Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Air is Hot, Smart or Not, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Lewis shoutsSo this is what the ruination of baseball’s unwritten rules looks like. People keep marginalizing them, shunting them to the corner, labeling those who play by their merits as kooks and haters of fun. What we’re left with, at least in part, is this: Ballplayers, both red-assed and traditionalist, playing less by moral imperative than by half-formed opinions based on a system they don’t appear to fully understand.

Case in point: Rangers starter Colby Lewis, who on Saturday lit into Toronto’s Colby Rasmus (in the rare and wondrous Battle of the Colbys) for daring to lay down a bunt late in the game while the Blue Jays sat on a huge lead.

Except that it was only the fifth inning. And the score was 2-0. Oh, Colby Lewis.

The section of the unwritten rulebook that Lewis was attempting to channel was the one that dictates avoidance of running up the score late in games. It’s a simple matter of respecting one’s opponent enough to keep from embarrassing him … but that doesn’t have much relevance to whatever happened in Toronto. Just as Astros manager Bo Porter was ludicrous when he exploded over a first-inning Jed Lowrie bunt back in April, Lewis is ludicrous now.

Rasmus bunted because—here’s the pertinent part—his run mattered. Lewis was upset that Rasmus had taken advantage of a defensive shift designed to stop him from hitting. Now that such shifts are gaining traction even as the Code is losing it, we’re faced with an awkward intersection: Is there a moral component to playing straight-up against the shift with the fact that it presents an obvious weakness (nobody playing down the third base line) to exploit? The closest example I can conjure is the first baseman who plays off the bag despite a runner being on base late in a blowout game, with the expectation that the runner will hold anyway. He wants the defensive advantage of playing in the hole, and expects that his opposition will not take similar advantages of their own.

But those who think that situation is reasonable do so because of the lopsided score. In a close game, if a defense wants to gain the advantage of an extra defender on the right side of the infield, it has no business taking exception should a batter exploit that weakness. Which is not only what Rasmus did, but which is what every hitter with speed should do, at least on occasion.

Lewis had words for Rasmus on the field (watch it here) and after the game explained just what was going on. “I told [Rasmus] I didn’t appreciate it,” Lewis said in an MLB.com report. “You’re up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt. I don’t think that’s the way the game should be played. I felt like you have a situation where there is two outs, you’re up two runs, you have gotten a hit earlier in the game off me, we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average.”

Lewis’ criteria for judgment was that once Rasmus reached base, he didn’t try to steal and get himself into scoring position. “That tells me he is solely looking out for himself, and looking out for batting average, and I didn’t appreciate it,” he said, digging himself into a dangerous rabbit hole of inanity. Left unexplained: If in Lewis’ mind the game situation dictated that Rasmus wasn’t allowed to bunt, the question isn’t whether the pitcher’s head would have exploded had Rasums stolen a base, but how violently.

Hell, Curt Schilling didn’t take offense when Ben Davis bunted against him to ruin his perfect game in 2001. That’s because, like the game in Toronto, the score was 2-0 and a baserunner could have made a difference.

Or one could look in another direction: When Jarrod Saltalamacchia bunted to break up a perfect game against Oakland’s A.J. Griffin in 2012, he was barely faulted for it by Oakland manager Bob Melvin, not because the score was close but because Melvin had put on a shift similar to the one Texas used on Saturday. “I probably should have had the third baseman in,” said Melvin at the time.

Ultimately it’s up to players to recognize what is and isn’t appropriate, and to be damn sure they’ve been aggrieved should they get their jocks in a bunch over a given play. The Code is a powerful part of baseball’s social fabric, but only when it’s leveraged properly. Because the facts of the matter don’t back him up, all Colby Lewis is left with is a bunch of hot, angry air.

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Filed under Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Uncategorized

Toss Him Out! Let Him Play! The Importance of Understanding that not Every Situation is Exactly the Same

rsz_jonathan_sanchez (1)Jonathan Sanchez insists that the fastball he threw Friday—which nearly hit Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig in the head—was accidental. Sanchez was pitching inside, he said, quoting verbatim from the unofficial handbook of pitcher denials. The ball rose, he said. That was all.

Of course, given the pitcher’s recent struggles, not to mention his history with hot-headedness, questions abound. MLB certainly thought so, suspending him for six games on Saturday.

Sanchez opened Friday’s game against St. Louis by giving up back-to-back home runs to Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, followed by a single by Matt Holliday. Sanchez sent his next pitch—apparently out of frustration—toward Craig’s head. (The ball ended up connecting with the spinning hitter’s shoulder.) Plate ump Tim Timmons didn’t hesitate, ejecting Sanchez without so much as a warning.

It was an abhorrent string of hitters in an abhorrent season of starts for Sanchez, who has thrown a total of only 11.3 innings over four outings, with a 12.71 ERA. Twenty-one hits and eight walks. He’s made it to the fifth inning only once. Well, of course he’s frustrated.

“You’ve got two home runs, and then you’ve got a line-drive single up the middle, and then the very first pitch is up around the shoulder and head area,” Timmons told a pool reporter at Busch Stadium. “He threw intentionally at him, and in that area I deemed that intentional, and he’s done. Very dangerous.”

“It surprised me,” Sanchez said in a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report. “(Timmons) said it was obvious I wanted to hit him. I said no, I just missed my spot.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was outraged at the quick hook, arguing vociferously enough to get tossed himself. After the game he said he was bringing his complaints to the commissioner’s office, although Sanchez’s ensuing suspension gave a pretty good indication about how much attention the commissioner was paying.

Any umpire who feels that a pitcher is intentionally head-hunting is justified in leveling ejections, with or without prior warnings. Timmons earned extra credit by keeping quiet after Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn later hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte not once but twice—each almost certainly incidental—even after warnings were issued. (One barely clipped Marte’s hand, the other sailed into his arm, just off the plate; the hitter barely tried to avoid either one.)

Lynn himself was brushed back by Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes in the eighth, avoiding a pitch that, because he was squatting while squared to bunt, came in head-high. Lynn ducked backward out of the way, ending up on his back in the batter’s box. Again, Timmons let it slide.

In the eighth, Cardinals pitcher Mitchell Boggs drilled Gaby Sanchez in the back. (This, too, may have been unintentional, given Boggs’s recent struggles and the fact that all three hitters he faced reached base.)

Watch a compendium of the action here. (In an unrelated Code note, watch Pirates catcher Russell Martin jump to get between batter and pitcher in the first clip, as A.J. Ellis wishes he had recently done.)

One takeaway from all this is that an umpire on top of his game can go a long way toward stemming future disturbances. Timmons and MLB seem to agree upon that even one head-hunting incident is too many, and there’s no better way to tamp down the practice than by making examples of pitchers who stray from the proscribed course.

By letting the rest of the game play out as it did—even what appeared to be an obvious message from Hughes to Lynn—Timmons further defused lingering resentment between the clubs. Neither of the weekend games between the team featured much of anything resembling Code-based drama, even with the ample opportunities presented by Pittsburgh’s 9-0 blowout on Sunday.

Ultimately, the situation appears to have been handled just right. The power of positive umpiring. 

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Filed under Jonathan Sanchez, Retaliation, Umpire Warnings, Umpires Knowing the Code, Uncategorized

How to put Hecklers Behind You, Vol. 11

There’s an unwritten rule saying players should never engage a heckler, because it will only inspire further abuse.

This is an old clip of Tony Gwynn Jr. ignoring that rule, but I just found it and it is beautiful.

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Weirdness at Wrigley: DeJesus hit by Pitch from Own Teammate

Pissing off an opponent badly enough to get drilled is one thing. When it’s your own team throwing baseballs at you, though, watch out.

So says David DeJesus, who, barely a moment after watching ball four from Brewers pitcher Jim Henderson on Monday night, was plunked by a ball that got loose from the Cubs bullpen.

At this point, further details are extraneous. Just watch the video.

(Via Yahoo.)

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Tulo or Ubaldo? Jimenez Out to Prove the Rockies Made the Right Decision

Anybody wondering why the Colorado Rockies never considered Ubaldo Jimenez to be in the same stratosphere as Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez got their answer today.

Turns out the guy is hot-headed, and possibly a touch delusional.

Jimenez, who publicly steamed last week about the lack of respect shown him by the Rockies when they traded him to Cleveland rather than sign him long term, got his first chance to face his former team on Sunday. Before long, he had sent Tulowitzki to the hospital.

The right-hander’s first move was to drill Colorado’s All-Star shortstop in the elbow (test results came back negative). His second was to race toward the plate, daring an enraged Tulowitzki to come at him. After at first refusing to speak to the media after the game, Jimenez said that his post HBP histrionics were merely a reaction to Tulowitzki’s anger. “He was calling me out,” he said in a Denver Post report. “I mean, I’m a man. If somebody calls me out, I have to go.”

Tulowitzki’s drilling follows a time-tested tradition of players being punished for their teammates’ actions, be it the next hitter in the lineup dodging fastballs following a home run, or a slugger going down as part of a pitcher protesting a big inning.

Those tactics, however, are long outdated, and Jimenez knows it. Tulowitzki might have worn it because he’s the face of theRockies—not to mention the guy who got a big contract when Jimenez did not. (Tulowitzki and Gonzalez both signed monster deals after the 2010 season, the former for $134 million, the latter for $80 million, both over seven years. Jimenez signed for $10 million over four years prior to the 2009 campaign.)

Or he might have worn it for the statement he made in response to Jimenez’s initial cries of disrespect. “(Jimenez) had signed his deal and had years left on it,” the shortstop said. “Why would we give him something new when we didn’t see anything out of him?”

Jimenez said that his pitch was unintentional (it “got away,” he said), but that’s clearly not the case. Rockies pitcher Jeremy Guthrie—in his first season with Colorado—said he knew what was coming based on where the catcher was setting up.

The umps, clueless, did not issue an ejection.

Two things worth noting:

  • Jimenez was 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA when the Rockies traded him last season.
  • Jimenez is 1-4 with a 7.43 this spring.

The guy gave the Rockies scant reason to lock him up last season, let alone rework his contract long before it was set to expire. He currently appears to be working his way out of the Cleveland rotation altogether. He should focus on things other than misplaced anger directed at guys who don’t deserve it.

Colorado and Cleveland don’t face each other this season, so the two won’t meet again short of the World Series. Should Jimenez face his old mates next year, however, it’s pretty certain that today’s activities will be revisited, with vigor.

- Jason

Update: Rockies skipper Jim Tracy didn’t much care for Jimenez’ act, calling him “gutless” and calling for his suspension.

Update 2 (4-02): MLB didn’t much care for Jimenez’ act, either.

Update 3 (4-02): Watch it here.

Update 4 (4-03): Jimenez isn’t exactly reticent about the whole thing.

Update 5 (4-03): How not reticent? He’s appealing his suspension.

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For a Good Time, Please Don’t Call Mike Napoli

Wilson and Napoli during happier times.

Usually, pitchers can unbunch their panties via well-placed fastballs aimed at or near the player responsible for said bunching. It’s time-honored and it’s effective and, if it’s executed properly, it allows adequate venting with no long-term damage.

The long-term nature of the damage Mike Napoli suffered yesterday is up for debate, but there’s little question that he’ll be feeling this particular pinch far longer than he would a baseball to the thigh.

Napoli apparently riled pitcher and former teammate C.J. Wilson by saying, upon Wilson’s signing with Anaheim during the off-season, that he was looking forward to taking the left-hander deep.

Were Wilson truly miffed, he could have called Napolito talk it over. Were he baseball miffed, he could have drilled him the next time the two faced each other. Wilson, however, appears to have been more provoked than angry, gladly looking for an excuse to execute what can only in baseball and frat-house circles qualify as a “prank.”

He tweeted Napoli’s phone number. (That’s what Wilson considers a prank? No, this is a prank.)

Sure, there’s long been a place for off-field retaliation in baseball. Before there was Twitter, Ty Cobb and Buck Herzog fought in Cobb’s hotel room, some hours after Cobb had spiked the second baseman during a game. In this modern age of mass communication, however, it seems that one can do far worse deeds digitally than with one’s fists.

Wilson’s prank—again, we use the term loosely—may have been marginally appropriate had he and Napoli possessed a relationship strong enough to sustain such shenanigans. Napoli, however, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this is not the case.

“I don’t even know why he did it,” he said. “You don’t do that. I am not taking it as a prank. You know, I haven’t even talked to him since the end of last season. We don’t have that type of relationship.”

So Napoli has to deal with the inconvenience of getting a new phone number. Wilson has to defend himself from the outraged masses. And the rest of us get to consider what may yet happen when these guys meet during the regular season (never mind the two spring training contests left between the teams, on March 24 and 25).

- Jason

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Filed under C.J. Wilson, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Mike Napoli, Retaliation, Uncategorized

Daniel Hudson Throws Season’s First Gauntlet

Looks like Diamondbacks starting pitchers learned a lesson. In talking to Arizona radio station Sports 620, Daniel Hudson touched upon the fact that Justin Upton was hit by 19 pitches last season—second most in baseball.

“If it’s a starting pitcher [who hit Upton], remember, he’s got to hit,” Hudson told the station, according to ArizonaSports.com, the station’s Web site. “They either have to hit their spots, or expect something in return.”

Okay, that makes sense. What’s interesting is how Hudson and the rest of the staff came upon this realization. The right-hander said that the subject was raised “halfway through the year.”

There are some obvious follow-up questions: Who brought the subject up with him, and how? Was it an order (or at least a suggestion) from manager Kirk Gibson, or somebody else on the staff? Was it Upton himself, or another of the hitters? Were the pitchers called out in a group setting, or did it happen through individual conversations on the side?

This is all interesting stuff. The way a team communicates information like this can be as vital—if not more so—than the information itself. It should be noted that, for a staff chided halfway through the season for the dearth of protection it offered its own hitters, Diamondbacks pitchers drilled either nine or 10 batters in every month of the season, save for September, when they hit only six; they actually declined in that category in the second half. Even so, their total of 53 HBPs—28 by starters, 25 by relievers—ranked fourth in the National League.

There’s also the fact that Upton stands notoriously close to the plate, which certainly had something to do with the frequency of his drillings. (The next closest Arizona player was Miguel Montero, who was hit eight times; nobody else was touched more than four times.) Upton intoned at the team’s FanFest earlier this month that he’ll continue to stand atop the dish, so one can reasonably expect the frequency of his drillings to continue.

Was Hudson just blustering to try to make opposing pitchers a little more wary of pitching inside to Arizona’s best hitter? When the D-Backs make their way to San Francisco later this season, I’ll see if I can’t track down some answers.

- Jason

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