The Mets Outsource Valdespin’s Discipline

Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats

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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This Is The Yu Darvish The Rangers Paid For—Don’t Forget It

All Star Game, Ballparks, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

It wasn’t Rangers’ righty Yu Darvish’s performance that was the most impressive thing in his 8 1/3 spectacular innings against the Yankees last night.

On paper and in practice, he looked great. Allowing 7 hits, 2 walks, striking out 10 and allowing no runs are all well and good, but it was the way he pounded the strike zone (119 pitches and 82 strikes) and displayed the presence and swagger of a star that provided a glimpse into his future.

Star power.

You either have it or you don’t.

The desire to be the center of attention in a big moment.

You either have it or you don’t.

Ability.

You either have it or you don’t.

Darvish has it.

All of it.

In spite of winning two of his first three starts, he’d done so in a shaky manner. His results echoed Barry Zito’s with control problems, wriggling in and out of trouble and always appearing to be on the verge of giving up 5 runs. He accumulated high pitch counts early in games; the Rangers’ bullpen was constantly on alert; he was nursed through and pulled before the games blew up from his walks.

In a game ripe for a meltdown with excuses at the ready (it’s the Yankees; he’s new to the league and North America; he’s getting used to the larger ball) Darvish displayed the stuff, composure and confidence that make him a top-of-the-rotation talent.

There are statistical suggestions that success in the post-season is a random occurrence; that the pitchers who’ve made a name for themselves in big games—John Smoltz, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, Dave Stewart, Orel Hershiser—were creatures of circumstance.

It’s nonsense.

Mentally handling pressure is just as important as ability in a big game.

Often, they’re wars of attrition.

Technically, for Darvish and the Rangers, last night’s game against the Yankees was a relatively meaningless start in April. But it wasn’t. Because it was Darvish vs Hiroki Kuroda and Darvish had pitched so inconsistently in his first three starts, the spotlight was on to see how he’d handle the Yankees’ bats and facing his countryman in front of millions of fans in Japan and across the world.

He didn’t survive the test. He embraced it as if to say, “This is my domain. Everyone’s watching and I’m giving them what they came to see. You wanna see something? Here it is.”

There are pitchers you trust in a big game. Darvish is one of those pitchers. He’s got that presence and the goods to back it up. He wants you and everyone else to know it.

Last night was just the beginning.

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Mike Francesa As The Psycho Ex-Boyfriend

All Star Game, Ballparks, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Prospects, Stats, Umpires

The Mets have planned a small video tribute for Jose Reyes on his first trip to New York as a visiting player when the Marlins come to town on April 24th—NY Daily News Story.

It’s no big deal either way. Like the supposed small gesture they may or may not have planned (we don’t know yet) for Chipper Jones when the Braves visit Citi Field for the final time in September, there’s nothing wrong with doing something nice and altering the perception of the club that had turned the Mets into a the type of place where players didn’t want to go unless they have no other choice.

Isn’t a solid reputation for treating players—theirs and others—kindly and professionally better than rampant dysfunction and disarray?

Like Jones, they’re not giving Reyes a car; they’re not retiring his number. If they’re doing it to draw a few more fans, so what?

Some have a problem with it though. One such person is Mike Francesa.

The WFAN host went into a blustery rant as to why the Mets have it backwards; how they never get it right; how they’re playing well and this adds another distraction from the team that they don’t need.

He can make his case and we can agree or disagree—it’s arguable—but his suggestion in lieu of a tribute was that of a psychopathic, spurned ex-boyfriend when he said that rather than give Reyes a tribute, they should throw a ball near Reyes’s head.

It would’ve been taken as his mouth getting away from him as he was opening his show and stirring the pot but for two things: he’s said stuff like this before; and he said it again a moment later with the idiotic assertion that Reyes should “get one in the chin when he comes up.”

This is not a new line of thought from Francesa. In the Little League World Series a few years ago, a player pointed toward the fence as if he was going to hit the ball out of the park and Francesa said that he, as a child, would’ve thrown the ball at the kid’s head.

He also suggested (off-air and according to another WFAN employee who was with him) that the Yankees throw at Reyes’s head after Reyes had homered twice at Yankee Stadium in June of 2010.

This headhunting obsession is disturbing and I wonder if Francesa feels the same way about all players or it’s Reyes who’s earned this bullseye on his helmet. Would it be okay if it was Derek Jeter? Alex Rodriguez? One of his favorites Bernie Williams?

Throwing at Reyes’s head is not only okay, but encouraged?

And what if the ball gets away from the pitcher and it sails into Reyes’s face? Or if the ball is close and Reyes leans forward instead of back and hits him in the helmet or the neck? What if it hits him in the eye?

What if it ends his career?

Is that retribution?

For what?

Because he chose to sign with the Marlins after the Mets didn’t make him an offer?

The Mets didn’t want him back, so what’s the logic behind this edict to try and hurt him?

The list of players whose careers have been damaged or destroyed by errant pitches that hit them in the head or face is vast. Off the top of my head, Al Cowens, Tony Conigliaro, Dickie Thon, Don Slaught and Adam Greenberg pop immediately to mind.

There are many others.

What would be accomplished by hitting Reyes? Would it prove something? I’m not seeing the logic.

It’s these bully-types like Francesa who consider themselves old-school and want to return to the 1950s and 1960s when pitchers owned the inside of the plate and there was no body-armor nor bench clearing brawls every time a pitch came close to them.

But the truth is that in spite of the reputations and being at or near the top of the league in hit-by-pitches for Don Drysdale, Sal Maglie, Bob Gibson and other more intimidating pitchers of the era, it was the threat of the inside pitch that was the weapon rather than the legitimate fear that they were trying to hit someone in the head.

It’s also those bully-types who would never follow through on these demands to “hit ‘im” if they themselves were asked to carry them out.

I’m old-school when it comes to retaliation. Sometimes it’s necessary in the big leagues and pitchers must pitch inside. But if you’re going to do it, don’t throw at the head. Most hitters, while disliking being drilled, will understand when it happens and they’re hit in the back or lower body. If it’s because their own pitcher was doing it to the opposition, that will be policed in-house.

But Francesa is old-school in name and ignorance only; he’s longing for a time when imbecilic would-be tough guys stalked the playground and exerted their will until they ran into someone tougher (as they invariably do); someone who didn’t talk, but acted.

For saying something like this, Francesa’s despicable and there’s no excuse.

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The Blame Refrain

Media, Spring Training

When the news of Adam Wainwright‘s Tommy John surgery diagnosis spread across the web, the reactions were widespread and diverse.

“Experts” speculated on how the Cardinals would respond and forecasted their demise; Jonny Gomes of the Reds was accused of celebrating and singing (he denies this); Dusty Baker seemed genuinely saddened by the news in a non-competitive way while still wryly wondering who’d get the blame for the injury; and Rick Peterson promoted his company’s techniques to teach pitching and avoid injuries.

In today’s game there are rules and regulations placed on pitchers to maintain their health; clubs have computer printouts, historical medical reports and such inanities as “The Verducci Effect” to dictate how they treat their pitchers.

One problem.

They don’t seem to be working.

The cacophony of “protective” rules for pitchers is limitless and explainable, but it’s not fostering development; it’s creating an atmosphere of paranoia and self-righteous justification in case the pitchers don’t develop or get injured. There’s a time and place for preventative prescriptions, but taking it too far has yielded the inevitable result.

And it’s getting worse.

Let’s have a look at the frailties of today’s pitching culture.

I’m selling, you buying?

Rick Peterson is a good pitching coach with a fine resume of development and—importantly—keeping his charges healthy. Unlike many other baseball people and would-be experts, he’s willing to think outside-the-box and listen to others. That’s an impressive attribute and a testimony to his confidence and belief in what he does.

He’s also a relentless self-promoter who has a short shelf life for any organization because of his overbearing nature.

Peterson said the following on Twitter when Wainwright’s injury was confirmed:

Sad news for Adam Wainwright, TJ surgery.Avoidable.Get your pitchers to 3P Sports to learn how. ESPN http://es.pn/gx7b65

It contains the essence of Peterson in 140 characters or less. The obligatory condolences for the injury combined with an attempt to sell his wares.

Peterson is a polarizing figure.

When I read his tweets I can almost feel one hand on my shoulder and his other hand covering his mouth in a conspiratorial fashion to prevent the enemy from reading his lips and gaining insight into his skull-sessions.

Peterson’s reputation was made with the Athletics as he mentored Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson with the Athletics and all three were healthy and productive; he also turned Cory Lidle into a durable winner as a starting pitcher. With the Mets, John Maine and Oliver Perez enjoyed success they couldn’t replicate before or since. And the Brewers, with limited talent, maximized with Peterson handling the staff.

While almost everyone in baseball and in the media rolls their eyes at Dr. Mike Marshall—former big league pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, journeyman extraordinaire, iconoclast and egomaniac—Peterson has met with him to discuss pitching techniques.

Peterson’s style has a short shelf-life. Eventually his pitchers tune him out, but he does have important contributions to make to development.

If you look at a pitching coach or “expert”, you must examine their agenda. Are they trying to get you to buy what they’re hawking as Tom House does? Or do they have a legitimate history of success underpinning their theories as Peterson does?

Blame Dusty.

Baker was only half-kidding when he openly wondered who’d get the blame for Wainwright’s injury. Baker is considered to be an arm-shredder; Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan seen as modern geniuses whose reputations allow them to get away with things that would cost other baseball people their jobs.

One out-of-context example of the different terrain upon which La Russa operates was that 20-inning affair against the Mets last season. What would’ve happened had then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel inserted an infielder to pitch and lost the game? La Russa did it with Felipe Lopez and it was okay because it was La Russa. He wants to hit the pitcher eighth? He has data to back him up and he gets away with it because he’s La Russa.

Such is the nature of the benefits of being a Hall of Famer as opposed to someone hanging onto his job by his fingernails and maintaining an unfair reputation as an abuser of pitchers that Baker has.

Was Baker to blame for the injuries to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Edinson Volquez?

It’s a major misapplication of blame to say Baker was at fault for Wood—it was Jim Riggleman who pushed Wood in the Cubs frantic run to the playoffs in 1998. Prior was a mechanical nightmare from the start and his subsequent and repeated breakdowns have had nothing to do with Baker; one would think that he’d be healthy by now; Volquez was allowed to throw pitches in the 120 range numerous times, but it’s a stretch to connect the number of pitches he threw to his eventual Tommy John surgery.

There are a different set of rules for La Russa than there are for Baker because one is La Russa and the other is Baker and it has nothing to do with results or injuries; it has to do with the way they’re perceived.

Front office edicts absolve the blame.

You can believe the propaganda and romanticized notions uttered by the likes of Michael Kay if you choose to, but think about it.

When C.C. Sabathia had a no-hitter going against the Rays early last season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made it a point to insinuate himself into the debate by saying that Sabathia wasn’t going to throw an outrageous number of pitches strictly in the interests of pitching a no-hitter.

It was a moot point because the no-hitter was busted up before a decision had to be made. But Kay came out with his own take on the situation, quoting Girardi as if his word was gospel, “We’re not about (individual achievement) here…”

As delightful as such a thought of  all-for-one is, baseball is like anything else with fiefdoms, turf-battles and agendas. Girardi can never be blamed for a pitcher’s injury because he has little-to-no say in their use. He makes his own idiotic bullpen/pitching change decisions mid-game, but apart from that, he works in defined parapenters.

He does what the front office says and that’s what GM Brian Cashman wants; it’s why Cashman didn’t want Lou Piniella as the replacement for Joe Torre—because Piniella would’ve ignored him and was unfireable as a manager.

It’s the same situation in Washington with Stephen Strasburg. I’ve said repeatedly that there have to be people with the Nats who were relieved that Strasburg blew out his elbow while under the constraints of “protection”; there was no one to blame for the injury, therefore it was okay.

Naturally, they’d never admit it openly. Nor should they; but put yourself in their position with a once-in-a-lifetime arm placed in your hands. Do you want that on your resume that you’re at fault for his injury that cost him a year? No.

Joba Chamberlain? How have the developmental techniques worked?

Pedro Martinez was traded from the Dodgers because team doctors were convinced he was going to break down as a starting pitcher. He was so small, threw so hard and had such a violent delivery that it wasn’t absurd to harbor such a belief.

Three Cy Young Awards later, where are we?

Conjecture and after-the-fact, unprovable allegations are easy. How about we go back to Sandy Koufax and wonder how great he would’ve been had he been on a pitch/innings count from the time he began his career. Would he have been more durable? Who knows? There’s no way he would’ve been better than he was.

Bob Gibson must be sickened by the way pitchers are babied today. The same goes for Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and any of the other greats who pitched until they could no longer pitch and produced into their late 30s and early 40s.

Some of today’s pitchers look like they’re ready for a bodybuilding competition and spend half their days wiling away on the disabled list; Greg Maddux had pipe cleaner arms, skinny legs, a paunch and was the most durable pitcher of his generation who never had an arm injury. Maddux had picture-perfect mechanics and trained specifically to throw a baseball, not to look good in his uniform.

Nolan Ryan is implementing a new strategy in developing pitchers and getting attention for it. If it fails, if they get hurt it’ll be taken as a mistake; if it works, others will follow suit with the techniques.

Fear is a motivating factor for change, but it’s not conducive to making a successful pitcher. But fear is what we have; blame is what we have; and failure is what we have.

It’s not working and doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon because of self-involved stupidity.

At least there’s the fail-safe retort: Blame Dusty.

Humanity And The Hall Of Fame

Hall Of Fame

Before anything else, I went into Bert Blyleven‘s Hall of Fame candidacy in painstaking detail almost a year ago to this day—Prince of NY Baseball Blog, 1.9.2010.

Having nothing to do with his politicking and pressuring the voters to induct him; nor his iffy win totals, Blyleven was up there with the great pitchers of his day in everything but winning percentage; he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

It’s interesting to note that Blyleven’s support was almost non-existent until the new metrics and proliferation of stat friendly writers and bloggers began pushing him so aggressively. As more stat people were allowed to vote and present their case to those that in prior years weren’t receptive to Blyleven, many slowly had their minds changed to vote yes.

With Felix Hernandez going 13-12 and (deservedly) winning the Cy Young Award a year after Tim Lincecum won the award with a less-flashy winning percentage and ERA than Chris Carpenter and a lower win total than Adam Wainwright, the numbers are having a profound affect on the post-season awards and the Hall of Fame.

Will this continue as Curt Schilling—a loud proponent of the candidacy of…Curt Schilling—gets ready for his career to be put to the ultimate test in two years?

Blyleven’s consistent harping on his own worthiness clearly had a positive influence on some of the voters; but Blyleven was well-liked in his day as a team clown; Schilling was respected on the field, but loved hearing the sound of his own voice and playing up his team-oriented nature and “gutsy” performances exemplified by the bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS.

Are Schilling’s credentials better than those of Kevin Brown? Brown was loathed by the media because he made their lives difficult— seemingly on purpose—but was gutty in his own right; his intensity to win and discomfort with the media caused many of his problems. Should he be seen in a less flattering light than Schilling because of that?

Brown was better than Schilling in the regular season—people don’t realize how good Brown really was because of his injuries and bad press; Schilling was lights out in the post-season. Along with Bob Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Dave Stewart to name three, there aren’t many pitchers you’d rather have on the mound in a make-or-break post-season game than Curt Schilling.

You didn’t see Brown schmoozing and cajoling to get his due in the HOF balloting.

Schilling?

Put it this way: people like Blyleven personally and got tired of hearing him whine; Schilling is the epitome of polarizing; he was a great pitcher who put up big post-season numbers; he’s done some incredibly nice things with his time and money in terms of charity; and he’s a relentless self-promoter who casts himself as a representative of conservative causes with his hand over his heart and waving of the American flag as if that’s the definition of right in the world regardless of context.

I truly don’t know what’s going to happen with Schilling, but I doubt he’ll get in on the first ballot and the longer he waits, the less likely he is to keep his mouth shut. Unlike Blyleven, he’s a guy who’s going to lose support the more he talks.

Regarding the other candidates, I think Barry Larkin and Tim Raines should wait a while (maybe a long while) before meriting serious consideration; that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer; that Fred McGriff is a Hall of Famer; Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell deserve more support; and if Blyleven’s in, then Tommy John should be in. In fact, John has a better case than Blyleven in my eyes for the combination of success on the field and that he revolutionized the game by undergoing the surgery that’s saved scores of careers, is so commonplace that it’s no longer a pitcher’s death sentence and now bears his name—a name that many mentioning it don’t realize belongs to a pitcher who won 288 games.

Roberto Alomar also deserves his election to the Hall for his on-field accomplishments. He was a great fielder; an excellent, all-around hitter; a terrific baserunner; and a clutch player. He also fell off the planet in his numbers at a young age and his career was sullied by the incident while playing for the Orioles in which he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument.

Then there were the PED cases Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro; the “lumped in with the offenders” types like Jeff Bagwell; and the “ballpark question from playing in Coors Field” of Larry Walker.

McGwire and Palmeiro aren’t getting in. Ever.

I don’t know about Bagwell and Walker; fairly or not, I’d say on January 6th, 2011, that I doubt either will be enshrined.

Here’s the point: are McGwire and Palmeiro being punished because of the judgments of people without a clear cut series of rules that govern how they vote? And where does this judgment begin and end?

Since the PED issues with McGwire and Palmeiro are going to prevent them from ever receiving any kind of support, does that equate with the off-field allegations about Roberto Alomar?

People have been reluctant to discuss this, but what of the continued accusations from Alomar’s former girlfriends and his ex-wife of having unprotected sex with them while knowing he’s HIV-positive?

As much as people try to claim a separation of on-and-off field behaviors in casting ballots, which is worse? A player doing what a large percentage of his contemporaries were doing during the so-called “steroid era” and putting up massive numbers? Or going beyond the scope of humanity with a repulsive selfishness as Alomar is accused of doing in his romantic life?

You can claim there to be no connection to the Hall of Fame with the allegations against Alomar and I’ll agree with you; but to equate someone using steroids to the devaluation of one’s humanity in taking another person’s long term health as nothing to be concerned about—as Alomar is repeatedly alleged to have done—is a greater level of moral repugnance than any drug use could ever be whether it’s recreational or performance enhancing.

Alomar and his representatives “kinda-sorta” deny he has HIV, but if you read between the lines, it’s not a denial. It’s parsing.

Only he knows if he’s been behaving this way and possibly infecting lovers with a dreaded disease, but if it became publicly known to be true, would that seep into the voters’ minds?

As much as it’s suggested that players’ personalities and off-field tendencies have nothing to do with their careers, how long did Jim Rice have to wait for induction based more on his prickly relationship with the media than the proffered reasons for keeping him out?

The people who dealt with a borderline candidate like Brown aren’t going to be as supportive as the prototypical “blogger in the basement” who had no reason to dislike him and is simply looking at the numbers.

On the same token, Dale Murphy was considered one of the nicest, most decent men to ever put on a baseball uniform; he has a somewhat legitimate candidacy for HOF consideration, but has never come close; nor will he.

The spitting incident with Hirschbeck was said to be a major reason Alomar didn’t get in on the first ballot; but what if it was revealed that yes, he’s been putting people with whom he had intimate relations at risk due to his own denials and insistence to not practice safe sex? Would that cause anyone to hesitate?

As long as there are no clear cut criteria and people like Blyleven get results from a propaganda tour and outside support that grows exponentially, it’s not something to dismiss.

It’s a hard question to answer and I’d have to think very seriously before casting my vote for or against someone if that were the case.