Matt Harvey’s Elbow Injury Fallout

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

Anne_V

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

Let’s have a look at the truth.

For Matt Harvey

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

“That’s so Mets”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twitter experts

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

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

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

Bob Ojeda

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

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

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

Player injuries can happen anywhere

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

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

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

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

The vagaries of the future

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

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

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




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1st Round Draft Picks Traded for Middle Relievers is a Bad Move

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One of the more curious trades made on deadline day was the Cardinals sending former 1st round pick Zack Cox to the Marlins for Edward Mujica, a mediocre reliever who has a penchant for giving up lots of home runs. There are many palatable explanations to feed to the hungry public as to why such a deal would be made. With the Cardinals, Cox’s path was blocked at first base by Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter and at third base by David Freese; at 23, Cox is struggling at Triple-A after tearing apart the lower minors; the Cardinals needed help in the bullpen and wanted—for whatever reason—Mujica.

All are legitimate enough. But I’d think a former 1st round pick would bring back more than a homer-prone, journeyman relief pitcher who, bottom line, isn’t that good. There could be issues we don’t know about. Scott Kazmir was traded by the Mets in an atrocious maneuver, in part, because of his attitude. Trading Kazmir wasn’t the mistake the Mets made—pitching coach Rick Peterson wound up being right about Kazmir’s small frame and breakdown potential—but that they traded him for Victor Zambrano.

In today’s game, 1st round draft picks are losing their value and it’s not because they’re not talented, but because teams are more willing to trade them since one of the main reasons 1st round picks get chance after chance is due to the attachment to their names, “1st round pick” and that the clubs no longer have as much money invested in these players. Cox received a $3.2 million, 4-year contract when he was drafted as the 25th overall pick in 2010, including a $2 million bonus. That was relatively in line with the rest of the draft, apart from the Dodgers giving over $5 million to Zach Lee three picks later.

Now things are drastically different in the MLB Draft. The implementation of what amounts to a salary cap with punishments for exceeding the spending limits has rendered nonexistent the leverage of drafted players. That is clearly going to affect how clubs value those high picks and they’ll be more willing to trade them for less than what would be perceptively acceptable to the outsider. With the attention paid to the draft by the newly minted “draftniks” who think they know more than in-the-trenches scouts and experienced GMs, there’s a greater scrutiny placed on what’s done with those picks. When a team like the Nationals or Diamondbacks trades a chunk of their farm system to get a veteran Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill, it’s debated more intensely than when the Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell (a 4th round pick) for Larry Andersen in late August of 1990. As terribly as that trade is viewed now, the Red Sox weren’t wrong. Bagwell was a very good hitter and back then, the value of on base percentage wasn’t what it is now. He didn’t have any power in the minors and they had Wade Boggs blocking him with Scott Cooper ahead of Bagwell in the minor league pecking order. Anderson posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Red Sox and did exactly what they wanted him to do in helping them win their division. Who could’ve looked at Bagwell and expected him to become an MVP, Gold Glove winner, and future Hall of Famer? No one.

The Cox for Mujica isn’t similar to that trade because Andersen was a proven veteran reliever and Cox has shown minor league power that Bagwell never did. Is Cox what he was projected to be when the Cardinals drafted him and paid him so well? Probably not. But he’s 23 and his numbers in the lower minors were bolstered by a high batting average so his on base percentage looked better than it does now even though he’s walking about the same amount of the time. The Marlins got a better third base prospect than the one they gave up, Matt Dominguez, to get Carlos Lee (who they’re going to unload soon), and all they gave up was Mujica, who was a Marlins’ non-tender candidate after this season.

It was a productive deal for the Marlins and a head-scratcher for the Cardinals. With the diminished amount of money spent on high draft picks, we’ll see more of this in the future. While it wasn’t a good thing for players to get repeated passes for poor on-field play and bad off-field behaviors because of draft status and clubs’ fears of being embarrassed by a failed pick, nor is it a good thing that top draft picks are traded for middle relievers. It will happen again and teams are going to regret it because it’s not a smart baseball decision to make.

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Heath Bell’s Blameworthy Disaster

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Before he became a “genius” and a “future Hall of Fame executive”, John Schuerholz was the well-liked and competent GM of the Kansas City Royals. He’d won a World Series in 1985 and was not, under any circumstances, expected to one day be feted as the “architect” of a Braves team that would win 14 straight division titles.

In truth he wasn’t an architect of anything. The pieces to that team were in place when he arrived. Already present were Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Sid Bream, David Justice and Ron Gant. He made some great, prescient acquisitions such as Greg Maddux, Terry Pendleton and Fred McGriff; had mediocre overall drafts; and was aggressive in making trades on the fly to improve the team.

But he wasn’t a genius.

After a 92-70 season by the Royals in 1989 Schuerholz went on a spending spree that included signing the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, closer Mark Davis, away from the San Diego Padres to a 4-year, $13 million contract. (It was akin to the Jonathan Papelbon deal of today.)

The Royals had a young closer with Jeff Montgomery and didn’t need Davis.

Amid injuries and underperformance, the team finished at 75-86, 27 1/2 games behind the division winning A’s.

Following the season, Schuerholz left the Royals to take over for Bobby Cox as the Braves’ GM with Cox staying on as manager.

I mention the Davis signing because his nightmare from 1990 echoes what’s happening to Marlins’ closer Heath Bell now.

Bell just isn’t as likable as Davis was.

Yesterday was another atrocious outing for Bell and the unusual step (which is becoming more and more usual for him) of yanking him from a save situation occurred for the second day in a row. Manager Ozzie Guillen’s demeanor in the dugout when Bell is on the mound is becoming increasingly overt with frustration and anger. It’s the exacerbated human nature of the athlete that Bell’s teammates are publicly supporting him and privately saying that it’s enough and he needs to get the job done or it’s time for a change.

Bell’s numbers are bad enough. An 8.47 ERA; 24 hits, 14 walks and only 10 strikeouts in 17 innings and the 4 blown saves don’t tell the whole story. He’s not in a slump. He’s been plain awful.

I called this when I wrote my free agency profile of Bell in November but he’s been far worse than anyone could’ve imagined.

In his first few big league seasons as a transient between Triple A and the Mets, Bell didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson and GM Omar Minaya made a rotten trade in sending Bell away to the Padres. The fact that the trade was bad doesn’t make it wrong that they traded him. The Padres were a situation where he was able to resurrect his career first as a the set-up man for Trevor Hoffman and then as the closer.

The Mets did him a favor.

Bell has a massive chip on his shoulder that indicates a need to prove himself. Perhaps the money and expectations are hindering him. That’s not an excuse. He’s a day or two away from being demoted from the closer’s role by the Marlins not for a few days to clear his head, but for the foreseeable future.

Bell’s locked in with the Marlins for the next 2 ½ years as part of a 3-year, $27 million deal unless they dump him. As of right now, he’s a very expensive mop-up man and the Marlins have every right—even a duty—to use someone else because Bell’s not doing the job. Period.

I seriously doubt they’re going to want to hear his mouth if and when he’s demoted from the closer’s role.

But they will.

Bet on it.

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The Saga of Scott Kazmir

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Drafted, disciplined, traded, lionized, traded, released, finished.

The saga of Scott Kazmir is summed up neatly with that order of words.

With the news in this Jayson Stark piece on ESPN that his fastball is puttering in at 84-85 mph, he might be better-suited to begin throwing sidearm and marketing himself as a lefty specialist.

Because he was such a high-profile player and representative of so many different things—a questioned draft pick and trade; a falling star; trading a name player sooner rather than later; an attitude problem—it’s easily lost that Kazmir, with his draft status and subsequent salaries in mind, has been mostly a bust.

The Mets drafted Kazmir in 2002 and it wouldn’t have been as noteworthy had the process not been detailed in Moneyball. The Mets were going to draft Nick Swisher if Kazmir wasn’t available—and they didn’t think he would be—but he was and they took him.

In the minors, Kazmir had a reputation for swaggering arrogance and off-field mishaps. It drew the ire of the Mets’ influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco when, in the team’s weight room, Kazmir changed their radio station and they told him to change it back.

Mets’ pitching czar Rick Peterson advocated the ill-fated trade the Mets made for Victor Zambrano in July of 2004 not because of disciplinary issues, but because of the cold, hard data that Peterson relies on in judging his charges. Zambrano would help immediately and Peterson felt that he could repair his mechanics and make him more effective; Kazmir was small, had a stressful motion and wouldn’t be a durable rotation linchpin for at least another 2-3 years and only that for a short period of time.

The Devil Rays acquired him while still being run by Chuck LaMar and brought him to the big leagues later that season. Opposing hitters were impressed and writers eagerly used the array of power stuff displayed by Kazmir to hammer the Mets decisionmakers for trading him. It was that Mets regime’s flashpoint and death knell. Zambrano went on the disabled list after three starts and the Mets came apart leading to the demotion of GM Jim Duquette in favor of Omar Minaya and the firing of manager Art Howe.

Peterson survived the purge.

Kazmir was impressive over parts of the next five seasons with his best and most durable year coming in 2007 with the rebuilding Rays. He struck out 239 hitters in 32 starts and made the All Star team. But there were warning signs. He had elbow and shoulder woes and, under the pretense of financial constraints and falling from playoff contention in August of 2009, the Rays made him available via trade.

The Angels came calling and dealt three prospects for Kazmir and the $20 million+ remaining on his contract.

In reality, the Rays saw that Kazmir was declining and an injury waiting to happen, so they dumped him and his salary and got some useful pieces in Sean Rodriguez and two minor leaguers in exchange.

Kazmir had a mysterious “back injury” in 2011 that was more likely a face-saving gesture from the Angels to let him try and straighten himself out while not enduring the embarrassment of a former All-Star being sent to the minors. While trying to come back, he got pounded in 5 minor league starts and the Angels released him.

After his release, teams considered Kazmir, but no one signed him.

As much as the Mets are rightfully criticized for that trade, it turned out that the mistake wasn’t dealing him, but what they dealt him for. Following that season, there was every possibility that they could’ve centered Kazmir around a deal for Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or inquired about Ben Sheets. Instead, they got Zambrano; Zambrano got hurt; and there was a regime change in Flushing.

Kazmir is about done now. The next step is either have a surgery that he may or may not need to “fix” a problem that doesn’t exist and “prove” that he’s on the comeback trail and will again have that velocity and movement that made him such a coveted prospect to begin with.

My advice to Kazmir is, as I said earlier, become a sidearming lefty specialist. He’ll always have a job and might even be effective in that role.

But will his ego be able to handle it? Unless he’s remarkably stupid and wasteful, he has enough money to live the rest of his life, so it comes down to whether or not he wants to continue playing baseball.

It won’t be as an All-Star starter because that pitcher, along with the one who’s immortalized in print and perception for the right and wrong reasons, is gone forever.

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Oswalt as the 6th Man

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When the Blue Jays were one of the frontrunners for—and in fact were widely expected to get— Yu Darvish, I wrote that their intention might have been to use Darvish in his familiar 6-man rotation to both make him comfortable and manage his workload while holding down the innings counts of their young pitchers Henderson AlvarezKyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow.

The Blue Jays missed out on the Japanese/Iranian righty and the Rangers eventually got Darvish.

After shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation and signing Joe Nathan to take over as closer, the Rangers’ rotation appears set.

But their interest in Roy Oswalt lends another option into the mix along with questions as to why they need another established starter.

Could it be that the Rangers are also considering going with a 6-man rotation, but for different reasons?

Because the Rangers have gone so far against the new conventional orthodoxy of babying their starting pitchers and are telling them as they make their way up through the minor league system that six innings and 100 pitches (whichever comes first) aren’t going to cut it, they’ve been the subject of resistance from the Rick Petersons of the world who are invested in the “scientific” study of pitchers (along with selling their theories to information-hungry and desperate amateurs).

What would a team that specifically pushes their starters deeper into games have to do with a 6-man rotation?

If they implemented such a plan, the Rangers would be diminishing the workload of their pitchers in a different way than limiting their innings and pitches. The extra day of rest would allow the pitchers to go even deeper into games than the 7-8 innings and 120 pitches that are now seen as extreme. They’d be able to rest their bullpen periodically while not putting forth the perception of abusing their pitchers in some random experiment that has no basis in the hard (and ineffective) data that has led the Yankees to placing the likes of Joba Chamberlain in a plastic bubble and simultaneously destroying any chance he ever had of fulfilling his potential.

The Rangers, staffed by Hall of Fame former pitchers Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux along with the highly respected pitching coach Mike Maddux, can look at a pitcher and use their own experiences to say, “his back leg is dragging”; “he’s not following through completely”; “his hips aren’t turning with the same force they were earlier in the game”; or “he’s not showing the same ferocity” and determine that the pitcher is tired because of fatigue, not because he’s reached a previously prescribed number that they pulled out of the air and are referencing a series of studies to justify their paranoia.

Thinking one is tired and being tired are two different things. If a pitcher knows beforehand that he’s only expected to put in a certain amount of work, that’s how his mind will focus and he might think he’s got nothing left when he does have something left.

Not everyone is a Roy Halladay and wants to finish what he starts.

As pitchers, Greg Maddux and Ryan weren’t babied and stayed out on the mound in good health and effectiveness to a remarkable degree.

This isn’t to suggest that the pitchers should be told to toughen up and stay out on the mound if they’re not feeling right—Greg Maddux was criticized late in his career for pulling himself out of games after a certain number of pitches—but it’s understanding what they’re looking at and taking into account everything that goes into throwing a baseball in a repeated and stressful manner every 5 (or 6) days.

These men are in a unique position to say what they’re doing and why without adherence to outsiders telling them they’re wrong.

Shunning the armchair experts like Keith Law, who vomit scouting terminology and say things to make it sound as if they’re insiders when they’re only putting forth a pretense of such; or looking at the specious and self-indulgent reasoning behind writer Tom Verducci’s so-called “Verducci Effect” aren’t indicative of resistance to an ever-changing reality, it’s actual analysis without cowering amongst the masses in an effort to avoid criticism if it doesn’t work.

Calculating an individual on a chart, graph or by sputtering randomness because it sounds good and having the hypnotized sheep take every word said as gospel doesn’t make one an expert. For all of his down-home, country simplicity in a pleasant Southern drawl and known old-school Texas conservatism, Ryan was one of the first pitchers to lift weights; he paid close attention to his mechanics and was willing to listen to others like the late Angels coach Jimmy Reese, who showed him the value of vitamins and good nutrition. Ryan trusted his own instincts and understanding of his body and he’s transferred that to his work as an executive.

In certain circles, a 6-man rotation would be seen as a concession to the times. Some would probably twist it to validate themselves. But if the Rangers consider it, it will be because they have a method behind doing it and not because they want to place their pitchers in a sealed sarcophagus and protect them from the war of attrition known as pitching, preferring failure to the risk of injury and a misinformed public’s vitriol.

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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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Heath Bell’s Benefit In Announcing This Is What?

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Is this meant to be a threat? Simple honesty? Someone who is bolstering his reputation as a loudmouth and flake?

Heath Bell came out and said that if the Padres offer him arbitration after the season, he’s going to take it rather than explore free agency—MLBTradeRumors.

The purpose of this is anyone’s guess. Is he trying to discourage them from offering it so he can secure a long-term contract from someone else without that club surrendering compensatory draft picks? Is he trying to make sure he gets through waivers in August? (He won’t.) Does he really want to stay in San Diego to the degree that he’d shun a 3-year contract elsewhere?

Why?

Along with his bizarre behavior in the All Star Game in which he sprinted in from the bullpen and slid into the grass near the mound, Bell’s decision to say this publicly enhances the reputation as a loudmouth he carted over from the Mets.

For years the Mets have been savaged for trading Bell with the implication that they never gave him a chance—Bell’s used this as fuel. It’s not true, but that’s neither here nor there; he didn’t get along with Rick Peterson and he didn’t pitch well. These are facts.

Much like his declining strikeout numbers, it’s taken out of context. A personality clash and poor performance resulted in the Mets making a bad trade of Bell. Trading Bell wasn’t the mistake; trading him for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was.

What has to be examined when looking at Bell is his stuff, not his strikeout numbers. This is why pure stat examination will never fully replace the scouting eye and discernment of veteran baseball men. If Bell’s velocity and stuff are of the same quality as they were in previous years, there has to be another reason or reasons that he’s not accumulating strikeouts with the frequency he once did.

Bell would probably get a good contract somewhere as a free agent…unless teams look at those declining K numbers and off-the-wall statements and behaviors and decide they don’t want to deal with him.

Then what’s he going to do?

Blame the Mets? Rick Peterson is nowhere to be seen. Or heard.

But Bell apparently is. And he’s letting everyone know it.

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There Are Better Ways To Commit Career Suicide

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Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was either drunk or left his brain back in Atlanta before the team’s trip to San Francisco as he pretty much covered all the bases of job-ending stupidity in a public rant against the San Francisco fans and various groups in general—NY Times Story.

You can read about calls for McDowell’s firing everywhere; obviously he’s not going to be able to keep his job after this.

That the offended family chose to hire matron saint of the cause célèbres and tabloid fodder, attorney Gloria Allred, is a clear indicator that they’re not letting this go until they get paid; McDowell gets fired; or both.

McDowell did something so far beyond the scope of acceptable and excusable bouts of dunderheadedness that he’s going to be forced out as Braves pitching coach. No ifs, ands or buts. At first I thought the his apology was sufficient before reading the full context of the story, but he’s gotta go.

If McDowell was a star, difference-making pitching coach with a track record that would justify his retention despite this incident, obviously the Braves would find a way to keep him on. Dave Duncan gets a pass for most transgressions because he’s Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa wouldn’t let him be fired without a patented La Russa tantrum; McDowell doesn’t get that same leeway.

Mentioning La Russa isn’t a small part of such an equation. If Bobby Cox were still managing the Braves and insisted that McDowell be given the chance to redeem himself, McDowell might survive this inexplicable act of self-immolation; new manager Fredi Gonzalez has enough problems of his own trying to establish himself amid the new clubhouse culture and rampant criticisms of his strategies that he doesn’t need to be answering questions regarding his pitching coach’s misanthropic, homophobic, abusive rant.

The Braves have no option other than to force McDowell’s resignation and presumably pay a settlement to the “damaged” family. They hired Allred because they want attention and money.

They’ll get it.

And McDowell will be gone from the Braves dugout. Soon.

I have no idea what the Braves would do for a replacement pitching coach; presumably they’d hire someone from inside the organization. Rick Peterson is out of work and highly respected, although I don’t know if the Braves would want to go the Peterson route—he’s got a short shelf-life and might infringe on Gonzalez’s authority; but he’s a good pitching coach with proven results.

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The Urkel Effect

Media, Players, Spring Training

Does it need to be said that Barry Zito is better than Jeff Suppan?

The mere concept of the Giants releasing a pitcher who’s owed $64.5 million through 2013 is ridiculous in and of itself, but it might make some semblance of sense if the replacement weren’t Suppan.

Aside from that, t’s nonsense.

And naturally it’s coming from Buster Olney.

You can see the important bits and pieces from the MLB Trade Rumors link here.

What happened to Olney?

There was a time when he was a respected baseball writer for the New York Times; but since moving to ESPN, he’s become little more than fodder for jokes and the equivalent of a tabloid journalist taking half-truths and innuendo and—as a matter of connectivity with his employer—blowing them out of proportion to gain readers, viewers and reactions.

Such was the case last year with the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were considering a swap of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. It was written up as if it were viable; Olney went on ESPN News to discuss it and, with the hostess uttering such inanities as “So, Buster, how close is this to happening?”, he launched into a discussion of it “not being close” but indicated that such a bit of derangement was possible.

It wasn’t and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said so; in fact, he sounded further aggravated than he presumably already was as he was still under siege for his decision to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay; he didn’t need to be answering questions about idiocy at that point and conducting an investigation of his underlings as to whom Olney’s “source” was—if said source actually existed.

Now that I think about it, the deal was close. It was about as close as NASA is to sending an astronaut (or a trained monkey) to Pluto.

I don’t want this to turn into an indictment and diatribe against ESPN and Olney alone; looking at the concept of releasing Zito in favor of Suppan is outright lunacy and salary has little to do with it.

You can compare Zito to the old TV character Steve Urkel played by Jaleel White on Family Matters. When he was a kid, Urkel was cute, funny and entertaining; the suspenders, nerd glasses and hiked up pants made him a household name; but years later in the final stages of the show and as White grew to be very tall, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was disturbing.

The Giants are “frustrated” with Zito? Obviously and it’s got nothing to do with anything other than his salary and his performance.

The canned quirkiness; the special pillow he needed to sleep; the teddy bear; the hipster clothes and funky personality were all accepted and promoted while he was winning 18 games for the Athletics and dating starlets—all were part of the Zito “personality”. Now that he’s a financial albatross with an 85-mph fastball and the fifth wheel in a championship-winning starting rotation, it’s not cool anymore.

Regarding the implication that Suppan could take Zito’s spot, it’s not just crazy in the financial sense. Suppan’s not any good. He’s got little left in the tank; his career rise stemmed from the way the Cardinals, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan utilized him and from superior playoff performances; apart from that, he’s never been more than a journeyman with mediocre stuff.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Giants and wanted to salvage something from Zito: send him to Rick Peterson.

I don’t care about stepping on pitching coach Dave Righetti‘s toes; I don’t care about the perception that they’d be perpetrating an end-around on the baseball people that have tried to fix Zito and failed. The Giants have a lot of money invested in a pitcher who, at this point, is nearly useless in comparison to a baseline big leaguer.

What do they have to lose? And if there was ever a consideration of dumping him and eating the salary, wouldn’t they be derelict in their duties if they didn’t try that one last Hail Mary and send him to a pitching coach for whom he had his greatest success? Isn’t that better than releasing him because they were concerned about the pride of their staff?

What’s more important?

As for Righetti, he’d get over it. And if he doesn’t? So what?

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The Blame Refrain

Media, Spring Training

When the news of Adam Wainwright‘s Tommy John surgery diagnosis spread across the web, the reactions were widespread and diverse.

“Experts” speculated on how the Cardinals would respond and forecasted their demise; Jonny Gomes of the Reds was accused of celebrating and singing (he denies this); Dusty Baker seemed genuinely saddened by the news in a non-competitive way while still wryly wondering who’d get the blame for the injury; and Rick Peterson promoted his company’s techniques to teach pitching and avoid injuries.

In today’s game there are rules and regulations placed on pitchers to maintain their health; clubs have computer printouts, historical medical reports and such inanities as “The Verducci Effect” to dictate how they treat their pitchers.

One problem.

They don’t seem to be working.

The cacophony of “protective” rules for pitchers is limitless and explainable, but it’s not fostering development; it’s creating an atmosphere of paranoia and self-righteous justification in case the pitchers don’t develop or get injured. There’s a time and place for preventative prescriptions, but taking it too far has yielded the inevitable result.

And it’s getting worse.

Let’s have a look at the frailties of today’s pitching culture.

I’m selling, you buying?

Rick Peterson is a good pitching coach with a fine resume of development and—importantly—keeping his charges healthy. Unlike many other baseball people and would-be experts, he’s willing to think outside-the-box and listen to others. That’s an impressive attribute and a testimony to his confidence and belief in what he does.

He’s also a relentless self-promoter who has a short shelf life for any organization because of his overbearing nature.

Peterson said the following on Twitter when Wainwright’s injury was confirmed:

Sad news for Adam Wainwright, TJ surgery.Avoidable.Get your pitchers to 3P Sports to learn how. ESPN http://es.pn/gx7b65

It contains the essence of Peterson in 140 characters or less. The obligatory condolences for the injury combined with an attempt to sell his wares.

Peterson is a polarizing figure.

When I read his tweets I can almost feel one hand on my shoulder and his other hand covering his mouth in a conspiratorial fashion to prevent the enemy from reading his lips and gaining insight into his skull-sessions.

Peterson’s reputation was made with the Athletics as he mentored Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson with the Athletics and all three were healthy and productive; he also turned Cory Lidle into a durable winner as a starting pitcher. With the Mets, John Maine and Oliver Perez enjoyed success they couldn’t replicate before or since. And the Brewers, with limited talent, maximized with Peterson handling the staff.

While almost everyone in baseball and in the media rolls their eyes at Dr. Mike Marshall—former big league pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, journeyman extraordinaire, iconoclast and egomaniac—Peterson has met with him to discuss pitching techniques.

Peterson’s style has a short shelf-life. Eventually his pitchers tune him out, but he does have important contributions to make to development.

If you look at a pitching coach or “expert”, you must examine their agenda. Are they trying to get you to buy what they’re hawking as Tom House does? Or do they have a legitimate history of success underpinning their theories as Peterson does?

Blame Dusty.

Baker was only half-kidding when he openly wondered who’d get the blame for Wainwright’s injury. Baker is considered to be an arm-shredder; Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan seen as modern geniuses whose reputations allow them to get away with things that would cost other baseball people their jobs.

One out-of-context example of the different terrain upon which La Russa operates was that 20-inning affair against the Mets last season. What would’ve happened had then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel inserted an infielder to pitch and lost the game? La Russa did it with Felipe Lopez and it was okay because it was La Russa. He wants to hit the pitcher eighth? He has data to back him up and he gets away with it because he’s La Russa.

Such is the nature of the benefits of being a Hall of Famer as opposed to someone hanging onto his job by his fingernails and maintaining an unfair reputation as an abuser of pitchers that Baker has.

Was Baker to blame for the injuries to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Edinson Volquez?

It’s a major misapplication of blame to say Baker was at fault for Wood—it was Jim Riggleman who pushed Wood in the Cubs frantic run to the playoffs in 1998. Prior was a mechanical nightmare from the start and his subsequent and repeated breakdowns have had nothing to do with Baker; one would think that he’d be healthy by now; Volquez was allowed to throw pitches in the 120 range numerous times, but it’s a stretch to connect the number of pitches he threw to his eventual Tommy John surgery.

There are a different set of rules for La Russa than there are for Baker because one is La Russa and the other is Baker and it has nothing to do with results or injuries; it has to do with the way they’re perceived.

Front office edicts absolve the blame.

You can believe the propaganda and romanticized notions uttered by the likes of Michael Kay if you choose to, but think about it.

When C.C. Sabathia had a no-hitter going against the Rays early last season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made it a point to insinuate himself into the debate by saying that Sabathia wasn’t going to throw an outrageous number of pitches strictly in the interests of pitching a no-hitter.

It was a moot point because the no-hitter was busted up before a decision had to be made. But Kay came out with his own take on the situation, quoting Girardi as if his word was gospel, “We’re not about (individual achievement) here…”

As delightful as such a thought of  all-for-one is, baseball is like anything else with fiefdoms, turf-battles and agendas. Girardi can never be blamed for a pitcher’s injury because he has little-to-no say in their use. He makes his own idiotic bullpen/pitching change decisions mid-game, but apart from that, he works in defined parapenters.

He does what the front office says and that’s what GM Brian Cashman wants; it’s why Cashman didn’t want Lou Piniella as the replacement for Joe Torre—because Piniella would’ve ignored him and was unfireable as a manager.

It’s the same situation in Washington with Stephen Strasburg. I’ve said repeatedly that there have to be people with the Nats who were relieved that Strasburg blew out his elbow while under the constraints of “protection”; there was no one to blame for the injury, therefore it was okay.

Naturally, they’d never admit it openly. Nor should they; but put yourself in their position with a once-in-a-lifetime arm placed in your hands. Do you want that on your resume that you’re at fault for his injury that cost him a year? No.

Joba Chamberlain? How have the developmental techniques worked?

Pedro Martinez was traded from the Dodgers because team doctors were convinced he was going to break down as a starting pitcher. He was so small, threw so hard and had such a violent delivery that it wasn’t absurd to harbor such a belief.

Three Cy Young Awards later, where are we?

Conjecture and after-the-fact, unprovable allegations are easy. How about we go back to Sandy Koufax and wonder how great he would’ve been had he been on a pitch/innings count from the time he began his career. Would he have been more durable? Who knows? There’s no way he would’ve been better than he was.

Bob Gibson must be sickened by the way pitchers are babied today. The same goes for Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and any of the other greats who pitched until they could no longer pitch and produced into their late 30s and early 40s.

Some of today’s pitchers look like they’re ready for a bodybuilding competition and spend half their days wiling away on the disabled list; Greg Maddux had pipe cleaner arms, skinny legs, a paunch and was the most durable pitcher of his generation who never had an arm injury. Maddux had picture-perfect mechanics and trained specifically to throw a baseball, not to look good in his uniform.

Nolan Ryan is implementing a new strategy in developing pitchers and getting attention for it. If it fails, if they get hurt it’ll be taken as a mistake; if it works, others will follow suit with the techniques.

Fear is a motivating factor for change, but it’s not conducive to making a successful pitcher. But fear is what we have; blame is what we have; and failure is what we have.

It’s not working and doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon because of self-involved stupidity.

At least there’s the fail-safe retort: Blame Dusty.