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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Armchair Analysis from Earth to Jupiter

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To highlight the madness surrounding the pigeonholing of players based on factors that have nothing to do with anything, below is a clip from this Joe Sheehan posting on Baseball Prospectus in 2004:

The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held.

I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive left-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience.

I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.

With the freedom of retrospection I can write pages and pages as to why Sheehan’s Mauer projection was ridiculous. Mike Sweeney? Mauer’s height? Mark Prior?

But I’m not referencing this to ridicule Sheehan. Instead, I want to highlight why the Mets’ new catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud shouldn’t be placed into a category due to discriminatory history or his height of 6’2”.

Joel Sherman makes a similarly broadbased statement regarding former Cy Young Award winners—like R.A. Dickey—who were traded for packages of prospects as if the past is a prologue to the future when developing baseball players who come in different shapes, sizes and ability levels. Matt LaPorta headlined the package the Brewers sent to the Indians for CC Sabathia. Justin Smoak was the main ingredient that led the Mariners to walk away from the Yankees’ offer for Cliff Lee and send the pitcher to the Rangers. The Zack Greinke return to the Royals from the Brewers has done little of note.

What this has to do with Dickey, d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is a mystery.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery. Maybe this type of questioning is undertaken to blur the lines of critique and credit and provide the individual making the distinction some form of credibility for these judgments. This is not to undermine the factual nature of what Sheehan and Sherman wrote, but to show the flaws in the foundation upon which they’re built and the intentions of those who wrote them. Do they really believe this nonsense to be valid or are they appealing to a constituency by being contrary.

I’d hate to think they believe it, but considering their histories, I have a hunch they do. Unable as they are to provide analysis stemming from their own assessments, they have to find “things” like height and “comparable” deals that aren’t relevant or comparable at all. Theoretical science can make a case for anything if one chooses to search for individual occurrences or cherrypicked stereotypes to support it, but use your intelligence and decide on your own whether this makes sense or it’s outsiders digging through the trash for self-aggrandizing purposes.

In what other industry is such a negligible and disconnected set of principles taken as a portent of what’s to come? Sherman’s and Sheehan’s logic is akin to saying that because the Rangers made one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka that GM Jon Daniels is a bumbling idiot; or that because Daniels made up for that horrific gaffe by trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus that he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or that because James Shields was drafted in the 16th round by the Rays in 2000 means that the Rays’ 16th round pick last season, shortstop Brett McAfee, will turn into a breakout star as Shields did. Or that trading X first baseman for Y relief pitcher and Z young starter will turn into a Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey heist for the Mets and dreadful mistake for the Cardinals.

Or that Mauer shouldn’t have made it as an All-Star catcher and MVP because he’s “too” tall. The same height argument is being made about d’Arnaud now and it’s pointless.

This is why armchair experts are sitting in the armchair and clicking away at their laptops and smartphones making snide comments without consequences simultaneously to experienced baseball people running clubs and determining the value of players; whether they’re worth a certain amount of money; deciding to keep or trade them in the real world. You can’t cover up a lack of in-the-trenches work and knowledge accumulated over the decades with random numbers and baseless statistics. It’s called scouting and it can’t be done with the above attempts to connect the dots, especially when one dot is on Earth and the other on Jupiter.

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David Wright’s Keith Hernandez Moment

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No one will ever confuse the aw shucks, golly gee image of David Wright with the overt leadership of the cigarette smoking bad boy and manipulative architect of clubhouse politics, Keith Hernandez; but the similarities between Wright bypassing his 2013-2014 opportunity at free agency and sign with the Mets for what amounts to 8-years and $138 million—NY Times story—and Hernandez staying with the Mets in 1983-84 are underlying and significant.

When Hernandez was traded from the Cardinals to the Mets, Whitey Herzog was in part seeking a relief pitcher he’d always coveted in Neil Allen and in part had had enough of Hernandez, his lazy work habits, sense of entitlement, and poor attitude. As a result of the confluence of events, Herzog shipped Hernandez out of St. Louis. At the time, Hernandez was bitter and angry about the trade and certainly didn’t want to go to the perennial last place Mets, a team that he and the Cardinals had openly laughed at when they saw the slogan “The Magic is Back” in the early 1980s. In later years, after the butting of the heads of two strong-willed men subsided and the competition between the Mets and Cardinals was nothing but a memory, Hernandez and Herzog reconciled with Hernandez admitting that his attitude was terrible and Herzog was right to trade him; he also said that next to his father, no one taught him more about the game of baseball than Herzog. The two are close to this day and Hernandez has referred to Herzog as a “dear friend.”

In 1983, however, no one wanted to go to the Mets. As much of a loonybin as the Yankees were, their crosstown co-residents (because they weren’t rivals) were, as Hernandez said in his highly underrated 1986 book If At First, the “Siberia of baseball.”

In that same book, on pages 10-11, Hernandez discussed the difficult decision to remain with the Mets after the 1983 season:

Frank Cashen, the Mets’ general manager, realized that I wasn’t thrilled with my new circumstances. He also knew the Mets would have nothing to show for the trade if I became a free agent.

“Tell us after the year, Keith, how you feel,” he said. “Give me two weeks before the winter meetings. If you want, we’ll trade you. We don’t want to lose you for nothing.”

That was fair. I owed it to them.

***

The state of the ballclub was my chief consideration. I wouldn’t have signed with a sure loser for any sum.

***

My father, a former minor-leaguer with baseball connections all over, checked with scouts around the league and reported back about some great young arms in the minors, just about ready.

I decided the Mets had a chance to be a better ballclub in 1984, maybe fourth place, but I also feared I would be signing up for six years of sixth place—dead last. It was a scary thought.

***

In the end, I gambled. After making any number of wrong decisions over the years, I decided to go against my natural instinct. I wanted to leave, so I stayed instead.

I had never met Dwight Gooden or Ron Darling.

Wright isn’t the man the reporters go to for off-the-record quotes ripping teammates, coaches, managers, and front office folk as they sometimes did with Hernandez. The first baseman, cigarette in hand, would give the on-the-record, canned reply and then utter the truth that he wanted out there as an unnamed source. It wasn’t a chicken method either; Hernandez would also directly inform the objects of his ire what he thought. Using the media was a last resort and done so because the man-to-man approach wasn’t yielding the desired effect. That was the key with Keith: he used the media; the media used him and everyone knew the parameters of the relationship and the deal.

Hernandez had star power on and off the field and, at the time, was the coolest guy in New York. Wright is cool in a geeky, good boy way. Wright isn’t the cagey operator that Hernandez was. He’s the unambiguous leader of the current Mets on and off the field, lets his teammates know when they’re not pulling their share of the load or are behaving in a manner he sees as unprofessional, and is popular throughout baseball with everyone from opposing players, to coaches, to managers, to GMs, to owners, and umpires.

Wright was faced with the same dilemma Hernandez was: a team that has long been the butt of jokes; few free agents willing to come unless they were drastically overpaid and had no other option; and limited resources in comparison to other clubs, specifically the one across town. But there were reasons and advantages to staying as well. They got their money pre-free agency without having to sing for their supper and endure the yearlong questions as to their intentions; the alternatives might not be all that enticing considering what happened with big spending hot stove champions the Red Sox, Angels, Phillies and Marlins who signed players like Albert Pujols and Wright’s friend and former teammate Jose Reyes to big deals only to degenerate into absurdity that had heretofore been the Mets’ primary domain.

Would that money be there a year from now? Would the Mets be forced to trade Wright if he didn’t sign? And what about the young pitchers Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and the onrushing Zack Wheeler?

Wright and Hernandez are light years away from one another as people, but they had a similar choice to make in moving forward with a “might be” rather than move on to what “is.” And both made the right call in staying with the Mets.

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Tim Lincecum’s Future as Starter or Reliever

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Because Tim Lincecum had such a poor season and has been effective as a reliever in the post-season, there’s been speculation that his future might be in the bullpen. Let’s look into my crystal baseball with facts and realistic analysis on the side.

The age-old debates regarding Lincecum

He cannot escape his diminutive stature, nor his stage-father. Lincecum was taken 10th overall by the Giants in the 2006 draft and the Mariners have forever been roasted by their fans for taking Brandon Morrow instead of Lincecum, who was a local kid and starred at the University of Washington. But Morrow is a prototype who’s 6’3” while Lincecum is listed at 5’11”. For the record, I would have taken Morrow as well.

What made Lincecum’s perceived risks riskier was his father Chris Lincecum’s status as Tim’s one-and-only coach and that his son’s motion and training regimens were not to be interfered with in any way. All things being equal, most teams would shy away from the smaller pitcher, but would take him anyway if they liked him better. If you add in the presence of these rules from Lincecum’s father and it’s understandable that the Mariners chose to go with Morrow and other teams chose different players.

The Giants looked brilliant with the hands-off strategy when Lincecum arrived in the big leagues in 2007 with a near 100-mph fastball and won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009. He has been a top pitcher in baseball until this season. Then he started struggling and the size excuse; the inability of the Giants’ staff to make adjustments to his issues; and questions of longevity, overuse at a young age, and durability cropped up again.

Truthfully, we have no idea what’s going on with Lincecum’s mechanics, health, fitness, and alterations. It could be that the Giants are more proactive with him than we know; it could be that Tim is no longer going to Chris for advice. (This is not unusual with players who were taught and nurtured by their fathers—Keith Hernandez had long spells of impasse with his father.) Great pitchers have had poor seasons mid-career. Jim Palmer went 7-12 at age 28 in 1974 and rebounded at 29 to win the Cy Young Award in 1975 (and another one in 1976 with 2nd and 3rd place finishes in 1977 and 1978). Bret Saberhagen went 7-12 with an all-around awful year in 1986 the year after winning the Cy Young Award and World Series MVP, but returned to form. Saberhagen was about as small as Lincecum.

Lincecum is not used to poor results. Logically, because he was able to overcome the obstacles to make it this far with his uniqueness, it’s silly to again pigeonhole him for what he’s not as the teams that avoided him in the draft did.

His optimal use

There might come a day that Lincecum will need to move to the bullpen, but that time is not now. He’s 28, not 38. In 2012, he still threw 186 innings and wasn’t on the disabled list. That’s not the 200+ innings with dominance he regularly provided before 2012, but one bad season doesn’t mean you toss the history out as if it never happened. His strikeout rate is what it’s always been. He’s been wild and has allowed more homers than he ever has. That tells me his location is off and that he’s been wild high. His fastball is no longer what it was, but 92 is fast enough to be effective. He has to adjust.

As much of a weapon that Lincecum has been as a reliever this post-season and as poorly as he pitched as a starter, that would not work over a full season. Those 200 innings he provides and reasonable expectation of improvement to something close to what he was from 2007-2011 makes a 2013 move to the bullpen untenable.

Money

Lincecum, with free agency beckoning after 2013, would resist moving to the bullpen based on finances, and he’d be right to do it. The greatest relievers in baseball—Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, among others—don’t get more than $13-15 million per season. Lincecum, in 2013, is due to make $22 million. As a free agent reliever, he does not make anything close to that. As a starter who is 29, will give 200 innings, and might win a CYA? That’s worth $150 million+.

What the Giants need

How are they replacing those 200 innings if they decide to make Lincecum a reliever?

That the Giants are up 3 games to 0 in the World Series and are on the verge of winning a championship is a signal to the rest of baseball as to the lack of importance of a star-level closer. They lost Brian Wilson to elbow surgery early in the season, tried several permutations in the ninth inning before settling on Sergio Romo, who was a 28th round draft choice. Using Lincecum in the post-season as a reliever when he’s slumping as a starter makes sense; using him as a reliever over a full season when he’s at least functional as a starter is absurd.

And Lincecum

It’s been said that Lincecum was not in shape when the season started. It’s not a matter of him arriving fat. I doubt that Lincecum could get fat, but there’s a difference between being fit and being fat. Before, Lincecum could do what he wanted in terms of exercise, diet, and extracurricular substance ingestion (namely pot), and pitch well. Now, as he’s approaching athletic middle-age, he has to take better care of himself. With all that money on the line and the returning motivation to again shove it to his critics, Lincecum is going to dedicate himself to the game and being ready in 2013. He’s a competitor and wants to get paid, so he’s not going to the bullpen. Being a starter is best for everyone involved and that’s where he’ll remain.

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B.J. Upton’s Effort–Or Lack Thereof

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Keith Hernandez was almost apoplectic at B.J. Upton’s lack of hustle when chasing David Wright’s long fly ball that went for a double in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 9-1 win over the Rays in Tampa on Wednesday night.

In a slight nod to reality, the Mets were leading 7-0 at the time of the Wright hit. They had two runners on base and R.A. Dickey was about as unhittable as unhittable gets in a Major League game. Whether Upton made an effort—for appearances or otherwise—and caught the ball or didn’t catch the ball was irrelevant in the game.

Be that as it may, with Upton it just looked bad.

Hernandez said that the type of behavior exhibited by Upton could cause a fistfight in the clubhouse between him and the pitcher.

The Rays organization is long past that with Upton. Now it’s a question of how much he’s going to produce while he’s still with them.

I had thought that this would be a year of massive production for the multi-talented and mercurial free-agent-to-be. Because he’s about to turn 28 in August, can hit, hit for power, run, play a Gold Glove caliber centerfield and has shown the ability to take his walks (when he decides to), there are few reasons not to want him. But one of those reasons is a big one: he acts like he doesn’t care.

One would think that his pending free agency would inspire him to spend the entire 2012 season playing like a maniac so he could get paid by someone this winter.

That’s what I thought would happen.

It hasn’t.

After starting the 2012 season on the disabled list with a sore lower back (ironically close to the location where Upton has caused pain to the Rays since he was drafted), he’s been essentially the same player he was following his breakout in 2008: enigmatic and with questionable desire.

The numbers are pretty much the same since 2009 with declining walks, increasing strikeouts, lax defense and occasional displays of the speed and power than make him so enticing.

Upton may be right in the perception that talent is going to trump the known negatives about him; that some team is going to ante up with a 5-7 year contract worth $100-$130 million because of those skills. But if he was playing up to his capabilities with dollar signs in his eyes, he’d be sure to have multiple teams chasing him this winter. Now I’m not so sure.

In a world where Jayson Werth got $126 million, it’s quite possible that there’s a team that will go that crazy to get Upton. That team would be pulling a J.P. Morgan Chase and betting an inexplicable sum on derivatives—the derivatives being Upton’s tendency to alternate playing like he means it or loafing around the field grounding into double plays he has no business grounding into and letting balls fly by him because he chose not to run after them.

There’s a difference between effortless and lazy. Robinson Cano doesn’t run hard either, but the majority of his play is effortless. Is it the same with Upton? And does he have the Cano credentials to justify letting some of his lapses go unchecked as the Yankees do with Cano?

Talent-wise he does; performance-wise he doesn’t.

Cano’s going to get paid when his time comes.

Is Upton?

I don’t know.

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Jason Bay Was a Big Time Power Hitter…

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“Listen, I’ve found something else.”

The above quote is from Keith Hernandez’s book If At First about the 1985 season with the Mets. Hernandez’s dad was his main hitting coach from childhood and during a horrific slump, was trying to help his son regain the swing that made him one of the premier hitters in baseball.

Studying old tapes while Hernandez was with the Cardinals, his dad saw that Hernandez had gradually opened his stance until it was too open; also, he wasn’t seeing the full uniform number on his back from the centerfield camera as his son prepared to swing.

Hernandez didn’t buy it. It was “automatic”. He simply knew where to place his foot when he stepped into the box. He knew how far to turn and other small details of his swing.

He knew.

But his dad was right.

Shortly after making the adjustments with his stance, hands and hip turn in July of 1985, Hernandez went on a tear batting .392 in July with a 1.122 OPS and won Player of the Month.

Veteran players who’ve had success, in general, have a series of checkpoints that they adhere to. There’s not much for a hitting coach to tell them because they’ve usually figured it out for themselves.

But sometimes the hitter needs a coach to tell him what he sees and intervene if it’s not working. If imperceptible alterations have been made without the hitter realizing it, they have to be nipped before becoming ingrained.

In this Sports Illustrated article about Jason Bay, Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens looked at Bay’s swing, stance and approach while he was with the Red Sox in 2008-2009 and noticed the differences between then and what Bay’s done in his two years with the Mets.

It’s amazing how quickly a great hitter like Hernandez or one that’s been a top power producer like Bay loses confidence and listens to everyone and tries everything.

Bay made the changes Hudgens suggested in September of 2011 and started hitting.

It was only one month, but he had a .313/.392/.563 slash line with 3 homers and 7 doubles. That’s the hitter the Mets thought they were getting.

Those who were savaging Bay as a disaster because of his injuries and poor performance with the Mets used silly arguments to “prove” their assertions.

“It’s because of Citi Field.”

The Pirates’ home of PNC Park is about as tough a hitter’s park as Citi Field and Bay was fine while playing there. As a Met, he’s hit much better at home in Citi Field than he has on the road.

“It’s because he’s a Met.”

What one thing has to do with another is beyond me and it might be because there’s no evidence—other than lame jokes—that signing with the Mets has anything to do with an established All-Star player’s decline. Are the Mets worse than the Pirates were while Bay was there? No.

Sometimes the reason for a fall is obvious. When a player is doing something differently from what worked and is failing, obviously he needs to go back to what he did before. But he has to have someone point it out and he has to listen.

Will Bay again become the player he was with the Pirates? With the Red Sox? Will he stay healthy?

Or will we have a repeat of his first two seasons with the Mets?

There’s no answer until the games start, but a good indicator of a player’s future performance is his past performance and for Bay—someone who was never accused of using any PEDs—to have suddenly “lost” it at age 31 is ludicrous.

Hernandez went back to what he did before and it worked. Bay’s doing the same thing.

Will it work?

Look at the back of the card at his numbers before he joined the Mets. For those seven seasons, he was a top power hitter; for two, he’s been a disaster.

I’ll take the seven over the two and believe that he’s going to hit because that’s what he did before.

It’s not all that hard to figure out.

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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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Combustibility And The Marlins

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, Trade Rumors

The most prominent name associated with the job as Marlins’ manager for 2012 has been current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has a contract with the White Sox for next season and owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said he wants both Guillen and GM Kenny Williams back, but if the Marlins come calling, it’s very possible that the White Sox will let Guillen leave without compensation and move on. This is the third straight season in which the White Sox will miss the playoffs amid preseason expectations of contention; the last two seasons especially have been major disappointments. Williams isn’t going anywhere, so if the White Sox make a change, it will be in the manager’s office and not the GM.

So what would happen with Guillen and the Marlins?

It’s hard to say what kind of sparks would fly when the combustible personalities of Guillen, owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson all exist in the same vacuum. Guillen is going to make his presence felt and he’s most definitely not going to tolerate the diva act from Hanley Ramirez; on the other side of the coin Guillen—a social media user himself—won’t give Logan Morrison a hard time about his Twitter account.

Guillen has experience with difficult players. He won a World Series with A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Everett and Bobby Jenks on his roster so he can handle the Marlins. It might be that Loria, while not wanting to trade Ramirez as some (Jeff Conine, Keith Hernandez and myself) have suggested, he might want someone to reign in his prodigal and wayward son.

Under Loria, the Marlins have hired: Jeff Torborg; Jack McKeon; Joe Girardi; Fredi Gonzalez; Edwin Rodriguez and McKeon again. All were forced out in one way or another. Torborg had the team playing the way Torborg’s teams generally have in all his managerial stops—stiff and mediocre at best; with the team reeling in May of 2003, he was replaced by McKeon and the Marlins wound up winning the World Series under McKeon’s old school leadership style; Girardi clashed with Loria and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year with an overachieving, young and minimalist roster; Gonzalez’s teams played at or above expectations and he was fired because of strategic differences with upper management and overreaching beliefs that they should’ve done better; Rodriguez acquitted himself well, but resigned as the team came apart this past June; McKeon was kicked upstairs after 2005, went back into the dugout to replace Rodriguez and isn’t going to be back next season.

Loria, as is his right as owner, has been very free with the “you’re fired” card.

I have no issue with that. I don’t begrudge any manager or GM—from the late George Steinbrenner to Billy Beane—the right to make a managerial change for whatever reason he wants—he doesn’t have to give a reason. “I wanted to make a change” is good enough for me.

But what will Loria do with Guillen if he’s the choice? Samson notably got into an argument with Bobby Valentine during Valentine’s interview to replace Gonzalez; Valentine would have and would still be an excellent choice for a talented Marlins squad that needs discipline and a solid strategist.

But Guillen would be a good choice as well.

Loria wouldn’t be able to fire him though. And how the Marlins organization would function with that kind of restraint over their petulant owner is an interesting dynamic that has to be considered before making the move for an established manager who’s going to require a lot of guaranteed money and say-so to take the job.

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What To Do With Jason Heyward?

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Uncategorized

The debate is raging and intense on both sides. Those who are looking at Jason Heyward‘s production as an end unto itself are saying he should be platooned, benched or sent to the minors for a spell.

His defenders point out that he’s the best on-base threat the Braves have; has been hitting in terrible luck; and that they don’t have anyone to replace him in right field.

The facts are these: he’s playing like he’s hurt; he’s not hitting the ball with authority; the Braves don’t have anyone to replace him long-term; and he still is their best on-base threat with pop.

On the Mets broadcast Friday night, Keith Hernandez said Heyward looks like he’s favoring his troublesome right shoulder—the same shoulder that placed him on the disabled list earlier in the season.

It’s been a trying season for Heyward. Upon his big league arrival he was saddled with comparisons to Willie Mays which were ridiculous and unfair. Who can say how much Chipper Jones‘s misunderstood statement that Heyward has to learn to play with pain is influencing the player’s macho decision to “man up”? If he’s playing when he shouldn’t, sending him to the minors isn’t going to help that.

Examining the full context of what Jones said, it’s not as bad as is portrayed, but when a Hall of Fame player says something to the effect of “stop crying and get out on the field”—even in perception—it gets into a 21-year-old’s head no matter how mature he is.

Heyward’s Batting Average on Balls in Play—BAbip—for ground balls is an anemic .192, so there’s a basis for saying he’s hitting in bad luck; what would concern me is the lack of authority with which he’s hitting the ball.

In comparison, Dan Uggla‘s BAbip on grounders is .266.

The bottom line is this: he’s not right and sending him down won’t repair that shoulder if he’s hurt; nor will teammates rolling their eyes at him when he’s trapped in the vortex of possibly playing injured and degenerating into an automatic out.

If the shoulder is in such a state that rest won’t do any good, then this is what they have and it has to be dealt with. Favoring it is going to get him into bad habits which would contribute to making his paltry numbers worse.

The Braves need Heyward for the playoffs and if that means sitting him down now for a month to get his shoulder healthy (or healthy enough to function), then that’s what they should do.

If rest won’t help, weather the storm; keep writing his name in the lineup; make the best of what he can do at the moment.

And hope.

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Colby Rasmus And Daddy Issues

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors

During the Mets series against the Cardinals last week the broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen were discussing Colby Rasmus, his father’s perceived interference and his relations with the club. To paraphrase Hernandez—whose own father was heavily involved with his career from beginning to end—it was basically, “my dad’s involved; my dad’s gonna be involved; deal with it”.

The Cardinals are apparently listening to offers for Rasmus. It’s largely irrelevant whether his father Tony’s interference in Colby’s career is a major part of that; that they feel trading him is their best possible bet to improve immediately; or that they simply don’t feel he’s as good as they thought he was when he was drafted.

The perception is that it’s because of his dad.

Teams are aware of a parent’s involvement when they draft him. Sometimes it works as it has with Tim Lincecum; other times it doesn’t with Eric Lindros and Gregg Jefferies.

Because Lincecum has been so tremendous, it’s somehow okay that his father set such ironclad decrees as to his the handling of his son. I’ve always been curious as to what Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on a trip to the mound when the pitcher is struggling. Do they talk about the weather? Lincecum’s shampoo of choice for his long, lustrous hair?

The Giants allowed Lincecum to be separate from the rest of the group because he did well and they had a lot of money invested in him. If he was bad in the minors or was in danger of becoming a bust, how quickly would they have started to tweak his perfectly honed mechanics from which he was never supposed to deviate?

Rasmus has been up-and-down in his brief big league career; manager Tony LaRussa appears to have had enough of him; Albert Pujols publicly called out the youngster a year ago. He seems isolated and worn down by the public spitting contest between his stage-father and the team.

But the Cardinals had to have known all this when they drafted him. If he was hitting as he did earlier in the year, it wouldn’t be an issue; but he’s slumping, so it’s a problem.

Like Hernandez said, the dad’s involved—deal with it.

And the Cardinals may deal with it by dealing Rasmus. Then someone else will have to contend with his dad. They too will know what they’re walking into and accept it as a matter of course for getting the young talent of Colby Rasmus. Just like the Giants did with Lincecum and the Cardinals should have—and presumably did—with Rasmus.

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