October 2011

Baseball Prospectus on select MLB Players

Here is what this year’s edition of Baseball Prospectus which came out before the season said on some players.

Ian Kennedy (21-4 2.88): “Kennedy’s modus operandi has long been pinpoint control, which is what made his utter lack of it with the Yankees so puzzling. The key part of the Diamondbacks’ return in the deal sending Max Scherzer to the Tigers. Kennedy found his form in the senior circuit and put together a very solid season. Despite just middling stuff, he has always excelled at spotting his pitches just so, and he gets an above-average number of called strikes. Just 26 years old, Kennedy has plenty of room to improve, particularly given that he has the ability to lower his walk rate. Probably ineligible for arbitration until 2012 and under team control until 2015, Kennedy doesn’t possess ace upside like Scherzer’s, but he should be a very cost-effective midrotation starter for years to come.”

Jacoby Ellsbury (.321 32 HR 105 RBI 2011 AL Comeback Player of the Year): “It was a strange year for Ellsbury, as the outfielder and the Red Sox training staff could not agree on when and how he broke his ribs: when Adrian Beltre violently staked a claim on a pop fly or when Ellsbury made an outfield dive six weeks later. While attempting to compensate for the pain of the five broken ribs, Ellsbury added a strained lat to his medical troubles. When he returned from his rehab- not soon enough for either Kevin Youkilis or the media, both of whom suggested Ellsbury was soft- he reinjured the ribs and was shut down for the season. If he is finally equipped with a full rib cage, there is no reason to think that Ellsbury will be anything other than the above-average outfielder whom the Red Sox hoped to see in 2010.”

Don Kelly (.245 7 HR 28 RBI HR in ALCS off Ivan Nova): “Versatility is Kelly’s stock in trade, as the longtime minor leaguer fitted around the field like an overcaffeinated bat, acquitting himself well in center and at all four corners. His own bat, however, continued its career long slumber, allowing younger talents like Boesch and Casper Wlss to tipto past him on the depth chart. If he could play shortstop, Kelly might have found a career s Leyland’s Bloomquistian security blanket; instead he’s probably Toledo bound.”

Lance Berkman (.301 31 HR 94 RBI 2011 and .313 2 HR 11 RBI in postseason NL Comeback Player of the Year): “In two Junes Interleague games against the Yankees, Berkman went a futile 0-for-8. Brian Cashman might have taken this as foreshadowing and saved the team a couple of prospects. Slow to recover from knee surgery, Berkman missed the first two weeks of the season and never did find his stroke. Given his age and general conditioning- the only thing that makes it possible to distinguish Berkman from the Met Life blimp is that only one of them has Snoopy tattooed on the side- he might never find it again. At this late stage of his career, Berkman has become a SHINO (Switch-Hitter In Name Only), needing to be protected from southpaws, and deploying him in the field is to be avoided. He did hit .299/.405/.388 (one home run) in September, and he had something of an excuse for his less-than-limber work in a knee that troubled him all season. The little hot streak, the injury and his impressive history were enough to convince the Cardinals to offer Berkman a one-year contract, but their apparent intent to make him the everyday left fielder is, to put it mildly, optimistic.”

Charlie Morton (10-10 3.83): “With an abominable 1-9 record and a 9.35 ERA through his first 10 starts, Morton was so horrible to begin last season that the Pirates stashed him on the disabled list with the aid of a nebulous claim of shoulder fatigue. The team then had him spend time with a sports psychologist before starting him over at square one in extended spring training. Morton posted a 3.82 ERA at Triple-A, then had a couple of decent starts after being called back up to the major leagues in August. However, his results have never matched up with an arsenal that includes a 94-mph fastball with plenty of life and a plus curveball. The best way to salvage Morton’s career seems to be a permanent sabbatical in the bullpen, but the Pirates hard-headedly refuse to give up on the hope that he can become a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Allen Craig (.305 11 HR 40 RBI .243 4 HR 8 RBI in postseason; leaping catch in World Series game seven on Nelson Cruz): “Craig has nothing more to prove in the minors; he’s 26, and he has a major-league bat and a major-league problem with his glove. He has plummeted down the defensive spectrum from third base, displaying bad hands at first and little range in the outfield, but as his career .321/.380/.548 line in Triple-A shows, all that awkwardness melts away when he’s in the batter’s box. With Lance Berkman slated to see the majority of time in left, Craig may get some at-bats against lefties to help cover for the starter’s platoon issues.”

David Freese (.297 10 HR 55 RBI; .397 5 HR 21 RBI a postseason record; ALCS/World Series MVP): “Freese inherited the third-base job last year but couldn’t run with it, as a series of lower leg injuries culminating in surgery on both ankles kept him from running much of anywhere. He’s back to try again this spring possibly healthy but definitely a year older- not a good thing for a 28-yeat-old prospect. Freese has hit everywhere he’s been and gets on base, though the prodigious power he showed in the minors has so far melted under the bright lights, and injuries have reduced his range to below-average. The best-case scenatio for Freese is that he’ll be an inexpensive complement to the millionaires in the middle of the order, but he’s not destined for their tax bracket.”

Jason Motte (5-2 2.25 ERA 9 saves; 0-1 2.19 5 saves postseason): “Motte bounced back from a subpar 2009 to post impressive numbers last year and stake his claim to the oft-sought but rarely fulfilled “future closer” title. Terrorizing the late innings with his upper 90s fastball and devastating slider. Motte led the club with 18.3 Adjusted Runs Prevented, struck out more than a batter per inning, and back a few chunks out of his walk rate. He has yet to find the magic elixir to cure his problems with lefties, however, as portside hitters have abused him to the tune of .292/.384/.466 during his career. If Motte can clean up that particular mess, he might someday earn closer cash.

Don Kelly’s rise to the Major Leagues

I wrote this article before the start of the ALCS, so after it is over I will update it. This has a little bit of opinion and a lot of facts

It was a pitch way down in the zone thrown by New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova that was hit over the right field fence for a home run to give the Detroit Tigers a 1-0 lead over the Yankees. This was America’s introduction to utility man Don Kelly.

Don Kelly was born February 15, 1980 in Pittsburgh suburb Butler, Pennsylvania and played high school baseball at Mount Lebanon High School with Josh Wilson who played with the Milwaukee Brewers this season.

Considered “undraftable” at that time, Kelly then attended college at then Point Park College (now known as Point Park University) where he hit .413 and in 500 at-bats struck out only 20 times. Kelly was inducted into Point Park’s Athletic Hall of Fame in October of last year.

This coupled with a stint in a summer league with the Petersburg Generals of the Coastal Plain League.

When I talked with Kelly before his October induction, Kelly mentioned the importance that summer meant for his career.

“The one summer that really helped me was going to play Summer Collegiate Wooden Bat League down at Petersburg, Virginia against some pretty good Division I players. That was the first time that I had to prove to myself that I could do it,” Kelly said. “I could play, but, to go down there and play against these top caliber [Division I] guys was great to prove to myself that I could play against them, which gave me the confidence going into pro ball that I know that I can hang with these guys.”

The summer coupled with his play at “little” Point Park University were enough to garner serious draft interest, and the Tigers drafted Kelly in the eighth round of the 2001 Major League Draft.

Kelly then experienced some highs in his years in the Tigers Minor League system. Highs included becoming the starting shortstop for the Eastern All-Stars in the Midwest League’s All-Star Game, a promotion to the Double-A Affiliate Erie SeaWolves

It was during his time in Erie, where Kelly hit a low injuring his shoulder and missing most of the 2004 season. It would have been very easy for Kelly to give up on his Major League dreams, but Kelly pressed on, and in 2005 hit .340 in 82 games. Kelly was back, and Baseball America named him “best hitting prospect in the Eastern League”.

“Everybody sees the guys in the Major Leagues but you never see the guys in the Minor Leagues struggling to get up there playing every day battling for just one shot at the big leagues and you’ve got to have that perseverance and that drive to make it,” Kelly said.

Then another low happened. He was promoted to the Tigers Triple-A Affiliate Toledo Mud Hens and experienced a dip in average and a groin injury which sidelined him for a short period of time. He then in 2006 returned to Erie and was removed from the 40-man roster at season’s end becoming a free agent.

Things took a turn for the better when he ended up putting pen to paper with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates signing a minor league contract in 2006.

He ended up making the Pirates in 2007, but had only 27 plate appearances hitting .148. Before long his happy ending was ended as he was designated for assignment once again, this time on June 12. He finished the season with Pirates Triple-A Affiliate Indianapolis Indians but was granted free agency at the end of the season.

In 2008, Kelly went to the desert signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kelly played the entire season with the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders hitting .275 but Kelly once again was granted free agency at season’s end.

It was another crossroads for Kelly and there had not been a right fit at the time. When the phone did ring in the offseason it wound up being the Detroit Tigers, the team that had drafted Kelly to start his professional career.

Kelly signed with the team and joined Triple-A Toledo. Kelly received the big break he long wanted had arrived as outfielder Clete Thomas was injured and it was Kelly who on June 11, 2009 was given the call to join the Tigers and Manager Jim Leyland, a name whom Kelly was familiar with for his time managing the Pirates.

Leyland knew Kelly’s story, and knew that the Tigers would be playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kelly’s hometown team and likely made the call up so that Kelly could play in front of all of his family and friends. Little did anyone know that Kelly from then on would be a fixture on the team. Leyland became Kelly’s biggest supporter, and even at the Point Park Hall of Fame Induction, there was Leyland sticking close to Kelly and interacting with the guests.

When Kelly donned the Tiger uniform for the first time, it was against the Pirates and Kelly batted in two runs and hit a double, his first Runs Batted In and extra base hits in his Major League Career.

Kelly continued his work in the off-season and the Tigers added more fielding positions for Kelly to play and now Kelly can play first base, third base and the outfield in addition to the shortstop position he already was equipped to play.

Kelly’s ability to play all of these positions allowed for Kelly to get that 25th and final roster spot coming out of Spring Training in 2010. He was able to provide depth and a boost when needed. The team knew that Kelly would be able to play any position he was asked to, and thus had to buy almost every single glove in existance and bring them to the ballpark as he would never know where he would play on a given game.

Kelly was named to the Tigers again in 2011 and further proved his worth. On June 29 against the New York Mets, Kelly was called to pitch due to a depleted bullpen and got Scott Hairston to fly out on his fifth pitch a curveball. Doing this made Kelly the first player to pitch in a game since 2000 when Shane Halter had to do toe the rubber. Kelly then made more history three nights later against the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Starting catcher Victor Martinez left the game in the fourth inning and Leyland told Kelly to don the catcher’s mask. By doing so, Kelly played all nine positions on the Major League field, a rare accomplishment.

Kelly has been a spark plug to the Tigers team this season filling in when needed with seven home runs and 28 Runs Batted In, Kelly became a “great 25th man on the roster” according to Leyland.

The rest of the story is not as vague to baseball fans as Kelly really emerged in the public eye in the ALDS against the Yankees. Kelly hit .364 with a home run and two Runs Batted In while playing at third base and right field.

Regardless of the outcome of this Tigers season, Kelly has had a successful season as he continues to live his Major League dreams.

When the Tigers season does come to an end, Kelly will come back to his Wexford, Pennsylvania home where he is known simply as Donnie and Pirate second baseman Neil Walker is his brother-in-law.

In 2002, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did an article on Kelly and they interviewed Kelly’s Point Park Baseball Coach Mark Jackson who at the time has nearly 600 wins with Point Park and the Pittsburgh Panthers, had this to say about Kelly, “Don Kelly was the best player I ever coached,” Jackson said. “I might have had a kid with better stats, but when you look at the total package – character, passion for the game, talent – he was the best.”

Well said Coach Jackson, well said.

Update: The Tigers ended up losing in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers four games to two. Kelly cooled off in the round, however he finished the postseason with a .300 average with a home run and two runs batted in during a nine game stretch. I will be interviewing Kelly for the radio show I do at Point Park University and that will be this Wednesday November 2 at 4:20 PM. Tune into http://www.wppjradio.com to listen.

2011 World Series Game 7

Rangers at Cardinals World Series Game 7
Top 1st
Carpenter (3-0 3.30)

Kinsler
1-0
1b to left field

Andrus
1-0 (Kinsler picked off from first)

2-0
2-1
3-1
4-1 Walk

Hamilton
1-0
1-1
2B RBI to right scores Andrus 1-0 Rangers

Young
1-0
2B RBI to right scores Hamilton 2-0 Rangers

Beltre
0-1
0-2
0-3 swinging K

Cruz
0-1
1-1
GO 5-3

2 runs 3 hits 0 errors
Carpenter pitch count: 18 10 strikes
Rangers 2 Cardinals 0

Bottom 1st

Harrison (1-1 5.02)

Theriot
1-0
1-1
2-1
GO 4-3

Craig
1-0
1-1
FO 8

Pujols
1-0
2-0
3-0
4-0 Walk unintentional

Berkman
1-0
2-0
3-0
3-1
4-1 Walk

Freese
1-0
1-1
2-1
2-2
3-2
2b left field 2 RBI 2-2 tie

Molina
0-1
FO 8

2 runs 1 hit 0 errors
Harrison 26 pitches 11 strikes
Rangers 2 Cardinals 2

Top 2nd

Napoli
0-1
1-1
2-1
1b left field

Murphy
1-0
2-0
2-1
FC 2-6

Harrison
1-0
2-0
Go 3-4

Kinsler 1-1
1-0
2-0
3-0
4-0 Walk unintentional

Andrus
0-1
1-1 Runner advances to third on error by Pujols at first base
2-1
Go 1-3

0 Runs 1 hit 1 error
Carpenter 37 pitches 17 strikes
Rangers 2 Cardinals 2

Bottom 2nd

Furcal
0-1
0-2
1-2
2-2
3-2
1b to center

Schumaker
Go 6-4-3 DP

Carpenter
0-1
1-1
1-2
1-3 swinging k

0 runs 1 hit 0 errors
Harrison 37 pitches 18 strikes
Top 3rd

Hamilton
0-1
1-1
1-2
2-2
Go 6-3

Young
0-1
1-1
1-2
1-3 strikeout swinging

Beltre
Hit by Pitch

Cruz
1-0
FO 7

0 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Carpenter 51 pitches 21 strikes
Rangers 2 Cardinals 2

Bottom 3rd

Theriot
0-1
0-2
FO 9

Craig
1-0
1-1
1-2
2-2
3-2
HR into right 3-2 Cardinals

Pujols
0-1
0-2
1-2
Go 5-3

Berkman
LO 3

1 run 1 hit 0 errors
Harrison 54 pitches 31 strikes
Cardinals 3 Rangers 2

Top 4th

Napoli
0-1
0-2
0-3 swinging K

Murphy
0-1
1-1
2-1
Go 3-1

Harrison
0-1
0-2
1-2
1-3 swinging K

0 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Carpenter 63 pitches 34 strikes
Cardinals 3 Rangers 2

Bottom 4th

Freese
0-1
1-1
1-2
Go 6-3

Molina
1-0
2-0
1b center

Furcal
1-0
1-1
2-1
2-2
1b to right

Schumaker
1-0
1-1
1-2
2-2
Go 3

Carpenter
0-1
1-1
2-1
FO 9

0 runs 2 hits 0 errors
Harrison 77 pitches 45 strikes
Cardinals 3 Rangers 2

Top 5th

Kinsler
Single to left
Andrus
1-0
1-1
2-1
Go 1-4

Hamilton
1-0
2-0
2-1
3-1
Fo 5

Young
0-1
1-1
1-2
1-3 swinging K

0 runs 1 hit 0 errors
Carpenter 78 pitches 43 strikes
Cardinals 3 Rangers 2

Bottom 5th

Feldman (1-0 2.08 ERA) replaces Harrison (4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 77 PT, 45 K)

Theriot
0-1
0-2
1-2
Go 6-3

Craig
1-0
2-0
3-0
3-1
4-1 Walk

Pujols
0-1
0-2
HBP

Berkman
1-0
2-0
Go 3-1

Freese
1-0
2-0
3-0
4-0 Walk Intentional

Molina
1-0
2-0
3-0
3-1
3-2
4-2 Walk RBI Cardinals 4 Rangers 2

Wilson (0-3 6.08) replaces Feldman (2/3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB 0 K, 29 PT, 13 K)

Furcal
HBP RBI Cardinals 5 Rangers 2
Schumaker
1-0
1-1
1-2
1-2 swinging K

2 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Wilson 5 pitches 3 strikes
Cardinals 5 Rangers 2

Top 6th

Beltre
0-1
0-2
Go 1-3

Cruz
1-0
1-1
FO 7

Napoli
1-0
1-1
2-1
FO 9

0 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Carpenter 88 pitches 50 strikes
Cardinals 5 Rangers 2

Bottom 6th

Carpenter
0-1
0-2
GO 4-3

Theriot
1-0
2-0
FO 8

Craig
1-0
1-1
1-2
2-2
2-3 swinging K

0 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Wilson 16 pitches 10 strikes
Cardinals 5 Rangers 2

Top 7th

Murphy
0-1
0-2
Double to right

Chavez PH for Wilson

Rhodes (0-0 0.00) in for Carpenter (6+ IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 91 PT-53 K)

Torrealba PH for Chavez
0-1
FO 8

Dotel (2-1 2.79 ERA) in for Rhodes (1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 PT- 2 K)

Kinsler
0-1
0-2
0-3 Swinging K

Andrus
1-0
2-0
2-1
3-1
FO 8

0 runs 1 hit 0 errors
Dotel 9 pitches 6 strikes
Cardinals 5 Rangers

Bottom 7th

Adams (2-0 2.35) replaces Wilson (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 16 PT, 10 K)

Pujols
0-1
0-2
0-3 swinging K

Berkman
1-0
1B infield hit

Freese
1-0
2-0
3-0
3-1
4-1 Walk

Molina
1-0
1B to center RBI 6-2 Rangers

Furcal
0-1
1-1
2-1
2-2
GO 3-1

Gonzalez (0-0 5.40) replaces Adams (2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 21 PT, 13 K)

Schumaker
0-1
0-2
0-3 looking K

1 run 2 hits 0 errors
Gonzalez 3 pitches 3 strikes
Cardinals 6 Rangers 2

Top 8th

Lynn (2-0 3.60) replaces Dotel (2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 9 PT, 6 K)

Hamilton
0-1
1-1
1-2
GO 4-3

Young
1-0
1-1
2-1
FO 3

Beltre
0-1
0-2
0-3 swinging K

0 runs 0 hits 0 errors
Lynn 11 pitches 8 strikes
Cardinals 6 Rangers 2

Bottom 8th

Punto PH for Lynn
1-0
2-0
2-1
FO 8

Theriot
0-1
0-2
0-3 looking K

Craig
0-1
1-1
2-1
2-2
3-2

Ogando (2-0 2.84) in for Gonzalez (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 15 PT, 10 K)

3-3 looking K

0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors
Ogando 1 pitch 1 strike
Cardinals 6 Rangers 2

Top 9th

Motte (0-1 2.38) replaces Lynn (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 11 PT, 8 K)

Descalso replaces Freese at 3B, Jay moves to CF, Schumaker moves to RF replacing Berkman

Cruz
1-0
2-0
2-1
FO 8

Napoli
0-1
1-1
1-2
2-2
GO 5-3

Murphy
0-1
FO 7

0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors
Motte (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 11 PT, 9 K)
Cardinals 6 Rangers 2 Final

Win- Carpenter 4-0
Loss- Harrison 0-2
Time of game: 3 hours 17 minutes
Attendance: 47,399

Cardinals win World Series Title #11

David Freese 2011 World Series MVP .348 1 HR 7 RBI

World Series Game 7 Preview

Wow, what an exciting game six. The game certainly is an instant classic and will go down in baseball history forever. Here is a preview of the match, filled with position by position preview, predictions and more.

Pitching Matchup:

Harrison (14-9 3.39 ERA regular season/1-1 5.02 ERA postseason) v Carpenter (11-9 3.45 ERA regular season/3-0 3.30 ERA postseason)

Edge: This is a tough one to call. Carpenter is the more established pitcher and when push comes to shove he wants the ball and gets the job done. He is pitching on three days rest which did not go so well the first time he did this which was October 2 vs the Phillies when he went three innings and gave up four runs. Harrison needs to go at least six or seven innings for this Rangers team, as Manager Ron Washington put all of his eggs in one basket to get that win last night. The Rangers bullpen is tired and had troubles finding the strike zone. EVEN.

Catcher:

Mike Napoli vs Yadier Molina

Edge: This was becoming a clearer choice, but Napoli’s injury really throws things for a loop. Napoli stayed in the game after turning his ankle when sliding into second base, and the throw from his knees to get Matt Holliday out was a huge play, but he went for X-Rays and they were ruled negative. Molina has improved offensively and Carpenter has said that he is a great “receiver”. His power has not really been seen yet, be he is still knocking runners in. When it comes down to it, though the Cardinals likely could have gone to game seven without Molina whereas, Napoli has been a vital part to the team all of the playoffs and perhaps is the World Series MVP for this Rangers team. RANGERS

First base:

Michael Young/Mitch Moreland vs Albert Pujols
Edge: This was is not so hard. Albert Pujols drew Reggie Jackson comparisons during game three of the World Series. Yes his bat has been mostly silent since then and he made a cutoff mistake in game two, but Texas still fears him a great deal, and they pitch around him as much as possible, especially in game six, when Lance Berkman, the Cardinals’ best hitter that night and in the series had homered and come up huge. Young and Moreland have not done it so much with their bats, and Young made a couple of silly mistakes last night. CARDINALS

Second base:

Ian Kinsler vs Nick Punto
Edge: Punto has been struggling, and Kinsler defensively has been solid. Punto struck out in a couple of key situations last night and Kinsler has had a couple of key hits to keep things going. RANGERS

Shortstop:

Elvis Andrus vs Rafael Furcal
Edge: This is a tough one since they are about even. The Cardinals infield is not great defensively, and Andrus’ range is as good as they come. Both are right there in the top part of the lineup, and Andrus getting those singles for Texas has helped, and he has been the sparkplug the team needs. RANGERS

Third base:

Adrian Beltre vs David Freese

Edge: This is another tough one, because both mean a lot and have emerged as breakout players. You saw how excited the Cardinals fans got when local Freese hit the homer. He and Beltre can turn a game with one swing. Beltre hitting a homer on one knee was a huge game changer as well. Because they have been even this postseason offensively I have to look defensively, and Beltre has a clear edge. Freese made a huge mental error in game six dropping an easy pop up that allowed Josh Hamilton to score. Nelson Cruz, the next batter then batted him home. Beltre was perhaps best in game four, when Derek Holland started and the first out was a line drive straight to him. If he misplays that, this series may be over. Beltre’s defense is often underrated. RANGERS

Left field:

Josh Hamilton vs Matt Holliday:

Edge: Both have battled injuries all season, and currently Hamilton is injured and in any other circumstance other than the World Series would not be playing. Holliday though has been the bigger disappointment. He had a miscommunication in game six that allowed an easy out to drop. He also has had many chances to drive runs in and has been unsuccessful. Hamilton hit a nice home run in the tenth inning of game six. While the Rangers lost that game, Hamilton has toughened out the injury and has been the steadier option in left. RANGERS

Center field:

Craig Gentry/Davis Murphy vs Jon Jay:

Outlook: Cardinals go into game seven with the momentum. They were down five separate times to the Rangers in game six, but were just unable to pull away. The Cardinals are also playing at home and with no chance of rain, odds are in their favor. Gentry and Murphy have been ok, but nothing special, but Jay has done a decent job fielding and hitting. He is the best all-around player of the three. CARDINALS

Right field:

Nelson Cruz vs Lance Berkman:

Extremely tough one. Cruz the ALCS MVP was held in check in the World Series until game six when he unloaded a titanic home run into Busch Stadium’s third deck. Berkman has surprised many this season and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year. His fielding is suspect at best, but his power has been much more consistent than Cruz’s who made a trap on Allen Craig’s single in game one. CARDINALS

Bullpens:

This is about even. Both are decent bullpens, but both have blown leads. The Rangers have blown one bullpen game and Cardinals closer Jason Motte has blown two himself. Rangers have been just a touch better here. RANGERS

Three reasons the Cardinals will win:

1. Allen Craig- I did not list him above, but his production in this series has been invaluable for the Cardinals. He has the power and can come through. This was what the Cardinals saw in him. I would honestly start him over Holliday.

2. Chris Carpenter- Carpenter comes up huge when he gets the ball in the clutch. This is perhaps the biggest game of his career and if Carpenter pitches as he usually does; dominant then the Rangers stand no chance.

3. Fans- The fans will be loud early in response to game six, and the Cardinals need to play to them.

Three reasons the Rangers will win:

1. Chris Carpenter- As previously mentioned, this will be only the second ever time Carpenter is pitching on three days rest. If the Rangers can pound on him early, it makes their bullpen work longer and harder and the fans are taken out of the game.

2. Bullpen is consistent- I expect a bullpen matchup by the seventh inning and this was where the Rangers lost in game six. They struggled to find the strike zone and were overwhelmed by the big moment on baseball’s biggest stage.

3. The Rangers make the smart decision with Pujols- Rangers need to see where Berkman is in the lineup and not just default walk Pujols. Pujols only has one hit since game three, and if you like the matchup, you need to pitch to him. A walk could potentially put a runner in scoring position, and Berkman has been batting in plenty of runs.

Who will win: I really think the first three innings will decide this game. Three innings is how long Carpenter lasted October 2 vs the Phillies when he first pitched on three days rest. If the Rangers don’t have runs on the board, then the crowd will grow even louder and Carpenter will still be in the game. The longer Carpenter is in the game, the less of a chance the Rangers have. That said, I picked the Rangers before the series, and I think that Carpenter starting gives the Rangers their best (and only) chance of winning this game.

Final: Rangers 8 Cardinals 4

MVP: Mike Napoli

I will be live-tweeting @AtoZSportsWPPJ during the entire World Series so be sure to follow me and watch that. I also will be putting an entry on the entire World Series with what happened with each pitch just like I did with the All-Star game, so be sure to look out for that later this weekend.

My year in ballhawking 2011

Here are my favorite catches/non autograph moments of the 2011 season:

1. First ball is always great to get under your belt. Last year it was thrown by D.J. Carrasco, but this year it was found right out of the gate. I was glad to start my season off right.

2. April 14 was a big day as it was my 17th ball of the season and my first hit ball. I never really was a factor in the hit balls column last season. I believe that Matt Diaz hit that ball.

3. My baseball I snagged May 24 where I ran the entire length of left field at full speed and all the way past the Pirates kiosk in left field to get the baseball.

4. A baseball tossed to me by Clayton Kershaw as batting practice ended. That is an awesome baseball. I have not given that one away. I love lefty pitchers and Kershaw is hands down the best lefty starter and Cy Young.

5. I got in Jerry Sands’ head for career baseball number 99. That ball he gave me was the only one he gave away the entire series.

6. Career baseball number 100 was awesome. It was found and got that one off my back.

7. Two ushers handed me baseballs when they found out about my charity initiative.

8. Getting an Angels Commemorative baseball, even though I suffered a minor stomach injury for two days. I still went to the next day’s game.

9. The baseball I got June 9 when I was falling backwards on a seat and guessed right with my glove, snagging the baseball.

10. Same day when Closer Joel Hanrahan threw to me. He read my letter about sending the money to charity and we had a nice conversation out of it.

11. June 11 was the first day I tried snagging by the first base line, and became a popular spot for me. Tony Watson threw me my first ever baseball over there.

12. July 9, the date I fooled the Chicago Cubs and got five reliever balls in about 10 minutes. Is that a record?

13. August 6 when I caught a tossup from Cameron Maybin. “Padre” Leigh Barratt gave me some advice and I tried it as soon as I could. It was a long throw, but an accurate one and an easy catch. Considering one of their bullpen catchers was closer and very stingy it was a special snag.

14. A ball thrown to me August 19 by Reds pitcher Mike Leake. Apparently when it is raining, I really step my game up. I was actually in the seats with my Pirate gear still on, and I fled my seat and changed clothes. Leake then threw the ball from the far side of their bullpen and I made a leaping catch.

15. Billy Hatcher is the man after BP, he threw me two balls on two occasions.

16. For the second year in a row, I caught a Prince Fielder BP homer. I played behind the center field seats on August 23 and made a nice catch.

17. Coming on September 6 and snagging those two baseballs when the Astros came in the rain.

18. September 9 when Leo Nunez or whatever his name is threw me a ball. Nice baseball from a quality player. Also the first baseball I got by asking in Spanish. I had tried a ton before, but it did not work out.

19. September 10 when I got a ball from Brian Sanches for letting him know that a ball was coming his way as he was throwing. I was talking to Burke Badenhop and then the toss came. Was an awesome conversation by the way.

20. My 128th baseball snag of the season from Jose Veras. Glad that I could reach the goal.

21. Baseball 200 from Reds Reliever Matt Maloney. Awesome and we played catch the next day, does not get any better than that.

22. The last baseball of the season, baseball 137 on the season and 206 in my short ballhawking career from Lance Barrett.

Autographs I got (in order):
Warning, I did not go for many autographs this season, so most of these are bigger names.

1. Tim Lincecum April 26- Awesome signature. He skipped every two or three people, so I had to keep moving to get him and play his game. I outsmarted him and got the signature.

2. Wandy Rodriguez May 7- Again, I love my lefties. Wandy just does not get the run support he needs. A good lefty starter and takes a while on each signature.

3. Matt Kemp May 11- I wanted Kemp to sign my 100th baseball and when he and Andre Ethier were there, I knew I had a choice. Kemp truly is one of my favorite non Pirates and I admire his game. He does not take a day off and now he is a potential MVP Candidate. A ball from the potential NL Cy Young and an autograph from the potential NL MVP is pretty awesome. Hey if he does not win, I also have Ryan Braun’s autograph.

4. Clint Hurdle (also on September 25), Daniel McCutchen, Jose Veras May 21- Was done for charity reasons.

5. Andrew McCutchen June 4- Charity purposes. Specifically for my grandmother’s physical therapist.

6. Kirk Gibson June 7- Cool to get this autograph. “I can’t believe what I just saw”. Ended up selling for the charity.

7. Adrian Gonzalez June 25- He signed for me first and used my sharpie for everyone. This ended up going to charity as well and was awesome. So pumped.

8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia June 25- Just wanted the autograph of the man with the longest last name in sports.

9. Michael McKenry June 25- Wanted the autograph of the man that filled the seats of PNC Park.

10. Darwin Barney July 9- Rookie sensation and I was the only one he signed for. My Cubs gear really worked well for me that day.

11. Chris Resop July 24- For my brother Jonah who went to his first and only game of the season that day.

12. Joey Votto September 24- Very cool guy, he was signing and was the 2010 NL MVP, so Erik Jabs generously let me borrow his pen and you know the rest.

Season Stats
Total Balls 137
Games Attended 44
Average Per Game 3.11
Most Balls in One Game 9
Average Competition Factor 82,877

Lifetime Stats
Total Balls 206
Games Attended 80
Average Per Game 2.58
Most Balls in One Game 9
Average Competition Factor 63,611
Games With at Least 1 Ball 55

4th annual Pittsburgh Pirates Awards

I cannot believe that I have done this entry for four years now. Now that is cool! Without further ado, here it is.

MVP:

Andrew McCutchen- McCutchen continued his progression as a five tool player this season. His power certainly increased, as he hit for over 20 home runs. He also displayed some of the “Ricky Henderson mentality” he discussed at PirateFest stealing 23 bases. His fielding also continued its pace and he became more accountable as a player after being benched a game for not running out a play.

Neil Walker- Walker was thrust into the role at second base, and seemed to improve each day. Walker had a tough start as the catcher and now at second base is on the top of his game. Sophomore slump was not in Walker’s vocabulary. By no means is he a flashy player, but he led the team with a .273 average and he just puts the baseball in play. He also has perhaps the best possible mentor in Bill Mazeroski.

Joel Hanrahan- Hanrahan had a clear cut role as soon as he was assigned the closer’s role. All he did was get 40 saves and make the All-Star team. Hanrahan dazzled fans with his fastball, reliability and facial hair and fans knew what they were in for every time he came into the game. Sure, he tapered off a little in the second half of the season, but considering there was a minor closing controversy, Hanrahan could not have done much better.

Winner: Walker

Walker knows what to do when he steps up to the plate. Being Pittsburgh born helps him, because he knows the city and the fans and he takes the time to sign autographs and interact as much as he can. Walker tries as hard as he can on the defensive side of the baseball and even if he does come up empty, at least you see the grass stains on his jersey which let you know he is there to play the game every day.

LVP:

Jose Ascanio- Just looked overmatched in the bullpen; a lame duck.

Mike Crotta- His out pitch was the sinker, but once that was figured out, he had nothing to fall back on. His injury did not help anything either.

Josh Rodriguez- The offense that made Rule-5 pick Josh Rodriguez the backup shortstop after Spring Training over Pedro Ciriaco never showed.

Winner? : Ascanio- Jose has had a hard road coming back from such a long term injury, but in the end, it is about the end results, and Ascanio’s were bad.

Most Improved:

Jeff Karstens- In past seasons, Karstens always found a way to squeak into the rotation at some point in the season. This time he took over for Ross Ohlendorf who had an ineffective Spring Training and first start and inning plus. All he did was post nine wins, lead the team in WHIP and provide the team a reliable option to take the hill every fifth day.

Charlie Morton- The Pirates took a huge leap of faith by entrusting Morton with the fifth and final spot in the Pirates rotation. Last season was about as bad of a crash and burn as one could have. Now, one Roy Halladay-esque delivery, and tons of confidence later, Morton logged 10 wins and some hope that he can sustain a solid career and get some wins in the future.

Daniel McCutchen- The Pirates essentially left him for dead last season when they had no idea where to put him. He failed as a starter, so they ended up doing the same thing they did to Jeff Karstens a couple of seasons ago and place him in the bullpen. That remained his home this season, and he truly broke out, appearing in 73 games and winning five games. His confidence is back and he likely cemented a spot for next season.

Winner: Morton- Morton has become the Rocky of this team. No one and I mean no one could have anticipated a player broken last season coming back and reaching this kind of a pinnacle just one season later. Something finally clicked with Morton, and this was why fans were excited when Nate McLouth was traded.

Top Moment:

McKenry homer vs Cubs- The game that officially filled the seats. It was what gave the Pirates a new wave of fans. It made baseball exciting in Pittsburgh again and it really had the city thinking, can Pittsburgh become title town again?
Hanrahan strikes out Adrian Gonzalez to ensure Pirates series win over Red Sox- Just the electricity surrounding this game was insane. It was the largest crowd in PNC Park’s young history, and just the noise when Joel Hanrahan got Adrian Gonzalez to strikeout was just insane.

Tabata walk off vs Phillies- Were the Pirates for real? This was when the real fans started to notice the huge difference. In years past, the team would have taken the tie, went to extra innings and embarrassed themselves. It was Tabata’s second walk off already on the season, and it was his high point of the season.

Winner: Hanrahan strikeout- Remember, Hanrahan is facing Adrian Gonzalez, who at the time without question was the American League’s Most Valuable Player. McKenry was facing Carlos Marmol, a Cubs closer who is as inconsistent as they come, and he never had a signature moment to back it up. Hanrahan was just a force all season and because of that, he takes home the award.

Lowest Moment:

19 inning game vs Braves- Not much needs to be said about this. This in many people’s minds is the single reason why the Pirates began their collapse after this game.

Losing by double digits to the Padres back to back games- This was in the middle of the free fall, and it was just embarrassing. Without Adrian Gonzalez, there was not really a team. It was August and their home run leader was Cameron Maybin with five.

Inabilities to defeat the Brewers on the road- It has seemed that every year the Brewers just stand in the Pirates way. The Pirates had trouble all season defeating those Brewers on the road. They finally got it done one time in the last series of the season, but not before blowing two huge leads earlier in the game.

Winner?: 19 innings vs Braves- Interesting how this game worked out. The game helped the Braves, who ended up in a free fall of their own, remain in the Wild Card hunt in the final game of the season. We will never know what the result would have been had the game pressed on, but if the Braves had lost that game, perhaps none of the theatrics on baseball’s final day of the regular season would have happened. Small world.

Best Midseason Acquisition:

Derrick Lee- In the little bit of time we got to see Lee, he impressed. When the Pirates signed Overbay, they thought that they were getting an average to below average offense first baseman, and an above average to top five first baseman defensively. The Pirates got that, but it ended up being from Lee. Sure the injury is a concern and he needs to be more patient at the plate, but his power was a pleasant surprise.

Ryan Ludwick- An injury messed up Ludwick too, but each ball he hit, he hit hard. He did not go down easily, and he loved the singles. He started to figure things out by season’s end.

Winner: Lee- Pirates really made two moves, but both were big moves as the Pirates at the time were still in the thick of the NL Central race. You cannot fault them for trying. Lee very well may retire, but if not I do think the Pirates could use him. Although his first halves are typically below average, his glove work and leadership could still go a long way in helping this team.

Worst September Call-up:

Jared Hughes- Started out well and then the Brewers series happened. Just got rocked.

Aaron Thompson- Put in bad situations and just did not exude confidence when he pitched.

Winner: Thompson- Hurdle was looking for a few good lefties and Thompson minus that great spot start at home against the Brewers just was not the guy.

Best Broadcaster:
Steve Blass
Bob Walk
Greg Brown
Tim Neverett
John Wehner

Winner: Blass although close to no one winning. Blass wins just because of his random screaming and the line that became used a lot, “how do you like your Pirates tonight” during the team’s winning stretch. It is tough being a Pirates broadcaster and it is even tougher to be unbiased, especially when the team had such high highs and even lower lows. Still, kudos to the guys, even though they all really annoyed me at some point this season.

Coach of the Year:

Herbie Andrade- Really the Rodney Dangerfield of this team. Herbie gets no respect for his job. For those who do not recognize this name, Herbie is the bullpen catcher, and he throws part of batting practice, catches every bullpen session and also helps Bullpen Coach Euclides Rojas make adjustments to pitchers among other things.

Ray Searage- Searage really stepped up as the team’s pitching coach. No one expected three Pirates starters to win double digit games and have another win nine. Searage has known the guys for a while and they trust him.

Clint Hurdle- Hurdle took the fans along for a fun ride as the team saw a 15 game improvement over last season. He showed passion that his predecessors failed to show, was unafraid to bench any player (accountability), introduced the bunting aspect of the game, went “all-in” and allowed fans to experience the true feeling of being division leaders. Year two promises to be equally interesting.

Winner: Hurdle: This was a close call, but for those who say that managers do not make the difference, this is living proof that that is not always the case. Sure Hurdle does not get the victory or defeat for 162 games, but he instilled a new attitude in his players and made sure he was there for them at all times. He was not afraid to defend a player even if it did mean going toe to toe with the media. Hurdle is there in the community and showed commitment when he moved his wife and children to call Pittsburgh his year round home.

Worst coach:

Gregg Ritchie- Offense severely lacking. Not entirely his fault, but he will likely go down with the sinking ship known as the free fall and be blamed.

Nick Leyva- Fans complained about Tony Beasley’s judgments in waving runners from third to home, but many are upset with Leyva as well. His aggressiveness cost the Pirates, and in multiple cases actually cost the Pirates games. Leyva could very well be shown the door as well.

Winner?: Ritchie- Let’s face it, the offense was absolutely terrible

Best nickname:

Daniel “D Cutch” McCutchen
Clint “All-In” Hurdle
Heberto “Herbie” Andrade
Jason “Grill Cheese” Grilli
Winner: Clint “All-In” Hurdle- I and many others have l
oved every time that Hurdle said “all-in”. It kind of got to a point where the only thing that was said more over the course of the season was each time that Charlie Sheen would say, “winning”. I mean I even told Hurdle during the last game of the season, that, “it was great going all-in with you”. For me, that will be his legacy. He may not steal a base from the playing field, but he will give it his all every game and he expects the same from his players.

Best At-Bat Song:

Jose Tabata- Danza Kuduro
Ryan Ludwick- Brass Monkey
Pedro Alvarez- Juicy: Anyone who uses B.I.G. as their walk-up music deserves a nomination.

Winner: Tabata- For the second year in a row Tabata wins. His songs are always fast moving and on the up beat. It helps that I know and can speak some Spanish, so I understand the song, but it is a cool song and gets a lot of play in America.

There once again is no winner for best in-game activity. Things are getting too predictable and that is a shame. Let me take the time though to say that Joe Klimchak is great at what he does. While the games may be old and dried out at times, Joe puts his all into everything he does each game of each season since he has been with the Pirates. If they are reducing his role, it will be the biggest mistake the Pirates have made all off-season.

Thanks so much for reading this and I hope to see you at PNC Park next season. Let’s go Bucs!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.