“Why Is He Safe???”

http://img.widgets.video.s-msn.com/flash/customplayer/1_0/customplayer.swf<a href=”http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=d9a3222a-f2fe-456e-86cd-c84bf9fe1eac” target=”_new” title=””>Highlights: CLE/DET</a>

The words
of Detroit Tigers play-by-play announcer Rod Allen still echo in my ears, and
I’ve seen the play in question dozens of times since watching it on my screen as it
happened.  Everyone except umpire Jim Joyce knew he wasn’t safe, and about 10 minutes after the final out it took all of 10 seconds to recognize the error he had just made.  I ache for Tigers’ pitcher Armando (not “Andres”) Galarraga, but he will get other chances at perfection.  True, his odds are astronomical that he will ever again come close to tossing a perfect game, but each time he toes the rubber people will root for him to take back what was taken from him not by another player on the field, but by one of the men in blue who are there to ensure the game is decided by players on the field.

There were many heroes in last night’s game, starting with Galarraga.  Traded to the Tigers at the start of 2008 from the Texas Rangers, he had a fantastic rookie season after replacing an injured Dontrelle Willis and won 13 games.  2009 was abysmal, and Galarraga found himself without a rotation spot and on his was to AAA Toledo to start 2010.  Then in late May he was recalled to replace a struggling Max Scherzer in the Tigers’ rotation, where he had mixed results in his 3 appearances that month.  With Scherzer rediscovering his stuff after two starts for Toledo it looked like Galarraga would be on his way back to AAA, but Detroit management instead decided they had had enough of Willis’s mixed results and designated him for assignment.  And so once again, Galarraga has Willis to thank for his success.

And successful he was, crafting his work like White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle a year ago and working swiftly and efficientlyIt took him less than an hour and 45 minutes to set down the Indians’ roster 3 times, throwing only 83 pitches until Indians’ shortstop Jason Donald slapped to first baseman Miguel Cabrera what should have been the 27th out.  The look on Galarraga’s face as he caught the ball at first base said it all: disbelief, followed by a sly grin as if to say “Destiny, you got away from me this time.”


There were spectacular plays behind him as well, what every pitcher needs in his attempt at perfection.  There was third baseman Brandon Inge’s quick fielding of a ball deflected by Galarraga himself (“Kick save and a beauty”, to hearken back to my hockey roots) in the 5th inning, followed by centerfielder Austin Jackson’s over-the-shoulder catch in the 9th inning after seemingly running from one side of the park to the other (ESPN’s Bill Simmons said it best when he called Jackson’s catch “a Mickey Hart”, in reference to the movie dedicated to one man’s quest for a perfect game, “For Love of the Game”).

When perfect games end one out short of perfection, the villain is usually some no-name player from the opposing team known more for a slick glove than a potent stick (which is why he’s batting at the bottom of the lineup).  But even Donald couldn’t believe he was safe at first, leaving all the fingers pointing at Joyce, a 21-year veteran umpire well-respected in the game of baseball.  And you could tell why he was so well thought of throughout the whole endeavor.  He stood by his call, as an umpire should, despite the verbal assault he encountered both shortly after he signaled “safe” and after the final out was made.  He went into the locker room and took a look at the replay himself, a luxury every person who berated him had already had.  Acknowledging his mistake, he went to Galarraga and apologized personally before even taking his post-game shower, and followed that up with responding to reporters with honesty and emotion.  He legitimately felt bad for his mistake, and you could tell in his voice that he would reverse the call after the fact if he could.  It may have been his call which took Destiny by the arm and escorted her out of Comerica Park before the final song, but Joyce is no villain.  It is Joyce who I ache for above all others, because while other villains just doing their job are exonerated, Joyce’s resume will unfortunately be forever stained.

For today’s Tigers/Indians game, umpire Jim Joyce is behind home plate calling balls and strikes.  Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland is sending out Galarraga with the lineup card to shake hands with Joyce, a show to the fans that there’s no ill will towards the man who had, in his own words, “The most important call of my career and I missed it.”  In the end, Galarraga said it best in the locker room during a post-game interview: “Nobody’s perfect.”  That’s something we should all quickly remind ourselves of when wronged by an honest mistake.

“I Don’t Know” is on Third? Then I’m Stealing That Base…

This is my first blog entry in about 4 months, which wasn’t the amount of time between posts I was expecting when I first set this up.  At first I was thinking weekly, then hopefully semi-monthly… but things quickly went to “once in a blue moon”.  Most of this is due to the fact that when I started this blog I was unemployed and had been for the previous 7+ months with no change in sight.  But shortly after my second post I found myself back as a member of the workforce, and thus my time available for posting has dwindled immensely.  I hope to change that starting today… maybe keeping my posts shorter will help with an increased frequency.

J. Damon.jpg

My first post in months will start with the debacle which was the 9th inning of last night’s Game 4 of the World Series.  Now given, the Yankees pretty much had this game in hand most of the evening and probably should have won it anyways, but the fact remains this play is the one which swung momentum back in the Yankees favor, probably for the remainder of the Series.  The Phillies have been one of the best defensive teams in baseball this season, but this one rare blunder was as damaging to the psyche of their bullpen as it was to the final score of the game.  Closers are supposed to have short memories, but when one continues to relive the same events over and over and over like Brad Lidge has this season, it becomes increasingly difficult to forget about such mistakes.  The complexities of baseball resulted in this most recent gaffe, where the infield shift employed by the Phillies (moving shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the r of secd base and second baseman Chase Utley to short right field) left third baseman Pedro Feliz to cover second base on a steal attempt and Lidge himself to cover third base should the ball get away from Feliz and Johnny Damon attempt to advance further. Damon moving from 1st to 3rd on the play wasn’t pivotal in and of itself (he would’ve scored anyway on the A-Rod double), but the effect it had Lidge’s pitch selection was devastating: he could no longer could he throw his hard-breaking slider without risking a wild pitch which would result in Damon crossing the plate and the Yankees taking the lead.  Left with a fastball a few ticks slower than it’s normal mid-to-high 90s velocity, Lidge was forced to go after the Yankees’ two sluggers (Big Teix and A-Rod) with that only weapon… which is much like attacking a tiger protecting its young with a soup ladle.

For Game 5, Cliff Lee will do his job but the Phillies have to hope they can get to AJ Burnett early and often because a close game in the late innings likely means the Yankees have them right where they want them.  Phillies fans were hoping the Series would not return to the Bronx for Games 6 and 7… they should be careful of what they hope for.

Exit J.J., Enter The D.A.

DA.jpg

I just watched the end of another Mariners victory, with David “the D.A.” Aardsma closing the book for his 15th save of the season in impressive fashion: 1 IP, 2 K, 1 BB, 0 H.  It wasn’t long ago the Mariners bullpen was the biggest question mark for the team going into the 2009 season.  After an injury-filled 2008 season, “Thunderstruck” blasted throughout Safeco Field for the last time with All-Star closer J.J. Putz being shipped to the Mets in the offseason for a bounty of prospects and major-league veterans including starting CF Franklin Gutierrez.  After Brandon Morrow’s failed experiment as a closer this season (see previous post about Morrow), Aardsma emerged as the leading candidate to replace him as closer after an impressive Spring Training.  But let us not forget that the road from just down the coast in San Francisco to the Emerald City has been long and winding for the D.A.

People forget the D.A. was the closer for the College World Series champion Rice Owls when he was drafted in the 1st round by the Giants back in 2003.  Still, the concept of drafting college closers to become major league closers wasn’t widely accepted then (nor is it now) and many baseball pundits questioned the selection.  Fast forward to 2005, when the D.A. was shipped to the north side of Chicago to start his major league career with the Cubs in a deal to ship LaTroy Hawkins west.  It wasn’t really a successful debut, as Aardsma spent more time on the bus between Des Moines and Chicago than actually pitching for the Cubbies.  In the beginning, the D.A. was known for his mid-to-upper 90s four-seam fastball and a good slider, but during his time in the minors control problems flared up resulting in eventually ditching the slider and relying exclusively on the fastball.  Unfortunately, controlling this pitch was also a challenge, and this followed him as he traveled across the river to the south side of Chicago in 2007 when he was traded for Neal Cotts.  With more shuttling between AAA and the majors in Chicago where he continued to struggle with his control, Aardsma soon found himself traded yet again, this time from one colored pair of Sox (White) to another (Red) for a pair of prospects.

It was in Boston where the D.A. began to show an ability to harness his fastball, posting a 2.77 ERA in 39 innings prior to the All-Star break.  During this time, his walks were still up (25) but he’d succeeded in keeping hitters off balance (.203 BAA, 41 Ks) and keeping the ball in the park (1 HR allowed).  But a groin injury sent him to the DL in July and when he returned to active duty his unhittable stuff became VERY hittable (.467 BAA), doubling his ERA in just 9+ innings after the break.  Aardsma was starting to look more and more like another journeyman reliever with a mid-90s heater and little else, but one last trade sent him back to the west coast as he was traded to Seattle for a minor leaguer in January 2009.

This season, the D.A. has been shaky during his first 2 months in an M’s uniform.  He gave up more walks (6) than hits (4) in 9+ April innings, but still struck batters out (8).  His flyball ways (17:3 FB/GB ratio) appeared to be harbinger of disaster, which finally appeared to strike on the last day of May when 4 walks and 2 hit led to 3 earned runs and Aardsma’s first blown save in 9 opportunities.  Many experts concluded his wild ways had finally caught up with him, and the D.A. would soon be demoted to A.D.A. status and replaced by someone else.  Include me as one of the skeptics of Aardsma’s early season success, as I had watched his 4:1 FB/GB rate and 18 walks in 25+ innings and concluded he was a heart attack waiting to happen for new Mariners skipper Don Wakamatsu.

In June though, it’s been a totally new D.A.  Through June 24th, he’s thrown 9 innings had 1 win and 7 saves.  The FB/GB rate is now 1:1, his K/BB rate is an amazing 17:3 and he’s given up only 4 singles.  Is this new and improved D.A. here to stay?  As much as I’d like to say he is (I’ve scooped him up on both of my AL-only fantasy teams), my instincts and experience watching baseball tells me problems of some form or another will crop up unless the D.A. harnesses another pitch to go with his dynamite heater (he did throw one slider tonight… it missed for a ball).  Major league hitters eventually can time a four-seam fastball at any speed due to it’s general lack of movement.  Billy Koch once won 10 games and saved 40 others in 2002, but once hitters knew he had nothing but a triple-digit heater in his back pocket it was just a matter of waiting to walk or sitting on a fastball in the zone they wanted.  Refining a second pitch while at the major league level is tough enough, let alone as the closer on a team competing for a division title.  But refine one he must, especially if the D.A. wants to continue as a successful closer in Seattle and get rewarded with a contract extension.

For M’s, Starting Pitching has Bright Future To-Morrow

Morrow.jpg

With the 2009 draft just concluding, I find it rather apropo the Mariners would add another power arm to the rotation without having his name called out on the MLB Network’s broadcast as former M’s closer Brandon Morrow will soon make a trip to AAA Tacoma to stretch out his arm for a return to the rotation.  It was almost 3 years ago to the day that GM Bill Bavasi selected Morrow with the 5th overall pick in the draft, one of the less popular moves he made during his tenure in the Pacific Northwest.  I and many others wanted the local product, Tim Lincecum, whom the Giants selected five picks later.  Seattle loves their local boys and with the results the aptly named “Freak” has put up thus far, I think the fans here would have been ecstatic with a front two of King Felix and The Freak (assuming Bavasi wouldn’t have traded him away for a bag of balls… but that’s a post for a different day).  Morrow pitched well in his first season of low minors ball, mostly as a starting pitcher which he was while at UC Berkley.  But ever since he made the Opening Day roster for the Mariners in 2007 he’s been back and forth like a ping-pong ball between the rotation and the bullpen.

In 2007, he was exclusively in the bullpen for the M’s, showcasing a strong K/9 rate but also a high walk rate not unusual for young players who have spent little time in the minors.  In 2008 after a short stint on the DL to start of the season, Morrow returned to the bullpen and enhanced his 2007 numbers to the point where he was trusted with the closer role while J.J. Putz was recovering from injuries.  And yet Bavasi maintained all this time (and rightfully so) that Morrow’s future was as a starter, and September 2008 was spent in the M’s rotation where his K rate remained strong but his BAA climbed as did his walk rate which inflated his ERA.  Once again, he looked more like the pitcher in 2007 who needed more seasoning, despite some successful outings.

Many people have felt Morrow should return to the role he was so successful in during the 2008 season (these same people think Joba Chamberlain should be the 8th inning guy for the Yankees, which is another topic for another day).  Morrow himself also held this view and convinced management make him the closer for 2009.  What a disaster that was… Morrow again looked like the pitcher from 2007 and now resembled one of many power relievers who couldn’t find the strike zone with a seeing-eye dog.  After toiling in the bullpen and no longer trusted with high-pressure situations, the decision was made to switch him back to starting games, a role I believe he will be successful in IF he can develop a decent changeup to keep lefties off-balance.

Throughout Morrow’s career, his pitch of choice has been a mid-to-high 90’s four-seam fastball mixed in with an occasional slider and split-fingered fastball which he’s master right-handed batters with.  However, hidden among all of his major league innings are lefty/righty splits which scream of the need for something to keep lefties from sitting on his fastball.  Throughout his career, lefties have an average nearly 60 points higher against Morrow, with an OPS around 250 points higher.  Additionally, Morrow’s K/BB rate against righties is more than twice what it is against lefties (2.4 vs. 1.1).  All of this while facing about the same number of batters (251 ABs for lefties vs. 286 ABs for righties).  This absolutely showed true in 2009, when he allowed 6 singles and 6 walks in 32 ABs vs. righties, while lefties had an OPS near 1.000 in 45 ABs.

I’ve been a fan of new Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s moves this season, bringing in Russell Branyan and shipping off Putz for prospects.  If there’s an area of concern, it’s been his handling of Morrow and 2007 first-round pick Phillipe Aumont by moving them to the bullpen in hopes of having the next “Jeff Nelson/Mike Stanton/Mo Rivera” along with 2008 first-round pick Josh Fields.  Given, none of these players were brought in under Trader Jack’s watch, but the common philosophy has always been that late-inning relievers are either failed starters (Eric Gagne, Joakim Soria, even Rivera were all starting pitchers with limited success prior to becoming All-Star closers) or were usually developed from Day 1 as a reliever.  Aumont has had a successful minor league career as a starter thus far and Morrow really hasn’t been given an opportunity to find out if he’s a failed starter.  If the M’s want to follow the Twins philosophy from the Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano days I’m all for that, because who can argue with the success they had.  But please, give these talented youngsters a chance to fail before moving them to the bullpen.  After all, most teams don’t invest a ton of money on late-inning relievers… would it make any more sense to invest 1st round draft picks on them too?

Throwing Out the First Pitch

Normal
0

false
false
false

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-ansi-language:#0400;
mso-fareast-language:#0400;
mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

Normal
0

false
false
false

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-ansi-language:#0400;
mso-fareast-language:#0400;
mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

This is my first foray into
blogging… we’ll see where this ends up going.  I guess I decided to give
this a try after seeing many of the articles written about various events or
transactions in baseball and always thought to myself “I should comment…
I have some ideas about this”.  Then after reading the comments of
everyone else I thought better of engaging in what is often a verbal sparring
match typically involving at least one uninformed individual.  I also
decided I do something more productive with all the spare time I seem to have
on my hands these days.

Fausto.jpg

Normal
0

false
false
false

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-ansi-language:#0400;
mso-fareast-language:#0400;
mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

I’ve decided to start out with
Fausto Carmona’s recent option to rookie ball to “rebuild his
delivery/confidence”, an option which in my opinion should have happened
last year but was delayed due to his apparent breakthrough season in
2007.  Fausto’s numbers in 2009 are largely mirroring his 2008 results but
for one glaring difference: a HR rate about 2.5 times what it was in
2008.  For a noted sinkerball pitcher, this is definitely a problem. 

 

The “rebuild the
delivery/confidence” approach has been taken with several pitchers with
varying results, including Doc Halladay and Rick Ankiel in 2001, Edinson
Volquez in 2007, the D-Train in 2008, even CM Wang for a short time earlier
this year.  All of these pitchers suffered from escalated walk rates prior
to being sent down, often times giving more batters a free pass to first base
than a free trip back to the dugout for striking out.  Some had problems
with being highly hittable as well.  Halladay came back to win the 2003 Cy
Young and is annually considered one of the best pitchers in the AL.  Ankiel pitched
well in the minors but ran into the same problem upon returning to the majors,
was diagnosed with Steve Blass disease (aka “severe bouts of
wildness”) and turned himself in a major league outfielder.  Volquez
never made it back to the majors with the Rangers, found himself in Cincinnati, and became an
all-star in 2008 though his walk rate in 2009 may indicate he’s not quite out
of the wood yet.  D-Train showed progress only from start to start, and
after a couple of goods starts in 2009 found himself back in Detroit trying to
fulfill the fat contract he signed after getting traded from the Marlins. 
Wang was unique in that his wildness was believed to be linked to the Lisfranc
sprain he suffered in 2008, and his time in the minors was much shorter than
the others but he seems to be back to his pre-Lisfranc form.

 

Looking for a common link between
the failures and successes you can find a few.  Ankiel and D-Train are
both left-handed, had notably unique deliveries and were known more as a fastball/slider
pitcher than for a nasty sinker.  Doc, Volquez and Wang are all
right-handed.  Doc and Wang have also typically been considered
“groundball” pitchers as they came up through the minors.  While
the hand they throw with shouldn’t effect the success, the complexity of one’s
delivery could have made repeating it once fixed increasingly challenging, plus
it’s difficult not to absolutely trust a new delivery after being successful
for so many years with something different.  The tweaks for the righties could
have all been much more subtle, thus resulting in it being easier to trust the
changes.

 

My personal hunch is actually the
sinkerball similarities between the righties (which may explain why Volquez has
shown some regression this season).  The sinking fastball is an amazing
pitch and typically the only one (other than the knuckleball) that a pitcher
can turn into at least a serviceable major league career if not better. 
Aaron Cook’s sinker got him 16 wins and an All-Star nod in 2008 despite less
than 100 Ks.  Carlos Silva turned his sinker into a 4-year, $48 million
contract with the Mariners (I blame Bill Bavasi for that idiotic move more than
Silva’s apparent newfound suckyness).  Jon Garland, Jason Marquis, Mike
Pelfrey and even Julian Tavarez could all be considered examples of
“serviceable” sinkerballers.  My bet is Fausto eventually gets
things worked with his sinker in the minors and, if the Indians are patient
enough with him, may even turn into Jake Westbrook, another noted sinkerballer.

 

Originally when I started this
entry, I was going to get highly analytical and throw out all sorts of numbers
to show how Fausto’s career spiralled downward.  I am, after all, a CPA
who loves his numbers.  As I started the to perform the analysis, I found
this information was going to lengthen my entry immensely, and yet offer no
real insight into what will happen with Fausto.  It would have shown that
if you see these rates trending in this direction, then more than likely this
will happen in the future.  Applicable information when looking at other
pitchers but not very helpful for Fausto’s future prospects.  Fausto will
return, I believe.  He may never be what he was in 2007, but I think he
can put 2008 behind him and an effective, middle-of-the-rotation starter.