between 88 and 90 mph, once touching 93. This is a far cry from the consistent 95 that Liriano was throwing two years ago. For any owners entering a draft, I think considering this decrease in velocity is important when filling out your starting rotation. While Liriano is an attractive name and option for your team, you should probably sit back and let him fall a few rounds before pouncing. What’s the worse that can happen—you nab a few solid veteran arms and let someone else take the risk? I say if you can get him as a reserve then take him. Anything above that though may be too risky now.

Did anyone else feel sick when you heard about the cartilage damage in Yovani Gallardo’s knee? Yeah, me too. I considered this young stud the current ace of the Brew Crew. He was just flat-out dominating last year and I couldn’t imagine letting anyone else in my league have him in 2008. However, God intervened, resulting in the shutting down of Gallardo on February 17th. Now, more than a month later, Gallardo participated in live game action today (March 26th), pitching three innings, striking out two, and allowing no runs. Gallardo probably won’t build up his endurance enough to start his season with the big club in Milwaukee, but he also probably won’t start the season on the DL. Gallardo’s potential, which in my opinion is higher than both Harden and Liriano, still makes him a legit pick for your pitching staff. Just please, please, please don’t make him the first pitcher you take. That would be stupid, and stupid people don’t read my blog.

Now enough with these young guns, let’s get to the elder statesman of the injury-sleeper stable: John Smoltz. This past week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution declared Smoltz as a “likely” candidate to start the season on the DL. Smoltz however said the discomfort in his shoulder would not have stopped him from making a regular season start. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? Well there appears to be a middle ground here. As the Journal-Constitution said, Smoltz probably will start the season on the DL, however, the DL is retroactive to April 6th. That said you’re only going to be missing out on the cagey vet for one start is the shoulder ailment is not as bad as he says it is. Personally, I’ve always liked Smoltz and his ability to defy nature. I don’t like him enough to be my ace, but he fits in nicely as a number three or four in a mixed-league fantasy rotation. I wouldn’t let these shoulder woes scare you away from the Braves’ ace.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Why Fadds is Such a Ryan Braun & Troy Tulowitzki Hater

Enough political talk for now, I have a pressing issue for discussion. Tomorrow is my first Fantasy Baseball draft of 2008 and I have a few tidbits for discussion before drafting my team. First, a bit about the league: it is a 20 (yes that’s right 20) team head-to-head points league. Only four teams make the play-offs so it is going to be ridiculously important to get off to a hot start once the season begins. Normally, I would never think of drafting a league this early, but there are other commitments throughout our staff and this was one of the few weekends in March that we could all meet. The team owners are all employees of WFUV-FM’s Sports department, so it should be competitive and intense for the entire season.

The semantics of the league is not reason for this post. There have been a few thoughts bouncing around my head during my draft prep. Looking into my projected first-round player pool, Ryan Braun bothers me. I don’t know if all the fantasy experts were smoking crack when predicting this kid as a .330-40-120 bat in Milwaukee’s line-up, but I just don’t see it. In fact, I could just as easily see a sophomore slump before that line. I mean… .330… seriously? I know he was killing it last year, but let’s give the pitchers and coaches in the NL a little more credit to figure this kid out. Don’t confuse my skepticism with statistical fact, because the Slugging % over the course of Braun’s career shows that he can keep it up (he had a hiccup in 2006, but other than that it was great). I just wouldn’t spend a first round pick on him. In my 20-team league, maybe at the end of the first I would consider it. However, it would be a definite struggle between Braun’s upside and the robotic consistency of guys like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Lee, and Lance Berkman (again, 20-teams… none of those three should be taken in the first round of any 10- or 12-team draft).

A friend asked me if I would consider Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop in this league. My answer, in short, was no. Currently, I have him ranked as a late second round pick in this league. That’s absurd. Unless I get A-Rod with the first overall pick and have to wait until 40th overall, I can’t see taking Tulowitzki in the second round. Other options that I think are more attractive than Tulo in a points league come in later rounds. Carlos Guillen (ranked mid-third rounder) and Rafael Furcal (mid-fifth rounder) provide the opportunity for average and speed respectively. Though Tulowitzki has the potential for 25 home runs in 2008, Guillen is an automatic for average and runs scored in that beastie Detroit line-up. Furcal, allegedly healthy for ’08, will have Joe Torre liberally giving him the green light on the base paths and a fat contract to play for. I know, it’s easy for me to offer these options without saying who I would take in the second round. Personally, if it were a late pick, I would look to take a stud-starting pitcher. Erik Bedard and C.C. Sabathia are ranked as early-third round picks, but you wouldn’t be crazy to jump at either of them in the late second.

Final thought for this installment: Has anyone else noticed how many 3B options there are in ’08? It’s crazy. Obviously, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, and Miggy Cabrera are at the head of the class, but as far as sleepers go, most of the guys who I’ve been eyeing are third basemen. Before idiotically getting into a car accident last week, Hank Blalock was on my radar. I never bought into his hype in previous years, but I feel like this year he’s valued at just the right position: a late round sleeper / utility player.

If the White Sox would trade Joe Crede already, Josh Fields would be a good option at the hot corner also. As it stands now, both are White Sox, and Fields, as a result, is undervalued. Everyone talk about Ryan Braun, but this kid hit 23 dingers in 200 less at-bats. Also, let's not forget the deceptive speed on the base paths he showed in the minors. Throw in dual eligibility at 3B and OF and you have yourself a nice little option in the late rounds of any draft. If your draft is coming up soon snatch this guy up and wait for the ChiSox to ship Crede out to the Giants or something…

I was going to initially list Eric Chavez in this list, but… no.

I don’t really dig on the whole Mark Reynolds hype, but many other writers do. If, you’re one of them, please try and convince me, because 130 punch-outs in someone’s rookie season just screams Jose Hernandez, and I don’t want any of that.

Edwin Encarnacion, again, rears his ugly head. Don’t we do through this every year with him? Is 2008 finally going to be the year he busts it out in Cincinnati? I don’t think so, but that’s only because he’s toyed with my emotions one too many tomes before.

Now, here’s one that you may think I am crazy for: Aubrey Huff. Before you “x” out this window let me try and talk my way out of this corner. This will be Huff’s second season in Baltimore and there’s no more Miguel Tejada. That is a good thing. Tejada, according to some, was not exactly the best teammate and left a clean-up spot vacant for Huff to step right in to. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis will be on the base paths frequently for Huff, who will see more pitches coming from the stretch. Also, what’s so bad about spending you last pick on ol’ Aubrey Huff? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I’ll come back some analysis of the draft once it’s complete. Anyone who wants results from this league’s draft, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll see what I can do about sending them to you.