Monday, June 30, 2008

A Disaster On Paper And In Practice

Since Moneyball enthusiasts are so fond of pointing to stats in their beliefs of constructing a team, here are some stats for the San Diego Padres: Team Record: 32-51; Record according to the Pygmalion Win
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Theorem: 32-51; ranked 15th in the National League in runs; 2nd in strikeouts; 15th in OBP (they're a Moneyball team!); 9th in ERA; 10th in runs and hits allowed.
They were picked by numerous people----credible and not----to go as far as winning the World Series this year and while teams like the Mariners and Mets have been the object of relentless ridicule this year, no one seems to be unloading on the Padres to the degree that their performance warrants. In fact, there are still those----again, credible and not----who are trumpeting the candidacy of Padres assistant Paul DePodesta for a future GM job. It's getting difficult to come up with analogies to exemplify the silliness of even suggesting DePodesta for a top job considering the anecdotal evidence that he has neither the competence nor the right to be up for any job in baseball, let alone one in
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which he's again put in charge of a team.
Manager Bud Black was almost directly responsible for the team blowing their lead in the NL West last season by allowing Jake Peavy to pitch on short rest against the Diamondbacks and hasn't shown the strategic acumen to coax more than what he's gotten from this flawed roster. As well-spoken and respected as Black is in the media, the question has to be asked: given how the team blew a playoff spot last season (similar to the Mets), and that they look like an expansion team this year, how has Black not been fired? The Moneyball ideal of having a manager do the bidding of upper management and take short money for the job also entails the front office's ability to randomly fire the manager when the team isn't performing. In this system, with this
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roster, there's no way to tell whether Black would be an effective manager if he were legitimately put in charge of a team, but the evidence of his work so far indicates that he is more deserving of the ax than Willie Randolph or John Gibbons were in their respective jobs.
GM Kevin Towers isn't absolved of blame here either. It's a convenient excuse for every employee in the Moneyball system to shield blame from themselves when things go horribly wrong by hiding behind the numbers. Towers is functioning under some heavy-handed interference from team president Sandy
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Alderson and payroll constraints, but he's the GM and receives credit for being "smart"; but is this the roster of a "smart" GM or organization? Are the results? The Padres can only hide behind the injury card for so long. The Angels lost their two top starting pitchers and didn't miss a beat; the Red Sox have been without a chunk of their starting rotation and the best clutch hitter since Reggie Jackson in David Ortiz and you don't hear them whining; the Yankees are hanging in there with a bunch of journeymen starting pitchers; the injury excuse can explain away some poor play, but
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32-51 is what it is on paper and on the field.
As for DePodesta, what is it about him that people still insist that he's qualified to be a GM in the big leagues? Is it his Harvard degree? Is he such a charming and nice guy that people want to help him? Is it that they don't want to let go of the Moneyball ideal that the system is "better" than the way other teams go about running their teams when it's being disproved by the day by the repeated failures it's spawned? It reminds me of the democratic political consultant Bob Shrum. He's touted as an "expert" and introduced as a democratic consultant as if the mere designation is supposed to justify his position and imply expertise; but the man has never won one presidential campaign in which he was involved----not one. The list of losers Shrum has been involved with is a vast
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wasteland of democratic hopefuls who were dispatched----Dick Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, Bob Kerrey, Al Gore and John Kerry. One-by-one they lost, all of them. Yet Shrum's writing books about his work and given some form of credibility. Is it because people like him or because he's somehow convinced others with charts, graphs and numbers as to why he's been right all along but was unable to convince the people who matter----voters----of his brilliance?
Karl Rove is sleazy, Machiavellian and repulsive; he looks like the guy in the khaki raincoat who just left the adult bookstore and is skulking away to try and avoid detection, but he has one important attribute to validate his political standing----he wins; and I can guarantee you that he would be just as effective working for the
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democrats as he's been working for the republicans. It's fine to stand on beliefs and principles as people like DePodesta seem to with the Moneyball system, but in the end someone has to be responsible for getting results. Adaptability and getting things done are more important than being liked. After DePodesta's nightmarish tenure with the Dodgers and this train wreck in San Diego, how is he still being promoted for a GM job? It's an honest question for which I'm still waiting for an answer. I don't expect one anytime soon.
The one thing that the Padres are fortunate about is that the fans in San Diego are perfectly willing to move along with such a disastrous team because the weather and laid back atmosphere of the town itself precludes such angry calls for someone's head as would be heard in New York, Philadelphia or Boston. They can go along their merry way with a team that, right now, looks like it could lose 100 games and
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continue to try and convince the public that it's just a matter of a tweak here and there and things will resume as they were in the past few years, but the truth is right there in the numbers and on the field regardless of what they use as rationale for this nightmare. That the fans can easily say, "The Padres are terrible? Well, Chargers training camp is coming soon and until then, we can just go to the beach" is saving them from the rightful indignation that they deserve and that's part of the problem.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Observations From The Subway Series

  • Andy Pettitte's return from a rain delay:
You have to wonder if Joe Girardi was having flashbacks to when, as manager of the
Marlins, he allowed Josh Johnson to return to the mound after a rain delay and was blamed
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for Johnson eventually needing Tommy John surgery. Now managing the Yankees, Girardi allowed Andy Pettitte to return to the mound after a rain delay of a little less than an hour. Coincidentally, both situations were in games against the Mets.
Of course there are differences between the two circumstances; Pettitte is a veteran who should be allowed to have a strong say as to whether or not he's fit to go back out to the mound after a delay;
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Johnson was a rookie who shouldn't have had any say at all in whether or not he returned to the game. Girardi's been blamed by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria for the injuries incurred by their young pitchers, so it would be natural for him to be reluctant to take the risk of returning a pitcher----any pitcher----to the mound after any kind of delay, but it showed Girardi's fortitude and was a good sign in
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his managerial future that he didn't let the Johnson incident cloud his decision and sent Pettitte back out there. There's still no evidence that Girardi's handling of Johnson in that one incident precipitated the injury one way or the other, but most managers would have figured it was better to shield themselves from criticism by removing the pitcher. It's a good attribute for a manager to have when he does what he feels is necessary rather than what's safe in the eyes of the media.
  • Why do they play the Superman theme song when Fernando Tatis comes to bat?
If there's any player in the big leagues who personifies the exact opposite of Superman, it's
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Fernando Tatis. Does he choose to walk to the plate to the theme song from Superman? If he doesn't and they're looking for something more apropos, they should try to play the song backwards to signify the opposite of Superman----Bizarro Superman----because that's about where Fernando Tatis is in comparison at this point in his career.
  • Carlos Delgado and Darrell Rasner:
Critics are pointing to the weak pitching that Carlos Delgado used to fatten his homer/RBI total this weekend, but it's unfair to rip a 36-year-old, clean-playing first baseman for what he can't do in the twilight of his career. Delgado can't catch up to the power fastball anymore, especially inside; nor is he suited to being one of the main RBI threats in any team's lineup.
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The injuries to Ryan Church and Moises Alou have put Delgado into a position that he can no longer handle and he's relegated to hitting his homers against mediocre-to-poor pitching, and there's nothing wrong with that. If anyone's to blame for Delgado's exposure for what he is, it's the Mets front office for leaving him stranded as the lone second tier power threat after David Wright and Carlos Beltran, especially since they know the injury history of Alou and weren't sure what to expect from Church in his first opportunity to play every day.
Darrell Rasner received great credit when he arrived from the minor leagues and had a series of solid starts rescuing an injured and beleaguered pitching staff, but he's also shown that he's more of a journeyman than a legitimate starter for a team that has designs on contending for a championship. His fastball
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is eminently hittable and he occasionally loses command; for a pitcher with such limited stuff, Rasner has to be perfect or hope that the Yankees score a bunch of runs; when that doesn't happen, he's vulnerable.
The Rasner situation reminds me of when Jon Lieber was pitching for the Yankees against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS and had pitched brilliantly in game 2 outdueling Pedro Martinez. All we heard was how Lieber worked fast, pounded the strike zone and challenged
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the hitters; the accolades lasted until game six when Lieber gave up four runs in 7.1 innings and was outpitched by Curt Schilling as the Red Sox tied the series. With pitchers who don't have dominating stuff, their results depend on many factors including the umpire's strike zone; whether they're able to get their breaking balls over or have enough movement on their fastball to prevent it getting hit into space like Delgado's crushed shot off of Rasner. He's a fifth starter at best and the Yankees need to beef up their pitching if they're even going to make the playoffs because if they don't hit with guys like Ranser on the mound, they don't win.
  • Oliver Perez turns another corner, or does he? Or maybe he doesn't; or maybe he does; maybe...maybe not?
I wouldn't get all excited about Oliver Perez's performance today; he's historically pitched his best (while with the Mets) in high-pressure games against the Braves and Yankees or in playoff games. Much will be made about the mechanical adjustments made by new pitching
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coach Dan Warthen, but Perez's problems don't have anything to do with his mechanics to any great degree; his problems are in his spacious head; he's like an expensive sweater that would unravel completely with the pulling of one strategic thread and he's just as likely to fall apart in his next start as he is to pitch as well as he did today.
The departure of Rick Peterson and his constant harassment of Perez and harping on little details ad nauseam probably helped the pitcher feel less claustrophobic while working, but that doesn't have anything to do with five days from now. More than any other pitcher, Perez is truly a guy who's a variable from one start to the next.
  • Jose Reyes throws a tantrum when Carlos Delgado drops his throw:
I'll be in the minority in saying this, but Reyes had a right to be irritated about Delgado dropping that throw. It was a bit high, but not so high that it should have clanked off of
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Delgado's glove and given Reyes an error. Reyes shouldn't have thrown his glove and the buffoon Michael Kay harped on it in the Yankees post-game, but it's not that big of a deal. Delgado has veteran cachet in the Mets clubhouse and if it bothered him, he'll let Reyes know it. Reyes needs to tone down his overt displays of anger when things don't go well for him on the field, but this wasn't such a big deal that people like Kay should act so indignantly about it in what was more of a customary dig against the Mets from a broadcaster who hates them than any reaction over a player's emotional display.

The Wide Open National League; The Possible Breakup Of Mike And The Mad Dog

  • The NL is wide open for just about every team:
The only teams in the National League who should throw in the towel and start a clearance sale are the Padres and the Nationals. (I'm excluding the Rockies out of deference to their hot
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streak from last season; however unlikely it was and is, it happened once and could happen again.) The Padres are an embarrassment, but on the bright side for the stat geeks, they have the exact record that the Pygmalion Win Theorem dictates they should have, much like they did at the end of last year----32-50----good work.
The Nationals have some interesting young talent (much of it listing toward the juvenile delinquent side), but it's a question as to what GM Jim Bowden's plan is; last season the Nationals succeeded in rejuvenating the careers of Dmitri Young (who had personal and professional issues that made him toxic to most teams), and Ronnie Belliard (who couldn't find a big league job after winning a ring with the Cardinals); but instead of taking the veteran players who were playing solidly for a non-contending team and maximizing their value by trading
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them to contenders for youngsters, Bowden lavished lucrative extensions on them. Belliard has been awful this year and Young is overweight and injured. This year they have some veterans who have value. They could get something for Cristian Guzman, Aaron Boone, Odalis Perez and Tim Redding; are they going to make the same mistake as they did last season and hold onto players who are unlikely to be around if and when the Nationals are contenders?
As for the rest of the league, even teams like the Reds and Pirates have an excuse to make some intelligent, under-the-radar moves for veteran help (if it doesn't cost that much) to see if they can loiter around the Wild Card race. The only team that looks like a lock to make the playoffs right now is the Cubs; Lou Piniella has them running on all cylinders similar to the way he molded his Mariners teams into well-oiled machines. He's gotten surprising contributions from his veterans like Jim Edmonds
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and Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood has handled the closing duties as well as can be expected. That being said, the Cubs are certainly not guaranteed to blow through the playoffs to the World Series. Who knows how Wood will react to being on the mound in a game 5 or game 7 of the playoffs; when the whole season is riding on his right arm? The Cubs aren't under any circumstances a guarantee to even get out of the first round of the playoffs, which should be all the more reason for the other NL teams to go for improvements and try to win now.
Every contending team has their needs; even the teams that are playing very poorly and having trouble staying over .500 have reason to make a deal for an impact player. If the Brewers or Braves get a starting pitcher; if the Dodgers or Mets get a power bat; if any of the teams still in contention get one player who provides a spark, they could find themselves in the playoffs; and the absence of a team head-and-shoulders above everyone else makes the National League wide open and ripe for whichever team gets hot at the right time. Two years ago, the Cardinals overcame a woeful final month and proved that the regular season means nothing in the playoffs; there could be a similar situation this year if the right team gets the right guy to light a fire.
  • The possible breakup of Mike and the Mad Dog:
It recently came out in the media that Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo of The Mike and the Mad Dog radio show in New York (simulcast on the YES Network) are in the midst of a cold war that threatens to end the on-air relationship. They've apparently had blowups in the
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past (they've been together since 1989), but this is said to be one of the worst and possibly irreconcilable. Neither has denied the possibility of a split and both are unsure as to what's going to happen. I was reticent to start making comments about this because I don't know the issues between the two, nor do I know what their
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personal situations are; but on further reflection, not having information about that which they're talking has never stopped Francesa or Russo from going on about any and every subject (movies, politics, news----and especially sports) as if they're unrivaled experts, so why shouldn't I weigh in on their careers?
I've never been shy to unload on Francesa and Russo when they've deserved it for insipid gaffes or arrogant bluster in the area of sports; and I've certainly never been shy to unload when they've gone over the edge in saying things about other people that are borderline slanderous or simply offensive and disrespectful; I've also given them credit numerous times for good work they've done, specifically in interviews. This may be a situation where the two want to be their own entities; don't need to deal with the tension that is poisoning the relationship and is quite possibly stirring the interesting dynamic between them; and don't want to be aggravated by the quirks of the other anymore; they're both in their 50s with young children and lives away from the studio. Maybe they just don't want to deal with everything anymore.
One thing that both should remember before committing to a breakup is that they'll never be as popular as individuals as they are as a tandem. Their audience will never reach the apex it reaches as they work together and they're not going to have the influence (positive and negative) that they do now. Even with all the ancillary aspects to such a combustible partnership, that power (such as it is) is very difficult to walk away from over some issues that might be able to be ironed out with time and a brief separation.
If I was asked to guess what would happen, I'd say that they're going to look at all the positives and negatives of staying together versus splitting up and wind up continuing with the show. Francesa will be able to handle a solo act far better than Russo especially if the newspaper account of Russo heading to satellite radio is true. Francesa, for all of his pomposity, condescension, arrogance, self-importance and clinging to untenable beliefs, has enough of a viable take on sports and sober (especially compared to his partner) approach to be able to function alone. If Russo thinks he's going to go to satellite radio and approach the audience that he's able to attract now (even when he works alone on Saturdays), then he really is the
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Biggest Idiot in the World. Howard Stern, giant that he is in the radio industry, was only able to attract a fraction of his audience to satellite radio; people are not going to run out and start paying for radio to listen to Christopher Russo. On his own, he'll get a big contract, as will Francesa; they'll get a lot of money, but that may not satiate the appetites that both have for being the voices of the angry and unhinged sports fan every weekday afternoon in New York City. If they're willing to live with that, then they should by all means go their separate ways; the question is whether the money is more important than their cachet; that's what they have to weigh more than any of the other details of their staying together or splitting up.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pedro Looks Out Of Whack, But Healthy

  • Mets 15-Yankees 6 (Game 1); Yankees 9-Mets 0 (Game 2):
Carlos Delgado has a massive, team-record breaking day with two homers and nine RBI
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and instead of people giving the guy some credit when he's been ripped relentlessly going back to last year, we hear stuff to the tune of "he's hitting off of batting practice pitchers" as a form of caveat for some positive results. No, it wasn't Brandon Webb he was hitting against when he did his damage, but every hitter fattens up his batting average and power numbers against mediocre pitchers; why should Delgado apologize or have to hear negativity when he finally does something good?
The Yankees aren't going to be able to function for much longer with the likes of Dan Giese, Ross Ohlendorf, Kei Igawa, Edwar Ramirez and whatever other journeymen they come up with to eat some innings. They can't count on Ian Kennedy to provide a spark and no one seems to know when Phil Hughes is coming back. The Yankees have the prospects to get
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Roy Oswalt without digging too deeply into their farm system and that may be what they're going to have to do because the Rays don't look like they're going away and what the Yankees are trotting out there now just isn't going to cut it.
Pedro Martinez's velocity and stamina were expected to be the issues when he returned from his injuries, but his velocity has been consistently in the upper-80s to low-90s; Pedro's problem has been his command and that his head occasionally doesn't appear to be on
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what he's doing. There's no excuse for a pitcher the stature of Pedro Martinez to be walking five guys in 5 2/3 innings; and where was his mind on Johnny Damon's grounder to second in the fifth inning? The pitcher is supposed to automatically bolt to cover first base on any ball hit to the right side of the infield; it looked like Pedro was in his own little world and not paying attention to what he was doing. For a guy who tries to set an example for the other pitchers on the staff, it was a colossal gaffe even though it probably didn't affect the result.
  • Cardinals activate Mark Mulder and put him in the bullpen:
After all the rehab starts, aches and pains, visits to more doctors with various ailments, even the Cardinals are unlikely to be expecting anything of consequence from Mark Mulder.
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They've got him in the bullpen for now in what looks like a case of "we may as well just bring him up and use him rather than have him waste whatever he has left rehabbing in the minors." If I had to bet, I'd say he comes up with another injury before getting into a game and goes back on the disabled list, or pitches and gets pummeled because he has very little left in his tank.
  • Marlins 3-Diamondbacks 1:
In what must be a far cry from the Babe Ruth references that Micah Owings heard after his
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hot start on the mound and at the plate, he may end up back in the minors in the very near future. On the whole, the Diamondbacks are looking eerily similar to the Mets last year----a hot start and bulging lead in their division, followed by a drunken stumble into mediocrity. The question is whether they're going to ride it out as the Mets did or do something to try to shake things up.
  • Rangers 8-Phillies 7:
There has to be concern in the Phillies front office that the desperation switch of Brett
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Myers to the bullpen last season, followed by a switch back to the rotation, has damaged the pitcher. His fastball is noticeably decreased in velocity and, aside from a solid game sprinkled in here and there, he's gotten pounded all season. Other than asking him if he's feeling healthy and/or ordering him to the doctor and possibly fiddling with his mechanics, I don't know what they can do other than just keep putting him out there and hope he straightens out.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nicholson's Words Fit Better Than Mine

  • I don't want money, and I don't want medals:
Quoting Jack Nicholson when he's bullying Tom Cruise's character from A Few Good Men
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is appropriate in this instance:

I don't want money, and I don't want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggoty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some fucking courtesy.

Yesterday while reading Buster Olney's blog, I saw that Olney had made a mistake in saying that when Kyle Lohse wins his next game for the Cardinals, he will win 10 games in a season for the first time in his career; I wrote a comment that corrected the
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mistake saying that Lohse won 13 games in 2002 and 14 games in 2003. When I checked later to see if the mistake was corrected, it was----by erasing it altogether. So basically, my comment looks like some random statement uttered into the wind for no reason at all like something Joe Morgan would say.
There's nothing wrong with saying the words, "I made a mistake", but apparently those that make a living writing and talking about baseball haven't yet made that discovery and if that's one of the prerequisites, I'm relegated to my devoted readers who can see through the crud of the "mainstream" media and are aware that it takes more competence to admit that one is wrong than it does to simply try and erase a mistake hoping no one noticed.
  • Shaun Chacon's job prospects:
I seem to be in the minority thinking that someone is going to take a chance on Shaun Chacon, but I still believe that he'll get picked up after he apologizes and displays a facade of contrition (real or fake). He has three things going for him: everyone's desperate for pitching and Chacon has experience as a starter and reliever; he's breathing; and he has a functioning
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right arm. Add them up and he'll get a job once everything settles down; it'll probably be a minor league contract at first and a quick promotion after the smoke clears.
What I don't understand is how guys like Darryl Strawberry and John Rocker got chance after chance after careers full of controversy and missteps and Chacon's career is said to be over for one incident in an eight-year career that has (as far as we know) been clear of off-field problems. If Chacon apologizes to Wade and Wade accepts the apology, why shouldn't he get another chance with another organization. My one piece of advice for Chacon would be not to ask Wade for a recommendation. (A satirical resolution to this story would be if the Phillies sign Chacon; the not-fully-evolved Phillies fans would probably worship Chacon regardless of how he pitched because the majority of them probably wanted to choke Ed Wade numerous times while he was the Phillies GM and they'd have a player who'd actually done it.)
  • Athletics 5-Phillies 0:
Athletics GM Billy Beane is probably doing pirouettes in his office with every dominating
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start that Rich Harden provides because he's going to trade him. Mark my words. Other GMs would be teetering back and forth on whether or not the deal the oft-injured righty, but not Beane. The risk/reward factor doesn't enter into his mind. He's got a guy in Harden who is dominant when he's healthy, but is rarely healthy. Other GMs are going to be hypnotized by
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Harden's brilliance and Beane's going to use their lovestruck gaze and dearth of available pitching to get some desperate team to empty their vault to get Harden; with every healthy and excellent start, the price is only going to go up with Beane's getting exactly what he wants and the team that gets Harden eventually rueing the day they made the deal with the devil.
  • Twins 4-Padres 3; call in the National Guard for the Padres train wreck:
The San Diego Padres are an utter disaster and an organization in shambles. Why is it that no one seems to be taking the Padres to task with the same enthusiasm as they are with other teams like the Mariners or even the Mets. The Padres are one of the teams in the
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staggering NL West that is saying they're reluctant to start clearing the decks because their division is so bad and they'd like to give it more time. They shouldn't. The other teams in the NL West have something called hope.
The Giants have that young starting rotation to fall back on; the Dodgers are bursting with talent and have a manager whose teams are known for second half surges; the Diamondbacks are playing badly, but they too are packed with prospects and have too much talent to continue playing like this; the Rockies are fresh off a World Series appearance and many of the young players who carried them there are experiencing a sophomore slump and should level off with some experience; but the Padres?
Other than Jake Peavy (if his arm stays attached to his shoulder) and Adrian Gonzalez, what do they have that bodes well for the future? Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff could
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become All Stars, serviceable big leaguers or underachievers; there's no way to know. As for the rest of the roster, they're a bunch of veterans nearing retirement; journeyman who should be bench players and waiver wire pickups; their farm system is said to be barren. Bud Black and Kevin Towers might get the blame for what's happened, but they're not really at fault. If a baseball wanted poster for incompetence is going to be distributed, it should have one face and one name on it: Sandy Alderson. I expected the Padres fall under .500 this year, but no one could have expected them to descend into this, and what this is is an utter train wreck.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is This Accurate? Can Chacon Be Terminated Without Pay?

This can't be right----ESPN Story. The Associated Press is reporting that Shawn Chacon has
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been released by the Astros and if "he isn't claimed by another major league team by Monday, waivers will expire and his contract will be terminated without pay." The Astros have every right (some would argue a duty) to release Chacon after the incident with GM Ed Wade, but I don't think they can just not pay him without a hearing of some kind. He has a contract and while there are morals clauses in every contract, it's really hard to get out from paying a veteran player with a guaranteed contract. No matter what Chacon did, the Players Association isn't going to let this go if it's in fact accurate and I find it hard to believe that it is.

Attacking The Boss Is Generally A Bad Idea In Any Occupation

  • Shawn Chacon attacks Astros GM Ed Wade:
Houston Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon attacked GM Ed Wade yesterday after being demoted to the bullpen----NY Times Story----grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the
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ground. Chacon was suspended indefinitely by the Astros. In general, no matter the player and his status, it's probably a bad idea to be attacking the GM of the team; for a guy like Shawn Chacon, who's on a short-term contract, it's probably not a boon to his reputation. (Although, he might fit in with the Club For Wayward Boys aka the Washington Nationals) or his career prospects. That being said, if what Chacon (who, as far as the public knows, has never been a problem in any of his other career stops) is saying happened is true, then Wade was out of line as well. That's not to justify attacking the guy, but there are people who shouldn't be yelled at without justification; maybe Chacon felt disrespected and just snapped.
Whether or not the player was justifiably angry doesn't enter into the equation when
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attacking their boss. Yes, it's true that certain players are more powerful voices in an organization than upper management; and yes, some players don't think about consequences before they act, but the incidents that come to mind immediately of a player attacking a supposed authority figure have all resulted in that player being jettisoned and actually ending up in a better situation than before.
Lenny Randle beat up Texas Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi after Randle lost his starting second base job to Bump Wills and wound up getting traded to the Mets, where he had an excellent season in 1977 as a starter. Wills had an excellent year as well for the Rangers. Then there's the Latrell Sprewell incident in which he choked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo while with the Golden State Warriors. It's no excuse, but Carlesimo is a notorious screamer who didn't have the history of success to
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sway the players to the idea that he had any business yelling at them to begin with. (Example: Larry Brown or Pat Riley yelling----okay; P.J. Carlesimo yelling----not okay.) Sprewell attacked and choked Carlesimo during a practice in 1997 and was suspended without pay and Sprewell eventually wound up rejuvenating his career with the New York Knicks. On the one hand, it's impossible to function as a boss when concerned about being attacked if something needs to be said to or done with the employee that he's not necessarily going to like; on the other hand, maybe the boss shouldn't be yelling at his employees to begin with.
If these players had histories to the tune of Elijah Dukes and his long rap sheet of violent offenses, then it would be understandable; but Randle was a bright, well-liked guy; Sprewell, while occasionally difficult with incidents of his own, is well-spoken and intelligent; and Chacon
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functioned under the no-nonsense Joe Torre with the Yankees without incident. Some guys are short-tempered; others only lose their cool in such a way when they're sufficiently provoked. If Wade behaved as Chacon claims he did, he was out of line before the story turned into an assault. The assault will be the story, but Chacon might be telling the truth.
The Astros can try to do with Chacon what the Warriors tried to do with Sprewell and "fire" him, but they'd probably only be putting him out of work for a brief time because he's a pitcher in an era that is desperately short on pitchers and, to be honest, Chacon hasn't pitched badly at all this season. Someone will take a chance on him if he's let go by the Astros and it's probably just as well for all involved if he's never allowed in the Astros clubhouse again.
  • Luis Castillo's contract:
The talk shows and now newspapers are going on about how bad the Luis Castillo-Mets contract is looking now that the second baseman is hobbled by leg injuries and is slumping in the field----NY Times Story. In truth, the Mets didn't spend a ridiculous amount of money on Castillo; $25 million over four years is edible if it gets to the point where the player is unable
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to perform and the Mets had few options in the second base department last winter given all their other issues.
The Mets couldn't sit around and wonder who was going to be playing second base for them while they were still so unsettled at catcher and without a legitimate ace to front the starting rotation. The second base options available----Ruben Gotay, Damion Easley and Jose Valentin from in-house; and David Eckstein and Kaz Matsui from outside----were either unreliable (Gotay, Easley and Valentin); had played for the Mets before and failed (Matsui); or overpriced themselves into small, short-term contracts with other teams (Eckstein). And Castillo hasn't been that bad this year.
If the complaining fans were expecting anything more than a slap hitter who stole bases and got on base at a relatively good clip, they didn't know anything about Castillo to begin with. His defense has been poor and he moves like a 55-year-old man, and he does some things that are annoying like waving the bat in the strike zone on 3-0 counts (I don't think that
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distracts the pitcher as intended), he's not the root of the Mets problems. Eckstein was the Mets first choice to play second base this season, but he got greedy and had to take a lowball deal from the Blue Jays.
Amid all the speculation about Castillo and the possibility of his injuries placing him on the disabled list, if I were the Mets, I would just keep writing his name in the lineup when he says he's okay to play, and sit him when he says he's not. Other than that, there's little else for them to do. If the Mets don't turn things around, it won't because of anything that Castillo did or didn't do; he is what he is and that's not as bad as it's being portrayed because he's been almost what they rightfully should have expected at this point in his career regardless of what he's being paid.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Unnecessary Umpire Instigation

  • Umpire Brian Runge deserves a fine and suspension:
In the days of yesteryear (before everyone was walking around carrying a video camera at
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the ready) cops handled minor infractions such as writing graffiti in a much simpler and quicker way by whacking the perp over the head a few time with his nightstick and warned him not to do it again. They saved time by avoiding the middleman for a piddly offense that would have amounted to no sanctions by employing some prudent use of street justice. Of course, using this technique resulted in some overzealous officers going overboard and it was once a similar situation for major league umpires; they could pretty much do and say whatever they wanted with impunity. The streamlining and consolidation of the American and National League umpires under the MLB brand put a stop to the separation of leagues and the suspension of umpire Mike Winters last
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year for his part in the late-season confrontation with Milton Bradley sent a message that the umpires weren't so untouchable anymore. After last night's umpire-instigated confrontation during the Mets-Mariners game, it will be interesting to see who gets the blame and the punishment.
In the fourth inning of what eventually became a Mariners 11-0 win, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran respectfully objected to a strike call from home plate umpire Brian Runge. In general, the umpires don't mind if the batter complains while looking anywhere other than directly at him. In reading Beltran's lips, he didn't even cuss; all he said was that the pitch was "down". Runge stepped out from behind the plate, removed his mask and stood in front of Beltran starting a problem where there shouldn't have been one. Beltran kept his composure and manager Jerry Manuel came out to protect his player and was bumped by Runge for what
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appeared to be no reason. In a moment of completely justified anger, Manuel exploded and was ejected. Beltran soon followed suit and the Mets went on without their manager or number three hitter for the rest of the game. Players get fined and/or suspended for such infractions as bumping the umpire; will Runge be suspended for initiating the contact with Manuel? For standing in front of Beltran like some would-be tough guy in a bar who yaps and yaps and ends up getting his brains beaten in when he goes too far?
And what exactly did Beltran do that was so out of line? Has anyone ever seen Jeff Kent
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barking at an umpire while he's batting? In what seems to be every at bat, Kent disputes a call while staring down at the plate and unleashing a series of colorfully decorated complaints to the home plate umpire and gets away with it every time; from what I understand, Beltran isn't one to cuss much, if at all; what did he do to warrant such a reaction from an umpire who was obviously looking to assert some invisible code of manhood?
Winters's suspension last year was construed as a betrayal of the umpires by the league office, but it was applauded by those who have seen and been on the other end of an umpire's megalomaniacal power trips for years; is Runge going to be allowed to get away with going out of his way to start the confrontation and then in an unprovoked move, bump the manager who was just trying to protect his player? Beltran and Manuel are going to get fined when Runge is the one who deserves the punishment. The question is whether the league is going to turn a blind eye to one of their "cops", or are they going to send the message that some of these wannabe macho men had better tone it down a bit? At the very least, Runge deserves to be called on the carpet because he's the one at fault.
  • White Sox 6-Dodgers 1:
Derek Lowe has been getting raked around this year and his ground ball/fly ball ratio is far worse than what has been normal for him throughout his career. From memory of his mechanics while with the Red Sox and first couple of years with the Dodgers, he looks out of whack. In his good years, the ratios of ground balls/fly balls and line drives has been around
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2/1 or better; now it's about 1.5/1 or worse. I'd like to think I'm not disclosing anything that Dodgers manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt can't see for themselves, but here goes:
He's no longer turning his hips as prominently, nor is he pausing in mid-delivery as long as he once did and Lowe appears to be rushing his delivery from his leg lift. It used to be that he lifted his leg and pushed his throwing hand and glove together before breaking his hands and firing; now he looks like he's moving too quickly; because of that, he's short-arming the ball by not making as big a circle with his throwing arm to catch up and compensate to get where he's supposed to be. He also looks like he's dropped his arm angle and isn't getting on top of the ball as he did when he was at his sinkerballing best. If these mechanical issues are out of sync, of course Lowe's results aren't going to be what they once were; of course his pitches aren't going to dive down at the hitting zone and will be devoid of pop. What's most disturbing is that it took me such a short time to notice the problems and the Dodgers haven't corrected them already.
These things should neither be hard to spot, nor to correct. If Honeycutt hasn't noticed it, what good is he as a pitching coach; if Torre hasn't noticed it after all those years facing Lowe while he was with the Red Sox and Torre was managing the Yankees, I'd want to know why if I were owner Frank McCourt. Isn't their expertise why they're getting the big bucks?
  • Rays 6-Marlins 4:
The days in which Rays fans could be skeptical about the improvement of their team
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appear to be over; and the Marlins fans have proven that they have little interest in their team (no matter how good or bad they are) until they're actually playing in the World Series. Even with all of that, an announced attendance of 12,352 for last night's game between the two Florida teams is downright embarrassing.
  • An apology from J.P. Ricciardi to Adam Dunn...or not?
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Adam Dunn is denying J.P. Ricciardi's assertion that the two spoke in a phone call from Dunn to Ricciardi on Saturday----ESPN Story. Ricciardi is saying that he apologized to someone identifying himself as Adam Dunn and that he may have been the victim of a "prank". If that's not true, then someone's lying and given his history, my money's on Ricciardi. How much more are the Blue Jays supposed to take by way of off-field embarrassment and on-field mediocrity from J.P. Ricciardi, baseball's answer to Eddie Haskell?