The Adductor Is NOT In The Elbow

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How many not-so-bright fans (I didn’t say Yankees’ fans, I said “fans” meaning in general) are going to read and hear that CC Sabathia is going on the disabled list with an adductor strain and think it’s something with his elbow; will think that he’s heading for Tommy John surgery; will think that he’s lost for a year; will demand that the Yankees immediately trade for Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Felix Hernandez or, as in the warped Yankee-centric mind of Joel Sherman, Cliff Lee?

There’s a contingent of Yankees’ fans who will understand that Sabathia’s injury is to his left leg (his push off leg) and will still want the club to trade for a star commensurate with Sabathia’s status for the two starts he’s scheduled to miss.

It’s the way of the world in the Bronx.

An easy way to remember that the adductor comes from the hip to the inside of the leg is to think of adding in, bringing the leg inward toward the body. The abductor goes away from the body.

Ad in, ab out.

With Sabathia, this isn’t anything to worry about. Sabathia doesn’t want to go on the disabled list and if it were a September pennant race, I’d venture a guess that he wouldn’t go on the disabled list; he’d take a painkilling shot and pitch through it. But the Yankees, ever concerned about innings, pitch counts and manufactured limits even for a pure horse who logs 230 innings a year like Sabathia does, will take any opportunity to give a pitcher some extra time off.

The Yankees currently have a 4 game lead in the AL East and with the second Wild Card now available they’re in a strong position to make the playoffs, so it makes sense not to take chances. That logic isn’t going to prevent the phone calls that will be made to Mike Francesa at 1:00; it won’t stop the YES Network “personalities” from assessing the situation with a panicky undertone as if these things only happen to the Yankees and it’s a tragedy when they do.

On a positive note, I doubt YES and its affiliated blogs will be able to ignore the Sabathia injury as if it never happened as they did with the still disabled Manny Banuelos and Jose Campos.

Sabathia’s too big a presence in stature and performance to hide—especially when his absence is so conspicuous, 4 game lead or not.

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The Life And Rant Of Brian

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I apologize in advance for subjecting you to the writing of Joel Sherman.

Sherman wrote this piece in today’s NY Post in which Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman went into a self-indulgent tangent about the Life of Brian.

It’s no wonder he’s defensive considering his pitching choices that have deprived the team of their number 1 hitting prospect Jesus Montero and a useful arm for their rotation in Hector Noesi in exchange for two pitchers that now reside on the disabled list and will be there for the foreseeable future. Michael Pineda—who Cashman referenced in the piece with a clear agenda to defend himself—is lost for the year with shoulder surgery. Jose Campos is also on the minor league disabled list. He was initially put on the 7-day DL with elbow inflammation. That “7-day DL” has lasted for, by my count, 46 days.

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances has lost the ability to throw consistent strikes. The reality surrounding Cashman’s pitching maneuvers precludes any raving mania of, “It’s not my fault!”

Here are the main clips from Cashman’s rant. Facts ruin his foundation for said rant.

Cashman stews because he does not like the perception the Yankees’ usage strategy led to Joba Chamberlain’s Tommy John surgery.

No one who knows anything about baseball and pitching thinks that it was the Yankees’ usage of Chamberlain that caused his Tommy John surgery. Tommy John happens to pitchers who are starters, relievers, journeyman, stars, huge prospects and non-prospects. It happens to infielders, outfielders and catchers. It happens to quarterbacks in the NFL and anyone who stresses their elbow ligament with a throwing motion. There’s no stopping it no matter how cognizant and cautious teams are. Stephen Strasburg was the catalyst for the Sherman column to begin with and in spite of their babying, Strasburg got hurt too. That same thing happened to Chamberlain and it’s not the Yankees’ fault.

In fact, he used the term “people are so [bleeping] stupid” three times because he feels matters have been twisted to fit a narrative that he does not know what he is doing.

There’s a significant difference between not knowing what one is doing and not realizing that what one is doing is not working. Whether or not Cashman knows what he’s doing is only determined by the results of what he does and his pitching decisions have been, by and large, failures.

He’s clung to the innings limits, rules and regulations that have been shunned by other clubs and watched as those clubs have developed their young pitchers with greater rates of success than the Yankees have.

The most glaring part of this lament is that he’s still clutching to these failed strategies like he’s in quicksand and they’re a lingering tree branch. He’s made no indication of accepting that things may need to change to get the most out of the talented young arms they’ve accrued.

“Joba was a starter his whole amateur career and his first pro season (2007) with us,” Cashman said. “We only brought him up to relieve to finish off the innings he was allowed to throw while trying to help [the major league team]. And we probably don’t make the playoffs in ’07 if we didn’t put him in the pen. But he wasn’t bounced back and forth. And the debate only began because instead of keeping him in the minors hidden as a starter, we tried to win in the majors.”

This is the Yankees’ fault. Period.

If the long-term intention was to make Chamberlain a starter, what they should’ve done after 2007 was to make him a starting pitcher and leave him in the starting rotation in the face of the demands of the players, the media and the fans.

They didn’t.

Here’s what happened with Chamberlain: he was so unhittable as a reliever that he could not, would not surpass that work he did over that magical month-and-a-half in 2007. If not for the midges in Cleveland, that Yankees team might’ve won the World Series. The entire context of Chamberlain from his dominance to the “Joba Rules” T-shirts to the fist pumping made him into a phenomenon. It’s up to the man running the organization to contain the phenomenon and Cashman didn’t do it.

Cashman is engaging in revisionist history here to shield himself from the onus of contributing to Chamberlain’s on-field performance downfall, not his Tommy John surgery nor the shoulder injury that’s been called the real reason his stuff has declined and why he can’t start.

The debate began because he was a dominant reliever. They kept using him as a reliever to start the 2008 season, then shoved him into the rotation with the same hindrances preventing him from getting into a rhythm as a starter.

It got worse in 2009 as they again jerked him back and forth, placed him in the rotation—in the big leagues—but used him as if it was spring training during the regular season and let him pitch 3 innings in one start before pulling him; 4 innings in another start before pulling him, and continuing with this charade. Even when he pitched well and appeared to be finding his groove as a starter, they messed with him by giving him unneeded “extra” rest. After that extra rest, he reverted into the pitcher with the power fastball, inconsistent command and scattershot secondary pitches. Saying he wasn’t bounced back and forth is either a lie or Cashman has truly convinced himself of the fantasy.

Cashman also angrily said he believes the Yankees are held to a higher standard on this matter. He noted most organizations — such as the Nationals with Jordan Zimmermann and Strasburg, and the Mariners with Michael Pineda — shut down young starters when they have reached a prescribed innings cap.

If there’s a “higher standard” for the Yankees it’s because they invite it with the suggestion that they’re better than everyone else.

And no, Brian. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get the benefits of being the “Yankees” without having to endure what’s perceived as a negative when it doesn’t go your way. I say “Yankees” in quotes because I’m not talking about them as the most decorated organization in baseball, but as the entity of the “Yankees” with their history and smug condescension of being one of the richest, most famous and recognized brand in the entire world. He has more money than any other GM to spend and with that comes responsibility. When things go wrong, he’s the man who holds the bag.

Without getting into a Selena Roberts-style bit of autodidactic pop psychology the kind she used with her amateurish biography of Alex Rodriguez and traced every A-Rod foible to his father having abandoned the family, it’s abundantly clear that Cashman’s profane forthrightness—bordering on unhinged—is stemming from the pressure he’s feeling not just for the hellish trade he made for Pineda and Campos, but because of his off-field crises that have embarrassed him as well as the organization and made him into someone whose mid-life disaster is negatively affecting his job.

It may have been cathartic to get these feelings out into the open, but he’d have been better off telling it to a psychiatrist than a hack writer from the New York Post because all this did was place Cashman back into the headlines with a bullseye on his back as a paranoid, egomaniacal, deluded and self-involved person whose job is on the line.

It’s not the “bleeping stupid” people who are to blame. It’s Cashman himself. He did it and he has to face the consequences.

All he succeeded in doing was to make himself look worse.

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The Dodgers Are Lucky And There’s Nothing Wrong With That

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Are you wondering how the Dodgers are 32-15 and 7 ½ games in front in the National League West?

Here’s how.

Journeyman utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. went 5 for 5 yesterday.

Two-time recipient of Tommy John surgery Chris Capuano pitched 7 innings of 2-hit ball, raised his record to 7-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.14.

Light-hitting veteran backup catcher Matt Treanor homered and is batting .290.

Treanor was playing in place of 31-year-old A.J. Ellis who, after spending 9 years in the minors and 4 in Triple A alone, is getting a chance to play regularly in the majors and has a slash line of .317/.442/.517 with 5 homers. He’s also thrown out 46% of potential basestealers behind the plate.

The Dodgers were flawed and for sale before the season started. They had a decent starting rotation led by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and veteran Ted Lilly. They signed Aaron Harang and Capuano to fill out the fivesome hoping that both would provide competence. Their bullpen was questionable at closer and they had black holes in the lineup behind Matt Kemp. Kemp was carrying the offense on his back before he got hurt and they’ve held serve while he’s been out.

In spite of the hamstring injury to Kemp; non-existent production from shortstop Dee Gordon and third baseman Juan Uribe; the usual lack of power from James Loney; and a switch at closer from Javy Guerra to the strikeout machine Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers have rolled merrily along taking advantage of slumping divisional rivals the Rockies, Padres and Diamondbacks and riding their starting pitching and surprising contributors to the best record in baseball.

Everything that could conceivably have gone right for the Dodgers has gone right.

The ownership problem was solved when a group fronted by Los Angeles Lakers’ icon Magic Johnson bought the club from Frank McCourt and installed respected sports executive Stan Kasten as the new team CEO. They’re received the above-and-beyond the call performances from Capuano, Hairston and Treanor and have the means to improve during the season. Since they’ve gotten out of the gate so well and no longer have to count their pennies because of ownership disarray, they’ll be able to do what needs to be done to improve the offense and contend for the duration. They need a bat and GM Ned Colletti will get it (Justin Morneau is high risk/high reward) because he has the money to do it. If they get into the playoffs, they have the starting pitching and strikeout closer to do damage once there.

The black clouds that have hovered over Dodger Stadium are lifting and a marquee franchise is back at the top of the standings. The Dodgers are for real and whether they achieved that status through luck and circumstance is irrelevant. They’re here to stay and are very dangerous in part because of pitching in part because of luck—in no particular order or preference. There’s nothing wrong with being lucky.

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Pitcher Injuries and Hindsight

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What’s the solution when a pitcher gets injured, there’s no specific cause and it’s automatically assumed that it was due to the vague term “workload”?

The Phillies have placed righty Vance Worley on the disabled list with elbow inflammation and the desperate search for a reason is beginning. His MRI has shown no structural damage so it’s not a catastrophic injury—Delaware Online.

How does anyone know the cause? And what were they supposed to do about it?

While pitching at Single A in 2009, Worley threw 153 innings at the age of 21.

With Double A, Triple A and a cup of coffee the big leagues in 2010, Worley threw 171 innings at age 22.

In 2011, Worley began the season in Triple A, logged 50 innings and was called up to the big leagues and added 131 innings to make his total 181.

Is this considered abuse?

The Phillies were conscious of Worley’s pitch counts and took care to make sure he wasn’t pushed too far with a general pitch limit between 100 and 110. In a rotation with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, there were no expectations for Worley to be the ace of the staff. He was able to fade into the background as the fourth or fifth starter and learn his craft without the team’s hopes riding on him.

A clear case of a pitcher who was abused in his rookie season was Kerry Wood. In 1998, Wood was a sensation with a blazing fastball and knee-buckling curve. He was consistently left in games to throw 120-130 pitches and led the Cubs to the playoffs—1998 Gamelogs. The weight of carrying a mediocre team resulted in Wood tearing an elbow ligament and needing Tommy John surgery in 1999. It doesn’t take research of stick figures or computer simulations to examine Wood’s history and say that the Cubs overdid it and expedited his injury.

Wood was also a pitcher with mid-to-upper-90s fastball and hard curve with a severe elbow snap to get that nasty break. He might’ve—and probably would’ve—gotten hurt eventually anyway.

With the proliferation of pitching expertise inside and outside of baseball expressing their theories—dutifully detailed on blogs and supposedly reputable websites—a reason for an injury is readily available whether it’s accurate or not. Teams like the Yankees are using medical recommendations to regulate innings and pitch counts in an effort to “develop” their pitchers with the results we see in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

Who really knows?

The logical end to stopping a workload-related injury to a pitcher would be to limit the workload. But how? What’s the limit? And what to do if the pitcher is needed and he’s approaching his limit? Is the team or the individual more important? How’s that judged?

Throwing a baseball is damaging and there are a myriad of factors that go into a pitcher staying healthy or getting hurt. It’s a zero-sum game. It’s become impossible to develop a pitcher without hundreds of eyes with multiple theories, a forum and no accountability for the outsiders as they wait to pounce and self-promote. Retrospect and hindsight are easily transferred to “prove” whatever theory one prefers to use with pitchers. The Giants didn’t hinder their young starters with limits and have one of the best pitcher developmental programs in baseball.

It’s when one gets hurt that we hear post-injury criticism. The problem is there’s no defense for the charges when the charges are based on after-the-fact theories that are more convenient than diagnostic.

The only answer is to let the pitchers pitch and use common sense. They’re going to get hurt. It’s in the job description and that will never, ever change.

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MLB Non-Tenders—List and Analysis

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Here’s a list of the MLB players who were not tendered a contract for 2012.

Among the non-tenders are some surprising names that are sure to draw widespread interest.

The most interesting/intriguing players are discussed.

Fabio Castillo; RHP; age 22—Texas Rangers

Dan Cortes; RHP; age 24—Seattle Mariners

Cortes is huge (6’6”, 235) and has put up solid strikeout numbers in the minors as both a starter and reliever. He can be wild but there’s a pitcher in there somewhere; his hits/innings pitched ratio of 659/691 and that he doesn’t allow many homers (50) make him an attractive look-see.

Willie Eyre; RHP; age 33—Baltimore Orioles

Cole Garner; OF; bats and throws right; age 27—Colorado Rockies

Garner’s shown the ability to hit, hit for pop and run in the minors and never got a chance in the big leagues.

Chris Gimenez; C; bats and throws right; age 29—Seattle Mariners

Gimenez is a journeyman who doesn’t hit, but he can throw from behind the plate.

Clay Hensley; RHP; age 32—Miami Marlins

Hensley can start or relieve and be useful-to-good if he’s healthy. He missed substantial time in 2011 with a shoulder problem.

Jeremy Hermida; OF; age 28 in January; bats left, throws right—San Diego Padres

Hermida’s become an “oh him” guy where everyone wants to pick him up and hope they unlock the talent that made him a first round pick. He has power and is a pretty good defensive corner outfielder.

Koyie Hill; C; age 33 in March; bats both, throws right—Chicago Cubs

Rich Hill; LHP; age 32 in March—Boston Red Sox

Jeff Keppinger; INF; age 32 in April; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

Hong-Chih Kuo; LHP; age 30—Los Angeles Dodgers

This is a pitcher who’s going to be in demand, might get a multi-year contract and will either be a huge success or a disaster.

He’s had Tommy John surgery twice; he missed a large chunk of 2011 with an anxiety disorder and has had back problems.

But when he’s right, he’s unhittable with a near 100 mph fastball and wicked slider.

Expect the big guns to take a serious look at Kuo.

Aaron Laffey; LHP; age 27 in April—Kansas City Royals

Jose Mijares; LHP; age 27—Minnesota Twins

Peter Moylan; RHP; age 33—Atlanta Braves

The side-arming Moylan missed much of the 2011 season with a rotator cuff problem. Presumably the Braves want him back but didn’t want to pay him in arbitration.

Micah Owings; RHP/PH; age 29—Arizona Diamondbacks

Owings found a home in the bullpen in 2011 and he’s a weapon off the bench with his bat when he’s not pitching. I’d expect him back with the Diamondbacks.

Ronny Paulino; C; age 31 in April; bats right, throws right—New York Mets

No one on the Mets had a nice word to say about his work ethic or attitude.

Jo-Jo Reyes; LHP; age 27—Baltimore Orioles

Will Rhymes; 2B; age 29 in April; bats left, throws right—Detroit Tigers

Joe Saunders; LHP; age 30—Arizona Diamondbacks

Saunders gives up a lot of hits; a lot of home runs; his control and stuff aren’t particularly great; but he’s durable. If you put him on a good team that scores a lot of runs; plays their home games in a big ballpark; or has a good bullpen, he’ll win 15 games, lose 13 and give 200 innings.

Luke Scott; OF/1B; age 33; bats left, throws right—Baltimore Orioles

Scott missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. His home/away splits with the Orioles are atrocious—he murdered the ball in Camden Yards and was useless on the road. He has power and can be a veteran threat off the bench.

Doug Slaten; LHP; age 32 in February—Washington Nationals

Andy Sonnanstine; RHP; age 29 in March—Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Spilborghs; OF; age 32; bats right, throws right—Colorado Rockies

Ryan Theriot; INF; age 32; bats right, throws right—St. Louis Cardinals

Eli Whiteside; C; age 32; bats right, throws right—San Francisco Giants

There are some players who will help certain teams—possibly help them a lot—but, as usual, the non-tender wire is the scrapheap where luck trumps analytical skill.

Unless we’re talking about the Pirates.

But they didn’t non-tender anyone they could’ve used as they did with Matt Capps two years ago.

Then again, they’re the Pirates and doing something stupid is part of their routine at one point or another. They just haven’t done it yet. But they will.

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The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

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Don’t Scoff at Bruce Chen

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With certain pitchers the strike zone plots you see on BrooksBaseball.net indicate a profound lack of control because the points are all over the place.

With others, it’s done by design.

For a pitcher who has only a limited idea of where the ball is going at any particular time (see Bruce Chen‘s new teammate Jonathan Sanchezhere), the map of strikes and balls doesn’t say much of anything in terms of strategy because his strategic implementation is highly dependent on his control that day; but when looking at the map for pitchers who don’t have great stuff and are having a perceived inexplicable success like Chen and Jamie Moyer, there’s a method to the randomness.

Chen’s example of a strike zone map isn’t much different from Sanchez’s.

But they are different because one has an idea of where the ball is going and the other doesn’t.

For years it was asked how Moyer—he of the 82 mph fastball and chugging along until age 47 (and wanting to try to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 at age 49)—was able to get anyone out especially pitching in the homer-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

But Moyer knew how to pitch.

That phrase doesn’t imply that he has an innate knowledge that other pitchers don’t have by itself; it means that he was able to formulate a game plan and execute it; it means that he used every available weapon from psychology to pushing the strike zone in and out to get the hitters to retire themselves.

Here’s an example that a pitcher might use: If Moyer or Chen are pitching to a powerful righty bat like Mark Teixeira, they could start with a fastball inside. If Teixeira swings at the pitch and pulls it foul—a likely scenario given the absence of velocity—the pitcher could do several things to set Teixeira up. He can throw a harder fastball inside to let Teixeira think the pitcher can reach back a bit and increase their fastball’s velocity and make him say to himself, “I can’t wait as long as I thought I could.” Then when they have him believing he might have to be a tiny bit quicker, they can throw a changeup or breaking ball to use the quicker bat to their advantage. Or they could throw a changeup in an unhittable location—either way inside or way outside—to speed up his bat, make him think he has to wait, and then go harder inside.

It’s called pushing the strike zone forward and back, in and out and adhering to a plan; pitchers who know where the ball is going have a better opportunity to execute said plan than one who’s got terrific stuff but no clue as to its location.

Moyer was skillful at using a brushback pitch which, by all logical metrics, shouldn’t work with someone whose fastball was so slow a butterfly could land on it mid-flight.

But he did it with timing, skill and intelligence.

Chen has learned to pitch in a similar way with identical-type stuff as Moyer did.

Like a knuckleballer who lasts and lasts and lasts because of his quirky, gentle pitch of timing and technique, there’s always been a place for a junkballing lefty like Tommy John (who could actually pitch in addition to revolutionizing the game by coming back from an injury that was once a career-ender), Tom Glavine, Moyer and Chen.

Looking at Chen’s journeyman career, that he’s forever been an “is he still around?” guy and that the Royals just signed him to a 2-year, $9 million contract, the initial reaction is to say it’s a reach to bank on him continuing to trick hitters; but it’s not a reach to think he’s going to maintain his effectiveness as he’s installed in a starting rotation and left alone when dissecting how he’s succeeded.

They’ve made pitching into a craft that doesn’t require the stuff of legends to succeed at it.

As long as Chen is healthy and able to pitch, he’ll have a job—and now he knows it will be in one place for the next two years, which is a rarity in his 10 team/13 year sojourn.

But Moyer hopped all over the place too; in fact, he was told to retire by the Cubs and offered a minor league pitching coach job before they dumped him at age 29.

Moyer wanted to keep trying and eventually carved a niche for himself; by age 33 he’d become a durable and consistent workhorse who lasted (so far) into his late-40s.

Chen turned 34 in June.

Sometimes all it takes it hanging around, ignoring doubters and continuing to try.

It pays off for some.

If they’re smart.

And determined.

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Rangers Sign Nathan, Shift Feliz

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If the Rangers harbored any hopes of keeping C.J. Wilson, they were extinguished with Wilson’s expressed desire for a $120 million contract from…someone.

The Yankees aren’t giving it to him. No one’s giving it to him. Wilson might ultimately wind up with the Yankees, but it’s going to be for less-than $100 million.

With that in mind, the Rangers did the next best thing and in a savvy bit sleight-of-role, they signed Joe Nathan to a 2-year, $14.5 million contract with an option for 2014 at $9 million and a $500,000 buyout.

Nathan was inconsistent for the Twins in returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011 and was replaced as closer by Matt Capps; he regained the job late in the season and pitched well. He’s put up big strikeout numbers in his career and will rack up the saves; he’s struggled in the post-season, especially against the Yankees.

That’s something to keep in the back of your mind. But nothing to worry about now.

This was a domino-effect signing.

The Rangers get their closer at a reasonable rate, far cheaper than the Phillies paid for Jonathan Papelbon and well below the demands of Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez; Nathan, if he’s back to form, is better than Madson and K-Rod; they don’t surrender a draft pick; they’re not rolling the dice with veterans (Brad Lidge) or those coming off injuries and shellshock (Jonathan Broxton); they’re not paying a mediocre starter for his attendance record to plug in the 220 innings they’re losing with Wilson’s departure; and they insert former closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation once and for all with no ambiguity, getting star potential in the rotation at a reduced price.

Don’t expect Feliz to suddenly throw 200 innings in 2012. His limit will be closer to the 170 Alexi Ogando threw as he transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation; but the Rangers have the horses to account for any limits on Feliz.

The success of this maneuver is contingent on how Feliz handles the switch and if Nathan is back to his old self, but logically, it’s the smart and financially sound move.

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The Hits Keep On Coming For The Red Sox

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Judging by the stipulation in his contract that says the 2015 option turns into a league minimum paycheck if he requires surgery due to a pre-existing elbow condition between 2010 and 2014, the Red Sox can’t be surprised that John Lackey is having Tommy John surgery. Presumably, they weren’t expecting it in the third year of his deal; nor did they foresee his results to be mediocre in year one and atrocious in year two.

Now Lackey joins Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 2011 Red Sox staff—the team that was supposed to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history—as needing the surgery on his elbow.

I’m trying to imagine the amount of abuse that would be heaped down on a team with a spotty medical history and the perception of ineptitude like the Mets if they had two high-priced imported arms that needed Tommy John; another young stud, Clay Buchholz, who was repeatedly misdiagnosed in treating a back injury; and had their supposed “aces” Josh Beckett and Jon Lester putting on weight as the season moved forward along with the embarrassing beer drinking allegations.

It would be fodder for ridicule for months on end.

Added to the departures of general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox winter and 2012 hopes are looking more and more daunting.

They officially named Ben Cherington as the new GM yesterday; he’s a qualified baseball man and prepared for the job. He has to hire a manager and then decide what direction to take in improving the club.

Before Lackey got hurt, the starting pitching was still in relatively good shape if everyone came to spring training ready to pitch and healthy. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Lackey and a 5th starter from the system, acquired via trade or in a reasonable free agent contract would’ve been solid.

Now they have to replace those 200 innings expected from Lackey.

Can they get it from Kyle Weiland? He can be a big league contributor, but he’s not going to give them 200 innings in 2012.

There’s been discussion of moving Daniel Bard into the starting rotation, but even if they do that he’s not going to be able to give them more than 160 innings at the most. And that’s pushing it. He began his professional career as a starter and was terrible, but that shouldn’t matter.

They have to make up the innings from somewhere and if they do shift Bard into the rotation, they’re going to need bullpen help.

The litany of issues facing the Red Sox aren’t being fully grasped by their fan base; a fan base that is misunderstanding the fallout from a season of failed expectations; a collapse; off-field turmoil and turnover; and relentless competition.

The American League East is a torture chamber. The owner has clearly stated his reluctance to delve into the free agent market and after the disastrous Lackey signing, they’re not going after C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia or Edwin Jackson. The Matsuzaka nightmare probably leaves them out of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes.

The other names floating around won’t want the years the above pitchers will; they’ll accept a shorter term deal, but Mark Buehrle would prefer a Mid-West venue and don’t be surprised to see him wind up with Epstein and the Cubs; Roy Oswalt would accept a 1 or 2 year contract, but he’d want no part of Boston or New York.

If they want to make a trade, there are names available. Paul Maholm, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Wandy Rodriguez are quality arms, but the Red Sox system has been gutted by previous trades for Adrian Gonzalez.

Would they be willing to trade Josh Reddick or Jose Iglesias?

They could take a heavy contract (and old friends) Derek Lowe or Bronson Arroyo and wouldn’t have to give up much to get them; Lowe’s been awful; Arroyo would provide innings and is a known, popular commodity in Boston.

They also have to decide what they’re going to do with Jonathan Papelbon and how to replace him if they let him leave; David Ortiz is a free agent as well.

For so long the Red Sox off-seasons were spent trying to improve the club in the interests of contending for a championship. It had become a situation where they continually competed with the Yankees to win the Hot Stove title along with the crown to be the “favorites” in the preseason predictions. Now they’re going to be reorganizing their management team in addition to assessing and addressing all the other problems—on and off the field—while still maintaining relevance.

Tradition, foundation and and competence aside, things spiral after a collapse. And ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

Cherington’s got a lot of work ahead of him and right now there are more questions than answers; the circumstances are dire whether their fans admit it to themselves or not.

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Strasburg’s Coming Back—Get The Hype And The Pitch Counts Ready

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So what’s the pitch count going to be for Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg‘s return to the big leagues?

Will the hype for his comeback from Tommy John surgery match that which surrounded him from his drafting to his rise to the big leagues?

Far be it from me to roll my eyes at the media circus that surrounds certain players, but this Strasburg madness is a repeat of the same silliness that accompanied him when he first came into the public consciousness as a college player; the same reaction when Joba Chamberlain became a phenomenon with the rules and regulations that dictated his use.

Eventually people tire of the hype for hype’s sake and move onto something else. This summer a similar media darling (whose mere mentioning begets a large number of readers and webhits—shocker!!) Brett Favre has had his name prominently suggested in a “Will he come back?!? Dum dum DUUUUM!!!!” style story.

In prior years, Favre has created much of that himself with his retirements and unretirements, but this time he’s said he’s done and hasn’t even implied anything to the contrary.

But the stories keep popping up.

I like watching Strasburg pitch, but we’re talking about someone who had a serious injury; was babied before that serious injury; is going to be babied more now; and is pitching for a team that’s going to end up about 30 games out of a playoff position.

It’s a diversion and not worth the attention it’s getting as it approaches.

But the machine is going to spin for the purposes of gaining readers, viewers and tickets sold.

It’s already starting and isn’t going to stop.

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