Monday, September 04, 2006

The End, and a New Beginning
By Zach

Today marks the final day of Sportszilla, at least on Blogger. Starting tomorrow, we're moving to a brand new website, www.sportszillablog.com, on a new server and with new content managing software. It will rpovide for a smoother, more enjoyable experience and will allow us to do a whole bunch of new and exciting things. For the time being, this site will serve as the archive of past Sportszilla goodness, but no new content will be published here.

Tomorrow we'll launch the new site with our NFL previews, and move on from there. Please join us in the future...and the future is now!

Below is a press release about the new site:

My name is Zachary Geballe, as some of you may know. As others of you may know, I run a sports weblog (blog) called Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks. What I doubt any of you know is that Tuesday, September 5th, marks a whole new era for Sportszilla, and for me.

The launch of our new site, which can be found at www.sportszillablog.com, will coincide with our extensive NFL previews. From there, we’ll still be running the same great content that perhaps attracted you to Sportszilla in the first place.

I founded Sportszilla in November of 2004, which means we’re creeping up on a two-year anniversary. In my first post ever, I said “So, here’s my attempt at encapsulating the world of sports, at least from my point of view.” Yes, I know, a typically grandiose statement to make, but one that I still think holds true. From the beginning, I saw Sportszilla as an antidote, or at least an alternative, to sites like ESPN.com and the other lumbering behemoths of online sports writing. Of course, when I did this, there were few other places on could turn for regular, high-quality sportswriting. Today, nearly two years later, the Internet is littered with sports blogs, some good, some bad, and some that only lasted four posts.

Over the last 21 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to add five excellent writers to the Sportszilla team, all of whom I’m also fortunate enough to call my friends. Ben Valentine, David Arnott, Bryan Koch, Imtiaz (T-Bone) Mussa, and John Schmeelk have provided excellent insight, analysis, and fun (plus a lot of soccer coverage from T-Bone) to the site. Sportszilla would never have become what it is today without all their hard work.

As we get ready to usher in the new era, a few things need to be said. The goal of Sportszilla was, is, and always will be to provide top-notch sports writing free of the typical clichés and inanities that plague newspapers and web sites. We have the luxury of being outside the corporate structure, so we can say what we truly think without fear of advertiser reprisal or loss of access. We’re also committed to helping grow the sports blogging community. I read about a dozen blogs on a daily basis and have visited hundreds more from time to time: long gone are the days when a few media outlets horded information and analysis, parceling it out in meager and unreadable doses; we can now function as sports fans without ever needing to subscribe to ESPN Insider or deal with some of the knuckleheads who write for other major websites.

So to those of you who are my friends and family, I invite you to check out the new site, which once again can be found at www.sportszillablog.com. For those of you who are in the sports blogging world, I too invite you to visit the new site (often), and more than that to link to it (if you so choose). One of the great things about the community of sports bloggers is that there’s a great sense of camaraderie, not competition, surrounding it.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, concerns, or fantasy football tips (my draft is tonight).

Assault on .500: Double Your Fun
By Ben Valentine

And the Yankees and Red Sox thought they had it tough.

Between Saturday and Sunday, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves played four games courtesy of a back to back double dip. Thankfully for the two teams they happened in September, where extra arms were available. Both days the teams split.

Meanwhile the story continues to be Ryan Howard who slugged three home runs today in game one, bringing his total up to 52 on the year. However you can read about baseball’s rising star anywhere nowadays. But this is one of the few places on the internet where you also get the flip side.

And that flip side went 1-6 with 2 walks and two runs scored in the series. With the back to back double headers, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel elected to give Jose Hernandez a pair of starts at 3B in the night caps. However Nunez found his way into the Saturday one anyway, going 0-1. Overall in 246 ABs (269 PA) this brings his splits to:

.199/.269/.256/.525

Since Jose Hernandez did play and the rosters have expanded, it’s certainly possible Nunez begins to lose ABs. On the other hand Hernandez would have to distinguish himself and he seems rather unlikely to do that considering he’s got a 696 OPS to this point. Nunez has also show a decent ability to walk which might be a reason he’s still around. Thus, the Nunez show probably will continue, as he strives towards the .500 OPS mark.

To be fair, one of the big reasons Nunez is likely still in the lineup has to do with Ryan Howard’s emergence. Many times managers will believe they can carry a below average regular when they have an MVP candidate tearing the cover off the ball higher in the lineup. It may not be the right rationale, but you see it frequently around baseball. So thanks to Howard and to some extent Chase Utley, Nunez gets to post an .525 OPS and still play every day.

Finally in a somewhat unrelated note, Howard no doubt deserves MVP consideration at this point. But in a story that should be getting a far more press than it has, take a look at the wild card standings as baseball hits Labor Day:

Padres 70-66 __

Phillies 69-68 1.5 GB

Marlins 68-68 2

Reds 68-69 2.5

Giants 68-69 2.5

Astros 67-70 3.5

That’s right… the Florida Marlins, team of the 14 million dollar payroll, is just two games back of the wild card. And so while Howard (1.043) should be getting MVP press, Miguel Cabrera (1.002 OPS) should be getting that and then some. Remember, Cabrera plays 3B for a team that has arguably the best pitcher’s park in baseball. And if that team makes the post season this year, there’s no question Cabrera, clearly the best offensive weapon in a mediocre lineup, deserves the award.

Heck he might deserve some consideration if they miss it by a couple of games.

Friday, September 01, 2006

College Madness: The Preseason Top 10
By Ben Valentine

Strike up the marching band because it’s that time of year again. College football has returned.

The season opened up Thursday, though no one of real note was in action. The real fun begins this weekend culminating in a game which could go a long way to deciding a conference; Florida State v. Miami on Labor Day night. As usual we can expect plenty of twists, turns and plenty of BCS controversy by the last week in October. And while most college football top tens are useless at this point in the season since most are just going off scouting reports, last year’s team and school rep, I decided to honor the start of the 2006 campaign with a top 10 of my own.

However, I didn’t rank the teams on who I thought was the best. Instead I ranked them based on where I thought they’d finish. Some might quibble with for example, where I put the West Virginia Mountaineers. However their schedule is a joke and as a result, they shouldn’t lose any more than one game. If you go undefeated you’ve got a shot at the National Title game.

In any case here’s my top 10. Feel free to chastise me all you like.

#1- Ohio State: I hate the Buckeyes, but I love QB Troy Smith as a college player. He destroyed a Notre Dame defense even more than Vince Young lit up USC. If Tressel sticks with him, they’re going to be hard to beat. The defense has questions after losing players like LBs AJ Hawk and Bobby Carpenter to the draft but Ohio State is never short of replacements. They might struggle early, but figure the offense does enough to win them games. It almost did last year. Remember if Smith is on the field for that whole game against Texas, it’s Ohio State in Pasadena, not the Longhorns.

#2- Miami: This year people are starting them off low; some even think that Florida State is better. Don’t buy into the hype. The Canes were young last year and had some growing up to do. A tough schedule is an issue, circle Florida State and at Louisville as season making games, but last year this team had the talent to beat anyone on any given Saturday, including USC or Texas. This year they’ll bring it all together. Or Larry Coker will have to find himself a new job.

#3- West Virginia: HB Steve Slaton gets much of the talk but QB Pat White has all the makings of a scary college QB; if he can learn to throw the ball efficiently. With a joke schedule, all the Mountaineers have to do is beat Louisville. Not as easy as it sounds though; Louisville will be good and the game is in their place. Of course, they beat a heavily favored Georgia, in the Georgia Dome so they can win on the road.

#4- Texas: They have loads of talent as usual, but people need to realize how important Vince Young was last year. The guy put up 400 yards against the top ranked team in the national championship game. That’s 400 yards by himself! There’s no way Texas can replace that type of player in one season. They’ll be helped by a weak Big 12, but against a top team, they’re toast.

#5-LSU: I never liked the SEC, but over the last two years I’ve had to admit it’s the best conference without question in college football. While most of the others run one or two deep tops, there at least four teams in the SEC that can beat you on any given day. LSU had to overcome a great deal of difficulty last year after first losing their coach to the NFL and then Hurricane Katrina. Despite that, they went 11-2. This year they’ll have to make without players like HB Joseph Addai, who has left for the NFL but like many top programs, that just opens up spots for talented underclassmen (Justin Vincent?). QB JaMarcus Russell will likely be the key to their offense. They probably have the most talent in the SEC. But in with their grueling in conference schedule, they’ll need every bit of it.

#6-USC: Remember when the Trojans lost Carson Palmer to the NFL a few years back? People wondered how they’d manage. Well… they did… somehow. Not saying that John David Booty will be the next great USC QB, but everyone always talks about how deep they are at the position. It’s impossible to replace Reggie Bush and LenDale White but the Trojans still have their talented WR core, so they can always let it fly early on while finding their feature back. Plus they don’t figure to face much of a challenge until an October date with Arizona State and that’s at home. Their opener against Arkansas on the road might be dicey, but one figures the talent will win out there. Their losses on the O-Line will hurt them in a big spot down the road, possibly in a bowl game. But they should be in the top ten the whole year.

#7- Notre Dame: The beginning of their schedule is a nightmare; the end a joke. If they can get through only losing one of their first four, they’ll be fine. Watch out for that last game at USC… those young players will be veterans by the time that game rolls around. Brady Quinn has to show he can do it against a real team before I consider him Heisman quality. Where was he against the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl? Oh yeah and that defense still can’t stop anyone good.

#8- Louisville: It’s all about QB Brian Brohm. This is a solid team that can win the Big East and make a BCS bowl if Brohm is over his knee injury from last year. He’s supposedly ahead of schedule, which is a good sign for the Cardinals. Their season comes down to two games; both at home; Miami and West Virginia. Also they must be careful with the Pittsburgh Panthers late in the season, as they are on the road for that one. And with the Panthers’ easy schedule, they figure to be in the hunt for a Big East title.

#9- Auburn: The SEC strikes again. The Tigers lost three significant players off their offense in 2005. In a tough SEC that was going to doom them. This year they can make a run, though the conference is the reason why they probably aren’t a legit national title contender. Let’s face it, it’s better to play one tough opponent and lose none than play four and lose two.

#10- Oregon Ducks: They went 10-2 last year and were snubbed from the BCS game. This year the Pac-10 is very much up for grabs with the USC losses and the Ducks should be considered very much in the mix. After losing last year’s #1 QB Kellen Clemens to injury, they went undefeated until a late fourth quarter loss to Oklahoma in the Holliday Bowl, so one figures their signal calling position should be secure. It could well repeat as a two QB rotation like last year, but again, it did work out well. The defense is a concern, but it wasn’t exactly good last year either and the team was 10-2. They figure to climb the polls slowly, as this school never gets any respect.

So as you might guess, I’m a believer in an Ohio State/Miami Fiesta Bowl; aka the rematch of 2002. Of course that is too perfect, so it’ll probably end up being Ohio State and Florida, two teams I absolutely can’t stand.

Oh well, we’ll see. As college football fans well know, in this short 11-12 game season, anything can happen.

And it probably will.

Assault on .500: Done Swatting the Nats
By Ben Valentine

If the Philadelphia Phillies played the Washington Nationals every night, Abraham Nunez would be an all star.

Okay maybe not an all star, but a pretty solid contributor.

Thursday Nunez went 2 for 5 with a run scored, while overall posting a 5 for 13 in this series with an RBI, intentional walk and a whopping five runs scored! As I wrote a few days back, Nunez just owns Washington. Unfortunately for him, the Phillies don’t see the Nats again until the last week of September. Thus, he can’t expect a nice stat boost from their lousy rotation anytime soon.

So as it stands now, his splits through 261 plate appearances are:

.200/.266/.258/.524.

He is now tied OPS wise with Homer Bush’s 2000 after starting the series at .508. I’d say he had a pretty solid three days.

So we have a dead heat as we head into the final month of baseball. Will he pull a Cristian Guzman and post an .850 OPS the rest of the way? (No joke, that’s what Guzman hit the final month of 2005) Or will he continue his way towards history?

Up next, four games at Citizen’s Bank with the Braves. This of course might actually be good for Nunez, since these aren’t your daddy’s Braves. They can score a ton, but can’t pitch to save their lives. (Which is why their playoff chances are essentially dead) For the record, Nunez has an of OPS of .551 in 17 ABs this year, so a greater improvement might be on the way. Bush’s lousy 2000 might be safe.

Finally, I direct you to a post done by Chris over at the blog “I’ve Made a Huge Tiny Mistake,” where he writes a Philly fan’s reaction to Nunez being intentionally walked Wednesday night. It’s definitely a good read, as his recap of that eighth inning and the ninth shows why it was in fact, a horrible decision. (Contrary to what I wrote yesterday, but I must have been flush with his three hit performance the night before) So check it out.

Until tomorrow, keep it up Abraham… or not.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Assault on .500: Quick Nightly Update
By Ben Valentine

Some random baseball thoughts today, but of course we start with the watch.

I won’t spend too much time on this, since while I think it is interesting to follow, it can get tiring very quickly. Tonight Abraham Nunez went 0-3 with an RBI and intentional walk. The Nats decided they’d rather face pitcher Cole Hamels than Nunez. For the record, Hamels has splits of .121/.250/.121/.371. That means that Hamels reached base just .014 percent less than Nunez in his plate appearances this year! (He’s walked six times and struck out 18, that’s pretty good for a pitcher). But since Hamels hasn’t gotten anything other than a single to this point, it was the right move.

Overall that saved his night from being a complete disaster OBP wise, though that of course does nothing for his slugging.

So to recap, Nunez now at official 235 ABs (256 overall),and has a line of:

.196/.264/.255/.519

To be the worst player of the decade, he’ll need to top Homer Bush’s 2000 splits of:

.215/.271/.253/.524

Keep it here as the watch continues.

Other baseball notes:

-I live in NY, so I don’t read the Boston papers. But I gather it’s only a matter of time before some idiot sportswriter starts screaming “curses” again with this latest string of Red Sox injuries. Manny goes down to leg problems, Ortiz has to be hospitalized twice in two weeks, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Willy Mo Pena are out, their rotation is permanently D/L’d and now young pitcher Jon Lester is undergoing numerous medical tests, including some for cancer. Oh and the Red Sox are toast in the American League playoff race and it’s not even September 1st.

Just a passing mention on Ortiz. It’s ironic how his hospitalization a few weeks back caused by “stress” was not made more of. Lord knows if Alex Rodriguez had undergone the same situation, everyone in baseball would be snickering at the poor guy. With Big Papi, nobody says a word, because he’s so “clutch.”

This isn’t meant an insult; I'm just making a point. What do you think would happen if A-Rod was hospitalized because of “stress?”

-Mark Mulder is likely done for the year after tests revealed “fraying” at in his rotator cuff. Not to be cruel, but this is a blessing for the Cardinals. Mulder had been completely ineffective since his return from the DL both in the majors AND minors. Anthony Reyes hasn’t been great so far, but he’s been a major league pitcher. It may be awhile before Mulder re-enters that category considering the problems he’s dealt with for three years.

By the way, think the Cardinals would love to have Dan Haren and Kiko Calero back right about now?

-I’ll get around to a closer look soon enough, but the NL MVP race has become extremely interesting. Albert Pujols has seen his OPS lead on Carlos Beltran shrunk down to .065 and since Beltran plays a very good centerfield, he now has a very legitimate case for the award if the season ended today. Also throwing their hats into the race are Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera, who’s actually been in it the whole time but no one’s noticed. Lance Berkman quietly is second in the NL in OPS. Handicapping the race quickly:

Pujols: Best hitter in the league. But plays first.

Beltran: Not Pujols OPS but at a pitcher’s park, great centerfielder.

Berkman: Great hitter, but plays plenty of first. That hurts his value.

Howard: Plays the same position as Pujols. Also plays in Citizen’s Bank.

Cabrera: Plays in the best pitcher’s park, plays third, team’s out of it.

As I said, I’ll get a bit more in depth soon enough. But it should be an interesting September for those baseball fans who care about the hardware handed out at the end of each season.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Assault on .500: The Worst Hitters of the Last Six Years
By Ben Valentine

Tuesday night Abraham Nunez must have partied like the Phillies had just won game seven of the World Series.

The struggling third baseman was back in the starting lineup for the Phillies tonight even though his OPS was rapidly approaching the wrong side of .500. Well, he rewarded his manager’s confidence with three hits and two runs scored in five at bats. That takes his splits all the way up to:
.198/.264/.259/.523.

With just three hits in one game, all singles, he raised his OPS fifteen points from .508. What a night.

As a side note, you’d probably guess that it would have been Nunez first three hit night of the season right? Nope. It was his third. He did it at the end of April against the team he first came up with, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a little over two weeks ago, this time against the Washington Nationals. Oh and who were the Phillies playing tonight?

The Washington Nationals.

In fact heading into tonight’s game, he had a .733 OPS against the Nats this season. With some quick math here, I calculate his splits against them are: .280/.379/.480/.859. That’s eight hundred and fifty nine in 25 ABs this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, Abraham Nunez owns the Nationals.

If baseball commissioner Bud Selig still wanted to contract this team, he probably could give no better reason than the one right there.

In any case, with his robust performance tonight, Nunez has now fallen to neck and neck in the race to be the worst player in baseball so far this decade. Since 2000, the lowest OPS a player with 300 plate appearances has put up is .524, done by Homer Bush in the year 2000. Bush was a Yankee prospect who found his way to Toronto in the Roger Clemens trade and never panned out. I still remember friends of mine in high school telling he how good he was. Little did I know back then that he would currently hold the title of “worst season of the decade.”

Now there’s a slight caveat with that; I originally said I was going to do 250 plate appearances, since Nunez is actually at that point now. The leader for that is Jermaine Dye, who managed an astronomically low .514 OPS in 221 ABs in 2003. But the problem is 221 seems a bit low. Consider that if Nunez was cut tomorrow, that would mean he would qualify despite starting for just one month. I feel as though that would cheapen what this crop of players has actually accomplished, so we’ll keep it to 300 plate appearances.

Without further adieu, excluding Nunez, the top ten worst players OPS wise since 2000:

10. 2003- Tony Womack: D-Backs/Cubs/Rockies, SS, 349 AB .226/.251/.307/.558

9. 2005- Tony Womack: Yankees: 2B/CF, 329 AB, .249/.276/.280/.556

8. 2002- Caesar Izturis: Dodgers, SS, 439 AB, .232/.253/.303/.556

7.2003- Brandon Phillips: Indians, 2B, 370 AB, .208/.242/.311/.553

6. 2002- Chris Truby: Tigers, 3B, 382 AB, .215/.238/.314/.552

5. 2001- Jack Wilson: Pirates, SS, 390 AB, .223/.255/.295/.550

4. 2000- Alex Gonzalez: Marlins, SS, 385 AB, .200/.229/.319/.548

3. 2002- Ron Belliard: Brewers, 2B, 289 AB, .211/.257/.287/.544

2. 2002- Einer Diaz: Indians, C, 320 AB, .206/.258/.284/.542

1. 2000- Homer Bush: Blue Jays, 2B, 297 AB, .215/.271/.253/.524


Quite a cast of characters. Some interesting things about that list:

-Tony Womack appears twice which is amazing because both seasons happened on the wrong side of 30. And in both times, he was back in the majors the year following, with the Cardinals in 2004, and then the Reds and Cubs this season. As if these teams couldn’t take a hint. Because he makes it up here twice, Womack has a serious argument for being the worst player of the decade to this point.

-So Einer Diaz’s 2002 ranks as the second worst for any player this decade. The Indians got smart and dumped him that offseason to Texas along with Ryan Drese in a trade. Who did Texas give up for that black hole of talent?

Travis Hafner.

I might have to take my list of the worst trades of the last five years back. Hafner for a guy who was coming off a historically bad season equals a historically bad trade.

So take heart Phillies fans. If you can deal Nunez this offseason you might get a potential MVP back!

- Cristian Guzman’s 2005 didn’t make it… and didn’t come close. His .574 OPS is just way too good for the likes of these players.

-The Alex Gonzalez who ranks fourth is the one who plays in Boston, not the one who originally signed with the Phillies this year and then retired. So no, the Phillies did not have the chance to employ two of the worst players of the last six years in the same infield.

-Of the ten (well nine) players listed there, six… that’s two thirds, played in the big leagues this year. And it’s possible Diaz does when the rosters expand in September. Only Bush and Truby are guaranteed not to play this season. So Nunez will probably find himself back in the big leagues next year… and quite possibly for years to come.

-The Cubs get special notice because they not only acquired Womack during his miserable 2003 but brought him back this year after his miserable 2005, after he was already released by the Reds earlier in the season. They also have Izturis currently on roster after dealing Greg Maddux for him. He’s got a .570 OPS in 179 ABs this year with a .559 mark for the Cubbies since the trade. He’s improved mightily in those four years.

-The Indians also get some special props as well, since they employed three guys, Diaz, Belliard and Brandon Phillips during or after their awful seasons. But unlike the Cubs they get off the hook because they turned Diaz into Hafner.

-The only player on that list who was over 30 during their miserable seasons is Womack. That’s significant because it suggests the teams gave these guys longer leashes because they were expected to grow into their roles. Of course the truth is the only one who might have is Belliard, who had some 750+ OPS years mixed in. The rest all stunk, with some mediocrity thrown the way of Jack Wilson in Pittsburgh.

If Nunez manages does manage to finish the year with over 300 PA and a sub .550 OPS, he would become the oldest player this decade to do that. Quite an accomplishment, as most guys who fail at the plate so prolifically at the age of 30 or over end up getting DFA’d. Unless your name is Tony Womack of course.

So the road will not be easy for Nunez the rest of the way. He’ll need nights like this followed by five or six games of no hits or walks if he wants to make a serious run at Homer Bush’s 2000. If he just stinks overall, the Phillies will find someone who can play better, since he doesn’t have youth on his side as a defense.

Coincidently, the Phillies finish up the season at Florida. Why is that important?

If Nunez maintained his current OPS through 300 plate appearances (he now has 252) he would just beat out Bush’s 2000 by .001 of a point.

Now that’s what I call a close election.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Update: The Assault on .500
By Ben Valentine

Today was a big day for the Phillies. They had split the first two games with the Mets, and could have found themselves just a half game out of the wild card with a victory today. But they were going to need runs, as they were up against the NL’s most potent lineup with Jamie Moyer, who’s “ageless wonder” status only applies at Safeco Field. So what would that slugging third baseman Abraham Nunez contribute today?

0-3 with a BB.

Well at least he walked… right? His current line now stands at:

.189/.257/.251/.508- down from .511 on Saturday. (Rain out Sunday)

Creeping ever closer to .500. It would have dropped even further but Mets’ starter John Maine had to go mess things up by walking him with one out in the seventh inning and the Mets up 7-2. As punishment, Mets manager Willie Randolph immediately went out to the mound and yanked Maine from the game. A demotion might follow. (All kidding aside, Maine was at 108 pitches. It was the right move.)

But for those who want to see the “assault on .500” succeed for notoriety’s sake (or for comedic purposes), never fear. Nunez struck out to end the game.

As an anonymous reader points out, Nunez has actually played well, for his own standards anyway, over the last month. He actually had at .609 OPS in the month of August heading into a Monday’s game after a .572 month of July. August was the first full month he was a regular, so maybe there is a hope for him to be terrible rather than the absolute worst in baseball.

Up next the Phillies head to RFK, which has actually played favorable to hitters this year. With that awful Nats’ staff, Nunez might be able to get that OPS up a little more.

Coming up next time, in addition to seeing what Nunez has done for the night, we’ll also see how he stacks up against the worst OPS guys of the last five years with a minimum of 250 plate appearances.

So until next time, the watch continues.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Watch
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes in sports a player gets near something momentous and people begin to take notice. Updates are streamed in nightly, your local news carries it even though the guy is across the country. Heck your own team’s broadcasters are mentioning it during scoreboard updates.

For example, you might remember such things from the home run races in baseball over the last ten years. Whenever Mark McGwire came to the plate, stations would either cut away to show his AB or tell you how it ended. His nightly line was posted at the top of every sports website. Or for a more recent example, see the hoopla over Chase Utley’s hit streak. (or currently, Willy Taveras’)

Well Sportszilla is getting into the action as well. But for the other end of the spectrum. Instead, we’ll be keep track of a foray into futility as we proudly present:

“The Abraham Nunez Watch: One Man’s Quest to Post an OPS Below .500 While Staying In the Starting Lineup.”

Recently, I’ve been blasting the fact Nunez has an OPS in the .500’s, which is not only miserable for a regular, but down right awful for a third baseman. And to top it off he plays at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, an excellent place for hitters. When I first mentioned him, Nunez had an OPS at .535. The next time he came up it was at .530. And now where does the Phillies’ third baseman reside?

.192/.257/.254/.511

.511. Five hundred and freaking eleven. And that’s amazing for a few reasons:

Reason one: How the hell can a major league player post a number that low in 224 ABs? It’s actually very hard to do because the only way a player gets that many ABs with such awful splits is if he’s got tremendous upside. In other words an all star caliber player or top prospect on a lousy team. But if a guy has that much talent, then there’s no way he’ll play that badly.

Nunez is none of those, since he’s 30 and has never been good. And the Phillies are in playoff contention, just one game back of the wild card. More in this later.

Reason two: He’s walked 19 times this year. Why would anyone walk him… ever? The pitcher is pretty much as likely to hurt you.

Reason three: How is he still the every day third baseman for a team in playoff contention? Young players with his numbers would have been shipped down to the minors already and most probably would have been dumped at AA. But Nunez is 30, so since he really has no upside, a guy like him should be released. I mean there is almost no way the Phillies could start someone worse at third. In the thick of a playoff race, how can anyone justify him being placed out there?

Reason four: According to ESPN, Nunez is owned by 53.6% of NL only leagues compared to 0.0% in regular ones. Even more incredibly, that NL number increased by 16.8% in the last week.

This is why NL/AL only leagues aren’t any fun. Any league where over half the owners are compelled to own the worst regular in baseball is not a league worth being a part of.

So the questions are, can Nunez continue his assault on .500 and somehow manage to maintain his job? Keep it here for all the updates.

Hey home run races come around nowadays, what, once every five years? What Nunez is trying to accomplish… well that’s something that you just don’t see everyday.

Not even in Kansas City.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How Can You Pinch Hit for So Taguchi?
By Ben Valentine

How sweep it is.

If the Mets vs. Cardinals series at Shea Stadium this week was supposed to be a preview of things to come in the postseason, then the fans of the Amazins’ can sit back and let a broad smile form across their face. If this series showed anything, it showed the National League this:

The top of the class has room for one only.

Of course, regular season glory is worth nothing but the price of admission to the Show that is October baseball. What you do then is what defines a team and how it will be remembered. The three game sweep the Mets just completed over the St. Louis Cardinals sends a message, it makes a statement and yes, clearly illustrates how the upper echelon of NL Teams are divided. But it doesn’t give you entry to the World Series; it just increases the pressure on you to get there.

But that being said, we learned a bit about the Cardinals in this series, and for the finale of such an important regular season set of games, I felt I should go out to Shea. Or, I actually found someone who was willing to go. My high school buddy Patrick Lee is a pseudo Mets fan, one of those people who “love NY” and thus claim to pull for both teams. Needless to say, I’m always skeptical of that and my fears would prove valid early on.

After a quick stop in Flushing for some high quality Lucia’s Pizza, (right off the last stop on the 7 Train on Roosevelt Avenue, best pizza I’ve ever had, and Sportszilla endorsed!) we headed over to Shea. After parking by my grandmother’s apartment building on 113th street, since there’s no way anyone wants to pay 10 bucks for parking, Pat gets out and puts on…

A Yankees cap.

Now, anyone who reads me consistently knows I’m a Mets fan and have the reputation as the #1 Yankee hater in these parts. So you can imagine my dismay to see that the person I’m going with puts on their cap as I’m about to enter the holy house that is Shea Stadium. (Holy house is strong but it’s the only park I’ve ever known) Plus from my own experiences and those of others, I know Mets fans don’t like Yankee fans flaunting it in their house. Unfortunately, flaunt is Pat’s middle name.

Plus with my corn rows not in, I had a huge fro preventing my Mets hat from fitting on my head. Finally, I was wearing a navy colored shirt, making me look like the perfect accessory to a Yankees fan. Oh yes… it was going to be fun, I thought.

So with some dread, at least in my case, we walked on over to Shea in the midst of a rain storm. It had nearly abated by the time we got to the game, so it would only be a half hour delay until baseball. The classic pitching battle… Jason Marquis against Dave Williams. And by classic, I mean classically bad.

Well Marquis does have 13 wins. So what if he’s statistically the worst pitcher in the NL, right? It’s a shame Tom Glavine had to miss his start Tuesday, then the Mets could have thrown Steve Trachsel in this game! The worst two pitchers in the NL matched up in a battle for the NL lead in wins. But nope, Tommy G had to go and get a blood clot in his shoulder, forcing the Mets to move everyone up a day. So instead we get Dave Williams, who might be bad, but hasn’t been for as long as the aforementioned duo.

That had me thinking, what’s the worst pitcher and worst hitter I could see facing one another. The goal; create a horrific “Black Hole of Utter Suckage” which die hard baseball fans would grimace at upon seeing the match up, yet have to watch just to see who sucked less. Marquis was the obvious nominee for NL starting pitcher, and the regular who came to mind quickly was the Phillies’ Abraham Nunez of the .530 OPS (It's actually gotten worse since Tuesday!). Overall, it would probably be Nunez and Royals starter Scott Elarton, who did nothing but give up runs until a shoulder injury put him out for the season.

Nominees for the “Black Hole of Utter Suckage” are appreciated, and you can throw out any pitcher/batter combination, not just starters. (However no pitchers as hitters)

Meanwhile Pat’s Yankee hat didn’t exactly draw the ire of Mets fans as I had suspected it would. He showed it off to Yankee fans passing by, but that was about it. Guess the rain delay had weeded out the obnoxious blowhards, who probably don’t have the patience to sit one of those out.

Anyway there was a game after all, and it started amazingly enough without a run being scored in the 1st inning. You’d figure that was helped by the Cardinals batting So Taguchi in the two hole right? Well, he promptly doubled. The man I really came to see, Albert Pujols, smoked a ball off Williams to deep left that Pat and I both thought was long gone. But instead, Endy Chavez caught it at the edge of the warning track.

As a side note, one of the many that will be appearing in this, when I mentioned that I’ve heard many women think So Taguchi is good looking, Pat was shocked. His response; and this is completely verbatim:

“What the hell? He’s a 37 year old man who looks like a 15 year old girl.”

Back to the game. Dave Williams was your typical soft tossing lefty, with a video game-ish slow curve. Seriously; he was tossing it in a 64 mph. What was even weirder was that his fastball topped out at 87 and his change up frequently came in at 81. So there was no real difference between either pitch. Outside of the curve, he really had nothing. And yet the Cardinals top hitters struggled against him all night. Proves once again in one game anything is possible.

The Mets put the first two men on against Marquis, so I was figuring a four spot in the first was guaranteed. Then Carlos Beltran popped out and Carlos Delgado grounded into a double play, much to dismay of Pat’s fantasy team. But he said he’s downright abusing his league anyway. I’m not surprised… someone in his league just dealt Pujols and Mike Mussina for Chipper Jones and Bobby Jenks, two weeks after dealing Jason Giambi for Brad Lidge. That's horrid, I mean would you deal Jeremy Giambi for Lidge now... or two weeks ago? Still I could use some tips, my team is in second to last in the league me and the rest of the Sportszilla writers are in. To make matters more embarrassing, my co-owner and I are dropping like a stone. Unfortunately, none would take Lidge off our hands for Giambi. If it wasn’t for the fact Bryan’s team is falling even faster, we’d be guaranteed the number one pick next year.

However if you’d like tips on how to dominate a league, send your questions to John Schmeelk. He’s currently running away with ours.

In the second inning Shawn Green in his new #20 Mets’ jersey came to the plate with the fans chanting his name. It seems Lastings Milledge has made many enemies at Shea already this year. They’re probably just jealous he didn’t slap their hands.

Green smoked a ball, but Ron Belliard (who apparently thinks he’s “thugness incarnate”, just look at his pic) forgot he’s a miserable defensive second baseman and made a leaping grab. He flipped the ball back to Pujols to double up a stunned David Wright. Maybe it wouldn’t be the Mets night.

Then in the third, they remembered who was pitching.

Williams led off the inning by working a long at bat. I actually lost count of how many pitches Marquis threw to him; which is a very bad sign when the opposing pitcher is up. Williams was eventually called out on strikes, but things got a lot hotter for Marquis. After Jose Reyes singled again and then stole second, Paul LoDuca tripled him home with some help from Preston Wilson kicking the ball around in the corner like he was auditioning for US Soccer. Uh Preston, the World Cup was in June. Beltran and Delgado both walked which brought up Wright. The third baseman hit a deep fly to right, but Wilson caught it at the warning track. LoDuca scored to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. Finally Green endeared himself to Mets fans some more by singling home Beltran. 3-0 Mets.

Dave Williams then proceeded to hand the Cardinals two runs back in the fifth. After giving up a single to Aaron Miles, he gave up a long shot into the Cardinals bullpen to… wait for it… Gary Bennett. The Redbirds’ back up catcher was near the Mendoza line with one homer before that shot. It’s never easy is it?

Unless Jason Marquis is pitching.

This time, after a LoDuca infield single, Carlos Delgado proved his worth to Pat’s fantasy team and crushed a Marquis pitch past the Mets’ bullpen in rightfield. 450 feet was the estimated distance. The power is back. Whatever was affecting Delgado from May- July seems to be gone now and he’s smoking the ball again. If he’s on his game, the Mets are going to have the most formidable 3-5 in the NL.

We head to seventh, when the game was won/lost, depending on which team you’re talking about. After Aaron Miles singled again against Williams, Scott Spiezio, the most useless player in baseball last year, doubled. That put runners on second and third with one out. It also brought the soft tossing lefty’s night to an end as Willie Randolph went to Roberto Hernandez. Ron Belliard was up, So Taguchi was in the on deck circle and Pujols was in the hole. Lefty Pedro Feliciano was up in the pen, as Pat correctly pointed out, for Jim Edmonds and Chris Duncan, neither of whom were in the starting lineup. That had to be it, since the Cards didn’t have a lefty in the lineup.

Since I’m well aware of Tony LaRussa’s love affair with guys who shouldn’t be starting yet are, I responded with:

“HOW CAN YOU PINCH HIT FOR SO TAGUCHI???” (Yes, I mockingly yelled it)

Well Hernandez got Belliard on a foul pop out and thus denied him eventual entry into the Thug Mansion. That brought up the key spot in the game. That chap Albert was in the on deck circle as the potential go ahead run. He had seven RBI just two nights ago. You want someone who will keep the inning alive. You want your best up. Thus, Edmonds was getting his batting helmet right? Duncan had to be listening to his daddy about the ins and outs of Roberto Hernandez’s motion.

Nope. LaRussa apparently agrees the idea it is impossible to pinch hit for So Taguchi… a 37 year old defensive outfielder. Brilliant managing again Tony.

Hernandez got Taguchi on strikes. Pujols would lead off the next inning, a threat to give the Cardinals nothing but one run when they were down by three. And finally in a twist of ridiculous irony, what does LaRussa do?

He then immediately double switches Taguchi out of the game for Spezio!

You can’t make this stuff up. You just can’t.

I was all looking forward to making a lot of jokes about “Enter Sandman” when Billy Wagner would come into the game in the ninth, except it never happened. When the Mets scored a run in the 8th, it made it a four run game, so Randolph decided against using Wagner. Instead we got Guillermo Mota, who looks a lot like disgraced former Baseball Tonight analyst Harold Reynolds. At least I think he does.

Mota got the first two Cardinals out. That brought up Chris Duncan as the pinch hitter, a full two innings too late. Maybe Tony was hoping for a do-over or something. Well Mota struck him out to end it. To quote Matt Vasgersian in MLB ’06: The Show:

“St. Louis; Good Night.”

Up next come the Phillies, who just might knock the Cardinals out of the postseason if the Redbirds aren’t careful. The resurgent Phils are just 1.0 back of the Reds for the Wild Card and just 2.5 back of St. Louis should Cincinnati take the NL Central. Tony LaRussa better be careful, if he keeps handing games away by pitching an ineffective Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis along with putting up So Taguchi in big spots, the Cards might not gain admittance to the Show come October. Thankfully, the Mets look to be pretty much there, and that is half the battle.

And so, no pun intended, I leave you with this, the biggest thing I learned Thursday night:

“How can you pinch hit for So Taguchi?”

“You don’t, unless you’re actually trying to win a ball game.”
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