Halladay’s Shoulder Injury

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Yesterday Roy Halladay looked like Orel Hershiser at the very end of his career in 2000 with the Dodgers: a one-time unstoppable force who had no idea where the ball was going once it left his hand. In Hershiser’s case, he’d run out of bullets. With Halladay, he was hurt and finally admitted as much to the Phillies after the game when he said that his shoulder was bothering him since his start against the Pirates on April 24—ESPN story

He was hammered in his next two starts by the Indians and Marlins and it was in a manner that couldn’t have been much worse if I’d gone out there and pitched. It was either admit something was the matter or continue to look helpless on the mound. Not even the greats like Halladay can bluff their way through when their stuff is diminished to this degree where he has no pop, no movement, and no control.

As much as Halladay is celebrated for being an old-school, “gimme the ball and let me finish the game” throwback, this is a reminder of what also happened to pitchers of 30-40 years ago due to the damage accumulated from gobbled innings. While the Marlins and Indians hitters brutalized the once great Halladay, there had to be some semblance of sadness and wonderment in their dugouts while it was going on. Big league hitters want to win, but they also want the challenge of facing and succeeding against the greats. Beating on Halladay like Larry Holmes assaulted Muhammad Ali in 1980, with Holmes screaming at the referee to stop the fight before he severely injured Ali, could provide no sense of fulfillment as it would have had Halladay been at full strength.

Why was Halladay pitching hurt? Maybe it was due to his reputation as a cold, steely-eyed gunslinger that comes along with the nickname Doc Halladay. Maybe it was because the true greats (in any endeavor) are generally the most insecure, spurring them to work harder and constantly prove themselves in fear of losing their jobs or not being the best. Or maybe he felt that the Phillies were paying him a lot of money to pitch, needed him, and that anyone else they put out there wasn’t going to do much better at 100% than he would at 75% or less.

We may hear the best case scenario that it’s tendinitis or a strain and he’ll be back sometime this season.

We may hear that it’s a torn labrum or a rotator cuff.

We may hear that by altering his delivery to accommodate the pain in the back of his shoulder that sidelined him last season, he managed to create a deficit and injured the front of his shoulder or the whole shoulder. If a great pitcher who’s as regimented as Halladay alters one thing, everything else might come undone all at once and that’s what appears to have happened. It takes years to learn to pitch differently and Halladay was trying to use the same strategies with different weapons in a very short timeframe. For a few games, he managed it, but then the shoulder would no longer cooperate. Now we’ll wait to see the amount of damage and whether he’ll pitch at some point in 2013 or beyond and what he’s going to be when he does get back.

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The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

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Whatever Roger Clemens’s agenda is, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone as to why he wants to pitch again. It could be boredom; it could be a conscious decision to return to the big leagues to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility (and delay the embarrassment of not getting elected); it could be to prove that he can pitch cleanly at age 50; or it could be for no reason whatsoever.

Does he deserve the ridicule he’s receiving? I don’t see why he does. If Jamie Moyer was able to come back (and back, and back, and back) and teams signed him, then why can’t Clemens pitch for the independent team in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters, and see if he still has any juice (pardon the double entendre) left in the tank?

Athletes have retired or taken time off and tried comebacks before. There were the ludicrous (Pedro Borbon); the shocking and ill-fated (Jim Palmer); the otherworldly (George Foreman); and successful (Michael Jordan). It’s not impossible.

There’s every possibility that Clemens would pitch in the majors and embarrass himself as Orel Hershiser did when he hung on one year too long with the Dodgers in 2000 and his body wouldn’t cooperate with his still-fertile baseball mind. Moyer adjusted to his declining fastball with savvy and control. Clemens’s biggest downfall was when then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette uttered his famous, retrospectively accurate, and cold-blooded assessment of Clemens when he chose to let him leave the Red Sox by saying the pitcher was in the twilight of his career at age 33. Any pitcher at age 33, without the use of drugs or a superhuman will to stay in shape and Nolan Ryan-like longevity, would be in the twilight of his career. But it’s easily forgotten when assessing Clemens’s last year with the Red Sox and focusing on his 10-13 record for an 85-77 also-ran that Clemens had terrific secondary numbers that season including 242 innings pitched and an American League leading 257 strikeouts. Duquette might not have wanted to pay Clemens for 4-5 years when he probably would’ve gotten production for 2-3, but Clemens could still pitch.

We’ll never know what he would’ve accomplished for the Blue Jays had he not allegedly done what it’s been pretty well documented that he did to enjoy the renaissance from 1996 veteran who could still recapture his greatness in spurts to the consistent dominance he exhibited in the 1980s, but there was something left.

Could Clemens return to the big leagues at age 50 and get hitters out if he adapts to what he is now and doesn’t try to recapture what he was then? If he uses his brain and doesn’t try to bully the hitters with a fastball to the head, then he can. Does he want to do that? I don’t know. He wasn’t prepared to do it in the late-1990s and that’s what got him in this position of being persona non grata to begin with and almost got him tossed in jail. It also made him a lot more money than he would’ve made otherwise.

He might need the money now given how his fortune was likely decimated by ongoing legal battles.

Major League Baseball would exert not-so-subtle pressure on any team that entertained the notion to sign Clemens not to do it. They don’t want to see him or hear from him again. But there’s nothing to stop a club if they truly decide to sign him and nothing MLB can do about it.

Scott Kazmir is also pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, but no one thinks it’s a joke because Kazmir is trying to resurrect his career and is only 28-years-old. If nothing else, he can transform himself into a lefty specialist and will be back in the big leagues once he acknowledges that the strikeout machine he once was is gone.

Clemens was once faced with the same quandary and chose to bring back the strikeout king through illicit means that have yanked the Hall of Fame and historic greatness away from him. Had he stayed clean and just accepted the ravages of time both he and Barry Bonds—not exactly well-liked during their careers—would be viewed with a post-career respect as having done it clean in what’s known as a fake and dirty era of steroids. Instead, they understandably joined in to again prove that they were better on what was a level playing field of most everyone using PEDs.

Would Clemens have the clarity to accept what he is now and put his ego aside to get batters out? Or would he revert to exerting his will on the hitters when he doesn’t have the weapons to do it and be humiliated back into retirement?

He has the capability to get hitters out if he takes the Moyer-route, but it’s doubtful that he has the willingness to endure the abuse he’d receive if he tried, so I wouldn’t expect this “comeback” to go much further than with the Skeeters.

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ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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

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

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

Star power.

You either have it or you don’t.

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

You either have it or you don’t.

Ability.

You either have it or you don’t.

Darvish has it.

All of it.

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

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

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

It’s nonsense.

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

Often, they’re wars of attrition.

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

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

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

Last night was just the beginning.

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What To Expect From the New Dodgers’ Ownership

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Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt selected a group led by former Los Angeles Lakers star and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and former Braves, Nationals and Atlanta Hawks team president Stan Kasten as the winning bidder to purchase his team—NY Times Story.

It’s a good choice to return the Dodgers to glory on and off the field and reclaim their place as one of the most star-studded, glamourous and stable franchises in baseball.

Here’s why:

Star power and ruthlessness.

Magic Johnson wasn’t just one of the greatest basketball players in history. He was glitzy; he was clutch; he was fearless; and he was ruthless. That has extended into his post-athletic career as he dealt with HIV and became a brilliant and successful businessman.

Magic isn’t simply a smiling face who knows everyone in L.A. and can gladhand at parties as a prize showhorse. It was Magic who, in 1982, orchestrated the ouster of coach Paul Westhead in favor of Pat Riley. He was a brutal competitor and transferred that into his battle against a dreaded disease that many thought would kill him within five years and into the business world.

Competence.

Kasten has helmed and helped turn around moribund franchises three times and the Dodgers are going to be the fourth.

He installs quality people and lets them do their jobs while allowing them the freedom to spend money on the big league product and build through the draft.

With Magic and Kasten, the speculation will be that they’re going to want a “name” GM to run the team. Current Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti has an out in his contract following this season if there’s an ownership change.

One thing I don’t want to hear is the inevitable mentioning of the name Billy Beane to run the Dodgers.

The only people who want Beane are the media members and the Hollywood types who either don’t know or don’t want to know the true scope of Beane’s work with the Athletics—that he’s a propped up character whose true resume bears no resemblance to the falsehoods and contradictions in Moneyball.

They’d be better off hiring Brad Pitt.

Old school flavors and swagger.

The easy storyline will be that the Dodgers are going to find some young, impressively educated “genius” to take over the franchise and rebuild it from top-to-bottom.

The only name I would pursue toward that end would be Andrew Friedman.

Johnson won’t want to deal with some young kid walking in and whispering sweet nothings in his ear about how much cheaper and better the Dodgers are going to be. Johnson will want someone who’s competent in being the front man for the club with swagger and charm while simultaneously running the organization correctly and not to generate headlines as the new “genius”.

Kasten worked with older GMs Bobby Cox, John Schuerholz and Mike Rizzo and, barring Friedman (who I think is a viable possibility), they’ll hire a veteran baseball guy with automatic name recognition and a track record.

Bolstering the foundation; stability and recognizability in the manager’s office.

Going back to their initial years in Los Angeles, the “Dodgers Way” was to have stability in the manager’s office with Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda; a group of players that they could build around; and smart free agent signings.

With Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers already have top-level stars on both sides of the ball. Once you have that, two giant pieces of the puzzle are in place.

Given the circumstances, Don Mattingly has done an admirable job as the manager and will deserve another chance elsewhere, but I would expect Magic will have a historical Dodger in mind to take over the team on the field. Lasorda has forever pushed one of his favorite players as a potential manager and, in spite of my general belief that pitchers aren’t my first choice as managers and inexperience is a definite negative, I’d make an exception in one case: Orel Hershiser.

Hershiser carried the Dodgers to the World Series in 1988—something Magic saw first hand—with 59 straight scoreless innings and post-season dominance in upsetting the Mets and A’s; he’d be a perfect choice on and off the field.

A rapid return to prominence.

The McCourt tenure was embarrassing for the revelations that the team was used as a virtual cash machine to fund a lavish lifestyle for the owners; the Bryan Stow beating was a horrible example of ignorance to ancillary factors—safety—that make an organization fan friendly and sound.

On the field, the product was actually quite good. McCourt’s Dodgers made the playoffs in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009 and with a little luck could’ve won a championship or two.

But he’s leaving.

Magic and Kasten are going to learn from the Dodgers’ history—the good and bad—and follow the historical blueprint that made them this valuable in the first place. They’ll return to what made the Dodgers what they were and it’s going to happen as early as 2013.

***

I’ll be a guest with Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest tonight at 8 PM EST talking about my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here to check it out.

//

The Red Sox Defections Continue

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The pitching coach is probably the last thing on the Red Sox front office’s mind at the moment, so when Curt Young wanted to return to the Athletics, it appears as if the Red Sox gave a “yeah, whatever” approval.

They’ll get someone else to be the pitching coach. It’s not a tremendous loss and the new manager has a right to at least have his voice heard as to whom the pitching coach is.

But the departure of Young leaves the Red Sox braintrust completely changed from top to bottom along with important lieutenants.

There’s going to be a new GM; a new manager; presumably a new leadership in the clubhouse if, as would be smart, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are shown the door; and now a new pitching coach.

It’s an open secret that assistant GM Ben Cherington is going to take over as the new GM; it remains to be seen how much influence Larry Lucchino will exert now that his erstwhile protege/nemesis Theo Epstein is going to the Cubs; the choice of manager will provide a window into who’s running things.

If it’s a prototypical “middle-manager” who’ll do what he’s told, Cherington’s the dominant voice; if they hire an established name manager who’s going to make his presence felt, it’s Lucchino.

When the Red Sox were conducting interviews to replace Grady Little, Lucchino had a conversation with Bobby Valentine. Valentine seemed to think was more of pre-interview interview and Lucchino considered it a chat; Valentine felt Lucchino was feeling him out to see if he was onboard with the across-the-board criticisms that were doled on Little for failing to remove Pedro Martinez from game 7 of the ALCS.

The move sealed Little’s fate; Valentine’s refusal to criticize Little or even say that he disagreed with Little probably ruined Valentine’s chance at the job.

Would Lucchino want to go the “name” manager route that he clearly weighed in 2003? Cherington would want no part of Valentine; the Red Sox clubhouse presumably would not be thrilled about Valentine either; but perhaps that’s what they need—rather than having someone that would be an agreeable choice to the players (as Terry Francona was to Curt Schilling whom they were trying to convince to agree to a trade from the Diamondbacks), maybe they need someone who’s going to be a conservative, old-school hard-liner.

Valentine’s old-school in his treatment of players, but he’s also a longtime advocate of the work of Bill James and would be a good choice to take over the Red Sox and restore order on and off the field.

It would be an interesting dynamic if they go that route and perhaps bring in a pitching coach with “guru” status like Rick Peterson or Valentine’s highly-qualified ESPN partner Orel Hershiser.

Peterson’s shelf-life as a pitching coach is short; the pitchers tire of his constant haranguing, reminders, preparation, hand on the shoulder and in-your-face style, but there’s no questioning his dedication and history of success.

Hershiser is not only a candidate as a pitching coach, but as a manager as well; the cerebral former pitcher is one of the most intense competitors to ever suit up and has the hardware to prove his knowledge and intelligence to express and to teach.

If they’re not going to make any drastic changes to team construction by dumping a Josh Beckett, they must do something other than what caused the dysfunction in the first place. If Francona was too soft and they’re not going to get rid of some big names from the roster who are still imperative to the team’s success, they have to have some discipline. Valentine would be one big move to drop a bomb into that clubhouse. They have to ponder it to prevent a possible downward spiral that will continue into the next several years.

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Keys To Tigers-Yankees, Game 5

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Pitching.

Ivan Nova and Doug Fister are essentially the same guy.

Neither strikes out a lot of hitters; neither allows many homers; they rely on a pitch-to-contact strategy and need their defense.

In tonight’s game, both will have to keep the ball away from the batters and coax them to try and pull pitches they should be taking to the opposite field; and they need to keep the ball down.

Nova has shown a fearlessness of intense situations and actually appears to relish it—something the Yankees discounted in assessing him. I’d prefer to have someone with average-to-above average stuff and an attitude than brilliant stuff and reluctance to pitch in a do-or-die game.

Fister’s numbers are consistent vs righties and lefties—link.

The pitcher who makes the mistake up in the strike zone to the wrong hitter is the one who’s going to fall.

Controlling the hitters.

Everyone’s going to be concerned about one specific hitter in the Yankees or Tigers lineup.

For the Yankees, it’s going to be Robinson Cano;  Cano hammers pitchers like Fister because he likes the ball down; the one bat I’d be concerned with more than Cano is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was just missing pitches that were in his wheelhouse in game 4 and the Tigers have made the decision to not only challenge him, but to prefer pitching to him rather than the alternatives.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees were expected to have to stop.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees do have to stop.

The Tigers want to get Cabrera up to the plate with runners on base and he lives for games like this. If he’s overanxious and tries to do too much, he’s going to either strike out or hit into a double play; if not, he’s got the capability to wreck the game early.

The defense.

Don Kelly is playing third base instead of Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit because Kelly’s been hitting. Inge is a good defensive third baseman and Kelly is average. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has limited range; if Fister is successful in keeping the ball away from Cano and mitigating his power, the left side of the infield has to catch it when it’s hit.

Curtis Granderson saved A.J. Burnett in the midst of his transformation from “we don’t know which A.J.” into “bad, chase him out of town A.J” with that over the shoulder catch of Kelly’s rocket with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the first inning of game 4. Yankee Stadium is an easier venue in which to hit a home run than Comerica Park, leaving less room to make these game/season-saving catches.

Defensively, Cabrera has a tendency to fall asleep while playing first base and do something airheaded.

Managers.

Who’s going to be the first reliever into the game if either gets into trouble?

There’s no messing around here and if Phil Hughes or Brad Penny are needed in the second inning, things could go downhill fast; if either starter gets off to a poor start, the next reliever’s main job is to stabilize the game and keep it from getting out of hand. I don’t trust either Hughes or Penny to do that.

Of the two managers, the one more likely to do something stupid and panicky is Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Tigers manager Jim Leyland trusts his players—to his detriment at times—and plays hunches, but his mistakes aren’t due to a freakout.

The looming hero.

Justin Verlander threw 120 pitches 3 days ago, but could he come in and provide a few innings if needed? If he shunned throwing on the side after his start, it’s possible that he saved his bullets in case he’s needed tonight.

Would Tigers manager Leyland do that? Would he risk Verlander to use him in relief?

Pedro Martinez left game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians after 4 innings with back problems; he was questionable for the rest of the series. In game 5, with the score 8-8 after 3 innings, Martinez told manager Jimy Williams he’d go for as long as he could when he ambled in from the bullpen.

He went as long as he could alright…by pitching 6 no-hit innings with 8 strikeouts to lead the Red Sox to the ALCS.

Verlander will be willing.

He’ll be able.

But will he be allowed?

And would it be the difference between winning and losing?

It might.

Leyland, in general, tells his players to take a hike when he’s made a decision; but occasionally as he did in the 1997 NLCS with Kevin Brown, he will listen when they stand in front of him and demand to be left in the game.

Verlander’s that type of competitor.

Would Leyland listen if Verlander told him he was ready to pitch in relief?

The initial response would be no, but…it’s game 5; this is Verlander’s year similar to that of Orel Hershiser in 1988.

What better way to prove it than to emerge from the bullpen and save the whole team?

It’s unlikely, but possible.

Because it’s game 5.

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Sparkle And Fade

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove
  • Prosper and fall:

The most interesting aspect of free agency, for me, isn’t where Cliff Lee and the other biggest names available wind up—the players whom everyone wants—it’s the players who are good and productive but, for one reason or another, fall through the cracks and don’t get the amount of money or years they were expecting.

Players in this category are still available and looking increasingly desperate right now. Rafael Soriano is one such player. He had a fantastic year; he is a marketable commodity as a strikeout reliever who can close; but he’s in fact be hindered by the great year he had and that his agent is Scott Boras and his demands are too great for a team to pay.

It winds up being a catch-22 for a Soriano—he should get a big contract for his performance and abilities, but won’t get the big contract because of the asking price, that the signing club is going to lose a draft pick and the market for relief pitchers has essentially crashed as building a bullpen has been put into greater statistical and practical context.

It doesn’t help Soriano that his reputation isn’t great. He gives up too many homers and gacks up big games; plus, as Bill Madden wrote in the NY Daily News yesterday, Soriano refused to pitch for more than one inning several times for the Rays in 2010. The combination is not a winning one for an iffy performer with an injury history and high financial demands.

You see it with other free agents who should probably be more in demand than they are.

Adam LaRoche just signed a 2-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2013. LaRoche is a consistent all-around player from whom you know what you’ll get: 25 homers, 60 extra base hits and adequate-to-good defense. The Nats probably could’ve gotten LaRoche for a little less money, but the contract’s not ridiculous considering they needed another bat and after the loony contract they gave Jayson Werth. Why run the risk of LaRoche going to Seattle or some other bat-hungry team?

Every year Orlando Hudson finds himself looking for work and taking a short-term contract. He’s touted by the stat zombies as a plus defender and productive hitter, but the statistical analysis and resulting financial valuations may actually be harming Hudson’s hopes for a long-term contract. Those that are signing him know his options are limited; that he’s injury-prone; and the numbers are such that a value is placed on his services; teams are unwilling to go beyond that because of his numbers and history of being on the outside looking in as January/February rolls around. Hudson got 2 years from the Padres with an option, but is only guaranteed $11.5 million.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from Werth’s $126 million insanity.

  • Speaking of the other end of the spectrum:

Of course there are players who take advantage of their impending free agency by having a career year and getting paid as a result of it. Adrian Beltre, A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano come to mind.

Beltre has had career years in two of his seasons prior to free agency and gotten paid. Like Hudson, Beltre is beloved in stat zombie circles for his defense and bat; after having an MVP-quality season for the Red Sox, Beltre just signed a 5-year, $80 million contract with the Rangers.

In 2008, Burnett won 18 games for the Blue Jays and, more importantly, stayed healthy knowing that he could opt out of his contract. He did and got a bigger deal from the Yankees.

Pavano won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, signed with the Yankees and subsequently, rather than pitch, he went to the beach and the doctor. (He might’ve been better served to find a doctor on the beach, but that’s neither here nor there.) After rejuvenating his career with the Twins, Pavano won’t get the same money he did from the Yankees, but he’s going to get a multi-year contract in the $22-25 million range from someone. Considering his reputation after the Yankees debacle, that’s great for him.

For a long time, I’ve seen this type of behavior as a negative; now, I’m thinking it may not be as bad as it looks on the surface. While a player raising his game when money is on the line could be judged as untoward and self-serving, as long as the club knows what they’re getting, they can’t complain about it.

The Yankees didn’t know what they were unwrapping with the Pavano package and that’s why I’ve never given them a hard time about his signing. Had they not given Pavano the money, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to do so. The Yankees did know what they were getting with Burnett and this is why the ripping into him is unfair. He is what he is and nothing more.

Would this type of seasonlong pressure play bode well for a post-season calmness that would result in success? Players have raised their games in the post-season. Orel Hershiser, Lenny Dykstra, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart—all have reputations as “money” players in the playoffs.

It might be the magnitude of the moment or the desire for fame and fortune that have spurred them. Will Beltre be a similar player? We don’t know because he’s only been in the playoffs once in his career—in 2004—and went 4 for 15 in the Dodgers 4 game NLDS loss to the Cardinals.

Pavano has been very good in the playoffs; Burnett’s been Burnett—up and down.

While the “big free agent year” followed by a lull can be seen as a profound negative, judging it from a different and more realistic angle, said success in a pressure year could be a portent of success in the playoffs. Finding something a player can do well and accepting him for that isn’t such a bad thing; in fact, it’s necessary and can help a club win a championship.

Unless something big happens, I’ll do the mail tomorrow.

Humanity And The Hall Of Fame

Hall Of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schilling?

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

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

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

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

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

McGwire and Palmeiro aren’t getting in. Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Level Ridiculous

Hot Stove

This could be a duplex, triplex, quadriplex or multiplex.

Or more.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m of course talking about this, um, hyperbolic (let’s be generous) assessment of the 2011 Red Sox—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History.

The title is bad enough. It inspires thoughts of Don LaPre with his “Greatest Vitamin in the World”; of Kevin Trudeau and his mysterious “they” who are out to get you, persecute you and destroy your life; of Sean Hannity and his “the hair does look different” when buying into the Elian Gonzalez haircut/faux photograph conspiracy theories during that mess in the year 2000 after the Cuban boy was rightfully reunited with his father.

You could equate this with anyone from the left, right, center, commercial, financial, PR, tabloid or whatever.

Written by Eric Ortiz, a few things about him and his column become clear: contrary to popular notion, the fluctuating concept of intelligence implied by graduating from Stanford doesn’t automatically equal a deep baseball knowledge of history and reality; he has nearly no objectivity nor encompassing knowledge in what he’s talking about; and I’m getting the idea that NESN has a Michael Kay of their very own functioning in a world of make believe.

And that’s before getting into the actual content.

Enthusiasm is one thing. Derangement is another.

The 2011 Red Sox and the 1927 Yankees?

Really?

Ortiz is making this comparison in January?

Good grief.

Let’s do this and let’s do it in an organized fashion.

Hold on tight.

The off-season “champion” doesn’t matter much.

Going back years, we’ve seen teams that were the “champions” of the off-season start the year with outrageous expectations and flame out almost immediately, the holes they failed to fill too gaping to cover by headline-making acquisitions.

How many times did George Steinbrenner sign the big free agent (or three) and watch as his meddling and failure to adequately address the necessary ancillary pieces in building a club cause his team to underachieve? It happened on an annual basis in the 1980s and was even more pronounced directly following the 1996-2000 dynasty as the dismantling of the cohesive unit was exacerbated by the losing mercenaries he brought in.

The Mets, under both Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya, would draw attention to themselves by making drastic alterations only to have dysfunction and mismanagement sabotage them to the point of embarrassment.

It’s happened with stat zombie teams as well—the Mariners and Athletics in recent years.

And, guess what? It’s happened with the Red Sox. Picked to be a World Series winner last season because of the signings of John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, the club stumbled with the new “defense-first” strategy early in the year and were derailed by injuries, poor performance by important pieces and two teams in their division that were healthier and better in the Yankees and Rays.

I love the decisions the Red Sox have made this winter; I think they’re the best team in the American League, but that makes little difference once the games start. The off-season champion is often standing on the outside looking in and wondering what went wrong with their master plan.

The 1927 Yankees? Did he do any research before coming to this conclusion?

Comparing eras—especially eras from nearly 100 years ago—is impossible and a colossal waste of time and energy. But looking at the differences between the 1927 Yankees and the Red Sox, along with the other clubs mentioned in the piece as examples of the “best” ever are helpful in detonating the foundation of Ortiz’s piece from the ground up.

The game was totally different then. There were only eight teams in the American League; the ball was dead; the crisis-a-day media wasn’t hovering waiting to post a blog, tweet or go bonkers on a radio show in dictating the decline and fall of the club after a 3-game losing streak; Babe Ruth, if he were playing today and behaved as he did then, would rival Kim Kardashian in the gossip pages; and expectations weren’t prefaced by a suggestion of such dubious magnitude that this is a team that will rival one of the best in history.

The 1927 Yankees had a Hall of Fame manager (Miller Huggins); and Hall of Famers at 1st base (Lou Gehrig); 2nd base (Tony Lazzeri); two HOF outfielders (Earl Combs and Ruth); and HOF pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

How many future Hall of Famers do these Red Sox have? Potentially, there’s Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. Maybe. Dustin Pedroia? I suppose winning the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons give him a good start, but Fred Lynn won both in the same year with the Red Sox and became a very good journeyman player, not what he was expected to be after the start to his career.

The competition in 1927 wasn’t anywhere close to what it is today. The game was based on speed and inside baseball. When you look at those Yankees, led by Ruth (60 homers) and Gehrig (47 homers) and examine the league leaders from that season, you see that while that duo combined for 107 homers by themselves, the next highest total in the American League was Lazzeri with 18; after that, you had Ken Williams with 17; Al Simmons with 15; Harry Heilmann with 14.

Who could compete with that kind of power? Was there anyone in that era—in which the game was still evolving—that could handle a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning with Ruth and Gehrig due to hit and a tired starting pitcher who wasn’t coming out of the game for a fresh arm?

Those Yankees could pitch and they played good defense; but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if their pitching was slightly subpar; if their defense was a bit shoddy. This is because they battered pitchers into submission!!!

The 1927 Yankees scored 131 more runs than the next highest scoring club in baseball, the Detroit Tigers.

Who could compete with that?

The 2011 Red Sox? They’re going to score a lot of runs; they’ve got great pitching; they’re built to win now and have all the attributes that Ortiz mentions—on base skills, power, speed, great defense—but can injuries be accounted for? Can the other teams in the American League who are also very good and/or have money and prospects to make drastic improvements at mid-season be so easily dismissed to the point of thinking this Red Sox team is going to compete with the 1927 Yankees?

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”.

What?!?

Has Ortiz ever watched Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch? And if he has, would he know what he was looking at to begin with?

I would expect such similar nonsense from a fan blog or the aforementioned Michael Kay. This is what passes for analysis?

It would be one thing if he were simply writing the best-case scenario and going over-the-top, but the way this is presented it’s as if Ortiz has never watched a baseball game in his life and has neither the statistical nor in-the-trenches knowledge to comprehend anything about baseball—the future or the past.

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”?!?

Um, okay.

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of problems with this suggestion: One, teams have only used a regular number 5 starter going back to the late 70s, early 80s; before that, they used a swingman/extra guy to take the start when they wanted to cut back on the workload of the main men.

Two, the best number 5 starter idea is demolished by Daisuke Matsuzaka not being any good and that the teams who accumulated big win totals with deep starting rotations had starters who were far superior to Matsuzaka.

A quick search of teams had superior number 5 starters (in no particular order) like the 2002 Yankees (Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and an extra guy named Ted Lilly); the 1998 Braves (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Denny Neagle); the 2005 Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan); and the 1988 Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda).

There are others you could dig through and find a better number 5 starter. Oh, and none of those teams won the World Series. Not one.

All due respect to Terry Francona, those teams were managed by men who were better managers than he—Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Davey Johnson.

Finally, we get to Daisuke Matsuzaka himself.

He’s not any good.

You can parse his 2008 season any way you want, but he’s been a disappointment on and off the field and has progressively gotten worse as teams have learned to wait for him to walk them. He’s been injury-prone, selfish, whiny and eminently hittable. Sprinkling in a near-no-hitter every once in a while does not a successful pitcher make. The wins he has accumulated stem more from having an excellent team behind him, complete with a deep bullpen to bail him out of trouble and win him games after he logs his usual 5 innings with 3 runs allowed (if he’s on his game).

Matsuzaka has been nowhere near worth the press, the money (posting and contractually), nor the hype. He’s been a better investment for the Red Sox than Kei Igawa was for the Yankees, but I’d have been a better investment for anyone than Igawa was for the Yankees.

The “best no. 5 starter ever”?

Yah.

Speaking of accumulating wins…

If the 2011 Red Sox win 117 games or 99, what’s the difference if they don’t meet the expectations that are apparent in such propaganda as written by Ortiz on NESN?

The 2001 Mariners are mentioned:

The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.

Yes, I’m quite sure the Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. Whatever that’s worth.

What a win total has to do with anything is beyond me; much like expectations, they’re meaningless in practice. A fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of how teams win is the culprit in missing that reality.

The Big Red Machine of the 1970s were picked to win every year and it was said the Machine was equipped with a “choke” because they always lost until 1975-1976.

The Orioles of the 1970s were considered a similar disappointment as were the Dodgers. The Athletics and Mets of the 1980s were in this category as were the 116-win Mariners and the 1990s Indians and Braves. That the latter mentioned clubs kept running into the Yankees and losing is irrelevant—they lost.

You can’t quantify a number of wins as meaning anything. Those 2000 Yankees collapsed at the end of the season and turned it on for the playoffs; the 2006 Cardinals did the same. Both won the World Series.

The great Braves teams were never able to overcome the absence of a reliable, big time closer; no one in their right mind (or with the faintest clue about baseball) could look at that 2001 Mariners team and think they’re one of the “best” teams in history.

Those massive win totals are—many times—a confluence of events more than any teamwide “greatness”.

It doesn’t help that they lost.

The 1988 Mets and Athletics were “better” teams than the champion Dodgers, but the Dodgers had the hot pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and the magic (Kirk Gibson). Does anyone remember the Mets and A’s as anything other than underachievers that Hershiser single-handedly ripped to shreds?

As for the 1927 Yankees, by 1929, they were dethroned by a Connie Mack‘s masterfully built competing juggernaut Philadelphia Athletics. The Yankees team in 1929 was essentially unchanged from 1927. They too lost.

It happens more often than you’d think, but judging from the pants-changing excitement exemplified on NESN, you’d never know it.

Hubris makes for great sports moments.

Buster Douglas knocked out the “invincible” Mike Tyson.

The New York Giants beat the “unbeatable” New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.

It happens and it happens all the time. Many times it’s a byproduct of self-importance and arrogance; others it’s due to unfilled holes and factors that can’t be accounted for…especially in JANUARY!!!!

When idiotic fan blogs disguised as even-handed journalism like that which was written by Eric Ortiz on NESN begin popping up this early, it has a tendency to snowball; to create an atmosphere of loathing in the hopes that such a team—unbeatable, unstoppable, unbelievable—will lose.

Other clubs know the difference and if they try just that tiny bit harder just to stick it to those that view themselves so highly, upsets are inevitable.

With the tiered playoff system and short series, anything—anything—can and usually does happen.

This Red Sox team is terrific on paper; but they, like any other team, are not unbeatable, regardless of this bit of “journalism”. If this is an example of the hubris we’re going to see as the season wears on, I’m going to be among the number that hopes to see the team lose just to see this type of thing proven wrong not only because it’s arrogant and obnoxious garbage but because it’s an invitation to disaster.

Disaster has a way of finding those that dismiss it’s potential for wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans.

My suggestion to those that are buying into the hype is that they calm down because they’re asking for fate-related trouble. Big trouble.

Fate will find you.

It always does.