On the Glory of Red-Assery and the Origins of Motivation

madbum-puig

Does Madison Bumgarner like Yasiel Puig? He yelled at him in 2014 over a bat flip. Later on he hit him—clearly accidentally—and benches cleared.

Monday gave us more of the same. Puig grounded out to end the seventh, and when the players’ paths crossed, MadBum all but lost it. “Don’t look at me!” he yelled at the startled hitter over and over, even as Bumgarner himself initiated a staredown. Puig responded in kind and, again, benches emptied.

Maybe Puig was giving Bumgarner the stink eye, maybe he wasn’t. It didn’t matter either way—the left-hander was clearly looking for some extra-curricular action.

Bumgarner was fired up, having just finished his seventh inning of one-hit, no-walk, 10-strikeout ball in a must-win game, after having put up a 5.30 ERA over his previous six starts. This was clearly an extension of that, and it seems to have worked—right up until Bruce Bochy decided to pinch-hit for the pitcher the very next inning (to keep him out of harm’s way from a retaliatory fastball?) after which San Francisco’s bullpen blew another ninth-inning lead).

Bumgarner has gotten into it over the years with the likes of Wil Myers, Jason Heyward, Delino Deshields, Jesus Guzman and Carlos Gomez. There are few common threads between them save for the pitcher’s perpetually red ass. Somehow, none of those confrontations extended past the shouting phase.

This is simply how Bumgarner motivates himself, and it seems to pay pretty good dividends. Does it make him an asshole? Sure. Does he gave two snots about that? Not one freaking bit.

To the Dodgers’ credit, they had some fun with it the next day:

Puig himself even went so far as to sign a shirt, including the sentiments “#PuigYourFriend” and “I like you,” before sending it to Bumgarner in the Giants clubhouse.

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Do Only Certain Pitchers Get to Throw Inside? Depends on Who You Ask

bauer-drills-martinez

Question of the day: When do unintentionally hit batters become a big problem?

For people like Tony La Russa, the answer can be “almost immediately.” Others offer a modicum of leeway  should a pitch accidentally sail.

We saw this earlier in the year, when Pirates pitchers—who have a reputation for working the inside corner—unintentionally popped a couple Diamondbacks. La Russa, never long on patience for that type of thing, questioned whether maybe pitchers who don’t have the best control should avoid trying to bust fastballs in on hitters’ hands.

This weekend saw more of the same, courtesy of Trevor Bauer. On Sunday against the Tigers, Cleveland’s right-hander knocked the helmet from the head of Ian Kinsler, in addition to plunking Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. None of the pitches looked good, but unless Bauer is extremely competent at feigning concern, neither were they intentional. (Game situation alone confirms as much. Cabrera’s HBP, in the first inning, put a runner into scoring position. Kinsler was the leadoff hitter in the third. Martinez was drilled with the bases loaded. Watch it all here.)

Perhaps it would have been easier for Detroit to tolerate had the price been less steep. Kinsler suffered dizzy spells after the game. Martinez crumpled to the ground in agony, then went 0-for-3 after choosing to stay in the game.

Bauer cringed on the mound after hitting Kinsler, and tried to apologize after the inning and again after the game. It wasn’t nearly enough.

“If you can’t command the ball inside, you’ve got to maybe not go inside,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus after the game, echoing La Russa in an MLB.com report. “This is the big leagues, and if you’re going to hit guys in the head and the kneecap then something’s got to give.”

What gave on Sunday was Tigers starter Derrick Norris throwing a pitch behind Rajai Davis in response to Kinsler’s beaning, at which point both benches were warned. (One thing the umps couldn’t stop was Justin Upton’s message-laden pimp-and-glacial-home-run-trot-combo in the fifth.)

So who’s right? Bauer, or any other pitcher, can’t be expected to simply give up a portion of the strike zone on the basis that he’s a bit wild on a given day. Pitching out of fear is a terrible strategy for winning ballgames.

Then again, when players are falling left and right at the hands of a pitcher who has no idea where the ball is headed, it’s understandable that flames will be fanned.

Ultimately, it’s why baseball has penalties for being wild. Walks and hit batters mean baserunners, and too many baserunners mean that a pitcher’s not long for an outing. Bauer gave up six earned runs in 5.2 innings, which isn’t so surprising considering the other details of his day. And that’s pretty much the best result that Detroit could hope for in an otherwise bleak situation.

[H/T to Uzzy]

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How to Deal With Meathead Pitchers 101, or: Retaliation Without Communication Builds Aggravation

fernandez-fumes

The headlines for yesterday’s action concern the clearing of the benches and the placement of fastballs near hitters’ heads. The intrigue, however, lies in the ability of a player or team to communicate, and what an effective approach in that regard might bring.

First, though, some details.

On its own, the eye-level inside fastball thrown by Atlanta’s Julio Teheran to Jose Fernandez in the fifth inning Wednesday was not enough to draw anger. Fernandez shrugged it off, literally, as he flashed a these-things-happen expression toward the mound.

But maybe Teheran meant to do it. Back in July, a three-game Braves-Marlins series saw eight HBPs, four by each team. (Oddly, two players absorbed seven of those plunkings—Miami left fielder Derek Dietrich was hit four times, Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers three.)

Three of the HBPs Miami doled out came in the final game. Did that mean something?

Maybe that’s why Teheran drilled Martin Prado an inning later. (Or maybe he was just terrible. Prado was one of five batters Teheran faced in the sixth, four of whom scored before the pitcher was pulled.)

Still, if Atlanta was so hell-bent on response, wouldn’t the opening game of the current series, which took place on Monday, been a better place for it—especially when the Braves found themselves with a 7-0 lead in the third inning?

So if Teheran was looking for trouble, and if he failed to connect with Fernandez, and if he intended to hit Prado … well, it would be tough to fault the Marlins for taking issue. Which they did.

The bottom of the sixth presented Fernandez a perfect opportunity—bases empty with two outs—to respond. The guy at the plate, Nick Markakis, had already homered and flied out deep to right field. Somehow, after Teheran’s head-shot in the fifth and plunking of Prado in the sixth, warnings had not yet been issued.

Fernandez plunked Markakis in the backside. Agree or disagree with this as baseball methodology, things should have ended there. Somebody had been drilled from each team. It was time to move on.

But then—with plate ump Marvin Hudson still having failed to issue warnings—reliever Jose Ramirez became the second Atlanta pitcher of the day to throw at Fernandez’s head. It was a clear warning shot, sailing well behind the pitcher, but traveled 95 mph at eye level. (Watch it all here.)

A livid Fernandez took steps toward the mound and benches emptied, but no punches were thrown.

After the game, Fernandez did not hold back.

“Like everybody knows, I’m not known for hitting people,” he said in a Miami Herald report. “If you think it’s on purpose, and you want to hit me, go ahead. Hit me. I don’t mind getting hit. That’s part of the game. But you don’t throw at somebody’s head because I have a family.”

Not knowing whether July’s HBP-fest factored into any of this, and in advance of the team’s four-game series later this month, the question remains: Are things now settled? To that end, Fernandez must be given abundant credit: At the tail end of the dustup, before players returned to their dugouts, he tracked down Markakis and made sure they were square.

“I told him ‘Hey, man. I throw you one of the best breaking balls that I have, and you hit it out,’ ” he recounted after the game in an MLB.com report. “ ‘I threw you another one and you hit the [stuffing] out of it. That second at-bat, I threw some good fastballs in, he was late on it. Jam. Jam. I was hoping, 2-0, throw a fastball in, he hits a popup to second base. Obviously, that was not the case. The ball slipped out of my hands, and I hit him.”

By every indication, Markakis accepted this explanation.

Fernandez has done this kind of thing before, to great effect. Then, however, he had clearly been in the wrong during the leadup. Now he himself was aggrieved, and nonetheless took steps to right the ship.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have abundant critics, many of whom offer sensible critiques. If more players handled their business like Fernandez, however, all the what-ifs enumerated above—every possible cause for motivation that leads players and public alike to wonder whether a given inside pitch was intended to be there—would be mitigated. Plays would be plays, not displays, and everybody could spend more time focusing on the game rather than on perceived anger and the ensuing response.

As it turns out, effective communication works. Nice job, Jose Fernandez.

Update 9-19: Ramirez suspended three games.

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To Bunt or Not to Bunt: Is That Even a Question Anymore?

 

wee-willie-keeler

Today’s topic sits at the core of baseball’s unwritten rules, but amid the recent thunderstorm of bat flips and other erstwhile celebration it seems to have gotten a bit lost: Don’t run up the score on an opponent.

What this means in baseball terms is the cessation of aggressive play while holding a big lead late in a game. Players in such situations still try to get hits and score runs, of course—they just don’t take chances to do so. Mostly this means playing station-to-station, advancing only one base on a single, two on a double, etc. The rule also discourages things like stolen bases and sacrifices.

The pertinent question is less about whether one should do such a thing than when it should happen—what constitutes the definition of big lead and late?

The Baseball Codes offers a quick-hit array of opinions on the matter:

  • “It used to be that [running with] anything more than a four-run lead was wrong, and you’ve got to be careful with that.”—Tony La Russa
  • “When I was playing, if you had a four-run lead it was a courtesy not to run. But you can do that now.”—Ozzie Guillen
  • “Once I had you by five runs and you couldn’t tie me with a grand slam, that was it.”—Sparky Anderson
  • “I was always taught you shut it down at five runs after six.”—Dusty Baker
  • “Five runs in the sixth, I’m not stopping there. We get into the sev­enth inning, then I’ll start chilling a little bit.”—Ron Washington
  • “We play [to shut it down] if you’re up seven runs in the seventh inning.”—Jim Slaton
  • “From the seventh inning on, if one swing of the bat can tie you up, it’s game on,” said ex–first baseman Mark Grace in 2006. “If it’s 4–0, you have Jason Schmidt on the mound, and he’s only given up one hit, you still go for it if Ray Durham gets on base in the eighth inning. Now, if it’s 6–0, you’re in territory where you might get a player hit in the brain in response.”

That list was first published in 2010, and already it seems so, so quaint.

Take, for example, yesterday’s Dodgers-Diamondbacks game. Los Angeles starter Kenta Maeda had given up only one hit through six as his team built an 8-0 lead, but with two on and nobody out, he did this:

maeda-bunts

Additional details: The game was played in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, limiting the big-comeback potential held by numerous bandboxes around the league. Dodgers starters had gone at least six innings in each of the previous two games, so their bullpen wasn’t particularly hurting. Maeda had thrown only 86 pitches. The lead seemed about as safe as a lead could be, yet there was Maeda, laying one down.

Was this kosher? My gut screamed “No!”—but I’m willing to admit that my gut is rooted in 1954 as far as these things go. It’s now okay to toss a bat for something so simple as a sacrifice fly, so perhaps it’s also okay to chase runs while up by eight and with every incidental factor leaning in your favor. Hell, Vin Scully said as much during the broadcast, and who am I to question the legend?

One thing that hasn’t changed is the question about how much is too much. Is eight runs now the limit? Ten? Twelve? In the sixth inning or the eighth?

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the diversity of opinion. I haven’t run any recent polls of big league managers, but it’s a fair certainty that there’s hardly unanimity on the subject. Even more certain is that, while four runs were once the limit, the current number is much, much higher. That is, if there even is an upper limit.

There must be a reason, after all, that this hasn’t been much of an issue recently. Bunt away, boys.

[H/T Uzzy]

 

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Strike a Pose … But Not For Too Long

The above moment is from the Little League World Series over the weekend, but it hardly tells the entire story.

The catcher, from the Seoul, South Korea, team, futilely attempts to frame a pitch, and when the umpire doesn’t bite, holds his pose as a matter of protest. It’s what comes next that makes it special. Check it out over at Deadspin. There’s a lot to love.

There’s the umpire, coolly roaming around to dust off the plate, the better to squat down to the catcher’s level and make sure the message that’s about to be delivered is heard.

And there’s the message itself, which, without even knowing what’s being said, is obviously received. (Kudos to the umpire for employing subtle tactics, which, to judge by the catcher’s response, were utterly effective.)

It’s an easy example of baseball dynamics, because Respect one’s elders is an even older-school maxim than Let’s play two. A kid catcher expressing public discontent to an adult umpire is as black and white as a child talking back to the teacher in class.

But those respective roles aren’t so different from their big league counterparts, with professional umpires—the authority figures of a baseball game—demanding commensurate respect (though not always employing such effective tactics in order to get it).

The lesson for today: Nobody likes to be shown up. Sometimes it takes a kid to illustrate the essential truth of a situation.

 

 

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What the Hell is Wrong With Craig Counsell?

Segura

 

At one end of baseball’s unwritten-rules spectrum, angry pitchers try to justify their desire to throw baseballs at hitters. At the other end, celebration-minded batters ignore the Code entirely while seeing how high they can flip their bats.

On Friday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell broke new ground among their ranks, and not in a good way.

Start with the details. In a game against Arizona, Milwaukee second baseman Orlando Arcia, making only his third major league appearance, collected his first hit as a big leaguer—an RBI single to right field. So far, so good.

When the ball was returned to the infield, however, Arcia’s counterpart, D’Backs second baseman Jean Segura—the man who Milwaukee traded in January, in part to clear space for Arcia—took note of the moment and tossed the ball into the Brewers dugout for safekeeping. It was a nice, anticipatory gesture on behalf of a young player, and prevented the Brewers from having to waste time by halting play and requesting the ball themselves.

Counsell’s reaction was pure bush league. He protested to the umpiring crew that Segura removed the ball from play without first calling for a time stoppage. The umps agreed, Arcia was awarded two extra bases, and Segura was tagged with a thoroughly unearned error. (Watch it here.)

“I get it,” said Counsell after the game in an MLB.com report, “but you have to wait.”

In soccer, players’ code dictates that the ball be intentionally kicked out of bounds when an opponent goes down with a legitimate injury, nullifying an unearned extra-man advantage. In cycling, a race leader who has suffered a mechanical breakdown or other stroke of bad fortune will frequently be granted some slack by his pursuers. Yes, these things aid the opposition, but they also maintain honor.

Where the hell does honor fit into Counsell’s game plan? His move was less gamesmanship—taking advantage of a chink in the system—than sheer, calorie-free bravura, emotional junk food that, while giving his team a slight advantage, diminished himself and the game at large. As a player, Counsell made something of a habit of stealing bases while his team held big leads late in games, so maybe this is just business as usual for him.

Leaving the play alone—letting his ex-player, Segura, do something nice for his current one, Arcia—wouldn’t have drawn notice, because it would have been expected. By calling out a letter-of-the-law violation, however, Counsell painted himself as petty and self-involved.

Ultimately, Arcia was stranded at third base, and Arizona won, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk, in 11 innings.

Could have been the baseball gods sending Counsell a message.

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Lots of Drama in Showdown between Big Tex and the Mets

Teixeira screams

Mark Teixeira sure knows how to get under guys’ skin. Sometimes it mandates hollering at them after being hit by a pitch. Sometimes it’s more or less just standing around near second base.

It’s rivalry week in New York, , and Teixeira got things off to a rollicking start yesterday by homering against Mets starter Steven Matz in the second inning, then yelling at him after the lefty plunked him in his next at-bat.

Of far more interest was what happened in the seventh, when Mets reliever Hansel Robles got a little nutty about Teixeira’s presence at second base, overtly accusing the bemused Yankee of stealing signs.

First things first. Matz got off to a rocky start, having already given up three runs on five hits and a walk when Teixeira came up with two outs in the second inning and two men on base. The slugger quickly added three more runs to Matz’s line with an opposite-field homer into the right-field bleachers.

Matz remained in the game and quickly settled down, retiring the next eight hitters he faced … until Teixeria came up again, at which point he hit him in the shin. The hitter was incredulous. “You’ve got to be kidding!” he screamed toward the mound, inspiring both dugouts to empty despite no moves being made to fight. (Teixeira shouted all the way to first base, drawing an escort from Mets catcher Rene Rivera, but the exchange was so relatively tame that the relievers only half-heartedly filtered from the bullpens, wandering barely past the warning track before heading back in. Watch it all here.)

Although Teixeira didn’t address it directly, Matz’s rookie status likely played into the first baseman’s response. Speaking with the YES Network after the game, Teixeira called him “a good kid” while saying “when you miss a pitch that bad right after I hit a home run, you’re going to get a reaction.” Matz himself addressed the issue, saying in a New York Post report that, “Me being a rookie I can understand why he was mad.’’

The evening’s headliner, however, was Teixeira’s seventh-inning exchange with Robles. The reliever, having given up a single, a double and two walks among the first six batters he faced, was pitching to Starlin Castro with the bases loaded, Teixeira on second, with two outs in the seventh, when he came a bit unhinged.

Whatever Teixeira was doing as a baserunner was taken by Robles, and possibly Rivera, to be signaling the catcher’s signs and/or location to Castro. The pitcher glared toward second, telling Teixeira precisely what was on his mind. In response, Teixeria made an effort to live up to the accusations, mock-signaling the plate by overtly touching different parts of his face.

Castro reached on an RBI infield single, and Robles was removed. As the pitcher returned to the dugout, he had a cross-field conversation with Teixeria (by that time standing at third), about his suspicions. Guilty or not, Teixeria’s response was perfect: a smile and a point to his own helmet, indicating his presence in Robles’ head.

“That’s not the way you play baseball,” Robles said afterward in an MLB.com report. “You have to play baseball as a man.”

In that, Robles is wildly mistaken. Stealing signs is, and has long been, an accepted part of the game. The reliever was within his rights to call out Teixeira for any perceived indiscretions, but that’s pretty much where it had to stop. At that point, it’s up to Teixeira to knock off whatever it was he was doing (he denied the accusation in a New York Times report, saying only that “I was breathing”). Even more importantly, it’s up to the Mets to change their signs (a simple task, even mid-inning). Most of all it’s up to Robles to move right along with the task at hand, retiring the hitter.

That’s not what happened. Teixeira, seeing the discord, pounced. Just as Gaylord Perry had great success making people think he was throwing a spitter, even when he was not throwing a spitter—especially when he was not throwing a spitter—because Teixeira got Robles to think about sign stealing, he managed to distract him at least somewhat from pitching to Castro.

Afterward, Teixeira denied stealing signs, but was on the mark with the rest of his analysis.

“I’ve never gotten inside of someone’s head just by standing there,” he said. “That’s a talent, I guess. Listen, if you think I have your signs, just change them. That’s part of the game. I try not to do it a lot. I don’t like it, trying to steal signs. If you think I have them, then change the signs. Don’t try to challenge me to a duel.”

That pretty much sums it up. The next pitcher, Josh Edgin, walked Teixeira home, and the Yankees won, 9-5. The teams meet tonight for the final time this season. Teixeira’s misdeeds, if they existed, do not merit further response unless they continue unabated. With the way things went yesterday, however, who knows?

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Filed under New York Mets, New York Yankees, Retaliation, Sign stealing, Uncategorized