Results tagged ‘ Andrew McCutchen ’

Your All-Star Controlled Scrimmage

Jayson Stark tweets that All-Star Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel were told to pick one “multi-position” player to their teams, which explains, if not excuses, the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante of Atlanta and Ty Wigginton of Baltimore. 

They are not All-Stars. They do not play every day. They are a kind of baseball equivalent of Special Teams guys, and that’s okay if that’s the way you want the All-Star Game to devolve. But you have taken it from an All-Star Game in which the actual stars often used to play the entire game, to an All-Star exhibition in which the roster is framed around a fans’ popularity vote, to one in which it is further restricted by a requirement that each team have a representative, to an All-Star Controlled Scrimmage in which a few more of the precious discretionary roster spots are awarded based on very narrowly defined “success.”
“Multi-Position Players”? “Middle Relievers”? What next, “Pinch-Hitters”? “Top Rule 5 Picks”? I mean, you could legitimize the ludicrous talk of having The Strasburg pitch in the game seven starts into his career by making sure a place on each team was reserved for “Top Rookies Brought Up Late To Avoid Super Two Arbitration Status.” And when you get to that point – and we’re close enough as it is – just call the thing on Monday “The Home Run Hitting Contest,” and the thing on Tuesday “All-Star Pitching Warm-Ups and Batting Practice.”
To expand on the issue of Middle Relievers, I have no problem with them. When Joe Torre put Mike Stanton on the 2001 All-Star team, many howled, I did not. But they have to be having a season that is as proportionately good as any Closer or Starter. And I don’t think Matt Thornton of the White Sox or Evan Meek of the Pirates are close to the top. Thornton is not an embarrassing pick (another tweet today suggested a good MLB scout considered him one of baseball’s top ten relievers – though I’d argue that surely at least one of the Padres’ Mike Adams, Heath Bell, or Luke Gregerson deserves to be ahead of him on that last, as does Bard of Boston, and very possibly Kuo of the Dodgers).
But I went a little further into the selection of Meek and it is just indefensible. 
Meek has pitched brilliantly this season. Obviously leads in Pittsburgh are scarce, but not impossible: Octavio Dotel has as many Saves as Jonathan Papelbon and one more than Mariano Rivera. One can argue that an All-Star Reliever – like Evan Meek – is more valuable with the Pirates than he is with the Yankees because leads are such a precious thing. Yet though he has pitched 38 times this year, the Bucs have only used Meek twelve times when they were ahead, and only five other times when they were tied. 
He comes to the All-Star table with more than half of his statistics compiled in games already lost, or nearly so. Twelve appearances with a lead. Ten appearances with his team already losing by three runs or more. These just aren’t the circumstances in which the other nine All-Star relievers have had their mettle tested. That he has been spectacular in 21 meaningless games, and less so in 17 others, is a virtual disqualification for consideration. You’re a step up from factoring how well guys did in AAA this year, or on Rehab, or in the AFL last fall.
It is also discouraging to how Meek has fared in the middle relievers’ equivalent of “Close And Late”:
Twelve Meek Appearances With Lead:
Games Saved:                                1
Games Held:                                   5
Games Won:                                   1
Blown Saves:                                  5*
No Win, Hold, Save, or BS:              1
“Record”:                                  7*-5-1
   * Blown Save 4/13, received Win
Five Meek Appearances In Ties:
Games Won:                                   2
Games Lost:                                   2
No Won or Loss:                              1
“Record”:                                    2-2-1

Even giving him both statistics in that April 13th game against the Giants in which he inherited a runner in the sixth, then gave up a single and a groundout producing the tie run, and then becoming the pitcher of record in what was ultimately a Pittsburgh victory, Meek, “Close And Late,” is 9-7-2. It’s counted seventeen times, and he has failed on seven of those occasions, and only twice because he inherited a runner and let him score.

Not only that, but the Pirates seem to be using him ‘when it counts’ less frequently as the season has worn on. Seven of his first fourteen appearances came while Pittsburgh was ahead or tied, and eleven of his first twenty-one were. Only six of his last seventeen have been.
I know this reads as if I’m beating up on Evan Meek. I’m not. He’s got great natural gifts and after years of struggle, his dedication to his craft and his willingness to learn has made him a valued major leaguer. I understand about the jigsaw puzzle that is the All-Star Roster (if Andrew McCutchen is actually the Bucs’ All-Star – and he is – then Michael Bourn can’t go representing the Astros and suddenly you’re making Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon an All-Star). It’s not personal (it actually startles me that Pittsburgh, in another rebuilding season, hasn’t worked him into more pressure situations; heck, I even had him on my rotisserie league team for a month earlier in the season, and I take that stuff way too seriously). But the statistics of how they are using him suggest that no matter how good he might look against an individual batter or even in an individual game, the Pirates use him as if he were the second or even third best middle reliever on their team.
And when the second or third best middle reliever on the worst team in the league is an All-Star, it’s no longer the All-Star Game.

Strasburg On Cardboard

With the scouting observation that the most impressive part of Stephen Strasburg’s night was his willingness to work quickly, to maintain ownership of the pace and momentum of the game, a little sneak preview of a much more “official” welcome to the big leagues.

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This will be what Strasburg’s rookie Topps card will look like, and it’s more than just a nice shot of the rookie’s classic delivery. It is, in fact, an image of the first pitch of Strasburg’s Major League career, to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Tuesday night at Nationals’ Park.
The other memorabilia for the most hyped rookie since Griffey consists mostly of his Bowman 2010 cards (including a 1-of-1 variety which inspired insanity and could never recoup its purchase price unless Strasburg ended his career 511-0). A few game tickets have already popped up (standard Ticketmaster style around $50, nicer Ticketmaster around $60, the deluxe Season-Ticket style not being offered as eBay buy-it-now, but with a minimum of $70).
But with Upper Deck out of the game, the Topps card is the gold standard. And this is what it will look like.
UPDATE: The card is destined for general release in the annual update set in the fall but the grass doesn’t grow between the toes of the execs at the place with the renewed card monopoly: they’ll be giving some away earlier as part of this year-long “Million Card Giveaway.”
ONE LAST UPDATE: I can’t think of Strasburg – and this only has tangentially to do with the card – and not flash back to a summer’s day 17 years ago when I saw another can’t-miss pitcher who did not get as far as the Washington rookie now has. I had never seen, and have never seen, anything like it. Some guys throw extraordinarily hard (I was in the Red Sox dugout for a Daniel Bard inning in Spring Training, 2009, and I watched him paint the corners with 98′s and 99′s), but all of them show it.
Not Brien Taylor.
The ill-fated Yankees’ top pick of 1991 had already made it to AA ball in ’93 and was pitching for Albany at the Beehive in New Britain, CT, just 10 minutes from my home when I worked at ESPN. Taylor was to pitch and a bunch of us went to see him. And he was not just everything they said, but he was more – by being less.
The sound of his effortless warm-up pitches thudding the catcher’s glove resonated around the park. And then he got serious, and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Of course, there was nothing to suggest Taylor was trying to throw that hard, even though a nearby scout with a gun told us “that hard” was 102. Taylor still looked like he was warming up, or perhaps just playing a serious game of catch. Not that the first pitch was caught - it hit the backstop on the fly. The next one nearly did the same, and then a coach hustled out to the mound and put both hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
A slightly quieter thud. Strike one, 97 MPH. Another one. Strike two, on a curveball, about 90, I think. The last. Strike three, 96 MPH. By this point, having taken something off his fastball, it appeared the catcher was trying harder to throw the ball back to Taylor than Taylor was pitching it.
The Taylor I saw was 21 years old. An outfielder just up from A-ball (might have been Brian Brown) took him over the fence in a very big ballpark, and Taylor got a little angrier, fired it back up to triple digits, almost looked like he was trying, and soon reached his pitch count. Six months later came the bar brawl that would destroy his shoulder and end his career.
I wonder how many pitchers I’ve seen, live or on television, in 44 years of being a fan. I do not wonder about how many of them threw that blindingly fast, that effortlessly. Strasburg was as impressive as any rookie pitcher I’ve ever seen at the big league level. But he’s not on the other list. Only Brien Taylor is on that one.

They Like Ike – But Not That Much

Had to laugh over the weekend at the murmuring – even the predicting on line and on talk radio here in New York – that Ike Davis, the slugging son of the original set-up man of the Yankees, Ron Davis, would be imminently summoned to take over first base for the Mets.

Try June 7th. Or July 7th. Or September 7th.
Omar Minaya has made it very clear that with Daniel Murphy out, Mike Jacobs is getting his second chance to make a great first impression. He’ll be spelled at first against lefties by Fernando Tatis and maybe others, at least until Murphy is ready to return from injury. If Jacobs hasn’t cut it, Murphy will then get a reasonable chance to regain the job. We’re talking about, at minimum, a month of Jacobs and a month of Murphy before the Mets promote their latest phenom – and that presumes that both of them wash out, and that he doesn’t get flummoxed by his first taste of AAA.

In fact, righty-swinging Nick Evans, a potential platoon partner with Jacobs or Murphy, stands a much better chance of promotion – and sooner – than Davis.

If this weren’t transparently obvious, the debut dates of last year’s most hyped rookies is an indicator that “Super Two” status is of far more concern to most clubs than having freshmen come up early. There are always exceptions (Elvis Andrus, Jason Heyward) and surprises (nobody thought Andrew Bailey was a closer, let alone a ROTY candidate, when he opened the season with the A’s last year, and even when NL ROTY Chris Coghlan came up on May 8th he seemed an unlikely candidate for the award.
But here’s the calendar:

May 26: Fernando Martinez, Mets

June 4: Gordon Beckham, White Sox

June 4: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

June 7: Tommy Hanson, Braves

So for those of you holding your breath (or your roster spots in fantasy leagues) waiting for Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, and even Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, hope you’re prepared for a few months of zeroes. Some teams – like the Nats last year with Jordan Zimmermann – can’t resist. And we saw how that turned out.

2010 Forecasts: NL Central

Having already tabbed the Rockies for a possible runaway in the West (pursued perhaps by the Giants), we move to the Central:

CHICAGO
may represent a startling fact about this division – there not only isn’t a
great team here, there isn’t even a good one. The starting line-up is
five-eighths made up of guys who significantly regressed from 2008 to 2009,
plus Marlon Byrd. The new ownership seems to have already committed to the age-old easy way out of worrying more about the ballpark than the ballclub. Larry Rothschild has gratefully plugged Carlos Silva and Tom
Gorzelanny into his rotation. The bullpen is headed by a shaky Carlos Marmol
and not one experienced right-handed set-up man. The Cubs are a mess.

It still
didn’t make any sense for CINCINNATI to invest in Scott Rolen, nor bring back
Ramon Hernandez, and with considerable irony, this might as well still be 2007
when the Reds were pinning their hopes on Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce. Their
epiphanies – Bailey’s last September, and Bruce’s during his injury – must be
lasting for the Reds to compete. But there is at minimum some sense of upswing
in Cincinnati. Dusty Baker gave Drew Stubbs the chance to play last year, and
might even find spots for Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Yonder Alonso this season. The
bullpen is strong, the rotation potentially deep.

For years,
Terry Francona’s top lieutenant, Brad Mills, has deserved a major league team
to manage. He may yet get the chance – for now he’s stuck with Houston. There
is an outfield and there are two starting
pitchers (providing Roy Oswalt isn’t seriously hurt, and doesn’t go home to his
ranch in sheer frustration). The rest of the line-up, and the pitching staff, are disaster areas, made no better by today’s news than Lance Berkman’s bionic knee is ‘cranky.’ Things could brighten somewhat if
Matt Lindstrom harnesses his talent, and if Jason Castro or J.R. Towles squat
up behind the plate, and if three fans turn out to be viable starting pitchers.
Otherwise, this is a franchise that has gone to seed.

What’s the
psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence
that this
time it
will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff. They’re certain Rickie Weeks and
Corey Hart will harness their talent. Everybody knows
this is the year Yovanni Gallardo
leaps to the forefront of NL starters. This is a recording. The Brewers will be
deceptively entertaining as long as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are around,
and they could get a wonderful spark if Carlos Gomez decides not to style his
way out of the game before his 25th birthday. But all the bullpen depth in the world
isn’t going to help that rotation.

PITTSBURGH
deserves better. Surely they are, on average, a better set of players than the
Astros. But nothing seems to progress in Pittsburgh; Andrew McCutchen and
Garrett Jones arise fully grown from the minors, but Freddy Sanchez and Jack
Wilson are dished off. They make a seeming salary dump to Atlanta and in fact
rip the Braves off, selling Nate McLouth at his high point, opening up a spot
for McCutchen, and getting the remarkable arm of Charlie Morton – and Morton is
the only guy in the state who doesn’t believe he has
a remarkable arm. And still, if
lightning strikes – if Pedro Alvarez, Chase D’Arnaud, and Tim Alderson were all
productive big leaguers by June 1, they’d suddenly have an actual real-life
.500 team. And a .500 team might run away with this division.

Pittsburgh can hope, because
ST. LOUIS is the most overrated team in the majors. Albert Pujols glitters so
brightly, he makes you forget that the rest of the infield is an assortment of
Brendan Ryans and Felipe Lopezes and David Freeses. Chris Carpenter and Adam
Wainwright were so dominant that they obscured the reality of what happened if
you actually beat them on consecutive days – the Cards’ season would be snuffed
out in a sweep. This is a team that was ready to trot out a rotation in which
Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Rich Hill would pitch more often than did Carpenter
and Wainwright (the first light bulb going off: giving the fifth spot in the rotation not to Hill but to Jaime Garcia). The bullpen is a jumble, the bench non-existent, and lord help
Tony LaRussa if Yadier Molina is really hurt or Pujols’ back is cranky for more
than 45 minutes at a stretch.

PREDICTIONS:
You know what? I’ll take the long-odds bet on the dice coming up for the Reds
and not the Cardinals. It’ll be an exciting race, to see if you actually can
get into the playoffs with 79 victories. Chicago third, Milwaukee fourth just
ahead of Pittsburgh, and Houston sixth, unless they decide to conserve energy
and just forfeit all games in lieu of much needed fielding practice and weeding
through resumes of infielders and pitchers.

Self-Congratulations And Another Gem From The Hall

Nate McLouth, since his trade to the Atlanta Braves:

.263/.344/.433/.777, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 9 SB, 34 R

Andrew McCutchen, since McLouth was traded, and he replaced him in Pittsburgh:

.293/.349/.488/.837, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 9 SB, 37 R

This blog, from June 3, 2009:

Did Pirates Upgrade In Center?

Don’t get me wrong about Nate McLouth. Great guy, hustles, works hard, busted his butt at an All-Star Game, better than anything the Braves had in their outfield before tonight’s trade. I’m just not convinced Pittsburgh didn’t improve its line-up by replacing him with Andrew McCutchen….The key to this trade is that McLouth’s replacement does not come from it. McCutchen, who arrives in Pittsburgh as McLouth’s equal in speed and outfield skill, probably more than his equal for batting average, and eventually capable of producing 75% of his power, nearly made the majors out of spring training. The Pirates were sorely tempted to damn arbitration and take him north – that’s how authoritative a hitter he looked in Florida.

I do not see McCutchen keeping up homer-for-homer with McLouth and the RBI margin seems out-of-joint. But the point is, you’d be hard-pressed to criticize the Pirates for this trade – and this wasn’t the trade.


It was not McLouth for McCutchen, it was McLouth for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke. Also, to this point, the first guy out of the minors in the haul for McLouth, Morton, is 2-3, 3.72, with three quality starts out of eight (and three out of his last five) and the number is so low because he left injured after one inning in his first, and was pulled after five and about a 90-pitch limit in two others. In short, he’s started eight times, pitched well six, pitched startlingly well, twice.

Two months is a pretty good sample size. This is not to say the Braves made a mistake dealing for McLouth. But the Pirates came out more ahead of the roster shuffling then did Atlanta, and the difference is likely to grow with time.

BACK TO COOPERSTOWN:

Spent three days, all told, in the library, in the photo archive (actually a giant room with 25,000 images, kept in cold storage, including the original images from Addie Joss day in Cleveland in 1911 – you’ve seen them – the American League All-Stars with Walter Johnson and Cy Young and Nap Lajoie, and Ty Cobb in a Cleveland uniform). I hope to illustrate something remarkable from the photo vault in the next few days, but in the interim, another special something from the scorebook collection:

IMG_0917.jpg

This is the 1947 book of veteran New York baseball writer Tom Meany – his bibliography is a couple of pages worth and he ended up as PR Director of the Mets. And that’s Jackie Robinson’s debut game. Closer:
IMG_0917.jpg
That’s him, batting second: “Robby.”
Better still, on the preceding pages, Meany shows he was at the final Dodger exhibition games, including Robinson’s last with Montreal against the Dodgers, and then two exhibitions at Ebbets Field for the Dodgers, against… the Yankees.

Did Pirates Upgrade In Center?

Don’t get me wrong about Nate McLouth. Great guy, hustles, works hard, busted his butt at an All-Star Game, better than anything the Braves had in their outfield before tonight’s trade.

I’m just not convinced Pittsburgh didn’t improve its line-up by replacing him with Andrew McCutchen.
McLouth’s explosive 367 at bats before his epic night in the Bronx? 19 homers, 65 RBI, .281.
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His 346 at bats since August 1st of last year? 13 homers, 66 RBI, .261. And he is approaching his 28th birthday in October, the time at which the all-time graph of batters suggests improvements stop. The great hitters plateau at the peak. The others begin their descent. What you are seeing with McLouth is what you are likely to get henceforth: around 20 homers, around 20 steals, around a .270 batting average. Nothing to sneer at, but nothing to make Pirates’ fans believe that they have just had another Jason Bay or even Xavier Nady ripped from their bosom. Let us not forget that only a year ago, McLouth barely shook off Nyjer Morgan for the starting job, and the year before he lost a lot of playing time to Chris Duffy, for goodness sakes.
The key to this trade is that McLouth’s replacement does not come from it. McCutchen, who arrives in Pittsburgh as McLouth’s equal in speed and outfield skill, probably more than his equal for batting average, and eventually capable of producing 75% of his power, nearly made the majors out of spring training. The Pirates were sorely tempted to damn arbitration and take him north – that’s how authoritative a hitter he looked in Florida.
The worthiness of the trade depends on which Charlie Morton appears for Pittsburgh. The version Neal Huntington dreams of, dominated the International League last spring and this one. The other appeared as Atlanta’s starter fifteen times last year and could’ve been mistaken for a BP pitcher – but he was both hurt (back) and ill (weight loss). It should also not be assumed that the Braves think Morton is a washout – they have already seen sparks of interest caused by Kris Medlen, and are confident Tommy Hanson will shine as he steps into Medlen’s slot in the rotation on Saturday. The second pitcher in the deal, Jeff Locke, is an intriguing lefthander with a curve and control. If he and Morton both make it, the Pirates will have won the trade.
This is not to say Atlanta didn’t have to make it. McLouth not only fills a huge hole, but also takes enough pressure off Jordan Schafer that we might see the latter return this year, or at worst next, and force McLouth to either corner. McLouth might also serve as some sort of last-stab-in-the-dark at resuscitating the almost tragic Jeff Francoeur, before the Braves – do what? Sell him to a Korean League team?

Well, You Asked

First, thanks to all who posted comments. Let me violate the standard format of responding by addressing topics and not individuals (to quote Billy Crystal from a long time ago, “and you know who you are”).

There is a correct answer on the trivia. I’m at the Giants-A’s in Phoenix Municipal Stadium Saturday when a “security” fella (typical to the Spring Training equation, he’s a retired judge from Jersey named Bob) asks if I know the story of the lights in the ballpark. Obviously I did not and it appears very few people, even other stadium nerds, do. Yet there, as part of a series of timeline notes, engraved in the stone flooring ringing the ballpark, is the tale of how the lights were removed from the Polo Grounds after the last National League game there in September, 1963, and brought to Phoenix Stadium in time for its opening in March, 1964. This more or less confirms something I’d suspected: the Mets appear to have rented the Polo Grounds from the Giants in 1962 and 1963 – certainly as bizarre an arrangement as baseball has ever seen. The Giants had built or re-built at least the last three versions of the ballpark, and apparently retained ownership even after they moved to San Francisco. The land, oddly enough, was still owned by the Coogan Family (as in “Coogan’s Bluff”) at least into the ’60s.
To more contemporary issues: I actually retired from Fantasy Ball in 1995 for fear of having to draft a line-up of UPS Drivers. Got talked back into it in 2007 by my friend Jason Bateman, then played football in his league that year. The rust having been shaken off, I won them both last year (NL-only, six-by-six format, no freezes, Jason likes to count Holds for goodness sakes). This year I’m co-owning an AL-only team in a league with some of the ESPN experts. I take this way too seriously (the league that went out of business in 1994 had 40-man rosters and we actually held a two-round amateur draft two weeks ahead of the actual MLB draft). I’m better now but I still can’t imagine giving away my sleepers, at least until after the draft Sunday. I will say this, if it’s of any use: I saw Albert Pujols in Clearwater ten days ago and he looked 100% healthy for the first time in years. And no hint of a paunch. And I know my paunches.
There were questions about the Dodgers and Pirates, specifically about Andre Ethier. I have always expected great things of him, but against some pretty mediocre Texas pitching he went 0-for-5 and the response in the press box was neither encouraging nor sympathetic. As to the Buccos – an organization filled with some of the best people in baseball – they would be competitive if they had more than one starting pitcher. There may actually be a deep bullpen: Evan Meek has inherited – no, sorry, I’ll stop there, but he does look like he grew up after last year – and they think Donald Veal might have, too. Combine them with Grabow and Capps and it’s an entirely different concept from last year’s bullpen, which more resembled the firemen from Fahrenheit 451. Pittsburgh’s problem, of course, is July 31st. Since the starters would have to perform miracles to get them to .500, they will have to sell off again, and that means Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson and maybe even Freddie Sanchez. But McLouth’s the real deal, McCutchen will be, and they think they’ve straightened out Andy LaRoche. Sadly, the sports-record-breaking 17th straight losing season still seems tragically inevitable.
And there was a question about George Kell, who I always thought was an underrated player, an underrated broadcaster, but anything but an underrated man. Ernie Harwell rightly got the lion’s share of the love but George was a gentleman of the old school: he assumed nobody knew who he was (he approached me when I was at ESPN and said, and this is verbatim, “Hi, Keith, I’m an announcer with the Tigers. My name is George Kell” – the sweetness of the introduction overcame my surprise that he would think anybody in baseball wouldn’t know him by sight, or at least when he used that remarkable voice of his. I have a few tapes of his radio work in the 1962 post-season and he might have been the best play-by-play man among ex-players. His ability to convey rising excitement by getting louder and especially faster, matched that skill in the Gary Cohens and Brent Musburgers.
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