Saturday, December 22, 2012

Baseball Seasons Greetings

I’m dropping by today to send every Late Innings reader and blogger a very Happy Holiday Season.

The included image was chosen for its special significance to the staff here at Late Innings. John’s beard always reminds me of Santa. His father also sports a beard and really looks like the old gift giver. When my kids were young we’d often take them to Hogtown Bombers games where they would have a whole bench of babysitters. One time John brought his dad along to score the game for us. Both our boys sidled up to me, concern on their faces. “Is that Santa Claus?” they asked, pointing at John’s dad. I did what any other red-blooded father would and told them, “It sure is, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll behave really well while we’re playing. He’s going to be watching you!” They sat with their butts firmly attached to the other end of the bench and didn’t move for the whole game. My wife and I wanted Santa to come to every game after that!

As for the expression on Santa in the drawing above, his grimace really reminds me of our own Will “The Thrill” Braund digging in for the next fastball that’s anywhere near the plate (he’s also batting lefty).

One last thing: here’s a link to a really good article about the way the offseason is playing out (Winning offseason doesn’t guarantee championship).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The joy of the offseason -or- What exactly IS the Hot Stove League?

If there are dog days in summer, why can’t there be dog days in winter, too? And if there are, I think we’re getting close to being in them. I also think everyone should get behind me and make this an Official Term used in the grand old game. Are you with me?

Anyway, getting back on topic, the baseball season is a distant memory in the rearview mirror of time. Remember how surprised we all were when Oakland won the AL West? I mean, who saw that one coming?

Then came those fast-disappearing initial playoff rounds when teams we thought would make it to the Series, disappeared without a trace. The starkest memory is the slow implosion of the mighty Yankees, just surviving a round with the Orioles and then getting clobbered by the Tigers.

We really didn’t have much of a World Series this year, did we? The Tigers, nearly from the get-go looked more like deer in the headlights of the Giants then they did as world-beaters of the AL.

Once that last out is made, everything in baseball gets re-set to zero again and we can all sincerely talk about “next year” and not have it sound like we’re already whipped by the competition and know it. We can legitimately dream again.

November is usually somewhat quiet on the trade and signing front compared to December when the GMs have their little clambake. Other than the Blue Jays rustling a lot of big horses from the Marlins, it was oddly quiet as everyone waited for the first big signing of this year’s crop of free agents.

The dominos are now starting to fall with increasing speed. Boston has responded in a major way to the threat the Jays now pose. Have they made good choices? Maybe. Like the Jays, they have a lot of new faces who are going to have to post career-best numbers if anything good is going to happen.

The real dog days will begin just after the holidays, of course, in much the same way the occur in August as teams with a good shot at the postseason fine tune their rosters with some good players who are always available for trades – if the price is right. During the active season, this often means trades of major league roster players. In the dog days of winter, trading is more traditionally about acquiring promising young talent whose impact may well not be felt for a year or two (if ever).

One thing that I find puzzling: the logo used for “the Hot Stove Season” on MLB.com video clips seems to inexplicably have pots cooking on top of it, suggesting GMs cooking up trades or something else (hot dogs?).

Ahem!

I do believe that “hot stove” refers to one of those wood burning stoves which in days gone by would often find ball fans “of a certain age” sitting around them keeping warm as they discussed prognostications for the coming spring and their favorite teams. In other words, the image should not be about cuisine. My guess is that a young pup with no idea of the history of the game came up with this distressing image. Probably never even saw one of those old upright wood stoves so prevalent in prehistoric America a hundred years ago…

You could look it up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The HOF and the BWAA

It is the time of year for the Baseball Writer’s Association of America, BWAA, to make their selections for the new class of inductees onto the HOF. We knew it was coming and now it has arrived. The STEROID players are now eligible.

Barry Bonds - 762 HR, Sammy Sosa - 60 HR in three different seasons, Roger Clemens - 354 wins, Mike Piazza - 396 of 427 HR as catcher. These are the new candidates on the ballot for the HOF Class of 2013.

Also in the running for the fourteenth time is Jack Morris who was the pitcher of the ’80s and early ’90s. He won 21 in ’92 leading the Jays to WS win number one. If Bert Blyleven is in the HOF, Morris should be, too. Also on the list are Curt Schilling with 216 wins, 11 in the postseason –who can forget the bloody foot and Craig Biggio - 3060 hits.

The mantra “I did not take drugs” is now no-longer applicable. The BWAA is filled with a bunch of self-satisfied and sanctimonious non-pros. They are writers and some are even journalists. They did not confront what a pro-athlete had to confront in  that era. If you, as a pro, did not “juice” up you could not compete at the level necessary to remain at the top of your game. It is now very well understood that most everyone was taking something. What is more important? It was hard to keep your career on track for the HOF or the Silver Slugger or the Cy Young Awards, or to keep your numbers up to even get signed for the next season without taking something at any level of professional baseball. The pressure was great. With the genius of the Monday morning quarterbacking, myself, and fans and the BWAA can say that taking drugs was wrong and should not be allowed in the sport and that is was bad to take them. True as that is, it was not anywhere near the reality for that era.

So, back to my usual rant. Bug Selig was, is and continues to be the problem. Finally he has caught up with the other sports to control and act upon illicit drug use. He did act, but too late. Too late for the hundreds of players in the late eighties through the late ’90s who felt they had no choice but to take drugs, hit home runs and pitch winning games and fill the seats with fans for MLB under Bug’s direction, thus creating a resurgence of popularity and much more income for the complicit owners. More bums in the seats.

Who pays the price? The players, again. Take drugs and you are tagged by the fans and the BWAA as somehow less then the rest. You fill the stands for the MLB and get booed and booted for the rest of your life. Now the BWAA in it’s self-righteousness will have control over your legacy.(BTW, it is long past time for the Bug to reinstate Pete Rose and out him in the HOF based on his career, not his off field antics. Go figure, no drugs here. Do I really have to list all those who are in the HOF and have been suspect outside the lines?)

I think the BWAA should get over itself. I think they should look to an even playing field during that era with no * to diminish these players and the future. Players have not all handled their use well. OK, most did not. But, here they were, strung out by their owners and the MLB itself. Now there are rules, and all must abide. Even Jose Bautista was painted by the steroid brush because the writers thought that he was now too good. So much for being clean! Anybody who now excels in any sport is subject to drug speculation, real or not, and, real or not, the BWAA holds all the cards.

The honour of being in the HOF needs to be for the work, not for their perception of who was using drugs.The likes of Hal Bradley, Richard Justice and Mary Noble are voters. Who are they to “know” who was using and who was not? They have said they would not vote for “users.” It is arrogant and unfair to the players and even sometimes not true. But, are they sure in each case? NO.

Each of the above should be considered on their merits between the lines. Nothing else, a level playing field. I hope this discussion of steroids, etc., is gone and done with for the last time. Let’s here it for Pete Rose. Are you listening Bug?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How changes on the Blue Jays have completely recast the American League East for 2013

Alex Anthopoulos doing his best to look inscrutable.
The Toronto Nine have been the only really active team so far in the off-season, pretty well for all of baseball. I’m not going to count the Marlins here, even though the just received seven players from Toronto because most will not be seen on the big stage by opening day.

What strikes me as odd is that so few changes have happened with the other AL East clubs so far. The Yankees resigned Kuroda which is not unexpected. The Red Sox resigned David Ortiz, something they had to do to avoid rioting on the streets of Beantown. The Rays have pretty well done nothing, not that they have the money to do much. Their strength is in their farm system which either provides talent for the big team (they turn out great pitchers at an alarming rate) or great trade bait. The Orioles made what pretty well amounts to a lateral trade with the Mariners, moving out Robert Andino and getting Trayvon Robinson. That’s about it so far.

It’s certain the other teams will make changes. The Red Sox are in need of probably the same number of new players the Blue Jays just got because there are some glaring holes in their roster, especially in their pitching staff. No one there had an especially good 2012. They need at least two starters and Bard hasn’t exactly set the world on fire as their closer. I don’t know that they have what it takes at first base or shortstop. David Ortiz is getting older and who knows what he’ll do next year. I am not familiar with their farm system, so I don’t know what kind of trade bait they have. Their pockets are deep, though, so I few free agent signings could well be in their future.

The Yankees are getting old. Jeter had a great season, surprisingly good, really, but he’s at that age where things start falling apart. Everyone wishes him well, but that ankle could be a big issue. A-Rod is getting old really fast. His last great season was 2010. He’s now injured more often, doesn’t run as well, and strike out rate is ridiculously high – especially last season. He can’t connect on the high fastball anymore, so of course, that’s all he’s going to see until he proves he can do it. Will Rivera make it all the way back? Hard to say. If he doesn’t, what then? They don’t seem to be making much of an effort to re-sign Soriano. Does Granderson get things back in gear again? What are they going to do behind the plate? Martin’s hitting was really not good last year. Expect the Yankees to make a few big trades. If Petttite doesn’t come back, they need a front of the line starter.

Does Tampa have much room to manoeuvre? As stated above, the team usually improves by trading. Shields could bring in a number of good players (whether MLB ready or prospects for their farm system), but can they improve their offense. That is where they always seem so vulnerable. I don’t expect them to do much of anything, but somehow, they always do. Don’t count them out, but if they are ever going to disappoint, it might well be in 2013. After several great seasons, they could well inhabit the basement next season.

Baltimore was about the luckiest team in all of sports last year. Yes, they have a very good and creative manager in Buck Showalter, but they certainly can’t expect to rattle off another stunning number of 1 run games. Do they go out for a few starting pitchers. The one trade they did make won’t turn out to be earth shattering. Trayvon Robinson is not going to set the world on fire.

By adding the players they did, the Jays are going all in. Gibson as manager for the second time seems to me to be a move to bring in someone Anthopoulos can 100% trust to have his back. It is another calculated risk, though. If the players they’ve brought in have years that should be expected of them based on their pasts, it will prove to be a very good trade. Surely they can’t be expected to have a great number of injuries as they did this year. It’s my feeling they’ve done all that can be expected of them to improve the team and there might be a few more moves made before we even hit January. But basically, it’s now up to the baseball gods.

As far as the AL East goes, Toronto has set themselves up to a place where all the other teams are forced to respond. Once we get past the Thanksgiving weekend, it’s my suspicion that things will go a little nuts as the other four teams in the division jockey for position.

And a month ago I was getting fed up with the Jays!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Finally!

Alex Anthopoulos has done it now. As a friend told me, “He must have listened to you.” AA has filled the holes in the Jays lineup I outlined last post. He has single handedly improved the Jays and nearly doubled the payroll. Wow! As a fan, I have complained about the years it has taken to build this team to a competitive level. A five year plan turns into eight years and then three more years. All that stops now. All the positions have improved. One trade idea leads to another and we now have the biggest trade since 1991. Twelve players, and the Jays came out ahead. AA has beaten the Yanks and other buyers –like the Orioles– to the punch with this fire sale. Good for him.

In making this “Blockbuster” trade –Wayne Huizenga is still there at 5%– AA has given up good future prospects like Justin Nicolini and Anthony DeSclafani.  He also traded good, up and coming players like Adeiny Hechavarria and Henderson Alvarez. You trade good for good, move what you can for what you need. As for Yunel Escobar, good riddance.

The new guys from the fish are better. Both pitchers are All-Stars. Mark Buehrle is 38 with a career ERA of 3.82 and ERA+ of 119. Don’t forget he has post season experience with the White Sox. Josh Johnson, an eight year veteran, has an ERA of 3.15 and ERA+ of 133.  Together they make a good one-two punch to help Romero and Morrow. We still need and want more, but the starting rotation is much improved.

The position players are also much improved. Jose Reyes at SS had a BA of .291 and OPS+ of 107 and 184 hits last year. Emilio Bonifacio, a six year veteran, is slated for second base. This is not his usual position –played only three times last year– but he is again the same player as Kelly Johnson and Aaron Hill. Bonifacio’s BA in 2012 was .258 and Johnson's .225. Johnson might wind up with the Orioles. To back up Bonifacio is Maicer Izturis from the Angels. This would make a good platoon situation for Gibbons. John Buck is back as the second catcher, as before –they have four on the 40 man roster now. I hope he has a better year than 2012. I hope he can find the life he once had with the Jays when he hit 20 HR’s, the best year of his career. Good defense, though, and why he is here. Jeff Mathis went to the fish. He did a very good job here. I wish him well.

Next is much maligned outfielder Melky Cabrera. Signed off free agency from the Giants, he will be watched very closely. He will want to be the best he can be to wash away those PEDs. Even with this, I think that AA has made a good pick here. Cabrera has no choice, he must perform without the PEDs and this will be his best and last chance to prove he is capable as a pro. He should be the left fielder of the future for the Jays. He can hit.

John Gibbons is now the manager. I had no idea he was on AA’s radar. As I have put forth before, I think the Jays need someone who can lead the young guys and have the respect of the veterans. I am not convinced that the hiring of John Gibbons is nothing more than a feel good situation for AA. After his huge week of roster changes, AA needs a comfort zone and Gibby is it for him. Gibbons had been very friendly with both Ricciardi and AA in the past.

Gibbons went 305/305 for his tenure and had the last second place finish in 2006. This was also when Roy Halliday was at his peak and by himself elevated the record of the whole team. Gibbons big job is to select his staff. I am not sure that hiring his buddies from the last time here is the way to go. Some of them are free to take a job here. But, is it time for him to “go for it” like Paul Beeston said? I think so.

Gibbons had better know how to handle the high-priced talent and not have the same clubhouse and on field antics as last time, even though it was not all his fault. Ted Lilly went 15/13 in 2006 but did not respect the manager when Gibby took him out a game. With Shea Hildebrand he had fisticuffs in the dugout. We have had enough of cliques and bad blood in the clubhouse already this past season. Hildebrand, retired after the next season, now, has nothing but praise for Gibby.

So that is past. Can John Gibbons command the respect needed to control this diverse and newly formed team? John Farrell apparently could not in 2012. I sure hope so and AA is banking on it. This time Gibby has the tools to produce a competitive team. Hope he has the ideas to make it all happen. I am waiting for the dog-days of August, late in the season, when things get very tense, to find out who is really in control of this team. Hope there is nothing to discuss and that September games are meaningful.

I hear that the players respect Gibbons but..... only time will tell.

For me, I am ready to put my money where their mouth is. The Yanks and Red Sox are question marks. The Orioles need to improve. We never beat the Rays anyway. The Tigers are making noise, and so they should, after the Series they had. We still need more pitching. Will RA Dickey be the next piece? Is AA finished? I don’t think so. Some of these pieces may wind up like Mike Aviles and be shuffled off for other pieces.
AA has sure surprised us, and for the good.

Next season will be tough. Too bad. Go for it. Go for it now.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What a difference a week makes

Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Marlins
I take a week off from Late Innings and look what happens! The Toronto Blue Jays land themselves in not one huge controversy but two.

Huh? Controversy?

Yessir. We may all think that all they’ve done is to completely revamp the team, turning it into a potential World Series juggernaut, but let’s look behind the curtain a bit and see what else is going on.

In mid-season last year, the Red Sox did a classic salary dump, shipping several high-profile, high salary players to the Dodgers. It was very unpopular in Boston as it was viewed the team had thrown in the towel on the season and decided to go for last place in the Eastern Division. Was anything heard from Bug Selig about this? No. The trade went through right away, not a bump in the road.

Commissioner Bud Selig
Twice after winning the World Series, Miami has conducted a fire sale of expensive championship players at the height of their value to potential buyers on other teams. The Miami fans were livid. Did Bug Selig take any extra looks at these trades? No. They went through with nary a peep from the baseball commissioner.

Now this week, Jeffrey Loria has done the same thing again, but this time without the World Series trophy in his office. The huge deal with the Jays was announced on Tuesday and it still hasn’t received official approval from Selig. What’s going on? You really can’t believe that it’s all because Reyes is holidaying in the mideast, can you?

Miami was the recipient of a great deal of taxpayers largesse recently when Loria talked the city into providing most of the finances in the building of a new stadium for his club. How he managed this, we’ll never know. This is the same man who crumbled the Expos franchise in Montreal, greasing the skids for the team to wind up in Washington. He has proven himself to be not trustworthy several times in the past. And they’re surprised he’s proving untrustworthy once again?

Now, after a dreadful season where the Marlins, touted last winter to be World Series bound, wound up in the cellar of the NL East, the team is selling off almost all their high-priced talent. A few were traded during the season, notably Heath Bell, their closer, and now six more have supposedly been traded to the Jays. Yes, Loria has once again reneged on a covenant he made with the City of Miami and his team’s fans: to bring them a winner. Yes, they’ve one played the first year in their new playpen paid for mostly by the taxpayers. And yes, they had a truly disastrous season. But why is Selig putting the brakes on this trade at this time? The Marlins and the Jays just did in one move what Loria was planning to do anyway. What’s different?

Two things: Selig wants to at least appear that he’s concerned and possibly willing to do something about a deal that makes not only the Marlins and Loria look awful to their constituency – and all of the baseball world – but I don’t think he’s too happy about the Jays suddenly giving themselves a very good chance to finally return to the postseason.

It’s no secret that MLB would like to get the Jays franchise out of Canada, in much the same way the Expos move to Washington was engineered. It would make it easier for everyone concerned, south of the border. The American game would once more have all its major league teams in America. Teams wouldn’t need passports to play a weekend tilt north of the border. (For those readers south of the border, this is more for players to get back into the States, rather than entering Canada.)

In the end, what can Selig do but approve the trade? Both teams’ dealers are big boys who understand the business of baseball. Bug can’t approve part of the deal. It’s going to be all or nothing here. Additionally, he really can’t stop it without an awful lot of tough questions being asked about where he was and what he was doing when Boston did the same thing with Los Angeles – in mid-season, no less – to a contending team! So ultimately, I don’t think he’ll want to go there. Loria did nothing different than Red Sox owner John W. Henry, who, interestingly, was the previous owner of the Marlins and presided over their first fire sale.

As for the second controversy, word got out yesterday that the Jays had come to a two-year agreement with infamous “drug addict” Melky Cabrera, suspended by the league for 50 games and then dropped by the Giants at the end of the season because he was caught using testosterone.

Melky Cabrera
Will Cabrera use performance-enhancing drugs again? I doubt it. The risk is too great. I believe the Jays made a good signing here and addressed another of the needs of the club: a quality player in left field. Even though he’ll probably not put up the kind of numbers he was putting up last season, Cabrera should be a definite upgrade to what the Jays’ were looking at. They got him for very little and he could make a big difference to the final results next fall.

An interesting fact with Melky is that his power numbers weren’t that impressive last season when he was on the juice. All the testosterone in the world won’t help you to see the ball better and bump your batting average up to the league-high levels where he had them.

If he can keep hitting the ball with the frequency he did last year, Cabrera will be a huge help to the Jays offense. Unless he totally bombs out as a player, it’s a good signing. Cabrera certainly has something to prove.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Find The Pieces

Alex Anthopoulos is at the General Managers’ meetings this week and has said he will not concentrate on the manager position for the next few days. So, I cannot grumble about his choice until it’s made. I just hope it is soon.

Several changes need to be made to the starting nine this coming season. With plenty of question marks that will still remain, it time to access each position and see what's up.

Pitching is the most important and hardest to get. Ricky Romero this season went the wrong direction completely. In my opinion, Romero's demise was strictly the pressure of leading a team that fell apart by injury/ He felt he had to be perfect and could not be. With a healthy staff and a more realistic approach he will be fine. Tech surgery is not a factor and he will hopefully have his head together. This does not mean the front office can coast. The possibility of Kyle Drabek or Drew Hutchinson returning next year are slim to none. Anthopoulos must get at least one high powered starter for whatever the money is. Maybe a Zack Greinke would fit the bill. So would Shaun Marcum who is on record as being interested in returning. As an aside, I hope that Sergio Santos can last this coming year. Let’s see what he’s got after being out a season. He has really no record to fall back on other than one very good year, two years ago.

First base is pretty well decided. With Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind doing the platoon thing with the DH spot. I think it works very well.

Second base needs change. Kelly Johnson should be gone and Mike Aviles has come and gone already. We traded away Aaron Hill to get Johnson and wound up with the same player. As I see it, I don’t think Adeiny Hechavarria should be put at second. AA needs a good glove with some consistency in the bat.

Short stop is another strange position. Yunel Escobar has done well on defense and less then stellar with the bat. However, his continued attitude with the players and public is now more like he was with the Braves, where they wanted rid of this head case. He is part of the Latino click and is not much of a team guy. He should be gone and that’s where Hechavarria comes in.
Adeiny Hechavarria
He is the only one of the young bunch I think may be ready for the bigs and deserving of the chance. So done, trade Escobar with other pieces and see what you can get.

Third base should have been a lock. Everyone was pulling to have a five tool Brett Lawrie on third. He has shown his arrogance several times this season. He has also made comments about how he plays and that he does not need to change. Well… Maybe he needs taking down a peg or three. I like many things about Lawrie but not his attitude and continued ineffectiveness at the plate. He is not yet a batter but a swatter. His discipline is sorely lacking. He needs to get benched the next time he does not take instruction. He needs to grow up. I hope he does. We need a manager who can manage the talent.

Right field is done.

At centre, there is another head case – the Jays have a few. Colby Rasmus has much talent and little brain apparently. He can fly on his feet and if he is paying attention and not distracted by “whatever”, he can catch a ball. At the plate he is still a mess and is only a lucky hitter who will not last long in the bigs. For now though, with the Jays in such a terrible state, he will remain the centre fielder.

Left, wow. Rajai Davis has gone beyond expectation this year, but he is not the long term solution. He has turned out to be a great piece off the bench and one who can accomplish what he is asked to do. His position play was much better than expected. However, the Jays need a big bat. Davis had a BA of just .257 and OBP of .307. For 2012 he did smack 8 dingers for a career high while totaling only 43 RBI. Not a great bat. He did steal 43 of 59 attempts. Very quick on the base paths. So free agency or trade is the only hope for the Jays. The late season call-ups are still not ready to perform. Rick likes Moises Sierra. Sierra has a good throwing arm but is slow on the run. His batting is a bit raw and needs to work on hitting the breaking ball and MLB pitching, in general. In his 147 at bats, he had 6 HR and 15 RBI. Too soon I think. Anthony Gose had a BA of .223 forty points below his minior league totals. Not yet ready for the prime time. The Jays list him is as the starting left fielder. I don’t think so.

Catcher is a bit of a problem since it seems to be born-out that JP Arencibia is not the bat of the future. He did have 18 HRs and a low BA of .233. How long before Travis d’Arnaud is called up? For now though, I foresee no change.

Will the Jays choose to be able to afford anybody in free agency, either batter or pitcher? Will they bid for Tori Hunter or Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke? Unlikely. With the injury list reduced, it is time for a winner to be put on the field. The fans need a team that can compete. AA has run out of time. Remember JP Riccardi? He had a five year plan for eight years. The Jays have some good pieces. When healthy, they should be able compete. If AA can find the right missing players, we could be in the hunt. Now, only for some direction from the bench.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Odds on a Triple Crown Winner Being MVP

What are the odds on a Triple Crown Winner such as Miguel Cabrera being the league's MVP? Oh, about 50-50. Am I kidding? No.

After a season in which he hit .330, knocked in 129 runs, and belted 43 home runs Cabrera should be a shoe-in for MVP. Right? After all, Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown in 1966 and he was the AL MVP. And Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown in 1967 and he was the AL MVP.  But before that ... well, it didn't always happen. 

After the creation of the MVP Award in 1931 Jimmy Foxx had the first chance to win it as a Triple Crown winner in 1933, and he did. But that same year Chuck Klein hit.368 and won the Triple Crown in the National League and he lost out to Carl Hubbell. Perhaps it was because Klein led the NL with just 28 home runs, more likely it was because Hubbell was brilliant with an ERA of just 1.66 which was pretty amazing in the 30's.

Surely that wouldn't happen again though. Well, strangely enough there was another Triple Crown winner the next year - in the American League. Lou Gehrig went 49, 165 .363. That was a pretty good year even for Lou. He finished fifth in the voting ! Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe of the pennant-winning Tigers got more votes and so did teammate Lefty Gomez.

In 1937 Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Gas House Gang had 31 homers and 154 runs batted in and hit .374. He narrowly beat out Gabby Hartnett, the Chicago Cubs catcher.

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942. He hit 36 home runs, scored 141 runs, batted in 137, and hit .356 (albeit fifty points lower than the year before).  That year Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon scored 88 runs, hit 18 home runs, and batted in 103 runs. He hit .322 (54 points below Williams) and was named MVP. Gordon did lead the league in one category, however. He grounded into the most double plays (22).  Note: I'm not making this stuff up.

After serving in WWII for three years Williams came back in 1946 and hit .342 (2 points less than his lifetime average) with 38 homers and was named MVP. In 1947 Ted hit 32 home runs, knocked in 114 and hit .343. He did not win the MVP Award. He tied Yankee first baseman George McQuinn (18, 80, .304) with three first place votes. But Joe Dimaggio won it - with eight first place votes. Dimaggio hit 20 home runs, knocked in 97, and hit .315. He actually had a much better season the next year (39, 155 both league bests and .320) and of course was not the MVP, Lou Boudreau was. 

Of course two things worked against Williams. His team rarely won the pennant, which was a big factor for the voters, and he was not a great fielder. In 1956 another Yankee center fielder, this time Mickey Mantle had a pretty good year (52, 130, .353). He got all 24 first place MVP votes.

What about Cabrera's chances this year? I would say he has a very good chance of winning, especially since his team win the pennant. But there is this kid who is probably going to beat out Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes (23, 82, .292 in 129 games) for Rookie of the Year and he may beat out Cabrera for MVP. 

When Mike Trout joined the Angels on April 28th they were wallowing at 6-14. Albert Pujols had had a brutal first month. From that point on, with Trout, Anaheim went .585, the best record in the AL. Trout became the first player ever to hit 30 home runs, steal 45 bases, and score 125 runs. He also became the first player ever to hit 30 home runs, steal 45 bases, and bat .320. That's ever!

And Trout is a human highlight reel in center field, while Miguel Cabrera, a converted first baseman, had the fourth most errors at the hot corner in the AL. Oh, and Trout had a higher On Base Percentage.

Looks like Miguel may suffer the Triple Crown curse.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Beginning to lose patience with the Blue Jays

We’re several days into what the old timers used to call “The Hot Stove League”, a time when all good ball fans could sit around and discuss the season just past and look forward to what might happen in the spring. Nowadays, fans get together at bars and pubs – or for fish and chips as John and I did this past Friday. As always, talk quickly got around to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos
I think it’s fair to say that both of us are losing patience with the club. That’s saying a lot, because I’m much more calm and patient that my confrere can be.

The entire 2012 campaign was a disaster as far as we’re both concerned. Yes, the club had very significant injuries, especially to their pitching staff, and I certainly won’t soon forget that horrible week in June when the starting pitching took a hit from which it never recovered. Losing Santos after about 2 seconds of pitching in April could have been a huge blow, but Casey Janssen really stepped up, and boy, that was a huge and pleasant surprise in a season of nearly weekly bad news.

The thing that really sticks in my craw is the whole John Ferrell mess. I thought he was an honorable man, but it turned out that all he was waiting for was a chance to manage for his old club, The Boston Red Sox. The fact that the job came up after only one year (something that couldn’t have been foreseen) was unfortunate for Ferrell, but that didn’t stop him from asking to be allowed to move.

That’s when the Jays put in their rule about lateral movement of their manager. What they should have done was fire Ferrell’s ass right then. No matter what he said about the Jays being his only concern, it wouldn’t take a really smart person (something Ferrell claims to be) to see that Bobby Valentine might not last long. My guess would be that he thought Valentine might last for two seasons before once again imploding, but that wasn’t to be, either.

So the Jays let him go, rightly, before the franchise could take a further hit to its prestige. Right now the Jays look like the poor cousin in the AL East, a farm team for the big time Red Sox. Brother! It really made my blood boil.

Now the team is having to interview managers, and while they say that the process will go much more quickly than it did last time (when they hired Ferrell). It cannot come quickly enough. Stability starts in the manager’s office, and if the Jays are serious about look for free-agent pitching help, any players they want will need to see that the team is stable and well-managed. Why come here if the Jays are a disaster area? Toronto already has an issue of being in a foreign country, something that has kept some players from coming to the team in the past.

GM Alex Anthopoulos now looks really bad for choosing Ferrell, which is a bit unfair. One assumes that a first-time manager would be in for the long haul, not just trying to get a bit of experience before his real job is available. With a new manager, AA just has to get it right. If the next Jays manager is not able to do the job (leading his team into the playoffs) and have success right away, the Jays could be looking for a general manager around this time next year. He may just have to hire next year’s Manager of the Year to regain his lost credibility as a canny and shrewd baseball man.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who’s running the store?

So, John Farrell is gone. So is Torey Lovullo and now Brian Butterfield. Farrell is now where he wants to be and I wish him well. Did he prove to be the manager of the year or even a long term solution for the Jays? Alex Anthopoulos thought so. AA hand picked Farrell. Boston will have to find out if Farrell can lead that team to a better than .500 average. I don’t know what Boston thinks is so special about him, but I guess we all will find out soon enough.

AA’s “keep them happy” approach has left the Jays scrambling again. The off season machinations have begun and the Jays are rudderless. Who is on the list and who should lead the team?

Many talking heads have mentioned that the manager does not do much. Not really worth their salt. In Will’s article on Tuesday he mentioned Bruce Bochy’s approach to the Giants as a team. It seems to be the smarts of the manager and the chemistry of the club that put’s them on top. Go back to the heydays of the Jays. Cito Gaston let the boys of summer have fun and let them play, and they did. He won the World Series twice in a row with essentially different teams.

When the team loses, the manager gets fired. When the team wins, the players get the credit and the bigger pay checks.

So now what should the Jays do? Sandy Alomar Jr., DeMarlo Hale, Tim Wallach, Manny Acta and now Matt Williams, are the main candidates to become the Blue Jays' new manager.

Sandy Alomar has again been passed over by the Indians – and also the Red Sox. He is ready to move on. In the last half of the season he led the Indians to a 3-3 record. That is the extent of his managerial experience.

Manny Acta has lots of managerial experience and has a low-key style that some find professional, but he has not managed a winning record. He has managed 890 games but has only a .418 percentage. Not that that is the end all, as Bruce Bochy did not do so well with the Padres before going to the Giants. Acta sticks to the SABER method and does not go for small ball. He manages by number it seems. So for me, too many baseball options are gone with his approach.

DeMarlo Hale has solid managerial credits. He spent many years in the minors coaching successful teams. His Trenton Thunder –AA for Red Sox– went 92-50. He has now been with the Orioles for 3 years as the third base coach. Buck Showalter has praise for his abilities. Even though he did not play at the MLB level, his team building skill might be good for the Jays. The Farrell club house did not seem a fun place to be.

Tim Wallach is a seventeen-year veteran who played with the Expos and then the Dodgers. He won the Silver Slugger in 1987. He has some minor league coaching experience and is currently the Dodgers third base coach. Would he leave his home stomping grounds of California to manage here? I don’t think so. He is too involved with the Dodgers. If hired by the Jays, would he leave for the Dodgers like Farrell did for the Red Sox?

The Jay’s just got permission to speak to Matt Williams. However, he is past the interview stage for the Rockies job. He was a fine All Star player for the Giants and has coaching experience. He is the only player to hit a home run in the World Series for three different teams. Those with the Diamondbacks think he will not leave them for the Rockies. He and his wife host a pre-game show for the D-backs. He’s pretty entrenched there.  He is ready for an opportunity as manager in the bigs. If not the Rockies –which I think he will get– I think he could be right for the Jays. This one is a toss up as to whether he will take the Rockies job or is really interested in moving on.

Dan Wakamatsu is still on the list. He has a losing record and by all account lost his club house in Seattle – shades of Farrell. Remember, Ken Griffey Jr. retired after being benched by Wakamatsu. I do not know all the details, but handling “talent” is a big part of the job. He was fired in 2009 with a .375 record.

Now, I think the Jays should – as I have said before – take a good look at Ryne Sandberg. Of course, he is an HOF player from the Cubs who has won every award and managed at the minor league level to a winning record. He has been appointed as third base coach for the Phillles. He wants to manage at the MLB level. He can speak with authority to the veteran and the rookie. Maybe that’s what the Jays need.

My top choices are Ryan Sandberg, Tim Wallach and DiMarlo Hale.  As an aside, my top prospects are all third base coaches.

For the Jays, I think a little more hands on might be needed now with what appears to be indecision and weakness in the front office. AA and Paul Beeston seem not to have a clear picture now of the direction of the team. They should have an idea, as they just went through this process two years ago. This is AA’s last chance to show he can produce with players on the field and with staff. I had high hopes for him. He does not have a good record now, three years in. It better change in 2013.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New World Series Symbol is a Broom

Does anyone doubt that momentum is big in sports? Well, there was further proof this postseason. The Series was a sweep for the sixth time in the past fifteen years. It was a contest of loose and confident characters against a tense team of Tigers.

Giant manager Bruce Bochy had surprising success in San Diego before moving up the left coast to San Francisco. Now he has a second championship in three seasons - with a group that features no Willie Mays or Juan Marichal or Barry Bonds. Those big names did not won championships. 

Bochy's role in the victory cannot be overstated. He got the most out of what he had and enjoyed himself doing it. As a school manager, that is as a principal, I always felt that if the boss isn't having fun nobody is, and that was clearly the case in the Giants' dugout. "I've been told I have a dry sense of humor," said Bochy. "You know, I have fun ... We have fun in there. I want these guys to be loose and relaxed." It worked. While the big salary Tigers were squeezing the sawdust out of their bats - as had the Yankees in the ALCS - the Giants' no names came through. 

In spite of a 70% turnover in personnel since their 2010 win, the Giants had just the right pieces - and Bochy let 'em play. "I keep coming back to how unselfish these guys are. It's amazing what a club can do when they play as a team and have no agendas."

Perhaps the sacrifice bunt by Gregor Blanco, the one that refused to go foul, was emblematic of what went wrong for Detroit and right for San Fran. Blanco, whose salary is $480,000, had bounced around from team to team without success. He played much of 2011 with an injured hand while toiling for the Syracuse Chiefs. But when Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens was managing the Bravos de Margaritas in Venezuela last winter he saw Blanco and noted that he was hitting more line drives than he had before. He thought he'd be a good fit for AT&T Park's big outfield and the Giants signed him.  

In spite of Pablo Sandoval hitting those three home runs would the Giants still have won Game One without Blanco's two diving catches? Then the sac bunt in Game Two. Then a triple over Austin Jackson to drive in the first run in a 2-0 Game Three win. And then the running catch against the wall in the 9th. 

The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Reds and a 3-1 deficit against St. Louis. Much earlier they had overcome the loss of Melky Cabrera to the MLB penal system. 

After a great regular season Buster Posey kept right on going in the postseason with nine RBIs. His grand slam in Game Five against the Reds was the difference. He homered in the sixth inning on Sunday night. 

After striking out three times in Game One Hunter Pence delivered a single and a sacrifice fly late in Game Two, all the Giants would need. After starring in the NLCS Marco Scutaro knocked in the winning run in Game Four. 

Pablo Sandoval earned the Most Valuable Panda award after hitting .500 thanks mainly to three homers in one game (the fourth time in history), a double and six runs batted in. His 13 total bases in Game One tied the record set just last year by Albert Pujols.

Backed by great defence, the San Francisco pitching staff was top-notch. They had held the Cardinals to just one run in the last three games of the NLCS. 2008 and 2009 Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggled as a starter this year but unselfishly accepted a move to the bullpen and helped save Game Three for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner had struggled mightily in the playoffs but, after Dave Righetti worked on his mechanics, he shone in Game 2. 

Ryan Voglesong may have been the biggest story for the Giants. Released by the Giants, Pirates, Phillies, and Angels before being bought back by the Giants (he even struggled in Japan for three years) the 35-year old was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in the postseason. You could argue that Sandoval's homers off Justin Verlander and Blanco's catches late in Game One were turning points in the Series but what about Voglesong fanning Quinten Berry and inducing an infield pop up from Miguel Cabrera in the 5th inning of Game 2?

Unfortunately for Fox Sports, who pay handsomely for the rights to the Series, it appears that the only fans watching the Giants and Tigers were their parents and neighbors. The Series set a record for fewest viewers and Saturday night's Game Three was the least watched game in Series history.

It is a disturbing trend for baseball that three of the least watched Series have occurred in the last five years. The 2008 Phillies vs. Rays and the 2010 Giants vs. Rangers had shared the bottom rung until last week. A lot of people were happy not to see the huge salaried Yankees or Dodgers in the Series but at least some of those people might have watched the games. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

So what do we think now?

Boy, the World Series has been one-sided to this point. The Giants have thrown the Tigers down and have their foot on the team’s neck and could well deliver the coups de gras before day’s end. My crystal ball certainly needs re-calibration because it didn’t see this coming!

Last night’s game, at least, was pretty exciting…for awhile. However, once Lincecum came in, I got the feeling it was all over and switched the game off. It’s not that the Tigers have been bad; it’s that the Giants have been better. Want an example of the baseball truism “good pitching beats good hitting”? Look no further than these games.

It would be nice for Detroit to step up and win today’s tilt, but I think the conclusion to this year’s WS is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

The Yanks with the '62 series' 7th game.
So, I would like to talk about an old Series, the classic one from 1962 to be exact, Yanks against baseball’s current darlings, the Giants. In prowling around MLB’s website Friday, I found an excerpt from the 2012 edition of SCOREBOOK, and a good bit of baseball writing it is as it describes a very uncharacteristic response from the Yanks’ Clete Boyer. Read it HERE.

I especially like the close of the excerpt. I can imagine the torture Lockman must have been going through, but what a fantastic image the late night phone call makes.

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll have any such moments to remember the 2012 World Series by.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Road Ahead

What a great series the Tigers –88/74– pulled off against the Yanks. The pitching and hitting the Tigers got was exactly what was needed to shut done the AL home run leaders in the ALCS. Delmon Young deserves the MVP honors with his clutch performances. Of course others contributed especially with the starting rotation: Verlander, Sherzer, Gonzales and Fester. Even though not clutch, Miguel Cabrerra and Jhonny Peralta certainly lit up the last game. The Tigers have all the pieces coming together at the same time. For a team that, at midseason, was under .500 this resurgence was somewhat unexpected.

As Rick and Will have mentioned, the Yanks did themselves no favors the entire series. They played the most flat baseball seen until this seventh game of the NLCS. The Yanks, with no run production, leaves you wondering if the Tiger pitching is so un-hittable or that if the Yanks had finally run the tank dry. Is A-Rod really going to be there in 2013? Who will take him? Will he retire gracefully? Oh, sorry, it’s A-Rod and everything is about him and his ego. He’ll make the Yankees pay it all one way or another.

The Cardinals –88/74– as just mentioned, fell flat too. The Cinderella Cardinals have truly lost the slipper. The pitching weakened and the bats were nowhere to be seen. The Giants are hot, really hot right now.

The Cards had no answer for them.

With the Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the Tigers and Panda Sandoval and Marcos Scutaro for the Giants, I think the Tigers can do better at the plate. In the Championship Series round of play-offs, the team Tigers had a BA of .291 and the team totals for the Giants were .261. For pitching, I like the WHIP better for looking ahead to see how things may come out in future games. The Tigers staff had a WHIP of .872 and Giants 1.066.
For starters, Justin Verlander had a WHIP of an unbelievable .360  and Ryan Vogelsong .786. This is all very close but the odds go to the Tigers for pitching.

As a Tigers fan –when not a Jays fan– I am worried about hitting and the strategy involving NL rules and the pitcher. This also brings up the bull pens. The Giants know how to use the NL rules. They have starting pitching that can hit a little when needed, just as Matt Cain did – .400 for the NLCS. The Tigers, not so much. The starting four have career BA’s of only .065, ugly. The Giants, while not good, is twice as good as that of the Tigers BA at .136.

The bullpen for both teams has not been bad at all. The Giants have a WHIP if 1.196 for the NLCS and the Tigers .828 for the ALCS. Okay, that’s if you eliminate Jose Valverde, who had a WHIP of 6.000. Jim Leyland will be hard pressed to slot him into a save situation with Phil Coke .529 and Drew Smyly at .429, both able to shoulder late inning responsibilities.

This World Series will be a series of pitching duels and I think the Tigers will just eek this one out. It will go the distance and be a great series. I hope it will be a classic!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Post Mortems

It was deja vu all over again for St. Louis Cardinal fans last night. In 1968 the Cards blew a 3-game lead. They did it again in 1985, and again in 1996, and, painfully, again this year, with 9-0 being a particularly rough way to exit. It's happened eleven times in all and St. Louis accounts for four of those. Ouch. It was an interesting series but one in which the lead changed hands only once in seven games, when Matt Carpenter hit a two-run home run in the third inning of Game 3.

Bravo to 36-year old Colorado Castoff and "Blockbuster" Marco Scutaro, His record-tying fourteen hit performance reminded me of another second baseman, namely Bobby Richardon in the 1964 Series. It was a fitting ending – after Matt Holliday's admitted late slide had injured Scutaro's left hip – when Scutaro caught Holliday's pop up in the pouring rain to close things out last night.

As for the other Championship Series ... you think the St. Louis fans are licking their wounds today. Yankee fans are looking for replacement parts after the Yankees were mauled by the Tigers. Their spectacular hitting (.157) was the worst by a team which played at least seven post season games. Just nineteen times in the 268 postseason series has a team scored fewer than the Yanks' anemic 1.5 runs per game. It's ironic that a lot of people worried about the Yankees pitching and it turned out to be just fine (a combined 2.76 ERA).

Starring for New York were Nick Swisher (.167), Russell Martin (,161), Alex Rodriguez (.120), Curtis Anderson (.100), and Robinson Cano (.075). "Break up the Yankees"? Ya, maybe, but not for the same reason people argued for it in the 1950s. This time it's to rebuild. But would anyone seriously contemplate getting rid of Granderson or Cano or Martin just because they slumped badly and made the Tiger pitchers look like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Smokey Joe Wood. 

For Yankee fans, though the first three games featured close scores, painful memories of 1963 and 2001 came to mind. In 2001 Curt Schilling and Randy Johnston man-handled the Yankees. The Yanks got three hits against them in each of the first two games and then stormed back to win three straight only to fall 15-2 in Game six and watch as Mariano Rivero gave up two runs in the ninth in an excruciating 3-2 loss in Game Seven. After 9/11 it wasn't supposed to end that way for New York. 

In 1922 Babe Ruth went 2-17 (his .118 Series average was his worst by nearly 200 points) and the Yankees lost four straight (one game was a  tie) to the Giants. For the only time Ruth did not hit a home run in a World Series.

I was only eight years old when the Pirates beat New York in 1961 in spite of the Bombers shelling Pittsburgh pitching in their three victories. Amazingly, the scores in those games were 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0! Game Seven was tied 9-9 when Ralph Terry gave up Mazeroski's home run in the ninth. But then the Yanks won in '61 and ''62 so life was good again.


Then along came Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to make the Bronx Bombers look like little leaguers in '63. The Yankees were outscored 12-4. They never had the lead. That's the only time that ever happened – until, oh ya – this year against the Tigers, who, by the way, are the only team to beat the Yankees in three straight postseason series.  The team hit just .171 against LA. Mickey Mantle was 2-15, Joe Pepitone went 2-13, and Clete Boyer was the biggest bum at 1-13. 

Then there was 1976. For Yankee fans, though the team finished just two games out in '74, it had been a long postseason drought. How would they do against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati? Not too well. Leadoff hitter Mickey Rivers, expected to be the sparkplug, fired on no cylinders, going 3-18. Next up was Roy White, who went 2-15. Willie Randolph went 1-14.  Cincinnati pitching was not their strong suit, but their four starters (they used Gullett only in Game One) were plenty good enough.


Of course the most painful series of all was 2004 when the Yankees were up 3-0 against the Red Sox. We shall not speak of that disaster other than to point out that, in the four losses, Gary Sheffield was 0-5, 0-4, 1-4, and 0-4 and Alex Rodriguez went 1-5, 0-4, 1-4, and 0-4. Sound familiar?

I haven't heard. Are teams lining up to trade for A-Rod yet?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What a difference a week makes

I kept a very close eye on this year’s American League Championship Series, hoping for some more good baseball. I got that, but only from one of the teams.

As the dust cleared yesterday, I looked back with a more critical eye at the Yankee’s series with Baltimore. I still feel that they were clearly the better team, but you could see the fingerprints of the coming nearly complete offensive collapse they suffered against the Tigers. I feel their experience in the post season is what got them past the Orioles, nothing more.

Losing Jeter certainly had a deflating effect on the team, and they looked pretty listless after that first, very exciting game. I also wonder why he seemed to just abandon the team and go home. He’s their captain, for pity’s sake! Anyone know if there’s a league rule that says he can’t be in the dugout? If not the dugout, then he should have been right behind it in the first row of seats.

Now, of course, we see all the finger pointing from fans and pundits alike. This is a team that lead baseball’s toughest division for most of the season, had the most home runs, at the top of the league in runs scored, etc., etc. What happened to them is pretty well the whole team went into a slump at the most inopportune time. How else would you explain Cano seeming to forget everything he knows about swinging the bat? This guy is a good ballplayer. I could go up and down the bench and pretty well say the same thing.

So what does New York need for next season to be successful? Obviously, another great starting pitcher. I don’t think they should be counting on Pettitte for too much. Great pitcher, sure, but his shelf life is about used up. Once the pitching staff is all healthy again, it should be pretty formidable and won’t require too much past another starter.

They probably would do well to look for another basher for their outfield. Swisher obviously will be on the move to another team. Other than him, they have some good people out there. Getting Suzuki (anyone else feel sorry for him?) was an inspired move and Granderson should find his swing by the time spring training opens next year. Ibanez is not an answer and Gardner should also come around.

Behind the plate, I just don’t think Martin has what it takes. He’s a reasonable receiver with some pop in his bat, but he just can’t seem to hit for average. A better knowledge of the strike zone and cutting down on his swing would certainly help. He doesn’t have to hit a home run every at bat. Maybe Suzuki should coach him a bit. I think they could find someone better than Stewart to back him up, and I don’t think they’d have to pay too much.

As I said, Cano will find his swing again, count on it. Jeter might be better to have at DH now that he’s had problems with his ankle. Over the past few seasons, he’s lost a couple of steps, and the only reason his age hasn’t shown a lot is that he positions himself so well. At DH, though, he’d be awesome. They might be better to look for someone a step above Nunez. Keep him as a backup, but the Yanks might be able to go after a marquee-type free-agent.

Which brings us to third base.

Earlier in the year, we had a discussion here about those huge multi-year contracts that teams tend to hand out to the very best players. The Angels and Tigers did it last off-season signing Pujols and Fielder, and they’re eventually going to be feeling the very same pain the Yankees are experiencing with Alex Rodriguez. I heard it said several times during the ALCS that A-Rod is an “old thirty-seven”. He had trouble with the fastball all season. He’s fragile and, well, he just ain’t worth the money. It would be one thing if he was losing it in the field but could still hit. The other way around definitely does not work.

I have no idea how the Yanks get out of this conundrum. I doubt very much that they could move him, unless part of the offer is to pick up at least half his salary, probably more. He certainly doesn’t sound like someone who’s willing to see the handwriting on the wall and retire gracefully. From what I heard, especially post game last night, he sounds like a man who wants to come back to the Yankees next season. With his no-trade clause, he will probably be there.

Or the Yankees, for the good of the team, could do something really jaw-dropping and release him.

Think it might happen?

Monday, October 15, 2012

In Baseball Everything Evens Out

Let's start with an amazing statistic. In Game 3 of the Yankees' ALDS series with Baltimore Raul Ibanez became the first player to hit two home runs from the ninth inning on in a postseason game. That's not the amazing statistic. The blasts ended the Orioles' streak of 16 consecutive extra inning wins. That's not the amazing statistic either. Even more remarkable was that this year the Baltimore Orioles were the first team to go an entire season without suffering a loss on a walk off play since 1900! Wow!

But in the ALCS something new is happening. The Yankees, who have ended benefiting from memorable and unbelievably bad calls by umpires, are now getting the short end of the stick.

Against Baltimore in 1996 Derek Jeter hit a long flyball that should have been caught at the right field fence by Tony Tarasco. As we all know, a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and caught it instead. In 1999 Chuck Knoblauch did not tag Jose Offerman. Umpire Tim Tschida, however, ruled that he had, and on deck hitter Nomar Garciaparra did not get a chance to hit.  Three years ago, Minnesota's Joe Mauer hit a ball down the left field line that Melky Cabrera failed to catch. It landed several inches inside the foul line and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. Except that umpire Phil Cuzzi, who had a very good view of the play, called it a foul ball. 

Now the tables have turned. The bad calls are going against the Yanks and - no surprise here - Joe Giradi is now in favour of video replays after controversial calls. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Tiger starter Doug Fisher was clearly struggling. He had narrowly extricated himself from a bases loaded jam in the first,.

In the second inning, again with the bases loaded, Robinson Cano hit a tough grounder to short. Jhonny Peralta fielded it and threw to first. His throw reached Prince Fielder just after Cano's foot touched the bag. It was a surprising missed call because umpires look for the runner's foot and listen for the smack of the ball hitting the first baseman's glove. (You can't look at two things at the same time.) If they hear the smack before they see the foot hit the bag, the batter-runner is out. But Rob Drake called Cano out and Fister settled down. The Tigers went on to win. The Yankees, Raul Ibanez aside, don't need the umps wiping out any of the rare hits they get. 

Of course lightning struck again on Sunday night when Nick Swisher made a great throw to Cano, who clearly tagged Omar Infante out. But umpire Jeff Nelson, who was in good position to make the call, blew it. The Bombers (do they need a new name this October?) ended up down by three instead of the less than awesome Tiger bullpen needing to protect a one run lead. So now, with calls going against the Yankees, will the league change its mind about video replays?

I will admit that, as a former umpire, I would prefer to have the umps' decisions stand. But, what if a call is clearly wrong? It happens. An ump, even a great one, does simply blow it once in a while. Instead of the officials running off the field or looking at monitors under a blanket to review calls how about this? Simply have a league official in the press box call down to the crew chief after seeing a replay that showed a call to have been obviously incorrect. The call can be reversed, no argument, no ejections, the game proceeds as it should have. Enough said.

What up with Robinson Cano setting a record with 26 consecutive hitless at bats in a series? Shut the front door! A-Rod sure, or Granderson maybe, but Cano? Such a sweet swing. Such talent. Say it ain't so. Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long, who got a lot off creds for making an even better hitter out of Granderson after he came to New York, is having to answer lots of questions now. Can you imagine what hot water he'd be in right now if the boss (Steinbrenner) were still alive? Yikes!

I was a good hitter when I played baseball. (People call it hardball in Canada. Of course a lot of Canadian also say back catcher, as if there's a  front catcher.) I was not a great hitter. Though I once taught at a Blue Jays instructional camp (for teenagers, not minor leaguers) I don't claim to be an expert on hitting.

But what is with so many struggling Yankees letting nice first pitches go by and getting behind on the count? The Yankees like to work the count, put pressure on the pitcher, force up his pitch count, and get lots of walks. But it ain't working. Opposing pitchers know A-Rod and other Yankees will let the first pitch go by and they're grooving them right down the middle. Granderson, however, is swinging at first pitches.  They are all inside and low- and he is missing them badly.

Suddenly, several of the  Yankee hitters - definitely Cano- simply cannot judge whether pitches are fastballs, changes or sliders. When they guess, they seem always to be wrong. They look awful. It's as if every pitcher they face is Sandy Koufax. It's painful for a Yankee fan to watch.

I am absolutely amazed that Detroit is using Justin Verlander against New York in Game Three. Why not save him for the World Series? They sure don't need an ace to get out the 2012 postseason Yankees. Heck, Yankee fans would just as soon the Tigers started Kate Upton, Verlander's girlfriend. Whether Verlander has reached first base with her you can be guaranteed the Yankees wouldn't. At least she'd be fun to watch.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

“The Moment”

Nate McLouth homers in the 5th inning of Game 4.
Since late last week, we have been treated to what seems like continuous baseball. Some days you could move from game to game to game to game, watching playoff baseball for nearly 12 hours. For diehard fans, it’s been an embarrassment of riches with some absolutely fantastic games. Last night’s tilt between the Yankees and the Orioles that ended well past midnight is probably the prime example. This series has seen stellar pitching from both nines, but last night was special. How else would you describe a 1-1 score going into the 13th when the Baltimore side finally prevailed.

As I was listening to the game on the radio, I was contemplating if it was possible to see some point in the game where a play that happened or a play that wasn’t made would serve as an obvious predictor of the ultimate outcome of the game.

I’m not talking about a grand slam such as occurred in the final game of the Giants/Reds series. The outcome from those can be pretty easy to identify, even if this one did occur in the fifth. It was pretty obvious that unless the Giants bullpen imploded, they almost couldn’t lose with a six-run lead.

So as the fourth game of the division series between the two eastern division teams progressed last night, I began looking for a clear sign as to which side might prevail. The pitchers, Saunders for the Birds and Hughes for the Bombers, both seemed to be on their games, putting zeroes on the board with efficient regularity.

Then came the fifth – once again.

In the top of the inning, Nate McLouth, the discarded Pirate, came up aces with a home run to take huge bite out of the Big Apple. (This was, after all, the New Yorker’s game to lose rather than the Baltimore’s game to win.) With the strength of both teams’ bullpens, I thought to myself his bomb could possibly be it. There might be other runs, but McLouth had given all the momentum to his team. You could almost hear the Yankee bench tighten up.

McLouth’s brilliant 5th inning catch.
The bottom of the fifth was without a doubt “the moment” in the game, the point where I would have happily plopped down some bills on the Orioles. Russell Martin walked on six pitches. Granderson did what he’d been doing all series (inexplicably): striking out. Then Jason Nix came to bat.

[Sidebar: Guess who hit the BP ball before his first game as a Yankee on May 3rd, the one that Mariano Rivera was going back to snag when he tore up his knee and was knocked out for the season, and possibly ended his career?]

On Saunders’ second pitch, Nix hit a long fly ball to deep left. Racing back, McLouth, a gold glove winner in ’08, made a brilliant catch against the scoreboard (making it look far easier than it actually was. Martin had already rounded second, believing he would score when the Nix drive dropped in for a hit, and he was easily doubled off first when McLouth threw to Hardy at shortstop who relayed to Reynolds at first. Inning over. Momentum was solidly ensconced in the visitor’s dugout.

Even though New York scored in the bottom of the sixth, it was clear to me that Baltimore had seized “the moment”, and the baseball gods would eventually send them to the clubhouse smiling, and ready to try for the brass ring in the final game of the series.
_________________

Friday evening: Even though Baltimore just lost the fifth game to CC Sabathia (the other eight guys on the field were just there to throw the ball back to him), that fourth game will be one I remember for a long time. Purely and simply, it was great baseball.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Great Stories

Yesterday was one of those days. A great day for a baseball fan. Two of my favorite teams – the Reds and Tigers – squared off but lost. They are still in it. There were some sloppy plays and some great moments in the four divisional games. Out of all the events of yesterday, I think two stand out above the rest. Prince Fielder's HR, of 419 feet, was hopefully expected at some point. Tim Lincecum with a near perfect game from the bullpen, for the win, out of the bullpen. The two that rung it up for me were Chris Carpenter and Raul Ibanez.

Wow, what a day for them.

Chris Carpenter has been a work horse all his career and Larry can quote al the stats. His Cy Young year of 2005 and his great play-off appearances. He has only lost two games for a 10 and 2 recorded a 2.88 ERA overall. Pretty incredible.

Well, Carpenter’s season was not a happy one. He went out early and had thoracic outlet surgery. He had a rib removed as well as some tendons and muscle in his neck. Jeremy Bonderman, while with the Tigers, had the same surgery in 2009.  Bonderman was able to come back the next year and play 30 starts. However, he retired in 2010. Noah Lowry also had the same surgery and could not come back.

Along comes Carpenter, who was really not expected back this year, and he returns for only two games in September, were he was roughed up and took the losses for a 3.71 ERA. He wanted to come back and be in the playoffs. Yesterday was the day.

His start was not his usual self, but as he got into the feel of the game he managed 5.2 innings of shutout ball. Jayson Stark summed up the 37-year-old this way, “On Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park, a man will take the mound who has no business being there.” The veteran rose to the challenge. Further, at the bat he went two for three for .666. Pretty impressive for a man who should not have even been on the field. Tenacity and smart pitching make Chris Carpenter exceptional.

Raul Ibanez has retired. Oh, sorry, not. He has just become the “hit” of NYC and Mister Yankee. He’ll never have to buy dinner the that city again. For a seventeen year veteran who has been shopped around a bit, this is amazing. At 40 years old he has just revived what has been a very good career with the Yanks.

Ibanez started in 1996, in basically the same class as his now Yankee teammates. His solid career looked like it was ending after last year in a Phillies uniform. His BA went down to .245 with an overall OPS+ of 91, way below his usual average of 112. It seemed that his time had come, that he would be calling it a day. The Yanks picked up him as a utility piece and not much was expected. He signed for 1.1 million, a far cry from the 2011 salary of 12.1 mil. A nice comfortable way to ease into retirement with a contender.

Yesterday started just like another for Ibanez, on the bench. He was called up by Joe Girardi in the ninth from the cages to pitch-hit for A-Rod – $29 mill. With one out in the ninth, Yanks behind one run, Ibanez leap on a Jim Johnson pitch and put it deep for a 403 foot homer. It saved the game. Extra innings were in the offing. So his next time at bat, the score hasn’t changed. It’s the bottom of the 12th inning and he yards an other 390 feet. Ibanez had only two previous HR in all his previous 38 postseason games

After the game, Derek Jeter made a comeback comment to a the usual stupid question from a reporter, “What did Girardi think would happen when he pinch hit A-Rod?” Jeter replied, “Joe thought Raul would hit a home run.”

Who knows about next year, but yesterday’s memory will live on in Yankee lore. Damn them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time for a Shakeup

Apparently, I am not alone. Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN agree with me. I'm guessing many Yankee fans do too. Alex Rodriguez does not belong in the middle of the Yankee batting order, especially in the playoffs. Mind you, A-Rod does lead the team in a significant category this post-season.

While Curtis Granderson has left a disappointing six teammates stranded on the base paths, A-Rod has stranded seven – hard to top that in just two games. 

I remember watching an NBC broadcast in the ’80s and a broadcast colleague told Tony Kubek that he belonged in the all-time Yankee starting lineup. Well, at that time, pre-Derek Jeter, the comment made sense. The other top-notch Yankee shortstop to that point had been Phil Rizzuto. The Scooter is in Hall of Fame because he was the sparkplug of so many great Yankee teams of the ’40s and ’50s, but he was not that great a player. His lifetime average was just .273 (he hit .300 twice) and he had mediocre range at short. So maybe Kubek was the best before Jeter. But I digress. The reason I tell this story is because of Kubek's response to the compliment. He said, "Sure, somebody would have to make the outs (at the plate – not in the field) or the games would never end." Good line.

That is what I would now say about Alex Rodriguez batting in the heart of the Yankee order. With Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki hitting so well in the 1 and 2 slots and Cano in the 4 slot, somebody has to make the outs and bravo to A-Rod for handling that job so very effectively. 

The problem for me is that pre-2011 Rodriguez deserves to bat third or fourth. But not the new A-Rod. In fact, although he hit 30 home runs in each of 2009 and 2010 (still well short of his average before that of course), he really hasn't been all that wonderful since 2007. 

His WAR (Wins Against Replacement) numbers are as follows. 2004 - 7.3, 2005 - 9.1, 2006 - 4.2, 2007 - 9.2, 2008 - 6.5, 2009 - 3.9. 2010 - 3.7, and 2012 - 2.0.  His OPS used to be around 1.000. The last two seasons it's been .823 and .783. I'm not sure he should be in the middle of any team's batting order now, but certainly not the Yankees, who are so strong they actually had Suzuki batting ninth for a while.

Would the team prefer having Eric Chavez, who's terrific defensively and no slouch at the plate, in the lineup?  I suspect so, but maybe it's just me. But if Joe Girardi thinks A-Rod's big assets are his ability to strike fear  in opposing pitchers and the way he protects the hitters around him…well he just doesn't have those assets anymore. Though he hit the ball pretty hard his first two times last night his strikeout in the ninth, albeit against Johnson (who was his old self again) arguably cost the Yankkes the game and wasted a very good effort by Andy Pettitte.


George Steinbrenner called high priced Dave Winfield "Mr. May", a reference to the superior playoff clutch hitting of Reggie Jackson, "Mr. October." Winfield hit .283 lifetime with 465 home runs but just .182 and .239 in his two playoff years, with just two homers and six doubles in 101 at bats. 

Rodriguez has had a couple of very good playoffs. He hit .320 with three jacks in 2004 and .365 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 2009. But that's it. 

Here are his other years.

                         AB         HR       RBI          Avg.         OBP           Sl.Avg          OPS
    2005              15            0          0           .133           .435             .200            .635
    2006              14            0          0           .071           .133             .071            .205
    2007              15            1          1           .267           .353             .467            .820
    2010              32            0          3           .219           .316             .281            .597
    2011              18            0          3           .111           .261             .111            .372

Maybe it doesn't matter whether Rodriguez is popular with his teammates or not, and I know it's tougher to put up good numbers in the playoffs because in every game you're facing one of the best pitchers in the league, but come on. It's hard to inspire or intimidate anybody with one home run, seven RBIs, and an .074 average in 94 at bats in five playoff years.

The two guys best suited to bat before or after Robinson Cano are Mark Teixeira, who is hitting .500 in the playoffs, and Curtis Granderson, who – as noted above – is struggling (1 for 7). But it would be hard for anybody to do much worse than A-Rod. While I'm tinkering with the lineup…it's also time to reverse Jeter and Suzuki, who is much more of a threat to steal and motors around the bases a lot faster than Jeter.



My lineup would be: 

1 – Suzuki, 2 – Jeter, 3 – Cano, 4 – Granderson, 5 – Teixeira, 6 – Swisher, 7 – Chavez, 8 – Martin, 9 – (DH) Ibanez or Nunez

If I were a pitcher I would not like to face that lineup.


Post-Script: I'm no great fan of the Atlanta Braves, but they got robbed in the Sudden Death playoff game by umpire Sam Holbrook, who obviously does not understand the Infield Fly rule. There are two parts to it. First is the ability of an infielder to (easily) catch the ball whether it's in the infield or the outfield. Well the shortstop (Pete Kozma) could have caught the fly (though he didn't) but it was pretty deep. The depth can't be the only criterion though. What if you had a speedy infielder (there are lots) who raced to the warning track and easily caught a ball, is that an infield fly? Babe Ruth used to routinely hit towering pop ups that landed in a glove on the warning track or in the deep outfield after what seemed like an hour. The catcher (defined as an infielder in the rule) would have had plenty of time to get under them. Were they infield flies?

But the other, very important part of the Infield Fly rule is the reason for the rule in the first place. It is designed to prevent players near a base from purposely dropping a ball and then doubling up base runners who expected the ball to be caught. But how the heck was Kozma going to tag anybody out from the middle of the outfield! The other umps and Joe Torre defended the call but that doesn't mean it wasn't costly and stupid.