Earning respect

Point and Shoot: Do Not Take Liberties With Trevor Bauer

Bauer points

Considering that the majority of baseball’s unwritten rules have to do with showing respect on the field, and considering that inside fastballs are the response of choice for too many pitchers should said respect insufficiently materialize, what Trevor Bauer did yesterday was downright delightful.

Consider: After Chicago’s Avisail Garcia yapped at the pitcher upon fouling off a curveball, Bauer yapped right back. There was nothing inciting to his conversation, just a public urging for the hitter to step back into the box, the better to settle things like men. Once the battle was won, Bauer concluded with a dismissive point toward the dugout.

After the game, the pitcher described the incident:

He likes to run his mouth. You start sitting there talking, ‘Oh, they don’t throw me fastballs. Why do they just throw me breaking balls?’ He’s said it before. Not sure he knows that the rules of this game say you can throw whatever pitch you want. He started yapping at me. I threw him a first-pitch slider. He fouled it off, stared right at me, said something while he was nodding his head, like I’m right on you or something. I told him, ‘If you’re that confident, step back in the box. Let’s go. Get back in the box. And then he fouled off a pitch—another one that he should have hit. It was right down the middle and he missed it. And then he looked at me and started nodding again. So I threw him a curveball. He swung and missed. I decided to remind him of the rules of the game. Three strikes, you’re out. You can go sit back in the dugout. To his credit, he took it like a champ. He put his head down, he shut his mouth and he walked himself back to the dugout. Good for him.

The upshot: Victors—especially those who didn’t fire the first shot—get to dictate terms. There’s no shame in not being able to hit Trevor Bauer’s curveball. If that’s the case, however, don’t go out there and act like you can.

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Retaliation

How Many HBPs is Too Many HBPs? (Answer: Four)

Happ drilled

The general question of the day: When is retaliation necessary?

The specific question of the day: Is retaliation necessary when none of your batters have been hit on purpose?

The more-specific question of the day: Is retaliation necessary when lots of your batters have been hit, even if none of them were intentional?

The White Sox answered that question yesterday after Cubs starter John Lackey drilled four among their ranks—three of them in the fifth inning alone. Jose Abreu was hit twice, staring down Lackey after the second one until plate ump Lance Barksdale stepped between them.

There was almost certainly no intent behind any of the pitches, given that they clipped their targets rather than bore into them, not to mention that the fifth-inning spate loaded the bases. It mattered little to the South-siders. In the bottom of the frame, Sox reliever Chris Beck missed Cubs second baseman Ian Happ with his first pitch, and drilled him in the thigh with his next one.

It was enough for Barksdale to issue warnings, which effectively ended retaliation for the day. (Watch it here.)

So the answer, as evidenced by this game, is that, yes, retaliation is an option, even when nothing intentional has gone down. But why?

The Cubs’ scouting report had Lackey pitching aggressively inside, especially against free swingers like Matt Davidson, one of Chicago’s four HBPs, who already has 115 strikeouts on the season. After the game, Lackey himself said, “You look at numbers, it’s a pretty extreme-swinging team. You’ve got to go to some extreme zones.”

The White Sox were being abused, and Beck planting one into Happ was their most unequivocal method of indicating an unwillingness to take any more. After Barksdale’s warning, pitches ceased to be thrown recklessly inside. (It didn’t hurt that Lackey was pulled one pitch after hitting his final batter.)

Lackey himself agreed with the retaliation (“If I’m pitching on the other side, I’m probably hitting somebody”), as did Cubs manager Joe Maddon (“Their retribution was obvious. I had no argument.”)

 

Ultimately, Lackey is responsible for the well-being of his teammates when he’s on the mound. If his actions inspire an opponent to take a shot at one of them, he has to weigh the merits of continuing his course, and what kind of cost that might exact within his own clubhouse. Then he has to deal with Happ or any other Cub that wears one as a matter of recourse. This is the crux of much retaliatory strategy.

After the game, Lackey went so far as to apologize to his teammate, offering to buy the rookie something to make up for it.

What, really, could Happ do? “Hopefully it’s something nice,” he said in an MLB.com report.

And the cycle continues.

 

 

Pitch Tipping

Lesson From the Cactus Leauge: Tip Your Waitstaff, Not Your Pitches

John DanksJohn Danks wasn’t much good for the White Sox last year … or in 2014 … or in 2013, for that matter. His new catcher thinks he knows why.

Early in spring training, Dioner Navarro told the lefthander that he’d been holding his glove in different positions during his delivery, depending upon whether he was throwing a fastball or a breaking ball, according to a report from CBS Chicago. Hitters noticed. “We fixed it,” Danks said, “and it has not been an issue since.”

Prior to this season, when Navarro was a member of the Rays, Cubs and Blue Jays, he was 11-for-26 against Danks, including three home runs. Seems like he’s noticed something in the southpaw’s delivery for a while.

Pitch-tipping, of course, is a fairly common occurrence. Should a player notice a hitch in a pitcher’s delivery, word quickly spreads around the league. Navarro was hardly the only hitter to benefit from Danks’ mistakes.

There’s a section on pitch-tipping in The Baseball Codes, which discusses a number of players who were forced to alter their delivery to better hide their intentions. A segment that was edited out of the final copy lends further detail to the phenomenon:

Hall of Fame spitballer Burleigh Grimes was done in by his cap. Although he shielded the ball with his glove to keep hitters from knowing whether or not he was preparing for a spitter, members of the Phillies realized that the brim of his hat—visible above the top of his glove—would rise when he opened his mouth to spit, and laid off the ensuing pitches. It worked beautifully, at least until the pitcher wised up and got a bigger cap.

Picking up tells can be a veritable art form, with master practitioners noticing things about a player that escape even their most astute. Bob Turley, for example, in addition to being a great sign thief, could also pick up tells better than almost anybody in the game.

“When (Connie Johnson) starts his windup, he’ll move his foot to the other end of the rubber if he’s going to throw his screwball,” he once told Mickey Mantle, as reported in Baseball Digest. “Billy Pierce always wore a long, heavy sweatshirt, no matter how hot it was. When he went into his glove to grip a fastball, you would see the back of his wrist. When he was going to throw a curve, he would get deeper in there and you would not see his wrist. Early Wynn, when he pitched from the stretch, where were his hands before he threw? If he was going to throw a knuckleball, they were at his belt. For a fastball, he’d come up under his chin. Slider, around his nose. Curve, up at his forehead. Jim Bunning altered his windup a little depending on what he was going to throw.”

Should Danks continues to improve, it’ll be nothing but good for the White Sox and his career. He’ll always have to ask himself, however, why nobody said anything to him sooner.

[Via Hardball Talk]

 

Gamesmanship

Location, Location, Location: On Intentionally Positioning Your Argument to Disrupt the Opposition

Scioscia chatsThe beauty of gamesmanship in baseball is the subtle and creative ways in which it can manifest. Wednesday in Chicago it was Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who undertook a discussion he should not have been having, for longer than was necessary and in a location on the field—in front of home plate—that prevented White Sox closer David Robertson from keeping warm in the interim.

Erick Aybar led off the ninth inning of a game in which his team trailed, 2-1, by striking out on a pitch in the dirt. Aybar reacted as if Chicago catcher Tyler Flowers never tagged him (which appears in replays to have been the case) and ran to first base. Plate ump Fieldin Culbreth immediately ruled, however, that Flowers made the tag. The play went to review (which should never have happened, because Flowers’ lack of a throw to first was predicated entirely on Culbreth’s out call), and after the call was upheld Scioscia emerged to argue the point. He stood nearly atop the plate to do so. (Watch it here.) When Robertson finally resumed pitching he allowed two quick singles and an RBI groundout that tied a game the White Sox eventually won in 13.

This is a classic move, which, noted the White Sox broadcast, Billy Martin used to do all the time. And why not? If the Angels manager can easily put the opposition at a disadvantage, why wouldn’t he? I once saw a Scioscia-led Angels team let a warm-up ball escape the bullpen and onto the field of play in the late innings (it rolled to a stop near the plate), thoroughly disrupting the rhythm of a game in which they were struggling. Accident? Possibly. It was a minor moment, but baseball is a game of rhythms, and this was a clear disruption.

It’s also hardly unique.

One of the most noteworthy enactments of such tactics came in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series, when St. Louis pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander was called in from the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead with the bases loaded and New York’s rookie shortstop, Tony Lazzeri, at the plate. Recognizing the antsiness of the young player, Alexander took his sweet time ambling to the mound, stopping to examine the gloves of center fielder Wattie Holm and shortstop Tommy Thevenow en route. Thoroughly disrupting Lazzeri’s rhythm, Alexander—39 years old and in his 16th big league season—struck him out and saved the victory for the Cardinals.

What Scioscia did on Wednesday was just as shrewd, and no less objectionable. Robertson called Scioscia “bush league” afterward, but if the White Sox are to take umbrage with anybody, it’s Culbreth, who could have ended the conversation before it began (arguing reviewed calls is grounds for ejection) or at least moved it away from the plate. Hell, either Robertson or Flowers could have requested as much. Scioscia even walked away from the plate for the second half of the discussion, and Robertson still didn’t throw a warmup.

The White Sox ended up winning the war, but that particular battle was all Mike Scioscia.

Don't Incite the Opposition

Another Start and More Bad Blood: Yordano Ventura Is At It Again

Maybe Yordano Ventura just isn’t a people person.

There was his run-in with Mike Trout. There was his run-in with Brett Lawrie. Yesterday he had a run-in with Adam Eaton. Three players, three teams, three temper tantrums, one full-on brawl and ejections from multiple games. It’s still April.

Things kicked off yesterday in Chicago when Ventura hit Jose Abreu with a pitch in the fourth inning, and Chris Sale “responded” by hitting Mike Moustakas in the fifth. (“Responded” is in quotes because the bullet fired was an 86-mph changeup. The thing about message pitches is that they’re intended to send a message. Changeups do not serve as such. Sale touched 98 mph earlier in the game. That would have sent a message.)

Things started poorly for these teams on opening day. Jeff Samardzija hit Lorenzo Cain, Cain emphatically stating later that it was intentional, owing to it being the next pitch after Samardzija gave up a home run. Two days later the teams traded shots, Jose Quintana drilling Cain and Danny Duffy responding with a pitch behind the head of Adam LaRoche.

The chirping continued on Thursday, with Samardzija—still ticked off about the Cain incident?—apparently offering verbal barbs after Christian Colon lined into a double play (Alex Gordon getting caught off second) in the top of the seventh.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Ventura induced a comebacker from Adam Eaton. According to Ventura, Eaton yelled something on contact. Ventura fired back after catching the ball, looking directly at the hitter and saying “Fuck you” before tossing the ball to first base. Eaton took steps toward the pitcher, benches emptied and fists started flying—the most prominent combatants being Samardzija and Cain in an almost certain holdover from opening day. (Watch it all here.)

Ventura, Cain and Edinson Volquez were tossed from Kansas City, Samardzija (who was not pitching) and Chris Sale (who was) from Chicago. Ultimately, though, this is on Ventura. What Eaton may have yelled at him—or whether he yelled at all—is incidental. Had Ventura kept his cool, so too would everybody else on the field. He expressed contrition after the game, but the guy has verbally engaged with hitters in three straight starts, and four starts into his season he has yet to be removed by Ned Yost, despite throwing zero complete games. (Twice he’s been ejected and twice departed with cramps.) Sure, the Royals have been hit 17 times this season, while drilling only five men themselves, but this is no way to go about a course correction.

The primary thing Ventura has done is expose a glaring weakness in his game. The guy has some of the best stuff in the American League; if an opponent can avoid it simply by riling the pitcher up and getting him ejected, that’s what they’ll do. It’s no different than Ventura exploiting a guy who can’t hit curveballs by feeding him nothing but.

Growing up is inevitable, even for young hotheads. Ventura has accelerated his own timeline.

[Gif via Deadspin]

Retaliation

This is No Way to Kick Off a Season, Fellas

Duffy goes head-huntingThis is what happens when a perennial doormat becomes the defending American League champion. The Royals are all of two games into their season, and already its clear: People are paying attention.

On Monday, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija hit two Kansas City batters. One of them, Lorenzo Cain, was convinced that his was intentional, and complained at some length to the assembled media afterward. On Wednesday, Chicago’s Jose Quintana continued the assault, drilling Cain with a four-seam fastball on the first pitch he saw in the first inning.

With compounded damages over two games, It’s tough to begrudge the Royals a response. The one they chose, however, left a lot to be desired: Danny Duffy threw a second-inning pitch behind the head of Chicago DH Adam LaRoche.

On one hand, it looked like a clear warning: The pitch was far enough away that the batter barely had to flinch to avoid it. (Watch it here.)

On the other hand, there is no more certain way to fire up a major league ballclub than to place a ball above shoulder level in the vicinity of one of its batters. Duffy should have been ejected on the spot. Instead, both benches were warned against further shenanigans.

There were two outs in the inning and nobody on base when Duffy threw that pitch. He had retired all five men he’d faced to that point. LaRoche, who looked on incredulously as Duffy reset on the mound, then doubled to right, and went to third on Gordon Beckham’s infield single. Tyler Flowers brought them both home with a three-run homer. “It doesn’t take much to get us fired up,” said Eric Hosmer afterward, in an MLB.com report.

Learning no lessons from his counterpart on the mound, White Sox starter Jose Quintana offered a response of his own, drilling Mike Moustakas in the thigh an inning later. (He somehow avoided ejection, despite the prior warning.) Cain followed with a single, and Eric Hosmer followed with a homer of his own. Just like that, a two-run deficit became a one-run lead. Duffy and Quintana each paid for their transgressions by ging up five runs over five innings on the day. Kansas City won, 7-5, on an eighth-inning homer by Cain, no less.

Ballplayers should be allowed a modicum of retaliation. It serves as a tool to enable an aggrieved party to move on from a tender moment. If both sides accept that being drilled in the thigh is an appropriate response for a given infraction, so be it.

Danny Duffy, however, should know better than to put a pitch where he did. These teams will see a lot of each other in the coming season, and a line has been drawn as to where at least one of the combatants is willing to take things. By all indications, we’re only getting started.

Retaliation

Frustration Bubbles Over in KC … Unless it Didn’t … But Who Cares Because it Looks Like it Did

Cain drilledOne takeaway from yesterday’s opening day is an old favorite, learned the hard way by many pitchers over the years: Hitting a guy with the first pitch after giving up a homer—let alone when that homer that puts you into a 4-0 hole in the fifth inning on opening day—makes you look really, really guilty.

That is what White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija did. That is how Royals batter Lorenzo Cain took it. Did Samardzija mean it? Didn’t matter—perception is everything.

Cain understood that angry, frustrated pitchers sometimes do angry, frustrated things, and offered some choice words to Samardzija as he moved down the baseline. When the pitcher motioned him on toward first base—Shut up, son, and let’s move these proceedings along—things really got heated. (Watch it here.)

Cain barked. Mike Moustakas, who had just hit the homer that may or may not have started this all, emerged from the dugout. Cain let things die down, but his postgame hypotheses portend tension down the road. “I wasn’t sure if he hit me on purpose or not,” Cain said in a CSN Chicago report. “But once he told me to get down, I was sure he hit me on purpose. It’s straight to the point. He hit me on purpose.”

Ultimately, Samardzija went six innings and gave up five runs in a 10-1 Royals victory. Later, he denied everything, reducing the moment to the phrase “Boys playing baseball, no big deal.” He did not comment on the fact that the other batter he hit in the game—Alex Gordon, in the bottom of the second inning—came after Royals starter Yordano Ventura drilled Avisail Garcia in the top half of the frame.

It was opening day, which means that these division rivals play each other 18 more times this year. Samardzija is new to the division and, apart from 16 starts last season as a member of the Oakland A’s, new to the league. Whether he meant to or not, he’s certainly set things up to be interesting.