Results tagged ‘ Rich Harden ’

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.

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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