Thursday, June 16, 2011

What do we, the fans, want?

June 16, 2011

Dear Bud Selig, Baseball Commissioner:

This is a plan I propose that you follow around the recent stories that baseball is discussing possible realignment and thus changes in the way baseball does its playoffs. A friend stopped by my office yesterday and we chatted about it for a while and my own ideas began to crystallize a bit. Then last night I read this post by a friend, JHop, who writes the very funny and poignant sports blog “Chicks Dig the Fastball,” where she was furiously taking copious notes on the back of her work files for a post about the same issue, so I knew the time to address it had come. I had no idea what she was going to say about other than the clue she gave “rant about realignment”. She told me her thoughts in today's post - she doesn't like the idea. Meanwhile a friend in work, a Red Sox fan (so you know my thoughts about HIS opinion are guarded at best!) also came out against a realignment effort. So I figure it is time to admit it. I am a realignment advocate but ONLY IF you do it correctly. What follows is a well thought out, structured plea for MLB to do the right thing. Mr. Selig I offer it to you for free.

First off, I think the approach needs to be different then MLB has taken in the past. The way in the past has always been "the goal is to make as much money as possible and we will figure out the details later". The real way to approach this whole issue is to say “What do we baseball fans want”? What we want, really want, is exciting, meaningful baseball throughout the last month of the season. We want meaningful games in September, none of this playing out the string because you have made the playoffs. No, we are out of it in the third week of April so who cares. Get this right, and the fans and excitement will follow.

I also think that the idea of realignment, into 2 15 team leagues, makes lots of sense. Where it starts to breakdown is when you are talking about going back to one giant division for each league with 5 teams with best record making the playoffs. In this scenario, the 13-15th place teams loss interest in April with increasing numbers of teams fans losing interest as the season progresses. Plus how would explain how a team in first place in a division does nort make a playoff while 4 teams from another did. And you thought the tie in the All Star Game was a nightmare? No, stick with 3 divisions within the league and then two wild cards from the balance based on record, and unbalance the schedule to focus more games (not too many though) on playing the other 4 teams in your division. Now this also raises the specter of interleague games. With 15 teams in each league, there is the need to have an interleague series every series. My response to this is “So what?” The idea of interleague play is fun, but we do not need to set aside a special time of the season to play all those games. This was done originally to boost attendance (make more money) and is not necessary. It can be just as exciting to have two AL teams playing each other and then playing an NL club and then going back to a AL matchup. “See the ‘National League club” in its only appearance in “AL city” is just as an effective an advertizing tool as is “this week the AL club faces three different NL opponents’.

As for the schedule, unbalance it and don’t worry about it. This highlights the natural rivalries in the different divisions and adds more significance to the race to the division title. Play each team in your own division 15 times (60 games) each of the 5 teams in the other two same league divisions 6 times (60 games) and add 6 games with one division of the opposite league (30 games) adding up to a nice round 150 games. Then start the playoff run a week earlier. The interleague games should be in the same geographic area as the them is in. In other words the AL East plays the NL East, Central versus Central and West versus West. This will allow for less travel, easier to make up rainouts, keep this part of the schedule balanced as each club in the division will play the same five teams in the opposite league, and continue to foster the natural rivalries while not overly contaminating the World Series match up in October.

As for the playoffs, you MUST give significant advantage to the team that wins the division. None of this wildcard madness where they get the same benefit for finishing in second place as the team that wins. Plus, the Wild card Team could have the fifth best record overall. Why should it get any advantage? It made the playoff lottery, which is enough help. You accomplish this is two ways – when games are played and in rest time for teams. In my playoff system this is how it goes. When the season ends on Sunday, the three division winners get at least 5 days off, allowing them to set their playoff rotations, nurse injuries and prepare for and scout opponents. There are then two wild card teams, the two teams with the best records not to win the division. They play a best of 5 series. The Monday of the playoff run is saved for a tie resolution for a division and Tuesday is for the start of the Wild Card series. If there are no division ties, then the Wild card starts Monday. The Wild Card proceeds for 5 consecutive days, no days off, Monday – Friday or Tuesday – Saturday. Don’t like having to fly coast to coast? Then play well enough to win the division! The Wild Card winner then gets to play the winning division team with the best record. Same division? Doesn’t matter. Play the games! The other series between the division winners begins that Friday. This level of playoffs is 4/7 as is the Championship round, as is the World Series.

As for who moves where, the simplest would be for the Houston Astros to move from the NL Central (now six teams) to AL West (now 4 teams). This requires only one move. I guess you could move Houston from NL Central to NL West and Arizona from NL West to AL West but this requires 2 moves and I would rather keep it simpler rather than more complicated.

I like my plan, I think it serves several purposes. It keeps interest higher by allowing one more team into the playoff system preserves balances schedules and unbalanced schedules where important and promoting more rivalry games both in your own division and within the interleague structure. It rewards teams winning divisions with extra rest and opportunities to plan a playoff run, allows teams who do not win a division a chance to play in the post season and distinguishes rewards for division winners versus wild card candidates.

Mr. Selig I say this – You didn’t listen to me about what to do about the no hitter that was ruined by a bad umpire call. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Your legacy will be enhanced by a playoff system that is fun and exciting and offers the thrills of the hunt for fans across the nation. Don’t give into the greedy desires of a handful of owners. This is not hockey or basketball or football for that matter where way too many teams make the playoffs. You can keep it mean and lean and exciting all at the same time.

You’re welcome.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where’s Montero? (with apologies to Waldo!)

(click to embiggen and find Montero, err Waldo...)

To me, this is as simple as a phone call to Scranton. Probably cost you all of 15 cents. Only have to utter 7 words – “Send Montero up to Yankee Stadium, stat!”

Let’s check out the situation:

1) Yankee back up catcher Frankie Cervelli is a great guy, enthusiastic teammate and nice breath of fresh air in the clubhouse. What Cervelli is not, is a major league level catcher or batter. He is a black hole in the lineup with little power, does not hold up his end of the defensive stick when he is behind the plate and seems this year to be as likely to throw a ball into center field as he is to get t to the shortstop. Nice guy, not so nice back up catcher.

2) Russell Martin has been a godsend, taking over the everyday catching duties. He is everything that Cervelli is not in the catcher’s equipment – good, solid hitter, good defensive catcher, good game caller. Because he is the only viable catcher on the roster, he is catching the majority of games, his stats are slipping and he is injured. He is suffering from over use and this is impacting his entire game.

3) Former catcher, Jorge Posada (hip hip Jorge!) was never much of a catcher, stayed behind the plate due too his bulldog nature and ability to swing the bat. However, this skill seems to be deserting him at an alarming rate as in quickly. He has stirred a bit in the last week batting wise but he is not a catcher any more and to put him in this situation would be a disservice to him and potential injury risk and batting deterioration risk as well. At 39 years of age, Posada is not likely to get better nor will he reach his standard numbers. He is in decline.

Let’s check out some reasonable alternatives:

1) Jesus Montero has been at the top of the Yankee prospect list for a couple of years. He is an adequate defensive catcher, one who will make it or break it in the major leagues on the strength of his bat. After some initial slowness in adapting to AAA baseball last year, he came on like a monster for ¾ of the year and ended up solidifying his status. He came to spring training this year and did not do anything special, started slowly again in AAA but quickly got out the hitting stick and as of now hitting .290 in the first third of the season.


Look, in a nutshell, Martin needs a break, Cervelli can’t field or hit, Posada can’t catch. At worst, Montero only does as well as Cervelli behind the plate but outhits him night and day. Montero can get 4-5 games a week at the ML level by backing up Martin, DHing a couple times a week and pinch hitting on other days if necessary. For a trial basis you can even keep Cervelli around and send someone else down for a while to give him his shot. If he catches fire, maybe he wins a couple of games, gets a taste of ML baseball and works out the kinks.

What do the Yankees have to lose?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Joba Rules

This past week, Yankee relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain (MillieJupiter’s favorite ballplayer!) developed a sore elbow which upon further review, revealed a torn ligament which will require “Tommy John” ligament transplant surgery. Almost within seconds, cyberspace was awash in complaints and theories regarding his usage several years ago when the Yankees developed what was called the “Joba Rules.” Many disagreed at the time, feeling he needed to build arm strength rather than worrying about pitch or inning count. Others felt he was being babied. With this injury, the skeptics and critics alike have jumped on the bandwagon of “I told you so…”

Allow me a few words.

First of all, as Brian Cashman, GM, has said repeatedly, these were not Joba specific rules but were rules covering all the Yankee minor league pitchers, limiting pitches, innings and frequency of use, as a developmental policy. This whole policy in general has been developed in part as a reaction to what is called the “Verducci Effect.” Tom Vedrducci, a sports writer for Sports Illustrated, has been talking about the misuse or abuse of young pitchers and developed this theory – pitcher under 25 years of age who increased the number of innings pitched more than 30 from the previous year’s total were significantly more likely to be ineffective or injured. A few years ago Verducci started announcing pitchers who has had this significant increase in workload and his theory seems to be playing out very accurately. In the last five years, Verducci has flagged 44 pitchers 25-and-younger who increased their workload by 30 innings or more. Of those 44, only eight of them (less than 20 %) made it through the following season without injury AND lowered their ERA, which he documents as a sure sign of ineffectiveness. A look at the list of pitchers he identified reads like the DL list in MLB’s offices - Josh Johnson, Homer Bailey, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, . Mat Latos, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, Jon Danks, Francisco Liriano, Fausto Carmona, Dustin McGowan, Gustavo Chacin, Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez. What they have in common is they have all experienced injuries, some never returning to the promise of their early careers and Verducci called it. The Verducci Effect isn’t a theory, it is a predictor.

Are major league pitchers babied? Well you know, when players received $6000 a year to play, they were seen as replaceable parts in a baseball business cog. When they cost millions of dollars to be signed, developed and then make it to the majors, you better believe they should be babied. They are a highly trained, specialized athlete who can deliver thunder and lightning with one arm. Why would you chance anything else? You don’t let them participate in “dangerous sports” like motorcycling and sky diving but you’ll over use them and threaten your investment? Not if your smart or competent you won’t.

So now, back to the Yankees. How can you expect them to do anything but protect their investment? Yes, perhaps they had some influence in the injury because of the way he moved from starter to reliever to starter to reliever again but to me, the inning numbers are a more important factor and not to be trifled with. This is just another warning to the Yankees and other MLB teams that injuries, major injuries, career ending injuries can be sometimes prevented and this needs to be fully explored.

Were they protecting their investment? Yes, I think so. Will he get the best medical care he possibly can? Absolutely. Will he return to the major leagues as an effective pitcher? That may take a while to figure out. MillieJupiter and I both hope so!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Colon Treatment

The early favorite for the “Comeback Player of the Year” has to be Bartolo Colon, hands down. This 37 year old Dominican, burst on the scene for the Cleveland Indians in 1997 and after a fairly successful run, ended up injured, ineffective and bouncing around several major league teams until he was out of baseball entirely by the middle of the 2009 season. Now, given his girth, he truly is “the round mound on the rebound!”

In a story that Disney wishes it could trademark, he became the legendary Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon, looking for an elixir, a fountain of youth that would help him find his way back. What he discovered was a doctor with a controversial treatment involving a transplant of stem cells and possible use of HGH, which was injected several times into his shoulder. The miracle then blossomed as Colon played in the Puerto Rico Winter League, got an invite to Spring Training with the NY Yankees and after an impressive performance as a bullpen guy, was moved into the starting rotation and has responded with a number of excellent performances including a complete game shutout a week or so ago.

So this journey has raised several questions which beg to be answered. The first batch of questions comes from MLB itself as they look at the legality of this controversial treatment. Although MLB has rules in place related to the use of steroids, there is nothing in the Basic Agreement regarding stem cells or HGH treatment. Plus Colon was not under any contract, major league or minor league when he got this treatment, so was he even bound by MLB rules? Would anyone be restricted by the MLB Basic Agreement if he is out of the sport? Let’s take any player, say injured while under control who then retires. What would prevent him from using any type of treatment, steroids included and then after healing, getting back into the sport by signing a contract again. A loophole of ginormous proportions has been found here.

A second issue is related to this treatment option overall. If it is or becomes an accepted medical procedure to heal damaged muscle, how can baseball ban it anyway? Last year there was some controversy about some NFL players getting a oxygenated blood treatment to speed up healing with some positive results. What if this is the same type thing. Then, the procedure as an ongoing revitalization treatment comes into question. If this procedure that Colon got is found to be effective in repairing muscle, would it be tried when say the muscle is not as damaged but has some issues? Throwing a baseball is an unnatural exercise and many experts say that ALL pitchers do some damage in their shoulders and forearms and elbows. What if this treatment could repair that damage and help to extend careers. Can you imagine the hybrid we might have, the grizzled MLB veteran pitcher who has been around the block a number of times with the experience to match, suddenly getting the arm of a 25 year old again. Teams could field a staff of Roy Halladay or Greg Maddux types with Stephen Strasburg fastballs.

Whenever I get into this type of discussion with my friend Maqz, he always falls back on baseball the old way argument. He is a bit of a traditionalist in regards to his baseball. He likes the human element, likes the old uniforms with the high traditional stirrups, you get the idea. But what I say to him and others like him is that I guess this means we should go back to using leaches in treating injuries and perhaps a medicine doctor or shaman chanting to make the evil spirits go away while clutching an eagle feather or eye of newt. Should we just rub some spit and dirt into sore muscles and move on? Baseball, like the other professional sports, is employing highly tuned, athletic, powerful individuals who are paid amazingly high amounts of money, an investment. Thus the complicated medical treatments are becoming more commonplace more highly specialized to protect the investment. Training regiments are different than 25 years ago, medical treatments, more complex and complicated – tendon transplants and MRI’s for muscle soreness and cramps and hamstring strains. Heck I know someone who had a double hip replacement with titanium ball and sockets. Someone like Mickey Mantle could have had 5 Triple Crown Years if we had had the knee surgery available to him back in the late 1950’s that we have now. How many of the pitchers of yesteryear with their sore elbow or tired shoulder could have had their careers extended with “Tommy John” surgery or rotator cuff repair. How many current players might have their career extended with a “Colon Cocktail”.

Yea, I know, we have to come up with a better name for it than that. A Bartolo Bump Up perhaps?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How do YOU choose your All Star team?

They have just started to announce the voting results for this year’s All Star game, and I guess some people are up in arms because several Yankees, one of the better clubs in the league have several players leading for their positions. This got me thinking about All Star games and realizing that different people have different ideas about what this game is and thus, how it should be represented. Allow me my opinion on the subject.

First off, the All Star Game is an exhibition. Baseball hierarchy in some misguided attempt to add some meaning to it, now has the winning team get the home field advantage for the World Series. They did this for two reasons, neither of which is meaningful. First, the game itself had begun to lose its luster because it used to be that the only way you saw the stars of the other league was in the World Series. Think of that entire generation of American League Baseball fan who never saw Ernie Banks play because he was with the Cubs and they NEVER went to the World Series. But this reasoning has changed because of interleague play and baseball on TV. Now you get to see every other National League team in person about every 4-5 years depending on the schedule, plus you have the Fox Saturday and ESPN Sunday night and TBS Sunday games of the week and the MLB Network and Extra Inning package on cable and dish TV.. The second reason was because of the infamous tie All Star Game in 2002 when Bud Selig ended the game from his box seat when the teams ran out of available pitchers in an extra inning affair. He was roundly criticized by fan and media alike, to the point of making the silly decision about the winning league getting the home team advantage in the World Series. This was just ANOTHER time when Selig missed the mark. There was no need to do anything. The managers would have gotten creative and figured out what to do. Instead we get another new rule that seems more for marketing than for the integrity of the game.

Secondly, this is an exhibition game, for the fans. They should vote on who they want to see and get a chance to see who they voted for. If they want to see an aging superstar one last time in the national spotlight, then so be it. Problems arise because of the voting system. First you have people voting for players they do not see or know. Why do American League fans at an American league game vote for National League players? Let the fans vote for the 5 or 10 players from either league they want to see and then allow the coaches and managers or the players themselves dictate the rest of the team. Also why are people allowed to vote 10 or 20 or 100 times each game plus online too. Is it so that baseball can report millions of votes? Stop it! Limit the vote to one each day at most and get more people involved in the process. And while you are at it, make sure the DH is in all games so that more players play. I would not have got to an All Star Game to watch Sandy Koufax bat. Let the pitchers pitch and the hitters hit. That’s what we want to see.

Finally, let’s get rid of all the limiting ideas about the make up of the team, starting with the arcane rule that there must be a representative from each team. That is dumb as it is an All Star team, not the “best player on your team” team. And why not expand the rosters so that there are some extra players to be around in case of extra innings or whatever. Most guys get a bonus if chosen so bring a few more and make it even more fan friendly.

Look, the All Star game is a celebration of baseball. Let’s keep that in mind when we vote, when we root and when we watch. Let the owners and Bud Selig not forget where their bread is buttered here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Missing signs…

In the final game of the Oakland series recently, in the fourth inning, Nick Swisher came up with 2 on and no one out and thought he saw the bunt sign and got ready to do so. After two pitches out of the strike zone, the Oakland Pitching Coach came out to the mound and Swisher took the opportunity to check in with the third base coach who informed him the bunt was not on. Swisher hit a 3 run homerun. There are four issues to discuss here and I will take them on.

1) Why a bunt? Yankees are down one run, early still in game and Nick Swisher is not the prototype bunter but is a extra base hit threat. Why would you want to give up an out for what is potentially only a tying run. I am all in favor of the bunt as tool when the circumstances are right – like later in game or to try and tie a game on the road, but the 4th inning is not the time or place.

2) Why a bunt? It seems recently the Yankees have become more enamored with playing small-ball as if in reaction to all the criticism they were getting for depending on the long ball too much. One writer I read said that they were in trouble because they hit too many home runs. I never noticed Earl Weaver mentioning the bunt but he did say the key to winning baseball games were pitching, fundamentals and the three run homer.

3) Why a bunt? There have been a number of times this year when Yankee batters have bunted in strange situations. The fact that Swisher had the opportunity to check in with the coach confirmed he missed a sign. This got me thinking – did other players miss signs? Was the manager sticking up for them by not letting the cat out of the bag about the missed sign. Are the signs so complicated that they are easy to miss or is getting the sign correctly, another fundamental that baseball is losing over time.

4) Why a bunt? With all the advancements in technology, why couldn’t they use a small, wireless ear bud to relay signs from the manager to the batter or base runners or even fielders for that matter? How silly does it seem to have an assistant coach waving a towel from the dug out steps in an attempt to get the outfielders attention to move him a few feet to one side or another. And don’t give me any of that shit about traditions of the game or human elements. If that was so important games would not be on TV, players would be wearing wool uniforms and the manager would be sporting a straw hat. We got video and indoor batting cages and titanium cups, what is wrong with a wireless communicator?”

5) Finally, gentlemen, you are a power hitting American League East ballclub. Act like it, ok?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Following the NY Yankees – Radio Edition

Living in the heart of Red Sox nation, it is sometimes difficult to tune in the AM radio to the call of the NY Yankees. There are some Massachusetts stations, in the Berkshires and in Springfield, that carry them, but they are local stations without strong signals. Sometimes the signal on NYC’s own WCBS 880 AM is strong enough to be heard but that is inconsistent at best. Also adding to the unfortunate-ness is the fact that near where I live AM 860 is a fundamental Christian station with discussions of the Rapture et al, and this will impinge on the weak WCBS 880 radio signal. Nothing like John Sterling talking about one that is high, far and then some minister cuts in talking about the rapture and what it means for us each and every day.

Speaking of John Sterling, allow me a few words about the Sterling – Waldman duo NY Yankees radio announcers. . I hate ‘em. OK, I said it, HATE THEM! Had a discussion with CollegeBoy and he talked about how, when listening to the broadcast in his car, he can feel the excitement when John goes into one of his patented “It is high, it is far…” moments and that that will add excitement to the call, that he feels extra exhilarated when it goes out, extra deflated when it is caught. I guess I can understand that but after so many years of listening to Yankee radio, Sterling is a disappointment. He has become in my opinion, a cartoon of what an announcer is for baseball and this just leaves me cold. I grew up with Mel Allen and had guys like Bill White, Frank Messer and even Phil Rizzuto filling me in on the games. Those familiar with Rizzuto, with his birthday announcements, hiding under the desk when thunderstorms were in the area and being on the GW Bridge in the eighth inning to beat the traffic, would be within their rights as a commentator on this blog to make the comparison of Rizzuto antics with Sterling’s. To this I say, “fool me once, shame on you fool me twice…” The Scooter, as Rizzuto was called, was who I grew up with, he was the voice on the transistor radio under my pillow and so he draws a bye, not so for Sterling.

And to show that I am an equal opportunity critic, I will say this about the ever excited Suzyn Waldman. When she first joined the Yankee announcing crew in 2005, I liked her. I thought she was knowledgeable, could do a good interview with a player and understood the variances of the game. But then three things happened. In 2007, she cried after the Yankees lost to Cleveland in the playoffs and we all know there is no crying in baseball. Second, her over the top reaction to Roger Clemens coming back to the Yankees, a clip that has been aired hundreds of times on all manners of radio and is an embarrassment. The third, possibly more subtle that the others is the fact that she has kowtowed to Sterling in her call of the game. What once was insight into the action as now become a background for the Sterling show. She has helped him become a cartoon by becoming one herself.

Now the clincher for me. This dynamic duo’s contract id up this year and I am hoping that there is a newly swept clean radio booth at the stadium next year. Sterling must go, the quicker, the better. Suzyn can maybe stick around and do some interviews for the radio audience. That would be ok. As for the announcers, let’s get someone who is a good representative of some 90 years of baseball, someone who can represent 27 pennants. You know, the YES TV booth is pretty crowded. I wouldn’t mind if John Flaherty moved over. But as we say in the business “You know Suzyn, you can never predict baseball!”