Monthly Archives: February 2012

Baseball Preview: AL East

I am helping to initiate Carleton’s first sports publication, The DL, which should come out this week. This is my portion of our “Baseball Preview” section.


My Predicted Standings:

New York Yankees     96-66

Boston Red Sox           93-69

Tampa Bay Rays          92-70

Toronto Blue Jays        81-81

Baltimore Orioles        65-97

New York Yankees

Overview: The Yankees, after winning 97 games last season, made significant upgrades to their pitching staff without losing much on the offensive side, thus all but assuring that they will be in the running for division champs again.

Players to Watch:

Alex Rodriguez – Not that people won’t be watching A-Rod anyway, but after an injury-ridden and disappointing 2011, he will be one of the keys to the Yankees’ offense.  A-Rod’s wrist problems severely affected his power in 2011, as he put up only 16 homeruns and a .461 slugging percentage.  After some experimental procedures in Germany, Rodriguez is supposedly 100% healthy, and could put up big numbers despite the fact that he will turn 37 in July.  The age and health are major concerns, but A-Rod still has enough pure talent for a bounce-back season.

Michael Pineda – The Yankees made a splash this offseason, trading top catching/DH prospect Jesus Montero for Seattle’s young flamethrower.  Pineda shone in his rookie debut with the Mariners, pitching 170 innings with a 3.74 ERA.  His strikeout and walk rates show an even better pitcher than that, and at 23, he can only improve.  The big question for him coming to New York will be whether he can perfect his third pitch, the changeup.  As a fastball-slider pitcher, Pineda was good, but with an above-average changeup, he could soon overtake Sabathia as the Yankees’ ace.

Boston Red Sox

Overview: The quiet offseason for the Red Sox has been overblown, as their team has barely changed since last year, when they were predicted by some to be “the greatest team of all time.”  The Sox still have one of the best offenses in baseball, and along with some bounce-back years from the pitching staff, they should give their longtime rivals a run for their money.

Players to Watch:

Carl Crawford – The Red Sox signed Crawford, one of the best outfielders in the game, to a huge $142 contract in 2011, and he was a disappointment to say the least.  After putting up 5 seasons with a .300+ batting average and over 44 stolen bases in 6 years, Crawford fell apart, posting a .255/.289/.405 line with only 18 swiped bags.  Whether his problems were mental or physical is unclear, but a significant improvement from Crawford would greatly increase Boston’s chances of a division title and justify the huge contract they gave him.

Daniel Bard – Bard spent three years as Boston’s eighth-inning guy, blowing hitters away with a 100 MPH fastball.  The Red Sox announced this off-season, however, that they plan on using Bard as a starter to begin 2012, a role he has not had since single-A ball in 2007.  Given the rotation problems for the Red Sox, this move could pay off, but it could also backfire, as Bard has the potential to be one of the top closers in baseball.

Tampa Bay Rays

Overview: The Rays, after pulling off one of the biggest comebacks in history last year, have tons of room to improve.  Their defense is rock solid, and if their young starters can live up to expectations, they have a chance to be the best team in baseball.

Players to Watch:

Desmond Jennings: After spending what seemed like ages in the Rays’ farm system, the top prospect rose to expectations in the second half of 2012, flashing surprising power and unsurprising speed and defense.  Jennings is just the next in line of speedy centerfielders with elite defense and a great bat to come through the Rays’ system, but he may be the best one yet.  If he can keep hitting for power and improve his contact, Jennings could be at the core of a great Rays offense.

Matt Moore – Like Jennings, Moore blazed through the Rays’ farm system, posting an absurd 12.68 K/9 in almost 500 innings.  Though he only pitched 19 innings in 2011 (including the postseason), he showed that he can be as dominant as anyone, striking out 11 Yankees in just 5 innings in a September game and shutting out the Rangers in the first game of the playoffs.  If he lived up to lofty expectations, expect Moore to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

Toronto Blue Jays

Overview: If the Blue Jays were in any other division, they may have a solid chance at making the playoffs, but in the AL East, they are unfortunately left in the shadow of the above three.  However, they have the talent to be over .500 in 2012 and make a run for the playoffs in the following years.

Players to Watch:

Brett Lawrie – As much as I wanted to put Jose Bautista here, I just couldn’t ignore one of the most hyped hitters for 2012.  Lawrie put up video-game-like numbers in AAA (in an extreme hitter’s league, to be fair), and continued to mash in his brief stint in the big leagues.  Along with his superb .293/.373/.580 line, Lawrie showed elite defense at third base, an aspect of his game that was a question mark.  Though we still do not know if he is going to sustain that great defense, his bat is hard to argue with.  He could consistently put up 30/30 numbers in his prime, and along with Bautista, may catapult the Blue Jays into contention in the near future.

Brandon Morrow – Morrow is one of the most electric pitchers in the game, as evidenced by his 17 strikeout one-hitter in 2010, but so far his ERA hasn’t matched his elite strikeout rate and improving command.  It is unclear whether Morrow is the next Ricky Nolasco – a pitcher who consistently underperforms his peripheral skills – or just an unlucky soul ready to breakout in a big way.  If it’s the latter, as Blue Jays fans hope it is, then be prepared for Morrow to blow away all hitters like he blew away the Rays in that 2010 game.

Baltimore Orioles

Overview: Oh the poor Orioles.  In a division with three powerhouses and one soon-to-be, they just don’t stand a chance for years to come.  Trading mediocre (but arguably their best) pitcher Jeremy Guthrie for mediocre pitcher Jason Hammel and middle reliever Matt Lindstrom did little to improve the team, so expect another depressing 60-something win year for Baltimore.

Players to Watch:

Matt Wieters – Wieters, nicknamed “God” by his college teammates, was Baseball America’s number one prospect coming into the 2009 season and was being compared to some of the greatest offensive catchers of our time, Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada.  He fell far short of expectations in his first two years in the majors, however, and many quickly labeled him an overhyped bust.  In 2011, however, he had a solid season, batting .262 and hitting 22 homers; though this was much worse than his initial projections, Wieters was still one of the most valuable catchers in the majors.  He is still only 25 years old, and even if he doesn’t reach the Hall of Fame expectations of 2009, he could still be among the most valuable players in the game.

Zach Britton: There’s not much exciting about the Orioles’ pitching staff, so Orioles fans will have to settle for Britton, a 24 year old left-handed sinkerballer who had an unspectacular debut in 2011.  Britton pitched 154 innings with a 4.61 ERA, though his peripherals and age point to an improvement going forward.  The Orioles’ former top prospect is not as exciting as pitchers like Moore because of his mediocre strikeout rate, but his high groundball rate could make him a very solid middle-of-the-rotation starter – which means number 1 starter on the O’s – in a few years.  If everything goes well he could be the one bright spot in a depressing Orioles pitching staff.

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Philosophy, Sabermetrics, and the Yankees

This is a guest post that I wrote a few weeks ago for the LoHud Yankees Blog, run by Yankees beat writer Chad Jennings and the staff of the Journal News. Here’s the original post:

The job of a philosopher is simple: Strive to discover the truth about humanity’s fundamental questions. In this quest for objective knowledge, the philosopher may be forced to challenge the beliefs and values that are central to his worldview and question the truth of all he had previously assumed.

As a philosophy major I have come to assume this mindset in all areas of life. I have questioned my religious beliefs, my political beliefs, and, most importantly, my beliefs about baseball, all in an attempt to uncover the truth about these vitally important matters. I often end up reaching the same conclusions that I had previously assumed to be true, but through this process of rational thought and thorough research, I have come to have more confidence in what I believe and a better appreciation of opposing viewpoints.

This brings me to what you all came here for: Baseball. I could not leave baseball out of my yearning for truth, so began to question the assumptions that I had always believed: That batting average, home runs, and RBIs determine a hitter’s prowess; that ERA and wins determine a pitcher’s; that there is such a thing as clutch hitting, that sacrifice bunts are useful, and so on. I read a book by the staff of Baseball Prospectus, I started reading FanGraphs, and before I knew it, I was a full-on SABR nerd. I used obscure stats to measure performance, I rolled my eyes whenever anyone cited wins or RBIs or used small sample sizes, and I obsessed over sabermetric articles and studies.

You know what happened next? I began to love baseball, and the Yankees, more than ever before. Because I grew up as a Yankees fan in California, I never had the experiences that a lot of you likely had. I only watched the games during the playoffs. I didn’t have any friends that were Yankees fans, and the ones who cared about baseball hated the Yankees as much as I loved them. I looked at the box scores in newspapers and followed the games online once I had internet, but I rarely saw the players play outside of highlights.

I still cared deeply about the team, which made it that much harder to follow the team closely. However, my discovery of sabermetrics gave me an appreciation of baseball that went beyond watching Yankees games and talking about them with my friends. I felt like I had been following the game naively all these years; I started to understand the complexity and sheer volume of variables that go into every game, and how those variables can be modeled and predicted. It sounds incredibly nerdy, yes, but it reinvigorated my love for the team.

This is not the way that most fans follow baseball or the Yankees, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with loving Derek Jeter for his clutch hitting and intangibles, or hating A.J. Burnett for the utter frustration he causes us. When I see Derek Jeter, though, I see a fantastic player – my childhood role model in fact – but a player who has always been overrated and is in serious decline. And when I see A.J. Burnett, I see a pitcher who doesn’t deserve the criticism he gets and actually has a pretty good chance of significant improvement.

This is not what many fans see, and that’s not only okay, but completely understandable. Sabermetrics is only one of many ways to be a baseball fan. It is not a blind attachment to obscure stats and an ignorance of scouting and intangibles, but an approach towards baseball that, like philosophy, focuses on discovering the truth above everything else. Also like philosophy, sabermetrics carries a negative stigma because of its tendency to throw away many of our intuitions. It doesn’t do this just to be different or because of a disdain for traditional stats, but in order to gain a better understanding of all aspects of baseball.

This is how I follow the game, and I love every minute of it.

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Today is a huge day in my life. One of the most important days of the year, in fact. Ever since the end of fall, I have been looking forward to this day, wishing I could just skip forward in time to right now. If you know me well (which you probably do if you’re reading this blog), you probably know what’s coming. Yep, pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees’ spring training camp today. It’s not that my daily routine will drastically change because of this news. No, in fact the first few weeks of spring training are pretty dull. What today marks is the unofficial beginning of baseball season. It marks the beginning of spring, even though it’s 30 outside. It marks the beginning of my favorite time of year.

Inspired by this new beginning, I’ve decided to incorporate some new subjects into this blog; most notably, baseball. Do TV and baseball have any similarities other than my near-obsession with both of them? Probably not. Do I care? Nah. So get ready for some baseball talk, some TV talk, and who knows, maybe some musings on other subjects that I love. Because isn’t that what blogs are all about?

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Homeland and the Elements of a Good Show

During the huge online protest against SOPA and PIPA, I held a relatively cautious point of view about bashing a bill whose main purpose was to stop illegal acts.  I was against the bills, but I wanted to maintain an open-minded perspective on piracy and intellectual property rights.  That being said, when I see a show like Showtime’s Homeland, I want to just shut off my ethical radar and enjoy some incredible television.

As I’ve watched more and more TV and written more and more reviews, I’ve come to realize that there are a few key characteristics of a show that are central to my reception of it.  The first is a simple yet captivating premise.  Homeland has just this; Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA agent who suspects returned prisoner of war and national hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of being a threat to the United States.  Regardless of the depth of the characters or the content of the plot, this premise alone was intriguing enough to capture my attention from the very start for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the complex dynamics of a soldier returning home to his family after 8 years of captivity are strangely relatable and captivating.  We feel both indignation and sympathy towards the wife, who, assuming Brody’s death, had begun a relationship with his best friend.  The son essentially meets his father for the first time, whereas his daughter gains a father, whose guidance and company she desperately needs.  Secondly, I was gripped by the juxtaposition between Brody’s perception as a national hero and the suspicion of his ulterior motives, both because of the mystery surrounding his motives and because of allusions to current society’s attitudes towards soldiers and terrorists.

This leads to the second aspect of my ideal show: deep, complex, and relatable characters.  Both Carrie and Brody are intricately developed and consistently unpredictable.  We find out that Carrie struggles with bipolar disorder and must secretly take drugs in order to keep herself under control.  Without giving away too much, this condition will play a major role later in the season, as she struggles to reveal Brody’s true intentions against the will of her boss and the public.  Danes’ great portrayal of the emotional and brilliant agent won her a well-deserved Golden Globe for best actress on a television drama.

Brody is also an exceptionally complex character, aided largely by Lewis’ reserved acting style, leaving the audience mystified about who he really is and what he wants.  Even as we become more and more aware of Brody’s ties to his terrorist captors, his love for his family and even for his country remains seemingly sincere.  Homeland avoids placing Brody into a clean category, instead portraying him as a loving and sincere, if misguided and dangerous, man.  Even by the end of the finale, Brody remains mysterious and morally ambiguous.

Homeland’s captivating premise and complex, relatable, characters are tied together by fantastic directing and a thrilling storyline.  Every episode leaves you on the edge of your seat, with the season one finale blowing the rest out of the water.  All 90 minutes of the finale are thrilling and include spectacular performances by Danes and Lewis.  I strongly recommend Homeland for anyone looking for a deeper, more exciting, and more captivating show to watch.

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