Sunday, January 31, 2016

How the National League Hits the Designated Hitter

The Designated Hitter is coming, the Designated Hitter is coming!

That was the fear early this week before Commissioner Manfred tempered expectations. A driving force on the issue is that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires December 1, 2016. A change this monumental would require the collective bargaining process to address the myriad other aspects of the game including just when it would begin. While we now know that it is unlikely to be included in the next CBA, it nonetheless remains a topic that generates much interest and passion from fans on both sides. I believe the DH will eventually come to the National League, not today and maybe not by the end of Bryce Harper's career either, but someday. What follows is my idea to preserve the strategic style of current NL play even with the addition of a designated hitter.

When asked about what a designated hitter is, the image conjured up is a fat old guy who can't field, but still swings a bat well enough to warrant a spot on the team. Indeed that was the intention when the DH was introduced in the AL in 1973. But, as they say -the only thing constant is change- and the game of baseball is no exception. By my back of the envelope calculation there are only three of fifteen teams that are going to stick with the conventional old hitter at the DH spot, the rest have already adapted and will be loath to go back. Those teams are the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Tigers. David Ortiz has continued to put up numbers justifying his continued roster spot, even if is just as a hitter, the other two teams just owe too much money to old and increasingly fragile players that they feel obligated to have them do something besides sit on the bench.

What are other teams doing? Using the DH slot to rotate players to get half days off, keeping their productive starters bats in the lineup without the wear and tear of being on the field for 162 games. Considering Manny Machado was the only player in the majors to do so this trend is going to become more popular. Teams are starting to accept the fact that giving a player a game off every few weeks is more beneficial to the player and the team over the course of the season.

Another reason the rotating DH is going to continue is the ongoing specialization within the sport. Clayton Kershaw recently came out strongly against the DH, arguing that baseball should be played two ways. Except that isn't really accurate and has not been for decades. Starting pitchers throwing complete games is at an all time low. I cannot recall the last time a relief pitcher took a non-sacrifice at bat in a 9-inning game. Starting pitchers not scheduled to start were used as pinch runners once upon a time. Babe Ruth played five positions during his 22 year career, now teams wonder if a left fielder can transition to right field for a few games. The idea baseball is played with 9 players only is a quaint idea, a nostalgic idea, but it does not reflect the games you watched last season or the decade before that.

Fans of National League baseball bemoan the DH because they think it will destroy the strategic elements that baseball has required since its inception. Bunting is a dying art in both leagues, sacrifice bunts were on the decline even before Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, but there still plenty of ways teams can decide how to play beyond Earl Weaver's "pitching, defense and the three-run homer."

It is true that the strategy changes on pitching changes when you do not have to consider the impact on your batting order and I do appreciate the strategy of executing a double switch, but why would the National League need to adopt the exact DH model of the American League? The National League could still maintain a unique approach by adopting the DH tied to the starting pitcher only. When the starting pitcher is pulled the designated hitter is removed as well, unless the manager opts for a double switch. Relief pitchers do not get the benefit of a DH. The end result would be improved offense in the National League, not an abandonment of its tradition or its unique strategy.

To address this new change would require one additional tweak, the 25 man roster. Currently, MLB allows teams to have a 40 man roster, but only a 25 man active roster. To add this wrinkle, and accepting current rules, teams would likely seek a few more options to consider. The answer is to accept the idea of a 28/25 roster in which 28 players are available, but only 25 are allowed every game. The most obvious answer is designating starting pitchers, but teams could prove creative. 

We don't know when the DH is coming to the National League, but as increased specialization continues more owners will start considering it as a way to better protect their investments in pitchers and the players who rotate through the DH slot. On top of that I would really look forward to seeing how Joe Maddon, perhaps the most unorthodox manager in the game, would respond to the challenge. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Acquisition: Jonathan Paplebon

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is the busiest trade deadline in all of sports. What is fascinating to me about this is that it is the most arbitrary deadline around. Teams looking to improve their rosters for a post-season push clamor to get a deal done before the July 31st deadline to avoid *gasp* having to put players through waivers before can be traded anywhere. Certainly teams can and do use their waiver priority to block some players, but most players pass through waivers because teams fear being saddled with a big contract as happened to the White Sox back in 2009. Yet teams and players push to get deals done before the end of July, before they know what they are really getting into, if it is really a good idea, which brings me to the fascinating case of Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon has made it no secret that he wants out of Philadelphia. Working in his favor is that he is still putting up terrific numbers across the board. Complicating his trade is a hefty $13 million salary this year and an obtainable vesting option that would guarantee the same salary next year. With his large no trade protection the rumors are swirling that he wants the option picked up as a condition to waiving his no trade clause and/or he wants to close for his new team which would likely ensure the 2016 option vests. But, if he wants out of Philadelphia as bad as is reported and he wants to play for a contender, perhaps teams can get creative on a workable compromise.

While not the most common of practices, it is permitted for MLB teams to request and receive time sensitive negotiation windows in order to extend a player they are considering trading for. If the player and the new team can agree to the extension, the trade goes forward, if not it likely dies. I propose a team seeking Papelbon's services offers him a modification on that vesting option and making it a player option.

This presents both parties a potential out after the season if things do not work out, but gives Papelbon the added comfort of another well compensated year if he thinks the team will compete in 2016 as well. He clearly does not like playing out the string, so if he accepts the player option he will be able to see how the team approaches the off-season before deciding to commit himself. For teams the switch to a player option possibly opens the door for him to accepting a setup role, at least for this season, because he has control on his salary next year. A team is not going to get draft pick compensation from a mid-season acquisition and if he leaves, the team just saved $13 million.

What I suggest is not a common practice, trade deadline or not, in teams willingly giving up control on an option to get the best out of a player. Then again, Papelbon is unique in this era, a brash, fiery competitor who wants to win and no he doesn't want to be friends with opposing players after the game. In today's chummy game where batting practice seems like a friendly gathering and fraternizing with the enemy is not a sin because they are all part of the same Players Association, players like Jonathan Papelbon stand out as a throwback to an era where players threw at opposing players because they didn't like them, didn't want to like them, until they wore the same uniform. If a team wants to get the best out of Papelbon, the best option is to think outside the box, give up some control over next year because next year's problems are a long way off when you are trying to play deep into October.

Per MLBTR the Nationals agreed to acquire Papelbon. To facilitate the deal they lowered the option from $13 million to $11 million and agreed to pick up the option immediately. Supposedly, Papelbon will also move into the closers role while incumbent Drew Storen moves to a setup role. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A New Halloween Origin?

I am generally not one to praise a remake over an original, but what we witnessed October 30, 2014 put a modern spin on horror classic Halloween and we are all richer for it. Gone is the story of the troubled youth, the loner with a dark side and a bad haircut. In its place is something more open, more innocent and that makes the twisting to evil all the more compelling.

Michael Myers was not always known as Michael Myers, he did not always where a mask and he most certainly did not have the ominous presence known so well today. In fact, back in 2013 he was charming, affable, popular with a winning smile and unlimited potential. Fans were awed by his talents, floored by his combination of speed and athleticism, intrigued by his innocence. Jameis Winston could seemingly do no wrong, give him a lane and he would not stop until the endzone. Make him throw and he methodically worked down the field, eating up yards and clock, driving up the score again and again until at the end the result was always the same FSU > anyone they played. Accolades piled up, player of the week, the month, the ACC, Heisman Trophy, National Champion and on it went. He was riding so high he moonlighted as the closer for the baseball team just so he had somewhere to sign autographs. However, all was not right with Jameis Winston and it was a matter of time before it consumed him.

Early in his tenure at Florida State Jameis was introduced to Seminole lore, culture and tradition. A mystical place where the witches could lure 1,500 red-blooded Americans to become willing sacrifices to their efforts. The dark mysticism of Seminole culture appealed to Jameis, he sought to control the power, to use it to bring a once proud tribe back to power. Early attempts to corral this power were brushed aside through bungled investigations and a boys-will-be-boys mentality. Sam Loomis Police Chief Tom Coe forever questions his actions at that time and if he did the right thing. He could not have known, for he was already under the Seminole spell, wherein winning brings in more believers and greater sacrifices and feeds upon itself in an all consuming quest not to just win, but to always win. It is a heady power and while many have attempted to harness the power they all fall, unable to wield a power far greater than a mere mortal could hope to contain for long.

Such was the stage on a chill October night in Louisville. Well traveled coach Bobby Petrino had fallen to dark magic before and created a counter spell. Protected from star gazing, the Cardinals team raced out to a 21-0 lead, forcing Jameis to draw more fully on the dark Seminole powers. The powers surged inside of him as he fought back, intent on winning --just winning--only winning, yet when the final horn sounds should the Cardinals hold on to defeat the Seminole magic, Jameis will consumed by the dark power and as the clock turned past midnight Jamies Winston will disappear and Michael Myers will be free once again.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Just Want You

Way back in 1995, when Matt Williams was signed as a free agent by the California Angels, Ozzy Osborne released "I Just Want You." No doubt he was thinking about things well outside the sphere of baseball, but the lesson is not lost today.

There was an idea that a major contract meant longevity for a player with that team. In 2013 that is no longer the case. In the wake of the blockbuster to outweigh all blockbusters, Prince Fielder  exchanged his Tiger stripes for Ranger Blue. This is not my first foray into the idea of the untradeables, but I address it today in light of the momentum changing shift between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers involving Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler.

This idea first stuck me when Vernon Wells went from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Anaheim Angels. Most people laughed and mocked the "untradeable" Wells as an eyesore and contract drain on the Angels. Well those who mocked that can click here. Baseball is such a fluid industry, with so much disposable income floating about that there is no such thing as an untradeable contract. To repeat there is NO SUCH THING as an untradeable contract in the modern game. All it takes, all it has ever taken, is for one owner, one GM to want a player so bad he will make it happen. George Steinbrenner was the pioneer of this mentality, but since his passing every owner/GM has been seizing their moment to snag their player.

When the right player comes around the solution for these transactions is to open the pocketbook even further. Ryan Howard was signed to a 5 year deal with 2 years remaining on contract and his stats already trending downward. Ruben Amaro Jr. was not about to risk losing his man; stats and common sense be damned. Arte Moreno forced MLB to modify free agent signings when it tacked on a $10 million dollar personal service contract to Albert Pujols' already impressive $240 million dollar contract. The Yankees overpaid for Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and cut out Brian Cashman in their pursuit of resigning Alex Rodriguez against a market of...well no one really knew who was actually interested in Alex Rordriguez within $50 million of what the Yankees signed him for.

A team rarely loses its infatuation with a player when they miss out on free agency either. The Yankees after many years and many miles finally landed Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Anthopoulos finally got Jose Reyes on his team. Amaro was so infatuated with Cliff Lee that he got him, gave him up, and went out and got him back again. Any trade or veteran signing that starts with "veteran presence" and/or "proven winner" is code for this infatuation, but they cannot come out and just say it.

AJ Burnett was supposedly finished, but the Yankees threw in a generous amount of cash and the Pirates are glad they took the gamble. The Mariners signed Raul Ibanez last season and were so happy to see his name in the lineup they did not even seriously consider trading him despite going nowhere. Today anyone can say with a fair amount of confidence that Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are not going to be traded this winter. With injuries, age, and other baggage no team is jumping for any of these players. But, with the years left on their contracts and teams willing to kick in enough cash to facilitate the deal, never say never. All it takes is a hot month, a hot start, another player being injured for a team to see the player they were when they coveted them and not as they are today.

Prince Fielder was his usual steady, productive self in 2011 and Mike Illitch wanted a championship. Despite having a first baseman he dropped $214 million for the son of former Tiger, Cecil Fielder. The same Cecil Fielder who lost all ability around age 32-33. Prince did not excel, but he was his usual highly productive self at the plate. Miguel Cabrera took advantage of his peak seasons to win a Triple Crown and back to back MVP's. That was not reason enough to hold onto a Prince.

Today, Prince is headed to Texas with a new team. Illich still wants to win, he just needed those millions back. Jon Daniels wanted Prince in 2011, he still had an opening in 2014. He was looking less at the danger years of Fielder's contract and more at the player from back then, when he was younger, and gambled on durability than decline. According to reports this was about "winning now" and "filling holes," but in reality it was about one thing, Daniels and Texas saying to Prince Fielder "I just want you." This trade was a blockbuster, but do not expect it to be unique.

Can you find a contract you cannot fathom being traded someday? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vanity, Thy Name Is Verducci

Tom Verducci is an accomplished sports writer and current senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. He also appeared on TBS' postseason coverage and is rumored to be a favorite to replace Tim McCarver for Fox Postseason broadcasts going forward. He continues to leave an impression on baseball through the media, unfortunately, like many in this age of expanded statistical access and cheap seat's general managing, this is not enough for him. Verducci is back trying to modernize the game, and once again he has failed miserably.

Verducci's first stab at immortality came about with the "Verducci Effect," that, in a nutshell  "define[s] an at-risk pitcher as any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings log by more than 30 in a year in which he pitched in the big leagues." This Effect has been dismissed by nearly everyone outside of Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci himself in no small part due to small sample sizes and confirmation bias. To learn more, check out great articles from Baseball Prospectus here and here, or at Deadspin here.

Undaunted by something as trivial as near-universal public rebuke, Verducci has once again delved into changing the game, this time with the "Bonus At-Bat." Briefly, "the Bonus At-Bat, in which a team could use a player like Ortiz for one strategically advisable plate appearance out of his regular turn in the order without removing anyone from the game." On the one hand, he should be applauded for thinking outside the box and deciding the game could be "more exciting" with an expansion of the Designated Hitter. On the other, I wonder if he is even watching the same game as me.

He tries to defend his position with the notion of power pitching and grinding out at bats do not make for good entertainment. From experience, 2 of my favorite moments watching a game live involved Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game and Randy Johnson's 300th win, I enjoy good pitching.

More than that, I appreciate the strategy that baseball requires. Teams willing walk the number 8 batter to face the opposing teams pitcher early and often. They pitch around sluggers because the guy behind them is hitting .200 with runners in scoring position. From the first pitch to the last, every thing is part of the whole in-game strategy. October's are made by unlikely heroes. Imagine 2011 if Freeze was pinch hit for, the result might not have changed, but a star would not have seen the light of day. Players on both sides have to rise to the occasion and it is not easy, but everyone appreciates cheering for the underdog, the unlikely star, when the come through. To make all that strategy moot does more harm than good.

Elsewhere in his article, Verducci mentions, but fails to address other ways to improve the game. Notably pitchers stepping off the mound and rubbing the ball or getting a new one at 21-30 seconds between pitches and at 150+ pitches per side that adds up. There is a rule in baseball, 8.04, which states:

 "8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 20 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball." The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire"
Enforcing this rule (especially when the Yankees and Red Sox play on ESPN Sunday Night) would immediately speed up the game and make it more exciting. Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game I mentioned up above? Finished in 2:03...a mere 2 hours and 3 minutes, that barely gets you into the 4th inning of those NYY-BOS ESPN games. Anyone can come up with a "new" idea to "improve" the game, but a seasoned sportswriter with the wealth of knowledge he possesses should look for ways the game should adhere to its own rules (in this case sticking to the "written" rules would suffice) before looking outside the box for an unnecessary fix. 

There is a measure of ownership to any project, task, or assignment one works on and the more time one spends working on it the stronger that ownership feels right. From staff who think they know more than the boss, to students who challenge professors, we have all run across many incarnations of this phenomenon. We may even find ourselves falling victim to it ourselves from time to time. By and large it is what it is. When you have Verducci's audience however, one should keep in mind the Rock's words:

Baseball is constantly evolving and it will evolve all the better without undue influence from sports writer Tom Verducci.

Monday, September 30, 2013

O's Defense Historically Golden?

The Baltimore Orioles season ended in fitting fashion Sunday, a 5-4-3 double play sealing closer Jim Johnson's 50th save and ending with an 85-77 record. The team's late fade kept them out of the postseason, but the season was far from a disappointment - especially from a defensive standpoint. The Orioles set a new record for the fewest errors in a season with 54, out pacing the Tampa Bay Rays 59 and easily breaking the record of 65 set by the 2003 Seattle Mariners. They finished with .991 fielding percentage, besting the 1997 Colorado Rockies .989, a team considered one of the best all time. From their season opening series where Evan Longoria and Manny Machado delivered enough web gems to last a season until the very end, watching these two teams play defense on a daily basis has been an exercise in amazement. With award season coming up the question now becomes whether or not the Orioles defenses will be historically golden.

The Rawlings Gold Glove has been handed out since 1957 to recognize the best defensive players at each position as voted by managers and coaches. Since 1958 separate awards have been given for the American and National leagues. During that time,the best a team has done is 4 gold gloves in a season doing so 13 times. As a team the Baltimore Orioles have done it a record 5 times, all in the early 70's with Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Davey Johnson/Bobby Grich. Baltimore is also currently one behind the Yankees for most Gold Gloves by an American League team with 64 and should pass them after this season.  

While managers and coaches vote on this award as opposed to writers who vote for the mvp that does not mean this award is without controversy. Players who have won it previously tend to have the advantage to repeat regardless of performance. This is the only explanation for Rafael Palmerio winning the gold glove at first base in 1999 while only playing first in 29 games, he was the designated hitter in 129 games. This also explains how Derek Jeter has won multiple gold gloves despite not having great range or a good defensive reputation. The Orioles had three players win in 2012 -Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters. It also means players are going to be reward for more subjective reasons and what voters saw more than advanced metrics like defensive runs saved, fielding percentage, or Ultimate Zone Rating (which really likes the Kansas City Royals). I can see the Orioles winning 5 to 7 gold gloves, with 5 much more likely. The results should come out October 30th. Feel free to check this now, challenge my picks in the comments and come back and chide me later.

Here is my rundown of the AL Gold Glove Winners:
*Now that we have the results I am editing this to put those players in

Pitcher: Expected winner - Mark Buehrle
             Actual Winner - R.A. Dickey

I have no idea how they go about evaluating a pitcher's defense and am going with the guy who has won a gold glove 4 years in a row.

Catcher: Expected winner - Matt Wieters
              Actual winner - Salvador Perez

He has proven himself to be a great defensive catcher and has won the past 2 gold gloves at catcher. Wieters caught more games (140) and innings (1201) than any other catcher and still committed the third fewest errors among starters (3). He also caught 24/68 base stealers leaving him just behind Salvador Perez (25/69). Perez is the only other catcher who might win this award, but I think he is a year or two away yet.

First Baseman: Expected winner - Chris Davis
                         Actual winner - Eric Hosmer

Traditional winners at this position Mark Texiera and Albert Pujols spent a large portion of the season on the disabled list leaving this years winner wide open. This is the perfect place for a lazy voters to write in the first name that comes to mind. While offensive production is not supposed to factor into gold gloves it undoubtedly does and when you combine Chris Davis offensive production along with the teams record setting defense I see gold to match his Silver Slugger Award. Not that he needs the help as he led all first basemen in games started at first (155), putouts (1339 to 1205 for second place Eric Hosmer), while playing a league leading 1377.2 innings and having a .996 fielding percentage, good for second in the league (.997 for Justin Morneau over 111 games) and a scant 6 errors. Hosmer and James Loney are also likely candidates, with Mike Napoli a dark horse.

Second Basemen: Expected winner - Dustin Pedroia
                             Actual winner - Dustin Pedroia

This was a rotating position for the Orioles all season as Brian Roberts spent his now expected extended stay on the disabled list. As a result I don't know how any individual Orioles second baseman could win it. Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia have alternated winning this award recently and I expect the trend to continue. Pedroia had tied for the top fielding percentage among starters at .993 and his 5 errors over 160 games and 1398 innings (both tops at the position) were one more than only Ben Zobrist who played in 116 games at second. Jose Altuve has more put outs and double plays but is likely going to finish behind Pedroia and Cano when the voting occurs.

Third Basemen: Expected winner - Manny Machado
                           Actual winnner - Manny Machado

This is a no-brainer pick in my book despite the fact that he leads the Orioles in total errors with 13. Former Oriole's Ace and current broadcaster Jim Palmer sees shades of Brooks Robinson in Machado's play. High praise for a pitcher who benefited from many seasons of Brooks record 16 gold gloves at third base. If you have not seen it already here is one of his many highlights from a July 17th game against the New York Yankees.

Adrian Beltre has won the award 4 of the last 6 seasons, but he has fallen off defensively this year. Evan Longoria is a threat to win this award as well but fails to measure up to Machado in innings (1280 - 1390), total chances (382 - 484), or double plays (27 -42), making his lead in errors (11-13) a mere footnote. Machado also leads all starting third basemen in range factor (ground he can cover to get to ground balls) with 3.02, Miguel Cabrera for comparison is at 1.87. Kyle Seager and Josh Donaldson are great third basemen as well, but this year no one was better than Machado, even if his season did end prematurely.

Shortstop: Expected Winner - J.J. Hardy
                 Actual winner - J.J. Hardy

With Derek Jeter not playing enough to be grandfathered into this award, probably --see Palmerio above, J.J. has a great chance to win this award for the second time in a row. Once again the Oriole leads the league in games (159), innings (1417), and double plays (108). His 12 errors are second most on the Orioles (that Machado and Hardy combined for 25 of the teams 54 errors and still make this list is impressive), but is good enough for 4th fewest among shortstops. Yunel Escobar is another viable candidate with a league leading .988 fielding percentage (vs .981 for Hardy) and his team had the second fewest errors of all time. A dark horse candidate here is Minnesota's Pedro Florimon who will lose out for playing in Minnesota as much as anything.

Outfield has alternated between each position getting its own award and lumping all outfielders together. In 2011, the award went back to each position receiving the award. That said there could be some variance here as voters move players to accommodate those who they want to win.

Left Fielder: Expected Winner - Alex Gordon
                     Actual winner - Alex Gordon

With 17 outfield assists, 2 double plays and a .997 fielding percentage, Alex Gordon was clearly the superior left fielder this season. He also played the most games (159) and innings (1364.1) of any player in left fielder. He has also won the golden glove the previous two years. Nate McLouth won the award in 2008 while in Pittsburgh and if he wins the award it will be due to the teams accomplishments more than his own as he has a mere 4 outfield assists. He might have lead the league in dives into the stands with 2, including this number, and he certainly led the league in beers thrown at in game. At a position where the expected winner is so much better than the field it does not really matter who takes second.

Center Field: Expected Winner - Adam Jones
                      Actual winner - Adam Jones 

Not only did Jones play 22 more games than anyone else at center (154) but he also logged more than 200 innings over second place Jacoby Elsbury (1394 - 1188) but he also tied for the lead in assists (11). His .995 fielding percentage was good for third in the league, but given his superior time logged that should not factor into it. Go ahead and ask Jose Reyes if he has a good arm:

Jones will also likely benefit from having a career year at the plate, he has 2 gold gloves (2009 and 2012) and a third should join his mantle shortly. Mike Trout and Jacoby Elsbury are likely challengers, but only Elsbury has any assists (3). For what it is worth, noted speedster Michael Bourn actually has a lower range factor (2.17 - 2.33) so there is more to range than pure speed. Lorenzo Cain is a potential dark horse here, but might not have the playing time to garner serious attention.

Right Field: Expected Winner - Nick Markakis
                    Actual winner - Shane Victorino 

Once again an Oriole leads the league in games started (154) and innings played (1381). There is something to be said about having a healthy, young team like the Orioles who boast Nate McLouth, at 31, being the oldest regular fielder. His 312 putouts were second to only Alex Rios (326) and nearly 50 ahead of third place Shane Victorino (264). His 7 assists were just 2 off the league lead and he was the only right field regular to play error free. Josh Reddick and Ichiro Suzuki, both past winners, have had down years defensively and Markakis did win in 2011.

In a year where the Orioles were historically good and historically good fielders were out, the conditions are right for the Orioles to set the Golden standard for defensive excellence at 5, 6, or 7. At the very least I expect them to collect enough hardware to overtake the Yankees for the all-time American League lead.

The Orioles had 3 Gold Glove winners out of 6, tied with Kansas City for the most in baseball. Not a bad haul, but short of what I was expecting. I correctly called 5 of 9 Gold Glove winners and only really missed right field.

What did you think of the results and my predictions? Any winners leave you scratching your head?


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2014 Yankees Odd Season Continues

Most teams would have celebrated what happened to Yankee Legend Andy Pettitte with a pause of the game, a scoreboard salute and a standing ovation. In case you missed it, as I did and I was looking out for it, Pettitte reached his 2,000th strikeout as a Yankee on September 6th. You can see it here. Even the announcers seemed to give it a mere "yep its a milestone, move along" that most reserve for historical land marks on the highway. Looking at the all-time Yankee strikeout leaders (the asterisk denotes active players fyi) what shocks me is that Pettitte is the only Yankee to reach the 2,000 strikeout plateau. I always figured somewhere among the 69 pitchers to have 2,000 strikeouts a Yankee or two would be in the mix, such is the power of the Yankee mystique. Yet this season every achievement, every milestone in Yankee land has been met with a shrug or sigh or controversy.

The big celebratory milestone of the Yankee season was Derek Jeter at shortstop  on opening day Ichiro Suzuki reaching 4,000 hits. Of course it is not enough to congratulate someone reaching 4,000 hits for only the third time in history, Pete Rose (the all-time hit leader and somehow popular asshat) decried his achievement by pointing out that he only had 2,722 in the major leagues. It is tough enough to get hits professionally let alone remain healthy enough to achieve the milestone. Reaching such career milestones can be even more challenging when you are a foreign born player. The Rose group missed the celebration and spoiled it for others. It was never about Ichiro "beating" anyone for the most hits of all time, it was a personal milestone to signify personal achievement at the highest level in two countries. Fans love a round number and 4,000 hits is amazing anyway you look at it, but the Roseists won the day, stirred up more than enough controversy that people debated the merits of the hits more than appreciating the requisite skill necessary to achieve it. In a year when 4,000 should have stood out, we instead have seen it matched by 2,722, yet that is not the only oddity the Yankees have produced this season.

Another, rather amazing, feat pulled off by the Yankees is their ability to persevere without their usual stars. C.C. Sabbathia looks like he needs the Cap'n to make it happen and the team as a whole has spent more money on players on the disabled list than on the active roster. Despite that hurdle they are fighting for a wild card spot with less than 2 weeks remaining. This should be a resounding success story of scrappy players, wily veterans and good old fashioned hard work. Kirk Gibson has hoarded all the grit, determination and moxy in the Arizona desert. Joe Girardi should be the front runner for manager of the year for his efforts, Brian Cashman applauded for continuing to get the most out of so many aging veterans. Instead fans are split on embracing the pennant race and quietly hoping they miss out. Helping fuel the Yankees late season push is also the reason fans might be okay missing out, Alex Rodriguez. His career numbers continue to climb and the only reason fans care is if he gets that first $6 million dollar home run bonus for #660. However, as far as third baseman for the Yankees in 2013 go, A-Rod has performed better than the rest despite playing in only 36 games. He is not going away this season, leaving fans to be thankful for his efforts, but remain largely silent in their applause. Even when facing success, Yankees fans are oddly torn this season.

This odd season for the Yankees seems to have ensnared Pettitte hook, slider and sinker. Some may argue that his steroid admission is the reason this milestone, along with so many others for him, is noted but not appreciated. There is also a little bit more to the anti-climatic murmur that greeted 2,000 K's, he had been done before. Heading into tonight's action he has 2,432 strikeouts. He had passed the 2,000 milestone before his first retirement, fans have been there seen that. He also became the Yankees all time K leader back on July 1, passing Whitey Ford. Back when they were just scuffling along and Pettitte has been scuffling all season with a 4.04 ERA and 1.402 WHIP. 2,000 strikeouts is the sign of a long and successful career much like 4,000 hits. I am willing to appreciate effort necessary to reach such lofty heights, let the debate wait for another day and applaud the accomplishment. It has been an odd season in the Bronx, where the Captain is manning the DL, the enemy is cheering their closer, and the season is marked by round numbers like 2,000 and 4,000, except when its not.

Then again, that's baseball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. 

Think about that and let me know your notable oddity about the Yankees or any other team in the comment section!