Ten Reasons Why I Love Baseball

I’m currently on a road trip – helping my daughter and son-in-law move to Davis, California – so new posts are less frequent.  BBRT will be back in full swing in early December (or sooner). In the meantime, here’s an encore presentation of the first words I wrote for this page – a look at why I love baseball (and why BBRT exists). Hope you like it!


1.  Baseball comes along every spring,  accompanied by sunshine and optimism.

Baseball is the harbinger of better times.  It signifies the end of winter (not a small thing if you’re from Minnesota like BBRT) and the coming of spring, a season of rebirth, new life and abundant optimism.   Each season, you start with a clean slate.   Last year’s successes can still be savored, but last year’s failures can be set aside (although rival fans may try to refresh your memory), replaced by hope and anticipation.   On Opening Day, in our hearts, we can all be in contention.

 2.  The pace of the game invites contemplation.

Between innings, between batters or pitchers, and even between pitches, baseball leaves us time to contemplate what just occurred, speculate on what might happen next and even share those thoughts with nearby spectators.  Baseball is indeed a thinking person’s game.

3.  Baseball is timeless and, ultimately, fair in the offering of opportunity.

The clock doesn’t run out.  There is no coin flip to determine who gets the ball first in sudden death overtime.  No matter what the score, your team gets its 27 outs and an equal opportunity to secure victory.  What could be more fair?   And then there is the prospect of endless “extra” innings, bonus baseball for FREE.

4.  Plays and players are distinct (in space and time).

Baseball, while a game of inches, is also a game of considerable space.   The players are not gathered along an offensive line or elbow-to-elbow under a basket. They are widely spaced, each with his own area of responsibility and each acting (as part of a continuing play) in their own time frame.  (The first baseman can’t catch the ball, for example, until after the shortstop throws it.)   This enable fans to follow, understand  and analyze each play (maybe not always accurately) in detail.   And, baseball’s distinct spacing and timing makes it possible to see the game even when you are not there.  A lot of people grinned at President Gerald Ford’s comment that he “watched a lot of baseball on the radio.”  In my view, he was spot on.  You can see baseball on the radio – you can create a “visual” of the game in your mind with minimal description.    That’s why on summer nights, in parks, backyards and garages across the country, you’ll find radios tuned to the national past time.

 5. The scorecard.

Can there be anything more satisfying than keeping an accurate scorecard at the ball park?  It serves so many purposes.  The keeping of a scorecard ensures your attention to the happenings on the field.  Maintaining the score card also makes you, in a way understandable only to fellow fans, more a part of the game.   That magical combination of names, numbers and symbols also enables you to go back and check the progress of the game at any time.  “Oh, Johnson’s up next.  He’s walked and grounded out twice.”  It’s also a conversation starter, when the fan in the row behind you asks, “How many strikeouts does Ryan have today?”   And, it leaves you (if you choose to keep it) with a permanent record of the game, allowing you to replay it in your mind (or share it with others) at will.  Ultimately, a well-kept score card enhances the game experience and offers a true post-game sense of accomplishment.

6.  The long season.

Baseball, so many have pointed out, is a marathon rather than a sprint.  It’s a long season with ample opportunity to prove yourself and lots of chances to redeem yourself.  For fans, the long season also represents a test of your passion for the game.  Endurance is part of the nature of the true baseball fan.  And, and in the end, the rigors of a 162-game season prove your mettle and that of your team.   Not only that, but like a true friend … baseball is there for you every day.

 7.  Baseball invites, encourages, even demands , conversation.

Reason number two hinted at the importance of conversation, noting that the pace of the game offers time to contemplate the action (past and future) and share those thoughts with others.   I love that about the game, but I also love the fact that whenever baseball fans gather, their passion comes out in conversation – and they find plenty to talk about:

  •  Statistics,  statistics, statistics.  Baseball and its fans will count anything.  Did you know that Yankee Jim Bouton’s hat flew off 37 times in his 2-1, complete-game victory over the Cardinals in game three of the 1964 World Series?  More seriously, statistics are part of a common language and shared passion that bring baseball fans together in spirited conversation.  As best-selling author Pat Conroy observed “Baseball fans love numbers.  They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine.”  I agree, to the fan, statistics are intoxicating.
  • Stories, stories, stories.  Baseball and its fans celebrate the game’s history.  And, I’m not talking just about statistics.  I’m talking about the stories that give this great game color, character and characters.  Ty Cobb sharpening his spikes on the dugout steps, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Louis Tiant’s wind-up, Willie Mays’ basket catch, Dock Ellis’s LSD-fueled no-hitter.
  • Trivia, trivia, trivia.  This may fall close to the “stories, stories , stories” category, but fans cherish the trivia that surrounds our national past time – whether that trivia is iconic or ironic.  For example, it’s ironic that the iconic Babe Ruth holds the best winning percentage against the Yankees of any pitcher with 15 or more decision against them (17-5, .773).

Basically, I took a long time to say I love the fact that baseball fans will talk with passion about something that happened in today’s game, yesterday’s game, over time or even in a game that took place on August 4, 1947.  And, as a bonus, all this conversation – all the statistics, stories and trivia – make the games, moments within the games and the characters of the game (heroes, goats and mere participants) as timeless as baseball itself.

 8.  The box score. 

BBRT editor’s  mother used to refer to an accordion as “an orchestra in a box.”  That’s how I view the daily box score – the symphony of a game recorded in a space one-column wide by four inches deep.   Some would say the box score reduces the game to statistics, I would say it elevates the game to history.  What do you want to know about the contest?   Who played where, when?  At bats, hits, stolen bases, strikeouts, errors, caught stealing, time, attendance, even the umpires’ names?   It’s all there and more – so much information, captured for baseball fans in a compact and orderly space.  I am, of course, dating myself here, but during baseball season, the morning newspaper, through its box scores, is a treasure trove of information for baseball fans.

 9. The irony of a team game made up of individual performances.

While baseball and baseball fans live for individual statistics and, while the spacing of the players drives individual accountability, the game is, ironically, deeply dependent on the concept of “team.”

Consider the offense.  Unlike other sports , where you can deliver victory by giving the ball or puck – time and time again (particularly as the clock runs down) –  to your best runner, skater, receiver or shooter, in baseball, your line-up determines who will be “on the spot” and at the plate when the game is on the line.  It may be your .220-hitting second basemen, rather than your .320-hitting outfielder.  Yet, even as the team depends on the hitter, he is totally alone in his individual battle with the pitcher.  And, achieving individual statistics that signify exceptional performance also demands a sense of team.  You don’t score 100 runs without a team mate to drive you in (although the statistic remains your measure of performance) …  and, you don’t drive in 100 runs if no one gets on base in front of you.   And, can you think of any other sport that keeps track of – and honors – the team-oriented “sacrifice.”

On defense, the story is the same.  A ground ball pitcher, for example, needs a good infield behind him to optimize his statistical presence in the “win” column.  And the six-four-three double play requires masterful teamwork as well as individual performance –  duly recorded in the record books as an assist for the shortstop, a putout and an assist for the second baseman and a put out for the first baseman.  Then there is the outfield assist – a perfect throw from a right fielder to nail a runner at third earns an assist – even if the third baseman drops the ball and earns an error.  Two individual results (one good / one bad) highlighted, but without the necessary team work – a good play on both ends – a negative outcome in terms of the game.

Ultimately, baseball is a game of individual accomplishments that must be connected by the thread of “team” to produce a positive outcome.

10. Baseball’s assault on the senses.  (Indoor ballparks fall a bit short here).

The sight of a blue sky and bright sun above the ballpark or a full moon over a black sky above a well-lit stadium.  The feel of the warm sun or a crisp evening breeze.  The scent of freshly mowed grass or steaming hot dogs.  The taste of cold beer and peanuts.  The sound of the crack of the bat, the cheers (or moans) of the crowd, the musical pitch of the vendors.  Baseball assaults all the senses ―  in  a good way.

Now, I could go on and on, there are lots more reasons to love this game: its combination of conformity (all infields are laid out the same) and individualism (outfield configurations not so much); its contributions to culture (literature and movies); its strategy (hit-and-run, run-and-hit, sacrifice bunts, infield / outfield positioning, pitching changes, etc.); triples; the 6-4-3 double play; knuckleballs; and more.  But to protect myself – and BBRT’s readers – I’ve limited myself to ten.   I probably could have saved a lot of time and words  had I just started with this so-perfect comment from sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, “The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is love.”  That says it all.

Do you have some reasons of your own for loving baseball?  Or something to add to these observations?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

photo by: jbrownell

American Association Rules Change – Is It April Fools Day?

Take your base - it's free!

Take your base – it’s free!

The American Association (independent league) recently announced a new “extra-inning tiebreaker rule” – to go into effect in the 2015 season. The basics of the rule are that, after 10 innings, each half inning will start with the team at bat having a base runner at second base (apparently this rule is already in place in the International Baseball Federation and Can-Am League).  The player placed on second will be the player in the line-up immediately before the scheduled lead-off hitter for that half inning.  If the player starting the inning on second base comes around to score, the tally will count (statistically) as a run for the player and (if appropriate under normal rules) an RBI for the batter who drove him in, but it will NOT count towards the pitcher’s earned-run average.

Maybe BBRT is just too “old school,” but I actually checked to make sure this change wasn’t announced on April first.  This is a short rant, but let me just say, “No-o-o-o!”  (Note: As a fan of the American Association’s Saint Paul Saints. I take a special interest in this rule change.)

photo by:

June 4, 1972 – The Day of the Pitcher (and how the game has changed)

Bob Gibson – Pitcher of the Day on the Day of the Pitcher

Threw a complete game shutout – and hit a Two-Run homer. 

 

There is no doubt 1968 “earned” its reputation as “The Year of the Pitcher.”  Witness the Tigers’ Denny McLain’s 31 wins (versus six losses) and 1.96 ERA, the 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts rung up by the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson, or the fact that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox claimed the American League batting crown with a .301 average. To put the frosting on the cake, McLain and Gibson not only captured their respective league Cy Young Awards, but were both recognized as league MVP as well.

Well, if 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, June 4, 1972 (42 years ago, today) was “The Day of the Pitcher.” On that date, with sixteen MLB games scheduled, a record eight resulted in shutouts – and the pitchers who took the mound across MLB that day combined for a collective 2.78 ERA.

I’ll look at those record eight whitewashes in more detail, but first a few tidbits that show just how much the game has changed.

  • It was a Sunday and the day featured doubleheaders at Baltimore, Chicago (White Sox), Kansas City and San Francisco.  (I really miss Sunday doubleheaders.)
  • Despite the fact that five games featured 10 or more total runs scored, 11 of the 16 games finished in under 2 ½ hours (four in under 2 hours), and the longest game was 3 hours and 9 minutes. (And, there were no challenges or instant replays.)
  • The average length of the 16 games was 2 hours and 35 minutes.
  • Pitchers went to the plate in every game, collecting 13 hits (78 at bats), two walks, three doubles, and one home run.  Overall, hurlers scored three runs and drove in ten. (I still do not like the DH.)
  • There were eight complete games, not all in the shutouts. (Pitch counts did not dominate commentary.)
  • There were six saves recorded that day – and, in four of those saves, the closing reliever pitched two or more innings.

The Shutouts

Now, here’s a look at the record-setting eight shutouts – which, by the way, were not good news for the fans in attendance – only one home team was on the right end of the whitewashing.

Oakland at Baltimore (Doubleheader … 2-0 & 2-0 … Oakland wins both)

Oakland set the tone at Baltimore, blanking the Orioles by the identical score of 2-0 in both games of a doubleheader. In each game, the A’s scored twice in the top of the first inning for the only runs in the contest.

In game one, the scoring was over after the first four batters.  SS Marty Martinez led off the game with a walk, LF Joe Rudi singled, Martinez scored on a single by RF Reggie Jackson and then Rudi came home as 3B Sal Bando hit into a short-to-second-to-first double play.  No more runners crossed the plate for either team. Dave Hamilton picked up the win (to go 2-0) with six innings of six-hit ball (no walks, one strikeout), Rollie Fingers picked up a hold (2/3 of an inning, one hit) and Darold Knowles earned his second save f the season with 2 1/3 scoreless innings (one hit, four strikeouts).  Doyle Alexander (3-2) took the loss for the O’s, despite pitching seven innings of two-run ball.

Catfish Hunter faced only 28 batters in his two-hit shutout (no walks, one double play). Allowed no base runners after the third inning.

Catfish Hunter faced only 28 batters in his two-hit shutout (no walks, one double play). Allowed no base runners after the third inning.

In game two, Sal Bando hit a two-run home run with two-out in the first inning to account for all the game’s scoring (SS Bert Campaneris had led off the inning with a double). Catfish Hunter (6-2) got the win with a complete game two-hitter (no walks, and four strikeouts). Mike Cueller (2-5), who gave up two runs in six innings, took the loss.

Cincinnati at Philadelphia (2-0 … Reds win)

Another 2-0 shutout, this one in Philadelphia – and, again, the scoring was over in the top of the first inning, this time after just three batters. Reds’ lead-off hitter LF Pete Rose started the game with a single off the Phlllies’ Bill Champion (who took the loss to go 3-3 on the season), CF Bobby Tolan followed with another single and then C Johnny Bench rapped a two-run double – scoring over.

The Reds Jack Billingham (3-4) got the win, throwing 7 2/3 innings of six-hit ball (no walks, six strikeouts), Relief was provided by Tommy Hall (1/3 inning, one hit, one strikeout) and Clay Carroll (one inning, one hit, one strikeout), who earned his tenth save.

Minnesota at Detroit (3-0 … Tigers win)

The Tigers topped the Twins 3-0 at Detroit behind Tim Timmerman’s (4-4) complete-game four-hitter (one walk, six strikeouts) – one of just two shutouts in Timmerman’s six MLB seasons.  Bert Blyleven (7-4), who would throw sixty complete-game shutouts in his 22-year career, took the loss in a game that was scoreless until the bottom of the seventh. Blyleven gave up just two hits in seven innings of work (one walk, six strikeouts), but one was a seventh-inning, two-run home run by Detroit CF Mickey Stanley (following a hit batter, RF Jim Northrup).

Boston at Kansas City (4-0 … Red Sox win)

In the first game of a doubleheader, Boston beat Kansas City 4-0 behind John Curtis (2-0). Curtis fashioned a complete-game seven-hitter (two walks, five strikeouts). The losing pitcher for the Royals was Mike Hedlund (0-5), who gave two runs on six hits in two innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the second.  Kansas City took the second game of the twin bill 7-5.

Texas at Milwaukee (10-0 … Rangers win)

Rich handRich Hand (2-3) had the shortest – and least effective – work day of any of the winning starters in this day of shutouts.  Hand, who was having control problems, pitched five scoreless innings – giving up four hits and five walks, while fanning one batter. Hand pitched out of trouble in the fourth inning (getting a line-drive double play with the bases loaded and one out) and fifth inning (a fly ball out with the bases loaded, thanks to three walks). When he walked the first hitter in the sixth, Hand’s day was done. Mike Paul came on to throw two-innings of scoreless relief (no hits, two walks, three strikeouts) and Horacio Pena finished up (two innings, two hits, no walks, two whiffs) for his eighth save. The game as never in doubt, as Texas scored six runs on six hits, two walks and an error in the top of the first. Brewers’ starter Skip Lockwood (2-5) lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up six runs on five hits and two walks. Notably, Texas collected a total of 14 hits in the game – 13 singles and a double.

Saint Louis at Los Angeles (4-0 … Cardinals win)

Cardinals’ fire-baller Bob Gibson (3-5) shut down the Dodgers 4-0 in LA – throwing a complete-game five hitter, with one walk and six strikeouts. Gibson added insult to injury by belting a two-run homer in the top of the ninth.  Saint Louis 3B Joe Torre also homered in the game (fifth inning). Losing pitcher Claude Osteen (6-3) didn’t pitch badly, giving up two runs in six innings on seven hits (two walks and three K’s). Gibson would finish the year 19-11, 2.46, while Osteen would go 20-11. 2.64.

Houston at Montreal (5-0 … Astros win)

Houston’s Don Wilson (4-4) went the distance in this one – a two-hitter, with two walks and six strikeouts. The game was a lot closer than the score would indicate, as Montreal starter Carl Morton (who took the loss to go to 2-6) matched Wilson zero-for-zero through seven innings. Then, with two out in the eighth, Morton gave up a solo home run to Houston CF Cesar Cedeno (his fourth of the season).  Morton’s line in a losing cause was eight innings, five hits, one run, two walks, and one strikeout.  Things came apart in the ninth, when Montreal brought in Mike Marshall. Marshall retired only one batter while giving up two walks, three hits and four runs. John Strohmayer finished up for the Expos.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Instant Replay Too Long? How About A Run Added Three Innings Later?

Even these guys need to consult the rule book sometimes.

Even these guys need to consult the rule book sometimes.

Are you, like me, dismayed by “instant” replay decisions that are occasionally taking four minutes or more? How about a ruling that took three innings?

In an April 28, 2007, game at Cleveland, the Baltimore Orioles were awarded a run, on an overturned umpire’s ruling, three innings after the base runner crossed the plate.  It was a situation that tested the “language of the law.”

It all started with the game tied 1-1 in the top of the third.  With Jeremy Sowers on the mound for the Indians, Orioles’ lead-off hitter and second baseman Brian Roberts singled past third base and then stole second. Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora then walked (putting runners on first and second). Right fielder Nick Markakis followed with a weak grounder to Indians’ shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who tossed to Josh Barfield at second for the force out (remember that term – “force out”).  On the play, Roberts moved to third base and Markakis was safe at first on a fielder’s choice. Next up was Orioles’ clean-up hitter and shortstop Miguel Tejada, who singled to right, scoring Roberts and sending Markakis to third.

Then the fun began. With Markakis on third and Tejada on first with one. Orioles’ catcher Ramon Hernandez laced a line drive to center field that looked like a sure base hit. Speedy Indians’ outfielder Grady Sizemore, however, made a diving catch. Markakis tagged up, headed for home and appeared to cross the plate before Tejada, who had been off with the hit, was doubled off first. Plate umpire Marvin Hudson waved off the run – apparently in line with the rule that if the third out of an inning is recorded on a force out (or by a batter who failed to reach first) a run cannot score on the play,

No one protested at the time, the call stood and the game continued.  In the top of the fourth, however, Orioles’ coach Tom Trebelhorn raised concerns about the ruling with the umpires.   The game continued and, between innings, so did the umpires’ discussion of the call. After considerable discussion and a check of the rulebook, the umpires’ – in the sixth inning – put the Markakis’ third-inning run on the scoreboard. This prompted the Indians to play the game under protest, not because of the ultimate ruling, but on its timing. Cleveland maintained the run could not be added after the game had continued.

What was all the confusion?  It comes to those key words “force out.”  First, we can set aside the rule that a run cannot score on a play if the third out is recorded by a batter failing to reach first base.  The catch of Hernandez’ fly was the second out.  But what about the stipulation that a run cannot score if the final out of an inning is a force out.  Here’s where the language of the law comes into play. The rules define a force situation as occurring when a base runner is forced to leave his time-of-pitch base because the batter has become a runner. A runner at first base is forced to attempt to advance to second base when the batter becomes a runner and runners at second or third base are forced to advance when all bases preceding their time-of-pitch base are occupied by other base runners (who are also forced to advance). However, a runner who fails to tag up and is thrown out, even though he is required to retreat to his time-of-pitch base and a tag is unecessary, is not considered to have been retired through a  forced out.  Therefore, since Markakis touched home plate before Tejeda was doubled off first (his time-of-pitch base), the run counted.

By the way, the Indians protest was denied on the grounds that, since the umpires’ error involved specific rules and not a judgment call, and because there was nothing in the Official Baseball Rules to address exactly when umpires can make a such a correction, the umpires could correct the mistake retroactively.

For those with the need to know, Baltimore won the game 7-4.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

photo by: Keith Allison

The Particulars on Some Veterans Worth Watching in 2014

In a January 22 post, BBRT called out a group of MLB prospects I’ll be watching in 2014. In this  post, I’ll touch upon about a dozen veteran players BBRT thinks are worth some special attention in 2014 – for the most part, players who face particular challenges and whose performance may be particularly important to their teams’ fortunes.

Justin Verlander ... ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander … ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers … The Tigers’ 31-year-old right-hander (2011 Cy Young Award Winner and AL MVP) had his second worst MLB season in 2013. (He did lead the AL in losses with an 11-17 record in 2008). He finished 2013 at 13-12, 3.46, while striking out 217 in 218 innings. Verlander’s velocity was down in the first half, but he found the old heat late in the season, posting a 2.27 ERA after September 1 and enjoying a post season in which he pitched 23 innings, giving up just one earned run and striking out 31. It certainly looked like Verlander was back on his game. But then came an off-season injury and “core muscle surgery.” It’s disturbing that the Tigers have not defined “core muscle.” Verlander says he’ll be ready, but it makes you wonder if seven straight seasons of 200+ innings (Verlander led the AL in innings pitched in 2009, 2011, 2012) may be taking a toll. BBRT will be watching, but is betting Verlander will be back at or near the top of his game. How good can that be? In 2011/2012, Verlander went 41-15, 2.52 with 489 strikeouts in 489 1/3 innings. Verlander should reach 16 wins and 200+ whiffs in 2014.

 

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Angels … The Angels have a big investment in 34-year-old Pujols, who started his career (as a Cardinal) with ten straight seasons (2001-2010) of a .300+ average, 30+ homers and 100+ RBI, three MVP awards, a batting title and two HR crowns.   He barely missed another .300-30-100 season for the Cards in 2011 (.299-37-99), when he was on the disabled list from June 20 to July 5.  Since signing a 10-year/$240-million contract with the Angels before the 2013 season, Pujols has suffered from planter fasciitis and turned in seasons of .285-30-105 and .258-17-64.  Pujols says he is healthy now – and the Angels need a return on their investment if they are going to contend for the division crown.  BBRT will be watching to see if a healthier Pujols returns to form. BBRT expects a bounce back, but not to his early career levels. Still, a .290-32-104 season would suit the Angels fine, and that seems well within reach. One thing is for sure, a true professional, Pujols is determined to let his bat silence his critics in 2014.

Note:  While watching Pujols, BBRT will also be keeping an eye on another big-time Angels’ investment – Josh Hamilton, who turned in a disappointing .250-21-79 season in the first year of a five-year/$125-million contract with the Angels.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, Blue Jays … The Blue Jays acquired 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey after his spectacular 2012 season – when the then NY Met translated his hard knuckler into a 20-6 record, 2.73 ERA, NL-leading 230 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award.  To get Dickey (along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas), the Jays gave up high-potential prospects catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, as well as catcher John Buck and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  The Jays signed Dickey to a two-year/$25 million contract extension.   In 2013, Dickey went 14-13, 4.21 for the Jays, striking out 177 in 224 2/3 innings (and winning a Gold Glove award). The Blue Jays were and are hoping for more from Dickey.  However, if you take 2012 out of the equation, his 11-year MLB record is 55-63, 4.31.  Dickey’s knuckleball will remain fun to watch, but a return to 2012 form seems unlikely for the 39-year-old.  Still, Dickey appears recovered from neck and upper back pain that hampered him early last season, and 15 wins from this work horse would not be unexpected.

La Troy Hawkins, RHP, Rockies … Colorado Rockies have indicated the 41-year-old Hawkins will be their closer for 2014.  In 2012, his 19th MLB season, Hawkins went 3-2, 2.93, with 13 saves for the Mets.  Hawkins has kept his career alive by filling a variety of roles (for ten different teams) – full-time starter (twice starting 33 games in a season for the Twins), closer (twice saving 25 or more games), set-up and middle/long relief (six times appearing in 65 or more games). If he stays healthy, the ageless Hawkins (imposing on the mound at 6’5”, 220 lbs.) should be fun to watch.  If he pitches in 57 contests for the Rockies, he will become one of just 16 pitchers with at least 1,000 appearances.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles … Jimenez, with an inconsistent delivery (and similar results) can sink you or save you.  The Orioles are hoping they are getting something closer to the Jimenez who went 19-8, 2.88 for the Rockies in 2010 than the 9-17, 5.40 Indians’ hurler of 2012.  Last season, Jimenez was somewhere in the middle at 13-9. 3.30 for Cleveland.  He’s a gamble – but one with lots of upside.  Worth a watch in 2014, as his fortunes will have a lot to do with the Orioles’ ability to contend in the tough AL East.

 

Derek Jeter ... How high will  retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter … How high will retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees … Okay, so “everyone” will be watching the 39-year-old Jeter’s retirement tour.  What can you say about a player whose resume includes 3,316 hits, an AL Rookie of the Year award, 13 All Star selections, five Gold Gloves and a World Series MVP award? Of course, the “Jeter Watch” is focusing on more than his retirement (although Mariano Rivera set the “gift” bar high).  The Yankee captain is coming off a 2013 season when he was put on the DL four times (primarily traced back to his 2012 post season broken ankle) and played only 17 games.  Can he get back to form?  Don’t bet against him. Remember, Jeter is just one injury-plagued season away from leading the AL in at bas and base hits.  There are, however, a lot of miles on Jeter’s legs – 2,602 MLB games over 19 years.  For the Yankees, the question is will he look like the “Jeter of Old” or just an old Jeter.  BBRT expects Jeter will get into 130 games and turn in a .280-.285 average.  Then again, well rested, he could surprise and go out at .300+. Either way, the future Hall of Famer will be a veteran to watch this coming season.

Jeter factoid: In his first professional game (Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees), Jeter went hitless in seven at bats, with 5 strikeouts – and he finished the season at .202. Apparently, he made some adjustments over time – and we can expect he will adjust well in 2014 as well.

While you’re tuning in the Bombers to watch Jeter, keep an eye on Mark Teixeira as well. A wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) limited the power-hitting first baseman to 15 games last season.  The Yankees need his bat to come back.  Still, there are some disturbing signs beyond the injury. Over his first seven MLB seasons (2003-2009), Teixeira hit for a .289 average.  Over the past four seasons, he has averaged just .249.  Still, as recently as 2011, he hit .248, with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs.  That would make the Bronx Bombers happy, and strengthen their lineup considerably. Keep an eye on the 34-year-old (turns 34 in April). 

Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox … Uehara, who turns 39 in April, was presented the Red Sox’ closer role in 2013 after injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.  All he did was record 21 saves, along with four wins and one loss, a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. He then added a record-tying seven post-season saves and an ALCS MVP Award.  Uehara was successful as both a starter and closer in Japan (a twenty-game winner as a rookie in 1999, 32 saves in 2007) before joining the Baltimore Orioles in 2009. In five MLB seasons, he is 9-10, 2.42, with 35 saves.  It seems doubtful he can be as dominant in 2014 as he was in 2013, but BBRT and Boston fans will be watching. Notably, Boston does have a backup in place having added Edward Mujica (37 saves for the Cardinals last year) in the off season.

 

Prince Fielder - looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Prince Fielder – looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers & Prince Fielder, 1B/DH Rangers … These two are on the watch list together because they were traded for each other “one-for-one” in the off season – and both will be vital to their new team’s success.

Kinsler is a three-time All Star, who is considered a “plus” defender, and  is a two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs and SBs) club.  Kinsler is looking to bounce back from a 2013 season in which he went .277-13-72, with 15 steals.

Prince Fielder, on the other side of the trade, is a power hitter who has averaged .286, with 32 home runs and 97 RBI per season in his nine MLB years. Fielder is a five-time Star and a member of the 50-home run club (Prince and his father Cecil Fielder are the only father-son members of that prestigious club).  Like Kinsler, Fielder is looking to rebound from a pretty good (but not up to expectations) season – .279-25-106.

BBRT will be watching to see if either of these players performs well enough (or badly enough) to establish a clear winner in this trade.

Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates … Did the Pirates really find the flaw in Liriano’s explosive delivery? 2013’s 16-8, 3.02 record (163 strikeouts in 161 innings) seems to say so.  But we’ve seen this before.  (Liriano is, in fact, a two-time Comeback Player of the Year.) Liriano made the AL All Star team as a rookie in 2006, and ended the season 12-3, 2.16 with 144 whiffs in 121 innings pitched.  That season, unfortunately, ended early and was followed by Tommy John surgery. Liriano missed the 2007 season, then went 6-4, 3.91 in 2008.  In 2009, he fell off to 5-13, 5.80.  But he seemed to straighten out in 2009, going 14-10, 3.62 and topping 200 strikeouts, while winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.  His comeback was short lived. In 2011-12, Liriano went a combined 15-22, with an ERA over 5.00 both seasons.  Then came the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year II season with the Pirates.  Given his track record, 2014 could be interesting.

Others to watch:

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox … Big Papi is 38 and coming off a .309-30-103 season, leading the Red Sox in all three categories. The Sox need solid numbers – and continued clubhouse leadership – from Ortiz to repeat as AL East leaders in 2014.  BBRT will watch to see if age starts to catch up to the game’s top DH.

Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Twins … Mauer is the only MLB player to win three batting title as a catcher (2006, 2008, 2009) and carries a ten-year, .323 average into the 2014 season.  Concussion issues have resulted in a move to 1B for 2014.  BBRT will be watching to see if the less stressful position can lead to another batting title.

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers … A thumb injury and a PED suspension muddied the waters for the five-tool Braun – a former Rookie of the Year (2007), MVP (2011), two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs/SBs) club and five-time All Star. He seems to be handling the pressure well, and BBRT expects a strong return for the 30-year-old in 2014.  BBRT will be interested in the fan reaction, as Braun works to rebuild his reputation.

Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Angels … In 2013, Ibanez (then with the Mariners) rapped 29 home runs in 124 games, tying Ted Williams for the most homers in a season by a player over 40.  Ibanez who turned 41 in June of last year, is with the Angels now and, who knows, may make another run at the record.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels … Can he finally win an MVP Award?  If the Angels make the playoffs it’s very likely.

B.J Upton & Dan Uggla, OF & 2B, Braves … Two players who both played more than 125 games and hit .184 and.179, respectively. Upton signed a five-year/$75 million contract with the Braves during the 2012/13 off  season, while Uggla signed a five-year/$62 million contract before the 2011 season. The questions?  Can either or both return to form? (Uggla is a three-time All Star and Upton is a three time member of the 20+ HR/20+ SB club.) And, how much patience do the Braves have?  As it stands, the Braves have a lot of money invested below the Mendoza line.

BBRT’s 2013 MLB “Young Star Team” – born in the ’90s

BBRT often goes “old school” in this posts, reflecting on past stars and accomplishments – like the recent post (September 25) on Satchel Paige.  Today, however, BBRT will look forward and touch on an entire line up of reasons why I have great expectations for the future of the American past time.

In this post, BBRT unveils its 2013 YOUNG STAR (All Star) TEAM.  The qualifications are straightforward.  Each selectee must already have excelled in the major leagues – and must have been born in the 1990s.  (Basically, it’s a team of  “Young Stars,” 23-years-old and younger.)  This youthful squad, I believe, would be a contender – and, together, these players will give fans plenty to watch, and get excited about, in the years ahead.

So, here is your 2013 Baseball Roundtable Young Star Team (birth dates in parenthesis).

YS CCatcher

Salvador Perez, Royals – age 23 – 6’3”, 245 (May 10, 1990)

Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez is already being touted as one of the best defensive catchers (throwing out approximately 35% of attempting base stealers and showing a quick pick off move) in baseball, and he also looks to be maturing (very quickly) as a hitter.  Perez started his minor league career in 2007 at age 17 – and (from 2007-2012) hit .287 with 20 home runs in 343 minor league games. He was first called up to the Royals in August of 2011 – and hit .331-2-21 in 39 games.  In 2012, he again topped .300 for the Royals, with a .301-11-39 line in 76 games.  It appears KC has handled Perez, a 2013 AL All Star, exactly right – this season he has played in 138 games, hitting .292 with 13 home runs and 79 RBI.  He now has a career (3-year) average of .301 in 253 games.

Another position move for former catcher Wil Meyers

Another position move for former catcher Wil Myers

First Base

Wil Myers, Rays – age 22 – 6’3”, 205 (Dec. 10, 1990)

Okay, I cheated a hit here to get a strong bat in this slot – moving Myers in from the outfield.  However, Myers has already proven his ability to switch positions (he made the 2010 Midwest League All Star team as a catcher), so BBRT is confident the 22-year-old can make the transfer to first base.  (Unfortunately, rising star first sackers Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs were born just a little early to qualify for the ‘90s squad.  Freeman was born September 12, 1989 and Rizzo August 8, 1989.)

Myers, acquired by the Rays in the James Shields trade, was called up to Tampa in mid-June of this season.  At the time, he was hitting .286-14-57 at AAA Durham.  He was in his fifth minor league season (a total of 445 games, .300 average, 78 HRs, 316 RBI).  In 2012, at AA/AAA, Myers hit .314-37-109.  In 2013, Myers (an AL Rookie of the Year candidate) played in 88 games for the Rays and put up a .293-13-53 line, adding 50 runs, 23 doubles and five steals.   He gives the Young Stars a solid, power bat at first.

YS 2bSecond Base

Jose Altuve, Astros – age 23 – 5’5”, 175 (May 6, 1990)

Just 23, Altuve already has more than 350 ML games and one All Star selection under his belt.  The shortest current major leaguer, Altuve launched his professional career at age 17 (hitting .343 in 64 Rookie League games).  Since day one, Altuve has shown speed and bat control at every level.  (He is also considered a “plus” defender with soft hands, a good arm and solid baseball instincts.) In 382 minor league games, Altuve hit .327, with 24 home runs and 119 steals.  He played his first game for the Astros on July 20, 2011 and has never looked back.  In 2011, he hit .276, with 7 steals and 26 runs scored in 57 games.  In 2012, he upped his average to .290, with 33 steals and 80 runs scored.  In 2013, he continued to hit and run, with a .283 average, 64 runs and 35 steals.  He also notched 31 doubles, five home runs and 52 RBI.  Altuve is a good table setter to put at the top of the  “Born in the ‘90s” line up.

YS 3bThird Base

Manny Machado, Orioles – age 21 – 6’2”, 180 (July 5, 1992)

Manny Machado (what a great baseball name), was being groomed as the O’s shortstop of the future before his call up August 9, 2012 (at the age of 19).  The Orioles needed help at the hot corner and Machado was assigned the third base job (a position he had not played professionally).  He adjusted well, proving a defensive asset.  The teenager also held his own at the plate, hitting .262, with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. There was, however, plenty more to come.  This season, Machado has become an offensive force – .282-14-71, while leading the AL in doubles (51), scoring 88 runs and tossing in six steals for good measure.  Once he learns a bit more patience at the plate (113 strikeouts versus 29 walks this season), he is likely to move up among the game’s elite hitters.

ys ssShortstop

Jean Segura, Brewers –  age 23 –  5’ 10”, 200 (March 17, 1990)

There were several choices available for the Young Star team at this critical position.  BBRT is going with the Brewers’ Jean Segura (acquired by Milwaukee from the Angels in the 2012 Zack Greinke trade).  Signed at 17, Segura’s six-season minor league stats include 399 games, a .312 average and 139 stolen bases.  In 2012, he got in one game with the Angels and 44 with the Brewers, hitting .264 with 13 steals, showing flashes of stellar defense, as well as some defensive lapses.  In 2013, Segura lived up to his promise – making the NL All Star team, while stabilizing his defense, and hitting .294, with 74 runs, 12 home runs, and 49 RBI.  He was second in the league with 44 steals (trailing Eric Young by two), and likely would have led the league in that category except for a late season hamstring injury.

Other contenders for this spot were the Cubs’ Starlin Castro (May 24, 1990), the first player born in the 1990s to play in the major leagues.  Just 23, Castro is in his fourth ML season, carrying a .283 average in 606 games, two All Star selections and the 2011 NL hits leaderships. Segura passed Castro on the basis of the latter’s declining batting average over the past two seasons (.307 in 2011/.283 in 2012/.245 in 2013) and defensive lapses.  Also in the mix were Detroit’s Jose Iglesias (January 5, 1990), who this year could become the first player to win Rookie of the Year in a season in which he was traded (from Boston to Detroit).  Iglesias put up a .303-3-29  line in 109 2013 games, but has tailed off a bit in the second half (he hit .330 in 63 games with the Red Sox and .259 in 46 games for the Tigers).

Outfield

Mike TroutMike Trout, Angels – age 21 – 6’2”, 230 (Aug. 7, 1991)

Just 21, Trout has spent all or part of the past three seasons with the Angels and is already a two-time All Star.  Called up in July 2011, he hit .220 with five homers, 20 runs scored, 16 RBI and four steals in 40 games.  Trout then started 2012 in the minors, but after hitting .403 in 20 games at AAA Salt Lake, it was clear he had nothing more to prove. Trout was back with the Angels by late April.  A .342 hitter, with 23 home runs and 108 steals in 286 minor league games, Trout has proven to be a true five-tool MLB star; adding power and patience as he matured.

In 2012, Trout appeared in 139 games, winning AL Rookie of the Year honors, while hitting .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs, leading the AL in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49) and playing sterling defense.   In 2013, he has avoided the “sophomore jinx,” going .323, with 27 home runs, 97 RBI and 33 steals (caught only seven times), while also leading the AL in runs (109) and walks (110).   From BBRT’s perspective, he can be the new generation’s Willie Mays – and the leader of the BBRT Young Star team. He’ll bat in the three-hold for the Young Stars.

YS HARPERBryce Harper, Nationals – age 20 – 6’2”, 230 (Oct. 16, 1992)

Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, has been recognized not just for his talent, but also for his hustle and work ethic.  A major-league regular by age 19, Harper played only 134 minor league games – hitting .292, with 19 homers, 64 RBI and 27 steals.  He earned his first MLB All Star berth in his rookie season (the youngest position player ever selected to an All Star squad) as a replacement for the injured Ian Desmond.  He ended his rookie campaign at .270-22-59, with 18 steals and 90 runs. Harper, who goes “all out, all the time,” suffered hip, knee and rib cage injuries in 2013, but still made his second All Star squad and hit .274, with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, 71 runs and 11 steals in 118 games.

Harper earned additional BBRT respect on May 6, 2012, when, after being welcomed to the big leagues with a Cole Hamels’ pitch in the back (which Hamels later admitted was intentional), Harper extracted “old school” retribution – going to third on a single and then stealing home.

If Harper avoids serious injury, BBRT expects he will add power as he matures, significantly upping his HR and RBI totals.

ys pUIGYasiel Puig,  Dodgers – Age 22 – 6’3”, 245 (Dec. 7, 1990)

For BBRT, Cuban defector Yasiel Puig is Mike Trout with “attitude” – and regardless of how you feel about that attitude, he is (and will continue to be) an exciting player to watch.  Puig played in only 63 minor league games before his June 3, 2013 call up – hitting .328-13-52 with 21 steals. His 2013 line reads .319-14-42 with 11 steals in 104 games for LA, playing a key role in the Dodgers comeback to win the division. (He does need to hone his base running skills – caught eight times in 19 attempts- but Puig clearly has five-tool potential.)  He also plays with emotion and confidence that can often rub the opposition the wrong way.  He backs up that attitude with talent and a commitment to winning that holds promise for a long, successful MLB career – and makes him a key part of the 2013 Young Star team’s five-tool outfield.

 

Starting Pitchers (Tie)

ys j FERNDEXJose Fernandez, RH, Marlins – Age 21 – 6’2”, 240 (July 31, 1992)

Cuban defector, Jose Fernandez – who boasts a mid-90s fastball and a sharp, overhand curve – made the jump to the Marlins in 2013, after only 55 minor league innings (27 games in 2011/12), with a minor league 14-2 record, 59 strikeouts and a 2.02 ERA.  He proved to be all that was advertised, going 12-6, 2.19, with 187 whiffs (vs. 58 walks) in 172 2/3 innings before a late-season shutdown by the Marlins

 

 

 

 

ys mILLERShelby Miller, RH, Cardinals – age 22 – 6’ 3”, 215 (Oct. 10, 1990)

Just 21-years-old and with four minor league seasons behind him, Miller received a late 2012 call up to the Cardinals and impressed – 6 games, 13 2/3 inning pitched, 16 strikeouts and a 1.32 ERA.  He earned a spot in the 2013 Cardinals’ rotation in spring training and delivered on his promise – 15-9, 3.06,  and 169 strikeouts (vs. 57 walks)  in 173 1/3 innings.

Lots of quality hurlers came close to making the Young Star team – a few of the 1989 birth class include the Mets’ Matt Harvey, White Sox’ Chris Sale, Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Rays’ Matt Moore.

 

YS Trevor RCloser (with a back-up plan)

Trevor Rosenthal RH, Cardinals – age 23 – 6’2”, 220 (May 29, 1990)

Pickings were a little slimmer for a 2013 Young Star team closer.  MLB teams like hurlers to “mature” before taking on that responsibility.  Given that circumstance, BBRT looked to the potential of the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal, whose fastball has topped 100 mph.  Primarily a starter in the minors (66 games, 48 starts, 22-14 record, 3.53 ERA, 293 strikeouts in 285 1/3 innings), Rosenthal has pitched solely in relief since his call up in July of 2012.  In 74 2013 appearances, he pitched 75 1/3 innings, striking out 108 )vs. 20 walks), with a 2-4 record, three saves and a 2.63 ERA. In his 1 1/2 MLB seasons, he has whiffed 133 hitters (27 walks) in 98 inning, with a 2.66 ERA.

 

 

ys PacoPaco Rodriguez, LH, Dodgers – age 22 – 6′ 3″, 220 (April 16, 1991)

Rosenthal’s preference is to be a starter, so just in case, our 2013 Young Star team has the Dodgers’ Paco Rodriguez  in the wings.  Rodriguez began his professional career in the LA system in 2012, appearing in 21 games, with a 0.92 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched.  That performance earned Rodriguez a September call up to (the first 2012 MLB draftee to make the majors).  He appeared in 11 games (just 6 2/3 innings), with a 1.35 ERA in the final month.  In 2013, Rodriguez appeared in 76 games for the Dodgers, with a 3-4 record, two saves, a stingy 2.32 ERA and 63 strikeouts (vs. 19 walks)  in 54 1/3 innings.  Paco is the Young Star team’s closer in waiting.

Looking at established closers, both the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and the Reds Aroldis Chapman were born in 1988 – under 25, promising lots of good years ahead, but too old for the Young Star team.

So, there’s BBRT’s 2013 Young Star Team.  BBRT welcomes any comments or additional nominations for the  youthful squad.

The Baseball Reliquary – The Mardi Gras of Our National Pastime

The Baseball Reliquary is the Mardi Gras of our national pastime – a free-spirited celebration of the human side of baseball’s history and heritage. 

Reliquary  (rel′ə kwer′ē)

Noun- a container or shrine in which sacred relics are kept and displayed for veneration

How do I describe the Baseball Reliquary?  It’s really not a place.  While its “home” is in the state of California (Pasadena), the Reliquary really resides more in the heart of its founders, honorees and members – who take joy in celebrating the character and characters of our national pastime.  The Reliquary leads that joyful (often irreverent) celebration through its Shrine of the Eternals, its collection of historic artifacts, and its traveling exhibitions.

The Shrine of the Eternals is the Reliquary’s best-known element and its honorees include (among others) a one-armed major league outfielder, a pitcher who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD, a team owner who sent a midget to the plate, a man in a chicken suit, a member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, a manager who won eight World Championships, a noted surgeon, a labor leader, more than one best-selling author, a statistical wizard and even the sports editor of the Daily Worker (American Communist Party newspaper).The honorees are each unique in their role in – and contributions to –   the national pastime, but they all share the distinction of having made a significant impact on the game.

The Baseball Reliquary’s Collection of what BBRT would term “art-ifacts”is as diverse as its Shrine honorees.  The collection includes (but is “oh-so not limited” to) the Walter O’Malley Tortilla, the Roger Bresnahan Potato, the Eddie Gaedel Jock Strap,  a Babe Ruth cigar, a Mother Teresa autographed baseball (a whole case actually), a heat-twisted 45-rpm record from the White Sox’ ill-fated Disco Demolition Night, and a piece of flesh from Abner Doubleday’s inner thigh.

The Baseball Reliquary’s Traveling Exhibits have included baseball art, photography and literature; and have covered such varied topics as Latino baseball history, baseball in foreign policy, baseball literature and even the self-defining “Lasordapalooza.”

So, back to the question, “How would I describe the Baseball Reliquary?”  If I had to put it in 25 words or less, “The Baseball Reliquary is the Mardi Gras of our national pastime – a free-spirited celebration of the human side of baseball’s history and heritage.”

Do I have your attention?   If so, click here   http://www.baseballroundtable.com/the-baseball-reliquary/  for the full (and FUN) story of the Baseball Reliquary – and how you can become one of its card-carrying members.  (These first few paragraphs repeated for those who get to the full story via a different link.

BBR

 

 

Through May – Surprises, Disappointments, “Or Nots”

Brewers’ Jean Segura – 2013 Surprise “or not.”

Today, BBRT takes a look at the first two months of the MLB season – some surprises, some disappointments and some “or nots.” 

For example, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates – who are working on a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons – are a 2013 surprise.  They finished the month of May thirteen games over .500 (34-21), tied for second place in the ML Central.  But there’s a big “or not” with this surprise.  The Pirates have proven their ability to turn around a good season in the second half.  In 2012, for example, they were sixteen games over .500 on August 8, only to finish four games under for the season (the “fade” seems to be a Pittsburgh pattern).  BBRT is hoping the Pirates surprise and stay in it until the end.

Here’s a few other surprises, disappointments and “or nots.”

  • Surprise and disappointment – the upside down AL East.  As BBRT looks at the season, many of the surprises at the end of May are consistent with the surprises noted in the end of April blog post, like the upside-down AL East. Most analysts saw the finish – from top to bottom – along the lines of Toronto (active in the off season), Tampa Bay, Baltimore, New York, Boston.  As we entered June, the teams stand in reverse order, with the Red Sox on top.  However, the Yankees, who have led the division much of the way, are starting to show signs that age and injuries may derail their season.  Still, they are getting some key players back, and may still surprise BBRT.
  • The Braves’ Justin Upton, whose power was an April surprise (.298, with 12 homers and 19 RBI), turned disappointment in May (.211-2-10).
  • The Braves and Nationals remained a surprise/disappointment combo – with Atlanta leading the favored (and disappointing) Nationals by six games at the end of May.  The Braves/Nats were expected to fight it out for the division title, but health-related disappointments (Strasburg/Harper) are not helping the Nationals as they work to catch up.
  • Not surprising is Tigers’ third baseman’s Miguel Cabrera’s pursuit of a second Triple Crown (Avg.-HR-RBI).  A bit surprising is that Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis seems like the main obstacle in that pursuit.  At the end of May, Cabrera let the AL in batting at .372, with Davis second at .356; Cabrera led the AL in RBI with 61, with Davis second at 50; and Davis led the AL in home runs with 19, with Cabrera second at 16.  Really, if it weren’t for Cabrera, we might be talking about Davis as a Triple Crown threat.  A bit of an “or not” for Davis.  His numbers are not a total surprise, the 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2012, going .270-33-85 in 139 games (playing catcher, first base, DH and both corner outfield spots).
  • Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura is another early season surprise with an “or not” aspect.  Segura finished May at .354, with eight home runs, 22 RBI and 15 stolen bases.  This followed a 2012 season when he went .258-0-14, with 7 steals in 45 games.  The “or not?”  The 23-year-old has shown plenty of promise, with a .313 average in 399 minor league games, a spot in the 2012 All Star Futures Game and this past season’s Dominican Winter League Batting title.  And, think about this.  Segura was an Angels’ prospect, included (after playing one game with the Halos in 2012) in the trade that brought Zack Grienke to LA from the Brewers.  We could have seen Segura and Mike Trout in the top two spots Angels’ line-up.
  • Despite the Braves’ success, the Atlanta outfield has to be considered an early-season disappointment.  BBRT already noted Justin Upton’s April slide.  Then there is B.J. Upton’s horrendous start – hitting .145, with four home runs and just eight RBI through May.  And, of course, Jason Heyward’s .146-2-8 start.  A positive surprise for the Braves has been catcher-outfielder Evan Gattis.   The 26-year-old rookie with the storied past ended May hitting .281, with 12 homers and 32 RBI.
  • Another surprise – with an “or not” – for BBRT is 43-year-old Mariano Rivera’s 1.77 ERA and AL-leading 19 saves through May.  Age apparently is ignoring Rivera’s arm and cutter.  The “or not?” Shouldn’t be too surprising, Rivera is headed for the Hall of Fame as the all-time saves leader.
  • There are a couple of surprising closers in the NL –  the Pirates’ Jason Grilli and the Cardinals’ Ed Mujica.

 

A tip of BBRT’s cap to surprising saves leader Jason Grilli.

May ended with Grilli leading the NL (and all of MLB) with 22 saves and sporting a miniscule 1.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.  Why a BBRT surprise?  Grilli is no new-comer.  He’s 36-years-old and, over his previous 10 big league seasons, he was 21-26, with just five saves and an ERA a bit north of four.  Still, over his three seasons as a Pirate (2011-2013), he has fanned 165 hitters in 116 innings.  This late bloomer has clearly come back even stronger from a severe knee injury that sidelined him for the 2010 season. 

Jason Motte, who saved 42 games in 2012, was penciled in as the Cardinals’ closer until shelved by an arm injury.  Number-two and number-three choices Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal fell short of expectations, leaving number-four choice, Ed Mujca – with six saves in seven MLB seasons –  to step up.  Step up he did, since moving up to closer in mid-April, Mujica has notched a surprising 17 saves (good for second in the NL through May) and a 1.88 ERA.

  • The Texas pitching staff is an April-May surprise, finishing May with the lowest ERA in the AL (3.44), with all five starters under 4.00.
  • The Brewers’ Carlos Gomez is another early surprise, hitting .321 with 10 home runs, 27 RBI and 11 stolen bases through May.  This from a player whose highest previous average was .260 in 2012.
  • The Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin is a surprise to BBRT.  The 23-year-old hurler ended May at 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA (following a 2012 mark of 6-8, 5.54).  On the disappointment side of the coin, 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (now of Toronto) finished May at 4-7, 5.18.
  • A few other good surprises through May (you can look up the numbers): Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado; Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey; Red Sox’ hurler Clay Bucholz; Phillies’ outfielder Dominic Brown; Seattle pitcher Hisashi Iwakawa; the Arizona Diamondbacks; the Cleveland Indians.
  • Some notable disappointments thus far:  the Angels, Dodgers and Blue Jays; Angels’ outfielder Josh Hamilton; 2012 Cy Young winner David Price; Giants’ Hurler Matt Cain.

Mariano Rivera – Still surprising at 43.

Musings – Triple Plays, “Basebrawls” and More

TRIPLE PLAYS

Robinson Cano … started yesterday’s six-throw triple play.

Yesterday, in a 5-2 win over the Orioles, the New York Yankees turned one of the most unusual triple plays in MLB history.  It took place in the eighth inning and went like this:

The Orioles’ Nick Markakis and Alexi Casilla started off the inning with singles against Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia – putting runners on first and second with no outs.   Manny Machado then hit a sharp one-hopper to second baseman Robinson Cano, who tossed to shortstop Jayson Nix to force Markakis for out number one; meanwhile, Casilla had headed toward third and was now in “no-man’s land” between the bases; Nix tossed to Yanks’ third baseman Kevin Youkilis to start a rundown that saw Youkilis throw to Nix and then Nix back to Youkilis who applied the tag; the hitter, Machado, looking to take advantage of the rundown, had rounded first and was now in his own “no-man’s land;” Youkilis threw to first baseman Lyle Overbay, cutting off Machado’s path of retreat; Overbay then fired to Cano, who tagged out Machado at second.

In the scorebooks, it went 4-6-5-6-5-3-4.

All of the subsequent triple play media talk reminded BBRT of the day in 1990 (July 17) when BBRT’s Twins became the only team to turn two triple plays in one game.   They came in the fourth and eighth innings of a game against the Red Sox and both were of the most traditional variety.  In the fourth, with the bases loaded, former Twin (then Boston right fielder) hit a ground ball to Twins’ third sacker Gary Gaetti, who stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Al Newman (for out number two), who relayed to first baseman Kent Hrbek to complete the triple play.  In the eighth, with runners on first and second, Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed grounded to Gaetti at third, and the around-the-horn triple play was duplicated.  The Twins, despite the triple killings, lost the contest 1-0 on an unearned run.

Other triple play factoids of interest to BBRT”

–  Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson holds the MLB record for hitting into triple plays with four;

– In 1962, Mets’ catcher Joe Pignatano ended his six-year MLB playing career by hitting into a triple play in his final at bat;

–  Ron Wright, in April 2002, had a one-game MLB career as a Designated Hitter for the Seattle Mariners.  He garnered three at bats – striking out, hitting into a triple play and hitting into a double play.  Three at bats – six outs – one MLB career.

By the way, Wright was a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, who always referred to his one MLB game as “the best day of my professional life.” For more on Wright, who was a legitimate prospect, see BBRT’s post April 28, 2012 – when BBRT took a look at the best and worst one-game MLB careers.

BASEBRAWLS

A little rant here.  We are seeing lots of “noise” around the recent injury to Zach Greinke, when Carlos Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch.  BBRT noted that almost every bit of sports coverage, in the first or second paragraph, notes that the Dodgers lost their “$147-million pitcher.”  Would we be seeing all this concern, and calls for rules changes and lengthy suspensions, if the injured hurler had been a journeyman middle reliever?  BBRT regrets the injury to Greinke, but sees a lot of over-reaction out there.

 

Joe Adcock, principal in one of baseball’s legendary confrontations.

All this mound-charging debate took BBRT back to July 17, 1956, when Giants’ pitcher Ruben Gomez beaned red-hot Milwaukee slugger (first baseman) Joe Adcock twice in one plate appearance.  In the second inning of a Giants’ 11-inning 8-6 win, Gomez hit Adcock (who had hit eight home runs in the past ten games) in the wrist with a pitch. 

As Adcock trotted to first, words were exchanged and the 6’4”, 210-pound slugger rushed the mound.  The 6’, 170-pound Gomez – who had already received a new ball from the umpire – selected his weapon, firing the horsehide at Adcock and hitting him (a second time) in the left thigh.  As players poured from the dugouts, Gomez, unlike Greinke, thought better of facing his larger and angrier opponent – taking flight into and through the Giants’ dugout, all the way to the locker room.  As reported in “The Milwaukee Braves – A Baseball Eulogy,” Adcock charged right into the Giants’ dugout in pursuit, but was restrained by New York players and coaches – who were joined by uniformed police officers trying to restore order.  Quick-thinking organist Jane Jarvis broke into an impromptu rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which quelled the disturbance.  

When the game resumed, both Gomez and Adcock had been ejected and police officers were stationed (temporarily) in front of the Giants’ dugout.  (It has also been reported that Gomez had retrieved an ice pick from the clubhouse, but was disarmed and disuaded by teammates before he could return to the field.)  Associated Press reports indicated that, after the game, both Gomez and Adcock agreed the incident was best forgotten.  Hmm?  Advice for today’s Dodgers and Padres?

EARLY SEASON SURPRISES – ALTHOUGH TOO EARLY TO DRAW ANY CONCLUSIONS

- Red Sox and Yanks atop the AL East, Blue Jays in last place – although only 1 ½ games separate the pack.

- Kansas City leading the AL Central – and Detroit 5-5 after ten games.

- Oakland proving to be “real” at 9-2, loaded Angels starting at 2-8.

– Many-Snow-Ta weather – which really shouldn’t surprise Twins’ fans at all.

- Arizona atop the NL West (although the  favored Giants are only ½ game out).

NOT UNEXPECTED

– Atlanta and Washington atop NL East.

- St. Louis and Cincinnati heading up NL Central.

 

photo by: Keith Allison

DH 40th Anniversary – A Walk In The Park

Not everyone in the lineup needs one of these – at least not in the AL.

Today, the American League marks the 40th Anniversary of the initial regular season use of the Designated Hitter – a day of celebration or chagrin, depending on your stance on the issue.   (Note:  BBRT is not a big fan of the DH, but I’ve ranted about that often enough.)

A bit of trivia for you baseball history buffs.  Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was the first player to officially come to the plate as a DH – as the Yanks faced off against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, on April 6, 1973.  On the hill for the Red Sox was Louis Tiant, coming off a 15-6 season (with a league-low 1.91 ERA) in 1972) and on his way to 20 wins in 1973.  Tiant, however, did not get off to a great start.  That first inning – and Blomberg’s historic plate appearance – went like this.  Yankee Second baseman Horace Clarke singled; center fielder Roy White struck out, with Clarke thrown out stealing; right fielder Matty Alou doubled; center fielder Bobby Murcer walked; third baseman Greg Nettles walked.  This brought up MLB’s first DH in an historic spot, bases loaded, two outs.  The result was a bit anticlimactic.  Blomberg walked to force in a run.

Tiant did settle down, earning a complete-game, 15-5 win.  As a DH, Blomberg added a single, going 1-for-3.  His counterpart DH on the Red Sox – Orlando Cepeda – did not fare as well.  Despite Boston’s 20-hit attack, Cepeda went 0-for-6, with two strikeouts.  Thus began the era of the American League DH – still alive forty years later – much to BBRT’s chagrin. 

photo by: biggertree