Thursday, July 26, 2007

President Bush's Theology

The following is a quote by Pres. Bush from David Brooks' most recent New York Times column:
The other debate [about Iraq] is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it's hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It's idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.
Even conservative bloggers, many of whom are Christians, jumped all over this statement. Christianity Today has it here.

Listen, I can appreciate the President recognizing every humans' right, and desire, to be free. This is admirable and good. Is this a theologically sound basis for conducting war? I don't think so. In fact, many might argue Jesus opposed violence. So, Mr. President, please keep God out of American foreign policy, it makes Him look bad.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bush Laying Red Carpet for Hillary, Obama?

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire linked to a few polls on a Bush's current approval ratings. Here are some highlights.

From a study conducted by the American Research Group Inc.
  • "...71% of Americans say they disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president..."
  • "...25% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president..."
  • "When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 23% approve and 73% disapprove."
  • "This is the highest level of disapproval and lowest level of approval for the Bush presidency recorded in monthly surveys by the American Research Group."
From the Washington Post's analysis of Washington Post-ABC News survey:
  • "The latest Washington Post-ABC News Survey shows that 65 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance, matching his all-time low. In polls conducted by The Post or Gallup going back to 1938, only once has a president exceeded that level of public animosity -- and that was Richard Nixon, who hit 66 percent four days before he resigned."
From the Harris Interactive Survey:
  • 26% approve of President Bush
  • 21% approve of Vice President Cheney
  • 46% approve of Secretary of State Rice
  • After reviewing 6 polls, including those I mention above, Pollster states, "The trend estimate now stands at 29.6%, and the slope of the trend has clearly begun to bend from a steep downward trend to a less negative one."
  • Whatever Pollster forecasts for the short-term future, it's pretty evident from visiting the site that things have only gotten worse for the President since 2005.
While many Republicans have been thrilled about President Bush's job performance during the last 7 years, I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict a Democrat will occupy the White House in 2009 (maybe untill 2016?), if for no other reason than the majority of Americans don't like President Bush, and, that is not good news for his party (or Giuliani).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Homosexuality in the Bible, Part One: Was Homosexuality the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?

My wife and I attend a small group called Ekklesia on Sunday evenings at a church in St. Paul called Central Baptist. This summer we are exploring hot topics in Christianity. This Sunday, and next, we have the pleasure of hearing from guest lecturer, Dr. Clarence Bass, about homosexuality in the bible. Bass worked along side Karl Barth, and has written a few books on theology. He’s been involved with this particular topic for decades.

In part one of this post series, I’ll be investigating one of the most widely used biblical arguments against homosexuality, that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for homosexual sin. I’ll conduct the investigation by simply listing all biblical references to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some of these are more relevant than others and I’ve excluded all other references in the bible to Sodom that don’t give us any insight into why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. If you feel I’ve omitted important, relevant scripture, feel free to comment. (All scripture in this post comes from the NIV translation of the bible).

The most logical place to start is Genesis 18 and 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. In Genesis chapter 18 God tells Abraham he’s going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He never actually says why, except that “their sin is so grievous”(v. 20) and the people have become wicked. Abraham begs God not to, and pleads on behalf of any righteous people left in the city, eventually convincing God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if he can find 10 righteous people (the deal originally started at 50). Apparently, Abraham couldn't.
Genesis 19: 1-10
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning."
"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square."
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.
But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

Deuteronomy 32: 32
Their [Israel] vine comes from the vine of Sodom
and from the fields of Gomorrah.
Their grapes are filled with poison,
and their clusters with bitterness.

Jeremiah 23: 14
And among the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie.
They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his wickedness.
They are all like Sodom to me;
the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah."

Lamentations 4: 3-6
Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
Because of thirst the infant's tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those nurtured in purple
now lie on ash heaps.
The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
without a hand turned to help her.

Ezekiel 16: 46-50
You [Jerusalem] not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. " 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
So, were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed for homosexuality? No, not if you take a holistic view of scripture. In the Ezekiel reference, it explicitly states that the sin of Sodom was selfishly ignoring the the needs of the poor and the needy (see above), with absolutely no reference to homosexuality. God says he did away with Sodom because of this. Wow. So, why do Christians ignore this verse, when referencing the "sin of Sodom"? Could it be that an anti-homosexual bias leads some Christians to interpret scripture one way, rather than the way it was intended? Perhaps the story of Sodom teaches us how to treat people: a lesson in hospitality?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why Jesus Shuttlesworth Will Save* the Celtics

Let me preface this by saying I've always been a Cetlics fan. Growing up in Omaha, NE there was no home team, so I immediately gravitated to the Celtics/Lakers rivalry. I have no idea why I chose green over purple, but it probably had something to do with identifying with slow white guys.

I know this post is a little (actually a lot) late, but it has honestly taken me a month to figure out seven reasons why this trade will help the Celtics (what can I say, Celtics fans are pessimists, but it’s time to turn over a new leaf). So without further ado, seven reasons this trade helps the Celtics.

1. Ray Allen (Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game) is the #2 Paul Pierce has been begging for. Perhaps now Pierce won’t demand to be traded, as he was threatening before the draft.

2. "I could not be more excited about coming to Boston to play for the Celtics." said Allen. "I am glad to be back in the New England area and cannot wait to get onto the floor with players the caliber of Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson." A player in the NBA actually wants to play for the Celtics? Nice.

3. Ray Allen can shoot lights out. He’s a career 180 guy (when the sum of the three major shooting categories equals 180 or more): .40 3Pt%, .52 eFG%, and .90 FT%. This is the one reason trading for an aging superstar like Allen doesn’t scare me. Shooting doesn’t vanish with age, like quickness, if anything it gets better, Ever heard of Reggie Miller (also a 180 guy)? Try double teaming Al Jefferson now.

4. We were able to acquire Allen without giving up our three most valuable assets: Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract, Gerald Green, and Al Jefferson.

5. Despite giving up the 5th pick (who ended up being Jeff Green) for Allen, the Celtics landed two nice values in the 2nd round who could make an impact this season, Gabe Pruitt and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Doesn’t anyone remember the hype surrounding “ Big Baby” after LSU made that Final Four run a couple years ago?

6. A starting five of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins will immediately contend for a playoff spot. How long has it been since Celtic fans have been able to say that? The bench, well, that is another story.

7. After the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, the ’97 lottery and draft, the Rick Pitino era, and this year’s lottery debacle it’s time for Karma to give back a little. This is why Ray Allen’s two surgically repaired ankle’s don’t worry me. Basically, Celtics fans are due for a break (no pun intended).

People criticize this trade for a lot of reasons and it usually surrounds Allen's age (he'll be 32 when the season starts) and contract obligations (he made $14.6 mil. last year and is on the books for three more years). Well, I have no response for the age criticism, but the contract obligation is another story. Has anyone noticed the rabid nature of Red Sox and Patriots fans? Does anyone remember when visiting teams dreaded visiting the Boston Garden. Create that excitement again, and Allen's contract will take care of itself.

* By “Save” I mean restore a sense of dignity in Celtics fans to the point where we won’t be ashamed every time we check the box scores. I’m not expecting an NBA title here, but a 7th seed is not out of the question, is it?

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Prosperity Gospel in Africa: Another Contextual Gospel

At its height in 1970s Latin America, Liberation Theology rocked the Vatican. It focused not only on Jesus Christ’s saving powers (a spiritual redemption), but also His liberating powers (a physical redemption). The gospel was not just about saving sinners, but freeing the oppressed. Some liberation theologians taught one’s actions towards the oppressed were more important than having right beliefs. Given the immense poverty in Latin America, it is no surprise that such a theology would a arise. It also makes sense, that some would criticize it as a socialist form of Christianity, given its Cold War context.

The Social Gospel that arose in the United States and Great Britain in the late 19th and early 20th Century was, in some ways, a precursor to Liberation Theology. Leaders of the movement believed it was Christianity’s responsibility to solve the ills caused or exacerbated by industrialization. Alcoholism, child labor, poverty, gender inequities, racism, and unhealthy living areas were all examples of such ills. Advocates of the social gospel believed until society was made right, Jesus Christ would not return.

Now, in Africa we see another contextual gospel emerge, The Prosperity Gospel. The premise behind the Prosperity Gospel is that prosperity, blessing, and success are evidence of God’s favor. The Christian Century has an excellent piece on this new gospel in Africa (click here for the article). An excerpt:
The success motif fits very well with Africa's traditional religious imagination of fertility, abundance and wholeness. Amid poverty and marginalization, prosperity Pentecostalism is a thoroughly contextualized Christianity that directly addresses pressing needs. But the way it is expressed is heavily influenced by North Americans like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, John Avanzini, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Mike Murdock.
The point here is not to criticize the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, or liberation theology, rather to recognize their emergence within certain contexts. Had I been a Mexican man oppressed 35 years ago, a British single mom living 100 years ago, or even a Nigerian villager living today, would my version of the gospel, or brand of Christiantiy be any different? I don’t know, but when I consider another’s context, it opens the door for grace and understanding.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bumper Sticker Theology

Somehow I don't see Jesus buying bumper stickers, I see him adopting a child in danger of being aborted or helping a mom go full-term. Seems like a better solution doesn't it? Bumperstickers and insults are probably more convenient though-definitely easier.

Movie Review: Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp, (Oscar-nominated for best documentary) follows three young children, Levi, Tory, and Rachael to Devil’s Lake North Dakota as they attend “Kids on Fire,” an evangelical, Pentecostal summer camp designed to mobilize Christian youth to “take back America.” I was riveted and terrified all at once. I’d like to force every Christian in America to watch this film and then form a discussion group—there is a lot to learn from this film. I’d also like to prevent every non-Christian from watching it, but as Richard Dawkins’ (a leader of the modern atheist movement) website shows, this isn’t happening.

Some questions the film raises:
  • “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it,” (Proverbs 22: 6). At what point does this become brainwashing?
  • Should we teach children/people to run from sin or run towards God’s love? How does one without the other impact faith?
  • Jesus mentions how children have a unique openness to the Kingdom of God a couple of times in his ministry (Matthew 18:4; Mark 10: 13-16). Given this, how can we tell when kids are mimicking those around them (parents, church leaders and elders, other children, etc.) or genuinely acting in accord with the Holy Spirit?
  • Are situations where people feel compelled to perform spiritually and emotionally healthy? Godly?
  • Is there any biblical precedent for intermingling politics and the Church? Does Jesus have anything to say about this? What would Jesus say about bringing a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush to “Kids on Fire?”
  • Are science and religion mutually exclusive? Can orthodox Christianity and modern science be reconciled?
  • Is this film representative of all evangelicals?
Interestingly enough, for those who think this film is a smear job against evangelicals, the filmmakers flatly deny it. In fact everyone in the film endorsed it, except for Ted Haggard, who has since lost his job as head of the National Association of Evangelicals for “sexually immoral conduct.”

Jesus Camp filmmakers respond to Ted Haggard’s criticism.

Christianity Today interviews the filmmakers.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Everything Happens For a Reason"

Recently I returned home to Omaha for my Aunt Lugene’s memorial service. At 47 she was too young to die. She left a husband (a pastor) and two beautiful daughters (14 and 17), along with a host of family and friends to mourn her. I was able to see her about 2 mos. prior to the memorial service, and, by that time the chemotherapy had taken a serious toll on Aunt Lugene’s mind and body. Her last year was full of suffering.

A few weeks after the memorial service I returned to Omaha for a high school class reunion. Upon arrival, my mother was speaking with a neighbor and it was clear they were grieving together. When I asked my mom about the conversation she said Neighbor Mary has a brother suffering of Pancreatic cancer, and as the discussion ended Mary stated,“everything happens for a reason.” This statement broke my heart.

I don’t know much about Mary. I’m not bashing her theology or doctrine, and quite frankly it’s none of my business. In fact I wasn’t even involved in the conversation, so I could be taking it out of context. That said, I believe the statement is particularly poignant. “Everything happens for a reason” is a commonly held belief in the American psyche, Christian or not. The underlying assumption behind such a statement is God is like some cosmic puppeteer, orchestrating all events, evil and good, for a certain purpose, and it’s our job to find that purpose. So, if this assumption is true, I would just ask, why did God give my Aunt Lugene cancer, allow her to suffer for over one year, then allow her to die leaving her husband alone, and daughters without their birth mother? What was the “reason” for this?

If we’re trying to answer such complex questions we first need to consider the variables responsible for determining actions and events in this world. Think of it this way, every event or action that occurs, however major (the bombing of the World Trade Center) or minor (a ripple in a pond) results from one of the following variables, or some combination of the following variables interacting:

1. Humans.
Upon creation God granted humans free-will. The very nature of such a gift means humans have as much capacity for doing evil as good. So, for every Mother Theresa there can be a Hitler.

2. God.
The perfect revelation of God’s character is Jesus Christ. Fully human, and fully divine, he embodied perfect love by dying for those who crucified him, then resurrecting from the dead three days later. Any act or event inconsistent with the character of Jesus is not from God. Jesus answered: “Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9, NIV).

3. Evil Spiritual Forces.
From beginning to end, the bible emphasizes a realm of this world that humans are often ignorant of, the supernatural realm. The book of Job illustrates the impact these spiritual forces can have upon any one person’s life. This book starts with Satan (literally translated as “the adversary”) challenging God’s omniscience. Satan believes that people only love God because they are compelled and under His protection. So, to prove this is not true, God removes His protection from the most righteous man in the land, Job, and allows Satan to have his way. Unfortunately, Job is unaware of this wager and believes he's become the victim of an unfortunate string of bad luck, or punished for his sins (both wrong). Paul reiterates the power evil spiritual forces have on earth in Ephesians 6: 12 (NIV), “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

4. A Fallen Creation.
However literally or figuratively one chooses to interpret Genesis, it’s clear that things changed drastically after Adam and Eve ate the apple (the Fall). Not only does sin enter the world, but creation becomes fundamentally flawed. What God originally declared “good” is, at best, partially so. Sure we can go to Yellowstone National Park or view a sunset and witness God’s creative genius, but the effects of the Fall are also apparent in creation. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, AIDS, Malaria, the food chain, etc. all weren’t created by God, but instead entered the world as a result of the Fall. In Romans Paul emphasizes this, yearning for a day when creation will be liberated, like all of humanity, “We know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22 NIV).

So, if we factor in these four variables when considering why future events occur, whether these be, earthquakes, brushing our teeth, or cancer, can we conclusively say “everything happens for a reason?” Maybe, in a cause-effect sort of way. But to say that God is behind every event in our lives is simply wrong. I’m sorry, but God was not responsible for my Aunt’s cancer, nor is he responsible for Mary’s brother’s pancreatic cancer. The Jesus who was crucified for those who murdered him does not afflict people with cancer to teach a lesson.

I don’t know why my Aunt Lugene got cancer. The variables are too complex and many to determine a cause. My guess is that it was a combination of a fallen creation and evil spiritual forces. The only thing I can know for sure is that God had nothing to do with it. From this point forward I have to rest in the knowledge of God’s perfect omniscience, “And we know that in all things [good and evil] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8: 28). It will be interesting to see the good God weaves out of my Aunt’s tragic death.

For an excellent in-depth study on this topic I’d recommend Is God To Blame? Beyond Pat Answers To the Problem of Suffering by Greg Boyd. It has been very helpful for my family in the days since my Aunt’s death.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Winnebago and the Bronx

Joba Chamberlain (JAH-buh) is a former pitcher for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and one of the top prospects in the Yankee farm system, not to mention one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball according to ESPN Insider’s Keith Law. In reviewing the Yankees minor league system, Baseball America ranks Chamberlain their #4 prospect.

The Omaha World Herald, my hometown newspaper, profiled Chamberlain this past weekend (find it here). In the piece it talks of his roots. Turns out Joba’s father, Harlan, is a Winnebago Indian. Now, I think I profile as a classic caucasian American. I don’t have a strong ethnic identity. In fact, I have no clue when my European ancestors arrived here. However, my grandfather, was almost 100% Native-American, Winnebago, that is. He was raised on the reservation. We (his children and grandchildren) even served an entire meal to guests, and members of the reservation, at a powwow in his honor.

What does this have to do with Joba Chamberlain? Well, the way I figure it, we are basically brothers. I figure by 2009, I should have season tickets to Yankees Games. Go Joba!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Midseason Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team

Since we have reached the midpoint of the MLB season (even though the All-Star game has yet to be played) and the All-Star rosters have has just been released, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the 2007 Fantasy Baseball All-Star rosters. Plenty of these have been released by many industry experts, but my criteria is a bit different. Basically, it involves value. Which players have given their managers the most for their money or draft position? In short, I’m looking for bargains. Criteria includes ADP (average draft position in Yahoo leagues), VORP (value over replacement player), and total fantasy category contribution in a traditional 5x5 league for 12 teams.

CATCHER: Russell Martin (.301AVG.-9HRs-55RBIs-47Rs-16SBs)
ADP: 179
VORP: 28.7
This one is a no-brainer. There is no other comparable five category contributor at the catcher position in fantasy baseball and his #24 overall ranking attests to it. This is one of the few players who will start on my fantasy all-star team while also starting on the actual NL squad. Freakin’ French Canadiens.
Honorable Mention: John Buck

FIRST BASE: Prince Fielder (.278-27-66-59-0)
ADP: 100
VORP: 29.6
This kid can rake. Too bad his dad’s a jerk. Currently, Prince is the #9 ranked player overall. Though he was hyped I don’t think anyone could have expected this type of performance so early in his career (he's only 23). Will he be this year’s version of the ’06 Ryan Howard? Personally, I doubt that. Surprisingly, this was a two-horse race. Carlos Pena challenges Fielder based on utter value. Pena is currently the #9 first baseman and ranked #62 overall. Consider that he’s on pace for 35+ homeruns and 95+ RBIs while not even being drafted in the average Yahoo league. Wow, that’s a free agent bargain. Can he sustain this pace? Slight edge to Fielder based on the volume of his numbers. By the way, did anyone see Prince’s head-first slide into Mark Loretta’s shin? How did his leg not snap like a twig?
Honorable Mention: Dmitri Young

SECOND BASE: Brandon Phillips (.270-16-46-55-15)
ADP: 157
VORP: 15.5
This was the first tough call. The best 2nd baseman in MLB is Chase Utley, hands down, but in most leagues he cost someone a 1st round pick, so he does not fit my criteria. That left me with Phillips, Placido Polanco, Dan Uggla, and Ian Kinsler to choose from. Brandon Philips is currently ranked #38 overall and offers value in all five categories, something that no other 2nd baseman offers. Brian Roberts had a very high VORP (35.8), but his ADP was 55, which, in my book, is not low enough to warrant bargain status. Plus, VORP is not a pure fantasy statistic, so we need to look at it with some measure of skepticism, though it is a valuable tool.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Hill

SHORTSTOP: Orlando Cabrera (.332-5-48-54-9)
ADP: 181
VORP: 29.2
Remember when shortstop was a shallow position? If you are managing a team without a solid shortstop, you are probably in trouble this season. Of course, such depth means there’s always one to trade for. This decision was very difficult. Given the criteria, it came down to Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria, and J.J Hardy (currently the 5th, 4th, 6th, and 7th ranked shortstops). Even though Guillen holds an edge over O-Cabs in the power department (5 HRs to 12 HRs), it is not enough to make up the difference in ADP (181-76=105). I also considered J.J Hardy, mostly because he went undrafted in most Yahoo leagues, but, his last month and a half have been bad enough to restore his mortality and temper all of our fantasy expectations. Plus, of the four shortstops considered, his is the only VORP below 29 (21.1).
Honorable Mention: Jhonny Peralta

THIRD BASE: Kevin Youkilis (.329-9-44-50-2)
ADP: 213
VORP: 30.0
Another deep position, this is clearly a three horse race between Kevin Youkilis , Mike Lowell, and Casey Blake, ranked 4th, 5th, and 9th at the third base position. Each of these players’ ADP is between 204 and 216 so not much differentiates each of them here: They were all similar bargains on draft day. When we turn to VORP, we see a more drastic difference, this is where Youk separates himself. His VORP is about 10 points higher than Mike Lowell’s (19.6) and 14 higher than Blake’s (16.1). Plus, he has that ever-valuable multiple position eligibility. That’s enough for me, though you can’t go wrong with any of these three.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Braun

OUTFIELD: Shane Victorino (.274-10-35-52-25)
ADP: 215
VORP: 17.0
It is a tragedy that the African-American baseball player is disappearing before our eyes. But what about the Hawaiian Major Leaguer? Where have all the Hawaiins gone (Cowboys too I suppose)? We need to uphold the legacies of Benny Agbayani, Sid Fernadez, and Charlie Hough. Where’s the outrage on this one Bud? Thankfully, Shane Victorino is doing his part. Ranked 34th overall, he’s a fantasy stud this season. He’s on his way to 20 HRs and 50 Sbs, which sounds a lot like Carl Crawford territory to me (actually ranked ahead of Crawford!). Of course, Shane Victorino was not a first rounder but a free agent pickup in a lot of leagues. What a bargain. Bring on the Hawaiians!

OUTFIELD: Curtis Granderson (.284-11-42-59-9)
ADP: 206
VORP: 30.6
It’s hard to believe Curtis Granderson leads all major league center fielders in slugging percentage. When you break down his stats they are really quite impressive. He’s the first player since Nomar Garciaparra in 2003 to reach double digits in doubles, triples, and home runs by the all-star break. One more steal and that would be double digits in four categories. Granderson is also on pace to break the single season record for triples: He currently has fifteen. Each of these stats may not directly affect fantasy baseball, (unless you have a very non-traditional scoring format), but when those doubles, triples and steals happen to occur at the top of the Major League’s most potent offense, runs tend to follow.

OUTFIELD: Eric Byrnes
ADP: 185
VORP: 26.5
Based on current projections, there are four outfielders with reasonable expectations to reach 30 homeruns and 30 stolen bases by season’s end. The first three are the usual suspects: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, and Grady Sizemore (ADPs: 5, 10, and 21). The fourth? Eric Byrnes. Who would have guessed? He’s been the only constant in that desert Diamondback lineup, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. He has shown some history of 30/30 potential (last year he went 26/25) but it remains to be seen whether he can sustain a .300+ average. We shall see.
Honorable Mentions: Corey Hart. Magglio Ordonez, Ken Griffey Jr., Hunter Pence, and Gary Matthews Jr.

STARTING PITCHER: Brad Penny (112.2 IPs-10Ws -77Ks-2.00ERA-1.12WHIP)
ADP: 203
VORP: 45.2 (highest among all pitchers)
In 2004, rookie G.M. and Billy Beane disciple Paul Depodesta traded away Guillermo Mota, Paul LoDuca and Juan Encarnacion for Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, and a minor league lefty, Bill Murphy. He was widely criticized by the locals, mostly because they viewed LoDuca as the heart of Dodger nation. Well, three years later, now that Depodesta has been fired, that trade doesn’t look so bad, especially in a market where Barry Zito gets $17 mil. a year and Gil Meche gets $11. The former Dodger G.M. saw Russell Martin sitting in the pipeline and the potential of Brad Penny pitching in the weak-hitting NL West. Unfortunately, it took three years for that potential to be realized due to injuries. If you own Brad Penny this year in fantasy you have a Cy Young candidate who you probably drafted in the later rounds that is the anchor of your staff. Enjoy the ride. Depodesta couldn’t.

STARTING PITCHER: John Maine (102.0 IPs-9Ws-84Ks-2.74ERA-1.15WHIP)
ADP: 221
VORP: 31.8
Hats off to Mets G.M. Omar Minaya. Everyone thought he should upgrade his pitching staff before the season began and he did nothing, exhibiting confidence in those already on the books, a crop of rookies, has-beens, and underachievers. In the last category, and acquired from Baltimore for Kris Benson and Jorge Julio is the current anchor of the Mets pitching staff, John Maine. In many fantasy leagues this guy went undrafted, but he has been a pleasant surprise. Even if he adds an entire run to that ERA in the second half, putting it near 4.00, the wins should keep coming, as the Mets offense is stellar. Touche Omar Minaya, your secret’s out. Not only did you get rid of Jorge Julio and the headache that was Anna Benson, but you’ve supplied us with an anchor for our future fantasy baseball staffs.

STARTING PITCHER: Ian Snell (116.2 IPs-7Ws-93Ks-2.93ERA-1.17ERA)
ADP: 215
VORP: 31.8
Ian Snell has emerged as the ace of the Pittsburgh staff. Perhaps most impressive is his K/9 ratio: 7.29. He is a solid source for strikeouts from a starting pitcher. Consider how valuable he might be if he didn’t pitch for the Bucs. He’s had five no-decisions this year where he’s pitched into the 6th or 7th inning allowing 2 earned runs or less. Quite frankly his bullpen sucks up to Matt Capps and, other than Jason Bay, so does Snell’s offensive support (no, that Adam LaRoche trade hasn’t quite worked out). Imagine if Oliver Perez would have stayed and figured things out. That would have been a nasty 1-2-3 (Tom Gorzellany being the third pitcher). For the optimist there’s this, the Pirates play in the N.L. Central, which is the worst division in MLB. So, who knows, right? If the Cardinals can do it…
Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, James Shields, Chad Gaudin, Tom Gorzellany

RELIEF PITCHER: Jose Valverde (33.1 IPs-26SVs-37Ks-2.70ERA-1.08WHIP)
ADP: 156
VORP: 9.2
This was another difficult decision. There really are a number of good picks here. Valverde is my pick due to his stability as a closer thus far, and the sheer bulk of his saves. After all, this is what fantasy managers look for in a reliever. Though a Pat Neshek or Hideki Okajima may be more valuable in real baseball, Joe Borowski, and Todd Jones are more valuable in fantasy baseball. This is also what makes VORP less applicable for the relief pitcher on my all-star team. In choosing, I asked, what closer got managers the most saves, and had the most job security in the first half, without devastating the other pitching categories, for a bargain basement price? Jose Valverde is your man, narrowly edging out Al Reyes due to his recent struggles and placement on the DL.
Honorable Mention: Dave Weathers

One more thing, the statistics and rankings in this post are based on games played through July 4th.

BBQ what?

Welcome to my small, insignificant, corner of cyberspace. So, what the heck is “bbqtalk?” Generally, it will center on discussion topics that usually occur at your average, everyday bbq (at least the bbqs I attend). For guys, the discussion usually starts with sports, and then evolves/devolves to politics, with various debates about culture throughout. So, if you’re interested in sports, politics and culture, and want to contribute to the discussion, bookmark me, your comments are welcome. I plan on posting at least twice a week and hope to get the design and layout of this blog finalized by the end of summer. Late’.