Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mystery of the Unstolen Bases

Last year in his ESPN blog, Curtis Granderson answered a reader's question as to why his stolen base attempts were down in 2008.  He said that he wasn't getting the green light as much, and basically said it was out of his control--that he had to wait for the go ahead.

Now, in one of his mailbag's pieces in his blog, Jason Beck fielded a question about Curtis stealing more bases.

He said that Grandy has a bit of a perfection issue with base stealing-in that he only goes when under the most ideal of circumstances.  That has resulted in a very high baserunner rating--he rarely gets caught--but fewer attempts.  Beck also mentioned that Andy Van Slyke had worked with Curtis on baserunning in 2007, which we may all remember prompted Granderson to look more for triples out of the box--and wow did that ever work like magic.

I guess both of these factors probably come into play a bit with Curtis' running game, but when I had read Curtis' own explanation late last season, I was more than a little bewildered--why on earth wouldn't he be getting the green light more often?  I  mean, he's not José Reyes or anything, but he should have been running a lot more last year, especially given our lack of overall team speed.

I'm hoping that Curtis, Jim and the rest of the coaching staff get on the same page so that he can swipe his fair share of bases this year.

Spring Over the Airwaves

A little slow on the uptake, I realized at about 3:10 pm today that the Tigers/Mets Spring Training game was on the radio.  I promptly tuned in and caught the action beginning with the top of the seventh.  Rudy Darrow was on the hill, and he's a young side-armer, who's been steadily working his way on up through the ranks of the minors.  He ended last year at AA Erie and had a good stint in the Arizona Fall League.  He began with two easy 3-1 groundouts.  Then he walked a batter and gave up two singles (one drove in a run), and then struck out the final batter he faced, for a total of six batters.  Jim and Dan were impressed with the late movement on his fastball, and with his slider.  They mentioned he'll need to work on a pitch for left-handed batters (and the two hits off him came from leftys).   Darrow may quickly make his way through to the bigs if he continues on his current trajectory.

I also heard Cabrera's 7th inning jack, and then Mike Hessman hit an absolute bomb in the eighth to straight away center, which is 410 or 420 feet at Joker Marchant Stadium, and Jim and Dan were in awe.  As you may know, Hessman is out of minor league options, and his chances of making the big club are not that high (with first and third base effectively log-jammed, and there's that thing about needing a back-up centerfielder), so his days as a Mud Hen/Tiger may well be numbered.

It sure made the world feel right again to have baseball on the radio.  I wish more spring games were broadcast.  I'm glad I tuned in as it was the last game for some time in which our WBC-bound players would be with our club.  

Friday, February 27, 2009

Step Away From the Window!

I admit that I've been jittery all off-season pondering and fretting a bit about our pitching.  However, I am not about to go off the deep end over some less than stellar first outings by some of the question marks here in Spring Training.  Many of the comments posted on the Freep's website after Jon Paul Morosi's article today were comic book hyperbole.  Call 911, 'cause these folks need to be talked down off the ledge.

Come on now.  Please tell me you're not seriously ready to release Dontrelle Willis and eat all the $ we owe him because he allowed four runs in just over an inning (two earned), and hit a batter.  Please tell me you're not ready to give the fifth starter's spot Porcello at this stage, who was himself so fraught with nerves before his outing yesterday he tells Jeff Jones "I can't do this relief thing."  Please tell me you don't really think Robertson's career is over after he's pitched all of two innings.  Please tell me you're not ready to write Bonderman off because Leyland's treating him with kid gloves a little here over the stiffness.

A little perspective is all we need to restore right-mindedness to these poor panicked people.  We're still 38 days away from opening day for the Tigers.  There are still 33 exhibition games to be played before the wins and losses actually count as wins and losses,  you see?

So, relax--pretend you're in a tropical clime sipping fruity drinks ocean-side while dolphins arc gracefully out of the water.  Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and perform some stretches.  You'll feel a whole lot better.  You'll realize that there's a whole lot that needs to play out before several players get told they're not making the big club, or they're being relegated to mop up duty in the bull-pen.  That fifth spot in the rotation is going to be open for just a wee bit longer here.

There, and I didn't even take Psych 101 in college.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's About Time

Not that anyone's noticed, but it seems like an eternity since I've posted here.  In reality, it's been almost two weeks.  I had to go a few rounds with a trio of opponents:  influenza, a sinus infection and bronchitis.  It was good fun I tell you.  Enough of that.

I've been mulling a post for a few days actually, and having some difficulty coming up with something meaningful.  Here's the thing.   You'd think there'd be a lot to talk about with Spring Training in full swing, the first game today and whatnot.  

But really, what of substance can be taken from what's transpired so far?  I mean, I'm glad Nate, Dontrelle and Joel look great, I really am, but there are no conclusions to be drawn as yet.

I am happy about one thing of significance.  Our infield will get uninterrupted reps together this spring--none of them are going to the WBC.  Inge, Everett and Polanco will get to know each other's moves, style, timing, etc.  That is a very good thing in my mind.   That time together should add to what is already a defensive upgrade.

I caught all of one inning or so on the radio today, and it was great to hear play by play again, even if it was only a meaningless spring game.  Remember how well the Lions did in their exhibition this year?

Also interesting will be competition for the sole open position player slot.  Game on, ballplayers!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers and Tigers, Oh My!

It doesn't feel much like Spring here in Michigan--mid-30s and very gray out--but let me tell you, Spring seems much more in reach now that pitchers and catchers have officially reported to the TigerTown complex in Lakeland.  I've been watching the count-down on the Tigers web site every day, seeing the number dwindle slowly, my excitement building as the number went down below 7 days.

Now, I'm not even going to Spring Training, but believe me, I've vowed to plan a trip for Spring Training 2010 after enduring this Michigan winter.  I'm still excited to see photos and articles coming out of Spring Training.  It's nice to see Jim Leyland all chomping at the bit, raring to get out of the gate.  I'm thrilled that Joel Zumaya wants to compete for that closer's spot.  It seems like there's more competitiveness and motivation this year--I hope that's true.  Guys really do seem like they might just be in the "best shape of their lives" this year.  I'm banking on a real hunger to get back to the playoffs.  You can't tell me these guys were satisfied to make it all the way to the Series in '06, only to get humiliated by all the errors, lack of hitting (except for Sean Casey), etc.

We've got a tough road ahead of us, with the Indians and Twinkies favored to finish in front of us in the division, but hope springs eternal that we're up to the challenge--out to prove to the world that we're not the team of 2008, the team that could be the biggest bust in Michigan sports history.  The team that broke the hearts of many a fan in that wretched wreck of a season.

I've got spirit, how 'bout you?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rays Re-Joyce, It's Matt!

The February 8 edition of a paper known as The Ledger (out of that Florida town we Tiger fans revere so), has a nice little piece about our favorite friend of felines in distress and former Tiger Matt Joyce.  The article itself is quite interesting, but the little bio included is truly adorable.  Get your riveting facts about Matt Joyce's personal life--his favorite food is Italian, and he's an animal lover.  The bio actually uses his kitten-rescuing heroics from last summer to validate this very assertion!

Also listed in the bio is Matt's own web site, which you can find here, and be sure to check it out, because it's no amateurish thing.  It blares Dave Matthews' "Crash Into Me," and features a running slide show.  It's complete with stats, news articles, a bio, Q & A with Matt, and a web form via which fans can send Matt a personal message.  Slick--the modern prospect knows how to motivate his fan base early on.  I'm sorry to report this rather disturbing discrepancy, but in his Q & A when asked whether he's a dog or cat person, Matt replied that he is "all about dogs."   No, to be serious, I enjoyed reading about Matt, and I'm happy he got traded to the very place he'd want to be--his own back yard.   I'll try to control my pangs of regret each time he hits a home run for the Rays.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Everyone Wants to Hear More on A-Roid

That post title is total sarcasm, of course.  Many hit their limit long ago, and the news is only three days old.  For some reason, I haven't gotten my fill just yet.  Maybe it's because Alex has always come off as a phony, concerned with putting out that perfect image.  So he gets his come-uppance now as news of his steroid use is publicized.  I've never really liked him much, and I laughed with snarky satisfaction when one of the 2006 ALDS announcers used the following phrase after A-Rod's bat broke as a result of one of his at-bats:  "the bat is shattered, just like the psyche of Alex Rodriguez."  His lack of post-season success really does point to a deep-seated insecurity and lack of mental fortitude.

Curtis Granderson was on Colin Cowherd's ESPN radio program today, and you can listen to the interview here.  It is "Insider" content, which is free with a subscription to ESPN the magazine.  Of course, Grandy was asked about A-Rod.  He gave all the clichéd answers we'd expect from a fellow ballplayer with no axe to grind.  He believed Alex was being truthful in the interview.  He was loath to criticize Rodriguez in almost any way, giving him credit for being under intense scrutiny in NYC, blah, blah, blah.   Grandy cited A-Rod's (presumed) post-roid numbers as a reason he hasn't lost respect for him.  Curtis did say that athletes are role models to kids, like it or not, but that he doesn't live his life trying to BE a role model, just doing what he believes to be right, and what would make his parents proud.  I like Curtis a lot, and it was certainly expecting too much to ask for any real critical commentary from him as a current MLB player, and ambassador of the game as it were.

I will say this, and it's nothing that hasn't already been said by others, but if you're going to confess, please don't assault our credulity with the outlandish claim that you didn't know what you were taking or who from whom you got it.  A world class athlete didn't know what was going into his body?  That is one of two equally blameworthy things:  an outright lie, or the height of foolishness.  Of which do you think A-Rod is guilty?

Monday, February 9, 2009


Alex Rodriguez has been outed as one of the 104 players in 2003 who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Quite a shocking revelation, no?

We already know that steroid use was running rampant around the league all through the 80s, 90s and into the 2000s.  A list of 104 players who were confirmed to have taken them is really no news at all, and is only a fraction of those who were actually involved with steroids.

I see no point in publishing the list, because it is in no way complete.

It makes me sad and angry to think about a player like Hank Aaron.  He went through so much to become the Home Run King, and has since been eclipsed by Barry Bonds, who will probably be succeeded by Alex Rodriguez--two known steroid users.  I do not feel his record should have been broken by those who cheated the game in such a way.  I do believe that records are made to be broken, but to see his fall in such an ignominious manner is a true disgrace to the game.

The other thing that is bothersome to me about steroids is the constant rumor that there is always a new, undetectable substance out there, one step ahead of any testing.  I guess one test of whether the MLB has cleaned up steroid use will be the performance and injuries to older players, who may not heal as quickly as they did when on steroids.

A cloud really is hanging over the sport, and there is no sign of it clearing any time soon.  Will it be worth it for those who chose to use when they are suffering serious health consequences ten years down the road?  How will their children feel when many suffer an early death due to the ravages of steroids?  How many players will trade a chance at the Hall of Fame for the benefits of steroid use to their game?  

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Night Frights

To shine a spotlight on the pathetic nature of my life, I'm going to admit that at 8:30 on a Friday night, I was watching ESPN's Baseball Tonight special Hot Stove Roundtable.  Sadly, I had nothing better to do.  I could say that it was so early, my evening just hadn't begun yet, but that would be pure fiction.  I could claim that I recorded it for later viewing--another falsehood.  I watched it live.  Did I mention it's a Friday night?  Let's move on from this piercing exposé of my lackluster social life.

The panel included a bunch of ESPN baseball big-timers--Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, Steve Phillips--and was hosted by Carl Ravech.

One part of the discussion was particularly interesting to me.  Youth and talent over experience.  They pointed out the Rays' run from last year, and the trend that teams are getting younger, and prizing draft picks--reluctant to sign type A free agents.   Peter Gammons said that Kansas City has spent more money on the draft in the past year (or it may have been the past two years) than ANY OTHER TEAM in MLB.

Where does that leave the Tigers?  Let's take a quick look-see at the ages of our probable starting lineup (I'm listing the age they'll be on their birthday this year):

Laird - 29
Cabrera - 25
Polanco - 34
Everett - 32
Inge - 32
Guillen - 34
Granderson - 28
Ordóñez - 35
Sheffield - 41

That's a whopping average of 28.7 years.  Not exactly a fountain of youth, with only three of nine in their twenties.  We've certainly got some youngsters on the bench and within the pitching staff, where Nate Robertson and Fernando Rodney are the elders, both turning 32 this year.  Despite the youth of the pitching staff, several within that group are hopeful come-back stories in the making.

We've traded away one promising young talent in Matt Joyce this off-season.  By the way, one of the commentators specifically mentioned that trade as very good for the Rays.  Oh joy, another trade over which we may lament for years to come!

I think I'll leave off that topic now as it's beginning to be a bit nauseating, and youth alone does not a championship win.

One other note from the show, and something that I find to be annoying in no small degree:  the crazed video editing of montages.  A discussion of Manny Ramirez was being introduced, and a dizzying series of images flew past my eyes at a pace that led me to believe I was about to experience a seizure.  The editing was so choppy and the speed of the clips so frenetic, it was impossible to distinguish any one play from another.  Pointless, maddening stuff.  Or wait, maybe the editing was designed to be a commentary on Manny himself???  I fear not--that would be giving far too much credit--and for that reason I rail.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Just finished watching MLB Network's "Baseball Seasons" 1968--the Year of the Pitcher.  Was it ever.  Bob Gibson had a regular season ERA of 1.12.  Seven pitchers had ERAs under 2.00, and we all know that Denny McClain won 31 games for the Tigers that year.  Bob Gibson and Denny McClain both won the Cy Young and the league MVP that year, the only time pitchers have swept the awards in both leagues.

It was an insane confluence of pitching.  Bob Gibson pitched 18 scoreless innings in the World Series.  There was a perfect game and four no-hitters.  Many hitters saw their batting averages plummet by 30 points or more off their career averages.  The New York Yankees batted .214 as team, lowest in club history.

Anyway, it was well worth the watch.

Quick Hits

In January of each year, teams select one prospect to attend the MLB Rookie Career Development Program in Washington DC.  The program is four days long, and is designed to give youngsters an idea of what life in the bigs will be like.  I'm sure they emphasize keeping your nose clean and whatnot.  This year, the Tigers sent Rick Porcello--shocker, I know.   In his interview about the program, Porcello notably stated that one of the things he knew he had to work on to continue his progress toward the majors was command of his breaking ball, which would help improve his ability to get strikeouts.  You can see his video segment here.  

I've made a couple short forays into the MLB Network so far.  I watched Game 2 of the 2006 World Series.  I have no shame in admitting that I wimped out of watching the losses.  I also watched a half hour piece on Hank Aaron, which was good.  Now, I'm going to watch one of the episodes of Baseball Seasons--it's the 1968 season.  Looking forward to that, since I was not born to see it live.  Of course, I've seen clips of the '68 season and Series, but I hope this goes in depth, since it's an hour-long show.

Finally, young Michael Holliman is defying the timetable set for his recovery from surgical repair of a torn labrum.  He may be ready in time for Spring Training, instead of missing half this year. Read the rest here.

Keep counting down--pitchers and catcher report in less than 10 days!