Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Full Melvin.

At first glance, B.J. Upton's season looks lost. To wit, with virtually the same number of at-bats as he had last season, Upton's batting average and slugging have dropped precipitously:


His "fantasy" numbers have correspondingly dropped. Upton hit 24 home runs last year; he's hit eight this year. He drove in 82 runs last year; he's driven in 62 this year. Those are never positive signs from a recently turned 24-year-old.

Plus, Upton has been benched by manager Joe Maddon several times because Upton failed to run hard when leaving the batter's box.

Clearly, it's been a tough year in the life of Melvin Emmanuel Upton.

But take a closer look at some selected, secondary stats, and you'll see a player who has shown progress in key categories:


Upton's jump in walks and drop in strikeouts show a player who has better command of the strikezone than he did last year. The jump in doubles shows that the power is still there -- though to be fair, Upton's speed helps him secure doubles that the Pujolses of the world can't get.

The bottom line is that Upton is still young for this level and retains a ton of room to grow. He hasn't had the breakout season that was predicted of him, but he remains a breakout candidate entering the final month of the 2008 season and heading into 2009. There's still time for him to fulfill the expectations that come with the name Bossman Junior.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Bengals should trade Chad Johnson to a team that already has a No. 85.

With the news that Chad Johnson's name change is complete, the mercurial wide receiver is now legally known as Chad Ocho Cinco. And in keeping with Johnson -- and now Ocho Cinco's -- earlier trade requests, the Bengals should trade him to a team that already has a No. 85.

Frankly, there isn't enough pettiness in sports, and the bottom line is that Cinco can buy the number from just about any player out there. It would be a publicity coup for all involved. It would move a disgruntled player to a club where he could be gruntled. The Bengals would finally get closure, along with a first-round pick.

And, you know, it'd be pretty damned hilarious to see Ocho Cinco wearing No. 82.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Ten years? Rickey's been playing at least 16, 17 years."

And to think, if Barry Bonds had discovered Winstrol sooner, we'd have gotten here a few years ago.

As we steam toward the postseason, the baseball world inches closer and closer to a milestone, 250,000 home runs. On May 2, 1876, Chicago's Ross Barnes took Cincinnati's Cherokee Fisher yard for the first home run in Major League history. Barnes stopped to admire the bomb, styled his way around first base, high-fived the first- and third-base coaches, and stomped on home plate while pounding his chest and pointing skyward. The hit preceded the 1,434th benches-clearing brawl in Major League history. Following the game, Barnes delivered his post-game quotes in the third person, even though nobody was around to interview him.*

The blast was the only home run Barnes would hit in '76, and the penultimate of his career. Fisher's not-so-special brand of slop would add five more to the league total.

It took Major Leaguers over three years -- until June 17, 1879 -- to reach the century mark. For contrast, on August 27, 2008, Major Leaguers hit 31 dingers. Bigger players, more teams, better equipment ... yawn.

A rough guesstimate puts the monumental shot at some time during the second week of September. In keeping with the first one ever hit, allow me to be the first to wish that David Eckstein hits it, since he's probably the closest thing we've got to 145-pound Ross Barnes, particularly in his penchants for speaking in the third person and starting fights.**

* The last three sentences aren't factual. I don't think.

** Vicious lies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Two Argentinians received their bronze medals in jorts.

The Americans won the gold. The Spaniards won the day.

The United States Olympic basketball team parlayed a 27-point outing from Dwyane Wade and 20 points from Kobe Bryant into a 118-107 victory over the Spain, giving the United States its first gold medal in men's basketball since the 2000 Sydney Games. But if the goal of the exercise -- the underlying mission of the Redeem Team -- was to prove that the United States is still the basketball hegemon, Operation Redeem Team was a crashing failure.

Make no mistake, the United States won gold fair and square. But the margin of victory belied the closeness of the game. Spain proved itself capable of making comebacks on the U.S. Though Spain was young, it demonstrated that it could hang with the finest team the NBA could assemble when both teams were playing balls out. Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro proved that they could match their best with the NBA elite's best. That's not to ignore Ricky Rubio, who had 6 points and 6 rebounds at age 17, or Pau Gasol, whom we know to be a superstar.

Spain is extremely talented. Give that fivesome four years to hone their games at the highest levels, and they'll be a formidable outfit. Spain put the United States on notice.

That was heartfelt emotion on the part of the U.S. players at game's end. The medal was in doubt for them, too. Both teams went back and forth, throwing haymakers. Spain refused to let the U.S. put it away. But the United States prevailed because it had better depth. Coach K was able to bring guys like Deron Williams and Tayshuan Prince off his bench, guys who could dominate Spain's bench players. The United States had the luxury of All-Stars for scrubs.

It was a convincing team victory for the United States. But it needed everybody on its roster to win. In four years, facing a better Spanish team, the United States will again need a club of equal ability. The elite American players must again desire gold medals. They may even need to play better than they did this year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

This story isn't true.

BIEJING (AP)-- Police raided the hotel room of American basketball player Carmelo Anthony on Saturday, taking the Denver Nuggets forward into custody after seizing over one pound of marijuana. Anthony was charged with one count of possessing contraband and one count of defacing the national honor of the Chinese people. While Chinese officials would confirm that Anthony is in police custody, they declined to say where he was being held.

"Beijing police have trailed the suspect since his arrival in China twelve days ago," said Chinese government spokesman Zhang Yang. "He was observed transporting illegal drugs into China, consuming those drugs and conspiring to bring discredit on the Chinese people."

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Peter Grimaldi claimed the arrest was made in retaliation to the American charges that Chinese gymnasts have been underage. The USOC pressured the International Olympic Committee to investigate the age of He Kexin on Monday, after the Associated Press obtained documents indicating that the gymnast was 13 years old, three years under the mandatory cutoff of 16. Grimaldi claims that Anthony's arrest was retribution.

"Everybody knows those girls are underage," said Grimaldi. "Everybody knows that NBA players smoke weed. We pointed out something obvious, so they pointed out something obvious. It's that simple."

Anthony had just returned to the room following the Americans' 101-81 victory over Argentina earlier Saturday when police burst in, arresting the basketball player and several members of his entourage. Police also seized several items considered marijuana paraphernalia in China, including incense, rolling papers, a glass pipe and the Dutch Masters cigars.

Anthony's lawyer, Mark Wittenstein, said his client was simply following his normal postgame routine. The Americans advanced to the gold medal game against Spain with the victory.

"Mr. Anthony was just doing what every NBA player does after a win," Wittenstein said. "He was getting blunted before going out to get his Goose on. Where's the harm in that?"

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on this story.

Rehashing old stories.

ED. Note: I covered the Belmont stakes for one of the websites I produce, writing a live blog of the proceedings. I also wrote a recap of the race, but it was bumped because the website was breaking in a new writer and the editor wanted to run with his guy. Them's the breaks and such is life. This is that recap.

ELMONT, NY -- After weeks of speculation and thousands of man-hours of preparation, the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes went off with just one hitch on Saturday -- in the step of favored horse Big Brown.

Instead of the coronation of a racing legend, the crowd of 94,476 spectators was treated to a win by the longest of long shots, Da' Tara, trained by Nick Zito. Da' Tara left the post with the worst odds of any horse in the field, 39-1. His victory should have been the type of underdog story that ramped up an already cacophonous din. But afterwards, the focus was squarely on Big Brown.

The buildup to the race billed Big Brown as a the next great race horse, one who had crafted a reputation of dominance during convincing wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The three-year-old thoroughbred was trying to become only the 12th Triple Crown winner in more than 125 years, the first since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978.

The colt began the race in the inside position and ran with the pack for most of the trip around the 1 1/2 mile oval. But he faded around the last turn and was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux, failing to finish the race. Instead of becoming the first Triple Crown winner of the new millenium, Big Brown became the first-ever Triple Crown hopeful to finish in last place.

"I had no horse," Desormeaux said after the race. "He was empty. He didn't have anything left. There's no popped tires. He's just out of gas."

"When he turned for home," Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow said, "something wasn't right."

Big Brown's struggles became all the more puzzling after a thorough physical revealed that the horse was healthy.

"He looked fine," said Dr. Larry Bramlage, who examined Big Brown following the race. "All I saw was when Desormeaux started to slow him down. The first thing you expected is something is wrong. He was not lame when he stopped here in front of the stands."

Big Brown suffered a quarter crack in his left front hoof during training, but the injury was patched on Monday. A cracked hoof is a common injury among horses and shouldn't have been debilitating. Still, the lasting image of the Belmont Stakes was of Big Brown slowing to a stop as eight other horses sped away, including Denis of Cork, who finished the race second, and third-place-finisher Anak Nakal.

Casino Drive, the horse seen as the most capable challenger to Big Brown, was scratched Saturday morning because of a bruised left hind hoof. The Japanese colt was supposed to provide the best challenge to Big Brown's Triple Crown bid. Instead, he spent the race in a stable at Belmont, a forgotten footnote.

With Casino Drive out of the way, the scene was set for Big Brown to sprint into the proverbial sunset as the winner, one who would demand stud fees approaching $50 million. Instead, Big Brown broke down.

Like his horse, Dutrow appeared to have run out of gas following the race. The trainer assumed the role of promoter in the weeks leading up to the Belmont, fueling the hype with bold predictions and declarations of his horse's superiority. The veteran trainer seemed to be impersonating a boxing promoter like Don King or Bundini Brown.

"These horses just cannot run with Big Brown," Dutrow told reporters on May 29. "We're sitting in an unbelievable spot. We know we have the best horse in the race."

But Dutrow's horse didn't win. The final image of the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes wasn't one of Zito celebrating with his newest prized pupil. It was of a crestfallen Dutrow dutifully answering questions about why his horse came up short, struggling to find the right words. In the end, the brash trainer who seemed to have an answer to every question was stumped.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ryan Ludwick was once dealt for Carlos Pena.

An interesting coincidence, since Ludwick is the leading candidate for the Nothing to Something Award, won by Pena in 2007. Per BR:

January 14, 2002: Traded by the Oakland Athletics with Jason Hart, Gerald Laird, and Mario Ramos to the Texas Rangers for Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro.

The interesting paths of two non-prospects.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rater Hater: Derek Jeter

I'm going to make a bold statement: Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is underrated.

(Pause to allow the boos to subside)

Consider the list of players with the majority of their at-bats at short since 1901, grouped by OPS+:

Honus Wagner152
Alex Rodriguez148
Arky Vaughan136
Nomar Garciaparra125
Derek Jeter121

Wagner and Vaughan are already Hall of Famers, A-Rod and Jeter are sure bets and injuries have robbed Nomar of his place in history.

Keep in mind, the only player on this list who stayed at short longer than Jeter (to a later age) was Wagner, who played the 6 into his 40s.

The point is ceded that it's better to be a mediocre defensive player at an unimportant defensive position than a truly dreadful player at a key one. To be sure, Jeter has been dreadful in the past as a defensive player. But an improved offseason regimen seems to have corrected some of Jeter's glove flaws. After scoring abysmal -22 and -34 scores in 2006 and '07 (per John Dewan's Plus/Minus system), ranking 31st in the league both years, Jeter ranks 23rd in the Majors with a -5 rating. It's not average, but it ain't terrible, either. This year, it's fair to say that his defense is improved.

While his bat has lagged a bit this year, he's got a useful 13 Win Shares. Purely for comparison, I cherry-picked the numbers for some starting Major League shortstops: Jose Reyes, 20; Michael Young, 15; Jimmy Rollins, 14; Hanley Ramirez 21. With plenty of season left, and a monster lineup hitting behind him, Jeter's got a pretty respectable total against some excellent players in their prime years.

He's got a historically great past and is a valuable player into his mid-30s. Long ago, Jeter booked his e-ticket to Cooperstown. People will always treat him as such. But there's legitimate case to be made that Jeter is the best career shortstop of his generation. I'm not sure he's viewed as such.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

She gettin around.

She always come at the worst time, don't she? Right when you got sorted out and you puttin it together, she drop in and pay y'all li'l visit. F'it aint a beanball off the knuckles, s'a foul off a shin. Or a dead arm. I hate when she brang a dead arm.

She been travelin'a New York this week. Seen her.

She seen that boy Joba. One bad start'n theyre skippin'm, sen'in him down'a Birm'n'ham, see Doc Andrews. Shame of it is, that boy's got talent. Got a-hunnerd-four K's in eighty-nine innins. Seventy-six hits. S'rare t'see them boys up'n the New York media get one right. Be a damn shame t'waste it.

She seen that li'l redneck boy on the Mets this week, too. Got him on'a forearm. We see bout that, them thangs c'n move. Don't wan'a make light of the dead, but the funny part's they got that Heilman boy closin now. You seen that boy on'a mound in Shea? Hoo'h.

I seen a bear once. Twelve-years-old. S'with my cousin. Said my eyes got real wide'n big. My mouth kind'a fell open half-way. Years later, he told me it was'a first time in his life he seen terror. Course he did tour'a Nam, so he know a li'l bit. I'm stuck imagining, and I'm picturing I looked a bit like Heilman when he's giv'n up a three-run lead at home. But I don't wan'a joke on another man's misfortune, or nothin. That's just my over-active imagination, n'all.