Zack Greinke Reverberations and Madness

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Zack Greinke has reportedly agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a 6-year, $147 million contract. Let’s look at the reality and reactions.

The money

For those looking at the Greinke money, comparing him to pitchers from years past and wondering what they would’ve earned had they entered free agency at the same age as Greinke, it’s a stupid question and argument. What would Sandy Koufax get? What would Pedro Martinez get? What would Greg Maddux get? What would Randy Johnson get?

Does it matter? Had they been free agents at age 29 in 2012, they would’ve gotten more money than Greinke. But they’re not. So it’s meaningless speculation.

Then there are the complaints that it’s “too much” money—not in context of pitchers who were better than Greinke, but in context, period.

The pitchers listed above weren’t available. As for the contract itself, how is “enough” quantified? Would $120 million be acceptable? Why is $147 million “too much” and what amount is “just right?”

Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, found a team willing to pay him, and he got the most money. If and when Justin Verlander is a free agent (and he probably won’t be), he’ll set the market. That’s capitalism. That’s baseball.

The media

Joel Sherman exemplifies the half-wit media by saying the following on Twitter:

I know timing/supply-demand determine $, but if you had to pick 10 SP to win game for your life, would Greinke even be in the 10?

First he says essentially the same thing I said and made perfect sense in saying it regarding supply and demand. Then he ruins it by making a ridiculous assertion about a “game for your life” that there’s no way to prove its veracity one way or the other until after the fact. Greinke pitched poorly in his one post-season chance, but he was no Kenny Rogers—a thoroughly overmatched, frightened, and non-competitive performer for both the Yankees and Mets who no one could’ve thought he’d turn in the masterful work he provided in the 2006 playoffs and World Series when he was all but unhittable.

Was Dave Stewart a post-season ace before he became one? Was Curt Schilling?

You don’t know until you know. It’s not as if Greinke is tricking people with a pitch that could abandon him at any moment. Like the aforementioned Johnson and Martinez, they know what’s coming and can’t hit it.

This type of “analysis” is a desperate search to be contrary and not based on fact at all.

For the rest of baseball

The “haves and have nots” argument no longer applies as teams like the Athletics and Rays have shown the way of keeping their players or trading them away at their high value to maintain realistic cost while contending. The idea that Billy Beane’s strategies stopped working is accurate. Other teams caught onto what he was doing, souped it up and spent money for the undervalued assets he was able to get on the cheap before. The Rays adapted and overtook the A’s as the team that maximized what they had and could afford with new data and not the old “on base percentage as the Holy Grail” and “counting cards in the draft” idiocy.

The big money clubs who’ve spent wildly haven’t distinguished themselves with annual championships; in fact, many of the clubs have turned into overpriced embarrassments who, like the Yankees, are paring down to avoid luxury tax penalties and are rapidly heading toward a collapse because they tried to copy the Rays and even the Red Sox in development and failed miserably. The Red Sox, Angels, Marlins, and Phillies spent madly in the last several years and the results varied from disastrous to mediocre.

Teams that want to prevent Greinke-like contracts have to take the risk and do what the Rays have done with Evan Longoria, the Pirates have done with Andrew McCutchen, and the Rays and Mets have done with Matt Moore and Jonathon Niese—sign them early and hope they make it worth the team’s while to do it.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers spending spree doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win in and of itself, but they do have some semblance of continuity backed up by the new money their ownership is spreading around, much to the anger and chagrin of all observers due to jealousy or the simple desire to complain.

It made no sense to pay $2 billion and then try to create a winner with an $80 million payroll and prove how much smarter their baseball people are than everyone else. It made no sense to hire Stan Kasten as team president and have Magic Johnson as a front man and not let them do what they do the way they know how to do it.

Kasten is a professional dealmaker and, unlike Randy Levine across the country with the Yankees, isn’t despised and openly meddling with the baseball operations implying that he knows more than he does (and Kasten is a qualified baseball man, unlike Levine). Kasten helped build the enduring Braves playoff dynasty using development and Ted Turner’s money to keep his own players, trade the minor leaguers for veterans, develop youngsters for the Braves’ use, bolster the club with Maddux-like stars, and let his GM John Schuerholz be the GM and the manager Bobby Cox be the manager.

He’s repeating the process with the Dodgers, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.

Comparisons to the aforementioned clubs that spent insanely is not accurate as a “that didn’t work, so neither will what the Dodgers are doing.” The Dodgers spent a ton of money and are asking their manager Mattingly, “What do you need?” whereas the Angels, with a new GM Jerry Dipoto who didn’t hire Mike Scioscia had different theories on how a team should be run; the owner Arte Moreno betrayed what it was that made the Angels a beacon of how to put a club together as he spent on players who simply didn’t fit and created a glut and altered identity, leading to the image of dysfunction and disarray.

The Red Sox made a mess in 2011, compounded that mess in 2012, and are getting back to their roots with questionable decisions currently being made by Ben Cherington when the jury is still out on whether he’s one of those executives who was better off as an assistant.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has the countenance and behavior of a character straight out of a Dickens story with barely concealed greed and unrepentant evil, while Magic is the charming frontman to bring the fans in and impress the players with his star power.

Star power.

Magic was a Lakers star with a star coach Pat Riley and a glittery style that inspired the moniker “Showtime.” It wasn’t just a show. The Lakers were a great team with star talent surrounding Magic in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, underappreciated stars like James Worthy, and gritty tough guys like Kurt Rambis. Magic is the epitome of cool who knows everyone, gets invited to every party, has access to all the trappings of Los Angeles with the age and wisdom to advise players what and whom to avoid. He’s got an eye not just on winning, but winning in the Hollywood fashion with stars and style. He’ll fill Dodger Stadium and make it the cool place to go again; he’ll recruit the players; he’ll represent the team to make everyone money; and he won’t overstep his bounds into the baseball ops.

They didn’t buy it as an investment to flip in a few years; they bought it to turn it into a greater financial powerhouse and increase its value. That’s what they’re doing and Greinke is a cog in that machine to achieve the end.

And for Greinke

No one will ever know whether Greinke, whose past emotional problems are given far too much weight considering they six years ago and haven’t cropped up since, could’ve dealt with New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

Going to the East Coast with the pressures and expectations inherent with the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies wasn’t a good fit. But the Angels weren’t matching the Dodgers’ cash and the Rangers were the main competition for the pitcher’s services and were a winning, positive locale for him and his former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader wife. But they were outbid and have other, more reasonably priced options via trade.

That left the Dodgers. It’s a laid back atmosphere as a matter of course; they already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw so the pressure won’t be as great for Greinke to win 25 games; and no one will bother him as they would in New York, Boston, or Philly.

He got his money; he’s a great pitcher; and will continue to be a great pitcher for a Dodgers team that is a legitimate championship contender.

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How Does Pine Tar Help A Pitcher?

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When a pitcher throws a baseball, he gets his velocity from arm speed. Arm speed is enhanced by the use of his body. The legs, butt, hips and trunk generate the force to the arm and the arm delivers the baseball.

But what about the hands?

Pitchers with large hands are able to throw harder than pitchers with smaller hands and they don’t need as much arm speed to do so. If you watch a pitcher with a somewhat strange motion, little leg drive and pedestrian noticeable arm speed and they’re putting up a radar gun reading of 95 mph, there’s a great chance that they have larger than normal hands and long fingers. Jose Valverde of the Tigers regularly pops the gun at 94 mph+ without the powerful motion of a Tom Seaver or the clear leverage of Randy Johnson. He must have enormous hands to do it.

How does pine tar come into the equation to help a pitcher?

Pitchers sweat and their hands grow moist. No amount of wiping and resin is going to eliminate the underlying moisture that might compromise their grip on the ball. Pine tar is an inherently sticky substance that batters use to reinforce their grip on the bat, but it works for pitchers as well. The problem for pitchers is that it’s illegal.

Arm speed creates velocity, but the seams on the ball are where a pitcher makes the ball move. The more secure a pitcher’s fingers are on the seams, the greater rotation he’s going to get when he releases the ball. Because of this the movement is increased.

The seams are what’s responsible for the rise in a rising fastball; the cut in a cutter; the slide in a slider; and the break in a curveball. If a pitcher doesn’t have the seams, no amount of arm/wrist break is going to give him the movement he’ll get from the seams.

Pine tar increases the adhesion of finger to ball and with that, the spin.

As we saw this week with Joel Peralta of the Rays and in the past with Jay Howell when he was pitching for the Dodgers in 1988—both called out by manager Davey Johnson—pitchers place pine tar in their glove or somewhere on their body to use at their leisure. Other pitchers have been accused of doing it as well as we saw with Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers in the 2006 post-season. It’s not a remote occurrence and while certain pitchers are brazen enough to stick it in their gloves where it can be easily found, others are more canny about it and place it surreptitiously on their neck; in their dip can; in some secret place that is easily hidden but accessible when they need it.

Any hitter can catch up to any fastball if it’s straight. If a pitch is moving, it’s harder to hit. Pine tar helps the movement on a pitch.

It’s a customary practice. Johnson found out about Peralta doing it and used that information to his advantage. But it happens all the time. Peralta just got caught.

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Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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Showalter-Duquette Philosophies Mesh Neatly For The Orioles

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The histories of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette (provided the negotiations for Duquette to take over as Orioles GM don’t fall apart) bode well for the club to improve to respectability and contention within the next three years.

Showalter’s and Duquette’s preferences in building an organization center around having a big-time starter at the top of the rotation to gobble innings and be the anchor; having a lineup led by one basher and other, less-recognizable boppers; and a versatile array of background players who know their roles rather than the one star who has too much say-so in team matters; both like having relatively inexpensive and replaceable to fill in around stars.

With the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, Showalter had that one starter he could count on to front the rotation and provide quality every fifth day. Jimmy Key wasn’t a prototypical ace when the Yankees signed him, but that’s what he was for his tenure under Showalter; he had Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks; and rode Kenny Rogers with the Rangers.

Duquette had Pedro Martinez with the Expos and Red Sox—and acquired him twice in masterful trades for which he surrendered very little. He loaded his lineup with Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra to function as the centerpieces while acquiring underappreciated and patient mashers like Jose Canseco and using John Valentin and Tim Naehring whose on base skills weren’t widely known or paid for.

Duquette liked power/on base men before it became trendy.

Showalter favored having the egoless grinders filling his lineup and made it a point to get rid of Alex Rodriguez because he was too much of a diva and ate up a vast chunk of the payroll which could’ve been allocated for multiple pieces. Duquette had the nerve to let both Roger Clemens and Vaughn leave as free agents and was right in both cases.

The philosophies parallel and provide a window into what they’ll do moving forward.

The Orioles don’t have that veteran arm at the top of the rotation and that’s the first order of business. Nick Markakis could be a chip to get that arm. I don’t get the impression that the Giants are going to trade Matt Cain and the idea that they’ll trade Tim Lincecum is ridiculous, but that’s the type of arm the Orioles are going to pursue.

Would the Phillies listen on Cole Hamels? Why not ask?

Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics might be on the block. Mat Latos was born in nearby Virginia (for what that’s worth since he went to high school in Florida), would the Padres be desperate enough for a power bat that they’d consider dealing him?

Duquette and Showalter are going to get a big time starting pitcher from somewhere.

As for a power bat, there are several available. Prince Fielder might hit 60 home runs playing for the Orioles; they could bring in the always underrated Josh Willingham to replace Markakis if they trade him; and sign Edwin Jackson for another 200-inning arm.

Showalter and Duquette find closers rather than pay for them, so a younger pitcher or trying to get a Grant Balfour along with Gonzalez would be an inexpensive, hard-throwing option who’s never gotten a legitimate chance to be a semi-full time closer.

Because of the known strategies of both Showalter and Duquette, they’re going to work well together, be gutsy and aggressive and make the Orioles exponentially better by 2013 as long as there’s no interference from ownership.

Showalter was a desperation hire and was given large influence in club construction; Duquette appears to be an “oh, him” selection after others refused the job or backed out of interviews.

But it’s a good combination that’s going to work.

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