December 6, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Thursday, May 09, 2013
Last month I talked about managerial strategy when it comes to pinch hitting for starting pitchers relatively early in a game. In the game I look at, the Giants were down one run and had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning. I thought the decision to pinch hit was close but clear, especially given that the pitcher at the plate was both not a good hitter and had thrown more than 80 pitches already.
The Braves and Reds played a day game in Cincinnati yesterday. Atlanta led 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh when the Reds put men on first and second with two out. According to FanGraphs, this at-bat had the highest Leverage Index of the entire game (3.71). You don't need a run expectancy matrix to know that this was an important spot for the home team. And yet the pitcher, Mike Leake, came up to the plate.
This move is baffling. Leake had already thrown more than 90 pitches, so he was close to done. Yes, Leake did have a homer off of Mike Minor in his career, but that's a small sample size and charitable memory, to say the least. Leake isn't a bad hitter; in fact, he's one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball with a carer .293 wOBA, including a .295/.306/.443 slash line last year.
But he's a good hitter for a pitcher. He still has a career strikeout rate of 29.1 percent and career walk rate of 3.3 percent. He still has a career 77 wRC+. Baker had an entire bench to work with. Yes, they weren't the best options (and that means there are serious roster management issues), but they were options nonetheless. Jack Hannahan has a projected .294 wOBA, but he's a lefty. Derrick Robinson has a projected .251 wOBA, so his switch-hitting ability is of limited use. Cesar Izturis, another switch hitter, is also a very, very bad hitter (projected .254 wOBA). Corky Miller, a righty with a .289 projected wOBA, was the backup catcher.
So maybe you don't think it was that bad a choice; Dusty had few viable options and Leake was pitching well. But I can't stress the importance of that situation enough. You are down to your last seven outs. You have no idea what the next two innings will bring, and you know that you are facing one of the nastiest bullpens in baseball. This may be your last chance to put a run on the board.
We don't even need to consider the fact that Leake is not going to have his best stuff in the eighth inning and you have the ability to mix-and-match with your bullpen against the Braves' lineup. Mike Leake is not your best option to hit. Even if there isn't a huge difference between him and Hannahan or Miller, you need to do whatever you can to get a man on base in that situation. You need a position player there.
Leake flied out. The Braves scored five runs in the eighth inning. So it goes.
Indians 4, Athletics 3: Angel Hernandez said there was not enough evidence with which to overturn the original call of double on Adam Rosales' would-be game-tying home run. Of course, the replay clearly shows that it was a home run, with the ball hitting off the railing above the wall. This is pretty simple: If Hernandez had the same view of the play that the Comcast Bay Area viewers had and still couldn't reverse the call, he is incompetent. If he did not have that view available to him when reviewing the play, Major League Baseball's home run review system is incompetent. Which is it?
Mariners 2, Pirates 1: Felix Hernandez was Felix Hernandez. He allowed one run over eight innings before making way for Tom Wilhelmsen. This despite only throwing 97 pitches. Maybe Eric Wedge and Ned Yost studied under the same sensei.
Braves 7, Reds 2: Three Braves homers including two from Dan Uggla. And for reasons that still aren't clear to me, Dusty Baker had Mike Leake bat for himself with two men on and two men out in a one-run game in the bottom of the seventh. Guess that means Dusty figured Leake was going the distance or something. Nope: he allowed singles to his first two batters in the eighth, was pulled, and the game unraveled for Cincy. He shouldn't have been at bat and he shouldn't have been on the mound to begin that rally.
Orioles 5, Royals 3: The O's are rolling. This one broke open in the fifth when Alcides Escobar tried to get an out at third instead of taking the easy out at first and made a throwing error, hitting the runner and opening up the floodgates. Ned Yost after the game:
"The key to that inning was if Escy just takes the out at first, they only get one run," Yost said.
Yost was then fined $500 by the league office for calling a guy "Escy." Yost has been Escobar's manager for three frickin' years. If he can be around this guy day-in, day-out for three years and still can't come up with a better nickname than one of those lame name-shortening ones people use when they can't remember someone's full name, he's simply not a fully-formed and plugged-in human being.
White Sox 6, Mets 3: Alejandro De Aza hit a leadoff homer and finished with three hits. Jake Peavy returned after missing two starts with a bum back and looked just fine. For this White Sox team, six runs is an outburst.
Nationals 3, Tigers 1: Bryce Harper hit his 10th home run and had a sac fly and Jordan Zimmermann allowed one run, breaking his 17-inning scoreless streak -- but that's all he allowed over seven innings as he notched his sixth win.
Giants 4, Phillies 3: Andres Torres with a 10th inning RBI single to help the Giants avoid the sweep. And while Barry Zito didn't get the win, he pitched excellently. Zito in AT&T Park has become something of a lock for the Giants, who have won his last 11 starts at home.
Cardinals 5, Cubs 4: Jon Jay drove in two and finished the Cards' road trip 10 for 20 with a homer and eight RBI. I'm gonna assume it was a performance borne of relief due to being able to leave town and thus escape the gangsters he double-crossed and the man whose woman he has swept off her feet as the found themselves thrown together in danger. But now he's heading back with a new confidence and is ready for the final showdown with bad men and with his own conscience. [note: I'm currently writing a book blurb for someone and I'm having trouble, so forgive me for trying to work it all out here].
Padres 1, Marlins 0: "In a world ... where Jason Marquis can throw eight shutout innings ..." I'm not working on movie trailers, but if I did I figure the Marlins' season would be some sort of horror movie, so let's feature it that way.
Astros 3, Angels 1: Bud Norris didn't have to work too hard to pitch into the ninth inning. He threw only 84 pitches, in fact. Way to make 'em work, Anaheim. This is turning ugly fast for the Angels. They quittin' in May?
Rays 10, Blues Jays 4: Matt Moore won his sixth straight decision to start the season and the Rays decided to take a new approach and not blow a lead. Evan Longoria drove in three.
Twins 15, Red Sox: 8: A 20-hit outburst for Minnesota, including Pedro Florimon's homer and two-run double in the big second inning. Not liking that there is now a Pedro Floriman in baseball. That was the name I always used to check in anonymously at hotels.
Rangers 4, Brewers 1: Derek Holland gave up 10 hits in seven innings yet allowed only one run. Not walking guys -- and watching your opposition make multiple base running mistakes -- is pretty cool.
Yankees 3, Rockies 2: Vernon Wells played third base in this game. But sure, the Yankees are better off without A-Rod. He also hit a two-run homer, though, so it's not like the Yankees would be better off without him. Which is quite a statement.
Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 2: It seems like Paul Goldschmidt does something big every damn day. He homered twice and, for the third straight game, his homer broke a tie. He is absolutely destroying the Dodgers, hitting .458 with four homers and 11 RBIs in six games.
40 years ago, Catfish Hunter made two people feel very good. I’m sure he didn’t want to, as they were opposing hitters, but that’s the way things happen. In a game against the Orioles, Hunter faced two batters who had never homered in the big leagues before, only to have them launch back-to-back balls over the fence against him.
There have been plenty of back-to-back homers hit. And tons of people have hit a first home run. But have you ever heard of back-to-back first home runs? Well, Catfish Hunter has.
On May 9, 1973, Hunter’s A’s played in Baltimore against Earl Weaver’s O’s. The two teams would win all six AL pennants from 1969-74, but in early 1973 they were both off to slow starts, hanging around .500.
Today looked to be Oakland’s day, though, as Hunter outpitched Baltimore’s Dave McNally. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, it was 3-1 Oakland.
This being the early 1970s, Hunter was still in the game to close out his own start. Leading off for Baltimore was Al Bumbry. Though he’d have a fine career for himself, on May 9, 1973, Bumbry was still a raw kid looking to prove himself. Playing in just his 23rd career game, Bumbry had yet to hit a homer.
Well, luckily for Bumbry he was about to prove himself right here. He launched one into the stands for his first home run. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
Next up came center fielder Rich Coggins. He had a bit more experience for himself than Bumbry—this was his 25th game, two more than Bumbry. And like Bumbry, Coggins hadn’t homered before. Also like Bumbry, Coggins changed that right here, with a game-tying solo shot off of Hunter.
Catfish Hunter was a very good pitcher in his prime, with especially nice control. But he was always prone to giving up the long ball. In fact, he’d lead the AL this year with 39 homers allowed, which would be the fifth most ever allowed in a season by an American League pitcher at that point.
Hunter settled down and, because it was a different time, he even stayed in the game when it headed into extra frames. For that matter, so did Dave McNally.
Neither pitched that well in the 10th, though. McNally allowed a run. Hunter surrendered singles to two of the four batters he faced, at which point A’s skipper Dick Williams brought in Darold Knowles to preserve the win, which he did.
As for Bumbry and Coggins, neither ever showed that much power, but both had nice seasons. Coggins would bat .319 in 110 games in 1973, good enough to finish sixth in the Rookie of the Year Award voting. It was all downhill from there, and after three more dismal seasons he was out of the game.
Bumbry was more fortunate. He’d hit .337, while leading the league in triples despite missing a third of the games, to win Rookie of the Year honors. Bumbry became a Baltimore institution, playing for the team for over a decade.
Though their careers took different paths, Coggins and Bumbry are forever yoked together in baseball trivia as the teammates who hit their first homers together back-to-back—and they did it 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happens every X-thousand days). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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