Tino Martinez And The Clash Of Baseball Civilizations

Award Winners, Ballparks, Draft, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

During the late-1990s Yankees dynasty, certain players had certain off-field roles. Derek Jeter was the quiet, behind-the-scenes leader. Jorge Posada was Jeter’s enforcer. Mariano Rivera was the team’s quiet conscience. Bernie Williams was the player who receded into the back of the clubhouse but came through at crunch time. Paul O’Neill was the snarling, raging, water-cooler abusing intense competitor. And Tino Martinez

Well, does anyone remember what part Martinez played off the field? Yes, people remember his near-MVP season in 1997 when he hit 44 home runs. During his time in pinstripes, he was a good fielder and a consistent offensive performer during the regular season. He hit the tone-setting grand slam off of Mark Langston in game 1 of the 1998 World Series. But he was never the one other clubs said they had to stop to win a game or series against the Yankees and his personality in the clubhouse was not discussed.

That lack of definition kept Martinez as a background player. During his career, he had a seething, underlying intensity that was similar to O’Neill’s, but it never manifested itself in the same overt manner. That anger could have stemmed from many issues. Given his status as a former member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and the Mariners’ reluctance to give him regular playing time, there was always a sense that he spent a year or two more than he needed in the minors. Other stars from that Olympic team, notably Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura, went almost immediately to the majors. Martinez, however, languished in the minors and didn’t get the opportunity to play regularly for the Mariners until 1992.

When given the chance to play, he evolved into a key component for the Mariners until he was traded to the Yankees after the 1995 season. Replacing Don Mattingly, he heard the boos at Yankee Stadium as punishment for a slow start. He rebounded to hit 25 homers and drive in 117 runs during the Yankees’ first championship of that era.

An underappreciated cog from the World Series winners from 1998-2000, Martinez was one of the first to depart after the 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks. It was then that the Yankees went from having a cohesive unit that knew each other, trusted each other and would fight and grind their way to win and evolved into a club that relied on star power and mercenaries. Martinez’s replacement, Jason Giambi, was an expensive PED user. He was well-liked and performed up to an MVP-level, but there was something missing with Giambi’s reluctance to step forward in Jeter’s clubhouse and the absence of Martinez’s understated fire.

Those who claim that Martinez is “mild-mannered” have seen the smiling face on Yankee-centric TV too much and don’t remember the anger he sometimes exhibited. The stories surrounding Martinez’s resignation from the Marlins as their hitting coach center around his alleged abuse of players with cursing and some physicality. He responded to those allegations here.

It’s a case of “he said/he said” and the incidents were probably due to several factors that could not be avoided unless Martinez never went into coaching at all. Having come up the way he did in baseball and, in his formative big league years, playing for a manager who yelled a lot and confronted players in Lou Piniella; then going to the Joe Torre Yankees where players were expected to behave a certain way and if they didn’t, they were gone; then going to play for Tony LaRussa, it’s no surprise that there’s been a clash of cultures with Martinez and the young players of today. When he was a young player for Piniella, had Martinez done what Derek Dietrich and other players are said to have done by refusing to behave as rookies and do what they’re told, he would’ve been screamed at, possibly grabbed and shipped to the minors. In today’s game, you can’t get away with that type of methodology when overseeing players.

The problem with the former MVP-caliber player is that he generally has to alter his expectations and demands when dealing with players who aren’t going to be as good as he was. When performing as the hitting coach for a young team like the Marlins, the attitude that Martinez shows is probably not going to go over well with the players because they don’t want to hear it and will react rather than fall into line to keep their jobs. It wasn’t that long ago that players had to conform. Now, with the money they’re making and the power they have over the people who are ostensibly their bosses, they don’t have to listen. And they don’t. The attitude is, “I’ll be here longer than he will.” Most of the time, they’re right. The results of the clash of civilizations are evident with what happened to Tino Martinez, who might not be cut out to be a coach in today’s major leagues.

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The Trout vs Cabrera MVP Battle Is Over, But The Argument Rages On

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Remember a player named Mike Blowers? He’s a broadcaster now for the Mariners and had a few relatively productive seasons for them in the mid-to-late-1990s. One season in particular stands out. In 1995, the Yankees castoff Blowers posted an .809 OPS with 23 homers and 96 RBI for a Mariners team that came back from 13 games out of first place in August to win the AL West. They bounced the Yankees in the ALDS coming back from 2 games to 0 down before losing to the Indians in 6 games in the ALCS.

That season, you will remember, was shortened by the strike, so Blowers only played in 134 games. Had it been a full schedule, he certainly would have driven in 110+ runs. On the surface, it looks like a solid season. But in reality, was it? Or were his RBI totals cushioned by big games? During that season, Blowers had games with RBI totals of: 8, 5, 5, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 7. Right there that’s 8 games out of 134 where he accumulated 43 of his 96 RBI. Add in that he spent the season batting behind Tino Martinez (.369 OBP); Jay Buhner (.343 OBP); Ken Griffey Jr. (.379 OBP); and Edgar Martinez (.479 OBP), and you wonder why he had so few RBI.

This isn’t to pick on Blowers as a random player, but it proves a point that any stat—not just the old-school ones such as RBI—can be torn apart when they’re examined in depth with an end in mind.

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for American League MVP still rages even though Cabrera was given the award. The Cabrera backers present the following case: he won the Triple Crown; his team won their division; the opposing pitchers said they feared Cabrera more than any other hitter in baseball. The Trout backers point to his 10.7 WAR; his defensive brilliance; his speed; his power; and that the Angels were 6-14 when he arrived and went 81-58 with him in the lineup.

None other than newfound political celebrity Nate Silver made his case for Trout on his Fivethirtyeight.com blog here. Along with the stats such as WAR, Silver uses Trout playing in a “harder division” and other bits of randomness to bolster his case, but it’s not as clear-cut as he implies, nor is Cabrera’s case as clear-cut as the other side implies.

You can use a phantom argument as a means of patting the non-stat people on the head by saying, “Look at their record with him in the lineup and without it,” as if it’s connected on its face. I picture Silver rolling his eyes and thinking, “Here, idiots. Here’s a simplistic number you can understand. Wins.” It’s done as a concession to convince. Because Silver drilled the presidential election doesn’t mean his opinion and calculations in baseball are unassailable. In fact, his history at predicting baseball with PECOTA is quite pedestrian even though it’s promoted for its accuracy. PECOTA is a formula. It’s math and math isn’t the determinative factor with baseball players that it clearly is in the political arena. There’s no variable and no analysis. It’s a sum and when it’s wrong, there’s always an excuse of the faults of human beings in not living up to what was expected.

Does that make it okay to be wrong? To suggest that they would’ve been right if X happened and Y didn’t? If (BLANK) great pitcher didn’t mistakenly groove a fastball to Cabrera so he could knock it into space? If (BLANK) mediocre pitcher didn’t throw the best curveball of his life to strike Trout out with the bases loaded?

If we begin with the premise that Trout’s presence was solely responsible for the Angels rise from that atrocious start, how do we figure where it began and when it ended? How about the acquisition of a reliever named Ernesto Frieri who stabilized the Angels’ atrocious bullpen after they’d demoted closer Jordan Walden? The Angels were 10-17 when they acquired Frieri. Is he suddenly the MVP because they were 79-56 with him on the roster? With the Angels talent—dysfunctional and infighting as it was—do you truly believe they were going to keep playing as badly as they started? The concept of a statistical formula like PECOTA would tell you that it wasn’t going to happen; that they’d get themselves straightened out with or without Trout, but that is conveniently glossed over to promote Trout as the MVP because of his “presence”. Did he show up with donuts every day? Did he smell really good to make the other players happy? The presence argument is fleeting and incalculable before or after it happens and is mitigated by both Cabrera and Trout having positive things said about them. Which is accurate and which isn’t? Which counts and which doesn’t?

The comparison of home runs that were hit to whether or not they would have left a different ballpark is questionable as well. The pitchers pitch differently in a bigger park than they do in a smaller one; they might be more willing to challenge a player like Trout knowing who’s batting behind him (a guy named Albert Pujols) and test the rookie rather than run the risk of putting runners on base for Pujols and the other Angels bashers. Everyone knows the numbers nowadays and applies them to a certain degree. With everyone knowing the numbers, the strategies pitching coaches impart to their catchers as a way of devising a gameplan are contingent on what the opposing lineup does with pitches in various locations. Unless everything—everything—is torn apart to examine when, where, how, and why, WAR or the Triple Crown cannot be the final arbiter of the MVP.

You can’t have it both ways. When lobbying for the Hall of Fame, you can’t say that a player like Ron Santo was far superior to Jim Rice because of his defensive greatness at third base, ballpark factors, and plain factional disputes of arguing for the sake of it and then criticize a Cabrera because he was a bad third baseman, simultaneously crediting Trout because he’s a great center fielder. Rice was playing half of his games in Fenway Park with the Green Monster—a spot more nuanced than reliant on speed and range. He was good at playing that wall. Also he was a prideful and somewhat misunderstood black man playing in Boston in the 1970s which put more pressure on him, pressure that can’t be examined through a statistical lens. Third base is a harder to fill position and, despite his defensive inadequacies, Cabrera was serviceable at the position considering the expectations. He made the routine plays, which was all he was asked to do.

Asked to do.

If you’re asked to do something at work, are you criticized because someone whose duties are totally different from yours; whose skills are in a different category; is working in a totally different department, does their job in a “better” way than you do by metrics that are not in line with one another? That can’t be in line with one another?

No. So why do it with Cabrera and Trout?

With that comes the inevitable question, not of replacing these players with a baseline, invisible Triple A player as WAR does, but with an actual person. The Tigers had no one viable to play third base to take over for Cabrera while the Angels could’ve cobbled it together without Trout had they stuck Peter Bourjos out there (a 4.8 WAR player in 2011) and hoped he reverted to what he was in 2011 after a terrible start in 2012. Does that matter?

This is a tribal debate with the stat people on one end jumping up and down for Trout while shouting about the “injustice” and the old-schoolers gloating that Cabrera won. No one’s going to change their minds. But if this is the way it’s going to be, then it shouldn’t be about the Triple Crown, WAR, team results, aura, or whatever. It should be completely dissected pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, everything-by-everything. Then there will be a final answer. Until that happens, there will be this endless presentation of supposed facts twisted to suit the purposes of the one arguing, truth and willingness to listen irrelevant and ignored for the sake of the self.

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The Red Sox-Orioles “Brawl”

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

The Red Sox and Orioles had what could be described as a “scuffle” last night during the Red Sox 10-3 win at Fenway.

Orioles closer Kevin Gregg threw a few pitches inside at David Ortiz; Ortiz gestured and shouted at Gregg, got back in the batter’s box and after Ortiz popped out, Gregg yelled at Ortiz who then charged the mound. Both threw a few flailing punches—with Gregg failing to remove his glove—and all missed. The bullpens came charging in, there was some pushing and shoving, but no legitimate fighting.

You can see the clip here although it’s only marginally interesting in a rare sort of way.

In fairness, there’s a limited amount of time for two baseball players to get their range to connect. By the time they’ve actually squared off, 60 other people are charging at them and bumping into one another like a CBGB mosh pit.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Yankees-Orioles brawl from 1998 when Armando Benitez had hit Tino Martinez. The benches emptied, players were red-faced and barking, but things had quieted down without a punch before Graeme Lloyd threw a series of haymakers at Benitez. Not one connected, but Lloyd was seen after the game in front of his locker exchanging high-fives with teammates.

It was due to solidarity more than success.

I also thought back to the ludicrousness of a famous confrontation Carlton Fisk had with Deion Sanders when Sanders was playing for the Yankees in 1990. Sanders was behaving as the young, flashy Deion often did with his at bat histrionics and drawing in the dirt with his bat; Fisk took exception to Sanders not running out a popup. They had a chat and both benches and bullpens emptied.

All this did was cement Fisk’s image as an old-school player who said what needed to be said and Deion’s reputation as a prima donna.

In other words, it was stupid.

Yankees reliever Greg Cadaret expressed his thoughts on the matter here in Sports Illustrated:

“It was kind of silly,” said Yankee reliever Greg Cadaret afterward. “Here we are, running out of the bullpen alongside the guys from Chicago’s bullpen, and we’re supposed to fight them when we get to the plate?”

It’s all about being a “good teammate”. Whatever that means.

Most players don’t want to fight, but don’t want to be perceived as shying from one either—you have to defend your teammates.

Perception is more important than reality. If you let the little things go, they can quickly turn into big things that extend to on the field as opposing players take liberties with crowding the plate, pitching inside and hard slides into bases.

No matter how idiotic they seem in the logical sense, these things are real and have to be nipped in the bud.

There are always a few players who can and like to fight. Kyle Farnsworth has the rep and the skills. Darryl Strawberry was one; Dave Parker another. The Mets of the mid-1980s not only looked for fights, they had players like Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight who wouldn’t hesitate with abilities honed in different arenas. Mitchell’s in the San Diego streets; Knight’s in Golden Gloves boxing rings.

It didn’t appear as if Gregg and Ortiz shared their pugilistic talents.

Gregg sounded like he was whining after the game with the comment: “We’re not scared of them — them and their $180 million payroll.”

Gregg would undoubtedly have loved to have been courted by the Red Sox whether he got the opportunity to close games or not.

He wasn’t. He wound up with the Orioles because the Orioles aren’t any good and didn’t have anyone better who was willing to sign with them for the money they were offering. And he’s able to accumulate saves which some still see as a valuable determination of reliever effectiveness.

What I’m wondering is whether those who feel free to scream at Gregg such well-thought-out analytical statements like, “you suck!!” realize that he’s 6’6″, 230 lbs.

It’s doubtful anyone would pull an Ortiz and charge at Gregg given the opportunity; nor would they say it to him in a one-on-one circumstance.

They might say it on Twitter though.

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