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Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

Andrew Miller is the Yankees closer

Last night’s weird rally and eventual Yankees victory was some of the craziest baseball I’ve ever seen, but I learned something important about this team – Andrew Miller is the closer.

No, there has been no formal announcement (at least not that I’m aware of) but if last night’s performances by Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were any kind of an audition for the role, Miller won. Easily.

In the 8th inning, Betances faced 6 batters and needed 32 pitches to escape the inning, allowing Toronto to score just one run. He walked two in the inning with only about half (15) of his pitches resulting in strikes. When Miller took the mound in the 9th, he efficiently retired all 3 Blue Jays batters he faced. He threw 10 pitches with only 2 missing the strike zone, struck out one, and was credited with the save while Betances picked up the win.

Anyone who was watching the game could see an obvious difference between Betances and Miller without even knowing the results of their outing. Betances just didn’t look like the dominating setup man we saw last year: he looked shaky, much like we saw in spring training. Miller looked completely locked in and focused. There was no uncertainty, and he quickly worked the count to 0-2 on two of the batters he faced.

Hopefully, Joe Girardi was watching the same two innings Yankee fans saw last night. There should be no more debate, or “it’s something we’ll discuss” from now on. From what I understand, bullpens function better when they have a chosen leader (the closer) and relievers know what their roles are ahead of that closer. Andrew Miller acted like a closer, and he pitched like one. This isn’t a decision that’s locked in for a lifetime – teams often change closers during the season – and if Betances returns to his 2014 self and outpitches Miller, he absolutely should take over the role. For now the answer was obvious last night: Andrew Miller is the new Yankees closer.

I’m Not Worrying About Tanaka – And Neither Should You

Who would have thought that one of the biggest stories from Opening Day 2015 wasn’t any particular game, but rather the status of Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow?

Baseball Tonight referred to today, the day after Opening Day, as “Overreaction Tuesday” and had fans tweet them their most ridiculous hot takes for the season. Most of the responses were completely over the top and great for comedy, but would never truly happen. Still, Overreaction Tuesday is not such a crazy idea…

By day, I am a medical assistant for an internal medicine physician. Just last week I was taking care of a Hospice patient in heart failure and his wife. The two of them were incredibly cheerful throughout the entire visit; you would have never known he was seriously ill and that his heart could literally give up at any moment. When my coworker and I mentioned this, they simply said “You can’t be too serious in life.” They completely understood the severity of their situation, but they also weren’t going to let it hold them back. They were going to enjoy life as much as they could, and enjoy every minute of it.

How does this relate to baseball? Because it reminds me why I am not worried about Tanaka’s arm: because there’s no need to worry until it’s time to worry.

We all know about the partial UCL tear in Tanaka’s elbow – we’ve been talking about it since last summer. Here were are now, just two days into the new season, Tanaka named the Opening Day starter for the Yankees at home…and they lose. Not only is it disappointing, but suddenly everyone around baseball is a medical expert. And not just any expert – they’re all orthopedic specialists with particular knowledge about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow. Without medical degrees. Without examining him. Without seeing his MRI results.

Tanaka got the loss yesterday with 4 innings pitched and 5 runs scored (2 walks, 5 hits including 1 homerun), but he also threw 6 strikeouts. It’s not his best work, but it’s far from the worst showing a starting pitcher has ever made. It’s also not a good enough reason to strap him to a gurney and wheel him into the nearest operating room.

Without even considering velocity or evaluating the number of each pitch he threw, this is a different year for Tanaka in Major League Baseball. He is not a unknown pitcher from Japan anymore; he’s been in the year for a league now, and opposing teams have had all that time to study him. Many of the American League batter have already faced him. Quite simply, he’s more familiar this year than he was last year.

Even so, he is a very talented pitcher – otherwise, the Yankees wouldn’t have signed him (we hope), and he wouldn’t have had such a successful rookie season. But one bad day (or one really bad inning) does not mean Tanaka’s arm is doomed. Remember, the Yankees only had three hits all day and without Brett Gardner’s homerun, would have been shut out. (Doesn’t that sound like the 2014 Yankees? Good work by pitchers and little offensive support?) And what about Headley’s error? What should have been a sacrifice bunt and an out turned into a run scoring and two runners in scoring position – and just one hit to right later, two more runs score.

One game (with one really bad inning) and one loss does not mean Tanaka is broken, and it doesn’t mean the Yankees season is a lost cause. Personally, I’m just looking forward to tomorrow night’s game and hoping for a better result – and I still won’t be worrying about Tanaka’s arm.

There is a very real possibility the UCL may tear and require surgery at any time, but think about how true that is for all pitchers. Already this year there have been a handful of pitchers in spring training whose seasons have ended because of Tommy John surgery. There are several theories why so many pitchers are heading for TJS but the fact is, it’s happening. All the time, and at every level including high school and college.

The difference with Tanaka is we know about the small tear. Several orthopedic surgeons know about the tear and have evaluated Tanaka and have all agreed: No surgery. Where did baseball fans and writers suddenly get their medical degrees? When did any of us give Tanaka a physical exam?

Call it a ticking time bomb if you want, but none of us know if and when the ligament will actually require surgery. Right now it’s a possibility (maybe even a probability) but it’s not a necessity. The true experts have agreed he’s okay – Tanaka and the Yankees insist he’s okay – so let’s let him do his job. Right now, Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankees’#1 starter and a nearly $200 million investment.

Don’t worry until it’s time to worry.

One Offseason Move…

Spring training is just days away. We’re on the verge of a whole new year of baseball with amazing potential, and we’re starting to get a glimpse of what each team will look like for the 2015 season.

No team is exactly the same from year to year. Even with a returning core of players, there will inevitably be trades, free agency, or retirements that change the makeup of the team. Change is part of life, and baseball life is no exception. Maybe one of the downfalls of being a female fan is becoming too attached to one favorite player, or a player on one specific team. Still, life goes on and we adapt to the change.

Earlier this winter I wrote about my off season thoughts. Most of the moves I’ve seen for my favorite teams have been disappointing. Some of my favorite players left for other teams – but at the same time, my favorite teams have acquired a few new players I am excited to see. Again, adapt to the changes.

But there’s one move I’m still not comfortable with, and that’s Shane Greene going to Detroit. Is he the best pitcher MLB ever saw? Absolutely not – and he’s not even the best pitchers the Yankees have ever had. But from the very first time I saw him pitch, I liked him.

I’ve mentioned before that I was lucky enough to be in Cleveland on July 7, Green’s first start after being called up the majors. He remained in the Yankees rotation for the remainder of the 2014 season, finishing the season with a 5-4 record and 3.78 ERA. Those aren’t jaw-dropping stats, but for a 25-year-old rookie, who had previously lost a pitching scholarship and transferred to a community college when after had to undergo Tommy John surgery, it was respectable. And enough to catch the attention of the Detroit Tigers.

Like with any rookie, things weren’t always perfect. There were innings where the pitching simply fell apart. There was a game he seemed to forget how to field anything. But for the most part, the kid walked out to pitchers mound, took a deep breath, focused – and got to work.

(Losing Greene doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, who came to the Yankees in the same three-team trade. Considering the moves two separate events, I would have loved to somehow get the young shortstop and keep the young pitcher.)

For all the injuries and uncertainties for the 2014 Yankees, pitching became the team’s strength. Going into 2015, pitching is much less secure – primarily due to injuries. Having Greene in the rotation wouldn’t necessarily solidify the team, but as a fan I would feel more confident than I do going into the upcoming season.

While it may suck to see him with another team, I hope Shane Greene continues to grow and develop into a solid pitcher. My fear is he does exactly that, and the Yankees are left kicking themselves for letting him go. He likely doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him, but you never know. Regardless of where his career takes him, I can honestly see him being a productive pitcher for the Tigers, and any other teams he may pitch for.

Good luck Shane Greene – it was a great to witness the start of your career.

Pitchers and HBPs

A few months ago, I wrote about catchers – how complex their position actually is and my admiration for anyone voluntarily playing that position. In the piece, I alluded to a similar admiration for pitchers.. While catchers have to be versatile (in a single word), pitchers have to be precise. (Obviously, since pitchers are out there to throw strikes and get outs, not to walk batters and give up runs.)

According to the Major League Baseball rule book, the strike zone is defined as: “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” While there is no specific measurement, and each umpire has their own strike zone (sometimes for each pitcher/team), it’s still a small target from 60 feet away at 80-90 (sometimes up to or over 100) mph. It takes incredible talent and accuracy just to throw the baseball, not to mention the added challenge of an MLB batter standing there waiting for the pitch. It’s really an incredible action.

Sometimes, that incredible accuracy fails a pitcher and an errant pitch will hit the batter. Even the best pitchers hit batters. On the list of pitchers HBPs, Hall of Famer (and arguably the best pitcher in the history of the game) Walter Johnson ranks #4 with 205 hit batters in his 21 year career. Cy Young is #12 with 161 hit batters in 22 years and has a pitching award named after him. Greg Maddux, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer, hit 137 batters in a 23 year career.

What if the batter is intentionally hit by a pitch? Whether it’s good baseball or not is debatable., and sometimes an opinion might change based on the teams and players involved. Personally, I am against it in all situations.

First, it takes away from the pitcher’s talent. Any pitcher, whether I like them and their team or not, has my respect for being able to do that job. Pitching isn’t easy! I have never been able to pitch (in my youth softball leagues) and I certainly would never be able to pitch at a major league level like these guys do. To purposely hit a batter, rather than pitching to them and working toward an out, is a waste of talent. It may spark strong reactions from players, fans, and umpires – but no matter what the emotional reactions are, they’ve still put a man on base who wasn’t there before. There’s a chance the batter might have gotten to first (or further) anyway, but that intentional hit removes any possibility of getting the out before the batter reaches base.

Any batter hit by a pitch – intentional or not – is at increased risk for injury; even the weakest and slowest pitch can hurt. Consider the pitches that hit Yankees’ Chase Headley and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton: both on September 11, 2014 and both (in my opinion) accidental hits. Without a doubt, Headley sustained less injury than Stanton, but both cases are examples of what kind of physical injuries a wild pitch can cause.

Headley was hit in the chin by a 98mph fastball from Rays’ closer Jake McGee. In the video, you can see McGee is stunned and says a few choice words to express that. Chris Young later hit a 3-run homework off McGee to win the game for the Yankees, quite possibly a result of the closer still being shook up after the hit. While he was lucky enough not to suffer any fractures or serious injuries, Headley did not play again until September 15. Even then, he wore a special attachment to his batting helmet to protect his jaw, and had noticeable bruising on his chin, neck, and apparently onto his chest (even though Rays’ managed Joe Maddon said the pitch only “grazed” Headley).

Stanton’s hit by a fastball from Brewers’ Mike Fiers was obviously worse. Immediately after being hit, Stanton fell to the ground and Fiers – along with the rest of the Brewers’ and Marlins’ – looked stunned. Medical staff transported Stanton off the field and to a hospital near Miller Park in Milwaukee, where he was found to have multiple facial fractures, dental damage, and a laceration requiring several stitches. He recovered well and documented it on social media, although he did not play another game during the 2014 season.

While I am against purposely hitting a batter with a pitch, I do understand the pitcher’s motivation. They’re often throwing at the batter in retaliation for something he did against them, their team, or baseball. For example, when Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster intentionally hit Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez in August 2013, it was a clear demonstration of Dempster’s disapproval of Rodriguez’s involvement with PEDs and subsequent suspension (Rodriguez was playing while awaiting a suspension appeal). Most baseball fans and players were unhappy with the situation – there were loud boos in Fenway Park when Rodriguez came up to bat, and loud cheers when Dempster finally hit him – but the hit did nothing more than prove a point.

Dempster’s first pitch went behind Rodriguez (point made), the next two were inside (we really get it now), and the fourth consecutive pitch hit Rodriguez in the side (who didn’t see that coming?). Later in the game, Rodriguez hit a homerun off Dempster, the Yankees went on to win 9-6 (Boston was winning 2-0 at the time when Rodriguez was plunked), and two days later MLB gave Dempster a five game suspension. Again, any MLB pitcher has my respect (whether he plays for my least favorite team or not), but Dempster could have used his abilities in a better way. Rodriguez had just made his 2013 debut less than two weeks before the incident; he wasn’t in the middle of an MVP season and was not the threat at the plate he once was. In all reality, he could have been an easy out.

If the best pitchers in the game hit batters, and any pitcher risks seriously injuring a batter with an unintended wild pitch, purposely throwing at a batter could easily do just the same. Major league pitchers are incredibly talented and intelligent. Not only do they have to have the physical ability to throw, but they also have to have the mental ability to know each batter and pitch to their strengths and weaknesses. If a pitcher truly wants to make a point, go ahead and pitch inside to brush the batter off the plate. Throw a wild pitch that is completely out of the strike zone and has no risk of hitting the batter.

Regardless of who is standing in the batter’s box and what they’ve done (and there can be some real assholes standing there), they’re still human. It is their career as much as it is the pitcher’s. Any pitcher, especially at the major league level, is better than throwing at a batter. Save the baserunner, don’t risk unnecessary injury to the opposing player, and do what a pitcher does best. If pitchers want to make a point and embarrass a batter, they should do so with the talent and precision they already have. Throwing at an opposing player diminishes those skills.

The Case for David Robertson

One of the great stresses I have experienced at the end of this season, and into this off season, is the question about who the Yankees closer will be in 2015. I’ve said in the past that I was impressed with David Robertson’s performance as closer this season, and that I am hopefully he somehow remains on the team for next season – or better yet, many more seasons down the road.

Reports indicate that the Yankees will make a qualifying offer to Robertson tomorrow – at this year’s cost of $15.3 million. I’m still in shock over the price of qualifying offers for this year, but I still feel this is a deal worth at least considering.

I don’t understand why the Yankees haven’t already signed this deal like they did earlier this year with Brett Gardner. Both Robertson and Gardner have come up through the Yankee system, and are valuable parts of the team in their own way. Even with the uncertainty of whether Robertson would be able to fill the void left by Mariano Rivera retiring, he was still a valuable relief pitcher as Rivera’s setup man, and during his previous five years pitching at the major league level.

It wasn’t until the end of spring training that the Yankees decided Robertson would in fact be the closer in 2014, but he lasted the full season and produced very respectable numbers. His record from the season was 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA and 39 saves in 44 chances. While several sources expected him to easily earn 40 saves during the season, 39 saves is the 3rd highest save total in the American League – or tied for 8th highest in both leagues (with Steve Chishek and Jonathan Pabelbon). He wasn’t always perfect, but that’s not a bad year. There were a few blown saves (I saw one in person in Baltimore – I think all of Camden Yards could hear my heart breaking) and there were runners on base a little more than fans would like. Quite honestly, no one is perfect, and he had big shoes to fill.

After he retired, Mariano Rivera wrote a book called The Closer. In the book, he refers to David Robertson as “my bullpen buddy.” It’s a nice image – a baseball legend in his final seasons, sitting next to the young pitcher who very well may take his job. But it’s more than just a friendship – it’s David Robertson literally sitting next to greatness.

There’s no doubt that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in this history of the game. Fans who hate the Yankees even admit that – because he was an extraordinary pitcher, is a wonderful man in general, and there will never be anyone like him. There is likely one pitcher in the world (Robertson) who can say he learned how to do his job from the greatest ever.

But there’s the money, and $15.3 million is a lot of money – a whole lot more than the $5.25 million Robertson made this year. Are pitchers worth that much? Is a relief pitcher worth that much? Is David Robertson worth that much?

To put it in perspective, Mariano Rivera did not make $15 million a season until 2008 – when he was in his 13th year and the world already knew he was going down in baseball history.

Yankees management stated an intent to bring the payroll under $189 million. It’s a nice goal – but in reality, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. There were already multiple bad contracts in place with players making far too much money for what they were producing on the field. More big contracts were handed out with the signing of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann, plus the Brett Gardner 4 year extension. If the Yankees want to get under $189 million, they need to be realistic about the contracts in place now, and realize it’s not going to happen for several years.

So now we’re at the eve of the alleged $15.3 million qualifying offer. Do the Yankees actually make the offer? Does David Robertson accept the offer?

If the Yankees do in fact present Robertson with a qualifying offer, I think it shows they’re serious about wanting him back on the team next year.

Robertson could take the offer and make a huge sum of money – and likely more money for one season than any other deal would get him. But, it is a one year deal and he would go through all the uncertainty again next season (bring me and my nerves right along with him).

Alternatively, what if he leaves? The obvious choice is to have Dellin Betances take over as closer. No doubt he’s been great this year – but he only has 3 years and 78 games of experience. There’s a chance he could become a closer in the future – but in his career he has only one save to date (which I actually saw in Cleveland this past July). Before Robertson officially became the closer, he had 8 saves in 6 seasons. If there was uncertainty surrounding Robertson last year, it seems logical for even more uncertainty about Betances.

Also if Robertson leaves, there is a good chance he comes back to face the Yankees wearing another uniform. If he doesn’t sign with New York, outside interest will certainly be there – look at the bullpen collapses in the playoffs this year (Detroit particularly comes to mind). Do the Yankees want to take that risk?

There is the saying “you can never have enough pitching” and that is becoming especially true in recent seasons. The one strength the Yankees had this year was pitching. The big bats who were supposed to be hitting the homeruns and driving in runs did not produce. There are a few big name pitchers who are free agents this off season, and there are rumors the Yankees may be interested. Is it worth the risk to sign a big name (and therefore big money) starter and risk a weaker bullpen? Think again about the Tigers in the ALDS and their trio of Cy Young starters.

Yes, we have Betances. Yes, there are great pitchers coming up through the farm system now. Currently, we have some pitching strength and a now proven closer other teams will be jumping to sign if he walks. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Ideally, I would actually like Robertson to decline the qualifying offer and work out a deal with the Yankees to stay for a few more years. I think it gives both sides a little more confidence going forward. Yankees should have made this deal months ago – but hopefully they get it right now.