The D-Train’s Final Stop

I’ve always enjoyed Dontrelle Willis.

There aren’t enough rags to riches stories in baseball anymore. Willis’ 2003 and 2005 were phenomenal. He had other years where on any given night that he took the bump he could swing that high leg kick in the air and shut down the opposition on call.

It feels like this is the end for the man they call the D-Train. And if it is, Willis should be alright with what he accomplished and the place marker in this game’s great history that he’ll always occupy.

He won a World Series. He finished 2nd in a Cy Young. He won 22 games in a season once. He was twice an All-Star. We would guess that Willis will kick around and find an opportunity somewhere else as he did with the Reds last season. But if indeed we’ve seen the last of Dontrelle Willis, it was a lot of fun while it lasted and we appreciate a guy who seemed to realize that the magic-carpet ride could end at any moment.

The Baseball Show: Fantasy Draft Primer & Bustin’ Packs

This week on The Baseball Show, we talk about two things near and dear to our hearts: baseball cards, and fantasy baseball.

Mike, MJ and I all open various boxes of cards and then talk fantasy baseball before heading to the war room for our draft. If only I’d pulled something better than the Joey Votto pictured above.

Will Leitch and Mozart’s Child Prodigy of the Game

I got excited today when I found out that my favorite writer Will Leitch had interviewed my favorite Major League Baseball prospect Bryce Harper for GQ.

The post appears with the sub-header “Is Baseball Ready for Bryce?” as part of GQ’s MLB season preview. The ‘interview’ opens up with Harper dropping an F-bomb as he takes batting practice.

As I tried to decipher what kind of portrait Leitch was attempting to show us of Harper, I realized why I am so intrigued by this guy. And thus is Leitch’s point on Harper in a nutshell–the kid is so interesting that we have something really big right on the cusp that we’re about to get to study day by day, season over season. If you think Harper is a good source for eclectic quotes now, you haven’t seen anything yet. It’s because we don’t know who Bryce Harper is yet. Bryce Harper doesn’t know who he is yet.

I wonder why a player who is devout enough in his faith to have custom inscriptions of ‘LUKE 1:37′ on each bat he owns would be found dropping consistent F-bombs within ear shot of an interviewing writer who he knows is going to print it. Is it because Harper is young? Could it be because he’s fake or is it because he’s actually so real? Is Bryce still finding his way or is he carefully shaping his image already, crafting exactly the guy we want to see? Is this the Harper we’ll see at age 29?

He seems to be in part historian, sprinkling in that he wants to play the game; our game, like Pete Rose. This is where I love Harper beyond the tools and the 80 grades and the scouting reports. I believe he genuinely loves the game and appreciates the throwback roots of it’s premise. When Harper takes the field, I think he’s going to play the game harder than most superstars.

Harper seems to know how much interest we carry in him already. And because of this interest that continues to grow in each of us with every passing day in regards to Harper, we should be happy. It seems like he’s going to be ready to embrace so long as we’re ready to have fun with it and receive it here in a short while.

In other news, Fredi Gonzalez is still horrible

I’m telling you, matter of time until Fredi Gonzalez is done in Atlanta. And while that could be said for every manager that stands on the top step of the dugout every night in baseball, Fredi’s reign is going to be short. This is because Fredi is a boob who believes he is smarter than everyone else. I do not believe he inspires his men and I think he gets too cute with the lineup. Bad recipe.

I don’t call Kenny Rosenthal of FOX Sports the Jay Glazer of MLB for nothing. Rival executives seem out to get Fredi. Or maybe it’s just the truth:

Gonzalez, unlike the Boston Red Sox’s Terry Francona, survived his team’s collapse, in large part because the Braves value stability.

A poor start, though, could alter the equation. Rival executives believe that Gonzalez, entering the second year of a three-year contract, already is on probation.

I’m not even a Braves fan and I already can’t wait. The reason is simple. Do not short change yourself when sitting at home this spring and summer and complaining about Fredi’s lineups and his in-game management. There are fans, bloggers, and chimpanzees alike that could out manage this guy. I promise you that. Don’t doubt it for a minute.

Let the Madness Begin

Why is there a college basketball picture on a baseball blog?

Because when we get to this time of year, the frost has melted on the long, dull off-season and February is over with. It’s because when this tournament of 64 teams ends, we’re on for some six months of nightly action on the diamond. It’s because we’ve made it, and the tip offs that take place at the end of this week signify that spring has arrived and the long dreadful winter is nothing but a memory in our past.

This time of year always brings back to me a lot of warm memories that occurred while waiting for the last few days before the baseball regular season started. It reminds me of spring break trips gone by. Fantasy baseball drafts. Joining my fraternity in college and being woke up at 5 am without the courtesy of being offered a shower, having to eat every meal with a wooden spoon that I carved myself (yes, it is a warm memory albeit a stupid one when you think about the stresses that ‘real adult life’ brings each of us). The first outdoor practices of the season were always right around now. I always had tendonitis. And we’ve got St. Patricks Day is always sandwiched in for you drunkards out there. Of course there was our Omega weekend in Kentucky/Cincinnati back in 2007 when we started this blog that we could never forget.

Spring always brings a lot of hope. It’s not just the new baseball season I guess, but that’s a large part of it. And although I don’t watch a ton of NCAA basketball, I’ve always followed the conference tournaments from a far and then show up on NCAA tournament day for the big dance and act like I know my stuff. I won a bracket in 2002 by riding Carmelo Anthony’s ‘Cuse Orangemen all the way to the $300 top prize. Spent in one night at a local watering hole.

And again, when this tournament ends it’s time for the boys of summer to take the stage as the lead act. I love this time of year. That’s why I call the NCAA Tournament the appetizer to the main course.

Gabby Sanchez says I’m destined for Fantasy ROTO Greatness

I wasn’t just sucking up, either. I really do believe the guy can flat out hit. I owned him last year as well.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/179007971664211969"]

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/GabySanchez15/status/179008888815882240"]

If I end up being able to put Sanchez in that second UTIL spot, it’s all over folks.

Fantasy Draft in Canton 2012 Recap

(This is the fantasy guide I was using. It was for auction draft strategy only. And I thought I was completely prepared.)

I don’t want to sit here and brag about my roster and sing the praises of the perfect draft like I did last year. I’ve said before on these very pages that 2011 was proof to me that you can’t judge fantasy teams on paper. You just can’t. Guys who don’t look all that appealing (I wanted nothing to do with Lance Berkman this season) can sometimes go off and pitching staffs who are full of “aces” end up floundering out. You just have to go out and play the games.

Teams also seem to look more stacked in a 10-team league. Play in a 12 or 20 team fantasy league and you won’t feel like you are loaded with studs or names.

That said, I like how yesterday went. I built the kind of team that I wanted to build. I went in prepared, I had some guys fall to me, and I made a few unique plays and calculated risks. I’m ready for this season to begin and see how these guys stack up. I think it would take an extreme run of bad luck for these guys to finish 9th out of 10 again, but never say never. I think I’m going to be closer to winning the thing than the basement.

Here’s my 2012 squad for the Summer of Sizemore League:

Catcher: Matt Wieters
First Base: Billy Butler, Gaby Sanchez
Second Base: Brandon Phillips, Danny Espinoza
Third Base: Brett Lawrie
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Jhonny Peralta,
Outfield: Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Jose Tabata, Ben Revere, Bryce Harper, Michael Bourn

Analysis: You always hear about mixing in solid pros with big time youth prospects. I’ve sprinkled them all over here. The one thing I’m happy with was landing Wieters later in the draft than I thought he would be available. He’s not Johnny Bench, but I think the guy is going to be an All-Star caliber guy and it’s now or never for him. And I have another guy who it’s now or never for most likely, Jason Heyward. I probably reached on Brett Lawrie (2nd round), but I had to have him and I wouldn’t have caught him a round later I don’t believe.

Phillips and Rollins fall in the Sabathia category. Guys I never own but seem to always watch other more successful teams enjoy all season long. Now I suppose these two and Justin Upton could get hurt and I could watch this team (without one projected .300 hitter on some sites) really flame out. But I don’t think so. I’m looking at things positively and I think I got Billy Butler the year he hits 30 home runs and becomes a household name. I think I got Heyward, Wieters, and Lawrie for their breakout years. Upton and Stanton, welcome to Superstardom. Oh, and a signature move was picking up Bourn (whom I traded down the stretch last year for that Bryce Harper kid) to help in the SB category.

I have Ben Revere as a break-out candidate for those of you that want sleepers this season. Revere is going .315/40 stolen bases. And if he doesn’t, Tabata will.

Starting Pitching: CC Sabathia, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Cory Luebke, Trevor Cahill, Jair Jurrjens

Analysis: I always stay away from Sabathia because in my mind he’s always “old”. He’s got a lot of mileage on him and every year he helps my opponent get his 200 K’s and around 20 wins. Need Josh Johnson or Ubaldo Jimenez to return to form. Really happy I ended up with Cory Luebke but I’m scared last year was an aberration. If I get anything in the way of a Cy Young type year out of Jurrjens or Cahill like they’ve done in their careers, look out league.

Relief Pitching: Jason Motte, Ryan Madson, Carlos Marmol, Addison Reed, David Hernandez

Analysis: I love this group. I’m high on Motte because the Cardinals are going to win some ballgames this year and I think he’s got the stuff to strike a lot of people out. That seemed to be the theme here–I wanted guys who strike a lot of people out. Also, I have the handcuffs–or at least the keys to the handcuffs in Arizona. I’m looking at guys who if they aren’t closer, the next best thing. Hernandez is going to be the incumbent. I have a strong feeling about J.J. Putz this year losing the closer job. A really strong feeling.

Preparing for Maryvale Martycohn & Fantasy Baseball War

Tomorrow is my 2nd fantasy baseball draft for the ‘Summer of Sizemore’ league in Canton, Ohio. If you read about last year’s episode–that team finished 9th out of 10. It was embarrassing, frustrating, traumatizing disaster for me. Everything went wrong from Adam Dunn to Hanley Ramirez to Josh Johnson to Jason Heyward to Pedro Alvarez to Chase Utley to Joakim Soria to everything in between. I came away that day feeling like I had constructed one of the finest drafts that I’ve ever assembled and I ended up barley avoiding the league’s basement.

My struggle was also a testament to the quality of the league. And in that league, one man reigns supreme.

In the move Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood said it best:

“Ever noticed how sometimes, you come across somebody you shouldn’t have fucked with?”

I’ve played fantasy baseball since 1999. On average I’ve been in about three ROTO style leagues a year. I would guess I’ve tangled with some 300 fantasy baseball owners give or take a few. In Summer of Sizemore there’s a guy–we’ll call him Maryvale Martycohn–who has won the league just about every year and finally finished 2nd to his brother in our league last year. He’s one of the best, if not the best I’ve ever seen at this. He has the equation figured out. Everything he does seems to work.

He waiver wires low profile guys I consider to be trash. Said player ends up providing Maryvale with his best 4 to 6 weeks of his season. For every 2011 Mike Morse I find–and I am always confident in my ability to find guys like that every single year–Maryvale will find three to four guys you wrote off as waiver wire to ride to similar production over the course of several months.

This draft, and Maryvale have been lurking in the back of my mind all week long. While I was on the phone making sales calls. While I drove home from work. I knew I had an exam coming, and I needed to put in my time studying. I needed to prepare to run down the best I’ve ever came across.

A couple of things on that; for all of the strategy you might consider and employ, there is a fair degree of luck involved. There’s also no sense in cramming for this exam. You know what you know, and there’s not a lot you’re going to learn that doesn’t already exist in the fantasy baseball compartment in your subconscious mind. Maryvale has a recipe that’s worked against this group of guys, and I need to find the secret ingredient.

These players are merely assets I have no emotional value towards. I will only ride them so long as they provide me some value. As I sit here tonight and I stare at these endless names on spreadsheets and jump through one FanGraphs rabbit hole to another, I know that the answer I’m looking for will likely elude me before the hands of time arrive at launch time.

But I’ve got a feeling this year. I’m not due as bad of luck as I had last year, and I’m going to find the next coveted gem this year on that waiver wire. I’ve been doing this all my life. I know it, I live it. I am not the salesmen I pretend to be. I was born to run you down, Maryvale. And this fate awaits us both tomorrow.

A Guide to MLB Offseason Weight Loss

Deadspin does something interesting in the way of telling a story of the weight fluctuations of so many of those across Major League Baseball compared to last season.

This isn’t just limited to players. Mike Sciosia lost 38 pounds, topping the leader board. Pablo Sandoval is up 25 pounds. Joe Mauer is up 30.

It’s an interesting read with the short summary of how the said player dropped or gained the weight. Another shining example of why Deadspin is still a mandatory stop for us each day no matter how little time we have to peruse it.

Jay Bruce made the list for shedding 16 pounds. My buddy who follows the Reds has mentioned several times that Bruce looks “really skinny’. What Deadspin didn’t tell you from the AP link provided to tell you that Bruce tried the Paleo diet. I might have to give it a shot.

If you want to feel motivated or better about yourself depending on where you’re at on the scale right now, give this post Deadspin a read today.

  • Cardio and Pooping: A Chart of every reported MLB player who gained or lost weight this off-season. [Deadspin]

The Baseball Show: Spring Has Arrived

Last night on The Baseball Show co-hosts Mike Rosenbaum of The Golden Sombrero and MJ Lloyd of Off-Base Percentage and I discussed the following:

-With spring training in session, which starts are we impressed by?
-Basic fantasy baseball talk in leading up to our fantasy draft next week
-Bryce Harper talk (which probably should become a weekly, formal segment)
-How does Brett Lawrie compare with Ryan Braun?
-Is Matt Moore a candidate to have arm problems?
-MLB ’12 The Show
-Collecting (MJ opened a box of Bowman Chrome before the show began)
-As always, much more in between.

If you like baseball and you have a few minutes on a Friday or over the weekend and want to hear a couple guys bullshitting late-night about all things on the diamond, you will enjoy the show.

Throwing it Around

It’s been a while since we’ve thrown it around. Let’s plan on making this more of a regular occurrence now that it’s baseball season. Here’s a look at some interesting baseball reads around the internet for this March spring day:

-How Aaron Gleeman (baseball blogger/Hardball Talk) lost 150+ pounds. Pretty inspiring. [Aaron Gleeman.com]
-FanGraphs is positionally ranking organizations. The Reds fared well at first base. [FanGraphs]
-Craig Calcaterra, you have the life I want. [Hardball Talk]
-Alex Gordon vs. Jay Bruce, from a fantasy perspective. [Roto Arcade]
-You’re getting closer, Bryce Harper. [Washington Times]
-The Twins might be horrible in 2012. [Baseball Prospectus]
-The Reds were featured on MLB Network last night. If your cable provider doesn’t have MLB Network like mine you will be happy I’ve found some segments for you. [Cincinnati.com Reds Blog]

As The ‘Show Turns

Tonight I started my MLB ’12: The Show dynasty on the ol’ PS3. I have already come to the conclusion that unless I’m missing some kind of game breaking glitch, this is the greatest baseball and sports video game I’ve ever played.

In honor of this, I’m going to keep you all in the loop on the adventures of my franchise play periodically. That’s not only because I am a huge dork, but I want you to all be along for the ride as I manage the 2012 Reds to a World Series title.

Today, I started the season 2-0 with a pair of wins over the Miami Marlins.

On Opening Day with the game tied at 2-2, Jay Bruce hit a 370+ foot jack into the Moondeck off Mark Buerhle to put the Reds ahead 4-2. He would add another 2-run shot later in the game off the left field foul pole (and off another lefty, a full count offering from Mike Dunn) to increase the lead to 6-2.

I went ahead and left Aroldis and his cheese on the hill to see if he could notch his 2nd career save in the 9th and despite giving up a bomb to Giancarlo Stanton (pictured below), the Reds held on for a 6-3 win in front of a sell out crowd on Opening Day.

In the second game of the season, things got a little whackier.

The hero of the “day” is pictured at the top of the post. Devin Mesoraco hit a two run bomb to left field off Anibal Sanchez to put the Reds up 2-0. Miguel Cairo made a throwing error to allow the Marlins to tie the game at 2-2. I won’t lie, I cannot remember how the Marlins got up 3-2 on me in the 6th, but they did.

Jay Bruce hit a bomb to tie it in the bottom of the frame, and things got crazy from there. The inning ended after I had hit around and Bruce tripled with the bases loaded to put my boys up 9-3. That will teach polygonal Ozzie Guillen to pitch around Votto to get to Bruce.

I decide from there I can ride out Sam Lecure’s stash rather than using the important bullpen arms. This was a poor idea.

So Lecure is tired or something after like 10 pitches. I continue to whip the mule, not understanding why in the Hell ‘Sam Lecure is getting tired’ and why the game is notifying me of it in the middle of trying to get the heart of the Marlins order out.

This ends in Lecure getting crashed around in the waves a bit. And then John Buck hit a 3-run bomb that made it 9-8. I got out of the inning with little dignity and gave the ball to Ryan Madson in the top of the 9th.

In his first Reds appearance, he sets down Jose Reyes and Chris Coghlan routinely, and then appears to retire the side and win me the game by striking out Hanley Ramirez looking. The umpire calls the ‘strike’ a ball and I go full count to Hanley. Madson is pissed on screen and has words with the umpire. I’m not kidding, play the game. It might happen to you.

I start to feel paranoid about the game stealing one from me. At that time, Hanley hits a ball in the hole to short stop and Janish has no chance to throw him out. And here we go folks.

Mike Stanton to the plate, and holy shit; nothing Madson has can put him away. Big Mike blasts a 3-2 offering into the left field seats to put the Fish up 10-9 after fouling off like 5 pitches and my heart sinks. I feel cheated.

But I forgot who was coming up in the bottom of the 9th, and so did my managerial counterpart; Ozzie Guillen.

Joey Votto catches a 1-1 pitch off Chad Gaudin (why was he closing for the Marlins) into the seats in right field, a majestic 406 foot blast; and we’re all tied at 10 once again.

The next batter is Bruce on one of his customary Jay Bruce hot streaks–just like real life. He’s already homered 3 times in the series, walked, tripled and has 9 RBI. Bruce singles on a line drive to right field and I roll the dice and steal second with him. Drew Stubbs continues to hit like he’s swinging a sword (also life like) and after missing two bunt attempts, fails to make contact and strikes out swinging. With two outs and Bruce still on second, Mesoraco hits a line drive to right field to score Bruce.

Turn out the lights, Cincinnati can still go 162-0 and everything I touch is turning to gold right now in the way of lineup moves!

Stay tuned for the next installment…

The Only Thing ‘Unreal’ Would Be the Marijuana Consumption

This is MLB ’12: The Show’s Commercial that so many have been talking about. And if you didn’t know the connection between dope and Cubbies fans, you haven’t been around here long enough.

It’s a great commercial for a baseball video game, and it’s exactly the type of audience that this product needs to attract. I love it and I agree, one of the coolest things you can do is ‘manage’ or ‘GM’ your virtual Cubbies to video game glory all while twisting a doobie in the suburbs with the train going by your apartment.

Such is why this game is so special. With that said, Papa’s got some gamin’ to do.

h/t: Big League Stew

And I’m Now Slightly Obsessed with Auction Fantasy Drafts

I had a colleague at work who was nice enough to get me involved in a fantasy league over at FanGraphs. I’ve been in dozens of fantasy leagues through the year of all shapes and sizes, but this time one thing was different. It was an auction draft format. Each owner in this 12-team league has $400 of spending cap money to fill 40 roster spots. On the roster, 24 of those spots are MLB players and 16 of them are prospects or minor leaguers.

I didn’t know what to expect when I checked into the auction draft last week. I would like to mandate anyone that’s never done an auction style format to please get involved in a league that does this soon. If you’re a die-hard fantasy baseball geek like I am, you haven’t been treated to the full service fantasy yet.

I thought I was going to be conservative. While this was my first auction draft–I wanted to treat it as a learning experience for when real coin was on the line. A few players in, someone nominated Albert Pujols. Everyone had the chance to bid, and suddenly I had spent $62 of my available $400 for Pujols. I felt like Arte Moreno. Only more used. And I was the one at the controls who could not flip the switch and control my inhibitions.

Next order of business: snag Joey Bats at a decent price.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174676283060523008"]

I had two players for the small price for $106 flat. Over 25% of my cap, gone on two guys. Best imaginary $106 a man had ever spent. This is going to be fun.

A thought entered my mind, albeit only for a moment: get some arms. But wait–someone had nominated Jay Bruce. I hit the ‘oh shit’ button. I had to do something. The action was fast and furious. It was like sitting at a poker table in one of the nice rooms in Vegas. People were just throwing chips and shit everywhere. Sometimes you panic and throw some of your own in and call just because it’s all happening so fast. I threw some chips in.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174678697339654144"]

I spent the same on Bruce as another owner did for Josh Hamilton. And two dollars less than I got Jered Weaver for. I overpaid mightily. But I had to own Jay Bruce in this league. He’s like a good luck charm. Plus I resisted the urge to overspend for Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward like I wanted. I owed this to myself, didn’t I?

Next, Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist came off the board to me for $28 a piece. What the Hell am I going to do with two second basemen? Compulsive buys for two players I have an emotional attachment to, but not necessarily any given need for in this league. But wait! There’s a UTIL spot, and Zoby plays outfield. All was well again for 25 seconds.

My buy of the night came when I landed Zach Greinke for $22. My colleague texted me ‘nice buy on Zach’. It made it all worth it. I was hooked right then, but as you might imagine with me it wasn’t all roses.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174682608448438272"]

I had heisted Mauer for just $14. Some owners were going nuts. And some were laughing at me. I had bid $14 on “Jake” Mauer. A glitch in the Ottoneu software had him as the only Mauer listed when one of the owners when to nominate. A few of the guys too it to $12, and I bit hard at the ‘+$2′ button. I was the proud owner of Jake Mauer. A visit to that very Wikipedia page and I suddenly had realized the nightmare I had found myself involved in. I owned a piece of garbage who was retired and shouldn’t even be available. Jake Mauer seemed to snicker at me in his Wiki photo. He was like Joe after a week’s supply of meth.

I was pissed.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174686779687976961"]

It was gluttony at it’s finest.  How could I be so stupid? I wanted to sulk but there was no time for that. I needed to get my sea legs back and cut my losses. I needed cheap WHIP and K’s.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174712309564981251"]

From there I landed Pedro Alvarez for a paltry two dollars and I found my catcher.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174712712448843777"]

Arencibia was coming home with me. A few more players were nominated, and still not sure what my strategy was I was down to around $110 in money and still needing to find about 30 players. My work was cut out for me. And then we had to decide to end the draft at midnight because it’s a free fantasy league, we were a fourth of the way done and we all had to return to our cubes at work in the morning.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/DiamondHoggers/status/174729225599848448"]

I wondered if the unresponsive Rickey Romero had seen my tweet. It felt good. I wondered if Robert Andino had twitter, but I didn’t look. I was tired. There was more work to be done at a later unspecified date that I had lived to fight.

I’m going to get stomped in this league. But I had learned that I need to be in a big time auction draft every year following to feel complete.