Monthly archives: December 2005
Happy New Year from Bill O'Reilly and Phil Donahue
After a contentious 2004 at thejuiceblog.com, we were a more toned down version in 2005. Well, I thought what better way to begin 2006 than to present some video from Fox News. As they like to say, YOU DECIDE.
Happy New Year to all our readers. Hopefully 2006 will bring another World Series title to Chicago. (And I think we all know there is only one team that could happen to.)
Gammons Homage Notes, Auld Lang Syne edition
If anyone's going to try and take on Baseball Reference, it will be a Wiki that does it. I still have the copy of Total Baseball that I was given in high school somewhere, but it's dusty and unused. Lee Sinins' SBE is pretty friggin' amazing, but doesn't work on Mac -- it may be the one thing I miss from the PC World.
* I make my living as an "expert." Does it worry me that this book proves that I'm not likely to make better predictions that anyone else?
If you didn't realize my predictions suck, then you haven't been paying attention. I admit they suck, know they suck, and make them anyway. Know why? Because the debate is interesting. It's funny that someone like me that hates, hates, hates blog commenting on most stories really likes the idea of a web-based debate. If things happened like they did recently with the "Ten Good Bloggers" discussion, I'd change my mind about comments. Until then, I'll continue to think that they're the talk radio of the web.
* While the Blue Jays spent the most and the rest of the AL East is getting all the attention, no one is noticing the very quiet job of restructuring that Josh Byrnes and Peter Woodfork are orchestrating in Arizona. The signing of Eric Byrnes (no relation) finishes off a great winter where they off-loaded older and unhappy players and opened up slots for their young players. Luis Gonzalez remains and he's likely to be a nice acquisition for someone at the deadline -- unless the D-Backs are running away with a very winnable division. With a great minor league system in place, the D-Backs could be a very, very good team for the latter part of the decade.
* 24 is back soon, but not soon enough. There's some amazing additions to the cast, I'm told, and perhaps the return of Elisha Cuthbert. Peter Weller? Julian Sands? Holy cow, that's a casting dream from my teenage days. Please tell me there's some sort of wink towards Buckaroo Bonzai or Gothic!
*The new iPod rules. Flat out rules. The video capabilities aren't as mind-altering as carrying around a couple thousand songs, but they're nice. I can see watching a show or movie while sitting in the airport or waiting at the doctor's office. It has an amazing "oooh" factor as well. A broader selection from the iTunes store would help, but then again, if you really want movies, you go to Blockbuster and rip a DVD or hit up Bit Torrent.
* I may be sick, but this Dick Clark thing might be the best NYE marketing gimmick since dropping a ball. (By the way, I only learned this year that Times Square is named after the New York Times. I thought it was because that's where we marked the passage of time. I should have checked the Wikipedia.)
* I'm soooooo done with the Cubs. Seriously. I mean it this time.
* I'm debating an interesting writing project. More on this soon. The big question now is structure and if it's something that can safely run at TheJuiceBlog.com.
Schizo Scott on Prior, Zito, and Git'R Done
You might have started noticing recently that I'm actually linking things in my pieces. Toastmaster Ken Arneson has installed some rad tools at the place we write, which I think will make for a more enjoyable read at The Juice. (Now if only I had a human proofreader.) With the advent of these new tech shortcuts, I plan on doing more columns which feature a few topics. If you see Schizo Scott, you will know it is somewhat of a potpourri.
If you missed it, the Cubs have been shopping Mark Prior, mainly in the pursuit of Miguel Tejada. My favorite story on the subject was written by The Daily Southtown's Paul Ladewski. Ladewski interviews baseball's craziest former relief pitcher (and yeah I'm counting Jeff Reardon) Mike Marshall. Now I'm not a pitching mechanics guy, I leave that subject to my partner, but Marshall has had enough wacked moments for me to question some of his validity. While I'm generally a fan of the people who take on the establishment, Marshall has too much of the LBJ killed JFK in him for me to buy his theory.
Another pitcher who is being shopped is Jon Garland. Garland must have seen the crazy train contracts given to Millwood, Burnett and Washburn and thought, "back up the money trucks, you dumb phucks." With contracts like these, he had to become even more lukewarm on the idea of taking a 3 year deal from the White Sox. I agree with the Sox strategy of not giving pitchers more than a 3 year deal, as unless you have an unlimited payroll like the Yankees or Red Sox, one arm injury can wreck your payroll for too long.
Both the A's and the Chisox seem to have a similar idea of picking up another starting pitcher (Vasquez, Loaiza), even though they are already loaded at the position, with the idea of trading a hotter model (Garland, Zito) to a seller's market. While other teams are getting most of the media attention, the White Sox and A's are the only 2 teams left, who can dictate to all the other pitching poor suitors. I mean what is the worst thing that could happen, they have 6 or 7 quality starting pitchers for the year?
Time to follow-up a couple of items I covered in regards to the stand-up comedy world. In this month's Spin Magazine, they report that Mitch Hedburg did die of a drug overdose. Not surprising news, as he had battled drugs for quite awhile, especially after he signed a big money contract with one of the networks in the late 90's.
Another subject discussed here which has cropped up again is the Larry the Cable Guy/"Git 'R Done" saga. First it was Doug Stanhope on his website begging to have the phrase eradicated and now it's David Cross weighing in. You might be surprised to discover that I have mixed feelings on the controversy. While I'm a much bigger fan of Cross' act, LCB (real name Dan Whitney) is a good guy from what I've heard from friends who have dealt with him and his comedy is harmless. This link at Deadfrog,com covers the redneck said/alternative comic said debate.
In some ways, David Cross' act is as pandering to his audience as LCB's is to his. They both are great marketers, it's just unfortunate for Cross that most long-haul truckers aren't looking for an ascerbic comic's view that George W. is the anti-Christ. This hurts Cross' merchandising potential, as "Git R' Done" works better on a coffee mug than "Your Government Is Lying to You". As a natural contrarian, I'm drawn to alienating my audience, which might be a partial reason why I play the Nike tour of standup much of the year, while these 2 have built rabid followings.
Scott's Tivo Note: If you see there is a repeat episode of Comedy Central's "Last Laff 2005", I highly recommend its truly inspired hilarity. Greg Giraldo's standup is great as usual, David Spade set is as good as I've seen from him in years, while the disgusting Lisa Lampanelli is hard to describe, but here is my attempt. Lampanelli is Sarah Silverman, but without the cute schtick to take some of the edge off her material. She doesn't wear well over a long set, but for 5 minutes, she gets at your inner racist like some extremely politically incorrect Don Rickles. The best part of the special just might be the sketch Andy Dick does as a planner for Tom and Katie's wedding. He expertly skewers Scientology and everything wacked about it and the Top Gunner. It's so pointedly funny that Andy Dick now sits above Eli Lilly (maker of Prozac) and Brooke Shields on the Scientology hitlist. Add David Cross, Lewis Black, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, a couple more great sketches, a preview of new Chappelle show clips, plus Death Cab for Cutie and this Comedy Central show is what SNL can only dream of anymore.
College Bowl Selections & A Recruiting Rant
I love college football. The energy, the pageantry, and all its other BS just sucks me in. The dirty little, but not much of a secret is the disgusting world of recruiting high school athletes. We all know how filthy the whole recruiting biz iz, with the farther south you drive, the more sleazy it becomes. What makes the whole college football recruiting thing even sicker is the fine line between legal and criminal.
In a recent story by Stewart Mandel at SI.com, he has a list of college football's Top 10 recruiters. Included is Penn State long-time assistant coach Tom Bradley, who has been bringing in Western PA gems for 25 years. Now if you are unaware, Joe Paterno runs a classy program, with a spotless record and a top-notch graduation rate. In Mandel's piece, he writes positively of Bradley's persistence mentioning that
"one of last year's gems, cornerback Justin King, cited Bradley's persistence -- including 30 hand-written letters in one day -- in his decision to come to Happy Valley."
How sad is it that a man who probably has grandchildren King's age has to spend his whole day penning letter's to him like a love-sick school girl.
Mandel story also demonstrates the age-gap in coaches and how they use technology. A younger coach (41-year-old Urban Meyer) "makes the most of modern technology, sending prospects daily text messages and equipping his entire staff with Blackberrys." Do you think the old ball coach, the visor wearing Steve Spurrier landed his star athletes by thumbing out howdys on his Palm Pilot? Nope, but being a great recruiter will keep you in a job, if you can coach or not. I mean how do you think Mack Brown has survived as long at Texas?
Brown, who's blessed with being surrounded by the most fertile football soil on earth, has consistently had the best recruiting classes for the past 10 years, overall. Until this season, though, his teams have underachieved both on and off the field.
So let's begin the bowl game picks with the Rose Bowl. In a world where rarely do the 2 best teams meet, it's impossible to argue that USC and Texas aren't the premier squads in college football. The combination of 3 things have me on USC.
Take the Trojans and the points. (3 star selection.)
Other top rated selections.
3 star Clemson (-9) over Colorado
3 star Boston College (+3) Boise State
3 star Michigan (-10.5) Nebraska
3 star Oklahoma (+3.5) Oregon
2 star Northwestern (+3) UCLA
3 star Iowa (+1.5) over Florida
4 star Virginia Tech (-7.5) Louisville
Many of the Colorado players have quit trying, knowing that their new coach won't have hookers as part of the training table.
Boise State is losing said coach to Colorado and with it they will lose their long home win streak.
Lloyd Carr is a lousy coach, but he meets his match in Bill Callahan. Wolverines have big talent edge.
The Sooners were not a good team until half way through the year, but Stoops has them peaking now and Oregon's easy schedule exposes them in the Holiday Bowl.
Another Pac-10 team who is not playing their best football at the end of the year is UCLA. Expect Northwestern to score more on the Bruins football team than they could on their basketball team.
One interesting backstory in the Outback Bowl is that QB Chris Leak's 2 top choices were Florida and Iowa, when he was being courted as an all-world prepster. Mr. High-school recruiting guru Tom Lemming, who was advising Leak recommended Iowa, but Leak went with the warm weather of Gainsville. Leak lost to Iowa as a freshman, during post-season action and expect the same in 2006, as he isn't a good fit for Meyer's offense.
Louisville never faced a team with the kind of talent the Hokies possess. College Bowl Pick of the Year.
The Juice's Top 10 Albums of 2005
Scott: One of the great things about having your own blog is writing on whatever subject you want to. While baseball is our main focus at The Juice (no really it is), music has always been our second most covered subject and it always seems to get the most comments. So here is the 3rd annual year-end Top 10 list. The year as a whole featured a lot of depth, as even my number 14 choice would have made my Top 10 in 2004. What the year did lack was one classic album that will be played 15 years ago, like last year's American Idiot.
Scott's #1 - Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
During the 2004 presidential campaign you might remember that some American musicians came together to put on concerts in 11 states. The tour was called "Vote for Change" and its goal was to raise money and awareness for the extremely non-rockin' John Kerry. Some of America's biggest musicians, such as Springsteen, Mellencamp, Fogerty, and Pearl Jam were involved. The one name that performed at the concerts which didn't seem to fit was Conor Oberst, a.k.a. Bright Eyes. I can hear Bob from Sesame Street breaking into "One of these things is not like the other" just contemplating it.
Oberst has been one of the unfortunates who have been labeled the next Dylan. In music this label is kind of like being called the next Michael Jordan, which I'm sure Harold Miner or Roy Marble could tell you is a bitch to live with. The precocious Oberst was in a band when he was just 14. Now this isn't such a big deal, except that within a couple of years he had started up his own record label and was receiving press for his exploits.
Personally, I never could see what the fuss was all about, as his music was decent, but not much different than a lot of singer/songwriters and definitely not in the class of the even more prolific, Ryan Adams. It seemed liked Oberst's greatest talent was following the indie rock P.R. manual to perfection. Be junkie-thin, sport some bottle-black hair, live in NYC, so you can be close to the cool alternative rock journalists and most importantly, make sure to date Winona Ryder. Check, check, check, check.
This year Oberst made the ultimate rock star move releasing two albums at the same time. While very few on the planet could have cared less, the alternative music press covered their indie rock poster boy releases like he was Springsteen in 1992. I give you this background to establish my thoughts on Oberst, before I sat down to listen to his new efforts. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn has its moments, but it's Bright Eyes other release, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning that is the special recording.
I'm Wide Awake... is the album that Ryan Adams has dreamed of making. On this brilliant release you can hear the reflections of Nick Drake, Paul Westerberg and yes even Bob Dylan in the mix. Never does the music seem like it's an imitation of these artists, though, as it is instead a statement of someone fulfilling the promise that many had hung around his neck. With the country-rock melodies supported by harmonies provided by Emmylou Harris, one might be quick to label Oberst as another Gram Parsons wannabe. Well that would be inaccurate, as the album is better than any one Parsons ever put out.
While the ballads are beautiful, the best tune on the album is the closer, "Road to Joy." Oberst's lyrics are more direct than Dylan on this song, somewhere in the Lennon or Bono world.
So when you're asked to fight a war that's over nothing
"Road to Joy" is a brilliant closer to an album that declares Oberst is no longer a 14-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, but someone who deserves to stand on the same stage with the artists he played with on the Vote for Change tour.
Will: Here's the odd thing. I didn't hold a single one of these albums in my hand this year, at least not by itself. When I burned a physical CD, it was to give to a friend. I can carry all 15 albums here in my iPod (along with a couple hundred others) and I got all of them off the Net.
Will's #1 - Fall Out Boy - From Under The Cork Tree
At The Pixies show this summer, Scott and I sat behind a guy who must have been close to 70. Watching him sing along to "UMass" was funny at the time, but it reminds me that my time is close as much as Plans does. Fall Out Boy is violently young, powerfully pop culture that would seem to be rooted so solidly in 2005 that the album would fade. The name checks and pre-sellout Dennis Miller sub-references somehow don't bog down the songs. The too-precious titles might give you pause if you're finding grey hairs in your goatee and a median fan base that can't vote might give you even more. If so, you're missing out and giving up. The album is finding an audience beyond the emo kids because it's smart well beyond its years. "Dance, Dance" may be an emo-informed remake of David Bowie's remake of himself, but it's not cloying. "Sugar, We're Going Down" is both a hook you can't get out of your head after hearing it for the first or fiftieth time, it's inscrutable, near-meaningless lyrics somehow morph into some kind of rallying cry. There's no down track, no meandering, and despite no track with the brilliance of "Where Is Your Boy Tonight?" the band's anthemic generation-definer. It may surprise some that Fall Out Boy was the breakout band among the Chicago emo scene, but it really shouldn't. Maybe looking like the kid in Almost Famous made many underestimate the band.
Soul Meets Body: Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a chest-thumping, tear-jerking experience.
"'Twas beauty killed the beast."
These are the final words of Merian C. Cooper's 1933 version of King Kong, and Peter Jackson uses them to close his long-awaited remake, which was released nationwide last Wednesday. The sentence is uttered by the duplicitous movie producer Carl Denham, overlooking the hulking corpse of Kong, his "eighth wonder of the world," lying dead in the street. The irony is, though the line originates from Cooper's screenplay, Denham's glib observation doesn't hold resonance until Jackson uses it. It took an imitator to find the emotional authenticity in the scene.
Which is not to call Peter Jackson an imitator, or imply his film is a hollow reproduction of the 1933 classic. Quite the contrary, in fact: by bringing Kong to life in 2005, Jackson has accomplished what few filmmakers have dared to attempthe's eclipsed the original vision so greatly that he's redefined the story itself. Jackson's King Kong is a modern epic of such grandiose proportions that it seems unfair to compare it to the work from which it was inspired. Like a 50-ft. gorilla, it dwarfs everything in its path.
As it has been well publicized by the media, Jackson holds closely to the original storyline, beginning in Depression-era Manhattan. There we meet failed movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black), his staff (Colin Hanks, et al.), neglected writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and a down-on-her-luck vaudeville performer (Naomi Watts). All of them are struggling to stay afloatand Jackson reminds us that they're not alone. The film opens with a montage of familiar images from 1930s New York: bread lines, street performers, and rising skyscrapers that tower over the city. Playing the sequence over in my head, it's accompanied by Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," like out of a Fidelity commercial. It's a loving portrayal of the city; so much goes on in each frame that I almost wanted to stop the projector so I could soak in all the detail of Jackson's visuals, which extend to the far corners of the screen. They simply brim with life.
Holiday Cheer and the Football Picks
Last week was a bit of a slow down going 2-3, but I'm still 12-4 for the past 3 weeks. Hopefully you've been on board recently, using these choices to beat your bookie. Remember, the goal is to make your man lose so much lettuce that he has to quit bookmaking and go legit, staying out of the underworld. Say like becoming a rent-a-center manager charging 20% interest to poor women, instead of getting 5% vigorish from middle class men.
On the subject of picks, my pre-season selections of the Bengals, Buccaneers, and Cowboys are looking really solid right now. Tell me if you can find someone else who had three bigger upset teams to make the playoffs that probably will, because I haven't found them. Of course, I did have the Lions winning the NFC North, so ouch to that.
(Sung to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer)
You know Plaxico and Santana, and Chad Johnson
T.O. the self-absorbed receiver
All of his teammates hated him
Picks for the Week
4 star Arizona (-1) over Houston
Unlike most lousy teams at this point of the season, the Cardinals are still trying because their fat coach has a fat contract and is no lame duck. The Texans, on the other hand, have a coach, Done Capers, who's less welcome in Houston than the New Orleans refugees. Arizona by 10.
Sure the Chargers choked last week worse than Ellen DeGeneres at a hot dog eating contest, but it just gives me a couple more points to play with. I've had this game circled for a while as the game that Indy would struggle most in. Brees, Gates, and LT make up the 3rd best offense in the NFL, behind Indy and Cincy. They have to win to stay in the playoff chase, while I believe the Colts have already clinched the AFC South in 2006. Take the Bolts to cover vs. the Colts and consider taking the money line.
Skins top 3 DB's are out, right at the same time the Cowboys have started to throw the ball. I don't trust Bledsoe, probably because he went to Washington State, home also of the late Ryan Leaf. What puts me on Dallas is Parcells has owned Gibbs and his team is healthier and more talented.
To think 20 years ago Jeff Fisher was savoring the life being a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears, the greatest team I've ever seen. Not even the Music Row hacks in Nashville could write a catchy Super Bowl shuffle rap for the Titans. "I'm Steve McNair----I'm the clunky QB." Seattle has Indy on deck, but concentrates enough to cover the points. .
Ten Good Bloggers
I should learn from my mistakes more.
Over the past couple years and in the various incarnations of this blog, I've said things about bloggers and in nearly every case, I've gotten blasted far and wide. Of course, that implies that I care about most of this blasting, which couldn't be further from the truth. I have two jobs - generate content and generate interest. It's best when I can do both, but doing one or the other has some value as well.
A couple years ago, at the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, I said something over beers that stuck: "There's only ten good bloggers at any one time." I meant that in any given space, there's really only ten worth reading. The incestuous nature of the 'sphere makes most things roll down with the lesser bloggers linking to the bigger bloggers, a weird loop that only feeds the distancing.
With low barriers to entry, anyone can blog, but not anyone can get the feedback they need. (Brief recap: all bloggers do it for feedback, whether that's praise, readers, comments, or money.) We've seen conglomerations, networks, ad models, and solo shops all fail to find a real sustainable economy. Gawker and Weblogs Inc have come close and All-Baseball/MVN, Sportsblogs, and Toaster have a nice niche, but aside from David Pinto, I don't know any full time bloggers.
Some quit, like Brian Gunn or Ed Cosette, and some pop up, like Marc Normandin or Will Leitch. Some come and go, like Aaron Gleeman, who's output is still prolific and appeals to me in phases. People think I don't like Aaron - even Aaron sometimes - but I do. I have high hopes for him.
More of the top ten move up, either to bigger and better things like Bat-Girl and her occasional Page 2 outings, or Toaster's own Alex Belth who now has a pic of him doin' the Rockaway up at SI. Jay Jaffe is in an odd netherworld of being both a really good blogger and a regular at BP.
I was charged with a "guest writer" program at BP this off-season and for the most part, it's been a miserable failure. I looked at the list of the top ten and aimed for all ten, plus some people from outside the sphere. I got nearly nothing. Jeff Angus and Jon Weisman did nice work, but both didn't like being behind the wall, an odd sensation for bloggers. Others weren't broad enough to make it outside their niche and still others simply didn't bring their A-game.
So I looked again. I'm not sure that right now I could name the ten best baseball bloggers. Maybe my eye for talent is miscast. What I don't see right now is the next Jaffe, Belth, or Gleeman, but what I do see is what feels like the start of a sea-change in blogs. We're shifting from revolution to evolution and the use of the blog metaphor by ESPN, newspapers, and even teams could well supercede the bloggers by mere weight of marketing and distribution.
I think that at this time next year, the ten good bloggers had better be doing what Belth and Jaffe did.
In yesterday's post, I mentioned Adrian Beltre's walk year spike and I was immediately called on this. Chris in Illinois said he was "sick of the walk year stories", so I dug for where I had read this. While I *know* I read it somewhere, Dayn Perry just did a study on this for the upcoming Baseball Between The Numbers.
While I'm not going to spoil the surprise or sales, I will say that Dayn's study showed that the walk year spike isn't a myth. I'll quote him for a summary: "[P]layers: (1) perform better in their walk years, (2) do so at an age that doesn't lend itself to peaking, and (3) perform better in their walk years than they do in their pre- or postwalk seasons."
I wish I could give you more, but you know what a sales whore I am. Suffice it to say that you'll want to read Dayn's study in full, along with the rest of the cutting-edge re-examinations of issues that will have you saying "wow, I didn't know that!"
White Sox Conductor Says All Aboard the Bandwagon
Just like about everyone else, I'm shocked that the World Champion White Sox would be so active remaking their roster. I've been meaning to comment on their additions, but every time I'm about to post; another deal comes down the turnpike. One thing that has been interesting is how so many haters of Kenny Williams have come out with glowing reviews of his latest deals. (not all, though)
Williams' public persona has always reminded me of the surly Robert Conrad, taunting the media to knock the battery off of his shoulder. Considering how he was cast as an idiot in Moneyball, plus treated by the sabermetric community as the best punchline to a joke, I can understand some of his attitude.
One of our new Toastmasters is Erik Siegrist (WELCOME!) and he has a new article entitled Your New Executive of the Year 2006 is . Erik basically says everything I had planned on writing about the White Sox off-season moves, so you can guess I think it's an excellent post. The one point I would take exception with is his comment that "Scott over at the Juice saw a glass that was half-full when it came to his (Ken Williams) abilities."
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I was critical of Kenny Williams, up until the Uribe trade. At that point, the tide shifted for me. Maybe since I'm a White Sox fan I was a little more open in giving the guy a fresh look, but I feel that too many of my sabermetric brethren were too quick to pounce without looking more deeply at what he was accomplishing.
The best example I can think to demonstrate this was the Freddy Garcia for Jeremy Reed, Miguel Olivo, and Mike Morse trade. Baseball Prospectus slammed this deal, as Reed was completely overrated by the majority at my favorite baseball website. Then came the Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino swap, where once again almost universally the SABR community ripped Williams. One cannot judge a deal solely by looking at the players involved, as freeing up salary to sign Pierzynski and Iguchi were as important to the Lee trade as anything. The guy that wrote this and this was right on.
The one subject that all GM's could learn from Williams is how he evaluates starting pitchers. His staff is filled with arms which all can pitch over 200 innings a year and have been pretty much injury-free. None of these pitchers have contracts longer than 3 years and they all are being paid less than 10 million a year by the White Sox. In a market where Russ Ortiz and A.J. Burnett have received the contracts they have, it's amazing the riches the Sox have. Remember even with the re-signing of Konerko and a roster sporting 6 stud starting pitchers, the White Sox still don't have an overall team salary in baseball's Top 10.
Regular readers at The Juice know that I'm a bona fide contrarian, always looking to stir the vat whenever possible. I didn't think the signing of Ozzie Guillen as manager was a good one (oops) and I've been a critic of the signings of Carl Everett and especially Timo Perez. Overall, though, Kenny Williams' deals since 2004 have made sense to me. Sure the Ritchie trade was a dog, but how many wins has the deal really cost the franchise? Kip Wells and Josh Fogg don't exactly equal to a Sosa for Bell deal. Yeah, Foulke for Koch was a one-year boon for the A's, but remember one of the top left-handed pitchers in baseball, Neil Cotts was obtained with Koch. Two more years of Cotts pitching like 2005 and the White Sox might be the overall champ of that deal.
As I have mentioned before, I have never enjoyed being the Internet defender of Ken Williams, but overall I feel he's gotten a bum rap. Now that almost everyone is hailing him, going as far as putting him in the class of GM's like Schuerholz and Beane, I guess my work is done. Hey, Clay Aiken, give me a jingle. I'm a good advocate for the hated and I've got some free time on my hands.
Swinging and Missing at the Moneyball
Scott wrote about his favorite writers -- and I concur. Ken Rosenthal is kicking butt with his scoops this winter, making FOXSports very happy at that signing, perhaps the best free agent move of the season.
One of my favorite writers, Michael Lewis, just made a phenomenal error, one so basic and wrong that I've stared at it for a couple days. I got the quote off of MCScoresheet, a list-serv for Scoresheet players with lively, smart discussion. (Yes, I know some have problems with the proprietor ... I don't.) Here's the quote, from the NY Times by way of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster '06:
"Ron Shandler expresses his suspicions another way: he flags playerswho acquire power the same season that they've come back from vacation 20 pounds or more heavier. For instance, Shandler has noted that last season (2004) Adrian Beltre, in the final year with the Dodgers before becoming a free agent, reportedly showed up 50 pounds heavier than the year before. Beltre whose career up to that point had been a story of unfulfilled promise, blasted 48 home runs, 25 more than he ever hit in a single season - for which he was rewarded, by the Seattle Mariners, with a new five-year $64 million contract. When a Tacoma, Wash reporter asked if he had used steroids, Beltre laughed in denial.
Beltre was a well-hyped prospect in the late 1990s. He fell short of expectations in is first six years in the majors, some through no fault of his own. He was coming into a contract year, one that would likely determine his long-term financial future. It's not like there was no motivation here. But we can only speculate."
Holy crap. It's one thing to see this error in a blogger, but Lewis is among the finest working writers. There are two problems here:
1. The "proving a negative" is in full effect. Beltre laughed in denial and Lewis makes it seem as if he's laughing at us, all the way to the bank with his steroid-tainted money. I don't know if Beltre used steroids, Michael doesn't know, and you don't know. Only Beltre knows. (Ok, there is that 2003 list floating around, but we may or may not ever see that.) What we DO know is ..
2. Beltre had one of the most devastating medical situations in recent baseball memory. Beltre had an off-season appendectomy that was not closed correctly. When he came to spring training, he had to have a second major surgery to close the seeping wound, yet he STILL came back that year. That's pretty amazing. There's open speculation that Beltre took not only that year, but 2002 to recover. Now, the theory doesn't hold as much water since it surely doesn't take into 2003 to recover and the statistics for games played look similar. This still bears mention because the idea that he gained weight as the result of recovery and age is at least as plausible, if not more so, than the steroid accusation.
Add in the normal aging patterns, the "walk year" effect, and park factors and this accusation is as baseless as saying that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball. I won't lump Lewis in with the chemical McCarthyists yet, but in his recent NY Times Magazine pieces, he's treading a very fine line between objectivity and accusation. He's a better writer and thinker than that.
(BTW, I'm not dismissing Shandler's technique. It's actually one of the more interesting ones and has some basis in fact. I think the bigger problem -- and one seen in PECOTA as well -- is the accuracy of height/weight measurements. A beat writer with a scale could help here or a requirement of giving the physical weight rather than some random roster weight. I'd love to have beat writers tell me things like this, that a player's significantly bigger. In fact, I just tried to see if the LA beat writers mentioned if Beltre looked bigger and couldn't access stories that far back. Be a nice project for someone - go back to the power spike seasons and see if there were beat notes in that spring that gave any hints like "he looks bigger.")
Final note: Nate Silver has an amazing chapter in this spring's "Baseball Between The Numbers", the next non-annual book from BP, that covers this topic and looks at it in a way no one else has. Combined with Jay Jaffe's statistical work in The Juice, I think this should be the statistical nail in the coffin of steroid speculation, but am smart enough to know it won't be.
The Two Baseball Writers Who Are Must-Reads
Just like there is a division between old school and new school GM's, the same goes for baseball writers. For the most part internet writers, be it at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Toaster, Baseball Primer, etc. take the sabermetric angle, while newspaper writers follow the scout's route. While I'm more in the sabermetric camp, I respect most the baseball people who are not too strident on either view. This is why Ken Rosenthal is my favorite baseball scribe.
Rosenthal, who writes for Sporting News and Fox.com is as prolific as Joe Sheehan and Will Carroll, while seemingly having even more inside sources than Peter Gammons. Sure the ESPN guys have the powerful platform that Bristol offers, but with so much content hidden behind pay per view (see Rob Neyer), Rosenthal is consistently the number 1 source for baseball info. He seems to have a solid understanding of sabermetrics, but isn't so far in the stats camp that he can't acknowledge how less measurable qualities can lead to wins.
I would be curious who is the first person you (Juice Readers) go to for information on MLB. To make it more interesting, list magazine or newspaper writers as one category and internet writers/bloggers as a second category.
A quick note: In case you might have missed it, the Toaster has added some new voices. I recommend checking them out, as they're bringing some new points of view to the parent company. I would like to recognize Bob Timmerman, who has taken over THE GRIDDLE. The guy has been slamming out links like he's Jimmy Dean. Man of Timmer has become my go-to site for all news baseball. Great work, though I doubt I will ever be at the top of the Toaster story list again (see titles on top right), because Professor Prolific will have find something to offer up to kick it back down the pipeline.
Recently I was eating at a Chinese Buffet when at the table next to me; some selfish bastards cellphone went off at least 6 times over a 20 minute span. As annoying as this is, it was trumped by the ringtone being AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". Now I like Angus and the boys as much as any guy in his 30's who grew up in a white trash town, but there are very few songs which sound good coming from a cell speaker. One of the most amazing examples of human beings throwing their money away is downloading ringtones. I'm not saying I'm completely innocent of joining the stupid train, as I downloaded The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" when I first purchased my Sidekick, but things have gotten out of control.
As the self-appointed Czar of cellphone rules, can I ask that if you get a lot of calls, turn your volume down or better yet, set it to vibrate. Let me suggest if you want a really cool, unique ringtone, go to frankcaliendo.com and download his free offerings. Frank is the greatest impressionist since Monet. How cool would it be to have Al Pacino or Jim Rome telling you to pick up your phone? Phenomenal! Or maybe you feel the need to have President Dubya or Ted Knight beg you to answer. Come to think of it, I think Bush might have based his performance as President of the United States on the Knight character Ted Baxter. (Oh and while you are at the site, check out his CD's and DVD's.)
One final note on the subject. The only positive of this jackass' phone distortedly blasting Brian Johnson in constant rotation was that it was able to drown out the Chinese muzak rattling from the ceiling. Despite these buffets being inhabited almost solely by fat Caucasians, these restaurants always play godawful Chinese clanging. Does anyone really feel cheated by not having Chinese music play when they shovel platefuls of Americanized Chinese food down their gullets? I bet you could make a lot of money starting a Chinese buffet chain which played easy listening music.
While not having a degree in Chinese history, one of my favorite courses in college was entitled "The Opium Wars to Mao", so I have some book-smarts on the subject. My bet is that not having to listen solely to traditional Chinese music will be enough to keep the Chinese people from wanting to revert back to Communism. Put me in the camp that says American crass media is so addictive that it spreads globalism more effective than anything else. Keep on Rockin' in the Free World!
While I'm discussing China, have you heard about this bird flu? I'm guessing a significant portion of you haven't, since you are instead holed up in an efficiency apartment spending every waking hour trying to break down the newest mathematical equation which proves the worth of left-handed backup catchers. Well for you John Nash's, there's this deal where a deadly virus spread by Chinese Chickens threatens to wipe out the human race. I bring it up because in a recent issue of The Week , it described how the chickens were killed when trying to wipe out the bird flu.
How they kill the birds. Gas them in a large room or hang birds upside down and submerge them in electrified water.
I don't know about you, but I think this is what should happen each week to losing contestants on American Idol.
How are the Football Picks? Try 10-1 Over Past 2 Weeks
Yeah, you read that correctly. Last week gave out 3 picks in the NFL. All winners. With colleges off this week preparing for the Bowl season (look for preview next week), it's another all Pro's week. At this point of the year, you have to search hard for which teams have quit and let me tell you, there are quite a few that have. Don't think I'm going with favorites this week, though, as I found 4 good dogs to jump on. The one thing you will notice about the following selections are they are all lousy games. Actually, there are very few decent games this week, so this might be the weekend to pretend like you are not a sports addict and take your lady to a movie. Make sure to write the date down, so you can come back with this fact when she accuses you of just laying around the couch every weekend.
4 star New Orleans (+10.5) Atlanta
The Saints have been given an impossible task of trying to compete without a home field in 2005. While their record isn't too hot, they have been competitive in most games this year. I've been been saying it all season, Atlanta is overrated. Falcons win by a field goal.
The metaphor doesn't work if you don't know Wicked, or at least the story of Wizard of Oz, but J.P. Ricciardi is now playing the part of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.
That's not an insult.
Again, you have to know the story of Wicked, but it turns the story on its head. Good is boring and ordered, a bit surprised by her own power. Evil isn't so evil, a bit more interesting and easily rooted for.
By signing AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, and commencing a series of trades, Ricciardi is defying the laws of gravity that he and his team know well and taking the chance that the house falls on his head. If Rogers' checkbook gave him the ruby shoes, the bold moves made are both the broomstick he flys on and the house.
That's not to say I agree with the moves. I don't. I'm just saying that there's more than one way to look at things and while I can admire boldness, I'm not going to be standing next to JP, just in case that house comes down.
The Greatest Double Play Duo in Baseball? Nope.
The greatness of Baseball Reference cannot be stated too often. When the White Sox traded for Jim Thome and resigned Paul Konerko the first thing I thought about was forget Tejada and Roberts, the best double play combo would be these 2 big oafs. It seemed a fair statement, considering that Konerko has consistently been one of the leaders in GIDP. I guess my bigoted brain just suspected that Thome being a slow-footed Honky-tonk first sacker like Konerko, he would have similar stats. This is when Baseball Reference wrecked my argument.
Looking at Thome's career GIDP, he has averaged around 8 per year, so that argument has been shot down. Actually, you could point out that unlike past White Sox teams that had Magglio Ordonez (averaged over 20 GIDP's per season), plus Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas (always double figures) jamming up the bases with Konerko, the White Sox were a double play just waiting to happen. Well, I was about to make that argument myself, until those damned statistics got in the way again. The difference in GIDP between the "speedy" 2005 Sox and the "lumbering" teams of the past is negligible. If Guillen is worried about this issue just make sure to have Thome follow Konerko in the batting order.
Ok, now that subject has been solved, I'd like to weigh in on the Thome trade. The two biggest weaknesses the White Sox had coming into the off-season were left-handed bats and poor on base percentage. A healthy Jim Thome solves this problem as well as player in MLB. This was a bold move by GM Kenny Williams, as following a World Championship; he had no pressure to shake things up.
To get Thome the Sox gave up Aaron Rowand, who was the best AL defensive center fielder in 2005. My own personal 2006 PECOTA would state that Rowand's offensive stats will go up about 15%. There has been lots of discussion about how someone can have a career year aided greatly by random stats. This career hitting year will be 2004 for Rowand. What I've never heard discussed is having a career year defensively. Could the ball be hit in the right spots to make a good defensive center fielder appear like Jim Edmonds for one year? Well, if you saw the White Sox series in Yankee stadium during August, you might go along with this theory. While it will be above average, don't expect Rowand's glove to be 2005 magical. Not since Lenny Dykstra has Phillies fans had a center fielder they will love so much, as Rowand will run through a wall.
Ultimately the trade will be measured by how good pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez becomes. Since the White Sox have the best pitching depth in the majors, plus a few more quality prospects in the minors, they were able to deal from strength. Dealing from a position of strength is the reason the Phillies could give up Thome because of Ryan Howard. Following the same reasoning, the only everyday position the White Sox have great depth is at center field, with 4 of their Top 10 minor leaguers playing the position, plus Scott Podsednik, so Rowand was expendable.
Ironically, if you look at Baseball Reference for similar batters to Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado comes up first who just happened to be the other player available who fit the White Sox needs. The Marlins weren't interested in picking up a large portion of Delgado's contract, unlike how the Phillies did with Thome. Back to Baseball Reference, if you look up the number 1 on their list for players similar at the age of 34 to Thome, you get Jose Canseco. Considering that Canseco also had back problems and never had a good year after the age of 34, the White Sox are rolling the dice hoping Thome and Canseco aren't listed comparatively at the age of 36.
So I finally offer up some hardball at the Toaster. Like most baseball writers I went into the story with a couple of theories I was planning on proving. Unfortunately, the numbers threw me the opposite direction. Since this story seems to need a bottom line, as a finish, here is mine. The Konerko signing was an overpayment, but the guy was the biggest reason at the plate that the White Sox won their first series since 1917. He's the team leader and the face of the team, so just consider him the Jason Varitek of 2005. The trade was one of those dreaded win-win deals that I hate to acknowledge. Jim Thome will join Konerko as a fan favorite, as he looks like a Southside soft ball player. Combine this with him being from Peoria and the part about him growing up a Cub fan will be forgiven. With the addition of Thome's bat, the White Sox have put themselves with a team that he is familiar with (the Indians), as the team to beat in 2006.
One of the best things about my job is getting to do things that most of us wish we could. Talk to players? Attend the World Series sans a new mortgage? Write about baseball? Tell people "I'm at work" when sitting at the ballpark? Check.
But the part I really like is taking you guys along. So, here's my question for you -- I'll be in a room with nearly everyone in baseball front offices, including owners. What ONE question would you ask of who(m)?
NFL PIcks (Abbreviated edition)
I know that my NFL picks have received about the same interest as a blog about the Toronto Raptors, but I've been doing them all year and I'm no quitter, so here they are. Oh and by the way... I went 7-1 between college and pro which is even better than Wayne Allan Root.
3 star Houston (+8.5) Baltimore
Slow Motion Crash
Every year, there's an album that comes out of nowhere and jumps at you as something you just have to hear, that is impossible to turn away from. It's what my pal Goldy calls the "car crash effect." You just have to see how it's going to happen. Sometimes it's a full-on meltdown, a band breaking down in the midst of making a great album, executing a mid-career shift, or, when great, captures a moment. The best exacmple I can think of this is Lyle Lovett's "The Road to Ensanada." That album, made just after the breakup with Julia Roberts, makes an amazing pair with the album "I Love Everybody" that followed his marriage. No two albums could be more opposed, yet the bitter, seething rage contained under Lovett's songs is among his most brilliant work. Scott Long correctly picked last years with William Shatner's seriously brilliant "Has Been."
We have this year's car crash album.
Lindsay Lohan doesn't look like she's in trouble on the cover. She's somewhere between the Monroe-esque ingenue and the scarily skinny coke-whore look here, her tattoo of "La Bella Vita" in clear view. The set list looks dangerous -- covers of Stevie Nicks and Cheap Trick are traps that could backfire (and "I Want You To Want Me" is, at best campy.) The album, as a whole, is typical teen-pop, vaguely worded, breathily sung/screamed, and overproduced to the nth degree.
Yet the first song may be the best song of the year. Somehow, I feel confident saying that. "Confessions Of A Broken Heart (Father To Daughter)" is a heartfelt public meltdown that sounds as if it was done in one take, the band slowly backing away as Lohan literally (and perhaps calculatingly) sobs at the end. It's that hint of commercial cynicism that holds you, but the song, if taken purely at face value, stands as a recorded breakdown. There's an immediacy to the song, to the generic building guitars that fade farther and farther into the background. I can't imagine seeing this live. (Then again, I can't imagine being at a Lindsay Lohan show, but that's a different thing altogether.)
In a world where singles are manufactured and Lohan is one of the most manufactured celebrities imaginable, it seems to have come full circle. For a moment in what is an unmemorable career for those not seduced by the empty promise of teenage pulchritude, Lohan tears her heart out and let's us watch it beat, raw and open, for three minutes. Let's see Ashlee Simpson do that.
The Juice's College Hoops Preview Part 4
(DRUM ROLL PLEASE) The final installment of our wildly successful College Basketball Preview. Below is my Top 25. I would be interested on who you, THE JUICE's readers, see as your final 4 team and your sleeper. Please visit the comments section to offer up your predictions.
I can't see much difference between the top 3 teams. I'll take the Huskies to cut down the nets in Indy, as they have a better bench and the best point guard, if Marcus Williams comes off his first half suspension the way I suspect.
While most have Texas in the Top 4, I think they will fall just short. Gibson might be the most talented point in the country, but he's too good of a scorer to be running the offense.
Filling Out the Top 25
Yeah, I have some surprises in my team's between 17-25. Ohio is my ultimate sleeper, with Missouri Valley teams Creighton and Northern Iowa all at least winning one tourney game.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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