Tagged: All-Star Game

The Epic Battle For World Series Home Field Adv…zzzzzz

In the nine years since baseball’s Think-of-Something-Anything response to the embarrassing 2002 All-Star Game tie, the gimmick – deciding which league would secure World Series home field advantage for its playoff champion – has been annually hammered into our heads as not just Rationalization for a decreasingly relevant concept, but The Rationalization. It’s personal, it’s for pride, it’s for home field advantage, it’s not a break, a diamond is forever, promise her anything but give her Arpege. The sad part is, some people have now heard it so often, they believe it.

In point of fact, in those nine years The Rationalization has directly and personally impacted only seven players.

Only All-Stars Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols of the 2011 World Champion Cardinals, and All-Stars Josh Hamilton, Alexi Ogando, C.J. Wilson, and Michael Young of the defeated Rangers, were even winged by what happened in an All-Star Game. When the N.L. won last summer, the Cards got Game 7 and the Rangers didn’t. But one can argue convincingly that a team blowing a three-run lead and then a two-run lead in Game 6 could’ve done just as badly at home as they did on the road (and we don’t even need to address the possibility that the Cards might’ve won the Series in Game 6 if Tony LaRussa hadn’t forgotten how to phone his own bullpen in a noisy stadium).

The simple fact is that since the Butt-Covering Home Field plan was instituted in 2003, we’ve only had one seventh game, and thus we’ve only had one seventh game whose venue was decided by what happened in the All-Star Game. Other than last year, we haven’t gotten close. Only two other Series even reached Game Six.

There is absolutely no recent evidence that home field advantage is even keenly influential, let alone decisive. Twice the American League All-Stars gave “their” winner home field advantage only to see the National League teams (the 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Phillies) still wind up playing more home games than their A.L. rivals, and prevailing in the Classic. The 2010 Giants had home field, and didn’t need it. They won even though they played more games on the road than at home. In all the other Series (save for last year, of course) winner and loser played the same number of home games.

There’s no measuring for the psychological impact of knowing you have that 7th Game in your yard, and there’s an obvious advantage to the front end of the equation in which you are in strong position to win the first two at home (as did the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox, ’05 White Sox, and ’10 Giants). But did the Red Sox and White Sox pull off their three sweeps because they started in their own ballparks, or because they were decisively stronger clubs than the ’04 Cardinals, ’05 Astros, and ’07 Rockies?

Besides which, although they’ve been on a great run since the 1979 Pirates won at Baltimore, last year’s Cardinals victory only improved the home team’s record to 19-and-17 in the sundry Games 7 of the modern World Series. Whichever method gives you that decider – All-Star Stunt, Alternating Year Rotation, or something new – it just isn’t a guarantee you’re going to win it.

The All-Star Game was doing just as well (or just as badly) as that of any other sport until the Tie Disaster Of 2002, and that could’ve been remedied by keeping a small reserve of emergency pitchers for each team. It didn’t require a decade of selling as an ultimately decisive advantage, a not-at-all decisive advantage, decided by players making cameos under rules designed to insure they’re still just playing an exhibition, that has only come in to play once in all that time.

Let’s end this “Home Field” farce, now.

Dee Is For Dodgers And Other Notes

The Dodgers have enough to worry about, but the construction in which Rafael Furcal is healthy, Dee Gordon has the makings of a lighter-hitting Jose Reyes, and Jamey Carroll actually has trade value – and they send Gordon back to Albuquerque – is nuts…you trade Carroll before he turns back into a pumpkin, shift the willing Furcal to second and thus reduce some of the wear and tear on his body, and let Gordon run wild and free at the major league level. Anything else suggests the Dodgers are operating under a delusion bigger than any of Frank McCourt’s – that the team is competitive this year….

A lot of leeway has to be given to All-Star managers about selecting pitching staffs, especially members from their own team, but the only man I’ve ever met with a bigger head than my own, Bruce Bochy, swung and missed, twice. One could stretch a point and say Tim Lincecum deserved a trip to Phoenix based on his Cy Young yields and post-season work last year and goofy popularity, but it’s still stretching a point. But Ryan Vogelsong? Helluva story, but not an All-Star. Not even close. Desperate homerism, pathetic, embarrassing. He was an All-Star, and you guys sent him back to AAA in the spring?

Just amazing to see that my Derek Jeter Injury Conspiracy Theory has played out almost exactly as I had written it. As I compose this we are still a few hours away from seeing the line-ups for the last game of the Yankees’ series in Cleveland, but Joe Girardi had already set up Part 2 of the theory by saying Jeter might not play all the games against the Indians. The true test of the theory is if Jeter does not cross the 3,000 hit plateau at home against Tampa Bay, and suddenly has a relapse that takes him out of the team’s subsequent road trip after the All-Star Break.

It may be academic since they may not have any more save situations this year, but if Mark Melancon keeps giving up runs in carload lots, the next youngster to get an audition as Astros’ closer could easily be young David Carpenter. He’s the ex-catcher they got last year from St. Louis for Pedro Feliz. His scoreless streak and minor league domination is obviated a little bit by the fact that he did it in A-ball at ages 24 and 25, but there is some leeway given to the fact that he only moved to the mound full-time in 2009. His demeanor and the strength of his fastball and top breaking pitch seem to make him an ideal candidate, or, at minimum, a suitable set-up man.

And The Meek Shall Inherit The All-Star Game

I’m speechless.

I know – given that it’s me – but I’m speechless. I probably uttered my first complaints about All-Star Game selections in 1968 and gave up hope of an equitable solution no later than 1990, but I did think I long ago had become immune to surprises.
And then Evan Meek and Omar Infante were named to the 2010 National League All-Star teams. I literally thought MLB Network had made some kind of mega-typo. There are no constructions in which either player is an All-Star. None. Not “it’s close,” not “there are arguments pro and con.” They’re not All-Stars.

Meek is a great story, a Rule V draftee who is finally harnessing his talent and is showing signs of developing into a useful major league relief pitcher. His ERA of 0.96, WHIP of 0.85, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 42:11, are fantastic. But he has been doing this in baseball’s equivalent of a vacuum: in low-leverage, middle relief situations. Not as a closer, not as the key set-up man. Not even as the penultimate set-up man. The Pirates may be a last place team, but they do have 20 Saves and 32 Holds this year, and Meek has one of the former and just five of the latter.
Because “Blown Saves” don’t appear in very many stat lines, the fact that Meek has been used in six save situations and coughed up the lead in five games, is easily smoothed over. It shouldn’t be. It suggests that Meek is a great guy to bring in when you’re down by four or up by five but he isn’t ready to handle games that, you know, might still be in doubt.
Meanwhile, the “Hold” is an imperfect statistic to say the least, but in the category, Meek is only third on his own team. Joel Hanrahan of the Bucs has 13 of them. When play began Sunday, 44 National League pitchers had more Holds than Meek did. Mike Adams has 21 in San Diego and Luke Gregerson 19 (and Gregerson’s K:W ratio is even better than Meek’s) and neither of them are going. They essentially have four times as many Holds as Meek. They are not going to Anaheim, Meek is. 
It’s as if somebody said “we need to honor the top non-important reliever in the NL Central.”
We both know why Meek is on the team: the Club Representative rule. Each team gets an All-Star whether they have one or not. This rule exists for only one reason – television. There is still some sort of assumption that the game’s ratings in a given market will be shattered if one of the market’s players is not present. As a 29-year veteran of national and local television, I’m afraid you’re going to have to show me a lot of research to prove a) that this is still the case, or b) that more than 100 people in Pittsburgh are going to watch the All-Star Game just to see Evan Meek. Because it would be my contention that the Each Team rule is one of the reasons the All-Star Game is not what it used to be, television-wise. 

Still, in some senses Meek’s selection makes more sense than the anointing of Omar Infante. Don’t you have to be at least a platoon starter, with several impressive statistics, to merit the All-Star Team? One homer, 22 RBI, three steals, a .311 average, and an OPS of .721 is impressive in what way? He can play four positions? That’s great – we’re in the day of four-man benches. Each team has at least one guy who can play four positions. Take a number. And the number better not be 47% – which is where Infante stands in At Bats relative to the leader on his own team, genuine All-Star Martin Prado. You will notice that the official All-Star depth charts list Infante in the back-up Third Base slot (rendered ludicrous by comparisons to Ryan Zimmerman or Casey McGehee). If for some reason, a National League “ninth guy” who has played multiple positions, suddenly needs to be named to the All-Star Team, I think the argument could be made that Prado’s own teammate Eric Hinske is more deserving (5-31-.284, .836) but of course…
Holy Crap we’re discussing the relative merits of Eric Hinske and Omar Infante as All-Stars while Joey Votto isn’t one.

This is baseball’s ultimate nightmare: an All-Star Game populated by utility infielders or mop-up relievers or Team Tokens. To revise what I wrote earlier: there are American League examples of non-star All-Stars, they’re just not as egregious. Matt Thornton comes to mind (he is having half the season Daniel Bard is and who is arguably less valuable to his team than is Scott Downs or even Will Ohman) and so does Ty Wigginton (he is hitting .251; Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch is at .342 and has more RBI and nearly as many homers as Wigginton). The first step to preventing this triumph of mediocrity from subsuming the Game is to eliminate the Team Rule, although obviously that wouldn’t have kept Infante home. 
But I’m afraid we are heading towards the ultimate step, which is to discontinue the Game outright. It previously rewarded and brought together the season’s top stars, to pit them against opponents they would otherwise never face, for the benefit of fans who would never see them live or on tv. Today, the players understandably would prefer the time off, the selection rules guarantee “stars” who aren’t, inter-league play destroyed the distinctive nature of the two leagues, every game is televised somewhere, and nobody outside his family is going to watch the All-Star Game hoping to see Evan Meek keep the American League lead at six runs in the 7th Inning!

If your jaw dropped, as nearly all of them did inside the press box at broiling Yankee Stadium this afternoon, when CC Sabathia and not Andy Pettitte made the A.L. roster, fear not. Sabathia should take his regular Yankee turn next Sunday, and therefore be ineligible to pitch in Anaheim. Pettitte, the Yankees expect, will be his replacement.
Hope Andy can sleep the night before knowing he might have to face Infante.
Yankees commemorated George Steinbrenner’s birthday by displaying the seven World Series Trophies won under his regime. Despite game time temperatures of 93 degrees (felt more like 126 in the labyrinth behind the team’s museum – and yes, the line up and then down the ramp is for the chance to take a quick photo of the trophies) none of the hardware melted:

End The Home Field Advantage

Though there have now been back-to-back entertaining All-Star Games (and this one, as we used to say at ESPN, “moved like a rocket”), the idea that the American League has gotten home field advantage for the World Series seven consecutive years based on a game played under rules that necessarily favor the American League, must somehow be corrected.
The obvious problem is the imbalance in the intensity of offense. Though there are two fewer American League teams, the total number of starting offensive positions is still just a ratio of NL 128/AL 126. But in that virtually identically-sized talent pool, there are, at minimum, 14 offensive positions in the American League (and thus 14 potential American League All-Stars) who do not have to have much, or even any, defensive capability. Even defensively-skilled American League All-Stars are all afforded the potential opportunity to play “half games” by filling in as DH’s; their National League counterparts must either play more in the field – and thus be more worn down – or sit games out.
American League pitchers also have a slight physical advantage. While their performances are certainly taxed by the fact of facing the DH, it’s not as if they have to get four outs every inning – and the trade off is, (virtually) never having to hit, and (virtually) never having to run the bases, unlike their National League counterparts.
Finally, the All-Teams-Represented anachronism — a rule left over from the days when it was assumed television viewership in each city depended on a representative from the team in each city — clearly hurts the National League. It might not show up in a given game, but over the course of the twelve years since the 16/14 split began, this must have an impact: the NL is stuck with two more Mandatory Choices, each year, than is the AL. Tonight, the question was, which of the four solo NL guys – Francisco Cordero, Ted Lilly, Brian McCann, or Ryan Zimmerman – was ultimately of less use to Charlie Manuel than, say, a Mark Reynolds pinch-hit appearance might have been?
The solution? Two more guys on the NL roster than the AL? Eliminate the mandatory team representatives? Hard to say. But giving the American League the home field in the Series based on what is deteriorating into a self-fulfilling prophesy, is madness.

Four years ago I was to throw one out before a game at Staten Island of the New York-Penn League and I called an old friend of mine, a former pitcher of some prominence, for advice. From Baba-Booey to President Barack Obama, the rules he gave me should be handed out in advance to all ceremonial first pitchers (and, after tonight’s great Obama looper, kept in the President’s mind for whenever he next takes the hill).
The first rule is: don’t take the hill. “That is not there for you,” my friend said. “All you can do there is fall off. Go to the front of the mound, the skirt, and move up just far enough that it looks like you’re on the mound but you’re really going to land on level ground as you throw.”
The second rule is: aim high. “Think about every first pitch you’ve ever seen,” he said. “The ones that the catcher has to leap for, or go over his head, some people might laugh but at least a few will go ooooooooh. The ones thrown in the dirt just get moans. When it doubt, fail upwards.”
But the last rule, he said, was the most important, and, chronologically, the first. “Try to get the actual baseball early. Or — screw it — just pick up any ball that’s handy. They don’t care. Get it as early as possible: ten minutes, half an hour, whatever. And just hold on to it and pretend it makes you less nervous.” I thought he was going to go all psychological on mine. “And as you turn the ball over in your hands, as you rub it, as you look at it, pick at the seams. Use your fingernails and just pull up on every thread. Just keep doing it, as many times, to as many pieces of thread as you can. Just keep doing it.” I asked why. “You’ll see.”
I got the ball probably half an hour before the first pitch, and, while dismissing myself as a moron for following my friend’s goofy advice, I decided to adhere to it. I picked at each thread. Nothing happened. No elevation. No loosening. No sense of having done anything to the ball. A decided sense of my friend, in a distant city, chuckling as he thought of me pointlessly pulling at red threads that wouldn’t budge.
I warned the Staten Island catcher P.J. Piliterre (who I was delighted to see in Tampa last March, in camp with the big boys; good luck with spelling that battery of Pettitte and Piliterre) that I would aim high, then trotted out to the front skirt of the mound, gave the seams a few final tugs, and fired. The immediate good news: it was relatively close to the plate. The immediate bad news: he might have to reach up for it.
Then the miracle happened.
A few feet in front of the plate, as unexpectedly and sharply as if it had been hit by a bullet or an arrow, my first pitch dropped, a good eighteen inches. Piliterre had to drop his glove to catch what would have been, dare I say it, mistaken for an off-speed overhand curveball, for a strike. Piliterre was laughing as he met me near the plate to give me the ball: “I see you’ve been picking at the seams.”