Sunday, January 20, 2008
This blog is primarily devoted to baseball but I wanted to take a moment to congratulate the New York Giants for earning a trip to the Super Bowl with their 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers. Hopefully the momentum they have built winning three road playoff games will carry them to another victory and a Super Bowl championship. I am not a New York Giants fan but their all out effort in their final regular season game against the New England Patriots earned my respect and made me fan.
I have always believed a team should give maximum effort to win the game every game. I understand the current conventional wisdom is to rest players for the playoffs but I have little respect for teams that take a game off to rest players for the playoffs. Tampa Bay's John Gruden took this approach heading into the Bucs' final game of the season. In an article in The Tampa Tribune Gruden's plan for Tampa Bay's final regular season game was to rest the starters, get the younger players experience, and begin preparation for the playoff game against the Giants. Losing the final regular season game was of no consequence to Gruden and the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, Gruden's approach has become an accepted practice in the NFL.
Heading into their December 29 game against the undefeated Patriots, the Giants were faced with a similar situation as Tampa Bay. The Giants had already clinched a playoff spot and knew they were going to play the next weekend in Tampa Bay. New York had nothing to gain by playing their starters and trying to win the game and the conventional wisdom was the Giants should do as the Buccaneers and rest their starters. Many experts believed the Giants would indeed take the game with New England off, rest their injured and banged up players, and being preparing for the playoffs.
But Giants' coach Tom Coughlin and many of the Giants key players did not approach the last game as a chance to rest. In an article at ESPN.com, Coughlin is quoted as saying, "Our objective is to win...that's what we work for, that's what we prepare for, that's what we practice for. And it will be no different this week." In the same article Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who was suffering with the lingering effects of a sprained ankle, made it clear how he believed the Giants should approach the final game of the season, "No one in here is screaming 'Let's rest,' I can tell you that...guys want to play. It's the last regular-season game and its at home. Guys won't want to sit down...Coach Coughlin said we're going to play to win the game. Whatever we have to do to do that, that's what we're going to do. No matter what it is, we're going to do it." Unlike the Buccaneers and other NFL teams, the Giants were going to go all out in their game with the Patriots.
The December 29 Giants-Patriots game was one of the best professional football games I have ever seen. There is no question the Patriots are one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport and they were playing to finish the regular season undefeated. The Giants were playing with pride to win a football game. In the end, the Patriots won and finished the regular season undefeated but the Giants came out of game with confidence, pride, and momentum. As the Patriots game progressed, Giants quarterback Eli Manning seemed to grow and mature into a solid NFL signal caller. The benefits the Giants gained by playing the Patriots game to win have carried them to three road playoff victories and the opportunity to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I firmly believe if the Giants had rested their starters against the Patriots, they would not be playing in the Super Bowl. I wonder if John Gruden has second thoughts about his approach to his final game of the regular season after his team lost to the Giants in the opening round.
It would be a wonderful ending for the Giants if they could beat the New England Patriots and win the world championship. But regardless of how the Super Bowl turns out, Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants deserve the admiration of every sports fan for respecting the true spirit of sport and competition by giving everything in their final regular season. I am now a Giants fan because they understand something that many teams in all sports have forgotten, there is no such thing as a meaningless game.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
According to Royals' manager Trey Hillman, John Buck will be the Royals starting catcher in 2008 with Miguel Olivo as the backup. I know many Royals fans are happy to have Miguel Olivo on the team because he is a solid defensive catcher and has some power at the plate. But I am concerned because if Buck goes into a slump at some point in the 2008 season, I am afraid that Hillman will turn to Olivo and give him regular playing time at Buck's expense. Even though playing Olivo over Buck might have some short term benefit for the Royals in 2008, it will be a significant set back in Dayton Moore's efforts to build the Royals into a contending team.
John Buck is currently under the Royals control for three more seasons while Miguel Olivo signed a one year contract this year with a mutual option for 2009. Since it is unlikely the mutual option will be exercised, Olivo will be a Royal for only one season. Given the lack of any real catching prospects in the Royals' system, it is imperative that John Buck continue to improve as a Major League hitter. This includes correcting the weaknesses in his hitting and battling through the slumps that all Major League hitters experience. John Buck is not going to improve sitting in the dugout watching Miguel Olivo play. I am hoping that Hillman and Dayton Moore will take the position that Buck is the Royals long term catcher and, unless Olivo proves himself to be better AND signs a multi-year extension, they will stick with him throughout the 2008 season.
How the Royals handle the catching situation in 2008 will go a long way to show if Moore is truly committed to building a competitive team from within the organization. For the Kansas City Royals, winning games in 2008 is not as important as continuing to build a team that will be able to contend down the road. As things stand now, John Buck could be a part of a contending team in 2009 or 2010 while it is very likely that Miguel Olivo will only be a Royal for one season. The Royals should allow Buck to play in 2008 and evaluate his future with the Royals at the conclusion of the season.
This spring in Arizona, one of the Angels position battles will be at catcher. During the 2007 season, both Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli served as the Angels number one catcher and each can make a strong case to be the Angels 2008 opening day backstop. Even though both players have proven they are capable Major League players, the Angels will be a better team in 2008 if Mike Napoli handles the majority of the catching duties.
There is no argument that Mike Napoli is a better hitter than Jeff Mathis. During the course of his big league careers, Napoli's has been a productive hitter. His .236 batting average leaves room for improvement but his .356 OBP and .450 SLG are very good and shows he produces when he is in the lineup. Jeff Mathis' career batting average is below the Mendoza Line at .197 and his .267 OBP and .336 SLG are weak. This is not to say that Mathis should be considered a defensive catcher that will never hit. I saw him play the majority of his AAA games in 2006 and he displayed the ability to produce at the plate and there is a chance he could develop into at least an average Major League hitter. But as things stand now, Mike Napoli is a positive in the Angels lineup while Mathis is a liability.
I saw most of the home games both Napoli and Mathis played in AAA and at the time my impression was both were very good catchers. My view of them has not changed since they have been promoted to the Angels. I will preface the comments I am about to write by stating I understand defensive statistics can be imperfect and misleading. Saying this, in his Major League career, Napoli has caught 1315 innings. During that time, he had a fielding percentage of .987, allowed 3 passed balls, thrown out 26.9% of the runners attempting to steal (32/119), and has a CERA (catcher's ERA) of 4.00. (Before people start emailing me I will let you know I am aware that CERA can be a misleading statistic. However, CERA does provide some reference to a pitching staff's performance when throwing to a certain catcher.)
Mathis has caught 605 innings. His career fielding percentage of .987 is identical to Napoli's. In more than half as few of innings Mathis has allowed 6 passed balls and has thrown out 17.5% of the runners attempting to steal (11/63). Mathis has a career CERA 4.28. I will say again that defensive statistics are not a complete picture but I was surprised that Napoli's statistics in several categories were better.
Mike Napoli has demonstrated he is capable of hitting 20+ homeruns, driving in runs, and creating runs by getting on base. This type of offensive production is needed in the Angels lineup. Adding his offensive production to his Major League level catching skills, Napoli becomes the clear choice to be the Angels #1 catcher in 2008.