Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Falling Stars

  • Falling from the heavens:

For entirely different reasons the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez and the Mets' David Wright are under fire.

Ramirez is openly challenging his manager after being yanked in the middle of a game and benched for not hustling. Wright is playing as if he's in a fog and is----for the first time----under the microscope of his fan base questioning whether he can be trusted as the face of the franchise that is looking increasingly in need of a refurbishment. (Not a rebuild, a refurbishment.)

Both circumstances are diametrically opposed in their frame of reference. Ramirez's case isn't due to performance, it's because he's being a diva; Wright's case isn't due to lack of effort, it's simply a failure to produce.

On Monday against the Diamondbacks, Ramirez, in the process of chasing down a looping base hit, inadvertently kicked the ball into the left field corner and jogged after it half-heartedly as two runs scored. The video can be seen here----Link.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez yanked Ramirez and benched him on Tuesday. Ramirez, acting like a petulant baby and failing to realize that he----as the team's best, highest-paid player----bears the responsibility that comes along with the rewards, has been defiant and disrespectful. His comments are embarrassing to himself and the Marlins organization. It sets a dangerous precedent if upper management doesn't offer the proper support to Gonzalez in disciplining his player. The comments, in all their glory, are as follows (culled from this ESPN Story):

"It's his team. He can do whatever," Ramirez said, mixing in an expletive. "There's nothing I can do about it."

"That's OK. He doesn't understand that. He (Gonzalez) never played in the big leagues."

"We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls," he said. "They don't apologize."

"I wasn't trying to give up," Ramirez said. "That was the hardest I could go after the ball."

Ramirez said he lost some respect for Gonzalez for the episode.

"A little bit. We got 24 more guys out there," Ramirez said. "Hopefully they can do the same things I can do. They're wearing the Marlins uniform."


What you have here is a disturbing combination of dismissal of the manager; self-importance; immaturity; a complete lack of interest and/or understanding from Ramirez that he has to set an example to a team packed with youngsters who look up to him; and overt arrogance.

Ramirez's justifications are floating and absurd. First he hurt himself fouling a ball off his foot and was unable to chase the ball at full speed. So why was he still in the game?

Then he cites other players who don't hustle as one of the reasons why he too can behave so lackadaisically. As the highest paid player on the team, he has to set an example for those players and should be getting in their faces if he's aware of such behavior; the argument of "everyone else is doing it" is that of a misbehaving teenager rebelling against a parent.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is absolutely, positively 1000% right in his dealings with Ramirez and even if it costs him his job, he: A) won't be out of work long; and B) can look into the mirror knowing he did the right thing with a player who needed (and still needs) a slap. Or a punch.

This isn't the first public incident with Ramirez and others in his clubhouse. His talent is Hall of Fame-worthy, but a similar allegation of disinterest occurred last September when Dan Uggla castigated Ramirez for pulling himself out of the lineup with hamstring pain and there was a near fistfight between the two. Interestingly, the Marlins had been stumbling late in the season and righted the ship after the air-clearing session.

Ramirez has long been accused of not going all-out, all the time and it must chafe a player like Uggla to see and hear this stuff; Uggla----who had to wring every ounce of his ability and spent five years languishing in the minors before getting a chance to play with the Marlins----must want to choke Ramirez and/or batter him repeatedly with those Popeye forearms; and there would probably be a line of teammates behind him to help out.

Ramirez's refusal to apologize or even admit wrongdoing is going to carry this over until it's somehow resolved. In addition to all this is upper management's ambivalence to the work that Gonzalez has done as Marlins manager. They openly flirted with Bobby Valentine this past winter and have dismissed Gonzalez as any major contributor to the Marlins solid play under his stewardship.

The worst thing owner Jeffrey Loria and baseball boss Larry Beinfest can do is side with Ramirez here and reward his tantrum by interfering with clubhouse discipline; and I can tell you right now, Valentine would've done the same thing as Gonzalez.

This situation is far different from the confrontation between Uggla and Ramirez last season. There are times when a fight between teammates is a byproduct of intensity and gets the bad blood out; it helps everyone move forward and get on the same page. Ramirez, like the spoiled brat he is, has stubbornly held his ground and the Marlins players and manager need the front office to let their star player know that he's not the life-giving sun around which the team's world orbits.

Of all teams, one would think the Marlins are better-equipped to deal with this. Because they have never shown a fear of doing anything and everything----including trading star players----they can tell Ramirez to sit down and shut up; they'd get along fine without him. If they placate him; let him do what he wants, say what he wants, act like he wants with impunity, they're no longer the Marlins----the most ruthless and best run team in baseball; they're just another run-of-the-mill team echoing the golden rule in sports. He who has the gold makes the rules. The Marlins aren't stupid; they have to know what must be done here; and if they take the side of the player, they're going to lose that aura that has made them what they are and it would be a mistake. A big one.

Speaking of "run-of-the-mill" teams, what about the Mets and David Wright?

If you'd like a case study of why you should ignore statistics as the determinative judgment for a player, it's the 2010 version of Wright. In examining his numbers, someone who hadn't watched Wright all season-long would say he's playing well. 17 extra base hits; 8 homers; 28 walks; a .382 on base percentage; and a .504 slugging.

But he hasn't played well. His defense has been up-and-down; and his clutch/situational hitting has been non-existent for the most part.

Then there's the strikeouts.

David Wright has struck out 55 times so far and is leading the league. He's becoming a pleasant version of Dave Kingman without the power and a higher on base percentage.

That's not good.

He appears lost at the plate and when he gets two strikes, he's expecting to strike out. Speculation has been that last year's beaning at the hands of Matt Cain is the issue with Wright's inability to make contact, but he was striking out a ridiculous amount before getting hit in the head; he'd been unproductive for the entire 2009 season without that excuse.

First it was the absence of his supporting cast----Carlos Delgado; Carlos Beltran; and Jose Reyes----that explained away his struggles; now, he's hitting for slightly more power, but is a strikeout machine; and there's no excuse----none----for him not being able to make contact in a tie game with one out and a the go-ahead run at third. He must, must, must, must hit the ball there; even if he has to choke up on the bat Jack Perconte-style, he has to hit the ball there. Period.

Wright is a stand-up player; not one for self-pity or whining, but he looks clueless as if not even he can understand what's happened; why he can't hit a simple fly ball. It's contact that's the issue, or the lack thereof. I don't have a solution, but someone with the Mets had better come up with something because they can't go on like this.

I don't want to hear about Wright's numbers because he's been terrible. Stats or no stats.

  • The impenetrable head of Michael Kay:

Considering the amount of time Michael Kay has spent around the game of baseball----first as a newspaper reporter and then as a broadcaster----one would think that some semblance of knowledge would permeate his sensibility, if not by aptitude but via osmosis. It's a fruitless endeavor to expect Kay to suddenly comprehend that which is beyond his limited brainpower; but I hold out hope for the weakest members of society.

It's a foundation for frustration and I'm a masochist.

Last night, he was in his usual buffoonish form doing what it is he does----essentially wearing a Yankee uniform in all his self-important pomposity and undeniable lack of understanding for the game of baseball; but he came up with a couple of gems even for him.

First, he was discussing booth-mate Ken Singleton's success against "Hall of Famer" Dennis Eckersley by relating his stats (again taking stats out of context). Singleton murdered Eckersley with a .417 average in 71 plate appearances with 3 homers and 9 RBI.

Um. Okay.

I think it's worthwhile to note that Eckersley was an excellent starting pitcher, but his Hall of Fame career was made as a closer----a renaissance that began three years after Singleton retired. People don't appreciate what an excellent player Singleton was----stats----but to twist it in the way Kay did would be seen as an attempt to muddy the waters...if it was someone other than Michael Kay; but I don't think Kay understands the difference in Eckersely from his time as a starter to his transformation into a Hall of Fame closer.

Then there was the game itself. After the game-winning hit from Jeremy Hermida that sailed over left fielder Randy Winn's head, Winn was seen in the dugout speaking to coach Rob Thomson. Kay said that it didn't look like a "scolding".


I don't even want to get into the number of reasons why this is a ridiculous notion of "scolding" a longtime veteran player (age 36) for a defensive mishap; just that it's the epitome of Michael Kay----baseball ignorance combined with disturbing terminology.

Scolding? Yurgh.

  • Viewer Mail 5.19.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE General Managers:

Honestly, I don't pay a lot of attention to GMs in the sense that they're behind the scenes and I'm more interested in what's happening on the field day to day. No question they're responsible for who's on the field, but it's the players who have to perform.

I couldn't care less as to whether they're press-hungry as long as it doesn't interfere with the way they're doing their jobs; but the perception has become more important than the actual work being done. You look at the way the Angels have functioned under Bill Stoneman and Tony Reagins and it's clear that the team is the most important factor in their decisions; I don't get that impression with Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein, among others.

It's as if, because of Moneyball, everyone wants to be a rock star; but it ends up with expectations that are impossible to meet and result in a "failure" as has been the case of Billy Beane, when it was only seen as such because of that creative non-fiction that spawned this era.

An executive making the correct moves and seeing the players not get the job done is one thing; but when said moves are based on agenda rather than for the team is when the lines are crossed. It may happen inadvertently, but it happens nonetheless.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

Prince, wouldn't Trevor Hoffman be better served hanging it up? He looks.... terrible. And he's hurting his team where they cannot afford to be hurt.

I just checked his 2010 gamelogs and he's getting rocked. Considering that his stuff couldn't have declined that much from last year, I'd have to guess he's either tipping his change-up or his location is off. The one time I saw him was against the Cardinals when Nick Stavinoha took him deep.

Hoffman was great last year; dunno who they could use to replace him; LaTroy Hawkins has been worse than Hoffman. With Ken Macha teetering on losing his job, he's not gonna make a change at closer now especially since all he has to choose from is Hawkins; Todd Coffey; Carlos Villanueva; and Manny Parra.

The Brewers were drastically overrated this year and it's only a matter of time before Willie Randolph is managing the team; he might make a change to someone else; but they've got problems over there. Big ones. I don't see Hoffman retiring.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE GMs:

I think Front Offices are just as important as players on the field. I think this post makes a strong case for Team Presidents. In most cases where there is a direct connect between owner and GM, things usually don't work out for them. When owners delegate to Team Presidents, and he in turn coalesces with his GM...I think there-in lies just one key in success. The best example I can use to describe what I mean is when MLB had two League Presidents and a Commissioner. I thought Baseball was better for having Presidents. Today we are at the mercy of Selig alone. And that's how I feel Presidents have a place versus a homogenized executive/GM being the owner's gopher.

Team presidents were generally conduits between the owners and baseball operations who functioned as such without much sway in the baseball operations; they pretty much guided things without much meddling. That's a bit different now with the way top-tier GMs are kicked upstairs as in the case of John Schuerholz and Larry Beinfest (he's the VP in Florida; David Samson is the president); you are seeing negative interference from the likes of Frank Coonelly with the shipwrecked Pirates.

The GM has become an entity unto himself now; something like what was once a down-to-earth person who gains a little notoriety and acquires himself a group of hangers-on----bodyguards; press agents and an entourage. It's a function of the age; and in fact, their age since many of them are so young.

PairFace at PhillySportsCast writes RE Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay:

You asked me if I would prefer Cliff Lee or Phillip Aumont. But that's not really the proper question. The real question is do I prefer Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay. Right now, that's a tough call.

The deal that brought Halladay to the Phils was put in motion by Lee and his agent. According to most reliable sources, Amaro approached Lee about his situation, and if he would be open to signing an extension. His agent (allegedly) indicated that he was going to free agency if the extension was anything less than 6 years. Halladay was willing to sign for 4.

Now the Phils could have kept Lee for this year, and brought Halladay in for an all-or-nothing 2010 season. Amaro is under tighter financial constraints than Minaya or Cashman. There was no way that Lee was staying beyond this year, so they moved him for prospects. maybe that's a good call...maybe it's not. I guess that depends on what Aumont turns into. But with the injuries the Phils have had so far, it may turn out to be a good thing that Amaro has some prospects to deal before the deadline.

Of course, right now----in the moment----you'd rather have Halladay; but it's close. When you account for the 1000 more innings that Halladay has thrown and that Lee is a known commodity in the playoffs as the Stone Cold Killer, you can make a viable case for either excluding money.

I got the impression that the Phillies checked in with Lee regarding an extension and before getting into any serious, hard-core talk of numbers, they decided that they were going to have to pay to keep Ryan Howard; Jimmy Rollins; extend Shane Victorino; and try to keep Jayson Werth---to do that and bring in Halladay, Lee had to go. According to Lee, they never really got down to what it would take to keep him before the trade was made.

The Yankees can't even be discussed in this situation because the Mets can't compete with them financially and the Phillies payroll this year is in fact $12 million higher than that of the Mets. I totally understood the reasoning behind the decision to get Halladay, lock him up along with the rest of the core members and try to win without a dominating starting rotation.

The whole issue stems from the strategy, which I see as flawed. To me, it's either go all-out or don't go at all. With the combination of Halladay and Lee, they'd be the favorites to win the World Series; now, it appears that they're going to make the playoffs by default no matter how short their pitching is; but that paucity of starting pitching leaves them ripe for getting picked off in the playoffs.

With the remaining prospects, it gets back to the original reason for trading Lee for Halladay----to maintain the farm system; they're not trading Domonic Brown, but are they going to sabotage that decision and open themselves up for more criticism if they do deal their remaining prospects to get a reliever? Jonathan Papelbon might be available sooner rather than later, as might Bobby Jenks; and if they get a starter like Roy Oswalt, people will again look at what Amaro did, frown and say, "well, why didn't you just keep Lee?"

One thing that cannot be discounted is the combination of money, desperation and that Omar Minaya is in love with Cliff Lee and tried to get him every year since he took over the Mets; that may cost the Phillies even more than they anticipated if Lee is a Met next year.

Minaya's going after him. Hard.

I just think Amaro's trying to be too clever.

Jennifer at The Simple Dish writes RE Theo Epstein:

Commenting on the GM that I know best, Theo Epstein is a nice enough guy and he is overall a good GM but his ego may trump Cashman's. Everything he does, every move he makes, every carefully crafted statement is ego driven and under the assumption that his fan base, you know us New Englanders that pay the ticket prices and are the suffering fans by birthright, would not know or understand baseball without him there to push his little strategies ad nauseam. It must be working because a lot of fans cannot grasp the fact that pitching isn't working (4 out 5 with ERAs over 3.0) and our defense struggles whether we're at Fenway or not. And our offense will get to the plate and look like they cannot even hit water if they fell out of a canoe.

Yet the majority of fans seem to not be concerned because this is what "Theo decided and it's up to the players to perform." Out of the post season by Memorial Day is a HIGH possibility and yet all you hear is "Fenway Faithful," "in Theo we trust" and my favorite, "Believe." I'm all for a team through thick and thin but a GM's plan and ego should not interfere with a fan's ability to speak critically about a plan that is simply not working and is resulting in a weak 4th place showing. No need to remind me that we were swept by the Orioles, either.

I've found it to be dangerous to subvert one's own opinion to another and say, "well, he must know what he's doing". This exacerbates the reluctance to question the stat zombie model because when confronted with "fact", those who don't see things in the terms of black and white provided by numbers are shouted down and disparaged as if their opinion based on other factors is irrelevant and are afraid to protest. They hate me because I push back.

The Red Sox have run into trouble with the cloak of invulnerability that the numbers and their success in recent years provide. It's as if they make decisions brutally (as was the case of letting Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra go) or stupidly (Julio Lugo, pitching and defense), but add caveats to save themselves if they don't work and abandon them totally.

It will be interesting to see which route they take by mid-July if they see where the season's heading. Will they bag it, dump some veterans and look toward the future with the youngsters that they refused to part with when they first tried to get Adrian Gonzalez? Or will they gut the system in a futile attempt to save the season? 2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

They're arrogant, but not stupid; and I don't know which way they're going to go.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

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Jeff said...

Rarely do I watch a Yankees game with the Yankees audio on, but last night I was ready for a change... in short, I was blown away by how the guys in the Yankees booth dogged the Red Sox. At every opportunity "Pitching & Defense" they kept saying, over and over again, as if to mock the Red Sox and their 2010 business model. The mocking was constant... and annoying.

Hey, I'm all for mocking the Red Sox as a fan, but it doesn't seem like it's something a broadcast team should do -- rivals or not.

The biggest homer in the world is Hawk Harrelson, and even he doesn't do shit like that.

She-Fan said...

I missed Michael Kay because I had the NESN feed last night. The only "dogging" they did (to quote Jeff) of the Yankees was to keep calling Cervelli a pest. All in all, they're pretty fair.

the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Bingo! (even though Ramirez seems to have reconciled this afternoon). These are the perfect instances when a GM needs to show a united front with his manager. Ball players will continue to get away with this behavior. But when your GM backs up the manager with strong support, it helps. Looks like the club house might have straightened this one out.

Gabriel said...

I like Hanley, but he's a teenager. I hope Dan Uggla put him in his place so the Marlins can keep on playing good ball. I like Uggla, and I cracked up with the Popeye reference.

There's speculation of the Blue Jays becoming buyers at the deadline rather than sellers. What's your take on that?