Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2/10/12 Melbourne Aces 1, Perth Heat 4

Barbagallo Ballpark, Perth, Australia
Australian Baseball League Championship Series Game 1
(Best of 3 game series)

Outside of Peter Moylan and his ilk, Australian Baseball was an unbelievably unknown element to me and what I thought was my better-than-typical focus on International Baseball. My first real exposure to the Australian Baseball League was the ABL All-Star game aired on MLB Network late last year; having been completely overjoyed to find something new and exciting in the Baseball world such as this, I was sure to have this Championship Series in my DVR queue once I found out about it. I was certainly universally less than disappointed; as the All-Star game was a source of joy, this series was a source of pure elation.

Three key items of note permeated this magnificent off-season spectacle: Amazingly good pitching, wonderfully coy announcers with brilliant and crisp Australian accents, and a bevy of formidable talent the likes of which you may recognize in some faces and which you may never have known about before this event. Besides that, squirmy baseball fans such as myself were treated to extra-innings mayhem, the successful movement of baserunners when most appropriate, the dramatic and sometimes critically sorrowful pitching changes by managers who knew what they were doing as well as should have known better, and the emotional call and response of costly errors, with offensive and defensive response to those errors.

This is Tournament Baseball without the hype, playoff action without the glam, and focused Minor League-plus competition at its finest. By comparison, this series makes the AAA PCL-IL 1-game championship playoff look like a Little League intra-squad scrimmage. I mean it. This is a very big stage for these players; regardless of what you may think, most of them aren’t even Australian…some have Minor League contracts, some had Major League contracts at one time, some are only recently removed from successful stints in Independent League as well as other International Baseball Leagues. They know that no matter what their current contract status, their performance right here, right now, in the Western Australian sun, is being watched by millions of fans, writers, front office people, and a handful of others who can alter their professional baseball careers with a pen or a phone call. This did happen to at least one player, immediately following one of these games. They know the stakes here…the Claxton Shield, yes…but beyond that, they know what this series can mean to them, and they are legitimately executing every play as if they understand.

The Australian Baseball League is comprised of 6 teams and plays a short season schedule of 45 games. The League in its current format is, not surprisingly, part of a joint venture between the Australian Baseball Federation, the Australian Federal Government, and Major League Baseball (the latter of which owns a 75% share…again, shouldn’t be a surprise to find that out). There was an ABL that existed from 1989-1999, but the current league has been around since 2009…what both versions have in common is, among other things, the prized Claxton Shield, the award that goes to the victor of the annual Championship Series. This is the second ABLCS, the first was won by the Perth Heat 2-1 against the Adelaide Bite. This year, the Heat return to face the Melbourne Aces (who finished 13 games behind the Heat in the regular season). The Perth Heat are the only team located in Western Australia, the other 5 teams are located largely around the Central-to-Southeastern coast. Perth claimed the right to play the series at their home park, known today as Barbagallo Ballpark (also known as, blah, Baseball Park).

Here, I am presenting all 3 games with my scoresheets. You’ll see more of an emphasis on the pitchers and their pitches in some of these posts than you may be accustomed to…after all, as I wrote earlier, this series was all about pitching, and damn excellent pitching to top it off. I’m also a sucker for the metric system!!

Right off the bat, I’m recognizing the starting pitcher for the Perth Heat. Virgil Vasquez? Oh yeah! He was the winning pitcher for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in relief of Michael Schlact, in this rain-shortened game, which was my first Indie Ball game posted on this blog.Vasquez (a native of Santa Barbara, CA) started a handful of games for the Tigers in 2007 and the Pirates in 2009, but never really stuck with either club at the Major League level, instead spending most of his time in the minors (DET 6 seasons, PIT 1 season, TBR 1 season) before taking his craft to the Blue Crabs, finishing the 2011 season with a 1.224 WHIP, 5.2 SO/9, 8-6 record and a 4.25 ERA. Needless to say, if Vasquez was working towards a career game to remember, this one certainly would be it.

Vasquez faces Travis Blackley, who is Australian, and has spent several years in the minors from 2001-2010 with the Mariners, the Giants, the Phillies, the Diamondbacks, the A’s, and the Mets…but has never pitched in the Major Leagues. His only work in 2011 was for ABL as a member of the Melbourne Aces, he went 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA in 8 games and 12.2 IP, his first start for the Aces was in the first round of Postseason play, a no decision for Blackley.

Blackley started strong, and stayed strong for most of his innings, but a series of small-ball offense by the Heat in the very first inning found the Aces behind by one. In response, Aces Catcher Kevin David (from Baton Rouge, LA, currently active in the Royals organization with a .617 OPS in Kane County last year) rips a 2-out HR to even the score.

This would be the only run allowed by Vasquez in the game.

In the 4th inning, 2011’s ABLCS MVP James McOwen (a Florida native in the Mariners’ system from 2007-2009 and 2011, no MLB appearances) launches a solo shot to lead-off and the game is locked at 2-1 in favor of the Heat until they score two more times in the 6th and 7th innings against Blackley. After 7 innings, no BB, 1 HB and 5 strikeouts, Blackley is replaced by Kevin Reese, who only allows 1 hit in his one inning of work.

Vasquez, on the other hand, cruises through 9 innings, pitching a complete game of 1 run baseball, with no BB and 8 strikeouts. Neither staff walks anybody, that’s how crazy good the pitching was. Vasquez throws 122 pitches in this outing, and shows his best stuff in his last 3 innings of work, striking out 4, 2 groundouts and 3 flyouts. He was breath-taking, never making his outing look as easy as he made it look brutally calculated and well-executed, with some ultra-formidable help from his team-mates…

The Heat defense really showed their stuff; I don’t think I’ve seen a shortstop in the minor leagues that has the kind of smack that Mitch Graham does. Graham is a native of Perth, who spent 2004 with the Phillies organization in the GCL before losing time due to injury. He resurfaced in 2009 with the Edmonton Capitals of the Independent Golden Baseball league. Besides ABL work, he played for the Dutch Major League Almere Magpies in 2010. Why he isn’t on a minor league roster with a ticket to the big leagues now, I really have no idea…Graham handles those kooky sinker-baller-high-choppers as good as anyone in the minors or majors I’ve ever seen. His G6-3 partner in the infield, fellow Western Australian native Allan de San Miguel, has been a Twins farmhand since 2005, on the New Britain Rock Cats roster in 2011 with a less-than-impressive .190/.244/.238 and .483 OBP for the season. His impressive dig and tag of a rushed grounder to 3B Tim Kennelly was a delicious defensive highlight.

The Heat lock down the first game of the series strongly, and I’m locked into what is probably the most exciting baseball I’ve seen in the offseason. I can’t wait for this series to continue, total hat-tip to MLB Network for bringing this my way!!

The game was called by Warren Smith and Australian National Baseball Team Manager Jon Deeble for Fox Australia, their accents are so kool I had to watch Mad Max with the Aussie soundtrack on afterwards, just for kicks. Deeble, by the way, was a pitcher in the original ABL and was a Minor League Manager for the Marlins and Red Sox systems. He was third base coach for the 2005 Red Sox and is currently their coordinator of scouting for the Pacific Rim region. He’s noted mostly for his signings of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, as well as lots of Australian talent.

Do you want to know more about the Australian Baseball League? Of course you do, if there’s one takeaway I would request if you’re reading this it would be for you to want to know more. Head on over to the Official Site of the ABL where there is a lot more information, including the ripping History section, where you can read about Australia’s Baseball beginnings, previous domestic leagues and competitions, international successes, and a lot more. You can also follow the league on twitter: @ABLeague

UPDATE: Immediately following the game Travis Blackley gets a phone call from the Giants and signs a deal to return to their system in 2012.

If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baseball Prospectus Annual 2012: Recommendations for Use

"For me, every year baseball begins with the big, brilliant, beautiful book you are holding in your hands right now."
—Joe Posnanski
Like many of us, today is the day I expect to get home after a maniacal day of cube warfare to find a box with a smiley face on it patiently waiting for me on my doorstep. My family usually beats me home, they have explicit instructions not to mess around with this box.

On this wonderful day…a truly tangible measurement of the true start of the baseball season…I thought I’d share with you my process and provide some recommendations for use for this annual treasure.

Inspect package thoroughly, be sure it’s your copy sitting on the porch and not your neighbor’s.

Unwrap carefully, always be careful with sharp instruments.

Open the book slowly, I always spend at least a minute lovingly inhaling the glorious odor of freshly inked newsprint.

The BP Annual was available on Kindle this year…I don’t have a Kindle, nor do I want one, and if I did I still would have to get the print edition, for the same reason I still prefer vinyl LPs over CDs…the entire experience is very tactile, the ‘first smell,’ if you will, is one of the most joyous parts of it…

First things first…read the Stats section! Things change every year, even if only small changes occur, you owe it to yourself to review these changes before just jumping into the matter without making yourself aware of them. While doing so, be sure your reference note cards are up to date!

YES, I said note cards! No man is an island, and it’s a great idea to make note cards on the different types and classifications of numbers you are about to review. Even if you know them backwards and forwards by now, and even if there are no changes, if you are anything like me, there are a few key metrics you pay more attention to than others. Do yourself a favor and jot these down on note cards, so you can refer to them later. They also make killer bookmarks!! A scientist is lost without his/her note cards!!!

NOW…you need to read the Foreword. Last year’s Foreword by Joe Posnanski was probably the best ever…in fact, it was one of the best Forewords in any print media in the past 20 years or so. Posnanski’s comments brought warm, moist tears of joy to my aged eyes. This year, big shot Hollywood guy and frequent Poscast guest Michael Schur writes the foreword, I’m really looking forward (no pun intended) to this!

NEXT…flip all the way to the back and read Kevin Goldstein’s top 101 Prospects. Sure, you’ve already read the list online, and you’ve followed a thousand discussions about this list on the internets by the time you receive the print edition, but still…go over the list carefully, right now. You can even compare it to last year’s list, along with your 2011 draft notes (you did take notes on the draft, didn’t you?). Kevin’s list is a truly crucial part of the Annual, as a whole…please don’t take it for granted! Due diligence is giving this list the once-over carefully, right now.

Before you go any further, get your copy of The Who: “Live at the Isle of Wight 1970” CD, pop it into your favorite media-player-type device. Queue up track 1, push play…

FINALLY…you can start to digest the team material en masse. You may want to start with ”your” team (or, depending on who “your” team is, you may not want to start there, and instead start with “your” team’s immediate competition). Refer to the Stats section and your trusty note cards as much as you like throughout the process. I typically keep a stack of fresh note cards handy, as I tend to focus on a few key players not just for my upcoming fantasy draft, but also to make pertinent notes and review them throughout the season. Some of these notes induce shock and awe come October (“…they nailed it! ‘Deadly Accurate PECOTA’!!”) and some induce bewilderment (“Lance Berkman! Aieeeeee!!!”). Bathroom breaks are OK, keep the “Isle of Wight” CD going (if you are using a traditional CD player, you get a great break opportunity whilst changing from CD 1 to CD 2). For optimal enjoyment, don’t stop reading…don’t take any phone calls, don’t wash any dishes, don’t turn on the TV for any reason, and don’t get on the internet…until the CD is over.

My workstation set-up...I'm ready!When the CD ends…well, the rest is up to you. This is my ritual, and this is important enough of a yearly event that I felt strongly enough to share it with you. If you have a ritual of your own, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s great too…but if the reason you don’t is because you didn’t order the book, then all I have to say is…you are legitimately missing out on a great and wonderful thing.

You can order the annual on says: Don’t be fooled by imitations!!!

If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
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Monday, February 20, 2012

Sermon for Today

HALLELUIAH!! Pitchers and Catchers report! We are FREE!!!

I was invited to write a guest post for the fantastic I-70 Baseball website for Super Bowl Sunday several weeks ago, where our 'assignment' was to mark the end of the football season (which is subsequently, the beginning of the baseball season!) with a post on the subject "Why Baseball is Better Than Football." What follows next is the entire text of my featured article, reprinted here to celebrate the END of the DARKNESS!! Thanks again to Bill Ivie for sharing my thoughts on his wonderful website!

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

Throughout the ages, anxiety has been that emotional state of mind that tends to taint our lives in often undesirable ways. Anxiety leads to confusion, confusion leads to stress, and who doesn’t know how stress can get in the way of that which we are all longing for in our world, in our society, and in our lives…peace.

In modern times, not so much to capture a sense of nostalgic equilibrium but to harness the core essence of the sport itself, we tend to summarize what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent about the game of Baseball in terms that usually evoke literary handles such as “pastoral,” “bucolic,” and my personal favorite, “idyllic.”

When I say “we,” of course I mean baseball fans. The rest of the world may read the essence of the game described by these terms, but may not necessarily subscribe to their meaning.

In terms of pop culture, what could be more “pastoral” than The Andy Griffith Show?

In what I certainly believe to be more than just a coincidence, for many years Superstation TBS would run an Andy Griffith episode marathon on Super Bowl Sunday. In my household, for nearly as long as this was a TBS programming staple, it was tradition for us to enjoy the pastoral throes of several consecutive hours of The Andy Griffith Show in lieu of participating in any Super Bowl Sunday programming whatsoever. The citizens of Mayberry and their well-loved adventures (and in a greater sense, the Mayberry way of life itself) were truly the antithesis of Super Bowl hype and hoopla, and indeed the antithesis of the game of Football itself.

…and Baseball, in many ways, is the antithesis of Football.

Consider, if you will, Episode 100: “Sermon for Today.” This is arguably one of the most popular Andy Griffith episodes ever, as it cuts to the core essence of the Mayberry Mythos in a series of perpetual comedic circumstances the occur around the central theme of how one’s strive for inner peace can be usurped by the villainous tentacles of anxiety. What is crucial to one of the many points of the episode is the irony of the struggle for inner peace, among the perception of anxiety.

In the episode, a visiting pastor (Dr. Harrison Everett Breen, coincidentally “from New York City,” more recognized for Baseball lore than Mayberry) captivates the parishioners at All Souls Church with his inspirational message from the pulpit entitled “What’s Your Hurry?”

“As I stood there during the singing of the hymn, I asked myself ‘What message have I to bring these good people of Mayberry? And I was reminded of an instance. A young man came to me recently and said he: ‘Dr Breen, what is the meaning of it all?’ And I said to him, ‘Young man, I’m glad you asked.’ My friends, I wish more of us found the time to ask that question. Whither…whither are we headed and why? Why this senseless rush, this mad pursuit, this frantic competition, this pace that kills?

…Consider how we live our lives today. Everything is run, run, run. We bolt our breakfast, we scan the headlines, we race to the office. The full schedule and the split second: these are our gauges of success. We drive ourselves from morn to night. We have forgotten the meaning of relaxation. What has become of the old-fashioned ways, the simple pleasures of the past?

Who can forget…the old-fashioned band concert at twilight on the village green. The joy, the serenity of just sitting and listening. This is lost to us, and this we should strive to recapture, a simple innocent pleasure.

And so I say to you, dear friends, relax…slow down…take it easy…What’s your hurry? What indeed, friends, is your hurry?”

As the episode goes, the Taylor family has their brains firmly wrapped around the idea of how relaxing that band concert does sound, and as we know, they spend the rest of the episode rushing around quite anxiously to make this event happen in a few hours. They meet with failure, and as they are gathered on Andy’s porch, exhausted from their fruitless labor, continuous quarrelling, and other disasters (“Look at this…mildew! You can’t expect me to do anything about mildew!!”) Dr Breen stops by on his way out of town, and infamously assesses the situation, commenting how relaxed everyone seems, as if they had just enjoyed a band concert on the village green!

Baseball fans understand the correlation I’m making here; I could have launched into any number of humorous comparisons or methodical reviews of why Baseball is better than Football, but it didn’t take long for me to go to this episode, this event, this lesson.

In his excellent book The Way Back to Mayberry, author Joey Fann emphasizes the well-understood notion that Mayberry is the epitome of a simpler life. Addressing this episode in particular, Fann cites these events as a vivid illustration of the trouble we go to just to slow down our lives. The older I get, the more I realize on a personal level, how Baseball adds years to my own life, as well as its intrinsic value of tangible peace.

The pace of Baseball is the pace of life; the pace of Football is a destructive path towards an event that ends unequivocally with the running out of a clock…the “pace that kills.” The folks in Mayberry, even as they lounge listlessly on their front porches, or in front of Wally’s filling station, exemplify the potential kinetic energy of Baseball…you are waiting patiently, almost peacefully, for an event that may occur, and time literally freezes during that period. A Baseball fan who wholeheartedly subscribes to and involves themselves into the pace of the game as its played knows full well that when the game is over, 3 or 4 hours may have passed, but to the fan it never feels quite that long.

The pace of Baseball is the pace we’d like to have in our lives…we need relaxation, we need inner peace…we need to know that runners can cross the plate as many times as they like as long as there aren’t 3 outs. We don’t need anxiety. We don’t need to know that there are only 30 seconds left, so hurry up and do something…I can feel my blood pressure change just thinking about it.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he did it while he was in prison. The offseason is the Baseball fan’s prison, the Football season and Super Bowl itself is what occurs during imprisonment. We look forward to the advent of Spring Training, we look forward to the return of the sunshine and the green grass, we look forward to our release from the prison we are in, against our will…where the journey to inner peace is obfuscated by the full schedule and the split second…where the simple, innocent pleasure of Baseball is lost to us, if only temporarily, due to the imprisonment of Winter and the Football season.

There are many words to guide us; and we do have hope…Spring Training is really, really just around the corner. Super Bowl Sunday proves this! Soon, pitchers and catchers will report and we’ll return to Mayberry…even if TBS isn’t running an Andy Griffith marathon on the 5th, we can dwell on the message Paul had for the Philippians:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

I am thinking about these things now, on Super Bowl Sunday more than ever. Football be darned, Baseball is almost here!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10/20/91 Atlanta Braves 2, Minnesota Twins 3

Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, MN
World Series Game 2

Kevin Tapani's #face defeats Tom Glavine's #glare

If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

10/19/91 Atlanta Braves 2, MInnesota Twins 5

Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, MN
World Series Game 1

Any baseball fan should be able to close their eyes for a moment and think about the 1991 World Series; when they do it’s almost certain that an image of scary Jack Morris hurling something decidedly nasty in your direction at a high rate of speed should appear prominently. Jack Morris was a pretty damn good pitcher, and in Game 1 of the 1991 World Series, he was super damn good.
So was Chuck Knoblauch.

I’ve always had a “thing” for the 91 Series, for two significant reasons: The 91 Atlanta Braves and the 91 Minnesota Twins. Ha! Analyze that!!

I’m not kidding. 1991 was a special year; the Twins and Braves both went from worst to first – the first time ever that two teams that finished last in the year previous made it to the fall classic the next year. We saw several players state their case for Baseball Heroism, and we saw exciting postseason play the likes of which most of us wouldn’t see again for many, many years.

It should be no surprise that the first ‘complete set’ of Baseball Cards I ever purchased was a 1991 Upper Deck factory box for $10…I selected this box not for the price, but because it was 1991, a very amazing year in Baseball, as far as I’m concerned. If I were to ever write a book about Baseball, the 1991 season would most definitely be what I’d write about. I hadn’t ‘returned’ to Baseball yet, but during that year I followed the exploits of the Braves via Superstation TBS and paid more attention than usual to the season as a whole, up to and including this World Series.

Game 1 (as far as Game 1 goes) was literally “all that and a bag of chips.” Former Royal Charlie Leibrandt faces Jack Morris at the HHH Metrodome, the crowd over over 55,000 maniacal Twins fans is decidedly unruly and you can tell, even via the glow of cathode rays, that the Thunderdome is the center point of enough Baseball electricity to level any large U.S. city; you pick it…it’s GONE. If you were there for this game, this series, or at any time during this magical Twins era, you probably still bear the irreparable scars of total hearing loss from the audio experience that was the THUNDERDOME.

The Rally Towels are kind of crazy also.

1991 A.L. Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch (seen here giving props to his alma mater during the starting lineup call on the field) would start to cap his banner season in the Majors with a historical performance on the field…If you need to know, Chuck still has these batting gloves. World Series rings are pretty darn special, but I’d wager a guess that this pair of gloves might be just as special to him as his rings…the gloves weren’t responsible for his performance during this game, but what he did wearing them warrants enough respect to enshrine them with the highest level of respect. If I were him and they were mine, they’d be with me in my casket, for sure.

Chuck was also a member of the 1990 CMC Set, more on that shortly!

Most people don’t know this, but Chuck was only the third of 3 second basemen in MLB history to have three-plus hits in their World Series debut (the other two were Phil Garner in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Billy Gilbert in 1905 with the New York Giants).Chuck gets on base in all 4 of his plate appearances, and steals the first 2 of his eventual 4 bases total in the Series. He was just as much of a stud on the basepaths…the way he took Jeff Blauser out of a potential double-play ball hit by the legendary Kirby Puckett without actually “taking him out” is one of the most formidable baserunning acts I’ve ever seen. Game 1 was just the start of his exploits in this World Series.

For a good, quick read on Chuck, his career, and the fickleness of the World Series (as it pertains to key player performances) check out this post by The Flagrant Fan. Chuck had a fantastic career; he’s hit a few walls and rode through some valleys over the years, but he really was (and still is) a true Baseball hero, as real as they get.

His RBI single in the 3rd inning put the Twins on the board for the first run scored in the game, but it was Greg Gagne’s remarkable 3-run homer in the 5th that made the difference in scoring for the Twins. Leibrandt’s pitching was excellent, but with 2 on and nobody out, you could almost smell trouble for the lefty…and Gagne’s million dollar smile after the game certified his thrill in dealing out the damage.

It was the first postseason home run ever allowed by Leibrandt.

Nearly as remarkable was Kent Hrbek’s amazing total upper deck solo blast in the 6th off of Jim Clancy, who replaced Leibrandt after Gagne’s tater. A little more pepper, and the ball may have been put into orbit.

As for Jack Morris…well, this isn’t Game 7, so sit tight! Morris was great, pitching better than his line might suggest (7 IP, 5H, 2ER, 4BB, 3K, 29 batters faced). His run support made the difference, allowing him to work with the situation…rather than claiming he “pitched to the score,” I would be hard pressed to believe anything other than the fact that he was as effective as they come, with only one rough inning out of seven.

As for the Braves, Ron Gant carried the team offensively (3-for-4, 2RBI) but was unable to carry them to the Winner’s Circle all by himself. Jeff Treadway and David Justice were the only other Braves to squeak out base hits.

As I did in my post of this classic game, as well as this one, I want to extremely recommend the most fantastic blog The Greatest 21 Days, which focuses on the ‘members’ of the 1990 CMC baseball card set. Yet another reason why 1991 is so special to me is my year-plus admiration for Steve78’s research and for the players he’s featured from this set. 1991 was a banner year for many of them. If they have been featured on The Greatest 21 Days, you have links to those stories as well so you can read Steve78’s awesome work for yourself!

285 David Justice - ”Six Series”

295 Brian R Hunter - ”Hit It Hard”

807 Chuck Knoblauch - ”Time Thinking”Follow Chuck on Twitter: @chuckknoblauch - he does an amazing job of interacting with his fans!

568 Scott Leius – not featured yet

The game was broadcast on CBS Sports by Jack Buck and Tim McCarver, with Jim Kaat and Pat O’Brien.

Minnesota leads the Series 1-0

Box Score and Play-by-play on Retrosheet

Buy the DVD

If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
(I am @yoshiki89), and also please leave a comment!
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