Thursday, August 28, 2008

Instant Replay Arrives

Major League baseball has finally listened to the swarms of people who think baseball needs some form of instant replay. They have finally ignored the people who think that replay needs to be kept out of the game. (Apparently, the spirit of the game included the human element of umpires blowing calls left and right) They will begin instituting the practice tomorrow, and we’ll all see how it goes. I haven’t had the chance to read up on how exactly this will work. I hear it will be allowed on fair/foul questions and on home run/not home run decisions. That seems reasonable. In those cases, there’s a line right there. All the camera needs is to look at the line and see if the ball crosses it. The process should be fairly simple. But, it does invite a few questions.

How much time is this going to take? Baseball has a bad reputation as it is as being a long slow sport. (How much longer it really is than a football game, I’m not sure) The last thing it needs is another process tacking on more time. In theory, it should move pretty quickly. In fact, instant replay has already been used in a MLB game to determine a home run. A few years ago, (I want to say it was in Florida or Cincinnati) the group of umpires was huddling to decide if a ball had cleared the wall. Apparently, they were having trouble coming to a consensus. So, one of them had the bright idea to wander over to the TV camera just off field, and had them replay the play through the viewfinder. The actual review took less time then the huddle took, and the correct call was made. That example bodes well. As long as the process isn’t bogged down by rules and checkpoints, it should be just fine. It also matters how often this process will be going on. As it stands, there aren’t many instances where a foul call or homerun call is disputed. But, now that it’s an option, does that increase the frequency? Are people going to think, “Boy that was close. I better have them look at it just in case?” Again, that’s going to slow things down more than fans are going to like. At the moment, though, it looks like minimal disruption to the game.

How fair is it to implement during the season? If one playoff contender wins a game because of a reversed call, is that fair? What about other teams that may have won more games if calls were reversed? Baseball just needs to hope that things don’t work out that way. Baseball’s great at that. From the All-Star game, to division tiebreakers, MLB is great at hoping conflict doesn’t present itself. Sure beats the heck out of coming up with an actual plan.

Where do we go from here? That’s the elephant in the room. This year, a couple high profile games involved missed calls that prompted this whole race to replay. So, they made sure to fix the problems that occurred in those games. What about the next call that’s missed? What happens the next time an umpire assumes a tag is made on a baserunner during the ALCS? Will that be included in the reviewable list, or will he just make another apology? How about the next time a runner is awarded home plate on interference in the ALDS? Will there be calls for that to be reviewed? Where is the line? In this case, the line seemed to be “when something bad happens to both New York teams on national television in the span of a month.” Is that the yardstick we’ll be using from now on?

Whatever the answers to the questions, replay is here. That’s a good thing. I see nothing at all wrong with getting the calls right. I agree it should be up to the players to decide the games. So, let’s use whatever technology we have to make sure that they do that. This helps everyone.

Nicely done Bud.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, The Team, and the Cost of Greatness. - By: Buster Olney

This book comes from a genre that is becoming common, the story
behind a game. The book follows a single baseball game, but goes much deeper into the people within the story. More than a story about a game, it evolves into a collection of biographies of people who happen to be involved in the game. If you’re trying to follow the game along, it can be difficult at times. It becomes tricky to remember which inning the game was in after a ten-page segment on David Cone. However, if your intent is to learn about the people, than this is a great way to do it.

The best part of this book is that it involves the collapse of the Yankees. Olney, who might as well tattoo pinstripes on his chest, is able to provide intimate details into the lives of the Yankee Players. The book might have been easier to follow if it just admitted it was an anthology of biographies. It would have been just as powerful if it didn’t try to stuff in game detail where it didn’t belong. Still, a wonderful read, and well worth picking up.

Rating: 3 bases.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dice- Cy?

I’ll start out by saying that I haven’t looked at other contenders yet. I have no idea how strong a case K-Rod or Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay can make. But, if you look at the numbers Dice-K will put up this year, and compare them to a Cy-standard, they stack up rather nicely.

Last night’s victory put Matsuzaka’s record at 15-2. Not a bad .882 winning percentage. By my count, Dice has about seven starts remaining. Can he go 5-2 in those starts? That puts him at 20-4. Pretty nice starting point for a Cy Young winner. Add to that his strikeout total that is always among the league leaders. His ERA is below three, a rarity these days. (Beckett’s was 3.27 last year when he should have won the award.) His batting average against him is fantastic. He hasn’t allowed a hit with the bases loaded all season. So, the problems? Oh yeah, the walks. The pitch counts. They don’t scream elite pitcher. The number of innings per game are too low to be at the top of the league. Baserunner after baserunner. All very good points. But, isn’t the job of the pitcher to not allow the other team to score?

Remember during the Celtics playoff run when LeBron had a rough series shooting the ball against them, and all the announcers kept asking when the real LeBron was going to show up? And then Kobe had a bad final series, and they all asked when the real Kobe was going to show up. Finally, people started to realize that maybe it wasn’t some lucky coincidence that the two best scorers in the game kept having their worst games against Boston. Maybe it’s that the Celtics defense was doing something right as opposed to LeBron and Kobe doing something wrong. Maybe it’s the same thing with Dice-K. He keeps walking guys, and putting runners in scoring position and everyone keeps wondering when it’s finally going to bite him. Maybe we need to start thinking that it’s something Dice-K is doing right, as opposed to all the batters coincidentally doing something wrong. Last night with the bases loaded, Dice struck out Melvin Mora swinging on a slider that must have been a foot outside. The announcers made a point to say how lucky Dice-K was that Mora helped him out on that pitch. But, what if Randy Johnson had thrown that slider? Isn’t half of the Unit’s game that batters swing at sliders so far off the plate that they sometimes hit the batter? Is Matsuzaka lucky that Mora swung, or so skilled that he made Mora swing?

One thing I used to hear about Manny, and I hear about Youkilis from time to time, is that they don’t mind hitting with an 0-2 count. They don’t stress about letting a pitch go by that they don’t particularly like, even if it’s a called strike. They’d just as soon let those go by and try to get something to handle. Maybe Dice-K does the same thing. What if he sees a batter and thinks, “I’m not thrilled with facing this guy. I’ll pitch around him because it’s better to have the bases loaded and face a guy I know I can get out than try to mess around with someone I’m not comfortable with.” Take last night. I think it was the first inning where he gave up a hit, or two, maybe a walk, and got the bases loaded. The next three batters went strikeout, strikeout, popout. Who’s to say that’s not exactly according to plan? Now, that method does bulk up the pitch count. But, remember, he’s used to throwing pitches and it hasn’t bothered him yet. It bothers the Red Sox, which is why he keeps leaving games early. But, I bet he’d say he’d go another couple innings every game and throw 150 pitches every time out. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

So, just like Pedro Martinez dominates a game differently than Greg Maddux does, maybe Daisuke Matsuzaka dominates differently than both of them. 

The numbers appear to support that idea.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lester is More

So, that’s why people in the Red Sox organization were split on whether Lester or Papelbon was the better prospect. He appears to be right on the verge of “getting it”, if he’s not there already. I know last night’s performance was against the Orioles. But, it was still a great performance. On the road, coming off an embarrassing weekend, the Sox needed a quality start from Lester. They got even more than that. He went seven inning of 1-run ball. Even more impressive are the four hits and one walk. Lester has been keeping his walks down so much lately, I almost feel funny mentioning them. It’s starting to become the norm, as opposed to something to be excited about.
This brings Lester’s record to 5-1 following a Red Sox loss. His ERA in those situations is well below 2.00. I know that many of those situations aren’t “we need a stopper” games, but it sure does help to stop a losing streak of any length. If momentum really is tomorrow’s starting pitcher, I like seeing Lester’s name in the boxscore.

Have I reached the point this season where I’m more confident going into a Lester start than I am with a Beckett start? I’m pretty close. I’m still at the point where I assume a good Beckett outing, and I hope to get a good Lester start. But, that’s starting to change. Especially on Lester’s end. That’s really what separates the elite pitchers from the rest of them in my book. When Beckett, or Schilling, take the mound, you expect a good outing, and know the Sox should be in a good position to get the win. When vintage Pedro took the mound, you knew the Sox would win. When Lester or Dice-K take the mound of late, I’m not quite at the “expect” a good outing stage. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a good. But, if they blow up I’m not shocked. If Beckett blows up I’m shocked. If vintage Pedro blew up, I feared injury. It’s the difference in pitchers that makes one an ace, and others top pitchers. Lester’s not an ace yet…Beckett’s pretty close…but he sure should be soon.

This weekend displayed a glaring weakness of the Sox entering the stretch run. For some reason, they can’t figure out how to beat Toronto. Now, some of that is the presence of Halladay. Some of that is Burnett. I get that. The problem is that the Sox face the Blue Jays nine times from here on out. It’s not easy to make up a 4.5 division gap, or hold a 1.5 game wild card lead if you’re playing 25% of your games against a team you can’t seem to beat. Add to those nine games six against the Yankees that you just know they’re going to split and six against Tampa that are up in the air. This could get pretty dicey. Frankly, their entire remaining schedule scares the crud out of me. In addition to the games I just mentioned, they have the rest of the Baltimore series, they have three against division leading Chicago. Then three more against Baltimore, three at Texas, and four against Cleveland. Not many places to make up much ground. Yikes. Tampa Bay better remember that they’re Tampa Bay pretty darn quickly. A quick estimate puts an optimistic 23-14 finish for the Sox. That puts them at 95-67, which is a dang good mark. But, that means the Rays only need a 20-18 finish. Ick. If Beckett continues to struggle, this could be a long September.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is 19-17 better than 1-0?

The answer is a definite, “Maybe”.

Most fans like to see runs. Scoring is king. It’s the same for every sport. That’s why soccer and hockey don’t draw the fans other sports do. There’s not enough scoring. Kids like runs too. It looks like the team is actually doing something when they’re pushing people across the plate. Runs also allow the stars to do what they do. Everyone who goes to the game wants to see Papi go deep, or Youk hit a double off the wall, or whatever. In a 1-0 game, you’re probably not going to see much of that. So, it’s a downside.

Fans who are a little full of themselves usually say they like 1-0 games. They say if you don’t like the 1-0 game better, it’s because you don’t understand the game like they do. You can’t understand the finer things. (This happens a lot in sports. There’s some feeling out there that if you pick an obscure favorite, it’s because you know more about the game than everyone else. It’s easy to say Chase Utley is the best second baseman in the game. It’s a popular, obvious pick. But, if I claim it’s Dan Uggla it must be because I’m smarter than you. I know about players in Florida. If you only understood the game like I do, or watched as many games as I do, you’d pick Uggla too. I wouldn’t matter if Utley is better or not. The mere mention of Uggla makes me come off as all-knowing. It wouldn’t be true, since I think Utley’s clearly better. But, as an example. )

For my money, I just like to see players do things well. They’re the best players in the world, right? Let’s see it in action. So, is it better to see runs or not? It depends on how they arrive at the runs. If I perceive that the runs are being scored because of good hitting, that’s great. If it’s because of poor pitching, that’s not so good. Same thing goes for the 1-0 game. Is it good pitching, or poor hitting? Some examples?

Let’s pretend Greg Maddux is facing Roy Halladay. Both amazing pitchers. But, if they threw a 1-0 game, I wouldn’t enjoy it. As much as you try to convince me that it’s something they’re doing that is causing ground balls or pop outs, I perceive it as weak hitting. Watching hitter after hitter ground to short is not much fun. On the other hand, you give me a vintage 1999 match-up between Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon. I got to see a couple of those live. There’s nothing like watching a pitcher dominate a line-up like those guys did. Each one would end up with 7 or 8 innings pitched and at least ten to twelve punchouts. That’s an exciting 1-0 game. On the other hand, games can have double-digit runs and be snooze fests. Picture a bad Dice-K start when he walks home runner after runner. Or, games full of flares and dribblers that score runs. Those don’t do much for me. But, a game where every other batter rips a double to the gap? Fantastic. That’s great hitting on display. That’s something I want to see.

Obviously, some of that is subjective. Did he strike out the batter because he’s good, or the batter’s bad? Was the double due to poor pitch location? That’s why it’s all about perception.

It’s also why I couldn’t answer the title question. Can you?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sox get Byrd, apparently just in time.

I have no idea why Theo thought the Sox needed any help with the pitching staff. They managed to hold the Rangers offense to just under 18 runs last night. That should be just fine going forward.

The trade for Paul Byrd was a good one, but it does pose as many questions as answers. Off the bat, it looks like a slam-dunk. Naturally, since this was a waiver trade, you can’t expect monumental deals being done. You’re not going to land Johan Santana in a waiver deal. But, Byrd is a good catch. He’s a veteran pitcher, not afraid of pressure pitching. So, to grab him for the stretch run is a good move. Plus, considering how the Sox fared against him in the ALCS last year, it’s nice that he didn’t go to Tampa. (And how, exactly, did he not end up in pinstripes?) I like the style of pitcher Byrd is for this team too. He throws strikes. With a great defensive team behind you, that’s what you want. Let the players in the field make the plays. Plus, the Sox have a pretty good line-up, as you may have noticed. Throwing strikes but giving up a run or two shouldn’t be an issue at all.

Beyond that, the plans for him get a little fuzzy. Since Francona wanted to talk to Buchholz directly about the trade, and Byrd will be taking Clay’s spot on Friday, it appears clear that Byrd is Clay’s replacement. The powers that be must have decided that a pennant chase isn’t the best time to break in a young pitcher. I can respect that. If you’re not in a race, you can allow the learning curve. When every game counts, it’s time to let him work it out in the minors. I imagine Clay will be back in September when the rosters expand. Until then, the Sox don’t need to give away any games to let someone work on their fastball.

The odd part is Wakefield’s spot. You could assume, that a new pitcher would take the spot of the pitcher currently on the DL. But, the Sox don’t appear to be doing that. Does this mean they expect Wake to be back after the 15 days are up? They can piece together another start or two, and go on from there. That would be good news if that’s what happens. I like the idea that the Sox are expecting his eventual return, as opposed to fearing a season-ending situation. Are the Sox thinking playoff rotation for Byrd? Is he the safety net in case Wake can’t go again? I like the idea of Beckett-Dice-Lester-Byrd in a series just fine. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.

Sometimes, it’s the little deals that make or break a season. This looks like a good one. Now, if we can just get an extra bullpen arm it would be great.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The problem with having so much young pitching…

…is having so much young pitching.
First off, Clay Buchholz is our fifth starter (maybe fourth with Wake on the DL). Really, anything you get out of a fifth starter is a bonus. If a fifth starter was regularly dominant, he wouldn’t be a fifth starter, right? But, ignoring that little tidbit we have to look over some facts.

Clay Buchholz is in a rough stretch. That’s fairly obvious. Certainly, that’s to be expected. Remember, he’s 23 years old. (Yeah, he turns 24 on Thursday) I don’t think it’s fair to expect anything substantial from a 23 year-old pitcher. I know it’s mostly his own fault for throwing that no-hitter. We all now expect that all the time. We forget that no-hitters are really flukey, and are really just an example of the inconsistency. It was just one of the “high” times. So, it’s easy to look at that upside and say, “Geez. he threw a no-hitter at 23…he’s got it already!” But, you can’t say that. Yes, he has filthy stuff. Yes, he’s capable of putting it all together for a stretch. It will just take a while for him to figure out how to do it all the time. But, we need to back off.

When Pedro Martinez was 23, he was floating around the Dodger farm system hoping to one day be a major league pitcher. When Roger Clemens was 23, he was working his way though a 7-5 season pitching 98 innings for the Sox. He hadn’t even discovered the wonders of having his wife use HGH yet. When Jonathan Papelbon was 23, we was making it through A-Ball. When Josh Beckett was 23, he went through a 9-8 season pitching 142 innings for Florida. (Yes, he finished strong with a World Series MVP.) But, here’s the deal. All those great pitchers went through some ups and downs when they were that young. Sooner or later, it just clicks…if it’s ever going to click. Take Jon Lester. He was the picture of inconsistency until he looks to have figured it out this year at 24. You just have to wait it out, and hope it happens. (It’s Theo’s job to decide if it is ever going to happen.) Until then, just try to enjoy the highs, and don’t stress the lows.

And, don’t make me write this again when Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden. etc struggle while they’re 23.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer of ‘49 - By David Halberstam

This book chronicles the exciting 1949 baseball season. It focuses
on the two great teams of that year, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. It follows a now common outline of being more than just a play-by-play. It gives in-depth accounts of the people involved in the story, making it as much a series of related biographies as a rehashing of a season.

As a journalist, more than a “writer”, Halberstam’s books tend to simply lay out a series of facts. They tend to lack a cohesive story. The information is wonderful, gathered from research as well as first had interviews. It simply lacked the flow to get me involved in the season. I could be reading a pile of newspaper clippings to get the same information. The story left its goal at times as well. It felt as if the same book would be written about the 1948 and 1950 seasons with just a couple of the day-to-day happenings altered. The biographies and stories about players past deeds would still apply. It’s almost like the author had this lifetime of research and information, but was searching for a common thread to tie it all together. I didn’t find myself vested at all in the story…especially when the Sox lost.

I’d rate this as 2 bases.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lingering Thoughts

I’ve already mentioned Steve Kettmann’s wonderful book One Day at Fenway. It’s an in-depth account of a Red Sox Yankee game. Specifically, it’s the game that Manny missed with a sore throat, or something along those lines, but was spotted afterwards in a hotel bar with Luis Sojo. (At the time, the fact that Manny lived in the hotel, and the bar was the only place to get a bite to eat was left out of the stories. But, that’s not what this is about.) There’s a portion of the book that is worth revisiting these days. Hopefully Mr Kettmann won’t mind if I set the scene. It is talking about the bottom of the eighth inning of this game. Yankees had pulled ahead 8-4 in the top of the eighth. With one man out, and the bases loaded Todd Walker was the pinch hitter representing the tying run. Joe Torre had just made a pitching change to bring in lefty Gabe White, with Rivera ready in the pen. Got it? This is what Torre’s thinking as he gets back to the dugout:

“…Torre was feeling uneasy. He was not going to look over at the Red Sox dugout. That was just not something he would do, as much as he might have wanted to. Ever since Kirk Gibson limped up to home plate in the 1988 World Series, nobody could ever convince Torre that someone was unavailable in a game. You never knew. He sat there expecting any minute to hear one of his players tell him, “Manny [Ramirez] is coming out to hit.”

Jason Bay is a fine hitter. He’s better than fine. He’s a great young hitter. He’s probably a great person. I bet he treats animals and the elderly very well. Mike Lowell is a great run producer. There’s not a key spot that I would mind having him up in. But, look at that reaction. That’s not hoping that Manny was unavailable. That’s not preferring that Manny wouldn’t hit. He wouldn’t even look in the dugout! There’s only one word for it. Fear. Joe Torre feared Manny Ramirez. He had his all-world closer ready to come it, but it didn’t matter. Manny was said to be unavailable for the game, but it didn’t matter. You can talk about clubhouse chemistry, and statistics all you want. When it is all said and done, the former manager of the New York Yankees feared Manny Ramirez. That’s something that you can’t say about Mike Lowell, or Jason Bay, or any other member of the Red Sox. How much is fear worth?

As I mentioned, the Oakland A’s provided the perfect chance for the trade to look good. The Red Sox swept the overmatched A’s. Jason Bay had a fantastic series. He was all over the place, scoring runs and playing defense. Early indications are that he’ll be a wonderful player for the Sox the next couple years. I heard reports that the team just looked happier. I think that winning will make a team look happier. I think the Sox looked pretty happy sweeping Seattle, even with Manny in the clubhouse. I don’t think the Sox looked very happy losing to Kansas City, even with Jason Bay in the clubhouse.

At the end of the season, baseball isn’t a Disney movie. The happiest team doesn’t win. The best team does.

Random thought…can anyone say that Julio Lugo is overpaid if the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie twins got $14 million just to take pictures of them? If you take baseball salaries in context with other entertainers, they don’t look so bad. At least Lugo has to do more than smile pretty.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Trade Theo!

The trading deadline is a fun time of year for baseball fans. If your team is in the playoff hunt, this is when they can fill the holes they have and become a World Series contender. If your team is not in the playoff hunt, it’s a time to stock up on the future so you’re even better next year. This year, several of the elite teams in the AL had obvious holes to fill going into deadline day. For example:

LA needed some power in their line-up. They have the league’s best record, great starting pitching and a fantastic bullpen. But, they needed some pop in the order to cement their place as the class of the league. So, they traded for Mark Teixeira. Bingo. Hole filled and the Angels got better.

The Yankees had some holes. They needed a lefty reliever. They needed an outfielder to account for some injuries. Same thing with a catcher. So, they grabbed Marte, Nady, and Rodriguez. Bingo. Holes filled and the Yankees got better.

The Red Sox had some holes. They needed bullpen help. They could use a shortstop to cover for an injury (and lousiness). They had one too many centerfielders. So, they….um…traded away their best hitter? Well at least the guy they got back is…um…worse than the guy they traded away? At least they got some bullpen help in the…um…they actually traded away one of their bullpen arms? Well, the other guy they got is a nice prosp…um…they didn’t get anybody else? They actually gave up another young outfielder as well? At least they got some cash in the deal so they could…um…they actually gave 7 million dollars away in the deal? To the Dodgers? What the heck is going on here? Holes got bigger and the Red Sox got worse.

So, the bullpen still stinks. And now, the line-up takes a hit so it’s harder to make up for a lousy bullpen? Was Theo at a Pearl Jam concert yesterday, or being the GM of the Boston Red Sox? From here on in, we get to watch Ortiz get intentionally walked 500 times, and the run production go down the tubes. Yippie. Was the bottom of the order not enough of a drag on scoring?

I think it’d be easier to swallow if the Yankee fans would stop e-mailing and calling to say how happy they are and thanking me for handing them the division on a big silver platter.

I will give Theo a little credit. If you look at the schedules, he at least picked a good time to make a boneheaded trade. In August, the Sox will play Oakland, KC, Chicago, and Texas instead of Tampa, LA, Minnesota, and Seattle. So, for a while, the much easier schedule will make the deal look slightly better than it is. But, things will drop back in September.

I’d say it was the worst trade Theo’s ever made. But, there have been so many stinkers, it’d be hard to say with any certainty which was the worst.

What people are reading this week