Saturday, April 21, 2012

Baseball Glossary

Baseball Glossary

I’ve been told that I use a lot of abbreviations and stats when I post on my blog.  So I thought I’d put up a baseball glossary of terms that I use on a regular basis.  Some of these are fairly rudimentary, while others are more obscure.  But I think baseball fans of all levels will enjoy reading it and will probably learn something.  (I learned something and I picked the terms!!!)  I want to thank Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus for their help on these categories.  When I needed to know formulas or didn’t know how to put things into non-baseball words, they really helped me out and taught me even more about this stuff.  Enjoy!

AB:                      At Bat- a plate appearance where a player hits safely, records an out,                                     reaches on an error or fielders choice or reaches base after striking out on a wild pitch or passed ball.  Bunts, sac flies, walks and hit by pitches do not count as At Bats.

AVG                   Average- refers to a player’s batting average.  It’s calculated as the                                     average number of hits per at bats.  300 is considered excellent.  A perfect batting average is 1.000 and is called batting a thousand. 

BAA:                  Batting Average Against- this is a stat that measures how effective                                     pitchers are against hitters.  It measures the average number of hits per at bats that all hitters who faced that pitcher were able to earn.  If a pitcher faces 2 hitters and one gets a hit off of him, his BAA is 500.  A BAA of 250 is average, with anything below 230 being good.

BABIP:             Batting Average on Balls in Play- this measures how many of a hitter’s                                     balls in play drop for hits.  It’s a newer stat, part of the sabermetric revolution.  This measurement is used in lieu of batting average at times because it can more effectively take luck into account.  This stat                                     is affected by 3 variables: defense, luck and adjustments.  Players can’t control the talent of defenses they face, they have no bearing on how lucky they are when they hit balls, and if a player has had                                                 pitchers or managers make adjustments to him (like hitting into a defensive shift), that can affect their BABIP.  This stat is an effective way of judging whether a hitter’s good AVG is a result of luck or is                                     more legitimate.  By taking strikeouts out of the measurement, we see exactly how successful a hitter is when he puts the ball in play.  The average BABIP is 300.  So if a hitter has a BABIP of over 300, then they were generally lucky whereas hitters with BABIPs lower than 300 were generally unlucky.  BABIPs are prone to fluctuation as well, but it just gives us another point of reference to look at what a hitter has done in the past and try to understand how they will perform in the future.  If a hitter has a breakout year where he hits for high average, we can look at his BABIP and see if it was a fluke.  For                                                 example, if a 250 hitter hits 300 one season and his BABIP for that season was 378, then this was likely a fluke season for the player.  The same goes for a 300 hitter who hits 250.  If his BABIP was 260, then that was also likely a fluke.  But some hitters are able to affect their BABIP.  Fast guys typically have high BABIPs and guys who hit into shifts typically have low BABIPs.  So you have to take a hitter’s career BABIP into account when checking out how they did in an individual year.  If a hitter has a career 350 BABIP, then a 300 BABIP is actually below average for him, and could be the reason why instead of hitting 300 he hit 260.  Also, line drives drop for hits more than ground balls                                     and ground balls are hits more than flyballs.  So hitters who have a better year than they’ve ever had that also have a high flyball rate, may have had some luck on their side, meaning their BABIP would be higher than either the league average, their career average, or both.

BB:                    Base on Balls- it’s another term for a walk.  In an at bat, when a pitcher                         throws four balls out of the strike zone that the hitter doesn’t swing at, he walks them.  Or the batter has earned the “base on balls” due to the pitcher throwing 4 balls. 

BSV:                 Blown Save- this is not an officially recognized stat by MLB, but it’s                                     widely used to compare closers.  When a pitcher is brought into a Save situation and lets the tying run score, he has recorded a blown save.  Often the closer ends up being the loser of that game, or occasionally the winner if his team comes back and wins the game, but he has                                     blown the Save either way.

CG:                   Complete Game- a pitcher earns a complete game when he pitches the entire game on his own.  If a game goes to extra innings and a reliever is brought in then the first pitcher does not get a complete game, even if he pitched the first 9 innings.  If a visiting team is on the road and                                     loses, then the pitcher of their team only pitches 8 innings.  But if he pitches all 8 innings and no reliever comes on, then that is also considered a complete game.  As long as no relief pitcher is brought                                     on, then the pitcher who both starts and finishes a game is given the Complete Game.  The record for Complete Games in a season is 75 by Wil White in the 1800s, but Complete Games were more common earlier in baseball.  Many believe Cy Young’s 749 Complete Games is the record least likely to ever be broken.  Nowadays, with the new focus on pitch counts and the advancement and specialization of bullpens, Complete Games are less common.  James Shields led the majors last year with 11, while C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay are commonly two of the pitchers with the most complete games in baseball each year.  Halladay is the active leader in Complete                                                 Games with 66.

Double:            Double- a hit where the batter is able to make it to second base safely.  A common hit with power hitters able to make it to second after driving the ball off the wall or into the gaps in left and right center, or with speedy guys who hit the ball down the lines or towards a gap                                     where they can use their speed to make it to second before the outfielders can get the ball back into the infield.           

ER:                   Earned Run- a run given up by a pitcher that he is responsible for.  If a run scores as a result of anything other than an error or passed ball, then that run is earned and will affect a pitcher’s earned run average.  Runs that score as a result of errors are called unearned runs.
ERA:                Earned Run Average- the average number of earned runs a pitcher will                         allow in 9 innings or work.  Three is considered very good, below 3 is great, and around 4.25 is considered average.

Error:               Error- an error occurs when a fielder misplays a ball in a way that allows a hitter to reach base, when he ordinarily would have been out.  Errors are at the discretion of the official scorer who is different at each ballpark.  But the general rule is if a hitter reaches base because of a mistake on the fielder’s part (bad throw, dropped fly ball, lost the ball in the sun, ball goes under a player’s glove, ball is dropped when a fielder takes it from his glove to throw) and the batter reaches base                                     when he shouldn’t, then it was an error on the fielder’s part.

FIP:                  Fielding Independent Pitching- a statistic that measures a pitcher’s                                     three true outcomes (Home Runs, Walks and Strikeouts) and converts them into an ERA like number.  This is a way to accurately measure a pitcher’s performance without taking defense into account.  A good pitcher with a bad defense is unfairly punished when they make errors or don’t get to balls that should be outs.  A bad pitcher with a good defense seems better than he is when he has gold glove                                                 outfielders making diving plays on line drives in center and great plays at short to turn double plays.  The only “true” outcomes (something 100% affected by the pitcher) are home runs (the fielders                                     never touch the ball), walks (same things) and strikeouts (same thing).  The formula used is (13*HR+3*BB-2*K)/IP.  So you take the  number of home runs a pitcher gives up, multiply it by 13 then add it to the number of Walks he allows multiplied by 3.  You then subtract the number of Ks he racked up multiplied by 2 and divide the whole thing by the number of innings he pitched.  Then you add a constant (generally 3.2) to scale the number to the league average.  I used Baseball Prospectus’ formula, which calls hit batsmen walks and uses different averages for different leagues.   Pitcher’s really only have power over the three true outcomes, (HR, BB and Ks) and this is a way to compare them all fairly.  It’s another newer sabermetric stat that is incredibly useful and was invented by Tom Tango.  Baseball prospectus gives a comparison of FIP based on outcomes from the                                     2011 season:
Excellent- Roy Halladay 2.17
Great- David Price 3.36
Average- Tim Stauffer 4.00
Below Average- Carlos Zambrano 4.56
Horrendous- Bronson Arroyo 5.68 

Hold:                 Hold- when a pitcher enters a game in a Save situation, records one or                                     more outs, and leaves the game with that lead still intact.  The Hold is not an official MLB statistic but was invented in the 80s to recognize the good work of setup pitchers, though long and middle relievers can also get Holds.  Also, a team does not have to win a game for a pitcher on that team to get a Hold, as long as the pitcher enters the game in a Save situation and leaves the game with the lead intact.

HR:                  Home Run- a hit where the batter is able to round the bases and score safely.  A batter who hits a home run is also credited with at least one RBI and run scored.  If some of his teammates are on base then they will also score on a home run and he will get credit for driving them                                     in.  A home run with the bases loaded is called a grand slam.  Most home runs nowadays are hit over the fence in the outfield.  But there are also inside the park home runs, generally hit by fast guys who put the ball in the gap, down the line or somewhere else where it takes the fielder a while to get to the ball.  They are much rarer than a standard home run, which goes over the fence.

IP:                   Innings Pitched- the amount of innings a pitcher throws.  If a pitcher goes 6 innings and comes out before the 7th, he had 6 IP.  If he comes out in the middle of the 6th after getting one out in the inning, he’s gone 6 and a third (commonly notated 6.1 IP).  In a season, 200 innings is considered very good.

K:                    Strikeout- when three strikes are recorded in an at bat, the batter is out.  Pitchers and hitters keep track of their personal strikeout numbers, obviously with pitchers wanting more and hitters wanting less.  Henry Chadwick invented the short hand of the K, using the most prominent letter in “struck” and the inference of a knockout, or K.O.  In scorekeeping, a K is used to show a swinging strikeout, while a backwards K denotes a batter who struck out looking.  But at it’s basic                         level, a hitter has three chances to swing at a pitch or see a pitch in the strike zone before the pitcher has struck him out.  After two strikes, a hitter can continue to foul off pitches in the zone and still no strike                                     out.  But after two strikes have been called, if the batter lets another strike go by or swings and misses, he strikes out.

Loss:                Loss- a pitcher takes the Loss when he gives the opposing team a lead                                     that his team is never able to retake.  Unlike a Win, a pitcher can be charged with a Loss after the first inning.  If he gives up a run in the first inning, then nothing over the next 8, then in the ninth another                                     pitcher gives up 4 runs, the original pitcher is on the hook for the loss since his team never took the lead back after he gave up a run.  A reliever can be charged with a Loss if they give up a lead and their                                     team is unable to come back and tie the game up.

PA:                   Plate Appearance- when a batter comes up to hit.  It is differentiated from an At Bat because walks and Sacrifices don’t count as at bats.  But they are still plate appearances.  To qualify for the batting title, you have to meet the minimum number of plate appearances.  The only way a batter gets up to bat and it is not counted as a plate appearance, is if an out is made somewhere other than at the plate. (someone caught stealing or picked off with 2 outs in an inning).  It’s not considered a plate appearance because the same batter will leadoff the following inning.  Though any balls and strikes he saw will not count against him and his next at bat begins with 0 balls and 0 strikes.

QS:                    Quality Start- a start in which a pitcher throws at least 6 complete innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs.  His team can win or lose that game, but if a pitcher gives up less than 3 runs and pitches 6 full innings, it’s still a quality start.  It’s one of the most effective stats for                                     measuring how pitchers perform each year.

R:                      Run- when a player comes around to score he is given a run.  When a team has their players score they get runs.  The team with the most runs wins the game.  Anytime a player scores, he is credited with scoring a run, even if it’s an unearned run or no one is credited with an RBI.  Scoring 100 R in a season is considered excellent (for a player, not team). 

RBI:                  Run Batted In- when a batter drives in a run.  If there are any runners on base and a batter is able to hit the ball somewhere that allows runners to score, he is credited with an RBI.  A home run is an automatic RBI as you drive yourself in, but if runners are on base you are credited with driving them in too.  If the bases are loaded and you walk or are hit by a pitch, then the runner comes in and you are still credited with an RBI.  Also, if there is a runner on third with less than 2 outs, a deep fly ball allows a runner to tag up and score.  That’s a sacrifice fly and also a situation where a batter is credited with an RBI.  If there is a runner on third and a batter grounds out, but the runner scores, that’s still an RBI.  However if a batter hits into a double play and a runner scores, it’s not an RBI.  If a wild pitch or pass ball allows a runner to score, then that’s not an RBI.  Getting 100 RBI in one season is considered outstanding. 

Save:                Save- a pitcher earns a Save if he is the last pitcher to throw for a team, is not the pitcher who gets the win, comes into the game with his team holding a lead of 3 runs or less, finishes the game with the tying run either on base, at bat or on deck, or comes into a game with his team leading and pitches effectively for three innings finishing the game.  Generally a closer comes in for the last inning of a game when his team is leading by 3 runs or less and pitches one inning to get the                                     Save.  Closers are generally the best pitcher in your bullpen, or at least the most overpowering.  Many can throw 100 MPH.  30 or more Saves in a single season is considered very good, but can mean less if a closer’s ERA, WHIP or Blown Save numbers are high.

SB:                  Stolen Base- when a batter is able to move from one base to the next while the pitcher is delivering the ball to the plate, he is awarded with a stolen base.  If the catcher throws him out, then the runner is caught stealing (CS).  Stolen bases were on the decline, but are recently on                                     the rise again.  20 stolen bases in one season is considered pretty good, while 30 is considered great.  However the leaders in the category each season generally steal 40-50 bases with the occasional 60 stolen base season.

SHO:               Shutout- when a team beats another team without allowing them to score a single run.  Pitchers can throw a shutout, if they pitch a complete game and don’t allow any runs in a game.  Shutouts are rare and generally are an indication that a pitcher dominated a lineup.

Single:            Single- a single occurs when a batter puts the ball in play in a spot where he is able to reach first base safely.  If an error occurs, or another player on the base paths is tagged out, then no single occurs.  But when a hitter is able to reach first base after hitting the ball, it’s called a single.  It’s the most basic hit in the game.

Triple:            Triple- a triple occurs when a batter gets a hit and is able to reach third base safely before the ball is returned to the infield.  A triple is one of the most exciting plays in baseball as it is also one of the rarest.  Generally triples occur when fast runners put a ball in the right or left center gap or down the lines.  Most often they happen when the ball is hit to the right side of the field.  You will also see triples when outfielders dive and miss or overrun balls and allow them to get behind them.

Win:               Win- pitchers earn wins if they are in the game when their team takes the lead for the last time.  Starting pitchers must complete 5 innings to earn a Win, in addition to giving up less runs than their own team scores.  Pitchers who throw complete games and win the game by 3 runs or less cannot also earn a Save.  Relievers can earn Wins if they are the pitcher on the mound or last on the mound when their team takes the lead.  15 Wins in a season is considered very good, while 20                                     Wins in a season is great.  Wins have traditionally been the benchmark used to compare pitchers, though recently it’s been considered less since so many things can contribute to wins that a pitcher has no control over.

WHIP:             Walks plus Hits over Innings Pitched- this is a measurement of a pitcher’s ability to keep runners off base.  It’s calculated by adding a pitcher’s walks and hits and then dividing that number by the number of innings that pitcher threw.  It’s another good way to measure an individual pitcher’s effectiveness.

Monday, April 9, 2012

3 Games Down, 162 To Go

3 Games Down, 162 To Go

            So we’ve finished the first series of the 2012 season.  And while it’s only 3 games in, there is a lot going on that I’m sure few people were expecting.  In the East Division of both leagues, the teams that were widely considered to be the last place finishers are currently first at 3-0.  In the AL East the Baltimore Orioles completed a 3 game sweep of the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.  They were able to get the job done limiting the Twins offense to 5 runs over that 3 game set, which is an incredibly good sign for the Orioles.  Their offense is stout, but their pitching was a question mark.  The Twins struggled last season and many people think their struggles will continue in the near future, but it was still a great start for a young Baltimore team that wants to change things in that city.  In the NL East, the much-maligned New York Mets looked even more impressive in a 3 game sweep of an Atlanta Braves team that many think will be playoff bound this year.  Johan Santana was fantastic in his debut this season throwing 5 shutout innings of 2 hit, ball while striking out 5 against 2 walks.  His bullpen also came through for him as Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak, Jon Rauch and Frank Fransicso combined for 4 scoreless innings and the Mets squeaked by with a 1-0 win in the opener.  R.A. Dickey followed with a strong 6-inning debut giving up only 2 runs before yielding to the bullpen, which pitched 3 scoreless innings.  And in the last game of the series, Jonathon Niese took a no hitter into the 7th inning before finally relenting and giving up 3 runs, only 2 of which were earned.  The bullpen went the final 3 again, giving up 2 earned runs and finishing the Braves off without any problems. 

            Moving to the bottom of the Eastern standings we find the aforementioned Braves in the NL and in the AL, the Yankees and Red Sox who both ended up at 0-3 after the Yankees ran into the buzz saw that was the Tampa Rays pitching staff and the Red Sox got out slugged by the new Tigers offense.  So while some teams struggled and others surprisingly flourished, I found myself wondering which team in each league has the most to be concerned about after their first series and if either of the surprisingly successful teams can keep winning.

            I’ll start by getting rid of the obvious choices.  In the AL, we expected the Rays and Tigers to be good.  So their 3-0 starts are nothing that we weren’t expecting.  The same can be said for the Diamondbacks and Cardinals (who are actually 3-1) in the NL.  On the other side of the spectrum, the Twins struggles aren’t overly surprising, considering their struggles in 2011 and the loss of some key players in free agency.  For the moment, I’ll preclude all the 2-1 and 1-2 teams as they are square in the middle of things.  So that leaves us the Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers (3-1), Mets, and Seattle Mariners (3-1) as the surprise successes this season and the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and San Francisco Giants as the surprise losers in the first series of the year.  Which teams are the biggest surprises?

            I think the Baltimore Orioles have to be considered the biggest surprise winner in the AL.  This is a team that was dead last by a healthy margin in their division last season.  They play in the toughest division in baseball and have had terrible pitching the last couple of years.  But after a strong start by Jake Arrieta and other solid performances from the Orioles pitching staff, they handled the Twins pretty easily and got off to a great start.  And while the Mariners are off to an equally strong start, the Athletics aren’t the most frightening team to play and it’s not that surprising that they were able to win 3 out of 4 against them.  That brings us back to the Orioles who are hoping to continue this hot steak that I don’t think anyone saw coming.  I picked them to lose the series 2-1 to the Twins.  And while the Twins aren’t the class of the AL, they are better than their record last season and the return of Mauer and Morneau makes them exponentially more formidable than they were last year.  I don’t think this will last as the Orioles move on to play the teams in their division, but they are off to a strong start and are hoping to win some respect if nothing else.

            In the NL the biggest surprise success is easily the Mets.  The Dodgers are 3-1, but they have a superstar pitcher and superstar centerfielder.  The rest of their pieces are solid with plenty of experience and were good enough to turn in a 500 record last year.  The Mets have the beginnings of a strong core, but Santana was a wildcard after missing so much time, Niese wasn’t anything special the last few years, and Reyes’ departure coupled with the sharp decline of Jason Bay has left this offense lacking punch.  Their pitching staff came in and shut the Braves offense down, which isn’t the most difficult task as they have struggled to score runs the last few years.  More impressive was the runs they were able to put up against Atlanta's pitching staff, especially in the second and third games.  They scored 6 runs in 2 games off the Braves vaunted bullpen, and handled All Star Jair Jurrjens and young lefty Mike Minor with relative ease.  David Wright is hitting like a star again and the younger Mets are also making noise with Reuben Tejada going 4 for 5 in the third game and Josh Thole getting two hits while driving in the go ahead run in the middle of the second game.  Being at those last two games, I can tell you that they were not as close as the 4-2 and 7-5 scores would indicate.  The 2 runs the Braves scored off of Dickey came off a Martin Prado home run that barely cleared the fence and barely stayed fair.  And while 5 runs in game 3 seems impressive, one was unearned and another was off a solo home run from Brian McCann that would have been an out last season and barely caused a stir in the stands.  There was little doubt that Francisco could come out for the third time in this series and shut down the bottom of the order in the ninth.  And he did.  I think the Mets are better than anyone realized, me included.  They have at least 3 solid pitchers and a talented young offense led by David Wright and Lucas Duda who slugged 2 home runs in the second game.  Tejada is flourishing at the top of the order, Ike Davis’ power is waiting to be a factor, Daniel Murphy just continues to hit and even Thole and Bay got into the action in this series.  I still think the Mets will be watching the playoffs from home, but they may take down a few NL East opponents with them this season.

            Staying in the NL, the team with the most to be concerned about has to be the Braves.  The Giants were swept as well and Lincecum’s loss of velocity is quite troubling.  But they lost to the team that won their division last season and faced two of their star young pitchers.  In addition the Giants lost every game by 1 run.  And their struggling offense scored 4 runs in the first two games and 6 in the third.  They’ll be fine and will contend in a weak division.  The Braves couldn’t beat one of the weakest teams in their division.  They were shut out in the first game where they had 4 innings of relievers to scrape together a run but failed.  They stranded a runner at third after a one out triple when Tim Byrdak struck out both pinch hitter Jose Constanza and center fielder Michael Bourn.  They could’ve easily been shut out again if Martin Prado’s wall scraping home run had drifted a few feet into foul territory in the second game.  They only had 7 hits in that game, one of which should have been an error and would have been if the hometown scorers hadn’t thrown Daniel Murphy a bone.  It’s tough to win when you scatter 10 hits over 2 games.  The 5 run outburst was a positive sign in the third game, but the 4 run 7th never would have happened if not for an unfortunate error by the Mets which included an unearned run.  The solo shot that followed in the 8th never fazed the team nor the fans at Citi Field as there was little concern about Frank Francisco’s ability to get his third Save against Atlanta.  Sitting in the stands I saw a subdued visitors dugout where the Braves didn’t seem to believe they could get the hits they needed, and they proved it leaving 13 runners in scoring position.  They greatly struggled to drive in runs last season, didn’t address it at all in the offseason, and continued to struggle with the bats in their first series in 2012.  And they left last season with a terrible taste in their mouths after falling apart in September and allowing the Cards to leap past them into the playoffs when one win in the final week would have punched their playoff tickets.  Many Braves fans were worried after the second game and this article gives a good outline as to why they should have been.  So the Braves are the team I worry about most coming into 2012 after collapsing last season, struggling out of the gate, and having the same issues from last season return this season after clearly making no moves to address them.  In their tough division every game counts, and this was not how they wanted to start things off.

            That brings us to the big newsmakers.  The Red Sox and Yankees are both 0-3 for the first time since the Johnson administration (1966).  For a more exhaustive view on both of these teams, as well as other intriguing opening week storylines check out Jeff Passan’s column for Yahoosports here.  It’s my favorite weekly baseball column, usually called 12 Degrees, but with 36 iterations in this post.  Anyway both the Red Sox and Yankees have some room to be concerned.  Both also played great teams.  The Yankees faced a Rays team that many picked to win the division (I picked them to win the Wildcard) and may have the best pitching in baseball.  The Red Sox faced a frightening Tigers team that features MVP Justin Verlander and one of the best offenses in the game.  So both teams can deploy the quality opponent excuse, but the question is, which team should be more concerned? 

            I think the answer to that question is the Red Sox, hands down.  They are dealing with the most historic collapse in history from last year, overshadowing the Braves by one game (and a larger media market).  They cleaned house after the embarrassing beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse fiasco and welcomed a new GM and manager to the field.  Bobby Valentine comes in with plenty of experience, but also a knack to stirring the pot and placing the focus on him and his club.  And with that focus on them, this was not how he wanted to return to the majors after so many years.  He’s known for his big talk as much as his coaching acumen and some think he should focus more on winning ballgames and less on provoking the Yankees, who are probably a little miffed after the first 3 games of their season as well.  The Sox offense scored only 2 runs in the first 2 games, though they broke out of it bringing around 12 in an extra innings affair on Sunday.   But Youkilis is hitless and the pitching staff allowed 26 runs over the first 3 games.  Things are not looking good for a Red Sox club that was hoping for a new start in 2012 after an abhorrent April and September in 2011.  Instead we are seeing more of the same sort of start that hurt them last season and great struggles on the mound, specifically in the 9th inning after letting Jonathan Papelbon leave via free agency in the offseason.  Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox need to turn things around and quickly.  Right now Bobby V is looking vulnerable.  And after so many years out of the dugout in the U.S. he’s made more noise with his antics than his team’s performance.  That won’t do him any favors; neither will disagreements with the new GM Ben Cherington. The Red Sox faithful expect a lot and have dealt with a lot of letdowns recently while expecting success.  If they don’t start playing better soon, they may decide to shake things up again, this time moving Bobby back out of the dugout and into the booth where he will ironically find his spot at ESPN blocked by the very man he replaced:  Terry Francona.  The Red Sox are a strong team and have the talent to turn it around.  But they need to do it fast, or things will start to get very uncomfortable in Beantown.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Johnson Hopes To Bring Magic Back To The Dodgers

Johnson Hopes to Bring Magic back to the Dodgers

            So with baseball’s opening night last night (and the opening series in Japan a week ago!!!) we have officially started the 2012 season.  Pretty much every other team plays today.  And there are plenty of big story lines and things for new teams to be excited about.  Johan Santana is back, pitching his first game since 2010.  2011 MVP/Cy Young Winner Justin Verlander takes the mound against a Boston Red Sox team hoping to erase an historic late season collapse.  Stephen Strasburg will take the mound today and that’s always big news.  But I think the most excited fan base has to be the Los Angeles Dodgers who are finally under new ownership after the disastrous Frank McCourt years. 

            The fact is, this couldn’t have worked out any better for the city of Los Angeles.  Mark Cuban was an interesting option as an owner and would have been great in that role for the Dodgers.  But selling the team to an ownership group whose public face is the most popular athlete in Los Angeles.  (Sorry Kobe….I know you read my blog all the time.)  And while this move has been viewed mostly as positive across the board (and I think it is too), there is some concern about the cost Magic and his ownership group paid for the team.  $2 billion is the most anyone has ever paid for a professional sports franchise.  The concern is that the group (which includes Magic Johnson, long-time baseball executive Stan Kasten, Hollywood producer Peter Gruber and the Guggenheim Baseball Management Group) overpaid for the Dodgers in an attempt to keep other teams out of the bidding.  Essentially, they were flying in to be a part of an auction for the team, and offered enough money to keep the auction from happening.  You can read the whole story here.  It’s a great article by Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports, and one of my favorite parts is the assertion that, strictly from a business standpoint, Frank McCourt is the most successful baseball owner in history, walking away from the team with $2 billion dollars and still owning the parking lots.  But with Magic comes excitement, ticket sales, and a $4 billion television deal that will keep the Dodgers relevant and return a team in the second highest media market to it’s former glory.  This is great for baseball and great for Dodgers fans.  Even with all the major trades this winter/spring, I think the biggest story of the offseason is the sale of the Dodgers and I think we will be seeing them return to the top of the NL West soon.

Now let’s make some picks for the games today:

Atlanta Braves @ New York Mets- I like the Braves here.  Johan Santana is a wildcard this season, as we don’t know what he has left in the tank and how he’ll pitch after all that time off.  Tommy Hanson is a great young pitcher who is looking to put together a strong season and launch himself into the elite tier of pitchers where he wants to be.  The Mets are likely to struggle this season, and I think the Braves start their season off with a win.

Boston Red Sox @ Detroit Tigers- This might be the best game of the day.  I like Jon Lester.  I like the Red Sox offense.  But I don’t know how you pick against the Tigers today.  They have the best pitcher in baseball on the mound, and put together one of the best offense in baseball during the offseason.  This will be a good one, but I think the Tigers take the win.

Philadelphia Phillies @ Pittsburgh Pirates- Erik Bedard takes the mound for the Pirates who hope to turn a strong half season in 2011 into a strong full season in 2011.  But Roy Halladay might be the best pitcher in the NL and I think he’ll dominate this young lineup.  And despite injuries, I think the Phillies still have enough juice in that offense to get past Pittsburgh with relative ease.

Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland Indians- The Blue Jays were the best 4th place team in baseball last season.  They are the best team that nobody picks to make the playoffs.  They have a fantastic offense and have their ace on the mound in Ricky Romero.  The Indians are improved, but I don’t think their offense is good enough to take down Romero.  And Masterson is obviously a good pitcher, but I don’t think he has the stuff to keep this offense down.  Toronto should win this one.

Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs- Stephen Strasburg is the story here for the vastly improved Nationals who continue to look like a playoff club.  Their hitters are good and coming into their primes.  The Cubs are in a full on re-building mode and that doesn’t bode well for them against Strasburg’s nasty stuff.  I like Dempster and I like what Epstein has done in Chicago.  But this isn’t their year, and the Nats should win a close one.

Miami Marlins @ Cincinnati Reds- This will be tough for the Marlins who opened their season at home last night.  They then hopped on a plane and flew out to Cincinnati.  They have to be tired.  And after being almost no hit by Kyle Lohse, I don’t think they are in a good place today.  Buehrle’s first start for the Marlins will be spoiled by a strong Cincinnati offense that wants to return the playoffs after a big letdown last season.  Cueto will step up and the Reds should slug their way to a victory.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ San Diego Padres- Clayton Kershaw was the NL Cy Young Winner last year.  The Padres are one of the worst offensive teams in baseball.  He’ll shut them down.  It won’t matter how strong Edinson Volquez pitches today as the Padres will lose to the Dodgers in a low scoring game.