Archive for June, 2005

…. As bad as all that?

Some of the backtalkers are wondering if I am in the midst of a bad week, as a way of explaining my less than rosy outlook on the boys in orange and black. In a word, no. I’m doing fine. The Giants are crumbling, and listening to Sabean talk about the rest of this season makes me queasy:

…. We’re trying to tread water. We’ve shown signs of getting better, but we’re going to have to definitively be that much worse before we throw in the towel or definitively be that much better before we take off and go hog wild on the trade market.

We’re trying to do what we can control. You can’t control the outside world, so you try to clean up your own mess internally. So far, it’s been good, but we’ll see.

Being back in our division, we’ll find out a lot about ourselves in a hurry, and we can be more definitive around the All-Star break. But we have to take care of business and get closer to .500.

Ummmm…. Yeah, whatever. .500? His team is 14 games under .500. Getting to .500 is impossible for this team. Seriously. For the Giants to get to just a 60-60 record would require that they go on a 30-16 run, which means that they would have to outscore their opponents by something like 250 to 140 over that 46 game stretch. Not to mention the fact that they have just won 30 of their first 74 games. Add it all up, and you come to the educated conclusion that winning 30 of their next 46 games will not happen.

You will notice that Sabean recognizes that this mess is his mess. As I’ve stated in countless previous posts, the dismantling of a championship team was begun by Sabean and company almost immediately after the World Series. Livan Hernandez was the first to go, and soon after was followed by Jeff Kent and Russ Ortiz. Robb Nen never pitched again, Tim Worrell left, and so did David Bell. In fact, there are only a few Giants left from the team that was on the brink of a championship; Rueter, Bonds, Snow and Schmidt are the only regulars remaining. Scott Eyre and Jason Christiansen were with the team for about ten seconds in ’02, and that’s it.

Other than Bonds, it’s an entirely new group of outfielders. Snow is the only infielder remaining, and the entire rest of the offense is new. Think about that for a moment….

The Giants built a team that was literally on the doorstep of a title, and just three years later, 95% of that team is playing elsewhere. David Pinto writes about another team that flirted with history in 2002 in this post:

…. On May 27th of 2004, the Cardinals started a 3-game winning streak that would propel them to an easy victory in the NL Central. From that date, they are outplaying the majors by a wide margin. Through Sunday’s games, the Cardinals are 129-63, fourteen ahead of the next closest team in that time period, the Atlanta Braves (115-77). When the streak started, they were just 23-21, three games behind the Reds. The Reds are 49 1/2 games behind the Cardinals since that date.

How have they managed this stellar .672 winning percentage over more than a full season’s worth of games? They have the lowest ERA in the majors by nearly .2 of a run (3.58 to the Twins 3.75). The starters pitched well, third in the majors in ERA, but the bullpen’s been unbelievable, posting a 2.76 ERA in that time.

He notes that the Cards are first in runs scored in the NL during that time as well. The Giants beat the Cards in the NL Championship Series in 2002, and it’s not hard to notice that the Cards have gotten better and better since that defeat, while the Giants have gone straight downhill.

The 2002 Cardinals offense was built around a core of Edmonds, Pujols, and Rolen (all of whom were among the best at their positions in the league) and while those stars are still around, the rest of the team has been upgraded, in some cases by a wide margin. Mark Mulder is a better pitcher than anyone the Cards had in ’02, in fact, their starters are light years better than in 2002. Their offense is stronger and deeper, their defense is excellent and their relievers are the best in baseball.

They made decisions to go after top-level players like Mulder and Larry Walker and Jason Marquis, they didn’t just replace players with cheaper, waiver-wire cast-offs. They grabbed Reggie Sanders and let him be the fifth-best hitter on the team…. I mean, the differences between the two teams are astonishing.

The Giants offense ’02 was built around a core of Bonds, Kent, and Aurilia, (all of whom were among the best at their positions in the league) and only Bonds is still around. Not one player the Giants have signed since ’02 could be considered a top player at his position. Not one pitcher, not one hitter, not one. Not one replacement, at any position, could be considered an upgrade over who was manning the spot in 2002.

The Cards got younger, faster, and better. The Giants got older, slower and worse. None of this happened in a vaccum.

And I haven’t even talked about the team that beat the Giants in the World Series. The Angels followed the Cardinals path, in that they too got younger, and better. Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero, two young All Stars, were added to the team that was already good enough to win it all.

Meanwhile, the Giants added Michael Tucker and Brett Tomko and Damian Moss and Jim Brower and Matt Herges and Mike Matheny and Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham and one old, decrepit stiff after another. Every single player the Giants signed was flawed in some way; too old, bad hands, no stick, inconsistent, injured, too young. On and on and on.

Millions and millions of dollars thrown away, and now we’re told that the 2005 season is still in play. It’s not. And we all know why.

…. At a loss

I’m sitting here trying to figure out what to write about, and I’m coming up pretty empty. The Giants are a season-high 13 games under .500, 9 games behind the Padres, and Bonds’ knee is swollen again.

At this point, all but the most diehard (and asleep) Giants fans understand that ’05 is all but lost. And the reasons for that are clear and -unfortunately- predictable.

The Giants went through the winter believing that they had a pitching staff capable of preventing runs at a rate that, combined with their very effective offense (bolstered by the addition of Moises Alou), would allow them to contend for that elusive World Series title. In fact, it turns out that they were wrong about just about everything, about as wrong as they could be.

They were wrong to conclude that Brett Tomko’s strong second-half was indicative of some breakthrough, and that he could be counted on to pitch that way for a full season (something he had never done at that point in his career).

They were wrong to conclude that Jerome Williams and Noah Lowry, (two young pitchers with winning percentages that belied their actual performance) could be counted on to handle the bottom of the rotation.

They were wrong to expect that Kirk Rueter would rebound to his (abnormal) career norms of winning without striking anyone out.

They were wrong to believe that Armando Benitez was the one pitcher who would stabilize the roles and therefore the performance of their entire bullpen, a bullpen made up almost entirely of cast-offs and waiver-wire claimees.

They were wrong to believe that they could continue to beat the odds and run out one of the oldest starting nines in the history of baseball and keep it healthy for any significant length of time.

And they were wrong to expect that Barry Bonds would be the catalyst that would take their collection of misfits and castaways and power them to a September to remember, as he had done for most of the past decade.

There was no decision made by Peter Magowan, Brian Sabean, Ned Colletti, Dick Tidrow, Felipe Alou and Dave Righetti that was made in ignorance, or without access to information that would inform the decision. These decisions were made, as always, with all of the information needed to make them, out in the open, with reams and reams of statistics, analysis and data.

Clearly, the starting pitching decisions were based not on performance, but by looking at won-loss records. The field of sabermetrics, now well over thirty years old, could not have been utilized by the archaic and “old-school” Giants, because any amateur sabermetician could have told Sabean that Lowry and Williams were virtually guaranteed to come back to earth given their modest performance. He could have told Colletti that the bullpen could not duplicate even the mediocre performance of the previous season given the vast numbers of baserunners the entire group of pitchers were guilty of allowing. He could have told Righetti that Kirk Rueter would never again be a reliable starting pitcher, and that he never should have been one in the first place. He could have told Sabean that there is no way a starting catcher could save runs at a rate that justifies giving $10 million dollars to an old, slow, out-making Neifi Perez look-alike.

Indeed, going back over the last two or three seasons worth of decisions illuminates the thinking Giants fans’ frustrations, as decision after decision has been made by the Giants braintrust that flies in the face of analysis, and so, here we are.

What can be done for a team that has no reliable starting pitcher, no reliable bullpen arm, no reliable RBI man, no reliable leadoff hitter, no Gold-Glove caliber player at any position (save, perhaps, Vizquel at short), no depth, no farm system stocked with up and coming talent, no speed, no baserunning threat, no gun behind the plate, no hitter at any spot in the lineup that gives an opponent pause, no nothing?

What trade could revitalize this team? Sorry, Kent, but Vernon Wells ain’t the answer. This team has so many holes, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they can recover this season. Schmidt for perhaps two young, ready for prime time starting pitchers and a reliever or two, plus Bonds comes back after the All Star break and hits thirty second half home runs is about what it would take. Anybody imagine that coming to pass?

UPDATE: After today’s utterly embarassing and humiliating and depressing and disgusting and futile and repulsive and shameful and disgraceful and weak and putrid 16-0 loss to the A’s, the Giants find themselves in rare position, at least since I’ve been following the team. 14 games under .500, with only two teams in the NL with more losses, and with a National League-worst 17 home wins. That’s right, the Giants have the fewest home wins in the NL. The Rockies have more wins at home, the Reds have more, for crying out loud, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have more home wins than the Giants! The Mariners, the Tigers, the Brewers…. the only team in the entire league with fewer home wins than the Giants is the Kansas City Royals.

…. About Schmidt, ad infinitum

Is it the right time to trade Jason Schmidt? After last night’s dominant performance, (8 innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts) his trade value may never be higher to a franchise desperate to get younger and, more importantly, better. The best possible scenario for the Giants is to hope that Sabean looks across the diamond at the two young pitchers the D’backs have run out there against the Giants the last two nights (Vazquez and Halsey, obtained from the Yankees in the Randy Johnson deal) and wonders, “why not us?”

Last night’s performance was –far and away– Schmidt’s best since his groin injury. It’s the first time since the injury that he struck out 10, had a game score over 78 (80), and the first time he allowed fewer baserunners than innings pitched since his first two starts of the season.

The Giants either have to pay him $10 million to pitch next season, or $3.5 million to go away. He’s 32 years old, the age when most players are entering the decline phase of their careers, and Schmidt will be entering that phase looking to make his last big contract. Which means that even if he’s able to pitch this well for the rest of this season and next season, he’s still gonna leave. And Schmidt’s no Roger Clemens, for those of you wondering why he can’t follow in the Rocket’s footsteps and have another 8 or 10 years of dominance ahead of him.

Clemens (101 IP, 66 H, 30 BB, 97 SO, 17 ER .188 BA against), traded to Toronto at 33 years old after two straight mediocre, injury-plagued seasons, had already won 192 games, a couple of Cy Young awards, an MVP award, and had broken or set numerous AL, Red Sox and ML records. I know he had a major career revitalization after being traded to the Blue Jays, and I’m not saying Schmidt couldn’t haunt the Giants and do the same; but there’s really no comparison between the two pitchers. Schmidt (109-77 career record) has really only been at a Clemens-like level of dominance for one season, and only part of a season at that. He’s always had some injury problems, control issues, some might say he’s been a head case at times…. I mean, Clemens is better right now, at 42 years old, than Schmidt has ever been in his life.

And there’s a couple of other things to keep in mind. First, there is every chance the Giants have gotten everything they can from Schmidt already. And second, his struggles have been a complete mystery to the coaching staff, the medical staff, to his catcher, and to Schmidt. Is Sabean going to keep him around hoping he’s finally solved his problems? I sure hope not.

The time to trade him is now, there are a several teams who would be willing to give up the future for the present, (Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Mets, Marlins). I’d love to see the Giants trade him for a pile of young hitters, but the reality for Sabean is that his offense isn’t the reason his team is 10 games under .500. As of this morning, the Giants don’t have one pitcher listed among the top 40 in the NL right now. Not one. There’s two ex-Giants listed in the top 40, but no actual Giants. Tomko and Schmidt are 42nd and 43rd in ERA this morning, and that, my friends, is horrifying.

There is no way this team will be able to make any noise come playoff time, (if by some miracle they were able to mount a comeback for the ages), unless they can stabilize both the rotation and the pen; meaning the 2005 season is lost. You wanna set up the team for one more Barry-led run in ’06? Fine. You gotta trade Schmidt. There are too many holes in the staff. The Giants don’t need one pitcher, they need four.

Schmidt, maybe Alfonzo (what the hell, anybody over the age of 30 should be available), could be enough to get a nice group of young, ready for prime time pitchers who, like Halsey or Wang with the Yankees, have too many big names in front of them where they are.

I heard Peter Gammons on Baseball Tonight saying that Sabean had recently been turned down by the Red Sox because he was asking too much for Schmidt. You think the Epstein might be giving him a call back?

…. Big Time

David Pinto invited me to be on his radio show this afternoon, TPS Radio. The show airs at 5 pm (PST), and he and I run down the status of each team in the NL West. In his own plug for the show, he has me down for the AL West, but that’s a typo. I actually got to talk about the team I watch every day, as well as the teams in our division.

For those of you who had a chance to hear me on Jamie’s show, you’ll be surprised at how much air time I get with David. I’d guess I’m on with him for at least twenty minutes, if not a whole half hour, depending on how he edits it. He taped the show with me yesterday, (his neice is graduating today).

Alex Belth (who might consider me his blogfather), is also going to be on the show, covering the AL East. I hope you’ll stop by and listen.

It’s the first time I’ve ever spoken with David, even though our friendship goes back more than three years. He is my blogfather, of course, and one of the biggest supporters of my site.

…. The wrong guy?

I’ve written a bunch of times about how I feel that Brian Sabean and the Giants made the wrong choice when they decided to trade Russ Ortiz and sign Kirk Rueter to a contract extension. My thinking at the time was fairly simple:

… I look at this Rueter extension, and I see a choice made by the Giants brass. They chose Rueter over Ortiz, and frankly, they did so in the face of what appears to me to be overwhelming evidence that they should have gone the other way. I’m not saying Woody isn’t a terrific player to have on your team. I’m just saying that I would take Ortiz over him, not by a ton, but it wouldn’t be too hard to pick the younger, bigger, stronger guy; who gives me more innings, strikes out more hitters, gives up fewer home runs, and who won as many or more games each of the last four seasons.

Since the Ortiz trade, he has almost twice as many wins, and many more strikeouts and innings pitched than Rueter. It is clear that his success has validated my initial analysis.

But there’s another pitcher from that 2002 World Series team that was traded (also for very little, by the way) prior to the 2003 campaign, and I was dead wrong about him. I’m talking about Livan Hernandez, who is currently 10-2, leading the league in innings pitched, and has taken on the mantle of ace of the Washington Nationals staff (something he strenuously resisted during his time in San Francisco). Washington manager Frank Robinson feels so confident in Hernandez, he doesn’t even mind starting him when he’s serving his suspension.

…. Robinson wisely chose Monday to serve his one-game suspension for his June 14 shouting match with Angels manager Mike Scioscia, letting bench coach Eddie Rodriguez run a game that Hernandez controlled until a three-run seventh inning.

Washington is 13-3 when Hernandez starts and he hasn’t lost in 12 starts since April 19.

“It makes it a little easier when Livan Hernandez is on the mound, and when you score runs, it makes it easier,” said Robinson, whose appeal of his suspension was denied earlier Monday. “But in the end, when it got a little tight, he [Rodriguez] made the right moves.”

Since he left San Francisco, all Hernandez has done is go 36-27, pitch 600 innings(!), and compile an ERA (3.38) more than a full run lower than what he managed while in orange and black (4.44).

Meanwhile Kirk Reuter has gone 21-23 since the start of the 2003 season. In that same span, Russ Ortiz has gone 40-22, and Livan’s gone 36-27. I guess you could say that Sabean could hardly have been more wrong in deciding the fates of these three pitchers. Add in the two closers we’ve thrown away each of the last two off-seasons, the old, decrepit players we’ve thrown millions and millions of dollars at, and I guess Sabean’s era of being a shrewd and calculating upper-echelon GM are over.

…. Organizational approach

I like to talk about systems all the time. Systems, philosophies, what you can loosely call how you approach the projects or obstacles in your life. I think of this as a sort of “way of being” or the how you do what you do. A little woo woo, sure, but for me, thinking this way has really simplified my own life, and anytime you can reduce something, simplify it, you are in a better position to control it, and ultimately, be successful.

I’ve written many, many times about how the Giants have gotten to where they are, as opposed to the what, the why, the occurence. I’ve tried to remain focused on the approach to the playing of the game, the building of the team, the management of the organization. And what I’ve seen watching this team over the long haul is not encouraging.

I see a team management group, (Sabean, Colletti, Tidrow and Magowan) who value age over youth, experience over upside, hustle over production, attitude over winning. The Giants players are all the same. Slow, sure-handed, old, reliable, steady, good-guys, mediocre players. Only one player on the team has any attitude or swagger at all, and he’s at the end of the line.

I see a team whose pitching philosophy seems grounded in fear, whose pitchers are coached to avoid the strikezone like the plague. I see a team whose hitters seem to have no rhyme or reason to their approaches, one swings at everything, while another is the most patient hitter in the history of the game. And on defense, a team that values catching the ball over getting to the ball.

Read this Jayson Stark column about the Minnesota Twins, and tell me if you can think of one thing the Giants do as a team that is as well-thought out as anything the Twins seem to be focused on. Reading about the Twins reminded me of the way the Oakland A’s have their entire baseball organized into a single, cohesive unit, from the bottom to the top.

How are the Giants organized, bottom to top? What philosophy does this organization have for offense? Defense? Pitching? What plan do they have? What do they look for in a pitching prospect? A hitting prospect? First baseman gets injured, is there a player, well-coached and already in tune with the big club’s approach, ready to step in?

Is Righetti doing anything at all the least bit modern, or forward-thinking (like the Braves)? Lefevbre? One could hardly expect the 70-something Alou to be doing much in the way of using computer analysis (like the Dodgers), or to be tracking different kinds of defensive statistics (like the Red Sox).

The Twins are doing like twenty different things to ensure that the teams’ approach to each game is based on solid, knowable theories and philosophies. This ensures that every player has something to fall back on in the heat of the moment, because it’s transparent; it’s not what they do, it’s the way they are. From that perspective, the team’s basic tenets seem grounded in winning, defensibly grounded in winning, not just a lot of talk about how their players are good guys or hustle or “now how to play the game.”

Think about that for a few minutes while watching our Giants.

…. Woody speaks

After another poor outing, Kirk Reuter is wondering why he’s struggling:

“I don’t know. Maybe the approach, the hitters. I don’t know. Got a two-run lead and they hit the ball, two home runs. Every ball seemed to drop right in.”

Hey Woody, it’s not your approach, it’s your ability. You are not as good as your record, and you never have been. You are, in fact, one of the luckiest pitchers in the history of baseball, and your success has almost always been determined by your teammates in the bullpen and your managers ability to know how far to allow you to go. Since your big contract two years ago, you’ve been exactly as you should be, an overpaid, mediocre lefty with essentially no stuff.

I mean, come on, let’s be honest. You have yet to have one outing this year in which you didn’t allow at least one earned run, and you’ve allowed more than 4 earned runs in 7 of your 14 starts. Without dependable 6th and 7th inning options for your manager, you’ve been unable to even sniff .500, which, given the enormous number of baserunners you allow, is hardly surprising.

The only real question anymore, is how long it takes for Sabean to admit his mistake in choosing you over Russ Ortiz or (shudder the thought) Livan Hernandez, as the one starting pitcher to keep in orange and black. Winning but 2 of 14 starts in 2005, after winning only 9 of 33 in ’04, is proof enough that your career is essentially over, something you and the Giants should begin discussing.

You’re a great guy, don’t get me wrong, but you have nothing to bring to the table anymore. Start thinking about life after being a player.

…. Roll with it

Jason Schmidt either began the re-construction of his and the Giants season, or increased his trade value by about 300%. Either way, the Giants won their third straight, (no small feat, only the fourth time all season they’ve won that many in a row), behind Schmidt’s strong 8 1/3 innings (7 hits, 5 strikeouts), defeating the Tigers 4-0.

Tyler Walker continued his strange season, striking out the side with the bases loaded in the ninth to earn his 10th save, suddenly good for 12th in the NL.

Walker looked ferocious yesterday, to strike out the side with the bases loaded in a 4-0 game doesn’t happen too often, (especially in Giants-ville). I’ve written about Walker’s success as the closer, noting that even though he’s allowed a lot of hits runs and his ERA is pretty huge, he hasn’t been all that bad. When he’s had a save opportunity, he’s done very well, earning a save in 10 of 11 chances, and while he’s given up 14 earned runs in 28 innings, a closer look tells us that 10 of his earned runs occured in just three appearances. If you adjust for those three terrible outings, in 26 appearances, he’s allowed 21 hits and 4 earned runs over 25 innings, good for a terrific 0.69 ERA.

You could argue that his bad is part of the picture, so he should get no slack, but relievers often have their entire season’s ERA impacted by one or two bad outings. Regardless of how you feel about his lack of strikeouts, or big ERA, he’s had something like 20 great outings, 5 OK outings, and 4 bad to terrible outings. In a season of some of the worst pitching I’ve ever witnessed, that ain’t too shabby.

Meanwhile, for a team desperate for reliable relievers, LaTroy Hawkins’ being put on the 15-day DL is but one more in a series of seemingly endless setbacks for the pitching staff. Hawkins had struggled in Chicago, but had been a tremendously durable and reliable setup man for most of the last three or four seasons. Of course, the minute he got to SF, he gave up about four hundred runs, but still, one could reasonably expect him to help stabilize the 8th inning. Now, he’s got a numb arm and the Giants are back to scrambling. Unbelievable.

…. Talk talk, Part II

Reader Steve P thinks some of us have a wrong idea about baseball’s rules and Alou’s commitment to using the entire roster in every game:

…. I guess my problem with these kind of rules changes is that…baseball ain’t broke, why are we in a rush to fix it?

I am so tired of those people in baseball (despite the fact that attendance and viewership is at record levels) insisting that baseball is such a boring game that we have mess with the rules to shave 5 minutes off the lenght of games….so that a 3:02 game is boring but 2:57 is incredibly exciting.

What nonsense.

This stuff first started coming up when Bud the Brilliant was spending all his time trying to explain to people that baseball is boring, the players are thieves and drug addicts and other wonderful PR moves. But the real reason behind the whole time of game question had nothing to do with some kind of fan appeal, it had to do with Baseball trying to fix a messed up broadcast situation and the fact of the matter is that the game would be more attractive as a commodity if it fit more easily into broadcast space. If Bud had come out and said, look we’ve got a great game, but to keep it growing we need to do something to get more games on TV, and shortening the games by five to ten minutes would accomplish that.

Not one fan would object, they’d say…ah! that makes sense. Instead we now have people objecting to one batter pitching substitutions and not speaking about anyone here, but these are often the same people who object to the DH because of the oh-so-exciting double switch.

I happen to like baseball, I also happen to think (as do millions and millions of other people who keep tuning in) it isn’t broken. The only way baseball can screw itself is by changing the game. The reason that the NHL, NFL and NBA have changed their rules is because their games aren’t as well set up…they needed to fix the game, add some kind interest. Baseball did that over it’s first 30-40 years at the end of the 19th century …but they seem to have got it right for the past 100 years or so. Why mess with it?

I think the real frustration for Giants fans is not the number of pitching changes, but the general lack of quality.

Well, the two things aren’t related, Steve. The lack of quality by these stiffs is a completely different issue. Alou will replace the best reliever for the worst if he thinks there is some matchup edge, and the issue is that, for the fan, that edge is so minute it’s not worth the wait, the tedium, over and over, one, two, three pitchers to get one out, let a guy bunt,walk someone….. As James said so eloquently, “these guys are chasing an edge they can never catch.”

It is indefensible to suggest that the fans have no interest in seeing a poorly managed part of the rules of the game be corrected.

And to suggest that baseball is unchanged for 100 years is absurd. The home run, Astroturf, the DH, raising and lowering the pitchers mound, night games, new ballparks, weight training, Black players, Latin players, Asian players….. Come on, baseball has changed. It’s changed enormously. MLB lowered the mounds and added the DH to increase offense, for the fans, baseball fans have always come out for offense. They made the balls harder and the ball parks smaller to increase offense, again, for the fans.

Fans hate watching guys warm up and commercials about car insurance. They hate the way the tension is dissipated, tension that has been building pitch by pitch, as one teams’ hottest hitter makes it to the on-deck circle, and then walks to the plate just in time for a……. new pitcher. Booo. It sucks once. Twice, three times? In one inning? Another? It’s bad for the game.

Limit the number of pitching changes in any one inning, or number of batters, or something. Limit the number of throws to first, in any one inning or one batter, not huge changes, just a bit. The question isn’t whether or not baseball is broke. The question is whether you want to allow something to interfere with the enjoyment of the game, (for the fans and the players) just because you always have.

UPDATE: Reader Kent reminds us why we’re here:

…. For those readers wondering, Bill James is a very smart guy who’s dedicated his genius to looking at baseball from, let’s say, an alternative perspective. If any of you haven’t read anything by Bill James, I would highly recommend his Historical Baseball Abstract.

That in mind, the following are what James’ has targeted as ways to every-so-slightly alter the game to maintain its inherent drama/tension without going “Tony LaRussa” on it:

1) Baseball needs to adopt a rule change to limit the # of times that a pitcher can throw to a base. He likens the unlimited number of throws to “letting the air out of a ball in basketball.” Unlimited throws to a base DO decrease the number of stolen bases and the success rate of those attempts. As James says, throwing to a base “may be good strategy, (but) it is lousy entertainment.” He suggests allowing two unsuccessful throws to a base each inning. A third unsuccessful throw would be counted as a ball to the hitter at bat. This final point he advises would rarely happen because pitchers wouldn’t throw to a base three times. Here’s the subtle nature of his suggestions as three “predictable effects” would be seen: 1) less throws to a base; 2) the average game would be about 4 minutes less; and 3) a little more base stealing.

2) Baseball needs to issue a “policy directive” to its umpires to not call time once a batter enters the batters box (“time,” which umpires virtually allow to every hitter who calls for it)…except in circumstances when “a player loses a contact lens, is stung by a bee or chased by a rabid possum, (or) if Morganna runs onto the field,” etc. Let’s remember that hitters can disrupt pitchers with stepping out of the batter’s box for no good reason just as pitchers can disrupt hitters by stepping off the mound. However that former is much more common and is thus something that needs to be addressed (my words). James believes that changing this subtle rule can greatly increase “the energy and excitement natural to baseball (that wouldn’t be) dissipated by constant interruptions.

3) Allow 90 seconds between innings instead of two minutes. We can get into this is one, but James believes that creating a slight scarcity in ad time would increase its overall cost and would make the game more continuous.j

4) Having a minimum and a maximum standard for bats so that the game can decrease its movement toward virtual fungo bats. He explains this further by describing Ernie Banks going to a thin-handled bat and going off in HRs. James is not arguing that baseball goes back to the 1930′s wood blocks. But he thinks that standards should be slowly implemented over a period of time (20 years) to virtually avoid any immediate effects. In the long term, James argues, offenses would move toward more bat control as opposed to more bat speed. An interesting side benefit is that James believes that increasing bat size ever-so-slightly would allow wooden bats to be used at lower levels (cost prohibitive right now) since they wouldn’t break so much.

5) James would like to see the batter’s box gradually (over time) moved to about 4″ off of home plate. This would allow pitchers to have a little more control of the space…and help by avoiding all the hitters these days who sit right over the plate.

6) James would like to see (and he thinks that he will eventually see) a limit to mid-inning pitching changes. “1) once a game and 2) after the pitcher on the mound has given up at least one run in the inning.” “In other words, the manager cannot repeatedly stop the action to shuffle a new pitcher into the game. he’s got one free move a game, and he can remove a pitcher who is getting hit…it’s rude to the fanst to make them sit through this.” Of course, this rule would have exceptions, say, for injury or rain delay, etc.

Bear with me…

“Baseball was NOT designed by the Gods; it was designed by men who wanted to create a marketable sports entertainment. We have paid a high price for forgetting that.

Part of the price is that baseball men have the sense that something is amiss, but propose the crudest and most heavy-handed remedies for what are, in reality, simple problems. The DH rule is a good example. Proposals to put a clock on the pitcher and time him between pitches, ham-fisted efforts to tinker with the balk rules, and incessant arguing about the shape of the strike zone are, to me, symbols of how poorly understood baseball’s maladies really are. The people who make these kind of proposals believe fundamentally that baseball is a boring game which needs to be jazzed up for the next century. We don’t NEED to take dramatic, flashy actions to change baseball into something new and different. We need to take quiet, gauze-thin actions designed to tell the participants to stop messing around and play baseball. This is understood by the men who run the NFL; it is understood by the men who run college basketball. It is not understood by the men who run baseball. If we’ll just do that much, or that little, we can show younger fans how exciting baseball is supposed to be.”

Bill James is the reason OBM exists. I’ve read just about everything he’s written, and when I first did, I was flabbergasted. Listening to the NY Yankees commentators back in the eighties, I always felt that there was so much of the game unexplored and unexplained. James explored it, explained it, and challenged me to rethink everything I had ever learned or heard about the game.

Without my exposure to his work, I would be a less informed fan, and almost certainly a less interesting writer. Reading his thoughtful arguments and conclusions reminds me how much work I have to do to become the writer I hope to be.

…. Talk talk

Jim Adams says that Felipe Alou is breaking his balls:

…. I have no idea whether Alou’s quick hooks and incessant pitching changes demoralize the pitchers, but as a fan I say they are just irritating as hell to sit through. In every Giants game the 6th through the 9th innings involve constant interruptions as Alou waves in pitcher after pitcher as mid-inning replacements. Watching Eyre, Munter, Christiansen, Walker, Hawkins et al. warm up has approximately half the entertainment value of your typical “According to Jim” episode; and watching three or four of these guys warm up in one half inning is less fun than watching a Pauley Shore film festival.

Bill James has suggested that baseball pass a rule limiting the number of pitching changes teams can make. If they ever seriously consider this proposal, then Alou’s handling of the Giants staff will be Exhibit A about why this is a good idea. It’s not fair to make the fans sit through this nonsense. And don’t tell me that limiting pitching changes would cut down on the “strategy” of the game; bringing in Scott Munter in mid-inning to face Matt Stairs because this match-up is better than Jason Christiansen versus Angel Berroa isn’t strategy, it’s Rotisserie Baseball run amok.

It’s worse than that, it’s torture. James point was part of an overall list of suggestions on how to speed the game up, something that was a hot topic at the time. He likened the foolish rule change suggestions that Selig and his crack committee had come up with, to some basketball rules, or football rules, which change constantly in order to prevent teams or players exploiting any advantage they could find in a rule towards their own ends, in opposition with either the game or the fans best interests.

Alou’s pitching changes, given the talent he is calling forth batter by batter, are ludicrous. They insult my intelligence, because to expect me to believe that there is even one guy in the bullpen far more likely to get somebody out than another borders on insanity. And they make an already boring game unwatchable. But that’s me. One commercial after another in the 7th inning of a game in which the Giants have blown like three leads, or are being shutout 6-0 is worse than bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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