March 2011

Ben’s 2011 Season Predictions

By Ben Gellman
Broadcast Assistant

It’s about that time of year where baseball commentators of all stripes put on their Nostradamus hats, whisper “Presto Change-o!”, and rub their lucky rabbit feet in an attempt to accurately predict the outcome of the upcoming season.  Intuition tells us that this is unlikely to succeed, and hard math confirms our intuition.  Predictions are empty, useless things, telling us nothing and ultimately futile.

So let’s engage in them now, shall we?  These are Ben’s Predictions for the 2011 MLB Season!

AL EAST

1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

The Red Sox have reloaded thanks to the big-ticket free agent signing of Carl Crawford, the splashy trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and a few savvy free agent signings in Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Andrew Miller.  They’re projected by many as baseball’s top team.  The Yankees lost Andy Pettitte to retirement, and whiffed when they tried to sign Cliff Lee in free agency.  Somehow, Bartolo Colon doesn’t strike the same fear into hitters that he used to.  Tampa Bay still has one of the best starting rotations in the majors, but the defections of Crawford, Rafael Soriano (Yankees) and Carlos Pena (Cubs) as well as the loss of Matt Garza (traded to Cubs) will be too much for the Rays to overcome.  Toronto is a team on the rise, and they’re finally shed of Vernon Wells’ atrocious contract, but their pitching isn’t strong enough to compete in the AL East…yet.  Baltimore has a lot of young talent, but there just isn’t enough firepower there for them to vie for a playoff spot, though better days are on the horizon.

AL CENTRAL

1. Minnesota Twins
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals

The Twins got a huge boost when Justin Morneau came back to game action in spring training recently.  If he’s healthy for most of the season, they’ll be a fearsome team indeed.  Detroit added a bunch of pop to the lineup with the signing of Victor Martinez, and their young starting pitching is looking dangerous.  But the bullpen should give them pause, and they may be just a year away.  By signing Adam Dunn, the White Sox added even more power to an already juiced lineup.  If Jake Peavy can get and stay healthy and perform up to his capabilities, the Pale Hose could leapfrog all the way to the top of the division.  The Indians and Royals have stocked farm systems, but their major league cupboards are barren, and either club would be fortunate to scrape 70 wins.

AL WEST

1. Texas Rangers
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Seattle Mariners

The Rangers may have lost their half-season ace when Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies, but they return one of the most dynamic offenses in the majors, and they still have terrific bullpen depth.  Oakland’s starting rotation, anchored by Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, might be the best one you’ve never heard of.  They’ll contend, and could surprise a lot of folks.  The Angels missed out on signing Crawford, and look a little bit older in the outfield.  And with Mike Napoli’s potent bat gone, their offense could take a hit.  Seattle still has the best pitcher in the majors in Felix Hernandez, and Ichiro provides excitement in the outfield, but the rest of the team is unlikely to strike fear in opponents.

AL AWARDS
MVP: Justin Morneau
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
Rookie of the Year: Chris Sale (White Sox)
Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter (Baltimore)
Wild Card: New York Yankees

NL EAST

1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Florida Marlins
4. Washington Nationals
5. New York Mets

The Phillies have a rotation for the ages, and Ryan Howard keeps bopping homers at a strong clip.  But the loss of Jayson Werth and Chase Utley’s injury could hamstring the Phillies, and make them a much weaker club than expected.  Atlanta is a team on the rise, and Jason Heyward is a talent reminiscent of Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey, Jr.  Tommy Hanson isn’t so bad on the mound, either, and the Braves should have a shutdown bullpen.  They will challenge the Phillies for the division crown.  Florida still has one of the premier players in the game in Hanley Ramirez, and Mike Stanton should blossom into a superstar in his second season.  It doesn’t hurt that the Fish have a superb top three in their starting rotation.  The Nationals made a splash with their signing of Jayson Werth, but losing Adam Dunn will sting.  Jordan Zimmermann should help a rotation hurt by the injury-provoked absence of phenom Stephen Strasburg.  Mets fans may suffer through the coming season with their players; Carlos Beltran is still hobbled by injury, and Johan Santana is half the pitcher he once was. It could get ugly in Flushing.

NL CENTRAL

1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros

Is this the year the Brewers contend for a World Series berth?  They’ve gathered a bright group of stars in Milwaukee, and the bullpen looks solid.  Defense and health may be the only stumbling blocks for the Brew Crew this year, but Zach Greinke’s injury may throw a wrench into the works.  Cincinnati returns most of its core from last year’s breakout squad, including reigning NL MVP Joey Votto.  Aroldis Chapman will continue firing darts in the bullpen, although only as a setup man…for now.  The Cardinals were crushed when Adam Wainwright went down for the year because of Tommy John surgery.  Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Chris Carpenter may not be enough in a younger and stronger NL Central.  The Cubs upgraded by getting Carlos Pena and Matt Garza in the offseason, but they still don’t have enough ammo to keep pace with the top of the division.  The Pirates have burgeoning stars in Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon (one of baseball’s brightest talents), but will continue to finish near the cellar until they get good pitching.  Houston lost its best hitter (Lance Berkman) and pitcher (Roy Oswalt) from last year, and there isn’t any top talent in the farm system to help out.

NL WEST

1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres

The Giants return almost all key pieces of their World Series run, and look poised to make noise again now that Pablo Sandoval (AKA Kung Fu Panda) has slimmed down at third base.  The Rockies will be nipping at their heels, as always, and Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will continue to anchor one of baseball’s best lineups.  The Dodgers have tons of talent, but also have nagging questions in the bullpen (can Jonathan Broxton be consistent?) and in the lineup (Which Matt Kemp will we see in 2011?).  They may just not be able to overcome their inadequacies.  Arizona has plenty of thump in the lineup with Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, and the addition of J.J. Putz should help solidify the bullpen.  The rotation needs to get better before the D-Backs do, though.  San Diego lost Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the ravages of free agency, and the Friars may have a bit of a slump this year.  Mat Latos is still an ace-level pitcher when healthy, though, and the bullpen might be baseball’s best.

NL AWARDS
MVP: Albert Pujols
Cy Young: Cliff Lee
Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman (Braves)
Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke (Brewers)
Wild Card: Colorado Rockies

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Divisional Series:
Red Sox def. Twins
Rangers def. Yankees (WC)
Giants def. Brewers
Rockies (WC) def. Phillies

League Championship Series:
Red Sox def. Rangers
Giants def. Rockies

WORLD SERIES:
Red Sox def. Giants

Those are my predictions for the year!  If I get even ten percent right, I’ll be thrilled.

Agree?  Disagree? Sound off to us at crawdadsradio@gmail.com.

Ben Gellman is in his first season as Broadcasting Assistant for the Hickory Crawdads.

Rangers Top Prospects Preview

By Ben Gellman
Broadcasting Assistant

The Texas Rangers have put a lot of resources over the past decade into restocking their farm system, and here in Hickory, we get to see the benefits of that.  Crawdads fans cheer on some of the top prospects in the game as they pass through, and today I’ll start to take a look at the top prospects at a few positions for the Rangers by examining catcher and first base.

Catcher: When will the Rangers be ready to trust Taylor Teagarden?  The backstop has been waiting to take the reins behind the plate for Texas for a number of years, but a series of other catchers have blocked his way.  His defensive skills are well-regarded, and he can provide a little pop with the bat as well.  Teagarden is now behind Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Treanor and Mike Napoli, and there’s no telling when he’ll get a chance at the job.  Expect Teagarden to spend most of the 2011 season playing with the Triple-A Round Rock Express, unless he gets used as a trade chip.

First Base: People forget how highly touted Chris Davis was for a very long time.  Before Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland climbed the first base depth charts, Davis was exciting Rangers fans with his light-tower power potential.  Davis is versatile, able to man the hot corner as well, but the signing of Adrian Beltre puts Davis in limbo once again.  He may eventually become a designated hitter by default for the Rangers, though he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his pitch selection before he’ll get consistent at bats in the big leagues.  Despite a terrific spring, Davis may start the 2011 season in Triple-A Round Rock.

Ben Gellman is in his first year as Broadcasting Assistant with the Hickory Crawdads.

The Game Inside the Numbers: WHIP

By Ben Gellman, Broadcasting Assistant


I’ve loved the statistical side of
baseball ever since I was a kid.  And the
landscape of that side is changing precipitously.  Teams are employing math whiz after math whiz
to help them get a leg up on the competition. 
For a good background in how this can help a team, I recommend reading
Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball, in which he examines the rise of the
Oakland A’s when they started searching for undervalued assets.

 

Some of these recently-developed stats,
like VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), are complex and difficult to
grasp.  Others, like OPS (On-Base Plus
Slugging), are the result of simple addition. 
Today, I’ll take a look at a vital pitching statistic: WHIP.

 

WHIP is an acronym for “Walks plus
Hits per Inning Pitched.”  It deals
with the ways a pitcher performs independent of his defense.  Because walks are on the pitcher only (and
not on the defense behind him), it stands to reason that a pitcher who limits
his walks puts himself in a greater position to succeed.  WHIP helps translate that concept into the
number of opponents a pitcher allows on-base per inning.  Like ERA, the lower the number, the
better.  It’s no surprise that the active
leaders in the stat include Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Johan Santana and
Roy Halladay, all of whom have dominated for a number of years.

 

Take a look at last year’s WHIP leaders,
if you want to see how closely a solid WHIP corresponds to success on the
mound.  Of the top 20 starting pitchers
in WHIP, only two (Jeremy Guthrie and Bronson Arroyo) had an ERA worse than
3.65, and a ******** nine had an ERA under 3.00.  What’s more, all of the top ten had more than
160 strikeouts.  In my next stats column,
I’ll consider the correlation between high strikeout numbers, low walk rates,
and pitching prowess.

 

Questions?  Disagreements?  Lavish praise?  Send it all to crawdadsradio@gmail.com.

Fast Runners, Faster Runs

By Ben Gellman, Broadcasting Assistant

“Speed kills/Coming down the mountain/Speed kills/Coming down the street.” –Bush, “Speed Kills”

 

Few things in baseball are quite so exciting as a baserunner exploding for 90 feet of sheer adrenaline to steal a base, or a center fielder sprinting like a gazelle to snare a fly ball that common decency demands must be beyond his grasp.  The crowd rises to its feet and an audible rush of anticipation blows through the air.  Even the tiniest fractions of seconds can determine the difference between a hero and a goat.

 

Speedsters can hold the outcome of games in the balance.  Today, I’m taking a look at the greatest of all time to swipe a bag, and some of the best in the game at thievery right now.

 

The discussion of great base-stealers has to start with Rickey Henderson, who terrorized pitchers from 1979 all the way until 2002 with his prowess on the paths.  Henderson stole 33 bases in 89 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 1979.  Seriously.  For context, only 13 players stole more bases in a full season in 2010.  Henderson never looked back, swiping a round 100 bases in 1980 and earning the first of ten All-Star appearances.  In his fourth season, Henderson set a new single-season record for steals with 130, a record that stands to this day.  He finished his career with 1406 stolen bases, nearly 500 more than his nearest competitor.  He also owns the career record for runs, with 2295.

 

Lou Brock was as good a thief as anyone before Rickey came along.  He got off to a slow start, not really flourishing until traded from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964.  He ripped off 703 stolen bases between the trade and the end of the 1974 season, and was elected to the Hall of Fame after setting the record for steals at 938 before Henderson could break it.

 

Though he may have been overshadowed by Henderson, Kenny Lofton deserves a place among the great base-stealers of all time.  After a trade from the Houston Astros to the Cleveland Indians following a cup of coffee in 1991, Lofton bloomed, swiping an average of 51 bases per season for the next nine years.  He was named to six All-Star squads, and earned four straight Gold Glove awards for his nimble defense in center field.  He’s been teaching members of the Cleveland Indians some of his techniques, so watch out for the Tribe on the basepaths!

 

Today’s best base thieves continue to give pitchers fits.  Juan Pierre of the Chicago White Sox and Michael Bourn of the Houston Astros are threats to steal every time they reach base, and swiped a combined 120 in 2010.  Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox and Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins both supplement their swift strides with sweet swings, as they’re very capable of popping the ball out of the yard.  And Texas fans should be excited with speedy shortstop Elvis Andrus, who stole 32 bases in 2010 and will look to up that number in 2011.

 

And Hickory fans can look forward to a speedster of their own in 2011, as lightning bug middle infielder Leury Garcia may be back to build on his impressive 47 steals as a Crawdad in 2010.

Analyzing Albert

By Ben Gellman, Broadcasting Assistant

There are few teams in baseball that can say they have a player who truly is the face of the franchise, a singular and team-defining superstar.  Derek Jeter, of course, is that for the New York Yankees.  The Minnesota Twins have Joe Mauer, the Tampa Bay Rays have Evan Longoria, and the Atlanta Braves have Chipper Jones.  But perhaps no single player means more to his team than Albert Pujols does to the St. Louis Cardinals.  That’s why the ongoing contract negotiations between Pujols and the Cards are so fascinating to watch: we could see a legitimate superstar in his prime walk away from the team with which he’s spent his entire career, and with which most observers believed he’d spend the rest of his career.

 

The Cardinals have more than $40 million committed annually to Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse, putting a cramp in their budget.  Lohse’s contract is the only loser among that bunch, as the other three players have outperformed their salaries for some time.  But Pujols wants a game-changing contract, and rightly so, as he’s arguably the greatest right-handed hitter the game has ever seen.  He and his agents may be seeking a deal worth upwards of $30 million annually, a nod to the infamous Alex Rodriguez contract with the New York Yankees.  What’s more, Pujols cut off negotiations once he arrived at Spring Training on February 16th.  So the Cardinals have a rapidly closing window to keep The Machine, El Hombre, Prince Albert in St. Louis, a town that adores him for his on- and off-field achievements.

 

Pujols is, by almost any statistical measure, demonstrably the best player in baseball, and has been for the last several years since Barry Bonds faded from glory.  His defense, baserunning and hitting are all exceptional, and he is certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.  In fact, he may be so undeniable as a candidate for the Hall that he may be elected unanimously.  The Cardinals cannot afford to let that kind of player go at ANY price, so expect Bill DeWitt to dig deep in his bank account and pay Pujols every cent he’s worth.

 

But there IS the possibility that Pujols will somehow wind up leaving the Cardinals at the end of 2011.  If that happens, every team in baseball would salivate over him.  But who would be the best fit?  I’ll take a look at that in a coming blog post.