Jim Leyland has no idea what he’s doing with the Detroit Tigers bullpen.
I’ve been in Leyland’s corner for the past several years, defending his moves as the Tigers manager, but recent moves have led me to change my mind.
On Tuesday, after putting reliever Octavio Dotel on the disabled list, Leyland called up rookie Bruce Rondon, and after the Tigers’ game against the Kansas City Royals was rained out, Detroit’s skipper announced he was calling up beleaguered closer Jose Valverde.
After Valverde spun out of control toward the end of the 2012 regular season, and completely lost his mind in the playoffs, allowing nine runs in 2 2/3 innings, the Tigers granted the 35-year-old free agency immediately after the season was lost.
They had the entire offseason to find a suitable replacement.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The successor Leyland chose:
Rondon, the unproven rookie who had only 29 2/3 combined innings experience above the Single-A level.
Sight unseen, Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski took turns praising the 22-year-old like he’s the next Mariano Rivera.
But to the chagrin of Leyland and the Tigers slobbering GM, Rondon was mediocre at best during spring training and was sent down to Triple-A Toledo on March 28.
Which left the Tigers without a closer.
Actually, it left them with a closer-by-committee experiment, which in essence, left Detroit without a closer.
Not surprisingly, the back end of the Tigers bullpen has struggled so far this season.
Detroit’s relievers are fifth worst in the American League, recording a combined 4.24 ERA, and the Tigers bullpen is tied for the fourth-most blown saves with three in just seven opportunities.
Luckily for Detroit, the two worst bullpen offenders, Dotel and Brayan Villarreal, are both gone for now.
So where do the Tigers look for help?
They look to Valverde, who before his season debut on Wednesday had pitched all of three professional innings in 2013 for Single-A Lakeland.
In Valverde’s small body of work, he gave up a run on one hit with four strikeouts and two walks.
“One scout said it’s the best he’s ever seen him throw the ball,” Leyland said about Valverde to MLive.com’s Chris Iott on Tuesday night, “as far as velocity and coming out of his hand.”
Leon Halip/Getty Images
While that small sample is good, keep in mind the level of talent at the Single-A level.
Mostly teenagers, the batters Valverde faced are nothing compared to the talent he’ll go against with the Tigers.
“He’s throwing the ball very well,” Dombrowski said to MLive.com on Tuesday. “He’s thrown it consistently well for us.
If Dombrowski and company are so enthused with Valverde, why were they so quick to write him off and basically name their closer in November.
They wanted nothing to do with him.
But alas, he’s back.
One of Leyland’s downfalls is his blind loyalty to veterans. He’s shown it before with washed-up players like Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn and now with Don Kelly and Valverde.
He’s an old-school manager who believes in second and third chances, and for some reason, Leyland has a soft spot for these guys.
Will Jose Valverde end the season as the Tigers closer?
Yes No Submit Vote vote to see results
Will Jose Valverde end the season as the Tigers closer?
Total votes: 3
But it won’t work for very long and could very well come back to bite the Tigers in the end.
Sure, Valverde earned a one-two-three inning in his season debut. But after two warning-track fly outs, sporting a bleach-blonde beard (halfway done), I’m not so convinced Valverde is the answer.
There is an irony when it comes to the coaching monopoly Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia has enjoyed over a decade-plus with the team.
If the Angels fail to produce a winning season in 2013, he will probably need a “get out of jail free” card in order to keep playing the game. And as the team unexpectedly struggles heading into May (now at 8-13) depleted by injuries, the idea of a losing season is not that perplexing; it’s more like a possibility.
So, game over? That depends on the reason.
The problem is, for fans who want Scioscia canned and the general manager/owner combo that would do the canning, the reason is usually misdirected.
Unfortunately, in the world of over-hyped coverage and gigantic payrolls—with giant personnel paychecks—front office brass and disappointed fanbases are led to a pre-fixed panic when a season doesn’t go accordingly.
And for the sake of making those franchises and their community “feel better” about past failures, there has to be a precedent set with subsequent blame, regardless of any meaningful lengths of success for a manager.
Enter: Mike Scioscia.
Now, before we begin with the dissection and futuristic predictions, all leading to possible help-wanted ads for ole’ No. 14, let’s make clear what Mike Scioscia is not—a terrible manager.
No question, with the performance over the past few seasons—the missed playoffs and the Angels’ current standing—there is a case to fire Scioscia. And if there is a losing season this year, with $150-plus million tied up in the team, the dismissal would be almost expected.
However, unlike the false pedestals coaches in the NFL or in the NBA have enjoyed at the expense of fan’s awestruck inability to decipher otherwise, there should be enough rational thinking among MLB followers to understand that big league managers get too much credit for winning, and they get too much credit for losing. (Yes, even Bobby Valentine.)
In fact, outside of hitting a solid fungo or throwing a nice, straight batting-practice fastball, it’s possibly one of the most overrated aspects in sports.
At the end of the day, inning or series, the players are—and always will be —the strength behind the wins, and the weakness behind the losses.
That’s not to say the importance of managers throughout history doesn’t exist. I look at a Jim Leyland differently than a Lloyd McClendon, just as I look at a Mike Scioscia differently than about 96 percent of the current managers in MLB.
Managers do have their place in the system, most notably the decision making in one-run and extra-inning games—where out-thinking the opposing team’s next move and understanding situational baseball separates the decent from the bad, the good from the great.
Scioscia, from the 2002 World Series season to the end of 2012, has gone 276-242 in one-run games, while posting a decent extra-inning record in that time (70-68).
To compare that to another long-lasting skipper from a similar stretch, Joe Torre, from 2002 to 2010 (New York Yankees and L.A. Dodgers), went 209-180 in one-run games, with a 59-58 mark in extra innings.
Again, they don’t deserve all the credit for each victory. However, both managers have (or had in Torre’s case) proven their worth when it comes to managing a game—they’re not just scribes hired to pencil in high-priced talent on a lineup card.
Would La Russa really be a better fit in Anaheim? Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
And what about a possible Mike Scioscia successor in Anaheim, say…a coach like Tony La Russa?
From 2002 to 2011, La Russa went 218-230 in one-run games and struggled to get wins in extra innings (63-67). Though he had earned one more championship ring than Scioscia during that time, you have to wonder how well La Russa would have done had there not been a young, healthy Albert Pujols—something he wouldn’t have with the Halos.
That doesn’t mean, however, La Russa would make a terrible hire for the club; any hire would be acceptable, if getting rid of a solid coach like Scioscia is made for a change in Angels culture.
I’ll say it again—a change in culture.
Regardless of records, payroll and highly touted personnel, the only reason to get rid of an elite, successful coach like Mike Scioscia would be if general manager Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno wanted to change the way things were managed outside of the actual games—meetings, practices, other coaches.
Think of it, oddly enough, as the Joe Torre-type process the Yankees did following the 2007 season. And that may not be the worst thing in the world for the Angels.
Should GM Jerry Dipoto be the first to go?
Yes No Submit Vote vote to see results
Should GM Jerry Dipoto be the first to go?
Total votes: 0
A change of scenery can be a good thing.
However, if changing the potential for wins and losses is what solely makes sense for the organization, then restructuring the talent on the field would be required before any managerial changes were made.
That is, unless the managerial move would first entail firing the general manager.
Robinson Cano’s sweet swing provided the Yankees with a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Robinson Cano provided the offensive fireworks early with a three-run homer in the third inning, while Hiroki Kuroda settled down after allowing three runs and six hits in the first two innings for the New York Yankees to defeat the division rival Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Thursday night in the Bronx.
After a slow start to the season, Cano—whose third-inning blast gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead—is now hitting .322 with seven homers and 17 RBI in the middle of the lineup.
The Yankees are playing much better and got exactly what they needed from Kuroda. With questions still lingering over CC Sabathia’s velocity, someone has to step up and take some of the pressure off the big lefty.
Vernon Wells continues to be a pleasant surprise for the Pinstripes. He hit his sixth homer of the season in the second inning to put the Yankees on the board after falling behind 3-0.
The Yankees improve to 12-9 on the young season, while the Blue Jays continue to struggle and drop to 9-14.
After scuffling early, #HIROK has put together 6 quality innings tonight in the Bronx.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 26, 2013
PS – @robinsoncano’s next home run ties @pauloneillyes on the Yankees’ all-time list
— Yankees PR Dept. (@YankeesPR) April 26, 2013
Gibbons just threw his hat to the ground. He might have mentioned something that you’d find in a farmyard to umps, too. He’s been ejected
— Anthony McCarron (@AnthonyMcCarron) April 26, 2013
Mariano Rivera, still breaking bats at age 43. #BestEver
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 26, 2013
Just checked on Yankees game. Mariano Rivera, still ridiculously good at what he does. Now, back to the draft.
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) April 26, 2013
On the way the Yankees won (h/t Yankees.com):
We’re finding a way to win. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but we’re taking advantage of the opportunities given to us.
On Kuroda’s performance (h/t Yankees.com):
This might be his best performance of the year.
On falling behind early and making adjustments (h/t Yankees.com):
All I thought was, ‘Just hang in there, pitch by pitch, and [you'll] be able to overcome. Considering how it started, I think I was able to put together a decent outing.
On how his game-calling changed for Kuroda (h/t Yankees.com):
I started calling him a lot of breaking balls, too. Find a way to put him on the line, and he can throw his best pitch, the two-seam fastball. I always say he’s a warrior. He tries to get more than five innings all the time.
On watching Robinson Cano hit a home run (h/t Yankees.com):
You’re getting a chance to watch somebody pretty special play this game. To me, there’s some at-bats where he’s not going to make an out. It doesn’t matter what the pitcher throws him, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound.
The Blue Jays manager was ejected in the seventh inning after third baseman Brett Lawrie appeared to throw out Ben Francisco at first base, though it was a close play and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion didn’t catch the ball cleanly.
On watching Kuroda dominate after the third inning (h/t Yankees.com):
We had some big hits off Kuroda early, but he settled in. He’s one of the great pitchers out there.
On what he saw during the Ben Francisco play that led to his ejection (h/t Toronto Sun):
They were watching and said (Encarnacion) bobbled it. I didn’t see a bobble. My big concern was that there was no appeal from (the Yankees). My interpretation of the rule is that once the other team appeals, then they can huddle up. They’re a good umpiring crew and they were just trying to get it right, I guess, but I didn’t see a bobble.
On the pitch Cano hit out (h/t Toronto Sun):
It was a fastball, in, where I wanted it, and he hit it out. He’s a great hitter. That’s why this game is kind of frustrating at times because you make your pitch and they get hits. Right before that, two infield hits and then a home run. It changes a game right there.
The Blue Jays and Yankees will be back at it again on Friday night in Yankee Stadium when Josh Johnson takes the hill for Toronto against Ivan Nova at 7:05 p.m. ET.
For more baseball talk, be sure to follow me on Twitter with any questions or comments.
The San Francisco Giants have rebuilt a two-time World Series championship franchise from the ground up. Much of the team’s recent success can be attributed to the organization’s farm system as opposed to free-agent stars demanding hefty paychecks.
Two Cy Youngs, a Rookie of the Year and an NL MVP. That’s what comes out of a crop that includes Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.
All homegrown. All integral parts of the Giants’ success.
The question now: who’s next?
The Giants’ minor league system has struck gold before. Several new prospects, both the expected and unexpected, are looking to prove the Giants will hit the motherlode again.
In terms of pitching, two of the top prospects in the farm system, right-handers Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick, are performing well in the early weeks of the San Jose Giants’ 2013 season.
San Jose Giants’ manager Andy Skeels is impressed with his 2013 roster, as per Glenn Reeves of the San Jose Mercury News:
“This group reminds me of 2009 when we had Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford…A lot of kids with very high ceilings. This pitching staff is a collection of some of the finest arms I’ve seen in a long time.”
Skeels should be impressed with his San Jose Giants; nine of the top 30 prospects in the Giants’ system play for San Jose. Of those nine, seven are pitchers: Crick, Blackburn, Adalberto Mejia, Edwin Escobar, Chris Marlowe, Josh Osich and Cody Hall.
Who is the top pitching prospect in the Giants’ farm system?
Kyle Crick Heath Hembree Clayton Blackburn Chris Stratton Other Submit Vote vote to see results
Who is the top pitching prospect in the Giants’ farm system?
Total votes: 2
So far, Crick has posted a 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings. Although his control remains iffy (nine walks in nine innings pitched), the 20-year-old has also accumulated 12 strikeouts. His fastball and slider remain at the top of his repertoire, but as he continues his professional career, his off-speed pitches should improve along with any control problems.
One minor hiccup: an oblique injury sidelined Crick April 19th, according to Jonathan Raymond via MiLB.com.
Crick’s success should come as no surprise, seeing how he is currently ranked 84th on the MiLB.com “Top 100 2013 Prospect Watch.”
Not to be overshadowed, Clayton Blackburn is off to a stellar start of the season. In four starts, Blackburn is 2-0, going 22 innings and posting a 1.64 ERA (MiLB.com).
Moving away from pitching, several Giants prospects are establishing themselves at the plate.
Potential slugger Gary Brown is already on the Giants’ radar and remains a highly touted prospect. However, Brown has struggled in Triple-A Fresno thus far, batting .200 with 16 hits—coupled with 16 strikeouts.
Still, other prospects are finding success at the plate. Catcher Johnny Monell went on a tear in spring training (.476/.522/.714) before eventually being demoted to Triple-A Fresno. Monell has managed to maintain his hot streak offensively, posting a .297/.395/.676 slash line.
Back in San Jose, second baseman Ryan Cavan has begun to distinguish himself both offensively and defensively. He is off to a red-hot start in 2013, batting .345 right out of the gate. Comparatively speaking, Cavan batted .228 while in Double-A in 2012.
Cavan’s splits are still lopsided: .240 against lefties versus .390 against righties. He is more consistent defensively, having been named the top defensive second baseman in Minor League Baseball in 2012. While Cavan’s timetable toward possible MLB service is less certain than Brown’s or even Monell’s, his performance in San Jose thus far merits consideration.
The organization’s farm system currently boasts a wide range of talented prospects looking to make their mark and become the next Matt Cain or Buster Posey. As the season continues, the Giants will have a clearer picture on who the future faces of the franchise will be. They certainly have a long list to choose from.
If you’re up against Justin Verlander in this situation, what do you do? Besides duck. Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Our mission, should we choose to accept it—which we wouldn’t, but it was assigned, so we kinda have to—is to solve Justin Verlander.
But let’s at least try to find out how a hitter should go about facing the game’s premier pitcher, who at age 30, is still in the middle of his prime and coming off the best two seasons of his career—so far.
Have an Approach
Last week, in talking about facing Mets flamethrower Matt Harvey, who’s first in the National League with a .122 batting average against, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman explained that a hitter’s approach is similar against most power pitchers, whether it’s Harvey or Zimmerman’s teammate Stephen Strasburg.
Or Verlander, of course.
Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run off Matt Harvey last Sept. 12. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
“You have to go up there with a plan,” said Zimmerman, who is one of only seven hitters to take Harvey deep but is hitless in three at-bats against Verlander with two whiffs. ”You have to do your best to swing at strikes, don’t do them any favors by expanding the zone. Make them work and get that pitch count up by the fifth or sixth inning.”
As for focusing on a specific pitch against a power arm, Zimmerman (currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury) said simply, ”You have to be ready for the fastball at all times. You always have to honor that pitch.”
That all sounds well and good, but does that approach work against Verlander?
Focus on Verlander’s Fastball…
Let’s take Zimmerman’s last point first: Be ready for the heater.
Verlander’s fastball comes in at nearly 95 miles per hour (94.8, if you want to be exact), according to the PITCHf/x data from FanGraphs. That’s on average, by the way.
How do hitters do against Verlander’s four-seamer? Well, they own a .256 average, for starters. That’s actually not half bad, right? Especially when you consider that for his career, Verlander’s batting average against sits at a microscopic .230, per FanGraphs.
Clearly, then, he’s getting more outs with his secondary offerings. Again, the PITCHf/x numbers at FanGraphs back this up: Verlander’s batting averages against (BAA) on his curveball (.158), slider (.203) and changeup (.217) are all much lower than that .256 against his fastball.
Here’s how it looks in table form, where the green shading indicates a better batting average against, orange shading indicates a low batting average against and red shading indicates, well, basically no chance:
Conclusion? The fastball is the pitch a hitter needs to attack if he wants a fighting chance.
…But Be Aware of His Entire Repertoire
Now that we know Verlander’s heater can be hit, at least compared to his other offerings. Let’s figure out how often he uses it.
Going by FanGraphs PITCHf/x pitch types, we see that Verlander throws some form of his fastball (either the four- or two-seamer) about 58 percent of the time in his career. Over the past few seasons, however, Verlander’s fastball usage has dropped from about 67 percent in 2009 to about 50 percent last year.
Why? Well for one, maybe Verlander has realized that his heater, as high-octane as it is, isn’t quite as effective as pitches that throw off a hitter’s timing or change a batter’s eye level.
To that end, he’s used his slider more often, up from about three percent in 2009 to 12 percent in 2012. Same goes for his changeup, which he threw 22 percent of the time last year, up from 10 percent in 2009. Basically, Verlander has been using more pitches, more often.
Here’s a graph to make the nastiness look a little less nasty with pretty colors:
No wonder he’s been at his best the past two years, huh?
Also? We see now why the point is to try to focus on just one pitch—the fastball—because if you’re guessing along with Verlander, who has four above-average-to-plus offerings to choose from, something like this is going to happen:
Five of the 12 Ks Verlander racked up against the M’s on April 18 came on his fastball, and he got at least one whiff with each of his three offspeed pitches. (Video courtesy of MLB’s official YouTube account)
Know When to Expect the Heat
Beyond just figuring out how often Verlander uses good old No. 1, we also need to figure out when over the course of an at-bat he’s apt to do so. Does he bring the heat early and use the soft stuff late? Or does he like to pick up punch-outs with his power?
For this, we’ll turn to the PITCHf/x data provided at BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus. This handy tool allows us to break down pitch types by count, which is just what we need.
(Feel free to follow along at home by clicking on the drop-down boxes with “balls” and “strikes.”)
On the first pitch, Verlander’s pitch use percentages and the resulting batter triple-slash statistics (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) from Baseball Reference look like this:
So Verlander likes to throw his fastball right off the bat nearly three-quarters of the time, which means a hitter should go up looking dead red right away.
That’s exactly what happened when Kyle Seager stepped in to face Verlander—as a pinch-hitter, no less—on April 18.
Kyle Seager’s game-winning double against Verlander on April 18. (Video courtesy of MLB’s official YouTube account)
Seager’s two-out RBI double on a first-pitch fastball from Verlander broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit, as the Mariners went on to win, 2-0.
Verlander Ahead in the Count
Now, what about when the count goes to 0-1?
If Verlander gets the hitter 0-2, it looks like this:
And 1-2 is basically just as deadly:
Essentially, when Verlander is able to get ahead, which he usually does by throwing a fastball, he’ll then shift gears to throwing his offspeed stuff. And when he gets two strikes, he busts out the curveball, slider or change and, well, so long, Charlie.
Verlander Behind in the Count
But…what happens when Verlander falls behind? Here’s what he throws on 1-0:
This is the breakdown on 2-0:
And here’s 2-1:
Finally, this is what Verlander’s approach, and the hitter’s results, look like when he’s down 3-1 in the count:
As we surmised above, if a hitter can get ahead in the count against Verlander, just like against any pitcher, the chances of getting a fastball—the pitch we’re looking for—increase dramatically, and so do the chances of getting a base hit or getting on base.
Here’s an example from Verlander’s April 7 outing when he fell behind the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli, who laced an RBI double on a 1-0 fastball.
Francisco Cervelli’s RBI double on a 1-0 fastball. (Video courtesy of MLB’s official YouTube account)
Verlander and the 1st-Pitch Strike
Of course, Verlander knows this, which is why he does a good job of getting ahead of hitters. He throws a first-pitch strike to 60 percent of hitters, per FanGraphs. More to the point, Verlander flipped the switch on this aspect of his pitching after 2008—his worst season.
From 2009 on, his first-pitch strike percentage has consistently been about 61 to 62 percent, whereas he spent 2006 through 2008 toiling in the 58 percent range.
The Pitch-Count Factor
As Zimmerman mentioned above, one of the goals a hitter should have against an elite arm is to make the pitcher work and drive up his pitch count.
This works against Verlander to an extent.
According to Baseball Reference, which breaks pitch numbers down into 25-pitch segments, Verlander struggles the most from pitch Nos. 76-100: Batters post a triple-slash line of .246/.305/.387 in that stretch. This is most likely because, in addition to any fatigue Verlander is fighting, hitters are seeing him for the third time and have made some adjustments.
So the approach Zimmerman described above—look for a fastball, don’t expand the zone and make the pitcher work—does check out when facing Verlander.
That doesn’t mean it’s not still incredibly tough to “solve” Justin Verlander.
“When power pitchers have that kind of stuff,” Zimmerman said, “and they’re executing their pitches, throwing what they want and putting it where they want, it’s tough to get hits.”
You might even say it’s a mission that’s nearly impossible.
*All statistics come from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus as indicated.
*Note: PITCHf/x data is available going back to 2007.
For a guy who “plays the game the right way,” Utley sure makes a lot of mistakes. Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
In the immortal words of Casey Stengel, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Judging by the results of the Phillies’ recently-completed 3-5 homestand that left them at a desolate 9-14 overall, at least in Philadelphia the answer seems to be “not so much.”
Entering the season, the big question marks were, in no particular order:
Roy Halladay’s diminishing velocity and effectiveness
Ryan Howard and his ability to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2012
Chase Utley’s ability to stay healthy and produce
Michael Young and the challenge of playing third base every day after spending last season as a designated hitter
Mike Adams and the rest of the bullpen’s ability to handle the eighth inning
Amazingly, all of those question marks have, in the main, turned out all right so far.
After a very shaky couple of outings, Halladay has turned in three outings that have ranged from above-average to really good.
Howard is hitting over .280 and playing every day.
Utley is hitting over .300 and his power has returned. He leads the team in runs batted in thus far.
Young is also hitting well over .300 and his defense at third base has been more than adequate.
And Adams, but for a violent hiccup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, has been the steadying late-inning presence he was advertised to be.
Recent troubles have focused on the sixth and seventh innings, but then everyone figured that the bullpen leading up to Adams and Jonathan Papelbon would be a cover-your-eyes proposition.
Despite all of the favorable harbingers, the Phillies are in 4th place in the National League East and sinking like a stone.
Why? To a significant extent, it is because the Phillies play terrible fundamental baseball.
Lee made two big mistakes against the Pirates, and they probably cost him and his team a win. Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
In a 6-4 loss to the Pirates, Cliff Lee was picked off second base, and in the same game Utley ran into an out at home plate with first-and-third and nobody out; dishonorable mentions go to Cliff Lee giving up the game-tying single on an 0-2 pitch and Phillippe Aumont putting a .148 hitter on by hitting him with a pitch.
The night before in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates, Rollins negligently ran into an out at home plate with (wait for it) first-and-third and nobody out, and Utley played a semi-difficult Starling Marte pop-up to short right field into an RBI triple
The night before that in a 2-0 loss to the Pirates, John Mayberry Jr. ran into an out at home plate with (hard to believe, really) first-and-third and nobody out.
Two nights earlier, in a 7-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Utley was doubled off second base on a routine fly ball by Young because he apparently lost track of the outs, and Domonic Brown loafed a Matt Adams short fly ball into a single.
Note to the reader: Not one of the examples above is criticizing a player for grounding into an inopportune double play, or committing an error in the normal course of play. No team and no player is above human frailty.
But the displays of baseball from the Phillies lately, in legal parlance, range beyond the simply negligent and eke into the careless or reckless.
The Phillies’ slow start has been rationalized by other facts out of their control, including but not limited to the fact that the presumptive division favorites, the Washington Nationals, are still languishing around .500. “Small sample size,” you might hear.
Unfortunately, unwavering effort and a rudimentary understanding of the fundamentals of baseball are not things that tend to correct themselves over a 162-game schedule. If anything, these flaws just multiply and become magnified as the weather warms and the season drags on.
Phillies fans keep talking about how the returns of Carlos Ruiz (from suspension) and Delmon Young (from injury) should right the ship.
They might be better off calling on Fred McGriff and Tom Emanski.
How does current Mets ace Matt Harvey compare to former Mets ace Tom Seaver? Elsa/Getty Images
Have you had your fill of Matt Harvey yet?
If so, door’s on your left, pal.
Otherwise, sit right down and let’s take yet another look at the new Mets ace—by comparing him to a former Mets ace.
Harvey, a right-hander, made his debut for the Mets last year on July 26 as a 23-year-old.
Some 45 years earlier, back on April 13, 1967, a 22-year-old righty pitched in his first major league game for the Mets. His name?
A Hall of Famer, Seaver was inducted in 1992 with 98.8 percent of the vote—highest all-time. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
While it may be jumping the gun just a tad to put Harvey’s name in the same sentence as that of a Hall of Famer who’s a member of the renowned 300-win club and oh-by-the-way a three-time Cy Young Award winner, it doesn’t mean we can’t compare how the two hurlers’ careers began.
Harvey, who is 4-0 with a ridiculous 1.54 ERA through five outings this year, has now started 15 games as a big leaguer. That’s a good early-career benchmark to use for a comparison.
That’s a lot of orange, isn’t it?
The chart at the right shows how Harvey and Seaver stack up through their first 15 starts:
Of the 10 prominent pitching categories highlighted, Harvey beats out Seaver in seven of them over each pitcher’s initial 15 outings.
The two statistics in Harvey’s favor that jump out are hits allowed per nine (H/9) and strikeouts per nine (K/9). In the former, Harvey averaged almost three fewer hits than Seaver over a full game. In the latter, the disparity is even more stark, as Harvey whiffed over five hitters more per nine than Seaver.
Seaver, in case you were wondering, is a member of the 3,000-strikeout club, which has only 16 members. He struck out 3,640—sixth-most all-time—over his 20-year career.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Tom Terrific only topped the 8.0 K/9 mark in three seasons early on (1970-72), and his career rate stands at just 6.8 K/9. In other words, he was a volume strikeout guy.
Where Harvey comes up short, though, is in innings, wins and walks. The first two are connected, since Seaver pitched deeper into games—at 7.3 innings per start, he averaged a full inning more than Harvey’s 6.3—and thus was able to earn more victories.
Seaver won three Cy Young Awards in his 20-year career. How many will Harvey earn?
More than Seaver! Same as Seaver One or two None Submit Vote vote to see results
Seaver won three Cy Young Awards in his 20-year career. How many will Harvey earn?
More than Seaver!
Same as Seaver
One or two
Total votes: 0
Seaver, for what it’s worth, also completed eight of his first 15 outings—more than half—while Harvey has yet to go the distance.
As for the walk rate, Seaver’s 2.4 per nine—a full free pass better than Harvey’s 3.4—was a good indicator of his control: He finished with a BB/9 of 2.6.
The Mets, no doubt, would like to see some improvement in that aspect of Harvey’s game, and it seems to be coming. After walking 26 in 59.1 innings as a rookie, Harvey has issued just 10 walks in 35 innings so far in 2013.
That translates to a rate of 2.6 per nine, right in line with Seaver’s.
The Mets can only hope Harvey’s career can do the same.
As the New York Mets dive deeper into their 2013 season, there is reason to believe not only in the future, but also the present. Matt Harvey is the next Dwight Gooden. David Wright is still Flushing’s answer to Derek Jeter. Zack Wheeler is the next ungodly pitching prospect.
Unfortunately, not all is rosy on Roosevelt Avenue. The Mets are missing their cleanup hitter once again. This time, they need to find a new one. Every team that’s destined for greatness has to make hard cuts on the way to the top. For a team that is primed to move onwards and upwards, they need to move forward without Ike Davis.
For two years now, Davis has not produced at the start of the season. Last year, he had a ready-made excuse for his awful first half when he contracted Valley Fever.
This year, there are no excuses. Ike had to know going into 2013 that he was going to hit fourth on a team that is desperate for offense. The pressure was on from the beginning, and he has folded like countless others in the big city.
Davis is both physically overmatched and mentally defeated at the plate. He can’t catch a fastball and he doesn’t stay back on a breaking ball. It’s been the same old story, as retold by SNY’s Keith Hernandez every time he doesn’t get it done. He’s become Dave Kingman, with fewer home runs and a lower batting average.
To make matters worse, Davis constantly argues with the umpires over borderline calls. This shows a lack of maturity and respect and only leads to him getting more borderline pitches called against him. He has no one else to blame for his failures, and so he blames the home plate umpire. These are all signs of a hitter who cannot produce at the highest level.
For all intents and purposes, Ike deserved to be sent to AAA last May. The Mets chose to keep him in the majors, thinking a demotion would not help him offensively. At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, this is not about helping Ike Davis find his stroke anymore. This is about sending down a player who deserves to be sent down.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
That is why Lucas Duda reportedly snapped at Mets’ management when they made him an undeserving scapegoat last July. Davis struggled for two months and he got to stay, while Duda slumped for two weeks and got sent down. Trading or demoting Ike is not a happy message to send, but it’s the correct one.
Logic dictates that the Mets have little recourse but to leave Ike here and hope for the best until their top hitting prospect, Travis D’Arnaud, arrives. The 24-year-old catcher was on the fast track to Citi Field before the most untimely of injuries sidelined him for a projected eight weeks.
Despite this setback, Davis must know that the clock is ticking. The Mets could have conceivably moved a resurgent John Buck to first had D’Arnaud not broken a bone in his foot. Then again, they already HAVE a first baseman in their everyday lineup: 2012 scapegoat Lucas Duda.
Duda has stepped up his game in the first month of the 2013 season. In stark contrast to Davis, he has shown patience and maturity at the plate. He’s taking what the pitchers are giving him, and he’s still a tremendous power threat. Almost everyone would agree that he is to left field what Mike Piazza was to first base. Try as he might in left, the lumbering Duda is best suited for first.
Manager Terry Collins admitted that he had to keep Duda away from first base during spring training because he was too excited to play there. Imagine that: a player who WANTS to play his natural position AND is coming into his own at the plate; a player who hated getting demoted and is determined to prove he belongs in the majors. Only the Mets would know how to mishandle a guy like that.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Everyone thinks that D’Arnaud is the next great hitting catcher. I’ve always believed that great hitters cannot be long-term catchers, or else they’ll be short-term great hitters. Catchers generally decline by age 34. Johnny Bench retired at 35. Yogi Berra moved to left at 36. The late Gary Carter fell off dramatically at 34 and was a shell of himself for a few more years. Even Piazza, arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all time, was a shrinking violet by 35.
To me, moving D’Arnaud to left makes all the sense in the world. Yes, he has below-average speed for a left fielder, but so does Duda. What are the Mets really losing? If you’re a Mets fan, would you rather have a great hitting catcher for 10 years and have him 30 times a year, or would you rather have a great hitter for 15 years and have him rest 10-15 times a year, barring injury?
Plus, when D’Arnaud does arrive, he needs to develop chemistry with the pitching staff, who are now accustomed to throwing to Buck. This could create issues in the second half of 2013 for a team that has a history of falling apart in the second half.
If the Mets did move their top hitting prospect from behind the plate, they would conceivably have a young, stable and capable outfield in D’Arnaud, Juan Lagares and Jordany Valdespin. Lagares is the leadoff hitter the Mets need. He gives you speed and defense, and he has hit at every level. Valdespin’s ceiling is incredibly high and he’s already becoming a legend. That’s quite a difference from March when you or I could have started in right.
Call it the Mets’ Carousel of Progress. Duda to first, D’Arnaud to left and Ike is left behind, just as he should be. Davis is 26 and I’ll bet there are a few teams willing to take a chance on him in exchange for some pitching or bench depth.
I understand Davis is not exactly a clubhouse cancer. Neither was Jason Bay and he’s long gone. It’s still a results-oriented business in the end, and Ike makes far less money than Bay did. For those who project Davis to be part of the Mets’ future, I would suggest the picture is bigger and brighter without him.
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman (and third baseman/backup first baseman/backup anything else the Cardinals need) Matt Carpenter is likely the most diverse player on the Cardinals active roster. Mike Matheny could pencil him in just about anywhere on the field, and the 27-year-old Sugar Land, Texas native could make it look like he belongs there.
He’s the kind of position player who, once you’ve exhausted your entire bullpen, you might send to the mound for an inning.
Carpenter is rapidly making a name for himself in the big leagues as a player capable of adapting to change—both offensively and defensively. He’s a solid hitter who uses the entire field and puts together quality at-bats, but he didn’t get there overnight.
He grew up in southeastern Texas as the son of a high school principal mother and a baseball coach father. Given his parent’s jobs, young Matt Carpenter spent a lot of time on the ball field with his dad, Rick Carpenter, in the afternoons.
“I can’t remember a time when baseball wasn’t a part of my life,” he said. “I was always going to games and traveling with the team.”
It was a big part of his childhood, but at the time he likely had no idea that it would still play such a major role in his life, let alone that he would one day take the field with his favorite player.
Growing up just outside of Houston, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman was his childhood hero.
While he had been around baseball since he was in diapers, his career began just like most other big leaguers—playing tee ball. Some of the habits from that period are still present in his game today.
Never in his career has he worn batting gloves. Seeing a player barehanded at the plate in a major league game now is definitely the exception and not the rule. That doesn’t matter to Carpenter.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
“It’s more of a comfort thing. It worked and I stuck with it,” he said. “Now it’s kind of become my trademark.”
Even back in his tee-ball days, he knew that this was what he wanted to do with his life.
“It was always a dream—forever,” Carpenter said. “But, you didn’t know if it was going to come true. This is what I’ve always loved to do.”
As a player, Carpenter stood out from a young age. At Elkins High School, he was a two-time All-State tournament selection and in 2004 was named a TPX second-team High School All-American player.
After high school, he attended Texas Christian University, where he continued his hitting ways. He played solid ball and eventually caught the attention of scouts.
In 2009, he decided to give the draft a shot but kept a level head about it.
“Obviously you want it to happen, but if it’s not meant to be then it’s not meant to be,” Carpenter said. “I was just excited when it did happen.”
It was that day, when he was chosen as the 399th overall pick, that he realized that he really did have a shot at making it to the big leagues.
Once he reached the minor leagues, a lot changed in life. The work became much more intense, and he was on the road away from family for months at a time. Despite the stress that life in the minors can bring, Carpenter stayed focused on his goal.
He worked hard every day, always arriving early to the park and leaving late, trying to earn his place.
Of course, with the numbers he put up in the minor leagues, he wasn’t going to lose his place. In 2010, Carpenter was named the Cardinals Organization Player of the Year. For a young player trying to make the jump to Major League Baseball, that award is a big deal. It means St. Louis was taking note of what he could do.
He finished 2010 with the fourth-highest batting average (.316) in the Texas League, the third-highest on-base percentage (.412) and was fifth in runs scored with 75. He was a two-time Texas League Player of the Week and was a member of the North Squad for the Texas League All-Star game.
His day would come, but when was the only question. The answer: June 4, 2011.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
“It was like one of those dream come true moments,” he said, noting that it was awesome his parents were able to get to St. Louis in time to watch.
Through his first four at-bats, he hadn’t managed to get on base. In the bottom of the ninth with two outs in a tie game against the Chicago Cubs, Carpenter got his first major league hit—a double to left field off of Kerry Wood.
He didn’t score that day, but he would plenty over the next couple of years.
While that was a great feeling, Carpenter said the most unforgettable moment of his young career came in Game 4 of the 2012 NLCS. Filling in for Carlos Beltran, who was injured in his first at-bat of the game, Carpenter came in and blasted a 421-foot two-run home run off of San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain.
“That was a really cool moment,” he said, noting that his family was there to watch that game, too. “It’s hard to top that.”
Carpenter’s wife and parents have been very supportive of his career and the climb it took to reach his current level. He credits his father with instilling in him a work ethic that made it possible.
Without that, a career in Major League Baseball simply doesn’t happen.
“He took his job very serious,” Carpenter said of his father. “He’s an extremely hard worker and spent countless hours working on his team.”
Now, as a grown man, Matt Carpenter is spending countless hours working for his team as well. He goes in early and leaves late with a mature understanding of what it will take to reach his goals.
“I want to try to become the best player I can be on a daily basis,” he said. “At the end of my career, if it’s 10 or 15 years from now or two years from now, whatever the case may be, if I can look back and say ‘I gave it my best effort’ then I’ll be OK with that.”
Right now, he’s focusing on today and hoping that he can continue to perform at the major league level like he has so far—and it doesn’t come easy.
“This can be a tough lifestyle,” Carpenter said. “It’s tough being away from family, but that goes on in baseball even at the start of your minor league career.”
Now entering his second full season, he believes love and support are key to making the adjustment.
“They’re my best supporters and my biggest fans,” he said of his wife and family. “That’s why it’s so nice to have a good relationship with your wife and loved ones, so that you always have their support and they understand what that’s going to entail.
“It’s just part of the gig.”
For Carpenter, the struggles of the climb have been well worth the wait. Over the past year, he has begun to cement himself into the major league roster.
The key, he believes, is to be consistent enough that they need you in the lineup. That’s what he strives for everyday, and right now there’s no doubt that the Cardinals are better with Matt Carpenter in the lineup.
“You’re only going to become the player that you’re capable of being through hard work,” he said.
Carpenter not only understands the value of hard work—he lives it.
Following their 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday, the Pittsburgh Pirates have fully put their poor first week of the season in the rear view.
Thursday’s victory was the Bucs’ sixth in seven games and the team’s 10th in 13 games, and the Pirates now sit at 13-9 and a half-game out of first place.
It’s obviously only April, but the Pirates have gotten off to exactly the kind of start they were hoping for. Throw in how difficult the Bucs’ April schedule has been, and that start continues to look more impressive.
I wrote about the Pirates’ challenging schedule in March, noting that it would not be a surprise to see the Bucs get off to a slow start to the season given early series against World Series contenders like the Reds and Braves.
So far, the Pirates have played seven games against Cincinnati and Atlanta, winning six of them. In games played against teams other than the Pirates, the Reds and Braves have combined for a 27-9 record.
There are plenty of reasons to take this Pittsburgh start with a grain of salt, beyond the fact that is, again, still early in the season. For one, the Bucs only boast a plus-7 run differential, compared for example to a plus-32 for the Reds, who have the same 13-9 record. Another concern is that a recent stretch of short starts has forced the Pirates to overwork their bullpen a bit.
But none of that has been a problem thus far, and banked wins can’t be taken away. The bottom line is that the Pirates are already four games over .500 while clearing a disproportionate number of difficult series from their calendar.
The light at the end of the tunnel, beginning May 7 when the Seattle Mariners come to the Steel City, is rapidly approaching. If the Pirates can sustain their strong play for another 10 days, they will be in better shape than pretty much any National League team heading into the early summer months.