Friday, April 30, 2010

Start or Sit: Cliff Lee vs Rangers

RT @deannaingeno: LIKE OMG, that Cliff Lee guy is back tonight? Let's all freak out over nothing! *Sigh*
I do hope no one is out there "freak[ing] out" about Cliff Lee making his 2010 season and Seattle debut for the Mariners. It's an exciting and intriguing event for Mariners and baseball fans alike, but it's not that big of a deal. But I'll admit that it'll be an interesting start one way or another.

Cliff Lee's first assignment as an M's could turn out to be a tough one. Let's break it down by various factors.

Cliff Lee vs Texas Rangers Batters
Not only does the Texas Rangers bats have pretty good career numbers against the M's newly-acquired southpaw, across the lineup, from the veterans (Vladimir Guerrero and Michael Young), to the relatively new (Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton), and even the part-timers with small sample sizes.

Cliff Lee vs Texas Rangers
Throughout Lee's career, he's mostly struggled against the Rangers, allowing a robust .311 BAA and 1.62 WHIP, but managed a 5-3 record in eight starts, thanks in part to the Cleveland Indians teams that used to put up runs on the board.

Of the three quality starts in eight appearances, two of them game at home (Cleveland), the only games in which the Rangers were visitors, which suggests that Lee was victimized by the offense-friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and could benefit from the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

Trends and Injuries
Despite Nelson Cruz nursing his tender little hammy on the DL, the Rangers are ranked 5th in runs scored during the past seven days and Ian Kinsler will make his 2010 debut (he had a nice little warm-up game on Wednesday for the Double-A Frisco with two singles and a stolen base).

Lee is finally off the 15-Day DL (strained oblique) after having missed five starts, he'll make his 2010 debut. He sparkled in his rehab start on Sunday for Class AAA Tacoma (six shutout innings), but the difference between MLB and AAA may make a large impact on the tonight's numbers.

Opposing Pitcher
The Rangers' Colby Lewis will be on the mound opposing the M's bats and in his first start of the 2010 season, he held the M's to just one earned run, while allowing nine base runners in seven innings for the 6-2 win at home. Despite allowing four earned runs in his last outing on 4/25 against the Detroit Tigers, Lewis still struck out ten batters, the second time he's accomplished the feat (4/14 @CLE) in the young season.

It will be interesting to see how many runs Lewis gives up tonight, as he has given up one more run in each of his four starts, starting with one. Will it be five runs or does the count get reset to one, since it's he's facing the M's again?

The Call: Start or Sit?
I'm not taking any chances and sitting Lee. I foresee Lee giving up a good amount of hits and I don't like the chances of M's scoring too many runs tonight, so it'll be a reach for me to hope for a low WHIP win from Lee. I'm glad he's finally off the DL and can do something for the M's and my FT in the long run, but I'll let him get his "spring training" in on his own time and on my bench.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Closer Emerges in Baltimore?

David Ginsburg, the AP Sports Writer, reported this afternoon at around 2pm that the Baltimore Orioles optioned Kam Mickolio and brought up hard-throwing Alfredo Simon, adding that Dave Trembley "did not rule out the possibility of ultimately employing him as a closer."

Of course, I did not get the story directly from Mr Ginsburg nor the various RSS feed, Facebook posts, Tweets, Google News, nor telepathy from the Magical Muse of Fantasy Baseball in this afternoon, but only when I tuned into WJZ-FM after finding out that Trembley had summoned the "services" of Jim Johnson in the 8th inning to preserve the 2-run lead over the New York Yankees.

The announcement of Simon warming up in the bullpen with the Orioles leading in the bottom of the 8th placed me in a scramble. Who else is listening to this Orioles game? Are my rival managers watching this Yankees game? Who the HELL is this SEE-moan guy?

I couldn't even go directly to the Yahoo! player pool because I didn't even know how to spell SEE-moan. Is that with a C or an S?!

As I Googled "alfredo simone" I realized that I could've just gone to Y! directly and looked up "alf". Right.

Anyway, after this slight bit of self-caused drama, this Alfredo Simon guy was mine on Y!, complete with the fresh meat red NA underneath his name.

Now it was all about sweating through a save situation, against the top of the Yankees lineup.

Sure, Fantasy Baseball stats were not at risk, but the anticipation of snagging a rightful closer - after missing out (thank God) on Jim Johnson and wasting bench space on the likes of Cla Meredith and Kam Mickolio - was buzz worthy. No, I have no faith in Mike Gonzalez as a closing solution for the Orioles, healthy or not.

Simon struck out Curtis Granderson to start his 2010 MLB debut. Not bad. 96 MPH fastball. Looking.

Then Nick Swisher smacked a fastball right up the middle for a single. Uh-oh.

Unfazed, though, Simon pitched well enough against Nick Johnson, but Johnson patiently battled and coaxed a base on balls.

Despite owning Derek Jeter as my starting shortstop, I had to root against him, with two runners on base. I'll take a new closer over a three-run shot, thank you. After a mound visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz, Simon got ahead in the count quickly then eventually struck out Jeter swinging on a 1-2 count with a 91 MPH slider. Yes, just one more out!

But things got worse (than allowing the tying run to get to the plate): Caesar Izturis was dead-bent on preventing the Orioles from winning a game with a successful save conversion. He charged a weak grounder from Brett Gardner without picking up the ball and the error allowed Swisher to score from second base.

The Orioles' two-run lead shrank to just one with Alex Rodriguez at the plate after Mark Teixeira, slowly awaking from his Spring slumber, cracked a hard liner for a single and scoring pinch runner Ramiro Pena. Big time Uh-Oh.

Thankfully my starting third baseman had his FB manager's interest in mind, as he grounded out to a fielder's choice to end the game. A-Rod, now I fully forgive you for forsaking my Mariners!

So, what have we learned from tonight's performance by the newcomer Alfredo Simon?

The big right hander from Dominican Republic is big (6'4", 230 LB) and throws hard (95-97). He also has a good change and a power slider.The WJZ-FM announcer said, "His stuff looks like closer's stuff. His body looks like a closer's body."

Simon, who turns 29 this May, started in three games and pitched out of the bullpen in his last appearance (4/25) for Triple-A Norfolk, posting great numbers of 1.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 14 K in 17 IP, holding a .238 BAA. On the other hand, he is coming off an elbow surgery in May of 2009 and posted 1:1 ground out to fly out ratio.

Kevin Goldstein tweeted the following:
#Orioles call up RHP Alfredo Simon. He was 95-97 mph the other day; scout said he still "gets tight" in clutch situations.
Not quite the ringing endorsement for Simon from Goldstein, but what we saw on the mound, in a pressure-packed Izturis-sabotage save situation against the top of the lineup of a division powerhouse Yankees, was a very strong and calmly composed pitcher who got the job done.

New closer crowned in Baltimore?

At least until and after Mike Gonzalez comes back then blows another handful of save situations.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Non-Save & Save Fears, Plus Other Fears that Make My 'Pits Wet

With the game tied at three a piece in The Windy City, Lou Piniella summoned the services of Carlos Marmol to face, at minimum, the number two to four Washington Nationals hitters.

Admittedly, I expected the worst. I thought about the worst possible scenario. Marmol walks two, coughs up a double to the left field ivies, the Nats take a two-run lead. Jim Riggleman calls upon Tyler Clippard (since Matt Capps needs a day off), to close it out against the top of the Cubs lineup. Clippard, given the golden chance to shine, also gets wild and gives up the base on balls to Theriot on four-straight pitches, only to eventually serve up the game typing homer to Derek Lee. The game goes on forever and I go to sleep crying.

No. Marmol came in and got it done by inducing two fly outs from Ian Desmond and Christian Guzman, and with Adam Dunn on second base, he coaxed a grounder to second base from Josh Willingham to close out the inning.

Clippard time? No. With a firm intent to rest the young Clippard, Riggleman stuck with Brian Bruney and he got wild and alternated singles and walks twice while just getting one out to allow Cubs and their Wrigley to celebrate the win at home. Marmol got the precious win and Team Inchon rejoiced.

Saved from possibly most terrible non-save fear come true, and feeling too lucky to have Jonathan Sanchez leading by three guns against Roy Halladay, when I saw the Chad Qualls was called in to save a three-run game for the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field, a different type of fear sank its teeth into my heart: The Save Fear.

I pictured the worst. No, that was just a replay of Qualls getting rocked at home against the St. Louis Cardinals on 4/21. Then I turned to the game in Colorado. Todd Helton got on base by staring at the low sinker on a full-count pitch. Uh oh.

But things got a bit better. Much better, at least for the time being. Qualls went on to strikeout Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith. Then it got horrible. Qualls gave up a solid single to shallow center to Miguel Olivo. Then Bryan Price ran to the mound to have a little chat with Qualls. Leave the man alone. Or hopefully, Price gave Qualls the scoop on Ian Stewart. Lord only knows what he said, but Stewart promptly singled in Helton, on a 0-1 pitch just off the plate. God, please, no. Clint Barmes? Please. No. Jason Giambi pitch hit. Lefties have been killing Qualls, and he has been clutch for the Rockies in pitch hit situations.

Qualls started off with a ball, then with the crowd on its feet, sneaked in a fastball in the outside corner to even up the count.

On the third pitch, Qualls offered a hard sinker off the plate and Giambi fouled it off, late with the swing.

On the 1-2 pitch, Qualls fooled Giambi and he swung and missed on a sinker to the ground. Qualls twirled on the mound and pumped his fist. I got a couple of paper towels and wiped the sweat from my 'pits.

No. Wait. What's this? Sanchez was in trouble. in the top of the fifth, Shane Victorino singled then Polacido Polanco walked. With Utley at bat with no outs, both runners moved up with a double steal. Trouble trouble trouble.

Even though Sanchez got Utley to ground to first, Victorino scored and Polanco advanced to third. Still more trouble up ahead. Ryan Howard dug in, and fouled off the first pitch way up in the air and into the coward past the third base line. More sweat in the 'pits. Guillermo Mota warming up in the 'pen. Please, Sanchez, make it stop. With a 79 MPH slider, Sanchez got Howard to half-heartedly swing at the offering on the 1-2 pitch. After unable to get Howard to chase upstairs, Sanchez threw a 90 MPH fastball on the outside corner and got the desperately needed strikeout.

Now, with two outs, Werth came to bat. After striking out twice, I was afraid of Werth doing something. Adding to the trouble was the fact that on the second pitch of the at bat, Sanchez arrived at pitch count 100. With the 102nd pitch, Sanchez got behind the count 3-1. And with the 103rd pitch of night, he threw the same pitch that hit Utley in the top of the third, and gave up the first base to Werth on balls.

After a mound visit from Dave Righetti, Sanchez went ahead 0-1 to Ben Francisco, but it was clear that he was laboring and having a hard time finding the strike zone with his pitches. He was trying for the corners, nibbling, afraid of contact. He got behind 2-1 and threw to first. He should have forgot about Werth on first. He threw to first again without making an offering to the plate. Bad news. But it was OK. Francisco popped out to shallow left to end the inning. Disaster averted. WHIP got a beating, though, obviously. But Sanchez earned a win as the Giants bat went on to tack on a pair of runs on the bullpen preserved the lead.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Of Chasing Wins & Anemic Offenses

More of the same headlines keep rolling by since 2007 . . . Chad Billingsley finds life in his fastball, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, with their "B" lineup, fail to score a single run . . . Matt Cain pitches well enough to win, but San Francisco Gaints fail to score a single run . . .

Even if Billingsley could have prevented the lone run scored in the game during the bottom of the first inning, notching that elusive win would have been impossible. The Dodgers were not at all interested in scoring any runs, as demonstrated right off the bat in the top of the first when they had the bases loaded with just one out: Casey Blake failed to make contact and struck out swinging, then Ronny Belliard's attempt at a granny fell short.

Despite the obvious blues of lack of run support, it was encouraging to see Billingsley weasel out of the no-out mess he made in the bottom of the first when he gave up a single to Nyjer Morgan then walked Adam Kennedy on four straight pitches. Instead of imploding completely like in Cincinnati, he got three outs without giving up more than a single run, thanks in part to a great play by Belliard, who prevented Adam Dunn's sharp RBI grounder from cruising into the outfield.

In addition, as the game progressed, Billingsley's velocity crept up, the fastball rising from the low-90s to the mid-90s.

Encouraged by the turn-around performance by Billingsley, I went ahead and plugged in Cain, also citing that the St. Louis Cardinals' offense has been scuffling (they made Barry Zito* look like the Barry Zito of early 2000s, after getting shutdown by Tim Lincecum).

I fully expected Albert Pujols to have Cain's number. But I didn't fully expect the Gaints to get shutout by Brad Penny. Penny's been very solid this year as a Cardinal, and clearly Dave Duncan keeps working his magic, but clearly, I was hoping for more than zero runs from the Gaints bats.

Once again, I have to not only tell myself, but also find a way to stop chasing wins. Be ready to eat the sporadic stellar start on the bench and get gunshy about throwing every starter into the pot.

* Yes, but just in case Zito has summoned up his own personal Hot Tub Time Machine, I snagged him up from the free agency lot.

BS'ing Time

If a band were to write a song about Blowing Saves Time, will it make a hit?

I don't think so.

David Aardsma joined the BS Club (Chad Qualls, the president, welcomed him with open arms, while Carlos Marmol only gave him an upside down nod) tonight, serving up two dramatic home runs to Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.

Why can't these closers just be perfect?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bench Party Hosted by Qualls

There are some parties that you can always crash: As long as you know where and when the party is, you can just show up and drink and eat other people's booze and food.

On the other hand, the parties that you can never crash and are never invited to are the Bench Parties.

Chad Qualls held himself a nice bit of a Bench Party last night, partially thanks to the ineffectiveness of Aaron Heilman - who gave up an extra run to turn a four-run lead into a save situation for the Arizona Diamondbacks - and the Lucky Charm that is Kirk Gibson, filling in for the ejected A.J. Hinch.

Given that benching Verlander turned out all right - preventing him from beefing up my ERA and WHIP (4 ER and 2.00 WHIP in 5 IP) - and I didn't kick myself too much for not benefitting from his first win of his season, I decided to show Qualls the bench. I argued that I needed Qualls to give me a reason to believe and trust in him and his ballet moves on the mound. I backed up the argument with the fact that the heart of the Philadelphia Phillies have battered Qualls (historical) and pointed to the 1/3 IP disaster on 4/21 against the St. Louis Cardinals (recent trend).

Needless to say, Qualls came through, inducing a groundout from Palcido Polanco and notching that elusive save for the Arizona Diamondbacks . . . on my bench.

Now the question is, do I invite myself to the Qualls party, knowing fully well that it's perfectly possible for him to a lay another ERA and WHIP explosion or perhaps even some INF bombs?

Is Qualls finally starting to get into the groove of things or was it just a lucky result, born out of a special circumstance (the ejection of Hinch, the said Lucky Charm, and Heilman's mess)?

Let's hope that it's a turning point. Since Quall's relative ineffectiveness in Los Angeles (2 BS) and at home against the Cardinals (4 ER in 2 1/3 IP 1 SV), Qualls, Hinch, and the rest of the Diamondbacks needed an outing like this: A confidene building small step.

Despite the offensive ERA and WHIP, Qualls have been a victim of poor defense and high BIBAP thus far.

Give credit to Hinch for stirring up the pot a bit and getting himself kicked out of the game, Gibson for making the right moves, and Qualls for doing his job (finally).

Yes, I'm plugging Qualls right back into the starting lineup and hoping for the best, and hoping for more smirky smiles from Gibson and company.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Qualls Quandary

It's very easy to say, "Here we go, again," year after year, but it's also just as hard to have to deal with it.

Qualls is again in question and we have to wonder if this guy's hiding an injury, just having a rough time budding from a long winter slumber, still not fully 100% from the knee surgery, plain dead (arm- and skills-wise), or all of the above.

I say it's a combination of some of the mentioned factors (coming back from the surgery, having a rough start to the season - seems like his sinker isn't sinking as much and his slider isn't as sharp - and a case of poor luck: .444 BABIP) plus being poorly managed.

Last night A.J. Hinch brought in Qualls to start the top of the ninth in a 4-4 tie game at home to face lefty Colby Rasmus, the Cardinals' no.5 hitter who'd gone 2 for 3 with a triple and a homer.

Bringing in the closer in a tie game at the top of the ninth at home? By the book, right? Sure, but when we consider that the said closer had pitched two straight nights for a total of 37 pitches and is off to the worst season start since 2006 (to the tune of 7.11 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 5 1/3 IP), it's justified to question and second guess Hinch's decision to bring in Qualls.

If Qualls were an elite closer, then perhaps Hinch's attempt at nurturing Quall's damaged confidence - imagine if everything worked out as Hinch had planned: Qualls comes in, goes 1-2-3, with 2 K and a ground out, and gets the win thanks to Chris Synder's 2nd home run of the year, the Diamondbacks' manager is smart for believing in his closer and Qualls owners rejoice - but the fact is that he's a mediocre closer coming off a knee surgery ruined the possible fairy tale ninth.

One of my fellow dynasty league manager pointed to what's happened to Brad Lidge (don't look now, but he's KILLING it in his rehab appearances!), how a knee issue can render even the near-elite into a Joe Borowski.

Obviously, go pick up your Gutierrez. But don't go crazy and straight drop Qualls. I have a feeling Qualls will be the saves leader on the Diamondbacks at the end of this season. Yes . . . here we go, again! Bring on the balloooooned ERA and WHIP (for a handful of saves)!

Verlander Still Grounded

This morning I saw someone tweeting about whether to drop Justin Verlander for Livan Hernandez, Doug Fister, or Joel Pineiro.

Ummm, let's not get all *that* excited. I told him to look at the track records and pedigrees.

Given that I've endured the downs and ups of Verlander since the 2007 season, I know full well the deep torment and frustration he brings to the fantasy baseball realm.

After a disgusting home start sandwiched by two underwhelming away games, I felt that it was an unquestionable decision to bench Verlander for his fourth start of the season, an away night game at Angels Stadium.

A quick look at ESPN's pitcher vs batter revealed that six of the nine Angels regulars had better than healthy OBP against the Detroit ace and I wasn't about to bank on a surprise breakthrough performance.

After 125 pitches in just five innings, Verlander left the game with a chance to still win the game. Of course he notches the first win of the season on my bench. No regrets, though, since I'll pass on the W since I can really do without the 4 ER and 2.00 WHIP.

The 10-pitch battle that resulted in a Hideki Matsui solo bomb in the fifth was the microcosm of the same issues Verlander has had in the months of April in the past two seasons. Even when his pitches aren't snappy enough to straight embarrass the hitters like he wants, he stubbornly tries for the whiff and ends up getting hammered.

Verlander's stubbornness in wanting to strike out every batter despite not having his best stuff has resulted in the explosions of ERA and WHIP of countless number of fantasy baseball addicts. Until Verlander regains his stuff, he'll be benched and we'll just have to be patient and hope for a repeat of last year's 18 wins in the months of May through September.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Yovi is Jovi(al)

Yovani Gallardo threw 103 pitches (61 for strikes) and was lifted after 5 innings of shut-out ball tonight after giving up just 3 hits while walking another 3 but striking out 10.

Grey of razzball said, "Imagine if this guy could go 9 innings," and I imagine that he's referring to the magical Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus where Yovi Ks 18 batters while donning the faces of three Hollywood friends of Heath Ledger and Terry Gilliam, but I refuse. Fantasy Baseball is serious business and despite the fact that both FB and Imaginarium deal with Good vs Evil and Heaven & Hell, there's no room for Gilliam-style hallucinogens.

I do accept, on the other hand, these types of dense and tightly-wrapped gift nuggets from Yovi the Jovi.

Don't even try to start complaining about the high pitch counts. High pitch counts means Ks (in the world of Yovi, but clearly not in the current world of Verlander - yes, this is an offhand knock on the Detroit "Ace").

I am dying for wins (133.1 IP and just 4 W) and Yovi, please give us (I am not alone, I am not alone, I am not alone . . .) more of these 5 IP wins. Please make it at least 19 more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When Top Bllingsley is Lousy

The other night I got a mental vision of the sweat-drenched face of Chad Billingsley on the mound and wondered whether last year's second half withering of our LA-cap donning enigma of high-K/fat-WHIP SP was due to the fact that he sweats a lot.

I'm certain that those who do not sweat (aka pigs) may not understand, but sweating profusely - not to mention sweating profusely in front of a crowd the size of Dodgers Stadium, on national TV - is rather uncomfortable and may actually be a distraction to the task at hand.

In order to test this new theory, I went against all the SIT-signs (2nd highest ERA @CIN, among others) and gave Chad the Top Billing on the SP list, given the mild weather out in Cincy.

Either my theory is off and/or Billingsley's sweating knows no bounds. In Cincinnati, Billingsley was dealt one of the worst single-inning pinball machine experience of his young career: 3 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 K.

What's next? Another Verlander Meltdown? Oh, he's already had one at home against Cleveland this year.

Knocking on Verlander aside, the real question is, What to do about Billingsley?

Next up are the Nats in the nation's capital and I'm going to give Chad a chance to redeem himself, based on the fact that he's got great career numbers against the current bats of Nats, including Ryan Zimmerman (.250 OBP in 12 appearances with 1 HR) who's a bit hobbled.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Starter is a Batter's Bull's Eye

In 2008, I (we?) lost Chris Young (not to be confused with Krispie Young) thanks to an Albert Pujols comebacker. Ouch.

This year, it was Jeff Niemann's turn to become the batter's bull's eye, getting smacked square on his back right shoulder by a Miguel Tejada shot. Some luck.

Good thing I pocketed caution from the wind and benched Niemann today against the Baltimore Orioles.

The preliminary word from the Tampa Bay Rays camps is that Niemann is day-to-day with a bruised shoulder. Yes, his throwing shoulder. Place him on the 15-day DL! Yes, at least give us that much: a free roster spot to work with.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MLB Season 2010 Opening Day

After yesterday's opening season game, of course I was giddy for some more MLB action.

In order to fully participate in today's opening day, I decided to start both Justin Verlander and Yovani Gallardo, despite my guts saying no (but my impulsion said, "let's go").*

Verlander struggled through 5IP at Kansas City, giving up a bases-loaded, 2-out, 2RBI single to Billy Butler in his last inning and Gallardo threw 7IP while giving up two earned runs.

Two starts, two no-decisions. Here we go again?

Yes, the therapy sessions are back!

* Not to mention that my Rockies fan friend advised against the Yovi start.