2012 Phillies Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies were the 2011 favorites to represent the National League in the World Series, only to fall short in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The series went the distance as Chris Carpenter pitched the game of his life in a memorable 1-0 pitching duel against Roy Halladay in the fifth and final game; the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series.  The loss left fans with the dreaded “what if?” feeling; however, the NLDS loss demonstrated that the Phillies needed to improve their consistency with the bats.

Spring training is here and I firmly believe the Phillies will again be widely regarded as favorites to represent the NL in the World Series.  The Phillies still have a mighty pitching rotation which features Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  There have been murmurs that Roy Oswalt might return to the Phillies; if Oswalt indeed returns and is healthy, that would only improve the pitching rotation.  Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard will start the season on the disabled list, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fifth game of the NLDS.  Early indications are that Howard may return perhaps in late May.  Even in the absence of Howard, the Phillies shall remain a high-scoring team and possibly a more consistent offensive team this season.

Lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  TBD [Ty Wigginton]
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  TBD [John Mayberry Jr.]
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

With or without Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence (.314 AVG, 22 HR and 97 RBI) will be the go-to guy in the Phillies lineup.

The Phillies lineup from 2011 is generally intact; however, manager Charlie Manuel will have some interesting options and plenty of flexibility in juggling his lineup this season.  Domonic Brown could have a chance to start in left field; however, I believe Brown will start the 2012 season with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA).

With Brown possibly starting the season in AAA, I foresee John Mayberry Jr. starting in left field and Ty Wigginton sharing playing time with Jim Thome at first base.  Wigginton is a solid right-handed bat and should help the Phillies hit left-handed pitching.

Although I believe Thome and Wigginton will share time at first base, Wigginton will more than likely get the nod when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher.

Bench
Michael Martinez
Brian Schneider
Laynce Nix
Jim Thome
Juan Pierre

Martinez is virtually assured a spot on the 25-man roster because he is a versatile infielder who can play multiple positions.  You can chalk up a spot for Schneider as well, because every team will run with at least two catchers on the roster.  Nix and Thome will serve as good power bats to have on the bench and get the occasional start.  Pierre is a non-roster invite; however, I am confident that Pierre will win a roster spot.  Pierre has been a good contact hitter in his MLB career and has been one of the best at swiping bases.  Pierre did have an off year in 2011; however, I believe he will return to his normal self this season.  Pierre’s speed and steady hitting will provide Manuel with options to juggle his lineup from time to time; when Pierre starts, I believe you may see him leading off the lineup.  Displayed below is what I believe the ordinary starting lineup and batting order may look like in 2012:

Batting order
SS (Jimmy Rollins)
3B (Placido Polanco)
RF (Hunter Pence)
2B (Chase Utley)
LF (John Mayberry Jr.)
CF (Shane Victorino)
1B (Ty Wigginton)
C (Carlos Ruiz)
P (Pitcher)

Starting rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton
Vance Worley

Rumors have been swirling that the Phillies are willing to trade Blanton; the difficulty will be in finding somebody who is willing to take on Blanton’s $8.50 million salary.  Blanton is a solid pitcher; however, he has struggled with injuries in the past two years.  I do believe Blanton will remain with the Phillies for the time being; however, if he pitches well, he could be traded in the midst of the season (should the Phillies wish to do so).  If by some unforeseen circumstances Blanton either starts the season on the DL or is traded, I believe non-roster invite Joel Pineiro could steal a starting pitching job in the rotation.  Other possibilities to replace Blanton include Phillippe Aumont or Kyle Kendrick.

Hamels is coming off the best season of his career.  Hamels had a very misleading 14-9 record that was damaged by a lack of run support at times; however, he set career-bests in ERA (2.79), complete games (3), WHIP (0.99) and K/BB ratio (4.41).  Hamels signed a one-year extension for $15 million to remain with the Phillies in 2012; he will be a free agent in the offseason.  I believe it will be difficult for Hamels to duplicate his 2011 numbers; however, he has the ability to do so and is one of the better young pitchers in the game today.  Look for the Phillies to lock Hamels up with a long-term agreement before the season begins to avoid any unnecessary distractions.

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon
Jose Contreras
Michael Stutes
Chad Qualls
Kyle Kendrick
Antonio Bastardo
David Herndon

The Phillies will likely run a seven-man bullpen this season.  If you have any concerns about the Phillies bullpen, you can take a deep breath and relax.  The bullpen should be strong in the 2012 season.  First of all, the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation will keep the bullpen fresh and spare them from the rigors of a 162-game season.  When you consistently have Halladay and Lee pitching 7-9 innings and Hamels pitching 6-8 innings, you have a fresh bullpen.

Papelbon is a proven closer who will shut the opposition down; like any closer not named Mariano Rivera, he will have his blow-ups now and then.  More often than not, Papelbon gets the job done.  Qualls is an underrated signing that brings stability to the young bullpen.  When Qualls is on top of his game, he is a ground ball pitcher who will negate the effects of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.  Qualls has consistently pitched better in the later stages of the season in his MLB career.

If Kendrick does not move to the starting rotation, you will see him in the bullpen.  Kendrick did a solid job in the 2011 season out of the bullpen with a 3.41 ERA in 19 relief appearances; as a reliever, Kendrick conceded only one home run in 31.2 innings.  Herndon had a very strong finish to the 2011 season as he posted a 1.55 ERA and held hitters to a .216 AVG in his final 22 outings.  I believe Herndon will be assured a roster spot.

Bastardo will be assured a roster spot; however, I admit I have concerns about him.  Earlier in his career, I was unimpressed with his pitching and his lack of control.  In the 2011 season, he surprised me with his dominance as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for much of the season.  Bastardo was 6-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2011 as he struck out 70 hitters in 58 innings (10.9 strikeouts per nine innings); however, he struggled in the later stages of the 2011 season.  In his first 36 games, Bastardo had a 0.82 ERA and 0.76 WHIP; in his final 28 games, Bastardo had a 5.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  If Bastardo’s late-season struggles carry over into the 2012 season, then the Phillies will likely be without an effective left-handed reliever unless they carry two in their bullpen.

Joe Savery was 4-0 with two saves, a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings through 18 relief appearances with the Iron Pigs (AAA) in 2011.

There is a chance that Contreras might be unavailable to start the season.  If Contreras were to accompany Howard on the DL, then young lefty Joe Savery or veteran Dontrelle Willis could fill the void.  If the Phillies want a second lefty in the bullpen, I would prefer Savery before Willis.  Willis has been an inconsistent and wild pitcher in his MLB career and has passed his peak.  Frankly, I would value Willis more for his hitting than his pitching!

The 26 year-old Savery needs to be given an opportunity to shine as an MLB regular.  In 2.2 innings of work at the MLB level last season, Savery allowed no runs, no walks and one hit while striking out two hitters.  At the AAA level with the Iron Pigs, Savery was 4-0 with two saves and a 1.80 ERA in 18 relief appearances.  In 25 innings, Savery struck out 26 batters and walked six.

If the Phillies run a seven-man bullpen, I would like to see Savery in there along with Bastardo; however, I do not know how that will be arranged unless Kendrick moves into the starting rotation or Contreras starts the season on the DL.  Regardless of what transpires, I am very confident in Savery’s ability and would like to see him get the opportunity to perform at the MLB level.

I firmly believe the 2012 NL representative in the World Series will either be the Phillies or the Cardinals; however, I give the edge to the Phillies at this time.  In Howard’s absence, the Phillies might hit fewer home runs; however, they shall still be a high-scoring team and a more consistent hitting team.  The pitching rotation will be strong again and the bullpen has no shortage of depth.  Health permitting, the Phillies will be a team with very few weaknesses – if any – and win the NL East yet again and possibly the World Series.

I say the over/under for the Phillies’ wins this season will be 98.  The Phillies must remain sharp and be on top of their game, because I believe the Atlanta Braves have the potential to steal the NL East crown if the Phillies get complacent.  Phillies fans have every reason to be excited for the 2012 season, as the Phillies will again be regarded as one of the favorites to appear in the World Series.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2012 Phillies Offseason Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies recently made a big statement by signing free agent first baseman Jim Thome.  By signing Thome, the Phillies are letting the world know that they are ready to replace Ryan Howard during his time on the disabled list and gear up for a 2012 World Series run with or without Howard.

While the Thome signing was one I foresaw, there are other signings I would like to see the Phillies pursue:  Michael Cuddyer, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, Darren Oliver and John Mayberry.

Michael Cuddyer

If the Phillies sign Cuddyer, it is possible that he may be the starting second baseman and the team may move Chase Utley to first base.  If Utley were moved to first, then Jim Thome would serve as a backup who gets the occasional start and serves as a good power bat on the bench.

If Utley remains at second base, then Cuddyer could perhaps play first base while Ryan Howard remains on the disabled list.  If there are no plans to start Cuddyer at first base, then he could possibly start in left field to replace Raul Ibanez.

Cuddyer is a logical option for the Phillies.  He is a solid right-handed bat – which the Phillies sorely need – who can hit for average and power; more importantly, Cuddyer can hit left-handed pitching.  His versatility will be a useful tool, especially if the Phillies suffer a string of injuries in their lineup.

Dilemma at first base

While Howard is on the disabled list, the Phillies will not miss his strikeouts and poor situational hitting; however, they will miss his power and run production.  I believe Thome will serve well as a power hitter, especially in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark; however, Thome has a history of back ailments.

The Phillies need to plan to have a replacement for Thome at first base if his back flares up.  If they indeed sign Cuddyer, he could be Thome’s replacement at first base while John Mayberry (if they re-sign him) or Domonic Brown could play in left field.

Why the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins

I believe the Phillies need to re-sign free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins.  While Rollins does not hit for an extremely high average (.268 AVG in 2011) or sport a high on-base percentage (.338 OBP in 2011), he is vital to the Phillies’ success.  Rollins is a switch-hitter, excellent base runner and a superb shortstop.

Do not underestimate the importance of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to the Phillies' success.

The flaws in Rollins’ offensive game merely call for a change in the batting order.  Rather than batting Rollins in the leadoff spot, I prefer to see him batting sixth or seventh in the 2012 season.

Rollins has some power in his bat and should not be discouraged from using it in the sixth or seventh spot; furthermore, his speed will be a deadly weapon in the bottom third of the order.

When Rollins is on base in the bottom third of the order, a base hit will likely score a run.  Rollins’ speed also presents the hit-and-run as an option in the bottom of the order.  If the pitcher is up to bat, Rollins’ speed will enable him to advance the next base on some less-than-ideal bunts (if he does not already steal second or third base).  If Rollins is on third base, the squeeze play is an option, regardless of who the batter may be.

Although Rollins is not a leadoff hitter in the truest sense of the title, he is a dangerous player whose success plays an important role in any team’s pursuit of victory.  His switch-hitting and his speed would be wonderful tools to have in the bottom of the Phillies’ batting order; furthermore, his superb defense saves them many runs.  It is important that the Phillies re-sign Rollins and let him finish his career with the team.  The only way I would excuse the absence of Rollins is if the Phillies were to sign free agent shortstop Jose Reyes and name him as their new leadoff hitter (I see Babe Ruth coming back before Reyes signs with the Phillies).  Personally, I prefer Rollins for his excellent defense.

If the Phillies re-sign Rollins, I hope to see him moved to the bottom third of the order and Shane Victorino moved up to the leadoff spot.  Victorino is a more consistent hitter than Rollins and is capable of consistently hitting over .280 in a given season.

Shane Victorino AVG by season
2006:  .287
2007:  .281
2008:  .293
2009:  .292
2010:  .259
2011:  .279

Victorino’s .355 OBP in 2011 bests Rollins’ .338 OBP.  While Victorino does tend to strike out at a slightly higher pace than Rollins, he sports a better OBP and AVG.  From this information, one can surmise that Victorino waits for better pitches to hit than Rollins does and that his swings are normally of a higher quality than Rollins’ swings.  For those reasons, Victorino should be the leadoff hitter.

My 2012 Phillies starting lineup

If Ruben Amaro’s thought process is the same as mine, then Rollins will be re-signed and remain a member of the Phillies.  Cuddyer’s skill as a right-handed hitter and his versatility will be brought to the club and become the starting left fielder.

Below is my 2012 Philadelphia Phillies starting lineup on opening day (provided that Amaro makes the moves I think he should):

[1]  Shane Victorino, CF
[2]  Placido Polanco, 3B
[3]  Chase Utley, 2B
[4]  Hunter Pence, RF
[5]  Jim Thome, 1B
[6]  Michael Cuddyer, LF
[7]  Jimmy Rollins, SS
[8]  Carlos Ruiz, C
[9]  Roy Halladay, SP

With the above batting order, the Phillies have hitters who can hit for average and power and their abilities can complement each other very well.  Pitchers will have difficulty in pitching around this lineup, for the way my batting order is set up, each hitter’s abilities give another hitter lineup protection.

More importantly, my batting order does not have any back-to-back left-handers.  Without having back-to-back left-handers in the lineup, this order forces a cat-and-mouse game for opposing managers who have to carefully decide when to bring in a left-handed pitcher from the bullpen.

The batting order I created above has average, power, speed, discipline, situational hitters and lineup protection.  This order can also create matchup problems that favor the Phillies and force the hand of the opposition’s manager.

Pitching

I have no concerns about the starting pitching.  Regardless of whether or not the Phillies bring back Roy Oswalt, they have four solid starters whose spots may be set in stone:  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.  The Phillies could stick a pitching machine into the fifth slot and they would still have the best pitching rotation in baseball.

The bullpen may be a slight cause for concern, however.  Free agent Brad Lidge has been injury-prone in the past few years and closer Ryan Madson is a free agent.  Young left-hander Antonio Bastardo had a brilliant start to his 2011 season; however, he faded down the stretch.

In the interest of having more than one left-hander in the bullpen, I believe the Phillies should sign veteran Darren Oliver.  Oliver is a reliable left-handed veteran still chasing the dream of winning a World Series; the Phillies are one of the few favorites who make that dream a realistic possibility.

While Jose Contreras could conceivably fill in as the team’s closer, he struggled with injuries in 2011.  Regardless of whether or not Lidge returns, it would be a blow to the Phillies’ bullpen to lose Madson.

While the possibility of Madson leaving would be a big disappointment to the Phillies, it would not be an entirely crushing blow, for the Phillies do not rely heavily on their bullpen.  If Madson does leave, the Phillies could make Contreras or Michael Stutes their closer.

My 2012 Phillies rotation
SP:  Roy Halladay
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Vance Worley
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  Joe Blanton (if not Kyle Kendrick or Roy Oswalt)

My 2012 Phillies bullpen
RP:  Ryan Madson (closer)
RP:  Jose Contreras
RP:  Michael Stutes
RP:  Antonio Bastardo
RP:  Kyle Kendrick (if Joe Blanton or Roy Oswalt starts)
RP:  Darren Oliver (reliable left-handed veteran)

My 25-man roster on opening day (assuming everybody but Ryan Howard is healthy) would look like this with Domonic Brown starting the 2012 season in the minors:

Starting lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Jim Thome
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Michael Cuddyer
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

Rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Vance Worley
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton (if not Roy Oswalt or Kyle Kendrick)

Bullpen
Ryan Madson
Michael Stutes
Jose Contreras
Antonio Bastardo
Darren Oliver
Kyle Kendrick (if not replacing Blanton or Oswalt as 5th starter)
David Herndon

Bench
Backup catcher (I do not care who it is)
Michael Martinez, 2B/3B/SS/OF
Wilson Valdez, 2B/3B/SS
John Mayberry, OF/1B
Ben Francisco, OF

If Amaro follows the plans I have in mind, the Phillies would have a talented and versatile batting order full of hitters who complement one another and give one another lineup protection, have a strong pitching rotation, have a strong bullpen and have versatile players on the bench (several of which are right-handers that can hit left-handed pitching).

Will the ideas I have in mind come become reality with the Phillies?  I do not know; however, I would be very excited about the Phillies’ chances of winning the 2012 World Series if these ideas do become reality.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Twitter Etiquette

Ordinarily, I write about professional sports from my own perspective as a writer, fan and viewer all at once.  When I write about the games, I write about the games themselves and the offseason moves and what I would do if I were an armchair general manager or coach.  Now I shall write about professional sports from a social media perspective.

We live in a golden digital age at this time.  Thanks to the Internet and its social media applications (namely Facebook and Twitter), fans are able to get closer than ever to professional athletes and other celebrities.

Several professional athletes – and former athletes – I follow on Twitter include:  Matthew Barnaby, John Axford, Dirk Hayhurst, Logan Morrison, Jimmy Rollins, Kevin Weekes, and many others.  I enjoy my interactions with these people.  I am sincere in my words and I joke around with them.  I have teased Barnaby at times and he responds back in a jovial manner.

For example, I once teased Barnaby about his struggle to get his kid in bed at a reasonable time.  I simply quipped that he should tell the child that Wayne Gretzky got plenty of sleep and Barnaby himself did not (a cheap little joke at the disparity between Gretzky’s talent level and Barnaby’s talent level).  Thankfully, Barnaby took it for what it was:  playful teasing.  Judging from some of the tweets he has made, he loves being a father.

Axford joked that the media should not refer to him as a redneck, but as a yokel; I then compared him to Cletus the slack-jawed yokel – a character from The Simpsons – and he was amused by the comparison.  Axford then posted a link to a Youtube video showing the sing-along song about Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.

Treat athletes with sincerity and dignity and they will be glad treat you in the same manner. (Click on image if you wish to see full size)

It is a wonderful thing to be able to learn about the human side of professional athletes via Twitter.

Thanks to social media, it is possible for fans to have some semblance of camaraderie with the athletes that you normally only see among the players themselves.

Unfortunately, the Internet world of social media is not all fun and games.  Sadly, there are too many people who have the audacity to abuse the so-called anonymity of the Internet to bring their unjustifiable hatred to an area outside of the games and the stadiums.  I have seen “fans” say horrendous things on Twitter to the likes of Logan Morrison, John Kruk, Jeremy Roenick, Kevin Weekes and countless others.

With so many arrogant pricks on the Internet, it is no mystery why some athletes/celebrities are apprehensive to interact with fans.  I am not saying that all athletes and all celebrities are precious angels; however, I strongly believe that many so-called “fans” are bigger jerks than the way they perceive the athletes and celebrities to be!

Regardless of their profession or how much money they make, athletes and celebrities are people, too.  First and foremost, they are human beings.  As fellow human beings, they are entitled to the same rights as the rest of us:  the right to be able to interact with others and establish camaraderie with others without the fear of harassment.

I hope the jerks of the Internet realize the errors of their ways before it is too late.  Rather than spending so much time and energy on being hateful over trivial little things, those jerks of the Internet should apply that energy elsewhere to better their own lives.  Aside from ruining their own lives with their unjustifiable hatred, the jerks of the Internet risk creating the day when professional athletes and celebrities will stop interacting with fans altogether.

Frankly, I am amazed at what thick skin some athletes and celebrities have on Twitter.  After seeing some of the despicable things some people have said to them, I thought they would stop interacting with fans altogether; however, they remain classy and treat people with respect and dignity.  Kudos to those athletes and celebrities for handling themselves in the proper manner!

Regardless of who you follow on Twitter or any other social media application, and regardless of what their professions are, you should treat people with the same respect and dignity you feel you are entitled to.  First and foremost, people are people.  Do not ever forget that.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

The Greatest Game

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers by a final score of 16-7 to take a 2-1 lead in the 2011 World Series; however, the 2-1 series lead takes a backseat to another storyline:  the dominance of Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols joins Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game (Ruth accomplished the feat twice).

Pujols put on a hitting display that may go down as the greatest individual offensive performance by any player in World Series history.  Pujols went five-for-six with three home runs; Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only other players to hit three home runs in a World Series game.

The first Pujols home run went an estimated 431 feet, the second home run went an estimated 424 feet and the third went an estimated 420 feet.

What was most impressive about the performance of Pujols was not the fact that he hit three home runs in one game or that he hit his final home run in the ninth inning.  The impressive thing about his feat is that he tied or set seven MLB records in one World Series game!  Displayed below are the World Series records Pujols broke or tied.

Most home runs
3:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
3:  Babe Ruth (10-9-1928)
3:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)
3:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Most hits
5:  Paul Molitor (10-12-1982) [all singles]
5:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011) [three home runs and two singles]

Runs batted in (RBI)
6:  Bobby Richardson (10-8-1960)
6:  Hideki Matsui (11-4-2009)
6:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Runs
4:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
4:  Earle Combs (10-2-1932)
4:  Frank Crosetti (10-2-1936)
4:  Enos Slaughter (10-10-1946)
4:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)
4:  Kirby Puckett (10-24-1987)
4:  Carney Lansford (10-27-1989)
4:  Lenny Dykstra (10-20-1993)
4:  Jeff Kent (10-24-2002)
4:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)

Total bases
14:  Albert Pujols (10-22-2011)
12:  Babe Ruth (10-6-1926)
12:  Babe Ruth (10-9-1928)
12:  Reggie Jackson (10-18-1977)

In addition to the five records above, Pujols also set two other records.  Pujols became the first player in World Series history to get a hit in four consecutive innings.  Pujols also became the first player in World Series history to have four or more hits in a World Series game in which he hit two or more home runs.  In all, this amounts to at least seven World Series records set by Pujols in one game.

The series is far from over, as the Cardinals lead 2-1 over the Rangers; however, the performance by Pujols makes this game an instant classic and may be the single greatest performance by any player in the history of a World Series game.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

NFL Foolishness

Remember when the NFL often fined Chad Ochocinco for his flashy touchdown celebrations?  Remember when the NFL threatened to fine Peyton Manning if he wore low-top shoes to honor Johnny Unitas after Unitas passed away?  The NFL is at its silliness once again!

Troy Polamalu was fined $10k by the NFL for phoning his wife and letting her know he was well.

The NFL reportedly fined Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu $10,000 for using a phone on the sideline.

Polamalu had suffered a concussion and called his wife to inform her that he was well.

The nature of this fine leads me to two schools of thought:

1.  First of all, it is entirely ridiculous to fine a man for phoning his wife to let her know that he is ok after suffering an injury.

What Polamalu did was no different than what most ordinary men would do.

2.  Secondly, let’s say the fine was justified because Polamalu indeed violated league rules by using a phone on the sideline during a game.  Even if I accept the reason for the fine, I cannot understand why this is a heavier fine than what other players received for their actions.

According to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk was fined $10,000 for flashing an obscene gesture.  Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith was fined $7,500 for pulling another player’s helmet off and Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew was fined $7,500 for a chop block.  Why is a player who called his wife to inform her that he is safe fined more than two players whose actions endangered other players?  This is highly illogical; the NFL might as well be an acronym for “No F*cking Logic” for all the silly decisions it makes.

The NFL would probably be dumb enough to fine its players for conversing on these Chatter Telephones from Fisher Price.

If the NFL had any common sense – history shows that it does not – then it would either reduce Polamalu’s fine or increase the fines for the other offenses.

I would love to see Polamalu and the Steelers take a shot at the NFL for its ridiculousness by having every player sit on the bench and converse on the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone during their next game.  The NFL would probably be ridiculous enough to fine players for using fake telephones!

I cannot help but wonder if the NFL would have fined New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady if he were the one to do what Polamalu did.  Regardless of what views you may have on this fine, the fact of the matter is that the NFL is highly illogical and needs to focus on more important priorities (monitoring concussions, reducing blows to the head, implementing a drug-testing program for HGH, etc.).

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2011 BBA Awards: Stan Musial Award

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) will soon announce the winners of the 2011 Walter Johnson Award, which is awarded to those judged to be the top pitchers in both the American League and National League.  The BBA is now nearing the end of its 2011 voting sessions, for all that remains is the Stan Musial Award, which shall be awarded to the players who are judged to be the most valuable in both leagues.

Being a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the BBA, my votes are restricted to the NL.  Unlike the other BBA Awards, the Stan Musial Award requires a 10-player ballot.  Listed below are my votes for the 2011 NL Stan Musial Award.

1.  Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers)
2.  Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers)
3.  Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers)
4.  Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)
5.  Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies)
6.  Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals)
7.  Jose Reyes (New York Mets)
8.  Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies)
9.  Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies)
10.  Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

Kemp was an easy selection for me at the first place vote.  Late in the season, Kemp was a Triple Crown candidate until Reyes and Braun pulled away from him in the batting title race.  In addition to being a season-long Triple Crown threat, Kemp was one home run short of a 40/40 season (39 home runs and 40 steals).

My sixth place vote for Pujols will likely cause mixed feelings among my readers.  Some of you will probably wonder why I did not rank Pujols higher (I felt the others were more deserving); others might question why I have Pujols on my list at all.

To those who question why I have Pujols on my list at all:  Pujols is on my list because he was once again one of the best players in baseball this season, despite it being an “off” season by his incredibly high standards.  Pujols finished the season with a .299 AVG, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs and 105 runs.

Although the .299 AVG for the season is below the norm for Pujols and his high standards, he returned to form after the All-Star break and played a large role in helping the Cardinals turn their season around and sneak into the postseason.  In the crucial month of September, Pujols hit .355 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 26 games (the Cardinals were 18-8 in those 26 games).

I hope those who criticze Pujols for his .299 AVG do not have the audacity to cast a vote for Ryan Howard of the Phillies.

Pujols:  .299 AVG, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .366 OBP, .906 OPS
Howard:  .253 AVG, 33 HR, 116 RBI, .346 OBP, .835 OPS

The .366 OBP by Pujols was remarkably a career-worst for him!  Pujols had an OBP of .400 or higher in nine of his 11 MLB seasons; Howard had only one season with an OBP of .400 or higher (.425 OBP with a .313 AVG in 2006).  Other than the .425 OBP Howard posted in 2006, the .392 OBP in 2007 was the only other season in which his OBP was higher than Pujols’ .366 OBP of the 2011 season.

This is not intended to be a Howard vs. Pujols debate; anyone with a brain knows that Pujols is a better baseball player than Howard.  I merely brought up the Howard/Pujols comparisons to not only justify my vote sixth place vote for Pujols, but to also silence the Ryan Howard apologists who often accuse me of not giving him enough credit.

I am sick and tired of his apologists saying “look at the home runs and RBIs!”  First of all, Pujols has more home runs (so there goes your precious home runs argument).  Secondly, RBIs are the byproduct of how well your teammates get on base for you to drive them in; with Pujols having more home runs and slaughtering Howard in AVG (and yet having fewer RBIs), it is obvious that Howard had more help from his teammates than Pujols did in the RBI department.

Here is another statistic for you Ryan Howard apologists:  Howard hit .266 against right handed pitching and a pathetic .224 against left handed pitching; Pujols hit .300 against right handed pitching and .295 against left handed pitching.  Howard simply has too many flaws in his game to warrant a vote for the Stan Musial Award.

The 10 players displayed above are my votes for the 2011 NL Stan Musial Award.  I have made it perfectly clear why Pujols was worthy of a vote and also why Howard was not worthy of a vote.  I am quite confident I chose the 10 best players for this award.  The order these 10 are placed in will surely differ among the voters; however, I would be surprised if Kemp or Braun do not win.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Special Ops Speed Runs

When discussing Call of Duty video games, you ordinarily discuss the games’ campaign modes and online modes.  Recently, my younger brother and I put Call of Duty:  Blacks Ops on the back burner and decided to go back to Call of Duty:  Modern Wafare 2.

In playing Modern Warfare 2, we set out to defeat Infinity Ward’s (IW) best times in the Special Ops segment of the game while playing together with a split screen.  In some of the ops, we were able to shatter IW’s times; however, some of the ops have proven to be very difficult.  Our results are displayed below (these ops were played on a two-player split screen unless indicated otherwise).

The Pit
IW:  0:22.60
US:  0:27.65

Sniper Fi
IW:  1:55.50
US:  1:42.00

O Cristo Redentor
IW:  1:16.20
US:  1:04.90

Evasion
IW:  0:43.65
US:  0:49.45

Suspension
IW:  0:53.00
US:  1:07.15

Overwatch
IW:  0:35.45
US:  0:35.50

Body Count
IW:  1:16.20
US:  0:14.50 (no, this is not a typo)

Bomb Squad
IW:  1:14.20
US:  1:31.55

Race
IW:  1:05.00
US:  1:06.15 (my brother accomplished this time solo; I had 1:08.20)

Big Brother
IW:  1:25.90
US:  2:26.85

Hidden
IW:  1:45.60
US:  2:50.45

Breach & Clear
IW:  0:17.00
US:  0:16.20

Time Trial
IW:  1:07.00
US:  1:07.00

Homeland Security
IW:  7:31.20
US:  4:44.60

Snatch & Grab
IW:  1:22.40
US:  3:13.60

Wardriving
IW:  3:25.25
US:  6:39.35

Wreckage
IW:  1:40.40
US:  2:00.00

Acceptable Losses
IW:  0:48.15
US:  3:18.40

Terminal
IW:  0:36.40
US:  2:58.90

Estate Takedown
IW:  2:59.60
US:  2:10.80

Wetwork
IW:  3:10.30
US:  4:57.55

High Explosive
IW:  2:47.70
US:  12:10.55

Armor Piercing
IW:  4:12.25
US:  3:51.65

We achieved the above times playing the game on the Xbox 360 console.  As you can see from the above times, it is highly unlikely that we will ever beat IW’s time in High Explosive.

Our time in Body Count is indeed legitimate and not a typo; we routinely finish Body Count in under 20 seconds.  Although we shattered IW’s time in Homeland Security, it is not a routine time for us.  In Homeland Security, you need a lot of luck in addition to a lot of skill in order to achieve the time we accomplished.

Many times, we will finish Homeland Security in seven minutes; when we are at our best and have no need to revive one another, we post our best times in Homeland Security.  You must be fast, skilled and lucky.

There are several times by IW that I find very difficult to believe.  For example, I find IW’s 1:22.40 in Snatch & Grab to be inconceivable.  Even if there were no enemies, I do not think it is possible to sprint to the end in that amount of time.  I also find IW’s 0:48.15 in Acceptable Losses to be highly questionable as well.

If you have defeated IW’s times or our times, feel free to comment and post your times here.  If possible, be sure to upload a video to Youtube so that we may see how you defeated our times (and IW’s times).  If you achieved these times legitimately without hacks on a video game console (such as Xbox 360 or PS3), then we would be interested in seeing how you accomplished such feats.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2011 BBA Awards: Walter Johnson Award

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) recently announced Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) and Jose Valverde (Detroit Tigers) as the winners of the 2011 Goose Gossage Award, which is awarded to the top relief pitchers in both the National League and American League.

Being a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the BBA, my votes are restricted to just the NL.  Displayed below are my votes for the 2011 NL Walter Johnson Award, which is awarded to the top starting pitcher in baseball.

1st place:  Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28), WHIP (0.98), Strikeouts (248) and batting average against (.207)

In my opinion, Kershaw should be the BBA’s unanimous choice for the 2011 NL Walter Johnson Award.

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28), WHIP (0.98) and strikeouts (248).  Kershaw also had the best batting average against (.207) in the NL.

Kershaw’s 233.1 innings trailed only Roy Halladay (233.2) and Chris Carpenter (237.1).

Kershaw was especially dominant in his wins.  In 21 wins, Kershaw had a 0.69 ERA.  Kershaw led the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and batting average against; the dominance of his overall body of work this season cannot be denied.  Kershaw is worthy of a first place vote.

Second place:  Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies)

Once again, Halladay was dominant in 2011 for the Phillies.  Halladay ranked third in the NL in wins (19), second in ERA (2.35), second in innings pitched (233.2), third in strikeouts (220) and fourth in WHIP (1.04).  Halladay ranked 12th in batting average against (.239); however, he was stingy against right-handed hitters, as they only hit .206 against Halladay.  Halladay again led the NL in complete games (no surprise) with eight.

In my eyes, Halladay is the best starting pitcher in baseball.  His statistics certainly make him worthy of a vote for the Walter Johnson Award; however, he receives my second place vote because Kershaw was the leader in virtually every pitching statistic.

Third place:  Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies)

Another vote, another ace from the Phillies.  Lee finished fourth in the NL in wins (17), third in ERA (2.40), fourth in innings pitched (232.2), second in strikeouts (238) and third in WHIP (1.03).  Lee also ranked sixth in batting average against (.229) in the NL.  Lee’s six complete games trailed only Halladay’s eight; however, Lee led the NL with six shutouts (no other pitcher had three).

Lee’s 2011 season will be mostly remembered for his incredibly hot stretches of pitching.  In the month of June, Lee went 5-0 in five starts with a 0.21 ERA.  Lee again dominated in August with a 5-0 record and a 0.45 ERA.  Lee’s hot pitching continued through the month of September, in which he went 2-1 in five starts with a 1.42 ERA.  After the All-Star break, Lee went 8-2 in 13 starts with a 1.79 ERA.

Fourth place:  Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies)

Among my top four votes for the Walter Johnson Award, Hamels is the third Phillies pitcher on my ballot.  It would be an understatement to say that the Phillies’ deep pitching made them World Series favorites for the 2011 season.  Although the Phillies fell short of their goal, their pitchers were certainly not to blame.

Hamels was a victim of a lack of run support at times; however, he put together a very strong season.  Hamels ranked ninth in the NL in wins (14), sixth in ERA (2.79), 10th in innings pitched (216), 10th in strikeouts (194) and second in WHIP (0.99).  Hamels also ranked second in batting average against (.214) in the NL.

Fifth place:  Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Kershaw, Halladay, Lee and Hamels were expected to be superstar pitchers in the 2011 season; however, Kennedy and the Diamondbacks were not expected to have a superb season and win the NL West.

Kennedy’s 21 wins (first in NL) and 2.88 ERA (seventh in NL) were definitely big surprises (and new career-bests for Kennedy).  Kennedy also finished fifth in the NL in innings pitched (222), eighth in strikeouts (198), sixth in WHIP (1.09) and fifth in batting average against (.227).

These five starting pitchers posted dominant seasons in 2011; however, Kershaw’s numbers stick out the most, as he was the league leader in everything.  I would be stunned if Kershaw were to NOT win the 2011 NL Walter Johnson Award.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Kimbrel And Valverde Win 2011 Goose Gossage Award

In earlier voting this postseason by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel won the Willie Mays Award for top rookie handily while the American League race for that award was much tighter.  With the Goose Gossage Award, handed out to the best reliever, Kimbrel got to see how the other half lives, at least somewhat.

Kimbrel beat Milwaukee’s John Axford by 13 points in the votes submitted by the National League voters of the Alliance, accumulating 78 points and garnering 12 first place votes.  Axford, on the other hand, received 65 points on the strength of seven first place selections.  Kimbrel’s bullpen teammate Johnny Venters was a very distant third with nine total points.

The race in the American League was a little more anti-climatic as Detroit closer Jose Valverde gained 13 first place votes on his way to a league-leading 74 points total.  Two New York Yankees followed him in the voting, with Mariano Rivera receiving four first place votes and 56 total points while David Robertson gained 39 points for third.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Jose Valverde, Detroit (13) 74
Mariano Rivera, New York (4) 56
David Robertson, New York (3) 39
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston (1) 21
Koji Uehara, Texas (1) 6
Alfredo Acevas, Boston (1) 5
Neftali Feliz, Texas 2
Greg Holland, Kansas City 2
Chris Perez, Cleveland 2
Brandon League, Seattle 1
Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland 1

National League
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta (12) 78
John Axford, Milwaukee (7) 65
Johnny Venters, Atlanta (1) 9
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh 8
J.J. Putz, Arizona 7
Sean Marshall, Chicago 6
Heath Bell, San Diego 3
Tyler Clippard, Washington 3
Sergio Romo, San Francisco 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally.  As of this writing, the organization consists of 316 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted.  The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot.  Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Notably, though the Alliance’s awards came out well before their official counterparts, the BBA selections have matched those of the Baseball Writers of America in all but two instances in the past two years.  This, of course, does not include the Goose Gossage Award that is exclusive to the BBA.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated on a 5-3-1 point scale for first through third place.  In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots.  Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis.  Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Baltimore Sports and Life (Baltimore)
Baseball Is My Boyfriend (Texas)*
Baseball North (Toronto)
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
Contract Year (Oakland)*
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Kings of Kauffman (Kansas City)*
Lady At The Bat (New York)
Misc. Baseball (History)
Motor City Bengals (Detroit)
North Dakota Twins Fan (Minnesota)
The Rays Rant (Tampa Bay)
Seattle Mariners Musings (Seattle)
Seedlings To Stars (Other)
Some Thoughts On Baseball (Toronto)
Tigers Amateur Analysis (Detroit)
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Twins On Twins (Minnesota)

National League
Appy Astros (Houston)
Blog Red Machine (Cincinnati)
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
Dugger Sports (Philadelphia)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Misc. Baseball (History)
On The Outside Corner (St. Louis)
Phils Baseball (Philadelphia)
Prose and Ivy (Chicago)*
Raise The Jolly Roger (Pittsburgh)
RJ’s Fro (San Diego)
Rockies Woman (Colorado)
22 Gigantes (San Francisco)
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)
Websoulsurfer (San Diego)
Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (Pittsburgh)

Prior Winners
2010:  Rafael Soriano, Tampa Bay; Brian Wilson, San Francisco

The official website of the BBA is located at baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com.  The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba.

For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2011 BBA Awards: Goose Gossage Award

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) recently announced Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) and Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals) as the winners of the 2011 Willie Mays Award, which is awarded to the top rookie in both the NL and AL.  In the next round of BBA voting, we shall determine the winners of the Goose Gossage Award, which is awarded to the top relief pitcher.

Being a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the BBA, my vote is restricted to the NL.  With all due respect to great relief pitchers in non-closing roles, I believe only closers should be nominated for the Goose Gossage Award.  Closers often find themselves being counted on to preserve very slim leads in precarious positions.  It takes incredible poise to be an elite MLB closer.  Below are my votes for the 2011 NL Goose Gossage Award.

First place:  John Axford (Milwaukee Brewers)

Axford (1.95 ERA) converted 46 of 48 saves (95.83%) and allowed zero earned runs in 63 of his 74 appearances (85.14%)

Axford had an NL-best 46 saves to accompany his 2-2 record and 1.95 ERA.  Axford had 46 saves in 48 opportunities for an incredible 95.83% save rate.  Axford also struck out 86 batters in 73.2 innings (10.51 K/9).

More importantly, Axford allowed zero earned runs in 63 of his 74 appearances (85.14%).

A closer who can pitch innings without conceding runs not only preserves the lead for his team, but also the sanity of his manager, his teammates and his fans.

In the 2011 MLB season, the Brewers were 81-1 when leading after eight innings; their lone loss when leading after eight innings was at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds on opening day!

Axford’s miniscule 1.95 ERA and his 10.51 strikeouts per nine innings speak great volumes about his dominance; however, his incredibly high percentage of saves and percentage of outings without allowing an earned run cement his status in my eyes as the best closer in the NL.  Axford is indeed worthy of the Goose Gossage Award.

Second place:  Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves)

Kimbrel had a 4-3 record to accompany his 2.10 ERA and NL-best 46 saves (tied with Axford).  Kimbrel was perhaps the best strikeout pitcher in baseball this season, as he struck out 127 batters in 77 innings (14.84 K/9)!

Kimbrel’s amazing strikeout rate and his incredible hot stretch from June through August (26 saves, 0.70 ERA) were what made him the overwhelming first-place choice among BBA voters in the Willie Mays Award voting; however, I hope voters do not allow these numbers to tempt them again.

While Kimbrel’s numbers are amazing, his 2.10 ERA does not defeat Axford’s 1.95 ERA, nor do his 46 saves in 54 opportunities (85.19%) match Axford’s 46 saves in 48 opportunities (95.83%).  Furthermore, Kimbrel allowed zero earned runs in 67 of his 79 appearances (84.81%); however, he again is bested by Axford, who allowed zero earned runs in 63 of his 74 appearances (85.14%).

Third place:  Joel Hanrahan (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Hanrahan had a 1-4 record to accompany his 40 saves and 1.83 ERA.  Hanrahan is an excellent closer who tends to be overlooked by the media and the fans because he pitches for the Pirates.

Deciding whom to vote for in third place was a tough decision for me, as I considered Hanrahan and J.J. Putz (Arizona Diamondbacks) for the vote.  Both men had similar numbers.  Hanrahan’s 1.83 ERA bests Putz’s 2.17 ERA; however, Putz’s 45 saves in 49 opportunities was a higher save rate (91.84%) than Hanrahan’s 40 saves in 44 opportunities (90.91%).

Although Putz blew four saves in 49 opportunities and Hanrahan blew four saves in 44 opportunities, one could speculate that Hanrahan could have possibly converted his next five opportunities if he had them (thus tying Putz in save rate).  Nevertheless, the numbers are what they are, and that gives Putz the edge in saves and save rate; however, Hanrahan has the edge in ERA.

To break the tie for my third-place vote, I looked at their game logs to determine who was more successful in achieving appearances with zero earned runs against them.  In this category, Hanrahan is the victor, having allowed zero earned runs in 59 of his 70 appearances (84.29%); Putz allowed zero earned runs in 49 of his 60 appearances (81.67%).

Some of you readers might be thinking, “Wait, they both had 11 appearances in which they allowed at least one earned run; one could speculate that Putz may have 10 consecutive scoreless appearances to tie Hanrahan.”  You would be correct in stating that one could speculate such a thing; however, I do not view that as ammunition against my vote for Hanrahan because my speculation of Hanrahan possibly converting five more consecutive saves is a greater likelihood (due to possible multi-run leads) than Putz achieving 10 more consecutive scoreless outings (not an easy task).

All three of these closers had an excellent 2011 season and are worthy of praise.  As evidenced by his overwhelming victory in the Willie Mays Award voting, Kimbrel will obviously get his share of votes; however, I hope I am not alone among the BBA voters in giving Axford his fair due and awarding him first place.  Likewise, I hope I am not alone in giving Hanrahan some recognition for his stellar play.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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