Results tagged ‘ Daniel Bard ’

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.

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!

PERSONNEL NOTE:
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.
DYNASTIES ILLUSTRATED:
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:
IMG_0027.JPG

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.

RC1.jpg
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.

Something Happened To Him

The very first entry in this blog was about the spring training work of a young relief pitcher, so impressive that it inspired home plate ump Tim Tschida to come over to the pitcher’s bench and say it was the most remarkable thing he’d seen all spring. Daniel Bard had not only struck out the Tampa Bay side, but he had cleared 100 MPH four times, and, according to Tschida he had put one in each corner of the strike zone. 

“How can you resist the temptation to take him north?,” I asked Terry Francona. The Boston manager laughed. “He’s still so young. If something happened to him, it could be crushing. But you’ll see him by summer.” 
Tonight here at Yankee Stadium, something finally happened to Bard. 
Brought in to protect Boston’s lead after 31 innings without a run and 36 without an extra base hit, having logged a save, five holds and 42 strikeouts in his first 30 appearances, the rookie instead surrendered a blast to Johnny Damon, who seemingly began to swing as the ball left Bard’s hand. With all false modesty aside, I then turned to one of my oldest friends, ESPN Radio Network Senior Director/Executive Producer John Martin and said “if Damon can time him, Teixeira can time him.” Teixeira promptly timed him into the upper deck. 
And now Francona has more to worry about than being swept four games here and falling six-and-a-half out. He has to deal with Daniel Bard’s first “something” – his first big league loss – a pivotal moment in the kid’s career and his team’s season.

FAREWELL TO THE BARD OF ORANGE PARK

The highlights that Sunday night on the WWL showed everything except what the home plate umpire described as the “most impressive thing I’ve seen all spring.” Justin Masterson looked sharp, Jonathan Papelbon struck out the side (amid two rocketing singles), and they even showed Junichi Tazawa getting in and out of james with four strikeouts in two innings.
Not even a quick cutaway of Daniel Bard, who merely dropped a small universe of 100 MPH heaters on three of the Tampa Bay Rays least equipped to handle them. And though it was Morgan Ensberg, Ray Sadler, and Elliott Johnson swinging through what they couldn’t catch up to, it was awe-inspiring, largely for the additional reason that the Red Sox youngster who struck out 107 men in 78 innings in the minors last year appeared to be generating his speed with a motion just slightly more involved than a guy long-tossing on the side.
I have not seen this in a long time. It harkens back to the days of Brien Taylor, the ill-fated Yankees’ prospect who regularly topped 100 with no more motion than you throwing something at a nearby trash can. Sunday night, the Red Sox managed to resist the temptation to keep such a weapon at the big league level; commendable restraint considering the early March effort against the lesser Rays was just the start – he ended the spring with 9-1/3 scoreless and twelve strikeouts.
If his long-term value isn’t readily apparent (and long-term could mean after the summer solstice), add in this factor: after that one inning, Tim Tschida, working the plate, said that obviously the speed was the most impressive thing he’d seen thus far this spring, but that would almost nobody else could tell was that Bard had been painting the corners with his lasers. Moving the damn thing around, inside high, inside low, outside low, outside high.
I only managed to see eleven games in Florida and Arizona, and I witnessed not just the aforementioned triple play, and other adventures I will recount here before opening day (Craig Monroe? Four homers in five at bats?). But The Bard — and we better use the article — remained the most stunning sight.
POLITICS-FREE

Thanks to all for the comments and the welcomes and the flaming go-to-Hades. This blog is about baseball and not politics; I won’t touch the latter here unless it unavoidably pertains to something between the foul lines, so write all you want about left-versus-right – I hope you find it entertaining to yourself, I won’t be reading it. As elsewhere here, abuse won’t be tolerated and the fine folks at MLB.Com will ultimately decide if we have to start approving comments. Doesn’t matter to me; I come here under the banner of the greater good: Baseball.
TRIVIA
Love trivia. But only if it means something. Here’s one I didn’t know about until 96 hours ago. What happened to the lights from the Giants’ last New York home, the Polo Grounds? The hint is: they’re still in service, today, in this country.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,943 other followers