Can Kazmir Take The Abuse?

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The Indians are in the middle of a rapid/deliberate rebuild with a new manager (Terry Francona), a new right fielder (Nick Swisher), and a new top prospect (Trevor Bauer). Amid this flurry of moves, they also decided to take a shot on a former phenom who once had a similarly bright future to Bauer, Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir has had a star-crossed career from top draft pick of the Mets in 2002; to being traded by the Mets; to becoming the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays and receiving a long term contract; to being traded to the Angels and flaming out completely with injuries and ineffectiveness.

Seemingly changed from the swaggering, fastball-heaving lefty he was, Kazmir was out of baseball and trying out for big league clubs without an offer being made. He went to the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters (the same team for whom Roger Clemens pitched last year), and posted a 3-6 record with 74 hits allowed in 64 innings and poor across-the-board numbers. If he still had a lot left in the tank as the same pitcher he was, he should’ve done far better than that for an Independent League team.

If Kazmir is willing to change to accommodate his limited stuff, hopeful comparisons will inevitably be made to another lefty pitcher who reinvented himself to win a lot of games, make himself a lot of money, and earn widespread respect for his determination and willingness to become something different than what he was to succeed—Jamie Moyer.

But there are significant differences between Moyer and Kazmir as pitchers and people. Moyer never threw that hard to begin with. When he began the long journey from released pitcher at age 29, he was offered a coaching job by the Cubs and turned it down choosing to keep trying to make it as a pitcher. He didn’t have much of a backup plan nor a lot of money in the bank. He wasn’t a bonus baby as a 6th round pick in 1984 and by the time his career as a big league player appeared over in 1992, he’d made slightly more than $1 million.

It took Moyer another year-plus in the minors and three years in the big leagues bouncing between the Orioles, Red Sox and Mariners before baseball people looked up and realized that perhaps Moyer had figured something out. He’d never had any substantial success in the big leagues before his reinvention.

Kazmir is not in that position. He was an All-Star, the ace of a pennant winner and made over $30 million as a player. Unless he’s been idiotically wasteful, he never has to work another day in his life. He’s willing to swallow his pride to take a minor league deal and get a chance with the Indians, but will he go to the minors and stay there, altering the way he’s pitched all his life with power and dominance? Will he bounce to another team if the Indians tell him they’re sorry, but they don’t think he can help?

What makes it more difficult for Kazmir is the personality that so grated on veterans with the Mets and was a large part of his mound presence. He might have the same personality, but there won’t be the goods to back it up if he’s no longer blowing people away. The comments he’s going to hear in spring training if he’s popping maximum 84-88 instead of 93 are difficult to take for someone of his former stature and attitude. It will get worse if he decides to go down to the minors. Someone like Moyer could take hearing such clever witticisms as, “Hey, I’ve never seen a butterfly land on the ball in mid-flight!” Or, “Now pitching: Eephus Pus!!” Or “They’re clocking your velocity with a sundial!!” Or when he gives up a tape-measure homer, “Did they serve dinner on that flight? Buy a first class ticket and see, big shot!”

It’s embarrassing and tough to swallow. Is Kazmir humbled enough after his crash and eventual release by the Angels and determined enough to take that abuse without saying, “The hell with this,” and leaving?

I’m not so sure.

What Moyer did is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. Moyer could take it and give it back. Why did he do it? Possibly it’s because of money; possibly it’s because of not knowing what else to do with himself; possibly it’s because he didn’t want to give up; and possibly it’s because he was too hard-headed to listen when everyone—everyone—was telling him to move on.

Moyer realized that he wasn’t going to suddenly develop a 95-mph fastball, so he began to transform himself into a craftsman who could still get a fastball in the low-to-mid-80s past a hitter using control, intelligence and by changing speeds. It’s not as easy as “pitch like this.” It takes work.

Is Kazmir prepared to sacrifice his energy, time and pride to put in that level of effort and make it back as Moyer did? It takes a deep commitment and given what Kazmir was and what he is now, his career trajectory has replicated another lefty who was a high draft pick and had a brief career as a top tier starter with a power fastball. He lost the fastball and bounced from team to team, altering his delivery, having surgeries and trying to get it back—Steve Avery. He never did get it back and was done at 33.

Will Kazmir be a Moyer? Or will he be an Avery?

It all depends on him, what he’s willing to do and how much he’ll take to get it.

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Final Analysis on the Strasburg Shutdown

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The shutdown of Stephen Strasburg has taken the tone of an overhyped movie marketed to an increasingly uninterested public. It’s been talked about for so long that when it finally happens, no one’s going to notice or care. The Nationals say they’re going to do it and, judging from the latest statements emanating from the club, Strasburg’s last start will be on around September 12th. Then the rest of the team will head for the playoffs without him. Perhaps they’ll need a coping device such as imagining that he’s injured and lost for the season. Maybe it can be treated as a delusional fuel in a formulaic drama of triumph over adversity in which you know the ending before you walk into the theater, but do it anyone for a moment of predictability amid the randomness of reality.

We don’t know what’s going to happen for the Nationals in the playoffs; we don’t know what’s going to happen with Strasburg in the future, whether this decision will be seen as wise or a retrospective waste of time and energy. If Strasburg were allowed to pitch for the rest of the season, started a playoff game and got blasted, the inevitable snark, “Looks like they should’ve shut him down after all,” would be predictable and reminiscent to Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch in the opening game of the 1965 World Series because he’s Jewish and it was Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale started and got rocked. So began the jokes that the Dodgers would’ve been better off if Drysdale had been Jewish too.

But they’re doing it. At the very least, they’re following through on their statements—statements that began the whole mess in the first place.

Let’s look at some questions regarding Strasburg once and for all and end this manufactured story in advance of its implementation.

What do other players think about this?

His Nationals’ teammates are, to a man, sticking to the script. Jayson Werth put it succinctly when asked about it by essentially saying that they knew it was coming and they’ll move forward without him. It’s best to ignore what the Nationals and their players are saying about this because you’re not going to get an honest answer. I’d venture a guess that they’re saying something drastically different in private than they are in public.

Broadcasters like Ron Darling, who has a foundation to speak out on this subject as a former top 10 starting pitcher in baseball and the intelligence to express it as a graduate of Yale, has ridiculed the notion that Strasburg shouldn’t go beyond X number of innings. Darling takes his old-school sensibilities to the extreme by shaking his head at pitchers who notify their pitching coach and manager when they’re tight or can’t get loose and are removed from games. Darling himself logged a great number of innings and racked up high pitch counts as was commensurate with his era. Darling also lost his fastball before he reached age 30, hung on until he was 35 using his ample mind rather than stuff, and was finished when he could conceivably have had 4 or so more years of effectiveness and paychecks.

Would he trade the work he did in the 1980s with the Mets to hang on for a couple of more years? Would he have wanted to be perceived as self-interested enough not to pitch late in the season or give a few more innings, a few more pitches in the interest of the club and not himself? Probably not.

The culture and era has dictated much of what’s gone on with Strasburg. If this were 15-20 years ago, his innings limit wouldn’t be a story because it wouldn’t exist.

That said, there are undoubtedly people in baseball who think Strasburg is a wimp (and would use a more coarse vernacular than that) because he’s gone merrily along with the puppeteers telling him what he’s going to be doing rather than saying he wants to pitch and taking steps to make sure it happens such as going on a media blitz of his own. There have been the made-for-media soundbites like, “They’ll have to rip the ball out of my hand,” but it’s easy to say that knowing they are going to rip the ball out of his hand.

The “I just work here and do what I’m told” stuff doesn’t wash when he has more leverage than his employers.

Could Strasburg prevent this?

Of course he could. The Nationals and Strasburg could’ve put their money where their guidelines and the “future” are by agreeing to a long-term contract so Strasburg wouldn’t have to worry about financial security and the Nationals would have their investment locked up so they’re not saving the bullets they’re allegedly trying to save for him to sign with another team after the 2016 season. How’s that going to look if the Nats get bounced early in the playoffs and flounder in upcoming years, realize that 2012 was their chance, and then agent Scott Boras and Strasburg leave Washington? Will it still have been the “right” thing to do?

The money aspect is a bit silly as well. Boras is looking at $200+ million in contracts over the next ten or so years for his client, but it’s not as if Strasburg is a third year player, waiting for arbitration and making a pittance in comparison to what other starting pitchers are making nor is he encumbered by the new rules regulating how much bonus money a drafted player can make. He received a $7.5 million bonus to sign and is being paid a guaranteed $3 million this season. It’s not an amount of money that’s on a level with what he’ll make if he stays healthy from now through 2016, but it’s substantial. The “future” argument could be rendered meaningless and the concerns about his health tamped down if the Nationals and Strasburg agree to a down-the-line contract for mutual benefit.

The Nationals arguments for the shutdown

GM Mike Rizzo can chafe at the repeated questioning of his decision—and I do mean his decision since he’s gone to great lengths to make clear that he is the decider—but he brought this on himself. The Nationals could have kept quiet about the innings limit without giving a number. This isn’t politics and they didn’t need to provide a background to sell to the world as to why they’re doing what they do. But they did. Rizzo can cite medical studies until the end of time suggesting that this is the “right” thing to do, but it seems as if they had an end in mind and made sure they had the medical data to back up what they were doing. If they went to a truly independent doctor and that doctor said that he saw no physical reason to make Strasburg stop pitching if the Nationals and Strasburg do X, Y, and Z, then it would oppose what they want to; what’s safe for them to do; and more importantly, what Boras wants them to do to protect his client.

The NY Times published a piece about Strasburg on August 21st. In it, random cases for both sides are cited. Jordan Zimmerman has been healthy and very good in 2012 after operating under these identical constraints last season and after having undergone the same Tommy John surgery that Strasburg did. Pitchers who have not been under such limits are also mentioned. Greg Maddux, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia on one end; Steve Avery, Mike Witt, Bret Saberhagen on the other.

It never ends if you continually point of examples where there’s no baseline breaking point of what’s enough—no one knows.

The Nationals could very easily have copied what the Tigers did with Justin Verlander in 2006 when he was the exact same age as Strasburg; has an almost identical pitching style; both had very short stays in the minors; and the 2006 Tigers and 2012 Nationals made rapid and relatively unexpected leaps into title contention. But Verlander pitched in the playoffs and World Series and Strasburg won’t.

People can mention the Tommy John surgery as a notable difference between Strasburg and Verlander, but the surgery is supposed to make the ligament stronger than before. Why should it be an issue if Strasburg’s recovered from it? Wouldn’t the wear-and-tear prior to the surgery be more of a reason to limit him than after it?

In the NY Times article, the ones who stay healthy with a bigger workload are referred to as “physical freaks”; the ones who get hurt are considered the normal end result of overuse. But you can’t reference studies and reams of reports to justify Strasburg’s case and chalk durability up to random “freakishness”. It doesn’t mesh.

If you look at any medical malpractice trial, any lawyer can find a doctor who’s willing to say whatever is in the best interests of his client be it the plaintiff or the defendant. Are they truly independent doctors who are providing the truth to the entities—the Nationals and Boras—who are retaining them? Highly doubtful.

This isn’t to say the Nationals are wrong. Protecting that gifted arm is a wise thing to do, but doing it at the expense of their own personal interests and not taking steps to prevent this shutdown from becoming reality when the Nationals are going to need him most showed a remarkable lack of foresight.

They could’ve gone to a 6-man rotation; they could’ve shut him down at mid-season for 3-4 starts; they could’ve done a number of things to have him available for the playoffs. They didn’t.

And the idea that the Nats didn’t expect to be this good, this fast is contradicted by reality. If they didn’t have an intent on trying to win, then why did they gut the system to get Gio Gonzalez? Why did they pay Werth all that money before the 2011 season? Why sign Edwin Jackson?

The Nationals tried to win and are winning. This is not the developmental phase of a team that they hope to be good 3 years from now. Their future is now and Strasburg is not going to be a part of that “now” as soon as the clock strikes midnight on his season—that midnight is apparently coming on September 12th.

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Leo Mazzone’s Criticism of the Nationals’ Handling of Stephen Strasburg Invites a Strong and Selective Reaction

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Leo Mazzone’s reputation as a pitching coach guru was bolstered by having three Hall of Famers and a pretty good background cast of characters with the Braves and was subsequently ruined by going to the Orioles and functioning without much talent. Like most coaches (and managers for that matter), it’s more about the talent than it is about any set of principles implemented by the coach or organization.

When Mazzone had Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, he looked smart. He had Rodrigo Lopez and Kris Benson with the Orioles and therefore, didn’t look as smart.

That said, it can’t be ignored that Erik Bedard had his two best and healthiest seasons working under Mazzone; that relatively pedestrian pitchers Denny Neagle, Kerry Ligtenberg, Greg McMichael, Mike Remlinger, and John Thomson blossomed with him as their pitching coach and did nothing notable anywhere else; that Kevin Millwood and Steve Avery developed under Mazzone; that Russ Ortiz, John Burkett, Jaret Wright and Mike Hampton all experienced a renaissance under him; or that the Braves came undone after Mazzone left.

Was it talent? Was it Hall of Famers? Was it technique? Was it Bobby Cox? Was it that the Braves in those years were super good and could’ve shuttled anyone out there and had them look better than they were?

Or was it a combination of everything?

Or is it something that can’t be defined as “this is why”?

Mazzone hasn’t gotten a pitching coach job since he was fired by the Orioles which leads me to believe that his reputation as someone who doesn’t adhere to organizational edicts—a version of going along to get along that’s been in place forever—is preventing him from being hired. Or perhaps it’s something else.

I don’t know and nor do you. This is why it’s silly to take Mazzone’s quotes about the Nationals’ parameters and much-discussed decision to limit Stephen Strasburg as the ranting of a has-been baseball dinosaur by referencing Steve Avery as “proof” (as Craig Calcaterra does here on Hardball Talk) that Mazzone’s way is one of the past and his opinions carry zero weight.

With the proliferation of self-proclaimed experts, stat sites, and insertion of viewpoints available at the click of a button, it’s hard to know which end is up. Everyone’s knows better than the previous person whether that person is an experienced baseball man or not. Dave Righetti and the Giants’ methods involving their young pitchers functioning similarly to the Braves of the 1990s drew old-school respect as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum flourished. But Lincecum wasn’t working under the Giants’ program and was essentially left on his own. So where does the credit lie? Is it Lincecum’s dad? Is it the Giants for their willingness to let Lincecum pitch without limits? And who gets the blame for his poor season and decreased velocity? Does Righetti get the accolades for Cain and Madison Bumgarner? How does it work?

The Yankees can provide reams of printouts and cutting-edge medical recommendations for their treatment of their young pitchers, but all are either hurt (Jose Campos, Manny Banuelos); inconsistent or worse (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain); stagnant (Dellin Betances); or have the fault shifted elsewhere for the Yankees’ shoddy assessments (Michael Pineda).

Did Avery get hurt because of the Braves’ overusing him or would he have gotten hurt anyway? Avery was another pitcher who learned his mechanics from his dad and was left to his own devices. It was only after he got hurt that those mechanics were deemed as the culprit. And now, years after the fact, Mazzone’s getting the blame.

Would he have gotten hurt anyway? Judging from the way pitchers are constantly injured—clean mechanics or not—it’s a pretty safe bet that he would’ve.

Will Strasburg get hurt? He was babied from college onward and still needed Tommy John surgery.

Some pitchers are overused at a young age and get injured; others stay healthy. Why doesn’t Calcaterra reference Maddux, who as a 22-year-old was handled by another old-school manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach, Dick Pole, and allowed to throw as many as 167 pitches in a game in 1988? Maddux credited Pole for teaching him proper mechanics and Pole has bounced from team-to-team because he—guess what?—asserts himself and doesn’t go with the organizational flow.

Jim Bouton wrote about this phenomenon in Ball Four when discussing why Johnny Sain hopped from club-to-club and never lasted very long in any one place. Ego and control are far more important to an organization than getting it right and iconoclasts don’t last unless they have massive success.

Mazzone’s not wrong here. In truth, nor are the Nats. There is no “right” or “wrong”. I disagree with the way they’ve implemented their plan because there were methods to keeping Strasburg’s innings down without going to the controversial extreme of shutting him down when they’re going to need him most in the playoffs (the 6-man rotation for example), but the smug condescension and retrospective denigration of Mazzone’s work is pure second guessing and random outsider expertise to prove an unprovable theory with the selective references to match.

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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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GMs The Second Time Around

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With two big general managing jobs open—the Angels and the Cubs—let’s take a look at recognizable title-winning GMs and how they’ve fared in second and third jobs.

John Schuerholz

Schuerholz won the World Series with the 1985 Royals and moved on to the Braves after the 1990 season because Bobby Cox had gone down on the field and handled both jobs after firing Russ Nixon. It was Cox who drafted Chipper Jones (because Todd Van Poppel insisted he was going to college, then didn’t—he probably should’ve); Kent Mercker; Mike Stanton; Steve Avery; Mark Wohlers; and Ryan Klesko. He also traded Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz.

Schuerholz made the fill-in moves like acquiring Charlie Leibrandt, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, Alejandro Pena and Juan Berenguer; in later years, he signed Greg Maddux and traded for Fred McGriff.

It was, in fact, the predecessor to Cox—John Mullen—who drafted Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Dave Justice and Tom Glavine.

The idea that Schuerholz “built” the Braves of the 1990s isn’t true. It’s never been true.

Andy MacPhail

MacPhail was never comfortable with spending a load of money. When he was with the Twins, that was the way they did business and he excelled at it building teams on the cheap with a template of the way the Twins played and a manager, Tom Kelly, to implement that.

He put together the Twins 1987 and 1991 championship clubs. MacPhail became the Cubs CEO in 1994 and stayed until 2006. The Cubs made it to the playoffs twice in MacPhail’s tenure and came close to winning that elusive pennant in 2003.

MacPhail’s legacy running the Cubs—fairly or not—is that he was in charge while Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were pushed very, very hard as young pitchers trying to win that championship.

It was a vicious circle. If the Cubs didn’t let them pitch, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs; and since they let them endure heavy workloads at a young age, they flamed out.

MacPhail went to the Orioles in 2007 and the team didn’t improve despite MacPhail seeming to prevail on owner Peter Angelos that his spending on shot veterans wasn’t working; MacPhail’s power was usurped when Buck Showalter was hired to be the manager and his future is uncertain.

Sandy Alderson

Credited as the “father” of Moneyball, he was a run-of-the-mill GM who won when he had money to spend, a brilliant manager in Tony LaRussa, and an all-world pitching coach Dave Duncan. When the well dried up, the A’s stopped contending and he was relegated to signing veteran players who had nowhere else to go (sort of like Moneyball), but couldn’t play (unlike Moneyball).

Alderson drafted Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson among a couple of others who contributed to the Athletics renaissance and the Billy Beane “genius”.

Moving on to the Padres as CEO in 2005, Alderson created factions in the front office between the stat people and scouting people and appeared more interested in accumulating legitimate, on-the-record credit for himself as a cut of the Moneyball pie than in building a winning team by any means necessary within the budget.

He joined the Mets as GM a year ago. Grade pending.

Pat Gillick

Gillick is in the Hall of Fame. He built the Blue Jays from the ground up, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993.

He’s retired and un-retired multiple times, ran the Orioles under Angelos and spent a ton of money and came close, but continually lost out to the Yankees.

He took over the Mariners and built a powerhouse with Lou Piniella; they came close…but couldn’t get by the Yankees.

He went to the Phillies, built upon the foundation that had been laid by the disrespected former GM Ed Wade and scouting guru Mike Arbuckle and got credit for the 2008 championship.

He says he’s retired, but I’m not buying it even at age 74. The Mariners are the job I’d see him taking if it’s offered and with another bad year from Jack Zduriencik’s crew in 2012, it just might be.

Walt Jocketty

Jocketty won the 2006 World Series and, along with LaRussa, built the Cardinals into an annual contender. He was forced out in a power-struggle between those in the Cardinals from office that wanted to go the Moneyball route and Jocketty’s people that didn’t. One year after the World Series win, he was fired.

At mid-season 2008, he was hired by the Reds and was given credit for the 2010 NL Central championship, but that credit was a bit shaky.

Wayne Krivsky was the GM before Jocketty and traded for Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo.

Dan O’Brien Jr. preceded Krivsky and drafted Jay Bruce and signed Johnny Cueto.

And it was Jim Bowden who drafted Joey Votto.

The common denominator with the names above and the levels of success or failure they achieved had to do with the groundwork that had been placed and, in part, what they did after their arrival.

The Cubs and Angels are both well-stocked for their choices to look very smart, very quickly; but the hiring of a “name” GM doesn’t automatically imply that the success from the prior stop is going to be repeated and that has to be considered with whomever the two teams decide to hire.

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Your World Frightens And Confuses Me

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I feel like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

I see the new rules and regulations for pitchers and can’t help but wonder whether little elves have whispered them into the ears of those in command of the nurturing of such talents as Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Stephen Strasburg.

It makes me want to run off into the woods, hide and long for the halcyon days of experience, analytical observation and allegorical techniques rather than paranoia and failed strategies masquerading as “development”.

Is this divine intervention or a glitch in the “process”?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that Chamberlain’s development was stagnated; Strasburg is out for most, if not all of this year; and Hughes is on the disabled list, headed for the MRI tube and everyone involved with the Yankees is in a panic as to what the issue is that’s causing Hughes’s lost velocity and now inability to complete a bullpen session.

The spin doctoring is reaching ludicrous proportions. A few weeks ago, an expert in the realm of all things baseball—none other than Michael Kay—paraphrased manager Joe Girardi when he explained why Hughes wasn’t undergoing a precautionary MRI to see if something was amiss in his arm by saying, “we don’t do MRIs for the sake of them” or something to that affect.

Why?

Given the rampant paranoia and anal retentiveness which has permeated the so-called “development” of the Yankees’ young pitchers, was a medical exam including a check of the innards of Hughes’s valuable right arm such a ridiculous notion? Or were they skirting the issue because they were petrified as to what they might find?

Now there’s more garbage coming from the mouth of GM Brian Cashman as he self-justifies by citing cases like Brett Cecil of the Blue Jays and Hughes with the possibility that the diminished velocity isn’t due to a lack of throwing enough, but because their innings jumped too far too quickly.

In this NY Times piece, Girardi was quoted with the following:

“Guys have taken steps back after being extended more than they’re accustomed to doing,” Girardi said, adding: “Because everything was going so well, we felt pretty good about it. But as I said, I don’t feel so good about it now. I mean, we’re concerned about it.”

Yes, well…

But what about pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain who weren’t treated as delicate flowers; were allowed to do something novel for a pitcher: PITCH?

I don’t want to hear this after-the-fact, self-righteous idiocy. The fact is that the pitchers upon whom the Yankees banked their future have not come close to living up to the hype in theory nor practice and a large chunk of that is due to the way they’ve (mis)treated them.

The “obvious process” has failed. Don’t cry about it now; and don’t wallow in a retrospective fantasy world in which they “know” they did the right thing.

They didn’t do the right thing. They hindered their evolution with these rules that yielded nothing close to what was intended. In fact, the rules might very well have destroyed them.

Most of the participants are hoping there’s nothing physically wrong with Hughes; I take a different tack: they’d better hope there’s something wrong with Hughes; if there isn’t, there’s no answer to the question as to why he can’t throw a fastball anymore.

I go back to Steve Avery of the Braves—a lefty pitcher with star status and a blazing fastball; Avery lost that fastball for seemingly no reason whatsoever; he had surgery and never recovered. There was no explanation; they tried to alter his mechanics; he bounced around for a few years and receded into retirement at age 33.

Avery wasn’t babied; Hughes was. But we have the same result.

Was it worth it?

It’s weirdly ironic that on the same night as the Hughes catastrophe became public, Ian Kennedy—failed Yankees prospect whom they shipped out of town in equal parts because of his mouth, his hard-headedness and that he was awful for them—pitched a masterful 3-hit shutout over the Phillies.

The next generation of Yankees homegrown stars—Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos—are coming; the Yankees are doing the same things with those hot prospects as they did with Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain.

They should probably be prepared for the same results too.

Your world frightens and confuses me.

If you’re a Yankee fan, “Brian’s World” should frighten and confuse you too because it’s degenerating into a “B” horror movie the type of which would’ve come from Ed Wood.

And 30 years from now, it won’t be a campy classic that’s so bad, it’s good. It’ll just be bad.

But what do I know?

I’m just a caveman.

A caveman who was right.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Viewer Mail 4.3.2011

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

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik:

I bet if the “GENIUS” Jack Z. changed the club’s name to the Seattle Non-Conformists, no one would even notice. Maybe a handful would… care? I dunno.

Non-conformists? Acceptable.

Socipathic? Not-acceptable.

Look, I can’t blame Zduriencik for the appellation of genius or the “Truly Amazin’ Exec” silliness from the despicable Joel Sherman—he didn’t write this stuff and unlike Billy Beane, he didn’t appear to wallow in it and taking advantage of it to enrich himself and sow the seeds of that image.

You have to consider the sources who are plastering that image on someone who’s trying to do his job. None of them were operating from a baseline of credibility; either they had an agenda or didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with.

As for the Josh Lueke trade; the double-dealing when it came to Cliff Lee to the Yankees, then to the Rangers; and Milton Bradley, there are a lot of problems that had nothing to do with what happened between the lines.

Hypothetically, if Zduriencik is given a clean slate—let the 2009 (good) and 2010 (bad) seasons cancel themselves out—the Mariners still have to perform as if they’re in the right direction on the field and behave appropriately off it. Eric Wedge was a good hire toward that end, but with Bradley, there’s going to be an incident that will sully the organization again.

They have a loyal fan base in Seattle; they spend money; and have a nice ballpark. It’s a good locale to build a team.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Dodgers and Hong-Chih Kuo:

The Dodgers have only one lefty and he’s their designated 8th inning guy who can’t throw more than two days in a row?!

I’m not of the mind that a team has to have a lefty specialist just for the sake of having a lefty specialist. You can find a lefty somewhere. Look at Royce Ring—he’s been everywhere; he’s been awful; and teams keep bringing him in because he’s lefty and breathing, not necessarily in that order.

You have to look at the opponents and the circumstances; if the Dodgers were in a division with the Red Sox, then I’d say they have to have a couple of lefties; but they’re in a division with the Padres, Rockies, Giants and Diamondbacks. Is there a group of lefty bats that have to be worried about among that group? Not really. As the season moves along and they need a lefty specialist, they’ll be able to find one.

Regarding Kuo, how many pitchers are asked to throw three days in a row in today’s game? Even the closers aren’t pushed that hard for fear of burning them out. With a dominating lefty with a 100-mph fastball and vicious slider like Kuo, I’d use him judiciously to make sure he’s healthy; he’s had Tommy John surgery twice and if the Dodgers are going to do anything in October, they’re going to need Kuo. Why burn him out now because he’s lefty?

JoeNats writes RE Nyjer Morgan:

As a Nats fan, I cooled to Nyjer in a game where he made a gallant attempt at a catch at the wall, missed it, and then–instead of keeping his head in the game and following the ball–threw his glove to the ground forcing Willingham to retrieve the rebound too late to thwart an inside-the-park home run. I get the impression that Morgan is just as hard on himself as he is on others and became a bi-polar influence in the clubhouse. As the season ran on, his impatience chilled potential rallies as he was thrown out on steals too early in the game and too early in the situation. If Morgan can temper his overall anger, I do believe he would make a good centerfielder and great base stealer and team personality.

He’s got a temper and as I said in my posting, I think it stems from his hockey experience where you can’t let any transgression go without retaliation.

My issue with Morgan wasn’t the player himself, but the lovelorn worship he received after playing brilliantly for the Nats following the trade from the Pirates.

He is what he is and part of that is getting caught stealing—a lot. Morgan needs to be reined in. Maybe going to the Brewers—the first club he’ll join with any legitimate designs on contention—is what he needs.

Like Elijah Dukes, the Nats had to get Morgan out of there and they got something for him in Cutter Dykstra; Morgan will be playing semi-regularly-to-regularly for the Brewers before long and they’ll be a better club for it.

Pam writes RE the NY Times picture of the Phillies that I posted here:

Yeah, the picture is pretty creepy.

Now if they were holding lightsabers…

They could be the Jedi trying to arrest Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. We know how that turned out.

I’ll be Palpatine.

I am Palpatine.

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE the Phillies pic:

I have a better question. Where’s Blanton? Wasn’t it the Phantastic Phour themselves who said that they would not do things like that if if did not include Blanton?

Including Joe Blanton in that article would’ve been pretty silly. He’s a pretty good pitcher who doesn’t belong in their group. I think back to the 1993 Braves. They’d just signed Greg Maddux and insisted that any profile of Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery included Pete Smith.

Pete Smith.

Pete Smith went 4-8 that year and after the season they traded him to the Mets of all places.

It would’ve been funny if they had Blanton lounging in front of the mound in a provocative position as the “Phoursome” was posed as they are now.

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

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

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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


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Not Ready For CenterStage

Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Despite all the hype and lusty predictions regarding Yankees prospect Manny Banuelos, he’s not ready for the big leagues right now.

I saw Banuelos for the first time last night and was very impressed; but there are other factors that have to be considered before anointing a 20-year-old as the cornerstone of the starting rotation for a club that has its eye on a championship every single year.

Let’s take a look at Banuelos without the blind cluelessness and rampant desperation prevalent today.

His motion and repertoire:

With a free and easy delivery and no leg drive, Banuelos is able to pop his fastball into the low-mid 90s effortlessly.

At the start of his delivery, he stands straight with his glove in front of his face, looks down at his feet as he steps back, brings his leg up, cocks and fires. The motion is similar to that of Scott Kazmir before he releases and follows through, but he doesn’t have the arm-wrecking violence of Kazmir so his comparable size (Banuelos is listed at 5’10”, 155 lbs but appears heavier) to Kazmir isn’t a concern for arm trouble the likes which Kazmir has experienced.

On release, he maintains a short stride without any discernible explosiveness from his legs; the gentleness is reminiscent of Mark Mulder who, while with the Athletics, had one of the smoothest deliveries I’ve seen in recent years.

With his short stride and simplified “step-and-throw” style, he reminded me of a very good and durable pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1980s-early 1990s, Tom Browning. Browning’s money pitch was a screwball.

As for his pitches, Banuelos displayed an power fastball with life and a superior changeup. He only threw 1-2 curveballs while I was watching. The movement and deception of the curve had a Barry Zito-quality (when Zito was in his heyday as a rotation-mate of Mulder). There was a sameness of of arm action until he ripped off the curve which adds to a hitter’s confusion.

If he’s able to maintain that when he’s throwing a fastball, change or curve and control the latter pitches enough so no one’s sitting and waiting for a fastball, he’s going to have big-time success.

The delivery is so repeatable and easy (like that of Cliff Lee), that mechanical issues are easily repaired as they occur. This is one of the problems Zito, Rick Ankiel and Steve Avery had (along with disappearing fastballs or non-existent control)—their motions were herky-jerky and complex; once one thing goes out of whack, everything is out of whack. Dontrelle Willis had the same issue.

While a major part of the success of the above pitchers were their fastballs and unique deliveries, once things came apart, it was all but impossible to retrace the steps and get it back in line. If that happens, the success disappears; once the success disappears, they spiral and listen to anyone and everyone trying to get back what they lost and they gradually become worse.

That will not happen with Banuelos.

Banuelos isn’t exactly overexerting himself on the mound and as long as he throws strikes, he’ll be durable and consistent. He’s poised and polished from both the windup and stretch and didn’t appear overwhelmed by facing the Red Sox.

Competitive vs ready:

Outside voices like David Wells have suggested that Banuelos is ready to pitch in the majors immediately.

For some highly fathomable and diverse reason(s), I don’t see anyone involved in any fashion with the Yankees listening to Wells.

Then you have Buster Olney saying that Banuelos might be ready to contribute in the big leagues as a reliever late in the season with the following on Twitter:

Banuelos just turned 20 on Sunday, and while he’s expected to start the year in Class AA, could see him as matchup LHer in Aug., Sept.

Yes.

Well.

The expertise of Wells and Olney aside, Banuelos is not going to pitch meaningfully in the big leagues this year.

Nor should he.

The Yankees are being intelligently cautious and resistant to outside influences. Banuelos has pitched 215 innings in 3 minor league seasons; never more than 109 in one season. To bring him to the majors in 2011—in any capacity other than for him to have a look around in a probable pennant race in September—would be counterproductive and perhaps damaging.

The question becomes the narrow line between competitiveness and preparedness.

Is he ready to be competitive in the majors right now?

Absolutely.

Is he prepared for the majors? To pitch for a Yankees team that is short in starting pitching and will be sorely tempted to push Banuelos if he’s doing well and they need him to stay in playoff position? To handle New York City as an up-and-coming Yankee?

For every Derek Jeter who was able to enter into a party city’s cauldron and deal with the temptations and differentiate between where to go, what to do, whom to be associated with, there are players like Miguel Cabrera who was physically ready for big league action at age 20, found himself in Miami, contributed mightily to the Marlins World Series win and has had his off-field life come apart as he’s gotten older.

No amount of guidance, watchfulness, warnings, advice and protection can avoid the inevitable mistakes for a 20-year-old.

As for the Olney idea that Banuelos can relieve late in the season, does anyone really believe that they’re going down that road again? That they’ll take a hot prospect, insert him into the bullpen (as a lefty specialist no less!!!) and have a possible Joba Chamberlain revisited?

Certain pitchers benefit from a year in the big leagues as a relief pitcher before being inserted into the starting rotation. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver was a proponent of that in the 1970s with the Orioles. Wayne Garland, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor all relieved to start their careers. Tony La Russa has successfully done it with Adam Wainwright and Dan Haren.

The Yankees are not doing that with Banuelos.

He’s never relieved at any level; it’s a different style and speed of warming up; and it resulted in the Chamberlain disaster.

It’s idiotic.

The future:

If he stays healthy, Banuelos is going to be a 15-18 game winner in the big leagues and provide 200+ innings.

But it’s not going to happen in 2011; in fact, he might not be in the big leagues to stay before mid-season 2012.

While I’ve savaged the Yankees organization for the yoke of expectations and designations as the “future” of the franchise that were placed on the shoulders of Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy; ripped into the limitations placed on those youngsters in a cookie-cutter style and produced poor results in two of the three, they’re handling Banuelos exactly right by not pushing him; by sticking to the script and stating unequivocally that he’s not making the team and will pitch in Double A this season.

If he doesn’t make it when he is deemed ready, it won’t be the fault of the Yankees as it’s been with Chamberlain.

Banuelos is going to be an All Star, but it’s not happening this year and if it costs the club a playoff spot in 2011, so be it. Certain things are more important, like the potential stardom of a promising young pitcher.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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