2012 Cincinnati Reds – Part 3 of 5; Infield

I don’t know Joey Votto personally so I can only make assumptions, but I’m guessing he’s got a smile as wide as the Ohio River right now.  Let’s begin with what’s hot.

How’s the first base situation looking this year?

Bright.  I’ll probably do a post in the next week or so speaking more in depth about the Joey Votto signing but for now we’ll focus on 2012.  For those who don’t know, Joey Votto is now fourth person in major league history to get a contract in excess of 200m (10 years, 225 million cash money) joining just Albert Pujols, ARod (twice) and Prince Fielder.  Yeah, he’ll be in a Reds uni for the next 11 years.

Anyway, so what’s up for 2012?  Well, he’s the best 1B in the National League, arguably all of baseball and will likely feast on NL pitching like my four year old takes down Goldfish and Lucky Charms.  Assuming healthy, you can expect the usual awesomeness.  Probably something in the 35hr/100rbi/.310ba, which says nothing of the fact that he’s led the league in OBP the last two years and OPS (on base % + slugging %) last year.  He’s going to be good, but what’s behind him?

In his rare absence, you’ll probably see Miguel Cairo or Todd Frazier filling in.  Frazier made the team as a bench player when the Reds moved Juan Francisco yesterday for JJ Hoover, formerly of the ATL Braves, who was subsequently sent to Louisville.  Anyway, the Reds are set.  Moreover, they may be able to move their studly 1B prospect Neftali Soto who mashed last year in AAA.  Soto, who I thought made Alonso expendable (in the event Votto left the Queen City) hit over 30 homers last year in the minors WHILE MISSING A MONTH.  I’ve heard a lot of people say he’s got holes that would soon be exposed in the bigs, but word on the streets is that he’s gotten better with his pitch selection and has really improved defensively.  If Soto gets off to a good start in Louisville, look for him to be a key piece in a midseason trade.

So with Votto locked up, Phillips is next right?  RIGHT?

Probably not.  John Fay reported today on Twitter that Big Bobby C (Bob Castellini, the owner) said the Joey Votto deal would not preclude a deal being completed with Brandon Phillips, but it sure seems unlikely.  I mean, Bobby C is who cuts the checks, so maybe he’s decided that things can get worked out with BP, but Phillips is looking for a 15m/yr (at least) contract over about 4 years (similar to what Atlanta gave Dan Uggla).  That’s a lot of cabbage for a team like the Reds.  Again, I’ll get more into the contract possibility stuff later if something hasn’t already come down as a result of the Votto stuff.

Brandon Phillips is likely to take up is usually gold glove defense this year and hopefully provide a spark at the top of the order.  Last year Phillips made a comment about getting comfortable in the lead off position and hopefully Dusty puts him there and lets him go.  Quit dicking around with the lineup and let BP know that every day, save for the occasional day off, he’ll be at the top of the order.  One aspect of his play that I feel he could do better with is his baserunning, a key component for any lead off hitter.  He has speed, but not like he used to.  And I like his aggressiveness in taking the extra base or going first to third on a single.  I want to see him steal more bases, but not at the expense of getting caught.  Here’s the catch.  He “only” stole 14 bases last year, which isn’t stellar for a lead off guy, but fine.  The problem I have is that he was caught 9 times.  Hardly a high success rate.  Be aggressive, but also pick your spots.  That’s what I want; and after all, isn’t that what its all about?

I expect Phillips to play as one of the finest 2nd basemen in the league this year.  Last year he hit .300, which is great, but I don’t expect it again.  I’d be happy with Phillips batting .280 out of the lead off spot, but seeing his walks increase, though it should be noted his OBP went up by about 20 points from 2010 to 2011.  Now that he’s settled into the leadoff spot, he should work the count a bit more, see more pitches and work the opposition harder.  This wears down the pitcher just a shade faster and gives the guys following him a few more pitches to watch so as to get a better look at what might be coming their way.  When he’s out of the lineup, look for Todd Frazier to fill in, maybe Wilson Valdez (acquired this offseason from Philadelphia for Jeremy Horst) or maybe see Valdez at SS and Cozart slide over.  Miguel Cairo can take a few innings there, too.

So who WILL be batting behind Phillips?  Isn’t Cozart a little young to be hitting 2?

It will be Cozart; Zack Cozart.  Cozart was quietly a 2nd round draft pick in the same draft where the Reds got Devin Mesoraco and has largely been overshadowed by the many strong players (that used to be) in the Reds farm system.  Cozart is no slouch though.  He plays a great shortstop and really only needs to be a little above average for the Reds this year.  Because the Reds have some very good hitters in the lineup, the pressure won’t be on him to produce a ton of home runs or RBI.  What he does is run will and hopefully make enough contact for any outs to be “productive”, i.e. advance a runner or make the pitcher work a little bit.  He’s got speed, so he can be a threat on the basepaths, but also score lots of runs from 1B when Votto hits the gaps for doubles.

One comment you may hear on the broadcasts this year is how Votto will “protect” Cozart in the lineup, allowing him to see better pitches (from a batter’s perspective) than he might otherwise.  Allow me to disspel this myth.  There is no such thing as lineup protection in the major leagues, outside of the lack of protection you may get as the 8th hitter on a National League team (because with a very poor hitter, the pitcher, batting behind you, the chances of seeing a really good pitch to hit is unlikely).  There have been studies conducted about this that typically boil down to two primary, fairly rational concepts:

  1. The pitcher ALWAYS wants to keep a batter off base
  2. If there is a great batter on deck, the amount of effort to get the current batter out goes up.

There is no quantifiable explanation at the major league level for lineup protection, regardless of how much my Grandpa Schwartz believes it exists.  (Shout out to Grandpa Schwartz, with whom I can talk Cincinnati Reds baseball all day every day.)  At the high school level a great hitter will be pitched around, because he can so dominate, but it isn’t so at the major league level.

Anyway, Zack is going to have ups and downs and I would be surprised to see him struggle early on.  Maybe the 2 spot won’t fit him very well and he gets moved down in the order; that’s fine.  I want to see a good glove, good baserunning, and Votto/Bruce hitting lots of bombs.

Now that Juan Francisco was traded to the Bravos (cough, George Grande, cough), who plays 3B when Scott Rolen is hurt?

Hopefully this just won’t happen very often.  Rolen obviously has a penchant for the disabled list, but he is back and says his oft injured shoulder is in great shape.  I hope he’s right.  If healthy, Rolen can be what lifts the Reds from contender to champion.  He still holds down the hot corner as well as anyone in the league, flashing leather at line drives that would leave me asking for a change of underwear and he has the strength to muscle a ball out of the old ballyard.  But he has to stay healthy.  Even more so in the absence of Juan Francisco.

Now, I’m not a big Juan Francisco fan.  I was less than thrilled to hear he didn’t properly rehab a winter league injury and showed up to camp out of shape as that tends to say a lot about his character, something you’d likely never hear about Rolen.  But he could hit the ball in Cincy as far as anyone not named Wily Mo Pena.  But he also struck out a lot.  And he wasn’t great defensively.  The trade for JJ Hoover was probably a win/win for both the Reds and Braves as Chipper Jones has gone down with a minor injury in this, his last season, and the Reds need additional bullpen help, but it also gave a roster spot to Todd Frazier, Super Utility Man.

Super Utility Man can play every spot in the infield and play left field, all at the same time.  Well, not all at the same time, but he plays at a very high level in a lot of positions and is likely to give better ABs than what Francisco could.  He has some pop; not nearly what Juan has, but some and is going to play a better defense.  Which is good, because even a health Scott Rolen is only going to play, at most, 5 games a week.  He’s usually off on the get away day business man specials to grant him extra rest and there is, let’s face it, likely at least a 15 day DL stint this year.  So let’s hear it for Frazier, who needs to fill big shoes.  I’m hopeful that Frazier can show, in limited time, that he could be the future 3B for the Reds.

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2012 Cincinnati Reds – Part 2 of 5; Pitching and Catching

So what can I say about the Reds pitching and catching?  There is hope that Devin Mesoraco becomes 82% of what Johnny Bench was.  There’s fear that Bronson Arroyo pitches like he has Valley Fever.  And there is mystery in how poorly Dusty Baker will mismanage the bullpen in the absence of Ryan Madson.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the combination of newly acquired players, prospects and grizzled vets mix together this year.

Catchers

Why didn’t the Reds attempt to retain Ramon Hernandez?

Devin Mesoraco.  Meso got a cup of coffee last year at the end of the season and showed everyone why top talent evaluators think he has “star” written all over him.  After being drafted out of high school he was nearing “bust” status as he just couldn’t get the hang of things, but everything began to click in his 2010 season where he really knocked the snot out of the ball between multiple levels of the minor leagues.  Now that he appears to have put it all together, the Reds no longer had a need for Ramon.

There were also changes in the collective bargaining agreement that allowed for the Reds to get a compensation pick if he went to another team.  Under the old agreement, if Ramon, a “Type B” free agent, were to decline an offer of arbitration from the club, the Reds would be given an extra draft pick as compensation.  The rule was in place to help smaller market teams get compensation for not being able to afford to keep a top talent when he might be “priced out’ of their budget.  Under the new agreement, the Reds didn’t have to offer arbitration, which was great because the presence of Devin made him expendable and they didn’t want to risk having him agree.  If the arbitration had been offered and Ramon agreed to it, its likely the Reds would have 1 too many catchers.

So, with Devin Mesoraco being held in such high regard, he will be the full time starter, right?

Uh, no.  Even Ramon only started about 60% of the games last year because the Reds have, probably, the best back up catcher in the bigs; Ryan Hanigan.  Poor Hanigan.  Good enough to start and be the primary guy for many teams, he’s been a split situation player for all of his time with Cincinnati.  But don’t feel TOO bad for him; he’s still making a few million and he elected to re-sign with the Reds a year ago.

It’s in my nature to say that Dusty Banker will screw this up with his veteran love, and as much as we all (at least for now) want to see Devin Mesoraco play, this scenario probably couldn’t be better.  You’ve got a veteran guy in Hanigan who can help ease the rookie in; which shouldn’t be understated.  If the Reds were a rebuilding team like the A’s (aside from wanting to light myself on fire) I’d say they need to play Devin full time, but they aren’t.  They are poised to contend this year, which can put a tremendous amount of pressure on a “can’t miss” prospect to help carry the day.  Moreover, if Devin shows he can do it by himself, the Reds can move Hanigan at the trade deadline.  As mentioned, he could be the guy for a good number of teams and with a very team friendly contract he could bring a key piece to help the Reds down the stretch.


Pitching

So, it’s Cueto, Latos, Arroyo, Bailey, Chapman, Leake, and wait a second, that’s too many.  What’s going on here?

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the Reds were running Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, and Elmer Dessens out there every 5 days, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be in the kind of situation where there is actual depth.  This is even after a trade that sent Travis Wood, who I think has a bright future, to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Sean Marshall.  Here’s the situation as it stands currently (subject to change in probably 12 hours): Baker has said there are spots in the rotation for Cueto, Latos, and Arroyo, guaranteed; the rest is up for speculation.  Cueto and Latos are coming off of strong years and there really is no reason to think they will tank or explode onto the scene, so let’s focus on the other guys for our purposes today.  

Running through them one at a time:

Chapman: When Ryan Madson went down, it seemed that he would be destined to be back in the bullpen where only Dusty Baker thinks he belongs.  While true that Chapman out of the bullpen is tremendous weapon, its an incredible waste of talent.  Why Dusty Baker would want to limit Chapman’s insane talent in a watered down 80 or so innings as opposed to pitching 160 of them is beyond me.  He’s a buffoon.  Anyway, Chapman has really pitched well this spring and has likely pulled himself even with Homer Bailey.  I want Chapman to start, and believe he should.  I’m not sold that he should be starting for the Reds in April; maybe a month in Louisville would be better to get him stretched out properly and ensure that he’s truly exorcised those control demons.

Bailey: I think Bailey should also be in the rotation.  Last year Homer Bailey made marked improvement in his consistency and command.  His K/9 are holding steady, so no  breakthrough there to speak of but we can see demonstration of his command improvement in his BB/9; improved from 3.3 in 2010 to 2.25 in 2011.  This is tremendous.  We’ve also seen an improvement in his ERA, but more notable is the improvement in his FIP.  FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, which takes the quality of the defense behind a pitcher out of the equation, the idea being that a pitcher can’t help it if he’s got Ozzie Smith and Robbie Alomar playing behind him or a 40 year old, bloated Carlos Baerga and Kung Fu Panda.  Here is a good, funny explanation of FIP (a minute and a half and pretty damn funny.)  It just tries to leave what the pitcher can actually control.  What you also need to know is that Bailey is out of options, which means he can not be sent back to AAA.

Leake: Well, I think Leake should be in the rotation as well, and I believe he will be.  What I’m hearing these days is that Leake, because he has options remaining, will likely be the 5th pitcher and sent to AAA to begin the season so the Reds can carry an additional bench guy.  This may help Dusty or Uncle Walt figure out whether they keep Valdez/Soft J or Francisco/Frazier, but that’s for another piece.  Leake will likely be in and any trip to AAA will be short lived merely to extend the option of others.  Nothing to see here, folks.

Francis: It should be worth noting that Jeff Francis, who is in camp on a minor league contract, has been pitching well this spring and has an outside chance of making the squad in the bullpen.  Francis has an opt out clause in his contract that if he doesn’t make the big club out of ST he can leave and sign with another squad but he has said he doesn’t intend to do so.  Almost every team will use at least 7 or 8 starters through the course of the year because of injuries, trades, magic dragon incidents or whatever else, so it’s likely that Francis thinks he’ll get a chance with the Reds at some point, but it’s more likely that no other clubs see him as a decent option.  Either way, I’m happy to have him in Louisville, hopefully pitching well, ready to go in an emergency.

So, if you think that Bailey, Chapman and Leake should all be in the rotation are you suggesting a 6 man rotation?

Absolutely not.  I mentioned earlier that it would be foolish to limit the number of innings from your best pitchers.  The best 5 pitchers capable of pitching 150+ innings should be in the rotation and that’s it.  What I am suggesting is that the Reds move Arroyo into the bullpen.

 I think now is a pretty good time for me to explain WAR and what its good for.  WAR is an acronym that stands for Wins Above Replacement.  What WAR measures is how much better a particular player is than an average replacement player.  A replacement player is traditionally defined as a typically AAA ball player or a big league player holding down the 24th or 25th spot on a roster for the league minimum and incorporates all aspects of the game; offense, defense, base running, etc.  The idea here is the performance of a player who can be easily acquired for relatively no cost (the league minimum) forms the baseline.  From there, value added gets put into “wins”.

To offer some context to WAR, last year’s NL MVP, Ryan Braun, had a WAR of 7.8 which means he helped the Brewers win 7.8 more games than if a regular, run of the mill AAA left fielder were out there every day.  Joey Votto had a WAR of 6.9.  In theory, a team comprised of all replacement players would win 69 games, or play slightly better than the Astros.  Mike Leake had the second highest WAR for a pitcher by the Reds last year with 1.5 (Cueto was 2.8).  Bronson Arroyo, by comparison, had a WAR of – 1.3.  NEGATIVE.  This means that the average, zero cost AAA pitcher out there would have helped the Reds win an extra game and save crap loads of money.

Now, I don’t think this is all fair.  Last year Arroyo had mono which affected his spring prep and did a lot of long lasting damage.  He even had Valley Fever for Christ’s sake, so it may be that he just had a down year.  But he ain’t any younger.  And can you reasonably say that he’s going to be BETTER than the other options?  I don’t think so.  Because contracts in MLB are guaranteed (I can see baseball players taunting the NFL guys in clubs over this), the Reds are unlikely to cut him and pay him that crazy amount of money even though the most simplistic economics tells you the cost is incurred regardless of outcome and you may as well optimize the team because that money is already gone.

Even if cutting The Nasty Hook were plausible, I don’t think I’d advise it.  I think his rubber arm is suitable for long relief and as a sixth start should someone get hurt.  He’d just be another guy on the 4o man roster capable of starting and there’s a lot of value in not having to make roster moves and potentially losing guys as a result.  The worst case scenario is he sucks and only pitches mop up time in long relief.

Speaking of relief pitching, with Ryan Madson out should the Reds be concerned about the 9th inning?

I don’t think there is cause for concern, but that goes back to a personal philosophy of mine.  That philosophy is that saves are a sham.  Over the last 10-15 years its become trendy to put your best relief pitcher into the one role that limits his innings and artificially inflates the cost to keep your best guys.  So, as I said earlier, you want to have your best guys out there as often as they can, so why limit someone like Mariana Rivera to only 65 innings if he’s capable of pitching 100?  Because of the save.  Managers don’t put their “closers” in unless there is a save situation.  What’s worse is that putting your best relief pitcher in this role doesn’t allow for his use in the highest leveraged situations.  In a 1-1 tie game in the 7th inning facing the opponents 3-4-5 hitters with a guy on second, wouldn’t it stand to reason you want your best pitcher out there?

So anyway, back to the closer thing.  I can buy into the fact that there may be an attitude or ability to pitch under duress required to close, but for the most part I think it’s fine.  Baker has come out and said that he believes the Reds may “close by committee”, which is just great with me.  I think that’s how most teams should do it.  My concern is that Dusty Baker is an idiot and to watch him completely mismanage the bullpen this year could be the Reds’ undoing.  If he were to get a “regular” guy out there for the 9th, I’d prefer it be Bill Bray.  Bray’s a lefty, he pitches strong to righties or lefties, and it keeps one of the best set up men in baseball, Sean Marshall, free for those high leverage situations.  Although if a true closer emerges, Baker will simply keep Marshall in the 8th inning thus negating all of that “highest leverage situation” stuff.

As an aside, I think organizationally, the closer by committee thing can save the Reds some money next year.  If they were to put someone like Bill Bray into the closers role and he nabs 30 saves, when he goes to arbitration, its going to cost the Reds a lot more if he’s got those saves on his stat line than if he didn’t.  If the Reds felt their bullpen was deep enough to replace a closer midseason and still contend, then it would make a lot of sense to build up his saves and create an artificially strong market for Bray, simply by virtue of his now being a “closer”.  They could get a better return.  However, what are the odds that the Reds would trade their closer in the midst of a pennant race?  Not very likely.  I’d like this type of strategy far more for a rebuilding club who is likely not to contend.

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2012 Cincinnati Reds – Part 1 of 5

With the season soon to be underway, I wanted to kick things off right with my Guide to the Cincinnati Reds.  As the foremost expert on all things Cincinnati Reds in my home, I feel it my obligation to cobble together a small preview on our Redlegs so that the few of you who read this blog can hold conversation with me as I ramble on and on about obscure statistics that no right minded person would really consider.  Shall we?

Last year the Reds shamed themselves and their families by failing to finish in the money.  It was disappointing to be sure, but there were a few things that just didn’t work out.  Scott Rolen hadn’t been injured in like, 14 months, so it was inevitable that he’d be out for an extended period.  Bronson Arroyo had mono and Valley Fever (and am I alone in thinking that Valley Fever sounds like something that must have been eradicated 100 years ago).  Edinson Volquez pitched EXACTLY like Edinson Volquez does and well, just a lot of things didn’t build from 2010 like we thought (or at least hoped they would).

Enter the offseason, where Walt Jocketty started off with nothing major but turned the Reds into contenders.  First, Uncle Walt traded almost the entire farm system for Mat Latos, a young stud pitcher who remains under team control for the next 4 years.  I detailed this in a previous blog post.  Next, the Reds acquire one of the best setup men in baseball in Sean Marshall for Travis Wood and (what I would argue) little else (sorry, I don’t buy into Dave Sappelt as a future anything).  As a minor acquisition, they brought in Ryan Ludwick, likely to platoon with Heisey in LF.

Trading for Mat Latos, possibly one of the best pitchers to change teams this offseason was obviously a huge deal, but the Reds made another big one in the Ryan Madson acquisition.  Madson had previously been looking for a 4 year contract north of 40 million.  He and his superagnet Scott Boras misread the market, and “settled” with the Reds on a 1 year deal for 8.5 million where he could have a great year and then enter the wild again, free to reap the rewards of free agency (queue the impending doom forshadowy music)…

The Reds lost some players too, thanks to two trades and free agency.  Gone is Yonder Alonso, who is really the only batter of (semi) regularity to play last year who isn’t with the Cincy 9 this year.  I was pleased with the trade because I never though Yonder would be what many people made him out to be.  I thought solid regular, decent power (20-25hrs) with a solid batting average.  Nothing special for a 1B with 0 defensive ability.  Also gone are other minor leaguers and Travis Wood.  I liked Wood and as good as Sean Marshall is, I didn’t really like the trade.  I think a quality starting pitcher is worth a great deal more than a lockdown relief pitcher.  Moreover, they are both lefties, so if you wanted a relief pitcher in the pen, why not try Wood and keep Sappelt (even if he’s nothing more than a 4th outfielder)?

Any regular viewer of the Reds can tell you that Dusty Baker has virtually no tactical ability as a manager.  He’ll likely change the lineup a zillion times and do stupid things like bat Corey Patterson lead off or over play righty/lefty splits and all that crap.  It’s important for anyone that isn’t familiar with his tendencies to know that he used to play with Hank Aaron (he like people to know this) and he coaches the Reds like they are about to play the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field.  He pays little to no attention to advanced statistics and still likes to coach “by feel” and gut.  I think there is room for that, but more like in a 95% use the numbers/5% use the gut feel capacity.  Methinks he’s more of the 50/50 persuasion.  If you’d like to learn more about some of the new statistics, theories, and concepts being used in baseball, I suggest you read (not see) Moneyball or go over to Fangraphs.com to learn more.

As we lead up to the beginning of the season for Cincinnati, I’m going to post a few things about the Reds that I think are pertinent.  I’ll probably do four more posts in total; previews for the battery, infield, outfield, and predictions.  For now, I’m just pumped that baseball is back, beginning tomorrow night (A’s v M’s in Japan) and that I will soon be able to watch the Reds almost every night.

If anyone wants my opinion on any topic regarding the Reds, I’m happy to oblige.  You may already be wondering what I think about Ryan Madson’s injury; it will be addressed in another post, but I’ll say this: I’m not worried.

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Myrtle Beach in the Year Two Thousand

Got an email the other day from long time friend Travis “Buff” Goubeaux.  Trav and I used to have contests to see who could bench press the telephone pole the most.  One time, I swear to God I saw him arm wrestle a backhoe and you know something?  He almost won.  So in this electronic mail message I received from Travis, he reminded me of the time he and I, along with 3 others, went down to Myrtle Beach for a week.  I’m pretty sure there were only 5 of us, but the whole trip is a haze at this point, so maybe I’m missing someone.  At this point, I recall myself, Travis, Jace G., Andy Wendeln, Kent Borchers, and BJ Loughridge.

We drove down to Myrtle and checked into the Sea Cove, a charming little rats nest that actually treated us really well.  A few years prior we stayed there for Senior Week and the guy that owns the place hooked us up with a suite so we decided to come back.  He remembered us, so we must not have torn it up too badly.  I don’t even know if the Sea Cove is still there, but it’s right on the main drag , right down from where the old Pavilion used to be.  The Pavilion  more closely resembles a county fair than an amusement park, but it was sort of the big landmark “down town”.  Well, that and Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Mother Fletchers.

As none of us were 21, we brought most of our adult beverages with us and pretty much planned to stick around the hotel, hit the beach occasionally,  and maybe attempt a few of the clubs that we know allow 18 and over.  This seems an appropriate time to mention that I am the anti-club guy.  I want a bar where I can belly up and drink, but since we are out to have some fun, I’m not terribly opposed.  An important fact to keep in mind through all of this is that only two of us have fake IDs.  That would be Travis and myself.

I don’t remember all of the details of this day versus that day and whatnot, but Trav and I had some good times with those fake IDs.  Early in the week, Travis and I were down in some of the little souvenir shops and asked the local guy working there where we should go and what nights are the good nights to go where.  What’s interesting is that the guy at the shop went to Coastal Carolina and knew a guy that we knew from Sidney that went there to play baseball.  Crikees, I can’t even remember who that was (later remembered it was Chad Waters).  Anyway, he was a crap load of worthless except for one piece of information; that night was the night for House of Blues.  The only problem was that it was pretty far away.

So Trav and I partied with the others for a while before we headed to Mother Fletchers.  Yeah, that Mother Fletchers.  Place was dead.  I can’t remember if we all went or just Trav and I, but I know what happened next; Travis and Josh decided to go to House of Blues.  Being pretty low on funds for the entire trip, we likely wouldn’t have gone for this because the cab ride to get there was 40 bucks, which, we could have easily used to drink for an entire night and maybe another day, but it was too late.  Fake IDs worked and we were in.

Here is where we first became aware of the cost associated with drinking in bars that aren’t designed for college kids (U. of Dayton, for example) or targeted towards the “under 21″ crowd (anywhere in Russia, Fort Loramie, or other God’s Country locales).  At 5 bucks a beer we knew we couldn’t last long, but after the expense of getting there and having to get back we made the best of it.  Another factor we weren’t expecting was that the bar was open until 5am; which, let’s face it, is a wonderful thing.  Such wonders have never reached us in the middle of Ohio.

So we’re getting pretty well on and we start chatting up with a couple of people towards closing time who tell us they are going to Neil’s after the House of Blues closes for some more drinking and whatnot.  We’re like, “okay, but where does Neil live and will he mind?”.  Neil’s was a bar, apparently open until 7.  We call bullshit on this because they were drunk Irish girls who likely had no idea what they were talking about, but we went anyway, with no idea where Neil’s was or where it would leave us.  What we were about to walked into changed our lives in a very deep and profound way for the rest of our lives.

Neil’s was a pretty unassuming place.  If you thought it looked like the kind of a place that would occupy a space nobody else wanted, right across the street from an amusement park roller coaster you would be right.  Downtown Myrtle Beach, at that time had a little carnival-esque amusement park called the Pavilion.  Down a side road that neighbors the Pavilion sits Neil’s.  It ain’t pretty, but when we saw it we were really excited for two reasons.  1, it actually existed and if it actually existed, it stood to reason that it would be open until 7 like these Celtic lass’ claim.  2, it was only about 3 blocks away from our home at the luxurious Sea Cove.  We had basically thrown a dart in the dark and hit the bullseye.

Before I get to into things, let me identify for you the significance of this bar and it’s location.  First, the bar.  Comprised entirely of foreigners.  Travis, myself, and one bartender were the only US citizens in the whole place and I’m guessing there were a good 50-75 people there.  It looked like a cross from the Al’s (before the fire) and Newport Tavern.  So right off the bat we like the place; fancy pants we are not.  We look down and hey, there’s a dog.  Just a golden retriever walking around the bar.  He belongs to Neil.  Next we find a seat; two old leather arm chairs that smell like a combination of awesome and cigar smoke.  So the place is cherry; right up our alley.  Second, the location is absolutely perfect.  It’s downtown, but off the strip.  Tourists aren’t even aware of it.  As I said earlier, it’s only a few blocks from where we were staying, which made it very accessible and, of course, it was open until 7.  Minds.  Blown.

So Trav and I sit down and strike up conversations with the model UN of a customer base and start making friends.  Turns out that they all came with a sort of exchange program to experience the United States.  I remembered being at Kings Island years before and seeing a lot of foreign countries on the name tags of various employees, and remember a similar program.  These college kids come from all over in order to work in Myrtle Beach and experience what the US is about.  We spoke with guys and gals from all over the UK and Ireland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.  When we were about to leave for the night (morning), we saw a bunch of people going up to this older gentleman, shaking hands, saying thanks, etc.  We asked someone who it was…there stood Neil.  We decided it would be wise to say “thanks” to Neil as we left; so we did.  Probably the best thing we could have done, because the next night when we returned he was at the door taking IDs.  He said “hello, boys, go right in.”  No need for IDs or anything, he knew us, and from that point on, we were good to go.

One thing about Travis and I; we like to drink, which is evident, but we also like to eat, and on the path back to sobriety, there was a breakfast joint by the name of Pappy’s.  Pappy’s has a regular menu and all that, but who cares?  They had an ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET.  Needless to say, we ventured in.  We get a seat and I excuse myself to the restroom.  Upon my return, Travis has about the largest plate of meat and eggs I’ve ever seen and he’s just sitting there laughing to himself.  I ask what’s up and he tells me that waitress, realizing his condition, decided it would be best to go get the food for him.  Yeah, it was sort of like that all week for us.  I refuse to believe Pappy, God bless him, made any money on me and Travis that week.

We finally make it back to our hotel, where we were sharing a room with Wendel and offered him a rude awakening when we decided to lift up his mattress and smash it against the wall adjacent the bed, effectively smashing him in between it. Trav and I then slept for a few hours and joined the living to start it up again.  This went on every day.  All of it, including smashing Wendel between the wall and the mattress every morning (what colossal pricks were we?).  We drank with the guys until about 12 or so and then we went out to Neil’s.   Almost every night (morning) we sat out on Neil’s deck and watched the sun come up over the Atlantic while knocking back our final beers with a few Scotsmen.  The good folks at Pappys (which opened at 7) even told us they’d let us in before they opened if we got there a little early.  One morning, we had a few Irishmen with us for breakfast and I remember Travis and I doing an Irish jig with these guys down Sunset Boulevard while they sang a drinking song.  International relations had never been better.

One thing that bears mention is that Travis and I tried to keep up our buff appearances by doing pushups everywhere we went.  In the pool.  At the bar.  On Sunest Boulevard at 8 in the morning on our walk back from Pappys.  Other, non Myrtle Beach related places that Travis and I have done pushups was on the floor of Finnegans in South Bend, IN, Ohio St, U. of Tennessee outside Neyland Stadium, and so on and so forth.  We’re huge.  Despite this rigorous attempt to keep trim, I gained no less than 10 pounds that week.  The fattest day of my life was this week and went as such:

  • 7am finish up final drinks
  • 7:15 eat as much bacon, eggs, and sausage as possible
  • 8:00 pushups on Sunset Boulevard
  • 8:15 smash Wendel into the wall
  • 8:20 pass out
  • 12:00 wake up
  • 12:30 order and eat take out
  • 1:00-6:00 drink beer (with some pool/beach time)
  • 6:00 eat as many wings as possible at Hooters (while drinking beer)
  • 8:00-12:00 drink with the guys
  • 12:00 – 7:00 drink at Neil’s
  • 7:15 eat as much bacon, eggs, and sausage as possible

Thus concludes my description of our trip to Myrtle Beach.  We had a lot of fun and will always remember Neil’s fondly.  When Travis emailed me that he’s going to Myrtle Beach, I looked up Neil’s and was sad to hear that it is now closed.  Sad to think future generations of degenerate drinkers will not be able to enjoy the greatness of Neil’s like we did.  RIP Neil’s.  RIP.

 

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Weigh In!

New Year’s Resolutions are hard.  It’s been only two weeks for me, and I’ve already lapsed on this stuff.  I haven’t blogged in more than a week, which I’m sure you’ve been upset about.  In my defense, I had to work Tuesday and Wednesday night last week and Thursday I had to travel all day.  But I’m back with an official weigh in to let you know how resolution numero uno is going.  (That is, losing 3o lbs this year.)

Per my post from two weeks ago, I weighed in initially at 261.2.  After a week of diet and exercise, I weighed in at 258.4.  Down almost 3 pounds in one week.  This is encouraging, of course, because any loss is good loss.  I also figure that 30 pounds over 12 months is less than 3 pounds a month.  It doesn’t take a lot of deducing to understand that the early pounds will be the easiest to lose, so I didn’t take this as having yet made my short term objective.  I feel as though my progression, because I know it will become more difficult, needs to start fast and will slowly level off.  This month I feel I should lost at least 5-7 pounds, which at my “too big to fail” frame, shouldn’t be a stretch.

But there was a snag; multiple snags.  First, I hurt my knee on the treadmill.  Science might say that it’s because the human knee isn’t built to weather the storm of 260 lbs pounding away at it on a treadmill.  Of course, science also believes in crazy things like evolution.  Anyway, the knee put me out of commission.  The knee and spending two days on the road (in Crown Point, IN (!) and Cincinnati) means I didn’t get to the gym again last week.

I didn’t get back to the gym until today, in fact.  Where weigh in number two happened.  Today Josh weights 259.4.  Down almost 2 pounds on the year, but up a pound from last week.  Now I know what you’re saying, “Josh, you’re training with weights, right?  That’s gotta be a result of an increase in muscle mass.”  It seems obvious that this would be the case, but in order to provide a balanced argument I created a second theory.  So on one side; that single hour in the gym last week literally pumped me up.  The other theory is that no exercise combined with all you can eat wings during the AFC championship game at BW3s and a Papa Johns pizza during the NFC championship game put that single pound back where it didn’t belong.

I guess we’ll never really know which of the two theories is correct, but what I can tell you is that I went to the gym today and am getting back on track.  Work will put me into Columbus on Wednesday but other than that there are no roadblocks in the foreseeable future….except Schmidts lunch buffet in the German Village.  Crap.

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Tweet Yo Self

There’s a decent chance that you are reading this right now, thanks to the virtues of social media.  I post the blog to the multiple channels available to me and some of you see it there and if not, you may be direct here by other websites, who see my posts via the same social networks.  Many, if not all of you, are at least familiar with what Facebook is, even if you haven’t immersed yourself into the world of Farmville and MobWars.  Even through the shameless exploitation of my personal information, tastes, proclivities, and other sensitive information, I enjoy it.  And if Facebook makes a buck on me; so be it.  Its provided to me, for nothing, hours of entertainment.  Most of which comes from making fun of people and being overly judgmental of others from the safety and comfort of my snuggie.

What many of you may not be so familiar with is Twitter.  Originally intended to be a “micro-blogging” site, it allows you to post whatever you like in 140 character snippets.  So, not unlike your typical Facebook status updates, you can do the same through Twitter.  Only its way more awesome.  Allow me to explain how it works and why I’ve become borderline obsessed with using it.

It works exactly like the Facebook status updates, like I had stated, but again, in only 140 characters.  That’s spaces, punctuations and everything.  140 keystrokes, might be a better way to put it.  When you tweet, it shows up in the timeline or feed of everyone that follows you.  You, in turn, decided who you follow and whose bits of wit and wisdom you might like to read.  What is nice about Twitter as opposed to Facebook is that you can follow someone and they don’t have to follow you back.  You want to follow me?  Great.  I may not follow you.  If you constantly Tweet about how yummy the Starbucks seasonal coffee is every day, I don’t want you clogging up my feed.  Nothing personal, I may really like you, but I want my time and space reserved for what I want to see.

My time and space is reserved mostly for sports and news related items.  I was recently showing someone my Twitter timeline who was unfamiliar with how it works and I was taken back by how baseball centric my entire thing is.  I went down the line pointing at Tweets saying “baseball writer, baseball writer, ESPN writer, baseball writer, baseball web site, ESPN writer, buddy, Breaking News, baseball writer, Sports Illustrated writer” and so on and so forth.  A few ball players were mixed in there, but for the most part, its baseball guys, writers, and news.

And here’s why.  I love baseball and I love following the sport.  Thoroughly.  I get excited for the winter meetings and I read quite a bit about prospects (not just the Reds) who are getting moved around, and who is having interest in this guy, and which team is searching for that postion player to fill a hole in their lineup.  It’s all very boring to most people.  I find it fascinating.  Rambled a bit there.  Anyway, I like Twitter because it gives me the instant gratification of knowing the news right away.  God Bless the internet and ESPN.com and CNN.com and all of those web pages that bring us news mere hours after it happens, but now I get the new 30 seconds after it happens.  When the Reds signed Ryan Madson a few days ago, I saw the rumors swirling on Twitter long before it happens.  You can see the momentum build to its penultimate moment and then it happens and the Twitterverse exhales collectively.

You don’t see any of that in the paper.  You don’t hear the rumors leading up to a signing until the next day or two days perhaps.  Unless something is worth writing an entire article about, you don’t hear any of it.  Not true with Twitter.  In 140 characters Ken Rosenthal tells me from the lobby of the hotel in Minneapolis that the Angels are in agreement with Pujols.  He doesn’t know any details, and of course, that’s the meat, but you know and you know now.

Another reason that I like Twitter is that you can connect with some of these people, these other worldly, previously untouchable people and connect on a personal level.  It’s no more than a fleeting tweet where you say something to them (you “mention” someone in a tweet and they get alerted) and they respond.  Or you send them a question (sportswriters take Q’s all the time…I love watching the Reds play and following John Fay of the Cincy Enquirer during the game.  High comedy and it adds to the broadcast.  Learn tons more about what’s happening).  I actually got to meet one of ESPNs MLB writers in Arizona last year because of Twitter.  We didn’t solve the worlds problems or anything, but we had tweeted back and forth a few times regarding my trip there (he lives in Phoenix) and told me to stop and chat if I saw him at a game.  He happened to be there and I did.  He remembered me, we chatted baseball a little bit, and I was on my way.  But it was cool.  I read that guy every day and he remembered me from Twitter.

To quote one of the more influential poets of our time, Sir Mix-a-Lot, I’m hooked and I can’t stop starin.  I’ll take questions from anyone who has questions about Twitter.  You can follow me if you want; my name is @joshfrancis50 (the @ symbol precedes every Twitter handle, FYI).  Get started, dig in, and have fun with it.

With all of this in mind, I thought I’d take one post a week and share a few of my Tweets for the week.  I don’t think I’m going to start tonight, because this post is already starting to ramble.  I thought it might be a good idea for a few reasons.  One, Twitter sort of acts as a note pad for my thoughts for the week.  I think of things all the time that I could maybe write a post about, but then I forget it 10 minutes later.  But with Twitter, I condense some of these and now I can go back and review them, share them and expound on them.  The other reason is that most of you aren’t on Twitter, and might find them funny.  Some will just be comical, some may involve longer stories (which is fine), and others my just stand on their own.

I don’t know for sure, but Twitter may even be responsible for my getting noticed by @fish_report.  I never told him about it, but I tweeted it, and maybe he picked it up.  But I don’t know.

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Humble Beginnings

The Weigh In

I told you in my last post that I’d check in with my weight and let you know the starting point.  Let’s just say maybe I need to make this a 40 pound goal.  After playing a rousing game of Guess Josh’s Weight in Austin with the rest of my sales team, it would appear I may have been a little vain in my own estimate.  I told my team that I was 255.  Most of them had trouble believing that I weighed so much.  Perhaps they were being nice.  Of course, we get on each other pretty much about pretty much everything, so I doubt that was the case.

There was good news and bad news in this, right?  The good news is that I apparently don’t appear to weight that much, but previously outlined, I don’t care so much about the weight as I do feeling/looking well and ultimately, being in good health for those I care about.  The bad news?  I was optimistic.  261.4 is where I’m checking in originally.  I’m still going to hold to the 30 lbs, but I will adjust downward, and only downward, if 30 lbs comes easy (though I’m not inclined to believe it will).

This bit of reality is truly deflating because it was just August or September when I was under 250; 247 to be exact.  The wife and I went to Jamaica for our anniversary and BOOM; inflation sets in.  Not only do I eat incredibly well (and in massive quantities) but any momentum that I had gained in the previous several months in gym was lost.  I’ve gone semi regularly over the last couple months but nothing very intense and I really cut out much of the cardio I was doing.  I somehow convinced myself that shooting a basketball for 20 minutes was good enough.

So here we are at the humble beginning.  I found out so much yesterday.  I lifted weights and then hit the treadmill.  I did a paltry .7 miles in 9:15 before I gave it up.  This isn’t terribly uncommon for days in which I lift weights, but was a humbling realization when, back in July, I was able to go 4 miles at a time.  Today I did only work on the treadmill and shuffled out 2 miles in 20 minutes.  It’s a pretty far cry from taking on a marathon (no plans) but Ryan Nichols I’m not.  This was confidence building for me, and I intend to build on it.

I will be keeping track of my diet and exercise in an Excel file that I will make available to anyone who wants to see it.  I haven’t gotten it built yet, but when I do it will be stored publicly on Google Docs.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Brad Francis of Hood Ornaments and baseline fade away jump shot fame for offering his assistance with my goals.  He’s offered me advice based on what worked for him as well as a few websites, which you’ll see below.  No sense in keeping this stuff to myself.

http://chris.pirillo.com/50-weight-loss-tips/

http://deadspin.com/5545674/the-public-humiliation-diet-a-how+to

A Few Notes on the Reds

I’d like to make some brief mention about the Reds and what’s happened since the Mat Latos acquisition, if I may.  And I may.

First, the Sean Marshall/Travis Wood trade.  I really don’t like it.  Everyone and everything I read about Sean Marshall show a ton of great things.  I’m sure he’s going to be a tremendous asset, but I didn’t really care for the trade, even when I assumed that Marshall would be closing.  Now that the Reds believe he will be setting up, I REALLY don’t like the trade

Because here’s the thing.  Wood was a starter, he is younger, he’s cheaper, and he’s a lefty like Marshall.  I know the Reds need bullpen help, but they are trading Wood and others for one year of a guy who will only pitch around 70-80 innings.  I just have trouble seeing how 80 innings of middle relief are equal in value to 150-200 innings for the next four years.  They aren’t, especially when you have to pay about the same for the one year as you would the other 4 collectively.  I’m further astounded because Travis Wood, a lefty like Marshall, could just BE that set up guy.  He isn’t as established as Marshall, but for God’s sake, isn’t there some value in having a guy on the squad, a left no less, who could step into the rotation if someone goes down?  I don’t like it.  And in case you were wondering, I don’t care a rip about Dave Sappelt.  Extra guy, never a star…never even a good regular as far as I’m concerned.

Now, onto the actual closer’s role.  First, it should not be Chapman.  Get that out of your head.  He’s too good and too valuable to waste preserving leads.  He needs to be a starter, but you know, he probably shouldn’t pitch more than about 130 innings, which is another reason why hanging onto Wood would have been a fair idea.

I hear today that the Reds are in “heated” discussions with Ryan Madson, the Phillies closer from last year.  He’s great, right?  He’s great.  But the thing is, the Reds spent a crap load on a closer last time and it wasn’t worth it.  Too much money for too small of a budget.  If they want to sign Joey Votto long term without blowing up the current budget, they can’t afford to spend on a closer.  Furthermore, he’s a Scott Boras client.  If you don’t know who he is, he’s the agent that pretty much dominates baseball.  He changed it with his negotiating, money grubbing ways.  Given that Boras is the agent for this cat, I can’t see it being cheap or for less than about 4 years.  I may give a post later on about the uselessness of the closer role (apologize to Mo Rivera and Tom Franco) but for now, the Reds just need to spend in a better way.

Last, congratulations to #11, Barry Larkin, on his induction to the hall of fame.  I don’t have any great personal Larkin stories, but growing up everyone always wanted to be number 11 and I very happy to see him enshrined.  He’s always seemed to be the great guy and as a player he was always on his game.  Good for him.  I only hope he elects to wear a Reds cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

Reds Update

About 10 minutes after I posted this and called it a night, rumors were abounding that the Reds and Madson had, in fact, cut a deal.  I still believe what I said above, but am shocked to learn that it’s supposedly only a 1 year deal for only 8.5 million.  If so, this is a great win for the Reds.  In an offseason that saw Jonathan Papelbon, an inferior closer, get 4 years/50 million, this is a tremendous signing for the Reds and Walt Jocketty.  I’ll post more in depth thoughts on the signing later, but for now, the Reds may have the best bullpen in baseball and as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has said: The Reds are a left fielder away from being really good.

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