Archive for April, 2011
Saturday, April 30th, 2011
It seems that in today’s game, throwing out runners is becoming more and more of a skill of a bygone era…and that’s a damn shame! For a catcher to have the ability and arm strength to toss out base runners, not only increases said team’s chance to win, but it allows the pitcher to remain relaxed, confident and focused on taking care of the opponent at the plate. There is absolutely no debate necessary; defence is in fact the best offence. If a team doesn’t allow runs, it takes a lot of pressure off of the hitters to constantly produce HR’s and RBI’s.
Envision this for a moment. You’re on the mound in a Major League Baseball game, you’re battling, but you happen to walk a guy. If your beloved catcher tosses out that player you allowed on base, it’s immediate relief from your mistake and a possible run scored. A pitcher’s energy level absolutely sky rockets after his teammate behind the dish tosses out a runner and this does a lot more for a team than one would think.
However, the responsibility of gunning down guys on the base path cannot fall solely on the catcher. It’s part of a pitcher’s role to keep leads tight and left-handed hurlers have a clear advantage with the one-bag occupied. Many pitchers develop a “slide” technique where it appears they are committed to throwing the pitch and out of nowhere, they re-direct to first base. Righties have their backs turned in this scenario, but can still create ways to keep runners close. Baseball is a hitter’s game, so the emphasis is constantly channeled towards the guy with the bat in his hand. Sadly, the attention from media and fans on the offensive side of the game has neglected the art of throwing out threats on the base path.
For a catcher, the margin for error is so small, one fumble or a loose grip means a SB on his watch. It could be a hundredth of a second that determines if the runner is safe or out. It’s extremely critical to keep runners close and very timid. If base runners know that a catcher’s arm is not that strong or they have trouble handling wild pitches, base runner’s leads will be larger and the chances of a steal attempt are higher.
If you look at the evidence over the years, throwing out guys en route to stealing a base is progressively getting weaker. The abilities of ‘the battery’ have gotten worse and the statistical differences are actually staggering.
In 1986, Jody Davis dominated the Majors behind the dish for the Cubs, throwing out a whopping 89 speedsters (48% of attempted steals against him that season) and his competition was not far behind. Following Davis, the numbers remained high compared to today’s product with the runner ups finishing with 55-70 throw outs. 1986 wasn’t an anomaly either. Check out Hall of Famer Gary Carter’s numbers in the 80′s. They’re all-world. He led the league multiple times en route to his three Gold Gloves in the early 80′s. But again, the numbers behind the leader were equally impressive and not far off. You have to go back to 2003 to even find a player that cracked 50 throw outs. That wouldn’t even flirt with the top 5 in the first half of the 80′s. His numbers are even more impressive when you consider speedsters of that era putting up 90-plus stolen bags a year.
Several pitchers assist their catchers with the job and have earned recognition for their pickoff abilities. Whether or not they looked fancy doing it, there is a technique that some chuckers have mastered. It’s not difficult to learn, most pitchers remain shoulder-width apart, use a quick step and pivot towards the bag. 1995 through 1997, Andy Pettitte (lefty) owned runners who dared to steal a base on him. In those three seasons, he picked off 36 because he had natural movement, had extremely quick mechanics and anticipated when guys were ready to pounce.
Another beaut but from a different generation, primarily in the 70′s, is Steve Carlton. He had a very long career with astounding numbers. Carlton finished with 227 pickoffs, he had 19 in 1977 and still holds the career record in this category. Comparing that to the modern day-champ (Pettitte), there is no comparison. Where Pettitte’s strongest year was in his third season with 14. Don’t kid yourself, it’s no coincidence that these two beasts are both lefties.
‘The battery’ is such an overlooked unit these days and although home run derbies and offensive abilities are vital, it’s not what makes the game-go-round. Pitching and defence is. The best players will tell you that, as well as characters who have been around the game their entire lives. And although pickoffs and throw outs are not the entire make-up of pitching, catching and defence, it keeps base runners in line and ultimately the game to a low score.
So ask yourself this one question: Why has the game been steered away from this? Where has this art gone? The game inside of the game, is much more interesting.
Out of the current catchers today in the MLB, who will post numbers like Gary Carter, Jody Davis, Carlton Fisk or Thurman Munson? Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum have their work cut out.
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
The epic trial for MLB Slugger Barry Bonds finally came to a conclusion. The home run king was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but the jury failed to reach a decision on three counts of perjury. Oh but wait, I highly doubt it‘s actually over. Bonds is infamous for his stubborn nature and will definitely not go down without a fight. I can guarantee an appeal is on its way.
The man has every reason to appeal when dealing with such a contraversial issue in society because the conviction is not the only penalty and disgrace he will encounter when dealing with steroid usage. He will sit and wait for years to see if he will ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and most importantly, he will no longer be seen as a clean hero in the game. Yes, he has the all-time home run record, but whether you are down with ‘the juice’ or not…his public image will definitely be tainted. And don’t be surprised if he sees little to no recognition from the Hall in the next five years for his accomplishments at the plate.
I am assuming sports fans know the major details of the trial and the hotwater he is in. Baseball writers are relentless and unforgiving in these situations when it comes to votes. Mr. Bonds will be on the ballot in 2012 and with enough votes he will stay eligible through 2022.
Bonds kept his cool through the trial, knowing that he would put forth every effort to defend himself and his status in Baseball. Every appearance he made in the courtroom, he sat emotionless as he awaited the jury’s decision. Calm. Collected. Ready to pounce.
Now the question is, will he be placed behind bars? If so, how long? And does he deserve to be a Hall of Famer, despite his mistakes and faults?
Friday, April 15th, 2011
There are many aspects that are crucial in the wonderful game of baseball. In the Majors and any level of the sport for that matter, pitching is definitely the most important of them all. Ultimately, pitching dictates the success of the team and the momentum of the game. If the guy on the mound is dominating, everyone on the field with the same jersey on his back has a little more jump in their step and any hint of inhibition is out the window. The shortstop will make the long throw from the hole, the centre fielder will lay out for the gap shot because deep down that player knows the hurler will exit from tough situations on his own. It takes a gifted and mentally buff chucker to carry a team on his back and this type of gem is rare. This is why there is a bullpen. Not every pitcher can go to the end and not every starter can leave his heart on the field. The bullpen is what saves teams and becomes the make-or-break for post-season thoughts.
In the early-early of this 2011 MLB season, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire was literally sweating bullets over his bullpen and the risk of overusing their arms. I saw the sweat myself, I had my microphone in his face asking about the worries and the issues surrounding the infamous call to the bullpen. How much was too much, when there are 160+ games in the stretch. He had a deep concern, Gardenhire was not getting enough pitches/innings from his starters and in return that could effect his closer’s arms in the long-run. Closers and middle relievers have only so much gas in the tank and if you run it bone-dry, you are cutting the franchise short of their capabilities.
Infamous White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen absolutely lost it on Wednesday after his bullpen blew ANOTHER lead to the Oakland A’s. Chicago lead the majority of the game 4-1, but when Guillen had to bring in three separate closers in the ninth to protect those three runs, the frustration boiled. “I don’t have a closer and when you have a bad bullpen, that’s what happens. I wish I knew who I can bring in the ninth. I mean, now we’ll try everyone in one inning. No more excuses,” Guillen said.
The fact that the Sox have blown six saves and now have a 7-5 record, it appears that my above statement is true. Pitching is everything and of course, the bullpen is the final chapter of the role. Want to hear an alarming stat? The relieving pitchers for the White Sox this season have combined for a 6.14 ERA, yikes. Effective late-game pitchers do not have earned run averages that high.
To put it bluntly, I would feel lost if I were in Guillen’s cleats. What do you do? Who do you sign? They are already at a franchise-high payroll of $127 million. All one can do is keep working them, allow them to get the reps and let the chips fall where they may. Harshly enough though, that may not cut it this year.
A glorified story of a man with 564 career saves is arguably the best closer in the game’s history and needs no introduction. He has seen everything the past-time has to offer. New York faithful Mariano Rivera is a five-time World Series Champion with the Yankees. Yes, he has blown a handful of big games. We all remember Arizona, Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. I actually broke down and cried. I will never forget the day. I was in Florida for a tournament of my own, on my birthday and the one pitcher I always looked up to gave up the game-winning hit. It probably made for a terrible birthday for him as well, we happen to share the same birthday month. Getting to my point, this man has seen more success against big clubs than any other pitcher. He is an eleven-time American League All-Star and defines what it is to have depth and faith in a closing pitcher.
Rivera continues to dominate and it is apparent that he is not allowing age to slow him down either. The veteran already has seven saves and a single win in this early season. He has only allowed four hits in 8.1 innings pitched with a 0.00 ERA. That is pretty impressive for a forty-one year old. A great way to analyze a pitcher’s real pedigree, is to look at walks, earned runs and strikeouts. He currently has seven K’s and zero in the BB’s and ER’s. ‘The Sandman’ (nickname given by Yankees fans) jogs out to the mound with swagger whenever he gets the call from the bullpen because he knows with that one magnificent pitch he has, (cutter) the game’s fate is in his hands.
Closing games brings championships and happiness to last a lifetime. Rivera is my hero and always will be. The White Sox bullpen right now? Not so much…
Monday, April 11th, 2011
18 seasons in the Major Leagues and Manny Ramirez, a 12-time All Star calls it quits to dodge a possible 100-game suspension after he tested positive for using performance enhancing drugs. Shame on you Manny, and this wasn’t even your first account. With the L.A Dodgers the power-slugger sat out 50 games for going against the MLB’s policy on the same offense.
Now let’s try to be objective. If you (and I) were Manny Ramirez, a former Boston outfielder who was a part of the biggest comeback in sports history (Taking down the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, after being three games down) would you have anything left in the tank? Would there be anything else you wanted from this game? Missing over half of the season, for what? Granted, he shows no respect by leaving the game in this manner, but he will have to live with his decision. Right or wrong.
I say this with all of the confidence in the world…Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters in the modern times. He may not be going out with a bang, but honestly, with a one-year $2 million dollar contract that he signed with the Rays in the off-season, he has no real obligation. I understand that he made a commitment with Tampa Bay, he was reunited with his teammate from Bean-town (Johnny Damon) and that he was going to make an impact in their hitting line-up. So be it. Ramirez can walk away from the game. He chose to leave Baseball, the sport he loves, instead of suffering the embarrassment of a 1o0-game suspension.
When the never-ending debate arises concerning the use of performance enhancement drug use, it is tough to have a real opinion unless you have been in the situation. I was having this conversation with a friend, when I was driving in to work one day. These professional athletes are in another world whether you like it or not. The general population cannot relate to what these players go through everyday, take a look at hockey for instance. The NHL has been overwhelmed with the issue of head-shots this season (and several seasons before now), but when you look at how much bigger, stronger and faster these elite skates have gotten, it is incredible. They are all fighting for a spot, they are all battling for a win and why is this? They want that contract, yes it always boils back down to money. You see what I am saying? Athletes have to compete at an extremely higher level from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Back to Manny, hitting is about power. Hitting the long-ball is not always built into your swing, you need the muscle behind it. And when you are in game 98 of the season, you are tired as hell, you have been on the road for ten games, sleeping in three or four different hotels, so an extra bump is looking pretty good. To completely dismiss pardon for these athletes is unfair, until you are in the situation of that specific person. Call me naive, but just because you make six-million a year, it does not mean that your body is now a machine. They are human and the fierce competition that is their life, will sometimes push them to making bad decisions, much like Manny’s current predicament.
Ramirez was introduced to the league when he was selected by the Indians 13th overall in the 1991 draft. In his career, he won two World Series championships (2004, 2007 with Boston), is a nine-time Silver Slugger, he hit 21 grand slams, is one of twenty five players to belt over 500 homers and is first on the all-time list for RBI’s in post-season play with 29 and don’t you forget it. Ramirez took part in some of Baseball’s finest memories. No matter what anyone says or writes, that cannot be taken away from him.
Friday, April 8th, 2011
The San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series Champions. No one expected it in 5 games, no one could believe it, (especially Texas Manager Ron Washington) but in actuality their team was everything you would want in an elite Championship team. They had the heart, the talent, the pitching, the clutch hits when it counted and most importantly, the DESIRE. Let’s just say It did not hurt to have ‘long- haired’ Tim Lincecum on the hill throughout the 2010 playoff campaign. He was an absolute horse who was 4-1 in postseason play including a 2.43 ERA and forty-three strikeouts. He continues to be a rocket, just yesterday he K’d thirteen Padres with three hits in seven innings. Rookie Catcher Buster Posey also had a break-out 2010 NLCS/Worlds at the plate and behind the dish for San Francisco. Posey is also on fire right now, on Wednesday he went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBI’s against San Diego.
All the hard work paid off for the Giants and they will continue to reap the benefits for their long-haul in October of last year. On their first home series of the 2011 season, the Giants are raising their banner at their home ballpark as the Cardinals visit AT&T park this weekend.
The Giants are currently 2-4, not an impressive early season , but come this Saturday they will feel those heavy World Series Rings on their fingers and hopefully feel the fire again.The ceremony will be held before Saturday’s first pitch at 7:05 pm. Posey will also receive his National League Rookie of the Year Award. Not a bad weekend at the office, World Series rings and beautiful weather in the Bay area.
Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Once again, the MLB season did not begin the way everyone anticipated and people are already presuming the Sox are doomed with a sloppy pitching staff, the Rangers are hot, hot, hot and teams are not playing up to par. Texas swung the bats and just because Boston got swept on Opening Weekend, doesn’t mean the season is a write off for them. Baltimore, Philly and Cincinnati are undefeated as of right now, that also holds no promise either way.
Folks, if you bust out the calculator, on average teams have played a limited 3-4 games so with 162 games on the slate, what percentage of the year remains? Oh yeah, around 98% of the MLB season is untouched. What is all the excitement about? Let’s not overreact. Allow the pitchers to find their groove, give the hitters some time at the plate to get comfortable and bring yourself back down to earth.
On a positive note…Teams who started off with impressive weekends are as follow:
Yankees: Currently 3-1 after opening weekend with Detroit (and their first-of-three over the Twins), the Yanks proved their pitching staff to be stronger than imagined. Two of the three starters were solid; CC Sabathia threw a six inning, two earned run outing and former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett took the win in game two, allowed three runs in five innings and grabbed six K’s. Phil Hughes was the only disappointment thus far for the Bronx Bombers. Hughes was shelled for five runs on five hits, two walks and surrendered two homeruns and could only manage one strikeout to end the series. Ouch. Tough day for Hughes. Ivan Nova impressed me to no end and I would be comfortable in saying that he could be a fourth starter for the pinstripes. At the plate, DH Jorge Posada lit it up, collected six RBI’s and three homers in fourteen AB’s. Mark Teixeira had an even better four-game stretch, as he cashed in seven on five hits, three bombs and was patient at the plate with three walks.
Monday night the Yanks kept the bats hot with two-run shots from Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) and Posada. Frustrations must be boiling with the Minny pitching staff after that loss, especially after dropping two, compliments of the Blue Jays. I caught up with Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire this past Saturday to discuss the worries of using too much of the bullpen early against the Jays. “Shocked, already running guys out there back to back. Too many pitches from our bullpen and not enough from our starters. You have to work through it but it would be sure nice,” Gardenhire said. Which holds a lot of truth because if you burn out the bullpen too early, the team’s shot of post-season play or even a .500 season is hopeless.
The Reds also had an outstanding first series. A definite highlight would have to go to game one as they rallied four runs in the ninth inning over the Brewers. Ramon Hernandez had a beautiful walk-off, an opposite field three-run shot to win it 7-6. As far as pitching goes, Left-hander Travis Wood pitched a solid game two with seven innings of work on the hill, only allowed one earned on four hits and struck out seven. Not too shabby for a guy with a 6-4 career record. The Reds have definitely continued that Cinderella streak from last season.
And how about them Orioles? 4-0, undefeated in 2011. Who would have thunk it? They swept the Rays with ease and you can call me crazy, but I wouldn’t have been putting any money down for that to happen. Starters Jeremy Guthrie, Jeremy Accardo and Zach Britton kept it all one run ball-games for the O’s and left it up to their hitters to determine their early fate. If they keep that up, it will be a breezy season. But, as I said earlier, getting worked up in April is a waste of your much needed energy these days.
Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
So for the first entry of this Major League Baseball Blog, I thought long and hard of what I could contribute to the baseball fanatics of the world. Obviously, our very own Mike Wilner has the Blue Jays covered from top to bottom so my responsibility and pleasure is to catch everyone up with everything that is going on around the Bigs….but first I want to introduce myself properly.
I have played this wonderful game of baseball (fast-pitch) since I was five years of age, a very young lady with a knowledgeable father on my side that refused any form of complaisant behavior. Every level of the game was important to me whether I was pitching to my dad in my driveway or throwing a no-hitter in the finals of the Canadian Nationals (that actually happened.) Writing this blog is a cherished opportunity for me to convey what really goes on in the mind of an athlete as well as the daily grind for these professionals around the Majors. Baseball will forever be a part of my life and I find the sport/past-time to be one of the greatest games to have ever been played on this earth. A lot of the general population finds the game to be slow, painfully boring and essentially less enjoyable than any other event the human race has to offer. As a former NCAA softball player at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I can whole heartedly say that the mechanical breakdown, the repetition, work-load and the talent that is crucial for this sport far exceeds any other athletic endeavor. This leads me to Roy Halladay, the most gifted and dedicated pitcher in today’s game.
All off-season while a majority of MLBer’s are sipping egg nog and trimming the Christmas tree, Doc was getting his ass out of bed at 4 am so that he knew when Spring training and Opening Day arrived, he was damn sure that he remained at the top of today’s elite hurlers. Many of you know the righty’s history, and stats are not my select choice for determining an athlete’s worth, but he has some pretty staggering numbers in his illustrious career. In his twelve year stint with the Blue Jays, he was a 2003 Cy Young winner and a six-time All-Star with zero rings. Any baseball fan would accept the fact that it was time for him to ship off and pursue success elsewhere, the man needed to join a team and have a real shot in making the playoffs or even the World Series. His wish was granted. In the 2010 season, Roy Halladay joined the Phillies, grabbed another Cy Young and made his first appearance in post-season play, threw a no-no in his first outing in October and was vital in Philadelphia’s race to the Worlds.Two months early for Spring Training? Are you kidding me? And everyday begins at 5:45 am for him outside of the off-season. I saw this MLB feature that took a closer look into his intense training. One of his exercises that allows this 32 year-old to extend his innings to the 8th and 9th frames includes excessive running, arms, legs and core strengthening drills to the point of exhaustion and then he will proceed to throw 40-50 pitches so when he starts against the New York Yankees in those big games, he can finish it himself with no call to the pen. So not only does he have the stats to bring his team to early November he also has the heart. He is the best, plain and simple.
I chose Halladay’s work ethic as a large piece of my first blog to show you why this guy is the best and how much grind and time is placed into being a champion at this level. And this opening day weekend only proves my ranting to be true. In his first 2011 appearance , Halladay fanned six Astros in six innings (tossed 101 pitches), surrendered five hits and looked ready-to-go at the beginning of this lengthy MLB year. Not his most impressive, but huge signs of effectiveness on the hill.
The Phils are going to be lights out this year…and my prediction is they will take on the Red Sox of the AL East in the big show. As a Yanks fan, it hurts my heart to say but these two teams are absolute powerhouses with little to no holes in their roster.
The Phillies are unfortunately without second baseman Chase Utley right now, he is out with a knee injury but slowly returning and will be back in the game faster than you would think. Utley is now able to field grounders on one knee and can flip the ball to his right but unfortunately there has been no set timetable for the stud. As far as who they have now, In centre, Shane Victorino knows what its all about it, he is a pure hitter and can track a ball in outer space. Victorino also provides a veteran presence and comes up huge in clutch situations.
Their infield isn’t bad either with Jimmy Rollins on short, big-man Ryan Howard on the one-bag and to even out the corners is Placido Polanco. Powerhouse on paper, even scarier on the field. They all work well together, communicate smoothly and all have impressive offensive abilities at the plate.I saved this juicy information for the end of my analysis. Want to see something laughable? Take a look at their pitching rotation. It is actually unfair how nasty this round of throwers is. You got Halladay, Cole Hamels, CLIFF LEE (takes names), Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. Enough said people. I haven’t seen that strong of staff in years, maybe a decade.
As for Boston, and this is hard for me to say but please do not let opening day deceive you. Yes, the Sox lost all three to Texas but they are the proud new owners of former Ray Carl Crawford. That is great ownership right there and you can see with that pick-up that the Bo-Sox are ready to get back to the Playoff fever. Clay Buchholz took a beating on Sunday against the defending World Series losers (Rangers). Buchholz allowed four earned runs on five hits and only sat down three. The Rangers really put the bat on the ball against the right-hander, but John Lackey who also looked rough on Saturday can be a strong presence on the hill when you least expect it. I also have my eye on Daisuke Matsuzaka, a very poised and intelligent pitcher, Josh Beckett and lefty Jon Lester. If these guys can remain healthy (which was a huge problem last year) and have consistent help from a strong and united bullpen (Jon Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Dennys Reyes, Tim Wakefield and Matt Albers) I think the Sox will be unstoppable.
The line-up speaks for itself, with David Ortiz, Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez , plus the speed and intelligence on the bags? Forget it. Plus, they have a willing and able Jacoby Ellsbury back in the line-up. A guy that was sidelined all season; the centre fielder was out due to rib injuries. With him back, it will certainly help them dominate the AL East standings.It may be way too early to be putting my bets in now for the Championships, but this is what I see. I guarantee this will be a big year in the Bigs and I am happy to share all of it with you, but most importantly I am thrilled to provide passion. Because at the end of the day, it is just a game and I want nothing more than to bring that to people who hold the same passion for it as I do.