Sunday, July 29, 2012

Death to the Inverted W!

Sergio Santos – out for the year with an arm injury.
Even if you don’t follow the Toronto Blue Jays, you probably do know that they’ve had a ridiculous run of bad luck with injuries this year. I mean, how many teams lose three fifths of their starting rotation in one week? If the Jays are the team you root for, it’s been pretty depressing to deal with. Last winter, we were all waiting for GM Alex Anthopoulos to get his team a big-time starting pitcher or two, when it turns out what he should have done was get a complete second set of starting pitchers. The result of all this uproar in the starting five and their minor league replacements has been that the Jays back-up catcher has pitched twice!

When number of injuries strikes one team, you tend to start to look for reasons. Does the team do something different in its conditioning program? Does the pitching coach have a weird idea on some part of pitching mechanics? Or is the team just snake bit this season?

Being one of the top 2 million baseball journalists and investigative reporters in my city, I naturally went looking to see if I could come up with any reasons. Who knows? Maybe the Jays would be so grateful they’d put me on their Christmas card list or put my ugly kisser up on the Jumbotron next time I attend a game.

Anyway, my search led me to this very interesting article by Chris O’Leary on how one particular delivery, the “inverted W”, seems to lead to increased likelihood of an arm injury. In looking at photos, it certainly seems to me that Kyle Drabek throws like this. He’s just had Tommy John surgery for the second time in his young career. Brandon Morrow, who’s out with a muscle strain, doesn’t seem to use the same sort of pitching motion, so just bad luck there. Sergio Santos: inverted W – and out for the year after pitching in only two games. I could go on.

Maybe this article has the answer pitchers and ball teams might do well to pay attention to. Read it by clicking HERE. I think Late Innings readers will find it exceptionally interesting.

Now look up images for other injured pitchers and see how many use the inverted W delivery. Bet you’re going to find it more often than not.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yankees Roll the Dice Again

Talk about "What's wrong with this picture?" At ten o'clock last night I turned on the Yankee-Mariner game and Ichiro Suzuki was in right field – but for the wrong team! Turns out New York got the aging star for two minor league pitchers of limited potential. D.J. Mitchell was 6-4, 5.04 in Triple A this year. Danny Farquar, who had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last year, had 15 saves (in 18 opportunities) but an ERA over 4.00 in Triple A and over four walks per nine innings.

How will Suzuki help the Yankees, who are not struggling but did drop four straight in Oakland on the weekend? Before I say more about the trade, here are some of the other late season Yankee acquisitions.

In 1949 the Yankees, who were expected to win every year but had lost out to Cleveland in '48, picked up hard-hitting Johnny Mize. He hit just one home run in 23 games and batted just twice in the Series as the Yanks regained the world title. He would hit .400 in the '52 Series however.

In June 1957 the Yanks got all-star reliever Ryne Duren from Kansas City in the Billy Martin trade. Duren didn't pitch for New York that year but went on to great success in 1958 and after.

In 1979 it was a case of too little too late as a washed up George Scott was picked up after being released by the Royals. He hit one home run (his last) as the Yankees finished fourth.
In 1980 Gaylord Perry, who was 41, arrived from Texas and went 4-4 with a 4.44 ERA as the Yanks won a close AL East race but didn't pitch as New York lost the ALCS.

In 1993 Lee Smith came over from  St. Louis with 396 saves including 43 that season. He converted all three of his save opportunities. Frank Tanana, who was 40, came over from the other New York team and went 0-2 in three starts. The Yankees finished second.

At the end of July 1995 the Yankees sent three nobodies to Toronto for David Cone. Cone was 9-2 as the Yankees won the first Wild Card. He won his first playoff start and left his next one with the score tied as the Mariners eliminated the Bombers.

In 1998 in a trade so lousy that it was lampooned on Seinfield, the Yanks sent Jay Buhner to Seattle for Ken Phelps. At least Phelps hit ten homers in 107 at bats for New York. They finished fifth that year.

In June of 2000 David Justice came from Cleveland for three players. Though 34 years old he hit .305 with 20 homers. In the playoffs he hit three homers but batted just .206. He may have been the only Yankee in their history to have a wife hotter than Derek Jeter's girlfriends. And 36-year old Jose Canseco came over from Tampa Bay. He hit .234 with six homers in 37 games. The Yankees won the World Series, though Canseco batted only once.

On July 1, 2002 the Blue Jays sent Raul Mondesi to New York for Scott Wiggins. Mondesi had 11 homers and 34 RBI the rest of the way and got three hits in twelve at bats in the ALDS, which the Yanks lost to the Angels.. 

In 2004 John Olerud was released by Seattle at the beginning of August. He hit .280 in 49 games but hurt his foot in Game 3 of the ALCS. Tragically, the Yankees lost the next four to Boston.

In 2006, with Gary Sheffield on the shelf, New York got Bobby Abreu from the Phillies for prospects who never made it big. Abreu hit .330 with seven home runs and 42 RBI.

July 30, 2008 Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who was disgruntled about being platooned in Detroit, joined the Yanlees and was platooned in spite of Jorge Posada being out for the season. Rodriguez had just two homers in 96 PAs and hit just .215. The Yankees missed the playoffs.

On July 31, 2010 Lance Berkman came over from Houston and hit just .255 with one dinger in 37 games. He hit .313 in the playoffs though as the Yankees lost to Texas in the ALCS. On the same day the Yanks also got Kerry Wood from Cleveland. He went 2-0 with a 2,64 ERA in 24 games including 21 straight scoreless appearances. In the post-season his ERA was 2.25 in seven appearances. There are the former late year Yankee deals. What about the future of this one?

Ichiro is having a dismal season by his standards, hitting just .263 – a far cry from the Ichiro of 2001 to 2009.  He leads only three other regulars in OBP and Slugging Percentage! Last year marked the first time Suzuki had fewer than 200 hits after setting the record for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons (10) and and tie Pete Rose's record of most 200-hit season  (also 10). He hit just .272 in 2011 and had the fewest home runs (5) of his career. He may hit a few out in New York though, he's hit more than ten homers three times.

There is no doubt he will help the Yankees defensively – with Brett Gardner out for the year and Nick Swisher having hip problems. Suzuki has ten Gold Gloves, which ties him with Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline for most in the AL. (Clemente and Mays each had 12 in the NL.)  The Yankees will  have a lot of Gold in the outfield when Andrew Jones, who won ten straight in the NL, plays left. (I'll save you the trouble of checking – Curtis Granderson has no Gold Gloves.)

In my view Ichiro will be rejuvenated by playing in a pennant race and, with less pressure to do it all – and with stronger bats around him in the lineup - will at the very least make up for the speed lost when Gardner got hurt. Though he lacks Swisher's power, Raul Ibanez and Andrew Jones have plenty of that.

His 262 hits in 2004 was a record George Sisler had held for 84 years. Ichiro has had an amazing career, becoming only the second player (Fred Lynn was the first) to win Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and MVP in 2001, the year in which he got his only taste of the playoffs. Yankee fans hope that when he turns 39 in October, he will be in the playoffs again.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A little funny for all the Late Innings fans out there!

Two quick things this week since I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed with work and other obligations over the past few weeks. I apologize for missing last week’s post. How careless of me!

Anyway, I’m still really busy so I only have time for something quick this week, something I’ve been saving up for a rainy day.

Hope you enjoy it. A lot of ball fans are feeling this way about their favourite team right now I would imagine…

See you all next week. Hope you’re enjoying the summer. You, too, Trembath – wherever you are!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

At the Turn

Major League teams are at the turn, having played on average 85 of their 162 games, and it's time to look at the surprises among the team and the players. Let's start with the teams.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were not exactly expected to burn up the NL Central this season, but they're in first place. Five players have done most of the heavy lifting for Steeltown. A major surprise has been Andrew McCuthchen (left), who leads the free world in hitting at .362. He hit .286 and .259 his first two years. Pedro Alvarez had just four home runs in 233 at bats last year, but has sixteen in just 20 more at bats this season. They are both playing tonight in Kansas City. As a team the Pirates rank 22nd in batting average, 21st in runs scored, 22nd in OPS, and 29th in OBP. 

Their pitching has been better. They rank fifth in ERA, third in saves, sixth in opponents' batting average, and eighth in WHIP.  James McDonald has been their best starter at 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA, just 76 hits in 110 innings, an 0.97 WHIP, and an enemy average of .196. Their other ace is none other than A. J. Burnett (huh?) at a tidy 10-2, though his ERA is 3.68. Their other starters ain't doin' too well. Erik Bedard is 4-10 and Kevin Correia is 5-6, 4.34 with fourteen balls leaving the playing area.

The Baltimore Orioles are still holding up, though they have cooled off a bit and have now allowed 26 more runs than they have scored. The Dodgers have also tapered off considerably (17-27)  from their 30-12 start but are still in first in the NL West and should have Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier back before long. 

The Detroit Tigers continue to disappoint in light of the high expectations that John and their other fans had for them. The Phillies are continuing their long slide - 2008: World Series title, 2009 NL Champs, 2010 NLCS losers, 2011 first-round losers, and this year - out of the playoffs.

The White Sox sit atop the AL Central thanks to Chris Sale's emergence as the number one starter, excellent comebacks by Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios, the rapid development of Addison Reed (left) in the closer role, and all-star seasons from A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko.

 If the season ended today the Orioles would be facing the LA Angels in the single game Wild Card playoff. The winner would host the Yankees in the division series opener and the Chicago White Sox would host the Texas Rangers, whose .280 team batting average leads the Majors, in the other best 3-of-5 series. 

In the NL Cincinnati would host Atlanta for the Wild Card, with the winner then hosting the Nationals, whose team ERA is a sparkling 3.20. Their sole playoff appearance was in 1981 - as the Montreal Expos. The Pirates, absent from the playoffs for twenty years, would host the Dodgers in the other series. 

As for players, one of the biggest shocks has to be A. J. Burnett's 10-2 record. On the other end of the spectrum, it took Cliff Lee fourteen starts to get his first win. Who would have predicted that? 

Another surprise has to be the number of no hitters this season. Or is it? There have now been fourteen no hitters in the last 2 1/2 years! Phil Humber of the White Sox, who underwent Tommy John surgery before even reaching the big leagues, threw the first no-hitter, which was also a perfect game. The Sox are Humber's fifth team. He is 14-14 lifetime with a 4.57 ERA. Pretty tough to have predicted a perfect game from him.

The next no-hitter was hurled by Jared Weaver - not as much of a surprise there. Then Johan Santana threw the first no hiiter in the Mets' 51 year history. A bit surprising that Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Dwight Gooden never threw one for the Mets. Six Mariners combined for the fourth no hitter and San Fran's Matt Cain pitched the latest.

Leading the record number (five) of rookie all-stars is Mike Trout, who leads the AL with a .341 average and has 12 homers, 40 RBIs, and 26 steals in spite of spending April in the Minors. "A game changer offensively and defensively", says Yankee skipper Joe Girardi. "The kid has a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don't anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he's doing at 20 is really pretty amazing." (Okay Joe - but he's no Ron Blomberg.)

Even younger (19) is the highly touted and anticipated (much drooling) Bryce Harper, the youngest position player in All-Star history and the third youngest ever. Name the two pitchers who were younger. Answer at the bottom - don't cheat and look down - we can tell if you do. Harper has eight homers, though he's hitting an underwhelming .282.

No surprise – Jose Bautista and Josh Hamilton are tied for the AL lead in dingers (27) though Joey Bats started very slowly and Hamilton has had back spasms. Carlos Beltran leads the NL in RBIs. He's well on his way to his eighth season ever 100.

Answers: Youngest All-Stars - Dwight Gooden in 1984 which I remember and Bob Feller in 1938, which John remembers

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Small Game of Baseball

Big Papi hits another one at Fenway Park.
Most people in ball parks love the home run. I mean, that’s a no-brainer. Home runs are startling game changers and completely dramatic, not to mention majestic as everyone watches a ball arc into the stands. Home run stats become the stuff of legends, and I’ll bet most ball fans remember more moments involving “big flies” than anything else in the game.

Major League Baseball understands what a strong marketing tool this is for the game. Why else would they stage a Home Run Derby every year during All Star Festivities? They don’t stage a strike throwing contest, or a base stealing contest, do they? (Actually, these might be interesting endeavors.)

We also know (or at least strongly suspect) that when attendance is flagging, balls are “juiced” by wrapping the yarn tighter giving the ball more resiliency when struck hard. Tighter wrapping = more home runs = higher attendance. Baseball purists, not to mention pitchers, may not like this, but it’s a fact of life.

But the real interest to baseball purists usually revolves around baseball’s “small game”: base stealing, sac bunts and flies, hit & run, or run and hit plays. The AL lost a good part of this when they instituted the Designated Hitter in 1973 at the insistence of Charlie Finley, a great baseball marketer who realized home runs were a lot better for moving those turnstyles than watching pitchers bunt runners over. “Two bloops and a blast” (to quote Earl Weaver) quickly became the norm in the junior circuit and attendance bore out the wisdom of this move – at least in marketing terms. In the meantime, the NL has steadfastly refused to budge on the DH, and I think that’s wise.

First of all, as a game gets down to the crunch, pitchers are used differently in each league. In the AL, the only reason to pull a pitcher is if you don’t think he can do the job (whether he’s tired or for other strategic reasons). In the NL, you constantly have to be aware of the scoring possibilities, and quite often a pitcher is pulled because of needing a better hitter to move runners or provide a better chance for that game-winning hit. Having no DH just keeps open so many more strategic considerations.

My feeling is that it requires more managing skill to win games in the senior circuit. There are many more decisions to be made as each game progresses. The sticking point is that if you’re not a student of the game (and how many attendees of the average baseball game are?), this “small game” is just not as exciting as seeing a club’s big bopper come to bat where you might have a light-hitting pitcher when the game is on the line. (I know that they usually are placed in different parts of the lineup, but you know what I’m getting at.)

Since baseball is now at its heart big-money entertainment and not just a sporting event, home runs will continue to gain in importance. They generate buzz, they give sports broadcasts great clips, and they excite the fans. They’re great for marketing the game.

But ultimately, I feel the DH cheapens the total baseball experience – if you know and really love the game.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where do we stand?

The season is at the split. There are only 79 games to go. The Jays are still at .506. Now that the bats have come alive the pitching has wound up hurt and battered.

The Jays have one of the best first four/five – Adam Lind now added – lineups out there. They are doing their jobs and keeping us in each game. The pitching has fallen completely apart.

Romero is back to his old ways of throwing too many walks. Alverez has just lost steam.  So much for the top two starters. The rest of the new starting rotation is leftovers from spring training that did not pan out. Now, half way thru the season, they are what are left of this most severely ravaged lineup. The most touted of the best of the rest scenario is Brett Cecil. He can be good and then serve up the pitches like fruit, ripe for the hitting. His battle against the Royals was his typical type of performance. He settled down only when the Jays scored their own runs. Good for him, but not good for extending our hopes with this inconsistent approach.

The rest just are not consistent enough to warrant much discussion except to say they are not starters. John Ferrell needs guys to eat up innings, but at what cost? Many have been left in too long and the opposition reads them like a book and lights them up. So the starting rotation is a bust.

The bullpen – just like last year – has to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Sometimes it even works. But they are being battered. If, and that’s a big if, the Jays starters can get thru the sixth inning we go straight to Jason Frasor, then Darren Oliver and on to Janssen. They are a fairly consistent combination for the end of a successful game. It works fifty percent of the time. Jason Frasor has lived up to expectations. Oliver and Janssen who have gone way beyond expectations. Oliver put balls in play the defense can handle and Janssen throws strikes with his stellar save performances. Can’t beat that.

What are the Jays to do? Pitching is the thing. They need to go and get someone. Someone, maybe like a Matt Garza. Good stuff. The Jays can handle the contract and he will be around for a few years. They can get him thru 2014 and he is only 28. The Cubs are a bust this year again. Anthopoulos might get him for some hitting which the Cubs need. Or future prospects? Good idea. I do not subscribe to the save the young talent because they are too good and are going to take the MLB by storm. Some do and some surely do not. I know some who think that Anthony Gose, Travis d’Arnaud and Adeiny Hechavarria are the best thing since sliced bread and therefore untouchable. Maybe so, but most winning teams get established players from other clubs thru trades to finish the building project – fill in the gaps – that catapults them to the WS. The Jays did exactly that in ’92 and ’93.

The reason we should have a great farm club is to make the season happen. Wheeling and dealing should be Anthopoulos’ mantra. I think it is. We will see something big from him. Paul Beston is there to support and put money on the table. I think Anthopoulos will make a “Stand Pat” type of deal. If not this year then next. Wait for it. It will be big, and take the Jays to the next step.

The Jays have not had a streak over four games and evened that out with a loss of four as well. The Yanks have had a 10 games steak and two 5 games streaks. The rest have done better as well. The Jays are on a pace with the Tigers. Enough said. The Tigers are another team who should be playing better. In the West, we have the Rangers, who are the best on MLB so far. They have the experience and pieces to get to the WS again. Now the Jays face the red hot White Sox who have just blown off the Rangers and who have the best “last of ten” in baseball.

Do they have a chance for 2012? For my part, I hope it is sooner than later. The Jays fans have waited too long for some good to come of their hopes. Only as a wild wild card could they possibly make it now. For that they would need to go .607 the rest of the season and to jump over the Red Sox and The Rays. It is a tall order with the pitching in a mess. Will that happen? No. The rest of the AL east is on fire. Even the baffling Orioles are still there. Go figure.

Well, to all who read Late Innings I bid you all a fond adieu. I am off to parts known and unknown till September. I do hope that the Jay’s fortunes improve with my absence. It will be a wild, wild time.