Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loyalty Has Its Limits

  • Angels 5-Rays 4 (11 innings):

One of the strengths of the entire Angels organization has been their loyalty to players with whom they've cast their collective lots. The club handles their problems in-house; everything is dedicated to the team; and there are rarely if ever any controversies swirling around them to distract from the goal.

One such breach in that imperative aspect of their success occurred during last year's ALCS when center fielder Torii Hunter criticized closer Brian Fuentes for pitch selection/execution in game 2 when Fuentes appeared to fall directly into Alex Rodriguez's carefully set and brilliantly executed trap and fired a fastball on an 0-2 pitch which ARod appeared to intentionally collapse his forearms and poke over the right field wall to tie the game----NJ.com Story.

The potential fire was extinguished as rapidly as it flared up, but you have to wonder if the closer issue with the Angels is still a looming problem on and off the field early in the 2010 season.

Even with the team dynamic and "all for one" attitude of the Angels, it's human nature for players and management to see the way Fuentes is still struggling and know that the team will be better in the long and short term with he and Fernando Rodney switching roles----or at the very least using both to close games based on who's pitching better and/or matchups.

Fuentes blew a save last night against the Rays by allowing three runs in the ninth inning; the Angels eventually won the game in the bottom of the eleventh on a sacrfice fly, but you have to wonder if there's private rumblings from within that are suggesting a change needs to happen.

Among contenders, the Angels are one of the teams that exhibits the big picture mentality more than most. (The Giants are another.) Such a team-oriented concept keeps them on the straight-and-narrow; prevents overt in-fighting; and is one of the reasons they've been so successful over the past decade. They're not going to cave to public pressure from the talk-show callers who've been ravaging Fuentes since last year; but that's not going to alter the fact that their closer is struggling----and was never that reliable to begin with----and they have an option in Rodney to replace him.

It's known that Rodney was signed because he was willing to be a set-up man, but that he could close if necessary. Fuentes is a four-time All Star and, most of the time, will convert his save opportunities; but that doesn't remove the fact that no one involved with the Angels can be comfortable when he enters the game. He blew a three-run lead l ast night and if he couldn't hold that, there must be a stomach-twisting terror if he enters the game with a one-run lead.

What makes it worse is that the opponents aren't feeling the "game over" resignation that has been a big part of Mariano Rivera's aura in his Hall of Fame career. Of course it's unfair to compare anyone, anywhere to Rivera; but for all his tightrope-walking, the Angels had that with Francisco Rodriguez; the Red Sox have it with Jonathan Papelbon; the Dodgers have it with Jonathan Broxton; the Rangers have that potential with Neftali Feliz.

The biggest attribute a closer can have is being able to handle the job mentally; but it works on numerous other levels as well. The confidence a closer shares with his teammates is something of a mental rapport that can't be faked and extends from the pitcher himself to his teammates and all the way through to the opposition.

It's missing with Brian Fuentes and despite the Angels above-and-beyond trust they have in their people, it's not going to be long before they have to adjust their strategy to account for Fuentes's struggles. They'll be a better team if they----at the very least----use both Rodney and Fuentes to close games.

There's a limit to loyalty and it has nothing to do with the individual nor is it anything personal; while Fuentes would be stung by the demotion, he's a team player and the needs of the many outweigh the desires of the one. The way the Angels have slumped, they can't afford to be gacking up games they should win easily; the decision will have to be made for the good of the club if this continues.

  • What the Mets are missing without Carlos Beltran:

Carlos Beltran's absence is costing the Mets dearly and not only in the obvious ways with his Gold Glove defense and all-around game at the plate; the streakiness exhibited by the current lineup is rendering them as an all-or-nothing entity.

Either they're all bashing or they're all whiffing.

Because he was buttressed by Beltran, David Wright's holes have become more glaring without Beltran there. Something that's been shockingly under-reported as Wright's struggles have mounted over the past two years is the absence of Beltran.

Beltran is a player who is appreciated in stat zombie circles, but most fans never understood his consistency. For a basher, he never struck out an inordinate amount; and he quietly put up numbers without much fanfare. With the Mets lineup packed with high-strikeout players like Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, they need Beltran to function as a glue and counterbalance to those flaws.

Without him, the Mets are going to be reliant on those hot and cold players; when they're functioning on all cylinders, they're going to put up crooked numbers; when they're not you'll see the squandered opportunities as in last night's 3-2 loss to the Nationals.

Despite their flaws, the Mets are lucky that they're going to be able to loiter around playoff contention in a suspect and parity-laden National League. One of those flaws was a horrific bench that they took one step to rectifying by designating Frank Catalanotto for assignment and recalling Chris Carter from Triple A Buffalo.

Catalanotto was atrocious as a bench player and contributed nothing, so anything and anyone would be better. The Mets have the veteran journeymen in Triple A (Russ Adams, Alex Cintron, Mike Jacobs) to try something different as they move forward.

Since I mentioned Beltran earlier, the calls for releasing Gary Matthews Jr. are impractical. Matthews has done almost as little as Catalanotto, but the Mets are in no position to dump him since they have no one who'd be able to play center field in a defensively acceptable manner should Angel Pagan (notoriously injury-prone in his career) get hurt. Fernando Martinez needs to play every day in Triple A and he's had injury issues on his own, so the Mets have to keep Matthews. They have no choice.

  • Nap time at the ballpark!

Keith Hernandez and Ken Griffey Jr. need storytime.

A big deal is being made over Keith Hernandez catching a few winks of sleep during the Mets-Giants game on Saturday during a break in the action----Yahoo Story.

I don't think this is a big deal. Phil Rizzuto became famous for his notorious inattentiveness during games; Fernando Valenzuela is well-known to be seen driving his Porsche away from Dodger Stadium before games are completed.

Hernandez is an entertaining broadcaster who says and does things that could be seen as politically incorrect. He's essentially the same man as a broadcaster as he was as a player----that personality irked people regularly, but he didn't care. It's part of his charm.

Another naptime story isn't as easy to dismiss.

Adding to the burgeoning mistake the Mariners made in bringing Ken Griffey Jr. back for another season was Griffey's unavailability to pinch hit last week because he'd fallen asleep in the clubhouse----ESPN Story.

Bringing Griffey back was a mistake from the start and I can't believe that GM Jack Zduriencik was on board with it. I said a few days ago that the Mariners would've been better on and off the field with Jim Thome; in fact, they would've been better off with Jack Cust! Now, they're faced with an embarrassing controversy from which there's no easy escape.

Do they release Ken Griffey Jr.?

Keep him and hope that he starts to provide something offensively?

Move forward and essentially live with what they have, possibly depriving themselves of a chance to win a shaky AL West that's there for the taking?

Sometimes a veteran superstar accepts and adapts to his declining game and shows a leadership for younger players by not demanding treatment based on what he was and not what he is. Jason Giambi is exemplifying that with the Rockies as a pinch-hitter/backup. Griffey still expects to receive the reverence and tolerance for diva-like behavior that the Mariners had no choice but to accept in 1995; but they're dealing with it without getting 50 homers as part of the bargain.

I don't know what I'd do in this situation because no matter how it's handled, it's going to get messy. Very messy.

Zduriencik's got some work to do.

  • Viewer Mail 5.11.2010:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Ben Sheets and Dallas Braden:

For what it's worth, I can't see Ben Sheets being a leader... of anyone... including himself.

The 209 may be bad ass, but it ain't never seen this "Family".

There were repeated stories about the young pitchers following Sheets around in the spring, but obviously, if he was trying to calm Braden and keep the young pitcher quiet, it wasn't working.

This Family is a ruthless as it is formidable.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Billy Beane and Dallas Braden:

Beane must not have spoken to Braden's granny from the 209. I may need to get my people from the 805 on this.

I thought Braden's grandmother was hysterical. It was kinda cool and something that's impossible for anyone to be angry about as they were with Dallas.

We need to pool our resources. The 718 and the 805 crews need to negotiate a working agreement.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Braden perfect game and Evan Longoria:

No talk of Longoria trying to break up the perfect game with a bunt? I remember you going off on Gregor Blanco for doing this in a no-no and the bunt single was a legitimate part of Blanco's game (possibly why he is now in the minors). Longoria is a power hitter who should have been trying to drive the ball or get on base via walk. Bunting was not only kind of lame, but did Longoria think that this best shot at getting on base against DALLAS BRADEN was bunting?!

I had to dig into my archives (all the way back to my MLBlogs days) to find my take on that incident----July 8th, 2008 Posting. My argument was more in line with Blanco's safety and the scope of the Braves situation in that they were non-contenders and the score was 3-0. No one's telling Blanco not to bunt, but he'll be safer if he doesn't pull that kind of stunt again; if he doesn't care that he might get drilled, then bunt away.

With Longoria, it was inappropriate especially with the score 4-0 and that he's a power hitter who wouldn't have been bunting in 99% of other situations. You're right, and I'd say it's fully acceptable for him to take one in the ribs for it.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Javier Vazquez, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes:

The only thing in Vazquez' defense is it didn't cost the Yankees much.
It's hard to get on the Yankee fans for rippin this guy. They said very loudly and clearly they didn't want him back.
Curious - With Hughes throwing so well, when the timer rings, I want to see if the Yanks are going to stick with and impose the Hughes Rules. If Andy's elbow holds up, Vazquez is insignificant.

We won't know the true cost of the Vazquez deal until Arodys Vizcaino develops. I said at the time that it made sense in theory; not in practice and I've been right so far. That said, I think Vazquez will pitch well tonight vs the Tigers. The season's not lost for him; there's time to right the ship.

I haven't heard much about any parameters with Hughes, but presumably they're keeping an eye on him; he'll be a better option in the fourth game of a playoff series than Vazquez; but that's no longer a question, nor is it up for debate.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

Listen to my Podcast appearance with Sal at SportsFanBuzz from a week ago Friday2010BaseballGuideCover.gif----Prince on the Podcast link.

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

You're either on my train or under it.


Gabriel said...

I think the 209 will welcome Longoria "properly" next time he's in town.

As for Fuentes, I get that feeling from most closers. I think Francisco Rodriguez has lost that aura, and I'm not completely sold on Papelbon, but I believe most closers or potential closers should work on building that kind of aura, because if they can win the psychological battle, they're one step ahead.

Jeff said...

And don't forget the 312... I mean, we do run the country and all (see Obama, Emmanuel, now Kagan, etc).

I see what you're sayin' on the Mets streakiness... but whadya say about the Nats?! Wow! They've been bankrolling my entire operation this season... not to mention keeping me interested in our nation's capital. They've been gettin' it done on the hill and at the plate.

She-Fan said...

I watched that Angels-Rays game last night and was sure the Angels were gonna blow it. But they held on. As for the napping, I thought the video of Hernandez was hilarious. The story about Junior? Not so much.