Results tagged ‘ Matt Thornton ’

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

2010 Forecasts: AL Central

Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.

I’m less
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not
start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and
Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.

Everybody
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens
to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that cliché 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively
disguised.”

What if
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
the plate.

When the
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
division.

Manager
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. 
Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive -
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009″ – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year).
It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.

PREDICTIONS:
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.

 

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