Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sleepers in Our Midst...

I’ve spent the last month mulling over an overload of stats of an inundated number of players that may or may not have an integral part towards their team’s success.  If you think about it, the  teams in Major League Baseball that have spent the most on ‘premiere’ players, have not received their money’s worth for their  investment.  Out of the 10 teams who’ve competed in the World Series in the last 5 years, only 3 of those teams were in the top 5 of most money spent on player payroll. 70% of teams who’ve appeared in our celebrated Fall Classic had spent less on payroll than teams expected to execute champagne showers and hoisting a pretty piece of hardware.  Standouts who have played above and beyond salary they were paid, above any written  stat, or pessimistic analysts, were St Louis Cardinals who won in 2006 (13th),  San Francisco Giants who won last year (10th), the Colorado Rockies who lost to Red Sox (2nd) with 16th highest salary, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who lost to the numero uno in salaries, Yankees, ranks 21st  in salary, and the  Texas Rangers who made it to play San Francisco last year has  one of the lowest salaries at 27th! On the flip side, there are those teams spending oodles on salary only to disappoint their fans (and themselves) perennially. The Chicago Cubs have the 3rd highest Salary. The last time the Cubbies appeared in a World Series was 1945, and the last time they won? 102 years ago in 1908! The New York Mets have the 5th highest Salary and have chocked their way out of postseason appearances in 3 of the last 5 years; the other two years, they weren’t even close! Adding insult to injury, the owners are mixed in  with the Bernie Madoff Ponzie mess, and now prosecutors want their profit!
Unsuspected teams, such as Tampa Bay, Colorado, and San Francisco made it to the postseason playing with heart and understood supporting one another towards their common goal and desire of winning a ring! Somewhere between mad skills, instincts, clubhouse chemistry, and magical managing maneuvers, a ‘good’ team can combine their talents to become ‘great’. A team with a manager who knows his players, knows their strengths, knows their weaknesses, knows their opponents, can skillfully hide flaws and expose the opposition’s weakness. Mastering the perfect blend between production, management, and execution creates a championship recipe. No one general manager  knows the ‘winning’  mixture  better than Billy Bean.  Billy Bean’s formula for success, written in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moneyball),  revolutionized scouting and player evaluation based on OBP,OPS, and Slugging as better predicting VORP than traditional stats of BA, SB, and RBIs.  Billy Bean has done for baseball what Bill Walsh brought to West Coast Offense in NFL.  In the last 10  years, the Oakland Athletics have made the playoffs 5 times,  with their best showing in 2006 where they lost to  Detroit Tigers who eventually went on to lose themselves in the World Series to St. Louis Cardinals (whose player salary payroll was 13th highest versus Tigers being 6th highest). After sitting on the sidelines and watching the team across the Bay win their first World Series Championship as San Francisco Giants, may have lit a fire under Billy Bean.  The Oakland Athletics had one of the most active off season acquisitions and signings, in hopes of filling holes for a 2011 postseason run. The Athletics ran out of gas at then end of 2010 Season. At one point with a little over 2 weeks to play, Oakland climbed within a few games behind Texas Rangers, before fading in to the background.  Although Texas Rangers have come out of the shoots rearing to the front of the AL West, Oakland has shown up with a great Starting pitching rotation, improved bull pen and improvement in their offensive lineup. Don’t be surprised if you see Billy’s boys back in the postseason with the 28th highest payroll (I would say a good investment!).

If you move up the MLB Salary list, you quickly run into the team in 17th that has been in the cellar for almost 15 years. The Baltimore Orioles hired Buck Showalter for an ‘O’ clubhouse culture overhaul. Orioles ended up with best closing win-loss record in September last year, and has picked up where they left off over opening weekend.  Oriole’s main off season acquisition was Vladimir Guerrero. With a rejuvenated Buck Showalter and decent VORP potential of the Orioles 2011 Roster, don’t be surprised if you see birds chirping into October. 

Finally, I find myself actually miffed that I am placing the 2010 World Series Champions on this list. With the exception of a week of coverage  following their spectacular bid for an elusive World Series title, many media re-devoted their love  affair  with Philadelphia and Boston during Winter meetings.  Despite retaining our starting pitching (who beat Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt in the postseason), and improving our offense with players returning from injury, the San Francisco Giants were considered a ‘phenomenon’… ‘Lightning in a bottle’ as explanation of their success. No  mention of  clubhouse chemistry… Nothing about effective pitching… Nothing about a shutdown bullpen… and absolutely nothing about the managerial mastery of Bruce Bochy who knew the opponent so well, he knew what matchups to play! The Dodgers owner are going through a humiliating and public divorce, as well as a top player expressed dissatisfaction the day before the season began (http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/mlb/news/story?id=6274920),  making it uneasy in the long term for those in Dodger blue. Colorado Rockies compete well every year, and will be the toughest competition for San Francisco. They have one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, Ubaldo Jimenez, as well as a front runner for NL MLB, in Carlos Gonzales. Speaking of NL MVP frontrunner, Buster Posey has officially started a full season with the Giants, and I see this kid getting stronger. When Willie Mays admires your ‘baseball smarts’, everyone should pay attention.  I don’t see how baseball legends Hank Aaron and Pete Rose can be that far off from their Hall of Fame observations.  The combination of San Francisco’s starting pitching, solid bullpen, and improved lineup should be key in their quest to repeat in 2011! Don’t count out the Black and Orange to take the NL West!

And now… for a little  laughter-  SF Giants fans were  witness to seeing our beloved Aubrey Huff get a bit roughed up playing   in  right field while Cody Ross is out on DL15. Well, Len Berman shared a ‘Spanning the World’ clip last Friday of  a cheese rolling race down a crazy muddied mogul hill somewhere in UK that will make Aubrey feel a bit better, and maybe making him wince at the same time!