Friday, March 30, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted Spring Training Preview Capsules: AL East

(Sixth in a six-part series, teams listed in predicted order of finish).

Foul pops and other observations: I pick the Red Sox every year, and every year the Yankees win the division. Time to break out the old reverse jinx, fellas . . . Not that the Yankees' lineup isn't championship-quality. Superstar-to-be Robinson Cano hit .342 last year, trailing only Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter in the AL. He'll bat eighth. Yikes . . . Derek Jeter's numbers matched his reputation last season. I'm not saying he should have won the MVP, but he was much more valuable to the Yankees than Justin Morneau was to the Twins . . . All right, I'm ready to admit it now. Letting Johnny Damon go was a massive mistake, and yes, it still looks weird to see him clean-shaven and neutered into the True Yankee cult . . .You tell me which vitamins he's taking, and then I'll tell you what kind of season Jason Giambi will have . . . I don't care if he hits 45 homers (and he damn well might): If A-Rod is back with the Yankees in 2008, I'll eat a bowl of Joe Torre's nose hair . . . Though it's hard to believe now that he was once considered the next Dale Murphy, Josh Phelps is a decent gamble at first base. He has 57 homers in 1,203 career at-bats, and he won't be 28 until next month . . . Jorge Posada has declined slightly at the plate, but he's a far better defensive catcher than he was in the days when Cone and Clemens, among others, disliked throwing to him . . . But about that starting pitching . . . When Carl Pavano is your opening day starter, you know there are some issues, no matter what the circumstances . . . Nineteen-game winner Chien-Ming Wang is a lightning rod for debate between the scouts and the stat guys. Scouts will tell you Wang can be a top-of-the-rotation starter because of his tremendous sinker, which produces groundout after groundout when he is on. The stat guys look at his strikeout rate (barely three per nine innings last year) and tell you no pitcher in history has ever succeeded for any length of time with such a pathetic K-rate. I'm rooting for the stat guys on this one . . . Maybe Andy Pettitte will be the answer (though rumor has it that he has Dr. Jobe on speed dial), but if the starters aren't better than expected, Scott Proctor's right arm will be hanging by a thread by August . . . The most similar pitcher to Mike Mussina, according to baseballreference: Juan Marichal. Not bad company . . . The drama is unmatched, but 18 regular-season games between the Sox and the Yankees? That's getting to be too many for my nerves.

Breakthrough player: Philip Hughes. He'll be a major factor as soon as he arrives.

Breakdown player: A-Rod. Emotionally, not physically.

Completely random Bill James stat: A-Rod led American League players in fielding errors with 14. (That excludes throwing errors.)

(Extended preview capsule coming Monday. How's that for a cop out?)

Foul pops and other observations: The Jays will prove a worthy summer-long opponent to the Sox and Yankees, but come September, they'll be looking up at the big boys . . . Why? They don't have the lineup depth of the Yankees or the pitching depth of the Sox . . . Roy Halladay is the ace of the division, capable of winning a Cy Young award in any given year. But he's followed by perennial tease A.J. Burnett, erratic Gustavo Chacin, journeyman Tomo Ohka, and, almost unfathomably, atrocious slopballer Josh Towers, who beat out Victor Zambrano for the fifth spot. Halladay and Burnett need to win 40 games between them just to make the rest of the rotation sufferable . . . It would help if Chacin, who was 4-0 against the Sox last year, could stay healthy, but he's already in John Gibbons's doghouse and is Toronto's early frontrunner for the Hillenbrand/Lilly Award, given annually to the Jay who is most likely to get sucker-punched by his manager . . . This lineup will score some runs, though anyone expecting Frank Thomas to duplicate his comeback season Oakland is probably a member of the Ricciardi family. Thomas played in in just 108 games the previous two seasons, and he'll be 39 next month . . . Vernon Wells is one of the premier all-around players in the American League, a class act who is just now hitting his prime . . . and yet, I get this nagging sense that he should be better. His numbers stagnated after his breakout 2003, when he went .317-33-117, and he hit just .272 in '04 and .269 in '05 before bouncing back at .303-33-106 last year. Given his ability (and paycheck), he needs to build on those numbers rather than regress again . . . The rumors are so prevalent that you have to figure there is some truth to them, but I can't understand why the Jays would consider dealing Alex Rios. He was on his way to putting up Wells-like numbers before he was sidetracked by a staph infection . . . Sox fans won't complain that two longtime pests have moved on, Frank Catalanotto to Texas and lefty Ted Lilly to the Chicago Cubs. Now if we could just do something about Reed Johnson and Gregg Zaun.

Breakthrough player: Aaron Hill. After a horrendous start last season, the former first-round pick show resilience in battling back to finish at .291. (It was tempting to pick Adam Lind here, but the slugging outfielder is beginning the season at Syracuse.)

Breakdown player: Thomas. The Big Hurt will be.

Completely random Bill James stat: Troy Glaus led the American League in home runs at home (25).

Foul pops and other observations: A once-great franchise slogs through another year of mediocrity and irrelevance . . . Wishy-washy and meddlesome owner Peter Angelos was somehow convinced to spend $42.4 million dollars renovating the bullpen. Unfortunately, each new reliever arrives at Camden Yards with a question mark next to his name, so this new bullpen is unlikely to draw comparisons to the '02 Angels . . . Chad Bradford couldn't handle the AL East gauntlet during his stint with the Sox in '05, Danys Baez had a 4.53 ERA in the National League last season, Scott Williamson seems to have Tommy John surgery every other season, and lefty specialist Jamie Walker allowed a Wasdinesque eight homers in 48 innings in '06 . . . The starting pitching isn't deep (see: Jaret Wright, third starter), but Opening Day starter Erik Bedard might have the best repertoire of any AL lefty not currently employed in Minnesota. He could win 18 . . . I'm skeptical that Daniel Cabrera will ever put it together. Mechanical problems are the bane of tall pitchers, and the 6-foot-8 inch Cabrera's command often goes on the fritz without warning . . . Miguel Tejada quietly batted a career-best .330 last season, with 24 homers and 100 RBIs, and he's living up the Orioles' legacy of dependable shortstops: he hasn't missed a game since 2000 . . . Kevin Millar had two more homers and eight fewer RBIs than the man who bumped him out of Boston, Kevin Youkilis. And he did it in 139 fewer at-bats . . . Aubrey Huff's home run and RBI totals have decreased three straight years, so I'm thinking he might not be up to the task of protecting Tejada . . . I was hardly shocked to see Brian Roberts's name mentioned in the Jason Grimsley case. He hit more homers in 2005 than he did in the first four seasons of his career combined, and he looks nothing like the Pedroia-sized singles hitter who first arrived in Baltimore in 2001.

Breakthrough player: Nick Markakis. He's a .310-25-95 season waiting to happen. The kid can rake.

Breakdown player: Melvin Mora. The 35-year-old dropped to 16 homers last year after hitting 27 in each of the previous two seasons.

Completely random Bill James stat: Cabrera led the AL in wild pitches (17) and walks (104).

Foul pops and other observations: It was tempting to pick them ahead of Baltimore due to their potent young offense, but they just don't have the pitching beyond ace Scott Kazmir . . . Despite their need (desperation?) for lively arms, GM Andrew Friedman was wise in not fulfilling the winter rumor and dealing Carl Crawford to Anaheim for Ervin Santana. Crawford is already among the elite players in the AL, he's only 24, and his home run totals have increased from 5 to 11 to 15 to 18 in his four full seasons. He's a franchise cornerstone, not a trading chip . . . Where did it go wrong for Jorge Cantu? After knocking in 117 runs two years ago, he finds himself in purgatory with the Durham Bulls while he waits to see if the front office will grant his trade request. There have to be more issues with him than the foot injury that derailed his '06 season . . . Jonny Gomes batted .216 with 20 homers while whiffing 116 times in 385 at-bats last year. Wonder if he's ever heard of Rob Deer . . . Assuming resists the urge to impale any umpires with his Louisville Slugger, Delmon Young will be a five-tool star sooner rather than later, but I'm not sure baseball's premier outfield prospect will hit for power right away. He whacked just 8 homers in 342 at-bats at Durham last season . . . With Young, Elijah Dukes, and B.J. Upton, the D-Rays seem to have cornered the market on prospects who are as troubled as they are talented. Wouldn't it be something if Josh Hamilton, given a second (or third . . . or fourth . . .) chance in Cincinnati, ends up being better than all of them?

Breakthrough player: Kazmir. This is the year he dominates everyone else the way he does the Red Sox.

Breakdown player: Rocco Baldelli. Injuries will continue to prevent the pride of Rhode Island from living up to his immense natural ability.

Completely random Bill James stat: Shawn Camp was second in the AL in relief wins with 7, trailing only Seattle's Julio Mateo.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don't mock me

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free dispatches from mom's basement for you . . .

1. In his latest mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. has the Patriots selecting Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis at 24, then landing Florida safety Reggie Nelson at 28. While I'm slightly wary of Gator safeties - Are you out there? Tony George? Is that you, Guss Scott? - Nelson sounds like the real deal, and I think I've made it pretty clear here that Willis is TATB's annual draft binky. Unfortunately, pretty much every other mock draft has workout warrior Willis long gone before the Patriots pick, and the last time Kiper was right about the Pats on draft day, I think they selected Reggie Dupard. Hell, Kiper's still scratching his man-bouffant over the Logan Mankins pick.

2. Given that I can look out the window and still see a home run Vernon Wells hit off him in August accelerating toward the moon, I'm not quite ready to trust Josh Beckett just yet. But damn, when he's throwing three nasty pitches for strikes, as he's done all spring, I can't help but wonder if he'll emerge as a force in his second year in Boston.

3. I'm not going to pretend I'm an accomplished NBA scout like, say, Marty Blake or Bill Simmons, but for this slightly-more-than-casual hoops fan, there sure have been some fun revelations in the tournament this year. Georgetown's Jeff Green isn't the quickest player on the court, but the ball always seems to find him in the big moments, and I love his slashing game. And while his behemoth teammate, Roy Hibbert, probably won't amount to much more than space-filler in the NBA because of his plodding ways, he's smart and a deft passer who deserves praise for making himself into a legitimate player. There are NBA teams who would be glad to have Ohio State freshman Mike Conley Jr. running their offense right now, and I'm even coming around on Florida's Joakim Noah, whose relentless hustle and shrewd court sense might help him become something more than the NBA role player I thought he'd be. The Final Four should be a blast.

4. As for Durant or Oden? Give me Oden, and without a moment's hesitation. Oh, I do love Durant, and believe he'll be an amalgam of Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony in the NBA, a perennial All-Star, a potential scoring champ. But I think NBA history makes it apparent that a franchise big guy is a far more valuable commodity that a franchise wing player. Oden's performance in the tournament, epitomized by his game-saving volleyball spike of a block at the end of the Tennessee game, has left me with no doubt that he will eventually be a franchise player in the NBA, and a dominating defender from Day 1.

5. As fun as it's been to watch Durant and Oden find superstardom, my two all-time favorite freshmen remain Chris Jackson (LSU, '89) and Kenny Anderson (Georgia Tech, '90). Forget about the slugs they became in the NBA. If you saw them in college, you understand.

6. Anyone who's wondering why ESPN would dump Joe Theismann and replace him with Ron Jaworski on "Monday Night Football" is forgetting three important facts. 1) Jaws was nothing short of terrific in Week 1 last season when he and Dick Vermeil were the analysts for the second MNF game of the season-opening doubleheader. 2) He has terrific chemistry with Tony Kornheiser during his guest spots on "PTI," and it's a reasonable gamble to assume that will transfer to the broadcast booth. 3) Theismann was humorless, never shut the **** up, rarely made an insightful point, and contradicted himself constantly. But other than that, he was great.

7. If there's anything we've learned about Rick Pitino, it's that when he says he's not interested in the Kentucky job, there's a pretty good chance he's interested in the Kentucky job. I do think his slippery protege, Billy Donovan, gets first dibs, though.

8. His Idiot's Guide To Plagiarism was one thing, but yesterday's suggestion that the Celtics might want to consider trading for pretty-close-to-untouchable Jazz star Carlos Boozer made it official: Butch Stearns has officially passed Steve Burton as the frontrunner for our annual TV Sports Dude Who Was Most Likely Dropped On His Head As An Infant award. Stay tuned.

9. Quick programming note: Starting next week, TATB will be writing a weekly column for in the Nine Innings format. (The kicker: It's not Red Sox-related. You mean there are other teams?) Also, it looks like we'll have some sort of affiliation with soon, and we've got a few other cool freelance things going on as well that we'll let you in on once they become semi-official. My point: Please check the other stuff out, and thanks for making it all possible.

10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

So I fire off a Google search for "baseball card," and ol' Wilbur here is the first thing to come up. Yep, that's what I call random.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Grilling season

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free Manny-owned appliances for you . . .

1. Well, since the Twins weren't giving up Joe Nathan and the Yankees are yet to make Mariano Rivera available, I guess this is the next-best thing, right? Returning Jonathan Papelbon to the role in which he dominated like no other Sox closer since . . . well, who, the Monster? . . . makes plenty of sense even if you do detect a whiff of panic, for it solves a big problem while creating a much smaller one in the starting rotation. (One I think Tito is convinced Kason Gabbard will eventually fill.) I have to admit, though, I'm a bit disappointed that Papelbon won't be starting. I was giddy over the thought of having a trio of 26-year-old potential aces surrounding Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield in the rotation, and it seems to me the Sox's greatest advantage over the Yankees coming into the season was starting pitching. I had Papelbon penciled in for 16-18 wins and 200 Ks. I guess 40 saves and a lot less late-inning stress will be an acceptable consolation prize. (And yes, we are pretending that we have no concerns about his shoulder's ability to handle the burden. Let's just move on, okay?)

2. I've caught myself rubbernecking at Schilling's 38-car pileup of a blog (yeah, I know . . . pot, kettle, black) the last few days, and mark my words, he's going to write something that causes a *^&$storm in the clubhouse, and sooner rather than later. Just today, he took an unbecoming shot at Bob Tewksbury, who's about as controversial as vanilla ice cream, revealed that "John" would be closing, and answered a question about a long-ago incident with Scott Williamson that A) made no sense, and B) sure read like a guilty man's revision of history. Yeah, I suppose we should have known he'd be as self-important behind the keyboard as he is in front of a microphone.

3. Let's see, since pissing away the AFC title game, the Patriots have: retained their ballhawking young cornerback whom everyone thought would bolt for the biggest bucks as a free agent; signed the best linebacker available, one who happens to perfectly fit their defensive system; acquired three intriguing wide receivers, each of whom brings a different skill-set to the huddle; signed a blocking tight end and a versatile backup running back; and vastly improved their team without trading either of their first-round picks. So I have to ask: Is it possible to actually surpass a best-case scenario?

4. As far as I can tell, there have been four worthwhile NBA season-inside books through the years. 1) "The Breaks of the Game," David Halberstam (about the the transitional late '70s Blazers, with plenty of Halberstam's patented big-picture wisdom). 2) ":07 Seconds or Less," Jack McCallum (about last year's Suns, a fun read but comes up slightly short in the insight/juicy details department). 3) "Unfinished Business," McCallum (about the 1990-91 Celtics, it's worth it for the comedic stylings of Kevin McHale alone). 4) "The Short Season: A Diary of the 1977-78 Boston Celtics," John Powers (a winning look at a surprisingly terrible team, but one that did not lack for characters). If you've got a fifth to add to this list, well hell, let me know, because I'd love to read it.

5. For the record, I have no problem with the Official Muse Of TATB's increasing aversion to clothing . . . well, other than the fact that the pictures tend to melt me until I'm nothing more than a puddle and a pair of tube socks. But I'm guessing you knew that. In a related note, when the hell is "The Office" coming back with a new episode? It's been so long, if Roy did indeed live up to his vow to kill Jim, ol' Halpert's probably been reincarnated by now. I'm suddenly finding myself spending my Beesly-free Thursdays watching "American Idol" for the first time, and frankly, I'm not all that comfortable with that. But it is addictive, you develop your favorites, and I'm pulling for the beatbox kid, Blake. He nailed that Keane song a few weeks back. And Sanjaya . . . yikes. Step away from the curling iron, son. I think he's the hermaphrodite child Michael Jackson never had. I honestly don't understand why the voters haven't sent this tone-deaf Peter Pan back to Neverland already.

6. Yep, I'm convinced. Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to be worth every digit on his paycheck. As if his ability to throw four above-average pitches at varying speeds to the exact spot Jason Varitek places his mitt isn't enough to convince us he'll be an ace from Day 1, then Varitek's complete inability to mask his admiration (is awe too strong a word?) for Dice-K is evidence enough of his elite talent. I cannot wait.

7. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm assuming that Donny Marshall will not be with Fox Sports New England for long. The former UConn star and NBA vagabond is nothing less than outstanding as Tommy Heinsohn's stand-in and, more often, as a studio analyst on the Celtics broadcasts. Marshall is refreshingly candid in critiquing his former peers, such as when he noted recently that Desmond Mason, a capable enough scorer, actually has a reputation for clogging up his team's offense because he insists on posting up all the time despite being just 6-foot-5. It was exactly the kind of insight I want to hear from a former player. You'd have to think one of the networks at some point is going to catch on to Marshall's talent and swipe him away.

8. Seriously, f you didn't laugh at the whole "Hi, this is Manny Ramirez. Check out this kickin' grill!" episode, then you are taking your time here way too seriously, my friend. (And that goes double for that bloated bag o' gas John Dennis, who actually spent moments of his life trying to find out if Manny was violating any eBay rules, for no other reason than to stir up more faux-controversial nonsense) This whole situation was classic Manny, and I mean that in the good sense. Why not enjoy it? (And I'm still laughing at his response the other day to a question about the closing situation: "Not my department." Again: Classic Manny. I sure am going to miss the goof when he returns to his native planet.)

9. Allen Ray, Brian Scalabrine, and Rajon Rondo combined to play 64 minutes against the Bobcats without scoring a single point. Consider those numbers again: Sixty-four minutes. Zero points. Nah, Doc's not tanking a thing.

10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes it really is random.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted Spring Training Preview Capsules: AL Central

(Fifth in a six-part series. Teams listed in predicted order of finish.)

Foul tips and other observations: I wouldn't be stunned to see Detroit, Chicago or even Cleveland win the the Central, but I'm going with the Twins because of the Johan Factor . . . I used to think he was the reincarnation of Ron Guidry, a lefty with killer stuff who would enjoy a transcendant season or two but wouldn't be able to maintain his brilliance long-term due to his small physical stature . . . I sold him short, so to speak . . . If he can keep this up for a couple more seasons - and at 28 and with a reasonable workload thus far, it's entirely possible - he could cement a legacy as the lefty version of Pedro Martinez . . . Santana's highest WHIP the last three years? 0.99. . . . He's 78-31 in his career, a .716 winning percentage . . . He has two years left on his contract, and Twins fans are already sweating bullets that the front office won't ante up . . . Of course, he's not the only good thing here . . . The Twins not only boast the Cy Young winner, but the batting champ (Joe Mauer) and MVP (Justin Morneau), and the Best Interview In Sports (Torii Hunter) . . . And Joe Nathan gets the TATB vote for the game's best closer. I'm not sure I've ever seen him give up a run . . . Morneau will always be okay in our book for swiping the MVP award from Captain Intangibles, whom the New York media had already anointed . . . If Francisco Liriano could pitch - and it's a baseball tragedy that he can't - the Twins might be the odds-on favorite in the AL. But with a rotation that includes unproven Matt Garza and retreads Ramon (Little Pedro My Ass) Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, the burden will fall on their bullpen to be lights-out once again.

Breakthrough player: Mauer. Yeah, it's rather ridiculous to predict a breakthrough from a guy who hit .347, but he'll improve his power this season to the point that he's the runaway winner in the MVP race.

Breakdown player: Ponson. He'll be found passed out next to a half-eaten case of Little Debbie snacks sometime before midseason.

Completely random Bill James stat: Mauer led AL players under age 26 in OPS at .936. Morneau was second at .934.

Foul tips and other observations: There's no doubt that they could prove last season was no fluke, particularly with the addition of a hungry, healthy Gary Sheffield to the heart of the order . . . But color me skeptical that everything will go right for them once again. I don't think Todd Jones will save 37 games, I don't think Kenny Rogers will go 17-9 (no matter how much brown gunk he loads on the ball), and I don't think Magglio Ordonez will stay healthy for 155 games again . . . And there's no way Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames combine for 54 homers again . . . Though I prefer Tito Francona, among others, I'll admit Jim Leyland is a fine manager, an old-school, no-b.s. guy who somehow connects with today's players. Hell, even Barry Bonds and Sheffield respect him. I'm just saying that the media fawning last October got a more than a little tiresome. Also, between all the coffee and cigarettes, there's a pretty good chance he has the worst breath in baseball . . . There's a lot of skepticism that Justin Verlander can duplicate his 17-win rookie season, particularly because the additional postseason workload seemed to wear him down. But as long as the Tigers are cautious with him, there's no reason to think he can't do it again. He has an ace's arm . . . Carlos Guillen might be the game's most underrated hitter. The last three seasons, he has hit .318, .320, and .320, and his 2006 numbers were only slightly below MVP runnerup Derek Jeter's.

Breakthrough player: Curtis Granderson. His .260-19-68 debut was only the tip of the iceberg, though he needs to cut back on the 174 strikeouts if he's to fulfill his potential.

Breakdown player: Jones. Hard to believe this is the same guy who looked gassed for the 2003 Sox.

Completely random Bill James stat: Guitar Hero Joel Zumaya threw 233 pitches over 100 mph. New York's Kyle Farnsworth was second with 26.

Foul tips and other observations: Another team that could win the division if everything breaks right and Ozzie Guillen manages to avoid murdering Jay Mariotti until after the season . . . Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye combined for 121 homers last season, and Joe Crede quietly put up .283-30-94 numbers. In other words, they can win a slugfest with anyone on a given day . . . He doesn't get the Mazzone treatment from the media, but Don Cooper is one of the better pitching coaches around. It's not coincidence that the White Sox tend to get the best out of pitchers who have struggled elsewhere . . . Which makes me think they must know something about Brandon McCarthy that the Rangers don't, because otherwise I don't understand this trade . . . I'm with FireJoeMorgan: Darin Erstad sucks . . . Considering he didn't stick in the big leagues until age 27, Scott Podsednik (2003 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, 2005 postseason hero) has carved out a nice little niche for himself. Nice wife, too. (Google at your own risk) . . . I'll try to avoid cynicism in wondering how Jermaine Dye hit 44 home runs last season at age 32 after never hitting more than 33 previously. Maybe he really was healthy for the first time in years . . . For the record, Pablo Ozuna is the Official Utility Player of TATB. His enthusiasm made him a joy to watch in person as a Sea Dog seven years ago, though back in 2000 he was thought to be 20 years old. He'll be 33 this season. You do the math . . . And speaking of lying about your age, I'd be much more confident in a Jose Contreras rejuvenation if I didn't suspect he was closer to 45 than 35.

Breakthrough player: Charlie Haeger. Because we always root for the knuckleballer.

Breakdown player: Bobby Jenks. His violent delivery doesn't bode well for longterm success.

Completely random Bill James stat: Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland each allowed 247 hits, tying Cleveland's Jake Westbrook for the AL lead.

Foul tips and other observations: If they only had a little more pitching . . . C.C. Sabathia is a workhorse if not quite an ace, but No. 2 starter Westbrook is more suited as a No. 3 or No. 4, Paul Byrd is the epitome of a journeyman, and Cliff Lee is beginning the season on the DL . . . Maybe phenom Adam Miller will be the answer. The 22-year-old righty was sent to Triple A this week, but he'll be a factor in Cleveland before the summer arrives . . . Remember that trade a few years back in which the Red Sox were going to send Casey Fossum to Texas for Kenny Rogers and a prospect? That prospect was Travis Hafner. Gah. . . . Hafner is the Indians' version of Papi - his clutch hits through the past two seasons are too numerous to list here . . . Also like Papi, he's hugely popular and owns a glove for no known reason . . . What happened to Jhonny Peralta last season? After his breakthrough 24-homer 2005 season, he regressed to .257-13-68 last year, and the Indians were very disappointed with his defense . . . John Schuerholz knew what he was doing when he dealt Andy Marte, didn't he? His prospect star has dimmed a lot . . . Victor Martinez's home runs have decreased from 23 in '04 to 20 in '05 to 16 last year . . . Grady Sizemore, who rapped 92 extra-base hits last year at age 23, is the Tribe's best center fielder since Willie Mays Hayes.

Breakthrough player: Josh Barfield. Jesse's kid should go 20-20 in his first AL season.

Breakdown player: Trot Nixon. But his gritty, gutty hat will be dirtier than Lake Erie.

Completely random Bill James stat: Hafner had the highest slugging percentage in the AL among cleanup hitters (.662). Manny Ramirez was second at .621.

Foul tips and other observations: Well, at least they're spending money now . . . The $55 million spent on Gil Meche and his 55-44, 4.65 career line became something of a punch line, but Meche does have top-of-the-rotation ability, and as long as Jason Marquis is collecting that ridiculous paycheck from the Cubs, he'll never be regarded as the worst signing of the offseason . . . Hard to believe Angel Berroa was the AL Rookie of the Year in '03. He's becoming the Cristian Guzman of the AL . . . The other Alex Gonzalez - you know, the one who can't field - is in the mix for a backup infielder job. Or maybe he's there to take Berroa's gig . . . Here's hoping Zack Grienke can overcome his demons and find some satisfaction from baseball, because it wasn't so long ago that he was being touted (in a somewhat over the top way in certain circles) as a potential ace . . . Reggie Sanders's most similar player according to Ron Gant. That's absolutely perfect . . . His glove is just a prop, but Ryan Shealy has the pop to hit 25-30 homers . . . Not that we doubt his ability to make it through the season healthy, but if you listen closely, you can hear Mike Sweeney's back creaking from here.

Breakthrough player: Alex Gordon. The consensus best prospect in baseball is the Nomar to Mark Teahen's John Valentin.

Breakdown player: Sanders. He never seems to make it through a season without snapping one limb or another, yet he's managed to accumulate 303 homers and 304 steals in 17 big-league seasons.

Completely random Bill James stat: Berroa made 15 throwing errors, tying Detroit's Guillen for the league lead.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Analyzing Bill James's Red Sox projections, Part 2

Because Dale and Holley are no doubt desperate for a topic to crib for today's show, we're back with some Sox projections from the Bill James Handbook. Today, the pitchers . . .

Curt Schilling

12-8 3.50 ERA, 177 Ks in 180 innings
Looks like James expects Schilling's age (and girth) to cause him to visit the disabled list once or twice. Given that Schilling has failed to pitch 180 innings only twice since 1996 - in 2003 (broken hand) and 2005 (bloody sock aftermath), I like the odds that he'll throw 200-plus innings and surpass these numbers.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
27-2, 1.33 ERA, 305 Ks in 256 innings, two no-hitters, Cy Young, MVP, World Series MVP, Academy Award winner
Damn, looks like James believes the hype and then some. I guess Dice-K really is going to make us forget all about Pedr . . . oh, all right, I admit it: I made those numbers up. There's no projection for Dice-K, for obvious reasons, though I do think it's worth noting that in his first season stateside, at age 26, Hideo Nomo went 13-6 with 2.54 ERA, whiffing 236 in 191.3 innings while allowing just 124 hits. If Matsuzaka could pitch as well for the Sox as his countryman did for the Dodgers a dozen years ago, I think we'd all be satisfied.

Josh Beckett
13-10, 3.68, 191 Ks in 208 innings
Let's put it this way: If Beckett pitches 208 innings with a 3.68 ERA, he's winning a hell of a lot more than 13 games.

Jonathan Papelbon
14-6, 2.98 ERA, 181 Ks in 184 innings
It's tough to project stats for a closer who's becoming a starter, mostly because the move is so unusual. (John Smoltz is the only recent example who comes immediately to mind.) Still, the numbers seems to favor Papelbon making the transition successfully, and the 14 wins is a comparitively high projection given that James's scale appears conservative; he has no one in either league winning 20 games. For what it's worth, I would not be shocked if Papelbon ended up being the ace of this staff. Does anyone doubt his stuff or his makeup?

Tim Wakefield
8-8 4.14 ERA, 108 Ks in 152 innings.
Wakefield, who turns 41 on August 2, is regarded as a "high injury risk," thus the 152-inning projection. But I have to wonder if that takes into account that he's a knuckleballer, an often ageless specie. Consider: at 40, Phil Niekro threw 342 innings (and went 21-20); Charlie Hough pitched 252 innings; and Tom Candiotti threw 201 innings. If he can avoid another fluke rib injury, I have doubt that Wakefield will devour 200 innings again.

Joel Pineiro
7-9, 4.50 ERA in 92 Ks in 144 innings.
This one should be disregarded - the numbers are based on Pineiro starting for Seattle, not relieving for Boston. He has looked like he's throwing the ball with some bite lately, so maybe this low-risk move will have some reward, if not necessarily a high one.

Brendan Donnelly
3.41 ERA, 64 Ks in 66 innings
Mark it down: The cantankerous ex-Angel is your opening day closer . . . though you, me, and Tito are hoping the Sox won't need one at all in Kansas City.

Mike Timlin
3.86 ERA, 46 Ks in 70 innings
The nagging strained oblique muscle isn't exactly an encouraging sign that last year's woes are behind him.

Julian Tavarez
4.56 ERA, 43 Ks in 75 innings
I actually get a kick out of Manny's completely insane personal spokesman, though I'd like him more if he didn't accumulate most of his highlights during garbage time.

J.C. Romero
4.40 ERA, 36 Ks, 24 BBs in 44 innings
Twenty-four walks in 44 innings? Yep, this talented hothead is the leader in the clubhouse for the title of Reliever Who Is Going to Have Me Cursing At The TV While Simultaneously Sucker-Punching The Cat. Should be a good time.

Manny Delcarmen
3.88 ERA, 77 Ks in 78 innings
The K-rate is certainly encouraging, and if the pride of Hyde Park can just harness his high-grade stuff a little more often, he could really become an integral part of the bullpen in the late innings. Yes, I'm glad he (and Craig Hansen) were dealbreakers in the rumored Todd Helton swap. (FYI: There is no projection for Hansen.)

Kyle Snyder
4.84 ERA, 51 Ks in 80 innings, 97 hits allowed
The Sox could do worse for a spot starter/mopup man, though I really don't want to see Bronson Arroyo With A Pituitary Problem pitch 80 innings unless half of them are at Pawtucket.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Analyzing Bill James's Red Sox projections, Part 1

Last season, Bill James projected that Kevin Youkilis would bat .278 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 149 games in his first full season as a big leaguer.

James, being a calculator-toting nerdling who obviously wouldn't know a baseball if one beaned him in his headgear, was, of course, wrong. Youkilis batted .279 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs in 147 games. The Mind of Bill James, my $#@.

All right, so you've got us: we were just trying to sound like your standard bitter, closed-minded, old-school, stat-mocking, Goodwill-wardrobed baseball writer there. (Our model was Murray Chass, if you must know.) As you probably realize if you've visited this space previously, we unabashadly admire James not only for the pioneering ways he has enhanced baseball analysis, but because he is one hell of a fun writer to read. There aren't too many people who can mesh words and numbers into a compelling package. He can, and you bet I'm glad he's a Red Sox employee.

Of course, that doesn't mean we always agree with his conclusions. For instance, I'm not sure how he can project Trot Nixon to hit 223 career homers, when the calcifying 33-year-old outfielder has just 133 right now and has totaled just 27 over the past three seasons. By my calculations, it would take Trot 10 years to hit the 90 he needs to fulfill James's projection. At the rate he's going, I'm not sure Trot will have all of his limbs a decade from now.

Nevertheless, it all makes for fun debate. And with that in mind, we here at TATB cracked open the 2007 Bill James Handbook that always seems to be within an arm's length, and took a look at James's 2007 stat projections for each relevant member of the Red Sox. Check out the numbers he came up with (and our take on said numbers), and let us know how accurate you think he'll be:

Julio Lugo
James's projection: .277-11-55 in 564 at-bats; 25 steals
TATB's take: Alex Gonzalez hit .255 with 9 homers and 50 RBIs in nearly 200 fewer at-bats lats season, and the 2006 season highlight reel is proof that he is just about peerless defensively. In other words, Lugo is going to have to surpass James's projections and play better D than he is known for if Sox fans are going to stop reminding him about his predecessor.

Kevin Youkilis
.283-14-77 in 584 at-bats; 101 runs; .395 OBP
These numbers seem about right for Youkilis, although you'd hope he could avoid another late-season fade and perhaps increase his power in his second season as a regular. Is 20 homers too much to ask?

.285-47-138 in 601 at-bats
I'm somewhat surprised that he forecasts a 7-homer dropoff given that Papi has increased his home run total each season since 2000 (10-18-20-31-41-47-54). Then again, how much better can the big guy possibly get? Do I hear 60 taters?

.305-37-118 in 512 at-bats; 1.004 OPS
For all of the kvetching about his quirks, there is no more reliable player in baseball in terms of offensive production. So it is that James predicts another typical Manny season, one that would leave him with 507 homers. I don't know about you, but I'm planning on being in Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame speech a dozen years or so from now. It's worth noting that James pegs Manny to play 140 games, which means 22 days' worth of mind-numbing programming for the Big Show is already preset.

J.D. Drew
.283-24-82 in 499 at-bats
A lot of the stat gurus think Drew will be hindered by Fenway power-wise and is more likely to finish in the high teens in home runs. I'm fine with swapping a few homers for a few doubles. All that really matters is that Drew stays healthy and on the field, because he will produce if he plays.

Mike Lowell
.273-18-77 in 502 at-bats
Given that his bat was as slow as Heather Mills's 40-yard-dash time in the second half last season, I'd take these numbers without a moment's hesitation. At least we know his defense will be stellar.

Jason Varitek
.259-17-69 in 468 at-bats
Ditto what I said for Lowell. I don't doubt that Varitek has the will to bounce back. It's just that 35-year-old catchers coming off knee surgery rarely do.

Coco Crisp
.284-11-54 in 511 at-bats; 23 steals
With good health, ol' Covelli Loyce eclipses these numbers with ease and duplicates the .300-16-69 line he put up in his last season with the Tribe. Let's just hope that finger is finally healed, because at 27, there's still time for him to become a dynamic offensive player.

Dustin Pedroia
.284-10-72 in 619 at-bats; 47 doubles
And with these numbers comes a dilemma: Finding a place for an AL Rookie of the Year Trophy that's bigger than he is.

(Pitchers and other suspects coming up in tomorrow's post.)

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Our new favorite player

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free mysterious gyroballs for you . . .

1. I've been reading Gammons since I was eight years old, and this little anecdote from a recent column might be my favorite line he's ever written. It's from an item on Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur and how the lifelong Sox fan is looking forward to playing in Boston this season:

Talk about a perfect personality for Fenway Park . . . Team USA players like to tell the story of Francoeur confronting Alex Rodriguez during the WBC for trashing a clubhouse kid who brought him the wrong sandwich.

Seriously, how funny is that? You can practically visualize A-Rod lambasting the kid: "Dammit, kid, if I told you once . . . MR. A-ROD DOES NOT EAT TUNA FISH! NOW GO GET MR. A-ROD SOME *%&$*#*#*#&$&& HUMMUS ON FOCACCIA! NOW, SON!"

2. I'm sure Tom Brady finds the thought as intriguing as we do, but I have to believe there's a better chance of Donald Hayes being hired as the offensive coordinator than there is of Randy Moss playing for the Patriots next season. Not only did he set a league record for dogging it last season, but more than a few scouts think his once-supreme talent is in rapid decline due to neglect.

3. Old friend Antoine Walker is shooting a sizzling 39 percent from the free throw line this season for the Heat. Might be time to ask Shaq for some pointers.

4. After 10 spins on's very cool NBA lottery generator, I had the Celtics ending up with Greg Oden twice, Kevin Durant twice . . . and Joakim Freakin' Noah six times. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. If the Celtics end up with bust-to-be Noah, there's a good chance the next time you see me I'll be dangling from the Garden rafters with a noose fashioned out of one of the retired numbers. (Probably LOSCY).

5. So I guess Peter King's assertion that Belichick's role in the sad Ted Johnson saga would prevent veteran players from coming to the Patriots was just one more of his weekly Dumbass Things I Think I Think, right? Adalius Thomas certainly seems to have no qualms about his new coach's personality.

6. Hmmm, I wonder who Peyton is taking to the prom. (Oh, of course: Chesney).

7. I feel really good about this Sox team - like, say, 98+ wins and a memorable playoff run good. But if I had to rank my list of concerns, it would looks something like this: 1) Closer, obviously. Joel Pineiro seems set to play the role of Chad Fox. 2) Mike Lowell's bat. He was fortunate in the first half and feeble in the second. 3) Jason Varitek's health/durability. Because the less Mirabelli, the better. 4) Julio Lugo's glove. Yeah, it's early, but from what I've seen so far, he's going to be a lot closer to Edgar Renteria than Alex Gonzalez defensively.

8. There are no new "The Office" episodes for another month or so, meaning we'll have to get our pathetic fanboy Beesley fix from insightful articles like this one. Rumor has it that a couple TATB readers were in attendance at this thing, though I'm still waiting for them to report back. You don't think they were charged in violation of my restraining order, do you?

9. In his 2007 Handbook, Bill James projects Manny Ramirez to finish his career with 691 home runs. That's 221 more than he has right now, at age 34. Seems a little iffy to me that Manny will average over 30 homers per season from now into his 40s, but I wonder if this means James is pushing the Sox to pick up his option years.

10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Say it ain't so, Craig Hansen. Give us a reason to believe you're not the second coming of Wes Gardner.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted, Spring Training Preview Capsules: AL West

(Fourth in a six-part series, teams listed in predicted order of finish.)

Foul tips and other observations:
Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby are the pitcher and position-player version of each other: immensely talented, and immensely unreliable. Imagine what the A's might have accomplished last year if they were healthy . . . Nick Swisher seems poised to justify his off-the-charts cockiness this season. Thirty-five homers isn't out of the question, and he's become the frathouse president that Jason Giambi used to be . . . Billy Beane might be worthy of the "Moneyball" adulation, but I can't help but remember that one of his first acts with the Sox would have been to trade Jason Varitek and try to acquire someone named Mark Johnson to be the starting catcher. I believe that would have fallen under the heading "Unforgivable sins" . . . Mike Piazza won't approach the departed Frank Thomas's numbers at DH, but he'll be productive enough that Beane will look shrewd for bringing him to the Bay Area. Think .290-22-85 . . . I've been a believer in Danny Haren since he shut down the Sox in relief in Game 1 of the '04 World Series. St. Louis might have won a game had Tony La Russa known what he had . . . Eric Chavez hit only .241 last year. I know he was hurt, but that's just shameful. A player of his raw ability should be able hit .250 swinging a ThunderStick blindfolded.

Breakthrough player: Haren. He's the pitcher Harden was supposed to be.

Breakdown player: Crosby, Harden. I'm not betting against this trend.

Completely random Bill James stat: Swisher had the best at-bat per homer ratio (15.9) for AL players under age 26.

Foul tips and other observations:
Wow, throwing $50 million at one-year wonder Gary Matthews Jr. looks really good now, huh? . . . Is there any player who earned more admiration in a short stay with the Red Sox than Orlando Cabrera? Oh, right - Dave Roberts . . . Justin Speier was atop my free-agent wish list for the Sox, but not at the price Anaheim is paying him . . . Garret Anderson was vastly underrated in his heyday, and is vastly overrated now . . . Ervin Santana is far more effective at home than on the road, but if I were the Orioles, I would have agreed to the Angels' terms and dealt Miguel Tejada for Santana and Erick Aybar in a heartbeat. Good health willing, he could win 20 on stuff alone . . . Whaddaya think Bartolo Colon weighs in at these days after a year of inactivity? The over/under is three bills . . . I don't get the Shea Hillenbrand signing. They needed an elite hitter, not another free-swinger who puts up just decent numbers. Plus, he's a dink . . . K-Rod must have some extra-strength elbow ligaments. With the ridiculous torque he puts on that breaking ball, it's a wonder he hasn't yet had to pay a visit to Dr. James Andrews yet . . . I still can't believe Darren Oliver is an effective big-league pitcher. He looked finished with the Sox five years ago.

Breakthrough player: Howie Kendrick (pictured). The second coming of Bill Madlock.

Breakdown player: Vlad Guerrero. He's still among the elite, but his body is gradually betraying him, and he moves in right field like Redd Foxx.

Completely random Bill James stat: The underrated John Lackey had the best Game Score for any starting pitcher in the AL last season, earning a 95 for his complete-game, one-hit, no-walk, 10-strikeout performance against Oakland July 7.

Foul tips and other observations:
The Yankees (1996) and D-Backs (2001) both won the World Series the season after micromanager Buck Showalter was shown the door . . . Could Texas make it 3 for 3? Not likely, but it's tempting to pick them higher in the division . . . There is a nice collection of talent here, and new manager Ron Washington gets rave reviews for his knowledge and people skills . . . He made a nice recovery in the second half with 23 homers, but I'm still curious why Mark Teixeira suffered such a power outage early last season . . . Frank Catalanotto is back with the Rangers after terrorizing the Red Sox the past few seasons while with the Jays. I'd love to see him play for the Sox someday, and Theo did make a pitch to him in the offseason . . . Vincente Padilla has always driven his pitching coaches mad with his stubbornness, and I'm guessing his fat new contract isn't going to make him any more coachable . . . Ian Kinsler (.286-14-55) is going to be an elite fantasy second baseman by season's end, and Gerald Laird isn't a bad sleeper at catcher. He can rake . . . In his ongoing quest to play for every team in North America, Kenny Lofton will be patrolling center field in Arlington. At least until wears out his welcome again . . . Eric Gagne isn't going to stay healthy, is he?

Breakthrough player: Brandon McCarthy. The White Sox eased him into the big leagues in low-leverage relief situations, treated him as an elite pitching prospect should be treated, then just as he was on the verge of locking down a spot in the starting rotation for the next decade. . . he was traded for an unpolished prospect named John Danks? I don't get it. I say McCarthy wins 15 games and Kenny Williams has some 'splaining to do.

Breakdown player: Hank Blalock. Once touted by Gammons as a George Brett clone, he regressed to .266-16-89 last season. What's going wrong here?

Completely random Bill James stat: Michael Young led the AL in batting with runners in scoring position (.412). Bonus stat: Young hit .615 with the bases loaded, second only to Anaheim's Juan Rivera (.667).

Foul tips and other observations:
I'm not saying Bill Bavasi is incompetent, but I'm pretty sure he'd be the guy at your fantasy league draft who kept trying to pick players three rounds after someone else took them . . . I don't get the Rafael Soriano-for-Horacio Ramirez trade, I don't get why he signed October flash Jeff Weaver, and I don't get why he acquired a rapidly aging Jose Vidro to DH . . . Other than that, you're doing a great job, Billy . . . No wonder Ichiro's frustrated. Do you think he'll be playing for the Sox or the Yankees a year from now? . . . Remember when the Red Sox supposedly coveted Jeremy Reed to replace Johnny Damon? In comparison to Reed's wretched 2006 season, suddenly Coco Crisp's first season doesn't look so disappointing . . . This is not hyperbole: Felix Hernandez has the best stuff in baseball, the little lefty in Minnesota included. Better yet, he got off the El Guapo diet in the offseason and dedicated himself to conditioning. He could be a monster this season . . . Nomar's kid brother Michael Garciaparra is on the 40-man roster, listed at second base. He does not appear to have Nomar's ability, or his beak . . . He didn't get much in the way of publicity, but J.J. Putz was brilliant in his first season as a closer, saving 36 games with a 2.30 ERA and whiffing 104 in 78.1 innings.

Breakthrough player: Hernandez. In terms of sheer stuff, he's somewhere between K-Rod and a young Doc Gooden.

Breakdown player: Vidro. The Mariners would be better off bringing back Alvin Davis.

Completely random Bill James stat: Richie Sexson swung and missed at 22.5 percent of the pitches he saw, the highest percentage in the league.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Catching up on the three big Boston sporting developments of the past few days:

The Patriots ante up for ex-Ravens wrecking ball Adalius Thomas and a handful of other valuable free agents: Let us count the ways we are jacked and pumped about this stunning, stealth masterstroke by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. We'll start with the obvious: Thomas is exactly what the Patriots so desperately needed: a versatile, smart, playmaking linebacker whose mere presence will make Sundays much easier for Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, and Rosey Colvin. He's a prime-of-his-career clone of Willie McGinest, except - dare I suggest it - better than No. 55 ever was. His skills are so varied that, as the legend goes, he once lined up at cornerback - yes, cornerback - against the Bengals and promptly pummeled Chad Johnson mute. Hell, he even eased some of the pain from the collapse against the Colts, for had the Patriots not lost, Belichick wouldn't have had the chance to coach (and - get this - charm) Thomas at the Pro Bowl. But you know what might be the best development in all of this? It silences all the Blow-Dried Banshees who spent the entire season yelping and yowling that the Patriots are cheap and refuse to pay for talent simply because they wouldn't cough up 50 million or so bucks for a pretty good but not great receiver who was already under contract. Anyone who follows this franchise with even a shred of objectivity understands that Belichick, Pioli, and Bob Kraft are more than willing to pay top dollar for what they perceive to be A-list talent, whether it was spent on Colvin and Rodney Harrison after the '02 season, or on contract extensions for Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Dan Koppen and Matt Light, among others. What they will not do is compromise the salary cap by paying a player more than they believe he is worth. And they should be applauded for that, just as they should be applauded for signing the top player on the free-agent market to a six-year, $60 million deal on the first day of free agency. At this point, only a Lubriderm-slathered metrosexual idiot would question the Patriots' team-building strategy. Not that we have anyone in particular in mind there.

As far as the rest of the shopping spree . . . well, again, what's not to like? Sammy Morris is an excellent depth acquisition, a fierce runner who also plays a mean special teams. Kyle Brady should help negate the impending loss of blocker extraordinaire Daniel Graham, and besides, the Patriots can never have too many Bradys. (I guarantee at least one of Ordway's lackeys thinks they're brothers.) And should the Dolphins not match the Patriots' offer to restricted free-agent receiver Wes Welker, New England will have added an amalgam of an in-his-prime Troy Brown and Tim Dwight while robbing a division foe of its leading pass-catcher. Yeah, you could say these have been a reaffirming few days for Patriots fans. When does training camp open again?

Daisuke Matsuzaka limits mighty Boston College to one hit in two innings in his Red Sox spring debut: Okay, so the stage wasn't exactly Yankee Stadium in October. Still, after an offseason's worth of hype and intrigue, it was cool to see Dice-K finally, you know, pitch. And while we can hardly draw any conclusions from his casual 25-pitch effort (other than the fact that he can definitely hold his own in the ACC), it was reassuring and just plain fun to catch snippets and flashes of the pitcher he is supposed to be. Our scattered early observations: His breaking ball is top-notch. A couple of times he got swinging strikes on lefthanded hitters on pitches that nearly hit them in the feet . . . His high fastball seems to dart naturally down and in on righthanded hitters . . . I am curious as to how often he will get the high strike call, because that supposedly was one of his main strikeout pitches in Japan. He certainly got the benefit of the doubt from the college umpire Friday . . . He was only throwing in the low 90s, but John Farrell said he could amp it up to 96 when the moment calls for it. That I want to see . . . His throwing motion is incredibly compact and smooth, very similar to Mike Mussina's . . . I was surprised at how small he looks out there - he almost makes Pedro look physically imposing . . . Bottom line: As long as the Yankees don't replace Johnny Damon with Johnny Ayers, I'm thinking he's going to be quite all right. I can't wait to see him pitch again.

The Celtics win three straight and fall 2 1/2 games "behind" Memphis in the Race For Oden/Durant: Quick, somebody pull a Gillooly on Paul Pierce! Encourage Rajon Rondo to shoot all the threes he wants . . . and the same goes for Kendrick Perkins! Put Bassy Telfair on the opposition's best scorer and tell him the defensive strategy is to kindly step aside! Bury that emerging beast Big Al on the bench, pronto, and make Veal Scalabrine the focal point of the offense! C'mon, Doc, this is urgent! Your Celtics are - gasp! - winning! It's time for you to wake the hell up and start "coaching" this team ineptly again! The future and our allotment of ping-pong balls depend on it!

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nine innings: 03.01.07

Playing nine innings while begging Matt White for a couple million bucks, or at least a few rocks . . .

1. Manny's in camp. He's in fantastic shape, to the point that he looks like he could go 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs if the season started today. And the ever-present goofy smile on his face confirms Official Manny Spokesman Julian Tavarez's claim that he's content being a member of the Boston Red Sox. So I have to ask: do we really need to spend any more words on this nonsense, at least until someone gets on-the-record confirmation of what actually happened last August? The snide, innuendo-laden hatchet jobs just get so damn old.

2. I'm giddy with anticipation for Daisuke Matsuzaka's Red Sox debut tonight, and no, I don't care that it's against freakin' Boston College; he could be facing the Saugus Little Leaguers at this point, and after all these months of devouring the hype, intrigue, and grainy YouTube footage, I'd still be geeked to watch him finally take the mound in a Red Sox jersey. Which brings me to a particularly pressing question for baseball fans everywhere: Where, exactly, do you take Dice-K in your fantasy league draft? I'm convinced he's going no later than the second round of the 11-team, semi-high-stakes league I'm in with some work buddies - hell, I might just be the one to pull the trigger. Yeah, I think he's going to be that good, though I suppose I should watch him pitch against someone other than an Atlantic Coast Conference also-ran before I proclaim him the Cy Young frontrunner.

3. It's not exactly a reenactment of the Bronx Zoo, but a Sox fan had to chuckle at the melodrama surrounding the Yankees earlier this spring. Mariano Rivera surprised everyone by speaking publicly about his disappointment over not being signed beyond this season. Gary Sheffield, classy as always, ripped Joe Torre from afar, while Randy Johnson, surly as always, blamed everyone in New York but himself for his failure to make it there. What else? Let's see . . . Bernie Williams refused to depart as gracefully as he played, Stanford tough guy Mike Mussina called out Porcelain Carl Pavano, and Georgie Porgie kept such a low profile that the suspicion is growing that there's a Weekend At Bernie's situation going on here. Geez, and here we thought Brian Cashman had restored some level of sanity to the franchise.

4. Oh, and as for the devastating news that Jeter and A-Rod no longer have sleepovers? The supposed feud is blown way out of proportion. While they may not quite be Best Friends Forever, we here at TATB have it on good authority that they still get together every few weeks to make S'mores, slather each other in Driven and purple lipstick, gossip and giggle about the cute boys on other big league teams, and braid each other's hair. It's quite sweet, really.

5. I'd be a lot more concerned about the Sox's wait-and-see approach to Curt Schilling's request for an extension if he didn't look like he was hiding the other four members of the starting rotation under his shirt.

6. All right, dear readers, I've got an assignment for you. (Don't worry, this time it doesn't involve the Elephant Walk.) I'm looking for a couple good baseball and NBA books to add to my sports library, and other than the recent Clemente bio, I'm having a tough time finding anything interesting I haven't already read. So if you've got a second, shoot me an email or peck a few words in the comments with your suggestions and favorites, old or new, best-sellers or obscurities. And for the record, I've obviously got several copies of this masterpiece already.

7. A three-item Patriots interlude: 1) I'm going to be bummed if they don't get Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis in the first round. He's a perfect fit for the system, and if you are familiar with his backstory, you know his maturity and work ethic is beyond reproach. 2) Some fortunate team (Denver?) is going to be getting a very good football player in Daniel Graham. He's a better receiver than he gets credit for, in part because he had the dropsies early in his career and the reputation stuck, and in part because he sacrificed his own numbers for the betterment of the team. Graham's the best blocking tight end the Patriots have had since Lin Dawson, he was respected by his coaches and teammates, and he'll be missed even if Dave Thomas does prove to be a capable replacement. 3) Randy Moss to the Pats? Intriguing on some level, but I suspect the odds of it happening are about the same as Belichick signing ass-capped loudmouth Joey Porter: slim, but not quite none.

8. I'm not going to get all Simmonsy on you and disingenuously pretend that three Saturdays spent slobbering over Greg Oden and Kevin Durant have made me a Bilas-level expert on college hoops, but I will say this: Dick Vitale (and inadvertently, Billy Donovan) confirmed what I've thought all along, that Al Horford is going to be a far superior pro to Joakim Noah. In terms of size and skill, Horford is a classic NBA power forward, and he's only getting better. Noah? He plays passionately and he's a clever interior passer, but his shot is a mess and I'm not sure he's going to be able to rebound in the NBA. To put it another way: If the ping-pong balls fail the Celtics again and they somehow end up taking Noah at No. 3, I'm giving the *%& up.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Sure, we all see President Dubya and The Mick and the handiwork of a crazed Topps photoshopper, but this card is really about what you don't see. Rumor has it that just outside the frame on the right, A-Rod is standing in the on-deck circle, flipping Jeter the bird as a single tear rolls down his perfectly exfoliated cheek. (C'mon, you knew we were kidding before! They don't make S'mores! They hate each other!)

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