Well, congratulations Baltimore. You’ve turned ESPN talking head (and more importantly, best baseball writer in the business) Tim Kurkjian into a Natty Boh swilling, crab leg sucking fan boy. When he first made those comments on the radio, I was definitely intending on taking a jab or two, but the more I thought about it the more hypocritical it became. Truth is, it was great to hear that from Tim Kurkjian.
Obviously, objective analysis is important from the people who cover sports for a living. But I don’t want listen to a damned robot. Everybody that works in sports from me, to Tim Kurkjian, to whoever else, got into it because they have a special spot in their heart for (or crippling addiction to) some team.
Each time I see Piazza deliver a much needed “Get Well Soon” card into the throngs of Shea faithful in center, just days after the September 11th attacks, it hits a chord. Todd Pratt putting his fist through invisible dry wall after rounding first strikes a completely different one, but it’s just as memorable. The home run from the catcher who shall not be named smashes the whole damn guitar into sawdust.
The point is, the Mets are the reason I care about baseball so much. I love watching everything about it, but if I didn’t have anyone to root for, it would be tough to be similarly engaged. Kurkjian is at the very beating heart of the sport, traversing the country enough that he’s probably on a first name basis with half the pilots. He’s down the line objective, and marvelous at everything from the mundane (pages of numbers) to the heart wrenching (his Mike Flanagan column was head and shoulders above the rest). For someone to invest as much time as he does in baseball, he really has to love something about it.
So it was great (and humanizing) to hear him openly gushing about the O’s on 106.7. The comparison to the 2010 Giants was something I’d expect to hear from an educated Pickles patron after a few libations, followed by an immediate “wait, hear me out on this…” Every analytic neuron in Tim’s brain was probably screaming “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me”. But this great start exposed Kurkjian in a good way. Regardless of the fact that he’s a consummate professional, at the end of the day, he got into baseball because he liked watching the Orioles win. And clearly, he still does.
10 Things You May or May Not Know
1) The best pitcher in baseball is the same guy that lead all of baseball in walks last year. Granted, that’s a little misleading as Gio Gonzalez was an exceptional pitcher in 2011 (16-12, 3.12), but after cutting back on his free passes (down to 3.6 from 4.1 in 2011) he is having a historically great year. Just some food for thought to go with your lunch: there’s a long way to go until the All-Star break, but right now Gio is holding opposing batters to a infinitesimal .156 batting average. If that were to somehow continue, it would be the lowest opponent batting average allowed before the All-Star break in baseball history. Cole Hamels may be adding zeros to his contract with every win, and Justin Verlander is well on his way to another Cy Young. But as of right now, there is no better pitcher in the league right now than Washington’s 1A.
2) Due to a freezing cold streak from David Wright that has him all the way down at .373, there is now an undisputed best hitter in baseball. Here’s a hint, you definitely thought he was too old to pick up in fantasy this year…and last year…and probably all the way back to 2008. When I say Paul Konerko and Hall of Fame case, you say I’m an idiot. When I say Paul Konerko has the 3rd most home runs of any A.L. player since 2004 – trailing A-Rod and Big Papi – it sounds slightly more credible (he’s out hit both of them in that span by the way). If I then add that he has a great chance finish his career as the White Sox all-time leader in home runs (he trails Frank Thomas by 48), then it gets interesting. He’s also top five in White Sox career hits, doubles, and slugging percentage. Konerko has been a steady, if not especially mobile option at first base for the Sox (a sparkling .995 career fielding percentage at first coupled with a UZR that has regularly hovered between -1 and 1). Carrying an unheralded Chicago team to a possible playoff berth could put him in the running for an MVP to separate him from guys like Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado (both with very similar career numbers). What’s your opinion on Konerko if he ends up at .285/460/1500?
3) As a Mets fan, if somebody doesn’t start recognizing R.A. Dickey as one of the best pitchers in the National League, I may have to start taking drastic measures. Since 2010 (when he came to the Mets and fully embraced the knuckleball), Dickey has the 7th best ERA in the N.L. at an exceptional 3.08. That’s a better ERA in that time than Chris Carpenter, Mat Latos, and favorite of the column Tim Lincecum. This year Dickey has been particularly dominant, including his three most recent starts where the knuckler has dizzied batters to the tune of a 29/2 strikeout to walk ratio. There has never been a pitcher quite like Dickey who throws a hard knuckleball that occasionally jumps into the low 80’s, and maybe that’s why he is constantly underappreciated. But if there ends up being a big time game for the Mets this season…I’d still want Santana starting. But it would be very, very close.
4) Everyone’s good and ready to acknowledge that Jason Hammel is the ace of the Orioles staff now, right? After two subpar outings, Hammel bounced back to dominate a weak Kansas City lineup on Friday, and lowered his ERA to 2.78 (6th in the AL). You want to know the fun part? This should continue. His FIP is actually LOWER than his current ERA (2.34), and the BABIP versus him is right around the league average at .286. Those numbers indicate that Jason Hammel is not going anywhere, and that the Orioles may have made one of their better deals in recent memory when they traded Jeremy Guthrie for what looked like two rusty bullpen arms from Colorado.
5) Now if you want to talk about a BAD trade, it would probably be something along the lines of trading one of the best position prospects in your system for a reliever who has had more metal inside his arm than Wolverine. That’s the reality of the Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey gift the Red Sox sent the A’s this winter. Bailey has had arm issues since college, when he had Tommy John surgery. Since then, he’s had bone chips removed from his elbow on a number of occasions, and this year the torn ligament in his thumb will keep him out until around the All-Star break. Best case scenario: Bailey returns before the All-Star break and performs as an above average closer the rest of the season, in which case, it’s still a bad trade. That’s because Reddick is breaking out over by the bay with 14 home runs while playing half of his games in hitters hell (Oakland Coliseum). Maybe the Red Sox are an offensively loaded team, but they certainly could have procured more for Reddick’s services than a middle of the pack closer with more red flags than Lindsay Lohan. It’s a good thing Boston isn’t hurting for outfielders right now, what with the terrifying triumvirate of Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, and Scott Podsednik.
6) I touched on it last week, but I want to dig a little deeper into how bad the New York Yankees rotation is. If you search FIP, 53 pitchers show up as qualifying for the American League. CC Sabathia obviously ranks relatively high (although he’s having an uncharacteristically average year) at 14th with a 3.63 FIP. To find the other three Yankees pitchers that qualify (former retiree and current Tab drinker Andy Pettitte hasn’t had enough starts to qualify yet) you need to scroll all the way down to 43rd (Ivan Nova), 45th (Hiroki Kuroda) and 46th (Phil Hughes). Obviously I’ve made my views on Hughes apparent last week, so let’s focus on the former two. Ivan Nova leads all of baseball in extra base hits allowed (38), and is 4th worst in HR/9 (1.93). After dancing through the raindrops all of last year (how do you win 16 games with a 3.70 ERA?!), Nova’s fall back to earth has been precipitous and completely expected. Hiroki Kuroda’s struggles should come as no surprise considering he spent his past four years in pitchers paradise (the NL West) before being shipped off to face the best lineups in baseball at age 37. His K/BB ratio is a catastrophic 1.76, and he’s gone fewer than 6 innings in half of his 10 starts. The Yankees will need to make a cannonball-type splash at the deadline, or face the reality of playing out the season with one of the worst starting rotations in the American League.
7) Adam Dunn looks on pace to retain what is rightfully his: the record for most strikeouts in a season. In 49 games thus far, Dunn has fanned an incredible 76 times, putting him on a 158-game pace of 245 K’s this year. Per the usual, Dunn also leads the AL in walks (40) and is second in home runs (16) after erupting in May for 11. He borders on unplayable vs. lefties (.182 BA)…or does he (.318/4/9 vs. LHP since May 14)? Whatever the case is, Dunn is back to being Dunn: hitting the ball really far or not hitting it at all. By the way, the bar trivia question to end all bar trivia questions: Guess the most stolen bases Adam Dunn has had in a season (hint: it’s not absolute 0). Apparently in a former life, Dunn stole 19 bases with Cincinnati in 2002. That’s more than Adam Jones has had in any year of his career. Where have you gone svelte base-stealing Adam Dunn?
8) Speaking of the newly locked up Adam Jones, he continued his Uggla-esque hitting streak yesterday. Over the course of the past 18 games, Jones has walked only four times and struck out 20, which should be no surprise to anyone. Jones swings as much as a bored married couple, but has a much higher success rate. With Wieters slumping HARD, he looks to be the sole lock for an Orioles All-Star game starter (sorry JJ, this looks to be the first time Jeter deserves it since 2009). If Jones were to somehow NOT get a starting nod, it would be a travesty. Outside of Josh Hamilton, there’s no one playing near the level Jones is right now as an OF in the American League. His numbers are significantly better across the board than 2011 MVP candidates Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista, and no one else even bears mentioning (besides maybe Reddick). Time to stuff the ballot boxes and make sure Jones has to wear a different jersey, if only for a few days in July.
9) AUTHORITIES HAVE FOUND ERIC HOSMER. HE LOOKS TO BE EMACIATED AND SLIGHTLY CONFUSED, BUT AFTER A BRIEF HOSPITAL STAY IT LOOKS LIKE HE’LL BE ABLE TO RETURN TO A NORMAL LIFE. Seriously though, there hasn’t been anything more confusing than Hosmer’s glacial start to 2012. He’s the proud owner of not only a batting average that straddles the Mendoza line, but a batting average on BALLS IN PLAY that does the same (.204 BABIP, 12 points lower than any other qualifying player). Fortunately, in the last week it appears the curse has been lifted from his lumber, and he’s 8/20 in his last 5 games. Hosmer’s numbers at the end of the season may be permanently mangled, but that won’t stop him from playing like a top 10 first baseman the rest of the way.
10) We didn’t have time to talk about it in the podcast last week, so I’ll just say it now: the Indians are not for real. Not no way, not no how. They rank in the middle of the pack or worse in almost every offensive category. Their ace is Derek Lowe, who opponents are currently hitting .306 off of. They play in the same division as the Tigers, who are currently in Life of Pi mode (nobody can quite figure out if they’re real or not), and the White Sox who have a nice mix of established veterans and young players clicking right now (exemplified by their potent 1-2 punch of Jake Peavy and Chris Sale). Enjoy it while it lasts Cleveland fans, you may be battling Kansas City for 4th by the time the season is said and done.
Three Things to Watch
1) The Thunder-Spurs series. I missed the first game while on a train from Connecticut to Maryland, but it was unsurprisingly a barnburner. The Thunder have the best player in the series, but the Spurs have reached a level of comfort with each other where they almost go on autopilot in clutch moments. Everyone knows exactly where they need to be, and if they were to videotape the sets they run for a whole series, their instructional videos would outsell Tom Emanski’s in a matter of a few days. If you’re not an NBA fan, watch this series, and I guarantee it will make you at least respect the sport.
3) This is the most amazing catch I have ever seen.