Friday, June 29, 2007


What do you do when a person that you’ve looked up to for 12 years kills his family and then himself? I don’t know the answer to that question quite honestly. I’m trying to figure that out right now. Charles Barkley said a long time ago that professional athletes should not be role models to anyone. Barkley felt that role should be filled by parents. He had a point to a certain extent but that doesn’t stop virtually every breathing person on Earth from idolizing someone they’ve never met. For me, that person was Chris Benoit.

When I found out that Benoit was dead via a phone message from a friend on Monday night, I was stunned. At first report, the deaths were simply characterized as “murders.” I couldn’t figure out who would murder a 7-year old or Chris Benoit in his home so it all seemed very strange. Then, the “suicide” characterization started making the news outlets. Early on, it was not stated who committed the murder/suicide. I ignorantly assumed that it couldn’t have been Benoit. It didn’t strike me that a woman would be the likely culprit of a murder/suicide but I could not bring myself to believe that Benoit was capable of such a heinous crime. The first thing I did on Tuesday morning was check out the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Information from the mainstream sites had been stagnant for a while but I figured that Benoit’s hometown paper might have some more information. Strangely enough, the AJC’s article was the exact same as all of the rest with the exception of one sentence added on to the end that said, “Police believe that Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself.” First off, I’m not sure how that sentence gets slipped into the end of an article. Second, that sentence was when I finally came to the realization that Benoit was responsible for everything.

I’m pretty sure that most people don’t know what it’s like to have their idol commit a murder/suicide. I am guessing that some people had a similar experience with O.J. Simpson but this is on a whole different level. Someone stated in a Bill Simmons-chat on ESPN that Benoit doing this would be the equivalent of Derek Jeter doing the same thing. I agree with that assessment. Benoit was universally known as a tireless worker who devoted his life to his profession. We now know that he may have done that to a fault. Benoit was also widely regarded as an outstanding family man. He performed for troops in Baghdad over the Christmas Holiday. He was extremely popular in the locker room. No wrestler garnered more respect from wrestling fans than Benoit. Granted, you can only know so much about a person without actually meeting them but there were a lot of things about Benoit’s character that people found appealing. He was humble. He worked hard. When you follow someone’s career for as long as I followed Benoit’s, you start to incorporate certain characteristics into your life. I’ve used Benoit as motivation in the gym on numerous occasions. I have Benoit’s DVD and a few of his shirts. I used to watch wrestling every week for the first 20 years of my life. Recently, the only time I ever turned it on was to see if Benoit was wrestling. When I found out what Benoit did to his family, all of that stuff came crashing down. I couldn’t help but to feel like part of my life was a fraud. As irrational as that sounds, that is a feeling that I could not escape early on. Even now, as I type this, I am having a difficult time processing everything.

Once I get over the initial shock and confusion, I will inevitably come to the realization that the Chris Benoit that killed his family was not the Chris Benoit that I’ve spent almost half of my life idolizing—at least mentally he wasn’t. Something went awry in his mind. The police think it may have been steroids. Experts and doctors on TV think it may have been a combination of stress and steroids. I have no idea what went down and it’s possible that I’ll never know. Benoit’s life was a heck of a lot more complicated than anyone on the outside ever knew. His son was dwarfed, autistic, and mentally retarded. The difficulties that come from raising a son with those issues are simply unimaginable to me. It has been reported that his son’s care was a cause of major conflict between him and his wife. Once you start delving into the rationale of a man who has killed his family you are just “grasping at straws” but certain ideas come to the surface. My first inclination of what may have happened is that an argument with his wife and the accompanied stress of his life combined with depression and possible “roid rage” caused him to snap and lose control. It only takes seconds to kill somebody. My next thought is that Benoit realized that he would spend the rest of his life in jail and decided that he would rather kill himself instead. Before doing so, though, he probably thought about who would take care of his mentally retarded son and what kind of care he would receive. Benoit probably rationalized that nobody would care for his son the way he should be cared for so he would do him a favor and end it. A rational person would not think of or do any of the things that I just mentioned. I can’t put myself in Benoit’s shoes because I’ve never felt enough rage to kill someone. But, I can see where a man who is not thinking clearly might have a skewed vision of justice. Benoit left bibles by his wife and son. I doubt Benoit was concerned about “looking good” in the aftermath of killing his family. Sadly, the big domino to fall was killing his wife. This whole tragedy was likely predicated on Benoit losing control for 20 seconds. Once that happen, the scene was set for the last two deaths to occur. Killing her meant three people needed to die in Benoit’s mind. It’s amazing how quickly things can go wrong.

Knowing that Benoit was not of sound mind and hypothesizing the rationale that he may have been using helps ease the shock a little bit but it doesn’t help much. There will never be a time when I can say, “well sure, Benoit killed his family but he was under stress and just snapped. He was still the man.” There will never be a time where I can put on one of my Chris Benoit shirts without feeling sick to my stomach. His legacy has been changed entirely for me. I still find myself forgetting that this happened and thinking about next Monday and turning on RAW to watch Benoit. Seeing his face on TV and hearing commentators speak about him as a killer is still so strange for me. I think I am still in a state of denial. I like to consider myself a fairly rational/logical person. Part of me thinks that it is crazy to let the death of someone I’ve never met affect me. On the surface, it seems irrational. But, I cannot deny the influence that this has had on my psyche. It has been confusing.

As far as the ramifications that this travesty will have on the wrestling world, I think they are going to be huge. I am guessing that the toxicology tests will come back laced with performance-enhancing drugs. The media and lawmakers will take that information and run with it. The WWE will face an assault like it has never seen before. The scrutiny that baseball has gone under recently will finally reach the world of professional wrestling. I am not so certain that the WWE will survive this. It will take time for all of this to go down but I think it will eventually destroy the WWE. I never thought I would say this, but I’m not so sure that the WWE doesn’t deserve it either. The list of professional wrestlers that have died at an early age over the last 20 years has been shocking. If any other sport had undergone such a monumental amount of early deaths, the world would have been up in arms. Wrestling is like a traveling sideshow. To this point, it has been more convenient for everyone to just look away. The Benoit disaster puts it right in everyone’s face.

Here is a list of just some of the notable wrestlers that have died before the age of 50 (you can check out a more comprehensive list here):

Chris Von Erich - 21
Mike Von Erich - 23
Louie Spiccoli - 27
Crash Holly - 32
Kerry Von Erich - 33
Eddie Gilbert - 33
The Renegade - 33
Owen Hart - 33
Chris Candido - 33
Adrian Adonis - 34
Bobby Duncum Jr. - 34
Yokozuna - 34
Brian Pillman - 35
Eddie Guerrero - 38
Davey Boy Smith - 39
Johnny Grunge - 39
Terry Gordy - 40
Chris Benoit - 40
Rick Rude - 41
Bruiser Brody - 42
Miss Elizabeth - 42
Big Boss Man - 42
Earthquake - 42
Mike Awesome - 42
Nancy Benoit (Woman) - 43
Dino Bravo - 44
Curt Hennig - 44
Bam Bam Bigelow - 45
Junkyard Dog - 45
Hercules - 45
Andre the Giant - 46
Big John Studd - 46
Chris Adams - 46
Mike Davis - 46
Hawk - 46
Dick Murdoch - 49
Sherri Martel - 49

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Brushing Shoulders with the '31 Yankees

The '07 Tigers have essentially the same offense as they did last season in terms of personnel with the notable exception of Gary Sheffield. That makes the transformation of the ’06 Tigers into one of the most prolific offenses in MLB history close to unfathomable. Things looked ordinary enough after the first month of the season. The Tigers averaged just a smidge over five runs per game in April which was on par with what the offense produced in ’06. Then, the Tigers started to hit. In fact, that last sentence is an understatement of monumental proportions. The Tigers didn’t just start to hit, they started to hit at an historical pace.

Amazingly, that torrid pace has not only gone unnoticed by the national media but by the majority of Tigers nation as well. Sure, fans and writers alike know that Magglio Ordonez is having a splendid season and that Gary Sheffield has started to come on after a slow start. I don’t mean to insinuate that people don’t realize that the Tigers offense is rolling. I’m just not sure that most people know just how well they are hitting. The Tigers could have the best offense in baseball history by the time this season is over. That looks funny in print but I assure you it isn’t a joke.

The Tigers averaged 6.07 runs in May. If the Tigers averaged that many runs for the entire 162-game slate, they would finish with close to 1,000 runs which is a feat that has only been accomplished by seven teams in MLB history. Sustaining a six runs per game pace for an entire season is nearly impossible—or is it? The Tigers have averaged 7.33 runs per game in June and that includes nine interleague road games without the use of a DH. In 45 games since May 6, the Tigers have averaged 6.7 runs per game. 45 games represent more than ¼ of the schedule which is a substantial portion of the season. There is no reason to think that this team will be facing a prolonged slump anytime soon. Pitching seems to be down significantly this year in the American League and the Tigers are taking advantage. The addition of Gary Sheffield has also made each spot in the order more productive. The Tigers have a boatload of games remaining against some of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. The scene is set up pretty well for a run at greatness.

The modern day record for most runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 New York Yankees. If the Tigers are going to challenge that record, they will need to score a lot of runs over the next three months. The 1931 Yankees averaged 6.97 runs per game for the season. To set the record, the Tigers would need to average 7 runs per game over the next 88 games. That will not be an easy task but remember the Tigers have been averaging just about that many runs per game over the last 45 games. If it weren’t for a relatively slow April, the Tigers would be ahead of the pace set by the ’31 Yankees.

Here is a look at the ’31 Yankees compared to the ’07 Tigers in OPS+ which is just another way of saying OPS compared to the league average:

1931 New York Yankees

C Bill Dickey 121
1B Lou Gehrig 195
2B Tony Lazzeri 108
3B Joe Sewell 110
SS Lyn Lary 114
OF Babe Ruth 219
OF Ben Chapman 136
OF Earle Combs 126

The ’31 Yankees led the majors in Runs, Hits, Home Runs, RBIs, Total Bases, Walks, OBP, Slugging %, Batting Average, and OPS.

2007 Detroit Tigers

C Pudge Rodriguez 96
1B Sean Casey 92
2B Placido Polanco 112
3B Brandon Inge 109
SS Carlos Guillen 152
OF Magglio Ordonez 191
OF Curtis Granderson 133
OF Craig Monroe 86
DH Gary Sheffield 146

The ’07 Tigers lead the majors in Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples, RBIs, Total Bases, Slugging %, Batting Average, and OPS and in most cases, no other team is even close. The only major offensive statistics that the Tigers do not lead MLB in are Home Runs and OBP. The Tigers are third in both categories.

Should the Tigers manage to keep up their June pace and challenge the ’31 Yankees, the inevitable question of which offense was better will arise. There are a number of ways to compare the best offenses of all-time. The easiest is simply to compare runs scored or runs scored per game. While that is certainly a convenient method, doing so ignores important factors such as the relative strength of the league and how much better the offenses were than the league averages. Eddie Epstein wrote an article back in 2001 exploring the best ways to compare the best offenses in MLB history. His tool of choice for the comparison was runs scored compared to the league average. Unfortunately, Epstein’s approach isn’t full-proof either. Comparing success to the league average ignores the strength of the league. I would expect the ’31 Yankees to compare more favorably to their league than the ’07 Tigers compare to their league. Baseball wasn’t nearly as competitive in 1931. It was much easier for one team to dominate a category with only half the teams that exist today.

There are other factors to consider as well. The Yankees scored their runs in only 153 games and there was no DH. Those two factors certainly work in the Tigers favor since they have 162 games and the use of the DH. It’s also important to note that the Yankees had the luxury of playing four extremely bad teams 22 times each. The Yankees also had the advantage of playing in an era when the competitive index was considerably less than what the 2007 Tigers have to contend with. The majority of the pitching staffs in the American League in 1931 were dreadful. Four of the eight AL teams finished at least 28 games below .500. Those factors played a big part in the Yankees offensive explosion. Also, the Tigers only have the sixth highest payroll in the American League (and 9th in MLB). Their payroll is $100,000,000 less than the New York Yankees and $48,000,000 less than the Boston Red Sox. That is certainly a disadvantage that the ’31 Yankees didn’t have to contend with.

I’m not sure there is a way to compare the two teams that would be fair to both. Only one team has scored more than 1,000 runs in the last 56 years and six teams scored more than 1,000 between 1931 and 1951. There was something afoot in the first half of the 20th century that made it easier to score 1,000 runs. The Tigers would truly distinguish themselves in the annals of baseball history if they could accomplish something as rare as scoring 1,000 runs in a season, let alone challenge the all-time record. And if they fall short, who cares, it’s not everyday we see our favorite baseball brush shoulders with the 1931 Yankees.

--An amazing footnote to the 1931 season is that the Yankees actually finished 13.5 games behind the Philadelphia A’s for the AL Pennant despite scoring 209 more runs than the A’s and going 11-11 against them head to head.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

.500 for Bonderman

It has been a long time coming but Jeremy Bonderman has finally reached the .500 mark for his career (53-53). Bonderman was put way behind the curve by being an unfortunate member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers. Management concluded that since the team would be dreadful anyway, Bonderman might as well develop “under fire” in the majors. The idea sounded good in theory but nobody really considered the effect that a disastrous season might have on Bonderman’s confidence. Management doesn’t necessarily get caught up with stats but the team’s decision to keep Bondo in Detroit in ’03 left a black mark on his career that will forever bog down his career marks. Bonderman finished 6-19 with a horrendous ERA of 5.56 at the ripe age of 20. When 99.9% of 20-year old big league prospects are working on their game in A ball, Bonderman was getting ambushed in the majors. His first season left him 13 games under .500. Considering the state of the organization, that number didn’t look to improve much over the next few years—and it didn’t.

Bonderman improved his ERA each of his next three seasons but he only managed records of 11-13, 14-13, and 14-8 respectively. On September 10, 2006, Bondo’s career record stood at 41-53. It looked like it might be the ’08 season or later before he had a realistic shot at reaching .500. Little did anyone know that Bondo was about to win 11 straight decisions. Bonderman has gone 17 starts without a loss which is one short of the Tigers all-time record. In those 17 starts, Bondo erased the equivalent of the entire ’03 season.

Justin Verlander is the Tigers pitcher that receives the most publicity and deservedly so. He doesn’t have the high loss count that Bonderman sports. His career winning percentage and ERA is also much better than Bonderman’s. Fortunately for Verlander, he wasn’t forced to pitch in the majors at the age of 20. While Verlander appears to be the glamour boy for the Tigers, Bonderman is the one with a realistic chance at reaching historical milestones. Roger Clemens racked up 52 wins by the age of 25. Bonderman is at 53 wins and he still has close to 2/3 of a season to go. Bonderman is ahead of the pace of virtually every active pitcher in terms of wins. He is also way ahead of those pitchers in losses by the age of 25 as well. However, those losses are mostly a function of being put into an impossible situation. There certainly does not appear to be as many losses in the future with how well the organization is being run as evidenced by his statistics thus far in '07. He is currently the only undefeated starting pitcher in MLB at 8-0.

Much has been of the need for Bonderman to develop a changeup. He has used it occasionally this year with some pretty good results. He still lacks confidence in the pitch which is evident by his reluctance to throw it with much frequency. While Bonderman certainly needs to develop a third pitch to increase his effectiveness against big-league hitters, I have actually changed my tune a bit with regards to what is keeping Bonderman from jumping into the role of an elite MLB pitcher. While Bonderman certainly has plus tools with his fastball and slider, he doesn’t locate as well as some of the elite pitchers. He frequently misses badly on the outside of the plate. If he could develop his command to the point where he can consistently pitch on the outside corner of the plate, he could be lethal. Greg Maddux became one of the 10 best pitchers in MLB history by being able to command his pitches. One feature that Bondo has added to his repertoire is a swing-back fastball that starts inside on left-handed hitters and swings back over the plate. That pitch is almost impossible to hit. Most hitters are jumping backwards before they realize that the pitch is going to hit the plate.

I’m not sure how caught up Bonderman gets in his numbers but I’m guessing he at least has some idea of where he stands. It has to feel good to finally get to a .500 winning percentage. He is a tremendous talent who deserved a much better start to his career. Hopefully the Tigers will be able to reward him with a ridiculous amount of run support over the remainder of the career. Congratulations Bondo!

Here is a look at how Bonderman compares to the elite pitchers of the last 20 years in terms of wins by the age of 25:

Greg Maddux 61
Jeremy Bonderman 53
Roger Clemens 52
Pedro Martinez 48
Tom Glavine 33
Curt Schilling 4
Randy Johnson 0

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tigers might have eight All-Stars

As a reward for guiding his team to the World Series, Jim Leyland has the honor of managing the AL All-Star team. With that honor comes the opportunity to reward many of his players with All-Star selections if Leyland isn’t bogged down by using his manager selections on undeserving players just to abide by the “one representative for each team” rule. In recent years, Joe Torre selected eight of his New York Yankees players and Ozzie Guillen selected seven of his Chicago White Sox players. Both received modest criticism but not enough to discourage Leyland from doing the same if given the chance.

The Tigers are in a unique position this year. Most good teams have two or three very good players combined with a lot of solid role players. While that was the case for the Tigers last season, this season the Tigers have a bunch of players that deserve All-Star consideration. Another reason that this season is unique is that the Tigers have so many players that are the best at their positions numbers-wise. Magglio Ordonez is the best outfielder in baseball let alone in the AL. Curtis Granderson is the best centerfielder in the AL based on the numbers. The same goes for Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco at shortstop and second-base.

In most cases, All-Star managers try to find reasons to take their own players. For Leyland, I think he is going to have a difficult time finding reasons not to take some of his players. This isn’t going to be an easy task for him. As I see it, the Tigers could have eight All-Stars. Unfortunately—or fortunately depending on how many open spots he has—for Leyland, all eight have very strong cases for being All-Stars. With the rule that every team must have a representative combined with the reduced role that All-Star managers now play in selecting the reserves, Leyland might have a difficult task trying to fit all eight of his guys on the team.

Here is a breakdown of each of the eight deserving Tigers in order of most likely to least likely to make the All-Star team:

Magglio Ordonez:

There really isn’t much to say here. Mags is a lock.

Compare American League Outfielders.

Justin Verlander:

The no-hitter sealed the deal for Verlander. He is 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA. He is, by far, Detroit’s most high profile pitcher at least in terms of reputation. That should easily get him voted in by AL managers and players.

Compare American League pitchers.

Ivan Rodriguez:

Pudge has a nice cushion over Jorge Posada in the All-Star voting. Posada and Victor Martinez both have every reason in the world to expect an invitation to the All-Star game but it’s unlikely that both will make it. With Joe Mauer missing so much time, Kenji Johjima and John Buck are really the only other catchers with a gripe for making the team. Since All-Star teams usually only have two catchers, Martinez or Posada will likely have to get in on the fan’s final player vote. In fact, if John Buck is Kansas City’s lone representative, then both Martinez and Posada might be left off the team.

Compare American League catchers.

Placido Polanco:

Hopefully Polanco holds on to his slim lead over Robinson Cano in the All-Star balloting. If not, I don’t see how Leyland leaves Polanco off the roster. Polanco leads AL second basemen in Runs, Hits, Total Bases, Strike Outs (the least amount), and Batting Average. Leyland knows how valuable Polanco is to the Tigers so he will want to reward him with a trip to the All-Star game. Aaron Hill, B.J. Upton, Cano, and Brian Roberts all have hopes of making the team as well.

Compare American League second basemen.

Gary Sheffield:

Leyland loves Sheffield. Since Sheffield is having a monster ’07 season, I can’t see Leyland not taking Sheff to the All-Star game. Sheffield’s numbers are every bit as good as Granderson’s and, in many cases, they are better. Sheffield has Granderson beat in OPS, Walks, Strikeouts (he has half as many), OBP, Home Runs, RBIs and Runs. Sheffield’s competition is the same as Granderson’s except they are their own competition as well.

Compare American League Outfielders.

Curtis Granderson:

I don’t see how Granderson can be left off the team. Everyone knows the kind of season that Magglio Ordonez is having right now. What everyone doesn’t know is that Granderson has 43 extra-base hits to Ordonez’s 46. Granderson is third in the AL in Total Bases (behind A-Rod and Ordonez). He is on pace to set the modern day single-season triples record. He if fifth in the AL in Slug % and third among AL outfielders in OPS.

Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Ichiro will likely be the starters in the OF for the AL. Alex Rios, Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore, and Gary Sheffield all have good cases for making the team. The AL had seven outfielders last season. That would mean four of; Granderson, Sheffield, Ordonez, Rios, Hunter, Crawford, and Sizemore would make the team. Ordonez is a lock. Granderson has a better case than the other five. Leyland may feel some pressure to not take three of his own outfielders which is the only way I see Granderson not making the team.

Compare American League Outfielders.

Carlos Guillen:

Guillen has missed nine games but still leads all American League shortstops in RBI, Slug %, and OPS. He is also second among AL shortstops in home runs and triples. With Jim Leyland having carte blanche over position players—as long as each team has one representative—Guillen should be a lock for the All-Star game. Guillen does have some tough company. Michael Young, Orlando Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, and Miguel Tejada all have legitimate claims. Young and Tejada could be the lone representatives for their teams which would hurt Guillen’s chances. I’m not sure how Cabrera can be left out with a .342 batting average. There just might not be enough room for Guillen.

Compare American League shortstops.

Jeremy Bonderman:

Bonderman is at a disadvantage because Leyland doesn’t have as much control over the pitching situation. He gets to name injury replacements which is where Bondo has his best shot of making the team. If he can take advantage of his three remaining pitching matchups—all of which are favorable—he could get to eleven wins with an outstanding winning percentage. I’m not so sure that Bonderman has the same respect around the league as Justin Verlander does so it wouldn’t surprise me if Bondo was voted into the game by AL managers and players. In 2005, Terry Francona stated that he would take his own pitcher, Matt Clement, if there were any injuries to the pitching staff. Clement made the team and I think Bondo might in 2007.

Compare American League pitchers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lions are too good for Culpepper

At some point over the last few years, the Detroit Lions became too good for Daunte Culpepper. I’m not 100% sure when this occurred but I think it was when the Lions were marching towards a 3-13 season in ’06. Or, it could have been in ’05 when the Lions were a force at 5-11. Clearly a team that has gone 24-72 over the last six years has no use for a 30-year old quarterback with a reasonable salary who has a 4,700-yard/39-touchdown-season under his belt.

As tempting as it is to stay in sarcasm mode for the remainder of this post, I’m going to switch to logical/dumbfounded mode. The Lions are in the midst of the worst six-year stretch in NFL history. They have been looking for a franchise QB since before I was born. Their current QB is a 34 year-old journeyman with three more career touchdown passes than interceptions. The Lions couldn’t have a worse QB situation even if they could swap with any team in the league. The Lions feature a freaky-talented three-wide receiver, pass-happy offense. Culpepper just happened to thrive in the same offense for five years in Minnesota. In fact, if anyone should know how good Culpepper can be, it’s Matt Millen. The Lions were biannual victims of Culpepper’s domination.

Two years ago—before Culpepper injured his knee—he was widely recognized as one of the top four quarterbacks in the league (along with Manning, Brady, and McNabb). The Dolphins—hoping that Culpepper would return to form for their organization—gave him a grand total of 11 games over two injury-riddled seasons before concluding that he was washed-up. Now, 27 NFL teams are avoiding him like the plague. I am almost certain that if Tom Brady went down with an injury the Patriots would be the first team in line to trade for Culpepper. It almost seems as if NFL GM’s live in a fantasy world where they practice groupthink refusing to take even the slightest risks for fear of failure. Only in the NFL would a group of highly-paid, educated men think that Randy Moss is washed up. The Green Bay Packers made the dumbest move in the history of professional sports by passing on Moss and that dumbness has little to do with how Moss performs this year. It has everything to do with the fact that it would have cost them a fifth-round draft pick. GM’s over-think themselves to a point of paralysis. That is what the Lions are doing now with the Culpepper situation.

How can we trade for Culpepper when we already have Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovski, and Drew Stanton? I believe that is a question that the Lions front office asked itself without even a hint of sarcasm. And even worse, I think they answered that question with a simple: “we can’t.” The Lions have talked themselves into thinking that there is no room in Detroit for Culpepper when everyone in the universe—with the exception of Terry Foster—can see that he could be a godsend for the organization. The Dolphins just traded a fifth-round draft pick for Trent Green. One would think that Culpepper’s price would be comparable or even less. That means all it would take for the Lions to obtain Culpepper would be parting with a fifth-round. The worst thing that could happen is that the Lions find out that Culpepper will never be the same again and they cut him. The best thing that could happen is that Culpepper returns to form and the Lions have one of the top offenses in the NFL. Any Business or Econ major—or any breathing human being really—could tell you that the cost-benefit analysis of that decision is favorable towards bringing in Culpepper.

One thing that I am having a hard time understanding is how teams are so convinced that Culpepper won’t return to form. His knowledge of the quarterback position should be the same as it ever was. The strength of his arm should be the same as it ever was. The only two things that may cause problems are his ability to scramble and his ability to plant while throwing. Culpepper never needed to scramble to be a good QB in the first place. Plus, he can’t be any slower than Byron Leftwich even after the injury. So everything comes down to Culpepper’s ability to plant his leg while throwing. With modern day medicine and physical therapy, there is no reason to bet against a man being able to rehabilitate his knee to the point of being able to throw a football. At the very least, it’s worth a fifth-round draft pick to find out.

I’m going to close this post by playing a game. I’m going to list a group of quarterbacks. One of the quarterbacks is not like the rest. The object of the game is to identify the quarterback that’s not like the rest. I’ll help even give you a hint: his name is bolded in giant font.

Eric Hipple
Chuck Long
Bob Gagliano
Rodney Peete
Andre Ware
Erik Kramer
Dave Krieg
Scott Mitchell
Kent Graham
Don Majkowski
Matt Blundin
Frank Reich
Charlie Batch
Gus Frerotte
Stoney Case
Ty Detmer
Mike McMahon
Joey Harrington
Jeff Garcia
Dan Orlovsky
Jon Kitna
Josh McCown
Daunte Culpepper

Monday, June 11, 2007

Leyland needs to trust his big-guns

Dan Dickerson and Jim Price both expressed their surprise when Jason Grilli was booed mercilessly as he was pulled from the game in the 6th inning on Sunday. Dickerson then proceeded to say something that I will never forget. It went something like this: “I can’t say I understand the boos here. Grilli gave up a three-run homer (the first home run of Carlos Gomez’s career), a double, and a single and hit a batter without recording an out.” I’m guessing that last sentence had something to do with the boos. The crowd had just finished giving Andrew Miller a resounding ovation after he bounced back from a three-run first inning to pitch brilliantly. Even the Tigers infield gathered around the mound to congratulate Miller on a gutsy performance. Grilli’s performance alone was bad enough but considering it followed on the heels of Miller’s removal, the boos were merely a foregone conclusion.

The bigger story here, though, isn’t about Grilli or Miller. If I had to guess, I would say that Grilli’s performance was only 1/3 of the motivation behind the boos. I was surprised that Dickerson and Price didn’t pick up on the fact that the boos were more likely for the bullpen as a whole rather than a condemnation of Grilli. Clearly, Tigers fans are smarter than that. They know what the ‘pen has done as of late. Grilli is no more responsible than the rest of his bullpen cohorts. For the second consecutive day, Tigers fans saw a big lead shrink considerably the minute the starter was pulled from the game. Jeremy Bonderman pitched well through the first six innings on Saturday. He then allowed the first three batters in the 7th to get on base. Jim Leyland went to Yorman Bazardo who promptly allowed two more of Bonderman’s base-runners to score. Fernando Rodney followed in the 8th inning allowing a home run. An 8-3 lead became an 8-7 lead in a matter of an inning and a half.

Sunday presented an almost identical scenario. The Tigers built an 8-3 lead before Leyland pulled Miller for Grilli. The lead quickly shrunk to 8-6. In both instances, Leyland chose to pull a starter who had been effective for the majority of the game for a reliever that was nowhere close to the talent of the guy he was replacing. Bazardo has less than five innings pitched in his entire MLB career. Grilli’s ERA is over 6.00. Other than a pitch count of 120, a huge deficit or an injury, I’m not sure there is ever a time where I would pull Miller or Bonderman for either of those two mid-inning. As far as I’m concerned, none of those factors were present on Saturday or Sunday.

Leyland has been deflecting blame from the bullpen to the starting pitching lately. He has dismissed the bullpen’s 5+ ERA as being a result of the starters not pitching long enough into games. To a certain extent, he has a point. With the injuries that the Tigers have had to deal with in the bullpen this year, nobody expects outstanding numbers considering how inexperienced some of the guys that are filling in are. The starters could make things a whole lot easier by making it into the seventh inning every night without ever running into trouble. But, I would argue that Leyland could make things easier by sticking with the starters longer when the choice is between going with a freaky-talented starter and bringing in a reliever who is only pitching because of an injury.

For instance, Bonderman had been cruising along on Saturday before running into a rough spot in the 7th. Instead of allowing Bonderman to keep going at the Mets and getting out of his own jam—which he has been pretty good at throughout his career—Leyland brought in Yorman Bazardo who struggled to find the plate and let in both of the runners he inherited from Bonderman. I would go with Bonderman with a 92 pitch count over Bazardo with a zero pitch count every time that situation presents itself. Leyland had a chance to rest his bullpen and stick with the guy who gives his team the best chance for success in that situation, but instead decided to self-fulfill his prophecy that the starters don’t go long enough.

The same scenario unfolded with Andrew Miller on Sunday. Miller breezed through innings 2-5 and got the first batter in the 6th out. He then gave up a hit to Julio Franco which prompted Leyland to remove Miller from the game. I understand that Leyland wants to protect his pitchers. Miller’s pitch count was at 101. But again, I would rather have Miller with a pitch count of 101 than Grilli with a pitch count of zero any day of the week. Miller probably would have gotten out of the sixth with minimal damage. Instead, Leyland chose to use an overworked bullpen. Plus, the difference in pitch count between 5 1/3 innings and 6 innings (or 6 1/3 and 7 innings) is probably only 10-15 pitches. It’s not like Leyland would be threatening careers by leaving his starters out there for an extra two outs. The sixth inning is one of the most important innings of a baseball game. That is when the starter generally starts to fatigue and the decision of whether to bring in a reliever flares up. Getting to the 7th inning with the bullpen intact is what every manager hopes for. If 10-15 pitches is the difference between getting to the 7th without having used the bullpen or not, then I would think that it would be worth it to leave the starter in especially when the man replacing him has an ERA close to double that of the starter.

For as much as Leyland complains about the starters not going deep enough into games, he is certainly quick to bail on them at the first sign of trouble. Chuck Hernandez even made a call to the bullpen in the third inning after two errors and two walks loaded the bases. One would think that when you have a bullpen with an ERA of 5.03, you would want your starters out there as long as possible. Bringing in a reliever right now is almost never the right answer for the Tigers. I would love to see Leyland stick with his starters in the middle of the sixth and seventh innings rather than “roll the dice” with a sketchy reliever. Clearly the bullpen will be used but it should never be used when the guy on the mound gives you a better shot at outs than the guy replacing him.

Miller, Verlander, and Bonderman are phenomenal talents routinely capable of getting out of bad situations with minimal damage. The bullpen—sans Joel Zumaya—does not have that ability. The “thing” that makes those starters special is still there when their pitch count reaches 100. They don’t just magically lose their ability to pitch. Fatigue becomes a factor but, even then, letting the starter finish an inning likely gives you a better shot at success over bringing in a reliever with a 5.00+ ERA.

Ozzie Guillen took a lot of flack two years ago for overworking his starters. Even though his White Sox went on to win the World Series, Guillen grossly overworked his starters in comparison to the rest of the league. I’m not sure how much room there is for criticism considering Guillen’s team won the World Series. However, the Tigers have young pitchers. That complicates things a bit. I think somewhere between what Guillen did in ’05 and what Leyland has been doing this year there is a healthy median where the starters don’t get pulled the minute a fluke single drops in. Leyland clearly understands that his bullpen isn’t real strong right now. He also understands that he has been using his bullpen too much. When it all comes down to it, the answer appears to be pretty simple: just use the bullpen less.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tigers score big again in the draft

I never thought I would say this but I’m starting to get an idea of what it’s like to be a Yankees or Red Sox fan. The Tigers are still along way from those two payrolls but because of a commitment to spend whatever it takes by Mike Ilitch, the Tigers now get to act like the Yankees and Red Sox in the first round of the MLB Draft. Ilitch’s commitment landed the Tigers Rick Porcello who was widely considered the second best pitcher in the draft and the best high school player at any position. Porcello was passed up by 26 teams before the Tigers selected him. Even the Detroit Tigers Official Web Site was bamboozled by the Tigers’ good fortune. It had Porcello going second overall to the Kansas City Royals in a mock draft posted on Thursday morning.

Porcello was compared to Josh Beckett by the Baseball Tonight crew but the Tigers liken him to Justin Verlander. The Baseball Tonight folks also predicted that it would not take Porcello long to make it through the Tigers system since he has four “plus” pitches already. The Tigers could be looking at a Bonderman/Verlander/Miller/Porcello rotation within three years. The addition of Porcello also allows the Tigers to become more active in trade discussions. Dallas Trahern and Jair Jurrjens are two of the top prospects in the organization. Parting with them doesn’t seem as damaging now.

I’ve been hard on Ilitch in the past for letting the Tigers rot into the worst franchise in professional sports. But, he is doing an awful lot to make up for it. He is the reason the Tigers signed Justin Verlander after it looked like he was asking for too much money. He is the reason the Tigers selected Andrew Miller last season when every other team with a top-five pick passed on him because of “signability” issues. He is now the reason why the Tigers ended up with the second best player in the draft with the 27th pick. Ilitch has allowed his people to build a championship baseball team. Aside from hiring the right people—which Ilitch has certainly done—the only thing he can do is make money not an issue. He has done that and the results have been astounding. I can say with confidence that the Tigers have the brightest future of any team in MLB and that was the case before today. Things just keep getting better.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Detroit Tigers top 40 prospects in 2007

While the Tigers are having success on the field, one could argue that they are having even more success in their minor league system. It seems like Dave Dombrowski brings in more talent with each draft class than the Tigers did in the entire decade of the 90s. I think it seems that way because it’s true. In just three drafts, Dombrowski has stocked the farm system with enough potential that it’s hard for anyone to agree on the best 20 prospects in the organization. It wasn’t too long ago that there weren’t even 20 prospects in the organization if you go by the true definition of the word. The exciting thing about having a deep minor league crop is that it serves two purposes: it fuels the big league club with talent; and it allows the club to go after big-names via trades.

Five years ago, I looked at a Tigers prospect list to see who would be the franchise’s savior. I didn’t look at Juan Encarnacion or Gabe Kapler as trade bait. I simply hoped they would turn the club around. Now that the Tigers appear to be set up as World Series contenders for the foreseeable future, the prospect list shifts more towards a “trade” list. The Tigers have considerable pitching depth which leaves few open spots in the rotation for the next 8-10 years. Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, and Andrew Miller should be starters in Detroit for a long time. Nate Robertson may not be going anywhere soon either. Although, I am sure the Tigers could turn him—and a few prospects—into a very good position player if they so desire.

I have been following the progress of each of the minor league teams daily. Ever since Dombrowski came aboard, I’ve enjoyed following the minors as much as I’ve enjoyed following the Tigers. Granted, following the minors involves a lot more reading than watching. Without seeing the games in person, it is impossible to get a complete understanding of how much potential a player might have. For instance, a pitcher at Oneonta (A-) might have a 1.50 ERA. That looks good on paper but the ERA doesn’t say whether the pitcher throws 96 or 88 MPH. There is more information available on some prospects than others.

I have done my best to create a list highlighting the best prospects in the organization. While I can’t say that my list is ”spot-on” due to the lack of information available, I can say that I put enough research into that it should be a fairly accurate indication of the best prospects in the organization. My criterion for this list involved many factors including; trade value, major league readiness, potential, age, minor league performance, and progression. If I had to sum this list up into one objective, it would be “value to the organization”.

It’s also important to remember that this list is both fluid and subjective. Prospects can go from “has-beens” to “the next best thing” in just a few months (see; Virgil Vasquez) and vice versa (see; Brent Clevlen and, ironically, Virgil Vasquez). It’s also important to remember that things change considerably between now and the end of the season like the addition of the 2007 draft picks. In a few months, some of these players may have suffered injuries, may have been traded, or may have regressed significantly. All I can attest to is that this is the way I see things as of the date the post was published. If you asked me to put together the same list last week or next week, I’m sure the list would have quite a few variances. I've included postion, minor league level, date of birth, and how the Tigers acquired each player. For more in-depth minor league information, check out "The Baseball Cube". Most importantly, this list is for entertainment and informative purposes--it's not meant to be the perfect prospect list--so enjoy.

Top 40 Prospects

1. Cameron Maybin CF A

4/4/1987 (1st round 2005)

Maybin is the most promising position prospect the Tigers have had in decades. I know there hasn't been a more hyped prospect in my life-time. He gets the nod over Andrew Miller at #1 because of how fragile the Tigers’ position depth is in the minors. He is slightly more important to the future of the Tigers than Miller. As far as I can tell, Maybin is every bit as good as his press-clippings. Maybin's line for the season is .306/.422/.478. Those numbers are better across the board than his 2006 totals at West Michigan (A-). The only knocks on Maybin thus far are his strikeout rate and lower-than-anticipated power numbers. Maybin is 3rd in the Florida State League (FSL) in walks so he definitely has pitch recognition skills despite his strikeout rate. He is an untouchable commodity for the Tigers. GM Dave Dombrowski said last season that he wouldn't trade Maybin straight up for Alfonso Soriano and that was in the middle of a pennant race. It’s important not to expect too much from Maybin too soon. I think he will be very good in time. Right now, he’s just touching the surface of his ability.

2. Andrew Miller LHP AA

5/21/1985 (First round 2006)

Miller is the most promising left-handed pitching prospect the Tigers have had in decades. Notice a trend here? He has wicked off-speed stuff to go with a 96 MPH fastball. He excelled in his first start in AA with eight innings of one-run ball. He currently has a .59 ERA (!!!) in four starts at Erie. He made his MLB debut for the Tigers last month in a spot-start in which he pitched six shutout innings picking up the victory. Miller will likely become a full-time starter in Detroit by next season. I can’t imagine the Tigers sticking with Mike Maroth over Miller beyond this season. Miller is better than half of MLB starters right now. Don't be surprised to see Miller called-up to be the '07 version of Joel Zumaya especially with the Tigers recent bullpen struggles.

3. Dallas Trahern RHP AA

11/29/1985 (34th round 2004)

This is the spot where you'll probably find most other lists differing from mine. Jair Jurrjens is certainly a viable option for the #3 prospect in the organization but Trahern has advanced past Jurrjens in both minor league progression--Trahern has pitched at AAA--and production. Considering how highly touted Jurrjens has been, that is quite a feat for Trahern. In 10 starts at Erie (AA), Trahern has compiled a 2.45 ERA. That earned him a promotion--at least temporarily-- to Toledo (AAA) which resulted in 6.1 innings of two-run ball. He has succeeded at all levels in the minors without being a strikeout pitcher or having the best control. His K/9 in Erie this season is underwhelming 4.65. His K/9 in 25 starts at Lakeland (A) last season was similar at 5.35. His WHIP is decent. Last season it was 1.18. This season in Erie (AA) it is 1.20. Considering Trahern is not a strikeout pitcher, those numbers will probably rise in the majors. He is still very young at 21. Once he learns how to pitch, he should end up being a very effective pitcher for the Tigers or for another organization. With Miller in the fold—and Dave Dombrowski’s penchant for stockpiling pitchers every draft--Trahern becomes the Tigers top trade bait along with Jurrjens. The better Trahern pitches in the minors, the better chance the Tigers will have of making a big-time trade at the deadline. I would love to see Trahern make it to Detroit but with Miller, Justin Verlander, Bonderman and Nate Robertson ahead of him in Detroit, Trahern may find his way to the majors through another organization.

4. Jair Jurrjens RHP AA

1/29/1986 (Undrafted FA)

Jurrjens came out of nowhere in 2006 to become one of the top prospects in the organization. He had a stellar '06 campaign in Lakeland (A) where he posted a 2.08 ERA in 12 starts. He didn't have quite the same success after his midseason promotion to Erie (AA) but his numbers were still pretty good as he posted a 3.36 ERA in 12 starts. His ’07 totals in Erie are eerily (no pun intended) similar. He has the exact same ERA (3.36) through 10 starts. His secondary numbers are fairly similar to Trahern's with the exception of his K/9. Jurrjens is more of a strikeout pitcher and it shows as he consistently sports a K/9 of 6+. His better strikeout rate might help him transition to the majors more smoothly than Trahern. I think you could pretty much put them at 50/50 in terms of which one will have the better MLB career. Jurrjens, like Trahern, is primary trade bait. The rotation is log-jammed for the foreseeable future and both Jurrjens and Trahern are one year away from being major-league ready. I hate to see players of this caliber traded—especially since we have never seen this many good players in the organization before--but they can either waste away in the minors or help the Tigers bring in a missing piece via a trade.

5. Eulogio De La Cruz RHP AA

3/12/1984 (Undrafted FA)

This guy has pitched so well as of late that I would not argue if you wanted to put him ahead of Trahern and Jurrjens. In three consecutive starts at Erie (AA) in April/May, De La Cruz pitched 24 innings with an ERA of 1.50 and 28 K's. This reminds me of the run that Humberto Sanchez got on last year that resulted in him becoming a top prospect. De La Cruz can reach 100 MPH but consistently pitches 97. He is a strikeout pitcher with a K/9 at an impressive 8.1 He is short at 5'11 which could scare some teams away on the trade market. De La Cruz could be a bullpen candidate in the future but that won't happen if he continues to blow the competition away as a starter in the minors. He is another pitching prospect that the Tigers will likely dangle in front of other teams near the trade deadline. It's a shame that there isn't room for these players in Detroit. But, that's what happens when a MLB team is run the correct way. Other teams have had the problem of too many prospects and not enough open positions for years. It's just going to take some getting used to for Tigers fans (myself included).

6. Jeff Larish 1B AA

10/11/1982 (5th round 2005)

Larish is the Tigers' best non-Cameron Maybin MLB ready hitting prospect. The most encouraging number supporting Larish's prospect status is his walk total. Larish walked 81 times in Lakeland (A) last season which helped him post an .838 OPS. Unfortunately, Larish has struggled a bit in Erie (AA) this season but he is starting to come on strong. His power numbers are pretty good. He strikes out quite a bit but he also picks up a lot of walks. His slugging percentage is still reasonably high due to his 10 home runs which is among the best in the Eastern League. The outlook on Larish was probably more favorable last season when he was a year younger and looking like the first baseman of the future. That still might be the case. He'll be 25 by the end of this season which means he'll have to have an encouraging '08 to be in the plans at first base for the Tigers.

7. Ryan Raburn 2B/0F AAA

4/17/1981 (5th round 2001)

I'm not sure how this has happened but Raburn has flown under the "prospect" radar for virtually his entire existence as a minor leaguer. Raburn is 26-years old and is lighting up AAA. If you were starting a minor league fantasy baseball league, Raburn might be a guy you'd want to pick in the first round. He can play OF, 2B and 3B. He has a .925 OPS. His BB/K ratio is almost 1:1. He has 10 SB's to go along with a .282 batting average and a .400+ OBP. Raburn isn't a one year wonder either. He did all this last season too. With Placido Polanco occupying second base for the foreseeable future, Raburn's path to Detroit is blocked. I do know that if I were a MLB team in need of a second basemen, I would be trading for Raburn yesterday. I'm not sure how much better a prospect can perform in the minors. He'll be 27 or 28 before anyone gives him a chance. I keep thinking I'm missing something but I don't think I am.

8. Gorkys Hernandez OF A-

9/7/1987 (Undrafted FA)

I have no problem admitting that placing Hernandez this high could be a stretch. Hernandez is the youngest player on the list. His numbers at West Michigan (A-) are very similar to what Maybin put up last season minus the home run total. Hernandez has a very impressive line of .300/.357/.378. He has 21 SB's to go along with a .735 OPS. Hernandez's big drawback is his apparent lack of power. He has one home run in 180 at-bats. With Hernandez being so young and being at such a low level in the minors, it's impossible to forecast how good he will end up being. I have him at #8 for a number of reasons. I think there is a significant drop-off after Raburn in terms of major league ready prospects (unless Tata returns to form quickly). Hernandez is five years younger than Jeff Larish who is at #7. Hernandez has fallen off a bit as of late but that isn’t out of the ordinary for a 19-year old.

9. Jordan Tata RHP AAA

9/20/1981 (16th round 2003)

Tata is one of the older prospects in the organization. He made the opening day roster last season and looked to be ready to contribute again in 2007. Unfortunately, Tata had a run-in with a scary shoulder situation that kept him out early in ’07. He has returned to pitch three scoreless innings. If he can pick off where he started in ’06, he may be an answer to Detroit’s bullpen issues. More realistically, Tata may have a good shot at making the team in ’08. His injury likely reduces his trade value significantly so the Tigers will probably move him to a relief role.

10. Virgil Vasquez RHP AAA

6/7/1982 (8th round 2003)

Vasquez’s MLB debut was a forgettable one as he struggled to throw strikes. He consistently left the ball up in the zone which resulted in a shellacking at the hands of the Twins. There have been worse pitching performances but not making it out of the third inning is hardly the way a prospects wants to make his first impression. The problem that I see with Vasquez is that he tops out at 91 MPH. You have to have impeccable control to get by with that in MLB. Oddly, Vasquez has actually racked up strikeouts at an extremely impressive rate in Toledo (AAA). His K/9 is an eye-popping 11.0 which is almost unfathomable for a pitcher throwing 91. He clearly knows how to pitch. I think his rough debut was more attributable to "nerves" than anything else. There isn't much room for even the best pitching prospects in the organization (Trahern, Jurrjens, De La Cruz) so Vasquez's future as a Tiger looks cloudy at best. If he can reel off another string of great performances in Toledo (AAA), the Tigers may be able to package him in a trade.

11. Yorman Bazardo RHP AAA

7/11/1984 (Traded for Jeff Frazier)

Considering Jeff Frazier wasn't anywhere near a top-ten Tigers prospect, I would have to say the Bazardo/Frazier trade has to go down as a steal for the Tigers. Neither player has produced anything at the big-league level yet so I don't want to get ahead of myself. It just looks like a favorable deal at this point. Admittedly, the favorable things about Bazardo have everything to do with his "potential" and nothing to do with what he has actually been able to accomplish in the minors. He has long been considered a very good prospect. He sports a mid-90's fastball and is still relatively young at 22. Unfortunately, there are some pieces that need to be put together for Bazardo to make in impact in Detroit. Baseball Prospectus had the following to say regarding Bazardo:

"Scouts love him for his mid-90s fastball and slider. The low strikeout rate (95 K in 154.3 IP in 2004 at Jupiter in A) is a definite concern, although it's mitigated by his great control (only 30 BB in those same 154.3 IP) and insanely low home-run rate (only 3 in 2004). The real concern is his arm; by no means has Bazardo been abused, but the attrition rate is high for guys this young and this advanced."

The "low strikeout rate" has followed him at every level of the minors. In 11 starts at Toledo (AAA) this year, Bazardo has a K/9 of 4.9. His "low home-run rate" has also held true as he has only given up one in 62 innings this season. His ERA is pretty good at 3.77 to go a long with a mediocre 1.35 WHIP. The good news here is that Bazardo is pitching well at AAA despite not having put it all together yet. Hopefully the light will turn on sometime soon.

12. Chris Cody LHP A-

1/7/1984 (8th round 2006)

Cody is one of the hottest pitchers in low A baseball. His season totals are in Pedro Martinez '00 territory. He has a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts. His WHIP is .93. His BAA is a paltry .213. His K/9 is 9.2. Cody was fantastic at Oneonta (A-) in '06 and had a stellar senior season at Manhattan. Cody is still a long way from dominating big-league caliber hitters but it's hard to dominate the minor leagues more convincingly than what Cody has done this season.

13. Ryan Roberson 1B A+

8/1/1983 (30th round 2005)

Roberson did not have a productive 2006 season in the Tigers minor league system. He spent time with the GCL Tigers, West Michigan, and Lakeland. His best OPS of the bunch was .610 at Lakeland. Suffice it to say, Roberson was nowhere on the radar entering this season. Roberson has started the '07 season with authority. He has 10 home runs to go along with a .925 OPS. Roberson put up big-time numbers in college so hopefully his monster ’07 campaign is a sign that he is starting to get comfortable with the increased level of play.

14. Ryan Strieby 1B A-

8/9/1985 (4th round 2006)

Larish, Roberson, and Strieby are in a three-man race to be the first basemen of the future in Detroit. Strieby had a monster senior year at the University of Kentucky in ‘06. His stat line looks made up: .343/.473/.704. His OPS was a Barry Bonds like 1.177. He is progressing nicely at West Michigan this season with a line of .291/.354/.471. If Strieby could hit slightly better against righties (.246), he would be unstoppable. He destroys lefties at an unbelievable .415/.500/.679. That equates to an OPS of 1.179. Unlike most of the prospects outside of the top-ten, Strieby actually might make it to Detroit some day. He is a big, powerful first basemen who doesn’t strike out nearly as much as Larish and Roberson.

15. Preston Larrison RHP AAA

11/19/1980 (2nd round 2001)

Larrison has been with the organization for quite some time. He recently made the move to the bullpen which should give him a realistic chance at making it to the majors with Detroit. He has been pretty good in that role with Toledo this year with a 3.14 ERA in almost 30 innings.

16. Lucas French LHP A

9/13/1985 (8th round 2004)

French is one of a few left-handers that are putting up very good numbers in the minors for the Tigers. He had a successful '06 campaign at West Michigan (A-) and has pitched even better at Lakeland (A) this season. He has posted a 2.77 ERA in 11 starts. Unfortunately, his BAA is pretty ugly at .277. He doesn't rack up a lot of strike outs as evidenced by his 5.1 K/9 at West Michigan (A-) last season and his slightly more impressive 6.6 K/9 at Lakeland this year. Left-handed pitching prospects get a few extra points since lefties are hot commodities in MLB. French has a long way to go before anyone should get excited but he is off to a decent start.

17. Brent Clevlen OF AAA

10/27/1983 (2nd round 2002)

Clevlen has all but worn out his welcome as a Tigers top prospect. In fact, I am pretty certain that the only reason people are high on Clevlen at all anymore has to do with how well he hit in his stint with the Tigers last season. Unfortunately, 39 at-bats do not make for a successful big league career. Clevlen hit .282 with the Tigers in that many at-bats but still has never hit above .230 beyond A ball. His OPS was .670 at Erie (AA) and only got worse this year at Toledo (AAA). Clevlen has lost virtually all his trade value as he is neither productive nor young. It is possible that he'll pull it together at some point but at this point I have to go by the history.

18. Michael Hernandez OF A

12/18/1983 (Undrafted FA)

Hernandez is teaming with Maybin to form a formidable one-two punch in Lakeland’s outfield. He is in the top ten in a number of offensive categories including RBI’s, OPS, and Slugging %. He can definitely rake. He isn’t exactly young for A ball. He'll likely start off at Erie (AA) next season at the age of 24. He struggles mightily against lefties going eight for 38 this season. His biggest obstacle will be finding a place in a crowded Detroit outfield. If he can hit at the same level at Erie next season, he will become a valuable commodity around MLB.

19. Brent Dlugach SS AA

3/3/1983 (6th round 2004)

Dlugach’s K/BB ratio is among the worst I've ever seen. In 2005, his ratio was 121/19. He was slightly better (or worse depending on how you look at it) in 2006 at 144/27. Dlugach does deserve credit for the year he is putting together at Erie (AA), though. While he is on pace for 142/34, he is hitting a respectable .292 with an .818 OPS. It's encouraging that Dlugach is having his best season in the minors in the most difficult league that he has played in. That could be a sign that he is starting to mature as a hitter. Regardless, Dlugach is the Tigers top shortstop prospect in the system right now. He is currently nursing an injury but should be back within the next month.

20. Tony Giarratano 2B AA

11/29/1982 (3rd round 2003)

Giarratano hasn't played in '07 because of a knee injury. He had a pretty good season at Erie in '06 hitting .283 with a .730 OPS. He hit zero home runs in 269 at-bats which suggests he might not be a power hitter (duh!). I have no idea how much his knee injury will effect his career. He should be returning sometime in the near future so it'll be interesting to see how he bounces back.

21. Kody Kirkland 3B AA

6/9/1983 (2003 Trade)

Kirkland is having a much better '07 season at Erie (AA) than his '06 campaign which isn’t saying much. Kirkland hit .217 with 157 K's and 26 walks in '06. That is eerily similar to Rob Deer's '93 season which, as you may have guessed, isn't good. Kirkland is the de facto top third base prospect as I type this. That should change fairly soon if Ron Bourquin can get things going. If Kirkland can duplicate his current numbers next season at AAA, he'll surely catch the eye of a scout or two. He does not factor into the Tigers future plans other than in a trade unless he makes a quantum leap in the next year or two.

22. James Skelton C

10/28/1985 (14th round 2004)

Skelton is the default top catching prospect in the organization. That’s good for Skelton but bad for the Tigers considering he is only at West Michigan (A) right now. He stands in at a whopping 165 lbs. So he has that going for him. He also has a .328 batting average going for him which is in the top ten of the Midwest League. I doubt Skelton will be the Tigers answer to Pudge's retirement but he is off to a respectable start in the organization.

23. Jon Connolly LHP AA

8/24/1983 (28th round 2001)

Connolly has had some stellar minor league seasons. He has also had a few terrible ones. He is the reason why nobody should get too excited about the Cody/French/Below trio just yet. In 2003 for West Michigan (A), Connolly went 16-3 with a 1.41 ERA. Four years later, he finds himself just one level up at Erie (AA). After a rough 2006 season at Erie, he has bounced back to pitch reasonably well. He doesn't strike out a lot of hitters but he is a lefty. That is probably his biggest asset at the moment. I suspect Connolly will be pitching in Toledo (AAA) in three years but hopefully I am wrong.

24. Burke Badenhop RHP A

2/8/1983 (19th round 2005)

Badenhop has pitched much better in the Tigers organization than his college numbers would have otherwise indicated. He had successful campaigns at Oneonta (A-) and West Michigan (A) before starting this season at Lakeland (A+). He is not a strikeout pitcher which leads me to believe that he may start to struggle once he gets to Erie (AA). Badenhop is 24 and has continued to progress through the minor league system. We'll know a little more about this guy next season but the clock is running.

25. Duane Below LHP A-

11/15/1985 (19th 2006)

I’m not sure what to make of Below’s impressive ’07 numbers. If it weren't for Cody, Below would be getting all of the press at West Michigan. Below has a 3.03 ERA in eleven starts. He also sports a very impressive 9+ K/9. Like Cody, Below was not a highly-rated draft pick. Both are members of Dave Dombrowski's 2006 draft class. Both are dominating the Midwest League. Both are lefties. Both are a long way from legitimacy but the Tigers couldn’t have asked for better starts.

26. Michael Hollimon SS AA

6/14/1982 (16th round 2005)

I have a feeling that Hollimon is destined to have a Ryan Raburn existence. Raburn is a 26-year old second basemen (also plays 3B and OF) who has hit well at every level in the minors. He has no immediate future in Detroit and Hollimon might not either. Hollimon has been impressive at every level he has played as well. With Carlos Guillen signed on for the foreseeable future, Hollimon is stuck in the minors.

27. Wilkin Ramirez OF A

10/25/1985 (Undrafted FA)

Baseball America named Ramirez "the best power hitter" in the Tigers organization back in 2006. That seems laughable now since he has 33 career minor league home runs in 1,191 at-bats or one homerun every 36 at-bats. Ramirez started off his career as a third basemen but a boatload of errors caused a switch to OF. He is once again struggling at the plate posting a .242 batting average and a .642 OPS at Lakeland (A) thus far. If there was ever a position that could have gotten Ramirez some more play as a top prospect, it would have been at third base. Unfortunately, Ramirez wasn't good enough defensively to stick with a position of need for the organization.

28. Brendan Wise RHP A+

1/9/1986 (8Rd. 2005)

Wise is one of the top bullpen prospects in the Tigers' system. He was pretty good in '06 at Oneonta and has been lights-out at Lakeland after getting a late start to the season. He is a pitcher that could fly up the prospect list in the next few months.

29. Ron Bourquin 3B A+

4/29/1985 (2nd round 2006)

There are high expectations for Bourquin in the organization. He was a very good player at Ohio St. which prompted the Tigers to select him in the second round of the 2006 draft. He didn't hit particularly well at Oneonta (A-) last season and he's having an abysmal season at Lakeland (A+) this year. He is currently hitting .192. It is very early to pass judgments on Bourquin. His numbers will undoubtedly get better. Only time will tell if they improve enough for him to become a legitimate answer at third base for the Tigers.

30. Brennan Boesch OF A

4/12/1985 (3rd round 2006)

Boesch was a third-round pick for the Tigers in '06. He had a respectable season at Oneonta hitting .292. He is struggling a bit at West Michigan this season. His K:BB ratio is 31-7. His OPS is under .700 and his OBP is .290. I suspect his numbers will gradually improve as the season moves along. It's way too early to know how good Boesch will be.

31. Scott Sizemore 2B/SS A

1/4/1985 (5th round 2006)

Sizemore is starting to come on a bit after a rough start. He was the best hitter at Oneonta last season but that hasn't translated to success at West Michigan. Like the rest of his '06 draft position-player counterparts, I think he'll start to get things going sooner than later.

32. Deik Scram OF A-

2/1/1984 (18th round 2006)

Scram was an 18th round pick out of Oklahoma St. in 2006. He put up decent numbers at OSU which makes his draft status peculiar. He is arguably the hottest hitting Tiger at any level in the minors right now. He is hitting .338 at West Michigan (A) with an OBP of .417. He is a bit on the older side but he's less than a year older than Boesch who went in the third round. Scram has had a much better start to his Tiger career than Boesch. Considering he was in college a year ago, one has to be impressed with what he has accomplished in less than a year in the minors.

33. Brett Jensen RHP A

11/29/1983 (14th round 2006)

Jensen is a huge right-hander with impressive numbers. He dominated the college baseball scene at the University of Nebraska and then did the same at low A ball at Oneonta. He is putting together a very good season at West Michigan (A). He has a 1.64 ERA with 10 saves in 22 innings. Jensen is on the older side so look for him to start making his way up the minor league system presuming he continues to pitch well. He could be a player that cracks the Detroit bullpen sometime down the road along with Wise.

34. Eddie Bonine RHP AA

6/6/1981 (Rule-5 from SD)

Bonine is a 26-year old right-hander at Erie (AA). He has pitched well at times but has been roughed up in his last two outings. He has a poor K/9 rate but combats that with a relatively low B/9. Bonine rates this low because of his age. He isn't likely to sniff the big leagues anytime soon. The best the Tigers could hope is for Bonine to reel off a string of good starts to increase his trade value.

35. Hayden Parrott 2B A-
11/1988 (11th round 2006)

Parrott destroyed rookie ball pitching last season. He hit an unbelievable .429 with a 1.075 OPS. The bad news is that Parrott only played in ten games. I'm not going to go crazy over 35 at-bats but those numbers are still very impressive. I'm guessing Parrott will start at Oneonta later in the year. I'll be interested in how he does against low A ball pitching.

36. Jonah Nickerson RHP A-

3/9/1985 (7th round 2006)

Nickerson was the hero of the 2006 College World Series. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and a two-time All-American pitcher. He started off pretty well at West Michigan but has struggled as of late. His ERA is 6.14 in 11 starts. The rest of his numbers are just as poor. I have a feeling that he'll end up being a Virgil Vasquez-type prospect where he comes on unexpectedly after a few years in the minors.

37. Matt Joyce OF AA

8/3/1984 (12th round 2005)

Joyce had a very productive '06 campaign at West Michigan. He had 86 RBI's in only 122 games. Interestingly, his other numbers weren't nearly as good. His OPS was only .750. He also only managed to hit 11 home runs which presents an almost unbelievable RBI to HR ratio of 7.8 to 1. Joyce is having an abysmal season at AA this season after skipping Lakeland entirely. With a lot of outfield prospects in the organization, Joyce could get lost in the shuffle if he continues to struggle.

38. Angel Castro RHP A

11/14/1982 (13th round 2006)

Castro was a pretty old pick in 2006. For comparison, Jeremy Bonderman is only two weeks older than Castro and this is Bondo's fifth season in MLB. Castro has been very good at West Michigan this season. He has a 2.02 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. His BAA is an amazing .217 especially considering his very low K/9 rate. I'm guessing Castro's age is helping him against the younger players in low A ball. It'll be interesting to see how he progresses at Lakeland and Erie.

39. Justin Justice OF A

2/19/1985 (31st round 2003)

Justice started off the season hitting well but has tailed off significantly. His numbers are not without a glaring problem; he is 1 for 25 against lefties this season. That won't get it done at the major league level let alone at AA. Still, he had a productive season at West Michigan last year and his OPS is still not terrible at .751 this season.

40. Joe Bowen C A-

9/25/1987 (12th round 2006)

Bowen received praise for his ability to call games last year with the GCL Tigers. His offensive numbers were not impressive. He is a player that could make a jump on the prospect list with a good season at Oneonta.

The following is a list of players that you may have heard of that didn’t make the list:

Jackson Melian—He has hit well at Erie this season but he would be the oldest player on the list by almost a year. If he can hit well at Toledo next season, then he could end up having a Marcus Thames-type existence. I don’t necessarily consider Melian a prospect considering he’s been in the minors for ten years.

Sendy Vasquez—He pitched well at West Michigan last season but got eaten up at Lakeland this year before being suspended for 50 games.

Clete Thomas—Thomas has struggled at each stop in the organization.

Kyle Sleeth—After hearing good things from Jim Leyland about Sleeth in Spring Training, he has continued to struggle in the minors.

Mike Hessman—Hessman has a whopping 16 home runs at Toledo. Unfortunately, he is 29-years old.

Roman Colon—Colon isn’t necessarily a prospect in my mind especially since he spent a good portion of ’05 and ’06 with the Tigers. He’ll be 28 in August.

Chris Shelton—I don’t consider Shelton a “prospect” anymore.

Zach Miner—See; Shelton

Friday, June 01, 2007

"That's what we do."

The Pistons are a good basketball team but they are nowhere near as good as they think they are. That inexplicable overconfidence is directly responsible for the quote in the post title. If the Pistons were in touch with reality, they would not need to “turn it on” in the face of so many compromising situations. They would simply play hard and win in the same way other good teams do it. Instead, we have the above quote and a 16-oz bottle of Pepto-Bismol to deal with.

The thing that keeps the above quote alive is the fact that the Pistons have often won in compromising positions. That seems to only bolster the validity of the quote in their minds. Playing uninspired basketball may be “what the Pistons do” but it is also the reason why the Pistons never won another NBA Championship after 2004. Expending so much energy on beating teams you should beat makes it almost impossible to contend with the teams that are your equal.

All frustrations aside, declaring the Pistons dead in this series would be ignoring “what the Pistons do.” Here is a reminder of the holes that the Pistons have weaseled their way out of in the last few years:

2003 Eastern Conference First Round vs. Orlando

Pistons fall behind 3-1 to Orlando before winning the last three games of the series.

2003 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. Philadelphia

Pistons jump out to a 2-0 series lead only to lose the next two to Philadelphia. The Pistons then win the next two games to close out the series.

2004 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. New Jersey

Pistons jump out to a 2-0 series lead only to lose the next three to New Jersey. The Pistons win at New Jersey in game six to force a game seven and a Pistons win.

2004 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Indiana

The Pistons jump out to a 2-1 series lead before losing game four to even the series at 2-2. The Pistons then win game five at Indiana and close out the series in six.

2005 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. Indiana

The Pistons fall behind 2-1 with home-court advantage. They then win games four and six at Indiana to close out the series.

2005 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Miami

The Pistons fall behind 3-2 to Miami before winning game six at home and game seven at Miami.

2006 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. Cleveland

The Pistons jump out to an early 2-0 series lead before dropping the next three games. Facing elimination, the Pistons win game six at Cleveland and close out the series at home in game seven.

Part of me is quietly hoping that Cleveland dispatches of the Pistons in game six so the overhaul can begin. The last three years have been a collection of sad tales involving the same theme: complacency. The sooner the front office moves on from 2004, the sooner the Pistons can get back to resembling that hard-working bunch that captivated Pistons fans five years ago. If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the history that I outlined above. The Pistons are in the same position they’ve been in time and time again. That is why I expect them to win game six at Cleveland. Fortunately, losing game six at Cleveland would not be such a bad thing in the long run. Either way, this act needs to end with the 2007 playoffs. I can’t handle another dead-end run.

Kobe and the Pistons need each other

The Pistons could make a run for Kobe Bryant if it turns out he is available. I don’t think Kobe even knows if he wants to be traded or not so this is 99/100th speculation. Let’s assume, though, that he does want out. Let’s also assume that the Pistons either lose to the Cavs (which they might) or to the Spurs (which they most definitely will). Joe Dumars cannot be happy with the consistently overconfident disposition of his basketball team. There hasn’t been a more underachieving or disinterested team in the NBA in perhaps the last 30 years. The Pistons are the only team that I have ever seen in professional sports that takes pride in not playing hard all the time. They have even developed a phrase for it: “that’s what we do.” The “doing” involves playing down to the level of competition and playing uninspired basketball for large chunks at a time. It’s the same story every series, every year. Despite the Pistons’ assurances otherwise, it didn’t take much to realize that the whole talk about everyone having a renewed hunger this season was garbage. The Pistons have been “fat cats” ever since they won the NBA Championship in ’04. Fans have started to grow tired of the act and I’m guessing Dumars has had enough of it as well.

I have long felt that Dumars has been too attached to his starting five. Those five players allow the Pistons to compete and survive economically, but they also represent to Dumars his craftsmanship as a GM. Giving up the “best starting five” in the NBA brings a level of uncertainty that probably makes Dumars uncomfortable. I have been a big proponent of trading Rip Hamilton in the past if it means bringing in a superstar. In all likelihood, Hamilton is the only player the Pistons could trade that would allow them to get fair value and remain competitive. No team would ever give up fair value for Rasheed Wallace. He is a problem that teams don’t want to deal with. Tayshaun Prince is grossly undervalued around the league. With his multi-dimensional attributes and favorable salary, trading Prince would be a bad move. He will never be a superstar but he is the perfect complimentary player. Trading Chauncey Billups would be a difficult loss to overcome in terms of remaining competitive. While he might be one of the biggest culprits in the Pistons lackadaisical approach, he is one of the top five point guards in the NBA—and these days, finding a championship-caliber point guard is almost as rare as finding a franchise-center. So, Hamilton is the guy that would need to get traded if the Pistons wanted to make a move. I actually think that Hamilton might be overvalued around the league which should help Dumars’ cause.

If the Pistons had Kobe Bryant right now instead of RIP, I think they would be dismantling Cleveland. Kobe’s disposition is the inverse of the Pistons’. He has been desperate to prove that he can win a championship without Shaq. He is as competitive as any player that I have ever seen. A Kobe/Pistons marriage would be a godsend for both. The Pistons would finally have a player that can create his own shot and Kobe would have a realistic shot at winning that coveted Shaq-less championship. For any of this to work Dumars would have to be willing to part with RIP, Antonio McDyess, Nazr Mohammed and two first-round picks in the ’07 draft at a minimum. I doubt that would get the deal done but it would at least get the Pistons in the same ballpark. Nazr will be tough to move with his lengthy contract but he may need to be thrown in to make the salaries work. It’s important to remember that NBA teams are at a tremendous disadvantage when they are forced to trade a discontent player. The Lakers got .15 cents on the dollar for Shaq because teams knew the Lakers needed to trade him. If Kobe continues to publicly demand a trade, the Lakers will once again be in the same position. There is no doubt in my mind that RIP, Nazr, Carlos Delfino and two first-round draft picks is every bit as good as the Caron Butler (before he was good), Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round pick-deal that the Lakers got for Shaq. Don’t be surprised if Kobe gets traded for less than you might think. Likewise, don’t be surprised if the Lakers ask for the world.

Adding Kobe would be fantastic. The problem would be the void that a $33 million backcourt would leave on the front court. Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, and McDyess will all be gone within two years at the most (unless Rasheed resigns for cheap). If you devote $20 million per year to Kobe and give $13 million per year to resign Billups, then where is the money going to come from for anything more than a weak front court? In three years, the Pistons would look like the current version of the Lakers. They would have Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince, and an aged Billups to go along with a roster full of youngsters. The Lakers don’t even want to be the Lakers right now so the Pistons becoming the Lakers is not appealing in the slightest.

Trading for Kobe isn’t guaranteed to be the correct move even if the Lakers are willing to deal him. If the Pistons have to give up both RIP and Prince—along with two first round draft picks—then I think that has to be a deal-breaker. I’m not concerned about RIP. Kobe would be a huge upgrade over him. The problem is giving up Prince. Prince’s value is difficult to define. He is an above-average offensive player in the post. He is an average three-point shooter. He is one of the best defenders in the league. He has the wingspan of a 7-footer at small forward which gives tremendous advantages for your defense. Most importantly, all of that comes at a resonable price. RIP and Prince are the two youngest members of an aging team. Giving up Prince would be a huge setback for the organization. He is not recognized as a superstar so his worth in a trade would be severely undervalued. I would not give up Amir Johnson in a package either. The only thing keeping the Pistons frontcourt in ’09 from looking hopeless is the fact that Amir Johnson is in the fold. Tying up $33 million per year in your starting backcourt without any bona fide frontcourt talent on the horizon will leave the Pistons in a bad way.

If the Lakers don’t want any part of the aforementioned deal (RIP, McDyess, Nazr, and two firsts) and it becomes apparent that Prince and/or Amir Johnson have to be included, the Pistons need to move on. Kobe or no Kobe, the Pistons need to make a big-time move in the off-season. This team has run its course. Bringing it back in tact for ’07-08 would be a waste of everyone’s time. The Pistons have the right package to lure a big-time player. It’s a matter of finding a team willing to take that package. A Rashard Lewis/Tayshaun Prince/Amir Johnson/Jason Maxiell foursome looks awfully appealing two years down the road. I think Lewis gives the Pistons a better chance of winning a Championship in the short-term (over RIP) as well.

There are plenty of deals out there. I suspect this year’s malaise may finally push Dumars over the edge. It’s easy to fall in love with the job that you’ve done but it’s getting to the point where the team’s attitude has to be too much for even Dumars. It has gotten to the point where a Tigers regular season game is my first option and a Pistons playoff game is a distant second just to avoid the frustration. Three years ago, I would have called that an act of a crazy man. Now, it is the only thing keeping me from going crazy.

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