From the Bleachers: Notes Around Baseball

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Here at Bleeding Royal Blue,  I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!

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A Tight Race

Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.

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The Machine and 600

This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

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Have a Day, Scooter

On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.

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Scherzer Meets Kershaw

As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.

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McCutchen Has a Pulse

Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:

If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.

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The Elbow and the Damage Done

Finally, another alarming Tommy John  Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:

 

Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.

“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”

Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.

While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:

“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”

“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”

So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.

 

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My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

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There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor amongst baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my third year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, and in years past we had already voted in Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, so none of those players showed up on our ballots this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where as the BBWAA can only vote for 10. Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 20142015, and 2016. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 18th. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds

I have voted for Bonds every year and will continue to until he is finally elected. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, as Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever, not just of his era. I could rattle off all the numbers that show how great he was, but I think the best way to explain it is this way: before there was any whispers about suspected steroid use, Bonds was a 5 tool player who could literally do anything on the baseball field…and then he became an offensive juggernaut that could not be contained. The all-time home run king took that whole era to another level and it wasn’t even close. You might not like him or what he had to do to elevate his game, but I am not concerned about any of that when it comes to voting. To me, Bonds is a slam dunk pick and should already be in the Hall of Fame.

 

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Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens is an easy pick, the greatest pitcher of his era and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Clemens won the Cy Young Award 7 times throughout his career, and is on top of a plethora of statistics that garner him near the top of almost all pitching leaderboards. Both Bonds and Clemens seem to be garnering more support, as the election of former Commissioner Bud Selig to the Hall seems to have allowed some voters to start putting an ‘x’ in the box next to their names. At one time it appeared both men would have to wait until they showed up on the Veteran’s Committee ballot before they would get elected; now we could see that wall busted through in the next couple of years.

 

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Vladimir Guerrero

Guerrero is the first debut on my ballot this year and appears on the surface to be a borderline pick for the Hall, but digging deeper shows you a guy who should be more of an easy pick for voters. Most will remember Guerrero as a hitter who never saw a pitch he didn’t like (as he was a notorious bad-ball hitter), but he was also a very good hitter, which those two things normally clash if put together. Instead, Guerrero posted a career .318/.379/.553 line with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits during his 16 year career, with a career contact rate of 79.9%. The accolades are there with this guy: 2004 AL MVP, 9 time All-Star, 8 time Silver Slugger award winner and 2010 Edgar Martinez award winner. All that should entice a voter’s view of Vlad, but what really takes the cake is his place in history when it comes to his offensive stats. Guerrero’s all-time rank is staggering: 56th all-time in batting average, 24th in slugging percentage, 34th in OPS, 49th in total bases, 85th in doubles, 38th in home runs, 57th in RBI’s, 79th in OPS+, 64th in runs created, 56th in adjusted batting runs, 61st in adjusted batting wins, 45th in extra base hits, 5th all time in intentional bases on balls, 45th in power-speed #, 59th in RE24, and 50th in Win Probability Added. Most people could tell you that he was a really good player, but it isn’t until the numbers slap you in the face that you see just how great he was, not just really good. The cherry on top of his offensive numbers is this fun little fact that Graham Womack found: Guerrero’s career batting average, home runs and hits are only topped in baseball history by five players. Those five? Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all five are Hall of Famers and yes, Vladimir Guerrero should be as well. If not this year, hopefully Vlad will get in the Hall in the very near future.

 

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Trevor Hoffman

For the second consecutive season, I voted for Trevor Hoffman. There has been plenty of debate on whether or not closers should be judged on a different criteria than most other positions and to a small degree I get some of the trepidation. Closers today don’t always face the strongest part of the lineup and it seems odd to have your best bullpen arm only throw an inning or less an outing. The thing to remember though is that “the closer” is still a position and if you excel at it for 16 seasons, you should be rewarded justly. In some ways, the Hoffman argument is very similar to Tim Raines; Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of his time, behind another Hall of Famer in Rickey Henderson. Hoffman was the second best closer of his, behind future Hall honoree Mariano Rivera. Hoffman not only shouldn’t be punished for not being Rivera, but was about as consistent as one can be. During his career, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive seasons of 20+ saves (and I hate the save stat, but this is still very impressive) and had an 88.8% save conversion rate, which within itself is almost insane when you consider the amount of save opportunities he received in his career.Throw in his lethal change-up that was almost as deadly as Rivera’s cutter, and you have a one of the best relievers of all-time. He might be no Mariano Rivera, but then again who is? What Hoffman is though is a Hall of Fame closer.

 

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina

When thinking about Mike Mussina, what is the first thing that springs to mind? Is it his start in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Or maybe his use of the knuckle-curve, which was his out pitch? Or does nothing specific pop into your mind when hearing Mussina’s name? I sometimes wonder if those of us on the Mussina bandwagon would have to praise his career if he had been even just a tad bit flashier.What I end up realizing is that part of what made him so great was that he wasn’t flashy and just went out for 18 seasons and performed as a top of the rotation starter in that span. There are no Cy Young awards on his mantle, but there are numbers that back up his greatness. Mussina has the 24th best bWAR for pitchers, 19th in strikeouts, 22nd best strikeout to walk ratio, 17th best adjusted pitching runs, 21st best adjusted pitching wins, 9th best RE24, and 10th best Win Probability Added. Mussina was that guy who you could count on for a big win or just to go out and save the bullpen from being overused. Mussina jumped up to 43% of the ballots in 2016 and one can only hope he inches closer to the 75% he needs to reach the Hall. One of the pitchers that Mussina’s stats are comparable to is another former Oriole, Jim Palmer. While Palmer might have the accolades that Mussina does not have, the one thing in common is that both pitchers deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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Manny Ramirez

Manny makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot and with that comes a bee-hive of debate. Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or a Clemens and Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit. After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter. Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything. Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

 

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Ivan Rodriguez

This will be “Pudge’s” first time on the ballot and for most accounts should be an easy, first ballot inductee. The problem is that like many of that era, he has been rumored to have used PED’s, as former teammate Jose Canseco (a bastion of trust) said he shot Rodriguez up during their time together on the Rangers. Since it just speculation at this point, he got my vote, as he is easily one of the best catchers in baseball history. Over a 21 year career, Pudge would hit .296/.334/.464 with 311 career home runs, 1,332 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 106 and a bWAR of 68.4. Rodriguez was the 1999 AL MVP, 2003 NL NLCS MVP, 13 time Gold Glove winner, 7 time Silver Slugger award winner,  and 14 time All-Star, including this little honor he gets all to himself:

His numbers are somewhat mind-boggling for a catcher, a position that has been very hard for most to excel on both offense and defense. Rodriguez is 9th all-time in career defensive WAR, 48th in hits, 54th in total bases, 26th in doubles, 97th in RBI’s, 58th in extra base hits, 13th in Total Zone Runs, 1st in defensive games as a catcher, 1st in career putouts as a catcher, 23rd in assists at catcher, 5th in double plays turned at catcher, 78th in caught stealing percentage, and 1st in Total Zone Runs as a catcher. In some ways, Rodriguez re-invented the catcher position, as he was a hybrid of speed, guile, power, and  nimble defense with a cannon of an arm. According to JAWS (which is a ranking system created by Jay Jaffe that is of great use to help determine Hall of Fame worthiness),  is the third best catcher of all-time, just behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. When you factor in his comparable players (Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Carter and Yogi Berra) it is easy to see why Rodriguez should be a first ballot HOFer. So far, he is polling at 79.9% of the ballots, which is probably a good sign that he will either get in this year or come up just short, which would be a good sign for 2018. In my eyes, there is no debate here: Pudge is one the greats of the game.

 

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Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last year. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year. Schilling’s numbers speak of a top notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer. Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet) and because of that his vote totals have gone down this year, but so far he is polling exactly where he finished last year, at 52%. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

 

Hall of Fame Baseball

Billy Wagner

This year is the first that I voted for Wagner, although I came very (very) close to voting for him in 2016. Since I was so close last year to marking an ‘X’ next to his name, I decided to dig deeper into his numbers and compare them to some of his peers. Wagner was a 7 time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%. What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive. I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done. In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were very equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

 

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Larry Walker

Much like Wagner, this was the first year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different than a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did  at home. No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner. So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few. Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time. What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first six years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 15%. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

 

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So those were my picks for this year’s class of the Hall of Fame. There are always those players we struggle with, the ones that we hem and haw about before deciding yay or nay. Here are a few of those and why I didn’t vote them:

Jeff Kent-While being one of the best offensive second baseman of all-time, his defense hurts him a ton. 19th all-time in bWAR for second sackers, 27th in WAR (which factors in a players best 7 seasons). Even just factoring in hitting, he is 18th amongst his position in OPS+. Close, but not quite.

Fred McGriff-Also close, but just misses the cut for me. Number-wise he is in the “very good but not quite great” category.

Gary Sheffield-I go back and forth on him every year, mainly because I love his offensive numbers and where they stand in baseball history. But his defense…he has a career bWAR of 60.3; just imagine if he was even just an average defender? Sheff is a close call for me and could very well win me over next year.

Lee Smith-Longevity seems to be his main catch but nothing much really stands out for me. Nice strikeout ratio and ERA+, but outside of that he would seem to fit in the “good not great” category.

Sammy Sosa-Sosa always felt like a one-dimensional player: home runs and not much more. In fact, when you consider he hit over 600 home runs, you would think his bWAR would be higher than just 58.4.Below average defender, struck out a lot, and only cracks the Top 100 of all-time in six offensive categories. Not a Hall of Famer in my eyes.

I always love writing these Hall of Fame articles, as there is a ton of research to gloss over. Every year I feel like I receive a greater perception of the bigger picture and every year I feel like I left someone off that maybe deserved a deeper look into their case. Some of these you will agree with, some you won’t, as each person’s definition of a Hall of Famer seems to be different. What I can say that in my eyes these are the best of the best and earned the honor.

New Look Eddie?

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In 2015, Edinson Volquez was the rock of the Kansas City Royals rotation. While Yordano Ventura got the attention for his fiery fastball and his antics on the field, Volquez was the true ace of last year’s pitching staff. It should be no shock that whenever manager Ned Yost needed a solid start, especially early in a playoff series, he went to “Sexy Eddie” to get the job done. What was intriguing was the increase in Volquez’s velocity in the playoffs, as October seemed to give him a big shot of adrenaline. In fact, during the postseason Volquez saw a velocity bump, from an average of 93.8 mph during the season to 95.2 mph in the postseason. It didn’t change Eddie’s game much, but the extra tick in his fastball was helpful. After two starts to this 2016 season, Volquez seems like he has changed up his game a bit with a little bit of that velo hanging around. So is Volquez a different pitcher this year? I decided to dive in and take a look.

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Before we begin, I feel I should state how this is based purely off of just two starts for Volquez, so we are definitely dealing with a small sample size. Just remember this as we look at the numbers that they could change with a couple more starts tacked on later this week. Okay, onto the numbers. It has seemed to me through Eddie’s first few starts that he has really been utilizing his off-speed stuff more and it has elevated his strikeouts. Looking at the Pitch F/X data, Volquez has been throwing his fastball pretty close to his normal rate(12.0 to 12.3 last year) while usage of his change-up isn’t too far off(23.4 to 24.7). The differences seem to lie in his sinker and knuckle-curve, one he is throwing more and the other he is throwing less. Volquez has thrown the knuckle-curve less(21.5 to 24.1) so far this year, although it has never been a big weapon in his repertoire. The sinker on the other hand is being used more and it shouldn’t be surprising.

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If Volquez has an “out-pitch”, it would be his sinker. The key to Volquez’s success truly relies on his ability to induce grounders with his sinker and let the Royals defense handle the rest. Last year Volquez used his sinker at a higher percentage than at any other time in his career, a solid 38.9%. So far this year, he has upped it to 43.1% which seems to signify how comfortable he is in not only throwing the pitch but also the trust in Kansas City’s elite defense. Not only is Volquez throwing this at the highest frequency of his career, he is also throwing it at the highest speed. In his two starts this year, Eddie is averaging 94 mph on his sinker, which is slightly higher than the 93.8 mph he was averaging in 2011 with the Reds, a season where he only threw the pitch 17% on average. It will be interesting to follow and see if this trend keeps up or it fades a bit as the season wears on. What will also be interesting to follow will be the upward velocity tick Volquez has seen since October.

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It was discussed quite a bit during the playoffs that Volquez saw an increase in his velocity, with most chalking it up to a surge in adrenaline from playing in the postseason. But early on this season, it seems some of that velocity has stuck around:

volquez velo chart

As you can tell from the chart, Volquez has seen his velocity spike over 95 mph quite often with a few pitches even coming up on 97.5 mph. Now, this could very easily be a situation once again of a pitcher being pumped up for a big matchup, as he did throw on opening night against the Mets. But with even a small bit of continuity from last year, one does have to wonder if there was a small adjustment in his delivery that pitching coach Dave Eiland found that has increased Volquez’s velocity. This is yet another item to keep an eye on as the season unwinds, especially since the velocity has an instant effect on his other pitches, including the sinker.

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Volquez is only two starts into this 2016 season, so obviously it’s a little early to get too excited about a slight adjustment in a game plan. What the stats are telling us at this point though is that Volquez could very well be in for an even better 2016 and it’s worth keeping an eye on. The Royals don’t need Volquez to go out and win a Cy Young Award to be successful, but any increase in production this year would be a bonus. Volquez has always been known as being a pitcher with great stuff but the inability to completely harness it. If he is able to reign in the inconsistent losses of control, we could be looking at a banner season for the man we call “Sexy Eddie”.

 

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

Newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers from left to right, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez hold their plaques after an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Nothing is debated more intensely each year than who should and shouldn’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The last few years have been filled with a moral dilemma for some, as they struggle with voting in players whose numbers are ‘Hall Caliber’, but the scarlet ‘S’ (for steroids) looms around their neck. This has led to a backloaded ballot for BBWAA members as they struggle with the decision of voting in a player who they feel would tarnish the game. Some of us(myself included) am not bothered by this, since the Hall is all about the history of the game, good or bad, and it is hard for me to sit here and tell you these players shouldn’t be voted in when there are no positive tests, because baseball was not testing at the time. So right there, you see the dilemma. As a member of the IBWAA, we have our own Hall of Fame and do our own voting each year. Our voting has not been completely parallel to the BBWAA’s, as last year Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all reached the 75% of the votes needed for election. In years past, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza have been elected by us in the IBWAA, so they are no longer on the ballot either. As a group, we also decided that we can vote for up to 15 players on the ballot, which opens it up even more and has allowed the ballot not to get so clogged up. Before we get started with my votes, you can go back and read my last two years of voting: Here is 2014 and 2015.  Also, to keep up to date with all of the BBWAA votes that have been revealed, follow Ryan Thibs on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before Wednesday’s big announcement. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds was also on my list the last two years and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another duel year vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is thegreatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

Seattle Mariners
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Griffey Jr.

Some votes are so easy you don’t even have to think about them before marking the box. So is the case with Ken Griffey, Jr., an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of his generation. Griffey came into the league as a wide eyed youngster, bringing his enthusiasm and childlike glee to stadiums everywhere. It would been awhile since the baseball world had seen a five tool player(outside of Bonds, of course) perform so easily and graceful on the field the way Griffey did. Griffey was a 13 time All-Star(10 as a Mariner, 3 as a Red), AL MVP in 1997, 10 time Gold Glove Winner and 7 time Silver Slugger award winner. At one point or another he lead the league in runs, home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks. Griffey would finish 1st in the league in WAR once(1996, while finishing 1st three times for position players), while finishing 2nd three times(pulling a career bWAR of 83.6, 57th all time. The numbers just continue to stack up- 55th all time in OPS, 35th in slugging percentage, 33rd in runs scored, 50th in hits, 13th in total bases, 6th on the all time home run list and 15th career in RBI’s. There are some interesting stats that won’t pop out but are interesting nonetheless-22nd all time runs created, 7th all time extra base hits, and 6th all time intentional walks. The numbers show someone who is an easy vote for the Hall, but one has to wonder just how much higher Griffey would rank on all-time lists if not for injuries that curtailed him late in his career. It’s easy to point at his trade to Cincinnati before the 2000 season as the beginning of his decline, but that 2000 season was actually a solid one for Griffey. After that though, the injuries piled up and he went from being a player who could challenge Hank Aaron’s(at the time) all-time home run record to a ghost of his former self. In fact if you take out that 2000 season, Griffey only averaged 100 games a season during the rest of his time in Cincy, with an average of 22 home runs and 62 RBI’s per season. Even with these numbers you have a player who should be mentioned in the same breath as Mays, Ruth and yes, even Bonds, as one of the most prolific home run hitters(and all around best players) in baseball history. The question this year will be: will Griffey be the first player to be an unanimous selection to the Hall?

 

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Trevor Hoffman

I’m sure my pick here will cause some debate, since there are those that believe you have to be Mariano Rivera to be a Hall of Fame closer, but much like the Tim Raines debate(which I am a strong supporter of), you can’t fault Hoffman for not being the best closer in baseball history. Yes, the closer in modern day baseball is a defined role that is the guy who closes out the game for his team, not always the guy who faces the toughest part of the lineup. Yes, the save is probably the worst stat in baseball, based just off of its parameters on how you can get one. But when you are the second best player at your position for 16 seasons, you deserve to get more recognition than to be just tossed aside and scoffed at. Here is why I voted for Hoffman and why I feel he is a Hall of Famer. First, he was as consistent as they come. Outside of 2003 when he was injured, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive years of 20 or more saves and is second all-time(ALL-TIME!) behind Rivera. I know some use the argument “well, he was no Gossage or Fingers or even Sutter”, and to be honest, no, he wasn’t. But that is the whole point behind this; no one compares to those guys anymore, because closers aren’t used the same way they were in the 70’s and early 80’s. Why compare a pitcher to guys who faced completely different game situations 30-40 years earlier? It’s not a fair assessment and people sure as hell don’t use that same comparison when talking about Rivera and his place in the game. Second, besides the consistency he was also fairly dominant, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Hoffman is a 7 time All-Star, placed 2nd in the National League Cy Young award voting twice(!), has the 8th best K per 9 percentage, 8th best WHIP, 14th best ERA+ and the 18th best WPA(Win Probability Added) ever. That’s not even mentioning he also blew just 76 career saves, which gives him a 88.8% save conversion rate. What about his out-pitch? Hoffman had a lethal change-up that was one of the hardest pitches to handle during this period. Sure, it wasn’t Mariano’s cutter, but it got the job done and normally threw batters off of their game. No matter which way you cut it, Hoffman is one of the great closers in baseball history, even if you took away the save stat. Very few pitchers have been able to do what he has done and do it for as long as he did. Bottom line is that ‘closer’ is a position filled by each team in the big leagues and Hoffman was elite at that position for a very long time. That is why he gets my vote for the Hall of Fame.

 

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me the last two years. Edgar is the greatestDesignated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Just like when discussing closers, Designated Hitters are a part of the game just as much as their late inning friends. Soon David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and you don’t hear anyone question whether or not he belongs. If he belongs, why doesn’t the guy who they named the DH Award after? Edgar is the GOAT and should be honored justly.

 

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Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you. So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. 2014 was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up again this year. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious. Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s last year on the ballot, which means after this year his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

2004 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend - Induction Ceremonies - July 25, 2004
(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

So eight votes from me this year, which was less than last year. I did consider a number of other players for this honor, players who I feel are just on the cusp but not quite there. On that list that I heavily considered was Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. All were great players but I felt for now they fall just short for me. Does that mean I could change my mind? I could, honestly. I did when it comes to Trammell and Raines and I could with any of these guys in the future. Sometimes it just takes a longer look to really grasp how important a certain player was to his era. This is a special honor not given to just any player, but only to the greats of the game. The eight I voted for this year I consider great; next year Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero will show up on the ballot for the first time. Oh, and Russ Springer. That means we have a year to determine who of that group should be inducted; yes, even Russ Springer. All these players add a certain element to the baseball Hall of Fame, good and bad. It is all part of the story that is this great game we call baseball.

Kansas City Royals History Did NOT End After 1985

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This past weekend I made a trek to my home away from home, Kauffman Stadium. With the temperatures reaching the mid-90’s on Saturday we decided to venture into the air conditioned Royals Hall of Fame, if for no reason than to keep cool. While in there we decided to check out a film the Royals have on the history of baseball in Kansas City. While we watched the video, I was reminded of just why Kansas City really is a baseball town. Near the end of the film they showed highlights from the Royals winning the World Series in 1985 and then proceeded to mention how former Royals manager Dick Howser would pass away just a few years later from brain cancer. They then discussed Buck O’Neil for a bit, showed a few highlights(including the Justin Maxwell walk off grand slam last year) and the film was over. Yep, the video basically wraps up after the Royals winning the World Series 29 years ago. As a longtime Kansas City fan, I felt a bit insulted. You mean we are supposed to believe that nothing has happened in 29 years? Trust me, I am well aware this team hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since then, and as fans we have endured MANY pitiful and craptastic teams…but we have nothing to show off since then? I disagree. In fact, I think they are quite a few things that should have been mentioned, even for just a mention in the film. With that being said, here are some moments I would have thrown into this film to celebrate this Kansas City Royals team.

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1) Bo Jackson

Yes, I know Bo isn’t one of the greatest Royals ever. I realize that he was a shining star that we only got to marvel at for a few years. But in those few years we saw possibly the greatest athlete in Royals history and a caliber of player we might never see again in our lifetime. Bo wasn’t about numbers, unless you count the distance on homers or how far it is to throw a baseball from the warning track to home plate with no bounce. Bo Jackson was that special player that only comes along once in a lifetime and he was a Royal, through and through. The film could have shown a few highlights from his time with Kansas City and some of the mind bending feats Bo was famous for. Bo had his faults as a player but he was a big part of those late 80’s Royals team and someone who was one of the most mainstream athletes of that era. Trust me, Bo Jackson is a big part of Royals history, even if he only makes sporadic appearances at ‘The K’.

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2) Bret Saberhagen Throws a No-Hitter

Bret Saberhagen was the ace of the Royals pitching staff from 1985 until he was traded to the New York Mets in the winter of 1991. But in August of that year, Saberhagen threw his greatest game ever, a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. It was an odd game in that Sabs let his defense do most of the work on this night, only racking up 5 strikeouts and 2 walks in his 9 innings of work. It was the fourth no-hitter in Royals history and was a cherry on top of a fantastic career in Kansas City. Sure, you could mention the two American League Cy Young Awards he won, or his All Star elections, but throwing in a clip of the last no-hitter in Royals history would have been a nice touch and a great moment for the Royals.

 

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3) George Brett gets his 3,000th Hit

Brett is easily the greatest Royal in history and a man cherished by Royals fans everywhere. There were a few big accomplishments for George late in his career, like Brett winning his third batting title in 1990, the only man to record batting titles in three different decades. But his biggest moment late in his career was reaching the 3,000 hit mark, which almost assures a player induction into the baseball Hall of Fame(or at least it used to). Brett would have a four hit game that night in Anaheim and hit number four was lined past the Angels second baseman for the momentous hit. Brett would wrap up his career a year later, but throwing in this key moment in Royals history would seem like a “must have”.

 

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4) A Cavalcade of Stars

For a long time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s the running joke around baseball was that the Royals were a farm club for the bigger market teams like the New York Yankees. It wasn’t literally like that, but it was fairly well known that when a player would start to become a star for Kansas City they wouldn’t be able to re-sign them and would have to deal them before they became a free agent. The bigger point was that the Royals were developing stars that would shine on the baseball diamond. Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney all became star players during this period and pointing this out in the history of this team isn’t a bad thing. Sure, it sucked that the Royals felt forced to trade all of them(besides Sweeney) but these were all guys that we could say were Royals first(or in Dye’s case the place that gave him a chance to be a starter). To go a step further you could also point out in the film all the other talent the Royals have produced in the last 30 years, including the stars of today. What better way to point this out than to show three players who have been All-Stars for Kansas City the last two seasons: Alex Gordon, Greg Holland and Salvador Perez. This franchise has produced some major talent over the years and it’s something that should be marked down in the team’s history.

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5) Zack Greinke is Spelled ‘Cy Young’

Zack Greinke had a special 2009 season. A season that very few pitchers have ever achieved. A season so good that he would become the American League Cy Young Award winner that year. Most remember his messy exit out of Kansas City but for awhile there he was the heart of the Royals, a true ace on a losing team. Greinke would go 16-8 with a major league-low 2.16 ERA that season and received 25 of 28 first-place votes and three seconds for 134 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Greinke was so dominate that year that the Royals scored just 13 runs in his eight losses and 21 runs in his nine no-decisions. He failed to get a victory in six starts in which he allowed one run or none. The Greinke/Royals relationship would become ugly soon enough, but for that one season the Royals could champion that they had the best pitcher in the American League.

 

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I’m sure if I thought about it more I could come up with many more positives the Royals have had over these past 29 years. Whether it is the 3 Gold Glove winners the team had last season or some of thrilling moments at ‘The K’, it’s not all been bad during this team’s playoff drought. We all acknowledge that there have been some rough times and we don’t want to relive most of them. But there are some great moments or personal seasons that the Royals could throw into their film and truly show the history of a great franchise. I don’t want to discourage anyone from watching the film at the Royals Hall of Fame; it’s a great film and deserves your time. But I think it could be better, and the suggestions above would make a great start. Who knows? Maybe this Royals team can secure a playoff spot this year so the team is forced to make a new video. Weirder things have happened. Don’t believe me? Just go back to 1985…

All Righty Then

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Back in 2009, we witnessed one of the best pitching seasons (if not the best) in Royals history. That year, Zack Greinke showed everyone just how talented he really was, winning the American League Cy Young award and posting numbers that are few and far between. Since then, the Royals have done a poor job of producing homegrown starting pitching, with Danny Duffy being the most successful (and he is now in the bullpen). So it should come to no one’s surprise that Royals fans are elated about the prospects of young flamethrower Yordano Ventura.

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Ventura combines an electric fastball that reaches triple digits with an improving curve and a change-up. Anyone who has followed baseball for awhile realizes that just because you can throw hard doesn’t guarantee success but if you learn how to pitch (not throw), you have a chance for a long career. Ventura is good enough that there is already talk that when James Shields leaves after the season for free agency that Ventura will slide in and take over the role of ‘Ace’. Yes, it is ironic that he could be slotted in that role when he has already been given the nickname, as an ode to the classic Jim Carrey movie. So how does a 22 year old rookie get anointed savior of the Royals starting rotation with only four major league starts under his belt? It’s not just the blazing fastball or the cool nickname. No, it’s the ability to pitch to his strengths.

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In Spring Training, Ventura had outings where his curve was at its knee-buckling best. So he used it more than he normally would. This past week, during his first start of the 2014 campaign, Ventura didn’t have a good feel on his curve. So instead of continuing to try something that wasn’t working, he used his change-up more and made the Rays look completely lost at the plate. Ventura is already picking up the nuances of pitching that many guys don’t learn until their late 20’s. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many are predicting such a high ceiling for him. But there are concerns.

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Ventura is very small, especially for a guy who throws as hard as he does. In the past, many pitchers who throw that hard with such a small frame end up hurting their arms and shortening their careers. There are exceptions, as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez easily comes to mind. There is also worry about pushing him too hard, too soon. Last season Ventura pitched the most innings of his career, a combined 150 innings between the minors and majors. The Royals have said they won’t put an innings limit on him, but don’t be surprised if he is sometimes taken out of games in the 6th inning, if anything to save his arm for later in the year. These things are concerns, but not anything that can’t be overcome.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals

As long as the Royals and Ventura are smart, the team has a chance of producing a pitching talent to rival classic Royals like Greinke, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier and Steve Busby. That is pretty nice company for a 22 year old ‘kid’. At this point, the sky’s the limit for ‘Ace’ Ventura.

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