Archive for May 2010

Freak Injuries and the Other Kind

May 31, 2010

How do you hurt yourself jumping on home plate?  Injuries can happen any time in a million different ways.  Ask Kendry Morales.

No one had ever been hurt (at least as far as I can recall) jumping on home plate after a walk-off homerun, but there is always a first time for everything, and it was bound to happen soon or a later.

This time it happened.  At least it’s better than breaking your hand punching out a wall after something goes against you on the field.  That one’s happened too many times to count.

Or you could cut off the tip of your finger using a hedge trimmer like Bobby Ojeda back in 1988.  Actually, I just looked at this wikipedia article about Ojeda which says that the real story was that he lost the finger when it was slammed in a door when the Mets were drunkenly celebrating clinching a play-off spot that year.  However, the wiki article provides no citation for this alleged “true story”, and I wasn’t able to find anything on the web from what I would consider a reliable source.

Either way, Ojeda probably isn’t one of the sharpest guys ever to put on a baseball uniform.  He was also famously involved in the boating accident that killed Tim Crews and Steve Olin back in Spring Training 1993.  Crews was the one piloting the boat, but he was almost assuredly not the only one who was drunk as a skunk at the moment of impact.

Sorry Bobby, no one gets to live down an episode that stupid and deadly.

The Angels will be without Morales for a good long time, which is going to hurt their chances.  Despite a poor start, the Angels are still only 2.5 games out in the AL West (looking like the weakest division in baseball this year, a title held by the NL West the last few seasons), so they are certainly going to miss Morales.

The Indians’ Grady Sizemore is about to undergo knee surgery, which could cost him the rest of the ’10 season.  One has to wonder if he isn’t going to be the next Eric Chavez.

Like Chavez, Grady had a string of seasons at the start of his career in which he was injury free, but this is the second year in a row which he’s suffered major injuries.  Last year, it was groin and elbow problems.  Now it’s his knee.

Grady turns 28 in August, which is roughly the same age at which Chavez began to fall apart.  I hope it isn’t so, because Grady was a great player, but the cynic in me says it’s a real possibility.

Doc Halladay’s Perfecto and Related Musings

May 30, 2010

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Roy Halladay threw the season’s second perfect game and third no-hitter of the season against the Marlins yesterday.

It’s certainly no surprise that if any pitcher in baseball were to throw a perfect game, Roy Halladay would have to be right at the top of the list in terms of the probabilities.  Halladay matches tremendous stuff with tremendous control, both of which are key factors in the likelihood of throwing a perfect game.

Of course, the biggest factor is just dumb luck — a day when the pitcher is making his pitches and the hitters are hitting the ball at the defense.

The first thought that comes into mind when you have two perfect games in the same month and three no-hitters in the first two months of a season is whether it is getting relatively easier to throw perfect games or no-hitters in today’s game.  I’d need to run a more thorough statistical survey, but I really doubt it.

In fact, two perfect games have been thrown in the same month before.  All the way back in 1880, Lee Richmond pitched a perfect game on June 12, leading the Worchester (Massachusetts) Ruby Legs to a 1-0 win over the Cleveland Blues.  Only five days later, on June 17, 1880, John Montgomery Ward tossed a perfecto, as the Providence Grays beat the Buffalo Bisons 5-0.

Richmond was a 23 year old major league rookie in 1880.  He went 32-32 that year with a 2.15 ERA as the Ruby Legs primary starter (the team went 40-43 for the season).  He threw 590.2 innings that year, which was not uncommon for the time, and was never the same pitcher again, which was also not uncommon for the time (more top pitchers burned out fast then than today, even though the problem has never gone away).  His career major league record was only 75-100, but he likely played professionally for many more years for various minor league or barnstorming teams.

John Montgomery Ward was one of the great players and baseball personalities of the 19th Century.  He started as an ace pitcher, finishing his career with a 164-102 record and a 2.10 career ERA.  He then converted to shortstop and accumulated 2,104 major league hits.

In his spare time, Ward obtained a law degree from New York’s Columbia Law School in 1885, and led the players in forming the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, professional athletes’ first labor union, at least in the U.S.  The Brotherhood fell apart after the failure of the Players’ League in 1890.

Interestingly, he was not black-listed, but instead an agreement was worked out that allowed him to return to the National League as a player.  As a lawyer he continued to represent players in disputes with the National League and later acted as President and part-owner of the Boston Braves.  He was also involved as an official of the Brooklyn franchise (the Tip-Tops) in the short-lived Federal League.

The two perfect games in June of 1880 is much more amazing than the two perfect games in May 2010, due entirely to the changes in defense in the professional game in the interim.  While there was greater diversity of talent in the major league (the NL was the only major league) in 1880 than today (i.e. the difference between the best major league players and the worst major league players was greater then than now), it does not compare to the differences in fielding percentages.

In 1880, it was still uncommon for defenders to wear leather gloves, and the gloves that were worn were more like handball gloves (padded gloves covering the palm but not the fingers) than baseball mitts.  This meant that errors were much more common than they are now.  In fact, it was still common then for players in the more challenging defensive positions to have fielding percentages well below .900.

You just don’t see that much any more.  In his rookie year (2007), Ryan Braun had an .895 fielding percentage at 3B.  He’s been exclusively a left-fielder since then.

In Monte Ward’s perfecto, he struck out only two batters, which meant that his defense must have converted 25 consecutive batted balls into outs.  Under the circumstances, it was an amazing feat, and it tells me that even as early as 1880, when truly professional baseball had been around fewer than a dozen years, the best players were truly great at the game as it was then played.

Three no-hitters in a season is hardly unusual.  At least three no-hitters were tossed in each of 2007, 2001, 1999, 1996, 1994, and 1993.  In 1990 and 1991, seven no-hitters were thrown each season.

No hitters are probably more common on a per season basis now than in the era between 1920 to 1960, based solely on the fact that so many more major league games are played each season now compared to then.  The number of teams has nearly doubled and the teams play a 162 game schedule rather than 154.  More games played means more chances for no-hitters to be thrown.

In fact, it has almost always been more common to have multiple no-hitters thrown in a season, than no no-hitters thrown at all.  Since 1893, when the pitcher’s mound was moved back to its current 60’6″, these are the years in which no no-hitters were thrown at all: 1894, 1895, 1896, 1909, 1913, 1921, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1936, 1939, 1942, 1943, 1949, 1959, 1982, 1985, 1989, 2000 and 2005.

The periods from 1894-1896 and 1927-1943 were extreme hitters’ eras when you would expect to see fewer no-hitters.  The periods from 1900-1919 and from 1960-1985 were extreme pitchers’ eras when you would expect to see more no-hitters thrown. The list in the previous paragraph seems to confirm these expectations.

Even with the advent of another hitters’ era starting since around 1986, no hitters have been fairly common in the present era.  That probably has to do with the increased number of games played due to expansion (four more teams added since 1993) and the relative increase in the gap between the major league game’s best and worst players, also caused by expansion.

One other possible factor is the fact that now more than ever, players swing for the fences and consequently strike out more than ever before (increased strikeout rates also probably have something to do with using more pitchers per game and larger bullpens, meaning hitters see fresher, stronger pitchers more often).  More strikeouts means fewer balls put into play, which can only help increase no-hitter rates.

Giants Notes

May 29, 2010

Matt Cain threw a one-hitter tonight and was absolutely masterful.  He had great command, particularly of the fastball, and there wasn’t much the Diamondbacks could do.

The Giants are apparently on the verge of signing Pat Burrell to a minor league deal.  One report (from Fox’s Ken Rosenthal) has it that Burrell will get an option to opt out of the contract after two weeks, presumably if he hasn’t been called up to the major league club by then.

That seems kind of stupid to me, at least as far as the Giants are concerned.  Burrell has utterly failed to hit since the start of the 2009 season, and if it takes him more than fourteen days to get his swing back at the AAA level, the Giants should have a little more time to let Burrell work out the kinks, if he can.  30 days, or at least 21 days, before Burrell has a right to opt out makes more sense to me.

SF Chronicle sportswriter Henry (now Hank) Schulman doesn’t like the idea of the Giants trading for Prince Fielder because he’ll cost a lot of prospects and because Fielder isn’t a good long-term bet, given his body type.  I certainly agree with those points, but I don’t know that I agree with the conclusion that the Giants shouldn’t at least consider trading for Fielder if the circumstances are right come the All-Star Break.

A player of Fielder’s caliber will always cost a lot of prospects, particularly if, like Fielder, he still has until the end of next season before he becomes a free agent.  If the Giants are in contention come July 10, but still in a pack of contenders (seems likely), then Fielder would be exactly what the Giants need if they are serious about winning this year or in 2011.  Getting Fielder to hit behind Pablo Sandoval would solve a whole lot of the Giants’ offensive problems.  That might be worth Madison Bumgarner, Waldis Joaquin and one other legit prospect.

The Giants have young pitchers, and the Brewers need young pitchers.  The Brewers have Prince Fielder, and the Giants could sure use Prince Fielder for the last two months of 2010 and all of 2011.

Just because you give up prospects for a bona fide star doesn’t mean you have to be the team to shell out the bucks when the star becomes a free agent.  The Giants could offer Fielder arbitration after 2011 and get a late first round pick in 2012 from the wealthy team that signs him.  Brian Sabean doesn’t like those late first round picks, even though Matt Cain was one of those late first round picks (25th in the 2002 Draft).

The Giants have four starters right now that are as good as any team’s top four in MLB.  What they don’t have is a second top slugger to pair up with Pablo Sandoval.  I would not give up the idea of a possible Prince Fielder trade, unless the Giants clearly don’t have a reasonable chance of making the post-season come late July.  The Giants’ Aces aren’t going to be at the top of their game forever, and sometimes you have to trade away part of your future for a real shot to win now.

Call it the Fred McGriff Rule.  In 1993, the Braves traded away some pretty legit looking prospects (at least Melvin Nieves looked pretty good) to the Padres for two months of Fred McGriff.  McGriff hit like a fool those two months, and the Braves won 104 games, just beating out the Giants, who finished with 103 wins.  None of the prospects the Padres got ever really amounted to much.

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the win and go for it.  With the pitching the Giants have now, it might be the time for the Giants to do just that.

Dodgers Switch Former Giants

May 27, 2010

The Dodgers today designated RHP Ramon Ortiz for assignment to make room for RHP Justin Miller.  Both Ortiz and Miller pitched in the Giants’ organization last year, Ortiz for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies and Miller for the parent club.

Miller had a solid year for the Giants last year, posting a 3.18 ERA in 44 relief appearances and 56.2 innings pitched.  I was kind of surprised the Giants made no effort to bring him back after non-tendering him (like, for instance, the way the Reds ultimately ended up re-signing Jonny Gomes).  Instead, Miller ended up signing a minor league deal with the Boys in Blue, but he didn’t pitch particularly well in Spring Training and started the year at AAA Albuquerque.

Ramon Ortiz spent all of 2009 at AAA Fresno, but he probably deserved a September call-up he didn’t get, based on a 3.05 ERA in 129.2 IP as a spot starter and reliever.  He won a slot in the Dodgers’ bullpen out of Spring Training this year, but the Dodgers finally gave up on him after he posted a 6.30 ERA in 16 appearances and 30 IP at the major league level.

Meanwhile, Miller was pitching great at Albuquerque, a tough place for pitchers, posting a 2.22 ERA in 18 appearances and 24.1 IP, with excellent ratios.

As I’ve said before, Miller is a pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of respect from major league organizations.  He’s pitched well each of the last three seasons, yet he has to prove himself all over again every season.

He has a reputation in baseball as kind of an oddball.  His arms are covered with tattoos, and a rule was adopted requiring Miller to pitch in long sleeves because hitters were complaining about being distracted by the tattoos.

I didn’t hear one report last season about Miller causing any problems on the Giants, but sometimes once a player gets a reputation as an misfit, he sticks with him no matter what he does in the future, especially if he is kind of a borderline player.

I liked the Dodgers’ decision to sign Miller, and pitching his home games in Dodger Stadium is certainly a good situation for Miller to be in.  I wish Miller luck, at least when he isn’t pitching against the Giants.

How Ya’ Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm?

May 27, 2010

Here’s a short list of the minor league super-prospects that have been on my radar (and a lot of other people’s) in a big way.

Buster Posey, C Giants.  After 45 AAA games, Buster is hitting .343 with a .973 OPS.  My feeling is that he needs another fifteen games at AAA, at which point, if he’s still has an OPS of at least .950, it’s time to call him up.  By that time, he won’t be a super-two for arbitration purposes, and given the Giants’ pathetic offense this year (currently 3rd worst in the NL in terms of runs scored — the Giants have four starters with ERAs in the NL’s top sixteen, and they’re only one game above .500), there just won’t be any reason to keep him in the minors any longer.

Mike Stanton, CF Marlins.  Stanton has slumped a little in the last ten games, so his OPS in AA ball is now only 1.164.  I’m kind of amazed the Marlins haven’t promoted him to AAA.  He has nothing left to prove in the AA Southern League, and the Marlins clearly won’t call him up until there’s no possibility of super-two status, so why not let him terrorize AAA pitchers for a little while?  Seeing new pitchers at the minor’s highest level can’t possibly hurt Stanton’s development.  Most likely, the Fish have decided to jump him to the majors from AA ball once he can’t be a super-two.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP Nationals. Everyone knows that Strasburg is ready, and the speculation has been entirely on whether he will be called up to start in Washington on June 4 or if the Nats will keep him at AAA Syracuse a couple of weeks longer, because Strasburg apparently has a clause in his contract that limits him to 100 major league innings pitched this year.  If Strasburg is called up for a June 4 start, the Nats will probably have to shut him down in September to fulfill this contract term.

Of course, I’d call Strasburg up for the June 4 start.  The Nationals are still theoretically in the NL East race, and if they are still in the race come September, I’d bet dollars to donuts that Strasburg would agree to waive the 100 IP limit.  It’s hard to tell a young pitcher he can’t pitch when his team is in a pennant race.  As soon as the Nats are eliminated, then you shut him down.

Aroldis Chapman, LHP Reds. He’s definitely not ready for a promoti0n yet.  He’s pitching well for the AAA Louisville Bats after eight starts, with a 3.98 ERA and a line of 40.2 IP, 39 hits, four HRs and 24 walks allowed and 48 strikeouts.  The high walks total indicates he doesn’t have major league command yet, and I’d leave him at AAA until he finds it (or at least until September call-ups, if he doesn’t.)

Even if the Reds have injuries in their starting rotation, right now both Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney look more deserving of a call-up than Chapman.  In fact, a fourth Bats’ starter, 23 year old Travis Wood, has pitched as well as Chapman so far this season.  Leave Chapman in the minors long enough that he’s really ready when the Reds call him up.

Carlos Santana, C Indians.  Santana is absolutely ready, hitting .313 with a 1.020 OPS in the pitcher-friendly AAA International League.  Obviously, the Tribe is waiting to call him up only once he won’t be a super-two, but since Santana is already 24 years old (and had a great year at AA in 2009), it’s absolutely time to get his major league career started.

Wittels’ College Hitting Streak

May 26, 2010

A college player named Garrett Wittels who plays for Florida International University (FIU) now has hit safely in 49 straight games.  That’s second only to Robin Ventura’s 58 consecutive game record set back in 1987 when Ventura played for Oklahoma State.

I looked up Wittels’ 2010 stats.  They’re good, but not great, especially when you consider that he’s playing for a college team with what does not appear to be a top-tier schedule.

He’s hitting a lusty .411, which you would expect from a guy with a 49 game hitting streak.  However, he has little HR power and does not draw a whole lot of walks, so his OPS is .996, which is good, but not likely to get him drafted in the first two rounds of the MLB Draft.

However, FIU’s website lists Wittels as a sophomore this year and he has hit 18 doubles and triples this year, one off the team lead.  If he can develop HR power next season and continues to hit for average, he would be a real professional prospect.

FIU looks to be a good place to hit, at least based on the starters’ batting averages — the team’s eighth and ninth best regular hitters are hitting .310 and .291 respectively.

In fact, the best prospect on the team may be starting pitcher R. J. Fondon.  Fondon has a 3.93 ERA (FIU’s team ERA is 5.28 and Opponent’s ERA is 6.89, so FIU does have some good hitters) with a line of 87 IP, 90 hits, 15 HRs and 2o walks allowed and 75 Ks.  Except for the HRs allowed, he looks like he’s got something.

Wittels, by the way, leads the team in ERA at 3.38 after three relief appearances and 2.2 innings pitched.  Obviously, the manager prefers to keep his bat in the line-up.

The Bryce Harper Legend Grows

May 25, 2010

His team facing elimination in the Junior College West Regionals, Bryce Harper went 6 for 6 with four homeruns, a triple and a double and ten RBIs in a game this weekend.  His team won by a final score of 25-11 (there was a stiff wind blowing out in Lamar, Colorado where the game was played) to propel his team, College of Southern Nevada, to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.  He had hit for the cycle in a game a day or two before.

This performance pretty much has to cement Harper as the first pick of the 2010 Draft.  Key game, lights out performance against what should be the very best junior college competition.  It’s hard to imagine a player doing much more than that.

With Scott Boras as his agent, I really can’t see Harper not breaking Stephen Strasburg’s bonus record.  At age 17 and playing junior college ball, Harper is two years ahead of the next best high school position player in the country.  Harper won’t be the last player to get his G.E.D. in order to go play junior college, but he’s the first, and the Nationals are going to have to pay big money (my guess is around $16.1 million, roughly a million more than Strasburg got) for the privilege of signing him.

I think it’s going to get done, however.  After the money the small market Reds gave Aroldis Chapman, there’s really no doubt that the Nationals can afford to cough up a record-setting price for a talent as great as Harper’s.  Also, while Harper has the leverage of being able to go back to junior college for another year, I just can’t see him doing it, because he obviously has nothing left to prove at that level.

In a year, he’ll be a year older, and there’s a good chance he won’t be significantly better there next year than he was this year.  Or he could get hurt, particularly since he plays catcher.

I’ve commented many times (and so have others) on Scott Boras’ fundamental conflict of interest in representing so many players.  Boras has his own interest in waiting until the August deadline to get absolutely every penny to be gotten, because he’s going to represent so many top draft picks in the future.  The more he gets for Strasburg and now Harper, the higher the bar going forward.

It would be nice to see Harper sign soon enough that he can start in the short-season rookie league and see if he can hit his way up to the short season A league, where most of the 21 and 22 year olds drafted out of four year colleges start their professional careers, before the end of the 2010 season.

I expect that the Nationals would bring Harper along relatively slowly, because you would want to be really ready when his six year clock for free agency starts.