Results tagged ‘ Brett Gardner ’

Dome The Dugout Danger

Last week, when he thought he had killed minor league manager Luis Salazar with a line drive into his own dugout, Brian McCann told friends he had no idea how he couldn’t retire, immediately. Today, the Braves announced that Salazar had lost his left eye – and in the context, that’s good news. He can probably manage again, this season.

Monday night in Fort Myers, Boston’s David Ortiz warned all of us on the Sox bench that Brett Gardner of the Yankees was notorious for fouling balls into the third base dugout and urged all of us to move away from the open spaces in the railings and netting protecting it.

This afternoon in Lakeland, Lance Berkman of the Cardinals sent his bat flying onto the screen above where Tigers manager Jim Leyland was sitting. A few innings later Berkman lost his club again and winged coach Rafael Belliard in the Tiger dugout. Next time up, Berkman jokingly handed Leyland a catcher’s mask.

So far, Berkman has the best idea, because while he was kidding around, there is no question that the dangers from balls and bats flying at too-fast-to-duck speeds have been increasing ever since the Matt Keough disaster in the 1980’s and baseball is either going to address it seriously and presently, or it is in fact going to get somebody killed. The Boston dugout was in fact a tense place Monday – the “park bench” in front of it was periodically unoccupied and each time Gardner came up we all scattered.

This transpired once just as Boston batting coach Dave Magadan and I discussed what to do about this evidently accelerating problem, and we agreed on two points. The first was to experiment with a kind of reversed version of those international soccer dugouts with the clear plastic backs that protect players from drunken fans and thrown debris while letting the spectators see what the athletes are doing. In our vague plan, the plexiglas would go not in the back but in the front, replacing the railings and netting and curving neatly back to enclose and secure the players. The thing could be dotted with oblong slits or small circular openings to reduce the claustrophobia and the likely sense of detachment it could create for the occupants. Obviously it would have protected openings at each end. It might not even need to completely overlap with the dugout roof; perhaps it could replace the dugout roof completely.
dugout.jpgBesides the wildly improved safety, the see-through dugout would also solve one of the least well-known problems in the sport: Currently the players can’t see a thing from the dugout. A manager racing out to second base to argue with an ump is almost always doing so purely in faith. Without the railings and nettings to block them, they would all be able to watch the game in which they’re playing. Players trying to make catches would probably have a safer if no less challenging time of it, too.

The drawbacks? You’d need to keep spares, or at least spare components, because the thing would crack often. And the players would feel as if they were no longer part of the game. But the second thing on which the esteemed Mr. Magadan and I agreed: it would be seen as such a departure from tradition that everybody would protest. To which I say: Do you want tradition? Or do you want somebody killed? Because that’s your choice, ultimately.

Rangers Run Past Yankees?

Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.

He has in large part been forced into it by the reality of the fifth game against Tampa Bay, but there were other options and he chose the one in which unless the ALCS goes seven, he will only start Cliff Lee once. This means that one of the three key figures in this series will be not Lee, but C.J. Wilson.
Thus a lefthander will start Game One against the Yankees, and another one would start Game Seven, and because they are so scheduled, they would also each start a game in Yankee Stadium. Lefties in Yankee Stadium – your best bet to beat them. Provided they are good lefthanders.
The Yankees’ switch-hitters are all more powerful against righthanders. Their lefthand bats (Cano, Gardner, and Granderson) tend towards bad splits against southpaws. And Alex Rodriguez has mysteriously lost much of his punch against lefties (he hit .214 against them during the regular season). 
But is Wilson a good lefthander, or a bad one? Consider what the seven susceptible Yankee bats (Cano, Gardner, Granderson, Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, Teixeira) did against the Twins’ southpaws:
Versus All Minnesota LHP                  11-39  .282  two 2B, two 3B
Versus Fuentes & Mijares                     1-7   .143
Versus Duensing & Liriano                  10-32  .313

Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.

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The inference, I think, is not a very complicated one. The entire Yankee line-up save for Jeter and Thames are stymied by effective lefties and merely slowed down a little by bad ones. We can pretty well guess to which category Cliff Lee belongs (although the second time the Yankees faced him in the World Series last year they beat him up for five runs, even in defeat). The question is, which kind is Wilson (the guess is: the good and improving kind). The indeterminable is whether either of the Rangers’ righties steal a win against New York, which would obviously reduce the Texas reliance on their former closer and their mid-season acquisition.
I described Wilson as one of the three key figures in this series. Given that Manager Washington tipped his hand against the Rays, the other two are Francisco Cervelli and Jorge Posada. The Rangers were the runningest team in the first round, and they are now facing the team with the fewest caught-stealings in the major leagues in 2010. Cervelli, Chad Moeller, Posada and the Yankee pitching staff stopped just 23 out of 155 would-be thieves during the year.
Minnesota didn’t try to swipe one bag in its cameo against the Yankees. Texas tried seven (and succeeded six times) against Tampa. Rays’ catchers had nailed 25 percent of runners during the season. The Yanks only caught 15 percent.
I think you see where Washington is going with this. Try to at least slow the “Susceptible Seven” down with Wilson and Lee, to say nothing of Darren Oliver in relief. But much more impressively, run the Yankees crazy. Five Rangers stole 14 or more during the regular season, Josh Hamilton had eight, and Jeff Francoeur had eight while with the Mets.
The Rangers may literally steal this series. I think the Yankees are utterly unprepared for this kind of onslaught, and if you think there’s a Plan B about swapping Cervelli in for the decreasingly mobile Posada, think again. Posada may have only caught 13 of 85 bandits, but Cervelli only got nine out of 64.
As suggested here when New York swept a series which I thought they’d lose, the Yankees are vampires. Manage passively against them as Ron Gardenhire did, let them up off the mat for a second, and you lose. But Ron Washington has already shown an absolute unwillingness to sit back, and that aggressivenes won him Game Five against Tampa. Take the chance with me. Rangers win, and might just get to hold Mr. Lee back to start Game One of the World Series.

The Man Who Was Not Very Surprised

Virtually with each home run he hit this year, Jose Bautista surprised somebody.

I’m thinking he never managed to do so with Jeff Manto. Manto is now the minor league hitting instructor for the White Sox, the latest stop in one of baseball’s ultimate peripatetic careers: 16 minor league playing seasons, 15 minor league teams; nine major league playing seasons, nine minor league teams.
I saw Manto last on a raw Saturday afternoon in Tampa, Florida – March 3, 2007 to be exact – long enough ago that Brett Gardner was wearing uniform number 91 for the Yankees, and Manto was still the batting coach of Jim Tracy’s Pittsburgh Pirates. We got to talking about his hitters, few and far between as par of Pittsburgh’s perennial tradition, but he brightened up with the mention of one name.
“If we can get him to replicate his swing three days in a row, Jose Bautista could hit 25 homers a year,” Manto gushed. “In fact, I think he could hit 40. He is just so easily frustrated when it doesn’t go right that he blames himself and forgets what he’s learned. Or ignores it. But of all these guys I have, if you want one of them who will eventually do something special in this game, I’d pick him. I wouldn’t be very surprised.”
As the numbers have piled up for Bautista, each day I have gotten a comment, or a tweet, or an email, from somebody about how his homer explosion required a nefarious explanation. I am the first to be suspicious, but there is some data that really should be considered. Normalize Bautista’s first four full big league seasons to the 562 AB campaign he’s had this year, and you produce a line of 20 homers, 73 RBI, and a .238 average. It’s not much in comparison to 54-124-.263 he’s actually managed, but it suggests the power is hardly made out of whole cloth.
Then consider a player who finished his sixth full big league seasons with personal highs of 29 homers, 121 RBI, and a .306 mark. His name was George Foster and the next year he hit 52 homers and nobody thought there was anything amiss there, even when he stepped quickly back down to 40 blasts in 1978 and 30 in 1979.
Lastly in the cascade of numbers, there were a couple of prescient ones that nobody outside of Toronto or your nearest rotisserie league noticed. Last August, when the Blue Jays shipped Scott Rolen to the Reds, a spot in the line-up opened for Bautista. In the last 27 games of 2009, he blasted 10 homers and drove in 21 runs. That production, extrapolated to a full campaign, is 60 homers and 126 RBI.
So maybe we should be about as surprised as Jeff Manto might be: Not very.

2010 Forecasts: AL East

Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:

Wow does
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could
have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.

Here is
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus
folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?

In TAMPA
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming.
A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history. 

Did you
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one
starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?

PREDICTIONS:
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
Generals.

Unlikely Spring Training Questions From A Waiting Room

These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?

Things I Promised Not To Tell

Batting clean-up last night, Micah Hoffpauir of the Cubs
homered to erase Cincinnati’s only lead (off his rival Micah, Owings, no
less), walked, then lifted a sacrifice fly to put his team back in front.
“He’s going to get 350 at bats this year,” Lou Piniella told me as Hoffpauir’s
dominant spring training ended. “A little first, a little left, a little
right.” Lou being Lou, of course, after Hoffpauir showed what he could do with
those 350 at bats, he was due up with the bases loaded and a lefty reliever on
the mound. So Lou pinch-hit Reed Johnson for him, and Johnson promptly struck
out. Sigh.

Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan never counts chickens in
advance, certainly not in Pittsburgh, but even in the middle of the spring he was
insistent he had been able to help Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf -
especially Karstens – with arm slots and release points. Are the last two
nights against Florida indicators that he was right, or just the odds breaking
against the Marlins?

The latest Pedro Martinez story – about some vague interest
by the Angels – is probably overblown, to say the least. A National League
General Manager who was incorrectly rumored to be interested, said a month ago
that people sure were getting hopped up over him handcuffing the Dutch team -
during the first week of spring training – and not hitting 90 on the radar gun
as he did so.

So far this year Daniel Murphy has dropped a fly in left to
cost Johan Santana a game, and, last night, after getting picked off by Yadier
Molina, and then deciding that the only way to get past Molina at the plate was
not to slide but rather enact a dance move, managed to slide out from under a
crucial fly ball in St. Louis. The Mets are in awe of the youngster’s plate
discipline but after Murphy’s tight night, manager Jerry Manuel suggested he
needed to relax and admitted “I guess I’m a little concerned.”

Another Cubs note. If you’re wondering how they hope to keep
Rich Harden
intact into the second half of the season, yes, they will occasionally
skip his starts or give him extra days off. Kind of like the Chien-Ming Wang
plan. Only without the euphemistic “tune-up in Florida.” And replacing him in
the rotation at some point, more likely with Phil Hughes than Ian Kennedy. But
Wang is just fine – there’s nothing to see here.

A last question. Does it seem to you like the Angels treat
Brandon Wood as if he owed them money? Like they let him up every once in
awhile so he can breathe, before they stick him back under the water?

By the way, the title of this post is facetious – it comes from an obscure reference in the movie “All About Eve.” No actual confidences were violated in the writing of this blog.

FAN OF THE DAY:

Hats off to Ben Erdel. As part of his big night at Yankee Stadium last night, Brett Gardner let one of his Louisville Sluggers fly into the stands. Mr. Erdel and a much younger gentleman both had their hands on the rare souvenir – although only the younger gentleman had just managed to avoid getting hit with the helicoptering bat. Mr. Erdel took the bat, took a few steps, and then thought better of it, and generously did the right thing.

The younger gentleman now has a singular thrill from his first Yankee homestand, exceeding his previous one – being my nephew.

Here is Nephew, Jacob Smith, far left, and his bat, which was not stolen by either Katy Tur or Maegen Carberry.

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And here is Mr. Erdel, whose second prize is a blog posting (and a clear conscience, and one happy kid left in his wake). Thank you, Sir.

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Johnny Damon, Baseball Historian

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Do not undervalue the historical import of Spring Training games in big league parks – especially brand new ones. Johnny Damon, videographer, records part of the Yankees’ christening of the second (third?) Yankee Stadium while coach Tony Pena apparently spots a guy who borrowed money from him in 1989.
For your record-keeping pleasure, Aaron Miles got the first exhibition hit in the place, Derek Jeter the first Yankee safety, Robinson Cano the first home run. The first celebrity in the stands was Paul Simon – and parenthetically he sat through the whole rainy magilla. And, yes, as suggested Thursday, the ball rockets to right field. Cano, Matsui, and Cody Ransom hit bullet home runs off Ted Lilly (notice: two lefties going to the shortened-by-wind short-porch in right off a lefty) and Miles and Reed Johnson both rattled extra-base hits into the corner. It’s going to be a take-it-to-RF ballpark.
Fly on the wall time – as caught by the stadium cameraman just before the man in the suit threw out the first pitch, and as the man in the Cubs’ cap was telling me that the new place was magnificent, and that the Yankees had managed both to “recreate the history of the old place, and capture the splendor of a brand new place.” Me? I just listened and learned.
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By the way, Lilly looked like crap, Wang didn’t look much better, Brett Gardner forgot to mosey down to the infield to cover second on a rundown play as they were running back Miles to second, and the Yankee bullpen (Rivera, Veras, Ramirez, and Albaladejo, pitched four hitless – oh, and the place looks pretty at night from the visitors’ dugout:
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