Opening day is a mere nine days away. 9 days. That's 216 hours. A bunch of minutes, and thousands of seconds. I'm excited; one might even say I am geeked. Oh yes. Geeked. I already have my tickets. A 20-game package at beautiful Tropicana Field. Add in a free ticket I won last season and I'm going to be seeing a lot of baseball this year. And there is nothing wrong with that.
That said, there are a few things I am going to be watching for this season. Through blogs and sites like Baseball Prospectus, I feel I've enhanced my powers of baseball observation; and it's time to put my newfound analytical abilities to the test.
So, instead of the usual run-of-the-mill predictions (which I am not good at, as I proved last year), I'm giving you the trends and key points I'm keeping an eye out for. I might just even write on these points when all is said and done at the end of the season. If you are lucky.
Things I'll be watching this season (in no particular order):
- The end of Shea and Yankee Stadium. Hopefully, I'll be going to Shea at some point this summer for the last time. My first game there was 23 years ago - Back to School Day, 1985. I still have the old giveaway binder to prove it.
- The end of the Dodgers in Vero Beach. The Dodgers are ending an era by moving out to Arizona. It makes economic sense and probably should have been done years ago, but it hurts my traditional-minded baseball heart to see them go. There's talk that the Orioles might replace them. But will Koufax Street, et al become Jim Palmer Lane?
- More on stadia: the development and drama behind the Rays' and Marlins' new parks. Although I am not sold on the sail idea, and have kinda grown to like the Trop, I can't wait to see both teams in new homes.
- Speaking of the Rays: they are getting an unprecedented amount of hype this offseason. Will the hype equal increased attendance? I'll be there. Rumor has it only a small minority of Tampa area bloggers actually live in the Tampa area. Oh well, there's always hanging out with Dickie V.
- May 16, 17, 18: Red Sox versus Brewers. There is a chance the two most famous alumni from my high school, Tim Wakefield and Prince Fielder, could face each other for the first time. A truly historic day.
- Years ago, pitchers used to pitch 300 innings and win 30 games. Those days are long gone. As we move to a more coddling time of pitchcounts and relief specialists, have we seen the end of the 20-game winner? What about the 300-strikeout season? If a guy only pitches 240 innings, he would have to average 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings to get 300 Ks. I don't see that happening again for a while.
- The inconsistencies of bullpens. No facet of professional sports is more unpredictable than major league relief pitching. A shutdown bullpen one year could be complete garbage the next. Imagine if other situational aspects like fieldgoal kicking or goaltending or freethrow shooting were as unpredictable.
- Talent versus signability in the June draft. The Rays again have the first pick and I don't think money will be too big of an issue for them. But for the Pirates, Royals, Twins, and several other teams, signing bonuses and rookie contracts continue to destroy the true purpose of the amateur draft.
- The growing influence of "new" stats in baseball discussion. Most serious fans know the meaning of OPS, VoRP, and other SABRmetics. How soon until these terms are incorporated in the layman's baseball vernacular? Would it be too much trouble to get one of the guys from Baseball Prospectus, etc to work at ESPN, preferably on an announce team. Why not make one broadcast a week a more in-depth announcing experience, with color commentators who won't spout cliches, but will instead tell me a pitcher's groundball-to-flyball ratio and why that is important in a certain situation?
- Finally, will this be the season more teams look to the stolen base? With the age of steroids slowing drifting away like Dobie Gray, will we see a return of "manufactured" runs? More stealing, bunting, and situational hitting? Or have walks, on-base percentage, and station-to-station offense completely replaced the stolen base as an alternative to hitting the ball out of the park?
There you have it. The 10 things I'll be watching. Feel free to discuss in the comments. Only 9 days away. I can't wait.