Thursday, October 20, 2011

Here's to a baseball legend

I moved to Jacksonville, Florida in December of 1980, and almost 31 years later it's still my home.

One of the first things I remember about that first Jacksonville spring, in 1981, was the fact that I was living in a city with a professional baseball team.

The Jacksonville Suns have been a part of the Jacksonville community for a very long time, and pro baseball in the River City dates back to 1902.

The Suns have been run by the Bragan family for 26 years, and for 24 of those years the General Manager of the team has been Peter "Pedro" Bragan, Jr.

In 2012, season 27 will start with a brand new GM, as Pedro Bragan has stepped down as the teams GM.

The new GM will be Chris Peters, who has been with the Suns for four years, the last two, 2010 and 2011, as the assistant GM.

Pedro will remain on as the teams President.

The Bragan name and family have been around baseball for a very long time.

Bobby Bragan, Pedro's Uncle, played big league baseball for the Dodgers and Phillies, and later managed in the big leagues for the Braves, Indians, and Pirates.

Bobby's brother, Peter Bragan, is the owner of the Suns, and Pedro's father.

Pedro and the Bragan's have meant a lot to the City of Jacksonville in their time here, and not just as the owners of the baseball team.

The Suns are always active in the community, including a tradition that represents the soul of the Suns.

Every school year Pedro Bragan goes to local Jacksonville schools, wearing a Suns uniform, and recites the famous baseball poem "Casey at the Bat."

Any student who learns the poem and can recite it back to Pedro earns a Suns baseball bat of fielding glove.

The Suns were playing in old Wolfson Park when I first moved here, and in 2003 the team moved into one of the best baseball parks you will ever visit.
The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville opened in 2003, and the Suns routinely lead the Southern League in attendance.

If you get to Jacksonville during the baseball season stop by and watch the Suns play.

While you're at it, look behind home plate, on the main concourse, and look for the Bragan family sitting together watching their baseball team.

You can't miss them, just look, or listen for the Bragan Bell, which goes off after every Suns HR or team win.
That bell has rang quite a bit over the past 26 years, including Back to Back Southern League Championships in 2009 and 2010.

Stop and say hello to the Bragans, you will not be disappointed.

Martinez, Kemp are my BBA Stan Musial MVPs

Stan, "The Man" Musial is one of the great ball players in baseball history.

Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals had 3,630 hits, 725 doubles, 475 home runs, 1951 RBI, 3 MVP Awards, 20 All-Star Game selections.

Musial is the namesake for the annual Baseball Bloggers Alliance MVP Award, handed out annually to the best player in the American and National Leagues.

As a member of the BBA, it is my honor and privilege to cast my ballot for the Stan Musial Award.

In the American League, there has been quite a bit of talk over the second half of the season about who should win the A.L. MVP.

The names of Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Elsbury, Jose Bautista, and Justin Verlander have been debated over and over again.

One name that hasn't been heard from much is Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers.

The DH/catcher for the Tigers is my choice for the American League BBA Willie Mays Award.

Martinez was the MVP of the Tigers offense this season, batting .330, with 12 home runs and 103 RBI.

Those numbers only begin to tell the story of why Martinez was my choice as the A.L. MVP.

The Tigers offense the last few years would get in trouble when their slugging first baseman, Cabrera, would get intenionally walked.

In the off season Tigers GM Dave Domrowski signed Martinez to a free agent contract, and manager Jim Leyland placed Martinez in the 5th spot in the Tigers batting order, giving Cabrera the protection he needed.

In 2011 Martinez led all A.L. batters in hitting with 2 strikes, at .299, and he hit .393 with runners in scoring position.

With runners on base with 2 outs Martinez hit a whopping .377.

Oh, and those walks to Cabrera?

After opposing teams walked the Tigers slugging first baseman, Martinez hit over .400, protecting Cabrera, getting on base, and allowing the players behind him in the order to hit without a lot of pressure on themselves, as they did in years past.

2nd place...Cabrera.

Cabrera played in 161 games, taking 1 day off for the birth of a his child.

The Tigers slugger hit .388 with runners in scoring position, 2nd to Martinez, and with 2 outs Cabrera hit .340.

Miguel Cabrera led the A.L. in hitting for 4 days this year, the last four, winning his first batting title(.344 avg.), belting 30 home runs, with 48 doubles, 105 RBI, 108 walks, and a .586 slugging percentage.

Cabrera and Martinez were simply the best back to back hitters in any line up in the A.L. in 2011.

3rd place...Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees.

Granderson had a huge year, belting 41 home runs, driving in a league leading 119 runs, and scoring a league leading 136 runs.

4th place. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

Joey Bats once again led all of baseball in home runs, with 43, and the slugging Jays right fielder also walked a 132 times, and had a  .608 slugging percentage, both of which were best in the big leagues.

5th place...Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers

There has been a lot of talk about Verlander winning the MVP Award, something last done by a starting pitcher in 1986, by the Red Sox Rogers Clemens.

The last pitcher to win the award was the A's Dennis Eckersley, who won the MVP as a closer.

If Verlander, who won 24 games and led all A.L. pitchers in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, had won his last start, getting him to the 25 win mark, I would probably have voted Verlander #1 on my ballot.

6th place...Robinson Cano, Yankees, .302, 28 HR, 118 RBI.
7th place...Jacoby Elsbury, Red Sox, .321, 32 HR, 121 RBI.
8th place ....Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox, .300, 31 HR, 105 RBI.
9th place...Adrian Gonzales, Red Sox, .338, 27 HR, 117 RBI.
10th place...Casey Kotchman, Tampa Bay Rays, .306, 10 HR, 48 RBI.

In the National League, my Willie Mays Award choice goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Kemp.

Kemp was the best all around player for most of the season in the National League, even though he and his club were immersed in turmoil with the off field problems of the Dodgers.

Kemp led the league with 39 home runs, 132 RBI, 115 runs scored, had a .586 slugging percentage(tied #1...Fielder), and was third in batting average, at .324.

Kemp 195 hits were 2nd in the N.L., and his on base percentage was .399, 4th in the league.

Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is my 2nd place pick,

Braun hit .332, finishing second(Reyes) in the league, and he hit 33 HR and drove in 111 runs, while scoring 109, second only to Kemp.

The Brewers won their first Division Title since 1982, and Braun was a big part of that win, teaming with slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to power the Milwaukee offense.

Fielder gets my 3rd place vote.

The son of former big leaguer "Big Daddy" Cecil Fielder, Prince smacked 38 home runs, and drove in 120 runs, 2nd to Kemp in both categories.

Fielder collected 36 doubles, and was 2nd in the N.L. in walks, 107, and on base percentage, .415(Votto).

4th place goes to Lance Berkman of the Cardinals.

From the start of the 2011 season Berkman was as good as any hitter in the N.L., solidifying the Cardinals line up, finishing with a .415  on base percentage, second best in the league,  while batting .301, with 31 HR and 94 RBI.

5th place goes to Berkman's teammate, Cards 1st Baseman Albert Pujols.

The future Hall of Famer was once again his usual dominate force, batting .299, bashing 37 HR(3rd in N.L.) and driving in 99 runs.

6th place...Jose Reyes, New York Mets, .337 batting average(#1 in N.L.), 101 runs scored, 31 doubles, 39 stolen bases.

7th place...Michael Morse, Washington Nationals, .303, 31 HR, 95 RBI.
8th place...Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, .253, 33 HR, 116 RBI.
9th place...Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds, .256, 32 HR, 97 RBI.
10th place...Clayton Kershaw, P, L.A. Dodgers, 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 248 K's.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Verlander, Kershaw are my Walter Johnson Award winners

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Association it is my duty and honor to vote on the BBA post season awards.

Today I am voting for the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander, and the Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, for the annual BBA Walter Johnson Award.

Walter Johnson was a fire balling right handed pitcher for the old Washington Senators, from 1907-1927, winning a remarkable 417 games, most ever for someone not named Cy Young.

In 1913 Johnson, known in big league history as the "Big Train," won 36 games, lost just 7, struck out 243 batters, and had a miniscule ERA of 1.14.

Johnson was inducted into the original 1936 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

My American League vote for this years BBA Walter Johnson Award is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Verlander, who would make Walter Johnson quite proud with his 100 MPH fastball, battled and blew away American League hitters with 250 strikeouts, the most in the big leagues this year.

Those strikeouts were part of Verlander's Pitching Triple Crown this year, as he led all A.L. pitchers in wins, with 24, 250 strikeouts, and ERA, at 2.40.

Verlander also led both A.L. and big league starters with 251 innings pitched, and in WHIP, at 0.92, and batters hit just .192 against him in 2011.

Verlander dominated baseball from early on in 2011, including throwing his second career no-hitter, on May 7th, at Toronto.

Verlander's  won 8 straight starts from May 24th through June 30th, then won 12 straight starts from July 21st through September 18th.

Verlanders LAST lost decision was on July 15th, at home to the Chicago White Sox.

James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays is my second choice.

Shields  was terrific in 2011, leading all of big league baseball with 11 complete games, and he won 16 games, struck out 225 batters, and had an ERA of 2.82

3rd place on my ballot goes to Jared Weaver of the Angels, who won 18 games, had a ERA of 2.41, and struck out 198 batters in 235 2/3 rds innings.

4th place...C.C. Sabathia, NYY Yankees, 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 230 K's.

5th place...C. J. Wilson, Texas Rangers...16-7, 2.94 ERA, 206 K's.

In the National League, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers receives my 1st place vote.

Kershaw was simply spectacular for a poor Dodgers team in 2011, winning 21 games(T-most in N.L.), and leading the Senior Circut with 248 strikeouts, a 2.28 ERA, best in all of big league baseball, and had a WHIP of 0.98.

In his last 10 starts for the Dodgers in 2011, Kershaw was 8-1, with a 1.38 ERA, and 71 K's.

My 2nd place vote goes to Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kennedy won 21 games for the N.L. Weat champions, who finished last just a year ago.

That worst to first change was due in large part to Kennedy, who became one of baseballs best starters, winning those 21 games, tying him with Kershaw as the N.L. leader.

Kennedy also struck out 198 batters, had an ERA of 2.88, and he lost just 4 games, fewest among the best of N.L. starters.

Roy Halladay get my 3rd place vote.

Halladay, the defending Cy Young Award winner, was 19-6, had a 2.35 ERA, and struck out 220 batters, with a 1.04 WHIP, and walked just 35 hitters all season.

4th place...Cliff Lee, Phillies, 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 238 K's.

5th place...Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves, 16-10, 3.22 ERA, 158 K's, 1.14 WHIP.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Passing 30,000

Just a quick note to all those who continue to read my blog.

We've now gone over 30,000 page views, and I just wanted to say thank you.

I don't write enough, I know, and I'm hoping that will change in the future.

I love baseball, especially my Detroit Tigers, and look forward to

keep writing about America's Game, the greatest sport ever invented.

Valverde, Kimbrell are my #1 relievers of 2011

Jose Valverde, the Detroit Tigers closer, is my choice for the Goose Gossage Award, handed out annually by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Valverde was 49-49 in save situations for the Tigers, who won their first division title in 24 years.

In 75 appearances Valverde struck out 69 batters in 72 1/3 rd innings, allowed just 52 hits in 72 innings, and held opponents to a .198 batting average.

My 2nd place vote goes to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, who saved 44 games for the Yankees, and in the process, became baseball's All-Time saves leader, with 603 saves.

In 3rd place is the Seattle Mariners Brandon League.

The Mariners were dreadful in 2011, winning just 67 games.

League recorded 37 saves, making him responsible for closing out well lover half of the Mariners wins.

Craig Kimbrell, the rookie closer for the Atlanta Braves, is my choice for the Goose Gossage Award in the National League.

Kimbrell, who also received my vote for the BBA Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Award, set the rookie saves record with 46 this year.

Kimbrell struck out an amazing 127 batters in his 77 innings of work this year, allowing just 48 base hits and a 178 opponents batting average.

The Milwaukee Brewers John Axford receives my 2nd place vote.

The Brewers closer saved 46 games, tying him with Kimbrell for most by a closer in the N.L.

Axford was a huge part of the Brewers winning their first division title since 1982, and he allowed just 57 hits in 73 1/3 rd innings, striking out 86 batters.

The stats between Kimbrell and Axford were pretty close, but I chose Kimbrell because of the 127 strikeouts, and  the fact that he was a rookie, and my rookie of the year.

My 3rd place vote in the N.L. goes to the Washington Nationals Drew Storen.

As the closer for the 3rd place Nationals team, Storen saved 43 games, struck out 74 in 75 1/3 rd innings, and held opponents to a .204 batting average.

The BBA will release the final votes and award the winning pitchers on Monday, October 17th.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My BBA Rookies of the Year

Mark Trombo of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves are my choices for the Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Award.

As a writer and member of  the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I have the honor and priviledge of voting on all post season awards for the BBA.

The Willie Mays Award will be announced by the BBA on October 13th.

American League

Mark Trombo, the Angels rookie first baseman, played in 149 games in 2011 for the Angels, and led all American League rookies with  29 homers and 87 runs batted in.

Trombo also played pretty well in the field, with a .993 fielding percentage for the 2nd place Angels.

My second place vote goes to the Yankees Ivan Nova, who was 16-4, with a 3.70 era in 28 games with A.L. East champion New York.

Eric Hosmer, the KC Royals fine rookie first baseman, receives my 3rd place vote.

Hosmer hit .293, with 27 homers and 78 rbi.

National League

Craig Kimbrell was brilliant closing out games for the Braves as a rookie, collecting a rookie record 46 saves.

Kimbrell struck out 127 batters in 77 innings of relief, allowing just 48 hits in 79 games.

The Phillies Vance Worley receives my 2nd place vote.

In 2011 Worley became a great surprise to an already great pitching staff in Philly, as the right hander won 11 games, had an era of 3.01, and struck out 119 batters.

My 3rd place vote goes to the Braves Freddie Freeman 

Freeman led N.L. rookies with 161 hits,  21 home runs(tied) and 76 rbi.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kirk Gibson is my National League Manager of the Year

Last year the Arizona Diamondbacks were 65-97, last in the N.L. West, a full 27 games behind the San Francisco Giants.

In 2008 they finished 70-92, again, last in the division.

This year the Diamondbacks finished first in the N.L.West, going 94-68, last place to first place, winning by eight games over the Giants, the defending World Series Champions.

Behind those 94 wins and division crown was Kirk Gibson, the former big league ball player and Diamondbacks manager, who instilled guts and determination to the Arizona club.

Gibson is my choice for the  Connie Mack Award, awarded by the Baseball Bloggers Association. 

Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers, receives my 2nd place vote, as he led the Brewers to the N.L. Central Division title, the Brewers first division title since 1982.

Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals is my choice for 3rd place.

LaRussa guided the Cards to the N.L. Wild Card spot in the 2011 playoffs, leading the team back from a 9 game deficit in early September.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Joe Maddon is my American League Manager of the year

This is the first of five post season awards that I will be voting on as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

The first BBA Award is the Connie Mack Award, given annually to the best manager in big league baseball, as voted by the BBA members.

This was a tough call for me, and it came down to the final day of the regular season.

In early September the Tampa Bay Rays were 9.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the Wild Card spot in the American League playoffs.

The Rays had basically played the entire season behind the Red Sox, and the A.L. East Division Champion New York Yankees.

The Rays lost several key players off their playoff team from a year ago, including LF Carl Crawford, who signed a huge free agent contract to play in Boston, 1B Carlos Pena(to the Cubs)and relievers Joaquin Benoit(to Detroit) and Rafael Soriano( to Yankees).

In addition, the Rays lost Manny Ramirez, who, in the first week of the season, was suspended 100 games by Major League Baseball, for violating the leagues substance abuse policy.
Ramirez, rather than sit 100 games, retired from baseball.

All along the Rays manager, Joe Maddon, kept the club scratching and clawing, and, led by a terrific starting pitching staff and timely hitting from nearly everyone on the bench, Maddon and the Rays caught the slumping BoSox, then passed Boston for the final playoff spot on the final day of the 2011 season.

Because of that final push, my vote for the Connie Mack Manager of the Year goes to Joe Maddon.

Maddon is very good on Twitter, and can be found here... @RaysJoeMaddon

Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers receives my second place vote.

Leyland guided the Tigers to their first ever A.L. Central Division title, the clubs first division crown since the Tigers won the A.L. East in 1987.

The Tigers, who were 81-81 in 2010, had a tremendous second half in 2011, winning 95 games, and winning the division by 15 games over 2nd place Cleveland.

Ron Washington, the manager of the Texas Rangers, receives my 3rd place vote.

Washington led the Rangers to their 2nd straight A.L. West crown, and the defending American League champions held off a strong push from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in September.

If the Rays had lost the Wild Card, and Boston had won, my ballot would have been...1. Leyland, 2. Maddon, 3. Washington.

Up next, my National League picks for the BBA Connie Mack Award