Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Lightning 9.5.2010

  • Firing Neal Huntington makes no sense:

It's in the wind that Pirates team president Frank Coonelly is unhappy with the way the club has played and that may cost GM Neal Huntington and manager John Russell their jobs.

Coonelly needs a mirror.

Perhaps Coonelly----whose baseball experience is limited to being a lawyer in the commissioner's office; his baby was the slotting salary scale for draft choices----should also fire himself. In no way qualified to run a team that needs a truly well-rounded and experienced baseball man, the Pirates have in fact gotten worse than they'd been before Coonelly, Huntington and Russell arrived.

But this is all common knowledge that I've discussed before. The organization is essentially rudderless and meandering the dead baseball seas like a ghost ship whose inhabitants are heroes of years gone by, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and John Candelaria. Now, with the team having already lost 90 games and well on the way to losing 110 for the season, Coonelly is angry and dropping hints in the media that changes could be in the offing----USA Today Story.

What has to be understood about such a public proclamation that jobs are on the line is that, similar to the dugout blowups between teammates, it's not the first time that these things were said----it's the first time they've been said or happened for all to see. This was done on purpose to lay the groundwork for the dismissals. Even an in-the-trenches baseball neophyte like Coonelly has to realize that firing the GM and manager won't make much of a difference one way or the other until the club's foundational issues are addressed.

Both Huntington and Russell were given inexplicable contract extensions after 2009 (that conveniently went unannounced until a few months ago); if you think Huntington and Russell weren't told straight out that their jobs were on the line before this, you're dreaming.

But is it fair?

All I keep reading is how the Pirates organization was a wasteland before the arrival of the current regime; that they've dispatched high-priced, underperforming players and infused the system with talent that's going to take time to develop.

I don't know one way or the other. The best young players currently on the big league roster are Andrew McCutchen (drafted by the prior leadership) and Pedro Alvarez (a consensus top level pick); apart from that there's mediocrity, failed draft picks; products of bad trades and ridiculous free agent signings.

Is it possible that the Pirates are going to have an impressive young crop beginning to emerge in the next 2-3 years? Of course. But a team finishing at or close to the bottom of the league every year can't afford to make mistakes in drafting. While they netted some nice, usable pieces (along with the future MVP candidate McCutchen), none of the draftees have been impact players. Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Capps and Nyjer Morgan (once for his speed and defense, not for his goonery) are players you can use. But there's no "wow, bam" in the group.

Brad Lincoln's struggles at the big league level were blamed on a mechanical adjustment made by fired pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, but Lincoln has been under the eye of the current management crew since they took over. He was drafted in 2006; he should've been in the big leagues long before 2010 like players drafted after him Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Joba Chamberlain and Max Scherzer. You can't compare one player to another and it's especially hard with pitchers, but Lincoln didn't pitch particularly well in the minors, why wouldn't the experienced Kerrigan try to repair something when it's clear that what Lincoln was doing wasn't working?

More blame game tactics from Coonelly.

So should Huntington be fired?

Put it this way: no one's paying attention to the Pirates in Pittsburgh or elsewhere; they can't possibly be any worse than this in 2011-2012; a new GM isn't going to solve the inherent issue of a clueless, agenda-driven and heavy-handed team president; and they're not going to spend any more money in a smarter way than they are now.

Those who defend Huntington point to the barrenness of the system when he took over; but there were head scratching reactions when he got the job. He had an impressive pedigree having worked for Mark Shapiro with the Indians, but this was his first interview for GM job and he got it, which is mostly unheard of. Clearly, while he may have had the gravitas to rebuild the farm system (and we don't know about that yet), he wasn't ready to be a big league GM.

The moves that have been made have been mostly bad. He got nothing of much use for Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Gorzelanny and John Grabow; in fact, he appeared to panic in the Bay and McLouth trades, making them before adequately surveying the landscape to see if he could've gotten more in the deals. The free agent signing of Ramon Vazquez was expensive and absurd; they avidly pursued Akinori Iwamura for some bizarre reason and ended up releasing him. They non-tendered Matt Capps; the same Matt Capps who brought the Nationals the Twins top prospect, catcher Wilson Ramos. The Pirates dumped a bunch of their refuse on the Diamondbacks to get the expensive and injury-prone catcher Chris Snyder.

In addition to that, they fired two respected coaches Gary Varsho and Kerrigan because they were supposedly divisive influences in the organization. Well, maybe the Pirates need someone to be divisive----to mutiny as it were----to get things heading in the right direction.

Until they start spending money smartly and bring in management that has the experience and wherewithal to do what needs to be done to win (and the "we don't have any money" excuse doesn't fly anymore), the Pirates are still going to be hapless, atrocious, meaningless and pointless.

Would firing Huntington and Russell fix that?

You tell me.

  • Lay off Joe Girardi:

There's a rip-fest going on against Yankees manager Joe Girardi for pulling Javier Vazquez with 2 outs in the top of the fifth inning against the Blue Jays yesterday. The Yankees had a 5-3 lead; Vazquez retired the first two hitters in the inning and gave up a walk and a single....and Girardi pulled him in favor of Dustin Moseley. Vazquez was bewildered and showed it in his overt reaction to seeing his manager come out of the dugout carrying a hook.

Was it overmanaging? Or was it managing?

There's a difference.

Overmanaging is one of the main criticisms of Girardi. It cost the Yankees a game against the Angels in last year's ALCS as he removed David Robertson in favor of Alfredo Aceves and Aceves blew the game; he did it again with C.C. Sabathia on Thursday against the Athletics as Sabathia was working on a shutout, had thrown 95 pitches through 8 innings with a 5-0 lead and Girardi took him out.

What Girardi did yesterday was managing, not overmanaging.

Vazquez has been so shaky; his velocity non-existent; his pitches lacking bite that the team is constantly walking on eggshells with when and how to use him. His confidence is gone and he's pitched poorly. The time to be concerned about Vazquez's feelings and mental state ended at the All Star break. They've had enough of him and if he doesn't like the way he's being utilized and makes a huge problem because of it, he might well find himself in the netherworld of Oliver Perez and sit in the bullpen for the rest of the season.

And I can tell you right now, the Yankees could not care less about whether Vazquez gets another notch in his win column.

Overmanaging and worrying about ancillary aspects in opposition to winning would have been leaving Vazquez in if Girardi felt it was the wrong thing to do based on the game itself. It's these types of innate decisions that are the difference between a Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland who do things based on experience and feel; and what a Jeff Torborg used to do to shield himself from criticism. It's a fine line, but known and understood by people who have the baseball knowledge to recognize it.

It didn't work as planned because Moseley gave up a game-tying double to Lyle Overbay, but the Yankees won the game. Whether or not Vazquez got the win that went to Joba Chamberlain is irrelevant. Had it been Sabathia he pulled in that situation based on some obscure stat, then there would be reason to scream about it; but Girardi wouldn't have done that; Vazquez doesn't get that rope and has degenerated to the point where the Yankees, off the record, can say, "Are you kidding me? It's Javy Vazquez!" in a derogatory sense. That's how far the pitcher has fallen. They made a mistake in bringing him back; they know it and they're squeezing whatever they need from him over the last month; if he's not happy about it, too bad.

Girardi managed yesterday. He made the right call.

  • Money, money, money:

The Stone Cold Killer may be on trial this month.

Captain Clutch's negotiations for a new deal could turn nasty and public.

Two of the more fascinating bits of free agent machinations are beginning to grind their gears right now.

Cliff Lee has not pitched well after joining the Texas Rangers.

Derek Jeter has not had a good year.

Both are free agents and both want to get paid handsomely; neither is likely to provide much wiggle-room in their dealings for different reasons. Lee wants money; and whomever he signs with (and it was said on MLB TradeRumors the other day that he'd go to Siberia for the biggest contract---maybe the Mets should monitor the situation----gallows humor) had better know that. Jeter wants to get paid for everything including his off-field attributes and time-served.

But what of their performances?

Lee's slump is one thing, but his back problem for which he just received a shot is another. It has to be remembered that Lee has only a finite number of addresses from which to choose to get that massive contract. The Yankees openly want him; the Red Sox might monitor the situation; the Angels, Mets, Orioles and Rangers could find a way to pay Cliff Lee.

But this back problem, his age (32) and that he wants a lot of money over a lot of years could stick a wrench in the plans. Are teams going to be willing to give Lee 6-8 years for $180 million? Considering the way such long-term contracts are a case of diminishing returns for almost every single player (and especially pitchers) who get them, I'm not sure.

Of course, Lee could put to rest those reservations by coming back healthy and leading the Rangers deeply into the post-season, but right now, teams have to be backing off on the "get Lee at all costs" plan that may have been in place two months ago.

With Jeter it's even more complicated.

The Yankees can't let him leave; but Jeter isn't going to have the opportunity to make the same money elsewhere either. He's not going to the Red Sox; the Angels could use him; the Dodgers are slashing payroll and Joe Torre's probably not going to be managing the team; the Cardinals can't pay him; he's not going to the Orioles----where's he going?

Brian Cashman famously didn't want to pay Jorge Posada for four years and didn't want to give Mariano Rivera a 3-year contract; he most definitely didn't want to keep Alex Rodriguez after ARod opted out of his contract after 2007, but he was overruled. Now, Cashman is almost completely left to his own devices....but Jeter is different. They've stuck to the "no contract negotiations in-season" mantra and Jeter is waiting along with Rivera and manager Joe Girardi to see what the club is going to do. Rivera's not leaving in part because he's still unhittable and isn't looking for a long-term contract. But Jeter?

Both sides need each other; there's no replacement for Jeter on or off the field unless the Yankees showed fearlessness bordering on the psychotic by letting Jeter leave, moving ARod to shortstop and finding a third baseman (Adrian Beltre?). That's not happening either. Jeter will want to save face by not taking a giant paycut; the days of the Yankees overpaying based on past performance ended with Cashman taking over and his cold-blooded severing of ties with Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Jeter's not leaving; the Yankees won't let him leave; but it may not be as easy as it might've been if Jeter was still the player he was----and he's not.

  • Viewer Mail 9.5.2010:

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE pitching coaches and mechanics:

I think it's fascinating how Dr. Mike Marshall gets ignored for the work he's done in micro tears and damage at the micro level. People flock to Tom Verducci's study like pigeons to seeds. But Marshall's theory on arm motion; supported and unsupported by the proper muscle group as opposed to the pulling action of muscle in a faulty motion gets dismissed somehow. Rick Peterson and his shameless self-promotion of his bio-chemical analysis and his company, to me personally have nothing on Marshall's understanding.

Peterson has actually taken Marshall seriously and met with him; he also told him straight out that he's basically "so far to the right that he's gone left" (that's a paraphrased quote from memory) or something in that vein.

It's said that Marshall didn't help any big league pitchers, but supposedly he did help Rudy Seanez. Marshall was very durable and successful himself as a pitcher; perhaps some of what he says can be incorporated into training.

The point is that a lot of what's said and done isn't working, so maybe it's time to look at what has worked with the likes of Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver and use that as well. All pitchers are different and to treat them the same is ludicrous.

Since you mention Verducci, I had never read his conclusions but I printed them out this morning. I'll read and discuss them in the coming days, but what strikes me is the rampant egomania in his reference to the study as "The Verducci Effect" and he mentions it as an aside as if to say, "oh, others gave it the name and I'll use it too". I can feel the smugness.

I'll reserve judgment on the other stuff until I read it.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday talking about the pennant races and other stuff. You can download it to I-Tunes via Sal's site; visit him on Facebook and get it directly here.

  • My alternate site:

I posted on my alternate site It's My Father's Ring if anyone's interested in non-baseball related ramblings, poetry (it could be worse I suppose) and whatevers.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

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