Captainship in Baseball

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The Yankees name Derek Jeter captain and it’s part of their “rich tapestry of history.” The Mets do it with David Wright and it’s foundation for ridicule. Neither is accurate. What has to be asked about baseball and captaincies is whether there’s any value in it on the field or if it’s shtick.

The three current captains in baseball are Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox. In the past, teams have had captains but the most prominent in recent memory have been Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Jeter. The Mets named John Franco the captain of the team in May of 2001 and he had a “C” stitched to his jersey like he was leading the New York Rangers on the ice for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Varitek was named captain of the Red Sox after his somewhat contentious free agency foray following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004. The Red Sox couldn’t let Varitek leave a week after losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, but they didn’t want to give him the no-trade clause that Varitek had said was a deal-breaker. Varitek’s pride was at stake and the unsaid compromise they made was to give Varitek the captaincy and no no-trade clause. Whether or not Varitek was savvy enough to catch onto the trick is unknown. It reminded me of an old episode of Cheers when—ironically—the fictional former Red Sox reliever Sam Malone and two other workers walked into the boss’s office seeking a raise and were met with a surprising agreeability and open checkbook as long as they didn’t ask for a title. They got the titles and not the raises.

Is the captaincy worth the attention? Will Wright do anything differently now that he’s officially the captain of the Mets—something that had been apparent for years? Probably not.

The Mets have had three prior captains. Keith Hernandez was named captain, similarly to Jeter, while he was the acknowledged leader and the team was in the midst of a slump in 1987 with management trying to fire up the troops and fans. An insulted Gary Carter was named co-captain in 1988 as a placating gesture. Then there was Franco. If the captain had any legitimate on-field value than for its novelty and “coolness” (Turk Wendell wanted the “C” in Franco’s jersey for that reason), a closer couldn’t be an effective captain and then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine certainly would not have named Franco his captain considering the difficult relationship between the two. Valentine’s reaction was probably an eye-roll and, “Yeah, whatever. Make him captain. As if it means anything.” Franco never got over Valentine taking the closer job away and giving it to Armando Benitez while Franco was hurt in 1999 and he got his revenge when, due to his close relationship with the Wilpons, he helped cement the decision to fire Valentine after the 2002 season. Franco could be divisive, selfish and vindictive when he wanted to be.

While the Yankees exhibit a smug superiority as to the “value” of their captains, there’s a perception—probably due to silent implication that the truth doesn’t feed the narrative of Yankees “specialness”—that the three “real” captains of the Yankees in their history have been Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Jeter. But did you know that Graig Nettles was a Yankees captain and thought so little of the “honor” that he angered George Steinbrenner by saying, in his typical caustic realism:

“Really, all I do as captain is take the lineups up to home plate before the game.” (Balls by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock, page 20, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984)

Of course Steinbrenner had a fit:

“The captain is supposed to show some leadership out there. That’s why he’s captain. To show leadership.” (Balls, page 21)

Nettles, the “captain” and so important to team success because of his leadership was traded to the Padres in the spring of 1984 after signing a contract to remain with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1983 season in large part because of that book.

Before Gehrig, the Yankees captain had been Hal Chase. Chase was a notorious gambler and repeatedly accused of throwing games. The Yankees would prefer Chase’s name not be affiliated with them in their current incarnation. Chase wasn’t a “Yankee,” he was a “Highlander.” Two different things I suppose.

After Nettles, the Yankees named Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph co-captains and then Don Mattingly as captain. The team didn’t win in those years and the captaincy didn’t help or hurt them toward that end. The teams weren’t very good, so they didn’t win.

The Yankees made a big show of the captaincy because Steinbrenner liked it. He thought it was important in a similar fashion to his rah-rah football speeches and constant haranguing of his field personnel with firings and entreaties to “do something” even when there was little that could be done.

Depending on who is named captain, it can matter in a negative sense if the individual walks around trying to lead and gets on the nerves of others. For example, if Curt Schilling was named a captain, he’d walk around with a beatific look on his face, altered body language and manner and make sure to do some “captaining,” whatever that is. But with Wright, nothing will change, and like Jeter and Konerko, it won’t matter much. It’s not going to affect the teams one way or the other whether the captain is in a Yankees uniform and has become part of their “storied history,” of if it’s the Mets and the world-at-large is waiting for the inevitable cheesiness that is a Mets trademark. It’s an honor and it’s nice for the fans, but that’s pretty much it.

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New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

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Santo vs Rice and the Hall of Fame in Full Context

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This is a reply to the numerous comments on my prior posting about Jim Rice and Ron Santo.

Brooks Robinson, if he had the same defensive history as Santo, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

Ozzie Smith, without his glove, would not be in the Hall of Fame.

There is a place in the Hall of Fame for those who are the best at their position defensively and aren’t mediocre offensively. Smith became a good hitter; Robinson was a useful power hitter. Had Keith Hernandez hung on for a few more years and put up reasonable offensive stats, he would’ve been a Hall of Famer. Bill Mazeroski made it because he was brilliant defensively and had the “big moment” with his World Series winning homer.

The mistake you’re making is comparing transformative defensive figures with players who aren’t in based on their defense alone—they’re in based on other aspects of their games.

There’s not a bottom line rule for a player making or not making the Hall of Fame.

When you reference the “top 10” third basemen assertion for Santo, it’s not unimportant, but to say that’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame and Rice shouldn’t be because he’s not among the “top 25” left fielders it’s ignoring how hard it is to find a good third baseman. Third base is the most underrepresented position in the entire Hall of Fame, for whatever reason.

Santo’s defensive metrics are good (career Rtot—Total Zone Total Runs Above Fielding Average of +27), but not on a level with Robinson (a ridiculous +293); Graig Nettles (+134); Mike Schmidt (+129); or Adrian Beltre (+114). If you’d like some of Santo’s contemporaries, look at Ken Boyer (+70); Clete Boyer (+162); and Eddie Mathews (+40).

Then there are the players from latter eras who, based on Santo’s election, could say “what about me then?”

Ron Cey was putting up similar if not better offensive numbers while playing his home games at Dodger Stadium and was +21 at third base; Tim Wallach was a +61 for his career.

When you mention the number of left fielders to whom Rice is compared, there are greater—historic—ones to say Rice wasn’t on their level, but this is unfair.

If you look at Rice next to Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson, he has no chance. Bonds could be called one of the best players ever and probably the best defensive left fielder we’ll ever see. Henderson was terrific out there too.

But Bonds and Henderson are first ballot Hall of Famers; Bonds probably won’t get in on the first ballot because of the off-field controversies, writer hatred and PED allegations.

Rice had to wait 15 years to gain election.

There’s a difference between the “just passing” player and the “oh, he’s in” player.

If you’d like to say that it’s the “Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good”, then you’ll have to start kicking players out and make the criteria and process more stringent—you can do that—but under the current circumstances, Rice and Santo both belong in the Hall for different reasons with offensive stats that are nearly identical.

If Rice were actively seeking Hall of Fame induction, what was to stop him from looking forward to that end and asking to be shifted to third base and becoming an adequate or slightly below adequate third baseman—would that alter the discussion because of the position he played?

The position is irrelevant unless the player is the aforementioned transformative defensive figure who changed the way the position was played. Rice was dealing with a quirky wall and short field; Santo was a good, but not great, defensive player.

It’s a wash in one hand; an apples and oranges debate in the other.

I look at a player who played his position without concern as to his future Hall of Fame chances as an act in unselfishness. Knowing the writers’ feelings about voting DHs into the Hall based on them only being a DH, what was to stop Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas—qualified candidates both—from demanding to play the field so they look like they’re playing the full game and aren’t a placekicker-style specialist?

They could’ve done that and gotten away with it.

So it’s better to have a player who’s thinking of his own status and hurting the team by playing the field when there are better defenders and he’s incapable of doing it serviceably? Or is it a team-centric decision to be the DH, know his limitations and do his job?

You can absolutely make the case that there are a great many players who should not be in the Hall of Fame for whatever reason; you can say “if this guy, why not that guy?”; or you can exclude anyone who isn’t an automatic mental click to the yes; but to say that because Santo was a pretty good third baseman defensively, is comparable to his contemporaries and was a good guy, he should be in; and that Rice was awful defensively (he wasn’t), wasn’t among the top left fielders in history, or was a jerk to reporters, is not a convincing argument.

I’m for a reasonably inclusive Hall of Fame with plenty of wiggle room for many reasons; you may not be. But to say, “oh he’s out because of <BLANK>” and digging for a reason is shifting the goal posts to suit yourselves. You can’t have it all ways when one blocking attempt fails. It’s either all-in or all-out.

Both should be in with the way the Hall is currently structured. And now, both of them are. Rightfully.

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The Difference Between Ron Santo and Jim Rice is…?

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Ron Santo‘s and Jim Rice‘s numbers are almost identical, so are the stat people who loathe Rice going crazy with their objective analysis over Santo’s Hall of Fame induction as they did when Rice was on the cusp, excluded and eventually voted in?

Or are they feeling sympathy for Santo’s illnesses, health problems and death and justifying Rice’s longtime battle to garner support because he was a jerk to reporters and finding statistical reasons to keep him out?

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Rice:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
60 223 223 57 9 5 5 .256 .256 .408 .664 91 WPT · NYPL
130 563 491 80 143 20 13 17 87 58 108 .291 .373 .489 .861 240 WHV · FLOR
129 463 460 7 148 27 4 31 10 3 7 .322 .326 .600 .926 276 BRI,PAW · EL,IL
117 470 430 69 145 21 4 25 93 38 84 .337 .391 .579 .971 249 PAW · IL
24 75 67 6 18 2 1 1 13 4 12 .269 .307 .373 .680 89 25
144 613 564 92 174 29 4 22 102 36 122 .309 .350 .491 .841 127 277 MVP-3,RoY-2
153 624 581 75 164 25 8 25 85 28 123 .282 .315 .482 .797 120 280
160 710 644 104 206 29 15 39 114 53 120 .320 .376 .593 .969 147 382 AS,MVP-4
163 746 677 121 213 25 15 46 139 58 126 .315 .370 .600 .970 157 406 AS,MVP-1
158 688 619 117 201 39 6 39 130 57 97 .325 .381 .596 .977 154 369 AS,MVP-5
124 542 504 81 148 22 6 24 86 30 87 .294 .336 .504 .840 122 254 AS
108 495 451 51 128 18 1 17 62 34 76 .284 .333 .441 .775 116 199
145 638 573 86 177 24 5 24 97 55 98 .309 .375 .494 .868 130 283 MVP-19
155 689 626 90 191 34 1 39 126 52 102 .305 .361 .550 .911 141 344 AS,MVP-4,SS
159 708 657 98 184 25 7 28 122 44 102 .280 .323 .467 .791 112 307 AS,MVP-13,SS
140 608 546 85 159 20 3 27 103 51 75 .291 .349 .487 .836 123 266 AS
157 693 618 98 200 39 2 20 110 62 78 .324 .384 .490 .874 136 303 AS,MVP-3
108 459 404 66 112 14 0 13 62 45 77 .277 .357 .408 .766 101 165
135 542 485 57 128 18 3 15 72 48 89 .264 .330 .406 .736 102 197
56 228 209 22 49 10 2 3 28 13 39 .234 .276 .344 .621 70 72
2089 9058 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 670 1423 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 4129
162 702 638 97 190 29 6 30 113 52 110 .298 .352 .502 .854 128 320
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Awards
136 573 505 82 165 35 3 11 87 56 54 .327 .390 .473 .863 239 SAN · TL
71 305 272 40 73 16 1 7 32 33 21 .268 .348 .412 .759 112 HSN · AA
95 382 347 44 87 24 2 9 44 31 44 .251 .311 .409 .720 96 142 RoY-4
154 655 578 84 164 32 6 23 83 73 77 .284 .362 .479 .842 121 277
162 679 604 44 137 20 4 17 83 65 94 .227 .302 .358 .659 74 216
162 687 630 79 187 29 6 25 99 42 92 .297 .339 .481 .820 128 303 AS,MVP-8
161 686 592 94 185 33 13 30 114 86 96 .313 .398 .564 .962 164 334 AS,MVP-8,GG
164 704 608 88 173 30 4 33 101 88 109 .285 .378 .510 .888 146 310 AS,MVP-18,GG
155 672 561 93 175 21 8 30 94 95 78 .312 .412 .538 .950 161 302 AS,MVP-12,GG
161 697 586 107 176 23 4 31 98 96 103 .300 .395 .512 .906 153 300 MVP-4,GG
162 682 577 86 142 17 3 26 98 96 106 .246 .354 .421 .775 126 243 AS,MVP-24,GG
160 687 575 97 166 18 4 29 123 96 97 .289 .384 .485 .869 131 279 AS,MVP-5
154 655 555 83 148 30 4 26 114 92 108 .267 .369 .476 .844 115 264
154 642 555 77 148 22 1 21 88 79 95 .267 .354 .423 .778 109 235 AS
133 547 464 68 140 25 5 17 74 69 75 .302 .391 .487 .878 139 226 AS
149 604 536 65 143 29 2 20 77 63 97 .267 .348 .440 .788 112 236 AS
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2243 9396 8143 1138 2254 365 67 342 1331 1108 1343 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 3779
162 679 588 82 163 26 5 25 96 80 97 .277 .362 .464 .826 125 273
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
2126 8979 7768 1109 2171 353 66 337 1290 1071 1271 .279 .366 .472 .838 127 3667
117 417 375 29 83 12 1 5 41 37 72 .221 .293 .299 .591 69 112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Home and road splits? (One of the proffered reasons to exclude Rice.):

Rice:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB IBB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1048 1036 4507 4075 681 1304 207 44 208 802 348 691 .320 .374 .546 .920 2223 50 .340 115
Away 1041 1023 4551 4150 568 1148 166 35 174 649 322 732 .277 .330 .459 .789 1906 27 .296 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

Santo:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
Home 1136 1127 4724 4075 659 1208 194 39 216 743 577 646 .296 .383 .522 .905 2128 .305 118
Away 1107 1083 4673 4069 479 1046 171 28 126 588 531 697 .257 .342 .406 .747 1651 .279 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2011.

If you’d like to start referencing defense, Rice was dealing with the Green Monster for which nuance and understanding quirks are more important than standard metrics; Santo was a Gold Glove winning third baseman whose defensive metrics were okay, but not close to Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles or even Adrian Beltre.

Both men saw their careers end early, Rice at age 36 after 16 seasons; Santo at age 34 after 15 seasons. Both of their careers ended abruptly without a massive decline. They were good, then they weren’t; then they were done.

Santo made it in via the Veterans Committee so the writers who sought to keep him out on their ballots did so, but he’s in now and he’s in with Rice who made it through the conventional vote.

But if Rice—with six top 5 MVP finishes—was so fervently excluded based on supposed numbers, why wasn’t Santo? Where’s the anger?

Where’s the objectivity?

Does it really exist?

Both men should be in the Hall of Fame because both men belong in the Hall of Fame.

Those who seek to keep either/or out have to show consistency and not pay attention to such irrelevant issues as illness or perception because they shouldn’t matter one way or the other.

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Precision Strikes 7.8.2011

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Explaining Jair Jurrjens.

Neil Paine of Baseball-Reference writes about Jair Jurrjens in today’s NY Times.

Is there a direct statistical explanation for Jurrjens’s sudden success?

You can’t look at the infield defense having been improved because it hasn’t.

His walks have gone down as have his strikeouts, so perhaps he’s making a conscious effort to pitch to contact more than he did in the past.

Are the Braves investing more in an analysis of where the hitters tend to hit the ball and positioning their fielders better? Has the pitch selection changed? Is Jurrjens lucky not just in where the balls have been hit, but in getting umpires favorable to his style of pitching? Have the hitters been helping him out by swinging earlier in the count at pitches they previously would’ve laid off because Jurrjens had a tendency to lose the strike zone?

Is it quanitifiable?

I don’t think league-wide gossip is factored in because there’s no way of knowing what players are whispering to one another. If the word gets out that Jurrjens is pounding the strike zone and you should take your swings earlier than before, that spreads like wildfire whether it’s accurate or not.

These possibilities need to be examined before coming to a conclusion that he’s lucky or has gotten better at whatever it is that’s led to his tremendous first half.

The one missing thing from Dick Williams‘s baseball life.

Dick Williams died yesterday at 82.

With all the things he accomplished amid a Hall of Fame managerial career in which he won two World Series and four pennants—including one in each league—Dick Williams never had the opportunity to manage for (and be fired) by George Steinbrenner.

It almost happened several times.

In fact, Steinbrenner had hired Williams while he was still under contract with the Charlie Finley Athletics and Finley demanded heavy compensation for the hiring of Williams—Yankees prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor.

Graig Nettles wrote about this episode in his book Balls:

“You can’t have McGregor because he’s one of our crown jewels. He’s going to be a Yankee forever. And besides, we need him later to get Ken Holtzman.”

Whether Steinbrenner actually said this or it was Nettles being a smartass is undetermined. Both make sense.

Later, Nettles wrote in reference to Williams vs Billy Martin:

Yet I don’t think George would have had an easier time with Williams, because Dick Williams is the same type of manager.

He was right. Williams and Steinbrenner were friends while Williams wasn’t managing for Steinbrenner; had the two ever been engaged in that ring of fire, Williams too would’ve been fired eventually. Whether he’d have indulged in the Martin-Steinbrenner type of hire-fire-hire-fire-hire-fire is the question.

Judging by Williams’s personality, I’d say he wouldn’t.

Considering Jack McKeon and the fact that 80 is the new managerial threshold, one has to wonder whether Williams would’ve been ready to jump back into the arena if someone came calling.

Probably not.

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Sifting Through The Wreckage At Turner Field

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Considering its history as a house of horrors, why should this weekend be any different for the Mets at Turner Field for their series with the Braves?

You can run through the litany of things that have gone wrong already—read the New York newspapers for the slice and dice; listen to Mike Francesa tomorrow for the savage and vindictive postmortem—I don’t need to get into that; it’s predictable and tiresome.

I’m here to say the following: Don’t be surprised.

Don’t be surprised at all.

In your heart-of-hearts, were you expecting anything different from the Mets this year? Really?

The only small alteration I’m willing to make in my team prediction for them this year is that they could possibly be worse than 73-89.

Did you believe Chris Young would stay healthy? That Brad Emaus would turn into Dan Uggla? That Mike Pelfrey would seamlessly step up into the number 1 slot in the rotation? That the changes in culture and strategy from the front office on down would come into effect immediately?

Young hasn’t been healthy since 2007 and even then he wasn’t durable—he tired out by August; now he’s already on the disabled list. The Mets and Young are making his bout with biceps tendinitis sound like a positive because it’s a different injury than that which he experienced before. To me, this is a problem in and of itself. If a player has repeated injuries to the same area of his body, at least you know what it is; if he starts injuring other areas, you have to worry about the prior issue and the new issue.

Young will pitch when he pitches, but he won’t pitch much and you’ll never know when another trip to the disabled list looms.

As for the other stuff? I’ll lift from The Dark Knight when Alfred consoles Bruce Wayne/Batman with the entreaty to endure the inevitable pain to reach his desired end.

Did you think there wouldn’t be casualties in the teamwide sense as the Mets start over under a different regime? That they were going to vault into contention—in a rough division—based solely on new management, adherence to fundamentals and statistics?

They’re not good. This year is a bridge year in which they’re going to comb through the entire structure, see what they have; what they want to keep; and whom they’ll dispatch.

Accept it. 2011 is shaping up to be an on-and-off field disaster. Teams recover quickly with a plan and intelligent management. The quick-fix strategy didn’t work under Omar Minaya and they’re trying something else.

A smooth and easy transition was fantasy.

Endure.

On the other side, Braves fans shouldn’t take a doubleheader sweep of the Mets as a cure to all their early season ills. A lot of teams are going to look good against the Mets this year.

Much of the focus for the Braves has been the bullpen/lineup decisions of manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Gonzalez expressed his reasoning for batting Jason Heyward sixth here—link.

I understand where he’s coming from in his decision to bat Nate McLouth second. Many want Heyward to bat second, but I wouldn’t bat him second either; my concern moving forward would be that Gonzalez is going to stick with his lineup out of a resolute stubbornness; managers—especially new managers—need to set lines in the sand as to what their limits are; some would view an early change as caving to overt public pressure and a sign of weakness that can be exploited later on by players, media and fans. If Gonzalez acquiesces so quickly in a belief that Heyward batting sixth is the right thing to do, then where does it end?

It’s not machismo, it’s calculation and it’s a mistake. It takes more courage to change something that’s not working rather than stick to it out of a sense of obligation and worry about the perception.

I don’t think Heyward should be batting sixth; his on base skills and power are going to waste with the weaker parts of the batting order behind him. He’s going to walk a ton and see few pitches to hit.

Here’s my Braves lineup:

1. Martin Prado-LF

2. Freddie Freeman-1B

3. Chipper Jones-3B

4. Jason Heyward-RF

5. Brian McCann-C

6. Dan Uggla-2B

7. Nate McLouth-CF

8. Alex Gonzalez-SS

You can flip-flop McCann and Uggla based on lefty-righty issues, but I see Uggla as a Graig Nettles-type when the Yankees in the late 70s, early 80s heyday had him batting sixth. Sixth is a pure basher slot for a flawed bat—which Uggla is. He strikes out a lot; gets on base; and has power.

Gonzalez batting eighth should improve his on base percentage and possibly raise the number of baserunners when the lineup turns over. If McLouth starts hitting, then perhaps move him up in the lineup. This is a suggestion to jumpstart both McLouth and Freeman and it removes Heyward from the wasted sixth spot.

Let’s see how long Gonzalez clings to his template when there are smarter configurations right in front of him.

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Purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.


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