Baseball Preview Features 42 pages of Scouting Reports; Stephen Strasburg, David Price,
Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, James Shields, and Clayton Kershaw on Six Regional Covers
Sports Illustrated predicts that the Washington Nationals will defeat the Tampa Rays for the 2013 World Series in the April 1, 2013 issue of SI, on newsstands Wednesday. The SI Baseball preview, which has six regional covers including one of Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg, features 42 pages of scouting reports with standings and playoff predictions, stat projections from rotowire.com and takes on every team from rival scouts.
In a profile on why the Nationals will win the World Series, senior writer Tom Verducci says that the they look a lot like manager Davey Johnson’s 1986 Mets team—and that the similarities will extend through October.
Verducci writes: “Like the ’86 Mets, the 2013 Nationals are the best team on paper at the start of the season. And like that championship team, Washington has young power pitching, a deep bullpen with multiple closers, a blend of power and speed, and an unmistakable swagger.” (PAGES 59-60)
The consensus from expert analysis in the SI Baseball Preview is that pitching, and strikeouts in particular, rule today’s game. In “Generation K”, Verducci writes on how swings and misses, which have increased in the major leagues for seven consecutive seasons, are changing the game: “As hitters accept strikeouts as a necessary cost of their search for power, pitchers are better equipped than ever to exploit that concession.” (PAGE 46)
Verducci finds that there has been a change in philosophy, as teams are less worried about their players striking out, as long as they produce power and runs. This coincides in an era that features pitchers who throw harder and with more movement, pitchers who have increased access to analytics and video that helps them exploit hitters’ weaknesses and teams that utilize power bullpen arms more frequently.
“More pitchers, more velocity, more movement, more strikes…Night after night, game after game, pitchers are asserting their power, three strikes at a time,” writes Verducci (PAGE 49).
Along with Strasburg (2nd SI cover), five additional star pitchers known for strikeouts are featured on regional covers of this week’s SI: David Price (2nd SI cover), Justin Verlander (3rd SI cover), C.C. Sabathia (2nd SI cover), James Shields (1st SI cover), and Clayton Kershaw (1st SI cover).
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who last season helped the Nats win their first NL East title in franchise history and won the NL Rookie of the Year, is on the cover of the Feb. 25, 2013 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday. This is the second time Harper has appeared on the cover, as he was featured on the June 8, 2009 SI when he was a 16 year-old prodigy at Las Vegas High School.
With the success of Harper, AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and other first year stars, 2012 proved to be one of the most accomplished rookie classes in MLB history. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Tom Verducci examines what Harper has in mind for his second season and whether or not he will fall victim to the most unscientific explanation in baseball mythology for second-season flops: the sophomore jinx. Will Harper and the rest of last year’s smashing rookie class be the next Eric Hosmer or Jason Heyward, players who struggled mightily in their second seasons? Verducci writes:
“Of the 32 pitchers and 48 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in the follow-up act—a 74% attrition rate.” (PAGE 46)
Harper, who set teenage major league records last year for total bases (254), extra-base hits (57) and WAR (5.0), and ranked second all time amongst teenagers in homeruns (22) and runs (98), feels any talk of a sophomore slump is “stupid”. (PAGE 49)
“It’s not difficult to imagine Harper or Trout joining Cal Ripken (1983), Ryan Howard (2007) and Dustin Pedroia (2008) in the exclusive club of players to follow their Rookie of the Year act with an MVP.” (PAGES 46-47)
This offseason Harper bulked up (he now weighs 231 pounds after playing last season at 220) and studied video of himself and those he admires, such as lefty craftsmen Chase Utley and Joey Votto. Harper feels a player shouldn’t even put the idea of a bad sophomore campaign into one’s head. Harper says:
“I’m not going to put it my head. Sophomore slump? I was a sophomore in college and raked. Why can’t you rake in the big leagues?” (PAGE 49)
Harper is used to having his doubters. He was told he shouldn’t play varsity high school baseball at age 14, but he dominated. He was advised not to take his GED at age 16, but he got a 98. Harper was warned not to play junior college ball at 16 against mature 22 year olds throwing 94 mph, but he dominated again. While strenuous offseason preparation and previous experience silencing doubters may not get in Harper’s way, Verducci wonders:
“Maybe, more than pitchers and scouts searching for a weaknesses with the fervor of geneticists, more than all the scrutiny young stars attract in the Internet age, what brings life to the idea of a sophomore jinx is the added weight of expectations. Maybe having succeeded the first time is the real curse.” (PAGE 51)
Over the last decade, two of Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s children have died and he almost lost his own life from a ruptured appendix, but today he is the oldest manager in baseball guiding the league’s second-youngest team to its first postseason. Johnson hadn’t managed in the big leagues in more than 10 years when Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo called him in June 2011 to take over the team. Since then, the Nationals have been run the way Davey chooses and his players are thriving (page 60).
Johnson is described by utilityman Mark DeRosa as “Unfiltered”. This demeanor comes out when asked if the Nationals could have handled their situation with Stephen Strasburg the same way the Braves have handled their young ace Kris Medlen. He said, “No! It’s a crock of s— what they’re doing with Medlen. It ain’t anywhere close [to Strasburg]. They’re trying to act like geniuses. Here’s the deal. And their whole life they’re raised to go through a certain process at certain times of the year. And ballplayers go through them in the spring. Now you take Doc Halladay or anybody, and if you start varying that—don’t let him [pitch] for a month? You don’t what’s going to happen.” Read the rest of this entry »
In crime-ridden Venezuela, every celebrity is a potential target, particularly baseball stars and their families. Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos learned this firsthand on the evening of Nov. 9, 2011. Luckily, Ramos survived his kidnapping. In the last ten years, criminals have kidnapped famous player’s mothers and sons, killed their siblings and have robbed their families at an alarming rate. Ramos, who lost 10 pounds in the two days and nights during his captivity, was ecstatic to be home with family but there is much debate still surrounding the case.
Sports Illustrated’s Thomas Lake and Melissa Segura visited Venezuala to investigate the case further. What they found was eye-opening. They both sat down with Inside Sports Illustrated to discuss the story further.
Inside Sport Illustrated: Within your investigation what piece of information that was uncovered surprised you the most?
Thomas Lake: I was most surprised by the widespread disbelief among Venezuelans of the government story. But many of them have been given so many reasons to distrust the government that they’ll doubt something even if it’s true.
Melissa Segura: Another shockwave for me is a hypothesis thrown out by MLB’s lead security consultant in Venezuela, Joel Rengifo. When I asked Mr. Rengifo, who founded Venezuela’s anti-kidnapping unit of the CICPC, headed up the rescue of Ugueth Urbina’s mom in 2005 and is one of the country’s leading authorities, why kidnappers would take a ballplayer—the person who has the greatest access to ransom money—instead of, say, a family member as we’ve seen in the past, Rengifo offered the most unexpected of guesses. He told us that based on passed kidnappings of the two men who have already entered guilty pleas (one of whom matches Aristides Sanchez’s description of the man he called Williams), the kidnappers weren’t planning to demand the ransom from the Ramos family but from much deeper pockets: The Washington Nationals. It’s purely hypothesis at this point, however.
ISI: A story of this magnitude, certainly requires boots on the ground, were you both in Venezuela for the story?
TL: Yes, along with photographer Victor Baldizon, whose sources and street smarts made it much easier to navigate.
MS: I spent most of Saturday with the help of Venezuelan contacts trying frantically to find safe lodging in Valencia. But after we’d already purchased our tickets, we learned that Valencia hotels were completely sold out because of a music festival. The only secure lodging we could find was in Caracas—about a two-hour drive away—in the most expensive hotel in the city. The drive would have been fine except on the night we interviewed Wilson at the Tigres de Aragua stadium in Maracay, a huge downpour started. Thanks to a few kind souls at the stadium, they informed us the rain caused mudslides blocking all roads back to Caracas. We were stuck. In a town with zero vacancy. As we went from hotel to hotel at 1:30 in the morning, pleading for shelter, we ran into Melvin Mora and Bobby Abreu talking in the lobby of one of the hotels. They took pity on us and kindly made a few calls and found us a room at a state-run hotel.
ISI: How many people were interviewed for the story and how long did that process take?
TL: We spent a week in Venezuela and interviewed close to 30 people. That was in addition to several weeks of research here in the States.
MS: We accumulated roughly 14 hours of audio files. Thomas and I both worked through the holidays—apologies and thanks to our understanding families–wanting to get this information into the hands of readers as soon as possible.
ISI: Seems as if these kidnappings are a far too common occurrence, do you find that it is a deterrent for many Venezuelan ball players to go back home in the off-season?
TL: Yes. We know of more than one Venezuelan ballplayer who stays in the States in the offseason.
MS: I first went to Venezuela to report on the security issue in Venezuela in 2004. In the years since, I’ve spoken to scores of Venezuelan players about their homeland and sadly, all of them have horror stories of some sort. The situation seems to have deteriorated greatly since my first trip. Some teams in recent years have specifically asked me not to report the amount of signing bonuses given to Venezuelan amateurs because they’re afraid of what might happen to the players once the dollar amount is public.
ISI: Do you expect the experience to affect Ramos’ performance this season?
TL: Ramos wasn’t hurt physically in the kidnapping, but he was certainly traumatized. He played poorly in the regular season for his Venezuelan team but came on strong at the end. Maybe he’s ready now.
MS: By the Venezuelan playoffs, he broke out and carried his team to the Venezuelan league championship with a 9-for-20 performance, with two doubles, two RBIs and two walks at the plate. That should give Nats fans plenty of optimism heading into the MLB season.