What To Do With Ike Davis

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Mets first baseman Ike Davis is a guy who can hit 30 home runs; is a good defensive first baseman; is streaky; doesn’t hit lefties; tweaks his stance way too much; is a bit lackadaisical and comfortable in his position in the big leagues and takes his now annual slow starts with an attitude of “Oh, well. That’s just the way it is.”; is shielded by popularity in the clubhouse and media; and whines endlessly with the umpires to the point where he’s gotten a reputation as a relentless complainer.

Davis is getting more time in the Mets lineup because the other players and manager Terry Collins have lobbied to keep him there. If it were up to the front office last season, he would’ve been sent down a year ago almost to the day to get himself straightened out. Davis got more time, started hitting and hit 27 homers from June onward. The Mets seem to be losing patience with him again and again the talk centers around whether a trip to Triple A would do him some good.

There are benefits and negatives to all options the Mets have with Davis, and here they are:

Demote him

The Mets could easily shift Lucas Duda to first base—which is his natural position—and see if playing a more comfortable position for him defensively boosts his flagging batting average and give Davis a wakeup call by saying his position as a regular player since 2010 doesn’t give him the right to slump as David Wright would get. The last thing Davis needs is another voice in his head giving him hitting advice, but maybe the anger and embarrassment of a demotion will light a fire under him. The one thing the Mets can’t do is send him down for a week. If they do it, it has to be for at least 15-20 games and only bring him back based on merit and not clubhouse/fan/media demands.

Trade him

The Mets were rumored to be willing to listen on Davis after the 2011 season. Perhaps Sandy Alderson and his staff saw the holes in Davis’s game, realized what he was and wanted to get something substantial for him while his reputation as a top power prospect was still intact. For whatever reason—ownership involvement; factions in the front office debating whether they should pull the trigger; player support to keep him; fear; lack of a suitable offer for him—they kept him. Davis is only 26 and has time to fulfill his potential, but his ceiling as a Gold Glove winning future home run champion may not be as expectable as it once was. Once the ceiling is lowered and the performance is as odious as it’s been, his value is down as well.

What could the Mets get for him? I’m sure there are teams that think a friendlier home park and getting away from the word “Mets” not as a noun but as an adjective would greatly assist Davis, but they’re not surrendering a bounty of prospects to get him and simultaneously rehabilitate him. If the Mets do choose to trade Davis, they’ll either have to wait until he starts hitting and restart the circle that began in 2011 when they shied away from the instinct to move him or they’ll have to take another player who’s struggling. Would the Blue Jays consider Colby RasmusBrett Lawrie or Brandon Morrow in exchange for Davis? All are slumping just as badly as Davis is and are supremely talented. For teams like the Blue Jays and Mets, making a bold move becomes more palatable as the season enters its midpoint.

As of now, they’re not getting a sure thing for Davis, but they could get a change-of-scenery player that would help them.

Let him play and wait

Davis started hitting last June so there’s a precedent to say that he’ll start hitting again this June. A significant part of his struggles are in his head so perhaps the boost of confidence from what happened last year will wake him up. Davis may be tired of hearing that he might get demoted simply because he’s off to a slow start and has minor league options; he might think that he won’t figure anything out under Wally Backman in Las Vegas that he wouldn’t figure out under Collins in New York—and maybe he’s right—but that doesn’t mean the Mets have to just let him be a hole in the lineup and a distraction as to what they’re going to do with him on an annual basis. No matter what they do, they have to make it clear to Davis that this isn’t going to be accepted as if he’s an established star for whom the numbers will be there at the end of the season. There’s no guarantee that Davis will repeat last year’s hot second half any more than there’s a guarantee that he’s going to be a Met for the rest of his career, or the rest of the week for that matter.

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The Mick and the Corked Bat

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The corked bat that was allegedly used by Mickey Mantle and was set to be sold at auction is no longer available after Mantle’s family hired attorneys to prevent the item’s sale. This entire episode tears another scab off the sordid nature of sports memorabilia.

Ironically in the past week the industry was in the news in a more serious court case as O.J. Simpson’s appeal of his kidnapping and armed robbery conviction was being heard in Las Vegas. Simpson was involved with memorabilia dealers and claims he was trying to reclaim his property and it expanded into guns, shady characters and a conviction. Simpson says it was an innocent misunderstanding. Sort of similar to going to the home of his ex-wife, just happening to be wearing the outfit of an inept burglar and carrying a knife, and proclaiming his purity when she and her friend wound up dead, bathed in pools of their own blood. It started so innocently with the best of intentions.

I don’t understand the memorabilia industry from the perspective of people who buy this stuff for their own enjoyment. The players themselves—including Mantle—thought it was a ludicrous endeavor, but went along because it was making him a lot of money with little effort and after his career was over, he didn’t have much money until the industry blew up. I get people buying it as an investment, but that goes back to the circle of preying on the childhood memories of others for profit. For those who think that having a “piece of history” in their homes are going to impress anyone when there’s no truly flawless method to verify the piece’s authenticity, it’s a momentary and mostly insincere “wow.” How much time can they spend staring at an old jersey? An old hat? An old glove? A bat that was supposedly laced with cork to lighten it, increase the hitter’s bat speed, and add a substance that may or may not add distance to the ball’s travels? And nobody can say whether or not the bat was actually used by Mantle.

Was it?

Based on Mantle’s style, he might have just used it as a joke once or twice just to see what happened. He wasn’t one to look before he leaped and did things because he could do them or because he thought it might be a kick. That didn’t extend to a long series of off-field incidents due to his drinking and womanizing as it would today because the writers were protective of players’ off-field lives during Mantle’s day, but if he was playing today you can bet there would be DUI incidents, an array of barroom brawls, and other stories of his exploits popping out all over.

For all of Mike Francesa’s bluster about the “reality” of sports, it takes little prompting for him to revert to the adolescent Mantle idol-worshipper when anyone dare question his hero and all-knowing, ignoring other factors statement that Mantle didn’t need to use a corked bat, therefore it is proven that he didn’t use one.

Mantle’s family stated that he never used a corked bat. How they would know this is not stated.

Did Mantle “need” to use a corked bat? Of course not. Did he use one a few times? Possibly. Does it tarnish his legacy? Not if his 535th career homer off Denny McLain in which McLain tossed a tailor made batting practice fastball specifically for Mantle to hit out the park didn’t tarnish his legacy and ruin the aesthetic for Francesa and the aging men who treat Mantle as their ideal.

Mantle was a “Yeah, what the hell?” guy and that might have extended to him trying a corked bat a few times. But with no one to guarantee that it’s legitimate or that Mantle hit with it to the degree that it truly affected his results and career numbers, a chunk of people only care because they want to shield their bubble of beliefs; the others seek to maintain the profits they can make from “real” Mantle memorabilia. I understand why they’re doing it, but I’ll never understand why people would pay money for that stuff to begin with.

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No Managerial Replacements Means No Managerial Changes

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If there was an obvious choice replacement manager or two (or three) sitting on the sidelines it’s very possible that both the Angels and Dodgers would have made changes by now. Instead Angels manager Mike Scioscia has received multiple votes of confidence and the speculation surrounding his job status has been qualified with the “it’s not his fault” lament. For the Dodgers, the club has been ravaged by injuries, none of which are the fault of manager Don Mattingly. For both teams, if they turn their seasons around, it will be the steady veteran experience and failure to panic on the part of Scioscia that will be referenced as a reason; with Mattingly, it will be his experience of seeing so many managers on the hotseat in his time as a Yankees player and coach as well as his unending positive enthusiasm (almost bordering on delusion) that the Dodgers will steer out of the spiral. The Angels’ situation is far worse than that of the Dodgers. They’re 11 games out of first place and have shown no signs of life apart from the brief boost they got from Astros manager Bo Porter’s strategic gaffe a week ago that lit a short-term fire under them. Since the three game win streak, they’ve settled back into the dysfunctional mess they’ve been all season. The Dodgers are only 5 1/2 games out of first place so there’s a logic to say that once they get their players back and GM Ned Colletti follows through on his usual burst of mid-season trade activity, they’ll be right in the thick of the race.

We’ve seen from history how worthless votes of confidence, logical explanations as to why it’s not the manager that’s the problem, and positive vibes in the face of adversity are—if teams are under enough pressure and their seasons are on the brink, they’ll withstand the fire for “lying” and make a change. But who would be the replacements for managers like Scioscia and Mattingly?

Because the “deans” of managers—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella—are all 69 and older and have shown no interest in managing again, who is there to replace a manager on the hotseat to ignite the fanbase and tell the players that something different is going to be done? Torre and Cox are through with managing. LaRussa might be able to be convinced to come back but it won’t be this year for the Angels where, if he succeeded, he might hinder his close friend Jim Leyland’s last chance at a title with the Tigers; he likes to be compensated lucratively and the one thing the Dodgers have to offer along with spending on players is a lot of money—they’d pay him and Dave Duncan handsomely to come and Mark McGwire is already there. Piniella has also said he’s not interested in managing anymore, but he also likes to be paid, was in line for the Dodgers job once before and might be dragged out of retirement.

These are maybes contingent on the whims of the men who no longer need the job or the aggravation. Who is there that could replace any manager who’s on the outs with his current club and who would definitely jump at the job offer? If the Angels wanted to go with the polar opposite of Scioscia (as is the strategy teams like to use when firing their manager) they could hire Ozzie Guillen and wouldn’t have to pay him all that much because the Marlins are still paying him for two-and-a-half more seasons, but that would not be reacted to well by the players. Perhaps that’s what the underachieving bunch needs, but Guillen, LaRussa, Piniella or anyone else isn’t going to fix the Angels biggest problem: pitching. Scioscia’s been there too long, it’s no longer his type of team, a change needs to be made whether they admit it or not, but a change really won’t help in the short term.

If Terry Francona had chosen to sit out another year, he would be mentioned with every job that could potentially be opening, but he took the Indians job. Bobby Valentine can pretty much forget it after the 2012 disaster with the Red Sox. Combining the competent and functional retreads like Jim Tracy, Phil Garner, Larry Bowa and Don Baylor who would love to have a job and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference and the lack of a guy next to the managers on the bench who are viable replacements, it’s easier for the Angels, Dodgers and other teams who might consider a managerial change to just leave it as is and hope it gets better until something has to be done. And by the time something has to be done for cosmetic purposes more than anything else, the season will be too far gone for the new manager to turn around club fortunes. At that point, they can stick whomever they want in the manager’s office and see what happens with zero chance of it helping the team for the rest of this season one way or the other, then decide what to do for 2014.

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The Astros Blueprint Begins To Fade

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For the Astros, all of a sudden the blueprint isn’t as simple as plugging a bunch of numbers into the machine and achieving the desired result. With the resignation of CEO George Postolos there’s speculation that the Astros “united front” of rebuilding by detonating the entire organization isn’t as united as it was portrayed to be. There’s also talk that Nolan Ryan now has an opening with the Astros to be the team president since the Rangers have mitigated his CEO role and he was unhappy about it.

To put an end to the speculation on both ends, Postolos is not a baseball guy. He’s a business guy who assisted Astros owner Jim Crane in getting the franchise. Losing him is irrelevant.

Ryan has ties to the Astros fans from his days pitching for them, but think about it logically: He would be leaving the Rangers because his say-so was supposedly undermined by the promotion of GM Jon Daniels to head of baseball operations and Ryan is now seen as a figurehead, but going to the Astros and working for GM Jeff Luhnow and placating the fans who are angry at the team being so supernaturally terrible would be the epitome of a figurehead move. Luhnow certainly wouldn’t listen to Ryan’s old-school baseball theories and the stat people in the front office would roll their eyes at him when he was out of the room. It wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a step down into the “old man” status he so clearly loathes. In actuality, the one place aside from public relations in which Ryan could help the Astros is on the mound. Since he could throw 90-mph years after his retirement, there’s a pretty good chance that he could still throw in the 80s even at age 66 and would have the pitching savvy to do better than what the Astros are currently tossing out there.

Dismissing the departure of Postolos and the talk of hiring Ryan, the Astros are coming to the inevitable conclusion that the fans being onboard with this expansion-style rebuild was fleeting. They’re not going to pay to see a product that is so blatantly and intentionally not of Major League quality, nor are they going to sit happily while the owner scoffs at the fans wanting him to spend more money to at least make the team cosmetically better. It’s easy to draw up the plan for a teardown and reconstruction without accounting for the blowback from such a decision. There’s support for what Luhnow and Crane are doing and that support will not waver in places like the halls of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law’s house, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the fans merrily going along with it sans complaints. Ryan might quiet them briefly if he was hired, but how long would that last while his suggestions were being ignored and Crane was trotting him out as a human shield to protect him from fan and media vitriol? Fans don’t go to the park to see the team president do his presidenting. Most probably didn’t know who Postolos was and while they’d know Ryan, that wouldn’t perfume the stink that these Astros are generating.

The key for Crane is twofold: 1) can he stand the constant attacks he’ll be under as the team gets worse before it gets better? And 2) Can Luhnow find the talent to make the club viable again?

On the first front, Crane is probably not accustomed to people talking to or about him the way they currently are. Rich, successful businessmen aren’t pleased about criticism and when it’s an alpha-male Texan where any small concession is seen as a sign of weakness and can cost money and clients, it’s magnified.

Regarding Luhnow, because the Astros are going to have so many high draft picks and are pouring most of their resources into development, it will be hard not to get better and show signs of significant improvement eventually. Whether that will yield the results that are expected in a replication of the Rays or the new “genius” in the Moneyball sense remains to be seen and it’s not guaranteed to happen. Already there should be concerns that their hand-picked manager Bo Porter is starting to look overmatched and was rightfully mocked because he didn’t know a fundamental rule of the game last week against the Angels. To make matters worse, his coaches didn’t point out to him that what he was doing was illegal either. That he got away with it only made it look worse.

There are similarities between another Texas team that was purchased by a brash rich man who didn’t want to hear what didn’t work in the past as Jerry Jones bought the floundering Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989. Jones said some stupid things as Crane has, but he also had the foresight and guts to fire Tom Landry and hire Jimmy Johnson to put him in charge of the entire on-field operation. Of course it helped that Troy Aikman was sitting there as the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and that Johnson was a ruthless wizard with moving up and down the NFL draftboard and dispatching those who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him achieve his goals as rapidly as possible. But the key for those Cowboys was the Herschel Walker trade in which Johnson fleeced the Vikings for a bounty of draft picks that he used to put a Super Bowl team together in four years.

Jeff Luhnow is not Jimmy Johnson in terms of personality nor intensity, can’t trade up and down the MLB draftboard, and he doesn’t have a Herschel Walker equivalent on his roster to trade. Porter is not Johnson in terms of on-field strategic skill and in threatening and pushing his coaches and players to get it done or else.

Unless there’s some past business animosity between the two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones has called Crane as Al Davis used to call Jones during the Cowboys’ 1-15 season in Jones/Johnson’s first season running the team and told him to keep his chin up. By “chin up” I don’t mean Jones is suggesting to Crane to have the ill-advised, multiple plastic surgeries Jones has had as he’s aged, but to keep his chin up in response to the raking he’s getting for the atrociousness of his team. Not only does Crane need to keep his chin up, but it had better be able to take a punch as well because they’re starting in earnest now and won’t stop until there’s a marked improvement in the on-field product. And that’s a long way away.

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The Mets “Teach” Valdespin, But Who Teaches The Mets?

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Because the current Mets are so unrelentingly dull on the nights Matt Harvey isn’t pitching we’re getting stories created out of thin air like a Hollywood public relations expert deciding that it would be good idea to tamp down Calista Flockhart anorexia rumors by having her “caught” on camera at a ballgame munching on a hot dog. A few weeks ago it was Zack Wheeler complaining about the light air in Las Vegas affecting his pitching; now it’s Jordany Valdespin and the hit by pitch “controversy” from over the weekend against the Pirates. For a nothing story, this certainly has legs and it’s due in large part to there being only so much to write about Rick Ankiel and the days between Harvey’s starts.

Is this worth all the attention? Is Valdespin worth all this attention? And do these Mets from manager Terry Collins on down have the moral high ground to be dictating to anyone what it takes not just to act like a big leaguer, but to win in the big leagues?

No.

No.

And definitely no.

For all the irritating, high-handed condescension based on public relations and a crafted image than any actual reality, the Yankees are in a position to dictate to players, “This is how it’s done.” “This is how you behave when you win.” For Derek Jeter to scold a teammate (or to order his enforcer Jorge Posada to do it years ago), there’s a basis for him to tell them they’re not acting appropriately. When the Yankees got rid of Ian Kennedy in large part because of Kennedy’s mouth, they can accept the fact that he blossomed for the Diamondbacks into becoming what they promoted him to be as the most “polished” of the three “future stars” with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Only die-hard Yankee-lovers want to hear and believe Michael Kay’s tiresome, wide-eyed storytelling about impressive rookie reliever Preston Claiborne’s dad telling his son while they attended a Yankees-Rangers game in Texas that, “This is how to conduct yourself like a classy professional,” or some other paraphrased nonsense, but there’s a foundation of fact in a team that’s had extended success like the Yankees, Cardinals, Rangers and Phillies to publicly scold a misbehaving youngster. The Twins have had two consecutive atrocious years, but the structure of the organization with Terry Ryan, Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire implementing the code of conduct and “Twins Way” has given them the freedom to tell young players to act with a certain comportment or they’re not going to be with the Twins for much longer whether they’re winning or not.

For the Mets? As likable a player as John Buck is, he’s been on one winning team in his entire Major League career in 2010 with the Blue Jays and that team was an 85-win also-ran. Can he give a treatise on winning?

Ike Davis is the bastion of absence of accountability with his annual horrific start and usage of popularity in the clubhouse as a shield from the consequences that befell Lucas Duda when he was demoted last summer and Valdespin now. It’s almost as if Davis has accepted the lost months in the spring as a “just the way it is” addendum making it okay. It’s not okay.

Collins? Fired twice due to in-house mutinies and presiding over teams that appeared to quit late in the season in his two Mets seasons, does he really want to get into this type of teaching method from the old-school?

Valdespin is a talented and immature player and person who clearly needs to learn the proper way to act. The things that are seeping out about him now are, in my experience, a small fraction of what’s gone on with him. With any player if there are ten stories reported, there are 50 others that haven’t gotten out yet. But that doesn’t matter. The way the Mets are trying to “teach” him with the open lambasting, stony silence in answering questions without answering them, and making the situation worse by tossing him into a spotlight he can’t handle will serve to damage him further. The majority of these Mets—including the manager—are not in a position to take a young player with ability and say, “Get him outta here; he can’t help us win,” because most don’t have the faintest idea of what winning looks like to begin with.

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How Much Worse Is Ankiel For The Mets?

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While it’s obvious fodder for ridicule for the Mets to be accepting refuse from the Astros when signing Rick Ankiel and immediately putting him in the lineup in center field, it’s not a simple matter of neatly encompassing the sad state of affairs of the club to attack the move. The Mets outfield has been about as bad as was predicted before the season with only Lucas Duda’s power and on base skills salvaging anything.

The center fielders the Mets have trotted out this season—Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Juan Lagares, and Marlon Byrd—have hit for a combined split of .182/.217/.280 with 3 homers, 4 doubles and 2 stolen bases while playing the position. Ankiel, before he was released by the Astros, batted .194/.231/.484 with 5 homers. Historically Ankiel has been a good defensive center fielder and has the pitcher’s arm to prevent runners from trying to take the extra base.

No, he’s not good. But maybe with the solid rates that David Wright and Duda get on base, he’ll hit a homer every now and then to drive them in rather than leave them stranded on the bases.

Bottom line: he’s no worse than what they had before, so why not?

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Billy Beane As Doctor Doom

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billybeanegeniusdoompic

It’s amazing how Billy Beane’s “genius” fluctuates based the Athletics’ record. While the A’s were consistently losing despite his best efforts at being a “genius” from 2007 through half of 2012, there weren’t many lusty articles, stories, poems or manuals written as to his management style. His followers were lying in wait for the opportunity to restart their version of the Crusades and they got it with the unlikely, almost inexplicable comeback from 13 games out of first place on June 30 to win the AL West.

With the combination of the early 2012 release of the movie version of Moneyball and the A’s comeback, he’d reacquired the title of “smarter than the average bear” or whatever other adjectives his supporters and those who benefit from the perception of “genius” want to use. Of course there was no connection between Moneyball and how the 2012 A’s were built, but that doesn’t matter when appealing to the casual baseball fan—some of whom decided, “Hey, I went to Harvard. Even though I never watched or played baseball, it’ll be a fun thing to do!!”—and actually managed to get jobs in the game as the new era of “experts” who came late to the revolution.

The 2013 A’s are under .500 after losing to the Mariners yesterday and without their 6-0 record against the historically dreadful Astros (Bo Porter does know the rules regarding wins and losses, right?) and 5-1 record against the staggering Angels, they’re 8-19 against the rest of baseball. Will the “genius” mysteriously return if and when the A’s start winning again?

Beane, a fan of English Premier League soccer/football, said in an NBC Sports piece with fellow stat-savvy writer Joe Posnanski that he’d like baseball to adopt a system similar to the one used in the Premier League in which the team with the best record gets the title. It’s a idiotic idea for baseball based on the fantasy of accruing that ever-elusive championship that he’s yet to achieve in spite of the best efforts of his biographers, mythmakers, and “check your brain at the door” worshippers, but why not? Truth was twisted at Billy’s and Michael Lewis’s combined mighty hands, maybe they can alter the fabric of what’s made baseball what it is today and eliminate the post-season entirely to suit the flesh and blood Billy and the fictional “Billy.”

When he uses the term “gauntlet of randomness” he sounds like Doctor Doom who, in Marvel Comics, is a power-hungry megalomaniac who speaks as if he’s narrating his own life because he is narrating his own life and referring to himself in the third person said, “Every utterance of Doom must be preserved for posterity.”

Maybe it’s because the public version of Beane is a fictional character whose exploits are neither realistic nor real. Those who took Moneyball and transformed it into the stat geek’s New Testament treat is as a basis upon which to live their baseball lives and consider any who protest to be infidels to the new order. Except it’s just a story.

The comic book character analogy is appropriate because Beane uses whatever the situation currently is to determine how he’ll present himself. The A’s were losing, so he became the everyman who was just trying to make his way in the world. They started winning again with a supernatural timing to coincide with the movie being released on DVD and he’s able to turn water into wine, stone into bread, and Brandon Moss into Jason Giambi. There seems to be the impression that Beane was sitting in his darkened office late at night in May of 2012 with his fingers tented and an evil laugh slowly building from his diaphragm on up and in a Dracula voice saying, “Mwaahahhaaa!!! De vorld iz ah-sleep. Ven dey leest expect it, I vill unleash de terrrifyink weh-pohn ov….Brrrrandon Mossss!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Except the longtime journeyman Moss was in the minor leagues for the first two months of the season while the A’s messed around with Kila Ka’aihue and Daric Barton at first base. If Moss was such a known contributor, why was Beane hiding him while the team was floundering? No answer is given because the answer doesn’t suit the narrative, so the question is ignored but for the results: Moss has played great as an Athletic, therefore Beane is a genius for “discovering” him.

The 2013 A’s are struggling because as a team they’re not hitting home runs with the frequency they did in 2012 in large part because Josh Reddick—32 last season, has one this season and is now hurt. The 2013 A’s are struggling because the starting pitching was very good last season and hasn’t been good this season. You want math? Here’s the math: 12th in home runs and 12th in ERA=one game under .500 in 2013; 6th in home runs and 2nd in ERA=a division title and the GM being called a “genius” in 2012.

The A’s may have a similar second half hot streak as they did in 2012 (and 2002 and 2003 for that matter), but there’s no connection between that and any mystical foresight on the part of the GM. They had a lot of high draft picks, traded for other clubs’ high draft picks, found players who fit certain roles, and they got lucky. If they make a movie about that however, expect it to be more of the same Lewis Moneyball nonsense with the only thing salvaging it is to put Beane in a Doctor Doom costume and having the Fantastic Four put an end to its production before the world is engulfed by the terrifying wrath of the dramatization that people who know nothing about baseball or reality think is all too real.

Thingclobberintime

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The Mets Outsource Valdespin’s Discipline

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The Jordany Valdespin drama with the Mets isn’t just about his complete lack of understanding for the etiquette of baseball and overexcitement. There are obvious things going on behind the scenes that the public doesn’t know about. If a player is criticized for his behaviors on the field as Valdespin has been; if he has to be pulled aside by the acknowledged team leader David Wright to explain to him why he can’t be wearing a T-shirt when he enters the clubhouse on the road; if the other players are okay with him getting drilled for “admiring” a home run he hit in the ninth inning of a game the team was losing in a blowout; and if the manager Terry Collins was basically asking the Pirates to hit his player as a means of outsourcing discipline, you can bet that there are probably 50 other little (or big) things that Valdespin has done to draw the ire of the organization to this degree.

That said, the Mets are sending the wrong message to Valdespin and the rest of baseball when they simply let it go when one of their own is so clearly thrown at. In fact, Collins’s made a ridiculous comment pining for yesteryear when he was quoted as saying:

“Will they throw at him? I have no idea. Fifteen years ago, the answer would have been yes.”

Collins might also want to note (or maybe not) that fifteen years ago he was in his second managerial job with the Angels and was a year away from being fired following a mutiny. This was after having been fired in 1996 by the Astros because he frightened the young players and annoyed the veterans with his screaming. Going back in time has its negatives too and Collins barely got a sniff for a big league managerial job for a decade before the rebuilding Mets tapped him.

There’s old school good and their old school get over it and this was a case of old school get over it. The game isn’t the same as it was when Bob Gibson would throw the ball at a hitter’s head to send a message as to who the alpha male on the field was that day.

You don’t let other parents spank your children and group dynamics like a baseball team shouldn’t leave the spanking to others at the expense of team unity and reputation. And to leave it to the Pirates? It’s nonsense that the Pirates with no winning seasons since 1992 and a leaguewide laughingstock for much of that time are in a position to be teaching other clubs’ players how to act; or that Collins who was fired twice from his prior managing jobs following mutinies because of his raging temper and who has not overachieved nor underachieved with the Mets—he’s just “achieved” by pretty much maximizing their abilities—has the right to express his frustration with a young player by winking and nodding at the Pirates to pop him with impunity.

These rules of etiquette are fine and if the Mets are so upset with Valdespin that they chose to shun their own responsibilities in disciplining him by passing it off to the opponent hoping it works, then perhaps Valdespin shouldn’t be on the team. Or maybe they need to seriously consider the way in which they’ve tried to reach him and the people doing the reaching because passing it off to the other team is not a good message to send to Valdespin or anyone else.

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Umpiring Won’t Change For A Generation

Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Umpires

The two-game suspension of umpire Fielden Culbreth for his inexplicable mistake in the Angels-Astros game is fine. While it’s not much of a deterrent for an umpire to make a gaffe since Culbreth didn’t do it intentionally, it’s a symbol to the fans and the media that MLB is “doing something.”

That umpiring error along with Angel Hernandez’s failure to overrule a missed home run call off the bat of Adam Rosales of the A’s after he saw the replay has again dragged umpiring into the spotlight. Amid the demands for a command central to handle home runs as they do with goals in the NHL and more strict overseeing of the jobs the umps are doing, the fact is that the umpiring culture will not change to a by-the-book methodology for another generation.

Umpiring is ingrained and comes from the ground up. They’re taught by former umps; there’s a brotherhood, a clique, and a learned strategy for “handling” players; and they aren’t entreated to follow the rulebook to the letter, therefore they don’t. Until that changes and an MLB-crafted guideline is created to train and recruit the umpires, there won’t be a monolithic difference in the way the games are called.

We’ve come a long way from Doug Harvey being the only umpire to enforce niggling rules like only one batter being allowed to hover in the on-deck circle at a time; from Harry Wendelstedt enforcing a rarely-if-ever referenced rule that Dick Dietz being hit by a Don Drysdale pitch that would’ve ended Drysdale’s scoreless inning streak was nullified because Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way; from Ed Runge testing young batters with a gigantic strike zone, staring at them to see how they reacted, and telling stars like Mickey Mantle that he’d better straighten out mouthy rookies who dared question him. Now all the games are on television, the umpires are known by face and name, commentary abounds on what “must” be done and how to “fix” the umpiring without some blogger realizing: A) how fast the game is; and B) that the umpires, for the most part, do a very good job, treat the players and the game with respect and are respected in turn.

The problem is that the blown calls are prominently featured as news stories and the demand that umpiring be improved trumps the fact that the majority of games move along without a hitch. When the Hernandez and Culbreth mistakes—as separate and different as they were—happen as rat-a-tat as they did, it exponentially raises the scrutiny on the umps and, by proxy, on MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and MLB itself.

Because players are so much more lucratively paid than the umpires it almost takes the tone of a cop stopping a guy in a Porsche for running a stop sign and being subjected to a browbeating as to how much higher the driver’s net worth is than the police officer’s. There’s no justification for the increasing incidences of umpire abuse or for the likes of Curt Schilling to have smashed the QuestTec device because it was altering “his” strike zone. But this is the culture that was built and it’s going to take a long time for it to change.

It starts from the training schools and minor leagues with the conscious decision to shun the oft-heard umpire lament of “my” strike zone; and “my” way of calling a game; and “my” style. You don’t see officials in the NFL making up their own version of the rules as the game goes along because the NFL is harder on their officials and the rules are the rules—there’s no self-aggrandizing interpretation. As the veteran umpires retire and are replaced by younger ones, the structure will change if the younger umps are trained correctly and taught that they have to enforce the rulebook as is and not put their own artistic flair into something that is supposed to be sacrosanct. It won’t be until 20 or 30 years from now that the seeds planted now will have sprouted. Until then this will continue and not much, if anything, can be done about it.

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Bo Porter’s Secret History

Ballparks, Books, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats, Umpires

Bo Porter makes up a new rule, a precedent for that rule and gets away with it.

You have to admire it.

Last night, in the top of the seventh inning with the Astros leading the reeling Angels 5-3 and going for a series sweep, Astros manager Porter called lefty specialist Wesley Wright in to replace righty Paul Clemens. When Angels manager Mike Scioscia countered with righty bat Luis Jimenez hitting for J.B Shuck, Porter decided to yank Wright before Wright threw a pitch. That’s not allowed but for some reason, the umpires allowed it. Scioscia went bonkers and when the umps still let Porter to make the move, Scioscia sent Scott Cousins up to hit. Nothing came of the inning on the field as the Angels didn’t score. The Angels came back to win the game and the win might’ve come as a direct result of the spark they got from this series of maneuvers and mistakes.

There are multiple levels of “what?!?” “where?!?” and “why?!?” in this story.

What?!? Porter didn’t know the rule that a pitcher had to pitch to at least one hitter when called into the game?

What?!? He saw Davey Johnson do the same thing last season?

Where?!? In a dream he had?

And most importantly, why?!? Why, why, why would you look at a team and a dugout that was as dreary, sleepy and resigned to their 2013 fate as the Angels and do anything that could possibly wake them up? Scioscia’s fiery reaction to the umpiring decision looked like it gave his team a boost. Of course the Astros are so terrible that without the call and the protest, there’s a chance that the Angels would’ve come back to win anyway, but if that one moment galvanizes the Angels to save their season, the rest of baseball can blame Porter and his ignorance of the rules and clinging to the numbers that he had to play lefty-righty-lefty and poke the sleeping bear.

What the Astros have Porter doing is managing scared because he has orders coming from the stat heavy front office that he has to adhere to or else. This creates a manager who’s paranoid and sticks to the script of lefty/righty, matchups and percentages to the detriment of any feel for the game itself. Porter, who was a longtime player and coach, has very little managerial experience (107 games in the minors) and when he took the job was not in a position to exert his theories or his will on anyone. With the Astros, as is their right, they wanted a manager who would be willing to follow orders and accept that that particular job is a joint entity in conjunction with the front office and he’s there to implement what the front office wants. It’s the MoneyballArt Howe story except in this case, it’s real. In Moneyball it was Michael Lewis searching for an old-school “villain” to exemplify how the “genius” Billy Beane was altering every part of the game from top to bottom and found one by attacking the liked and respected baseball man Howe with a sadistic and absurd caricature.

An experienced manager would have known the rules and would have looked across the field at an Angels squad that was staring at 11-23 with an expensive and star-studded roster, ready to pack their bags and go to Chicago for what might’ve been the last road trip for Scioscia as Angels manager, and just let it be hoping that the Angels bad luck would’ve extended to Wright retiring Jimenez. Oh, and Jimenez is 1 for 9 against lefties this season so the numbers didn’t even fit to yank Wright.

The umpires letting him do it doesn’t absolve Porter for trying to do it in the first place. Who knows? Wright might’ve gotten Jimenez to pop up or struck him out. It was overmanaging and “look how smart I am guys” gazing toward the front office by acquiescing to edicts as if he’s a prisoner to his new job and wants to make sure and please his bosses by doing what he’s told.

The umpiring decision was bad and it was a mistake, but what Porter did was worse because it indicated an institutionalized tone that he’s no longer a baseball man on the field. He’s a functionary and doing what the stat people want him to do. Running a team that way is not all that hard. In fact, it’s not managing at all.

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