Tag:Ryan Braun
Posted on: October 8, 2012 5:07 pm
  •  
 

MLB '12: Year of the Skipper

Whine-fest ‘12

Baseball’s celebratory red, white & blue banners still had creases in ‘em Friday night when one of it’s post-season entrants was quickly bounced from the festivities amid another firestorm of controversy surrounding game-officiating.

This time it was MLB umpires, not referees, in the media cross-hairs getting lambasted after the Cardinals - Braves one & done, wild-card match-up (6-3 STL).  The men in black were under-fire for having the audacity to continue enforcing a canon that's only been on the books since sometime after the Korean War peace accord was signed: the ‘in-field fly rule.’

Sadly for the umpires & TV audience the fans that were handed “the fuzzy end of the lollypop (Monroe)” this time happened to be the home-crowd, unlike the visiting Packers in the now infamous Hail-Mary game (Seattle) a few weeks back. Turner Field fans took cue from hot-heads at Miller Park (All Star ’02) and in protest tossed everything but the kitchen-sink onto their own Braves’ playing field (in what amounted to Chipper Jones’ final game) along with what little dignity each chucker may’ve possessed.

A pattern is now emerging of what’s really behind all the commotion of late surrounding officiating in America’s two most popular spectator sports.

Here’s a hint: the problem ain’t with the officials. It’s not the umpires, it’s not the referees, regular or replacement and it’s not faulty league oversight in either MLB or the NFL that’s to blame.

Here’s another: Chiefs’ Eric Winston and Matt Cassel can clue you in on the real source of trouble, after their disturbing experience in Sunday's game against the Ravens.

Answer: It‘s that face you see in the mirror each AM, at least, that might be one of the culprits. It’s you, it’s me, it's the grousing players and gurus too, Chip Jones excepted: “I think that when we look back on this loss (Cards) we need to look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m not willing to say that particular call (IFR) cost us the ballgame. Ultimately, three errors cost us…mine probably being biggest.” That’s class.

Much blame goes to the press for bailing-out bad behavior and feeding the flames with feigned outrage. Fans can get passionate (some just weak), but media’s situated different. Even a beat-writer should have a degree of detachment in their craft. Too often they feed the anger that follows a dicey call (Rosenthal @ Fox: “wrong decision at the wrong time”; Corcoran @ SI: “it was an awful call”), appeasing hissy-fits and painting a bulls-eye on easy-target, under-fire officials (S. Holbrook) in their verbiage or next day's column.

The ‘cry-baby bandwagon’ made stops in Green Bay and Atlanta this fall. Maybe it’ll visit your town next. Keep in mind, it’s free to board and always crowded but you can wave it on by, if ya' got the guts.

Year of the Manager

With exception of Jim Tracy and Bob Valentine (top-candidates for Boston will rightly think twice now), MLB ‘12 should be remembered as year of the manager. Never before have so many Davids defied Goliaths: Davey Johnson’s Nationals, Melvin’s Athletics, Baker’s Reds, Gonzalez’ Braves, Showalter’s Orioles, Matheny’s Cardinals and again, Joe Maddon’s Rays. Parity schmarity, this is patriotism. Making-do on a tight-budget. It’s what 75% of America’s been doing since corporate out-sourcing (lost jobs) went vogue in the 80s.

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

The PED monster still haunts baseball (Mel Cabrera (SF) / Bart Colon (OAK)) but there's one up-side to the bad news. This should put kibosh on any remaining resistance from MLBPA to instituting a mid-season blood-draw for ‘13.

Re-constructing Ryan

With Miguel & Mike dominating the MVP topic, most took scant notice of another triple-crown threat in person of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. With Brewers’ ownership reverting to form and passing on title-contention (Greinke / Fielder), Braun kept his team in the race late (.319 / 112 / 41 / 108R). But Ryan still carries baggage from 2011’s positive testing, heavy luggage he could’ve unloaded in Arizona after the ban was lifted.  He might give Mark McGwire a jingle.

Memorables & Forgettables

Decorated stars Tim Lincecum and Albert Pujols just assume forget 2012. The Giants two-time CY winner made his starts (33) but seemed to get baseball’s version of the yips or Steve Blass malady, posting a rough W-L record (10-15) and atypical ERA (5.18).  At this writing San Fran is on PS life-support (0-2 Reds) and looking for any kind of hope.

Arriving in Anaheim with suitcase full of cash & awards, Al started slow but finished nicely (.285 / 105 RBI / 30 HR / 85R). He doesn’t get a king’s ransom to be nice, though. Like fellow NL’er Adam Dunn in 2011, Pujols came to the AL with nose in the air, thinking he wrote the book. Both played like couch-potatoes who couldn’t find a book, let alone write one on baseball. Dunn found his power-stroke in ‘12 (41 HR / 96), Angels hope Albert heals-up & bones-up before spring ‘13.

Topping the hit parade of RS memorables, many of whom are home polishing golf clubs and stocking their mini-yachts this 2nd week of October, were back-stops Buster Posey (SF) and A.J. Pierzynski (CWS), AL newbie Prince Fielder (DET), Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre of Texas, resurgents Aramis Ramirez (MIL) and Alfonso Soriano (CHC), Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Yankees' Rob Cano, Curt Granderson and, still playing like a star in his 18th season, Derek Jeter.

Meritorious moundsmen included David Price (TB), Jered Weaver (LAA), Gio Gonzalez (WAS), reliever Jim Johnson (BAL) and, in only his second full season, dark horse CY candidate Atlanta’s fireman Craig Kimbrel (1.01 ERA).

But three names ruled the roost in 2012: Detroit’s triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, rookie run sensation Mike Trout (LAA / 129R) and renaissance knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (NYM). At 37 (R.A.), 29 (Miguel) and 21 (Mike), these guys prove that while age can be a factor, it doesn’t have to be.

Steven Keys
Can o' Corn 
Posted on: July 29, 2012 1:00 am
 

Playoff Push Belies MLB Grind

The ‘dog days' of summer have arrived. The genesis of that phrase? I haven’t a clue. To tell ya’ the truth, sometimes I just don’t want to know the answer. Call it Information Age burn-out. Suffice to say, ‘dog days’ feels apropos come late July.

It’s that time in baseball when the pep & vigor of spring has vanished like a cool summer breeze. Players, managers and umpires start to dig deep into those reserves. Even a salary 20x the President’s won’t make a 162-game schedule feel any easier. It’s a grind.

The batsman who works the count long, keeping defenders out on the 100° field is a favorite of teammates. On the flip-side, if you’re out guarding the grass, it’s the pitcher who works fast, throws strikes and induces easy ‘cans o’ corn’ that you dearly admire.

This MLB season has been a bit of a mutt itself. Besides the early no-hitters that caused such a stir, there have been few special feats, record-paces or super teams to fawn over. And that’s fine. It means most games are in play and that’s good for fans.

The Feel Goods

New York Yankees

There are two kinds of sport franchise: the coasters and the go-getters. The pinstrippers are the Grade A, all-time getters of go. And when they’ve got rhythm, MLB smiles. Division rivals aren’t too thrilled about it but then most of them are real woofers this year. New guy Ichiro Suzuki spent his best (US) ball in Seattle but is a hit-genius.  Yanks hope he is 2012’s version of Lance Berkman. Absent LB, who batted a sizzling .423 in the Series, Cards would’ve been toast by June.

Washington Nationals

A contender in the nation’s Capital is the biggest story of 2012. Might stir memories for real old-timers of DC’s great ‘24 team, the Senators, when Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice and Walter “Big Train” Johnson led them to a lone WS title. Harper & Strasburg (sound’s like an 1890s musical team) get all the ink, but direction of long-time Nat Ryan Zimmerman and legendary Davey Johnson stoke the fires that fuel this pleasant surprise.

Oakland Athletics

As Texas won’t take-charge and the talent-laden Halos need more help (Greinke), the A’s become relevant. Beyond that, their clover is just a nice summer graze. Signing Youkilis (Chi-Sox) for that vital 3B-spot would’ve bolstered playoff bid (Inge .202). Looking ahead, Cuban pick-up Yoenis Cespedes will star if he perfects patience at the plate. Caveat: Oakland’s unies are great but the wedding-gown white shoes, gotta’ go.

Atlanta Braves

Choppers make the list because they’re contenders, Ben Sheets is 3-0 and it’s Chipper Jones’ swan song season. Though sometimes cantankerous, no player in the years ‘95-04 was better all-around than Chipper. The fact he was a key cog on a perennial winner for all of his 19 seasons and retained a normal appearance, with strong, not gaudy stats in a time when PEDs raged, all make him a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer. One of the era’s best.

Dickey, Trumbo & Trout

Its been a storybook season so far for Mets' R.A. Dickey.  At 37, R.A. has re-invented himself with a wicked knuckleball and terrific numbers (13-2 / 2.97 / 3 CG), while the T & T boys, Mark Trumbo (.307 / 69 RBI / 27 HR) and Mike Trout (.354 / 75 R) have caught on quick in Anaheim as vets try to get it together.  Not to be over-looked, Halo Jered Weaver (13-1 / 2.26), Brewer Ryan Braun (.314 / 70 / 28) and comeback kid Giant Buster Posey (.315) are working on best-sellers themselves.  

Sad Sacks

Boston Red Sox

Could this be Curse II? Only if you believe in boogie monsters and campaign promises. But Beantown may be feeling the Karmic backlash. Not for 2011 meltdown. Those are as common today as over-paid contracts. Rather, for the collective hissy-fit in wake of the crash. In contrast, Spurs flame-out in this year’s NBA playoffs (vs OKC) was its biggest shocker, but in their grief, San Antonio sucks it up and nobody gets run outta’ town (Vaughn?  He got promoted in FLA).

Philadelphia Phillies

No bad karma here, just injury influenza (Howard / Halladay / Utley), though Fred Galvis’ PED suspension is salt in the wound. His light-bat, low run output (14) made him a non-factor. Max factor is low output from oft-injured Polanco (.255 / 27 R) and Jim Rollins (.253). Off-season pick-ups Papelbon (25 SV) and Pierre (.303) prevent total disaster.

Get Crack’in!

Detroit Tigers

Though neck & neck with the pale hose, I expected more from Detroit. If there’s a better batsman in MLB today than Mr. Cabrera (.328 / 82 RBI / 24 HR), I don‘t know who it is. As playoffs have not been strong-suit for the princely-paid Fielder, his less-than-hoped-for RS stats (.306 / 69 / 15) are a slight downer. Maybe a bigger problem is the absence of reliable 3 / 4 starters to take some burden off ace Verlander, Scherzer and busy bullpen.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs pass critical marker in reaching / holding ten games over. That keeps them in the mix and keeps Reds from creating separation. But stars McCutchen and good-fit Burnett need help in this lean line-up or Pirates turn into pumpkins. Standings evoke memories of 70s Bucs’ team under Should-Be-HOF skipper Danny Murtaugh. Their battles with the Big Red Machine were some of baseball’s best. As for Reds, Votto loss is bearable, for a time, in middling National.

Milwaukee Brewers

Anyone thinking Brewers’ brass had hopes of contention in 2012 doesn’t know this franchise. When Miller Park opened in 2001, official word was that cost must first be recouped, then big bucks could be allotted. Ten years later, nada. Greinke commands a pretty penny (Angels) but has an arm you build around (Sabathia). The 1-2 punch of Braun & Fielder is history. Now plans to ‘youth-enize’ the roster. Whoopee. Can’t live off Molitor & Yount forever. Milwaukee, who had an original AL team (1901 / Orioles), deserves better but doesn’t seem to mind. And Green Bay? If Packers were dogging it, every pooch in Brown County would be on curfew (Devine ‘74).

Los Angeles Dodgers

LAD gets kudos for contending during Kemp’s absence and ace Kershaw’s imperfect year. The Hanley move has moxie but I question the smarts, given production fall-off (.251) and head-case hiccups. If Yankees are AL flagship franchise, boys in blue should be NL version, though St. Louis has a claim. Dodgers have coasted post-Lasorda and if Magic & friends feed the drift, dogged Halos will put a permanent & fitting stamp on the City of Angels. Can’t live off Koufax, Fernando, “Bulldog” & Scully forever.

Steven Keys
Posted on: May 7, 2012 3:57 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2012 2:37 am
 

MVP Voting in Vogue

It’s a bit early in the baseball campaign to be writing about MVPs, though, that didn’t stop some this spring from doing just that. Not too many endeavors as frivolous as pre-season prognostications on likely, after-season award winners. But it’s a free country, fast becoming jobless, but free.

This piece isn’t about predictions nor intended to depreciate award winners of the past.

It’s about a bad standard many MVP voters are adopting before checking their ballots.

Today, more and more voters are making their choice by applying a team standard. Even when player-candidates have numbers that are easily differentiated, the player on the better team will take the trophy, regardless. A 'better' team can simply mean more victories but is more likely to be playoff-bound. No ifs, ands or bunts about it. It’s all very tidy and misguided.

I’d been hearing about this rigid rule in recent years but never paid it much mind. That was until last month when I was leafing through my backlog of periodicals and happened upon a compilation of final statistics for MLB 2011.

One thing jumped out. That was the DodgersMatt Kemp not winning the NL MVP.

The winner, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun had a terrific season. And like that juror who’s heard inadmissibles during trial and instructed to disregard, I’ve tried to not let Braun’s two positive test results from 2011 color my view. Officially, his testosterone level was not twenty times higher than any ever recorded by MLB and he’s as clean as a whistle.

By August it was a two-man race in the National. And it was close, but not that close.

Even as one applies a team standard, Kemp should’ve taken the hardware. Using those stats that bear directly on club success (games, runs, RBIs, Fld % and sacrifices), the Dodgers’ star outfielder gets the nod:

Braun: G (150), SF (3), Fld%(.996 / 1E / 8A / 268 CH), runs (109) and RBIs (111);
Kemp: G (161), SF (7), Fld% (.986 / 5E / 11A / 361 CH), runs (115) and RBIs (126).

As long as the candidate has no PED-markers or Delmon-Milton tendencies, if he’s got the numbers, he gets the trophy. That’s a player performance standard. Simple & sound.

It’s a criterion in line with today’s stat-crazy fandom (fantasy), the baseball world’s long love affair with individual numbers and formed the basis for the earliest MVP accolade.

Starting in 1910 with a car conferment for highest BA (Chalmers / Wikipedia), the MVP has been part promotion and part prize, its goal couched in idyllic vagaries like “most important and useful player to the club and the League (Gillette & Palmer / “The ESPN”) and “the player who’s of greatest all-around service to his club (Newman / “One of a Kind”).” But popular perception has always been clearly & squarely focused on individual player output.

The MVP selection was never intended as a fashionable, feel-good party favor for writers as they pack their pens and board the baseball bandwagon for post-season play. Anyone given the privilege of casting-vote should have the requisite skill for finding fact or figure to distinguish close candidacies without the simple fall-back of better team record. Ugh.

If anything, shining statistically on a lesser team, where turmoil can reign and talent will beckon to opponents like a tourist in a Turkish bazaar (R. Steves), should garner more praise, more points from a voter who appreciates the full-flavor and nuance of the game.

For the first 60 years (1931) the BBWA, while giving no special favor to stars on pedestrian clubs, also never barred-the-gate to such men either. Cubs’ Ernie Banks is prime example, winning back-to-backs on bottom-feeders in the late 1950s (‘58 (72-82 / 5) & ‘59 (74-80 / 5)).

Some other non-PS recipients since the 50s include Shantz ‘52 (79-75 / 4); Burroughs ‘74 (84-76 / 2); Hernandez ‘79 (86-76 / 3); Murphy ‘83 (88-74 / 2); Dawson ‘87 (76-85 / 6); Schmidt ‘86 (86-75 / 2) and Yount ‘89 (81-81 / 4). Uncommon result, yes, but still, a real possibility.

With arrival of the 90s came the new, hoity-toity MVP standard. Now it was etched in stone: players on so-so clubs NEED NOT DREAM of an MVP. Cal Ripken ‘91 (67-95 / 6) and Larry Walker ‘97 (83-79 / 3) remain the last of a vanished breed (Baseball-reference.com).

Which is more laudable: riding the wave of success on a frontrunner with talent galore, or thriving in mediocrity by making the most of what you have? For many, it might be the latter as it speaks more to their own experience, their own vision of the American dream.

Playing on a contender (most MVPs) shouldn’t work a penalty on a candidate, but it shouldn’t work an advantage either and certainly not tip the scale and prove decisive in the vote. Along the same line, toiling on a cellar-dweller shouldn’t hurt the player who’s miraculously put together a stellar season against the odds.

Somebody’s gotta’ tell voters the MVP, in whatever sport, is not a team award.

Admittedly, it can get confusing these days, given the other troublesome trend where honorees feel compelled in their addresses to give credit to every man, woman & child they’ve ever encountered while taking none for themselves (Brees). You might want to plan ahead (S. Field / Oscars), but a measure of public, self-congratulation is acceptable.

In MLB, the team awards are called the Pennant (League) and Championship trophy.

Braun’s pivotal play for a division champ gave him the edge with voters (LAD 82-79 / 3). And look how that turned out. Brewers were the class of the Central and then proceed to flame-out in NLCS to a rival that squeaked into the PS (STL). The Braves win umpteen divisions from 1991-05 but only one WS crown. And these are fairly typical outcomes.

One then has to wonder, what’s the point of this better team standard when so many title aspirants prove to be paper-tigers, pretenders in the post-season? What exactly are these voters hanging their hats on anyway?

I take no joy in casting doubt on Ryan Braun’s MVP bestowment. Using the player performance standard, Braun’s numbers stack-up well against Kemp’s. Reasonable minds could then have differed on who the more deserving candidate was in 2011.

I’m trying to show the fallacy of the current, prevailing team criterion. It’s not just senseless, its proponents don’t even apply it correctly. Not with style, at any rate.

If today’s mass of voters were casting in the 1950s, Mr. Cub’s mantel would be as bare as Crash Davis’ (Bull Durham). And that’s what Annie Savoy would’ve called a sin in the “Church of Baseball (BD).” Amen.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com