Friday, March 27, 2009

NL West Preview

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks have all the makings of a good team. Unfortunately, they also have the question marks that keep them from looking like a great team. The D-back lineup is solid, with 20+ home run potential from 7 of the 8 positions. Big questions surround the ability of 2B import Felipe Lopez and center fielder (and long time prospect) Chris Young to get on base enough at the top of the lineup to yield RBI opportunities for the guys farther down. If Lopez struggles, look for displaced outfielder Eric Byrnes to reclaim the lead off spot and for Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy, Tony Clark and Mark Reynolds to rotate based on who's got the hot stick.

Arizona, like most teams in the offensively challenged NL west, has a better than average starting rotation. Returning 22 game winner, Brandon Webb is the reliable, dominant ace GMs dream of. For that matter, so is #2 Dan Haren. Doug Davis and Jon Garland aren't going to challenge for the NL Cy Young, but they should be effective (and reliable) enough to keep the D-backs in most games. Fireballing prospect Max Scherzer looks to make the transition from dominant reliever to #5 starter. If he's as good as a lot of people think he is, Arizona should have the most effective starting rotation in all of baseball.

Unfortunately, the Diamondback's mediocre bullpen will hold them back from being a truly elite team. Chad Qualls takes over as the closer, despite only 15 career saves. Tony Pena, Jon Rauch and Tom Gordon all have (or had, in Gordon's case) closers stuff, but have problems with consistency. And only having one left handed arm in Scott Schoeneweis should create situational problems for Arizona manager Bob Melvin late in games.

Projected record: 88-74

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies are not going to compete for an NL West title this year. Colorado's roster is filled with injury risks, unproven talent and players with diminishing skills, and even if everything pans out, I can't see the Rockies overthrowing the Diamondbacks or Dodgers at the top of the standings.

The Colorado lineup has question marks from top to bottom. Here's a few: "Can former part-timer Ryan Spilborghs be the table setter the Rockies need at the top of the lineup?", "Will Troy Tulowitzki regain the power stroke he had in 2007?", "Is Todd Helton finished?", "Will Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe be nearly as effective without Matt Holliday's bat in the lineup?", "Who the heck is Seth Smith?". So yeah, that's pretty much the entire lineup and it's really, really hard to see all those questions having happy answers for Rockies fans.

The pitching staff doesn't inspire much confidence either. The mediocre Aaron Cook draws the unfavorable draw of having to match up against Tim Lincecum, Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy and Chad Billingsley on a regular basis, so he can probably look forward to double digit loses in 2009. Ubaldo Jimenez is the future Rockies #1, but I'm not sure that he's going to be there this year. Jorge De La Rosa has a career ERA over 5.0 and Jason Marquis doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Lefty Greg Smith breezed through the minor leagues and showed a lot of promise as a rookie with Oakland in 2008, so Rockies fans shouldn't give up all hope (unless of course we are talking about the 2008 season, in which case, yes, it's appropriate to give up hope).

The Colorado bullpen looks to be the team's strong point, but, naturally, there are still questions. Huston Street can be dominant, but has issues staying healthy. Manny Corpas had a rough 2008, but has good stuff. The rest of the bullpen (Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and Alan Embree) isn't going to make a huge difference.

Projected Record: 68-94

Los Angeles Dodgers

The returning NL West Champion Dodgers look to be the class of the division again this season. While they lost veteran starting pitchers Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to free agency, they have an offense that should be ready to step up and carry the load. And when you talk about the Dodgers lineup, things definitely start with Manny Ramirez. After coming over from Boston, the future Hall of Famer lead LA to the postseason by hitting nearly .400 and smashing 17 dingers in only 187 ABs. Manny's effects were most pronounced on lefty Andre Ethier, who hit a ridiculous .462 hitting behind Ramirez for the final month of the season. Expect Ethier and other Dodger youngsters, James Loney and Matt Kemp, to continue to mature and to continue to reap the benefits of hitting around Ramirez. The top of the LA lineup is pretty potent as well, with Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson expected to be in the 1-2 spots. Health is the key with these two, but if they are playing, I could see them each crossing the plate more than 100 times in 2009.

If the Dodgers are to stumble in 2009, it's probably going to be because of their pitching staff. The starting rotation is lead by Chad Billingsley, a former first round pick who blossomed into a full fledged ace in 2008. If Billingsley cuts down on his walks and gets a few more runs of support, 2009 could be a 20 win season for him. Another former first round pick, 21 year old left-hander Clayton Kershaw, is being asked to take the number 2 spot in the rotation after an up and down first big league season. Expect more growing pains from Kershaw, but he should become more consistent. Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf are adequate end of the rotation starters and Joe Torre is definitely counting on them to take the ball every fifth day.

The LA bullpen also has a few holes. Jonathan Broxton takes over the closer's role and should rack up a bunch of saves if the rest of the bullpen can get to the ninth. Hong-Chih Kuo had an incredible 2008, posting an ERA of 2.14, but it's tough to see Kuo matching those numbers in 2009, since he had a career ERA over 4.0 prior to 2008. Journeyman Guillermo Mota is past his prime, while Eric Stults and James McDonald have only 101 combined innings between them. Dodger fans should probably stock up on the Pepto now, because they are going to have some dicey 7th and 8th innings.

Projected Record: 92-70

San Diego Padres

The Padres are probably the worst team in baseball. Yep, no sugar coating that. Their offense is made up of cast-offs (Jody Gerut, David Eckstein and Brian Giles, and, yes, those guys are expected to hit 1-2-3 for San Diego) and prospects that haven't panned out yet (Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley). Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best young hitters in baseball, but he just doesn't have enough help carrying the Padres weak lineup.

The San Diego starting rotation is top heavy. Ace Jake Peavy will turn 28 this year and is one of the most dominant starters in the big leagues. Chris Young was banged up in 2008, but his 2007 numbers are those of an elite starter. While Peavy and Young are a great start, unfortunately for the Padres, most MLB teams usually use a five man rotation. Cha Seung Baek is borderline awful, Shawn Hill was so bad and inconsistent that the Nationals chose not to keep him around and, yes, that's only four players. Kevin Correia may get a spot in the rotation, but who cares.

I could break down the bullpen, but it would really be a waste of everybody's time. Who cares how good or bad the Padres bullpen is when they only have two reliable starters and no offense? This team is on the fast track to 100 losses.

Projected Record: 60-102

San Francisco Giants

We here at Joe and Joe Sports pride ourselves in being impartial and fair, but,... aww hell, who am I kidding... TIM LINCECUM, TIM LINCECUM, TIM LINCECUM!!!!! Whew, now that I've got that out of my system, let's move on.

The Giants rotation, led by the aforementioned and 2008 Cy Young Award winning Lincecum, is unquestionably the strength of the 2009 squad. Lincecum is one of the elite young arms in the game and the scary part is that his 2008 splits indicate that he may have gotten even better as the year progressed (a tidy 1.07 WHIP after the All-Star break). 45 year old Randy Johnson slides into the number 2 spot in the rotation and, if he can give 20-25 starts, should give the Giants a great righty-lefty attack at the top of the rotation. The chronically unlucky Matt Cain (15-30 in the last 2 years despite an ERA around 3.7) and revived corpse of Barry Zito (seriously, his 2008 post All-Star break numbers were serviceable, maybe not for somebody making $20 mil a season, but serviceable nonetheless) give the Giants one of the deepest rotations in baseball. Youngster Jonathan Sanchez will give the Giants an all-or-nothing effort from the number five spot in the rotation.

However, the Giants lineup just isn't good enough for me to project them into the National League West pennant race. It's tough to get excited about guys with very little upside, like Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. These guys play hard and contribute, but it's hard to see them being much better than they were for the Giants in 2008 and that team lost 90 games. Fred Lewis and Pablo Sandoval give San Francisco fans hope for the future, but these two guys are probably a year or two away from the type of production the Giants need from them to be division contenders.

The bullpen looks like it could be a nice compliment to a solid starting rotation. Brian Wilson is the closer and, despite less than desire-able 2008 numbers, he was able to slam the door 41 out of 46 times, a ratio I have to imagine most MLB managers would accept. Former elite middle reliever Bobby Howry will be a big addition to the Giants bullpen if he still has anything left. Second year players Sergio Romo and Alex Hinshaw both look promising and could become the righty/lefty combo the Giants need.

Projected Record: 78-84

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Achievements Mentality

As these past few weeks have passed, I've kept an eye on Patrick's gamerscore, and frankly, it's been discouraging. He just keeps racking up achievements, while I pick up 10 or 20 here and there, but keep getting outdistanced. I'm not mad at him; we're both doing the same thing, trying to pick up points. But to maintain my mental health, it might be better for me to change my mentality with regards to the leaderboard.

First, I probably need to accept that I won't be catching Patrick. Patrick, you are a worthy adversary, and an achiever. That doesn't mean I'll stop chasing you, or stop trying to expand my fresh new lead on Marcus. But it'll be more of a point of interest than a goal.

Second, and both more interesting and more fun, I want to watch our leaderboard on www.mygamercard.net. You can see our leaderboard on the right side of this page; we've got 11 users and over 50,000 gamer points. I'd like to find other small groups like ourselves who have players of varying skills and playtime, and compete against them for leaderboard dominance. Our entire leaderboard can work together to accumulate points, both competing against the other leaderboards and against various milestones. We're currently just under 51,000 points; our next milestone can be 60,000. That would require less than 1,000 more points per user on average, and I know Patrick, Nick, and I will all be rolling forward at breakneck speeds.

I do have a personal goal as well: 10,000 points. It's still 2,645 points away, but it's within striking distance. The objective is to get to 10,000 by my birthday, August 1st.

Game on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

AL West Preview

Who starts with the American League West? It's got the fewest teams of any division in baseball, and very little of interest, right?

Wrong-o, you stupid idiot. What, it's not like you come to my blog to get complimented. Pick up your ego and let's have a look at this surprisingly interesting division.

#1 - Anaheim Angels
I'm aware that they're technically the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but give me a break. They're lucky I don't list them as the California Angels. In fact, you know what?

#1 - California Angels
Whatever name you want to call them, they're once again the class of the division. They won it last year by a staggering 21 games, wrapping up a playoff spot sometime in the late 80's. While I think the division will be more competitive this season, I still see the Angels coming through with the crown. They've still got the same solid starting rotation as last year, headed by John Lackey and Ervin Santana. The loss of Francisco Rodriguez in the bullpen will matter, but not as much as fans might think. The rest of the bullpen is still as good as any in baseball, and Brian Fuentes will pick up most of the slack in the closer role.

The hitting is a little suspect, but it was a little suspect last year until they acquired Mark Teixeira. Bobby Abreu gives them another .300-20-20 threat, and Mike Napoli flashed impressive power in limited action last season. Vladimir Guerrero isn't getting any younger, but he's still a dangerous hitter who somehow manages to hit .300 every year. Still, it'll be the pitching that carries the Angels back to the division title.

Projected record: 99-63

#2 - Oakland Athletics
Unlike my cousin, I've never been much of an A's fan. Their top players over the past few years have been guys I just can't get behind: Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, etc. But after reading Moneyball, I at least trust Billy Beane a little more.

Matt Holliday is a huge acquisition, and the return of Giambi should prove to be very good value. Had they stopped there, the A's would probably pick up 8-10 wins. But they also signed Orlando Cabrera, which should really help this offense. How does adding a .271 career hitter with unexceptional power figure to help this team? He replaces Bobby Crosby, one of the least productive players in baseball last year. The new players join a team that had just one player hit over .240 last year (among qualified leaders): catcher Kurt Suzuki at .279. Jack Cust led the team with 77 RBIs. And yet, even with this anemic offense, the team managed to win 75 games. The additions should put them into competition for the division.

The pitching staff is scary thin, without a single proven commodity in the rotation. Justin Duchscherer was phenomenal as a first time starter last year, but went down in mid-August and is no sure thing to hold up for an entire season. The rest of the rotation is unproven, with the projected 2, 3, and 4 starters owning just 80 career starts between them (Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, Dallas Braden). They do boast one of the more impressive one-two punches in their bullpen with Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, and free agent acquisition Russ Springer is a solid arm. The pitching won't be stellar, but if one or two of those youngsters can take the next step, it might be just good enough to scare some people.

Projected record: 90-72

#3 - Texas Rangers
Listen, you don't need me to tell you what the Rangers look like this year, because they look the same as they do every year. Strong hitting, weak pitching. Still, I'll give you a quick shakedown anyways.

Josh Hamilton was an MVP candidate last year, and had the Rangers been a better team, he might've been right there with Dustin Pedroia. Additionally, had Ian Kinsler stayed healthy all season, his numbers might have demanded that he be selected over Pedroia. All-Star shortstop Michael Young will likely shift over to third to make room for super prospect Elvis Andrus. Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Nelson Cruz make up the next wave of young players set to join Kinsler and Hamilton in what figures to once again be a very solid lineup, more than capable of taking advantage of their very favorable ballpark.

Of course, that means that a weak pitching staff will look even weaker. Kevin Millwood anchors a staff that doesn't have a single reason to be optimistic. Vicente Padilla was brought back, but a WHIP of 1.46 and 26 HR allowed makes you wonder why. Brandon McCarthy might end up harnessing some of his potential, but only if he can stay on the field. The bullpen features a first-time closer in Frank Francisco, who seems to have put his chair-throwing days behind him, and might just be a decent pitcher. The rest of the pen, however, is full of shattered dreams and broken promises.

I expect a similar finish to last year, hovering around .500, but the Rangers will be unable to make any real progress until they land some legitimate arms. Prospect Neftali Feliz could be a start.

Projected record: 82-80

#4 - Seattle Mariners
I know, I know, I told you the Mariners would be good last year. They duped me, duped me good. I learned my lesson a little bit, but I still don't think they'll be terrible.

Ichiro an exciting leadoff hitter, and Adrian Beltre and Jose Lopez make up a decent middle of the order. I'm not expecting much out of the returning Ken Griffey Jr., but as a #6 hitter, I'm okay with that. The real problem is that there isn't a lot on the horizon as far as hitters. They don't have anybody expected to be a new impact player this season. The closest is Jeff Clement, who probably won't have to do a whole lot to wrest the starting catcher job from Kenji Johjima. But outside of an explosion by Clement, there aren't a lot of reasons for optimism on the offense.

The pitching isn't bad, though. Felix Hernandez is a front-end starter, and it was only a year ago that Erik Bedard had 11 strikeouts per 9 innings and was the next big thing. Youngsters Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith (the first ever MLB player with a hyphenated name), with modest progression, could give the Mariners one of the deeper rotations in the American League. And if they do progress, I like Jarrod Washburn a whole lot more as a #5 starter than a #3 starter.

The bullpen, however, is a bonafide disaster. The departure of J.J. Putz via trade left, swear to god, Arthur Rhodes as the most reliable reliever on the team. That's right, the perennial fantasy punchline was the best Seattle can march out there. And then Seattle let him depart via free agency for Cincinnati. As of now, Roy Corcoran might close, but so might Miguel Batista, Mark Lowe, or Danny from the local VA. Good luck figuring out that mess, fantasy owners.

Projected record: 71-91

Wrap-Up
The AL West may be another year away from really being competitive. But there's no guarantee that this isn't the year that Vlad takes a step back, or the year those A's pitchers take a step forward. And in baseball, just a couple little swings like that and we've got ourselves a race. I think watching this division might end up being a lot more fun than most expect.

Anyone Else Miss The Old Tournament?

Remember back in the day, when there were superstar juniors and seniors in the NCAA tournament? Just a few years back in 2002 when Maryland won the title, their team featured a starting lineup with three seniors (Juan Dixon, Byron Mouton, Lonny Baxter), one junior (Steve Blake), and one sophomore (Chris Wilcox). Even in 2005, the North Carolina Tar Heels had two seniors and (Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams) and three juniors (Ray Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May) as their starters.

But the past few years have been most notable by the fact that the best players in college basketball stay for a single season and then go pro. We all understand the reasoning: money. And I don't think many of us are mad at the kids themselves for wanting to get paid to ply their craft; we're just mad that college basketball doesn't feature the long-term superstars these days. Tyler Hansbrough gets made fun of constantly, because he's stayed at North Carolina for four years. The talk is that he's "not good enough" to go pro, and the NBA draft preview sites concur.

Here's one more draft projection, and this is the one I want you to look at. When I was browsing around to see who my lowly Wizards might take in this year's NBA draft, a piece of data on here stood out to me. I think it might actually be the key to encouraging college players to stay in college. Can you spot it?

Stay tuned, I'll post my idea at the end of the tournament.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Madness

I'm not talking about a semi-permanent, severe mental disorder typically stemming from a form of mental illness (thanks Wikipedia). Nor am I talking about the British ska band made famous for "Our House."

No, I'm talking about the fanaticism that captures the nation this time of year: March Madness. There are a hundred different ways I can approach this topic. I'm not going to go into any of them. Listen, the reality is that I don't know a whole lot about college basketball, and I know less now than I've known in the past. The best players only stay for a year or two, which means that some of the lesser-known schools with senior leaders have a greater opportunity for success than in the 80s and 90s (see George Mason from a couple years ago). The moving on of the most talented players means I pay less attention, because the rewards only exist for a couple months, then they're riding the pine in the NBA, and I'm back to knowing nothing about the players on Texas or UConn.

What I am is a casual fan of college basketball who loves tournament time. I love the "underdog," as do most Americans, and the great stories like Davidson last year are what make watching the tournament so exciting. The possibility that a 10 seed from a no-name conference can rumble to the round of eight is a great, great thing. One of the amazing things about most of the first round matchups involving 1-4 seeds is that almost every neutral party in the arena or at a bar will be rooting like crazy for the 13-16 seeds. As a country, we root for Hickory High School. We root for Rudy (even those of us who wish Notre Dame would implode). The NCAA Tournament gives Americans twenty or thirty chances to root for underdogs.

Well, except for this season. This season, 30 of the 34 at-large bids went to teams from power conferences (also known as BCS conferences). Four teams from mid-major and small conferences were invited as at-large teams, down from six in each of the two previous years. The selection committee chose Arizona over Saint Mary's, which seems to be the most derided choice this season. I don't know enough about either team to say which is the better squad, though my guess would be Arizona. But I don't (and can't) know that for sure. All I know is that I have a lot tougher time seeing #12 seeds Wisconsin or Arizona as Hickory High than I would have with Saint Mary's or San Diego State. And that makes the tournament less fun to watch, which is all I care about. Thanks a lot, committee.

Don't forget, you can go here to see how Joe and Joe picked and how we're doing when compared with fans of Joe and Joe Sports.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Joe and Joe Sports NCAA Tournament Bracket

Like most sports fans, we find the NCAA Men's college basketball tournament to be an exciting time of the year. The best part of the tournament is filling out a bracket and, as a result, caring about every single game in the tournament. Sure, you'll still cheer for 16th seeds to pull off the greatest upset in tournament history, but if you've got UNC winning it all, you'll (perhaps secretly) be pulling for them nearly every round.

The unofficially official Joe and Joe Sports tournament bracket is accessible here, on ESPN.com. Join up and compare your choices with ours. Any ideas for what we should give the winner of our bracket? Post them in the comments.

Please note: cash is not an option. We're broke.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Draft Review & Projections

Last year, I went round-by-round and made commentary on our keeper baseball draft. Will I do it again? For now, I say no; you can only hear about how you were wrong about Jermaine Dye so many times before you decide not to talk about it anymore. I will, however, give you the empirical projections I've created each of the past few years to determine how each team should pan out as far as overall statistics.

This year's overall projections are here, and along with the raw stats, I've taken that extra step and figured out the final standings according to those projections. As always, take these projections with a grain of salt. I projected the Enforcers to finish somewhere around 8th last season, and they ended up winning it all. And I've still not figured out exactly how to work with the fact that starting pitchers get rotated in and out and will often be benched for several starts during the season.

I'll keep at it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Way to Go, February! (and a deal on Xbox 360s and PS3s)

What was so great about February, you ask? Well, February was the most prolific month in The Housington Blog's history, a daunting eleven posts spanning twenty-eight days. That's less than three days per post, a far better rate than I've ever attained.

The most important part of this accomplishment is that it was achieved with only a minimal contribution of "bogus" posts. Between the Disney World trip, the Rock Band RPG, and my article about driving, I actually posted my own ideas and experiences. Sure, only two people actually read the blog, but I'm headed in the right direction.

I'm hoping to continue to write about my own thoughts at a decent rate, but I'm still going to post any particularly good deals or coupons that I find. For example, if you use coupon code Z0WPL1J0CC3W47 on www.dell.com, you can take 20% off of many pieces of gaming hardware. The coupon is valid through Thursday, March 26th. You can get a 60GB Xbox 360 Pro for $239.20, or an 80 GB PS3 for $320. Plus, you'll get free shipping. Enjoy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

World Baseball Classic - A Quick Reason to Care and a Long Reason Not to.

Well, its baseball... and if that's not reason enough to watch before the Major League Baseball Season starts, then I don't know what is. It does give a chance for MLB fans to see their teams' players play some sort of competitive ball before the season starts, and it also helps fantasy players gauge and scout ballplayers.

What's wrong with it? Well, its a glorified All-Star game, pitch counts, mercy rules, and all; which for being an MLB fan, it means very little. However, I've got a bigger gripe here with a player that we have recently heard all too much about... Alex Rodriguez. Its really not his fault this time, but I really wish the World Baseball Classic would get a hold on this. Some of this is my fault for being lazy with my research, but after about an hour or so of digging, I have yet to come up with rules that would apply. Here's what I have been trying to find out: what are the rules regarding a player and who they play for? Here's what I found so far. Great, but I want more. A-Rod played with the USA team in 2006 and will be playing with the Dominican Republic team in 2009. Honestly, I don't care which team he plays for, but I feel like once you have chosen a national team to play for, you shouldn't be able to switch at your leisure.

I attempted to quickly dig up some information about the Olympics with little success, however, being the soccer fan that I am, I was able to dig up an interesting tid-bit about international soccer. With international soccer, you can play for any national team for which you have citizenship, however, once you have played for one national team, you can no longer play for any other national team. A rule that I have recently come to appreciate and that the WBC should look into possibly enforcing. FIFA is researching their definition of "nationality" in this circular, because it appears that once a non-naturalized citizen no longer becomes a permanent resident of that country the rules are hazy about playing for national teams (another blog for another time, if ever), but it does give you a good idea about how they define "nationality."

Regardless, if the World Baseball Classic doesn't solidify their definition for "nationality" and continues to let dual nationality players jump from national team to national team, I am afraid that the competition is not going to be seen as anything more than just a joke, which some might argue it already is. Even more so, I am surprised Team USA and/or American media is not giving Alex Rodriguez as much heat about playing with them as they did for the last WBC. If it was such an outrage before, why not so much now? Despite the steroid admission, he is still one of, if not the best player in baseball.

With all that in mind, I feel like I have wasted enough time on the World Baseball Classic, jokes and all.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...