Friday, September 30, 2011

Balk 5 - Award predictions

American League Cy Young
Justin Verlander 

Do I really need to write anything here? Weaver put up a great fight, but it was Verlander's award since August.

National League Cy Young
Roy Halladay

Kershaw has a lower ERA, WHIP, and more Wins and Strikeouts. He won 2 more games, a .07 lower ERA, .06 lower WHIP, 28 more Strikeouts, and gave up 19 more Walks. He also had 9 starts against the Padres and Giants. Call me biased, but the schedule Halladay faced was more imposing in a more difficult park yet he still gave up fewer walks and homers than Kershaw. Doc also had 8 complete games against Kershaw's 5.

National League MVP
Matt Kemp

I don't think I really need to explain this pick. Some give it to Braun, but it's Kemp's season considering the lack of supporting cast, management controversy, and position difficulty.

American League MVP
Jacoby Ellsbury

Sorry Bautista, but Jacoby played in 8 more games with no DH appearances compared to your dozen. 154 games in center produced 0 errors compared to Bautista's 8 errors in fewer games in the field. Attention all Yankee candidates, the fact that there is more than one of  you means none of you were "most valuable" to the team let alone league. Jacoby also hit .358 during the Red Sox September slide. Without that performance the Wild Card race doesn't go down to the final game and the Sox collapse is even more epic.

National League Rookie of the Year
Craig Kimbrel

The Braves decided to pitch their rookie closer until his arm fell off and fell out of the wild card race as a consequence. But throughout the season Kimbrel was dynamic and lockdown with his 46 Saves, securing himself his own piece of hardware if not a post season appearance.

American League Rookie of the Year
Mark Trumbo

I know Eric Hosmer, Michael Pineada, and J.P. Arencebia are getting a lot of media time in the AL ROY debate, simply put they shouldn't be in the mix. Arencibia was a monster for game appearances but batted .229 on the year. Pineada won his last game in July and had a second half ERA of 5.12 as the season wore down on him. Ivan Nova is tougher but with 7 starts the year before I don't really count him as a rookie. Hosmer has been on fire since August. Great, I'm sure the Red Sox wish there weren't a previous 3 months in the season too but unfortunately there were. Trumbo as a rookie won his team's MVP award and had them on the cusp of a decisive series before breaking a bone in his foot. For a guy expecting to only be a place holder for star Kendrys Morales for a few weeks at the start of the season, I think that's ROY material if I've ever seen it.

National League Comeback Player of the Year
Ryan Vogelsong

Journeyman who last pitched in 2006 for a MLB club turned vital part of the Giant's rotation and All-Star in 2011. He went from AAA player to innings eater who was flat out dominate at times throughout the season. Easy call even though I know some throw Berkman's hat in the ring.

American League Comeback Player of the Year
Jacoby Ellsbury

An injury wasted 2010 didn't slow Ellsbury down from propelling himself not only into the MVP debate, but easily secures his comeback award. 

American League Silver Sluggers

Catcher Victor Martinez
First Miguel Cabrera
Second Dustin Pedroia
Short Asdrubal Cabrera
Third Adrian Beltre
Right Field Jose Bautista
Center Field Jacoby Ellsbury
Left Field Alex Gordon
Designated Hitter Michael Young

A few comments. Victor Martinez is a no brainer despite being not a full catcher. Cabrera same deal. Pedroia vs Cano came down to a higher OBP, more steals, and almost the same number of RBI despite the horrendous April and September the Sox went through. The parity of production despite the epic decline of the team really pushed Pedroia over the top. 

National League Silver Sluggers

Catcher Miguel Montero
Pitcher Daniel Hudson
First Prince Fielder
Second Brandon Phillips
Short Jose Reyes
Third Aramis Ramirez
Right Field Justin Upton
Center Field Matt Kemp
Left Field Ryan Braun

I don't think any of these actually need to be explained.

American League Gold Glovers

Catcher Matt Wieters
First Adrian Gonzalez 
Second Dustin Pedroia
Short Jhonny Peralta
Third Adrian Beltre
Right Field Nick Markakis
Center Field Peter Bourjos
Left Field Alex Gordon
Pitcher Dan Haren

National League Gold Glovers

Catcher Yadier Molina
First Joey Votto 
Second Neil Walker
Short Troy Tulowitzki
Third Placido Polanco
Right Field Jay Bruce
Center Field Matt Kemp
Left Field Ryan Braun
Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RBI (39) Another local boy done good...

It seems to be a general theme with the Angels especially that they like to acquire Southern California natives. This proved to be true with Long Beach native former catcher Mike Fitzgerald even though it was only for a lone season.

Fitzgerald was drafted by the New York Mets in the 6th round of the 1978 draft after attending Lakewood High school. It wasn't until 1983 that Fitzgerald made his debut for the Mets, appearing in only 8 games. Fitz' had the distinction of being one of the few Major Leaguers to hit a Home Run in his first Major League at-bat. Following the '83 season Fitz' became a regular player for the Mets appearing in 112 games before being traded to the Montreal Expos.

Fitzgerald played the majority of his career for the Expos and in seven seasons from 1985-1991 acted as a primary catcher for the team appearing in 633 games. He displayed solid glove work and when needed moved from behind the plate to play in every position except for pitcher and shortstop. Offensively Fitz' made modest contributions, but his defense, versatility, and ability to get on base were positive enough for the California Angels to take a stab at the Long Beach native in 1992.

After his lone year with the Angels, Fitzgerald hung up his cleats and retired from professional baseball. He ended his career with a .235 average to go with 48 Home Runs and 293 RBI. Most impressive though, was the catcher's ability to draw a walk throughout his career despite his low power numbers. Fitz retired with a .321 OBP and an astoundingly few number of double plays grounded into for his 10 years in the bigs, a mere 65. In today's metric analyzed game I'm confident in saying his talents would most definitely be appreciated by GM's.

Mike was an amazingly kind veteran to have the opportunity to meet. I was able to get his autograph through the Angel's 50th Anniversary promotion, but when I first got into line I was planning on having Fitz autograph a ball since I couldn't find a card for him. When a few friends got their autograph they came back and showed Mike had actually brought his own very large stack of cards from throughout his career and was signing the item and offering an autographed card to go with it. I couldn't believe it and really do appreciate Mr. Fitzgerald being so kind to offer that. I know all the fans walked away happy and grateful that the local boy treated everyone so well. 

Also I think the signature is one of the more unique and almost artsy signatures that I've seen. This 1988 Score card from Fitzgerald's Expos days is definitely a keeper. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

RBI (38) Some Bucks are worth more than others...

Especially when the "Buck" is former Major League player, manager, and coach Bob "Buck" Rodgers. A baseball lifer, it was great to have the chance to meet Buck as part of the Angels 50th Anniversary promotion.

Rodgers signed as an amateur free agent in 1956 with the Detroit Tigers, but he made his MLB debut in 1961 with the Angels. In 1961 he played in 16 games and would make the 1962 Opening Day roster for the halos in 1962 as the starting catcher at the tender age of 23.  Despite his young age he dazzled on both sides of the plate throughout the season. Amazingly the rookie not only played in 155 games, but also caught Bo Belinsky's no-hitter, the first no-hitter thrown in Angel franchise history. The rookie workhorse batted .258 and notched 61 RBIs, eventually when the season came to a close he came in second for the AL Rookie of the Year.

He'd play top level defense behind the plate for the Angels for 9 seasons before eventually hanging up his hat in 1969. The switch hitting catcher would retire with 31 Home Runs, 288 RBI, and a .232 average. Despite only playing for 9 seasons, Buck appeared in 932 games, an astounding average of 103 games a season.

The ironman didn't take any time off in his retirement and begin serving as a coach or farm manager throughout the 70's. He was finally made a Major League manager in 1980 taking over the Milwaukee Brewers. He would move on to manage the Montreal Expos where he'd win the 1987 NL Manager of the Year award. Eventually Rodgers came full circle and manager the California Angels until the team bus he was traveling on crashed and gave him serious injuries. Rodgers would miss half the season recovering and when he returned the magic that made him a Manager of the Year was gone and he'd finally retire from baseball in 1994 with a 784-774 managerial record.

I bought this 1963 Topps card at a card show and was able to get it signed as part of the Angel's 50th anniversary celebration. I was a big fan of the card and had the option of getting Buck's rookie card, but this All-Star Rookie sophomore card was too nice to pass up. When I saw Buck signing the card, I noticed he was writing more than he had for the previous few people. Before he handed back the card, he leaned in to the Angel handler and said quietly "That was always my favorite card." When I compared my card to some of the balls that he'd signed I realized all the other autographs were just 'Buck Rodgers' and I really appreciated Buck taking the time to give me a special full name autograph because he favored the card.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

RBI (37) Hats off, or should I say...

Capps? Minnesota reliever Matt Capps that is. I've had unconfirmed reports that one of the going nicknames for Matt is the "Mad Capper" and when you take a glance at his signature you may be inclined to agree.

The native Georgian was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round of the 2002 draft, and was intended to be developed into a starter. He didn't find much success as a starter, but in 2005 he was converted to relief work and made quick work of the minors eventually appearing in 4 games for the Pirates.

Since those 4 games in 2005 Capps has been fairly successful bouncing between the Pirates, rebuilding Washington Nationals, and currently Minnesota Twins as a setup man/closer. After signing with the Nationals when he wasn't tendered by the Pirates in 2010 the "Mad Capper" posted a strong first half earning himself his first All-Star selection. His first half was so impressive the Twins gave up a jewel in their farm in a top ranked catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

Capps was fairly reliable and especially necessary for the playoff hunt since the Twins lost elite closer Joe Nathan to injury in the 2010 season. When Nathan returned healthy the two went through a battle trading the closer role until Nathan regained his top form and closing role while Capps took a minor step back from his 2010 success. 2011 has seen Capps collect 15 Saves but also 8 Blown Save opportunities with an 4.11 ERA in 63 appearances.

For his career Capps has a 28-28 record and 3.48 ERA over the past 7 seasons. In 408 appearances Capps has finished 251 games, 124 of which were for a Save. His fastball and slider have netted him 297 Strikeouts which has him punching out batters at a pretty reliable rate. While the closer role may have eluded him in Minnesota Capps has the ability to continue pitching in the league with a solid amount of success and should be around for seasons to come.
Matt Capps autographed this numbered Topps 2011 Gold parallel for me at Angel Stadium before a Twins-Angel game. I was able to get his attention after he warmed up with another reliever I couldn't identify and asked him if he could sign his gold card. He was really nice to grab a water and then walk over to sign it for me before he started doing autographs for other fans. I'm thinking that somehow when he walked over he changed from Matt Capps to the "Mad Capper" because it's a pretty crazy signature and at first thought he put an extra "S" before I realized those are 5's next to the "C". Regardless I got it signed and I was pretty happy with it. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Big League Moment (2) Zack Hample

Well I woke up on the holiday morning a little bit latter than normal and logged onto my computer to see a wonderful surprise. Author, blogger, and ballhawk extraordinaire Zack Hample had altered his West Coast road trip to include the September 5th game at Angel stadium. To say I was excited is to an understatement. I immediately went into action with the necessary preparations for a surprise visit by his ballhawk-ness.

Less you readers forget, or don't know, Zack is the ballhawk/author who has written the books How to Snag Major League Baseballs, Watching Baseball Smarter, and The Baseball while updating readers with his blog The Baseball Collector in his ball collecting supremacy. I've only read the latter two books and follow the blog, and can firmly recommend all three as entertaining and necessary reads.

But, back to the preparations. I snag baseballs as needed typically with a specific use of the ball in mind when I start. Shockingly I will admit I've always barehanded balls or gotten them handed to me by a player or coach. I've actually only had one drop this season and that was when I was knocked on the arm by someone next to me. Anyways, in honor of Zack I decided the time was right to finally get a glove. I also decided it was necessary to get a hardcopy of his book The Baseball, because my copy was a digital one on my Nook. Thus off I went in the rain to buy both book and glove.

While waiting for the stadium to open it happened, my friend spotted Zack and we went over to introduce ourselves. I'll say it once and I'll repeat it as often as needed, Zack's a nice guy. He not only signed his book but wrote a nice inscription and personalized it to me. I really did appreciate him sitting down to get a better position to sign. We discussed the layout of the stadium a bit and I let him do his thing with a local reporter who was following up on the hero of the first Mike Trout homer. Here's a quick photo outside of them talking.
If you're interested in reading the article about Zack in the OC register you can find it here.

I was able to catch up to Zack inside after he had gone on a bit of a snagging spree after I caught my glove's first ball, a nice toss up by Trayvon Robinson in Center Field. It's a pretty high throw but Trayvon put it right on the money and the fresh glove caught it perfectly though stiffly.

I went down to the seats behind the visiting Mariners dugout where Zack was and he let me tag along with him for a bit to answer a few questions and watch him work trying to get a ball for the warming up Mariners.

It was a bit loud so I couldn't record the interview, but I did take notes. The answers if they seem short and sharp are only because I couldn't write full response in my notes while at the game, but I will say he gave great answers to everything while I interviewed Zack Hample.

You've talked about a few helpful players in your blog and books, who are the players that really help you out with balls?

"Brian Stokes, D.J. Carrasco, Livian Hernandez even though he always asks me how many he's given me this season."

Are there any players who go out of their way to not give you a ball or help?

"It's been a while since a player did that. Probably a few years."

Citing my own failure to reel in a ball by Felix Hernandez, he threw it in the sun and I was completely blinded, are there any big players you'd like to get a ball from?

"Texiera, Matt Kemp even though he's hard to get a ball from, Robinson Cano, plenty of good players it'd be nice to get one from."

Do you have any balls you'd like to get still?

"I'd really like to get any 100th ball from someone."

I was wondering if you thought about trying to get in on Thome's 600th.

"I thought about Thome, but when he was at 598 he was in Detroit. He homered twice in that game, and it's really tough to get balls from there."

Referring back to my earlier drop I had to ask how often Zack dropped a ball. He was pretty candid and put my drop into perspective.

"Even the pros have an error or two and misplay a ball. I probably don't really drop a toss up but can miss a homer on the fly. If it hits the edge of my glove it's probably because I wasn't focusing enough. Earlier I misplayed BP and started to leave when I didn't realize there was another BP group."

I know when certain teams come to town there's a drop off in homers. When the Nationals came there was a bit of a drop. Do you notice if it's harder to get a BP ball in an National League stadium than an American League since there's no designated hitter?

"Really? The Nationals have some power guys. Michael Moorse? I don't really notice a difference."

What type of glove do you use?

"Mizuno and the one before this was Mizuno."

How old is that glove?

"This one I've had for about 15 years" Zack then showed that despite the pretty well used and worn exterior, he had redone the interior of the glove and "hope the glove survives this trip."

Zack was traveling around the stadium with his friends and had been shadowed by a representative of the media due to him catching Mike Trout's first career home run. I had to ask how many times he's been at a game with the media and if it affected him.

"I don't have an actual statistic or tally on that. Probably about a half dozen or so times this year. I may miss a ball or two while we're doing something and be a few seconds too late, but it doesn't hurt too much."

Did you end up getting that Mike Trout jersey? (He asked Trout's mom for an autographed jersey since he was nice enough to return Trout's first career homer, but didn't force the issue and demand it from Trout as a trade for the ball)

"No. I mean I could have insisted on it at the time, but it just wasn't something I was looking to do. I didn't want to come off looking like I was taking advantage of him."

All the locals will want to know, how does Angel Stadium stack up on your West Coast road trip?

"It's medium, an okay stadium to look at with not too much going on. It's a little tough since the double bullpens take away prime power alley space. It's tough to go side to side since you have to go up and around to go from Right to Left. And they stopped me from using my glove trick, so that's a knock."

Really what happened?

"I used it once and a Mariners player who saw it wanted me to do it again. He set up a ball and I did the glove trick. Security came down, made me show them my ID, filed an incident report, and cut the string for the trick."

Zack and I finished watching the Mariners warming up and unsuccessfully tried to get a ball from Adam Kennedy. Kennedy I know is from Riverside, CA and I've seen him give away balls before but I think they were to his own kids or family friends so that didn't really surprise me and is pretty fair I think. I thanked Zack for the chance to watch him work and told him I'd try to get back down to behind the dugout after the game, but wasn't able to make it down. It really was a pleasure to meet Zack and have the chance to ask him questions as we hung out.

You can follow Zack Hample on twitter @Zack_Hample