Bleachers to the North Moving to Blogger

For various reasons, including being able to use plugins such as Google Analytics, Bleachers to the North has moved to Blogger…

http://bttn.blogspot.com/

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The Case to Elect Larry Walker into the Baseball Hall of Fame

I believe that Larry Walker deserves a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and yes, it’s somewhat because he’s Canadian. So sue me.

In the same spirit of how Shi Davidi provided Jose Bautista with his single first-place AL MVP vote, and how Jefff Blair (who has a Hall of Fame vote) is also supporting Larry Walker for the Hall, I’m campaigning for Walker because hometown (and country) biases need be applied to keep up with the Joneses.

New York writers will vote for Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Dallas writers will vote for Juan Gonzalez, and Houston journalists will favour Jeff Bagwell. But it’s not all about the Canadian connection, Larry Walker is probably worthy of induction based on numbers alone.

As we saw with Andre Dawson last year, an MVP season can go a long way, if supplemented by solid career numbers. In fact, in many ways Dawson was a similar player to Walker, both were power/speed threats, both had very lengthy careers (Dawson played for 21 years, Walker for 17) and both of course, had their MVP seasons. But this is where Walker’s stats start to stand out: Andre Dawson had a career OPS of .806. Larry Walker OPS’d .965 for his career, never having a 500 AB season with an OPS of less than that of Dawson’s average.

MVP titles can go a long way in Hall-of-Fame debates

Hall of Fame voters also really appreciate players that had seasons in which they led their league in certain statistics. Larry Walker won the NL batting title three times and in different years won the doubles and home run titles as well as many percentage titles. Black Ink (a stat that measures how noteworthy a player was by the amount and quality of the statistics he led his league in, provided by Baseball Reference) puts Larry Walker at 24 points, while the average Hall of Famer has about 27 points, putting Walker 79th all-time.

In Hall of Fame Monitor, a Bill James statistic that simply assesses whether or not a player is worthy for the Hall, Walker scored 147, on a scale in which 100 denotes a likely Hall of Famer.

But it doesn’t take fancy stats to realize that his 1997 MVP season is truly among the best non-steroid aided (and perhaps including) seasons ever. The .366/.452/.720 slash line is incredible, but to think that he also managed to swipe 33 stolen bases and hit 49 home runs while striking out only 12 more times than the rate at which he took walks. Not to forget that Walker played above-average defense in right field for his entire career.

However, most voters decide to punish Walker due to playing in Coors for much of his career and the extreme home-road splits that come from it. Yet while Coors Field certainly is a launching pad by all accounts, it’s not as drastic a factor as some people make it out to be. This season, U.S. Cellular Field beat out Coors Field for the HR Park Factors title (calculated by ESPN) and in 2009, Coors placed 9th, behind parks such as Angel Stadium, which is not generally considered too much of a hitter’s park. In 2001 (As far back as ESPN calculates Park Factors for), Coors placed 2nd.

Walker only once hit more than 38 home runs, his career was not exactly built on power the way Mark McGwire’s was. Walker’s batting skills are what make him worthy of the Hall, as well as the gaudy on-base numbers that were fueled by the average and good plate discipline. In four separate seasons Walker batted over .350, and while I hate the notion of using batting average to compare players, it’s hard to not be amazed by Walker’s ability to get a hit. His 230 stolen bases place him 266th all-time, which is not impressive on its own, but surely is substantial when adding it to his other numbers.

Sure, the voters have already voted, but make sure when you read the results to make note of Larry Walker’s votes, become a supporter yourself. For Canada’s sake, he deserves election.

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IIHF World Juniors: Update

By BTTN hockey correspondent Michael Ghofrani, reporting from Buffalo, NY.

The world junior hockey championships are almost half way done and it’s time to look back at the good and the bad from the round robin.

Group A

Things have already gone downhill for the Americans (who are trying to win back-to-back championships for the first time). Just 2 games in, and the Americans have already lost top forwards Jeremy Morin and Islanders first  round pick Brock Nelson to injury.

While Nelson’s injury timetable has yet to be determined, sources close to Team USA have said that Morin could be done for the remainder of the tournament but this shouldn’t be a problem for the reigning champion’s right? Unfortunately it’s difficult to look optimistic when your injury riddled team gives up a point to the likes of Finland. That’s not to take anything away from the Fins, but when you’re trying to maintain your title as world junior champions, you can’t afford to give up points like these.

Luckily for the U.S they have the easier of the two groups with their toughest opponents being Finland and Switzerland so winning the group should not be too difficult however with the injuries they have sustained their chances of repeating gold are very slim.

As for the dark horse of this group I would have to go with Finland. They may be in the weaker group however their performance against the U.S showed great resilience as they came back twice in that game. If they continue to play great defensively and continue to get great goaltending from Joni Ortio, the Fins could have a real shot at grabbing a medal in this year’s tournament.

GROUP B

(also referred to as the group of death) It too has become a two horse race. Unless the Canadians lose by nine to Sweden they have essentially claimed first place in their group, however much like the U.S, their victories did not come without a price. On the morning of December 30th it was announced that Forward Jaden Schwartz would miss the rest of the tournament with an ankle injury, a severe blow for the Canadian quest for gold. However unlike the U.S, team Canada has other players on the roster that could step up their game and fill the void left by Jaden Schwartz.

Players to watch include Buffalo Sabres draft pick Marcus Foligno, consensus first overall pick Sean Courturier and look for L.A Kings first round pick Brayden Schenn to step up his game as we enter the elimination round.

While 1st place has been all but locked up, the race for second in Group B should be an interesting one. Even though Sweden currently sits in second it is highly unlikely that they will maintain this spot, considering the fact that the Swede’s will close out the tournament against Canada minus their star Gabriel Landeskog.

In my opinion the best bet for second place would be the Russians. Even though they still don’t have a point in the tournament, the Russians will face off against the Czech Republic and Norway in their remaining games and with many teams missing key players to injury, don’t be surprised if we see the Russians in this year’s final, after all they did take it to the Junior squads of Canada during the subway super series.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Before the tournament started I had originally picked another U.S vs. Canada final and a Russia vs. Sweden bronze medal game.

However in light of all the injuries I have considerably altered my predictions. Even though they lost Jaden Schwartz for the tournament, team Canada is still my pick for gold. There is just far too much skill and depth, not to mention some added toughness with Zach Kassian and Marcus Foligno, for them not to reclaim their title on their rivals ice the same way the U.S did.

As for their opponent I’m going to go bold here and say that the Russians will knock out the U.S for the spot at the gold medal game. After watching the way they played against Finland I’m not quite convinced that they will do any better against Russia.

Thus, I have picked the U.S to finish third to claim bronze by edging their group rival Finland, who will finish fourth.

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Milwaukee Brewers acquire Zack Greinke: Reaction

That's right. Zack Greinke is heading North to Brew-town.

Wow… in a shocking twist to the Zack Greinke saga, it’s all over. The team that dealt away top prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto in a deal that was supposed to bump Toronto’s odds of landing the superstar and negate Milwaukee’s chances, has pulled it off.

Here are the full details:

Brewers receive Zack Greinke, Yuniesky Betancourt and $2M.

Royals receive Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and two top pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffries and Jake Odorizzi.

To me, this leads to a few important points to consider, all of which will shape the 2011 MLB season dramatically.

1. Milwaukee is going for it all  in 2011, Prince Fielder is very unlikely to be traded until the trade deadline if the Brewers are out of it and unless the other team is willing to give up major-league established talent.

2. Is Greinke really going to be happy with his new team? Are the Brewers still going to only win 80 games in 2011? While I think that his motivation and anxiety disorders are both largely over-hyped, it’s hard to look past this. Greinke wanted to go to a contender, but it’s tough to gauge whether or not Milwaukee is that team.

3. The Brewers now pretty much do not have anything resembling a farm system. Odorizzi and Lawrie were their two top prospects a month ago and even they weren’t totally elite propsects… Milwaukee now perhaps have a farm system worse than Houston.

4. Royals will be terrible again in 2011 (think 65 wins max) but will be contenders to take the division in 2012 and by 2014 could win the world series. Milwaukee really matched up perfectly with KC as a trade partner, they needed up the middle talent and boy did they get it. Alcides Escobar and others will team up with the deepest farm system in perhaps 10 years (Hosmer, Myers, Lamb, Montgomery and Moustakas are all top 25 overall prospects and all of their top ten are worth of top 100 overall consideration. And much of it is ready for a 2011 call-up).

Scary. It’ll be hard for even the Royals to mess up the huge amount of talent they have coming up in the minors.

5. Yet… the Royals now lack some pitching, they may decide to trade one of Hosmer or Myers (both of whom are projected to end up at first, although Myers is currently a catcher) for pitching. But really, with those bats, they’ll need nothing more than stopgaps if all of them reach their full potential.

6. And now with Toronto… we’ll be okay. Greinke would really have just been gravy to add to our impressive pitching depth, we needed an ace but somebody in our organization is sure to make that leap. Whether that’s Morrow or somebody on the farm (Stewart, McGuire, Aaron Sanchez perhaps) has yet to be determined.

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Bleachers to the North Launches!

Welcome to Bleachers to the North, the newest and soon-to-be-declared best blog dedicated to Toronto professional sports.

We currently have journalists under staff to cover the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC in great depth, and will be soon providing you, the reader, with original and well-thought out content… unlike other sports sites that are merely carbon copies of the press releases that inspire each post.

As well as providing commentary on recent news, BTTN will also contain resources and rankings (for example, our Top 20 Blue Jays Prospects rankings are soon to be published and will be updated regularly thereafter) that are invaluable to read at any time.

So please, if this sounds worthwhile, please  subscribe to Bleachers to the North and you will never be without opinion and fact from knowledgeable Toronto sports journalists.

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