Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

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Those tactics, however, are long outdated, and Jimenez knows it.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.

Clint Hurdle, Dusty Baker, Gamesmanship, Jim Tracy, Kevin Towers, Tony La Russa

Lights, Rain and Radar: How to Get into your Opponent’s Head, an Introductory Course in Gamesmanship

When the lights go down in St. Louis . . .

When the lights went out in St. Louis last night, there were two outs in the 11th inning and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson was on the verge of closing out a 7-5 victory.

Instead, the teams sat for 16 minutes while the sound guy at Busch Stadium played Journey’s “Lights” and somebody tried to deal with the electrical system.

The chatter after Wilson finally returned to record the game’s final out had to do with the possibility of malfeasance on the part of Tony La Russa. Did the Cards’ manager manipulate the power grid in an effort to cool down the opposing closer?

Of course he didn’t. Or at least he probably didn’t. Still, the coincidental timing was enough for Bruce Bochy to quip afterward that it was “pretty good gamesmanship” on La Russa’s part.

The Giants’ skipper was joking, but there’s a reason La Russa’s name comes up during moments like this.

Earlier this year, for example, he was accused of selectively distributing weather information when the Cardinals were hosting Cincinnati, then pitching reliever Miguel Batista instead his scheduled starter, Kyle McClellan. Batista threw all of six pitches before rain halted the game for more than two hours.

Afterward, McClellan, fresh, took his rightful place on the mound.

Dusty Baker, meanwhile, claiming an information inequity between the teams, had his starter, Edinson Volquez, warm up from the get-go. The right-hander never got a chance to pitch, however; when play resumed, Baker had to turn to Matt Maloney rather than risk having Volquez get hot twice.

“It’s really a tough start,” Baker said in an report. “The information that we received was probably not the same information they received, or else we wouldn’t have started [Volquez] in the first place. We were told there was going to be a window of opportunity there. That window lasted about three minutes.”

Maloney gave up three runs in three innings, and the Cardinals won, 4-2.

La Russa, of course, is hardly alone when it comes to gamesmanship. In April, Livan Hernandez accused the Pirates of doing much the same thing.

Weather reports, however, are far less interesting than the other tally on Pittsburgh’s gamesmanship scorecard. That came when Clint Hurdle appeared to dupe Rockies skipper Jim Tracy with two outs in the 14th inning of a tie game. With a runner on first, Andrew McCutchen stepped into the on-deck circle as Jose Tabata batted.

That had been McCutcheon’s spot in the order earlier in the game, but the outfielder was removed as part of a double-switch. The guy actually scheduled to hit next was relief pitcher Garrett Olson, whose last plate appearance had come in 2009, and who has collected all of one hit in his five-year career.

Had Tracy been paying better attention, he might have realized that the Pirates’ bench was empty, leaving Olson to fend for himself at the plate.

It never came to that. Seeing McCutchen, Tracy had reliever Franklin Morales pitch to Tabata—who promptly lashed a game-winning double. (Watch it here.)

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Asked if the move was a decoy to get the Rockies to think McCutchen was up next … ‘No, come on, why would we do that,’ Hurdle said with a sly chuckle.”

* * *

Rain delays and decoys are one way for a home team to gain an advantage. Radar guns are another.

Earlier this season, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers admitted to the Arizona Republic that when he held the same post with San Diego, the Padres took to manipulating their ballpark’s radar gun to get into the heads of opposing pitchers.

“I know for a fact that every time Brad Penny pitched for the Dodgers in San Diego it was probably the lowest velocities he ever had,” he said. “He liked velocity. He’d stare at the board. He was throwing 95-96, but we’d have it at 91 and he’d get pissed off and throw harder and harder and start elevating.”

Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman checked, and—lo and behold—Penny is 1-5 with a 6.47 ERA in 10 career games pitched in San Diego.

(The subject was initially raised when fireballing Aroldis Chapman, after topping out at 106 mph earlier in the season, dropped nearly 15 mph off his fastball in San Diego, then magically regained his velocity during Cincinnati’s next series. Towers’ comments could themselves have been a form of gamesmanship, as his new club uses the non-manipulatable Pitch-f/x system, and the Padres—and all their secrets—are now the enemy.)

The tactic works both ways. During the 2002 postseason, when Robb Nen was throwing pus with a shredded shoulder during what would be the final innings of his career, the folks at AT&T Park shut off the radar gun altogether when the Giants’ closer entered the game. It might not have fooled anyone on the opposing team, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

– Jason

Cheating, Humidor, Tim Lincecum

Rocky Mountain Hijinx

Q: Are the Rockies cheating? Does it matter? Should they stop?

A: Don’t know, not really and, if applicable, yes.

The rumors took root nationally in July, when Giants broadcaster Jon Miller asserted that whispers around the league said the Rockies selectively delivered baseballs to the umpires at Coors Field—balls from the humidor when the opposition was hitting, dry balls when the Rockies were at the plate.

(The team took to storing game balls in a humidor several years back to help them retain moisture. As is evidenced by the early years of baseball in the altitude of Denver, dry baseballs travel a very, very long way when hit.)

The story got new legs over the weekend, when Tim Lincecum, on the mound in the opener of a crucial three-game set between the Giants and the Rockies, got a new ball from plate umpire Laz Diaz, rubbed it up, then tossed it back while uttering a phrase that could clearly be seen on the TV broadcast: “Fucking juiced balls. It’s bullshit.”

If that’s what the Rockies are doing, it’s just baseball.

It’s the same theory behind select home bullpens being much nicer than their counterparts on the visitors’ side, with perfectly sloped mounds as opposed to misshapen inclines that hinder the preparation process.

It’s why a grounds crew will occasionally manicure a field to suit the home team’s strength, be it speed (bake the ground in front of the plate to facilitate high chops), lack of speed (water the basepaths into mush, to slow down the opposition), bunting ability (Ashburn’s Ridge in Philadelphia sloped the baseline slightly inward, to help Richie Ashburn’s offerings stay fair) or preference of the starting pitcher (mounds can be slightly raised or lowered, depending on the stature of the guys using them).

Heck, just a few years back, the story broke about the Twins manipulating the air conditioning at the Metrodome to blow in when opponents batted, and out when Minnesota was up.

If the Rockies are, indeed, cheating, they wouldn’t even be the first team to use a humidor to its benefit—although the 1967 Chicago White Sox did the reverse of what the Rockies are accused of. Because they had good pitching and an awful offense (they scored almost 200 runs fewer the league-leading Boston), the White Sox took to storing game balls in a humidified room, adding as much as a half ounce of water weight to each one. This hindered visiting hitters, but didn’t much affect the White Sox, who couldn’t hit, anyway.

There’s no reason to condemn Colorado for trying, but if they are cheating, there’s plenty of reason to put a stop to it—which is precisely what MLB did, ordering umpires to intervene in the process that delivers balls from the humidor to the field. (Up until now, it was handled entirely by Rockies employees.)

Which pretty much settles the score. Most cheating in baseball is fine, but if you get caught, you have to stop. Based on the 10-9 score the day after Lincecum’s “juiced balls” performance, it would appear that they have.

Which is all anybody could ask. Now play ball.

– Jason