Results tagged ‘ Joel Hanrahan ’

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:
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Helmets And Closers

It’s 30 years now since the last major leaguer stepped to the plate without a batting helmet, and 38 since the helmet became mandatory. The mandatory earflap celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. But batters have used helmets (or plastic cap liners) since the ’40s, and their invention and use pre-dates even the death of Ray Chapman from a pitch in 1920, to Roger Bresnahan, Hall of Fame catcher of the Giants, in 1907.
Defensively, catchers turned to helmets, then cages. The mid-50s Pittsburgh Pirates wore them exclusively, in the field and at bat, pitchers included. While that idea was abandoned, largely based on the argument that fielders had gloves with which to protect their heads, John Olerud used one to protect his skull – at high-risk for damage after an aneurysm – while playing first base. After the awful death of Mike Coolbaugh, struck by a line drive while coaching first in a minor league game in 2007, helmets for coaches became mandatory last year, and by this one, they had begun to look perfectly normal (no matter what Larry Bowa says).
So, here is a question that popped into my head during a recent game: why don’t the umpires wear helmets? Surely the ones at first and third are at nearly as much risk for being hit by a line drive against which they are gloveless, and helpless, as a coach. The argument, of course, is that umps are trained pros, and it’s not like we’ve seen a frequent problem with them getting leveled. Just as we hadn’t seen one with coaches before Coolbaugh.
For that matter, why don’t we bite the bullet on the next most vulnerable in the equation? The catcher’s body is almost 100 percent covered, the plate ump is well-wrapped, and the batter can arm himself in everything short of cyborg components. Why don’t we mandate helmets for the individuals who are the fourth-closest to the violence of the meeting of bat and ball – the pitcher? We haven’t seen enough pitchers knocked down by return fire?
The obvious point against, of course, is that most of those pitcher injuries are to the face. Then again, no pitcher has had the opportunity to use “ducking out of the way” as a reaction to a line drive.
And if there is a cosmetic argument (and, face it, the new articulated helmets look laughable), certainly we have not reached the all-time climax of helmet design. They can doubtless be made more ventilated, be lined with sweat-absorbing material, fixed into a more cap-like shape, and generally be redesigned so as to make their wearer look less like the Great Gazoo.
Besides which, why does a batter with a helmet look right, and a pitcher or an umpire with one look less so?
Because we’re used to it.
NO HELMETS MAY SAVE THEM:

Watching the Nationals first sign, then promote, ex-Royals closer MikeMacDougal, and considering the maelstrom that their bullpen has been, I wondered when Manny Acta would put him into a save position. Friday night, he retired two Mets, including a creaky Gary Sheffield on strikes, on six pitches. Then Joel Hanrahan looked even better in the 9th, yet Acta mysteriously brought his shaky closer back for the 10th, and Hanrahan got lit up like the Capitol Dome.
This is not to portray Hanrahan as Mariano Rivera. But if the man has the tools to do the job and has just done it splendidly — if the question is confidence — get him out of there. Treat him like a real closer (pitch one inning, limit to save opportunities) and maybe he’ll become one. Hanrahan’s previous outing was with the Nationals trailing and the argument that he needed some work was valid, except that that was the day of the San Francisco/Washington day/night doubleheader and this was only the first game. What if Hanrahan had been needed in the second game?
In short, was Acta looking for a new reason to break-up with Hanrahan? Were he and his new pitching coach Steve McCatty setting up Hanrahan to fail? You pull your closer after he looks bad in two non-closing situations?
MacDougal became McCatty’s project in Syracuse and if he succeeds he could mean McCatty has the job long-term. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if McCatty has helped MacDougal reclaim his career. This is the MacDougal who spent nearly all of last year in the minors, and who was released by the pitching-challenged White Sox a month ago. And you have now destroyed Hanrahan, twice, in nine weeks.
To whom do you go if MacDougal fails? Joe Beimel? Kip Wells? Julian Tavarez? They’re all in that Nats Closer Alumni Association. Ron Villone? He’s been superb in the Washington bullpen, in a role he has performed for twelve seasons now – during which he has racked up is career total of seven saves.
In other closer flux news: Our fellow MLBlogger and Phils’ correspondent Todd Zolecki insistsCharlie Manuel is eternally committedto Brad Lidge. But his colleague Joe Frisaro has asignificantly less-ringing endorsementof Matt Lindstrom by Fredi Gonzalez. In that construction, Fredi, who seems to prefer a little chaos in his bullpen, may get exactly that.
True followers of the Phillies, of course, know that as startling as the statistic is — from perfection over a season to six blown saves in two months — Brad Lidge was hardly perfect last year. The true difference isn’t the number of crises he has created, but the number he has created. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out, his BABIP (Batting Average, Balls In Play) went from .300 during his “bad” year in Houston in 2007, to .302 during his “perfect” one in Philly last year. It’s the homer total that swung wildly: from nine in ’07 to two in ’08, to an astonishing seven this year (for comparison purposes, that’s how many homers Livan Hernandez has given up this year). And the BABIP is now .356?
Tab Bamford has a fascinating idea for the Cubs- but it is one entirely dependent on the idea that Chicago cancelled Rich Harden’s rehab start today only because the feng shui in the stadium was all wrong. The idea that an injury-prone starter with extraordinary stuff might be a better closer than a journeyman with loose-control or a set-up man with pressure issues is, as the blogger notes, not exactly unprecedented in Chicago. Lord knows Lou Piniella has been willing to make this move (Kerry Wood) and its opposite (Ryan Dempster) before.
All of which raises the question: if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays and you have the Red Sox and Yankees to fend off, and you don’t have time to screw around, and you have a healthy supply of starters, and your bullpen has suddenly gone so south that you hesitate to name a permanent closer, why aren’t you using David Price in that role?
BY THE WAY:

If you’re wondering about the last batter to hit without a helmet, it was Bob Montgomery, Carlton Fisk’s long-time understudy with the Red Sox. He, Norm Cash, and maybe a few others, were grandfathered when the helmet rule finally passed. They wore plastic liners inside their caps. Terrific oddity there considering Montgomery was a catcher.

Rockies + Bullpenwinkle

The Closer Carousel never stops; the only true accomplishment is knowing when it’s going to start spinning dangerously like the merry-go-round at the end of Hitchcock’s “Strangers On A Train,” and if the carny is going to get to the shut-off valve in time or if the entire bullpen is going to get launched in the general direction of the cotton candy machine.

As remarked here earlier it’s obvious the Nationals are in the most turmoil at the moment, but one wonders if that situation might not straighten itself out quickly and be replaced by the chaos bubbling to the surface in Colorado. Manny Corpas has pitched himself out of the top job, out of the set-up job, and probably out of the majors. Huston Street has lost the job, won it anew, but hardly gotten a firm handle on the reins. Taylor Buchholz is clearly not near a return from injury (he was just shifted to the 60-Day DL). You’re left wondering if Jason Grilli will actually wind up closing. He has the classic ’80s-’90s biography page: onetime top prospect who never quite made it as a starter and drifted around.
Of course Washington is already there, but, and this is nothing more than a hunch, that Content loud of Joe Beimel, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Garrett Mock, and Joel Hanrahan will resolve itself, probably later than sooner, with Hanrahan back in the job. Again, it’s just a hunch.
NEW HOUSE, SAME RIVALRY

Terry Francona said he loved the new Yankee Stadium, but as a creature of habit, he was more than a little thrown by the disruption of his rituals from years of coming to the old one. “No better place to win on the road, no worse one to lose,” he told me from behind the desk of the visiting manager’s office, a space about four times larger than the one in the old house. The Sox were most floored by the pre-game press briefing, which exceeds what baseball used to do for the World Series: a large, carpeted, well lit room with about 140 chairs, a podium for a moderator to call on reporters for questions, two wireless microphone wranglers, and a camera platform in the back filled with equipment.
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It did look a little like Tito was addressing a sales workshop.
As to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, now accelerated, future shock kind of way by all the intra-divisional play, he noted that “it seemed like that series in our place was a long time ago.” His charges then went out and contradicted him, waiting out a 2:20 rain delay, scratching Phil Hughes for a run in each of the first four innings, getting the benefit of Joe Girardi inexplicably benching Hideki Matsui when he’s been hitting lefties well, and outlasting two Teixeira home runs to take the first ever Sox-Yanks game in the new park.
Francona is, in fact, such a creature of habit that the charts and data taped to the dugout wall around him? He likes to print them out, and tape them up, himself.
BASEBALL BLOOPER OF THE WEEK:

It went by too fast to get an image, but when the Yankees asked their nightly trivia question, they pulled an ironic doozy. The contestant was asked to identify the oldest pitcher to win 20 for the first time. Among the choices were Mike Mussina (the correct answer), ’50s Yankees ace Vic Raschi, and Fritz Peterson, the pitcher who achieved the all-time lowest career ERA inside the original Yankee Stadium.
Except the video didn’t show Peterson, it showed his teammate Mike Kekich. And any vintage Yankee fan, or baseball expert, or student of the weird culture of the ’70s was instantly flashed back to 1973 when Peterson and Kekich exchanged more than just identities on a scoreboard. They traded wives, and families, in an infamous event that was shocking even then.
And 36 years later Kekich was mistaken for Peterson.
The real punchline to the Peterson/Kekich “trade” was not the latter’s banishment to Cleveland that summer, but the fact that while the ex-Mrs. Kekich actually married Peterson, Mrs. Peterson soon left Kekich, leaving him awaiting a Wife To Be Named Later.

Closing Argument

If you ever needed a freeze frame on the volatility of closers, you’re seeing it in Washington right now. Joel Hanrahan lost the job quickly, but not as fast as Manny Acta’s closer-in-waiting Garrett Mock. Instead we are told to expect a committee consisting of Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells. Until next week when Joe Beimel will come off the disabled list and either “join the mix,” or supplant those co-closers. And don’t forget that a year ago today, Chad Cordero was still active and supposed to eventually swap jobs with his impermanent replacement Jon Rauch.

It is not just franchises in chaos that remind us of how, if all managers are interim, then all closers (except, perhaps, Mariano Rivera) are temporary. Since Bobby Cox returned to the helm in Atlanta in 1990, this has been the succession (and I’m deliberately ignoring a couple of “closers for a week” like Joe Hesketh).

1. Joe Boever, 1990
2. Mark Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990
3. Mercker and Juan Berenguer, 1991
4. Alejandro Pena, 1991-92
5. Jeff Reardon, 1992
6. Mike Stanton, 1993
7. Greg McMichael, 1994-95
8. Brad Clontz, 1995
9. Mark Wohlers, 1995-98
10. Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998
11. John Rocker, 1999
12. Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000
13. Rocker, 2000-01
14. Steve Karsay, 2001
15. John Smoltz, 2001-04
16. Danny Kolb, 2005
17. Chris Reitsma, 2005
18. Kyle Farnsworth, 2005
19. Reitsma, 2006
20. Ken Ray, 2006
21. Bob Wickman, 2006-07
22. Rafael Soriano, 2008
23. Manny Acosta, 2008
24. John Smoltz, 2008
25. Soriano, 2008
26. Mike Gonzalez, 2008-09

And they won stuff during that merry-go-round. Moreover, Gonzalez is formally Cox’s closer at the moment. Yet only last night did he pull out of a tie with Soriano for the team lead.

LOOK-ALIKES

Well here’s the oldest time-waster by a blogger: ballplayers who look like actors. But I think three of these are new; certainly two of them are bizarre.

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Khalil Greene and Sean Penn as Spicoli from  “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” – observed first, I think, long before Greene made the majors.

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But what about Rocco Baldelli of the Red Sox and the actor Aidan Quinn?

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This one jumped off the scoreboard at the Mets-Nats game Saturday. The new official publicity photo of Adam Dunn, and Will Ferrell?

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And my favorite, applying only when he has that lip-curl snarl while at bat, somewhat enhanced by the Yankee colors: Mark Teixeira and Little Steven Van Zandt in his “Sopranos” role of Silvio Dante?

MEANWHILE, WHAT I LOOK LIKE:

A maroon.

I have been pleading for a week for somebody to identify the “classical music” used by the Yankees during their otherwise tedious scoreboard “Great Subway Race.”

Did you know Danny Elfman was a famous 17th century classical composer?

I knew I’d heard it in the Pee Wee Herman movie. That’s because it’s part of the soundtrack of the Pee Wee Herman movie.

It’s “Breakfast Machine.”
 
Well thank goodness that’s over.

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