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Tarnished Todd

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Tarnished Todd

Posted on 19 February 2013 by Chris Caylor

Pro athletes can be enigmatic people. So, too, can the people who cover the games pro athletes play.

ToddHelton

When sportswriters – especially the folks who get paid to cover a team – interject their opinions on their Twitter feed or a blog post, then they become part of the story as well. We see this every year at Hall-of-Fame voting time. Another perfect example in baseball is when an athlete gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball writers love (no, LOVE!) to get up on their soapboxes and rail at the sky about how those players are destroying the game. Just look back at some of the Grade A conniption fits some writers have thrown over Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Yasmani Grandal and others.

I don’t begrudge them those opinions, even if I may not share their vitriol. What I ask is this: where is the outrage over a DUI?

Yes, using PEDs is now forbidden in baseball. Yes, using PEDs creates a competitive imbalance within the game and puts an athlete’s accomplishments into question. But does using PEDs put innocent lives at risk the way driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol does? While Alex Rodriguez brings embarrassment to himself, the New York Yankees, and baseball as a whole, did he endanger lives the way Todd Helton did a couple of weeks ago?

Simply put: no.

When the longtime Colorado Rockies’ first baseman decided to get behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 truck at 2 am on February 6, 2013, he put lives at risk. His driving was so erratic that police were rightfully called. His mugshot now belongs in the Celebrity Mugshot Hall of Shame. Helton’s iconic moment – fists raised to the sky, shouting in triumph as he catches the final out of the 2007 NLCS – has been sullied with photoshop images of him guzzling wine from an Igloo cooler instead of celebrating the Rockies’ lone trip to the World Series.

Let’s be clear on one thing: no one was injured or killed as a result of Helton’s appalling decision. Thank heavens for that. But it does not excuse his appalling lack of judgment. His apparent motivation for this dangerous drive was lottery tickets and chewing tobacco. Is that worth a human life?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30 people in the U.S. die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The CDC says that translates to one death every 48 minutes. In statistics reported by MADD, Colorado drunk-driving deaths increased 9% from 2010 to 2011. In fact, 36% of Colorado traffic-related deaths in 2011 were drunk-driving related.

Being arrested for a DUI has devastating effects on the offender. Typically, by the time one pays for bail, court fees, penalty fines, and insurance costs, the price tag is about $10,000 – and that’s if you didn’t hit anything or injure anyone (hat tip: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

This doesn’t even begin to take into account the devastation visited on a victim. I can’t and won’t even begin to quantify something like that. Ten thousand dollars is pocket change to Todd Helton, who has made over $150 million in his major-league career.

Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock foolishly drove while drunk and died in a 2007 crash. The Angels’ Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. So, sadly, there is tragic precedent between drinking and driving and baseball players.

You might think the media would be critical of Helton, similar to how the media excoriated former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa or outfielder Delmon Young after their alcohol-related incidents.

Sadly, they were not.

Not comparing Helton to Young (who is, by many published accounts, a terrible human being), but local Denver Post writers practically fell over themselves to EXCUSE Helton for his crime. One columnist flippantly began a column thusly: “So now the statistical line for Rockies star Todd Helton reads: 354 home runs, .320 batting average and 1 DUI arrest. Helton is sorry, Denver.” Another has completely glossed over the seriousness of what could have happened in favor of emphasizing that Helton is a “prideful” man who is contrition was obvious before he uttered a single word of explanation to his fans.

When Helton did finally address the media this past Sunday (11 days after his arrest), he was apologetic, but gave no explanation for the delay. Helton refused to discuss why he decided to drink and drive that night, and no media members pushed for an explanation. Helton claims that he has “gotten help” for his “monumental mistake,” yet he would not elaborate what sort of help he is getting. Is it because the investigation is ongoing? If so, then say so.

And is it just me, or did he seem irritated that he had to speak about his DUI at all? Local TV stations also reported that this would be “the first and the last time” that Helton would address this matter. That sound contrite to you? Me either.

No one asked Helton if it ever occurred to him that he could have injured – or killed – a child wearing a Helton jersey or t-shirt. Has Helton considered what such an unspeakable tragedy would do to his legacy? I’d like to know the answer to that question, yet the media has not asked it. Why? Could it be that it is easier to screech and preach about intangible things like the “spirit of the game” or “integrity” than it is to deal with all-too common occurrences in life like drinking and driving, alcohol dependency or automobile crashes? I don’t have an answer. I just wish someone were willing to ask the question.

No questions will be forthcoming from Major League Baseball. Bud Selig has offered no comment whatsoever on Helton’s DUI. The Denver Post has reported that the Rockies do not plan to discipline Helton for his crime, but they did issue a STRONGLY WORDED statement the day after Helton’s arrest. The team used phrases like “extremely disappointed,” “full accountability,” and “severity of the situation.” But an organization that has for years trumpeted how much it values “character” in its players, coaching staff and management, will take no further action other than issuing a statement that essentially says “STOP! Or I’ll say stop again.” Three cheers for hypocrisy, everyone!

Here’s a question for the media, Rockies management and fans: what if it had been a player other than Todd Helton, the franchise icon? What if it had been one of the Rockies’ many young pitchers? A 20-something, perhaps single guy, trying to establish a major league career? Would everyone be so quick to come to that player’s defense, espousing deep insights into his psyche and rationalizing a horrible decision? Or would they be raking him over the coals, demanding his release and entry into a rehab program? Interesting question, isn’t it? The cynic in me has a guess what the answer would be, and the answer is disappointing.

Check out these numbers tweeted by Anthony Witraudo of The Sporting News: “By Sporting News’ count, 12 MLB players, an exec, a bullpen catcher, an announcer and a HOFer have been busted for DUIs since start of 2011.”

Pardon the turn of phrase, but that’s a sobering statistic. The way so many baseball writers harp about PEDs, you’d think the ratio of PED users to DUI arrests was 50-to-1. Again, I ask, where are the priorities of baseball writers? Shouldn’t the DUI issues at least get equal time?

In fairness, the National Football League has a much higher number of players who have been arrested for driving under the influence. But no one grandstands about the prevalence of PEDs in the NFL, either.

Helton said Sunday he is taking “all the right steps to make sure (drinking and driving) doesn’t happen again.” Let’s hope it doesn’t. He played Russian roulette with his massive pick-up truck and got lucky. If it were to happen again, the end result might be a tragedy far more heartbreaking than an athlete caught using steroids. I hope that is something members of the baseball media come to realize sooner rather than later.

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The Case Against Catchers

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The Case Against Catchers

Posted on 10 August 2012 by Gary Perilloux

Someone, please, have my head examined. I’m certain I lost my mind somewhere on the base paths this baseball season, and I haven’t been able to find it.

You see, the indisputable diagnosis is right there on my Fantasy Baseball roster. Follow the serious neurological disconnect between the top of my roster, where the obligatory two catchers go, and the bottom of the offensive lineup, where those invaluable utility spots reside. And there at the bottom is the indisputable proof: a third catcher.

Add to the diagnosis the fact that ours is an NL-only league, and you know that I seriously need my head examined. Three catchers from the National League on one Fantasy roster? Are you kidding?

The only plausible explanation would be that Mike Piazza and Gary Carter rejoined their teams via time-travel from the peaks of their All-Star careers. But, no, I’ve got on my roster a catcher named Kratz whom I’d never heard of until a few days back and a catcher named Rosario whom I’d never heard of before this year.

Oh, I do have a fellow by the name of McCann from down Georgia way on my team, so there’s a scintilla of logic in my backstop picks. But even there, I broke the Cardinal rule of Fantasy Baseball (or in this case, the Braves rule): Never, ever draft the same catcher from the same team two years in a row, especially if they had a stalwart year in the first season.

It’s the No. 1 Fantasy Rule in the case against catchers. By dint of their back-breaking, knee-buckling, arm-wearying, crazy-pitcher-handling jobs, they cannot sustain great offense two years in a row. Not unless you’re talking 10-15 years ago and the catcher is that first baseman convert from Lasorda land, Mike Piazza. Yes, we’re talking Fantasy, so the fact that he played mediocre to marginal defense most of his career is beside the point.

Simply put, nearly everyone else who puts on the mask has ample reason to hide behind the mask when the subject turns to offense. I took a risk this year by drafting McCann again and paying for him virtually the same thing I did in 2011: $21.

A steal? No. A deal? Yes, except — and here’s the big bugaboo for catchers — they won’t do for you this year what they did for you last (the Piazza exception, notwithstanding).

A History Lesson

Let’s look back through history at Yogi, Campy and Johnny — the holy trinity of mid-20th century catchers. Aside from being Yogi, the on-the-field mastermind behind the most successful run in Major League history, Yogi Berra was the Piazza of the 1950s: eight straight years he led the American League in games caught and seven straight years he finished in the Top 4 in balloting for MVP, winning three MVP awards. Amazingly, two MVP awards were back-to-back (1954-55) and he should have had two more back-to-back (1950-51), except for that Scooter guy at short who stole the 1950 award away.

But Yogi, like “Iron” Mike Piazza is the once-in-a-lifetime exception to the rule.

Now, let’s take Campy and Johnny at their five-year peaks. Roy Campanella won three NL MVP Awards in the 1950s. But sandwiched between those luminous 1951, 1953 and 1955 MVP years — in which he averaged .318/35/119 with an OPS of .989 were very different years in which he averaged .240/20/74 with an OPS more than 200 points lower at .745. For Bench, the spray of runs, drips and errors were far worse in the alternating years between his MVP performances of 1970 and 1972 and his 4th place MVP performance of 1974. I don’t have the Elias Sports Bureau on speed dial, but in those three great years Bench never drove in fewer than 125 runs, and I doubt any other catcher had three such years in his entire career (Berra, Campanella and Bill Dickey had one; Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk and Javy Lopez had none).

So here’s Johnny Bench pounding the ball at an average of .281/39/131 and an OPS of .907 for those three peak years. But in the intervening 1971 and 1973 seasons he withered to .246/26/82 and an OPS of .748. Not bad years for the mere mortal catcher. But when you’re paying Johnny Bench dollars, you want that Krylon smooth sheen, not the runs, drips and errors of a mortal catcher.

Which brings us back to Brian McCann, who once looked like a lock for the title of pseudo-Piazza or demi-Yogi. You could look it up: For the six consecutive years concluding with 2011, McCann averaged .281/22/86 and his worst year (2010) of .269/21/77 really didn’t miss the mark by much. His OPS that year of .828 also didn’t miss his six-year average of .851 by too much. So I drafted the guy again after throwing him back.

Closing the Case

McCann now is on pace for 26 homers and 83 RBIs, so what’s the problem? That .240 batting average and .762 OPS that place him in the mere mortal category. It just so happens that my Fantasy team has been mired in last place for batting average most of the year and is now one spot off the bottom. That’s more testament to my myopic drafting skills than anything else. But the point is, catchers can really kill your batting average. It’s why you draft two of them because you have to, not because you want to. So how on earth did my feeble brain select a third catcher for the roster?

Well, I foolishly drafted Scott Rolen (at a great price!) in utility, but the Rolex on Rolen’s salad days had wound down. And when he wound up on the DL, the waiver wire was, shall we say, lean and green. The hottest available hitter was catcher Wilin Rosario, who has played his way into the Rockies lineup and is on pace to finish at a McCann-ian pace: .236/27/66/.790.

The third catcher? Suffice it to say that I grew weak in the knees during the minor league portion of our draft and selected one Yasmani Grandal — a catcher! — who miraculously was hitting .312/5/15 in just 24 games after a midyear call up and before the injury bug came calling. In desperation, I replaced him with a crafty, 32-year-old Philadelphia rookie, Erik Kratz, who’s stroking at the remarkable rate of .371/4/9 in just 35 ABs.

And things are looking up. Carlos Ruiz has hit the DL (sorry, Phillies fans) and the crafty Kratz is capitalizing on more playing time. I know, though, that this is all just a mirage. I see the 87-year-old Yogi grinning at me through his bifocals and wisecracking, “Take it from me: The one sure way to lose your league is to keep picking catchers. I know, I’m one of ’em. You do 300 squats a game, sooner or later, you ain’t gonna hit squat.”

Take it from Yogi: Fantasy is 90 percent hitting, and the other half has nothing to do with catching, except for the pitching — and you’ll want some of that. But the case against catchers? That’s closed.

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Down On The Farm: San Diego Padres

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Down On The Farm: San Diego Padres

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

It certainly must be exciting to be a San Diego Padres fan right now. While the team is struggling in its current incarnation, the organization ranked very highly on every preseason farm system list, and the big league squad is starting to see those returns now with the arrival of a pair of top prospects in The Show. Today, Down On The Farm looks at the Padres’ system in order to determine if their depth-over-upside approach should still have them ranked on the top of such lists.

Pre-Season Rank: #1 (ESPN), #1 (Baseball Prospectus), #3 (Baseball America)

The Top 4
1. Rymer Liriano
Overall Ranks: #40 (ESPN), #52 (BP), #49 (BA)
A season after struggling in the High-A Cal League, Liriano, still young for the league, impressed with a 112 wRC+, earning a promotion to Double-A San Antonio. He has continued to perform just above the league average at the plate, with a 105 wRC+ and a slash line of .256/.328/.405 showing some improved patience and pop. He strikes out far too often (22.0% in A+, 27.6% in AA) at this point, but at just 21 has plenty of time to improve. A partial repeat at Double-A is likely for 2013, but he could be on the fantasy radar as a three-category player as early as 2014, with a fourth emerging if the power develops further.

2. Yasmani Grandal
Overall Ranks: #65 (ESPN), #38 (BP), #53 (BA)
Grandal was one of the key pieces in the Mat Latos trade, and his recent promotion to San Diego is cause for excitement for the fanbase. After starting the year by dominating at Triple-A Tucson with a gaudy .330/.438/.515 slash line and a 147 wRC+, the 23-year old proved himself Major League ready. Upon getting the call, Grandal became the first player in history to homer from both sides of the plate for his first career hits in the same game, and also became just the seventh player since 1900 to homer for his first three MLB hits. In the six weeks since, the 6’2″ catcher has a .312/.349/.597 slash line for a 159 wRC+ and is leaving little doubt that his powerful frame and strong discipline are here to stay, making him a 2013 draft candidate for deeper or multi-catcher leagues.

3. Yonder Alonso
Overall Ranks: #69 (ESPN), #86 (BP), #33 (BA)
Alonso was another asset acquired in the Latos deal, and the Padres thought enough of him as a first base prospect that they dealt stud in the making Anthony Rizzo to open up the position for the future. Alonso has spent the entire season with the big league club and performed admirably as a rookie, working a 107 wRC+ while showing good discipline and fielding. With that said, Alonso lacks the ideal pop for the position and is quite a hindrance on the basepaths, so the Padres have to hope there is more development in the 25-year old’s bat to eventually make him anything more than a league-average first baseman.

4. Casey Kelly
Overall Ranks: #32 (ESPN), #78 (BP), #76 (BA)
Once a highly-touted two sport, hitting-and-pitching prospect, Kelly has taken a bit longer than hoped to move through the system, but was valued enough to be a key piece, along with Rizzo, in the Adrian Gonzalez trade from 2010. After a pretty good season at Double-A San Antonio in 2011, Kelly started just two games at Tucson before succumbing to elbow inflammation and only recently started pitching again at Rookie Ball. Currently 22, Kelly will not be too old for Triple-A next season, but the Padres will likely give him a look in spring training to see how he has developed without much of a minor league season. The injury likely pushed his MLB timeline back a full year.

Additions and Subtractions
All of the Padres’ key moves came in the offseason and were reflected in the preseason rankings. Top draft pick Max Fried is expected to rank high on the prospect lists for 2013. The Padres also had three supplemental round picks, all of whom signed, potentially giving the system some higher ceiling players to go with their impressive depth. Opting to extend Huston Street and Carlos Quentin rather than deal them for prospects probably does not hurt the farm much, given the market for such players now that they will not return a draft pick if they are not retained.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Tucson – Beyond graduating Grandal and strikeout-machine Brad Boxberger, Tucson has also been home to star prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 23-year old power hitting third baseman with a .954 OPS since his early promotion from Double-A. Matt Clark is a bit old at 25 but has 22 home runs and an .897 OPS although it is his second year at the level. The pitching staff is basically devoid of strong stats due to the PCL hitting environment, but reliever Cory Burns has emerged as a future relief arm with 77 strikeouts in 65 innings and a 2.63 ERA.

Double-A San Antonio – The first base tandem of Cody Decker and Nathan Freiman are both too old for the level but have combined for 45 home runs and big OPSs, while 21-year old second baseman Jonathan Galvez has impressed with a .330 AVG and .873 OPS. 21-year old outfielder Reymond Fuentes has the legs for the Majors with 28 steals in 34 attempts, but his .299 OBP has a long way to go before he’s on the MLB radar. The pitching staff was expected to be the gem of the system, but Robbie Erlin threw just 33 innings before injury derailed his season, while top-10 prospect Keyvius Sampson has struggled to a 5.31 ERA thanks to 52 walks in 103.1 innings. Andrew Werner, a non-prospect, was the best of the bunch with a 3.23 ERA before a recent promotion to Tucson.

High-A Lake Elsinore – Catcher Tommy Medica has been a stud this year, with a 1.003 OPS across 68 games but at 24 should be expected to out-perform his peers at this level. Meanwhile, shortstop Casey McElroy and second baseman Justin Miller have also been short-season kings, with Miller especially impressing with 10 home runs, 14 steals and a .408 OBP in 266 at bats, although curiously neither performed well at Fort Wayne earlier in the year. Top prospect Cory Spangenberg has disappointed in his time with the Storm, hitting just a single home run and producing a .693 OPS, but he is still just 21. Donn Roach has been an ace for the team, posting a 1.94 ERA across 13 starts with two different teams, and he was recently given the bump to San Antonio for a greater challenge at just 21.

Low-A Fort Wayne – The TinCaps have been successful despite a pretty mediocre offense, leading one to look towards the staff for stars. However, catching prospect Austin Hedges has been above league average at age 20 with a .261/.322/.430 slash line. Dominican outfield prospect Yeison Ascencio has followed up a strong Arizona League season with a team-best .849 OPS, and with just 29 strikeouts in 260 at bats he may be ready for a more challenging level. Stud prospect Joseph Ross, like Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin before him, succumbed to injury early in the year and is only now making his way back, leaving the staff to be lead by the impressive trio of Frank Garces (22, 2.41 ERA, 95:45 K:BB in 101 innings), Matthew Wisler (19, 2.68 ERA, 89:26 K:BB in 94 innings), and Adys Portillo (20, 1.87 ERA, 81:45 K:BB in 91 innings, recently promoted). Wisler, in particular, is exciting as a teenager with excellent command ratios.

It is difficult to not like the Padres system. They have enough depth and talent at each level to paint the picture of a steady pipeline in place, while their prospect types vary enough that they can play an attractive trade partner for just about anyone. The one concern the franchise likely has is the loss of a development year for three of their top arms, but while the pitching may be delayed in getting to the majors, a strong draft has kept the system stocked and primed for another #1 ranking next season.

I’m new here, so come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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