Sportswriters love telling people how unbiased sportswriters are, and a big part of that is rooting for stories, not individual teams. That’s pretty obvious. It’s much easier and much more fun to write about an unusual defensive play, or a no-hitter, or a walk-off hit, than it is to write about an arduous 12-5 yawner that stopped being close after the third inning.
And it’s not just writers who do this. Even without the professional self-interest, fans want to see the underdog overachieve. They want to see the unusual, the exciting, and they want the drama and uncertainty to last as long as possible.
So in the spirit of lasting drama, everyone ought to be rooting as hard as they can against the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are kind of old news, with two consecutive division titles in their pockets. They rely heavily on slow guys who walk and hit home runs (and if you’re going to do that, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are two pretty good slow guys to have), and they’ve got a starting rotation that might be better than all the other rotations in the division. To balance those strengths come two glaring weaknesses. First, the bullpen has been quite good so far this year but is built on a foundation of quicksand. Second, they have the kind of defense one might expect when a lineup has a lot of slow guys who walk and hit home runs.
Now, none of this makes the Tigers particularly objectionable. The reason you should root against them is that they’re by far the best team in baseball’s worst division, and they’re starting to pull away in the standings.
The baseball analytics revolution has helped us answer many questions that might have seemed unknowable before. We can now measure not only a pitcher's velocity but also the exact horizontal and vertical break on his pitches, the precise coordinates of his arm slot, and dozens of other variables. We can calculate the worth of catchers who excel at framing pitches. We can even take the sum of a player's contributions and find a reasonable estimate of his overall value.
Lovely pursuits, all. But mere trivialities next to the most pressing baseball question the world has ever had to face: If Mr. Burns had to re-staff the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team with a lineup full of present-day players, who should he choose?
Mailbag time! If you've got a question for a future fantasy baseball post, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or do as these fine folks did by tweeting questions to me here: @jonahkeri.
What is the general potential of Matt Harvey? Could he be the future ace of the Mets? Is he worth staking as a keeper in a competitive NL-only league?
— Kevin McNeill
Pretty strong. Harvey came into this season as Baseball America's 54th-ranked prospect. In 20 starts at Triple-A this season, Harvey fanned more than a batter an inning, hiking his minor league total to 268 strikeouts (and 95 walks) in 245 ⅔ innings. Called up to the majors a month ago, Harvey's continued his bat-missing ways. On Wednesday against the Rockies, he struck out nine Rockies in six innings. That hiked his season total to 43 Ks (along with 15 walks and three homers allowed) in 36 innings. Harvey's 43 punch-outs in his first six major league games actually broke the Mets franchise record previously held by some guy named Nolan.
1. Hope Solo: God Forgives, Hope Don't
The USWNT goalkeeper was warned this week by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for testing positive for something called Canrenone, which I may or may have not had at Olive Garden last night, incidentally. She was basically like, "Cool warning." Rem and I talked about this briefly.
Rem: Am I allowed to nominate Hope Solo for beating her charge? Chris: Not guilty, y'all got to feel her. Rem: Teflon Don. Chris: Hope Solo treated those charges like she treated Briana Scurry back in '07.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Prince Fielder hit a record-tying 12 final-round home runs to win his second Home Run Derby and join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with multiple titles. He also remains the only prince to ever win a title, following the indecisive performance of Prince Hamlet, who swung way too late, the boring and wordy performance of Prince Valiant, who nobody watched after his first two outs, the threatening counterculture performance of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air from 1990, who used a funky multicolored bat that shocked middle America, the bizarre performance of Prince himself, whose hitting ability is not quantifiable or even recognizable, and the ends-justify-the-means performance of Machiavelli's theoretical prince, who keeps getting banned for trying to use a metal bat.
Brandon Inge has been released from the Tigers, and Detroit imploded. My god, has there ever been an average player who inspired so much deranged passion? Inge’s jerseys rival Justin Verlander’s in ubiquity. I am not kidding you. And yet he is booed mercilessly at Comerica Park. The sports radio call-in shows are unable to talk about baseball at all without veering into a debate about whether Inge is ridiculous or a hardworking guy. In the wake of being cut, "Brandon Inge" trended nationwide on Twitter. There is a #GoodbyeInge hashtag that’s still flowing. The Detroit Free Press had no fewer than six features about Inge spotlighted on its homepage this morning. The Detroit News picks up the slack with four more. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said in the official announcement that “the letters I got about [Inge] were more conflicted than about any player I've ever been associated with.”
Few baseball executives boast a stronger resume than Dave Dombrowski. He played a central role in developing many of the players on the 1994 Montreal Expos, a loaded team with legitimate World Series aspirations before the strike wiped out the rest of that season. He became the first GM in the history of the Florida Marlins, assembling the team that won it all in 1997 and also the core of the 2003 World Champions. Three years after the Tigers posted one of the worst seasons in baseball history, a Dombrowski-led Detroit team stormed to their first AL pennant in 22 years. He's connected on the scouting side and well-versed on the statistical side, understands how much players are worth and how to budget for a winning ballclub. In short, Dave Dombrowski knows his stuff.
Which is exactly why Scott Boras wanted no part of him.
By the grace of Tebow, Jonah Keri has landed at his new home in Denver and is back with a new podcast. He and New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner go around the majors to break down the Prince Fielder deal, the loaded AL East, and the twin towers of the AL West.
Shifting to the National League, we run through the much-improved Reds, the maybe-one-player-short Nats and Marlins, and an NL West division that might not have a 90-win team in the bunch. All that plus Scott Boras' target-the-owner negotiating strategies, why Matt Kemp should have won the MVP last year, and a tribute to the great Gary Carter.
1. Dave Winfield
Bill Barnwell has respect for two kinds of people: those who work hard, and those who accept nothing but the best. I think Bill has fallen in love: "I think we need to honor Dave Winfield, he who would not go out and pick up Chinese food until the end of the Giants game and would not settle for any quality of Chinese food below P.F. Chang's. Congratulations, Dave Winfield, on keeping your standards high."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
A source reported that the Detroit Tigers have agreed to a nine-year, $214 million deal with former Brewers slugger Prince Fielder. The hefty contract was a bitter pill to swallow for Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, who is currently being paid in worthless foreclosed Detroit homes.
The Tigers were known to be seeking a bat after Victor Martinez tore an ACL, knocking him out for the season. Still, talk had centered on bit parts like Johnny Damon replacing Martinez at DH. The Nationals were thought to be the leading contender for Fielder's services, with the Rangers saying earlier Tuesday they were likely out of the bidding. No one had pegged the Tigers as the most likely destination, least of all on a nine-year deal. Given that just last month Albert Pujols signed a monster deal with a team no one expected, we probably should have known better.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Roy Halladay pitched a six-hit complete game shutout, and the Phillies became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the Astros. The Phillies chose not to celebrate with bottles of champagne, but each member of the Astros, as usual, celebrated with a wine glass of their own tears.