Daily Archives: February 3, 2012

Sample of what my Friday Travel Blog will Cover

Friday, February 03, 2012 

Douglas ‘Chuck’ Booth (Baseball Writer)- Since writing about traveling to ballparks  is what I know most about, I thought I would take the next 9 weeks (before the season starts) writing articles that extensively go through every part of my expertise.  Over the course of the last five years I have done countless hours of research on this subject matter, so I am going to share my information with you in hopes you may save some time or money this 2012 MLB season.  I am sharing my knowledge of: baseball tickets, maps, frequent flier miles/reward points, car rentals vs. driving your own car, hotels, airports and finally time management & budgeting.  Here is a sneak preview of what I will be posting.

Car Rentals

  The best way to ensure that you have money available on your credit card, (keeping in mind that most rental places take a $200 minimum deposit), is to bid on your car through www.priceline .com. There is a feature where you can bid on your car rental for specific airport locations called ‘BID NOW.’  You can offer a price that you have to pay immediately, but in most cases you will find a serious discount. I have often bid 40% of the average car rental per airport price and had the offer go through.  Anyways, 80% of the time your winning bid will come back to rent from Alamo/National Car Rental.

Car Rentals

 Alamo/National is the best car rental company by far in the United States. Not only do they have exceptional customer service—–they also do not charge your credit card for any $ amount more than the price of your rental. Do yourself a favor and also sign up for ‘The Emerald Club Rewards Program’ from National. They have airport bypass the counter options that enable you to USE self-serving kiosks that do not require you to stand in line at the car centers-rather pick your class of car and proceed to the exit. Other car rental companies have deposit charges that are held against your credit card.  If you are going on a 4 city trip, you can easily have up to $800-1000 dollars locked up in these deposits, this can be harmful in you enjoying your trip. Not all of us have the affordability to have so much money unavailable. An average of 5-8 days is what it will take for the deposited dollars to be restored when your car rental is completed.  National is the only car rental company in which you can redeem a free earned day car rental for a one-way drop off without paying an excessive fee if you have earned a free rental reward day.  I will give you an example.  This means you can rent a car in Los Angeles and drop it off it Albuquerque, New Mexico within the 24 hours for no money extra.  Also with this incredible deal, is that you pay just pennies in taxes for your accrued free rental days, where other car rental places can charge up to $20-30 just in taxes alone despite offering you the free day for a rental reward.  Perfect for that baseball traveler that wants to head in one direction!

Priceline

Priceline is great for bidding on car rentals, but is also fantastic for hotel rentals where you can use the same option to bid for your price of hotels. Honestly, when we are all in the middle of a big baseball road trip, the last thing we want is to spend excessive amounts of money on a hotel we are not going to use other than a quick sleep and shower.   Wouldn’t you rather spend a lot more time at the ball yard?  Again by bidding on the hotel, and paying for it right away you can ensure on a more of a budget/cost certainty. Even if the front desks take a small deposit at time of check in—these transactions are quickly released when you check out. The best to bid  is too low-ball your first few offers, then gradually increase your bidding. Now Priceline does make you alter your bid for every declined request you submit, so the key is to not act aggressive in frustration when you don’t win the bid.  The key here is to be patient.  After 24 hours, you can re-open up all columns to bid again with an increased offer from your first one. Just chart your offers to slightly increase your amount until you have success. I would not suggest you use Priceline for airline flights because the winning bid will usually feature layovers, or more importantly, the times of the flights on won bids may not be conducive to arriving in time for a baseball game in your destination city.

HOTELS

For those economy travelers such as myself, I implore you to use Motel 6 and/or Super 8 as hotel chains to stay throughout the USA. They are decent hotels for the $value you pay. The best feature about these hotels is the ability to check in by 11am-12pm. Most 3-5 star hotels have check in times that start and 3 or 4pm. Again if you are flying or driving in from some other place do you really want to drive around for 3-4 hours sight-seeing because you are simply waiting for a check in time?  Most baseball parks open their gates by 5PM for night games.  Plus with these places cash is preferred, so they do not require a deposit on your credit card. If you are staying in the same city or have sufficient time to stay in one hotel, I would recommend you use Priceline to bid on your hotels. You can save up to 50% off with winning bids on 2-5 star hotels. Keep in mind that most of those hotels can save you money vs the budget hotels, with their free breakfasts.

Travel Note:Traveling to other cities with luggage is hard to finagle sometimes. When arriving in a new city, there may be time constraints or monetary issues that make you think about your luggage. Before you make any purchases for your trip, you must be cognizant of where your luggage will be at all times throughout the travel. You will not be allowed to bring your suitcase through security at the ball parks. Most cities will not even allow you to bring a briefcase into the games. So therein is a dilemma. If you are able to make it to your hotel before the game then your luggage will be okay.  The same can be said if you have rented a car. The toughest games for luggage management are day games when arriving from other cities. For the Eastern Seaboard there is an ally you can use—and it is called ‘Amtrak.’

Amtrak Trains/Greyhound Buses

Both of these methods of transportation are  a great way to see a bunch of baseball games fast while missing a lot of cluttered highway traffic, particularly in: New York-Baltimore-Washington-Philadelphia-Chicago-Milwaukee. Not only will you save gas/traffic scenarios-but Amtrak has a baggage check option at most stations for $3-4 dollars an item per day. All you have to do is have an itinerary, (coming or going) and you can check your luggage items. You will have to monitor the hours of operation for these places-however this option is exceptional when attending matinée games in any of these cities. New York’s Amtrak Station-(New York Penn Station), is a life saver when you can drop off your luggage and avoid renting a car. ‘Greyhound Bus Lines’ is also a good alternative for this in the cities of : Tampa Bay-Miami-Los Angeles-San Diego-Minnesota-Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Kayak.com

Early morning flights are usually the cheapest airfares. I always use www.kayak.com when booking flights into baseball cities.  If you are flying to cities like Cincinnati-Milwaukee-Detroit-Houston-Atlanta-or Dallas you may be shocked at how much they charge for flights. There is a way to get back at those airlines. I have done the following several times. Since these are hubs for other cities from big airlines,  I would check flights from your starting departure and use your intended city of these listed above as a stop-over and then you can walk off the plane during the stop-over if it is cheaper—-and providing you are traveling without checked baggage—example.  Three years ago I had to fly from Pittsburgh to Detroit during a double-header attempt for the first day of my World Record Chase. I needed a Pittsburgh Northwest Airlines flight that left at 5:15 PM  directly to Detroit that arrived at 6:28 PM—it was the only non-stop flight that I could get that would give me a chance to make the Detroit game on time. There was a problem when the price came back was $500  for what was less than a 500 mile flight!  I went to work with my strategy.  I came up with a flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago-with the 1st leg of the trip being my flight that arrived in Detroit at 6:28 as the layover.  The price for this flight was $130. There are many instances of this. I will explain more in the book how I used this scenario for a flexible schedule in case of make-up games.

Air Lines Best To Fly With:

Southwest Airlines-‘I wanna get away’ feature at http://www.southwest.com is a good price point for all of this airline’s domestic flights.  Southwest might be marginally higher in price than some other airlines, however they do not charge for the 1st 2 checked bags as you may have seen from their steady TV Ad Campaign.  They also do not charge transfer flight fees.  This airline is setting the pace for customer price gouging acknowledgement.

Air Tran Airways-Quite frankly, they are the best airline in the USA for MLB fans.  They are cheap, have newer airplanes with the most leg space for a coach ticket. They also offer more one-way non-stop tickets in the morning.  Oh yeah…They are the official airline of XM Sirius Radio.  You can listen to MLB games live in flight, or during off hours you can catch up on all of your favorite shows on XM Home Plate.  Air Tran only charges $75 in case you have to change your flight at anytime plus the difference in flight.  This price is half of most of the legacy airlines.  Should you miss your Air Tran flight they also let you fly stand-by for the rest of the day on any remaining flights to your city of destination.

This is just the start as I will provide a game plan for all of  the 30 MLB cities.  I will take a look at all facets/methods of travel-that will include money and time-saving tips.   After all, don’t we all want to see as many baseball games as we can without being hit in the pocket-book?

*** Thank you to our Baseball Writer- Doug Booth for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports.  To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Doug Booth, you can follow Doug on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024) and click here Doug’s website, fastestthirtyballgames.com*** 

 

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National League Closers and How They Will Fare in 2012

Friday February 3rd, 2012

Sam Evans: The bullpens in the National League are going to be stocked with exciting and promising pitchers this year. No team has a bullpen that lacks a pitcher fans can get excited about. Let’s look at the NL bullpens, and their closers in particular.

Atlanta Braves: Depending on which pitchers move to their rotation, the Braves have the most intriguing bullpen in baseball. They’ll have some of their best young pitching prospects forced to pitch in the bullpen for part of the season, and some veterans that will get innings out of the ‘pen.

Their bullpen relies on two men. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were the best late-inning tandem in all of baseball last year. Venters, had a 1.84 ERA, and struck out more than a batter an inning, in 88 innings in 2011. Kimbrel, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, led baseball with 46 saves. He threw 77 dominant innings, overpowering hitters with his fastball slider combo.

After Kimbrel blew the last game of the year, giving up the tying run to the Phillies in the ninth, there was murmurs as to whether Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez had overused Kimbrel and Venters. In my opinion, he definitely did. Venters has thrown 171 innings over the last two years. Mariano Rivera has only thrown that many innings in a two-year stretch, once, in 1996. Kimbrel, on the other hand, had a 4.76 ERA in September and October. While that’s not shockingly high, it’s not even close to the level he was on midseason. I’d expect regression from these two pitchers in 2012, if Gonzalez decides to keep overusing them, then the Braves will have to re-evaluate their treatment of young relief pitchers.

Miami Marlins: The Marlins made a risky, unnecessary, move to bolster their bullpen in free agency. They signed Heath Bell to a 3 year, $27 million deal. With all the closers on the market, i am shocked that the Marlins felt they had to pay that much for a top-notch closer. Nonetheless, the Marlins bullpen will be very good in 2012. Marlins former closer, Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez) is going to be the 8th inning man, and then the Marlins will turn it over to Bell. Now the Marlins 7th inning man, Edward Mujica had his best year ever in 2011. He threw 76 innings and collected 17 holds.

Overall, this Marlins bullpen looks like their best in years. Bell hasn’t had less than forty saves, in three straight years. If the Marlins can score enough runs, than Ozzie Guillen shouldn’t have any problem putting the game in the hands of one of the best closers in baseball.

New York Mets: The Mets bullpen slightly resembles a dead fish that was partly eaten by another fish.When you’re fishing, you see the appealing fish floating on the water. You know that the fish could be perfectly fine, and a great catch, but there’s more of a chance that it is disgusting and doesn’t belong on your dinner table. Similar to that fish, the Mets bullpen could be decent, but it’s obvious that they are most likely going to be not any good.

The Mets closer will most likely be, the frequently inconsistent Frank Fransisco has 49 career saves, along with 21 blown saves. Don’t get me wrong, Fransisco can be a valuable piece in a major league bullpen. He does strike out more than one batter per inning every year. What I’m concerned about is Fransisco’s future as a closer. The Mets definitely see him as a closer, as evidenced by his shiny new 2 year, $12 million contract. If Fransisco can learn to pitch better in clutch situations, then the Mets will look like they have some perspicacity into the world of veteran relievers. If Fransisco can’t deliver in the clutch, then the Mets have the 6’11” Jon Rauch, and the former Giants set-up man Ramon Ramirez.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies recently handed out a four-year, $50 million deal to former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Not to mention, Papelbon was a Type A free agent, so the Phillies will surrender a first-round pick as well. Papelbon is an amazing closer. He had a 8.7 K/BB in 2011, which compared to the league average ( 2.3) is amazing. Still, I don’t know what the Phillies were thinking. When has signing a closer to a long-term deal ever worked?

Other than Papelbon, the Phillies bullpen will include Antonio Bastardo, and possibly 2003 NL Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis. The Phillies shouldn’t have to use their bullpen as much as other teams, with how strong their starting rotation is. The Phillies are playing in a much-improved NL East in 2011, and Papelbon should be relied on to close out Philadelphia’s games.

Washington Nationals: Drew Storen will do the closing for the Nationals this year. Last year, Storen had a 2.75 ERA and 43 saves. Storen is only 24, and he already has 130 innings in the majors, as a reliever. Storen’s 43 saves in 2011, came out of nowhere ( he had only 5 in 2010) but he was a first-round pick who has always been projected as a closer.

Tyler Clippard and former Phillies closer Brad Lidge will back up Storen. For a young team in the process of rebuilding, the Nationals have established a promising young bullpen, that will be ready to compete with the other teams in the NL East.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs closer of the last two and a half years, Carlos Marmol, experienced his first major struggles in the majors in 2011. Marmol, who throws a triple-digit fastball accompanied by a devastating slider, has always been shaky as a closer. Over the last three years, Marmol has blown 22 saves. If that streak continues, the Cubs might be better off using Marmol as a set-up man.

Marmol’s major issue is the walks. His career BB/9 is 5.88, which is not impressive or acceptable, no matter who fast your fastball is. If Marmol wants to improve in 2012, he needs to stop throwing so many pitches per inning. If he could control his pitches, he’d be the best closer in the NL Central. Even though, i’m sure the Cubs are aware of that, they might be running out of patience.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds executed one of the better closer pickups this offseason, signing Ryan Madson to a one year, $8.5 million deal. Madson had 32 saves in 2011 and proved that he could handle the closer role. I love this deal for the Reds, $8.5 million is not a small contract, but getting a successful young closer signed to a one year deal is something all teams should try to do.

Madson’s success is reliant on his changeup. He threw his changeup 35% of the time in 2011, and it helped him get his 2.25 FIP. “Mad Dog” needs to keep using his changeup, maybe even a little bit more. Madson probably has the best changeup out of any closer in the league, and if he wants to maintain his success in his contract year, he’s going to need his changeup.

Houston Astros: The Astros bullpen might be even worse than the rest of their team. They need to make some minor moves to distinguish their bullpen from most teams Triple-A bullpens. Brandon Lyon will likely be their closer, due to his age and onetime success as a closer. However, we are talking about the same Brandon Lyon who missed parts of last year due to injuries, and when he was healthy he had an abysmal 11.48 ERA.

If the Astros decide to not use Lyon as their closer, there are not many more options. Wilton Lopez, Fernando Rodriguez, or Juan Abreu could all get a chance at being the closer. Overall, there are not many bright spots for this Houston bullpen, and this will definitely be a rough year for the Astros.

Milwaukee Brewers: Over the last two years, John Axford has become one of the best closers in baseball. In 2011, Axford had 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA, and 10.51 K/9. This moustached man has relied on his fastball maybe too much, but his control makes up for it.

The Brewers bullpen looks pretty solid heading into 2012. Axford should be a great fantasy option. Milwaukee is really lucky Axford come out of nowhere a couple of years ago, and has become one of the top ten closers in baseball. The Brewers bullpen also features Fransisco Rodriguez, and former Pittsburgh Pirate, Jose Veras.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Doing the closing for the Pirates this year will be the flame throwing righty Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan had one of the best first halves of any closer in baseball, which led to an All-Star appearance and a 1.83 ERA on the year. Finishing with forty saves, Hanrahan earned a sizeable bonus from the Pirates for 2012.

If the Pirates could get a bounce back year from Evan Meek in 2012, this bullpen will look a lot better. He had a great 2010, in which he earned an All Star appearance; but in 2011, he was often injured and he struggled to find his role in the Pirates bullpen.

For the upcoming year, the Pirates have a serious shot at contending within their division. If they are around .500 at the trade deadline, they could make a move for a set-up man to pitch before Hanrahan.

St. Louis Cardinals: Coming off a World Series victory, I see no reason why the Cardinals can’t return to the playoffs. Their bullpen isn’t amazing, but it should be enough for a repeat. Jason Motte will do the closing, a job he never remained in control of in 2011. It seemed as if Motte never got a fair shot at the closing job last year.

Fernando Salas had 24 saves, and Motte only had 9. They were both above-average pitchers who had WAR’s over 1. Salas struck out more hitters, but he also walked more. Not including saves, Motte was the better pitcher in 2011. Heading into 2012, he will be the Cardinals closer, but I wouldn’t rule out Salas overtaking him at some point.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Former Seattle Mariner and New York Met, J.J. Putz will be the D-Backs closer in 2011. Putz recorded 45 saves last year, and he had a 3.10 xFIP. The difference between David Hernandez and Putz, in terms of value, is smaller than one might think; however, Putz’s experience should trump Hernandez’s youth.

If Arizona were to trade Putz at the deadline, Hernandez would obviously step into the closers role. For now, Putz is the best option. On a young and inexperienced ballclub, a veteran closer is a valuable commodity.

Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt was extremely underrated and overlooked in 2011. Despite only having 8 saves ( Now Padre Huston Street had 29), Betancourt was the Rockies best reliever. The 36-year-old was filthy, posting a 9.13 K/BB and a 2.13 FIP. In 2012, Betancourt will start the season as the Rockies closer, and if he pitches like he pitched last year, he’ll end the year in the same position.

The Rockies have a very young and talented bullpen. Rex Brothers struck out 13.06 batters per nine innings, and Matt Belisle had a 3.07 FIP. If Tyler Matzek could fix his problems with his windup, then the Rockies would have yet another talented young arm in their ‘pen.Overall, this might not be the most polished bullpen, but they’ll come out firing. This group is going to have to learn how to pitch under pressure, in order to live up to expectations.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers bullpen was overhyped in Spring Training last year. Some of their young arms weren’t ready for the majors, and that showed once the season was underway. None of the Dodgers bullpen members stepped up to fill the closer role until Javy Guerra came along. Fast forward to 2012, and these players have had a year of experience and there’s no excuse for not being ready.

Last year, Javy Guerra came out of nowhere to lead the Dodgers in saves. He had no MLB experience, and he ended the season with 21 saves and a 2.31 ERA. Luck was definitely a factor in Guerra’s success. His 4.07 xFIP was far from impressive, but he still showed enough overall to be the Dodgers closer heading into Spring Training.

Right behind Guerra is the sophomore Kenley Jansen. Jansen is 6’5” 250 pounds, and he is only 24. In the end, Jansen will take over the role from Guerra because of his upside. The Dodgers bullpen looks decent, but they lack a true long reliever.

San Diego Padres: The Padres bullpen still looks strong despite them losing their two best relievers from last year. Mike Adams and Heath Bell were critical pieces to this bullpen, but some new acquisitions and a couple of promotions make it more appealing.

Huston Street was acquired from Colorado this offseason, and he’ll be the Padres closer. He had a 3.14 (!) xFIP last year pitching half of his games in Coors Field. Street has recorded fifteen or more saves in six straight major league seasons. When he gets into trouble, it’s with giving up homers, but in San Diego that will be much less of a problem.

Throwing the eight inning for the Padres will be Luke Gregerson. Gregerson had a rough 2011 after two amazing seasons leading up to that. In 2011, Gregerson threw his slider 57.5% of the time. That ranks sixth in all of baseball for slider usage. He will always be a fine reliever on any time with how dominant his slider is. If Gregerson wanted to be a full-time closer, he’d have to develop his other pitches more. This San Diego bullpen basically has three above-average pitchers (Gregerson, Street, and Ernesto Frieri) and a bunch of replaceable pitchers. San Diego’s starters won’t be going late in games, so the Padres need to find a long reliever of good quality.

San Fransisco Giants: Last but not least, the Giants bullpen. The Giants obviously have Brian Wilson closing out games. This bullpen is very strong, and the addition of Clay Hensley will make it even better.

Wilson took a step back in 2011. He had his worst season since 2008, thanks to his 3.11 ERA and his mysteriously disappearing strikeouts. Still, Wilson collected 36 saves, and he only blew five saves. Brian Wilson’s struggles weren’t the reason for the Giants missing the playoffs last year, and they won’t be this year. As long as Wilson turns in another high quality year, he will hit pay dirt after this season.

If you missed it, here is my article on the American League closers.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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