Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lebowski Urban Achievers (AL Awards)

"Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not "Mr. Lebowski". You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're notinto the whole brevity thing."

We're not about brevity, as you may be able tell from our first, of what we hope will be many, posts. And like the dude, we know we're fallible, so we welcome any and all commentary and criticisms.......but unlike the Dude let's try and keep it clean.

1) “The Godamm plane has crashed into the mountain!”

To the AAA ballclub currently playing their home games at Kaufman Stadium (Kansas City). Substantial explanation would be superfluous as Allan Baird’s KC nine have been an absolute disgrace to the league, and mock our fabled national pastime. Giving all due respect to the underachieving Pittsburgh Pirates, the Royals’ have sewn up “worst team in baseball” honors by rendering a staggeringly ineffective performance thus far. As my fingers strike these keys, the Royals occupy one of the bottom four spots in the AL in runs scored, team batting average, home runs, and total bases. And even with staff anchor (and MLB “all star”) Mark Redman toeing the rubber ever 5th day, the Royals currently sits dead last in the AL in team ERA, Batting Avg. Against, and innings pitched.

While it’s exceedingly rare to find a team that is both bad and old, Mr. Baird has seemingly done the undoable. He has built a team that is not only devoid of talent, but youth as well. While the Pirates and Cubs can fairly apportion some of the blame for their debacles of a season on capricious youth, the Royals’ opening day lineup had an average age of 30.3. For some perspective, those same Pirates and Cubs (the only other MLB teams with a winning percentage under .400) had an opening day average age of 29.1 and 28.5 respectively.

2) “I got information man, new sh** has come to light.”

To the finest quartet of rookie pitchers to come into the AL in as long as I can remember: John Papelbon, Justin Verlander, Francisco Liriano, and Jered Weaver. As green as they are talented, these four aces in waiting have combined to pitch 297.4 innings, while posting a 2.02 combined ERA, a .98 combined WHIP, with a combined K:BB ration of nearly 4:1. Suffice it to say that if the end of the year award voting took place today, these four names would be strewn across ballots for rookie of the year, Cy Young, and MVP. They have each been so good they deserve individual recognition.

Papelbon – By putting up 25 saves with a .57 ERA and a .74 WHIP in the first half of the season, Paps is on pace to rival ’90 Dennis Eckersley (.61 ERA, .61 WHIP), ’02 Eric Gagne (1.2 ERA, .69 WHIP), and ’03 John Smoltz (1.12 ERA, .87 WHIP) for the best season ever by a closer. Interestingly enough, all four of those players came up to the big leagues as starting pitchers. Their success further emphasizes the importance of developing multiple pitches in the minor leagues, rather than relying on high 90’s hear all of the time (you listening Josh Beckett?). Paps has been so lights out in ninth innings that he has the entire Sox fan base clamoring to keep the heir apparent to Roger Clemens’ thrown in the pen for his entire career.

Verlander – Verlander has been consistently the best pitcher on the league’s best team all season long. Verlander’s high 90’s fastball and twelve-to-six curve make his arsenal more devastating than any other pitcher on this list (including Liriano). Though he hasn’t struck out as many batters as someone with his stuff should (which could be cause for conern), I can only compare the explosion of his pitches to that of a right-handed Sandy Koufax.

Liriano – Despite his teammate’s Cy Young resume, Liriano, not Johan Santana, has been the penultimate starter for the Twins this season. Four years younger than Santana, Liriano has exhibited the same filthy fastball-changeup combination that has made Santana nearly unhittable for the past three seasons. Currently Liriano stands at 10-2 with 2.12 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP, but his team is still 11 games out of first in their division. From the “too little too late” file, GM Terry Ryan’s decision to start the season with Liriano in the bullpen (and the likes of Kyle Lohse and Scott Baker in the rotation) may end up costing one of baseball’s smallest market teams millions of dollars in lost playoff revenue.

Weaver – While Weaver was the last of the quartet to burst onto the scene, he has been, statistically, the most dominant thus far. Weaver has won each of his 6 starts while pitching over 40 innings and posting an ERA of 1.12 and a WHIP of .74. Unlike the other three who have dominated AL hitters because of overpowering stuff, Weaver has relied on his deceptive delivery and baseball intelligence to induce outs. Where he learned this must remain a mystery as the Angels banished older brother Jeff to the NL after he posted a 3-10 record with an ERA over 6 and a WHIP over 1.5 in the first half of the season.

3) “Fair! Whose the f***ing nihilist here!? What are you, a bunch of f***ing crybabies?”

To the NY Yankees and their fans. It’s true that the Bronx Bombers have endured a ridiculous number of injuries this season, but it’s impossible to empathize with a team that has spent money as haphazardly as they have. Any team that is fiscally irresponsible enough to pay Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Kyle Farnsworth and Carl Pavano a combined $37 million has no right to complain about circumstances which render their “all star lineup” mortal. Besides, even that phony TV psychic John Edward could have predicted that a 37 year old OF cycling off steroids would end up getting injured. George, aren’t you glad you inked Sheffield instead of Vlad?

4) “Donny you’re out of your element.”

To the Oakland A’s. It seems like just yesterday that A’s GM Billy Beane was the Moneyballin’ toast of the left coast. Yet today, his A’s find themselves a SABRmetrically sacrilegious 11th in the AL in OBP, next to last in runs, and last in slugging and OPS. If Bill James were dead, he’d be turning over in his grave. While Beane deserves credit for piecing together a contender through deft trades for pitching, and improving his overall defense, the decline in his team’s world series chances has coincided perfectly with his withdrawal from acquiring that which he knows best: offense.

Clearly my semi-condemnation of Billy Beane is a bit premature and oversimplified. Technically the “Moneyball theory” commands improving your team by acquiring those skills which are undervalued in the marketplace. With the recent success of the A’s, Red Sox, and Yankees, OBP has become an expensive statistic, often times falling outside of Beane’s budgetary restrictions. Still, the man knows offense better than anyone on the planet, and venturing outside his element has resulted in a regression for his franchise.

5) “Three-thousand years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax, your godamn right I’m living in the past.”

To the Boston Red Sox, who are mere months away from having the first ever all Jewish starting outfield. Not unlike George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. When Adam Stern burst onto the major league scene earlier this year a little light bulb went on in my brain and I just waited. I waited for Gabe Kapler to return from the Achilles rupture that ended his 2005 season (he did on June 17). I waited for Tito Francona to give Kevin Youkilis an OF mitt (he did on May 27). Now I must wait just a little bit more. Wait for September callups, and the glorious return of Adam Stern. We are less than two months away from the greatest Jewish sports moment since Shawn Green hit 4 HR in the same game. Folks, it’s going to happen. I can promise you that.

6) “That’s the simple part dude. When we make the handoff, I grab the guy and beat it out of him.”

To the Detroit Tigers. The simplest plan in the movie to describe the simplest plan in Major League Baseball. As opposed to micromanaging and trading away young talent for proven major league veterans, the Detroit Tigers did what too many teams are afraid to do: unleash the reigns on their superior young talent. The Tigers currently lead the AL in nearly all pitching categories thanks in large part to their young stud starters Jeremy Bonderman and the aforementioned Justin Verlander, as well as rocket armed bullpen jockey Joel Zumaya (whose fastball has been clocked as high as 104 mph this season). As far as pure stuff is concerned there is no better trio in major league baseball. While general managers can tout the virtues of sinkerballers, and control pitchers all they want, there is no doubt that to win in the playoffs you must have pitchers who are adept at missing bats. The filthier the stuff, the better the chances of winning the World Series, and the Tigers boast the best pure stuff of any staff in baseball.

7) “Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling.”

To David Ortiz. What else could be going through his mind when he consistently sends both teams home from the ballpark with walk off hits? Never has baseball seen a player so consistently come through with the game on the line as David Ortiz has with the Red Sox. Game after game Ortiz rescues the Sox from the brink of certain defeat, or at the very least extra innings. Anyone from Boston knows that Lucky Strike Lanes are just a short walk down the street from Fenway, and David Ortiz knows they don’t stay open all night. Coincidence…..I think not.

8) “We’re talking about unchecked aggression here.”

To Ozzie Guillen, the living, breathing, walking personification of the need to “think before you speak.” And it’s really too bad because the guy has a lot going for him. He is affable, frank, colorful, and most importantly he brought Chicago its first World Series title in nearly 100 years. When Ozzie Guillen arrived on the baseball scene in one of America’s biggest markets, he had an opportunity to seize the baseball world and become a role model for the ever growing population of Hispanic ballplayers. Fans everywhere would have accepted his eccentricity as good natured (we all remember him calling Bobby Jenks in from the bullpen in the ’05 playoffs by mimicking Jenks’ oversized gut and stocky physique), and overlooked his questionable baseball decisions. But Guillen’s ego caught up with him, resulting in his infamous feuds with White Sox icon Frank Thomas and, most recently, with journalist Jay Marrioti. Guillen was served filet mignon on a silver platter, and he turned it into a Big Mac packaged in Styrofoam.

9) “I mean ‘Nam was a foot soldiers’ war whereas, uh, this should be a f***ing cakewalk. I mean I had an M16, Jacko, not an Abrams f***ing tank. Just me and Charlie, man, eyeball to eyeball.”

To the bourgeoning Red Sox-Yankees deathmatch; which will mark their fourth in as many years. No matter what happens in the first half of the season, it always seems to come down to one or two games in September between these superpowers. Red Sox-Yankees has evolved into an all encompassing rivalry. It intensified for nearly half a century, reaching a transcendental climax in the 14 ALCS games played between the two teams in 2003 and 2004. Earth’s sun will burn out long before we see another clash of the titans of the magnitude we saw in those two seasons.

As things currently stand a half game separates the teams with nine head-to-head matchups remaining. The teams play a five game set at Fenway in August which should be nothing short of an all-out war. And while its true that the Division race could be decided long before the Sox make their final trip to the Bronx for a four game series in mid-September, the smart money is it all coming down to that final game on Sept. 17. The scheduled matchup for that game: Schilling-Mussina……eyeball to eyeball.

10) “Donny was a good bowler, and a good man. He was. . . He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors, and bowling, and as a surfer explored the beaches of southern California from Redondo to Calabassos. And he was an avid bowler. And a good friend. He died--he died as so many of his generation, before his time. In your wisdom you took him, Lord. As you took so many bright flowering young men, at Khe San and Lan Doc and Hill 364. These young men gave their lives. And Donny too. Donny. . . who loved bowling.”

To Kirby Puckett, may he rest in peace. Kirby Puckett was a great baseball player, and an even better humanitarian for the state of Minnesota. His career was cut short by glaucoma, and his life was cut short by a tragic stroke. When Puckett hung up his spikes he retired with the highest career batting average for a right handed hitter since Joe Dimaggio. He led the Twins to two World Series titles, with his career culminating with his heroic performance in game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Puckett’s series saving catch up against the centerfield plexi-glass at the Metrodome is an image which is indelibly burned into my mind. But more than anything else, I will remember the joy with which Puckett played the game. We should all remember Kirby Puckett. . . who loved playing baseball.

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