Friday, March 30, 2007

In the Tank

All sports are based around one fairly simple premise: it’s better to win than to lose. Both sides in competition are trying to do the same thing (win), which leads to the competition that makes sport. At least, in theory. But a funny thing happens at the end of a season. Suddenly, teams have an interest in losing as many games as possible. Yep—draft position. The NBA is in something of a crisis right now, as Boston, Memphis, Milwaukee, and a few others are engaged in a full-on race to the bottom. This situation leads to a few questions. First: is this even a problem? And second: if it is, what can be done about it?

This NBA season is particularly unique. After a putrid draft class last year, we’re looking forward now to the deepest draft in decades. The thirtieth pick this year could end up being more valuable than the tenth pick last year. And, of course, the two crown jewels are perched atop the lottery at numbers 1 and 1A: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. When you throw in a current NBA climate in which there are about four legitimately good teams, you create a climate in which losses become a badge of honor, the only surefire way to improve for the future.

Is this bad? Unfortunately, yes. Every idea, every rule, every consequence of a sport assumes the same given—that it’s better to win than to lose. If you tackle a guy at mid-court, the resulting foul/ejection/suspension is designed to make it harder to win in the future. When the Wolves try to pay their players under the table, the punishment hits them in the wins column. But if a team doesn’t want to win, what do we have left? Nothing.

If these leagues existed in their own little bubbles, maybe this wouldn’t matter. But the NBA exists as product to be consumed, first a foremost. And really, the best product is winning basketball. So in theory, tanking should be bad strategy, along with being bad for the “integrity” of the sport.

But basketball-as-business and basketball-as-sport often do not mesh, and this is one of those cases. If you’re one of those teams at the bottom of the league, struggling to win games as it is, why not take a run at the bottom? Especially this year, with two rock-solid locks and a plethora of other useful NBA players, the potential rewards are huge. Teams have every incentive to write off the rest of the regular season and look to the future. Especially in basketball, where one player can make an extreme difference, landing one of those top two spots could vault a team upwards into playoff contention (especially in the pathetic East).

But can we, the outsiders, sacrifice an entire regular season? Only the heartiest of basketball fans can stomach forty games of benchwarmers without changing the channel. It would be in the best interest of the NBA if they could motivate even the worst squads to play hard to the bitter end, letting the chips fall where they may. That’s the theory behind the lottery in the first place, but it clearly does not go far enough. But what else can be done? People mention throwing out the current lottery and giving every non-playoff team an equal shot at the top spot. Surely this would eliminate the possibility of tanking, but it also goes to far in eliminating the crucial concept of getting the best picks in the hands of the worst teams. Bad teams can be crippled by their own incompetence, but the system itself shouldn’t place teams in a continual losing cycle.

I don’t have a good answer to this problem. In all likelihood, what we have here is a situation in which the interests of individual teams and those of the league as a whole are two separate and any solution would be worse than the current system. But there’s something about seeing Ersan Ilyasova playing crunch-time minutes that just doesn’t seem right, you know?

John Sharkey always plays out the slate at aodshark@gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

America’s Underdog

By Jimmy Rogers

The start of every new season ushers in the inevitable predictions from every prognosticating baseball fan with a crystal ball, or Magic 8 Ball, as is usually the case. This preseason, there seems to be consensus among most talking heads that the AL Central will be the toughest division in baseball from top to bottom, with four solid contenders congesting the competition (sorry Royals, not this year). Due to this apparent strength, many of these same people predict the Twins to finish in the bottom half of the division, not putting much faith in the team that has won 4 of the last 5 division titles.

This exercise in throwing bananas at a dart board amuses me to no end. Granted, it’s great fun to test your prediction powers (mine are waning as this March Madness tourney plays out), but how can we really guess how a 162-game season will play out? I understand the necessity for publications and websites to shake things up and distinguish themselves from the lot as having insider knowledge, but sometimes the results are a little comical.

For instance, Sports Illustrated, in all of their wisdom, considers the Twinkies to be the 17th best (translation: 14th worst) team in the majors, slotting them to finish 4th in the division they won last year. Not that SI is alone on this matter. CBS Sportsline writers have slightly more confidence in the Twins as three of the five writers think the Twins will finish 2nd, while the other two writers foresee 3rd place finishes.

Haven’t baseball people learned anything about this Twins franchise? Why do they continue to undermine the product that Gardenhire and Terry Ryan put on the field? Their division consistency doesn’t carry as much weight as the Yankees, Cardinals or Braves. Every year, a new batch of doubters crops up looking for a reason to knock Minnesota off the mountain. This season figures to be no different. A questionable rotation has cast the largest shadow in the spring training sun, providing everyone with their excuse to write the team off in 2007.

I’ll be the first to admit that starting the year with Ponson, Silva and Ortiz is an enormous risk that strikes little fear on paper. Like it or not, these are the viable options left to a small market team coping with the season-ending injury of their prized rookie and the retirement of their workhorse pitcher. These veteran arms know (or once knew) how to get outs. If they get the job done, Twins fans rejoice while the rest of the league scratches their head. If they don’t pan out, Twins fans can still rejoice as the door opens for the young talent being groomed in the minors. The rotation is clearly no reason to jump off the Twins ship.

At this point, Detroit is the only team with a better rotation. The White Sox and Indians have just as many question marks dotting their staff (with shaky relief situations, as well) as the Twins. And none of these Central foes have the reigning Cy Young winner throwing every 5th day. What is conveniently overlooked is the Twins still have the league’s best bullpen, elite team defense, and an offense that led the majors with a team .287 batting average. And the lineup is just starting to tap their potential.

Sure, maybe Mauer doesn’t win the batting crown again and Morneau doesn’t match his .321, but both are great hitters whose power strokes are developing into a lethal combo. Toss in the progression of players like Bartlett and Cuddyer getting full-time opportunities and the contract year of Hunter as he enjoys his batting prime, and you’ve got a recipe for a very potent lineup. So be as skeptical as you would like, but there’s no gloom in Twinkie Town yet. Let the experts pick away. At the end of the season, don’t be surprised when a familiar occurrence repeats itself: Minnesota Twins – AL Central Champs.

And on that note, can we start the season already?!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Have You Hugged Your Diamondback Today?

Being able to match a face with a name is a wonderful feeling. For about a month, I’ve been nurturing a growing obsession with Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young. This infatuation is nurtured almost entirely by a set of numbers on a computer screen. Entering his age 23 season, the honorable Mr. Young has settled into a comfortable .275/.370/.530 type monster, with the mid-to-high-20s homer totals and around 30 swipes.

I’ll give you three guesses as to who had the honor of being the first player I looked up when this season’s Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections came out. And, sure enough, Young looked stunning: .283/.363/.541, 25 homers, 20 steals, plus defense in center field. Yummy. I proceeded to gobble him up in all of my fantasy drafts, much to my delight.

There was only one problem: I couldn’t pick Chris Young out of a lineup of one. The guy could have been sitting right next too me, and I wouldn’t have looked twice. That’s kind of the paradox of the whole internet baseball revolution: it gives us massive amounts of information that we wouldn’t normally come across, but we remain vitally distant from our newfound objects of obsession.

So imagine my delight when I opened up the Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue (you know, the one with the goofy Angels/Dodgers World Series prediction) to see Chris Young’s smiling mug staring back at me. It was a revelation. Here, at long last, was the face to the name. My obsession was complete.

And the great thing is, there are more reasons than just Chris Young to think twice before flipping past your next Diamondbacks game on cable. The crew down in Arizona has put together the most exciting team in baseball, mixing young players with established stars and a fun old guy or two to create the perfect squad to feed my hunger.

Take Stephen Drew, for example. Just one year older than Young, Drew has already established himself as a cornerstone at short. In his 200 at-bat debut last summer he raked to the tune of .316/.357/.517 after devouring the minor leagues. And then there’s that issue of the last name. Drew, as the younger brother of Red Sox outfielder JD, is looking to overtake his sibling for the title of family superstar. And if he can avoid the health problems that have make JD a pariah in St. Louis and Los Angeles, Stephen has a good shot at becoming the best baseball player in his family tree.

The Diamondbacks have all sorts of other fun hitters (Carlos Quentin, Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, etc.), but there are good times to be had on the mound as well. The obvious name is Brandon Webb, the reigning Cy Young winner and one of the true aces in the league. From an entertainment perspective, however, he’s far from alone. Livan Hernandez is one of the true freaks of nature in baseball today, famous for his ability to get up in the 150 pitch range without a hint of trouble. He’s an absolute blast to watch work—a throwback that surely makes Bert proud.

And then there’s that other guy. You might have heard the name. A... Johnson? Randy? Yeah, him. He’s back in the desert where, with luck, the warm climate will loosen up his back and give him the chance to make one last run at glory. We all know how much fun it was to watch the Unit mow down hitters in his prime, and something tells me that he’s got a few drops left in the tank that will make this season an exciting one.

It’s going to be a fun summer down south. The division is wide open, and the Diamondbacks have as good a chance as any (and, in my opinion, a better chance than any) to take home the pennant and bring their pleasure-to-watch game deep into October. I know I’ll be watching, and you should be too.

John Sharkey welcomes comments, criticisms, and the sage wisdom of his elders at aodshark@gmail.com.

Twins Links for 3/26 (and a little Hoya Love)

Did you see it? Did you see the resiliency? The heart, the confidence, the trust in a system that works? The former walk-on making the shot that the McDonald All American could not? Did you see the Hoyas come back against North Carolina? Did you celebrate like I did? (Ok, so I didn't make it to the White House, but I was out there celebrating on the streets of Georgetown.)

And once again, I'm usurping a Twins site to talk about a basketball team that plays half a country away from the Metrodome. What the Hoyas have done so far this year have left me able to talk about little else. Remember how you felt when the Twins stole the division crown from Detroit last season? That's how I felt last night, and I got to celebrate in the streets with hundreds of fellow Hoya fans, just like everyone who got to celebrate at the Metrodome as the Tigers fell to the Royals and the Twins took a victory lap.

With all the scandals and negativity in the world of sports, when you get to experience the sense of community and the unabashed joy that triumphm especially in the face of adversity, can bring, you remember why your team(s) mean so much. Which is why I'll be thinking Blue and Gray for at least one more week. I promise I'll be in baseball mode after next week's links column. Luckily, for those of you more interested in Opening Day than in the Final Four, there's a lot going on round these here internets.

  • With Bat-Girl joining the community of Twins ex-Pats, Howard Sinker has stepped up to help organize a gathering of the Twins' internet community. If you're in Minneapolis next Saturday, make sure you stop by and join in the fun at BW3.
  • Haven't been able to catch a spring training game yet? Hungering for something to watch about the Twins? Then you've come to the right place: Cuddyer was featured on SportsCenter on Sunday and the final two Twins' commercials are now online. I fully expect Juan Rincon to win an Oscar. Or an Emmy. Or whatever it is they give great commercial actors. Yes.
  • The Dugout takes a look at great moments in Sydney Ponson's history. Let's put it this way: Ponson is nowhere near as suave as Johan Santana.
  • I'm not the only one having problems concentrating on the upcoming baseball season. So Ha.
  • Despite my focus being elsewhere, I recently took the "plunge" and signed up for a subscription to Baseball Prospectus. Since I've read every sentence of their last three season previews, as well as Baseball Between the Numbers and Mind Game, it was only a matter of time until I did. Aside from the fantasy help, I've already gotten my money's worth reading their season previews, along with the other articles. Their Twins' preview was good, but it had nothing on their transcendent preview of the Astros. Trust me--that preview alone is worth the entire sign up cost.

Picking the Leaders: NL Pitchers

Finally, and mercifully, Charles and I finish our analysis of the league leading numbers and who will have them with this installment about the NL Pitchers.

As always, my comments are up front and Charles' responses are in italics.

Wins: Forget 20, is there a 17 game winner in the National League? Not last year. But I’m gonna shock some people by saying that there is not one, but three this year and they won a combined 31 games in 2006. I think 2007 will be a year to remember for Cole Hamels with a good Phillies team, Jason Schmidt in the friendlier confines of Chavez Ravine, and Chris Young, who is starting to look like a young right-handed Randy Johnson. Due to quality of team alone, I’m going to give the nod to Hamels – this kid has serious stuff and his Phillies team might have enough to finally get into the playoffs. 18 wins for Cole Hamels.

That's what I like about you Cory -- bold, optimistic, and stupid. Hamels is a bit away from that win total -- he's got the stuff, but not yet the guile or the stamina. The next batch of candidates all suffer from questionable bullpens, but I'll go with Roy Oswalt to win 19.

Don’t sell Hamels short – he was as good as they came for stretches last year and the Phils will win a dozen more games than Houston.

ERA: Roy Oswalt was pretty special last year and I just wonder if he doesn’t have that unique ability to keep down the ERA even when giving up a hit an inning. I mean an ERA under 3.01 in five of the last six seasons is more than a trend and 29 years old is still the meat of a pitching career. I think Jason Schmidt will push him and Carpenter and Webb will be right there, but I give it to Roy Oswalt at 2.99.

Your toughest challenge on the pitching side -- great number and great choice. I don't really see Schmidt being in the mix, but I like Carpenter and Webb to push the category. Jake Peavy, too. Of the four, I think I like Webb the best. The number is a coin flip -- lets go under, with 2.93.

Strikeouts: Four guys were over 200 last year, but no one struck out more than Aaron Harang(!) at 216. Some of the pure strikeout guys in the NL, like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are past their prime, and some others, like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior scare the heck out of Twins’ fans hoping for the eventual best from Francisco Liriano. I think this year’s battle will come down to two guys not afraid to throw ball four in order to get a batter to whiff. The first, Jake Peavy, will get 200, but I take the other to improve his strikeout rate (which is amazing) for the seventh year running. 214 for Carlos Zambrano takes the title.

Not picking a repeat for Harang? Me neither. This is one of the most wide-open categories (well, wins is too). No one poised to dominate like Santana in the AL. I actually would pick Hamels if I thought he'd get the innings, but I don't. I like the over on this one -- 222, in fact -- and let's take a stab at a heathier Jake Peavy to reclaim his 2005 crown.

Saves: As much as my neighbors out here in America’s Finest City want me to endorse Trevor once again in this spot, I am a firm believer that the saves title – at least in terms of predictive value – goes to the #1 on the best team. To me that means Billy Wagner and Flash Gordon. The Mets will probably play fewer close games because, despite Ryan Howard, the Phils are a little bit more station to station. That formula has gained Joe Nathan a wealth of save opportunities and this year it will do the same for the Phillies’ closer. Therefore, I’ll set the number at 42 and give it to Tom “Flash” Gordon.

Flash really is a stud --wait, this is 1998, right? Seriously, even if he comes out dominant again (questionable), at 39 I don't see him being the kind of every-day closer who can break 40. Someone will get 43, and that someone will be little Billy Wagner.

Charles lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland and works underneath a photo of the greatest pitcher in "Twins" history, Walter Johnson.

Cory lives in San Diego and carries a wallet-size photo of Johan Santana in his wallet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why I Hate Chris Webber

The Gophers got their one-name coach on Thursday. Alas, that one name was not “Flip.” Welcome aboard, Tubby.

It’s all Chris Webber’s fault, really. He was supposed to submarine the Pistons, freeing Flip back home to the Barn. The fan base was ready. The loudest cheers of the Gophers’ season came when Flip appeared on the court at halftime to celebrate the anniversary of some old Big Ten title or something. “We Want Flip! We Want Flip!”

Instead, the Pistons took off, and are sitting pretty to make another run at an Eastern Conference crown. So, so much for that.

Tubby Smith was in a tough spot in Kentucky, and needed out. The Gophers were in a tough spot with the whole “worst record in the history of the program” thing to deal with. A match made in heaven. I hope. I’d feel a whole lot better about things if Kentucky fans didn’t seem to be so thrilled to see Tubby leave.

The guy won a national title, of course. That alone is credentials enough, at least on the surface. Except... Tubby’s title came in his first year on the job, riding a roster assembled by Rick Pitino. Tubby never had to build Kentucky Basketball: it was locked and loaded when he stepped in.

If there is one phrase that does not describe Gopher Basketball, it’s “locked and loaded.” After the Dan Monson era of dragging the program out of the depths of probation, the soil is a bit bare right now. The current roster contains very little in the way of talent that could be useful on a team worthy of making noise in the Big Ten. Lawrence McKenzie is a nice player, if you like undersized shooting guards. Dan Coleman can keep on doing... whatever it is he does to get his 10-15 a night. There is some younger talent (Brandon Smith, Kevin Payton, et. al.) that could develop into something useful in a year or two. But the team needs some serious work, and Smith will need to prove that he’s capable of building his own program.

Tim Brewster, the new football coach, has taken the campus by storm. The young up-and-comer has the student body in a tizzy, with dreams of Rose Bowls dancing in our heads. Unfortunately, the University couldn’t go this route with the basketball job. They tried it once already, with Dan Monson. And we know where that left us: a mid-season firing and a 9-22 record (worst overall in the Big Ten). So instead, the Gophers opted to go with the “name” coach. And, despite the last 500 words, it was probably the right choice.

Tubby Smith is probably not a championship-caliber coach when left to his own devices. But the Name Factor cannot be overlooked, especially in a situation such as this. Gopher Basketball is doomed to running in third place on campus, if that. This is not a basketball school right now—the Barn was awfully quiet for most of this year. I can take as much blame for this as anyone else—I maybe made it to half the games this year. And in an extremely mediocre Big Ten, the Gophers took a pounding. Being able to throw the name “TUBBY SMITH” all over campus is the only way to generate any interest in the men’s program while it languishes in the shadow of hockey and football. And after all, the goal isn’t to win a national championship or anything. Right now, .500 would look pretty good. So while he’s no Flip, the man they call Tubby is at least a step in the right direction for a program that badly needs a shot in the arm.

I hope.

Picking the Leaders: NL Hitters

Alright, Chuck – turnabout is fair play and now I’ll take a crack at the National League… For those new to the process, Cory will pick the leading number in major statistical categories and the league leader... and you'll tear me to shreds (in italics) and set me straight.

Despite the presence of the Nationals while we were both living in D.C., I think both of us see the Senior Circuit less than we do the Junior, but, as you so astutely pointed out, we’ll bet on anything, so here we go!

Batting Average: Despite the batting title by Freddy Sanchez last year – a nice thing to see in the year that Pittsburgh hosted the All-Star game, I still think the contest for best pure hitter in the NL comes down to two names: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Amazingly Cabrera is still only 23 on Opening Day 2007 and has improved in most major categories every year. He hit .339 last year, which might be his peak, so I see a slight decline but still a win – Miguel Cabrera at .337 takes the title.

Wow, a good number right off the bat. And good guesses as to the leaders. I'll take the other top candidate, Pujols, and I think he'll edge just a bit over your number -- let's say .340.

Home Runs: I have absolutely no reason for this, but I just cannot see Ryan Howard pushing 60 homers again this year. That being said, only Pujols and Berkman hit more than 45, so how could you bet against him? Therefore, I think the number is the thing and I see a modest slip… Ryan Howard with 52. For good measure and extra credit, I’ll put Barry Bonds at 31 for the season with a broken record by the All-Star game and 40+ days on the DL after.

I'm tempted to call for another Cardinals triple crown (did you know they have three of the NL's four -- can you name them?), but I say Pujols just misses out and Howard takes the HR title. He doesn't quite reach your number, though -- call it 50 on the nose.

I think Rogers Hornsby won two, and I know Mike Schmidt won one, so I wonder if there are two or one additional Cardinals (checking online would be cheating). I don’t think Musial won a Triple Crown and, just going through my memory of the the ridiculous number of Cardinals in the Hall of Fame I’ll guess Medwick? If there’s another I have no clue – Mordecai Three Fingers Brown? I digress…

RBI’s: Like Papi, Ryan Howard won the HR and RBI title last year and, like I said with Ortiz, I don’t believe it will happen this year. Assuming good health, I see a slight slip in Pujols’ average at age 27, but a slight uptick in his run production. I’ll think he’ll push 50 HR (and 300 career) and 150 RBI’s, although I don’t think he’ll get there. Albert Pujols will get 141, however, and that will take the league crown.

I'll take Pujols as well for this crown. I think that the Cards offense will be a little down this year, though -- injuries and age catch up with them, and there are fewer guys on base for King Albert. I think he fails to crack 140 -- give him 138, and put me down for the under.

Runs: Last year was all about the Mets and Phillies when it came to runs. Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes. That’s an impressive group and I believe the winner will come from that list again. The Phils have upgraded their pitching and may challenge the Mets, but I still have to go with the Amazin’s in terms of offensive firepower. If Reyes continues to shoot up the charts in terms of OBP (.271 to .300 to .354 the last three seasons), he’ll be on base close to 250 times with a lot of hitting behind him. Therefore, I have to give it to Jose Reyes and put the number pretty high at 128.

Its been a while since the league run total was won that low -- 2002, to be exact. And that leader, Sammy Sosa, is now out of baseball (wait, you say he's not?!!? They must be drinking the kool-aid (or, more likely, eating the Mezcal worm) down there in Arlington this year). I'm going over, at 130. Who wins it? I think the Mets will take a slight turn downward offensively, and I'm not sold that Reyes gets on base quite so much this year. So let me call Chase Utley to repeat atop the Senior Circuit in the runs category this year.

Steals: Unlike the AL, there was no problem reaching 50 in the Senior Circuit. At the risk of sweating Jose Reyes a bit, especially considering he still has plenty of flaws in game, he has swiped 60 in back to back seasons and he clearly has 70 in him with his current success rate of nearly 80%. Is he the modern day Rickey Henderson, at least once he’s on the base paths? Well not quite, and I peg him back a bit because the Mets won’t want him running out of innings, but 62 seems fair for Jose Reyes with Hanley Ramirez a half-dozen or so back.

If you had pegged it at 60, I'd have a real dilemma, but I think 62 is high. As I said before, I think Reyes has somewhat fewer chances this year. Reyes probably will take the title, but I'll be contrary and choose otherwise-sucky Juan Pierre to win, at 59.

Juan Pierre? Will you buy me dinner if Pierre fails to get on base 59 times? ;-)

Charles is an estate planning lawyer in Chevy Chase, Maryland who is quite confident Justin Morneau's heirs will survive despite talks breaking down on a multiyear deal.

Cory is an immigration lawyer in San Diego who is less confident that Sidney Ponson will pitch well enough to get his visa renewed.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Coup d'eTubby

It has been exactly ten years since there was any buzz in Dinkytown on the opening day of the Sweet 16. In that year, it was Bobby Jackson, Sam Jacobson, and company winning a triple-overtime thriller against Clemson, catapulting them a week later to the program's only Final Four. Years later, following an infamous and ignominious departure by Kentucky basketball legend Clem Haskins, the program has faded nearly into oblivion.

Until today.

At this moment, 4:43 EDT on March 22, sports radio from coast to coast, from Mike and the Mad Dog in New York to Jim Rome in Los Angeles, is talking about the University of Minnesota and their $1.8 million dollar hiring of one of the top ten or fifteen basketball coaches in the country, Tubby Smith. The biggest name to hit campus since Lou Holtz (with apologies to Don Lucia, Brad James, Laura Halldorson, and J Robinson, who have each brought NCAA Championships to the U in the last decade), Smith's record is absolutely indisputable. He has won half of the last ten SEC Championships, won an NCAA Championship (albeit with primarily Rick Pitino's kids), and is uniformly known as one of the true gentlemen in the sport.

Putting all that aside, however, what is perhaps most amazing from a Gopher fan's perspective is that a coach has left what is one of a handful of "birthright programs" to coach at the Barn. Analysts can point to any number of factors, including that Kentucky undoubtedly was looking to move on, but it comes right down to two things -- money and a desire to be where you're wanted. For weeks now the Gophers have been talking about "making a splash." Many speculated on Flip Saunders, I nearly gagged when I heard the Ostrich (Kevin McHale) mentioned, but reality taught us that the only hope we could have is an up and coming coach, probably coming off of a couple of whiz-bang years at a lesser program -- and even then it was more likely 2006 (and 2007?) NCAA D-II coach of the year Mike Leaf from Winona State than anyone like Winthrop's Gregg Marshall or GW's Karl Hobbs.

In the end, the Gophers put the bit between their teeth and finished the race for a new coach with panache. Do not discount what a dignified, articulate coach with an NCAA Championship under his belt can do to recruit talent to a location which is, let's face it, a basketball outpost. For years the Wolves have struggled to bring talent in because most NBA athletes consider it just too cold and remote. The problem is even more pronounced in college athletics. When coaches make that all-important home visit to the basketball recruiting hotbeds, Florida, California, and even New York City, I guarantee the question of climate and "distance from home" come up. Unfortunately, I also would not be surprised if the issue of race becomes more than the 800-pound elephant in the corner. Let's face it, even though it is accepting and progressive, Minnesota remains, for all intents and purposes, a white state. When tow-headed Dan Monson shows up to recruit, it can do very little to portray an alternative image. When a respected African-American, be it Clem Haskins or Tubby Smith, walks in the door, it (ironically) makes race a non-issue.

In 1982, my dad treated me to a handful of games at the Barn on the way to a Gophers' Big Ten Championship. That team and those to follow in the remainder of that decade had a few Minnesotans, but they all sort of followed the same pattern -- Randy Breuer, Jim Petersen, John Shasky (ok, he's from Michigan). Throw in the odd Trent Tucker, Mark Hall, and Tommy Davis, and you had decent, if not good teams. These days, while the Spencer Tollacksons, Rick Rickerts, and Kris Humphries continue to come out of the state, so do the likes of Troy Bell, Kammron Taylor, and Patrick O'Bryant. Prep basketball is at an all-time peak in this state and a resume including NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances with three programs (Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky, where he never lost a first round game) will keep more of those players here than a Dan Monson or Jim Molinari. Throw in that he can also make inroads in SEC land, where his name is synonymous with success and he wreaks of pedigree (and class), and Tubby can turn this program, which does have tradition, around akin to what Kelvin Sampson has started doing in Indiana. I don't think that, an expectation of regular NCAA appearances with the odd-shot at advancing to a Regional Final, is crazy in what is now a wide-open Big Ten.

So, with all that in mind, here are two sentences I never dreamed I'd write:

Well done, Joel Maturi. Welcome "home," Tubby Smith.

Picking the Leaders: AL Pitchers

Now that Charles has humbled Cory with his AL hitting selections, it's time to pick the statistical leaders in the primary AL Pitching categories. Remember, Charles' selections open the discussion and Cory's responses can be found in italics.

Wins: Wow, seems like no one wanted to win games last year. Do you know the last time prior to 2006 that neither league had a 20 game winner (other than strike/lockout years)? Well, the answer is "never" (OK, its 1871, if you want to count a league in which no team played more than 33 games).

So will the AL see a 20 game winner? Yes, but just 20. And who will it be? Tempting to pick the same guy for everything, but I'll go with Roy Halladay here.

It’s hard to seriously say that Johan Santana has been snakebit, but take this into account. In the last years, he has made exactly 100 starts, averaging a shade under 7IP per. In those 100 starts, he has averaged 2.12 runs per start (oh, and 7.5k’s per, but we’ll get to that). What does he have to show for it? Only 55 wins. I have no historical comparison here, but I think this is the year he gets his second 20 win season and I say he finally gets a little run support and pushes it to 22. For good measure Chien-Ming Wang gets 20 as well.

For the record, if Wang wins 20 I'll….well, I'm not going to commit to doing anything. But I will be surprised.

ERA: Now that Pedro is gone from the AL, and "Dominant Pedro" is gone from everywhere, no one seems to go too low here. I don't see that trend changing -- I'll take a 2.78 ERA from Johan Santana.

Did I mention that 22 would get him 100 wins for his career? Or that I am hoping science finds a way for us to clone Johan once his contract runs out in exactly 19 months? This is his category and the 2.78 is right near the money. Without a World Baseball Classic, I say he grooves it a bit later this season and ends up just slightly higher. Johan – 2.83.

Strikeouts: I'd like to take a flier on King Felix here, but I don't think he'll get the innings. Scott Kazmir scares me with the injury. So I'm left with Santana, again, with 240.

Scott Kazmir? Seriously? I mean he’s a good pitcher, and along with the aforementioned Felix and Johan, makes up a pretty strong trio of strikeout artists in the AL, but you’re talking about a guy (in Santana) who has been Sandy Koufax since 2004. Damn straight Santana wins this again, and going away, with 243. Triple Crown time for Hugo Chavez’ boy!

Whoa, I know this is a Twins site, but let's not get too carried away. Koufax? Maybe if you mean the 1961 version. J Actually, you aren't as far off as it might seem, given that Koufax pitched in the Grand Canyon against punch-and-judy hitters. But even though Santana has been only a tick or two behind in terms of dominance, Koufax pulls ahead with those 300 inning years. Think the Twins would have liked another hundred dominant innings from Santana to knock out some of those Lohse/Baker starts? That's what the Dodgers used to get in the mid-60's.

Saves: Predicting this one is the crappiest of crap shoots -- might as well throw $50 on a horn-high yo bet and hope for the best. So I'll throw the bones and pick Bobby Jenks (though it probably will be K-Rod again) with 46. Remember when 46 saves was a lot (actually, it was the record when Righetti got it back in 1986)? Well, its pretty ho-hum now.

Maybe I’ve stumbled across too many copies of the back page of the New York tabloids, but I just have this sneaking suspicion that, assuming he doesn’t get paid, a certain Hall of Fame closer is going to make it real costly on Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner this season. I don’t think he or anyone else gets 46, but it’s 42 for #42, Mariano Rivera.

Picking Mariano Rivera is the equivalent of going with Duke in your office pool -- how could you possibly root for him to win? Now, I doubt Mo will get cuffed around by VCU, but I think you're gonna lose this one.

Charles is a lawyer in Chevy Chase, Maryland who's unabashedly pleased that Matthew LeCroy no longer plays for the home team.

Cory is also a lawyer in San Diego who once watched a spring training game in Fort Myers with Mrs. Matthew LeCroy and is quite certain the big man has luck in spades.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pete Rose Fails to Improve His Image Once Again


By now I think the majority of baseball fans are close to forgiving Pete Rose for betting on baseball. After all, he made a mistake—granted, a big fat repeated blunder of a mistake—but it is the actions Rose has taken since his lifetime banishment from baseball that concern me most, actions that continue to spoil his image and dirty the shine of his records.

It is difficult to claim Rose ever genuinely tried to recover what was left of his character and integrity after he was banned from baseball in 1989. Instead of fessing up or getting help, Rose decided to lie for 15 years. I marvel at the dedication and disillusionment it must have taken to hide such a damaging secret for so long.

He ceased to improve his reputation thereafter. In 1990, Rose was sentenced to five months in prison in Illinois for filing false income tax returns and withholding payments he received for memorabilia, autographs and horse racing winnings.

Even less impressive was Rose’s involvement in the World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania. From 1998 – 2002 Rose participated in fights and promotional commercials. Rose was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. At least it’s a Hall for something.

That same year, Rose officially admitted he bet on baseball. But the timing of his admission is questionable since it came when he was on a book tour promoting his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars. His announcement also came just days after the 2004 Hall of Fame inductees were announced.

Rose has most recently failed to improve his image due to his poor choice of merchandise now sold on his Web site (www.peterose.com). For only $350 you can own a personalized I’m Sorry Ball that reads, “[Your name], I’m sorry I bet on baseball,” complete with Rose’s autograph. You can also buy the I’m Sorry T-Shirt for $20, and sign up for the limited edition Pete Rose MasterCard – perfect for those bookies that take plastic.

Gimmicks like these cheapen the severity of his actions and make people like me question the seriousness of his plea to be reinstated. Unless the money is going to a gambling addiction recovery support group founded by Rose himself, I have to assume he is taking advantage of the profits.

(On a side note, I personally can’t wait for the Barry Bonds I’m Sorry Ball. For only $5,000 you’ll be able to own a personalized ball that reads, “I’m sorry I took steroids,” signed Barry Bonds.)

Ultimately, Rose’s post-baseball "career" is unfortunate; it’s too bad he couldn’t transfer his passion and work ethic from the field to his personal life. Now whenever sports writers or commentators or folks around the water cooler happen to mention Rose, his name is said in disappointment and clouded in judgment.

But part of me still hopes that Rose’s records and accomplishments outlive his mistakes, like they have for many of our beloved, legendary players.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE

I am not advocating for Rose to be taken off the permanent ineligible list, but it is interesting to note that it isn’t really permanent at all. Of the 37 men that have been placed on the list, many of them were reinstated into the game after a short period of time. Some notables on the list include:

Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays – On February 2, 1983, Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays accepted greeter positions at a casino in Atlantic City. The next day, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned both of them, placing them on the permanent ineligible list. In March, 1985, Commissioner Peter Uberroth reinstated both men.

George Steinbrenner – In an effort to get out of a contract with former New York Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield, team owner George Steinbrenner paid an admitted gambler $40,000 to “dig up dirt” on Winfield. Steinbrenner was given a lifetime suspension on July 30, 1990 by Commissioner Fay Vincent. Vincent reinstated Steinbrenner two years later. (Now what if that decision had stuck?)

READ ‘EM AND WEEP

All-time Major League records:
Career hits – 4,256
Most games played – 3,562
Most at bats – 14,053
Most singles – 3,215
Most total bases by a switch hitter – 5,752
Most seasons of 200 or more hits – 10
Most consecutive seasons of 100 or more hits – 23
Most seasons with 600 or more at bats – 17
Most seasons with 150 or more games played – 17
Most seasons with 100 or more games played – 23
Only player in major league history to play more than 500 games at five different positions: 1B (939) 2B (628) 3B (634) LF (671) RF (595)
Played in the most winning games – 1,972

All-time National League records:
Most years played – 24
Most consecutive years played – 24
Most career runs – 2,165
Most career doubles – 746
Most games with five or more hits – 10
Modern NL record for longest consecutive game hitting streak – 44 (tied for second all-time)

3 World Series rings – 1975, 1976, 1980
World Series MVP – 1975
1 NL MVP – 1973
2 Gold Gloves – 1969, 1970 (both for outfield)
Rookie of the Year Award – 1963
3 batting titles
17 All-star appearances


Picking the Leaders: AL Hitters

So, Charles and Cory engage in yet another bet, this time to see who is better at picking league leaders. Charles will project the AL league-leading total in a number of categories, and Cory will guess whether the actual leader will be over or under that total. We'll each take a stab at identifying the leader as well. Then we do the same for the NL, but with Cory setting the number and Charles guessing over/under.

No cash is being wagered, of course ;-)

By the way, Cory, if I hear you bidding up the guys I tout at our roto draft, I'm going to make sure that there are "problems" with your call-in line.
Without further ado, here's the AL from Charles (Cory's responses in italics):

Batting Average: It is surprising, but the AL batting title has tended to go to free-swinging types lately -- Ichiro, Young, Nomar, none is known as a particularly patient hitter. Mauer is a bit more so, but I am kind of surprised by this.
Anyway, I see batting average being a bit down this year, and AL batting crown won at .343. Even that might be a little high. I'm giving a title to another relatively free swinger, Vlad Guerrero.

I think you’re a bit high on this one – Mauer’s year last year was pretty special, and he’ll have his run again, but you’ll notice this category has been won in recent years by guys expected to do nothing but collect base hits. In the case of Mauer and Young it was “who is this guy” only to hang on to the title in the end. So who can rake and yet has no pressure on him this year? How about Robinson Cano, maybe (excuse me Twins’ fans), the best pure hitter in the AL. But will he get .343? No. .338 takes the prize.

Cano was my other consideration. Again, a free swinger.

Home Runs. I really wanted to set this at 50 -- since I cut my baseball teeth in the 70's and early 80's, that number still has some magic for me, conjuring up images of George Foster and Cecil Fielder. But who can really get there? Papi did it last year, of course, but I see a drop off there, and I'm thinking A. Rod left 50 behind in Arlington (Texas, not Virginia). Who else really could do it?
I say 48 homers wears the crown. Just to be different, I'll take Mark Teixeira to do it.

50 was pretty magical, wasn’t it? You’re right that Big George (Foster, not Bell) is the image that reigns supreme on this one – but 50 isn’t that tough anymore, especially with the most famous Non-Tender in Twins history swinging for the fences game after game. I think Papi repeats here and I think he pushes 50 – but only just. 51 wins it for David Ortiz.

RBI. How did Ortiz get only 137 RBI with those 54 dingers? That's the lowest leading total since the strike, even with an above-average HR total. I think Ortiz will have more guys on base ahead of him this year, but I give the title to Teixeira, with 143.

Ok, so Papi’s numbers were unimpressive considering the HR’s, but who am I to complain, they got the svelte Canadian a “cheap” MVP… They are also quite impressive when put up against McGwire’s 147 RBI’s and 70(!) HR’s of ’98! I think you are pretty darn close on the 143, and I will edge just under, but I have to go for a guy who’s going to be driving them in left right and center this season in the Bronx, Alex Rodriguez with 140 even.

Runs. This has been a pretty consistent category -- 124 exactly has won three of the last four years. I think we end up back in that neighborhood. A. Rod wins with a total of 124.

I cannot argue with the 124, and I can’t argue with A-Rod… but I will. I think the Yankees are going to explode offensively (and hopefully implode in every other respect), and A-Rod will be at the heart of it… but scoring in front of him more often than not will be Derek Jeter, who I peg at 127 runs.

Steals. Again, who could crack 50? Used to be this category was for slight fellows like Willie Wilson, Billy North, Frank Taveras, and Omar Moreno. I'm probably the only one reading this who even remembers any of those guys, though.
I can't help but see a drop-off for Figgins and Patterson, and I wonder if Carl Crawford won't start to focus on other things a little more sometime soon. Fifty steals wins this year, and Crawford is the only one to get there.

This category has gotten less and less interesting each year and now seems to matter only to fantasy folks. I mean what dominant team has a Rickey Henderson speed guy any more with the proliferation of bandbox parks? As a result, I have to agree with Carl Crawford even if I think you’re a little high on the number. I say 43.

Later this week: The AL Pitching Categories

Charles is a lawyer living in Chevy Chase, Maryland who makes a living at tweaking the noses of Twins' fans... but only when they deserve it.

Cory is also a lawyer living in San Diego, California who never misses a Twins game, even when they start at four in the afternoon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Unified Theory of Bat and Ball

Physicists spend a goodly amount of time searching for the unified theory of life, the universe, and everything.* I am not a physicist. But that does not stop me from searching for my own holy grail: the unified theory of baseball. To begin, I would like to direct your attention to this quote from a recent Chuck Klosterman ESPN column: “Baseball is mostly about tangible statistics, which drugs skew and invalidate[.]” Don’t worry—this isn’t another steroid column. Our focus is on the first half of that sentence. Now, combine that with a quote from Bill James featured in Moneyball: “...baseball statistics, unlike statistics in any other area, have acquired the power of language.” The implication of both of these quotes is that baseball is, at its heart, a numbers game. This is true, undoubtedly. Baseball’s famous numbers (56, 755, 73) are instantly recognizable in a way that The Stilt’s career point total is not.

It is no coincidence, then, that baseball has largely taken the lead in advanced statistical analysis. While sites like Football Outsiders and people like John Hollinger are attempting to (and in many ways, beginning to succeed) in creating an advanced numerical discussion of football and basketball, they are playing catch-up to the Baseball Prospectuses and Rob Neyers of the world. Baseball is steeped in numbers, even as VORP and EqA begin to take over for RBI and BA.

Unfortunately, we can’t watch the statistics on the field—we have to watch the players. An unfortunate (read: absurd) Murray Chass article in the New York Times a few weeks ago (which can be read here but I think it’s behind a subscription wall) ends with a painfully uninformed and sheltered diatribe against VORP. Mr. Chass took a beating online from sites like FJM as he should have, but his closing line wasn’t totally without merit: “People play baseball. Numbers don’t.”

This is obvious. But it points toward the big bridge left to cross in terms of baseball analysis (no, not defense, although we’re getting to that). We can’t quantify what’s fun to watch. In fact, in some cases that which is fun to watch does not jive with what leads to actually winning ball games. The stolen base is a good example. Anyone with an open mind at this point acknowledges that in many cases, the swiped bag is an unnecessary risk. Not all the time, of course, but playing the percentages you’re better off playing it safe on the bases. That’s how baseball teams should think: their job is to win games.

But we aren’t trying to win games. We’re trying to be entertained. Granted, winning is fun to watch—but only when one has an emotional stake in the outcome of the game. In situations where this is not the case (a random D-Backs-Marlins game, perhaps), we’re watching because it’s fun. And there’s no denying the fact that the stolen base is, indeed, fun. So is trying to stretch that double into a triple, even when Vlad is out in right fielding the ball after one hop off the wall. A lot of the more exciting plays in baseball happen because of plays that are, statistically, bad bets. Baseball, by its nature, is very much stop-and-start, so the more action that takes place while the ball is live, the more viscerally entertaining the game will be.

And then we have defense. There’s no stat for Endy Chavez (unless you draw a little star in your scorebook like I do). Defense is fun, it’s visceral, and it gives us Web Gems. But even with the glove, we have “fun” defense and “not fun” defense. If a defender is well-positioned because he’s got great scouts and only has to take two steps to his left to make the grab, we don’t think of it at all. But if our man ignores his scouts and just stands around, he might have to make some kind of absurd diving scoop. Playing stupid can be more fun to watch.

We’re left with two parts of what should be a whole: what’s entertaining, and what we know in our hearts is good baseball. They’re not always in conflict, but we confront this issue often enough that we must deal with it. Can we have fun watching what we know is bad?

One can more clearly picture this phenomenon on the level of individual player vs. that of the team. As much as we might know how valuable Kevin Youkilis can be, Juan Pierre is more fun to watch fly around the bases making questionable decisions (again, we’re speaking on a visceral, gut-reaction level, not that of the reasoned and rational). This is why the task falls to you: nominations are now open in the comments or via email for two All-Star teams. First, we have the All-Guilty-Pleasure squad. These are the guys that we know are fun to watch, even as we understand they’re killing their team. And second is the All-Unified-Theory team. They are the best of the best: the ones that tie the baseball world together in order to win and entertain at the same time.

We will fill out two starting squads of nine (and maybe a bench for the close-but-not-quites) once all of the votes are tallied. So start submitting your nominees now (again: in the comments, or feel free to shoot me an email at the address below), and we can begin to succeed where science has failed.

John Sharkey welcomes comments, religious objections, moral outrage, and Theory Nominees at aodshark@gmail.com.

*Even though we all know the answer is 42.

March 19 Links

For those of you not spending their free time pondering the match up between the Big East and South Eastern Conference Players of the Year or thinking about whether the fastest major college team or the slowest major college team in the NCAAs would dictate pace in a possible Elite Eight match up, there’s been quite a lot going on in Fort Meyers. Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and while the Twins have known who they’ll have on the mound for a while, the Orioles have just announced that Erik Bedard will be opposing him.

After Johan, however, the Twins rotation is still shaking out. Thankfully, it’s not due to their veteran starters struggling. Ortiz has taken to Rick Anderson’s coaching like he’s been working with Leo Mazzone in his prime, Sydney “Sir DUI” Ponson has found his motivation, and the Twins still trust Carlos Silva. All of that is why La Velle E. Neal thinks the Twins will follow Johan with Silva, Ortiz, Ponson and Boof.

Not everyone agrees that Boof should be at the back end of the rotation, however. Some think Silva should be sent elsewhere, while others think that the veteran starters that break camp with the Twins will be supplanted soon enough, possibly by a local kid, who, coincidentally, has been pitching well this spring.

While I would rather have had the Twins put the $4.35 million they spent on Silva into a “Make the National Sportswriters come up with a new angle on the Twins” fund (What? You don't think that Carl Pohlad could have turned that into enough money to resign Johan through shrewd investing?) , there’s no way they’ll leave him out of the rotation. Gardenhire likes his veterans too much. And while Twins Geek’s theory sounds nice, I have the feeling that Liriano, Bartlett and Punto would have done just fine without spending time in the bullpen, AAA and on the bench.

Since my goals for this season mainly include getting Garza, Perkins and/or Slowey ready to create the ultimate rotation with Santana, Liriano and Boof! in 2008, having the mediocre three take the ball while Boof! is getting skipped isn’t something I’d like to see. Thankfully, there's still two weeks for the Twins to come to their senses - and you never know when someone is going to lose their roster spot by not calling for a pop up properly.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Twins Cards Hall-of-Fame: Facial Expressions (II)

The camera is ALWAYS on. And let's face it, over 162 games, you're not always going to have that George-Clooney-ultra-cool-because-I'm-mostly-detached face that makes The Voice of Reason swoon. Sometimes, you're going to have that Sven-Sungaard-meteorology-makes-my-head-hurt look. Which, come to think of it, also makes TVOR swoon. Sigh.

However, even though TVOR appreciates Elvis, I don't think Hrbek's impression will make her heart flutter. It can, however, get you into GameDay's April issue if you can come up with a suitable caption for it. Just post it in the comments below, and we'll make sure you get credit in this month's Twins Cards Hall-of-Fame. (And many thanks to Twins Cards again for this image and their fantastic site.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

American League Predictions

For the fun of it, here is how I see the American League shaping up this season, division by division:

American League East

1. New York Yankees - The line-up is eight positions deep with former Twin Doug Mientkiewicz the lone weak link. Being known primarily as a good defender at first base is like being crowned the prettiest girl at fat camp. The rotation is solid, if unspectacular, but more than up to the task given the run support they'll receive. Things could get even better if Roger Clemens decides to sign with the club or if Phillip Huges, the best pitching prospect in baseball, proves that Triple-A batters are no match for him and earns a trip to the show. The bullpen is a little thin behind Mariano Rivera, but the addition of Jose Valverde should help things. The Yankees don't have a lot of depth, so a major injury would expose them to an upset at the hands of their rivals in Boston, but for now they have to be considered the favorites.

2. Boston Red Sox - A healthy Coco Crisp, 130 games from J.D. Drew, and a nine-figure investment in Daisuke Matsuzaka should be enough to let the Red Sox keep pace with the Yankees, provided Roger Clemens avoids returning to the Bronx. The starting rotation has health concerns, and if JonathanPapelbon remains in the rotation, the bullpen is without an ace stopper. The Joel Pinero experiment has gone a bit rough so far this spring, Brendan Donnelly is getting long in the tooth, and Craig Hansen doesn't quite look ready for prime time so the ninth inning may prove to be the Red Sox achilles heel. As long as Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling can stay on the field for most of the season, the Sawks should stay very close to the Yankees all season.

3. Toronto Blue Jays - If A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay can stay healthy, the Blue Jays will have the best one-two punch in the East. The addition of Frank Thomas to an already solid line-up would make the Jays favorites in half the divisions in baseball. However, spots three through five in the rotation are suspect, the Jays aren't the best fielding team, and they just don't stack up with the two juggernauts in their division.

4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays - The Rays have an amazing crop of young hitters in their system now reaching the majors. Right fielder Delmon Young and shortstop Ben Zobrist will make the opening day starting line-up as rookies and B.J. Upton, Elijah Dukes, and Evan Longoria will see significant playing time at some point this season. Japanese import Akinori Iwamura will provide Tampa Bay with a decent third baseman, and young hurlers Scott Kazmir and Jamie Shields make for a promising tandem atop the rotation. Unfortunately, after those two, the Rays don't have much pitching to speak of. 2004 first round pick Jeff Niemann may make a few starts towards the end of the season, but by then the Rays will have long stopped entertaining any dark horse playoff fantasies. Still, with so many talented young players, the Devil Rays should be one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2007.

5. Baltimore Orioles - The line up is comprised of veterans who are past their prime (with the exception of Nick Markakis) and the rotation of young pitchers who haven't yet come into their own. The Baltimore brass has assembled precious little talent in the farm system and seems content to tread water at the bottom of what is a very competitive division. It's going to be a miserable year for O's fans.

American League Central


1. Detroit Tigers - They've got the best pitching in baseball and a powerful (although on-base deficient) line up. Sooner or later manager Jim Leyland is going to come to his senses and anoint Joel Zumaya the team's closer, but other than the misuse of Todd Jones and the amount of playing time likely to go to Sean Casey, the Tigers don't have many problems. Jeremy Bonderman, no slouch in his own right, seems to be on everyone's list of breakout candidates for 2007 and may challenge Johan Santana for the Cy Young. The rest of the rotation is solid from front to back, and the Tigers have a nice collection of power arms in their pen. The offense is aging and will need to be rebuilt in the near future, but for now they're still playing out what's left of their prime.

2. Cleveland Indians - The Indians' offense is silly good. Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore are two of the more underrated offensive stars in baseball and Victor Martinez is one of the better offensive catchers. Couple them with solid free agent pick ups in the outfield and a promising young infield that includes shortstop JohnnyPeralta, third baseman Andy Marte, second baseman Josh Barfield, and first baseman Ryan Garko and you've got an offense that can keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox. The Indians' pitching is what will keep them from winning the division, but they'll be in the hunt for the wild card.

3. Minnesota Twins - The Twins have three players who are the best in baseball at their respective positions: starter Johan Santana, catcher Joe Mauer, and closer Joe Nathan. Throw in Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, and Michael Cuddyer and you have what is a pretty strong club. However, the division winning team of a year ago had Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke to help fill out their rotation. The Twins enter 2007 with big question marks in their starting staff outside of Santana and second year hurler Boof Bonser. Will Carlos Silva return to usefulness? Can Ramon Ortiz keep his home runs allowed under 40 if the Twins make the mistake of giving him a full season's worth of innings? Will the aquarium now short stocked in their whale exhibit come looking for Sidney Ponson ? The Twins have the pitching depth in the minors to make a run at a second consecutive division title and replace the veterans in their rotation that falter, but will all the pieces fall in place? Will they get enough production from Nick Punto at third base, Rondell White in left field, and Jason Kubel and Jeff Cirillo at designated hitter? Maybe, but the Indians and Tigers are going to be tough to beat. Still, there's definitely hope for the wild card, if not the division.

4. Chicago White Sox - The White Sox traded Freddie Garcia for some young pitching that won't help them this season and are largely treading water in the toughest division in baseball. Joe Crede and Jermaine Dye had career years and Jim Thome shook the injuries that plagued him in 2005 by moving to designated hitter. That all three players will maintain their level of play from a year ago is highly unlikely. Prospect Josh Fields might provide an offensive boost to the outfield, or take over at third base allowing the Sox to deal Crede for help elsewhere, but it won't be enough to avoid a fourth place finish.

5. Kansas City Royals - Alex Gordon is the real deal and will probably win Rookie of the Year in his second full professional season, completely skipping Triple-A in the process. The Royals have said that Gordon has not yet won the starting third base job, but no scout in baseball thinks he needs to spend any more time in the minors. Outside of Gordon, right fielder Mark Teahen and center fielder David DeJesus, the only player worth watching will be starting pitcher Zack Greinke. The former prospect left baseball for an extended period of time due to mental health issues and will try to reclaim his status as one of the best young control artists in the game this season. Pitching for the Royals isn't going to make things easy on his shrink, as the team will finish with the worst record in the junior circuit.

American League West


1. Los Angeles Angels
- The starting rotation is very strong, with John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar all able to generate high strike out totals. The Angels bullpen, anchored by Francisco Rodriguez, is again a strength, and the offense looks to be solid as well. Young players like second baseman Howie Kendrick and infield prospect Brandon Wood should make an impact this season and bolster a strong veteran core that includes right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., and super-sub speedster Chone Figgins . The Angels would have to fight it out tooth and nail if they played in the East or Central, but in the West they'll run away with the division.

2. Oakland Athletics - The Athletics will be good, but they have too many uncertainties. Will starter Rich Harden stay healthy? Which version third baseman Eric Chavez will show up this season? Will Dan Johnson hit enough to hold down the first base job? Can left fielder Shannon Stewart become productive again this late in his career? How well can Mike Piazza replace what Frank Thomas gave the Athletics at designated hitter last season? Will shortstop Bobby Crosby ever deliver on his former prospect status? The Athletics have a great bullpen, and a decent rotation, but too much has to go right for this team to have a shot at the post-season. They'll post a respectable record but won't challenge the Angels.

3. Texas Rangers
- The Rangers' infield is stacked. First baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Ian Kinsler, shortstop Michael Young, and third baseman Hank Blalock can all swing the stick. The challenge comes in getting production from their outfield. Left fielder Brad Wilkerson is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, right fielder Nelson Cruz is an unproven rookie, and center fielder Kenny Lofton will be applying for his AARP card soon. All that before mentioning their lack of pitching outside of starters Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla and relievers Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka. Their offense will be fun to watch, but won't be enough to carry their pitching far beyond being a .500 ball club.

4. Seattle Mariners - Seattle pitching phenom Felix Hernandez should rebound from a slightly disappointing 2006 season, but his rise to stardom won't make up for the sins of what, outside of himself, is an overpaid and mediocre veteran rotation. The Mariners still have Ichiro setting the table on the offensive side of things, but the huge investments in third baseman Adrian Beltre and first baseman Richie Sexson have proven to be expensive mistakes. Couple them with average major league starters like left fielder Raul Ibanez, right fielder Jose Guillen, and catcher Kenji Jojima and you've got a pretty average offense, which, when coupled with bad pitching, will have the Mariners fighting it out with the Orioles and Devil Rays to avoid being the worst team in the American League outside of Kansas City.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Undervalued

Rotisserie (or fantasy) baseball is now played under so many variations that providing generic rankings is a waste of time. Hopefully you're a spreadsheet wiz and have built your own rankings from a set of projections. If not, make sure the website you're pulling rankings from has a form that allows you to customize their rankings to fit your league or keeps rules similar to your own league's in mind when ranking players. Above all, avoid using one of the annual magazines as your draft guide. A lot can change during spring training and forecasts that go to print in January won't hold up against their internet counterparts.

With the above in mind, I will point out several players that for various reasons may be undervalued. Bump those that follow up a few spots in your own draft rankings or auction values where applicable.

Travis Hafner [DH, CLE] - It's hard to argue that any serious rotisserie player is going to undervalue one of the best hitters on the planet. However, Hafner presents a unique problem in most leagues because he fails to qualify at any position other than designated hitter. As any hitter in baseball can be used as a designated hitter in rotisserie baseball, Hafner's production has to be weighed against the best hitters in the game regardless of position. This decreases his value, but Hafner's situation might change this season. Cleveland manager Eric Wedge has said that Hafner might see as much as one start a week at first base in order to prepare him to take over the team's first base duties during inter-league play. This means Hafner is going to start the season without first base eligibility in most leagues, but is probably going to gain it during the year. Once Hafner becomes eligible at first base, he's arguably the second best fantasy first baseman overall. As a first baseman he's an easy first round pick, but currently ranked as a designated hitter he can be had in the second round of most mixed league drafts. If you take Wedge at his word, plan on one start a week, figure out how long it will take Hafner to gain first base eligibility in your league, and rank or bid accordingly.

Javier Vazquez [SP, CHW] - It seems like Vazquez is on my list of undervalued players to target every year. This begs the question, why I haven’t I learned my lesson yet? Every spring I look back at Vazquez' numbers from the previous season, and every spring I see a pitcher who is better than his earned run average and won-loss record suggest. Vazquez had a disastrous June (7.50 ERA) and July (6.82 ERA) last season which can be explained away in large part by an abnormally high batting average on balls in play (.390) and unusually low percentage of runners stranded on base (57%). In other words, Vazquez was very unlucky for the middle third of last season and is a lot better than his 4.84 ERA last season would lead most people to believe. White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has my back on this one, as Chicago inked Vazquez to an extension this off-season. Don’t count on a lot of wins as the White Sox are treading water in the toughest division in baseball, but Vazquez will provide rotisserie teams with a good number of strikeouts and a solid earned run average.

Delmon Young [RF, TB] - Young is one of the two best hitting prospects in baseball and an interesting player to forecast. He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues at just 21 years of age and will enter the season as the Devil Rays' starting right fielder. Young has amazing ability to make contact and great plate coverage to go along with good speed and power. His one weakness, however, is plate discipline. He doesn't have the most selective batting eye, and while most scouts think Young will be a perennial all-star during his peak, his pitch selection could cause him to struggle in 2007. An interesting development this spring has been manager Joe Maddon's experiment with batting Young third. For a young hitter who makes a ton of contract but doesn’t draw any walks (the Kirby Puckett/Vladimir Guerrero school of hitting), batting behind speedsters Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford would not only increase his RBI opportunities, but could also result in Young seeing a greater percentage of fastballs as opposing teams try to curb the Devil Rays running game. For a free swinger like Young, the prospect of seeing fewer breaking balls and off speed pitches is significant. The closer your draft is to opening day the better. If Young enters the season hitting third in the Rays' line-up, don't be afraid to buy into the hype.

Carlos Quentin [RF, ARI] - Quentin is poised for a breakout season. His contact rate and batting eye are those of a .300 hitter, and Quentin slugged .530 in limited time last season despite hitting only .253. Playing half his games in Arizona inflated his power numbers, but Quentin is going to play home games there this season as well. Surrounded by other budding young players like shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young, and first baseman Connor Jackson, the Snakes line-up looks to be much improved. Quentin should see plenty of RBI opportunities batting in the heart of what should be a solid offense for seasons to come.

Alexi Casilla [2B/SS, MIN] - I don’t trust the Twins infield to stay healthy. Second baseman Luis Castillo has a history of leg problems and third baseman Nick Punto set a career high for games played last season with a pedestrian 135. If either get hurt, Luis Rodriguez is an unimpressive, run-of-the-mill utility infielder and Jeff Cirillo can only hit lefties. Even if everyone stays healthy, it took a career year from Punto to turn himself into a useful regular and he may be hard pressed to maintain his level of play. Casilla will most likely start the year in the minors and might not be up with the big league club until September, but he’s a major source of speed and could swipe forty-plus if given a full season’s worth of plate appearances in the show. He’s a clone of the Marlins-era Luis Castillo at the plate with the range and arm to play short. If Casilla gets a chance to play regularly for the Twins this season, he’s the kind of impact speedster that can swing stolen bases in your favor. That Alexander Machado has been knicked up this spring can't hurt Casilla's chances of reaching the majors. Who knows, he may even break camp with the big league club. The Twins do see him as their 2008 starter at second, so wherever he plays, the organization wants him getting at bats. As scare as steals are, and as boring as the Twins’ infield is, if your league allows you to stash minor leaguers away for later, make sure you grab Casilla. If not, AL-only leaguers shouldn't hesitate to pick Casilla up when he gets called up to the big league club.

Daniel Cabrera [SP, BAL] - Cabrera is a bit of a real life Rick Vaughn, only taller and with a better curve. Cabrera has teased rotisserie players for the past two seasons striking out more than a batter an inning while walking more batters than those that managed to get hits off the six-foot seven-inch flamethrower. There were high hopes last season that Orioles' hire and pitching guru Leo Mazzone would be able to help Cabrera with his control problems but on the surface the results were disappointing. Cabrera walked a staggering 104 batters in just 148 innings pitched. However, Cabrera started sporting glasses for the last third of the 2006 season and cut his walk rate nearly in half. The Dominican Wild Thing gave up 8.13 walks for every nine innings pitched from April to July, but cut that rate down to 4.20 for the final two months of the regular season. Cabrera had lasik eye surgery to correct his vision this off-season and with his ability to miss bats, if he can maintain the walk rate he posted in August and September last season, 2007 should be the breakout season everyone has been waiting for.

Joel Peralta [RP, KC] - Joe Nelson has labrum problems and will probably miss half of the 2007 season. With Octavio Dotel owning injury concerns of his own, Peralta is a great dark horse candidate for saves, not that the Royals will provide whomever their closer is with many opportunities. It's not that Peralta is particularly good, just better than the rest of the Royals' supporting cast. He won’t be drafted in most leagues and can be had with your last pick. At least keep an eye on him.

Tom Glavine [SP, NYM] - Glavine will be 41 this season, and that usually means a significant decline in performance isn't too far off on the horizon. However, Glavine did post a 3.82 earned run average last season despite having a rough June (4.93 ERA) and July (6.00 ERA). We'll never know how much of Glavine's mid-season struggles coincided with the blood clot in his throwing shoulder that some thought at the time might end his career. After a stint on the disabled list, Glavine was able to return in mid-August and posted a 3.45 earned run average over his last nine regular season starts. His injury risk is high, but he's a pretty safe bet to repeat his numbers from last season. For a 40-something pitcher, that's saying a lot.

Matt Murton [OF, CHC] - Murton has the upside to hit .300 and sock 20 home runs if given 500 at bats. He has been clobbering opposing pitching this spring, posting a line of .308/.398/.615 through 26 at-bats and has seen significant time batting second in the Cubs' order. However, the Cliff Floyd signing has cast his playing time into serious doubt. This makes him a great end game flier in mixed leagues, and someone to target in the late middle rounds NL-only leagues. Floyd is anything but durable and when he lands on the disabled list this season Murton will shed his platoon status and see time as a regular. If Murton plays well enough, he may help general manager Jim Hendry finally see how expendable Jacque Jones is and get the at-bats he deserves. Keep a close eye on prospect Felix Pie, however. He will force his way into the Cubs outfield plans eventually. If Pie starts tearing up Triple-A it could further complicate things for Murton. Still, Murton has a lot more ability than the vast majority of fourth outfielders in baseball and can probably be had for a bargain.

Jamie Shields [SP, TB] - Shields will never be an ace in the major leagues, but he'll be a very good second or third starter in the very near future. He has an excellent minor league track record and held his own pitching as a rookie in the American League East last season, which is far from a good pitching environment. Sheilds threw fewer than 70 innings in Triple-A between 2005 and 2006 in making his move from Double-A to the show. Even still, he posted solid strike out, walk, and home run rates and should continue to make steady progress this coming season. Shields is also a very consistent pitcher. Most rotisserie players won't be looking past Scott Kazmir in the Rays' rotation, but Shields is a solid back-end starter in mixed leagues and good middle-of-the-rotation starter in AL-only formats.

Frenando Cabrera [RP, CLE] - Keith Foulke has retired and Joe Borowski has struggled with closing games in the past. The Cleveland bullpen is far from stable, and this time last season it was Cabrera who was supposed to be the closer of the future. The young righty struggled in the first half, posting a 6.46 earned run average before the all-star break. His second half showed promise, though, and Cabrera kept his earned run average down to a respectable 3.90. One constant was his ability to miss bats. Cabrera rang up 70 batters in just 60 1/3 innings. If you grab Borowski this season, you need to handcuff Cabrera to him. Personally, I'd rather let someone else draft Borowski, take Cabrera a few rounds later, and collect all of the Indians' saves when Borowski falters.

I'm looking forward to another great season of baseball, and am really excited about the changes taking place this season at GameDay. Good luck in your rotisserie auctions and fantasy drafts and be sure to pick up a copy of GameDay whenever you frequent the Metrodome this summer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Twins Fan To The End

By Jimmy Rogers

My grandma passed away Tuesday night at the ripe age of 97.

She was as Minnesotan as they come, growing up in the farm towns of Ghent and Marshall before moving to the Twin Cities. Grandma was my umbilical cord to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as I was born and raised in baseball-less Indiana. Were it not for her, my love affair with the Twins may have never fully bloomed.

I could always count on her to join me for my yearly pilgrimages to the Metrodome. And in my absence, she collected and saved anything and everything Twins related, from newspaper clippings and programs to Star Tribune promotional medallions. Whenever I dialed her up to say hello, one of the first things out of her mouth invariably had something to do with the Twins, no matter the season. Whenever birthdays rolled around, a long hand-written card was customary, always with a sentence or two devoted to the team. Inscriptions like “Radke looked tired the other night. Hope he’s not over-throwing” impressed my college roommates to the point that they referred to her as “Gammons Grandma.”

Her passing puts things in perspective about what’s important in life. It’s not about money or possessions. It’s about people: enjoying others company and treating everyone respectably and kind. The Minnesota ball club has operated on these same principles, more or less, for 20+ years, dating back to that historic World Series ride in 1987, when I first became hooked on a team that played with their hearts on their sleeves. Under the direction of two managers, TK and Gardy, and baseball’s best GM, Terry Ryan, the Twins have functioned more like a family nurturing its own than any other organization in the game. And the formula has proven successful.

As Ramon Ortiz discovered quickly, "It's unbelievable, this team here. I've never seen a team like Minnesota. Everyone is together and everyone is happy. There are no superstars here. Everybody is the same. They make me feel very good."

I think Grandma would have liked the Twins direction this year. In her heart of hearts, she would bless the decision to bring in two wayward pitchers, Sidney Ponson and Ortiz, in hopes of re-railing their careers. She would anticipate the coming of age stories of the club’s youth pitcher movement as Garza, Bonser, Perkins and Slowey stand poised to make an indelible impact.

She would understand the wisdom in exercising the option for Torii, no matter the price. The guy embodies the Minnesota spirit, much like Kirby. There aren’t many players with Hunter’s complete package: breathtaking defense, dangerous power, passionate leadership, infectious clubhouse zeal. You want these players rubbing off on the youngsters. Their value cannot be quantified.

Her infatuation with Joe Mauer reached epic proportions since the reigning batting champ walked the same Cretin hallways as two of her sons. And who doesn’t like sending a two-time Cy Young champ to the mound every 5th day and writing the reigning MVP into the lineup card on a daily basis. Yeah, Grandma would have liked what’s in store for this year. Now she can join #34, peering down from the clouds to enjoy the only team each of them knew.

I’ll miss you Grandma.

The Mysterious Allure of LeCroy

Terry Ryan kept himself busy this off-season avoiding arbitration left and right, signing a handful of key young players to long-term contracts and bringing in a couple of seasoned professionals. But despite having a productive winter, the decision to bring back Twins former backup catcher Matthew LeCroy is simply baffling.

The Twins’ power-hitting prospect-gone-sour was absent from the Twins for a mere season playing with the Washington Nationals in 2006. Out East LeCroy hit .239 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 39 games, and his defensive skills didn’t fair much better. We all remember reading about National’s Manager Frank Robinson pulling LeCroy from behind the plate after allowing seven stolen bases in six innings, accompanied by two throwing errors.

After the 2005 season, despite hitting 17 home runs and 50 RBIs in 2005, the Twins decided it wasn’t going to work out with LeCroy as the DH or backup catcher. His six-year career with the Twins had been mediocre at best, so what has changed this time around and why are fans so enthralled with LeCroy? Did he hit some grand slams I am unaware of? Did we really miss him last season?

Surprisingly, fans and teammates alike have welcomed LeCroy with open arms as a clubhouse favorite. Star Tribune sports reporter Jim Souhan dedicated a column praising LeCroy’s return, calling him a morale booster and one of the “selfless, prank-playing good guys who populate big-league benches.”

Yet last season, several clubhouse pranksters became new fan favorites: Nicky Punto with his green Speedo; Mike Redmond with his nude table dancing; Cuddyer’s magic tricks; Torii’s consistently suspicious grin; the piranhas, and we all know the entire bullpen knows how to have a good time. (Let us not forget the unattractive rookie initiation that had Pat Neshek dining out in fishnet stockings.)

It is not as if the Twins’ clubhouse is in need of more pranksters, or morale boosters, for that matter. Hunter is guaranteed to fire up the bench with a triumphant speech that lights a fire under the pinstripe pants; Santana is the leader of our team, carrying the rest of the Twins and their statistical baggage on his shoulders every fifth game.

Maybe the source of my confusion rests in the nightmare flashbacks I have of LeCroy striking out with the bases loaded and hitting dribblers up the line instead of doubles down the line. (Although he did hit a triple once, in 2002, and made the fans and media wonder the next morning whether Al Newman had strategically placed a cupcake on the base to entice LeCroy’s sprinting skills out of the woodwork.)

Signing LeCroy is charity instead of strategy. Minnesota is where he has played six of his soon-to-be eight seasons; he is familiar with Twins Territory and is surrounded by fans and players that don’t care that he, for all intents and purposes, can not master or even effectively handle any part of the game. But it’s okay, right, because LeCroy’s a clubhouse favorite.


Battle For the DH

Other candidates vying for the Twins’ DH spot are Ken Harvey and Jason Kubel. Toss LeCroy into the mix and all three candidates are coming off of poor seasons. We know what happened in Washington with LeCroy, but Ken Harvey has been out of the game since May 22, 2005, because of recurring back problems. And though he was given more than three times the at bats as his first season, Jason Kubel did not show much development last year. In two years he has hit only ten home runs, six of them coming in a two-week stretch.

Now guess who Kubel resembles in more ways than one: stocky, quiet farm-boy type, not known for his defensive skills, expected to develop barrels of power. Sound familiar? Kubel is going down the same path as LeCroy, already sidelined by nagging knee injuries in his young career.

However, despite the foreshadowing, Kubel should be named this year’s starting DH, if only because he is still young and his potential hasn’t entirely vanished. Whereas with LeCroy and Harvey, what you see in the stats box is pretty much as good as it’s going to get.

Monday, March 12, 2007

March 12 Links

I’ll be honest—I haven’t been paying much attention to the Twins lately, even with Spring Training starting. Some of you may be shocked by this, and some may even question how much I care about the Twins. I mean, for Gardy’s sake, I spent last summer interning for the Twins Geek and liked it enough to sign up for a second season. And yet, I really haven’t been paying that much attention. It’s kind of crazy, I know, but I think I have a pretty good reason: the Georgetown Hoyas.

When I first set foot on Georgetown’s campus, the basketball team was led by Craig Esherick, the successor to Hall of Fame coach John Thompson, Jr., and a pretty mediocre coach. The team had made the Sweet Sixteen in 2001, had missed the tournament the year before I got there, and would miss it again my freshman year. And then the bottom really fell out, as the Hoyas finished dead last in the Big East, missed the NCAA Tournament and NIT, snapping a string of postseason invitations stretching back to the early 1970s.

For a team that had been feared in the 1980s by dominating the Big East and making three NCAA title games (winning one) in four years, it was the breaking point. Think the Twins in 1999, right down to the Athletic Department arguing they couldn’t compete due to a lack of resources and discussions about moving (to a lesser conference).

That all changed when John Thompson III was hired to replace Esherick. Following in his father’s footsteps, he quickly turned around the program, giving #1 Duke their first loss last year and reaching the Sweet Sixteen, falling to eventual champion Florida. But that wasn’t enough for him—with the core of his team returning, the Hoyas dominated the Big East this year, winning 11 straight games in conference and grabbing the regular season title. Then, after they survived a furious comeback from Villanova in the first round and Notre Dame’s best game, they took it to the only other contender to the title of “Best Team in the Big East”, throttling Pitt 65-42. After 18 years of futility (I was five the last time they had won the conference, in 1989) the Hoyas are once again the undisputed champions of the conference they helped found.

And so, for the first time ever, I’m not paying attention to Spring Training (and by that, I mean I’m only reading a few sites and articles, instead of all of them). This Hoyas team is special, much like the Twins have been since 2002. They are a team that emphasizes the fundamentals, valuing every possession, playing tough defense and always exuding class. So, if you’re looking for a team to pull for this year, take a long hard look at Georgetown—this is a team that’s not only wins, they do it the right way—by respecting the game and their opponent, much like the Twins do.

And now, for the links (trust me—they’re about the Twins):

  • After the success of the Vikings blog (which you might describe in a different way after reading the comments), the Star Tribune has rolled out three different blogs for the Twins, one on the Twins written by LeVelle E. Neal, one on the majors by Joe Christenson and A Fan’s View from Section 220, penned by Bat-Girl commentor Ron Davis. I’m sure these will join the many Twins blogs that I now consider “must reads” (A number that is actually quite high, and why I feel like I’m not paying very much attention to the Twins when I only read a few of them).
  • Even with that said, Pulling a Blyleven isn’t so sure they like the trend of newspapers starting up blogs.
  • This one’s about basketball, but it turns out I’m not the only one focused on March Madness.
  • Finally, if you’re wondering how your favorite Twins are going to do this year, make sure you head over to Twinkie Town and check out their projections. They’ve already projected 8 of the players, and add a new one daily.

Podcast roundtable discussion

Hi everyone-
I've been talking to John about starting a MNgameday podcast. I'd like to set-up an organizational meeting with anybody interested in participating in the Twin Cities area. We can start the discussion here and continue it at a local watering hole.

There are a number of issues we need to decide.

1) How long? How often? We need to produce the show on a regular basis, nothing kills a fan base like inconsistency. The problem is for every minute of recording it takes at least 2-3 times that in post-production (my job). We could either have a 1 hour weekly show or possibly twice or thrice weekly half hour shows.

2) Where? We need a location that is large enough to sit four-five people comfortably along with microphones, a mixer (about the size of a laptop), a laptop and all the necessary cables. I needs to be available consistently and QUIET. If you have a house with kids or pets, it probably won't work. I know I can't keep my dog quiet for five minutes- let alone an hour. I have a friend with studio space, but I don't know if he'll let us use it for free.

3) Format- after picking out the time and place we can start thinking about the general format for the podcast and assigning duties. I.e.- who covers the weekly news, who collects listener questions, who is the host, who does post-production, etc.

4) Money- It will cost ~$300 to get us started. I will be splitting this cost with a friend who is going to be running a pet related podcast. This set-up will include a mixer and decent microphones, stands, cables etc. to get two people talking. I'm sure we could scrounge to get a couple of cheap microphones so we could have four people going at once. To upgrade, it'll cost ~$100 per decent microphone + stand + cables. If anyone can make donations- equipment or otherwise ($)- we should see what we can scrounge up between us all.
Additionally, if things go well enough that we receive some revenues from advertisers, we need to decide where that will go (how much towards the site, equipment, etc.) . I'm not super optimistic about that but you never know.

Anyway please post with your ideas. Also, if you interested in participating please let me know. I will go about scheduling a meeting later.

cheers,
Bryce