Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

165547299For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that’s filled with heavy doses of drudging, sludging and other words that don’t actually exist but rhyme with “udging” and connote menial and tedious tasks that are ultimately distasteful. It’s my hope that at the end of such misery, at that moment in time that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to read some random observations about baseball and contribute your own thoughts on the subjects that are broached.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Cliff Lee. The Best.

Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee had one of those Cliff Lee starts that I like to spend a lot of time writing about. He did that thing he does where the catcher sets up his glove and the ball falls out of Cliff Lee’s hand as though the leather of the ball is magnetized to the leather of the glove. The results were eight innings of work in which the pitcher gave up only two hits, no walks and no runs while striking out eight batters.

It seems that there are many amazing things to come out of a Cliff Lee start, and Thursday’s outing versus the Atlanta Braves was no different. For instance, look at how frequently he pitches to the outside against left-handed batters:

lee_vs_lhb

And see how he does it to right-handed batters:

lee_vs_rhb

Lee induced 13 swinging strikes, but he did so in a manner that even if contact was to be made, it’s unlikely that the ball would’ve gone anywhere threatening. This is why we see the left-hander throw cutters to lefties and change ups to righties that move away from the different handed batters swings. It’s also interesting to note that of the cutters he does throw to right handed batters, they’re the pitches most often coming inside, following a two-seamer of similar velocity that moves in almost the exact opposite way.

That approach isn’t unique, it’s Lee’s command of the strike zone that makes his results with this approach unique.

In fact, the only thing better than Cliff Lee’s command is when he ends the inning with a fly ball. By the time the outfielder catches the ball for the final out, Lee is almost always on the dugout steps, as he was last night in the very first inning. He’s a lot like the first Jurassic Park movie, technically sound, emotionally riveting and exhibiting just the right amount of irreverence.

#MadBum

We saw a similar start from San Francisco Giants left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner on Tuesday night, when he went eight innings, allowing only two hits, no walks, no runs and striking out six. Of the 101 pitches that Bumgarner threw, only 25 were balls. This will be the southpaw’s fourth season in the league, and it’s expected that his emergence as a top of the rotation starter will continue.

What we might easily forget is that Bumgarner is only 23-years-old. Here is a partial list of players that are older than the Giants phenomenon:

  • Trevor Rosenthal;
  • Tyler Chatwood;
  • Randall Delgado;
  • Nathan Eovaldi;
  • Jake Odorizzi;
  • Phillipe Aumont;
  • Matt Harvey;
  • Chris Archer;
  • Jarrod Parker;
  • Wily Peralta;
  • Matt Moore;
  • Chris Sale;
  • Rick Porcello;
  • Addison Reed; and
  • Stephen Strasburg.

It’s sort of like how the kids in Jurassic Park act beyond their age to contribute to the efforts of the survivors.

Jose Bautista’s Displeasure

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has a tendency to display his displeasure with an umpire’s calls a tad more frequently than the typical baseball player. On Tuesday night, Bautista attempted to show up home plate umpire Jeff Nelson after being called out on a third strike from Justin Masterson in the fifth inning.

According to Pitch FX, it was in the strike zone.

bautistastrikeout

And according to anyone watching, it was certainly the location of a pitch that one should consider swinging at with a two-strike count. However, instead of admitting to being handcuffed by a 12 miles per hour change in velocity from the previous pitch and an incredibly different looking break on the pitch, Bautista instead blamed the umpire.

John Lott of the National Post asked Bautista about the incident:

The Toronto Blue Jays slugger said he was “a little irritated about the fact that everybody is trying to point the finger at me.” He also said that when he checks video of disputed pitches, he finds that the umpire was wrong 70% to 80% of the time.

“Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else’s mediocrity,” he said. “It’s just the way I am as a person. It’s a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes.”

The comments aren’t exactly going to do him any favors, as these are exactly the type of words (coupled with his reputation for visible reactions) that umpires tend to remember. I’d also wager that Bautista’s competitiveness isn’t so much beyond that of other baseball players that he can’t find a means of protest that’s less visible, and therefore less likely to cause a negative reaction in the future.

I know that the intangibles of Derek Jeter are often exaggerated to the point of being vomit inducing for the least among critical thinkers, but his handling of disagreements with umpires is correctly championed. While he argues balls and strikes far more often than his supporters might lead you to believe, the polite nature of his protest without visible dismay meant for the benefit of the audience results in fewer repercussions and the illusion of increased respect for those officiating the game.

For the record, Bautista isn’t persecuted by “mediocrity” more than any other batter. If anything, he’s treated more fairly than most. So, perhaps there is something to his overreactions.

bautistastrikezone

He’s a bit like Dr. Ian Malcolm in the first Jurassic Park. Overall, he’s a good guy to have on your team, but this is in spite of some of his more selfish tendencies.

Pitching In Colorado

Dan Rozenson has a guest column this week at Baseball Prospectus in which he examines how different pitch types work in the thin air of Coors Field.  I’m not a big fan of statistical analysis that breaks down to the point of individual pitches because there’s just so much unaccounted noise including the chain of pitches that led to the one resulting in the outcome, the count at the time that each pitch is thrown, the amount of times that a batter has seen a different pitch and the failure to account for the differences between the same classified pitch from different pitchers.

However, Rozenson does push his readers to consider a big picture concept that I hadn’t really thought of before. It’s the type of idea that seems obvious only after it’s expressed. We consider pitchers in Colorado to be at a severe disadvantage because of the thinness of the air at a higher altitude. This causes balls to travel farther and faster once their struck by a bat. However, the unfamiliar environment would also lead to pitchers not being able to rely on the typical movement of their pitches. According to his research, the Colorado Rockies would be better off finding pitchers that use a slider as their primary breaking pitch rather than a curve ball.

It’s a bit like the genetic confusion different species are caused by introducing dinosaur DNA, without knowing how it will adapt, into an unknown environment millions of years after it was rendered extinct.

The Designated Hitter

ESPN’s Christina Kahrl opened up discussion on this matter once again when she wrote a post for the SweetSpot blog suggesting that it’s time for the National League to embrace the designated hitter rule. We all have personal preferences. Some of us enjoy more offense and more competitive pitcher/batter confrontations. Others enjoy strategical dilemmas faced by managers and additional influences beyond performance on when a pitcher should be pulled.

Overall, it does seem strange that the two leagues operate under the exact same set of rules save for this one alteration. It also seems unfair that the two leagues are expected to compete against each other throughout each season while being built primarily to compete against teams in their own league. Personally, I think the rules should be altered so that the home team ahead of every game can decide whether or not it wishes to play with or without a designated hitter.

The argument against this line of thinking is that a team wants a certain measure of stability when it comes to roster construction. Why bother signing David Ortiz to a large contract extension if you never know if he’ll be able to start for your team from day to day?

However, in addition to handing control over to the home team, MLB could also implement roster rules that allow for a taxi squad of players to be useable game to game. What I’m thinking is that the active roster could be expanded to 27 or 28 players, while only 25 are allowed to be dressed for each game.

Any concerns the MLBPA might have over lost revenue to potential designated hitters whose playing time might be limited would be allayed by the additional jobs at the MLB level. These jobs would most likely be given to veterans because teams wouldn’t want to limit the development of prospects by starting their service time early or limiting their playing time. Alternatively, it would also give visiting managers more options to combat the the daily decisions of their opposition.

It would also create more drama and intrigue in the decision-making that leads up to each and every game.

It’s a bit like the Jurassic Park sequels in that there are definitely innovative ideas that could be implemented, but tradition often ends up getting in the way and diminishes the entire franchise.

Keep Dreaming Montreal

Just as the designated hitter rule comes up as an annual topic of conversation, it seems that every year, at least since 2005, people wonder wistfully about Major League Baseball returning to Montreal. No one would ever deny that there exist people in Montreal that love baseball and would support a team. No one would disagree that Montreal is one of the 20 largest metropolises in North America. No one would suggest that having baseball back in a culture as unique as Montreal’s isn’t a great thing. It’s all just so wonderful.

Unfortunately, even the strongest nostalgia doesn’t afford what corporate sponsorship does, and corporate sponsorship would prove difficult in Montreal, even if you could find an owner not frightened off by the history of failure for the ownership of the Montreal Expos.

As  Tom Tango recently wrote:

Charles Bronfman sold it at a discount, and we still couldn’t make it survive.  We needed a consortium of all the big businesses in Quebec, just to keep it alive, and we still needed Loria to bail us out.  And this fantastic wonderful park below?  In the PERFECT spot.  And we couldn’t make that happen either.  It’s about the money, and the money just doesn’t work.

What I don’t understand is where does the wishful thinking come from? Who is constantly imagining this to be a possibility? Major League Baseball isn’t talking about expanding. There have been no legitimate rumors about relocations. Major League Baseball in Montreal isn’t going to happen for the foreseeable future. It’s over.

It’s kind of like re-watching Jurassic Park. No matter how much nostalgia you attach to the film, you’ll never be able to go back to witness it for the very first time. It’s simply impossible.

Foul Ball Reactionaries

You’re going to see that GIF above, and your attention will be drawn to the funny reaction of the kid in the second row, who is utterly astounded by the Brendan Harris fouling back an Aroldis Chapman offering on Wednesday. But wait. Look below him, at the elderly woman in the first row whose scream of terror represents the howling of one whose entire life flashes before their eyes.

It’s sort of like raptors attacking. They’ll let you see the one straight in front, while the raptor you should really be watching is the one attacking on the side.

Not Superstitious, Just A Bit Stitious

The New York Times baseball blog, efficiently titled Bats, has a great story of Louisville Slugger’s pursuit of building a harder bat. It’s a good story about innovation, and it stands to reason that Louisville has remained at the forefront of the bat industry given its commitment to improvement and staying on the leading edge of technology associated with its product.

However, the most amusing part of the story comes from their efforts to collect feedback before any change to the look and feel of their brand of bats was to take place.

Many players were less concerned with the oval than with what was just outside of it — since 1930, the company has boasted, next to the logo, that its bats are “Powerized,” the word accompanied by a bolt of lightning.

The major leaguers insisted that their bats keep this talisman, as if it made balls go over fences. “Some players, like Jay Bruce, were very anxious about this, saying, ‘What will happen to my Powerized bat?’” Schlegel said. “So we are keeping that word on our pro player and elite bats.”

I just love that given the efforts of the company, this is what’s most concerning to Major League Baseball players. Remember this story the next time someone discredits your opinion because you haven’t played the game at a high level.

It’s sort of like how John Hammond ignores the science of evolution and the way in which life always finds a way, in order to chase the myth of what he’s building through Jurassic Park. He attempts to reap the benefits of science without really understanding its capabilities.

Bringing Back Valverde

A day after Phil Coke blew a save on Wednesday, the Detroit Tigers signed former closer Jose Valverde to a Minor League contract. Valverde collected 84 saves for the team over the last two seasons with a large portion of advanced metrics suggesting this was the result of luck and not necessarily skill. This came to be seen rather harshly in the 2012 playoffs when Valverde was crushed by opposing batters, sending the previously proud reliever in his last outing of the year to the dugout in tears after blowing a game for his team.

While Minor League contracts are the least risky proposition in baseball, the idea of trying Valverde out one more time in this role seems like backwards thinking. Nonetheless, the team risks nothing given its current situation and the lack of trust that manager Jim Leyland seems to have in the closer by committee set up he’s currently running. Tigers fans simply have to hope that Valverde being given yet another chance doesn’t hinder the development of Bruce Rondon, who remains at Triple A Rochester, as the likely best option for the team’s relief needs.

It’s sort of like imagining that the eye sight of an attacking Tyrannosaurus Rex is based on movement and exercising a defense that consists of being incredibly still. It may or may not be true, but the alternative is merely running, and it’s just not viable considering the speed at which a T-Rex can chase.

Baseball Is Back

I went to a Major League Baseball game on Wednesday night as a fan. Everything about it was perfect. I missed baseball so much that I didn’t even mind forking over outrageous sums of money for beer. It’s sort of like buying food and drinks from the concessions of the movie theatre at which I go to see Jurassic Park 3D this weekend, which is going to be the best ever.