Friday, September 29, 2006

(It Was Not) A Perfect Game

Daniel Cabrera

It, wasn't a no-hitter either, with one down in the ninth the Baltimore Orioles Pitcher Daniel Cabrera finally gave up a hit to the New York Yankees. This is the story of how the Yankees scored a run in the 7th with out a hit, in this not very perfect game.

The 5th is when you start to notice stuff around a no hitter. The Yankees started to hit the ball hard. The defense seemed like they were in a gravity well. Then someone would smack a line drive right at somebody and the time distortion would snap back to real time, because the defense had no choice - speed up or die.

Was it because I was hanging on every pitch, or was it them? The Orioles seemed to be slowing down, sensing they were over hyped they consciously paced themselves a fraction slower.

In the 7th the Orioles were still acting like deer in the head lights. I said to myself, 'careful - careful, get your heads in the game. You guys are going to give up a run before Cabrera gives up a hit!'

And they did!

As well as I can remember it, it went down something like this...

" Tejada, moving to his left, he's gotta come in, his foot works off, the throws in the dirt, a long bounce... Millar missed it! Bobby Abreu's on first. Score it E-3.

Next play, " second baseman Roberts is shifted to the line, its a bouncer to the right , Roberts is circling the ball... Its off his glove! He keeps it in front of him... The throw... SAFE! Runners at second and first. That's scored E-4. still a no hitter!

Two Pass Balls later, its first and third, two out.

" A soft grounder to third, good bounce for Mora, setting for the throw... it's off his glove! The ball's in foul ground, Abreu scores! That must be an error! ..yes there it is, the official scorer says E-5. "

The Final score: Baltimore 7, Yankees 1.

Daniel Cabreras' Line: 9 IP, 1 Hit, 1 Run, 0 Earned Runs, 2 BB, 5 SO.

Baltimorians a little self-conscious in Yankee Stadium tonight?


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Micro-Manager Gibbons

" There are cliques in the Blue Jay clubhouse, you can see them from outside the door; but Gibbons actions have led to private club house politics getting out to the media. "

A pleasant June evening for a ball game at Rodgers Centre. The Jays are in contention a week after the All-star game, and Roy Halladay is starting; its smiles all around for the reconstituted Jays, sans Shea Hillenbrand.

When Vernon Wells hit the majestic home run in 11th inning, a walk-off win over The New York Yankees, it seemed like a crucible moment, the team was reborn. Eleven games over .500, they were Toronto's favorite under-dogs, the come-back kids.

The team seemed stronger than the One, or the avarice of the General Manager, or even the short fuse of the Manager.

Halladay had was one of his, 'Retired-Rodger-Clements' type Starts (fast ball then junk, more junk; out pitch: more junk); he gained no decision. Later Ryan blew a save.

This was the first game since Manager Gibbons 'called out' Hillenbrand for his 'cancerous' (media spin) behavior. The reserved intellectual, under utilized corner man didn't understand the confrontational mannerisms of his boss. Hillenbrand apparently thought Gibbons was challenging him to a fight. Subsequently these events were leaked to the media, Ricciardi's hand was forced and Hillenbrand was released.

In retro-spect,the issue was not sophomoric quotes scribbled on the line-up board or else where. The starting staff was tired and the bullpen was shaky. After two years of over-work the pitching staff was showing cracks and fissures everywhere; brush fires in long relief, the odd explosion in the set up slot, blown saves.

Bad starts were leading to early runs-against; and the Nine-Cylinder-Offense was sputtering. Hillenbrands exile wasn't the panacea. Something had to be done to save Bird-Land soon, or this run would be done.

On July 30th Halladay had another of his 'Retired-Rodger-Clements' starts, he struggled and left with a no-decision. The nine-cylinder-offence surged from behind to take a 2 run lead, then Ryan blew the save and collected a loss.

Concerning pitching up until this point, Gibbons philosophy was: If a starter is keeping you in a game, even if he's given up 7 runs but is only trailing by 3, leave him. Study his command and control, consult with the catcher and pitching coach, use your judgment. It's one of the things I think makes Gibbons a very good manager.

After an off day, Gibby pulled Burnett after 4 innings - behind by 3. He must have thought Burnetts arm was dead, or Burnett told him it was so.

I think this is the game where Gibbons decided that to win this year, he had to micro-manage the starting staff. So now, not only was he managing a complex platoon system on defense, and his brilliant management of the bull-pen, he now took upon himself the micro-management of the starting staff. He figured he could take the pressure off his league leading offence by paying more individual attention to the starting staff.

Gibby has 3 starters; he's been searching the organization to find a 4 & 5 since Chacin went down and Towers didn't rise to expectations. Its been open season all season on Blue Jay pitching this season. This left Gibbons with some flexibility; so if one of the three starters had a bad outing - perhaps 5 days rest instead of 4 would help. This created a complex algorithm in the starters line up where only Halladays' starts kept a regular rhythm. At the same time, Gibbons continued to search for major league starting pitching by giving hopefuls spot starts, and follow-up starts if they did well.

He's good at evaluating the strengths of players and in setting them up to succeed; he leads by demanding respect of the Team - by the team.

Gibbons pitching experiment reminds me of what La Russa tried after the heyday in Oakland in the early 1990's. He declared the team would run a starter-by-committee rotation. It was in the dog days of summer in a losing year, the team was down on itself. La Russa was content that he had thoroughly searched the organization for starters - there were none.

So he proposed that every pitcher should think of themselves as part of a Pitching Team. The 'team' rebelled. If a starter doesn't pitch at least 5 innings he cannot get a Win. The team rebelled not because the idea might not work, but because the arbitration process which determines player salary has come to rely heavily on statistical WINS. Next arbitration year the Oakland pitching staffs pay would plummet. Starters are marketed like gods by MLB, because the pitcher/batter duality is easy to photograph; the arbitration process reflects this truth.

There are cliques in the Blue Jay clubhouse as well, you can see them from outside the door; but in trying to create a Team, Gibbons actions have led to private club house politics getting to the media.

The first transgression came when he tried to call out the reserved Hillenbrand in front of the team, barging into a player-only meeting. He should have talked to Hillenbrand one on one about his Secret Sedition Campaign. Gibbons was a stand up guy in the eyes of some in that clubhouse, as Hillenbrand wouldn't say anything to Gibbons face; but Gibbons crossed several lines in the way he acted.

The Lilly fight was the other incident to darken the threshold of the clubhouse.

Manager Gibbons was well into the theory and practice of micro-managing the starters, so in the third inning he came to get Lilly, who was down by three runs. Before micro-ball management theory Gibbons would have left Lilly in; but Lilly seemingly didn't understand the new paradym at that moment, and he wouldn't give the manager the ball, showing him up in front of a million eyes. Lilly then compounded the problem, breaking a clubhouse rule by leaving the bench before the Team was out of the inning. Gibbons then chased Lilly down the tunnel to confront him for not handing over the ball.

In hind-sight the way to handle the situation would have been to talk to Lilly much later, privately; not in front of the Team, not during the television/radio broadcast, not with 30,000 fans in the RC. Instead, they brawled in the tunnel. Fans who phoned the post-game show on the FAN590 said they, '.. saw the bench clear like there was an emergency in the tunnel.'

Both incidents point to a manager who hasn't quite learned how to manage big league pressure. This is baseball though, in baseball you get three strikes. He's the best young manager I've ever seen. In his first year managing I counted 9 games where in-game desisions he made lead to wins, not including managing the best bullpen in the majors.

To quote J P Ricciardi, " It's all about the pitching. "

Pitching is exactly the cancer in Blue Jays plans this year; in the great crap-shoot of baseball injuries, Ricciardi crapped out in 2006.

Fans were taken on a roller-coaster this year, starting with the big signings in the spring and the WAMCO type line up that emerged early. From a starting staff that had two Aces, a good number Two and a good Three guy to pitch forth, plus the amazing rookie Towers; Until now, with the fall colors starting to show, we are left with one tired ace, three number threes and a blank spot for off-days.

I think Ricciardi has found Gibbons braking point, now its time to take the pressure down a little by getting more pitching. And don't sign any more corner infielders!

If Ricciardi fires The Micro-Manager this off-season, it ain't nothin' but scapegoating.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Baseball will survive MLB

Strikeouts are boring. They're Fascist. Throw some ground balls, it's more Democratic.
Crash Davis, from Bull Durham

Good read, Reed Johnson

I was always one against change, but especially if it was change-for-greeds'-sake. Like the way MLB marketed the game to inspire dumb-awe at home runs(which are fascist). So when MLB re-juiced the ball again in 1995(also in 1920), I was against it. Selling spectacle dumbed-down the game on all levels, including the story telling.

But according to one cagey veteran, what's happening on the field with this "nuclear" baseball, may well bring the game back to the fundamentals. Just like us Baseball Fundamentalists like.

The centre of it is, the ball comes off the bat faster. This obviously effects offence, but it also significantly influences defense, and pitching too.

Formerly 3-2 games are now 8-5 games. Since each run is worth less than in the previous era, the number of opportunities available to effect the out come of each game increases. Every opportunity to plate a run must be maximized, making base running and on base percentage more important.

Anything you can do to stop runs from scoring has become very important. So speed and professionalism in the out field is a must. You can't have a Jose Cansecos out there.

On the offensive side, 20 home run guys are 40 home run guys. Line drive hitters get 20 homies 'with out even tryin'. More shots get to the gaps for doubles. The check-swing-homer has appeared; the batter is trying hold up on a pitch, and it goes over the wall in the corner! I think I've seen it in The Bronx and at Fenway too.

So yes, specialized freaks (and I mean that in a nice way) can pound out 75 homeys a season. But they demand freakish cash as well.

A cheaper team can win by choosing 100M champions out of college or off the grid iron,(two places where the stat. is kept). Your outfielders should have great range and great read. They have to get to those spots quicker when tracking down the line drives or lickity split grounders. Coaches could also look for baseball I.Q. and professionalism: Can the player be taught, will they learn the foot work needed to be an exceptional defensive player, are their heads in the game, do they love team baseball?

The hardest thing to do in sport is hit a baseball pitched by a major league pitcher, said the great Ted Williams, a hitter. Hitters are rare and homey hitter are very expensive; line-drive-hitters are cheaper. Also, because they suck, line-drive-hitters usually get to the majors through the practice of the art of hitting; so they see more pitches, which is harder on pitchers. Most often homey hitters rely on their unfair advantage, god given talent and not on the study of the game. Or in other words, they strike out a lot.

The line drive is penultimate in today's game, hit it past them, you win, cut it off or catch it, you win.

This bodes well for the game. The free enterprise tactics of the New York Yankees are forcing smaller market teams to re-think the game. I haven't read 'Money Ball', but I assume they're talking of the same things.

The change is afoot! And this Baseball fundamentalist approves!

Oh, I almost forgot; we really don't need the DH now to encourage more scoring. We've got a nuclear baseball for that. So lets just put it away now - OK?

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Great Barry Bonds

Now that Commissioner Selig, Congress and the Attorney General are on his case, Bonds gives interview and press conference. But he reserves the right to comment on the trick.

Which is interesting.

Imagine your in Barry's' shoes, a super star. Half the media in the room are there because the other half are there. Piranha. The flotsam and jetsam of a over-weight ship of fools.

"Next question. Because that's stupid." Bonds then turns to the reporter standing 'right next to him, "How are you?" he asks. The Reporter doesn't respond to his question, instead ignores it and starts in with her own question. Bonds interrupts, "That's it, end of press conference, bye."

Bonds chooses to make comment upon the circus; but I Dream that one day the Prince would turn the tables on his pimps...

The guilty (but not guilty) Prince, forced by his King to do good deeds amongst the filthy masses and the ink stained wretches. An ordeal he lessens by telling the gathered throng secrets from with-in the castle.)

"Barry! Barry! United Press, what's the REAL truth Barry"

'Well... the Owners were complicit in the steroid scandal; They juiced the ball,the prince continues, some Pitcher god forbid is going to take one in the head; they brought in the fences for the spectacle of the home run - they dumbed-down the game. They conspired to bankrupt the Montreal Expos franchise, one of their own, for profit. They're liars, they,re ingenuous, greedy, and morally bankrupt. Not only that but perhaps they're most egregious act, the institution of the DH.'

If he would do that, Barry Bonds would be my hero.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Baseballs' like... ..well it's not like Hockey

In Canada when many people try to explain a baseball game they use a hockey metaphor.
When I try to explain something that happened at a hockey game I use a baseball metaphor; they say "oh right like in hockey..."

Coverage of the Blue Jays victory over Anehiem late last night by broadcast media here in Toronto missed the main theme.

In my opinion, Pitching was the story in this 3-0 contest.

The news I got from the suposedly specialized sports radio station, The Fan, Toronto, was that Greg Zaun hit a homey; and that Roy Haliday is pitching the next game. Same from the sports 'specialist' on CBC.

Anehiem scored 0 runs?! In the extra-juiced era(2006-balko is over)? Blue Jays shut out somebody?! The #5 guy pitched a shut-out?! Who?! What!? When!? Sign him! To a long term contract! Who-ever he is, what ever it takes, sign him!!

Baseball's like... ..well it's not like Hockey. Which is lineal. back and forth, back and forth; sometimes they score.

So what linial things can be derived from a pitchers duel?

Lets see, Oh ya; Greg Zaun hit a Homey and Roy Haliday is pitching the next one. And there were no fights.


-itn: Anahiem, Wednesday, May 17,'06

Casey Janssen pitched a two hitter over eight innings on 88 pitches and no walks here tonight in Anehiem.

Shock and awe all around. Shock at the rookies' second such performance against these Angels; and "awe, we couldn't score" the losers said.