Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The All-Asian Major League Baseball Team

There’s been much talk of late about the decline in the numbers of African American major league baseball players. Commensurate with this trend has been the rise of the Latin ballplayer. Indeed, there are so many guys named Cabrera and Gonzalez on MLB rosters these days, it gets dizzying trying to keep them all straight. But after years of fairly halting progress, the major league ranks are starting to also take on a distinctively Asian look.

It’s 43 years since 20-year-old Masanori Murakami (left) joined the San Francisco Giants and became the first Japanese player in the major leagues. In parts of two seasons (1964-65), Murakami, working mostly as a reliever, totaled 5 wins, 1 loss, 9 saves, and compiled a 3.43 ERA in 54 games. Not bad numbers at all. Contractual obligations forced his return to Japan, where he went on to have a long and productive if unspectacular career. It took 30 years for the next Japanese ballplayer, Hideo Nomo, to enter the American baseball scene.

But now, finally, there are enough Asian ballplayers in MLB that we can actually put together a pretty decent team, one capable of winning games against other major league competition. You have to finagle the positions a little bit, with the biggest risk having no legit shortstop on the squad (we had to move Tadahito Iguchi over from his usual second base). First base, too, became a problem, and big was our disappointment to learn that South Korean-born first-baseman Hee Seop Choi, late of the Cubs, Dodgers and Marlins (and the rosters of the Red Sox and Devil Rays) has been out of the American game since 2005. Choi, the first-ever Korean fielder in the U.S. major leagues, has returned to his homeland to play for the Kia Tigers. He’s currently on rehab assignment, recovering from a fractured rib. (If you return to the States, Mr. Choi, first base is waiting for you, and we’ll move Godzilla back to the outfield.)

So here’s the proposed lineup, with the players’ current team affiliations and countries of origins. We could use a little more longball power from our Far Eastern squad, but the pitching’s pretty solid. Play some tenacious D behind “Dice-K” and Chien-Ming Wang, and we win our fair share of contests. (One of those pitchers will have to develop into our closer, though.) We’ll also have to play in the National League, so we can forgo the designated hitter issue. (Come back, Choi. Come back!)

Starting Lineup

1. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners (Japan)

2. Tadahito Iguchi, SS, Chicago White Sox (Japan)

3. So Taguchi, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Japan)

4. Hideki Matsui, 1B, New York Yankees (Japan)

5. Akinori Iwamura, 3B, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Japan)

6. Kenji Johjima, C, Seattle Mariners (Japan)

7. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland Indians (South Korea)

8. Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Colorado Rockies (Japan)

9. Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Boston Red Sox (Japan)

Other Starting Pitchers

Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees (Taiwan)

Byung-Hyun Kim, Florida Marlins (South Korea)

Cha Seung Baek, Seattle Mariners (South Korea)

Jae Weong Seo, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (South Korea)

Tomokazu Ohka, Toronto Blue Jays (Japan)

Relief Pitchers

Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox (Japan)

Takashi Saito, Los Angeles Dodgers (Japan)

Jae Kuk Ryu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (South Korea)

Akinori Otsuka, Texas Rangers (Japan)

Pitchers on the Bubble

Chin-hui Tsao, Los Angeles Dodgers (Taiwan). Currently on DL.

Chan Ho Park (South Korea). With 113 career wins since 1994, Park, soon to be 34, is definitely the grand old man of Asian MLB players. He won seven games for the Padres in 2006, and began 2007 with the Mets. Then he was optioned to AAA New Orleans on May 3. We really want you to come play for us anytime, Mr. Park, but you need to be on a major league roster first.

Kei Igawa (Japan) started the season with the New York Yankees, then was sent down to AAA affiliate Scranton on May 7.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers (Taiwan), is currently on assignment with AAA Las Vegas.

Friday, May 25, 2007

AFS (Adjusted for Steroids): A Sabermetric Approach to the Bonds Question

The closer Barry Bonds gets to Hank Aaron’s home run record, the higher the hairs rise on the back of my neck. I keep trying to figure out if I’d be less agitated if Bonds was a nice guy. No matter. He seems to be such a surly SOB that it’s easy to let the resentment rise, where it will probably move easily into contempt. (If I’m wrong, Barry, and you’re really a sweetheart of a human being, then I apologize.)

Of the top 10 all-time major league home run hitters, four of them—Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro—are cheaters. That is, they are (or were) users of steroids and/or other performance-enhancing drugs. This is what logical conjecture and deductive reasoning lead us to believe.

The current list (* indicates still active; cheaters are in boldface):

1. Hank Aaron  755

2. Barry Bonds* 745

3. Babe Ruth 714

4.Willie Mays  660

5. Sammy Sosa* 598

6. Frank Robinson 586

7. Mark McGwire 583

8. Ken Griffey Jr.* 573

9. Harmon Killebrew 573

10. Rafael Palmeiro 569

Perusing the list also brought me interestingly to #8: Ken Griffey Jr. (pictured, left). KGJ has never been mentioned as a steroid user. Early on in his career, he was immediately targeted as a potential Hall of Famer. In his first seven seasons, he hit 40 or more homers twice, and knocked in more than 100 runs three times. Then, from 1996-2000, Griffey was Superman. In those five years, he blasted 249 homers and collected 685 RBIs. He also scored 593 runs, stole bases regularly, drew walks, and his batting average hovered between .271 and .304. He was also a spectacularly gifted outfielder.

Then Griffey got injured. From 2001 to 2004, his numbers were decidedly mediocre. He missed 331 games in those four years—the equivalent of approximately 80 homers based on his previous pace—and even before and after these years, Griffey endured hamstring, calf, foot and wrist injuries that, even when they did not cut into his playing time, kept him always playing at partial strength. He rebounded a bit in 2005, with 35 homers and 92 RBIs, then had a so-so 2006 that would have been more impressive statistically if he hadn’t missed 53 more games.

Griffey, 37, actually looks healthier now than he has for years, and he’s off to a good start in ‘07. Even with all his bad luck, he still has, at this writing, 573 career homers. If he keeps on going with relative good health, he has a chance to realistically close in on Willie Mays’ homer numbers. Ken Griffey Jr. is a legit Hall of Fame candidate—actually, he’s got to be a shoo-in—and, as far as we know, he comes by this future accolade honestly, i.e., drug-free.

Consider that one of the chief, possibly most important, benefits of steroid use—besides enhanced strength—is quicker recovery time from injury. It would seem apparent that Griffey had no such benefits. Unlike Bonds and Sosa, his career numbers—great as they are—definitely have suffered due to his injuries.

And so, in the spirit of the great Bill James and sabermetricians everywhere, I offer a new statistical barometer that can help us return perspective to the record books in the wake of the controversies of the post-steroid age.

I’ll leave it to the wonky sabermetricians to figure out a precise actual formula for this one. The gist is this: For every year Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro and whoever else was on steroids, we deduct 10 home runs. This works out at a glance to about 100 home runs for each of these guys. Applying the AFS (adjusted for steroids) quotient, we simply alter the homer totals for the cheaters and make a notation of AFS after their names in the record book.

Thus, the new revised list would look like this:

1. Hank Aaron 755

2. Babe Ruth 714

3. Willie Mays  660

4. Barry Bonds* 645 (AFS)

5. Frank Robinson 586

6. Ken Griffey Jr.* 573
7. Harmon Killebrew 573

8. Reggie Jackson  563

9. Mike Schmidt 548

10. Mickey Mantle 536

11. Jimmie Foxx 534

12. Willie McCovey 521

13. Ted Williams 521

14. Ernie Banks 512

15. Eddie Mathews 512

16. Mel Ott 511

17. Eddie Murray 504

18. Sammy Sosa* 498 (AFS)

19. Lou Gehrig 493

20. Fred McGriff 493

21. Frank Thomas* 492

22. Mark McGwire 483 (AFS)

23. Alex Rodriguez*  482

24. Jim Thome* 478

25. Manny Ramirez* 477

26. Stan Musial 475

27. Willie Stargell 475

28. Rafael Palmeiro 469 (AFS)

Now, not only are the achievements of Griffey recognized appropriately—not to mention a great like Frank Robinson (left), yet another guy who had nagging injuries but no benefits from steroids—but also the top 10 is almost steroid-free. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a dogged theorist applying AFS to Bonds might not be able to subtract a greater number from his total. (There probably should also be AFE—adjusted for expansion—given the number of lame-o pitching staffs Bonds faced against the expansion teams in Colorado, Arizona, and Florida in the past 15 years. Where Sosa is concerned, we might consider AFCB, adjusted for corked bat.)

Plus, this method focuses new light on presumably clean contemporary active ballplayers like Frank Thomas—also waylaid by injury at critical times in his career—Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. The fact is, their numbers just look “more correct,” when put in historical perspective, and the arc of their career numbers looks more logical based on what we know of ordinary human physiology and the eventual decline in power hitters’ numbers as they age naturally.

The Bonds file, as amazing as the numbers look, is really something of a joke. At a time of life—his late thirties—when all who went before him showed a natural and increasing dropoff in power numbers, Bonds’ spiked supernaturally high. The juice had to have a lot to do with that. There simply is no other explanation.

AFS puts Bonds where he belongs in the “real” history, and it gives us a home run record book in which we can once again have a little faith, not to mention renewed admiration for the guys who got there legally.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Good Stuff

This is a mediawise site, with focus on print and electronic sports journalism, and so being critical is too often a big part of our mission. But every once in a while we like to focus on the strictly positive. This time out, we celebrate a personal story that helps to remind us of the good things—about family, people and sports.

Sports Media America is proud to announce that Leo Joseph Brady, youngest of my three children, is now a college graduate. Leo’s commencement was last week on Mother’s Day at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, where he spent the past four years majoring in communications and public relations, and where he played four years as a tight end on the Division III school’s football team, also serving as a co-captain. There’s been a good bit of wear and tear on Leo’s knees, including ACL surgery when he was in high school, but football is a passion that would not be denied, and he proved to be a reliable receiver with some big-play capabilities and also a staunch blocker for the DuHawks’ running game.

Leo‘s an amazing person. Besides completing college in four years, and taking on loans to do so, he has consistently worked various jobs to help support himself. In the summer of 2005, he pursued and attained an internship in south Florida with the Miami Dolphins, where he gained valuable work experience as well as insight into the everyday operations of a pro football team.

Now the hard part begins: parlaying his education and love of sports into a paying gig. Loras College is also the alma mater of ace network sports announcer Greg Gumbel, and Leo hopes to at least get somewhere near that kind of professional involvement, either in electronic or print media, media relations or front office work at the college or pro level. He has a particular interest in scouting young football talent.

Leo’s an engaging guy, he knows his gridiron stuff (and other sports too), and he’ll be great no matter where he goes or what he does. This is a special SMA shout-out to an incredible young man.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh Maryland, My Maryland—The 2007 Preakness Stakes

[Editor’s Note: Intrepid L.A.-based handicapper Steve Brady gives Sports Media America readers the lowdown on the 132d running of the $1 million Preakness Stakes, Saturday, May 19, at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racetrack. NBC television carries the action beginning at 5 p.m. ET; post time is 6:05 p.m ET.]

Man, those two weeks went fast. It seems it was just yesterday I was wiping my tears away with my collection of exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets that all centered on my certitude that Any Given Saturday would finish in the top two in the Kentucky Derby. AGS finished a scrambling eighth and never threatened the leader, and all that exotics money went out the window.

At Churchill Downs, Street Sense—above, kicking Derby ass—ran a perfect race under the guidance of Calvin (“Bo-rail!”) Borel. Still, the horse was inexplicably unimpeded on what everyone acknowledged was a track with an obvious rail bias. I mean, it’s one thing to get beaten by the favorite; it’s another to roll out the red carpet for him. Still, that’s what happened, and it earned the rail-riding Cajun Borel a trip to the White House and dinner with the Queen. (I wonder if he said to her, paraphrasing Redskins great John Riggins, “Hey, loosen up, Lizzie Baby!!”)

I didn’t think Hard Spun and Curlin would have the seasoning or the staying power to finish in the top three of the Derby. I thought the closers would get the best of them at the end. Wrong!! Hard Spun was a tough customer. He set a nice pace and did not relent until the final furlong, when he was finally passed by Street Sense. And Curlin really hung in there despite a tough trip.

Now it’s time to get back on the, er… handicapping horse, and look toward the middle jewel in the Triple Crown. (Preakness post positions are in parentheses.)

The question is, Can Street Sense (#8) make it two in a row? I don’t think so. That come-from-behind business doesn’t fly at 1-3/16 at Pimlico. I’m looking for Hard Spun (#7)—pictured, left, winning the Lane's End Stakes—to carry his speed and get the better of SS. For one thing (with a field less than half the size of the Derby), HS won’t get pushed quite as hard this time, so the race won’t set up as nicely for SS. For another, the Preakness is a half-furlong shorter than the Derby, and Pimlico is known as a “speed favoring course” (advantage: Hard Spun). Finally, Mario Pino’s been a leading rider in Maryland for several years now, and this is his house. He’ll know how to handle the tighter turns and know just when to push the buttons on his mount.

I also think Curlin (#4)—left, prepping at Pimlico—has a shot in the Preakness. He was forced to run a contest outside his comfort zone in Kentucky. It was his first race with more than nine starters, and the first time he was among G-1 level company. Considering all that, he did quite well to finish third. I have him marked as a horse that likes to run just off the pace, but in the Derby he was bumped and shuffled further back in the pack than he usually likes. He had to make a wide trip, but he still got up for third. Now he’s in a softer field of nine, and there’s no way he’ll encounter such traffic problems in Baltimore. With Spun and Xchanger the early speed in the race, Curlin may be allowed to sit off a decent pace and make his move in the final 300 yards.

Circular Quay (#3) decided to take another stab at the top three after a disappointing Derby. He was the wise guys’ choice as a closer two weeks ago, but he got bumped around a little and had to make a late effort just to grab sixth.

Flying First Class (#6) seems to be more of a sprinter than a classic distance runner. Sometimes that sprint-to-route angle can be interesting, but it’s tough to test it in a Triple Crown race.

Mint Slewlep (#1) has a relatively unimpressive record. He finished fourth in his last race—the one-mile G-3 Withers at Aqueduct—and was never in contention in his only race at over one mile.

C P West (#9) is a Nick Zito trainee. He won his first race and then finished second in three of his next four, including the G-2 Futurity at Belmont. He got stomped by Street Sense and Circular Quay in the BC Juvenile. He’d really have to turn it around to make this distance.

King of the Roxy (#5) has a chance to land in the Superfecta. He ran close to the pace in the Santa Anita Derby and was beaten in the last 100 yards by Tiago (who disappointed in the Derby).

Xchanger (#2) is an interesting runner. He’s the only one of this entire group who has ever won a race at Pimlico. He wired the field in the Federico Tesio Stakes here a month ago, and he’ll be battling with Hard Spun for the early lead. I think HS will be able to get the jump on him, but he’ll have to do it from the seven hole, and the X man might grab the advantage from the inside.

The Picks:

1. Hard Spun
2. Curlin
3. Street Sense
4. Circular Quay

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Amy Lawrence Sucks

The main problem women in electronic sports media have is credibility with men. When a TV or radio sports chick clearly is faking it...well, it’s like their orgasms: the sensitive male can spot it a mile away. Which leaves guys with a lot of post-coital sports reportage disappointment.

Take Amy Lawrence, who I keep running into on ESPN Radio’s “GameNight,” or sometimes subbing for Bobby Valvano on his otherwise excellent weekend gig. I have hated her from the very first moment I heard her faked, overenthusiastic voice come over my car radio spewing all kinds of canned knowledge which clearly revealed that she doesn’t know squat about sports. Well, I take that back: She apparently knows how to regurgitate phrases, words, and jock names that make it SOUND like she knows about sports. And she desperately puts it all out in this awful screeching voice that makes me feel like I’m listening to an obnoxious high schooler who is desperate to have someone notice her. “Hey guys, look at me!!!” Amy seems to say. Er, shout. “Look at me!!! I know a lot about sports!!!” hollers Lawrence, hammering syllables with odd and/or overemphasized inflections. Her tonal quality is wholly unpleasant, too. Get thee to a broadcasting school, Amy.


One day last year, near the beginning of the baseball season, Amy was doing the Saturday morning ESPN Radio show with Mel Kiper, Jr. Now I dig Kiper on football. He has a great voice, cool style, and good knowledge of the gridiron. But he doesn’t know much about baseball. Listening to him and Lawrence discuss baseball was...well, embarrassing is what it was. Both faked their way through that, a situation that exposed ol’ Mel and made ya wanna laugh at ol’ Amy. Or kick the radio.

The ABC affiliate in Nashville used to have an on-air sports reporter and anchor named Sara Walsh. I had occasion in 2005 to do a major critique of all of Nashville’s sports talking heads, and Sara, only in town a year or so, came out pretty near the bottom of my rankings. But my critique was only of her television style—she needed to pull back her intensity and let the camera do more of the work. What was never in doubt, however, was Sara’s knowledge of, and love for, sports. No one could ever say that her sincerity and authority were false, because when you’ve truly got those—and she did—then you can be a credible presence on the airwaves. Last we knew, Walsh was with the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.

So what I don’t understand is: Why do you hire someone like Amy Lawrence and give her all that exposure on ESPN—and force us to suffer through all that fakery—when there have to be some very good legit sports chicks out there who ought to get the gig?

I defy someone to craft a critique on Amy Lawrence that explains why she should be considered a major on-air talent. It’s awful, screechy, faked radio.

I had trouble finding a bio of Lawrence online. I had a devil of a time finding a picture of her as well. Finally I came across this picture (above), courtesy of another blog, whose creator/producer wrote an open letter to ESPN asking for MORE Amy Lawrence (??). His respondents didn’t agree with him, but one of them came up with the photo. I’m presuming that’s Amy on the right. Thankfully this should mean she won’t be doing any television. That’s still a visual medium. Isn’t it???

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Race Shape and History Collide in 133d Kentucky Derby

[Editor’s note: SMA’s Los Angeles correspondent and ace handicapper Steve Brady returns for an in-depth look at this year’s Run for the Roses. Steve is a devotee of Pace Pals, a handicapping system using cuddly cartoon figures—Rabbit, Fox, Hound and Turtle—that offers bettors a smart, speedy and useful method for sizing up the pace scenario of a race. Steve first described how to use Pace Pals in last year’s SMA column assessing the Belmont Stakes. The 2007 Kentucky Derby is May 5 at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. Race coverage begins on NBC Television at 5 p.m. ET. Post time is 6:04 p.m. ET. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, will attend the Derby as part of a six-day trip to the U. S. that includes visits to Virginia and Washington, D.C.]

In 2006 Barbaro dispelled the myth that no horse could win the Derby off a five-week layoff. This year, Street Sense and Curlin are confronting some powerful history when it comes to how contenders are handled as two-year-olds.

Despite its reputation as a group “lacking speed,” more than half of the 20 entrants like to run towards the front of the pack. By my count there are eight Rabbits, four Foxes, five Hounds, and three full-on Turtles. Following are descriptions of the running styles of the entrants, listed in order by post position:

1. Sedgefield (trained by Darrin Miller) is a Rabbit with a ‘tude. Look at the comments in his past performances. “Dueled,” “bumped,” “brushed”—Is he running in horse races or playing hockey? So far, he’s only raced over turf or Polytrack; the Derby will be his first traditional dirt course. With Rafi Bejarano on Dominican, Julien Leparoux (one of the hottest young talents in racing) takes the mount for the first time. Uncertainties make him a longshot.

2. Curlin has a short but very impressive resume. This Steve Asmussen trainee is undefeated in three races, and in each one he showed his versatility and power. He wired a maiden race by 12-and-a-half lengths his first time out at Gulfstream Park at a very tricky seven furlongs. He then moved up in class and stretched out to a mile-and-sixteenth and stormed to a five-and-a-half-length victory in the G-3 Rebel at Oaklawn Park. He then followed that with a 10-and-a-half-length victory in the G-2 Arkansas Derby. He’ll be the morning line favorite at about 3-1, but his price will drift up when the public thinks about the history he’s battling. It’s been 125 years (Apollo in 1882) since a horse that never raced as a two-year-old won the Derby! He’s a good horse, but it’ll be a different story when he realizes he’s not alone at the one-eighth pole. He’s shaping up as a Fox and a bet-against.

3. Zanjero (another Asmussen contender) has employed different tactics over his eight career starts. In the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, he stayed close to the pace—but that was on Polytrack. His record over dirt tracks seems to show more Turtle-like habits. He’s come close in some big races, but he would need to step up big to grab all the marbles in the Derby.

4. Storm in May is a William Kaplan entry. His running style is a little hard to pin down. In his turf races, he’s run as a Rabbit, but on dirt, he seems to run more as a Hound. In the Arkansas Derby, he made a nice middle move, but in the end he was decimated (like the rest of the field) by Curlin. He evidently had an unimpressive workout. Plus, in a case of redefining the term "handicapped access," it turns out that Storm in May is blind in his right eye.

5. Imawildandcrazyguy (also trained by Kaplan) is a Turtle. The comments lines in his PPs don’t inspire much confidence: “mild rally,” “slow start,” “no final kick,” “gave way,” “awkwardly,” “veered into foe,” “swerved stretch.” Is he ready to enter the Kentucky Derby or a rehab facility with Lindsay Lohan? He breezed three furlongs on Wednesday just to stretch the ol’ muscles. The turtle thing gives him a chance to finish in the top 10.

6. Cowtown Cat (the first of five Todd Pletcher entrants) is a Rabox hybrid (part Rabbit/part Fox). He has won from off the pace, but in his last (G-1 Illinois Derby) he wired the field of nine, earning a 98 Beyer in the process. He’ll have a tough time using that game plan on Saturday.

7. Street Sense is the standout of his generation. He won the G-1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (for two-year olds) in November with an impressive 108 Beyer figure, topping several of the leading candidates for the Derby. That might sound like a good thing, but it’s where the history comes in. No winner of the BC Juve has ever gone on to win the Derby. In fact, the Derby record is poor for horses that have even run in the BC Juve. Still, it is hard to overlook Street Sense’s accomplishments, and he did win the BC riding the rail on this same Churchill Downs track. He followed the BC win with a gutsy performance in the G-3 Tampa Derby, edging out Any Given Saturday for the win (see photo, above). He then lost a close call to Dominican in the G-1 Bluegrass Stakes over the Polytrack at Keeneland. That’s a far cry from the Churchill dirt, and it still sets him up well for the Derby. He’ll be stalking the pace and finishing like the Hound he is. He’ll be 4-1 on the morning line, but when the bell goes off he’ll be the favorite. If it weren’t for the history books, I’d pick him first, but history’s a heavy thing. I’m picking him to come in second.

8. Hard Spun (like Curlin) has not faced any of the top-level contenders in this race. He did break a 100 Beyer in the Lane’s End in late March. His dad is Danzig, and his granddad is Northern Dancer, so he’s got some real horseblood running through him, and he had an impressive workout on Wednesday. Still, he might have a tough time dealing with all the other frontrunners in this race. It’s not easy to be a Rabbit in the Kentucky Derby.

9. Liquidity is one of two Doug O’Neill contenders. He’s another Rabox. Frankly, he was a little more impressive earlier in his career. He has the earnings to go to the Derby, but unless he’s able to revive his teenage vigor, he’ll be looking at the same view for the entire mile-and-a-quarter.

10. Teuflesberg is on the bubble. Still, as one of the key Rabbits, he could play a big factor in keeping the pace honest up front.

11. Bwana Bull has, as of this writing, no rider assigned to him. I don’t know why. (Does Russell Baze have golf plans this weekend?) The horse came in fifth in an unspectacular Santa Anita Derby. He’s got one thing going for him: he’s a Hound. But that alone is not really enough to rate a trip to Kentucky. If the race breaks down, maybe he lands in the superfecta.

12. Nobiz Like Showbiz is not on my ticket, and I will probably live to regret it. He’s a baaaaad muther—hush your mouth!! But I can’t pick everyone who looks good, can I? And he’s a Rabbit, isn’t he? And I’m picking against early speed, right? But, yes, he has faced tough competition and come out on top. Gawd, as I write this I’m thinking I’ve got to start adding him to my tickets. (You have no idea how much pressure I’m under!!)

13. Sam P. is another Pletcher. He runs like a Fox, but to me, it looks like he’s just a failed Rabbit. I mean, if you’re trying to get the lead, and you end up running second, does that make you a Fox or a lame-ass Rabbit? In this case, I pick the latter, and my money goes elsewhere. Yes, I understand that he beat Chelokee and Wham in an allowance race at Churchill Downs, but this is a much tougher (and much larger) group.

14. Scat Daddy is yet another of the five (count ’em, 5) Todd Pletcher hopefuls, and another of the Raboxes. For the most part, he stays within one or two lengths of the lead, and then goes in for the kill. In the G-1 Champagne Stakes in Belmont, he laid in wait in seventh place before closing the deal, but that was a tight pack and still only a few lengths off the lead. He doesn’t yet have a 100 Beyer, but he’s consistently in the 90s, and he could move up after five weeks of rest.

15. Tiago’s connections are hoping he’s a carbon copy of his half brother (Giacomo) who shocked the world with a longshot Derby victory two years ago. Same owner, same trainer, same Hall of Fame jockey, same hard-charging closing style. It’s ridiculous to think that lightning could strike twice. Except he is a Turtle, and the word on the street is that there’s still more horse under the hood. He’s in my trifecta.

16. Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) is another Pletcher. He plays the role of Turtle to the hilt. Except for the ill-advised strong performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juve (jinxes are unforgiving), he looks like a strong Derby contender. He’ll have the advantage of closing strong, like he has every other race of his career.

17. Stormello is a complete wild card. He’s a Rabbit of the first order. His breeder/owner/trainer Bill Currin must be trying to rack up frequent-flyer miles on this horse, ‘cuz he keeps sending him cross-country to run in ill-advised races. Kent Desormeaux is vocally excited about this prospect, and that alone makes me think he has a chance. Kent knows how to squeeze every bit of gas out of the tank. Still, it’s tough to wire a Derby field.

18. Any Given Saturday (Pletcher #5) is my kind of Fox. He’s also my pick for the Derby. His off-the-pace running style will allow him to stay out of traffic problems and also stay within striking range of a moderate pace. Plus, he’s got two Beyers of 100 or above. I think the shape of the race will allow him to turn the tables on his adversaries. Meanwhile, while he’s not carrying any of the historical baggage of Curlin or Street Sense, he is carrying the sharpest jockey in the nation: Garret Gomez. I expect him to go off at no less than 10-1.

19. Dominican is coming off a win in the Bluegrass. He rated a few spots behind the leader and kicked past the leaders in the final furlong. Trained by Darrin Miller, he’s sort of a soft Fox, and that’s not a bad running style for this race. The conventional wisdom is to throw out the Polytrack preps. Maybe, but he put in a beautiful breeze at Churchill on Sunday, and he might be for real.

20. Great Hunter is the second O’Neill trainee. He’s a Hound, which is to his advantage here. He also got totally screwed in the Bluegrass. He was cut off while he was making his move in the stretch. I don’t see how a foul was not called in that race. Still, he was in an iffy position at that point. He’s not the best horse in the race, but if he steps up and gets lucky, he could make a nice showing.

The Picks:

1. Any Given Saturday
2. Street Sense
3. Tiago
4. Circular Quay