NL Beat

Help Is On the Way
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 04:07

Teams have been back in business and business is starting to get really tough.  And it’s not going to get any easier for many teams as the second half gets under way in earnest.  There’s about a week to go in August then the last two months of the regular season.  Just over ten weeks to go.

The divisions have the San Francisco Giants in the West and Cincinnati Reds in the Central both with two and one half game leads while the Washington Nationals in the East are in the lead by four and one half games.

Chasing them is the rest of the teams in the National League with a realistic chance of making a run for the playoffs.  The Atlanta Braves behind the Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals behind the Reds, and Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks following behind the Giants.  Those teams will be looking for reinforcements coming down the back stretch while those in front will be searching for help to hold off the contenders.

Washington got Drew Storen back from the disabled list.  He shores up the bullpen but the Nationals won’t put him back in the closer role just yet as Tyler Clippard is filling that role and Storen is still working his way back from missing the first half with a sore elbow.  With Clippard struggling lately Drew could be back saving games sooner rather than later.

The Houston Astros have made the biggest splash by volume dealing away Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, and J.A. Happ among others.  Lee was the one trade the team made to an NL team with the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox being the beneficiaries of Houston players in the American League.

Then, not wanting to be left out, the Pittsburgh Pirates of all teams, made a big statement by acquiring Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros.  This move certainly puts Cincinnati and St. Louis on notice in the Central Division that the Pirates aren’t going to go away – they are in this for the long haul.  Rodriguez will join a Pirates rotation that is doing quite well with James McDonald and A.J. Burnett anchoring things.

This trade is big for a couple reasons. First, for Houston to be in the position to make this kind of deal this late in the season and secondly, Pittsburgh taking on potentially $12 million dollars in salary for a player.  According to rumors, Pittsburgh isn’t done making a big splash.  They are still rumored to be looking to add a big bat and had been mentioned in deals involving Carlos Quentin, Hunter Pence, and Justin Upton.

With so many teams looking to make the playoffs, there certainly are a lot of conversations going on between front offices.  All the contending teams would certainly like to make a move to bolster their chances but it’s all going to come down to what is the asking price and what are the willing to pay.  If the will and means are there, there are some interesting players who might be available.

After just dealing Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, The Miami Marlins are said to be still open to listening to deals for Josh Johnson.  The fish already have dealt Anibal Sanchez so the possibility of making other deals is certainly there.  Johnson has been pitching well and could be the kind of arm to push a team over the top.  Hanley will provide a good boost to the Dodgers, though he has been a little disappointing the past year and a half in Miami but he has the power and speed potential to make a big difference in a playoff race.   No word yet if Hanley will play shortstop or third base. Nathan Eovaldi and a prospect join the Fish. Along with Jacob Turner, Eovaldi should form a formidable 1-2 punch for Miami going forward.

The Philadelphia Phillies are still trying to put together a long-term deal for Cole Hamels but nothing has been finalized.  If a deal can’t be hammered out then Hamels is the kind of pitcher who could make a huge difference not only for getting a team to the playoffs but for going deep into them as well as he’s been one of the best pitchers this year.

Other players the Phillies could possibly trade are the aforementioned Pence and Shane Victorino.  It seems obvious that Philadelphia realizes its window has closed and will be trying to deal off much of their talent in an effort to re-tool.

The Chicago Cubs are said to be willing to deal either or both of Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.  They, along with the Phillies’ Hamel and Milwaukee Brewers’ Zack Greinke, comprise a very strong group of pitchers that could be a game changer in the playoff picture.

Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres could be making an address change as well as Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks although Arizona has a tough decision to make regarding being in or out of the playoff race going into the trade deadline.  If they feel they are out then Drew and Upton could be on the block although it is hard to think they will give up on their star right-fielder.

These are a lot of big names that have been rumored to be available.  While some of these names are only rumored to be dealt you know the adage – where there’s smoke there’s fire.  But the fact is there are many more big names being tossed about than in years past and it seems that this could be the year that teams really could find the help they are looking for.
Don’t Forget About Me
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 19 July 2012 00:00

We’re at the point in the season where teams are going to look to assess their situation and decide if they are buyers or sellers.  Some of them are obvious – the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, and Colorado Rockies will be sellers while division leaders Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants will be looking to shore things up.

With the addition of a second wild card team in each league this year, more teams are in the hunt for the postseason.  Teams like the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers have a realistic chance of making it while the Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, and Arizona Diamondbacks are on the bubble.

There are about a dozen days left until the non-waiver trade deadline and things could get very interesting.  Some very tough decisions will be made by team executives as they first decide if they’re in or out then decide who to trade and who to trade for.

Just as the MLB trade deadline is fast approaching, the trade deadline in many fantasy leagues will also be approaching and fantasy owners will be in the same boat as their real life counterparts.  They will be taking stock of where they are in the standings and analyzing the categories to see where the realistic chance of gaining points lies.  After this is ascertained, the process of identifying the players that could help and what their owners will want to complete a trade will begin in earnest.

Of course, everyone will want the obvious choices – the Andrew McCutchen’s, the R. A. Dickey’s, and the Ryan Braun’s of the world.  While they certainly could help any fantasy team going down the stretch, they will also demand the most value in return.  In keeper leagues, players of this caliber will require the best of future considerations in return and in single-year leagues you will have to part with talent of equal value.  In either case, the purchase price will be lofty.

So how do you acquire the players you need without breaking the bank?  One way is to look at categories that are more closely contested where a second or third tier player instead of one at the top level could move you up.  Identify a couple categories where this is possible and you could possibly get more bang for your buck.

Another way to tackle this is to look at those players on the disabled list.  If the player has been out for awhile, their owner may be tired of carrying them on their roster for so long and you might get them at some kind of discount.  Even if they’ve only been on the disabled list a short time, that in itself might be enough to sway an owner to pull the trigger on a trade that is to your advantage.

There are many players that could fit the bill – especially in an NL-only league where it might not take much of an improvement at a position to move the category needles.  Some hitters to consider are:

Jonathan Lucroy – The catcher has a fractured right hand and could return at the end of July or beginning of August.

Dee Gordon – The speedy shortstop has a torn thumb ligament that required surgery.  He could be back near the end of August.

Jayson Werth – Nationals' outfielder had a fractured left wrist and could return within the next two to three weeks.

Todd Helton – Colorado first baseman has been sidelined with a hip injury and might return in the next week or so.

There are many more pitchers to consider:

Jonny Venters – The relief pitcher had elbow discomfort and is scheduled to return the last week of July.

Shaun Marcum – The Brewer has been out with elbow tightness and may return in August.

Jaime Garcia – Cardinals' starter had shoulder impingement and is slated to be back in August.

Chad Billingsley – Dodgers' starting pitcher out with elbow inflammation could be back in a week or so.

Ted Lilly – Another starter for Los Angeles; out with shoulder inflammation, could return in one to two weeks.

Frank Francisco – Mets' closer sidelined with an oblique strain could be back in early August.

Drew Storen – Nationals' closer has been out with bone chips in his elbow. His return could be any day now.

Andrew Cashner – Padres' pitcher out with a lat strain should be back by mid-August.

Jhoulys Chacin – Colorado starting pitcher had an injury to a nerve in his chest and may return in mid-August.

Any of these players could help a team down the stretch and it’s certainly worth the while to kick their tires instead of going right out and purchasing the biggest car on the lot.
Peeking at the Second half
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 09:37

Another home run derby and All-Star game is completed.  Prince Fielder, now with the American League, won the home run derby for the second time – a feat only he and Ken Griffey Jr. have done.  Then a day later the National League came out on top in the All-Star game itself with an 8-0 whitewashing of the AL stars – only the eighth time in 83 games there has been a shutout.  The NL now holds a 43-38 record in the mid-summer classic with two ties.

It certainly was a National League affair in the sweltering 90 degree game time heat.  More specifically, it was a San Francisco Giant affair as Melky Cabrera had two hits in three at bats, smacking a homerun, driving in two runs while also scoring two and walking away with MVP honors.  The fleet-footed Pablo Sandoval chipped in a triple in three at bats with three RBI and one run scored.  Giants’ players wound up with five of the eight NL RBI in the game.  Matt Cain picked up the victory with two innings of work allowing one hit and striking out one.

Matt Holliday, Ryan Braun, and Dan Uggla each added an RBI to round out the scoring for the senior circuit.  Chipper Jones added a single in one at bat in his last All-Star appearance.  Cabrera and Braun were the only players on either side to have a multi-hit game while NL pitchers held the American League to only six hits while striking out seven.

With the victory, the NL has now secured home-field advantage in the World Series for the third year in a row (see last week’s version of this column for my thoughts on that).  Now that the festivities are over, players will start making their way back to their teams after the mini-vacation and real games resume this Friday.

With the start of those games, the second half of the fantasy season will also get under way and owners will be trying to figure out which players will perform at a high level and which will fizzle out.  I will take a look at some players going forward.

Tim Lincecum – I’ve spoken about “The Freak” on other occasions this year and nothing has changed.  Lincecum is still freaky horrible and I don’t want any part of him.  The velocity is still down and he’s still getting beat up like an old George Foreman punching bag.  His last two starts each lasted three and one third innings first against the Washington Nationals then the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Lincecum allowed first seven earned runs at Washington then six earned at Pittsburgh and only struck out a total of five hitters.  He will not be on any of my teams in the second half.

Cliff Lee – It’s almost impossible to comprehend Cliff Lee going all the way to Independence Day before getting his first victory of the season.  But that’s exactly what’s happened this year, although not as a result of pitching poorly.  In fact, the peripherals are pretty close to what they were last year and the velocity is nearly identical.  Cliff Lee will be someone to target for the second half if you need pitching help and the wins will come.

Zack Greinke – Greinke is quietly having a fine year with nine wins under his belt but isn’t getting a lot of attention since Milwaukee isn’t doing that well.  The whip is right in line with 2011 and the ERA is half a run better.  Zack is throwing as hard as last year and even though the strikeouts are down some he’s right at one punch out per inning.  There are trade rumors around so now might be the time to acquire him before the price gets even higher.

Cole Hamels – If you don’t already own him, the price is going to be steep for this Cy Young contender.  Hamels wasn’t supposed to be the best pitcher on a team that could run out Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in front of him.  But he has turned out to be just that.  Philadelphia is supposed to be open to the prospect of re-signing the 28 year old but there are still indications they would trade him.  Further complicating matters is word that Cole wouldn’t consider a contract extension with a team he was traded to as he would like to hit the free agent market.  But for 2012 and a fantasy team he will be gold the rest of the way no matter what happens.

Ryan Braun – Talk about silencing your detractors.  There isn’t even a whisper of the performance enhancing controversy anymore.  Braun has let his bat do the talking and it’s talking real loud.  Last year’s MVP is on pace for bettering 2011’s numbers in homeruns, RBI, and runs scored which certainly puts him in contention for another MVP.  If you own Ryan you can either sit back and enjoy the ride as he leads you to a fantasy title or collect a king’s ransom by trading him.

Andrew McCutchen – One doesn’t normally think of a Pittsburgh Pirate as someone to target for a fantasy team.  But this is a different Pirates team and McCutchen a different kind of player.  Still only 25 years old, he has an obscene .362 batting average and is on pace for over 35 homeruns and 120 RBI.  I don’t see him slowing down much the rest of the way.

Ted Lilly – He’s still not expected back until around the end of August but Lilly is the kind of guy I like to gamble on.  He always seems to fly under the radar, not getting much fantasy attention, but you can normally count on what he’ll provide you.  If your waiver wire has pretty much been picked over, see if you can pick up the 36 year old who will be pitching in quite a few good parks in the NL West after he comes back.

All-Star Time
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 05 July 2012 08:33

We’re only about a week from the mid-summer classic known as baseball’s All-Star Game.  The game is entertaining and I will most likely watch most of it like I usually do.  However, I’m not a fan of what Bud Selig has done with it since the 2002 game in Milwaukee ended in a tie – namely, the World Series home field advantage goes to the team from the winning league.  Yeah, yeah Bud.  You had to make sure you didn’t have the same result as 2002.  You had to make sure the players really cared about the game.  You had to make sure the managers managed it as if it was the World Series.  You had to make the All-Star game relevant again.

Well, in my opinion, you don’t make the players really care about the game unless you pay them for it.  Many players nowadays only seem to be motivated by money.  Not like years ago when the motivation was dislike for the other league and just wanting to beat them in an exhibition game the players actually cared more about than the fans.  If you don’t want to actually pay them then let baseball open up its huge coffers and donate $100,000 to the charity of choice for each player on the winning team.

Declaring that the winning league would get home field advantage for the World Series was a cheap ploy to try to incentivize the players, coaches, and managers.  There are still players on each squad every year from teams that don’t have a realistic chance of getting to the playoffs, never mind the World Series.  What will they care about who gets home field advantage?

Then there’s the fact that this negates all the hard work that a team does during the year to get as good a record as possible.  The home field advantage for the World Series was something to really strive for.  It was something the fans really looked forward to if their team had the better record going into the Fall Classic.  It was something a city had to look forward to – the possibility of an extra day’s revenues for their overall economy including more money for vendors and workers.  All that has been taken away from the team, fans, and city they represent for an exhibition game in the middle of the season that less and less people really care about.  The team with the best record entering the World Series should have home field advantage, period.  Bud has done some good things in his tenure but he sure botched this one up.

I’ll get off my soapbox now and compare the MLB All-Stars to my fantasy All-Stars for the National League.

Catcher – Buster Posey won the voting and has been solid batting .300 with ten homeruns, 42 RBI and 32 runs scored but Carlos Ruiz is my fantasy All-Star with a .354 batting average, 12 homeruns, 44 RBI, and 39 runs.

1B – Joey Votto got the fan’s nod and mine as well batting .352 with 14 homeruns, 47 RBI, and 50 runs scored.

2B – Dan Uggla’s .231 batting average, 11 homeruns, 43 RBI, and 52 runs won out over Aaron Hill’s .301 average, 11 homeruns, 38 RBI, and 36 runs.  Hill added seven stolen bases to Uggla’s zero.  My fantasy All-Star is Hill.

3B – Pablo Sandoval and his .302 BA, six HR, 25 RBI, and 26 R was deemed more worthy than David Wright and his .351 BA, ten HR, 54 RBI, 54 R and eight stolen bases.  Not in my book.  David Wright the fantasy All-Star hands down.

SS – Rafael Furcal is certainly a good story for older guys like me but his .275 batting average, five homeruns, 32 RBI, 53 runs scored, and nine stolen bases is trumped as my fantasy All-Star by youngster Starlin Castro who has hit .291 with six homeruns, 40 RBI, 38 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

OF – Voted in were Melky Cabrera (.352 BA, seven HR, 39 RBI, 53 R, ten SB), Carlos Beltran (.304 BA, 20 HR, 63 RBI, 49 R, seven SB), and Matt Kemp (.355 BA, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 30 R, two SB in only 36 games).  My fantasy All-Stars are Andrew McCutchen (.360 BA, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 52 R, 14 SB), Carlos Gonzalez (.338 BA, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 59 R, 10 SB), and Ryan Braun (.309 BA, 23 HR, 58 RBI, 52 R, 13 SB).

P – I don’t have an issue with the pitching staff as a whole as they were selected.  Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley, Aroldis Chapman, Joel Hanrahan, Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, and Huston Street are all All-Star worthy.  But for my fantasy All-Stars James McDonald, Chris Capuano, or Zack Greinke would make the team over Lynn or Miley.

Well that’s it for my All-Stars and ranting about the real game.  Enjoy it and the break and I hope the Home Run Derby doesn’t ruin any of your players for the second half.

A Division in Flux
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 27 June 2012 11:55

What a difference a year makes.  Look at our own lives.  There might be a few years running when everything is the same.  We have the same job, same friends, same likes and dislikes, same neighbors.  But rarely do all the things in our lives keep the status quo.  Inevitably, something changes.  The change could be small or it could be wholesale.  That is what life is all about.  Things go in cycles.

Baseball is no different.  There are cycles of ups and downs.  Players rise to the top, peak, and then fall off as others assume their role.  Teams aren’t exempt from this series of cycles.  Some teams are better at restocking and staying relatively competitive while others aren’t as good and spend many more years being inept.  Rarely does a team spend more than a handful of years at the top before their collective talent peaks and starts to fall off as another team rises at the same time.

The National League East of 2012 is a perfect example of this changing of the guard.  The Philadelphia Phillies have had a good run recently finishing first every year since 2007.  2011 was their best year of the run as the Phils finished with a 102-60 record.  On the surface, things looked good for Philadelphia coming into 2012.  They still had the core of their team intact, especially their devastatingly dominant starting pitching anchored by the troika of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels.  There were some problems with the offense, namely the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley entering the season.

One of the problems with the offense is they are aging.  The average age of their active roster is 32.6 years.  If you include Utley and Howard they don’t get any younger.  But they need Chase and Ryan to come back and perform near the level they are capable of if they hope to get above .500 – never mind win the division again.  The offense is doing better but they are still scoring fewer runs than they allow which isn’t a good recipe for success.

On the pitching side, Philadelphia isn’t doing much better considering the expectations coming into the season.  With the big three starters and adding Jonathan Papelbon as closer, it was thought the team would dominate on the strength of their arms as they have the past couple of years.  But things haven’t materialized as the team drew it up before the season started.  The Phils are sitting in the middle of the NL with an even 4.00 team ERA.  This is not only below the NL average it is also below the American League average which is shocking.  The team leads the league in strikeouts but is in the bottom half of Batting Average Against. In comparison, 2011 they led the NL in ERA at 3.02 and were second in BAA with a .240 mark, 25 points lower than 2012.

The average age of the active pitching staff is 28.7 years.  This doesn’t include Halladay, who is currently on the disabled list.  Their five regular starting pitchers have an average age of 30.2 years.  Hamels is performing the best of the bunch and has ten victories on the year.  In contrast, Lee is still looking for his first win of the season as we approach the end of June and has one more start in the month to try to change that.  You could have gotten tremendous odds on that in Vegas.

This is a team that hasn’t had a lot on their side to this point in the year and they are getting a little long in the tooth.  There have been many hurdles for them to overcome but good teams find a way to make it happen.  That hasn’t been the case for the Phillies as of this point in 2012.  But they need to find a way to make their own breaks or the whole season will soon be lost.

On the other side of the coin is the Washington Nationals.  This is a team that has been used to being the doormat of the league, not just the East Division.  The last time the Nationals had a winning season was 2003 when they were still the Montreal Expos.  Since coming into existence in 1969, the Expos/Nationals have had only 17 seasons of at least .500 ball out of 43.  Losing has come too easy to this team.

But things are different so far in 2012.  Washington is leading the East Division with a 42-30 record, three and one half games ahead of the Atlanta Braves and eight ahead of the defending champion Phillies.  This is a team that is equally comfortable playing on the road as it is at home – six games above .500 for each.

This team is young – the average age of active hitters is 27.5 and active pitchers is 27.9 years.  While young, they still have a good blend of experience on the team as well to give them balance.  But they are playing as if they have much more experience.

For everything that is going wrong with the Phillies, it is going right for the Nationals.  They have had injuries – most notably to Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, and Drew Storen – but have overcome them as if they are a much more seasoned team.  As touted as the Philadelphia pitching staff has been, it is the Washington pitching staff that leads the National League with the likes of starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson – a group that doesn’t have nearly the experience as Philadelphia’s.

But the thing that makes the Washington Nationals stand out for me and contrasts them with the Phillies is the way they play.  While I haven’t seen every game of both teams, I have seen and heard enough of them to know that the Nationals are playing like they are hungry.  They are playing with an intensity and fire inside of them.  They are playing as if they are tired of all the years of losing.  And that is what will make them winners in the long run.

Miscellaneous Musings
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 09:57

It’s happened again as everyone knows by now.  After Johan Santana, Matt Cain succeeded in becoming the second pitcher in the National League to spin a no hitter this year.  (Cain went a step further with a perfect game).  They join Chicago’s Philip Humber, Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver, and a host of six pitchers for Seattle in the American League who also tossed a no hitter this season.  That’s a total of five so far and the year is still less than fifty percent complete.

There were only three no-no’s total in 2011 and all of them were in the American League.  These came in a year that was commonly referred to as the year of the pitcher.  Does that mean that 2012 is more of a pitcher’s year than 2011 was?  It might very well work out to be that way but we still have quite a way to go.  However, the trend has certainly moved to the pitching side since 2000.  In that year the National League composite ERA was 4.63, Batting Average Against was .266, and Slugging Percentage was .432.  Those numbers, while experiencing some fluctuation, have trended downwards to 3.93, .254, and .401 respectively.  The evidence certainly points to the conclusion that we are in more of a pitching era than we saw in the 1990’s and early to mid 2000’s.

With all the talk about no hitters and pitching in the NL, the favorite for the Cy Young award up to this point would have to be R.A. Dickey who is doing his best Clayton Kershaw impression.  The knuckleballer is now 11-1 on the year with a .889 WHIP and 2.00 ERA.  He has struck out 103 hitters in 99 innings despite the lack of a Kershaw fastball.  In one-hitting the Baltimore Orioles Monday, the big right-hander became the first NL pitcher since 1944 to record consecutive one-hitters.

People in some arenas weren’t expecting much from Carlos Beltran this season but the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder has responded with a very good season to this point – already besting some of the projections out there for the year.  The 35 year old is the 2012 version of the 2011 Lance Berkman as he’s hitting .305 with 19 homeruns and seven stolen bases.  Congratulations are in order as Beltran became the first switch hitter in major league history to compile 300 homeruns and 300 stolen bases for his career.  He is on pace for a 35/15 season which would be far more than his owners expected.

The injury train continues with Brandon Beachy succumbing to what proved to be a partially torn elbow ligament.  He will have a second opinion but it appears the 25 year old will be heading for surgery.  This is a major blow for the Atlanta Braves and Beachy’s fantasy owners.  Atlanta called up Todd Redmond to replace him.

Trying hard to dispel the notion he used performance enhancing drugs, Ryan Braun is on a pace that would potentially give him back-to-back MVP awards, last accomplished by Albert Pujols in 2008 and 2009.  The left fielder’s output includes a .314 batting average and 19 homeruns and 11 stolen bases.  At this rate he’ll end up with 45 homeruns and 26 stolen bases.

Even after losing All World center-fielder Matt Kemp to the disabled list for the second time this season with a hamstring injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers are still tops in the major leagues with a .618 winning percentage.  Some of the credit goes to Andre Ethier who has kept up his production (he’s on a pace for 131 RBI) with the absence of Kemp.  Still, this isn’t something I’d want to bet the ranch on going forward as Ethier hits 62 points lower against left handed pitchers.  When Kemp does come back, I’d temper stolen base expectations for the rest of the year.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ woes continue.  While I predicted they would slip this year and wouldn’t win their division, I certainly didn’t envision a 32-37 record, which has them mired in last place in their division.  Everyone expected them to rise or fall on the strength of their starting pitching and their fans and fantasy owners have been largely disappointed.  Cole Hamels has been the sole standout up to this point with a 10-3 record.  Roy Halladay, below .500 at four wins and five losses, is on the disabled list with a bad shoulder and won’t return until sometime in July.  Cliff Lee still is without a victory despite pitching fairly well.  Amazingly, Joe Blanton’s six victories are more than Halladay and Lee combined.  As good as their vaunted pitching staff is supposed to be, the Phillies have scored fewer runs than they have allowed on the year.  That doesn’t bode well for future success.  If things continue down this road, Philadelphia might very well be sellers come trade deadline time.

That’s it for now.  The time is gone, this piece is done, thought I’d something more to say.
NL By the Numbers
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 10:05

Anyone who has watched for any amount of time would agree that baseball is a funny game.  We do our projections for teams and individual players but rarely do things work out as we envision them before the season.  There are always those that underperform and those that outperform what they are ‘supposed’ to do.  The fact that this happens year in and year out is the only thing that is constant from one year to the next.

So the fact that things don’t always play out the way they are supposed to in our minds isn’t what surprises us.  Rather, what catches us off guard are the specific players to the unfolding drama.  For instance, in 2011 Jose Reyes led the National League in batting with a .337 average even though he had a career .285 mark entering the season and only one year at the .300 level.  Matt Kemp (39) had more homeruns than Prince Fielder (38) and Albert Pujols (37).  Ian Kennedy was tied for the league lead in victories with 21 and John Axford and Craig Kimbrel shared the league lead with 46 saves apiece.

This year is proving to be just as interesting or topsy-turvy, depending on which way you prefer to look at it.  Let’s take a look at some of the more notable aspects of the season to this point.

After finishing third in each of their respective divisions, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals are in first place and have the top two records in the league.  The San Diego Padres, who finished 20 games below .500 in 2011, are already at that mark this point in the 2012 season.  After finishing 42 games above .500 last year, the Philadelphia Phillies (who had the best record in all of baseball) have quite a way to go to catch up as they are presently five games below break even.

Phillies starting pitchers recorded 76 victories in 2011 but are on a pace to finish with only 56 this year.  The big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels had 19, 17, and 14 wins respectively in 2011. So far in 2012 Hamels has eight, Halladay has four, and Lee has zero wins.  Joe Blanton with five has more than Halladay and Lee combined.

The Washington Nationals lead the league in ERA with a 2.96 mark.  With their starters at 2.94 and relievers at 3.05, you can’t ask for more consistency.

The National League leaders in wins are none other than R.A. Dickey and Lance Lynn with nine each.  Combined they had nine in all of 2011.

The 2011 NL leaders in ERA were Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Lincecum.  All five had ERA’s below 2.75 for the season.  Only Kershaw and Vogelsong are below that mark in 2012.  This year’s top five are Brandon Beachy, Vogelsong, Ryan Dempster, Gio Gonzalez, and James McDonald.

Lincecum’s ERA, which was 2.98 for his career entering 2012, is now at 6.00 for the year.

McDonald’s ERA, which was 4.04 for his career entering 2012, is now at 2.39 for the year.

Melky Cabrera, owner of a career .275 batting average entering 2012, is now at .366 for the year and leads the league.  This after hitting .305 for the Kansas City Royals in 2011, which many said he couldn’t sustain for the entire year.  He won’t sustain .366 but I believe he is a .300+ hitter.  What does Ron Shandler say – once you display a skill you own it?

Two of the top five batting average leaders in the NL are catchers – Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina.  Average leaders are normally those that can outright rake or speedsters who can leg out a good number of infield hits.  Ruiz and Molina are neither.

Kimbrel again leads the league in saves with 18.  2011’s leaders along with Kimbrel were Axford, J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, and Drew Storen.  If we needed any further demonstration how volatile the saves category can be, this year’s leaders after Kimbrel are Santiago Casilla, Joel Hanrahan, Jonathan Papelbon, and Brett Myers and Frank Francisco tied.

Carlos Beltran leads the NL with 18 homeruns (and has even added six stolen bases after most thought his running days were over).  Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, and Giancarlo Stanton round out the leaders.  Pujols and Fielder, who defected to the American League, would barely crack the NL top 20 with their totals this year.

It’s no coincidence that Beltran, Gonzalez, and Stanton are also in the top five RBI getters in the league.  Andre Ethier leads the league with 54 while Adam LaRoche, who is having a resurgent year, rounds out the leaders.

Tony Campana leads the NL speedsters with 21 stolen bases.  Right on his heels are Emilio Bonifacio and Dee Gordon, each with 20 swipes.  Of all the NL players with at least ten stolen bases, only Gordon at .284 has an on base percentage lower than 300.  Campana’s 21 steals have come in only 118 at bats.

Washington’s Danny Espinosa leads the league in strikeouts with 74 which put him on a pace for 202.  He had 166 in 2011.

Drew Stubbs, who led the NL with 205 strikeouts in 2011, has improved in this area.  Stubbs, who struck out 30% of his plate appearances last year, is striking out only 26% of PA in 2012.

Numbers are always interesting to look at and baseball certainly doesn’t have a shortage of them.  We could actually say that the numbers in baseball are, well, innumerable.  They can be either looked at casually or analyzed ad nauseum.  That is one of the things that make this game so great.  Here’s hoping the numbers have been good to you so far in 2012 and that the rest of the year will be even better (unless you happen to play in one of my leagues).
Let’s Go To the Video Tape
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 07 June 2012 00:00

When the final out of the New York Mets versus the St. Louis Cardinals game was registered Friday, June 1, the Metropolitans finally had the first no-hitter thrown by one of their pitchers. Johan Santana used 134 pitches in recording this feat – 134 pitches that put to an end a streak of 8019 games without a no-no. That was 8019 games of frustration as the Citi Field residents were the owner of the longest current streak without spinning a no-hitter in the major leagues. The San Diego Padres now succeed the Mets as the unwilling owners of that particular statistic.

To put it in a little bit more perspective, 8019 games is more than 50 full regular season’s worth of games - half a century. It is the equivalent of approximately 68,000 innings of play. When that streak first started on April 11, 1962 Richard Nixon was the President of the United States. That’s a long time to go without someone on your team chucking a no-no. The Mets came close many times during that period with 35 one-hitters thrown by their pitchers. In that time there have been six no-hitters thrown against the Mets.

The frustration felt by New York Mets fans was building year-by-year as it seemed as if the baseball gods were against them despite Bill Buckner. Their angst was only heightened as seven ex-Mets threw no-hitters for other teams. This list included Mike Scott, Hideo Nomo, and Phil Humber who threw a perfect game a little over two months before Santana’s game. Others include Tom Seaver, the keystone starting pitcher in franchise history, who had his the first year away from the Mets. Nolan Ryan had seven no-hitters in his career after he and three other players were traded by the Mets for Jim Fregosi. But probably the worst of all was Dwight Gooden and David Cone both of whom got theirs while playing for the cross town rival New York Yankees. Further adding insult to injury, both of them came while the Yankees were at home playing in Yankee Stadium - just across town - as opposed to being on the road away from New York and Cone’s was a perfect game.

Johan Santana was pretty much breezing along when Carlos Beltran came to the plate to begin the sixth inning. During the at-bat, Beltran lined a ball down the third base line which kicked up a cloud of chalk as it landed. In an instant the air came out of the Citi Field balloon as the Mets faithful felt the curse of the baseball gods once again. But this time was different as umpire Adrian Johnson inexplicably ruled the ball foul and the at-bat continued with Beltran eventually grounding out to third base. Mets’ fans still had hope and after Mike Baxter made the obligatory highlight reel play in the field for every no-hitter in the seventh inning and Johann threw his 134th pitch of the day, no-hitter destiny finally sided with the home town and Santana and the Mets had their first.

But once again a game has been tainted by an umpire’s bad ruling and the calls for replay in baseball are again going up. In many respects I consider myself to be a baseball purist but that is changing. For one, I like the designated hitter. Something about watching a pitcher go to bat and most of the time looking as foolish as I would facing major league pitching. Besides, who cares what a pitcher does at the plate since it doesn’t count in fantasy. For the second time in two years we’ve had an umpire’s bad call decide whether a game was a no-hitter or not. It was almost two years to the day prior to Santana’s effort that Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by umpire Jim Joyce. I'm now believing some form of instant replay is needed.

I readily admit that the umpires are doing their best for the game (with the exception of some of them injecting too much of themselves and their ego being bigger than the game itself). But they are still human and make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes are the story instead of the game being the story. As baseball players have gotten bigger and stronger some plays in the game have gotten quicker and it’s time the umpires get some help. There was supposed to be more instant replay this year but the umpires union wouldn’t agree to what MLB and the players agreed to. So here we are with another blown call by an umpire and the national spotlight on them.

The umpires and their union need to get off their high horse for the better of the game. The National Football League has instant replay and, while not perfect, it has succeeded in getting the call right the vast majority of the time. Many felt that it would show-up the NFL referees but that hasn’t happened. If a bad call is made and replay reverses it the referees aren’t the story for making the wrong call to begin with. The game continues with the right call made and no one second guesses the refs afterwards.

Major League umpires need to understand that first, they are not above the integrity of a properly called game and secondly, that replay will help them. It will succeed in taking the umpires out of the spotlight of a bad call unless the umpires and their leaders really want to be in that spotlight whether it be good or bad. I don’t think that’s the case with the umpires. The tears that Jim Joyce shed after blowing that call in Comerica Park tell me that. So the umpires need to put pressure on their leadership to approve the use of instant replay for their benefit.

I don’t want to put an asterisk after Santana’s no hitter the same as I don’t want to put an asterisk after the Jeffrey Maier game. But it’s a shame to Mets fans that the first no-hitter in franchise history is being overshadowed by a bad umpire’s call and the call was taking so much of the spotlight away from the game itself. When replays of the ball hitting the chalk line vastly outnumber replays of Baxter's catch, that is a fundamental problem that needs to be fixed now - not tomorrow.
Ouch, That Hurts
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:59

In baseball, injuries come and injuries go and in this see-saw the fate of real baseball teams and their fantasy counterparts often rests.  Every team experiences injuries to some extent or another and how well a team copes with them often determines the outcome of the season.  When the inevitable injury hits, you (and your major league equivalent) hope the replacement player provides enough production to at least maintain the place in the standings – often times this actually becomes a case of not hurting the team too much.

One high profile injury occurred earlier this month when Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers strained a hamstring and was placed on the disabled list May 14.  At the time the Dodgers were in first place in the National League West six games ahead of the San Francisco Giants with a 24-11 record.  Kemp was a big part of their success batting .359 with 12 homeruns and 28 runs batted it.  After their star centerfielder went down, Los Angeles put up an 8-6 record and only lost one-half game off their lead in his absence.

The 27 year old MVP runner up was obviously off to a hot start for his real team and his fantasy owners.  His disabled list stint quite possibly could have hurt the latter more.  This is often the case with injuries as the real team and fantasy team aren’t affected equally in most cases especially since you might not be able to get the same replacement player the team uses.  Kemp returned to action last night and went one for four and everyone – real and fantasy alike – are glad he’s back.  Except me, of course, as I’m in second place in my home league and the team I’m chasing has him.

But it seems many times the injury gods giveth and they also taketh away as just happened to the Dodgers as Kemp was coming and Ted Lilly was going with an as of yet undetermined shoulder injury.  This one personally hurts as I have him on more than one team, including the aforementioned home league.  To be sure, the thirty-six year old isn’t a Cy Young candidate, but he’s pretty dependable in putting up a lot of innings with the kind of stats that wind up helping your team in the long run because he doesn’t hurt you – not flashy but useful.

As for Lilly’s replacement, the Dodgers don’t have much that’s ready in the minors except for Nathan Eovaldi who gets the nod and pitched well last night against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The youngster had been pitching in Double A at Chattanooga presumably because they wanted to keep him away from hitter happy AAA and the Pacific Coast League.  Eovaldi missed bats in the minors but didn’t miss too many when he was called up late last year.  He should be fine for the short haul but isn’t as refined as Lilly obviously is at this point.  His next start comes at Coors Field so temper expectations a bit.

Losing Kemp and Lilly back-to-back certainly hurts but the team that has been bitten hardest by the injury bug is the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phils knew they would be starting the season with slugging first baseman Ryan Howard on the disabled list due to a ruptured Achilles tendon that required surgery.  At this point there still is no definite timetable for his return to big league action.  On top of that, second baseman Chase Utley – arguably their best offensive player – has also been out all season with recurring issues from the patellar tendinitis that sidelined him a good portion of the 2011 season.  Utley still doesn’t have a timetable for his return either but has been working a bit in left field as well as taking ground balls at second base which has some Philadelphia outlets predicting some playing time in the outfield to try to minimize some of the wear and tear on his knees.

As bad as starting the season without Howard and Utley was, the Phillies have now been hit with another huge bite from the injury bug with the news that Roy Halladay has been placed on the 15 day disabled list.  Todd Zolicki of is reporting that the 35 year old has a strain to his lat muscle (latissimus dorsi for you anatomy fans).  The part that really hurts is the 15 days is likely to be six to eight weeks.  (Update – is now reporting Roy will be shut down for three weeks then begin a strength and rehab program. The six to eight week total timetable is still projected).  The Phillies have only been about middle of the pack in NL pitching so far this season but it was pretty obvious they were going to rise or fall on the arms of their hurlers.

Halladay hadn’t been his normal dominant self the past month after starting off the season in typical Doc fashion with a .950 WHIP and 1.95 ERA although a 5.84 K/9 wasn’t typical.  The past month has been rough, however, with a 1.36 WHIP and 6.12 ERA even though at 8.16/9 the strikeout rate was much improved.  Maybe his performance had something to do with the shoulder but no one is saying right now and it doesn’t matter at this point.

What does matter is who will replace Halladay in the rotation.  Philadelphia missed the boat in re-signing Roy Oswalt so there is now a gaping hole. With Vance Worley already on the DL, they may have to turn to the likes of Dave Bush, Tyler Cloyd, Scott Elarton, or Pat Misch as possible replacements.  We could very well see Philadelphia forced into a revolving door situation.  Either way, their prospects aren’t that good (pun intended) and any fantasy owners of Roy Halladay are in a very tough position for the next couple of months.  This is the kind of thing that can break it for one fantasy team and make it for another.
The Beasts of the East
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 00:00

Here we are coming into the first turn of the season and, as we mentioned in the last installment of the NL Beat, the divisions are starting to take shape.  The Central Division is being led once again by the St. Louis Cardinals and the West Division has the Los Angeles Dodgers, last week’s focus, occupying the top spot.  Both of these are slight surprises to me but the division that is the most surprising to me is none other than the East Division.

Prior to the season, the Philadelphia Phillies, in most circles, were expected to once again win the title.  Even though there were injuries to slugger Ryan Howard and standout second baseman Chase Utley, the team was expected to rise to the top based on the strength of their starting pitching led by the big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels.  Add in free agent acquisition Jonathan Papelbon to anchor the ninth inning and the Phillies were poised to repeat as division winners.  But things haven’t gone as planned for Philadelphia as, surprisingly, they are languishing in last place in the division five and one-half games out of first and two games under .500.

Just ahead of the Phillies in the standings are the New York Mets, only three games out of first place and three games above the break even mark.  They have gotten to this point led by David Wright’s .403 batting average and R.A. Dickey’s six victories – tied for the most in the National League - out of seven decisions.  Daniel Murphy and Kurt Nieuwenhuis have been key contributors as well.

Next up the standings ladder in third place are the Miami Marlins.  Moving into a new stadium, they were big players in the free agent market this year in an effort to be winners and attract a lot of fans to the ballpark.  The Marlins are five games over .500 and only two games out of the lead.  The team started out slowly going 8-14 in the month of April but has turned that into a 16-5 record so far in May.  Omar Infante is hitting .326 with six homeruns; Emilio Bonifacio has 20 stolen bases, and Giancarlo Stanton now has nine homeruns after breaking the scoreboard with one of his blasts.  Miami has gotten good pitching from Carlos Zambrano, Anibal Sanchez, and Mark Buehrle.  Especially of note is Ozzie Guillen has managed to keep Zambrano’s temper in check.

Second place is occupied by the Atlanta Braves, eight games over .500 and only one-half game out of first.  Brandon Beachy is quickly becoming one of the best starting pitchers in the league even though he isn’t a big strikeout pitcher.  Tommy Hanson has struggled a bit walking more hitters while striking out fewer.  Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been the monster he was last year but has still been very good.  Freddie Freeman is leading the team with seven homeruns; Michael Bourn is doing what he’s supposed to – getting on base, hitting for average, and stealing bases; Martin Prado is providing a good batting average and has hit three homeruns and stole four bases, his total for all of last year.

This brings us to the Washington Nationals – the leaders of the East Division and the only team besides the Los Angeles Dodgers with a better than .600 winning percentage.  That’s right, the Washington Nationals.  The same Washington Nationals that haven’t had a .500 season since 2005 (their first year as the Nationals) or a winning season since 2003 when they were still the Montreal Expos.

Washington is leaning heavily on its pitching to get them to where they now are.  They are the only NL team with a sub 3.00 ERA (2.87) and lead the league with 275 strikeouts.  The team also is tops in the league with a .615 OPS, .217 BAA, and have allowed the fewest total bases.  The starting rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler has been superb.  Gonzalez has an 11.36 K/9 and 1.98 ERA, Strasburg a 10.87 K/9 and 2.21 ERA, Zimmerman a 2.47 ERA, Jackson an 8.01 K/9 with 0.97 WHIP.  Even Detwiler has contributed a 3-3 record with 1.20 WHIP and 3.65 ERA, not bad for a number five starting pitcher.  Gonzalez and Strasburg have done what a one-two punch should do with a combined 10-2 record.

On the hitting side Ian Desmond has been better than expected as he’s hit for a solid .280 average and has already smacked eight homeruns, his total for all of 2011, and has stolen five bases.  Jayson Werth has raised his batting average over 40 points to .276.  Adam LaRoche is hitting .298 and has seven homeruns after an abysmal injury shortened 2011. Prospect phenom Bryce Harper was called up and hasn’t been totally overmatched at just 19 years of age, hitting .264 with two homeruns and two stolen bases.

But there are definitely some things to worry about for Washington.  Werth, who was having a nice bounce back season, is now out until at least early August after breaking his left wrist making a play in the outfield.  Catcher Wilson Ramos is done for the season with a torn ACL.  Michael Morse is still on the DL and hasn’t played in a game yet this year for Washington.  Ryan Zimmerman, who missed time earlier this year to the DL with a bad shoulder, is again having problems with the joint.  Brad Lidge is on the DL after surgery for a sports hernia.  Closer Drew Storen has been out for the year and had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow (especially troubling since replacement closers have blown six saves to date).  Then there’s the innings limit that management says Strasburg will have after coming off Tommy John surgery.

So while it is good to see the Nationals back in the winning column, they have had to contend with quite a few obstacles and bumps in the road in getting to this point and there are still some ahead.  But Washington has put themselves in the position of possibly being buyers instead of sellers when we start talking trade deadline and that’s a good thing.  I think they’ll be buying.
Dodger Magic
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 04:26

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is just over 20 percent in the books and the races have started to take shape.  Time will tell if the three teams at the top of each National League division will be there at the end.  I have my own feelings on each and since the season is so young, there is still plenty of time for the division winners to turn out how I thought – none of which are currently in first.  In the meantime, it is fun to try to speculate on how each team will do based on its performance to this point.

But of all the teams at the top of their respective division, there is one that interests me the most and that is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not only are they in first place, they have the biggest lead of any team – National or American League.  With the Frank McCourt mess behind them and under new management of Guggenheim Baseball Management (with former Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson), the Dodgers certainly aren’t being distracted by off the field shenanigans.  To be sure, that’s what they were dodging last year – not trolleys.

The question of whether Los Angeles will maintain their top spot in the standings depends a lot, of course, on Matt Kemp.  But the team will have to do without their star center-fielder for the next couple of weeks as he is on the 15 day disabled list with a strained hamstring.  All the 2011 Most Valuable Player runner-up has done is smash 12 homeruns and hit to the tune of a .359 batting average, leading the Dodgers to one of the top offensive spots in the league.  About the only thing his fantasy owners have to complain about is the lack of stolen bases.  With only two at this stage, Kemp is on a pace for about 10, well short of last year’s total of 40.  If Los Angeles hopes to remain at the top of the West Division, they are going to need their 27 year old offensive leader to return healthy and play at the level he was before going down.

As good as Matt Kemp is, the Dodgers have been getting good performance from a number of other players on the hitting side.  Andre Ethier has been solid batting .308 with eight homeruns and leads the team with 33 runs batted in.  As good as he’s been, the thirty year old right fielder will have to pick up some of the slack during Kemp’s absence.

A pleasant surprise has been catcher A.J. Ellis.  At 31 years old, Ellis isn’t a spring chicken in baseball terms.  The most playing time he’s had in the big leagues is the 108 at bats he had in 2010, a total that will surely be surpassed this year by the primary backstop.  Ellis has hit for a solid .314 average and has contributed three homeruns, 15 RBI and scored 11 runs.

On the other side of the coin is the light hitting James Loney.  The first baseman is still hitting a lowly .236 even after a .375 clip the past week.  But the six year Dodger still only has one homerun on the year and has never hit more than 15 in a single season and that was way back in 2007.  This lack of pop from a position that teams like to get a good amount of power from.  Reportedly, manager Don Mattingly is not very pleased with Loney’s production and there is the real possibility of a change occurring there.

Then there’s Dee Gordon.  The second year Dodger is arguably the fastest player in Major League Baseball and is tied for second in the league with 12 stolen bases.  Gordon is still learning his craft at the big league level and needs to improve a bit on his 70% success rate.  But the problem with the shortstop is a .212 batting average and .250 on base percentage.  Even at those anemic levels, Mattingly is sticking with the 24 year old at the top of his batting order.

On the pitching side, Los Angeles is led by 2011 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.  The fifth year Dodger has picked up where he left off last year, compiling a .911 WHIP and 2.22 ERA in posting three wins against one loss.  The only blemish so far is his strikeout rate has slipped from 9.57/9 last year to 8.03/9 in 2012.

After Kershaw in the rotation comes Chad Billingsley.  Even with just a 2-2 record, Chad is pitching better this young season than any year since his 16-10 2008 campaign.  The strikeout rate is up from last year while the walk rate is down.  Combined with a BABIP that is the lowest of his career, the 27 year old is sporting the lowest WHIP and ERA since 2008. Billingsley’s Achilles ’ heel has been the long ball – double last year’s level.

Chris Capuano has been nothing short of fabulous in his seven starts, putting up a 5-0 record with a 1.03 WHIP and 2.06 ERA.  The 33 year old is striking out better than eight batters per nine and walking just over three.  An alarm could be a .236 BABIP which is well below any he has posted in his career.

Ted Lilly was rewarded this past off-season with a new three year $33 million contract.  He has responded with five victories against no losses and a fantastic .965 WHIP and 2.11 ERA.  But the strikeout rate has slipped 2.21 to 5.17/9 and the walk rate has increased by almost one to 3.29/9.  As if that wasn’t alarming enough, even though the 36 year old starter has historically pitched to a BABIP under .300, his .204 mark so far is absolutely unsustainable.  The staff senior citizen has a correction coming.

Rounding out the rotation is newly signed Aaron Harang.  Even though his record is 2-2 he hasn’t continued the resurgence he had last year with the San Diego Padres and is pitching to a 1.42 WHIP and 4.46 ERA.  These are certainly not numbers the Dodgers were counting on when they gave him a new two year contract.

This has been the Los Angeles Dodgers in a nutshell.  There are obviously very good performers and some not as good as the team would like.  I picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish tops in this division and still think Kirk Gibson will rally the troops and come away with first place.  But the Dodgers won’t go quietly and Donnie Baseball (with a bit of Magic) will have his team in the thick of things right until the end.
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