Tagged: Players

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Jeter, Keppinger, and Goose

Just how vulnerable are the Yankees to left-handed pitching? Well, let’s consider the lineup that Joe Girardi made out on Sunday, a lineup that featured Derek Jeter as the cleanup hitter. With only one home run this season, that coming after a long drought, Jeter has to be one of the unlikeliest cleanup men used by any team in 2008. Jeter’s presence in the four-hole is also an indictment of Shelley Duncan, who has hit poorly in spot duty after giving the Yankees a second-half booster shot in 2007. Thankfully for the Yankees, Sunday’s game in Detroit was rained out, thereby avoiding the necessity of Jeter batting cleanup for only the second time in his career…

Cincinnati’s Jeff Keppinger will never become a darling of scouts (because of his lack of power and speed) or Sabermetricians (because of his inability to draw walks), but he has emerged as one of the few bright spots for the disappointing Reds. Keppinger garnered headlines on Saturday night, when he went 5-for-5, with all of his hits being singles, in a win over the Mets. With his average well over .300 and Alex Gonzalez still on the disabled list, the surehanded Keppinger has staked claim to the Reds’ starting shortstop job. Keppinger’s success really shouldn’t surprise too many folks, given that he has hit at almost every level of minor league ball. The Pirates, Mets, and Royals, three organizations that previously unloaded Keppinger at low prices, are probably regretting their miscalculations on the versatile and valuable middle infielder…

Goose Gossage is currently in the midst of a visit to Cooperstown, as part of his orientation for this summer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Gossage, who played golf at the Otesaga Resort Hotel on Sunday, will tour the Hall of Fame later today as he learns about the Hall’s preparations for his induction in late July. The outspoken Gossage will be a refreshing addition to the Hall of Fame’s membership rolls. In contrast to recent inductees, most of whom are conservative and politically correct in what they have to say, Gossage prefers a “shoot-from-the-hip” style with the media. And if need be, the Goose won’t be afraid to ruffle the feathers of his fellow Hall of Famers, a trait that could make Hall of Fame Weekend a livelier and more colorful occasion.

Advertisements

Friday Night Musings

Over the years, I’ve seen some questionable instances of “charging the mound” by overly offended hitters, but none as jaw-dropping as Richie Sexson’s decision to attack the Rangers’ Kason Gabbard on Thursday night. Gabbard’s pitch, while high, didn’t come within a yard of hitting Sexson. But it nonetheless caught the attention of Sexson, who was obviously thinking about some batters who had been hit earlier in the night. MLB responded quickly by announcing a six-game suspension for Sexson, which he will appeal. I hope that the six-game ban is upheld; Sexson deserves to sit out every one of those half dozen games, if not more…

Kei Igawa looked simply awful in his return to the big leagues tonight. The Yankee left-hander left most of his pitches up and in the middle of the strike zone, allowing the Tigers to batter him for 11 hits in three-plus innings. Given his performance tonight, it appears that Igawa learned little about the importance of keeping the ball down during his early-season stint in the minor leagues. It’s hard to believe that Igawa was as successful as he was in Japan; are the Japanese hitters so incompetent that they can’t handle high curve balls and change-ups?…

Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi has taken his fair share of hits over his tenure in Toronto, but let’s credit him for making two good moves on Friday. In adding veteran bats Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench at low cost, he acquired two players capable of contributing in a platoon role. Wilkerson is not the player he once was in Montreal, but he still has legitimate power against right-handed pitching and enough versatility to play the outfield corners and first base, while Mench has always been able to handle left-handers. The Jays still need more offense, but Wilkerson and Mench are two small steps in the right direction.

 

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Church, Nieves, and Bjarkman

With all of the negative attention being monopolized by the aging Carlos Delgado and the enigmatic Aaron Heilman, it’s been easy to overlook the debut of new Mets right fielder Ryan Church. On Sunday, Church made a spectacular running catch in right-center field, as he outran Carlos Beltran in ending what could have been a huge comeback rally for the Braves. It was the kind of play that could have put Church with the likes of Endy Chavez, Tommie Agee, and Ron Swoboda in Mets lore–if only it had happened during a playoff or World Series game.

That play by Church should serve as the headline maker in what it has been a terrific first month in New York for the ex-National. His defensive play–from his range to his throwing arm–has been first rate, essentially giving the Mets a second center fielder in their outfield. And his offensive firepower has been a godsend for a team that has received virtually no production from Delgado and absolutely nothing from Moises Alou, whose absence may grow longer now that he appears to have suffered a fractured bone in his ankle.

If Church had endured a poor start, Mets fans would have booed him with the same passion they’ve reserved for Delgado, largely because of their dissatisfaction with the Lastings Milledge trade. Milledge still has the higher upside, but right now, there’s no question that Church is the better, more complete, and more polished player. And given the struggles of the Mets this April, that should count for something…

What a difference a year makes. Last year, Wil Nieves played so incompetently as the Yankees’ backup catcher that I regarded him as arguably the worst major league player I’d seen in 30 years. (Other candidates include Mike Fischlin, Ron Hodges, Happy Jack Voigt, and Scott Bailes.) Nieves couldn’t do anything; he couldn’t hit, looked tentative behind the plate, and couldn’t throw. Twelve months later, he has emerged as the Nationals’ No. 1 catcher during the absence of Paul Lo Duca. In 23 at-bats, he’s hitting .348 with a .423 on-base percentage and has even pounded out his first big league home run–a game-ending blast that gave the Nats a dramatic win over the first-place this past weekend. With Nieves playing so well, Washington now faces a dilemma. Which catcher gets the axe when Lo Duca returns from the disabled list? It was supposed to be Nieves, but it might now be Johnny Estrada (who suddenly could draw interest from the Yankees, smarting from the loss of Jorge Posada). Or the Nats might do the unthinkable and carry three catchers until they can sort things out behind the plate…

Finally, longtime Latino baseball expert and author Peter Bjarkman has provided us with our first baseball card change of 2008. Peter recommends a card for Cuban standout Pedro Lazo, who just become Cuba’s all-time leader in pitching victories. Lazo was also the pitcher who saved the game for Cuba against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, launching the Cubans into the finale of the WBC in 2006. Thanks, Peter. We’ll post your card this week.

Final Week Desperation

What does it say about the state of the Mets’ pitching staff that they had to turn to a rookie making his major league debut (Carlos Muniz) in middle relief last night and now have to give Philip Humber his first major league start in the final week of a furious pennant race? The Mets’ bullpen has become so overworked that Willie Randolph went to Muniz as a replacement for struggling starter Tom Glavine. Muniz gave up two runs in an inning and a third, and those proved to be critical tallies in a 10-9 loss at Shea Stadium on Tuesday night…

Play-by-play man extraordinaire Gary Cohen provided a nice nugget of information on Monday night’s Mets broadcast. In referencing former Indians pitcher Jack Armstrong, Cohen discussed one of the right-hander’s best years, in which he pitched phenomenally well for the Reds over the first half of the season. (It must have been 1990, when Armstrong won a career-high 12 games and earned selection to the All-Star Game.) And then, as Cohen pointed out, Armstrong became full of himself. During a trip to New York, Armstrong decided to hang a sign in front of his locker at Shea Stadium. The sign read, "If you’d like to interview me, you’ll have to contact my agent first." What a putz. After that bit of haughtiness, Armstrong turned back into a pumpkin, endured a poor second half to the 1990 season, and never came close to being an effective pitcher again. Somehow, after hearing Cohen’s story, I don’t feel too sorry for Armstrong…

How desperate are the Padres for outfield help after that disastrous Sunday afternoon that essentially removed two-thirds of their starting outfield in Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron? Well, they decided to take a flyer on Jason Lane, who has been absolutely brutal for the Astros the last two seasons after being mildly productive in 2005. Other than an occasional home run, Lane offers little on offense—he doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t walk, doesn’t steal bases, and strikes out way too often. I also don’t know that he can play a serviceable center field. The Padres would be better off playing Brady Clark, Rob Mackowiak, or Terrmel Sledge in center field, bookended by Scott Hairston and Brian Giles. Hairston, by the way, has been one of the game’s best midseason pickups this summer. In 23 games for the Padres, he’s slugging at a .771 rate, with an on-base percentage of .418. And for what it’s worth, it looks like he could emerge as the best player in the expansive Hairston family, which has roots all the way back to the days of the Negro Leagues…

On a personal note, I’ll be a regularly featured guest each Tuesday morning on KBME, an all-sports radio station in Houston. Co-hosts Brad Davies and Craig Roberts will grill me each week during the postseason.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots

So where will Barry Bonds end up next spring, now that the Giants have decided to move in a different direction for 2008? Bonds’ lack of range in the outfield, coupled with the increased possibility of injury that comes with playing the field, make him a long shot to land with another National League team. So let’s assume that he heads to the American League for the first time in his career. In spite of what some skeptics say, the lowly Rangers appear to be one of the candidates. Owner Tom Hicks loves to make a big splash and can make room for Bonds at DH (where he belongs) by letting Sammy Sosa’s contract expire. Skeptics say that Bonds won’t want to play for a non-contender, but that didn’t stop him from playing for the Giants this summer. Another real possibility is the A’s, who have a general manager that appreciates Bonds’ full impact on an offense. Oakland needs a major jumpstart offensively; there is no other free agent hitter that comes close to carrying the resume of Bonds. Bonds would also prefer to remain on the West Coast, a condition that the A’s can obviously meet. Two other West Coast teams, the Angels and Mariners, are also rumored to have interest in Bonds, but some observers discount that possibility. The managers of those teams, Mike Scioscia and John McLaren, are both old-school baseball guys who would seem to have little interest in pandering to the wants and needs of Bonds, who will likely demand preferential treatment wherever he goes…

Forget all the weekend talk you heard about Alex Rodriguez signing a contract with the Cubs that contains a provision for future ownership with the club. Major league rules not only prevent active players from being part owners in a franchise, but also disallow teams and players from engaging in agreements that promise future ownership in the club. The Cubs might still pursue a more standard contract with A-Rod, but the Yankees and other teams will be looking closely to make sure there is no mention or provision for future ownership…

Speaking of the Yankees, the bending of the "Joba Rules" over the weekend figures to be a sign of things to come. Look for GM Brian Cashman to allow Joe Torre to use Joba Chamberlain on back-to-back days during the postseason, as long as he keeps his pitch count below 30. Cashman recognizes that Torre will need Chamberlain at full capacity if the Yankees are to return to the World Series for the first time since 2003.

Limits On Pitch Counts

We’ve been out business since last Wednesday because of the Labor Day holiday, so let’s make up for the lack of currency with lots and lots of volume…

Anyone who has read this space over the last two years knows I’m no fan of pitch counts, which have become overused to the point of nausea. Now I’m not calling for a return to those halcyon days when starting pitchers routinely threw 140 or more pitches. Yet, the pendulum has swung over so much to the side of caution that teams are losing games in the late innings because of a reliance on bad relievers without any discernible reduction in injuries to their starters.

Here’s my beef with pitch counts, which really should be described more accurately as pitch limits. Sabermetric types are forever stressing context in applying statistics—and rightly so—but context doesn’t seem to apply as vigorously to pitch counts. A guy hits 100—or 110 pitches—and the red flags go up, the sirens sound, and the pitch count preachers start chanting. Well, I have a few questions. I want to know if the pitcher labored in reaching100 pitches. What were the weather conditions, warm and humid or cool and comfortable? How were the pitcher’s mechanics that day, were they sound, or were they strained? How was he pitching at the tail end of those 100 pitches, as opposed to the first 40 pitches? Was he sailing through the batting order at the end of the 100 pitches, and if so, why did the manager take him out? Was it simply because the abacus turned from 99 to 100?

If baseball would use pitch counts as a guideline, while considering some of these other questions, I’d be much more open to considering the real validity and value of pitch counts. And I believe that pitching coaches and managers should be able to provide answers to these questions, in terms of a pitcher laboring, his mechanics, his strength at the end of the game. I mean, that’s what pitches coaches are paid for, at least in part, to detect these tendencies in their pitchers.

If pitch counts were used in such a way, as a guidepost, rather than as a hard and fast rule with absolutely no flexibility, I think teams would be extracting more quality from their starting pitchers. And maybe, just maybe, we’d see the return to something like the ten-man pitching staff…

Just a week ago, after the Mets had lost four straight games to the Phillies, we heard some ridiculous talk that Willie Randolph might be on the verge of losing his job. This angered me to no end, considering that Randolph has had the Mets in first place for virtually all of the past two seasons. He’s done this without a dominant starting rotation, and for much of this season, without much help from an aging Carlos Delgado or an oft-injured Moises Alou. Lo and behold, the Mets have won five straight games since the Philly fiasco, opened up a sizeable five-game lead in the National League East, and have quieted all the rumors of managerial change. Frankly, those rumors should never have started. It’s an insult to a fine manager like Randolph, who still finds ways to extract effort from veteran players and manage a scattershot bullpen while keeping the brushfires of controversy still at Shea Stadium…

My kingdom for an impact pitcher! What does it say about the state of available pitching when the best that contending teams can come up with over the last week are trades for Steve Trachsel (Cubs), Brett Tomko (Padres), and Ray King (Brewers)? None of the three has an ERA below four and a half, and all carry baggage (Trachsel has a reputation as a quitter, Tomko hasn’t pitched decently since 2004, and King weights 230 pounds, at least.) And what does it say that each of these three teams was actually excited about these acquisitions? Yeesh…

Last Saturday night, the White Sox slept walk their way through another defeat, but patient viewers who sat through till the end were treated to a video gem from the 1970 season. After the Sox’ latest loss to the Indians, WGN aired a tape of a hilarious exchange featuring Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson. The tape, which was filmed in 1971, showed Harrelson and his then-Indians teammate Sam McDowell running through their own interpretation of Abbott and Costello’s "Who’s on First?" Harrelson and McDowell delivered the lengthy skit as if they were trained theater performers—flawlessly executing their lines while displaying the impeccable timing of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello themselves. Hawk and "Sudden Sam" even strayed from the original script from time to time, giving the performance a unique interpretation while also managing to poke fun at their own 1971 struggles. (Harrelson hit .191 in what was his final big league season, while McDowell went an uncharacteristic 13-17 and was traded to San Francisco.) It was wonderful theater, the kind that I’d love to see more local teams incorporate into their broadcasts. Just terrific.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots—Stupid Like A Foxx

Baseball’s leaders, be they the commissioner, the head of the players union, or superstar players themselves, often take their share of heat for having unpopular opinions, but it’s refreshing that no one prominent in the game has seen fit to defend Michael Vick for his horrendous treatment of animals. Thankfully, there don’t seem to be any Stephon Marburys or Jamie Foxxes in the baseball world. I wasn’t a big fan of Foxx to begin with, but now I’ll never pay to see one of his films after his idiotic comments—saying that Vick didn’t get the "handbook" that tells black athletes how to act—over the weekend. Here’s some news for Foxx. That "handbook" is called The Law. And if you don’t understand the immorality of electrocuting, hanging, or drowning dogs, then you’re beyond help…

Mike Mussina could be making his final start of the regular season on Monday night. If Mussina is hit hard by the Tigers, expect the Yankees to drop "The Moose" into the bullpen and replace him with Triple-A prospect Ian Kennedy, who has been dominant at three minor league levels this summer. The Yankees have grown frustrated with Mussina’s inability to adjust to lost life on his fastball. His unwillingness to pitch inside, long a criticism of the veteran right-hander, has never hurt him more badly than it has in 2007. One would think that Mussina would have learned something from the late-career transformation of Tom Glavine, but the lesson has not apparently sunk in. The Yankees are regretting their wintertime decision to give Mussina a two-year while not making a harder pursuit for a free agent like Ted Lilly…

How’s this for a blast from the past? Over the weekend, the Royals called up Billy Buckner from their Triple-A affiliate at Omaha. No, that’s not the Billy Buckner, he of the smooth swing and 1986 World Series infamy. This Buckner, who turns 24 on Monday, is a right-handed pitcher who bears no relation to the original "Billy Buck." The rookie pitched creditably in his major league debut on Saturday, allowing one run over five innings in a start against the Indians. By the way, the original Buckner did play for the Royals at the tail end of his major league career, appearing in 168 games in 1988 and ’89.