The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Vacation Update

For those of you who care, I'm approximately at N 29* 52.739' and W
089*54.131. For those of you who are very slick, yes, that's
somewhere in the middle of the ocean... currently, my blood alcohol
level is 0.00. But it's early. I brought a breathalyzer and may
check up on it once in awhile.

If anyone sees it, please send me details on the Sox trade and any
other big news. It's difficult (and expensive) to find news out here.

Friday, June 25, 2004

The Book of Mike is on Vacation

It's sad (for you) but true - The Book of Mike is on vacation. Regular posting will resume on July 6th. Enjoy yourselves in my absence - particularly the 4th of July holiday.

While there won't be anything new to read for awhile at The Book of Mike, check out some of my favorite things to read:

Baseball Musings
Baseball News Blog
Baseball Prospectus
Only Baseball Matters
Bud Selig's Campaign Donations - is it just me, or is it odd that the Commissioner of Baseball, someone supposedly independent and separate from the club's themselves, donated large sums of money to politicians and reported that he was affiliated with the Milwaukee Breweres? Pretty interesting evidence in my mind about where Bud's priorities and interests still are.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


South Carolina managed to pull off a surprise (relatively) last night as they beat Cal State Fullerton and forced a decisive elimination game rematch tonight. With Miami out of the tournament, you're probably not sure who to cheer for. Check out this nice story about South Carolina and cheer for them if you want.

The winner of tonight's game will move on to the championship round to face Texas (after a well deserved day off tomorrow). The Longhorns haven’t lost in a long time and will be well rested come Saturday. Yesterday’s 7 – 6 win over Georgia was seemingly their first close game in recent memory.

This post will be short and sweet, but I wanted to let everyone know that blogging will be light starting tomorrow until after the Fourth of July holiday. I will be out of town/out of the country for most of that time and will be away from technology for most of the time, thus making it difficult to blog. I’ll try my best to post occasionally, but don’t get your hopes up.

In case you were wondering, it's still sad in Hurricane country...

I still think the softball jersey and ice cream vendor hat combination is really what did the team in on Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bill(y) Buckner Carries Club to World Series Win

All good things must come to an end and the Hurricanes season did last night. Last night’s 15 – 11 defeat at the hands of South Carolina marked the first time all season that the Canes lost consecutive games. Although the final score was relatively close, the game itself wasn’t. Gamecock's starter Billy Buckner dominated for seven solid innings, striking out ten and only walking one. For most of the game, the Canes trailed by ten runs or so. It was only after a few pitching changes and pulling almost all of the starters that the Canes made it a game.

South Carolina came out ready to play though, and they played well. Miami didn’t. It’s pretty much as simple as that. As was the case on Monday night against Fullerton, Miami looked flat and emotionless on Tuesday night against South Carolina. The Canes got away with that level of effort many times during the season, but that doesn’t work in Omaha when you’re facing top level competition like the second seeded Gamecocks.

Arizona was also eliminated yesterday, meaning that the Canes and Wildcats technically tie for fifth place. Coming into the season if you’d told Arizona they’d end the year tied with Miami, I’m sure they would have been ecstatic. Coming into the season if you’d told Miami they’d end the year tied with Arizona, I’m sure they would have been nearly suicidal. Both sentiments may ring true today.

Texas faces off against Georgia today in a potential elimination game for the Bulldogs. The primetime matchup pits South Carolina against Fullerton, where Carolina can be sent home with a loss. If Texas and Fullerton both win today, there will be no games tomorrow or Friday, and those two teams will face each other in the Championship Series, which will begin on Saturday (regardless of whether games are necessary tomorrow).

Other thoughts on last night’s game
So how bad was the loss for the Canes last night? I was almost hoping they'd drag out the Kenny Maybe ball boy skit a little longer. As it got later in the game, I was hoping Sean McDonough would continue to drone on with his frightening fascination with the girlfriends of the South Carolina players, each of whom is probably young enough to be McDonough's daughter.

In addition to McDonough flirting from afar with Gamecock girls, he also gushed about how Fullerton is able to maintain such a top level program on a shoestring budget. Not only was this in inappropriate time for such a rant (why not save it for tonight when Fullerton is actually playing), but it was also short sighted. South Carolina isn’t exactly the best funded athletic department in all the land, and even though you see Miami on television all the time, it’s not because there’s a huge base of alumni or state dollars flooding the campus.

Apparently McDonough has joined the masses in forgetting that Miami is a small private school that has created what seems like a big time athletic department from relatively humble beginnings. The UM program doesn't get much credit for it, but it's a small program with a relatively small budget that is run by a group of dedicated, underpaid people and is supported by a relatively small group of alumni and fans (keep in mind that Miami runs a distant third in terms of alumni and fans in Florida, after the University of Florida and Florida State).

By the way, I have more Gmail invitations, so drop me a note if you'd like one.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Canes Lose - Now the Road Gets Tough; Harold Reynolds is Still an Idiot

The Hurricanes lost to Cal State Fullerton last night by a score of 6 – 3. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Hurricanes looked flat and emotionless nearly the entire game. Since Saturday’s win most of the quotes from the Canes centered on how happy they were to have won the opening game and how nice it was to be in the winner’s bracket this year (last year the Canes were blown out by Texas in the opening game of the tournament).

The loss for the Canes was their first since they were shut out by North Carolina in Coral Gables on May 16th. Many, from the group that often says that Miami’s ranking and seeding is over-inflated by the overwhelming number of home games they play, will assert that the Canes were exposed last night as an overrated team that possibly didn’t deserve to be in Omaha. That sort of an assertion is likely too drastic. Miami played uncharacteristically bad defense – committing a total of four errors, including three in the second inning. Ironically for Canes starter J.D. Cockroft, the poor defense behind him in Omaha is not a new thing. Last year Cockroft also was let down by his defense, as ten runs were scored while he was on the mound, but only four of those were earned (in seven total innings in the CWS, Cockroft has allowed 15 runs, of which only seven were earned).

Truthfully, the Canes were fortunate to keep the game close (with a final score of 6 – 3, and Fullerton never established a lead of more than four runs). Fullerton left eleven runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in both the 3rd and 4th innings. Last night’s game could have easily turned into a blowout. I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or not for the Canes (and even the Titans) that it didn’t. Had it been a blowout Miami could have dug a little deeper in their bullpen and saved some of their better arms for their upcoming games and the Titans could have pulled Romero from the game and reached into the depths of their bullpen as well.

On the other side of the diamond, Cal State Fullerton was into the game from the first pitch. One could easily argue that Fullerton’s coaches are over-using their pitchers, but Ricky Romero pitched a gem last night. And now, with today off and possibly only one more game before the championship round, Romero and Saturday’s starter Jason Windsor have a chance to rest up. Yes, that’s right – we’re through two games in the College World Series and Cal State Fullerton has only used two pitchers.

While that is a remarkable feat and has preserved the Titans’ bullpen, I’m not sure it’s good news for Romero or Windsor. Fullerton pitchers have amassed a total of 17 complete games this year (10 by Windsor and 5 by Martinez). The downside to this is pitch counts; both of the complete games thrown in the CWS required over 140 pitches. Analysis upon analysis has been done that indicates that having young arms, such as Romero’s and Windsor’s, throw more than 120 pitches in a game is likely detrimental in the long term to the pitcher’s development. Windsor and Romero seem to do this so frequently that it is probably unlikely that we will ever see either of them pitching in the major league World Series, or even at any high level professionally. “Analysts” like ESPN’s Harold Reynolds help to perpetuate high pitch counts and endangerment to pitchers’ health by asserting that things like make-up, will, and determination are a bigger factor in whether a pitcher can sustain high pitch counts than anything else. I tend to disagree with Mr. Reynolds on this as I’ve never seen determination hold a ligament together, particularly when subjected to the repeated, unnatural stress of throwing a baseball at maximum effort too many times (ironically Reynolds quipped during the game that his favorite thing about the CWS is that he is able to teach the game to people – it would be great if Reynolds would teach people things that are based in fact and research, and not just his uninformed opinion). When two pitchers have more complete games than the entire sum of complete games by the other seven teams in the College World Series, you might have to admit that there’s an issue. Hopefully I’m wrong and Windsor and Romero will go on to long, successful careers, but I doubt it. These two young men are likely being subjected to physical abuse, which their bodies will not be able to sustain over the long haul.

From here, the roads diverge significantly for the Titans and the Hurricanes. Fullerton has today off and they will play the winner of tonight’s South Carolina – Miami matchup. Fullerton will only need to beat that team one time – on either Wednesday or Thursday – in order to advance to the championship round (likely against Texas, but possibly against Texas, Arizona, or Georgia).

Both the Canes and Gamecocks have beaten LSU and lost to Fullerton in the tournament so far. From that perspective, and given that South Carolina is seeded second in the tournament and Miami third, it would appear that these two teams are evenly matched. On paper, that is definitely true. This game is likely too close to call on paper: both teams are fairly well balanced, with solid pitching, power and speed on offense, and (with the exception of Miami’s performance last night) solid defense. However, tonight’s game will not be played on paper, and in fact, it will be contested by each team’s third starting pitcher. This is where things start to get interesting in college baseball.

Miami’s Brandon Camardese will take the hill tonight. Camardese brings a 6 – 2 record with a 3.86 ERA into tonight’s game. He is 1 – 0 in 8.2 innings pitched in the postseason with a 3.12 ERA (those stats are likely misleading though, as they came against St. Bonaventure in the opening game of the Regionals). It’s easy to be mislead by a 6 – 2 record (and his 9 – 2 record in 2003), but Camardese is not a dominating starter. He has good starts and bad starts. The key to watch for tonight with Brandon is walks. When he’s on, there are very few walks. Camardese is generally tough to hit (.235 BA allowed this season), so if he’s not putting runners on for free, he can be difficult to score against.

South Carolina will likely counter with righty Billy Buckner (no relation to that guy – and yes, he was born before the famous 1986 incident). Buckner is also 6 – 2 this season with a 3.16 ERA. Buckner appears to have good control (with nearly 5 strikeouts to every one walk allowed), but curiously, he leads the team in wild pitches.

It’s likely that whichever team gets the better performance out of their starting pitcher will likely win today’s game. Both clubs will also go to their bullpens quickly if needed to get a fresh arm. After perusing the statistics, both clubs have a plethora of arms left to turn to today, with Miami likely tabbing Dan Touchet first and South Carolina going to Zac McCamie.

For whoever wins this game, a daunting road lies ahead. In order to reach the championship round, South Carolina will have to win four games on four consecutive days (with today being the second game in that span). Miami would have to win three games in three days in order to reach the finals. In order to do that, they’ll likely have to overcome Fullerton’s deep and talented pitching staff and do so with a depleted staff of their own. At this point, with the weaknesses Fullerton has exploited in both clubs so far, it’s difficult to see that happening. Texas versus Fullerton in the Championship Round is far less difficult to see.

Announcer Amusement
During the introduction of the Miami line-up at the start of last night’s game, I found it humorous that (regular Red Sox announcer) Sean McDonough noted that the Canes only lineup change from the first game was to flip-flop Richard Gianotti and Roger Tomas between the 8th and 9th slots in the line-up. McDonough noted that this was because the Canes were facing a lefty in Fullerton’s Ricky Romero. On the surface, this makes sense. It is common in baseball for a manager to try to optimize his line-up with lefties and righties (alternating them) in the order, particularly when facing a lefty. However, McDonough failed to note that both Tomas and Gianotti are switch-hitters, meaning that when the face left handed pitchers they bat right handed, and when they face right handed pitchers they bat left handed. So it’s pretty unlikely that the reason for Morris’s lineup-change was that the Canes were facing a lefty. It would be nice if the announcers could do a minimal amount of due diligence before they give us their insight. Knowing how to pronounce a player’s name or the fact that he bats from both sides of the plate is not too much to ask.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Why you should cheer for Miami tonight...

Miami will face off against Cal State Fullerton tonight in what is obviously a huge game for both teams. The winner gets a day off tomorrow and has the inside track to the championship series, while the losing team has to come back tomorrow and win, and then beat the team they lose to tonight twice (once on Wednesday and again on Thursday) in order to avoid elimination.

While I am a Miami fan through-and-through, I realize that not all of you may be as solid in your support of the Canes. Because of this I feel obligated to point out (and which can be verified on Fullerton’s baseball page) that Kevin Costner is a fan of the Titans. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for Miami. Costner, as you probably painfully remember is the “star” who brought us epics such as “Waterworld” and “For the Love of the Game” (where Costner allegedly deluded himself into thinking he could throw in the mid-80s – with his motion, I doubt he could reach the mid-60s). I’m also still trying to get over how many times I had to watch “Dances with Wolves” in High School (for some sort of a social studies project).

All kidding aside, it should be a great game tonight.

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Koch Krumbles

It’s kind of like opening a pack of baseball cards. You rip open the wrapper and start sorting through them. Sometimes you get something good. An All-Star or a future Hall of Famer, or a rookie card of someone that you think will be somebody some day. More often than not though, in your pack of fifteen cards, you get fifteen guys who either platoon with someone else of equally little value or who hit about .250 in their 500 annual plate appearances.

That’s kind of what it’s like when you summon Billy Koch from the bullpen.

It hasn’t always been this way. In 1999 and 2000, Koch was a flame-thrower out of the bullpen. The kind of a guy you brought in to shut down a rally or to close the door on a win. In 1999 his ERA was 45% than average in the American League and in 2000 it was 89% better. During those two years he saved a total of 64 games and regularly reached 100 mph on the radar gun. Granted, there are better statistics out there than ERA and saves, but those are two of the key numbers that elevated Billy Koch’s name into everyone’s vocabulary.

Then in 2001 something happened. No one really knows what yet, but if anyone does, they’re not saying. Koch’s ERA fell below the league average for the first time in his career and his strikeout to walk ratio fell from 3.33: 1 in 2000 to 1.67: 1 in 2001. The lack of control belied Koch’s sudden inability to get hitters out. Management in Toronto didn’t like this, so they jettisoned him to Oakland, in a seeming steal for the Jays (the Jays acquired Eric Hinske – who won the Rookie of the Year award and Justin Miller).

With Oakland, Koch regained his form in 2002 as quickly as he apparently lost it in 2001 (hello, Rick Peterson!). There wasn’t any real reason for his turnaround though. Not everyone apparently saw this though, and the A’s traded Koch after the 2002 campaign to the White Sox. Surprisingly, to the White Sox at least, Koch reverted to his 2001 form, and not his 1999, 2000, or 2002 form. 2003 and the early part of 2004 were not solid campaigns for Mr. Koch. In fact, they were arguably worse than any of his other previous campaigns. To his credit, Koch was a stand-up guy about the whole thing and took all of the blame for his poor performances, even going as far at times as to thank Sox management for continuing to give him a chance after repeated failures.

So the Sox traded Koch to the Marlins for a fringe minor leaguer and possibly a bag of balls (even offering to pay a large portion of Koch’s salary for the remainder of the 2004 campaign) on their way out of Miami last week. The Marlins apparently think they can turn Koch around (maybe they’ve seen something in his mechanics that’s fixable). If another team sees promise in Koch, why didn’t the Sox keep him?

For one, there’s the change of scenery opinion. Some folks believe that simply putting Koch in the Marlins bullpen instead of the Sox bullpen may be of benefit to Koch. This may well be true. But the real reason the Sox traded Koch was because you never know what you’ll get with him on the mound. This was proven to the Marlins for the first time yesterday, when the Fish lost to the Rangers in eleven innings.

Jack McKeon brought Koch into a tied game in the tenth inning. Koch performed well – allowing a weak popup to first and recording two strikeouts in the inning. This was the Billy Koch the Marlins traded for. So far, so good. The trade is working out.

Unfortunately, the Marlins were also shut down in the 10th, so the Fish take the field in the 11th, with Koch taking the hill again. The 11th did not go as smoothly for the Fish as the 10th did. Koch allowed a lead-off single, which was followed by a home run to right. Koch quickly recovered to retire the next three batters in order, but, by that point, the damage had already been done. The Marlins were down 4 – 2 and were unable to score in the bottom of the 11th, so they were swept by the Rangers and fell into a tie for first place with the Phillies.

Leaving Koch in the game was a relatively brave decision for Jack McKeon. By pulling Koch after the successful 10th, McKeon would have built up some confidence in Koch’s head. However, it was still a tied game in extra innings, and McKeon wasn’t in a position to be playing with pitchers and wasting an arm or bat off the bench in order to build confidence. McKeon did what he had to, but Koch cost the Fish the game.

Hopefully, for Marlins fans, Koch will turn it around. Otherwise it could be a very long, hot summer. That bullpen is not very deep and Koch will likely play a large role in making or breaking the Marlins playoff hopes.

Hurricanes Impress in Opening Game of College World Series; ESPN Announcers Do Not

An exciting weekend in baseball it was, with Ken Griffey hitting his 500th homer, the College World Series kicking off, and the Yankees playing the Dodgers for the first time in more than 20 years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all Dontrelle Willis fun and excitement…

I was sincerely disappointed with ESPN’s preparation for Saturday night's Miami – Louisiana State game. Throughout the game, both broadcasters – Jeff Brantley and Mike Patrick – regularly mispronounced Miami pitcher Cesar Carillo’s name. Brantley regular referred to the sophomore as “Cay-czar Ca-ree-yo” and Patrick couldn’t seem to decide between “Ca-ree-yo” and “Cai-ro” and most strangely of all “Ko-rea.” Mr. Carillo pronounces his name “Ca-rill-o.” While this is probably a minor distinction to those of you in tv land who had never heard of Carillo before Saturday night, it’s a fairly basic thing which is easily avoided by simply consulting Miami’s weekly release (also known as game notes). Gone are the days when this information was only available after the fact or to media in attendance in the press box. This information is available on demand on the web. Go here and check it out for yourself. There’s a pronunciation guide for the Miami players right below the rosters (on page 10). I didn’t look it up, but I’m sure the announcers struggled with the names of some LSU players too (if the missed on Carillo, I’m guessing they missed on the Tigers’ Zeringue too).

Jeff Brantley also spouted off early in the contest about how Carillo was clearly nervous, as he wasn’t his typical, dominating self in the early going. Brantely evidenced Carillo’s season-long dominance with his undefeated record and sub-3.00 ERA. Eventually, Mike Patrick got around to pointing out that Carillo carried an ERA of more than 7 in the first inning for the entire year, and was much more stellar than that in the later innings. While it would be hard to expect Brantley to know such minutia (although it is in the game notes), had he been paying attention during the regionals and Super Regionals, he would have already known this. Carillo gave up four runs in the first inning against N.C. State in the regionals, and eventually settled down (a game which the Canes won 19 – 5). Carillo also had a rough start in the clinching game against Florida in the Super Regionals, but after the first inning he again settled down and pitched a complete game gem.

Brantley also went back and forth repeatedly on a number of issues. When LSU brought in Determan to relieve Bumstead in the 3rd inning, Brantley informed us that this was a good move for LSU as Determan pitched in last year’s CWS and thus would not experience the butterflies that both Bumstead (LSU) and Carillo (Miami) had to start the game. Later, when things got rough for Determan, we were fed lines like “he’s still a youngster and needs experience to know how to handle situations like this in big ballgames” and other such hokum. All in all, Brantley came off as under-informed and seemed to be searching for topics to fill air time with.

The regular mis-pronunciations of names, home towns, and twisting of storylines about how the players got to where they are, etc was further evidence that ESPN cares about little else than cross-promotion. In game interviews with columnists and plugs for ESPN the flavor Gatorade are always on spot. Where a player is from, how he got to college, or how his name is pronounced are merely details which get in the way of selling an extra magazine, generating more hits for the website, or for selling red Gatorade. ESPN would be better served by spending less time rehearsing bits with Jeff Brantley and Harold Reynolds educating viewers on the intricacies of catchers blocking balls in the dirt and spending more time learning about the teams and the players competing in the games that are going on in front of them.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Bad blood between Miami and LSU (Coaches)

There will undoubtedly be countless replays of Warren Morris’s dramatic game winning home run from the 1996 College World Series during tomorrow night’s Miami – LSU CWS opening round game (the homer was ranked as the biggest non-MLB home run of all-time by ESPN). That will be a nice story and will play up the baseball rivalry between these two institutions. When you’re watching the highlights though, check out who you might see in the Miami dugout during those clips who is now in the LSU dugout.

No, it’s not former LSU skipper Skip Bertman, who was an assistant under previous Hurricane legend Ron Fraser. Bertman was already at LSU by 1996 – and was winning titles regularly.

The coach in question is former Canes hitting coach/recruiting coordinator Turtle Thomas. Aside from having a great name, Thomas is at least a pretty good baseball coach. During his twelve-year tenure at Miami (which ended after the Canes won the title in 1999), Thomas was very popular with Hurricane players, athletic department staff, and fans.

Apparently though, he wasn’t so popular with the fellow baseball coaches. Allegedly, during much of the 1999 baseball season, Thomas and the other Hurricanes’ coaches (including skipper Jim Morris) did not speak to each other. Thomas was not welcomed back to the Canes for the 2000 campaign, and although the exact reasons for his dismissal were never clearly divulged, rumors ranged from recruiting violations to Thomas simply not getting along with Morris. In the time since he left, Thomas has not had much nice to say about the University of Miami. This week, his feelings made national news (relatively) as he was the subject of a story in the USA Today. It will also be interesting to see if Thomas remains quiet during the CWS or if he chimes in with allegations, like those raised earlier this season by Florida State coach Mike Martin of sign stealing and other Hurricane improprieties. Coming from Thomas, who has spent as much time in the Canes dugout as nearly anyone, those accusations would certainly carry more weight.

I’m not quite sure what to believe, but in the last decade or so, Miami has had some top assistant coaches in Turtle Thomas and Lazar Collazo, both of whom ended up leaving the program under highly unusual and controversial circumstances. The departures of both coaches did not sit well with the players at the time, and coach Jim Morris was quiet about both issues. This is a difficult thing for me to write, because in my limited exposure to Coach Morris, I’ve found him to be a very likable, straightforward, and honest man. Maybe the unusual departures of these two coaches are just back luck, but the situation definitely has an aura of something seedy.

We’ll see how much of a storyline this turns into tomorrow.

Koch traded for virtually nothing; Joy on the South Side

The White Sox traded “reliever” Billy Koch to the Marlins after last night’s game. Ridding Koch from the roster definitely took much of the sting out of last night’s loss, which came in eleven innings and gave the Marlins the series win. It will be interesting to see now if Koch is able to enjoy a renaissance with the Marlins like Urbina and Benitez have before him. If he does, other teams will probably start paying for the water used in the Marlins clubhouse or whatever the magic formula is.

Sox Perspective
On the surface this might not seem like a great trade for the White Sox because they only received a prospect in return. Wilson Valdez is a prospect, although no one is going to confuse him with the Miguel Tejada, or even Tejada’s Oakland replacement, Bobby Crosby. Still, the Sox shed themselves of Koch, which is a victory in itself. Apparently they’ll have to pay a portion of his salary, but it’s far less than they would have had to pay him to keep him on the roster (where he likely would have done nothing other than lose games).

Marlins Perspective
The Marlins need bullpen help in a bad way. To acquire some potential help, they gave up a minor leaguer who wasn’t even amongst their top 10 prospects (at least according to Baseball America). They also had the Sox pick up a portion of Koch’s salary. Florida is definitely hoping they get the pre-2003 version of Koch – you know, the Blue Jays/A’s version. If the Marlins do, they’ll have their best bullpen pickup in recent memory (and that’s quite a statement considering the reclamation projects they’ve had since last summer with Urbina, Chad Fox, and Armando Benitez).

It’s doubtful that Koch will return to his old dominating form, but a change of scenery could definitely help. This could be a trade that’s a win-win for both clubs.

Other Trades
For those of you who care about other teams, Richard Hidalgo was dealt from the Astros to the Mets yesterday for David Weathers. Neither player is really any good, but it involves New York and the Mets so just typing these few words on my page here is sure to generate a few extra clicks today.

That is a bat in Gonzalez's hands
By the way, has anyone noticed that Alex Gonzalez has raised his average above .250, courtesy of a .370 batting average to date in the month of June? While this is certainly impressive, and does much to dis-credit my knocking of Gonzalez earlier in the year, one has to wonder if it will keep up. Gonzalez continues to play his regular sparkling defense in the field and his power numbers have been unbelievable (4 home runs and a .696 slugging percentage this month), but his onbase percentage remains closely tied to his batting average (.370 BA this month with a .388 OBP - courtesy of two walks). Hopefully for the Marlins, Gonzalez can keep up his offensive surge, particularly since the Fish aren't getting any offense from their catchers.

Highlight of the Week
Although it came against my beloved White Sox, it was fun to see Dontrelle Willis pinch-hit in the fifth inning of last night's game. It was Willis's third pinch-hit at bat of the season and he promptly rapped a triple to center field. Much to the consternation of Marlins coaches, Willis then proceeded to dance off of third base and even dove back to the bag head-first when the Sox tried to pick him off. Willis definitely added his trademark spark to the game last night (even though he was stranded on third and ultimately had no impact on the game's outcome). It would be fun to see Willis hit for himself (or be the DH) when the Marlins visit American League parks again during interleague play.

Have a great weekend! GO CANES!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

So the White Sox are playing the Marlins, who are you cheering for, Mike?

So this week it finally happened. The White Sox came to visit me in Miami. While I didn’t make it to last night’s game, I did go to Tuesday night’s game, and unless something drastic happens, I’ll be at tonight’s game as well. The question posed as the subject of this post is the question that I've received more than any other this week, and I suppose it's a fair one. First of all, let me give you some background, and then I'll give you my answer.

As some of you know, I was born on the South Side of Chicago and am thus, a White Sox fan. Apparently some of the folks I ran into at Pro Player Stadium this week think that it’s a choice for people in Chicago (something like “which color pants should I wear today, and am I going to be a White Sox fan or a Cubs fan this year?"); well, there is no choice. People from the South Side are White Sox fans and people from the North Side are Cubs fans. It’s that simple. Some people will tell you that they cheer for both teams, or that they’ve changed allegiances over the years. Stay away from those people. There’s something wrong with them and they need help – they just haven’t acknowledged it yet.

So I’m a White Sox fan, and I have been my entire life. If you read this blog regularly, you might not realize that, but that’s mainly because I’ve lived in Miami since 1995 and slowly but surely I’ve come to accept the Marlins. In fact this year, since I expected this would be the first year since I’ve lived here (and have been able to afford it) that it would be somewhat difficult to get tickets on a whim, I became a season ticket holder (partial season plan). So now I find myself cheering for the Marlins at games, and I even own some Marlins things (although nothing that’s teal just yet). (And for my friends and family who did not know this about me yet, I am ashamed and I apologize, but it is the truth.)

Coming into this series many friends and family members asked me who I would be cheering for during this three game set. I always quickly said “the White Sox.” And I meant it. Inside though, I wasn’t quite sure. I’ve really come to like certain Marlins – particularly Juan Pierre and Dontrelle Willis – and since the Marlins are having a great year so far, I thought that in reality I might be a little bit torn about the whole thing.

Well, as soon as I got to the stadium on Tuesday, I realized that I wouldn’t be torn about anything. I was genuinely hoping to see the Sox win a 12 – 0 blowout on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night. That’s not exactly how it’s gone down so far (and probably won’t tonight with Beckett on the hill), but Tuesday night’s win was exciting for me the Sox fan as it would have been devastating for me if the Marlins had lost the game to anyone else in the league. Last night’s loss was disappointing. Although I hadn’t vocalized it to anyone, I was secretly hoping that the Sox would sweep this series and maintain an undefeated all-time record against the two-time World Champions. I don't think that any team holds that distinction currently (and possibly ever).

Marlins fans think they have it tough. In the team’s history, they have only had two winning seasons (and have won zero division titles). Some of their seasons, notably 1998, have been historically bad campaigns. All in all though, it hasn’t been that bad. Two titles in a little more than a decade is something that nearly every club (sans the Yankees) would trade for gladly.

What most Marlins fans fail to recognize though is that White Sox fans have had things much rougher. For instance, both the Marlins and the White Sox have won the World Series twice. Sounds pretty good, right? Sure, except that the Marlins have existed since 1993, and the White Sox have been around since 1903 (when the American League was founded). In my lifetime, in fact in the lifetime of anyone born since October 1959, the White Sox have only reached the playoffs on three occasions (just one more time than the Marlins, although the Sox have played thirty-three more seasons during that stretch). In those three appearances, the Sox have won a total of three games – including being the victims of a sweep against the Mariners in the 2000 ALDS. (The Sox were also jobbed out of a likely division title in the 1994 season because of the strike.)

Think about that. Three playoff wins since 1959 (and it’s not even like they won the Series in 1959 – the Sox lost to the Dodgers that year, and haven’t won a World Series since 1917); I personally witnessed more playoff wins by the Marlins last year at Pro Player Stadium than the White Sox have won in my lifetime. It’s not easy being a White Sox fan. They lose, and they lose with regularity – but they often enter the year, like each year in this millennium, with a club that’s capable of winning the division (and as Marlins fans can tell you, you don’t even have to win your division to generate some excitement in the playoffs). So you come into each year with reasonably high expectations, but somehow they find a way to disappoint you. Nevertheless, the suffering of White Sox fans goes virtually un-noticed.

If you watch baseball with any regularity, you surely know of the Curse of the Bambino and how the Red Sox have not won the World Series since 1918. Great story – it really is. What is rarely told though is that the White Sox have not won a World Series since 1917 – one year before the Red Sox last title. The only consolation in this for White Sox fans is that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (ok – it’s more than consolation, it’s great joy). For some reason, the Cubs are accepted as lovable losers and the Red Sox are supported by true fanatics. The White Sox though wallow in near invisibility.

Regardless of how you slice it, the trouble of being a Marlins fan hardly compares to the regular despair endured by White Sox fans. Yes, 1998 was a horrible year for the Marlins, and a long, hot, devastating summer for Marlins fans. But at least Dave Dombrowski had a plan – and a plan that paid off with the ultimate baseball prize only five years later. The White Sox still seem to be reeling from the effects of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. They haven’t really ever recovered since (the 1959 World Series appearance is the only time they’ve been in the Fall Classic since 1919).

So keep that in mind when if you see me tonight in my script “Chicago” gray jersey and black Sox hat. Yes, I know I’m usually in Marlins gear at Pro Player Stadium, but this week I’m cheering for the White Sox. Like I’ve always said, my two favorite teams are the White Sox and whoever’s playing the Cubs. This week the White Sox came to visit me in Miami. I really don’t have any choice other than to cheer for the Sox. It's not even a choice actually. I am a White Sox fan, and when you're a White Sox fan, you cheer for the White Sox. It's not like being a fan of another team where you can change your allegiances on a whim. There may not be a lot of us, but those of us who are White Sox fans, are White Sox fans through and through. I just happen to live in Miami and the only professional baseball team in town is the Marlins. So I cheer for the Marlins when they're here and the White Sox aren't. Maybe that will change one day, but I doubt it.

Update: To prove my point about how biased the world is against the White Sox in favor of other teams, check out the GoogleAds that are coming up because of this post. I say Sox a few times and it turns into a Red Sox - Yankees ad fest. Disgusting.

Billy Koch is no All-Star; Carl Pavano is an All-Star and the Marlins Ace

Is it possible to discuss White Sox “closer” Billy Koch and Marlins starter (and likely ace) Carl Pavano at the same time? Probably not, but it’s my blog and I’m only posting once today, so I’m going to try to do it.

Billy Koch
Much has been made so far this season about the White Sox success in one-run games. There’s a considerable amount of evidence to say that success in one-run games is not sustainable, but everyone continues to talk about it anyway. ESPN today put in their weekly Power Rankings that the White Sox 13 – 6 record in one run games is evidence of Ozzie Guillen’s managerial “genius.” This is a stretch at best, and most likely it’s simply a result of the arms Guillen has been dealt. With the powerful bats the Sox have in their lineup, they’re likely to win a lot of games by simply scoring a lot of runs. But with Billy Koch in the bullpen, any game can be a one-run game.

Keep in mind that the 13 – 6 record in one run games gives you absolutely zero context about how that game became a “one-run” decision. The two teams could have been separated by one-run for the entire game, or it could have been a 9 – 0 game entering the ninth which ended up 9 – 8. With that in mind I decided to take a look at how Billy Koch has impacted the Sox one-run games this year.

Billy Koch has appeared in 9 games this year that were decided by one-run, and the Sox record in those games is 7 – 2. Sounds great. Every team should have their own Billy Koch who could hold the team up in close games, right? Well, not really.

In those 9 games, 1 win and 1 loss have been credited to Koch. He’s also earned 5 saves and 3 blown saves (a 62.5% save percentage is well below the historical average of over 80% in save situations). Four of those nine appearances have been clean (one hit or less and no runs); the other five have been adventures.

In those five “one-run” games, Koch has given up a staggering 11 runs and 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings. Still, the Sox managed a 3 – 2 record in those games. Koch was credited with one of the losses (and a blown save in the other). In the other three games, Koch created a one-run game situation where one should otherwise not have existed.

Without Koch on their staff (and also assuming those innings didn’t need to be pitched – which is an unfair assumption on my part), you would be able to eliminate 9 of the Sox 19 one run games (to date). That would change their record in such games from a sparkling 13 – 6 to a more realistic 6 – 4. Suddenly, Ozzie Guillen doesn’t look like a genius so much anymore (don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with Ozzie). Instead, the Sox have somehow amassed a 13 – 6 one-run game record because of Billy Koch’s ineffectiveness.

Carl Pavano
Despite the hype that constantly follows Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, and the recent attention paid to Brad Penny, Carl Pavano is probably the Marlins best pitcher. Pavano has been the Marlins best pitcher for some time now. He’s definitely not the flashiest; he definitely doesn’t have the best “stuff”; but when the game is on the line, if you could only pick one pitcher from the Marlins staff, you would most likely pick Pavano.

Sure, Beckett and Penny are likely to accumulate more strikeouts. Willis will probably get the job done too – and he may even wreak a little havoc at the plate too. But since they acquired him from Montreal, Pavano has arguably been the Marlins best pitcher over the duration. His flashes of brilliance aren’t as bright, but he’s remarkably consistent, and consistency – especially at the level he delivers it – is a wonderful thing to have.

Although it was quickly forgotten, Pavano pitched extremely well for the Marlins during last year’s playoffs. He was 2 – 0 in eight games (two starts). His ERA was 1.40 and his WHIP was an even more miniscule 1.04. While Pavano wasn’t on the hill for the Marlins clinching game 6 against the Yankees, it’s fair to say that the Marlins wouldn’t have won last year’s series without his post-season performance.

During the regular season of 2003, Pavano was again not as brilliant as Willis, Beckett, or Penny were at times, but overall he was much more consistent. Pavano’s 12-13 record is somewhat misleading, as he did chew up more than 200 innings for the Marlins last year, with a WHIP of 1.26 – both important totals for any club.

My point here isn’t to say that Carl Pavano is a top-shelf pitcher. He is consistent though, and consistent quality is an important characteristic for a team that has post-season hopes. Pavano should be an All-Star this season (assuming of course he keeps up at this pace for the next few weeks). He’s about the only Marlins pitcher you can say that about (Armando Benitez included, following Tuesday’s meltdown against the White Sox). He has a 2.81 ERA and a WHIP just North of 1 (1.02 to be exact). Most impressively, he’s 2 – 0 with a 0.52 ERA and 0.52 WHIP in his two starts since his relationship with Alyssa Milano ended. Not very many folks could pull that off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

College Baseball Bracketology Extravaganza

Today’s College World Series analysis focuses on both of the brackets - Bracket A, where play begins on Friday and continues on Sunday, and Bracket B, where play begins on Saturday and continues on Monday. Friday’s games feature Arizona and Georgia in the afternoon game and Arkansas and Texas in the primetime matchup. Instead of calling this “Bracket A” or “Bracket 1,” we’ll give it a more appropriate name, like the Large State Schools Bracket.

For a review of how the brackets work, check out yesterday’s post. Otherwise, let’s jump into it…

Bracket A - Large State Schools
To put it simply, Texas should emerge from this bracket with relatively little difficulty. In terms of rankings, RPI, and other measures of team strength, nearly everyone agrees that Texas is the top team in the country. Also in the Longhorns favor is that Arizona, Georgia, and Arkansas (although Arkansas did receive the number 8 seed nationally), are not regarded as highly. Still the tournament is wide open and anything can happen.

Why Texas will advance to the Championship series...
The Longhorns are deep, boasting a pitching staff with more quality starters and relievers than any other team in the tournament. That alone should be enough to make them a favorite, but the Horns also boast a wealth of Omaha experience and major league prospects.

A quote from an anonymous scout (from “Texas has unreal pitching depth. The only thing I've seen close to it was the USA national team. They have as good depth on a college staff as I've ever seen.” Should that quote be true, it’s more than enough to reach the championship, and to probably win the whole thing.

Why Texas will be eliminated before the Championship series...
This is a tough argument to make. Texas is the best team on this side of the bracket, and possibly in the tournament, on paper. They have been playing well of late – having reached the World Series with hardly a challenge in the regionals or super regionals. But baseball isn’t played on paper, it’s played by little men inside your television, so no one really knows what will happen.

The one potential knock on Texas is that they don’t have a lot of power. Still they’ve been able to score a lot of runs this year.

Why Arkansas will advance to the Championship series...
After being picked to finish 11th by experts in the Southeastern Conference this season, the Razorbacks ended up winning a share of the SEC championship this season. Three of the Hogs top players are pitchers (RHP Charles Boyce, LHP Clint Brannon, and LHP Jay Sawatski). Pitching depth is always at a premium in Omaha, particularly when you could be forced to play five games in seven days, including up to three games in those last three days.

Why Arkansas will be eliminated before the Championship series...
First off, they have to play Texas to open up the tournament, which almost ensures a loss. That would mean that they’d have to play five games to reach the championship series, which is a tough road to go down.

Truth be told, it’s most likely that reality will catch up with the Razorbacks in Omaha though. They finished 9th in the SEC in batting, 7th in pitching, and 11th in fielding. None of those numbers are impressive in a positive way. In a sense, it is impressive that Arkansas has made it this far without major superlatives in any particular area of the game, but I doubt they’ll be able to go much further.

Why Georgia will advance to the Championship series...
Like many teams that come this far, Georgia is a solid, scrappy team – if unspectacular – that so far this year has simply found a way to win. They’re led by a freshman first baseman, Josh Morris, who allegedly swings a strong bat (although I’ve never seen him play). Georgia also has two power arms in their bullpen (Startup – great name – and Lanier). If UGA has a lead late, you can pretty much shut the book.

The biggest factor working in the Bulldogs favor is that they are coming off a two-game sweep of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Going into last weekend’s Super Regional, most everyone thought of Georgia Tech as a top-5 team and a lock for Omaha.

Why Georgia will be eliminated before the Championship series...
As mentioned earlier, they’re led on offense by a freshman. This is a big stage for a freshman (although I suppose they’re all at least sophomores by this point) and it’s not like Georgia has any other big-time standouts on offense.

Why Arizona will advance to the Championship series...
Arizona has an (at times) explosive offense. If they’re able to get their bats going, Arizona could make a solid run in Omaha. They’ve scored ten or more runs in 25% of their games, and they’re 15 – 2 when they reach double digits.

While the team doesn’t have much post-season experience, head coach Andy Lopez does. The Wildcats are the third school he’s led to Omaha (Florida and Pepperdine are the others). Lopez also won a title with Pepperdine in 1992.

Why Arizona will be eliminated before the Championship series...
The Wildcats were a bubble selection (not everyone was sure they’d even make the tournament on selection day), so why should anyone think they’d be amongst the top two?

Also, Arizona has been explosive on offense, but mostly at home. For the year, the Cats hit over .330 at home, but just above .270 on the road.

This four team bracket has some strong ball but probably only one team that anyone thought going into the season (or even going into the postseason) that would actually reach Omaha. Yes, Arkansas, Georgia, and Arizona are all great stories and Cinderellas in their own rights, but the run will end here. Texas will reach the championship road in fairly easy fashion.

Bracket B - Omaha Frequent Visitors Club
Today we will focus on Bracket B – which will now be known as the “Omaha Frequent Visitors Club” Bracket (as opposed to the Large State Schools Bracket).

The Omaha Frequent Visitors Club Bracket consists of Miami (21st trip to Omaha), Louisiana State (13th trip), South Carolina (8th trip), and Cal-State Fullerton (13th trip). South Carolina is the only member of this sub-set of college baseball’s elite which has not won a national title. In fact, between LSU, Miami, and Fullerton, 11 national championships have been won all time, including six of the last ten (and South Carolina and Miami have each been the runner-up in that time). This bracket truly represents some of the cream of the crop in college baseball. Picking who will emerge from the scrum this year is a tough task.

Why South Carolina will advance to the Championship series...
Simply put, South Carolina is the second seed in the tournament and the highest seed in this bracket. Since receiving their 2nd seed, South Carolina has done little – if anything – to prove they didn’t deserve it, by winning both their regional and super regional in sweeps. In addition, South Carolina has Omaha experience; this is their third appearance in three years (in 2002 they were the runners-up).

The Gamecocks hit for power; they strikeout opposing batters frequently and walk them infrequently. Each of these things is important in order to win in Omaha. They are also led by senior catcher Landon Powell, who was a 2nd round draft pick by the Oakland A’s.

Why South Carolina will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Like with Texas, it’s tough to make an argument here. South Carolina is a solid team. In order for them to be eliminated, someone will have to beat them twice. USC is not likely to beat themselves.

Why Cal-State Fullerton will advance to the Championship series...
Fullerton received arguably the toughest draw in the tournament (relative to their position in the rankings) in that they were awarded the right to host their regional, but they were seeded second and had the national number 7 seed Arizona State Sun Devils sent to their region. Fullerton quickly dispatched of ASU in the regionals. Seemingly as a reward, Fullerton had only to defeat Tulane in order to advance to the CWS, which they did in two games.

Fullerton has two premier catchers, and their regular backstop, Kurt Suzuki, is hitting nearly .500 over the past month and a half. Fullerton is well coached and has solid starting pitching.

Why Cal-State Fullerton will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Although the Titans solid pitching is solid, their bullpen is not. This is a flaw that is readily exposed in the College World Series. Strong teams can work around this in the Regionals and Super Regionals, but it’s hard to get far in Omaha without a bullpen.

Why LSU will advance to the Championship series...
They’re LSU, and that’s worth something. Luckily for Miami, nearly everyone – other than coaches Jim Morris and Gino DiMare – everyone associated with the program in 1996 is gone, so that part of the intimidation factor is gone with it. But this team has still won three titles between 1996 and 2000.

Besides that, they have a solid lineup. You won’t confuse this team with the mashers of the late 90s, but you really won’t do that with any team (other than possibly South Carolina this year) – but that has more to do with the restrictions placed on bats now than on the quality of the players.

Why LSU will be eliminated before the Championship series...
LSU’s pitching staff is nothing to write home about. It’s decent, but not great. Nothing is more important in winning a tournament like this than pitching. LSU just doesn’t have it.

Why Miami will advance to the Championship series...
The Hurricanes, seeded 3rd nationally coming into the tournament and ranked 1st by Baseball America for the past two weeks, are strong, but like LSU not as powerful as teams you may remember from the late 90s. Miami hit over .330 for the year, 8th in the nation, and scored nearly 9 runs a game. They slap, and run, and bunt and score runs. It’s nothing that’s going to overpower you. The pitching staff has the potential to shut down any team on any night, but whether that actually happens or not is questionable.

During the last month the Miami offense has roughed up All-American starters Jeff Weaver (Long Beach State), Michael Rogers (North Carolina State), and Justin Hoyman (Florida). It’s unlikely the Canes will be intimidated by any pitcher any opponent “throws” at them the rest of the way.

Why Miami will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Starters J.D. Cockroft and Brandon Camardese are solid college pitchers overall, but for any given start they may be on or may be off. One off start could doom the Canes chances in Omaha.

Canes fans would feel more comfortable if Sean Valdes-Fauli and George Huguet were still a part of the team, but they’re not and the bullpen is markedly weaker because of it.

Offensively, the Canes don’t overwhelm you anywhere in particular. There’s a lot of potential in the bats of guys like Erick San Pedro, Ryan Braun, Gaby Sanchez, and Brian Barton, but they haven’t lived up to their potential this year. Jim Burt is a full effort, all of the time guy, but he’s not likely to change the course of the game on his own. However, when the Canes hit, they’ve hit (and scored) in bunches this year. The question for the Canes in Omaha is whether or not those hits will come early and often enough.

This will be a truly exciting half of the College World Series. Whichever team emerges from this field of four will be truly battle tested when they reach the Championship Series against Texas, or whichever team emerges from the other bracket. Who that team will be is a difficult pick to make. My heart tells me Miami, but it’s far from a sure thing. South Carolina is probably the safer bet, but it’s far from a lock.

LSU and Fullerton likely don’t have what it takes to win out here, but both clubs definitely have enough to make it a long week for Miami and South Carolina. In the end, South Carolina should emerge from this bracket, but I’m going to hold out hope that the Canes survive.

Championship Series Preview
I guess I have to say that I think Texas will play South Carolina in the final, since those are the two teams that I picked to emerge from the brackets. That probably is the most likely scenario, but it was also the easiest to settle on since Texas is the #1 seed in the tournament and South Carolina is the second.

Although you’ll probably think I’m just being a homer, Miami is also a serious threat to reach the championship series. Not only are the Canes the number three seed in the tournament, but they’re also riding the nation’s longest winning streak and they’ve also knocked off some top shelf pitchers over the past three weeks.

My darkhorse teams (one from each bracket) are Georgia and Fullerton. Georgia surprised everyone by quickly dispatching a talented Georgia Tech team on the Yellow Jackets home turf last weekend. Fullerton had to overcome being seeded second in a regional that they hosted. Of the four teams in their bracket, Fullerton is likely to receive the least press and hype, but they are a talented team (which swept Long Beach State towards the end of the season).

Once the teams for the Championship series are set next week, I’ll give a more in depth preview. We should all know a lot more about the two teams then since they’ll be on television all week.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

College World Series Introduction

The College World Series will begin this Friday and I have to admit that the set up of the tournament is somewhat mystifying, even to someone like me who probably follows such things more closely than most. If you visit the official site, you can see a schedule of games, but there’s not really much insight into who might be playing in those games. ESPN has now put something up too, but it's not overly helpful either.

Before I get into predicting who will win the whole thing, I thought it would be best to lay out for you how the tournament essentially works. There are eight teams left in the tournament. However, not all of those eight teams will play each other (although they could have up through the 2002 tournament, but the format has been changed – and for the better). This year’s tournament (like last year’s) is broken up, essentially, into two four-team regionals, much like the ones that were played the weekend of June 4th. The survivors of those two four team brackets will face off in a best of three, winner take all series that takes place June 26th, June 27th, and June 28th (if necessary).

The two four team brackets (I again apologize for my inability to either format a bracket on this site or to have found one elsewhere) for this year’s CWS are:

A: Arizona vs. Georgia; Arkansas vs. Texas
B: Fullerton vs. South Carolina; Louisiana State vs. Miami

Although I haven’t been able to confirm it, I listed the teams in order of when I expect the games to be played (early first, then late) with the higher seed listed second (assuming that the higher seed will be the designated “home” team in the opening games). South Carolina is the second seed and Miami the third, but I’m guessing the television folk at ESPN will prefer to have the LSU – Miami matchup in primetime as opposed to during the afternoon, particularly given the history of the two clubs. Either game looks like a good one though.

After those initial matchups, it works much like the regionals. The two teams from each group that lose their games will face off and the loser of that game will be eliminated. The winners of the first two games will face off, with the winner waiting to play either the team they beat in their second game or the team that won the matchup of the second round “losers” bracket game. Let me try to illustrate this with how the B bracket may go (no – these aren’t my predictions yet):

Saturday – South Carolina beats Fullerton; Miami beats LSU
Monday – Fullerton beats LSU (LSU eliminated); Miami beats South Carolina
Tuesday – Fullerton beats South Carolina (South Carolina eliminated)
Wednesday – Fullerton beats Miami
Thursday – Miami beats Fullerton (Fullerton eliminated, note that had Miami won on Wednesday, the Thursday game would not have been necessary)

For those of you who are completely unfamiliar with this, “eliminated” teams are simply no longer allowed to participate in the tournament. No physical harm is inflicted upon them after they lose two games.

The other bracket works much the same, with the one exception being that instead of playing Saturday/Monday first round games, they play Friday/Sunday games. This makes for a slight advantage, which can be helpful later on, in that there is an extra off day between your team’s second and third games (relative to the bracket that starts the tournament later). While this may sound like a slight advantage, if any, it is really rather significant as coaches try to preserve their pitching staffs.

Once the two brackets of four teams are worked through, two teams remain. These two teams face off in a best of three series that is very similar to the Super Regionals, which were played this past weekend. Results from the previous week or so in the CWS are essentially reset. If one team enters with no losses and the other with one loss, it does not matter. The series is a straight forward best of three with each team on equal footing. Both of these teams are guaranteed an off day on Friday the 25th. If either or both clubs are able to reach the championship series without a loss, they will also have the 24th off as well.

The College World Series is a grueling tournament. Unlike other NCAA championships, you can’t simply schedule inferior regular season opponents and win a bowl game and go home with a national championship. You also can’t find yourself with a lucky draw and go on a six game over three week hot streak and win “the big dance.” An easy schedule might get you into the tournament, but it won’t guarantee that you win it. In order to simply reach the College World Series, each team must win at least five games. A team could qualify for the CWS after playing in eight postseason games.

Once in the College World Series, a team must play at least five games to win it, and an eventual champion could play up to eight more games. It is a grueling schedule, but the double elimination format makes it more fair. Any team could have one bad day, but if you have two, you’ve earned your way out of the tournament. However, losing also forces a club to have a deeper pitching staff if they are to come back and win.

Check back tomorrow for the first series of predictions. I will focus on the four teams that will begin play on Friday. On Thursday, I will take a look at the four teams that will begin play on Saturday. And on Friday, I will make my picks for the championship series.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Hurricanes Advance to College World Series for 21st Time

Well, it was another exciting weekend of college baseball. As you probably know by now, the Miami Hurricanes swept the Florida Gators and earned a berth, for the twenty-frist time, in the College World Series, which will begin this Friday in Omaha, Nebraska. The other seven berths in the CWS were also secured as of late last night, which means that there will be no college baseball played tonight. Later in the week, I’ll give my comments and predictions about the tournament in Omaha, but for today, I thought I’d talk about last weekend’s Coral Gables Super Regional.

Saturday’s game was hot. That has to be the first thing that anyone says about the game. In post game interviews, Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said that it may have been the hottest game he has ever been a part of. For a man with more than 1,000 college coaching victories – and with the bulk of them coming in Miami and Atlanta – you have to respect his opinion when he says it was hot. He knows hot. The fact that twelve fans were treated for heat exhaustion also adds credence to this opinion.

The hot, humid weather may have impacted the play on the field as six errors were committed. Miami was able to walk away with an 8 – 7 win largely because of three Florida miscues in the 7th.

Many have done analysis, which “proves” that the sacrifice bunt is a poor strategy, arguing that giving away an out to move a runner up a base is not a worthwhile endeavor. However, after watching Saturday’s regional, it is easy to see why the bunt is such an important part of the game, particularly at the college level, and even with a team like Miami, which hit a gaudy .330 on the year (eighth in the country heading into the weekend). Even a sacrifice bunt isn’t a guaranteed out, as the Canes proved in the 7th when two of their most productive hitters squared around in succession. Bunting forces the defense to play the ball differently than they normally do, and on Saturday this led to two throwing errors (by a highly drafted pitcher, who had only committed one error up to that point over the entire season) and created costly scoring opportunities. Later in the same inning, while playing slightly in to defend against a potential bunt, Florida third baseman Jonathan Tucker misplayed a ground ball which allowed another run to score. Bunting may not be a statistically sound proposition at the major league level, but at the collegiate level, even with the higher batting averages, it definitely can be. You throw an added dimension of speed and surprise into the game which is more difficult for the defense to prepare for. Plus, it has the added benefit of drawing the defense inward for later at bats, which makes it easier to generate hits. On Saturday, bunting won the Canes the game.

Sunday was, somewhat surprisingly, a pitcher’s duel. Saturday’s matchup was billed as the pitchers duel as the Gators sent ace and second round draft pick Justin Hoyman to the mound and the Canes countered with staff co-ace J.D. Cockroft. On Sunday, with sophomore sensation Cesar Carillo on the hill for the Canes and converted reliever Connor Falkenbach starting for the Gators, know one quite knew what to expect. Carillo had started out slowly against N.C. State in last week’s regional, but like he often did during the regular season, quickly settled down and pitched a nice ball game. Falkenbach did not enter the game with a record like Carillo’s sparkling 10 – 0, but he was 10 – 6 on the year and had pitched many big innings for the Gators. Both pitchers pitched well, but after the first inning, Carillo was clearly better on the day and his strong performance allowed the Canes to scratch out a 3 – 1 win and a return trip to the College World Series.

For an opening round opponent, the Canes have drawn the Louisiana State Tigers, who quickly dispatched of a previously surging Texas A&M team (which knocked off defending champion Rice only last weekend). In case you don’t remember or aren’t quite sure, yes, the last time that LSU and Miami met was the 1996 College World Series Championship game. The Canes lost that game 9 – 8 on a bottom of the 9th, pinch-hit home run by LSU’s Warren Morris, in his only at bat of the season (Morris was recovering from a broken arm most of the year). Memories of that Canes loss are still burned into the memories of many Mark Light faithful, and I would be greatly surprised to see the Canes don green jerseys for Saturday’s opener (as that's what they were wearing during the 1996 loss - it took years for the Canes to wear green jerseys again). More on the College World Series tomorrow...

Friday, June 11, 2004

Yankees Payroll Inefficiency and Interleague Lies

The Yankees payroll has spiraled so out of control. That probably isn’t news to anyone who is reading this. Actually, the fact that the Yankees payroll is 48% more than the team with the second highest payroll doesn’t bother me very much. I think a free market should determine salaries and if that drives the prices up, so be it. My issue with the Yankees is that they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

Really – they aren’t; for (nearly) the same money as the Yankees are spending on their roster this year (based on the specifics that are included in the calculation of the luxury tax payroll), you could buy the entire payroll (this year only) of the Red Sox AND Marlins. So which would you take this year if you could – the Yankees, or the best of the Red Sox and the Marlins? And it’s not even that you would get the best of the Red Sox and Marlins. You would get all of them and you could put the Jeff Conine’s and Derek Lowe’s in the minors (theoretically at least) because they wouldn’t be amongst your twenty-five best players.

According to Dugout Dollars, the Yankees current 2004 cap number is $196.63 million. The Red Sox come in at $132.89 and the Marlins at $64.54 (yes, these two total to $197.43, but that’s essentially the same thing – if you take Ray Castro off of the Marlins, these two will total to less and/or when the Yankees add a high-salary player before the trading deadline, they will total higher).

But back to the question at hand: would you rather have the Yankees for $196 million or the Red Sox and Marlins for $197 million? Yes, I realize we don’t have to really answer this. Intuitively almost everyone, probably even loyal Yankees fans, would pick the Red Sox – Marlins combination (for simplicity, I will call them the Red Fish). Let’s take a look at it though, position by position (assuming no injuries, etc as if it was the offseason):

New York Yankees
C – Jorge Posada – no arguments here. Any team would love to have Jorge
1B – Jason Giambi – his best years were in Oakland, and now he is relatively overpaid; in terms of bang for the buck, you could do better
2B – Enrique Wilson – at least he’s cheap ($700K)
3B – – pricey, but relatively fairly priced; possibly the best ever, everyone would want him
SS – Derek Jeter – like Giambi, his best years may be behind him; regardless, he’s overpaid – you could get more value for the dollar elsewhere
LF – Hideki Matsui – might find a place in the starting nine on the Red Sox – Marlins club
CF – Bernie Williams – at this point, Bernie may be a better musician than ballplayer
RF – Gary Sheffield – Marlins President David Samson constantly talks about needing to have players who outperform their contracts in order to win a championship; to expect Sheffield to do that at this stage in his career is difficult, if not impossible
DH – Kenny Lofton – sometimes you wonder if the Yankees think they’re playing mid-90s fantasy baseball

Starting Pitching
Mike Mussina – a great pitcher with a great career; overpaid relative to performance today
Kevin Brown - a great pitcher with a great career; overpaid relative to performance today
Javier Vazquez – lots of potential; nearly every team would want him
Jose Contreras – we’ll have to wait and see
John Lieber – as 5th starters go, this isn’t the worst thing in the world

Mariano Rivera – the game’s gold standard, possibly of all time
Tom Gordon - solid
Paul Quantrill – not going to make other teams salivate

Best of Red Fish
C – Jason Varitek – possibly the second best in the league, behind Posada (Irod challenges)
1B – David Ortiz – solid bat, carried the Sox last year
2B – Luis Castillo – toss up between Castillo and Bellhorn
3B - Mike Lowell – arguably the best 3B in the game this year (Rolen), definitely the Marlins MVP
SS – Nomar Garciapparra – injured much of the year in real life, but this is make believe
LF – Manny Ramirez – the best left fielder in the game not named Bonds
CF – Juan Pierre – weak arm and no power, but does everything else
RF – Miguel Cabrera – nearly the total package and cheap

Starting Pitching
Pedro Martinez – the definitive ace
Curt Schilling – likes to hear himself talk, but can pitch
Brad Penny – quietly becoming the Marlins ace
Carl Pavano – quietly becoming the Marlins ace
Dontrelle Willis – knock him all you want, but you’d take him as a 5th starter

Keith Foulke – one of the game’s best
Armando Benitez – pitching over his head so far this year (no one can maintain a 0.50 ERA)
Scott Williamson – lots of names to pick from, this one’s as good as a lot of others. This team would have a lot of depth

Yes, I know I didn’t do a lot of analysis here, comparing OPS and other statistics, but I don’t think that’s necessary to prove my point. A lot of the decisions are cut and dry. You’d take the better of the Red Fish player nearly every time and it wouldn’t cost you anything extra.

After last year’s Marlins – Giants series in the NLDS, many commented that maybe the Marlins triumph shouldn’t have surprised us that much, because once you went through the position players and compared them, only Barry Bonds would start for the Giants. At each of the other positions, the Marlins were, arguably, superior. Let’s do the same here for the Yankees and the Red Fish super-team:

C – Yankees – Posada edges out Varitek, but you can’t go wrong
1B – Yankees – close to a push again (taking dollars into account), but for arguments sake let’s give this one to Giambi
2B – Red Fish – Castillo’s more expensive, but a dynamic player
3B – Yankees – is the best, but Lowell’s right there and cheaper
SS – Red Fish – when healthy, I’d take Nomar over Jeter any day
LF – Red Fish – Ramirez for his bat
CF – Red Fish – at this stage in his career, Pierre offers more
RF – Red Fish – Sheffield might be a better player today, but Cabrera has unlimited potential
Starting pitching – Red Fish – the depth here is mind-numbing
Relievers – Red Fish – more depth than is realistically possible

The Yankees have been hugely successful of late. That truth can’t be argued with. But they’ve also been prone to tie up big name players with big time contracts that are worth more than the players are capable of contributing. If the Yankees spent their money as efficiently as the A’s, then we’d really have a competitive balance problem on our hands. Luckily though, we don’t and the game is more competitive for it.

Interleague Blues
Many have talked about how great interleague baseball is for the game itself. Allegedly it increases interest in the game and draws fans to the ballpark when they otherwise might not head out to the ball game. While I haven’t done all the research yet, I think this is a bunch of baloney. Interleague attendance is helped out greatly by a number of variables that MLB has put in it’s favor.

First and foremost are the “natural” rivalries. Yankees – Mets, White Sox – Cubs, etc are automatic sellouts (yes, this also leads to the epic struggles like Devil Rays – Marlins, but those are really no worse than any other garden variety match-up). Second is the time of year. Interleague games get the primo time slots of mid-June through July. In case you’re oblivious to how the world works and/or you are so far removed from school that you’ve forgotten, kids are out of school and thus families are looking for things to do. When they’re brave enough to face the heat, they often go to baseball games. Third, interleague games predominantly take place (in three of the five series this year) on weekends. Think about it. When are you most likely to go to a game - during the week after a long day at work, or on the weekend – when there’s nothing on television and nothing else to do? Exactly.

So interleague games have all of these factors working in favor of them. Once we’re more into the swing of interleague, I’ll check out the attendance we’re seeing, as well as how the alleged spikes that baseball reports compare to what these same time periods experienced (in the context of their season) to those same time periods in the years before interleague play began.

Besides, this year gives us compelling matchups like Marlins at Tigers (only intriguing because Pudge Rodriguez left the Marlins for the Tigers), and three matchups so bad that you can’t even see them in Spring Training: Mariners – Expos, Mariners – Cardinals, and Twins – Diamondbacks.

Enjoy the weekend. Lots of college baseball on the tube. I’ll be at Mark Light watching the Canes take on the Gators.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

McKeon Blows Up at Reporter - Finally

It finally happened. After being second-guessed after nearly every decision for more than a year now, Jack McKeon finally let a “Mickey Mouse” reporter have it after last night’s 8 – 1 defeat at the hands of the Indians. I haven’t been able to find anything about this online so far today, but it was a hot topic on Miami radio this morning. Apparently, some reporter (apparently a radio personality, but I don’t know who), asked McKeon why he decided to not play the infield in with a runner on 3rd base in the first inning of last night’s game. McKeon took issue with this question, and rightfully so, as the Fish lost the game 8 – 1 and having a little bit more offense would obviously have had more impact on last night’s game than the positioning of the infielders for one at bat in the first inning last night. So Jack went off, and told the reporter that he was sick of “Mickey Mouse second-guessing” of decisions.

Most managers are second-guessed regularly, and it’s not like Miami is harder than many (maybe any) other cities on their coaches (Dolphins staff excluded of course). McKeon has been the exception though. Possibly because of his advanced age, nearly every questionable decision that McKeon has made has been doubted and fussed over in the media, even the ones that go right.

For example, McKeon started Beckett on 3-days rest for Game 6 of the World Series. That worked out and people quickly stopped talking about it. Throughout this season, McKeon has flipped Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo between the first and second positions in the lineup. Although this doesn’t make much sense from a sabermetric perspective, it does seem to be working so far in the sense that sometimes change is good for the sake of change – as the Marlins have tended to respond to these types of tweaks. During Saturday’s game against the Mets, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, Fox’s national broadcasters, questioned McKeon’s decision to have pitcher Dontrelle Willis pinch-hit for starting pitcher Tommy Phelps in the 5th inning. McCarver worried that Willis might injure himself (he didn’t) and both announcers commented that it was unusual to remove your starter so early in the contest, particularly when he was doing relatively well. While the move was unusual, it worked out all around – Willis got a hit (although he was later part of a double play) and the Marlins eventually won the game.

Like many other managers, McKeon is also regularly second-guessed about how he uses his bullpen. Typically, McKeon’s style does not fit in with conventional thinking. To the typical eye, McKeon’s removal of starters is sometimes too quick, other times too slow. The same holds true with relievers. The issue really, for the pundits, is that McKeon is not predictable, and thus this makes him an easy target for criticsm. Last night’s issue was really a non-issue though. However McKeon decided to play the infield in the 9th inning of a one-run game could be debated, but that’s not what happened. Hopefully we’ll see some coverage of this from the mainstream media – particularly so the rube who asked the question can be exposed for what he is.

On an unrelated note, McKeon’s suggestion that during interleague play the home team adopt the visiting team’s rules (i.e. to use the designated hitter or not) is a very interesting one. It would be fun to see a Marlins game at Pro Player Stadium where the DH was used or a Marlins – Tigers game in Detroit where the pitchers hit. That would really offer something different for the fans, and would have no net effect on the game (since the home and road interleague games balance out). I doubt we’ll see that happen for awhile though, if ever.

If you find a reference to this incident somewhere, let me know and I'll post a link.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Super Regional Predictions

College baseball’s Super Regionals will take place this weekend. As you may know, last week, I attempted to predict what would happen in the sixteen regionals that took place throughout the country. Before I get into my predictions and commentary on this weekend’s action, let’s review my hits and misses regarding last weekend’s action:

Complete Misses
No, I didn’t see Stanford or Rice being eliminated prior to the Super Regionals. In fact, I thought that both clubs would make it to College World Series, and I was particularly looking forward to the Rice – LSU Super Regional. Looks like I got a little ahead of myself though. While three Rice players were drafted in the top ten of this week’s Major League Baseball draft, their raw talent alone wasn’t enough to get them out of their regional, as Texas A&M fought against the odds and survived (the Aggies will go on to face the LSU Tigers in Baton Rogue this weekend).

Stanford’s elimination at the hands of Long Beach State was probably relatively more expected than Rice being eliminated. That said, I didn’t see it coming. Long Beach State appears to be back more towards their mid-season form, rather than the team we saw late in the season, which suffered sweeps at the hands of Cal State-Fullerton and Miami. LBSU does have two ace pitchers - as their top two starters were taken in the first two rounds of this week's draft - but Stanford is still Stanford, or at least we all thought they were going into the weekend. Stanford's loss in the regionals ends their stunning streak of consecutive College World Series appearances at five.

Foul Balls
There were a number of regionals where I was close to the mark, but still a little off. Possibly most notably was the Fullerton regional, where I felt that Arizona State would likely struggle, but still win the regional. It turned out that I was way off on that one (as was the selection committee in all likelihood), as the Sun Devils didn’t even make it to the final day of the regional.

Notre Dame’s demise was correctly predicted here last week, although I tabbed the wrong victor. Arizona did the eliminating, not the Cal-Irvine Anteaters. The same held true with Mississippi, who I didn’t think would survive the weekend. They didn’t, but Tulane did and not Washington, as I had predicted.

Like with Arizona State, I thought that Florida would struggle out in Oklahoma, but they didn’t really. They coasted and will face the Hurricanes in Coral Gables this weekend.

Right On
There were a few regionals where I was fairly well on the mark. Texas, Florida State, South Carolina, and Miami were nearly all gimmies. At least I got those right. I also correctly predicted Vanderbilt upsetting top seeded and host-team Virginia.

All in all, of the 16 teams that remain alive in College Baseball’s Post-season, I predicted twelve of them last week. If this were an office basketball pool, that would be a pretty good success rate. If I can predict 75% again this weekend, that would mean that I would be correct about 6 of the eight teams that advance to Omaha – a figure that I’d be pretty happy with, but I’d say that’s likely too optimistic. Anyways, here we go with my fearless forecast for the Super Regionals (ordered somewhat randomly):

Vanderbilt vs. Texas in Austin, TX
The Longhorns are the top seeded team in the tournament and most everyone’s pick to win the whole thing, particularly with Rice and Stanford out of the equation now. Vanderbilt is a tough team though – they nearly won the SEC tournament a few weeks back. I don’t think it will be enough though. Texas in three.

Florida State vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR
Arkansas received a national seed, although the merits of the Razorbacks receiving it could be easily debated. One team that could argue they deserved the seed more than the Arkansas is Florida State. This weekend the Seminoles will get the chance to prove it. Seminoles in three.

Arizona vs. Long Beach State in Long Beach, CA
The Arizona Wildcats are a definite darkhorse (or Cinderalla) in this tournament. To think they could topple mighty Long Beach is a bit of a stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jered Weaver quickly dispatch of the Cats on Friday and return out of the bullpen if necessary on Sunday. Long Beach State in two.

Georgia vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Sounds like a great matchup, doesn’t it? Although I don’t know too much about the specifics of these two clubs, I would imagine that many of the players know each other, played against each other in high school, etc. That always makes for an interesting series. During the regular season these clubs met three times: each team lost once at the other’s stadium, and Georgia Tech won the rubber match at Turner Field, giving them a 2 – 1 series edge. Georgia Tech will be favored in this series, but Georgia could easily surprise. My gut feeling here is that this will be one of the best Super Regionals this weekend. Georgia in three games.

East Carolina vs. South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina
These are honestly the two teams that I know the least about, on every possible level. I don’t even know much about either school’s football program (although I was happy to see Miami defeat the ECU Pirates last season, though it still does nothing to wipe away the memories of the 1996 Pirates win at the Orange Bowl). Actually, I do know a little of one of these teams. I saw South Carolina defeat Vanderbilt for the SEC tournament championship (on television). Still, that does not make me any kind of an expert, so I’ll go with the easy pick here: South Carolina in three games.

Tulane vs. Cal State-Fullerton in Fullerton, CA
I would love to think that the Green Wave of Tulane (hey – apparently this another color of wave other than blue, I apologize to the Florida Atlantic faithful) could go into Fullerton and take two of three from the Titans. But I gave up hope in the tooth fairy and other such fanciful things a long time ago. Fullerton in two.

Texas A&M vs. Louisiana State in Baton Rogue, LA
That last part – vs. Louisiana State in Baton Rogue, LA – strikes fear into the heart of most every college baseball fan. Of the pre-eminent powers in college baseball, LSU is always on the short list, with the Tigers having won five national titles since 1990 (including one on Warren Morris’s pinch hit home run in the 9th inning of the 1996 Championship game against Miami – I can still see Alex Cora collapsing onto the infield). Going into Alex Box Stadium and winning two of three games under any circumstances is a tall order. But for Texas A&M, going into Rice’s den and defeating the defending national champions and their deep arsenal of pitchers was no less challenging of a task, and the Aggies accomplished that without any harm. Texas A&M in three.

Florida vs. Miami in Coral Gables, FL
The Hurricanes and Gators are regular foes. Up until last year, they played six times annually during the regular season, three times at each team’s home field. Starting this year, they’ve reduced that to three games in one of the team’s parks. Miami took two of those three games this year. Last year, in the regionals, Miami and Florida split their two games, but by winning the second game, the Canes eliminated the Gators and advanced to the Super Regionals (and ultimately the College World Series).

Throw all that out the window though, because this is Gators and Canes. Regardless of the sport or extra-curricular activity, when you throw these two opponents against each other for much of anything you’re likely to get a long, drawn out grudge match. The Gators will bring the best player between the teams to the matchup in Justin Hoyman, and he will likely start the opener. Hoyman was the Gators pitcher in their lone win against the Canes this season, and he stifled the Canes offense. That was early in the year though. Before Jon Jay, Roger Tomas, Cesar Carillo, and others emerged for the Canes. The Gators matured and gelled as a team since that time too, so it’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in this weekend’s matchup.

The Canes are the higher seeded and higher ranked team, and they’re playing at home. All signs point to the Canes winning this series, however it’s difficult for me to think that the Canes could sweep it. Miami in three.

To summarize, that leaves my College World Series predictions looking like this (ranked in a preliminary predicted order of finish):

Texas A&M
Florida State
Long Beach State
South Carolina

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

My Life Explained

John Kruk: Blubbering Fool

I was appalled the other day at what I read in John Kruk’s most recent ESPN column. Now I know that I am not the first to knock Kruk the broadcaster, heck, they might even have to get a bigger bandwagon to make room for me on it, but this article is just pitiful on many levels. Let’s start from the top and work our way through…

I have to tell you, I couldn't name even one of the big summer movies coming out, and I'm sure that comes as bad news to all the actors and actresses out there.

That’s the opening line of Kruk’s article, which is entitled “Actors really can’t complain.” I’ll stay away from this being a non-issue – particularly when Kruk’s point is to make a non-issue of a non-issue – and I will try to stay on the topic of Kruk’s content as much as possible.

With his opening salvo, I believe Kruk is trying to say that he doesn’t care about movies and that this is a bad thing to movie stars because it means John isn’t spending his discretionary dollars at the local Cineplex. (I’ll also try my best to avoid the snippy comments about John being oblivious to the likely fact that movie stars do not get a cut of the popcorn, soda, and candy sales – where the big bucks off of Mr. Kruk are most likely to be made) Instead Kruk just throws that out to us and leaves it out there and then digresses onto something else – something totally unrelated.

Later Kruk goes on to say:

Yeah, well there's no way I could be an actor. I could never sit around for months and do nothing.

This is simply silliness and evidence of Kruk’s naivete about acting. Granted, I’m pretty naïve about acting too. I took one acting class in college, so I know just enough to know that I know nothing. Kruk’s second sentence though is what kills me. Wouldn’t just about every actor or non-baseball fan in the world say that last sentence could apply to John Kruk the ballplayer, or any other baseball player for that matter? Surely they would.

Kruk would likely counter that although it may have looked like he was standing in the field for hours each year doing nothing, he was really mentally preparing himself for each pitch. Thinking about what his pitcher was about to throw, what the hitter was likely to do with such a pitch, what he would do if the ball was hit to him, etc, etc. You know – the mental portion of the game. All of those things that the casual fan isn’t aware of and since they don’t know what’s going on, tends to think nothing’s going on (since that’s the action on the field) and says that they are bored, that baseball is boring, and doesn't really require much talent anyway.

Essentially that’s the point that Kruk is trying to make here about acting. Except that Kruk doesn’t know enough about the craft to understand that what really looks like nothing, really can be something. (And, at least in my opinion, part of the skill of acting is making something very difficult look natural – or as if you’re not acting at all)

Kruk eventually digresses, mercifully, into baseball talk, although he somehow makes himself seem out of place, even with this topic. His first subject is baseball, where he talks about Josh Beckett and his blister issues. Kruk makes some decent points here, particularly regarding the possible disharmony in the Marlins clubhouse, but the wheels quickly come off again here:

As far as calling someone up, yeah, I know their Class Triple-A team is in Calgary, but you still have to think ahead. And while you're at it, try moving your Triple-A team a little closer to Florida. Is there a farther place from Miami than Calgary? Why don't they just put the team in Japan?

Calgary? Where does that come from? The Marlins Triple-A team is in Albuquerque. This is the second year the team has been affiliated with New Mexico’s Isotopes. Maybe Kruk doesn’t keep up with the minor leagues, I suppose it is and it isn’t his job to do so. But I wonder if Kruk wondered why the Marlins sent A.J. Burnett to Albuquerque recently for a rehab start? The thought never probably occurred to Kruk.

Albuquerque is still far away from Miami and that's really Kruk's point, but I don't think it would have been all that difficult for him to figure out where the Marlins Triple-A team actually calls home. It would have been FAR too much to hope for to expect Kruk to understand that the locations of Triple-A teams are somewhat limited by the number of cities that are willing to fund stadiums, cities where there's sufficient interest, as well as a variety of other issues.

What makes this even more spectactularly amazing to me, is that it’s nearly impossible to provide a correction or a suggestion to Kruk or ESPN via their website. Go back and look at the article. There’s no closing or solicitation to comment. Sure, you could send the article to a friend or someone else, but you’d be passing on mis-information. This is one of my biggest gripes with ESPN today – not that they hire incompetent “analysts” like Kruk and Harold Reynolds, both of whom do a dis-service to the English language each time they open their mouths – but that they are largely unaccountable for the information they provide. Whatever is said by ESPN is taken as truth and gospel, when in fact, it often is not. Whoever ESPN decides to hype for the Heisman trophy, will likely be the season long front-runner, regardless of on the field performance. Lately we’ve become subjected to “ESPN Shorts” which are really commercials without the courtesy of acknowledging a commercial break. There are also the self-serving pieces on things like a number of Astros being robbed at gunpoint a few years back. A harrowing story no doubt, but also not timely or relevant to most viewers. Instead, it’s something that’s done to help ensure that ESPN wins its share of awards at the end of the year. They’re not trying to bring you news people, they’re trying to sell advertising and win awards, because ultimately both of those things help them to make money.

Well, I’m done now because I’m probably doing what the fine folks at ESPN want us all to do anyway – to get all worked up about their senselessness and consequently tune-in and gripe about it some more later (for another example, see Lee Corso’s Saturday college football picks). If we could only just figure out a way to live without ESPN and their overwhelming presence in the world of sports.

On a loosely related rant, did anyone check out the draft coverage on I'm evisioning that one of Bud Selig's relatives, who simply owns a camcorder, approached Bud with something like this for a proposal, "Uncle Bud - can me and my buddies 'broadcast' the draft from the garage? Please? Puh-lease?"

I understand the logic of not hyping the baseball draft like it's football and basketball counterparts. Most of the players drafted this week will never play in the Major Leagues and even fewer will become household names. But to go to a semi-professional looking webcast is demeaning to the event. A more thorough data driven analysis would be more appropriate - as the folks who are most closely following the draft (other than the draftees themselves) are likely stat-nicks.

Post-script: For further evidence of ESPN's ineptitude, go to this page and scroll down to the "New Wave" section in the middle. There's a link to an article about Arizona reaching the Super Regional which says "The Wildcats reached their first Super Regional in 11 years..." This is incorrect and misleading. Super Regional play has only existed since 1999. Arizona last won a regional 11 years ago, but by doing so back then, they advanced to the College World Series. Apparently no one at ESPN knows enough about what's going on to understand the difference here, as the mistake has been up on their page for more than 24 hours.