Monthly Archives: July 2012
By James O’Hara
These are my midseason MLB award picks and playoff picks at the midpoint of the MLB season. Let me hear what you think deserves them.
AL MVP and Rookie of the Year – Mike Trout
What can I say besides the fact that the kid is a beast with a slash line of .341/.397/.562. Doing all this at the age of only 20 and being the main catalyst behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim getting to one of the best first half records in baseball after a lousy start.
AL Cy Young – Justin Verlander
The Tigers are my second favorite team behind the Nats and I own a Verlander jersey so there is a bit of homerism in this pick. But his 2.58 ERA and 128 strikeouts in a league leading 132.2 innings is nothing but impressive. Not to mention his insane .95 WHIP.
NL MVP – Joey Votto
Votto is probably the best hitter in the game right now and he’s doing it for a Reds team that is just one game out of first and on top of the NL Wild Card race. His slash line of .348/.471/.617 is absurd even for a first baseman.
NL Cy Young – R.A. Dickey
This is a clear case of first half recognition over a prediction of who will probably win it at the end of the year. Dickey had an amazing first half throwing back to back one hitters and exciting baseball fans everywhere with his mysterious knuckler. The only question is if he can keep it up with a notoriously fickle pitch.
NL Rookie of the Year- Bryce Harper
If a rookie is doing something that Hall of Famers didn’t even do then it’s a pretty clear cut choice of who to pick. Harper’s .826 OPS if it holds would be the third highest by a nineteen year old since 1900 ahead of the likes of Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr. Pretty incredible.
Second Half Predictions
In the NL I have the division winners as the Nationals, Giants, and Reds in that seeding order. I love the Nats and Giants pitching and the Reds stars will carry them in a wild division. I think the two wild card winners will be the Cardinals and the Braves. The Dodgers and Pirates will be on the outside looking in as they are not yet ready for primetime. Look for all of these teams outside of possibly the Cardinals to be in playoff conversations for years to come.
In the AL I see the division winners as being the Rangers, Yankees, and White Sox again in seeding order. The Rangers and Yankees are the two best teams this year easily managing the few injuries they’ve had. While the White Sox have the most consistent production from their star players in the division. I’m going with the Angels and Rays to slot into the two wild card spots as both are simply more talented than their closest competitors.
Article By James O’Hara
Let me start this by saying I am neither a balk expert nor scholar. However I have been pitching since one is first allowed to in Little League all the way through High School which I believe gives me a good understanding of the balk. If you have any questions or believe I am incorrect please let me know in the comment section below.
Okay on to what many baseball fans consider the most confusing part of a baseball game. I have seen these frustrations whenever a game changing balk is called with many calling for the balk rule to be gotten rid of entirely. However the balk rule is perhaps one of the most important rules in the game of baseball as many actions baseball fans take for granted only occur because of the balk rule. Hits and base runners would become much more difficult to come by while leads and steals would be non-existent without the set of rules that comprise what a balk is.
So what exactly is a balk? Well the basic guideline is when a pitcher starts a typical pitching action but stops it before it has been completed. These actions are typically an easy way for a pitcher to deceive a base runner or hitter, but nowadays are more typically just mistakes made by the pitcher. For example Nationals fans will remember recently when pitcher Henry Rodriguez began to bring his hands together and then stopped causing a balk; there was no obvious deceit intended it was merely a mental mistake. However this guideline requires one to know what the typical pitching actions are, which not many outside of pitchers truly understand.
To start there are four positions a pitcher can be in: off the rubber, on the rubber, set, and in motion. Off the rubber is irrelevant to the balk rule as a pitcher is allowed to do whatever they want when not stepping on the rubber. On the rubber is an interesting position as it is a relatively free position while still having some balk opportunities; in the windup this position is just set. On the rubber is typically when the pitcher is looking in to get the signs from the catcher. If the pitcher is in the stretch then after leaning in to get the sign they must become set in the stance they are going to begin their motion from. Finally the pitcher is in motion either throwing a pitch or attempting a pickoff. In motion is probably where the most and most subjective balk calls come from as we will get to soon.
So now let’s break down the different parts of the balk rule by where they can occur in these four positions, excluding off the rubber as we have already stated it is not relevant.
On the Rubber: As mentioned above when the pitcher is in the windup there is only one on the rubber position so almost all of the relevant rules for the windup will be found in set. However one rule that applies to both the windup and stretch is that the pitcher is not allowed to step on the rubber without the baseball. The main rule here though is the transition from this position to the set position which must be done and once it is started cannot be stopped. The transition usually entails standing up straighter, moving legs closer together, and bringing the ball and glove together. However the only required part of this transition is bringing the ball and glove together. Another way, although highly unlikely, to draw a balk is to step off the rubber but not straight back, which is the only allowed way. The pitcher is also not allowed to drop the ball while on the rubber as this is seen as a way to trick the runner into taking off while the pitcher easily scoops up the ball and throws him out, however unlikely a scenario that is.
Set: In the set position the pitcher is only allowed to move their head, and usually their shoulders slightly, in order to look at a base runner. If the body moves outside of a regular pitching or pickoff motion then a balk is called. As mentioned above once a pitcher comes into a set position they cannot come out of it unless they step off the rubber with their back foot, or in the windup their non-lead foot. Also as stated as a pitcher comes set the ball and glove must come together, in addition they then must stay together at all times until the pitcher is in motion.
In Motion: As stated previously this position is where the most and most subjective balk calls will come from. Let’s start with an easy one, once a pitcher starts their motion they are not allowed to stop or pause during it, they must have one continuous motion. As Nationals fans will know there is a lot of leeway here as Chien-Ming Wang gets about as close as a pitcher can to pausing without doing so. Now to the tricky stuff, pickoff rules. First no pickoff attempts can be made from the windup without first stepping off the rubber. Now in the stretch if a pitcher steps, or turns and steps, directly at either first base or home plate without first taking his back foot off the rubber he must throw the ball towards that base. If he holds the ball or throws the ball in another direction a balk is called. Some leeway can be given by the ump if the ball appears to slip out of the pitchers hand. However if the pitcher steps towards second or third or first steps off and then steps towards a base he is not required to throw the ball. The most subjective rule though is the 45 degree rule, which almost always deals with left handers. As stated above if a player steps towards a bag he is committed to throwing to it, which means raising the leg straight up at a 45 degree angle to the base commits the pitcher to no base allowing him the freedom to still choose where to throw the baseball. Once this plane is broken though the pitcher is then committed to the bag he moved towards and if he throws it elsewhere it is a balk.
Finally there are a few balks that don’t fit into these categories. A catcher must be inside the catcher’s box at the time of a pitch’s release, a pitcher is not allowed to unnecessarily delay a game, the pitcher cannot deliver a pitch while facing away from the batter, and a pickoff throw to first must have a teammate in the vicinity of first base. These are mostly ones that very rarely occur and are given a large amount of leeway in enforcement.
The important thing to remember when it comes to the balk is that there are a lot of regulations regarding how to pitch so if you see something that looks out of the ordinary it is probably a balk. And that if a pitcher was allowed to do whatever they wanted the game of baseball as you know it would be completely different.
James is a student at Virginia Tech studying Computer Science and Math. Baseball is his favorite sport as he has been playing it since the age of three. However he has a passion for nearly every other sport one can imagine as well and this has led him to attempting to contribute to a sports blog despite average writing grades in school. He is the main person tweeting behind the name @nextyeardc and gets way too excited whenever he sees he has a new mention.
3 Things on San Francisco
The Nationals played some of the best baseball we’ve seen them play all year in a thoroughly entertaining 3-game demolition of the San Francisco Giants, formerly the No. 2 team in the N.L. Here are five things to take away from the sweep:
1. The Back End
The Nats beat a very good team with the back end of their rotation. The Giants have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball, but even their top three starters couldn’t hang with the Nats. The combination of Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, and another stellar series by the bullpen allowed the Nats to post a very respectable 3.66 ERA in the three games.
2. Hitting the Best
When the Nats plated 35 runs in four games at Coors Field, it was easy to suggest that the notoriously thin air of Colorado was to blame. Not so, apparently. The Nats scored 24 runs against the Giants – good for an even eight runs per game – something that just doesn’t happen. San Fran came in to the series with a 3.37 team ERA, and left with an ERA 15 points higher.
3. No Fluke
Perhaps the most amazing stat of the series? In the last 2 years, the Giants were 74-1 in games in which they led by three or more runs. The Nats somehow managed to grab two such wins in two nights, an accomplishment that speaks to something very important: we may be beyond the point where we simply think the Nats’ bats are hot. Perhaps it’s just the potential finally coming through.
3 Things on Colorado
1. Home Cookin’
The Nats entered Colorado a few weeks ago with a 2.95 team ERA. In the four games at Coors Field, that pristine ERA, which had been under 3.00 for 63 of 70 games, shot up to 3.11, thus proving that no pitching staff escapes Colorado with good stats. What does that mean for the Nats? It means they get to face the Rockies at home, where the pitching staff is decidedly better. Sweep?
2. The Matchups
There really isn’t much to say here, except this:
Strasburg (2.81) vs Pomeranz (3.72)
Gonzalez (3.01) vs Francis (5.16)
Zimmermann (2.70) vs Guthrie (6.28)
3. Heading to the break on fire.
If the Nats manage to sweep the Rockies, as they are entirely capable of doing, they will be riding a 7-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. Since you never know how a team will perform in the week or so after the break, going into the break with such confidence is critical. The Nats can’t get overconfident – falling in a series to the Rockies could be very detrimental to the rest of the season.
April 5, 2012 was a very important day for Washington Nationals’ shortstop Ian Desmond. The 26-year old holdover from the Montreal Expos (the only other National who can claim that distinction is Roger Bernadina) was stepping to the plate against the Chicago Cubs in the season opener of the 2012 campaign. For all intents and purposes, it was the beginning of the most pivotal season in Desmond’s career, one that would decide whether or not he would make a career as an everyday player in the major leagues.
2012 was deemed a make-or-break year for Desmond. In 2011 Desmond’s second full year of starting he regressed significantly and posted thoroughly unimpressive stats. His batting average went down almost 20 points and his defense, while slightly improved, was still a major question mark.
In that first game against the Cubs, the 330th game of his career, Desmond started his quest to silence the doubters by banging out three of Washington’s four total hits, and driving in a game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning. It was a resounding start to a year that has seen Desmond go from a potential replacement player to a National League All-Star, and arguably the most important player in the N.L.-leading Nationals’ lineup.
You can take any position you want to describe Desmond’s sudden rise. It could be his slightly altered batting stance. Or maybe it’s the immense amount of hard work he put in during the offseason. While it could be any combination of factors, one stands out above all – for the first time in his major league career, Ian Desmond is the most confident player on the field.
“He’s doing things we all know he’s capable of doing,” says Nats’ manager Davey Johnson. Desmond’s confidence spurs from Johnson’s refusal to keep the rocket-armed shortstop out of the lineup. Even when Desmond wasn’t hitting well near the end of March, Johnson stuck with him and the results have been superb.
Through 79 games, Desmond has already crushed his career high in home runs (14, vs 10 in 2010) and with 47 RBI is only two off the total he had all of last season. His 11 errors put him on pace for a career low in the department that Nats fans have been grumbling about for his entire career. Though his defense is not yet sterling, it is well beyond the point where fans cringed every time he fielded a routine ground ball.
Through all of his improvement, the most amazing thing about Desmond has been his ability to hit in the clutch. While Adam LaRoche was the backbone of a struggling offense in the first part of the year, Desmond’s clutch hitting has been there since the beginning – and it’s gotten so good that you hope Desmond is up at the plate in any clutch situation.
Desmond’s newfound clutch gene was never more prominently on display than on June 5 against the Mets. Washington found itself down by one run in each of Desmond’s final three plate appearances, and the young shortstop promptly drove in a game-tying run in every single at bat, including two in extra innings. Thanks to Desmond’s heroics, the Nats moved nine games over .500 with a 7-6, 12-inning victory.
Another stat that proves Desmond’s clutch factor is his ability to drive in runs with two outs. More than half of his RBI come in these situations – 25. Think about that. With two outs, there are only two ways to score the runner when contact is made: by error, or by a hit. That means that Ian Desmond gets hits with two outs, and he gets them a lot.
That screams clutch.
All the stats and the accolades can only say so much, though. The best way to see Ian Desmond’s improvement is to simply watch him. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s a seasoned veteran who has learned how to play ball. He’s become a feared hitter who can hit for average, power, and has speed on the base paths. He doesn’t walk much, but he can hit the gap with the best of them (3rd in the N.L. in doubles) and he’s slugging almost .500.
Say what you want about Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, or Bryce Harper – Ian Desmond is the Original National, and he’s finally showing that he can play with the big boys.