Spring Training keeps inching closer, and while news items worth paying attention to are scarce, there’s one thing that’s sure to get us through these dark weeks: the Griff Bag. And Richard Griffin has got a fresh one up, over at the Toronto Star, which means that it’s time for me to crack it open and feast on the goo inside.
As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.
If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, submit it to Griffin here, and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!
I have a question about R.A Dickey’s longevity as a 38-year-old who is signed into his 40s. It seems to be established fact that knuckleballers can pitch longer than conventional pitchers because they’re throwing less hard and the pitch puts less strain on the arm. I was wondering, however, if that rule necessarily applies to Dickey. I ask for two reasons. First, he was a conventional pitcher for a long time before switching to the knuckleball. Is it possible that all those years put enough strain on his arm to reduce his longevity, despite having now switched? Second, because he throws his knuckleball harder than the average knuckleball pitcher, could that additionally limit his longevity? I’m not concerned about him significantly declining next season — I just wonder if he could possibly play as long as a guy like Tim Wakefield, for example. Thanks!
Jack Newman, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Anything is certainly possible– with any pitcher, really– when it comes to injuries. Dickey is maybe a little bit different, given that he doesn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament in his arm, so he at least can’t tear that– which would require Tommy John surgery to repair– but obviously no one can have any idea what the future may bring. That said, you’ve certainly pinpointed some reasons why the notion that Dickey may pitch as long as a guy like Wakefield did is a little far fetched, yet I’m not sure if there’s too much need for concern about old wear and tear coming back to haunt him down the road.
Obviously I’m no doctor, but it sort of stands to reason that he’s helped by relying on a pitch that, hard as it is relative to other knuckleballs, doesn’t require max effort. Plus, in his pre-knuckle days his fastball would sit at 88-89 and he would throw that hard about 60% of the time, whereas now his heater is more at 83-84 and was only thrown 14% of the time in 2012. Physically, it means less stress on his body and less strain to recover from in the first place. You’d think that whatever damage may have been done previously has long been recovered from, or is much less likely to be aggravated by this new approach. But then again, what the fuck do I know?
After reading R.A. Dickey’s book, I almost feel that his character and personality outweigh his value as a Cy Young winner. It may be too soon to rush to other ideas before he throws a pitch in Toronto, but should A.A. already be thinking about keeping R.A. in the organization long term?
P.S. Great to see the Jays Winter Tour return to Saskatoon, line up for autographs was hundreds deep.
Trevor Brown, Saskatoon
He’s here for three years. You mean, like, longer? And deciding that right now? After, like, a month? And precisely zero nanoseconds on the field?
Q. With the Houston Astros joining the better . . . I mean the American League this season, I think its time to re-visit the issue of the designated hitter. The new more integrated schedule means there is even more of a discrepancy between the two leagues since, in my opinion, the designated hitter makes comparing the stats for the two leagues like apples and oranges. Is it time to make the two leagues the same on this issue one way or the other?
In addition, having the all-star game decide home field advantage for the World Series puts too much weight on a game which is supposed to be a fun display of the two leagues’ best players. I think that the cumulative result of the season’s interleague play (which unfortunately is here to stay) is a better way to determine who should have home field advantage.
Keith Nelson, Oakville
I don’t think you’re ever going to sway purists on this one, and I’m not about to get militant about it, but I’d be all for the National League joining pretty much every other professional league out there in figuring out that watching pitchers flail away hopelessly sucks a whole lot more than it would losing whatever quaint differences– like watching managers completely out of their depth with substitutions “strategize”– they feel so attached to.
Even after doing them the favour of factoring out numbers from somehow-even-more-hopeless AL pitchers during interleague play, we see that NL pitchers in 2012 posted a .150 wOBA and -15 wRC+ as a group. It’s a bit of a joke, and one of the few in the game less funny than the vomitous fact that they actually award home field advantage in the World Series to the team representing the league that won the damn All-Star Game.
In looking at the Jays’ schedule for the coming season, I was intrigued by an anomaly that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. On Wednesday May 22, the Jays play a home game against the Rays starting at 4:37 p.m. I know the Jays have experimented in the past with mid-afternoon starts on Saturdays, but I can’t recall this ever being the case on a non-holiday weekday.
The scheduling would have made sense if either the Jays or the Rays were heading out to the west coast for a game the following day, but this isn’t the case as the Jays remain at home to face the Orioles and the Rays head home for a series against the Yankees. I’m wondering if this 4:37 start may be an experiment to determine if fans like the notion of ducking out of work a little bit early and still getting home at a reasonable hour following the game?
Brendan Clough, Toronto
That’s as good a guess as any I can come up with, Brandan, and holy fuck, it’s a welcome concept.
If they ever even really existed, long gone– thanks to traffic, sprawl, and increasing work hours– are the days when a fan could dash home from working in the downtown core, have dinner, change into something more comfortable, and make it back down to the ballpark for what used to be 7:30 PM starts. That’s virtually impossible at this point, especially with regular evening starts pushed up to 7:07 PM, meaning fans working downtown who intend to go to the game need to hang around the office killing time, or heading out for dinner or drinks first, then not getting back home until after ten-thirty.
There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I can sure see how ducking out early– or showing up to the game late– and making it back home by nine is a whole lot more appealing to a lot of people– including, perhaps, much of the club’s corporate base. Moving towards adding more 4:37 PM starts wouldn’t be such great news for fans travelling from other parts of the GTA, and maybe isn’t feasible as a consequence, but they might as well try it and find out. Sounds great to me.
I have two questions for you today. One is hard and one is easy.
If you crystal ball these five players, who do you see as being the most successful in five years? Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brett Wallace or Travis D’Arnaud.
If you were not sitting in the press box, where would you sit in the stadium?
Hope you enjoy the season.
Richard Campbell, Edmonton
Second question first: I’d sit directly behind the plate, mostly so that I actually have some concept of the strike zone and how the pitcher’s pitches are working– because, as much as fans on one side of the stadium or the other want to believe they have the kind of magical depth perception needed to know a strike from any angle, they don’tt. Failing that, at the Rogers Centre the 500s are underrated, so it’s not like there’s a whole lot of bad spots, beyond maybe the outfield seats behind the bullpens– though even they have their charms, once guys in the section get drunk and start ragging on the opposing relievers. It’s all good, really.
As for the prospects, I don’t see how I can, with a straight face, go against what I think is a pretty clear consensus among the scouts and analysts available online, which would be Lawrie, d’Arnaud, Gose, Hechavarria, Wallace.
Lawrie is the second youngest of the group, eight months older than Gose, and already has a three win season in the Majors under his belt while hitting about as poorly as you could ever expect of him. So he’s a safe choice here in January of 2013. But just because he’s the one you’d take if you’re playing the percentages doesn’t mean he’s a slam dunk. Because of the position he plays, if d’Arnaud has anything like the kind of success at the plate that people are expecting, he’ll be incredibly valuable– and in that case, all it will take is Lawrie running into a wall the wrong way a few more times for d’Arnaud’s value to eclipse his, if it wouldn’t either way.
And the bloom may be off Gose’s rose a little bit, but as bad as he was in the Majors in 2012, if you prorate the numbers he put up over a full season, he’d have been a two win player. Do that to just his September– sketchy as such number-manipulating would be– and it jumps to almost four-and-a-half. Don’t look past him just yet.
As for Hechavarria… as is often the case once a guy gets dealt away from your favourite team, his warts come into much clearer focus. I know he looked better than Gose at times in the Majors in 2012– especially when it came to making contact– but I still tend to think he is going to have a tough time hitting. And Wallace had a roaring start to his 2012 season, but finished at about replacement level– which was better than he’d fared in his previous two cameos, so… yeah, no.
I know Dickey throws a bit harder than the ‘typical’ knuckleballer, and I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here, but hey, it’s a long off season so . . . Do you think that if the Jays are in the race in September, they would consider using Dickey every five days as well as in between starts as a reliever for a couple batters?
The Nationals showed last season that there are certain lengths teams sometimes won’t go to, even if they’re fighting for their playoff lives. So I don’t think Dickey would get carte blanche to pitch as often as he’s willing to go, but certainly there could be a point in the season where the Jays may consider the cost-benefit and choose to use Dickey a little more often. That said, given his age and his importance over the next three years, I’m sure they’d be rather reluctant– even if, as you suggest, he’s only being asked to throw a couple of innings on days where he’d be doing a bullpen session anyway. I hope they’d do whatever it takes to ensure they get into the playoffs, but going this far? I can’t tell you they would for sure.
Q. A few years ago the Blue Jays held a fan barbecue where regular fans could buy tickets and get autographs from the whole team that was set up on the field. This was an amazing experience for both myself and my 12-year-old daughter. Do you see them doing anything like this again? I e-mail them and they never answer which is kind of frustrating.
Thanks, Jason Nesbitt, Aylmer
I can’t see why not, but obviously only the club has the answer. Maybe it’s not the kind of initiative they feel the need to take now that they’re running with the popular crowd? I honestly don’t know.
Do you think Rogers is going to switch the Jays to pay-per-view and start charging for SportsNet One once they start winning with their solid lineup this year? Let’s stop this possibility by nipping it in the bud.
Bruce Hutchison, Toronto
And how the hell would we possibly do that? Rogers is as Rogers does. If they wanted to do a thing like that– and I can’t see why that makes any kind of business sense for them at this time– there isn’t a whole lot fans would be able to do. For now, though, Rogers seems content with mere… uh… content. A winning Jays club will help drive viewership to Sportsnet, and will give them a reason to charge advertisers more and to keep cable subscription fees high. Maybe once they wring every penny available under the current model out of this winter’s astonishing expenditures, or as the TV industry runs further aground on obstacles of the digital age, they’ll consider moving to a pay-per-view system. But the Jays aren’t the Leafs– there isn’t that same kind of built-in, guaranteed, year-in year-out, through-thick-and-thin audience of
dupes paying customers. Rogers knows that as well as anyone, I suspect.
Q. Nice to see the Jays are giving Adam Loewen another shot . . . sadly I doubt his status could ever rise above a fifth outfielder . . . with most of his time spent in AAA . . . he strikes me as a perfect candidate to take up the knuckleball . . . with Dickey around to tutor him in spring training . . . then give him awhile in the minors again . . . if he’s successful he’ll pitch into his 40’s . . . otherwise he’ll just hand around the fringes for another year or so.
David Dales, Huntsville
I’ve said this before in a recent mail bag, but I truly think it bears repeating: the notion that any asshole can just switch to the knuckleball and maybe be successful anywhere near the level of Dickey has been shows some serious disrespect to just what a ridiculously fantastic pitcher Dickey is, and how rare a career he’s had. I know it’s totally not intentional, but still.
Plus, as I also mentioned in the previous Griff Bag, Dickey had always thrown a hard knuckler, which he attempted to pass off as a forkball, or simply as “the Thing.” So his transformation is not anywhere close to the same as asking Loewen to go and pick one up now, heading into his fifth season removed from the mound.
I do agree that more pitchers should turn to the knuckleball as an absolute last resort, if they’re really willing to continue for several additional years of minor league grind in order to have one last minuscule chance to “make it.” But let’s not go sugarcoating what surely would be a horrifically small success rate– especially since it diminishes the amazingness of those who managed to do it, let alone the one who won a damn Cy Young throwing the thing.
Who do you think in the Toronto rotation will benefit the most from the addition of Dickey? I am thinking that it will be Josh Johnson. If a hitter looks at a one-of-a-kind knuckleball all day, with a fastball pitcher like Johnson pitching the next day; his fastball will for sure look and feel faster than normal, which makes his breaking pitches even tougher to hit. I am looking forward to teams coming into TO (say 3-game series) facing a knuckleballer (Dickey) in Game 1, a hard throwing power righty (Johnson) in Game 2, then a soft-tossing lefty (Buehrle) in Game 3. The next three-game series, the Jays can start a fireballer (Morrow) in Game 1, a power lefty (Romero) in Game 2 and a knuckleballer (Dickey) again in Game 3. All I want to say is that it will get awfully tough to get comfortable hitting in TO as an opposing hitter, as hitters are all creature of habits.
James Ho, Burnaby, B.C.
I’m not sure how much I even believe in the effect that pitching after a knuckleballer will have. In game, certainly some adjustment would be needed. But from start to start? It’s possible, and I’m too lazy right now to look up whatever studies on it there might have been, but I’m just not ready to full-on believe it’s going to make that much of a difference.
If it does, though, I’m also not sure why we’d be so confident that Johnson is the guy who’ll slot in behind R.A. Dickey and reap the benefit.
Sure, on pure stuff Johnson certainly has the reputation that would make him the club’s number two, but I’m not sure it’s more impressive that Brandon Morrow’s, at this point. And there’s also the matter of his recent arm troubles.
For both those reasons, I could see Morrow slotting in ahead of him, either as the two himself, with Mark Buehrle taking the third turn and Johnson then Ricky Romero following. Or perhaps, if the club wants to keep open the option of giving Johnson extra rest a few times throughout the season, maybe even with Buehrle second, then Morrow and Romero, with Johnson going on the fifth day of the season.
Now… simmer down. I don’t mean that to say that Johnson is “the fifth starter,” as though the numbers have any meaning– they don’t. Just, strategically, if he’s a guy you might want to consider skipping the odd time, just to keep him fresh, maybe that’s a thing.
Regardless, yes. It’s going to be a king hell rotation to watch. Fuck, it’s exciting.
I have a very bizarre non-PED Hall of Fame question for you. It’s about the makeup of the ballot itself. We all know the rules for appearing on the ballot: at least 10 big-league seasons, and retired/out of MLB for at least 5 years. This year we saw 24 first-time candidates, and with the legends and controversies came some surprising names.
A few random examples: Royce Clayton, Aaron Sele, Woody Williams and Todd Walker. Each of these guys had respectable and solid careers, and obviously did just enough to earn a one-and-done spot on the Hall ballot, and maybe even a bizarre token vote to tell the grandchildren about (seriously though, who voted for Aaron Sele?).
But there were far more than just 24 players who met the criteria to get on the 2013 Hall ballot and didn’t make the final vote. Some random names in this category: Mike Lieberthal, Bob Wickman, Tony Batista, Paul Shuey, and Neifi Perez. Not a bad group: these six guys have at least four all-star appearances and one Gold Glove combined. Now don’t read this wrong: none of the players I’ve mentioned, whether they made the ballot or not, have a hope or prayer of entering Cooperstown without first buying a ticket. What I’m interested in is the process of how the pool of eligible first-time candidates becomes the 24 or so who actually make the final vote — after all, when you read the rules it does sound like 10 or more years and no ineligible list means ‘hello ballot.’
So who’s the man or woman that’s charged with deciding why Todd Walker is more worthy of a ballot appearance in 2013 than, say, Mike Lieberthal? What makes Aaron Sele more worthy of a chance to get the one throwaway vote instead of Neifi Perez?
And if it’s not an automatic that 10 years of service gets you at least one year of Hall consideration, then what’s to stop the ballot makers from simply not adding a so-called “first-ballot” player to the ballot before he even gets a chance, and putting a marginal guy with 10-12 years in the league on in his place? Obviously that last one wouldn’t happen, but if there’s no internal qualifications to narrow the pool of candidates I’d guess that situation is technically possible. Anyway, thanks for giving my strange question a bit of time.
Simon Sharkey, Toronto
There is no such thing as a bad question– and, actually, this is probably a great one– but wow, I could not possibly give less of a shit.
It’s great to hear Mr. Dickey credit Charlie Hough with his development. Charlie is my all-time favorite and a highly undervalued baseball figure with 22 years in the majors. He was never paid like regular pitchers but always went out to the mound, stuck his bum out and threw his 50 mph butterfly. He finally retired when his hip gave out . . . not his arm. There’s no reason R.A. can’t follow that course of action.
Peter Thomson, Elizabeth City, N.C.
I always kinda feel bad for Charlie Hough, actually, on account of Game 6 in ’92. Then I remember that I’m thinking of Charlie Leibrandt.