Results tagged ‘ Baseball Nerd ’

Six Weeks?

You didn’t have to see Jay Bruce’s right wrist bend unnaturally to believe he had broken it – but it helped.

The questions become what the Reds do in his absence, and how long that absence will be. The Reds face one immediate problem: the only five outfielders on their 40-man roster are already on the major league roster. Thus the thought of promoting a Chris Heisey or Drew Stubbs or any other outfielder, requires somebody being pulled off the 40-man roster. Or you could move a 40-man roster player to the 60-Day Disabled List.
Unfortunately the leading candidate for that would be Bruce himself, and 60 days on the DL would make Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty’s immediate ETA for a Bruce return – as soon as six weeks – officially wildly over-optimistic. While nobody in the CitiField press box had access to Bruce’s x-rays, there wasn’t a person in there who thought the Jocketty estimate was reasonable.
While the roster move, and the length of Bruce’s absence, remain in doubt, the players Dusty Baker will use in his absence probably do not. Chris Dickerson was taking over Laynce Nix’s lefthanded platoon with Jonny Gomes in left as it was, and he is a passable rightfielder. It’s likely Nix gets back into the time-share with Gomes, and Dickerson takes over full-time in right. Exotic moves, like moving Joey Votto to the outfield, replacing him again with Ramon Hernandez at first, with the underappreciated Ryan Hanigan moving back behind the plate, seemed unlikely to the Reds’ people I talked to.
Regardless, it’s a terrible night for Bruce, who is one of the more admirable young prospects for superstardom in the game, and whose 2009 now has to make you wonder if there isn’t something to what they used to call “The Sophomore Jinx.”
ON MR. FRANCOEUR:

The two hits were not exactly titanic blasts – one was the dying quail on which Bruce injured himself, and the other a grounder that Jerry Hairston nearly made a fine play on – but Jeff Francoeur and the Mets will take it.
The positive – and this is mirrored in Atlanta with the acquisition of Ryan Church – is that even with players in funks, with reputations, with management angry at them – at this stage in the season the team getting rid of them usually charge a slight premium. You deal Church or Francoeur for a comparable player and, maybe, a prospect. Here it was a straight-up change-of-scene exchange, with the pre-set advantage to the Mets because of the age difference and the higher ceiling Francoeur still offers.
In the stands, it was obvious that after a summer of Argenis Reyes, Wilson Valdez, Fernando Martinez, et al, Mets fans were happy just to see them add a new player who, in the past, has appeared on his own baseball card.
The first “Francoeur” jersey was, apparently, sold to Joel Francisco, who wore it proudly just in front of the press box tonight.
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Joba Booed

The honeymoon is over, the bloom is off the rose, and the scales have fallen from the eyes. After nearly two years of abject and often undeserved adoration, Joba Chamberlain heard the unfamiliar sounds of booing here at Yankee Stadium. This fate that befalls them all filled the interval between the landing of the last of the nine hits Chamberlain surrendered in blowing a 4-0 lead to Toronto in just three and two-thirds innings, and his removal from the game. Though the carnage (five unearned) was largely enabled by a silly-looking error by Cody Ransom at third base, Chamberlain was hardly undeserving of the catcalls – having already given back three of the runs before the hideous fourth. Ironically, the end of the Joba Rules Era which had begun here on August 13, 2007, may ultimately be forgotten in the general lustiness of the swatting here in the Bronx; afforded the 8-4 lead, rookie Brett Cecil (without Beany) promptly gave up a three-run blast to Matsui. If not, Yankee fans may have to transfer their exuberant affections to Brett Tomko – although that somehow doesnt sound like quite the same thing.

The Ichiro Comedy Hour

After getting handcuffed by Hideki Matsuis second inning sac fly here at Yankee Stadium for an error that ultimately did no damage to the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki got a mock roar of anticipation and excitement from the crowd as he lined up to catch Francisco Cervellis fly just two batters later.

Ichiro – of the underpublicized sense of humor and the giddy giggle whenever Ken Griffey tickles him, promptly pulled a Justin Upton. As he squeezed Cervellis fly to end the inning, he fake-tossed it towards the stands, giving the fans something to really roar about.

Leading off the top of the third, the one-named wonder was called out on by umpire Jerry Meals on a check swing – held his bat level in that limbo pose for a second, begging for the ball call. When it didnt come, he unfroze the pose and finished the swing.

Well, You Can Call Me Ray, Or You Can Call Me Jay… UPDATED

Possibly the all-time lulu of baseball name stories – eclipsing even the multiple spellings of Ismael Valdes/Valdez, and pitcher Harry Rasmussen changing his first name to Eric, and the verbal fistfights that used to break out over Dick Allen’s right to call himself anything besides “Richie” – is here in Baseball America.


Wally, Jose, Bryan, whatever.
Update, 12:15 AM EDT 7/2: I forgot! The aforementioned Mr. Wally Jose Bryan was also a little off on his age, which invokes the greatest baseball biography ever written, on the back of the 1964 Phillies’ Rookie Card featuring Dave Bennett (the top one here). If the wonderful image of a man getting younger before your very eyes doesn’t register, read the write-up outloud.
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(Courtesy The Topps Company)

Samardzija and Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s beat writer who blogs with the diligence of a full-timer, sent me, in the wake of the Morgan-Milledge trade, an email with a fascinating question.

Jason Bay to the Red Sox, Xavier Nady to the Yankees, Nate McLouth to the Braves, and now Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals – when was the last time a team traded four quality everyday outfielders in a year’s time? (Notice he’s not even considering Eric Hinske as outfielder #4.5).
I immediately flashed back to the Braves’ full-scale makeover in March, 1997. On the 25th they offed Marquis Grissom and David Justice to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton. Two days later, they sent Jermaine Dye to the Royals for Michael Tucker. At season’s end they let Lofton walk as a free agent – not a trade, but still some pretty big turnover in seven months.
Dejan suggested the Marlins’ fire sale of that same year, that extended into ’98. He was right. On November 11, 1997 they swapped Moises Alou to Houston, and a week later, Devon White to the brand new Diamondbacks. Then in the deal that bought them Mike Piazza as a trading chip in May, 1998, they sent the Dodgers Gary Sheffield and Jim Eisenreich, both of whom had been starting in Florida. Also in that deal was Bobby Bonilla, who had been playing third in Florida, and just for good measure, back on November 20th they’d sent Jeff Conine (their first baseman at the time) to Kansas City. That is six quality major league outfielders dealt in a span of six months plus a week.

By the way, all this trading and chronology research was done in a matter of seconds at the impeccable site Retrosheet.Org – if you’ve never been, give yourself an hour. It is like having the Baseball Hall of Fame Library on your laptop.

I’m still not sure if the Pirates made out like bandits in their latest offload, or got sold a rubber peach. Lastings Milledge sure has all the talent you could hope for. But if you’re playing center and they tell you to play a little deeper, and you ignore them, and the ball gets hit over your head, and then it happens at least once more, I’m not convinced that a broken finger and banishment to Syracuse is enough to straighten you out. You might need an exorcism.
HE CLICKS AS A STARTER AND THE CUBS CALL HIM UP TO… MOP-UP?

I know Jeff Samardzija is the Third Rail of baseball blog topics, but is anybody confused as to the Cubbies’ logic (again)? He stars out of the pen in August, stinks in September, stinks this spring. They send him back to Des Moines to work him back into starting shape, where he shines (5-3, 3.72, 13 games). They now promote him again… to do what?
He appears last night in the 9th inning, Cubs down 3-0 to Colorado.
So he’s the mop-up guy?
Even this makes too little sense to be random Cub goofy non-planning. The Cubs’ bullpen has been erratic to say the least and one assumes the $10,000,000 man was not summoned to pitch in losses. But is he thought to be a set-up man, or could there more to this? The Cub bullpen is third from the bottom in saves (only Atlanta and Washington have fewer). They have blown thirteen opportunities. “Blown saves” is a somewhat random and unrefined stat — Washington leads the majors with seventeen; the only other team with more than the Cubs is the Dodgers, with fifteen, and they’re not exactly bailing water. Nevertheless, the Cubs are also eleventh in the NL in Holds (another vague stat, but somewhat usable).
Since they talked him out of shoulder pads, many Cub front office dreamers have thought that Samardzija might make a nice starting pitcher, but he could be a dominant reliever. I’m just wondering if this recall (especially when it involved the demotion of the perfectly adequate Jose Ascanio), coming as it does on the first occasion the Cubs have brought him in without making a big deal out of it, doesn’t suggest they might be trying a stealth restructuring of the bullpen.
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The Two Best Players You Think Are Doing Terribly

Travis Ishikawa hit a three-run homerun off Brad Thompson in St. Louis tonight. A fairly thoughtful fantasy league site grudgingly complimented him for “filling in well for Rich Aurilia.”

In point of fact, Ishikawa is on a 16-for-48 tear (as a starter) since May 25th, with all five of his homers this year and half of his 24 RBI, in the thirteen starts. The reason he’s been nearly invisible is that between May 27th and June 17th, Ishikawa had started only one game for the Giants. After a pathetic start to the season, he had just begun to get hot when Pablo Sandoval’s arm acted up and made it impossible to make any throws on those few balls he gets to at third base. So Ishikawa hit the pine and Sandoval moved to first. 
It is extraordinary to consider that Ishikawa was one of the toasts of the Cactus League after seven spring homers, then didn’t connect until May 25, then got hot as a pistol — and is still being viewed as a stopgap. The man is averaging just under an RBI per start, has whacked five homers in thirteen starts, and he still gets the Dangerfield treatment.
Meantime, raise your hand if you saw Chad Gaudin’s selection as Co-Player Of The Week in the NL and thought it was a typo. 
Raise your hand if you’re not sure who he’s playing for.
Raise it again if you can’t remember if he’s a pitcher or a hitter.
Gaudin struck out 11 Mariners in seven innings of four-hit ball on Tuesday, then followed that up with probably as good a game as any visiting starter has thrown in Arlington: limiting the Rangers to one hit over eight, and striking out nine of them. Three starts back it was a six-inning, eight-K loss at Petco against Seattle. Even now his seasonal line (4-6, 4.97, 1.39) looks more than a little wobbly. It is, in fact, a picture of five very bad starts (two against the Diamondbacks, one each against the Cubs, Dodgers, and Angels) mixed in with eight really good ones, including those last three in a row.
There are several axioms at work here. There is always a pitcher who suddenly “gets” it thanks to instruction from new coaches or managers (how many organizations owned Johan Santana?). There is always another who is released by a contender (usually under ignominious circumstances, like Gaudin, dropped by the Cubs so they could keep Rule Fiver David Patton) and flourishes elsewhere. And there is always at least one who does the Brigadoon bit and pitches perfectly for a limited time and a limited time only (go look up Aaron Small). Gaudin could be any one of these guys and actually fulfill the glimpses of promise he showed in Tampa and then Oakland. Of course if he’s all three he could run the table and the Padres could challenge for the N.L. West after all.

Some Mets Afraid Of Ghosts

I hate ghosts. They’re spooky. And I don’t respond well to spooky behavior.

                — Amy Poehler as “Maxine Walken,” Saturday Night Live, 2008



It is beyond tempting to give names to any of the three players involved, but as the New York Mets prepared for their road trip beginning in Milwaukee, those guys – and maybe more – are worried about ghosts.
The Mets are staying at the venerable Pfister Hotel and once again the 106-year old landmark has been cited as a place in which rooms might be booked by Supernatural Expedia. The local legend is that it’s one of the hotel’s founders, well-dressed and amiably, if somewhat transparently, still greeting guests from a perch on the 9th floor.
Cardinals’ infielder Brendan Ryan told a local television reporter that he sensed something from another world in his room at the Pfister: “It was more like a moving light that kind of passed through the room. It was very strange. The room got a little bit chillier. Strange things. Strange things.”
This is from a guy who has had to participate in the Bat-The-Pitcher-8th deal, so he knows his strange.
One non-believing Met has been egging on two of his teammates. One is a rookie who seems a little vulnerable to suggestion (and should really wonder if he isn’t being set-up for a Tim Hudson/Moe Drabowsky level of sophisticated practical joke while at the Pfister). The other is veteran whom the provocateur claims is seriously contemplating staying at another hotel and seems to have convinced himself he’d rather take his chances at Jack Nicholson’s place from The Shining.

Before you observe that the Mets should be more worried about trying to find the ghost of their offense, just in terms of the Pfister, there should be more practical concerns. The hotel was the scene of the most infamous fights in modern baseball history, which has twice been described to me with the phrase “Wild West Saloon Brawl.” The perpetrators were the 1974 Yankees, arriving in Milwaukee on September 30 for the end of the season with a slim chance to reclaim the lead in the A.L. East. Instead, backup catcher Rick Dempsey and backup utilityman Bill Sudakis, already jabbing on the plane, both tried to get through the Pfister’s revolving front door.
The breaking of the logjam at the door seemed to propel the two men into each other. The next thing that amazed on-lookers knew, furniture and players were flying around the lobby (the New York Times elegantly called it “brief but violent”). At least one vintage lamp was used like a javelin, and one version of the story has a chair being launched, either by Dempsey or Sudakis. Dempsey later told me that he knew if Sudakis, or somebody, didn’t stop him, he was going to kill Sudakis with his bare hands.
Unfortunately, the late Bobby Murcer decided he had to break it up with his bare hands. Murcer, a month away from being traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds, also broke his pinky in the process and had to be scratched from the do-or-die game the next night. His replacement in rightfield, Lou Piniella, backed away from a tweener fly ball in the 7th, costing the Yankees the lead, in a game they would lose in extra innings – and in the process, be eliminated.
There should be at least a plaque in the Pfister about that. And if there really is a ghost, it should be of the 1974 Yankees’ post-season hopes.
YES, YOU WALK JETER TO PITCH TO MARIANO RIVERA, BUT:

As various announcers kept insisting with jaws agape that with runners at first and second, two out, Derek Jeter up, Mariano Rivera on deck, Yankees 3, Mets 2, top nine, that the Mets were insane to have Francisco Rodriguez pitch – even cautiously – to Jeter, two thoughts occurred to me:
1) What exactly would you do to K-Rod in the event Rivera got his bat on the ball and blooped a single somewhere, or worked out a bases-loaded walk (as he did)?, and…
2) Did anybody remember Joe Torre’s assessment of his outfield a few years back? That based on pure athleticism, his second most-gifted centerfielder would be Derek Jeter, and his first most-gifted centerfielder would be… Mariano Rivera?
EXTRAORDINARY IMAGE OF THE WEEK:

Jerry Manuel, whose obvious humanity earns him the respect and affection of virtually all who are privileged to know him, still can produce an occasional howler of a blooper.
On both Friday and Saturday, he insisted to the media that he was comfortable playing Ryan Church in center “because he’s played it in JFK.” We all assumed he meant RFK in Washington, because center at JFK Airport is around 18,000 square yards and has planes in it.

The Philadelphia Spiders?

The Phillies, who have brought new meaning to the phrase “home away from home,” are in St. Petersburg tonight, giving us time to contemplate the insanity of a divisional leader having lost 22 of its first 35 games in its own park. For the record, in the NL East only the Mets are at .500 or better at home, and that 13-22 mark for the Phils compares unfavorably to Washington’s 12-23 home start.

Futility at home always brings back fond Collective Baseball Consciousness Memories of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, baseball’s all-time worst team, and the last to actually abandon their home city in midseason. Cleveland was the National League’s third most successful franchise during the monopoly years of the 1890’s, but in those days there were no rules about the same people owning more than one franchise. When the St. Louis Browns slid into bankruptcy before the season of 1899, the Cleveland owners, the Robison Brothers, bought that team as well. 
With St. Louis then being a far larger market, and less than three weeks before Opening Day 1899, the Robisons promptly transferred all 20 of the Spiders’ top players – including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace – out of Cleveland. The Spiders, filled with has-beens, reserves, and occasionally local amateurs signed for cameos, lost 20 of their first 23 games, and managed to draw a total of 3,179 fans for their first 16 home games (you not only read that right – less than 200 fans a game – but many contemporary reports suggested that those numbers were padded).

It quickly went from bad to unbelievable, even for the fluid standards of 19th Century baseball. By a July 1st home doubleheader split with Boston, the Spiders were 11-48. It was at this point that the Robisons decided that there was very little purpose in playing any more games in Cleveland. They would perform in front of the home fans (fan) only eight times thereafter, and as a wandering tribe of dispirited players, they finished the year with the remarkable record of 20 wins and 134 losses (9-33 at home, 11-101 on the road, and 0-13 in Cincinnati). Cleveland ended up in twelfth place, 84 games behind first-place Brooklyn and 35 games behind eleventh-place Washington. And of course it got worse as it went along. The Spiders lost 35 of their last 36 games (only one of them played in Cleveland).
Necessarily the Spideys produced some horrific statistics, especially for pitchers. Coldwater Jim Hughey, the staff ace, was 4-30 (and the majors’ last thirty game loser). Charlie Knepper finished 4-22, and Frank Bates, 1-18. Among the position players, Lave Cross is a longshot Hall of Fame candidate (and after suffering as player-manager until June, was ransomed back to St. Louis). Saddest of all, the man who might have been the most talented athlete in the game’s history, Louis “Chief” Sockalexis, was already so far lost to alcohol that he lasted just seven games with history’s worst team, and was dropped on May 14.
Thus at 13-22 at home, the ’09 Phils are already guaranteed to do better than this gothic nightmare out of the pages of the history of baseball greediness.

Five Innings For A Win?

Join me in a hypothetical, starring a manager who has shown a past willingness to use his starters in limited relief on their “throw” days, Bobby Cox.

It’s Javier Vazquez’s turn and Derek Lowe’s throw day (or, if you fear I’m jinxing Vazquez, I think you might be able to flip them). The Braves are up 2-0 with nobody out as Vazquez takes the mound for the two outs in the top of the third inning. He throws an obvious strike, which the ump calls outside. Vazquez detonates and is ejected.
You supply the reason – his bullpen is short, or it’s overworked, or Lowe really needs to work on something in a game situation, or the All-Star break looms and he’s going to get too much rest – but, for whatever purpose, Cox summons Lowe, intending to have him throw no more than 25 pitches. Lowe does so with maximum efficiency, and exits for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth, the Braves now up 4-0. They win 6-0.
By the rules of scoring, Lowe is going to be credited with the win. The starting pitcher, Vazquez, is, alone among all pitchers, required to finish five innings with an unvanquished lead. Of course we have just constructed the scenario in which two pitchers, both of them starters, have produced nearly identically: Vazquez has thrown 2.2 scoreless, Lowe 2.1.
Now, obviously, in this case Lowe is literally, if not traditionally, a relief pitcher. But this hypothesis is designed to show a scenario in which merely the act of being the relief pitcher earns Lowe a win, while merely the act of being the starting pitcher disqualifies Vazquez from a win. And it is built to underscore the point: why does this rule exist?
In the He-Man Days of the Complete Game the inference was obvious to us. Starting pitchers who didn’t make it through five were not only not worthy of getting a victory, they were not really worthy of being starters, and should suffer the ignominy of that halfway house that was known as the bullpen. Certainly we have lost nearly all of that bigotry towards the reliever, that he is necessarily a failed starter. If that still existed, it was certainly killed off by the conversions of guys like Righetti, Smoltz, and Lowe himself, from starter to closer (and in two cases, back again).
There was, as I recall from the ’60s, a certain lingering fear that the Five Innings Rule was necessary to protect against a statistical armageddon. You could construct a scenario based on the 1972 Phillies where there is a horrific team with one unhittable pitcher with a rubber arm and the a chance to win 30 games in a season. Why not start him every third day for the last month of the season, and pull him after three innings or the attaining of a lead, whichever came first? Our alternate-universe Carlton could’ve won 30 or 35 that way.
Certainly that fear has to be gone by now. Faced with going down 3-1 to the Indians in the 2007 playoffs or starting Josh Beckett on short rest, Terry Francona bit the bullet and took the former. In their life-or-death battle last September, the Mets had to be talked into letting Johan Santana pitch on three days’ rest rather than four – by Santana. The likelihood of abuse in a world without a Five Innings Rule seems almost nil.
There was certainly also the belief that a reliever coming in for a starter struggling with a lead before five innings had been completed, was probably going to pitch as long, or nearly as long, as the starter. How often is that true?
And I’m not of the opinion that a sudden elimination of the rule would lead to managers yanking starters even earlier – or at least any earlier than a batter or two, usually in the fifth. Ask all 30 managers what one wish they’d ask of a Baseball Genii and I think all 30 would answer “starters going seven every night.”
All these ruminations come from the Mets-Rays game in New York this afternoon. Jeff Niemann of Tampa Bay did not pitch well by any stretch of the imagination (4 IP, 4 BB, 3 H, 2 ER). But he left for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, losing 2-0; they rallied in that inning to lead 4-2. If the Rays had held onto the lead (they did not; Lance Cormier coughed it up) Niemann would have been ineligible for the win even though he was technically the pitcher of record when the runs were scored, and Cormier or one of the others who pitched even more poorly than he did, would necessarily have gotten it.
Just a thought here: is the Five Innings Rule a meaningless vestige of the past? Should it be eliminated? Modified to four innings? Left to the Official Scorer’s discretion?

F-Rod?

Lost in the adventures of Luis Castillo at Yankee Stadium last Friday was the reality that even if Castillo had made a game-ending catch, Francisco Rodriguez would have begun tonight’s Mets game in Baltimore having recorded consecutive saves in which he had allowed two base runners and just escaped with his life.

Tonight he did not escape, and so K-Rod has, in four appearances, one Save, one other clean 9th, two combination Blown Saves/Losses, and one pre-game argument with a guy 35 pounds heavier than him. This is no more evidence that he’s hurt or in pitching distress, than the fact that somebody finally roughed up Trevor Hoffman suggests that Hoffman is in trouble.
But in the superheated atmosphere of New York, both questions will be raised about Frankie, especially in the context of the Mets’ bullpen troubles, which have endured for a decade and proved fatal the last two seasons. The more important issue, of course, is what exactly would the Mets do if there really was something wrong with Rodriguez? J.J. Putz is out, perhaps until September. Bobby Parnell is a rookie who has been more than challenged by merely the 8th Inning role. Sean Green has been strong for a month, and in ten save opportunities over four big league seasons, he has converted only one of them, and Pedro Feliciano is only four-for-twelve.
Minor league resources? The “Closer Of The Future,” Eddie Kunz, is working set-up at Buffalo, with major league journeyman Elmer Dessens finishing the games.
There are stories that Billy Wagner has found the Lourdes of baseball and expects to be pitching in big league games in 30 days. What kind of story would it be if the Mets really needed him?
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