Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-3-28

3/28/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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The only spin here is on my screwball

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Top of the 1st
RUSH, RUSH TO BOSTON
There is a little game played with toddlers in the New England area in which a child is placed on a sitting adult’s knees and while moving gently up and down the adult recites:
“Rush, rush to Boston
Rush, rush to Lynn
You better be careful or you might fall in.”

On the last line the knees open and the adult catches the child as it falls between the legs.

This is a lot like playing baseball in Boston, except more and more frequently the player isn’t caught, he just goes tumbling…out of town, to the minors or to oblivion.

This was the off-season where the Red Sox erased all doubts, they want to be like the Yankees and so they will spend like the Yankees. As Murray Chass of the New York Times reports, the teams began last season about $75 million apart in payroll. Based on projected rosters for opening day, the Yankees will start this season at $182.6 million, the Red Sox at $145.7 million, a gap of $36.9 million. The gap was about $89 million following the Sox 2004 World Championship miracle, but the price of success and dismantling of that team has driven the payroll up dramatically.

Boston is Red Sox crazy, ask anyone. There is no community that buys into the hype faster than the Red Sox fan. As soon as a player joins the organization, he is not just big league ready; he is Hall of Fame material. The pressure a player has to experience is not so much being in the big leagues as living up to the fans expectations.

But what is good enough?

After 2004, Orlando Cabrera at short wasn’t good enough even though it was his fielding that brought together the disparate parts of the infield after Nomar was deemed a cancer. Doug Mientkiewicz, the slick fielding first baseman was an annoyance and he went (ironically you can find him starting at first for the Yanks). Dave Roberts, whose steal in the playoffs put the Red Sox into position to overtake the Yankees was dismissed (one of the huge weaknesses for the team this season is the absence of a speedy, defensive outfielder). Second baseman Mark Bellhorn was driven out of town like his predecessor Todd Walker. Coincidentally, both were driven out of the bigs yesterday.

In 2005, Edgar Renteria took his turn at short before he was sent on his way. Kevin Millar, pushed out at first. In 2006, Bill Mueller was gone at third. Tony Graffinino gone at second. Johnny Damon gone in center Now, this season Alex Gonzalez is gone at short, Mark Loretta gone at second, and there simply isn’t enough room to list those who have passed through the revolving bullpen gate.

However, while I don’t want to rehash the tales of Rudy Seanez, Jermaine Van Buren and others who provided little or no relief, it would be remiss not mention the sad case of the anointed closer of the future, Craig Hansen. He was the 26th overall pick in the 2005 draft and the Sox signed him to a four year, guaranteed $4.4 million, major league contract which heightened the expectations of fans and front office alike and may have doomed the kid to failure.

Before the end of the 2005 season, he was rushed to Boston because then, as now, the Sox had major bullpen issues. Since that time, Hansen has made only 29 career minor league appearances compared to 42 in the big leagues and has a career 6.59 ERA in parts of two seasons. He has allowed 72 baserunners in 41 innings.

Hansen would have been happy with those numbers this spring. His ERA was 15.43 when he was sent down with mixed feelings and mixed messages. “He was rushed,” admitted manager Terry Francona in the Boston Globe. “Now we want him in a routine where he can separate himself from other pitchers. By his own admission, he had an uneven spring. We still firmly believe this kid has a bright future and I think he’s prepared to go do that.”

Hansen wasn’t sure, “If they feel like it, they feel like it, I don’t know. I can’t look in the past.” Francona said Hansen would not be used as a closer at Triple A. When Hansen was asked what his Pawtucket role will be, he replied, “Reliever.”

Last year’s man on the hot seat though was Josh Beckett who must be thrilled to have Dice-K taking the spotlight from him, no joshing. Between Matsuzaka and Senator Schilling, Beckett has dropped off the radar and after thriving in the Florida swamps Beckett may actually prosper with the lack of attention paid to him.

The other focus last season was put on Coco Crisp. He came to Boston with a great name, a great personality and the great expectation that he would make all of Red Sox Nation forget their love affair with his predecessor Johnny Damon. Didn’t happen.

Coco got hurt early on and later on and in between did nothing to brag about. Last year, he was the face on billboards, he was the go-to guy for interviews, he was the blessed child, he was the lead-off batter.

This year? Well, you can sense it in his words, “I don’t really care what the people think about me,” Crisp is quoted in a Boston Globe Dan Shaughnessy column. “As far as me wracking my brain about what anybody thinks, I don’t do that. I hope they enjoy watching us play as a team, I do something, they enjoy that part of it. But I don’t care if people think I suck or if they think I’m good. I just go out there and have fun.”

That, my friends, doesn’t sound like a man having fun. It sounds like a guy batting eighth.

So, Dustin Pedroia, Julio Lugo and even you, Daisuke Matsuzaka, you all have rushed to Boston, but there are plenty of people who have been in that Yankees, er, Red Sox clubhouse who will warn you, “You better be careful because you might fall in.”

Top of the 2nd
STILL PLAYING HARDBALL
Major League Baseball refused yesterday to commit to a deal proposed by InDemand, a cable consortium owned by Comcast, Time Warner and Cox, that cable operators carry the Extra Innings package of games at the same financial terms as DirecTV.

Bob DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball, declined repeatedly when asked by Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, to say if he would consider the offer.
“That sounded like a pretty powerful offering,” Kerry said of the proposal to give cable subscribers a two-year reprieve to watch out-of-town games. “What’s the matter with that?” DuPuy said, “We believe that DirecTV has the right to begin to help us build the channel.”

If an agreement is not reached by opening day, cable and Dish Network subscribers will lose Extra Innings for seven years.DirecTV has guaranteed 15 million subscribers to the MLB Channel. InDemand said it had matched the figure, but its offer was rejected last week. Kerry extracted a promise from DuPuy and Jacobson that they would meet before opening day.

Top of the 3rd
DO SPRING TRAINING NUMBERS MATTER?
John Dewan’s Stat of the Week(TM)

We all hear “spring training means nothing,” and yet teams make huge decisions based on spring training. Which is it?
Research shows we can learn something from spring training. A hitter that has a great spring training often goes on to have a better-than-normal season. In precise statistical terms, a hitter with a positive difference between their spring training slugging percentage and their lifetime slugging percentage of 200 points or more alerts us to a step forward in the coming season.
We analyzed hitters with both a minimum of 200 career regular season at-bats and with a minimum of 35 spring training at-bats (through spring training games of Monday, March 26, 2007) and found 36 players who might be heading for above-average seasons.
Possible Breakout Players
(Slugging percentage 200+ points better in spring training)

Hitter Team Diff. Spring Career
Raul Ibanez Sea .436 .905 .469
Ronny Paulino Pit .419 .814 .395
Khalil Greene SD .386 .820 .434
Scott Hairston Ari .370 .800 .430
Jose Guillen Sea .335 .780 .445
Greg Dobbs Phi .329 .680 .351
Brandon Phillips Cin .327 .702 .375
Derrek Lee ChC .304 .804 .500
Johnny Estrada Mil .295 .702 .407
Chase Utley Phi .280 .789 .509
Reed Johnson Tor .280 .703 .423
Jason Smith Tor .266 .651 .385
Lance Niekro SF .263 .692 .429
Jerry Hairston Tex .260 .622 .362
Michael Cuddyer Min .259 .714 .455
Brad Hawpe Col .258 .722 .464
Milton Bradley Oak .255 .684 .429
Mike Rivera Mil .250 .625 .375
Aramis Ramirez ChC .243 .736 .493
Ramon Vazquez Tex .240 .575 .335
Cristian Guzman Was .237 .611 .374
Placido Polanco Det .237 .646 .409
Timo Perez Det .237 .610 .373
Sammy Sosa Tex .236 .773 .537
Ian Kinsler Tex .231 .685 .454
Garret Anderson LAA .224 .694 .470
Jose Cruz SD .223 .676 .453
Vernon Wells Tor .222 .714 .492
Adrian Gonzalez SD .219 .694 .475
Orlando Hudson Ari .216 .644 .428
Ryan Zimmerman Was .216 .695 .479
Willie Bloomquist Sea .215 .544 .329
Howie Kendrick LAA .211 .627 .416
Nick Swisher Oak .211 .679 .468
Jose Valentin NYM .209 .659 .450
Yuniesky Betancourt Sea .202 .596 .394

Top of the 4th
MISSOURI HONORS PETE ROSE
The first Missouri Lottery Scratchers tickets featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals, will give players a chance to win up to $100,000 along with a chance to win unique prizes, including season tickets, luxury box seats, game trips to Chicago, a ceremonial first pitch with game tickets and team merchandise. The two $5 tickets, which go on sale today, offer instant cash prizes ranging from $5 to $100,000. In addition to the instant prizes, players can mail in their non-winning tickets to one of two promotions – “Catch the Cardinals” and “Run with the Royals.”

Top of the 5th
STEP ON THE GAS
The Charleston Riverdogs, one of many teams owned by Mike Veeck, Bill Murray and Marv Goldklang, is offering a unique taste treat this season called the “Homewrecker,” it’s a foot-long, half-pound hot dog with chili, nacho cheese and jalapenos on it. This ballpark haute cuisine costs $4 and for an additional $4 fans can get a trucker hat that has “HOMEWRECKER” written on it. It is unknown which divorce lawyer is sponsoring this concoction.

Top of the 6th
INCORRECT TRIVIA
When you hear the following trivia question: “Who are the only members of the Hall of Fame that have nothing to do with baseball?” The supposed answer is “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.” Actually, that answer isn’t quite correct. Abbott and Costello are not members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, though the comedy duo is featured in the museum.

There is no correct answer to the query.

Top of the 7th
THAT’S ALMONTE
Danny Almonte, now 20, who gained notoriety for playing in the 2001 Little League World Series at 14, has signed a deal with the Southern Illinois Miners.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
There’s a new post-season schedule, with three additional off-days that push the start of the World Series to a Tuesday, a requirement in baseball’s new television contract.

Top of the 9th
R.I.P. ED BAILEY
A memorial service will be held for Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ed Bailey tomorrow at 7 p.m. at West End Church of Christ in Knoxville. The family will receive friends from 5-7 p.m. Bailey died of cancer in Knoxville Friday at the age of 75.

Bailey lettered as a member of the UT baseball team in 1948 before going on to play 14 seasons as a catcher in the Major Leagues. A five-time All-Star, he started his big-league career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1953 and hit a career-best 28 home runs for the Reds in 1956. He went on to play for the San Francisco Giants, the Milwaukee Braves, the Chicago Cubs and the California Angels, appearing in his final game in 1966. He was a member of San Francisco’s 1962 World Series team.

Bailey was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and the UT Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.