The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Here we are in early May and the MLB standings are a bit confusing. The team with the best record in baseball is not the team many predicted – it’s the Cleveland Indians of all teams. A 18-8 April does not earn any team a championship, but it is as noteworthy as the New York Yankees’ 17-8. It’s as good as the Phillies as well. Since the Yankees and the Phillies are legitimate name-brand contenders, then the Indians must be for real also, right?

Unfortunately, that question does not have a simple answer… making it a great candidate for an eternal baseball debate. Does a strong April REALLY matter for Major League Baseball teams?

Loyal Homer will argue that an excellent April is not indicative of a great season while Bleacher Fan will argue that a great April means a great season is in the works.

Who do you agree with? Check back here and find out how the judge rules later this week.

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The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate… Pride Goeth BEFORE the Fall, and Winning in April Goeth INTO the Fall

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The first month of baseball is officially in the books, and the biggest story from the month of April has been the play of the Cleveland Indians.

The upstart Tribe has just turned in the greatest start in the 110 year history of their storied franchise, finishing April tied for the best record in baseball at 18-8, and currently owning a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central.

This is a better start than any of the AL Championship teams from the 1990s ever saw, and it’s better than the World Series Champion 1948 team. In fact, even the 1954 Indians (a team that went on to win 111 games that year) would have trailed its 2011 counterparts by two games when April turned to May.

So, why is it that most people are STILL not yet ready to give the Indians (who own the best record in baseball) any respect? Many writers around the country are reluctant to do more than acknowledge that the Indians had a good start to the season. And, of all the major publications online, only has the guts to put the Indians atop the Power Rankings (most still refuse to put Cleveland even in the top three).

I am not trying to make a claim that the Indians are destined for a World Series championship, but the team has clearly played as the best team in baseball so far. They swept five of their nine series, and have not lost at home in over a month. They swept the pre-season AL favorite Boston Red Sox, and just completed a thrilling sweep of the Detroit Tigers, a team many analysts’ pick to be the AL Central champions.

With the exception of a couple bumps in the road (which every team has), the rotation has been outstanding, and the bullpen has been virtually unhittable. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Indians are tied with the Texas Rangers for scoring the most runs in the AL, and the Indians trail only the equally surprising Kansas City Royals for the best team batting average at .272.

So, why are people still doubting the Indians? Because 30 days ago, NOBODY thought the team could be a contender this year (I even predicted a season with fewer than 72 wins). But is a prediction from 30 days ago really any reason to discount the Indians today?

Perhaps Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan sums it up the best – “Did you ever notice that people don’t want to be wrong?”

Rather than admit that they might have actually gotten a prediction wrong, analysts-turned-prognosticators like Jayson Stark would instead try to diminish a tremendous start to the season for teams like the Indians or the Royals by attempting to tag their records with an asterisk that “this is only the first month of the season… it doesn’t really MEAN anything yet.”


That’s like saying that the first inning of a game doesn’t matter, because there are still eight innings left to be played.

Let’s forget the obvious fact that the first month of the season is JUST AS important as the last month of the season. The notion that games played in the month of April should not serve as an indication of what to expect through the rest of the season for a team is absolutely absurd.

Every team is now at least 25 games deep into their season. Every team has already dealt with injuries and road trips, slumps and streaks. They have played in good weather and bad, and in front of fans both friendly and hostile. If a team after 25 games can’t at least say that they have indication of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead, then their problems are greater than where they sit in the standings.

The NFL crowns their champion after only 19 games, but baseball doesn’t mean ANYTHING after playing 25 or more? Child, please.

Last year at this point in the season the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa. Guess where things stood at the end of September… the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa.

And do you think there is a single person in the league – whether a player, manager, GM, or owner – who is shrugging their shoulders at their April performance because, “It doesn’t matter, anyway”? Of course not! Every single person in baseball would LOVE to have a 4.5 game division lead at this point in the season. It builds confidence for the athletes, and it sets a team that much farther ahead of the competition for the next 25 games (and more).

Obviously, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. There is a reason the playoffs are not based on season standings at the end of April. But that is the exact same reason why teams play the April games.

It is true that the Indians could blow the 4.5 game April lead over the rest of the division. But that same lead can also be blown in September. It is true that the Tigers, Twins, or White Sox could get hot, and make a stronger push for the AL Central than has been made so far. But it is also true that the season could end just as it started, with the Indians outright dominating the rest of the competition.

I’m not trying to make the case that the Indians are on course for a World Series championship. I’m not even arguing that they have the AL Central locked up. But I can guarantee you that teams like the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox are taking the Indians seriously, and the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Royals are taking the Indians VERY seriously.

If the other teams in the league are putting stock in the performance of teams like the Cleveland Indians, shouldn’t that be good enough for Jayson Stark and company?

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The MLB 2010 Best First Half Player Debate… A Texas Ranger Who Hits Harder Than Chuck Norris

July 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Now that the 2010 MLB All-Star rosters have been announced, who among them is THE All Star of the All Stars? That’s easy – Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

While Hamilton may not boast the “most” home runs or the “best” batting average to this point in the season, he has turned in the best overall hitting performance of the first half, not just in the American League, but in all of the Majors.

Most impressive was his absolute tear through the month of June. Beginning on June 1, Hamilton proceeded to collect 49 hits in only 108 at bats for an average of .454. He also ripped nine home runs and 31 RBI, for a slugging percentage of .815.

Those totals propelled him onto the leaderboard for every single major hitting category, something that no other starting All-Star can claim (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera COULD have claimed this, but he was edged in voting by the Twins’ Justin Morneau).

Here is a breakdown of where Hamilton’s hitting ranks today:

    Batting Average: .339 (fourth in both the AL and the Majors)

  • Hits: 106 (third in the AL and fourth in the Majors)
  • Home Runs: 20 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • RBI: 61 (fourth in the AL and fifth in the Majors)
  • Slugging: .617 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • OPS: 1.001 (third in both the AL and the Majors)

Along with those dominating totals, Hamilton has also racked up 23 doubles (only two behind the AL leaders), two triples, and has an on-base percentage of .385.

It is a performance worthy of the most fan votes for any American League outfielder, and it earned Hamilton his third consecutive starting nod.

But the REAL All-Stars aren’t just those who turn in big individual performances. Instead, the REAL All-Stars are those who not only perform exceptionally well, but they always seem to step it up a notch even further when their team needs it. After all, baseball is a TEAM sport, and individual accolades mean nothing if they are not in support of the team.

And that is precisely what Hamilton did. His Ruthian performance during the month of June may have added some value to his personal resumé, but the TRUE value of that performance was realized by the entire Texas Rangers organization.

As the month of May closed, the Rangers were riding a four game losing streak and they sat in second place in the AL West, one game behind Oakland. But when the calendar turned, and the Rangers began the month of June with a series against the Chicago White Sox, Hamilton kicked his performance into high gear.

He started off the month with a “quiet” 3-5 performance against Mark Buerhle, as the Rangers ended a four-game skid by beating the White Sox 9-6. That was just the beginning, as Hamilton’s bat would ultimately lead the Rangers on to a 21-6 record during the month, including an 11-game win streak during Interleague play against the top teams in the NL East (much to Loyal Homer’s chagrin).

And when the calendar flipped again as June rolled into July, the same Rangers team that started June on a losing slide finished it with a 4.5 game LEAD over the rest of their division.

The Rangers managed that impressive run by way of offensive explosion. During the month the team would go on to outscore opponents by a combined 173-100. It was Hamilton who led that offensive charge.

Being an All-Star is not just making yourself look good, it is making your TEAM look good by providing exactly what the rest of the team needs exactly when they need it most. Josh Hamilton did that.

He has proven to be the league’s best all-around hitter, and he stands poised at the All-Star break to now lead his team to its first postseason appearance since 1999.

That is what makes Hamilton the Most Valuable Player from the first half of 2010.

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The 2010 MLB Manager On The Hot Seat Debate – A Foreboding Sense of Despa’RAY’tion

March 3, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Ahhh, Spring is just around the corner. For most people, the changing of the seasons is a time to enjoy warmer weather, perhaps get a little spring cleaning done, and for baseball fans it signifies the approaching start to a new season, complete with all the hope, excitement, and expectation of a new unknown. The tables have all been reset, and EVERYONE is still in the hunt for an October invitation.

Well, at least in theory.

While the prospect of a new season may bring hope and promise to some organizations, there are others who are still reeling from the carryover baggage of a less-than-spectacular close to 2009. For those organizations, the records may be new but the problems are not. And although some of the questions from last year may have been answered, we still have yet to determine if those answers are satisfactory.

As the managers from THOSE organizations enter spring training, they bring with them a heavy load of expectation, heightened with a sense of desperation, because they may fear (whether founded or unfounded) that their window of opportunity is quickly drawing to a close.

One such manager with the weight of the baseball world on his shoulders is Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.

Before we get into Maddon’s list of worries for 2010, I must give him his due. When he took over the reins in Tampa, he was inheriting a 100-loss team. During the time since his arrival, he has since led the Rays to a World Series appearance in 2008, and the last two seasons mark the first ever winning seasons in franchise history. In fact, before 2008 the Rays had finished DEAD LAST in the American League East Division 9 out of 10 years, with 2004 being they only year they didn’t finish in the basement (they finished in FOURTH place out of five teams that year).

There can be no denying that Maddon has brought improvement with him to the Tampa Bay organization.

The problem for Tampa Bay, though, is that they have arguably one of the toughest regular season draws in the entire Major Leagues, as they are ANNUALLY forced to keep pace with the two most dominant teams of the last fifteen years, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In the twelve years since Tampa Bay’s inaugural season in 1998, Yankees and Red Sox have combined for EIGHT different American League Championships, SIX of which led to World Series Championships.

That domination is not surprising, since the Yankees and Red Sox own two of the five highest payrolls in the baseball, and it definitely puts the Rays at a disadvantage as they come in with the sixth LOWEST payroll in the league.

For a team like Tampa Bay, the ability to maintain consistent success is virtually impossible. Last year, for example, they followed up their 2008 World Series appearance with an impressive 84 wins to their credit. 84 wins would have had them in a VERY close race for the postseason had they been playing in the Central Division (where 86 wins was all it took for the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers), but in the East, they were left 19 games BEHIND the Yankees, and 9 games BEHIND the Red Sox.

Compounding the early season pressure for Maddon this year is the impending departure of the Rays’ brightest star, Left Fielder Carl Crawford, who is in the final year of his contract with Tampa Bay. Although Crawford has stated a desire to stay in Tampa Bay, there is little hope that they will be able to cough up the dough necessary to keep him around. The recent decision by both Crawford and the Rays to cease any further contract discussion until the end of the season serves only as greater indication of that likely separation.

If the Rays reach a point before the trade deadline where they do not believe they have a REAL shot at the playoffs, there is a good chance that they will try to trade Crawford away in a fire sale, hoping to get some kind of value for him. The alternative of seeing him walk away at the end of the year with absolutely nothing to show for it will not be acceptable to the organization. And let’s be honest – As Carl Crawford goes, so go the hopes of the entire Tampa Bay Rays organization.

What does that all mean for Maddon? In a nutshell, he likely faces one of two options this season –

A) Miraculously manage the virtually impossible task of remaining competitive with both the New York Yankees AND the Boston Red Sox (you know, MINOR expectations).


B) Watch the Rays’ best player walk away, along with any hopes for REAL success – Not only this year, but for the foreseeable future.

I don’t know about you, but I call that pressure!

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The MLB Trade Deadline Target Debate – Freddy Sanchez Gets Your Team over the Top

July 3, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments and find out who they believe the best player available at the trading deadline is.

Another baseball season nears the trade deadline and, as usual, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to sell instead of buy. Like last year with outfielder Jason Bay, they have a player that should fetch some excellent prospects in return – second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

Sanchez is a versatile player. In his career he’s played second base, third base and shortstop. Normally a player with that history on the defensive part of the diamond gets labeled as a “utility player,” but Sanchez is far from that. He’s also a batting champion. In 2006 Sanchez led the National League with a .344 batting average and a MLB-leading 53 doubles. Though he struggled through an injury-riddled 2008 season, he has rounded back into top form this year on a very bad team, hitting .316 through 74 games including three triples and a career high five stolen bases.

A guy with those numbers and such versatility is hard to come by. It’s logical to say, “Hey, Sports Geek, what makes you think this talent is on the market?” Good question, stranger. Two things make me think that. One, who wouldn’t want a player like Sanchez? Two, the Minnesota Twins are currently inquiring. Though Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic said via Twitter that the Pirates and the Twins are not discussing a trade, the trade makes sense for both teams. The Pirates, as usual, need pitching, and the Twins system is stocked with talent. For the Twins, they’re willing to part with some good pitching prospects because they have a legitimate chance to win this year in a weakened American League Central Division if they add a former batting champ and solid defender to the lineup. The Twins system is especially rich in pitching with the AA New Britain Rock Cats. Names like Matt Fox (6-2 2.95 ERA) and Cole DeVries (5-6 2.96 ERA) are the most likely names to surface.

That only goes to the point that the Twins are a good trading partner right now, four weeks before the deadline. The Pirates are wise to “play the game” right now and deny teams are interested to the public while fielding offers in private. The closer the deadline gets, the greater the value of Sanchez, and the better return on the trade for the perpetually rebuilding Pirates.

Sanchez is the prototypical number two hitter on any team, regardless of league. He has the ability to hit the ball to any field, move runners when necessary, and during his career 2006 season was second in the National League with nine sacrifice flies. At 31 Sanchez possess a win-now attitude combined with the necessary experience and athleticism to be a huge asset to any team.