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Posts tagged ‘Pitchers’

July, 1997

What were you doing in 1997?

Let me refresh your memory –
Titanic was the top movie of the year. But, if you were like me, you found Good Will Hunting to be more your speed.
The top song of the year, according to Billboard, was “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John because it was the same year the world said goodbye to Princess Diana.
We also lost Mother Theresa, Notorious B.I.G., Gianni Versace, and Married With Children –
But we welcomed Hanson (Mmmbop), the Harry Potter series, Pokemon, America’s first female secretary of state (Madeline Albright), and Dolly the Sheep’s clone.
Bill Clinton was still president!

Back in 1997, now 20 years ago, (watch out, I’m about to admit my age here) I was a 14-year-old girl living in a small town in northeastern Ohio and had just completed the 6th grade. On July 7, I watched my first baseball game – the 1997 All Star game live from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio!

When I started watching baseball, Bartolo Colon and I were still in Cleveland – and we both weighed a lot less.

It’s funny to think about how much baseball has changed, how much the world has changed, and how much I’ve changed in those twenty years. When I watched that All Star game, I was sitting in my living room – without air conditioning – looking at a tv that only got a handful of channels and, by today’s standards, was ridiculously small. Sandy Alomar, Jr was the MVP – and a hell of a catcher for the Indians at that time (my favorite). Now, he’s the first base coach for the Indians. The first base coach for the Detroit Tigers is his former teammate Omar Vizquel.

The Indians went to the World Series that year, and lost in game seven the (then) Florida Marlins. The heartbreak I experienced during game seven of the 2016 World Series is the only thing that has softened the blow of that loss. This week, the (now) Miami Marlins drafted Joe Dunand, Jr – the nephew of Alex’s Rodriguez (who first caught my eye about 5 minutes after I started watching baseball in 1997).

This year, on July 8 – twenty years and 1 day since I started watching baseball – I’ll be returning “home” for Andrew Miller night in Cleveland, and taking my 8-year-old nephew to his first baseball game. If I was finishing my first year of middle school in 1997, Andrew Miller was finishing elementary school; he probably wasn’t 5 feet tall yet and no one in the world could have known what kind of bullpen hero he would develop into (of that he would eventually become my Hero).

What does it mean that all of these things are now a distant memory? First, it means I’m getting older… But as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, it also means I’ve seen a lot of history. And, also like I’ve said before, I’m thankful for that history.

I’m thankful to have watched baseball in the height of, and the decline of, steroid use.
I’m thankful to have seen pitchers develop into the magicians they are today.
I’m thankful to see young players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado (my personal favorite) show up and light baseball on fire.
I’m thankful for watching my all-time favorite, Alex Rodriguez, play for 20 years, and even for his retirement, because I can appreciate his talent, his high points – and his low points – and his man he’s become after all the chaos
I’m thankful for the Cleveland Indians because without them, baseball would be just another game to me.
And I’m even thankful for not one, but two blow game sevens – because I’ve always known how emotional baseball could be, and because I needed that “coming home” moment last fall to remind me where my journey began.

July is special to me. Each year during the All Star game, I’m thankful I started watching this game. A few years ago, I joined twitter specifically to talk about this game, and two years ago started my baseball blog. This July, exactly two decades later, I will have the opportunity to share this game with my nephew Hunter.

Will he be as mesmerized by the game as I was? Will he see a player on the field he immediately knows is his favorite? Will he love the game as much as his Aunt Jess does?

Maybe none of those things happen – but you know I’ll certainly try my best to share my love of this wonderful game.

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Chapman comes to New York

Since the Yankees shocked the baseball world by trading for Aroldis Chapman, I’ve been trying to decide how I felt about the trade; there’s the potential for huge reward, but with big risk. I’ve actually started this post several times trying to sort out the many thoughts in my head about the trade, the current Yankees roster, and Chapman’s personal problems.

After a whole lot of thought…I think this deal is going to turn out alright.

First, there is the trade itself. At least for now, Yankee fans have seemingly forgotten they hate Brian Cashman. No one seems to miss the four young players sent to Cincinnati, because there is so much excitement about what good Chapman could bring to this team.

This deal creates an amazing back end of the Yankees bullpen. Dellin Betances. Aroldis Chapman. Andrew Miller. They are all among MLB’s best relief pitchers, and they are all together on one roster. Even if you hate the Yankees, you have to admit that is a very powerful trio.

via sportsonearth.com

 

 

We’ve seen the super bullpen work with the Royals in 2014, and even better in 2015 when they won the World Series despite losing Greg Holland to injury (and Tommy John surgery) in mid-September. We all know having a powerful bullpen shortens games, and for the Yankees, that can be extremely beneficial.

There are significant concerns about the Yankees rotation. Cashman insists the rotation is “full” and that the Yankees are not signing any big free agents – so let’s just assume they keep the starters next year. In 2015, the top six Yankee starters (Eovaldi, Nova, Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, and Tanaka) averaged 5.83 innings per start. (Tanaka had the highest average with 6.42 innings and Nova had the lowest average with 5.53 innings.) Whether the starters were unable to go deep into games was a result of their pitching ability or an overly anxious manager is a whole other debate. For argument’s sake, let’s each starter lasts approximately 6 innings per start – that leaves 3 more innings to play, and there are 3 super arms sitting in the bullpen.

Obviously the super trio cannot pitch 7-8-9 in every game, but there is some flexibility here. Last season, we saw Girardi frequently use both Betances and Miller for more than one inning. He didn’t wait for the 8th inning to bring in Betances, and he wasn’t afraid to use Miller for a 4 or even 5 out save. He pushed them – and it often worked out well for the team. Adding that third arm can (hopefully) cut down on the workload for both of them, which could then give them more opportunity to rest and stay healthy. There is always the possibility Girardi starts brining in relievers in the 5th inning as one of my friends at The Greedy Pinstripes (somewhat jokingly) suggested, but I am going to cross my fingers Girardi hasn’t totally lost his mind this offseason.

That still leaves a big question – who’s the closer? The Yankees have three potential closers, which is an excellent problem to have. Surprisingly, since I am a big Andrew Miller fan and call him my hero, I would actually chose Chapman as the closer – and the flexibility of the other two is part of the reason why.

 

So far, both Betances and Miller have been quoted saying they’re excited about the addition of Chapman, and each willing to do whatever they can to help the team win games. Miller, especially, has said since he signed with the Yankees last offseason, that he is willing to do any job given to him. He never demanded he be the closer, and he never assumed he would be the closer. Betances is a New Yorker, and wants to bring a championship home. Of the three, Betances is the least likely to be the closer (although perfectly capable). Chapman has always been a closer, while the other two have not, so I would have to assume he is the most comfortable – and obviously successful – in that role.

Which leads me to my first concern about Chapman – how long can a human arm withstand throwing pitches at such great speeds? There is a great deal of mechanics/physics that go into pitching (read some interesting articles HERE and HERE), and we see “average” MLB pitchers suffer injuries by throwing pitches significantly slower than Chapman’s. At some point, will his arm just give out?

The medical professional in me thinks about things like this. There is a certain point (the actual speed seems debatable) where the human body just cannot handle throwing a baseball any faster. Chapman is likely nearly that point. Part of me will worry with each pitch – is this the one that will tear his UCL? Betances and Miller are not throwing quite as fast as Chapman (but really, no one in baseball is). Because of that, I would feel more comfortable allowing Betances and Miller throw more pitches per outing than Chapman. Considering that along with the flexibility they’ve already demonstrated, and we could potentially see 6+ outs from just the two of them. To wrap things up, bring in Chapman for 3 quick outs on probably less than a dozen pitches thrown (3-9 pitches would be even better).

Of course, the biggest concern about Chapman is a possible suspension for domestic violence. Before I go any further, it’s important to mention I am against violence of any kind, against anyone. However, from a legal standpoint, Aroldis Chapman has never been charged with domestic violence.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t a shit human being. The entire story makes me uneasy – and the fact that he was ever in such a volatile situation at all – but the fact is the investigation did not bring up enough evidence to charge him. He may be a bad person, but he certainly wouldn’t be the first in baseball.

If MLB does find cause to suspend him, a few things can happen. There is the possibility he is suspended long enough to delay his free agency eligibility until the end of next season. If that happens, Brian Cashman will look like a genius for getting two years of Chapman at the cost of four young players. There’s also the possibility the suspension is shorter, or maybe there is no suspension at all.

Suspension or not, there will be a lot of attention focused on Aroldis Chapman. Of the two teams, who would you expect to handle the possible media circus better – the Cincinnati Reds, or the New York Yankees? Remember, the Yankees are a much larger organization and were recently very involved with the longest suspension MLB had ever given, and all the public spectacle that went along with it.

The key to this working as well as it can is keeping the three pitchers together. The Yankees bullpen already lost two of their best pitchers (Adam Warren and Justin Wilson) this offseason, and aside from Betances/Miller, there were a lot of question marks. Adding Chapman is almost enough to make fans forget Warren and Wilson are even gone, but removing any of these three puts the Yankees back into that same position. There have been rumors all offseason that the Yankees have been listening to trade offers for Andrew Miller. Honestly, it’s a smart thing to do – the Yankees could be blown away with an offer they can’t refuse. But trading Miller for a starter? That doesn’t make much sense to me either. Even the best pitcher, who would assumingly go deep into games and take stress off the bullpen, is only going to pitch every five days. The Yankees have six starters and, while it’s not ideal, it looks like those are the six they will have going in to Opening Day. Trade Miller for even the best starter available and you’re left with seven starters, two reliable relievers, and still a whole lot of question marks.

It will be interesting to see how Chapman fits into the Yankees organization, what his punishment will be (if any) and how it will all play out in New York and MLB. For the time being, we Yankee fans can smile because our team has the Betances/Miller/Chapman trio.

If the whole season falls apart, I’m fairly confident at least those three will still keep things exciting.

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.