Matt Harvey’s Elbow Injury Fallout

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No matter what happens with his elbow, Matt Harvey of the Mets is still going home to this:

Anne_V

I’m not using that image of Anne V. in an attempt to accumulate gratuitous web hits, but as an example of Harvey being perfectly fine whether he has to have Tommy John surgery or not. The reactions ranged from the ludicrous to the suicidal and I’m not quite sure why. There’s being a fan and treating an athlete as if he or she is part of your family and cares about you as much as you care about them.

Let’s have a look at the truth.

For Matt Harvey

The severity of the tear of his ulnar collateral ligament is still unknown because the area was swollen and the doctors couldn’t get the clearest possible image. Whether or not he can return without surgery will be determined in the coming months. It’s possible. If you run a check on every single pitcher in professional baseball, you can probably find a legitimate reason to tell him to shut it down. Some are more severe than others. Harvey’s probably been pitching with an increasing level of damage for years. The pain was  manageable and didn’t influence his stuff, so he and his teams didn’t worry about it. This surgery is relatively common now and the vast number of pitchers return from it better than ever. The timetable given is generally a full year, but pitchers are now coming back far sooner.

“That’s so Mets”

This injury is being treated as if it’s something that could only happen to the Mets. The implication is that their “bad luck” is infesting everything they touch. But look around baseball. How about “that’s so Nats?” Both Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg required Tommy John surgery in spite of the Nationals’ protective measures and overt paranoia.

How about “that’s so Red Sox?” Clay Buchholz has spent much of two of the past three seasons on and off the disabled list with several injuries—many of which were completely misdiagnosed.

How about “that’s so Yankees?” Joba Chamberlain and Manny Banuelos had Tommy John surgery; Michael Pineda has had numerous arm injuries since his acquisition.

How about “that’s so Braves?” Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters (twice), Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood have all had Tommy John surgery. The Braves are considered one of the best organizational developers of talent in baseball.

Dave Duncan warrants Hall of Fame induction for his work as a pitching coach and had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter undergo Tommy John surgery. You can go to every single organization in baseball and find examples like this.

The Mets kept an eye on Harvey, protected him and he still got hurt. That’s what throwing a baseball at 100 mph and sliders and other breaking pitches at 90+ mph will do. It’s not a natural motion and it damages one’s body.

The Twitter experts

Some said the Mets should not only have shut Harvey down earlier, but they also should have shut down Jonathon Niese, Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler and Jeremy Hefner. Who was going to pitch? PR man Jay Horowitz? Others stated that they were planning to undertake research into the pitching mechanics technique of “inverted W” (which Harvey didn’t use). I’m sure the Mets are waiting for a layman’s evaluations and will study them thoroughly.

Of course, many blamed the Mets’ manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. That was based on an agenda, pure and simple. Some have been pushing for the Mets to bring back former pitching coach Rick Peterson. They’re ignoring the fact that Peterson is now the pitching coordinator for the Orioles and their top pitching prospect, Dylan Bundy, had Tommy John surgery himself. Is that Dan Warthen’s fault too?

To have the arrogance to believe that some guy on Twitter with a theory is going to have greater, more in-depth knowledge than professional trainers, baseball people and medical doctors goes beyond the scope of lunacy into delusion of self-proclaimed deity-like proportions.

Bob Ojeda

With their station SNY, the Mets have gone too far in the opposite direction from their New York Yankees counterpart the YES Network in trying to be evenhanded and aboveboard. Former Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda should not have free rein to rip the organization up and down  as to what they’re doing wrong. This is especially true since Ojeda has harbored a grudge after former GM Omar Minaya passed Ojeda over for the pitching coach job and openly said he didn’t feel that Ojeda was qualified for the position.

Now Ojeda is using the Harvey injury as a forum to bash the Mets’ manager and pitching coach and claim that he had prescient visions of Harvey getting hurt because he was throwing too many sliders. I don’t watch the pre and post-game shows, so it’s quite possible that Ojeda said that he felt Harvey was throwing too many sliders, but if he didn’t and kept this information to himself, he’s showing an insane amount of audacity to claim that he “predicted” it.

He needs to tone it down or be removed from the broadcast.

Player injuries can happen anywhere

The winter after his dramatic, pennant-clinching home run for the Yankees, Aaron Boone tore his knee playing basketball. This led to the Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez and Boone not getting paid via the terms of his contract because he got hurt partaking in an activity he was technically not supposed to be partaking in. Boone could’ve lied about it and said he hit a pothole while jogging. The Yankees wouldn’t have known about it and he would’ve gotten paid. He didn’t. He’s a rarity.

On their off-hours, players do things they’re technically not supposed to be doing.

Jeff Kent broke his hand riding his motorcycle, then lied about it saying he slipped washing his truck. Ron Gant crashed his dirtbike into a tree. Other players have claimed that they injured themselves in “freak accidents” that were more likely results of doing things in which they wouldn’t get paid if they got hurt. Bryce Harper, shortly after his recall to the big leagues, was videotaped playing softball in a Washington D.C. park. Anything could have happened to injure him and he wouldn’t have been able to lie about it. Boone told the truth, but no one knows exactly when these injuries occur and what the players were doing to cause them.

With Harvey, we don’t know how many pitches he threw in college; how many softball games he played in; how many times as a youth he showed off his arm to the point of potential damage. This could have been coming from the time he was twelve years old. In fact, it probably was and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.

The vagaries of the future

The Mets were counting on Harvey for 2014. They have enough pitching in their system that it was likely they were going to trade some of it for a bat. If they wanted Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez or any other young, power bat they were going to have to give up Wheeler and/or Noah Syndergaard to start with. Without Harvey, they’re probably going to have to keep their young pitchers. That could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Or it could be a curse if either of those pitchers suffer the same fate as Harvey or don’t pan out as expected.

If Harvey can’t pitch, it’s a big loss. That’s 33 starts, 210 innings and, if he’s anywhere close to what he was this season, a Cy Young Award candidate and potential $200 million pitcher. But they can take steps to replace him. They can counteract his innings with other pitchers and try to make up for a lack of pitching by boosting the offense. In short, they can follow the Marine training that GM Sandy Alderson received by adapting and overcoming.

Harvey is a big part of the Mets future, but to treat this as anything more than an athlete getting injured is silly. It happened. There’s no one to blame and when he’s ready to pitch, he’s ready to pitch. Life will go on.




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2012 MLB Award Winners—National League Manager of the Year

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Awards time is coming up fast in MLB. Yesterday I wrote why Bob Melvin should win the Manager of the Year award on the American League. Last month, I listed my Cy Young Award picks. Now, let’s look at the National League Manager of the Year along with who I picked before the season and who I think is going to win as opposed to who should win.

1. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Johnson retuned to the dugout at mid-season 2011 at age 68 replacing Jim Riggleman and taking over a team that had been rebuilt from top-to-bottom and was on the cusp of taking the leap into contention. 2012 was supposed to be a step forward with a chance at making the playoffs if everything broke right. It turned out that everything broke right and then some.

Johnson straddled the line of development and winning; of protecting and letting fly and the Nationals won 98 games and the NL East title.

In his long managerial career, Johnson’s confidence has never been lacking. He’ll tell you his team’s going to win and tell you that it will be, in part, because they have Davey Johnson as their manager. He dealt with the rules and was onboard—reluctantly I think—with the limits placed on Stephen Strasburg. He didn’t hinder Bryce Harper learning how to play and behave in the big leagues and, for the most part, the 19-year-old exceeded expectations especially considering the reputation he carted with him from the minors as a loudmouthed brat.

The veterans have loved Johnson in all of his managerial stops because he lets them be themselves and doesn’t saddle them with a lot of rules and regulations. He doesn’t care about the length of their hair or that their uniforms are all identical as if they’re in the military. He treats them like men and they responded by getting him back to the playoffs.

2. Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

The criticism Baker receives from the stat-obsessed is bordering on fanatical and doled out just for its own sake. He does and says some strange things sometimes, but so does every manager in baseball. He lost his closer Ryan Madson in spring training and replaced him with the unproven Aroldis Chapman and manipulated the bullpen well. The starting pitching was solid from top-to-bottom and remarkably healthy. The lineup lost star Joey Votto for a chunk of the season, but got through it and won the NL Central in a walk. The bottom line for Baker is this: he wins when he has good players and the players play hard for him. That’s all that matters.

3. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

Bochy is old-school and would fit in perfectly in the late 1800s with his gravely voice, gruff and grumbly—though likable—manner of speaking, and professional handling of his players. Like Baker, Bochy lost his closer Brian Wilson; dealt with Tim Lincecum’s poor season; and manipulated the lineup getting useful production from journeymen like Gregor Blanco after the suspension of Melky Cabrera.

4. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

Matheny made some strategic mistakes as he was learning on the job after never having managed before, but the Cardinals made the playoffs and got past the expected pains of evolution following the departures of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, and Albert Pujols. Matheny coaxed a career year out of Kyle Lohse, transitioned Lance Lynn into the starting rotation and an All-Star berth, and overcame the injuries to Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina.

5. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves

Gonzalez learned from his mistakes by not burning out his bullpen and overcame injuries and questions in the starting rotation and lineup to win 94 games. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell developed Kris Medlen; didn’t abuse Craig Kimbrel; overcame the struggles of Randall Delgado and Tommy Hanson; and the injuries to Brandon Beachy and Jonny Venters. Dan Uggla dealt with prolonged slumps; Chipper Jones was in and out of the lineup; and the Braves went through multiple shortstops, but still emerged in a tough division to make the playoffs.

My preseason pick was Johnson and that’s who’s going to win.

//

Don’t Blame Fredi This Time

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What’s wrong with the Braves?

Is it the pitching?

Is it manager Fredi Gonzalez and his coaches?

Is if the offense?

What?

Mike Minor has been mostly dreadful; Randall Delgado inconsistent; Jair Jurrjens was on the trade block and was sent to the minors; and Brandon Beachy was brilliant before he got hurt. They were one of the few teams in baseball that didn’t have a starting pitching issue before the season but are now on the lookout for starting pitching with a pursuit of Zack Greinke in the offing.

Gonzalez has made a conscious effort—in conjunction with the front office—to limit the use of his more trusted relievers Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty. He’s still done the inexplicable “Fredis” such as when he left Venters in to pitch to Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded as the tying run at the plate. Naturally A-Rod homered to tie the game and the Braves lost.

With Gonzalez as manager, these gaffes are tacitly accepted and understood.

The Braves’ offense is, statistically, much better and that credit could grudgingly go to new hitting coach Greg Walker. Former coach Larry Parrish advocated an aggressive approach that resulted last season’s .308 OBP and finishing 10th in the NL in runs scored. This season their OBP has risen to .323 and they’re 4th in runs scored.

How much of that is due to Walker and the dismissal of Parrish are realistic questions. Their clubwide pitches per plate appearance ratio is up from 3.79 to 3.87. Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward have improved noticeably in that regard. Is it that the Braves are waiting for their pitches to hit or that they have Michael Bourn for a full season, a healthy Heyward and an Uggla off to a better start? Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman are both far behind where they were last season. Does Parrish get the credit for the good things or just the blame for the bad things? Is that the criteria for Walker and Gonzalez. What’s more important: results, process or perception?

The Braves’ main issues have been on the mound. So does pitching coach Roger McDowell come under fire? Or is it explainable by Jurrjens’ decreased luck and the aforementioned pitchers who are struggling and hurt?

There’s no reason for a team with this level of talent to be barely over .500 and 6 games out of first place. But that’s where the Braves are. Those with an ulterior motive to get rid of Gonzalez for the greater good would love to latch onto this mediocrity as validation to make a change, but in reality if they had Bobby Cox back in the dugout running things, I’m not so sure they’d be much better than where they are right now. Gonzalez’s job could be in jeopardy in the near or distant future, but if they were going to fire him they should’ve done it after the collapse of 2011 and not now.

It would be strangely ironic if Gonzalez survived when he probably should’ve been replaced and is fired for the first half of 2012 when there’s no much he could’ve done differently.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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2012 National League East Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

*Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Atlanta Braves

There’s a misplaced belief that the team that made the most drastic and biggest moves in the off-season is automatically the “best” team.

Because the Braves did nothing to add to the roster that collapsed out of a playoff spot, they’re virtually ignored as a legit contender.

There was addition by subtraction by getting rid of Derek Lowe; they made significant improvements in-season by acquiring Michael Bourn. They’re going to be helped by the gained experience of young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor; the return to form from Martin Prado; a healthy “I wanna get paid” year from Brian McCann; a better start and more consistency from Dan Uggla; and, most importantly, a healthy and “he has to be better because he can’t be worse” year from Jason Heyward.

Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley is hoping to play in spring training games within this week. Obviously his knee tendinitis will forever be an issue, but a great player like Utley doesn’t need the 6 weeks of spring training to be ready. Inside baseball people would never admit this for financial reasons, but spring training is far too long as it is. Pitchers need maybe 3 ½ weeks to be ready to start the season; hitters far less.

The Phillies are old; there are injury questions hovering around Roy Halladay (as much as people think he’s a machine, he’s not a machine.); their lineup is pockmarked and questionable; but with their starting rotation and bullpen addition of Jonathan Papelbon, they’ve got enough left for at least one more run.

Washington Nationals

They’re the next hot thing for many reasons.

They have a load of top-tier draft picks ready to make the move into big league notoriety; they’ve accumulated starting pitching; they have a devastating back-end of the bullpen; a lineup that can mash; and a veteran manager who has a history of winning.

They’re going to look back on Chien-Ming Wang’s injury and that they couldn’t follow through on a rumored trade of the severely underrated John Lannan and breathe a sigh of relief; the concept of bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues at 19 needs to be considered carefully and he should not play center field; Gio Gonzalez is not the guarantee the bounty of prospects and expensive, unnecessary contract he received would indicate; and Stephen Strasburg can’t be considered an “ace” as long as he’s on a pitch/innings limit that Davey Johnson would undoubtedly love to toss into a nearby garbage can.

But they’re very talented and a viable contender.

Miami Marlins

Never mind the ownership, the new ballpark and the investigations swirling around the way said ballpark was approved and paid for. Forget about the monstrosity that will be on display whenever a Marlins’ player hits a home run and is sure to cause seizures among a large segment of unsuspecting fans. (See below.)

Cold, clinical analysis will tell you that this team is either going to be a major success or a testament to rubbernecking to see how quickly the clubhouse, manager’s office and front office degenerates into organizational cannibalism, whisper campaigns and a media feeding frenzy.

This is a powder keg. I don’t like powder kegs.

Ozzie Guillen’s teams with the White Sox consistently underachieved; Jose Reyes’s health is a question; Hanley Ramirez did not want to move to third base and is going to eventually pout about his contract; their defense is awful.

With a good pitching staff and all these questions, they could be good. With all the other issues, they could explode. Fast.

New York Mets

Yes. I’m a Mets fan.

Question my analysis, but don’t question my integrity.

Here are the facts: they’re in an impossible division; they’re short on starting pitching; they didn’t improve the club in the winter; the franchise is engulfed by the lawsuit against the Wilpons stemming from the Bernie Madoff mess; and they’re rebuilding.

They’re not good and they’re starting over with young players.

We won’t know much about the future of the Sandy Alderson-led baseball operations or what they’re going to do with players like David Wright until the trial is completed. They might be sold; the Wilpons might maintain ownership; the team might be slightly better than most projections depending on multiple factors.

It is what it is.

Accept it.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Frediot—Fredi Gonzalez Has Converted Me

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No. That’s not a good thing.

When he was hired as Braves manager to replace Bobby Cox, I tried to assuage the fears of Braves fans who’d only seen snippets of his managing style with the Marlins; who were concerned that there was no actual interview process and that Fredi Gonzalez taking over was more of an old boys’ club anointing; that his history with the Marlins didn’t bode well for a team like the Braves who were expected to win.

I was wrong.

The Braves are teetering precariously close to gacking up a playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up a week ago and a large part of that is due to their manager.

I’m not quibbling with his benching/platooning of Jason Heyward—Heyward’s obviously not 100% and he’s been atrocious against lefties. Nor am I going to get too crazy about the lack of patience among the lineup. While the aggressive approach is espoused by hitting coach Larry Parrish and obviously supported by Gonzalez, the Braves don’t exactly have an intimidating lineup; nor have the hitters—apart from Chipper Jones—ever been historically patient. Dan Uggla‘s walks are down, but he accumulated the high walk totals earlier in his career playing for…Fredi Gonzalez.

He might have been use his relievers more judiciously—but he hasn’t had a great deal of choice given the way his starting rotation has been decimated by injuries; he could conceivably have taken his foot off the gas and used Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty less frequently, but their velocity and stuff has been consistent all year.

As for some of his maneuvers, there’s no defense. The one I remember most vividly was his brain-dead, “I’m gonna manage using stragety” in April against the reeling Mets when he called for a suicide squeeze with one out and the bases loaded; two strikes on pitcher Tommy Hanson with Eric Hinske was on third.

I understood the thought process—Hanson was the pitcher; Gonzalez could have Martin Prado leading off the next inning if it didn’t work—but the correct call was to tell Hanson to keep the bat on his shoulder, hope for a walk and leave it up to the speedy Prado to try to hit one into the gap or wreak some havoc with his legs.

Hanson missed the bunt and struck out, Hinske got caught in a rundown.

Just like that the Mets were out of the inning.

It was inexplicably horrible decision-making.

Last night he committed another egregious gaffe.

The Marlins were leading 3-0 in top of the seventh inning when, with 2 outs, Heyward doubled sending Brian McCann to third base against Marlins starter Javier Vazquez.

Jack Wilson came to the plate.

Jack Wilson can’t hit.

Worse, he’s gone from Jack Wilson to “Hack” Wilson with 9 walks in over 200 at bats this season.

Hinske was on the bench.

Neither Wilson nor Hinske have hit Vazquez well, but at least Hisnke is a threat to do something.

Wilson popped out to right field.

The next inning, Hinske was sent in to pinch hit for Jose Constanza.

Presumably it was because….

I have no idea what it was “because” of.

What good did it have to use Hinske to lead off the 8th inning when the proper time to use him was in the 7th when there were two runners in scoring position and the Braves were trailing by three?

These are just two examples and I’m quite certain that Braves fans will be able to point out at least a dozen more in which Gonzalez has either cost his team a game; could have cost his team a game; or misused his pitchers to accrue a possible cumulative fatigue that is affecting them as the season winds down.

I was wrong about Gonzalez.

I said he’d be fine. I said he’d make a few blunders, but for the most part would run the bullpen well and keep the team in line off the field while dealing with the media.

He has handled the clubhouse well and the media adequately while saying stupid things to explain away his ridiculous decisions; but he’s doing the one thing a manager cannot afford to do—costing his team games because of strategic mishaps.

The Braves won’t do it, but one of my criteria to make a managerial change is if the manager directly and negatively influences his club’s finish.

If the Braves miss the playoffs, it will be due to their manager Fredi Gonzalez.

And on that basis, I’d fire him.

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National League Remaining Schedule And Playoff Picture

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Here are the remaining schedules for the contending National League teams who have yet to officially clinch a spot.

Atlanta Braves

2 games vs the Mets in Atlanta.

3 games vs the Marlins in Florida.

3 games vs the Nationals in Washington.

3 games vs the Phillies in Philadelphia.

St. Louis Cardinals

3 games vs the Phillies in Philadelphia.

3 games vs the Mets in St. Louis.

3 games vs the Cubs in St. Louis.

3 games vs the Astros in Houston.

Milwaukee Brewers

2 games vs the Reds in Cincinnati.

3 games vs the Cubs in Chicago.

3 games vs the Marlins in Milwaukee.

3 games vs the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2 games vs the Padres in San Diego.

3 games vs the Pirates in Arizona.

3 games vs the Giants in Arizona.

3 games vs the Dodgers in Arizona.

San Francisco Giants

2 games vs the Rockies in Colorado.

3 games vs the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

3 games vs the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

3 games vs the Rockies in San Francisco.

The National League playoff picture seems settled, but it’s not completely settled; I’m not a fan of the CoolStandings practice of doling out percentages on playoff likelihoods—like all stats and calculations they can easily be misinterpreted and give a false sense of security to players, media and fans.

Here are NL top to bottom standing for contending teams that have yet to clinch:

Tm W L W-L% GB
MIL 88 63 .583
ARI 87 64 .576
ATL 86 65 .570
STL 82 68 .547 3.5
SFG 81 70 .536 5.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2011.

The most vulnerable team currently in playoff position is the Braves. They’ve played poorly of late and their main concerns have to be the Cardinals and what happens with the Diamondbacks and Giants.

It’s a non-issue if the Braves handle the Mets over the next two days, but they got hammered last night; they really can’t afford to lose even one of the next two games.

After the Mets series, they go to Florida and Washington for three games each; the Marlins are dysfunctional and catastrophic—winning 2 of those games is necessary; the Nationals are no pushover and Davey Johnson has his team fighting for third place.

Let’s say the Braves win the next two games against the Mets and 2 of 3 vs the Marlins. That gets them to 90-66.

The Cardinals are playing the Phillies—a team that one would assume would love nothing better than to see the Braves—with their deep bullpen lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters to handle the Phillies prime bats—out of the playoffs entirely; if the Cardinals take 2 of the next 3 games vs the Phillies, that puts them at 84-69 with the Mets coming to St. Louis; if the Cardinals win 2 of those games, they’ll be at 86-70 as they prepare to play the Cubs.

If the Nationals manage to take 2 of 3 from the Braves and the Cardinals sweep the Cubs (or the math works out so the Braves have 91 wins going into the last 3 games while the Cardinals have 89)—it’s workable for the pursuing team considering the Phillies will go all-out to get rid of the Braves.

The safest team now is the Brewers because they’re not playing any of the teams pursuing them and the teams they’re playing aren’t very good. They’ll get in easily.

The Diamondbacks position seemed safe a few days ago, but the Giants have gotten blazing hot in anticipation of a 3 game series in Arizona next weekend.

Let’s say the Diamondbacks win the next 2 games vs the Padres and are 89-64 as they head home to play the Pirates; the Giants win 1 of the next 2 vs the Rockies and are 82-71 as they start a series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

Team rivalries can’t be discounted; one would assume the Cubs are going to do everything they can to knock the Cardinals out of contention; the same can be said about the Dodgers against the Giants. The Dodgers are looking to finish at or above .500; Don Mattingly is too honorable to have his team lie down to interfere with the Giants making a late run, but the Dodgers wouldn’t be unhappy to see the Giants eliminated.

Even if the division isn’t clinched for the Diamondbacks at the outset of their series with the Giants in Arizona, they’ll probably only need one win to take the division.

The Diamondbacks are safe.

If the Giants have 86 wins going into the final series with the Rockies and the Braves haven’t clinched their spot, the Braves are a target not only for the Cardinals, but the Giants too. With their starting pitching, no one wants the Giants in the playoffs.

As the percentages indicate, the overwhelming likelihood is that the current playoff teams remain the same, but if any one of the trio among the Braves, Brewers and Diamondbacks is vulnerable, it’s the Braves and they have to keep their eyes on two different teams—the Cardinals and Giants.

The Braves had better beat up on the Mets, Marlins and Nats or they could have a problem in those last 3 games with the Phillies.

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Could The Braves Go After Jose Reyes?

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects

With tremendous depth in their starting rotation and bullpen, money coming off the books and the gaping hole both at leadoff and shortstop, could the Braves be a stealth pursuer of Jose Reyes?

After examining their contracts, there’s an absolute fit for a dynamic leadoff hitter to slide in neatly with young core the Braves have built, mostly through the farm system.

Reyes’s price—which not too long ago was going up-up-up-up—won’t be as prohibitive to a team like the Braves unless one team (the Nationals?) gets crazy and offers him the oft-mentioned “Carl Crawford money” that Mets owner Fred Wilpon said Reyes isn’t going to get.

What if the Mets make an offer of a guaranteed $110 million and that’s the limit of what’s out there? Then what if the Braves match it?

Would Reyes—knowing how things generally go for the Mets and that the team is far behind both the Braves and Phillies in terms of talent and stability—say to himself, “I’d rather go somewhere that I know I’m going to have a legitimate chance to win while I’m still in my prime”?

The Braves are shedding the salaries of Nate McLouth after this season and Derek Lowe after next season. Chipper Jones says he’s coming back in 2012 and will be paid $13 million. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann are signed; the young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon BeachyMike Minor and Tommy Hanson are all far from free agency. Current shortstop Alex Gonzalez is a free agent at the end of the year.

There’s an opening; it’s workable financially; and the player is available.

The Braves have upended the Mets one way or another since the two teams were placed in the same division in 1994. They’re the bane of the Mets existence. If the Braves want to, they can punch the Mets in the gut again by stealing away Reyes and improve themselves drastically in the process.

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Demotion Sickness With Jason Heyward

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Podcasts, Trade Rumors

There’s been a suggestion floated by some that the Braves should send struggling and injury-plagued future star Jason Heyward down to the minors for a brief time.

I don’t believe this to be a ludicrous idea as others do, but there are several obstacles of them making the move. They don’t have anyone to replace him nor his penchant for getting on base and the threat he poses in the lineup whether he’s hitting or not. It might work or it might send him into a funk and make things worse—that depends on the individual. And his struggles have had as much to do with injury as they have with a sophomore slump or failure to adjust.

It’s unfair to criticize the Braves developmental apparatus given the number of young players—Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Tommy Hanson—who’ve been homegrown, but the hype surrounding the predicted greatness for Heyward was always a portent for potential disaster.

The same thing happened with Jeff Francoeur as he was labeled a “can’t miss” superstar and was treated as such from the time he was a kid all the way up to the big leagues; the flaws in his game were conveniently glossed over as Frenchy’s “way”. That he never walked and was a Sports Illustrated coverboy after having been catered to his whole life as a multi-sport star only exacerbated the problems when he struggled and eventually was demoted.

That demotion highlighted a rift between GM Frank Wren and then-manager Bobby Cox. Francoeur was being punished for doing the same things he was feted for when they were working and he was understandably offended in a self-important and arrogant sort of way.

But that’s what they created by continually giving him passes and not correcting that which needed to be addressed.

He was in the minors for a few days and immediately recalled, rendering the maneuver pointless in both execution and practice.

Heyward’s a better player than Francoeur, but Francouer was—at the very least—durable; Heyward has been prone to injuries and it’s worrisome.

If there was a veteran solution to place in right field in his absence, sending Heyward down for a few weeks to get comfortable at the plate and to make sure he’s healthy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but there isn’t.

Sending him to the minors now would do more harm than good to the player and the team.

I was a guest on the latest Red State Blue State podcast. It’s entertainment in its purest form.

Subscribe to the RSBS Podcast by clicking *HERE*

Subscribe via iTunes by clicking *HERE*

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Viewer Mail 4.1.2011

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE my 2011 Predictions:

Wow. You really drank the Red Sox Kool-Aid. The Yankees will be ELEVEN games back? We shall see.

I don’t drink the Kool-Aid, I make the Kool-Aid!

The Yankees won yesterday, so Michael Kay declared the 2011 season “over”.

Canyon of Heroes parade Monday.

If you missed my predictions, check the sidebar to the left and click on the links.

40-Oz Liz writes RE my predictions:

WOW, the Red Sox will be THAT far ahead? I really feel it might be closer between the Sox, Rays and Yanks. And what about the “Miracle Worker” Buck Showalter?

Also, Joe Mauer is way too good-looking to take third place.

I’ve found that managerial miracles are either overrated or limited to the amount of talent said manager has, so Buck’s got himself a team with a load of young pitching and, as you mentioned, a nightmarish division to deal with.

The “good looking” argument has about as much validity as some of the “expert” opinions we see from the characters on ESPN and other entities. I find it borderline offensive that mainstream writers are allowed by their employers to cover teams as a serious journalist, then post unfunny, idiocy—some of it profane—on Twitter.

I think it’s unprofessional, but I’m just a perceived lunatic with a website, so what do I know?

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE my predictions:

Wow! 106 predicted for the Phils? That’s ballsy. I like it. And I think you’re being a bit generous with the Pirates… if all goes according to my plan the Pirates will set a new modern day record for most losses in a season.

I go for the deep strike—and hit—with stunning regularity.

As for the Pirates? Ah, the Pirates…

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the AL West:

You dare to choose the Angels over the Rangers?!?! This simply will not do!

My only course of action is to immediately unfollow you on Twitter! A lesson you will not soon forget!!

You’re dead to me, Paul Lebowitz! DEAD!!

(sarcasm over)

How long ago was it that Jack Z was labeled a genius? Was it in 2001? Because that’s the last time I remember the M’s making any real noise.

If I were actually dead, I’d simply come back as a non-stat zombie.

Jack Zduriencik was labeled a genius after taking over as GM in 2009 because the Mariners had a 100-loss season in 2008 without a 100-loss roster; they self-corrected to a degree in 09, he made some good moves and suddenly was a “genius”.

With his good work as a longtime scout who worked his way up from the Mets to the Brewers and was a large contributor to their successful homegrown talent, he’s a smart baseball man but obviously not a genius and has some flaws in judgment considering his behavior and acquisitions of certain players.

In 2001, Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella were still running the show.

Perhaps Jack Z’s genius won’t be appreciated until 50 years from now; maybe there’s some diabolical scheme he’s cooked up in loading his clubhouse with non-conformists; it’s possible that….oh, never mind.

2011 Mariners: 67-95.

Norm writes RE opening day:

Opening Day! Ah the joy of the post steroid era. Watching a bit of the Yankees and the Cards games today, I was impressed by the entertaining nature of baseball played (almost) the ‘right way’: decent pitching, some small ball strategies, home runs that actually ‘mean’ something.

Sadly, a lot of ‘pure’ baseball fans left during the steroid era and will never come back. They are missing some good baseball.

On the other hand, of course, let’s see how good the baseball being played is once the teams have to trot out their 4th and 5th starters.

People who showed up just to see a home run show wouldn’t know what they’re watching with strategies and inside baseball stuff anyway.

As much as a try—on an annual basis—to calm people down after one game or one week, it inevitably degenerates into this with positive and negative overreactions, self-congratulation/self-flagellation.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves:

Paul, Fredi’s post game quotes indicate it was even worse than that. Basically he just said he didn’t want to be “Johnny Manager” which apparently just meant that he was managing by gut instead of playing the L/R statistics. From what Fredi said, it seems as if he’s going to go with the hot hand as the closer, and ignore the current game situation. Which is absurd for closers, because really the hot hand has more to do with small sample sizes than who is actually pitching better.

With Fredi, you knew you were going to get a guy who runs a good clubhouse but makes questionable tactical decisions. His tactical decisions have already cost Jason Heyward one at bat. It led to his already bizarre usage of his relievers (which “worked” but that’s besides the point).

I will give Fredi credit that he took Lowe out at the appropriate time, whereas Bobby would have undoubtedly left Lowe in a couple of batters too long.

It’s inexplicable to me that after all that talk of using both young pitchers as closers, he did the exact opposite of what the percentages say and then did a 180 on what he’d said he was going to do in the first place by using Jonny Venters in the eighth and Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.

He did it in the first game of the season.

Handed this opportunity to manage a team with playoff level talent and payroll after all those years scrimping, saving with the Marlins and bickering with the front office, he takes over the Braves and dives back into the conventional managerial “wisdom”.

I have no problem with an experienced manager using his gut—stat people discount “feelings”, but there are imperceptible aspects that a longtime baseball man will see in human beings that can’t be accounted for by counting and calculating, but this was bizarre.

It worked, but that doesn’t mean he was right.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

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I’ll be hosting a forum on TheCopia.com. I’ll give the details on Twitter and Facebook. Click on the links at the top of the page for my Twitter/Facebook accounts.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

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.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

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