As the dawn of a new season approaches I’m filled with the annual excitement and exuberance that can only be squashed by major league ball players taking the field for the first time in early April. I’ve also been a fan long enough to know that once the dog days of summer roll around (say around game 110 of 162) it can become a chore to get geared up to watch the revamped penny-pinching Mets take on the Astros. Assuming my reader’s have the same struggles mustering the energy to watch such a contest, I’ve taken the challenge to make the next Mets v.s. Astros contest as exciting as possible. Impossible you say? Well here at BaseballBooksandBeats I plan to provide you with a few reasons to entice you to watch each of the thirty MLB squads. With the St. Louis Cardinals getting ready to play the Miami Marlins on ESPN April 4, 2012, here are three reasons you should watch the Miami Marlins.
Worst to First?
Yes, the Marlins finished in last place in the NL East (72-90) last year but this is the team I’m most excited to watch in 2012 (outside of my Tigers of course). As the Phillies roster continues to age and the injurys to their stars keep piling up the Marlins have a chance to compete in 2012 thanks to the clubs many new additions. This offseason the Marlins joined the free agent party early and often spending more money than Jay-Z & Kanye balling in Paris. Ownership knew that for the Marlins to go from worst to first in the NL East they will need to overcome last years deficit, having finished 30 games behind the Phillies, while drawing fans to their shiny new ballpark. Their offseason may have put them in a position to accomplish both feats. They opened free agency signing Jose Reyes (2011 WAR 6.2), a lightining rod at the top of the order and on the base paths. Next, the Marlins focused on improving their pitching staff signing for Whitesox ace Mark Buehrle (2011 WAR 3.4) and former Padres closer Heath Bell (2011 WAR .5). The Bell signing was a bit curious based on the size of the contract (3years/27M) considering the closer coming off of a down year. It’s evident the Marlins paid for Heath Bell the shut down closer of 09-10 (avg WAR 2.2) rather than the 2011 version. Assuming everyone does what ownership expects of them theve added about 11.8 wins to their 2011 record. Adding approximately 12 wins is not gonna cut it in the NL East but you must remember the Marlins played a substantial amount of 2011 without two of their best players. The Marlins will be able to integrate a healthy Hanley Ramirez into the lineup who posted a WAR 7.4 in his last healthy season and Josh Johnson (2010 WAR 6.3), their ace starting pitcher that missed 2011 with a shoulder injury. We’ve now added 25.5 wins to the Marlins 2011 total, 4.5 wins shy of the 2011 Phillies. Look for the Phillies to regress from their 102 wins in 2011 due to the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, both of whom will start the season on the disabled list. The team is also a year older and may struggle without their two run producers in the lineup. If that’s not enough to make up the 4.5 win gap the Marlins are also adding the foul mouthed, entertaining but damn good manager, Ozzie Guillen to the mix. All that said I’m excited to watch the Marlins attempt to dethrone the Phillies in 2012.
The Artist Formely Known As….
For those that do not know in 2011, the Miami Marlins had a 21 year old right fielder that was built like a tight end and hit like a linebacker who went by the name of Mike Stanton. It’s now 2012, and Mike has changed his name to Giancarlo. The Marlins won’t mind the name change so long as Giancarlo hits like Mike who’s power second to none. In 2011, his first full season Giancarlo hit 34 home runs. Baseball Reference website compares players throughout history of similar age and names that compare favorably to Stanton include Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton. Entering his age 22 season Giancarlo has yet to reach his peak, and assuming he stays healthy his numbers will most certainly rise.
I love watching speed on the base paths. It can come in the form of stolen bases, legging out a triple or an exciting play at the plate, whatever it is, I’m all in. With power numbers down all over baseball teams with players that can create runs with their speed have a leg up on the competition. Few managers take advantage of team speed as well as Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen, which has me excited to see how he uses Emilio Bonifacio. Emililo doesn’t hit for much power but all Ozzie is asking of his young center fielder is to get on base so the team can take advantage of his speed. Getting on base is something Bonifacio did well last year .296/.360/.393 and may improve as he enters his age 27 season. Look for Bonifacio to continue to get on base and improve upon his 40 stolen bases in 2011 with Ozzie at the helm.
As the dawn of a new season approaches I’m filled with the annual excitement and exuberance that can only be squashed by major league ball players taking the field for the first time in early April. I’ve also been a fan long enough to know that once the dog days of summer roll around (say around game 110 of 162) it can become a chore to get geared up to watch the revamped penny-pinching Mets take on the Astros. Assuming my reader’s have the same struggles mustering the energy to watch such a contest, I’ve taken the challenge to make the next Mets v.s. Astros contest as exciting as possible. Impossible you say? Well here at BaseballBooksandBeats I plan to provide you with a few reasons to entice you to watch each of the thirty MLB squads. With the St. Louis Cardinals getting ready to play the Miami Marlins on ESPN April 4, 2012, here are two reasons you should watch the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Corner Outfielders
If you were starting an all underrated squad you could start in St. Louis and fill both corner outfield spots. Matt Holliday has been a stud for a long time, yet excelling in Colorado and Oakland is not the typical recipe for notoriety. Batting behind Albert Pujols, playing for the Cardinals was supposed to make Holliday as a household name yet his skills still tend to go unnoticed outside of St. Louis. An argument can be made and won on the premise that for the past 5 years Matt Holliday has been the best left fielder in baseball. Based on fangraphs WAR (wins above replacement) Holliday leads all LF’s in WAR by 6 wins over the past 5 years. Narrow the scope to the last 3 years and Holliday still comes out on top beating out Ryan Braun and Josh Hamilton, the two left fielders that won the MVP award in that same time span. How’s that for underrated? Part of Holliday’s anonymity may be related to the fact that he does everything well. He hits for average, gets on base, and can hit for power with a career slash line of .315/.388/.541. Entering his age 32 season, nagging injuries have become an issue but when healthy he rakes. In the first half of 2011 he hit .324/.418/.577 before lingering injuries (the guy missed time when a moth was stuck in his ear) slowed his production. When Holliday is healthy he is must see tv.
Entering his age 35 season, Carlos Beltran is putting the cherry on top of what could very well be a Hall of Fame career. Beltran no longer runs like he used to as evidenced by the decline in his stolen bases, and has missed a substantial amount of time in his career to injury. Yet and still, when on the field he puts up all-star numbers, which is why the Cardinals signed him this off-season to a two-year contract. Using fangraphs as a reference, he has a career WAR of 61.7. Assuming he contributes at a similar rate to 2011 (WAR 4.7) over the life of this contract his career WAR will rise to 71.1. Prior to 2011, Beltran played the majority of his career in center field. With a WAR of 71.1 his career fits in nicely between two center fielders already in the Hall of Fame, Billy Hamilton (68.9) and Duke Snider (71.7).
Although many Mets fans can’t shake the image of Beltran striking out without swinging the bat to end the 2006 playoffs, Beltran’s playoff numbers are eye-popping. In four playoff series (22 games) Beltran has hit .366/.485/.817, with 11 home runs and 31 runs scored. If they Cardinals make it back to the playoffs in 2012, Beltran should serve as a nice replacement to King Albert.
The Young Guns
Prior to the 2011 World Series I wrote about two players to watch on the St. Louis Cardinals. One ended up winning the World Series MVP by hitting the winning home run in Game Six and the other posted an OPS of 1.154 with 3 World Series home runs. Follow the link for insight on David Freese and Allen Craig. Two Cardinals young guns worth watching.
When two billion dollars is spent its usually not the spender that is that is doing the celebrating. Unless of course you are a part of the Magic Johnson-Stan Kasten investment group which just dropped a ton of cash for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Prior to their purchase, the Dodgers were run by a dysfunctional owner who openly defecated upon Dodger fans. On his path to destruction, the previous owner clouded years of tradition and goodwill, and was on the verge of puling off what was once considered unthinkable. Entering 2012, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (say that three times fast), however brief, were able to wrestle the headlines and LA fans from the Dodgers. The Angels were on their way to becoming LA’s team. Then Magic stepped in, and with some help from both Kasten and Bud Selig, the Dodgers found themselves back at the apex of the LA baseball scene in the hearts and minds of the fans and media.
We are a couple of days removed from the announcement of the sale and already expectations for the Dodgers return to glory are as high as a Magic Johnson sky hook. Almost simultaneous with the announcement mainstream media touted Magic Johnson as the saviour of the Boys in Blue. The reports were that a 2 billion dollar price tag made the Dodgers the Yankees of the West. With Magic on board the Dodgers would soon be a perennial playoff contender making a run at all the big free agents. Hell, a few reports already had the Dodgers signing either Cole Hamels or Matt Cain in 2013, more than 9 months before they actually become free agents. My enthusiasm for the Dodgers return to glory is much more tempered and any on field success the Dodgers realize I will attribute to Stan Kasten’s involvement rather than the Magic Man. This is not a shot at Magic, it’s just that Kasten has done it before, having worked as President of the Atlanta Braves during their rise to prominence in the 90’s. This is Magic’s first foray into the world of baseball, and Johnson will be the first to admit roster construction is not his forte.
While I won’t join the chorus and proclaim that Magic will bring Showtime to the Dodgers, there is one aspect of his involvement that has me very excited. Major League Baseball has never gone out of its way to promote their individual athletes. In the inner city, the fallout from MLB’s reluctance to follow the NFL and NBA’s star generated promotion has been tremendous. Inner city youth no longer desire to become the next Jackie Robinson. They have traded Willie Mays dreams for Lebron and Cam Newton realities. The inclusion of Magic Johnson into the once private and exclusive “Billionaire Boys Club” of MLB owners signals to me that baseball realizes it needs a Rebirth of Cool and Magic is the perfect guy to lend an assist.
Magic understands the ins and outs of marketing/promotion in the inner cities of Los Angeles. At a time when business owners refused to invest “in the hood” Magic built successful movie theaters in the same neighborhoods others feared. While others sat on the sidelines Magic doubled down and brought not only TGI Friday’s to the hood but he also brokered a deal to build over 100 Starbucks, many of which thrived in the inner city. Magic’s purchase of the Dodgers means the team will have a presence in the inner cities of LA, and where the former point guard goes others tend to follow. Case in point, can you imagine Matt Kemp, the Dodgers star center fielder, denying Magic’s request for the two of them visit the local Boys and Girls Club to promote the Grand Old Game. The answer is simple, Kemp will follow! Now can you imagine any other big league owner visiting ANY inner city on purpose. I can’t, and this is what has me excited. For a long time MLB has operated from a lily white model that sought to maintain the status quo. It appears as if MLB is ready for a change. They threw the Magic man an assist, let’s see what he does when he is the one receiving a beautiful pass.