Friday, October 8, 2010

Blame Game James

  • Rangers 6-Rays 0:

It's easy to say that, in no particular order, James Shields should've kept his mouth shut before the series; shouldn't have been starting game 2 to begin with; and that the Michael Young check-swing call cost the Rays an out.

Naturally, these complaints are ignoring ancillary and unquantifiable factors that enter into the equation. Shields's silly statement of the Rays being the team to beat can be chalked up to him answering a question; going into the zone of "Brad Lidge over-the-top expressions of confidence when it's clear that it's the exact opposite"; the penchant for players to think that going into Mark Messier-mode will get them off-field attention if they perform; and the overall lack of maturity and discipline in the Rays clubhouse.

It's easy to look at Shields's game line of 4 1/3 innings; 4 hits; 4 runs; 4 earned runs; 0 walks; 2 strikeouts; and 1 homer allowed and say he pitched poorly. He didn't, but it looks that way. Perception has little to do with reality; convenience of narrative fits right into the "Shields's Big Mouth Bites Him" template; but frequently perception isn't reality.

Thinking that Shields's short outing had anything to do with his effectiveness is absurd. This is the playoffs. Had it been a relatively meaningless game in mid-July, Shields wouldn't have been yanked; but in the playoffs, no manager can afford to mess around and let his starter figure it out and potentially put the game out of reach. It turned out that Chad Qualls came in and did just that; but that's neither here nor there. Shields pitched okay; the Rays were beaten for another reason.

The real culprit of the Rays current predicament isn't the umpiring; Shields; or missteps in deployment of personnel; the real culprit is the Rays themselves. They haven't won because they haven't hit.

When a team is trotting out Willy Aybar as DH (a day after starting the series with Rocco Baldelli in the role); has to bench Carlos Pena because he looks helpless at the plate; has Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez in the lineup; is dealing with Evan Longoria's, Carl Crawford's and B.J. Upton's lack of production, how can they win?

They're not hitting.

Had David Price and James Shields done a pretty fair imitation of Dave Stewart and Orel Hershiser, the Rays still would've been iffy to pull out a win in the first two games. Why? Because they haven't hit.

The series is not over, but it's quickly going to be unless the Rays address that one glaring issue.

They have to hit and may not have the horses to do it.

  • On the edge of their seats...and not for the right reasons:

Lost amid the Tim Lincecum masterpiece (a 2-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts over the Braves) in the Giants 1-0 win in game 1 of their NLDS series is that it was a question as to whether Lincecum was going to finish the game.

Apparently it wasn't a question to manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants because closer Brian Wilson wasn't even warming up in the eighth inning, but the way the game is played today has forced fans to sit and wonder what a manager is going to do late in the game with a short lead and a pitcher's pitch count rising. Playoffs or not, we've seen managers overmanage and put their closer in to sabotage a rolling starter because "that's the way we've done it all year".

Of course it's nonsense, but since when has common sense played a part in the way some managers have gone about their business?

One of the reasons pitch counts are a detriment to a top-of-the-line starter is that when he's called upon to go deeper into a game, he's navigating unfamiliar territory and has an easy excuse for failure. Lincecum has ventured into the 119-pitch territory often this season, so it's not as much of a stretch to let him keep pitching, but the easy and safe decision----and one other managers would've made----was to insert the closer.

I have great respect for Wilson----he's one of the best and guttiest closers in baseball----but I'd always choose to lose with Lincecum than risk using Wilson for safety's sake. The safety isn't stemming from protecting Lincecum; it's to have an explanation to the reporters and the front office; it's a terrible way to manage.

It's a sad state of affairs that Lincecum going out for the ninth inning was even in doubt, but it was; that's the way the game is played today. Thankfully for the Giants, last night, it wasn't.

  • The King of Siam:

I've discussed Sandy Alderson numerous times as the idea is floated that he take over the Mets in some yet to be determined position.

Before jumping in with Alderson, I want to know which Alderson the Mets would be getting. Would it be the solid baseball mind who deferred to his great manager, Tony La Russa, with the late 80s-early 90s Athletics? Or the credit-seeking obnoxious blowhard he was as he handed the reins to Billy Beane with A's and systematically destroyed the Padres with his penchant for fomenting turf wars between scouts and stat guys?

I'm on-board with the first; not so much with the second.

That's not my point. My point is the following snippet from Jon Heyman in this Sports Illustrated column:

Alderson is said to want to finish a big job he began only months ago with MLB aiming to fix Latin American signing issues, and furthermore, Mets people have to wonder whether Alderson would perceive GM to be a high enough job for the accomplished baseball man.

Is he the King of Siam?

Does the title have anything to do with anything if the Mets paid him well? How about we name him Emperor? The Emperor of Baseball Operations, Sandy Alderson.

Does Heyman think before he writes this stuff?

It's idiotic. Who cares about his title? Will there be whispering and smirking as Alderson walks by? "There goes the GM of the Mets. HAHAHAHA!!!!"

That job and its holder have inspired laughter in the past, but with Alderson, it wouldn't be because he's the Mets GM as has been the case as it has with other people.

What would he want? A piece of the team? Has he earned that? If I owned the club, I wouldn't give people who have earned such a lavish benefit ownership points simply for signing on the dotted line. I can't help but think of the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon in which the main character's mother implores him to use his status as having married widowed royalty to gain a title for himself----at the expense of a grand chunk of the widow's fortune.

A title?

If that's so important to Alderson, then it would clearly indicate that the Mets would be getting "San Diego Alderson"; not "early-Oakland Alderson"; and if that's the case, he can stay where he is.

My guess is it's just more insipid speculation from Heyman; and if Alderson is going to come to the Mets and bring La Russa and, most importantly, Dave Duncan with him, they should do it now; title be damned.

  • Viewer Mail 10.8.2010:

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Roy Halladay:

In professional sports, whenever a teams gets "the best" player available, there are a number of teams whose fanbase complains about not getting that player. It always happens, it will always happen, because anything is an excuse to complain about your team if it's not doing well, didn't qualify for the playoffs or does not look strong enough to ensure a championship.

Roy Halladay, you just bought your one-way trip to Cooperstown.

You're right. It's tiresome explaining this stuff and defending the Mets (as much as they deserve it) amid their own fans' self-immolation.

Halladay was already on the way to Cooperstown, but he's adding to his career summary on the plaque as we speak.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Joba Chamberlain:

I forgot about the Yanks labeling Joba as a "can't touch" player. Man, must leave a bitter taste.

I wonder if the Phillies miss Kyle Drabek at all.

Wait, Kyle who?

I expect the Liberty Bell to be replaced by a ginormous bronze bust of Roy Halladay. Soon.

I understood where the Yankees were coming from, but they can't have it both ways. They can't stunt his development, misuse him and then tell other clubs who call about him that he's off the table; now, teams would still want Chamberlain, but what would the Yankees get for him? Far less than they would've a year ago.

Drabek's going to be really good, but my hunch is the Phillies don't care.

MacW writes RE Ichiro, me and the stat zombies:

Thanks for clarifying your position about Ichiro and stats. Here's my defense of the sabermetric viewpoint. A sabermatrician does not put much stock in the grand pronouncements of players, coaches, or pundits, they don't respect tradition for the sake of tradition, and they are suspicious of unsupported opinion and conventional wisdom. Rather than twisting stats to fit a preconcieved notion, their rigid adherence to methodology spares them from the vagaries of personal opinion, bias, partisanship, and assumption. (If they are twisting stats to press an agenda then they are not truly following the discipline of statistical analysis.) Ultimately this discipline offers a more objective and accurate evaluation of a player.

So now, perhaps you can understand my annoyance (sorry) when you wouldn't budge from your position. I hope you don't dismiss me as a hopeless stat zombie, but I can't, as Brooklyn Trolley has done, drink the Kool Aid (believe me, I would love to see Ichiro hit for more power). I listened to your podcast and found you inciteful, even if I disagree with your assessment of Ichiro.

You can read the full text of Mac's comment here.

I'm sure you'll agree that anything and everything can and will be twisted to suit an individual's purposes. We can maintain our lines of belief while understanding and respecting the other position.

The value of stats is unmistakable...if they're used properly. I'll never betray my belief in talent. For every player who's discovered because of his stats, there are others whom I eyeballed and said, "I like this guy". Sometimes it works----James McDonald after joining the Pirates. Sometimes it doesn't----Jeff Francoeur.

To me, it's an easy way out rather than true analysis; such is especially the case in the examples I cited yesterday.

I don't dismiss people who have a legitimate argument rather than attack, dismiss, ridicule, threaten, then run. I'll take them on, but never dismiss until their story becomes tiresome. You have done nothing of the sort and I respect----even admire it.

On another note, was this a Freudian slip? "I listened to your podcast and found you inciteful..."

I've been called "insightful" because I say interesting and useful stuff; and "inciteful" because I blow the place to smithereens. I'm willing to accept both simultaneously. It's what I do! (Unintentionally of course.)

Joe writes RE Roy Halladay:

I myself am not wondering where the Red Sox would be with Halladay, rather than Lackey. Lackey didn't cost prospects, so I understand why they went the direction they did. Not to mention, Halladay might not have made up the difference between a playoff spot and sitting on the outside anyway.

I'm still doubtful that the Blue Jays wanted to trade Halladay to either the Yankees and Red Sox and see him waltzing into Toronto in another uniform for 4-5 years. They'd have done it if they had no other choice, but it seems that----in the initial deal----everyone got what they wanted on and off the field.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE the Ichiro debate and Roy Halladay:

(MacW, Prince) Handled like Gentlemen. There's nothing wrong with being passionate about Baseball. BEER MAN! Over here! Three please.

Halladay ~ Incredible is all I can say. Two no-no's in the same year; A no-no in his first ever playoff start? Sick. Now the real fun starts. It's time for every one's number two guy to step it up.

Grady Little must look at Charlie Manuel and think, "Where did I go wrong?"

It's interesting how the view of a manager changes. People forget Charlie Manuel was coming so close to getting fired in early 2007 that he was probably days away from being dismissed. Look at him now.

Max Stevens at The Lonely One writes RE Twins-Yankees:

The disappearance of the Twinkies is depressing. I wonder how different it would be if they had Morneau. They seem to have it in their head that they can't beat the Yankees. It reminds me of the way the Angels kept getting bounced by the Red Sox in the ALDS. Hopefully the Twins will finally break through one of these years, just like the Angels did. I know it's not over, but it's pretty much over, don't you think, Prince?

I don't think it's over, but they have to hit. Joe Mauer looks clueless----almost afraid----at the plate and the club appears to be waiting for bad things to happen.

The Twins are like the kid that spent the whole summer pumping iron and taking MMA lessons to confront the school bully; stood up for himself the first day; changed things for that brief time (in the Twins case it was 5 innings); and the first time the bully shoved back hard, the Twins reverted back to the frightened and abused entity they were before.

They need either a major blowout to relax; or a close win to take a deep breath and say, "hey, we can beat these guys".

I was a guest with Sal at Sportsfan Buzz Monday talking about the post-season; the firings; and Ichiro. Click to listen directly here. Or at Sal's site here and get it on I-Tunes.

My voice makes people nuts and that's before getting to the stuff I say.


She-Fan said...

You're right about the Rays not hitting; with their lowly batting averages it's been a testament to their pitching and baserunning that they've had such an amazing record in the AL East. But in the postseason, without timely hitting you won't advance.

Jeff said...

I understand not hitting off Cliff Lee, but when CJ Wilson is out there, ya better make some contact.

Macw said...

Insightful, Prince, I meant insightful (I do a lousy job of editing myself). It's clear to me that you're an intense follower of the game, and you're knowledge of the current state of baseball both on and off the field is far greater than mine. I can tell you have seen a lot of games and you trust the observations you make and the conclusions you draw from them. But I may always disagree with you on certain issues because of the way our approaches to evidence differs. For example, in your podcast you noted that Billy Wagner had come up short in big moments in the past, and if faced with one in this year's playoffs, would probably fail again. I'm suspicious of this kind of statement. Bill James once conducted an exhaustive study in order to try to discover whether he could identify clutch ability in a player. The study was inconclusive, he couldn't find evidence for or against it, because players have hot and cold stretches throughout the season and depending on when they fall people will draw conclusions from them which might not be valid. David Ortiz one year had one game winning hit after another, and people talked about him like he was the greatest clutch performer ever. A couple years later he had a year where he failed repeatedly in the clutch. People have drawn conclusions about players based on a few games that subsequently proved to be false (such as Peyton Manning or Steve Young or John Elway can't win the big one). This kind of stuff happens over and over again. Just one moment can define a player as a winner or loser for the rest of his life. That's a small sample size. There's been numerous studies by social psychologists about the unreliability of human perception and intuition, and lots of books written on the subject like "Don't Believe Everything You Think," "How We Know What Isn't So," "Predictably Irrational," and so on that point out the perils of of drawing broad conclusions based on just a little evidence. Not that our intuitions are always wrong, quite the contrary, we wouldn't have survived as a species if they were. But I hope you understand why I might cringe when you draw general conclusions, like Ichiro could hit more homers if he wanted to, or Wagner is a choker, based primarily on your observation and your intuitive sense of the player, no matter how strong your observational skill and intuition might be. Thanks for putting up with my long winded posts.

Gabriel said...

I think C.J. Wilson had a great start. He reminded me of the start he had at the start of the season against the Blue Jays. He lost it on the seventh inning, but he had the Rays under control.

Macw said...

Prince, I just watched Wagner leave the game with an oblique injury, and I immediately thought of you. It's not exactly a choke, but it's not helpful to the Braves. You have strong opinions and you express them without any qualifying or hedging, and when you're right you look good. Wagner's career is probably over (note the qualifying word). This may (qualifying again) have been his last chance at redemption, poor guy. (You can see why I'll never be a decent blogger or pundit, I'm way too cautious. I just don't make many definitive statements, and that's what people want to hear.)