Rays and Orioles: Early Season Notes

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Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were one of the few teams with a “surplus” of starting pitching. So they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals and signed Roberto Hernandez (AKA Fausto Carmona) as insurance and to vie for a role in the rotation. Jeff Niemann’s season-ending shoulder surgery put a damper on the depth and they’ve gotten off to a rocky start as Hernandez has pitched poorly and Jeremy Hellickson—who I’m not a fan of anyway—has been inconsistent.

Key parts of the lineup haven’t hit. Some, like Yunel Escobar and Matthew Joyce, will. Others like James Loney and Ryan Roberts might or might not. In the end, they’ll score enough runs to win…if the pitching is good enough or David Price and Matt Moore carry the load for the shakiness of the back of the rotation.

This should’ve been expected of a team like the Rays who run their club making trades and signings with an eye on saving money, spending where they can, and hoping to hit at the roulette wheel with the likes of Hernandez and Loney. Amid all the hits such as Fernando Rodney and Casey Kotchman, there are also misses like Pat Burrell and Matt Bush. Some have been costlier than others.

There are calls to bring up Wil Myers to boost the offense and, in some manner, justify having traded Shields and Davis to get him. Inside the Rays clubhouse there are expressions of pained understanding as to why the Rays traded Shields and Davis, with the unsaid wishing that they were still there to help in the now.

The Rays front office isn’t concerned about what the players think. No winning organization is. They may listen to a point in order to placate the stars, but in the end, it’s the organization’s decision. Few sports figures exert as much influence over their club as Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots and even he had his knuckles rapped by club owner Bob Kraft over Brady’s overt displeasure at Wes Welker being allowed to leave. “I don’t answer to Tom Brady,” Kraft said.

Nor should he.

Bending to pressure, inside and out, would betray the entire reason the Rays made the trade in the first place; in fact it would contradict the entire foundation of the rebuilding of the Rays into a team that wins in spite of payroll constraints. Myers was acquired because he’s a top-tier prospect, cheap and will have value for them when they can no longer afford some of the players in their lineup who are expected to be significant offensive contributors now, like Joyce. If and when Myers is recalled, it won’t be until it’s financially and practically beneficial to the Rays, not before.

In general, veteran players will provide what’s expected of them and what they’ve historically done barring injuries or an age-related decline in skills. This is why there’s no need to be concerned about Escobar and Joyce and there is need to be concerned about Hernandez and Loney.

This is the situation the Rays face on an annual basis. Maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

Baltimore Orioles

To GM Dan Duquette’s credit, he didn’t make the mistake the Mariners did under Bill Bavasi and equate an overachieving 2007 season of 88-74 into an idea of “all we need is one more pitcher” and trade a large chunk of his system to the Orioles—including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman—for Erik Bedard.

(Interestingly, Mariners current GM Jack Zduriencik did pretty much the same thing in trading for Cliff Lee after a similarly overachieving season that was based more on luck than reality in 2009. Yet he was referred to as a “genius” for doing what Bavasi did. He’s not being called a genius anymore, but that’s another story.)

The Orioles of 2012, unlike the Mariners of 2007, made the playoffs. They bounced the Rangers and shook the Yankees before losing in the ALDS in 5 games. The Orioles, having won, are no longer viewed as a last resort location for old and declining players to get a last paycheck. The temptation to use the new street cred among marketable players willing to join the Orioles must have been great, as must have been the offers for the likes of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Duquette did a tweak here and a tweak there, but mostly stood pat in spite of the Orioles having reason to say they were going for it in 2013, even though that would’ve been a mistake.

They’re around .500 now and the “experts” in the media had them taking a dramatic fallback to, at best, .500 for the season.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Currently relying on the same template as last season with a deep bullpen, a power-hitting lineup and pedestrian starting pitching, the situation looks the same as in 2012, but is actually subtly different.

If his elbow stiffness subsides and he’s pitching in the minors soon, the Orioles can expect Bundy to help them in the second half of the season; Machado will be with the team all year. If they’re hovering around .500 and still in contention in a parity-laden AL East at mid-season, they’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.

I don’t see people referring to Duquette with starstruck, agenda-driven awe as they did with Zduriencik, but Duquette’s the one with the past success, courage of his convictions, and is a better executive.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Book Excerpt

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The Los Angels Angels have gotten off to a horrific start. Their season, so far, has only been salvaged from an ever worse status by winning two of three against the woeful Astros. They were lucky to win those. What follows is an excerpt of my recently published book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide regarding one of the biggest problems the Angels have: a lack of continuity between manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.

I’m not going to say that everything in the book is as eerily accurate as this, but at the very least, it’s not a computer generated spitting out of numbers masking its creator with a façade of false expertise; nor is it randomness based on regurgitated stuff I heard elsewhere and pushed on the reader with an underlying and poorly hidden agenda. To be brutally honest, most of the stuff you see from bloggers, self-proclaimed “experts,” and the mainstream media is trash because they don’t know anything and are desperately trying to hide that fact through degrees, supposed credentials, obnoxious pomposity, and formulas that perhaps five people in the world truly understand.

My book has predictions, projections, fantasy picks and breakout candidates based on logic, reason and assessment. There are also players vital statistics and contract status for every key member of the organization. The full season predicted standings can be found here.

What follows is the assessments section on the Angels GM and manager and the pre-season prediction that was written well before the start of the season.

Jerry Dipoto—General Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2014 with club options for 2015 and 2016

When Dipoto took the job, it’s doubtful that he had it in mind that he would: A) be a checkbook GM; and B) would be usurping the longtime manager and most powerful voice in the organization as to the construction of the roster, Mike Scioscia.

Dipoto paid his dues as a baseball executive working in the front offices for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before serving as the interim GM in 2010 when Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes was fired and then moved back into an assistant role when Kevin Towers was hired as the permanent replacement. It was Dipoto’s trades of Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson at mid-season that played a large role in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title. Towers got the credit for the meal, but Dipoto brought in some of the ingredients and set the table.

The Angels were a disappointment in 2012 and it’s hard to know how much blame has to go to the GM. Did he want to sign Albert Pujols to that contract? Did he want to put a team that was so diametrically opposed to what the Angels have been and was ill-suited to the strategies and desires of the manager? Did he want the manager to begin with?

With everything the Angels have done since firing Tony Reagins as GM, there’s been a sense of collecting names that can’t be criticized from the outside, but don’t work as a cohesive unit when put into practice. The Angels never pursued the Pujols-type of player. In years past, they targeted what they wanted and made a quick strike to get them. There was a positive atmosphere and it was widely known that Scioscia was in command, the players were treated well, everything was kept in-house, and they won.

That’s gone. Pujols’s acquisition changed the template and it fits neither Dipoto or Scioscia. They’re still working together not as two men on the same page but as if Moreno told them that they’re two smart baseball men and they need to work it out.

Those things rarely get worked out.

This past winter it continued. Did Dipoto want to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million contract, take him out of his comfort zone in Texas and put him in California with the requisite pressure and underlying dysfunction that hasn’t been repaired?

There’s a legitimate question as to who’s in charge with the Angels. In the days of Bill Stoneman as GM and Scioscia as manager, they worked hand-in-hand and all were on the same page. Now it appears as if the stat savvy Dipoto, who was brought up as an executive in situations where money was either secondary or tight, has become the type of GM who is a figurehead and spending money because the owner is telling him to spend money. His other acquisitions—Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson—are not slam dunks; nor are they the types of pitchers the Angels have historically pursued.

Is Dipoto in charge? Is this the kind of team he envisioned putting together when he got his opportunity to be a GM? It doesn’t look like it.

Mike Scioscia—Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2018

Scioscia, in the waning days of the 2012 season, had a look on his face like he wanted to be fired. It’s not easy for a man who was in such unwavering command to have his authority stripped from him and parceled to a GM he doesn’t know and thinks differently as to the most effective way to manage a game. That power also shifted to the owner who once treated Scioscia with pure trust and is now having a significant say in the construction of the club not based on what the manager wants and thinks he can win with, but what has sparked a showbiz atmosphere and a TV contract trumping winning.

These are not things that interested the pitching/bullpen/speed/defense/inside game-preferring manager.

Scioscia was unhappy when his longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. The blame for that fell to Pujols. As respected a teammate Pujols is said to be and as much as former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa worships him, I have to wonder how much of LaRussa’s crediting Pujols for his leadership abilities was a placating of the player and the golden rule (whoever has the gold makes the rules). It behooves  the manager of a megastar player to get that player on his side, but that was never a part of Scioscia’s job description. His old-school sensibilities went back to the days before guaranteed long-term contracts and players having the ability to dictate who the coaches are. In Scioscia’s world it’s, “I’m the manager. That’s why.” And Pujols is a player who can resist that style of dictatorship.

The 2012 team was not a Scioscia-style team. They still played good defense, stole bases and bunted, but the tenor was different. The all-for-one dynamic was gone and this is the risk taken when buying mercenaries who don’t fit in to what the manager wants to do.

Scioscia is signed through 2018, but his time with the Angels is coming to a close. It would be better for all parties to split and move on. Dipoto would be free to bring in a manager he prefers (if he’s allowed to), and Scioscia can get another job elsewhere in a situation that more fits his style.

PREDICTION

This season has disaster written all over it. The Angels have abandoned the dignified template they adhered to for so long and chose to take the tack of purchasing mercenaries thinking that the ends—a huge TV contract; the extra Wild Card; buzz—would justify the means. They’ve lost the plot and shunned the reason why the Angels were a consideration for every free agent not because they paid the most or because they won. That was, in part, important, but the Angels organization was respected because the problems were kept in-house and there was uncommon stability in the front office and field staff.

That’s gone.

The second they signed Pujols, that ended. Pujols is not a prototypical troublemaking diva, but if he’s unhappy, he has a way of letting everyone know it. The first salvo against Scioscia to indicate who was really running things now was the hiring of Dipoto. Pujols’s displeasure with Hatcher and the hitting coach’s firing was the second. As the 2012 season moved along, there was speculation that Scioscia would be out as manager because he wanted out and Dipoto wanted him out. It didn’t happen and it was another mistake in a litany of them. The two don’t believe the same things when it comes to strategy and the manager who liked to push the envelope offensively with speed and inside baseball now has no choice but to sit back and wait for the home run. The manager who wanted pitchers who gutted their way through games and gave innings and high pitch counts regardless of what a few bad innings did to their ERAs has been compromised with the injury-prone and pending free agents. The bullpen is not good.

This is not a Scioscia team, but he’s still managing it because they wouldn’t fire him and he didn’t resign.

That problem will be rectified—for him anyway—when he’s fired by May. He’ll take some time off, relax and wait for another job opening. Perhaps he’ll write a book about what went wrong. Pujols will lobby for Tony LaRussa and perhaps his former manager, bored in retirement, will be willing to come back on a short-term deal to save the day. But this team is not good enough for LaRussa to save the day even if he does choose to jump in, take Moreno’s money over the objections of the GM and try to steer the ship in the right direction. LaRussa is the same kind of manager as Sciosica only he’ll have the benefit of the tag, “Pujols Approved” on the inside of his jersey.

Hamilton was a mistake. The pitching is shaky from top-to-bottom. They’re overpaid and don’t appear to like each other very much.

These are not the Angels of a decade ago and this will go down as the latest example of collecting stars and expecting them to join together in harmony just because they’re stars.

It won’t work.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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Toronto Blue Jays: Early Season Notes

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Considering that the majority of players on the roster have never won anything and that they acquired a vast percentage of one of the most disappointing and dysfunctional teams in recent memory in the 2012 Marlins, there is reason to be skeptical about the Blue Jays. The slow start certainly didn’t help. But to equate this team with the 2012 Marlins just because Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio are on the team as if their mere presence in the problem is searching for reasons to criticize. The Marlins were working for a hair-trigger ownership more interested in the number of fans they’d immediately attract rather than giving the club—and fans—a chance to get to know one another. There was constantly the hovering paranoia of a housecleaning if it didn’t work, with good reason as it turned out.

John Gibbons is not Ozzie Guillen and won’t start savaging the players in the press. There haven’t been the off-field issues with the 2013 Blue Jays that there were with the 2012 Marlins and the Blue Jays’ fans are going to come to the park to support their team. There’s no threat of a dismantling at mid-season.

The backs of the baseball cards are highly relevant with the Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, and Jose Bautista will be fine. The key will be how much Edwin Encarnacion can replicate his 2012, 42 homer performance. He’s currently hitting .133. Brett Lawrie has to get healthy. Reyes is on the disabled list.

They’re not deep enough to withstand a litany of injuries and underperformance and there’s still an ominous, “I don’t know if this is gonna work/I hope this works” from inside and outside the organization. The AL East is parity laden so no team is going to run off and hide, giving the Blue Jays wiggleroom to get their bearings. Once the starting rotation gets its act together, Lawrie returns, Bautista starts hitting and if Encarnacion can be 75% of what he was last year, they’ll be okay.

One note regarding Reyes, I’d understand the references to his injury history if he’d pulled a hamstring, but he severely sprained an ankle sliding into second base. It was an impact injury that could’ve happened to anyone at any time and had nothing to do with a history of maladies.

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R.A. Dickey On 60 Minutes

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R.A Dickey appeared in a great piece on 60 Minutes in which he discussed his life not just as a baseball player whose career has been enough to get him on 60 Minutes in the first place, but his personal life as well.

A year ago, Dickey released his autobiography in which he told the story of growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother; how he was was sexually abused by a female babysitter and then raped by a teenage boy; that his career was nearly destroyed by self-destructive behaviors, injuries and the quirk that he has no ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow making it a near-miracle that he’s able to pitch at all; and about his trade from the Mets to the Blue Jays. My review of his book can be read here and the interview plus extras are embedded above.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Red Sox and Yankees: Early Season Notes

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Boston Red Sox

There haven’t been any glaring John Farrell managerial mistakes as of yet. He’s pretty much gone by the book. They’re over .500 and the main concern is Joel Hanrahan’s poor start and now hamstring injury.

What’s been prominent with the Red Sox has been the continuing talk amongst the media about what a better atmosphere there is in the clubhouse with the new faces they’ve brought in. Positivity has to lead to wins and whether that occurs over the course of a long season with the Red Sox remains to be seen. Their positive attitude won’t amount to much if they’re under .500 at mid-season. There’s a media-created desperation to bolster the Red Sox into the behemoth they were five years ago and that’s not going to happen, especially with this roster and that manager.

The latest hype is the attempted credit given to GM Ben Cherington for the acquisitions he made in last August’s salary dumping trade with the Dodgers. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are receiving most of the attention for their arms. In realistic context, it’s not like the Dodgers were doing the Red Sox a favor by taking a load of money off their ledger. Josh Beckett was a “get this guy outta here” trade and Carl Crawford was hurt, but Adrian Gonzalez was acquired from the Padres for three of the Red Sox top prospects a year-and-a-half earlier and is a star in his prime. If you’re trading him, you’d better get some good prospects for him and not just add him as the X in the deal as a, “if you want X, you’d better take Y.”

New York Yankees

The Yankees have treaded water with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter all out. Andy Pettitte’s been great, but now he’s having a start pushed back due to back spasms, thus dampening Mike Francesa’s elementary school enthusiasm that Pettitte could pitch forever and ever and ever as if he was trapped in the Francesa Overlook Hotel in which he’s overlooking Pettitte’s age and injury history.

They’ve gotten hot starts from newcomers Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. The pitching, that was supposed to be a strong suit, has been bad behind Pettitte and CC Sabathia. The season will hinge on whether the new additions can maintain some level of production and the injured players return ready to contribute.

There are sudden concerns about Ichiro Suzuki’s slow start which shouldn’t be concerns at all—they should’ve been expected. He hit .322 as a Yankee last season and had a BAbip of .337. In 2013, he’s hitting .176 with a .167 BAbip (and no, I don’t have it backwards; his BAbip is really lower than his batting average). Ichiro’s success is contingent on his soft line drives and ground balls dropping in and finding holes. If they’re not doing either, he’s not going have numbers that appear to be productive.

Check out my appearance on Donn Paris’s Seamheads Podcast from yesterday here. We discussed the Angels, Astros, Mike Scioscia, the Red Sox, Yankees, Jeff Luhnow, player development, the draft and much more.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The Giancarlo Stanton-Mets Talk

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It was reported this week that the Mets are “monitoring” Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and that it’s not just talk, but there’s some “heat” there.

Far be it from me to be cynical, but the Mets and just about everyone else are “monitoring” Stanton to see if the woeful Marlins will make him available and the implied “heat” is due more in part to the combustion created from rubbing a load of crud together and hoping to start a fire. The truth is that while the Mets could use Stanton and the Marlins would absolutely listen to offers for him, there’s not a fit between the clubs with the potential offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler.

Let’s see why.

For the Mets

The Mets absolutely need a legitimate, mid-lineup, outfield power bat and Stanton is a 23-year-old near clone of Dave Winfield. Should they be interested in acquiring him? Absolutely. Should they trade one of baseball’s top catching prospects to do it when they don’t have any other catching prospects of note and the market is notoriously thin in signing or trading for them? Should they trade one of baseball’s brightest pitching prospects when they need pitching and one with Wheeler’s minimum potential will cost $100 million and maximum potential will cost $200 million?

No on both counts.

It would be a typical Mets thing to do if they look at what John Buck has done in his two weeks with the team as he’s leading the majors in homers and RBI and think they’ve “found” their catcher for the future by consciously ignoring what he’s been for almost 1,000 big league games. One of the reasons Sandy Alderson was hired is because he’s not going to do “old Mets” things and he won’t in this case either.

Buck is good with the pitchers behind the plate, is a club leader, and has pop. They could live with him as their starter, but d’Arnaud could be an All-Star. In addition, if Buck is still hitting and the club is out of contention at mid-season, it would betray everything they’ve tried to do in rebuilding over the past three years to hold onto him if a team makes a solid offer for him.

Regarding Wheeler, the Mets were referenced as if they had a pitching surplus this past winter which flew out the window when Johan Santana was lost for the year and Shaun Marcum got hurt. It’s not easy to find pitchers and it’s certainly not easy to find ace-quality pitchers, which is the consensus of what Wheeler can be. If they trade Wheeler and d’Arnaud for Stanton, they fill the outfield hole for the next decade, but they’ll still need a starting pitcher and a catcher, making it a wash.

For the Marlins

With a player like Stanton, the Marlins wouldn’t be out of line to ask for five players in exchange with the return including three blue-chip prospects and two good ones. Here’s why:

  • He’s 23
  • He’s not going to be a free agent until after 2016
  • He’s a 40-homer man who can play good defense
  • He’s a marketable face and a star who’ll sell tickets in a baseball-friendly town

What possible reason would the Marlins have to give him to the Mets for two still-uproven prospects so early in Stanton’s career when he’s not making any money and there’s the chance that another team will offer more between now and next winter when he’s initially eligible for arbitration? In spite of the supposed unhappiness of Stanton, I believe there’s a chance the Marlins will sign him to a long-term deal.

Teams can call and ask for Stanton. The Marlins will listen. They’re not going to jump at an offer like d’Arnaud and Wheeler when they can get two similar top prospects with another prospect or two thrown in or sign Stanton long-term.

In theory, it’s an idea for the Mets to think long and hard about and for the Marlins to give brief consideration to, but it doesn’t appear to have basis in actually being discussed with any seriousness. It sounds like speculation on the part of the media and a headline sparked by that speculation. It’s not going to happen and judging from the positions and needs for both clubs, it shouldn’t.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Greinke vs. Quentin: Tale of the Tape

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Zack Greinke

6’2”, 195 pounds

vs.

Carlos Quentin

6’2”, 240 pounds

There were multiple levels of ludicrous actions and comments preceding, during and after the Dodgers-Padres brawl in which Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch from Greinke. The most entertaining/laughable (in a tragicomic sort of way) portion of Quentin’s and Greinke’s altercation is that their fighting styles were similar to two semi-brain damaged rams who decided that running into one another was superior to squaring off and trying to throw a punch.

Let’s look at the participants.

Carlos Quentin

There was an angry and indignant reply to Quentin’s decision to charge the mound. There are players who are babies about being hit by pitches and react badly whenever a pitch is anywhere close to them. Manny Ramirez was like that. For some, it might be in part to try and intimidate the pitcher from throwing inside or it might be due to them not being accustomed to pitchers brushing them back. Regardless, Quentin is not one of those players. In fact, if there’s a worthy heir apparent to Don Baylor in today’s game, it’s Quentin. Baylor would regularly lead the American League in getting hit by pitches because he refused to move when the ball was coming toward him. He took the hit and walked to first base. Quentin can be counted on for 20 or so HBPs per season and has led the Major Leagues in getting hit twice. Last season, he played in 86 games for the Padres and still managed to lead the big leagues in getting hit. There weren’t any brawls involving Quentin in 2012. He usually goes to first base without complaint.

With Greinke, Quentin had been hit by him twice before; there’s a history of glaring and near brawls between the two; and it looked as if Quentin was hesitant before charging the mound and attacked when Greinke cursed at him. It’s pure foolishness from people who never played baseball before to wonder why Quentin charged the mound. Much like a stat guy questioning as to why a hitter swung at a 3-2 pitch just off the plate and struck out rather than taking the walk, it’s total ignorance to the reality of the speed of the game. A hitter has a fraction of a second to decide whether or not to swing the bat, take the pitch, or duck. Of course, he’s not thinking about it. It’s automatic and the same was true for Quentin’s decision to step toward the mound. Once his manhood was involved as Greinke essentially challenged him, what choice did he have? In the macho world of baseball, when the overt invitation was made to fight, Quentin had to fully commit or look like a wimp to the rest of baseball and possibly subject himself to beanballs with impunity for the rest of the season.

Greinke probably wasn’t throwing at Quentin and after tempers cool, I’m sure Quentin would admit that privately, but the situation snowballed after Quentin’s visceral response and by then he had no choice but to go after Greinke.

Zack Greinke

For all of Matt Kemp’s ranting and challenging of Quentin after the game culminating with a confrontation in the clubhouse runway, Greinke is probably more at fault for this than Quentin and Greinke is definitely responsible for breaking his own collarbone.

Greinke is willing to pitch inside and with a one-run lead he more than likely wasn’t trying to hit Quentin, but once Quentin took a step toward the mound, Greinke could’ve just waved him off and perhaps Quentin wouldn’t have charged the mound with such fervor. The situation could’ve been defused, but wasn’t.

As for the fighting “style,” Greinke’s not a small man at 6’2” and 195 pounds, but to willingly run into the 6’2”, 240 pound Quentin and then wonder how he broke his collarbone is idiotic. This was a case of ballplayers not being fighters and not knowing what to do when the amount of time they have to tussle is limited to how long it takes for the rest of the benches to empty and engulf them. Greinke might’ve been better-served to bob and weave with his hands up in a boxing position or sidestep Quentin and try a leg sweep. Anything would’ve been a strategic improvement over running into each other like a pair of lobotomized Neanderthals.

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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

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There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Ike Davis’s Day Off

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Stats

It’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, only with beer.

There were numerous reasons to give Ike Davis a night off against the Phillies last night. That he’s batting .148 and Cliff Lee was pitching for the Phillies were the two most prominent and viable, but none were good enough to justify the decision. Davis needs to play every day and he needs to play against the toughest pitchers, righty or lefty. His slow starts have become customary now and he already struggles against lefty pitchers (.214/.277/.364 career slash line and 1 for 11 vs. Lee). If the Mets had a veteran righty bat to replace him or even someone nondescript and limited like Juan Uribe who happens to hammer Lee, then sitting him down for a night made sense. In Davis’s place, however, the Mets played Justin Turner who: A) is a journeyman utility player; B) is not a first baseman; and C) before last night was 0 for 10 against Lee with one walk and one hit by pitch. Was this a better option than playing Davis and hoping he’d catch a Lee fastball and hit it out of a park in which many fly balls wind up being homers?

Davis is a George Brett/David Cone type of happy-go-lucky who enjoys big league life, has a big chaw of tobacco in his cheek like an old-school big leaguer, likes his nightlife and maintains a constant mischievous, carefree look on his face. The worst thing to do with a player like this is to give him days off. Were they afraid that facing Lee would put him into a slump? He’s already in a slump. Hitting against good pitching is a positive. Perhaps facing a Cy Young Award winner against whom nothing was expected from him would’ve relaxed Davis into getting a couple of hits and put him back on the right track.

Barring a tweak or slight malady, there’s no reason for the 26-year-old, 6’4”, 230 pound Davis to need a day off one week into the season to give him a break or otherwise. If the Mets want him to have a pseudo-break, they can DH him when they’re playing in AL parks starting this weekend in Minnesota. The night off was a silly decision made even more absurd by the fact that they don’t have a legitimate backup first baseman to replace him and it probably won’t do any more good to break him out of his slump than just putting him in the lineup and rolling the dice against Lee. The odds are he wouldn’t have done much more against Lee than the overall Mets lineup did, but at least he’d have had a better shot than Turner. That, more than anything, was why he should’ve been playing and should be playing from now on for the rest of the season with a day off given if he really needs it, not to shield him from a great pitcher.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available onAmazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Good News and Bad News: Halladay’s Not Hurt

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The Phillies would be better off if Roy Halladay was hurt. At least that would be a viable explanation for this sudden and cliff-diving decline from what he was to what he is. What makes the lost velocity and increased confidence of the hitters even more frightening is that there’s no physical malady or mechanical hiccup to fix and get the soon-to-be 36-year-old back to the greatness he’s exhibited for the past decade. His mechanics are fine and if he was ailing, the Phillies wouldn’t continue to put him on the mound. That was true in spring training as the “experts” speculated on what was wrong with Halladay and implied that there was an injury that the Phillies were hiding. What possible reason would they have to do that in spring training?

No. He’s not hurt. His arm slot is around where it was when he was at the top of his game with a slight deviation that has nothing to do with pain or compensation and isn’t going to revert him back to what he was if it’s “fixed.” He’s not finished and not in the last days of a great career. He can continue to pitch this way once he learns how to get hitters out more effectively with diminished stuff, but he’s not going to be the unstoppable, grinding, durable force he was. This is evidence of the ravages of time and work. In the past two decades, we’ve grown accustomed to pitchers continuing to perform in their 40s as they did in their 20s and for the most part in cases like Roger Clemens it was due to the evident use of PEDs, but with the new testing the one thing that can’t be quantified is when the body says enough’s enough. Halladay’s seems to be informing him that he has to figure something else out to be effective.

The sheer number of pitchers and players who weren’t simply maintaining their level of work in their supposed primes, but were surpassing it due to the use of certain substances made it seem normal when they should’ve been seen as a rarity. Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton were anomalies not just because they lasted into their 40s, but for the most part they maintained their effectiveness late into their careers pitching the same way they always did. There was no transition from what they were into something else.

Halladay’s velocity is down from a high of 96 and a consistent 94 at the tiptop of his game two years ago to barely hitting 90 last night. This has been a recurring issue all spring and spurred the worries that are rising with every subpar start. For the hitter, there’s a significant difference between preparing for 96, being used to 94 and seeing 89-90. That’s an eon of pitch recognition time. Add in that he doesn’t have the same pop you get the results Halladay’s produced in his first two starts.

Counting him out is silly. Pitchers like Carlton, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris have been labeled as “finished” and come back to be productive, even Cy Young Award contending arms at Halladay’s age and beyond. He still has his intelligence and his stuff is good enough to get hitters out, but he’s got to learn how to do it and it doesn’t happen overnight.

On another note with the Phillies, the Charlie Manuel contract situation is going to get messy. Were it not for a blown save by Greg Holland of the Royals in which he couldn’t find the strike zone, the Phillies would be sitting at 1-6 with a lame duck manager, an angry fanbase and ominous speculation concerning the age of their roster. Manuel has no intention of walking quietly into the night at the end of the season as the Phillies clearly want him to do and he’s working with his clear heir apparent, Ryne Sandberg, on the coaching staff.

This has happened with Manuel before. With the Indians in 2002, his contract was up at the end of the season, he wanted to know where he stood and basically told them to give him an answer or fire him. The Indians were in a similar position then as the Phillies are now with an aging core and an unavoidable rebuild beckoning, so with the club 39-47 and far from playoff position, they fired him. Manuel deserves better from the Phillies after all he’s accomplished—an extra year on his contract as severance even if they have no intention of him fulfilling it and not having to look at the guy who’s going to replace him every single day—but he’s not going to get it and if this thing spirals out of control, Sandberg will be managing the Phillies by June 1st.

Or sooner.

Extended discussions of this along with predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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