The Cycle: Master Plans, Cons, Unwritten Rules, and Closing Time

Posted: May 9, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , , , ,

The Cycle takes a look at the four most interesting stories from the past week in baseball.  The different components of “The Cycle” correspond to the difficulty of understanding the task at hand.  With that, batter up (and that concludes the crappy baseball metaphor portion of the post)!

Single: Bobby Valentine’s Master Plan and Everyone Fell For It

The most heralded sports mind baseball encountered before Joe Maddon.  The amount of times I hear that Bobby V and Joe Maddon are so intelligent (far beyond us simpletons because we don’t understand their decisions) leaves me more confused about the baseball media/culture.  I genuinely believe both managers are probably more intelligent than most other baseball people for two reasons: (1) they understand the tactics and game in ways that allow them to counter weaknesses before they are exposed and (2) they don’t care that they violate conventional wisdom in managing.  Valentine’s master plan is indicative of his brilliance.  Known as brash, arrogant, in the limelight and, well, intelligent Valentine assumed control of a franchise in tumult.  The Red Sox choked in the final months of the season to miss the playoffs, fired Terry Francona who brought home two World Series titles to a place that had no recollection of what that meant, absolutely tarnished Francona’s name reminding everyone that BoSox management is slime, lost their intelligent GM, and ended up with an overpaid, underachieving team.

Valentine immediately stepped to the forefront by “criticizing” Youkilis, a player who didn’t exactly help his case with his poor play and not in high standing within the clubhouse.  What this brilliant move did is the key: everyone turned to talk Valentine and ignored the inadequacies of the team.  Injuries galore leave this team depleted with Ellsbury, Crawford, and Youk on the DL.  Their offense, when clicking, looks pretty solid.  Entering May 9, the Red Sox are top ten in runs (4th); team batting average (3rd), on base percentage (8th), and slugging percentage (4th).  Big Papi is a world beater having his best start ever on a one-year contract.  Pitching, however, is their other atomic woe.  The BoSox find themselves in the bottom five of all major pitching categories: ERA (29th), quality starts (25th), WHIP (27th), and batting average (26th).  Bobby Valentine cannot hit nor pitch and with pitching figures like those, all of his moves look bad because his players are not executing.

The plan worked to absorb the brunt of the anger from fans and the media until the Red Sox got to the soft part of the schedule.  Unfortunately only being 12-17 means Bostonians recognizing that this team is simply not good enough.  Bobby V knew that from the beginning and people with eyes knew it too (Josh Beckett sports the best ERA at 4.45).  Bobby’s plan absolutely worked while his players don’t; the man was two steps ahead again and none of it will matter when they finish in third in the AL East.  He won’t be fired though because the big wigs get the big picture.  The media focused on the manager and everyone bought the show hook, line, and sinker.

Double: Andy Pettitte Being A True Friend

I generally don’t care for these government trials against athletes lying to Congress about steroids.  The government has enough to be worried about and honestly not that many people care enough to warrant hearings, trials, and wasted resources.  This was true of the Rocket on trial for perjury to a Congressional hearing until Pettitte, the lead witness in the case, reminded people why they dislike the power of famous people.  Clemons’s attorney Michael Attansio asked if Pettitte clearly remembered his conversation with the Rocket regarding his admission to performance enhancement drug use.  According to Yahoo! Sport’s Les Carpenter (and the court transcripts) Pettitte clearly remembered this conversation on the previous day (and in conversations with Congressional investigators) but suddenly admitted his memory to only be “50-50” on the issue.  Uhhh, what the hell is going on here?

Pettitte and his reputation (especially compared to Brian McNamee) was the ONLY reason this case went to trial and now it is a disaster.  These silly trials make me sick but not as much as the abuse of the legal system by those who can get away with it.  Pettitte is scum and is defending one of the greats ever.  Both will walk away in ways that 99.5% could not dream of because they are more important and powerful than laws.   They are superstars and get special treatment.  I get it and it sucks.

Triple: Unwritten Rules and Baseball’s Confusing Traditions

Cole Hamels inexplicably threw at baseball sensation Bryce Harper and kicked off a fire storm of discussions around unwritten rules, self-policing, and other hand waving characteristic of America’s Pastime.  Hamels wanted to send Harper a message: Welcome to the Big Leagues; Don’t be a tool; Your hair cut is silly and stupid.  Whatever the message, this beaming was absolutely unprovoked in the moment and probably would not have been worthy of suspension.  Hamels later admitted that he purposely targeted and hit Harper and Major League Baseball purposely gave him a five game suspension.

The problem here is Jordan Zimmermann conveniently beamed Cole Hamels in the third inning – a clear retaliatory act for hitting Harper – and he gets no suspension at all.  The motive was there.  The player hit was there.  Everyone one knew it would be coming and it happened.  Zimmermann –either wisely or cowardly – denied throwing at Hamels but people are not stupid to go better.  To suspend Hamels and not Zimmermann is punishing either 1) honesty or 2) stupidity in saying what everyone knew.  I imagine it’s the latter and that does not make it better.  As someone not worried about fighting in hockey, I also don’t have a problem with hitting other batters in baseball; the game allows for policing itself and should continue to do so.  When MLB carelessly steps into the fray it does nothing to help the situation and sparks useless debates on baseball culture and arbitrary rulings from on high.  Let em play and move on.

Jamie Moyer accusing Chipper Jones of sign stealing is another matter altogether.  Jones suggested that Moyer accused the 40 year old Braves icon of relaying signs to Brian McCann last Saturday.  This set off Jones to go on quite the tirade calling out Moyer’s slower pitches (softball insult there) and calling hi paranoid because he pitched with the Phillies, a team Jones said is known for stealing signs.  Forget about old man versus grandpa, why call out the Phillies?  Accusations of sign stealing are never cool and not supported by the “unwritten rules” manifesto even if it helps your team win.  Now if Chipper gets beamed by Baseball Police Chief Cole Hamels during their next series, we all know why.  Rules are the rules unless they aren’t.  I guess.

Home Run: Mariano Rivera – The Great One

The greatest non-starter pitcher of all time tore his ACL while shagging balls during batting practice before the Yankees-Royals romp last week.  (No word if he is blaming the condensed NBA schedule for his knee injury.)  Fears of Rivera retiring led to commentators and sports fans alike waxing nostalgia on the legacy of Rivera as a consummate gentleman, “the best outfielder the Yankees had,” and a testament to the power of elite preparation paying off in the highest of pressure situations.  Many people took this opportunity to proclaim Mo as the greatest (or best) pitcher of all time.  Without doubt Rivera is the greatest closer of all time (and it is not even close, sorry) but to suggest any closer could be greater than elite starters is foolish.  The case for the value of a closer is as follows:

1)      Closers, especially the elite ones, reduce the game by at least one inning.  This in turns puts greater pressure on batters earlier in the games and may force mistakes on behalf of opponents trying to make something happen in fear of running out of outs.

2)      Closers pitch in the higher pressure situations.  Pitching one inning against three hitters traditionally to end a game may be argued as harder than pitching with more innings and the potential for your offense to support you.

3)      No room for error.  Similar to point two, you cannot mess up or you lose.

Admirable as these points are, starters are far more important (the Yankees signed Rivera as a starter and he failed at it).  The case is as follows:

1)      Starters pitch more innings creating greater longer term effects for the team.  Starting pitchers may not need an amazing offense or a dominant bullpen to get the job done.  Great starters go deep into games, absorbing innings that can save relief pitchers going forward.

2)      Did I mention starters pitch more innings!  Starters must go through the entire lineup multiple times meaning greater strategy, endurance, and skill is required to be successful through multiple turns in a lineup.  While closers MAY face the heart of the lineup, it is assured that starters go through them at least twice.

3)      Without elite starters, elite closers would mean much less.  Starters give closers the leads that put them in save situations.  Starters account for more wins because they carry the heavier burden.

Our Editor-In-Chief and diehard Yankees fan argued endlessly that Rivera was the greatest ever (or at least in the top five ever) which I thought was ludicrous.  He challenged me to name ten pitchers better but told me to keep it confined to the modern era.  I arbitrarily set the beginning of modern baseball as 1961, notably the beginning of baseball’s expansion, the adoption of the current 162 game season and the completion of integration of all Major League teams.  Some will say that I only chose 1961 over 1969 (expanded playoffs, lowering of pitcher’s mound, invention of save, etc.) to include Bob Gibson on my list.  My response: So what!?  In no particular order (sans number one) I give you pitchers better than Mariano Rivera (all time)

1)      Pedro Martinez (I knew that Pedro was an all-time great but researching this post reminded me of how dominant he really was.  Pound-for-pound the best pitcher ever)

2)      Greg Maddux

3)      Randy Johnson

4)      Sandy Koufax*

5)      Roger Clemons

6)      Bob Gibson*

7)      Tom Seaver

8)      Jim Palmer

9)      Steve Carlton

10)  John Smoltz

11)  Tom Glavine

12)  Curt Schilling (for post-season play especially. I originally did not think of him but his post-season career is worth a ton especially if people hang their Rivera hats on his post-season work)

13)  Bert Blyleven (60 shutouts; 2.80 K/BB ration in over 4900 innings pitched; 3700 strikeouts; 3.31 ERA.  Longevity still means something!)

14)  Mariano Rivera

If you take out the two 1960s guys and begin the modern era at 1969 (probably appropriate) Rivera is 12th and that seems more than appropriate recognizing his skill set and longevity.  I hope he returns but if not we should recognize that one of the all-time greats is gone.  Please don’t go overboard though as closers will always be second fiddle to starters.


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