August 31, 2006


More Stuff

Not much today, as I'm working mostly on my big high school football preview (games start tomorrow night!). But there's one item of note today: The Red Sox will likely trade David Wells to the Padres for a prospect. This basically marks the end of the Sox's playoff hopes - a run to the playoffs would be extremely unlikely now, but without Wells they are pretty much done. Wells' days as a great pitcher are gone (if they ever were here), but he's still a big-game pitcher who can be effective against a lefty-dominated lineup. And moving from the AL to the NL should help Wells as well (see: Bronson Arroyo).

Who is to blame for the Red Sox's collapse? Some might say the front office, for not making a big deal at the deadline. But I would argue that this actually validates Theo and company - no player in baseball is going to make up eight games in the standings, and they still have all their young pitchers for next year and beyond. The largest factor here was Varitek's injury; I don't think the Sox would have been swept by the Yankees were Varitek healthy (more proof of just how valuable catchers are).

Also, Jon Lester is in the hospital, for what I read as basically cancer testing. Hope things turn out okay for him. David Ortiz also had health issues, but appears to be okay and should return to the team sometime next week.

The Dan Shanoff Blog has been added to the Hall of Links.

August 29, 2006


NFL Preview: NFC West

I'm finally wrapping up my NFL previews with the NFC West. Actually, I'll probably have a full preview once I get my Times Union blog up and running with Super Bowl predictions and stuff, but I still have this division to get through. I've already done the AFC East, the AFC North, the AFC South, the AFC West, the NFC East, the NFC North, and the NFC South.

Arizona: Many experts picked the Cardinals to take a step up last year and make the playoffs. Well, the Cards were the only team to finish in the top 10 in the NFL in both offense and defense YPG. But their winning percentage didn't reflect that, as they finished just 5-11. Both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald had breakout years, with each gaining over 1,400 recieving yards. Kurt Warner isn't exactly what he was on the '99 Rams, but he should still be good enough to get these guys the ball. And Edgerinn James will be a major help to last year's worst running attack. The offensive line isn't great, but it's not terrible either. The defense is good enough as well. I think this team was unlucky last year, and this year I think things will turn their way. The Cards will get 10 wins and win the division. Yes, you read that last part right. The Arizona Cardinals will make the playoffs. Just remember me when it happens.

St. Louis: The Rams weren't much better last year, with a 6-10 record. Their defense (especially the run defense) was atrocious last year, and they fixed that in the offseason. They won't have a great defense this year, but it's better than last year's version. Steven Jackson should break out and be a great running back this year also, with pass-happy Mike Martz out of the picture, and Torry Holt is a top-five WR in the league. But Marc Bulger is an average quarterback, and if he gets hurt Gus Ferrotte is the backup. This team just seems to me like one that could suffer a couple injuries and not be able to recover, and it doesn't help that my least-favorite coach Jim Haslett is the defensive coordinator now. This team has talent, but not enough. I forsee a 7-9 record.

San Francisco: The 49ers were 4-12 last year, and things don't look much better for this year. QB Alex Smith was the #1 overall draft pick in 2005, and so far he has accomplished next to nothing. To be fair, he doesn't really have any talent around him, but he will still need to improve if he wants to avoid the dreaded "bust" label. Frank Gore will likely be the starting RB, which tells you all you need to know about the position. I can't name a single one of the SF wide recievers, and rookie TE Vernon Davis will likely be a Pro Bowl-caliber player but not this year. And it's not like the defense is any good either. This team won't win more than three games this year.

Seattle: The Seahawks last year were the best team in the NFC, with a 13-3 record and winning the NFC title game. And they return pretty much the same team. The only major loss was that of guard Steve Hutchinson, who would open up holes for Shaun Alexander. But, going all the way back to '01, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs the next year. Will this team break that streak? Well, ordinarily I might say yes. But this team actually has two curses on them - the Super Bowl loser curse, plus the Madden jinx (unfortunate things always happen to the player on the cover of Madden), applicable to Alexander this year. Maybe none of these curses are real, and the Seahawks will roll to their second straight SB appearance. But do you want to be the guy who drafts Alexander in your fantasy league or bets on the Seahawks to win the NFC again this year, only to see Alexander spontaniously combust sometime during Week 2? Me neither. So, against all logic, I'll predict a 9-7 record for the Hawks, and some free time in January to watch the playoffs on TV.

August 28, 2006


MVP Talk

I'll finish up my NFL previews tomorrow, probably, and I'll have a big high school football season preview later this week (I'm trying to get my Times Union blog up for that). But today I'm going to talk about the MVP races in both leagues, but primarily the AL. (And pretty soon I'll talk about why people should avoid doing exactly what I'm doing right now. Funny how that works.)

But right now, I'm talking the AL MVP. It had been (according to the media) a two-horse race between David Ortiz and Derek Jeter, but Ortiz got all but knocked out of the race after the five-game sweep last week. The Sox right now are all but eliminated from the playoffs. The voters will almost never vote for someone as MVP unless they make the playoffs or have a surprisingly good season, so Ortiz and some others (Vernon Wells, Vlad Guerrero, etc.) can be eliminated from our discussion.

So that leaves Jeter and a bunch of "fringe" candidates. Oakland really has nobody worth considering, and ditto for Detroit (though one can make the case that Carlos Guillen is as valuable as Jeter). Jim Thome was a candidate at the All-Star break, but he's cooled off since then, and his recent injury all but takes him out of the race. Jermaine Dye is getting a lot of love from the central time zone, with a .326 BA, 38 HRs, and 102 RBI. But, as of now, the White Sox aren't in the playoffs, so Dye will likely not get much consideration.

So, it must be Jeter, right? Wrong. Let's compare Jeter to Joe Mauer, the catcher on the wild-card-leading Twins.

Jeter: .337 BA, 12 HR, 81 RBI, .413 OBP, .480 SLG%
Mauer: .356 BA, 10 HR, 73 RBI, .434 OBP, .514 SLG%

As you can see, Mauer has a significant edge in all the percentage stats, and is behind in homers and RBI only because he has almost 100 fewer at-bats. So Jeter is not more prolific offensively than Mauer, no matter how you look at it. What, then are the other cases for Jeter?

He's a great defensive shortstop: Actually, that's probably not true. Defensive is not easy to measure by any means, but virtually every complex stat that has been invented to measure defense has found that Jeter is, in fact, a below-average shortstop. I'm not so sure about that - he does make a lot of great plays - but I don't think he's nearly the best in the league. And, even if you do want to say that Jeter is a great shortstop, you'll still lose the defense argument - Mauer is a very good catcher, and catcher is the most important and physically demanding position to play. So you're not making any progress there.

His team was decimated by injuries: Okay, that's true. But the Yankees' lineup, even with Matsui and Sheffield out, is still probably better than the Twins'. And, lest you forget, the Twins have not been injury-free either - at one point in July, I believe their entire outfield was out with injuries. So Jeter's supporting cast has been better than Mauer's. You're not winning me over yet...

He was a "leader": That's the argument that you always get when you debate with Yankee fans - somehow Jeter's presence in the locker room helps Giambi, A-Rod, and Posada add an extra 20 points to their batting averages and hit a few more home runs. Well, I don't really see it. And, even if you do want to believe that, remember when A-Rod was struggling in July? That was near the trade deadline, and everyone was booing him, trade rumors were swirling, and Rodriguez wanted to get in a hole and hide for a week or two. Shouldn't that be a situation where the team leader should give him some public support, letting him know that the other guys have his back and that the fans are being too harsh? Well, I don't remember exactly what Jeter said, but I know that he didn't say much. He certainly didn't give A-Rod much support. On the other hand, Mauer has led the Twins pitching staff, the fourth-best staff in the league. What great pitchers do the Twins have? Well, other than Johan Santana, not much. Before he got hurt, Fransisco Liriano was great, but all rookies need a great catcher to help guide them through rough times. Boof Bonser and Matt Garza are two other rookies who have been effective throwing to Mauer. Carlos Silva and Brad Radke are both pitchers who have below-average stuff, but are still effective (usually) by changing speeds and hitting their spots. To summarize, there's no evidence Jeter has been more of a "leader" than Mauer has been.

Well...then why should anyone vote for Jeter as MVP over Mauer? I'm as confused as you are. If you are a Yankees fan or you have something I've missed, e-mail me or leave a comment and tell me why I'm wrong.

And I don't think I'd even vote for Mauer as MVP. Who would get that award for me? The aforementioned Santana. The Twins have a makeshift rotation behind him and an average offense, yet Santana gives them basically a guaranteed win every five games. Here's a stat for you: Johan Santana hasn't lost a start at home since last August. Without him, the Twins would be nowhere near the playoffs. But, since someone apparently decided to make a rule that pitchers couldn't win the MVP award, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that the deserving Santana wins.

As for the NL MVP, it's right now a three-horse race: Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Beltran. Howard has been great, but he isn't as good a hitter as Pujols is (and, in case you didn't know this, Pujols is one of the game's best defensive first basemen). And I couldn't vote for Beltran, as there are too many other great bats on that team. (It's funny to me that Wright was the clear MVP candidate from the Mets in June, then it was Jose Reyes in July, then Carlos Delgado at the end of July to early August, and now it's supposed to clearly be Beltran?) So I'd vote for Pujols in the NL.

Other Awards:

AL Cy Young: Santana over Roy Halladay.
NL Cy Young: Take your pick: Brandon Webb, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano.
AL Rookie of the Year: Justin Verlander
NL ROY: Dan Uggla (Florida 2B)

9/10: Here's a stat that comes to you courtesy of ESPN's Buster Olney: When Santana pitches, the Twins are 26-5 (including 12-0 since the All-Star break). When he doesn't pitch, they're 57-53. That means that, without Santana, the Twins are almost literally a .500 team. If that doesn't settle this debate, I don't know what will.

August 27, 2006


NFL Preview: NFC South

Before I fall asleep, I'll preview the NFC South for the coming NFL season. We're near the end of these previews; I've already done the AFC East, the AFC North, the AFC South, the AFC West, the NFC East, and the NFC North. All four teams in this division have great talent, but which teams will make the playoffs?

Atlanta: The Falcons finished a respectable 8-8 last year, but most people now think that they aren't going anywhere with Michael Vick at the helm. I'm not sure about that, but he'll have to prove himself eventually. Vick should improve this year with a better supporting cast around him, but really, we've been saying that for each of the past three years. Vick and RB Warrick Dunn wreak havoc on opposing run defenses, but the biggest problem is that the Falcons have problems of their own against the run. The front seven are weak against the ground game, and that is a problem in a division that features Cadillac Williams, DeShaun Foster, Reggie Bush, and Deuce McCallister. Their pass rush is outstanding, with John Abraham, Patrick Kerney, and Rod Coleman all should get at least 10 sacks this year, but teams will pound the ball up the middle and wear the Falcons down. I think this team is too one-dimensional - both on offense and defense - to make a playoff run. They're a bit better, but so is virtually everyone else in the division (and the whole NFC, for that matter). So I forsee another 8-8 season for Atlanta.

Carolina: The Panthers went 11-5 last year and made it to the NFC Championship game, where they were beaten by Seattle. But the Panthers are arguably the most talented team in the conference, and they should have a great shot at making the Super Bowl again this year. John Fox is a great coach, Jake Delhomme is a wildly underrated quarterback, and DeShaun Foster is an underrated but injury-prone halfback. Oh yeah, they also have the best WR in the game right now in Steve Smith. Adding Keyshawn Johnson to start opposite Smith should help this offense tremendously, as last year Smith was basically Delhomme's only target but still put up the best stats in the league. If Foster is injured (which is now not so much of an "if" as it is a "when"), first-round draft pick DeAngelo Williams will get the carries in his place. The Panthers have a great defense, so there really aren't any glaring holes on this team. If nothing goes drastically wrong, Carolina should be back in the NFC title game this year, with a 12-4 record.

New Orleans: The Saints finished with a 3-13 record, typical of the Jim Haslett era in New Orleans. Obviously the Saints had plenty of other issues last year, what with the Katrina aftermath and all, but this team never looked focused or committed to me last year. After the opening-day upset of Carolina, the Saints' home game against the Giants got moved to New York, and things went downhill from there. During Week 2, it seemed like the players (and coaches) were more focused on how they got screwed by the NFL (taking away their home game) and not focused on playing the actual game. And, although most of you might disagree with me, it seemed like the Saints quit on their season after that game. Drew Brees is an upgrade over Aaron Brooks at QB, and Reggie Bush and Deuce McCallister will terrorize opposing defenses. But the Saints' o-line and run defense are nothing short of terrible, which isn't a recipie for success in this division. But the good news is that Haslett is out as head coach and Sean Payton is in. The Saints always had playoff-caliber talent under Haslett but always underachieved, and they should make some progress - say, 5-11 - with him finally gone.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs were also 11-5 last season, and they should be even better this year. Their defense was first in terms of YPG allowed, and their offense should be much better in '06. Their o-line is better, Cadillac Williams is in his second season, and Chris Simms should just get better. Basically everybody should improve from last year's team, although I think last year's team wasn't quite as good as their record showed. I think they'll stay at 11-5 for the coming year, but they're a team nobody wants to see in the playoffs.

August 25, 2006


NFL Preview: NFC North

Part six in my NFL preseason preview, as there's nothing else really worth talking about today. I've already covered the AFC East, the AFC North, the AFC South, the AFC West, and the NFC East. But, unlike the previous five divisions, this one has something special: Three truly bad teams. I'll bet you can guess which ones they are.

Chicago: The lone bright spot in an otherwise sorry division, the Bears posted an 11-5 record behind the league's #1 ranked defense, which gave up just over 12 points per game. This team should again be the best in their division, but there are questions as to whether or not this is a Super Bowl-caliber team. Most of the other top teams in the NFC have improved, but the Bears stood pat and will likely start the same players they did last year, despite holes at wide reciever and tight end. The one unknown about the bears is how good Cedric Benson will be. Thomas Jones got most of the carries last year, but this year the sophmore Benson should see his share of playing time as well. Regardless of who is playing running back, the offense will have to perform better - in all five of the Bears' losses last year, they scored 10 points or less. Mushin Muhammed is a quality #1 reciever, but otherwise Rex Grossman has no other good options to throw to. I think this team played over its head last year, but they should still be the class of this division. They won't get a first-round bye in the playoffs, though, as they probably won't get more than 9 wins.

Detroit: The Lions have been beyond atrocious over the last few seasons; they're coming off a 5-11 season and enter the season with first-year coach Rod Marinelli in charge. But I think there is hope for the Lions in the immediate future. They had a sub-par defense last year, but this year they will switch to a Cover 2 defensive scheme. I won't get into all the details of a Cover 2 - I don't completely understand it myself - but the general rule is this: If you have good players, the Cover 2 will work very well (Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Indy used it last year, and all finished among the top ten defenses in the league), whereas if you don't have the right personell, your defense will break down (the Rams used it as well, and had the second-worst defense). From what I've read, the Lions have the right players to make the Cover 2 work, especially in the front seven. The other reason I think the Lions are due to improve is the fact that they brought in Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. You'll remember Martz was the OC for the 2000 Rams - the "Greatest Show on Turf", which featured probably the best offense of my lifetime - and won a championship there, before eventually being promoted to head coach and underachieving for a few years. But Martz may be the type of person who is better off not having to deal with both sides of the ball, and he could revamp the Lions' offensive attack. After drafting three wideouts with top-ten picks, the Lions have a plethora of good wide recievers. They brought in Jon Kitna, who is a decent quarterback who could become great in the right system. And they have Kevin Jones, who Martz will try to get the ball to both on the ground and in the air - kind of like he did with Marshall Faulk, except not quite as good. So, my point is: Don't sleep on the Lions this year. I don't think they'll make the playoffs, but they'll finish with a .500 record and an eye towards next year.

Green Bay: The Packers are coming off an extremely disappointing 4-12 campaign last year, and they hope to be much better next year. They suffered injuries to Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, the defense, and just about everyone else not named Brett Favre. This team will be better with people returning, but I still don't think they are good enough to be in playoff contention. Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk will bring some excitement to the defensive side, but the fact is that Favre isn't getting any younger, and he doesn't exactly have an All-Star cast around him. The most exciting player of the preseason for the Packers has been second-round draft pick Greg Jennings, who may be poised for an Anquan Boldin-type breakout season this year with Favre throwing him the ball. And Aaron Rodgers will take over the quarterback reins if and when Favre eventually retires. But this is a team that needs to look towards 2007 and beyond, as I can't see them eclipsing 6-10 this year.

Minnesota: In case you didn't notice, the Vikings quietly posted a 9-7 record last year. I didn't know that. The Vikings are the third team in this division to have a new coach, with Brad Childress taking over (finally!) from Mike Tice. Brad Johnson will be quarterbacking (when did that become a verb?) the offense this year, and while Johnson is a solid QB, he is nothing spectacular. This team seems very average to me, as there are no gaping holes but no superstars either. They have tried to beef up their below-average defense, but I don't think they'll be evoking comparisons to the '86 Bears or the '00 Ravens anytime soon. Bottom line, this is a team with average talent across the board, and so logically I'll predict an 8-8 record.

August 24, 2006


NFL Preview: NFC East

I'm halfway done with my NFL previews, and today I get to the NFC East. I've already covered the AFC East, the AFC North, the AFC South, and the AFC West. The NFC East is most likely the toughest division in all of football, with four legitimate playoff contenders. It's likely that two teams will come out of this division, especially given the weakness of the NFC North and West.

Dallas: The Cowboys were 9-7 last year, missing the playoffs by one game. They should be even better this year, as they add Terrell Owens to their offense and (don't laugh!) bolstering their special teams by adding kicker Mike Vanderjagt - who happens to be the most accurate kicker in NFL history - and some other pieces. The Cowboys lost three games last year by four points or less, so any upgrades could be the difference between 9-7 and 11-5. Coach Bill Parcells took the Giants to the Super Bowl in his fourth year in New York, and took the Patriots to the championship game in his fourth year in New England. It's year four of the Parcells regime in Dallas, and the Cowboys certainly have the pieces to make a deep playoff run this year. For all his off-field problems, Owens is a dominating force on the field and should help create some space for the running game. The one question mark for this team is the offensive line. Drew Bledsoe is about as mobile as a corpse, so the o-line needs to give him enough time to find Owens or Terry Glenn. I think the Cowboys should have a successful season, probably with an 11-5 record.

New York: The Giants are coming off an 11-5 season last year, and are returning most of the pieces from last year's fourth-ranked offense. Eli Manning is coming off a breakout year - you may not know this, but Eli actually threw for more yards last year than his brother Peyton - and Tiki Barber is a top-five running back. Eli has great recievers to throw to (watch out for rookie Sinorice Moss), but the one knock on him has been his accuracy. He completed only 52% of his passes last year; the average QBs complete around 60%, and the best complete somewhere around 64-67% of their passes. The defense is another question mark - they were 24th last year in YPG allowed. They retooled their secondary in the offseason, but whether they will be better is still a question. But the larger problem, in my mind, is their schedule. They open their season with Indy at home, at Philly, at Seattle, Washington at home, at Atlanta, at Dallas, and then Tampa Bay at home. None of those are easy victories, and they also have to play Philly, Dallas, and the Redskins again as well as at Jacksonville, at Carolina, and against Chicago. The likely scenario to me is that the Giants will suffer what happened to the Chargers last year - they have enough talent to make the playoffs, but their schedule is so tough that they will finish 8-8 or 9-7 and spend January at home.

Philadelphia: The Eagles suffered a lot of injuries last year, but they still finished with a 6-10 record. The larger problem is that they failed to get even one win against the teams in their division. With McNabb healthy and T.O. gone, this team should be better than last year. The question is, how much better will they be? Everyone else in the division improved as well, so wins will not be easy to come by for the Eagles. Philly will continue to have a virtually nonexistent running attack, so the pressure will once again be on McNabb to carry the offense. The Eagles were beat up last year on defense as well (especially in the secondary), and that was one of the strengths of their NFC championship team two years ago. Second-year wideout Reggie Brown should be McNabb's favorite target with Owens out of the picture, but this team doesn't look that much better than last year's version. I can't see the Eagles faring any better than 7-9.

Washington: The Redskins made the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record, largely in part to running back Clinton Portis. But Portis suffered a partially dislocated shoulder in his first preseason game, and may not be able to play in the season opener for the Redskins. He shouldn't miss too much time, but losing any games in this division will cripple your chances of making the playoffs. The Skins also had football's ninth-ranked defense last year, and they keep most of the pieces for this year's team. Mark Brunell is not a great quarterback, but he is good enough to take care of the offense and put some points on the board. Brunell also has great players to throw to; WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley will both see their share of yards. Unless Portis misses a lot of time, I can't see this team missing the playoffs. They'll probably finish 11-5 as well.

August 23, 2006


NFL Preview: AFC West

I'm finishing up the AFC portion of my NFL previews today with the AFC West. I've already covered the AFC East, the AFC North, and the AFC South. I only have one wild-card team so far, so that means two teams from this division will make the playoffs...

Denver: First, the Broncos were part of a three-team trade completed this morning, sending WR Ashley Lelie to Atlanta, former Falcons RB T.J. Duckett to Washington, and draft picks to Denver. Lelie had been a major distraction for the Broncos during camp, and they felt it was better to send him somewhere else. Denver had a surprising 13-3 season last year, winning the division and going to the AFC championship game. The Broncos will continue their running-back-by-committee ways this year, with undrafted rookie Mike Bell likely to get the majority of carries at the beginning of the year. First-round draft pick Jay Cutler has, by all indications, looked very good in training camp, but he won't take over this team until next year at the earliest (barring an injury to Jake Plummer). Plummer last year became a decent NFL quarterback, which is good enough for this team. The defense overall was average last year, but they were very weak against the pass. One main reason was the fact that their linemen weren't able to get pressure on the quarterback, giving him time to pick apart the secondary. Champ Bailey is an excellent cornerback, but teams with multiple threats at the wide reciever position should be able to put points on the board. I expect somewhat of a regression for the Broncos this year, but still a playoff team. I'll go with 11-5.

Kansas City: Larry Johnson will finally get to start for the entire year with Priest Holmes old and injured, and his fantasy owners everywhere are salivating. (LJ should be the #1 pick in your fantasy league, by the way.) Johnson averaged 150 yards per game in nine starts, which projects out to 2400 years over a full season. He won't be able to keep up that pace, but he should be good for at least 1700-1800 yards this year, assuming he can stay healthy. Trent Green is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in football, and having LJ behind him should take even more pressure off the passing game and give Green more open targets. The offensive line isn't as strong as it was last year, but this offense still should have no trouble putting points on the board. The defense is another story, however. They picked up Ty Law to help shore up last year's 30th-ranked pass defense, but the 32-year-old cornerback will not be able to solve all the Chiefs' problems. New coach Herm Edwards will likely bring some new ideas to the defense, but whether they will be successful or not remains to be seen. I'm not sure if this team will be much better than last year's, but their schedule seems fairly easy. They were 10-6 last year, barely missing the playoffs, and this year I'll give them an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth.

Oakland: There are three very good teams in this division, and then there are the Raiders. The Raiders are coming off a 4-12 season last year, and they don't really look much better this year. They have a young offensive line and a bad running game, but their biggest problem right now is at quarterback. Aaron Brooks will be the opening day starter, but Randy Moss has already expressed displeasure with how Brooks is playing. But Brooks' backup, Andrew Walter, isn't likely to be making the Pro Bowl anytime soon, either. Walter has been playing well in the preseason, but he's not as talented as Brooks. This team has too much talent to go 4-12 again, but not enough to make a decent run at the playoffs. I can't see them doing much better than 6-10.

San Diego: The Chargers last year were considered one of the most talented teams in the league last year, but finished 9-7, two games out of a playoff spot. The disappointing record was not really a case of underachievement; rather, it was the Chargers' brutal schedule that did them in. This year, their schedule is a bit easier, but they have other questions. How will Phillip Rivers handle his first year in the spotlight? Rivers has been impressive so far in the preseason, but it's still just the preseason. If it turns out Rivers doesn't have what it takes to be a big-time QB (or at least a servicable one), then this franchise will be crippled for the rest of the decade. The Chargers defense last year wasn't great last year, especially against the pass (it's a good time to be an AFC West QB). San Diego has plenty of weapons on offense - especially TE Antonio Gates and RB LaDanian Tomlinson, who both are arguably the best in the league at their position. But there are questions on the offensive line, and overall this team has too many potential flaws that I can't put them in the playoffs. A 10-6 record keeps them in contention until Week 17, but they ultimately lose out and miss the postseason again.

August 22, 2006



The Madden '07 video game hits stores today. Which means that millions of young males will spend the next week and a half hidden in their homes, with their XBox controller slowly becoming an extra appendage. Madden has changed the world in a way that nobody could have ever imagined possible from just a video game.

How much has the game changed the world? Ask anyone under the age of 35 what they think of first when they hear "Madden". They'll immediately tell you about the video game, usually launching into a story about how they beat their buddy with a fourth-and-30 conversion with two minutes remaining. Press them a little further and they'll talk about his Monday Night Football announcing. Virtually nobody knows that Madden was a Super Bowl-winning coach.

And now Madden is so popular that it is a name that everybody around the country knows - up there with Tiger, MJ, and Kobe. And that's partly from his MNF announcing, but it's more from the Madden line of video games. Madden is the most popular and realistic video game on the market; one Sunday my dad woke up from a nap and looked at the TV, where he was surprised that the Falcons were killing the Bills. (He discovered a few minutes later, to his relief, that it was just me playing Madden.)

The other great thing about Madden is how much better the game gets over the years. They could just update the rosters and upgrade the graphics a bit, and they'd still sell millions of copies. But they don't. They continue to redo the game almost completely each year, adding features such as the passing cone or NFL Superstar mode.

How popular is the game now? Earlier in August, EA Sports released a pay-per-view that would let you watch a preview of the video game for only $19.99. In other words, people would plunk down $20 to watch a commercial for a video game. I haven't seen any stats on this, but I would imagine that there were plenty of people willing to do so.

(And I hope that Madden continues to give Michael Vick completely unrealistic ratings. He's nowhere near that good in real life, but it makes playing with the Falcons so much more fun. And I would love to see some other features, such as being able to unlock the field from The Longest Yard when you're playing with the Bengals, but that might have to wait until next year.)

August 21, 2006


What would you do?

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was taken to new heights earlier this summer. And this incident had nothing to do with pro baseball. Instead, this was a ten-year-old PONY baseball league in Utah, and the two teams in the championship game were named the Yankees and the Red Sox. It was the bottom of the sixth (last) inning, and there was a runner on third and two outs. The Sox's best hitter is up, a slugger who has already hit a triple and a homer in the game. So the Yankees intentionally walk him to pitch to a kid named Romney, the worst hitter on the Red Sox team. Romney strikes out on three pitches, and the Yankees are the league champions.

How does this story warrent national attention? Romney was diagnosed with cancer at age 4, and despite surviving he still has to wear a helmet while playing the outfield because any injury could be life-threatening. After this unfortunate end to the game, the coaching staffs almost came to blows, they were so angry. The small town of Bountiful became deeply divided, and it became enough of a national story that Rick Reilly wrote about it in the August 14th issue of Sports Illustrated. Here's another online article about the story, and you can also see what America thinks on the topic.

So, was this a disgraceful symbol of the win-at-all-costs mentality that defines our nation? Or was this simply a manager trying to act in the best interest of his kids, with the result blown out of proportion by our politically correct media?

I'm going to take the less popular side on this debate and lean towards the latter option. Now, I'm only 15 years old, and I obviously have no children of my own. And I have never known anyone who has gone through cancer treatment, and I hopefully never will. But most of the adults I've talked to agree with me, so I don't think I'm completely out of line here.

If you say that they should have pitched to the slugger and avoided pitching to Rodney, where do you draw the line? If you're at bat and you hit the ball to him, do you refuse to take the extra base? What happens if you pitch to the slugger, but walk him anyways? What then?

It seems to me, for someone like Rodney who has already been through so much, that he would spend a lot of his life trying to be treated like a normal kid. What would they have done if Rodney hadn't gone through cancer? They would have walked the slugger. So I don't think he should be treated specially in this case, because he will already be trying to become like everybody else.

For his part, Reilly took the other side in his column, saying that this was a disgraceful move by the Yankees coach. In one specifically pointed paragraph, he says, "What the Yankees' coaches did was make it about them, not the kids. It became their medal to pin on their pecs and show off at their barbecues. And if a fragile kid got stomped on the way, well, that's baseball. We see it all over the country - the overcaffeinated coach who watches too much SportsCenter and needs to win far more than the kids..."

But there is where I think Reilly is most wrong. What Reilly doesn't realize is that, in 99% of the leagues around the country, it's the kids who want to win more than anybody else. Sure, we hear about the exceptions all the time - the coaches who get thrown out of a Little League game for arguing a call, the parents who come to blows in the stands over something happening on the field. But those are exceptions, and those are very rare. In our 6-year-old coach-pitch league, there was no scorebook, because it was just supposed to be for fun. So what did we do? We kept score by ourselves. (We won all but one game, at least by our count.) If you had asked the kids what they wanted to do, they probably would have wanted to do whatever they could to win the game.

The other point that people will bring up is that it's just a "fun" (a.k.a. noncompetitive) league - there's a four-run limit per inning, and everybody in the lineup hits. But, if there's a championship game, doesn't that mean by definition that there's at least some sort of competition? It's obviously sad for Romney that he was the one to end the game. But let's not send flaming hate mail to the Yankees coach. (Unless you're talking about Joe Torre. That might be okay.)

What was Romney's reaction? He was understandably upset that day - he apparently cried himself to sleep. But he woke up the next morning with one goal in mind: He was going to get better, so that next year they would be walking him.

(The other thing I'm kind of wondering about is why Romney was hitting right after the team's best hitter. It doesn't matter at all to the story, but I thought it was kind of weird.)

August 20, 2006


Young Pitchers Part II

In my last post before going on vacation, I ended by saying that we would have to wait to see which pitchers became great and which pitchers became busts. But I didn't like that ending very much. So I decided to try to figure out myself which pitchers would be great. There's not much statistical reasoning or anything else besides basic intuition guiding these picks, so don't be surprised if they're completely wrong. But, by posting them here, if something crazy happens and one or more of my picks happen to be accurate, I can gloat about it later.

Remember, according to recent history, out of the six stars of this year's class there will be:

1 Superstar (perennial Cy Young candidate)
2 Great Pitchers (#1 starters, borderline All-Star pitchers)
1 Good Pitcher (roughly a #2 starter)
1 Mediocre Pitcher (back end of the rotation)
1 Bust (out of baseball or completely ineffective)

The Superstar:

Scott Kazmir - To the chagrin of Mets fans everywhere, I believe Kazmir has the stuff to be a superstar pitcher for years to come. Kazmir posted 10 wins before the All-Star break despite playing on the lowly Devil Rays, and he's had 10 strikeouts in three of his last six starts. He did serve a DL stint at the end of July, but that was a minor problem that seems to be behind him. Despite missing a couple weeks of the season, Kazmir still ranks 3rd in the AL in strikeouts (with 155). Kazmir should eventually fill his trophy case with multiple Cy Young victories, and, if the D-Rays keep improving or Kazmir moves to a better team, a World Series ring.

The Great Pitchers:

Jon Papelbon - Papelbon has been great so far as closer for the Red Sox, but whether or not he will remain a closer is yet to be seen. The Sox management has expressed interest in moving Papelbon to the rotation as early as next year, possibly filling the closer role with another young pitcher such as Craig Hansen. But the transition shouldn't be too difficult for Paplebon - while most closers usually have one great pitch that they throw most of the time (i.e. Rivera, Billy Wagner, etc.), Paplebon has a full arsenal of pitches to use, which suits him well for a starting role. Also, Pap has thrown two innings or more in one outing often this year, so his stamina shouldn't be a problem. Finally, having Papelbon close this year cuts down on his workload, so he may be less likely to suffer injury problems. However, Pap is 25 years old (older than anyone else on this list), so he's closer to his ceiling than most of these other pitchers are.

Justin Verlander - Verlander may be headed for a sophmore slump next year due to his workload this year (he's likely to top 200 IP this year, plus some more in the playoffs), but that should be a minor abberation. As long as the Tigers are careful with Verlander, he should remain a top pitcher for years to come. He's not striking a ton of guys out, but he's getting outs and is tied for second in the AL with 14 wins. He has had trouble against the top teams - 0-4 with a 7.66 ERA vs the White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees this year - but he should only get better over time.

The Good Pitcher:

Jered Weaver - Weaver has been nothing short of incredible this year - he still has yet to lose a game in 12 starts, and he has an ERA under 2.00. But there is one major reason why Weaver won't succeed - he's a fly-ball pitcher. Weaver gets almost twice as many fly-balls as grounders, and it's worked well for him so far. But fly-ball pitchers typically are very inconsistent, because if the wind is blowing out one day or you don't have your best stuff, those fly balls become doubles and homers. So I don't think Weaver has the ability to become a great pitcher unless he changes his strategy a bit. But he could still be a #3-4 starter for the improving Angels for the better part of a decade.

The Mediocre Pitcher:

Jon Lester - Lester goes here because he simply isn't as good as the others. He does have a 6-2 record, but his ERA is just under 5.00, so that record is a bit decieving. More alarming is the fact that opposing hitters are hitting .316 off him. (That's saying, in effect, that an average hitter becomes an all-star hitter when he faces Lester.) Maybe putting Lester on this list was a stretch, but either way he probably won't amount to more than a fourth starter in the big leagues.

The Bust:

Who haven't I mentioned yet? Francisco Liriano. Yes, I'm saying that Liriano will be a bust. Now, this probably isn't quite as bold a prediction as it was a week and a half ago, when I actually decided to make it, but it still borders on baseball sacrilege. It has nothing to do with Liriano's talent; he obviously could be one of the top ten lefties of all-time if he kept this up. But Liriano has been injury-plagued throughout his minor-league career, and he now is expected to go on the DL with soreness in his forearm (and other problems). This is a very serious injury - it is very possible that Liriano misses the rest of the season, even with the Twins in a heated pennant race. The Twins have generally been very careful with their young pitchers, but Liriano may still be too fragile to bring back. The list of great young pitchers with major injuries is very long, and the list of those who came back to be great again is significantly shorter. Sure, it seems impossible right now that Liriano could be a major bust, but people said that about Mark Prior three years ago.


A very important story broke this morning - Tom Glavine has arm trouble, and may miss the rest of the season. We'll have to wait for another few days to figure out what will happen, but Glavine is 40 years old and it's very possible that he may need surgery. Glavine has been the leader of the staff throughout the year, and losing him would be a big blow to the Mets' World Series hopes. The Mets could probably start you, me, and seven of your friends from here on out and still make the playoffs. But if they're going to make a deep run, the Mets are going to need a healthy Pedro and a healthy Glavine. And right now they have neither.

August 08, 2006


Young Pitchers

First off, I should say that I'm going on vacation tomorrow and I have no idea if I'm going to be able to write or not. So, if you come across this a week from now and see that it hasn't been updated in a week, check back a little later. I'll write again eventually.

Anyways, in honor of the Year of the Rookie Pitcher, I've decided to do a study of all the "can't miss" pitchers that had outstanding seasons in one of their first years. All the pitchers in this year's class would never be traded in any deal whatsoever. Basically, the question I'm trying to answer is: Should these rookie pitchers be as untouchable as they really are?

So I looked for all the similar seasons in years past. I only went back to the beginning of this decade/century/millenium, because that was as far back as I could really remember. The pitchers on this list have to have dominating stats, but the media hype surrounding these pitchers is just as important as their pitching itself, and I would not be able to judge the hype on any player farther back.

To clarify my selection process:

The player must be 25 years old or younger. All the pitchers in this year's class are 25 or younger, as are most hyped young pitchers. Pitchers that young still haven't matured completely, and as a result they are often injury risks. Most of these organizations have taken all the necessary precautions to lessen the risk of serious injury, but pitchers can still always get hurt at any time. That's one of the reason young pitching is such a risky investment.

They must have a career high in innings pitched, in the year that they finally became a can't miss pitcher. They don't necessarily have to be rookies, but they can't have been around the league for a while either. Occasionally you'll see pitchers come up at 21-22 years old, and struggle some, then gradually improve and have a great year by the time they're 25. That's not the kind of player I'm looking for right now.

They must be a top prospect. Here's a perfect example of this: Last year the Pirates called up Zach Duke around July to make his big-league debut. Duke was a 20th-round draft choice, and was thought of as a decent but not great prospect coming up in the system. But Duke won his first six decisions, with a number of great starts in July and August, and finished the year 6-2. This year, he has an ERA in the fives, and is nothing more than a subpar #3 starter on a bad team. But this wasn't hard to see coming - Duke was never supposed to be that good in the first place.

Anyways, onto the list. The list is sorted chronologically by year in which the players had their breakout season.

Class of 2000:

Tim Hudson - One could make the case that Hudson's breakout season was actually '99, when he went 11-2 with a 3.24 ERA. But, since I didn't go back that far, I put his 2000 season on the list. Hudson seemed poised to become a big-time ace after his 20-6 season in 2000. And, for the most part, he was, posting three more 15+ win seasons over the next three years while anchoring the vaunted Athletics staff. He went 12-6 in 2004, and was traded to the Braves before the 2005 season. But this year, Hudson has been atrocious, with an 8-10 record and a 5.22 ERA. Did the A's get their money's worth out of Hudson? Absolutely. Is this season just an aberration? Possibly. But maybe all the innings he worked when he was 24-25 caught up to him; he is only 31 right now but seems a couple more bad years away from retirement.

2000 Stats: 202.1 IP, 20-6, 4.14 ERA, 169 SO (Age 24)
2006 Stats*: 148.1 IP, 8-10, 5.22 ERA, 93 SO
Career: 114-58, 3.51 ERA
The Verdict: Overall, a very good career.

Rick Ankiel - Probably the most famous case of a young pitcher gone bad. Ankiel finished 2nd in the ROY voting in 2000, finishing with a 3.50 ERA and an astounding 194 strikeouts. Entering the postseason, Ankiel was thought of as the top young pitcher in baseball and a future Cy Young candidate for the remainder of the decade. But in the postseason, things started to go wrong. Ankiel started Game 1 of the NLDS against Atlanta, and proceeded to throw five wild pitches in the third inning. He lost his control again in Game 2 of the NLCS, and was never the same again. Ankiel posted a 7.13 ERA in six games in 2001, and was sent down to the minors. After a brief big-league stint in '04, Ankiel decided to switch to the outfield. He's currently trying to make the Cardinals roster as a left fielder (really).

2000 Stats: 175 IP, 11-7, 3.50 ERA, 194 SO (Age 21)
2006 Stats: N/A
Career: 13-10, 3.91 ERA
The Verdict: Total Bust


Wade Miller - Who? Wade Miller, that's who. Not many people remember it now, but once upon a time Oswalt and Miller were as dominating a pair of young aces as Hudson and Zito. Miller posted a 16-8 record and a 3.40 ERA in '01, helping lead the Astros to the playoffs. Miller posted another stellar season in '02, going 15-4 with a 3.28 ERA. He took a small step back in '03, but was still thought of as a good pitcher entering 2004. Miller posted an ERA in the threes in '04, but went on the DL in late June and didn't pitch for the rest of the year. Miller signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2005, but was injured again. This year he is under contract with the Cubs, but has not pitched yet due to a shoulder injury.

2001 Stats: 212 IP, 16-8, 3.40 ERA, 183 SO (Age 24)
2006 Stats: N/A
Career: 62-43, 3.98 ERA
The Verdict: Mostly a bust.

Roy Oswalt - Hey, speaking of Astros, here's one that turned out a little better. Oswalt had a great rookie year in 2001, going 14-3 and posting a 2.73 ERA. And he's been almost as good since. Oswalt posted 20-win seasons in both '04 and '05, despite having a bad offense behind him. He missed a couple weeks this year due to injury, but it wasn't anything serious. Oswalt now is definitively one of the top ten pitchers in the game, and he's in his prime.

2001 Stats: 141.2 IP, 14-3, 2.73 ERA, 144 SO (Age 23)
2006 Stats: 151 IP, 8-7, 3.34 ERA, 103 SO
Career: 91-46, 3.34 ERA
The Verdict: Big-time stud.

Ben Sheets - Actually, I have no idea if 2001 is the right year to put Sheets. '01 was his rookie year, but you could make a case to put Sheets in '02 or '03. But, whichever year you want to go with, Sheets was supposed to be one of the best pitchers of the decades. But, for some reason, it didn't pan out. I guess Sheets is a little different from everyone else on this list in the sense that he never completely proved himself in the big leagues. But he had such great stuff, everyone figured he would eventually (the Brewers are still holding out hope). His '01 stats aren't impressive - 11-10, a 4.76 ERA - but people figured he would just get better from there. Problem was, he didn't. 2004 was his best season, where he had a 2.70 ERA but posted a 10-12 record. But Sheets has had injury problems this year, and has performed poorly when he hasn't been hurt. We'll see what the future holds for Sheets. The Brewers certainly hope he can right himself.

2001 Stats: 151.1 IP, 11-10, 4.76 ERA, 94 SO (Age 23)
2006 Stats: 36.1 IP, 2-4, 4.71 ERA, 44 SO
Career: 57-66, 3.86 ERA
The Verdict: Unless he gets better quickly, somewhat of a bust.

C.C. Sabathia - Sabathia finished second to Ichiro in the 2001 ROY voting and deservedly so, with a 17-5 record. Since then, he has been a decent pitcher, but not quite the top-of-the-rotation stud that he was expected to be. Sabathia has a good winning percentage over his career, but he has had a very good offense behind him, for the most part. Sabathia has also stayed remarkably injury-free, though the Indians have been careful to limit his innings. All in all, he's been a decent pitcher.

2001 Stats: 180.1 IP, 17-5, 4.39 ERA, 171 SO (Age 21)
2006 Stats: 123.1 IP, 8-8, 3.43 ERA, 109 SO
Career: 77-53, 4.02 ERA
The Verdict: A solid pitcher, but not a great one.

Mark Buehrle - I can never spell his last name correctly, but otherwise Buehrle has been a very good pitcher for his career. Buehrle's numbers in '01 were spectacular - 16-8 with a 3.29 ERA. And he continued to be a very good pitcher over the next few years. He did make the All-star team this year, but everything has gone wrong since then. In Buehrle's last seven starts, he has gone 0-6 with a 9.61 ERA. People are saying he's tipping his changeup; I don't know the reason but I know that he's going to have to perform better if the Sox are going anywhere this year. This rocky stretch aside, Buehrle has been a very good pitcher.

2001 Stats: 221.1 IP, 16-8, 3.29 ERA, 126 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 151 IP, 9-10, 4.89 ERA, 67 SO
Career: 94-63, 3.77 ERA
The Verdict: A very good pitcher. Not quite Cy Young caliber, but the next level.

Barry Zito - Zito was great as well in '01, with a 17-8 record and a 3.49 ERA. He had an even better season the next year, posting an amazing 23-5 record. He hasn't been quite as good since, but has been a solid pitcher in front of a weak lineup. This year, he has a 3.50 ERA and a 12-7 record as he approaches free agency. One note of worry to prospective buyers in the offseason: Zito has thrown over 200 innings in each of the last five years, and is on pace to do so again this year. Eventually, all those innings are going to catch up on him...

2001 Stats: 214.1 IP, 17-8, 3.49 ERA, 205 SO (Age 23)
2006 Stats: 156.2 IP, 12-7, 3.50 ERA, 109 SO
Career: 98-60, 3.50 ERA
The Verdict: Certainly a very good pitcher, but not quite as great as you'd think (and don't be surprised if he's headed for some rocky seasons ahead)

Mark Mulder - Mulder completes the Oakland trio, and he started with arguably the best season out of all of them. Mulder had a 21-8 campaign in 2001 in which he posted a 3.45 ERA. Mulder's strikeout numbers are low compared to the rest of these pitchers, but his numbers have been surprisingly stellar up until this year. Mulder put up 15+ wins and single-digit losses every year from '01-'05, and only once had an ERA above 3.70. But this year in St. Louis, Mulder has just a 6-5 record with a 6.09 ERA, and that's while playing in AAA the National League. Mulder is currently on the DL with a sore shoulder; his sudden downfall looks much loke that of Tim Hudson. You might want to wish Zito some good luck...

2001 Stats: 229.1 IP, 21-8, 3.45 ERA, 153 SO (Age 24)
2006 Stats: 88.2 IP, 6-5, 6.09 ERA, 48 SO
Career: 103-55, 4.03 ERA
The Verdict: One of the game's best until this year.


Jason Jennings - Jennings won the NL Rookie of the Year award in '02, and was supposed to anchor the Rockies' staff for the rest of the decade. But since then, he's been nothing short of average. His ERA was above 5 until this year (when all the Coors Field numbers mysteriously dropped), and his record has been below .500 every year since '02. He has been a decent middle-of-the-rotation guy, but that's not what you want from your ROY winner (even if it was a sub-par rookie class).

2002 Stats: 185.1 IP, 13-8, 4.52 ERA, 127 SO (Age 24)
2006 Stats: 157.2 IP, 7-9, 3.48 ERA, 111 SO
Career: 56-52, 4.75 ERA
The Verdict: The definition of a mediocre pitcher.

John Lackey - Lackey was a forgotten piece of the Angels' '02 pennant run, and he's stayed largely forgotten since. Lackey was called up midseason but made the best of the limited opportunities he had, going 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA. After a couple down years in '03 and '04, Lackey became a top pitcher again in '05 with a 14-5 campaign, and he's been great again this season. He is definitely one of the most underrated pitchers in the game today, and he's still only 27.

2002 Stats: 108.1 IP, 9-4, 3.66 ERA, 69 SO (Age 23)
2006 Stats: 153.2 IP, 10-7, 3.28 ERA, 129 SO
Career: 57-45, 4.00 ERA
The Verdict: Going to be great for years to come.

Francisco Rodriguez - "K-Rod" was arguably the most famous piece of that '02 Angels team, being called up in September and delivering in key spots at the tender age of 20. What he did in the playoffs was even more impressive, pitching more than 18 innings with an ERA just under 2. K-Rod attracted media attention like no other middle reliever ever has, and has since settled into the closer role nicely. Rodriguez is probably one of the top ten closers in the game as of today, and he's still only 24.

2002 Stats: 5.2 IP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 13 SO(!) (Age 20)
2006 Stats: 45.1 IP, 27 SV, 2.38 ERA, 58 SO
Career: 14-11, 86 SV, 2.44 ERA
The Verdict: Certainly a great pitcher so far, though he's still fairly young.


Dontrelle Willis - Willis set the baseball world on fire with his performance after being called up from AAA in 2003, going 14-6 with a 3.31 ERA. And his fun-loving style and herky-jerky motion made him a media darling then and now. But Willis hasn't been as good as you'd think since then. He deserved to win the Cy Young last year (and got ripped off for reasons I'll describe another day), but that year is now sandwiched between two seasons with an ERA over four. Willis has tremendous talent (and he's still only 24), but he needs to be more consistent if he's going to be a top-level pitcher.

2003 Stats: 160.2 IP, 14-6, 3.31 ERA, 142 SO (Age 21)
2006 Stats: 153.1 IP, 7-8, 4.05 ERA, 99 SO
Career: 53-35, 3.43 ERA
The Verdict: Insanely talented in odd-numbered years, mediocre in even ones.

Josh Beckett - Best known for his complete-game shutout of the Yankees to close out the '03 World Series, Beckett joined Willis to make the Marlins' rotation a fearsome bunch. Beckett was only 23 when he posted a 3.08 ERA over the course of the '03 season, and was even better in the playoffs. The Marlins suprisingly dealt him to Boston after the '05 season, and Beckett has struggled in Beantown. He has an ERA of exactly 5.00, and has not pitched nearly as well as his 13-6 record seems to indicate. And Beckett has suffered from the injury bug as much as anybody else has over the past few seasons, missing 5-10 starts every year due to injury. Beckett has been lucky to escape the DL this season, but Boston fans still have reason to worry.

2003 Stats: 142 IP, 9-8, 3.04 ERA, 152 SO (Age 23)
2006 Stats: 140.1 IP, 13-6, 5.00 ERA, 115 SO
Career: 54-40, 3.75 ERA
The Verdict: Servicable #1 or #2 starter until this year; not Cy Young stuff but still very good.

Carlos Zambrano - Zambrano has been and still is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, standing under the shadow (or is it now gravestone?) of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. But Zambrano has been much better than either of those two over the past few seasons, and deservedly made the all-star team this year. Zambrano was mostly an afterthought in 2003 with Wood and Prior each taking the mound every five days, but Zambrano put up good numbers as well. He's only gotten better since then, and he's still just 25 years old. Draft him for your Fantasy team next year and be smarter than everyone else in your league (if only I had done that this year...). His workload may cause some trouble later on in his career, though.

2003 Stats: 214 IP, 13-11, 3.11 ERA, 168 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 158 IP, 12-4, 3.42 ERA, 158 SO
Career: 60-39, 3.28 ERA
The Verdict: One of the game's best. He will anchor the Cubs' rotation for the rest of the decade, if not longer.

Mark Prior - From one extreme to the other. Prior was the #2 overall pick in the 2001 draft, and by 2003 it looked like the Twins made a mistake by passing over him. (Who did they take? Some guy named Joe Mauer. Yeah, I don't think the Twins regret it any more.) Prior posted an 18-6 season in 2003, backing that up with a 2.43 ERA. And then the injuries started coming. Prior missed a third of his starts in 2004 and some more in '05, though he finished last season with a respectable 11-7 record and a 3.67 ERA. This year, he's only started eight games and has been awful overall, with a 6.64 ERA and a 1-5 record. And there's no real bright spot on the horizon. Prior is another great example of why not to put all your faith in a rookie pitcher.

2003 Stats: 211.1 IP, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 40.2 IP, 1-5, 6.64 ERA, 37 SO
Career: 42-28, 3.45 ERA
The Verdict: As of now, mostly a bust.

Brandon Webb - Webb is another of the most underrated pitchers in the game today. Webb posted a 2.84 ERA in his rookie 2003 campaign, and his career has been just as good since. He suffered through a 7-16 season in '04 despite having a 3.59 ERA, and this year is 12-4 with a league-leading 2.74 ERA. He does have a minor injury right now but nothing too serious, and Webb is right now one of the top five or ten pitchers in the game. If the season ended today, Webb would almost certainly win the NL Cy Young award.

2003 Stats: 180.2 IP, 10-9, 2.84 ERA, 172 SO (Age 24)
2006 Stats: 167.1 IP, 12-4, 2.74 ERA, 125 SO
Career: 43-41, 3.22
The Verdict: Absolutely a top-five pitcher this year and should be for years to come. Things couldn't have worked out better.


Oliver Perez - The story of Oliver Perez was what actually inspired me to write this column. As recently ago as 2004, Perez was one of the best young pitchers in the game. That year, his first full season as a starter, Perez posted a 2.99 ERA and an astounding 239 strikeouts. Two years later? He was essentially a throw-in to a Roberto Hernandez-Xavier Nady trade. Oh yeah, and he has a 2-10 record. As a 22-year-old phenom in '04, his trade value (at that time) would be somewhere near that of Liriano or Verlander right now. It's amazing how things can change. What happened? Perez simply lost control of his pitches. His walk total stayed almost the same from '04 to '05, even though he threw half as many innings in the latter year, and his ERA almost doubled. Right now, he's struggling in AAA. Perez is only 24, so there's still some hope. But not much.

2004 Stats: 196 IP, 12-10, 2.99 ERA, 239 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 76 IP, 2-10, 6.63 ERA, 61 SO
Career: 29-40, 4.56 ERA
The Verdict: Right now, a complete bust. But there's still some time.

Rich Harden - Yes, another member of the A's is on this list. And early on in his career, Harden was thought to be even better than the first three. His numbers weren't astronomical - 11-7, 3.99 ERA - but he was supposed to get better and better. What's happened? Well, we can't really tell for sure. He missed a third of the season last year to an injury but still posted a great 2.53 ERA. And this year, he's only made six starts (though he's thrown well then). So we can't really get a feel for what Harden will be like in the future. We know he's talented. But we've been down Injury Road before, and it's not easy to come back from.

2004 Stats: 189.2 IP, 11-7, 3.99 ERA, 167 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 35 IP, 3-0, 3.86 ERA, 34 SO
Career: 29-16, 3.62 ERA
The Verdict: Bitten by the injury bug. He definitely can pitch, though.


Huston Street - Street claimed AL Rookie of the Year honors last year despite not taking over the closing job until late May; Street still finished with 23 saves and only 4 blown saves. Street has the stuff to be a closer, and it looks like he will be good in the big leagues. He had some problems earlier in the year, but it looks like he's over them now. It's too soon to get an accurate read on his full big-league potential, but he's progressing really well.

2005 Stats: 78.1 IP, 23 SV, 1.72 ERA, 72 SO (Age 22)
2006 Stats: 53.1 IP, 25 SV, 2.87 ERA, 52 SO
Career: 48 SV, 2.19 ERA
The Verdict: Too soon to tell.

Felix Hernandez - King Felix absolutely lit the baseball world on fire with his pitching last season - he posted a 2.67 ERA in 12 starts of work. Oh yeah, he was only 19 years old. I still think that most baseball GMs would take Felix over any other young, unproven pitcher in the game (including Liriano), but he hasn't really pitched like it so far this year. He has a 10-9 record, and his 4.49 ERA is cause for concern. He's still striking out hitters at the same pace he always was, but he seems to be struggling a little bit everywhere else. This is probably just an adjustment period; he's still only 20 years old.

2005 Stats: 84.1 IP, 4-4, 2.67 ERA, 77 SO (Age 19)
2006 Stats: 128.1 IP, 10-9, 4.49 ERA, 117 SO
Career: 14-13, 3.77 ERA
The Verdict: Too soon to tell.


Obviously, it's too soon to give any predictions on the 2006 class. But they're certainly very good. We'll see what happens in the years to come...

Scott Kazmir -

2006 Stats: 128.2 IP, 10-7, 3.36 ERA, 139 SO (Age 22)

Justin Verlander -

2006 Stats: 135.1 IP, 14-4, 2.79 ERA, 92 SO (Age 23)

Francisco Liriano -

2006 Stats: 119 IP, 12-2, 2.19 ERA, 142 SO (Age 22)

Jonathan Papelbon -

2006 Stats: 56.2 IP, 30 SV, 0.64 ERA, 58 SO (Age 25)

Jon Lester -

2006 Stats: 62.2 IP, 5-1, 3.59 ERA, 46 SO (Age 22)

Jered Weaver -

2006 Stats: 63.2 IP, 7-0, 1.70 ERA, 50 SO (Age 23)

So, adding up all the "verdicts" here...we basically have four great aces (Zambrano, Webb, Oswalt, K-Rod), six very good to great pitchers (#1-2 starters), two "good" pitchers (decent #2 guys), four "average" pitchers, and three complete busts. Expanding that to the six pitchers in this year's class, it looks like we should have one stud, two very good pitchers, one good pitcher, one average pitcher, and one bust.

Going back to the question I asked at the beginning of this column (if you can remember that far back), should a team think about trading one of these young pitchers? They'd have to get a great offer, but they should think about it. There's roughly a 50% chance that the pitcher becomes an all-star caliber pitcher, but also a 33% chance he becomes a back-of-the-rotation type or worse. So, if you can get a great deal, you should probably think about it.

(My follow-up post on this topic gives my pick for who will be the star, bust, etc.)

*2006 and career stats are as of 8/8/06

August 07, 2006


NFL Preview: AFC South

Here's the third of my preseason NFL previews. I'm posting twice today, partly because I don't have anything else to do, and partly because I don't know how much I'll be able to post over the next couple weeks. I have already previewed the AFC East and the AFC North. I had zero wild-card winners coming out of both those divisions, so I guess I'll have to have someone out of this division, unless I want to have both coming from the West.

Houston: The Texans had the worst record in football last year, a 2-14 season that gave them the #1 draft pick. DE Mario Williams will have to be a pro-bowler soon in order for the fans to forget that they passed up Reggie Bush; Williams should be a good talent but he probably won't outshine the spectacular USC running back. Regardless of who they have on the defense or at running back, this team will not be any good until they can field a decent offensive line. From what I've heard, the Texans have made some progress on that front, though it would be hard to go down from where they were. An interesting fact: The Texans have never beaten the Indianapolis Colts. An interesting stat. It's still hard to judge David Carr's talent, given that he never has time to throw the ball. This year, we should be able to find out how good the former #1 pick really is. They won't be as bad as last year, but I still think they have a couple seasons to go before contending. I'll give them 5-11.

Indianapolis: The Colts are fairly easy to predict - they had a 14-2 record last year, and they're sure to see double digits again. They're in an easy division, and they have tremendous talent on the offensive end. But, at this point, the regular season doesn't matter for the Colts. All that matters is how they do in the playoffs. And that's not what I'm predicting right now. So this should be short. The one thing to look at is how they will survive the loss of Edgerrin James. It doesn't take a great running back to put up yards in that system, with teams all playing back to protect the deep ball from Manning to Harrison. But James was good enough that he was able to take some of the pressure off the passing game, while Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai will not. I believe that whoever ends up getting carries will post good numbers, but the offense overall will suffer. Looking at that schedule, I see no way the Colts could possibly finish with less than 11 wins, so I'll pick 13-3.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars were easily the most underrated team in football last year, and they could be again this year. They don't have a flashy offense or lots of playmakers on defense, but they wear opponents into the ground with their physical style. The Steelers come to town on Monday night during Week 2, and I think the Jags will show America what they're made of in that game. Jacksonville doesn't really have a go-to guy at WR, though, and Byron Leftwich hasn't quite reached his full potential. The Jags won most of their games last year against teams that missed the playoffs, but sometimes that's enough. I don't think Jacksonville can match their 12-4 record from last season, but I'll take them to go 10-6 and make the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Tennessee: The Titans were 4-12 last year, and are officially in rebuilding mode. Billy Volek will open camp as the starting QB, but Vince Young should take over that role by November. I think Norm Chow will improve that offense again this year, but I don't think it should be enough to make a huge difference. The defense isn't really good, and overall I see no reason why the Titans will be better this year than they were last year. I predict a one-game improvement, a 5-11 season.

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