They’re Young and Talented

James Shields anchored the Rays’ pitching staff by leading the MLB in 2011 in complete games. | Photobucket.com/holymarble

Intimidating and charming. Fun-loving killers. The Rays 2012 rotation is nasty and people are starting to take notice. “If you thought they were good last year, then watch out,” writes ESPN writer Jayson Stark. “Now that you’re looking at it without bias,” said former Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times, “my goodness, they’ve done some tremendous things.”

Things are looking up around the Rays clubhouse these days. Gone are the nights of Victor Zambrano and Steve Trachsel. Bye-bye Dewon Brazelton, hello David Price. It was nice knowing you Casey Fossum, but it’s Matt Moore time.

At this point, there’s really no question; this is the best starting pitching Tampa Bay has ever seen. Here’s a quick refresher course on the five Rays starters as the season is beginning to build some momentum.

James Shields: Mr. High-roller. On a team perennially strapped for cash, Shields is the highest paid player on the roster. Raking in $8 million (almost double the salary of Evan Longoria,) the Rays expect Shield to make a difference from Opening day through October. The talent isn’t really Shields’ main draw: it’s the consistency. This is a pitcher who hasn’t thrown less than 200 innings in a season since 2006. That means going five innings even on a bad day, it means staying off the disabled list, it means carrying the team from game one through game 162.

Shields’ key pitch is his change-up. As a pitcher who sits in the low-90s with his fastball, Shields relies on deceptiveness from the rest of his repertoire to put hitters away. That’s where his “half-circle” change-up comes in. Having developed the grip of the pitch in 2004, Shields has tweaked it to become one of one of the most unique and untouchable pitches in baseball. In 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Shields threw off-speed pitches to hitters in two-strike counts 77 percent of the time: 35 percent of swings on those pitches were swings and misses. Opposing hitters know what’s coming on 0-2 or 1-2. That doesn’t mean they can hit it.

David Price: Two season ago, David Price finished second-place in the A.L. Cy Young race. One season later, as his team’s record improved, he finished the year 12-13 with an ERA almost an entire run higher. What went wrong?

First off, it’s important to establish that although his large stats took a nose-dive, quite a few of his peripheral stats actually improved. He pitched 16 more innings in 2011 compare to the season before while striking out 30 more batters and walking 16 less. His WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) slightly improved as well.

How does all this add up to a losing record? Simple: The long bomb and some bad luck. Price gave up seven more homers than he did the previous year which will tack on runs to your average quite quickly. He also allowed an opponent’s batting average almost 10 points higher than he did the year before (but which was consistent with the rest of his career norms.)

Put simply, David Price is an elite pitcher with an electric fastball. 2010 might’ve been a career year for him: he may repeat it, he may not. But either way, with some run support, he is at the very least a 15-win pitcher.

The rest of this article can be found here as originally published in The Minaret Magazine.

Advertisements

This Diamond’s Lost its Luster

Although MLB attendance was respectable during the early part of the 2000s, it's been on a slow decline since the 2007 season. Whether this is a result of the economy, the steroid era, or an overall lack of interest in the sport is debatable, though either way, it doesn't bode well for America. | Christopherkh/Flickr.com

You should love baseball. You really should. And the fact that you don’t? Well it sucks for you and it sucks for our country.

I’ve been reading a lot of stories over the past year about TV ratings, attendance and overall interest in “America’s pastime.” (That I have to put that phrase in quotations makes me sick.) The bottom line is this: unarguably, baseball has been slacking. It’s not dying, but it isn’t thriving like it has for the past 100 years, either.

After 2001’s emotional World Series between the Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, which took place just over a month after Sept. 11, World Series viewership has been way down. The best TV results since came during Boston’s 2004 World Series victory when they averaged over 25 million viewers. Although this seems like a nice number, it pales in comparison to the monster popularity of the ‘70s and ‘80s when the Series was regularly averaging over 35 million TV viewers, according to the Baseball Almanac.

In terms of attendance, not only is baseball not as successful as other sports in pulling a live audience — this is based on stadium size alone, though the 162 game schedule versus other sports’ 16-game and 82-game schedule surely plays a factor in attendance density– but baseball’s attendance has been lacking even by its own standards. CBS Chicago released a report last fall, noting that the MLB was facing a fourth straight year of total attendance decline. In other words, since 2007, baseball attendance has been subtly dwindling every season since.

To me, this wouldn’t be such a problem if baseball’s beauty wasn’t being replaced by the odor-ridden, muscle-building concussion freak-show that is American football. Truly, I say this as a football fan. But mostly I say it as a fan of all sports: Give civility back. By making football the most popular sport in America, you took civility, stomped it and ran half the country’s virtues into the ground.

Again, to emphasize, I like football a lot. I like playing it and watching it and writing about it. But to stand by and watch while it murders baseball? Would you stand by and watch a good friend try to kill your mother?

According to a recent Harris Poll, also reported by CBS, in 2010 when 2,200 adults were asked what their favorite sport was, 31 percent chose football at first place and 17 percent chose baseball. In just a year, though, the divide gaped. In 2011, 36 percent chose football compared to 13 percent for baseball.

I see the appeal. Similar to the circus, our minds are stimulated by the possibility of injury: the big hits and the 350-pound mammoths. The strategy in football is in no way simple, blocking schemes, hitch-and-go routes and five step drops litter the sport. I would argue, though, that a reason it has overtaken baseball is a lower common denominator of fan interest and intelligence. To sit down and watch a baseball game and enjoy it, you have to have a basic understand of the rules: balls and strikes, stolen bases and fielding. If you sit just to watch them hit the ball far, it may be a long night.

In football, though, you can be base. This isn’t to say all football fans are base or even that most are, but an appeal over baseball is that you can be stupider. All you have to know is to run straight and stay on your feet. If you do that long enough, or you decide to kick the ball through some poles, you get points.

Whoever has more points wins in both sports, but the way you get those points is a bit more complex in baseball.

Baseball isn’t the only sport affected by our desire as a country to enjoy something while understanding as little about it as possible, though; lacrosse is surging in colleges and high schools (places of education) but it isn’t making much of a dent in the professional world. Cricket, a game enjoyed internationally, has never been embraced. Both games require some work to comprehend.

There is a scoring dilemma that has led people away from baseball that might be the most representational of our country’s biggest issue. For the record, bigger isn’t better. A common joke about low-scoring football games is that the scoreboard resembles a baseball final score, such as 7-0 or 10-6. Bobby might turn to his friend in the middle of his son’s football game which is tied 6-6 and remark, “Hey! I didn’t know I was coming to a baseball game today!”

This notion that football is more exciting because it’s a higher scoring game is a complete misconception. Every time someone scores in football, they’re rewarded with two, three, six or seven points. This system was created to differentiate which form of scoring should be most valuable to the final score, but it’s turned into a cheap complement of the sport. The bottom line is that in a 5-3 baseball game, eight people scored. In a 28-21 football game, there were seven scores (extra points notwithstanding.) We as a culture, though, have decided that bigger numbers mean better sports and more excitement, more glory. But really people, what’s wrong with 5-3? Why’s everything got to be so big?

The most disturbing topic about interest in baseball dwindling is that it’s the least racist sport. Though this is a huge, broad, charged statement, I honestly believe it.

The rest of this article can be found here as originally published in The Minaret Magazine.