Dee Gordon’s PED Suspension

Posted April 30, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins

Here’s a good article from Jayson Stark about the aftermath of Dee Gordon‘s steroids suspension.  One particularly germane point he makes is that season is probably too long, i.e., the players don’t have enough off-days during the season to recuperate and still keep the regular season and the post-season within the window of time that northern and eastern teams playing in outdoor stadia need to avoid playing games in the snow.

Here’s an article is which Justin Verlander says penalties need to be stiffened.  As Stark’s article points out, some guys are always going to cheat, no matter how stiff the penalties, because the obvious and perceived benefits of using PEDs for some players are going to override any possible penalty.

Every time we get a few players punished for PEDs in close proximity, a few self-righteous players mouth off about stiffer penalties.  However, once the players’ union has explained all the considerations (what about players’ privacy rights?  What about possible false positives?  What about a reasonably honest first-time mistake?  What happens if we allow teams to void contracts because of a positive test?), the players as a group are rarely willing to make anything more than incremental changes every three to five years that a new agreement is negotiated.

In short, the next agreement might result in first-time suspensions of 100 games and second-time suspensions of 200 games, but don’t expect much more than that.

I agree that the season is too long, but don’t expect any significant reduction in the number of games played each year, because everyone is too addicted to the extra revenue extra games provide for anyone to give them up.  I have long suggested that MLB cut the number of regular season games to 160 and expand the wild card from one do-or-die game to a best two-out-of-three game series.

This would reduce the number of games that 28 of the 30 teams play by two games, but would only cost each team a single home date, which would probably be matched by increased revenues in the national television contract, since you would get one or two more higher value playoff games in each league.  It’s not a big difference in terms of the number of games players play, but something is better than nothing.

Talk of Banning Defensive Shifts Is Just Stupid

Posted April 27, 2016 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Baseball History

There was a particularly stupid article on espn.com today in which Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that if he was Commissioner he’d ban defensive shifts.  The apparent motivation for this stupid comment was the fact that Nate Eovaldi lost a no-hitter because a batter hit against a defensive shift Girardi had at least tacitly approved.  I’m not sure if I am more irritated by the inanity of Girardi’s quoted comments or the fact that ESPN presented this baloney as legitimate national baseball news.

Girardi is quoted as saying that as long as extreme, modern defensive shifts are permissible, he’ll use them (because — duh! they obviously work), but he just doesn’t like them because “it takes away from the original intent of the setup of baseball” (writer Andrew Marchand’s stupid choice of words, rather the manager’s actual stupid quoted comments).

This is just wrong on so many levels.  Originally, the 1Bman, 2Bman and 3Bman played more or less right on their respective bases all the time and the shortstop was more of a rover who roamed around the inner outfield  in 10-man softball.  Gradually, over several decades of trial and error (quite literally) between roughly 1840 and 1870, infielders and outfielders moved around until they found the optimal defensive alignments, in an era long before each hitters’ batted balls were charted, where they could best defend against batted balls.

Probably from the moment fully professional league play started in 1871, infielders moved around based on the hitting tendencies of the hitters they were defending against, based on their own personal experience of observing and reporting to their teammates each hitter’s specific tendencies.

Even the extreme defensive shifts we see today are “new” only in the sense that they are being employed more frequently, and not that the infielders or outfielders are moving any further from their “typical” positions.  A favorite trivia question of my childhood in the 1970’s and 1980’s was which team first employed the “Williams Shift,” i.e., the shortstop playing on the 1B side of second base and the 2Bman playing in short right field?

The answer is the Chicago Cubs, because the Williams Shift began in the 1920’s against left-handed hitting Phillies slugger Cy Williams, rather than the more famous Ted Williams a generation later.  You would have been a dead pull hitter too, even against the most extreme defensive shifts, if you were a left-handed batter with pop playing half of your games in the Baker Bowl.  Ted Williams and Barry Bonds didn’t change their swings or their approaches just because the infielders shifted, because pitchers usually pitched inside against them, into the shift, and right into their wheelhouses, as Teddy Ballgame once famously explained.

How can you say that a defensive strategy which has been around almost a 100 years is suddenly ruining the game?  Only if you are profoundly ignorant, or you have some other agenda.

I kind of suspect that what Girardi was really doing was trying to make his pitcher feel better better about losing his no-hitter because a hitter beat the shift Girardi called.  I doubt Girardi is a rocket scientist, but I doubt is as dumb as the reported comments make him sound.

The fact that espn.com reports this nonsense as national baseball news is perhaps more irritating because some professional editor really ought to know better.  Making these kinds of facile arguments and presenting them as legitimate debate brings down the entire level of the conversation.  Sort of like Marco Rubio making insufficiently veiled negative references regarding the size of Donald Trump’s penis, and Trump assuring the American television public in no uncertain terms that he is sufficiently endowed to be POTUS.  While unconscious assumptions about Presidential candidates’ respective virility has probably played a much greater role in their ultimate success or failure than any of us would care to admit, it certainly does not elevate the discussion to make those unconscious assumptions explicit.

Another way to see how ridiculous Girardi’s claim is to take it to its logical conclusion.  Do we put pitcher’s rubbers (or 19th century pitcher’s boxes) at every infield and outfield position and insist that each fielder make contact with it before the pitcher releases the ball or the batter puts the ball in play?  Do we ban cannon-armed, but slow of foot shortstops like Cal Ripken from positioning themselves on the outfield grass?  Do we ban outfielders who are exceptionally good at going back on the ball like Tris Speaker from playing too shallow for fear they might take away too many Texas League hits?  Do we put additional chalk lines all over the infield to make sure infielders don’t shy away too far from their assigned bases?

Look, if a team wants to play put all seven defenders behind the pitcher in the right field corner, I say let them.  The answer to more defensive shifts is obvious: find more hitters who can hit against the shift.  If a left-handed pull-hitter’s value as a slugger is so great that the opposing team wants to play seven defenders to the right of second base, how does it desecrate baseball to let the fielding team have that option?  If the value of left-handed power hitters is diminished somewhat by modern shifting, that means the value of players of the type who were baseball’s greatest hitting stars before 1920 will be elevated somewhat.  How can that possibly be a travesty to the history of the national pastime?

Blue Jays’ Chris Colabello Suspended for Steroids

Posted April 23, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Milwaukee Brewers, Minor Leagues, Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays’ OF/1B Chris Colabello has been suspended 80 games for a positive PED test.  Colabello had been on my mind the last few days because his brutal 2-for 29 start to the 2016 season already had him on the verge of an end, at least for the immediate future, to his Cinderella story of making it to the majors and becoming a star after years in the Independent-A Can-Am League.

Feel-good story or not, I have to say that Colabello was a great candidate to test positive for PEDs, simply because he had the most to gain by using them and the least to lose.  Playing in the Can-Am League for years, probably earning at most $2,000 to $2,500 a month for a four month season, is a testament to his desire to play professional baseball and just maybe make the majors one day.  Assuming that he was using PEDs for some time before he got caught, which I think is a reasonable assumption — why start using PEDs after you have finally established yourself as a major league star at age 31?– it is also reasonable to assume that PEDs helped him finally make the majors at age 29.  Without the PEDs, it’s quite likely he never would have made the majors at all.

If using PEDs is reasonably the difference between whether or not a player makes the major leagues at all, then at least financially it makes a whole lot of sense to use PEDs.  Even with the money Colabello will lose to his 80-game suspension, he’s surely earned a lot more money than he would have if he’d never played in the majors.

The reputational damage of a PED suspension is pretty big, but it’s not exactly uncommon now, which takes a little of the sting and stigma out of it.  Also, since some players are still getting away with taking PEDs without positive tests, as we know for certain since many of the players suspended in the Bio-Genesis America affair, including most famously Alex Rodriguez, never actually tested positive for steroids, it’s easy for players in Colabello’s position to have the attitude that maybe I can get away with it, and even if I get caught sometime down the road, I’ll worry about it then.

Moreover, ARod is proof that home-town fans will be pretty forgiving if you come back from suspension and perform well on the field again, as ARod did last year.

On the subject of which players are relatively more likely candidates to get caught using PEDs in the future, I have been extremely reticent, because I don’t feel particularly comfortable publicly identifying players who haven’t yet been caught doing anything wrong.  Even suggesting that one player might be more likely to be cheating relative to others is a shot at the player’s reputation, so it’s just been easier to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until they actually get caught.

It’s tough, though, because there are at least a few players I have my suspicions about, and it seems kind of weak, from the position of being a blogger, to state after the player actually gets caught, oh, I had my suspicions about him all along.

So this is what I will do.  There is a certain young superstar  who shall remain nameless, who I have my suspicions about simply because in so many of the photographs I have seen of him, his neck appears abnormally thick.  The reason that this raises red flags with me is that long before Ryan Braun admitted to being a PED-cheat, the thickness and muscularity of his neck in the photographs of him I routinely saw just seemed out of whack.  It was just too much for a professional baseball player, as opposed to an NFL lineman, and it sent my Spidey-sense a tingling, even though I gave Braun the benefit of the doubt and kept my mouth shut until his positive test was reported.

Now, I want to state for the record that I have no other reason aside from this and the fact that my unnamed player plays with an ability reminiscent of the supermen of the peak Steroids Era.  That’s precious little to go on, and thus the reason I am unwilling to name names.  All I can really say is that if at some point in the future this player tests positive or gets caught up in a steroid scandal, which I think is less likely to happen than the other possibility, I will not be particularly surprised.

Thank Goodness for the Atlantic League

Posted April 22, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minor Leagues, Oakland A's, Washington Nationals

mlbtraderumors.com reported today that two-way talent Micah Owings signed to play with the York Revolution of the Independent-A Atlantic League this season.  I hope he gets and takes the opportunity to both pitch and play in the field there.

Owings is 33 this season, and the odds of him making it back to the Show are slim.  However, I still have dreams of him becoming the successor to Brooks Keischnick as MLB’s next true two-way player.

Meanwhile, former Oakland A Nate Freiman (29) and now former Miami Marlin Chris Narveson (34) were released today.  If either of them can’t secure a minor league deal from an MLB organization, both, but Freiman in particular, should consider trying to catch on with an Atlantic League team.

The odds of Freiman obtaining an MLB organization offer, after his horrible  4 for 26 start at AAA Syracuse, depend almost entirely on whether another AAA or AA team needs to replace an injured 1Bman.  However, Freiman is definitely young enough that his making it back to MLB in the future is well within the realm of possibility.  In fact, Freiman might benefit by getting more regular at-bats in the Atlantic League, and building his confidence back up against lesser pitching.

In entirely unrelated news, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed 24 year old Cuban 2Bman Jose Adolis Garcia.  At ages 22 and 23 Garcia had .851 and .869 OPS numbers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, which are just fine for his position.  The Giants have the money (if they’re willing to spend it) to compete with MLB teams on players of Garcia’s not quite Grade-A talent level, and Garcia looks well-suited to become a star in Japan.

It will all depend on how quickly Garcia can adjust to playing in Japan, because NPB teams are way too short on patience when it comes to foreign players.  This may, in fact, be a problem, because Garcia is not a patient hitter, and NPB pitchers tend to have good command and an ability to pitch to a hitter’s weaknesses.

On the other hand, if Garcia’s Serie Nacional power translates to Japanese baseball, he could become a big star quickly.  If this happens, he’s still young enough to be playing in MLB in a few years.

Just a Matter of Time Before National League Adopts Designated Hitter

Posted April 21, 2016 by Burly
Categories: American League, Arizona Diamond Backs, Minor Leagues, National League, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Uncategorized

In today’s game between the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees, pitcher Kendall Graveman became a hitter when the A’s starting 3Bman Danny Valencia had to leave the game with a pulled hamstring.  Because the A’s have only a four man bench, manager Bob Melvin was forced to move starting 2Bman Chris Coghlan to 3B, and make DH Jed Lowrie the new 2Bman.  Thus, no DH, and the pitcher had to hit.

More importantly to the subject of this post, it was the first time in almost seven years that Graveman had batted in a game situation.  The last time was back in high school.  Graveman struck out on three pitches, although espn.com’s recap notes that he fouled off a 97 mph fastball.

In college, Graveman never batted, and playing exclusively for American League organizations in the minors, he never batted.

The upshot is that if Graveman is ever traded to the National League (and remains a starter), the odds are extremely slim that he will be anything other than an absolutely terrible hitter, simply by virtue of the fact that he has had no meaningful opportunities to hit in many, many years.  The same applies for almost every pitcher who went to a college using the DH and was then drafted by an American League Organization.

A small number of pitchers have such exceptional hand-eye coordination and are such exceptionally good natural baseball players that they are better than average hitting pitchers even after years of inactivity.  Zack Greinke is one of the best hitting pitchers in the NL in spite of the fact that he received only 26 plate appearances in his first nine professional seasons.

However, pitchers as a group just have to keep getting worse and worse as MLB hitters because they nearly never get to hit once they leave high school.  Even minor league starting pitchers playing for National League organizations bat infrequently because they don’t bat when playing American League-affiliated opponents and minor league starters rarely go deep into games.

For example, only one pitcher managed to throw even three complete games in one season in any of the last  three full AAA Pacific Coast League seasons.  MLB pitchers don’t throw many complete games now either, but it’s not quite that bad.

At some point in the not too distant future, I expect the NL will adopt the DH Rule.  Pitchers who can hit even a little bit are getting rarer and rarer, and the idea that the NL requires more strategy because pitchers have to hit is going to seem less and less plausible as the possibility that the pitcher as batter can reach base safely even once in a while becomes less and less likely.  There just isn’t much fun for the fans in a batting slot in which the best possible outcome is a successful sacrifice bunt.

 

George Kontos Goes On Disabled List

Posted April 19, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants

Following last night’s pissing away of a home game against the Diamondbacks, the Giants announced even worse news, with George Kontos going on the DL with a flexor strain.  My guess is the Giants call up Steven Okert, because he is the only guy pitching really well at AAA Sacramento who is already on the 40-roster.

Okert currently has a 2.70 ERA with eight Ks and no walks in 6.2 AAA innings pitched.  He’s a lefty, however, and with the Giants down another right-hander, the team could promote Vin Mazzaro, who has pitched extremely well for the Sacramento River Cats, by moving Ian Gardeck to the 60-Day Disabled list.

Mike Broadway has pitched better than his 5.40 ERA would indicate and is already on the 40-man roster, so he’s another reasonable possibility.  I don’t see the Giants promoting one of their young AAA starters this early in the season.

The one good thing that came out of last night’s Giants’ loss is that rookie Derek Law pitched a scoreless tenth inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced.  The team probably didn’t want to throw him into the fire this quickly, but he handled it great, and you aren’t going to be a modern major league bullpen pitcher without getting thrown into high-pressure, game-on-the-line situations soon enough.

 

Kenta Maeda and Seung-hwan Oh Off to Great Starts in MLB

Posted April 17, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals

I’m glad to see how well Kenta Maeda and Seung-hwan Oh have pitched so far in their rookie MLB seasons, because I’ve long believed both had what it takes to play and excel at the highest level.  Neither has yet allowed a run in the majors.

Entering his third start of the season against the Giants, whom I hope hand Maeda his first MLB loss, Maeda has thrown 12 shutout innings.  As expected, his stuff doesn’t appear to be tremendous, but his command and his ability to pitch are exceptional, with only one walk against eight strikeouts.

After six appearances Oh has struck out 11 in 6.2 innings pitched.  He’s been wilder than Maeda but also harder to hit.

In the short term, I had more concerns about how Oh would do in the majors this year than Maeda.  Oh didn’t pitch as well in 2015, his second year in Japan’s NPB, as he did in 2014.  He didn’t throw a whole lot of innings in Japan each season, but he was used very heavily in the post-season, and I had some concerns that he might be nearing an arm injury.  Turning 34 on July 15th, Oh is no spring chicken.

In the long term, I have concerns about how Maeda, a small right-hander, will adjust to pitching every fifth game in MLB, as opposed to once a week in Japan.  Many Japanese starters have had arm problems after coming over to MLB.  However, it’s hard to tell if it’s the result of pitching with less rest in the U.S., or simply the chickens coming home to roost after many years of high innings pitched and pitch count totals in both Japan and the U.S.

Right now, Maeda and Oh have an advantage over MLB hitters who have never seen them before.  Now that they have established that they can succeed in MLB, they should continue to pitch well through at least the All-Star Break, by which time MLB hitters will have more opportunities to learn their tendencies and actually face them in game situations.  However, with 15 team leagues and more inter-league play, it takes a long time before hitters get to see a new pitcher in even three different games.

 

 


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