Monthly archives: March 2005
Preview Week: National League Awards
Previewing the hardware for the Senior Circuit.
NATIONAL LEAGUE BEST POSITION PLAYER
Alex B: Miguel Cabrera
Jon: I was a skeptic about Cabrera last year--I'll let myself be converted. It's a close call, though, over Carlos Beltran and a hobbling Albert Pujols.
Derek: With the knee injury to Barry Bonds, the passing of the torch that's been in the offing for a couple years should finally occur. Pujols will be the default answer to this question for the next ten years or so.
Scott: It's Pujols' award, if he stays healthy.
Alex C: Oh how I wish he'd just go away.
Alex B: Ben Sheets
Scott: I think Pedro becomes the biggest story in New York as the Mets exceed expectations.
Jon: I like Pedro coming over to the NL, pitching six strong innings and allowing one run while striking out seven before leaving for a pinch-hitter. Every game.
Mike: Peavy was ungodly last year (ERA, K/9 IP, etc.), should be on a pretty good team, and will only be 24. He gets the nod over Sheets.
Derek: The kid can flat out pitch. He has yet to throw 200 innings in a season, but I'm betting this is the year, and if that happens look for 20+ wins and a shot at the ERA title.
Alex B: J.D. Closser
Derek: He might not start the year in The Show, but I have to believe Marte will finish there, and be knocking the cover off the ball while he's at it.
J.J. Hardy could win it also, especially since he's likely to be playing the whole year, but I think 250-300 AB of Andy would trump a full season of J.J.
Jon: Those skeptical of Closser's Coors-inflated stats will cut him some slack for playing catcher. I'm interested in Carlos Quentin making a late run, though.
Cliff: I'd prefer to pick Jeff Francis, but when given a choice between a Rockies pitcher and a Rockies hitter, you choose the hitter, particularly when he plays a valuable defensive position for a team that will likely exceed expectations (not that they have any expectations).
Alex C: In a huge upset, Dubois gets 450 ABs and slugs 25 homers.
Will: Floyd's the most apparent guy, though I can see someone pulling a Podsednik (an older guy having a career year) and sneaking in over the 'prospect' type ROY. Problem is, those are longshot bets, and I don't see one out there.
Preview Week: American League Awards
The Toaster takes a quick look at some of the contenders for a few awards in the American League.
AMERICAN LEAGUE BEST POSITION PLAYER
Alex B: Miguel Tejada
Jon: I still don't think Guerrero has maxed out his potential. That plus West Coast bias could kick the MVP award back to him.
Alex B: I've been a huge fan of Tejada's since I read "Away Games," which chronicled his rise through the Oakland system. Anchoring a good line up, plus playing in Camden Yards should mean another monster year.
Mike: Sheffield was one of the best players in the AL in 2004. And that was an "off" year.
Derek: I have no good reason for choosing Teixeira--just a little tickle in the back of my brain that tells me he's going to blow up.
Alex B: Curt Schilling
Derek: Again with the tickle in the brain. I really should get that looked at.
Jon: I don't really see a challenger to Santana whose health I trust.
Mike: Johan was so much better than anyone else last year. How can you pass him up?
Scott: Santana and the Big Unit are a step above all other starters.
Alex C: Picking Johnson or Santana seems too easy. Where did all the great pitchers go in the AL? I'm picking Halladay in an upset. He's only a year from having been the best AL pitcher, and I think he'd going to retake his rightful crown.
Alex B: Dallas McPherson
Cliff: Reed could be hurt by playing in Safeco, but if Kenny Williams traded him, he has to be the real deal (see the Pirates rotation).
Alex C: I think McPherson wins mostly because of playing time, and because he'll outslug his class. I'm tempted to go with Felix Hernandez, though, thinking he'll pull a Roy Oswalt and take the league by storm after a callup.
Jon: McPherson's back is a concern. I almost went with Kazmir, but figured pitching uphill with the Devil Rays will overwhelm him. Teahen's got the opportunity to stand out.
Scott: McPherson and Teahen will have similar stats, but playing on a good team (Angels) trumps playing on the Royals. Oh, and let me add: If the White Sox bring up Brandon McCarthy, he wins the AL Rookie of the Year.
Derek: I might have gone with Dallas McPherson, but when I saw that the Angel's official site was touting them as "The A Team," I re-chose out of spite. Oh, and I think Swisher will be pretty good, too.
Preview Week: National League Preview
Today the Toaster continues Preview Week with a romp through the National League. (An asterisk [*] indicates a Wild Card pick)
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Alex B: Dodgers Giants Padres D-backs Rockies
Alex Belth: As John Goodman repeatedly told Steve Buscemi in "The Big Lebowski," "Donny, you're out of your element!" That about sums it up for me and the National League.
Derek Smart: I'd like to say I'm basing this part of my prediction on more than gut feel and a throw of the chicken bones, but I'd be lying like Tommy Flanagan at a meeting of the Morgan Fairchild Fan Club.
Ken Arneson: Health is a big factor here. Every month Bonds is out moves the Giants down a slot in the standings. I'm guessing three months, so drop them from first to fourth.
Scott Long: I'm sure the Giants' financial advisor has mentioned to them that to have a balanced portfolio they'll need at least 80% of Bonds.
Jon Weisman: My readers no longer need to hate me for picking the Giants--though many will still question me putting them this high. But I think their pitching, which no one talks about in the shadow of Bonds, is underrated.
Will Carroll: The Giants will find a way to win. Bonds isn't so bad that he'll miss half a season and Sabean will make one of his great mid-season acquisitions. It will be close and I'm not sure we'll know who will win until the last week or even last game.
Cliff Corcoran: Thank you, Will. This Bonds thing is overblown. I pick the Giants third with or without him.
Ken: The Dodgers need Brad Penny to stay healthy; the Padres need Woody Williams. I like the Padres overall depth better, so I'll pick them to win.
Alex Ciepley: The Padres are, for me, just about the hardest team to read in baseball.
Mike Carminati: I like the Dodgers change in direction but I'm not sure that they have the right mix just yet (Jason Phillips?).
Scott: I like the additions of Drew and Kent, while the depth of pitching is impressive. Gagne is the difference, though, so if his knee keeps him from repeating his past dominance. slide in the Padres.
Cliff: Yeah, it's really a coin toss between LA and San Diego. I expect it to come down to the wire.
Jon: No team in this division is question-free, but the Dodgers are the most likely to find the answers.
Mike: I think the D-Backs could get back to respectability quick.
Scott: The Diamondbacks gave how much to Russ Ortiz?
Derek: The runs the Diamondbacks added will be matched almost exactly by the extra runs given up by the likes of Ortiz and Shawn Estes, but they'll still be better than the Rockies, who will
Cliff: The Diamondback's Pythagorean record was 54-108 last year. If their runs wash like Derek says, I can't see how the Rockies could be bad enough to finish last, besides which, the top of their rotation (Kennedy, Jennings and Jeff Francis) has the potential to be one of the best in the team's history (though that doesn't say much).
Will: The D-Backs and Rockies will be historically bad.
Mike: The Rockies have been replaced by the Denver Bears.
Alex B: Cards Cubs* Reds Brewers Astros Pirates
Jon: Alert the Weather Channel: Tornado strikes the midwest.
Mike: TLR's Cards win by default.
Will: The Cards are just too strong and should run away with the division like they did in 2004. They're NOT deep, especially pitching, so injuries could crush them. Of course, that's true for almost every team.
Scott: Cardinals are still the class of the division. I expect the Cubs will pick up an outfielder later in the year and make a run for the wildcard.
Will: The Cubs are exactly the same, but Dusty's going to run this team into the ground.
Mike: Baker is killing the young arms in Chicago--where's Bobby D's character in "The Fan" when you need him?
Ken: The winner of the Cardinals-Cubs will be whichever teams stays healthiest. I predict both teams will suffer some big injury setbacks, but when Nomar goes down, the Cubs will insert Neifi Perez, and that will be their doom.
If you could merge the Reds' hitting with Pirates' or the Brewers' pitching, it might add up to a contender. Astros might add up to a contender by themselves, but my guess is that they'll fall closer to the bottom three than the top two.
Cliff: Outside of Ben Sheets, I don't see any Brewers pitching worth merging with anyone, I'm much more interested in their hitters. As for the Reds, I don't expect full seasons out of Griffey or Kearns, so the same old for Cincinnati, except they likely won't outplay their Pythagorean by nine games again this year.
Will: The Brewers are the surprise team, with their pitching bringing them up and Fielder and Krynzel becoming stars.
Mike: Ben Sheets on the Brewers reminds my of Curt Schilling and the Phils in the late Nineties.
Scott: If the Pirates can find a little more offense, things could get interesting in the Steel City.
Cliff: It will be interesting to see how close the Pirates can come to the third-place Astros, though honestly I expect the top four spots to be widely spaced.
Mike: The Pirates have some young exciting players but just aren't that good.
Derek: Despite thinking about this division during nearly every waking moment, I still can't sort out who finishes where to my satisfaction. I'm fairly sure of the sets of three top and bottom, but for the first time in a while it's conceivable that one of the top three could slip into the second sub-division, with the Astros the most likely candidate.
The Cubs could overtake the Cards if they get enough starts from their top three pitchers, but I wouldn't count on it, and besides, I was optimistic about their fate last year, and look what happened.
Alex C: I'm sick to death of expectations; my placement of the Cubs is a protest vote.
Alex B: Braves Marlins Phils Mets Nats
Will: I think this is a very improved division with four teams with legitimate shots at winning. They'll beat each other up, keeping the Wild Card elsewhere.
Derek: I am physically unable to pick against the Braves. You could re-stock them with the roster of the '62 Mets--in whatever their current state may be--and I would still type B-r-a-v-e-s at the top.
Will: The Braves just keep winning this division and I'm going to pick them until someone else wins. It's like boxing - you have to knock out the champ.
Jon: I won't fear the curse of picking against the Braves.
Ken: A Braves outfield with Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi looks horrible. If those two play all year, I think the Phillies will win it. But I'm not dumb enough to pick against Atlanta, and the Braves aren't dumb, either; by July, Marte and Langerhans will fill those holes and the Braves lineup will be solid 1-8.
Mike: I absolutely hate doing this, but I have to go for the Braves. I hope they choke on it.
Alex C: I'm writing down that the Phils will win the division, but I fully expect the Braves to win the division by 15 games.
Cliff: That's about where I am. Logic wouldn't let me pick the Braves, but that left me with the Mets and Phils, both of whom are sure to screw it up (the Mets get the nod on pitching). I fully expect the Braves to win this division, I just couldn't make myself pick that when the numbers tell me they'll only win about 83 games.
Mike: The Phils have the potential for a horrible rotation, especially if Brett Myers gets a spot. Manuel was another bad choice but at least makes the execrable Ed Wade the scapegoat if they flop again.
Lofton-Byrd seems way too much like Glanville-Byrd. Utley will be fun to watch. Polanco will shift to third to replace the ever-injured David Bell. I can't expect Abreu, Thome, and Rollins to perform as well as 2004. Burrell is an albatross. Lieberthal and Pratt again? You want a 33-year injury-prone catcher backed up by a 38-year-old career backup, right?
Cliff: As a Yankee fan, I'll take Lofton back (provided Torre plays him) and Pratt over Flaherty in a heartbeat, just tell me where to sign. The grass is always greener...
Ken: I'll give the Phillies the wild card.
Scott: The Phillies had their chances the past few years and didn't get it done.
I'm surprised I've got the Mets as a wildcard, but their pitching staff looks good and Beltran and Cameron in the outfield will swallow up the fly balls.
Ken: The Mets will be all over the place, looking brilliant one day, horrible the next, and wind up in the middle.
The Marlins, though, will stay in the hunt through the summer, but their bullpen will let them down a few too many times.
Cliff: The temptation to pick the Fish was strong, but they're losing too much with Leiter coming in to replace an 8.3 WARP season from Pavano, Ismael Valdes replacing four months of Brad Penny and Guillermo Mota trying to compensate for the 7.5 WARP Armando Benitez took with him in addition to two months production of his own.
Conversely, the temptation to bury the Phils was strong, but all of their moves helped them except perhaps burying Placido Polanco behind Chase Utley. You can add Placido to the list of Phils I'd like to see in the Bronx.
Mike: The Nationals will improve if for no other reason than they're future is settled and they get to stink up a new town.
Scott: The Nationals? Do you want the good news or the bad news? Good: Out of Montreal/San Juan. Bad: Hired Bowden to be GM. That's a bad move in English, Spanish or French.
Derek: The Mets and Nats look like locks for the spots I have them in, and the Phillies and Marlins could flip-flop, but as sure as the sun rising in the east or Ted Turner's hair being perfectly sculpted, Atlanta will take the division.
Preview Week: American League Preview
Only a week away from the season opener, we're kicking off Preview Week here at the Toaster with a look at the American League. (An asterisk [*] indicates it is the author's Wild Card pick)
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Alex B: Angels A's* Rangers Mariners
Alex Ciepley: I think this division is going to be pretty competitive, top to bottom. The Angels may have the worst name, but they seem to have the fewest question marks.
Jon Weisman: I think their organizational depth will carry them.
Mike Carminati: I'm pretty confident of this order: Colts, Rangers, M's. The A's are the wildcard. They could finish anywhere depending on how their young rotation responds. And I don't expect any big mid-season trades--this is a one-year rebuild of the staff.
Will Carroll: I did a radio interview and the Yahoo! host joked that BP writers must have pictures of Billy Beane up on our walls, like some teeny-bopper crush. I hate that type of thinking. The fact is, the A's are just better.
Cliff Corcoran: Interesting choice of words there, Will. I think they're the only team in the division that didn't get better over the winter. Not that I disapprove of their moves, but they're going to need this year to get their pitching and Swisher settled
Scott Long: It's just hard to imagine the A's will be able to match past performance with so many unproven guys taking the mound.
Derek Smart: The Angels are going to have more trouble scoring runs than some might think--that infield could be just brutal offensively.
Will: I don't like the Angels lineup. I can't really put my finger on it because I like the Finley signing. Maybe it's my lack of confidence in their pen or their odd roster construction.
Ken Arneson: I keep staring at the Angels' projected OBPs and wonder how the heck they're gonna score any runs. PECOTA projects the worst OBP in the A's entire lineup to be Bobby Crosby at .338. With Kennedy hurt and Kotchman inexplicably blocked by Erstad, the Angels only have two players in their entire lineup projected higher than that: Guerrero and McPherson. And maybe DaVanon, if he's the DH. The Angels' pitching is solid, but with Kennedy out, I don't like their defense.
Mike: Meanwhile, the Rangers' fate relies on their rotation.
Ken: I'm guessing the Rangers pitching will be worse than their hitting is good.
Cliff: I do like that they're giving rotation spots to young guys like Chris Young and Ricardo Rodriguez. Also I think Hidalgo could be a big boost hitting in Arlington, especially when you think about what the Rangers had in the outfield last year. I could see them winning in the high 80s, which should be enough to outpace the A's.
Alex C: Chris Young! Tiger pride.
Scott: If the Ranger hitters can show more consistency in road parks and Cordero closes games out like last year, they could compete with The O.C. Halos. (now that's a good name).
Ken: Finally, the Mariners have the same OBP problems as the Angels.
Will: The Mariners won't be much better and won't be until they figure out why they kill all their young pitchers.
Scott: I didn't like the massive contracts the Mariners gave to Beltre and Sexton and suspect they'll struggle to get past 75 wins.
Derek: The Mariners will see their hopes disappear in mid-April when the shrapnel from Sexson's exploding shoulder extensively wounds Beltre, ending his season.
Cliff: The contracts were foolish, but I think they'll get a boost out of those two, at least this year. If Sexson goes down, Bucky Jacobsen should be able to give them more than what they got out of Olerud last year (PECOTA gives him a tad less OBP, but more than 100 points more slugging), and Beltre is replacing what was left of Edgar Martinez last year.
Meanwhile, I very much like their decision to give starting jobs to Jeremy Reed (who replaces a bunch of spare parts) and Miguel Oliva. I see them pushing .500. If the A's stumble badly, the M's could finish third.
Alex Belth: This is the most intriguing division in the league. Can't wait to see how it pans out.
Alex B: Indians Twins White Sox Tigers Royals
Scott: The Twins are right with the Angels for great bullpens, and Santana doesn't need Matchbox 20 to help him top the charts.
Cliff: Good thing, because Matchbox 20 couldn't help Ichiro get a hit in 2005.
Will: The Twins are as good as last year, but I don't think they'll have as much luck and Ryan has a hard time dealing "his guys." It's a danger of a development-focused organization.
Cliff: I don't know, I look at this team and I see Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Bartlett, Ford, and now word that Nick Punto might have a shot at the second base job and Terry Tiffee might have a shot at a spot off the bench.
I think the Twins may have finally figured out this new wave of talent, and just in time for Santana to be the greatest pitcher since Pedro Martinez's heyday.
Mike: Though I'm concerned about Mauer's health, I just like the young Twins. They'll be fun to watch. The same goes for the Indians, though I think they are still a year away. I expect these two separate from the rest.
Derek: Look! Look, everyone! It's a bandwagon! And it's going to Cleveland! Yaaaaay!
Alex B: I'm all over the Indians bandwagon. They were my sleeper pick last year and although they are a darling choice this year, I'll stick with them.
Will: Put me on the bandwagon. The Indians have built this team back up quietly, but steadily. They fit together, have solid coaching, and enough depth to go out and make an acquisition if they need to. They could use someone like Urbina at the back of the pen.
Scott: OK everyone, it's time to take a deep breath on this Indians stampede. The team doesn't have a quality 1 or 2 in their rotation and relied on a team of guys hitting above their heads in 2004 to stay in the race. I just don't see that bullpen getting them past 81 wins.
Jon: The Indians will make a run, but they have too many starting rotation questions.
Cliff: I'm enjoying watching this young team gel, but what it comes down to is that they didn't really do much of anything to improve on last year. Kevin Millwood is a nice idea, but he could be finished. If they see some regression from guys like Hafner and Westbrook and Sabathia's current DL stay is more than a 15-days-and-done problem, they could be in trouble.
I just can't see them getting past 85 wins, and that means they'll have to battle the White Sox if they want to move into second place.
Derek: After the White Sox won the division in 2000, when looking at their team and the minor league system behind them, did anyone really think they'd fall so far so fast?
Alex C: What a waste in Chicago. Similar to how the Phils underperformed last year, the White Sox have squandered a lot of talent recently. Unlike the Phils, the Sox's window has shut.
Scott: But the Sox have the best overall AL starting staff outside of the Yankees and Red Sox, plus solid relief pitching. Only the Frank Thomas injury question mark and Ozzie Guillen being the manager keeps me from putting them on top.
Cliff: A full season of Freddy Garcia and some of that El Duque black magic in addition to Buehrle could keep the Indians at bay and off-set yet another craptacular trade (Lee/Podsednik) by Kenny Williams.
Scott: The Tigers, though, overachieved last year and then spent big money in the off-season on two guys (Percival and Ordonez) who FEMA wouldn't insure.
Alex C: See, and I think the Tigers will surprise with a good year due to a pretty decent starting rotation.
Cliff: What's amazing about the Tigers' 29-game improvement last year is that they did it while underperforming their Pythagorean record by seven games (of course they underperformed by six games the year before, so the net change is about the same). I think the fact that they released Alex Sanchez and have yanked Bobby Higginson out of the line-up and appear ready to release him is a sign that this organization is finally headed in the right direction.
Mike: I can't believe I picked the Royals last year--Stairs AND Long?!? What, did they lose a bet?
Will: The Royals were good a couple years ago ... what happened?
Ken: I think this division has three layers: The Twins and the Indians are the top layer; young teams with upside. Just for kicks, I'll go with the Indians. Their biggest problem last year was the bullpen, and I think it will be better. The White Sox and Tigers are the next layer; they each have a few good players and a few holes. The Royals, meanwhile, have Greinke, DeJesus, Sweeney, a regulation golf course, and four bonus putting greens.
Cliff: See, I see it as the Twins on top, the Royals waaaay down there on the bottom and the other three clumped up in the middle with win totals in the 80s.
Alex B: Yankees Red Sox Orioles Blue Jays Devil Rays
Jon: Not much new under the sun in the AL Ennui.
Scott: Let's begin with a note to BoSox fans. I rooted for you to win it all. It happened. Congrats. Unfortunately, you were so obnoxious about your team's victory that it exposed that losing was the only thing that made you lovable. Having said that you're still better than the average Yankee fan.
Cliff: Thanks, Scott, I feel less guilty about ragging on your Matchbox 20 reference now.
Alex C: Yankees Suck! I guess they're still going to be the second-best team in baseball, no matter how much ill fortune I will on their blessed little heads.
Mike: I don't want to, but I have to give the edge to the Red Sox. Compare Miller and Clement to Pavano and Wright. I'm not crazy about Womack either, though it'll be great to see Randy Johnson pitching in Yankee Stadium. A lot for the Yankees depends on middle relief.
Then there's the Giambi-Tino show at first, which is a concern. I am really rooting for Giambi to come back big.
Will: The Red Sox might be a better team than they were last season. I think the Yankees are better as well, but not enough to keep the Red Sox and their confidence from pushing past them. Of course, the WC slot isn't a bad thing to have as we've seen the past couple World Series.
Alex B: The Red Sox might be better than the Yanks, and the Bombers may be more frail than ever, but since this is prediction time, I've got to go with my heart and not my head.
Cliff: Me too. That said, even crunching the numbers, I can see the Yanks winning 104 games. Miller and Schilling are on the DL and David Wells' back is a time bomb. Losing Pedro will hurt the Sox more than they know, even if 2004 was his worst year in Boston and it was a smart financial decision to let him go. Giving both Pedro and Varitek what they wanted could have handcuffed the Sox over the next few years.
Will: The rest of the division? Man, they're in the worst position, building for a future that might never come.
Scott: The Orioles and Blue Jays have a chance to stay within striking distance, until just before the trade deadline when the Red Sox and Yanks decide to bring in another high-priced player or two that guarantees another playoff appearance.
Cliff: Right, like Esteban Loaiza and his 8.50 ERA? Or Aaron Boone, who hit for a 91 OPS+ as a Yankee in '03? Don't give the Yankees more credit than they deserve. And how are the Blue Jays going to improve by 20 games this year again?
Mike: Baltimore still needs to have someone pitch (can't they get a decent starter for Jay Gibbons or something?).
Alex C: Sammy Sucks! Even if Sosa doesn't carry as big a stick in Baltimore as they'd hope, that team's offense is going to be fun to watch. Miguel Tejada has, in three years, gone from the upstart who crashed the Holy Shortstop Trinity's party to the best player at his position. Who knew?
Ken: I really want to see the Orioles play the Rangers. We could get some NBA scores there.
The Blue Jays get fourth because Tampa Bay will be almost as bad as Kansas City.
Will: I like the Jays chances of being the team that sneaks up in a couple years, but the Rays are more fun to watch.
Derek: For those who are not fans of the teams, this may be the single most boring division in all of baseball. I can count only four permutations of the final divisional standings that one could legitimately throw out there as a prediction without forcing the Men In White Coats to knock at your door. Sox and Yanks could flip-flop, Jay and Orioles could flip-flop, Rays will be last.
Those are your options, and short of incidents involving tragic misappropriations of space-based weapons platforms, that's where they'll stay.
Who's Your Favorite Bad Player?
Every team has its share of "bad" players. Some of these players are easy targets, kicked around by the crowds. Some are pitied, like a formerly good player at the end of the line. And some "bad" players are loved by the fans. Loved, maybe, because they aren't superstars, but are plucky enough, or charismatic enough, or just strange enough to win their way into our hearts.
Here's a look around the Toaster at some of our favorite "bad" players.
Cliff Corcoran: Alvaro Espinoza. Espinoza was the Yankees' starting shortstop from 1989-1991, the worst three-year stretch in franchise history since before Babe Ruth. Espinoza couldn't hit a lick (.255/.281/.318 over his three years as a Yankee starter), but coming on the heals of Rafael Santana (.240/.294/.289 in '88), Wayne Tollison (.245/.280/.316 in '86 and '87), and Bobby Meacham (.233/.293/.306 in '84 and '85), that didn't much matter.
What did was his defense. Espinoza could pick it at short and had an absolute cannon for an arm (in August 1991 the Yankees used him to record the final two outs of a 14-5 loss to the White Sox, which he did, retiring Tim Raines and Robin Ventura in order).
The advanced stats bear it out. He posted Rate2s of 108, 112 and 110 in his three years as the Yankee shortstop. Espinoza's defense was so good that it actually made him a valuable player. At the plate, he was 31 runs below average for his position in his three seasons as the Yankee shortstop, but he saved 44.5 runs more than the average shortstop in the field over the same period. On a Yankee team that lost 273 games over three seasons, that was enough.
But there was more. Espinoza was funny looking. He wore oversized glasses, sported a dreadful cop moustache, and perched his hat on top of his head so that the front of the crown stood stiff and tall in the Rick Honeycutt style. He also looked like he cut his hair with a flowbee. Thick and black, it was too long to be a buzz cut, but too short and even in length to be anything else. Phil Rizzuto, at the time still the greatest Yankee shortstop of them all and a master bunter in his day, was absolutely infatuated with Espinoza's game, which included 23 perfectly placed sac bunts in 1989, good for second in the American League. Scooter would praise him endlessly during WPIX telecasts.
Meanwhile, Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard listed "ahl-VAH-roh eh-spee-NO-sa" as one of his all-time favorite names to say.
The Yankees released Espinoza in spring training of 1992, clearing the way for Andy Stankiewicz, Randy Velarde, Spike Owen, Mike Gallego and Tony Fernandez to fill the gap between him and Derek Jeter. Espinoza was quickly snatched up by the Indians and, after a year in the minors in '92, played another six years in the major leagues, picking up a hit in the 1995 World Series against the Braves before retiring after the 1997 season as a 35-year-old eleven-year veteran.
Couldn't have happened to a better "bad" player.
Mike Carminati: I, too, loved how Sheppard said Alvaro Espinosa. It reminded me of local legend Dave Zinkoff's (whose microphone was retired by the Sixers) delivery of Andrew Tooooo-ney.
My favorite "bad" player is a hard one since the Phils have had so many. Least favorite is easy: Steve Jeltz. He embodied everything wrong about the Phils and how their fans' sights could so easily be set so low. I am reminded of a number of old Phils: Greg Gross, Tommy Hutton, Little Louie Aguayo, Gene Garber, Warren Bru Brusstar, Richie "The Hack" Hebner, Jerry Martin, Downtown Ollie Brown, Crazy Jay Johnstone, John and George Vukovich, Larry Andersen, Jose Cardenal, Barry Foote, Marty Bystrom, Bob Whirleybird Walk, Nino Espinosa, Bobby Keith Moreland, Lenny Matuszek, Bobby White Lightning Dernier, Tomas Perez...But I digress.
If I had to narrow it down to two players--I can't do one--they would be Del Unser and Joe Lefebrve, two role players who seemed so clutch (at least before I was told there was no such thing).
Leferbrve was acquired from the Padres for the pathetic Sid Monge early in the 1983 season. The Wheeze Kid Phils (Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, etc.) were floundering at the time. Lefebrve seemed to energize them. He batted .310 with an OPS 57% better than the park-adjusted league average (one point higher than Mike Schmidt that year). It seemed every game I watched that year featured Lefebrve driving in the winning run either as a pinch-hitter or as a spot starter (he of the lefty bat). Not only that, Lefebrve would play third and was the emergency catcher (3 games). He was like Super Joe McEwing on steroids, so to speak.
Unser has a special spot in my heart because of his heroics late in the 1980 season and in the playoffs. He had the key hit in the deciding game of the 1980 NLCS, driving in the winning run. In game two of the Series he doubled in the eighth to start a come-from-behind rally against closer Dan Quisenberry. Then in game 5, with the score tied in the ninth, he again doubled off of Quisenberry and scored the winning run. He also set a record by hitting three consecutive pinch-hit home runs in 1979. He batted over .300 as a pinch hitter in 1979 and 1980. He could play any of the outfield positions plus first. And he, too, batted lefty.
Cliff: I remember Aguayo coming to the Yanks during those down years. I also remember Cardenal fondly for being the Yanks' first base coach and El Duque conduit during the peak of the '90s dynasty, and for his afro on his old topps cards. People forget this now, but the Luis Sojo fascination emerged after the Yanks got rid of Cardenal and Torre needed a mentor for the Latin Yankees to fill his shoes.
Mike: Aguayo was great: he would bat .250 but would get on these streaks where he'd pop a few homers in a week coming off the bench. He once had about a dozen home runs but it seemed he had 6 or 7 grand slams. I wanted the Phils to start him in front of Jeltz when they decided to trade him to the Yanks.
Cardenal had a great 'fro. His cap and batting helmet were always perched on top, though the helmet sank a bit deeper. He also had a great stance and would sort of bounce on his heals in the batter's box. There was one bad aftertaste in his career though when he went to the Royals and faced the Phils in the '80 Series. By the time he was a Yankees coach, he looked about fifty years older and, I believe, lost the 'fro.
By the way, I thought more about this and there were some bad players to whom I had some sort of personal connection that made me root for them more than anything they did on the field. They are:
Steve Adkins--I lived across the hall from him my sophomore year at Penn. He was a nice guy and was studying meteorology. His record was something like 0-6 with a 5+ ERA and it was his senior year at a school with no baseball street cred, so after I lost touch with him, I assumed he was a weatherman in Wichita or something. Then all of sudden he was on the Yankees and pitched two-thirds of a perfect game. That was his only claim to fame, though.
Cliff Brantley--He was the son of my father-in-law's assistant, which made me follow his brief and uneventful career.
Ron Villone--I was in the outfield bleachers for a Phils-Padres game in the mid-nineties, seated just behind a section of Villone's friends. Every time he got up in the pen, they went nuts. I remember cheering for the guy myself by the time he was called into the game it was so infectious. I remember thinking at the time that the guy's cup of coffee in the majors was almost emptied, but he's put together a decent career since, and I always think about that game when I see him.
Rico Brogna--Back in the mid-Nineties, I was living in Forest Hills, Queens, and could see Shea from my balcony and could actually hear the sucking sound the stadium emitted, according to Dave Letterman. Back in those days, Mets tickets were easy to come by: they were so unpopular that I could get free tickets whenever I wanted from relative's offices, where the tickets usually went unused--I didn't care if the Mets sucked: I actually liked it.
I went one night, when the Phils were in town, and I believe Brogna had just been traded to them by the Mets (or maybe it was before the trade). I had tickets right behind the dugout on the first base side and made sure to get there early enough to see batting practice. The guy sitting next to me kept screaming for Rico to come over. He was a maniac. Finally, Brogna came over--apparently the guy was some sort of acquaintance. He hung out with the guy for a good 10-15 minutes and seemed very nice. Then he had to go back to work.
For the rest of the game, the guy was screaming for a free ball whenever one came Brogna's way. Brogna was good natured about it and did give him one at some point. But the guy was an incredible schivoso and any attention from Brogna would just escalate it. I couldn't help feeling bad for Brogna and even as he became an incredible drag on the Phils lineup for years, I always liked the guy, not to mention "Rico Suave".
Derek Smart: This reminds me of a conversation that a friend of mine and I have at least once a year about which players it would be fun to have a jersey for. The idea being that you would get a jersey for your favorite team, then pick some obscure player from their past and put their name and number on it, thus rendering you automatically cool.
They would have to be someone you could have seen play in your lifetime, they would have to be someone you actually had an affinity for, and best of all, they would have to have a unique name. This avoids the embarassment of having the jersey of, say, former Cub near-co-ROY Dwight Smith, and having someone assume that it was meant to be Lee Smith. Dwight Smith=cool. Lee Smith=not as cool.
I've always leaned toward Doug Dascenzo. I actually saw him play quite a bit, and I liked him a lot. I knew it didn't bode well when he got into too many games--he was basically a starter in the outfield in 1992 despite hitting .255/.304/.311, which was tied for his career high in batting average--but he was one of those dirty uniform guys, and even if he wasn't very good, he had great energy and was a lot of fun to watch.
Besides, he came in as an emergency pitcher four times in his career, and came up with a line of 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 SO. His K/BB stank, but boy that's a nice hit rate....
I also noticed that he was listed at 5'8" and 160 lbs. My memory tells me that's an overestimation, and that Eddie Gaedel would have been able to slip into his uniform and be comfortable, but perhaps I'd best demure to higher authorities on this point.
Jon Weisman: I figure my favorite bad player would have to be a home-grown Dodger that didn't make it in the bigs. Several come to mind, including the winner of last year's "Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger" contest, the second Mike Ramsey. There's Little Chad Fonville, Garey Ingram, Eddie Pye. Basically, guys who weren't good enough to survive, but didn't hurt your feelings on the way out.
But right now, I feel I have to go with Lemmie Miller, who went 2 for 12 with a walk in his only MLB action, around 1984. I always thought "Lemmie" was a great name for a baseball player. How can you not like a guy who begs to play the moment he says his name? How can you not like imagining the outfield hijinx when someone wants him to make the play, saying, "Lemmie take it"?
Ken Arneson: I guess my favorite bad player has to be Mike Gallego. The guy couldn't hit a lick (although he did have a decent OBP at his peak), but he sure was fun to watch in the field, flinging his little 5'8" (if that) body all over the place.
Cliff: I quite enjoyed Gallego on the Yanks. One of the best double plays I ever saw live was Gallego to Pat Kelly to Mattingly (classic Mattingly scoop). MSG used that in every highlight package they ran for the next few years.
Alex Belth: I was partial to Dan Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo when they were on the Yanks in the mid '90s. But I don't know if they qualify as bad players. They weren't too bad.
Earlier, I loved Fran Healy in his last year in New York, but that was simply because he was one of the few guys on the 1977 team who actually liked, never mind tolerated, Reggie Jackson. Later on, I read how Healy was such a lazy bastard that he refused to warm up pitchers in the bullpen.
Now, that's my kind of crappy player. Can't get in a game, and the good for nothing slob didn't even want to help out in the pen.
Conjectures of Execrableness
To be worst,
Hope springs eternal. Every team is now tied with a record of zero wins and zero losses. Every team can dream, but only one will be the worst.
Last year it was the Diamondbacks, who took a 33-win plunge to reach the depths of a 51-111 record. Two years ago, the Tigers chased history by limping to 43-119, the sixth worst record in the "modern" era and the worst since the legendarily bad expansion-year Mets.
This year, there are a number of great candidates. Jim Caple writes that the Rockies are going the extra mile to grab the gold ring of sucking. But they won't be able to coast to crappiness. The D-Backs and D-Rays seem deliciously wretched, and don’t forget the Royals, Brewers, Mariners, Jays, Pirates, and Reds.
Here are all the teams from 2004 with a sub-.450 winning percentage:
If anyone wants to top (or bottom) the '03 Tigers as the worst team of the decade, they are going to have to give 150% or is it 200%—what's the mathematically challenged standard today?
Here are the worst so far in the 2000s:
So who will be the worst, the absolute nadir, this year? And can they challenge Detroit for the worst of the decade? Discuss…
How Big Should the Roster Be?
Forget collective bargaining agreements and stuff like that. If you were deciding from scratch the number of players each major league team should have, what would you say? Is 25 the perfect number, as perfect as 90 feet between bases?
On the other hand, I don't want to contract the roster too much and have arms fall off. And I really enjoy watching managers make moves - I actually do "pay to see managers manage." So I don't want to rid the game of difficult decisions.
I don't know - maybe 22 per team?
What are we looking forward to in 2005?
A new site, a new baseball season. The crew at Baseball Toaster is eager for the season to start, and we spent some time thinking about what we're most anticipating.
Jon Weisman: What am I looking forward to? I'm not sure I've ever felt as stir-crazy, waiting to actually be at a game instead of talking about it. I look forward to Paul DePodesta proving the dissenters wrong about something. Anything.
Alex Belth: As far as the Yankees go, I'm looking forward to watching some of their great talents (Rodriguez, Sheffield, Jeter, Matsui, Johnson, et al) play on a regular basis.
I'm hoping that Bernie Williams manages to score 100 runs again, in what may be his last season as an everyday player, and perhaps his last season, period. I'm rooting for Mike Mussina to have that one year where all the breaks roll his way and he manages to win 20 games. And of course, I hope that Mariano Rivera puts together another great season.
Cliff Corcoran: As pessimistic as I often am about the Yankees' ability to maximize their potential, there's quite a lot that I'm looking forward to about the 2005 season.
My list includes being very wrong about Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, having Tino Martinez back in pinstripes, watching a healthy Gary Sheffield inflict damage on American League pitching, and Tony Womack losing the second base job, regardless of who winds up replacing him.
Alex Ciepley: And I'm hoping that basically nothing on Cliff's list turns out the way he wishes.
The Yankees deserve having Tony Womack, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright stink up the joint.
But while I find Gary Sheffield disagreeable, I'll admit he's the Yankee I enjoy watching the most.
AB: I'm looking forward to New York's newest--and loudest--comedy team, Suyzan Waldman and John "Silver Throat" Sterling calling the Yankee games this season. If only I was a drinking man, I'd enjoy 'em even more. One thing is for sure, when Ethel Merman meets Jon Barrymore, there won't be much air for the rest of us. Should be funny.
Mike Carminati: I'm looking forward to mediocrity. The Phillies reek of it. Charlie Manuel may be the living embodiment of it.
This year should define what the post-Vets Stadium Phils are about, and with their first step being retaining the pathetic Ed Wade and hiring his hand-picked manager, I'm not sanguine.
The Lofton acquisition is another typical Phils move. They needed him midseason last year.
AC: The Phils seemed like a much better team than the Braves entering last season.
MC: With the Phils one year removed from a new stadium, it seems unlikely the brass will open the coffers to acquire new talent, even if they are in a pennant race. What's Paul Abbott up to?
My only solace is that for once the Braves seem the obvious choice with the acquisition of Tim Hudson and with Smoltz shifting from the pen. Given the weird past few years in the NL East, that obviousness may consign the Braves to mediocrity and tempts one to believe that the Phils could capture lightning in a bottle a la 1993.
CC: I hope someone other than the Braves wins the NL East, but I'm not holding my breath.
AC: I'm way past wanting someone else to win the NL East. I'd like to see the Braves keep getting worse on paper while still winning their division by 10 games.
MC: I see the NL being as wide open as I can remember.
And in the AL, there are the Yanks and Sox, but the youth movements in Minnesota, Cleveland, and Oakland should be interesting.
CC: I'm looking forward to whatever the Rangers and Indians have to offer.
AB: I'm curious about what is going to happen with the A's, Rangers, and the Indians. I wonder which teams will perform over their heads and which teams will fall off. And from a distance, it will be interesting to see what teams are for real in the very wild National League.
AC: The Nationals may or may not be in the middle of a youth movement (who knows?), but this year marks their first year after a physical movement, and I'm looking forward to that.
MC: I plan on making a road trip to see the Nationals play, wearing my Expos shirt and new Nats cap just to confuse things a bit.
CC: I'm hoping for a potential Philly/Baltimore/DC roadtrip to catch a ballgame in each city.
Derek Smart: I'm looking forward to the trials of will: Kerry Wood versus Albert Pujols, Roger Clemens versus Aramis Ramirez, Curt Schilling versus Alex Rodriquez, even Mike Maroth versus Matt Stairs.
The central confrontation of pitcher and batter, and all the drama it entails.
CC: The Yankees beating Pedro Martinez the Met as consistently as they beat Pedro Martinez the Red Sock.
AC: Carlos Zambrano punching out Jim Edmonds on high fastballs.
CC: Jason Giambi winning over the crowd with opposite-field RBI doubles.
Will Carroll: I want to see some diving catches and acrobatic double plays. I want to see Ichiro and Tavares and Gathright beating out slow rollers, running faster than the wind. I want to see knees buckle when curves break with filthy action.
AC: I'm looking forward to Corey Patterson, down 0-2 in the count, taking two Roy Oswalt offerings for balls, then clobbering a fastball into the bleachers.
DS: I'm just looking forward to an entire month where Patterson doesn't pop up a single bunt attempt. I am also looking forward to winning the lottery.
CC: Curt Schilling rushing back to face Randy Johnson on Opening Day at the Stadium only to aggrivate his ankle and get lit up by the Yankee bats as Johnson blanks the Sox.
AC: Nomar smashing a run-scoring double off Curt Schilling when the Red Sox visit Wrigley.
WC: I want to see the good guys win and the bad guys get humiliated, then change my mind the next day about who the good guys and bad guys are.
AB: I'm looking forward to watching the games every night with Emily. I'm eager to see which of the new guys she likes and which ones she doesn't, and why.
I want to continue my quest to be a more rational, less emotionally involved fan. I don't mean I want to turn into Spock, but less lost sleep over a tough loss would be a sign of maturing, I think.
MC: I'm looking forward to my son's first game. I'll probably take the kids to a game or two of the Trenton Thunder or Somerset Patriots.
DS: My daughter will see her first baseball game, too. While she'll be too young to grasp it, I hope to plant the seed of the love I have for baseball, to give her gauzy memories of a day on the grass with Dad.
AC: A love of baseball, sure. But you're a Cubs fan. Do you have any second thoughts of implanting Cubs love into her, especially at such a young age?
DS: I have no intention of telling her who to root for, but I will strive to lead by example. I will whisper things in her ear like "Tony LaRussa's a tool," and, "It's hot and humid in Houston. We don't like it there."
I will also say things like, "Isn't ivy pretty?" and, "Kerry Wood is an upstanding young gentleman. Go get his autograph on Daddy's jersey."
JW: My 2 1/2-year-old daughter already sings "Root, root, root for the Dodgers" instead of "home team". That pretty much constitutes her entire baseball knowledge, though.
But I sure enjoy being with her at the games--she's even made it to the end of some. It helps when Kevin Brown pitches a complete game in 2:08.
MC: I'm not imposing Phillie fandom on my kids. I let my 6-year-old daughter pick her team, and she went with the Yankees. Why not let her grow up happy and mentally healthy?
My 18-month-old hasn't expressed a preference as yet, but he likes to say "Ball" incessantly. He's already smarter than John Kruk.
Ken Arneson: As the father of a feisty four-year-old master contrarian, let me just state that the ability of parents to implant things into their kids is highly overrated.
WC: I'm looking forward to another great season. I know we won't be able to put the steroids controversy behind us--and I hope it stays with us until my book hits the market!--but I want to see baseball.
DS: I'm looking forward to seven Cubs games against the Cardinals in September.
MC: I'm looking forward to the Angels finalizing their name. It's got to happen at some point.
CC: To the continued excellence of Albert Pujols.
AB: To watching Joe Girardi sit next to Don Torreleone for an entire year.
MC: To Youppi Mach 2. The chameleonic entertainer surprises us all with an image makeover that will rival Madonna.
CC: To Barry Bonds finally starting to show his age.
AC: To Mark Prior.
KA: To the AL West.
CC: To Larry Walker proving that he can hit like a Hall of Famer outside of Coors Field.
DS: I'm looking forward to a game of catch.
AB: Enough of this hibernating. I'm ready for spring to sprung.
JW: Somewhere out in 2005 is a fantastic moment that, despite around 30 years or so of watching games, I've never seen before.
I can't wait for it.
A place where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure, but he has to keep his watch on Pacific Time.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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