News, Notes and Quotes (May 18, 2004)

I usually touch on just a few topics in these “News, Notes and Quotes” columns, but for some reason I’m feeling particularly manic today, so I’d like to hit on a whole bunch of stuff this time. What better way to do that than Larry King-style? Or should I say Larry … King … style …

… To steal a line from 50 Cent, I love Bill Simmons like a fat kid loves cake. I was way too excited when I heard that Simmons (aka ESPN.com’s “Sports Guy”) had left his writing gig at Jimmy Kimmel Live to focus full-time on his work for ESPN.com.

I’ve praised Simmons here and in other places plenty already, but I cannot stress enough how much I enjoy his writing. He is my favorite writer anywhere right now, and it’s not even particularly close. The fact that he is back writing columns full-time now (instead of whatever it is he did for Kimmel) is very exciting.

Two things from the past week or so provide examples of Simmons’ greatness:

1) His “Suddenly Feeling Sleepy” column about Sleepy Floyd’s heroics in the 1987 NBA playoffs. It was Simmons at his best, taking a subject most would not be interested in (Sleepy Floyd?!) and turning it into an interesting, informative, humorous piece of writing. The key, as with all Simmons’ stuff, is his humor and his passion for the subject.

2) He did the unthinkable yesterday. While doing a back-and-forth blog-type thing about the NBA playoffs, he made Ralph Wiley seem almost likeable. I know, shocked the hell out of me too. I still found Wiley to be largely an insufferable blowhard, but I also enjoyed some of his stuff (in-between all of the weird name-dropping that he was doing).

Every ounce of likeability that Wiley had was all because of Simmons, of course. Much like his idol, Larry “Basketball Jesus” Bird, Simmons has the ability to make those around him better. And we’re not talking making Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting look good, we’re talking making Ralph Wiley look good.

Of course, while chatting with Simmons, Riley did include the following entries in his “Top 10 Hottest Honeys” list, so he can’t be all bad:

1. Jessica Alba
2. Jessica Alba in a wheelchair
5. Scarlett Johansson (If I can get the image of a lurking, hangdog Bill Murray licking his wounds out of my head.)
8. Any 18-year-old future female offspring of Jessica Alba

Long-time readers of my blog will recognize the accuracy of numbers 1, 2 and 8, and anyone who read this column of mine from the very early days of THT will see the brilliance of #5.

… For some reason I was checking out Eddie Murray’s page over at Baseball-Reference.com the other day and I noticed an amazing thing. Look at his OPS+ numbers from 1981-1984:

YEAR   OPS+
1981   156
1982   156
1983   156
1984   156

He ranked 3rd, 2nd, 2nd and 2nd in the league in OPS+ those years, and finished 5th, 2nd, 2nd and 4th in the MVP voting.

Murray played four years before that stretch and 13 years after it, but only once in those 17 seasons did he have an OPS+ in the 150s again (159 in 1990). That was also the only year in which he had a higher OPS+ than 156.

… Yes, he’s got a career ERA of 5.14 and, yes, his ERA with the Dodgers this year is 5.88, but has everyone seen the woman Jose Lima is married to? If not, hide the women and children and click on this (completely safe for work) link from MLB.com:

Mrs. Jose Lima

Isn’t baseball a wonderful thing? And who needs gravity, really?

… While everyone keeps trying to figure out what unique and inventive things the Colorado Rockies can do to win games despite their home ballpark (I hope your sarcasm meter just went crazy), did anyone see their lineup from yesterday?

2B Denny Hocking
SS Royce Clayton
1B Todd Helton
3B Vinny Castilla
CF Jeromy Burnitz
LF Matt Holliday
 C Todd Greene
RF Kit Pellow
 P Aaron Cook

That’s a lineup with like three major-league hitters in it, and that’s if you give everyone credit for fractions and add them all up. I know they have some injuries to deal with, but wow, that’s a bad lineup. They were held scoreless for six innings by Randy Wolf, but then exploded for five runs in the seventh and another two runs in the ninth. That’s the beauty of Coors Field, I guess.

By the way, in case you’re curious, I’m one of those stubborn guys who thinks the reason the Rockies haven’t won more is that their players haven’t been good enough.

… Has anything come crashing to a halt as fast as the Carlos Silva Bandwagon? Silva started the year 5-0 and every Twins fan I know was ready to induct him into the Hall of Fame. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney even penned a column about him entitled “Hidden Gem.”

Immediately after Olney’s piece ran, Silva gave up six runs in three innings against the White Sox, as the Twins lost a laugher 11-0. Silva is still 5-1, but his ERA is now 4.01 and opponents are hitting .302 off him for the year. In addition to establishing a Buster Olney Jinx, Silva’s bad outing gives us all (myself included) a reminder to never get that excited about a guy who has 20 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Silva’s performance this year and I said from the very beginning that the Silva-and-Nick Punto-for-Eric Milton‘s-bad-knee-and-contract trade was a beauty for the Twins, but it’s always nice to remember that it’s May and Carlos Silva is racking up strike outs slightly less often than Yours Truly on Ladies’ Night.

… From the “You know, injuries really suck” department, Toronto‘s top pitching prospect, Dustin McGowan, just had Tommy John surgery and will be out for the rest of this year and probably some of next season, and now J.D. Durbin, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, reportedly has a “slight labrum tear.”

As a Twins fan, this is like a slight kick in the you-know-whats. I was hoping Durbin would do a little Dontrelle Willis-type thing in the second-half and into the postseason, and I know Blue Jays fans were penciling McGowan in next to Doc Halladay for the next decade or so.

… Remember a couple weeks ago, when everyone was talking about how Oakland‘s run was coming to an end? Sure you do. They were 12-15 and had just blown two late-inning leads to the Yankees.

Oakland is now 20-17, they’ve won eight of their last 10, and they are just two games out a of a playoff spot. Slow and steady wins the race. All the Billy Beane-haters will have to wait a while longer to pounce.

… This has absolutely nothing to do with anything (which is why it fits perfectly with the rest of this column), but I finally did the math and I think it’s worth pointing out — from 2001 to the present (the Cristian Guzman/Luis Rivas Era), the Minnesota Twins have gotten the following production from their middle infielders:

.267 AVG / .307 OBP / .381 SLG

And some people have the nerve to wonder why I call them “The Keystone Chasm.” Yuck.

… You know when TV announcers are talking about a team’s offense? Why do they always give the team’s rank in batting average? I mean, I know I’m not the world’s biggest fan of using batting average, period, but it makes zero sense when you’re talking about the overall quality of a team’s offense.

When talking about a pitching staff, no one ever says, “The Yankees rank first in the AL in opponent’s batting average.” They use ERA, which is essentially the amount of runs a team allows. So why do people continue to use batting average instead of runs scored when talking about an offense?

I’ve heard this about a million times, but it particularly bugged me last night, when the Twins’ announcers said, “The Twins offense has been very good this year, ranking 6th in the AL in batting average.”

Meanwhile, they rank 9th in OPS and 9th in runs scored. So why would anyone use batting average?

Troy Glaus might be out for the year and that is certainly horrible news for the Angels. However, there is some good news for baseball fans, in that Glaus’ injury means Chone Figgins should continue to play regularly, even when some of Anaheim’s other walking-wounded return from the DL.

Figgins has long been a favorite of mine and he’s had a chance to show what he can do this year with the Angels. Subbing for all the injured players while playing third base, shortstop and center field, Figgins has hit .330/.376/.530 in 28 games.

There are a few things that make Figgins fun to watch. For one thing, he’s like 5’9″ and about 150 lbs. after having dinner at Mo Vaughn‘s house every night for a week. Also, as he’s shown this year, he can play all over the field. I don’t think he’s in danger of winning any Gold Gloves, but he can hold his own at any position aside from catcher.

In addition to that, he is one of the fastest players in all of baseball. So far this year, Figgins has a major-league-leading six triples in just 100 at-bats. For his career, he has 10 triples in 352 at-bats. He also has nine stolen bases this year and 24 for his career.

Over the course of a full season of everyday playing time, Figgins’ career numbers work out to about 15-20 triples and 35-45 stolen bases. Figgins put up similar numbers in the minors too. He had 15 triples in just 285 at-bats at Triple-A last season and 18 triples in 511 Triple-A at-bats in 2002. Overall, for his entire minor-league career, Figgins had about 15 triples per 600 at-bats.

So Glaus might be out, and that’s a big blow to the offense, but at least you get to watch Figgins run!

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