The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate… April Struggles Can Bring Later Success

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from and Bleacher Fan.

We’re just over a month into the Major League Baseball season, and some surprises have evolved. The Cleveland Indians have been baseball’s biggest surprise, as through May 2, they lead MLB with an overall record of 19-8, though it’s unclear if anyone in Cleveland (outside of Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek) are paying attention. The Florida Marlins likewise have gotten off to a hot start at 18-9. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, teams that were expected to contend for division titles, have gotten off to mediocre starts and are in an early hole in their respective divisions.

Our judge in today’s debate, Sports Geek, has asked us to determine if the month of April is too early to determine the probable success or failure of a team. Sure, we’d love for our favorite team to win 18 games every month. But I say it is way too soon for fans of teams like the Braves, Red Sox – and even the Twins – to panic.

Folks, most teams played around 26 games through April 30, which was this past Saturday. Just 26 games! That’s less than twenty percent of the full 162 game schedule, and far too early for struggling teams to be making changes. You would think the Braves would be concerned about the slow start of Dan Uggla, who has used a recent hot streak to get his average above .200. However, the team and management realize that Uggla is traditionally a slow starter and there’s no way this guy, who has hit at least 30 home runs in four consecutive seasons, won’t rebound and post the same stats he is accustomed to posting. Is that stacked Boston lineup, highlighted by the struggles of Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkillis, really going to hit .245 all year long? Nope! Is Minnesota really going to finish last in the improved AL Central? Not with Joe Mauer coming back!

Let’s take a look at the MLB standings at the end of April 2010. Go ahead and give them a look. The New York Mets lead the NL East over the Washington Nationals. The Padres and Cardinals both led their divisions, as did the Angels. Four out of the six division leaders did not make the playoffs at all. The Mets, Cardinals, and Angels all finished with losing records. The Giants, the eventual World Series winner, trailed the Padres by 7.5 games as late as July 4. I can top that. As late as July 21, the Phillies trailed the division leading Braves by seven games. But energized by the acquisition of Roy Oswalt from Houston, the Phillies went on a tear and won the division by six games, making up an outstanding 13 games in the standings in a little over two months.

Reading that, how can Bleacher Fan say that April is a sign of things to come? I mean, do we really expect Lance Berkman to hit over .400 for most of the year? Keep in mind that this is the guy who struggled offensively in the telephone booth known as Yankee Stadium.

Yeah, it causes less stress when teams get off to good starts. But more so than any other sport, baseball is a marathon, and most definitely not a sprint. So to all the fans in Atlanta, Boston, Minnesota, and even San Francisco (currently sitting at 13-15 with very little offense)… it’s only early May! The end of the regular season is five months away!

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The Marginalizing Humanity Debate… The Numbers Sometimes Lie

February 22, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

We live in the age where there is a world of information that is always just a click away. You can go online and get any type of statistical data you want to make the best possible decision. This certainly applies to the world of sports. Between sabermetrics and other sports analytical data, there is just a plethora of info for stats nerds like Sports Geek to look at whenever they see fit.

But I’m a little more old school. I don’t totally dismiss statistics, but I’m a big believer in what I see with my own eyes. I believe my eyes more than what is on the back of a player’s baseball card or, perhaps more in tune with today’s society, what’s on his Wikipedia page. I tend to go with my gut feeling on a player.

I’m certainly not a scout, but like all five of the writers here at The Sports Debates, I’m a fan and I’ve watched a lot of games over the years. My viewing experiences at games and on television have influenced my opinions on certain players. Even this past weekend, watching a region high school basketball tournament at my high school, I found myself developing “gut feelings” on certain players. I knew what some of the statistics were regarding these players, but I disregarded them because it was a total different set of circumstances. The games were played in a tough environment with 1,200 screaming fans. A championship was on the line. Pressure that these kids hadn’t experienced was now being experienced and that certainly played a factor. It’s only natural, especially on the high school level.

New Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is following perhaps the king of “I had a hunch ______ was going to get a big hit tonight” in Bobby Cox (see one example). Cox never was one to rely on statistics all that much when managing a game, and those “hunches” of his helped him win 2,504 games as a manager. Gonzalez has said that while he does pay attention to all the information that is out there, he tends to go with his instincts and his gut feeling when making baseball decisions. And those instincts and gut feelings come from his own observations and from conversations with the scouts who have seen the players develop over the years.

As a fan, sometimes I have a gut feeling on who is going to win the game before the game starts, despite what the spread is. If you are a fan, you know what that’s like. There are intangibles that no statistical data system can measure. Granted, that gut feeling doesn’t always turn out to be right, but it certainly weighs heavily in making a decision. Gamblers in Las Vegas make a lot of money going with that gut feeling when betting on sporting events. Many people had gut feelings that the Green Bay Packers would win their first two playoff games on the road as underdogs this past post-season based on how well they were playing coming into the post-season. They backed that up with two more wins and won a Super Bowl championship. It’s the same feeling a coach or manager gets when making decisions over the course of a game. They make decisions based on keen observations by their trained eyes, not by statistical data.

Sometimes, I believe that less is more and that too much information can cloud one’s judgment. Using the likes of sabermetrics is one of those times. Numbers can sometimes be deceiving. But in this case, what you see and what you feel is not deceiving.

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The Biggest Choke Ever Debate… The Pinstripe Choke

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

It always becomes a good discussion when talking about the different times various teams have choked throughout the years. For me, the conversation starts and ends with the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The Yankees won the first three games of the series with relative ease, including a 19-8 whipping in game three. But that is when the initial choking began!

The Bronx Bombers led 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth in game four, a mere three outs from going back to the World Series, when arguably the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, took the mound. After a now-famous Dave Roberts stolen base, Bill Mueller singled to knock Roberts in for the game-tying run. Three innings later David Ortiz hit a walk off home run to right field to give the Sox the win. A nice win, but surely nothing historic would happen.

Game five was back in Boston where again the Yankees held a late lead. Rivera came on in the eighth inning, inheriting two runners. He allowed one of them to score, however, and that tied the game. It was Rivera’s second consecutive blown save. Big Papi once again became the hero in the 14th inning as he singled up the middle to knock in Johnny Damon. Surely, this couldn’t happen… could it?

Game six was the now infamous “Bloody Sock” game in which Curt Schilling pitched seven strong innings with a tendon torn in his right ankle. Don’t all you Yankee fans love recalling this? Game six also was the game where Alex Rodriguez attempted to slap the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove while running down the first base line. I vividly remember being highly ticked when nothing was originally done about this. Ultimately, order was restored and A-Rod was called out – much to the chagrin of crazed Yankee fans who managed to decorate the field with debris. The Red Sox eventually won the game 4-2, thus bringing up a winner-take-all Game seven. Surely this couldn’t happen, could it? No team had EVER come from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven game series. I repeat… EVER!

As much as many wanted Game even to be dramatic, it wasn’t meant to be… making it even more of a choke. Boston jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, thanks to a grand slam by Damon. The Red Sox never looked back, and cruised to a drama free 10-3 victory. The Red Sox won game seven on the Yankees turf, making it even sweeter for Red Sox nation. All the pressure was on the Yankees in that game, and it showed.

The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series for their first title in 86 years. But they never would have gotten there if it were not for some help from the Yankees. To this day, it still blows my mind how a team can blow two late leads with the game’s best closer, and then come home and lose two games. That, my friends, is a major choke!

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The Most Hated MLB Team Debate… What’s So Lovable About the Cubs?

May 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

The Sports Debates recently came across an article that states that the Cleveland Indians are the most hated team in baseball. It shocked all of us. First and foremost, I didn’t realize enough people even cared about the Indians these days with Mr. James still in town wearing a Cavalier uniform. I also haven’t found too many people to say that they hate the Indians. They bring up no feelings of passion from casual fans in other parts of the country, and that’s always a measuring stick for me. Nonetheless, we decided to have a little mid-week fun today and discuss the most hated team in baseball.

I think almost every non-Yankee fan despises the Yankees as there is no middle ground there. I’m going to go off path a little today and write that people are getting sick and tired of those supposed lovable losers from the North side of Chicago. What exactly is so lovable about them? I write this realizing I am stepping on Sports Geek’s toes and risk alienating him (Editor’s Note: Don’t piss off the editor)!

I used to not dislike the Cubbies. I remember distinctly rushing home from school in the late 1980s and early 1990s just to see the Cubs on WGN. The Cubs have that 2:20p eastern time start, and it was always a treat to hear Harry Caray call a game. I would usually get home in time to see the start of the fourth inning. I became quite familiar with players like Ryan Sandberg, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, and Doug Dascenzo. I can still see it now. But somewhere along the line I got sick of the Cubs and their fans.

Maybe I can blame Steve Bartman for that, or perhaps I should say the reaction of the fans to him. Sure, Bartman interfered with the foul ball down the left field line. But did Bartman blow a 3-0 eighth inning lead that game? Did Bartman lose Game 7 the next night? If you were to hear some Cubs fans talk you would think Bartman is the root of all evil. Heck, maybe they are blaming Bartman for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Got to blame someone right? I’ve personally always thought the Jeffrey Maier incident in the Yankees-Orioles ALCS game back in 1996 had a bigger impact. But, no, that isn’t the belief in the Windy City.

Maybe it’s because I get sick and tired of hearing Cubs fans complain when I go to a game involving the Cubs. I’ve been to a few Cubs games in Atlanta over the years and they whine worse than Bleacher Fan’s boy Dwight Howard. They think they are entitled to something, and they think the baseball gods owe them a thing or two. That is incorrect. Poor Cubbie fans! Haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Heck, they haven’t even been to a World Series in what, 65 years? That’s not my fault. It’s not my fault the team couldn’t make it to the World Series with two aces like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the rotation. It’s not my fault Dusty Baker likes toothpicks. It’s not my fault the White Sox, the cross-town rivals, won a World Series in 2005. And, please, enough with the Curse of the Billy Goat and trying to reverse the curse! The only way to reverse the so-called curse is to win on the field. So quit whining!

Maybe I get the wrath of some of our loyal Cub readers. If so bring it on. But with a show of fingers, how many World Series have the beloved Cubs have won in your lifetime? I’m waiting………….! This is why the Cubs should be the most hated team in baseball. They talk the talk, but haven’t walked the walk in our lifetime!

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The 2010 Biggest Early MLB Surprise Debate… Is Moneyball Making A Comeback?

April 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Hopefully, on Monday, you gave a quick look to our debate on which general manager was on the hottest seat. If you missed it, here it is. I ended up writing an argument that New York Mets general manager, Omar Minaya, was on the hot seat. Yet, I gave full consideration to Oakland general manager Billy Beane. And I had good reason to, based on recent history. Since winning the division title in 2006, Oakland has won 76, 75, and 75 games in the past three seasons. That’s not exactly headed in the right direction. In conversations with friends, I have been critical of some of the moves made by Beane. But a quick look at the standings in the AL West shows the Oakland Athletics – that’s right, the Oakland Athletics – in first place.

Through Monday’s action, Oakland was 9-5 and led the American League West by 2.5 games. Three teams in the West had gotten some consideration as a contender for the division title. The Los Angeles of Anaheim, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners all got a little bit of Spring Training hype. Oakland was nowhere to be found. Yet, here they are in first place.

A quick look at the offensive statistics for Oakland shows nothing at all. There’s a guy named C. Pennington, and let me give you a hint – Chad Pennington hasn’t traded in his dead arm for a spot on the A’s twenty-five man roster. It is actually Cliff Pennington, and he leads the team in home runs with a whopping two. Former star Eric Chavez has had yet another horrible start to the season. What has carried this team to the top of the division at this point is the starting pitching.

Through Monday’s action all five starting pitchers (Justin Duchscherer, Ben Sheets, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, and Gio Gonzalez) have an ERA under 3.50. How many of those starters have you heard of? One? Two? The team ERA of 2.90 is good enough for first in the American League. For me, the key is Sheets. Be honest with me! How many of you scratched your heads when Beane signed the injury-prone pitcher to a $10M contract? I sure did! This guy won the same amount of games last season as you and I, as he sat out the year due to elbow surgery. That immediately puts up a GIGANTIC red flag. But what do we know? It’s early, but in three starts so far this season he has an ERA under three.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe the A’s will win the West. They welcomed the Yankees to town last night, and I just don’t see how this team can compete with such a pitiful offense. But so far, the A’s have to be considered the biggest surprise in baseball.

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The Best Infield of the Modern Era Debate – Philly’s Infield Gets Much Love from Loyal Homer

March 16, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

We take a break from your scheduled editorial calendar full of March Madness debates to throw in a fascinating baseball debate that is sure to start some discussion. Babe Ruthless has asked Bleacher Fan to determine if the current Philadelphia Phillies team has the best infield in the modern era. I am not a Phillies fan by any stretch of ANY vivid imagination (being a fan of a National League East rival makes it difficult to root for the Phils), but I am someone who appreciates greatness, and greatness currently resides in the city of Brotherly Love. Yes, this Phillies infield, consisting of first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and third baseman Placido Polanco is the greatest infield of the modern era.

I realize this is a tough argument to make. The infield that up North that dons the pinstripes is pretty strong as a group, and Bleacher Fan has mentioned casually in editorial conversations about some of the mid 1990s Indians infields. But let’s take a closer look.

Ryan Howard needs no explanation, but we are going to explain anyway. Howard, who won the 2005 Rookie of the Year despite only having 312 at-bats (which is quite impressive if you think about it), has continued to improve each season. His defense is definitely improving as he is not the most agile guy over at first base. The thing is, he can still get so much better. He has won an MVP award and is a strong candidate to win more. In essentially five years of playing he has amassed 222 home runs and 640 RBI. I will let you pull out the calculator and do the math. He is so good that his name was recently rumored to have been mentioned in a trade for the arguably the game’s greatest player, Albert Pujols.

Chase Utley, who is my favorite Phillies player, is arguably the best second baseman in the game today. The thing is, he would have been a starting second baseman sooner in his career if not for the fact that second base was manned by his current (again) teammate at the hot corner. He has been a full-time starter for four years now (he was not a full-time starter in 2005 until Polanco was traded in June) and in those four years, he has put up impressive numbers. He’s made the All-Star team as a starter all four years and is in the conversation for MVP every season. He has had 118 home runs in four years as a starter and has 161 home runs for his career.

Love him or hate, the brash Jimmy Rollins definitely reigns as one of the game’s best overall shortstops. He has pop in his bat (146 home runs), he has speed (326 stolen bases), and he has the glove (three-time Gold Glove winner). He also won a league MVP award in 2007. I would have to say that he is the spokesman for the Phillies, and is likely also the team’s leader.

Polanco’s career has come full circle with the Phillies and now he mans third base after being their starting second baseman several years ago. Polanco is one of those guys who flies under the radar, and he is going to fit in nicely with this current Phillies team. He is going to get on base quite often, as evidenced by his career .303 batting average. He, along with Rollins, will likely be responsible for setting the table at the top of the lineup for the big guns like Utley, Howard, and Jayson Werth. He’s a former All-Star and a two-time Gold glove winner. In short, a very nice resumé.

So there you have it. Excellent gloves on the left side of the infield and pop on the right. Show me an infield that is better OVERALL.
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The Does Spring Training ACTUALLY Mean Anything Debate – Foundations Are Built In Spring

March 12, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

Spring Training. I think part of the reason this has become an issue is because the length of the entire baseball season, and that the possibility of the World Series being played in November has quickly become a reality and almost a certainty every year. Thus, why not cut into Spring Training to eliminate that possibility? Hmmm let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Spring Training

Bleacher Fan fully questions the length of Spring Training. An analogy is made comparing Spring Training to taking the practice SAT (which I actually took once back in the day) in preparation for the real SAT. Some fans have made the comparison between preseason football and Spring Training, thought Bleacher Fan argues that it really is not a fair comparison. I happen to agree with that point, and actually, so does Babe Ruthless. You really cannot compare the two. While it’s true that starters play sparingly in at least two of the preseason games, baseball often has split squad games in Spring Training where half the team stays at home while the other half of the team loads up on the chartered Greyhound and travels across the state. It’s really hard to get a feel for how a team will do record-wise when players are so scattered.

Babe Ruthless does not even bother touching wins and losses in Spring Training, and that is a good choice because it’s a dead end road for many of the reasons Bleacher Fan stated. What Spring Training does do, according to Babe Ruthless, is build team camaraderie and chemistry (hmmm, haven’t we touched on team chemistry before on TSD?) It’s a chance for new free agents to get used to his new teammates on the field. I also fully remember the Rays-Yankees example Babe highlights. After watching countless replays of it, I remember thinking, “Wow, those kids aren’t backing down.” They carried that attitude all the way to an American League pennant. The tone of that season was set in Spring Training.

I am siding with Babe Ruthless on this debate because I was not convinced by Bleacher Fan’s argument. We can all agree that wins and losses are not important at all in Spring Training. I consider myself a huge Braves fan, but I couldn’t tell anyone with certainty what their record is so far this Spring. But I can tell you individual stories about how some of the players have performed and how some of the new guys have fit in. It’s a time for the teams to evaluate the potential of the rookies. That is what Spring Training is for, in essence. Like Babe Ruthless wrote, it is a time to build cohesiveness. It is a time to lay the groundwork for the season. It is a time to work on fundamentals and, often times, to go over new signs – especially with the ever-changing rosters of each team.

It is also important to for hitters to get their timing down and for pitchers to build up their arm strength. If you threw pitchers right into the fire without stretching their arm out over the course of Spring Training, then even more pitchers would have to pay a visit to Dr. James Andrews.

Spring Training is definitely relevant and is a necessary grind in order to get ready for the grueling 162 game season.

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