Monday, April 19, 2010

The Shallowness Of Effect

  • It's two weeks into the season, but...

I'm not a person who tends to panic.

On an Ivory Soap scale of purity----99 44/100% of the time----I'm moderately unflappable; but that doesn't mean I'm adverse to acting swiftly if things aren't working correctly; or cutting ties when the inevitable is all but certain. This cannot be construed as reacting capriciously; but doing something before matters get worse. Occasionally when taking such a tack, mistakes will be made, but if a decision has some reasoning behind it, the regret will be muted even if the action taken doesn't yield the desired results immediately.

Very quickly, certain teams and individuals are under fire because of poor starts or lackluster play.

On both sides of the spectrum----positively and negatively----it's too early to get excited about teams and players that are doing well; too soon to hit the panic button over teams doing poorly...or is it?

Let's take a look at both sides of the coin; which teams/individuals should and shouldn't be worried about their current state with the season so young.

Don't flip out one way or the other:

The Athletics

They've gotten off to a hot start and are leading the league in ERA; their starting pitching's been great. Their hitting has been predictably popgun; the vaunted focus on defense has yielded poor results (they're leading the league in errors); and they've taken advantage of a weak early schedule in beating up on the equally offensively questionable Mariners; the then-slumping Angels; and the staggering Orioles.

Daric Barton has gotten off to a great start at the plate and, even though he's made 4 errors at first base, has shown good hands and a good arm at first base----eventually, he might be a very good fielder and fulfill the hitting potential that made him the centerpiece (not Dan Haren as was originally believed) in the trade of Mark Mulder to the Cardinals.

There is absolutely no chance----none----that they continue pitching like this. They'll fall to earth when they hit the East Coast and the Yankees.

Starting tonight.

I'm a man of my word.

The Astros

No one's listening to my assertion that this team is not that bad.

The Astros aren't contenders; their offense is short; but they have a very respectable starting rotation with solid/serviceable veterans and great potential at the back-end. Roy Oswalt is still Roy Oswalt; I've got a thing for Wandy Rodriguez; Brett Myers has use. What impressed me more than anything is Felipe Paulino.

Paulino's results aren't there yet----in fact, they're bottom-line awful without looking at the full context; he's still relatively young (26); and that fastball (nearly 100-mph) and curve have lethal capabilities. In his last start, he held a team that can hit, the Cubs, to one run for six innings before the thing blew up in the seventh and he wasn't the one who got knocked around though he got the loss and was charged with 5 runs.

Their bullpen is serviceable; I like the manner of manager Brad Mills. They've gotten off to a rotten start, but the situation isn't as terrible in Houston as is portrayed.

The White Sox

This White Sox club is too deep and too good to play this poorly.

They've been out of sync. Their starting pitching, aside from John Danks, has been bad. Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd have both been, at best, shaky; at worst, they've gotten rocked. The bullpen has gacked up leads; and the club hasn't hit.

I wouldn't worry about it.

Even with the inevitable meltdown from manager Ozzie Guillen; an explosion from GM Kenny (James Bond Villain) Williams; and the concerns, the White Sox will be there at the end. They're too good not to be.

The Orioles

Did no one expect growing pains for a club in the midst of what amounts to their adolescence trying to take the next step from rebuilding to a force to be reckoned with?

When dealing with young players and a refurbished foundation still under construction, it's easy to take one small sample like a slow start and the perception of "same-old, same old" to turn optimism into the usual dispirited negativity. Things were so rancid in Baltimore for so long that the battered and paranoid fan base has every reason to believe that it's never going to get any better; but there's so much young talent on the roster and in the organization that it's a matter of time before they improve even if it doesn't immediately show up in their record.

More than any other club, they do need a managerial change from Dave Trembley to a Joey Cora-type fiery leader with a solid winning resume. This has to be done sooner rather than later.

Then there's the other side; the bad side; the negative side.

Um, yeah. Start to flip out:

The Mets

It's not that they're losing.

It's not that manager Jerry Manuel is again abusing his relievers and making strange/nonsensical strategic decisions.

It's not even that they're playing that badly. The starting pitching's been good; the bullpen's been serviceable.

The big problem is the overwhelming aura of losing that's engulfing this team. The "oh what's gonna happen next?" sense of foreboding goes past last season's injury-riddled disaster all the way to the 2007 collapse. A culture shift is needed and it's not in the front office; it's on the field and the quickest and boldest way to do that is to bring in Bobby Valentine.

One thing I do not understand is this reluctance to hire Valentine based on floating reasons that make little sense when dissected.

Bobby's power hungry.

Bobby's Machiavellian.

Bobby's difficult.

Bobby can be cruel and dismissive.

Bobby's arrogant.

Bobby's too smart for his own good.

Sounds familiar, huh?

To these assessments----accurate though they may be----do they outweigh what he would bring to the organization? Strategic brilliance; a huge personality; and instant credibility are only part of the equation. The overwhelming feeling of bleakness would be gone immediately upon Valentine's arrival.

And it's the cheapest solution and quickest way to scotch tape things together for another quick run as early as this year.

Do the Mets really want to endure a new GM? A lost 2010 to be acknowledged in April? The teardown that would accompany said acceptance?

Here's what I don't get: the Mets put up with Steve Phillips's public missteps for years. Phillips, despite having done a better job than he's given credit for as the GM, placed the Mets in the crosshairs of a sexual harassment lawsuit because of his inability to control himself----and they didn't fire him until they had no other alternative years later based on on-field failure.

Was Valentine ever anything more than controversial off the field in a baseball sense; and polarizing on it?

He's sitting there waiting for the phone call (which for all we know may already have come, telling him to stay ready). What's the hold up?

It's easily forgotten that the Mets went from a laughingstock in 2004, to within one game of the World Series in 2006; a World Series they would've won.

The fears don't outweigh the instant jolt Valentine would provide to the organization from top-to-bottom. Things turn around quickly with controlled aggressiveness. Valentine is the move that makes the most sense now in theory and practice.

The Red Sox

J.D. Drew is hitting .133.

David Ortiz .171.

Mike Cameron is having physical problems.

Jacoby Ellsbury is hurt.

This club appears as if they were halfway expecting the bad start and the fan base is barely concealing their concern. You could make the argument that the foundation started to show cracks in the three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels in the playoffs; or even as far back as them having stumbled down the stretch in blowing the division to the Yankees.

In this era more than any other, you're always teetering on the cusp of a veteran who may not simply be slumping; there's always the chance that a player entering his mid-to-late 30s is experiencing an unavoidable downslide from which there's no return.

If any player is testimony to what PEDs can do to performance, it's David Ortiz. He can deny whatever he wants to deny as to their assistance in his rise, but if you look at what he was when he was with the Twins to what he became with the Red Sox and you can't deny the links of player to performance to era.

You just can't.

Ortiz was a solid, but vulnerable player for the Twins with holes in his swing and power. He became a one-man wrecking crew with the Red Sox with a personality befitting the leader of the club and an advertising man's dream. Now, he's reverting to his Twins days and worse. He looks slow and old and the Red Sox----falling behind the Yankees already----can't sit and wait for Ortiz to figure it out as he did last year because the ability to regain some semblance of danger at the plate may no longer be possible.

The natives are getting restless and it's only a matter of time before something blows with the shaky strategy of ignoring offense in favor of defense.

The Diamondbacks (aka Mets West)

It's somewhat comforting (in a Mets fan sense) that it wasn't anything the Mets did that caused Aaron Heilman to be such a scattershot choice as a reliever.

He's only a part of the larger issues for the Diamondbacks----an inexplicably sexy pick to contend in the National League this year.

Everything's falling apart very, very early. In many ways it's worse in Phoenix than it is in Queens.

Brandon Webb has been shifted to the 60-day disabled list, rendering him unavailable until late May; and who can say what they're going to get if and when he comes back? It doesn't bode well that he's still unable to pitch with free agency beckoning at the end of the year; generally pitchers with the resume of Webb and that financial carrot dangled in front of them will find some way to get out to the mound and pitch.

The rotation currently consists of the superlative Dan Haren; the very good Edwin Jackson; Ian Kennedy (not good, but he pitched well yesterday); Rodrigo Lopez and Kris Benson.

That is as bad as it sounds.

Conor Jackson pulled up lame with a hamstring problem yesterday catching a fly ball.

The bullpen has been mismanaged and horrific. Would someone please explain to me how Juan Gutierrez went from being tried as the closer on Friday (and blowing the game) to being used in the seventh inning to clean up Heilman's mess (and failing)?

A.J. Hinch's inexperience is showing. There's a profound lack of direction in the clubhouse and the players look like they're waiting for the next thing to go wrong.

Sound familiar?

Sound like Mets West?

This season is going to go downhill for the Diamondbacks. Fast. Maybe even faster than in Queens; and what makes it worse is that the consensus was that the Diamondbacks were going to contend.

They're not.

Trust me.

  • Viewer Mail 4.19.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jon Heyman blocking me on Twitter:

Twitter is like a giant cocktail party. You can hang with the guests you want to talk to and avoid the ones you don't. Unlike the Yankees beat writers on there who welcome interaction, Heyman probably uses it to drop newsy items, not to interact, as you point out.

Even though it adds to the perception of pomposity, there's absolutely nothing wrong with him not wanting to interact with people; but to block me? Especially when I've never done or said anything to warrant it aside from challenging him and making a harmless joke? It shows a remarkably disturbing weakness for a writer of such prominence.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Bobby Valentine, management and me:

I posted my last comment to you as a post (on blogspot and mlblogs) and linked you in. Hope ya don't mind. There's a thing or two I'm still questioning regarding Theo's moves lately. But like you say, LaRussa and him have the cache and outstanding credit with the bank. Manuel's resume is littered with road kill from everyone he's thrown under the bus since Chicago.

Linking is the lifeblood of this stuff. Link away!!!

I've made my case very clearly for Epstein being a solid GM, and not a genius as he's so often portrayed. Genius----as Billy Beane is proving----is highly fleeting. It wasn't that long ago that Mets GM Omar Minaya was feted for his building of the 2006 Mets; that Giants GM Brian Sabean was savaged for his his situational and smart running of his club because it didn't coincide with the accepted way----the politically correct way----of running things. It's going to get ugly in Boston unless they turn things around soon.

Manuel was the right choice to replace Willie Randolph in 2008; now Valentine is the right choice to replace Manuel.

Sal at SportsFanBuzz writes RE Ubaldo Jimenez; Tony La Russa; and me:

Another point on the Jimenez no-no. He went to the stretch after walking Heyward to start the 5th and never went back to windup. Good coaching by Apodaca to get him in comfort zone for the night.

Spoke about LaRussa moves on today's podcast. I'm scared that I may be thinking like you.

I noticed that he switched to the stretch with no one on base when I tuned in for the latter stages. It reminded me of Don Larsen's "step and throw" motion of simplicity in his World Series perfect game in 1956. I'm surprised more pitchers don't make similar changes when struggling.

Thinking like me, huh? No reason to be scared. Embrace it, Sal. Embrace it. Madness gives the2010BaseballGuideCover.gif freedom to say what you want without fear of consequences; then everything becomes crystal clear.

Many of the predictions in my book are either on the verge or already have come true. It's a good thing to have. Even if you don't admit it, I get paid either way.

Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide is still available on Amazon and I-Universe in paperback and E-book. And now on Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.


Jeff said...

Panic, panic, everywhere panic!

The tune in the 'Lou is that we've turned into Ozzie Guillen's old White Sox -- livin' and dyin' by the 3 run bomb.

Meh. Too early to freak out (unless you're the Red Sox).

And I forgot to say, who cares that Heyman blocked you. Embrace it! Welcome to the blocked-out twitter club! First round of drinks on me!

She-Fan said...

If I were Theo Epstein, I'd use Mike Lowell more as DH. Lowell can still hit, I'm assuming, so why not add a decent bat to the lineup?

John said...

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